Looking for Zebras

On more than one episode of Grey’s Anatomy, they have mentioned hearing hoof beats and not expecting Zebras.  You should expect horses.  Since TV is obviously just like real life, I assume this is something medical people actually say :).  So what happens when all the horses have run away and you still hear hoof beats?

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This is Lorelei.  Lorelei is a phenomenally strong, pretty, smart, little lady.  Since the day she was born, she’s been skittish, tires quickly, and is uncomfortable in her movement.  We first noticed she was “delayed” in her motor skills when she was very small, but it became pretty obvious when she was 12 months and did not crawl, could not sit alone, and wouldn’t even pretend to put her legs down and bear weight.  I’m not the wait and see kind of mom.  I’m an attack it aggressively and prove it wrong kind of mom.  So Lorelei and I started trying to prove the signs wrong.  She went into early childhood care through the Macomb Infant Preschool Program for gross motor delay, and some speech and sensory issues as well.

She has always done well when you compare her to other kids in the same boat.  But Lorelei comes with a tiny mirror of normal milestone development, her twin brother, Elliott.  When Lorelei was first starting to do the rock motion to crawl, Elliott was scaling furniture and practicing death-defying stunts walking across the windowsill.  When she struggled to pick up a fork, he was building amazing block towers with a strong steady hand.  I know you’re not supposed to compare children (they’re all different after all) but the divide was shocking and growing.

Lorelei was generously diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy by her PM&R Doctor at the Michigan Institute of Neurological Disorders, but even he admits that this child does not have CP.  But it did allow us access to insurances and services we wouldn’t have received otherwise.  He’s a good egg.  She had her first MRI at 18 months.  Since I fancy myself an investigative physician, I asked for a disc and I looked at every darn frame.  I had no idea what I was looking for, but my heart stopped when I found this angel.

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Apparently the angel is just a weird Rorschach test and nothing concerning.  But strangely it made me feel better or calm or something.  I can’t tell if she’s like “I’ve got this” or “You’re looking in the wrong place” or “Don’t worry, it’s ok”.  Regardless, I find comfort in the fact that Lorelei has angels in her brain.  Let’s just ignore the creepy demon face at C1 ok?

I am looking for horses.  But she defies every horse of every color.  Part of me wants to just leave her be and let her be and watch her become.  But another very stubborn part of me wants an answer…and I want it now.  Is this just who she is and she’ll never be a star athlete?  That’s fine.  Is she going to be ok until she’s not and start regressing?  Her progress right now, is forward, but slow.  Cognitively she is perfect and so smart!  So why does she have muscle weakness?  Why is she so tired?  Why is she so clumsy?  Why do her eyes cross?  Why is her Babinski reflex still there?  (Graphic below because everyone loves random medical knowledge right?)

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So I’ve become a zebra researcher.  I look for zebras because none of the horses make sense.

Since we moved here to the country and were let down so badly by Elliott’s doctors, we sort of took a break.  I pulled off her tall AFO braces (saw that her calf muscles were in atrophy) and let her run barefoot through the grass.  We put up a swing set with a special swing for days that she can’t manage sitting on a regular swing and we stopped helping her as much.  We MADE her do hard things.  She can do hard things.  She’s mastered stairs. She’s even started jumping.  She’s doing ballet.  She climbs, she chases bugs and helps catch chickens.  She’s doing tremendously well.  But I can still hear the hoof beats.

We went back to PM&R today and he hears them too.  He has new ideas, so he armed me with a new battery of tests with a new focus.  Headed back down the rabbit hole chasing this elusive hoofed creature.  See you on the other side.

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-Mary

Tall & Chubby

Buckle up, this is probably a sappy post.  When I was 13 years old, I was already shopping at Tall Girl, that store most average women never gave a second thought, you know, by Target in Utica.  I don’t know exactly how tall I was at 13, but it’s the first year I remember being seriously taller than classmates.  It’s also an age when we become very aware of ourselves and start to fall into the trap of comparison.  Well, I went shopping at Tall Girl with my mom one day, and the manager, Tammie, was working.  She was full of life and spunk.  She was fun and she told you what she was thinking.  Always.  And if she didn’t, her face did 😉  Tammie said something to 13 year old me that day I was shopping with my mom that I have never forgotten.  She told me to always stand up straight.  You’re going to be tall regardless, you might as well look nice and have good posture.  MIND BLOWN.  I was going to be tall regardless.  It is true that I could be tall and stand hunched, or I could be tall and stand up nice and not look like a silly hunch back trying to pretend she’s not tall.  I chose straight.  I tried on a pink swimsuit that day with a zipper up the front that I LOVED.  I stood up straight and I felt beautiful.  Then my mom made me put it back because I was 13 and it was a $70 swimsuit in 1995…hard pass.  So no swimsuit that day, but words I would carry with me always.

As an adult I’m 6’1″.  I’m plus sized, which is a really nice way to tell you I’m chubby and have been for over a decade.  In college I once had mono for 2 months, and after that I was smoking hot.  But it was short lived.  A good dose of mono does wonders for weight loss, but I still wouldn’t recommend it.  I hear spleens are important.

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OH MY BLOG!  DID I REALLY JUST POST THAT PHOTO?  Am I sweating?  I think I’m sweating… But here I am.  This is a photo I took when I started a diet plan last August.  It was supposed to be my before and it was supposed to be for my eyes only sort of…so I don’t know what the heck I was just thinking.  But it’s out there on the line now.  The diet came and went and it’s possible you could say I failed but I’m going with I wasn’t ready. This is what I look like.  And even if I don’t always love it, this is the reality of a body that has worked hard it’s whole life (I’ve had demanding jobs since I was 12), carried 4 beautiful children (it has super powers and can carry two at a time), and a body that carries the soul inside of it.  ME.

It has always been difficult for me to shop.  Tall Girl closed it’s doors awhile back, and for a short time I had no store that felt like home.  Enter LuLaRoe.  That’s the boutiques part of our Barnes & Boutiques.  I was invited to a LuLaRoe pop up boutique in Grand Rapids.  It was too far, I’d never heard of it, and I didn’t have any money anyway.  But I started looking into it online.  I fell in love with the idea of their clothes.  I was messaging my hostess friend, Sarah, and the consultant, Emily, back and forth about how interested I was.  They had just come out with Tall & Curvy leggings.  Hey!  I am both Tall & Curvy and I have legs!  I wanted to try them!  Sarah, my world changer, sent me some of their clothes as a gift.  She’s an amazing human.  2 and a half years later, and I am the proud owner of a boutique FULL of LuLaRoe.

The funniest part of this job to me, is that I model my clothing line and take photos and post them on social media.  Me.  Chubby, super tall, me.  But here’s the thing.  I do love me.  Flaws and all.  I KNOW I’m not perfect.  I KNOW I’m not a model.  But when I put on the right clothes, I feel good.  I feel proud to be in my skin, and these clothes have reinforced that for me.  I’ve also watched them do it for other people too.   Some people think LuLaRoe is a trend.  A fad.  I disagree.  Loving yourself is always en vogue.  Putting on clothes that are comfortable that make you feel beautiful never goes out of fashion.  Pieces, styles, and prints may change but walking out the door without the hunch of hiding in your clothes will remain.

I have no qualms telling you most of these photos took several shots and knowing my angles.  But I do know my angles, so there.  And I know when I FEEL confident and comfortable, other people can see that too.  I won’t be going out the door in my Olivia Newton John Black cat suit any time soon, but in these clothes I feel beautiful.

 

I hope you tell your body how much you love it today!

-Mary

Why I Chose Home Schooling

At 6:45 the alarm woke us up with it’s horrible bark.  With indignation I would get out of bed, smack it silly, and then head upstairs to wake up Renna and Sam, inevitably waking the twins as well.  I tried to be nice about it, truly I did, but my patience is thin in the morning, and if I have to be up, they better jump up and MOVE.  I yelled at them to get downstairs and brush their teeth.  I yelled at them to get their clothes on.  I yelled at them to get to the table and shove food in their faces while I frantically searched for school appropriate snacks and made lunches.  I yelled at them to get their shoes.  Why are shoes so difficult to find?  Where did you take them off?  Why can you only find one?  Did you take each shoe off individually in separate rooms?  They’re a set.  You should really take them off together!  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?  You’re going to be late!  Where is your jacket?  Why is it covered in mud?  Get outside, the bus is coming!

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They would board the bus at 7:30.  They got off the bus at 4:15.  They were exhausted.  I yelled at them to get their homework done.  I yelled at them to get changed for their activities.  When we got home, even more exhausted, I yelled at them to keep them moving and eat their dinner, shower, read, and go to bed.  And we did this…every day.  5 days a week.  But this is what we knew.  This is how it goes, right?  There isn’t another option, right? There are a million things they HAVE TO get done in a day…right?

 

In September of last year, Elliott got sick.  Like really sick.  The doctors kept telling me it was just a tummy bug and there was nothing we could do.   We just had to wait it out.  We were sent home from doctors 3 times.  And let me tell you, we don’t go to doctors unless I think there is something seriously wrong.  I stuck to my mom gut (always trust your gut, you’re their mom for a reason) and finally got some testing done.  My sweet baby, my 3 year old had Salmonella.   But not just salmonella, untreated major salmonella and he was septic.  His renal system was slowly shutting down.  He went to Children’s Hospital of Michigan by ambulance from our 4th visit to a doctor, where he stayed in infectious disease isolation for 5 days.  Hint 1, tomorrow is not promised.

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While Elliott was still in the hospital, I called my dear friend Kelly, to complain…  I was whining about being there and being tired when she gave me a shock.  She was undergoing testing because she had some major back pain and they found a mass.  After Elliott was healed, I went down to visit Kelly in Toledo Hospital, where, on the day we visited, she was diagnosed with Stage IV Primary Mediastinal Lymphoma.  She was 32 and one of my dearest friends.  It was in her chest, her back, her arms, and her legs. Hint 2, you never know what tomorrow may bring.

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Three days after Kelly’s diagnosis, my friend Bob, a part of my history and my adolescence, passed away of a massive heart attack at 41.  He laid down on the couch to take a nap because he didn’t feel quite right and he never got up.  Hint 3, LIFE IS SHORT!

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The next week, I pulled my kids out of school.  This might sound crazy, but we had debated it before and just never would have pulled the trigger.  This series of unfortunate events, spoke to me in such a way that I could not ignore it.  Life is short, you will never know what tomorrow brings, and it is not promised.  So we made a choice.

I cannot speak for Lewis, but I don’t have anything against the public schools.  I think teachers are remarkable people who dedicate their lives to educating children and helping build the future.  I was a public school kid, and I happen to think I’m pretty darn smart, well-rounded, and I have a love of learning.  I had amazing teachers who were able to reach me and helped me find myself.  But this isn’t about the school.  It was about us.  It was about FREEDOM.

I was tired of yelling.  I was tired of my children being gone 9 hours a day, and fighting their exhaustion when they were here.  I was tired of this grind, this mold we stick them into and expect them ALL to fit.  As a mom of 4, I can assure you that all children are created uniquely and none of them fit a one size mold.  I wanted the freedom to explore together.  I wanted the freedom to teach them life skills, and teach them what it meant to serve others and volunteer.  I wanted the freedom to stay up until midnight to learn about the stars, sleep late, and do math in their pajamas, because let’s be real, when I have to do math, I want PJ’s on and a comfy chair to do it.  I wanted to take them to museums, and adventure.  I wanted them to touch the earth and not just read about it.  When they did read, I wanted them to choose books and subjects that interested them and inspired them to learn something new.  I wanted them to make choices.

Here we are, 9 months later, and I think some people might call what we are doing “unschooling”.  I prefer to think of us as some sort of hybrid just finding our way.  We have workbooks and curricula, but we don’t use them all that much.  We do go on adventures, but we also learn life skills, and we work a lot on just discovering what we do and do not like to do.  For instance, I have discovered that I am not a huge fan of geocaching…the mud in the swampy woods ate one of my favorite boots and it never recovered….I’m not sure I’m built for the woods…  But I learned I love science.  And my kids have seen through my eyes and excitement that learning is fun.  Baking is math.  Animals teach you responsibility and biology.  Planting a garden can teach you about the earth, photosynthesis, the life cycle, and patience.  Trips to the library ignite a love for reading and reading opens the door to any education you wish.  Being able to touch things and break them apart and see how and why they work has done more for them this year, than any amount of table work they could have done, in my opinion.  All this said, I do recognize a need in the coming months for a little more structure.  It’s possible we gave ourselves a little too much freedom 🙂  But all in all, we yell a whole lot less.  We aren’t nearly as exhausted.  And we’ve given ourselves the gift of time in a life where tomorrow is not promised, you cannot tell what it holds, and LIFE IS SHORT.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes which I submit to you as my home schooling mission statement:  There are but two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children.  One of these is roots, the other, wings.

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-Mary

Stop Kidding Around

The thing about a farm is, it needs some animals.  I struggle with this because I don’t want to up our expenses with nothing in return.  Like bunnies…I love our bunnies and they’re cute.  But that’s it…cute.  They don’t provide us with anything because we aren’t going to eat them.  I am not a REAL farmer.  I will not eat animals we raised.  We name them and love them and the stew pot is the last place you’ll find them.  This is liberal hippy farming ok?  I do however, greatly appreciate animals that are useful to the state.  I LOVE the chickens.  They ask very little from us and they give us eggs every day.  Thanks Chickens!  We don’t sell our eggs.  They don’t earn us an income, but we will never starve because there will always be an egg.

So what’s next?

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GOATS!  No Kidding.

Reasons WE LOVE GOATS:

  1.  They’re cute as babies and adults which is rare.
  2. They’re generally pretty friendly.
  3. They don’t eat a ton that they don’t find themselves on the ground.
  4. They serve a purpose.
  5. Renna – “I like goats because they’re nice and friendly.  They make great pets.”
  6. Sam – “Because they’re cute.”
  7. Lorelei – “cause I think them is really pretty.”
  8. Elliott – “cause them cute and fluffy.”

Did we mention that they’re cute?  Ok, so goats are kind of just cute pets but they also provide different things.  Our goats will provide fiber for art projects or sale, and eventually milk and cheese.  I guess you can even make soap, but I haven’t looked into that yet.  I want the kids (the two legged kind) to grow up with responsibilities and I want them to know what it’s like to put someone or something else first.  When I was 12 I started working in a horse barn to pay for my own lessons and leasing a horse.  I cleaned 30 stalls a day (3-4 days a week) and fed and watered 30 horses.  Horses don’t know it’s Christmas morning and you’re 12.  They still need a clean stall and food.  I’m excited for my kids to know that.   They THINK they’re excited too 😉 We’ll see what they say December 25th.

Today we attended a Goat Care Class at Sheepy Hollow Farms in Armada.  We THINK we’re ready now 🙂  We can be good goat owners.  PLUS!  What’s better than shopping a boutique of crazy comfortable clothing at someone’s house?  How about petting a goat and snuggling a bunny when you’re done?

Are goats a business expense? #Taxwriteoff

Nan the Angora, and Blondie the Nubian/Boer cross, coming July 2017

You pronounce that Bbbllllaaaa -ondie. 🙂

-Mary

What I Didn’t Expect

When I fly, I sit in the emergency exit row.  I do this for a multitude of reasons.

  1. I have super long legs and there is a LOT more space there.
  2. I actually enjoy feeling cold.  I find it relaxing and this is by far the coldest seat on a plane.
  3. I’m actually REALLY good in an emergency.

So let’s focus on 3.  If you’re going to sever your finger, or a car crashes into your house, or you get robbed, or have to execute a water evacuation on a 747, you want me in your corner.  DURING an emergency I’m extremely reliable and fairly calm.  I will lose my mind when we are safe and everything is complete.  The aftermath will hit me like a ton of bricks but by then the coast guard has plucked you out of the water and you’re already air drying your leggings somewhere.

What I didn’t expect working for myself and being the sole income provider for a family of 6 is what that pressure would feel like!  My calm and reliability sometimes has an expiration limit and in this role, it’s not allowed to expire.  We CHOSE to bring my husband home from work.  He did not love his job.  It did not make him a better person.  It did not make him happy and he was missing EVERYTHING.  All of the time.  With my business taking off, we felt confident cutting back our income and living off of LuLaRoe sales and commissions.  It was a necessary arrangement in order for us to pursue our accidental homeschooling.  (I already have a blog post in mind to tell you WHY we chose to home school, but that’s a whole different topic for another day.)

If you don’t know our backstory, we are perfectly capable of living on nothing and coming out the other side unscathed.  We’ve eaten more Ramen noodles than we care to share, and I’ve sold plasma for gas money…so we’re not fancy.  But in this new life, this life we dream about and try to create, things are slightly different and this pressure is INTENSE.  We’ve always both worked.  Always.  So even when we were poor, we were happy and we were sharing a burden evenly.  I knew if my waitress shift didn’t bring in what we needed we would survive until Lewis’s next check.  And he knew when his check ran out, I would be headed to the restaurant to work a double and pick up extra shifts so we could buy food.

We have moved far beyond this financially and far beyond our wildest expectations just 2 short years ago, but I have to admit, every single month I get concerned that the 747 is making a water landing and I am somehow going to screw it up.  The pilot is screaming at me in my head and I’m like WHAT THE HECK DID WE DO?  I need a new seat assignment please!  Then the plane levels out and I’m like, oh, ok it’s fine.

I now know how my husband felt when I was on maternity leave or medical leave for babies (4 times).  I know how he must have felt when he looked at his check and he wondered who the heck FICA was and why they stole all of his money.  I appreciate his calm under pressure more.  I appreciate how hard he worked for us.

What I love about this business is that my answer is easy.  I sell more skirts.  I work a little harder.  I AM good under pressure. And I’m scrappy.  Tell me I can’t do something and I will do it just to spite you.

As women, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves at home I think.  And we feel like we’re failing…a lot.  I’ve heard it said that wives are the dream weavers.  We teach our husbands and our children how to dream.  So when silly things like facts get in the way and you’re trying to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and they snap in your hand, you kind of want to take The Crying Game shower.

Having a family business is not easy.  But it is beyond rewarding.  So it’s worth the pressure.  The pressure is not stronger than the gift of time together that it has given us.  I will live off of eggs from our chickens every single day if it means my kids are happy and we are cleaning that chicken coop together.

-Mary

 

PS I know this was a little heavy for a second blog post…but it was on my mind.  And I’ve learned nothing if I haven’t learned that so many people feel like I do at different times and just need someone to say it out loud.DSCN1494

We Have Barnes & Boutiques

Choices.  Every choice we make changes the course of our lives.  Just over 1 year ago, I told my husband I would never move north of Hall Rd, which for me was the end of convenience and civilization and everything I thought I wanted.  Why would anyone want to live so far away from stores, and museums, and the happenings?  Then he showed me a garage…  A garage that could house an entire boutique full of clothing and fitting rooms.  A space just for me with no kids, no pets, no scary basement lighting; and I was sold.  This garage was about 10 miles north of the magical barrier I had put on our housing search and it was attached to a house built before William McKinley took office (if you don’t want to google that, it was 1897).  Somehow, this family of mine sold me on a dream. A life that I didn’t know I wanted.

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Who are we?

I’m Mary.  I recently turned 29 for the 6th time.  I am a retailer and coach for LuLaRoe.  I have an uncanny ability to make rash decisions and keep my family on their toes.

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This is Lewis.  Lewis asked me to marry him in 2005 and I said, “Are you sure?”  And he seemed kind of sure so we got married.

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These are our children:

DSCN1545 (2)Renna is an 8 year old who is so sensitive I swear to God above she cannot possibly be mine 😉  She loves with her whole heart and she will take care of us all someday while simultaneously fighting for justice.

Sam is my animal guy.  He’s kind of shy and sweet, unless you are his sibling.  He gets overwhelmed by the noise and hustle of the world sometimes.  He just turned 7 (for the first time), and if he could choose a place to live it would be the Detroit Zoo.

Elliott & Lorelei are the twins.  And I feel bad even making them share a text section, but that’s what happens to twins.  Twins have to share that name, The Twins.  For a long time we called them “The Babies”, until we realized they were 4 and spoke in sentences and had opinions.  We retired “the babies” and we stick to “The Twins”.  Truth be told they could not be more opposite one another.  Elliott does everything with joy and a smile.  He does awful things, stupid things, but he has not a drop of malice in his heart.  His main goal in life is to be a party everywhere he goes.  Lorelei is a little princess.  A heart string puller.  She’s cute…and she knows.

Why do we have a blog?

When we moved the kids out of the city, we promised them a “farmhouse” which in a child’s mind comes with an actual FARM.  So being the level-headed good decision maker I am, we are now accidental homesteaders, accidental homeschoolers, and living purposefully.  We wanted to share a little piece of ourselves and our journey with you.  We want to connect with people and leave a mark on the world.  We want you to laugh with us, at us, and celebrate the tiny successes, the massive failures, and this thing called life.  Lewis, Renna, possibly Sam, and myself, will be contributing authors to our family blog.  Follow us if you’re interested in fashion, homesteading, homeschooling, DIY projects, and adventures!

See you again soon!

-Mary