Friday, December 31, 2010

Hyper-IgE, non-Job’s

Having gone back in time to describe setting up our garden, I’ll do another post on the immune disorder our youngest three have. Any talk of our family includes references to this, but I’ll explain it here so that I can leave a link out.
There isn’t really a name for what they have. As our immunologist says, “if you went to a big research hospital, someone would follow up and do genetic studies and they’d find the gene that mutated”. So we perk along with a disorder without a name. They have a hyper-IgE syndrome, but not the Hyper IgE Syndrome, aka Job’s Syndrome.
When someone has a big-time allergic reaction, say to a bee sting where their airway is closing, or one of those peanut reactions that land the poor person in the ICU, that is a “classic” allergy reaction, or an IgE-mediated allergic reaction. I say this because in our culture the word “allergy” has varying definitions, but here when I say “allergy” I mean an allergic reaction that is IgE mediated. Our three youngest have extremely high IgE’s, and in their youngest years their immune systems recognize ALL foods as allergens, and many environmental entities as well.
Araminta and Lucinda ate as toddlers. They had terrible eczema, by which I mean that over 80% of their bodies were covered with scales and open sores, and their faces often looked like they’d been through a meat grinder. I kept asking the dermatologists about food allergies, but was repeatedly told that eczema was not connected with food allergies. We were religious about using every prescription they gave us to treat their skin; tried everything we were told. We also tried everything “natural” we were told, as well. And believe me, everyone has a folk remedy that is certain to fix the eczema.
In 2004, they were finally referred to immunology “just to see” if they could be allergic to anything. This is when it was discovered that their IgE levels were just outrageously high. Other blood tests were done. They were sent to Children’s Hospital in Seattle to have a team evaluate them there. Partly this was to rule out Job’s Syndrome, and it is pretty certain, unless things change, that they do not have Job’s. But the team at Children’s said, in essence, “We don’t really know what this is. Because they are so unique, we are willing to follow them here, but without a precedent, we’re just guessing how to treat them, like your immunologist will be.”
Among their other labs, immunocap RASTs were drawn for the top 7 food allergens, and for both girls, all 7 came back 100%, or as high as they could test for allergic reactions. So overnight we removed milk, soy, wheat, egg, peanut, tree nuts, and seafood, plus they’d tested corn so that was removed, too. It was intense – hard to find food without all of those ingredients. I remember going to the grocery and getting more and more desperate just to find something for the next few days to cook. Chicken? Contained corn. Turkey? Ditto – the whole turkey was injected with either a soy or corn liquid. I finally broke down and cried in the tuna aisle when I couldn’t find tuna without an allergen. At least we had rice. Until a couple of weeks later, when they were actually getting worse and we tested another batch of foods and lost 10 more, including rice, potato, chicken, turkey, beef, and pork, plus several fruits and vegetables. We were told to try to find “exotics” that their little systems had never met. So we were feeding them taro root and pomegranate and buffalo and looking for someone who had deer in their freezer . . . which is when things really got bad.
It was at that point that they would develop new allergies as they tried new foods, just immediately. I remember little Lucinda sitting on the kitchen floor with a bowl of yam “fries” saying, “mmmmmm, mmmmmm” but as she ate them, she got open, weeping sores starting at her forehead and working down. It was so horrible and strange to watch. Araminta’s throat started closing up to lentils, although now I know of course that that isn’t something I should’ve tried. But at the time I was just racing, racing, racing to think of the next meal.
It was decided that there was no other option but to take them off of food altogether, so in November 2004 they went off of all food and just took in “EO28” which is a liquid that is flavored, created in a lab somewhere, that comes in a box that’s supposed to look like a juice box. At the time it only came in one flavor; now they have three. They took in nothing but EO28 for two years, with the rare treat of ice chips. Because their caloric intake was a concern, they weren’t even allowed much water for fear it would impact their appetite. So for two years, they only had that one flavor. Can you imagine? And they’d known food. Hardest for the rest of us was holidays. Christmas was only a month after this. Stockings, cookies, the holiday meal . . . we’d not realized how food-oriented it all was.
Thankfully, after two years of this, and one of those years also spent on oral steroids, their levels were slowly decreasing and they started being trialed and getting foods one by one. They still have extraordinarily limited diets. Araminta has more foods than Lucinda, who still “flunks” most of her food trials. If we eat anywhere, we bring food for them, as cross-contamination is a real issue. A month or so ago, Clara was cooking with an alternative flour (either teff or garbanzo bean flour, likely the latter) and Araminta walked into the kitchen and had a reaction from airborne flour. Her eye swelled so that the white of one eye was so swollen she couldn’t close the eye. We gave appropriate meds and took her to the ER, but airborne yikes.
When I became pregnant with Tarquin, we knew that he was at high risk for this, as well, so I did all I could in pregnancy. Removed any allergen from my diet that had the most remote possibility in the research for helping delay onset of allergies, etc. When he was born, they did allow me a trial of nursing him (and I remained on a strict avoidance diet), but by 4 1/2 months, the eczema was starting and bloodwork showed his IgE already far too high. Sadly, I weaned him by his 6 month “birthday” and he went on the infant version of what the girls had been on, called Neocate. He has remained on that until today. About a month ago, they retested him, and his food RASTs are still all off the charts. The plan, though, has always been to not introduce him to food until he is 5 years old, as that’s a common time for an immunological shift. So we’ll retest next summer. In the meantime, he’s a four-year-old that drinks a bottle. Fortunately he doesn’t notice the disapproving glares he gets when he needs some food in public. We’ve tried to switch him to the EO28 but he won’t touch the stuff.
They all three have asthma as a result of the hyper IgE, but it is relatively mild. We did an allergy-remodel a few years back where we ripped up almost all of the home’s carpet, installed a whole house filter, got another filter for their room, etc. They get allergy shots for their environmentals.
For awhile in the beginning, their immunologist would present the girls’ case here and there, hoping to find another doctor with a similar patient and perhaps some guidance on what worked and what didn’t. But she never met anyone, although oddly she had another little girl a couple of years after ours that had a similar story. Once in awhile someone who knows us will phone and say, “there was a little boy on ‘CBS This Morning’ like your children; he doesn’t eat anything!” So far, though, when I look it up online the “poor boy who doesn’t eat anything” does end up being on a similar product to Neocate and also has some foods.
So that’s what our little guys have.

How We Made Our Garden

I got stuck on figuring out our taxes this evening, something I’m doing along with many a college applicant parent, for the FAFSA for application packages. So . . . here’s a distraction! I’ve meant for some time to go back to our garden’s beginning and post our set up. Basically because I like to read about other people’s setting-up; perhaps I’m not the only one.

We started with an awful shady backyard that the children never played in. Even when they went out to play, they just didn’t go back there. The grass wouldn’t grow, and there were just the hardiest weeds poking up every summer. There was a scraggly rose bed which I could have nutured, but I’m just not a flower gardener! We have a gazebo back there that has been rotting over the years (we’ll tear it out soon) and a few scraggly rhododendrons.


overgrown rose area

Neglected rosebushes sitting on weeds


South lawn

This is at the peak of the lawn lushness – bare through the summer, though.


North lawn

Here is another angle on the lawn. Notice large bare spots!

The soil being so pitiful, plus being very shallow over rocks, made raised beds the logical choice. So with our 2009 tax refund, we bought boards and dirt. Kind of painful to have to buy dirt, isn’t it? But we got a wonderful, organic topsoil/compost mix delivered onto our driveway one lovely day.


Dirt arrival

That’s what 30 cubic yards looks like! Well, almost . . . the driver did another load after that.


Yikes, that's a lot of dirt.

Yikes, what a lot of dirt!


Marking "boxes"

Clara is the girl you want when you want precision! She measured and marked out the boxes sites that I’d mapped, and spray painted on the grass for placement.


Creating a "greenhouse"

We bought a huge roll of plastic and stapled it up in our screenporch, making a big greenhouse for the seedlings I already had going.


mixing bedding

This is how we mixed the dirt – obviously this photo is a little out of order, since there’s a bed planted beyond Clara and The Patriarch there. But we did 2/3 of our topsoil/compost mix and 1/3 peat moss.


tomatoes in "greenhouse"

We just bought cheap shelving boards and set them on buckets in our “greenhouse” which worked fabulously. I also got a small heater off Amazon which I ran on very cold nights which was sufficient to keep the temps no colder than 50º. This was a very nice set-up, but no longer needed as we now have individual hoops over the beds.


A box is planted!

This was the first bed planted; such a happy moment!


tomatoes transplanted

We used red mulch the first year and not the second, but the weather was gorgeous the first and not the second, so I’ve no real comparison on how this worked. It did make it hard to fertilize.


aerial view rosebed

Here is an “after” shot of the old rose bed, of sorts. This was after a first harvest and re-plant, so it wasn’t at a particularly lush point.


aerial west lawn

Here’s an aerial off the screenporch of the same lawn area that Gareth was raking in the “before”. It does look a lot different now, as we have more beds there. I don’t have a current pic and will try to get one this coming garden year.


So that’s how our garden started! And now it’s time to begin our third year of gardening, as it’s seed ordering time. I’m doing the ritual drooling over catalogues and needing time-outs so that I don’t order far too many lovely garden dream-packets.

It was fun to look back on the garden’s beginning on this last day of 2010, when it’s 21º outside and spring seems far away.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

This Feels Like a Milestone

We were so thrilled to hear that Malcolm, our eldest, received a job offer at the company where he has been interning! What a huge relief, to be employed (and actually doing something in his field that is a good starting place) just before he graduates this month.

I've had other homeschoolers ask if I had a sense of, "Whew, I did it!" at various points, like when Malcolm transitioned well to adding community college classes to his homeschool classes in 11th and 12th grade, when he was accepted with scholarship offers to the universities of his choice, when he graduated homeschool . . . even now that he's graduating with a degree and a couple of minors, the first time I felt a sense of closure, of successful launch if you will, was that news of employment doing something he will enjoy.

We are not adamant that each of our children go to college. The academic goals of our homeschool are to prepare them to do what they love and are called to, and to create lifelong learners. In the case of Malcolm, this did mean a degree. Nigel is re-taking the SAT this morning and is finishing up college apps - his dream means that he'll need a master's, but he has a really solid plan for this. Sophia wants to follow her mother's "career" and be a wife and mother at home :-). She is taking college courses now to prepare her for engaging our culture, for educating her children, and to have the underpinnings of further education if life takes her that way.

All of the children younger than that are still . . . young.

Am I proud of having homeschooled such an accomplished, kind, friendly man through high school now that he's graduating university? Well - no. I don't actually take "credit" internally. I'm just not wired that way as a mother for some reason. I mean, you know the feeling you get inside when a project you're doing comes out way better than you could have hoped? You look at it and feel that warm glow of pride? I just never feel that with the children. Homeschooling feels like taking years of tools created by others and sharing them with these wonderful people The Patriarch and I were blessed with. I've never felt like a teacher, more like a co-traveler through life, standing in delight and saying, "Look at this! Isn't this fascinating?" I am amazed by the children, in awe of their talents, but God's grace and their own work and giftings are what we see, and I don't take credit, as I just provide tools and encouragement (and a whole lotta driving around) and get out of the way.

I am thrilled and delighted and relieved at what feels like a successful launch with Malcolm, and what he does with computers is far beyond my comprehension.  I do say this, "We are so proud of you", but that means not, "Wow do I have a warm glow of personal accomplishment here", but rather, "You are amazing. You have done so well, and you have done it by long hard work. Always be thankful for what God has graced you with, and use it well for His glory. We're so glad you're in our family."

Monday, November 22, 2010

White Stuff!

Last year we only had . . . what? One day of a dusting of snow? Tarquin doesn’t really remember snow, and so last night’s snowfall was so exciting to him.

They’re out there now playing; quick post then I’ll run up and make Clara and Gareth some hot chocolate – the little girls are safe for apple juice and cinnamon, so I’ll heat some of that for them. And Tarquin? Well, since his entire diet is Neocate, warmed, guess that’s what he’ll have, eh?
And out the window toward the neighbors:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Shall We Talk Garden?

Ironic, isn’t it, that this started as mainly-a-garden blog. Guess you need to have actual crops to have a garden blog!

Our weather this summer was not. Summer, that is. We had a gray, cool summer with a couple of warm weeks here and there. Thank goodness this was not our first gardening year; we would have been devastated! We did have a couple of mixing bowls of tomatoes after all, and I’ll bet I’ve whined about the rest of the lack of crop for one year.

Tonight I went out to pull some carrots for the little girls’ stir-fry, and found carrots plump but maybe an inch long. Same variety as last year, when they were actually carrot-sized.

We’re finishing fall clean-up, so this evening I weeded empty beds and Nigel shoveled dirt into the beds that have been settling. Then I started transplanting my herbs, a job which I’d intended to do ALL summer. When I’d first plotted out all of my beds, I’d used seed catalogs to estimate how large perennials would get, then planned out a large herb bed based on those numbers. Well, some of the herbs are lovely and large, but the great big bed I planted them in turned out to be just too big. So tonight I transplanted a bunch of them into a smaller bed. The two varieties of thyme, which came here a year-and-a-half ago as little single stalks, are now bushes probably 18” in diameter. It smelled heavenly to transplant them! The sage has done just as well. I also got a couple of rows of chives transplanted before I lost light altogether.

So we do have a few stunted carrots still in the ground, and the kale is still going strong, but that’s it for now. Love that kale; so easy to run out and cut a couple of leaves for my morning smoothie!

002 This was a funny moment when Clara was making leek soup, went to harvest more leeks, and found an onion! Guess it snuck in the leek starts that we bought.

003We did end up getting a few zucchini – not as many as ten. Crazy when even the zucchini won’t grow.

019 We harvested somewhere in the neighborhood of three of these colanders.

I think where my garden inexperience came in this summer was the inability to counteract the influence of weather. In retrospect, I should have kept the tomatoes covered through the day much later, and should’ve covered the broccoli, as well. I have an online garden heroine, in my local area, whose experience in gardening shows that crops are possible in any weather – if you want to learn a bunch about gardening, check out The Modern Victory Garden blog. The how-to articles off to the side are valuable, and Laura is generous with her time and wisdom in the discussion forum, as well.

So for the 2010 gardening season: that’s a wrap.

Last Gorgeous Fall Day for the Year?

Might be, anyway . . . cold and rain in the forecast. It has occurred to me that we use a lot of pumpkin around here, and hmmm, brilliant idea . . . what if I bought some from the farm and froze it?!!? Snort. I am always so late to the party :-).

It was so fun; I had Clara running the numbers for me in the van on the way there, to see, “OK, if we bought enough pumpkins to make our pumpkin bread recipe once a week for the whole next year, how many pumpkins would that be?” When we arrived at the farm and saw the sign “pumpkins .30¢”, the question was, “We can’t spend more than $50.00 on this, so what is that in pounds?” Here’s the fun part! When we rolled the wheelbarrows full of pumpkins up the ramp to be weighed, Clara had calculated we needed 140 pounds, and we had . . . 145 pounds! We’d thrown in quite a bit of squash there as impulse buys, but when the lady rang up our order, get this, $50.12!!! Love that.

Choosing pictures is going to be excruciating here, as it was such a sunny day and the event was so fun, we ended up with a ton of great shots. Get yer scrollbar ready!

Nigel and Sophia were off from college-school today, so we were only missing The Patriarch (well, and always missing Malcolm away at school):


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 005This is fun – wouldn’t it have been great to have discovered this when we moved to Washington 13 years ago?


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 006Tarquin loves these riding horses, and we just don’t have space at home for one.


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 007 Looks like Lucinda put on a bit of weight there, and no, I’m not trying to say that Araminta is “dopey”!


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 016Look! A corn maze! Lucinda and Tarquin head in first . . .


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 018  Sophia, focused and determined . . .


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 019Araminta skips in, happily oblivious to the dangers lurking within .  . .


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 020So brave – hey wait, Gareth, isn’t that the wrong direction already?


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 022   Clara seems slightly more reluctant.


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 024It’ll be OK if Nigel goes in after them, right?


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 030Wait a minute, where are they?


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 032Dum de dum de (play ominous music here)


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 037Well whew. Got most of ‘em back, anyway!


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 039Old Mother Hubbard . . . at least had pumpkin and squash.


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 046 Happy farm, beautiful day.


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 050Mommy’s little pumpkin ;-)


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 057OK, now this is what I call a toy!


Scholz Pumpkin Farm 065Scholz Pumpkin Farm 073 Scholz Pumpkin Farm 070

Scholz Pumpkin Farm 076Scholz Pumpkin Farm 078         Scholz Pumpkin Farm 080Scholz Pumpkin Farm 085Scholz Pumpkin Farm 120They had lots of animals, always popular.

Scholz Pumpkin Farm 122    Clara supervises me in the squash bin.

 Scholz Pumpkin Farm 150

What a good day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Poem for the Season

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things -

     For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;

          For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

     Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow and plow;

          And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.


All things counter, original, spare, strange;

     Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

          With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

                             Praise him.


~~~Gerard Manley Hopkins

We’re Just Swimming in Birthdays!

Just in time for elections, we have another voter; Nigel has turned 18. Seems like every mama makes the same comment at these moments, “I just can’t believe it . . . seems like just yesterday he was a cute little toddler . . .”

You know you want to see some adorable Nigel pictures, right? Yeah, I thought so.

Just a wee little newborn here:

baby nigel


Nigel at about 2 months, his first Christmas:Nigel 2 months


9 months old – look at that hair!

9 month nigel

Don’t worry; I won’t take you through all 18 years here :-). Just one more . . . Nigel had a little sister when he was only 15 months old! Isn’t this a sweet picture of him holding baby Sophia?

nigel 15 months

And now he’s such a fine young man, and we’re so proud of him. Strong (can break stacks of boards with his hands or a kick) yet endlessly patient with Tarquin, who has always, since birth, been bonded to Nigel quite ferociously. Faithful and quiet, creative. Such a joy! Here he is with his raspberry chocolate cheesecake (my children pick such odd things for “birthday cakes”!):


And another for fun (Tarquin begged Nigel to be “Luigi and Ma-wio”):