Friday, March 22, 2019

High Five for Friday (3.22.19)

One
Does anyone else need a vacation after their vacation? We didn't travel at all (we spent spring break working on our house, yard, and Mad Science Laboratory), but when Sunday night arrived I felt as exhausted as if I'd traveled to the moon and back.

This week - back to getting up early, back to school, and back to work - kept me busy, but I tried to take 20 10 5 minutes each day to relax, decompress, recenter, and motivate myself. This is as close to meditation as I've come, but I think I might benefit from the process - anyone have any suggestions on how to start? Any guided meditation apps you like?

Two
Into the last three days of spring break we fit bowling, Farmhouse Creamery for ice cream, Chick-fil-a for Big 10 Tournament-watching takeout, a mom-son date to shop for basketballs and go out to lunch, the library, a soccer game in Houston, multiple trips to the park, and a couple of playdates. It may not have been exactly what the kids wanted out of their break from school, but I think they had a little bit of fun.

Three
While Tom has a lengthy to-do list to finish the interior, the exterior of the Mad Scientist Laboratory looks fantastic. (All we have left to do is add painted trim to the very bottom of the structure.) Here's the before:

And here's the after:
4th fourth wall built, new roof, new windows, new air conditioner
and venting, new counters exterior walls painted, existing exterior
trim painted, additional trim around the door and windows and
on the corners painted and added, door built and added.

We are SO grateful to Tom's dad for taking on this time-consuming project - he put in more hours and worked harder than the rest of us combined, and we couldn't have done it without him.

Hopefully I can soon share before and after pics of my porch, which for the past two years has served as Tom's temporary Mad Scientist Laboratory. 😩 I look forward to power washing the patio, repainting my outdoor furniture, washing my furniture's cushions and pillows, and sorting through and neatly store the outdoor toys!

Four
Midway through last week Will added "go to an athletic/sporting event" to his spring break to-do list, but because TAMU and all of the high schools were also on spring break, we didn't have any options. On Tuesday night, however, Will and I cleared our schedules so we could go to the crosstown rivalry men's soccer game. We know kids on and families associated with both teams, so instead of cheering for one team over the other, we cheered for good soccer. I LOVE that Will loves soccer the way I love soccer, and I hope the sport always remains a link between us.

Five
Happiness Highlights
Does she look naughty? This cutie (my Lily) and her
dance company won their most recent competition
with their performance of Naughty from Matilda.
One roll of old wrapping paper, one roll of tape, and
one pair of scissors = two hours of quiet creating. 
One of our two spring days (summer should arrive next week)
coincided with my monthly school lunch with Hallie, which
meant we could eat outside in the butterfly garden.  
Look at President Carter hamming it up in his
kindergarten musical! I'd say he rocked it.
That one morning of spring break when we all had a few
minutes to lounge on the couch before getting to work.
Will's social studies class learned about and then had the opportunity to
try henna. I love this lesson, and what Will chose to write/draw on his arm.

Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Scary Stuff

My six-year-old nephew, Carter, has a host of food allergies: peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg, wheat, soy, chicken, shellfish, rice, beans, corn, and probably more foods I can't think of off the top of my head. Sadly, unlike Will, Carter has not had the benefit of a proactive allergist who cares as much about improving quality of life as they do writing prescriptions for epi-pens.

That's not to say my sister, Sara, and her husband, Jeff, haven't done absolutely everything in their power to keep Carter safe. The problem is that the allergists available to them in the greater Peoria, Illinois area are simply not as good as the allergist we have here in College Station, Texas. (The allergist we had in Ann Arbor, Michigan was also not as good as our allergist here. I truly believe that our move to College Station changed the course of Will's life.) The testing, protocols, action plans, and treatments available to Carter simply don't measure up, in terms of quality and quantity, to those available to Will. The negative? (Or, one of the negatives...) This lower standard of care could have led to Carter's death. The positive? Because of what we have learned through the higher standard of care Will has received, we prevented this from happening.

Will had a negative skin test for peanuts once. When we received this result, Will's allergist retested, making sure the skin was fully exposed to the allergen, and found that yes, in fact, Will was still wildly allergic to peanuts and the first test had been a false negative. If the retest had been negative, the next step would have been a blood test. If the blood test had been negative, the next step would have been an in-office peanut challenge to determine - in a safe and controlled environment - that the allergy had disappeared and Will could safely go home and eat peanuts. I know false negatives happen. I know blood tests are more predictive than skin tests. I know to NEVER introduce a food to which someone has been allergic at home. I know all of this - how this process works and why it is so highly regulated - because we've gone through it with Will, multiple times.

A skin allergy test is used to assess allergies by provoking a small, controlled reaction on a safe area of the body, usually the forearm or the back. 

A blood allergy test - a radioallergosorbent (RAST) test - is used to assess allergies by detecting IgE antibodies in the blood.

Carter has been allergic to peanuts since his first allergy test nearly five years ago. While it is possible to outgrow a peanut allergy, children rarely do so; an allergy to peanuts, more often than not, is a lifelong sentence that gets worse with any/each exposure. During a recent appointment, Carter's allergist used a skin test to check the stats of his peanut allergy. Apparently Carter's skin test came back negative, meaning his back did not show signs of reacting to the allergen. But instead of sending Carter for a blood test or scheduling a peanut challenge to confirm this extremely unlikely change in status, he sent Carter and Jeff on their way, telling Jeff as he left that he could start feeding Carter peanuts at home. Jeff asked if they needed a follow-up appointment and the doctor said, "no". Jeff asked if they should come in for a food challenge and the doctor said, "we don't do those".

Sara texted me the good news that afternoon.

"Carter has outgrown his peanut allergy!!!"

My response wasn't what Sara expected.

"PLEASE do a blood test or an office challenge before you feed him a peanut."

I explained why, and Sara agreed to call the allergist's office and ask for a blood test.

The RAST blood test measures the amounts of antibodies in the blood. Simply speaking and in most cases, the higher the level of a particular allergen's antibody in the blood, the more severe the allergy. How the test is scored is broken down below:

  • IgE level < 0.35 = no detectable allergen antibodies (no allergy)
  • IgE level 0.35 - 0.69 = low level of allergen antibodies (slight allergy)
  • IgE level 0.70 - 3.49 = moderate level... (moderate allergy)
  • IgE level 3.50 - 17.49 = high level... (significant allergy)
  • IgE level 17.50 - 49.99 = very high level... (severe allergy)
  • IgE level 50.00 - 100.00 = ultra high level... (very severe allergy)
  • IgE level > 100.00 = extremely high level... (extremely severe allergy)

Carter's level for peanuts? Above 100. ABOVE 100.

Sweet Carter
You can figure out what would have happened if Sara and Jeff had taken the allergist's advice, right? Because I'm not sure I can type it out here.

I spent an entire day the following week searching for better allergists in Illinois, and found a few I think might work for Carter. (Sara and Jeff could certainly do this, but my mom and I were on a mission and wanted to take that task off of their plate.) It is appalling to me, especially given the size of the Peoria metropolitan area, that in order to find a competent allergist they will have to drive to the Chicagoland area or Bloomington-Normal.

It is also appalling to me that any allergist could behave so carelessly - so dangerously - and put a child's life in jeopardy.

I am, again, so grateful for our fastidious yet proactive allergist here in College Station. I am grateful for the many similarly motivated allergists who came before ours, those who dreamed up treatments and therapies to improve - and potentially save - the lives of people with life-threatening food allergies. And I am grateful we are one step closer to finding one of these allergists for my sweet President Carter.

Friday, March 15, 2019

High Five for Friday (3.15.19)

One
Argh.

A lovely way to start a post, right?

Sorry about that.

I can't stand Daylight Saving Time. I don't want to lose an hour of sleep on Saturday night. I don't want to spend Sunday searching for all of my clocks' manuals in order to figure out how to change their times. I don't want to arrive late to church, or to feel like I'm "behind" as we move through our Sunday activities and chores. I don't want to wake up under the cover of darkness on Monday morning. I don't want to walk Hallie to school before the sun has crested the horizon. (It's just mean to send kids to school when it's still dark outside.) I can adjust to Standard Time in less than 48 hours, but it takes me weeks to adjust to Daylight Saving Time.

The high five here, at least for me, is that the change has come and gone for this year and we don't have to make it again for another 12 months. Hallelujah!

Did you know there is a 10% increase in heart attacks on the Monday and Tuesday following our shift to Daylight Savings Time? (source) Maybe we'll all eventually come to our senses and decide to listen to our bodies - and follow the lead of states like Arizona and Hawaii that don't observe Daylight Saving Time - and stop setting ourselves up for sleep deprivation, decreased immune function, and out-of-whack circadian rhythms... 

Two
We had a great first weekend of spring break. Tom's dad and brother arrived Friday, and over the next three days, various combinations of the six of us celebrated Grandpa Mike's birthday, worked on the Mad Scientist Laboratory and the yard, prepped for our new carpet installation, and visited quite a few uniquely Texas restaurants to expose Uncle Grant (a talented chef) to just a small sampling of the delicious food available in our region of the Lone Star State.
Happy birthday, Grandpa Mike!
So many games of Uno...and she wins them all!
Hallie and Uncle Grant made dinner - chili and cinnamon
rolls - on Sunday night. It was delicious, and such a treat
for me to hand the cooking duties over to someone else!

Three
Speaking of the Mad Scientist Laboratory...
Though not finished yet, the laboratory (once a three-sided shed) now has four actual walls, new windows, and a new roof. Next up are a door and putting in the air conditioner.
Not the best pic, but you can see the new wall, the
new roof in progress, and one of the new windows.

Speaking of the yard...
No good pictures yet. We've removed the old wrought iron fences that defined the previous owners' dog run, mowed the grass, and pulled thousands of weeds, but we still need to trim the bushes, landscape an area left barren following the the fence removal, and remulch. Revitalizing the yard takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, but the end result is almost always worth it when everything comes together toward the end of spring.

Speaking of the new carpet...
FINALLY! When we moved into our house eight years ago it still had 1992 builder-grade carpet throughout. Within the first few months we replaced the carpet in the living room, dining room/office, playroom, and hallway with wood flooring, but we decided to live with the carpet in the four bedrooms and our closet for a little longer...well, a lot longer. About four months ago I decided I couldn't live with the old carpet any longer - it was rough to the touch, discolored in some places, and stained in others, and no matter what I did, it felt and looked awful. Fast forward to three weeks ago, when we finally made the purchase, and Tuesday, when it was finally installed.
Hallie's room, the guest room, the master bedroom,
and the master closet all have this multi-tonal beige.
Will's room has bluish gray, which in real life
looks nothing like the color in this picture. 

Four
On Monday afternoon, Hallie and I joined friends at Board and Brush's first-ever family friendly workshop. I have painted quite a few signs at Board and Brush (and they let me add on a last-minute project once I arrived at their shop that afternoon) and I love both the process and my finished products. Thankfully Hallie, though a little grumpy with me whenever I tried to help her, also thoroughly enjoyed each step as well as the unicorn painting she walked away with at the end of the class.

Five
Later on Monday afternoon (we crammed a lot of spring break into Monday since I knew Tuesday would be dedicated to carpet and Wednesday to putting the house back together), Will, Hallie, and I went to the Carden International Circus. While slightly less glitzy and glamorous than the Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus, Carden still offered many interesting and entertaining (and even a few death-defying) acts that kept us on the edges of our bleacher seats. In particular, we enjoyed the tigers, archer, and tight-rope "walkers", and I paid a small fortune to let the kids ride an elephant  - which they loved - because I imagined they might not have another opportunity to do so. (I understand that the use of animals in circuses stirs controversy. Here's what Carden has to say about how they care for, train, and build relationships with their beloved animals.)


Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Texas Bucket List: Road Trip

My Texas Bucket List began taking shape shortly after we arrived in College Station. At first the list consisted of only a few touristy day trips and experiences (think Six Flags, SeaWorld, etc.) I'd thought of or heard about prior to our move. But as we made new friends, especially new friends who grew up in Texas, we learned from them about the lesser-known - at least to Midwesterners - but not-to-miss sights and sounds of the Lone Star State.

Each time I cross something off my Texas Bucket List I document it here, both because Chasing Roots serves as my Texas journal and because looking back on these posts and "watching" our love affair, if you will, with our now-home state unfold is a beautiful thing. 

You can see my full - but ever-growing - Texas Bucket List here. Feel free to let me know what I'm still missing!

A few weeks ago Tom and I escaped College Station to spend a grand total of 28 hours together, just the two of us. (We had planned for a slightly longer trip, but when we realized TAMU doesn't recognize Presidents Day and Tom had to teach at 11am that morning, we had to cut our time away from two nights to one.) We managed to pack quite a bit into those 28 hours though, crossing three small experiences off of our Texas Bucket List.

First, we drove to Shiner and went on a tour of the Spoetzl Brewery. While Spoetzl, the birthplace of Shiner Beers, is the oldest independent brewery in Texas, it certainly doesn't show its age; the buildings, production and assembly areas, gift shop, and grounds are all clean, updated, and well cared for. We enjoyed our free tour, and were pleasantly surprised to receive a few free samples of different active and seasonal beers.

Following our brewery tour, we hoped back in the car and drove on to Gruene, where we ate at the Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar, listened to music at the famous Gruene Hall, and walked through the quaint and historic downtown. As the sun set we drove back in the direction of home, stopping in Bastrop where checked into a hotel, watched a movie, and ate Cinnabons for dinner.

The next morning we woke up WHEN WE WOKE UP (my favorite thing EVER), ate breakfast, and headed to Bastrop State Park. After talking to the park ranger, we decided to hike two different trails totaling about six miles through the park. We could not have dialed up more perfect weather - sunny and temperatures near 60 degrees - and truly enjoyed our hours spent walking and talking. (I insisted we talk the entire time to scare away any snakes.)

We made it home by mid-afternoon on Sunday - too early for the kids' liking, as they were thoroughly enjoying their weekend with just Grandma and Grandpa - so Tom would have time to prep for work on Monday. The trip looked different than what we had originally envisioned for our 15th anniversary celebration, but I'm proud of us for making something work and then making the most of what our state has to offer on this little getaway.

Perhaps a more traditional vacation awaits us for our 16th anniversary? 😉