Monday, July 14, 2014

A handmade rant

Today, I would like to rant for a bit about something that is near and dear to my heart. Handmade gifts. I can not begin to tell you the number of times that I have mentioned to someone that I enjoy crafting (sewing, crocheting, knitting, etc) and the first thing out of their mouth is "Oh, well it must be a lot cheaper than buying it". I am here to tell you that NO it is NOT cheaper. Even from a strict materials standpoint, using quality materials almost always comes out to be more expensive than buying a similar article made overseas. Of course this doesn't include all of the time and effort that it takes to craft something with your own hands. I made this afghan for Liam. It used 3 skeins of blue yarn and 3 skeins of green yarn at 6.00 a skein (plus some brown, yellow and black scraps that I had laying around). I paid 5 dollars for the pattern. So just for the materials, I paid 41.00. It took me probably around 20 hours total to make it. If I paid myself minimum wage, it would cost 145.00 in labor. I could pick up a baby blanket at Babies R Us for around 20.00.

So why do it? Why do I make things for myself and for other people? Because I enjoy it. I enjoy creating something that I know will be perfect for the recipient and designing it myself instead of picking out the best option from a set of limited choices. It's a relaxing and enjoyable hobby, even if I spend a little more money and time doing it.

So the next time someone gives you an handmade gift, take it for what it is- a painstakingly designed and crafted gift that the giver spent countless hours from their busy life making FOR YOU. It's a one of a kind original. NOT an effort to save a few bucks. So just say "Thanks! I love it!"

Thursday, July 3, 2014


About four months ago I asked all of my family members to update their Tdap vaccinations in anticipation of Liam's birth. When my husband went in to get the booster his PCP insisted on doing a physical first. She ordered some blood work and found that his liver enzyme was elevated. After a long and confusing path of testing she ran a ferritin test. Normal ferritin levels are less than 100. Jeff's was 2562. He had a condition known as hemochromatosis or iron overload. People with hemochromatosis absorb three to four times more iron from food than normal, leading to an overload of iron, particularly in the liver and other storage organs. When this excess iron interacts with oxygen in the body, it produces the free radicals which damage cells and eventually lead to organ failure (like cirrhosis of the liver), heart attack, cancer and pancreatic damage.

The treatment for hemochromatosis is phlebotomy or blood letting. They take a pint of blood about three to four times a month to bring down the iron stores in his body. After three months, Jeff's ferritin levels dropped to 1440, which is great progress but unfortunately, the liver biopsy shows that he already has some degree of cirrhosis in his liver, which is irreversible.

Worldwide, some 24 million whites (about 1 in 200) of northern European ancestry suffer from hemochromatosis. Another 600 million (1 in 10) carry one of the genes responsible for the disorder, and absorb up to 50 percent more iron than non-carriers. Hemochromatosis is an autosomal recessive disorder so it is expressed when you have two copies of the defective gene- one from your mother and one from your father. Until recently it was thought that women were unlikely to have hemochromatosis, since men are five times more likely to show symptoms of the disorder. Scientists now believe that women are equally at risk, but the blood loss of menstruation and childbirth temporarily protects women of child-bearing age from the effects of excess iron absorption. After menopause, though, women with the disorder show symptoms at the same rate as men. After Jeff was diagnosed, he told his mom to get tested and she too, has hemochromatosis and has begun treatment. Her levels are not nearly as high as Jeff's however.

The symptoms of hemochromatosis tend to manifest themselves in middle age, because it takes time for the iron buildup to cause problems. Hemochromatosis can mimic many other ailments - including iron deficiency. The most universal symptoms include the following:

Arthritic aches and pains, including swelling and tenderness around the joints
Heart arrhythmias ("skipping beats")
Changes in skin pigment - most notably development of a bronze tone - that occur even without sun exposure and that don't fade with time
Impotence or loss of interest in sex
Late-onset diabetes (some 10 percent of diabetics may actually be suffering from iron-induced pancreatic damage)
Missed periods or premature menopause

Prior to Jeff's diagnosis, I had never heard of this condition despite it being the most common genetic disorder of Caucasians with northern European heritage. The worst part about it is that it is so benign and easily treated if caught early, but devastating if missed. Despite this, it is not screened for and your ferritin levels have only every been tested if your doctor suspects a problem with iron overload. It is not part of routine blood work. In its early stages, when people are in their 20s and 30s, the condition is often easily ignored - or mistaken for other illnesses - because the symptoms, such as fatigue or aches and pains in the joints, are so vague. But if the disease progresses unchecked, by the time someone reaches his or her 40s or 50s, the growing iron deposits damage and eventually destroy surrounding tissues, leading to organ failure and chronic disease. The ferritin test costs only about $15. Given that the disease is so avoidable, and the consequences are so tragic if missed, I think that spending the money for the test is a good idea- even if you have to pay yourself.

We are still waiting to see how severe the cirrhosis in Jeff's liver is but whatever part of the liver that is cirrhotic is gone. When too much fails the only option left is a liver transplant. Hopefully, we're not at that point but I still wish that someone somewhere had screened for this sooner and he could have avoided all of this.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mother's Day Stepping Stones

So this year while I was trying to think about what to give my mom for Mother's Day, I was flipping through a catalog and saw some stepping stones personalized for moms and grandmas. I thought to myself- "That's perfect for Mom! She loves her garden and her grandkids! JOB DONE!" But they were like 30 dollars a piece and I didn't want to spend that so I decided we would make our own.

1. Gather your materials.

2. Lay out your mosaic pattern. The first one that I did, I laid out the design inside the mold and then moved it in order to the ground. This is very inefficient. The next one, I traced the mold dimensions on to a piece of cardboard and laid the design out inside that. It worked much better. 

Makayla did her own design

3. Prepare the stepping stone mix. The stepping stone mix that I used said "Dump this in a bucket, add 2 cups of water and stir until mixed". I found that the amount of water is CRITICAL to the end result. You need the mix to be consistently moist, but not fluid. It should dump into the mold and sit like cookie dough, not smooth out on its own like cake batter. When you dump the cement in to the mold, jiggle it back and forth to settle the mix in to the mold. It should even out and form a smooth, slightly liquidy surface. You do not want a lot of water sitting on top. This destroys the integrity of the cement and makes it impossible to write in legibly.

4. Press your mosaic tiles in to the mix about halfway. Once you have all of the tiles in the cement, jiggle the mold back and forth to settle them in. 

5. Make impressions of the kids hands/ feet if desired. *Note* One month is really too young to do this. Liam was exceedingly pissed about his hands and feet being pressed in to concrete, no matter how briefly. 

6. After about 30 minutes or so (it took me that long to get the tiles settled and the hand and foot impressions, so there was really no waiting time for me), you can either stamp letters in the concrete or write words using a stick. The stamps really worked well for me and the end result was great.

7. Let cure for 24 hours before trying to unmold or even move the stones. Doing it sooner will cause it to crack. The stepping stone mix said to let cure for 2 weeks before stepping on them. 

Our finished stones!
That's it! Grandma is going to love them!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Birth to Remember

My memories of Makayla's birth have faded significantly in the past five years. Sometimes, I'll mention how something happened as I remember it, only to be contradicted by Jeff who remembers it entirely differently. So this time I thought I'd write it all down, so that I can remember it. It was wonderful in the way that all births are.

March 31, 2014
    I had been having moderately strong Braxton Hicks contractions for well over 2 weeks by this point. Jeff and I got up and took Makayla to school at went to see my midwife (Maureen) for our weekly NST. Liam was due on the 22nd, making him 9 days post dates. I had the non stress test and everything was fine. Maureen asked if wanted her to strip my membranes (again) or if I was ready to induce. I had already thought about it for the past week and Jeff and I had decided that we were ready to induce. So Maureen sent us over to admitting to get the show on the road. While Jeff and I were in admitting, Maureen found out that L&D was in the middle of doing two c-sections and that it would be a couple hours until they could start the induction. Since I was not in labor and we hadn't brought anything with us (I wasn't expecting to be offered induction that day) we decided to go and pick up Makayla from school, have lunch and come back around 2:00 PM.

   When we got back we went straight up to L&D since I had already been through admitting the first time. The nurse took us down to our birthing suite and went through the long question and answer process. I would have had a hard time with the process had I actually been in labor! There was some sort of snafu with the fact that I had been previously admitted then left and they had to issue a new wristband or something so that they could order the pitocin (so my insurance could be billed ;) ) Meanwhile, Makayla was being so well behaved and adorable. She was charming all the nurses with her knowledge of the childbirth process. She was so excited to finally get to be a big sister. The nurse brought her a coloring book and some big sister stickers. We discussed the "pain chart" on the wall and she told Jeff to hold my hand when I got to the wavy mouth (10).

    Finally, around 4:00 PM they got the necessary paperwork straightened out and started the IV pitocin. My mom and dad showed up shortly after, around 5. We decided that Dad would take Makayla to The Little Gym for her gymnastics/ dance class since when I was induced with her we sat around ALL DAY waiting for active labor to start. Almost immediately after they left, my contractions started getting much stronger but still totally manageable. I was tethered to the IV pole and the stupid fetal heart monitor (the ONLY reason I hate that my body seems to be incapable of going into labor on it's own) so I just stood next to the bed and rocked. Around 6:30 PM, Maureen came back and checked my progress. I was about 7 cm dilated and his head was engaged in my pelvis. Maureen asked if I wanted my waters broken and I said yes, knowing that it wouldn't be long after that. She nicked the amniotic sac with the amniohook but it didn't break right away. She went down the hall and in about three contractions, my waters broke all over the floor and made a big mess. Things rapidly progressed from there. I laid back down on the bed and Mom and Jeff were on either side of the bed. I was breaking Jeff's hands and Mom was massaging my back. 7:00 PM was shift change for the nurses and I remember the first nurse trying to tell the new nurse all about what was going on while I felt like I was on a runaway train headed for a cliff. I somehow managed to rip out my IV at this point and I was bleeding out all over the place. They tried to restart the IV in the same hand but managed to go through the vein (I can't blame them, it was pretty hard for me to hold still by this point), so they started the IV in my other hand. Then, probably because I hate them so much, the EFM stopped picking up Liam's heartbeat unless someone was holding the damn thing still. They had me turn over on to my left side in an attempt to pick it up easier, at which point I ripped out my IV again. Maureen was going to have them restart it again but I asked if I really needed it because I knew it was about time to push and I really doubted that the lack of pitocin would stop the train at this point. Maureen agreed and then I felt the need to push so I rolled back and they got ready down below. The first push moved him through my pelvic bones to crowning. After I felt my pelvic bones separate, my brain was telling me that I didn't want to finish this because it hurt. Clearly, not an option at this point. Maureen applied mineral oil and Mom applied perineal pressure. The second push delivered his head. Maureen removed the loop of umbilical cord around his neck and then the third push delivered the rest of him at 7:41 PM. Someone said "Look at the size of him!" and they put him on my chest. I remember thinking how tiny he was! I guess it's all relative when your first was 10 lbs 4 oz... After the cord stopped pulsing, I cut it. Maureen then delivered the placenta and gave me a shot of pitocin in the leg to help stop the bleeding. I had a small tear, which Maureen stitched up pretty quickly but it was so painful. Both times, I've thought the stitching after the birth was FAR more painful than the birth itself. At this point they took him over to the Panda Warmer to be weighed and measured. He clocked in at 9 lbs even and 22 inches long. Just a tiny lil' fella!

    Dad and Makayla showed up around 8:00 PM and were surprised and excited to meet Liam Danger McAfee. I don't think Dad was disappointed that he missed the birthing part this time around. Makayla was too excited to meet her brother to realize that she missed anything. We all sat around holding Liam and taking pictures for about half an hour until they came to take Liam for his newborn exams, shots and eye drops. Mom and Dad took Makayla home for the night and Jeff and I moved to another room (so that the waterbirth tub would be available should someone want it) which turned out to be far better than the original room since there was so much more space without the tub there.

   It's taken me a lot longer than I planned to write this down. Time flies when you're having fun! Tomorrow will be Liam's 1 monthday and he's doing fabulously. He's up to 10 lbs and 24 inches now. He sleeps from about 10 PM until 5 AM every night. He's a very chill baby, spending most of his time sleeping, eating and pooping. I've remastered the diaper poop bomb but I have yet to master not getting peed on. He hardly ever cries, except when he's getting changed. I suspect he may be a never-nude.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Natural Labor Induction

So as I sit here impatiently awaiting the arrival of #2 I find myself inundated with suggestions of ways to kick start this whole labor business. A little background, I was 14 days overdue with Makayla when my midwife insisted that I be induced for "reasons" (her biophysical profiles were all fine, they just didn't allow you to continue more than 2 weeks post dates). So spending all day being pumped full of pitocin and waiting for labor to get started I had a relatively easy and quick birth. Makayla was 10 lbs 4 oz much to everyone's surprise.

At 40 weeks +4 days, I am basically just sick of being pregnant. I can't sleep in the bed anymore because my hips are so painful so I'm sleeping in the recliner. My heartburn/ GERD has been horrible through 100% of this pregnancy and it only gets worse by the day. He's the squirmiest little fella you've ever seen. The midwife keeps reminding me to count kicks. It's supposed to be something like 12 kicks a day and when she asks, I'm just thinking "you mean 12 kicks an hour, right?" but I just say "Yeah, he moves around ALL THE TIME." Obviously, I'm huge and tired of being huge. The thing that has me the most on edge though is that I'm eating up my maternity leave every day that he's not born. I only get 6 weeks of paid short term disability leave and as the sole wage earner in our household, we can't really afford for me to take unpaid maternity leave through FMLA. So, in an effort to hurry him along, I have tried every single labor induction technique that I can find on the internets and I can only come to one conclusion; every single one of them is bunk. If there was any truth to them, they would work all of the time or at the very least, most of the time.

1) Eating spicy foods - I sprinkled my enchiladas with dried, ground habanero pepper flakes
2) Housework - I vacuumed my own house multiple times, vacuumed my parents house, made more trips up and down the stairs with laundry than I can count, and finished remodeling the nursery.
3) Castor Oil - Conveniently, we use much castor oil at work so I flavored and sweetened a batch to make it less disgusting. Didn't do anything except cleanse my bowels.
4) Black and Blue Cohosh tinctures - My mom swears that this is the only reason that I came out when I did (just before her midwife left on vacation). Hasn't done a darn thing for me. She says "I must be doing it wrong"
5) Pineapple, mango, evening primrose oil, etc - Supposedly ripen the cervix. Mine was already good to go so I can't say it did anything. Tasty though.
6) Sex - While pleasant, not at all helpful.
7) Nipple Stimulation - both manually and with my breast pump. Got a few contractions but likely a coincidence because I get contractions randomly most of the day.
8) Walking - Besides the grocery shopping and other errands on the schedule, I've walked miles around the Metroparks. Still pregnant.
9) Warm baths/ meditation/ relaxation - again, pleasant, not doing anything.
10) Stripping the membranes - my midwife did this for me, had no effect.

At this point, people tell you it's because "you're body isn't ready to be induced". I call BS on that too. If natural labor induction was possible (outside coincidentally going into labor after eating Mexican food) it would work all or at least most of the time. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back down to the cellar and finish vacuuming and scrubbing while you magical unicorns spontaneously go into labor on your due dates.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

MaterniT21 and Me

So about three weeks ago we had our 20 week anatomy scan on the spawn. When my midwife gave me the ultrasound requisition form she had checked "suspect fetal anomaly" but she told me that they just check that so that insurance has to pay for it, not because they had any reason to think something was wrong. No one goes in for their 20 week scan thinking that something is wrong. They go in all happy and excited to see the baby and find out if it's a boy or a girl (or not, whatever your pleasure).

So Jeff and I went to the ultrasound and we found out that it's a boy. They also found out that he has a single umbilical artery, normal cords have three vessels- 2 arteries and a vein. Well Liam has one artery and one vein. Apparently it's not terribly uncommon and they recommend having two additional ultrasounds in the third trimester to make sure there is no growth restriction. My first thought was, "Well, I had a 10 lb 4 oz baby the first time, maybe a little growth restriction would be alright!" The SUA is also apparently a soft marker for other abnormalities and genetic conditions so they did an extremely thorough scan of all of his organ systems to check for other anomalies. They found no specific birth defects. Finally at the end of the scan they explained that when they did all of the physical measurements, his femur came up short in relation to his head size. Another soft marker for Down's Syndrome. They recommended that we talk to a genetic counselor about the findings.

After much back and forth in my mind we decided to see the genetic counselors. My arguments with myself were:
  • All of his measurements were within the normal range except for his head, which was in the 91st percentile, so basically his femur was normal length and he had a massive head. I have a massive head. Jeff has tiny T Rex arms in relation to his height. He's probably fine. 
  • Even if he does have Down's, he has no physical birth defects (heart, bowel, etc) beyond whatever mental deficiencies might exist and I wouldn't terminate the pregnancy because of that so why bother?
  • I will not do an amniocentesis because of the risk of miscarriage, however small it may be.
So basically, I just asked Jeff, do you want to talk to them? He said yes, so I made the appointment.  
So we went off to the far off land of Beechwood to talk the the UH Genetics department. Basically, we talked for awhile about what the realistic odds of Liam having Down's Syndrome were. I did not have the quad screen done so they estimated my starting odds based on my age at about 1/890. Two soft markers on the ultrasound moved the odds to about 1/560 or about 99.5% probability that everything was fine. Then they went over our family history, no genetic conditions except Marfan's Syndrome (which they now want me to go get another echo, even though the one I had six years ago was fine). Then they told us about a new way of testing the unborn for chromosomal anomalies called MaterniT21. Basically, there are pieces of his DNA floating about in my bloodstream and this test separates the fetal DNA from the maternal DNA and then runs standard genetic testing on it. The only downside of this test is that it's new and it's still expensive after insurance. With our insurance plan, they said it would cost no more than 200.00 but it's non invasive, no risk of miscarriage and would give us a definite answer rather than a probability. 

We thought about it for a few minutes before deciding to go ahead with the test. Even though I had no intention of doing anything other than preparing for a special needs child if the results came back positive, I had no desire to continue torturing myself with "what-ifs" for the next 4 months. So the vampires took my blood, sent it off and told us they would let us know in 7-10 days. 

Well it's been a long 13 days (9 business) but the results finally came in this afternoon. Liam is fine. He has no extra chromosomes (21, 18, 13, X or Y) and he is definitely a he. Now all I have to do is relax and make sure he continues to grow on pace with that massive head! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Recycled Crayon Ornaments!

So I'm not one to discuss Christmas before it's due time. Which is not before Thanksgiving. However, I'm making an exception this time for two reasons:
  1. It's a craft and you need time to make it before your schedule gets crammed with holiday parties, concerts, shopping, baking, decorating, etc. 
     B. I wanted to take part in the latest Pintester Movement which is Christmas themed this time

I first pinned these ornaments even before I heard about the Christmas ornament theme because I saw them and I was all "OMG, THOSE ARE SO AWESOME!!!! MUST MAKE THEM!!!!!!!!!!" then forgot them until this came up.

So finally, last night, Makayla and I got ready to make them.

First, we sorted through her art roll (which is my amazing idea for organizing writing implements, if I do say so myself) and took out all the broken pieces of crayons. Then we peeled all the labels off the crayons and took the tops out of clear glass ornaments.
Photo bomb by Makayla

 The original post says to use a hair dryer to heat the bulbs but I have approximately 27lbs of hair and it takes about 3 hours to dry it with a hair dryer so I wash it at night and let it air dry. After the last hair dryer I had crapped out I didn't bother to replace it. So instead I decided to heat the ornaments up in my amazingly wonderful anniversary present counter top oven. I started out by setting it at 150F.

I let the preheat for a couple minutes while Makayla picked out some colors to go together. Then we broke off some chunks, put them in one of the ornaments and put it back in the oven.

We waited for the crayons to melt.

Cranked the temperature to 250F and waited some more until finally they started to melt. I waited until the crayons were mostly melted and then grabbed the ornament and swirled the hot wax around until the entire inside was coated. I should mention that to most people, this would probably be too hot to do bare handed. I'm not most people. I lost sensitivity to heat after spending a few years in powder coatings and being too lazy/ impatient to find the tongs to take the hot panels out of the oven after curing. So you might want to grab them with a towel or something. Definitely don't let your little fellas do this part. They cooled down pretty quickly and then we put the tops back on. They actually came out really great!

 I particularly loved how the white crayon added really nice highlights to the darker colors. Unfortunately, it seems that white was not a commonly broken crayon so we only had one of those. We tended to stick to three colors per ornament but more might be nice too, just keep in mind your color mixing or you might end up with a lot of brown ornaments!

Overall, I am thrilled with how awesome they turned out! We still have a sack of broken crayons to use so maybe I'll get some more clear glass ornaments and make another batch!