Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Craft: Balloon Eyeballs

I'm one of two moms who volunteered to help with Nolan's class Halloween party on Friday, so you can bet I jumped on Pinterest and started looking for cheap and easy ideas for crafts.  The one I loved the most was making balloon balls that look like eyeballs.

I figured this was the right craft for third graders.  Now that I've done the prep work and tested my methods, I see that they will really just be able to finish what I've started.

I am in no way taking credit for this craft idea.  I first saw the idea on Michele Made Me and used some tips from Tip Junkie.  I also added a little bit of my own ideas.

Most tutorials recommend using rice as a filler, and one tutorial I read suggested using flour.  I decided to use a variety of fillers so the finished eyeballs would have different textures. 

  • Colored balloons (I bought light blue and dark blue since they'll be the irises of the eyes; I couldn't find green or brown)
  • White balloons--$0.97 for bag of 12 balloons at Walmart
  • Fillers (I used rice, black beans, split peas, and flour)
  • Sandwich baggies
  • Scissors, measuring cup, black Sharpie, red Sharpie
Since I was trying to do this as cheaply as possible, I dug out the kids' sensory bins:

I used the white rice, black beans, and split peas from the sensory bins as well as flour I already had on hand.

Start by measuring roughly 3/4 cup of filler.

Dump the filler into a sandwich baggie.

Roll up your baggie.  It doesn't need to be pretty or fancy, just closed up.

Cut the necks off of your colored balloons (you can do this ahead of time or as you need them).

Shove the baggie of filler into the balloon.

Keep shoving.

Once you get it all inside the balloon, it will be a little lumpy.

Roll and squish it between your hands to distribute the filler.  This is the part that surprised me the most.  No matter how I rolled or closed the baggies, and no matter how ungracefully I shoved the fillers into the balloons, they all came out pretty round and evenly distributed.

This one looked like a blue pomegranate.  I didn't quite cut enough off of the balloon neck, but it'll be covered by the white balloon during the next step.

I did all of the above steps at home and will leave the remainder of the steps to be completed by the kids at the party.

Here are my balloon balls all ready for the party:

Filled with flour

Filled with rice

Filled with black beans

Filled with split peas

You may have noticed that I had done the next step on a couple of those.

Cut the necks off of your white balloons.  You have to cut off more than just the neck because you want to leave a circular opening.

Stretch the white balloon over a filled colored balloon, making sure you cover the opening of the colored balloon.

Use a black Sharpie marker to color in a pupil, and use a red Sharpie marker to draw in little veins.

Here are balloon balls in succession:

That's it! 

Now I'll see if the kids are able to stretch the white balloons over the balls I made.  I can always help with that part, and then the kids will color in the pupils and veins.

Happy Halloween!


Monday, October 27, 2014

The Nolan Struggle

I think at this point, most of you know about all we've been going through with Nolan's health and digestive issues.  I talked about it some here.

It's hard to explain his/our struggle to other people.  I can't easily describe what daily life is like for us or what, specifically, is so hard.

It's difficult to explain fructose intolerance to people.  I had never heard of it before Nolan was tested for it, and I understand that other people haven't heard of it either.  But nearly every single time we explain fructose intolerance to someone new, they confuse it in their own unique way.  People keep telling me that kids grow out of food allergies, and I don't have the energy to explain the difference between food allergies and food intolerances.  My next-door neighbor is allergic to all corn products, and since Nolan cannot have high fructose corn syrup, my neighbor thinks Nolan has the same food allergy he does.  I can't convince him otherwise.  Because Nolan had to avoid wheat (because it contains fructans, which are chains of fructose), many people can't understand that his diet is different from gluten-free diets.

The inability to make people understand fructose intolerance isn't the worst part, even though it's frustrating.

Finding out Nolan is also lactose intolerant was "the straw that broke the camel's back" for Nolan.  That was the point at which he just got plain old tired of eliminating foods from his diet.  I wasn't as bothered by the lactose intolerance since I already deal with it myself and feel like it's manageable.  Adding a second distinct food intolerance isn't the worst part, even though it's extra work.

Nolan's gastroenterologist concluded that Nolan also has IBS.  I hate the term IBS.  I feel like it's a doctor's way of saying, "I've given up trying to fix your pain."  At least that's been my own personal experience.  Feeling like Nolan's doctor may be giving up trying to get him feeling all the way better makes me want to pull out my hair and scream in the streets.  But it's not the worst part.

We can't easily eat out at a restaurant as a family, and Nolan can no longer eat at church potlucks, birthday parties, or other similar gatherings.  We have to send a packed lunch for him any time he won't be eating at home.  It's extra work and planning, but it's not the worst part.

I never know if Nolan will make it through the day at school.  All the other parents drop their kids off at school and then go on with their day.  Some go to work, some go shopping, some clean or accomplish something on their to-do list.  They know exactly how much time they have for whatever they're doing.  That's not my daily life.  God, in His great wisdom, has made it possible for me to not have a job in this season of my life, so I don't have the added pressure of getting out of work when my kids need me.  But I do carry my cell phone with me EVERYWHERE I go because I know I could get a call from the school nurse any moment.  I never go outside of our little city, even to run errands, because I'd be too far to come get Nolan quickly if he gets sick.  I've stopped making clear plans for my day because they just get interrupted and changed.

Today I compiled our grocery list and then convinced Nora that she would actually survive a trip to the grocery store.  Just as we pulled into a parking spot at Kroger, my cell phone rang.  A glance at my screen told me it was the school calling, and I already knew.  Nolan was too nauseated to eat his lunch, and the nurse wanted to know if I wanted to come get him or make him tough it out.  That's always the question.  The constant, torturous question.  I gave up on the idea of getting groceries today and drove back across town to pick up Nolan from school.

The uncertainty isn't the worst part, even though it's constant.  Uncertainty about how my day will look.  Uncertainty about how hard to push Nolan.  Uncertainty about when all of this madness will end and our life will be normal.  Uncertainty about what in the world we're even dealing with.

Uncertainty about how in the world I, as a mother, am supposed to help my child.

Which leads me to the worst part.

The worst part is when my boy, my baby, looks up at me with eyes that are both tortured and brave.  Those eyes plead with me to make him better or somehow remove his constant battle to keep going when he doesn't feel like he has it in him to do the next thing he's supposed to do.  As he tells me that he doesn't feel well, I look into those precious eyes and notice whether they look blue or green or gray today.  I gauge his pain level and his discomfort and I weigh the importance of the next task he faces.   My insides twist and I wonder what I'm supposed to do.  Do I make him go to school or church or practice or whatever?  Do I let him stay home?  If I let him stay home every time he felt sick, he would literally be home every day and every night.  We don't want to shut ourselves in our house forever, so where do I draw the line?  How much pain is too much to make Nolan tolerate, and how much is small enough to make him endure it?  Who looks at a child and measures his pain like this?

Looking into the eyes of my child and not knowing how in the world to help him is the worst part.  And it happens many times a day, every single day.  Every.  Day.

I feel like a shell of a mom.  Like when you open a bag of chips and find out how much of the bag was just filled with air.  Or when you open an egg of Silly Putty and find all the Silly Putty is stuck inside one half of the shell while the other half is just empty.  On the outside I look like other mothers.  To Nolan, I look like someone who knows how to take care of him.  But inside I'm all pressed to one side with all this empty space that should be filled with answers.

So I comfort my son, make whatever decision I'm going to make for the moment, and press on until I'm faced with the worst part again.  Which is always mere hours away.

This is what our current struggle looks like.  I'm not trying to get sympathy; I just want to explain why it's so exhausting.  I've already begged God for healing and wrestled with how to trust Him when he chose not to heal Nolan right now.  I reaffirm that decision to trust Him every single day.  But it's not like I entrusted Nolan's health into God's hands and then the problem faded into the background.  It's there when Nolan wakes up, when I drop him off at school with a prayer that he'll make it through a whole day, when I pick him up and get a report of how he felt at school, when we need to take Nora to dance or go to church, when I make dinner, when we eat dinner, when Nolan lays down at night and can't sleep.  We spend time and money buying the right foods, cooking the right foods, packing the right foods...and Nolan still has pain and nausea.  We get him to bed at a decent time, and he's still wiped out.  We try to keep our schedule from getting overloaded, and yet it's still more than he feels up to doing.

We are doing everything we know to do, and our child still isn't well.  Maybe that's the worst part.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nora Started Preschool

So...this post is so very, astonishingly, embarrassingly overdue.  But I couldn't just let it fall through the cracks.

Last month Nora, my youngest baby, started preschool.

She chose her own outfit.  For a moment I considered playing the Mom-gets-to-choose-first-day-of-school-outifts card.  But then I decided just to let her go to her first official day of school as exactly herself.

She was all ready to go with her Ariel backpack and her hair in the braid she requested (even though her hair can't stand to be contained in a braid and starts busting out by the time I pick her up at 11:30).

Nora is attending the same preschool that my boys went to, but she has different teachers (the boys had the same two teachers, but one retired and one got a job teaching elsewhere).

She only has preschool three mornings per week.  I usually get about two hours of kid-free time while she's at preschool, and that time usually goes to running errands, having my own hair appointments or dental appointments, doing housework, or volunteering at the boys' school.  One day I got to go with Nora's class on a field trip to a local pumpkin farm.  Seriously, this is the good life.

Nora with her good friend Dakota on the first day of school


Monday, October 6, 2014

Letting the Dust Settle

We've been letting the dust settle 'round here, both literally and figuratively.

Let's discuss the literal first.  Because that's just easier.

This is my husband lovingly sanding the wainscoting in our dining area.  It's not so much a dining room as a designated eating space within our kitchen.

This is what the wainscoting looked like pre-sanding:

Here's a shot after Jared finished with the orbital sander (we still need to hand sand the rail at the top and the top of the baseboards):

Maybe it would help you visualize the space if I showed you a picture of the whole messy, embarrassing space?  Ok, fine.  But I warn you, it ain't pretty (obviously some stuff is moved around for the sake of sanding).

The plan is to sand the wainscoting and paint it white.  Then I want to paint the wall above it an aqua color.  I also want the frame around the sliding glass doors to be white, which will require a lot of hand sanding first.  Our next-door neighbor proudly told me that he built that custom shelf and curtain rod above the sliding glass doors (the curtain rod is down in the picture above for sanding purposes).  I wonder what he will say when he finds out I painted them white...

Eventually I want to paint our upper kitchen cabinets white and the lower cabinets gray.  That's a project for another day.

We have all had the nasty upper respiratory infection that seems to be going around.  You should have heard the coughing as our house--and lungs--filled with dust from the sanding.

I couldn't believe how much dust settled around the house from Jared sanding the dining area.  It's on every surface.  EVERY surface.  Not just horizontal surfaces and not just in the kitchen.  It's in the ice dispenser of the refrigerator.  On the kitchen faucet.  On the toaster.  On the entertainment center in the next room.  Some neighborhood kids came over to play in the middle of the project, and one girl left with dust all over her black pants.

And Jared wore the dust as well.

This was the first project we have started inside our house.  Yes, we have lived here over a year (since August 5th of last year), and we are JUST now starting our first project in the house.

Of course, we did recently complete a big project outside the house:  we repainted the front porch.  This took us weeks to complete, due to intermittent relentless rain and the tedious nature of the project.  Our front porch covers the whole front of our house, so this was no small project.

First, Jared power washed the front porch.  Then we scraped off any loose paint.  Then we used wood filler in a few places (like where the old house numbers were) and sanded those areas smooth.  Then we bought the good ($$) paint and veeeerrrrry ssssllllooooowwwwlllyyyy applied two coats of paint to every side of every spindle and pillar.

After all that time-consuming hard work, you know the before and after pictures have to be dramatic and satisfying.  Are you ready to see them?


I didn't have a great picture of the whole front of the house.  This was from the first day of school last year (two weeks after we moved in).  Notice the brass house numbers and the brass mailbox behind me.

Are you ready for the super dramatic reveal??


Here's the after:

So different, right?

Oh wait.  It's actually not dramatic or satisfying in the slightest.  Ugh!

Ok, so what you couldn't see from a casual drive-by or from pictures of the house when we bought it was that the white paint was cracking and peeling all over the porch.  If we hadn't refinished it this year, water would have damaged the wooden posts.  In fact, we had to remove three of the spindles (did you notice one missing from the front in the "after" picture?) that had already started to rot from water damage.  Of course, no home improvement store carries spindles in the exact size we need, and being that we are not handy people, we have not yet figured out how to get wooden spindles in the exact right size and shape to replace the old ones.  Sigh.

A closer look at the porch will give you an idea of why this project took so long.  We had to paint every single surface, every side of every part of the railings.

We did take off the old brass house numbers.  We bought super cool brushed silver ones in a modern font, but we haven't made time to put them up yet.

We removed the old white and brass mailbox and replaced it with this silver beauty:

 Someday I'll update the brass doorknobs.

Any bets on how long it'll take us to complete the final details of this project?  I'll give you a hint:  the correct answer probably doesn't end in 2014.

As far as letting the dust settle figuratively around here, there's just been so much going on.

Jared has been traveling a lot, including going to Russia, Germany, and South Africa.  Thankfully, he did not bring home Ebola from his trip to Africa.  However, I did make the mistake of watching a special on Ebola while Jared was in Africa.  Not a smart move.  He's had lots of trips to here and there, each lasting a day or two.  Not long enough to kill me, but enough to wear me down.

Nolan has had about 547 doctor's appointments and tests in the last couple of months.  We had to quit seeing his pediatric gastroenterologist because he made it clear he was not interested in helping us.  He repeatedly told Nolan there was nothing wrong with him, and he said Nolan was making himself sick in order to get out of school.  I don't even let Nolan stay home from school when his stomach hurts because he hasn't had a day without pain for at least a year and a half.  About an hour after that doctor crossed several lines and made me bawl, Nolan tested positive for Fructose Malabsorption.  This means he cannot digest fructose, which is the natural sugar in fruits and vegetables.  Chains of fructose, called fructans, are in wheat and brown rice, so Nolan also cannot eat foods containing wheat flour or brown rice flour.

If you're interested in learning more, here are two helpful articles:  Understanding Food Allergies and Intolerances and All You Need to Know About Fructose Malabsorption.

We have been doing other tests, and in a couple weeks Nolan will undergo a test to see if he is also lactose intolerant.  It has been quite overwhelming learning his new diet and trying to explain it to other people.  It's hard to see Nolan feeling left out when he can't eat what other people are eating.  It's overwhelming trying to figure out what to feed him and how to make sure he gets all the nutrients he needs.  Plus he has still been in pretty bad pain, even after changing his diet.

We met with a new pediatric gastroenterologist, and I'm hopeful that he will help us get Nolan feeling better.  We have seen slight improvements here and there, but I am still waiting for Nolan to go one full day without stomach pain.

The whole mess with Nolan led me into a messy place with my faith.  I had to wrestle with God over the fact that my child is still suffering despite my pleas for God to heal him.  I know that some of you may not get what the big deal is about just changing my kid's diet.  And that's okay, I don't expect everyone to understand.  For me, the hardest part has been watching my child suffer with pain and discomfort.  Then there are littler things that pile up.  It's been a matter of getting worn out with so many appointments and tests.  So many schedule changes and asking favors to make sure all my kids are taken care of.  So much money.  So much explaining Nolan's pain only to have his doctor not believe that his pain is real.  And then "the answer" came, and it's not a very easy answer to take.  It requires so much time, effort, and money just to feed my child.  And then he's in pain and running to the bathroom anyway.  Everyone has their limit, and I've been living at mine for the last couple weeks.

God helped me to see that the heart of the issue was that I wasn't trusting Him.  I wasn't trusting that He has a plan for my child, and that plan will be good even if it involves pain right now.  I wasn't trusting Him to take care of every detail each time we need to make an appointment or test.  I wasn't trusting Him to provide the extra money necessary to buy Nolan's special foods.  I've been trying to do all of this on my own strength, and I don't even have close to what it takes.

A Bible verse came up three different times in three different places during that first week after firing Nolan's doctor and getting his diagnosis.
"The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and I am helped."  Psalm 28:7
I am still, as always, a work in progress.  There are a lot of areas where my hope is secure and my faith is steady.  God chose to reveal to me an area of weakness so we can work on it.  I'm learning how to let Him be my strength when I feel too worn out to keep up with all of this (or how about before I get worn out?).  I am more than happy to let Him be my shield when people's words or actions threaten to offend me, and I need him to cover me with grace.

Of course, the rest of life has continued to go on--and get messy--in the midst of everything with Nolan.  We've dealt with kids' behavioral issues, work stuff, church stuff, adults behaving like junior highers (anyone else know what I'm talkin' about?), etc.  I joined two Bible studies, which are awesome but each comes with daily homework.

So maybe this wasn't the best time to bust out the orbital sander and start a new project.  Maybe I just wanted to focus on something else for a minute.  Maybe I needed to feel in control of something.  Maybe I'm just sick of this house looking exactly how it looked the day we moved in.

I don't know.  I'll let you know once the dust finally settles.