Friday, October 26, 2007

Army Family Covenant

Emma and I attended the "historic"? Army Family Covenant signing. We're sharing a reading moment.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

baby steps toward health

Just a comment about the last post. I don't really feel unsafe, not here in America - even with a bunch of kids roaming the neighborhood breaking into vehicles. This is still America, where I don't have to worry about people shooting at me, or being arrested for no reason. This is not Iraq or Afghanistan. Safety here is not an illusion, not where we live.

OK, but this post I wanted to write a little bit about my goals towards healthy eating for my family. Maybe I should call this post baby steps toward health, or something like it. For me, it's been a slow process. Tracy and I started thinking more about nutrition when we started having kids. I think it's something parents worry about. Are you feeding your kid the right foods so they can grow up healthy and strong? Pretty basic. When we moved to Austin, this was a frequent topic of conversation among us new moms. One of my friends spent a lot of time researching health, eating, and non-traditional healing. I was totally fascinated, and loved asking her about the interesting things she was doing (from a grinding her own flour, to her wonderful garden - hi Brooke!). She inspired me to take a closer look at what I was feeding my family (and what products I used to clean the house, too). Maybe a more natural way would be better?
The more I thought about nutrition, the more it all came down to "you are what you eat" for me. Did I want the bulk of my nutrition to come from bleached white flour, shortening and processed sugar; or did I want to focus on more healthy building blocks and more natural food. Anyway, I have focused on making some gradual changes in my family's diet that I think have been some good baby steps. If you aren't interested, too bad. It's my blog:)

Here's what we have done.
1. Made the switch to whole grains.
Bread is easy, I also look for whole wheat hamburger and hotdog buns, use whole grain side dishes (we switched to brown rice, but I also like the boxed rice and Whole Grain blends from Near East). We even have tried multiple varieties of whole grain pasta. My kids surprisingly, put up with the chewy, nutty texture of whole wheat macaroni better than I do. I prefer Ronzoni Healthy Harvest whole wheat blend pasta (these are great, you can't taste the difference). That's what we do eat. We don't eat a lot of processed baked goods that are another source of bleached enriched white flour. I'll talk more about this later on. I think it's one way to look at maintaining a healthy weight, too.

2. Started eliminating hydrogenated oils, as much as possible. This means reading labels, and occasionally going for organic foods. The only two foods that I haven't found convenient non-hydrogenated substitues for are peanut butter (I hate the mess of having to stir the organic stuff up after the oil separates from the peanuts. But, we do buy the Simply Jiff reduced sugar and sodium variety); and graham crackers. My husband and boys love graham crackers and the organic types I've tried taste like cardboard. I also have a few favorite recipes that call for cool whip. Oh well, we aren't perfect.

3. Started eliminating foods with artificial colors and flavors, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, and gratuitous sugar. With TJ and his ADHD, I've tried to minimize his exposure to these. I don't see much difference in his inattention, but I think a diet that sticks to natural foods helps to keep him more even keel behaviorally. This can be a tough call when it comes to purchasing snack foods. We end up eating a lot of real granola bars (not the chocolate candy coated ones). We like Cascadian Farms organic chewy chocoloate chip and Nature Valley regular old crunchy granola bars. We steer clear from most fruit snacks and fruit rolls, except for FruitaBu - organic fruit roll ups. Those are great. Target also has some organic fruit leather snacks too. Oh, I do buy pudding for the kids - I figure it has milk in it:). The kids and I actually prefer some organic cookies (which are still cookies, still not whole wheat flour, so we go easy on them) Back to Nature (oreos and chocolate chips). Excellent! We even find some popsicles that have natural colors and flavors. For canned soup I purchase Healthy Choice (no MSG). We try to eat lower sugar, whole grain cereals. I tried switching over to totally organic, but the kids rebelled. So we try to do lower sugar, whole grain varieties. They do like Kix & Kashi Autumn Wheat (like shredded wheat, both with no preservatives), and my favorite is Kashi orchard Spice granola. Yum. My kids really like real oatmeal too, if I have the time. I splurge and buy only real maple syrup. I don't think I can ever go back to the fake stuff now! For crackers we buy the Back to Nature wheat thins (which are better than the original, but still with white flour), triscuits, and my new favorites are the All-Bran multi grain crackers.

4. Drink more milk and water, juice sparingly (and the 100% variety, for kids recommended only one serving daily). I have heard so many good things about cranberry juice for women that I try to make it part of my routine (right now my favorite is a cranberry blueberry 100% juice blend). Be careful, most cranberry juice is cranberry cocktail - cranberry juice with lots of high fructose corn syrup. Read the labels. My kids and I don't drink much soda. I don't buy it (except for my husband, who loves his Cokes). Since I am becoming pretty lactose intolerant, we tried some soy milk. The kids and I love Silk Chocolate soy milk. I eat it on my cereal in the morning. The day is usually brighter with a bit of chocolate.

5. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes I put the veggies out on the table before dinner is ready, when the kids are hungry and want to snack. It works well!

6. Reduce amount of meat, eat more fish, more vegetarian dishes. All of my kids will now (frequently but not all the time) eat Salmon! I'm so excited! Often if I am fixing a dish with meat, I try to use less than the recipe calls for. Or I'll do a stir fry or a stew that has meat, but not a huge serving of it. We even experimented with tofu this summer after trying it at my brother and sister-in-law's home. TJ loves it, but the younger kids aren't so sure. I sliced it and fried it in canola oil, then tossed it in with some boxed asian noodles and veggies. Very yummy.

Anyway, those are our baby steps toward a more healthy diet. We break rules often, but at least we have some shopping parameters and goals! I wish I could say that we have broken our hold on sugar and chocolate, but alas, it is not to be. We are die hard chocolate fans here. We just try for moderation....
Also, Nathan is my pickiest eater - he often isn't interested in the funky healthy foods I make, and would just rather have a hot dog and apple sauce. So, I fix him an Oscar Meyer beef hot dog (fewer artificial colors and flavors), on a whole wheat bun with a good dose of ketchup (hey, it's tomato based!) with unsweetened applesauce, and call it good. You can't win em all.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Illusions of safety

Well, we've had an interesting few weeks. Just as I thought we would survive this deployment with only minor scrapes (and 2 new appliances)......

So it was Monday, the Monday that started the week that Tracy would come home. I was busy making preparations for his homecoming, getting my hair done, organizing the house, etc. The school nurse called me to tell me that Nathan had fallen at school and broken his arm. I was luckily around the corner from the school, at a playdate with Emma and one of her friends. Poor Nathan was in bad shape. He was pale, still, moaning quietly. His arm was obviously broken - a little u shape in his wrist. He started to go into shock when we tried to move him, so we had to transport him to the hospital via ambulance. Oh the timing! It was pretty dramatic. By the time we had finished that day, we found out he had broken 3 bones (radius, ulna, and humerous), one was displaced. The orthopedist put him in a temporary (but hard plaster) cast, with instructions to follow up in two days. We did, still he delayed putting on a new cast (it would have been very painful, fracture was pretty unstable). We were to be seen the following Monday. Since we were going to be in Kansas that day, we were given a referral to take to the hospital there. Yeah, good luck with that. I called to warn them we were coming. "I'm sorry m'am, but you aren't in our system, and we don't have any available appointments." I called the rear detachment there at Fort Riley for help. I called Tricare. I spent at least 2 hours on the phone trying to get something worked out. "M'am, we need Tricare North to fax us an authorization for care, or we can't treat him." "M'am, we need a referral from your primary care provider." "M'am, we need the name and contact information of the treating physician before we can send a referral." I got nothing but run around. In the meantime, I was hysterical by the time Tracy actually was released after his homecoming ceremony (a day later than we had planned, and on the Monday Nathan was supposed to be seen.) After fighting with insurance companies all morning, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, and did some combination of the both. Anyway by the time we made it back home and had him seen by the doctor here, the fracture had slipped. Poor Nathan waited in the hospital all that day for the breakfast I had fed him to clear his system so the doctor could set the arm surgically (now 2 weeks after the initial break). Later that week, he finally had a permanent cast on the arm. He missed 3 weeks of school.
It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a kid as healthy as Nathan should not have sustained such a severe injury on his school playground. Nathan drinks milk all the time. He is strong from his gymnastics and soccer, and he is thin. His body can withstand a lot. It couldn't withstand about an 8 foot drop from the monkey bars onto hard dirt. The school nurse told me he was the 3rd kid so far this year to break an arm on those monkey bars. Hello, he was injured in September. Can you say problem? The school teachers and nurse have been great. They love him, they were concerned. But I don't think their playground is safe. You know, it is so hard to see your kids hurting at any time. I think the context of the situation made it worse for me. This didn't have to happen. He didn't have to get hurt. If the playground had been maintained properly, with something to cushion his fall - I'm convinced it wouldn't have been so bad. And, if he had received the treatment he needed at Ft. Riley, maybe he wouldn't have even had to undergo surgery. I have been so angry I've been nearly out of my head! It took about 10 days from the initial injury before Nathan would move that arm away from his body at all. I'm concerned that he also injured his shoulder, although it was never evaluated. All for nothing. In the mean time, our reunion was severely disrupted, as were our vacation plans (hotel with an indoor waterpark). He missed 3 weeks of school, the entire rest of his soccer season, and maybe out of gymnastics semi-permanently (since we are moving after Christmas). His whole life has been disrupted.
So, last week, as we were outside cleaning off the back porch, we noticed that two of our window screens had been adjusted, and both window locks were broken. Someone tried to break into our house. As we checked around, we heard about several cars in the neighborhood that had been burglarized. When we returned today, our Trooper door was open, and there had been several more burglarized cars. Our neighborhood has always been quiet. There are almost never any loud parties, no one speeds through, no MPs called out to break up any family fights. This is one of the most peaceful neighborhoods on post. It's so peaceful here, it's downright idyllic. The large common background area is usually full of kids. The large trees provide shade for even the warmest summer days. We congregate in the backyard - around our patio fireplaces, roasting marshmallows in the evening. This yard, these neighbors - they have been our safe haven and safety net this past year.

I guess it's no wonder I've had some trouble sleeping, and even a nightmare or two. As a parent, I work so hard to keep my kids safe, to minimize risk. With all my work and vigilance, Nathan was still was hurt. And for all the safety that I feel here, in our neighborhood, surrounded by our friends, My family is still vulnerable.

So, today I also heard the news that a friend's daughter was diagnosed this week with a severe, inoperable brain tumor. I can't imagine hearing much worse news than this. Compared to this, a broken but healing arm is hardly worth mentioning (though i managed several paragraphs). Compared to this, what's the loss of a stereo? Talk about a good dose of perspective.

I do want to comment about the whole safety issue, because the ideas have been related to the deployment as well. Here are my observations.
1. Our physical safety is probably an illusion. Who can predict what might happen to us, or to someone we love, or when? I do actually believe that living good clean lives and praying a lot do help keep us safe. Though I think God may have some plans for us that we aren't aware of. And afterall, we are mortal.
2. Threats to our safety and stability (these stressors that make us want to dig in, secure the neighborhood, keep our kids within arm's length) are real. They have real impact on children and adults. My boys, who should be sleeping soundly, are suddenly worried and afraid to go to sleep. I understood this when dad was deployed, but now that he is home, they should be better. They aren't. I should be able to talk to my friends without endlessly rehashing all the trauma. I should be glad to send Nathan back to school, not paranoid I'll get another call from the nurse. I'm not there yet. Deployment was basically an exercise in dealing with constant threats to our family's safety and stability. If I didn't hear from Tracy for a day or two, I started panicking. When he deployed to Baghdad, that was a good 3-4 months of additional stress. And we had it easy. We have friends who haven't been so lucky, whose husbands are deployed in dangerous parts of the middle east, constantly in harm's way. How they function daily is astounding to me. As I've been talking with some of the local school staff, one complaint from teachers and principals has been a handful of families who have trouble sending their kids to school. The parent is deployed, and the non-deployed parent is so stressed and worried they do not regularly keep the kids in school. After this past month, I am starting to understand this kind of thinking better. Sometimes you are so worried and feel so unsafe you go into crisis mode. You keep everyone at home where you know nothing bad will happen to them. Is that the correct response? The school doesn't think so. I'm sure the routine of school is the best place for kids, but I can sure empathize with the parent.

So now I'm going to go start of some socks for my friend's baby, and plan the meal I'm taking to them next week. I'll do yoga and deep breathing. I'll send my kids to school praying they will return safe and sound. I'll have faith that they will be protected, even though I know God may have other plans for them. And I'll hug and kiss them a bit more often. Who would blame me?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Surviving deployment

First of all, thanks to friends and family for reading and commenting. It's such a treat to read your kind thoughts! Miss you all!

I'm appologizing in advance for this (and probably several future) post(s). It will probably be of no help to anyone but me. I do enough speaking about the effects of deployment on families and children, that I thought I would take some time to consolidate my thoughts while they are still fresh. So, this post is about what I've learned from deployment '06-'07.

This post has several subtitles:
You can never have too many friends (and family!),
Find out who your friends are,
Walking the tightrope

As independent as I am, I could never have survived the responsibility of raising three kids on my own without help. There are just too many things that go awry. There are meetings that I wouldn't have been able to attend without someone to watch the kids. Football, soccer, and baseball games and practices on opposite sides of post at the same time; sick kids, doctor's appointments, Nathan's broken arm (and the resulting 5 hour hospital stay). Beyond just the needed help with the kids, my friends and family were there to send me books, to relate to what I was experiencing, to offer support and prayers. What would I have done without you? Lately I've been thinking about my support systems as a giant, many-layered safety net, with each friend or family member making up a spoke or square in the pattern. The wider and stronger the net and its connections, the more stability and safety it provides for me and my family. The less likely I am to go mad from loneliness or even hurt my kids (there's a new study out talking about deployment and an increased risk for child abuse). Of course, I can talk about this NOW, at the end of the deployment. You'd think I would have learned the first time that it is so much easier to walk the deployment tightrope if you are confident of a strong safety net to catch you when you fall. Some lessons are hard to learn, or unlearn, if you like. I think I have persisted in my 2 year old wisdom - "I can do it myself!" to the point of stupidity. Even at the beginning of this past deployment, when I should have known better, I insisted in trying to load and unload my new dryer without enlisting the help of any strong male neighbors. It was not until I had the thing loaded in my SUV, sitting in my driveway that I knew I was in over my head. I ran up to my neighbor, Hank, desperate for someone to bail me out. Hank wasn't home, but his wife Becky was. She was the one to help me unload the dryer, move out the old one, and hook up the new one. Who'd have thought this very gentle, Southern lady (who always had hair and makeup done to perfection) was so handy with a wrench? It was the first of many revelations that showed me not only how I couldn't do everthing by myself, but that I was surrounded by people who were happy to help.
A common topic for discussion at church is service - giving service, receiving service. Not only is it nicer to give than to recieve, it is easier. It's easier to be the one to make dinner for a family who has just had a baby, than to admit that I am floundering and need some help. Fortunately, deployment provides many opportunities to learn to accept service. The learning curve is a little slow or prolonged (well it was for me due to my own stubbornness). At first I was guilty of the "ledgerbook" ideology. I tried to return babysitting for babysitting, meal for meal, a plate of cookies for a ride to take the car in for service. Soon I found I just couldn't keep up. It seemed that my need for help pretty quickly outpaced my ability to give back. (Now there's a good Relief Society lesson). I was humbled. Really, deployment is a lesson in humility. It becomes quickly apparent where your weaknesses lie. It becomes pretty apparent where you don't measure up. This is where deployment changes you, really marks you so that you are different at the end from the person you started as at the beginning. All those moments of weakness, the times you yell at the kids for no good reason, the times the house is a total disaster and you stay up late reading a novel, the times you aren't emotionally available when the people around you are huring or angry. Those low times for me will not completely be erased from my memory - they'll stick around, my personal deployment scars. But then there are the care packages that arrive in the mail, the neighbor who takes the kids for a whole afternoon, the telephone calls from family and friends. That's when you really come to understand the true meaning of Grace: Undeserved kindness and generosity, love. I found myself singing "you find out who your friends are" a lot. Somehow it's having to go through the low times that really allows you to really experience the love of family and friends. It's the best band-aid in the world. By the end of the deployment, I was able to take the frequent hits to my tightrope stability without so much panic. I knew that no matter what happened, my own safety net would be there to catch me, to wrap around me and comfort me. So when my two younger kids freak out because they don't want to go to TJ's piano lesson, and my neighbor is happy to watch them for me, it's one battle I don't have to fight. A bit of energy saved for the time I will really need it. My family and friends have asked how I did it, how I survived. It's pretty simple, you made me strong.