Mar 31, 2011

Food for Thought: Meatloaf

When my sweetie and I were dating we didn’t have much money for real dates. Generally we went to the library and studied together and then ended up at my parents’ house for dinner. It was on just such an occasion that my husband first sampled my mom’s famous meatloaf. Unfortunately, he didn’t know it was famous and before he even took a bite he asked for the ketchup.

Remember that movie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? Adam is eating in Milly’s food establishment when he asks for the ketchup to go in his stew. She says something like, "My stew can stand on its own!" Well, I think my mom had seen that movie one too many times. The ketchup was grudgingly pulled from the fridge and slammed down on the table in front of my sweetie. And those were the days when ketchup still came in glass bottles! I’m pretty sure my dad said something like, "You insulted my wife’s meatloaf!" So meatloaf was banned from our little home after we were married.

Then, after a reasonable period of mourning (and we could afford hamburger), we decided to introduce it to our little ones. Sadly, we were at a loss as to a good recipe and given the past, I just couldn’t ask my mom. After several failed experiments, I finally swallowed my pride, the lump in my throat (or maybe it was bad meatloaf), picked up the phone and called my mom for her recipe. "That’s it?" I questioned in surprise. I couldn’t believe it was so easy and we were messing it up. I gave the recipe to my sweetie who did most of the cooking when we were first married and he harumphed before he mixed up the ingredients. But it didn’t work! The meatloaf was dry and awful. I was devastated. I knew Mom’s recipe was good.

Several weeks later I decided to give it a try again. I followed the recipe exactly. It turned out wonderfully moist and delicious, just the way I remembered from my childhood. My sweetie was baffled. The next time he mixed up the meatloaf, we were both working together in the kitchen. He took it out of the oven and it looked marvelous. I was sure he had done everything correctly this time. Then he headed for the sink and carefully tipped the pan sideways. "What are you doing?" I asked. "Draining the grease," he answered. "No!" I screeched. He quickly tipped the pan to level. "Just let it sit on the stove for a couple of minutes, it will be fine." Now we finally knew why his meatloaf was so dry and mine was fabulous. Don’t drain off any grease and use plenty of ketchup, I promise I won’t be offended and Mom will never know.


2 lbs hamburger (we use 4 for our crew!)
 1 sleeve of saltines (crushed)

2 eggs

black pepper

1 pint (or 2 small cans) of tomato sauce

Mix ingredients thoroughly and place in a small Pyrex or metal pan.

Cook at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour. (Depends on the size of your pan and the thickness of the meat.)

When the meat is done the top will crisp up nicely. Do not pour off the grease or the meatloaf will be dry. Serve with ketchup and baked potatoes.

Mar 29, 2011

Vampires, Dayglow Beds and Alien Babies.

Baby Doll was born a full month early in October and she had jaundice. They put her on lights in the hospital and after one extra day, they let her go home…with the lights. Her weight had dropped to 6 lbs, which was still pretty good for a preemie. She was so tiny and cute that the kids were devastated when they had to just let her lie there on the billi-bed. I was totally sleep-deprived and post-postpartum. I was NOT fun to be around.
 **Editor's Note:  Mom didn't think it was funny but we all thought Baby Doll would make an excellent alien for Halloween.** After several days with her going in for a foot poke every day, her numbers dropped to safe levels so we sent the billi-bed back. Finally we could hold and cuddle her! Halloween was approaching when I took her in for her two-week appointment.  The doctor decided she was still too yellow so she ran more jaundice tests. The numbers had all gone back up and once again she was confined to the bill-bed and had to be subjected to the daily foot torture. Not only that, the doctor sent us to the hospital for blood tests to make sure her liver was functioning properly. Oh, and she wasn’t growing either. Her weight still hovered around 6 lbs. 

The blood tests were done at our local children’s hospital, but at a satellite clinic, not the main hospital. The blood guy promised me he was an expert on tiny arms and she would be fine. Bwa-ha-ha! But she wasn’t. He poked her four times before he was able to draw a tiny bit of blood. Each time he missed the vein and prodded that needle in her thin arm while she screamed her heart out. He brought in a supervisor. She poked what was left of her tiny vein and missed again. Then they brought out her little feet. They were already criss-crossed with scabs and scars from all the billi-rubin pokes. That didn’t stop them. Two big jabs together would make it bleed enough to fill the tubes they said. 

So they jabbed her. She screamed. The tears leaked slowly from my eyes and dropped on her blanket. I tried to comfort her tiny quivering body as they massaged the blood from her legs into her feet and then into the endless pile of tubes. "It’s drying up," complained the nurse. "Shall I poke her again?" The supervisor looked through her stash. "Maybe it’s enough…" she answered skeptically. "Why don’t you send them up to the lab and we will see?" She looked at me. "You can wait here until we know." The nurse left with the vials and the supervisor hovered in the room. She adjusted the light and closed the door. 

My Baby Doll whimpered on the table. They had strapped her down to keep her from moving. The vampire examined her tiny arms…first one, then the other. "I think I can fill that last vial from this one," she said as she snapped the gloves in place. When she plunged the needle one more time into that tiny arm, I learned something. I didn’t have to stand there and let them torture my fragile child. As soon as the blood didn’t flow smoothly into the vial and the needle started prodding, I spoke up. "No!" I said. "We’re done." 

Willem Dafoe "Shadow of the Vampire."

She pulled the needle away; I popped the straps on the bed and picked up my precious child. Her screaming subsided as I cradled her in my arms. Her health and welfare were my responsibility, but she was not a piece of meat nor was she an interesting challenge for the medical community. As it turned out, they had enough blood to run all the tests and she was fine. It took until the first part of December for all the yellow to leave her system. And when it was finally gone, she started growing like a weed. Now at nearly six months she is pink and round and chubby as a little butterball. She still has tiny scars on her feet, but at least there are no teeth marks on her neck.

Spring Cleaning

In our house we have a little room just inside the garage (which doesn’t have any cars parked in it…ever!) that we call a mudroom. I guess the theory is that you come in from your car, take off your jacket and muddy shoes, and leave them there before you go into the rest of the house. Since we don’t park in the garage, that theory doesn’t really work for us. We use the mudroom to build a laundry mountain (because the room next to it is the laundry room), throw coats and backpacks, feed the dog, and pile things on the shelves we don’t want to put away. 

We have ten hooks in the mudroom, one for each of us living at home except that the two littlest ones have to share. So last week we celebrated the first official day of spring. For me that meant spring cleaning which mostly means I make all the kids take their heavy winter coats upstairs and hang them in their closets. We also pack up all the winter hats and gloves and scarves and store them in the garage until winter returns. 

The day after we "spring cleaned," Baby Doll started up again with the sniffles. Her chest got raspy and icky so I took her to the doctor. It seems we have another round of RSV on our hands. Then I was up half the night with Scout, she was complaining of similar symptoms. So we filled the humidifier, fired up the breathing machine and broke out the Motrin. And just in case I didn’t get the message, on my way home from the doctor for the second time inside a week, it started to snow. So much for spring cleaning. It’s still winter in Utah.

Mar 28, 2011

Autism: Scouts

Part seven in our story on Autism.  If you are new and would like to catch up start here.

So the question was, " How do I teach my autistic son about life in general? How do I give him goals and dreams?" The answer was Scouts. The problem was that he HATED scouts! He started as a Cub Scout when he was 8 years old. The den meetings were OK, but the pack meetings were terrible. He was afraid to get up in front of people. At first I let him stay in his seat and the cubmaster would bring his awards to him, but after a while that sort of favoritism was not sitting well with the other boys. So I forced him out of his seat when his name was called. A couple of times he threw an absolute tantrum on the floor, rolling and screaming and crying. Those were the days his dad would pick him up (he was too heavy for me) and carry him out in the hall until he could settle down. But after a while he started going up (as long as I went with him) and simply turning his back on the audience. 

He earned all of his cub awards and many arrowheads. By the time he became an 11-year-old scout I started pushing the merit badges. He was learning about all kinds of things and scouts was becoming a little easier. Then one day in the paper I saw a boy who had earned all the badges. I showed the article to my Dog Walker. I underestimated his desire for fame and recognition. He immediately set the goal to earn all 124 of the badges and he had to do it before his 18th birthday. Imagine my surprise when I started looking through the list! This was not going to be easy…Aviation, Water Sports, Golf, Reptile and Amphibian Study…the Scoutmaster thought he’d pull a fast one and he even listed me as a counselor on that one (he knew I hated snakes!). 

We started slowly, working on the ones he needed for his Eagle first. Because it was difficult for him to learn in a straight line, we started making scrapbooks for each badge. We took lots of pictures and he copied thousands of words out of the Merit Badge handbooks to help him when he went to visit his counselors. He would work on one for a little while, then switch off and start on another one. Sometimes it took him a couple of years to finish one up, but because he had a record, it wasn’t hard for him to come back later and finish. He earned many badges at various scout camps, but I made him work the hardest at home. 

Some of these badges were definitely life-changing, like getting a dog for the Dog Care badge and signing up for band so he could earn the Bugling badge. Sometime I’ll tell you about our specific adventures earning other badges, like our trip to Denver for the Whitewater badge. For the past six years, earning merit badges has been a huge deal around here. He currently has 120 badges and only 8 months until his 18th birthday. I’d like to say that 124 is still the magic number, but you know how scouts likes to yank us around. There are currently 130 that he is eligible to earn. At the last Court of Honor he actually got up and spoke to all the boys about the four historic merit badges that were only available for 2010. He encourages the other boys to work hard and get their own awards. 

1910 Historic Merit Badges

He loves scouts and any time I ask him to do something hard he will say, "Is it for a merit badge?" If I can figure out a way that it is, I don’t have any arguments from him. So the question is, "Can an autistic boy set goals and achieve them?" The answer is, "Absolutely!"

Mar 27, 2011

Swan Lake

I told you yesterday that Sport made his debut in Swan Lake. He was a cute little trumpeter complete with a feather in his cap. He wasn’t the only one. All told we had five kids strutting their stuff or honking their horns (do swans honk?) as the case may be. They gave three performances and we attended the last one. I knew we had kids in every Act so I didn’t want to be late. We climbed into our seats about two minutes before the opening music to Act I started. 

Since this was an artsy-fartsy show, I fought my droopy eyelids in the semi-darkness until somebody familiar entered. It was the Dog Walker. He had his arm around a cute little girl in a red tutu. Under any other circumstances he might have been ecstatic that he was sporting such a hottie on his arm. But because he was in the middle of the stage and that girl was expecting him to lift her and spin her and generally make her be amazing, he looked a bit nervous. He shouldn’t have been. He did everything just right…I breathed a sigh of relief, but it only lasted a second because right after that Crafty came out with her group. Man, that girl can work a crowd! She dances with the biggest grin on her face. 

Before I had time to fall asleep again, it was the intermission. Baby Doll was awake in her car-seat and demanding attention. As I lifted her out I was hit with a nasty aroma. I was fumbling through my purse looking for a diaper when they dimmed the house lights again. Act II was about to begin. Princess had a dominating role as one of the main swans. I could tell she was nervous, but I’m not sure why because she did an amazing job! Meanwhile, Scout squirmed next to me in her seat. "Do you have to go potty?" I whispered. She nodded her head vigorously and squirmed some more. Baby Doll was also whimpering. I took one last glance at the stage where my beautiful Princess was still performing, tucked Baby Doll under one arm, grabbed Scout’s hand with the other, and bolted for the door. 

The Valse des cygnes from Act II of the Ivanov/Petipa edition of Swan Lake
We headed quickly to the restroom. I pushed open a stall door for Scout and looked around for the diaper changing station. Duh! We were in a Junior High School. There wasn’t even a counter to lay my little one on. I backed my way into the next stall, locked the door, and found the only seat available. Thank goodness she didn’t have any leaks! It actually turned out pretty good…I had toilet paper handy to wipe up the excess and a tiny garbage can for diaper disposal. We made it back in for Act III. 

My cute little trumpeter was the first one on stage. It wasn’t long before he was joined by Crafty and Prima Donna, each doing separate dances. Prima Donna looked great even though she was wearing one of those goofy red and yellow costumes I sweated over last week. The Dog Walker came back on stage too. Then the little trumpeter blew his imaginary trumpet for the princesses. There were five of them dressed in powder-blue tutus. Mine performed an amazing solo (if I were the prince I would have picked her…) and she would be mad at me if I didn’t say her friends were amazing as well. I’m not sure I noticed that they were amazing though, because I was too busy watching the trumpeter. 

I’m pretty sure he was supposed to just stand there and look like part of the furniture, but every time I looked at him he was yawning, or wiggling the feather in his cap, or mimicking whichever princess happened to be dancing at the moment. Just for a little variety he also twirled his trumpet around and around on the silken cord about his neck. At one point he almost tipped over the scenery! And you thought Rothbart was the evil one! When the show was over, we stood around waiting with the other parents for the dancers to come out. I had quite a few comments on what a beautiful job the girls did (Princess’s boyfriend was there and even brought her flowers!). The Gym Rat commented about the Dog Walker and his way with the girls, but I had by far the most comments about the little trumpeter who kept everyone from falling asleep. And I thought I was the only hick around here…

Mar 26, 2011

Sport's Speech Therapy

When we were expecting our 7-year-old son, Sport, we were very aware of the risks of a second boy with Autism. I’ve never been a fan of prenatal testing of any type (not that it would have picked up autism anyway), so we were carefully watching his milestones. Sport was very verbal and social right from the beginning. The problem was that you couldn’t understand anything he said! Being the mom, I probably was the closest thing to an interpreter that he had. 

When he was three, he was asked to give his first talk at church. He got up there and said every word into the microphone. Sadly, because the kids couldn’t understand what he said, some of them laughed and we couldn’t get him to give another talk for a couple of years. He would accept the assignment, prepare, and then when the time came to actually say the words to the unappreciative crowd, he would clam up and I would end up giving the talk for him. By the time he was four, our doctor suggested we have him tested for a communications disorder, oh and while we were at it, how about testing him for autism as well?!  So we took him to the clinic and had several doctors test his hearing and his speech. Then finally he took the autism test. It took the last doctor about 2 minutes to determine that we were wasting his time. Our little Sport was not even a tiny bit autistic, he just had trouble speaking. 

Once again we were dealing with an IEP and speech therapists. Even though he hadn’t started kindergarten yet, we were sent to our neighborhood school for speech therapy twice a week. Summer was approaching and he only had three months before school started. His preschool teacher understood about half of what he said. I was at about 75% with his dad and siblings around 60%. He was incredibly bright but the words were garbled like he’d been sucking on marbles. We decided to put him in an extra day of private speech therapy as well. We practiced every day. He had a deck of cards with beginning sounds and we would drill and drill and drill. He had little green paper frogs that did backflips when he performed well and he worked really hard. 

Kindergarten started and some of the kids called him a baby and bullied him a little because he was rather unintelligible especially when he got excited and spoke fast. But eventually he found a few good kids who didn’t care and were willing to include him anyway. It took him until the first part of 2nd grade before he was finally released from the IEP. He’s a terrific kid and he just made his debut in Swan Lake as the trumpeter. Not that his speech impediment would have mattered there, nobody speaks during a ballet…except my four-year-old grandson, Burrito. During a beautiful, quiet, girls-on-their-toes scene, he spotted Princess’s friend. "ABBY!" he yelled in his loudest voice. Bossy turned bright red, "Shhhh!" she whispered. But it was too late. Even Princess who was in the dressing room recognized his voice. Nope. He won’t need any speech therapy, it was LOUD and clear. 

Mar 25, 2011

Friday Freebies: Half-Price Pizza

Several years ago we made a trip to San Francisco. It was our first major trip with the kids and they were so excited! We stayed the first night in Reno where somebody nicely backed into our van and drove off without letting anyone know. Then we drove through the mountains and finally down into California. We stayed in the suburbs of San Francisco in Burlingame where we found some fun activities like the PEZ Museum and just down the street we found a little cafĂ© that sold the most amazing crepes! 

 We spent most of our time in San Francisco proper, visiting Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, and the Aquarium of the Bay. (Don’t forget to buy your City Passes!) Each time we drove down into the city, we looked for the huge statue of the Bow and Arrow. That was how we got our bearings and knew where we were. 

One night we decided to go downtown and find a place to eat. My sweetie was driving and somehow we missed the turn and we could not find the Bow and Arrow anywhere! We drove around and around and it got later and later. The kids were tired and hungry. We were panicked and lost but of course we couldn’t tell them that. Suddenly I spotted a pizza place on my side if the road. "Here we are!" I said loudly. The kids perked right up. "Mountain Mike’s?" my sweetie prompted. I nodded my head vigorously. "Yup! Put on your shoes, it’s time to eat." He eased our oversized van into the parking lot. It was pretty late so we easily found a nice pull-through. As we unloaded the kids we had no idea what we were getting in to. 

I’d never heard of Mt. Mike’s and I had no idea of quality or price. I did know I was tired of driving around and my sweetie never objected to pizza. The prices were reasonable by California standards and we all enjoyed some of the best pizza we had ever tasted. We did eventually make it back to the hotel without ever finding the Bow and Arrow. Flash forward to about six months ago. We discovered that they actually built a couple of Mountain Mike’s in our valley**editor's note: I told Mom a month ago the Mountain Mike's by our house went out of business.  There is now only one in our valley**

They have a huge 20" pizza that would never fit in my fridge, but it doesn’t have to because the kids devour it in about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, we don’t go out for pizza very often because of the price. Then one day my son mentioned that he and a friend had tried out the buffet and thought it was amazing. So we started watching for a good coupon. When we finally found one we headed down there on a Monday for lunch. After we ordered our pizza, we saw a huge sign that read, "Half Price Pizza – All Day Monday. Dine in Only." That has become one of our favorite places to take the kids. I can get a huge 20" pizza for $12.50. It only takes 3 of those to feed our rather large family including the grandkids and like I said before, the pizza is some of the best we have ever tasted! Give it a try and let us know what you think.

Mar 24, 2011

Food for Thought: Green Chili Enchiladas and Rainbow Cupcakes

Every year during March we go through about half a bottle of food coloring turning our regular dishes into a very unhealthy shade of green. On Dr. Suess’s birthday we always eat green eggs and ham and this year we added purple pancakes. My sweetie has a real problem eating food that is not the right color. When he called me from work on St. Patrick’s Day I told him so far I had only planned green jello and green bread. "That’s good," he said, "Most of the green will cook out of the bread." 

Boy was he wrong! I put the loaf of bread into the breadmaker but when I took out the food-coloring bottle, I didn’t notice that the tiny pour spout to keep me from dumping in half the bottle was not there. Oops! Then I got a phone call from Bossy. They were making green chili enchiladas and she wanted to bring her stuff over and share. Never one to turn down a free meal, I was happy to let her cook. 

Working on this particular dish reminded me of another time we were cooking together. The Gym Rat was in charge of the Munch ‘n Mingle for his church group last year. Now I raise my kids to take these sorts of responsibilities very seriously. Most people would simply arrange for milk and cookies every week…not my Gym Rat. He decided he was personally responsible for feeding more than 100 people every Sunday after church. So about 10:30 one Saturday night he showed up on our doorstep with grocery bags full of chicken, enchilada sauce, and tortillas. He figured we needed to make 130 enchiladas before we went to bed. 

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Bossy and Gamer came over to help. We finally finished around 2:30 AM. Since I knew he was tired, I offered to ride with the Gym Rat for 30 minutes to his church building so we could fill up the two large refrigerators with a dozen foil pans full of enchiladas. Unfortunately, someone had also decided to fill up the refrigerators with pies, so we had to arrange and rearrange to try and fit everything in. We got back to our house about 4:30 AM. It was a crazy night, but the enchiladas were a huge hit with his friends. After all of his hard work I don’t think he even got to eat one! 

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We are also including a new tradition Bossy started just this year. She found a recipe for Rainbow Cupcakes that are truly amazing if you have the patience to make them work (and you still have some green food coloring left). Remember there is only one more day to get yourself entered into the Easter Giveaway!

Chicken Enchiladas

2 large chicken breasts (cubed)
1 8 oz package of cream cheese or 1 can of cream of chicken soup (milder version)
1 4 oz can of diced green chilis
1 28oz cans of Enchilada sauce (we prefer green chili)
1-2 14 oz. packages of flour (or wheat flour) tortillas
Shredded Cheddar Jack as desired.

Cook chicken in a large skillet until juices run clear.  Add can of chilis and 1/2 can of enchilada sauce to chicken.  Stir.  Bring sauce to a a boil.  Spoon in cream cheese (or soup) stirring constantly.  Simmer until cream cheese is fully melted.

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9 X 13 glass pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray.  Place tortilla in pan spoon in about 1/4 cup of filling directly into the center.  Fold the tortilla in 1/2 and drag the top half lightly over filling slightly wetting the tortilla. Roll burrito style so enchiladas are about 1 inch thick.  Leaving ends untucked. Slide rolled enchilada edge side down to the bottom of the pan.  Repeat until pan is full.  Smother enchiladas with remain enchilada sauce and top with cheese as desired.  Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes.

(If you have left over sauce and don't want to make another pan it freezes well.  Use within a month.  Do not freeze rolled enchiladas they just fall apart.)

Rainbow Cupcakes

White Cake Mix (as prepared)
Food Coloring

Prepare cake mix as box directs.  Select rainbow colors.  (We used 8 colors.)  Divide batter evenly in small bowls for each color.  Use food coloring to mix colors to your preference.  The brighter the colors the prettier your cupcakes will be.  (Tip-If you hate trying to mix the perfect purple grab a box of new "Neon" food coloring.
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Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  Using a standard spoon scoop 1/2 a spoonful of each color layer into cups.  We started with red and ended with purple.  The red layer is the hardest.  You will probably use too much batter on the first try.  It will be okay just use less on a different color.  spoon each layer directly on top of the other.  If the batter doesn't touch the sides of the cups don't worry.  Continue with each layer until cups are 2/3s full and all colors are used.  Take the tray and gently tap the sides so the batter settles into the cups.  Bake as directed.  Frost and serve.  

The best part about these cupcakes was comparing them to each other after taking a bite.  We all sat around showing off the centers of our cupcakes.  It was fun to see the different patterns and waves.

Mar 23, 2011

Autism: Growing up "Normal"

This is part six of this story.  If you are new and want to catch up click here.

I stewed and struggled over the best ways to teach my 8-year-old autistic boy. I had heard all kinds of horror stories about anger because communication was hard, other kids picking on these kids because they were different, and just a general sense of no direction or goals. I didn’t want these things for my son. Even though he was now stuck with the autism label for the rest of his life, I wanted him to grow and achieve as much as possible.

Because his first grade teacher showed us that he was perfectly capable of hard work, we started adding his name to the daily job list. He didn’t like that, but he usually did whatever I asked him to do. When the anger started pumping through his veins, I would calmly say, "One hard job…." If he didn’t control it himself, it was "Two hard jobs…." There were times we got to ten hard jobs before he finally pulled himself together. Then I would present him with a list and he would start working. As long as he held it together and started on his list I would take jobs off the other end. I don’t remember him ever completing all ten jobs. Most of the time he would end up with fewer than five things that might include unloading a dishwasher or vacuuming a room. The best part of that was not the clean house, it was that he was learning to control it by himself.

To deal with our second issue, I tried early on to involve him in all kinds of activities with all kinds of kids. Our biggest thing was sports. He played t-ball (although not with the best results), soccer (that was even worse when he was little) and basketball. One of our therapists had suggested that there was a link between learning and exercise for autistics and if we pushed the exercise, his brain might expand along with his other muscles. We figured it was worth a try. So at age 9, we signed him up for peewee football. He absolutely hated it!

In the Gremlin leagues he was forced to try out with about 150 other kids. He didn’t understand the drills or the coaches and just the physical part was way more than he had ever done in his entire life. He was finally placed on the platinum team. It was a rag-tag group of kids that were likely to be the last ones chosen in a neighborhood pick-up game. We were fine with that. He had a couple of coaches who were absolute saints. At the parent meeting I got to give my speech about how he might say something inappropriate or quote movies and to please let their boys know so they didn’t get angry with him.

It was a difficult season. Our little guy spent many lonely moments on the bench, but he did get in his required plays and he learned a little bit about pushing on the line. The most important thing he got from football was friends, and lots of them. He played football for eight years with different boys every year. Because these boys spent so much time sweating together, they look out for each other and help each other. Once when the Dog Walker was in 6th grade some kids started picking on him on the playground. A couple of his football friends stepped up and told them to take a hike.

I rarely go anywhere with my son that we don’t run into someone he played football with. There are always high fives and "How ya doin’?" My boy usually can’t remember their names (I think I told you before he was about 8 when he finally knew all his siblings’ names) but he knows they were on the same team and who the coach was and what year they played and where. I’ll give you more specific football stories later, but for now, just remember that football was an incredible journey for our autistic boy.

The last part of my huge worries was that he wouldn’t have any goals or hopes or dreams. We watched other kids in the cluster class and their parents seemed to want to coddle them and just keep them babies. They were not expected to be like other kids, so they weren’t. I’m not saying that is wrong, I’m just saying I didn’t want that for my son. Then one night while I was helping the Gym Rat with some stuff he needed to do for a merit badge, my light bulb turned on…the thing that might expose my little guy to all kinds of experiences and skills could be scouts.

Mar 22, 2011

Government Contracts and Radio Contacts

When I was pregnant with number three, I went to work as a technical writer for a small defense contractor. It was a good job with good benefits and security. My sweetie went to work full time for the company he was working for so we finally were pulling in a decent income. Unfortunately, we had gotten ourselves under a pile of debt with school and cars and other stupid purchases that we shouldn’t have made. That meant we were both going to have to work for a good long time. I was 24 years old. Life was good but hard. 

When ends didn’t meet, I took on a part time teaching job. When they still didn’t meet, we started selling Tupperware on the side. Life became entirely too crazy then! I was gone nearly every night of the week except Sundays. I hardly ever saw my kids or my husband. I had some friends from work who were very supportive. One of those friends was a girl named Nancy. I guess I shouldn’t call her a girl, she was five years older than me, but she didn’t act like it. She was a single mom with a son just a few years older than Bossy. Even though she had a rather sad life, you would never have known it. She was always happy and helpful. She was the Document Control Librarian so we got to spend a lot of time together. She never thought a task was beneath her. 

She made countless copies for me and burned thousands of holes so that we could duplicate our vast library of government documents. We both liked the same radio station and kept it running constantly in our offices. One day they announced a birthday contest. If the day pulled out happened to be your birthday and you called in you could win $500.00! Nancy was just sure that one of our birthdays would be called out so we made a pact. If either one of us heard the other person’s birthday, we would quick call the station and then holler out to the other person and put them on the line. 

So I was working along one day when suddenly Nancy’s birthday was announced. I picked up the phone, hollered her name, and was surprised when the call rang through. My fingers started shaking, this was it! "Nancy!" I yelled. Her office was just around the corner from mine, but her dark head never appeared at the door. The DJ answered with the station’s call letters. "My birthday is January 30th!" I blurted, then covered the receiver with my hand. "Nancy!" I called again urgently. She never came. I guess the DJ didn’t believe me or maybe it was standard protocol, but he asked me what year I was born, when I graduated high school…a whole list of questions that I couldn’t answer. When he finally determined that I was not giving him the truth, he hung up.

 I jumped out of my chair and burst into Nancy’s office. "Didn’t you hear me?" I stormed. "You could have just won the $500.00!" She was so calm. "Let’s call them back and explain everything," she suggested. I paced back and forth while she made the call. When she finally replaced the phone in the receiver, she had a smile on her face. "Did they say you could get the money?" I demanded. "No," she replied, "but they were nice, oh, and they are not going to call the police." That was Nancy. Nancy passed away from colon cancer on St. Patrick’s Day. I heard she was happy and smiling right to the end. She was 51 years old. Rest in Peace my friend.

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Mar 21, 2011

A Time to Leave

You ever been in one of those church meetings where you just know you need to leave? When my little brother blessed his baby, he was on the 11:00 schedule so instead of having a luncheon afterward for the extended family, he decided to have an early breakfast. We all met at the park and shared muffins, donuts…you get the idea. Then we headed to the church en masse. 

It was a chilly spring day and the kids had all eaten in their church clothes and then chased around the park before we headed into the meeting. They were ornery, messy, and pumped full of sugar. My nephew received a beautiful blessing (what we could hear of it anyway). They have about 250 children under the age of 12 in their area. We were seated way back in the gym (why does that always happen to me?) and the kids were restless and tired. So we devised a brilliant beyond brilliant plan. We would leave the meeting right after the sacrament but not all together because we didn’t want to cause a ruckus. For some crazy reason we thought if we left a few at a time, no one would notice. 

I was the first one to get up with the baby and the diaper bag. Princess got up next and brought out Crafty and Prima Donna. A couple of minutes later, my sweetie headed out the other side door with Sport. Then Teach gathered up the already sleeping Scout and picked her way through the maze of empty chairs. There was only one problem. No one had mentioned any of this to the Dog Walker. 

I peeked back into the gym. He was just sitting there all by himself on a long empty row. He stared straight ahead, eyes intent on the speaker. I was definitely in a dilemma. I always want my kids to like church, but this was one time I was more than ready to go home. I waved my hand; I whispered his name. Nothing worked. Finally I slipped back in, sat down next to him, and put my hand on his knee. He jumped. Then he yawned and stretched and looked around. He turned to me with a puzzled expression. 

"Let’s go!" I whispered urgently. He glanced around again. "Why should we go?" he asked a little too loudly. I’m sure I blushed a pretty shade of pink. I took his hand and pulled him to his feet. "The meeting’s not over yet!" he said, but he followed me toward the door. Just to make sure we were noticed, I managed to trip over one of the empty chairs. The Dog Walker was very concerned. "Are you OK?" he asked. This time heads definitely turned. So much for a nice quiet exit.

Mar 20, 2011


I think I’ve mentioned before that I am from a small town in Utah. That effectively makes me a "hick." I’m not exactly sure where that term came from, but I do know that it means I’m pretty uncultured. (Remember I do have a church pew in my living room and I couldn’t possibly park even one car in my three-car garage. I also like to plant tomatoes and cabbages in my front flowerbeds.)

I’m not a fan of artsy-fartsy classical concerts, operas or the ballet unless I know one or more of the performers. I’ve even been known to ask my sweetie to wake me up when one of our kids comes on stage. I tend to prefer loud basketball and football games (it’s hard to sleep during those), big family parties, and chaos in general. In an effort to have my kids not become hicks we encourage (Princess would say force) our children to do all kinds of musical, cultured artsy-fartsy things.

We sign them all up for a couple of years of dance. We figure even if it gives them a little more grace on the football field it is worth the effort. In our house we can’t really afford piano lessons so we require several years of band in elementary and middle school. I currently have three children playing musical instruments in various public school bands. The Dog Walker happens to be one of them. He has been playing the trumpet for five years and I thought he was finally absorbing a little culture. We wouldn’t want him to grow up like us without an appreciation for the finer things in life!

As a member of the marching band, the Dog Walker was required to watch the rest of the bands perform. If you’ve never seen a marching band competition, you would be amazed at the amount of "art" that has been inflicted into John Phillips Sousa. For this particular show they were even tossing French flags. My son was not impressed. He sent a text, "We are watching some dumb music show." The annoyance came through loud and clear. Since he was at a marching band competition that seemed pretty obvious. "What’s the show?" He paused for only a second and then my autistic son who always spells unfamiliar words phonetically punched out the reply, "Lame is." I guess there’s no hope for any of us.

Mar 19, 2011

Revenge of the Quilt

*Editor's Note* this is the second post about laundry the first one is here.

Sometimes it seems like all I do is laundry! I either have a big pile of clean laundry to fold and put away or I have a big pile of dirty laundry that’s waiting to go into the washer. Sometimes I have both, particularly on a Saturday afternoon when the kids clean their rooms. That is when they gather up every stitch of clothing they own, clean or dirty, throw it in their dirty clothes hampers and deposit it haphazardly on the mudroom floor. Assuming I can climb my way through the maze of socks and underwear, I am rewarded with the privilege of doing their laundry. 

You would not believe the things that come out in the wash. I told you a couple of days ago that I hate it when the dog pushes her food bowl into the dirty clothes. That means picking mushy bits of dog food out of the washer before I can put in the next batch. But the worst thing is when a diaper or piece of toilet paper gets washed. Little pieces of cotton and paper cling to everything! No, wait, the worst is when a crayon gets washed! I never see it until it has run all the way through the washer and the dryer. Then I have to check each and every piece of clothing for crayon marks. I’ve even had to throw things away when the crayon insists on clinging to the fabric. 

The absolute worst thing I ever washed was a beautiful denim quilt my mother-in-law made for us. It was pieced from old pairs of jeans that were stitched into squares with a red flannel back. The edges were fringed and the quilt was wonderfully warm. My sweetie is always at least 10 degrees warmer than me, so I put that quilt on my side only and then I don’t freeze to death when he wants to keep the temperature in the sub-arctic range. Anyway, because this quilts lays at the foot of our bed for just such occasions, it is always accessible when a kid is in need of comfort. 

Dryer Lint Monster courtesy of Aurora4298
One night we were busy soothing a sick child in just that way when he (who shall remain nameless) heaved all over me and my favorite quilt. It had never been washed before, but there was no way it could be sponged off. I drug it down to the washer (of course it was about 3:00 AM) and threw it in. I was still bleary-eyed in the morning when I lugged it into the dryer (I swear it weighed a hundred pounds wet), but by the time it was dry I was wide awake. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The dryer was stuffed full of little pieces of denim and flannel that used to be fringe. I kept pulling it out of the lint trap and out of the sides of the dryer. It took me about ½ an hour to get it all cleaned up and even then a bunch of it reappeared in the next batch and the next…. I vowed never to wash it again! 

So today I was putting in a batch of laundry. My little two-year-old Curly was in the bathroom right off from the laundry so I could hear him in there talking to himself while he was going about his business. I pulled wet clothes from the washer and tossed them into the dryer. There were a few candy wrappers that must have been in someone’s pocket and I tossed them into the garbage. I couple of shirts later I noticed three $1.00 bills (Score! Sometimes I do get paid to do the laundry). 
Then I pulled out a pair of jeans and heard a thunk. I fished around in the bottom of the washer. What was that? My fingers touched hard plastic and I pulled out a PEZ candy machine with a BYU football on top. "Curly!" I was definitely annoyed. "I washed your PEZ!" I heard him shut the lid. "Thank you!" he called back cheerfully. Maybe laundry isn't a thankless job after all.

Mar 18, 2011

Friday Freebies: Cheap Vacations

We have a big van that we use for church and vacations. It has 12 seats and a large cargo area in the back. We stuff that clear full of bags and coolers and pillows, chips and cookies and bread. We always tailgate on every vacation. It’s a great way to save lots of money on the road. 

One of my favorite places on the planet is Disneyland. We made our first trip there in 2007. My sweetie was doing some extra consulting work and we had saved up enough for a whole week in sunny California. We wanted this to be the trip of a lifetime for our kids since we wouldn’t likely be able to afford another one for at least a decade. We headed out on a hot August day. Our first stop was the San Diego Zoo. The kids enjoyed seeing the animals for the most part, except that the giraffes don’t seem to have any sense at all. It was definitely a hot day, but I don’t care how thirsty I am, the urine from another creature would not be my idea of an acceptable drink. Unfortunately, the giraffe didn’t see it that way. Maybe he thought it was a hose. My kids were totally appalled. 

It was a little crazy, but our schedule forced us to visit SeaWorld that same afternoon. Even though they were a little tired from all the walking at the zoo, the kids loved the Shamu show and were excited to see the dolphins next. We got great seats and were right on the edge of the "splash zone." My little Scout was only two years old and she was so excited about everything. She stood up on her seat so she could see better but her foot slipped and she tumbled out of my reach and down the metal benches. I scooped her up, but it was too late, the blood poured from beneath her lower lip. I grabbed a SeaWorld bucket hat and applied pressure to get the bleeding to stop, but it was pretty obvious that she was going to need stitches. Great…here we were in an unknown city, on a weekend, and who knew what kind of insurance hassles we’d have to deal with.

I remembered seeing the first aid station on our way into the park and I headed there. My sweetie and oldest daughters rounded up the other kids and tried to keep them occupied (he only lost Crafty, so I guess that wasn’t too bad…fortunately she was located within about 10 minutes by a kind grandmotherly-type who helped her find her family). We arrived at the aid station only to find that other than a piece of clean gauze and an address, they were no help at all. They pointed out the row of taxis waiting out front, and with Scout clutched tightly in my arms, I headed for the first one in line. Pressing the gauze firmly to her still bleeding chin, I gave them the address. Can you believe this guy actually drove me in circles first, running up the tab while my two-year-old bled on his seat? What should have been a two-minute cab ride actually cost me $20.00! 

The clinic patched her up and we headed back to SeaWorld. It was nearly closing time and we were able to make only one quick stop to see the sea cows; we missed the rest of the park. Other than that, our vacation was magical and surprisingly affordable.  As always, I'm the ultimate cheapskate, so before we left I started looking for discounts to make the cost of taking ten of us to Disneyland just a little cheaper.   *Editor's Note: Bossy and her family stayed at home to take care of the dog and 6-month-old Burrito.*

We had used City Passes on a trip to San Francisco, so that is where I started. City Pass makes little booklets full of coupons for various cities and I was excited to find that they made one for Southern California. The prices have gone up a little since we used them in 2007, but they are still an excellent way for families to see the sites. An adult book costs $276.00 dollars and includes a three-day park hopper pass for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. It also includes admission to Universal Studios Hollywood, SeaWorld, and the San Diego Zoo. A child pass includes the same but only costs $229.00.

I purchased tickets for everyone on-line. I recommend Hotwire for your hotels and when you want to go out to eat, check the back of your phone book in your room. Many of them have coupons for random restaurants. You can also check with the front desk for coupons and other deals. I’ve even been known to bring coupons from our newspapers at home on vacation. Usually other states will honor these prices if you present the coupon. Leave me a comment and let me hear your other ideas for saving money on vacation.