Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How One Person Can Make a Difference

Around the holidays I heard about how "Secret Santas" were paying layaway tabs for complete strangers at the K-Mart.  It started small and then gained momentum around the country.  I thought that was such an unselfish thing to do.  I bet that person (who I am sure wanted to remain anonymous) never thought that his/her random act of kindness would have such a huge impact. I have heard of other stories similar to that, such as going through a toll booth and paying for the person behind you or how a patron leaves a huge tip for the waitress.  Those are the kinds of stories that I like to read about. I remember one year my daughter, my dad and I took some food baskets that our church had put together and delivered them to a rent subsidized apartment complex around Thanksgiving or Christmas.   Most of the people living there had one room and everything they owned was contained in that one room.  The recipients of the food baskets were so incredibly appreciative and thanked us profusely.  We came away from that experience very humbled for what we have, realizing others have so little.  I think one of the best things we can teach our children is that one person does make a difference.  Teaching our children that there is always someone less fortunate than themselves makes them really appreciate what they have.  As we head towards 2012, what are some ways that you can find for you and your family to give back and make a difference for others?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Traditions

My two younger children have an almost 8 year age difference between them.  Trying to find something that both of them will do together for more than five minutes can be challenging!  For the past 3 or 4 years my kids have built gingerbread houses.  I buy a kit that includes the gingerbread, icing and various toppings.  This year I was my son's "assistant."  I have this habit of trying to do too much for him.  This year I let him tell me what to do.  He decided whether the line of icing would be straight or curvy.  I applied the icing, but he guided me the whole way as to where to put it, such as what shape he wanted the windows, etc.  For a kid with ADHD and Autism he sat for a good 1/2 hour with a very determined look on his face decorating his house. My daughter is much more creative than myself.  She made a snowman out of the leftover icing and used sprinkles for arms.  I would have never thought of doing that! I love to see from year to year how the houses are decorated.  Making the gingerbread houses have kind of become a "tradition" with my kids.

When we used to live back East,  I hosted Christmas dinner for a number of years.  I have to say I really miss it.  My brother, sister and I and our families live in three different parts of the country now, so it's more difficult to get together.  My hubby ordered some Slovenian sausages from Cleveland for us to have for dinner this year.  It definitely was "traditional" to eat those sausages when we would visit my in-laws.  I think for my husband it reminds him of his parents who are both no longer with us.  When my siblings and I were little my dad would read us the book, "The Night Before Christmas"  by Clement C. Moore on Christmas Eve.  My husband now reads that book to our children every Christmas Eve.  I hope that is a "tradition" that will continue for generations to come.  What are your holiday traditions this year? are they old ones or will you be creating new ones? 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cathy's Chocolate Biscotti Recipe

I have made this biscotti a ton this Christmas.  Enjoy!

3 cups white flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ¼ cups white sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
4 large eggs (slightly beaten)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 and lightly grease two  cookie sheets with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda.  Set aside.

In a large bowl,  combine sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla extract.  Beat by hand or with mixer until creamy.  Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until well combined either with your hands or with a large spoon.  Chill dough in fridge one hour.

Divide dough in half.  Shape each half into a 12-inch long log.  Flatten slightly (about 2-3 inches across). Place each log onto the lightly greased cookie sheets.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Pull the cookie sheets out  and let cool for 5 minutes on wire rack.  Remove logs from cookie sheets  and cut each log into 12 equal sized slices.  Return slices to cookie sheets and place cut-sides down.  Return back to oven for another 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool on cookie sheets  10 minutes.  Place biscotti on wire rack to cool for  15 minutes.  Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

To Text or Not to Text??

It took me a long time to get a cell phone.  Now, my husband, daughter and I all have one.  My hubby and I use ours mostly for touching base with each other. My daughter, like most teens, uses hers for texting. When I was a teen we used a telephone to communicate, some of my friends had their own phone line  (I was SO jealous of those friends)!!  In my family growing up, there were five of us sharing one phone line.  There was no e-mail or texting or cell phones.  Some of my friends (forgetting that I don't text), will say, "well, Cathy, I sent you a text about..."  I have to gently remind them I don't text.  I've told them, "I got your text, but don't know how to text you back!"  My friends and daughter would be ecstatic if I started texting on a regular basis.  My daughter has tried to give me "lessons."  She'll say things like, "mom, all the other moms text."  My response back has been, "well, this mom doesn't!"   I am always on e-mail, I've told more than one of my friends, that I e-mail the way most people text.  I've seen people texting in their cars.  I see people do a lot of different things in their cars, but I have to say texting and driving is a pretty dangerous combination.  About a year or so,  I was in a parking lot and there was a man in the middle of the row of cars, texting away, completely oblivious to the fact I was right behind him in my car.  I couldn't go around him, he was walking  right smack in the middle! I didn't want to honk at him, I thought I would probably make him jump 10 feet in the air!  After a few minutes, he finally figured it out and looked back at me, and then moved over. I know in certain situations it would better to text than try and call. This past Saturday afternoon, I was waiting for a phone call  to pick up my daughter at school (she was riding back on a bus from a school event).  She called me from the bus and said, "we're 20 minutes away, you can leave home and come up to the school now."  When I got up there, neither she and/or the bus were anywhere around.  After I sat there a few minutes, I looked over at my phone and thought well, no time like the present to attempt it by myself.  Since my daughter had given me those "lessons"  I sort of had a general idea what to do.  I punched in a message and hit the send button, hoping I did it right.  Much to my amazement, within five minutes she texted back!!  When I asked her later what she thought of me texting, she said when she got my initial  message, she almost fell off the bus seat!  I'm not saying I'll be using texting as my main form of communication, but I think I feel confident enough to attempt more texting in the future.  Could using an ATM be next?? I have NEVER used  one.  I guess I'll have to get my husband to give me "lessons" in using one of those!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Embracing My Son's Differences

Sometimes I think what my son would be like if he didn't have Autism.  The first 2 1/2 years of his life I knew something wasn't quite right, but couldn't put my finger on it.  When my son was about 5 months old, my father-in-law became ill and my husband went back almost every weekend for 3 months to visit him and to check on his mom (they lived in Cleveland).  I stayed home to take care of my daughter and my son.  My father-in-law passed away when my son was about 8 months old.  Our family continued to go to Cleveland routinely  to visit my mother-in-law for another year and then cleaned out and sold their home.  During those days I would nurse him on my lap and be sorting papers  at the same time.  My in-laws were of the Depression Era so you can imagine the amount of stuff they had!  Some days it was all I could do to bathe my kids and feed them.  After we moved my mother-in-law closer to us and got her settled, I then began to notice how my son wasn't talking, making much eye contact and very much preferred his own company (all signs of Autism).  My husband suggested we get him tested through the county we lived in.  We had someone come to our house and evaluate him.  They found him to have "significant" speech delays. I still didn't suspect he had Autism.  When he was 2 1/2 I took him to the pediatrician who asked me a bunch of questions.  He is the one who diagnosed his Autism.  About six months later, we went to a child psychiatrist who diagnosed him with ADHD.  My son has been riding the bus and going to school since he was 3.  One of the hardest things I ever had  to do was put  him on the bus that first day, I'm pretty sure I cried.  He was fine with riding the bus, he likes the routine and predictability (still does).  My daughter told me recently that she can't imagine what it would be like if her little brother didn't have Autism.  We don't know him any other way.  We take such great pride in every word/skill  he learns. Lately,  he's been showing us yoga poses. The Autism "Spectrum" is so broad.  It's different for every child and what will work for one child might not work for another.  There are so many people that I have met through him having special needs.  Some will be lifelong friends.  I have an AMAZING group of friends and family that support my son and our entire family. We treat my son like he doesn't have Autism.  He gets timeouts if necessary and he has chores.  I really don't cut the guy too much slack.  He has started to veto my clothing choices for him, so it becomes a battle of wills between the two of us. His favorite word is still "no!"  But isn't that a favorite of a lot of kids no matter the age?   He keeps me on my toes each and every day!  I embrace his differences and am proud to call him my son.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Taking Care of Ourselves

I recently had my follow-up visit with one of the cardiologists that treated me during my "unscheduled" hospital stay in November.  Since it hasn't even been a month since my stay, I am still adjusting to the fact I have a heart condition.  As I was waiting to be seen by the doctor, I looked around at the other people in the waiting room with me.  I was the youngest by about 20+ years.  Some of the people were attached to oxygen, others had wheelchairs and walkers.   I kind of sat there scratching my head, thinking how did I end up here???  As I think back to about 6 months ago, before I ever knew I had an irregular heartbeat, I remember my feet and legs not really hurting, but definitely feeling uncomfortable if I tried to get up from the bed, chair or off the floor.  I really didn't think too much about it at the time. When I started having the shortness of breath pretty much all of a sudden during my daily walks, I still didn't think a whole lot about it.  When I started going to bed 1-2 hours earlier than normal, I figured I was just wearing myself out during the day and was extra tired.  All of these different things were pointing towards heart disease.  I just wasn't putting it all together!  There evidently is 100 or more different types of cardiomyopathy.   Since it's "non-ischemic" cardiomyopathy (meaning not related to coronary artery disease) it's unclear what caused it.  I am so thankful to the nurse at the Red Cross that caught my irregular heartbeat,  which in turn eventually led to the diagnosis of cardiomyopathy.  I have spent some time (probably too much time)  since my discharge from the hospital thinking, what if? What if it hadn't been caught early? How long would I have let it go before doing something about it?  When one of the cardiologists that I saw in the hospital  told me a heart transplant was the worst case scenario, I have to admit, it kind of shook me up!!  I'm lucky in a lot of ways that it was caught early.   I'm now playing the waiting game. I'm not very good at that game!  I'm taking a high blood pressure medication and getting another echocardiogram in February 2012.  The doctor said we'll see how the test in February turns out and then decide what to do next. I'm trying not to think what that "next" step might be.  As moms, we are so busy taking care of everyone else that sometimes we ignore the warning signs in regards to our own health.  I'm so used to being the caretaker in my house, I'm having a hard time letting my family take care of me!  I'm slowly loosening those "control" straps I have attached to my family and a lot of other things in my life.  It's hard, but I'm learning! In hindsight, I wish I would have listened to my body more and recognized the symptoms earlier as being symptoms of heart disease.  But, as the old saying goes,  hindsight is 20/20.  I just have to keep plugging along and remember to sit and rest once in a while.  That pile of laundry that's as tall as my son will just have to wait!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Labels Don't Always "Stick"

From time to time I think about a comment that one of my elementary school teachers wrote on my report card.  It said, "something is wrong with Cathy, she doesn't talk."  I really don't know why that comment has stuck with me all these years.  Through a large portion of  my school years,  I was what you would call the "quiet" kid.  At times, most definitely  "shy." Those were  the two "labels" most associated with me.  I tried to keep my nose clean and not get into trouble.  The other day, my daughter and I were watching a show called, "Toddlers and Tiaras."  It's a show on the TLC Network that's a reality show for  kids beauty pageants.  Either a judge or one of the moms (I can't remember) was talking about the contestants being "facially gifted."  That was a label I had never heard before in my life.  When my daughter was a baby/toddler,  I toyed briefly with putting her in beauty pageants.  But, once I saw how much cash was involved for dresses, entry fees, etc. I decided it probably wouldn't be a good idea.  I guess I'm one of these people that tries not to judge people by their looks. I judge people more by their actions and how they treat others.  I've always thought that it's whats inside that counts. I think parents sometimes get hung up on labeling their kids.  I  read things like, "my son is the athlete in the family"  or "my daughter is the brain."  Doesn't that put a lot of pressure on their kids to live up to that label?   When I tell my friends that I used to be quiet/shy  they can't believe it!   If only my old elementary school  teacher could see me now.  I would probably have the desk right next to her because I wouldn't stop talking!  I'm so glad my "label" didn't stick with me!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Are Moms Ever "Off-Duty?"

My son decides  from time to time that 4 a.m. is a great time to get up for the day.  Thank goodness it's rare!!  I wish I could say he takes a nap or goes to bed much earlier than his usual bedtime, but he doesn't.   A few weeks ago,  I woke up because I  heard him singing.  I looked over at the clock and it was 4 a.m.  At  4:30,  I heard him going downstairs past our bedroom.  I looked over at my husband and jokingly  told him I don't go on "duty" until 5!    It got me thinking that as moms,  are we ever "off-duty?"  Some of our many "jobs" include the following:  Job #1 -  chauffeur (driving one or more children to activities usually all beginning and ending at the same time). I haven't come up with a way to be in two places at the same time (yet).   Job #2 -  chef (trying to please one or more children and/or husband with your culinary expertise) - made even tougher with dietary restrictions (allergies, etc.).  Whenever one or more of my family members has a comment I tell them,  "I'll let the kitchen and/or management staff know."  That usually keeps any more comments at bay.   Job #3 -  nursemaid (example: trying to soothe a crying baby who is having teething issues) at 3 a.m. in the morning.   Job #4 - cleaning lady (trying to keep the mess or clutter of one or more children and/or husband from overtaking the house).  Job #5 - laundromat operation staff - (sometimes washing a certain item of clothing at 10 p.m.  that is needed by 7 a.m. the next morning).  There are lots more, but the above are all that I can think of at the moment.  If you're a single mom or taking care of extended family members the list is even longer.  I consider being a mom one of the best "jobs" that I will ever  have.  It's 24/7 and you're always on "duty", but well worth it in my opinion. Sure, it's not always peaches and cream, but most of the time the benefits are sweet!

My New "Relationship" with the Sun

Long gone are the days that I would sit on the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean for HOURS at a time with just baby oil on my skin for prote...