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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Easy Ornaments and Great Tactile Input!

Here's my completed ornament
Today, as the one day Joe has off this week until Christmas, our family advent calendar event was making Christmas ornaments together.  I looked up some quick ideas via Pinterest and found one that was promising.  We had all the supplies, except glitter, which a quick trip to the Dollar Tree remedied.  It was so much fun and the boys LOVED it!   Plus, the ornaments came out great and we have lovely keepsakes for this year to go on our tree from now on.  I decided to share because it was so easy and it's also a great project for those looking to incorporate more tactile input as part of an OT regimen.   

Here's what you'll need:
regular white school glue (ala Elmer's)
string (such as kite string or even twine)

Here's what you do:
  • Mix the glue with two parts water and lots of glitter.  I actually ended up using some glitter glue I got from the Dollar Tree with a little more Elmer's added to it and water.  Mix the glue/water/glitter mixture in a bowl and set aside.
  • Cut strips of string.  Lots of strips of string.  Ours were about 6-8 inches in length--enough to circle the balloons.
  • Blow up your balloons.  Make them as big as you'd like your ornaments to be.  
  • Dip a string strip into your glue mixture and stick it on the balloon in any fashion you choose (this is why it's great for kids!).  Keep sticking gluey strings on the balloon until you have a fairly connected network of strings covering the balloon.
  • Allow the string covered balloons to dry (we set ours by the fireplace).  
  • Once completely dry, you can pop the balloon and pull it from the middle, leaving a lovely, hallow string ornament.  Attach a ribbon or hook to hang it from your tree.

Hint: After a moment of panic when I popped our first balloon and it clung to the string as it deflated due to the excess glue slathered on by my son's little hands, causing a slight cave-in (thankfully it wasn't permanent), I went with a slightly different method before deflating the next ornaments.  I used a dull stick to poke all over the balloon, loosening it from the dried strings so they wouldn't be drawn down with the rubber once I popped it and it contracted.  This worked much better, though it was a little more time consuming.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Confessions of Disappointment and Disillusionment

Do you ever find yourself going along and thinking the road is finally smooth? All the therapy appointments, all the special dietary steps you take, all the ways you modify your behavior to accommodate your little one’s, is finally paying off in a steady, tangible way and then BOOM! You hit the wall?  I’m having one of those days…

I should start by saying, it’s never really smooth sailing, but the last few years have seen so much progress.  It’s been two years since we’ve had a surgery, no seizures for nearly five years, speech 98% intelligible, no one’s been sick—where we used to be regular weekly visitors to our pediatrician’s office, we have now gone nearly a year without actually seeing him (they miss us and we miss them!).

There are still daily challenges and it’s still painfully obvious that my oldest son is not going to fit in with his peers for a long time to come, if ever.  I swallow those feelings of inadequacy and focus on all the amazing positives I see in his life.  I almost convince myself that it’s all working and we can be a “typical” family with just some minor eccentricities.

Then it all comes crumbling down…

I don’t know why I try and strive (even though it’s not consciously) for that “typical”, “normal” label on our lives.  What does it really mean, anyway?  I’ve never been one who fits in with the crowd and maybe that’s why I’ve always longed to.  Maybe that’s why I long for my son to, because I know what it feels like to be “different” and to want nothing more than to be included with peers, not looked at with that puzzling “you’re an odd duck—not sure I’m ok with including you in my circle” look that kids (and grown-ups) are so prone to give.  I don’t even realize I’m doing it until something comes along that takes the wind out of my sails and I realize I was holding on to that “everything’s great just like any other normal family” ideal a little bit too tightly.

It usually hits me when I get Cainan’s report card.  He seems to be doing so well in school. His teachers tell me how intelligent he is and how great he’s doing.  I’m so proud as I watch him read short books and practice his spelling tests with him.  Then I get a phone call from his teacher asking if they can grade him on a 1st grade standard so it doesn’t looking like he’s failing all aspects of his 2nd grade curriculum…that should have been a clue.  So, I expected a great report card, since he is doing so great learning this 2nd grade curriculum but he’s being graded as if he were still in 1st grade (that’s kind of a long story as far as why he’s labeled somewhere between 1st & 2nd grade).  I’m being honest when I say I was devastated when his grades showed that he’s still below standard on nearly everything, even at a 1st grade level.


Didn’t I just say how proud I am of how great he’s doing?  Didn’t I just tell you how his teachers say how smart he is and how much he’s learning in class (their words were that “he’s a model student”!)?  Why does it matter what the standard is?  He’s not a standard kid and I know it.  I was proud of him five minutes before I go this report card—why am I so disappointed now? 

Thank goodness he has no awareness of what a report card is, what it says or what it means.  How do you tell your kid that they’re doing so great but the educational world says they’re failing?  I’m praying for a few more years of obliviousness before we face those conversations.  I AM proud of him and I don’t want to have to explain to him that a bad report card does not mean he is not doing great or putting forth great effort.  Every kid who does their best is going to be heartbroken to receive a piece of paper that says their best just isn’t good enough.  And I have to convince him that it is—because it IS.  His best is all I can ever ask of him and I’m always proud of the effort he puts forth.

And today…I was called to his school the second day in a row and the fourth time, so far, this year for something that has not been an issue since pre-school.  What is going on?  Why the big step backward?  How do you tell your brain to stop forward progress, take some big steps backward and re-approach a problem that you thought you had mastered years ago?

I know we can do it; we’ve done it before over bigger matters.  But it’s still another deflating moment when I was riding that high of everything being “normal”. 

I love my sons desperately.  I love their differences.  I love their individual strengths.  I love how parenting them has made me SUCH a better person.  It has challenged my mind, my ingenuity, my capacity to love (and not just them), my strength, my compassion…the list goes on.  And I know it can’t be much different for a parent of “typical” children.  There are ups and downs.  The wind gets knocked out of everyone’s sails now and then.  But sometimes it’s kind of nice to hear it from other parents, too—that you’re not the only one deeply disappointed by an aspect of your child’s life.

I think, sometimes, we are embarrassed by our disappointments, especially if it involves our kids.  I think the mindset is (at least mine is), that you’re a bad parent if you are disappointed in a child that does not live up to your expectations—after all, they’re your expectations, not their reality.  And your responsibility as a parent is to love your child, encourage them and teach them self-confidence, respect for self and others, not transfer your own frustration or dissatisfaction to them, much less share those feelings with anyone.  We have to keep them hidden.

And to be honest, I’m not at all disappointed in Cainan.  And I would never express that I was to him, especially over something he has no control over or ability to change on his own.  I’m more disappointed in my own expectations and thinking.  I let myself believe a myth—that there is a “normal” out there to be had and that we can somehow fit ourselves into that mold.  I know better, but I still let it fool me and I still feel the pain of realizing that it can’t be.

It’s just one of those days... I don’t have them very often but since I am today, I thought I’d share and see if anyone else can relate.  Or if just hearing about it, might make someone else feel a little better in realizing that they’re not the only ones who’ve felt the same way. 

By the time the kids get home from school, I will be myself.  I will have thought of a way to address this old/new problem and we’ll begin working on it with positive steps.  I will be grounded back in reality but I know in a few more months or even in a year or so, I’ll be back to this point wondering how I let myself be fooled again. 

It’s a roller coaster, folks (sorry to be so cliché) and right now I’m hearing that slow “click, click, click” as I climb back up the hill.  I’m hoping for a big loop or corkscrew once we reach the top this time and not a plummet.  Good luck to all of you out their riding your own coasters!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Veggie Pancakes

At the request of a reader, I'm posting my recipe for veggie pancakes.  I got this from my Family Fun magazine, but I tore out the page and have no idea which issue it came from (probably in the summer, sometime based on the vegetables in the mix).  I made a couple substitutions--they called for yogurt in the recipe but I use non-fat sour cream.  I also use a reduced fat grated cheese.  Their recipe called for a pesto dipping sauce but I use tzatziki, instead.  You can see their original recipe on their website at:

These can be served warm or at room temperature.  When I make a batch I freeze them.  For lunches I pull one out of the freezer and include a little container of tzatziki (my favorite is Trader Joe's but since we don't have one here I rarely get to buy it so I settle for Costco's brand) in Cainan's lunch box.  It's thawed out by lunch time and he really enjoys them a lot even though they aren't warm.  This recipe runs about 90 calories per pancake.  Let me know what you think.

Veggie Pancakes (makes 12 pancakes)
2 cups finely grated zucchini
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup corn kernels (I use frozen but you could use canned if you drain them)
1 large egg
2 tablespoons non-fat sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal (I usually use masa because I have that on hand)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese (I use a reduced fat cheddar or a reduced fat Mexican cheese blend--whatever I have on hand)
  • Use your hands to squeeze the excess liquid from the grated zucchini, then place the zucchini in a large bowl.  Add the carrots and corn and toss to combine the vegetables.  Stir in the egg, sour cream, salt and pepper until well blended
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, and baking powder.  Add the mixture, along with the cheese to the vegetables and stir until well blended.  
  • Spray a large skillet with cooking spray and heat to medium heat.  To form each pancake, spoon 3 tablespoons of the batter into the pan and use a fork or spoon to flatten it out (I actually just use my fingers!).  Working in batches, cook the pancakes until golden brown, about three minutes per side.  Use a spatula to transfer them to a wax paper lined plate.
  • Enjoy warm, or store in an airtight container for up to three days in a the refrigerator.  Or seal in a freezer safe container for up to a month.  Enjoy reheated or at room temperature with dipping sauce of your choice.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cheesey Vegetable Chowder

I found a variation of this recipe on Pinterest and thought it sounded good.  I made a batch for our brood with several changes to bring the calories down and to adjust it to our tastes.  It was a huge success, especially since my non-soup eater declared it was the best soup I'd ever made and requested it in his thermos for lunch the next day.

Tonight, I decided to make a batch for the Awanas dinner (along with some pinto beans & ham hocks for the non-veggie lovers) along with some biscuits.  It went over pretty well, considering I had an unusual number of people coming back for seconds, thirds and even fourths (I won't mention names).  I also had requests for the recipe and I promised I would post it on the blog.  So, here it is:

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cup chopped carrot
3 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
4 cups chicken broth (you can use veggie broth if you'd like to stay away from animal broth)
2 large baking potatoes, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup milk
3 cups chopped broccoli
2 cups shredded sharp or medium cheddar cheese (milder cheeses just don't work for imparting cheese flavor).
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper (to taste--I like mine peppery)

Heat the oil in a large soup pot.  Add onions, carrots, and celery and saute over medium heat until tender.  Add garlic and cook 1 or 2 additional minutes.  Add chicken broth and potatoes, bring to a boil, and cook until potatoes are tender.  Mix cornstarch with water, add, and simmer until soup is slightly thickened.  Add milk and broccoli and cook until broccoli is just tender and soup is heated through.  Stir in cheese, allow to melt, and serve.

Note: Makes 10 servings.  If you use non-fat milk, this recipe is right around 185 calories per serving.  It would be even less if you use a low-fat or non-fat cheese.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Advent Calendar for a Cause

This year I decided to put a new twist on our Advent calendar.  In the past, we've simply had a cute little snowman that has number hanging on it.  We just changed the numbers every day, counting down until Christmas.  The boys have been too young to have a real concept of time, especially regarding something that's days and days away.  This year, the boys have a better grasp of time and numbers.

Also this year, Joe is working a gazillion hours.  Starting after Thanksgiving he's on 6 days a week at his job, usually 10-12 hours a day.  This last Monday (usually his day off), he got home after only 8 hours of work and was promptly contacted by the plumber he does part-time work for to see if he was available for a job.  He donned his grubby clothes and headed out, because he knows how much we need the income and he's grateful for the opportunity to earn it (thank you, Kotke!!).

It was about that time that an idea I had been mulling around took root.  I decided to make an advent calendar counting down to Christmas, partly because that's a standard tradition, and partly because that marks the day that Joe's work schedule will go back to "normal" (only 50 hours a week or so).  I had also seen some friends on Facebook were getting together to make some advent calendars of little boxes--I didn't get to join them for that craft but it furthered my idea.

I decided I would put little gifts inside boxes that the boys and I could bestow on Joe each day of the countdown toward Christmas.  It would be our way of showing him how much we appreciate his extra effort to provide for us and love us.  I felt it would also help teach the boys a better lesson about doing something for someone else, rather than getting a treat for themselves as we counted down the days.

I headed to the Dollar Tree and found exactly what I needed.  They were favor boxes and they came in packs of six for a dollar.  I thought about stacking them in a basket, but as it turned out, the basket I got was too small.  We have a lovely pyramid instead.

When I got home, I sat down with the boys and we brainstormed nice things that Daddy would appreciate.  We thought of things like foot rubs, back rubs, pizza for dinner, quiet time for naps, etc...  On the three days Joe actually has off out of the next 24, we thought of things we could all do together as a family, like play family games, watch a movie together and make ornaments together.

We printed off the ideas, cut them out, folded the favor boxes and put the ideas inside.  I wrote the corresponding countdown days on the outside of the boxes and we stacked them up in order. 

When Joe got home the boys were so excited to tell him about the calendar and have him choose the first box.  When he opened it up he was excited to see it was "Wash Feet" (he had already asked me when he got home if I would rub his legs).  I filled up a bowl with nice soapy water.  The boys got washcloths and set to soaking and washing Joe's feet.  Afterward, they both slathered his feet and legs with lotion and put clean warm socks on him.

He's pretty excited to see what the next 23 days hold and I'm excited that I found a way we can all show him how much we appreciate all the effort he's putting in everyday to take care of us.  

I think this idea could easily be converted to anyone's needs.  Even though Joe's extra efforts that culminate at Christmas are what inspired me to create this calender, I think it would be fun to do this every year and put different family members names in the boxes with things they would enjoy.  It would be a good way to continue the lesson that the best part of Christmas (and the example Jesus set for us) is the giving/serving (not receiving) and the joy it brings to do something kind for another. 

My Handiwork in the Kitchen

Baby Shower Cake (Entered at Fair)

In honor of discovering Pinterest recently and all the lovely pictures of food and crafts on there, I've decided to post many of my past cake pictures.  It's better for them to be on the blog anyway, where they are more easily accessed.  

I hope, at some point, to be able to make this a little side business for our family since I so enjoy making them and the recipients seem pretty happy with getting them.  For now, I've been busy making shower cakes for friends, birthday cakes for family and using the Awana bake sale as an outlet for my other creative endeavors.

Let me know what you think and if you're in the Southern Oregon area you can always contact me if you're interested in a cake for yourself!

I did this cake for a co-worker of my mom's who is a golf fanatic.

For more info on this cake, see my other blog entry: Fun with Rice Krispies

 I watched a tutorial from Disney on how they make their Mickey and Minnie caramel apples.  That was their mistake (unless, they really wanted people to make them themselves).  I made a bunch of these last year for bake sales, as gifts, just for fun...

I also used my tempering unit from Dove Chocolate Discoveries (I used to sell their stuff) to make lots of dipped marshmallows that I decorated.  It's a super easy and cheap treat that is a great seller at the bake sales.  They would also be great for parties (of course, cake pops are all the rage now, too).

Another entry in the Fair--a Purse Cake (along w/ all my ribbons from my other entries that year)

 We always have get-togethers at my grandpa's house for most occasions.  In the summer we are always on his back patio and the red and white checkered table clothes adorn all his picnic tables.  In honor of his 78th birthday, I made a checked table cloth on his cake. 

Awana bake sale strikes again!  I loved all the ideas for Easter cupcakes so I took these Peep cupcakes and the sheep one's below.  They were a big hit (at least with the kids--parents were trying to dissuade them to smaller items).  I smile whenever I see these pictures because the cupcakes were just so darn cute, and while they were a bit time consuming.  They were pretty easy to make.

For my mother-in-law's birthday I put out a nice spread with several lovely desserts--one of which was this rose cake.  It's simple but pretty.

Fun With Rice Krispies (Egg Allergies Strike Again)

Since Asher was highly allergic to eggs as an infant and toddler, I had to come up with creative birthday cakes that didn't include cake.  I found rice krispie treats to be my friend in this matter.  I experimented with different flavors and of course, different shapes.  Below are some of the cakes he had for his past birthdays before he outgrew his egg allergy (thank God for that!!)

I happened to have a Mickey Mouse shaped pan.  I little cocoa powder added to the rice krispie treat mixture makes for chocolate rice krispies.  I simply pressed those into the top portion of the pan, then pressed the regular ones into the bottom portion.  A little decorative piping of frosting finished off the face and he was thrilled (this was for his 3rd birthday).

Along with the Mickey Mouse cake, I made some extra "cupcakes" using a flower shaped bread tube.  I just crammed them all in the tube and when they set, I slid them out, sliced them and decorated them with some flavored icing.  Easy and pretty!

For his 5th birthday, I made a Handy Manny "cake".

I made sugar cookies without eggs and decorated them as all the tools.  

I made the tool box out of rice krispie treats and covered it with fondant. 
A little decorating and everything came together nicely.  At least, he was pretty excited about it.

For more information about other cakes I've made, see my other blog entry on fun cakes call "My Handiwork in the Kitchen".