Our Adventure with Irlen Syndrome

It’s important that everyone knows about Irlen Syndrome, because it is often misdiagnosed or missed altogether and leads to other health problems.  It can be the result of genetics or head trauma including whiplash, concussion or combat.   50% of children with learning disabilities have Irlen Syndrome, and 40% of children diagnosed with dyslexia have Irlen’s syndrome instead.  Irlens is very common for veterans and can cause enhanced PTSD symptoms.

Irlen Syndrome is a sensitivity to light, which sounds simple enough, but the affects are anything but.  In an Irlen patient when certain wave lengths of light hit the eye, confusing messages are sent to the brain.  This usually leads to visual misperceptions.  Words can dissolve into the white page, tremor, or tumble down the page.  It might look sharp and clear in the very center but distorted away from the center.  Items might look like they are glowing, colors might appear that aren’t really there.  Things may look closer or further away than they really are.  Depth perception may be off.   Round letters like o, e, a, and u might look identical to an Irlen child learning to read, making phonics quite confusing.  Square things might look round, including home windows and doors. A genetically triggered Irlen patient may not recognize that they are seeing anything abnormal.  It’s all they’ve seen or experienced and will naturally assume everyone else sees that way too.

Since Irlen Syndrome is a neurological disorder, both optometrists and special education teachers in the United States are largely unaware of it. I’d like to see this change. While it’s true that an Irlen patient’s eyes are not causing the problem, the pathway of the SOLUTION is through the eyes. Often the first intervention for a child with a reading problem is to take them to the eye doctor. How much better could we find and help these kids if eye doctors knew what to watch for? It would benefit every eye practice financially to offer this service and benefit the families who currently have to travel quite far to reach a practitioner. In addition, since around 50% of all children with learning difficulties have Irlen Syndrome it only makes sense to add it’s study to the course work for all Special Education teachers. Since Irlen syndrome is barely touched upon in optical school in the United States, and rarely mentioned in teacher education, many children are misdiagnosed.  My oldest daughter was diagnosed dyslexic with visual processing and processing speed disorders and we didn’t discover she had Irlen syndrome for 8 more years.

This is a tragedy because Irlen Syndrome is easily treated with colored filters.  When left untreated it causes other health conditions such as Adrenal Fatigue and Tachycardia (too fast heartbeat.)  Studies have shown for every beat per minute you can lower your resting heart rate, you extend your life by 1 year. Take a look at the typical brain activity of an Irlen patient with and without filters.

Untreated Irlen patients are stressed out all the time!  It’s common to find them grinding their teeth, clenching their jaws (with permanent joint damage), tight shoulders and neck muscles, headaches–often migranes.  This amount of stress can lead to OCD behaviors, whole body inflammation, hyperactivity, memory loss and language processing disorders (poor access to words when writing or talking,) new or worsening allergies, temper eruptions, sensory integrative disorder (sensitivity to touch, sounds, smells, tastes and textures visual clutter, etc.), depression, and social anxiety (fear of crowds or leaving home.)

I had common adrenal fatigue symptoms at an early age such as exercise intolerance, heat and cold sensitivity, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, depression, exhaustion, amenorrhea (after age 13), food sensitivities and fear of crowds. When I became a mother these symptoms increased to the point that I was bedfast for months at a time on several occasions.

I never would have considered Irlen syndrome as the root cause of my trouble, if it weren’t for my daughters.  I never struggled in school.  I learned to read spontaneously when I was 4 and went through school in the gifted and talented program, earning straight As and a full ride scholarship through college.  9% of Irlen patients are just like me.  Their visual disturbances don’t disrupt normal function.  When I was sitting in the clinic with Heather watching her 3 hour long test process, I would say things like—ooh, that color makes the whole room feel calm.  The doctor looked at me and said, “Mama, you’re next.”

“Oh no!  Not me! I read just fine.”

“I’m sure you do. You’ll get a chance to prove it in a minute.”

I sat at the testing desk and the doctor asked me a few questions:  Do you have TMJ? Are you considered clumsy?  Do you ever have trouble thinking of the right word? Do sounds, smells, and lights irritate you?  Have you struggled with Adrenal Fatigue?  Do you have night blindness? Do you grind your teeth?  Have you ever worn glasses?

I answered yes to everything.  Then I remembered when I was 12, school and social pressures and hormone changes added to the stress that my brain had already been under for years.  The visual disturbances worsened until I was blending lines together in reading, skipping and re-reading lines.  Homework was impossible.  My mom took me to the eye doctor. He said, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with her eyes, but I’m going to write her this little prescription and see if we can relax her eye muscles a little.”  That should have been my first clue that I had a neurological problem, but we just didn’t know.

The doctor gave me a medical textbook to read.  It took all my concentration to focus on the words and pronounce the complex vocabulary properly.  But I did it, really well. I beamed at her….”I proved it.”

Then she said, “What was that about?”  I couldn’t remember much from the text I read.   She turned the page and we spent several minutes looking at the page through different colored filters.  I found 2 that cut down on trembling of the text and she asked me to read again.  My speed and accuracy was pronouncedly improved and I could remember more of the text. she asked me to go home and make an appointment with the local screener. I said I’d consider it.

In the meantime, my youngest daughter’s glasses arrived in the mail.  She was at school so I tried them on.  I didn’t expect much, but a strong feeling of peace and well-being flooded over me.  I was experiencing a calm brain for the first time in my life and it was overwhelming.  I burst into tears.  I looked across the room and things far away were in focus that weren’t before. When I took the glasses off and put them back on, and off and on…. (you would too!)  I realized the room had been vibrating…my whole life.

A few days later, my oldest daughter was in the living room doing her homework in the dark…again.  “Don’t you want me to turn on some more light?”  I asked.

“No! Please, No!”  Then she burst into tears.  “Could you read my text book to me?  I’ve been staring at it forever and I can’t make sense of it.”  In the past I would have said something like, “If you’d work in adequate light, you’d be able to read it.”  But this time, I put everything together.  The headaches.  The dyslexic and processing diagnosis.  The emotional outbursts and sensitivity to sound and light.  I read her the book, then called Ken Schmidt our local Irlen screener and got her in the next day.  My suspicions were confirmed. She had a severe case of Irlens.

Heidi’s case is interesting because her verbal communication is partially locked due to Irlens.  She learned to talk late even though everything else was developmentally early.  I’ve always known to take what she says with a grain of salt.  It’s not that she’s untruthful, she just perceives things unusually. Heidi was unable to verbalize which filters helped her.  Her Irlens was so severe that she still saw visual disturbances through every combination of filters.

At our extended visit to the specialist 3 hours away, I mentioned to the doctor that I wished we could hook Heidi up to a biofeedback machine so we could test the stress on her brain through the different filters. That would help us figure out what she needed since she couldn’t tell us.  The doctor snapped her fingers.  “I can’t do that, but I can do this….”  She went to a drawer and pulled out an ear lobe pulse monitor.

She hooked it up to Heidi’s ear and measured her pulse at 84 beats per minute.  That’s pretty fast for an athletic teenage girl who has been sitting in a chair for 2 hours. Heidi held different combinations of filters up to her eyes and the doctor kept watch on the pulse monitor.  When we found the combination of filters we ordered for her, her heart rate came down to 50 beats per minute in a matter of seconds.  Heidi still had visual disturbances through those filters, but it was the best we could do.  She will wear them for a few months and then we will go back and try again, hoping that her brain will have calmed enough so she can help guide us to the correct filters better.

The doctor looked at me and said, “Mom, you need to consider this more deeply. No family has 2 daughters this severely affected without history of traumatic injury unless both parents are genetic carriers.”

Both Parents? I made an appointment for myself with the local screener.  Ken showed me several sheets of paper designed to trigger visual disturbances in an Irlen patient.  He asked me what I could see.  I would say, “This is what I see, but I know this to be true about what I’m seeing.”  He said, “I’m not testing your ability to adapt for yourself.  No one is disputing that you do that very well.  I just want to know what you see.”  Then it occurred to me that I had spent my whole life adapting, working hard to perceive, ignoring what my mind was telling me and looking for context clues to find the truth.  I saw blue and yellow auras and rivers of white running through the print. When I was counting a row of black Xs, the white swallowed them up and left me with a row of white dots.  A picture of a black box appeared to have a gray side and the lines would disappear and reappear at random intervals, sometimes doubling.  I told him everything, and said, “But doesn’t everyone see it the way I’m seeing it? Aren’t these optical illusions?”  I looked at his face and saw the answer clearly, “No.”

Trying on frames at Costco

So off I went to the specialist.  I’ll spare you the details, but when I finally found the filters I ordered, she had me hold them up to my face and walk outside.  I looked out over the horizon and everything was clear as far as I could see. Crisp, fresh.  The lenses had no curve to them, only color. How could this be?  The pavement seemed farther away than it used to be.  I walked cautiously, slowly.  Lifting my feet too high at times, and leaning on Darren’s arm for balance.  My depth perception had been this wrong?  I am going to need to learn to walk all over again.  No wonder I trip up the stairs, crash into door-frames, and knock my hips on furniture.

I have two more children that need to be tested. Their little quirks and sensitivities finally make sense in the big picture of what we’re learning. I want to run out and help them right away, but every person that gets treated costs around $1100, and I need some time to save.

Here are the steps for treatment.  Insurance won’t cover it, but most HSA plans will allow you to use pre-tax funds from your HSA account or cafeteria plan.

  1.  Take the self-test
  2. Make an appointment with a screener.  This costs $80 in my town, but saves $150 off the  Diagnostician appointment.  This is usually a 2 hour session and concludes with a set of colored overlays to read with if you are diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome. Colored overlays are helpful but are just a bandaid.  Irlens affects more than just reading and only glasses or contacts worn constantly are a real solution.
  3. Make sure to have a current eye exam.  And carry a copy of your prescription.
  4. Buy frames that are large enough to block light from reaching your eyes from the top.  Just frames, don’t fill the prescription. You shouldn’t be able to see much ceiling if you roll your eyes up with the your frames on. (We found Costco to be the best combo of style, quality and price.)
  5. Make an appointment with an Irlen Diagnostician.  Do call around.  We have 3 diagnosticians all within 3 hours of our home.  I didn’t check other states and went to one based on a friend’s recommendation.  She charges $930 for an appointment, the other one that I found out about later charges $450.  This is significant because we have so many family members affected, but now we have a history and relationship with the expensive doctor.  (The diagnostician will have advice on whether your prescription is necessary or whether the filters will be enough correction.  Ultimately it’s up to you whether you do both or not.)
  6. Follow up in 2-3 months.  If at any time the lenses don’t appear to be working, go back and have them checked.  Our doctor doesn’t charge for a check within 3 months of the last one.  If the child stops wearing them all the time, complains of headaches, or has increased emotional outbursts, it’s time to get them checked.
  7. Once you have a good set of lenses, go back annually for a follow up.  The color can fade over time and may need to be retinted.  Contacts can also be tinted, but only certain kinds.  Once your prescription is good, ask your diagnostician about your contact options.

If you made it this far and have questions or comments, I’m all ears :).

What I’m Into this Week

Ashley Black Fascia Blasting.  The tools aren’t cheap (and I haven’t purchased yet) but I joined the facebook group and have been lurking for awhile.  The success stories and before and after pictures are inspiring.  I’m interested in the process to gain more range of motion and reduce body pain, especially in my jaw, neck and shoulders. When my husband heard the testimonies, he said, “Will you buy me one for my back?”  He had a painful back injury 3 years ago that hasn’t healed even after months of physical therapy.  We can totally share one. I also plan to convince my mom to try it on her knee.  She has had horrible pain for more than 6 months that even surgery and steroid shots haven’t helped. I think this could be really helpful to her. If you decide to lurk in the group, search #storytimewithjoanna to hear how the business began. It’s inspirational.  (PS side affects include loss of cellulite, increased hair growth, increased collagen production, and some temporary bruising.)  If you are a physical therapist, chiropractor, or massage therapist–this isn’t optional.  You should at least look it over.

Irlen Syndrome.  I alluded to this briefly in this post, but we have had even more experience with it since.  My daughters have struggled with learning disabilities from a very young age and I’ve spent a lot of hours and money researching and trying different things to help them reach their potential.  Both girls are extremely bright, but process slowly and have visual misperceptions.   The younger one was diagnosed with Irlen syndrome in August.   Since then we have discovered 2 more members of the family who also have it, and are screening the rest to rule it out.  This is a fascinating subject for parents of special needs kids, educators, and optometrists.  If you’d like to hear more about our experience with it, I can write more–just let me know in the comments.  I don’t want to bore you with the details if you aren’t really interested.  (This is likely the main trigger for my adrenal issues and I’m hoping with proper treatment, I will finally be able to heal.)

The Young House Love podcast. I’ve loved this blogging duo for years now. Their topic of expertise is home decor and I couldn’t figure out how that would translate to a radio show, but it totally does. I look forward to listening weekly as I do my kitchen chores.  I love the way the couple interacts with a big dose of humor.

Do you listen to podcasts?  Leave your favorites in the comments below.  (Also…let me know about the Irlen thing.)

The Year of Curating

I didn’t make any resolutions this year.  It’s not that I actively rebelled against the idea.  Instead I made a smallish goal for each of the next two months.  After that I will evaluate how it worked out and what the next step should be.

For example, I’m having a spending freeze this month and invited the Grocery Shrink Plus members to join. In a private area of the site we have a support group with extra coaching and downloads related to the challenge.  But just that one thing. Yes, I want to lose weight, wish my house were more organized, and need to spend more time in quiet devotions.  I need to get up earlier, go to bed earlier, and exercise.  But shoof all of that at once is overwhelming.

As I’ve gained experience, I’ve realized the value of preventing overwhelm and curating a restful life for my family.  It is carefully selecting and then taking care of what I have chosen. It applies to home decor, after school activities, music, clothing, thoughts, budget categories, food, garden plants, relationships, jobs, entertainment.  It’s about not letting life “happen” and grumbling about the hodgepodge I find myself in, but being purposeful and thoughtful when there are choices to be made.

I can’t curate everything all at once.  A valuable museum collection doesn’t come together in one day.  It takes small steps, small decisions, to make the big picture. Sometimes that means leaving an empty spot while I wait for the right thing or the right time.

It also means re-evalutaing things that were purposeful choices in the past.  There are only a few things that are life long commitments:  My relationship with Christ, my marriage, and my family.   Everything else may be a calling just for a time.  There have been times when I’ve felt a distinct calling to serve in a specific job.  It was so strong that I thought it might be “forever” or for many many years.  I spent long hours in preparation and research to do the best job possible, then a few years later knew clearly that role was to end. Oh how I mourned! In this way I grieved my loss of homeschooling, my loss of teaching choir, and giving up my Mary Kay and Pattern Drafting businesses and yet I knew I was walking in the path God had set for me.  All too readily I looked around for something to fill the empty space when God’s plan was to leave a space.  Space to heal, space to grow, space to appreciate life.

So this is the year I curate space, beauty, rest.  It feels lovely to write that.

How about you? Do you have big plans for the new year?

One thing to do Before the New Year

The Christmas tree is still up and sparkling a cheerful greeting today.  My organized friends are already put away for the New Year, but I’m letting the 12 days of Christmas linger on.  It’s not our usual thing, but we’ve been working in extra doctor visits this week which included a 6 hour trip to see a specialist in the next state over.  Times like these call for grace.

I know you’ll understand, when I say it was an accomplishment to just get the dishes washed and find clean underwear.

This week between Christmas and New Year’s, when you still have some lingering memories of Christmas and how you felt about everything, is the perfect time to make your life better next year. Were you joyful? Disappointed? Super Organized? Stressed?  While you can still remember what went right and what went wrong, write a note.  I have an excel document that I add a new tab to every year for gift budget planning.  That way I can easily reflect on past year’s happenings and improve my plans for the next year.

At the end of the year, I write a few lines under the budget about things that I want to remember.  (And trust me, we won’t remember if we don’t write it down.)  For example, one year my daughter had a meltdown about not having a cute outfit to wear to our family gathering where her really trendy cousin would be. It’s not a big deal in the scheme of things, but it sure disrupted the happiness at our house. I made a note to work with her at the beginning of the season so that she’ll have a good option and then this year she surprised me by not caring anymore.

One time, I was surprised by “family gifts” that were passed around at our white elephant gift exchange party.  I had thought we were doing the white elephant to avoid individual gifting and save budgets and stress on family members….but then I was handed a gift and had nothing to give in return, and I was the ONLY one who didn’t bring family gifts.  That felt awful.

There are a myriad of possible ways to give charitably during the season. Our church sponsors families and we have the opportunity to buy gifts for those less fortunate.  I also belong to a charitable giving group of local friends and we sponsored our local foster care system and women’s shelter this year.  It was an awesome way to show my kids the joy of helping others, except I failed to plan for it in our budget.  At the time of year when things are already tight, this had me scrambling.  I wrote a new budget line just for that for next year’s budget.

Our grandmother passed away a year ago, and several of the grandchildren gave her daughter the grandmother’s favorite Christmas candy to remember her.  It was really meaningful and I didn’t think of it, so it went into my notes.

One year I made several homemade gifts to help with our budget and improve the quality of the gifts I was able to give.  The only problem was I got both kinds of flu 2 weeks before Christmas and had to wrap unfinished gifts to take back and finish at home later.  Now I give myself a calendar notification in September to start choosing projects and a before Thanksgiving deadline to have them all done.

You see where this is going?  It could be a good thing too, like wrapping my gifts as they came (with a code number on it so I can remember what’s in it!) and putting them under the tree and there was no last minute scramble or danger of the gift being found and the surprised ruined.

While I have the excel file open, I go ahead and copy my old budget over for the new year, then tweak it.  If I have gift ideas, I add them in as well.  In 2017 I’m doubling my gift budget for my own kids.  It has been so small since they were born, that if we wanted to give them anything big, it had to be a family gift and use all the budget for all the kids–no individual gifts.  I’m ready to change that and breathe a little.  When we started out, we budgeted $20 per kid for Christmas. Then when we were debt free, doubled it to $40. For the last 4 years we raised it to $50.  Next year I’m budgeting $100.  I also raised the birthday budget to $100 per child. Since Darren’s salary didn’t go up, that means I’ll need to make up the difference. I kept the amount the same that comes from our regular household budget, and the rest I will earn extra each month to make it a reality.

This is also a great time to update the addresses in your Christmas card list.  I almost forgot about that, because we haven’t managed to mail any out for the last 3 years or even take an updated family photo.  I’ve set the bar low to improve next year, bwa ha ha.

DIY Pompom Trim Blanket

We have a bonus room over our garage that I’m using for my office/craft room/guest room.  It has a high vaulted ceiling and the previous home owners used every inch of floor space by not putting in knee walls.  The wall shown here with the window in it, is the only wall in the room that you can put furniture against and even that contains the tall laundry chute.  (I’m tempted to rip this out and just have a hatch in the floor.) Also the thread cabinet on the wall and the sewing table are going to new homes.

The whole room is paneled in 1970’s press board. It would look darling painted white, except for where the roof leaked many years ago, and warped the boards. I’m not sure what to do about that….so I’ve left it natural while we worked on other rooms. I used to have bright blue and white chevron curtains on the rods but am ready for a change.  I’m living with nothing while I decide what will be next.  There are outlets everywhere in the room, on the ceiling and on the floor.  It’s a crafter’s dream and strange all at the same time.  It’s going to be tricky to lay the floor in here, which I hope will happen December 26th.

After subjecting our guests to sleeping on an air mattress with a lumpy hide-a-bed mattress thrown over the top, I decided to invest in a more substantial guest bed.  I found this bed frame for a queen bed that folds up into a small square, yet the reviews said it was sturdy enough to use as an every day bed frame.  When folded, the bed frame perfectly fits in a triangle shaped cubby hole in the corner of the room by the furnace utility closet and tucks out of the way when not in use.

The bed frame didn’t require a box spring. I went to Ikea and tried out all their mattresses and came home with this one.  I had first thought to get an all foam mattress, but this one was surprisingly more comfortable.  It came vacuum sealed and rolled up in a cylinder shape, which made getting it home really easy.  I could imagine it sliding into the cubby beside the bed frame when not in use.  When I cut the plastic and the mattress fully expanded in the room, it was clear it wasn’t tucking behind anything.  SOOOO, my brilliant idea left me with a folded up bed frame in the corner of my office and a mattress on the floor.   Then I saw this blog post from ZevyJoy.  She explains how she used a $50 Ektorp slip cover to turn a queen bed into a daybed for their family room.  Since queen daybed frames were running $300-$1200 online, I thought this was a fabulously frugal alternative.

I made one more trip to Ikea for an Ektorp slipcover, some pillow forms and pillow covers to make my own version at home. (The shopping trip that inspired this post.) The effect is limited with the paneled walls and bare plywood floor (except for the well loved rug I threw down for feet safety, but it still beats the mattress on the floor vibe.  I used as much of what I had as possible.  The ektorp cover is stuffed with my spare feather pillows that I had been collecting for a few dollars at a time at second hand and salvage shops.  The chenile bedspread was in a free bin at my neighbor’s garage sale, because her new puppy had chewed a few holes in it.  (After mending it’s hard to find the damaged spots in all the texture.)

I love the texture of a chunky pompom throw and wanted one to cozy up the guest bed, but they are crazy expensive. The thought of wrapping a thousand homemade pompoms to sew to a blanket wasn’t very appealing, and I’m not a fan of finding strings all over the house that fell out of said homemade pompoms.  Crocheted pomopms are FAST and cannot lose strings.  I started with an Ikea Polarvide throw for $3.99.

The scalloped edge is adorable, but not great for this application.  I just grabbed my good fabric scissors and cut them off, ending up with a pile of petal shapes that I saved in a baggie waiting for inspiration for another project.

I chose Lion Brand Homespun Thick and Quick in Dove for the poms.  I wanted a chunky boucle yarn, to make it go faster and give the poms a furry texture.   It took almost all of 2 skeins to get around the blanket. At $8.99 a skein that would have upped the price of the throw quite a bit, but you probably guessed I used a 40% off coupon at Hobby Lobby for each skein.  (The final project cost was $14.79.)

I used a P hook from this set, but you can use any size and any type of yarn you prefer.  Start by chaining long enough to go all the way around the blanket.  After I had a fairly long chain, I started pinning it to the blanket as I went so I’d know as soon as my chain was long enough.  It also kept that huge chain from twisting.  Join with a slip stitch to close and single crochet in each chain around.

To form the pom: chain 6 and form a 3 double crochet cluster in the 3rd chain from the hook.  *Chain 3, then form another 3 double crochet cluster in the 3rd chain from the hook.  Slip stitch to fold those two clusters in half and form a ball.  Then chain 3, skip the next 3 single crochet stitches from your foundation row and single crochet in the next stitch.* Continue from * around.  Finish off and weave in the ends.

When you get to the end, if you don’t have a exactly 3 chains to skip, it’s ok to skip 2 or 4 or whatever is left.  It won’t show in the final blanket.

Here’s a video from Bella Coco that gives a nice visual:

When the edging was all finished, I used a long zigzag stitch on my machine to attach it to the blanket, using cream thread on the top and gray in the bottom so the threads would blend away.  The only problem was the chunky boucle kept getting caught in my presser foot.  Several times I wondered if hand stitching would have been the better plan.

How to Know if It’s an Ear Infection

She’s crying…again.  She seemed fine during the day, but now that it’s time for bed, she’s screaming.  Is she just overtired?  Being naughty about bedtime?  Or is there something seriously wrong?

As a new mom, I felt a lot of stress over knowing when to call the doctor or run to the emergency room.  It was even harder when they were too young to really tell me what was wrong.   Is it just a cold?  Or a bacterial infection that needs antibiotics?

One of my babies was a real screamer.  At his 6 week checkup, he screamed royally for the doctor. The doctor looked at me and said, “Does he do this often?”

“All the time,” I responded, exhausted.   I couldn’t just stay up with him at night holding him. We would have to leave the house, because his screaming would keep everyone awake.  There was nothing I could do, except put him in the jogger and run. If the breeze stopped cooling his face, he would scream.  2am.  3am.  I ran, so the family could sleep.  (You would think I would lose weight quickly that way…but nope.  Not a pound.)

“Take him to Children’s Mercy, Now.”  He said.  “I’m calling ahead, so they will expect you.”

I called my husband enroute to the hospital, who left work and met me there.  They asked me his symptoms.  “He screams,” I said.  They looked confused.  They ran a huge battery of tests.  They found NOTHING wrong.  We received a hefty bill to have our child diagnosed as “fussy.”

It made me cautious.  When do I call?  When is it just nothing?  I don’t have all the answers to that and it’s good to err on the side of being cautious.  But you can get a tool that will help you with your decision making.

There are more expensive versions for sure, but we have this one and for $15 it does the job well.  It comes with a little card showing what a healthy ear drum looks like and an infected one.  I don’t exactly self-diagnose with this, but If I look in there and see the angry red ear drum, we call the doctor.

As a novice, I would call the doctor and say, “He has an ear infection.”  They don’t like that.  Doctors went to school for 8 years to have the right to say, “he has an ear infection.”  I did not.  So now I call up and say, “He has an earache, a fever of 101, and when I looked inside with my otoscope I saw a red inflamed ear drum.”   Just facts, no diagnosis.  That goes a lot better.

P.S. The links are not affiliate links.  Just a product I personally have and hope will make your life easier.

P.P.S. I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV.  This post is not meant to diagnose or treat any disease.

Chocolate Chip Snickerdoodles


This is the kind of cookie that kids grab by the handfuls after youth group, and insist everyone in their family try.  It’s the kind of cookie that gets teenagers out of their bedrooms and into the kitchen for some meaningful conversation.  It’s the kind of cookie that garners requests like, “When are you making these again?  Will they be done by the time I get home from school?”

It’s not low carb, low fat, or low anything.  It’s not high fiber, or highly nutritious.  Just delicious.  If you are on a weight loss plan, proceed with caution.

chocolate chip snickerdoodles 3

Chocolate Chip Snickerdoodles

1 cup butter, softened

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cream of tartar

3 cups all purpose flour

12 oz mini chocolate chips

1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla extract.

Beat in salt, baking soda and cream of tartar.  Scrape the bowl, then add flour 1/2 cup at a time and beat in well without over mixing.  Scraping the bowl from time to time.

Fold in chocolate chips.

In a small bowl, combine remaining sugar and cinnamon

Roll dough into walnut sized balls and roll in cinnamon sugar mixture. Place 1 inch apart on greased baking sheets.

Bake for 10 (soft) – 12 (crisp) minutes or until golden brown. Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

chocolate chip snickerdoodles 2

The Good Girl’s Guide to Impulse Shopping

This post has some alternate titles, including:  Well, That Escalated Quickly and That Time I Went to Ikea

It can happen at any store. Target is especially troubling, but even the grocery store can be a culprit.  I’m there with my list, but I see something I need that isn’t on the list.  It would have been if I had known about it, but I didn’t know until I saw it just now.  I can leave it there and hope I forget about it, but I know I won’t.  I’d just have to make another trip back for it.  That would cost gas money and time, so I put it in your cart.


Photo Credit, Target Corporate 

It’s only a few dollars.

It would make a great teacher’s gift. I should get 2 more.

It’s adorable and would cost more to make it myself.  Besides, my time is worth something!

I’m especially susceptible when I’m shopping at a store that’s a long drive from home, like yesterday when I was at Ikea. If I change my mind, I can’t easily go back and buy something I left behind. Enter shopping anxiety. To make matters worse I had a save $25 off a $150 purchase coupon.  That was a genius move by their promotions department.  In my mind I was already willing to part with $125, and it didn’t take many impulse items to boost my total even higher.


Not all impulse buys are bad decisions. In fact, they can work in your favor if done properly. It’s not possible to plan any shopping trip perfectly from home.  You can’t know what the available options will be when you actually get in the store, so it only makes sense to make some buying decisions on the spot.  

When the cashier gave me my total I blurted out, “Well, that escalated quickly!”  How can a few $5-10 items add up to that much?  As I drove the long drive home, I second guessed my buying decisions, thought about what went wrong, and remembered how I usually avoided “total shock” at the register. I came up with these guidelines:

  1.  The money you have available at any given moment is FINITE.  Decide the most that you are willing to spend and have the cash on hand.
  2. Plan ahead the best you can.  Ikea has a great app that allows you to add items to a shopping list and it keeps a running total for you.  (It also lets you know which items are out of stock so you don’t waste a trip.)
  3. As you’re shopping keep your own running total on your calculator app of every item that makes it in your basket.  (Ikea’s app will work for this too, you can even barcode scan items in store and add them to your list.)
  4. Don’t forget to add room for tax.  Our tax rate is almost 9% but to keep it simple, I estimate an extra 10% of the bill.
  5. As you see items that should have made the list, decide what is already in your cart that you aren’t going to purchase.  Your total has to stay the same, so as you impulse shop, subtract something else from your list.  Some items are easier to wait on than others.  Some items are on clearance or are likely to sell out and not be restocked.  Use your best wisdom to choose between the buy nows and buy laters (with next months budget—after that paycheck comes.)  If I don’t need it immediately and it isn’t on special, it’s usually fair game for the chopping block.
  6. Keep the tags/packaging and your receipts!  If you get home away from the glittery atmosphere, have a snack and start thinking clearly only to realize you’ve made a terrible mistake, you can take it back.
  7. Remind yourself of the truth.  “Ikea feels far, but it only costs $4 round trip to go there.” “Before I saw this item, I never missed it from my life.” “If I can’t have this item, something even better will come along later.”

What do you think?  Do you ever struggle with impulse shopping or am I the only one?

Makeover Monday: Hide the Cords

Shelley contacted me two weeks ago wanting to spruce up her living room before her 9 children and all their grandchildren descended for Thanksgiving.  If that sounds daunting, it gets even more so.  After their children grew up, Shelley and her husband downsized their 5400 square foot home into a 2 bedroom double wide trailer in the country.  Then her good friend became terminally ill with cancer. Shelley spent the last few months staying with her friend to care for her until she passed away.  When Shelley got home and saw how everything fared while she was away, she was overwhelmed.

After I heard her story, I couldn’t help but love her heart.  I offered her smaller design packages to save her money, and she wouldn’t dream of it.  “I want the whole package–all of it.  And I want to pay.”  She also agreed to let me share her before and after pictures, even though privacy (along with speed) is part of the privilege of being a paid client. Heart of gold.

This is a good opportunity for me to share the details of what comes in a full package.

1. 2 pictures showing the new design
2. Shopping List with prices and sources within your specified budget
3. Step by step work list
4. 3-D furniture placement plan (video)

5. A Shared Custom Pinterest Board
6. One revision

At first Shelley was sure she wanted to keep all her original furniture.  I worked with her on that and showed her some slip cover options etc.  After rearranging everything according to the furniture layout plan, her husband sat on their old love seat and said “no way am I sitting on that!” and he bought her a new full size sofa and started talking about chairs. I love this so much because they were sticking to tiny pieces of furniture thinking that their home was small and they needed to conserve space.  Compared to what they had before, it is small, BUT the living space is much bigger than an average home.

Shelley's living room private Pinterest

The first thing we did was set up a shared private Pinterest board where I could pin sources to all the things I was putting on her shopping list and get her feedback.  She started window shopping and pinning things that she would like me to include in the design, especially new paintings that I might take a color scheme from.  I searched her Pinterest and Houzz pages she had previously made to get a feel for her style and color preferences.

I discovered through her boards that she loved horses and farmhouse style.  I found this original art piece on etsy that was beautiful and affordable:


The painting helped me choose her colors: Benjamin Moore Simply White (for Trim and shelves); Edgecomb Gray (for walls); Wedgewood Gray (Curtains and Accessories); and Hale Navy (for bottom of the hutch and accessories.)

shelleys-paint-schemeI chose her neutrals specifically for their yellow undertones.  They had just laid new country pine wood floors and if she used neutrals with pink undertones, or even a true white, they might look orange.

Here’s her before:

Shelley before 1

The first thing I noticed was her little green chair on the right.  So cute! Imagine it with a slip cover to look like this, except with a floor length skirt.


via Slipcovers by Shelley

I also noticed that all the wood in her home was the same tone of pine.  While it seems logical to match woods for a cohesive look, it ends up making a space look flat.  I suggested she paint the pine on the walls Edgecomb gray and the pine trim and entry paneling Simply white.  Then to mix in darker tones of wood in picture frames, coffee table and other furniture pieces.

I made 2 different concept photos for her of this view, because I really wanted her to get an Ektorp sectional.  Sectionals seat the most people in the least amount of space and it fits perfectly in her corner. You’ll notice in this picture, the walls are a different shade of tan, one she requested because they already had the paint and I switched out the painting from the blue horses to one similar to one her husband found in their shed that she wanted to use.


I created a built in media center for her to house her giant TV, with tons of storage below for dvds and toys for the grandkids.  It’s all built affordably and easily from Ikea Billy bookcases, with the extensions and optional doors.  They also have a giant pull down movie screen that they use a lot and I hid it behind a cornice and crown molding.  It’s easy to reach up and grab when they want it but hides away invisibly when not in use. The main goal here was to hide all the cords.  They are such tiny things, but give a sense of visual stress. I gave her choices of coffee tables to use over the poufs, but none were in the right format for the photo without hiding the sectional.


Here’s another concept with the sofa they were considering.  They thought it would be more comfortable than the sectional, so they bought it in a dark navy similar to the hale navy we will use in their dining room.

Shelley before 4

Here’s a before view of the Ham Radio corner.  I used this photo to help with the 3D floor plan rendering.  At first, Shelley’s husband made me promise not to touch the radios, but I couldn’t help myself.  I sent her this photo, and asked her to show her husband and see what he said. I told him I would create this only classier in another room if he would let us move the tower of cords and electronics blocking the window:


He loved it and said, “Forget the living room.  Just build this in there instead.”  Bwa ha ha!  That whole thing really backfired.   In there?  Isn’t there another room?  I made her show me pictures of every other room, lol.  They were right, there wasn’t another room.   I wanted to chop the visual height of all the radios so the eye was sent to the beautiful windows and beyond.  In the process, I needed to set up an area so he could actually use them.  The way they were it was so inconvenient that he didn’t spend much time with them even though he loved them.


I found this picture, based on a sawhorse console table by Shanty-2-Chic.  I’ve built 3 of these in my home and they are very easy and affordable.  For this design, I replaced the pieced top with hollow core doors for more workspace.  This will give him 14 feet of workspace!  I recommend she uses clips to secure the cords to the wall behind the window curtains.  (Hide all the cords!)

Here’s a 3d layout of the room showing how the desk fits in.

Here’s a 2nd 3d view with a sectional

Shelley before 3


There are so many more details we talked about, like updating her dining room ceiling fan like this.

farmhouse ceiling fan

and building rustic shelves like these behind her sofa so hold her projector so it would not longer be hanging from the ceiling with cords everywhere.  It would be close enough to the window curtains that she could hide the cords behind them.


At first she was opposed to an area rug because of her pets, but as the room started to come together she could totally see how a rug would bring everything together.  These are two of my favorites:

4062b21828990b0f895a8fd1a0b6cddf 24588a01805f8496d031914eace77b64

Here’s a final side by side before and after.


Would you like your room photoshopped and featured on Makeover Monday?  Send a few photos from your space to angela@groceryshrink.com and tell me your hopes and dreams for the room.

Get a full service virtual makeover complete with 3D room layout plan, 2 photoshop views, step by step work list, and within your budget source list. Find out more.


Learn how to use Photoshop for your own designs with the Room Makeover class (It’s half off today, Monday, November 28th only!)

How to Make Something not a Big Deal

When I was growing up, my mama did a lot of things around the house.  She used power tools, repaired furniture, skim coated drywall, decorated cakes, sewed clothes, baked fresh bread, gardened and preserved the harvest, had a family dinner every night, and taught Sunday School.


As I grew up, all these activities were normal to me.  It wasn’t a big deal for me to bake bread or sew clothes, it was just something that mamas do.  Having a nightly family dinner was just something you DO, it never occurred to me to skip it.  When we were done, we cleared the table, washed the dishes and wiped down the counters.  We didn’t even think about it, we just did it.


We walked away from stuff when it cost too much even though my dad made good money. Mom’s willingness to walk away and do without, or wait for the right deal made sure they had savings.  They paid off their house when I was 9 and never borrowed another dime after that.  It built character in me to not have the latest trends and to wait for things. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but the skill of waiting has served me well as an adult.


We went to church.  Every time the doors were open.  I never had to ask if we were going.  We just did.

My babies came so soon after I married and so close together that I lost some of my good habits—like going to bed early, getting up early, working out consistently, and daily Bible study.  Now that life has settled down a little (knock on wood) I’m figuring out how to build these habits back into my day.  My first thought was to get up early and do them before my kids are up.  That way I can have uninterrupted quiet time (sounds so good!)  If I did that, they would never see me do them.  And those are the important things that I want them to think are just part of being a mama.  Mamas read their Bibles.  Mama’s take care of their bodies. Mamas pray.


The habits that I want to be second nature for my kids, the ones I don’t want to be a big deal, just something they DO, those are the things I need to model for them now.  They need to see it consistently, day in and day out.  Not stressful, not a big deal, just accomplished.

I wonder what my kids will just do and not think about, because it was a normal part of their childhood.  I hope using cash is one of them, along with saving up to pay for stuff, being ok with roughing it to pave the way for a bigger goal, and giving to people who are in need.