Neuroplasticity and the human brain in action

Posts tagged ‘Raising Healthy Kids’

Seen and Unseen Progress, Big B

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Big B and Sparkle Swimming

Big B has been making good strides in his development, and this makes his mama very happy. I was beginning to wonder if the meltdowns would ever cease. Finally in week 8, I saw a significant decrease in the drama, which I’m sure was a relief to all of us, especially Big B. Among other things, I have seen him playing more nicely with his younger brother. Where B is normally inclined toward very rough play, I have noticed that he has started to be more gentle. It doesn’t always last very long, but one day I saw him playing imaginatively with Baby Blues for an hour at least, perhaps more. They were pretending to be animals, dogs and big cats, I believe. Rather than pushing his brother around and provoking him to fight, Big B played gently, which is rare for him.

Another random thing he did was to take a big pad of paper and a pen. He sat quiet and still on his bed (another unprecedented behavior for B!) and wrote down all of the letters he knew in the alphabet. Usually writing practice with him is like pulling teeth. But not only did he start writing random letters. At one point he brought me a white folded card he’d retrieved from our stationary box, and written his name on it with a picture of a person on the front. He told me it was a letter for Grandma, and wanted me to put a stamp on it. He did all of this after watching his older sister write a letter then address and stamp it.

In swimming, he also has made a lot of progress. He and Baby Blues were in the same beginner’s swim class. While the latter was obviously uncomfortable in the water, B just took to it like a fish, and fearlessly tried anything the teacher asked of him. One day he was barely learning to dunk his head under, and in a short time he’d learned how to float. Not long after he started swimming around with a pretty decent free stroke that helped him navigate in the 3-foot section of the pool.

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Baby Blues sitting on the stairs, sometimes until someone compels (or bribes) him to take his turn practicing the swim skills.

Moving on to Big B’s Progress Report, I was happy to discover that like Dash, he too had made improvements in all of the developmental tasks he has been working on. It is exciting to see the home improvements! Even more exciting is the discovery of his new skill levels, of which I’ve hitherto been unaware. His coaches have said: “B has improved so much in the Sensory Motor Room! He comes right in and gets right to work! We are very excited about the improvement in his VOR reflexes! He has been working hard in the Cognitive Room! His listening comprehension is great! We are proud of him!”

Among his greatest needs when he started the Brain Balance program in August were Big B’s eyes and eye reflexes. He was still an infant in his vestibulo-ocular reflex, which naturally went to the top of our list of things to work hard on. In the first month, no matter how much we worked on it, we could not get him to execute the eye exercises with great efficacy. He tried his best, and submitted to the process, but no improvement was visible. So when we learned that his VOR had jumped from level 0 out of 15 all the way up to level 5, we were shouting for joy! He’s definitely benefitting from the exercises, and we need to help him to keep working hard. In Optokinetics, he went from a 5 out of 15 to a 6 out of 15. At first he could barely tolerate wearing the visual stimulation glasses. But he’s gotten to where he now can tune out the flashing light, and complete his tasks. His skill level there increased from a 1 out of 7 in August, now up to a level 6! Great progress.

In auditory stimulation (wearing headphones, filtering out only what he is hearing in his left ear) he jumped from  level 1 out of 3 up to a 3! In his auditory processing, he actually exceeded his goal, which was to reach his age level. He went from a 3-year-old level in August now up to the level of an 8-year-old! More great news, and encouragement for his mama.

In touch, he has also improved in all categories. In tactile stimulation (wearing vibrating cuffs around his left arm and left leg, which he has to ignore while doing other tasks), he went from a level 1 out of 8 in August all the way up to a level 7! In fine motor development, he went from a 2-year-old level to that of a 3-year-old. In spinning, he went from a level 3 out of 8 in August, now up to a 6. In proprioception, he went from the level of a 3-year-old to that of a 4-year-old. So still plenty of room for improvement, but he is getting there! Happy Dance!

In synchronization, he has also improved in all three categories. In balance beam work, he progressed from a 3-year-old level to that of a 4-year-old. In gait and aerobics, he has gone from age 2 to age 5 since he started! Working with the interactive metronome, he progressed from age 4 to age 5. In core strength, Big B has improved. In two categories he is up to his age level. In supine/back: he’s gone from age 3 to age 6, so goal accomplished. In prone/stomach he has gone from age 3 to age 4. In lateral/side he has gone from age 3 to age 6, so up to his goal now. In  brachiation/upper-body grip, he has gone from age 3 to age 4.

One of the fun and happy side benefits from enrolling us in Brain Balance is how the nutrition program continues to help us feel better physically, emotionally and spiritually. It feels so good to be healthier, and just brings great peace of mind. My husband has had perpetual acid reflux problems, complicated by an esophageal hernia in the last few years. Ever since we started with the diet change, he’s not had one symptom of either condition, at all! He has lost at least twenty pounds, probably more. I have lost 12 pounds so far, and each of our kids have lost weight as well. In Baby Blues’ and Dash’s cases, that’s not a good thing, so we are trying to pack as many oils into their food, especially Baby’s right now. But for the rest of us, getting trimmer has felt really good. Living the benefits from eating clean is enough to convince us that the lifestyle changes are worth it. Soon we will take a new family picture, and I will put it side-by-side with the last one we took, to see how we have changed. Here are two pictures we took on Memorial Day this year.

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Left to Right: Big B, Daddy Michael, Freckles, Sparkle, Mama Rebecca, Baby Blues, Dash

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I love my Sweetie

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Seen and Unseen Progress: Dash, Weeks 7-8

I just watched a great news clip on Fox Channel 13 news. It aired just a day ago. Our fabulous Brain Balance Center director, Tammy Bingham, shares more about the Brain Balance Centers in Utah, and what the program entails. Take a look, here. And if you are interested in more about Tammy’s journey with her kids, see her blog, Our Brain Balance Journey. It’s a great read!

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All that goes on in our brains is unseen to us, but it affects us profoundly. We daily make decisions in our individual lives that affect us for better or for worse. We invest ourselves in those endeavors which we believe will improve our lives either in the short-term or in the long one. The French economist Bastiat understood this well. He published a brilliant essay in 1848, titled: “What is Seen and What is Not Seen.” One need not be an economist to benefit from his insight. He says among other things:

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There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

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Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.

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The same thing, of course, is true of health and morals. Often, the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits: for example, debauchery, sloth, prodigality. When a man is impressed by the effect that is seen and has not yet learned to discern the effects that are not seen, he indulges in deplorable habits, not only through natural inclination, but deliberately.

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This explains man’s necessarily painful evolution. Ignorance surrounds him at his cradle; therefore, he regulates his acts according to their first consequences, the only ones that, in his infancy, he can see. It is only after a long time that he learns to take account of the others. Two very different masters teach him this lesson: experience and foresight. Experience teaches efficaciously but brutally. It instructs us in all the effects of an act by making us feel them, and we cannot fail to learn eventually, from having been burned ourselves, that fire burns. I should prefer, in so far as possible, to replace this rude teacher with one more gentle: foresight. For that reason I shall investigate the consequences of several economic phenomena, contrasting those that are seen with those that are not seen.

Now many a reader may peruse this quote, and say, “What in the world does this have to do with anything?” After all, I’m not a philosopher, and Brain Balance is certainly not about economics. But in a way, we are all economists, in the sense that we have to make those daily decisions which we believe will bless our lives and those around us the most. All of us base our choices on the real and personal consequences that follow. As fallible human beings, we may get caught up in capturing what we perceive as real, immediate benefits to a course of action, the end of which is seemingly right in front of our eyes. In this position we often act without considering the unseen, but equally real consequences, good or bad, of that course.

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Brain Balance always produces good fruit.
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In the case of the BB program, we are discussing an investment that always yields good fruit, both in the short-term and  the long-. As mothers of special needs kids, we learn how harsh a teacher experience can be. We try to foresee all obstacles that lay in our child’s path, and seek to remove them. Then we discover that we can’t remove all obstacles for our child, even if they were foreseen well in advance. Eventually they will have to tackle their own obstacles head-on, and we have to allow them the freedom to do that, even if they fall down along the way. In Weeks 7-8, we saw a lot of falling down at home. We struggled to fit in all of the exercise sessions, and our kids watched more Netflix than they should have. But we also saw some amazing progress in between all the meltdowns (some of which were my own tantrums, witnessed by five little people). Here is a little principle that I learned from Carol Tuttle, author of Remembering Wholeness.: As human beings, we tend to discover the secrets of a good and happy life by living out the reality of what we DON’T want. We make endless mistakes, but if we are wise, we choose to stop making the same mistakes, rather allowing them to inform our vision for the future. Then we exert ourselves to take those steps which will move toward that place we envision. When we have determined finally not to return to what we know, and which we don’t want, then we are making real progress.

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Being Realistic Is The Most Common Traveled Road To Mediocrity -Will Smith

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This is what we have desperately hoped to do, as we navigate through the Brain Balance program, on many fronts. We have taken a route which, in the short-term has been difficult for the family, in terms of family routine and nutritional changes. Brain Balance demands that we change many things about our lifestyle and schedule all at once, from Day 1. Naturally we are sometimes overwhelmed. But just as a smoker whose lungs immediately clear and gradually heal upon quitting, so have we been rewarded in our physical bodies. Only we didn’t know the extent to which our bodies had suffered under our habitually SAD diet. Only when we actually removed damaging substances did we personally feel the healing effects and recognize how badly it was needed.

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DASH’s HOME PROGRESS:WHAT IS SEEN AND NOT SEEN

He is getting taller! On Sunday of Week 7, we went to visit Grandma’s house, where we got to visit for awhile, and ran into some of my siblings, whom we don’t see that much. One of his uncles who had been away for a number of  months with his work, immediately mentioned that Dash was getting taller. Within a few minutes of Dash entering the room where we grown-ups were chatting, three different people remarked the same. And Freckles too! I’m not sure if they are really growing taller, or if they just look taller because they have been losing the girth around their middles. But we were told by the Brain Balance people to expect that our children could see a period of physical growth, due to the dietary and exercise changes, which I believe we are seeing.

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Baby Blues, Dash, and Freckles: Swimming Lessons

We had all of the kids in swimming lessons this month, three days a week. Dash, Freckles and Sparkle are all making huge strides in their swimming technique, each new session bringing the chance for them to show me some new skill they have acquired in the aquatic realm. I remembered recently that in July when Dash had gone to Scout Camp, and also in months past, his leaders encouraged him to try to do the initial requirements for the swimming merit badge, and each time he tried, he failed. Well after just a week or two of swimming lessons, he went on a scout overnighter, and easily passed off not only the initial requirements, but virtually all of them. This was huge for him, and for us. I am so proud of him! I am also very proud of his sister and brothers, who are not a whit behind him in making great strides with their swimming.

Dash had a singular episode in Week 7 that was alarming at the time. I have since decided it is a sign that he is acquiring greater emotional awareness than he’s ever had before, and one of his BB trainers agrees. It was the night for both Dash and Freckles to go to their respective scout troop meetings. Freckles got out the door OK, but Dash was actually on his bed, and pulled the covers over his head when the appointed hour arrived. With some pushing and impatient words from me, he did get out of bed and come upstairs. But instead of getting ready to go, he laid down on the couch, and buried his head with a pillow. I continued to urge him in strong tones to go get his scout shirt on, and get in the car. I had seen it all before. Usually he relents, and complies with my request for action, albeit grumpily. Today however, no dice. He wasn’t. going. anywhere. I left him there, when it became clear that his mind was absolutely made up.

A few minutes later, I was startled to observe that Dash really did look very distraught about something. Upon further questioning, he mentioned that he was feeling really bad. He didn’t know why, at all. He said, “Mom, I don’t know why, but there are tears filling up in my eyes.” (Said with an inflection of unfamiliarity and surprise.) “I feel really bad, like something big is about to happen, something bad. I don’t understand it.” I asked him what he thought might happen, and he said he didn’t know. Was it something big, or something bad? I asked him. His answer: “Both.” I said, “Have you ever felt like this before?” His answer: “No.” Then he said, “Maybe it’s just puberty starting, Mom, I don’t really know.” In any case, it was an unprecedented display of emotion for Dash, a child who has always had a hard time clueing in to the emotions and inner-worlds of people around him.

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A few days later in Week 8, I made another startling observation about Dash, but this time in a good way. Monday I had a huge Mommy meltdown moment. We came home from swimming lessons and everyone was very hungry, and in the kitchen all at once, looking for lunch supplies. Fighting ensued, because as we all know, too many cooks spoil the broth, am I right? It got pretty intense, and everyone started pushing everyone else, until finally I blew my top.

too many cooks spoil the broth

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I was yelling at the kids to leave the kitchen and go to their rooms, because I needed a break! Well it all escalated until everyone was almost in a full-on tantrum. But then the coolest thing happened, which almost makes me happy I melted down. Dash, seeing my obvious state of insanity, started picking up the house and encouraged the kids in a positive tone, to leave me alone and come out of the kitchen. He said something like “Mommy is tired, and we need to listen to her, because she has spent her whole life being our mom.” He alone got the kids to cooperate in exiting the premises. Then when the kids were under control again, he went out and brought all three of our trash cans back to the garage. Another situation which is unprecedented, and which gives me great hope. Either Dash is connecting better with his emotions and those of other people, or my meltdown was so acute and alarming, that it compelled Dash, as the next-oldest person in the vicinity, to re-establish homeostasis!

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Dash in an apron he made in Home Economics unit, Spring 2013

I will end this post with one more observation on Dash, which makes me happy. We decided to take a break in Week 8 from all technology/screens in our house during waking hours for the kids. After a day or two, they stopped asking for screen time, and that is when the real fun began. The kids searched out and found our box of dominoes, and decided to play. Some of the dominoes were missing though, so they couldn’t play a normal game with them. Well Dash, not losing a second, came up with a new game using dominoes that consisted of each person building a tower, and then knocking down each others’ creations in a mock battle. They all played this game for at least a couple or three hours that afternoon. I actually had to take the dominoes away from the big boys, still playing the game, so that they would go to bed.

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Domino Tower: Not Dash’s but certainly not far off from what he sees in his mind when he builds one. The ability to see what cannot be seen.

I will write another post soon to talk about Big B’s progress, and do a more technical rundown of exercises and improvements, as per the report I received on both boys today.  They have made great improvements in all areas, and in some, it has been exceptional progress. Yay!!! Also, this week we are starting the food challenges. First challenge: Take out all potatoes from our diet for one week, and then add it back in over a four day period, to see if we have any reactions to them. By the middle of November we will have taken out and reintroduced into our diet three more foods too: corn, eggs, and rice. We will know by the end if we have any reactions among our family members to these items. It will be an exciting month!

Food as Medicine. Days 18-25

When we began the Brain Balance program, I knew that dietary changes would be a big component of this journey. But Oh.my.goodness. I had no idea it would transform my life. My children are being blessed too! It’s just that I am living in my body, and not theirs. To a large extent, due to this fact, I can’t feel the effects of the changes that are happening to them. I see good signs in their sweet faces as well, but I FEEL the changes in myself. I know that helping me has helped them significantly. For fourteen years I have read about ways to help our family to live and eat more wellfully (is that even a word?). In the past five years especially, I have watched as researchers in the health and medical industries are starting to come to the same conclusions. Food is the best medicine. We are coming to discover that a mix of Eastern and Western medicine traditions can work together to heal our bodies. Let me just come up with a quick list of some sources I’ve studied in recent years.

There is Alejandro Junger, who came up with best-selling, research-based books, Clean and Clean Gut. After seeing his own health decline as a medical professional and becoming a patient in his own field of medicine, he determined that he needed to look elsewhere for the help he needed. Then there is Mark Hyman, who has advocated Functional Medicine for many years, and whose clients see large-scale results. And there is William J. Walsh. He is a psychiatrist who has helped tens of thousands of patients conquer mental health challenges through nutritional therapy. His book, Nutrient Power: Heal your Biochemistry, Heal your Brain is a tightly researched treatise on a number of disorders which can be helped this way. And who hasn’t  heard of Joe Cross ? He cured himself of a rare autoimmune disorder by way of juice fasting, as seen in his documentary, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.

All of these people have inspired me with their discoveries, and have intellectually prepared me to make dietary changes. However, there is a huge difference between learning and reading about a given solution to health problems, and actually DOING the work to apply the stellar concepts in my life! For years I have read and researched and concluded, and read and researched and concluded, that I and my family could benefit from making dietary changes. But this is the first time in my married and mommy life that I have chosen to COMMIT myself unwaveringly to follow a program. Admittedly, I have wavered in my commitment to the BB diet. I almost named this post “The Pendulum.” But the results I’ve seen in my own chemistry has convinced me that it is worth persevering, and worth my best efforts to comply completely. I have mentioned it before, but it must be said again. Changing my diet has virtually eliminated my mood issues.

And so this post will also highlight more of the foods we’ve been eating and experimenting with. But good news, the exercises are helping as well! Just yesterday I saw a change in Big B that I hadn’t noticed before. As a disciplinary measure in our home, we have adopted the Leap Frog consequence. We got this idea from a therapist three years ago who was helping Dash with some severe behavioral and emotional issues. Dash went to live with my brother and his family for a time, and while he was there, he learned about cause and effect. When unwanted behavior arose, he had to do a set of Leap Frogs. This means literally, that he had to squat down on the floor with a deep bend in his knees, using his hands to balance on the floor, squat down and then spring straight back up as high as he could. The minimum set of 10 Leap Frogs can be tiring, and the kids have learned that it’s better to comply with whatever is being asked of them, rather than suffer this consequence. This is a pretty good demonstration of a Leap Frog. Anyway, Big B has always had a really hard time completing a really great Leap Frog. He would very slightly bend his knees, and just jump up high. But this week, after he had a big fight, he earned a set of 10 Leap Frogs. As he proceeded to execute them, we saw for the first time, a well-executed Leap Frog. A deep bend in his knees, and he didn’t wobble on his landing at all. And then he did 9 more! We were so excited to see this, we clapped at the end, and told him what a great job he did. Freckles wasn’t too happy that we were congratulating him under the circumstances, but even he was transfixed, watching his brother carry out his consequence.

Oh, and Big B has also had less meltdowns on Days 18-25. AND, he seems to be doing less tummy touching than before, so lots of good progress! Michael and I were talking last night about all of the good things that have happened in our lives as a direct result of Big B’s presence in our family. We have learned so much through the years, while on the quest to understand his needs and also Dash’s. They have taken us in new directions that would not have been possible without their combination of  needs. I have had to stretch as their mom in countless ways, which makes me very grateful. I wouldn’t trade the experience we have gained, and I definitely wouldn’t trade my beautiful kids for all the riches in the world.

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This is the view from my back window. My kids love to visit Leilani’s house, and jump on their trampoline. Sometimes it is hard to get them back home.

Here is a look at our daily exercise sessions.

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Olfactory

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Primative Reflex Work, BB Music CD Playing in Background

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Core Strength and Primative Reflex Work

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Yes Baby Blues is a Streaker

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More Core and Reflexes Work

Dash, Freckles doing Sit-Ups, Big B doing a Starfish

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Big B doing Sit-Ups (20 today, his record!)

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Dash and Freckles on Push-Ups. Still working up to military Push-Ups

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Eye Exercises

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Cute Daddy

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Gorgeous Tomatoes from Sweet Lady at Church! Thanks A.H.!

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Guess What I am Making

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Yes, Big Bowl of Salsa, Delish

Just chop up all of the above ingredients, mix with juiced lemons, and refrigerate.

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Daddy’s version of Posho, with yellow corn meal.

See YouTube demonstration here (1:06-4:06 is just a lot of stirring.)

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He reminisced about being in Uganda today, when we ate this with a homemade Chili.

It was that good.

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Baby Blues supervising Sunday Dessert Prep, Recipe Here. Use Coconut Sugar or Raw Stevia to replace refined white.

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Organic Palm Oil Shortening to grease the pan.

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Mmm, didn’t last long. We didn’t make it for this cake, but for a yummy frosting alternative, check out this recipe for Paleo Chocolate Pudding.

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Sparkle wanted to dress up like a waitress, and served it to me properly.

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Dairy-Free Ranch Dressing, recipe from BB Nutrition Guide

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Dash got excited and put extra maple syrup on it.

We scored with the BB recipe of “Hali’s Favorite Waffles”.

Replaced Oat Flour with a mixture of 2/3 C. Almond and 1/3C. Coconut Flour. Also added Coconut Oil.

Check back for recipes!

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Daddy’s Yummy Peach Smoothie

1 peach, 1-2 carrots, 1 apple, 1 banana, ice, water, a little bit of coconut or almond milk blended.

What we’ve been Eating

Just quickly, I wanted to write down some of what we’ve been eating over the last couple of weeks. We are far from thriving as gourmet cooks here, but the contrast between this and our norm just three weeks ago is striking to me. Now that I have my camera back again, I will try to take pictures of new foods as we make and consume them.

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Peaches in Oatmeal

Breakfast Foods

We tend to stick with the very basics here. Most days we will eat cooked oatmeal sweetened with pure maple syrup, fresh fruit, and mixed in with either rice or almond milk. Sparkle (9) still refuses to try oatmeal or fruit, unless it’s an orange cut in rings or a banana without bruises. So her typical breakfast is two cooked organic, cage-free eggs, and a couple of links of a Costco brand of sausage that is minimally processed. I forget the exact brand, but will note it when I go back to buy more. I have made pancakes from a GF/DF mix from Harmon’s, but they seemed to be a touch pricey, for the quantity. Today we had breakfast for dinner. I made the Betty Crocker Cookbook recipe for pancakes, and substituted three ingredients: Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free flour, canola oil, and a combination of rice/coconut milk. Sparkle wasn’t sure she wanted some, but by the time the rest of us had inhaled our platefuls of pancakes, bananas and pure maple syrup, she decided to eat one too. (Woot-woot!) Some days breakfast consists of a simple green smoothie, Michael usually makes it from spinach, frozen berries, ice, almond or coconut milk, banana, apple, and carrot. After starting Brain Balance, he stopped putting in a spoonful of his favorite strawberry jam (refined sugar). Most of us eat smoothies right up, except you-know-who ;). Daddy’s smoothies are much thicker than mine. I prefer more liquid, and usually add some to my glass. We will try flax-seed soon, to up the nutrient value even more. Oh, and right now, with our trees full of fruit, we are putting fresh peaches into anything and everything we can think of.

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Green Smoothie

Lunch and Dinner Foods

I make a lot of Brazilian beans and rice. Most of the time even Sparkle eats them up. The trick with the beans is a thick saute base of oil, onions, garlic, salt, and cumin. We haven’t made a successful switch from our favorite jasmine white rice, but I am hoping to remedy this soon. So far the best Brazilian rice is made by first browning all the rice in an oil/onion/garlic/salt base, and then boiling, then simmering, with just the right amount of water. I bought a big bag of nice, short-grained brown rice from Costco, and it is calling to me. Soon!

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Brazilian Beans and Rice

Did you know that when you combine beans and rice you are eating a perfect protein? Make them Brazilian, and they really are perfect!

Since Brain Balance hasn’t outlawed corn yet (I understand that we will remove this on week 10 however), we make good use of the organic tortilla chips from Costco. They add a little crunch to many dishes, including our taco salad. My taco meat is made with ground beef, browned with a homemade spice combination (chili powder, garlic, onion powder, salt, pepper, cumin), and served with tortilla chips, rice, beans, lettuce/spinach, tomatoes, guacamole, corn, and salsa, topped with a touch of homemade, dairy-free ranch dressing from the Brain Balance cookbook.

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Dairy-Free Taco Salad

Sometimes as a main lunch course, we dip tortilla chips into albacore tuna, mixed with homemade mayonnaise, and eat garden tomatoes on the side.

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Homemade Mayonnaise

Also popular in our family is chicken curry sauce over rice. This is a chicken stock-based dish, beginning with sautéed onions, garlic, spices, and veggies like carrot, potatoes (omitted now for Brain Balance), eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes, etc. Michael is the spice master, and takes pride in his ability to season this with just the right amount of curry, nutmeg, garam masala, and onion. A sprinkling of raisins is the final touch. We often don’t have left overs the next day.

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Curry Chicken Sauce

Last night Daddy made his famous Ugandan Curry stew with sautéed red cabbage and purple eggplant from the farmer’s market, lots of sliced onions, garden tomatoes, fresh garlic, seasoned with curry and garam masala spices, in a base of tomato sauce and ground beef mixed in. He also made a lovely corn meal-based side to accompany the stew, called posho. He learned how to do it in Uganda. For dessert, we used our big zucchini to make a Paleo brownie that was a delicious Sunday treat.

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Cabbage stew supplies and Posho

Snacks and Treats

Also great with Costco tortilla chips is my homemade fresh guacamole (avocados, chopped onions, diced garden tomatillos, garden yellow and sugar red tomatoes, a bunch of chopped cilantro, fresh juice of lemon, jalapeno pepper, sea salt and freshly ground pepper).

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Homemade Guacamole

Another yummy variation of dip is the Costco Jack’s brand of salsa with fresh peaches or mangoes cut into it. Some days instead of a traditional lunch, we will eat this type of snack at mid-day and then eat a combined lunch and dinner around 4 or 5pm. Fresh fruits and raw veggies are available pretty much around the clock for snacks, and also serve as staples at all meals.

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Peach salsa

I have done some experimental baking, thanks to my friend Heidi’s GF/DF/Vegan baking cookbook. So far we have made brownies, white bread, and orange/chocolate chip cookies using her recipes. All of them tasted great, and didn’t last long.

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We also made a simple oatmeal, fruit-sweetened chocolate chip cookie from a recipe I received from Michael’s mom, which turned out delicious.

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A meme from Facebook

I replaced the raisins here with Enjoy Life chocolate chips.

So far we have kept things pretty simple. I hope, as we go along, to get more creative, and be able to make mealtimes really enjoyable and healthy for all of us. For now, I’m just delighted to find my children, for the most part, to be flexible and open to eating differently. Where we are at now is a place that I thought, in times past, we weren’t capable of achieving. I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.

Sunshine and Nutrients, Days 12-17

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(Not my photo)

The root of all health is in the brain. The trunk of it is in emotion. The branches and leaves are the body. The flower of health blooms when all parts work together. ~Kurdish Saying

Well, we’ve passed through two intense weeks. Emotional intensity has always been a quality of our family’s life together. I’m OK with that. I wouldn’t know how to be anything else, and hope that others will just accept this fact and embrace it, as our friends. It should not be surprising to anyone who knows us that this program would crank up the pressure for us, and boy, has it! I was not certain at the outset that this would be a bad thing for us, and hoped sincerely that it would mean the opposite. And boy, has it! This post is dedicated to the enumeration of the positives that have come into our life since we commenced. Unfortunately my written descriptions and past images will have to suffice, as we have misplaced our camera once again.

August 1st was a great time to start this program for us. We have no birthdays in our immediate family (no need to make a birthday cake anytime soon) and school has been out of session, giving us the maximum latitude and flexibility to change up our routine. Our garden and fruit trees are producing well, providing an abundance of fresh produce which is directly incorporated into daily healthy meals. We have a farmer’s market every Saturday across the street from the Brain Balance center, both of which are situated less than two miles from our home. This helps me a ton. I received a note from one woman who moved out to Utah from Wisconsin this summer, so that her kids could participate in the Brain Balance program here in South Jordan. Her husband had to stay behind to work, leaving her to navigate the demands of this program as a single parent. I’m so lucky that it is all so convenient and close by, and that this house we bought last year was already stocked with the raw tools to assist us in our effort. Here are some pics of our garden and trees.

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Pears Galore

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Zucchini to Spare

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A bough from one of our mature peach trees, broken under the weight of beautiful peaches.

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Two garden boxes full of veggies.

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Golden Delicious Apple Tree

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Peas, Lettuce, Cucumbers, Zucchini, Pumpkins

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Dash holds the BIG zuc, with Sparkle and Freckles. We just made Paleo Zucchini Brownies with that baby.

Physical provisions notwithstanding, the spiritual and  mental blessings that we’ve received since beginning the Brain Balance program outshine them. Right around day 6 or 7, my friend TS from church called me out of the blue. She thought she should call, but didn’t know why. Unbeknownst to her, we were in the thick of the overwhelming diet changes, and she had just recently gone through her own journey. They’d learned that her husband has Celiac Disease, and subsequently took the whole family off of gluten. In that process she had gained insight and resources that she could now pass on to me. Beyond the resources, she comforted me by just listening to my complaints, and giving me encouragement.

Last week, around Days 12 and 13, I needed more insight into how I could try my hand at improvising with food, and experimenting with the new ingredients. I also needed more recipes that were yummy and would fit the regime. The BB diet is not quite as restrictive as Paleo or GAPS, but more restrictive than most. By this time we were eating in compliance, but still not thriving. Great recipes have to be pretty narrowly defined. Thanks be to God, a couple of people came to my rescue at this juncture, with excellent resources, both with years of experience.

DB is a family friend who remarried last year, and at the same time undertook the huge task of thriving on a Paleo diet. He and his kids have lived with some of the same sensory issues that we have seen in our children, and have found a variety of tools, a Paleo diet included, that have helped them conquer their symptoms. Lucky for him, he married an adventurous woman, who not only took on the Paleo challenge, but turned their kitchen into a veritable Paleo Laboratory. She employs her daughters as taste testers, and regularly turns out what appear to be gourmet masterpieces! Her blog, if you haven’t seen it yet. Thanks Miss Julie, and your Superman!

ND is a perfectly beautiful woman, who also happens to be the former owner of our happy home. She and her family filled this home with happy and healthy traditions, and she inspires me to do likewise. She read my last blog entry, and was moved to have compassion on me :). After midnight on Day 13, she was going to bed, but decided to write me an email before retiring. In true stream of consciousness form, she wrote down some of the ways she has modified her family’s meals to include a healthier array of options. With each meal idea, she included how she had improvised to make it better. Thanks to her writing form, common ingredients and recipes became useful to me. I began to see a bridge being built in my mind, between our former eating lifestyle, and our new paradigm. I begin to see how we can move forward, even after program interventions are complete, and settle on a healthier norm for our family. She also sent follow-up emails, along with more recipes and ideas in each one. THANK YOU, ND!!

Just to give my BB friends a couple more ideas, and to highlight how helpful her email was, here is an excerpt:

“Hamburger curry over rice: I love this because I can make it in the crockpot and it is ready when we are.  Cut up 2 cups of cabbage, 1-2 c celery, add cooked hamburger and onions, 1 to 2 t curry pwd and some ckn broth or water. It will need 1 t or so salt and serve over rice.  The recipe calls for a bit of catsup, but it should be good without it.  You could even grate some zuc or slice it. I like it if the veggies don’t get too done..nice and crispy.

Our family really liked a casserole I made with rice and hamburger and zuc.  I cooked the rice, added a package of cooked frozen hamburger (or what you have, I cook mine ahead and freeze it since it is such a mess to cook up), and some zuc sliced–I used to add some cream of something soup, but I think it would be yummy with a little coconut milk. Salt and onions would be yummy in it too.

You could make a zuc casserole with taco seasoning–the Schilling at Costco I think is clean for you, or you could make your own–, hamburger, sliced zuc and onions.  The recipe calls for Doritos on top (which are so not good for you) but maybe you could sub some rice chips–Dave’s has some yummy ones seaweed and something–also can get them at Smiths market place.  Maybe chips are totally out now, you could use the Costco plain corn chips to add some crunch–or it would probably be good without oh..it needs some tomato sauce, maybe two cans–boy, these are really rough recipes, but I hope they will give you some ideas to experiment with.

The apples from your tree make wonderful apple crisp–they won’t need much sweetening and I bet you could figure out a great topping with a bit of sucanut, oats?/gluten-free flour or pancake mix and a little oil. The apples are sweetest when they are yellow, can freeze and stay best and crisp right on the tree. I am so glad we planted all those trees for you!”

Oh, and here is another healthy food blog she linked from another neighbor. Thanks again, ND!

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Love this meme. It’s true.

Beyond the heaven-sent help, I have also seen mental and physical health improvements in myself, Big B and others. Dash seems to be cruising through the exercises, and has accepted the diet, not without some grumbling :). As I mentioned in an earlier post, Big B’s balance is improving, and he is losing some of his tummy. Eye exercises have been hard for him to do each day, but he is trying. He can do sit-ups better than before (still working on the push-up formations, but that’s OK). His ability to do all the exercises and complete them continues to improve, albeit not without meltdowns. He needs lots of breaks, and still does the whole routing much better for Daddy than he does for me. I could be imagining it, but Big B’s eyes seem to be better aligned than they were previously. We go to the park a lot, and his coordination/ability to run around without falling down seems to be improving as well. Oh yay, Baby Blues just found my camera! Here are some park shots.

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We try to have the whole family do the exercises each day. With the exception of our 4-year-old, everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon. (Baby Blues just watches the rest of us laughingly.) My own lower back, which seems always to have been quite weak and prone to back pain, especially when I was pregnant or nursing a child, is much stronger now. The morning back aches, a fixture in my life previously, are gone. Earlier this year and last, I saw my hair thinning at what seemed to be an unnatural pace. I’d read enough to gather that it could be an indicator of a hormone imbalance, which of course can be greatly exacerbated by diet. Since we changed our eating habits, I have noticed that my hair seems to have stopped shedding. This has been a relief to me, if not an unexpected stroke to my vanity. I’ve lost five pounds. My husband isn’t keeping track, but he’s lost weight too. (I can tell because there is less of him to wrap my arms around.) This makes both of us happier with ourselves, as we have carried unnecessary girth around for some time now.

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(Not my photo)

Perhaps this biggest benefit to the diet changes for me, is the way I have seen my moodiness and stamina stabilize in a big way. With a predisposition for depression in my family of origin, and having lived it firsthand for many years, I’m indescribably thankful to God for helping us put our aspirations into action through the Brain Balance program. To be sure, there is more than one way to achieve balance in one’s life. If I had hired a personal trainer for myself, I’m certain that I might see similar results, though perhaps not as dramatic, because a personal trainer’s diet would not have eliminated all of the inflammatory foods that BB has. As a mom, I have never been able to make that kind of investment in myself, worthwhile as it may be. What got us on board here, is that the well-being of our kids would be directly improved thereby. We had no idea how transformative it would actually be. For Michael and I, Brain Balance is a means of accelerating our physical and mental development beyond what it was. For Dash and Big B, and to a lesser extent, all five of our kids, BB is a way for us to help them over developmental hurdles that have heretofore been insurmountable. It may as well have been Mt. Everest to us.

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(Not my photo. Mt. EVerest)

Nutrition Burnout and Recovery, Days 5-11

I knew it would be tough to completely change our eating habits. It was clear from Day 1 (see earlier post) that we are dealing with lifelong, deep-seated stuff here. Every time I’ve sat down to blog about this last week, I’ve been blocked. It was hard to feel anything but discouragement as I looked back at the end of the day, and saw only what looked like failure to me. I’m glad I waited to write it all down, because I think what we were seeing was probably the normal stress that comes when you undertake this kind of major dietary shift.  I’m thinking a bit more clearly now, after having seen good progress in making the transition. The only question remains, how to construct the narrative, without too much negativity, while at the same time describing a reality-based picture of our experiences this week. I will go with unadulterated honesty first, and try to work in the hopeful elements where possible.

One of the conditions that had to exist for our family to be able to dive into an intense program like this was that my mental health had to be at a place where I could stay present for the kids, and carry out the demands of home programming without going into full retreat and isolation mode. Since the day I became pregnant with our first child (Dash), depression has been a part of my life. For as long as I was either breastfeeding a child, or expecting one, my brain chemistry would be out of whack. This means that for the first 10-12 years of our marriage, I was an emotional mess. When our youngest turned three, I began to feel like myself again. It is a touch disturbing to acknowledge that my good husband has seen the whacked-out “me” much more often in our life together, than he has the real me. Thankfully he stuck around anyway, reaching out to my alternating selves, with unfailing love and patient devotion.

Here is a picture of me when I was a small girl. I don’t remember the year, but it is in the mid-to-late 70’s. I’ve always loved this photo, perhaps sensing when I view it, that this represents the real Rebecca. She is a very happy girl, insatiably curious, and a bundle of intense energy. I’ve had to re-introduce myself to her from time to time, but she never fails to make me smile, inspiring me with grateful remembrance. That girl can do anything she puts her mind to, and guess what? It’s still true, 30+ years later. Often when I look into the sweet faces of my own five babies, I see a little bit of that cute Becca. In Big B’s case, I see a lot of her.

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Me, at approximately age 4.

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(Courtesy Angela Marie Photography, 2012)

Left to Right: Sparkle(8), Freckles(10), Big B(5), Daddy, Mommy, Baby Blues(3), Dash(12)

Brain Balance requires all of their clients to commit to eating a very specific diet, which for the average American, means a big change. In short, we now eat no gluten, no dairy, no soy, no refined flours or sugars, no MSG, artificial dyes, additives, nitrates, and only occasional raw sweeteners in very small amounts, limited to: honey, stevia, 100% unrefined maple syrup, agave, organic coconut sugar, or molasses. It’s not as restrictive as say, the Paleo Diet, but Paleo fits within the scope of what we can eat. So I refer to their resources quite a bit. One such excellent blog is authored by a family friend, and could be helpful to anyone who is serious about Paleo. We decided at the outset that any diet and exercise changes that Dash and Big B had to adopt, the rest of the family would also sign on to it. I had a few dishes planned, but no snacks for in-between meals. I figured yeah, they know how to eat carrots, apples and almond butter. But wow, I was SO off. They rifled endlessly through the kitchen cupboards and refrigerator, wondering what they could possibly eat that they were familiar with. The compulsive rifling persisted throughout the week, almost as if they believed the next time they checked, their old foods might have found their way back to them.  They did know how to eat carrots or broccoli, yes, but only last week it had always been dipped in Ranch dressing! Where was the Ranch? It was no more! And of course I couldn’t send them to friends to play in this state, they’d only find our OLD Ranch bottle in THEIR fridge, and then complete melt down would be assured.

paleo pyramid

So here we found ourselves, on Day 5. We had by this time made a trip to the farmer’s market and to a local grocery store to purchase a variety of new staple supplies, like coconut oil, coconut sugar, coconut flour, almond butter, GF/DF/sugar-free pancake mixes, Easy Life chocolate chips, more produce, almond milk, rice milk, and cage free eggs. We got ourselves through the weekend alright, thanks to Dad’s skills at making a mean Curry Chicken over Rice, which the kids have eaten and loved for years. But by Monday Dad was back at work, and Mom was up. I had laid out a menu plan which I thought would work fine. And it did work fine for me. I love my Brazilian Beans and Rice, and could eat it every day, no problem. But my kids were tired of it. We’d eaten it at least a couple of times since Day 1. On this Day 5, Sparkle was visibly wilting, having NOT found anything she could bear to consume. Admittedly, I saw this coming with her, but did not prepare well enough. She is a stubborn girl, and can dig her heels in for days if she wants, depending on the issue of conflict. She was pale, and kept filling up her water bottle with her tried and true lemon juice, honey, and ice water, to get her through the hours. Absolutely nothing was left in the kitchen that she liked. And honestly we did throw out 99% of her diet with this change. What saved her from complete starvation here was a tuna sandwich on GF/DF/SF bread from Eleanor’s Bakery.

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Sparkle, Age 4

As I was saying, my mental health had to be in a decent place before we could benefit from a Brain Balance program. I felt when we started that we were in the right place and time to move forward. But this last week, I seriously questioned whether I could really do it. I lost sight of Becca, the real me, the do everything girl. Depression for me has always been greatly aggravated by low blood sugar levels. The first impulse is always to sequester myself in my room, and put the kids in front of some screen. (Oh, and did I mention that the BB program also requests you limit your kids to no more than 30 minutes of screen time per day? That doesn’t seem unreasonable, until you as the mom are spiraling down into retreat, and you need a buffer to keep the kids out of trouble. And yes, neurobehaviors of an atypical child left to his own devices will inevitably lead to trouble!) When we filled up and delivered those four boxes of dry goods and two bags of dairy products to our neighbor, we said goodbye to foods that represented perhaps 60-70% of our habitual diet. So things got BAD, and FAST. Not helpful was the fact that this week at my husband’s workplace was especially demanding on him. They’d flown in a whole contingent of analysts from a market research firm which looks to be merging with his company here soon. He was not able to come home before 9pm on virtually every night of this week.

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(Not my Photo)

As Day 5 passed in utter hellish frustration, we moved through the subsequent days of this week as if we were “walking in molasses” to borrow a phrase from a local author. We were all hungry, as Plan A menus became Plan Bs, only to be rejected. And I had no Plan C. My Plans A or B, only a week prior to this, had been jumping in the car and running to Little Caesar’s or Iceberg. So yes, we had many a mile to go, and it seemed as if we only moved forward by inches. This post isn’t dedicated to how we are doing on the home exercises. But our performance there (indeed, our performance in virtually ALL other essentials) was invariably influenced by our limping along nutritionally. We managed to fit in two exercise sessions per day on all of these days but Day 8, which I will mention later. During this time, what we did eat was 98% in compliance with the parameters outlined by Brain Balance South Jordan. The only problem is that it wasn’t enough. We languished. Day 6 was a little better food-wise, but in terms of meltdowns from Big B, he was just getting started. I was told that setbacks and reversals in behavior were to be expected, as we move through the program and make the necessary adjustments. But I seriously wondered if what I was seeing could possibly be in the norm. Have I given you enough of reality yet? I’ll move on now to some of the good things that happened this last week, shall I?

Day 7 started out very badly. Freckles and Sparkle had come down with bad head and chest colds, and all the kids were dying to get out of the house. So we packed us up, and headed to the zoo as quick as we could get there. Unfortunately by the time we’d made the 30-minute journey, Sparkle had gotten worse. We sat on a bench inside the zoo for 45 minutes, while Dash, Freckles and Big B walked around some of the nearby exhibits. At this point I was so desperate to get my daughter to eat a clementine, I bought a rice crispy treat from the nearby bistro to help coax her along. I also bought water and a big veggie cup that had Ranch dressing in it. She seemed almost to the point of nausea, and I felt that it was most likely because she simply wasn’t eating. I made a deal with her that for each bite of clementine (a fruit she’d heretofore rarely eaten, despite countless opportunities) that she took and swallowed, I would give her a bite of the rice crispy treat. This she attempted, with an appearance of true illness (and a touch of martyr), but unsuccessfully. She managed to swallow one wedge, but then threw up the second one. I thought maybe she should eat the veggies first, to get her tummy to a better place before attempting the oranges again. So I just gave it to her, Ranch and all, with an order that she eat as much as possible. Post-veggie consumption, she still could not manage the clementine, so I gave up at that point, gave her the rice crispy treat, and told her to eat it so she wouldn’t faint on the way back to the van.

Oh, but I was going to move on to the good stuff, sorry!! Did I mention that we just harvested two of our peach trees , one of the big ones and one of the baby ones? They are beautiful, and we are benefitting from the fresh fruit daily. Our garden is producing endless zucchini in all sizes, gorgeous tomatos, tomatillos, cucumbers, peas, eggplant and beans. Our pear tree is nearing harvest time, I think. The color is looking rosier, and I think pears don’t soften on the tree. So we will bring some of those in soon and watch. For this fresh and free organic food, I am daily grateful. Sparkle has yet to avail herself of this resource, but I have hope for her. Sooner or later, she will pick something up and take a bite. I recently read in a book called French Kids Eat Everything that it takes a minimum of 7-10 introductions to a new food for a child to decide they will like/eat it (great book, I highly recommend it!).

The night of Day 7, we went to the Summer Party for my husband’s company. It is always lots of fun, and they always have good food. Michael asked the organizer if there would be any food there that would be compatible with our new dietary regime, and was informed that there would be. So our dinner consisted of cut up fresh fruits, green salad with a vinaigrette dressing, corn on the cob with no butter, and grilled roast beef. The kids didn’t stay long at the picnic table, because there was a huge inflated water slide that had been set up for all the children of employees. Miraculously, Sparkle and Freckles recovered long enough to enjoy the water play for the residue of the event ;). And an extra tender mercy from God, I met one of his co-workers from New Jersey, who has two kids with Autism/Aspergers. I talked his ear off for at least 20 minutes, and discovered that his family is going through a similar experience to ours.  They are enrolled in a program out of Princeton University, which also includes intense home programming every day. That helped to lift my flagging spirits. Also on this day, or perhaps the next, I don’t remember, a friend from my neighborhood called me out of the blue, who happened to have just gone through the process of taking her family off of gluten. She had some good recipe ideas for me, and checked in again Sunday (Day 11) to see  how it was going. More tender mercies from God.

I did not expect to see much in the way of sickness next day, but such was not to be. Since I’m moving on from the negative here, I’ll just say briefly that their symptoms got worse as the week progressed, and other family members caught the germ as well. On Day 8, I had contracted a full-blown version of it, and decided to take the day off from exercises. At this point we threw the media limitation out the window, because I seriously couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed for a sizeable chunk of the day. So they got some Netflix and Minecraft time. Bright spot for the kids, no?

On Day 9, Daddy came home a little bit earlier. It was Friday by now, and we managed to get in two sets of home programming exercises. Unfortunately, Daddy had also caught the bug, and would require the rest of the weekend to rest and recuperate. However on the bright side, I was able to re-up our Costco membership, and purchased a good amount of ingredients I’d been lacking previously, to avail myself of some excellent recipes. I found two great recipe books online for my Kindle App. Both were written by fabulous moms, who had spent the time experimenting until they found what worked well for their families. My friend Heidi wrote one of them, and I can attest that her GF/DF/SF brownie recipe is really tasty. By Day 10, I was starting to feel better, and knew that the worst was behind me. Sparkle still struggles to find foods she wants to eat. But we are slowly finding things that she will choose to eat. With more tools and supplies at my disposal, we will be able to eat a broader variety of foods. With some great recipes on hand (can’t wait to try the substitute Ranch dressing recipe in the Brain Balance binder!), we won’t have to struggle so much to get our kids eating what we prepare.

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My friend Heidi’s Gluten Free Cookbook

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Another great cook book

I am feeling stronger, and the healthier foods seem to be clearing up some of my brain fog. I’ve lost about five pounds, and it seems to be a trend. Big B looks trimmer to me. Still chubby, but uniformly trimmer than before. The frequent home exercises for strengthening the back and spine and core muscles have helped me a lot. I’ve always had a lower back that is prone to fatigue and aching. But no more, thanks to the home program. I can do sit ups again, which I hadn’t done in I don’t know how long! I can do push-ups better than before, and I am seeing our kids making similar improvements. Big B initially had a hard time even forming himself into the right shapes for the daily exercises, but he now can do most of them without help. Freckles went from not being able to do even one sit-up on his own, to doing 75 sit-ups in three sets last night. Dash has mastered the exercise routine very quickly, and seems happier. Last night when I was  helping Big B change his shorts, he actually stood up and balanced on one leg. This has never happened before. He has always leaned heavily with his body on Daddy or me, when he had to change clothing. So we are seeing small improvements day by day. Thanks, if you read all the way to the end!! I expect the next post will be a bit more positive. I suppose to enjoy the great things, we must also acknowledge and appreciate the not-so-great.  Please share if you feel someone else could benefit from my experience.

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