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.


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