Thursday, January 26, 2017

Dessert to the Rescue: Toasted Snowballs in Homemade Chocolate Sauce

A couple of years ago, I made this dessert for my family for the first time.  Ever since then, they ask for it often (like, every day). The original recipe came from Susan Branch's cookbook, Autumn.  The recipe below is generally the same with just few slight adaptations of my own. This dessert can be made ahead of time, which is nice if you are having guests over. To serve, simply warm the syrup, make a puddle on your favorite dish and place a snowball in the center.  If you want to get fancy, serve with a mint leaf garnish on the side. Enjoy!!

To Toast the Coconut:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread sweetened coconut on a cookie sheet (I use about 1/2 bag for 1/2 gallon ice cream) and bake for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until toasted. Watch it carefully, it can burn quickly!

To Prepare the Ice Cream:
Note: If you can find cinnamon ice-cream at your grocer, that is the easiest way to prepare this dessert. I, however, have not been able to find it over the past couple of years, so this is my improvisation!

Soften 1/2 gallon of good vanilla bean ice cream, and scoop out the entire container into a large bowl. In a smaller bowl combine until well blended 1/2 cup (do not pack) brown sugar3 tablespoons of ground cinnamon (more or less to your liking) and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Sprinkle cinnamon mixture over ice cream and stir until well combined.  You can use a stand up mixer with a paddle attachment if you like, but do not use a hand mixer.  Return to freezer until firm enough to scoop into balls that will hold their shape.

Scoop out 1/2 cup size portions into round balls and roll in coconut, giving each one a generous coating.  Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.  I like to make these ahead of time, but you can save this step until you are ready to serve if you like.

Homemade Chocolate Sauce Recipe:
 **You will never buy Hershey's syrup ever again!!**
3/4 c. milk (whole milk works best)
1 Tbs. real butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate (use a high quality baking chocolate)
1 1/2  c. sugar
3 Tbs. light corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla (Mexican vanilla is wonderful if you have it!)

Note: If you do not have unsweetened chocolate on hand, you may also substitute 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and reduce the sugar amount to 1 cup, and the recipe will turn out fine.

Heat milk over low heat and melt butter and chocolate in it, stirring constantly until smooth.  Add in sugar and corn syrup and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes.  Stir in vanilla.  Serve hot or cold. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Any leftover sauce is best polished off during the kids' nap time, and pairs well with everything, including the crusts of leftover pb & j sandwiches caked in Cheetos dust. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

All the Thanks A Blog Could Ever Hold & Highlights of Our Holiday Homecoming With Steve

A million and more thanks go out to all of you who have reached out to us with love, support, encouragement, humor, hugs, pizza deliveries, and faithful prayers since my last post!

If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then the way to a mom's heart is through a well-stocked freezer! A fantastic Meal Train was set up for us by Steve's sister, Jen, and words cannot adequately express just how thankful I am for this amazing gift. It has truly been a sanity saver for me. I swear I can hear angels singing every time I open the freezer door (or maybe that's just the happy hearts of our boys, who are eating like kings these days)!

You have nourished not just our bodies, but our spirits as well, as our mailbox no longer just holds bills, but also kind notes and beautiful, generous gifts that we can only hope to pay forward one day.

The body of Christ is real, people.  It is strong.  It is powerful. And, with all sincerity, I mean it when I say we have felt the outpouring of graces that flow between the Cross and all of you and all of us.

A million and more thanks. Sincerely.

An update on Steve...

He has good days and bad days.  The doctors explained to us that Steve would feel worse before he would feel better, so he actually welcomes the bad days, because when he feels awful he knows that the medication and supplements are killing the infections in his body, which is the name of the game with Lyme and toxicity. (The reaction Lyme patients often experience in response to their prescribed medications is called a Herxheimer reaction, which you can read about here.)

Some of you have asked why Steve is staying in Florida, and the answer is because the majority of his medications and detox regimens are administered to him intravenously on a daily basis, with the exception of Saturdays and Sundays. This strict protocol requires him to remain close to the clinic.

Thanks to the generous help and support of family, we have not been apart from Steve for the entire seven weeks of his absence.  The boys and I, (along with Steve's family) were able to fly to Florida over the Christmas holiday for a reunion.
 Joseph's primary love languages are feasting and smooching. His kisses are like super juicy.  He will be homeschooled until he's 30. Because, sheltering, that's what we do, right??
Sweet Reunion

With military-level amounts of strategic planning, and a solid zone defense, we were able to make it through the airport without losing any children or luggage, and we even managed to avoid being sniffed out by the canine unit, despite having beef jerky and Pop Rocks in our backpacks. Whew!

Steve is staying at a nice little apartment complex close to the clinic, so it was an adventure for the boys (not so much their mother) to experience apartment living for a few days.  They thought the tennis courts and pool were a reasonable trade-off for the lack of sleeping space.

Apartment dwelling was really just our normal frat house living times ten.  Extra cozy = extra stinky. I put in a request for happy hour with management, but haven't heard back from them yet.
During our visit Steve continued to receive his treatments in the mornings, which left most of our afternoons open for sight-seeing or hanging out at the beach.
As I scroll through all of the the photos I captured on our trip, I feel humbled by Steve's quiet strength and the very noble way in which he bore his pains so quietly, so as to try and maintain a cheerful atmosphere at all times for the boys.
His love for them, and for me, truly is heroic.

{Please enjoy this reel of yeller snapshots, while I research "how to set your camera for beach photography."}
Watching the kids bask in hours of carefree fun, enjoying the beauty of the beach and the warmth of the sun, was a great distraction from the weight of our worries.
We were the most fair skinned fannies out on the sand! Even our farmer tans from last summer had faded.  Sunblock me, baby!
The spoils of fishing victory. Yes, George asked if we could eat those baby hammerheads for supper. I'm tellin' ya, he is the next Bear Grylls. At least I know when he leaves for college he'll never be hungry. 

What a relief.
We all agreed it felt a little strange not being wrapped in fleece and slathered in chapstick over the Christmas break (but, we survived).  

Henry informed me that he would rather have sand down his shorts than snow up his coveralls any day.  

Chaffing vs. frostbite.  It's a toss up.
The beach is such a perfect place for kids.  They are completely entertained with the sand for hours at a time. If this were my backyard I would have time to take a nap and shave my legs.  Those are my big dreams these days.
The top two boys are getting really good at dodging the camera.  While I respect their mamarazzi denial wishes, at times I must insist on them taking turns being a prop for the littlest man.  

I call this one "whispies."  The oldest and the youngest and their matching beach blown hair-dos.  A perfect end to an imperfect post!

I just have to say thanks, again, for your prayers.  They are the momentum behind our every movement, propelling us forward, one step at a time towards Steve's healing! 

More updates to come...

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Our Lady Undoer of Knots & Our Decision to Send Steve to Florida

When I started this blog a few years ago, the idealistic part of me assumed that it would be a place to share family stories, pics of our growing boys, favorite books and recipes, and maybe a tidbit here and there about homeschooling and farm life.

There's always something my mothering heart longs to write about, because writing has always been a special kind of joy, a therapy after long days of diaper changes and dish duty.

But, over the past couple of years, as the length of time between posts has widened from a few days, to a few weeks, to now a few months, I am accepting that the emptiness of this little virtual space may become something permanent, as the order of priority and charity in my heart for our family has far exceeded anything I've ever been called to in the past.

Many of you have been asking about Steve and his current situation concerning his health.  So, while the baby naps, I will attempt to piece together a somewhat coherent explanation of the latest happenings with him.

Three years ago, Steve was diagnosed with Lyme disease.  Early on, many of his symptoms pointed to a possibility of ALS and MS, but thankfully we were able to rule out those diseases as possible diagnoses.  Since I have already written about Steve's journey with Lyme and trichothecene infections up to this point (which you can read about here, herehere, and here if you are so inclined) I will not go into more detail, but will try to catch you up on where he is now.

Since his diagnosis, he has seen a number of doctors of different specialties who have attempted to rid his body of the Lyme bacteria (specifically borrelia burgdorferi and babesia) as well as the toxins from mold (trichothecenes) which have infected his body through his work with hay and wheat straw as well as from our home, which we discovered a year ago contained mold in a small area in our basement, but has since been remediated.

The infections and toxins in his body have compromised his immune and endocrine systems, which has made many of his symptoms worsen.  The specialists he has seen in hopes of building those symptoms back up have had little or no success with their prescribed treatments.

A year ago we heard about a clinic in Florida that specializes in treating Lyme disease, toxicity, and really every kind of illness imaginable.  At that time we seriously considered sending Steve south, but since the clinic would require a relocation for an undetermined amount of time, we decided to post pone it as an option because we were expecting our seventh child, and we didn't feel that it was a prudent option due to distance, separation from family and finances.

Instead we chose to exhaust all medical resources within close proximity, including the Hansa Center, which proved to be of minimal benefit to Steve.  After our son, Blaise, was born last May, Steve's symptoms, most of which are neurological in nature (severe headaches, pain behind the eyes, electrical frequencies in the brain at night which make it impossible to sleep) but also include muscle twitching, exhaustion, memory loss and an inability to concentrate, focus, or articulate his thoughts, began to worsen.
Papa snuggling with Blaise just days before his departure.

I could see and feel that he was becoming so discouraged, even depressed.  It took every ounce of energy and focus for him to keep our hay brokerage business and custom farming operations going, all the while he remained so devoted and present to our family, which brings me to tears just thinking about it.

Like most Lyme suffers, Steve looks pretty normal, and he has learned to cope with his symptoms so well, that people rarely realize just how sick he is.  When I visit with others who are in his same shoes, they also find that it's just easier to put on a smile and trudge through the day than to try to explain to others how debilitating the infection really is.

In early November I decided to pray a novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots. I have sincere trust in her great desire to carry our deepest, dearest petitions to her Son. On the final day of the novena, Steve's symptoms were the worst I had ever seen. I can't describe how painful it is to see him suffer so much.  That night, I left for a couple of hours to attend a party, and when I came back we spent a long time talking about a webinar that he had watched which was presented by the head doctor of the Sponougle Wellness center, the clinic in Florida he had considered attending a year ago. The webinar just happened to be focused on Steve's very symptoms, specifically the ones affecting his brain.

At the end of our conversation, we both knew it was time for us to take a leap of faith and send Steve to Florida for treatment.  Thankfully, the clinic was able to accept him as a patient, but we didn't anticipate that it would all happen so soon - he would have to leave before Christmas.

On December 4th, Steve and I flew to Florida and immediately jumped in to meetings with doctors, nurses, and other staff at the clinic.  We also set up an apartment close to the clinic where he'll be staying for the duration of his treatments.

After over 40 blood tests, several UA's and a Pet Scan were reviewed, the doctors were able to pinpoint the causes of Steve's symptoms and put together a comprehensive treatment plan to heal his body of Lyme disease, trichothecenes, petrochemicals (from years of farm and mechanic work), blood parasites (which are carried by mosquitoes, ticks, and flies - more on that later), and a low functioning immune and endocrine system.

I returned home from Florida on December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  When my flight landed in Kansas City, I received a text of this image from Steve with the message attached:

Stopped at a church on the way home from the airport to attend holy mass this morning.  
When I walked in, this image of Our Lady Undoer of Knots was the first thing I saw.  

I knew instantly that it was a confirmation of our prayers.

There's so much more to tell. I will try to write more in the coming days about Steve's treatment and also our family's trip to visit him in Florida over the Christmas holiday.

With all my heart I thank you for every single one of your prayers and sacrifices offered up for Steve, and for taking the time to reach out to us through texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages. Your love and friendship is sustaining us!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Our Three Month Hunk...Who Is Now Four Months, But Who's Keeping Track?

Hey guys!! Have you missed me? 

Well, I've been kinda busy eating and eating and also there's some pooping, because *hello* my brothers love to change my diapers, so I like to keep it exciting for them.  

Can we just chat anatomy for a quick sec? You guys, my feet are AWESOME!! When no one is around to adore me, and I'm feeling kinda bored, BOOM, there they are. And the toes? They're the jam (hee-hee!). When my gums start to ache (because Mama says I'm teething), I just pop one of my toes in, and I'm good to go!

Speaking of teething, have you guys ever seen The Office? My mom watches it on Netflix, like all night long, while she rubs my gums as I wail and drool in dental agony. 

She loves that show. 

I'm just so glad she didn't name me Dwight.

Anyhoo, now that I'm a good twenty pounds of buttah, and my head is no longer bald (except for that one spot), I'm starting to look like quite the macho man.  Basically, I'm my dad's twin.  

I don't wanna brag, but these are my three month pics. Kinda like senior pics, but with less Photoshopping, since I don't have zits or awkward facial hair (yet): 
What do you think of the mohawk? Too much?
I'm leaning, I'm leaning...somebody? Anybody? Lady with the camera?
Warming up for a plank.  Just kidding.  I don't plank. 
My momma calls this "tummy time." I call it uncomfortable.
 Ahh, that's better! Back to the back! I love chillin' on my quilt.  
It's custom.  I know. I'm a lucky man. My Aunt Stephanie made it just. for. me. *wink!*
 Quick shot of my toes...
just in case you are wondering how squishy and yummy they really are.
 In this pic I'm looking for my guardian angel.  Have you seen him? 
Did you know St. Padre Pio could see his guardian angel? Mine's around here somewhere....
Got your Mama wrapped around your finger grin? Nailed it!
This photo is her favorite.  
She's my favorite.  
All that love and milk and smooches she gives me, I must be her favorite, too.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Tour #6 of the Terrible Two's ~ Where Time Out is Taken With Three Hail Marys and a Shot of Baileys {in the Coffee}

This is our sixth round of pullingourhairout drinking bribing guiding a child through through the terrible twos. You would think that at this stage of the discipline game that we would be on cruise control.  Not so my friends, not so. 
Behold the beloved:
I'm coming for you!
The only thing I know for sure about surviving this unpleasant stage of a toddler's life is: 
1. I can always blame my addiction to chocolate on their naughtiness, and 
2. It won't last forever - the terrible twos, not the chocolate addiction (that's permanent, I'm afraid).
Cheeseburger grin of innocence.

Living with a two year old is kind of like watching that one TV show that's frustrating and awesome at the same time (Downton Abbey). The one where you throw things at the screen because the plot is not going the direction that you think it should go (Matthew dies), but then something awesome happens (cue Dowager Countess every time), and suddenly it's your favorite thing ever again.
Spotty, yet accurate, iphone evidence or our typical testosterone filled breakfast.

Joseph is a 24/7 plot twister.  He lures his parents in with those enchanting blue eyes, sweet kisses and sugary giggles.  We are crazy in love with his (non-tantrum) vocals, because they are seriously adorable! At any given time he's serenading us with his with his curly little voice, calling out the names of his brothers, Cluh! (Charlie), Doh! (Andrew), Honey! (Henry) and, totally charmed, we are certain the tyranny is over. 

Not a second later he is clobbering us over the head with that shrilling scream that is something like a meat mallet on our nerves.

Just last week, as I was strapping Blaise to myself in the baby sling and throwing back the last shot of caffeinated hope for the morning, I heard a loud thunk. Strolling over to the window, sure to find the infractor facing the wrong direction in the yard with a baseball bat, I was surprised to see this instead:

#6 flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones.  Holding a tomato from my garden.  Winding up his chubby little pale-flesh limb for another chuck.

He wasn't throwing my tomatoes at anything or anyone specific, he was just randomly shot-putting them into the wind.  Because those 5 bazillion dollars I've spent on every size and kind of ball for our offspring over the years is apparently not working for him?  Maters are where it's at.

Now, if he was chucking cucumbers at the house, I'd be so chilled.  Because, seriously, I cannot. eat. another. cucumber.  But tomatoes, I've been waiting all summer long for those babies! 

From the top of the deck I stared down with my high-blood pressure face ablaze and gave the little Mr. the what for.  Oh, I'm sure you can probably guess what he gave me.

That's right.  He gave me the meat mallet.  


Right there.  Right then.   Pumpkin angel told me, no.

What did I do? I went back inside, poured another cup of coffee, threw in some Baileys, said three Hail Mary's, and called daddy for some moral support.

If you've been where I've been then you know just how challenging it is to be patient during this stage of your tots life.  On top of the natural pressure we place upon ourselves to handle each and every circumstance the right way, there's also so much advice out there to wade through, what to do, what not to do, what's normal, what's not normal.  Seven kids later, goodness knows I've heard or read more than my fair share of it all.

If this is your first time wading into the terrible twos waters with your tot, or if that stage is just on the horizon, here's a short list of parenting points to ponder that Steve and I have collected over the years. Most of them have stemmed from the trusted advice of great mentors and great authors*, and others have been fine-tuned through trial and error. Collectively, they are tips that have proven to be the most helpful and fruitful for us when we stick to them with love and consistency. 

1. Be Consistent 
Whatever method of discipline you choose to use, whether it's time out, early bed time, taking away privileges, etc. just be consistent and follow through.  I can't stress this enough.  We have failed at this so many times and paid the consequences.  Discipline may be difficult in the moment, but in the long run it's easier on you and on your child.

2.  Chill Out
I know this is obvious, yet challenging at the same time, but you have to be calm.  Children are so perceptive. They know instantly when a parent's fire is lit, and if your child is even slightly strong willed, parental anger just ignites in them the will to compete or defy. Discipline is not a competition. You are in charge, so just stay calm, stay the course, and expect the child to dislike and rebel against the boundaries you have set - that's normal!  You're not bending a will, your shaping an attitude, and that can take time.  

3. Love 'Em Up 
Sometimes our kids' bad behavior is really just a cry for love. I've really noticed this with Joey. Some mornings I put him in time-out a dozen times before we've even finished breakfast. Sigh. Why? Really I just need to stop what I'm doing for a moment, hold him on my lap, hug him, laugh with him or read him a story. When I take this approach, his mood and behavior instantly improves.  Love and affection is magical! Give 'em some one-on-one time and see what happens.

4. Watch Your Language
Try using specific language, or "trigger words" with them.  A couple of our favorites are This is not acceptable behavior, and You re in charge! Or, You get to choose!  When a child is being argumentative or defiant we give them two win-win options and explain that they get to be in charge of the decision they make.  

For example, I might say, Joseph, you may either sit down and eat your lunch or go to nap-time early. I will let you decide.  You get to be in charge! You have two minutes to choose, or I will choose for you.  I set the timer and wait for his response.  Either one is a win-win for me!  

5.  Praise 'Em
Words of affirmation are really important during this stage.  If my kids are tuning me out, it's usually because I'm using more disciplinary words (in a frustrated tone) and not enough affirmative ones.  Be intentional about catching your kids making good choices, and then affirm them specifically.  I like the way you shared your toys today! Or, Thank you for saying please and thank you at supper! You're such a big boy!

6.  Be Strategic
Don't attempt big outings when your kids are hungry or tired. It's a sure recipe for a fiery melt-down. Man, have I made this mistake too many times!  Little ones simply cannot understand the mental flowchart that we moms have strategically drawn up for the day. No matter how creatively we try to explain our plans to them or reason through specifics with them it's like spaghetti in their little heads. So, we must be realistic about our expectations and smart about scheduling if we want to avoid unnecessary conflict.

7.  Show Mercy
Be affectionate after punishment. After we put Joseph in time out (which he hates, because he has to be in a room by himself), we try to remember to pause, kneel down, hug him and remind him why he was punished, and then express that we love him and that he gets a chance to try again.

8.  Quit Counting
I hope I'm not offending anyone here, but the countdown method is not a good idea.  Telling a child they have five seconds to do anything means that they will max out that five seconds and risk being disciplined.  Again, we know this to be true through trial and error.  I'm not sure where I read this but offering the child a single warning and explaining the consequence they will receive if they refuse to stop their behavior seems to be much more effective. If you find yourself saying, "Stop!" over and over again, that is the same as counting.  You have to give the warning and discipline immediately if they do not adhere to your warning.

The only exception to this suggestion is if a child is hurting another child, then there's not warnings, discipline is immediate.

9. Brag Don't Bemoan 
Don't speak negatively about your child to others in front of your child.  If they constantly hear you telling others that he/she is going through the terrible twos, is so naughty, is exasperating you, they will more than likely fulfill their role as the "naughty one." But, if they hear you say positive things about them to others, especially if you praise them in front of your spouse, they will absolutely light up and they will know that you love them and believe in them - this will (hopefully) motivate them toward obedience. Again, so guilty of this here, because sometimes we moms just need to vent, am I right? We just have to be prudent about the time and place we choose to vent. 

10.  Encourage 
Be encouraging and show a little mercy to others and to yourself.  A couple of weeks ago, I was in a bookstore purchasing some materials that I needed for our homeschool year.  Joseph was in a serious funk.  I had asked an older brother to help watch Joey while I shopped, but I could still hear Joseph's pipes vocalizing his discontent with life.  I finally had to seek out the manager and apologize for my son's behavior.  To my surprise, the manager was so kind and gentle with me.  With his understanding, I instantly felt the parent perfect weight on my shoulders lighten up.  We need to extend that kind of grace and understanding to others, and to ourselves as well. 

Sometimes children are down right awful because their parents have failed to love and nurture them with proper discipline. But, most of the time, kids are just being kids.  They're trying to figure out life in this big world and how they fit in to all of it.  It's a big job to love and lead our little ones in the right direction, and I know for a fact that it's easier when we set our critical eye aside and show some mercy and support to one another instead.

Gotta run - Joey is blowing his nose.  In the curtains.

Have a great week!
*A few of our favorite trusted resources: