I Don’t Want Your Advice

I am the mother of a child with special needs, and I don’t want your advice.

There.  I said it.

I don’t want your advice.

I don’t want to hear your opinion about how I parent my child.

I don’t care about some study you read online that says that everything I’m doing is wrong.

I don’t want you to send me articles on Facebook that you skimmed over and think might be “helpful” when “dealing with” my child.

I don’t care about your snide remarks or rolled eyes when I mention that I am getting my child evaluated for another possible diagnosis.

I really, REALLY don’t want to hear about how you think that Sensory Processing Disorder or Autism or ADHD aren’t real.

I. Don’t. Want. Your. Advice.

Why, you ask?  Why wouldn’t the mother of a child with special needs want more advice, more information, more opinions?  Why wouldn’t she do everything in her power to help her child?  Why would she turn away anyone’s well-intentioned suggestions?

I’ll tell you why.

Because I’ve read it all already.  There is nothing out there that I haven’t seen, read, researched, and discussed with our doctors and therapists.  Nothing.  I’m not exaggerating.

No one does research like a parent of a child with special needs.

I have stayed up well past midnight more times than I can count, digging through every article out there, looking for new ways to connect with my child.  From health issues, to education, to social behavior, I’ve read it all.  It’s what I do.

But there is more.

I have knowledge that no one else in the world has.

I know my child.

After reading all of the information that the internet can provide (both valid and complete bullshit), I am as well-versed as a person can be in my child’s diagnoses, but more importantly, after almost 6 years of motherhood, I can safely say that I am an expert when it comes to my child.

I know what will and will not work when it comes to feeding, discipline, safety, and education.

I know that bribery will not work, because there is nothing that my child wants more than doing the thing she doesn’t want to do.

I know that time outs don’t work, but that quiet time in my lap does.

I know that I will probably have to hide veggies in sauces and dips for years to come.

I know that having an escape plan from any public situation is required because my child can only handle so much sensory input before she loses her mind.

I know that my child can not have freedom to walk next to the cart at Target because she will run the second I take my eye off of her.

I know that SPD, ASD, and ADHD are quite real, and anyone who says that they aren’t needs to do some research right after they get their head out of their ass.

I have a team of experts that help me implement the plan we have created to help my child be the very best she can be.  It’s not like I’m just making this stuff up as I go along. Between our pediatrician, specialists, occupational, speech, physical, and behavioral therapists we know that we’re on the right track.  And if something new pops up, I do my research again, and we alter our plan to take care of it.

I love my kids more than anything in the world.

Trust me to know what I’m doing.

 

Why I’m Tired

Someone asked me why I’m so tired all of the time.  At the time, I just said that I didn’t sleep well and left it at that, but the reality is that there is so much more to it.

Why am I tired?
Here’s why…

I am tired because in almost 6 years, Ellie has slept through the night maybe six times.

I am tired because Laurel is a very willful child who knows how to push every button I have.  Having the same arguments over and over again is mentally exhausting.

I am tired because in addition to her pediatrician and dentist Ellie sees seven different specialists, and it is my job to keep track of all of her appointments.

I am tired because every week Ellie has two half-hour sessions of speech therapy, two sessions of occupational therapy, a session of physical therapy, four hours with a behavioral coordinator, and fifteen hours split between two different behavioral therapists.  That’s right 21 1/2 hours of therapy.  Every week.

I am tired because I am now homeschooling Ellie, and most days she’s too tired to pay attention to half of what we do.

I am tired because Laurel wants more one-on-one time with me, so instead of relaxing on the weekend I try to squeeze in as much time with her as I can, which means that I have to cram things like cleaning in at night…the only other time I have to relax.

I am tired because keeping a house even relatively clean while having small children is one of the most futile battles a person can fight, but with therapists in our house 19 hours a week I have to do my best so they don’t call CPS on me.

I am tired because Ellie’s favorite word for three years has been NO.  She has also recently added the phrase “I can’t” to her repertoire.

I am tired because I have to feed a family of four (three of whom can’t have gluten, two of whom can’t have dairy) on a single, small income.  Not to mention pay the mortgage, the electric, and everything else.

I am tired because I have seen every episode of Sophia the First so many times that I can recite them all.  And the Lorax.  And Frozen.  And Mary freaking Poppins.

I am tired because every time we leave the house, I have to be on high alert, making sure Ellie is secure so she can’t wander off, dart into traffic, or happily go home with a stranger.

I am tired because it is my job to keep track of all of Ellie’s medications.  And Laurel’s.  And my own.

I am tired because I’m constantly watching my kids for signs of other issues.  Laurel may have ADHD.  Does Ellie just have Sensory Processing Disorder, or is she actually showing signs of Autism?  Is that eczema?  Not ringworm again!

I am tired because I don’t get enough exercise, and I don’t eat as well as I should.  How do people fit exercise into their schedules??  Also, pass the ice cream. I’m going to eat my feelings while binge watching NCIS.

I am tired because people expect me to be happy all the time, but most of the time I feel overwhelmed and lonely.  Being a mom is hard.  Being a mom of twins is harder.  Being a mom of a kid with special needs is harder still.  But people make it seem like if you admit that, you’re a bad mom.  I’m suppose to cherish every moment.  But some moments suck.  Some suck so bad that I want to hide in the laundry room and cry and never come out.

I am tired because when people ask how I’m doing, they don’t really want to know.  No one wants to hear that my day has sucked.  They have their own crap to deal with.

I am tired because I don’t see an end to being tired.  When I look ahead, I can’t be sure that I will ever get enough sleep, or be able to stop worrying.  Every stage brings new things to stress about.

I am tired because I’m a mom.

When Inclusion isn’t Right

Inclusion.

It is the new “thing” for kids with Down syndrome and other special needs.  Instead of having them stuck in a special education room, separate from their typical peers, as they have been since I was a child, they are included in the typical classroom.  The idea is that having everyone together will promote better understanding of differences for the typical peers, while giving the kids with special needs a sense of belonging and challenging them to be the best they can be.

If you have a child with special needs, and you belong to any kind of parent group (in real life or online), you know all about inclusion.  It is all some groups talk about.  It is the right thing to do!  It is the only way!  You must push for inclusion or you are doing your child a huge disservice!

At least that’s how it seemed to me, when the time came to enroll Ellie in kindergarten.  The thing was, I wasn’t sure about all of that.  Ellie has some pretty significant delays, and I really didn’t feel that being in a typical classroom all day was right for her.  So we opted to have her in the Life Skills (the new name for special ed) class for the majority of the day, with only a small fraction of her time spent in the typical class across the hall.

It worked for her for the most part.  With her speech delays and the fact that she couldn’t even draw a proper circle yet, it made sense for her to be in a smaller class where she could get more one on one attention.  She was being taught the same things as the kids in the typical class, but on a slower schedule. The typical class spent one day on each letter.  Ellie’s class spent two to three days on each letter.  If Ellie got tired (as she often does) she could curl up on one of the little mats and take a short nap, then wake up ready to learn some more.  The kids in her typical class loved her, and whenever she missed school would ask when she was coming in.  We’ve been working on having her in the typical more and more as the school year goes along.  Because inclusion is the way to go, right?

The problem was that Ellie was missing more and more days of school.  The plethora of germs that abound in a kindergarten classroom were doing a number on her health.  While other kids (like Laurel) can get a cold and be over it in a couple days, when Ellie gets sick she stays sick for a week or more.  Then, around Thanksgiving, she got really sick.  And didn’t get better.  After three rounds of antibiotics, several chest x-rays, nebulizer treatments, and missing a month of school we finally saw a pulmonologist who diagnosed Ellie with asthma. With the help of yet another round of antibiotics to clear up the pneumonia she had developed along with a new regime of asthma meds, she finally got healthy.

Then she went to school for a week.

Luckily we’ve been snowed in this entire week, because she’s sick again.  At least it won’t count against her attendance, since the school has been closed.  We are just hoping that she’s well enough to go to school on Monday.  I haven’t looked at the numbers lately, but I’m fairly sure that she’s been out of school almost as much as she’s been in.

During her two months of sickness, Ellie’s pediatrician said something to me that really stuck.

“I don’t think that school is good for Ellie’s health.”

I laughed it off at the time, because really, what was the alternative?

But it’s been in there, in the back of my brain while we’ve worked to get Ellie better, and it’s made me really reevaluate what Ellie needs vs what the Down syndrome community as a whole has been pushing for.  At what point does the push for socialization and interaction with her peers get outweighed by her need to stay healthy?  How much education is she really getting, when she is missing days, weeks, even a whole month of school?  What, really, are the alternatives?

Luckily, we live in Pennsylvania where there are a lot of educational options, from public and private schools to charter schools, homeschooling, and cyber schools.  Laurel attends a public charter school for the arts, but a brick and mortar school of any kind would cause Ellie the same problems as her current situation.  That leaves home and cyber school.  I know myself too well to pretend that I have the discipline to homeschool my child.  I need to be accountable to someone or I will let her slack off.  That leaves cyber school, which will give us the flexibility we need (we’ll actually be able to get Ellie all of the therapy she’s suppose to have, since we’ll be able to do it during the day), the ability for her to learn even when she’s home sick, and keeps me accountable because we have to login every day.

I am meeting with PA Cyber’s IEP team in a couple weeks to talk about pulling Ellie from her current school and enrolling her in cyber school.  I am doing the least inclusive thing I possibly could.  And you know what?  That’s ok.  Because sometimes inclusion isn’t the right answer.  Sometimes your child’s immune system can’t handle being in a class of 20 other germ infested five year olds.  Sometimes interaction with that many kids is too overwhelming for all of their senses.  Sometimes school is just too much for your child’s body, mind, and spirit.

Sometimes you have to listen to your gut, not the mommy group.

I think that inclusion is a great thing, and that it does a lot of kids a world of good.  But it just isn’t right for us right now.  Maybe when she’s older and stronger she’ll be able to handle being in a brick and mortar school.  For now, we’ll keep her home and let her immune system have a break from the constant onslaught of germs and stress that she’s been dealing with since September.  We’ll have more control over her schedule and her education, and that is what’s best for Ellie.

 

 

Straw

We always blame the single straw
That breaks the camel’s back.
Instead of blaming all the weight
Of the others in the sack.

This week my back broke. It must have, because while I pride myself on my ability to roll with the punches, to accept all of the little things that I can not change, here I sit, completely stressed out and overwhelmed.

What was the straw that did me in?  What, as the mother of a child with special needs, after years of tests and diagnosis and medical interventions, finally floored me?

Ellie may have had a seizure.

After finally getting better after months (yes, months) 0f illness, after getting a diagnosis of asthma, after starting three new meds to control that asthma, after learning how to use and inhaler, a spacer, and a nebulizer, after all of that, and just when we thought we were in the clear..she had a possible seizure Monday night.

We aren’t even sure that it was a seizure, but I caught it on video and the pediatrician was concerned enough that he scheduled an EEG for next week with a neurologist appointment to follow.

It was like I could feel something break inside me.

Suddenly everything has hit me so hard.  One more specialist.  One more thing to obsessively Google.  One more possible diagnosis.  One more thing to lose sleep over (because did you know that kids who have seizures in their sleep can stop breathing and die?  I didn’t, but now I do.)  One. More. Thing.

Crack.

There went my back.

With worries about seizures came a whirlwind of other thoughts that have been building up inside me ever since kindergarten started.  How we just don’t seem to have any time anymore.  Now that she’s started getting behavioral therapy we have no free evenings.  None.  Monday- physical therapy.  Tuesday- dance.  Wednesday- occupational and speech therapy.  Thursday- behavioral therapy.  Friday- Shabbat and/or more behavioral therapy.  I work every Saturday.  Sunday is the only day off we get, and we are all so tired that we rarely do anything fun.   And she still only gets half of the therapies that she should get.  We just can’t fit any more in.

I’ve gotten to the point of considering home or cyber school for Ellie, even though I love how much she loves school and all of her friends.  At least she would be able to get all of her therapies and then we could sign her and Laurel up for some of the fun activities they keep asking for, like Little League and Girl Scouts.  Because right now, they are out of the question.

 

I am so freaking tired.

No, everyone is tired.

I am drained.

I feel like I have nothing left to give.

I know that throwing in the towel isn’t an option, though, and that is part of what’s so damn depressing about it.  I have to soldier on.  I have to suck it up, buttercup, and keep on keeping on.  Because there is no other option.  My kids depend on me.  Chev depends on me.  My job depends on me.  My friends depend on me.  No matter how bad I’d like to run away, I can’t.  That’s what being an adult is, I suppose.  But damn it sucks sometimes.

There is a thing called Caretaker Burnout.  If you’ve never heard of it, you are looking right at it.  I know what it is. I know I have it.  What I don’t know is how to make it go away.  No amount of “me time” is going to fix it.  I just spend the time thinking and worrying about the same things I think and worry about the rest of the time.  Someone suggested I join a support group for parents of kids with special needs.  Like I can fit one more monthly meeting into my schedule.  I don’t know if there is a cure.  I think it just becomes part of your life.

I’ve been tired for so long that I don’t remember what it’s like to wake up refreshed and ready to start the day.  But I can still usually put on a happy face and feel pretty optimistic about our prospects as a family. Today I can’t.

Damn straw.

Gone Girl

Picture 026

Ellie is a runner.

Ever since she could walk, we have had to keep a very close watch on her when we are out of the house.  She doesn’t like to hold hands and will not walk nicely alongside of us like her sister does.  If allowed any bit of freedom at a store, she will quickly scoot off into another aisle, or across the store, or find a stranger’s legs to hug.  I have had to catch her on the threshold of Target, before she toddled into the busy parking lot.

Ellie has no sense of danger, physical or stranger.  Anyone who smiles at her is a friend, and she will happily climb up in their lap or follow them out of the park.  Cars, swings, strange dogs…none of them scare her.  This makes doing things like going to the playground or walking three blocks up the street nerve wracking to say the least.

To foil Ellie’s penchant for wandering, we generally keep her contained when out in public.  At stores, she sits in the cart.  At the park I wear her in my toddler Beco.  For trips to the mall I break out the stroller even though she’s getting too big for it.  She doesn’t always appreciate being strapped in, but at least we don’t have to chase her while dragging Laurel along behind us.  All in all, containment has worked for us up until now.

Last week we went to a Memorial Day picnic.  There were lots of friends and family, and the girls had a bunch of other kids to play with.  Even with the girls’ food issues (Ellie is now gluten AND dairy free), there was lots for everyone to eat.  Ellie discovered the joys of watermelon.  All in all it was a great day.

At the end of the day I went inside to pack up our stuff.  I was in the house for no more than two minutes when someone ran inside and asked if Ellie was with me.  My heart froze as I told them that no, she was not.  I ran into the backyard, up the walk, and through the open gate to the front of the house.  I looked, but I didn’t see Ellie anywhere.  Calming down, I was turning to go search the backyard when another guest yelled, “There she is!”

Ellie was two blocks away, calmly walking down the middle of the street towards an intersection.

I have not run that fast in my entire life.

I called her name.  I yelled for her to stop, to freeze.  She didn’t even look back at me.  She just kept walking towards the end of the street.

Finally, she turned and looked at me, stopping in the middle of the road.  I tried to get her to come to me, but she didn’t understand, so I ran to her and scooped her up.

I have never been that scared in my life.  The image of her, wandering down the road, is burned into my mind.  I keep imagining what could have happened.  I see a car flying around the corner and tossing her little body into the sky.  I see her broken on the ground.   I imagine what would have happened if I had searched the backyard first, if she had two, three, four more minutes alone. I think about how far she could have gotten, how lost she would have been.  When and where would she have been when she realized that she couldn’t find me?  Would some good samaritan have stopped her, asked her for her name, just to find that she can barely talk?  How long until the police would have shown up to help us search?  What if we never found her?

It doesn’t matter that none of that actually happened, what matters is that it could happen again.  We are constantly watching Ellie when we aren’t home.  But it happened once and it could happen again.  She disappeared from a yard full of adults.  Chev thought she was in the house with me.  I thought she would be safe with all of those eyes on her for a few minutes. No matter how faithfully we practice constant vigilance there is that chance that she could slip away.  And I can’t handle it.

The day after the picnic I started searching the web for tips, tricks, and products to help keep Ellie safe.  From squeaky shoes and child trackers to complicated locks and child leashes, I could probably now hold educational lectures on the topic of child elopement.  We have decided on a new pair of squeaky shoes, since she really liked those when she was younger, and a Tile tracker, which doesn’t have GPS, but I really like the features it does have.

We have also decided that Ellie needs more help than we can give her, so we are applying for a service dog.

If you thought that service dogs were only for the blind or people in wheelchairs, you would be mistaken.  Dogs are now trained for everything from sniffing out peanuts for kids with severe allergies to providing the gentle nudge that a child with OCD needs to break a behavior cycle.  The dogs we are most interested in, however, are those which are trained for kids with Autism.  These dogs are trained to be tethered to their charges and to plant themselves on the ground, unmoving, to prevent them from wandering away.  They are also trained to use their sense of smell to find their kids if they do get lost.  The dogs can be trained to provide comfort and support to children, like Ellie, who cannot self-soothe when they get upset.   If a child is constantly waking up at night and can’t fall back asleep without a parent with them, a service dog can be trained to sleep with them, taking the place of the parent, like a fuzzy security blanket.  Or if a child wakes up at night and wanders (another trait that Ellie has developed), the dog can alert the parents that s/he is out of bed.  They can provide support for kids with balance issues, or who need help navigating stairs and uneven ground.  There are so many things that service dogs can be trained to do!

I am currently in the process of getting referrals filled out by two of Ellie’s therapists, and I’m meeting with her pediatrician on Wednesday to talk about her recent behavior and get the doctor’s paperwork filled out.  Then I’ll be mailing it all to 4 Paws for Ability in Ohio.  We are really excited about this new journey we are hoping to embark on.  (em-bark…see what I did there?)  I promise to keep you, my lovely followers, updated on our progress.

Until then, is it ok if I just never let Ellie out of the house again?

Carrying On

Today is a bitter-sweet day at our house.

Today I am saying goodbye to a faithful friend, one who has really lended me support over the past few years, one on whom Ellie has depended on many occasions.

I am, of course, talking about my Ergo baby carrier.

That’s right, after four solid years of use, Ellie has out-grown her Ergo.  I couldn’t have asked for a better carrier.  My only regret is that I didn’t get it when the girls were first born, because it would have really made those first few months a lot easier.  As it is, the Ergo enabled me to do things that would have been impossible without it, like hiking, going to the fair, and eating with both hands when Ellie was sick and refused to be put down.  I love my Ergo.

All good things must come to an end, however, and it is time to pack up my old friend and send it off to someone else, who I can only hope will appreciate it as much as I did.  While still technically under the weight limit, Ellie is simply too big to fit comfortably in the Ergo now, and it has been getting progressively less comfortable for me to wear her on my back over the past six months.  So farewell, old friend.  You will always be remembered as the single most useful baby item I ever owned.

“But wait,” you say, “You said today was bitter-sweet.  Where is the sweet part?”

Well, my friends, let me introduce you to the newest addition to our household…..

Picture 117The Beco toddler carrier.

Picture 125Holy crap is this thing awesome.

New to the relatively small market of toddler carriers, the Beco is all that I could wish for in a carrier.  Besides the considerable size difference between my baby Ergo, I am loving the way it is constructed.  The waist clip is adjustable from both sides, so it can be clipped right in the middle, which I find a lot more comfortable.  The shoulder straps are SO much cushier than the Ergo, and they are really easy to adjust.  I’m no longer getting strangled by the chest clip, either, which is a very nice change.  I can even wear her on my front, something I haven’t been able to do for a really long time in the Ergo.  There is a little pocket on the waist band, a snap-on zippered pouch, and an adjustable snap-on hood.  It also comes with a super cute little carrying bag, so there will be no more flailing straps in the back of my car.

Ergo Baby on top of Beco Toddler.  Note the size difference!

Ergo Baby on top of Beco Toddler. Note the size difference!

Look how thick the straps are, compared to my old Ergo!

Look how thick the straps are, compared to my old Ergo!

Where can you get this wonder?  Well, I snagged one from Lil Tulips, and it only took three days to get to my house.  You can’t beat that for service!  Now, I know they are pricey at $200, but I really think they are worth the money.  I am notoriously cheap, but I know that I am going to use this carrier for at least two more years, and some things are just worth investing in.

All packed up in the little storage bag.

All packed up in the little storage bag.

Especially when you have a child who has special needs.  Because while a toddler carrier may be a convenience item for most families, it is pretty much a necessity for us.  Ellie simply can’t walk for long on her own, and hiking is pretty much out of the question.  Add in her dislike for holding our hands and complete lack of stranger danger, and a carrier is a must.  I was really worried about what we were going to do when I realized that Ellie was going to outgrow her Ergo before she could walk really well.  Thank goodness for the all of the babywearing mamas out there who have spurred the carrier companies to create carriers for bigger kids!

Ready to hit the trail.  Or the mall.  Whatever comes first.

Ready to hit the trail. Or the mall. Whatever comes first.

So while we are sad to say goodbye to our friend, the Ergo, Ellie and I are very excited to start our Beco journey… one step at a time.

Someone was sad that this post wasnt about her.

Someone was sad that this post wasnt about her.

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.

 

Ostara Fun for Everyone

eggs

The spring equinox is upon us, and the girls and I have been having fun getting ready.  While looking for ideas of things to do with them, I noticed a serious lack of information on the Web about how to include small children in Pagan/Wiccan celebrations.  So I thought I’d share what we do with you.  If you are looking for some other great ideas, I highly recommend the book Circle Round by Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill.  It is chock-full of stories, songs, and craft ideas.

I’ve been telling them the story of Persephone and reading them Rupert’s Tales, story-poems about a sweet little rabbit who is learning about the different Pagan holidays.  We’ve been listening to a lot of Ostara Songs, but the big favorite is by Lisa Thiel.  Laurel likes to sing along with that one, even if she gets most of the words wrong.

Yesterday we made Ostara cookies, because nothing says “spring” more than the marriage of eggs, butter, and flour.  Get the recipe for these super good gluten free sugar cookies here.  We painted them with “cookie paint” before they were baked.  Just mix half an egg yolk with a smidgen of water and some food coloring, then let your little artists have at it.

Cookies are good for any reason, any season.

Cookies are good for any reason, any season.

Today we dyed Ostara eggs.  What makes Ostara eggs different from Easter eggs?  Not a dang thing.  I wish I could tell you that I made my very own all natural dyes from different plants, but I would be lying.  I am too sick and tired to do that stuff right now.  So a Paas egg dying kit from Target was what we used.  For the record, the “magic crayon” that comes with it is useless.  I was so let down that my pretty designs didn’t show up.  Thankfully, the girls didn’t care.

Laurel made all of the pink eggs.

Laurel made all of the pink eggs.

Since eggs are such a big part of Ostara, tomorrow we’ll be celebrating by eating Ham, Egg, and Potato Bake off of the adorable plates that the girls picked out at Target.  For dessert it is traditional to have custard, but I’m making a bunny shaped vanilla cake with coconut icing.  Because….cake.

Seriously, how cute are these?!

Seriously, how cute are these?!

Long before dinner, however, the girls will wake up to their Ostara “baskets.”  Traditionally, these would be made from wicker or grape vines or some other lovely natural material.  But my girls get baskets as Easter.  This year for Ostara they are getting metal pails filled with gardening supplies.  Then we will plant the little seeds they got in mason jars, so they can watch them grow.

My herbs are already sprouting!

My herbs are already sprouting!

I don’t think we are going to actually hide any eggs for the girls to find this year, since it is still pretty cold outside and our new puppy would eat anything we hid in the house, but they will enjoy eating them all the same.  Luckily, they are still to young to know any differently.  And before you get up in arms about the lack of candy in their buckets, have no fear…. they will get plenty next month when they get to pretty much do all of this over again, but on a much bigger scale.

Happy Ostara!

 

Painting Cookies!

They look good enough to eat...all in one sitting!

They look good enough to eat…all in one sitting!

Today Laurel and I made cut-out cookies.  I wanted to make up for making cookie-looking non-cookie ornaments the other day.  Because I’m all about fairness.  And baked goods.

The fates smiled upon our house today, and Laurel was on her best, most adorable behavior.  So after we put Ellie on the school bus we broke out the cookie dough we made yesterday.  Laurel picked out which cookie cutters to use, and helped to cut the dough.  The only fuss she made was when I wouldn’t let her roll the dough out herself.  (That’s a quick way for it to end up on the floor!)  She told me how many of each shape to make, and we had a great time.  Then it was off to the table to decorate them!

If you have ever made cut-out cookies with a young child, you have seen the way they apply sprinkles.  Usually it involves 1/2 an inch of colored sugar on top of each cookie, non of which actually melts, and it just gets everywhere.  So I wanted some kind of (less messy) alternative to sprinkles.  Enter…..Cookie Paint!

Picture 027

Paint + Cookies = One happy Lil’ Bear!

I remembered seeing a post somewhere at some point about making cookie paint out of egg yolk and food coloring, so I decided we’d give that a shot.  And it worked great!  Laurel loves to paint more than anything in the world, so it was a natural fit.  I decided on a limited pallet of colors, and only made red, green, and blue.  The blue didn’t really want to come out blue because our egg yolks were very yellow.  So it was sort of greenish, but I didn’t really care that much.  If you want a truer blue, I’d try using the egg whites.  I’m not sure how that will turn out, though. It might make them extra crispy.  You’ll need to add a bit of water to the yolk/food color mixture as well, to thin it out a bit.  And you don’t need much of it.  I probably could have split the yolks up and used only half a yolk per color, instead of a whole one.  In any case, I love how they turned out.  The paint got really shiny and pretty.  We will definitely do this again!

Truly Scrumptious

Truly Scrumptious

Gluten Free Cut-Out Cookies

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup gluten free flour (I used King Arthur’s Multipurpose Flour)
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon xantham gum

– Cream the butter and sugar together.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Mix in the dry ingredients.
– Form the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge for at least an hour.
– Preheat the oven to 350 F.
– Roll a chunk of the dough out on a floured surface until it is about 1/4 inch thick.  Remember to flour your rolling pin (or wine bottle or other rolling implement).
– Break out your favorite cookie cutters and have at it.  Remember to dip the cutters in flour if they start to stick.
– Put the cookies on a cookie sheet.  Use parchment paper if your heart desires it.  I don’t bother.
– Take the left over dough and squish it up with another chunk of the unused dough.  Repeat the rolling/cutting steps until your cookie sheets are full.
– PUT THE REST OF THE DOUGH BACK IN THE FRIDGE.  Otherwise, while you decorate the first batch, your dough will get too soft and sticky and you’ll never get it rolled out.  Trust me.
– Decorate your first batch of cookies however you want.
– Pop those cookies in the oven for 8-10 minutes.
– Cool on wire racks.
– Once you have a free cookies sheet, get the rest of the dough out of the fridge and start rolling/cutting.  You get the point.
– Devour.

 

Cookie Paint

1 egg yolk per color
1/4 teaspoon water per color
a few drops of food coloring

In small bowls, containers, or ramekins mix up a yolk, the water, and some food coloring.
Make sure you use CLEAN paintbrushes.  Not the ones your kids were using the other day that you just sort of half-assed rinsed out.  Either use new brushes or give the ones you have a proper cleaning with dish soap and hot water.  Use a different brush for each color; don’t try to rinse between colors. It will water down the paint too much.Again, if you use yolks that are a dark yellow, you may have problems with some of the colors.  I had to add a lot of red to make the paint red, not orange.  You can try the egg whites, but I haven’t tested that theory yet.
Paint the cookies!

Elfing Around

The Elf on the Shelf.  You’ve seen them in the stores, on Facebook, and all over Pinterest.  They are everywhere, and they are watching you.  Well, not you exactly, but they are watching your kids, taking mental notes on their behavior so they can report back to the big guy at the North Pole.  Because that’s what they do, in case you haven’t been sucked into EotS culture yet.  They are basically creepy little tattletales, sent to your house to spy on your kids for Santa Claus.  Every night they fly back to the North Pole to hang out with other elves and give their reports to Saint Nick, then they fly back to your house before morning.  Some elves just hang out on the same shelf every day.  Some hide, so the kids can find them.  Some get into all sort of mischief.  The only rule is that the kids can’t touch their elves, or they lose their magic and can’t fly to and from the North Pole.

So creepy its cute.

So creepy its cute.

Meet Fjord, our Elf on the Shelf.  He falls into the mischievous catagory.  He gets up to all sorts of hijinks.  The girls love him, and I have to admit I take great joy in coming up with stuff for him to do.  I can’t wait until they are old enough to really understand the no-touching rule, so I’ll have more options on where to put him.  But I think I do pretty well for having to keep him out of reach.

If you are looking for some ideas for what to do with your EotS, here is what Fjord did last year, when the girls were two.

Checking out the star lights on the ceiling fan, and adding one of his own.

Checking out the star lights on the ceiling fan, and adding one of his own.

Fjord decorated the Christmas tree in the girls' room with mini paper ornaments.

Fjord decorated the Christmas tree in the girls’ room with mini paper ornaments.

Just hanging out!

Just hanging out!

Gone fishing

Gone fishing

Baking cookies

Baking cookies

Fjord turned our refrigerator into a snowman!

Fjord turned our refrigerator into a snowman!

Chillin' in the freezer because he was homesick.

Chillin’ in the freezer because he was homesick.

Playing dreidel on the first day of Hanukkah

Playing dreidel on the first day of Hanukkah

Even elves need a spa day every now and then

Even elves need a spa day every now and then

Pretending to be a reindeer

Pretending to be a reindeer

Uh-oh!  Someone touched Fjord and now he's sick.

Uh-oh! Someone touched Fjord and now he’s sick.

He made it snow!

He made it snow!

Wrapping presents for all his friends

Wrapping presents for all his friends

Zip-lining across the dining room!

Zip-lining across the dining room!

Fjord feels pretty, oh so pretty!

Fjord feels pretty, oh so pretty!

Little bugger got into my sewing box

Little bugger got into my sewing box

He wanted to go with us to the Christmas party

He wanted to go with us to the Christmas party

Even little elves know the reason for the season!

Even little elves know the reason for the season!

There you go.  Consider yourself inspired. Now go buy an elf and have at it.  Start making memories while terrifying your children into good behavior.  You can even buy snugly elves for the kids to play with, if they just can’t keep their hands off of you EotS.  And changes of clothing, if you are so inclined.  But don’t buy the movie.  Seriously.  We paid $15 for “An Elf Story,” thinking it was a real movie.  It’s not.  It is a 30 minute made for TV special.  That’s right.  $15 for 30 minutes.  Waste. Of. Money.  Not to mention that it is complete drivel.  Spend the $15 on something else.  Or just mail it to me.  At least I won’t insult your intelligence for half and hour.  Unless you want me to.  Your choice.