Wednesday, August 13, 2014

As simple as a song

I guess you could call it a perfect storm; the culmination of many little streams in my world, all coming together to create a rushing river – seemingly out of nowhere. I haven’t blogged in what seems like forever. (I didn't post anything in 2013!!) I’ve missed it. I have so many people I want to share this story with; I thought it was best to just write a post. I hope it makes sense!

A little background.
This Labor Day weekend is Kristen’s 6th birthday. Or what should be anyway. I should be planning a princess birthday party and shopping with a kindergarten back-to-school list. But God apparently has better plans for me, plans that will bring me a hope and a future. He promises that He will work ALL things out for the good of those who love Him. Not sure how He’s gonna work this one out, but I don’t know how to make mountains or a universe either, so I’ll leave the supernatural to Him. I digress.

The months before Kristen was born, I would spend the quiet summer nights online (thanks insomnia!), perusing the internet for inspiration for newborn photos and our upcoming baby announcements. I found myself coming back to one particular photographer’s website over and over again. Her name is Erin and she is in Michigan. Her business name is “FootprintsPhotography” named after the story of God’s footprints showing in the sand during the hard times in life when He carries us. She had a song playing on her website that I found soothing and would come to her website just to listen to the song! It was IZ’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I probably heard that song hundreds of times that summer! It never got old.

Fast-forward to Labor Day weekend 2008 when my world came crashing in. Newborn pictures became our ONLY photos except they weren’t the posed and cute ones I had wanted to imitate. However, we were insanely blessed by two close friends who are professional photographers that came and took photos of our last hours with Kristen. Combined we have close to 1000 photos of her short 64 hours! We used those photos for a slideshow at her memorial service. When it came to choosing the song for the slideshow, the only option was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It had unintentionally become the soundtrack to my pregnancy.

A crazy thing about music is that is can transport you to another time/place with just a note or two. That’s great when it’s a positive memory, but not so great when it’s tied to memories that are painful. We had a worship CD that we played in our room during our last hours with Kristen. When I hear those songs, I can still remember exactly what I was doing when it was playing. We gave her a bath during one particular song; we were cutting her hair and getting her dressed during another song. I don’t play that CD anymore. Not because I don’t like the music – that was why I played it that day in the first place, but because it transports me to a time/place I need to be in the right frame of mind to visit. Sadly, I haven’t made the effort to “go there” in a long time, so the thought of it is daunting. It is just easier to not listen to it. Which is what I’ve done with the Rainbow song for years. I’ll find a way to skip to the next song, go to another room, etc, when the song is played, because I don’t want to “go there.” Kevin has even picked up on this, catching my eye when the song plays in public and asking if I’m okay. I just paste on a smile and know it will be over in a few minutes. But God has creative ways of bringing healing, even when we resist something as simple as a song.

A couple of months ago I was looking for a YouTube video for Katelynn of this really cool classical music channel we had found earlier. In my searching, I happened upon a music video by “The Piano Guys” and it was really neat! The girls and I watched a couple more of their songs and found we really liked their music. A couple of weeks later I heard about Amazon Prime’s free music that I could play on my phone and I found The Piano Guys on there. I had them on repeat for almost a full week before I got another artist on my phone!!

What does this have to do with anything? They just happen to have a beautiful rendition of the Rainbow song. I found myself not skipping it when it would come on, but rather enjoying it and looking forward to when it would play. HOWEVER, it’s combined with another song that has meaning too! They use the song “Simple Gifts” which was an old Shaker hymn, but most commonly known as “The Lord of the Dance”, which I had learned probably 30 years ago at summer camp! The combining of the two songs and their composition of the Rainbow song changed something for me, and I was finding myself really enjoying listening to it. It might have also been the lack of words, which allowed the music to be just that much more soothing. To have “Kristen’s song” combined with a song that brings back so many fond memories of my childhood and summer camp, and my early experiences of knowing God and learning about Him through music… helped me once again enjoy “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Side note: the girls and I have been listening to audio books this summer in the car. We just finished one of the “Dear America” books about a young girl who goes to live with the Shakers after her family dies from the Spanish flu in the early 1900s. She sings the “Simple Gifts” song on the CD and it was the first time I had heard the original song. What great timing!

Something about The Piano Guys’ rendition of the song helps take some of the sting out of it for me. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of words or maybe with having both songs together, it offsets the bitter sweet memories with the truly sweet ones from my childhood. Last night I went “back to the beginning” (thank you Princess Bride!) to Erin’s webpage and played the song in the background for almost two hours while I worked on some things and connected with a few people. I even wrote Erin to let her know of her influence in this crazy journey I've been on. Just so happens that Erin started an organization in Michigan that offers services of professional photography to the families of terminally ill infants and children. The photos on her webpage are breathtaking and heart breaking at the same time. I know the look in those mothers’ eyes. I also know their little babies are somewhere over the rainbow, where clouds are far behind them. And thanks to The Piano Guys, that thought is accompanied by the idea of them being led in a dance by the Lord Himself.

Dance, dance, wherever you may be 
I am the lord of the dance, said he 
And I lead you all, wherever you may be 
And I lead you all in the dance, said he.

This probably sounds really weird, but I like to leave my favorite taste on my plate for my last bite, so I have the best food as the aftertaste and reminder of what I just ate. I love the "aftertaste" that this simple song gives. It allows me to face the memories of that song, to "go there" without feeling overwhelmed with despair or grief. It leaves me with a beautiful reminder of what -and who - lies over the rainbow.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Any one who knows my family knows that we have some pretty crazy deals with numbers. For example my dad and his brother were born on the same day....two years apart. Their parents were born on the same day as each other as well, I believe three years apart, and they were married on that same day! So they celebrated their "Annibirthday" each year. My dad and his brother both married gals with identical birthdays. And it just goes on from there.

So when I was trying to figure out when Ashley would be the same age as Katelynn was when Kristen was born, it didn't really surprise me that it was 12/12/12.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Hurt and the Healer

I've been wanting to blog about this song since I heard it almost 2 months ago. Normally I get kind of tired of hearing a song on the radio because they play it so darn often! But I can't seem to get enough of this. It's by the same band that did "I can only imagine" and I have to say it trumps that song!! At least for me. I want to take time and write what the lyrics me to me, but until I have time to do that, I wanted to share the song and the lyrics, which are so powerful, no matter what you've been through or are going through.
 The part I do want to share is at the end of the bridge, the music swells and the words are so descriptive and together they are both powerful, and then the words say "And hear You say “It’s over now”, when the music softens and there is peace. I envision what it's been like for me to comfort and wake up Katelynn when she's had a bad dream. Cradling her on my lap (which is getting harder to do these days!) and rocking her, caressing her hair, telling her it's over, it's all done, and she's okay, mama's there and the bad dream is all gone. I can only wait until Jesus does that for us - waking us up from this earthly moment we call life, letting us know it's over now, the hardships of our earthly bodies are no longer ours to fight, the heartache of this world are all gone, and we are in His presence, and we are now whole and living in our eternal state in His glory. I love how the lyrics and the music play that out for me.
I hope you enjoy the song as much as I do and your hurt (whatever that looks like for you, and if you're breathing air and living among humans, you have hurt!) collides with the ultimate Healer.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Who dunnit?

Not much to say with this post. Pictures kinda say it all.

However, I will say - she did another spot on her hair just the weekend before. It was very minor and I thought "Whew! If she had to "get it out of her system" and that's all the damage that was done, then we're okay!" Little did I know...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Homemade Laundry Soap

There are about as many recipes online for homemade laundry soap as there are for chocolate chip cookies! And the same rule of thumb goes for the soap as the cookies, just try them until you find one you like!

I have lots of friends that make their own laundry soap so I figured I'd give it a try. My friend Holly was kind enough to make up a "kit" for me the last time she made hers, all I had to do was add the water. With the kit she included a list of 10 recipes I could try the next time. Well, that batch of soap finally ran out last weekend, so it was time to go buy our own ingredients and make our own.

Since this was my first time buying the ingredients and making it on my own I decided to stick with the recipe she had ready for me last time. (Side note, this is sounding all so complicated and technical that you have to follow someone's lead to make it - really it's not! But since I learned from someone else, I figured I'd pass along what I learned!) Most of the recipes suggest experimenting with the various ingredients until you find a combination that you prefer. You an even buy essential oils that smell like name brand detergents so your homemade soap smells the same as your store bought stuff!

Here's what I did. (note: this recipe calls for a 2 gallon pail or bucket that you fill with water at the end, to make 2 gallons of soap. I only have a 5 gallon bucket so I estimate what 2 gallons looks like!)

Ingredients: Boax, Washing Soda, Fels-Naptha bar soap, and water. I got everything at Wal-Mart in the laundry soap aisle. Every box of Borax was crushed, hence the mangled looking box! But everything you see here maybe cost me $8 and I only used a 1/2 cup of each of the powders and a 1/3 cup of the bar, so you can see how this is definitely a cost effective way to do laundry soap!!

Step One: Grate the bar of soap. You only need 1/3 cup for this particular recipe so I just grated the whole bar and it made almost a full 3 cups
So at $.97 a bar, you can get just about 9 batches worth = $.12 per batch (after tax.) :)

(I put the extra in a ziploc bag - just be sure to label it well - it looks just like shredded cheddar!!!)

Step Two: In a large pot, heat 3 pints (6 cups) of water. Add 1/3 cup grated bar soap and stir until dissolved. Then add 1/2 cup of both washing soda and borax. Stir until powders are dissolved then remove from heat.

Step Three:  In a 2 gallon clean pail or bucket (I used a 5 gallon bucket) pour 2 cups of hot water and add the heated soap mixture. Top off the pail with cold water and stir well. (This is where I had to estimate how much extra water to add. There are other recipes that use larger buckets and more water.)

Storage: You can choose to leave your soap in your bucket if you have a lid. Or you can put it into old (clean) laundry soap containers. This recipe uses about 1/2 cup per load, but be sure to stir/shake your soap well as it tends to gel.
My friend Holly said this recipe costs about $.83 a batch and this photo gives you an idea of how many containers I was able to fill with just one batch!! Sure "free" soap is good when you can find it, but now I know exactly what is in my soap and I can keep the ingredients on hand in much smaller containers than I used to do when I stocked up on "premade" laundry soap.

Well, I can't use the excuse that we don't have soap, so I guess it's time to go start the laundry!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Zuchinni Bread Update

My 1st batch of Zuchinni and Banana bread is down to it's last muffin so I decided it was time to make some more! As with most baked items, the once kinda gooey muffins got plenty dry by the end of the bag so this time I'm going to be fine with them being moist when they first come out.

My 2nd batch of Zuchinni bread is in the oven and I'm excited for the results! This time I added 2 full scoops of the vanilla whey powder, 4 TBS of soy protein powder, a full cup of apple sauce, I didn't have the Greek yogurt so I just added 1/2 cup of vanilla fat free yogurt, omitted the veg oil, and used zuchinni AND yellow squash since I had both. I also decided to skin them partially this time before I sent them through the Cuisinart.

The good news is that the points actually went down a bit because the amount of servings went up. I was able to make 24 mini (20gm) muffins, 11 regular (50-60gm) muffins, and fill one regular sized loaf pan (700gm). So when it comes down to points per serving, it's still just two points with one serving being 3 mini muffins, 1 regular muffin or 1 slice of the loaf (assuming I can cut it into 12 slices).

HOWEVER.....I just tried one of the mini's and found that a bunch of the muffin gets stuck on the paper. (I should've sprayed them! Forgot to jot that down last time to make sure I did it this time..oh well.) So the nerd in me just had to know how much of my muffin I was losing. :) So I weighed it and there's almost 6 gms left on the paper!! So if you have 3 minis that's almost a whole mini worth being left on your papers! So maybe you should have 4 minis for 2 points since you're gonna lose that extra one on the paper!? :) ha ha

I'm looking forward to inputting the data into a nutritional value calculator and find out how much goodness there is in it! :) But I figured with 94 grams of protein just from the whey and soy powders, that's at least 3 grams of protein per muffin! Not to mention what you get from the rest of the ingredients!

VERDICT: They're good! They are definitely a bit sweeter than the last batch. And Kevin actually ate one and said it wasn't bad - he may have even said it was good!

Thankful for a limited vocabulary.

Today I came across a list of words that I am thankful that I not only can't pronounce, but that I have no idea what they mean. I was visiting "CarePages" because my husband's aunt just found out that her cancer is back and it's a pretty grim prognosis. She created a page there to share her journey and for her friends and family to stay in touch and offer support. The pages are set up with keywords so you can find other people who are going through similar journeys and gain/offer support through their pages. After visiting Karen's page, I decided I'd do a quick search for Trisomy 18. I know there are LOTS of sites out there just for T-18 families, and I have kinda steered clear of them after I got pregnant with Ashley, just not wanting to "go there". But I did the search anyway and came across this particular mom's profile. Her son didn't have full Trisomy 18 like Kristen, but it still made me realize that could have been me.
My son Hunter has tetralogy of fallot and just had it repaired on 11/18/2008.
Hunter has had a lot of surgeries including cleft palate repair, nissen fundoplication twice, hernia repair, ureter reimplant (kidney), mandibular distraction, mastoid surgery, and before the heart repair he had a right BT shunt.
So on the days when I am sad and bitter that I only got 64 hours with Kristen, I need to remind myself that any more time than that would have also come with a whole new vocabulary. These kinds of conditions and surgeries are just the way of life for many Trisomy families. Kristen had a number of hard to pronounce conditions herself, many of them I never did ever know, because it was obvious pretty early on that those conditions in and of themselves, weren't really going to matter in the long run. (Although that idiot cardiologist at St. Joe's who tried to explain heart abnormalities to a completely delirious and drugged up Momma sure was proud of himself and his vocabulary!)
But in the midst of my own "issues" that I have in dealing with all that surrounds Kristen's time here, I can be thankful that my limited time with my baby also came with it the blessing of a limited vocabulary.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Zucchini Banana Bread Muffins (2pts)

I have really been enjoying being a “scientist” in my kitchen lately. When the time comes, I think I need to look for a job in a test kitchen somewhere, inventing and revamping recipes. I love it! I love to bake and instead of giving up my hobby just because I'm on Weight Watchers, I am enjoying finding ways to combine them. Healthy Baked Goods - no longer an oxymoron!

Much like anyone else who has zucchini in their backyard, I’m trying to come up with creative and healthy ways to use it up. I’ve wanted to make zucchini bread, but at 6 Weight Watchers points per slice (according to the original recipe), I wasn’t going to give it a try – knowing I could single-handedly polish off 2-3 slices in one sitting! So I set out to find a healthy recipe, which then I, of course, modified!

I’m happy to report that the preliminary batch made muffins that were only 2 points each – and if you make mini muffins, they’re only 1 point. (And depending on which scoop you use, I even got them down to 3 muffins per 2 points!) (see note below about calculating points and my view on fruits and veggies!)

It wasn’t as sweet as I had hoped, but that is easily fixed next time. They’re still cooling and are VERY moist, almost gooey. So I am going to use less zucchini next time and maybe a bit more whey powder to add flavor and help with the moisture. So far Ashley loves them and Kevin said they weren’t disgusting but he’s not a fan of zucchini to begin with, so I’ll take that as a compliment!  :)

Some of the interesting modifications for this recipe:
  • Greek Yogurt – I used a small container of Yoplait Non-Fat Honey Flavored Greek Yogurt in place of some of the oil and eggs. It helped with the subbing as well as adding flavor.
  • Flax Meal – I used 2 TBS in hot water to make a healthy egg substitute.
  • Whole Wheat Pastry Flour – the recipe called for a cup of both white and whole-wheat flours, which essentially is how you make whole-wheat pastry flour – equal parts of both. So I just went with one ingredient!
  • Sweeteners – I assumed the other flavored items in the mix (yogurt, whey, vanilla) would help with the sweetness so I didn’t want to add the full amount of sugars – as well as trying to get it “healthier”. I used half regular white sugar and half organic sucanat – which is pretty much just really raw sugar. (I got a small bulk bag of it at Marlene’s to start experimenting with.) The recipe is definitely not too sweet, but it could use a little something else. I guess it just makes them taste that much healthier. J
  • Vanilla Whey – we have the big bag of vanilla whey protein from Costco that I’ve only used to make shakes so far. But today I read in someone’s comments to the recipe I found that they added a scoop of the powder to their recipe. I figured it was worth a try considering it just adds protein and flavor and very little else!
  • Chia Gel – I still need to get my full post about Chia written, but I’m still using it and finding all kinds of new ways to incorporate it into our foods. I have a mason jar of the gel in the fridge for times like this when I just want to add a bit more power punch to my food without adding too much flavor or calories.
  • Soy Protein Powder – I didn’t add this ingredient this time, but I am considering it. It’s an easy way to add a considerable amount of protein without adding the fat. and it might help with the moisture issue too.

So here it is! And, I do suggest mixing the dry and wet separately – I don’t remember all the science behind it, but I remember reading there are real reasons to do it!

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 cup Regular Oats
1.5 tsp Baking Powder
1.5 tsp Baking Soda
1.5 tsp Cinnamon
.25 tsp Allspice
.25 tsp Nutmeg (I didn’t use this much as I thought it was overpowering)
1 tsp Salt
1 scoop Whey Protein Powder (1 scoop is about 35grams)

Wet Ingredients:
1 egg
1 egg white
2 Tbs Flax Seed Meal mixed with ¼ cup hot water to make egg substitute
.5 tsp Vanilla Extract
.25 cup Sugar
.25 cup Sucanat
1 Tbs Vegetable Oil (optional, could probably omit completely)
1 6oz cup Yoplait Greek 2x Protein Fat Free Yogurt Honey Vanilla
3 Tbs Chia Gel
2 cups Zucchini – shredded
2 bananas – I keep left over ones in the freezer and then zap them in the microwave for 1-2 mins when I need them.

Preheat oven to 325*. (original recipes call for 350, but I found the insides didn’t cook as well as the outsides, so I lowered the temp and went longer. This might not be an issue with a less moist batter.)
Mix together the dry ingredients and set aside.
In a separate bowl beat the eggs and flax meal mixture.
Add the sugars, oil (if using), yogurt, chia gel and vanilla.
Add the dry and wet ingredients together until just combined.
Fold in the zucchini and bananas.
Pour into either 2 greased loaf pans, 24 lined muffin cups, or 45 lined mini muffin cups, or a combination of all three!
Bake until they test done. (I use dry spaghetti noodles to test them!) My regular sized muffins took almost 45 minutes and the minis took almost 30+.

According to the Weight Watchers Recipe Builder program, it takes into account all the ingredients and calculates the point values based on the entire recipe. So if you make something with fruits and veggies, it will count those normally “free” items and they will contribute to the over all point values. So when I make things that have fruits and veggies in them, I choose to leave them out of the builder. Example: a fruit smoothie – when entered into the recipe builder, you add points to your smoothie by adding all the fruit you put in it. If you eat that fruit by itself, they’re 0 points. So for this Zucchini Banana bread recipe, I didn’t enter the zucchini or bananas. If I had, they would have added 7 points to the whole recipe. Maybe not a whole lot, but enough to leave them out in my opinion! You are more than welcome to add them back in for a different point value.
Without them the whole recipe is 52 points ∻ divided by 24 muffins = 2.167 each = 2 Points.
With them the whole recipe is 59 points ∻ divided by 24 muffins = 2.45each = still 2 Points since WW rounds their points up/down. But if you change anything in the recipe, the points might go up more dramatically with the "free" items included. :) Personal preference!!

Nutrition Facts for 24 Servings
Amount Per Serving
Calories 73.3
Total Fat 1.2 g
Cholesterol 10.8 mg
Sodium 233.9 mg
Potassium 31.2 mg
Total Carbohydrate 11.5 g
Dietary Fiber 1.6 g
Sugars 2.8 g
Protein 3.7 g
(I don't think the chia and whey "goodness" came through on the nutritional value chart. But I know they're in there, adding nutritional value! Makes this less of a "dessert" and more of a healthy snack, one I don't mind letting my 15 month old eat!)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Skinny Mini Monster Cookies

Skinny Mini Monster Cookies

By Tara Balcom

One of our family's favorite cookies is the Monster Cookie. My grandmother's recipe makes 12+ dozen huge cookies, enough for a small army! So I quartered it, made some healthy, creative substitutions (trying chia seeds & peanut flour) and wha-lah!! A healthier version that doesn't necessarily "taste healthy". I entered my ingredients in the Weight Watchers Recipe Builder and it said each cookies was only 1 point. I was so excited until I realized I left off the highest point ingredient: oats. (bummer!) So now the cookies only “cost” 2 WW points which still isn't bad. (51 or more cookies from this recipe will yield 2pt cookies. 50 or less will yield 3 pt cookies.) However, they are packed with lots of healthy goodness so they're not just your normal cookie! :) I’m still in the creating/testing phase so check back for a more “refined” finish product! And don't be put off by the crazy list of ingredients. The original recipe had quite a few, then for most of the substitutions I used 1/2 the original ingredient and 1/2 the sub, hence the long list!
I will make another post about my experimenting with chia seeds for those who have no idea what I'm talking about. And yes, they are the same ch-ch-ch-chia! seeds you remember from TV! :)
WW PPV values


Chia seed egg substitute: 1 T Chia meal & 3 T of warm water
flax seed meal, butter substitute: 1 TBS flax meal with 3 TBS warm water
chia gel (see directions before you start)
packed brown sugar   
vanilla extract  
1 ½
light corn syrup  
wheat germ  
dry chia seed
soy protein powder (from bulk bins at WinCo)
Protein Plus peanut flour
baking soda  
4 ½
Quick oats
4 ½
Rolled oats
mini chocolate chips   (from bulk bins at WinCo)
2 ¾
Plain M&M's   (you can use more if you want, that just what I had left in the bag!)

Before you begin, if you don’t have it ready, you'll want to get your chia gel started (1/4c chia seeds + 2c warm water in a qt jar, shake well, let sit for 10 mins, shake again then refrigerate; can be stored for up to 2 weeks) and your egg & butter subs started (chia & flax, I’ve read you can use chia seeds OR meal for the egg sub, I was experimenting so I ground mine). That way when you need them, they're ready.

I used some of the random things I had in my cupboards left over from other recipes, so feel free to omit/substitute your own ingredients, taking into account their effect on overall points.

Preheat oven to 350°.  In a large mixer beat 2 eggs (could do whites, but I wasn't sure how much subbing I could do!), 4 TBS room temp margarine, 2 TBS of the flax meal w/ water mixture (butter sub),  2 TBS chia meal w/ water mixture (butter sub), sugars, corn syrup & vanilla. Mix well. (goal here is to add volume/air to the butter/eggs)

In a large mixing bowl combine dry ingredients: wheat germ (optional), dry chia (optional but only adds good stuff!) soy protein powder (optional but helps add nutritional value) 1 cup peanut flour (or reg peanut butter, but this is 1/4 the points & fat as reg PB!!), oats and baking soda. Mix well.

Add dry ingredients to the mixer and combine until well blended. Add chocolate chips & M&M's, and any other goodies you prefer (again, taking into account the points values).

I used a smaller cookie scoop (got it at Target) and filled a cookie sheet covered w/ parchment with dough balls to flash freeze them - and verify my count. This recipe made exactly 70 cookie balls (minus the couple of spoonfuls of dough my husband ate!). This step is optional if counting how many cookies the batch makes isn't important to you. If you're counting points however, it's what makes these 2 pt cookies!

Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and flatten. They don't spread so you don't have to have them too spaced out. Bake at 350° for 9-10 mins. Let sit on cookie sheet for a min or two then transfer to cooling rack. Enjoy!!!

I welcome and would appreciate any comments, suggestions, ideas you may have. I already have a number of ideas of how I'm going to tweak this recipe the next time I make it. I was really hoping for 1 point cookies, so it's back to the drawing board for me! But I'm now armed with more knowledge of how to use some of my healthy ingredients and excited to see what I come up with next!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer Strolling

Ashley's been working on walking for quite a while now. She hasn't been in any rush to stay on her feet, finding that crawling is just as easy as walking. But while we've been in Spokane she's started enjoying the freedom of walking!! Here's a few video clips of her walking as well as having fun with her big sissy Katelynn!! I love when they get along so well!!