New Job

One of the greatest blessings to our family of the entire moving process has been my husband's job change.  One wouldn't think that if a guy gets transferred, he'd be more relaxed, but that's the case if he is a Reliability Center Manager at an oil refinery.  Many say it is the most difficult job at any refinery and that no one should hold that role longer than a year or two due to the constant demand and stress.  I was so proud of him for holding this position at such a young age, but also ready to see him have some more time for himself.

First Workweek Apartment in the Twin Cities
As soon as we heard that the local refinery in AK was shutting down, there was no more need to work double time.  Most of the current and future projects did not exist anymore; 75% of the work force was leaving, probably more after that, and there was no longer going to be a plant to run or product to make.  There was no more need to block out the calendar in order to get a lunch break.  So, for our last few months in Alaska, dad could make it home in time to say goodnight to the kids before they went to bed.

In Minnesota, even though he has to be gone from us all workweek, working 125 miles away and living in an apartment, he has energy on the weekends to do activities with us in the country.  Or in the city if we drive to him.  As Procedures Lead, he has a job where he has to oversee a team of people and improve a very important system, but he can also work normal hours.  As a bonus, there are several other people from AK in MN, so he has ties to home.  It's a job with a lot of future.

North Pole refinery to cease processing crude oil; all but 35 to be laid off 

Alaska's Flint Hills Refinery winds down operations ahead of closure

Chapter 2

As if finding out our livelihood, the refinery, was shutting down and therefore my husband was going
to be laid off in nine months wasn't enough, we had been stuck in the house all month.  We had good intentions, ending February with a few consecutive days of me skiing the "figure 8" paths in the front yards (ours and our neighbors) while the kids played in the returning sunlight.  I made ski plans with friends to ski progressively more and more difficult trails each weekend to prepare for a cross country ski trip into and out of Stiles Creek Cabin.  Then, BAM, a cough and fever hit us and never left.  First our Kindergartner, then me, then our Preschooler, then back to our Kindergartner.  My husband was at a Reliability Center Manager conference in Texas when the announced the refinery closure several weeks ago in early February.  He was working very hard, long hours.  He, thank goodness, did not get sick.  February was a tough month.

Rewind to 2011.  My parents' neighbor in MN had already announced that he and his wife had successfully donated close to 1000 acres of their land to the MN Department of Natural Resources.  It was now designated as a Wildlife Management Area, which means that people can go there to hunt or trap, hike or ski, but no motorized vehicles are allowed.  All of this donated land was to the east of my parents' property.  The property to the west, another 240 acres, house, and barn, was to be donated at a later date.  We expressed our interest in that portion, but we were told it would go to the DNR regardless.  We were concerned about activity in public land, surrounding ours, and also sad that a house and barn would go to waste in a wildlife area.

June 2013.   I had been in Alaska 8 consecutive years, 9 with summer visits.  I told my husband for the first time ever that I thought I'll be ready to move in the next couple of years.  I felt we had done a lot in AK and it might be time for some new adventures and new opportunities.  We had planned on moving eventually to MN but there was never a date in mind, and at this time I was unsure where we would move.  Maybe Texas.  There are a lot of refineries there.  Little did I know that date would only be about a year away.  Literally the next day, my dad gave me a call and said that the neighbors would like to sell us their remaining property.  It was no longer going to go to the DNR, and of course we were interested.  An existing house, although old and in need of major work, financially beats building a new house.  In July, my husband was offered a job in MN but he was not allowed to take it because he was still needed at the smaller refinery in AK.  So, we knew there would be future work in MN for him.

November 2013.  We acquired the rural property in MN after much stress, negotiation, and soul-searching.  We decided that, although there is no work close by, it was most important to move our family to the country and nearby my parents; my parents helped us with the financial part of this.  They also started cleaning out and cleaning up the place because we were not there to do it.  In December, when we came to visit for Christmas, my husband began removing a three story useless chimney, paneling, plaster, drywall, and more in anticipation for what we call phase 1:  beefing up the place.  I thought about how we could use the space, which is comparable to the amount of space we currently had in our 2007 model home in AK.  This house though is a 1946 and has been added onto a couple of times so it took a lot more thought and planning.

February 2013.  Contractors came in and added new beams to make the attic, which the previous owners had used as an upstairs, a sturdy and usable space for a family of five.  My dad began pulling wires in anticipation of rewiring for modern and safe usage.  We realized my parents' property qualified for Century Farm status.  My great grandfather Joseph Kvasnicka (and Mary Mach) built the original part of my parents' house in 1913.  How interesting that we expanded the family land exactly 100 years later.

As sad and scared as we were to leave Alaska, especially since it was happening more quickly than we anticipated, we were excited to begin Chapter 2.  I had spent my entire adult life up in Alaska, met my husband, built a home, had three kids, and made good friends, but was very excited to be near more family.  Most of all, we would miss the riverfront property and having great grandma down the street in the summers.

The home in AK that we built and sold
In early March, my husband took a site visit to the Pine Bend Refinery in Rosemount, MN.  This is the same company, but a much larger facility, more lucrative, the same place he was offered a job the summer before.  Things changed quickly when the refinery in AK was planning on shutting down.  He was offered a job the same week with a start date June 1, which was changed quickly by the Alaska site to July 31 so he could stay to finish some work.  We began prepping the house for sale in late March and continued throughout the month of April and into early May.  As exhausting as it was, we wanted it to look as new and as fabulous as possible.

May 2014.  Surprise!  The basement of our new (old) house in MN leaked after much snow and rain.  It was leaking to the extent that we would need to have basement waterproofers come in and install drain tile and a new sump pump before next winter.  We knew for sure we would need new beams and roof but we didn't know there would be work underneath as well.

The home in MN that we are remodeling
In June, 2014, during the week that our younger boy and my husband flew to MN to find and secure a weekday workweek apartment for him, we sold our house in Alaska.  It was only on the market a couple of weeks.  It was such a stressful process that we decided never to sell a house again!  That same week, contractors came to install a new roof on our remodel home.  The kids and I moved to MN
in late June, just before my husband oversaw the movers in AK.  He then stayed with his grandma for a month, while he finished work in AK.  It flooded most of the spring and summer in interior Alaska, and the house we just sold was located on a river.  We were all excited to move on, continue the remodel, and begin life in the country.

From baby girl to toddler from toddler to boy ...

Well, it's official.  My baby doesn't smell like a baby anymore.  I'm not sure what changed, but as I kiss her head a thousand times, I inhale, and that sweet, relaxing odor is not there anymore.  I noticed the other day that she can actually get stinky feet, just like any kid can.  She can play with small objects and not try to eat them.  She eats what we eat.  She is so small, so much smaller than the other two kids of ours, that I forget that she's growing up.  She picks up the phone and says "Hi-i" with perfect intonation.  She'll randomly repeat words perfectly, like "okay" or "shoe" and gets some close like her brother "Ala."  She'll be potty trained and talking before we know it.

Our daughter's actions are starting to amaze me.  She may even be a toddler.  Kindergarten is optional in Alaska and our son is doing quite well so we continued what we have been doing the last handful of years and we went to my parents' place in Minnesota for a long vacation.  In those six weeks, our daughter went from being able to climb onto a small baby rocking chair to climbing onto adult furniture, climbing over the arms of them, and over to adjacent furniture.  She is, what our five year old says, "getting her grinders."  She's getting all four molars and that does wonders for food processing.  There are a lot less types of food coming through undigested.  She transitioned to sleeping in her own room just fine.   She follows the lead of her brothers quite well.  If she sees her brothers sleeping on an airplane, for example, she will do the same.  If they go to the car or outside, she wants to go.  I often catch her copying me, saying "hmmm" (the thinking sound), locating a washcloth and cleaning the floor (although she bends over at the waist and sticks her butt out and I think I go down onto my knees, which is not nearly as cute), messing with dishes and containers (kitchen work).  It's so shocking and funny at the same time to see a tiny person mimic.

Our younger son, who recently turned four, is surprising me as well.  All of a sudden he decided to hold a writing utensil properly, where for months he claimed that holding it correctly strained his hand.  "It hurts," he would whine.  He announced the other day that he would like to go to school on Monday (he is resuming school in Feb - May Tues/Thurs) and not only that but that he would like to go to school "every day."  He claimed tonight that he wants to do "all of the things," meaning his brother's violin lesson and both of their soccer practices.  Often he will say he does not want to leave the house but then when we are in the car, he doesn't want to return home.  He has not complained once in our two weeks back home about getting into the car to drop off or pick up his brother from school.  In fact, he has often requested to get out into the cold and walk up to the school with me.  He just started his first organized activity outside of preschool and swimming lessons today and he did alright.  He participated, but he is still a different kid.  While 7 other 4 year olds were chasing the soccer ball, he was walking on the painted lines in the gym.  He has always done his own thing.  He is a kind boy.  Today, after school, I took him to a restaurant for lunch and he happily fed his sister portions of his food.  Then, we went to a store and he chose a toy and used some of his birthday money.  He shared it with his brother as soon as we returned home.  His older brother is a good example.  Every new thing he gets, he announces that he is going to share it with his brother.

The doctor said at well-checks the other day that the kids are growing beautifully.  She must be right because it seems one of them always needs their drawers gone through because their pants won't button or their arms are sticking out of their sleeves.

I am really going to miss that sound, "Awe" that our older son makes every time he sets eyes on his sister for the first time.  He says "Awe, you are so sweet" and then kisses her on the head.  Our younger son gets this huge grin on her face, looks at her, and laughs.  I think it's because she gives them such a giant smile that they can't resist showing her love in return.  They never fail to take notice of her.  She has started to kiss everyone.  She tries to say "I love you."  She is growing up too quickly.  They all are.  Our older son here has lost his first two teeth, played in his first soccer games, and recently played in a violin recital in front of about one hundred people.  He loves school, activities, and all of the friends that come along with them. He loves to sit and read Calvin and Hobbes.  He skis with me.  And is constantly asking questions and learning about life.

The Routine

Our daughter has moderate eczema on her cheeks, arms, and legs.  It has been severe at times and has begun on other parts of her body, but now it is mild and those remain the only three maintenance areas.  She has been prescribed three potencies of corticosteroid creams and a topical antibiotic.  However, I am happy to say that after five months of trial and error we do not have to use any prescribed medication except on her face.  The photos show the progression of her eczema from six to twelve months old, both before and after using medication on her face.

I give her a bath every day.  I mean, every single day.  That is the only way besides drinking that you can hydrate your skin.  Eczema is a defect in the skin, a deficiency of proteins possibly, that does not leave it with the ability to retain moisture.  It is much more complicated than "dry skin."  All of the lotions out there and creams and lubes are either filled with junk or are oils or are truly beneficial substances but are still filled with a bunch of irritating junk.  If you find differently, and know of a product that works, send me an email.  I'm willing to try any product with an ingredient list of five or fewer ingredients that have purpose.  Let's make that ten or fewer.

I was given some bad information about baths six months ago.  A dermatologist told me that baths in our town have a net drying effect and so despite what the National Eczema Association recommends, bath infrequently.  There are two problems with this.  Not only does the skin continue to dry out, but the patient is then reliant on anti-inflammatory medications to control their eczema.  And since there is nothing to clean away bacteria, the broken skin becomes more irritated and prone to infection.  There is not any way I can see that this bath avoidance routine can ever work but there are many ways to make a bath routine work well.  I fired that doctor after the first visit, and it was a long visit during which I asked many questions and received many odd responses.  It is true, though, that our climate is unique.  It is extremely dry and many people who would never have symptoms in another place suffer here.  Our daughter's aunt is a perfect example of someone who suffered her whole life here in interior Alaska and still does when she returns but is unaffected in her present home in Washington.  Extreme climates are a risk factor for developing eczema on top of genetics.  We have both of those working against us.  

I put epsom salt in the bath so that she gets some extra magnesium.  That is a good thing for everybody to do.  I don't think it helps control bacteria, possibly sea salt would do that, but I have not tried it because that would have to be washed off I would imagine.  The water can't be too warm and the bath can't be too long or she'll lose her natural oils.  She needs them.  I have put bleach in her bath before but I don't like to do it because that can be irritating as well.  A bleach bath is equivalent to a swimming pool, and swimming in chlorine is something people with eczema are prescribed.  It is the only way that I know besides vinegar to kill staph (which is ever present) besides using an antibiotic, prescribed or not.  People with skin that has been compromised have staph infections and the staph and other bacteria that are inside the skin perpetuate the inflammation.  Killing all of the bad bacteria on and in the skin is the first step toward healing.

After she is dry, I put a thick layer of a thick oil, such as petroleum jelly, shea butter, or palm oil, all over her arms and legs.  I used to reapply this layer at every diaper change, but it was not enough to hold the moisture not to mention very expensive.  You should see the empty jugs and jars and containers I have collected!  I have tried other miracle, nutritious oils such as coconut, jojoba, hemp, olive, but they are not thick enough for her case.  I found something that works better than reapplying the thick oil:  old socks.  Well, old socks made into leggings for arms or legs, that is.  They can be new socks, of course.  Or one can buy and use BabyLegs or Bambino or other brands if they are skin tight.  And I have.  I found bandaids can help too, to heal problem areas, but they have to be waterproof and they have to have adhesive that is stronger than the Man of Steel ... or moisture will escape or those baby pincer fingers will pull it off right away.  And they have to be large enough and then too they have to recover from the irritation from the adhesive.

So, under her long-sleeved clothing, she wears a stretchy hand-less and foot-less tight on each arm and each leg.  She wears these all of the time.  And it's so simple and easy.  Back when I only had one pair, I kept them on for a week straight.  Now, I wash them with the rest of her clothes in the sanitary cycle and change them every day or two.  Not only do they help to keep the lube in place and provide a third layer of skin for holding in moisture, but they also prevent abrasion from pants on legs, grass, fingernails, etc.

And she has healed.  Not only have the bumps gone away, but so has the redness and her desire to itch herself when I remove her leggings.  Her arms and legs have healed and as long as I stick to this routine, she has not required any medication.  At this point she only has one small red spot on her arm (and the spots on her hand and cheeks which are exposed and therefore difficult) and that's the first spot that popped up on her arms and legs ten months ago.  I suspect there is bacteria in there and so I apply a vinegar soak, which is a sterile dressing soaked in vinegar and boiled water, twice every day to her arm and cheeks for ten minutes while she falls asleep as I feed her.  Our dermatologist recommended this as an alternative to prescribed topical antibiotics, because both gram negative and gram positive bacteria have trouble thriving in an acidic environment.

The allergy testing seemed to be a dead end road, for now.  She didn't react to any foods or any of the environmental allergens that we tested.  Although that may have simplified things, it is good she does not have an allergy (that we know of).  We see a great dermatologist regularly.  She is very good at answering my many, sometimes scientific and sometimes grasping, questions.  After seeing our daughter's skin, our dermatologist wrote up a hand-out for other parents to do what we are doing with the leggings.  I learned to do this from three other local moms who independently do the same thing.  I met them through three different local Facebook Groups.  Sometimes they have to apply them wet but so far we do not.  Wet wrapping is a common remedy for eczema but usually with gauze or special dressings or tights or cotton pajamas (all under something warm and synthetic), not necessary with something as simple as leggings.  Leggings are practical for babies and toddlers because you can actually get them on in a reasonable amount of time, while the child is squirming and fussing, they are affordable, and they do not interfere with diaper changes like tights do.

There's more to this story that has to do with nutrition and the immune system and other systems, too, I am sure.  I'll write about that conundrum another time once I have a better handle on it.  But, basically, you have to deal with the inflammation both outside and inside of the body and that is why I started with an elimination diet.  Eliminating my inflammation for many months did not seem to eliminate hers but on the bright side it cured my tinnitus temporarily until I reintroduced the foods so I solved a problem of my own without intending to do so.  Our daughter takes Nordic Naturals fish oil daily, which can cut inflammation in the body up to 30%, and various types of probiotics to boost her immune system and aid in digestion.  She doesn't eat any of the common allergens.  She has also taken homeopathic regimens to reduce any systemic yeast that may have been present.  As a 5 day old baby, she had seborrhea that persisted but was not generally bothersome once every couple weeks in her armpits or neck or belly button but that has been gone now for a couple of months.  My hope is that as her immune system matures, she will outgrow this fully instead of it progressing into something else that is worse.

I think, in many ways, we are making progress.

Back to School

It was recently time to go back to school.  And for our younger son, it was the first time.  He has been through two years of dropping his brother off at preschool and picking him up from preschool, twice a week, so I think that, along with everyone asking him all of the time if he's excited for preschool, helped to prepare him.

The night before the first day of preschool, our older son removed all of his little brother's clothes on hangers and laid them out for him and announced, "Here are your school clothes.  Pick what you are going to wear tomorrow."  I was impressed!  Instead of picking the usual clothes he begs for when dirty, like his button up red airplane shirt or his superhero tights, undies, and shirts, he happily picked a nice sweater and new-to-him jeans.  He, without any input from anyone else, chose a wool jacket, like his dad wears to work, and brown leather shoes.  I knew at this point that emotionally these boys have everything under control and that this was going to go alright.  He had some trouble going to sleep, which is not unusual for him, but when I awakened him in the morning, talk of what I was going to put on his oatmeal (whole milk, blueberries, and maple syrup--the usual) got him in the mood to wake up and let me dress him.  Yes, I dressed a preschooler that morning.  He is still my baby, always will be, and quite frankly I'd like someone to dress me each morning.  He announced that he was going to pour the milk and add the syrup.  His older brother cried while he did this out of jealousy, but preschoolers get to do new and challenging things, and he knew this!

We all ate breakfast at the table together.  I took a photo of him and drove him to school.  He entered the school with confidence, put his coat and backpack in his cubby, attached his name-tag to it, and sat down in a circle with the other kids in his class.  It was a full class of 9 children, mostly boys.  I took another photo and left, fighting my instinct to go back in and peek at him.  When I arrived to pick him up, he gave me the look that he always gives me when I pick him up at his babysitter or his grandparent's house:  a squinty-eyed shrug of the shoulders.  He didn't quite want it to end and he was still a little unsure of how to proceed at this point, but once we went inside to say goodbye to all of the animals (turtle, fish, anole, etc), he was confident again.  The teacher said he didn't want to say his name during introductions, but later told her that he wanted to be called by his middle name, which is his grandfather's first name.  He also talked to her about his favorite part of the day, which was snack time:  goldfish and cheese sticks.  The teacher by chance is one of the best friends of one of my close friends.  The preschool director is the teacher that our older son had last year.  And the nephew of our next door neighbor is also going to the school.  I know he appreciates those familiarities as much as I do.  And I hope that he makes new friends at school.  He already told me there aren't any bad kids in his class.  Whew!  By the third day, he was talking to his teacher more openly, although still quietly.  By the second or third week, he had become quiet comfortable speaking his mind and playing with the other children.

For our older son, Kindergarten is definitely welcomed change.  I'd like to keep him home, but he is more than ready to tackle something new.  We have been biking to this Elementary School to play on the playground since he was two.  It's where my husband went to school.  In fact, there are large photos of him and his classmates, the first years the school opened, all over the walls of the school.  We had been to Kindergarten Round-up, Meet the Bus day, and finally when we went to Meet the Teacher / Ice Cream Social day, he marched up to the school, found his name on the Kindergarten list (4 classes), went straight to his teacher's classroom through hoards of people, waited in line to meet her and said, with his hands in his pockets and his hood up, "So, it looks like I'm in the morning class."  She replied, "Well, it looks like you're all grown up."  His grandmother, who had gone with us nodded.  He has a thing with teachers.  She asked questions about him and our family and in two minutes, before I had completely the paperwork, he was bored with the classroom and wanted to meet the Librarian and Principal.  He was happy to do the assessment because he had all of the teacher's attention, and when school started and he was able to bring his backpack with his snack, lunch, and finally meet the other kids, he was ecstatic.  The teacher says he will not be bored, so all I can do is hope she is right ... and volunteer my help once a week during the reading, writing, and math curriculum.  Elementary School has been going on for several weeks now and I have been volunteering for four.  The personality types of the students are very interesting and the way my son portrayed the other students is very much like it is.  He has a great class of ten students.

While our older son is off in the world having new experiences with his new classmates, his little brother is the big brother of the house.  I can already see the bond between he and his little sister growing.  The play very well together as the boys always have.  But, now that there is school for both of the boys their time together is less frequent and I can tell more precious to them.

Blurbs on the Kids

This summer has come and gone, probably the fastest one in my life yet.  I attribute this to having three kids and a busy husband.  But, time flies for everyone, it seems, unless they are in pain, and then too I'm sure it passes by two quickly in its own way.  I lost an uncle to lung cancer today.  It's been a year since his wife died of emphysema and three years since another aunt died of heart attack, an uncle of complications of pneumonia, and a cousin of a stroke.  Fall is no doubt the time of year for change, whether it be sickness or death or just a change in attitude, daily habits, or academics.

The baby is almost walking.  She can walk but lacks the confidence to do so on her own.  She turns one in a few days.  She likes to hold small things in her hands as she crawls around emptying toy containers and finding small pieces of things on the floor to put into her mouth.  Whenever she hears a phone ring, she says, "Hello."  It doesn't sound like "Hello," more like "Oh" but she has the tone correct and because she puts her hand up to her face, you cannot mistake what she is doing.  If you feed her something she likes, she will say, "Num, num, num, num ..."  And she'll shovel tiny chunks of zucchini cake into her mouth so quickly you'd think she's competing with a herd of chickens.  She always eats her meat first, and if something ends up on the floor it is usually a vegetable.  She loves to play on the bed, belly flopping.  You know it's time to put her to bed when she forgets to put her arms out before she launches herself.  She thinks she is supposed to say, "Uh oh" when she throws something onto the floor.  And her voice is so cute.  Whenever I pick her up and put her on my left hip, she pats the back of my shoulder with the palm of her hand.  If she's hungry, she'll suck on my shoulder.  She bit it once, but I yelled "NO!" so loudly in pain that she's never tried it again.  She loves her brothers and her brothers love her.  They'll say, "Look at her, she is SOooo Sweeeet."  They rarely forget to greet her in the morning or after school.  And she'll smile, pat them on the head, grab their hair, slap their belly, do anything to make them laugh, and they know how to make her laugh hysterically also; they'll toss blocks into the air, snort like pigs, etc.  She sleeps with us most of the time, and we don't even mind it for the most part  The first year goes by so quickly and every year thereafter even faster, it seems.

Our three year old is starting to branch out of being a super hero or king every day to wearing jeans and shirts other than his red, button-up airplane shirt and pants other than his white and blue striped train pants.  It wasn't just this way on the first day of school; it stuck.  This is great since he has a closet full of clothes to wear!  He has an obsession with removing all of the cushions and pillows off of the couches and stacking them into a pile.  Inside the pile, he pretends to be in a helicopter, a chimney, army hospital, police station, you name it.  He is his own man and is content playing by himself quietly, for hours.  Give him a sand box or a pile of dirt, especially if there is water to add or it is raining, and he will be content for hours.  After everyone else is asleep, he will stay up for hours looking at pictures in books, sometimes even on days that he has not had a nap.  He does not like to be told what to do.  For example, some mornings, he'll ask me to pick out his clothes for him, but he will always in the end choose something different.  He does not like assistance with taking off his coat, buckling his 5 point harness, or turning off a light.  He does not like change and he does not like to be rushed.  And he says he does not like school, but we know he does and is just asserting the opposite.  He is a character, a goof, and his smiling eyes and wide grin are contagious to say the least.  He has changed so much in personality over the last two years that it will be really interesting to see the type of person he becomes in the next short two years, before he starts Kindergarten.  

Our five year old likes to have structured activities to do all of the time.  Often times, he'll ask us to make him a list of things to do for the day, which includes everything from brushing teeth, eating, and pooping to practicing violin and writing letters to people.  I can't always keep him busy with kid projects because he refuses to do things he has done before in which case he will always ask to watch television, but when I refuse in return he will help me out with entertaining the baby, folding laundry, or cutting vegetables for meals, and he does a great job.  We have some good talks, too, while we work together.  He thrives off of social interactions.  On the first day of school, he had already made two friends and invited them over to a Halloween Party he is dreaming up/planning.  He likes to dress "handsome," as he calls it, and this requires my mom and I to shop second hand for button down shirts with collars so that he is well-supplied.  He reads very well.  I'm not sure what his reading level would be but he can read almost any children's book though he is intimidated if a whole page is covered in words and if he doesn't know a word he will usually guess instead of take the time to sound it out.  His Kindergarten teacher said he was the only kid she has seen read the number "202."  He is starting to spell also and wrote his first letter yesterday without assistance.  Between violin lessons and school, this fall, I think he will continue to be challenged and will progress rapidly.

School started last week and we've already had a stomach bug, a cold, and a cold/fever, one for each kid, so their immune systems are being properly exercised.  The potatoes have been dug.  The last of the second crop of lettuce has been spun.  And we've had our first frost.  The septic has been pumped.  And my husband is hacking up the last load of wood so that it will be seasoned for the following winter.  Woodstove fires have already become part of the normal daily routine.  I have been baking a lot of pizzas, pies, cakes, and vegetables, just because we finally can use the oven and still feel comfortable inside.  Moose season began yesterday and now we're just hoping a bull moose walks right into our yard, preferably 35 yards from my husband's bow and arrow.  I used up the last of the moose steak and moose pepperoni and lunch meat last week.  The leaves will now turn yellow and in a couple short weeks, by fall equinox probably, they will all be on the ground.  No matter how quickly life passes, change is good.

Summer Camping Trips

We wanted to have more free weekends to go camping this summer.  But, life is full.  In addition to our three winter camping trips, we were able to do three summer camping trips, four if you count my husband's salmon fishing expedition, five if you count his moose hunting efforts.  Three family camping trips is better than none though, and I think the impressions the trips left on the kids were profound.  Although camping is an incredible amount of work for the adults, it is nice for us to go away from home for a while, too.  We kicked off the summer by camping one night at the Granite Tors Campground, headed to Denali National Park for three nights after solstice, and finally camped at Nome Creek campground two nights in early August. 

Camping teaches or requires valuable life skills.  It teaches one how to poop in outhouses or in the woods, how to sleep in a new place, how to build a fire, cook without a kitchen, and challenges one to entertain without electronics.  It gives one time to think.  It forces everyone to sit together in harmony for long periods of time.

One of the things I like most about camping now that we have a large family is that the food is almost already prepared, due to extra work the week before, and only requires reheating.  One of the things my husband likes is that he does not have to wake up early and go to work.  We both like to hear the questions that camping causes our children to ask us about the world around us and to see the smiles of excitement on their faces as they discover new things.

Just like travel of any kind, camping inspires change and growth.  For example, camping between 9 and 11 months, our daughter learned to sign "more" for more blueberries without our prompting.  She learned how to kill mosquitos. Our older son learned how to cast a fishing pole and that rocks and trees are made of minerals and cells.  He learned how to become a steward to the environment through the Junior Ranger process.  And our younger son learned how to hike a long distance to keep camp in a way that animals will not be attracted.  It may not seem like much, but it is a lot for them and it's just the beginning.  Here's to many more years of camping, growing, and making fond memories.

The Eczema Puzzle

Or maybe it's atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis or maybe it's an allergy of some type.  Whatever it is, it is what I have been obsessing about for the past two months straight.  Our eight month old daughter has extremely sensitive skin.

A couple of months ago, when I first showed it to the pediatrician, it was a few light orange dry patches on her cheeks and arm.  She said not to worry about it because it's not all over her body.  Well, now, two months later, it is.  It is inflamed, red, itchy bumps that cover most of her body and that require medication when they get close to or past the point of oozing.  It's heartbreaking to me to have to put antibiotics and steroid cream on her, knowing the risks, but even with half a dozen applications of shea butter per day and meticulous care for her that she doesn't touch and aggravate, it continues to worsen.  The natural approaches, such as calendula cream, tea tree oil in coconut oil or shea butter and humidity, do not seem to do the trick by themselves.  Now, strangers look at her and feel sorry for her, despite her good nature.

I continue to search for the source of the problem.  We have ruled out all of the common IgE food allergies, after skin prick testing at a pediatric allergist/immunologist.  The fact that it is not an IgE reaction indicates that this is probably not the type of eczema that will lead to asthma.  The day she did not react to the skin pricks was a good day. We are awaiting the results of both her and my IgG blood tests to see if one or some of 96 common foods are causing inflammation in my or her body and therefore causing excess burden on her immune system.  She has an appointment with the dermatologist and with our other pediatrician next month; in the meantime, we will continue to see a naturopath.

If I was not an obsessive cleaner before (I was!), I am now.  The Dyson is working harder than ever and the floors are scrubbed.  Is it people's dogs?  Is it that we don't have a dog anymore?  Dust?  Pollen?  Those type of environmental allergies are extremely rare in babies, but who knows.  We don't have carpet but could it be the aluminum oxide coating on the cork and bamboo floor?  Maybe it's all of the pesticides in her cotton clothes?  Or maybe our gentle homemade laundry detergent was not gentle enough?  I hate to say it but I have changed from cold washes to hot washes in Seventh Generation Free and Clear or Soap Nuts and from line drying to hot dryer drying and more frequent washing in general.  Thank goodness I had already used cotton cloth diapers and wipes with water only because switching to those at this point in time would have been overwhelming in itself.  And as far as personal care products and cleaners ... we ditched those long ago so that's one other thing off the list.  And I only bathed her rarely, with no soap, so surely she didn't react to anything there ... or maybe she is allergic to some component in the plastic baby bath--who knows!  Food dyes and other processed food ingredients ... we have not eaten those things since before her time.  Goodness, maybe it was the one vaccine she received?  I thought for a moment it could be latex, but after ditching the pacifier, I knew it couldn't be the cause.  I have changed her baby food from a variety of the most nutritious foods for baby to squash and more squash, probiotic and more probiotics, just to simplify things.  Because proteins from common allergens can get through breastmilk (one of the reason babies who are breastfed have fewer allergies), they can aggrevate skin in babies who are very sensitive to these.  I eliminated dairy, soy, corn, gluten, oats, citrus, eggs, beef, fish, fish oil, and nuts for three weeks really to no avail.  I continue to avoid them, just in case.  I now know what it is like to shop and eat like a person with full blown allergies.

There are natural options that seem to work for some ... GAPS diets for babies to strengthen their gut lining / immune system, chiropractic and acupuncture to alleviate pressure from organs that may not be functioning to their fullest potential, and muscle testing for food and environmental sensitivities which can sometimes reveal results that lab tests cannot.  And then there are more mainstream options to cope such as stronger medicated creams and internal medicines, frequent visits to the pool or bleach baths to combat resistant staph and yeast.  As her skin continues to worsen, I continue to rack my brain for a cause and cure.

On a positive note, she is still our happiest baby, and all of our babies have been happy.  I find myself thankful that it is not worse than it is and thankful that after having three children this has been our largest and actually our only problem.  No one has had to go to the doctor for an illness.  No one has had to go to the emergency room for an injury.  Our baby girl seems to have a healthy immune system, like her brothers.  She has had only two colds and has gotten over both of them.  She poops.  She pees.  She says mamma, dadda, and babba, crawls, interacts, and pulls to stand.  She is doing the things she is supposed to do.  And in terms of her eczema, I am very thankful for the internet and all of the parents who have been through this before I.  Many parents who have had young children with eczema have conquered it completely, and I remain hopeful that we will find the root of the problem and do the same.

Tolavana Hot Springs

Our trip to Tolavana Hot Springs did not start out as fantastic as it ended.  We were packed and ready to go, and our oldest son started vomiting--five times--for several hours.  My husband's homework was not complete.  It had been a long and stressful week.  I had slept in and had also forgotten my warm mitten at a friend's house the day before.  But, we could not stay home.  This was our trip of the year, the trip we had booked long ago, and something I had wanted to do for a very long time.  And coincidently, it was also Easter weekend.  Just as we pulled out of the garage, our son mentioned that he had puked into a bowl in the back of the car.  I took a breath, went into the house to wash it, and then came back outside.  We continued on, an hour and a half behind schedule.

We made it to the Tolavana Trail parking lot and everyone took off on the 11.2 mile trail to the cabin, except me and the baby.  Not knowing the trail, we decided to wait until the others had experienced it first.  Imagine baby and me, 100 miles in the middle of nowhere looking at sunny snow-covered hillsides.  It was quiet, calm, and beautiful.  Now, imagine the rest of the gang:  a boy who only had four saltines and a bit of water all day, weak from the flu holding up a heavy helmet and riding in front of his grandpa, a tiny three year old boy at nap time, prone to falling asleep on the trail riding in front of his dad, and grandma, the most nervous of all, on her new snow-machine that she is afraid to drive because it reacts more quickly than she likes.  At this point, as I waited in the van for two and a half hours, I watched the crew who had rented the cabin the night before return to the parking lot.  I was very anxious to know how things were going.  Even though I realized I had forgotten my snowpants, it was warm.  I thought back about how I had told them to take their time, and I was optimistic.

Before I knew it, my husband had returned, a changed man.  Grandpa had lost his trailer, grandma had crashed into him, two separate events, and the trail was sketchy in places, but the cabin was nice and everyone had arrived safely.  My husband brought the baby and me to join the others on a somewhat thrilling trail ride.  From this point forward, the trip continued to surpass our expectations.

Part of me fantasizes about raising our family in a small cabin.  There is only one or two rooms to sweep.  That same small footprint forces us to play games together and forces us to seek freedom outdoors.  At home, there is television, video games, and way too many toys.  There are also several rooms in which to seek solitude.  Often, the kids do not stay outside as long as I would like because there are too many things to draw them inside.  I guess I am not the only one who feels this way because there is a book a friend gave me for my birthday called "Last Child in the Woods:  Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder."  The book describes that in our kids' generation, versus ours or our parents', the conveniences and comforts of technology have pulled the children away from the natural world that nourishes their souls.

I am often frustrated with other adults, often who have or have had small children of their own.  No matter where we go, people are offering our children food (which usually doesn't resemble real food), candy, and toys.  They do not seem to realize that a well nourished, properly developed child is completely happy just being.  Why can't a child, for example, sit and listen to church service, eat dinner, or ride on an airplane without being offered things?  Children do not need to feed their bodies with garbage between meals, and they do not need to play toys when there is snow or mud and sticks, for example.  How can a child use their imagination, reflect, and learn about the world if they are constantly engaged in distractions from it and from themselves and their own thought?  My friend recently explained to me that we (as in our generation and our parents' generation) want our kids to have all of the things that we could not have when we were kids.  Whatever the reason, it is a bit over the top.  Children are simple.  And my observation as a mom is that they are happier when they have less.

I will never forget how happy the boys were to be in the hotsprings, to be snow machining in the mountains, or to just walk in and out of the cabin as they like to help their dad bring in the wood, the spring water, or to explore.  If you ask me, serenity in nature surpasses all other feelings except for love.  Now, the snow is thawing and it will be messy for a while.  We are fully back into our our reality at home for a while.  I hope that our summer is filled with outdoor camping and cabin adventures as revitalizing as this one.

The Salcha River Cabin and the Arctic Oven

The weekend following our first outing with our Arctic Oven tent, my husband and his dad took our boys to the Salcha River Cabin.  My daughter and I stayed home and prepared her first series of baby foods after her usual soft boiled egg yolk:  chicken foot stock, chicken foot stock plus carrots, chicken foot stock plus carrots plus lactoferment whey, chicken foot stock plus carrots plus whey plus moose meat.  You can tell which way the baby books are going nowadays.  To think, the boys had to start off with rice cereal and canned vegetables, because no one told me why that may not be a good idea.  Thankfully, they turned out fine ... a little noisy, but fine :)

Anyway, back to the cabin, the cabin is about a seven mile jaunt by snow machine from the road, partially on state winter trial and partially on the Salcha River.  The boys learned that you need to keep you coat on in the cabin until you can't see your breath anymore.  My husband was able to snowshoe a pad for our tent so that it would provide a solid base for our camping trip the following weekend.  The little boys came back rejuvenated.  I guess they both fell asleep on the snow machine ride back to the truck and they stopped for pizza on the way home.

So, when we arrived to stay for the night, the tent went up easily, and the boys were already acquainted with the cabin.  It is really fun to watch the kids enjoy a new habitat.  They loved that they could touch the ceiling, see the steam coming from their food, and take a ladder to their bed.  There are too many photos to post, but even though it was a big cold, they did some sledding down onto the river.  Next time, if the load is not already too full, I would like to bring my skis.  Again, the stars were amazing.  It would have been nice to stay for two nights, instead of one, but alas Monday came.

About Me

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Fairbanks/North Pole, Alaska, United States