12.28.2011

Six Months with Caroline LiYun

Post here on new blog. Don't forget to change your link! :)

12.23.2011

New Blog...and a Giveaway!

My new blog is done! You can now follow us at www.gazingupward.com. Isn't that easy to remember? :)


And to celebrate Christmas, the new site, and all of you devoted readers, I'm hosting a giveaway with a chance to be one of three winners! Click here to go to the new blog so you can find out how to enter.

I'd like to thank my sweet and talented friend, Caitlin VanHorn of Lark Creatif, for designing the new blog header. And thanks to Jonathan Stovall of Up Late I Create for building the site and transferring all the content on this blog over to the new one. I'm definitely not tech-savvy enough for that project.


Warm wishes for a joyous Christmas and holiday season!

12.19.2011

Key Lime and Raspberry Dessert


While spending Thanksgiving with my inlaws, I was flipping through some of their Christmas magazines and discovered a dessert recipe that not only looked delicious but also looked perfect for the holidays. The Key Lime and Raspberry Dessert was such a hit at a party that I have made it three times since. It's an especially great recipe for this time of the year when so many foods are rich and cheesy. The lightness of the pie and the tartness of the raspberries create a refreshing contrast in taste to all of the heavy hors d'oeuvres. Enjoy!
Key Lime and Raspberry Dessert
Makes 1 (9-inch) dessert

Crust:
2 cups firmly packed graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted (I found that using 8 tbsp helped the crust hold together better)

Filling:
1/4 cup cold water
1 (.25-ounce) envelope unflavored gelatin
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup Key lime juice
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons Key lime or lime zest (it takes about one lime per tbsp)
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
2 pints fresh raspberries
1/4 cup seedless raspberry preserves, melted
Garnish: white chocolate curls, lime zest, fresh mint

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. In a small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, 1/3 cup sugar, and melted butter. Press firmly on bottom and halfway up sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 8 minutes; set aside to cool.
3. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine water and gelatin; let stand for 2 minutes. Microwave on high for 30 seconds, or until dissolved; set aside to cool slightly.
4. In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, Key lime juice, butter, and lime zest. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add confectioners' sugar, beating until combined.
5. In a separate bowl, beat cream at high speed until soft peaks form. Best in dissolved gelatin until stiff peaks form. Fold together the cream cheese mixture and the whipped cream mixture until well combined. Evenly spread cream cheese mixture over bottom of prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 4 hours.
6. To serve, remove plastic wrap, and run a knife around edge of pan. Carefully unlatch ring of springform pan, and remove. Arrange raspberries on top of cream cheese mixture. Brush top of raspberries with melted raspberry preserves. Garnish with white chocolate curls and lime zest, if desired. (I use a carrot peeler on a block of white chocolate to make the curls.)

-Southern Lady magazine, Holiday 2011 edition


12.12.2011

How do you measure His faithfulness?

I have a dear friend who is striving to dig deeper in her faith...to figure out what she really believes and why she believes it. In the process, she is struggling with the ever-perplexing topic of prayer. After sharing some examples of conversations, I could completely understand why.

You see, in general, our culture has strayed from a biblical perspective on prayer. We've left behind prayer as an opportunity for worship and gratitude to the Lord and whittled the discipline down to supplication alone. In both the Old and New Testaments, God calls us to pray. Often He calls for us to "stand in the gap" and pray on behalf of others. Intercessory prayer is one of the most precious God-given opportunities to take part in His great work on earth. However, I think we've missed that God most often uses prayer to change and mold our hearts, minds, motives, and desires. Because of our genie-in-a-bottle mentality, we expect God to demonstrate His love and faithfulness through answering our requests. This "name it and claim it" approach is not new but seems to be growing subtlely in practice and popularity. (I can go into how this approach evolved from misinterpretation of several Scriptures, but then this post will become too long. Email me or comment if you want me to elaborate and explain.) Let me illustrate the problems this mentality and approach cause.

A particular FB thread shared the concern of a new mother whose baby may have some medical issues. Responses included promises that the baby would be healed because God is faithful, a statement to go and receive God's blessing of healing and that the infant would be healed, and celebration of what the doctor will tell them tomorrow at their appointment (predicting positive news.) There are some major issues here. First of all, they are giving this woman false hope. They are claiming to believe that they know best by saying that the baby will be healed. What if healing is not God's plan for this sweet infant? What if He plans to accomplish amazing things through the medical trials of the child and his parents? And is God only faithful if He heals? That seems to be the message implied.

I'll be honest in sharing that this thriving baby inside my womb has given me reason to celebrate and praise God. I feel loved because He blessed us with this miracle. And many have commented on God's faithfulness because He has sustained this pregnancy. However, would He be any less faithful if I had miscarried? Would I be any less loved if He had allowed this baby to join Him in heaven? Did He perhaps demonstrate His love and faithfulness to me even more by carrying me through our previous losses?

The truth is that God is faithful. Period. He is faithful through the good and the bad. When He answers our personal prayers, He is not any more faithful or loving than when He reveals a different path or plan. When He allows a tiny struggling infant or a cancer-stricken victim to pass away rather than be healed, He is not any less faithful or compassionate. As long as we're residents on this fallen earth, we will not understand the magnitude and scope of His purposes and plans for our lives. As singer Babbie Mason wrote in one of her songs, "When you can't trace His hand, trust His heart." Remember who God is and trust His ability to lead us through the valleys. Some of the most mature and godly Christians I know say that they grew most in their faith and experienced God most intimately when in the midst of devastating circumstances.

I don't mean to sound so negative. There is much power in prayer. By all means, people should be praying for this particular family. Praying for the baby's healing is one request. Praying for peace, wisdom, strength, emotional stability, connectedness for the husband and wife during the wait, a feeling of God's presence, determination to trust Him no matter the outcome, wisdom for the doctor...these are all requests that can be lifted up to God's hearing ears. But we MUST not forget that, as Jesus taught us to pray, we ultimately ask for God's perfect will to prevail. And we must be careful what we say to others. We absolutely do not have the authority to make promises on God's behalf. And while healing is a miracle that will no doubt bring glory to God, potential bad news tomorrow is just as much an opportunity for God to reveal Himself.

The largest problem with comments such as I shared above is that a crisis of faith can result when circumstances don't end up as we believe they should. If we claim that someone will receive healing because God is faithful, what does this say about our faith and our Lord when He doesn't choose to heal? Do you see how damaging this can be for a young believer or a curious seeker?

So my question tonight is, "How do you measure His faithfulness?" Suppress the Sunday school answer that's popping into your mind and dig deeper into your heart. What do you really believe? I unknowingly struggled with this very issue a couple years ago (read post "A Beautiful Mess" for more details), so I now know that our hearts can harbor convictions that are contrary to what our minds "believe."

I think it's so important to encourage each other by sharing our own experiences of God's faithfulness, particularly during past times of hardship. I know my readers air on the private side given my ratio of emails to comments, but I ask that you please consider publicly sharing a brief experience in your own life of when and how God was faithful, through prayers answered to our satisfaction and through realizations that His plans were above ours. When outcomes didn't fit your expectations, how did God become more real to you? I pray our testimonies will bring glory to God and hope to those who may be enduring dark moments.

12.10.2011

Why I Love Having a Teenage Daughter

If you know me well, it's been no secret that the past few weeks have been challenging.

Pregnancy hormones raging.
Constant fatigue.
Carter awaking at 4 am each morning (part of his manic cycles).
Tough discussions with Caroline and her teachers to get her on track.
Trying to encourage and support Scott in his big trial (and biggest case yet).
Essentially being a single mom for several weeks now.
And striving to make Caroline's first Christmas season in our family a special one even though we're not all together.

Most of you moms know that you don't begin a new day refreshed unless you've had time to actually be refreshed. The frustrations, impatience, and self-control in the midst of defiance or chaotic behavior eventually build and compound internally over the days and weeks until you suddenly find your blood boiling and your temper raging in just a matter of seconds.

This morning was such a time as that. Now, I had some good reasons to be angry. But I did not have an excuse for flying off the handle as I did.

A couple of hours later, we were driving to my inlaws so they could keep the little ones while I took Caroline shopping for a few things. When we parked, she leaned forward and asked, "Mommy, are you okay?" I explained why I was struggling (and added in how pregnancy hormones don't help!). And with sensitivity and compassion, she responded, "I know you want to cry."

Boy did my eyes well up with tears then! She got it. With two active and curious toddlers, it was so refreshing to have a (young) adult with whom I could share and converse. To have someone who understood me. Our lunch and shopping excursion were so pleasant that I found myself in a more cheerful mood within minutes.

While I have many exasperating moments with my teenager, I also have many times when I am so thankful to have her in our home. She is so helpful with the little ones. (She even changed Grace's diaper tonight for the first time.) And she takes initiative to keep them in line. She is the reason why I've been able to venture out with all 3 kids this Christmas season on different excursions (as a solo parent) with confidence and peace.

I am not proud of the way I reacted this morning. My parenting goal is to always respond with a firm but calm temperament. And I'm not sure how I feel about seeming so weak to my teenage daughter. But maybe my vulnerability will allow Caroline to feel more freedom to share her emotions.

Tonight should be a relatively calm evening. Carter requested that we all put on cozy pajamas, sit on the couch, and watch a movie. So we're watching "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," one of Carter's favorites. Maybe that green joy-stealer will make me seem tame. :)




12.08.2011

Around our house...

I began this post a month ago, so it's about time I publish it. Here are some updates on the kiddos.

Caroline:
  • She is still enjoying school and earned all A's on her 9-week report card! She's not retaining the information though, so I'm keeping up with all the curriculum so we can review/relearn this summer.
  • We had a few difficult weeks during which I began worrying that she may have attachment disorder. However, after talking with beloved attachment therapist and expert Leigh Ann Harrington, I was assured that Caroline is right where most kids should be at the 4-month mark. Leigh Ann reminded me that it takes much longer than 4 months to build trust, and Caroline doesn't yet have the capacity to love us back the way we hope because she's still enduring so much grief and change .
  • In a wonderful turn, Caroline has been very warm, engaging, and helpful during the last few weeks. I think the Thanksgiving holidays were a turning point because we had so much family time. She seems more content and receptive now. And she even voluntarily helped me stuff and stamp Christmas cards!

Carter:
  • My little boy seems to be growing up. He is at such a delightful age, and he's become very affectionate and thoughtful. My heart melts at each of his impromptu "I love you's."
  • He loves to copy Caroline. If she's sitting at the counter doing homework, he climbs up next to her with his own notepad and pen. If she writes, he writes. If she reads, he reads. If she hops up for a bathroom break, so does Carter.
  • He may become our little orphan advocate. At least a few times a week, he proclaims that he's leaving for China to get Grant (simply a name we like that he's picked up on). The age of "Grant" changes, but Carter always explains that he's a boy who doesn't have a mommy or daddy. Oh how my heart melts that Carter longs to be a brother to an orphan!
  • Carter told Scott one morning that he wasn't scared because he was a superhero. The next day, he was pitching a fit and whining. So in a strategic parenting tactic (so I thought), I told him that superheroes don't whine or fuss. I fully expected him to straighten up and run for his cape. But to my astonishment, Carter claimed in defiance, "Well I guess I'm not a superhero after all."

Grace:
  • Grace has really gotten into board games and loves to play Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders.
  • She asks to watch her adoption video at least once a week. And she'll often say to me or to others, "I was a baby and my mommy and daddy came to get me in China!"
  • She likes to be right by my side whenever I'm getting ready. So she has been watching me give myself shots every day for my pregnancy. She helps by counting to 3. However, sometimes I chicken out and take a few more minutes to actually perform the injection. One morning, I was feeling particularly whimpy. And this is how Grace's dialogue went: "One....two....three!! One.......two........THREE!! One...two...three....four....FIVE!!!!" (slight pause).... POKE IT!!!!!!!" (in a loud and exasperated voice) Scott and I were so tickled that we've replayed this scene almost every day since.
Baby:
  • Baby #4 is almost 13 weeks! In our last ultrasound, he/she was literally doing somersaults. Last week was my last appointment with our specialist because they've released me to my normal obgyn (whom we love!). It's an exciting milestone, but I'll sure miss my weekly ultrasounds.

12.06.2011

Looking for Land?

Calling all Birmingham folks!!

With the craziness of our growing family, we've made the decision to stay put in our current home (and possibly add on) and sell our beloved lot. If you're interested in a beautiful lot (with a partial view of the mountains!) in Vestavia, leave me a comment with contact info or email me for details.

Just a few great advantages....it's zoned for Vestavia East Elementary. You can bring your own builder if you so desire. And the lot is already flat and perfect for building (unlike some other area lots that are hilly/rocky and would have to be leveled and prepared before you could even start.)

Please pass along the word to anyone interested!! Thanks!

12.01.2011

Candid with an "A"

I've been working on this post for weeks. This may be alot of info to read, but I really want to share it in case it helps someone else. Since being diagnosed, I've found two other women who also have my condition. And my friend Andrea and I have marveled at the likeness of our symptoms. Both of our homeopathic doctors pretty much gave us the same diagnosis. She has been able to visit a rheumatologist, and you can read that info here. We're assuming a rheumatologist will give me the same info.

As I've mentioned in a few posts, I've had some health issues over the last few months. Actually, the issues have been going on for several years. But no doctor could piece my symptoms together into a diagnosis. A brief recap of the last few years....we discovered through visiting a GI, rheumatologist, general practitioner, and homeopatic doctor that I had developed a high gluten intolerance, adrenal gland fatigue, and random occurrences of blue hands (suggested to be Reynaud's Phenomenon). I am embarrassed to admit that I ignored the gluten intolerance because I didn't think I ate that much wheat.

Well, fast forward to summer and fall 2011. In an effort please Caroline's palate, I was making all sorts of asian noodle dishes. And I was eating them too. And within a month, I could tell that something was not right. My immune system seemed to be shutting down. Scott and I even thought I might have lupus. Here are just a few of the symptoms I experienced:
  • bloating and digestive problems
  • mouth ulcers called "thrush"
  • yeast infections that would not respond to treatment (often one of the last symptoms to appear)
  • puffy eyes and eye infections
  • chronic fatigue that was worse than ever
  • sadness and depression (which had surfaced in May)
  • joint pain
  • peeling nails
  • brain fog
  • memory problems
  • unexplained weight gain (due to underactive thyroid)
  • various other issues that would pop up
I couldn't get into the rheumatologist without seeing my general doctor first (which I didn't have time to do). In the meantime, I got an appointment with a highly recommended Christian homeopathic doctor (Dee Baudoin) who scans your body with a hand cradle scan that sends data to a computer. She was the first person in years to put all of my symptoms together into one diagnosis. I knew it all had to be connected!

The conclusion? I have a severe form of candida albicans called candidiasis...essentially an auto-immune disease. All men and women have candida albicans (yeast) naturally in their body. Sometimes it gets out of balance and you might develop a yeast infection or thrush (happens alot when nursing babies.) However, sometimes the yeast can begin growing too rapidly and begin causing major problems .Growing mostly in your intestinal track, it can trigger food intolerances, most commonly to gluten. As your body begins failing to properly digest the gluten, it ferments into toxins, causes microscopic tears in your intestinal linining, and leaks out to your body (nicknamed "leaky gut"). The main toxin is akin to formaldehyde and is the toxin that decomposes bodies after death. So essentially, your body begins breaking itself down! Hence the immune issues. Candidiasis, if left untreated, can lead to multiple organ failure, and is detrimental for people who already suffer immune issues (such as HIV patients, etc.)

How does this disease develop? It can happen after pregnancies, extreme diets, bites from ticks or insects (lyme disease), overuse of prescription antibiotics, diabetes, birth control use, etc. There has also been a connection to previous users of Acutane.

Many doctors are not educated about candidiasis or how to diagnosis it, mainly because there is no pharmaceutical drug to treat it. And medical research is driven by pharmaceutical companies. However, our obgyn specialist said that there are some theories that candida is the root of many diseases since it causes the immune system to be so vulnerable.

How to cure it? Unfortunately, this is the tough part. You can take anti-fungal antibiotics for a time. But in order to get rid of the yeast overgrowth, you literally have to starve it. So here is the list of items you must cut from your diet:
  • gluten
  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • fruit
  • sugar
  • dairy
So you CAN eat meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds. But of these, you can't have:
  • potatoes, carrots, mushrooms,
  • peanuts or peanut butter
  • cured or smoked meats or deli meat
In other words, I am starving!! And as you can imagine, it is doubly hard to eat from this limited menu when I have pregnancy cravings and aversions. Sometimes broccoli and hummus just don't cut it. On the occasions when I have cheated, I have a yeast infection within FOUR hours (and this is an ailment I've never struggled with before) and often experience other consequences as well. Pregnancy hormones actually encourage growth of yeast, so that's one strike against my healing. I am still in awe that this baby is thriving in my toxic wasteland of a body!

Here are a few links if you want more info. Many individuals feel like hypochondriacs because they experience such a vast array of symptoms. If what I've written about here sounds familiar, if numerous doctors' visits have proven no answers or relief, rest assured that you're not crazy! And there's something you can do about it.
Links:

So this is probably WAY more info than you ever wanted to know about me. But based on my reading and research, there are tons of women (and even men) who suffer from this disease and don't know about it. Feel free to email me if you want to discuss more. I've been discovering lots of great gluten-free products and recipes and would be happy to share!

11.24.2011

From My Turkeys to Yours...


Happy Thanksgiving!!
My mom's side of the family was at the lake yesterday. And maintaining tradition from years past, the youngest kiddos presented a show (with the help and direction of my super talented cousin, Ashley).
"Two cute turkeys are we...."
"We slept all night in a tree."
"When the cooks came around, we couldn't be found."
"And that's how we're here you see!"
Carter and Grace performing with my cousin's kids, Cece and Graham.


Wishing you a joyful, relaxing, and reflective Thanksgiving holiday!

11.20.2011

Caroline LiYun's Adoption Video


It's done!! Here is the link to Vimeo if you want to watch the video on a larger scale.

You can also click on the 4 arrows button above to take the video fullscreen. However, it gets fuzzy since I didn't upload it in HD.

Caroline's 13th bday party!

Our 2nd party yesterday (see previous 2 posts for details) was Caroline's celebration of her 13th birthday. We invited the girls in her school class and a few other friends. Since I knew they wouldn't be able to converse much, we held the party at a local Sips n Strokes. Caroline selected a dandelion painting, and the instructor guided them through the painting process. I had forgotten how rowdy and hyper a group of 10 to 12-year-old girls can be in a large group!! But they had a great time. Since Caroline isn't affectionate with us at home (only with the littles), it was neat to see her walk forward and greet each friend with a smile and hug. She seems to have that gift for making every person feel so important and welcome.











11.19.2011

Grace's Sweet Shoppe in Candyland

Sweet Grace is turning 3 next week!!



This awesome mural was painted by my friend's MIL last year when she threw a Candyland party for her twin girls. I was thrilled she let us borrow it!




The kids decorated gingerbread men. This was Grace's finished work.

My MIL made one of these candy decorative trees for every child!


The Candy Buffet