Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Daytripping: Yosemite in the Fall

Since the boys were out of school on Monday, we decided to take a spur of the moment drive to Yosemite. I've never been to Yosemite in the fall. I've heard that the best time to visit the park is in the spring because all of the waterfalls are gushing. In the fall, the waterfalls weren't even trickling. Still, it was beautiful. Plus, as an added bonus in honor of Veterans Day, the entrance fee was free. Of course, our family has the Access Pass, so it was free anyway.

Yosemite is about a 3 hour drive away from us. We left early Monday morning and decided to take Hwy 120. In the past, we've always entered the park via Hwy 140 as we camped at the KOA located just beyond the town of Mariposa. This time, we decided to try something different.

We meandered along Hwy 120 through quaint little towns like Oakdale and Groveland. We stopped at the vista point "Rim of the World" in order to check out some of the damage from the Rim Fire, which was named after this vista point. My crappy phone camera can't possibly do any justice, but here are some snapshots of the fire damage:


We finally got to the entrance of the park. We headed toward Yosemite Valley, but then decided to head on up to Glacier Point. Patches of snow were located here and there along the road and discreetly tucked away between trees. The seemingly long drive up to Glacier Point felt like we were driving away from the park. The drive is simply a testimony as to how big Yosemite is. Once we got to Glacier Point, we postponed trips to the bathroom in order to catch the views of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome. Breathtaking can't even describe the views that we saw from Glacier Point. I'm forever apologizing for my phone's camera, but I have no intention of getting a new phone any time soon, so:
Half Dome
View of Half Dome from Glacier Point
There were patches of snow surrounding the parking lot of Glacier Point. My oldest son decided it was time for a snowball fight and nailed his dad pretty good. Of course, he can dish it out but he can't take it. We made our way back down to the valley and took a final tour. The trip took longer than we thought, but there were no regrets. On our way home, we decided to take Hwy 140. The afternoon long shadows were catching up to us and it wouldn't be long before it was dark. Hwy 120 was beautiful, but Hwy 140 is an easier drive, especially in the dark.

Leaving Yosemite

Would I visit Yosemite again in the fall? Absolutely. The website states that, "Yosemite is not known for having spectacular fall colors because most of the trees are evergreen." But that doesn't mean that there isn't some fall color. There were some beautiful trees (Oak, I think. Maybe aspen. Sorry, I don't know trees.) that were turning a fabulous shade of yellow, which made a nice contrast with the evergreen. I'm already looking forward to seeing Yosemite in the spring.

"You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you." Nehemiah 9:6

Monday, October 28, 2013

Watching, Waiting, and Hoping that Third Time's a Charm

Third time's a charm or so the old saying goes. I hesitate to say that things are 'charmed' around here, but I will say that my youngest son is tolerating Topamax better than I expected. Topamax is the third anti-epileptic medication that he has tried. Tried. I say that as though it's like trying a new food or a new restaurant. If only it were that simple.

I can't say for sure that the Topamax is working. He has had at least one, and possibly two, seizures at school so far this year. Both occurred earlier in October at school. The neurologist increased the dosage of Topamax to 100mg per day - 50mg in the morning and 50mg in the evening. Finding the right therapeutic dose is a frustrating game to play. And it's not a fun game as you watch and hope for seizure control and hope against side effects.

No medication is without side effects. Some side effects of Topamax are: loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems. There are more, of course, but those are the most common. So far, I've noticed that he's not eating as much as he used to. He's eating, but his portions are smaller. To be honest, I haven't noticed problems with concentration or memory, but I have noticed that he is a little goofy. Maybe it's just my imagination, but since the dosage increase he seems goofier than usual. Being goofy is not officially a side effect, but I have read that other people on Topamax feel this way. Since my son can't tell me how these meds affect him, I read epilepsy boards to see how teens and adults describe how they feel when they are on these meds.

Some people seem to experience little or no side-effects and the medication works wonders for them. Other people, however, seem to experience moderate to severe side-effects that make taking the med impossible. And to add insult to injury, the med provides inadequate seizure control. It frustrates me just to read about it. I'm sure it frustrates the people taking the meds and the doctors who prescribe them. Epilepsy is just infuriating and frustrating all around.

In the meantime, chocolate pudding has become one of my best friends. Fortunately, the pills are small and I'm able to put each pill in a spoonful of pudding and give it to my son. Unfortunately, the pills leave a bitter aftertaste, so I give him an extra spoonful of pudding sans pill to help eliminate the bitterness. "Just a spoonful of pudding makes the medicine go down..." Sorry.

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12

Monday, August 5, 2013

Santa Cruz - Another "Kamping" Trip

Yosemite was fun and beautiful, but there was not alot for my youngest son to do. This year, we decided to take a 4-day weekend (Friday through Monday)  KOA "kamping" trip to Santa Cruz. During this trip we planned to visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk as well as one of the state beaches.

I chose the Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA as it was the one closest to the Boardwalk and to the beaches. I have to say that out of all of the KOAs that I've been to, this one was the most crowded both in terms of how many people were there, and how many spaces/cabins were squeezed together. That's neither good nor bad; just an observation. Of course, we were there on a the middle of summer...right before school starts. So, yeah, it was crowded. However, alot of people left on Sunday morning so the campground was a little quiet on Sunday and Monday morning. The camp store had just about everything you could need or want in case you forgot something, or in our case because our car wasn't big enough to bring. Since we couldn't pack our coffee maker, we were soooooo glad this KOA store served fresh hot coffee for a fair price.

On Saturday, we went to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I purchased tickets at Costco (follow link for other discounts and offers) and then had to exchange those tickets for the all-day ride wristbands and arcade tokens. While we were at the ticket booth, the clerk behind the counter noticed my younger son and mentioned that we might want an Exit Pass. I did not know that the Boardwalk had those. I did not see any mention of those on the web site, but they are mentioned in the Accessibility Guide that you can download. Basically, this pass allows you and your family (4 people maximum) to go to the EXIT of a ride and get on the ride that way. Not all rides can accommodate this and the pass clearly lists which rides do and which rides don't. (See pictures.) Also, since there was no way that my youngest son would wear the all-day ride wristband, a clerk stapled it to the pass. Really, everyone was very nice and accommodating, but I do want to say that my son has an obvious disability. Other people's experience might be different.

Everyone in my family loves the beach; it's one of the few places we can go where everyone has a good time. The Santa Cruz area has many beaches and it was difficult to make a choice. We opted for the Manresa State Beach because it was literally a 4 minute drive from the KOA. We were not disappointed. This beach was littered with shells, sand dollars, and little crab carcasses, along with lots of seaweed and surfers. The sea gulls were annoying, but really this is their turf and it was fun watching toddlers chase them.

For this beach, you park in the parking lot and then you have to walk down the cliff to the beach. Parking for all state beaches is $10. What we loved about this beach was that there were concrete stairs as well as an accessible ramp down to the beach. Score! This made walking with my youngest son so much easier. He is very apprehensive about walking up and down stairs; consequently, he is very slow. With the ramp, I could walk with him and haul my beach stuff without feeling like I needed my inhaler. Very awesome. The fog decided to lift about the time we decided to leave. All in all, it was still a lovely day at the beach only this time, we had a 4 minute drive back to "kamp" instead of a 2 hour drive home.

Tiny crab carcass
Sand dollars and shells
Manresa State Beach - view from ramp


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Eleven Years Ago Today: Then and Now

On July 22, 2013, much of the world seemed to celebrate the birth of the new prince in Great Britain. Hooray for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge! I mean that, even though I'm American and don't quite grasp the concept of a royal family. Congratulations are in order, nonetheless.

Yesterday, I was remembering eleven years prior - July 22, 2002 - when I went for a routine doctor appointment while pregnant with my second child. There were no rose-colored lenses while walking down Memory Lane this day.

He wasn't due until August 1st, but I was tired. I wanted him to be born yesterday, if you know what I mean. The doctor said, "The baby isn't doing well and neither are you. I need to induce you today." That jolted me out of my lethargy. I started making excuses like, "I need to go home and get my husband. I need to arrange child-care for my oldest son. I don't have any extra clothes." The doctor was kind but firm, "I'm sorry, but I can't in good conscience let you go. It's time to go to the hospital." We only had one car at the time, so my husband had to make arrangements with my sister to come babysit and with a neighbor to bring him to the hospital.

I went to the hospital shortly after 1:30pm. Since my first pregnancy had been induced I already knew what to expect. Despite this experience, I was in for a rough night ahead. My blood pressure spiked dangerously high and I was given some medication to bring it down. About 6:00am the following morning I was given an epidural. Finally, I could get some rest. Or not. By 6:25am he was ready, except that because of the epidural, I was not. Because of this the doctor had to initiate a vacuum-assisted delivery. If I had only known.

The first thing I noticed after he was born was that he didn't cry. I don't even remember if I got to hold him because I passed out. When I came to about 11:30am, I went upstairs to the ICU to visit him. I wanted to hold him or at least stroke his arms and face. At this point, I thought it was just a precaution that he was in the ICU. Before I realized what was happening, the seizures started. My baby was enduring seizures and all I could do was watch. He was having trouble breathing and there was nothing I could do. Little did I know he was experiencing a brain hemorrhage.

That evening, he was transferred to Seattle Children's Hospital where he stayed for nearly two weeks in the NICU. At the end of his stay, we were told that there was nothing more that could be done for him and that we should take him home to enjoy what time was left. In all likelihood, he would soon die. By the grace of God, that did not come to pass as we are celebrating his 11th birthday today!

My heart was happy and subsequently broken on July 23, 2002. Words like "Grade IV intraventricular hemorrhage", "seizures", "cerebral palsy", "developmental delay" and "cortical visual impairment" were not yet part of my everyday vocabulary, but they soon would be. Every year I remember this and thankfully the grief becomes less and less as I see the progress that he makes. But I digress. His party is this weekend, but we're still going to celebrate today. We're going swimming after lunch. We sit in the shallow end of the pool while he splashes. We're going to McDonald's for dinner because that's his favorite. After dinner, we're going to Whole Foods for dessert because they have the bomb brownies that he loves. Later this week I have cupcakes to make, more presents to buy, and a party to plan for this weekend to celebrate the birth of my little prince who has come a long, long way.

Happy birthday to my sweet little prince!


The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Monday, July 8, 2013

Medication Merry-Go-Round

Back in May I was lamenting the no-win situation of trying medication for my youngest son's seizures. At that time, we were starting the second medication (Trileptal) because the first (Keppra) had undesirable side-effects, a.k.a. "kepprage". With the Trileptal, there did not seem to be any side-effects and my son seemed to do well on it. Until the last week of May.

Shortly after Memorial Day, my son developed a dry cough. I dismissed it as being a symptom of allergies, or possibly an on-coming cold. However, as the days turned into weeks I realized that it wasn't allergies or a cold. For one thing, there wasn't the usual accompanying runny nose and watery eyes. And when he coughed, he wasn't spitting up mucus. It was just a persistent dry cough.

I began to suspect that it was a side-effect of the medication, so I did a little reading. Sure enough,  a dry cough can be a side-effect of Trileptal. Before calling the neurologist, I made an appointment with the pediatrician just to be sure it wasn't bronchitis or pneumonia. I didn't want the neurologist to think that I was a paranoid mom, so I took my son to the pediatrician first. The result? A clean bill of health. No bronchitis, no pneumonia, no nothing.

When we got home I called the neurologist. As luck would have it he was out of the office for that week. The nurse practitioner spoke with another neurologist in the office who recommended decreasing the dosage by half to see if it made any difference. It did make a difference in that it reduced but did not eliminate the coughing. Mmmhmm. The following Monday, July 1, I received a call from the neurologist's office and his regular doctor was back in the office. He wanted to wean my son off of Trileptal and start him on Topamax. I hesitated. My son had been on Topamax as a baby and he was a zombie. I said, "You know, we're scheduled to see you on Monday the 8th. Let's wait and talk about it then." In the meantime I weaned my son off of Trileptal per the doctor's instructions. Saturday was his last dose and what do you know? His coughing all but disappeared.

At the appointment, we talked about alternatives to Trileptal. Tiagabine (I think) came up as did Topamax. The doctor also mentioned Depakote, but said he preferred not to start my son on that just yet as it requires alot of blood work. I tentatively agreed to try Topamax again. We talked about possible side-effects: tingling in the hands, confusion, weight loss. Sigh.

Today, we're starting antiepileptic drug #3.

I want off this merry-go-round. I'm sure my son does, too.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Daytripping: Amtrak Capitol Corridor to SF Exploratorium and Pier 39

This is the week that both of my boys are out on summer vacation before my youngest returns for 4 weeks of summer school. My plan was to take them to San Francisco via Amtrak. Follow me as I recount our day trip.

We live in the Sacramento region of California. On a good day it's about a two hour drive to San Francisco from where we live. I don't mind driving; I don't even mind driving in San Francisco. I grew up in the Bay Area, lived in Oakland for a number of years, and spent alot of time in SF. I always liked living in Oakland because it was only a bridge away from SF.  Even though I love SF, I never wanted to live there. The reason? Parking sucks. It's not the driving that bothers me; it's the parking. Oh, and freeway traffic sucks, too.

With this in mind, I thought it would be cool to take the boys on an Amtrak ride and spend the day at Pier 39. If you are considering a similar day trip, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. The Amtrak train does not go to SF.
You take a train to Emeryville and then board a bus to SF. There are several bus stops in SF: Ferry Building, Financial District, Moscone Center, Caltrain Station, Shopping Center, Civic Center, and Fisherman's Wharf. The Fisherman's Wharf bus stop actually drops you off at Pier 39, but Fisherman's Wharf isn't too far. The Ferry Building bus stop is down by Pier 1. If you're going to the Exploratorium, which is located at Pier 15, then you could use either of those two bus stops.

2. Decide how many bus-train transfers you want to make.
Even though it's called "The Capitol Corridor" and runs from Auburn to San Jose, it's not always a direct train service. If you are coming from the Auburn, Rocklin, or Roseville stations, you might have to take a bus to Sacramento and then catch the train in Sac to Emeryville. (Keep in mind that you'll disembark at Emeryville.) Of course, it goes without saying that the most direct service is also the earliest service. However, I chose the one train and one bus option because I wanted to make as few transfers as possible. The price is the same regardless of what you choose; it just depends on how early you want to get started. If you live close to Sacramento, just go to the Sacramento Amtrak station.

3. Be prepared to transfer quickly.
We had less than 5 minutes to make our connections. This wasn't a problem going from train to bus as the bus driver had to scan each person's ticket. However, going from bus to train on the way home, we had to haul it. It's not as bad as it sounds unless you or your child have mobility issues. I don't want to scare you off, but prepare yourself for the fact that there is almost no time to linger between connections.

4. Amtrak is not cheap, but it's convenient and comfortable.
Don't think that taking the train is a cheap way to go. The fares listed in the above picture are for 1 adult and 2 kids each way from Auburn. Note: Fares may change at any time, so be sure to go to the Amtrak web site for the latest fares. My plan was to include the train ride as part of the day's fun. Both of my kids thoroughly enjoyed the train ride, and I enjoyed bypassing all of the freeway traffic and avoiding the parking in SF.

5. BYO snacks and water.
There is a cafe car on the train, but I think it's a little pricey. If money is no object to you and this is part of the overall experience, then go for it. I like to economize when I can, so I brought some water, crackers, and granola bars. Plus, I like having my own water when we're doing alot of walking.

View of the Bay Bridge from the Exploratorium at Pier 15
We got to SF at 10:00am. Most of the people got off at the Ferry Building, but four of us were going to Pier 39. As we were passing the Exploratorium at Pier 15 on our way to Pier 39, the bus driver mentioned that he thought it was free on Wednesdays (it wasn't). The other lady on the bus said that my boys would have a wonderful time there, especially my youngest son. The Exploratorium had not been on my agenda, but I said we'd go. The bus driver was very kind and let us off well before the Pier 39 bus stop. He only did this because there were four of us on the bus; I'm positive this would not have happened with a full bus.

As it turned out, the lady and the bus driver were correct: my boys had a wonderful time at the Exploratorium. No, it wasn't free on this Wednesday and yes it was pricey. However, it's one of the few places that both of my boys enjoyed. All of the exhibits are touchy-feely, so they're perfect for kids. My youngest son was absolutely giddy when exploring the sound exhibits. All in all, we spent about two hours at the Exploratorium. I will definitely be taking them again before the summer is over.

The sea lions at Pier 39
After a quick bite to eat at the Exploratorium's cafe, we walked to Pier 39. My original plan included lunch at Pier 39 and then going to Ghirardelli Square for some chocolate and then hanging out at Fisherman's Wharf. Because of the detour, we did not have time to go to Ghirardelli Square mainly because my youngest son is a slow walker. We stayed at Pier 39 and found a chocolate place. My oldest son was in heaven. We saw the sea lions and I was blown away by the size of those animals; the picture doesn't do them justice.

Since the Amtrak bus stop is right in front of Pier 39, we didn't have to walk too far. We caught the bus back to Emeryville and quickly boarded a train bound for Auburn. On the return trip, we sat on the top level of the train. The boys and I were tired. As we passed Hwy 80 and I saw all of the traffic, I was glad to be aboard the Amtrak train. All in all, another fun day trip.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Summer Lunches: Check the Freezer

Today is the last day of school for my boys. Our annual tradition is that I take them out to lunch after school. We're trying a new burger place, which I'm told has awesome milkshakes and fries. And burgers. Yum!

Although we like going out to eat, my bathroom scale and my checkbook both dictate how often we can do this. You may have guessed that it's not very often. In order to circumvent these benevolent dictators as well as trying to be frugal and fun, I started the tradition of buying prepared freezer food and Top Ramen noodles to have on hand for summer lunches.  I never said it was healthy, but then eating out isn't healthy either.

Whenever my oldest son asks if we can go to McDonald's I say, "Check the freezer." If he complains, I remind him that he is the same kid who will eat peanut butter sandwiches every day during the school year and that he's welcome to eat one of those.   My youngest son is more flexible in his lunch preferences so he is easier to please. He's happy with the chicken nuggets or the frozen burritos.

Is this really frugal? No. The most frugal option, of course, is to eat leftovers or make a sandwich. However, I look at it this way: there are some foods that I only buy at certain times of the year, like pumpkin pie. I only buy pumpkin pie in the fall. If buying prepared freezer foods is something that I only do during summer, then I'm okay with it. And buying prepared foods is cheaper than eating at a restaurant - even a fast food restaurant. By the time you buy a burger, fries, and a drink you can easily spend $4 - $6 per person. Is any of this necessary? No, but my kids enjoy it and it gives me a break from making lunches. Happy Summer!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It's Not About Church

I was raised in the Catholic Church and attended Catholic school until 8th grade. There were a lot of positive aspects about growing up Catholic and Catholic school life: the uniforms (not), the church carnivals, and the camaraderie. But... Shortly after high school, I came to the conclusion that religion was a bunch of BS. There had to be more to God than just going to church every Sunday. There had to be more than fasting during Lent, or saying the Rosary among other things. If that's all there was to it, then I wanted no part of it because it felt shallow. No, it felt hollow.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of leaving without having anywhere else to go. So I wandered, spiritually, for a good 15-20 years. Buddhism sounded good; earth-based spirituality sounded good; agnosticism sounded good. Sort of. I never really took anything else that seriously. Oh I read a lot and talked to a lot of people, but nothing ever really appealed to me. I came to the conclusion that I didn't need religion. I was "spiritual, but not religious". Snicker.

When my oldest son was about a year old, we were getting ready to leave southern California and return to Seattle. At this time, I was beginning to long for the church community that I had as a kid. I wanted our family to go to church, including my husband (who was raised Lutheran) who swore that unless it was for a wedding or a funeral then he wouldn't go. I looked into a church for both of us, and found a Unitarian Universalist church in Seattle. It seemed like a good fit for both of us. (Sounds like shoe shopping, doesn't it?) It was also during this time, that my youngest son was born, and folks from this church came by to drop off meals and offer sympathy and condolences. In spite of this, it wasn't what I was looking for; something was missing.

In 2003, we came back to northern California and looked for a church. We didn't like the UU church, so we attended a United Church of Christ church. I liked the people, but we were the only family with small children. And still, something didn't feel quite right. In 2007, we decided to leave this church and begin shopping for a new one. It sounds crass, but really, that's what we were doing. We wanted a church with more families. When we heard that the "big" church had a special needs program, we decided to try it. It wasn't nearly as bad as we thought and we ended up liking it despite our preconceived notions.

It was May 2008. We had been attending this big box church for about nine months, when I began to feel unsettled. Was this the right church? I don't remember the exact date, but I think it was the 10th. It was late at night, and I was alone in the garage (that's where our computer was) and I was paying bills and balancing the checkbook. I was feeling overwhelmed and tired. I closed my eyes and had this dream - some might call it a vision, but that still sounds creepy to me. I was sitting on a fence and I'm positive that I heard God say, "Choose. You've gone your way all these years. It's time to choose: your way or Mine." I said, "I choose you, Lord. I choose Your way." In my dream I jumped off the fence and went running through the clouds toward God's voice. I know, it sounds corny and crazy, but that's what happened. When I opened my eyes, I began to cry and to confess my sins to God. I acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah; that he died on the cross for my sins; that God raised him up on the third day. The peace that I felt was surreal. Where just an hour before I was anxious and overwhelmed, I was now at peace. I was baptized the following Sunday on May 18, 2008 at the same church, which I still attend.

My long-winded point in telling my story is this: I was looking for a church, not the reason for the church. I was looking for a community; I wasn't looking for Jesus. For a long time, I was one of those people who was able to attend church without really being a Christian. You have to have a relationship with Jesus, otherwise church is meaningless. Without Jesus, a church is another social club, or worse, a social obligation. I'm not saying that a church community isn't important, because it's the church that is the body of Christ. What I am saying is that going to church will not automatically mean you have a relationship with Jesus. Make sure you have that above all else.

I'm still not religious, BTW.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. ~Romans 10:9

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. ~Ephesians 2:19-22

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Anti-Epileptic Meds: Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't

After discussing the results of his abnormal EEG, the doctor recommended Keppra for my youngest son. I talked with a couple of parents whose children took Keppra and I visited various epilepsy boards. The common theme was: be aware of "kepprage", which is extreme irritability and anger while taking Keppra. So, I watched and waited. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy or maybe I saw what I wanted to see. (I'm trying not to swear anymore, so please forgive this next sentence.) But holy crap on a cracker...what happened to my sweet little boy? You can't tell me this is merely puberty. After 3 weeks of having him on this medication, I was done. I was done with the scratching, the yelling, the hitting, and the tears.

I called the neurologist's office with my concerns and asked for other options. The nurse recommended doses of vitamin B6 to combat the irritability. In the meantime, she would send a message to the doctor. Fine. I got some B6 and magnesium and put them in my son's nighttime pudding. The following morning, the nurse called again saying that the doctor had written a prescription for Trileptal. Both Trileptal and Keppra had to be taken simultaneously for two days after which we could discontinue Keppra. Hooray! Or so I thought.

The patient advisory leaflet for Trileptal contains warnings for the usual side effects such as: constipation, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting. Nice. It also contains warnings for: double vision, difficulty speaking, (I had to laugh because my son is blind and nonverbal. Bad form, I know.) difficulty concentrating, loss of coordination, difficulty walking, and low levels of sodium, which ironically can produce more seizures. Hmmm, you don't say. Yes, but what are the odds that he'll experience these side-effects? Well, I don't know. However, I do know that the odds are not as low as zero. When he was an infant, he was taking phenobarbital and Topamax. He was a zombie. It wasn't until he started the ketogenic diet and came off those meds that we started to see him make progress. Seriously. While on Keppra, he was angry and irritable. These meds are not to be toyed with.

I immediately realized that I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't. If I decided to continue medication, there would most likely be side effects. If I didn't do medication, there would most likely be more seizures. Either road can have serious consequences. This morning, my husband and I asked ourselves, "Is it worth it to medicate him if he only has a few seizures a year?" This is a question that is difficult to answer. You see, I had a co-worker who died during a seizure. It was only her second seizure. And she was taking medication. I think a better question would be, "If this happened to your son, can you live with the fact that you didn't try to prevent it with meds?" For me, the answer is, "I don't know." I'm not saying that to be flip. It's a no-win situation that requires careful thought and consideration.

For now, we're going forth with Trileptal. As with everything, it's in God's hands.

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, "Do not fear; I will help you." ~ Isaiah 41:13

Friday, April 12, 2013

Follow-up EEG: Once More Unto the Breach

You may have read here and here that my youngest son had at least two seizures in the past 6 months. You may also have read here that when he had seizures as a baby and we did the ketogenic diet; but I'm getting ahead of myself. Over spring break, my youngest son had to do a 24 hour EEG. Surprisingly, he did very well. He pulled off the electrodes that were attached to his face near his ears, and he pulled off the electrodes attached to his collarbone. Aside from that, everything else remained intact.

Two days ago on Wednesday we met with the neurologist to go over the EEG results. Needless to say, the results were abnormal. Although dismayed, I was not surprised. Back in October, the doctor indicated that given his history, any EEG reading would most likely be abnormal. Although he did not have any seizures during that 24 hour period, the doctor indicated that my son was experiencing focal spikes. He was kind enough to print out the results for us and circled where the focal spikes were on the EEG readout page. Because of this, and because of my son's prior history of seizures, and because he is at risk for further seizures, the doctor recommended medication to prevent further seizures. The doctor recommended Keppra because it has fewer side effects involving liver function. It can, however, have unwanted behavioral side effects, a.k.a. "Kepprage". If we notice any behaviors, then we'll try something else.

I'll be honest: anti-seizure medications scare me, but so does the thought of seizures. For now it's another waiting game; waiting to see if the medication has unwanted side effects. We have a follow-up appointment in 3 months. In the meantime, I'm crushing up pills and trying to hide them in chocolate pudding. I feel like I missed my calling and should have been a pharmacist.☺

Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Great and Small - Applying the Parable of the Talents

A few months ago, right before Thanksgiving, I had the privilege of buying groceries for someone who was down and out. A lady who had previously attended my Bible study sent out an email to her former and current Bible study partners with a plea to help her next door neighbor. It seems that her neighbor's husband had left a few months earlier; she had recently lost her job; she was down to her last meal of food; she had two small children; she was out of diapers and had no money for rent or gas. She was overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear. My friend's email stated, "We need to shower this woman with the love of God. If there's anyway you can help, please let me know."

Immediately, I knew that I wanted to buy some groceries. I have a heart for people who are hungry. I remember being hungry many times as a child and it's an awful feeling. I replied to my friend to send me a list of food that her neighbor liked. The reply email contained a list of her neighbor's needs: food, diapers, toilet paper, rent money. For some unknown reason, instead of focusing on the list of food, I began to focus on the rent money. All of a sudden I really wanted to pay her rent. There was no way I could pay her rent as I didn't have that kind of extra money. I began to despair. What good are groceries if she was evicted and homeless? How could I possibly pay her rent? "Lord, how can I pay her rent? I don't have the money!" In answer to my prayer I heard the Lord clearly tell me:

I'm not asking you to pay her rent - I have another servant who will do that. I'm asking you to buy groceries...and a gas card.

I got it. I bought groceries and a gas card. I also contacted some other friends and collected more groceries and diaper donations from them. When my husband and I delivered the groceries and diapers, the lady was so overwhelmed and grateful that she was crying. I later learned from my friend that several other people bought groceries and...someone else paid her rent. Earlier that morning, her house had no food, no diapers, and no hope. By that evening, her refrigerator and cabinets were overflowing with food and her rent had been paid all by people who didn't know her. It truly was a miracle. That, my friends, is the wonderful body of Christ - the church - in action.

I tell this story not to toot my own horn (heaven forbid), but rather to share the lessons I learned from it:

1. I'm convinced that the enemy of God was trying to distract me from obeying God by trying to refocus my attention on to the rent and away from the groceries. Had I allowed myself to be distracted, I would have been an unfruitful servant. Praise God for His intervention.

2. Sometimes, I think our heart is in the wrong place when we think or say that we want to do something "great" for God. First of all, we can't do anything for Him. Second, whatever God is asking us to do, we should be thrilled that He counts us worthy servants to assign us a task - big or small.

3. The person who paid the rent contributed 10 times more than I did. Who gave more? The answer is "Neither" because we each gave according to what God had blessed us with. The important point here, is not to focus on who contributed what and how much. The important point is that we each obeyed God and used the gifts that He gave us. No matter how much or how little you have, God will show you how to use it for His glory. Don't compare yourself to others. God has blessed us all with different gifts. Whatever you do, don't hoard your gifts; use your gifts according to His direction and you will be a good and faithful servant.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money..." Matthew 25:14-30

Sunday, March 31, 2013

He is Risen!

Happy Resurrection Sunday!

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” ~ Matthew 28:5-7

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. ~John 3:16-17

Friday, March 29, 2013

Telling Stories to Wrap Your Brain Around

Last night, my husband and I had an interesting conversation with our oldest son at the dinner table. The conversation centered around my youngest son and all of the challenges that he faces. This conversation was prompted by all of the electrodes on my youngest son's head as he was in the midst of his 24 hour ambulatory EEG.

My oldest son could not understand why his 10yo brother is in the 5th grade and is still learning numbers. And the alphabet. And why isn't he doing 5th grade work? We tried explaining that although he is in "5th" grade, he is actually in a special day class; it's not really 5th grade, at least not as he knows it. We tried explaining that some kids learn at much slower rates, and some kids don't learn things like algebra. This was too much for my oldest son to digest. "But he's got to learn those things!"

We then related the story of how when his brother was born, the doctors told us that he was going to die because of his severe brain hemorrhage. We were told to take him home and enjoy what time he had left. My oldest son got quiet. I don't think he ever realized just how close to death his brother was. His little brother, who can irritate the crap out of him; his little brother, who can play his music way too loud; his little brother, who has alot more challenges than his older brother. "We're just glad he's here, buddy. It doesn't matter to us if he learns algebra. Everyone is different. Everyone has been given different gifts and is blessed differently. You, on the other hand, have been given different gifts than your brother. You have to learn algebra and don't waste your gifts."

That seemed to satisfy him somewhat. I think his little brother still annoys him, but I'm seeing a subtle shift in attitude toward his little brother. I'd like to think it's a positive change.

"Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms." ~ 1 Peter 4:10

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sadness and Happiness and Advice for Those Who Listen

Sadness is seeing a picture of your son and his classmates and realizing that he may have more challenges than you thought. Happiness is knowing that he is the same lovable little boy.

It's fairly easy to talk about the happy moments. Who doesn't want to hear about progress or a challenge that's been overcome? It's more difficult to talk about the sad moments that occur when raising a child with special needs. There are several reasons for this:

The feelings can be difficult to verbalize.
You're not ready to face the challenges that those sad moments bring.
You don't want to be a downer.
And finally, sometimes in those sad moments you realize that you may have to reorganize or readjust your plan for your special needs child yet again.

There are plenty of happy moments in our lives, like the other night when my youngest son spontaneously picked up a spoonful of baked beans and brought it to his mouth. Yay!!! There are also plenty of sad moments, like yesterday, when I saw a picture of him with his classmates and realized that his challenges were in some ways more severe than I previously thought. Part of this may be that I'm comparing and I shouldn't. But part of this is also realizing that he may need more help than he's currently getting.

To those of you who are tempted to make everything all better while listening to a friend who verbalizes about these sad moments, my advice to you is: Stop. Seriously. Just. Shut. Up. And. Listen. Don't try to make everything all better with platitudes like, "Well, at least he's made progress in other areas." or "He's come a long way." or "Things could be alot worse." My tempted un-Christlike response would be, "No shit, Sherlock. Can you go F&@# off and be nice somewhere else?" This is also advice for myself. I have to remember not to be Miss Pollyanna when I'm around someone who's hurting. I, too, have a tendency to make everything all better.

There's alot to be said for having optimism - most of it's good.☺ But sometimes the reality of a situation may force you to look at it with more sobering thoughts. All I'm saying is that sometimes in those sad moments we realize that we need to change something. The sadness occurs because we/I feel helpless and unsure of how to make a change. It's a process. Unless you have an immediate solution to the problem, don't be so quick to jump in and make it better with empty words. We know that this too shall pass and that nothing lasts forever. In the meantime, the Bible has some good advice on this very subject:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

It's the Waiting that Kills Me

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. ~Psalm 56:3

The problem with being able to think ahead is that my mind tends to overreact, or worse, I start second-guessing myself. Is that what I really saw? Don't you think you're overreacting? Aren't you jumping to conclusions? If you don't do something it might get worse. You'll look like an idiot if it turns out to be nothing. See what I mean?

We're in the process of scheduling an EEG for my youngest son as it seems he had another seizure over the weekend. You may remember that he may have had one at the beginning of the school year. When we saw the neurologist in October he advised that since my son had been seizure-free for so many years, we would treat this as his first seizure. He also reminded us that sometimes seizures return with the onset of puberty. Fabulous. As if puberty by itself wasn't enough. No, really, sometimes I say, "WTF? Are you kidding me?!"

At any rate, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous for several reasons. The thought of my son dealing with seizures again makes me want to vomit. The thought of going through the list of anti-seizure meds or doing the ketogenic diet also makes me want to vomit. All of this runs through my mind and we don't even have a definitive answer yet. It's the waiting that kills me. I'm good at enduring and persevering, but not waiting. Once I know for sure, then I can deal. Until then I need to breathe and try not to explode.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. ~ Psalm 34:4

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Measure of Success

My imaginary address to a graduating class...

Some of you will go on to be wildly successful. Though some of you may be burdened with wealth or fame you will know that one of the secrets to life is knowing that it is a privilege to serve (1) and a joy to bless others.(2) Some of you may not be burdened with wealth or health, yet you have learned the other secret to living a successful life, which is being content no matter what your circumstances, whether you are healthy, wealthy, poor or sick.(3) Being successful means that you don't follow the crowd; most people will simply shake their heads or roll their eyes at you. A few will secretly admire you but they'll still think you're crazy. How can you gain more by giving more? (4)

Some of you, I'm sorry to say, will not be so successful. Unfortunately, you will acquire beautiful cars, and houses, a successful career, and lots of money. You'll be burdened with worry about how to protect all of these things and without realizing it these things consume you and become your life.(5) Your empty shallow life will be the envy of many thereby enabling and encouraging you to continue in the vicious cycle, until you wake up one day realizing that your life is nearly over and you have nothing to show for it. It will all be gone when you are. (6)

The road to failure is wide and easy to take. Everyone's doing it. The road to success is narrower and harder to find. (7) The good news, my friends, is that as long as you are coherent and breathing, it's never too late to turn away from failure toward success.(8)  Just stop, turn around, and go against the crowd. Keep your head held high with your eyes on the prize and don't look back.(9)  You're on your way. The good news is, when you've chosen to walk the path to success, it won't ever be taken from you. (10) The good news is: although you will lose the whole world, you will gain your soul. Now that's success.

(1) Mark 10:45
(2) Acts 20:35
(3) Philippians 4:11-13
(4) Proverbs 11:24
(5) Matthew 16:26
(6) Luke 12:19-21
(7) Matthew 7:13-14
(8) Luke 19:1-10
(9) Philippians 3:13-14
(10) Luke 10:41-42

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Budget Budgeting

I know, you've been dying to know how I budget. OK maybe not. My budgeting process may seem ridiculously complex to some, and ridiculously simple to others. I aim for simplicity, but it may not seem that way.


Open Source Spreadsheet and Accounting Software 
My tools consist of a spreadsheet and an accounting program. Last year, I blogged about why I ditched Windows for Linux. Consequently, I use open source software mainly because it's free. For my office suite, I use LibreOffice. For my home accounting, I use GnuCash. Both of these are available for Mac and Windows users. You can download these and other open source software from SourceForge. In some instances, the non-free versions of this software (i.e. MS Office) may be prettier, but it's not worth the price tag, IMO. It's true that I did have to relearn new software and that did take some time and patience. The open source version suits my needs and it may suit yours. Take whatever precautions you take when downloading software. Or, take these concepts and use what you've already got.


1. Create a Budget Spreadsheet: Itemize Income and Expenses
I use the open source LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet (part of the LibreOffice suite) to itemize my spending. Every year, I create a budget spreadsheet listing income and expenses for each month of the year because sometimes expenses or income change. Obviously, if you have dual incomes, you'll have to add columns for the other earner's paychecks and decide which bills you want to pay with which paycheck. This example assumes a one-income household that gets paid twice a month. Please note that the examples I give are not my family's real budget. I have decided not to put my business out there's my business. But, I'm happy to share my budgeting process with you.

You must list all of your expenses including those that you pay weekly,  monthly, quarterly, or annually. For example, you may pay your mortgage monthly, but your homeowner's insurance is paid annually. Here is how I figure out how much to set aside per paycheck:

Monthly expenses
If your monthly mortgage is $1600 then divide this number by how often you get paid per month. This is what you will set aside per paycheck. This example assumes you get paid twice a month:

                                  $1600/2 = $800 per paycheck 

Annual expenses
If your annual homeowner's insurance is $670 then divide this number by 12. This is how much you must set aside each month. Now divide this number by how often you get paid per month. This is what you will set aside per paycheck. This example assumes you get paid twice a month:

                                 $670/12 = $55.83 each month
                                 $55.83/2 = $27.92 per paycheck

2. Create Accounts and Sub-Accounts in Accounting Program
I use the open source accounting program, GnuCash. In this program, I set up a basic checking account, a savings account, and our two credit card accounts. I don't track investment savings - I'm more concerned with household budgeting. (Note: The picture shows a negative balance for an Imbalance account because I have not categorized my spending for this example. I don't even do this on my version. I have a bad habit of ignoring things that I don't think pertain to me. You can ignore this.)

Under Savings Account, I have sub-accounts for each of the items in the spreadsheet. Note that all of the money is still in the parent Savings Account. These sub-accounts only exist in my accounting program, not in my actual bank account. When I log on to my bank's online banking, I see only the balances for my checking account and my savings account. I have added sub-accounts to my accounting program because they allow me to allocate money toward each individual expense.

3. Post Date Transactions that are Auto Deducted from Checking Account
The exceptions to this are those items that are automatically deducted from my checking account, such as auto insurance and life insurance. I leave that money in my checking account and post date those transactions with the date that they will be deducted. For example, my auto insurance is deducted from my checking account on the 10th of every month. Even though it's still January, I have dated this entry to be 2/10/13. This reminds me that the money is already accounted for and can't be spent. I always deal with these items first.

4. Transfer Money to Sub-Accounts
After accounting for auto-deducted transactions in my checking account, whatever money is leftover from the paycheck is transferred to my savings account. Don't forget to transfer the money from your checking account to your savings account via online banking or ATM and record this transaction in your accounting program. You may choose to keep everything in your checking account. That's fine. You can create sub-accounts under the parent Checking account. I like to have my money for bills in my Savings account because it's less likely to get spent. Looking at my spreadsheet, I begin the process of transferring money from the parent Savings Account to each of the sub-accounts. I even have sub-accounts for my credit cards: American Express and Visa. Let's say I use my American Express to buy a $10 lunch. I can move $10 from the Entertainment/Dining sub-account to the AmEx sub-account. 

5. Pay Bills
When it's time to pay bills, I move the money from the sub-account back to the Checking Account. Again, don't forget to transfer money between your accounts via online banking or ATM.

The most time-consuming portion of this whole process is the initial set-up. I hate to say it, but sometimes doing the prep work is more work than the actual work. ☺ Once this is set up, it's easy to maintain. It may sound complicated, but really, it's only a spreadsheet with your budget and an accounting program with all of your account information. You probably have these already. It's been a long time since I've used Quicken, but I think it uses Savings Goals, which is a similar concept that you can use to your advantage. The year is still new, so you have plenty of time to rework your budget. Just the sort of thing you can do on a cold, rainy weekend. Happy budgeting!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Daytripping: Lake Tahoe in Winter

Sunday was a beautiful winter day, so we decided to take the boys to the snow after church. Just as we were nearing our favorite sledding spot I said, "Why don't we continue on to Tahoe?" I had never been to Lake Tahoe in the winter. Since none of us ski, it never really seemed like a necessity to brave the icy roads and the hordes of skiers. But Sunday felt different; it was sunny and beautiful with no hint of foul weather. We drove to our usual park/beach, Commons Beach, and immediately we knew we made the right decision.

A blanket of snow covered the beach, and when set against the blue lake and the blue sky it made for a stunning picture. Much of the cobblestone sidewalk had been cleared of snow, and there were several park benches that were also clear. The playground area was surrounded with snow, but that didn't stop a few toddlers from playing. My husband made a snowman on the beach, while my oldest son traipsed across the snowy beach looking for who knows what while dragging his yellow sled behind him. My youngest son has always been apprehensive about the put it mildly. The park bench provided a safe haven for him. Meanwhile, all he had to do was reach across the sidewalk to touch the snow if he so desired.

On our way back home, we stopped at the Village at Squaw Valley just to walk around and grab an afternoon snack. It goes without saying that there were alot of skiers. Naturally, many of the restaurants seemed to cater to the young and hip skiers (read: pizza/beer/wine restaurants). We weren't looking for a full meal, just a quick pick-me-up snack. There was a Starbuck's, but we wanted to see if there was something more, how should I put this...original. I'm not against Starbuck's, but I'm making it a point to try out local and/or mom and pop shops. We found it in the form of Batch Cupcakery. Fabulous cupcakes, is all I have to say.

All in all, a fabulous day. We missed the Niners game, but then we don't have tv anyway. I'm told that they're headed for the Superbowl. Cool. But even cooler, I got to spend a winter day with my family in one of California's most beautiful spots.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Stepping Up and Stepping Out

Many, many years ago when I was a senior in high school, I got a part in the school's spring production of You Can't Take it With You. I'll let you follow the link to Wikipedia for the synopsis. (I played Penelope, BTW.) Ever since then, the phrase "you can't take it with you" has stuck with me although it's taken a while to let it soak in. When it's time for me to leave this earth and enter into eternity, I won't be able to take anything with me. This means that my time, talent, and treasure are all temporary things and it does me no good whatsoever to hoard them. So, why not share them? I'm glad you asked.

I'm a Star Trek fan because I love the fact that in the Star Trek universe, the people of Earth have finally united and have worked together to eliminate poverty and disease. I know, it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, too. Although I love the idea of eliminating poverty, I realize that I've never done anything to work toward that objective because it seemed so daunting...until now.

Last year, my husband and I decided to step up and step out in faith and sponsor two children through Compassion International: a little girl in Kenya and a little girl in Bolivia. A month after sponsoring these two girls, we decided to sponsor one more: a girl in Indonesia. I've always been skeptical about child sponsorship programs, but last year Wess Stafford, the president of Compassion International, spoke at our church. It was a moving speech. I had checked out Compassion before and they are highly rated at Charity Navigator. That's important to me. I realized that I could go on being skeptical - doing nothing to alleviate poverty - or, I could step out in faith to make a difference, if only in the life of one person. Eight months later, I haven't regretted it. I write to the girls in Kenya and Indonesia since I signed up to sponsor them; my husband writes to the girl in Bolivia since he sponsored her. It has been an eye-opening and joyful experience. The photo above is of some artwork that my little girl in Indonesia was able to send to me.

I encourage you to find your own way of sharing your time, talent, and treasure. Perhaps, like me, you are intrigued but skeptical of sponsoring a child. I totally understand. Head on over to Charity Navigator and do some research. I firmly believe that when we give of ourselves and share with others, we receive so much more in return. Remember: you can't take it with you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." ~Matthew 6:19-21

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Technically I'm Not a Mrs.

My husband and I have been married for 21 ½ years. We'll be celebrating our 22nd anniversary this June. For various and sundry reasons that would have involved a paperwork nightmare, I did not change my name when we married. I also happened to like my name, so I was fine about not changing it. Since my husband is fairly easy-going, he didn't seem to mind one way or the other. My last name begins with R. My husband's last name begins with H. Sometimes I'm addressed as Mrs. H, usually by the neighborhood kids; sometimes Mrs. R, usually by people who know me but not my husband. And what about the children? They have my husband's last name. I still have mine. It's never been an issue.

Most of the time, I don't even think about the name difference. Occasionally, I'm reminded that I'm still in the minority of women who kept their names after when I'm on Facebook and I'm looking at my friends' names. Besides me, only two of my friends who are married have kept their own names. Some of my friends are listed as Firstname Maidenname because they are divorced or they never married. Some friends are listed as Firstname Maidenname Marriedname. And some are listed as Firstname Marriedname.

The only time it ever truly bothered me to have my first name paired with my husband's last name was when our insurance company decided to change it for me. For reasons I can't remember, we decided to combine our auto insurance policies by adding him onto mine after we married. The following month our bill was addressed as Hisname and Myname Hislastname, complete with new insurance cards with my "new name". This was problematic for me because legally I was not CH; I was CR. My driver's license was still CR and my auto loan was still in my name. Furthermore, I had not asked them to change my name. They automatically did it for me.

When I called the office to make the correction, the agent's admin just couldn't understand why I didn't change my last name and she wasn't sure if the database could accommodate this request. (This was the pre-Internet stone age of 1991.) Oh hell no. Funny how people react when other people go against the grain and don't do what they think is right. So I wrote a flaming nastygram to the corporate office excoriating their company for imposing their patriarchal attitudes onto me, a paying customer, and reminding them that legally only I could change my name and if this wasn't fixed then the next letter would be from my lawyer....blah blah blah. Never mind that I didn't have a lawyer. ☺ Lo and behold, the next month it was fixed. Imagine that. We've had no problems since.

While I won't go so far as to say that I'm an easy-going person, I really don't care what other women (or men, for that matter) do with their names after they marry. Seriously. I.don' Whatever floats your boat. It's the 21st century, so do what you want. The only judgmental opinion I have on the matter is this: if you think all women should change their names or that all women should keep their maiden names after marriage, then you have control issues and you need to lighten up or seek professional help. I realize that for some women it can be an emotional decision. For me it wasn't. In my opinion, changing your name like deciding to marry, should not be done lightly but rather with careful thought and consideration.


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