Having 3 Kids: Things I Wish I’d Known

Should I have 3 kids?  I am sure I googled that exact phrase when I was considering having kid #3.  But somehow there wasn’t much out there to help me along my journey way back then (she is 4, you can do the math).  So in case you have the same question, here is what I’ve learned from being the mom of 3 kids.

It Is Way More Work

People say that having 3 kids is actually easier since you already have experience of 2 under your belt.  They are wrong.  Well, kinda.   Things are easier in terms of knowing how to care for an infant (i.e. how to change a diaper, pump, make a bottle, buckle them into a car seat, etc.).  But the actual work involved with raising 3 kids exponentially grows.  It isn’t just a little more work than 2; it is, like, 3 times more work! I wasn’t told that until I was 8 months pregnant.  It was a little too late to change my mind by that point.

The Oldest Can Help More When #3 Is A Baby

But even though it is way more work, you can get more help from your oldest.  My kids are all about 2.5 years apart.  That means my oldest was 5 by the time my littlest was born.  At 5 years old, he had way more patience, much longer attention span and ability to follow directions than he did at 2.5 (when my second child was born).  I actually was able to bathe regularly when my 3rd was a baby since my son was able to help keep an eye on her while I took a quick shower.  I even was able to shave!  I know, shaving is unthinkably indulgent.  The same thing definitely cannot be said when my 2nd was a baby.  The first time I shaved after having her I went through 3 razors.  It was gross.

It Is WAY More Fun

I feel like with my first I was always stressed that I was going to mess things up too much and spent all my time referring to what the “authorities” in books told me.  With my second, I worried that I couldn’t divide my time between 2 kids properly.  With 3, I knew how to only kind of mess things up and that there is no way to perfectly divide the time.  So I just enjoyed my precious little baby.  And we all had more fun because of it.  We got to laugh together and all played together with her.  Maybe it was just her being a happy baby. That could be, but maybe it was because I relaxed enough to enjoy my little family. In any case, I have to say 3rd babies are fun!

Cars Aren’t Fun – You Need A Minivan/SUV

I knew going into this that 3 kids would be tight fit in our full-sized sedan.  I mean, it seats 5, so that is our family.  No one else could ride with us.  No friends could ride home from school with us or join us for dinner out.  But beyond that, it became stressful to just get into the car.  My older 2 were in booster seats, but could no longer buckle themselves because the car seat in between meant that they could no longer see the buckles.  I would be all sweaty and ready to use expletives just getting the kids into the car.  That is coming for me, the girl whose bad word repertoire starts and ends with “shoot.” And heaven forbid that they actually unbuckled themselves.  Because if they did, that meant that they possibly unbuckled the baby’s car seat instead, which was a MAJOR pain to re-buckle in such a confined space.  We sold our sedan and I’m now happily driving my minivan with automatic sliding doors.   The day we got our minivan I felt like my life had changed for the better. It was like my fairy godmother had come to visit and bibbidi-bobbidi-boo’d me into a stress-free life.  I no longer dreaded having to just get in the car, much less go anywhere.  It just made me a happier person.

You Don’t Fit

Your family doesn’t fit when you have 3 kids, not only in that sedan, but in the 4 person booth, standard sized shopping cart, standard sized hotel room, double stroller or in that family 4-pack.  You have to start getting creative.

It Is Never Quiet

This may seem silly to say.  But seriously:  It. Is. Never. Quiet.  And I LOVE it!  I was an only child.  I had enough quiet growing up.  By the time #3 comes along, you likely have at least one kid that has given up on napping.  That means the likelihood of catching a few z’s while the littles are peacefully napping is almost non-existent.  And #3 better be able to sleep through the noise of the other two banging on pots and pans since it is no longer their naptime.

Being Pregnant Is Way Tougher With #3

They say with each pregnancy the problems you have from previous pregnancies become even more magnified.  For example, with my 1st I had some hip/leg pain that started sometime in the 2nd trimester.  With my 2nd, it started around the end of my 1st trimester.  And with my 3rd?  Basically once I knew I was pregnant, I was hurting with bad sciatica and other pinched nerves.  This required weekly massages, which wasn’t as nice as it sounds when she is trying to get you to walk with no pain.  Very not fun.  Also, there is a lot less rest due to the whole kids-no-longer-napping thing. And once you have the baby, your body seems to feel the need to keep being stretched out.  That doesn’t mean it will be true for you, but it was definitely true for me.

You Don’t Fit Other People’s Expectations

Depending on where you live, you might get some sidelong glances when you say you have or are going to have 3 kids.  1 and 2 seem to be the standard, so 3 starts to get a little radical (and more expensive) for some people.  Hopefully, not the people close to you.  But honestly, its your choice not theirs, so it really doesn’t matter too much what the cashier/customer/random person may think.

Stereotypes Are There For A Reason

I’m sure you’ve heard about the stereotypical 1st, 2nd and 3rd child traits.  The “1st follows the rules, the 2nd is why rules were made and the 3rd thinks rules are meant to be broken” stereotypes.  While I don’t like to overgeneralize, there is a reason that this this stereotype formed.  My little one tries to figure out her way around pretty much any rule, guideline or “no” given to her.  This pretty much goes back to the 3rd child being fun.  And she can pretty much “cute” her way out of anything.  Boy, are we in trouble when she is a teenager!

You Might Not Fit In Friendship Groups Perfectly

I have found that I have two friendship circles when it comes to my kids.  I have mom friends that have kids the same age as my older two and I have friends that have kids the same age as my younger two.  And I overlap these two groups. I do have a couple friends who also have 3 kids similar in age to my 3, but it is definitely rare.   The problem comes when moms with the older kids want to get together when the kids are in school, but I have my youngest in tow so I can’t.  And my friends whose kids are closer in age to my younger ones, want to get together for an afternoon playdate when I have to be home doing homework with my older ones.  It can be frustrating at times to not quite fit with either group.  The kids all eventually get older.  You might just need to have coffee dates with your friends and your littles for a couple years. Or cross your fingers for a light homework night to have an afternoon playdate.  In the end, it works out with some finagling.

You Need A Big Kitchen Table

You are a family of 5.  Tables for 4-6 really don’t cut it anymore.  Just get a big one so you can have elbow room.

Babysitting Costs More And No One Wants To Take All 3

Getting babysitting for 3 kids definitely takes some getting used to.  Costs for 1-2 might be the same, but they are often more when 3 kids are involved. Check with your babysitter though.  You might luck out.  But even farming your kids off to friends and family isn’t so easy.  Most don’t want to watch all 3 for you for any length of time.  For example, if my husband and I wanted to go away for the weekend we would likely have better luck sending the kids to 2-3 different houses than trying to get them to stay all together.  As of yet, we haven’t gone away overnight except twice. They were both for funerals, so they don’t count.  It isn’t impossible to get out for an evening or time away, but it can take some planning.

With all of the work, the bigger car, bigger table, more expenses, more messes (did I mention that one???), there is also so much more love, more joy and more fun.  My life is better for having all 3 kids in it.  Each breath they take makes my life richer, more joyful, more everything.  And I wouldn’t change a thing. Not one single thing.

5 Tips for a Greener Thumb

When I was a kid we had a big backyard and a big garden.  It was fenced in and my mom grew a bunch of stuff, of which I only remember: strawberries.   A big planter box of nothing but strawberries.  I loved those strawberries!   I think we only kept it up for a year or two, but I still have memories of how much I liked being in the garden and seeing things grow.

Fast forward a bunch of years, I’ve grown up and have a house of my own and I decided that I wanted to start a backyard garden.  Just a little something to have as a hobby.  You know, maybe grow a few tomatoes or a cucumber or two for a salad.  Since we had never gotten around to planting flowers, the border around the backyard was still just dirt. We decided to plant our little veggie garden there. I think we got a little over-zealous considering we had no clue what we were doing.  We planted tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, watermelon, cantaloupe, basil, rosemary, parsley, bell peppers, and strawberries.  Hmmm…. I still feel like I’m missing a veggie in there somehow. 

In any case, we planted a LOT!  And we learned a lot in that first year.  We fought pests and mildew. There were successes and there were failures (quite a few).  And we decided to do it again, but bigger and better the second year! We were now seasoned gardeners, so we could totally handle it, right?

So my husband built planter boxes for me.  He used standard 1’x8’ boards that could be purchased at a home improvement store.   It was cheaper than purchasing the planter box kits and quite a bit more work to put together, as most DIY projects are. But I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.  We had 4-4’x8’ planters and 1-4’x4’ planter.  Instead of using the borders of the yard, we took over part of our grassy area.  This gave us quite a bit more room to work with, which we totally made use of.

Here are a 5 tips and tricks we learned from that first year to improve our gardening green thumb:

#1 Soil

We learned good soil is very important.  The soil in our area is basically just clay.  So we made sure that the planter boxes were filled with mix that was geared towards growing things.  Instead of buying bags at the home improvement store (we would have had to purchase a LOT of bags), we had the soil delivered from a local company that sold dirt and rocks.  Makes me laugh that places sell that, but we had our driveway filled with soil and gravel for a day while we hauled things into the back.

#2 Space

Another lesson we learned is that we needed extra space for veggies like cucumbers and zucchini.  We tend to get greedy and try to squeeze more into the space than we should.  But squishing them together can actually impact their growth and promote spread of mold and pest.  Cucumbers grow on vines. The more vines that grow, the more cucumbers you get.  We decided to keep these by themselves in the 4×4 planter.  We also left more room for the zucchini.  Though these don’t really grow on vines, they do spread quite a bit.  Zucchini got 3/4 of one of the big planter boxes.  Tomatoes also seemed to need more space since their branches will grow in all kinds of directions. If they are placed too close together it is hard to harvest the fruit or trim the plant.

#3 Pests and Mold

We learned to fight those ants like crazy!  If the ants came, the aphids were there too.  If the ants and aphids were there, then nothing would grow.  So we did our best to keep the ants away.  And we fought powdery mold.  This stuff looks like you sprinkled slightly grey-ish baby powder on your plants leaves.  And it spreads fast.  So we found the best way to keep this in check was to aggressively cut the plant back.  At first sight, we trimmed off the leaves we found it on and those leaves touching the affected areas. If necessary, we trimmed off a whole vine of cucumbers or branch of the zucchini plant.  If you don’t do this, it takes over and kills everything in its path.

#4 Watering

One of the biggest take-aways from my gardening experience was to have drip lines or some sort of automatic watering system installed.  I am hopeless at knowing how much, how little, how often and how to remember to water!  Basically, our plants stayed alive because my husband put in a drip system.

#5 Plant Food

Just like in Little Shop of Horrors, “Feed me, Seymour. Feed me!” making sure to feed the garden made a huge difference.  I bought a jug of food for plants and veggies and just followed the directions.  One thing my mom taught me is that tomatoes like acid.  She would dump her used black tea leaves (just break open the tea bags) around the base of the tomato plant and then water them.  In addition to regular use of plant food, the tea leaves can really help to perk up the tomato plant and I usually see the improvement within a couple days.

In addition to cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes we continued to try to grow strawberries and cantaloupe.  We gave up on the watermelon though since it didn’t do anything for us the previous year.  Honestly, we should have given up on the cantaloupe because it didn’t thrive for the second year in a row.  But the cucumber, zucchini and tomatoes did great!  We also tried onions, lettuce, carrots, bell peppers and hot peppers.  And, boy, did we have a bumper crop that year!

I made tons of homemade tomato puree, pickles, pickled jalapeños and roasted bell peppers.  It was a canner’s dream!  But I was too chicken to actually try canning.  It scared me.  Maybe this year I’ll give it a shot. So I froze most of the tomato puree and roasted bell peppers, and just made sure we were eating lot of pickles, lol! 

The following year, we took it easy on the garden.  My health wasn’t great, so I didn’t have tons of energy for it.  But the kids missed it quite a bit.  And when we decided to sell our house, we wanted to garden to look good too.  So we planted a few things that we could manage more easily:  cucumbers (on a trellis this time), zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers and hot peppers.

And again, we had huge amounts of cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini.  Luckily for me, I was able to eat the zucchini and bell peppers in my soup.  I let the rest of the family enjoy the pickled cucumbers and jalapeños again.

I loved that garden.  It was almost magical in its ability to grow our favorite veggies.  But I know the tips and tricks we learned made that possible.  We have since moved and are starting another backyard garden.  But that is a story for another day.  🙂

2 Week Transition (a.k.a. Adjusting to Summer Vacation Mode)

My kids’ last day of school was this past week.  It was a day for celebrating all that the kids have accomplished over the last year.  A day to celebrate the end of waking up early and packing lunches.  A day to celebrate the end of homework (for at least a few weeks).

But what about the other emotions?  Being sad to leave a beloved teacher.  Saying goodbye to friends that they might only see during the school year.  Or saying goodbye to friends who might be moving away over the summer.  Goodbye to routines that are so engrained that they can be hard to let go.

Both of my big kids came home from school on the last day of school, not the overjoyed pair that I expected.  They both walked in the door sad.  And of course, I was distracted by a phone call and the electrician that had just arrived.  So I wasn’t able to offer the attention that they deserved immediately and that didn’t help.  But after a little bit they cheered up and are now saying that we didn’t celebrate the last day of school sufficiently. Guess our tradition of donuts on their first day of vacation didn’t count.  Lol!

Beyond that first afternoon of vacation blues, I’ve noticed a trend that summer vacation usually follows.  I call it the 2 Week Transition.  Here is how it breaks down:  First 2 Weeks after school gets out, the Last 2 Weeks prior to school starting and everything in between.

First 2 Weeks

The First 2 Weeks of being home are the hardest.  It is the time that the kids seem to go withdrawals of seeing their friends on a daily basis.  This transition could be relieved by consistent interaction with their friends.  Even though we don’t live far from friends, their close friends don’t live in our neighborhood and have busy families too.  It usually takes some coordinating to plan play dates.  But even with careful planning, there just isn’t a way to recreate at home the energy and the opportunity for a variety of friends to play with that school provides.

And of course there is the school routine.  For some reason, the kids seem to feel the loss of being told what to do.  Now, I’m very happy to step into that roll as necessary (ha ha!).  I just don’t think I should be planning every minute of their day for them.  And that is what they are used to with school.  There is a routine and a plan of what needs to be accomplished that day.  Once summer vacation starts, that goes away.  And the kids say they are bored pretty often.  Thankfully, my kids are old enough to make some decisions of how to spend their time on their own now.  But it seems to take them a couple weeks to feel comfortable with the slower pace and being able to be more self-directed in their activities. During this time I try to plan some play dates and think through a list of activities they can fill their times with: reading, dusting, playing ball with the dog, folding towels, coloring/activity books, cleaning their rooms.  You know, all kinds of fun stuff.  😉

Of course, this transition can be lessened or delayed by the kids going to camp or if you plan a trip right away.  I have also noticed this transition to a lesser degree when my kids were in preschool.  Since they were used to being home more often, it wasn’t quite as big a transition as it is for my elementary age kids.  And of course, when I was working outside my home and my kids were in day care or in the summer session at preschool, it wasn’t such a big deal.  The world just continued as normal for them.  It seems to hit elementary school kids the hardest since they are used to that daily routine at school.

And that just covered the kid’s transition into summer vacation mode!  I haven’t even gotten into the mom/caregiver transition.  It can be a tough transition from having the kids in school half the day to being with them 24/7.  I know by the 2nd day of break I start looking forward to school starting again… just kidding, or maybe not.

This is my 4th summer being a SAHM.  I’m sure there are many of you out there that have this transition thing totally in the bag.  Me… I’m still working on it.  I’m finding that I need to plan play dates as much for me as for the kids.  I need that slight break and the opportunity to talk to another adult more than ever.  My favorite times are play dates with those other moms that are my friends.  While most of my kids are old enough to go to a trusted friend’s house without me, I generally like the times that I can hang out with my mom friends.  Truthfully, it isn’t quite as relaxing when spending two hours with someone you haven’t met before or just don’t click with.  I still have those times, but to help my mental state during this transition I try to heavy up on play dates with my friends.  Luckily for me (and my kids), many of my friend’s kids are my kids’ friends!

I also try to plan in some non-kid time.  A trip to the gym with the kids in child care works well.  And then I take my time after my work out to stretch, maybe catch up on my Facebook feed, read a book/magazine or just enjoy the relative calm.  Another great option is a trip to the grocery store without the kids (aka paradise).  Normally, I do my grocery shopping on my own or with just my youngest.  But over summer, boy, oh, boy does the stress factor go into overdrive when going to the grocery store with all 3 of my kids.  I think I’d rather be their target for a Nerf gun war than have to shop with all three kids all the time.  My other favorite non-kid time is a night out with friends.  I know not everyone needs it, but I know for me it is important to have a bit of a break every once in a while and especially during this transition period.

Once that First 2 Weeks has passed, they seem to have pretty much transitioned to summer vacation mode.  That doesn’t mean they still don’t want to see friends or have an option of activities available.  They just seem to be able to fill the time better on their own.  They start remembering all the fun things they can do now that school doesn’t occupy all their time: building forts, playing cops and robbers, playing with Legos, coloring, riding bikes, Nerf gun wars, having a picnic in the backyard, etc.

Everything In Between

The time between the first and last 2 weeks of summer break are, in my book, the glory days of summer.  I, too, have slowed down and gotten into the routine of not racing out the door for school every morning.  By that time I am again enjoying being with my kids and itching to do fun stuff with them. I generally try to keep costs down for summer activities and so try to utilize free options like parks, the library, etc.  And of course, we’re working to check off things on this year’s Summer Bucket List.

Last 2 Weeks

But then all too soon we are approaching Back to School season.  The Last 2 Weeks of summer vacation are a more conscious, planned transition time.  Even though the kids would happily continue on their laid back summer ways, I need to start mentally and physically preparing them to head back to school.  I slowly bring their bedtimes more into line with what we do during the school year.  Not that we go crazy over the summer and let the kids stay up till midnight every night.  But bedtimes usually aren’t as strict, so I start moving bedtime 5-10 minutes earlier every night or two so they get used to being in bed at a decent hour.  I start waking the kids up earlier too. No more sleeping in until 8am for us!  (Yes, I know we aren’t really late sleepers in our house.)  But the kids still need to be up earlier during the school year so they can be ready for school in time.  I also try to taper off any long days out of the house, since the kids (and I) seem to need a day to recover after a full day away. I try do all of this (sometimes with more success than others) so the kids can be fully rested for when school starts.

The second part of the Last 2 Weeks transition is preparing for school.  I don’t know about you, but at our school we get a list of school supplies from the teachers with a recommended list of school supplies needed for class.  Each teacher is different.  So this year, since my youngest is starting Kindergarten, I’ll have 3 separate lists of school supplies to purchase.  Yikes!!!  On top of that is any backpack, lunch box, shoe or clothing shopping that needs to happen.  And believe me, ALL the parents are out in force.  Last year I ordered (totally recommend this for your sanity!) a lot of the school supplies online  for delivery or in-store pick up so that I didn’t have to brave the crowds in the Back to School areas of the store.  The crowds and lines reminded me of Disneyland in the peak of summer, just without the fun rides or great atmosphere.

So while we are just currently in the midst of the First 2 Weeks right now, I think with a little preparation (and lots of deep breathing) we should be able to survive the Two Week Transitions a bit more gracefully this year.  And, hopefully, you will too!

10 Ways to Make Someone Happier

Yesterday I went to the grocery store.  I’m there all the time, so people there know us by name. Or, actually, they know my little one’s name since they hear me calling for her all the time, lol.  I ran into a bunch of people I know (not staff members) and, being the extrovert that I am, I was in a great mood from all the chance encounters. The staff is usually super friendly too, but today I was with a cashier that wasn’t as nice with us or as gentle as I’d have liked with my produce.  She was very polite, but not very personable/friendly.  I don’t think she smiled or really looked at us.  And, unfortunately, it made me a bit grumpy to have a less than positive interaction.  And in turn, I noticed my patience suffering on the ride home from my little one’s chatter.

Another recent experience at a store was completely different.  I went in search of something I needed for my son.  I walked to the area of the store that I thought would have the item and sought out an employee.  I found one talking with another customer, so I waited patiently.  When it was my turn, I got the directions I needed with a smile.  He even made small talk with my kids and made them smile.  I walked out of the store a happy camper.  His kindness had put me in a great mood.

I don’t think we often realize what an impact we have on those happen to meet while out running errands, at work, at school functions, a night on the town, etc.  Sometimes it is enough to make their day terrible or simply wonderful.

So here are some of my thoughts on how we can help turn someone’s day around and make it, even a tiny bit, better:

  1. Smile

You may feel silly walking around smiling, but sometimes just seeing someone else smiling can help bring a smile to your face too.  And did you know that smiling can actually make you happy too?  It’s true!

  1. Make eye contact

If you happen to catch someone’s eye, you can just hold it for a second.  Acknowledge that they are a person and that they are there.  Don’t be creepy about it.  Smiling kindly at the same time can help take away the creepy factor.

  1. Think about what it might be like in their shoes

Sometimes when I come in contact with someone who is being difficult, I try to remember that no matter how perfect or imperfect they seem to have their act together, how well they are dressed, or what their reputation is, we all have bad days.  It might help your attitude during the encounter and, in turn, help their day from getting worse. And for those times that it just doesn’t help my attitude, I aim to follow #4.

  1. Don’t judge

Nothing can turn your smile upside down faster than being told you are doing something wrong, especially with parenting.  You don’t know their situation and they don’t know yours.  Give them a break and keep negative comments (and looks) to yourself.

  1. Compliment their child (if they have one with them)

I know I always personally love it when other people think my kids are as great as I do, or even just remind me to like them during a tough moment.  “What a cutie!”  Or if you notice the child showing good manners, you can help to call it out.  “Wow!  What a gentleman.  Thanks for letting me go first!”  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the moment that we don’t notice when our kids are actually being well behaved!  Having someone else notice can help to cheer you up.

  1. Give a word of encouragement

“Have a great day,”  “great work” or “that color is great on you!”  Of course, walking up to a random person with “that color is great on you” may not be very well received if you don’t know them or they aren’t holding up the latest in summer fashion trying to determine which color to pick.

  1. Commiserate

Sometimes you might notice someone else having a hard time with something.  Help them know they aren’t alone or failing. For example, maybe they are struggling opening a beach chair.  Something like “Oh, I always have a hard time with those!”  A “wish I could help, but I always have to have my husband/wife/mom help me,” “good luck” or “here’s how I do it” might also be well received.    My favorite comment when my kids are acting up is for another parent to say, “We just had that conversation at my house too!”  It helps me feel like I’m not alone in the parenting struggle.

  1. Let them go first

If you can tell someone is in a rush or struggling, maybe you could let them go first.  I know it made the world of difference for me when I had 3 cranky, screaming children and someone would be kind enough to let me go first through the check stand.  I think it was for everyone else’s benefit for us to be gone, but it sure made me happy!

  1. Ask for advice

It always feels good when someone thinks you know more than they do.  Whether it be for advice on a new product at a store or how they chose their car, feeling knowledgeable about something can give their ego and mood a boost.

  1. Be sincere

If you just don’t feel it, neither will the other person.  Maybe it is your turn to be on the receiving side of a smile or compliment.  We all have those days!

I know my experience at the store yesterday would have been greatly improved by a smile or a kind word to my daughter. Maybe the cashier was having a bad day.  Next time I see her I’ll try to remember to give her a smile and thank her for her hard work.  Who knows? It might turn her day around.

How many people would benefit from your smile or kind words?  Why not try?  It could make you happy too!

How Real Food, Whole30, Low FODMAP and GAPS Didn’t Fix Me

I have never really had a sensitive stomach.  Oh, there were foods that I didn’t do that great with, namely high fat or fried foods.  For example, I could eat an In-N-Out cheeseburger and chocolate shake or cheeseburger and share an order of fries, but I could not eat all three.  So I could handle a little bit, but more than that gave me a stomach ache. But it didn’t stop me from eating my favorites: ice cream and baked goods!

Then about 4 years ago my tummy started bugging me a little bit.  Hmmm…. I’m noticing a coincidence here.  That was shortly after I went back to work after having my 3rd child.  I was nursing, pumping at work, managing an au pair/nanny, commuting 2-3 hours a day and up millions of times a night to soothe my little one back to sleep.  Let me tell you, I was not at my best.  I was stressed and exhausted and stressed some more.

We ate out once or twice a week, mostly at places like Panda Express, Mountain Mike’s or a local Mexican restaurant.  When we didn’t eat out, we had things like pasta with sauce, tortellini, burritos or baked chicken with BBQ sauce.  These were all super yummy foods that we all enjoyed. They were quick and easy to make which suited our busy schedules.  But I started not wanting to eat out so much or eat so much packaged foods. I wanted to eat healthier in hopes of boosting my energy and life span.

Shortly before I quit my job in 2014, I found the “Real Food” movement.  And I heartily embraced it.  I’ve always had a bit of a natural, earthy tendency.  I blame it on the fact that my mom was born and raised in Germany (space and natural resources are at more of a premium in Europe) and the college I went to was nicknamed “Granola State”.  Real Food resonated with me and I went gung-ho!  I followed 100 Days of Real Food and bought the cook book.  I talked it up to all my friends.  I baked my own bread and made everything from scratch. I loved it and so did my family! But my tummy troubles weren’t helped.  In fact, they got worse.

By this point I had quit my job and had been a stay-at-home mom for about a year.  And my tummy troubles had progressed to the point where they affected me 24 hours a day.  I didn’t want to eat, because it make my tummy hurt.  Even when I drank water I would be in pain.  My energy levels dropped and I had to push myself to do get anything accomplished.  So I finally went to the doctor.

I got the diagnosis that everyone is happy and sad to hear at the same time: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  You are happy to have IBS, because it isn’t something worse.  But you are totally bummed to have IBS, because it is not a real answer. IBS is a diagnosis by exclusion.  That means they can’t pinpoint a specific issue like Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Celiac, they just rule those issues out. An IBS diagnosis basically means that they can’t figure out what is causing your tummy troubles, but there seems to be nothing visibly wrong.  Of course, I felt like the doctors were wrong.  I said, “IBS is a bunch of baloney! Figure out what I’ve got.”  And the doctor still said, “It is IBS and I can’t help you, but you can see a nutritionist if you want.”

So I took matters in my own hands.  I started doing some research to see what I could do to help myself and made an appointment with the nutritionist at the same time.  Couldn’t hurt, right?  Anyways, I heard about the Whole30 from friends and borrowed and read the book “It Starts with Food” by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig.  I also found a wealth of information on the website as well. It made a lot of sense and I figured that if I could give my tummy a rest and reset things in 30 days, I would totally do it no matter how challenging.  You can do anything for 30 days, right?

I cut dairy and grains right away.  And the shooting pains in my stomach stopped within a couple days.  I officially started the Whole30 a few days later.  And I felt pretty good not eating sugar, soy, dairy, legumes, grains, and alcohol.  But I still had tummy troubles.  So I tried the Low FODMAP Whole30 list of foods. The Low FODMAP diet is for those suffering from IBS.  It eliminates certain types of carbohydrates/sugars from your diet and then you add them back in one at a time to see what your triggers are. To learn more about the Low FODMAP diet, I liked this website to help educate me.  And after meeting with the nutritionist, I compared her recommended list of Low FODMAP foods with those on the Whole30 list (for some reason each low FODMAP list you find out there will have some differences) and implemented those changes.

Unfortunately, this did not stop my problems.  So, on the nutritionist’s recommendation, I continued to cut foods that I noticed caused me problems.  There went eggs, strawberries and citrus fruits, mustard, vinegars, olives, oils, tomatoes and avocados. The list continued to grow. I kept cutting until I ate only 10 foods: chicken, beef, carrots, zucchini, spinach, water chestnuts, potatoes, bok choy, blueberries and bananas.  I was still able to tolerate salt and pepper, lucky me.  And yet still I was having problems.

It just seemed never ending and I couldn’t imagine cutting more foods.  At this point I had been eating a low FODMAP Whole30 diet for 6 months and was getting desperate for answers.  A holistic nutritionist was recommended to me, so I called her up.  She recommended the GAPS diet and some supplements. So I bought the book (do you see a pattern??) and did research on GAPS.  I started the GAPS Introduction Diet.  That basically meant that made my own chicken soup. I boiled a chicken and used the broth to make soup with veggies.  But the only veggies that I seemed to still be able to tolerate were carrots and zucchini.  So I ate 3 ingredients for a long time.  I was never able to move past Stage 2 of the 7 stages in the GAPS Introduction Diet.  I basically survived on soup and my ginger “tea” (boiling water poured over freshly grated ginger) for 4 months.  I had some minor improvements, but they were very minor.

And I looked for another nutritionist.  I promise, I am not usually this difficult to please.  But I needed to find answers and no one was giving me any, not the doctors or the nutritionists I had seen.  This time I searched for a nutritionist that leaned towards functional medicine.  I first heard this term in my Whole30 research.

According to the Functional Medicine Institute, “Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership.”

Basically, Functional Medicine doctors try to find the cause of the problem and strive to fix that using more holistic or natural methods, rather than just treating the symptoms. I found this often involves “healing the gut.”  And, boy, did that make me happy, because my “gut” was definitely in need of some healing!

I was in tears when I met with my new functional medicine nutritionist.  I just wanted to be able to live and eat normally.  I didn’t want to panic if I was more than 30 minutes from home, because I couldn’t eat anything that didn’t come from my kitchen and I was afraid to not make it home in time before I completely lost it from hunger. I ate about 15 pounds of carrots a week, but didn’t turn orange.  And lots of zucchini, most of which I was able to grow in my garden! My body just didn’t absorb any of the nutrients I was eating.  My hair was falling out and I was losing weight in an unhealthy way. Don’t get me wrong, I looked great because I started out not on the skinny side.  That didn’t take away from the fact that this was not the way I wanted to lose the weight. I was hungry every 2 hours and had to cook myself a whole chicken every 2 days to keep me fed.  I didn’t want to feel sick after everything I ate and wake up in the middle of the night in pain. As you might have guessed, I was completely at my wits end.

And she told me, “Lisa, I’m going to help you get better.” And I cried. I was so fearful that I was going to have to live this way for the rest of my life.  And the problem was, it wasn’t really living.  I was tied to the house and to all kinds of extra work and stress to feed myself, while at the same time I had to feed my family foods that were not extra boiled chicken and mush for veggies.

But through lots supplements and lots of hand holding, we began to heal my gut.  I still cooked my own chicken and bone broth.  But over the course of 6 months I was able to add in other vegetable and even could tolerate small amounts of gluten free grains.  Though things had improved a lot, I was still having symptoms.  We ended up doing a test to see if it could help us find the cause of my problems.  By this point I had healed enough that the test would actually be beneficial. It came back showing a bacterial imbalance and lots of inflammation in my gut.  It was no wonder that my stomach hurt all the time!  I had low counts of bacteria and not a good diversity.  This basically meant that my tummy bacteria just didn’t have the strength or skills to digest foods properly.  My wonderful functional nutritionist adjusted my supplements to deal with the imbalance and we adjusted my probiotics to help build up the good bacteria.  In addition to a daily high dose probiotic supplement, I also rotated my probiotic foods to help the bacterial diversity in my gut. Kefir, kombucha, raw sauerkraut and raw apple cider vinegar were rotated each day to make sure I was getting all kinds of good bacteria in my tummy.

Since I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned, I saw a GI specialist to run some tests.  They did a colonoscopy and a video capsule endoscopy (basically I swallowed a tiny video camera that took pictures of my insides).  And I had to do the normal prep for those tests, (not to get too graphic) the ones that completely clean you out while you eat nothing but broth and jello.  I had only homemade chicken broth, homemade jello (not the boxed kind) and homemade tea.  I felt so good not eating food, I decided that this must be the way to do it!  Unfortunately, you need to eat to live, so that method was out. Shucks! The tests came back showing no problems.  Not even any inflammation!

And somehow, I felt better than ever.  I was no longer getting a gurgle-y stomach after eating or waking up in the middle of the night in pain.  I felt almost normal.  I was sooooo excited!  Between the good bacteria I was putting in my body and the cleanse prior to the tests getting rid of any bad bacteria; I was finally in a place to start eating more normally.

That brings us to today. I still am not eating like everyone else, but I am no longer tied down by my tummy troubles.  I can grab a banana and eat it for a snack.  Or I can even have a steak (cooked dry, meaning no oil or butter) at a restaurant.  I’m still on the road to recovery, but I am able to live again.  This in itself is a miracle and I’m still in awe of this blessing every day. I owe this all to Jesus and the help of my functional medicine nutritionist.

I don’t know exactly what caused my problems.  The doctors and nutritionists alike seem to think that stress and antibiotics probably had a hand in it.  And I probably do have IBS, but the bacterial imbalances are really what put me down for the count.  I do know that while Real Food, Whole30, low FODMAP and GAPS all helped me some, I was too far gone by that point for them to do too much good.  And believe me, I am a big fan of every single one of those ways of eating.  I have since done the Whole30 with my husband and plan to do it again (even though I already eat a Whole30 type diet every day).  I still believe in Real Food and its benefits.  I know GAPS and low FODMAP diets have helped tons of people and they helped to ease my tummy too.

The trouble was that in all of my searches and all my research, there was never an answer of what to do if these diets/lifestyle changes didn’t work. And believe me, I searched! What I found out through my experience is that, if trying to eat a healthy, healing diet isn’t working for you, working with a functional medicine doctor or nutritionist might be the way to go.  I am now a big advocate of healing your gut!  It has made a world of difference for me.

I suffered for 3 years before seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope and pray that if you are also suffering, that you don’t have to suffer long.  Keep pushing for your health, because you are your best advocate.  Keep hunting for those answers and be the squeaky wheel!

Fidget Spinner Frenzy

Ahhhh!!! It is a Fidget Frenzy!

About 3 weeks ago I had probably heard the words “fidget spinner” once or twice.  Then I heard it again from my 1st grader on a Thursday afternoon.  And when I picked my 4th grader up from school on Friday he got in the car and said, “Hi!  I want to get a fidget spinner.  Can I get one today????   Please????”  First things first. “Ummm…. Can you sit down and buckle up so we can drive out of the parking lot?”

By the time we got home, he had asked me about 3 more times.  We live about 2 minutes from school.  “Mommy, do you even know what a fidget spinner is?” And then it was time to display my ignorance.  I had really only heard of the things the day before.  Was I living under a rock?  Most likely.  Somehow the beginning of the fidget spinner craze had slipped right past me.  I think it must have started that Wednesday.

So we googled “fidget spinners.”  They come in all sorts of shapes and colors.  Some light up, too.  I must confess I totally didn’t see the draw.  But somehow my son was crazy about them.  I guess they are the “in-thing.” And it isn’t like they are allowed to have them at school.  The kids aren’t supposed to even have them at school unless they are agreed to by the teacher and parent as helpful for the child.

We spent the better part of the afternoon researching fidget spinners, the various types, reviews and pricing.  And apparently they make fidget cubes as well.  But he wanted a spinner and since he had birthday money to spend, he chose a fidget spinner that had good reviews and that he liked the look of.  We waited a day to see if he would change his mind…. Nope.

This all happened within 3 days of me really hearing of the things.  Now I know a bit more.  I’ve read a few articles, blog posts and reviews about them.  For those of you like me, I’ll give you the info real quick.  They are often marketed for people who have trouble staying still or focusing, like those with ADHD or anxiety.  It is said that they can be soothing.   But they have exploded and become the must-have toy this year. I don’t know too much about its claims (I am definitely not qualified to say much either way).  I can see it being helpful, but I can see it also becoming a huge distraction (hence it not being allowed at school).

For my son, they are just fun to spin.  He had ordered a couple that, unfortunately, both arrived damaged.  So he had to survive for a couple weeks without one.  He actually ended up picking 2 fidget spinners from the San Francisco Zoo gift shop (the girls got stuffed animals, not a huge surprise there!). He is trying different tricks and has timed them to see how long they spin.  He actually has locked them up in his “safe” with the fidget cube that my husband brought home from a work conference.

You find these things everywhere.  There are a ton on Amazon, eBay and at gift shops.  My mother-in-law actually told me that she almost ordered some from QVC last night.  I guess they made the big time!

I must say that from trying them out, I can see some of the draw.  Do you ever cap and un-cap your pen while listening to a lecture/speech? Or doodle on a paper? Play with your hair?  The fidget spinner/cube seems to provide something similar. I like listening to the quiet whir of the fidget spinner.  Staring at it can also be fun to zone out now and again.  But I totally don’t get the fidget cube.  It makes zero sense to me.

My son is now over the moon excited to have 2 fidget spinners.  We don’t allow him to take them to school, but he will happily play with one while waiting for dinner to cook or while the girls are watching something on TV that he isn’t super interested in.  And as long as they don’t become a distraction from his homework or helping around the house, we are happy that he is happy.

Our Zoo Adventure

Yesterday we went on a family trip to the San Francisco Zoo.  This was our first time there and first day trip in a long time, but it was with mixed emotions that we were setting out.  We knew it was going to be a long day out and, well, there just isn’t a way to put this delicately, I always pray that any drive longer than 15 minutes doesn’t involve puke.  The problem we have is that both our girls get carsick.

We start out armed with wipes, a trash can and hair bands.  If we are lucky, I remember to pack a change of clothes and some plastic bags.  And we have recently just started making sure to give the girls motion sickness meds every time we go for an extended car ride.  I hate to do it, since I much prefer to use a natural method.  But we were in a time crunch and knew we were going to be driving multiple times throughout the day, so we wanted to be safe.  Next time I’m trying something more natural.  If I find something that works, I’ll be sure to share!

I wish I could have gotten a video, but my phone doesn’t like me right now.  My husband was telling the kids all the things we would be seeing on the drive to the City and got cheers for everything he said.  “We are going to San Francisco today!”  “YAY!” “We’ll be driving over a bridge.”  “Yay!”  “You’ll get to see Alcatraz from the window.”  “Yay!!!”  This went on for several minutes and it was so much fun to see how excited they were for their adventure!

We were to meet our daughters Girl Scout troop for lunch in San Francisco and then drive from there to the San Francisco Zoo.  And we made it to the restaurant.  A bit late, but in time for lunch, so I call that success! After lunch we headed to the Zoo.

The kids couldn’t wait to get in to the Zoo.  I couldn’t wait to get in to the Zoo.  Once there we saw a sign proclaiming that there was a special Tarantula exhibit as well.  This made little one’s day!  She loves bugs. She definitely doesn’t get that love from me! But I do have to say I think she gets her stubbornness from me.

We started in the African Region.  I got to see my favorite zoo animal, the giraffe.  For some reason, I’ve always loved giraffes.  When I was little I had a little giraffe stuffed animal and I think that they hold special childhood joy and memories for me.  So whenever possible, I go visit the giraffes.

 

The zebras were also fun to see.  One of them snorted when we were there and my older daughter got a huge kick out of being able to hear them make noises.  And the gorillas were pretty amazing.  But through all of this, my little one was whining and complaining.  All she wanted to do was go see the Tarantula exhibit.  We told her to be patient and have a good attitude and we would see them soon.

From the gorillas, we moved on to the Primate Discovery Center and got more complaints about wanting to go see the Tarantula exhibit.  Then on to Penguin Island. The kids were enamored with the penguins.  They were swimming around, flapping their wings at us and wiggling their tails.  It was almost like a choreographed show.  One would swim by and flap a wing, roll over and wiggle its tail.  Then the next one would do it too.  It was hilarious.  We could have stood there watching them for hours.  I think this was my son’s favorite.  He asked if we could go back to watch them again.

In favor of appeasing my little one’s desire for bugs (and ours for not having to subject ourselves and everyone around us to her complaints!), we went to the Tarantula Exhibit.  She LOVED it!  She searched for the big, hairy spiders and made sure to point them out to me when she found them.  I personally stood back at a distance and didn’t look too closely when she pointed.  By the time we left the exhibit she had asked “Mommy, when I’m in high school can I have a tarantula? Please?” And as the ever-generous mom I am, I answered, “Of course, we can definitely talk about it when you are in high school!” (“high school” equals being older to her 4 year old mind, lol!)  From that point on, she was the happiest little girl at the zoo.

Then we got to my favorite for the day.  We got to see the hippo being fed.  What I loved about this was that we got to see it from so close up.  The zoo employee had turned on water that the hippo either just loved to be sprayed with or was trying to drink.  So fun to watch! They fed it corn on the cob and what looked like radishes, or some other veggie with red on the ends.  It sat there with its huge mouth open forever, like it was waiting for more.  It was super cool!

We even got to see one of the tigers drinking water, which gave us an opportunity to have a really good look at it.  Its paws are huge!  We did our best to try to see everything in the time we had, but unfortunately missed a few spots.  One thing we did figure out is that we love the San Francisco Zoo and can’t wait to go back again!

So for our first day trip, I’d call it a success.  I know we all will have great memories of this day and our time at the zoo.  The day wasn’t free from stress or perfect by any means. But what I think is important is that we did it together. I love my little family and can’t wait for more adventures ahead!

Teacher Gift Anxiety

Who out there is like me?  I tend to remember that we need end of year gifts for the kids’ teachers about two days before school is out.  And then all those cute, personalized gifts are no longer an option.  You know which ones I’m talking about.  The coffee cups/water cups that have their name on it and “Best Teacher Ever!”  Or the scrapbook of all the pictures of my kid and the teacher throughout the year.  Ahhhhh!!! And the panic sets in!

 

By the time I remember that I should be buying something, I am generally stuck with only gift cards as an option.  Not that gift cards are a bad idea.  (I think they are GREAT idea and I’ll probably suggest that this is the gift of choice for this year.)  But I always feel so un-creative when I give a gift card.  Maybe I’ve got some sort of crazy, need to be Martha Stewart and all of Pinterest combined, expectation of myself.  If I’m being honest, I for SURE have a crazy expectation that I feel I need to achieve.  I feel guilty and like I’m letting the teacher and my kids down if I don’t come up with a cool, handmade, time-intensive gift.

Why do I feel this way? Well, there are a lot of Pinterest moms out there who amaze me and blow me out of the water in terms of creativity and late night crafting skills.  And there are great moms who are organized and plan ahead for their teacher gifts.  These moms astound me and I want to be like them!

I find that I want to be Supermom: cooking, cleaning and crafting to save the world!  But honestly, this isn’t me.  I love to cook and bake.  I even don’t mind cleaning if I ever get the chance to really focus on it.  (That doesn’t seem to happen as often as I’d like.)  But I’m not a super artsy person.  Crafting is not a something I do just for the fun of it.  Maybe I’m too practical or left brained for it, I don’t know.  I love looking at the finished product, just not all the steps and work involved in getting to that point.

The time crunch is probably a big part of that.  That and the mess.  And not just my mess, it is my kids’ messes too.  Because if one person in the house is doing something crafty, everyone else wants to do it too.  Or start their own crafting project, times 3.  So then I’m trying to manage 4 projects at the same time as cook dinner and keep the dog from eating everything.  That is when the stress comes in.  And when stress comes to visit, you get to meet “Mean Mommy” (say it in a deep, scary voice).  I don’t like to be Mean Mommy.  Mean Mommy makes me sad.  So I have to try to set better expectations for myself.

That is why I like gift cards.  My favorites are to places I know they’ll like (i.e. Target, Starbucks, Amazon, Jamba Juice, their favorite restaurant, or a great teacher store that isn’t too far away).  But I also like to involve the kids.  I ask them what they think the teacher would like.  Last year, my son really wanted to give his teacher some Expo or Sharpie markers.  I guess the teacher always needed more and he wanted to help meet that need. (Very practical, like Mommy!)  Or my older daughter, who has an amazing generous heart, wanted to buy fancy nuts, chocolates, bouquets of flowers and every stuffed animal she saw.

I find that I have to help them set their expectations too.  I let them know we have a budget we have to stick to, so maybe a diamond necklace is not going to happen this year. And as much as Mommy would love to help them make that fancy Pinterest idea the morning of the last day of school, we have to make sure we have enough time to get things done and get to school on time.  One thing I do encourage is that they make their teacher a card.  They can draw or decorate it however they want, with whatever we happen to have at home. And then I will cook dinner in semi-peace.

This year I’ve got a two weeks left of school and I feel like I may be ahead of the game.  I’ve started to ask the kids their ideas for teacher gifts.  And just because I am not at my best when I have to be super crafty on a time crunch, doesn’t mean I can’t help to make this fun for the kids.  We’ll probably pick a small, inexpensive item or two to include with the gift card to make it feel more well-rounded.  And of course the handmade, heart-felt card!

Pep talk to self (and anyone who relates!):  Be free from the pressure.  You are your own biggest critic; no one else will fault you for it.  It is okay to go the easy route and avoid un-needed and un-wanted stress!

An Afternoon Cherry Picking

We are lucky enough to live in an area close to lots of orchards and farms.  Thankfully not the kind of farm that stinks of animal droppings!  These local farms grow cherries, peaches, apricots, strawberries, pluots, pomegranates, corn, tomatoes and a number of other fruits and veggies.  And right now, we are in the middle of cherry season.  In past years, cherry season had been pretty short due to the effects of the drought.  But this year, the trees are pulling out all the stops!

This is our 4th year going cherry picking and we love it!  It is so amazing to see the transformation of the trees.  In the winter, the cherry tree orchards have a lovely, lonely look with leafless branches.  But in the spring the trees transform.  The cherry blossoms turn the trees pinkish white.  And now the trees are green and heavy with fruit.

 

We went on an afternoon this past week and met some friends at the Bloomfield Cherries in Brentwood.  The kids picked cherries (only the dark red ones, please!), while us moms talked and supervised.  I guess we were gabbing away a little too long, because before you know it, the kids’ buckets were pretty full. I was getting worried that I didn’t have enough cash on hand to pay.  Yikes!

 

(Tip: Make sure you have plenty of cash to pay for your u-pick produce.  I have found you have to pay for what you pick and cash, or possibly check, is required for payment.)

We ended up with just over 6 pounds of beautiful cherries!  Luckily, I had enough. One dollar to spare. Whew!

I always think that we are getting enough for me to bake something fancy or try to make jam.  But no such luck, once again the cherries were gone within 3 days!  Guess I’ll have to buy more next time!  And I’m already looking forward to peach and apricot season.  My kids are crazy about apricot jam.  Maybe I’ll actually get to make some.

If you haven’t had the chance to go cherry picking yet, go soon before the cherries are all gone!

Mother’s Day and the Zoo

Mother’s Day turned out really nice!  I was told to stay in bed while my husband took the puppy out for her morning trip.  The kids made cards and crafts for me.  They had them all set up so that I would be surprised when I got up.  And the dishwasher was even emptied before I woke up!  I call that a good day! (And, yes, that is our puppy!)

To top it all off, we went out to dinner and spent some time with my in-laws who also migrated here from southern California.  While hanging out after dinner, my husband mentioned our upcoming trip to the San Francisco Zoo.  This will be a first for us!  So fun!

It is actually a Girl Scout event for my older daughter’s Girl Scout troop, but we decided to spend the money and take the whole family.  The Zoo isn’t a super expensive place to visit, but when you add on lunch out, gas, parking, snacks, etc. for 4 additional people it definitely adds up. Normally, I would just pack lunch for the family to eat while out for the day.  It saves a bit of money and gives us the flexibility of eating wherever we happen to be when hunger strikes.  But the troop will be having a special lunch out at a restaurant, so we are tagging along.

So, my husband was sharing our plans to go and checking to see if my in-laws wanted to join us at the Zoo.  My mom-in-law mentioned that they really enjoy being asked to join in fun stuff we are doing as a family.  And I laughed.  I laughed because we hardly ever ask them to join us for fun outings.  Not because I have an evil, heartless soul.  We haven’t asked them to join us, because we haven’t done anything in a while.  I’m not sure if they knew that or not.  But we made sure to tell them that we aren’t inviting them, not because we don’t want them with us.  We love them very much. We aren’t inviting them, because we haven’t been going anywhere except the pet store or Home Depot lately.

And that brings us back once again to why I’m writing this blog.  We want more life in our lives.   So the San Francisco Zoo will be our first non-pet or furniture related day trip in I don’t know how long.  Yay us!!!!  Check back soon since I’ll post some pictures of Zoo fun once we go.