Easter has come and gone and I’ve been meaning to write this for the last two weeks because there were some things I wanted to share. I hope you had a wonderful holiday. Ours was lovely. We had been very hot in Southern California the entire week before and it cooled off to where I was chilly outside in my little spring sundress! It was awesome; I am nowhere near ready for summer yet. There is plenty of year left for it to get blazing hot so I will take the cool when and where I can get it!
It ended up being just the three of us. Over a month before we had started asking family what everyone wanted to do and no one ever gave us an answer. Then hubby got a couple of runs that day (our transportation business, Integrity Transportation Service, is always open, which sometimes includes working holidays) so we decided to have our own get-together so that we could plan the day around his schedule. Plus, I actually prefer to cook these days. Yes, it is a lot of work, but at least I know I can eat everything! I often leave dinner parties hungry and/or sick even after trying to communicate with the host and I don’t expect everyone to become an expert, but am sometimes left feeling like an inconvenience – on top of hungry and/or sick – so I just prefer to do the hosting myself.
Everyone else apparently had their own plans, and it turned out to be a nice day, but I was kind of hoping for a busy day. As nice as it is to have just us, sometimes – particularly on holidays – just the three of us makes the house seem kind of empty and overly quiet.
Our son, Christopher, would be eleven this year and his brother, Joshua, five. Both died as a result of extreme prematurity and I miss them more now than I ever have. They are never far from my thoughts and I had been preparing and planning for Easter for weeks. I had been working on my menu and shopping and meal and goodie prepping, and doing fine. Until late Saturday night when I made up the Easter basket for our three-year old and it hit me hard. I was only making one basket when I should have been making three.
So I admit a few tears were shed while I put together this fun Easter basket full of things my little boy loves. Everything he received was completely junk-free and fun. There were a couple of books, bubbles, a new baby (as he calls stuffed animals), a Thomas the train engine that chugs and whistles, and a card handmade by his mama. The only sweets he received was a box of Chirps, the clean version of Peeps made by a favorite local grain-free bakery. Here’s a close-up; aren’t they the cutest? They are made with honey and natural colors and real flavors and he was thrilled. He’d actually never had a marshmallow before; it was hilarious but now he may be hooked! I will be sweet-talking Laura at Snackin’ Free to make me a batch before our next camping trip for sure!
My husband was out early working, so it was just me and the little guy for breakfast. I have to eat grain-free for health reasons and he has to eat gluten-free, so fun meals can take a little planning. I had had several ideas, about making things or ordering things. I love cinnamon rolls and had found a recipe for them to try and then the bakery we got the Chirps from also had them to order, but in the end I bought a loaf of bread. Yes, plain bread. And it was a huge treat! I rarely have bread around I can eat because it’s quite expensive to buy and though I love to bake it can be a lot of work when you already are preparing a large meal from scratch, plus the ingredients (though it is cheaper than buying in the store) aren’t cheap either.
Then I was doing my meal shopping and my little guy asked for bread. So sweetly and he can be so hard to say no to! So we wandered over to the gluten-free baked goods section in the bakery and there was this loaf of grain-free bread, made locally, that is pretty expensive for bread, but really good. (It’s by Jackalope Good Food Company and worth the occasional splurge.) So while I saw many others on Facebook and Instagram and such serve a fancy brunch or make pancakes, or crepes, or eggs benedict, or such, Henry and I had toast and were absolutely thrilled. Oh, the simple things!
My husband got home around mid-morning or so, and I was fighting to get motivated. Our original plan had been to eat at two and I had my plan all laid out and had gotten a meager start, but that was it. And I was emotional. I could hardly stop crying, though I was trying to hide it. Sometimes it just hits you. Many don’t understand, but the fact is you don’t have to be consciously thinking about someone you’ve loved and lost for it to hurt. It can just hit you out of nowhere like a freight train and take you by surprise. It wasn’t like I was thinking, Oh woe is me…my boys aren’t here…I’m sad…etc, etc, etc. It’s just there. And usually has hit you and run you over before you even realize that it’s there.
So my husband, bless his heart, came home to a weepy wife and didn’t even have to ask. He just knew and asked me, “Thinking about the boys?” He understood because he was too. He hugged me and encouraged me a little and then went to take care of some things and play with our son. I could hear him on the phone and the next thing I knew his schedule was cleared for the rest of the day; he had had one more run for later that night he wound up giving to one of our drivers. He had a run early the next morning and would have been out late, so that was part of the reason, but when I asked him later he admitted part of it was he also didn’t want to leave me on a difficult day. I was so touched.
I was initially really disappointed no one joined us, and the house still felt kind of lonely and empty through the day, but on one hand it was nice. It was so relaxed, it took the pressure off the schedule with no one showing up and no work for my husband to get to. On the other hand, there’s nothing like someone showing up your door soon to get you moving and motivated! I set aside my disappointment, worked through my down emotions, and we ended up having a really nice day.
Grief doesn’t go away. And you learn lessons from it. I am still learning but I think most days I do pretty well at just working through it and finding what works for me. (If I didn’t I would never get out of bed in the morning!) One of my struggles is my faith. I am working through it and have come spades and bounds, but there are still days I purposely avoid church. They are Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. Even now that we have our little miracle (that I know we have God to thank for!) it still is hard to show up and put on a happy face and pretend I’m not hurting on days that are so focused on the little ones. I’m not saying I am dealing with it exactly as I should, but maybe I am. I have found what works for me. I turned on Pandora radio and turned to our favorite Praise and Worship station, which is so nice in the background, and after fifteen minutes the same song had come on three different times in different versions, but the same song. The last time was the version I was familiar with and why that made me change the channel in tears takes a story.
When I was in labor with my firstborn at twenty-two weeks and trying to stop it a pastor/friend from our church came to visit and brought me a beautiful worship CD by the group, Passion, with the song, Here I Am to Worship. It’s a beautiful song with an amazing message, but it was playing in the background when my son was born, and then again an hour later when he died. It will always be a song I associate with him, and that’s not always a bad thing, but that morning it was. So I changed the channel and after a few minutes came a song that made me take a deep breath and stop what I was doing to see what it was.
It was so beautiful and just spoke to me somehow and the breath caught in my throat again when I saw the name of the song and the album. Several more popped up through the day and now I want to download the whole album so I can listen to it whenever. It’s instrumental and very soothing, and I am a person really motivated by music. It speaks to me and inspires me – and is one of the places I find joy – but more on that later.
So I turned on my music, started on my dinner, eventually made myself get dressed and put makeup on, and spent time with my family. Our little boy, Henry, is such a joy and made me laugh many times that day. That brings me to the food.
My husband loves ham, and that was my first idea, but then we got to talking about his paternal grandmother who passed away two years ago last month. She was Italian and her husband Greek, and she melded the two together seamlessly and every big feast at Grandma’s house was big on traditional fare, but she loved Easter. Our family is a big melting pot, including along with the Greek and Italian, there is Polish on that side, and mostly German on my side with a little French and Irish mixed in. Quite a combo and we are tried and true American made with Greek, Italian, Polish, and German etc. parts, but I love teaching our son about his heritage and I LOVE family traditions. So we started a new one this year and wanted to honor Grandma Jean on one of her favorite holidays and share it with the little boy she loved so much. Here is Grandma, meeting Henry the first time – one of my favorite pictures of the two of them.
Grandma Jean was a sweet, fun lady who had quite a personality and we didn’t always get along, but we loved each other fiercely. She was never Mrs. Pselos, or Jean; from the moment I met her, even though me and her grandson were only dating, she was Grandma. And even later, I was never her grandson’s wife, but her granddaughter. She could be a little secretive when it came to her cooking, but I learned a lot from her. She would give advice – just not share recipes! – but she loved company in the kitchen so I learned to watch and help where she let me.
It was really hard on me when she died, and that was part of my tears on Sunday, just thinking about her and the memories. I must admit, I’m tearing up even now as I write! I know she was looking down at us and smiling as we tried to honor her that day and recreate recipes she had perfected over her lifetime and guarded so closely! We worked from memory plus a recipe book she gave us years ago, did some tweaking to make it compliant with me and Henry’s diets, and here was our menu. Completely gluten-free, paleo, and (almost) autoimmune protocol-friendly.
Italian Wedding Soup
Pasta and Homemade Sauce
For dessert, Grandma made these Italian shortbread cookies covered in powdered sugar, but she made those more for Christmas. Other big family dinners she made cake or would buy these amazing pies from a local market. I ended up making a carrot cake and some almond butter chocolate-covered eggs.
The only thing missing is the potatoes. The Greek part of the meal came from the lamb and potatoes. I thought about it, but that was already going to be a lot of food for three people so we left them out this year. Then when it came time for dinner we had filled up on appetizers, so I nixed the salad too, but notice how it’s at the end of the meal? That’s an Italian thing and one of the lessons from Grandma – flashback to one of my first meals with her and I asked where the salad was at the beginning of the meal!
Our appetizers were super simple and not really planned to be honest. I had thought of a few things in case people came over and we were waiting for my husband to get home from work. Then my son finally fell asleep for his afternoon nap right about the time I was about to put finishing touches on dinner so we paused, pulled out some goodies and relaxed. There was a chicken liver pate I had made a few days before with some grain-free crackers (purchased from the bakery the Chirps came from), olives, fresh vegetables, and cheese.
One thing I have learned from eating real food is preparation is key. You can’t just open a bunch of cans, boxes, and packages the day of and throw together dinner. It takes planning and a lot of prep but is so worth it! For a big dinner like this I shop as soon as I can and start cooking absolutely everything I can ahead of time. And I make lists. Here I am trying to get organized about five days before Easter, which is actually a little last-minute for me, finalizing my shopping and to-do lists; this was posted to my Instagram.
We are also on a budget. Planning things out allows me to stretch out the expense. If I have a basic idea of what I want to do I can start planning weeks in advance, making sure I am stocked up on pantry staples, or picking something up ahead of time because it’s on sale and then freezing it, or such. It takes a little work, but it’s not hard and well worth it. I spent a lot on groceries for this meal, but we ate leftovers the entire next week. We happen to like leftovers and we like playing with them and making things different. (Like sandwiches, salads, fried rice – made with cauliflower – and the lamb and veggies on top of sweet potatoes for example.)
Dinner turned out amazing, though we still want to tweak the recipes of Grandma’s we tried to recreate. The others I got on-line. I used recipes I found for the pasta and sauce, cake, and candy. As I mentioned earlier everything was (almost) autoimmune protocol-friendly and I was referring to the pasta and almond butter eggs; the pasta was made with almond flour and the eggs with almond butter and chocolate. Those three things are cheats for me but I do ok with them in small amounts as long as I don’t overdue it and it was worth it. It had been so long since I had had pasta, I was beyond excited!
I found the recipe for it on Pinterest, and I was a little intimidated at first, but it was very easy. It is by Paleo Cupboard and you can find it here: http://www.paleocupboard.com/paleo-pasta.html. The sauce is a nightshade-free sauce I have made before and love; it works great in anything calling for tomato sauce, including pasta or pizza. My husband doesn’t like beets, but he likes this sauce, if that’s an indication how good it is, although he had his own sauce. We had one jar of homemade, canned tomato sauce given to us by one of our clients from her garden last year, so he used that (I love it when he gets homemade tips like that!). The No-Mato Sauce comes from The Curious Coconut and can be found at: http://thecuriouscoconut.com/blog/the-best-no-mato-sauce-autoimmune-paleo-marinara. A note about the No-Mato Sauce; I have made it many times and I often have a batch in my freezer, but didn’t this time so I made it fresh. It freezes beautifully and I usually portion it out into two-cup portions (perfect for a pizza), but for a big dish of pasta for the family I might thaw two.
Here is our finished dinner:
I’d been feeling very deprived of lately and still dealing with some eczema, but my body is still healing. I do cheat on things like almond flour and chocolate and red wine on occasion because I am so diligent all the time and I think occasional treats are ok as long as your body can handle them. As I stated already I can eat them; just not all the time or too much. And that bottle of wine is still sitting on my counter a couple of weeks later as I have yet to finish it, and I enjoy and savor each glass because it probably won’t be until the next holiday I open another one! Life is too short to constantly deprive yourself if you ask me. Like dessert!
I love cake and actually haven’t made one since going grain-free. I’ve made cupcakes but not a whole cake. And I had been craving cake. My birthday was last month and I had a couple of recipes I wanted to make and considered ordering one from the bakery I mentioned earlier but didn’t do either and regretted it, so when Easter came around it didn’t take long to decide what I wanted. Carrot cake! It is one of my favorites and so springy! I found this recipe from Health Nut Nation which happened to already be nightshade-free, although most recipes aren’t hard to make that way. She had several frosting options but I ended up using the Best Ever Paleo Frosting by Real Food RN because it has become the only frosting we use; it really is the best ever and is so good and very easy. I used it because I knew it was good and easy and turns out every time. You can find the cake recipe here: http://www.healthnutnation.com/2013/03/27/paleo-carrot-cake/ and the frosting here: http://realfoodrn.com/best-paleo-frosting-ever/.
I made the Copy Cat Reese’s “Peanut Butter” Eggs last year and they were a hit. Hubby isn’t crazy about carrot cake, but loves chocolate and peanut butter so I made these. Last year we had a big family gathering and no one could believe they were dairy- and refined sugar-free. They come from My Whole Food Life and you can find the recipe here: http://mywholefoodlife.com/2014/03/09/copycat-reeses-peanut-butter-eggs/. I tweaked it this year by using half almond butter and half homemade coconut butter. Oh my, so good; I may do them that way from now on. I was trying to lessen the almond impact and it made the inside a little fluffier too. They still really tasted like almond butter. I could slightly taste the coconut, but was never sure if it was simply because I was looking for it. They are very simple and quick and this year it was a joy to have Henry help. He made funny ropes and wanted me to make a bunny and a snowman. Such fun.
That brings me to my next point ~ finding joy in the little things. That can be really hard when you are hurting, either physically or emotionally. I don’t always do well at this, but I have learned you have to search for it at times and it’s usually never hard to find. Take for instance the music I mentioned earlier or treating myself to pasta, which I love and haven’t eaten in over a year. There was something else I wanted to share as well. In the middle of feeling sorry for myself that morning I sat down for a break to get lost on my phone and opened Instagram, seeing this.
This Instagram account comes from a woman named Nathalie Hillelrich. I know I did not find her by accident. I don’t spend very much time on Twitter. I follow quite a few people, but it’s not often I actually browse my timeline. I did that day, several weeks ago, and an account about infant loss I follow shared a picture and for some reason I clicked on it. What popped up was the picture of a woman and this tiny baby in a NICU that just took my breath away. I ended up following the link to her website which led me to her Pinterest, Instagram, etc. Find her website at http://www.nathaliehimmelrich.com. You can also find her at http://www.grievingparents.net. She has written a book titled, Grieving Parents: Surviving Loss as a Couple. I’ve ordered it but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. She is inspiring and shares beautiful things, a grieving mama like myself who is moving on after the death of one of her twin daughters. I sent her an e-mail the day I found her and received the loveliest note back. I stumbled across her on a day I was really struggling and felt such a connection to this woman who lives literally half a world away. I sent her another note, asking if I could share this post of hers, to which she graciously agreed; check her out. She’s amazing.
So I submitted the names of my two angel babies, to which she replied, bringing me to tears. It was such a beautiful gesture and to have someone else acknowledge them meant the world to my husband and I.
As hard as it is, and as much I miss them, acknowledging them brings me such joy. We do little things, like hanging their pictures, talking about them to our son, hanging stockings at Christmas, lighting candles, buying little trinkets that make us think of them; we have planted trees in their memory, made donations in their names, I wear jewelry with their birthstones, and so on and so forth. After ordering Nathalie’s book this suggestion came up on Amazon and I immediately ordered it. Reading it the first time made me cry.
My son received this in his Easter basket. Henry is three but knows who his brothers are. He recognized them in pictures the first time very young. It gave me goose bumps. I walked by a picture of the two of them and he wasn’t speaking yet but I knew the look of recognition on his face and he reached for them. Believe what you want, but I believe his little spirit recognized them; like he remembered them from Heaven. Even now he likes to kiss their pictures and the boxes of their ashes and he knows who they are. I always wanted it that way. When someone asks me how many children I have the answer is always three. If someone asks if we have any more children than Henry I politely answer we have two boys who are no longer with us. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out thing. Some people ask more, some don’t, and both are ok. Just for me and my heart, I have to acknowledge them. This was another way for me to do that.
So this Easter I found joy in many things. I found joy in enjoying some wonderful, healthy, yet delicious food that is compliant with a sometimes difficult diet and I enjoyed treating myself to a couple of things. I found joy in honoring a woman whose legacy will always leave a mark on our family. I found joy in starting a new tradition. I found joy in getting all dressed up in a pretty little black and white sundress my mama bought me while here in February; it’s a lot of fun dressing up when you don’t do it that often! I found joy in some beautiful music and a lovely gesture from a new friend that served as a salve for my soul on a difficult day. I found joy in a beautiful little boy that I thank God every day for. Henry is a miracle, no doubt about it, and he himself has such joy and sweetness, and you can’t help but smile when you are with him. I found joy with my husband who my relationship with isn’t perfect but we understand each other, love one another unconditionally, and I know I am extremely lucky to have him in my life. And I found joy in my two angel babies whom I also thank God for. I wish they were with me. I wish I could wrap my arms around them right now and hold them close. I ache for them. Every. Day. But I know I will see them again one day and that brings me some small amount of bittersweet joy.
You have to look for it. You have to work for it. But it’s there. Trust me.
Thank you for listening. I know I really went on and on with this one, but I gave you a rare piece of my heart I don’t often share. I hope it touched one of you, whether it be about the food or the family. I have put myself out there to connect with you, be encouraged by you, and an encouragement for you. Leave me a comment or visit me on social media and let’s connect. Thank you again for sharing my journey.
Blessings to you today,