Living Life

Backyard Gardening Without a Green Thumb

Though I manage to nourish three growing boys, I’ve killed most plants I have ever owned.  However, that history didn’t get in my way this year, because, the thing is, everyone is doing it.  Even the First Lady has one!  I’m talking about having a vegetable garden.  Backyard gardening seems to be the new rage, and since I have tried and failed to produce the kind of homegrown tomatoes that my mom always used to have using just pots, I made the plunge to a larger (albeit small still) garden bed.  This house has ideal land, meaning our yard is in FULL sun, and with a nice sized yard, allocating space to a garden isn’t depriving the kids from ample play space.

To start I pulled out some unidentified plants and a couple of poor performing azaleas (the weeds had overtaken that spot and the azaleas were stunted.)  Well, maybe not.  I know next to nothing about gardening.  But I know that what was in this patch was ugly, wild and seemed to keep the azaleas from thriving.  I bought a few yards of topsoil, and using a garden weasel that I found in the back of the garage (how we acquired that I have no idea) I “tilled” the soil for a while.  Basically, I stopped when I was tired and the topsoil seemed to be mixed in with the existing dirt.

Next I bought a few small plants: three tomato varieties, a thai chili pepper plan, a blueberry bush and a strawberry plant.  Remembering the beautiful blueberry bush I bought from Whole Foods last year, and how the birds loved all those blueberries, I also bought the bird netting to install over the strawberry and blueberry plants.  I also went crazy and bought seed packets for many other things: cucumber, snap peas, cilantro, dill, watermelon, basil and more.  I started some in seed starter pods, and the rest were sowed directly into the fresh garden bed.

Mistake #1: I forgot to mark what got planted where.  So now I don’t know if I should thin some rows to 12″ or just 3″.  And not knowing what is where, I have no idea what is successful and what is flopping.

Mistake #2: The tall tomato plants (which are THRIVING) are throwing shade on much of what is around them.  Its too soon to know how this will impact our yield this summer, but I have a feeling this isn’t great.

Mistake #3: I packed too much into too small of a space.  I was excited, and didn’t want to give up any potential garden delights.  But I know in my heart of hearts that it is too crowded.  Like the shade, I don’t know the impact yet, but I suspect I’m stunting much of the potential growth.

Tall Tomatoes

Mistake #4: The tomato cages are too short.  When I bought them and the choice was 36″ or 48″ I thought for sure the 36″ cage  would be sufficient!  Now I have regrets.  I do hope that the size of these plants foretell a good bounty of tomatoes, as they are after all, the sole motivation for me to try this garden thing!

Mistake #5: For all the organic eating that I adhere to, I didn’t pay attention to my seeds or plants and ended up with almost all conventional.  Not a huge problem, as I’m not raising the garden with chemicals, but it would have been nice to be truly organic.

Those mistakes aside, I’m pretty pleased with how the garden is going.  Aside from a couple of days, I have let mother nature take care of the watering, and I have tended to the weeds as best I can (I don’t totally know which are weeds vs. new plantings emerging from the seeds.)  I have tried to thin some plants, and I see I need to add a trellis to support the snap peas.

It is fun watching the kids watch the garden.  The youngest is most invested in it, helping me till and weed and plant.  The 7yo did the initial shop with me, and he likes tomatoes so he’s excited about those.  The 9 year old just likes how fast things are growing, and hopes for a watermelon.

Of course it is way too early to say that this will be a yearly habit, but a month into this experiment I am happy to have made the plunge into the backyard gardening thing.  Now, if only I can learn the difference between weeds and vegetables, I’ll be on my way.

Living Life, Parenting

If I Had A Superpower…

SUPERPOWER: su·per·pow·er  noun \ˈsü-pər-ˌpau(-ə)r\  1: excessive or superior power       2 a: an extremely powerful nation; specifically : one of a very few dominant states in an era when the world is divided politically into these states and their satellites b : an international governing body able to enforce its will upon the most powerful states

The other night as I cuddled with my 7 year old, out of the blue he announced “if I had a superpower, it would be teleportation.”  Yes, my 7 year old said “teleportation.”  He went on to explain how useful that power would be playing a game of tag, and then we discussed how handy it would be getting to a faraway destination.  The more we talked, the more excited he got.  He wasn’t just talking, he was truly imagining what it would be like, what it would feel like to have a superpower!

So I got to thinking, what would my superpower be, if I could choose one? It took mere moments before I knew what I needed — in a purely selfish manner — I need more energy.  I want a superpower of endless energy.  E-N-D-L-E-S-S ENERGY!  Imagine, the ability to get the tedious chores of life done and still have capacity to be cheerful while playing with my active kids and then still have enough left over to work and even more there to be an attentive friend and wife….  Doesn’t it sound dreamy?

And yet, isn’t it kind of sad that my gut instinct wasn’t something wistful like being able to fly, or something fun like teleportation?  Why not something giving like the power to cure illness or prevent tragedy.

Being a mom is so demanding that it requires not normal energy that non-moms require, but superpower energy.  Energy that allows us to be and do everything our little people require, energy to be a productive member of our community, energy to be a good partner and friend, and energy to take care of ourselves.

The problem is, we don’t have superpower energy.  We have normal energy.  Or low energy.  Or, no energy.  And yet somehow, we get through the day, wake up and get through the next, and the next…. so maybe we moms do have superpowers.  Maybe being a mom is a superpower.

I have a superpower.  I am a mom.    I doubt my son will be impressed that while he only wishes for a superpower that I have one, but at least I am impressed.

Happy Mother’s Day to all my fellow superpower people 🙂

Food Allergies, Living Life

Baked Egg Challenge Success

Relief and joy, that is what I feel, the morning after my son passed an in-office food challenge.  Over the course of 90 minutes, my son ate increasing amounts of cupcake made with REAL EGGS.  Not only loving the homemade chocolate cupcakes, my son ate them without any reactions!  He was happy, but didn’t seem to fully understand the significance of the event.  At not quite four years old, that isn’t shocking.  But he did register MY excitement, and had fun telling his brothers and dad and teachers and friends the news “I am not allergic to baked eggs anymore!”

Sent home from John’s Hopkins with instructions to feed him baked egg products no less than four times a week, I am now facing the need to bake and bake and bake.  Good thing I love to bake 🙂  I also need to find recipes that call for more than 2 eggs, unless I want my son to be eating 4 cupcakes at a clip, we need to pack more egg into our baked goods.

If all goes well, after 2 or 3 months, we’ll progress to cooked egg – like pancakes or french toast or battered chicken.  Then, maybe 9-12 months from now, we can introduce direct egg.

The other amazing news from our appointment yesterday, Dr. Wood said that he will “certainly outgrow his milk allergy.”  That is HUGE.  More HUGE than eggs to me, since milk has been the source of his worst reactions!  In fact, his IGE levels came down on almost every food that he is allergic to.  Unlike last year’s pronouncement that his nut and peanut allergies were certain to be lifelong, Dr. Wood reversed that yesterday saying that although the odds are not in our favor, he won’t rule out the possibility of growing out of those allergies as well.

It is difficult to express the kind of relief that this news brings.  We have been in full swing allergy management mode for 3 years.  Not a meal goes by that prevention isn’t at the forefront of our thoughts and actions.  Though we have hit a stride with managing allergies, there are times when the worry is overwhelming.  Food allergies are limiting, and dealing with them is all consuming, so the thought of moving past them is amazing.

Even moving past ONE allergy is amazing.  One less thing to read for on labels, one less item to overwhelm caregivers, and one less food that limits his being able to eat what others are eating.

Baking with eggs is going to take some getting used to, having only been vegan baking (and loving what I made!)  Now I sign off to begin researching egg heavy recipes, and to get baking.

Food Allergies

Dreaming of Baked Goods Made With Real Eggs!

I can bake delicious cakes, muffins and breakfast treats that are vegan.  Not because we live a vegan lifestyle, we are happy carnivores, but because our youngest son has food allergies to egg and milk (among many other.)  For three years I have been making everything baked from scratch, and have learned some tricks for creating delicious replacements for all our favorites.  And even though I’ve become skilled in the art and science of vegan baking, I haven’t grown used to the absence of eggs in our recipes.  While everything tastes great, eggs provide a fluffy quality to baked goods that is hard to replace.  I have learned that using my stand mixer at a very high speed introduces enough air into the batter to help cakes rise a little bit.  But even then, the baked goods are very dense.

For the first time in years, now I am dreaming of baked goods made with real eggs!  That is because my son has been cleared for a food challenge using baked eggs!  It is Thursday, and I am both thrilled and nervous.  My son is almost 4, and should he tolerate the baked eggs at the food challenge, his birthday cake will be fluffy in June!  I’m trying not to get too excited about the implications, it is very possible that he won’t tolerate the egg and we will have to continue to avoid them.  My real goal is that he comes out of the food challenge with a good attitude, either way, and isn’t discouraged about his allergies any more than he already is.

My son has requested cupcakes for the food challenge, and the allergist suggested bringing in icing and decorations to help pass the time while there.  I’m torn about making the flavor he loves most, in case the challenge isn’t successful, I don’t want a negative association with chocolate cupcakes, or to have leftovers around that he would long to eat but couldn’t.

While I am worried about the emotional impact of the food challenge, I am not concerned about his safety.  Our allergist at John’s Hopkins University is a leading researcher on food allergies, and even oversees treatment studies to desensitize kids with severe food allergies.  Two of our nephews are also patients there, and one has completed the milk treatment study and is now enjoying all things milky, especially I am told, the Dorrito Tacos at Taco Bell!  The other nephew is in the egg treatment study.  And another friend of the family has a daughter who was anaphylactic to milk and is now cleared to eat anything with milk that she wants.  This research is what makes Hopkins so attractive to me.  I have said from diagnosis that if our son doesn’t outgrow these allergies on his own, we’ll try to get him accepted into the treatment studies.

In preparation for the food challenge, we have stopped his daily allergy medication that he uses to keep seasonal allergies at bay.  The timing is unfortunate as pollen counts are very high all week, but this is necessary for the food challenge, so any reactions to the food won’t be masked by the antihistamines.  And we are planning for many hours of boredom, in the hopes that the food challenge goes well and we will have to occupy ourselves with books and games and activities.

Please think good thoughts on Thursday, and know that I will certainly post the outcome as soon as I can.  And if all goes well, I think we’ll have a celebration next weekend, and everyone is invited for cake, made with real eggs!

Living Life

My Love/Hate Relationship With Running: Exercise-Induced Asthma Sucks

I have a dreamy vision of myself as being a runner.  The kind with lean leg muscles, moving gracefully down the path with a smile that says she is pushing herself and feeling great.  But the reality is that I am NOT a “runner.”  I have short stocky legs, and despite yoga and running making me strong, I am not lean.  And I am not a graceful runner.  In fact, no matter how often I run, or how much distance I work up to, its a crap shoot if I will be able to go a block without becoming completely winded.

I have exercise induced asthma (EIA).  Diagnosed in 7th grade, when I complained of not being able to do anything in PE.  I started treatment then, which allowed me to be a very active person.  Even now, I take a breathing treatment before I run.  If I don’t take it, I can’t get off my block.  But even with the treatment, there are many days that it isn’t fully effective and I can’t get more than a block or two without symptoms.

Exercise induced asthma symptoms are the same as any asthma.  Tightening of the chest, wheezing, difficulty catching one’s breath, and even a burning sensation in my lungs.  It sucks.  And when exercising, if the symptoms come on, it very well may mean the end of the work out.  Even if it has only been 5 minutes.  Sometimes I can slow waaaaaaaay down and regain my breath and then just walk.

I did speak with my doctor about this; she put me on Singulair — but I took myself off after experiencing negative side effects.  So I am resigned to dealing with my EIA, and I hate it.  It is very tempting to give up this running nonsense altogether, especially on days like today where I had such a bad reaction.  But I happen to love running.  See, a real love/hate thing can exist!

I try to feel lucky that I can predict the onset of my asthma.  Many asthma sufferers have attacks with no clear (or controllable) trigger, and that has to suck even more than knowing that exercise is a trigger.

Today will go down as a hateful attempt to run.  Hopefully tomorrow I will have the nerve to try again, because the trails are beautiful now, the weather perfect, and bathing suit season is approaching fast!

Food Allergies

Peanut explosion disrupts reaction-free week on vacation

As we prepped for our spring break trip, my husband said “let’s do this right and make sure he doesn’t have a single reaction.”  This relates to our string of experiences eating out over the past many months, as I discussed in my post on fear of restaurants.  Determined to avoid any displeasure, we planned and packed a significant amount of safe food and treats for the long drive to FL and back.  Very quickly into our trip, we realized that we could all enjoy our meals out so much more knowing he was eating what we packed.

So all was well and good.  Even our day trip to Legoland went well, again we packed his meals and he and we were happy.

But then there was the peanut explosion.

Back at my mom’s house, with my son’s siblings and 7 cousins, things were hectic.  So hectic in fact, that no adult took notice of two of the kids opening and eating a bag of peanuts on the porch and in one of the bedrooms.  There were peanuts everywhere, I mean everywhere.  Peanut shells, peanut dust, uneaten peanuts, in the crevices of the patio door, in the carpet, on a chair, on my son’s bed!

Did I freak out?  Almost.  I felt panic setting in, but I kept my cool and decided that I had to focus on clean up first.  My 7 year old who was part of the peanut eating frenzy was heart stricken when he realized the potential implications.  I think he was so thrilled to be somewhere that had peanuts!  In all fairness, and in full disclosure, I had seen the bag of peanuts on my mom’s porch the first day, and the adults all discussed that it would be best if we didn’t open them during our visit.  I obviously should have had those put away.  I’ve added it to my growing ‘live and learn’ list.

After an hour of cleaning up, including vacuuming, sanitizing, and changing the bedding, I was done, and pissed off — at myself and the kids.  I mean, couldn’t they have eaten them sitting in one place?  But also grateful.  Us adults kept saying we really got lucky.  With peanuts everywhere, who knew what could have happened!

My son did have a contact reaction from the peanuts; a swollen eye and hives, but luckily that is all it was. We failed at our goal of no food allergy reactions.  And yet I felt so very successful that in all the meals out he was safe, content and we were more relaxed than we have ever been eating out.

I’ll spend more time reflecting on what did go wrong, and surely put more effort to allergy-proofing our environment in the future.  And I’ll look for other people’s live and learn lists, so hopefully we can avoid other disaster prone situations in the future.

Living Life

Why I Bake (and Blog) Instead of Packing

We are leaving in 3 hours.  I need to pack, clean and load the car.  I am still in my pajamas, and just finished up a batch of banana muffins. You might wonder if we’re heading to a pot-luck, or a baking contest.  We’re not.  Aside from the fact that the poor black bananas would have been tossed had I not made muffins, I didn’t NEED to bake today.

Diversion?  Shiny object?


I HATE packing.  Will do anything to avoid it.  I LOVE baking.  And, I like that it makes me happy on a day that would otherwise be stressful.  And by baking, I will have LESS time to pack; and the less time I spend packing, the better off I am.  I find packing to be one of those chores that will last as long as the time frame allotted to it.  So I am allotting less time today.

Though a ping of panic is starting to creep in as I write this.  Hubby is coming home early so we can pull the kids from school early, in order to miss the heinous traffic that exists on I-95 between DC and Richmond.  So if I cause a delay and we end up in stuck for an extra hour, in what is already a long trip, it will be held against me.

I know the idea of “performance under pressure” is common, and it relates to writing papers, proposals, filing taxes and holiday shopping.  I just never thought about packing as something that falls into that category, until today.

Signing off, to face the inevitable.  And eat a muffin.

Food Allergies, Parenting

“Mom, if I eat all my dinner will my feet really grow?”

Today was an emotional day for my nearly 4 year old.  He didn’t get shoes, while his two big brothers did. I know, how traumatic for him.  Is it child abuse [insert significant sarcasm] to drag a child into a shoe store to watch his big brothers get brand spankin’ new summer shoes, while he wears the chalk stained pair that were acquired last summer?

“Mommy, [snif snif, lip quivering] I want a new pair of shoes, too.”  I plopped his whiny butt in a chair and said “if you are going to have a tantrum, you should at least make it a good one.”  But he didn’t.  It was annoying and whiny and never-ending.   The lady who runs the shoe store overheard it and finally said, “you know, if you eat all your dinner and go to sleep when your mommy says you should, your feet will grow, and THEN you can get a new pair of shoes.”

Dinner was comprised of a stew that was too spicy for my kids (in hindsight, I should have not added as many peppers,) fruit and bread.  The stew contained black beans, something this child has been allergic to.  However,  his allergist has advised us to push beans into his diet.  This child, who typically eats almost nothing for dinner, says, “mom, if I eat all my dinner will my feet really grow?”  And then he got weepy again.

Thanks lady.

I didn’t push it, since we don’t push eating at all in our house.   Typically I would have only expected him to eat his bread and fruit; he isn’t very adventurous with food and the stew was not something he would normally try.  But he wanted to eat it because he really wanted his feet to grow.  I think he ate at least a bite because he said it was really spicy.

And then I noticed that his ears turned bright red.  They are like our food allergy early alert system.  I asked him if he ate one of the beans.  He had said they “looked like jelly beans” earlier in the meal.  He didn’t know if he had.

And then after dinner he threw up.  I think he ate a bean.  We won’t be pushing them anymore.

My poor boy will just have to live with his year-old sandals that are perfectly fine and fit great.  And the lady at the shoe store needs to keep her advice about eating dinner to herself.

Living Life, Parenting

Pinterest – Pipe Dreams In Color

I think Pinterest may be causing some women performance anxiety.  Be she a mom, wife, homemaker or cook, no matter what she prides herself on accomplishing every day — on Pinterest there is visual proof that it can all be done so much prettier!

Logging on is like opening all of the pages of Martha Stewart, Home & Garden, luxury travel, parenting, craft and cooking magazines.  While the images delight the eyes, and I get lost in the beauty of a private island, a cake that looks like Candyland and beautifully applied eye make-up, I start to feel overwhelmed.

I love the visual appeal of bug-shaped snacks made from veggies and piped cream cheese, but I just don’t have time to make them.  And while the craft ideas to mark every holiday are creative and fun and even look doable, I know that I nor my kids will have the energy or attention span to make them happen.

Pinterest must be thrilling to new parents!  I see friends with little ones creating boards with the most spectacular assortment of crafts, activities, foods, and traditions to do with their children.  But I’m hardened a bit by the reality of having a few kids, a job, a home and a ton of laundry.

Some of the milestone ideas on Pinterest are adorable.  But in my experience, one day at 11pm you will be arguing with your spouse about who needs to get out of bed to put the note from the tooth fairy under the kid’s pillow, and you’ll debate if its ok to skip the note just this once, and if it has to be on the same adorable tooth shaped note paper… and you’ll kick yourself that you started this tradition and you still have TWO MORE KIDS who will expect this.  And it will make you tired. 

For me, Pinterest is a visual affair with the unattainable.  Pipe dreams in color, if you will.  As Vogue is to my real life fashion, Pinterest is to my crafts, kids snacks, and home organization.

I will still spend too much time on Pinterest.  I like seeking inspiration for decorating our home.  I love finding interesting color combinations and wall decor for the kids’ rooms.  And I enjoy browsing my friends pipe dreams in color, and pinning them onto my own.

I’m on Pinterest, and am happy to share my pipe dreams with you.

Living Life, Marketing

“Mom, do you have a new job yet?”

7 days on the job market, and my kids have been asking this question for 5 days already!

How long should it take to line up the next gig, permanent job or even limited engagement client?  I find that at times I am on overdrive with desire to know what I’ll do next.  At at other moments, I find I don’t want to rush this.  I don’t want to make a move that isn’t right for me.  I’m caught in a vortex of thrilling excitement to know what is behind door #3 and a deliberate pleasure that comes from creating my own path, and crafting an opportunity that is just right!

Job searching is both a social and introspective endeavor.  The social part is great — I’ll have 3 coffee/lunch meetings this week alone! But the times at home, setting it up, figuring it out, requires a type of soul-searching that I have thus far found thrilling. How often in life do we really allow ourselves to spend hours focusing on what we like to do, how we see ourselves doing it, and then having the opportunity to work towards making it a reality?  I realize that not everybody gets this kind of time to ponder income earning opportunities, and I know that I am fortunate to have at least a short while to get my ducks in a row financially.  Not that 7 days is very long, but it has been a gift.

So what can someone get done in 7 days on the job market?  So far I have:

  • Gone nuts connecting with people on LinkedIn.
  • Updated LinkedIn profile at least 10x.
  • Told everyone I meet that I am looking for work.
  • Re-wrote resume.
  • Written personal emails to a dozen contacts.  Created a list of another 25 to reach out to.
  • Scheduled 3 in-person meetings with contacts to network.
  • Updated blog to include professional capabilities.
  • Created a business card (and put a QR code on it that links back to my LinkedIn profile).
  • Applied to one amazing job opening that feels like a long shot but would be perfect for me.
  • Had 1 interview with a placement firm.
  • Spent some time staring at my wardrobe wondering what people wear to live interviews!

Next up is registering for some in-person networking events, getting a website more flushed out, and hitting “go” on an aggressive outreach campaign to potential clients and employers.  I also need to figure out that clothing situation.

If you need help with marketing, I’d love to talk with you about how I can help you meet your business goals!  Check out my marketing page and let me know if you want to talk.

And if you have ideas to share on job hunting, please comment on this post!