Life Takes you Off-Roading

Yesterday I got the sad news (via facebook...it's a blessing and a curse) that a high-school friend had passed.  Truly, so many of my old friends have died since we all parted ways, I might start to think I was in my 50's or 60's, but here I am, 31 and have said goodbye to more than 10.  That's too many too short lives.  Several of the friends have been people I knew well at one time or another, but this friend was different. 

I mentioned Shana in a post a couple months ago, and at the time I had a strong urge to contact her (via facebook...it's a blessing and a curse  haha) and tell her 'thank you' and 'I'm sorry' for all we went through together when we were kids.  But I was embarrassed.  So I didn't.  People tell you to make sure you let people know what they mean to you because you never know what tomorrow brings.  Cliche' right?  I'm guessing because it happens too frequently that a person doesn't get to express their feelings before death comes knocking.

And so she never knew how much I appreciated her friendship, because in the 3 years we were close, though she was a near-permanent fixture in our apartment, I kinda took her for granted. Shana was always there.  Looking back, I don't really remember how we met or how we eventually drifted apart.  We don't have very many friends in common, because she didn't like my friends or my boyfriend.  When we were together it was usually just the 2 of us.  But we were together a lot.

Shana was around when I was going through the very thick of my flash-backs from the sexual abuse.  She saw parts of me I would never want anyone to see, and yet she still came over every day.  She's the only friend I don't remember getting really freaked out at me.  She'd sit calmly through the flash back (and chaos) and then we'd cook something or walk somewhere or listen to music as if it never happened. 

Shana was always down for silliness, and honest as they came.  Other people remember her as quiet, but that's not my memory of her.  She loved pranks and when we were friends she was obsessed with the phone.  Together we managed to get coupons from every company that ever made anything in her house-in the most hilarious way.  Once, the skin cream in her mom's shower made us grow wicked facial hair so that our husband left us for another woman.  She is the only person I knew who could possibly keep a straight face through that kind of conversation with a random stranger. 

I wanted to look through old pictures for some to post, but they are buried in our storage unit in Kansas.  I can see her plain as day in my mind, though, particularly in the puffy winter coat that always smelled like Burger King. 

Shana leaves behind a fiance' I didn't have the pleasure of meeting and a precious little girl who's only 18months old.  Too young to lose a momma.  Life is completely unfair sometimes.  I can't help but look at my babies and wonder if something happened to me tomorrow-what would people tell them about me as they were growing up...would people make me into a saint I never was, as people are wont to do when someone dies?  Would friends from high school come forward and write blog posts about me?  Would someone be completely honest and tell them that their momma struggled with depression and loved people with all of her-but struggled with showing it?  I'm so sorry I didn't write to her when I felt compelled to.

I don't know.  And I don't know what Charlie will hear.  Judging on what I've seen said on her facebook page, Charlie will know her mom was loved, honest and fun.  She will probably never see this blog post.  She will never know about the time I provocatively sang "Layla" by Eric Clapton replacing "Layla" with "Shana" to her young mom to skeeve her out. (successfully, only egging me on further!)

I have to leave the house now, and I feel like this isn't finished.  But I have to get it out there.  My life really is better for having had Shana in it.  She was a support that was so real and fundamental I didn't even see how important it was until much later.  Friends like that are hard to come by.  Rest in Peace, my friend.  I'll keep your family in my prayers and your memory in my heart.


Musings of a Traveling Minimalist Family

We would not really consider ourselves "true" minimalists.  But we have lived with as little as "possible" for over a year now.  Even in Texas, people who came into our house thought it was very empty.  When we left Kansas we really did pare way down and since we've been in New York, we have lived with only what can fit in the back of our Suburban and what gracious rentals provide us.  Our first apartment we were very grateful to be provided with a stove, fridge, minimal furnishings and a toaster.  The cabin we moved to most recently is also furnished...but much differently.  Here are some pictures I took while we were trying to make this place our temporary home.  Enjoy!

The bathroom is not very well planned out (speaking from a design standpoint) so the toilet/sink are bottlenecked at the back.  That little area is STUFFED with...stuff...the medicine cabinet, sink cabinet and little wicker furniture thingy are cram-packed with everything a person might ever need.  Such as used toothbrushes, used contact lens cases, pads from 1987, etc. etc.  And every spare surface is covered with doilies or blankets.  There are so many rugs that some are hanging from the towel racks.  I took pictures because I needed to rearrange *everything* to put our own things away so that I would know where to put stuff back when we leave. 

In going through the cabinets, I feel like I know the people who grew up with this place as their summer house in the 70's.  They like to throw *really* big parties with lots of food and lots of booze.  Every cabinet was jam-packed like this.  Even the freezer was fully stocked with bags of ice and freezy cups.  The fridge had some beer and some juice and loads of condiments.  The closets are packed to the gills like this.  There are random pieces of furniture all over the house that are filled like this with stuff.  I found every possible thing I could need to have a cocktail party for 50.  They had a whole cabinet crammed full of spices from the 90's.  It was truly amazing.  I don't think I realized how much I like living with little until we walked in here and tried to make it suit our needs.  All this stuff really bears down, crowds in and suffocates.
But I am not about to complain.  Please don't mistake any of the above banter for complaining.  It's really more of an amusement and I think the people we are renting from are really sweet and caring.  They want to provide every possible thing a cabin renter could need.  How could I even think of complaining when the view is like this!?

And we have managed to clean out the cupboards and make the place a little more well-suited to our own needs.  If someone went through our house, they might think we were a hair "off" too.  Check out all that gluten-free, organic stuff.  Know anyone else who carries around 7 different kinds of tea with them across the country?  Yes, we are definitely our own brand of strange.

And we are 100% living it up in this crammed-to-the-gills cabin.  Next week we will start decorating for our "Christmas," which for us will mean a lighted tree and some paper chain decorations.  I bet if I go through these closets I might find some kind of Christmas decorations circa 1974. 


Skool Daze, Early Holidays & Trip Planning

The last few weeks have been full of planning, which is kinda nice considering we haven't been able to plan a darned thing in months.  School is going well, since we decided to utilize a laid-back approach.  I find myself wondering if we could possibly be done, going down my list to realize that yes, we did finish school in just a couple hours.  The kids absolutely adore their Bob-Jones math curricula and Violet even asks to do extra pages.  Violet is in a learning-spurt, which has been amazing to watch.  Her brain is making so many connections right now, which is the most rewarding part of homeschooling for me-watching them light up with learning. 
Part of her learning this fall will be swim lessons.  She was very apprehensive at first, but now she ADORES her swimming lessons.  She is disappointed there are only "5 Wednesdays left."

We make learning fun by using manipulatives and favorite characters to help.  haha (Spongebob, Patrick & the pineapple)

I have been a hair distracted, though, with trying to plan and doing things without an internet connection on a computer.  I finally sucked it up and switched our phone plan so that we can use a wireless hotspot.  Hopefully this means I can get my research and work done in smaller amounts of time during the day so I can focus more on having fun with the kids. 
Best backyard we've ever had.  I miss a garden, but it works.

This day Daddy gave kayak rides and we saw 4 watersnakes, curious about Corbin
As far as the planning goes, we are celebrating our holidays early this year so that we can include Allan.  I thought it would be a drag when I first considered it, but it's actually turning out to be really fun!  We will do our Thanksgiving in 2 weeks and our Christmas in a month.  It helps that it has been colder here in Northern New York, so it almost feels like winter (or at least the version we are used to from being in Texas)  It also helps to live in a country that puts out holiday items so early.  I know we won't have any trouble getting the things we want for our celebrations.  
Hot Cocoa on the porch because it's cold enough to do that!
Don't tell the kids, but we have a *really* big surprise for them...Can you guess? This will be their Christmas present (trip to be taken in December)

Sometimes I can feel myself getting nervous about the time away and I just start planning for our trip and then I feel infinitely better.  The kids are going to have an absolute blast, but I know I will too.

Sooner than that, though, we are scheduled to go to a blogging summit in Pennsylvania (I hope they can teach me a thing or two and maybe hook me up with a great web designer!) and Cape Cod for October.  I kinda bottle-necked us and we may not be able to make all this work.  Have you ever over-planned?  The hard part of it is that the kids adore traveling and really want to go everywhere we've mentioned.  I feel torn because on the one hand, I could keep my mouth shut about upcoming trips to avoid disappointment, but on the other hand I have a theory (proven to work with our kids) that if I share with them what to expect and when, they feel better about this crazy lifestyle we are living right now.  Actually, I feel better about it, too, when we plan interesting trips.

If you were considering an early holiday celebration, how would you go about it?  Where have you always wanted to visit?  Where have you always dreamed of taking your kids?   Any tips on Disney World with kids from veterans out there? 


Fourth Time's a Charm?

I used to be pretty handy in a kitchen.  That was once upon a time when I had a kitchen.  And kitchen tools.  And when I still thought gluten was my friend.  It's hard to eat gluten-free anyway, but especially "on-the-road."  I hate to say it, but there have been times in the last 3 months when the very fact of something being gluten-free has out-weighed the ingredients.  French fries from 5 Guys for lunch, anyone? They have a dedicated fryer.  

That said, my body and mind have been feeling the heat of the junk we have eaten this summer. I make a lot of sides with fresh veggies and no one here ever suffers shortage of fresh fruit, but I still feel less energetic and healthy than before.  

While we were at the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo in NJ last weekend, I was paying more attention to labels again.  I was impressed with some and less impressed with others.  We stopped by the booth of a company called Le Veneziane to try a cookie when the vendor started telling me about their pastas.  I had never heard of this brand, so he told me all about how they are the most popular gluten-free brand in Italy.  I took a peek at the display packages and decided to blow him off because the package said it was a corn pasta.  

I am, indeed, a pasta snob.  I <3 Italian food.  Pasta was my go-to.  I miss a simple bowl of noodles with butter, pepper and Parmesan cheese more than most anything, so when I say we've been through the gamut of gluten-free pastas, I am very serious.  I have discovered many pastas that absolutely don't work and very few that pass.  

Corn pastas never pass.  They are mushy and leave the water starchy and they taste like polenta...good in its own right, but certainly not pasta to enjoy with a cream sauce loads of garlic and veggies.  

Nevertheless, the package of cute bow-ties caught the kids and they begged over and over for it.  Easy enough to get out of that one...it wasn't for sale.  He was trying to get the brand name out.  And then he did it.  He told the kids they could be his official testers.  There would be no bowing out.

It's been sitting on my counter haunting me with its corn cob picture since we got home Sunday.

Tonight was a big gluten-free fail.  I started with an ancient grain pilaf that turned to mush.  I tried to make some pizzas and the tomato sauce had gone bad.  I cut open a cantaloupe to find it was past prime, too.  

So I figured that I could go 4 for 4 with the mushy corn noodles, and put some water on to boil.  First the water wouldn't come to a boil and then my sauce almost burned (cheese sauce.  I needed a little comfort food after all the failure.)  when the water finally came to a boil, I poured some salt and the noodles into the pot.  I stirred and was surprised when I could still see the noodles because the water wasn't cloudy.  

After 6 minutes they seemed done, so I reluctantly tasted one and wouldn't you know it!? Al dente perfection.  Wha??? I thought maybe I was so hungry I misjudged, so I drained the noodles and mixed in the cheese sauce expecting them to fall apart with the mixing, but  I must say, the presentation was pretty nice.
I sat back and watched the kids try their mac n cheese and waited for the whining.  They are pretty partial to Annie's boxed macaroni.  But amazingly they all claimed it was delicious.  When I took my first bite I had to agree! The texture is good, the flavor is good and Le Veneziane may be a family favorite now.  GraceAnne wanted to be sure we can get more, (none of our local stores carry it, we will have to order it.) and Allan said it tastes just like a "real" noodle!  Those two are our resident gluten consumers, so considering it matched their standards for pasta, I think we have a major winner!

Despite the package being pretty small (8.8oz) it filled all five of us nicely with veggies on the side and even left a bit over for seconds.  

I am going to give Le Veneziane a couple of thumbs ups and suggest you try it if you're looking for a yummy GF pasta!  

What's your favorite GF pasta? What do you miss most from your gluten days? Have you found it difficult to transition from regular cooking/eating to a GF lifestyle?  


Gluten-Free traveling (the tale of 2 states)

This weekend we headed down to Pennsylvania to spend the weekend with some of Allan's family.  It was a lovely visit, but we learned some of the logistics of visiting friends and family while trying to keep a gluten-free diet.  The problem lies in our fine-line of: the kids and I have not been diagnosed Celiac and yet we experience symptoms when we get "glutened."  The problem is that I feel apologetic for our measures when we don't have an official diagnosis, so after about the 20th time of checking a label in front of someone who is trying to be a good host and saying "no, that has gluten" for the 100th time to a small child in a new environment filled with yummy gluten-laden treats, I start to buckle.  

Gluten-free cereals only look good when there are not other sugary, glutened treats available, so the answer becomes "Cocoa Krispies have the least amount of gluten of all these little shiny boxes, so you can have those."  

Belly aches, headaches and hyperactivity were present, but ultimately we had a good weekend with family.
Because sometimes you have to escape the lake house and go to...another lake house.  Haha, I love this traveling lifestyle sometimes!
Great-grandma leaks an airborne sedative from her pores, and was able to keep Corbin still unlike anything I have ever seen!
Corbin and Uncle John bonded doing man-things.
It's a well-known fact that Grandma cheats at Parcheesi, but the grown-cousins kept her reined in. 
The girly-cousins enjoying breakfast together.

We were sad to leave early on Sunday, but had a fabulous destination in mind.  It so happens that there was going to be a Gluten-free, Allergen-free Expo in New Jersey (about 2 hrs from where we were) this same weekend.  I was worried the kids wouldn't want to be pulled away from the cabin/family but when they got up Sunday they asked if they could go to the "gluten-free festival."  Bonus? We've never been to New Jersey!  So we said our goodbyes and headed off.
Terrible pictures from the moving car, but the area is absolutely beautiful.

We got to the Expo around 1pm on the last day.  (Doors closed at 2 and the event closed at 4) but we had so much fun.  It was absolutely fabulous to be able to tell the kids "eat any sample you want, it's all gluten-free!" They kept turning back and saying, "it's gluten-free, mommy!? It's gluten-free!" 
We visited the booths of some old favorites and found a lot of new favorites, too! Thankfully, lots of these places ship, so we will be able to get our hands on these products even though stores local to us at the time might not carry them.  I was amazed at the number of companies truly trying to make life better for people as opposed to just jumping on a bandwagon.
Loads of people took the kids' pictures.  I will be stalking Facebook pages to find them.  We *do* have the very cutest children ;)

But really, the whole reason I wanted to go was that one of my favorite companies in the whole wide world was going to be there.  In fact, I had heard about the Expo from their Facebook page.  
HAIL MERRY! ( www.hailmerry.com )Claudia and I (the lovely woman standing behind the booth) have had an email relationship since Corbin was in the hospital last March.  She has been an outstanding resource and a support for us, especially since she has 2 gluten-free children of her own and it was so great to meet her in person.  The very best part? The kids walked up to the booth first, (I'm not ashamed to admit they know the Hail Merry logo by heart) and Claudia exclaimed, "HEY! I know these children!" TOO COOL!  She is, of course, even sweeter in person and I am
so glad we got to go to the Expo.  (Side note: I am totally scheming to one day be a rep in some capacity and my completely biased unprofessional opinion is that my babies should be the poster children for HM.  Haha)

For the record, I love Hail Merry so much because they make super-tasty snacks that are safe for my babies, but I started loving them before we went GF because of their care in choosing ingredients.  Organic is important to me.  Whole food ingredients are important to me.  And since I have little people, sometimes convenience is important to me.  It is hard to find all these things rolled into one, but Hail Merry does it because they totally rock the house.  You can find them at Whole Foods, some other retailers and if all else fails, order from their site. I'm coming down from my soapbox now.  :)

Maybe we will follow the expo around after Allan deploys.  That would be something to look forward to, eh? The kids had a fabulous time and so did we.  

The ride home was about 5.5 hours and you might think we were all sick of the car by then, but one of the things I truly adore about our family is that we are road-warriors.  We all have our moments, but for the most part we love trips together.  I know this life is not for everyone, but for us-it works.
Lots of fun and treats wears little people out!
Blinded by awesomeness? Probably just the setting sun.
We stopped at Red Robin for a gluten-free dinner. (By the way, Find Me GF is a very helpful app while on the road.  We have had some great meals thanks to that app!) And then the littles were wound for sound so we sang, joked and laughed the next 3 hours in the car.  

We got a lot of new products to try out and review.  Keep an eye out for links.  Also, I promised Allan I'd use up all the flours/grains we have before he leaves.  After this haul, I have some serious kitchen work to do!

So while we still have some kinks to work out in our gluten-free traveling, I'd say it's getting better and that this trip was mostly a success. 

Another traveling lifestyle trick to get used to? Blog posts from my phone when I don't have Internet access to the computers.  Sheesh.  Technology is amazing, but my fingers prefer an actual keyboard.  

Do you have tips on eating GF or other special diets while on the road? How about at someone else's house? Who is your favorite GF company and why?