Five Years

March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day, and I it occurred to me today that that means that it has been five years since I found out that our little Ellie Bean had Ds.  I was 18 weeks pregnant when we had the amnio done, and it was about a week until we had the results back, making March 21st pretty darn close to the day we found out that she had an extra chromosome.

We had our suspicions before-hand. The extra fluid on the back of her neck at the 12 week nuchal translucency test (when we also found out that we were having twins), combined with the particular heart defect that she had pointed at Down syndrome.

But it was still a shock to the system, holding the print outs of our (now confirmed) girls’ chromosomes in our hands and seeing the third copy of number 21 sitting there.  I remember calmly talking about what this all meant with a very nice genetic counselor, who tried really hard not to cringe when she told us that we still had the option of trying to selectively abort one baby, but that at this stage it was very possible that I would lose both in the process.  She was visibly relieved when we told her that abortion was out of the question.  We loved our girls, no matter how many chromosomes they each had.

Then I went home and cried.  A lot.  I’m not going to lie about it.  I was heartbroken.  Not at the thought of having a child with Down syndrome, per say.  I didn’t have much experience with people with Ds, but from what I had seen, they seemed like pretty happy, healthy folks.  I was the loss of all the things I had envisioned for my child that hurt so much.  She would never drive a car.  She would never go to college.  She would never get married and have babies of her own.  She would never be a famous writer or artist or doctor or dancer.  Would people make fun of her?  Would she sit in her room, crying, because her sister had a date to the prom, but no one had asked her?  Would she watch Laurel drive off to college and wisht that she could go, too?

After a couple of pregnancy-hormone fueled days of this, I hopped online and started doing some research, where I found that most of my fears were completely unfounded.  People with Down syndrome do all of the things I thought she wouldn’t.  I had an image of Ellie being shunted off to a dreary special ed room with the other “disabled” kids, like when I was young, but that isn’t how things are done any more.  Next year, when she starts kindergarten, Ellie will spend a decent part of the day in a regular classroom with the “typical” kids.  She’ll have extra help, of course, but it really isn’t like it use to be.  One day Ellie will go to the prom, and there are more and more colleges that are opening their doors to kids with special needs every year!  Our little Bunny’s future is pretty darn bright, and you had better believe that she isn’t one to feel sorry for herself.

A lot has changed in the past five years, but some of the biggest changes are happening right now.  For the first four years of Ellie’s life, she was, quite frankly, coddled by Chev and me.  She was our baby long after Laurel started to become her own little person.  The combination of Ellie’s developmental and speech delays made her more apt to sit in my lap and snuggle than to explore the world.  But something has changed.  Ellie is starting to talk, and that has made her bolder, more confident.  She has found her voice and at the same time she seems to be finding herself.  It is a fascinating thing to watch.  Just in the past few weeks, she has started to string words together into short sentences, and she can now hold a conversation with us about simple things.  She has NO problem giving her opinion, either, and woe betide the person who tries to ignore her when she wants their attention.  She is growing into her own person, and that person is pretty fantastic.

I can’t wait to see what she’ll be like in five more years.

Also, if you are interested in learning more about the college opportunities for people with Down syndrome, or are feeling generous, check out Ruby’s Rainbow and take their 3/21 pledge.  The Ellies of the world thank you.

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Someone’s in the Kitchen with Mama

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I love to cook.

The idea of creating something delicious out of a few random ingredients thrills me.  Cooking is my therapy, the kitchen is my happy place, baking is my zen.

Unless my kids decide to cook with me.

Then cooking takes longer, involves crying and fighting, and usually ratchets up my stress level to somewhere near that of a Wall Street investor on a bad day.

But I do it.  I let them cook with me every single time they ask.  Even though they make my eye twitch and my head hurt, I invite them into the kitchen and let them do as much as they can to help me.

Why?

Because I think that cooking is one of the most important skills kids can learn.  Not just because I think that everyone should know how to cook at least basic things, but for so many more reasons.

Cooking teaches kids about where food comes from.  They learn that things don’t just appear in front of them, whole and ready to eat.  While Laurel peels carrots (slowly), we talk about the carrots we grew last summer, and how cool it is that they grow underground.  While Ellie uses the egg slicer to cut mushrooms, I tell them how mushrooms are fungi, not vegetables, and that they grow in dark, wet places.  As I cut up chicken we talk about Grampy’s chickens, and how isn’t it neat how chickens and eggs taste so different?  They are learning  how things connect, and how they fit into the world.

Cooking improves fine motor coordination.  It is basically free occupational therapy for Ellie.  From holding a potato with one hand and working the peeler with the other, to learning how to use a whisk for the first time, cooking requires the girls to move their hands in new and different ways.  Laurel use to have a really hard time stirring a thick batter, but now she knows how to hold the spoon properly and she can mix up a mean batch of cookie dough.

Cooking teaches math and reading.  Laurel loves to count out how many ingredients a recipe requires.  I’ll give her the list and she’ll count them up, then check that we have the same number on the counter.  She is starting to understand fractions without even knowing it.  Two half cups make a whole cup, Mama!  I point out the steps we need to take while we cook, showing her the words, teaching her about doing things in the proper order.  When she is older, she’ll see how cooking is basically science you can eat.  Just wait until I break out the baking soda and vinegar.

Cooking forces kids to slow down.  It only takes one slip of the hand to learn that when holding a knife (even the relatively dull one that Laurel is allowed to use) it is prudent to pay attention to what you are doing.  The girls, who are usually whirlwinds of activity, know that when they are cooking they have to be careful.  Their frantic movements become purposeful.  Their fidgeting stops as they watch and try to imitate what I have shown them.  They love to watch me chop vegetables, and I talk to them about how I keep my fingers curled back on my holding hand, and how I don’t lift the tip of the knife from the board, so I have better control.

Tonight I allowed the girls to do the “hot stuff” for the first time while making dinner.  Laurel sauteed vegetables, using a long wooden spoon to stir them around in the bottom of the soup pot.  Ellie got to stir the soup as it simmered on the stove.  Cooking has taught them caution.  They may not listen to me the rest of the day, but when I told them that they could hold the spoon and touch the pot handle, but NOT the pot, because it was hot, they listened.  No preschoolers were burned during the making of our dinner.

Cooking teaches the value of work.  Kids are use to people just handing them things.  They don’t often have to work for what they get, simply because they are little and can’t do whatever needs to be done yet.  Cooking is a good way to start introducing kids to the idea of taking pride in their work.  It is a magical thing, the first time your child realizes that they can produce something tasty with their own two little hands.  I think that kids who understand the value of work are less likely to act like entitled little monsters.  And more likely to eat their dinners.

Finally, cooking teaches patience.  A large part of cooking, especially baking, is waiting.  We wait for the butter to melt, the onions to become translucent, the broth to boil, the bread to rise, the cake to bake.  In a world where everything seems to be available on demand, cooking teaches kids that sometimes we have to wait for the things we want.  Most of the time Laurel gets bored and runs off to play during the longer waits, but Ellie is a much more patient child.  She will happily stand on a chair, occasionally stirring a simmering pot of soup for twenty minutes, and yell if I try to get her to stop.  I think she’s going to take after me, finding her zen in the motion of a whisk.

So, let’s hear from you.  Hop down to the comment section, and tell me if you let your kids cook with you.  How old are they?  What are their favorite cooking tasks?  Or do you think kids should stay out of the kitchen?  Let me hear it!

Food Snob

I'll cook anything for love

I’ll cook anything for love

It all started with a simple question.

A friend and I were discussing what we were making for dinner.  I told her that I was making meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  She then said, “Oo!  Meatloaf!  Can I have your recipe?!”  I don’t have a recipe for meatloaf, and I told her so.  She got a sort of miffed expression on her face and told me I didn’t have to be such a food snob.

A food snob?  Me?  I’m not talking about making duck a l’orange here.  I’m talking about meatloaf, one of the most basic staples of housewives for generations.  So I asked her to elaborate, and she told me that this isn’t the first time I’ve told her that I didn’t use a recipe for something I was cooking.  That in the past she has asked me for my recipe for something and I’ve just rattled off a list of ingredients and instructions to her, when she really just wanted me to email it to her later.  She said it made her feel like I was acting superior to her, because she didn’t memorize things so easily.

Whoa there, I told my friend.  I use recipes a LOT.  I’m always making new stuff, and thanks to Pinterest, my family never gets a chance to get bored with any of it before I find something new to make.  I have a folder stuffed with recipes that I’ve copied down from online, recipes I’ve ripped out to magazines, and recipes that I’ve collected from family members.  I have very few things memorized.

She scowled and said that making new stuff all the time makes me sound even snobbier.  She makes the same basic stuff all of the time “like a normal person.”  Apparently I make her feel like she’s not doing enough, like she’s a bad wife and mother.

Ok, hold up.  Is it me, or are you seeing this a lot lately?  Moms feeling like they are in competition with each other?  Or that they aren’t as “good” as other moms?  Me too.  And it needs to stop.

Look, I told my friend, just because I can make stuff without a recipe doesn’t mean that you aren’t as good of a mom as me.  It means we grew up differently and have different priorities.

I grew up in a house where most stuff was made from scratch.  We didn’t have a lot of convenience foods around.  I didn’t know that mac and cheese could come from a box until I was in high school, and didn’t actually taste it until I was in my twenties.  Take-out didn’t really exist yet, and nobody delivered to our farm.

I can remember my mom teaching me how to make meatloaf when I was a kid. I thought it was cool because I got to smush it with my hands.  I’m sure she was quite willing to pawn that job off on someone else.  My mom was (and still is) a pretty boring cook, and most meals consisted of meat, starch (usually potatoes), and (frozen) veggies.  Rice was exotic.  Spices didn’t move much beyond salt and pepper.  She was an awesome baker, however, and some of my fondest memories revolve around cookies, cakes, and pies.

From the time I was 14 to 17 my mom was the Camp Director at a Girl Scout camp, and she was only home every other weekend for the entire summer.  Since my dad worked all day, it fell to me to do the cooking, cleaning, and laundry.  I still hate cleaning and laundry, but I really fell in love with cooking during this time.  My dad has a much more adventurous palate than my mother, keeping a cabinet full of things like Thai spices and lentil soup mixes that he cooked for himself on weekends.  Because of this, I felt that I could branch out from mom’s standard recipes into unknown territory.  I searched through cookbooks and cooking magazines for fun new things to try.  Sometimes I crashed and burned.  I remember when we decided to try making General Tso chicken at home.  It was so bad that we went out for pizza.  But most of what I made was really good.  I learned new techniques, and more importantly, I learned how to put together flavors.

In college I was the only one of my friends who lived in an apartment instead of the dorms.  The food on campus was….sad.  So I’d invite my friends over to my place and cook for them.  They would take turns asking for stuff they missed from home. (Non-mushy pasta was a theme.)  For the end of the year, I made five cornish game hens, each stuffed and seasoned with different stuff.  It was during college that I realized that food could bring joy and comfort.

Fast forward to the present, where I have a spouse and two kids to feed.  All three of them are pretty picky, so my cooking is limited to what I can actually convince them to eat.  (The girls are more persuadable than Chev, by the way.)  I don’t really cater to the girls’ tastes, because it is my opinion that four year olds don’t have the experience to tell me definitively what they do and do not like.  So I cook what the grown ups like, and if the kids don’t eat, well, then they don’t eat.  But I really like when I find a new recipe that all of us like, and I don’t want to fall into a rut, making the same handful of things all the time.  I cook for fun as well as for fuel.

And there is the difference between my friend and I.

I’m not really a food snob.  I just really, REALLY like to cook.  I’ve been cooking for twenty years.  I love combining new flavors, trying new spices, and figuring out delicious ways to get my family to eat things they all claim to hate.  If I were young and single, I’d be a food writer and eat my way across the globe.

My friend didn’t grow up cooking.  She just wasn’t interested in learning how to cook from her mom or grandmother.  She was in sports, choir, 4-H, and band.  She had practices every night of the week.  In college she lived in a dorm and lived off of Ramen noodles.  Now she is married and has the cutest little boy I’ve ever seen.  For the first time in her life, she has found herself to be the person in charge of putting food on the table every night, and while she has basic cooking knowledge, she is no master chef.  Cooking just isn’t her thing.

And you know what?

That is ok.

We all have our own strengths.  My friend is super active.  She takes her little guy to the park almost every day.  She runs, plays tennis, and sings in her church choir.  Her son is in karate and t-ball.  Her hubby just did his first half marathon.  Their Facebook photos all depict them doing fun things like hiking, swimming, and having epic snowball fights.

They make me feel bad about me.

The fact is that the only kind of marathon I’m interested in involves Doctor Who and a large tub of popcorn.  My kids watch too much TV.  Chev and I are much more on the sloth end of the activity spectrum than the cheetah end.  I have zero desire to hang out in the frozen tundra of our yard while Laurel chucks snowballs at me.  I fear that we are raising the next generation of couch potatoes.

I explained this to my friend, and she got very quiet for a few minutes.  Then she hugged me.  She told me that she was afraid that I thought she wasn’t a good mom because she would rather go for a run than bake cookies with her kids.  I laughed and told her that I figured she thought I was a bad mom because my kids watch so much television.  It was like a barrier had broken down between us.  We were no longer judging ourselves by how we thought other people saw us.

We were just moms, talking about what we were making for dinner.

 

New Year, New Me (aka How I’m losing weight without hating every moment of it.)

I am trying to lose weight.

I know, it seems like everyone is trying to lose weight this time of year, but I’m REALLY trying to lose weight.  I’m 5’8″ and on New Year’s Day I weighed 204lbs.  That’s not healthy for anyone.  I could tell you that I want to lose weight for some really lofty reason, like my health or so I have more engery to chase the girls, and while that is true, the real reason is that I’m sick of looking like a tub of lard.  I want to be hot and be able to buy clothing that actually looks cool, not like something my grandmother would wear.  Call me shallow, but there it is.

I started my journey by joining my mommy group’s Biggest Loser challenge.  We all paid in $10, and whoever loses the most weight (by percentage, not poundage) gets the pot.  I’ve known these women for five years, and I feel comfortable posting before and after pictures of myself in my undies so that they can see them.  We trade recipes and workout tips.  It is really loving and supportive.  I am determined smoke them all.

I also joined myfitnesspal.com, which is a website (and cellphone app, if you have one of those) that tracks everything you eat and drink and all of the working out you do.  It’s pretty cool and has a huge food database.  You can enter in your own recipes and everything.  You put in your age, height, and weight, and tell it how much you want to lose, and it figures out your calorie intake goal for the day.  It also tracks fat, protein, sugar, sodium, and pretty much everything else.  It’s pretty cool.

But not perfect.

The problem is that it centers all of the goals on calories, and as we all know, all calories are NOT created equal.  If I was hungry, I’d look at how many calories I had left, and make my food desisions from there.  Sounds logical, right?

Not always.  An apple has a lot of calories.  More than a handful of pretzels.  So do I eat the apple, which I know is healthier, or do I eat the pretzels so I can sat within my calorie goal?  I really hate seeing my numbers go in the red, so I’d eat the pretzels.  Not good.

I really wanted to learn how to eat properly, so I started looking at other options.  I talked to a bunch of friends and family memebers, and finally bit the bullet.

I joined Weight Watchers.

That’s right, just like like a zillion other middle-aged housewives before me, I joined good ol’ WW.

And do you know what?

I LOVE IT.

Seriously.  I love the little tracker tools, and the way that points are figured out using fat, protein, fiber, and carbs, not just calories.  I love that most fruits and veggies are worth zero points, so I can fill up on them whenever I need a quick snack and not have to worry about them counting against me.  I love all of the recipe ideas.  I love that going to meetings is no longer mandatory, because there is no way I’m sitting around and discussing my feelings toward food.  But most of all, I love the weight I’m losing.

I have lost 12 pounds.

TWELVE pounds in four weeks!

I’m never hungry, either.  The points are generous, and you get a set amount of weekly points you can use anytime, so say, for example, you spend the Superbowl binge-eating pizza and chips, there is a cushion for you to fall back on without having to worry about it too much.  You don’t end up feeling defeated just because you pigged out for one day.  Everything is calculated weekly, with a weekly weigh-in.  It has all of the features of myfitnesspal, plus so much more.

I don’t want this to turn into an ad for WW (since I’m not getting paid for it), so I’ll just say one more time that I think they are awesome, and I’ll move on to the other half of the diet and exercise plan…. working out.

I hate exercising.

No, really.  I LOATH exercising.

There is nothing about it that I enjoy.  I think that people who say they like to work out have several screws loose.  I don’t like being hot, sweaty, or out of breath.  I don’t like feeling the burn.  I think working out is boring, uncomfortable, and an over-all pain in the butt.

But I know that one does not get skinny by sitting in front of a computer all day, watching Galavant.  (Have you seen it?  It is hysterical.)  So I started trying to find an exercise I didn’t hate.  I can’t afford to go to the gym, and even if I could, the idea of jiggling through a workout in front of other people is so repulsive to me that it is completely out of the question.  I can’t afford any kind of equipment, either, so no matter how cool those elliptical machines look on TV, that isn’t happening.  I live in Pennsylvania, where the world is two degrees and coated in ice, so outdoor activities are going to have to be put on hold for a few months.  Also, I can’t do anything that requires me to leave the kids unattended.  What does that leave?

I tried aerobics.  There are a ton of aerobic videos on You Tube that are free for the taking, so I gave a few of them a try.  Most of them move too fast from one thing to another, with no explainations.  By the time I’d figure out what the heck they were doing with their feet and arms, they were moving on to something else.  I know that if I did the same video over and over, eventutally I’d figure it out, but it was just SO discouraging.  The same thing happened with Zumba.  By the time I figured out the first three steps, they were moving on to something completely different.  Also, my coordination isn’t zumba-worthy.  Ask Chev about my dance skills. Plus, in order to do aerobics or zumba, I had to clean up the living room, move the coffee table and ottoman, lock the dog in the kitchen, and try not to kill myself tripping over the kids.  WAY too much work.   It was an exercise in futility.  (See what I did there?  I’m so funny.)

Then I thought to myself, “What CAN I do?  What is easy enough that I will actually do it?  What can I do to motivate myself?”

The answers:  I can walk.  Walking is easy enough that I don’t mind doing it, and even though I can’t go outside, I can walk in place.  While I watch Netflix.

And there is was, my new fitness plan:

I will walk in place while watching a TV show.

So simple, so stupidly lame, that even I can do it.

I picked a show (Glee) on Hulu and started walking while watching it.  That’s it!  That was my whole workout.  45 minutes of walking while watching angst-ridden teens and twenty-somethings sing about life.  I didn’t hate it!  Score!

Since starting, I’ve ratcheted up the workout.  First, I started jogging during commercials.  Then I added 3 lbs weights that I do arm exercises with while I walk.  Sometimes I do side-steps and wide marching.  Now I’ve started doing jumping jacks during commercials, which is something I’ve never been able to do.  I can tell that I’m getting fitter.  Soon I’ll be jogging through the shows!

While I still don’t like to exercise, I DO like knowing that I can do stuff now that I couldn’t do before, and I’m looking forward to spring, when I can start walking and jogging outside.  But I’ll miss watching Master Chef while I’m doing it.

Try

Unless you live under a rock, I’m sure you have seen the new Colbie Cailat video for her song “Try.”  If you haven’t, you can watch it here.  I think it is a great video with a great message, not to mention a catchy song that has been stuck in my head for two days.  While the lyrics have been rolling around in there, it got me thinking.  This is an important message, not just for girls and women, but for everyone.  So here is my non-rhyming, extended version of “Try.”

For the moms out there, trying to do it all, trying to clean the house, and make the beds, and keep the kids clean, happy, and healthy.  Trying to look perfect at the school drop off, worrying about your roots and your shoes and if anyone noticed the worn spots on your purse or the snot stains on your shirt.  Running the kids to dance and t-ball and gymnastics and karate.  Forgetting to eat lunch, but thinking it’s ok because you really need to lose those last few pounds anyway.  Searching Pinterest for a recipe for meatloaf that your four year old will actually put in his mouth while telling your kids that they can only watch one more episode of My Little Ponies, because you are worried about the amount of screen time they are getting.  Doing the dishes, cooking food that half your family won’t even eat, smiling for your partner because you know s/he had a rough day at work, and you really don’t want to burden them with the stress you have building up inside you.  Posting a picture of your smiling family on Facebook while editing the story of your super fun family picnic so people don’t find out that your drank too much wine and your partner ran over the beach ball and your youngest smeared poop on the picnic blanket, and now that you think about it, did you ever take the laundry out of the washing machine?  Yelling at your kids, even though you know you shouldn’t but you are just So Tired, and can’t they all just cut you a break?  Thinking you aren’t fun enough, creative enough, smart enough, energetic enough, put together enough, good enough of a mom for your kids to like you.

You don’t have to try so hard.  You don’t have to give all of yourself away.  You don’t have to be perfect Every. Single. Day.  You don’t have to worry so much about if people like you.  Your kids like you.

For the preteen and teenaged boys and girls who are just figuring out who they are, wanting to fit in but not knowing how to do it.  Worrying about being cool.  Begging their parents for the right cloths, the right shoes, the right phone, for makeup, for anything that makes them seem older.  Pushing their Barbies and toy trucks into a closet, even though they still like them.  Girls dumbing themselves down because boys don’t like it if you are smarter than they are.  Boys playing sports they don’t like, because girls don’t like wusses.  Hiding tears, hiding fears, hiding hopes and dreams until you can’t find them anymore. Forgetting what you want to be when you grow up in the hype of being cool now.  Swearing to sound daring.  Smoking your first cigarette to fit in, thinking addiction only happens to other people.  Feeling invincible and horribly vulnerable at the same time. Hoping the other kids will like you.

You don’t have to try so hard.  You don’t have to grow up today. Being true to yourself is cool.  You don’t have to change a single thing.  Don’t change so much that you don’t like you.

For the girl who has discovered that she doesn’t like boys in that way, who dates her best friend’s ex boyfriends because it’s the closest thing she can get to her.  Who changes the pronouns in her poetry to be more socially acceptable.  Who goes out with every guy who asks her so that no body knows that she doesn’t like any of them.  Who cuts herself to release the pain inside of her.  Who falls into the rabbit hole that is the internet, because that is the only place she can be who she really is.  Who applies for a college as far from home as possible in the hopes that she can just be herself there.  Hoping to find a nice girl who will like you.

You don’t have to try so hard.  You don’t have to bend until you break.  You just have to stand up, be proud, and find your own place.  Don’t worry, you’ll find lots of people who like you.

For the politicians on both sides of the ever-more-prominent dividing line between parties, getting too wrapped up in finding things wrong with the other side to actually get any work done. Letting the power get to your head.  Forgetting why you started out in politics in the first place.  Forgetting about helping people.  Forgetting about changing the world.  Right wing getting caught up in a religious debate that has nothing to do with making policy.  Left wing too busy trying to be clever to realize that you are losing ground.  Letting the country down as you pick each other apart.  Worrying so much if your constituents like you.

You don’t have to try so hard to make us look the other way.  You just have to shut up, suck it up, and work toward a better day.  Put your differences aside, they are what make this country great.  And stop worrying about how many voters like you.

For everyone with a hidden illness, trying to put on a brave face.  Smiling through the tears, working through the pain.  People telling you to man up and get over it, saying you don’t look sick, rolling their eyes when you call off of work AGAIN.  Popping the pills the doctor gives you, hoping that this time maybe they will work.  Signing up for clinical studies, looking for an answer.  Praying to your Gods for an answer.  Wondering why me?  What did I do?  How am I going to ever deal with this?  Hoping you didn’t pass it down to your kids.  Wishing everyone would just Leave. You. Alone.  But at the same time wishing someone would hold you tight and make it all better.  Getting glared at by little old ladies when you use your handicapped parking placard at Target.  Hearing them mutter about how you must have stolen it from your grandmother, because you are too young to need it.  Hiding the sorrow in your voice when you have to cancel plans with your friends and family because you just don’t have the energy left to see them.  Wishing that they understood you.

You don’t have to try so hard.  You don’t have to hide it all away.  You just have to reach out, ask for help, and make it through every day.  Don’t hide your pain, it is part of who you are, and your family likes you.

For the parents of children with special needs, sitting sleepless by their bedside, holding their hands until their little eyes close and their breathing slows.  Knowing you are going to have to get up in a couple hours and go to work or get the other kids up or run another feed through the tube.  Driving from one appointment to another, doctors, therapists, specialists, orthatists, psychologists.  Fighting the insurance company over and over and over again.  Applying for benefits that you know your child is entitled to, but you still feel guilty about needing to ask for.  Watching kids younger than yours do things you can only dream of your child being able to do.  Trying to quiet the voice in your head that keeps you awake at night, while it screams all of the things your child will never have, never be, never know.  Drying your child’s tears the first time that they realize that they are different and the other kids don’t want to play with them.  Fighting the school district for better inclusion, better anti-bullying rules, better training for the teachers who take care of your baby for the majority of her day.  Searching the internet for new studies, new treatments, new devices that could make your child’s life a little better.  Ignoring stares, answering questions, smiling at well-meaning people who just make things worse.  Fighting to get the R word removed from the world’s vocabulary.  Hoping for a better tomorrow for your child.

You don’t have to try so hard.  You don’t have to do it on your own.  You just have to love that child and enjoy every single day.  Just tell them “Baby, I like you.  I will always like you.”

 

You don’t have to try so hard.  You don’t have to bend until you break.  Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, do you like you?  Cuz I like you.

 

 

 

Dogs Are Not Babies

 

Foster

Foster

 

The other day a friend of mine told me that she understands the craziness of my life because she just got two new puppies, and it is NUTS at her house.  At first I just stared at her in disbelief, then I laughed hysterically.  But it got me thinking…this isn’t the first time I’ve heard people liken having puppies or dogs to having children.  I’m fairly sure I even made the comparison myself, before having the girls.  Because until you have kids, you have NO idea.  You just don’t know what crazy is.  And to prove this to you, here are some ways that dogs and children differ.

1.  Puppies come to you at around 8 weeks of age, fully weaned, running, and ready to play.  Babies..not so much.  Ignoring the entire pregnancy and birthing process, babies take a year to start eating real food and walking.  That’s a year of late-night feedings, and a year of carrying your baby around everywhere you go.  No just snapping on a leash and hitting the road.

2.  Puppies potty train within weeks of coming home.  Toddlers, on the other hand, can take years.  YEARS of dirty diapers, of poopslosions, of peeing in your face, of peeing on your couch, of pooping in your lap.  You get the picture.  Cleaning up your puppy’s messes has NOTHING on cleaning up after a toddler who has discovered that poop is just like finger paint that you make yourself.

3.  You are allowed, in fact encouraged, to train your puppy to sleep through the night by locking him in a small crate.  Try that with your kids, and you’ll find out if orange really is the new black.

4.  You can call your dog a asshole and not feel guilty about it.  You also don’t have to worry about your dog repeating those words in front of other people.  Actually, I wish my dog would start cursing.  Then at least I could make some money off the little jerk.

5.  You can have a dog and still have a life.  Need to go to the grocery store?  Pop Fido in his cozy little crate, grab your wallet, and be on your way.  Same with going out with your friends on a Friday night.  Not with kids.  Junior has to go with you everywhere.  No crates for babies.  Going to the grocery store with a baby is more like an Antarctic expedition.  You need the carrier, blankets, toys, snacks, lists, coupons (because now that you have kids, you have a LOT less money), diapers, wipes, and….. you get the point.  As for going out on a Friday…unless you can shell out for a sitter, your ass is staying home.  Sitters don’t make a couple bucks an hour like they did when we were young, either.  We’re talking $10 an hour in most places.  Good luck with that.

Puppy Love

Puppy Love

6.  Babies cost more.  I don’t care how many toys, treats, beds, clothes, or organic dog food bags you buy for your dog, it has nothing on a baby.  And toddlers?  Helloooo growth spurts, goodbyyye money.  They will eat you out of house and home.  And they aren’t satisfied with eating the same dry kibble every day, either.  Once they get off of breast milk or formula, they will eat everything.  I swear they can taste how expensive something is, too, and they will decide that the thing they want more than anything is the most expensive food in the house.  Don’t even get me started on the cost of daycare, preschool, or activities.  I’m going to need a second mortgage to pay for gymnastics.

7.  Babies take up more space.  Before we had kids, we lived in a 20’x20′ apartment with two dogs, two cat, and two snakes.  We had plenty of room.  It was great.  Then the girls were born, and we realized that this just wasn’t going to work anymore.  So we bought a house.  Holy crap.  Talk about expensive.

8.  Dogs love you unconditionally.  No matter what I do, my dog loves me.  If I have to go somewhere, he is waiting for me at the door, tail wagging and tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, just happy as can be.  If I don’t have time to rub his belly, he forgives me and lays at my feet until I can give him a quick pat.  I can call him any name under the sun, and he will just keep licking my face.  My girls, on the other hand, are a bit less forgiving.  Now, I know they love me, and that the always will, but they are almost four, so…  If I go somewhere without them:  tantrum.  If I don’t drop everything I’m doing to pay 100% attention to them:  tantrum.  If I give them the wrong color cup:  tantrum.  You get the picture.  I know its not that they don’t love me. I’m not an idiot.  But they sure have crazy ways of showing it at this age.  Dogs, on the other hand, are much simpler in their emotions.

9.  Dogs don’t care about Barney.  Or Strawberry Shortcake.  They don’t cry if I want to watch Master Chef instead of one more episode of Daniel Tiger.  Foster (my dog) just cares that he gets to snuggle up to me on the couch a little longer.

10.  Dogs are quieter, even when they are barking.  Until you have experienced the ear-shattering sound of a toddler who hasn’t gotten their own way, you have NO idea what noise is.

Let me say again that I love my kids and my dog, even though there are times I wish I could lock all three of them in the crate.  But they are different.  Very different.

Best frenemies

Best frenemies

Picky-Eating Partners

eat it or starve

I’ve been posting about food a lot lately, over on my Facebook Page, and I’ve gotten quite a few comments from people, saying they’d love to change the way their family eats, but their partner is SO picky.  They say they’d love to try to eat less meat, but their partners will never go for it.  It got me thinking, and I realized that I have seen about a million articles about getting picky kids to eat, but never one about how to get your picky partner to expand their horizons.  I suppose it is just assumed that, because someone is an adult, that their tastes are fixed and there is no hope of getting them to try new things.  Which is complete crap.  If you are a grown-up, you should always be willing to try new things.  That’s part of what is awesome about being a grown up!

I know what it’s like to cook for a picky partner.  Chev is crazy picky about food.  But I’ve learned to work around it, and I thought I’d share some of my secrets with you.

Let’s start by talking about Chev.  She’ll love that.  Chev is very much a “meat and potatoes” kind of person.  If it were up to her, all of our dinners would consist of a meat (beef, chicken, or pork), a starch (potatoes, rice, or pasta), and maybe a vegetable (corn, peas, or broccoli).  Maybe with the occasional pizza or taco night thrown in.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, I thought so.  Not that there is anything inherently wrong with eating like this; millions of people eat like this every day.  As someone who likes to cook and try new things, however, it is soul-crushingly boring.  Plus, I have borderline high cholesterol, so eating meat every day isn’t going to fly. Oh, and meat is crazy expensive.  Seriously, one of the easiest way to cut your grocery bill is to cut back on meat.  But I digress…

This sums Chev up perfectly

This sums Chev up perfectly

Chev is picky.  Oh, so picky.  The list of things she doesn’t like is a mile long, ranging from the exotic (curry of any sort) to the commonplace (tomatoes), and it makes my life a heck of a lot more difficult when it comes to meal planning.  I have discovered something, however, that has made my life much easier.  There is a difference between what she doesn’t LIKE and what she absolutely will NOT eat.  Think about it for a minute.  This holds true for most people.  I don’t really care for brussel sprouts, but I’ll eat one or two if they are on my plate.  But there is no way in hell that you are going to convince me that liver isn’t just glorified dog food.  We all have our limits.  Find your partner’s limits.  Figure out the things that they don’t even want to look at, let alone eat.  Those are your deal breakers.  Don’t even bother trying to sneak them in.  For Chev that would be fish.  She hates fish.  She’ll eat shrimp, scallops, crab, ect, but if it has fins and swims, forget it.  Except tuna from a can.  Apparently that is so far removed from the fish that it’s ok.  I don’t even try to understand it anymore.

Now that you know what is completely off limits, take a look at what is left on the “dislike” list.  Is there a way to prepare some of those foods that your partner might find more palatable?  Chev hates squash, because she doesn’t like the squishy texture they get when cooked, but I have a recipe for zucchini fritters that she really likes.  Why?  Because they are crispy, not mushy.  This works for a lot of foods.  I don’t like cooked cabbage (I think it tastes like farts smell), but I love raw cabbage (crispy crunchy goodness!).  So if your partner says they don’t like mushrooms, but you know that the only mushrooms they’ve ever eaten are the nasty canned ones that get put on top of pizza (shudder), try adding some fresh baby bellas to your next stir fry or pasta dish and see what happens.  I’d be willing to bet that you can cross a few more things off of the list.

Picky isn't an allergy

Picky isn’t an allergy

By now you should have a much more manageable list of foods that your partner won’t eat, so let’s talk about modifying recipes.  You can almost always change a recipe to accommodate different tastes. There are a bunch of ways you can do this, from leaving out certain ingredients to changing the ingredients to something more acceptable to the picky party.  I’ll give you some examples….

Shallots:  onions for people who don’t like onions.  These little beauties are quite possibly the least oniony onions I’ve found.  I use them in place of onions for every recipe I make.  They still give dishes the proper base, without horribly over-powering everything else.

Paprika:  just say no to black pepper.  Chev HATES black pepper.  We don’t even have it in the house.  Leaving pepper out of your recipes can make for some seriously bland food, however, so I use paprika.  It has a nice, mild flavor so it won’t conflict with any other herbs or spices you are using.

Herbs instead of salt.  Neither of us are big on salt, and its really not that great for you anyway, so I use a lot of herbs in my cooking.  Don’t be scared of herbs!  Just keep a few basics on-hand.  Remember, basil goes with everything.  Thyme and oregano go with Italian.  Cilantro is great with Mexican.  Sage and rosemary are great with roasted meats (but go easy on the rosemary….a little goes a long way!)

Sauces are replaceable.  Sometimes you find a great recipe, but then you start reading the ingredients for the sauce that goes with/over it and you think, “Well so much for that.  S/he’ll never eat it.”  I hear you, my friends, but don’t chuck the whole recipe!  We eat a lot of stir fry, but I never make the sauces that go along with the recipes.  Chev doesn’t like ginger.  Or vinegar.  Or anything else with strong flavors.  So this is what I do; I replace the sauce with one I know she’ll eat.  I keep a bottle of her favorite Asian sauce in the fridge; if she doesn’t like the sauce I made, she can always put some of that on her food.  Similarly, she won’t eat vinegar-based salad dressing, which seriously limits what kinds of pasta and grain salads I make.  Well, it did before I discovered a trick…. I add mayo to the vinaigrette.  Poof!  Her brain thinks, “Yum!  A creamy dressing!” and she eats it.  Seriously, I wish I had figured this out years ago.

June 048

The same tricks you use on your kids can work on your partner.  Shredding zucchini into sauces, using a smooth tomato sauce instead of a chunky one, pureeing veggies so they are less noticeable, and being all around sneaky can help you get different things into your partner without them even realizing it.  Chev hates chunks of tomato in her spaghetti sauce, so I buy smooth sauce (or chuck it in the food processor if I’m making my own.)  It’s the same thing, but made a little more picky-person-friendly.

I know what you are thinking.  “That’s all well and good, but there is no way my partner is going to willingly stop eating meat every day.”  I’ll be honest, it was a big shock to Chev’s system when I told her that we were only going to be eating meat every other day.  Its a lot less than that now.  We eat approximately four to five meat dishes in a two week time span.  The trick is to make food so hearty that they don’t miss the meat.  Load up on beans, legumes, hearty pasta dishes, quinoa (try the rainbow variety, it tastes better), and casseroles.  I found recipes for bean bolognese, veggie pot pie, veggie chowder, and so much more on Pinterest 

vegetarians

Don’t go crazy with new ingredients at first; ease your partner into change.  Don’t make a big deal about things.  Just start substituting something new for something old.  Tuesday night is usually pasta night?  Great!  Instead of meat sauce, try a creamy spinach sauce.  Do you like to make casseroles?  Awesome!  Instead of a chicken rice casserole, try broccoli quinoa casserole (one of Chev’s favorites).  Looking for something quick, but sick of sandwiches?  Try hummus melts (so easy, but so good.)  Just start adding some new stuff into your rotation and see how it goes.  Chances are, the less of a big deal you make it, the less your partner will object.

My final bit of advice is to tell you to put your foot down.  We have a rule at our house; no matter what I put in front of Chev, she isn’t allowed to say bad things, make yucky noises, or icky faces.  Why?  Because I’ll be damned if she is going to pass her pickiness along to the girls.  I have also made it clear to her that, while I will try to accommodate her pickiness, sometimes I just want to eat green beans with dinner, and she needs to deal with it.  She’s a grown woman, and sometimes that means sucking it up and eating what is put in front of her…. or making her own darn dinner!

kitchen closed