Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cook from scratch? Scatch that -Just trying to cook!

Last Friday I went to a soup exchange and menu planning discussion. I felt like a TOTAL poser, especially since Dan made the pumpkin soup. I didn't have much to add to the discussion since our family's meal planning consists of a rotation of Trade Joe's frozen entrees, a stir fry, hamburgers with french fries and ....repeat.

I can't cook, let's just get that out of the way right now. Dan still recalls the one and only meal I cooked for him when we were dating. It was a soggy vegetarian lasagna from Mollie Kazan's Moosewood Cookbook. I managed to simultaneously over-cook and under-cook this dish.

Dan, on the other hand, used to be a cook at the housing cooperative he lived in while going to college in Berkeley (wow, could that sound more hippy-dippy?). Anyway, once I convinced Dan that it was just the two of us, not two dozen of us, we got into a groove where Dan did most, OK just about all, of the cooking. This has worked until it stopped working.

One of the most challenging aspects of getting older is realizing that the old systems and habits we have gotten used to are no longer working, and need to be changed. Dan now works one hour away a few days a week, and telecommutes the other days. On the days he drives to work it doesn't really make sense for him to rush home and cook a meal.

Nowadays, I can put together spaghetti and meat balls; by that I mean frozen Trader Joe's meat balls, canned sauce and spaghetti (we use whole wheat, do I get points for that?). I can also cut up a mean salad, but I'm not much use beyond that. I've always found it a challenge to go through the sequences of cooking; I can't even explain it, but having Sayer running around certainly doesn't make me more eager to try.

At our soup exchange discussion, the other women had some great ideas about using the Internet to find and keep track of recipes, organize meals, make shopping lists and so on. These ideas intrigue me - here I have been perceiving the computer as a tool to avoid meal planning not abet it! I'm ready to step up the meal planning and increase the variety of our dinner diet.

I want to use the inspiration from these other healthy, organized cooks to implement real and lasting change in our household. All too often, I get over eager and burn out. That's not just me, right? In my "must change everything right now" mode I would bring Dan four new, complex recipes to try all in one week. This would overload our kitchen, our taste buds and our patience and we would then revert to burgers and fries in frustration. Whew! I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Instead, I am using this blog to hold me accountable to these two concrete and measurable goals (aha, my grant writer self comes out). I commit to:

1. Find one soup or stew recipe a week for Dan to make. Eating the yummy soups I brought home from the soup exchange reminded me how nice a homemade, hearty soup is. In summer, I will find one dinner salad recipe per week.

2.. Pick another NEW recipe for us to try at least twice a month. I will seek input from Jacob and Sayer, and remember that we have to at least double the recipe to adapt to teenage boy portions.

What I need from you, readers is to encourage me and hold me accountable. Our family will start this in December so please ask how we are doing. We won't give up our cornmeal frozen pizzas or salad in a bag, but we'll try to reduce their place in the rotation.

And if you want some great healthy eating tips, recipes and inspiration, go to Minda's Eat Well, Be Well web site. Minda is a Camas-based nutritional therapist who hosted the soup exchange I attended. Her site has a great resource list, and a link for you to sign up for her monthly newsletter.

I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving surrounded by family, friends and fresh food. Oh, and maybe some organic chocolate turkeys.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cooties: How quickly we remember?

Can I Sit With You? - The Stormy Social Seas of the Schoolyard is an interesting if at times heart wrenching web site that solicits and prints stories written by "grown-ups" about being left out, bullied and otherwise marginalized in their childhood. Here is the mission of this site in the organizers' own words:

Mission Statement

Can I Sit With You?

Could more stress be crammed into fewer words? Though to some people this phrase means merely, “Yay, new friends,” to a lot of us it means instant school anxiety flashbacks. And possibly an intense need to crawl into a hole, or vomit.

Dealing with the other kids at school was complicated even if you didn’t have a label. For those of us who were socially awkward, culturally juxtaposed, same-sex attracted, gender-cocooned, income-challenged, “weird” sibling-saddled, differently abled, atypical looking, religiously isolated, on the autism spectrum, or who somehow just didn’t fit in, it could be brutal. Even though most of us eventually developed coping strategies, grew up, left school behind, and tried not to think about how much that time in our life sucked.

Until some of us starting having our own kids. And saw those kids start to flounder, saw them start fretting about how to fit in. Aiigh! What to do?

Well, we don’t know what most people would do, but we’ve decided to take action. We want to help our kids. We want to give them some ammunition, or at least some mental armor. We want to show them that almost everyone has been mystified or terrorized by the schoolyard social scene, though for different reasons and in different ways. We want them to see that their angst is both universal and timeless. We want them to know that other people totally understand.


The purpose of the Can Sit With You is two-fold: To provide a forum for folks to write about their school experiences as described above, and to raise funds for SEPTAR, the Special Education Parent Teacher Association for Redwood City. The site publishes and sells compilations of these stories, and when web site readers click on ads or buys recommended books, SEPTAR earns money.

A look around the SEPTAR site shows what amazing things a group of parents of kids in special ed can accomplish. It inspires/intimidates/brings out the green-eyed monster for those of us involved with local groups whose activities and accomplishments are more modest. I truly commend the parents in this group, and it is always good to see what other Special Ed PTAs out there are doing.

So, kudos to this Redwood City group,and maybe we can all click on an ad or two to support them. And if you would like to submit your own school story, check out the Can I Sit With You? submission guidelines.

Finally, I'm interested to know how the Can I Sit With You? stories resonate with you. Please share.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Inclusion - it's not just for kids....

My last post, Can there be perils to over inclusion??, talked about inclusion and exclusion of our kids with special needs. But, it's not just our kids but also us who experience inclusion or exclusion among peers.

As other moms take for granted the accomplishment's of their children, we marvel at the small, often unnoticed strides of our own. When our kids "lose it" we never know if we will receive understanding glances and an offer to help, or disapproving stares. Often, we can feel on the side lines and on the margins.

The author of the blog wrongshoes.com - a mother with Asperger's syndrome writes about feeling on the outside of a group of moms in Open letter to the chatty moms at the gymastics class. I found it a wonderfully written snap shot, and I imagine we have all been there at one time or another - perhaps over and over!

I know that for me,sometimes I find comfort and "normalcy" when I spend time with parents of "ye 'ole typical kids," while at other times I feel like an impostor. For example, last night I went to a parent meeting for Jacob's high school magnet program, directly from dealing with a tantrum of Sayer's. Partly it was a relief to debate the merits of science internships versus engineering summer college programs, but I also felt somewhat detached. Part of me just wanted a martini, to be honest. Luckily, I had one after with a fellow magnet mom (brilliant idea "DW"!).

I guess I'm still dealing with that feeling of bifurcation I talked about in my Why does everything have to be so bifurcated?? post last May. Wow, that was like, six months ago, and I still haven't resolved my ambivalence! Why is it that definitive answers came so much easier when we were in our twenties and thirties?

Feeling included? Excluded? Please share all.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Can there be perils to over inclusion??

Inclusion, inclusion, inclusion. As parents, we are encouraged by the "disability community" (if there is such a monolithic beast) to push for our children to be included with their peers in school, in recreational activities, in religious life and so on. Some disability inclusion web sites such as Disability is Natural and disability blog writers often disdain activities that segregate the disabled from the rest of the population, such as Challenger Baseball and Special Olympics.

However, when a child with special needs always follows an inclusion model in his/her youth, what happens when that child becomes an adult? I had coffee this week with my friend "D." Her family includes two sons on the autism spectrum. One is now about 20, and the other is in high school. "D"'s sons were fully included in school, and had few interactions with children with similar special needs.

What "D" has realized, however, is that her sons now resist spending time with other teens or young adults with developmental disabilities. They claim they are not comfortable doing so. This is turn limits their options for recreational and social activities as they grow older. For example, "D"'s older son refuses to participate in recreational activities for young adults with disabilities, such as Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation's Access to Recreation programs or Special Olympics.

"D" told me she never thought about the unintended consequences of full inclusion, which she said has resulted in "seclusion by inclusion." Her older son's "typical" peers are off to college, hanging out with their girlfriends or working full-time, while he is not. His isolation and discomfort with others like him are issues "D" didn't consider when her son was younger.

So, is there an answer? For us, a combination of inclusion and "disabled only" activities seems to be working for Sayer. I must admit that after talking to "D" I am more open to looking into Special Olympics and similar programs. I would love to hear from other mothers of older children with special needs. How is your child making the transition to adult hood? Is he/she finding opportunities for belonging and fun, and with whom? Have their been unintended consequences to your decisions in raising your child?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Should I fall behind, wait for me

If I Should Fall Behind
We said we'd walk together baby come what may
That come the twilight should we lose our way
If as we're walkin a hand should slip free
I'll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me

These Springsteen lyrics, for me, symbolize all that is right with the election of Obama for president. No matter your political affiliation, I hope you can agree that Obama will be a president who WILL wait for those who may, or have, fallen behind. Falling behind economically, falling behind due to cognitive or physical differences, falling behind due to discrimination and intolerance - I truly believe that Obama will set the tone for America that will wait for all of us to catch up.

This is my first post with a political bent, since I have learned that people of all political persuasions have children with special needs. I have learned this a few times, the hard way, at birthday parties and such (you know what they say about making assumptions...) But, maybe part of being in those middle years is saying, OK, "I Yam What I Yam" and while not obnoxiously flaunting my beliefs (I'll leave that to Generation Y), I will not hid them, either.

Here is what a few of my fellow bloggers have written about this historic election:

Barb at Awalkabout's weblog wrote Vindicated!
Karen at Midlife's A Trip wrote about the election through the eyes of her young niece in Peanut on Obama

And for those of you suffering from a let down after the election, you may have "Post Traumatic Obama Election Disorder", This video from the Onion describes the symptoms. It is a hoot. I can certainly think of worse maladies!!!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I've joined Facebook but shh! - don't tell my teenager

I just joined Facebook, even though I was strongly encouraged not to/banned from doing so by my teenage son. I did it because a few friends asked me to, and because with the election going on I can't really focus on work anyway.

I can already see how Facebook can be a time suck, what with looking up old high school and college friends and all. But, I did include this blog on my profile so maybe I'll get a few new readers.

However, I know I must keep in mind that Facebook "friends"are not the same as well, face-to-face friends. A recent essay in the New York Times magazine," Facebook in a Crowd" by Hal Niedzviecki, is a cautionary tale about the difference between the two. Hal decided to have a Facebook party in Toronto. He invited his 700 Facebook friends to meet up at a neighborhood bar. Although fifteen people RSVPed that they would attend, and another 60 said maybe, only one person showed up for a beer.

Hal describes that night better than I can, but to summarize - awkward. What is it about online etiquette that makes it so different from off-line etiquette? Over coffee with friend today (over real, not virtual, java!) we discussed how people express anger online in ways they would likely never do in person. And I think that people are similarly less honest about their commitments when they make them online rather than over the phone, or via those little RSVP cards with their stamped envelopes.

All this to say - I am now on Facebook so if you are, I guess let's be Facebook friends? I'm still working out how to make that happen, but I'll learn. Invite me over; I love invites!