May 2015 archive

The Misunderstood Middle

By Natalie

It has come to my attention that being a middle child can be the pits.

My middle sister has always spoken out about the struggles of being in the middle, but as I was the baby, and had most things handed to me, I of course had no idea what she was talking about.


On a Tuesday afternoon Ryder awoke from his nap to the sound of his older brother kicking off his shoes, and chattering on about how he needed to get ready for swim team in an hour.

Thinking nothing of it I lead Ryder down the ladder of his bunk, to and from the potty, and straight to his afternoon snack. Where of course, in no more than 2 minutes he emptied his cup of water. Because napping is a dehydrating business.

After finishing his snack, and wrestling with Caleb, Ryder excitedly ran about the house when Dad came home. But Caleb was to be taken to swim class, and Ryder was to stay home with me.. Whom we’ll refer to as Chop Liver.. no, no, I get it. Three year old boy finds Dad and older brother riding on a longboard down to the pool much more fun than staying at home with baby brother, and nanny.

Just before the door shut Ryder excitedly pranced behind his brother and quickly waved back at me yelling “Bye! Bye!” And when I told him he was staying behind, and Daddy shut the door, the saddest little tears came pouring, and pouring out.

“Oh Ry.” I said as I knelt down. “We’ll do anything you want! Caleb and Daddy will be right back. And do you know who else will be here soon?” He looked into my eyes expectantly. “Mommy.” I said. And the tears stopped.

I grabbed his hand and walked to the playroom with him where I finally set Grant down infront of a toy car. Because that kid is on the move these days, and if you set him down for a second, poof! Before you know it he’s in the next room.

I set an array of toys, and books around Grant, and tickled him to hear that happy distinct baby giggle he loves to express. And then I looked up to find Ryder staring at the books, meandering around the playroom, mumbling new words to himself. And it hit me. Everything my sister has tried to express.

Don’t forget about the middle.


There he was sort of content, but more so used to the fact that big brother gets to go do big brother things, and baby brother has to be monitored to prevent little hands from finding the zillions of things that are choking hazard size, and the numerous amounts of bumps and bruises that could be. The fast crawling, wanting to stand, and lean on everything baby.. It’s like your eyes grow accustomed to realizing just how treacherous the world is out there two feet from the floor.

“Pick out a book.” I said to Ryder by the bookshelf. Where he of course picked out his same favorites and brought them over to me. I took my time reading them on the floor with him in my lap. “Does a kangaroo have a mother too?” He looked over at the floor mirror to see our reflection, and my facial expressions as I read. “Yes! A kangaroo has a mother. Just like me, and you.” And he loves that part because I give Yes a special infliction, and then point to myself, and then to him. Reading aloud is all about the dynamics.

So there we sat, happily on the playroom floor. Grant was occupied, and in view, and Ryder was getting all the attention he’d been craving. “Ryder.” I said, spinning him around. “You are extra special, you know. My silly, fellow curly headed friend.”


The other day, after a morning full of park fun we put Grant down for his nap, and stepped into the boys room. We sat down, and I pulled Ryder’s shoes, and socks off. Told him to grab his Giraffe off the dresser to nap with, and he ran back over to me on the floor excitedly throwing his arms around my neck, and squeezing.


And I knew it was his way of telling me he’d had a wonderful day.


How about, I didn’t even realize I matched him to his cup until this photo. Go me.

Giving a Voice to an Invisible Illness

By Natalie

Since my sister Nem’s diagnosis with Lupus I’ve been wanting to chat with her about her daily struggles, in order to share her words to give friends and family a better understanding of what she is going through.

During a recent trip to Fredericksburg we finally had a free moment to talk over breakfast about her life with Lupus, and what she so simply descibes as her new normal.

This woman I spoke to, she’s another version of the sister I grew up with. In some ways I’m reminded she’s the same, but mostly she’s different. She’s tough, she’s disciplined, she’s faithful, and she isn’t going to let any old illness take control over her life no matter how extreme it attacks her body. No matter how invisible.


When were you diagnosed with Lupus, and what was your immediate reaction?

On September 24th 2012 I was diagnosed with Lupus as a primary disease, & Sjogren’s Syndrome as a secondary disease. The doctor told me on the phone that I had a positive ANA test which meant that I had autoimmune activity going on in my body. I went to a Rheumatologist for more blood work, and she told me I had Lupus and Sjogren’s.

I immediately started taking PlaquenilA common Lupus medication. My initial reaction after the diagnosis was shock. Sean called while I was in the pharmacy waiting on my prescription. He asked how the visit went. It wasn’t until that moment that it hit me, and I just started crying when I told him I was diagnosed with lupus.

What are typical daily tasks that you find yourself unable to do?

I have good days and bad days. After 2.5 years on medication, several detox diets, and learning to listen to my body, it’s gotten better. At first, I wasn’t able to complete my Saturday morning routines of running errands and cleaning my home, I had to discontinue rigorous exercise, and I often wasn’t able to make it through a work day. 
My new “normal” requires that I actively listen to my body and rest when needed so I don’t wear myself out. I need to get plenty of sleep and reduce stress as much as possible. If I don’t, my body will go in shut down mode, leaving me unable to do anything. I’m always reminded that Lupus is there even when I pretend it isn’t. Whenever I push myself, I always pay the price.

I was devastated because I’ve always tried to maintain a healthy lifestyle by working out and watching what I eat, but my efforts couldn’t have prevented what was going on in my body. I didn’t do anything to cause this, it just happened and there was nothing I could do about my body attacking itself. I was relieved to finally have a diagnosis after months of not feeling like myself, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotional distress that it caused. I soon became depressed and continually grieved for my old life. I would see people on social media living their lives (fun outings, working out, etc…) and I made myself miserable by comparing myself to others. People were doing what they wanted to do while I felt helpless and unable to live my life fully because my body simply wouldn’t allow me.

What is your body feeling at those times when you’re helpless in need of rest?

One of the big issues of life with lupus is its unpredictable nature, meaning one day I can feel like my old self, and the next I just want to stay curled up in bed all day with extreme fatigue. It’s not like a sleepy or tired fatigue, but one of weakness. Like when you have the flu, and your whole body feels heavy and achy. I also get joint pain in my arms, wrists, hands, and legs accompanied by muscle aches. This discomfort and weakness has left me unable to walk at times. It can make my body feel so tired that I sometimes just want to cry at the thought of doing one more thing, or meeting one more obligation. I’ve also experienced nausea, GI issues, insomnia, and frequent migraines.

A flare can happen at any time and be brought on by a variety of triggers. It could be a busy weekend, eating certain foods, staying up too late too often, stress or long hours of work can eventually trigger a flare. Other times, it seems to happen for no apparent reason at all. It can be mild or severe, and it’s impossible to tell which it’s going to be from the outset of an attack.

As there is no current cure for Lupus how much medication are you required to take daily to maintain a healthy lifestyle?

Right now I take 16 pills a day including supplements to keep my immune system up. I take medications to manage joint and muscle pain associated with Lupus flare ups.

About six months after my initial Lupus diagnosis I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I take medication for that as well.

How has your diet changed since your diagnosis?

A stricter diet has significantly added to our grocery bill. I eat raw and organic as much as possible with very limited amounts of processed foods.

How have people treated you since you were diagnosed?

At work, my coworkers have united in supporting me in every way possible. Being an elementary school teacher I have to walk my class to their encore classes, lunch, and recess. Teachers in my grade level have walked my class to and from these places, written sub plans when I couldn’t make it through a day, and my principal has even driven me home a number of times when I felt unable to walk.

I’ve really realized I have such an incredible support system. I know my family prays for me a lot, and checks up on me, and wants to know how I’m doing. Several months after I was diagnosed when you signed us all up for the lupus walk in D.C., that was a really big deal to me.

The love box. (A box full of goodies, homemade creations, and encouraging words Nadir and I put together each month.) Means so much to me.

How has it affected your marriage?

A few months after my diagnosis, Sean and I had the biggest disagreement we’ve ever had. I was frustrated as we discussed the delay in our plans of starting a family due to my illness. I was still processing my feelings and was angry that our plans had to change, but I didn’t realize I was taking it out on Sean until he said “I’m not the enemy here. Whatever you need, I’m here no matter what! We need to take care of you right now and worry about this later.”

He cooks and does a lot more housework since I’m not always physically able to handle it all anymore. He’s understanding, and encouraging when I’m feeling down or thinking it’s going to be this hard forever. He reminds me that “It’s just a bad day. We’re going to get through it and soon we’ll be celebrating a good day.” He also does a good job of communicating with me about my physical and emotional state. Because it’s an invisible illness, he can’t always tell if I’m trying to tough it out and so he always asks how I’m doing. 
He is helpful, often reminds me that he loves and supports me, has a positive attitude and his hobbies serve as an outlet that keeps him balanced which is good for both of us.

How do you feel it has affected your family and coworkers?

I think it’s made my family sad. I think it’s made my family feel helpless. But at the same time I think it’s also given my family the opportunity to love on me.
My coworkers feel helpless also, and it means alot to me when they offer to walk my kids to specials, or lunch. When they ask me how I am. For them to offer their support makes them feel like they can do something. Sometimes I don’t know what to tell my family I need. That’s why the love box is meaningful. Sometimes all I need is an encouraging word. Acknowledging that I look ok on the outside but not on the inside.
I take it one day at a time.

Nem and I also got a chance to chat about what she’s learned with Lupus, her future, and what she wishes people understood about her illness.

Stay tuned for that post coming soon!

Blue Apron

By Natalie

imageBrandon recently discovered this meal delivery service going by the name of Blue Apron. He sent me this honest review to look over, and we decided we should give it a shot. The service offers a 2 person plan with 3 meals a week, and a 4 person plan with 2 meals a week, charging 9.99 a person, per meal. The thought of 3 less meals to plan and shop for was intriguing enough for me, because time is money, and my least favorite chore is meal planning. I fall back on the same recipes often, stick to the same meat and veggies, cooked the same way, and blah blah blah blah blah. I made a pretty good crockpot chili recently, so two weeks later I made it again. And this crockpot chili.. it made A LOT of chili. So here we were eating chili two days in a row for lunch and dinner two weeks apart. Worse things have happened at dinner time I absolutely realize this, but after four years of cooking for two I am fresh out of ideas.

I signed up for Blue Apron after I found a $20 off coupon from a Facebook ad. I was sold. Half the time wracking my brain for yummy meal ideas I hated cooking, and slicing off some time in the grocery store. Absolutely I’m in.

With Blue Apron you can view the menu for the week before it ships, and you choose the day it ships to you.. What the what? We buy everything we can on Amazon, and that’s not a big deal. We order Bingley’s food from Chewy, because it’s not sold just anywhere, and it’s cheaper online! So sure I’ll take a 28lb bag of dog food autoshipped straight to my DOORSTEP every 6 weeks.. because hello? Convenient. Why on earth have we not ordered dinner straight to our door that’s not take out sooner? Beats me! You can also check off certain meats you do not want to receive, opt for the vegetarian meals.. And you can cancel at anytime. Sold. Right?


A few days ago I recieved my first box, and I have never been so excited to see a box full of vegetables in my life! Our ingredients came in a refrigerated box, along with step by step photo recipe cards, and a letter stating where the vegetables had been grown. I started pulling out these vegetables I had never cooked or even heard of before like Celeriac, or Celery Root, Fennel Bulb, and Fronds. I placed the veggies in the fridge unsure if I was going to be a fan of the mushrooms, and mostly certain I’d be in over my head with those radishes.


After putting the veggies away I placed the ice packs that covered the meat in the freezer, cause they fit perfect in our cooler, and once we start to collect too many Blue Apron suggests that you recycle them, or donate them to boy scout troops, or food shelters.

Saturday night I made our first meal and it was fantastic! Hello tastebuds, I never knew Salmon I cooked with these two hands would ever taste so good!


Dukkah-Spiced Salmon

I always thought that I hated cooking. Hated the planning. Hated the shopping. Hated the preparing, and measureing, and figuring what veggies go well together, and with what meats. I’ll admit the majority of meals lately have been chicken, and pork chops, baked with some generic seasonings, and breadcrumbs. Salad, frozen steamable veggies, sweet potato, or asparagus on the side. Zucchini is about as exciting as it got with veggies in the kitchen. Simply roasted on the stovetop with some salt, pepper, and olive oil. Cause.. I don’t know.. what else do you do with a zucchini? I’m a twenty three year old wife trying to cook an appealing dinner. I need to learn these things like what on earth else to do with that zucchini.

…So I’ve hated cooking for a long long time. Settling for Breakfast for dinner way too often, or eating out more than is necessary, or Brandon’s personal favorite, griping and complaining about how now I have to make dinner because it’s already 5:30, and that’s about dinner time, and never mind the fact that I was perfectly comfortable on the couch, I have a husband to cook for.


But now… Blue Apron has made me appreciative. I have a husband to cook for. I have a husband I get to show off my fancy meals to.. And he delights in their flavor, and sends compliments across the table. Giving kisses when his plate is clean, and his belly is full.


Sirloin Tip Steak with new potato, asparagus, and radish hash

I realized in the midst of this meal prep that a diced red onion, fresh green parsley, finely chopped pistachios, and freshly squeezed lemon juice all smells pretty dang good together. So good my eyes were watering from the potency. Those smells are welcome to stay in my kitchen forever.

When I signed up for Blue Apron I was only expecting to have a few meals a week taken care of. But it’s been so much more. Not only is their website an excellent resource for recipes, but I’m also familiarizing myself with several different foods, and spices I’ve never heard of, or would have tried otherwise. Which I hope will allow me to eventually create my own new recipes.

I understand meal delivery plans are not for everyone, but I had to share our positive results. Just keep in mind they’re not particularly cost effective, but they are super tasty, and a great kick start if you have a bad case of the meal planning blahs.

And guess what? I was a fan of the mushrooms.