Mama Love’s Crock Pot Chili

Baby it’s cold 59 degrees outside (shut up, don’t laugh.)  And tonight it’s supposed to RAIN!  Woohoo!  Break out the Uggs & the earmuffs, kiddos, cuz I’ve been stalking the weather guy all week for these cloudy skies.

Before we get to the good stuff, I need to just bitch about the weather some more, ok?  I know, I know, you’re snowed & you want to reach through your computer and smack my little suntanned, California girl face with your mittens.  I’m sorry, but even though I’m a Cali girl, I like my seasons – I mean, all 4 of them, not just “summer” and “more summer.”

Anyway, I’ve been waiting until it was cool enough to make my neighborhood-famous Mama Love’s Crock Pot Chili.  Chili just screams football season & crisp fall evenings to me, and I love the way the house smells while this delicious chili simmers in the crockpot all day long.  So, tonight’s the night: Thursday Night Football, baby!

This is some kick-ass chili right here!

This is some kick-ass chili right here!

Now, this one morphed out of a family recipe, and I’m sure you remember my lecture on the subject of sharing secret family recipes last year, right?  Just remember, if my mom asks, we don’t know each other, ok?  This originally started as a “Quick Chili” recipe handed down from my Great Aunt Margie, (cute, little, old lady who could kick back a lot of gin & tonics.) I got my hands on it about 15 years ago, and made some tweaks after I met the love of my life, my first CrockPot. It’s still super easy & super yummy.  Oh, and some people call me Mama Love.  Why?  Well, “The Fairly Good Mother” is a mouthful!  No, I’ve actually had this little nickname since before I was a real mom, and I guess it’s because I’m so motherly & adorable, and I make all my delicious food with love … Love is the secret ingredient.

The Line-Up!  (diced green chilis not pictured :))

The Line-Up! (diced green chilis not pictured :))

MAMA LOVE’S CROCKPOT CHILI
(serves 6)

Ingredients:
1-1/2 lbs ground beef (85%/15%)
1 green bell pepper – chopped
2 cloves garlic – pressed
1 onion – chopped
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 small can diced green chilis
salt & pepper (not a lot, just a dash of each)
16 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 small can tomato sauce
1 can Ranch Style Beans* – regular flavor
1 can Ranch Style Beans* – with jalepenos

Ranch Style Beans : Essential!

Ranch Style Beans : Essential!

*Now – before I get to the method, I need to school you a little bit.  Do NOT mess around with the beans here, ok?!  Ranch Style Beans are a brand of beans & it is a big deal to use these specific beans if you want to be a chili master.  You do want to be a chili master, right?  Ok, so you’re going to have to go on the hunt for them, (I put an Amazon link in there for you folks out in the sticks,) and if you have to resort to using some inferior type of bean, well, don’t expect your chili to kick ass like Mama Loves.  

Method:
Brown ground beef, garlic, onion & green pepper over medium-high heat.  Drain fat, return to burner.
Add cumin, chili powder, diced chills & salt & pepper. (Season your meat first, don’t just dump everything in.)
Add tomatoes and tomato sauce & simmer 1/2 hour uncovered.
Pour in crockpot, & add beans.
Simmer all day on low.
And don’t forget the love 🙂

Variations:
Let’s say you don’t have all day, no biggie, I’ve dumped that meat concoction in the crockpot right away & everything was hunky dory.
Or what if you don’t have a crockpot.  No worries!  After you simmer the meat & tomatoes for 1/2 hour uncovered, just add the beans to your pot & cover, then simmer for 2 hours or as long as you like.  (I think it tastes better when it simmers all day, but that’s just me.)
You can add more beans if you like a bean-y chili, or more meat if you like a meatier chili.
This is even good without meat if you’re a vegetarian. (I was a vegetarian for almost 12 years, but that’s another story for another day.)
Also, good with turkey meat if you’re looking for a slightly healthier chili.
And, I’ve made it with steak and roast too, if you prefer chunks of meat in your chili.

I serve warm tortillas with butter on them as an accompaniment to this chili – I roll them up and you can just shovel chili into the tortilla if you want.  I don’t like cornbread very much, so I don’t serve it as a side, but feel free to do that if cornbread’s your jam.  And to make it a little fancier, (like if I’m serving this to dinner guests,) I will put out some toppings for people: shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream & diced green onions.

You can add more chili power if you want to kick it up a notch, but let me tell you what you should NOT do … You should not open up someone’s crockpot after they got up early to make this chili before going out to ski for the day, and then proceed to screw around with it by adding things like sliced olives, coffee, bay leaves, and crap like that.  First of all, it’s not cool to mess around with someone else’s recipe, especially when she’s hormonal & PMS’d, (true story!)  Also, I gave you the gold here – don’t mess with perfection.  It’s simple for a reason.  Not everything amazing needs to be complicated & time consuming.

And now, a challenge to my sweet bestie & amazing food blogger, The Kitchen Snob.  I challenge her to make this chili & take prettier pictures with her professional camera.  I know she has made this chili before, but they don’t have Ranch Style Beans in Pennsyltucky, so I am sending her the proper beans.  Let’s see if we can get her to make this again & if she has any wonderful insight on kick-ass chili making.

Love, Loss & Childhood

Once upon a time there was a cute little orange “Tabbysinian” kitten who found his way into our lives.  His papers said he was a Rudy Abyssinian, but his face was much softer than what you might expect a typical Aby to look like.

Ozzy's favorite spot

Ozzy’s favorite spot

He picked The Husband one day, 14 years ago, when Pet Stores were not outlawed quite yet. The Husband was only “The Boyfriend” back then, and it was the very beginning of our relationship.  And although he hadn’t intended for this little kitten to be a present for me, well, he ended becoming just that. Even though we didn’t live together yet, we shared this cat – I would bring him to my house for overnight stays, and eventually we all ended up moving into a house together 2 years later, (with our other cat, Emmy, a rescue who had found her way to me a year after Ozzy.)

Ozzy. I will use his real name because it’s cute. And he was an Ozzy through and through. He was so sweet & friendly; a bunch of orange fur with a purr as loud as a tractor motor – so loud, it was difficult to fall asleep if he happened to curl up & take a nap with you. He demanded to be pet all.the.time. If you stopped petting him, he would nudge you with his wet nose, or gently nip at the fat on the back of your arm (YOW!) to get your attention.

We made all the mistakes with this guy, our first “baby.”  We fed him food from the table, which transformed him into a steak-thieving, fang-bearing wild animal. He swiped chicken nuggets off of plates at parties, until we eventually had to lock him up when guests came over. Yogurt, eggs, tuna juice, salmon, filet mignon, burritos, artichokes, edamame, butter … there was no human food that this cat wouldn’t want to ingest.

And because we didn’t know any better, we let him roam around both inside and outside, until the unthinkable happened one day & he didn’t come home for dinner. Several days later, he turned up, mangled and barely hanging on to life. We rushed him to the hospital, where he cashed in one of his nine lives. He had been hit by a car & his jaw was broken. It was the first scare in our career as Ozzy’s parents, and I vowed to never let him out of the house again. He lamented that decision, but eventually got used to being just a house cat.  He tried, and managed to, escape once or twice.

Fast forward to the arrival of our human child, The Boy, five years ago. Ozzy was probably the least excited of the cats to meet this new unpredictable babbling little wild man – a new entity in his midst, that would surely take our attention away from him.  Ozzy kept his distance, carefully eyeing The Boy, and scrambling away when The Boy got too close.

The Boy didn’t care if Ozzy wouldn’t play with him, The Boy still loved him no matter what. The Boy called all of the cats his brothers & sister, and would draw pictures of them with him or by themselves. The Boy,  just like me & The Husband, is a true animal lover.

So in September, when Ozzy first got sick with a blood clot in his front paw, The Boy & I rushed him to the emergency vet and waited, hopefully, for the doctors to say that he would be ok. As Ozzy lay sedated in the oxygen cage, The Boy got to pet him & was elated that he finally got to feel Ozzy’s soft, orange fur. The Boy saw me cry in the consultation room when the Cardiologist explained that Ozzy had silent heart disease & that this time we were lucky because the clot was in the front paw … if it was in the back leg, that is a much worse diagnosis, a death sentence pretty much.

Back home, for the past 3 months, we’ve watched as Ozzy made a remarkable recovery, and plied him with pills twice a day, hidden in the smokey folds of salmon.  Spoiled, sure, but if anyone deserved it, it was Ozzy. I knew that his days were numbered, but figured we were looking at years, not months.  So, last weekend, when Ozzy refused to eat dinner & could not walk on his back legs, I was shocked.  And I knew in my heart of hearts that this was it.  The end.

I am a very emotional person, an easy (and very ugly) crier.  I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I’ll cry at the drop of a hat most days – something that moves me, be it happy or sad, can trigger the tears.  But when the proverbial poop hits the fan, I switch into “take-charge” mode, and I become the calm in the midst of chaos.  I’m the one who takes a deep breath & coordinates everything when everyone else is falling apart.  This was one of those times.  I knew that I didn’t have the luxury of breaking down right now.  I needed to be strong.

I shuffled The Boy into the tv room & put on a show that would engross him, as I took The Husband into our bedroom and told him that he needed to say good-bye to Ozzy.  I would take him to the emergency hospital, but I wasn’t expecting to return with our cat.  The Husband couldn’t really handle the magnitude of the situation, and didn’t want to believe that this was happening.  He stayed with The Boy and I rushed Ozzy to the hospital.

My fears were confirmed and the ER Doctor told me that Ozzy had a saddle thrombus in the worst possible place, and recommended euthanasia.  I was devastated and for the first time, I started to crack a little.  My emotion caught up in my throat and I couldn’t stop the tears from spilling out.  I signed the papers and held him for the last time, stroking his head and telling him about The Rainbow Bridge – a place where he would be able to run and chase squirrels and birds, eat steaks and chicken nuggets – and I would meet up with him again someday.  I tried so hard not to cry – I wanted to be strong for him and brave, but I couldn’t help it.  I wept as I watched him go.

When I got back home, The Boy was just about to go to bed, and I couldn’t tell him then.  We decided to wait until the following day after he got out of school.  I baked him a batch of his favorite chocolate chip cookies, and The Husband & I sat at the kitchen table and explained that Ozzy had been really sick for a while, and the doctors tried everything, but he had passed away.  At first, The Boy took it pretty well – asked us a few questions in between bites of cookie: “is he coming back?” No, sweetie. “Will I ever see him again?” No, love.  And then he ran off to play …

But at bedtime, that’s when he really broke down.  After I kissed him goodnight & closed the door, I heard him quietly crying and calling out for Ozzy.  My heart broke, and I rushed back in.  The Boy came undone, asking me questions like “is everyone I love going to die?”  “Why couldn’t you save him, mama?  Why did you let him die? He was only thirteen years old!” “I miss him, I don’t want him to be gone, why can’t he ever come back?”

The Husband is an atheist, and I’m (for lack of a better label,) a witch.  And I don’t want to get off on a tangent about religion, but suffice it to say The Husband and I have agreed to raise a child who is curious about the world around him, while supporting him in his search for whatever spirituality (religious, or not) works best for him.  We expose him to the Pagan holidays, (and Hanukkah too, since The Husband is Jewish by blood.)  But all of our celebrations are based around tradition, family & food, and not anything religious.  We focus more on nature, the changing of the seasons, and less on theology.

Answering these big life questions for a five-year old were tough for me, but here’s some of what I told him:

You know how at Halloween, I talk about the veil between the two worlds?  This world here where we are, and then a world where the spirits and ghosts live?  Well, some people think that the other world is a place that animals and people go after they pass away from this world.  It’s beautiful and magical, there’s no sadness, no pain, no sickness, and there’s just love.  I would like to believe that Ozzy is now in that world, playing with other animals and running after silly squirrels and eating all the steak and salmon he wants to.  We won’t be able to see him anytime soon, but I like to believe that someday we’ll meet up with him again.  And you know how I talk about my grandma and grandpa who aren’t alive?  I told you that I think they’re my angels, and they look out for me and watch over me?  I would like to think that Ozzy is now one of our angels, too.  And even though he isn’t alive here on earth anymore, he is still alive in our hearts.  We can talk about him and remember all the funny, silly, sweet things he did and all the good times we had with him.  And it’s ok to be sad and to miss him.  It’s ok to ask questions and talk about him, and it’s ok to be confused.  It’s going to take some time for all of us – you, me, Daddy & the other kitties – to get used to not having Ozzy in our house anymore, so we need to be kind to one another and be gentle with each other because it’s a big change to lose someone we love so much.  And I know that thirteen is a small number and that must scare you, but for cats and dogs, time is much faster – one year for humans is 7 years for cats and dogs, so Ozzy was really ninety-one years old in human years!  That’s a good, long life, sweet boy.  No one lives forever, but usually people don’t die until they’re very old and have lived a long life.  So you don’t need to worry about losing anyone else in your life, because no one is sick, everyone is healthy and just because one bad, sad thing happened, it doesn’t mean a lot of other bad, sad things are going to happen to.  Ok?

As I grappled with explaining the unexplainable, I could hear the Husband crying in the room next to us.  He later told me that he was sorry that he couldn’t be stronger & couldn’t come to help, but that he was in such pain from listening to our son sob about the loss of his sweet pet, it caused him to completely lose it.  He said that I did a beautiful job of helping him understand & work through his grief.  I hope so.  I know it must the an instinctual mothering-type thing to want to shelter your children from any pain of the real world, but I also cannot lie to him.  I tried my best to explain it as honestly as I could while still trying to bring him some comfort.

The following day, on the suggestion of a friend, I bought The Boy a small stuffed kitty cat that resembled Ozzy.  I  can’t believe that the toy store had exactly what I was looking for – it was kismet.  I put a name tag on its collar that read “Ozzy,” and presented it to him after he came home from school.  He hugged it tightly and said, “the real Ozzy will live in my heart, but this Ozzy will come with me everywhere now.”  I smiled, proud that I had brought him some bit of happiness in the wake of a truly sad tragedy.

a sweet stuffed friend to help with healing

And we have been taking it one day at a time, as we’ll continue to do.  In fact, just yesterday The Boy proclaimed that “Emmy just moved up a notch” to his “second favorite cat.”  Of course, his best buddy, Sniper, has always held top spot …  But, Ozzy, we’ll miss you so much, and we’ll think of you fondly & remember all the silly, sweet things you did, and all the joy you brought to our lives.

 

Giving Up On The IEP & Putting Faith In Me

overcomeWell, we’ve been in school for almost 3 months now, and I’ve already had to call an IEP.  This is the wrong placement, but it’s the best one we can get right now, all things considered.  Not only is The Boy on the spectrum, (High-Functioning Autism / Aspergers,) but he’s also very intelligent & tests way above average, so that’s called a “Twice Exceptional” “2e” or “Twice Gifted” child.

He’s only 5, so he’s technically in Transitional Kindergarten (TK) because he has a late September birthday, and that’s the law here – kids have to be 5 by September 1st to enter Kindergarten no matter your intellectual ability.  He is currently placed in a Core Autism classroom with 10 boys (all boys) ranging in severity, (the majority are non-verbal, low-functioning kids.)  The ages of the kids range from 5, (The Boy is the youngest one in class,) to age 8.  TK – 2nd grade.  Wrong placement for him because of the severity of the behaviors in his class, but the best available option because he is able to work above his grade level with the 1st & 2nd graders.  In his current IEP, The Boy is supposed to push out to general-ed, but for what?  He would tear a “typical” “gen-ed classroom” apart in about 30 seconds if left to his own devices.  He’s way beyond “A makes the ‘aaaaahhh’ sound.”  He’s reading, spelling, doing math, learning geography, etc.

He needs a one-to-one aide, someone who can be with him in a typical (but advanced) classroom … not forever, but for the time being until he can learn to self-regulate.  He’s over-stimualated & easily influenced by these low-functioning kids.  He’s picking up behaviors and trying them on for size.  Behaviors that had taken a long time to eradicate are now resurfacing.  He needs to be around his more typical, higher-functioning, bright peers.  I have told the school district this for over a year now, and my assertions fall on deaf ears.  I know what they hear when I ask them for an aide, they hear the sound of money being pried out of their sweaty, bureaucratic hands.  It costs approximately $100,000 a year to have an aide for a child.  It’s no wonder they have denied me time and again.

This was my 4th IEP and I’m pretty much a pro at these now.  I read several very helpful, (and very dense,) special education books from “Wrights Law.” I have my notebooks all properly prepared, each paper at the ready in case I need to reference something.  I have my secret advisors within the district, who, (of course,) shall forever remain nameless.  I have my outline of what I’m going to discuss placed in front of me, I’m dressed professionally, and I am ready to confront them, even though “we’re all on the same team.”And, sorry, but I don’t buy that for a second.  Sure, they all say they have The Boy’s best interest at heart. And I believe that they want to believe that, but at the end of the day I’m not the person signing their paycheck.  Their loyalty lies with the school district.

We’re at an impasse here.  They basically told me that they don’t think he needs an aide, and to even get to the point where they will even consider an aide, they would have to do (another) Functional Behavior Assessment, (FBA.) Which is a time consuming process of collecting data on The Boy – what triggers behaviors, and why. So, let’s just assume they do this FBA & determine he IS eligible for an aide, the placement of an aide would not even happen until the end of this school year.  And that’s IF they decide he qualifies, which I’m here to tell you that will not ever happen without me taking them to due process.  They’re just stalling for time, trying to wear me down & honestly, I can’t deny that it’s working.  I’m tired of dealing with them!

See where I’m going with this?  How much longer do I give them to get it right?  How much longer does The Boy have to suffer from their lackadaisical, bureaucratic gridlock?  I don’t have the resources to fight them – we cannot really afford to hire a high-powered attorney & sue them, (even though I threaten that time and again.) And even if we did – who is to say that having an aide would even solve the problems he is facing?  He is riddled with anxiety that manifests itself in various ways – physical outbursts, nail-biting, aggression toward himself and others.

I can see the toll that daily “failures” are taking on The Boy.  His teacher uses a star-sheet for the day where the kids have to earn a certain number of stars for making safe choices, respecting others, participating in group activities, completing assignments, etc., and if they earn a specific number of stars, they are rewarded by being allowed to choose a treat from the treasure box.  After 60 days of school, he has had 8 treasure box days where he’s earned enough stars to be rewarded.  EIGHT.  Out of SIXTY.  Tell me that isn’t destroying his self-esteem.

I can’t fault him for not having good days – he doesn’t have the tools to be successful!  I mean, of course I will reprimand him for acting out physically toward his teachers or peers – I think he is smart enough to know how to control his impulsivity.  But how can I punish him when a big part of it isn’t his fault?  This is really wearing all of us down: The Boy, The Husband & Me.

I’ve been pondering homeschooling for a little while now – the past few months it’s been rolling around the old brain cage, as sort of a last resort option.  But I’ve been thinking about it more and more lately.  A few friends of mine home school their (typical) kids, but they seem much more cut out for the challenge – both are a lot more laid back than I am, and make it look easier than it probably is.

Well, as I was driving this weekend, (alone,) I was flipping through satellite radio, and on one of the channels, a woman was talking about homeschooling.  And, it just really struck me, that, with all the blood, tears and sweat I’ve put into fighting the school district to try and get The Boy the tools he needs to be successful in school, I’m still not even close to accomplishing this!  And all the time I spend fretting about Common Core & IEP’s, I could be teaching him myself instead of trying to find ways to convince the district to try my ideas.  steve_jobs_quote_Think_Different

Instead of fighting them, why not throw the towel in & flip the script?  Why not remove the obstacle (The School District) & empower myself to be in control of the way my child is educated?  Educated in my comfortable, loving, supportive home environment, where he could focus & receive 100% of my attention.  And, bonus: I could kick Common Core to the curb.  It’s not that I don’t have the fight left in me to battle the school district, but for what?  And for how long until I have to do it again?  It just struck me so deeply that I may be fighting the wrong battle, I may be spinning my wheels, I may be wasting my energy.  And that maybe homeschooling is something I need to seriously consider.

I sat on this idea for a day.  I didn’t tell anyone because I thought maybe it was a fleeting feeling, maybe it was a hormonal thing, maybe I was fired up by the talk radio segment I had heard.  I mean, I was on my period – maybe this wild hair would work its way back out of  me, but instead the thought of homeschooling kept gnawing at me.

Without alerting him to my objective, I started a casual conversation with The Boy about school.  Lately, he has been complaining that he doesn’t want to go … he doesn’t like that they do the same thing every day, he feels overwhelmed with all of the distractions in class, he wishes it was just him alone with me as his teacher.  I explained that I wasn’t his teacher, and he relented and said, then he would be better off alone with his 5 teachers.  So, wow, he said it, he wants to be homeschooled.  That was another a-ha moment.

Then, I went to The Husband.  He’s heard me talk about the possibility of homeschooling before, but between him and my mom, they pretty much dismissed it as a passing thought, brought about by my frustration with the school district.  They thoughtfully pointed out that homeschooling would be really, really tough & I would be exhausted by the end of the day, probably not up for the task … After all, dealing with a very willful Aspie is really hard to do all day.

The thought is actually frightening, I’ll be honest here.  I have no idea what I’m doing, true. And selfishly, where’s my “me time” going to go? I can kiss coffee with the girls good-bye.  Our entire lives will have to change – our routines, our priorities.  I’m petrified, nervous, overwhelmed … and excited.  I feel like this is the beginning of an amazing adventure & I can chart the course.  I feel like this could be really great.  Or be really awful.

outsidethbox

But, don’t I owe it to him to try a different approach?  Even if it is going to be challenging for me?  He is my only child & he deserves this.  I cannot think of anything more important than the well-being, overall health and education of my child. There is no job, no hobby, no community service that I can think of that inspires my passion more than my only little boy.

I’ve been reading some stories from parents who waited too long, and now in a crisis are forced to realize, all too late, that their child would be better off being educated at home.  I don’t want to wait until it becomes a tragedy.  I want to be that intelligent woman who sees the writing on the wall early enough on, and says, “let’s do this.”  If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work and we will know that we gave it our best effort.  But if I don’t try it, it will continue to gnaw away at me, this feeling that we can do better.  Maybe it won’t be forever, maybe it’s only for a little while, and maybe it won’t work.  But shouldn’t I at least try?

Courage

Friends, mommies, homeschoolers, teachers, anyone who wants to chime in, please do!  I’m looking for input from those of you in the trenches.  Give me a shout out!  I need some words of wisdom & inspiration 🙂

Love, The Fairly Good Mother

 

Thank You For (not) Being A Friend

So … I’ve been wanting to write this post for a little while & something has caused me to hesitate.  I think it’s difficult to acknowledge that I’m no longer friends with a couple of people whom I had considered to be like sisters to me.  I suppose that my thought process went a little like this: If I say that it’s “over” on my blog to the world at large, then it’s most definitely over for real.  And that finality hurts.  Actually, the whole thing hurt, but after I got past the pain of, not one but two, close friendships ending abruptly, I was able to see the lesson & grow from the experience.

The truth is friends will disappoint you, people change, and maybe you’re not always going to be as close as you are to someone who is an important part of your life right now.  And maybe the “best friend” you thought was like your sister, will become a different person – someone you no longer recognize – and will walk right out of your life without so much as a “goodbye,” leaving you to fumble around for closure all by yourself.  Akin to the guy who just stopped calling you for no reason … only this hurts more deeply, because it was more than just “some guy” you dated a few times whose name you can’t even remember now.  This was a friend.

let them go

let them go

I know that people come in our lives for a reason & sometimes they only stay for a season, or two.  And other friendships I have, (and cherish,) are the ones where we’re close during a certain period of our lives, drift apart, (with no animosity, just the way life happens to lead you,) and then come back together as though no time has passed.  I love that.  I have plenty of really amazing friends that I don’t see, or even talk to, on a daily / weekly / monthly basis, but when we’re together it’s as though no time has elapsed – we pick up right where we left off.

I’ve lost friends to death … suicide, tragic accidents, horrible illnesses & it’s all been awful.  But even with the sudden departures, I at least felt like I had a reasonable idea of why we weren’t friends any longer, and in a way I was able to have some sort of closure.  And some friends I lost touch with and felt like that was ok because we weren’t that close anyhow – they had chosen different paths for their lives, fundamentally changed from the person I had first met, and I felt like it wasn’t a friendship I wanted to continue.

But when friends – really close friends, people who referred to you as “BFF” or “Bestie” or “soul sister” just stop talking to you, abandon you, don’t return phone calls or emails, you are left to try and reconcile what happened on your own.  And it sucks because my motto is “everything can be solved in a conversation.”  Yeah, well, that only works if people are, ya know, conversing.  So an abrupt departure is painful, and sad, and heartbreaking.  You start to question how you could have been so close with someone who has so little regard for your feelings.  But people change, I suppose …

remembering who friends used to be

Now in my early 40’s I think I’m learning – really learning – a very big life lesson about friendships.  My circle has whittled down, especially after everything that has happened over the past 7 years: I got married to a great man, I moved a little further away from everyone (and by further I mean 20 minutes – ha,) and had a child.  A child with special needs.  Which means my “Me-Time” & “Friend-Time” is very limited.  The time that I do have, I don’t want to spend it being roped into unnecessary drama with people who don’t care about things that are important to me.

life is too short

And it’s OK not to “build a bridge” and be the one who reaches out to fix things if you don’t want to fix things.  Someone doesn’t want to be friends with you?  Take them at face value – they don’t want to be in your life, so let them go.

A really close friend, a truly great friend doesn’t necessarily equate to the person you’ve known for the longest time.  Several of my dearest friends are women I’ve only known for the past few years!  And I’m so thankful for their friendship.  I know that as we ebb and flow in life, as we grow & take on different roles in our lives, that our friendships will inevitably change.  And that’s a good thing!

Keep growing … keep learning, and those people who continue to do the same will continue to add value to your life.  The people who are stagnant, living in the past, clutching to old ideals, are those people who won’t be able to add any value to your life.  Let them go.  Be brave & remember that it’s better to be alone than to be surrounded by fake friends.

10 Signs Your Child May Be Watching Too Much Peppa Pig!

The Boy has been in a Peppa Pig phase for a while, and I have to say, it’s a pretty good show, as far as kids shows go. I have actually found myself laughing on many occasions at the crazy hi-jinx of Peppa & her zany family, rather than wanting to stab out my own eyes, the way I do when I have to suffer through an episode of Olivia or Max & Ruby.  At least this pig lives with her parents.

peppa2However, I do think The Boy might have watched just one too many episodes of Peppa this summer, and may be on the verge of a Peppa Overload!

Here are some signs your child may be watching too much Peppa Pig:

  1. They call you “mummy” instead of “mommy.”
  2. They pronouce the word “Tomato” like “Toe-Mah-Toe.”  Ex. “Mummy, I don’t care for toe-mah-toes, they just are not my cup of tea.”
  3. They call gas “petrol” & tell you that you need to stop at the petrol station to “fuel up.”
  4. They refer to the shopping cart as a “trolley.”  Ex. “Mummy, may I please push the trolley in the market?”
  5. They start telling friends they need to get in the “queue” instead of wait in “line.”
  6. They begin to use more British phrases like “I’m a wee bit too small for that, mummy.”
  7. Calling a a “zebra” a “zay-brah” Ex. “Mummy, my favorite animal at the zoo is the ZAY-BRAH.”
  8. They request bangers and mash for dinner.  I have no idea what bangers and mash even are, so I had to look it up.  Apparently it’s sausage and mashed potatoes.  I made hotdogs and a baked potato that I mashed up.  His reply, “Mummy, I do fancy this dish!”
  9. They start referring to their friends as “mates.”
  10. They call you a “cheeky mummy.”  I was floored when The Boy actually said this to me.  I had to actually look up the context of cheeky before I knew whether or not to flip out on this kid.  He meant it to be cute, so I let it slide, but suffice it to say, this is when I decided to curb his Peppa intake 🙂

Yes, silly, of course I used all of this Peppa mania as a teachable moment … We had a long talk about the different expressions & pronunciations that the British and the Americans use, although I do think he may be an Anglophile in the making.

Camp Mama Love

Here’s our list of activities that we did I had lined up for the past 10 days:

Disclaimer: These are not my kids. Photo Credit: http://lgsrc.com

These are not my kids. Photo Credit: http://lgsrc.com

Swim Play Date ~ Check!  How I made it fun for the grown-ups, too?  Wine & cheese for the mommies!  When the kids got sick of the pool, they ran around in the little sprinkler I put on the lawn & painted the cement and rocks with water.  I also had chalk,  a water table, and our swing.

Library Day ~ No check … We had it on our schedule, and The Boy was gung-ho when we put it on the schedule, but vetoed it twice on the day-of, despite my telling him we were going to search for Dragon Books.  Maybe he was having flashbacks to the previous two times we had visited (he was 2-ish) and was yelled at by a very stern Librarian who apparently didn’t realize that you can’t “shush” a 2 year old Aspie!  Oh well – I will get us there, but the truth is that we pretty much have a library here at our house … If only people would keep it organized! Hmmm … that gives me an idea 😉

Beach Day ~ Check & Check!  This is always so much fun … I love the beach, he loves the beach.  This time we went with friends, but I love going just the two of us also.  Pro-Tip: Get a wagon & load all of your gear into the wagon for easy hauling down to the beach.  If you live in the LA area, I highly recommend the Annenberg Beach House! The boardwalk makes it easy to drag that wagon to the shore.  We spent all day there (on two separate playdates) chasing the waves & the seagulls, looking for dolphins & building sand castles ~ This one sure does wear him (and ME!) out!!

My favorite activity!

My favorite activity!

 

Hike ~ Check & Phew … We actually just got back from a 1-hour hike in our local mountain range.  It’s an easy enough hike for The Boy, but has a few steep hills scattered throughout to get our blood pumping.  When you get to the top of the rocky peaks, there’s a great view of the city below.  This morning was an all-out battle to get him to actually come along, though.  He had a melt-down because he wanted to play with his toys, (he’s once again obsessed with Toy Story,) but once we got there, he apologized and said he was glad I forced him to hike!  I’m such a mean mom making him have adventures & go outside – sheesh!

Park Play Date ~ Check! Have to say, we’re super lucky to live 10-minutes walking distance from one of the coolest parks in town!  (My wagon comes in handy here too!) They recently re-vamped the entire playground to be a shane’s

photo courtesy of Mitch Englander

photo courtesy of Mitch Englander

inspiration park that kids with all abilities can access, and they added a splash pad. The trouble is getting him to leave here – haha … he would live at the park if he could, he told me as much!

Movie Day ~ Check!  When it gets too hot outside & I need to take a break, we high-tail it to the movies.  We’ve been to the movies twice!  Saw How To Train Your Dragon Pt. 2 and Earth To Echo.  I thought they were both good, but thought that How to Train Your Dragon 2 was out-of-this world-amazing!!  The story was great, the animation was so great – 100 times better than #1.  And I left the theatre wanting my own dragon, (I actually ended up getting a pack of dragons that had 2 Toothless dragons in there and The Boy let me have one! Ha!)  Earth to Echo was a cute story – kind of trying to be the E.T. of this generation, and it fell short of that.  Better for kids that are a little older – like 7-12 maybe.

All in all, I’d say I’m doing pretty well with this summer thing … The Boy even told me that our camp is way more fun than the other one he was at — score!!

Kicked Out!

We gave it our best effort … The Boy tried, he really did. I tried too … And the camp, well, the camp gave it their best shot I suppose, but in the end, we came to a “mutual agreement” that their summer camp wasn’t the best fit for the Boy & we went our separate ways in the middle of the week last week.  Apparently running from the counselors toward the street in the middle of a public park didn’t go over so well.  I don’t blame them – it’s a safety issue & if anything had happened to The Boy, you bet your sweet patootie, I’d be flipping over tables and lining up the lawyers!

So we gathered our things (minus one swimsuit, one pair of flip-flops and some pricey goggles,) and left.  I was relived & slightly happy, because now I get to have him all to myself this summer.  I was also kind of sad for him because … well, because he was starting to really like camp, just beginning to make friends, and it made me cry to think that he isn’t going to have a “normal” childhood and do “normal” kid stuff like go to summer camp.  I knew that already, (the not having a normal childhood part,) but I feel like I forget it all the time.  And the whole kicked-out-of-camp thing made me realize that it’s never going to be the kind of carefree life that everyone else has … and I’m totally ok with that, but sometimes it makes me a little sad for The Boy.

Anyway, I won’t dwell on that because hey – I have 8 weeks of awesome MamaLove SummerCamp planned!   (I actually only have the next 4 days planned, but don’t fret, all those things I’ve been pinning on Pinterest are going to come in handy over the next 8 weeks.)  Swim Play Dates, Beach Days, Library Outings, Cooking Club, A Fairy Garden … this summer is going to be one to remember!

And I will do my best to document it, but I’ve made a conscious decision to be as “hands-free” with The Boy as I can.  I’ve pretty much chucked out 90% of social media, but that is a story for another day …

Happy Summer!

 

Summer Camp Blues

This has proved to be a tough day for no real terrible reason.  Lots of tears have been tumbling out of my reddened eyes & I’ve been trying to keep myself occupied, (luckily, Ikea has been a good annoying distraction – more on that in another post.)  I didn’t bother even putting on make-up today, because I knew it would be another emotional day.

Like I said, it’s not anything tragic, but I’m a big sobbing mess.  Why?  The Boy started summer camp today, and was away from me from SEVEN excruciating hours!  It was harder on me than it was on him.  And it’s not just that camp started, it’s that preschool is finished, kindergarten looms in the very near future, and he is almost 5 … time is moving way too fast for me.

Wasn’t it just yesterday when he and I were taking Mommy & Me swim classes at the YMCA?  Wasn’t it just last week that we hatched caterpillars that grew into butterflies and set them free in the front yard, caught up in the magic of the moment?  Wasn’t it just last month when we would have long periods of quiet bonding time, me relishing in the way he discovered the world around him?

Where did the time go?

Now he’s ready to spread his wings & fly away from the nest – not too far, but far enough to cause me to hold my breath.  Will he be ok?  Will he remember to re-apply his sunscreen?  Will someone help him if he is having sensory issues peeling his banana?  Will the camp counselors remember what I told them & help him with social interactions, or will they leave him to fend for himself?  What if a kid is mean to him, pushes him, hurts his feelings & I’m not there to intervene?  My mind was swirling with a thousand “what-ifs” all morning long.  I mean, I would feel like this if he were an NT kid, but he’s not & although he seems typical, he still is an Aspie & has special needs.

My job is to protect him.  Besides The Husband, (and his Grandparents) no one else in the world takes this job as seriously as I do … and then the control freak in me just felt so uncomfortable with all the variables that are absolutely OUT of my control.  And bottom line, it’s really hard for me to trust – especially to trust that someone else will care for my child the way I expect them to.

The Boy & I talked the entire ride to summer camp; role-played on how to make new friends, what to say, what to ask, talked about how to keep our hands to ourself, talked about asking a counselor for help if and when The Boy needed to take a break because there were going to be a lot of kids around him, we went over his home phone number, my cell number, our address and a slew of other things … WITHOUT freaking him out.  Just casual conversation.  And then, after a lull in our conversation, he said:

“Mommy, I’m a bit nervous.”  My heart leaped, but I had this.

“Honey, that’s ok, it’s normal to feel nervous when you’re starting a new adventure.  I feel nervous too when I am trying something for the first time, so does Daddy.”

“What if I don’t like it?” He wondered.

“Well,” I swallowed & searched for just the right thing to say.  “I think you’re probably going to have so much fun and make lots and lots of friends, but if you try it for a week or so and you decide you don’t like it, then you don’t have to go back.  But you do have to be brave and give it a try … doing new things & meeting new people is part of growing up.”

“But I miss my friends from my old school – I want to go back there.”  Now, here’s where my heart sank … This poor child has been shuffled around to 3 different schools now & it’s been tough to put down any kind of ‘roots’ and make lasting friendships – every time he bonds with someone over the school year, we’re off to another program, never to see them again.

“Honey, your pre-k school is closed for the summer,” I explained, “everyone is going to different summer camps or they’re on summer vacation, but we will see your friend Dani for play dates, and you will make new friends here – it is going to be a lot of fun.”

He accepted my explanation and we got out of the car and walked in to this new, unfamiliar world of summer camp. We checked him in, dropped off his backpack & he was excited and happy as I took his picture for the purpose of documenting his first day of summer camp in 2014.

I walked him to the door that led to the play yard outside, and he kissed me good-bye & ran outside, full of hope and excited energy.  It was all so fast – I wanted him to linger for a minute, but knew that wouldn’t be a good thing – better to rip the bandaid off quickly.

I watched him from a window where he couldn’t see me … he wandered around aimlessly for a few moments, as I held myself back from running out to his rescue.  He was just about to strike up a conversation with a couple of older girls as a basketball slammed into the side of his head!  I had to resist the instinct to intervene – I waited to see what he’d do.  He shook it off & shortly thereafter he started a game of race with another older boy.  A camp counselor was nearby and monitoring the interaction.  I felt better, but still uneasy.  I crept out, and then found another vantage point to spy from … I spied for another 10 minutes and then I had to force myself to go.

The truth is this … I don’t want to miss one moment of his life.  Selfishly I want to be there for every little thing, I love seeing the world through his eyes – he’s always filled with wonderment & awe over all the discoveries he makes during the day.  But I know that the right thing to do is to give him some space to grow & explore the world without me right there on top of his every move narrating the story, but that’s really difficult for me.  I also want to protect him, help him, guide him, and monitor everything.

But it’s not about me – it’s about letting him drift away from the nest a little bit & letting him put into practice all of the things we’ve been working so hard on, (social skills, self-help skills,) and not ever letting him see how much it affects me.  He can’t know that it breaks my heart to have him away from me for more than a few hours, otherwise, he would want to comfort me and take care of me & never leave my side.  I will never be that kind of burdensome mother.  I’ve seen them in action & they disable their children to the point of a role-reversal. And Typical or NT, I think this kind of a transition (the growing up & letting go) is hard on any (good) parent.

So, I suck it up, I walked back to the car, losing the fight with the tears that were distorting my vision.  I got into the car, shut the door and just sobbed for a good ten minutes.  I’m not ready for this transition. If I had a magic potion, I would keep him little for a while longer.  Though I don’t know that I’ll ever be ready for him to grow up … It’s my job to prepare him for what lies ahead in this great big world.  And as with pretty much every job I’ve ever had, there are some things about the job that are not easy.  Letting go just a little bit & letting your little bird spread his wings is not easy to do, but it is the right thing to do.

When I went back to get him (and believe me, my eye was on that clock every other minute, counting down!)  He was happy to see me, gave me a hug & said “Mommy, I had so much fun!  And I made lots and lots of new friends, just like you said.”

That made me feel a little better.  A little.

I hope tomorrow is easier.  (Update: IT WAS!  I feel much better today … )

The Adventure Begins Here Photo Credit: http://stage.bsaboston.org/camp/

The Adventure Begins Here
Photo Credit: http://stage.bsaboston.org/camp/

The Karate Kid

I think we’ve finally found the key to The Boy, and slowly we’re unlocking a serious breakthrough.  The breakthrough comes with a hearty “Hi-YA!” and a karate kick in the face of Autism.

Aye-Yah!

Aye-Yah!

A little over a month ago, I called the local karate studio & spoke with the instructor of the class.  I explained that The Boy had been diagnosed with Aspergers but we were in the middle of getting him re-assessed & aren’t certain it’s AS.  We think he’s definitely somewhere on the spectrum, and thought that karate might be right up his alley.  We tried gymnastics & soccer, too much waiting around, not enough discipline.

“We have a couple of guys here with Autism who are black belts now.  Bring him in – we’ll run him through a trial and see if it’s a fit.”  The Instructor said.  I was careful not to get my hopes up.  This program didn’t accept everyone.

That Saturday, we brought him to the studio.  He was full of energy & a little unorganized, but he seemed to enjoy the physicality of karate, and he caught on to the routine pretty quickly.  I loved the structure & discipline that this class offered, and it was only 30 minutes – perfect for my little guy with the short-attention span.

The Instructor was a tough guy.  Just as The Boy began to act out & I hissed his name, The Instructor walked over to me and said “No, let me handle him.  You just sit here and watch.  He needs to know that I’m the boss here & if you’re doing the discipline in my studio, he won’t ever respect me.”  Word.  I was totally on board, but also on the edge of my seat, waiting to see how much of a spectacle this would turn into.  To my delight, The Boy didn’t buck too much, just tested the waters a little, but I loved that The Instructor didn’t let him (or any of the other kids) get away with a single shenanigan!

The Instructor told us to bring The Boy back again to the next class.  And again, and again, and again.  The Boy was in try-outs for almost 3 weeks!  He had to “earn” his “jacket.”  That totally motivated him.  He loved the challenge, he got the hang of things, (addressing his instructors as “Ma’am & Sir,” keeping his hands to himself, staying quiet & following directions – for the most part.) And although he struggled with controlling his body, he really made an effort.  After 9 sessions, he had finally earned his jacket!  He was a proud little boy, and I was a proud mama.

Yeah, I cried a little.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the distinct look of pure pride on The Boy’s face.  He had accomplished this all on his own & he knew it! He glanced over at me & smiled, we exchanged the “thumbs up” sign.

I know it might sound silly, but I think he may have found his place.  This might be his sport.  I can’t see soccer as his sport, or baseball … He needs something that is more of a solo “team” sport.  In this class, he’s part of a team, but his success is solely based on his own merits.  And quite frankly, I’m a little relieved about this for several reasons – I mean, of course, I’m happy for him, but selfishly, I’m happy for me, too.  The thought of early Saturday soccer games out in the hot sun & weekday practices out in the hot sun don’t appeal to me.  I would do it, sure, and I even had envisioned him having the “All-American” childhood, replete with a position on the soccer & little league teams when he was growing inside of me.  But  maybe I’m not going to be a soccer mom.  Maybe I’m going to be a Karate Mom … or a Tennis Mom … or a Golf Mom.  I’m cool with that.

It’s been really spectacular to see the change in him … And it’s not just me & The Husband who see a change, his teachers commented to me that The Boy has been making big strides lately.  It’s a tough class & it’s three times a week, but it’s something that The Boy looks forward to – he enjoys the challenge & the routine, knows what’s expected of him & when he pushed back (which the instructor said he’d do,) he got his belt taken away for 2 classes!  He earned it back & learned the lesson: can’t clown around in karate.  There’s a time & a place for messing about, but in karate class, you act professionally, take it seriously & do your best.

Warning: MOMMY BRAG Ahead!

Yesterday, after being in this class for less than 6 weeks, he did this entire series called “Appreciation Form” which is a 12-step series of different hand movements FLAWLESSLY without any assistance from an instructor!  He even showed up a camouflage belt (highest belt in the class!)  The Instructor praised him “never seen a white belt do that series all on his own without any help!  Well done!”

We’ll see how it goes, but I think we’ve finally found his sport 🙂

 

 

The California Salad

California Salad

Light & Healthy

So light, so healthy & sooooooo delicious!  I concocted this simple, yet elegant side salad after messing around with a few different ideas.  It’s even VEGAN, and it goes with just about anything you can think of …

What’s In It?  All my favorite things!

Arugula and/or Baby Spinach – My go-to choice is Arugula, but if I’m feeling frisky, I’ll pick up some Baby Spinach instead.  OR, if you’re feeling totally rebellious, mix them together as you throw your head back and laugh manically!

Sunburst Tomatoes – For most of my life I turned my nose up at cherry tomatoes or anything that slightly resembled them.  WHAT WAS I THINKING?  Holy mother of Solanum Lycopersicum, these little golden treats pack a sweet & delectable punch!  They add a unique compliment to the tangy, slightly bitter flavors of this salad.

Avocado – I mean, really, how can you go wrong with avocado?  It’s the best and most, er, one of the most versatile fruits.  (I sat here for a good 6 minutes and argued with myself about whether an avocado or a lemon is the most versatile fruit – I’m torn!)  I could eat avocado on ANYTHING & it lends some creaminess to this salad.  Growing up in Northern & Southern California, we had avocado trees & come to think of it – why don’t I have one now?  Ok, I just decided I’m going to propagate the next pit of an avocado.

Lemon – I love lemons, too.  And I do squeeze them on just about everything, so one day when I was sick of making dressing & just wanted something light & simple, I squeezed lemon all over the salad.  Hello!?  Why had I never thought of this before?  Lightbulb!

Garlic – Yep, another one of my faves … pressed & as much (or as little) as you like!  Me?  Two big, fat cloves!  (p.s. the garlic press is nice because it gets a little garlic juice in there, but if you don’t have one, just mince the garlic.)

Olive Oil – Just a little so that it all melds together nicely.

So like I was saying … You can eat this alone, or with your best buddy if you are nice enough to share.  Kidding, I mean, you can eat this as a stand alone salad, or it accompanies pretty much anything from chicken, to turkey chili, to white bean vegan soup, to grilled salmon or even barbecue!

You’re welcome … 🙂