Tuesday, May 31, 2011

GFCF Lemon Garlic Chicken served with Lemon Dill Carrots

I recently made a delicious and easy meal consisting of 2 basic ingredients we regularly keep in our fridge: chicken and carrots. I’ve made this dish many times before, but have never taken the time to write down how I did it. I’m one of those pinch-of-this and a dash-of-that kind of gals. Most days I don’t really think about measurements and I just go with my gut. Generally things turn out pretty well, but there have definitely been times where my husband and kids turned up their noses at a few of my creative dining experiments!
This particular dinner is one we do fairly regularly with a few modifications here and there. I thought it would be good to share, so I wrote things down as cooked and I even managed to take a few pictures in the process. All this for you, my dear readers! I hope you enjoy this simple anytime dinner!    

GFCF Lemon Garlic Chicken
1 tbsp organic coconut oil (or olive oil, etc.)
2 cloves minced or finely chopped garlic (add more if you prefer a stronger garlic taste)
1 pound organic, free range chicken (we used thighs)
Pinch of dill and sage
Sea salt and pepper to taste
¼ to ½ cup white wine (or chicken stock)
Juice from ½ to 1 lemon (depending on size of lemon and how much you want to taste it)
In a large sauté pan, heat up the coconut oil and add the garlic. When the pan is hot and the garlic is caramelized, add chicken pieces and spices. Cook on medium high heat until the chicken has a nice color on both sides. Reduce heat to medium, add wine, cover and cook chicken. When chicken is almost fully cooked (as determined by a meat thermometer), uncover and simmer, reducing sauce if needed. Just before the chicken is ready, add the lemon juice, stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.
GFCF Lemon Dill Carrots
6 medium organic carrots, sliced
1 tbsp organic coconut oil (or olive oil, etc.)
2 splashes white wine (or chicken stock)
Pinch of dill
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Dash of ground ginger (a little goes a long way, or use approximately ¼ tsp freshly grated ginger)
1 overflowing tbsp raw honey
Juice from ½ lemon
In a small/medium sauté pan, heat up the coconut oil and carrots to medium heat. Stir and after a couple of minutes, add the wine and spices. Cover and simmer until carrots start to become tender. Uncover to reduce sauce, add honey and mix thoroughly. Right before the carrots are cooked perfectly, add the lemon juice, stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Plate the carrots, spooning a little of the lemon dill sauce from the pan over the top of the carrots. Add chicken to the top of the carrots and drizzle some of the garlic lemon sauce from the pan over the top of the chicken.
Add a cheese crouton for a little crunch, if you like (as pictured above). Stay tuned...I will post the directions on how to make a sheep’s milk pecorino romano cheese crouton very soon.
The chicken and carrots complement each other very well, and you will find that everything tastes light and fresh, yet very flavorful. This is an easy, simple and delicious dinner that everyone will enjoy.

Prince Charming

Monday, May 30, 2011

Stress of autism similar to that of combat soldiers

Today is Memorial Day 2011. As we all take a moment to remember the fallen that have protected our freedom, I thought it would be interesting to share an article that draws a comparison between combat soldiers and that of autism moms.
The article states, “Mothers of adolescents and adults with autism experience chronic stress comparable to combat soldiers and struggle with frequent fatigue and work interruptions. They found that a hormone associated with stress was extremely low, consistent with people experiencing chronic stress such as soldiers in combat.”
Now, this should come as no shock to those of us in the trenches, particularly those parents who have children functioning at a low to moderate level and/or who have concurrent medical conditions. Even though I am personally stressed out quite a bit with the raising of my boys, I know I cannot even begin to imagine what other parents go through with much more complex situations than that of my boys.
Another article along the same lines discusses stress among autism dads. “More than 30 percent of fathers of grown children with autism experience symptoms of depression so severe that they warrant clinical attention. Fathers of adolescents and young adults with autism experience high levels of depression and are pessimistic about what the future holds for their son or daughter, much more so than dads whose kids have other disabilities like Down syndrome and fragile X.”
As with the first article, I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone. I have come to learn (from my own experience and that of my friends) that men process the diagnosis differently than women. They can really struggle moving forward into action mode. I think this is where symptoms of depression can easily come into play.
For good measure, I found one more article about the stress of autism from a study done locally at the University of Washington. “The parents in the autism group had higher levels of parenting stress and psychological distress compared to moms of children with disabilities without autism. They had higher levels of stress, but the relationship of the stress to problem behavior was different. Problem behavior accounted for more of the stress in moms of children with development delays without autism.”
If you are a parent to a child with autism you know what the stresses are. None of the information in any of these articles should be astonishing news. If anything, you now have undeniable proof that you are most definitely not alone in your experience.
Memorial Day weekend is a time to reflect on the service and sacrifices of our troops as well as relax and spend some time with your family. We are the veterans of autism and our duty is a lifetime of service. I hope you are able to take a moment to recognize and appreciate the daily efforts you make on behalf of your child.

Friday, May 27, 2011

It just keeps gettin’ better and better!

**First, a disclaimer: What you are about to read is the whiny rant of a mom who is financially strapped, tired of fighting, stressed out, exhausted, and angry as hell. This post is not long, but it speaks to the struggle that thousands of families face both in my home state and across this nation. I know my situation is a walk in the park compared to others out there, but I just needed to vent. Thank you!**  
A couple of weeks ago I got a letter in the mail from our health insurance company in regard to an appeal for over 6 months of therapy charges that they denied. Their letter states:
“Based on a review of the submitted information in conjunction with the plan document language and healthcare policy, it has been determined that the charges…would not be medically eligible for benefits. Based on the documentation received, this child is autistic and there are no habilitative benefits under the medical plan.”
Welcome to insurance discrimination against autism, people. It runs rampant here in Washington.
As if it could not get any better, last night we got our new open enrollment packet for my husband’s work. The letter included stated:
“We must unfortunately raise the…plan rates this year…with an overall increase of 25%.”
We already pay close to $700 a month for medical and dental alone. With the new price increase, our cost is almost $800 a month, not including our other elections and deductions. I may have to sell a kidney here soon to pay for the benefits that my kids need (even though the dang insurance company refuses to pay on medically necessary claims).
So, instead of spinning my head around and spewing forth all of the venom I feel about our health insurance and financial situation, I thought it would be best if I just stopped writing now and simply posted a few more comics.

I removed a couple of letters on this pic. I think you get the idea! 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is there a 2-year old in there?

If you are a regular reader, you know that we’ve been having some behavioral issues escalate recently with Monkey regarding his honesty (or lack thereof). I reached my breaking point a couple of weeks ago when I caught him stealing vitamins and food. I wrote about that day here, explaining what happened and what the repercussions were. I knew something had to be done. After speaking with my husband that morning, I immediately called the school to talk with his teachers.
They promptly set up a strategy meeting to discuss Monkey with all of the teachers and professionals that are regularly involved with him. A few days later we arrived to a room full of his IEP team members. I have to say, it was really nice to have everyone’s involvement, including a person from the school district’s special education office. Thankfully it was not an IEP meeting, so there was a distinctly lighter mood in the room. We began by each discussing the problems we had seen with Monkey from our various perspectives. Then we brainstormed together for solutions.
In the middle of this meeting one of the participants said something I will never forget.
“If you think about all of the things he’s doing, this is what you would typically see with a 2-year old who is exploring his boundaries. When they’re 2, it’s not as big of a deal when they do little things to test you. They might put their hand in the cookie jar to try to take a cookie, but they are easily caught because you’re standing right next to them and they didn’t think to look beyond the cookie jar. Unlike a 2-year old, he can be sneaky and manipulative because he's 8 and he’s really smart. He’s obviously got more maturity and experience than a 2-year old, but he’s still going through all of those phases of development. He was delayed in some areas so it took him longer to get there."
"Basically, it’s like you’ve got a 2-year old inside of an 8-year old body.”
When I heard those words, I almost couldn’t speak. I nodded my head in agreement and let the words sink in. “It’s like you’ve got a 2-year old inside of an 8-year old body.”
The words stung. But, they were true. I almost began to cry right on the spot. I looked over at my husband and saw the same look of shock and recognition on his face. As much as we both didn’t like it, we had just been given an accurate description of our son. Titan looked over at me and I could see that it had clicked into his brain just as it had in mine. She was right and we both knew it.
The meeting concluded after we came up with some good ideas and a game plan. My husband and I conferred in the parking lot as he was getting into his car to head to work. All we could talk about was how Monkey was like a 2-year old. We knew it would impact our approach with him at home, but we just had to get our mind wrapped around this new information.
How had we not figured this out before? It seemed so obvious once it had been said.
Both of our boys are on the autism spectrum. We have no other children. Even though the boys are polar opposites, they still have the same diagnosis. We’ve been watching both of them grow up under the altered development that autism brings. We have had no tangible experience with raising a “typical” child. And, that’s why we had no clue whatsoever that we were dealing with an 8-year old acting like a 2-year old. That’s truly some news we needed to hear. And, we hope to use that information to make positive changes.       

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Do not disturb

Monkey posted this sign on his door. He has a computer
game that teaches 51 languages. I think he might be
learning them alphabetically. He was telling me how
to say some words in Albanian the other day!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mastering the rings

About a week ago my parents moved back up to Washington. The boys were little when they left the state, so it was a really big deal for our family to have them back near us again. After the actual move was over, we went over to their new place for a social visit. The boys were getting antsy because it was sunny, so we opted to have them go outside to run around for a few minutes. Titan took them out and the boys ran down toward the end of the street. And that’s when they saw it. A playground. A brand new playground. The boys came running back to the house bubbling with excitement and literally dragged me outside with them so that I could see it.
The playground is fairly well hidden and you wouldn’t necessarily know it was there unless you were exploring. The play equipment looked virtually unused! It was beautiful. In a park-like setting, it came complete with a barbeque pit, picnic table and park benches. I was astonished. They ran over to the big toy as fast as they could and immediately began climbing around.
These are similar to the rings Monkey played on.
Monkey saw the trapeze rings. They have been his nemesis for some time now. He loves the sensory input his body gets when he is hanging in the air. But, he lacks the motor planning and coordination to fling his body in the properly sequenced movements to make it across on his own. That is, until that special day at the new playground.
He was eager to make it across the rings that evening. There was a determination I hadn’t quite seen in him before at other playgrounds in times past. I think the difference was there were no distractions. There was no one else around except for our family. The playground was new to us, so it was novel and exciting. He wasn’t competing to play on the same equipment with other kids who were more adept at playground politics, or who had already easily mastered all of the toys. It was just him, Prince Charming, Titan and me.        
Titan has a distinct advantage for helping the boys with playground stuff because he is very tall. He can hold Monkey comfortably while he is suspended in the air trying to play on the various pieces of equipment. Monkey grabbed a hold of the first ring and swung himself out toward the next ring. He has always had a fear of letting go of one hand to swing toward the next ring. That, and rocking your body forward is a hard thing to coordinate while letting one hand go and getting it to the next ring in a safe manner.
Titan held Monkey by the torso and moved him through the motions for the full length of the set of rings. They repeated this as they made it back to the original starting point. Then, Monkey gave it a try by himself with Titan standing right next to him to help if needed. And guess what? He did it. All by himself! My mouth was open in astonishment. I couldn’t help but applaud his efforts. I sat there and cheered and clapped the entire time it took him to get across. It was so thrilling for him!
I could tell he was deeply satisfied with his accomplishment by the huge grin on his face. He immediately took another go at it and did it again. And like before, I was a clapping and hollering fool. I was so proud of my boy. And he was proud of himself. I love celebrating those small moments, like mastering the rings on the playground. What a joy!

Monday, May 23, 2011

GFCF Uninspired Skillet Dinner

Do you ever have those nights when you have absolutely no idea what to make for dinner? I do! In fact, the last time this happened was only a few days ago. Luckily, I had managed to pull some protein out of the freezer to thaw, but I had no idea what to make with it. I took a quick look in my fridge and saw several kinds of veggies, but nothing was speaking to me. I was uninspired. I had 1 pound of meat and no clue what to do with it. Some of my veggies were getting close to being too old to use, so I knew I wanted to try to incorporate them into the meal. I decided to throw everything into a skillet and see what happened. I knew it could easily be a catastrophic failure of epic proportions, but we had to eat!
I will admit that in the back of my mind I had serious reservations about what I was doing. It didn’t sound all that appetizing, but it was dinner made with fresh, whole, healthy, organic ingredients. Well, I was shocked when it turned out great! I think we all were surprised. In fact, my husband has asked me to remember how I made it so that I can replicate it sometime soon. Miss C was over for dinner that night and she helped herself to a second portion (which almost never happens). Titan and I also indulged in seconds, and my kids even ate it! Yahoo!
The best way I know how to remember a recipe these days is to post it here on this handy-dandy blog of mine. That way you (my wonderful readers!) get the fabulous, tried-and-true recipe, and I have the benefit of not forgetting how I made it when I am a victim of brain drain and exhaustion.  

It's not the prettiest or most elegant
meal, but it sure was tasty!

Basic Ingredients of the Uninspired Skillet Dinner:

1 pound protein (hamburger, ground turkey, diced chicken, or other protein)
Vegetables (whatever is in your fridge or freezer)
1 can organic tomato sauce
Salt, pepper, and other spices to taste

Here are the ingredients I used:
1 pound organic ground beef
1 leek, diced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 small head of organic cabbage, cut into small pieces
8 small organic potatoes, peeled and diced
1 can organic tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of each: oregano, basil, thyme, garlic powder, cumin, paprika
In an oiled skillet, season and brown ground beef (or other protein). Saute onions, leek and garlic (or other aromatics) in skillet. Add in potatoes and cabbage (or other vegetables). Stir in can of tomato sauce and add spices to taste. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender.
There’s probably a million ways to make this dish. Try my version or make up your own and then share your success story in the comments for all of us to enjoy. I hope you now have a little bit of dinner inspiration for those uninspiring nights.  

Friday, May 20, 2011

Locking things up

Our new pantry lock.
About a week ago we did something I never thought we would have to do in our home. We locked up our food. You may recall me discussing some recent issues we’ve had with Monkey telling the truth. I wrote about it here and followed up on it here.
Anyway, I had been noticing some strange things happening. Items were being moved around in our kitchen cupboards and it seemed like we were going through food faster than normal. I had found some unexpected wrappers and food packaging in the trash a couple of days in a row and I knew that they didn’t come from me or my husband. So, I casually asked the kids about it. They both gave me a very sincere “I didn’t do anything” response. Due to the recent problems we’d been having with Monkey being dishonest, he was my top suspect.
Then one morning when I was in bed trying to justify smacking the snooze button on the alarm clock one more time, I heard some noises coming from the kitchen. I quickly threw on some clothes and tiptoed out into the hallway. Our floor tends to creak, so I stealthily crept along and tried to avoid giving myself away. I saw that Monkey’s door was open and I continued to hear noises from the kitchen. Good Lord, what was he doing? I peeked around the corner and saw him carefully opening up his vitamins bottles. Mind you, he had to climb onto the counter and stand up to reach the very top shelf where I keep them and then he had to open the childproof containers! (“Childproof” is obviously a completely ludicrous term because my kid has had them figured out for at least 2 years now.) He had the vitamin bottles on the counter with the lids off and had poured out a big pile of vitamins that he was shoveling into his mouth.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Crazy recycling lady

Did you know I’m famous? I even have my own commercial!

OK, so maybe it isn't me... If you are from the great Pacific Northwest, you are likely familiar with the "Northwest Profiles" commercial series from PEMCO Insurance. If you've never had the pleasure of seeing these commercials, you should really take a moment to click on the ones I have posted in this entry. I have seen every one of the characters in the series and they are hilarious to watch because they are so absolutely true to the northwest! I swear I've seen all of these people in some form or another around town before! You can view all of the characters
As an aside, I may also bear a very slight stunningly similar resemblance to the "Super-Long Coffee Orderer."  

But, I digress.
The “Relentless Recycler” is an avid recycler, bordering on the OCD side of life with her zeal for sustainability. I have a real passion for many environmental issues, particularly since my husband’s cancer diagnosis and my boys’ diagnosis on the autism spectrum. And, I have been known to gush about my love of recycling from time to time. I know I’m weird, but that makes me extra cool! ;-) Right? Well, maybe in my own head anyway. If I had the same amount of space this Relentless Recycler gal had in her garage, I might be just as awesome bad as her!
To bring things into perspective, you should probably know that I grew up in Oregon. Have you ever heard of the Bottle Bill? Passed in 1971, Oregon's Bottle Bill imposed a 5-cent container deposit on each canned or bottled beverage. You would pay the deposit when you purchased your soda or beer, and then you would gather up all of the empty cans and bottles to redeem for a cash refund. After all, you were a good recycler and a good Oregonian at that! One great effect of the legislation was that it helped to significantly reduce littering.  
Recycling cans and bottles was a great way for a young gal such as myself to earn a little spending money for things like candy bars and other childhood treats. I would gather our family's recycling together with whatever cans and bottles I found as litter. When the pile got large enough my parents would take me to the grocery store to go return them all. I would head to the back of the store where they accepted the cans and bottles and a guy would take them, counting and sorting them into large bins. It was always exciting to find out how much I had earned when he’d write up my redemption slip. I’d take the slip up to the front of the store and the cashier would pay me that amount. It was the beginning of my love for recycling.
Now I live in Washington state and we don't have a Bottle Bill here. I am happy to say that not all that long ago our local refuse company began single bin recycling (where you can throw everything recyclable into one large, mixed container). This makes life much simpler than a few years ago when I was still diligently sorting things into their separate containers. My boys are happy to help toss things into the bin as they accumulate. And, I am happy to say that we recycle at least twice as much as we throw away, if not much more!
The one problem with the single bin system is that they no longer accept glass bottles and jars as part of our regular recycling program. We go through a LOT of glass at our house, particularly with all of the organic products we use. Glass is a popular vessel for all of the crunchy environmentally-conscious companies that make many of the products we buy. So, I continue to sort out the glass containers and then take them to a recycling station. It’s always fun for my boys to help me sort the glass into their clear, brown and green bins when we get there.
I’ve even gotten my neighbor’s daughter involved in glass recycling. I babysit her on occasion and one of those times the glass recycling crates in my garage were overflowing. I asked her if she’d like to accompany me to the recycling station. She was super excited to go on a little excursion with me in the car and then help me sort the glass when we got there. It was so cute! She chattered about it in the car all the way back home. When she got picked up that afternoon she told her mom about our adventure and asked me when we would go recycle glass again. Now, almost every time I see her she asks me if I have any glass that needs to be recycled and if she can help. I think I may have a recycling protégé!     

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: No more training wheels!

My little dude is getting so big! This week marked a big milestone for Prince Charming! We took the training wheels off of his bicycle and he rode his little heart out. He used to have vertical insecurity. He was scared of being off of the ground, climbing ladders, and riding bikes. For quite a while he would only ride a Big Wheel style tricycle because it felt more secure with 3 wheels that were close to the ground. Well, he's come a long way! As he was getting used to riding without training wheels, there were some shaky moments where fear crept up and caused him to forget to brake or made him too scared to turn the handlebars because of the chance of falling. He took a couple of minor spills, but he didn't meltdown or quit. Considering he had been having an attitude problem earlier that afternoon, his lack of frustration was remarkable. He kept going and he did it! We are so proud of him. We celebrated by going out to purchase a new kickstand for his bike and we installed it that night. He was thrilled!

Love that smile!
Look at him go!
Monkey wanted his picture taken, too!
You did it, kiddo!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A chiropractor in training

Prince Charming loves going to the chiropractor. In times past, the boys would both get upset because they didn’t like the sound of the motorized table moving up and down. Prince Charming would often cry. The chiropractor learned to leave the table down and we would just climb on and off of it so that the boys wouldn’t freak out. We appreciated him being so accommodating of their sensory needs.
Each time we went for an adjustment, they got more used to it and they eventually no longer minded the sound of the table. Our chiropractor would offer to give them an adjustment so that they would learn that it wasn’t scary. We knew it might even help them with some of their physical and behavioral symptoms, so we welcomed his offer. At first, the boys wouldn’t allow him to touch them. The doctor was always patient and kind and would try again the next visit. That patience has paid off.
Now the boys get so excited when they realize it’s our appointment day. We get into the room and they fight over who gets to go first. With the doctor’s permission, they even take turns assisting with lowering and raising the table by pushing the foot pedal on the floor.
When they get adjusted, their little bodies are super flexible and gumby. The chiropractor always tells them what a good job they are doing and says, “Boy, I wish your mom and dad would adjust as easily as you do!” Yeah, I wish that, too! I wish I didn’t groan in agony on those days when I’m really hurting and I tense up my muscles because I know it’s going to be painful. Both of the boys giggle when they get adjusted. It feels so good to them that their elation is tangible. The grins on their faces light up the room.
I think Prince Charming has already decided that he wants to be a chiropractor when he grows up. He stands next to the doctor, waiting to assist whenever possible. Luckily, our chiropractor is very willing to let the boys help out and doesn’t mind their participation. Prince Charming stands next to him and places his hands on my back or my husband’s back and then when the doctor presses down for the adjustment, Prince Charming follows suit (at a different spot on the spine). He is not strong enough to actually make an adjustment, but he is following the technique pretty closely. He is so darn cute to watch. Our chiropractor gets a kick out of it, too. He likes to give the boys high-fives when they do a good job.
I like to joke with our chiropractor that he is training his future intern. If it ever actually turned into something, I imagine he would attend Prince Charming’s graduation. Now, wouldn’t that be cool?

Monday, May 16, 2011

A mom sues over her child being born disabled

I read an article about a mom who sued her doctors after her baby was born with a disability. She would have aborted the baby had she been informed of the disability while she was pregnant because having a “normal” baby was very important to her. The fact that she was not offered testing that would have prompted her to abort her now 3-year old daughter won her a $7 million settlement.
To put it mildly, this makes me ill.
The genetic condition of the child that spurred the lawsuit is not stated. One common genetic condition that readily comes to mind is Down syndrome. I have several mommy friends who have beautiful, amazing children who also happen to have Down syndrome.
I have learned that the rate of abortion after prenatal genetic testing comes back positive for Downs is over 80%! This is absolutely appalling to me. How is this possible?
I did a quick Google search to see if there was any info about this, and I found a great article that sums things up about the extremely high rate of Down syndrome abortions.
Down syndrome is far less prevalent than autism.
Downs occurs in about 1 out of every 733 children born. Autism occurs in about 1 out of every 91 children born. I shudder to think of what would happen if a widely available genetic test for autism became the norm for prenatal care. Would we suddenly lose a generation of children?
I have 2 children that some might call disabled. Do I consider them disabled? No. Would I have chosen to abort them if I had known they would end up with autism? HECK NO! My boys have taught me more than I could ever imagine. I am better because of them. That includes the fact that they are diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
I encourage you to read the article about the $7 million settlement and then share your thoughts below in the comments.

Friday, May 13, 2011

My first radio interview!

Do you have 30 minutes to spare? You should head over to the Total Tutor’s Total Education Show on Blog Talk Radio and hear yours truly in my very first one-on-one radio interview. You may recall that I was on the Total Tutor’s show as a call-in guest not that long ago. I even wrote about it here.
I was really surprised when the host, Neil Haley, asked to conduct a full interview with me for his show a couple of days ago. It was exciting but it also gave me that same small wave of nausea I used to get before going into a final exam. It was scary to think about filling a half-hour just with me. Luckily, he had lots of great questions, so it wasn’t as hard as I imagined. Of course, I was nervous and messed up here and there. Oh well.   
The interview took place on Tuesday, May 10th and is now available for instant online streaming or you can download it and listen to it later. 
He asked me about my blog and why I started it. I got to share a little bit about my kiddos and some of the progress they’ve made. He also asked me to talk about my support group. I even got to spend a moment on my soapbox and speak about the need for insurance reform for autism in the State of Washington. We talked about other stuff, too. You’ll just have to listen to the interview to find out the rest!   
I’m happy to say that I got through the interview and I didn’t totally bomb it. Yay for that! I hope you have a chance to listen to the show, and feel free to give me your feedback. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Mother's Day 2011

Card from Monkey - It's hard to read, but on the right it says,"Dear Mom. I love you so much. Yes! Were so lucky to have a nice mom." On the left is a quote from him: "I like my mom because she is nice and always makes us do fun stuff." I think it's funny how he wrote, "Wonderful!" and "Autism!"

Card from Prince Charming - Inside it says, "I love you mom" with a picture of me. I love the spiky hair and the big smile he gave me. Too cute.

Here is a card Monkey made for me in his classroom. On the left: "You make me happy when...you make us go in the front yard." On the right: "You taught me...how to play basketball!"

Here is the back of Monkey's card: "You are the best at...Autism meetings!" (He's referring to my support group.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The cat always gets it in the end

We try to work with our boys on ways to express imagination. My husband told me about how as a boy he used to tell stories with his Grandpa. They would make up a story and take turns adding bits and pieces to it, but it always ended in the same way. There was a cat and it died.

Titan’s Grandpa was not a cat person. I’m a cat person. However, I can appreciate adding a predictable yet humorous twist to signal the end of an imaginative story game. I’m sure the anticipation would build up as he waited for his Grandpa to introduce the cat and then promptly off it.
Our boys both struggle with abstract thinking and have difficulty coming up with their own ideas. We knew that this type of repetition, coupled with an exercise in imagination could be quite beneficial for them.
A few months ago Titan decided to try his Grandpa’s story-telling trick for the first time. He scooped up Monkey into his lap and they sat together in the big recliner. Titan explained what they were going to do, and then they began creating a story together.
Titan started it off in some familiar territory, talking about a boy that was similar to Monkey. He figured it would be easier for Monkey to create interesting details about something he could easily talk about. Titan got things rolling and then prompted Monkey to add something to the story, like talking more about the boy and what adventures he had.
They went back and forth for several minutes, each adding their own stamp on the story. The fun was seeing how the story progressed and what unexpected turns took place. Then, as the story was winding down, Titan weaved in the doomed cat who quickly met an untimely demise. Poor thing. Titan chuckled, as I imagine he would have when he was a boy playing the story game with his Grandpa. Monkey couldn’t help but follow suit and also laugh.
They had lots of fun creating a story and then killing the cat. I guess boys will be boys!  
How do you engage your child’s imagination?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother Warriors: Review & Commentary

- I originally wrote this in November 2008 and posted it on another blog. I thought I would dust it off and recycle it in honor of all of the wonderful mother warriors out there. I hope you all had a lovely Mother's Day. - 
Mother Warriors: A Nation of Parents Healing Autism Against All OddsOn a recent trip I had some quiet moments to read and I found myself engrossed by Jenny McCarthy’s latest book, Mother Warriors. I admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of her previous book, Louder than Words, but her new book spoke to me and I finished it in less than a day. Much to my surprise, I found myself in tears by the end.
No matter your opinion of Jenny McCarthy, she is one of the top vocal advocates for the autism community and is pushing nerves and helping spread the word that there’s a big problem. I am a parent of two diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and I am trying to make a difference and be vocal in my own community. Jenny can do what I cannot – give major television interviews, write best-selling books, and generally increase the national awareness about the autism epidemic. I admire her passionately stepping up to say something despite the controversy of the topic.

Chapter 2 of
Mother Warriors is an extended analogy that Jenny provides about the plight of many families dealing with autism. A child appears normal and then one day something changes and the child seems to be lost (often very suddenly) to autism. Many believe that vaccines triggered their child’s autism. In the words of Francis Collins, “Genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.”

Friday, May 6, 2011

Train spotting

TGIF! This week has been fairly rough for lots of different reasons, so I thought it would be a good idea to write about something light and happy in an effort to help pull me out of my funk. So, here we go.
A little over a month ago we decided to go on a family outing. With no agenda in mind, we hopped in the car and found ourselves near the neighborhood where my husband grew up. He loves the idea of sharing his favorite childhood places with our boys. I’m not quite so lucky since I grew up in a different state, but I digress.
We went to a park that sits adjacent to the waterfront and we let the boys play for quite a while on the big toy. I remember it being particularly brisk that day despite the sunshine and I had forgotten a coat. My hubby, the kind and loving man that he is, covered me up with his coat and gave me a big hug to warm me up. Uh oh. Oops! I seem to have forgotten my coat...again! J
Since I was getting quite chilly from the breeze off the water, my husband eventually decided that we should probably pack ourselves up and get back to car. On our way, Prince Charming spotted the train tracks. If you know nothing else about my little man, you should know that trains are his favorite thing. (In fact, as I am writing this, I can hear him playing trains in his room.) 
He got very excited and wanted to get closer to the tracks. Since the tracks were fenced off we didn’t have any safety concerns about them running over and getting hurt. We thought it might be fun for the boys to have a moment to stand near to the tracks, since they haven’t really had the opportunity to do so before. We walked over to a clearing near the tracks and were chatting about trains and how daddy heard the trains from his house every day growing up.
Then, it happened. We heard the faint sounds of a train approaching. Oh boy, the excitement! I immediately went into protective mommy mode, remembering how sensitive each of my boys are to loud noises. I thought the sound of the horn would be too much for them to handle and began to talk with them about how loud the sounds would get since we were right next to the tracks near a railroad crossing. They both seemed happy to stay put and clamped their hands over their ears. Titan stood behind Monkey and I stood behind Prince Charming and we provided an additional layer of sound insulation as we placed our hands over the boys’ hands, helping them to cover their ears.
No, we did NOT do this!

As the train got closer, we saw it was an Amtrak passenger train. We told the boys that there would be people on the train and that they might actually see us through the windows. Their excitement grew. I told them that they could wave if they wanted, but that meant they would have to remove one of their hands from their ears. Both of the boys hastily put the hoods from their coats up over their heads, effectively covering their ears. This helped to decrease their anxiety enough that they could use their hands to wave.
The train got to where we were and, sure enough, there were people on board looking out the windows. They had seen us! The boys were waving their hands wildly which got the attention of some of the passengers. The train was moving slowly enough that we could see them smiling at us and waving back. I yelled over the sound of the train, “They see you! Keep waving, boys!”
They could hardly contain themselves as we watched the train move past us and down the track out of sight. They were ecstatic from the experience. We began to turn so that we could head toward the car and heard another train approaching from the opposite direction. Of course, the boys begged to stay and watch the second train. It turned out to be a freight train and we all counted the number of engines and cars together. After we saw the caboose we walked to the car. The boys had their first up close and personal moment train spotting. I’m sure they’ll want to do it again soon.
I found this picture online of a little guy named Gavin
who loves trains. He is too cute!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

GF Pasta Casserole

The other night I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired when it came time to decide what to make for dinner. I figured that it would be yet another spaghetti night. My husband decided that he wanted to try something different. I welcomed his enthusiasm and gave him a few minutes to figure out an alternate plan. He went online and found a basic cheese sauce recipe and then I tweaked it to meet our needs. His idea turned into a really wonderful dinner.

Keep in mind that this recipe is not completely dairy-free in the way we made it, but substitutions are easily made. We have found that our kids don’t tolerate goat’s milk but we have had some success with sheep’s milk cheese. As a result, we keep various forms of sheep’s milk cheese on-hand in our fridge for occasional use. We typically buy our sheep’s milk cheese at Trader Joe’s and we can get feta, pecorino romano, Shepherd’s cheese, and sometimes we can even find gouda.
It's a good idea to always have GF bread crumbs on-hand. We keep a supply in the freezer in a marked resealable bag. I make bread crumbs by taking the heels of a GF loaf (or the leftovers from a GF brand the kids didn't like) and cutting them into cubes. I slowly toast the cubes on a cookie sheet in the oven at 300 degrees until they are dried into croutons. I place the croutons into the food processor and pulse until I they have a coarse meal consistency.
*We found that there was more cheese sauce than we needed for only one box of pasta. There was actually enough sauce for 2 boxes of pasta! We opted to only prepare one box of pasta and save half the cheese sauce to use another day.
GF Pasta Casserole
1 box (8 oz) GF rice penne pasta or other pasta variety of your choosing (*see note)
2 cups dairy-free shredded cheese (Daiya brand, etc. – we used Trader Joe’s sheep’s milk Shepherd’s cheese)
½ cup grated hard cheese (we used sheep’s milk pecorino romano)
3 cups dairy-free milk (we used coconut milk)
¼ cup dairy-free soy-free margarine (we used Earth Balance)
2 ½ tbs all-purpose GF flour (we used Bob’s Red Mill)
1 pound organic hamburger
1 cup frozen organic peas
½ cup toasted GF bread crumbs
pinch of paprika (we used a dash of red pepper and a pinch of cumin)

Cook pasta and drain. Add frozen peas and stir lightly to cover the peas with the warm pasta.
Cook hamburger in skillet. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a saucepan, melt margarine over medium heat.
Whisk in flour to make a roux. Add milk to roux slowly, stirring constantly.
Stir in cheeses and cook over low heat until cheese is melted and fairly thick in consistency.
Put pasta and hamburger in a large casserole dish and pour cheese sauce over pasta. Stir gently to coat the pasta.
Sprinkle bread crumbs over the pasta mixture evenly, adding the paprika on top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until the bread crumbs are nicely browned.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Playing with trains

Prince Charming playing with trains in his room. This is his absolute favorite thing to do by himself.

He likes to be on the floor at eye level with the trains and their wheels.

He crawls around while he drags his head on the carpet as he moves the trains. It gives him great sensory input on his head.

When I see carpet fibers in his hair, I know exactly what he's been doing!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cancer-free for 5 years

April is a big month for us, especially this year. Not only was it Autism Awareness Month, it also signaled the official end of my husband’s journey with cancer. This April was his 5-year anniversary of being cancer-free!
Five and a half years ago he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He had Stage One, which meant the cancer was only present in one area of his body. Cancer is never good to have, but we were told that if you had to get it, you would want Stage One Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
Back then Monkey was a rambunctious toddler who was exceedingly hyper and difficult to control. We had no idea that we were dealing with autism, and I thought he was just going through an extended bout of the terrible twos. He had lots of trouble with ear infections and had tubes placed in his ears, and he was also having problems with chronic diarrhea.
Prince Charming was a baby and we were having lots of trouble with him sleeping. It seemed he cried almost all of the time. He had recurring thrush, reflux and severe constipation. It was not uncommon for me to keep vigil at the baby swing all night long so he could continue rocking while I caught 10 minute naps.
It was a very difficult time.        
The holiday season was quickly approaching and that’s when cancer became part of our vocabulary.

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