What I Love Lately: Deliciously Dairy-Free Edition

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”

1 John 3:18

Dear Joey,

I am a tear-stained wreck of a woman lately. Reading about food allergy-related deaths always breaks my heart. How could it not? Losing children is always tragic and confusing, but for me–for us–reading reports of children who died after eating a slice of cake contaminated with nuts at a family gathering, or who were served a grilled cheese at day care–these hit close to home, so I grieve. Those losses could have been our losses. Fear tries to pry my heart wide open and tempts me to believe our food allergy kids are next.

Maybe reading these stories were too hard on my tender heart still recovering from the trauma of feeling like we almost lost Emery a few weeks ago. Granted, the Epi Pen did its job and Emery is perfectly healthy in the aftermath of that ordeal, but in those tense moments when his floppy, swollen body failed to respond to us, panic saw an opportunity to slip right in, convincing me to live in a constant state of fear.


I know I am not alone in this fight against fear: 5.9 million children in the US have food allergies, so clearly millions of other moms face that same fight every day, and let me tell you: fear is a vexing foe indeed. You know its true, because dads deal with it too. And grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends and teachers–goodness, the teachers. 5.9 million kids translates to one in 13 kids, which means roughly two kids in every classroom across America brings a food allergy to school with them every day. Moms like me have to stare fear down and tell it to go away even as we watch our kids walk out of our sight and into the care of others.

Fear whispers, You really think they’ll be safe out there? If you can’t even keep your own kids safe, how can you possibly trust anyone else will? I want to keep the kids at home forever and cook everything from scratch and magically all the food allergy threats disappear in the illusion of a homemade utopia that just plain doesn’t exist. Instead, the best I know to do is this: take an honest look at what we do to keep our own food allergy kids safe and figure out what we can do better. And goodness, we can do better.


Remember how we banned peanuts from our house after Mia’s diagnosis? Somehow Emery’s allergies haven’t carried the same weight around here, not even in the aftermath of administering the Epi Pen or the subsequent trips to the ER. I’m not really sure why, other than peanuts are easier to avoid, and we don’t miss them nearly as much. Dairy is far trickier (especially since cheese is the one food that Mia will eagerly eat) because unlike peanuts, it is a ubiquitous pantry standby. Plus, we miss it when it’s gone. We eat cheese and drink milk and top our tacos with sour cream while a little boy with a severe allergy to the stuff watches, all while assuring him he doesn’t want any dumb old sour cream because it would make him sick– which I imagine is nothing short of confusing to a not-quite-three year old boy with a deep sense of justice.


To be clear, we are not lackadaisical about Emery’s dairy allergy. We learned how to swap out dairy ingredients for non-dairy alternatives; we make meals that are dairy free; we keep dairy ingredients out of Emery’s reach; and we have rules about when and where the girls are allowed to enjoy dairy products; and we make sure foods are free from all-the-allergies on big days like Christmas (like Katz donuts for breakfast!)–but perhaps we are not as strict as we ought to be. We do not let peanuts or sunflower seeds or gluten into our kitchen (except for a few gluten-full cracker varieties for the Goobies), but we continue to allow milk products into our home despite the glaring fact that Emery has suffered allergic reactions and been rushed to the ER three times because of ingesting dairy (first milk; next whey; and then cheese). He’s been poked with the Epi Pen twice; spent days upon days hyped up and completely unlike himself as a result of steroids that ward of rebound reactions, pumped full of Benadryl countless times for additional minor incidents, and been subjected to disappointment every single day, watching his sisters eat cheese and begging to have some for himself only to be denied time and time again.


The obvious answer is ban all dairy from our home. Why is it so hard to do that?  We tell Mia peanuts could cost her her life and our actions (rules, procedures, preparedness) show her we mean business. As a result, peanuts are not allowed in our home, period. But what about dairy? Love makes us say, “Sorry buddy, you can’t have sour cream on your taco because it will make you very sick,” but those words don’t mean anything to a preschooler who shouts “No fair!” and pouts.

1 John 3:18 tells me words are not enough, and that action infuses words with meaning. Without action, words are empty. Clearing out the kitchen of offending foods and eating dairy free in front of the boy would be far more loving than eating the stuff in front of him. Plus, choosing to forego the stuff will help Emery understand the severity of his allergy and assure him of the security of our love (wouldn’t it?) Keeping the sour cream off the table and out of our home communicates love far more than simply saying “No sour cream for you, bud” as we dollop the stuff on our own tortillas.


I can make my peace with foregoing sour cream on taco night, and I imagine you and the girls could do the same. It’s the cheese that poses the biggest problem around here. What on God’s good earth would Mia eat if we cease to allow dairy in the house? Then again, what awful fate might Emery suffer if we continue to keep it around?

The good news is this: in the nearly three years since Emery first started showing signs of his allergy, we have built an arsenal of delicious dairy free alternatives that help us make everyone around our table happy. This is a big deal because while dairy free products are not hard to find, finding delicious ones is far more difficult. What I love lately, though, are dairy free alternatives that actually make the Goobies cheer–all three of them.


For example, the So Delicious brand is my hero because, true to its name, their products are actually really yummy. The Goobies cheer when you announce there’s ice cream for dessert, which happens on a fairly regular basis around here. (We do our best to keep these kids feeling normal, and darn it if a scoop of chocolate coconut milk ice cream helps them feel like regular kids? So be it.) Ditto for their take on non-dairy whipped topping CocoWhip, a treat that redeemed the idea of non-dairy whipped topping in my book because not only is it truly non-dairy (Cool Whip is not non-dairy!), it is also made of better ingredients than its dairy-laden competitor. Also, Emery is pretty smitten with their lunch box size Chocolate Coconut milk boxes, which he’s lovingly dubbed monkey juice. Everyone around here likes it, actually–a triple win!


Maybe the biggest win in our quest toward a more dairy free household is Follow Your Heart vegan cheese, which gives creamy dreamy comfort food a chance to grace our table again. Before we discovered it, Grandma Teague’s famous Golden Potatoes were relegated to memories of Christmas past, but I’m happy to report Grandma’s Golden Potatoes are back. Even better than the shreds, though, are the American cheese slices that make Daiya brand vegan cheese taste as bad as Mia insists it is (and honestly, we don’t disagree). Follow Your Heart slices make grilled cheese sandwiches that fool even our toughest critic in our house. The sheds and slices both melt fantastically over a pan of hot gluten free elbow noodles too, making a fast and inexpensive (and yummy!) dairy free mac & “cheese” that makes me believe miracles can happen. (I just toss in a handful of cheddar style shreds or a few torn pieces of the American style slices into a hot pan of drained gluten free noodles along with a tablespoon or so of our favorite dairy free butter alternative Earth Balance Buttery Spread and a splash of plain rice milk and stir until smooth.)


Food speaks to the soul, so let’s use words and actions, both. Together they can nourish the body, soothe the spirit and make our kids us feel loved. Serving safe foods that taste delicious is the one of the most loving things I can think to do for our food allergy family. I am thankful for these few dairy free foods that help convince us all that sacrifices don’t have to leave us feeling unsatisfied or left out.




What I Love Lately: AIP for Me Edition

Dear Joey,

Clearly you are well acquainted with what you can eat on the Whole30, but do you ever wonder what I’m eating these days? (I bet sometimes you wonder if I eat at all.)

The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) seems tricky, right? Like the Whole30, but more restrictive, more purposed. Lots of folks stare blankly at me when I mention I’m not eating tomatoes right now. Or coffee. Or seeds. The truth is, though–it’s not terribly complicated, and it helps to have these lists posted in the kitchen cabinets. Really, the AIP is the most stripped down diet I can imagine–meat, veggies, and fruit. The thing that makes it the most tricky, really, is that not all veggies are on the “yes” list–nightshades (things like tomatoes and peppers and white potatoes eggplants) and legumes with edible pods (like green beans) are on the “no” list, which admittedly makes my heart break a little bit every time I go out to the garden to pluck those ruby red gems off the vine. Otherwise, staying within the AIP parameters isn’t hard, exactly, because it’s similar to the way I ate before the AIP anyway. The biggest hurdles have been staying away from eggs and cutting out nightshades, nuts, or seeds (which includes coffee and chocolate.)

But I’m finding my footing and making it work, and in return, it’s working for me. I pretty much feel like I’m on autopilot these days: I click the “on” switch and my brain somehow just knows what to do. It wasn’t that way at first; it took a couple days to get the hang of it (I mistakenly sprinkled pepper on my salad on day 1. Whoops.)

In the morning, I meet the day armed with a smoothie made with canned full fat coconut milk. Trader Joe’s makes theirs without any emulsifiers or gums, so it’s perfect to whirl together with a frozen banana, a handful of frozen berries and a scoop of integral collagen. If I’m feeling particularly spunky, I drizzle in some honey, too, or maca powder to add a hint of nutty sweetness to the mix. This usually satisfies me until lunchtime, which isn’t super surprising since I make I use full fat coconut milk. Sometimes I don’t even drink the whole thing (because Emery swoops in and steals it without asking).


When lunchtime rolls around, I do one of two things depending on my mood: heat up leftovers from dinner the night before or make a fresh salad, like this one with arugula, grilled chicken, sliced Persian cucumbers, strawberries, green onions, tossed together with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil (and a sprinkle of sea salt to finish). Sometimes I toss in a can of wild salmon instead, or a handful of wild bay shrimp. Sometimes I even change it up and make tuna salad with avocado mayo from my new favorite cookbook, The Healing Kitchen, which is brimming with useful AIP guides and AIP recipes. If I’m still hungry, I don’t shy away from eating leftover pulled pork straight from the fridge. Or a scoop of roasted coconut butter straight from the jar. You know how classy I am, right?


Afternoon snacks are often sliced apples with roasted coconut butter or a handful of Made in Nature Cinnamon Swirl Toasted Coconut Chips (sweetened with maple syrup, which is ok for me, but not for you. So sorry, Whole30 diehard). There’s always sweet little mandarins or dried apricots or slices of Plainville Farms organic sliced turkey rolled around a dill pickle wedge. Yesterday I finished off the bag of my new favorite Jackson’s Honest Sweet Potato Chips because a crunchy, salty snack = my happy place.


Dinner is when the real challenge happens. It’s 5:00, the kids are tiredhungrygrumpyfamished, and negotiating my restrictions with everyone else’s restrictions (and their preferences) gets tricky. I am learning to make one common main dish to center the meal and hold it together while spin offs happen in every direction, like Braised Beef Roast with Kale and Dried Cherries, which the kids ate sans kale over brown rice noodles, and we ate over cauliflower rice. Everyone loved it (well, everyone loved the beef; the kids turned their noses up to the kale), and leftovers didn’t last long around here. (The next day I warmed up a bowl and topped it off with leftover honey roasted carrots. That was a good day.)


But then there’s dessert. (Strictly speaking, Whole30ers like you shouldn’t be eating anything for dessert. So let’s call it an after dinner snack, shall we?) Sometimes we’re hungry after the Goobies are fast asleep (when dinner is served around 5:30, hungry happens, you know?), so we often grab a bag of Trader Joe’s Sweet Plantain Chips and use them to scoop up smooth, creamy Organic Wholly Guacamole minis (which don’t have any peppers, thus making them nightshade free!). Sometimes I miss surprising you with fancy cheese trays and a glass of wine, but I find that dates all rolled up inside a blanket of Whole30/AIP approved bacon and a sparkling water makes you equally happy.


And of course, there’s often some sort of AIP test treat lurking around the kitchen, and even though most of the time they’re only ok-ish, repeat performances usually yield progressively better results–like when that AIP pie failed miserably the first time around, but has since been perfected. Pies and crumbles and pastries so delicious will soon abound, and I’m sure we’ll get these Goobies on board with us in no time.

Until then, thanks for the solidarity. Love does hard things together.







What I Love Lately, Back to School Edition (Volume 2)

Dear Joey,

No rest for weary travelers–remember how driving home from the airport took longer than the flight itself? Welcome home indeed. An empty fridge and bare cupboards even clamored for my attention early the next day. Thank God for my mom, who whisked me out the door and assured me the Goobies would be just fine with her for awhile.

So what does a harried mother do when she finds herself with a free afternoon? I went to Costco, of course, because when do I ever get to meander through it unencumbered? Usually I strap the Goobies in that two-seater cart and frantically push that thing through the aisles like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep. To have time to think about what I’m putting in the cart? Sigh.


My favorite find this time is Autumn’s Gold Grain Free Granola. Cue the chorus to sing hallelujah because 1) YUM and 2) grains and I aren’t getting along at the moment, so stumbling upon easy, grain free morning fare is a big deal. The only trouble with it is this: it contains sunflower seeds, which means that I have to be careful while eating a bowl of it while Emery is around. He’s so allergic to sunflower seeds that I almost didn’t buy the bag at all, but I go out of my way to stock the pantry with foods everyone else enjoys, foods that meet everyone else’s dietary needs, but how often do I buy something that I really want? (I can’t even lean on my beloved Orgain these days because it’s got so much brown rice protein in it.) I hesitated for a half a second in before I tossed the bag into my cart and ultimately decided feeding myself well is just as important as feeding these Goobies well. I can keep Emery away from the granola, and I can explain that it would make him sick if he tried it. He gets that well enough now. Plus, the Goobies’ pediatrician has a son with a peanut allergy just like Mia has, and she and her husband keep a stash of peanut butter hidden way in the back of the pantry, far from his prying eyes. If she feels ok about doing that, then don’t you think this is probably ok too? (Pray for us as you walk out the door every day. We need it.)


This is especially important because school is starting in four days. Mornings will be just as harried and hassled as ever, but this time around my own breakfast options are giving me pause. We all know how quickly this mama’s mood turns sour if I don’t have something in my tummy soon after I wake, and Lord help us all if I have to fry eggs every morning. Sure, I whirl bananas and strawberries into coconut creamy oblivion, but sometimes I crave crunch–and something mindless, especially since I know how much mental energy I’ll need to expend just getting the Goobie girls ready to greet their own days.


Last year, getting one child dressed and ready in uniforms was an every day nightmare. Addie spent her first five years in t shirts, tutus and leggings with not a button or zipper to be found. Teaching Addie how to actually dress herself in real clothes didn’t occur to me until a few mornings before school started when I filled her closet with khaki skirts, plaid jumpers, polo shirts and button up blouses. I did what any mom would do–I panicked and forced her to bear with me as I forced her to learn how to zip and unzip those stiff, tricky outfits. She was eager to learn because it made her feel grown up, and she did love those cute little plaid jumpers. But it wasn’t long before the business of getting dressed turned into a frantic hassle, and we lost our tempers with each other over misplaced biker shorts that had to be worn under the jumper every single morning. Don’t get me started on selling her on the khaki skorts–she pouted just about every time she had to wear them, except for on Chapel days when she knew the school had their say. Getting two school-aged kid dressed in uniforms seemed impossible from my vantage point last year.


This year I sung a merry little song of thanksgiving when I stumbled upon Old Navy’s uniform skirts that already have shorts built right into them, without any zippers or buttons to fool with. (Uniform pants are another story, but it’s far too warm to worry about long pants yet. We’ve got time.) Each girl got two of them because investing in making mornings easier for all of us is money well spent. I may have bought the skirts, but really, I was buying myself some sanity. Lord knows I will need it because Mia is already boycotting the things. Just trying them on make her pout. Don’t fret, Rach, I keep telling myself, These skirts will make life easier. (If I keep telling myself that, will it really be true?)


I got another batch of Emily Press Labels because I’m all about taking the easy way out these days. An afternoon with a sharpie in hand while surrounded by a stack of school supplies isn’t my idea of time well spent–but these labels change all that. I stick them on lunch gear, water bottles, pencil boxes, and scissors, inside of shoes and inside of jackets, and I even stick them on chapel shirts because they won’t wash away in the laundry. These things are legit.


Speaking of investing in my own sanity: job charts. We’ve waited for years to implement chores, waiting for just the right moment to put those babies to use (the charts. Not the kids. Ahem.) I think a lot about how Proverbs urges us to “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NIV), and try to apply it in a practical, life skill sort of way. We’ve chosen jobs that train the kids to do things we expect them to do every day (get dressed, brush teeth, clean up their plates, etc.) and train them to do things we hope will develop into good habits (making their beds, developing a love for reading, lending a hand with another person’s chore). We require, but we don’t push. We let the job chart be the boss, and for each job done, they earn a star, and each star earns them 5 cents (except for Emery, who earns a penny for each chore completed). If they don’t do the task? No star, and no nagging from us because we let the money do the talking. At the end of the week we count up their stars and fill their banks. The good news is the Goobies all respond to it. The expectation is clear, the reward is valuable.


One of their jobs is Independent Reading for 20 minutes. I wasn’t convinced this was a good “job” exactly, except that it instilled a new love of reading in both girls (but most especially Addie). The girl craves alone time just like I do, but she’s not great about seeking it out for herself yet. The first day I enforced reading time, I ignored the protests and handed her a copy of Piper Green and the Fairy Tree, the first in a new chapter book series for early readers. Wouldn’t you know that 20 minutes later she was engrossed in the book, laughing out loud, and not ready for reading time to be over? Piper Green was an instant friend, and Addie soared through the first two books in a snap and is anxiously awaiting book three to come in the mail. Independent Reading? Totally worth it. (Mia loved it too, but it wasn’t such a hard sell for a girl who already plops herself down on her bed, book open wide and reading. Her current series pick? The Adventures of Sophie Mouse).

And with that, I’ll say goodbye for now. I just saw the time and realized I’ve got to usher these Goobies off to school today to meet their teachers, and if I don’t get moving, we’ll start those harried, frenzied mornings a few days too early (and I don’t need that kind of stress).



What I Love Lately: Hope and Healing Edition

Dear Joey,

Our apple tree exploded in blooms a couple weeks ago. Usually this time of year isn’t so rough on me. I didn’t suffer from seasonal allergies as a child the way I do now. So far it seems as though our kids suffer from them too. Drat that spring wind that stirred up the pollen and bewitched the air into a magic potion that transformed our eyes into spiky balls of wool and our noses into leaky faucets. We walk around woozy, dazed, and itchy. It’s miserable.

The timing is convenient: it’s a perfectly acceptable time of year for people to wipe away tears from allergy afflicted eyes every five seconds. The folks staring at me across the aisle at Target seem to say, “me too,” as they wipe their own constantly running noses. I admit I blame my watery eyes on allergies several times in the past few weeks because if people knew the truth–that I was really wiping away tears of fear or sadness or stress–I might not get the same sort of empathy.


To be clear, I am suffering from allergies, and I finally broke down and bought myself a bottle of allergy medicine because the skin under my eyes was worn raw from all the wiping. But the deeper truth is allergies aren’t the only reason my eyes have been so teary lately. It’s not even the sadness I feel about moving away from our house. There’s more.

It all started in early January, after eating those delicious, fancy tapas that were supposed to be gluten free, and feeling as if I’d eaten poison.  I suffered for weeks with the pain that only ever comes from consuming that dastardly gluten. Usually when I “get glutened,” I’m wracked with pain and worry for about a week.  After that, the symptoms eventually subside as my body recovers, and I’ve gotten used to this super fun phenomenon.


Except this time, my body didn’t recover and the symptoms intensified to the point that it was hard to go about life as usual. I was extra touchy; things I usually took in stride set off fits of frustration and anger, and I had a hard time thinking about anything but my own pain. The paranoia came back. Certainty that the doctors missed something–and that I was, in fact, dying–disrupted my sleep and hijacked my internal monologue for months. I grew increasingly feeble and needy and angry.  I was doing everything right: avoided gluten like my life depended on it, to the point that I’m sure I frustrated several food service workers in the process. I took my probiotics like clockwork, eventually cut out all grains and cooked everything at home. I hopped on the kombucha band wagon and went against my own no-dairy-drinks-in-the-house rule and sneaked sips of blueberry kefir when no one was looking. I defrosted bone broth I’d tucked away in the freezer and made meals and meals and more meals out of the stuff. I even dug out the grass-fed gelatin (that I stashed in the back of the pantry because the smell–oh the smell!–was too much for me to handle) and made homemade gummies and blended it into my morning smoothies. My symptoms eased up a little, but not by much. The pain was my constant companion and torment, and my fears grew. I went on as if life was normal, trying my best to smile in spite of myself, but on the inside, I withered.


Stress made it all worse, of course, because that’s what stress does. It further twists the already tangled mess inside, holds a microphone up to the lips of fear and bids it speak, taunts an already broken spirit and tempts it to let go of hope, and in the process, makes every dark thought look an awful lot like the truth. With the pressure of birthdays and sickness and selling our house and kids who were increasingly stressed out too, things started to spiral. To make it all worse, the prescription I usually leaned on for flare ups like this one never got filled–not even despite our incessant requests.


A good friend reached out to me in the middle of a desperate moment in March, randomly asking how she could pray for me that week. I don’t usually talk candidly about what really happens when gluten finds its way back into my body, but this time I told her everything–like, everything–about the inflammation and bleeding and how this time around the symptoms weren’t going away, and about how the paranoia returned and snatched my good sense away from me and made me feel crazy. And how on top of all that, life kept happening, demanding I get up out of bed and keep going. She understands the spin that happens when stress and fear stake their claim upon our hearts, and she promised to pray against it.

About a month later, in the morning after a particularly painful night, I choked out a tearful prayer for what felt like the hundred thousandth time since the symptoms returned in January and trudged into my morning routine, putting one foot in front of the other and trying to go about my day as if I felt fine, but I didn’t. Later that morning, after you left for work and the girls were both settled in at school and Emery was happily chattering away to his Mr. Potato head, I walked into the kitchen and noticed my jar of vitamins was out of place. It was sitting on the counter in front of the Keurig in a place where I couldn’t miss it. This wasn’t that unusual. You set them there for me sometimes when you get your own bottle of vitamins out in the morning.  But on that particular morning you hadn’t set them out. I’m sure of it because I walked past that coffee maker a dozen times before that moment, and they just weren’t there before. I’m telling you.

I shrugged it off as I popped a couple into my mouth, and as soon as I started chewing, my eyes glazed over the back of the bottle and I wondered, What if?


I picked it up and right there on the label, it said Contains wheat.


Stunned and appalled, I shook like a leaf as I spit those half-chewed vitamins out, tears dripping down my chin as I leaned over the sink. My hands trembled and and I shouted for joy and actually laughed, because in that instant I knew I wasn’t crazy. It was in January that I bought that big bottle of vitamins, right around the same time I got glutened by those tapas. And it was also in January when my insides ignited with pain again, barbed and raw and hot, like road rash on the inside. Healing didn’t happen in that instant; my body still hurt like hell, but suddenly–divinely perhaps–hope returned.

After I stopped taking those vitamins, my health improved dramatically. In the two weeks since then, things are improving, and those gut-healing foods I’ve been cramming into my body like a crazy person are finally getting the chance to make a difference in my damaged body. The constant screaming pain is down to a low, occasional whisper, because the healing isn’t finished yet, and I know from experience it takes awhile to get things back to normal. But my outlook, my perspective–my hope–it’s radically changed. I spent months feeling trapped inside of my own pain, afraid to talk about what was really happening inside because in my skewed sense of reality, either I was dying or I was crazy, and neither felt safe to admit. I felt alone.


It was like when Addie got that high fever out of nowhere and it just wouldn’t go away. She was frustrated and fatigued and was just so over being sick, but the fever persisted to the extent that she had to have her blood drawn to check for something worse. She was stricken by the news. I would have given anything to take her place, but I couldn’t, of course. But I made sure she didn’t walk through the ordeal alone. I pulled her up onto my lap and cradled her there as we waited, spoke tenderly to her as the fear taunted her, and held on tight until after the pain pricked her tender little body. She shook and cried and held on to me, trusting that what I said was true: that I was there with her even during the worst of it, and that pain isn’t the end of the story.

Pain isn’t the end of the story for me either. In the middle of it, it feels like it is. The hard part for me is knowing this sort of thing will happen again. Gluten is sneaky and likes to hide, and when it finds its way into my system, it throws my good sense out the window and plays tricks on me. Pain and fear is all I see, so I have to keep my ears and heart open enough to keep hearing God whisper, the pain is not the end of the story.

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I don’t know why that prescription never got filled, but I’m pretty sure it’s because the medication wouldn’t have done any good anyway, and in His glorious, all-knowing way, God knew that and kept the stuff out of my hands. The vitamins caused the problems; no pills could offset the damage they did as long as I kept consuming them. I could sit here and ask time and time again why God didn’t help point me in that direction sooner–I could ask why He let me suffer–but I think I already know the answer. Because in this life, we will suffer. How could we not? Pain is part of our humanness, a result of the fallen world in which we live. But God’s mercy extended to me–to all of us–even in the darkest moments, like an anchor thrust deep into the dark and murky waters of tormented souls.


The tumultuous start to this year taught me self-care is imperative, not to ward of physical pain, necessarily, or as a quick fix for deeper, chronic health issues, but for this simple reason: I am not able to care for anyone else when I am unwell. I have heard this for years, of course, but now, clearly, I understand. And so, whereas I used to scoff at the idea of spending any sort of extra money on things that I needed (because I’m a mom, and let’s be honest: moms often put themselves last on the list of priorities), I now shell out a few extra dollars for things that help me feel more … centered, important. Like choosing to stock up on Peet’s coffee at home because let’s be honest: I run on coffee, and I find I’m in a better mood when I sip a really good cup of it with my Bible perched on my lap and reading the stories of God’s love, rescue and redemption in the earliest hours of the day. And diffusing my favorite blend of Young Living essential oils (lavender, frankincense and Stress Away) without reservation, any time of the day just because I feel like it, and breathing them in slowly, deeply. Splurging on kombucha and taking a hot shower and going to bed early with a good book. Listening to songs by people like Ellie Holcomb, songs that make me weep and pray and dance and sing in one sweeping movement.

Today the rain returned and I’m hoping it will renew and replenish the air, give it a good scrub, and help us all to breathe a little easier in the next few days. Breathing easy sounds refreshing, doesn’t it? April Showers bring May flowers, after all, and I for one am looking forward to the life ahead.



What I Love Lately: Traveling Buddy Edition (Plus a Giveaway!)

Dear Joey,

Emery is my little traveling buddy these days. Lucky for me, this kid likes to be on the go–prefers it, even. Good thing too because he spends most of his time running up and down the Valley with me. I apologize to him every time I snap him into his car seat, promising we’ll go home to play just as soon as we can. He smile his assent, content to be along for the ride, but I beat myself up about it because the boy ought to be outside digging in the dirt and kicking a ball instead of strapped into another shopping cart or stealing a nap in the car. It’s hard.



The early days of parenthood were easy, in hindsight, because once we figured out the pattern of our day, each one after the next fell easily into place without much disruption. At the time this was a bit boring, admittedly, and we grew weary of the repetition that rendered us home-bound. The apartment was small, our circle of friends smaller, and the outside commitments so few that we looked longingly to the days when more children would fill a larger home, and our bigger life would demand more interaction outside the walls of our little apartment.


Now, of course, I look back at those days with the sort of wistfulness that can only come from experience. More children, a bigger home, and a larger life are exhausting in a different sort of way, and sometimes I wish I could trade the busy-ness of this season with the boring-ness of the past seasons just so I could catch my breath. These days are accomplishing what we hoped they would, meaning they forced us out of that new-parent isolation and plunged us deep into the swirling chaos of real family life. And it’s good, for the most part. But the babymoon ended before we welcomed our third and final child into our home. When he joined us, he hit the ground running right along with us.


Whereas his sisters’ baby days were spent largely at home unless a beautiful day beckoned us outside for a walk or an empty cupboard made a shopping trip necessary, Emery lives the majority of his days restrained by his sisters’ schedules. He spends more time watching the world from a car seat, stroller, or grocery cart than his sisters did combined, I bet. I am wracked by guilt over this, of course, but it’s the only sort of life he knows and for the most part he doesn’t seem to mind.


Instead he squeals with delight when I say it’s time to go, running to the door and stamping his feet like an impatient soldier ready to march into battle while he waits for me to join him. Old enough to walk alongside me now, he likes to take my hand to lead me down the hallways and aisles and sidewalks he’s come to know so well, pointing at things and cooing his garbled words for truck and ball as we go. My favorite is when I scoop him up to carry him across a busy street or crowded parking lot: he grasps my thumb, just like he’s always done, turns his head toward our destination and holds on as we go.


The trade off with a life lived on the go is Emery is used to living life this way, and what’s more, it suits him. For as patient as he is (and boy, is he patient), he is full of that distinctly rambunctious boy energy that only lets him stay put for so long. Like a puppy, he must be let outside to run and explore and tire himself out. But he always comes back running when I call him, knocking me down as he lavishes my face with wet, sticky kisses.


There are a few things that seem to make this always-on-the-go life more bearable for us both, things I am so thankful for that I must share them.

First, the red Radio Flyer Stroll ‘N Trike that Emery begs to ride in daily, which works for me because it dupes him into thinking he’s on an adventure, when really he is just along for the ride. I use it instead of a stroller these days because he’s so much happier in it. After school pick-up, ballet lessons, the post office, the doctor’s office– you name it. If I am going there (and there isn’t a shopping cart), he is riding in it. It folds up like a dream and fits easily in the back of the Durango. I can’t imagine doing life with this kid in tow without it these days.


Also, my arsenal of gluten free, dairy free and peanut free snacks that happen to be all three at the same time. It gets pretty complicated keeping track of who can eat what around here, so it makes me happy to find snacks that are safe for everyone in our house to eat. It takes the guesswork out of snacks-on-the-go. Lately my favorites are Go Go Squeeze Fruit & Veggiez blends, Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars, and Annie’s Homegrown granola bars. And by the way, while I’m on the subject of granola bars, can I just say how much I love the Grocery Outlet? I know it might make me sound cheap, but really: they often have snacks like these there for a fraction of the cost. Last month, boxes of Annie’s gluten free granola bars were 99 cents each. 99 cents! (And no, they weren’t expired or damaged or otherwise unfit for consumption. I stocked up.)

And finally, our collection of Skip Hop Zoo Little Kid Backpacks. I traded in Emery’s diaper bag for the Darby Dog one on his first birthday because I was just plain tired of toting that beast of a bag around with me. Instead, I turned this backpack into his go bag loaded with all the essentials: diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, emergency medicine (Epi Pen and Benadryl), and a snack. All I do is add a water bottle and we are out the door. Plus, he recognizes the bag as his own and can already help load it and tote it back and forth. This is the third of its kind in our house: all the Goobies have their own, and I love how they take ownership of them (and are pretty good about being responsible for them). Plus, they are so adorable I just can’t even handle it.


Today I’m sharing the love and giving one away. Not to you of course–goodness knows we don’t need another one floating around our house. But I bet there is someone else out there with their own traveling buddy who gets weary of being at the mercy of this new on-the-go schedule (and would be happy to nix their diaper bag too). And while I can’t make their life any slower or easier, I can do this at least. It’s the little things, right?


The Giveaway:

Love the backpack? Want one for your own little traveling buddy? I thought maybe so. Click the link below (“Skip Hop Zoo Little Kid Backpack Giveaway”) and follow the directions on the Rafflecopter website to enter the contest. (1 entry for leaving a comment letting me know which one you would choose if you’re the lucky winner and two bonus entries for liking Love, Scratch on Facebook.) The winner will be chosen at random on Friday 9/16 at 9:00 am (PST) and I will announce the winner on Love, Scratch later that day.

NOTE: All opinions expressed herein are 100% my own; this is not a sponsored post or giveaway. These are products I really, really love and I have not received compensation from any outside entity. 

ENTER HERE: Skip Hop Zoo Little Kid Backpack Giveaway

What I Love Lately: Choosing Joy Edition

Dear Joey,

This morning started out as one of those days. You know the kind. I spent my first few waking moments with the strap of my tank top askew–one strap on, one strap off–having been accosted by children who needed snuggles right now and didn’t care that I was in the middle of changing out of my pajamas. My morning glory was in full force as I juggled kids on my lap, wiping tears and stroking backs and assuring them they would all get their turn eventually.


To the table we stumbled and I managed about three sips of coffee as the kids stared at their plates and all but refused to eat. Addie complained her toast was too dry, so we added strawberry jam. Mia said she changed her mind and forgot to tell us she doesn’t really like toast (and left it untouched). Full tummies or not, we somehow managed to get out the door on time, but as we did so, Mia started crying saying she was finally hungry. I reminded her about her toast and she protested again against it. I wrapped it in a paper towel and set it on her lap in the car anyway, telling her she could eat it if she was hungry enough. She just glared at me and sipped her orange juice.


As we drove, I finally started in on the rest of my now-lukewarm coffee, which leaked water onto my lap as I went. (What?!) Without a towel to wipe it up, I did the next best thing I could think of: wrapped a diaper around the cup and went ahead and drank the rest of that darn coffee anyway. I held it up to show the kids what a weirdo I am, thanked Emery for letting me use one of his diapers, and everyone giggled their little hearts out. It lightened the mood for us all, and we clicked on some of our favorite going-to-school music and I sang my heart out between sips. Down the road just a bit Addie saw a lady jogging backward while walking a dog on a leash and had another good giggle as we declared today must be Wacky Wednesday, just like that goofy book the Goobies love so much. Not long after that, I saw a bird hitching a ride on top of a car that was already in motion. And by the time she climbed back out of the car, Mia had eaten her toast all up. (A wacky Wednesday indeed.)


Admittedly, we did not start the day off on a great foot, but as we lived through the crazy today I realized how much choosing joy in the middle of it helps us all hit the reset button. I also breathed a prayer of thanksgiving for the people who are smarter, wiser and more creative than I am that help me actually do that because let’s be honest: it’s not easy. But nevertheless, lately a few things have helped.


This first one is hit or miss: The One Year Devotions for Preschoolers, meaning sometimes we do it and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we forget and other times the kids remind us. When we all gather around the table and listen to you read the short excerpt for the day really does help start our day off right; it’s like breakfast for our souls. When we skip it, we have a hard time finding our footing and we stumble through. But when we do make the effort, we are all energized and focused on the reason we live each day anyway. The short stories and Bible verses are easy to remember and apply throughout the day. Something as easy as “God made all things” could have been applied today as we drove to school by saying, “God even made the wacky stuff. Isn’t He creative? He must have a sense of humor.”

Also, we love to listen to JJ Heller anyway, but “Big World, Baby” and “I Know You Will” (from her I Dream of You album) both help focus my prayers for them as I send them out the car door. After we have said our goodbyes, I usually finish one or both of these songs and end up in tears over how much potential I see in these little faces and how I pray I don’t squelch a drop of it with my own bad mood.


Perhaps the most important one for this season, I think, is a song from Rend Collective: Joy. It is the song I turn to when Addie whispers “I’m a little nervous, Mommy” as approach the morning drop off line to help her say no to the part of her that wants to sulk in the shadows and instead be confident in who she is because of Who she belongs to. It is the song I play when I feel bogged down by grumpiness to remind me I have the power to break out of that mood. It is the song that reminds me that joy is a choice and it  does not depend on whether I feel happy or at ease. The song reminds me to see the beauty and goodness that dances around me every day, and to delight in it even when my circumstances are tough.


What I love lately is simply this: choosing joy. I got up on the wrong side of the bed today and I brought my bad attitude with me into the first moments of my day. Somehow I set aside my grumpiness and chose joy instead. Today started off wacky indeed, but there was so much beauty and wonder in it I would have missed had I not chosen to be joyful in the midst of it all.


What I Love Lately: Back to School Edition

Dear Joey,

I watched Addie closely at the breakfast table this morning, soaking in the way she sat in her chair, feet dangling and humming to herself as she colored. She has done that every morning this summer, for hours and hours at a time. When she finally took a short break to munch on fried eggs and sliced strawberries, she chattered excitedly about how there were only four more days left until Kindergarten starts, and wave of lonesomeness washed over me. Feeling sentimental, I said, “Addie, I’m really going to miss you.”

Mia piped in, asking “Like when you’re dead?” We all laughed, and it felt good to giggle with those Goobies knowing next week I will be faced with the task of getting them back into the swing of a new routine.

 Both girls start school on Monday: Kindergarten for Addie and Pre-K for Mia. I spent last week scurrying around town outfitting them with everything they would need for the year ahead: school uniforms; socks and shoes; a matching backpack and lunchbox. This week there are haircuts and grocery shopping and doctor’s visits and new Epi Pens and all those forms. We’re lucky we don’t have to worry about shopping for school supplies for either of them this year (thank you, Pre-K and K school supply fee). I am already dreading next year when I will join the all other Target moms who approach the school supply aisle as a beast that must be tamed, eyes fierce and determined. By the time I am done, I imagine I will look just as bewildered as they do as they wait in the checkout line, wanting desperately to throw my hands up and holler “I give!”

Practically speaking, we are ready for Monday. Both girls have what they need, including excitement and confidence. Addie in particular. Yesterday she told me she fell in love with her school uniform jumper, plans to actually talk to her teacher on Monday, and let me know what kind of sandwich she would like in her lunchbox on the first day: tunafish with sweet relish on wheat bread, no crust please. This kid is pumped.

I have mixed feelings, of course. Preschool and Transitional Kindergarten trained us for well for the reality of “real” school days and I am ready for a break from wrangling all three kids at the same time. Pre-K isn’t as hard to swallow. I’ll have Mia with me for most of the day still. But Kindergarten: it’s like the first tile in a long stretch of dominoes winding its way through her school life. When we wave goodbye on the first day next week, we tip that tile and the rest will fall all too fast.


I believe we have done well to prepare her for her first day. And I also know there are plenty of other big moments to look forward to after this one passes. But for now, in these last few days, I am weepy. It is deeper than just waving goodbye to her for a few hours; we are waving goodbye to her babyhood. She has graduated into big kid land, and that is not easy for me. I am afraid I have not done enough to prepare her. Maybe that is why I spent so much time running around like a crazy person looking for the perfect back to school things–to make me feel a little better about the whole thing.

But anyway, out of all the things I picked up to prepare her for the big day, here are the things I love most:

1. Surprize by Stride Rite. These are our go-to school shoe for all the small, still-developing feet we have around here. I like regular Stride Rite, of course, but the last time we visited our local store there the proprietor wasn’t exactly kind, nor did he honor the advertised incentives that brought us into the shop that particular day. Plus, at Target, I don’t have to pay $60 for a pair of shoes these cute little toes won’t fit into in a few months. I can pay less than half that and still get high quality shoes that our kids really like.

2. Potterybarn Kids Mackenzie Backpack (Small). Addie adores this pretty little backpack, and I like it because it has cushioned straps and is a perfect fit for the small shoulders that will carry it every day. It has not come in the mail yet, so Addie has been practicing hanging her old backpack (that has always been much too big for her) on our new backpack hooks. It is in perfectly good condition, and I gave myself a bit of grief about it because she doesn’t really need a new fancy backpack. I forgave us this indulgence though because the girl fell in love with it, and if a beautiful backpack reinforces her excitement for school? So be it.

3. Also, this matching Retro Lunchbox–for so many reasons. First, it’s so cute I wish I had one of my own. Beyond that, it is tall and accommodates a warm food thermos with ease. Also, the buckle is genius–hook the thing right onto the backpack and wave goodbye with confidence, knowing the little lady won’t forget her lunch as she leaves the car in a hurry, as I imagine she will.

4. Sistema Food Containers. These are so easy to open, which is a big deal in the confidence department for Addie. The last thing I want to do is set her up for failure. Knowing she can open and close these things without help eases my own nervousness about lunchtime success, so I can only imagine how they must make her feel. Bonus that we found their dressing containers–she was perhaps even more excited than I was to find them, saying she could have ketchup with her carrots without spilling the sauce. We spent a lot of time this summer practicing opening and closing them, as well as ripping labels off of granola bars and poking straws into juice boxes. She is confident she can do lunch on her own now, which is both super awesome (she doesn’t need me anymore!) and heartbreaking (she doesn’t need me anymore!).

So you see? We’re set. I think.

My mom took Addie out for a shopping and lunch date today. They never actually made it to lunch, though. Addie said she didn’t really want to go to a restaurant: she was anxious to get home because she missed her Mommy. It made me feel a little less silly about being so weepy lately. I guess we will both have to get used to this new dynamic–being away from each other so much.

I gave both girls a few more hugs than usual today. Hopefully by Monday they will be so tired of me they will skip off to class without a backward glance. Then again, that would make me cry too.


What I Love Lately: Getting Through the Day Edition

Dear Joey,

Last night I lost my cool and yelled at Mia. Poor thing had a fever, but I didn’t know it yet: I thought she was being stubborn and unreasonable, and after a long day dealing with a whiny toddler, the last thing I needed was a preschooler crying over a potato.

That should have tipped me off. On any other day, her refusal of potatoes would be a clear indication she’s unwell. Our carb-loving little girl eats them with abandon, savoring them as if they were a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

But last night, I misread the signs, lost control and made her cry. Later, as I finally sang her to sleep, my mind drifted to a place where guilt and thankfulness made my heart explode with love for her. I kicked myself for what I had done, and wondered at the way our little girl still wanted to snuggle close to me for comfort.

I guess that’s the way of it when we’re facing something that makes us feel diminished. We cling to the things that anchor us and make us feel like ourselves, imperfect as they may be. Being a full time mom–fantastic and blessed as it may be–has revealed major flaws in me. A surprise, I admit. I used to think mothering would bring out the best in me, and sometimes it does, except for when it brings out the worst in me like it did yesterday.

The more time I spend at home with these Goobies, the more thankful I am for the grace that covers me because goodness, I need it. From them, from you, from the Lord. Sometimes that grace takes the shape of a whispered request for “Just one more song, please Mama?” even after difficult day, and sometimes it looks like taking you up on your offer of an icy cold Moscow Mule after the kids are asleep. Lately, the bright spots look like the things on the list that follows.

1. First, I love (love!) the Keurig My-Cup 2.0 you brought home for me. My complaining finally paid off, and gone are the days when I rely on those flimsy plastic pods filled with mediocre coffee. True–I agreed that getting a Keurig was a good way to make our lives a bit easier when the promise early mornings with another newborn loomed heavily before us. Now, even though our mornings are still early, my capacity for brewing a regular pot of coffee has returned, and buying dozens and dozens non-recyclable pods every month got harder and harder to do. Thanks to your thoughtfulness, I get to let go of an immense amount of guilt and enjoy my beloved Peet’s without the grocery budget taking such a hit. Coffee + YouVersion Verse of the day = starting the day on the right foot.


2. Next, Orgain Organic Protein, the Creamy Chocolate Fudge flavor, clearly. I know it might sound really weird to profess my love for protein powder, but I don’t care. I have been devoted to this stuff for over a year and I’m lost if we run out. Two scoops, a frozen banana and unsweetened almond milk blended together and poof: I get breakfast. It’s like magic. (Not to mention the fact that all the kids like it, too. And everyone in our family can eat it–no gluten, dairy, peanuts or problems. It’s a dreamy scenario.)


3. Also (always), Jenny Rosenstrach. I’ve had a completely acceptable amount of devotion to her since I read her debut cookbook Dinner: A Love Story (DALS). You surprised me with it the same Christmas you got your appendix out. We went up North to your mom’s house in Yakima that year. Finding myself surrounded by extra hands to entertain the kids, I plopped myself down on your mother’s couch and did not move until I read the whole book.


In the four years since that day, the recipes and anecdotes in DALS have shaped our own kitchen culture. And while I hope someday we will all have dinner together every night, Jenny’s advice to forego the family meal and just get the job done for awhile freed me, and I hear her voice every evening when I’m trying to finish cooking dinner in time to feed the kids who are hungry by, like, 5:00.  It rarely, if ever, happens, and they tend to get bits and pieces of what’s leftover in the fridge more than I like to admit. But  because of her, I let go of dinnertime guilt and am thankful they get as much to eat as they do. Plus, I enjoy plopping down on the couch with you after the kids are in bed and eating spicy chicken nachos straight from a sheet pan. Her new cookbook How to Celebrate Everything is all about connecting over food and knitting together a family culture with ritual, and I need to get my hands on it soon.

These and so many others are bright spots along the way, making things little bit easier just because they’re there, like a mother stroking a child’s feverish brow. A strange list, perhaps. But for me, these few things keep me company on a daily basis, fueling me and cheering me on to doing my day well, imperfect or flawed as it might be.  Well, these things and you, of course.