Monday, July 30, 2012

In the Blink of an Eye- Chalazia Management

UGH! Constructing the first real sentence of this post and I'm already anxious. Rehashing the time period when our eldest daughter endured a battle against chalazia is still uncomfortable for me, almost three years later. Needless to say, this particular story does not detail fond memories or frame-worthy photographs, but there is a happy ending. 

We know there are other families and individuals out there who are making every effort to fend off chalazia, so as much as I shudder with the recollection of our own fight, this one is for you. 

About 4 months after our daughter's first birthday, I started to notice redness developing in the corner of her left eye. Initially, it didn't seem serious. I figured she'd just gotten glitter (Somehow, with girls, there is glitter EVERYWHERE!) in her eye or accidentally poked herself with one of her toys. But the redness didn't diminish over the next few days. Mommy-Radar sounded its alarm as that eye seemed to be getting worse. 

After a few days with no improvement, I called the pediatrician and made an appointment for an exam. 

We learned that she had developed a chalazion, a blockage in an oil gland of the eyelid and were given a prescription for Tobramycin eye drops and instructed to give our daughter warm compresses twice a day to encourage drainage. And so it began…

Diligently, I tried to hold a warm washcloth on our daughter's eye as I attempted to read her stories for nap time and before bed. It became quite the balancing act as she'd throw my arm away so she could have use of BOTH eyes for the entertainment. Without a book to captivate her, there was no chance I'd be able to hold her still for these compresses. It was an arduous struggle twice a day, but I persevered through gritted teeth every time, barely managing 3 minutes of lukewarm compresses on the affected eye. And this scene wasn't getting any sunnier- not only was her left eye not improving, her right eye began to redden and swell as well!

So the next step was to visit with a pediatric ophthalmologist to determine a course of action. He confirmed that she had two chalazia and that a THIRD was beginning to form on the lid of her left eye. Because of the size of these blockages and the persistence of the initial chalazion, he recommended surgery to drain them to prevent damage from the pressure on her eyes. 

I felt the room pulling away from me in tunnel vision. Surgery?!? I had to sign a piece of paper consenting to put my baby girl under anesthesia? Understand that the risk of anything happening was low, but in a rare event, death may result? Trying to disguise my complete panic, I took a few deep breaths, re-read the papers and forced myself to be a rational grown-up. 

With my breath held and eyes closed, I signed the forms and agreed to bring my sweet daughter in for the surgery in two days time. 

And for those two days, I was a complete wreck, losing control of rational thought entirely. What could I have done to prevent this from happening to my daughter? How can I undergo the surgery FOR her? What if she is traumatized for the rest of her life from this experience? What if there are complications during the surgery? What if...? 

What can I say? There are times when mamas get a lil' batty. For me, just the word "anesthesia" gives me a case of the willies. Add the name of a loved one into the sentence and I'm a nervous wreck until the work is done. We were talkin' about my BABY here! Man.

On the night before the procedure, I don't know if I slept at all. Perhaps I drifted in and out between my worrying, praying, tossing and turning, but it was certainly one of the longest nights of my life to date.
Okay, I'm getting a little dramatic here. I'll spare you (and myself) the ultra-descriptive version of the tale and get on with it. 

The surgery went smoothly, took about 25 minutes and there were no complications. The outlook was good, and as soon as she calmed down upon awakening, we could take our darling home.

And so we did. But our sweet beauty wasn't looking quite like herself after surgery.

It was sad. Poor kid had to keep her right eye patched for 24 hours, and we'd need to administer more Tobramycin eye drops three times a day for a week. As prevention of future chalazion development, we were advised to incorporate ground flaxseed into her diet and give at least 3 warm compresses a day for 15 minutes each. Fifteen minutes of compresses for each eye?!? This was going to be tricky.

We followed doctor's orders, and although I wasn't crazy about using the television as a tool here, I managed to get our kiddo to sit still on my lap to watch Sesame Street. Yes. Elmo is THAT captivating. After a few hours, the swelling began to subside and her eyes looked substantially better by dinnertime that evening.

The next morning, I was able to remove the patch and was pleasantly shocked to see that she looked almost like herself again! The swelling was almost completely gone, and aside from some mild bruising and redness, my baby was back! Her spirits were soaring from all the extra attention from visiting family and she was just right as rain.

We continued to give warm compresses for several weeks after the surgery to ensure that the chalazia would not return. Having gotten used to the connection between sitting for a compress and watching Sesame Street, we developed a smooth routine that worked well for everyone. Compresses were given right before naps and bedtime, and she began to associate the process with winding down. She benefited from the warmth and calm relaxation and WE benefited from the ability to actually get some snuggle time with our toddler who was otherwise on the GO GO GO! Who doesn't crave a little cuddling now and then, right?

If any readers have stumbled upon this post in search of help battling chalazia, for us, the most effective method was absolutely using compresses as soon as we saw any signs of watery eye developing. We could actually see her eyes producing what looked like a glaze for some time after the surgery. To help the eye dissolve any thick oil production, we'd wet a washcloth, place it in a bowl and microwave it for 30 seconds. After the washcloth was removed from the bowl, we'd make sure it wasn't too hot and then would hold it against the eye for 15 minutes. After trying several methods for preparing compresses, this was the best strategy to maintain heat for the longest interval.

The pediatric ophthalmologist told us that it is a mystery why some children are afflicted with this problem but the situation often just clears itself up suddenly. The mysterious programming inside our bodies can just shift- like that- can simply adjust and stop making the thick oil that had been causing blockages, chalazia, to develop.

And to our delighted relief, that's exactly what happened. It seemed that, after the surgery and our persistent follow-up compresses, her eyes adjusted properly and found their groove. We have had no repeat occurrences of chalazia since the surgery, for almost three years now. Our daughter's eyes are beautifully clear and bright, there was no scarring and her vision was completely unaffected by the procedure. She certainly has no trouble batting those lashes nowadays when she wants something. Girls.

And that's all there was to it. As parents, we learned many a lesson from our daughter's battle with chalazia. There will be times when tricky situations are bound to sneak up on us. There will be days when we will be filled with apprehension and concern. There will be moments when decisions will have to be made. But, if we're lucky, the ickies will be gone in the blink of an eye. We're left with the confidence that we can band together to get through any obstacle- as a family and as a team.

Now it's all eyes ahead for a bright future...

If you have any other questions, concerns or feedback in regards to chalazia, please feel free to contact me or leave comments here. Grappling with these stinkers is definitely a drag, but we'd be happy to help lend support till the ducts are clear. Wink. Wink.

XOXO From My Hearth to Yours
***Follow up, when the BLASTED chalazia returned 2 years later- "Looking Chalazia Right in the Eyes." Drat.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Share Fresh Mint Sun Tea with Friends

Glorious summer is definitely a time for hangin' on the deck with friends with a cool drink in hand while the birds chirp and dogs and kiddos romp.

Here's a super simple way to have Mama Nature do the work to brew your own DELICIOUS sun tea for those lovely afternoons. 

Because, as a family, we are making an effort to steer clear of plastic in the kitchen, we use a large glass jar with a latch top.
 Simply fill the jar with your drinking water.

Next, choose whichever type of tea you enjoy. I often use six standard Lipton teabags. Sometimes I blend 3 regular Lipton teabags with 3 decaffeinated bags, if I plan to drink iced tea in the evening hours. Of course, you can use any type of tea that tickles your fancy!

 Gently dunk your teabags into the water in your jar.
For convenience, I loop the strings from the bags onto the metal of the jar lid. This way, I don't have to dip my hand into the water to extract them when the tea is ready.
 We have yummy mint growing in our yard, so I always run out to grab some to infuse with my sun tea.
Fresh mint growing in the yard. Mmmmm!

Pull off the top portions of about 4-5 stalks of healthy mint.
I use the tops sections of mint to infuse with the tea.
Rinse the mint with water to remove any dirt, and then dunk it into the top of your jar. You can also add a bit of sugar, if you are so inclined. 
Rinse mint with clean water.
Add to jar.
 Close and latch the lid to your jar and bring it outside to brew.
Sun tea ready for SUN!
I leave the jar on my deck to brew for about 4-6 hours, depending on how strong I would like it to be. Within moments, you can see the tea starting to seep into the water.
Leave in direct sunlight for 4-6 hours.

After about an hour, you will see a warm golden color spreading through your jar. 
This tea will be ready in a few more hours.

When the color of your tea is a consistent, deep amber, it's ready! Remove your teabags and mint, refrigerate and enjoy!
When tea is ready, remove teabags from the water.

And then extract the mint as well.

Ready to be refrigerated. 
 Store your sun tea in the refrigerator. Call your buddies over for refreshments and relaxation.
 Serve with ice and perhaps a decorative little mint garnish! Ba-ZANG!
Mint garnish, anyone?
Or if you like a lil' tang in your life, a lemon slice adds just the right amount of ZING! You know you're thirsty already, aren't you?
Lemon pizazz!
Quench your thirst with this simple do-it-yourself summertime beverage and enjoy a little relaxation with some good company. Here's to ya! Cheers!
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Grind on Flaxseed

Gone are the days when I could, in good conscience, roll up to a fast food restaurant and order a double cheeseburger and fries. Just can't do it. Don't want to do it. Feeling a little queasy right now just THINKING about doing it. 

Now I don't consider myself a health nut by any means, but I am absolutely making more of an effort to be aware of the food I put into my body and the effect it has on my overall health. I want to be educated to make wiser dietary choices for myself and for my family.

When our pediatrician recommended flaxseed for my eldest daughter, as a dietary supplement to help with both constipation and a chalazion (clogged oil gland in her eye), I began researching. Nutrition expert, Elaine Magee's article for WebMD details how Omega-3 acids, lignans, and fiber in flaxseed can lower risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. But the list of benefits from flaxseed goes on and on- from helping to lower cholesterol to boosting mood and the immune system. 

For years now, we have been grinding our own flaxseed for daily use in our diet. It's positively yummy and so simple to use. 
We stock up at our local grocery store. Before you determine which kind of flax to purchase, know that the best way to benefit from this "wonder food" is to grind it before consumption. 
These tiny lil' seeds are PACKED full of goodness, but you'll need to crush them up to get the most benefit.
article for Mayo Clinic reports that the body cannot digest whole seeds as easily as ground flax. You'll get the greatest health benefit out of flaxseed by grinding it at home, but you can purchase it already ground from many markets and health food stores.

We use a Cuisinart Grind Central grinder for our flaxseed because it is compact and easy to store. Pssssssttttttt...also if you need a cute gift for friends or family, small grinders are reasonably priced and would go perfectly in a little basket with a bag of fresh coffee beans or, of course, flaxseed! Food for thought.
Cuisinart Grind Central grinder

Because the flaxseed puffs up when it is ground, I only fill the cup about 3/4 of the way to the top. 
Flaxseed ready to be ground
Using a spoon, I transfer the ground flaxseed into a mason jar for storage. Once the bag of seeds has been opened, I also transfer the remaining whole seeds into a separate mason jar to maintain freshness.

                                                            Ground flaxseed ready to be moved for storage.
It's always wise to add a label to anything you've placed in an otherwise unmarked container, so I use masking tape and a Sharpie marker to make my own. Seeing the label also acts as a visual reminder to use my flaxseed more often. Without it, I feel like the jar would blend into the background in my visual field when I open my refrigerator, so I recommend creating a bold label of your own.

Ideally, the freshness of ground flaxseed is best preserved with freezer storage, but because I don't open my freezer as often as my refrigerator, I store mine where I see it most- on the top shelf of my fridge at eye-level. Again, when I see it right in front of me, I am more likely to remember to use it in my diet.
                              I keep my flaxseed at eye-level in my refrigerator so that I remember to use it frequently.

Flaxseed is, in my humble opinion, completely delicious! In our home, we use it most in pancake batter and on top of cereal, but it can be used in countless dishes. Click here to download some free, mouth-watering recipes that utilize flaxseed for any course, from appetizers to desserts!
Typical breakfast cereal becomes much more of a treat with flaxseed sprinkled on top!
Of course, always use common sense and do a little homework before making any significant dietary changes. I recommend reading this article from the Mayo Clinic to make sure flaxseed is right for you. During my pregnancies and while breastfeeding, I found conflicting information about flaxseed consumption, so I chose to refrain. Talk to your doctor about foods to avoid if you are nursing or expecting a wee one.

So does flaxseed really work?

High cholesterol runs in my family, so in order to be proactive, I get mine tested twice a year. My cholesterol tested in the normal range before I got pregnant, when I was using flaxseed daily. As soon as I learned that I was pregnant, I stopped consuming flaxseed for 21 months, until I finished breastfeeding. My cholesterol test results were higher during this period than ever. Interesting! Now that I have been using flaxseed again, my levels are back down. Perhaps the changes of pregnancy and nursing alone were the cause of the higher cholesterol levels, but maybe...just maybe that flaxseed does contribute to keeping my LDL levels down. This article from National Library of Medicine makes me believe the flaxseed may have played a significant role in lowering my "bad" cholesterol.

I LOVE learning about healthy new foods and how they can positively affect daily life. Flaxseed has been great for my family and is doctor recommended. Evidently, I really enjoy the entire process of grinding, storing and using flaxseed in my home. It makes me happy! Must be those mood elevators.

If you use flaxseed in your diet and have any savory recipes to share, please send them my way! Bon appetite!
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours
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Friday, July 20, 2012

The Ice Machine War

It is most definitely summer out here, and it has been brutally hot this month. Until yesterday, the only break we have had amidst this scorching heatwave was one quick but vicious thunderstorm that knocked the sweet little robin chicks right out of our maple tree and the power right out of our house for about 12 long, hot, sticky hours. 

No big deal, right? We made it through the night without the air-conditioning and although we were a bit, um...ripe upon awakening, the power had returned so we had no problem showering away our (cough) rustic coating. In other words, we were funky. And, of course, the heat resumed as soon as the clouds passed and we were in store for ANOTHER miserably hot day. 

Now that the Red Sea had parted and the coffee machine was working again, we brewed a big pot. Naturally, it wasn't the kind of morning for hot coffee, so we let it cool down before we planned to add ice ice ice to make a refreshing treat. 

I grabbed my big glass, headed over the ice dispenser on my freezer door and pressed down. It gurgled. It groaned. It coughed...but nothing came out. I tried again. Still no luck. Ugh. It was too hot for these antics. I opened the freezer, reached in, grabbed a handful of ice and dumped it into my glass, forgetting that blasted machine. Just another thing to add to the list, right? Pfffft. 
Come ON, ice machine! Why weren't you working?!?
Well you know how it goes. This ice machine wasn't fixing itself. The heatwave blazed on and every time I tried to add some cubes to a glass I was met with the same agonizing moaning from the freezer door. My husband has enough on his plate when it comes to house projects, and I am in a pro-active phase of do-it-yourself-dom, so I hit my threshold and decided I was going to fix this thing if it killed me.

I shoved my hand up inside the pour spout and couldn't feel any small ice blockage like I'm used to clearing out when the machine jams. What was WRONG with this thing? I sat down and assumed my "Thinker" pose, and then, imagining a cartoon lightbulb going on above my head, it hit me. Electricity! The power outage!
To start, I had to remove the entire ice drawer to investigate.
Channeling my Rosie the Riveter again, I grabbed my camera, threw open the freezer door and pulled out the entire ice drawer. Everything looked normal on top, but just as I suspected, once I started digging toward the bottom of the drawer, I hit the iceberg. Aha!
To start, the entire ice drawer had to be removed in order to investigate. 
I grabbed a bowl and tossed in all the loose ice cubes. Now, I was left with a solid lump of ice that had melted together while the power had been out.
I separated the normal cubes from the blocks of ice.
Removing massive ice blocks so that the motor inside could turn.
Next, I started hammering away at the blocks of ice stuck underneath the normal cubes that were made after the power returned. After a few minutes of grunt work, I busted the large pieces of solid ice apart and was able to remove them. 

I am woman! Hear me roar!
After tossing the largest ice blocks into the sink, I could actually begin to see how the machine works and why it was making such terrible sounds. The fan-like turning wheel inside the machine couldn't rotate at all with such massive ice blocks in its way, so it was groaning in a failed attempt to move. I'm pleasantly surprised that the inner mechanisms didn't break from my efforts to use the machine while it was in such a state prior to removing the blockage. 
Serious ice blocks

The blades of the motorized churning device in the bottom of the ice drawer need to be unblocked to spin.
And there you have it! Once those chunks of solid ice were removed, I dumped the normal ice cubes back into the drawer, replaced it in the freezer and grabbed my glass. The machine happily began spitting out cube after cube, working perfectly!
Here you can see how the machine works. This mechanism needs to be able to turn through loose ice. It was seriously STUCK with those chunks blocking the blades.
After completing such a menial task, I was surprised to be filled with quite the gamut of emotions- relief that I didn't have to annoy my husband about fixing the dang ice machine, joy that the inner workings of the device had not broken and wouldn't need to replaced, and pride that I had logically solved the problem on my own.

Back in business
Always inspired by my own Mr. Fix-It, I have learned how satisfying it feels to foster the ability to take care of problems on my own. How silly would it be to call someone in to fix such a trivial problem, and how crazy would it make me to have to pay someone to do it? It might take a bit more time and effort to figure things out on my own, but it's well worth it in the end when that "YEEHAW" gratification waves its lasso in the air.

Three FROSTY cheers for victory, and to the end of the heatwave! I'll drink to that!
Now THERE'S a workin' ice machine!
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Cardinal Family Birthday & Leap of Faith

We love to sleep with the windows open whenever weather permits. Last summer, I awoke one morning to an unusual chirping sound coming from the rhododendron outside my bedroom window. Little did I know that one of the most amazing learning experiences of my life was about to begin...

A female cardinal was sitting upon a nest she'd made for her eggs, and her doting mate was making trips into the bush to feed his girl. I was immediately entranced, and I spent the next several weeks spying on this budding family.

I began reading about cardinals and learned that couples mate for life and stay together year round. Learn more about the Northern Cardinal with this BIRD GUIDE .

For two whole weeks, Mama cardinal sat on her eggs. She sang constantly, and whenever she called out, Papa cardinal would appear. He brought her food regularly, and he bounced from bush to tree all day long, chirping out information on what was happening in the yard so that he could keep the female safe. It was amazing!

And then it happened. The chicks hatched on the 11th day of my observation.

If only my photographs were better, but these were taken with a crummy camera, through our bedroom window and screen. I didn't want to disturb the miracle I was witnessing, so I tried to stay as quiet and non-invasive as possible. 
Mama cardinal tending to her newly hatched chicks.
The sounds outside the window were mind-boggling each day. When the chicks were hungry they would literally cry out for Mama. She tended to them with utmost care, and Papa was always lending a helping hand or keeping guard of his family. Phenomenal!
Three hungry chicks, all crying for Mama at the same time.
I was so surprised and emotionally moved to see Papa taking turns feeding his young as well. Mama needed a break from the nest from time to time (ain't THAT the truth?) so he would babysit the chicks and bring them worms.
Papa carrying a green worm for his kiddos
Dads can be spectacular babysitters! Instinctively, he seemed much more nervous and overprotective of the chicks, so he would sound the alarm by chirping loudly far more frequently than Mama would while in the nest. He must have had daughters in there. We can commiserate.
Daddy on Patrol
But, naturally, Mama spent the most time in the nest as the chicks matured. She spent every night sleeping in there with her young, no matter how crowded it was.
Mama on the lookout while the chicks nap
As the chicks grew stronger, their chirping became louder. They would, happily, wake me every morning, crying out whenever Mama went off looking for food.
Breakfast call!
But they were pleasantly appeased upon her return with sustenance. At this stage, their eyes still hadn't opened, so they must rely only on their little chirps to communicate with their environment. The chicks reminded me of human infants in their first few months of life, so helpless and dependent on their parents.
Mama feeding the babies
Here is a photograph of one of the chicks just before he started to open his eyes for the first time. So wild!
About to open eyes for the first time
Whenever rains came in, Mama would rush back to the nest and sit on top of her chicks to shelter them while Papa made protective rounds through the nearby bushes and trees.
Mama protects the chicks during a storm.
Once the storms would pass, Mama would take a break to go collect food while Papa took over at the nest for awhile.
And every night of the 10 while the chicks lived in the nest, Mama would return to sleep with her young. It warmed my heart to see her settled down out there by sunset without fail and reminded me of the cherished quiet hours my husband and I have after our daughters are in bed for the evening. Ahhhh...the quiet is spectacular sometimes.
Mama with her chicks at night.
Five days after hatching, the chicks began to show more strength. They'd pull themselves up and would move about the nest more frequently. There wasn't much room for Mama anymore.
Mama, feeding from above
And, as children do, the chicks became much more hungry and demanding.
Mama and Papa were working hard to sustain their young. In these amazing shots, I captured Mama inserting her beak into one of the chick's mouths to gently push food into its throat. Wow.
Mama, inserting food into her chick's mouth.

Astonishing to witness!
The chicks' feathers were coming in, about a week after hatching, so they began to look much more fuzzy and cute.
Mama observed as her chicks began to move around to the edges of the nest, exploring. She stayed closer as her young got braver, almost as if she was baby proofing her nest to prevent the chicks from falling. I guess there aren't baby gates for chicks yet, huh? Mama had to hop around the nest to act as a physical barrier. Poor Mama. She needed a vacation!

And then the day came when the chicks were ready to finally fledge and leave the nest. Sniff. Sniff. One at a time, I witnessed each chick cautiously hop out of its former home while both Mama and Papa looked on and coached with support.
The first chick is about to hop out of the nest.
After the first chick was out, the remaining two watched carefully as their parents instructed the boldest.
And then there were two...
Once her confidence was built up enough, the second chick pounced out into the world as well.
The last chick, about to leave the nest.
And then all three chicks, out of the nest already, began bounding about in that rhododendron bush while their proud parents stood nearby.
Mama, coaching on the far end of the bush.

Fledgling 1, looking right at me!
Now that my lil' friends were out of the nest, I managed to get some clearer photos of them from the other side of the rhododendron.
Fledgling 2, feeling brave.

Fledgling 3 was the most wary bird. She wasn't as bold as her siblings when it came to leaving the bush.
The Cardinal Family explored the nearby area for several days before I lost track of them, though they never returned to the nest. I have to admit that I was a bit sad to see them go, although watching them mature was one of the most fantastic natural wonders I have had the honor of witnessing.
Cardinals can live up to 15 years, and we still see mature couples at my feeders every day. Naturally, every time I see a pair, I wonder if one of them is one of the chicks I observed last summer. I secretly hope they are still living on our property.

Mostly, I can't help but compare the maturation of these chicks to that of my own daughters. As difficult as it must have been for Mama and Papa to prepare these babies for leaving the nest, their love, dedication and team work was completely evident and inspiring. 

I empathized with Mama and Papa on the day their chicks left the nest and imagined the day when our daughters will be off to college, exploring the world on their own, truly spreading their wings for the first time. The emotions must be overwhelming for Mama and Papa and the chicks alike, as I'm sure we will experience in our own family when that day arrives. 

But the world expands beyond that rhododendron bush...and it is a world well worth that leap of faith.

Every time I see a cardinal now, I am reminded of the love and devotion that exists within families, the bonds that are formed by selfless perseverance and patience and the awe-inspiring truth that we are all connected in this world. We just need to spread our wings...

XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

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