Planning a Pre-teen Wardrobe {Making and Buying Her Clothes She’ll Love and Use}

We happen to finally have a bit of available cash for updating my and Mustard Seed’s wardrobes. I’m such a weirdo because I whine all the time about wanting more clothes; now that I have the money, I’m paralyzed wanting to make the purchases count. You know I’m a planner and analyzer, and this little project is no different.

For several years it’s been one of my dreams to sew a wardrobe from scratch. It’s actually helped me cut way back on my shopping from a few years ago because now I window shop and go, “I could just make that for less.” That I never get around to it is another story.

But yes, if it were up to me and I didn’t have a bunch of other stuff to do, everything on my daughter and me and in my home would be all handmade…except then I’d go to the mall and see a bunch of cute stuff there, and well…So I’m getting a little more okay with the fact that we live in a ready-to-wear society and it’s more practical for me to buy at least some of our clothes and housewares, but it’s an uneasy peace.

Cheah, not like I’m setting unrealistic standards for myself or anything.

So this wardrobe for Mustard Seed: She is the quintessential pre-teen. She’s not sassy, but she is straddling that point where she still loves horses, puppies, kittens, and dolphins, but would also really love it if I would let her wear heels. She wants me to tuck her in bed every night, but she also carries a purse full of actual useful stuff everywhere.

I did the smart thing and did a total inventory of her closet and drawers and realized it’s not that she doesn’t have “enough clothes.” In fact, I think most people have “enough.” What most people mean when they say that is: 1) I don’t have the kind of clothes I need for the events I go to, 2) I don’t know how or can’t make the clothes I have work together to create lots of outfits, or 3) I’m not comfortable with the look or style of what I have. I think that’s the situation both Mustard Seed and I are in.

So here’s the pre-teen wardrobe strategy I’ve come up with:

Inventory everything. Take out stuff that’s too small or irreparably damaged. Don’t forget, though, that some things that are too small can often be refashioned into something else, so you may want to set certain ones in the sewing pile.

Think about what events/lifestyle your child has. Do you go to church, weddings, or musical performances often that merit having more dresses? Does your daughter gravitate towards pants or dresses and skirts for everyday wear? Does your child do sports? Does she play outside and get dirty a lot? Does she do stuff like go to the movies or other places that might require a step up from the very most casual play clothes?

Consider the weather. Here in southeast Texas, we have about 6 months where the chances of it being above 80 degrees are pretty good; however it’s iced over 3 times this winter, and we can get down into the 20s. Obviously, we need some solid winter clothes, but a few good pieces of outerwear, and then layering is the way to go. It makes more sense for us to bulk up on summer clothes and try to winterize them.

Consider your daughter’s coloring. It was such a relief to me when I realized that not everything in stores was meant for me. Only a fraction of what’s out there is made for my coloring AND my apple shape. Pre-teens don’t need to worry about shape as much, but it’s not too young to start focusing on coloring. Why buy or make clothes in colors that are less flattering? Go for ones that make her shine! Check out the 12-Season Color Theory. It may seem limiting at first, but really, it’s the best way to ensure that your daughter will feel good in every piece she owns.

Make a lookbook. Get on Pinterest or some kids clothing blogs or stores and identify what looks you and your pre-teen like on her. I, for one, do not dig the “graffiti meets rainbow and throws up sequins” kind of look for my child. I’m always lamenting that Target doesn’t keep making all their 3T stuff, just in larger sizes. In other words, I gravitate toward sweet, feminine, lively, and whimsical.  Once you’ve compiled a number of images, you should see some “uniforms” start to recur. Pick 2 or 3 uniforms you both like and aim to buy/create with an eye towards these.

Plan your purchases/creations. Scope out your favorite kids stores. See what’s the most practical to buy and what’s pretty easy and cheaper to make. For example, I think a denim jacket would be a great addition to Mustard Seed’s wardrobe. That’s not something I’m going to attempt to make; I’ll shell out for that. But today we saw a maxi dress for $25, and we were looking at patterns of almost the exact same thing yesterday that I know I can make. Go to the fabric store or search for patterns online. See which ones match the styles from your lookbook and are easy and cheap to make. Summer shorts and airy blouses are really simple. Or if you see some cute graphic t’s at the store that aren’t hard to make with a computer and transfer paper, have at it, and make them to mix and match with both your store-bought purchases and your sewn items. Thrift stores and deeply discounted plain t’s may be your best friends for this.


Is Gluten Sensitivity a Proven Condition?

Source: Cesar Astudillo via Flickr

Source: Cesar Astudillo via Flickr

***This is the second in a series of posts looking at non-celiac gluten sensitivity and autoimmune disease. Go here if you’d like to read the first one. Stay tuned for more posts in this series in the coming days.***

A week or two ago, I had a fantabulous post all typed up and ready to publish, and what do you know, somehow I lost it and there was no saved draft. Serves me right for not working in Word and saving! Since it took me a little while to reconnoiter, I hope you’ll forgive the longer than expected pause in our gluten series.

Without further ado, I hope to be able to share what I think are some interesting findings on the subject of gluten sensitivity. Namely, does non-celiac gluten sensitivity really exist, or is it just the latest diet fad?

Defining Our Terms: Celiac vs. Gluten Sensitivity


It helps to start with what celiac is and what NCGS is purported to be. Celiac is an autoimmune disease that has been recognized since the 1960s, although it was described as far back as 100 A.D. In celiac, gluten—specifically the gliadin protein in gluten–triggers an attack by antibodies on the person’s own intestinal walls, leading to the flattening of the villi of the intestines. Those are responsible for absorption of nutrients so they can be circulated in the bloodstream. Thus, celiac people can eat and yet be malnourished.

They may—but don’t always—have gastrointestinal symptoms. They can be underweight or overweight. Many times, celiacs only experience fatigue, foggy thinking, and depression, or they may have mouth ulcers or dental problems.

Celiac is a serious disease that can even lead to organ failure or Hodgkin’s lymphoma, so a diagnosis means lifelong total avoidance of gluten, which is contained in anything made from wheat, barley, rye, or spelt. Because it’s an issue of an immune reaction, even a molecule is enough to set off an reaction that can last up to six months.

Celiac disease is diagnosed by positive blood tests for endomysium (EMA), tissue transglutimase (tTG), and anti-gliadin (AGA) antibodies, which are then followed up with a small intestine biopsy to confirm flattening of the villi on a scale called the Marsh scale.

Surprisingly, CD, sometimes called gluten enteropathy to distinguish it from others, is not the only autoimmune diseases caused by gluten. Physicians recognize that gluten can also attack the brain and nervous system in an autoimmune fashion, resulting in gluten neuropathy, enceopholopathy, ataxia, dermatitis herpetiformis and other conditions that can exist independent of or along with celiac disease.

Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten sensitivity is a condition in which blood tests for celiac markers are currently negative (yes, it is possible to test negative for them and later test positive), yet the person has an adverse, yet more immediate and short-lived, reaction to gluten. This may include diarrhea, gas, nausea, or abdominal pain, but could also be fatigue, depression, or cognitive difficulties. Other alleged symptoms and effects of NCGS are debated.

While intestinal biopsies of GS patients show little to no damage to the villi, blood tests do show elevations of one of the three antibodies tested to identify celiac in about 50% of subjects, and some immune cells in GS subjects are elevated, indicating that inflammation and an immune reaction are clearly taking place.

Many sources make the claim that gluten sensitivity is also related to autoimmune diseases; thus, that Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, infertility of unknown causes, PCOS, Type 1 diabetes, vertigo caused by an autoimmune inner ear disease, and other conditions can be improved or healed by gluten avoidance. This is a fascinating topic, and it will get a whole post to itself soon.

Currently, there is no medical test that is accepted by the medical community for diagnosing non-celiac gluten sensitivity, so, until there are, GS is said to exist when symptoms occur at or near the time of consumption of gluten and celiac has been ruled out though blood testing. Many people get a diagnosis after doing an elimination/provocation diet where they cut out gluten for a time and then reintroduce it to see if any changed occur.

Some people have made the assertion that gluten sensitivity is the beginning of celiac disease, caught at a point before it has developed into the full-blown disease. They see CD and GS as resting on a spectrum, and warn that if GS is not detected and gluten eliminated before it has time to do more damage, full-blown celiac will result. Recent research, which I discuss below, presented findings that both supported and argued against this idea.

Finally, just to complicate the issue of what we do and don’t mean when we say “gluten sensitivity,” for some time, celiac was also referred to as gluten sensitivity or gluten sensitive enteropathy, so the nomenclature can get rather confusing.

Is Gluten Sensitivity the White Unicorn of the GI World?

Source: Christina Welsh (Rin) via Flickr

Source: Christina Welsh (Rin) via Flickr

Despite there being no test to diagnose NCGS that is accepted by most medical doctors, a company called EnteroLabs does carry a stool test to detect the same markers in the blood, the theory being that antibodies will show up in the gut long before a person has reached a point critical enough for them to start showing up in the blood. I have come across a statement to this effect by a researcher and celiac/GS clinician; however, most doctors would dispute that, and a lot of people who are in the know about these conditions seem to think the EnteroLabs test is simply snake oil.

When I asked my own endocrinologist whether he was aware of gluten causing or exacerbating Hashimoto’s, he began to talk about the connection between celiac and Hashimoto’s but said there wasn’t any other connection to gluten. One reads of many people’s long road to diagnosis of celiac, simply because doctors didn’t think to test or wouldn’t order the tests. One also reads some in the medical community argue that gluten sensitivity hasn’t really been proven.

Yet one has only to spend a few minutes on the Internet to see that a number naturopaths or chiropractors discuss it as absolutely real, and I personally know some very sensible people who say that they or their child’s symptoms have improved or gone away after eliminating gluten.

So has GS just not been accepted by the medical community at large, despite research supporting it or is it actually the case that there’s not any scientific basis to gluten sensitivity, that the claims of the alternative practitioners I was reading were based on either a poor understanding or deliberate exaggeration of the relationship between celiac and other autoimmune diseases, which is a well-established and well-accepted fact?

The Evidence for Gluten Sensitivity: Exhibit A

Until 2011, there was a lot of anecdotal evidence of the existence of NCGS, but not much actual, well-designed research. There were both people that noticed immediate suffering after consuming gluten and people who observed an improvement in many types of symptoms after eliminating gluten and a recurrence upon reintroducing it. Unfortunately, with anecdotal evidence, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s going on. There could be confounders or a placebo effect at work.

But in March of that year, a leading researcher in celiac disease, Allessio Fasano, and his colleagues at the University of Maryland published a study that’s being considered a landmark, wherein they describe what’s happening immunologically with celiac AND gluten sensitivity. The findings were surprising.

I Get Jiggy with Immunology

immune system 2

Source: TheJCB via Flickr

Whereas most people had suspected that gluten sensitivity could be a precursor to celiac, Fasano et al. found that the two conditions employ different immune pathways. Humans actually have two different types of immune reactions: adaptive and innate. If you want very clear animated explanations of this, go here and here. If you want to watch something humorous but make your head spin, go here instead.

The adaptive immune system is the one that begins to create antibodies to a substance, an antigen (like, say, gluten). In other words, after the first time this reaction is triggered, the body records what it has done and makes a Special Ops battalion of antibodies ready and waiting to mobilize and attack that same antigen more quickly and more efficiently when you’re exposed to it next time.

The innate immune system doesn’t work quite the same way. Instead of using antibodies to kill antigens, it uses a process wherein cytotoxic cells, cells that are generally toxic to all kinds of antigens, directly attack whatever has entered your system. In other words, in this reaction, a cell specific for attacking gluten or staph bacteria, or flu virus isn’t used. General soldiers are sent out, rather than ones that have been specially trained to deal with a specific antigen. That’s why you sometimes hear people say that the adaptive immune system is more “sophisticated” and the innate more “primitive.”

What happens in celiac disease is an adaptive reaction. Antibodies to gliadin, tissue transglutaminase, and endomysium are made. Many people suspected gluten sensitivity was the same thing, only it hadn’t risen to a detectable threshold. Instead Fasano and his colleagues found that gluten sensitive subjects were having primarily—but not entirely—an innate immune system reaction.

Important Findings of the Study by Fasano et al.

This landmark study makes for pretty dense reading, but it’s also fascinating because, while it doesn’t tell us exactly what GS is, it sheds a lot more light on the subject than simply “Yup, bread makes this patient ‘feel bad.’ “  Here are the broad strokes:

  • GS subjects had less leaky gut than either celiac or dyspeptic control subjects. It’s known that CD patients have leaky guts and it’s thought that perhaps this starts the process of gluten being able to cross the intestinal barrier for a reaction to then take place. It was kind of assumed something similar would be going on in GS, but these results seem to say that’s not the case.
  • Nearly half of the GS subjects actually did test positive for anti-gliadin antibodies.
  • GS subjects who produced the AGA antibody did not all have the HLA-DQ*2 or DQ*8 gene that all celiac have, suggesting that GS, unlike celiac, may not be restricted to a particular genetic subset of people.
  • GS subjects had certain higher IELs (intraepithelial lymphocytes) than dyspeptic control subjects, though lower than celiac subjects. IELs are a marker of inflammation in mucosa such as the GI tract and are a prominent feature of celiac. In fact, IELs can mutate into lymphoma, which is why celiac patients are at risk for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The levels for these among GS subjects were outside the normal, however, so this led the researchers to hypothesize that the adaptive immune system is involved in GS at an intermediate level, though not as critically as it is in celiac.
  • At least one toll-like receptor was elevated in GS subjects, and several others were elevated but not to a statistically significant level. That’s important because it lends credence to the idea that GS may precede celiac, since TLRs are responsible for priming for an adaptive response during an innate one.
  • This quote by the authors was particularly concise and telling: “In itself, the absence of autoantibodies and intestinal lesions does not rule out the intrinsic toxicity of gluten, whose intake, even in non-CD individuals, has been associated with damage to other tissues, organs and systems besides the intestine.”

Other GS Research

The University of Maryland study is not the only one to indicate (though none quite as clearly) that GS is its own condition. A study from Australia, also in 2011, had people with irritable bowel but no celiac eat bread and muffins for several weeks—but they weren’t told whether they were being given the regular kind or the gluten-free kind. At the end of several weeks, those assigned to the gluten-full camp reported feeling worse. Part of me is not totally satisfied with this methodology, but in the context of other findings, I find it indicative, if not quite conclusive.

In another study, the authors hypothesize that “even in the absence of fully developed celiac disease, gluten can induce symptoms similar to [functional bowel disorder].”

Yet another case study discusses how an initial mistaken diagnosis of lupus was re-evaluated as NCGS on the basis of reactivity to parts of wheat other than just gliadin, some of which were IgA (what is normally tested in celiac) and some of which were IgG or IgE. In other words, the celiac panel gave the all clear, but in this case, the woman was having a reaction via a different immune pathway and to parts other than gliadin.

It’s also well-known that celiac disease is not the only disease in which the body attacks itself, with gluten as a trigger. In numerous papers, Marios Hadjivassilliou and colleagues, who run a celiac and gluten sensitivity clinic in Sheffield, England, detail how, instead of attacking the small intestine, an attack can occur on the brain, resulting in gluten ataxia or neuropathy, or the nervous system, resulting in the characteristic “celiac rash,” dermatitis herpetiformis.

A Clearer Picture

If one thing stands out about the reading I’ve done on gluten sensitivity and celiac–not on popular blogs but in medical research papers–it’s that the issue is not “Does this exist?” but “We know it exists, but what is going on and why is it different from celiac?” At least among the researchers who deal with the details on a daily basis, it’s not the existence but the relationships that are unclear at this point. Whether or not this information all filters down to clinicians in a timely manner is another matter.

Furthermore, as I’ll get into more down the road, gastrointestinal symptoms may not be present even with NCGS. Instead cognitive and nervous system issues may be the only things that indicate a problem. These may be attributable to another factor or condition, but in some cases at least, avoiding gluten may alleviate seemingly unrelated issues, at least in part.

Whether or not gluten sensitivity is a real, valid condition is a prerequisite question to everything else I needed to understand about gluten for my life. I mean, if it doesn’t exist, it certainly can’t be affecting my hypothyroidism or PCOS. If it does, then it’s reasonable to proceed to ask whether or not it could be related to those conditions.

Unfortunately, if doctors can’t yet agree on a test to accurately identify GS, it leaves the door open for people who don’t have celiac but who do have legitimate immune reactions taking place and medical reasons to avoid gluten to be lumped in with people who avoid gluten simply as a means of weight loss or “feeling better.”  The fact is, I’m not sure “feeling better” is such a dumb reason in its own right, but it may be that a gluten-free lifestyle allows some people to feel better for reasons other than the cessation of a damaging immune response.

Next in this series, I’ll cover the issue of the relationship between gluten sensitivity, Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, and other autoimmune diseases that is alleged by some.

We’ve said gluten sensitivity is looking more and more like primarily an innate immune reaction, while Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and all autoimmune diseases are adaptive. So if two different things are going on, is it even possible for one to affect the other? If so, are there any putative mechanisms that could cause a cross-linkage to happen? I’ll share what I’ve learned about that soon!


I love to hear back from y’all! What’s been your experience with gluten and going gluten-free? Have you found the need to justify to yourself or others that gluten sensitivity is not simply a fad? If you know yourself to be gluten sensitive, what was your path to finding that out?

Why I’m Considering Going Gluten-Free

***This is the first in a series of posts looking at non-celiac gluten sensitivity and autoimmune disease. Stay tuned for more posts in this series in the coming days.***

I really wasn’t planning on writing a post on gluten-free today, but in the spirit of putting what’s on my mind out there, here I am, doing just that. I’ve been researching the gluten-free diet/lifestyle/eating plan for a few months. This would involve completely eliminating wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and everything made from them (pasta, bread, pie, cake, tortillas, and even some sauces) I was strongly considering it before Christmas, but it just seemed overwhelming, so I put that idea down for a while.

Now I’m coming back to it and finding that some of the details of what I learned have turned a little rusty in my brain, and there were some questions to which I never really found a satisfying answer. Plus, I thought that there might be some of you who are evaluating gluten-free for yourselves or just want to know what all the hype is about.

Believe me, I started from the point of view that, for a lot of people, it was probably just that: hype. I’m not referring to people with notable digestive problems when I say that–or even kids with autism or unexplained skin rashes and allergies. My attitude had much less to do with ever having thought, about someone else, “Oh, that person is making a big deal out of nothing”  and a lot more to do with a) holding myself to a high standard of proof before saying I have a medical necessity for it, and b) wanting a reasonable assurance that if I go to all this trouble, it has a fair chance of actually helping me.

The things I’ve come across during my research have made me believe that there’s much more than “hype” to all the gluten-free buzz.

Why I Care

I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism at 15 and PCOS at 18 and have had many of the attendant symptoms. On paper, my thyroid numbers look good. I take my medicine, Armour thyroid, religiously, and it shows in terms of vastly improved lab numbers as compared to a few gap periods when I was not on medication in the past.

Sometimes when thyroid patients are not thriving on levothyroxine (Synthroid), they do better when they switch to Armour because it contains both T3 and T4. I was on Synthroid for the first five years after I was diagnosed, and it’s definitely true for me that I feel better on Armour.

Yet in terms of energy (especially), mood, cognition, other hormone levels, liver enzymes, and to some extent, cholesterol and blood sugar, all of which are medically established to be consequences of hypothyroidism, there is a general negative trend. It’s pretty clear that while the medicine may be controlling my thyroid numbers, it’s not mitigating the progression of any of thyroid disease’s other effects on my body–or at least not enough.

And I don’t accept that. I don’t accept that after you’ve taken your little pill, if it’s not doing everything that needs to be done, that’s it. I also don’t accept that the answer is to add more pills as more issues pop up.

Is Hypothyroidism a Big Deal?

Because I’ve been hypothyroid my entire adult life, I don’t exactly know what it’s like to feel “normal,” to have as much energy as other people do. Rather than mope about it, my strategy has frequently been to ignore it and have the same expectations from myself as for other people in terms of what I can accomplish, how much rest and sleep I need, what kind of exercise I can do, and (sometimes) what I can “get away with,” dietarily.

The fact is, though, that–without wallowing in it–I have a condition. No one tells diabetics to just buck up, “be normal,” and not worry about it because everyone recognizes they have a condition and it places some limitations on them. With hypothyroidism, it’s easier to be in denial about the gravity of my condition because the effects haven’t been as widely publicized as diabetes and because many of the effects develop slowly, like heart disease or cancer, and won’t reach a threshold of diagnosis until many years down the line.

But it’s sobering to realize that, in fact, diabetes is something that lies around the bend for a lot of hypothyroid people, as well as heart and liver disease. It starts out as a disease that affects your weight, energy, and cell respiration, when underneath all that, what it’s doing is affecting your vital organs and entire body.

PCOS is another autoimmune disease that may seem to affect one organ but is actually systemic. Ovarian problems are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Both conditions ought to be taken seriously.

A Possible Connection to Gluten?

Perhaps because I don’t accept that a pill or pills are all that can be done for me, I’ve always been open to other means of healing, particularly diet, exercise, and herbal medicine. My problem–which I fully admit–is that I’ve seldom been consistent enough to see an improvement, and that’s something I’m working on.

As I may have mentioned in the past, I’ve done other lifestyle diets. Pesco-vegetarian, food combining, vegan, and WAPF (loosely), to varying degrees of success in terms of weight loss and energy. I’m kind of burnt out on restrictions. However, about a year and a half ago I read an article by Chris Kresser discussing a possible connection between hypothyroidism and gluten intolerance–and, as I read on, I found out that it’s not only hypothyroidism but many other autoimmune conditions, another of which is PCOS. That was when I first began paying any attention to the gluten issue.

It may be hard for some people to understand why all the fuss. After all, while I do have a few pounds to lose, I’m only about 5-10 pounds over the weight I should be for my height. Some people comment that in years past, people couldn’t get fancy foods or afford to turn down any available food “and they did okay.” I get that, and I don’t want to be that fussy person, that “special case”–really, I don’t. But then again, there were a lot of modern illnesses people simply didn’t get very often then and also a lot of illnesses people just suffered through.

Even though it’s tempting to just hop on any bandwagon that would help me feel better, and even though I usually don’t require 10 peer-reviewed studies to try a (reasonable) alternative remedy, those who claim there’s a gluten-thyroid connection claim you have to go off it–down to the last molecule–for as much as 6 months to give it a fair shake. That’s a big undertaking and a lot to ask of your family. Eating out, parties, get-togethers, and even cooking at home would be difficult. Maybe that’s why I’ve invested more research in this than some other things I’ve tried. To ask others to go to that trouble for me, I want to make sure I really have a good reason. I also want to be fairly sure that this has a chance of improving my health.

So I began looking into it. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing the information I’ve gathered and the questions I’ve tried to find answers to, like:

  • Has it been medically established that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a legitimate condition?
  • Has it been proven that gluten can affect the thyroid and cause autoimmune diseases? If so, how?
  • Has it been proven that a gluten-free diet can improve or eliminate autoimmune thyroid disease and other autoimmune conditions?
  • How do you find out if you are celiac or gluten sensitive? What tests are considered valid?
  • Can a person have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity if they don’t have digestive symptoms?
  • If you are celiac or gluten sensitive, what can you do about it? Is it a feasible lifestyle?

I’ll give you a spoiler, though: based on the medical studies I’ve read, I am now convinced that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a legitimate disease, and I believe there are plausible pathways by which it could create or have an effect on autoimmune diseases, specifically hypothyroidism. In addition, there are a lot of suspicious co-morbidities between celiac disease and almost every other autoimmune disease you can imagine. While correlation doesn’t prove causation, that’s an important part of the picture.

If I were a professional scientist, I would have to hold out for conclusive, overwhelming proof in order to make public recommendations. But I’m not. I’m me. My n equals 1, and the standard of proof is different. It has to be simply that there’s reasonable cause to believe a gluten-free diet will help my condition and won’t be detrimental in the process.

If you’ve considered going gluten-free for a particular health concern, especially an autoimmune disease, I hope that the information I’ll be posting over the next few days will help you better understand the issue, as it helps me to synthesize everything I’m learning.

Strawberry Fields Forever

My Little Strawberry

Late Friday night, Husband Man said, “What are you doing tomorrow?”

Inside my head: Staying in my pajamas til 4:00 and not leaving the house except to go to the grocery store, like most weekends?

Out loud: “I might call my mom up to go shopping for a little while. Why?” No answer.

Later, he hits me up again, saying that I never told him what I was doing. I retorted that I had, indeed, but that he hadn’t answered me. He dodged. I knew something was up.

Strawberries at Froberg's

Saturday, he surprised me with a surprise trip to go STRAWBERRY PICKING!!! I was so psyched. I’ve been wanting to go to this place for a year or two, and I love it when we do family outings like this. I really need to make it a habit to get out of the house for leisure more often.

Picking at Froberg's  Me at Froberg's

Strawberry Farm


Strawberry Picking

Me & Mustard Seed

We went to a u-pick farm on Highway 6 in Alvin, Texas called Froberg’s. They had plenty of strawberries ripe for the picking, despite the many people that were pouring in. They sell vegetable plants to take home for your garden. They also grow other crops in a different area that are sold in their store. The store has all kinds of Texas goodies: pecans, wild local honey, jalapeño jelly, bread and butter pickles, peach salsa, and homemade fried pies, including lemon, buttermilk, satsuma, and fig, to name a few.


Trophy Husband

Free Ride


Gerbera Daisies

Homemade Fried Pies

Vegetable Stand


Jalapeno Jelly

Okra Pickles



Outside the store is a small shack where they sell all kinds of smoked meats. We got some ribs and some jalapeño cheese venison sausage to eat at the picnic tables. Farm stuff for me + sausage for Husband Man = happy couple.

At Froberg's

Me & Mustard Seed at Froberg's

When we walked in, there was someone selling fruit trees by the parking lot. There were some varieties I’ve been interested in for a long time but unable to find without ordering from the Internet (which I’m lazy and hesitant to do), such as the Kiowa blackberry and the Ein Shemer apple tree. Unfortunately, the lady could only take cash, but she told us we could go a short distance to their nursery and they’d be able to let us pay with our card.

We went there towards the end of the day, and a man walked up to our car and told us they had closed at 4:00 but that he’d open the gate and we could look at the trees. The man turned out to be Paul Froberg, who owns or runs the nursery, and he was chock full of information and about the friendliest guy you could hope to meet. He used to teach Master Gardener classes.

Mexican Lime Tree


Ultimately, he discouraged us from getting any citrus for our location due to greater cold, so we didn’t get the lime, which Husband Man was very excited about. He’s been making homemade limeade, peel and all, almost daily, and our habit is getting quite expensive with store-bought limes. Paul encouraged us to come back around Thanksgiving, when they would have dwarf Persian lime trees that would do better and be easier to protect from potential freezes. He said from Thanksgiving until mid-February, they have citrus tastings at the nursery, where you can taste 60 different kinds of citrus and have a wine-tasting and dinner. The picking farm also offers night-time adult tours where dinner is served.

We did adopt three Brazos blackberry bushes, and Paul threw in a fourth Kiowa because he’s just that kind of guy. If you need quality plants or good gardening information, he’s your man.

All three of us had a great time out at Froberg’s. It was truly a lovely memory for our family. Props to Husband Man for thinking of it.

Strawberry Farm Husband  Lovebirds Our Family

Dreaming Out Loud

Santa Fe MotifOne of the reasons I find it hard to write here sometimes is because I vacillate between feeling that I have and ought to offer something in the way of expert advice, something “worthwhile,” and feeling like a fraud that has nothing of the kind to offer.

My inner critic starts to say, “How can you publicly talk about these ideals when your life doesn’t resemble them (or resembles them only in fits and starts)?”

Hexagons A Study in HexagonsFor a while, I was confused about what my purpose was here. Was I trying to give help and information? Was I trying to create an online scrapbook of sorts? Was I trying to make money? Was this supposed to be some mechanism for accountability in pursuing my ideals, such as a Christ-centered outlook, hands-on homeschooling, healthy eating, and a full, creative life? Who was I talking to anyway, and couldn’t I just as easily talk to myself?

The answer is yes.

Yes to all of the above. Except maybe the money. Unless anyone would like to throw some at me. In that case, I would be grateful, thankyouverymuch, but otherwise, for now, I can’t blog successfully with a view towards money.

My resolution was this: Commercially speaking, I’m sure it makes sense to brand oneself more or less according to one of the above pigeonholes. But why must I? And why must I present myself as an expert on everything all the time? Why must I hide those times when I feel unsure or downright not okay? Why must I feel like no one will pay attention unless my life is filled with the kind of thrill-a-minute activities or beautiful objects that sometimes I’m just not up for or can’t afford?

Nature JournalNature JournalMaybe they won’t.

Maybe there’s no audience for regular, but I’m putting myself out there the way I really am just for the creative endeavor of it. I would be thrilled if people want to share in that, but it’s okay if not.

You know what, though? I have a feeling that some people might because I talk to people sometimes. Yeah, that’s right. Actual conversations. And they get excited and interested in the things I’m interested and excited about. When I share my struggles honestly, I often get a great big “YESSS!!!” of empathy.

Winter FashionIdeas for Handmade WardrobeNotes on Health Cooking To-Do List

And what I hear them say a lot of times is that they’ve been blessed by hearing the struggles and successes of regular people like them, online and in person. Not necessarily always people with the perfectly coiffed life or the mad skills of every kind, but the people that could easily be them, who have budgetary and time constraints, relationship issues, health challenges, and trouble keeping the house clean.

Because if a person with similar limitations to them can have happiness, faith, wonder, and success, there’s real hope they can too.

Also, I’ve had visits from a lot of people from different parts of the world who’ve taken the time to read what I write, even though I don’t even know them.  That just floors me! Thank you!

Spiral notebooks

So my resolution is to avoid contrived.

For this place to be less like a final, perfect product and more like an online version of the numerous sketch and spiral notebooks where I keep my my drawings, lists, notes, and the occasional manifesto about all the things that matter to me.

So will you bear with me if I share more about where I’m trying to go and the steps along the way there, more about how to go about finding that daily “nourishment” in all facets of life through trial and error? If you will, I’d be glad for your company.

Intercepting the Trail Ride

IMG_5993Many people from other states have actually asked me the question “Do you ride horses to school/work?”

What?!?! We’re not backwards. I mean, we are a thriving metropolis 5 million strong. We are a center for the arts and culture. World summits have been held here. It’s not as if there are horses and wagons carrying cowpokes in chaps going down the street!




Well, except that one time every year.

Let’s get something straight. Texas is, in many ways, a lot like other places. Just because we say it with a drawl does not mean we can’t talk astrophysics, art, history, or politics with the best of them, but for all that, we are still Texas proud. We like our horses, cattle, ropin’, and ridin’, boots and chaps. We like our country music. After all, if we were to lose a musical genre that successfully combines the themes of trains, mamas, trucks, horses, jail, and hard, work-roughened hands time after time, the world would be a little less alive, don’t you think?





The Trail Ride is actually only about 60 years old. Thirteen different rides start out from various parts of the states just prior to the start of the rodeo in mid-February every year. The farthest one comes all the way from the Mexican border, 386 miles away and takes three weeks. All these trails converge to camp in Houston’s Memorial Park the day before the rodeo begins and parade across town to the rodeo grounds the next day.





It happens that two of these rides pass about two miles from my house. People go out and line the roads to greet the riders, yet I had never been out myself. The best I had done was to get stuck in a traffic jam behind them some years ago. Thursday of last week, I was aware they were coming into town. The preschool group of our homeschooling association was going to wait for them at the park where they were scheduled to eat lunch, but they were getting together earlier in the day, and when I remembered and looked at my watch, it was already 1:00. Was there still time to catch the riders?

Mustard Seed and I set out like tornado chasers. I was monitoring my GPS to see where around the park the traffic looked backed up. That should be were they were. I knew they were ultimately headed to the Houston Farm and Ranch Club on Highway 6. I started to head there, but at the last second, I made a U-turn and went down the road where the park is where they were supposed to have eaten lunch. Right as I got to that light they blocked off traffic and the first riders began to process out of the park and take a left, so that they’d be taking the road I was on. We were the second car at the light. Everyone turned off their cars, got out, and took pictures. The timing was perfect.

We hadn’t had quite enough of this, so we decided to see if we could make a huge circle and intercept again at a different point. We ended up waiting for them at a cemetery parking lot outside the Houston Farm and Ranch Club, where there were a lot of other families parked to wait for them. We had a lot of fun talking with them and taking pictures.

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Here are some photos from the following day, Go Texan Day, when everyone typically dresses up in western wear. Mustard Seed was ready as ever with her improvised costume. Yeehaw!




Moms’ Science Weekend

Me and my girl, Sally

Me and my girl, Sally

Science can be the monster in the closet for a lot of homeschoolers.

Maybe you never really made your peace with it or only took a course or two of upper-level science, and now you find yourself responsible for your kids’ science education. How are you going to pull this off?

The fact is science doesn’t have to be that scary.

It also doesn’t have to become an ancient memory once you’ve finished your formal schooling. Personally, although I loved what chemistry I took in high school, biology and I never seemed to get along, so I got the idea that I “wasn’t a science person.”

Yet I find that much of the reading I do is centered around health and nutrition studies. Actually, I’m intensely interested in those things, and guess what? They’re ALL ABOUT SCIENCE!

IMG_6148I do find myself wishing that I had a better foundation in certain things, like chemical or molecular structure or taxonomy, so that when someone gets to talking peptides, I’d be right at home. The fact is, it’s not too late to learn, and science is still relevant in my life, not just because I’m a homeschool teacher but because it’s involved in my health, diet, love of nature, habits, and even possibly, my political choices. And these days, in a world where a false dichotomy between faith and “science” is set up, I’d venture to say that a good understanding of science is crucial to maintaining a tenable faith.

Professional Development for Moms

Moms really need to cultivate their thought life, yet we rarely get the opportunity to fully indulge in this.

We invest a lot in our kids learning and getting proper guidance in tricky subject areas, but we tend to put ourselves last when it comes to this, as if the importance of us being educated faded away when we gave birth to our first child.

So when I heard about Landry Academy’s Science Retreat for Moms, I was all over it. Okay, I was all over it after Jackie signed up and prodded me to go sign up too. (She knows me.) For just $25, the price was totally right, and I was really excited about the prospect of learning some new things and getting to ask questions to someone knowledgeable.

The retreat was led by Greg Landry, a homeschool dad with a Master’s of Science who, six years ago, started offering online classes in biology and chemistry at the request of some families after he had taught some classes in person for homeschoolers in his community. Since then, they’ve expanded to 180 classes in science, history, English, SAT/ACT prep, and other subjects, taught by Christian teachers who are passionate about and have expertise in their field.

I discovered I'm more squeamish about pricking my own finger than dealing with sheep guts.

I discovered I’m more squeamish about pricking my own finger than dealing with sheep guts.

The details of what we would do on the retreat were kind of a mystery until we got there. All I knew is I would be sleeping on a bunk bed with a room full of other women. The food and accommodations were basic but clean and comfortable. Think summer camp, but I, for one, think the slumber party atmosphere was part of the fun.

Greg set us up with some nifty notebooks full of anatomical diagrams and charts we could use for experiments when we got home and had several tables of give-aways we each got to choose. Saturday morning, we dug into the science by typing our blood and doing what I never thought myself capable: dissecting pregnant sheep and cow uteri. We also used PTC strips to see if we were “tasters” or “non-tasters” and linked that to a discussion of basic genetics.

Greg told us lots of memorable stories related to anatomy that we’re not likely to forget soon, and he shared his belief, based on everything he’s seen and studied, particularly about the human body, that the most reasonable explanation for the elegant, fine-tuned design of everything from the cellular level on up is that we were made by a Creator. He mentioned that he thinks it’s particularly important to teach biology with a view toward this and recommended Science Shepherd as a text for this.

Some of the goodies: PTC paper and pH testing paper

Some of the goodies: PTC paper and pH testing paper

Two Landry Academy teachers were there to talk to us also. Jen teaches Intro to Marine Biology via webcam at the beach from her home in Tampa. I’m thinking my aspiring marine veterinarian would be pretty awed by that! Angela Little was on hand to give us some tips on her field, SAT/ACT prep. I was amazed to learn that it’s really recommend for kids to begin sitting for these tests as young as 7th and 8th grade, if only to get accustomed to the test conditions. Angela said the child taking the test during her junior or senior year risks missing application deadlines or the opportunity to retake for a better score.

The camp looked out on a small lake.

The camp looked out on a small lake.

The science and the getaway were great, but the best part of the weekend was being around and getting to meet so many other moms of faith. Sometimes (ok, how about every day) you just need to hear out loud that God is working in your life, in the lives of us who don’t do prestigious jobs and who are prone to major imperfections. You need to see people who are trusting him and putting him first and maybe doing some things you could do better.

That’s the Body of Christ at work, strengthening and edifying its different members, right?

You need to be around other people who can listen to your struggles and understand why they’re worth it and know that it’s not necessarily time to throw in the towel.

I’m definitely considering enrolling Mustard Seed in one of Landry’s classes at some point, and I’d recommend the moms’ retreats. They’re held all over the country. Find out here when one will be held near you.

What other ways  have you heard or thought of for intellectual “professional development” for homeschooling moms? I’m not just talking about going to a conference where they talk about curriculum options and heart inspiration but ways to help us moms get into the meat of the material in the various fields we will be teaching in our homeschooling career? Retreats? Book clubs? What would make it easier for you to dive into a subject that intimidates you?