Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mother's Day Necklaces

I like celebrating the grandmas. It takes some of the pressure off how I'm feeling about the whole loaded day. I like to channel my energy into celebrating the grandmas. Yes, I feel very grateful I have two extremely needy children to hug. I also appreciate what most moms appreciate on that day; peace and quiet. The irony. But oh man. Will it ever feel right knowing Andrew will never be involved in the whole celebratory bit? Meh.

Ever since Benjamin's first year, I've made photobooks for each month of the previous year, including places we've gone and family we've seen. They also have a book from Andrew's pregnancy and birth. The grandmas love these, so I use them as a gift (which is totally the best gift I can think of!). Considering Mother's Day always takes place in May, it also lights a fire under me to get the photobook made. It takes me a solid 1.5 months to complete these books, averaging about an hour each day. It takes forever!

With that said, I love creating them because I get to review all the great times we had that year and knock out three birds with one stone. The two grandmas receive them as gifts and I have two additional printed for Benjamin and Claire. They'll have one for each year of their childhood.

The photobook is great, but it's the same gift each year. I also like to think up something creative and kid-friendly that the kids can do to celebrate their grandmas at this young age. This year, I used this tutorial to make heart fingerprint necklaces for the grandmas.

Other than my perfectionist nature not liking how my kids were not perfectly paying attention and cooperative with the exact angle of their prints (ha!), I think they turned out quite cute.

We had enough clay to make quite a few. Benjamin made his own and painted it... what else... pink.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wheels, Wheels, Wheels

For as long as Benjamin could walk, he's been obsessed with bikes. When we'd visit parks, he'd spend the majority of the time checking out the other vehicles the kids brought to the park.

For Benjamin's 2nd birthday, he received a Strider balance bike. I totally thought we were hooking the kid up because then he'd totally be riding a regular bike without training wheels the next year and for his third birthday, real bike!

He left the thing for dead. Little sister won't so much get a hand-me-down but a brand new, cobweb covered balance bike if she wants it.

So about six months later and after I noticed an expressed interest in scooters, I bought him one of those. He shows marginal interest in it. He'll occasionally ride it to the park, but most of the time it's only about 1/2 block and then he wants to hop in the stroller or begs me to carry him. It does at least get honorable mention.

After seeing a video of my friend's son riding a two-wheeler who is two months younger than Benjamin, I felt terrible for giving him no pedal option. He's never owned a tricycle. He doesn't understand the concept of pedals. Did I totally miss the boat by forcing him into a balance bike option over a tricycle or training wheel bike? And now he's over it all completely?

I researched used bikes online because I'm tired of buying all these things he doesn't even use. One guy highly encouraged me to get him a balance bike. Thanks, dude. Solid advice. Hmph.

One of our neighbors has a kid a year older than Benjamin who has literally been riding a bike since he was two. Like, with two wheels. When he saw Benjamin half-effort riding his scooter on the trails behind our houses last fall, he commented how he needs to be on a bike by now because he can do it. Can and want are two entirely different things, neighbor.

I bought two bikes from a lady off OfferUp for $30 last Saturday. One bike was $20 but both were $30. I figured we could have friends over to ride bikes with him for that extra $10. They came with bells and training wheels and were perfect. I got them home and Benjamin mostly wanted to sit on them for a minute, have us push him and ring the bell. He doesn't appear to remotely care about driving the thing forward.

He's three. And like a quarter. I kind of thought he would be into these sorts of things by now. We own a balance bike, a scooter and two bikes with training wheels. We have two living kids and no rider. Claire sure wants to ride, but sister is still mastering walking at this point. Instead of my vision of Benjamin riding his bike to the park and me following along with little sister in the single stroller, I push both kids in the double stroller to the park every afternoon to play. It kind of makes me want to get a tricycle, too. Just so I don't miss the boat with Claire, too.

It's times like these where I know I need to let him be who he is, but also wonder where the line of parenting should be heavier encouragement or more hands-off. It's also times like these where I get all grief sad, thinking about Andrew and whether he'd be into riding a bike. And because he would be turning 5 in just 6 months, he'd probably be riding all over the place. Andrew is (would be) Andrew and Benjamin is Benjamin. It's impossible to compare him with his brother who should be older, but it's hard not to.

Monday, May 18, 2015

¿Hablas Español?

Early in 2015, we started Benjamin at Language Stars. He's been attending Spanish class with an awesome teacher ever since. We paid something like $500 to finish the schoolyear with him in a 1-3yo class with other kids. I attend with him as it's a parent-tot class. Claire cannot attend, or the price will jump to double since she's above 1 year old. It would be awesome to bring her, but we didn't want to front the cash so soon and have it conflict with her naptime. This can pose a problem when I have no one to watch Claire and it has resulted in me rescheduling a number of classes.

We didn't enroll him in Spanish so we'd be those pretentious parents who can boast about their kids requesting to have mucho agua. It's just, we want him to have an upper hand in this world with language, knowing Spanish is progressively changing our country. It would be wonderful if he had a good base for Spanish as a second language as he grows into adulthood and his career life.

We're also quite terrible at acquiring languages ourselves. I can handle my own when in Mexico (especially after some cervezas), but basic and (short) conversational. About eight years of Spanish education between us and we barely scratch the surface understanding the language when spoken or in print. We know vocabulary and can probably take down some serious flashcards. We had a German tutor multiple times weekly while living in Germany, and I can get by in restaurants, short conversation and at the grocery store, but that's about it.

It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. We're old dogs.

But Benjamin and Claire? New, young, fabulously adorable little poodles. And we want them to have the advantage we didn't have. Their brains are sponges and inhibitions minimal and learning is the only thing they are responsible for doing at this stage in their lives. It's natural and easy.

I can roll my r's, can you? My husband can't. Maybe it's something you're born with, but maybe it's something you teach your brain to do, and at a young age if you're lucky.

One minor problem in this great Language Stars program. It's about as expensive as preschool and only 15% of the time he spends at preschool. It's pricey. They've raised the prices by 20% for fall and he'll be in the more expensive class sans parent in the new schoolyear. We can front it for him, but then what about Claire? How important is it really for us? And then there are swim lessons and enrichment classes and maybe sports... and they're not even in elementary school yet! I'd love to find a former Language Stars teacher to come teach my two kids under the table each week, but I feel a little awkward asking his current teacher about that. A Spanish-speaking nanny would be great, but I like the structure of the Language Stars program and fear a nanny won't be as engaging. Benjamin does watch television in Spanish and we have the whole set of Little Pim videos (they sell at Language Stars) he requested, but he rarely wants to watch those. I have the iPad apps and Spanish music and well... that's probably not going to cut it.

Two years from now, Benjamin will have a shot at the Spanish immersion program lottery for kindergarten, but that's two years away and without guarantees. But man would we love that!

Anyone else considering a second language program for their kiddo?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cholestasis in Pregnancy: Let's Talk About This

I'm writing this post exactly 16 months from the birth of Claire, my Cholestasis baby. During the last few weeks of my pregnancy with her, starting at about 32 weeks, I came down with an intense and incredibly maddening itch all over my body.

I visited my doctor and they wrote it off as normal to itch. I'd been pregnant 3x before, so I wasn't convinced. I advocated for a blood test and my bile acid levels were off the charts. SOUND THE ALARMS.

Apparently 1 in every 1,000 pregnancies are affected by this disruption of normal bile flow in the gallbladder. Basically, your body stops processing bile acids as it should and there is a build up that eventually leaks into the bloodstream. Cholestatis in pregnancy has no cure, but drugs can help to alleviate some of the pain and lower dangerous bile acid levels. The only real solution to the problem is giving birth.

I tried topical solutions, but the problem was that I was itching on the inside. I was unable to relieve the itching with anything other than showering. It seemed the hot water hitting my skin would briefly relieve the feeling of wanting to claw my skin off. It wasn't uncommon for me to be showering 5 times a day, three of those being between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m. I never slept because I was itching so badly that I could get no rest.

It was terrifying and something I'm quite concerned about for Claire, as it's a hereditary issue. Of my full three pregnancies, she was the only one that I developed these symptoms with, thank goodness. But, that makes me even more concerned for her if she makes the decision to try for children of her own (if she wants).

In documenting this, I want others who may find my blog through Google to know that this is very serious. There are support groups on Facebook and that's wonderful. There are websites to find that might bring you comfort, but never forget to advocate for yourself. This is a matter of life and death of your child. I don't mean to scare anyone, especially pregnant women, but I don't want anyone to take this lightly and assume that waking up itching all night for weeks is normal. It's simply not.

Claire would not be here today if I had not been so adamant about getting the full panel of bile acids + liver function panel of bloodwork done on a regular basis to prove that there was something really wrong. I even walked in on a Saturday while my OB office was closed to beg the nurse to get me a bloodwork request written.

Cholestasis can cause fetal distress (Claire), preterm labor, meconium in the fluid (Claire) and stillbirth. Having already had a stillbirth of my own three years prior due to an entirely different issue, it was imperative that I was advocating for those blood tests every other day (as the results take up to a week to process) and bile acids levels are constantly changing. Don't let the doctors tell you that's not true. They change.

Things That I HIGHLY SUGGEST be Done if You Develop Cholestasis in Pregnancy (From One Mama to Another):

- Get an immediate appointment with your OB if itching starts (hands and feet are often first) or you notice particularly dark urine, jaundice and/or light colored bowel movements. These are textbook signs. I had 2/4 symptoms.
- Demand (nicely) for a full liver panel + bile acids blood test ASAP. Like every other day. Not one or the other. Both.
- Beg for them to put you on "Urso", "Ursodiol" (Ursodeoxycholic Acid). Doses can vary, but my bile acids were 132 (!) at first diagnosis and I was on larger doses of the drug. It did an excellent job of lowering my bile acids to 1/3 of that.
- Extremely reduce your your fat intake and increase your Vitamin K. Neither of these are proven, but I was willing to try whatever it took to decrease the itching and save my daughter's life. I literally cut out almost every single fat from my diet and ate a strictly vegan diet of mostly fruits and vegetables with tons of spinach for Vitamin K. Less bile, easier job for your liver.
- Request frequent non-stress tests. I was going every other day and twice on the weekends.
- Perform kick counts multiple times daily after 28 weeks. There are apps that make this easy and mindless so you can still enjoy watching TV at the same time. This should be done in all pregnancies.
- Get a doppler. I bought a $50 one that was the saving grace of many anxiety-filled days. Not everyone agrees with this as it could bring about more stress if you can't find the heartbeat, but I became a pro at finding the heartbeat from my second son's pregnancy.
- Induce by 37 weeks. I had an emergency c-section at 36w0d while being monitored in the hospital. I was to be induced for normal birth just hours later. It was completely unexpected, but my OB (the one who initially was like, nah, you don't have Cholestasis... it's not common) told me after the fact that my daughter's heart decelerations were downright scary and she would not be alive today if she hadn't been taken via c-section immediately.

I'd be that mom all over again to ensure I'd get to see this one grow.
I blogged about my concerns, diagnosis, doctor visits, and birth of my daughter... or "itchy baby" as many of those Cholestasis support groups like to refer to them as.

Updates I
Updates II
Updates III
Updates IV
Unexpected Delivery
Full Birth Story

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a nurse. I'm just a fierce mama that has been wanting to write this to support other Cholestasis moms for a long time. These are my experiences and while I highly encourage going overboard with care (because what's more important than a living child?), consulting your doctor and finding a damn good one is also quite important. Each person is different, but you don't know where you will end up on the statistic end. Cover all your bases.

If you've had Cholestasis in pregnancy, I'd love for you to share your experiences, advice or link to your story in the comments for anyone who may be visiting that can benefit. There's not much research about this condition; let's change that!

*Joanna, if you're reading this, please comment or email me! I've had you in my email for 16 months but had no contact info to get your input on this post for Cholestasis awareness.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Easy (but not quick) Cinnamon Rolls

We arrived back from California on Monday. By Wednesday, I noticed the can of storebought cinnamon rolls in my fridge (btw, Aldi has THE BEST) was approaching expiration.

Cinnamon rolls on Wednesday morning it was. Benjamin wasn't complaining and let's be honest, me neither! We had leftover rolls on Thursday for breakfast as well.

Today's Friday. Benjamin distinctly told me he wanted "roller coasters" for breakfast. Cutest thing. How could I not deliver?

I told him we could go to the store if he really wanted some badly (knowing he would never willingly go there!). He told me I could go, like alone. Not in time for breakfast, but I decided to make some of my own.

I set the kids up with Greek yogurt frozen pops (post breakfast) and flubber on the deck and went at it. I used the Minimalist Baker's recipe. Sure, easy, but not quick. And messy. But I expected no less, having made rolls once before while we were living in Germany (they were terrible and I blame the vanilla tasting like perfume).

So just in time for lunch (ha!), I had these homemade rolls fresh and ready. Breakfast is made for the weekend! These were also made vegan by using Country Crock (which I buy because it's calcium added for my non-milk drinking kiddos) and almond milk. This was actually the recipe design to be vegan, but it wasn't my intention to keep it that way... just so happened those were the ingredients I had on hand. I suppose I could've used regular butter which I also have in abundant amounts, but you can't tell the difference.

If you're new to baking, a huge tip is to buy your yeast at Costco. It's less than $5 and 2 pounds worth. That's A LOT of yeast. Yeast in the grocery store is insanely expensive. I keep this in the freezer and allow it to reach room temp before activating it. It will last you years. Just 2 1/4t is equal to a packet you buy at the grocery store. And it costs you pennies. I used it to whip up these cinnamon rolls and pizza dough for tonight's dinner.

I always put my rolls on a cookie sheet instead of in a tight-fitting dish. They look cuter all together in harmony, but I find that they cook quicker and more evenly without any soggy ones in the center to worry about. Homemade ones unravel a bit, but stick them near the edge and you're good to go. A good pinch will do the trick if you leave the dough a little sticky. Plus, they end up looking better when you remove them for plating because they don't pull apart or stick to one another.

Worthy of praise, these "roller coasters."



Recipe (with few modifications) from Minimalist Baker
2 1/4t active dry yeast
1c milk
1/2c butter, divided
1/4t salt
1/4c + 1T sugar, divided
3c flour
Cinnamon (I don't measure that!)

1. In a large microwaveable bowl, warm butter and milk until butter is melted but not boiling (don't kill the yeast!).
2. Sprinkle on yeast and let it activate for 10min or until frothy looking. Sprinkle on 1T sugar and salt.
3. Add flour slowly. I use a fork to stir. Once mixed, mix with hands and knead just a bit to get it into a nice, medium-sticky ball. Coat the ball with a little oil. I used Grapeseed. Leave the ball in the bowl and let rise in a warm place for 1 hr.
4. Roll dough into a large rectangle onto floured surface and pour on 3T melted butter, sprinkle 1/4c sugar and liberally sprinkle cinnamon to your liking. I just sprinkle straight out of the spice container. My husband told me once you can never have too much cinnamon. While I disagree, cinnamon rolls would be the place to be generous with it.
5. Roll the dough somewhat snug, seam down into a big log. Use baker's twine or a serrated knife to cut about 1-2 inch rolls. Place them on a well buttered cookie sheet.
6. Bake at 350 degrees until slightly browned (check often), about 12 minutes... at least for me.
7. If you want icing (of course you do), add about 1/4c powdered sugar to a bowl and just a splash of milk. Stir and top on warm rolls. If the icing is too thin, add more sugar. If too thick, add a hint more milk. You can add a bit of vanilla if you'd like, too.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Busy Bees Exit Assessment, Preschool Year One

My view from the conference seat.
Twice this year, preschool was canceled so the teacher could schedule a 15-minute parent conference with each of the parents. There's a printed paper and the evaluations of your kid.

You're not allowed to bring kids. I understand they can be distracting, but staying home means I am the babysitter. Just me. It's not convenient to assume I can get a babysitter for 15 minutes of my day. We have no family local, so I'm left with the option to kindly beg friends and often drive the complete opposite direction of the school to drop the kids off for a conference that isn't really necessary but one I feel terrible about missing since my past (and future!) life was that of a teacher. That held conferences. And expected parents to show up. I do care about my 3-year-old, but I hardly believe she plans to tell me anything I didn't know since she spends 5 total hours of her week with him and I spend all eighty billion hours of mine. But, he is with other kids and it's a social environment and one with structure and all that jazz.

As a teacher, I always encouraged kids to be involved in the conferences because I felt that they owned their learning, but that was also upper elementary when they had a handle on these school experiences and weren't still learning to pull up their pants after going to the potty.

I received a text from another mom in Benjamin's preschool class last night asking if I wanted to tag team the kids (total, 4) while the other heads to the conference. Sure. Sounded perfect. Except, my conference was at 9:00 and hers at 9:15, directly following mine. We couldn't do the whole drop-off-the-kids-at-your-house thing and swap out, because we had no travel time in between conferences. Next idea, hang out with the kids at the school playground. Except, they were having maintenance done and the preschool director deemed it "unsafe" to play.

So, I packed a bag of crackers, books, sidewalk chalk, balls and a remote-control car and showed up in front of the school at 8:55. She arrived and we both kept the kids contained and busy for the half hour right in front of the school on the sidewalk.

The conference was nothing surprising. Benjamin mostly follows directions, but has difficulty sometimes with sharing and, well, caring. He's got his own agenda but has shown great improvement in following directions and knows all of his colors (except gray), body parts, his gender and full name and shapes. She did surprise me when she said he comes willingly to engage in art projects. All of this was written down on his assessment sheet (that I received) and then she told me a few cute stories of him playing "airport" with the other kids in the class. It's cool to know he's now engaging with other kids instead of the parallel play that dominated his early preschool months.

Other than that, I would've preferred 2.5 glorious hours of kid-free time. What on earth am I going to do this summer when I don't even have those 5 hours to grocery shop? #sendgroceries