Monday, August 26, 2013

Gluten-, Corn- and Dairy-Free Eating

Lately, I’ve had friends and family ask me all kinds of questions about the dietary parameters my family is eating within these days. I’m pretty sure the further I get into this (and the more the general public starts becoming aware of their nutritional deficits), the  more I will get these types of questions. To make it easier, I’m writing this post as a general starting point.

Background: my family started the gluten-free (GF) journey on October 29, 2012. That’s the day Jackson had allergy testing that showed a wheat (gluten) sensitivity. (Click HERE to read more about that.) Three months later, at the end of January 2013, he was diagnosed with ADHD. At the beginning of March 2013, our family went to a seminar about treating ADHD naturally and without medication. The doctor discussed how our diet affects our body, especially diseases like ADHD and – aha! – lupus. And since I have two autoimmune diseases (lupus and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis), I decided to make an appointment with this doctor to see if he could help me too. Dan and I agreed I would be more likely to stick with the doctor’s orders than Jackson would be, and I’d also be better at noticing slight changes. If the doctor helped me, then we could implement these changes in our entire family.

I saw Dr. Jason, who is an Applied Kinesiologist Chiropractor. We had a long discussion about my health and lifestyle, and he did some muscle testing to show me what gluten does to my body. Since Jackson was already GF at this point, I realized it wouldn’t be very difficult for me to eat GF as well. And an added benefit was that Jackson wouldn’t feel singled out in our family. The very next day (I had a party to attend that night, y’all! I needed to have one last hurrah!), I went GF.

That first week of GF was incredibly hard. I had intense cravings and SO BADLY wanted a biscuit. Oh, please? Just one! When I saw Dr. Jason a week later, we discussed how to curb those cravings by keeping my sugar from spiking, and eating meals with protein and a healthy fat. The second week was much better. The third week, he asked me to go corn- and dairy-free (CF and DF). I told him I would try one, but not BOTH – and he would have to pick which one. He replied that he wouldn’t pick because they were both so hard on my system, and told me to select which one I wanted to start with. I left his office and decided to give up both. I did some research and watched a “How It’s Made” documentary on corn, and a few other documentaries. You’d think with all that knowledge, it would have been simple to give up these foods. Uh, no! Definitely not, because my body easily overrides my brain when it comes to food.

But it got easier the longer I stuck with it. I’ve found options, and been incredibly blessed with some friends who have invested time and love into me and my family. These friends have walked me through grocery stores, bought food for me, delivered “safe” treats to my house, sent me recipes, and bought me books to educate and encourage me. Do you have any idea how loved I feel when a friend (who eats “regular” food, by the way) goes out of her way to offer me options that will accommodate my restrictions? It’s a lavish kind of love, because it’s undeserved and unnecessary, which makes it that much sweeter.

Katie and Dan weren’t on board with the family’s dietary changes. I didn’t force Katie for a while, because I wanted to give her as much normalcy as I could for as long as possible. We had summer camps to go to and trips to take and, frankly, I wasn’t up for dealing with the resistance I knew she’d give me. I didn’t have enough energy stored up for that battle! Near the end of the summer, I broke the news to her: when school starts on August 8th, you’re going GF. She was mad and sulked. But when I talked about how it might get her off daily “medicine” (Miralax to help with impacted bowels), she was a little more receptive. It’s been almost three weeks now, and she doesn’t scowl at me nearly as much as she used to. There’s still some pouting when she is confronted with an “unsafe” food (like treats at church or at a neighbor’s), but I expect that so I’m not really bothered by it. Dan, on the other hand, hasn’t quite made the switch. I respect that, and I’m not forcing him to eat what the rest of the family eats. He is an adult and can feed himself whatever he wants for breakfast and lunch, although we all eat the same thing for dinner.

The hardest part about making a radical dietary change is the first few weeks. The first questions are “What CAN’T I eat?” and then “What CAN I eat?” Here’s how I looked at it.
  1. What CAN’T I eat: I used a list our allergist provided of gluten ingredients. Food labels don’t always obviously state GLUTEN or WHEAT. There are countless names for gluten. (Did you know these can all be gluten? Caramel color, modified food starch, spelt, vegetable gum…) I saved this list in my phone, and referred to it each time I ate something with a label or went grocery shopping. When I went CF and DF, I did the same thing.
  2. What CAN I eat: Once I eliminated the foods with allergens, I started working within the parameters of what was left. Smart allergy-veteran friends suggested starting with foods my family already liked and making modifications to fit the new parameters. I have to admit our menu prior to allergy testing was pretty limited to begin with (chicken nuggets WAY too often!), but at least it was a starting point.
I think our first gluten-free meals were things like tacos, spaghetti, frozen chicken nuggets (yes, we found a brand that works), and breakfast-for-dinner. We’ve branched out a little since then, and modified things a little more to suit the corn/dairy elimination as well.

Here’s what a typical day looks like for us.
  • Breakfast: The kids have always loved cereal, so that’s a staple for them. Chex makes a line of GF cereals: Chocolate Chex, Apple Cinnamon, Vanilla, Cinnamon, Honey Nut, and plain Chex. Fruity Pebbles, Kix, and GF Rice Krispies have also been in the rotation. The kids eat their cereal with regular milk, and I use coconut milk on my cereal (vanilla flavored coconut milk is da bomb!). If it isn’t cereal, the other option is GF toasted bread (The kids like Udi’s brand best, but it has corn in it and I can’t eat it. I found a local bakery that has an option for me, though.) with Nutella (if it’s a weekend day – I had to start limiting the treats I originally allowed to make up for all their dietary restrictions) or Skippy Natural peanut butter. Jackson’s new favorite breakfast is peanut butter toast topped with sliced bananas and blueberries. In addition to the grain (i.e. cereal/toast) option, the kids also have scrambled eggs for breakfast. Katie makes these in our microwave. I like to sprinkle shredded goat cheese in mine too. Some mornings, I make smoothies for me and Jackson. (Katie refuses to drink them after I ruined her on them a few years ago by trying to hide too much flax in one.) The smoothies have random things in them: fruit, kale, coconut milk, protein powder, etc.
  • Kids’ Lunch: The school year has brought a blessed routine back into our lives. On Sundays, the kids help pack ten lunches for the week. We use those cool Ziploc divided containers and usually pack fruit, cheese, crackers, deli meat (Hormel Natural), almonds, and carrots. Sometimes we throw in a GF bar, or change the “entrĂ©e” from deli meat to a sandwich. This week, Katie made peanut butter and honey sandwiches for some of their lunches. (The blog 100 Days of Real Food also has some great ideas.)IMG_4439
  • My Lunch: I am less picky than the kids and I usually have access to a microwave, so my lunches might be leftovers from dinner the night before or my favorite standby: GF crackers (Van’s are my favorite) and tuna salad made with Veganaise and Puckered Pickle’s dill relish (it’s too hard to find sweet relish that isn’t made with high fructose corn syrup). I often have other sides like fruit, almonds, or salad.
  • Dinner: I have found 5-7 meals that satisfy everyone, so we rotate through them. Once in a while we throw in something new and then might add it into rotation. For example, last week I made White Chicken Chili (from the book Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, which is a REALLY fantastic book, by the way) and the kids actually ate it. It didn’t hurt that I bribed them with an Enjoy Life! mini chocolate chip for every bite they took, but it was a step in the right direction. Hopefully I won’t need bribery next time! Our meals have been: BLTs, tacos, penne pasta, pizza, hamburgers, steak fajitas, nachos, bacon & eggs, white chicken chili, pork chops, and fried chicken. Like I wrote earlier, start with what you already like and find substitutions to fit your restrictions. For example, hamburgers are easy. The kids eat theirs on Udi’s GF buns, and I eat mine without a bun (and with ketchup that is made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup). Nachos means our ground beef is seasoned with a homemade Mexican spice mix (the Old El Paso packets we used to use aren’t an option anymore), and the kids eat regular shredded cheese and toppings on regular tortilla chips. My tortilla chips are Beanitos with ground beef and sprinkled with toppings like shredded goat cheese, tomatoes, baby spinach leaves, and avocado. Pizza night for us means the kids eat Udi’s pizza crusts (which have corn, so mine is a GF crust by Rustic Crust), topped with regular pizza sauce and shredded cheese (goat for me) and maybe some browned ground beef I saved from our prior taco night before it was seasoned. Fried chicken is – hands down – my family’s favorite meal. That requires a whole separate post, which I will try to work on soon. So… see what I mean? Start with what you already like, then adapt!
  • Treats: My favorite two treats are way more simple than they ever were before. They are So Delicious coconut milk ice cream and Chocolove’s dark chocolate bar with almonds and sea salt. The kids have lots more options for treats available to them: there are gluten free chocolate cream sandwich cookies (Oreo substitutes), candy bars that are gluten free (Hershey’s, Reeses Cups, etc.), and certain ice creams too.
  • Indulgences: I’m not sure what else to call it, and “indulgences” sounds best. This is the less-than-regular category of things like alcohol. I’ll be honest with you: GF beer isn’t quite the same as regular, wheaty, scrumptious beer (can you tell I miss it?). But there are alternatives, if you are open to them. Omission is my current favorite beer, and Red Bridge isn’t too bad either. There are also lots of GF options in ciders, wine, and liquors. I’m not sure about grain alcohol because, you know, there’s grain in it, but I have read some articles saying distilled alcohol is safe. Hmmm… Like any other food, do your research to make sure the ingredients are okay for you. I’ve found that alcohols don’t often have ingredients listed on them, so you’ll need to do online research and not rely on the label.
Of course, now that you see the examples I listed above, you’ll note we aren’t completely “clean” eaters. We still eat processed foods and aren’t organic. There is much room for improvement, but I’m not willing to go any further right now. I am at a manageable level of better eating, and I’m happy with where our family is at the moment. I have friends who are MUCH more committed to clean eating (one example: my childhood friend Landria writes the Stir It Up! blog), but I’m just not there.

Another question that arises from that food list above: Where do we buy groceries? The good news is special dietary limits like ours are becoming more mainstream. There are options like Whole Foods (which some of  my friends lovingly call “Whole Paychecks” because it is so expensive), and Trader Joe’s has a good selection too. We’ve found GF waffle mix at Costco (also my favorite place for coconut oil – which could be another post as well!). Our local grocery stores have lots of options too – the best is Dierbergs, but Schnucks is getting the hang of it, and even our Walmart has a decent selection. It really is possible to shop in a “regular” store and find some options, as long as you slash your expectations and know foods like Little Debbie snack cakes are NOT on the list anymore. Change your mindset and take that off the table – literally and figuratively – right from the start. It will make things much more manageable if you lower your expectations.

After the WHAT do I eat questions, the next question people usually ask me is: how do you feel? Has this new diet made a difference? The answer I give is yes, but the answer comes with some caveats. Let’s go through those first, then I’ll end with the benefits.

  • Cost: Our grocery bill has increased. Cheap food is usually not very good for you, so it is expensive to eat better. There is no getting around it. Do you wonder why high fructose corn syrup is an ingredient in so many foods? Because it is cheaper than real sugar. Cheap is what drives the food industry (of course), and the public demands greater taste for less money.
  • Less convenience: There is no more fast food for our family, except for Chick-fil-A (thank you, God!). Their grilled chicken is GF, so that’s an option for us. But there really isn’t anything fast or convenient about eating better, unless you are…
  • …Planning ahead: We can’t simply leave the house and expect to find something allergen-free wherever we go. We plan ahead, even more than we did before. Being a mom of little ones means I do that naturally (that’s what the diaper bag was for, right?), but now it’s imperative. At breakfast, I already know what we’re having for dinner. At school, I also know when another kid in the class is going to bring in a birthday treat. I’ve prepared by sending in an alternative PLUS having an emergency stash in the classroom if the birthday celebration was a surprise for the teacher.
  • Packing: There is a lot more food portability going on these days. Whether it’s stashed snacks in the trunk of the car (crackers, and applesauce) or lunches for work or school, the planning ahead [see above] means our lunch boxes aren’t just for decoration anymore.
  • Dining out: When we DO eat out as a family, there are limited choices where we can go. If it’s just me and Dan, that isn’t so hard because I’m okay with a plain grilled chicken breast or a salad. The kids aren’t, so we have to work around what they will eat. And I’ve been known to carry in a packed meal for the kids to eat [see “Packing” above], or to stop and buy a few items to go along with whatever they might be able to eat at the restaurant. When we explain to the waiters why we brought food with us, they have been okay with it.
  • Social burden: I know our friends love us and wouldn’t hold our food issues against us, but it does get frustrating because when we eat out with friends – or are invited to their houses – we can’t simply eat like everyone else. We have to bring food with us [see “Packing”] or find a restaurant where everyone can find an option they like. It isn’t much different than working around food preferences on a regular basis (like one couple might not like Chinese and the other doesn’t like Mexican, so you go for Italian), but it seems more burdensome when it involves a food allergy. Sometimes it seems a food preference is more acceptable than an allergy, which is frustrating because – trust me! – I’d much rather be eating a juicy plate of chicken wings with buttery hot sauce and celery dipped in blue cheese. But that just ain’t gonna happen anymore. We try to be flexible or pack as best as we can.
  • Food controls me less: I have always loved food, which I have always known about myself. But when I started on this journey, I realized that food was controlling me. I was planning meals based on the joy I would get from them, which is different than the “Planning Ahead” sort of planning I mentioned in the bulleted list above. In the midst of all these changes, I realized food had a big hold over me. It had become an idol, and a source of misplaced pleasure. Now, don’t get me wrong: I think about food probably just as much – if not more – than I did prior to the dietary changes. But I’m no longer thinking about food solely for pleasure. Now I’m thinking about food and planning ahead so I don’t get caught without sustenance. Food has become that: sustenance that can be joyful, not merely a direct line to joy. I’ve learned that every meal doesn’t have to be an amusement park of frivolity. Some meals are simply nutrition and food, and that’s okay!
  • Regularity: Yes, I know sometimes I can be a little too honest. I won’t go into detail here, but suffice it to say things are more regular – and less forced – than they were before.
  • Cycles: My gynecologist tells me I am – gasp! – premenopausal, so I’m all over the place anyway. Again, I won’t go into detail, but I will say there has been a little more regularity in this area. Not a ton, but a little.
  • Senses: My senses have changed, especially my sense of smell and taste. Scents don’t need to be quite so overpowering for me to notice and smell them, and my tastes have changed and become less dull.
  • Weight loss: This is the most visually obvious benefit, and the one that gets people started asking me about the changes I’ve made. So far, I’ve lost about 20 pounds and I haven’t counted a single calorie or fat gram. I eat until I’m full, which is a technique I never understood when I was filling up on gluten, corn and dairy. Fullness comes quicker when food has less fillers. Doesn’t make sense, does it? But it does, at least for  me.
  • Less victimized, more control: I have more confidence now because I am the one choosing my foods and not being a victim to what I previously perceived as no choice. Now I know that I am not forced to put something in my mouth, and I won’t die from starvation if I choose not to eat something that isn’t a great option for me. I can pass on a piece of “normal” birthday cake because I know the taste isn’t worth all the work I’ve put into cleaning out my system.
  • Skin: My middle-age acne has cleared up tremendously.
  • Heartburn: And so has my heartburn!
  • Less medication: I was taking eight pills a day for my thyroid, heartburn, acne, lupus, and Raynaud’s Syndrome. I’m down to only two now, and I’m hoping to get off one of them when I see my rheumatologist and tell her the nifedipine just doesn’t help me with my Raynaud’s. And less medication also means less money spent on drugs. Even though I mentioned a higher grocery bill in the “Downside” list above, less medication cost helps with some of that cost.
  • Conscious and aware: My kids and I are more conscious of the foods we eat. They read labels now, which I think is good. It’s not in an obsessive way, but in a food-conscious way. They are aware of the food that goes into their bodies, and are equipped to make better choices.
Whew! That’s a lot to process, and I think maybe I’m forgetting something in those lists. But at least it’s a start to the food discussion. I encourage you – no, implore you! – to do your own research on this. There are countless blogs and websites available to help navigate the food elimination world. And I feel like I have to put a disclaimer here: the “results aren’t typical” sort of thing to remind you we are each unique machines with bodies designed by a magnificent Creator. Yours works a little different than mine (aren’t you lucky?!) and your results won’t necessarily be the same as mine. But you won’t know if you don’t try it, and I hope this information gives you a little encouragement on the journey. If you’re brand new at it or an old pro, there’s one last piece of advice I have: remember it will get easier. You are much more resilient than you realize. Amen!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Losing My Vision

FundusSeptember 29th marks five years since I was diagnosed with lupus. It changed my life but I’m not complaining, because some of those changes were actually really GOOD!

One of the first steps I took towards controlling my disease was to start taking a drug called Plaquenil (generic is hydroxychlorquine). It is an anti-malarial drug that is used to control inflammation. When I first started having lupus symptoms and then – a few months later – when I was diagnosed, I was in the throes of a full-blown lupus flare. It was painful (I described the symptoms here) and frustrating, because I had no idea how long it would take the Plaquenil to be effective. Thankfully, it was only about six weeks until I started feeling relief. I took Plaquenil for five years, which brings us to today.

One of the side effects of Plaquenil is retinopathy. In my simple layman’s terms, this means the medication can deposit in the macula of my eyeballs and cause blindness. Patients who are on Plaquenil are monitored for this side effect through a visual field test every six months, which checks peripheral vision and notes any changes since the last exam. (On a side note, this blindness side effect is the reason my mother refused to take Plaquenil. That didn’t turn out well, which is a topic for another time.)

This past July, I started noticing a change in my eyesight. It wasn’t anything major, just more of a “ghosting” on the edges of my vision. At first, I was convinced that I was seeing the edges of my contacts. But then I realized that’s never happened before (why would I just recently start seeing the edges, when I’ve been wearing contacts for twenty years?), and my gut instinct (which I attribute to the Holy Spirit) told me that I should get it checked out. I made an appointment for my visual field test, and got the news that my vision had changed. When I asked my ophthalmologist if it was a slight change or markedly different, she said “markedly different.” She notified my rheumatologist, and – long story short – I decided to go off the Plaquenil. The options are: save my eyesight and risk lupus flares, or control lupus flares and risk blindness. Uh… I’ll take door #1, please!

Today, August 13th, marks my last dosage of Plaquenil. It doesn’t mean I won’t take it again further down the road (because both doctors say the buildups could disperse and I could try the medication in the future), but for now the risks outweigh the benefits. My rheumatologist says if I have any flares, we can opt for other medications like steroids, methotrexate, or Benlysta (each of which have their OWN set of dreadful side effects – ugh!). She says the Plaquenil should be out of my system in about four weeks. This means I’ll be out from under the “umbrella” of safety in mid-September. I’m nervous and anxious about flying without a parachute, but I’m a tiny bit excited too. Why?

It’s been five months since I radically altered what I put into my body through my diet. Because of my two autoimmune diseases (systemic lupus erythematosus and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis) I went gluten-, corn- and dairy-free. I had a slight hope that maybe one day I might stop taking my lupus and Hashimoto’s medications. Well… it turns out that one day is TODAY.

I haven’t stopped my Hashimoto’s medication, because I haven’t had reason to yet. But five months ago, I took eight pills a day. Today, I am down to only two (and hopefully only one when I have my next visit with my rheumatologist). I think that’s pretty stinking fantastic! And yet, I hesitate to rejoice because I know it could all change in a matter of weeks.

But for now, I have a multitude of reasons to stick with this crazy “diet” I’m on – which isn’t really a diet anymore, nor is it a new “lifestyle” like weight-loss companies suggest. It is a lifeline, and a hope for minimizing future pain and side effects. I also have multiple blessings to be thankful for in the middle of not-so-great news: I’m thankful for doctors who know what they’re doing and can help monitor what I can’t. I’m thankful for medication options. I’m thankful for a high-tech world that lets me be an armchair expert on my body and my health, where I’m a click away from research and information on what food I can and can’t eat. I’m thankful that God put me on a path five months ago that I didn’t quite understand, but has since clarified why I just “felt” like I needed to change my diet. I’m thankful that He convicts me even when I don’t understand it.

And I’m thankful that even when I lose my vision, His never fails! As the current quote at the top of my blog says, “Live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Words by Eleanor Hull, sung by Fernando Ortega

Friday, August 9, 2013

Gluten Free Fried Chicken

My friend Joe taught me how to make some meals that are allergen-free so my family can eat them. The best one he taught me is how to make fried chicken so my kids can still enjoy chicken fingers. I’m embarrassed to say I’m a southern-raised woman and I never fried chicken before Joe taught me (my mom wasn’t known for her fried chicken and she never taught me many kitchen skills). But I learned anyway, and late is better than never.

Here are the steps for making the best fried chicken!

You’ll need 1 egg, Rice Chex, coconut oil, chicken tenders, a hand chopper, and sea salt (if you prefer).IMG_4003

  1. Take the Rice Chex and chop it up. I put it in a hand mixer, but you can also put it in a Ziploc baggie and smash the crap out of it too. By the way, you can also use Rice Krispies (the gluten free kind), or even smashed potato chips. When Joe originally taught this recipe to me, he smashed Lentil Chips for his coating. Those are great too! Put your coating on a plate.IMG_4001
  2. Take one egg and put it in a bowl and scramble it with a fork.
  3. Put generous heapings of coconut oil in your frying pan. Sometimes I use a wok, and sometimes I use a skillet. Whatever you want to use will work fine. Put enough oil in so that when it’s melted, it’s about a quarter or a half inch deep. You’ll turn your stove burner to about medium (or medium-high) heat to melt the oil.IMG_4007
  4. While the coconut oil melts, dip your chicken in the egg bowl and then roll it in the smashed Rice Chex. I believe “real” chefs call this method “dredging,” but I call that word hoity toity. Just roll it around, people!IMG_4009
  5. Drop that coated chicken tender into the oil. I like to have a bunch of tenders already coated so I can drop them in the oil at once, and get the frying underway while I coat the next batch.IMG_4013
  6. Let the tenders fry for a bit, maybe about 3-4 minutes. Flip them over and fry the other side. When they look golden and crispy, pull them out and place them on a paper grocery sack (that’s how my mom used to degrease bacon when it was done). Cut a few open to make sure they cooked all the way through.IMG_4011
  7. Sprinkle some sea salt on the tenders to give them some flavor.

That’s it! It’s really easy and really yummy. Make enough for leftovers during the week, and everyone will be happy!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

One of my favorite books from this summer was a book called Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. My friend Mary P gave it to me because it has gluten-free recipes in it. At first, I wasn’t sure I’d like it very much because I am incredibly inept in the kitchen, and recipes just do NOT interest me at all. I’m so glad Mary gave it to me, because otherwise I wouldn’t have read it. And I’m so glad I did!IMG_3856

This book is much more than a recipe book. It is a devotional, a memoir, and recipes. It inspired me to cultivate hospitality in my home (which I don’t do very much or very well), and it also inspired me to be a better friend. And the book has the added bonus of providing recipes that are EASY and tasty.

The first chapter of the book is a description of Shauna’s childhood, and she references a blueberry crisp recipe that brings her childhood to life. It seemed easy enough to make, so I tried it with peaches. Oh, man! What a great dessert!IMG_4093

My other favorite recipe from the book is the one for breakfast cookies. Katie didn’t like them very much, because the base is mashed bananas. She is anti-bananas these days, but that meant more breakfast cookies for me and Jackson. Yippee! These were really good... AND easy... and I froze a bunch too, which was another kind of awesome.IMG_4092

I’ve also made a white chicken chili recipe from the book, which Dan and I really enjoyed too. And if I’ve made three recipes from ANY book, that should tell you how great of a book it is! Another clue: I have already decided to buy a few copies of this book for two friends for Christmas because it is THAT good of a book. If you read it or try any recipes from it, let me know.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

July 2013 Review

Jackson finally lost his first tooth. It happened while he was spending the day with our summer sitter. He was SO excited!IMG_3007

Family night and the game of Life!IMG_3012

We celebrated July 4th, which is also known in our house as “Elizabeth Experiments with Camera Settings Day.”IMGP8614

We saw Monsters University movie with our summer sitter and her little brother and sister.IMG_3091

July was the month of visits to New Town, which is a planned community about 20 minutes from where we live. We spent two Saturday nights there, going to concerts with friends and hanging out at their house.IMG_3119

We made our annual visit to Six Flags with the kids. Bonus: now that Jackson is in school, he read enough in Kindergarten to earn his free ticket to Six Flags. That means both our kids were free!IMG_3163

I took Jackson to walk through a local labyrinth  for the first time. I was surprised that he enjoyed it and actually stayed on the path.IMG_3238

We took Katie to summer camp, where our friend Bryn was one of her cabin counselors.IMG_3260

I loved watching Jackson hug Katie goodbye!IMGP8752

I took Jackson to the batting cages for the first time. He was pretty good at making contact with the ball, and even let me have a token so I could play a round. I forgot how much it hurts to whack the ball and have the bat vibrate in my hands.IMG_3282

Katie and I visited the library alone one day, just as it was closing. The librarian announced closing time, but Katie kept getting sidetracked by more books she wanted to borrow. I love that she can hardly step away from the stacks!IMG_3391

Summer vacation bible school = happy mommy!IMG_3420

Our youth program at church had a Redneck Red Carpet event. All the kids showed up dressed like movie stars or hillbillies. Some kids meshed the two worlds and had some great getups. There was a red carpet, costume contests, a mechanical bull, a “walk of fame” where you could put your handprint in concrete, paparazzi, games, food cooked by the hunkiest BBQ  man I know, and a cool photo booth.1

Our summer sitter also had some photo booth fun with the kids. This one is from a trip to the mall. They adore their Genevieve!2013-07-24 Kids & Genevieve at The Mills photo booth

This is a screen shot from a meeting I had with my phasing-out boss and my newly arrived boss. They were at another church campus about 30 minutes away, and I was at my campus. Google Hangout let us have a meeting even though we weren’t together. I think technology is really amazing!IMG_3470

Genevieve and Katie have played Just Dance on the Wii almost every day this summer. They are actually really good at it now!IMG_3477

Jackson visited the dentist and our friend Angie (who is a hygienist there), pulled his tooth for him. We left on a road trip later that day and spent the night in a hotel in West Virginia, so the Tooth Fairy had to be creative in order to find his tooth!IMG_3480

While on that road trip, our minivan turned 100,000 miles. I had fun playing with the panorama feature on my phone.IMG_3488

We arrived in North Carolina to stay with my sister and her family. The next morning, Dan and I went to Starbucks for coffee and hooked my laptop to the wifi so we could dial in to church and worship together. Again: how COOL is technology?!IMG_3499

On our way to the beach with my sister and my niece, we stopped to tour the U.S.S. North Carolina battleship. I was fascinated by how much the ship is like a floating city, with almost everything you need (but not exactly everything you want) on it. I could have toured the ship for another two hours, but my niece Peyton was NOT okay with that!IMGP8882

We made it to Carolina Beach and spent two nights (three days) there. We visited the nearby pier for ice cream and a sunset stroll.IMG_3646

This might be one of my favorite photos of me and my sister.IMG_3651

On our big beach day, Dan decided to rent a surf board and let the kids try their hand at it. It was lots of work for him and not truly successful, but the kids enjoyed giving it a shot.IMGP9210

The kids found this abandoned sand castle under a washed-out pier, and immediately set to work rebuilding it. I love how they cooperated and started working on it without any fighting or bossing each other.IMGP9026

We spent the morning on a seashell search. I love this photo of me walking with the kids into the distance.IMGP9041

After we left the beach, we headed home via the North Carolina Aquarium. We saw turtles, alligators, pet sharks and anemones, and watched jellyfish (my favorite part).IMG_0679

We took a ferry to the mainland and seagulls on the way. Jackson didn’t like how they were so aggressive in trying to get food.IMG_0684

In Southport NC, we had lunch at my sister’s favorite restaurant: Provision Company. It was so good, I even cheated on my gluten-free dietary restrictions and had a crab cake. Yum! (I paid for it for the next week, though. Ouch!)IMG_3815

After lunch, the kids sat on the dock of the bay and put their toes in the water. It was nice to just sit and hang out for a few minutes.IMG_3805

July also had some dark clouds, but I look back at these photos and I can see some beautiful silver linings. I am thankful for that!


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