instagram.

In general my phone photo quality isn’t great, but here’s some fun moments from the past couple weeks . . .

IMG_5939Today’s my brother Danny’s 27th birthday. He recently moved to Florence, SC, so we’re missing him today.  We had a fun library/coffee date right before he left. Star Wars comic books were involved.

IMG_5976Watching Frozen and cuddling. He’s growing up so fast.

IMG_5982This room is going to get a makeover in the next few months because David and I are moving our master bedroom here to make way for the baby’s room. I’m both happy and terrified to lose our junk room (yes, that stationary bike has got to go).

IMG_6014Flip-flops and hoses and new plants. Spring is here.

IMG_6030Homemade green goddess dressing in the Vitamix for our salad tonight. Yum.

IMG_6042Here’s the first of our adoption required reading, along with a very sweet children’s book I discovered at my friend Miriam’s house.

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We’re all just a little excited to be getting a backyard fence tomorrow!!!

low country boil and life groups.

Our friend from Life group, Weston, hosted a low country boil at his house in Chapin yesterday. The weather was perfect — warm and breezy — and the food and drinks delicious. I haven’t tried boiled peanuts since high school, and wasn’t impressed back then, but yesterday I couldn’t stop eating them. Judah’s response when he cracked one open, “There’s something wrong with these peanuts!!!”

The main way we foster community and discipleship at CPC is through small groups, which we call Life groups. We have six Life groups meeting right now, and it’s been very much a learning process for the church as we’ve figured out leadership and curriculum and scheduling these past seven months.

I’m so glad we’ve pressed on (and by “we” I mostly mean David and John), and I’m glad our Life group leadership has been open and honest about what works for them and what doesn’t, because I feel like we’re in such a sweet season now. I wanted friendships in all of the Life groups to grow and becoming transparent, but I worried if that happened our groups would become exclusive and not quick to welcome newcomers.

I love how that worry has melted away as I’ve seen that our Life groups are a natural extension of our church family. CPC is a friendly, welcoming church, and so time and again David and I hear of people feeling welcomed and pursued as they join a Life Group. It’s been encouraging to see others thrive in their Life Group, and also to feel like David and I are thriving in ours.

If you’re curious about how our small group ministry works right now: we meet twice a month and have discussion questions to process and apply that Sunday’s sermon. There is purposeful age diversity in all the groups — young families with college students with singles with empty nesters.

Each group has flexibility as to whether they want meeting times to be with all adults, or to split up by gender. The group decides together which evening a week to meet on. Our ladies meet two Sunday evenings a month at my house and the guys meet the alternate Sundays at another house. Then we do a whole-group hang out (like a picnic at the river or a low country boil) every couple months or so.

This has worked perfectly for our group since we have lots of young kiddos and meeting girls and guys separately has kept childcare from being an issue. But a couple groups with fewer kids meet all together, and another group hires a babysitter. It’s fun to see people have freedom to decide what works best for them rather than trying to have one specific formula for everyone.

The groups were started by location, but have evolved into a more organic style. Newcomers can choose a group either based on location, on what night works best for them, or if they have a friendship with someone in the group. I hope this has created a more natural atmosphere instead of just assigning someone to a group.

One of my favorite things on a Sunday morning is to greet a visitor and after chatting for awhile, to invite them to check out our Life group — only to have them say “I’ve already been invited to three other Life groups!” I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to be apart of a church family like this.

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kids and food.

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A couple weeks ago I told you about my first year gluten-free.

Then last week I shared some of the things that David and I eat on a daily basis.

A question I get a lot is: “What do you feed your kids?” So that’s what I’ll talk about today.

And this is where you begin to see that I don’t by any stretch have it all together in the food department. It’s been one thing to make really big changes to my diet, and quite another to ask my kids to do the same.

At first when I sat down to write this post, all I could think of were the negatives of how I’ve failed in this area. But thinking through the details I do see some progress. For our family though, it’s felt very much like a one-step-forward-two-steps back kind of thing.

I’ve tried many different approaches to more healthful eating. I’ve done all of my own baking from scratch (bread,etc). I’ve made a homemade sourdough starter and used it in my baking. I’ve completely eliminated boxed cereal from our home and made the kids’ home-cooked breakfast each morning. I’ve taken Judah completely off dairy after his two asthma attacks.

I’m here to tell you in all honesty that I didn’t stick with any of those plans.

It’s hard, you guys. Food seems to be a constant battle in our house. Judah is a very picky eater and while I don’t think Amelie naturally is, she’s definitely influenced by comments her brother makes (what sibling isn’t??). Let’s just say dinner is not the finest hour in the Gentino household.

All of this to say, I’m still in the learning process. Here are a very few things that do seem to work,  more or less, for us right now.

1. Fruit, veggies, or nuts for snacks. The only way this has worked is to literally make it the only option. I stopped buying snack foods for the kids. So if they want a snack, they’ve learned it’s got to be a healthy snack. This has gotten Judah eating fruit when he’d formerly only eat bananas. Neither kid even fights me on this anymore (although we may possibly have the most boring food house of all their friends). I don’t let them have any grains for snacks when we’re at home because they usually get those for breakfast and lunch already.

2. Reduce dairy. I haven’t completely eliminated it, although Judah solely uses almond milk on his cereal now. I did this the same way as above; just stopped buying yogurt, lots of cheese and milk. We do still have cheese from time to time — on tacos, as an occasional accompaniment to lunch, the occasional Sonic milkshake. But not every day.

I don’t make cheesy or milk-based casseroles anymore, and if I do I use a dairy-substitute. And neither child drinks cups of milk anymore. I know you’re thinking, What about calcium? But from my research it’s much better to get calcium from broccoli and leafy greens than from processed dairy, which leads me to my next point:

3. Drink greens in smoothies. We finally bit the bullet and bought a reconditioned Vitamix blender last week. We’ve talked about it for two years now. We tried a used Champion juicer instead. We burned out the motor on our $30 Oster blender from using it so much. So we finally decided: Yes, it’s super expensive. But this is an investment for our health that we are just going to make.

So far, it’s been amazing. I promise you, there’s a big difference. Judah drank two green smoothies for breakfast this morning (with almond milk, chia seeds, frozen strawberries, banana, and cocoa powder to make it a “chocolate smoothie”). David made the kids and their cousins orange sherbet last week for an afternoon snack with two whole oranges, ice, and a little sugar. All four kids devoured it.

Oddly enough we can’t get Amelie into smoothies yet but I think that will change as she keeps tasting our Vitamix concoctions. My current goal is to have the kids eating smoothies and scrambled eggs for week day breakfasts.

You definitely don’t need to buy a Vitamix: Judah would drink smoothies before and lots of my friends’ kids do. But I can see already how it’s going to be much easier to hide healthy stuff in our smoothies and soup now because of the smoother consistency. My friend Tarah sells homemade raw goats’ milk kefir that I used for awhile and I’m going to start buying again. The kids think it’s yogurt in their smoothies and I want them to have the probiotics.

4. Talk about being healthy and strong. We have conversations with our kids about what kinds of foods make them “healthy and strong” and what don’t. It’s okay to eat some foods that don’t make us healthy and strong, but we need to eat more of the foods that do. That’s why we make them eat veggies every night at dinner. That’s why we do smoothies and healthy snacks. It’s neat to see them slowly (okay very slowly) begin using this line of thinking themselves as they taste foods.

So these are just a few tactics we’re using at the moment. One of my biggest fantasies at the moment is leisurely cooking a delicious and healthful dinner with a glass of wine, then sitting and eating it with no complaints. One day, maybe, we’ll get there.

Any advice from your house on getting the kids to eat healthier? I always welcome suggestions!

more taming.

IMG_2498 Here’s our progress after the weekend. David cleared that massive pile from the backyard, and I added wheel-barrow-fulls of leaves from the front. The outdoor waste company cleared the entire pile this morning, but I love that before they arrived someone had already come to pull out every piece of metal. Ah life downtown.

IMG_2514My parents stopped by Saturday morning and I think they about had a heart attack seeing me doing yard work (for pretty much the first time in my life). I just got tired of the front looking shabby, because we have such a cute little house to show off.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that according to my mom, most of our plants are worth saving, including some azaleas, a struggling, spindly rose bush, and a couple unknown plants (including the one Amie and Owen are playing in. Any ideas Mom G? It has a few reddish leaves mixed in). Next I want to thin out our monkey grass and pull a bunch of brambles/weeds from the beds.

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I’ve never been the type of person to do yard work or really anything that makes me sweat, but after a hard week, I actually found raking and clearing out mounds of dead leaves and brush enjoyable and therapeutic. Here’s hoping I’m turning over a new leaf (no pun intended).

We have some fun ideas for the front yard which include taking out the red gravel path and putting down sod, but it most likely won’t happen this year. I’m okay with that. It’s nice to know we’re sticking around, we can take our time.

IMG_2529Here’s the requisite pollen picture; this weekend was the worst, which is probably why the whole family has the sniffles today. Thankfully it’s raining, which will hopefully wash a good portion of the pollen away.

IMG_2519David ripped out the gate at the front left of the house . . .

IMG_2521And that wood fence along the back. Hello there, neighbors!

IMG_2523Yes we have a big ugly power line/light in the back corner of our yard; not my favorite feature since there are lots of wires running into our yard. Ah well, you win some you lose some.

And now David is taking a few days to let his poison ivy heal. The fence company will come either this week or next. I can’t wait!

taming the backyard.

We got a pretty incredible deal on our house, and one of the reasons we wanted to buy below our budget is so we could afford to update and improve on our space over time. We decided to pick one big project this year: the backyard. We’re having a six-foot wood fence installed this week and hopefully a few of our nine pine trees removed.

David has been working in bits and pieces all year to tame the madness that was our backyard, removing small trees and clearing out lots and lots of overgrowth. But yesterday he got to work for real to clear the way for the fence company, and here’s some of his progress:

IMG_2485If you’re facing the house, this is to the front left. There was a chain link fence here covered in vines and bushes. David knocked the fence out with a wrench dug up lots and lots of weeds. We actually have a great-sized side yard here that will be fenced in as well.

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John came this morning and helped cut down some trees and stumps.

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IMG_2481Our pollen-coated play house (isn’t it pretty?)

IMG_2478This is the back fence, which belongs to us, so David has to pull it all out, as well as the chain link fence on the other side of our house.

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This guy was a big help taking all of the underbrush to the front curb. He’s growing up so fast these days, excited to pitch in and help his dad with projects.

IMG_2493And he lost three front teeth this week!

Sadly David is covered in a poison ivy outbreak again and started a round of steroids today. Hopefully all his work will pay off and we’ll eventually have a poison-free backyard!

one year gluten free, part two.

IMG_2450In part one I described my first year gluten free. I’ll keep this post practical and tell you generally how I eat these days.

The two single best food decisions I’ve made (possible even better than eliminating gluten) are:

1. Making a green smoothie or vegetable juice for breakfast

and

2. Eating a salad for lunch (read my daily salad post here)

In my humble opinion we as Americans way over-do it on eating grains and starches in general. Think about the typical American day: cereal or toast for breakfast, a granola bar for a snack, sandwich for lunch, pasta or rice or bread with our dinner. Then maybe dessert.

That’s a lot of grains. And by grains I mean flour (wheat or gluten free), oats, rice, quinoa, casseroles, fried foods. I’m not a nutritionist, but I’ve learned that our bodies convert grains to sugar, which causes our blood sugar to spike, then drop. They can result in that dragginess we feel mid-morning and around 1:00 pm. They cause weight gain, bloated-ness, other stomach issues.

I’m not saying grains are evil. Just that the Standard American Diet is way too grain-dependant and since most of us aren’t milling our own wheat, it’s processed grains we’re consuming which are even worse for us. They’re stripped of their nutrients and filled with more sugar (check the package of your loaf of sandwich bread) and preservatives.

I think this is the reason so many people struggle with gluten. Gluten is in everything. Everything processed, that is, because it’s not just used in bread flour, it’s used as a preservative. So some of our digestive systems are rebelling (maybe more of us than we think).

So. I’m not saying I’ve given up grains. But I started to become aware of how much of my diet is grain-dependant, and began making some substitutes. Once I did that I started noticing how dairy-dependant the American diet is, but that’s a post for another time.

Cereal with milk is my absolute favorite breakfast. David teases me because my favorite cereals are in his opinion the super boring ones: plain Cheerios. Wheaties. Rice Chex. I love cereal. The more boring the better.

But back in South Asia when I started becoming aware of my diet, I realized I was feeling sick every day right after breakfast. That’s when I started connecting the foods I was eating to my daily health (it sounds cheesy, but keeping a food journal for a couple weeks really does help show you what makes you feel good and what doesn’t).

So one of the best changes I’ve made is to start my day with fruit and vegetables instead of cereal or toast or oatmeal. I make a green smoothie with almond milk. Or juice vegetables. If I’m in a time crunch and can’t make a smoothie, I eat an apple with almond butter. I typically follow my smoothie breakfast with a handful of almonds to fill my stomach.

I’ve felt so much better since starting this breakfast habit, and every time I travel and let it slide, I notice a difference in my digestion and energy-level. David is not gluten free but he feels the same way and now starts his day with a smoothie.

I try to keep my morning snack grain-free too. I have some fruit or veggies dipped in hummus. Or a handful of nuts.

Then I eat a salad for lunch.

By following this regimen, I can eat a relatively normal dinner with rice or gluten-free pasta, sometimes dessert, a glass of wine, and feel fine. Our dinners include a large portion of veggies and a small portion of meat and are gluten and dairy free for the most part.

I definitely have a sweet tooth, but I’ve taken to eating a few squares of dark chocolate (60% or higher) instead of cookies or ice cream (thanks to my father-in-law for that idea).

Don’t get me wrong, I have my treats. I love brown rice cakes with natural (no sugar added) peanut butter. I almost always keep a loaf of gluten free bread in the freezer because I love extra-crispy slices of toast with eggs fried over-medium, or toast topped with avocado, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of lemon juice.

But I try not to let those snacks be all of what I eat.

I love the way I eat now and really don’t miss the food I used to crave before — the constant stream of cereal and cookies and crackers. Your taste buds really do change and you begin to crave food that both tastes good and makes your body feel good.

I feel inspired to try new things, but I also don’t beat myself up for backsliding every now and then. That’s the most helpful thing I learned from my nutritionist: “Don’t focus on cutting things out of your diet; instead put your energy into adding healthful foods.” David and I keep coming back to that principle when our diet starts to slide.

It all comes down to this: when we eat well, we feel well. It’s worth it.

I’ll be back next week to talk about how my kids like our whole foods diet (spoiler alert: they don’t).

paperwork.

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I turned in our completed paperwork to the adoption agency yesterday afternoon!

I may have pushed myself like a crazy person to get it all done in just over a week, but the training class we wanted to attend in April filled up fast so I wanted to be sure we’re on the list for the June 27th training.

Our friend Ashley took this photo Sunday to include with our packet. Later on in the process we’ll create a family photo book for birth moms to look through.

Right now I feel an enormous sense of relief that we’ve done our part and can breathe for a few weeks until the next step. Life will calm down and return, more or less, to normal. I need that. Judah and Amelie need that.

We’re doing some work in our backyard this month, and have plans to move our master bedroom into the school room (and paint it!) and turn our current room into the baby’s room. You know I love house projects.

Thanks for all your prayers and encouragement for us and for baby Gentino!

paper pregnancy.

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I’ve heard the term “paper pregnancy” to describe the adoption process, and I’m hear to tell you it’s real, folks.

Leaving that first information meeting at our agency two weeks ago, my emotions were haywire. I felt actually pregnant in that I knew deep down we’d set in motion something that will end with us having a baby. Our lives are changing. When I went to pick up my kids at Anna’s house after the meeting I burst into tears in front of her and Shari because everything felt so strange and wonderful and terrifying, all at the same time.

Since then my emotions have eased a little, but I’m up to my ears in paperwork that needs to be turned in ASAP if we want to get a spot at the next adoption training this summer. And if you’re wondering how I do it all with two kids already, I don’t. Homeschooling has pretty much been nonexistent this week, as well as any sort of predictable routine. And, I’m tired.

But. I’ll feel a huge weight lifted when our paperwork and next fee payment is turned in. Then it’s a a couple months of breathing a little and waiting for our class and home study. I don’t feel a sense of rush for the baby (in fact, that nine months gestation sounds pretty good right about now). I feel certain God knows when the perfect time is.

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As well as a big stack of forms, the four of us have to get physical exams and David and I have to get fingerprinted and various background checks. We’ve been so encouraged by how helpful everyone is. At first both doctors’ offices told me there was no way they could see us in the next couple weeks, but when I explained that it’s for our adoption process, everyone was excited and helpful and worked us in right away.

Yesterday we went to see the kids’ pediatrician (photo above) and she wanted to hear everything about our decision to adopt and said, “I can’t wait to meet that baby!”

All of this is such a balm to my racing heart.

There’s so many unknowns. What will the baby be like? How long will we wait? Am I going to be a good mom of three kids?

And then there’s the weight of knowing all of this involves a woman who has to make an incredibly hard decision: to have another family parent her child. And it involves a baby who will experience significant loss before he or she is ever placed in our arms. And so I pray for the birth mom as I clean my floors and sign forms and figure out how to re-organize the house for a baby’s room. I pray for our baby.

Physically, paper pregnancy is a million times easier than my two biological pregnancies. Emotionally, it’s a roller coaster. But I wouldn’t trade it.