The idea of changing to a plant based diet can be overwhelming. When I decided to cut out all animal products from my diet over a year ago, I was not so sure I would stick with it for very long because it seemed too difficult. Our food culture is so rich with meats and cheeses, the thought of making a meal without those staples seemed almost impossible. I can now tell you, that it is possible! I have spent the last year without eating any meat or dairy and I have no plans of going back. Pinterest is an amazing place to start looking for recipes and learning about new ingredients. Once you start getting used to meal planning and shopping in a new way, eating plant based will become super easy! Right now couldn’t be a better time to start going plant based with all of the new awesome products filling the shelves at your usual stores. This past week I went to Target to highlight some of the foods that have become staples in my kitchen and some foods that looked delicious that I haven’t tried yet. The products shown are not limited to Target and there are plenty additional foods that are available I have not shown. These are just a handful that you can look for in the refrigerated and frozen section of Target.
Here is what I found on my weekly Target run…
Not all Morning Star foods are vegan but the ones that are, are delish! This brand has been around for ever and is found at most stores!
Miyoko’s Butter is AMAZING! When going plant based I was worried about losing that delicious butter flavor that I love so much but this product is so good I have never missed “cow” butter once! This brand is really tasty and I’m seeing more and more products from them in most stores now.
Wholly Veggie! and No Evil are products that I have yet to try but they look great. Gardein is super good!! My kids would never guess that the “chick’n” is actually plants! I buy this brand all the time, it is found in most stores.
These frozen prepared meals are perfect for an easy lunch or dinner. I found Amy’s, Kashi, Gardein and Sweet Earth brands at Target. Always double check the ingredients to make sure they are vegan!!
Kitehill is another brand I love! Who knew cream cheese could come from nuts?! This brand is becoming available now in more and more stores.
Good Foods is a brand that I just recently tried and LOVE it! The queso dip is awesome with tortilla chips. I just had the pesto last night with a yummy risotto I made and it was delicious!
I have not tried Lightlife plant based meats yet but I am a big fan of Field Roast and Tofurky. You can find these brands all over.
Plant based yogurt is popping up all over now from all of your favorite brands. Here is Almond Breeze and Silk, I buy these often!
Lightlife and Beyond Beef. I have made burgers with Beyond Beef several times, its a great brand.
I was pleased to see that Target has a whole milk section dedicated to Plant based milks now! All of these are delicious. I recommend that you try the different options that are available and see which one you like best. Almond, cashew, soy, oat, there are a lot to try!
Let me know what products you love!
A little over a year ago, I shared a nutshell of our story involving Baxter’s medical roller coaster. I’m finally sitting down to write an update! But before I pick up from where I left off, I’m going to go way out of my comfort zone and share a bit of my own medical roller coaster.
In my last post I mentioned how our family went to a support group meeting for families having children with Osteogenesis Imperfecta. Baxter was about 8 months old at the time and I was very stressed out with constantly taking him to different appointments and learning more about this rare disease I thought we were dealing with. It was the night before the support meeting that we were traveling to Tampa, FL for and I remember having a horrible headache. I remember describing it to my husband as a stress headache that felt like it was behind my eye. The next morning as we traveled out of town for the meeting, my headache was gone but my vision in my right eye was blurry. I thought it was strange but tried to ignore it and carry on with the day. Putting on a smile and meeting lots of new people all the while feeling kinda crazy because my vision was slowly slipping away was how I spent the day! Like most mothers I put the focus on my children first and ignore my own problems.
The next day I went into the doctor. She looked at my eyes said they looked fine and gave me a prescription for migraine headaches. The doctor explained how sometimes migraines can cause vision issues and to see if the medication helped. Well, I thought this was stupid. I didn’t have a headache anymore, just couldn’t see out of my right eye. I didn’t take the pills. The next day I went to the eye doctor. They looked at my eye and said everything looked normal and that maybe it was caused by headaches. Then they gave me the same story about how migraines can cause temporary vision problems. I left angry. I couldn’t see in one eye and I didn’t have a headache! I felt like no one was listening to me. The next day I went back to the eye doctor, I demanded they check my eye more. They did more tests and still sent me home saying everything was normal. Now I was beyond angry! My eye was not normal! I couldn’t see!!
I went back to the eye doctor a third time that week. I couldn’t get an appointment that day so they said they would try to fit me in. I sat in the waiting room in tears until all the other patients had been seen. Finally they saw me. It was the end of a long day and I could tell they wanted me out fast. I think by this point they thought I was totally nuts! A doctor that I hadn’t seen before came in and looked in my eye with whatever light blinding instrument doctors use. He immediately called in the other doctor that had seen me that week and had him look at what he saw. My optic nerve was swollen. I wasn’t crazy after all! They told me I needed to go first thing in the morning for an MRI. The next day shortly after my MRI I got a phone call from a doctor that told me the scan showed that I had optic neuritis. He said that they were preparing a room for me at the hospital and that I need to go in as soon as possible to get started on IV steroids.
The doctor casually mentioned that the MRI also showed that I had some plaques on my brain. Before hanging up, I asked what that would mean and what caused the optic neuritis. He was quick to not answer my questions saying that another doctor would talk to me about it when I get to the hospital. Having my own doctor at home, I turned to my husband and told him that I had optic neuritis and plaques on my brain. “What does that mean?” I asked him. He immediately started crying. Well, this didn’t seem good! He told me that I probably had MS and continued crying. Some how I wasn’t moved. I wasn’t upset. If anything I was relieved that they finally found what was wrong with my eye and were going to treat it! I called my mother to come stay with the kids and I went into the hospital for 5 days of IV drugs and lots of testing!
Several days later I met with a neurologist that gave me the diagnosis of MS. I had baby Baxter with me in the doctors office and was trying to keep him from crying. I had already expected the news and again wasn’t really moved. I remember the doctor kind of looked at me like I didn’t hear him. He made sure I had his attention and not my babies for a second and repeated himself. I looked at him with a smile on my face and just thought “okay! I’ve got this!”. Not his usual response to diagnosing someone with a progressive debilitating disease! Having a child with medical problems and practically living in doctors offices and hearing bad news before had prepared me for this moment all too well. I really didn’t let it phase me. I felt fine, I was getting my vision back slowly but surely and I was fine. I remember calling my brother to tell him my diagnoses and he said “what exactly is MS? I just did a run for it but not really sure what it is!”. Funny but I didn’t really know either. My husband explained the basics of it to me, that its my immune system attacking my brain. My nervous system was being attacked. Multiple Sclerosis refers to the multiple scars left on the brain after these “attacks”. The scars don’t go away and leave permanent damage.
This was really all I needed to know at the time and all I wanted to know. I didn’t google it! I didn’t want to know anything else about it! I had learned from looking up everything I could about Baxter’s possible condition that all that does is scare you. I didn’t want to know what could happen to me in the future. I didn’t want to read about anyone else with MS or meet anyone else with MS. I just wanted to take it day by day and only deal with what came at that time. Not worry about the future. Over the past few years now, I have slowly educated myself on the disease that I live with. It has definitely taken some time to get comfortable enough to learn about it. It was probably almost a year until I actually googled it. I have now read many stories about and meet a few people that share my diagnosis. Its a tough one. I have been on half a dozen medications, become an expert at giving myself shots (both subcutaneous and intramuscular), been hospitalized and had more MRIs now than I can count!! Its rough. I have been at the top of my game running two miles a day and killing it with yoga and I have been at rock bottom hardly able to make it out of bed feeling like my body is stuck in slow motion with this disease. There is not a day that goes by that I am not struggling with some sort of horrible symptom that I wish would go away. Most of the time I just keep my head up, try to ignore it and get on with life.
Baxter! So, about a year ago we finally got in touch with a pediatric ophthalmologist that offered to see us in hopes that she could help Baxter. We took a vacation and travel to Kansas City, MO for an appointment that Baxter freaked out during and didn’t even let her see his eyes. She told us about a cross linking procedure that is done on patients with severe thinning of the cornea that helps strengthen their corneas. Its a procedure that is not FDA approved in the US but she would be willing to do it! We talked a lot with her about this option there at the appointment and even after over the phone. Later after some testing we found out that Baxter’s corneas are too thin for the procedure and that our baby Apollonia’s corneas are even thinner. It was heart breaking. The only procedure available to possibly help was now not an option. This doctor told us not to give up hope and urged us to see a doctor either in Switzerland or Canada. Both of these doctors had experience with cross linking and had done it with children very similar to mine. They had ways to do it on very thin corneas. We packed up several weeks later and went to Canada. This doctor performed a couple of tests and agreed that Baxter’s eyes were too thin for it to work. He suggested that instead we perform a surgery that would place a doughnut shape donor cornea on top of his existing eye and after that heals perform another cornea transplant.
This sounded horrible! Two painful surgeries and after all that the doctor wasn’t even very optimistic that he could save his vision. I left this appointment feeling extremely defeated. So, the cross linking was definitely not an option now and more surgeries that may or may not work is all we have left. If surgery is our only option then I’m not traveling to Canada for it and I’m not going to have a doctor perform it that is not totally confident! We came home and told our local doctor about our current option. She searched for a surgeon that would be willing to help us and had experience with brittle cornea syndrome.
It wasn’t easy but we finally found a doctor in Pittsburgh, PA. We have traveled to see him twice now. He is great with Baxter and as optimistic as you can be with such a devastating disease. I am taking Baxter next week for a surgery in his right eye that will hopefully restore some of his vision. This doctor has performed surgeries on other children with brittle cornea syndrome and is very familiar with the disease. I am not looking forward to this trip but I know its just one more step in this journey and hopefully a successful one! I know that my children have many appointments, test and surgeries in their future and its hard but we do it. We do it so that they can have sight as long as possible in their life. We do it so that more doctors can learn from them and help other children in the future. This is a disease that hardly any doctors in America have ever even seen and I have two cases in my house! Its a disease that we are handling the best we can and won’t stop for our kids and other kids around for the worlds sake.
And then there’s this… Somewhere between Kansas City and Canada I was admitted to the hospital for MS symptoms. I was put on IV steroids and had an MRI (the usual). A couple of weeks later I got a call from my neurologist who said that something showed up on my MRI that needed to be looked at further by a neurosurgeon. Confused, I went in for further imaging and then to see the neurosurgeon. He told he that I had to have a biopsy taken from a small growth in my head to make sure it wasn’t cancer. Great! Schedule the surgery, get it over with! I AGAIN wasn’t really bothered. Had the surgery and it came back cancer. I had a rare form of cancer called a chordoma at the base of my scull on my clivus bone. This was a bit of a life rattle! I of course hope for the best but your mind often goes to the worse. It was hard to think of my family without me. My oldest son asked me one day if it was okay to tell someone that I had cancer. I said “YES! Tell everyone, because I’m going to be fine!”. So many people have sad stories when it comes to cancer and that was not going to be mine! When I went back for my second surgery to remove the chordoma, the doctors came in and asked if I was okay. “I’m fine!” I told them, “My 6 year old has been in surgery 16 times. If he can do it, I can do it!”. Little Baxter gave me all my courage!
The surgery and recovery were horrible but I did it. I was told that the best treatment for this kind of cancer was proton therapy rather than chemo or radiation, so thats what I did. The closest proton therapy center to me was two and a half hours away and I had to go to treatment every day for 8 weeks. No problem! I hired a nanny and made the drive to save my life, 5 hours a day in the car. I was told that 2 weeks into treatment I would start to have fatigue pretty badly (I already have chronic fatigue from MS, so no big deal!). I told a friend that I may need help with driving and in no time I had a line up of drivers for six weeks. People really are amazing! I had someone drive me every day for 6 weeks! I love my friends!! I can remember the first appointment that I saw a bell in the office for cancer survivors to ring when they are cancer free. I walked past it kind of scared and hoped that I would never get that diagnosis and have to ring the bell. On my last day of treatment when all the staff surrounded me cheering and it was my day to ring the bell it felt awesome to know that this is behind me now. One more thing I can add to my accomplishments!
One of many things I have learned from all of this is that everything happens for a reason. I might not know what that reason is now but He has a plan and I trust it! If it weren’t for Baxter having health issues before me I probably would have freaked out upon hearing that I have MS. If I hadn’t been there by Baxter’s side watching him be put under for surgeries I would have been terrified when I had to do it myself. I don’t “share” a lot of this personal health stuff because I hate when people feel bad for me. I’ve got it good, folks! I am too blessed to be stressed! I am probably the strongest person I know. Don’t read this and feel bad. I am a very happy, optimistic and humble person. My daughter just shouted out from the next room that she would describe me as “Too legit too quit!” I couldn’t have said it better, Maggie. I have to give props to the Lord Jesus Christ who gives me strength every day! I would not be able to make it through any of this if it were not for Him. My faith holds me up always! As hard as it may be for me to share this stuff, I’m going to continue (even if its once a year!) in hopes of giving strength to someone else when they might need it. I want more people to know about blindness and how it effects families, how people with MS are stronger than you know, and how cancer is totally doable!
No recipe posting today. Still cooking and writing but life has been a bit too busy to chat about food over the past several months. Instead, I’m going to get super personal. Instead, I am going to share with you some glimpses into the medical rollercoaster that my family has been riding now for the past 5 and a half years.
Back in 2011 I was plump pregnant and happy about to give birth to our third child. I had a totally normal pregnancy, no complications and all tests, ultrasounds showed that we were to expect a healthy baby boy. But, upon giving birth, I knew instantly that something was not right with my baby. Having had two babies previously, I could tell that little Baxter was not “normal”. The first thing that I said when they held him up was “Is he breathing?”. He seemed very weak and quiet. He was the cutest baby I’ve ever seen, but something just didn’t seem right. The doctor and nurses assured me that he was fine and then took him away for HOURS. When I finally got him back, no one said anything. My husband had gone by the nursery to check on him and had said that he was unresponsive to all of the usual tests that they conduct for newborns. When the pediatrician came into my room to look him over I saw that he had almost no muscle tone and very poor reflexes. Still no one could tell me what was wrong AT ALL. When the nurses changed shifts, I could hear them whispering outside my door, I’m sure it was some kind of warning about how fragile my baby was and that no one knew what exactly was wrong (I felt like shouting “Hey! You can come in here and speak!”). I had this overwhelming sense of protection over him: to me nothing was “wrong” with my baby. When the nurses would ask how he was doing or if he was feeding okay, I would act like he was perfect. I can remember a couple of my husbands co-workers came in to visit me and see the baby. I kept him swaddled and held close, hardly letting them see him for fear that they might notice something “different” about him.
We left the hospital as if we had had a perfectly healthy baby. I came home with a perfect child that may or may not be deaf having not passed any of the three hearing tests that they tried in the hospital. My child was labeled “floppy” having extremely low muscle tone and reflexes and was already lined up to see genetics and orthopedic specialists due to the fact that his joints were hyper flexible. It was horrible. At a time when you should be celebrating a new baby and enjoying this precious new life, all I could do was worry. No one thinks when they are pregnant that this is going to happen. We look forward to our babies arrival with joyful expectancy, awaiting smiles and laughter. There is no preparation for this kind of worry, this kind of emotion. There were no birth announcements, no “it’s a boy!” celebrations. I was way to busy with doctor’s appointments, lab tests and x-rays.
Ah, x-rays. When Baxter was 8 weeks old his pediatrician noticed that when you lifted his legs he cried like he was in pain. Yes, I had noticed this as well at every diaper change. This baby cried a lot! If I was not holding him and comforting him, he cried. Our doctor went ahead and ordered a set of full body x-rays to be done and then said something to me about the color of his eyes. She was all of a sudden very concerned that the whites of his eyes were a bluish color. I immediately took him in for the x-rays and to my surprise I received a phone call from our doctor only a couple of hours later. She was calling me from her home, I could hear her daughter and television in the background, and I didn’t take this as a good sign. She informed me that the x-rays showed that Baxter had bilateral broken femurs, a broken collar bone and 3 or 4 broken ribs. I felt my heart stop a little and had to sit down. I needed answers right away! She told me that all of the fractures seemed to have happened at birth and were healing well. Next, I was sent back to genetics. I finally had some sort of answer. My baby was broken. This explained why at birth he had no muscle tone, why he seemed unresponsive, why he was hyper flexible, and why he cried all the time. He was broken and in pain. Finally, something made sense. Genetics ultimately told us that due to the fact that Baxter had several broken bones at birth and blue sclera (the whites of his eyes) that he had a rare disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta.
This was rough. Osteogenesis Imperfecta or OI (aka brittle bone disease) was something that I had never heard of. So of course, I go home and Google it and learn all about how detrimental it can be and try to prepare myself to raise a child with this condition. There are several types of OI, and the next step was to determine which type Baxter had so that we would be better prepared. We had two different genetic tests performed over the course of the next couple of years and each was inconclusive. We met with OI specialists to try to determine a type. We finally were told that he had a type that was mild and unknown since his testing didn’t match with any of the known types. By this point we were very well aware that his type was mild. I had joined a Facebook parent support group and even gone to an annual meeting to meet some of the wonderful folks whom I had meet online. Parents raising children with OI are some of the strongest, most amazing people on earth, and their kids are truly super heroes!
As time has past and we have watched Baxter grow we have found that he truly is different. He has had several medical scares and a couple of miracles along the way, but none so great as recently. At Baxter’s 4 year check up they did a routine eye exam. I sat next to him and saw the nurse hold up pictures for him to identify: a car, a tree, a house, ect. I was shocked that he was straining to see them and even getting them wrong. A week or so later we had an appointment to follow up with ophthalmology. When the doctor came into see him, she looked at his eyes and immediately ordered several test to be done. Right then, she even called another office in the building to see if a specialist could come and see him right now. I was not startled by this in the very least. By this point, I almost expect tons of tests and more referrals with this kiddo. After everything was finished, she informed me that Baxter had a very severe case of Keratoconus. An eye disease in which the astigmatism is so severe that the cornea thins and becomes very brittle leading to low vision. Okay, I thought, so my kid is fragile, I know this. I took him to get glasses and made sure to get the safest most protective ones they had. When we went to pick up the prescription, the lady looked at how strong the prescription was, then down at my little Bax and then to me. She looked as though she was going to get emotional. She very dramatically placed the glasses on Baxter and then told him to look at his mommy. I then realized that this might have been the first time that he had ever seen me clearly in his whole life. It was emotional. I totally cried telling friends about it a few days later, such a precious moment.
So here I was with another strange and rare diagnosis. I reached out to the OI parents, like I did with other medical incidentals that we had dealt with such as a huge arachnoid cyst in his brain, strange bone growths and a seizure. No other OI parents ever had any of the issues with their children that we had with Bax. Again, with the eyes, no one with OI had Keratoconus. I have always felt like with each new “symptom” or “characteristic” that Baxter has shown that maybe we are getting closer to finding a similarity with someone else. Maybe he was not the only one in the world with this type of “unknown” OI.
Worst day of my entire life: A couple of months after having glasses, they got broken (typical 4 year old little boy with glasses!). I picked Baxter up from preschool and took him to the eye glass store to get a new pair. I felt like maybe be needed a pair that stayed on better. The ones that he had wrapped around the back of his ears. They still slipped down his nose a lot, so I made a band to fit them to his head just right. I thought we could find a pair that had a band already or something that wouldn’t slip down on his nose to begin with. Taking him with me was a bad idea. Baxter has been known for throwing crazy fits sometimes. His neurologist has said that it may or may not have to do with the cyst in his brain (thanks so much for that clarity). Baxter had his mind set on a pair of glasses that were way to big for him and proceeded to throw a fit. I, being used to his outbursts, knew it was time to go. I quickly picked Baxter up, handed the dude working there a pair of glasses that would be fine, told him I’d be back later to pick them up (without Baxter!) and headed toward the door. Baxter started acting out like he had never behaved before. He was screaming, hitting, kicking and even biting me. I had to almost wrestle him to get him buckled in his car seat. He was sweating and screaming and kicking still. As I got into the car and started to drive away he threw his broken glasses at me, was trying to unbuckle himself and thrashing around wildly. I reached behind my seat to maybe grab a leg, a foot, something, as I was pleading with him to calm down. When I reached back for that split second, all I felt was his hair and forehead and then the screaming changed. I had poked him in the eye. He cried all the way home telling me that I had poked him in the eye. I brought him in the house and actually placed him in “time out” for his behavior at the store and in the car. He calmed down after awhile, put his little broken glasses back on and just seemed extremely tired. He said he would be a good boy and he was sorry for the way he acted. He feel asleep not too long after and slept all night. I thought it was strange for him to fall asleep so early but figured he had really tired himself out with the fit he had thrown. I was concerned about his eye and researched scratched corneas just to see, if it was a worst case scenario, what to look for in his eye when he woke up.
The next morning I was awoken to Baxter crawling into my bedroom. He could not open his eyes. I tried not to panic. I helped him get into bed with me and asked him what it felt like, if he could open his other eye. He didn’t seem like he was in pain, it just seemed like his eye was extremely irritated. I finally got him to open both eyes, have some breakfast and then we were off to immediate care. He seemed fine in the waiting room playing a game on my phone and chatting like usual. When it was time for the doctor to see him, he did not want to cooperate (nothing unusual for him!). I explained how I accidentally poked him in the eye, and I think that maybe I scratched his eye or something. My husband being a doctor himself asked if he could just prescribe him an antibiotic if the scratch looked infected or something. My husband had to hold him down while the doctor pried his eye open to take a quick look. The doctor and my husband said they had never seen anything like it and that we needed to go to the emergency room right away.
After what seemed like forever in the hospital they finally told us that his eye had burst. What? How does an eye burst? That sounds like a balloon!! An eye can’t burst! They were prepping the operating room for an emergency surgery. How could this have happened?! Everyone gets poked in the eye! Baxter had been poked in the eye before! How did I, me, his own mother, the person who loves him, cares for him and protects him above all people, cause his eye to burst.
After surgery, the surgeon came in and told us that it was extremely difficult. He had sewed his eye together the best that he could, but that he would most certainly need further surgeries in the near future and that still there were lots of risks for him including the possibility of losing his eye entirely. Two days later, the stitches started to rip through in his eye. We were back for surgery number two. This time he had a full cornea transplant. His cornea was too damaged to save. This time, it was a different surgeon, a cornea specialist. He came out before the surgery and told us that it was going to be extremely difficult. He told us that because Baxter’s corneas had become so thin that it was going to be “like sewing a piece of very fine lace to a piece of cheese”. He told us that he would try his best to just save the eye, not to expect any results with vision, and that he might have to remove the eye all together because it was so bad. Cheese!!!! Yes, thats what he said. So for the next few hours all I could think about was sewing cheese to anything and what a joke that would be! Cheese can’t hold anything!!
We prayed a lot as we waited and in the end the surgeon was able to successfully perform the transplant. I now had the responsibility to place eye drops in Baxter’s eye every 3 hours to try to prevent infection and or rejection of the graft. No pressure… Sweet little Baxter was worn out and terrified. His eye was swollen beyond belief, and I had to put drops in it. All day. This was hell. For him and me. I had some help from my husband when he was not at work (he would even take a break somedays just to come help with the drops), from my best friend, and my sweet neighbor who happens to be pediatric nurse. It was hard. I eventually got the hang of it to do it on my own. Sneak the drops in my hand (so he didn’t see it coming and run), gently tackle him to the ground/sofa/bed, hold him down (sit on him) to prevent him from hitting/kicking me and then with his face screaming and his head turning from side to side, ever so gently remove the bandage, pry the swollen lid open and place one drop, then screw on that cap, open second drop, screw on that cap, then open next drop, then re bandage his eye. Did I mention this was hell? All day,every 3-4 hours. I did it. Never missed a dose.
The medication slowly tapered off until we just had one drop each day, which I managed to get in his eye at night after he had fallen asleep. The graft was still rejected. He is completely blind in his right eye.
During all of this eye trauma I was pregnant. We found out we were expecting our fourth child about a month before Baxter got his first pair of glasses. Now that the due date was getting closer, I meet with a genetic counselor to discuss the risks of this baby having OI. I was not worried at all. The chances were low and since Baxter has such a mild form, it really didn’t concern me. My other children are fine, this baby was going to be fine. I just knew it.
So the day comes. I wake up in the middle of the night having contractions. My husband and I sneak out of the house to go to the hospital before any of the kids wake up. (My oldest child is 14 and very responsible, great babysitter!) Later that morning while I was in labor, I called my mother to go by our house and check on the kids. I called her again about an hour before I gave birth, just to see how everyone was doing. Everyone at home was fine and super excited about the arrival of a new baby sister! When Apollonia was born I was shocked at how much hair she had and how big she was! She was beautiful! My husband and I were both observing her very closely to see if she showed any signs similar to Baxter at birth. She didn’t, we were relieved. A couple of hours later my mother brought the kids up to the hospital to visit me and see the baby. As soon as Baxter walked into the room I could tell something was wrong.
I have become extremely alert to this little guy. If anything is not right, I can tell right away. I had him come sit with me and noticed something was wrong with his eye. Not his blind eye, his only seeing eye. I asked if everything was okay and he told me that while they were at home his older sister had kicked him. My mother said that they had been rough housing (not unusual for those two) and that my daughter had accidentally kicked him in the eye. He had his glasses on and they thought it was okay. It was not okay. I could tell from seeing his other eye with trauma before, that this was NOT okay. My husband went from holding my hand in the delivery room to rushing our 5 year old to the children’s hospital for emergency surgery on his only seeing eye.
I was a mess. Total mess. Hours later, I get a call that they were able to save his eye but not his vision. I was A MESS! The nurses came and took my baby away to the nursery because I couldn’t stop sobbing. Couldn’t stop. My sweet boy was now blind. The same day that we should be celebrating the joyous birth of my new daughter, I was mourning the loss of vision for my son. I felt more heartbroken than you could have EVER imagined and to make it worse, I was in the hospital. I was not there with him, to see him, to comfort him, or to tell him it was okay. All I could do to relieve any of the heartache was hold my new baby girl. She must have been born at this time to give us joy through this hardship.
The next morning the pediatrician came in and sat down on the little sofa in the hospital room with me. I knew this was not a good sign. I know by now when a doctor is bracing herself to hit me with something. Bring it, I thought. She tells me that my baby has hip dysplasia and that her muscle tone is a little low. Also, they are concerned that her sclera is mildly blue. They were going to take her to the NICU to keep a close eye on her and have full body x-rays and genetic testing completed to see if she had OI like her older brother. I was completely calm and unmoved by her telling me all of this. By this point I was numb. I told her that Baxter never had any genetic tests proving that he had OI. I also mentioned that on a recent doctor’s note from one doctor to another that my husband and I had noticed that his surgeon said that he thought that he had Brittle Cornea Syndrome. This was something we had never heard of. The pediatrician came back later in the day and said that she had been doing some research on this Brittle Cornea Syndrome which can present with low muscle tone, cause fractures, blue sclera, hyper flexible joints and hip dysplasia. Wow! The pediatrician was quite excited that perhaps she had just solved a mystery for us. My son never had OI but all along something that we had never heard of: Brittle Cornea Syndrome. Apollonia’s x-rays showed that all of her bones were fine, no fractures. Now, we just had to wait 10 weeks to have the results of a genetic panel that would show if she had OI, Brittle Cornea or several other possible disorders. I wasn’t worried about her at all. As far as I was concerned, she was perfectly healthy and fine. It was my son that I needed to get home to and care for.
They brought Baxter in to see me in the hospital the next day. I couldn’t wait to hold him and see how he was doing. I could hear him crying for me down the hall before I saw him. I knew I had to be strong and keep it together for him. It was hard, so hard that I can’t explain, but we acted like everything was okay. It was okay.
This time the doctor sewed up his eye and to keep the stitches from ripping out he placed a pericardial graft over the stitches. A piece of someones heart was in my son’s eye. He didn’t have to have drops as much after this surgery since there was no chance of graft rejection. My son was completely blind now, and it was just a matter of getting used to it. Now, all of us were at home my husband, two older kids, new baby, my blind son and I. Baxter was a completely different child. He didn’t want to play with any of his toys. What’s the fun if you can’t see them? He couldn’t “watch” TV anymore or play games on the computer, IPad, or phones. Nothing seemed fun anymore. He constantly put his head down, face first. No matter were he was sitting he would curl into a ball with his face down. We were constantly telling him to keep his head up. I think he just found comfort in having his head rest on something since he couldn’t see anything. It was still hard to witness, and he seemed depressed. He needed my help for everything. Everyone kept asking me how the baby was doing and I’d say she’s the easy one! Baxter was taking my attention every second of the day. If I went into a different room of the house, he would yell for me like he was scared until I came and sat with him again. He needed help eating, using the bathroom, getting around the house, everything. He did enjoy listening to music, so we played tons of music and got out all of our toy musical instruments for him to play with. We read books together. I got books that he liked on audio for him to sit and to listen to. I gathered everything from around the house that I thought he might want to hold, touch, make noise with, or explore with his hands.
Still everyday I cried. I’m glad he couldn’t see it. I cried every time I looked out the window and saw a beautiful sky that he would never see. I cried thinking about how he loved to go to the movies. I cried thinking about how difficult life will be for him now. I thought about everything. How will he ever be able to use a public restroom by himself! Will kids bully him as he grows up? How strange it will be to eat and try new foods without seeing them, or meet new people without seeing them. How, he is going to have to be dependent on other people for the rest of his life. I thought of things all the time that made me sad. I sat at our desk one day and looked down to see a brochure that he had picked up from a restaurant recently for the aquarium. We promised that we would go soon, and now he would never see the fish. I looked at our fridge that was covered in pictures that he had made at school and at his messy little handwriting just learning to write his name.
I had to stay positive. Thank God for my faith and the strength that I get from it. I knew that with God I could do this. I had to keep things as normal as I could and get him used to doing everything without my constant help. It was hard but we had to do it. I thought about how will he ever learn to cook? (of course!) It was something that he had had fun with in the past so I started having him help me cook things again. He loved it! He wanted to cook and help me bake all day, so we did a lot! He would crack the eggs on the counter, dump ingredients into a big bowl, hold a whisk and stir. All the smells, sounds, tastes and textures in the kitchen made him smile. It was kind of magical! I knew his head would be up if we were in the kitchen.
I had looked into a new school for Baxter over the summer called VIPS (Visually Impaired Preschool Services). I knew that since he was blind in one eye and had a strong prescription for his seeing eye at the time that he needed special attention with his visual needs. Now that he was completely blind I knew it was the best place for him. He had seen and met his new teacher a few weeks before school was to start and had seen his new school and class room, but now he would be starting blind. We went to an orientation several days before school with him now blind. I didn’t think I was going to be able to hold myself together.They asked the parents to gather in an area to hear information about the school year and said that the kids were welcome to play on the playground with staff. I took Baxter outside to the playground and a teacher approached him to let me go back inside, not realizing that he couldn’t see she said “Hey come play on the playground with me!” Baxter replied with “Um, I’m blind!” She came over and took his hand and said “Well! Thats good to know!” It was totally normal here and that put my mind at ease. His teacher came to our house a couple of days before school started. It made him feel super comfortable with her and allowed me to ask all the questions that I had and prepare myself for letting him go to school again. Before she left he whispered in her ear that on the first day of school he wanted puppets to play with. “What kind?” she asked. He told her he wanted a knight, princess and dragon. He really liked her!
On the first day of school Baxter was really excited, I had assured him that the other kids at his new school had “special eyes” just like him. It made him feel good to know he wasn’t alone, there were other kids like him. When we fist walked into the school I was blown away with how VERBALLY inviting everyone was. Everyone said good morning or welcome Baxter! And they all announced to him who they were. It was simple but made such a difference. Then upon walking into his classroom his teacher came over to him to say hello. He immediately asked her if she had the puppets they talked about! Her face lit up as she went and got the puppets for him. She put in his hands a knight, princess and dragon and to tell them apart since he couldn’t see them, one of his other teachers had taken them home and added long yarn hair to the princess and a tail to the dragon. This was amazing to me. I left and cried. What wonderful people!
The next Sunday as we were slowly getting used to things we went to church. We had not been in a few weeks since we had the baby and dealing with Baxter’s new impairment. We did have a huge outpouring of support from our church family, they gave us all the hugs,food and support that we could have ever hoped for. On this day after mass one of our priests came over and saw our new baby. He said that he wanted to bless our whole family, he raised his hands toward us and said some kind of blessing for health and happiness. It was sweet. But we didn’t really think much about it. We left and went on about our day as usual. Baxter had been asking to go to the movies. What fun would that be if you cant see anything? We agreed to take him. It was a bad choice. As soon as the movie started I could tell that he was extremely disappointed. I tried narrating the whole film to him, I’m sure I upset everyone sitting around us in the theatre. We left feeling deflated. One more thing that will be hard for him in life that we all take for granted.
When we got home we all gathered in the living room and sat down. Baxter sat in his usual spot to put his face down. When all of a sudden he raised his head and opened his eyes. He started to turn his head around as if he was seeing us. We all looked at him in amazement. “I can see!” he said almost in disbelief. “What?!” we all said! He slowly came over to me and got really close to my face, looked into my eyes and said he could see me. It was amazing. It was a miracle.
We called his doctor and told her the good news. She was shocked. He is only able to see out of a small area of his left eye. But I’ll take it! Believe it or not but this has only been a nut shell of what we have gone through. All together over the last 10 months Baxter has been in the hospital and under anesthesia for exams and surgeries thirteen times. The genetics testing that we had done on our new baby show that she has this extremely rare Brittle Cornea Syndrome just like we have found out that out son has. It is a progressive eye disease that there is no treatment for. It causes blindness and in half of the people that have this syndrome it also causes hearing disabilities. I have learned through all of this that no matter what you read or hear, take each day at a time and only deal with whats in front of you. I have two children now that without medical help will most certainly be blind. Most reported cases of this rare disease the patients lose not only their vision but their entire eyes around the age of 4. It is extremely rare. Doctors don’t even know about it and when you look it up there is not much to learn. They just developed the genetic test for it a few years ago. I have been given a second chance at sight with Baxter but I don’t know for how long. I thank God every day that he wakes up and has vision and I’ll continue to thank Him even if he doesn’t because we are a truly blessed family and I am so grateful for all the little things more than anyone would ever know. We have taken Baxter to the aquarium now and I make sure that he sees as much as he can everyday. My sweet baby girl will be getting glasses in the next few weeks already to protect her little eyes.
We, with the help of our doctors have been reaching out to other eye specialists around the country to try to find someone that can help us. So far no luck. No one will see them. Its too scary for any doctor because no one knows anything about this disease except for how horrible the outcome can be. We need help, we need awareness. I am sharing this small novel to open someones eyes. Maybe someone with special need’s children can relate or it might help a parent raising a blind child that they are not the only ones worried about a public restroom one day! My best friend said that we should be raising funds for research. I totally agree, we should! But currently as far as I know there is no research, no one to send funds to. What I can do now is share my story.
I must confess… I have epically failed at not eating meat this Lent. In years past, it has not been an issue for me to give up meat. I really have no problem cooking and eating strictly vegetarian. This year was a little different, about a week and a half ago, I got really sick and was hospitalized. Not sure if you have ever spent anytime in a hospital but just so you know… the food sucks. When placing my “order” for meals I had a choice generally of chicken or chicken. I was not about to ask for a vegetarian plate for fear of being served rabbit pellets. So, I threw in the towel! I have been eating meat everyday since! There is always next year to pull through the 40 days. When getting released from the hospital I was starving. Not only was the food bad but the medication that I was given made my appetite increase significantly. Down the road from the hospital here in Gainesville, is a new burger franchise called BurgerFi. I made my husband take me there right away to check it out! I am usually not a huge burger fan and I tend to stay away from chain restaurants but this place was calling my name. Upon arrival I didn’t let the line out the door or the giant meathook light fixtures scare me away. I was going to eat a burger! Yes, they do have a vegetarian option on the menu and I bet its good! I ordered a double BurgerFi Cheeseburger with Cry and Fries (half order of fries and half of onion rings) covered with parmesan cheese and herbs. This burger place is awesome! The menu consists of every topping on a burger you can dream of and you can have it crafted just the way you want. Your burger is made from fresh all natural angus beef and served as a single, double or triple! They have a great selection of local craft beers and frozen custards and concretes that looked amazing. You can tell that they really are passionate about the food served, they even stamp the name BurgerFi into the yummy toasted buns. Every bite was delicious, juicy burger made with fresh ingredients. I will defiantly visit them again the next time I have a hankering for a burger and with over 60 locations across the country, you should too!
A few years ago, while I was driving down a street that I grew up on I noticed a chair sitting out for junk pick up. The chair was sitting outside my old best friends house. I called someone with a pick up truck to come and collect the chair for me, I had just the right spot for it (in the corner of my bedroom to collect laundry!). I have always wanted to learn how to reupholster furniture and this chair had a great structure just bad fabric, great for a project one day. Well that day finally came! I found some cute fabric a couple weeks ago and moved the chair out into the middle of the house. The chair was starring at me all day, just waiting. I eventually gathered the courage to start. The tools that I used were a hammer, needle nose pliers (my all time favorite tool), scissors and a screw driver. The pliers worked best for the job. Go around the edges of the fabric, get a hold of it with your pliers and pull. Simple as that. Pull and rip all over the chair. Make sure that you remove any existing nails or old staples, so that you have a smooth surface to work with. I also took pictures with my phone while I was removing the old fabric, so that I could reference back to how it was done originally if needed. Inside the back of a wingback chair you will see how the fabric is pulled through for the “wings” and the back. When all of the old fabric is gone and staples cleared away you can start applying the new upholstery. Make sure you buy fabric that is meant for furniture upholstery, or it might be too thin and not have the strength for staples and nails. Using a measuring tape, measure a section, cut your fabric adding at least 4-6 extra inches just in case. Then place the fabric were it needs to be applied. Using a staple gun (please splurge a little and get an electric one for a big job like this, you will thank me) go around the edges and staple the fabric as tightly as you can. I think all together I had 15 different patches of fabric. You need to have a clear strategy for the order that you put on your patches of fabric, making sure that each one will cover the last ones staples. The outside of the wings and the back of the chair will have places that your work cannot be hidden, but you can make them pretty! In some places you have to get creative. For the bottom of the “wings” I tucked the fabric under and pulled it tightly around to the back to staple it in place. And in some small places yes, I definitely used a hot glue gun. It is best to start with the arms and front, then the wings and sides, then lastly the back that you sit against and the back back. I used a staple gun for all of the “hidden” attachments and a nail gun for all of the areas that had to be left exposed. In most cases upholstery tacks are used in the exposed areas, but I hate upholstery tacks! In the last upholstery project that I had I used the tacks and managed to smash my poor little fingers with the hammer every time I took a swing. I’m good with hammers and nails, but tiny tacks that I can barely hold into place, I can’t handle. The nail gun worked great but left my chair with the ends of tiny nails all round the edges. I went to the craft store in search of a ribbon that I could hot glue across all my nail heads. I found several that I brought home so I could see them together before I made my final selection. To go around the front of the arms and across the top of the back I chose a whimsical small white ribbon with little gray pom-poms and around the outside of the wings and down the back I chose a beautiful black velvet with silk rope braiding. The end result is fabulous! To recover the seat cushion I simply made a basic pillow case, stuffed the cushion inside and then sewed up the back. My old faded chair that was put out for the trash has now gotten a long over due amazing face lift. Is it perfect? No, I’m not a professional. Is it amazingly fabulous? Yes, indeed it is!
Last Friday was 3/14. If you have any math enthusiasts in your house you will know that 3/14 is also known as Pi day, referring to the mathematical ratio of a circles circumference to its diameter. My kids love math and look forward to Pi day not only because it is mentioned in school but also because they know that I’m a sucker to make pie! I didn’t have a lot of time to whip out a whole pie, so I made mini hand held pies with puffed pastry. They turned out great! You can make these little pastries with any filling you can imagine! Since they only bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, I would recommend using something that doesn’t need a lot of cooking time (fresh apples would need a lot of time to soften). I used a can of pears, well drained and chopped. You could use any canned fruit, apple butter, strawberry preserves, Nutella, whatever you like!
1 pkg. puffed pastry (thawed)
1 can of pears (drained and chopped)
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 T. corn starch
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with foil and lightly spray with non stick spray. In a small mixing bowl, combine pears, 3 T. sugar, corn starch and cinnamon, stir to combine. Carefully unfold one sheet of puffed pastry and lay on your counter top. Spoon 6 small mounds of pear filling about one inch from the edges and two inches from the next mound (we used a slotted spoon to scoop out the filling since it was still a little juicy!). Mix together the egg with a touch of water to make an egg wash. Brush the egg wash around the filling, then lay the second sheet of puffed pasty on top. Carefully press the pastry around your filling. Using a biscuit cutter, circle cookie cutter or small glass, cut out your 6 little pies and place them on your cookie sheet. Brush the tops of the pies with your egg wash and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden.
My regular stock of canned goods in the pantry always includes a couple cans of salmon. This is a recipe that my mother would make when I was growing up. It is so easy and delicious that I now make it for my family. Most seafood “cakes” are fried, but this one I bake in the oven, so it is not only tasty but super healthy. If you have a hard time getting your kids to eat any fish, try this recipe! When my mother made them, she called them salmon croquets. I have always called them cakes because anything with the word cake in it has my kids sold! You can even make them in nugget size for fun dipping and eating! Salmon cakes are a stand by winner in my house!
2 cans of salmon (drained)
2 cups of italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 roasted red pepper chopped
1 handful of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
salt and papper to taste
2 tsp. old bay seasoning
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and lightly spray with non-stick spray. In a large mixing bowl, place all of your ingredients. Then using your hands, mix all together. Make about 6-8 patties (depending on the size you like) and place them onto your prepared cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. Serve with your sauce of choice, ketchup or tartar sauce are my favorites!
I read a recipe recently, for a spinach and tofu dish with a peanut sauce. I love anything with peanut butter and I cook with tofu a lot, so I thought I might try it. Last night I got out my tofu, peanut butter and spinach and then realized I wanted to take this dinner in a totally different direction then the recipe was going. I ended up making a curry with a spicy peanut sauce and it was amazing!!! I am kind of known for not making the same dinner twice, but this one will be made multiple times for sure!
Spinach and Tofu Curry
10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach (defrosted and drained)
4 cloves of garlic minced
2 inches of grated fresh ginger
1 14 oz. pkg. extra firm tofu (chop into bite size pieces)
1 yellow onion diced
1 cup of vegetable stock
4 T. green curry paste
4 T. olive oil
2 cups of brown rice cooked
4 T. peanut butter
3 T. tamari sauce
3-4 T. hot water
1 T. agave nectar
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
In a large saute pan over medium high heat, drizzle in your olive oil and start cooking your onion with a couple pinches of salt. When your onion is soft, add in your tofu, garlic and ginger, continue to cook for about 4-5 minutes, stirring to slightly brown your tofu. Then add in your spinach, vegetable stock and green curry paste. Be sure to stir in your curry paste well with the vegetable stock. In a small bowl add all of your peanut sauce ingredients and mix together well. I served the Spinach Tofu Curry over brown rice and drizzled the Peanut Sauce over the top. I was a happy girl eating two full plates!
Who doesn’t love a risotto? Don’t be intimidated by its fancy name or by the fact that you need to stir this dish a lot while cooking. It’s just rice, its not hard!! Rice is a starchy food, the shorter the grain of rice, the more starch it contains. The arborio rice in risotto is super short so it produces a lot of starch that becomes rich an creamy when cooked with stock. You can make the following recipe with just about any ingredient being the star of the dish. I chose a blend of mushrooms, but risotto is delicious with asparagus, peas, roasted butternut squash, you name it, it can be substituted in this classic Italian dish.
4T. olive oil
1 yellow onion diced
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
salt and pepper
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups of arborio rice
6 cups vegetable stock
4 oz. of mushrooms (blend of shitake, oyster, and portabellas)
4 T. heavy cream
1 cup of chopped flat leaf parsley
In a large pot over medium heat, add your olive oil, onions, garlic, salt and italian seasoning. Cook the onion, while stirring until soft, then add your mushrooms and rice. Stir the rice in well with the herbs and onions, add the white wine. Keep stirring until most of the liquid is absorbed, then add in 1 cup of stock. Keep stirring the rice and adding another cup of stock each time that it is all absorbed until gone. Your finished rice should have a “pudding” like consistency, if it seems too thick just add a bit more stock. Add salt and pepper to taste. When risotto is done, stir in heavy cream and chopped parsley. Top each serving with a small handful of smoked gouda cheese.
Sundays schedule for the day included another pot luck! This one was at a park and was a picnic pot luck. So, I knew I needed a recipe that would be good sitting outside in the heat for a bit. I decided to bring a side dish of pasta salad. It would be the perfect accompaniment to a roast chicken or some pressed panini sandwiches to make a meal out of it! I got rave reviews from everyone at the picnic!!
Spring Pasta Salad
1 bunch of asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into bite size pieces
3 Belgen endive, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red onion diced
3/4 cup of defrosted frozen peas
1/2 of large yellow bell pepper diced
4T. fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1T. dijion mustard
salt/pepper to taste
1 tsp. dried tarragon (fresh if you got it!)
1 lb. farfalle pasta
Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook pasta until tender. Before draining your pasta, add your asparagus into the boiling water to cook for 2 minutes. Drain the pasta and asparagus in a colander, then rinse with cold water to cool the pasta. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, tarragon, and dijon mustard. Stir in your prepped veggies and the cooked pasta into the large mixing bowl to coat with your dressing. Lastly stir in a couple handfuls of finely grated parmesan cheese.