Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gluten Free Gingerbread House

My husband and I both made it to adulthood having never made a gingerbread house.  In my gluten-filled childhood I made a few of the graham cracker ones, but never the real deal.  This year I decided we'd give it a go.  Aside from a near crisis when the roof broke, it went well.  And the royal icing worked terrifically for gluing the roof piece back together.

Here are photos of the whole process...




You can see where I had to glue the roof together on that right side...

An enthusiastic helper.

I worked on it during naptime.

When the kids got up they got to help.

Their favorite part was the eating...

Mercy liked helping with the icing.

After she helped.

The back.

All done!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Letter 2011

This is our family Christmas letter for 2011.  Yes, it is long, but so much has happened in the past two years.  Bear with us and read it to learn more about the journey our family has been on.

Dear friends and family,

Skipping a Christmas letter for a year doesn’t mean nothing happened. It means too much happened. Life was so unstable for so long, we had no context clear enough, no frame of reference solid enough to clearly understand all that was happening to us, let alone explain it to others. We are not unchanged. You can still recognize us, but broach the right subjects or catch us with our Bibles open and you’ll learn God has gripped us tightly since last we wrote, changing our outlook on many things – fundamental things, life-altering things. As our family marches toward the Advent of the Christ Child, we not only celebrate Christ’s birth, but the renewing of our hearts and minds in Christ.

Our lives since our last letter have been a series of trimesters. The first – the winter of 2009/2010 – brought us our second child. Gilead, who is now 22 months, is as much all-boy as his older sister is all-girl. He smiles quickly for the camera, plays the drums on everything, and loves his sister more than she realizes.

The second trimester saw the end of an era: grad school ended in May, less than two weeks before Mercy’s second birthday, and without pausing for breath, the fulltime job search began. But a hundred applications and half a dozen interviews later, there were no prospects, and we knew we had to leave Idaho.

The third trimester brought us to the Portland metro area, where we house-sat for friends who were away on a three month overseas business trip. We went to church with old friends, gave Mercy her first haircut, watched Gilead grow, and applied for fifty more jobs. Interviews came quickly, filled with promise, with opportunities to put down roots in Salem, Tri-Cities, and Boise. And as quickly as the interviews came, they stopped. Our friends returned from their trip, and due to the terms of their lease, they were unable to host us any longer.

We were adrift. Friends quickly showered us with offers of hospitality, and food stamps would keep our plates from being empty, but as we boxed up our possessions and put even more of our belongings into storage, we slowly realized – as if in birth pangs – that we had become something new: homeless.

The first trimester of this new life was by far the most difficult. Our mailing address was the home of friends living just outside the Portland metro area, but between Christmas and a pair of out-of-town interviews, we were never anywhere for more than two weeks at a time. The interviews came from networking contacts, not from the job boards which had gone dry, or from cold-calls which had proved fruitless, and when those interviews brought the end of our job search skin-close before casting it away, we lost hope. We thought about returning to school to try a new field. We thought about joining the military. And then, after reducing ourselves to what could fit in the trunks of our cars and changing our address one more time, there was a phone call.

It was a full-time staff accountant position, with full benefits and a good salary. And so the next trimester brought us to Silverton: ten minutes from work, twenty minutes from Salem, and forty minutes from church. We signed a lease for a three bedroom duplex with a garage and a fenced backyard. We fell in love with the town and established routines. Work was difficult but rewarding.

The first week of work was euphoric, a waking dream. The second week turned darker as the demands of the job weighed down heavily upon the thin foundation laid even by graduate school. The third week was a night-time storm with no coming sunrise and no moonlit breaks in the clouds. The CFO had underestimated the requirements of the job. The accounting manager couldn’t relate to someone with a degree. The open channels of communication so highly valued by the company were closed. We never heard them coming. Less than four weeks after the job was offered, it was taken away.

We wept. And we could do nothing but return to those same empty job boards and fruitless phone calls. Again, friends quickly came to our aid. Though we had no need of shelter, we were in desperate need of cash, and it was here, after hard work, natural talents, the free market, and every tenant of the so-called American Dream had failed us, that we realized the painful, glorious, agonizing, precious truth: it was all Grace.

The third trimester of this second life began with the realization that we were receiving that for which we had prayed, daily, since before we knew one another existed. We wanted to love our neighbors. We wanted to understand love. We wanted to know the roots of compassion. We wanted to be free of every preconceived notion standing as a barrier between us and the poor, the lonely, the downcast, and those who – as Bonheoffer put it – are gripped tight by God. And so God gripped us. We could feel His fingers cracking our ribs, and yet we knew we would never be dropped, could not hope to be dropped. We cried out daily and yet there was joy. It was not the joy found in pleasure. It was joy such as C.S. Lewis describes in Surprised by Joy: an overwhelming desire to reach for something wonderful that can only be held for moments at a time, something so wonderful that gravitas trumps giddiness. We could taste Grace in the air.

We were not lifted out of our troubles at this point. But we were given the strength to carry an even larger, more glorious burden. By this point we were well into expecting our third child, due in September. And by this point, Amber’s mother was unable to return to work because of old injuries that recent surgery failed to completely heal. Jan put her house on the market, and she and all that she had were welcomed into our home, for however long we could be in it. There was still no work – not even at Safeway or McDonald’s – but checks continued to come in the mail, some from dear friends, some from friends of friends who had never met us, all of them beloved of Christ. Our third child would be due soon, though we didn’t know what house or city or state he would be raised in, only that he would be ours, and we would do everything we could to teach him and his siblings how to live in God’s good grip.

The only solid job lead at the time came from a friend – a member of Jan’s old church and a partner of a small CPA firm on the other side of the state. An interview followed, and yet, after so many that had seemed so promising, hope was only a background hum, faith only a penlight in the night.
But there was Abel. He was born September 7th, angry at the disturbance, but beautiful. He brought the facial features of distant relatives back into the gene pool, and he was the most tangible act of Grace we had received since the birth of his brother. Less than two days later he was taken by ambulance to a neo-natal ICU in downtown Portland for a breathing problem. The next day, after Abel had stabilized, after we were told the problem would resolve itself after a few days, after a night yielding only three and half hours of intermittent sleep, the cell phone rang.

We were born again.

The job was a full-time staff accountant position with a small but well-respected CPA firm in the very place from which we had just moved Jan. The irony of moving into Jan’s old house did not escape us. It was a strange time, almost a dream-like state as we once again packed up everything we owned, this time mixing Jan’s possessions with our own, moving into a house already familiar, to an area well-traveled on numerous trips, to a church who knew us as frequent visitors, and to a job that seemed too good to be true.

But it was true. And so we start this new life as children slowly waking. We remind ourselves daily of where we have been so we can better understand where we are. We remind ourselves that God’s grip – though sometimes painful – is nevertheless His. We approach Christmas with the lead-footed fear of children frightened by the sudden booming laughter of their parents. We are awestruck by the lowliness of the Christ-child, that He suffered as we have so that he may lead us through suffering. How many kings would do such a thing?

As we walk toward Christmas, we pray Jesus reveals himself to you as He revealed himself to us, though perhaps not in the same way or for the same duration. And yet, our hearts are hard, often requiring many thrusts into the fire and many blows under the hammer. We pray, then, that God gives you a heart of thanksgiving no matter your circumstances, and a joy so wonderful to grasp that it hurts to uncurl your fingers.


Ryan, Amber, Jan, Mercy, Gilead, and Abel

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wordless Wednesday--Gluten Free Thanksgiving Prep

Having three small children and being gluten-free makes putting on a Thanksgiving meal quite the project.  Therefore, my mom and I started today.  Pecan pie, pumpkin pie with a streusel topping, and the french fried onions and cream of mushroom soup for the green bean casserole are now done.  If you want to make the green bean casserole you can find the recipe here.  It's well worth the effort!

Frying up the onions.

 The only thing that kept me from eating lots of these was the fact that Abel wouldn't like it.

My pretty Thanksgiving pie plate.  My sister gave this to me for my birthday a few years ago.

Ginger streusel pumpkin pie!

Mushrooms for cream of mushroom soup.

Finished cream of mushroom soup.  I could sit down with a big bowl of this...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Undercover Mama Winner!

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to announce a winner for the Undercover Mama giveaway.  In addition to the business that goes with having three children three and under, we had the stomach bug go through this week, which definitely slowed me down.  But, I'm finally posting that winner.  And the winner is...

Entry number 113, Brittany C.!  Congratulations!  I'm sure you'll love your new Undercover Mama camisole.  Please e-mail within 48 hours with your contact information and choice of color and size.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Abel and the NICU Part 4--"Healthy."

Later that day Abel was moved from a warming bed to a normal bassinet.  We later learned that, by NICU standards, this made him "healthy"--a term we soon learned was very relative in the NICU.  And healthy means mobile.  He was moved out of the pod that many of the cardiac babies were in (a good thing) and into another pod.  It was only Saturday afternoon--a mere 72 hours since Abel's delivery, but it seemed we'd been caught in the middle of some crazy reality TV show forever at this point.

Now we settled into a pattern for the remainder of our time in NICU.  The next morning mom brought Mercy and Gilead in for a visit, and we determined that it would be best for everyone if they stayed at our friend's home with us.  For next six days we would wake in the morning, eat breakfast with Mercy, Gilead, and our friends, pack a lunch, and head out for a day at the hospital.  We weren't able to see Abel between 6:30pm and 7:30pm, when the nurses changed shifts and updated one another on the babies in their care.  Therefore, we would always return to see Mercy and Gilead and eat dinner with them.  Then we'd tell them goodnight and head back to the hospital until sometime after 10pm.  We typically arrived back at the house after 11pm, updated our hosts, fell into bed utterly exhausted, and then repeated the routine.

What matters in life comes sharply into focus at times like these.  Though we were excited about Ryan's new job, employment suddenly wasn't the end-all it had been for months.  In the NICU we weren't the typical group of post-partum mothers, either.  We were hospital gown, sweatpant, and maternity clad mothers who didn't care about our waistlines or looking like we had it together.  It was our babies that mattered.  I didn't get to meet many of the other parents, but our faith and church family are what carried us through that time.

Our days in the NICU consisted of holding Abel and feeding him--or trying to.  We did a lot of praying that he would actually eat.  Most feedings I would be allowed to try to breastfeed him.  When he seemed to tire we would then try to bottle feed him.  He typically only took 5 to 15mL, and we were told he needed to be taking 45-50mL orally before he could be discharged.  Once he would give up on the bottle, the rest of his milk would be syringed through a feeding tube.

The doctors made their rounds late morning.  We looked forward to these updates and actually learning if Abel was making any progress.  And he was.  At least in the breathing department.  By day 4 his respirations were down to about 80 per minute, and he was still oxygenating.  However, four days is much longer than an infant should be having breathing and eating trouble with TTN, and by this point the physicians felt an echocardiogram was in order.  I remember thinking "oh, good.  Maybe we'll finally know what's going on."  Then instantly realizing that I didn't want it to be anything that would show up on an echocardiogram.  I'd rather just never know.

On the evening of Abel's seventh day he actually nursed decently.  He took 35mL from me. We began to feel some real hope.  That was the morning that the effects of this time was really showing on our children as well.  When we had left that morning Gilead turned and ran from us, sobbing.  I began to cry, too.

The next day, Abel did even better--taking 45 to 55mL at the breast each feeding.  We knew then that we would be going home very soon.

On Abel's ninth day we arrived at the hospital to find patient education handouts awaiting us and Abel minus his feeding tube.  I'll never forget rounds that morning.  "This is Abel M., and he's ready to go home."

Our time at Doernbecher is slowly becoming a blur.  During that time we were blessed by wonderful physicians and caring nurses, many of whom were Christian.  Life is just beginning to feel normal again.  We arrived home from the hospital only to begin packing to move.  A week and a half later we loaded a truck to move across state for that job Ryan had been offered.

God is indeed good--but sometimes that doesn't look at all the way we imagine it will.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Undercover Mama Review and Giveaway

Undercover Mama

I have always wanted a nursing camisole, but the price has been more than prohibitive.  Nursing during the cooler months always leaves me feeling chilly, and a camisole seemed to be the perfect solution.  However, I had resigned myself to a nursing experience that leaves me less than warm during the winter.

Then I heard about the Undercover Mama, and it seemed to be the perfect solution.  They are half the cost of many other higher quality nursing camisoles (without sacrificing quality!) but offer the same benefits with the added freedom to wear your favorite nursing bra.

I was sent an Undercover Mama in nude for review before Abel's birth and eagerly awaited the opportunity to put it to use.  It was still too warm for two layers when he was born, but it was September, and I knew my opportunity would come soon.  Then we moved to a climate in which we can expect snow anytime starting in October.  It didn't take me long to put my Undercover Mama to use!

It took me about 30 seconds to fall in love with the Undercover Mama.  And the more I use it, the more I like it.  The added coverage is wonderful not only when I'm nursing, but also during those times when one of my other children gets a hold of my shirt in such a way as to expose my post-baby belly.  It's really not something I'm inclined to show off.

The Undercover Mama is also easy to use.  It attaches quickly and easily to all of my nursing bras.  I've discovered that with some bras I prefer the hook attachment, and with others the loop is more effective.  I love that there are two options, which makes the Undercover Mama even more practical (as if it wasn't already!).

The versatility and ease of use of the Undercover Mama makes it indespensible as part of my winter nursing wardrobe.  I definitely plan on investing in one or two more before the weather gets even colder--I think it's even going to appear on my Christmas wish list!

I'm very excited about the Undercover Mama, and even more so since Undercover Mama has graciously offered to send one Undercover Mama nursing shirt to a reader of Gluten Free Motherhood.

Rules:  Please enter the giveaway using Rafflecopter.  Comments do not count as entries--though you are welcome to comment just because you want or to remind yourself that you've entered!  Giveaway ends November 16 at 12:01am pacific time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Abel and the NICU--Part 3, "Reunion"

True to her word, the doctor discharged me shortly after 7am.  My mom came with Mercy and Gilead to pick me up.  In the short, 5 minute ride home from the hospital I became so nauseated I spent the next several minutes hanging over the porcelain throne.  The ride to Doernbecher was going to be over an hour, and it wasn't looking like I was going to be capable of getting through the trip there.  The next couple of hours were spent acquiring a prescription for nausea that would allow me to join Ryan and Abel.

During those couple of hours Ryan called.  He'd been offered a job.  We couldn't process it.  We'd been praying for work for over a year, and this was a tremendous answer to prayer.  However, for the moment, the job was shuffled to the backs of our brains while the rest of our brains focused on our baby's survival.

It was near 11am by the time we were on our way out the door.  We stopped to drop the kids off at a friend's home on the way.  Joanna graciously offered to keep them overnight if it turned out that that would be helpful.

When we finally arrived at Doernbecher, signed in, scrubbed down, and got back to the "pod" that Abel was in we were greeted by a very tired looking, but encouraged Ryan.  

Entrance to the NICU

Handwashing procedure.  We had to do this every time we entered the unit.

Handwashing station.  Those are knee pads below the sink that operated the faucets so that you didn't have to touch anything that might recontaminate you.

He and Abel had had several visitors from church, and Abel was improving.  He was now off of oxygen and had even sucked on a pacifier for a few minutes, which was big news given his complete lack of a rooting reflex.  Then they had me try to nurse him, and he latched on.  In that moment I thought "we're going to get to go home tomorrow!"  His respirations were still about double the normal rate, but he was oxygenating and seeming to want to eat.  Those were both major concerns that seemed to be resolving.

By the next feeding I was utterly exhausted.  I'd had a c-section a mere 48 hours before, had only slept 3 hours in the last 60, and there isn't anyplace to lay down in the NICU.  I began to shake, and tearfully had to say that I couldn't hold Abel, let alone feed him.  Apparently I really wasn't looking good, and Abel's nurse encouraged Ryan to take me down to the emergency room.  She thought I was going into shock.  Ryan did take me down, and we waited five hours to be seen.  During that time my mom left to pick up the kids and take them back home.  As it turns out I was just post-surgery, exhausted, and stressed out.

We spent a few more minutes with Abel before heading to a friend's home for the night.  They were only 30 minutes from the hospital rather the 1 hour and 15 minutes we are from the hospital.  We arrived sometime after midnight, and fell into bed utterly exhausted.  Apart from having to wake up every 3 hours to pump I slept like the dead until after 10am. I awoke feeling much better, but also guilty for having abandoned my baby for so long.  Ryan assured me that his nurses would be glad that I had gotten some rest.  Regardless, I got showered and dressed as quickly as I could so that we could head back and see how Abel had progressed overnight.

When we got to the hospital our hopes of being discharged were dispelled.  He wasn't eating, and his respirations were still over 100 per minute.  At that point we knew that we needed to prepare ourselves for a longer haul than we had hoped for.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Wordless Wednesday--My Helpful Men

Is there anything more attractive than a man voluntarily doing dishes for you?

How about two of them?

Abel and the NICU--Part 2, "Breath"

Abel literally means "breath" or "vapor."  We gave that a lot of thought before deciding to give him the name.  Though Abel was given his name for the faith and righteousness of Abel as demonstrated in Genesis and commended in Hebrews 11, we thought that rather than being dismal, the meaning was a good reminder of what we truly are.

However, as Ryan and Abel left the birthing center and headed to Doernbecher's where Abel could be given the specialized care he needed, I remember thinking "oh God, no.  We didn't mean it this literally."  His name means breath--and Abel's breath was literally being taken from him.  I hadn't meant that I wanted his life to be a fleeting vapor, and then gone.

I returned to my room to finish packing up to be sure I was ready for the early morning discharge I'd been promised, then tried to get some sleep.  I hadn't slept at all the first night.  The long-lasting morphine in the spinal causes me to itch so badly I'd rather be in pain.  However, sleep was hard to come by.  After an hour of fitful slumber I awoke, and after determining that they should be to Doernbecher by now, gave Ryan a call.  They were there, and Abel was being set up in a warming bassinet.  Nothing had really changed. His respirations were still at 150 per minute and he was in an oxygen tent.

By now it was after 2am.  Ryan said he'd been told he could try to sleep in a pumping room (yes, a room for mothers of NICU babies to pump), and though he didn't want to leave Abel, thought he should try.  I knew I needed to try to sleep as well.  So, after pumping I settled back in to try to catch some much needed rest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Abel and the NICU, Part 1

If you're really wanting to know the details of this last week, it's going to have come in installments.  So much happened, and there isn't any way to tell it without it getting rather lengthy.

When Abel's rapid breathing and lack of interest in feeding didn't resolve in 24 hours I began to push the nurses regarding what happens when 24 hours have passed.  Abel was worse.  He was up to 80-90 respirations per minute and still not even rooting.  Now we were being told that "sometimes it takes 48 hours to resolve."  He wasn't a big baby, and it didn't seem that waiting 48 hours would be a good thing.  So the lactation consultant was summoned.  And she was concerned.

Spending time skin to skin while keeping Abel's chest in an "open" position in hopes of regulating his breathing.

Then Abel started to shudder.  Initially I thought he was cold, but then realized that he couldn't be.  He was dressed warmly and swaddled in a blanket.  The nurse was called again.  And I was told it was his startle reflex.  I've had two babies--I know the startle reflex.  This wasn't it.  She finally called the doctor in.

The physician on call finally arrived, and upon glancing at Abel assured us that he looked like a normal newborn to him.  However, he said he could "check him out and do a chest x-ray" if it would make me "feel better."  I have never been so thoroughly patronized.  So I backed down and said that that wasn't necessary if he was truly fine.  And he responded with "well, I think it will be normal, but should do the x-ray."

Now I was just confused.  I thought he said Abel was fine.  In which case, why do the x-ray?

The x-ray did, indeed, come back normal.  More patronization followed.  I was told I needed to rest, so they should take the baby to the nursery.  We were told that "new parents" get nervous while our other children were in the room.  I lost it.  I let the doctor have it--and if you know me, you know that it takes a lot to get me there.  Poor Mercy kept asking what was wrong with Mommy.

These were taken when I really began to notice that Abel was getting worse, not better.

Abel was taken to the nursery, and an I.V. was placed.  Again, very confusing.  If he was fine, why an I.V.?  Then the doctor went home.

A couple of hours later Abel's respirations were up to 120 a minute, and the nurse called him back in.  At this point, he became very, very accommodating.  He expressed his concern over Abel's worsening condition and stated that he thought he needed to be transported to a facility that could care for him more effectively.  Doernbecher's Neonatal Care Center (NICU unit) was contacted and arrangements were made.  The PANDA team (a transport team that specializes in transporting critically ill infants and children) was on its way.

In the meantime, Abel's respirations had grown more rapid--150 per minute, which is as high as the monitors can track.  He was also placed on oxygen because his saturation levels were dropping.  I don't know if I've ever been so scared.  Many silent, scattered prayers were sent up.  A Telepeds robot was used to bring the neonatologist into the room.  He was then able to interact with us and the transport team.

Once the PANDA team arrived you'd have thought God just walked through the door.  The doctor sighed audibly and said "I'm glad you're here."  A few more tests were run, the PANDA team conferred with the doctor via robot to determine how best to care for Abel during transport, and he was placed in an isolate on a stretcher equipped with an oxygen tent.  The last thing I remember before his being wheeled out of the birthing center is registering the neonatologist expressing his concern regarding a possible congenital cardiac problem.  Then my husband and my baby walked out the door.

Abel today with his commemorative PANDA team bear.