Mess.

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I look around.  My house is such a mess.

And when do I get to go through my closet and change over to my Spring/Summer clothes?  Actually, now that I think about it, do I really want to do that?  It will only reinforce all the clothes that don't fit and have to be put aside "until they do" and take up space...

Will I ever truly be "clutter-free"?  EVER? 

Will there ever be one corner of my home that is not "unfinished" in some form or another?

Can't I just go into debt and have a full-time housekeeper and cook?  And would that actually HELP?

I really don't know the answers to any of these (albeit First World) problems.

I try to look around at the mess and be GRATEFUL.  Yes, grateful.  I have this mess.

It's my mess (well, not really, but apparently it is mine to clean up).

It is a good mess.  It is thorough.  It is real.  It can hurt you. (trip on toys much?)  It has taken on its own identity:  MESS

MESS will overtake the whole house if you allow it.  Sometimes I just do...  I say "fuck it - have at me MESS."  You can have the living room.  You can have the kitchen and the bedrooms and the bathroom too!  Just take them all.

Is this the way I look at myself, I wonder.  I do know that I'll treat myself poorly when I am in a particularly "bad place".   That's what my husband likes to call it.  He'll say "let's not talk about this right now because you are in a really bad place."  or he'll remark "I can't think about that now because I'm in a bad place.")

Is my home a "bad place" when the mess is allowed to take over?  I don't think so.  I have found myself to be quite full of joy and contentment when my house seems to reflect quite the opposite.  I might be treating MYSELF better at these times than my house.

Maybe it is just prioritizing.  Self-care is not inclusive of my house, is it?  Something has got to give...

There is certainly no mistaking that MESS is LIFE.  MESS needs us.  MESS knows that we LIVE here.  MESS is proof.

Do we actually need MESS?  Is it serving us somehow to have it?  Does it foster our "aliveness"?

The reality is that if the mess was gone, that would mean I cleaned it up.

It takes TIME to clean up MESS.  MESS is a time sucker.  Is it worth the time to clean up the mess if it will just be there all over again tomorrow or the next day or the next week?

We do it you know.  We keep cleaning up our messes and they only return to make us clean them up all over again.

MESS is alive.  MESS will not let us forget it.

Ari - part two

20120126-00005Being Mama full-on in a hospital environment is pretty intense.  I was grateful that Ari was admitted to a private room (we weren't so lucky on a subsequent visit).

One of the challenges was pumping every 3-4 hours around the clock.  It was crucial to keep up my schedule in order to get Ari the nourishment he needed, still his sole nourishment, and also keep up my supply, especially given the current situation.  I didn't want anything in Ari's relationship to feeding to change.  At that point in time, I was pumping more than Ari actually needed in in a 24 hour feeding period and was freezing the excess.  Ron and I knew that being at the hospital, it may not be possible to freeze and/or use all the breast milk I was pumping.  We knew about the possibility of donating milk, but not the details.  Ron went about and asked the nurses and was referred to a local milk bank.  It was not possible for me to donate at that time because of the stringent and thorough review process a donor has to go through.  The milk I was pumping at the hospital would be consumed by Ari there or brought home to freeze.

20120126-00004 I filed the information for the milk bank away for another time.  It remained on my mind because having an infant in the hospital really opened my eyes (and Ron's too) to all the babies and families in need who were in similar and even worse circumstances.  Indeed we saw other parents and children during Ari's stay on the pediatric floor at MGH.  It was heart-wrenching to see and hear some of the children.  And they were all so beautiful and brave.  I cried a lot while we were there.  Emotions were all on the surface already and empathy was a big one.  I would see a child in the little playroom with her parents.  I could see the children who couldn't walk, the child with the bandage around and eye and his little head, hear the baby crying inconsolable in a room down the hall...  I wanted to help them all.  I poured all my energies and love where it needed to go - to Ari.

Ari was waking pretty much every 3 hours for a bottle at night at this point.  In the hospital, I would pump after I fed him.  I was pumping for 30+ minutes at a time, sometimes up to 45 minutes depending on how engorged I was.  I had to be diligent about staying on my schedule because I had experienced clogged ducts from being engorged for a bit too long - not something I wished to experience on top of everything else going on.  Usually, if we were at home, Ron would feed Ari during the night feedings while I pumped, but Ron was staying at the nearby hotel.  The nights at the hospital were just Ari and me.  Of course I had the nurses to call in for general help and I had to call them in to get Ari's milk brought in and to give them any milk I pumped to be properly labelled and stored.  They had a special locked room specifically for breast milk storage and cleaning pumping equipment.  Ron was a saint and washed all the pumping equipment and bottles before he left me and when he came back in the morning.

During Ari's first day, we met Ari's wonderful pediatric neurologist Dr. Thibert (along with a constant slew of residents, pediatricians, students, and nurses!) and learned about how the EEG worked.  There was a little red button that we were informed to press when we witnessed Ari having one of his episodes.  Since the EEG was going to be hooked up for at least 24 hours, this would help alert the doctors and technicians who would review the scan to when an episode was happening and look closely at the read out at the time of the witnessed seizure.  We also learned about how to read the EEG ourselves.   I am quite a sponge, especially when it comes to knowing something for my child's benefit!  When Dr. Thibert came into the room with about 7 residents, I listened and watched while the scan was viewed and explained.  I got it.  I could see the spikes and I knew that they were NOT normal.  This was not great knowledge to have when you see those spikes regularly on the scan over and over happening in clusters every couple of hours all day long.  It was crucial that we press the button ONLY when we saw the physical seizures happening with Ari and not press the button based on the spikes showing on the scan.

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Ari was also being videoed.  We had to turn the camera if we took him out of the bed so that he was always being monitored.  It took some interesting maneuvering to turn the camera to where I would sit with him, gingerly pick him up without disturbing all the coiled wires hooked up to his head or the wire to show his oxygen levels that was connected to one of his big toes!  I also had to pick up the "bag" that all the wires connected to, then sit down and rest Ari in my arms so that, again, I was not disturbing the wires or upsetting Ari, and THEN I had to be sure I could reach the bottle to actually feed him.  I was also aware of where in the room I sat to pump breast milk as I certainly didn't want that "on-camera", thank you very much!

It all took a lot of organization and planning - It was just non-stop with everything honestly.

Based on the schedule of feedings, pumping, the stress, and the uncomfortable pull out chair thing, I did not get much sleep during Ari's hospital stay, but Ari slept wonderfully so I was grateful for that.  I know he felt safe with me right next to him and he always knew I was there.  I really wished for a queen size bed so that we could snuggle up together like we would for naps at home.  I wanted to be as close to him as possible.

The morning of Ari's second day in the hospital, we anxiously awaited some word on what was next.  We were told that they wanted to do an MRI.  We were also told that it may not happen for a couple of days due to scheduling.   Ari would have to be put under general anesthesia for the procedure.  I was beside myself with worry.  I, myself had never undergone surgery or anything requiring general anesthesia.  What if Ari is allergic to it?  We had to sign all these papers relinquishing the hospital of all blame in case the worst happened.  It was risky and I was a mess.  Ari was so little!  What if they overdosed him?  What if he came out of it a different baby?  We really had no choice of course.  Tests needed to happen in order to get to the bottom of what was causing the seizures.  We were informed that the seizures themselves could do harm to Ari.  Developmentally, they could have already done damage.  The activity had to be halted and in order to stop it, to treat it, a cause needed to be found for correct and effective treatment.

20120126-00007 The talking, the discussing, the questions, endlessly over and over, the worrying, the sometimes needless bickering and the exhaustion was overwhelming.   Above all, we tried to keep Ari's waking moments as happy and "normal" as possible.  We played with him, letting him kick (his favorite thing in the world to do) happily while we showed him the little toys we brought from home.  We made faces at him and cooed back to him.  Ari was so easy.  He definitely made it easier on all of us by being his sweet, gentle and content self.

The MRI was green-lighted for the next day.  Ari was not allowed to feed on breast milk after four hours before the test.  He could have Pedialyte for up to two hours before the MRI, but after that, nothing until the test was over.  They scheduled the test for 11am, but of course, as things always are delayed, they didn't show up to bring Ari down until around 1pm.  He had done okay without the feeding and had fallen peacefully asleep in my arms.  I carried him down as they led us to the elevator, down into what seemed like the bowels of this giant hospital where the imaging equipment was.  We passed through the adult waiting area for imaging and were led into an anteroom area which was outside the recovery rooms to meet the anesthesiologist/doctor who would perform the MRI.  Ari slept innocently in my arms as Ron and I sat there and unfortunately had to witness an adult male being "revived" on a gurney just feet from us.  My waterworks began again - both in feeling for the poor man and fear for my baby.  Not a pleasant experience, especially when we are about to hand our sleeping infant over for a few hours.

eli.dag_AriDay20_2011_(00001 of 00004)An attendant came over and had me sign some paperwork which would allow me to go into the imaging room until Ari was put under.  The doctor explained the procedure to us, that Ari would be put under anesthesia and then the imaging would begin.  He suggested that I NOT come into the room, that it was disturbing because some of the noises Ari might make or movements while he was being put under.  I was crying, but at that moment, I knew the doctor was probably right and I decided not to go in.  The process would be a few hours and we could see Ari in recovery.  He would definitely be hungry so I would have a bottle ready.  I handed my sleeping Ari, sucking on his pacifier, over to the doctor gently.  It was one of the hardest things in the world to do.  Up to this point, I had always been able to be with Ari, at his side, through everything.  I now wouldn't see him for hours for the first time since he was born.

Ron and I returned to Ari's room on the pediatric floor to wait.  They had removed Ari's bed in order to have it ready for him down in imaging to return him to the room.  Ron and I sat anxiously in that nearly empty room for hours.  We had my parents and Patrie, who were all wonderful in getting us anything we needed and also leaving us alone when they knew we need that as well.  It was a long, difficult wait.  I had to push thoughts of losing my baby out of my mind constantly, besides the worry about what they might find inside his little brain!  We knew from Dr. Thibert that it could be any number of things causing the seizures.  It could be a tumor.  It could be a genetic disorder.  It could be epilepsy.

Now, we just had to wait...

Photo Credit - All Photos: Eli Dagostino Photography

Ari - part one of several

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Ari was a very easy newborn.  He slept consistently and reliably for about 1.5-2 hours after every feeding.  He would wake up happy, never the baby to wake up crying, have his milk, stare at whoever was close enough or just look around.  We would then swaddle him up and he would promptly go back to sleep.  The breastfeeding factor was NOT easy.  After trying and TRYING, it became clear that it was just not going to happen.  There are more details about that side of the story in They are just boobs...  Yes, we were exhausted parents like everyone is, but the reliability factor of Ari's sleeping and feeding kept the guesswork out of the schedule and this eased our tiredness somewhat.  Ari was very content, trusting, easy-going and happy from the beginning.  We counted ourselves so lucky because he was not a big crier or even a spitter-upper (is that a term?).  He didn't need a pacifier (at least not until months later!).  He drank his milk, cooed, slept, pooed (although he was on the weekly schedule for that), and snuggled happily in anyone's arms.  To say he loved to be swaddled is an understatement.  He relished the swaddle!  He actually would begin to smile when lied down on his swaddle blankets, knowing what was to come.

I remember putting Ari in his swaddle and laying him down to sleep in his bassinet that was right next to my side of the bed - right up against the bed so I could just reach in and tap him or just rest my hand on him easily.  He loved his bassinet and I could swaddle him up and lay him down fully awake and walk away.  He would just go to sleep.  He didn't like the canopy top over him though.  I saw early on how much he enjoyed being laid down in the middle of my bed and the sense of space above.  He would fuss with the canopy on, but was fine with it down.

A little after New Years, when Ari was a couple of months old, we began to notice some strange eye movements and physicality in him at times.  Ari's eyes would jiggle back and forth and his little body would do a slight and slow reflex motion at the same time.  At first, since I was the one that initially noticed and questioned, I would talk to Ron about it being a reflux problem - maybe?  It happened a lot when Ari was having his bottle or when Ari was falling asleep.  Ari's two month check up was a week away when we called the doctor's office to give them a heads-up of what was going on.  They asked us to get the activity on video and bring the video to our appointment.

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Of course this is about the time I began doing my own research online.  You can imagine what I found out there (here?).  It was terrifying to say the least.  I saw many YouTube videos of babies having similar, if not the same, symptoms as Ari was having.  I read endless scientific papers on babies and children with the same described symptoms.  The diagnosis didn't look promising.  These babies were having infantile spasms and I was convinced that was exactly what was happening with Ari.  Infantile spasms are seizures...

The worst time was about that time - when I knew what it could be, but didn't have the solid answers.   I would watch him like a hawk for an hour, two hours or check back on him in the middle of the night to see if he was experiencing the "episodes" as we began to call them.  I began to recognize a slight intake of breath from Ari when it was happening.  I would pop up in bed and look in on him next to me and watch helplessly as he had repeated "episodes" over and over again.  I then realized that he would have them in his sleep!  His eyes would open and do the jiggle thing - once... twice... three times... sometimes as many as 15 times.  He would either just be back asleep after or wake up and be agitated and need some resettling.  It was just awful to watch.  Especially not having any real answers and feeling helpless as to what kind of damage these "episodes" could be causing Ari.  I tried to hold him when it was happening to see if I could snap him out of it.  It wasn't possible to stop whatever was happening...  it was devastating.

Ron and I stayed up after feedings in the middle of the night, worried, talking about all the "what ifs?".  We were beside ourselves with concern and could barely wait for Ari's doctor appointment just a couple of days away.

eli.dag_AriPROShoot#2_2011_(00003 of 00006)By the time we showed up for Ari's two month check-up, Dr. Goldfein could see the anxiousness on our faces.  He wasted no time and watched the video footage we brought in.  The first two clips were mild and it wasn't until the third clip that he said "this one has gotten my attention."  He immediately referred us to a pediatric neurologist on the Cape for an evaluation of Ari.  He reassured us gently not to worry - Ari would be okay.  Our appointment with the neurologist was scheduled for two weeks from our appointment which was not good enough for us.  We begged for Ari to be seen sooner and were able to get a shorter length appointment just a week later.

Our first off-island adventure with Ari was to go see the pediatric neurologist.  The added commitment of pumping breast milk in a car definitely contributed to the "adventure" aspect and the stress level couldn't have been higher.   The doctor didn't do anything special in his examination and the episodes that Ari was having did not occur at his office, which was our hope, so he could witness it firsthand.  We answered a lot of questions and showed our video clips.  We were sick with worry and could not focus on anything else but our baby Ari.  The neurologist scheduled an EEG at Falmouth Hospital several days after our appointment with him.

An EEG?  What's going on?!

We made our second trip off-island with Ari for the EEG on a Monday.  It was a tedious time for the technician to attach over 30 electrodes to our baby's head.  Ari was an incredible patient - better than I would have been!  We had to keep Ari awake most of the morning before the EEG so he would sleep during the actual test.  A challenging undertaking with a baby who actually likes to sleep regularly.  By the time he was all swaddled  and hooked up with electrodes, he was ready to go to sleep so timing was perfect.  I had to sit in the corner and pump milk while Ari slept and the test ran.  I remember the technician being concerned that the sound of my pump might disturb Ari's sleep.  I assured her that the sound of the pump was as familiar as my heartbeat by this point in Ari's life and he would probably sleep sounder because of it!  The technician was in the room with us, in the dark, and we could see the monitor screen.  We had no idea what we were looking at.  The technician would lean over and look at Ari very closely once in a while, but Ari was sleeping peacefully so we didn't suspect anything was going on.  I didn't see him visibly have any episodes during the EEG.

We were told that the neurologist wouldn't read the results of the EEG until Thursday that week.  I received a call on Wednesday at around noon.  Ron had to be in Boston for a work conference for a few nights and he was there when I received the call at home.  I was just about to put Ari in for a nap and saw who was calling.  I put Ari on my bed and answered the phone.

eli.dag_AriDay20_2011_(00003 of 00004)The neurologist was very blunt.  He told me that Ari's EEG was "disturbing" (yes, he used that exact word) and that Ari had to be admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital immediately.  I could barely breathe.  I tried to hold myself together as I explained we lived on an island and I knew that the earliest I could get Ari there (without Ron's help since he was already in Boston!) was that night.  I didn't even know how I was going to get through any of it.  I told the doctor to expect us to check in first thing the next morning.  I hung up the phone and basically lost it.  I was alone in the house with Ari who was kicking happily on my bed and I just cried.  I called my friend and neighbor Helen -- I needed someone there with me and she was someone I could trust and knew what had been going on already.  Eli was at school.  Helen came over and held me, listened and helped with Ari as I frantically began to gather what we would need for Ari to be admitted in the hospital.  I had no idea how long they would have him there!  The doctor said he could be there for up to a week!  I just blindly began gathering things crying and saying "my baby. my baby. my baby." over and over again.

I called my dear friend Patrie.  After hearing the situation, knowing that Ron was in Boston waiting for us, she offered to drive Ari, Eli and I all to Boston in our car.  She knew I was in no state to drive.  Eli came home from school to a house all a flurry in preparation to admit his baby brother to the hospital in Boston.  After getting packed up, making sure I had all of my pumping gear together for days of being away - this was our first ever overnight trip - all of Ari's bottle accessories, clothing and blankets for him, some little toys, whatever I could put together for my own needs, casual clothing for Ron since he was now leaving the business conference he was attending, we headed to the boat.  Eli and Patrie had arranged our boat ticket so we could get off that late afternoon.

This was Ari's longest car trip yet.  We did have to pull over off the highway once because he was not happy and needed to be held and fed.  I don't blame the little guy.  It was a very stressful trip to say the least.  We had arranged to meet Ron at his hotel just outside the city and stay there for a night and then all head in to the hospital in the morning.  I had been in touch with my second cousin, Andy, who is a pediatrician west of Boston.  We had been emailing and talking on the phone about Ari's symptoms since we noticed them and had been seeking advice.  Andy had arranged to come see us at the hotel later that night after work and talk to us about what we should expect at the hospital and explain how the system works - big hospital/big system, all things we were not really familiar with.  It was the first time we were seeing him in many years and it was his first meeting with Ari.  We were so grateful for his help and support at that time and I will never forget it -- he had connections to the hospital and even called that evening to make sure Ari was expected in the morning in hopes of making the process a bit easier on us.

20120126-00001 The next morning, we had to go through a whole rigamarole of waiting in admissions and triage and paperwork...  about a million people saw us and asked the same questions over and over again.  Andy had warned us about this part of the process, explaining that MGH is a teaching hospital and so we would be seeing and talking to many people about Ari's symptoms.  Although we arrived at MGH at 9am in the morning, Ari wasn't assigned and settled into a room until around 2pm in the afternoon.  My parents made the trip up to Boston to meet us at the hospital and spend a night or two while we all tried to learn what was going on with our Ari.  Having them there was a huge support for all of us.  I felt like a lost little girl again, but I was completely and utterly depended upon by me little guy.  It was the most disjointed emotional place I think I've ever been in.

20120126-00002 Once Ari was checked into his room, things moved more swiftly.  He was hooked up to a more sophisticated EEG.  They were going to do a 24 hour EEG with video to see the activity both physically happening and also his brain scan readout.  Ari was an amazing trooper through all of this.  He seemed to enjoy all the different faces and wasn't fearful of anything.  All the poking and prodding, the picking up and standing him on his feet - he was only 2 and a half months old!   It seemed that everyone who came in the room took his vitals!  He would be napping and be woken up for an examination.  We weren't even there a whole day and it felt like a week already!  But Ari just smiled at the nurses and the doctors and residents.  He pretty much charmed anyone who came into his room!  Although I was so worried and anxious, I was so very proud and full of love for Ari as I watched the way he was taking all of this in stride - at only two and half months.

20120126-00009 Meanwhile, Eli and my dad share a similar trait.  They are both really NOT into hospitals or anything medical related.  I was so grateful to have them both there knowing how they felt.  Eli being there with his camera was pretty amazing.  It was such an intense time and I remember just snippets of moments - Patrie bringing me goodies from Whole Foods and sharing encouraging and supportive words of wisdom all along the way.  Dining with my mom in Ari's room on Italian take-out while Ari slept and everyone else was out to dinner together.  Having another meal alone with Ron in the "parent's room" down the hall while my parents sat with Ari, and getting interrupted because Ari was crying and needed me -- then me running down the hall to just hold him and reassure him that I was there, that I wasn't ever far away!

20120126-00008 I tried to learn from Ari's young bravery, however hard it was, and reminded myself that he was the one going through all of the testing and he just needed his mama.

That was my place, first and foremost, now more than EVER - Mama.

20120126-00006 There is more to share and I will.  It has taken me over a year to get to the point of feeling fully comfortable sharing these events this way.  I will definitely be back to continue and get us here to the present.

This present life is a year+ different...

Photo Credit - All Photos: Eli Dagostino Photography

Photos? What about them?

hair unleashedSo beginning my blog has forced me to take a closer and more realistic look at PHOTOS.  Having a son, Eli, who is 17 years old, a professional photographer, and damn near the most picky perfectionist on the planet about photographs does not make it easy.  His first comments when he saw my early posts were "you need better photos."  Funny that he took most all of them!  Granted they were taken with an iPhone and, when taken, there was no intention for them to go any farther than Facebook sharing so...

So I find myself with an iPhone and a blog.  But Eli says I need to take the photos for my blog with my "camera".  My camera is a little Canon thing that was one of Eli's earliest cameras.  I "bought" it from him years ago and have never used it.  I am not a picture-taker.  Look at the title of my blog:  "This Present Life".  To me, stopping in a moment, any moment, to take a photo, takes me OUT of the moment and being in the present!  This is just my opinion and now I have to change my ways.

When creating my most recent post and being at a loss with no appropriate photo on hand (and Eli has forbidden me to access Creative Commons online to embellish my blog with photos by others), I had to fess up to the fact that I needed to actually stop and TAKE A PICTURE.

GASP.

Eli unburied my Canon from the dusty realms of the crap all over the 2nd floor of my house.  We are reorganizing up there.  I don't want to go into it.

While the Canon charged.  Eli took apart a corner of my kitchen.  So now I have to deal with that crap of a mess too.  I don't want to go into that either.  Oh, did I mention I'm down with a cold/flu-thing right now?  No. I don't want to go into THAT either!

Eli set up and somewhat "styled" my selected items:  onions, garlic, carrots.  Arranged on an oblong narrow platter, he told me that this was not the final way it would look, that I would have to "style" my own photo.  He was just arranging an example and then he used his iPhone to "frame" the shot.

See how good I'm getting at the photo lingo already...

Once my Canon dust collector was charged, Eli put me to work.  I had to set up the vegetables which were now reduced to three onions because Eli told me my "styling" was too overdone.  "But that's me" I replied.  He wouldn't have it.  He is the professional and so I deferred to him.

I "framed" my photo on a slight angle to the onions and I pressed the button.  I took a picture.  Hallelujah!  Right?

Then to the computer to "import".  I couldn't even figure out to get the card thingy OUT of the camera.  Eli was amused and let me stumble and struggle every step of the way.  I whined.  I'm sick, remember?

Photo was imported and Eli did some simple edits in iPhoto while I watched.  Okay, I got it.  I kept asking him if he "liked" my picture - "yes" he said over and over.  And then it happened...

Once the photo was "edited", Eli threw a fit.  "This is horrible!" he screamed.  He didn't really scream, but that's funnier and I know he was screaming inside.  "You are NOT using this photo!"  he added.  "Why?" I asked.  "LOOK AT IT, it's terrible."  And here I was thinking he liked my picture.

That was lesson number 7 (or somewhere around there).  You can like a picture, how it is framed and all, but that doesn't make it a good photo.  Eli couldn't edit the original photo which was taken with this old unsophisticated Canon camera sufficiently to make it acceptable to his standards.

My response?  "Whatever."  That didn't go over very well.

Next thing that happened:  Eli goes into his big gear suitcase and takes out his fancy-ass Nikon D800.  I'm watching like:  "are you kidding me?"  I assure you, Eli is NOT kidding.

Next thing that happened:  Eli shuts off all the lights in the kitchen.  It is already late in the day and quite dark.  Eli doesn't use a flash so I'm wondering what the hell is going on.  Ron emerges from his office in the back of the house with "is there a reason all the lights are out?"  He is confused.  So am I.

Next thing that happened:  Eli takes a bunch of pictures of 3 onions.  He brings them over to import them.  They need VERY LITTLE editing (because of his fancy-ass Nikon D800 camera).

Next thing that happened:  He deleted MY photo from iPhoto and I mention that it is a shame because this all would have made a great blog post!  Well good thing there was still a copy of it in my computer folder or this post may not exist...

Next thing that happened:  Eli told me that whenever I want a photo for one of my blog posts, I should arrange and "style" what I want for the photo and he would take the actual photograph for me!  WOO HOO!  But I still have to edit my own photos.

I'm open to it.  The learning, the struggle, all of it.  I am grateful for it even.  I have Eli here to help for at least another 9 months or so before he moves to NYC and pursues his photography career there.  Might as well allow him to teach me while he is here!  Right?

Judge for yourself and let me know what you think in the comment section --- directly below is the "Good Onions".  Below that is the "Bad Onions".

Good Onions

the good onion

 

Bad Onions

Bad Onions

 I can see it now.  Can you?

 

Photo Credit:  Eli Dagostino Photography (top -that one is an oldie taken with I don't even know what camera-, center);  Me (bottom)

 

Food Story: My son is gluten-free...

Food is important.  I am not kidding.  It is so important that I have made it a big part of my life - to cook, to share, to EAT.  And to EAT more.  I really have no desire to cook professionally or for hordes of people on a regular basis, but I sure do appreciate those who do it well!  I have been told I could open up my own restaurant with my cooking, but I honestly have no desire to be in the restaurant business.  I like good, real food, homegrown and glorious cooking, in my own kitchen.

So FOOOOOOOD...

My 17 year old Eli has been gluten-free and refined-sugar-free for over two years now.  He is an inspiration in so many ways and his determination in being healthy HIS WAY is another special quality about him.  His lifestyle choice is a very familiar journey to me (Familiar Journey is another post in the works). Some have criticized his vigilance.  Others have worried if he was even eating at all.  He is very lean and svelte, but I am here to tell you that this guy can EAT.  Even I have been critical of his choice, but mainly in the beginning of his lifestyle change when I felt put-upon as the mom and cook of the family.  Now I go with the flow a bit more and feel confident enough in my cooking that I can face any challenge.  Gluten-free and sugar-free?!  Hell, why not?

So last night, Christmas Eve, I rose to the challenge big time.  I hadn't made a homemade mac-n-cheese in years, and most certainly not one containing lobster.  Lobster is to be steamed and eaten the traditional ways in my household by spending exorbitant amounts of time extracting the juicy clumps of meat from sharp shells.  Don't forget to have at least one person exclaim disgustingly over the green stuff, or eggs, or whatever else you might find that your lobster has digested before hitting your boiling pot of water and meeting its end.  My husband Ron doesn't like lobster because of all the time it takes to eat it.  I usually have to prepare something else for him when Eli and I get in the mood to crack something open.  But this time, this special time, I sent Ron to The Net Result to buy just the lobster MEAT.  What a luxury!  It came home all delicious looking, already cooked and ready to go in a bag marked $74.00.  Okay.  It's Christmas.  Besides, I challenge any restaurant to create the amount of lobster mac-n-cheese I did with plenty left over for another dinner tonight!  (and the little bit we all had to sneak in for breakfast...)

Gluten-free pasta is readily available so that was no biggie...  We do have our favorites, but the one organic brand that actually comes out with the best texture contains soy which is not my favorite ingredient.  I made an exception for Christmas Eve because I wasn't going to fuck up my recipe.  Add the cheeses and - oh wait!  The FLOUR.  This almost stopped me in my tracks.  I knew that what I was reading in the recipe was basically a bechamel sauce and I HAD to use flour to get the right consistency and flavor.  Well, I also had some Pamela's Baking Mix in my pantry and after checking online, realized I could just substitute the same amount of Pamela's for the flour in the recipe.  To my surprise (and relief), it was amazing.  I was also very glad to remember the millet and flax pizza crust from Sami's Bakery on the bottom of my chest freezer.  I defrosted one of those, cut it into pieces and spread the pieces on a pan.  I stuck that in the oven at 300 degrees for about 20-30 minutes.  I let them cool and then put them in the food processor and made gluten-free breadcrumbs for the topping.

Dessert was something that happened by accident.  I had made my coconut macaroons for Eli.  I had doubled the recipe and realized: That's gonna be A LOT of macaroons...  So I decided to take some and make a pre-baked pie shell.  I've done this before so it wasn't a big deal.  The shell was ready before the macaroons and of course I decided I MUST fill it with some delicious homemade chocolate pudding!  Then it was obvious that I was almost there...  I already had a gluten-free crust, now I only needed a refined-sugar-free chocolate pudding.

>>>>> Organic Coconut Sugar To the Rescue

I switched over to using coconut sugar a few months ago.  It is what I use in my coffee every morning now.  It is what I will sprinkle on an unsweetened bowl of cereal if I want some 'sweet'.  I also have used it in baking with success.  I have been getting my coconut sugar in 5 pound increments locally from Not Your Sugar Mamas.  It was not difficult to just switch out the white sugar in the recipe and use my coconut sugar instead.  Usually, I'll use just a smidgen more of coconut sugar because it is not quite as sweet as white cane sugar.  For my chocolate pudding recipe, I decided to use the same amount of coconut sugar as the white sugar the recipe called for .  My reasoning was that the pudding was going into the coconut macaroon crust that was already pretty sweet (sweetened with honey).  This was definitely the right choice.  My husband proclaimed it was the best pie he had ever eaten.  And Eli, well, he and I split a second piece later in the evening and enjoyed it immensely guilt-free!

I do have to say that I ate a fair amount of mac-n-cheese and my piece and half of pie and did not, at all, feel bloated or overly full.  Whether that is due to the lack of gluten or just to my lucky digestive countenance, I don't really know.  I'd like to think the elimination of the gluten had something to do with it.  I know that the inherent goodness in all my selected ingredients had something to do with it too.

It should come as no surprise that this post's "Special Something" is the recipes for both the Lobster Mac-n-Cheese and the Chocolate Pudding Pie in Macaroon Crust.  I hope you can share these special somethings with your special someones sometime soon.

An aside:  As I was writing this, lost in my world and zone of typing, I was interrupted by Ron.  "Do you want me to go and put it in the oven?" he asked.  He was talking about the leftover mac-n-cheese.  It was about 2 hours from our normal dinner time.  I said it was a little early for dinner.  Eli chimed in "not when that's in the house!".  Needless to say, we had an early dinner...

Special Something(s)

Gluten-Free Lobster Mac-n-Cheese Gluten-Free & Refined-Sugar-Free Chocolate Pudding Pie in Macaroon Crust (link coming soon - I am trying to keep up!)

Photo Credit: Eli Dagostino Photographer (using my iPhone)