Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pre-Move Ponderings

Well, praise God, Don and I actually own a house! We were finally able to close on Thursday, and planned to move over the weekend, but three straight days of New England snow successfully hindered our plans. Although it was disappointing not to be able to move in right away, the extra week is actually a blessing, because it has given me more time to pack, clean, and prepare for the move. Now as I sit surrounded by boxes and miscellaneous unboxed items, I am pondering what I will miss about our cozy apartment, and what I am looking forward to about our very own house.

I will miss having a master bathroom. Our new house has just one bathroom, and the toilet's flushing capabilities are questionable. Looks like we will be spending some of our Christmas money on a new toilet.
I'm looking forward to having a third bedroom. As our family grows and Don has the opportunity to telecommute, it will be great to have an office or nursery...or maybe someday a girls' bedroom.

I will miss our mail carrier - he's a friendly older man who always takes time to answer Donny's questions as he sorts the mail.
I'm looking forward to having our own mailbox at the end of our driveway. Bundling up the children to hike to the community mailbox (only to find junk mail, most likely) gets old very quickly.

I will miss having maintenance just a phone call away. It's nice to know that if a drain is clogged or an appliance malfunctions, it will be serviced quickly, and we don't have to pay for it.
I'm looking forward to being able to paint. After spending a few years with white walls, white trim, and white fixtures, I am eager for some color to brighten up our home. I have been having fun with the software on the Behr and Benjamin Moore websites that allows me to virtually paint a room - if only real color changes were that simple!

I will miss being able to vacuum our entire home from one outlet. The nice thing about living in a small space is that there are fewer rooms to clean.
I'm looking forward to hardwood and tile floors so that spills and toileting accidents are easy to wipe up. I certainly won't miss scrubbing milk and other unnamed fluids out of the carpet.

I will miss the open layout of our apartment, where it is always easy to hear what the children are doing, and from the kitchen I can easily talk to the children in the dining room or my husband in the living room.
I'm looking forward to storage space. Having an attic, basement, and a shed means I won't have to store the double jogging stroller in the living room anymore. And maybe my husband will stop complaining that our closet is packed to the brim with my stuff.

I will miss our friendly community and its convenient location, where I can walk to stores and restaurants. As far as apartments go, this is a very nice community, unlike the first apartments we lived in that smelled like grease and cigarettes, and the neighbors were constantly swearing at their yippy dog.
I'm looking forward to privacy. I won't miss seeing the parking lot six feet away from our windows, or hearing the neighbor's children make dinosaur noises at 10pm.

I will miss our low rent payment. Thanks to a state program, we qualify for reduced rent that has allowed us to save regularly while living comfortably.
I'm looking forward to building equity. How exciting to know that every payment we make will be deepening our ownership of our home, instead of just carrying us through another month in the apartment world.

I will miss this home, because memories were made here. Hayden has transformed from a fussy infant to a joyful, vibrant two year old here, while Donny has grown from a not-quite-baby into an intelligent four year old who understands almost as much as he says. We have entertained friends and family who were willing to make the long drive to see us, and Don and I have had time alone together to deepen the bonds of our marriage.

I am looking forward to our new house, because the memories there will be even more plentiful. I am looking forward to letting our boys play in our own yard and welcoming new children into our home. I am looking forward to entertaining our extended family and actually having room for everyone to sit down. I am even looking forward to the challenges of home ownership, because this exciting step is going to strengthen our marriage all the more. The boys love it when Daddy gets out his tools, and I have to admit, I enjoy watching my capable husband solve issues with a screwdriver, some wires, and his bare hands. Maybe I won't miss having on-call maintenance so much after all. :)

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. - 2 Peter 3:13-14

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This House

...should be ours tomorrow! I will be amazed if it finally works out after months of waiting and not knowing. Whatever happens, I take comfort in knowing that God is in control.

For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.
- Hebrews 3:4-6

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Needing Him Every Hour

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
2 Thessalonians 3:16

I had anticipated a busy day of visiting, or perhaps a busy day of having visitors, but it was not to be. Instead, we had a quiet day of chores, a few errands, some making and eating of decadent desserts (Donny's cherry chocolate cheesecake pie, to be specific), and a few serious conversations.

In the evening solitude, while Don was out with the guys, I reflected on the day's events. I became painfully aware of my own inadequacy, and how desperately I need my Savior at every moment. I need His wisdom when I don't know what to do or how to help. I need His comfort when I am burdened with pain and sorrow. I need His Spirit to guide me when temptations and selfishness distract me. I need His Word to instruct me, encourage me, and even rebuke me so that I follow in His ways. I need His nearness in my daily tasks of cooking and tidying and reading books and tucking little ones into bed, to remind me that I am serving Him by serving His children.

As I contemplated all this, my heart was filled with the words of this precious hymn as though they were written for me:

I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
no tender voice like thine can peace afford.

I need thee, O I need thee;
every hour I need thee;
O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby;
temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.

I need thee every hour, in joy or pain;
come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

I need thee every hour; teach me thy will;
and thy rich promises in me fulfill.

I searched online for the history behind the fitting song. Both on the Cyber Hymnal site and this helpful blog, I read the account left by Annie S. Hawks, the author who penned "I Need Thee Every Hour" in 1872. She wrote,

"One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks. Suddenly, I became filled with the sense of nearness to the Master, and I began to wonder how anyone could ever live without Him, either in joy or pain. Then the words were ushered into my mind and these thoughts took full possession of me."

Isn't that just what I should be - constantly filled with the nearness of my Master? His presence was discernible to me tonight, as it was to Mrs. Hawks more than a hundred years ago. My Lord has given me a much-needed reminder that He is always with me, not just because He loves me, but because I need Him. Though there have been countless hours - even days and weeks - when I was consumed with my own thoughts, sorrows, pleasures, and activities, there has never been an hour when I did not need a Savior. Every hour of every day He gives me, I need my Lord.

Years later, after the death of her husband, Annie Hawks wrote,

"I did not understand at first why this hymn had touched the great throbbing heart of humanity. It was not until long after, when the shadow fell over my way, the shadow of a great loss, that I understood something of the comforting power in the words which I had been permitted to give out to others in my hour of sweet serenity and peace."

Thank you, Lord, for the words of this song that touch my heart. In moments of peace and of moments of chaos, moments of joy and moments of sorrow, moments of hope and moments of discouragement, may I ever remember that You are near, and You alone will fulfill my every need.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Butter, Creams, and Hayden's Health

I buttered my toast today.

For you, perhaps, hot buttered toast may not be a thing of excitement, but if you have ever spent a period of time without dairy products, you can understand my sentiment. Just four weeks ago, I tasted butter for the first time in seventeen months. And while extra virgin olive and coconut oils made a decent substitute for that time, now that I can eat butter again, I am enjoying every excuse to spread it on something.

Hayden was just five months old when he was diagnosed with food allergies. He had screamed through much of his early life. We suspected colic, reflux, teething, even allergies, but the three week elimination diet I tried seemed to have little effect on his symptoms. The eczema on his cheeks became infected and increasingly severe. Five different doctors diagnosed the oozing, crusting disease as impetigo and prescribed more than half a dozen medications, including topical and oral antibiotics that only made him scream more when we had to force them into his mouth. We even tried baby Zantac for possible reflux, but Hayden's irritability never ceased, and his skin only became more raw and infected. We had to swaddle him, even at four and five months old, to keep him from scratching his face; if a hand got loose, he would wake up bleeding. Finally, after the family doctor admitted he was "out of ideas," and there had been more than a few particularly bloody scratching episodes, my husband insisted that we drive an hour into Boston to the emergency room at Children's Hospital. In retrospect, it was the best thing we could do for our miserable little guy.

The doctors at Children's Hospital were a true gift from God, as they actually had the knowledge to properly diagnose and treat Hayden's ailments. They supplied us with prescriptions and specific instructions for the care of his eczema, such as daily daths and frequent use of emollient creams. The dermatologist faithfully kept in touch with me through email as we worked out a cure for Hayden's delicate skin. We ended up using Protopic, an ointment that was not normally recommended for children under two, but any possible risk proved to be far outweighed by the benefits. Meanwhile, they also scheduled allergy testing for him, since there is often a link between eczema and allergies. The skin prick test exposed Hayden to approximately sixteen common allergens - and he had positive reactions to seven of them. Since he was still exclusively breastfed, the allergist instructed me to avoid all traces of milk, eggs, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts in my diet. It meant strict adherence to a limited menu and a rigid skin care routine, but the result was well worthwhile.

Once his skin was mostly clear and the allergens were out of his system, Hayden's personality seemed to change. He was happy instead of fussy. He laughed instead of shrieking. No longer did I have to spend evenings pacing back and forth in our small apartment, bouncing him on my shoulder in a vain attempt to hush his cries. No longer did I have to cover his hands with socks to keep him from scratching himself while he cried through car rides. Any sacrifice of time or taste on my part paled in comparison to the charming gummy smile and kissable cheeks of my youngest son.

In fact, since I enjoy baking, the challenge of allergen-free cooking became a bit of a hobby. I experimented with different recipes and substitutes in order to make cookies, pies, breads, and other yummy treats (though a few not-so-yummy concoctions did end up in the trash). In fact, eating at home was not much of a problem at all. I quickly replaced my nightly dessert - a big bowl of Breyer's ice cream - with popcorn popped in coconut oil and sea salt. I cooked with rice milk and coconut milk, and I ate more meat since I could no longer get protein from dairy, eggs, or nuts. The hardest part of the elimination diet was eating at restaurants and other people's houses, when I often had to ask for ingredient lists and then say to a well-meaning waitress or hostess, "Oh, I can't have that." But when Hayden started solid foods around nine months, it was easy for me to know what to feed him in spite of the limitations - after all, I had already been following his dietary restrictions for months!

Since I believe breastfeeding is one of the best things I can do for my children's health, I am committed to exclusive breastfeeding until they start solid foods, and continuing breastfeeding as a valuable source of nutrition throughout the first year and beyond. In Hayden's case, since he had few other options for protein intake and his diet was so limited, I was all the more committed to nursing him for as long as possible. It may have been easier for me to wean him on his first birthday so that I could eat dark almond bark and mozzarella sticks, but what would be the result for my precious little boy? I made it my goal to nurse him at least until he turned two years old, and I praise God that I was able to meet it.

I nursed Hayden right up until his second birthday, spending the last month weaning him because I was pregnant (which is a subject for another post altogether). Now he enjoys drinking rice milk from the green Klean Kanteen cup we bought for his birthday. And I can enjoy a varied diet, so free from restrictions that I feel spoiled with all the choices available to me. Sometimes Hayden still asks, "You gonna share that with me?" and instead of being able to freely offer what is on my plate, I have to reply, "No, I can't share this because it has butter on it." Hayden is so good, though. He usually accepts what he can't have without protest, and he knows the word "allergic." Even at his young age, he seems to understand what is off limits, perhaps because he has never known any other way.

It's interesting to me to reflect back on the ordeal with Hayden's health that seems so distant and forgotten now. I know it was nothing compared to the trials so many parents face with children who have special needs, chronic health conditions, and even life-threatening allergies. (Praise God, though we were prescribed an EpiPen for Hayden, we have never yet needed to use it!) Yet I feel honored that God chose Don and me for the task of raising this special child of his, and that I was privileged to be able to make some small sacrifices in order to promote his health and well-being for so long.

And today, as we celebrated Donny's fourth birthday, I was able to taste-test the chocolate cheesecake that Donny requested. Donny got to lick the egg beaters (the ones covered with cream cheese, eggs, and condensed milk) while Hayden licked the spoon I used to stir the chocolate. Chocolate, you ask? Yes, during the course of my allergen-free days, I discovered that Ghiradelli semisweet chocolate chips do not contain milk (or soy flour, as some "dairy free" chips do!). I made sure to use those particular chocolate chips for today's dessert so that everyone could partake in some way. After our baking project, I was of course careful to wipe Hayden's face and apply Cetaphil cream to protect his skin.

And when I wake up tomorrow to enjoy a buttery fried egg on buttered (store bread!) whole wheat toast, I will be thanking my Lord for two wonderfully healthy, happy boys. He is so good.

Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Psalm 103:2-5

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Card 2008

I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.
Jeremiah 32:39-40

May God so bless you and your family this Christmas season
and all year through!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cinnamon Christmas Craft

With the busyness of the Christmas season and the homebuying craziness, any attempt at structured learning has been put on hold here. This week, though, the boys and I found time to create some cinnamon ornaments, and they are so easy to make (and great smelling) that I had to share. This is great project if you want to fill the house with yummy baking smells, without all the sugar and empty calories!

Combine in a bowl:
- 1 cup ground cinnamon
- 1 cup applesauce
- 1/4 cup white glue, such as Elmer's

1. Mix ingredients thoroughly, knead dough, and allow to rest for a few minutes.
2. Flatten a ball of dough between two sheets of wax paper to about 1/2" thick.
3. Open wax paper and use cookie cutters to cut shapes out of dough.
4. To make ornaments, use a drinking straw to cut a circular hole in the top.
5. Transfer ornaments to a lined cookie sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours, flipping over halfway through.
6. Allow to cool and dry thoroughly before decorating.

I made half of this recipe and we ended up with about eight ornaments, which I imagine will become keepsakes for our family. My parents actually have a few ornaments like these that I made as a child, and twenty years later, they still have a pleasant scent. If any of your creations break while peeling them off the wax paper, don't throw them away - place them in a drawer to make everything smell delicious! I am thinking about turning one into a magnet, too. I was impressed that my children followed the directions not to eat the glue-filled dough, so maybe we will even do this craft again another time!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Check Out What's In Store!

Just in time for holiday shopping, I have finally started setting up the Lambs in His Arms store, where you will find books, music, toys, diapers, and other great products of interest to moms and homemakers. The store is completely powered by Amazon.com, so you can start there and continue shopping in other areas of the Amazon website if you desire. I am still adding to the collection of my favorite products (and a few from my wish list), so check back regularly for more recommended items. If there's something that you would like to see offered in the store, leave me a comment and let me know. I appreciate your support!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Give and Take

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD. - Job 1:21b NASB

This is a wordy Wednesday, as I attempt to summarize the give and take of the past several weeks in a single post. To borrow an idea from the book of Ecclesiastes, it has been a time of prayer and a time of praise; a time to break and a time to repair; a time for coming together and a time for falling apart. And in all of it, our Lord is faithful.

Take the laptop, for example. Getting the computer to charge had become an increasingly difficult task, until the power cord only worked if Don rigged it up in a precarious tripping-hazard fashion, and no one dared breathe on - much less move - the sensitive piece of equipment. We finally managed to take it to a reputable repair shop (as opposed to the local place known for repairing laptops by pouring hot glue in them), only to discover that it would be weeks before our computer would be fixed. To our surprise, it was actually ready in only one week, and just in time to prevent Don and I from running out to buy a replacement laptop rather than go without for weeks on end.

We returned from a long weekend away with our (mostly) functional Gateway in tow, only to discover that a power surge had fried the desktop Don built himself in high school - our other computer. The next day, though, his computer turned on as if nothing had happened. We currently have two functional computers, and after a few scares, Don and I are certainly thanking God for giving them to us.

We had car issues, too. We will need a bigger vehicle when our third child is born, and my dad told us that when we need it, we can have his minivan. Isn't it wonderful how the Lord provides? But just after stopping by my dad's house dropping one frosty Sunday (to drop off our laptop, in fact), our little Neon started puffing and chugging like a train, and a warning light indicated that continuing to drive could cause severe and irreparable damage to the engine. Our one vehicle was in danger, and we had two tired boys with fevers in the backseat. Praise God that we were only five minutes from a relative, instead of stranded in the middle of the highway on our way home! We took a chance in driving back to his house in order to get our children to a safe and familiar place. My mechanic brother was able to diagnose the issue over the phone, and when he finished work for the day, he brought the necessary part to repair the damage (don't ask me for specifics - I don't pretend to know anything about cars). God was so good to us!

And of course, there's the house. The exhaustive details will have to wait for a future post. The condensed version includes finding a house we love, two months of waiting, moving on, finally getting word on the house, and a flurry of high-stress arrangements to meet the demand to close within six days. I rarely get excited about anything before it happens, and this situation proves why: as of this morning we were set to close on Friday; as of this afternoon, we are not. It turns out that a lien on the property has to be settled before the house can be sold, and it probably will not be resolved quickly. We do not know if we will close next week, or next month, or if the house will go into foreclosure and we will be forced to start looking again. Once again, we are waiting...waiting to see what God will give.

It is easy to worry right now. I like to have a plan, and it is difficult to plan without definite answers. Still, I have to trust the Lord knows best. He gives. He takes away. And however it ends, we know God is in control, and we thank Him for His provision. Blessed be the name of the Lord!