Friday, June 27, 2014

Kimberly's One Year Gluten-Free-Anniversary

A year ago this week, my precious first born, Kimberly, was undergoing tests that are usually reserved for people much older than fifteen. She had already endured surgery to remove her gall bladder, numerous blood tests, various antibiotics, multiple doctor appointments and months (years really) of feeling crummy. The gastro doctor finally said as an afterthought, "Well, I guess you could try going gluten free." So she did. She began to feel better within a day or two. And my brave girl has never looked back. Not once in this past year has she eaten gluten by choice.  The dark circles under her eyes, foggy brain, and stomach troubles are gone.

We do not have a gluten free house, but I do try to make most of our family meals gluten free so that we are all eating the same things. She has her own cupboard which I try to keep stocked with things she has found that she likes.

This journey presented a steep learning curve for both of us. I have tried a thousand different recipes and finally feel like I am getting the hang of things. She has learned to advocate for her herself in a variety of settings so that she doesn't get sick. We have a weekly pizza tradition in our family and it has really been hard to find a decent pizza crust. I am so thankful for my friends at church (Elke and Jenifer) who have been walking this journey for a long time. They have given me so much good information and encouragement as I have tried to cook for Kimberly.

In celebration of this milestone (and because many are walking this same road) I thought I would share my top 10 tips for cooking gluten free. I am focusing on a mixed kitchen like ours where not everyone is on a gluten free diet. This may also be helpful if someone is coming over for a meal who is gluten free, or if you are taking a gluten free meal to someone.

1. We have separate cutting boards for gluten free and non-gluten free food. The gluten free ones are red. I sometimes forget and grab the wrong one, but this has been a helpful habit for us.

2. America's Test Kitchen has recently published a cookbook called The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook. Everything we have tried so far from that book has been excellent. It is very thorough and gives the science behind the recipes. The waffles and muffins were gobbled down by my whole crew.

3. Find a local gluten free bakery. In Colorado Springs, we have Outside the Breadbox. They sell their bread at their own bakery, and also at several other places around town. I take apart the loaves of bread and freeze them in two slice portions so Kimberly can pull out what she needs. Their pre-made pizza crust is not too bad.

4. It is easy to make gluten free "cream of" soup. There are several casserole recipes that I serve often which call for cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup. These products have lots of weird ingredients in addition to gluten, so I discovered that I can make a delicious alternative with the following little recipe:
     1 cup milk
     1 tsp. gluten free bouillon (Better than Bouillon is the brand I like)
     1 Tbs. butter or oil
     3 Tbs. gluten free flour
Combine the flour and butter or oil and cook for one minute. Stir in the bouillon and milk. Cook until thick. Use in any recipe calling for "cream of" soup.

5. Most Pamela's products are delicious. We especially like the pancake mix and the cake mixes. The coffee cake recipe on the back of the pancake mix bag is so good.

6. Some products are disgusting. And trial and error is expensive. But don't give up.

7. Jovial Pasta is very good. We just discovered this after reading about it in the America's Test Kitchen cookbook.

8. Gluten free specialty food is expensive. But a lot of food is, of course, naturally gluten free. Fruits, veggies, nuts (depending on how they're processed), cheese and meat are always gluten free.

9. Costco often has a lot of gluten free options that I don't see elsewhere. They have Tate's Bakehouse chocolate chip cookies that are really good. I also buy gluten free granola there that is about half the price of anywhere else. But, like everything at Costco, sometimes I'll buy it one month and not be able to find it the next. We recently tried Rice Rollers that everyone liked. They are like rice cakes in a cylinder shape. We have been dipping them in peanut butter.

10. There are some good apps that are helpful in finding restaurants (find me GF) or for scanning the UPC of products that are questionable (Shop Well).

I am proud of you, Kimberly, for your dedication to this new life style. It hasn't always been easy, but you have never given up. You are a tremendous example to me. Happy gluten-versary! And here's to many more!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Large Family Life

Some people dream of having a big family and are thrilled when their dreams become reality. I feel like we stumbled into having a big family and still find ourselves a little stunned by the reality. This is due, in large part, to the way we built our family. Three the "old-fashioned" way, a baby from China to complete things. And then, three years later, two surprises from the Lord who joined our family at age nine and four. Those last two, Joshua and Isaac, have definitely kicked us into large family mode. And sometimes I feel like I am still adjusting over two years later.

There are days when I wonder why God thought it was a good idea to give me, an introvert if ever there was one, six children. I don't really like people. Yet, I am surrounded by six of them who actually expect me to speak to them all the time. I like these people who fill my world. They are fascinating, funny, and quirky. I love seeing the way they are growing and learning about God and the world. But me, really, Lord? And then He reminds me that His grace is sufficient in my weakness. And I unlock the bathroom door (surely I'm not the only one who hides there?) and I face them again with all of their questions, arguing, and commentary on things big and small.

Then there is the laundry. Eight people generate a lot of laundry.  Especially when one of them is a seven year old fashionista who regularly changes clothes several times a day and thinks each outfit needs to be washed before being returned to the closet. This summer, I am changing our system so that the older kids are responsible for their own laundry. Wish me luck.

The whole issue of food also looks different now that our family is large. I shop at Costco and buy enough to stock a small restaurant. Andy recently bought me larger pots and pans, which have been a big help. My three Asian children think American breakfast food is unacceptable so they eat Ramen noodles, grilled cheese or fried rice most mornings. I buy two of everything at the grocery store and know the clerks by name because I go there so often. I often think I have cooked enough to have leftovers, only to find that there are no leftovers at all. Three of our children have some anxiety about being hungry and not having enough food. So my purse is usually filled with a variety of snacks. Before we ever leave the house, they want to know if I have a snack with me. I always do. I can double recipes without a second thought and run the dishwasher at least twice a day. Cooking and cleaning up after meals is a lot of work, but I am thankful for the privilege to fill these  tummies and share precious time around the table.

Is it weird that we have a schedule for seating in the van? It would be so simple if they would just volunteer to sit in the back row. But instead we have a rotating schedule that resets each Sunday. I write it down in my i-phone so no one can argue or "forget" if it is their week. Speaking of the van, it is two years old and already has over 30,000 miles. Almost all of that is going back and forth to schools and doctor appointments (and Costco). And no matter how often we clean it out, it seems to generate trash at an alarming rate.

The children have all learned a poem (several years ago for the older ones, and recently for the younger ones) about Mr. Nobody.  It starts like this: "I know a funny little man, as quiet as a mouse, who does the mischief that is done in everybody's house." It goes on to tell how he's the one that's responsible for the broken dish, the spill on the carpet, the open door. Yes, he lives here.

There is more I could say about life in our large family (the copious amount of toilet paper we use, for example) but the most important thing that I am seeking to remember is how blessed we are by each one of our precious children.
Josiah (11), Amy, Andy, Caleb (13), Kimberly (16), Joshua (11), Isaac (7), Moriah (7)
(This is the small window of time in the year when I have two sets of twins!)

"Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord." Psalm 128:3

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Isaac Hui

Psalm 139:15
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

We recently celebrated Isaac's 7th birthday. Breakfast in bed, presents, root beer floats with grandparents all made it a special day for him. Birthdays are always a time of reflection. So I   thought I would record some of my thoughts about him at this time, especially from a medical standpoint.

When Isaac came home to us from Henan, China just over two years ago, there were more questions than answers about his medical history and status. Many questions still remain unanswered, but in the daily rhythm of our lives, the questions are less important than the joy of parenting this unique child.
Isaac's funny gait (picture a speed walker), frequent falls, struggle with stairs and crooked smile all seem like such a part of him that is hard to picture him any other way. They are as much a part of him as his engineer-mind, his attention to detail, or his laugh.

When we go to the Children's hospital and see the team of specialists they shake their heads because they just can't figure our boy out.  With each visit there are more medical students in our room and more doctors talking together about his unique characteristics.

We have done several genetic tests. Yet each one has been negative. He has seen a doctor and his team from the National Institute of Health. This man's specialty is rare genetic muscle diseases. Now, our little guy's blood is being studied by a group of researchers. Will they ever have an identified gene or a name for his asymmetrical muscle weakness, his high palette, his weak neck?  Does it matter?

This is all made more complicated, or course, because we have no family genetic history to give clues. The one thing they have said is that he appears to have a myopathy rather a dystrophy. In other words, his muscle tone will probably not deteriorate, nor will it improve.

How do you explain this to a smart little seven year old? What does he tell his friends when they wonder why he can't run with them? What is reasonable to expect from him at home in terms of chores and self-care? How do we challenge him to do all that he can but also be reasonable in our expectations?

He has come so far since he joined our family. When we first came home together from China, he would stay in the same spot for hours. Now he is all over the house. He loves to race around the driveway on his little tricycle. He can walk quite a long way before he needs a break. He has gained some height and some weight, though he is still a tiny, skinny little peanut. His language is truly amazing to everyone. He has a very bright mind.

I am reminded as I watch him that we live in a fallen world where sin has impacted everything. At the same time, I am daily reminded of grace. The grace of Christ in our lives shines forth from those little eyes (one more open than the other). He has a family. We belong together. We will make as many trips to Denver to the Children's Hospital as we need to. We can use our handicapped tag and stroller and put bandaids on skinned knees. And the rest of the time...most of the time...we will just enjoy each other and the life that we share. As he learns more about Jesus and his special design for his body, we trust that we will have the wisdom to handle the other questions and challenges.