A Blog From This Valley

The Civil Wars sing a song called “From This Valley” that has been rolling around in my head for days.  And while its fun, lighthearted melody “rolled around” it, actually began careening into the deeper folds of my heart, where things are not quite as lighthearted at the moment.  The title “From This Valley” pretty much describes the place from where I am writing right now.

The other day my sister inquired ever-so-gently if this valley I’m in might have anything to do with the recent passage of another birthday, to which I replied, “Whatevs.” Then I secretly took her keen observation to heart.  (She knows me too well.  I love that.)

It’s not only about turning 43, though. I am adjusting to a new stage of life.  It’s the stage where I am no longer raising children. I am raising teenagers. TWO teenagers. (Artistic, busy teenagers with opinions.) And it’s a stage when our family schedule depends on a very carefully timed taxi service, fewer meals together (which have been non-negotiable in the past) and mind-reading skills which I do not possess.  And, sure, every birthday reminds me that I have one less year in which to help them fly with their own wings;but add to that ticking clock the sudden tragic death of an artist friend, Stephen Hill, this past week (who was only 55) and I start asking myself some hard questions.  Am I making the most of this stage of life? Or do I need to set my expectations lower and just get through it with my head on?

Over the past 15 years I have made a long series of sacrifices — professionally, socially, and I’m sure I don’t have to mention financially —  to give my kids every possible chance to learn from me what only a mother can give them. And right now, the payoff is coming in extremely small increments. Extremely. Small.

I’m grateful for a husband who is in this with me. At times, after we have unintentionally said the wrong thing (again) or hit an emotional landmine, we will look at each other with that knowing look that says, “We have no clue what we’re doing here!”

So, back to this Civil Wars tune that I keep singing. This verse particularly strikes me:

Oh, the caged bird dreams of a strong wind that will flow ‘neath her wings.
Like a voice longs for a melody, oh, Jesus carry me.

YES.  That! My voice longs for a melody.  My “wings” long for a strong wind to make the flying – or whatever this is – a little less laborious. I am grateful for constant reminders that is Jesus carrying me, and you want to know what I’m noticing?  We can’t teach our kids to fly while we’re standing down on the ground.  We show them how.  So…please send some wind over this direction, Jesus! The chorus of “From This Valley” says…

Won’t you take me from this valley to that mountain high above?
I will pray, pray, pray until I see your smiling face.
I will pray, pray, pray to the one I love.

I’m definitely praying more than ever lately. It’s the only way I know to live inside the knowledge that the One I love is with me constantly, even when everything else feels out of sync and I am not feeling the love.

I understand that valleys are where character is developed, trust is deepened and we learn what we can’t learn any other place. So with that in mind, I certainly don’t mean to wish a moment of this season away. And there are redeeming moments. But this simple little song has offered me the refreshing reminder I needed this week.

Thank you, Civil Wars.

Just for fun, I’ve included here a video of Joy Williams and John Paul White singing “From This Valley” live.  Enjoy.  In the comments here, feel free to let me know how you survive the valleys!  I’m open to any and all suggestions.

The Things We Do for Love

making-gingeraleMy son recently had his second appointment with Dr. Mary Lou Hulseman, whom we have known for years but later learned has very successfully treated many, many kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  One of those kids was the doctor’s own daughter.  The reason for her popularity is found in one word.  Results.  Can’t argue with that.

After our son’s Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis in February 2008, we were immediately faced with medication dilemmas because of side effects and a lack of on-going positive results.  Already thin, our son became pale and listless.. couldn’t sleep at night (which has always been a struggle for him anyway, before the meds)… and to be blunt, the bright, funny child we once knew was nowhere to be found.  He had been away for a long time, but went further away with the medicine.

We first attended Dr. Hulseman’s seminar last fall and began to take steps she recommended at that time.  Since then, we’ve had two appointments, one in June and one in early October.  To make a long story short, we have made some drastic dietary changes (incrementally) and our son is taking numerous natural vitamin & mineral supplements… and we have him back after just a few short months.  He is off all medicines and having his best year of school yet.  He isn’t 100% symptom free, but close.  He isn’t “melting down” like he used to do often – weekly, if not multiple times daily.  He IS feeling great, looking healthy and handsome, hugs us spontaneously now, laughs easily, and has gained eight pound since our June appointment (he is still thin, but it’s a great start)!  This, my friends, is a different child than the one who was diagnosed during his third unsuccessful week of an out-patient anger management program just a year-and-a-half ago.

As part of the healing diet he was prescribed for a limited time (called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet), we have completely changed the way we eat as a family.  Our home was once starch CENTRAL.  Now those aren’t allowed.  Our boy had such a ravenous sugar craving it was almost scary.  But sugar is out now.  Many foods we once took for granted now are either not an option or must be homemade to specific standards. But we’re doing it and it’s helping all of us feel great.  The learning curve (on which I am still a full-time resident) has been dotted with successes and plenty of flops as I’ve learned to make things he could eat.  This week I had a huge success.  And I needed it, because a few flops in a row had me discouraged.  My success?  Homemade Gingerale.

First, I don’t blame you if you’re dying laughing right now with thoughts of me making my own pop.  But my kid has been AMAZING at not complaining not getting to eat so many things he loves (like commercial gingerale)  SO… I tried my hand at it.  I bought ginger root for the first time in my life (it was cheaper than I EVER imagined) and went to it.  After the finished product had chilled a few hours, the moment of truth came with the taste test… And he LOVED it!  He said, “Oh my word!  It tastes just like Gingerale!”

I posted a couple tweets about the homemade gingerale on Twitter (including the photo above) and I immediately got several requests for the recipe.  So here’s how to make your own honey-sweetened gingerale.

Homemade Gingerale

You will need:  A blender, hot water, ginger root, honey, club soda.

In a blender, pour in 1-and-a-half cups of hot water (not boiling).  Add 2 tablespoons of minced ginger to the hot water.  Then add honey to taste.  The recipe I used calls for 1 cup but that seemed like a lot, so I used more like a half to three-quarters cup of honey.

Blend all that in the blender f or 1 minute.  Strain into a canning jar or other clean container.  I used a coffee filter as a strainer.  Worked great.

Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hrs.  Pour a small amount of the strained ginger solution (approximately a fourth of a cup or less) to an 8 ounce glass of club soda and add ice.  The ginger/soda balance will be a matter of your own personal taste.

I NEVER thought I’d know – or care – how to make homemade pop.  But I love my kid.  I love the progress he is making; and homemade gingerale is now just one of the things I do for the sake of love.  Next challenge?  Homemade yogurt!  I must really love this kid a ton.

Thank you, H1N1…

hand-sanitizerI’ll admit, I thought the media was being ridiculous when they started talking about the H1N1 “pandemic” when less people had been  affected by it than had caught the regular old-fashioned Influenza B virus.  But now that it’s hitting Indiana hard (and possibly your area, too) I’m starting to think maybe – MAYBE – all the warnings weren’t completely unfounded.  Local schools have had so many student absences that they’re closing school and/or tacking on extra dates to their fall breaks.  And we’re hearing about children across the nation dying from complications from the virus.  My next door neighbor informed me this weekend that one of her kids came home with it on Wednesday.  So it is literally next door now.  A little more sobering.

My daughter has been fighting allergies for a few weeks now, but when I got a call from the school Friday that she was feeling “really badly” I suddenly wasn’t as nonchalant as I might’ve been before the H1N1 scare.  I normally would’ve made her stick it out at school if she didn’t have a fever yet.  But just knowing that classmates of hers have been diagnosed with the dreaded virus made me want to get her out of there and home with me as soon as possible.  She has been pretty miserable all weekend with a head cold and she did end up running a low-grade fever, but here’s the good news.  She and I played more UNO games than we’ve been able to play together in months and she told me this afternoon that even though she was not feeling well physically, she was completely happy because we got to spend the day together.  She added that she was so, so glad that I’m her mom, stating, “I mean… what other mom knows about that tea you gave me that helped me feel better?!” (Don’t tell her that lots of moms know that chamomile tea with honey is good when you’re sick — she thinks I thought of that!)

Her joy at having me at her side all day made my day… week… maybe year.  So thanks, H1N1 for making me take very seriously the fact that my daughter needed 100% of my attention today, even for a harmless head cold.  And?  I’m rather enjoying seeing hand sanitizer everywhere I turn.  The school has already burned through their year’s supply.  YES!  I’ll donate a case of it!

Lessons from Paco

2009-06 Paco First Day HomeA dear friend of our family recently gifted my children with a baby Teacup Chihuahua.  (For obvious reasons, it’s a good thing this friend is dear or he would’ve been left for dead within minutes after following up his promise to buy my children a Chihuahua because “they wanted one”.)  However, since I am apparently a weak-willed, spineless pushover when it comes to lovable creatures (as if I had a choice), Paco became a part of our family a few weeks ago.

We already had a 65-pound black lab mix named Maggie (who, for the record, loves me better than she loves the rest of the family and everyone knows it).  I felt slightly guilty, until now, that the kids didn’t really have a dog they could call their own.  They all call Maggie “Mom’s Dog” and she has been a true companion to me, teaching me countless things… like how to love with complete abandon, and how having a big black dog protecting the perimeter of our property is WAY more effective than our security system.  Just ask the UPS man… and the former UPS man.  And call me narcissistic, but being followed from room-to-room a 65-pound mass of pure adoration is something that I, for one, totally enjoy!  What’s not to love about being adored so wholeheartedly?!  Everyone should feel this joy.

I figured I had already learned the things that dog ownership is supposed to teach a person.  But now little Paco has wormed his way into my heart with his giant, paper-thin ears and teeny tiny body and has taught me a few bonus things.  And I’m starting to wonder if I fill the house with dozens of dogs… will I have the wisdom of Solomon?  Or at least maybe work my way up to having the wisdom of my Mom?!

Here is what Paco has taught me so far…

1)  I’ll start with the obvious.  Two words: Input, output.  Please don’t ask me to explain in detail.  Suffice it say, this simple concept has never been more evident than when the faint glow of tennis ball fuzz gleams from within the miniature piles he creates in the yard (or behind the sofa, or under the bed).  What goes in must come out.  It’s making me really think realistically (albeit graphically) about what I put into my mind, body and heart.  It’s also reminding me to NEVER chew on a tennis ball, whatever that’s worth.

2) Power isn’t measured by stature or position, but by spirit.  The term “small but mighty” accurately describes Paco.  We’re only small and insignificant if we think we are.  Paco has NO idea that he is small.  So don’t tell him, okay?  It’s so great to see him strut around with his head held high… five inches high from the ground to the top of his head!

3) When really you want something, just look all adorable and make your request abundantly clear… and maybe tilt your head to the side slightly when you ask.  Paco has shown me just how effective this approach can be!  (Apparently my kids had learned this concept and used it on our friend prior to my learning it from Paco!)

4) Treats are good.  After a success, a reward makes you feel really fantastic about what you’ve done!  Makes you want to succeed again.

5) Timing is everything.  The week we got Paco, we happened to be at the beginning of what has become quite a “desert experience” in our life.  You know how it goes… when it rains, it pours.  But somehow, feeling Paco’s soft baby fur and seeing his adoring looks as he creates a ball of warmth in our lap (or around our necks) has been an unexpected ray of sunshine during a somewhat challenging stretch of our journey..

6) Getting home is an occasion to be celebrated.  When we return home, even after being gone only a few minutes, Paco howls an excited welcome home howl with his nose high in the air.  It’s as though he thought he would never see us again… and then the prodigal family returned from their trip to Target.  Oh the rejoicing!   It reminds me that getting home, for any of us, can and should be a moment of celebration that we’re all together again.

Well… I could go on and on.  I mean, I have learned so much.  Who knew how many marginally edible items were lurking under the couch?  Or how many clothes I own with drawstrings that simply MUST be chewed on?!  Or that Paco still kind-of loves me best, just like Maggie (I guess it’s just a maternal thing).  BUT this, I know… I couldn’t possibly be mad at our family friend for springing a new puppy on us.  I’m delighted that he knows us well enough to know how Paco would bless our family with laughter, affection, warmth and absolute crazy love.  So thanks, Ken.  I guess I won’t kill you like I had originally promised.  At least not yet.

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