Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year's Eve!

Happy New Year's Eve! Hope 2011 gets off to a good start for you! As for me, I'm starting off 2011 with a clean house, a brand new oven, and my cold is on the wane. It doesn't get any better than that. Well, it could but I'll be happy with what I've got. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mixed Bag Holiday

This Christmas definitely had its highlights and lowlights. First, I was sick as a dog with the worst cold I've had in a while. Then, two days before Christmas, my oven decides to die. All I could think of was the thawing turkey in the fridge, the potatoes, the green beans, and the cheesecake squares that needed to be the oven...for Christmas dinner...and we were hosting the in-laws. I did not swear half as much as I wanted to. My poor husband saw what it truly meant to have his wife flip out. Fortunately, it was his day off, so in an act of desperation, I asked him to go to Sear's just on the off chance that there would be a gas oven in stock. It was 1:30pm on December 23rd. We were scheduled to go to one of our church's Christmas services at 6:30, but we had to be there an hour early. This gave him less than four hours to find a parking space at the mall, hunt for, bring home, and set up a gas oven, get ready for church, and drive to church. How did he do?

Fortune may favor the bold, but I also think that luck favors the desperate. He found a primo parking spot in front of Sear's - a near-miracle for this time of year. He walks into the Sear's appliances department, tells the sales person what he wants, and then is told, "Sorry, we don't have that in stock." Then, perhaps in a moment of pity, the sales person tells him about another home furnishing store in the area that usually has a good selection of in-stock items. My husband then drives to this store, lays out the specs to the sales person only to be told, "You're in luck. We have it in stock." Score! It's almost 3:30pm when he comes home with the new oven. Buying it is one thing, getting it inside and setting it up is another; but it got done with time to spare. Ta Da!

All in all, it wasn't so bad and I lived through it. I am trying very hard to be grateful. It's difficult because we spent money that we didn't really have. On the flip side, I have wanted this oven for almost two years. (Maybe the old oven finally couldn't handle my hostility. :-) It has the burner knobs on top, which will make it intentionally difficult for my youngest son to reach; and it has double ovens. Luckily, it was also on sale - to the tune of nearly $500 off the original price. Also, since my husband worked on Christmas Day and will work on New Year's Day, that means overtime pay. We can put that money toward paying off the oven. When all is said and done, it should be paid for by the end of January. My new oven got put to good use on Christmas Day and I love the double ovens. I really wish I had been feeling better because I would have been a better cook. The turkey was a little dry and even though I made plenty of gravy, I felt bad. I decided to remedy that this evening by making some homemade leftover turkey pot pie goodness. Oh yeah, I love leftover turkey. It's hard to be grateful when you can find so many reasons to complain. I will choose to be grateful even when I don't want to. And I am grateful for turkey pot pies cooked in my new oven.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Wishing a very Merry Christmas to you and your family. May the peace of Christ fill your hearts now and always!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tis Better to Give...But What?

Contrary to my previous post, I am not a Grinch. I admit that the secular commercialism of Christmas bothers me more this year, but I love Christmas and I love giving gifts. When it comes to buying gifts for my youngest son, however, I am often stumped; and not just for Christmas, but also for his birthday. My oldest son is fairly easy to shop for: video games, Legos, any Nerf artillery-the usual stuff. My youngest, son, well...not so easy.

It's very difficult to articulate my dilemma without sounding like I'm whining. (Yes, I would like some cheese with that whine, thanks for asking. I wouldn't mind some wine with my whine either.) I'm filled with a tearful sense of dread as I look at all of the toys on the shelves and think, “What do I get an 8 year-old who is not really 8?” My second thought is, “No clue.” The obvious music toys? Check. Preschool toys? Check. Preschool musical toys? Got those. It's getting to the point that as I look at the preschool toys I realize that there is nothing really new. How many original toy pianos, toy cell phones, blinking doodads, and talking whatzits can there be? It's nice that Toys R Us puts out a toy guide for special needs children and I say “Bravo” for their effort. However, it's still difficult for me to shop for him and I think a large part of my problem is that I'm subconsciously comparing him to typical 8 year-olds. I have a niece and a nephew who are also 8, and shopping for them is a totally different experience...let's just say that I'm not in the preschool toys section.

In years past I would take him to the toy stores in mid-November and let him explore the toy shelves to see what he would play with. Whatever held his attention is what I would buy. This year was no exception. Stinky the Garbage Truck was a big hit this year. He stood in front of the display for almost 15 minutes pushing the buttons that would make Stinky talk as well as do various other bodily function noises. He laughed the entire time. At $59.99, the cost for Stinky was a little out of reach this year; even when the store slashed the price to $49.99, I couldn't justify it. So, I trolled Amazon and found a smaller version of Stinky: it has the same voice as the larger version but none of the robotic features. Since my son also likes to play with daddy's bass, we decided to get him one of the hottest toys this year: a Paper Jamz guitar...with the amp accessory. My only fear is that he likes to chew paper so I'm hoping he will have more fun making music with it than eating it. I foresee alot of music being made on Christmas Day.

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35)

Friday, December 17, 2010

What About the Whole Year?

Ordinarily, I love cliches – those well worn sayings that sound so trite and annoying. (Rose-colored lenses, anyone?) However, there are a couple of cliches that are getting on my nerves and I hear them and see them a lot this time of year:

Putting the “Christ” back in Christmas.
Jesus is the reason for the season.

The question I ask is: The season? What about the whole year? I guess my real problem with these statements is that I don't see people's actions matching the sentiments behind them. All sarcasm aside, what exactly do these mean? Because quite frankly, they sound like marketing slogans. Let's start with the first one. What does it mean to put the “Christ” back in Christmas? If decorating an evergreen tree, fighting the retail shopping madness, and sending Christmas cards are examples of what it means to put the Christ in Christmas, then I think Christians have a problem. And I say this as a Christian with a decorated, albeit artificial, Christmas tree in my home.

The next one: what does it mean to say that Jesus is the reason for the season? For me, the problem with this one is that I am bombarded with conflicting images: Santa Claus, presents, Christmas trees. Even the nativity displays seem like one more holiday decoration. The cynic in me says that the reason for the season is to boost retail sales. If Jesus truly is the reason for the season, how do Christians show the world this truth? There is no where in the Bible that says Christians are obligated to celebrate Christmas. Yet, out of tradition, we do. There is nothing wrong with tradition as long as tradition does not become a substitute for our relationship with God.

This holy season is about the birth of God's plan of salvation. It is about Immanuel. God with us. Christmas is about the best gift that was ever given...from God to us. In my opinion, we should celebrate this now and the rest of the year, by doing what Jesus asked his followers to do: Love your neighbor as yourself. May the peace and love of Christ be with you now and always. Merry Christmas!!

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Monday, December 13, 2010

BFD - December

I wish I could say that our BFD meals were carefully planned menus. They aren't. They are more like a smorgasbord. Truth be told, our BFD menus are comprised of whatever sounds good at the time. December was no exception. I used to do BFD once a week, but I fell into the rut of always making French toast or pancakes.  I decided to do BFD once a month so that I could put a little thought into it and try out new recipes. This month's BFD:

Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting
Sausage and Egg Casserole
Four Fruit Compote
Store Bought Hash Browns (for the kids)

It really is worth it to make your own cinnamon rolls. They are cheap and easy to make and your house will smell so good while they are baking. The hard part is waiting for the dough to rise – twice.  You need to find something to do during that 2 hour time frame. Even rolling out the dough is not that big of a deal. If you have a stand mixer, then you have no excuse not to give it a try. If you don't have a stand mixer, then you might have an excuse. The recipe's instructions are for a bread machine, but you can mix the dough in a stand mixer with a dough hook for about 7 minutes. Cover and let rise for an hour. Instead of the ¾ teaspoon of cinnamon called for in this recipe, I used at least 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon. Then I sprinkled about a handful of brown sugar over the cinnamon mixture and rolled up the dough. I also added 1 Tablespoon of cream cheese to the frosting for the heck of it. If you are tempted to bake these on a cookie sheet, don't. They will turn out hard and crunchy. These rolls are best baked in two round cake pans or a 9x13 glass baking pan.

The beauty of this sausage and egg casserole is that you can assemble the ingredients the night before. Then when you're ready, add the flour mixture and bake.  I assembled it in the morning and let it sit in the fridge until it was time to bake. I used ground pork sausage, but I think I'll try crumbled bacon the next time. I think you could also forgo the meat altogether and add some olives and use up that zucchini that's lurking in the fridge. I didn't use Monterey Jack cheese because I think its too plain. So, I bought a bag of shredded Tillamook “Mexican” blend cheese, which is really just Pepper Jack and Cheddar cheese.

The fruit compote was pretty good. I was skeptical because truth be told I prefer just fresh fruit, but I wanted to try something new. I spooned the compote into individual glasses (yes, they are mini martini glasses) and topped off each serving with Zoi Honey Greek yogurt. Holy Toledo, this yogurt is so good that I may never go back to regular yogurt. For all of my Washington-Idaho-Nevada-California-Oregon friends, I got this at Winco. This yogurt has the smooth thick consistency of sour cream. Double yum! Well, 2010 BFDs are over and I have 2011 stretching before me. Hard to believe this year is over already. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday Cheer

Add a little cheer to your holidays and all through the year.

My approach to the holiday food and festivities is this, “The holidays come once a year, so enjoy it.”  Seriously, there is nothing that kills the holiday cheer more than when someone complains about all of the calories in the holiday food.  My desired response to the complaining is, “Oh shut up! It's not like you eat like this all the time, and nobody's asking you to eat the whole damn pie or drink the whole damn carton of egg nog!! Sheesh!”  My usual polite response is, “Well, the holidays come once a year. ” (smile)

Now, I will admit that I can stand to lose a few pounds.  But...there are some things that I bake/make/eat/drink once a year.  For example, candy canes; fudge; Tom & Jerry's; peppermint mochas; turkey with all the trimmings; peppermint bark; pumpkin pie; and of course, egg nog.  I will further admit that these are not low-calorie foods.  They aren't meant to be.  Neither are they meant to be eaten all of the time.  They are special foods that are reserved for that special time of year called the holiday season. I say 'holiday season' because these foods are typically consumed between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

Warning: Sarcasm ahead.

So, if you are one of those people who like to complain about the calories in the holiday food and gaining weight during the holiday season, do yourself and the rest of us a favor: don't. Please complain in silence as you prepare your salad with fat free dressing complemented with ice water and a lemon twist. Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a twist of lemon. Or don't complain at all. Instead, be grateful  and enjoy God's provision in the form of family, friends, and special holiday foods. No one is suggesting a gluttonous appetite – all things in moderation. And if you gain a pound or two, what's the big deal?  You have the rest of the year to work it off. By the way, the "cheer" in the byline does not refer to rum or brandy (although it can); it refers to an attitude of gratitude which cultivate a loving, cheerful heart. MeRrY ChRiStMaS!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

You Sound Like Your Mother

We've all done it.  We've all said something to our kids then smacked ourselves on the forehead and cried, “Doh! I sound like my mother!” We vowed that we would never say that to our kids.  We were determined not to turn into our mother. We promised ourselves that we would be different. It sounds good, in theory, but in practice...

Kids say the darnedest things.  They also do the darnedest things.  So, once we have children, we find ourselves saying things that we never would have dreamed of saying B.C. (before children).  For example, these are just a few of the things that I've said around our house:

  • (sniff, sniff) For the love of God, stop giving the dog cheese!
  • Soap and shampoo are not optional.
  • No, you do not get clean by just letting the water run over your body.
  • Sometimes you need to wipe more than once.
  • Quit picking your nose.
  • The cat is a live animal not a toy.
  • If you don't want it for dinner, you can eat it for breakfast.
  • Why do you have a pencil in each nostril?
  • Well, shove a wad of toilet paper up your nose to stop the bleeding.
  • No, no, no. Rocks are not food.
  • Sure, you can play...right after you do your homework.
  • No, sweetie, that's the cat's food; we don't eat that.
  • Yeah, I guess it is lucky that the bird crap matches daddy's car.
  • When was the last time you went potty?

To be honest, I don't remember my mom saying any of these to me...except maybe the one about eating my dinner for breakfast.  Maybe I am original.  Maybe I did keep my promise after all.  Oh, wait a minute; just the fact that I even had to say any of this stuff doesn't exactly attest to my stellar parenting skills. Doh!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cheapskate Skivvies

Add a dash of sense of humor and a pinch of lightheartedness.

It absolutely galls me to have to spend $65+ for underwear. I'm sorry I didn't mean to be so blunt. I should use one of the more delicate terms like lingerie or intimate apparel.  No, wait a minute, I don't buy anything close to resembling lingerie.  I mean underwear.  Anything cotton or cotton blend = underwear.  Anything lacy and polyester/nylon/spandex = lingerie.  Too bad there's no cotton/spandex blend.  The last time I splurged and bought undergarments, it cost me $65. And we're talking for the Playtex and Hanes no-frills basics – the women's equivalent to tighty whities.  (OK, maybe not that bad.) If you want to see the difference between “underwear” and “intimate apparel” head on over to Nordstrom and see what $65 will get you.

“Holy crap, Minivan Mom!  Is there no frugal alternative?” Sadly, the answer is, “If there is, I haven't found least one that's acceptable.” I do realize that I have several choices:

  1. Shut up and buy new undergarments;
  2. Fly free;
  3. Check the thrift stores for “gently used” garments;
  4. Accept hand-me-downs from friends and relatives.

Option 2 is not really an option; it's a last resort. Maybe it's my snobbishness or my squeamishness, but options 3 and 4 don't appeal to me. I don't know why, I mean I have worn thrift store clothes and hand-me-downs. But undergarments are so...personal. It also seems to me – and I'm just blowing smoke here – that the elastic in undergarments is more delicate.  Consequently, the uh, support in used items would not be sufficient. That leaves me with option 1. I guess I better zip my mouth and open my wallet. All in all, this is really nothing to get my undies in a bundle over.  Perhaps I should just put on my big girl panties and get over it. :-)

Monday, November 29, 2010

OAMC Flunkie

I tried to do once a month cooking (OAMC).  I had my beef and chicken recipes all planned and my shopping list ready.  I had $100 to spend at the grocery store for an entire month's worth of dinners that would be neatly tucked away in my freezer.  I was absolutely giddy at the notion that dinner for a month would be prepared in advance.  This would make life soooo much easier. (cough)

The shopping went smoothly.  With list in hand, I dutifully circumnavigated the entire grocery store without making a single impulse purchase...except toilet paper.  You really can never have too much toilet paper, and besides, it's not part of the food budget.  Back home, I unloaded the goods, and set to work on slicing, dicing, chopping, and cooking anything that needed to be prepared in advance.  You see, I had done my homework: shop and chop one day, cook and freeze the next day.  Some people split up the shopping and chopping in to two days, but not me; I was a go-getter.  The next day, after the kids were off to school and after having my second cup of coffee, I was ready to cook.  It took all morning, but I did a heck of a job.  Yay me!  I made sure to buy heavy duty freezer bags and I carefully spooned my hundred dollars' worth of food into each bag, labeled them, and stored them in the freezer: 32 bags = 32 meals.  Yes!!!  I was done cooking dinner for a month.

Well, as the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding.  Actually, that's the lazy version of the saying.  It should be, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” The first week of freshly frozen meals went fine. Fast forward to weeks 3 and 4. Both my husband and I had that fake smile that clearly says, I'm trying to be polite, but honestly, this sucks.  Kids, as you may know, are not that kind and subtle.  I don't know what it was: freezer burn, freezer odor, whatever. I tried different recipes the following month, but ended up with similar results.  Not all recipes did poorly. The Dump Chicken recipes here and here did pretty well. Nevertheless, I was an OAMC flunkie.

This may sound heretical, but contrary to what you may read, OAMC is quite a bit of work.  You just do all of the work in two or three days.  And, I still had to prep side dishes.  And, I noticed that dinner took longer to cook because it was frozen. Using the oven or even the crockpot during the hot summer would be an issue. The real root of my problem was not a lack of prepared meals, it was a lack of planning in general. I tried cooking on the fly, but I always ended up spending too much money, and panicking at the last minute. I am a planner by nature.

Currently, I spend between $40-$50 per week on groceries.  Today, I spent $49.10. I don't think that's too bad for a family of four.  Scratch cooking, the pantry principle, and monthly meal planning help to keep my grocery budget in check.  I use my Google calendar to write in meals. In the Description box, I can copy and paste a web address that has the recipe I want.  I haven't started December's meal list yet.  I'm probably going to borrow heavily from October's meal list.  Fortunately, we're having Christmas turkey dinner at our house, which means leftovers.  Woo hoo!  I love leftover turkey sandwiches, and no, I don't do turkey enchiladas.  Turkey pot pies – maybe.  Let the fun begin.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Count your blessings and share them with others. Have a great day!

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. Psalm 118:1

Monday, November 22, 2010

Case Manager, Therapist, Nurse, Advocate.........Mom

I remember the days of early intervention.  Several times per week, various therapists would come to the house to work with my youngest son: the physical therapist, the occupational therapist, the speech pathologist, the teacher for the visually impaired, and the child development specialist.  I hated every minute of it.  No, I take that back; “hate” is such a strong word.  I resented every minute of it.  Well, not every minute.  Just mostly every minute.  I do not want to sound ungrateful.  Lord knows, I am very grateful for all of the time and expertise put forth by all of the therapists.  Truly, I am; and with Thanksgiving only three days away, I need to remind myself of all I have to be thankful for.  But, all during that time I kept wondering, “When do I get to be just a mom?”  Oh, that would be never.

I'm guessing that when most women have children they do not envision having a team of professionals who will teach them how to interact with and care for their child.  Seriously, I might have fantasized about having a nanny or a housekeeper, but never an entire team of therapists.  (An entire team of therapists who came to the house every week, which for some reason created a lot of self-inflicted pressure to keep the house clean, or at least, presentable.)  Nor do I think that most women envision seemingly endless medical tests and appointments with specialists.  Most soon-to-be moms envision the 2:00 am feedings, diapers, naps, cuddle time, play time, and trips to the park with their baby.  The usual mom stuff...that's what I envisioned.

A mom with a special needs child is never just a mom.  She is a case manager who is responsible for coordinating therapy appointments, medical tests, and doctors appointments.  She is a therapist who is responsible for implementing the exercises and techniques that the therapists recommend, and ensuring that therapy time and playtime are synonymous.  She is a nurse who is tasked with dispensing the daily medication or cleaning the G-tube or monitoring some other medical device.  She is an advocate who researches and lobbies for the programs/medical procedures/therapies that will benefit her child, all the while feeling a twinge of guilt wondering if there was something she missed or wondering if she didn't fight hard enough.  Finally, finally, in between all of this are those precious few moments when she can be just a mom, sort of.  Those moments when her autistic child briefly makes eye contact with her while lining up trains; when her blind, nonverbal child hugs her before bed; when her deaf child signs “mom”; when her Downs Syndrome child smiles at her as they look at a book.  Those are the moments when we are just moms.

Monday, November 15, 2010

BFD - November

It's that time of the month again: time for BFD.  This month's breakfast for dinner included:

Pumpkin Spice Bread
Honey Walnut Cream Cheese (without the walnuts)
Restaurant Style Hash Brown Casserole (again)
Sliced Apples

I have to say that the Pumpkin Spice Bread was awesome.  It smelled wonderful while baking and it was very moist.  If you like pumpkin, you'll probably like this bread.  Having said that, I think the next time I make it, I will crank up the oven to 375 and cover it with foil midway through baking.  As it is, it took 1 ½ hours baking at 350 degrees, and it was still a little underdone.  It could be that my oven is the problem, that's why I'm not complaining about the recipe. (I'm glad I only made ½ of the recipe.) The bread tasted fabulous, but still.  I did not use the individual spices called for in the recipe. I used pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon.

The Hash Brown Potato Casserole...well, what can I say?  Any kind of potato with cheese is OK in my book.  I omitted the butter and used 1 cup of sour cream in it's place.  Crazy, I know.  It's pretty much the standard potato casserole dish.

The star of the evening meal was most definitely the Honey Walnut Cream Cheese sans walnuts.  OMG, if you try nothing else, try this.  Yes, I used real Philadelphia cream cheese, and no, I did not use the reduced fat cream cheese.  Eeww.  I can see maybe using this as a party dip with a fruit tray.  I think it would be a nice alternative to the veggie tray.  Anyway, another BFD has come and gone.  It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is next week.  Yikes, and I'm scheduled to bring the appetizer.  Oh wait, I've already got the recipe.  :-)

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Work in Progress

Back in August I posted an entry about my cat and his new haircut (or furcut). Today I thought I would post an update on his progress.  Here is how he looks as of today:

Poor Henry (that's his name BTW). I almost feel bad for him now that its getting down into the 30's and 40's at night.  He's probably thinking, "All  I want for Christmas is my long fur back."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Santa Doesn't Visit Here Anymore

Warning: If Santa still visits your house, do not let the kids see this post.

We no longer do the Santa Claus thing. Earlier this year, my oldest son asked me if Santa Claus was real. In a split second I had to decide: do I keep the make-believe magic going, or do I answer truthfully? I figured that since he asked the question he must want the real answer. So, I chose my words very carefully, “Well, Santa Claus is a make-believe character for little children.  He was probably based on a real person, but the character of Santa Claus in the red suit is make-believe.” He didn't seem upset or surprised. In fact, I suspect he was trying to corroborate what one of his friends told him. All he said was, “Oh, okay.”

Whether his question was prompted by his own curiosity or a friend's comment doesn't matter to me. I am kind of relieved that Santa won't be visiting our house again. Why? Late in September we had a family meeting and we told the boys that because daddy was out of work, Christmas would be a little leaner this year - meaning there wouldn't be as many presents under the tree. I don't think it mattered to my youngest son because I don't think he ever understood the concept of Santa Claus, or Christmas for that matter. My oldest son got it. I'm not saying it's going to be easy for him; deep down, I think he still wants to believe in Santa Claus. But...

If he had woken up on Christmas morning and saw fewer presents under the tree, he probably would have wondered what he had done wrong. I can relate to that. As a kid growing up poor, I remember many Christmases where there was maybe a book of LifeSavers under the tree. Why did Santa give toys and goodies to other kids but not to me? Disappointed doesn't even begin to describe how I felt. I am not against make-believe, but I wonder if the idea of Santa Claus creates unrealistic expectations for children, puts undue pressure on the parents, and distorts the meaning of Christmas. (Maybe, just a little.)

This year, the boys will have two or three nice presents under the tree, plus goodies in their stocking. This year I think we're starting a new tradition of less is more. I'm okay with that. After all, Santa Claus, the tree, and the presents are not what Christmas is all about. At least, they're not what Christmas is supposed to be about.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Obvious and the Obscure

Some children have what one might call obvious disabilities.  They may be in wheelchairs, or like my youngest son, have a cane.  They may have a physical appearance that identifies them as having a disability, like Down Syndrome.  Some children have disabilities that are not so least not at first.  Their disabilities are obscured by their seemingly normal outward appearance.  Children with autism, cognitive delay, or epilepsy may fall into this category.  The reason I mention this is because I have one child with an obvious disability and one child with an obscure disability.  The reactions that these boys have gotten from total strangers have been as different as night and day.  More on that later.

In fairness, I don't consider my son with Asperger's to have a disability any more. I say this only because in spite of his social awkwardness he is capable of doing so much more for himself than my youngest son is capable of doing.  However, looking back on his toddler years and preschool years I think, "Wow...he was autistic."  The signs were all there: the echolalia, the lining up of toy cars and trains, endless Thomas the Tank Engine videos, and the meltdowns.  Good grief how I remember the meltdowns.  I almost need a drink just thinking about them.  I remember the exhaustion, the shame, and the confusion of wondering why my kid acted like that.  Don't think that I didn't second guess our parenting skills everyday.  When my youngest son was born, we knew almost from the get-go that he was going to have some disabilities; we just weren't sure to what extent.  During that time, it was easy to attribute my oldest son's behavior to being a bratty two year-old.  As he got older, it was harder to explain away the behavior and the language delay.  Finally, just three months shy of his fifth birthday, he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.

Disbelief and relief are just two of the emotions I felt: disbelief that I had a child on the autism spectrum; relief that we finally had a diagnosis.  We finally had a name to go with the behaviors.  We finally had an explanation to give to other people.  You see, ever since my youngest son got his cane, I cannot tell you all of the looks of sympathy and kindness we have received.  He had an obvious marker (the cane) that told everyone he was blind.  When my older son was younger and he had one of his trademark meltdowns in public, or he would take off running through the mall, I did not feel the love from strangers.  He did not have anything that marked him as autistic.  So, everyone assumed he was a brat and we were bad parents.  If having these two boys has taught me anything, it would be not to assume.  Now when I hear a small child in public having an extreme meltdown, I don't automatically assume it's bad behavior or bad parenting.  Instead I think, "Hmm, I wonder if he's autistic."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Losing Weight Naturally and Other Benefits of Unemployment

One of the benefits of living on unemployment is that I eat less. Well, let me clarify that; in the past, I have eaten less. It just so happens that this current cycle of unemployment coincides with the beginning of Fall, which means two birthdays, a trip to the pumpkin farm with lots of yummy goodies, and Halloween. Once the candy is gone, I should be squared away.  During past unemployment cycles, I was a very conscientious eater.  Rather than help myself to a second helping, I would stop and think, "That second helping can be my lunch tomorrow."  This was a very good strategy for losing weight - one that I should remember no matter what.  If I can eliminate those second helpings, I can reduce my calorie intake, right? Right. It's a start.

It's also a very good strategy for tightening the budget belt.  This way, leftovers don't get wasted and another meal doesn't have to be prepared for lunch.  Obviously, anybody who is frugal would roll their eyes and say, "Duh".  Yes, it is an obvious strategy.  However, I find it very helpful to examine my behavior whether I'm trying to cut calories or stretch a dollar.  Sometimes, the simplest solutions get overlooked.  Also, it's not just a matter of employing a strategy to save money; it's about changing my attitude and behavior in all other areas of my life.  For me, it's about asking the question, "Do I really need this right now?" More often than not the answer is "No."

What are the other benefits of unemployment, you ask?  Well, let's'm spending alot more time in the kitchen making meals from scratch.  That is a definite plus.  There's also lots of family togetherness. And, uh...that's all I got.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Eleven Years and Still Mommy

Today, my 10 year old is 11 years old.  And today, I'm still Mommy.  I'm just waiting for the transition to Mom.  It's almost like a rite of passage for kids to go from saying “mommy and daddy” to “mom and dad”.  I think I was around 10 or 11 when I dropped “mommy” in favor of “mom”. I've actually been dropping subtle hints to him like, “Mom and Dad are going out tonight”.  The gift tag for his birthday present read, “Love, Mom & Dad”.  I don't know why I'm so ready for him to call me Mom.  I know that it's just a matter of time and that one day soon, he'll wake up and call me Mom. Don't get me wrong, I'm not least he's still talking to me.

Happy Birthday to my big kid!  Seven more years until you're 18, buddy.  Enjoy it while it lasts.

Oh yeah, one more thing: GOOOOOO GIANTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Two down, two to go, baby!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What's Your Kid's Excuse?

A little bit of sarcasm goes a long way.

Sometimes, every once in a while, parents of special needs children may romanticize the behavior and achievements of so-called typical children.  I think it's called putting on rose-colored lenses.  They may even visit Fantasy World and imagine what their family life would be like if their special needs child were a typical child.  I have done and still do this occasionally, but while I do this I forget a couple of things:

  • Typical children don't always exhibit good behavior.  They can be argumentative and self-centered.  Sometimes they're just plain mean. Who knew?
  • Typical children don't always live up to their potential. Sometimes they're lazy and apathetic.  Gasp! Really?

Is this true for all typical children?  No.  No it's not.  There is a range - a spectrum if you will - of good and bad behavior.  And yes, special needs children can have behaviors that are annoying, embarrassing, or downright obnoxious; I can testify to this.  It's not all sunshine and lollipops.  Unfortunately, learning new (i.e. “proper”) behavior takes time...lots of time, especially if a child has cognitive delays.  Meanwhile, these behaviors can be taxing on the parents and siblings, especially out in public or at a social gathering.  There are times when I think, “I need a drink” before going out in public.  But then I remember that I don't drink whiskey and wine wouldn't be strong enough. 

No matter where we are, when my youngest son is overcome with emotion, he just has to express himself.  He doesn't talk, but he can make noise.  It's amusing when he's happy; it's not so amusing when he's angry or frustrated.  When we're out in public, people stare. They stare whether my son is making happy sounds or angry sounds.  Sometimes the stares are sympathetic.  Sometimes the stares are clearly saying “WTF?”  It's to that last group of people that I am tempted to say this: “My kid had a brain hemorrhage at birth, lost oxygen at birth, battled seizures for the first two years, has mild cerebral palsy, is legally blind, cognitively delayed, and doesn't talk.  What's your kid's excuse?”  I would be smiling while saying this of course. :-) ,

Friday, October 22, 2010

Updated Entry

Back in May, I posted an entry entitled, "Moms: Most are Awesome, Some are Special".  In this entry, I mentioned my conflicting feelings after having read "Welcome to Holland" by Emily Perl Kingsley.  I have since updated this entry with a link to a blog post called "Amsterdam International", written by Dana Nieder on her blog, Uncommon Sense.  In my opinion, "Amsterdam International" does a beautiful job of describing the moments/days/months after getting the diagnosis. Forget the windmills and the tulips.  You don't get to see those until you pass through the airport.  Thank you, Dana, for writing this.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Girl's Best Friend is...a KitchenAid?

You can keep your diamonds...although if you don't want them, I'll take them.  My KitchenAid mixer and I have been friends going on 20 years now.  We got it as a wedding gift, and although hubby has used it occasionally, it's pretty clear that he and the KitchenAid are merely acquaintances - fair weather friends, if you will.  The KitchenAid and I are BFFs, and it proudly sits on my kitchen counter.  And yes, I used it to make last week's BFD coffee cake and last night's pumpkin pie.

With few exceptions, there hasn't been a week pass by when I haven't used this glorious stand mixer.  It no longer looks sparkly and shiny like when it was new, but it's still a workhorse.  Not only do I have the mixer, but I also have the Slicer/Shredder Attachment and the Pasta/Food Grinder Attachment.  I have mixed cake batter, and bread dough; sliced and shredded countless veggies and cheeses; ground up leftover meat to make my own sandwich spreads; and even made my own pasta.  I love this machine!  It's the only thing that has prevented me from buying a food processor.  Here's to 20 more years of cooking with my KitchenAid!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Color or Colour?

Several years ago when I was homeschooling my oldest son, I used to read blogs that dealt with homeschooling a child with Asperger's.  One of these blogs (the name escapes me) was written by a woman in Scotland.  One morning as I was reading her blog and drinking my coffee, my oldest son peered over my shoulder.  All of a sudden, he started pointing out words that were “spelled wrong” - words like “colour”, “neighbours” and so forth. 

Not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm for discovering misspelled words, I gently explained to him that this blog was written by someone from Scotland, which uses UK English not US English, and therefore, these words were not spelled wrong.  This took a moment to sink in and I could almost hear the hamster on the wheel.  Then began a short debate:

    “Oh, so I can spell 'color' two ways: c-o-l-o-r and c-o-l-o-u-r.” 
    “Sorry buddy, but if you spelled it c-o-l-o-u-r then it would be wrong.” 
    “But you said...” 
    “It's not wrong in the UK, but it's wrong in the US.”
    “But what if I wanted to live in the US and spell it c-o-l-o-u-r?” 

Thinking he had me cornered I said, “Well, then you have to move to Canada.”  “Canada?”  The hamster began spinning again.  This led to a very brief discussion of why Canada spells like the UK and why the US doesn't.

It's memories like this that help me to remember the positive aspects of homeschooling: that a 7 year old actually noticed a slight difference in the spelling of a word, which led to a brief discussion of three different countries using the same language (more or less).  While I don't regret putting him back in school, there are times when I miss homeschooling.  This is his third year back in public school, and after a rough start in third grade, he's doing pretty well now in fifth grade.  He is very good at spelling and he knows that he shouldn't spell “color” as “colour”.  At least, not until he moves to Canada...traveling there by RV of course.  :-)

Friday, October 15, 2010

BFD - Update

Yummilicious!  That's all I have to say.  This month's BFD consisted of:

I totally forgot that last night was my youngest son's school carnival.  So, I made a last minute change and pulled out the handy dandy crock pot to make Hash Brown Casserole instead of pan fried hash browns. In this recipe, I substituted equal amounts of Cheddar and Pepper Jack for the Velveeta. (I'm sorry, but Velveeta is not cheese.)  I heated the cream of mushroom soup with the sour cream, and then added both cheeses to that, stirring until smooth. You might want to add a little more salt; I added garlic salt.  Then I dumped everything into the crock pot.  It turned out like shredded scalloped potatoes – gooey, cheesy, yummy, and not low calorie.  I topped mine with salsa. Yum! 

The coffee cake recipe is fabulous.  I've made this several times before and it's always a hit.  And yes, we had it for breakfast this morning.  The fruit salad is purple, because I mixed frozen berries into oldest son likes color.  If you use fresh berries, it won't be so purple. :-)  The salad dressing is simply lemon yogurt mixed with cinnamon, a large dollop of sour cream, a tablespoon of sugar, and a handful of shredded sweet coconut.  How's that for exact measurements? Best of all, everything was made ahead of time.  It doesn't get any easier than that.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Watch Out for Table Scraps

One of my favorite columnists for the San Francisco Chronicle used to, every so often, write a column about his cats.  He would preface that column with a warning: cat column.  So, I'll post a similar warning: cat blog entry.

I have two cats.  Well, actually, 1 ½ cats.  Little Cat divides her time between our house and a neighbor's least, that's what she's led us to believe.  Big Cat rarely leaves home, yet I can never find him.  They are as different as night and day.  The one thing they have in common though is their distrust of table scraps.

We are not in the habit of giving them table scraps.  They are quite happy with their dry food.  Seriously.  So on the rare occasion, when I'm feeling benevolent, I search them out in order to offer them a piece of chicken thinking that they'll be so happy they'll beg for more.  I don't know why I have this expectation, because this is what they do nearly every time: they look at me like I'm trying to poison them.

Even Big Cat – who, believe me, does not miss any meals - views this offering with suspicion.  They begin this weird dance by moving side to side, pawing at the chicken with nostrils flaring like they've both been secretly trained to be drug-sniffing cats.  Then they sit and stare at it for a moment.  This is amusing and exasperating.  “Geez, it's not like it's laced with cyanide!  You can eat a damn cricket or a moth but you won't eat a piece of chicken?!?  WTH is wrong with you two?!?!”  For all I know, crickets and moths taste better than chicken, but that's beside the point.  What's wrong is that I'm offering it to them; they aren't chasing after it nor does it come from their beloved bag of cat food.  Not until they've done their drug sniffing routine can they tentatively take a bite and determine that yes, it's only chicken, and yes, it's pretty darn good.  Don't even ask what they do with ham and cheese.  Damn cats.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

If All Your Friends Jumped Off a Bridge

"Mom!  What's the big deal? All my friends are doing it!"
"Well if 'all your friends' were jumping off a bridge, would you jump too?"

Ah, that classic argument between parent and child.  It's an argument about kids wanting to fit in with their peers and parents wanting to ensure that the kids don't blindly follow the crowd.  It brings back so many memories.  Many years ago when I had a real (i.e. paying) job, my coworker and I were reminiscing about the above conversation with our own mothers.  My response to my mom was to roll my eyes and say "Give me a break.  That is so lame."  My coworker's response to her mom was, "Of course I would or I'd have no friends."  I doubled over in laughter.  Sadly, both my mom and my coworker have passed on, so all I have are the memories.

These memories resurface as I watch my 10 year old with Asperger's both struggle to fit in and not struggle to fit in.  It's actually kind of refreshing to have a kid who doesn't always care if he fits in or not.  He does have friends with whom he shares common interests such as: video games, Pokemon, Legos.  It's his other interests that set him apart: RVs (as in recreational vehicles), origami, maps.  Sometimes, he doesn't care if his clothes match, like when he wears his Hawaiian shirt with plaid board shorts.  He could care less about sports, although he is sort of trying to understand the rules of baseball.  He's not afraid to walk away if the other kids decide to do something that he doesn't want to do.  He can always entertain himself and doesn't need the constant presence or approval of his friends.  That doesn't mean he's immune to peer influence.  Many of his friends have a Nintendo DS.  He decided that he wanted one, too.  So, over the summer he saved his money from his regular chores and doing odd jobs for me and our babysitter.  At the end of August, he had enough to buy a DS Lite.  He does try to fit in...sometimes...when he wants to.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that the other kids don't give a rat's rump about RVs.  Even with common interests like video games, he can get a little overenthusiastic and talk for a little too long on the subject while the other kids' eyes glaze over.  Still, I don't view Asperger's as something that needs to be cured per se.  Having said that, social skills are important.  As long as he continues to learn to be kind and polite to others, I will encourage him to pursue his interests.  I can only imagine this future conversation between me and my son:

"So, if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?"
"No!  My friends wouldn't jump off a bridge anyway; there's no bridge around here."

The fun is only beginning.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Mmmm, breakfast for dinner.  Why, what did you think "BFD" stood for?  Anyway, BFD is one of my favorite dinners because I actually get to eat a real breakfast on those days.  Normally, my breakfast consists of yogurt, or toast, or an English muffin.  I don't like to eat a big breakfast first thing in the morning because I'm not that hungry and quite frankly I don't have the time or the inclination to whip up a big breakfast.  On BFD days, however, I have the time.

Depending on what you make, BFD can be surprisingly cheap.  I usually make a coffee cake, scrambled eggs (with or without veggies), home fries, fruit, and the occasional sausage.  Leftover coffee cake is served for breakfast the next morning.  Looking at my handy dandy meal planner for October, I see that I have BFD scheduled for October 14th.  I'll let you know how it turned out.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Do Unto Others

It's time to put on my cranky pants and get on my soap box.  This morning I read a blurb (definitely not an in-depth article) on about whether or not "mommy bloggers" should blog about their kids without their kids' permission.  First of all, I hate the word "mommy" when it's used like an adjective as in "mommy bloggers", "mommy wars", "mommy makeover" blah blah blah.  Gag me.  It sounds so juvenile and it reduces women to nothing but a caricature, IMHO.  But that's beside the point.  Should parents (mommies in particular) blog about their kids without the kids' permission?

In my opinion, people should blog about their children very cautiously.  If a kid is no longer comfortable with his or her life on display then parents should respect that. To me, there is a fine line between relating a story and spreading gossip.  Call me paranoid, but I believe that what you say can and will be used against you at some point.  Just because you can blog about it, doesn't mean you should.  The Golden Rule is very appropriate in this case.  If you don't want your embarrassing moments blogged about, then don't do it to your kids.  Conversely, if you like to have your entire life on display, consider that others may not.  And consider that you don't know what others can do with the information you put out in the blogosphere.

And yes, you can call me a Jesus Freak, but I believe the Golden Rule applies especially in our interactions with children.  Why?  Because believe it or not, they watch and hear everything that we do and they can spot a double standard and smell hypocrisy a mile away.  Parents are children's first teachers and ideally, parents should set the example and the standard.  Besides, you don't know what kids may blog about you. :-)

I have chosen not to use my real name or use the names of my children in my blog.  They are entitled to their privacy.  That doesn't mean that I don't write about their challenges or stuff that they do, but I try to choose my words carefully.  People don't need to know every sordid detail of our individual lives or our family life.  (Besides it's not that interesting.) Time to take off the cranky pants and put on a pair of comfy jeans.

So, if you call me "paranoid" and "Jesus Freak" in the same sentence then I guess that makes me a "paranoid Jesus Freak".

Friday, September 17, 2010

Accepting Defeat or Rethinking Perceptions?

This lengthy post is dedicated to that wonderful group of moms with special needs children that I get to see once a month. 

Progress. We've come to expect, dare I say 'demand', progress in certain areas of our lives. Specifically, I'm thinking of technology and medical science. Going backward or staying where we are is not the desired option. The goal is to progress, to move forward. To keep us motivated, we can always rely on some marketing slogan or some pithy quote to encourage us to 'expect the best-don't settle for less'. Or something to that effect. Our personal and professional lives are also expected to progress.

Sometimes, the progress is painfully slow and barely perceptible. Specifically, I'm thinking of children with disabilities. It's hard to chant the mantra,"Expect the best" (or whatever the slogan of the day is) when your 12 year old is still not potty trained. In fact, some children may graduate from Pull ups directly to Depends. That's not what we would consider progress. Sometimes it may take upwards of a year or more for a child to learn the ASL signs for "more", "eat", "ball", or "cookie". Forget the tea parties, the cute toddler just want your kid to be able to communicate that she wants a cookie. And when that day finally comes, when she signs "cookie", you will want to give her the entire freakin' box of cookies with laughter and grateful tears of joy streaming down your face. Who cares about the sugar content or the calories. Progress? Yes. The kind that we have come to expect? No. What if the progress was this slow for the remainder of your child's life. Would you still be grateful?

A recent email exchange with a friend got me thinking about my own attitude toward my youngest son's progress, which I touched on in a previous post. My friend has a daughter the same age as my son, and she too has disabilities. My friend was lamenting the fact that the reality of her daughter's challenges is beginning to hit her.

I'm not presuming to speak for my friend. Although we are on a similar journey it's not the same journey. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that sooner or later, those of us with special needs children must come to the realization that our kids are not like typical kids and that we may need to readjust our thinking. As obvious as this sounds, it doesn't always hit us right away. I'm going to go out on another limb and say that sooner or later, some of us with special needs children will come to the realization that progress will be painstakingly slow...maybe even imperceptible. Is this accepting defeat? I don't think so, but it is reality. I've heard the quote, "Reality is what you make it." Baloney. Because in my desired reality my kid would be able to see and talk. If I could make that, I would.

I will never give up praying and hoping for a miracle. But in between praying and hoping there is a life to be lived. There are school lunches to be made, family bike rides, cookies to bake, playing video games, serving at church, and on and on. To my friend: I share your pain – the pain of having an 8 year old who is not like the others. An 8 year old who is not yet reading, who communicates differently, who doesn't have friends who come over and play. I also share your joy – the joy of having an 8 year old who is not like the others. An 8 year old who isn't begging for a cell phone, who is generous with hugs and kisses, who is oblivious to not having friends because family is there. I hope that our joy is never measured by how much progress is or isn't made

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4

Friday, September 10, 2010

Proactive Budget Trimming

I hate being told what to do.  Especially when it's something that I don't want to do. Even when I was a kid, I hated being told what to do.  I usually knew what I had to do, but if I didn't want to do it, I would just either procrastinate and delay the inevitable or I would just not do it.  As I've gotten older, I've changed my mind about this behavior, somewhat.  I've discovered that there is a certain sense of freedom or control in doing what needs to be done before someone or circumstances force you to do what needs to be done.  Huh?  Let me try to explain.

Two years ago, we used to have Dish Network.  While we enjoyed HGTV, Food Network, and Comedy Central, we realized we didn't really watch TV that much.  My husband was anticipating a layoff, so we decided to get rid of Dish.  Sure, it only saved us $30 a month, but when you're out of a job, that's alot of money. The layoff didn't happen for a year, but we were able to save the money that we would have spent on TV. 

Recently (as in last week), my husband was laid off.  I decided to do a little proactive budget trimming rather than wait for the checkbook to completely empty.  First, I took a look at our phone expenses.  Our home phone is a cell phone.  Three years ago we ditched our landline for a cell phone, but that's another story.  My husband also has a cell phone, which is a must if you work construction. We had switched from Virgin Mobile to MetroPCS.  As much as the $40 per month unlimited talk/text is a good deal, I had to admit that it was more than I wanted to spend for the amount of time that I used it.  Needless to say, we went back to Virgin Mobile's PayLo $20 special: just add $20 to your account every 90 days.  That works out to $6.67 per month per phone.  That's a savings of $66 per month.

Next, I looked at our grocery shopping.  I decided to do something that I've been threatening to do for a long time: monthly meal planning.  I made a handy dandy calendar and filled it in with favorite (i.e. cheap) meals. It's now hanging on the fridge. To my surprise, I realized that I have more than enough pantry items to make dinners for the rest of the month.  I'll have to buy eggs, dairy, bread, and fruit every week, but I can easily save $30 - $40 per week by planning ahead.  I know, I know...Duh!

Can we still afford these things with unemployment and savings?  Yes.  Should we?  That's a good question. We're choosing to let these things go before we have to. Most people, myself included, are willing to go along with a plan if they choose to do it, rather than if they are forced to do it. They still may not like it, but there is a huge difference in attitude: choosing to eliminate items from your budget can give you a sense of freedom - like cleaning out your closet, you get to decide what stays and what goes.  Being forced to do something can make you feel deprived - like a victim.  There are no easy choices, but I would rather make the choices whenever possible than have my circumstances make them for me.

Friday, September 3, 2010

My Other Ride is a Townie

You might have heard women of a certain age such as myself say, "My other ride is a broom."  Now that I am entering that time of my life (no, not that time of the month), it's safe to say that there are gonna be days when I'm flying on my broomstick.  On those days, it's best to duck and cover.  However, when I'm not flying on my broom or driving my minivan, I'm on my other Townie.  The women's Electra Townie 7D in Orange Pearl.  Sleek and geek, oh yeah, baby, how do ya like me now?

My husband and I both got bikes a couple of weeks ago so that we could go on family bike rides.  I don't remember what he got, but it's not as cool as mine.  Anyway, I love this bike, and I am so sad that I've already got a flat tire.  I haven't had a bike in over 20 years and I had totally forgotten what it was like to ride a bike - the freedom, the exhilaration of being out and about.  The one thing that my bike can do that neither my minivan nor my broom can do is to provide me with a means to exercise and enjoy doing it.  I foresee a long and lasting relationship with this soon as I fix the flat tire.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Before and After

I don't have alot of time to blog today, but I wanted to leave you with this to start your weekend.

This is my cat, before:

This is my cat, after:


This is what happens when your long-hair cat doesn't allow you to brush him on a regular basis.  It's called "The Lion" cut.  Looks more like "The Poodle" cut to me. Feel free to laugh; I know I did.

Friday, August 20, 2010

We Ask Different Questions

It's exciting to watch children grow up.  Not only do parents get the privilege of seeing their children learn and grow right before their very eyes, they also get to engage in speculation as they wonder what their children will do when they grow up. Will they get married and have their own children? Will they go to college or trade school? If your son loves Legos, will he be a civil engineer or a carpenter?  If your daughter loves to draw, will she be an architect or an interior designer? 

I enjoy listening to other parents brag about their children. When you add a special needs child or a child with a chronic illness into the mix, however, the speculation is a little fuzzy and there are different questions to be asked such as:
  • I wonder if he'll be able to live independently?
  • Will she learn how to use public transit?
  • Will he be able to have some sort of a job?
  • Will she ever learn to read?
  • Who should act as a guardian and make the hard decisions after I'm gone?
Aside from not wanting to be labelled "Captain Bringdown" or "Major Killjoy", I try to avoid discussing these things with parents of typical kids and instead discuss them with parents of special needs kids.  I do this because (1) I don't want to appear to be fishing for sympathy; and (2) I don't want other parents to feel uncomfortable or guilty.  It's one thing to talk about how your 12 year old son is excelling at baseball and might make the All Stars team; it's quite another to talk about how severe your 12 year old son's seizures are that he has to wear a helmet in order to protect his head should he fall and hit a coffee table. Not to mention all of the medications he might be taking.

On the other hand, I don't want to give the impression that I'm embarrassed by my youngest son.  I'm very proud of his accomplishments; his accomplishments are just a little different from those of most 8 year olds.  His future will look a little different, too.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Frugal Advice from the Master

A while back my husband and I were talking about all of the reams of frugal advice being doled out like candy: advice on cutting spending at the grocery store, how to stock your pantry, how to find bargains galore, making do with less, determining your wants from your needs.  And yes, I have linked to the Dollar Stretcher because I sometimes need ideas on how to do these things. It's kind of amusing to see the shift in advertising as well; it wasn't too long ago where ads for luxury items tried to entice consumers with mantras like "Because you deserve it" or "It's all about you", or something to that effect.  We don't see these ads with those messages anymore in these "hard economic times".  Or do we?

The problem as I see it, with all of this new-but-really-not-so-new-everything-that's-old-is-new-again frugal advice is that the message still conveys that it's all about YOU.  Or me.  Sorry, I should have capitalized that: ME.  There is alot of frugal advice out there...probably more than we've seen since the Great Depression.  Most of it is practical, sensible, and self-centered.  It's also based on our propensity to worry.  I am not advocating uncontrolled spending and self-indulgence; nor am I advocating penny-pinching stinginess and hoarding.  The truth is, I don't have any easy answers...I am not the "Master" in the title, not even in jest.  But I will tell you this, if you are a Christian, or even if you're not, some of the best advice (believers would say it is a command) came from the Master:

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.  Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Matthew 6:24-34

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Yosemite the Beautiful

Back from a short vacation in Yosemite.  All I can say is, how can someone be surrounded by so much beauty and still say that there is no God? Yosemite is simply stunning.  Too beautiful for amateur pictures do not do it justice.
Bridal Veil Falls

The Meadow
El Capitan

Half Dome

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Big Church

Do you remember that song by Peter Gabriel called "Big Time"?  In this song, there was a line that went "...and I will pray to a big God as I kneel in the big church..." I don't know why I was thinking of this song today.  Maybe it's because after so many years of snickering and pointing fingers, my husband and I have done an about face and started attending a big church - a mega church if you will - a few years ago.

I listened to and firmly believed the claims that people only go to big churches so that they can remain anonymous; so that they can do church without the commitment.  This may be true for some people who attend big churches.  Yet, even though I believed that small churches were the way to go, I kept wondering how that big church was able to do so many things in the community if it didn't have the commitment of so many people.  I was intrigued.  We decided to check out the location of this big church, you know, just out of curiosity.  Then we checked out an Episcopal church.  This experience brought flashbacks of candles, incense, and the standing, sitting and kneeling that were spaced at just so intervals during the service.  We could safely say that we were done with liturgical churches.  So with sweaty palms, we went to the big church.

We've never looked back. Since joining the big church, I have discovered that there are numerous opportunities to get involved.  I have joined a wonderful women's Bible study; I volunteer in the special needs ministry; I volunteer at the summer day camp.  I have discovered faithfulness in preaching the gospel, a vitality in fellowship, and enthusiasm for serving where I didn't think these existed.  Do I feel that big churches are better than small churches?  No.  There are positive and negative experiences to be had in either setting, which I might discuss in another post.  My lengthy point is this: if you are looking for a church home, don't dismiss a church because of its size whether large or small; don't dismiss a church because it's not a part of your favorite denomination.  Visit each church a few times.  And most importantly, don't forget to pray about it.

Dear Lord, may all of Your congregations, large and small, faithfully represent the Body of Christ.  Amen.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Aren't Wii Having Fun?

We've had a Wii for two years, and I have to say that it's alot of fun.  Initially, I was reluctant to get a gaming system.  I had images of kids being transformed into couch potato nerds who never left the house and never saw sunlight.  (I would say that that's only partially true.)  However, when it's 100+ degrees outside it's not like the kids are going to be running around, riding their bikes or their scooters.  Many of our summer days are 100 degree days.  So, we got a Wii.

That decision proved to be a good one for several reasons.  First, my Asperger's kid was instantly attracted to video games.  Go figure.  He's also very good at these games.  Again, go figure.  However, there has been another benefit to having a Wii that we could not have predicted: it has given him a social outlet - another way to make a connection with other kids.  This has always been very difficult for him.  Since being introduced to the wonderful world of Nintendo, he now knows who Mario and Luigi are.  He can talk strategy and exchange hints and cheats with other kids.  And best of all, many of the games are made for 2-4 players, so he doesn't have to play alone.

I'm sure that there are still some harsh critics of gaming systems.  I used to be one of them. Many of the criticisms I've heard revolve around the type of games played and the amount of time kids play them.  After having a Wii for a couple of years now, I have come to view these issues as parenting issues.  Parents purchase the games and parents set time limits.  It's that simple.  We have one game that is rated "T" for Teen and that's Super Smash Bros. Brawl.  The rest of our games are rated "E" for Everyone. Our son accepts the fact that certain games are not allowed in our home.  Period.

Finally, who would have thought that my husband and I would come to enjoy having a Wii.  Since we don't have cable, Dish, or DirecTV (we use Hulu and Netflix), the Wii has become a great source of entertainment on those hot summer days.  As a bonus, if you are a Netflix customer with a wireless internet connection and you have a Wii, Netflix has a free DVD available that allows you to use your Wii to download movies from the Netflix Instant Queue.  Pretty sweet.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Convenience in a Can

Although the title of this blog is "Soak the Beans", I haven't done much bean soaking lately because it's been very hot.  It's times like these when I readjust my budget and allow for a little convenience: canned beans.  Yes, I know, canned beans are way more expensive than dry beans, but before you write me off as another spendthrift posing as a hip frugalista, hear me out. 

First and foremost, canned beans are convenient.  There's nothing wrong with convenience every now and then.  Convenience only becomes expensive when it's a way of life. Second, meals made with canned beans are still cheaper than eating out...believe me, when it's over 100 degrees I think about eating out often. Third, I've discovered that adding a can of beans to some old favorite recipes makes a heartier meal. This week, I have added a can of cannellini beans to my mushroom risotto.  Served with a cucumber salad this was a filling meal.  I also added a can of black beans to my taco hamburger recipe.  This would also be a good filling for burritos or a taco salad. Of course I can't forget the all-time-kid-favorite Beans & Weenies:

  • two cans of white beans
  • a bottle of BBQ sauce
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 pkg Lit'l Smokies or cut up hot dogs
Adjust the ingredients to your taste. Combine in a sauce pan and simmer 20 - 30 minutes.

Personally, I like crockpot Beans & Weenies, but in a pinch or when the weather's hot, stove top Beans & Weenies get a thumbs up from me...and the kids.  So go ahead, give canned beans a try.  Be brave and buy some canned bean varieties you normally wouldn't buy.  It's still cheaper than McDonald's.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Been There

Summer is not my favorite time of the year. Even with all of the fun activities going on, the summer heat begins to drag me down. July is a particularly hectic month for me.  There is alot going on in July: the 4th of July, the cats' birthdays (no, we don't have a party), my nephew's birthday, trips to the beach, my youngest son's birthday.  It's the last one that brings mixed emotions.  This year he will be 8 years old.  What makes it really difficult is that his cousin is one week older than he is and there is a world of difference between the two boys.  Each July, this fact stares me in the face - undeniable and unavoidable. 

Parents shouldn't compare their children to others, but the fact is we do to some extent.  My son and my nephew may be the same age chronologically, but developmentally, they are years apart.  My nephew is cute, he reads and writes, he plays sports - he is very athletic.  My son is also cute with a laugh that is infectious, but he doesn't talk.  He has not yet learned to read or write Braille, he walks with a limp and he still plays with preschool toys.  Am I bitter?  Not so much anymore.  That doesn't mean that the pain has gone away; it simply means that I choose not to dwell on it most of the year.  July is the one month when I struggle with this.

It's a struggle that forces me to evaluate the progress that's been made, how far we still have to go, and my attitude towards it all.  It's a struggle that forces me to sift through the baggage I've accumulated.  Thankfully, in the midst of this personal struggle, there are people to see, things to do, and places to go.  In fact, this weekend we're taking a day trip to the beach.  It promises to be a fun, relaxing day as always.

To my son and my nephew: Happy birthday, boys!  You are both very special.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Chihuahua Charm

Drop-kick dogs, dust mop dogs, rat dogs...whatever you want to call them, Chihuahuas are still dogs.  I am a cat person by nature and believe me, I've used these epithets to describe little dogs before.  Obviously you can't apply these to big dogs, but big dogs still annoyed me nonetheless.  However, like many parents, we thought it would be nice for the boys to have a dog because a dog might be able to handle the kid energy that a cat doesn't want to deal with. We also knew many parents with special needs kids who firmly believed that a dog made a positive difference in their kids' lives. If we were to get a dog, I reasoned that it would have to be a smallish dog, a cat-size dog.  Now, which breed?

Terriers are cute but they are waaaaay too hyper for me.  I already have a kid with ADHD; I don't need a dog with ADHD.  Poodle? No. Enough said.  Dachshund? Mmmm,  Chihuahua? No.  Long-hair Chihuahua? Maybe.  Despite reading many negative commentaries about Chihuahuas and children, last year we got a long-hair Chihuahua and it has been the best thing for the boys, especially our oldest.  He now has a buddy around all the time.

IMHO, Chihuahuas get a bad rap because many people treat them like babies instead of dogs.  Before we got a dog I read somewhere that if you wouldn't allow a big dog to do it, then don't let a little dog do it.  This was very good advice that I wish my oldest son would heed.  Our little Chi walks all over him but they have a ton of fun together.  Strangely enough, because our youngest son is blind he is not taken in by the Chihuahua charm, consequently he doesn't put up with any nonsense from the dog. The dog is very deferential toward him and this is so funny to watch. This is the pecking order in our pack from the dog's point of view:

Alpha- My husband
Beta- Me (Alpha when hubby isn't around.)
Gamma- Youngest son
Delta - The cats
Epsilon- The Chihuahua
Zeta - Oldest son

My oldest son would deny being in last place, but there you are.  It's kind of hard to deny when it's there in black and white.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Contemporary Christian Music

When I was growing up, our Catholic church's idea of “contemporary” worship music consisted of acoustic guitars and folk music.  We sang such contemporary classics such as: Turn, Turn, Turn, Get Together, and of course everyone's favorite Kumbaya.  Maybe I'm just getting old and sentimental, but rather than evoking a worshipful spirit, these songs evoke images of teen hippie wannabes doing bong hits around a campfire...or a living room.  Especially Kumbaya.  Gag me.  Even now when I hear one of those songs I think, “Yup, lite rock for stoners.”  Anyway, it goes without saying that we did not “put our hands together” nor did we ever have a “Holy Ghost party” in our church service. (See the Kirk Franklin video and you'll understand).  We either attended a traditional service where we sang the usual hymns, or the folk service.  Consequently, I've had a negative view of contemporary Christian music until recently.  A few years ago, we started attending a large evangelical church with a well-known worship leader, Lincoln Brewster.  On our first visit, it was loud: electric guitars, drums,  I didn't think I would like it, but as I focused on the words in the songs I began to appreciate a new generation of Christian musicians.  New isn't necessarily better - I love many of the old hymns.  But old isn't necessarily better, either – old can become stale and smug with a “we've always done it this way” attitude.  So, rather than bicker about which type of praise music is better, let's give thanks to God that each successive generation of Christians continue to sing His praises.  Here are a couple of my faves.  Enjoy.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Crapmobile

Batman has the Batmobile.  Minivan Mom has the Crapmobile.  OK, so there's not really a superhero named “Minivan Mom” - it's really just me.  Be that as it may, I'm still trying to figure out how my car got so trashed after having kids.  I was never a neat freak, but still, I always managed to keep my car tidy.

In fairness, the minivan has definitely taken a beating that my previous cars never had to take.  Between kid barf, cat barf, coffee stains, ink stains, juice spills, mud, sand, snow, grass stains – you name it, the minivan has endured it. Whenever we go on a trip, we take the minivan; whenever we haul something to the dump, we use the minivan; whenever we do any kind of shopping, we bring the minivan.  The minivan is the multi-use, all purpose vehicle in our household.  We have definitely gotten our money's worth from this vehicle.

Even though it's 10 years old with a little over 135,000 miles on it, I have no plans to ditch the minivan just yet.  Why? Well, there are a few reasons:
  1. I'm too cheap to buy a new car right now because I don't want to make car payments.  For what it's worth, the minivan is paid in full.
  2. I'm too cheap to buy a used car.
  3. I'm on a quest to see just how long the minivan can last before it dies completely.
The longer I put off buying a new car the more money I should have saved up when it finally comes time.  Theoretically at least that's how it should work. That doesn't mean that I'm not thinking about my next vehicle.  In all likelihood, it will be another minivan. Speaking of which, it's time to clean out the old one.


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