Monday, August 15, 2016

Super De Duper Long Update

It has been over a year since I last updated the blog.  We've had lots of changes over the past year.  We took a 3 week (work-related) family vacation to Colorado last summer.  It was fantastic.

In September, Eric started a new job in Houston.  We sold our house in October, moved in with family for a month, and then moved into our new house in November.

We found a new church and started getting plugged in.

We had a rough start to the new year with lots of catching up with school, and some various illnesses throughout the family.  But once summer came, we had an incredible epiphany.  This was the first spring, in many years, that Rapunzel's skin didn't get infected, or even really flare up at all.

WHAT?!?!  Every spring when the allergens start blooming, her skins gets so flared, that she ends up with an infection and has to be put on antibiotics and steroids to reel it in.  Then, with the summer heat, it's a battle until fall/winter to get/keep it under control.  But this year, her skin has stayed beautiful!  It's been absolutely amazing!  She was able to go to church camp this summer.  I went along as a counselor, because I wanted to keep a close eye on her and her skin.

She has suffered from "hypohydrosis" which means that her sweat glands do not function properly, and so her body has a really hard time cooling off and can get overheated very easily.  Also, anytime she gets wet, her skin gets really itchy and if she doesn't apply moisturizer immediately, she'll end up scratching herself bloody.  At least, that's how it's been every summer for several years now.  But, do you know what?  That girl sweat buckets while we were at camp!  I've never been so excited to see sweat dripping from someone before!  It was "hot as the dickens" out there, and she was red faced like the rest of us, but also drenched in sweat like the rest of us!  She was so perplexed by it too.  "Mommy, is the sweat supposed to be dripping down from behind my knees like this?"  "Yes baby girl, it sure is!" LOL  And while she did continue to use her moisturizer after her showers, it wasn't dire for her to keep it with her and apply everytime she got wet in the pool or lake (or in any of the other many ways they got wet at camp).  Her skin looked fantastic!  I literally broke down in tears at camp when I was sharing this news with another counselor.  I am thankful to God for healing her!  I'm well aware that this does not mean she is forever 100% healed.  She still has eczema, and we still have to take care of her skin.  But this was a HUGE victory!

In other news, all the kids have had a great time finding new things to be involved in since the move.  Belle started taking art lessons and apparently, she's been harboring some mad drawing skillz!

She also just joined the student choir at church and signed up to be a part of their art team.

Rapunzel took part in the kids choir at church and really enjoyed getting to sing on stage.  This year she wants to audition for some solo singing/speaking parts!

Hercules played baseball in the spring.  Their team won 1st place for the season, and finished in 3rd in the end of season tournament.  Go Braves!

And Aurora played soccer this year.  I think she enjoyed making new friends and getting new clothes more than the actual playing.  But she still did great and had fun!

Hercules was diagnosed with Selective Mutism and we started therapy with him for that in April.  We've seen some great progress, and will continue therapy into this next school year.

Speaking of next school year, things are changing around here for us!  Belle and Rapunzel are both going to be taking some classes (English for Rapunzel - English, History and Government for Belle) at a local homeschool organization.  Hercules is staying with me 100% of the time, and Aurora is going to public school.  Lots of changes.  I've gotten a lot of questions about why we are sending Aurora to public school this year.  The short answer is:  I feel as called to send her to public school this year, as I did about homeschooling her last year.

The long answer is:  This past school year was tough.  We started late due to our move, and it took me awhile to get into a groove of homeschooling all 4 of them.  Aurora was constantly begging to do school. but then when it was her turn, she was "bored" and ready to be done.  It was a battle every day.  I was becoming very discouraged and it was a distraction for the other kids as well.  In the past, when I would have a "bad day" I'd end up online looking up public school enrollment, but always ended up getting panicked at the thought of sending them to school.  I'd pray and feel reassured that homeschooling was the right decision for us, and we'd move forward.  However, this time when I would start to look up public school for Aurora, instead of feeling panic, I felt peace.  It was bizarre.  I wasn't really going to send her to school, was I?  No, I am a homeschooler.  I'll figure out how to make it work.  Then our church held a "School Options Panel" during the spring semester.  They put together a panel of people from Public school, Christian Private school, and Homeschool.  It was meant for people who had kids starting school, who were trying to decide what to do.  I decided to go, just because I was curious what they had to say about homeschooling.  I already knew I was a homeschooler, but I was curious.  At the panel, something interesting was revealed.  Each of the three "experts" in their field, had kids, and at one time or another had had their kids in all three different school settings.   Wait, you mean, you can homeschool one year, and then public school another year?  Or have one kid in public school and another in private school?  Or any other combination?  And that is actually, OK?  I mean, duh, right?  But this is what I realized.  So I started thinking about the possibility of sending Aurora to public school (cause we just can't afford private) for real.  I talked to Eric about it, and he was on board for considering it.  I prayed about it, A LOT, ALL SUMMER LONG.  I felt nothing but peace about it.  So when it came time to register her, I did it!  And I am so excited!  She is going to love it, and I feel so good knowing that this is where God wants her to be.  Now, I don't know if she will always be in public school, or if it's just for this year.  We're taking it day by day.

If you made it to the end, kudos to you.  Now you are relatively up to date on the goings on of our family!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Soy Test

Rapunzel had another appointment with the Immunologist last week.  This time, we were retesting for soy, with a possible food challenge.  We were in town for family stuff anyway, so Eric took the other kids to Chick Fil A to eat and play while we hung out at the hospital for the appointment.  We had a pretty sweet set-up!

There was a Nintendo 64 and recliner!  We played Mario Party together while we waited.

They did the skin test on her arm: positive, negative, serum, edamame, soy milk.
This was just after the stuck her.

This was after a few minutes.  Already starting to look positive.

I didn't take anymore pictures because I was trying to keep Rapunzel's mind off of the itching.  And once the dr. came in and told us what we already knew (she was still VERY allergic), and that there wouldn't be a food challenge, we gathered our things to get outta there!

We go back in 1 year and then we will retest for pea.  Hoping for a negative test and then a food challenge!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Blog Series: My Favorite Gluten Free {Bread}

The next thing, after flour, that we thought about trying to "replace" on our gluten free diet, was bread.  I could actually give or take bread most of the time.  I've never LOVED it.  I mean, don't get me wrong, fresh baked bread straight from the oven is good stuff.  But it's not been hard for me to turn it down.  There are days though, where I just want a grilled cheese sandwich.  Or french toast.  So after trying all different brands, we have our favorites.

There is a local bakery here in San Antonio that is completely gluten free. They stock some of their products in some of the HEBs around town too.  We like their white sandwich bread for making grilled cheese.  It has a different texture than regular wheat bread, that we don't tend to care for unless it is toasted.  So we just keep a loaf (or 2 or 3) in the freezer, and toast up a couple slices when we need them.  It works great with some butter for a grilled cheese.  They also have a cranberry loaf that my kids love to make toast with for breakfast.

For regular sandwiches with either lunchmeat and cheese or sunbutter and jelly, we like a special loaf from Udi's.  I've only found it at Target (of all places) in the bakery section.  It's called Udi's Florence Street Bakery Farmhouse White Bread.  It's not even on the Udi's website, because I think it's that new.  But it's softer and more like traditional wheat bread.  We can keep a loaf of it on the counter for about a week, but if it doesn't get eaten by then, we just move it to the freezer and toast slices as we need them.

As for hamburger and hot dog buns, we will sometimes use Udi's.  The Udi's buns taste fine, but they are just so very dense.  It makes it hard to eat a whole burger.  So most of the time, we find that just putting some toppings on our burger or dog and leaving the bun off works great.  I will admit that at first, my kids thought the idea of eating a burger without a bun was the worst thing ever, but now they will even forego a gluten free bun in favor of no bun at a restaurant.

My mom was awesome enough to get us a bread machine for Christmas that has a gluten free setting.  We've been whipping up all sorts of breads with it and we love it!  We have the Cuisinart CBK-200.  We've tried various mixes from King Arthur, Bob's Red Mill, and Pamela's and they've all been great.  I plan on trying out some other homemade recipes soon!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Blog Series: My Favorite Gluten Free {Flours}

The very first thing I thought about when making the switch to gluten free was, flour.  There are all types of gluten free flour out there:  brown rice flour, white rice flour, sweet rice flour, oat flour, almond flour (which we avoid due to nut allergies), coconut flour, quinoa flour, corn flour, soy flour (which we also avoid due to allergies), sorghum flour, garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, arrowroot starch, cornstarch and more.

However, one can not simply substitute any gluten free flour for wheat flour.  I imagine if you did you'd be left with a crumbly mess.  You have to find the right blend of other flours and starches, and of course the vital xanthan gum, which acts as a binder.

You can make your own flour blend.  There are plenty of recipes out there.  I try to keep a bin of my favorite in my pantry.  But I'm going to be honest.  My favorite blend has a couple of harder to find ingredients that my grocery stores don't always keep in stock.  And I have found that it isn't *that* much cheaper to make my own if I can find good deals on store bought blends.  So while, I do use and make my own, I probably only use it half the time.  My favorite homemade blend is from the book Gluten Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread.  My second favorite is from the book Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook.

 So, what about store bought gluten free flour blends?  There are so many to choose from.  I have my favorites and I have some that I was surprisingly disappointed in.  Let's start there.

I heart Trader Joe's.  It is my favorite grocery store for most things.  I go there about once a month and stock up on so many things there (I'll save that for another blog post).  So I was excited to see that they have their own gluten free flour blend.  However, I wasn't impressed with it.  The ingredients are simple: whole grain brown rice flour, potato starch, rice flour, and tapioca flour. Notice there is no xanthan gum, which is fine.  You just need to add your own when baking.  I just found that this made my baked goods have a weird texture.  Kind of gummy.  And when I used it as a breading for let's say, chicken, to cook in the oven, it never seemed to cook properly or get brown. Sad :(

As far as middle of the road blends, I like King Arthur's, Namaste (found mine at Costco) and Bob's Red Mill.  They all do a good job in baked goods, and hold up well in savory cooking also.

But so far my favorite is Jules.  It's the starchiest to say the least, so probably not the healthiest.  But it makes the best baked goods and works beautifully in dinner dishes.  I order mine online from their website.

Using gluten free flour blends (homemade or store bought) I have been able to make pretty anything we want gluten free at home.  Cake, waffles, chicken tenders, roux... you name it, it can be made gluten free!

Our Gluten Free Journey

It's been quite a while since I've given a true update on our family on the blog.

Last March, our entire family went gluten free.  It started with my husband, who read the book "Wheat Belly" while out of town for work.  He'd been experiencing a lot of symptoms that the book addressed.  So, he figured he'd try cutting out wheat to see if it made any difference.  Within a few days, he noticed a big difference, and by a couple weeks, he had none of the symptoms he'd been dealing with for years.  He encouraged me to try to make changes for the whole family in regards to eliminating wheat.  I was reluctant at first.  After all, I'd had Rapunzel go gluten free for 2 months before in an attempt to heal her skin, and we saw no results.  But he had no plans of eating wheat again, so I figured... why not?  I am an 'all or nothing' type girl though, so if we were going to make the switch to gluten free, we were going to be all in.  So I did my research again, made meal plans and grocery lists, and we started our gluten free journey.

I will admit that even a couple months after we started, I didn't feel any different.  I didn't notice a difference in any of the kids either.  But I stayed the course.  I was a little jealous of my husband, who happened to lose 20lbs just by eliminating gluten.  I was not so lucky.  He was feeling a lot better from no gluten, and by now, I was in the groove and it was easy to continue to eliminate it from all of our diets.  We found out what we could eat where, and what to shop for and cook, and it was not so bad after all.

Even when Belle went off to church summer camp, I made sure to send her with a bag full of safe snacks, and took the time to highlight the things on the camp menu that I thought she could eat with some alterations (hamburger without the bun, breakfast taco without the tortilla, unless there was corn tortillas, etc.).  It ended up working out great for her because they had a salad bar at every meal and she LOVES salad.  They also even had gluten free pasta available on spaghetti night!  Her gluten free diet didn't hinder her camp experience in the slightest.

Over the summer, I saw my endocrinologist to get my thyroid levels checked (I have Hashimoto's autoimmune disease, as well as nodules on my thyroid), and it was the first time in several years that my numbers looked great, without needing to change my med dose again.  I mentioned to the endo that we'd gone gluten free in March, and she had no doubt that was a big reason my numbers looked so good.

Then in January, I went back again, and my numbers were EVEN BETTER.  So good that they said if they get any lower, they'll need to BRING DOWN my dose of meds.  When I was first diagnosed, I was told that my meds would continually be upped through my entire life.  That there was little chance of going backward.  So this new turn of events was very exciting, encouraging news.

Last week, I finally gave in and went to the allergist.  Ever since we moved to San Antonio, in 2009 I've had to take Zyrtec daily for allergies.  If I missed a dose, I felt it!  But as long as I took my Zyrtec, like a good little girl, I was fine.  Until this winter.  The mountain cedar blew in and tried to kill me.  "Cedar fever" is no joke.  I was a stuffy, snotty, sneezy, itchy, miserable mess.  So I finally went to the dr. to get some relief.  As he was looking over my records, he asked me how bad my asthma had been triggered through all of this.  Normally, I have to take my inhaler consistently through the "cold" months (I use the term cold loosely, because we are in central Texas afterall).  But I realized that the only time I needed it (or the nebulizer) this winter was for a short time right before Thanksgiving, when I got a bad upper respiratory infection. That's it.  He agreed that a gluten free diet could be a big contributor to this!

All of this to say, that while I was positive a gluten free diet was the right decision for my husband, I was reluctant to believe it would have any positive effect on the rest of us.  I knew it wouldn't 'hurt', but I definitely didn't think it would help anything.  But I WAS WRONG.  It has taken time for me to see, but it has absolutely made a big difference for me!   No looking back now!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Eczema Awareness Month 2014

Once again, we participated in the Eczema Awareness Month campaign by submitting pictures to the National Eczema Association.  Belle and Rapunzel both made signs and let me take their pics.  They are both featured in this video, by the National Eczema Association.

And look who made the cover of The Advocate, The National Eczema Association's magazine!

We are happy to do what we can to help spread awareness about eczema!  We still have good days and bad days at our house, but we thank God daily for the blessings he's given us and continue to pray for healing!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Homeschool 2014

I have spent months planning and am finally (almost) ready for school to start 'round these parts in a few weeks!  We are working on rearranging some of our rooms to give us a bigger playroom, so once that is done we will be all ready!

Here is our daily schedule.  No, we won't follow this schedule  And no, we won't even follow it 100% on any given day.  But, it gives me a starting point, and a structure to go from.

It's color coded, so everyone will know where they are supposed to be.  Pink is with mom.  Green is at their desk.  Blue is on the iPad.  And purple is on the desktop.

Here are the curriculum choices I've made for this school year.

Bible - Apologia Biblical Worldview - Who is God?

Belle - 6th grade
Math - Saxon 6/5 and 7/6 (I'm hoping to get through 6/5 and start 7/6 this school year)
English - Rod and Staff 6
Spelling - Rod and Staff 6
Writing - Writing with Skill Lv. 1
Literature - various books throughout the year with accompanying notebooks or lapbooks

Rapunzel - 3rd grade
Math - Saxon Intermediate 3
Grammar - First Language Lessons Lv. 3
Writing - Writing with Ease Lv. 3
Spelling - Rod and Staff 3
Phonics - Explode the Code, books 7 &8
Handwriting - Handwriting Without Tears, Cursive Handwriting and Cursive Success

Belle & Rapunzel (and sometimes Hercules and/or Aurora)
My Father's World - Creation to the Greeks
history, science, bible, music, art

Hercules - Kindergarten
Math - Lifepac K
Phonics - Get Ready, Get Set, and Go for the Code
Handwriting - Handwriting Without Tears, Letters and Numbers for Me

Aurora - Pre-K
Rod and Staff ABC series

Hercules & Aurora
Five in a Row Vol. 1

Our plan is to start school on August 20!  I don't have a set calendar after that.  I plan to do school MWThF.  On Tuesdays we'll have Moms Next and piano lessons every other week.  On our off weeks, we'll use Tuesdays for field trips, dr. appts, catch up days, or just plain lazy days.  We'll take time off around the holidays and as the need arises (illness etc.).  I listed out our lessons in order and marked the quarter, half, and three-quarter way points.  That way I can assess throughout the year if we are staying on plan, and can adjust accordingly.

This will be the first year I don't have any nappers!  It will definitely be a big change for us!  I'm hoping that we can spend the afternoons doing fun things together (instead of sitting at home being QUITE BECAUSE SOMEONE IS SLEEPING!).  Right now, Belle is signed up for volleyball.  Rapunzel and Aurora are going to be taking dance classes.  And Hercules will be playing soccer.  We definitely have a full schedule!