Life is good even though it’s often hard

livelifehappy.jpg

So I thought it’d be easy to write a book. Ha! Well not really- it was sort of easy to get my first book published. I am working on a rewrite at the moment and I’ll post a link soon but it was fairly easy but it was also just a compilation of my blog posts because I write each post as if it’s a chapter in a book anyway. So for me – that worked. What is harder is to share my real struggles from my first blog, Continue to Live and Flourish. That is where I bare my soul and not even all of it.

I have decided to share that story in a book which is far harder than I realized. See I have survived childhood sexual abuse, domestic abuse at the hands of my first 2 boyfriends which lasted 4 years for one and 5 years for the other. It involves complicated relationships and hardships and one of the most amazing come-back stories of all time (wait yeah – that was me in 1998) and the most amazing love story (that was 1999 and meeting my husband and most amazing supportive force, John). I have survived a lot in my life which prepared me for all that we have survived as a couple and all the medical issues and stressors that have been thrown our way.

This is actually my fourth blog. My original and first one was “Talk Sister” which was intended to share my very personal story but I chickened out and only got to 12 blog posts and closed it. Then I wrote “Allie Knows” which does sound egotistical but it was a medical advice, life advice type question and answer blog. I have 3 kids with a genetic seizure disorder and I did a lot of research and fought doctors til I found the treatment that worked for us and it was not in the ‘norm’ of medical treatment (bananas – we used bananas and other potassium rich foods to help ‘cure’ a potassium channel blocker seizure disorder). Once my friends heard about the success of the treatment with my kids they began to ask my questions too. First one was about food allergies and it went from there. I’d get a call or an email at least once a week with someone in crisis mode and I’d happily go search online and find them the answers I was looking for and it helped a lot of people and I felt good doing it. But alas, it didn’t take off and I closed that one down too.

Four years ago I started Continue to Live and Flourish and I had spits and spurts where I was able to blog often and other times I let it slide. I was still worried what people would think and I did not share it often on Facebook and I kept it really for myself and the few people that read it. Then after 5 years of homeschooling (oh I forgot I did do another blog involving homeschooling but that’s another story for another day) I had some free time and decided it was time to start anew and that is how Advice From Allie got started. It was a combination of all of the blogs. It was original content- all new stuff- but it was the real me. It was the survivor, the parent of medical kids, the former homeschooling mom, the wife, the mother, the friend. It was all of me and I wasn’t going to hide any part of me any more. I was going to share my life as I lived it with the advice that I lived by and I hoped it would inspire people.

You do not have to have experienced what I have experienced to benefit from this blog. You can have one blip on your radar of life and feel better by reading. You can walk away from here with the knowledge that you too can overcome any adversity and be better off for it. That is my mission. Yeah- my childhood wasn’t the greatest. Yeah my first experiences at relationships were horrible. Yes- I was almost murdered by my second boyfriend but I survived and I am here to say that I wouldn’t change a thing.

What if those things had never happened? Who would I be today? How would I be different? I almost don’t want to know. I do know that because of my experiences I am more empathetic. I get why women do not leave abusive relationships and I have counseled many a teenager about this issue so they can leave their boyfriends that are not so nice to them. I have advised my boys on how to behave with conflict and their anger so that they never abuse anyone in their life. I have spoken very openly in any situation that warrants it to help others in this situation. I wouldn’t be able to do any of that had I not lived it.

All of my past life before I met John prepared me for the wild roller coaster ride he’d take me one. He’s the love of my life and the sweetest man I’ve ever met. He encouraged me to get help to process my past and get therapy for my PTSD.  He let me quit my job and supported me for 2 years while I got my stuff together. It was the best gift anyone had ever given to me and it was not easy for him or for me. Thankfully we made it through that rough patch and got married and had 3 amazing kids.

The stress of my past helped me when our first born had seizures on day 2 of life and was whisked away by ambulance to the big Boston hospital. I had experienced horrible stress previously to this so I knew I would be ok and that Quinn would too. With John by my side we could survive anything and we did and Quinn and Meghan and Cole would be fine. (yes they all 3 had seizures).

When we experienced job loss- I knew we’d be ok. When we were relocated from Massachusetts to Seattle and then back to Massachusetts and then off to Chicago I knew it was just one more hurdle to overcome. I feel like finally here in Chicagoland we have found our home. Our safe place, our new beginning. I love New England and I will always miss it and of course we will go back and visit but I love the new life we have made for ourselves here. We are in a place in our lives where the stress is manageable. The kids are all back in school and doing well. We just had our first real break over Thanksgiving (why I’ve been quiet on here) and we are ready for whatever comes next.

Life is good and I’m happy now (have been for a long time) and I feel confident enough in myself to share my innermost thoughts and struggles. I will release Continue to Live and Flourish- unless I come up with a better title sometime in December or perhaps early January. It just depends on how long it takes me to put it all together. I have a lot of the writing done already- I’ve been working on it for a while but I need to tweak it and continue to add more. I also have to dig in the basement to see if I can find the real nitty gritty chapters which describe the night my boyfriend strangled me and left me for dead. That was supposed to be the first chapter but I am going to keep it lighter and leave a section at the end to explain what I survived so as not to trigger those that can’t handle it.

Anyway- so that’s what I’m up to. Writing a book and surviving and thriving. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and that you are ready to embrace the Holiday Season with joy.

Happy Thanksgiving

happythanksgiving.jpeg

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. It’s a time of year I love and today being a chilly high of 34 in Chicagoland will make for a lovely day to bake goodies for the big feast. I am thankful to all of those who sacrifice for us, especially to the military personnel who will not be at their Thanksgiving tables as they are instead stationed away from family and friends.

I am thankful for my mom who taught me how to cook so I can help make a fabulous feast for the family. I am thankful to my husband, John, who will make a delicious turkey and stuffing. I am thankful to my daughter, Meghan, who will challenge me to provide her a scrumptious vegetarian meal and will assist me in the traditional home-made danish preparations. I am thankful to Cole and Quinn who will assist in making the pumpkin and apple pies. I am also thankful for any and all time we have left with our dear dog, Snickers, who has a mass on her spleen. And lastly I am thankful for all our family and friends who make each day a joy.

Thanksgiving is a tradition celebrated in America and I do believe there is an alternative date where it’s celebrated in Canada but I do believe those are the only places. I a grateful to be able to cook, and feast with our family and enjoy some family time. I am hopeful that we will get to Skype the relatives as we are the only ones in Chicagoland. The benefit of making as much food as if you were having company means that you won’t have to cook for days after. So it all works out in the end.

So have a very Happy Thanksgiving and take a moment to share what you are thankful for. There are so many things.

thankful2.jpeg

Learning Disabilities make us even cooler

I am reposting this because I am in awe of my oldest son, Quinn. He entered public school in August 2017 after a 5 year homeschooling hiatus. He is nearing the end of the first Semester of school and he has a straight A average and is in all honors classes. This Dyslexic and dysgraphic child met with his advisor this week to discuss finals. He will be allowed to simply circle the answer on the main test and someone else will fill in the bubble score sheet after he is done. He will take his English final in a different room so he can type and if needed use voice to text. He is excelling and it’s awesome to watch. He even got asked to advance in French moving from French I to French II in January when the new semester starts. So read about kids with learning disabilities- because they might just go off into the world one day and surprise you!

LD's

Being unique is cool right? Well having Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dysgraphia, or other learning disabilities make us cooler. I choose to think so. Overcoming them takes some adjusting and some creativity. Here is what we did to help our son overcome these disabilities. In just 3 years he went from a 2nd grade level at age 11 to an honors level high school level at age 14. Here is what we did.

We opted to get Quinn tested for dyslexia at age 11- it was the summer and he was about to be 12. He went to Alexian Brother’s Hospital- Center for Pediatric Brain and saw Dr. Nicole Cruz. He was very low on reading, and writing was even lower. He was in 6th grade and yet he was at a much lower grade level for all the testing. He was discouraged and it was hard on him that he was so low. His IQ was 139 however and proved he was intelligent but was unable to articulate that intelligence on paper. What to do?

We were homeschooling at the time and the doctor recommended we wait until high school to send him back. I could continue 7th and 8th grade at home and even high school if we had success at home. He had been homeschooling since 4th grade so we just made subtle changes at home. He began typing exclusively and then using voice to text software. He began to “write” at older levels and after getting Quinn a writing tutor we went from writing at a 3/4th grade level to a 9th/10th grade level in just 3 months. It was simple changes like using a writing template (think visual outline) and allowing Dragon Voice to Text Software on longer assignments combined with rewrites using typing. This worked out really well for him.

Over the years we had discovered audio books. Dr. Cruz recommended Learning Ally and we opted to use that for text books to be read to him. It’s free in the state of Illinois if you get a diagnosis so he can use that for high school as well but so far he hasn’t had to utilize it. Quinn also uses large print text or he uses the enlarging feature of his i-pad to make things easier to read. Audio books utilize the same areas of the brain that traditional reading does. It’s a great way to keep your child engaged and wanting to read.

We worked together every day. We downloaded the dyslexia font and used Firefox (that’s the only browser that it works on) and that allowed for each letter and number to be weighted differently. It helped all the websites we used especially Khan Academy for math. It changed our lives. Soon Quinn was working thru 4th through 7th grade math all during his 7th grade year while homeschooling. He was able to by 8th grade work 100% independently in math. This was a huge success. It’s ironic because math is how we figured it out. Word problems were Quinn’s nemesis. He would stumble through the problem but when we’d check his math it would be spot on and then we realized that the math was right but the order in which he did it was wrong due to the fact he’d misread the word problem. The dyslexia font changed all of that for him. Success in math brought on better self esteem and great pride.

So don’t be afraid to be unique, don’t be afraid to change things up until they work for you and your child. Advocate for them. Quinn is now a 9th grader and in all honors classes. I am in shock of how well he’s doing. He’s 1/4 thru the school year (1/2 way thru the semester) and he’s got all A’s. I could care less- all I want for him is to be happy and feel good about school and about himself. That is the only “A” I need!

dis-ability

Great books to gift someone…

We have always loved to read and thankfully we passed that love onto our kids. Our eldest loves Alternative History and if you have someone who loves History in your life here are a few great books you can gift them. They are great reads and Quinn G. approved!

Meghan is our next big reader. She loves series with strong female characters. One of her favorites is the Penderwicks. She also used to love to read Ramona the Brave books. She enjoys a series of books by Rita Williams-Garcia and her English teacher has introduced so many wonderful books this year like Touching Spirit Bear. As a child I loved Trixie Belden but she wasn’t into it like I was. She reads, often for over an hour a night. It’s a great site to see. Here are her book recommendations.

Cole loves to read too. He was our reticent reader. So for him we opted for audio books until reading stuck. He loves Geronimo Stilton. They are his favorite books. He is on the 4th Penderwick series book as he will often read what Meghan is reading when she’s done with it. Another favorite book was Ginger Pye and all the books by Eleanor Estes. Here are some of his favorite books.

As adults we also love to read. Here are some of John and my favorite books. I am in a book club so it’s a great source of amazing books. I have loved all of them. My all-time favorite was Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons probably because it was the first book in my first book club I ever attended. We read books like The Help and we always had a great time. Now in IL I am also in a book club and we are currently reading Life According to Garp, so far so good. One of my most recent favorite books we read was Ordinary Grace. I hope you enjoy our selections.

Books can make great gifts- they can ship direct from Amazon to your recipient and they are a wonderful gift because they give someone the urge to take time for themselves. This is how my family reboots at night- we read before we go to bed. It’s a gift each and every day.

Simply Full of Gratitude This Saturday

gratitudepiglet

Being Thankful and having Gratitude- it’s very important. Our hearts feel better when we are full of joy and thankful for what we have. I’m a glass is half full type person. I am so thankful today that I got to sleep til 5am. My dog has suspected cancer and she has a large mass pressing on her stomach, bladder, and intestines. This has made overnights stressful as she might need to use the restroom at a moment’s notice- which on these cold Chicago nights means waking fully up as the cold hits your face at 1, 2 or 3am. So last night I am thankful for a good night’s sleep. Phew- I needed it after a week of not so good nights.

Today I am thankful for Chicago District 15’s Thanksgiving holiday week off. Cole and Meghan are back in public school after a 5 year hiatus of homeschooling and to have the entire week off is going to be amazing. Quinn is in D211 and he’s got Wednesday off but still a huge difference from the East Coast where we had school the week before Thanksgiving with a 1/2 day on Wednesday. I am thankful for long weeks and long weekends.

Quinn has a Scholastic Bowl competition today and I am thankful for that. I am thankful that he has met folks he gets along with and has found activities that he truly enjoys. I will be off to volunteer in his place at a Boy Scout wreath distribution site this morning and that is fine with me. I’m happy that we can both be doing something good today. I will then deliver the wreaths we sold and enjoy a restful afternoon. This evening John and I will attend the Time and Talent Auction at CCUU- our local Unitarian Church. It’ll be the first time we attend and I know folks really enjoy the music, raising funds for our local partners that help directly in our community of Palatine and seeing friends and making new ones.

Today is simple. It’s restful, it’s social, it’s fun. Cole and Meghan, I suspect will sleep til 10am and be so happy they can do whatever they want today. They’ll still keep up their reading logs over the break and I’m sure we will do fun things and they will watch you-tube like they did when they homeschooled (Cole loves Crash Course Science videos and of course watching other people play video-games-I do not get that). I’m hoping it’s a great week off and I can’t wait for Thanksgiving because I know that not only are we all thankful but I know that John is so incredibly grateful that he will be able to eat every single part of the meal as he is fully healed up since his July double jaw surgery. I’m hopeful that his sleep apnea is no more although we need a follow up sleep study to prove it.

Fingers and toes crossed you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving break as well. Enjoy time with family- go to a movie- eat together- play games. Most of all- enjoy time- stop all the go-go-go and just be with each other. That is our plan. Happy Thanksgiving week everyone! I hope you get some time to enjoy what you are grateful for.

Great, Family Friendly Board Games

With Christmas looming (so many stores have all the Christmas stuff up already) and those of us that like to get our shopping done before Thanksgiving I wanted to share what games and other items our family enjoys. I actually own each and every one of these games and our family plays them often. Feel free to check them out (affiliate links are listed below).

The following games are some of our families’ favorites. No Stress Chess, where can I begin- I hate chess or at least I thought I hated chess. But this game takes all the stress out of it and made it easy to learn and in about 3 weeks I was able to play the 2nd side of the board without the playing cards and actually play a game of chess. I didn’t win but I actually liked playing chess!!! (Who knew that could EVER happen!?) Games like Animal Logic, and Mastermind are also amazing. I have always been fond of Othello and Mancala- what a neat bean game that is so easy to play and full of strategy.

Some fun cards games are Blink and Timeline. Both are fast games and both are fun. Blink is more of a hand-eye coordination game and one of speed. Timeline is a fun way to learn about history. Both are well loved and used at my house. One of the best games for the entire family is any of the Ticket to Ride games. The one featured is the US version and it creates great strategic competition in our family game night. Forbidden Island is a great team-building game as you need the help of all players to get off the island. Memoir 44 is a 2-person game for your favorite History Buff. Our son, Quinn, just loves the game.

Some fun non-game gifts are some great DVD’s that we love at our house. School House Rock- well for me it’s nostalgic- I grew up learning my multiplication tables watching the groovy 1970’s songs of Multiplication Rock and here the entire School House Rock series is in one very low-priced DVD. Next we have a unique little movie, North Avenue Irregulars- be prepared for a very fun 1970’s hysterical story -a blast from the past truly as it was the first drive-in-movie I saw as a kid- part of a double feature with 101 Dalmations. Next I’ve listed the Samsung tablet- we got that back in 2013 when we first moved here. It’s lasted with a great cover (seen below) we put on it and it’s where my daughter uses the “Sketch” app and draws amazing digital art- a real amazing piece of technology to own.

Other great items that you simply can’t go wrong with at Christmas or Chanukah are Lego Sets. We have always enjoyed the Lego Advent calendars and even when we think our kids are too old there is a new one out. This year I think it will be the LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar  set. When my kids were little they loved Wedgits. The set below is what we first got and we quickly added to it. It was a great way to get hand-eye coordination and building skills. I’m sure there are many more things I can recommend but meanwhile check out what I have shared and as I said before we have owned every single thing on this list so I personally recommend the items listed. (And if you happen to want some gorgeous jewelry for yourself- just shop here.)

Tough Decisions….

23456362_10213124575420719_8890288731152848938_o.jpg

Loving your pet is easy- deciding if it lives or dies is not. We knew something was up with Snickers this week when she proceeded to vomit 11 times on Thursday. She was otherwise acting ok. She was a bit more tired and we figured she had gotten into something in the yard or eaten something on the floor (ie- pen/marker etc.) We waited to Friday where she still refused to eat but drank a lot of water and went to our late, 5pm, Vet appointment. They felt something did some x-rays and she has a large- Softball sized mass in her abdomen- they suspected it was on the spleen but needed a 2nd opinion at the doggie ER.

So we headed there after we ate dinner on Friday night. They swiftly sent us home letting us know that in fact their radiology department was closed for the night and since she looked so good we could go home and come back at 8am when they were back in for xrays/ultrasound. So we did. I show up right at 8am and nope in fact they are there at 10am so they offer to keep her and have me come back when her ultrasound is completed because overnight they were busy and there are dogs waiting ahead of Snickers. So I do and Snickers happily went with them so I wasn’t concerned.

Around 12:30pm I get a call from the ER Vet. She explains that she indeed has a huge mass on her spleen and it’s solid. It could very well be a malignant growth about a 2/3 chance that is what it is. It needs to come out NOW and if it’s cancer she will live 2-4 months. If it’s not she can recover and live a normal lifespan all for the lovely cost of $9500. If she needs extra care (more than the 48 hrs quoted) it’s $2200/daily. UM- NO. So I say “I can’t afford that.” and she says “Call your Vet see if they can do the surgery Monday.” And I do and they can – well they can on Tuesday and all is well.

I call back our vet to make final arrangements for drop off Monday to book said surgery and the woman on the phone, the tech, is yelling at me “find the funds, you can’t let her wait til Tuesday!” I politely explain that in fact I can wait and that if Snickers for some reason doesn’t live til the surgery well then God and the Universe have intervened because I have 3 kids and a husband that just had major jaw surgery that was NOT covered by insurance and I cannot swing nearly 10 grand for my dog that I love. She was horrified. I said- “Look I’m coming to get her at the ER and I’ll bring her in Monday morning for surgery prep.” and she says “Well if she lives that long…” and I proceed to say “ok- bye.”

Listen- Don’t judge me. Don’t yell at me. I’m not an evil jerk who is allowing my dog to be in pain and not being careful or cautious or caring. I love our dog. If I did not love our dog would I send her to daycare just for her to be happy and socialized and tired and let her have fun? If I did not love her would I have adopted a shy dog who needed extra lovin to feel safe and secure? I do love her and I love her enough to have her at home- to be up 3 times a night to ensure she has access to water and chicken broth and so she can go out often (the mass is pressing on her bladder, colon and stomach which is why she can’t eat). So yeah- Vet tech- go take your opinions and shhh. I hope and pray she makes it til Tuesday but I’m ok if she doesn’t. I truly can’t afford $2500 either but I will if I have to and of course I want her to be ok.

I consulted another friend whose family has raised dogs for years and they advised me not to do the surgery and to keep her comfortable til the end because it’s a really invasive surgery and one that takes a while to recover from (over 45 days) and that if she does have cancer that is a cruel way to live your last days.

So I am torn. I will see if they can needle biopsy the tumor and if they can and they are ok with it we will see if it’s cancer first. If not then we’ll proceed as planned and most likely have surgery on Tuesday. No matter what when we got Snickers who I anticipated living about 10 years – she was our last dog. She is our 5th dog and I shook on it with my husband after we found out about this and she will be our last dog. The kids can’t take another loss (3 in their lifetime if Snickers goes) and I can’t either.

Financially all our dogs had health issues and all were rescues except for Cedar who was bred by a non-reputable breeder and she cost us the most Over $7,000 for a hip replacement. We had her about 9 months and she was adopted by a family who had a dog with hip dysplasia who had died suddenly. It all worked out but over the years I’d say with 5 dogs and $2,000 a year on care for about 11 yrs total dog ownership thus far and about $9,000 in extra medical (including Cedar’s surgery) we’ve spent quite a bit on dog care. No matter what I do not regret any of it. I have loved and been loved by all our dogs and they gave us so much. Who rescued who? So I will pray Snickers recovers as I’d really enjoy the next decade with my gal pal doggie.

whorescuedwho.jpg

Coffee or Tea?

Do you like Coffee or Tea? What’s the best way to start your morning? I usually start with a freshly made pot of coffee made in a Thermal Stainless Steel French Press. It saves me money (I used to buy k-cups til my keurig died) as I now only spend about $20 a month on fair trade coffee from Trader Joes.  I brew my coffee and while I am doing so usually empty the dishwasher. Then I add lactose free vanilla creamer and pour in steaming hot lovely coffee. That is how I start my day.

My husband on the other hand starts off with Tazo Assorted Teas. He usually likes the Awake Tea. I brew water in the Electric Tea Kettle making the water just the right temperature (it gives you several options and even one for 200 degrees for my French Press coffee!) then I pour in copious amounts of honey and his tea is made. It steeps for about 5 minutes and that is how he starts his day.

Occasionally I will stray from coffee and drink Trader Joe’s Mango Black Tea. It’s good and tasty and works for me when my stomach is not up for handling coffee which happens on occasion or if I want some caffeine at the end of the day but want to still be able to sleep. So I am a coffee before Noon kind of gal and a tea after that type of person.

So I’m off to make my morning cup of coffee. I wonder what’s in your cup ?

Kids can do things themselves

23131946_1739582819387990_4890754445831987144_n

This- this is exactly what all of us as parents aim for our children. I had the privilege of homeschooling my kids for 5 years and they recently this fall of 2017 returned to school- because they asked to go back. What I love about them and about our experiences is that they are solely in charge of their education and their life. Yes, in public school they are no longer in charge of what they learn and when they learn it but their inner drive hasn’t gone away because they went back.

We taught the kids to do things for themselves. That translates into them choosing their own extracurricular activities and choosing who to hang out with and choosing when to do their homework and prioritizing their time. This is all from modeling behavior so they can learn how to cope in the world and I am lucky. I think that quote applies to all parents. If you teach them to do things for themselves and by themselves they can achieve anything.

Meatballs

meatballs.jpeg

If you like home-made meatballs you will LOVE this easy to follow recipe:

Meatballs:
  • 1 pound (95-percent) lean ground beef
  • 3/4 cup cooked quinoa (you can substitute 3/4 cup overcooked brown rice as well)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • squirt of Brown spicy mustard
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme (for the spices I use italian seasoning)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Mix and roll into balls- cook on stove til browned on all sides and add to pan of sauce and continue simmering for 30 min til cooked thru.
  • (You can also prepare them and put them into a crock pot full of tomatoe sauce and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6 and they will also be delicious they just will not be browned. Alternatively you can cook them on the stove top and put them into the crock pot on high for an hour and then change to warm and serve out of the crock pot. )

    YUM! They are soooo good!