Thursday, May 30, 2013

Since He Asked...

I cannot imagine all of the things I never would have learned of it were not for my Great Inquisitor - Zak. I have studied the whats and hows of countless subjects from exactly how tornadoes form to crossbred canines to the history of graphite, just so I can answer his endless questions.

Today was no exception. During his math work, he looks up and asks, "what does a.m. and p.m. stand for?"

"Ummm...I don't know. I'll have to look it up."


"Whatever it is, I'm sure it's Latin," I mumble as google.

Sure enough.

And of course, I learned a few other interesting facts along the way. Here's the highlights, in case your kids ever ask.

The 12-hour clock is a time convention in which the 24 hours of the day are divided into two periods:[1]a.m. (from the Latin ante meridiem, meaning "before midday") and p.m. (post meridiem, "after midday").

The Romans also used a 12-hour clock: daylight was divided into 12 equal hours (of, thus, varying length throughout the year) and the night was divided into four watches. The Romans numbered the morning hours originally in reverse. For example, "3 a.m." or "3 hours ante meridiem" meant "three hours before noon", compared to the modern usage of "three hours into the first 12-hour period of the day".

The 12-hour clock in speech often uses phrases such as in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and at night. Outside of English-speaking countries, the terms a.m. and p.m. are seldom used and often unknown.

So then, now we know. Pleasant p.m. everyone!

Monday, May 27, 2013

New plans

Throughout my relatively short experience of parenting, I have tried out a great many different techniques to try to foster responsibility, motivation, reward, and self-sufficiency. There were some that worked very well. For a while. Then the kids either grew out of a method, or grew used to it and unmotivated.
We have a big family, compared to the average family of three or four. And we live in a cozy, yet small house. But I am out numbered and am in constant demand. Which, I suppose is a complement of sorts. Nevertheless, exhausting.
Even if my children attended public school, I would still likely be behind in everything, since Kit demands my whole attention nearly the entire time she is awake. Occasionally, she will get distracted enough playing with the kids that I might be able to whip up something to eat or use the bathroom unaccompanied. I get the majority of things done when Victor is home and puts her to sleep, takes her for a walk, or takes her to play outside. This means though that there are plenty of things not done as often as I would like. And since I have children running around here all day, making messes and eating everything, they might as well play almost as big a roll in cleaning it all up.
This is not a new view. I've always felt that they should have responsibilities. The problem with training kids though, is that they are not always very good at what you are trying to teach them to do. So you come to accept that there is a long learning curve and that your house is going to look at times like a six and ten year old cleaned it. Because a six and ten year old did, and they did their best. But this is often not without a lot of prodding and hand-holding along the way.
So then, I'm always game to find something that will get the motivation high again. For a long time, it really baffled me that Zak could blaze through video games with ease, remember exactly each thing in a particular collection, and always know exactly where we were and how to get anywhere, yet every night for at least eight years he just looks at me completely blank when I ask him what he is supposed to do to get ready for bed. For years we have tried to simplify his routines, make his responsibilities clear, set things up as easily as possible for him to succeed at accomplishing his tasks, and yet we were foiled over and over again. There are certainly days when my frustration level skyrockets because of his need for constant reminders.
Now I'm begining to learn why some of these things are so challenging for him, and that is a relief. He's not lazy, or manipulative. His brain literally has an information gap. There is a neurological "bridge out" on the brain pathways that are carrying this information and instructions. And he needs to clearly be shown the detour. Every day for some things.
So I'm making him a task "map" of sorts. It's something that I have been aware that he needs for a while, but conceiving the right method, and implementing it demanded significant mental energy and then time to put it together. I've been in short supply of both of these things for months.
However, so much of what I've been reading about successful tips for kids with Asperger's emphasizes a predictable routine and clear expectations. I thought we had the expectations part down okay, and we would have, if Zak's brain was wired more like mine. But it is not, and he clearly didn't always know what was expected of him. So we are changing that.
We are also trying to implement a more solid, and predictable routine. This is a challenge for me, in that I like a loose routine. I like to have an idea of the day, even a list of goals. But I'm usually fine if plans change. Zak is not anymore. I say anymore because he really didn't used to care much what the day shaped up to be as long as it held the prospect of fun. This has changed a lot over the last couple years. He is still happy to ditch chores for more exciting activities, but his ability to handle the later effects of a change in routine has dropped. When the undone chores are still expected to be done, or its bedtime without extra playtime since it was spent earlier in the day, there are a lot of times when his emotional reaction is very big and intense. He has such a hard time adjusting to what seem like new rules. The result is often tears but sometimes anger, and almost always frustration.
So we need something that can provide a comfortable routine for him, but that is still flexible enough to accommodate things like doctors appointments or surprise fun stuff. I also need him to cultivate a much higher ability to be self-sufficient and follow the routine without constant reminders from us. After all, he's not going to live with us forever, so these are skills he really needs to start honing. Another necessity is a reward system that provides a daily reward in order to maintain daily motivation.
After brainstorming for a long time and making several prototypes to figure out the best method, I finally figured out a system I think is a winner!
First of all let me show you our new reward system. I got this idea from a friend who did it for her girls' chores. I modified it to work as our "Smile System":
This is still the experimental version in which I taped the paper onto the cookie sheet instead of directly writing on it with permanent marker (I wanted to make sure it would work, and now that I know it does, I can go buy a cheaper pan and have my good cookie sheet back!). The long magnets in the middle are just covering up their names. So let me explain how this works...
  • Every day each kid starts out with twelve smiles.
  • Each smile represents ten minutes of electronics, be it playing on the Nintendo DS, the iPhones, the computer, or watching a movie or several episodes of a show.
  • Throughout the day they can loose smiles for fighting, being rude, not doing what was asked after the first request, or any unreasonable attitude or misbehavior.
  • When they loose a smile, it goes over into the X and becomes a frown.
  • Electronics window begins at three o'clock and is over at seven o'clock. Only during this window can electronics be used for the day unless it is school related.
  • All chores and schoolwork must be finished before each kid can play electronics regardless of the time they finish. (If it takes them until five to finish their stuff, then they have from five to seven to play electronics. If it takes them until six, and they have more than six smiles, tough, better get your stuff done sooner next time. But they don't have to be finished at the same time for one to start his/her electronics time.)
  • No electronics will be played before three, even if all chores and schoolwork is done well before three. Consider it an opportunity to use the imagination.
  • Each kid can play/watch for as long as they have smiles for.
  • Smiles lost can be earned back by doing extra chores (folding laundry, matching socks, washing dishes, vacuuming and others).
  • Any smiles lost after seven p.m. stay lost into the next day and can be earned back then.
  • No electronics on Tuesdays. ( We have our mid-week Bible Meeting on Tuesday evenings and the less we pack into the day the easier it is to make sure that we all get there in a happy frame of mind.)
 I know that might sound kind of complicated, but it's really not, and the kids had it down the first day. I have it attached to our refrigerator with really strong magnets. But when I make our final version, we may attach it to the wall with screws, or really strong double sided tape.
So now that they know what the rewards are, how do they know what to do each day? Especially Zak?
I'm sure there is a nifty website or app that would make parts of this for you, but I have very little patience for trolling the internet for stuff like that and then trying to figure out how to work it. I barely manage this blog! So I went old school, which of course took forever, but it was the kind of forever I have patience for. (I'm sure that makes NO sense!)
First, I typed up and printed a list of Zak's routine for each day of the week including slots for snack/breaks, chunks of school work and his bedtime tasks.

Then Grace and I set to work cutting and pasting.

This is his Wednesday wheel before the cover.
Grace abandoned me after "Monday" was mostly done. And I was left to finish the rest of the week on my own. And, I ended up having to redo "Monday" any way! But finally, I finished, and had a whole week of chore wheels ready to go starting with, Monday!

Because I had once again forgotten to ask Victor to pick up the self-laminating paper on our weekly shopping trip, I just used clear packing tape. I will re-laminate these properly later.
I decided on a wheel system because it seemed the optimal way to have his responsibilities listed, but only allowing him to see them one at a time. This is critical for getting Zak self motivated. He has no problem having a whole days worth of stuff to do, he just can not handle seeing it all at the same time.
Lists help me to feel in control and organized, but a list of even three things can be totally overwhelming to Zak. He feels defeated before he even begins, and he will resist doing anything because he is so overwhelmed by seeing everything. We have gotten into the habit of only asking him one thing at a time, or giving him only one step of instructions at a time, which is, quite frankly, extremely frustrating and annoying when your child is halfway to adulthood.
A few months ago I read about creating white space and it has proven very helpful with school assignments. So I was thinking that perhaps I needed to apply the same technique to his chore list. The easiest format is to do it as a circle with one window. The wheel rotates and the new chore appears in the window. No overwhelming list. No loose papers to get lost or buried. And as soon as I find a ring and a strong U-magnet, then all he will see will be the day that he is working on as well. I plan to put them all on a ring so that he can just flip to the next day and the whole thing can hang on the fridge for easy access.
Since implementing this new system last Monday, we have seen an entirely new child emerge! He is nearly totally self-sufficient now. Regardless of whether he wakes up a seven or ten, he starts his wheel at the same point each day and just works at it throughout the day. On each wheel there is a "free time" space that is scheduled after his chores and school assignments. This is the time that he can do what ever he wants including redeeming his "smiles" for electronics time. Then his schedule resumes with his evening responsibilities.
He has done so excellent at getting his stuff done, I'm truly blown away! He no longer whines, pouts or procrastinates. Since it's the next thing on the schedule, he simply does whatever it is without complaint, and absolutely best of all, WITHOUT BEING REMINDED!!!! This week he did ALL his school work, cleaned the bathroom, cleaned his desk, cleaned his room, cleaned the van, all without a single prompt or reminder from me AT ALL!! This is so beyond huge!!
I cannot even really express what an enormous feeling of relief I feel right now. He is still loud, and he is still bouncy and sometimes a little too rough, and we still have to teach him to identify when his tone or choice of words is inappropriate or disrespectful. But now all of that feels so much more manageable because all of the everyday stuff is flowing a million times more smoothly!!
And our days end so much more positively! There is no more nagging, poking along, or yelling. He follows the schedule, and so when it comes time for their story, scripture, and prayer, all of us are in so much better a mind frame. This is time we are looking forward to again! It's peaceful! And that is priceless.
One step we are taking to help him identify and learn to control certain disruptive behaviors is a target for the day/week. On our little white board we write the target behavior for the day or week, i.e. using an inside voice, or not interrupting. Then we write what we can pray for to help remind us to achieve the target behavior, i.e. praying to develop more self-control, kindness, or love. Then we have both kids names (because Grace wants to do everything Zak does) written below that and each time we "catch" them reaching the target behavior, they get a hash mark. Each hash could add up to extra minutes of electronics, or they can choose a special activity to do with Mom or Dad, or they can have extra reading time at night. We'll change up the rewards so that they stay fresh. We plan to start this week. Hopefully it helps foster a little more self-awareness on Zak's part.   

Also this week I'm going to try and get Grace's chore book made. We are planning on a picture binder showing her each thing that she needs to do since her reading skills are still growing, and reading is sometimes flustering for her. This way she can be as self-sufficient as her brother, for the most part. So I need to take pictures of her doing her chores, and print them out so we can get her all set up too! 
Keep your smiles everybody! Have a great Monday!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Play Ball!

Way back around November or December I found a weighted exercise ball on clearance at Wal-Mart. I was excited for several reasons. One being that it was weighted. That meant no out of control bouncing of the ball around our house. Second I was there to buy one anyway,
so to find a weighted one on sale was icing on the cake! I think I paid about eight dollars, it had obvious damage to the box, but all the parts were inside, and I think they just weren't stocking it anymore.


Anyway, this ball gets some major use in our house. All of the kids use it. They do the usual sitting and bouncing, but they also surf off of it, and use it as a chair during frustrating school assignments. I have sat on it many times bouncing a fussy Kitty Kat, sometimes nursing at the same time, even putting her to sleep that way on occasion. I have also just bounced on it when I'm feeling stressed, or to read to the kids, and many other times. Zak can balance on the ball on his knees and hands and nothing touching the floor. And Kit LOVES for me to bounce her on it like a trampoline. She loves both sit bounces with me holding her under her arms, and to stand on it while I hold her hands and wrists, then she jumps while I brace it between my knees. She has yet to do this to the point that she signs "all done". Usually, my arms give out, and I simply just can't do it any more. Which of course makes her very upset.

The obvious point is that this ball is very well loved and a huge staple in our daily sensory activities. But even if your kids don't have special sensory needs, these balls are just super fun!

Below is a video that shows how they can be used to help regulate those with extra proprioceptive needs. We have done all of these except have the kids bounce the ball against a wall. Zak loves it when we roll it over him and even lay on the ball to apply extra pressure as long as he is laying on a few pillows. He only likes it when he lays on his stomach and we roll it along his legs and back and arms, not to laying on his back. I plan to have them do more exercises that involve prone extensions, like when they are swatting at the balloon in the video. We have another ball with a handle to hold while they bounce that I just haven't blown up yet, but I think it's time.

It's starting to get hotter outside, and our summertime humidity hibernation is about to start. I need lots of activities that can help keep them busy, regulated, and active when it's just too hot to play outside.

Hope everyone has a fun weekend!


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Evaluation Day

Just a quick update. I'll have more specifics when I receive the official report in a few days.

Well, I'm disappointed, but not surprised. She currently doesn't qualify for services through Early Intervention. Like I had said before, they are qualifying based on delays.

She fell into the significantly delayed area of her verbal skills. But only mildly delayed in several other areas. And advanced in two areas. She must be significantly delayed in at least two areas to qualify, so she does not qualify at this time. 

They did the autism screening. A score of 17 or more indicates a risk. She scored a 24. So there is enough basis for further evaluation. And that is conservative because some of her behaviors are still typical for a 20 month old, or the questions didn't apply to her because she is still too young.

The good news is that when they send me their full report, it will include a list of practitioners who can do a more thorough diagnostic evaluation. If she were to receive a diagnosis, she would automatically qualify for Early Steps services. But most doctors don't like to officially diagnosis this young. So, I'm not expecting much.

They will also give me suggestions to keep working with her and they will check back in three months.  They were surprised at the number of signs that she knows and uses well, and said to keep that up as it can help establish verbal skills eventually.

Obviously, it's disappointing that she won't get immediate outside intervention. But, I'm glad that we will be getting a list of doctors and that they will be checking back to make sure she progresses. I wasn't really expecting more, just hoping.

Okay, ever onward.

Just Waiting...

The thunder is rumbling outside.

It's a good description of what's going on inside my head, and stomach as well. All of my thoughts are swirling like those storm clouds. Slamming into each other and sending pulses through my consciousness like bolts of electricity. And then settling into a rumble until the next wave of anxiety crashes into my heart again.

Kit's evaluation is tomorrow (of course you're reading this today, so it's today).

I am really uneasy. I'm anxious. I'm scared.

I am so afraid of another person looking at me like I'm crazy or "over-concerned".

I cringe at the thought of hearing the words "she's just a baby, let's wait and see"... again.

My stomach turns at the thought that these women could potentially leave my home tomorrow knowing full well that my baby has real, evident issues, but not enough to qualify for their help. How much worse does she have to get before she gets better?!

My tears are hard to stop when I think of continuing down this path on our own, just trying to piece things together, and haphazardly stumbling along.

I am overwhelmed.

I'm on a high speed train running back and forth between the cars trying to juggle. The train never stops. I don't ever get to get off. I rarely even get to just sit down and rest. My head is swirling, my mind is reeling, my body is tired, and my heart hurts.

I love my job, but I really just sometimes need someone else to show me the way. That's all I really want. I just want someone who really knows to occasionally tell me, this could help, try it this way, or I'm here to help. I'll listen. I'll follow through.

Just please, please, don't tell me there's nothing to worry about or nothing wrong.

Because when everyone else goes home, I'm still here. I'm the one that holds them when they cry but can't tell me why. That wakes up five, ten, twenty, or more times a night to help them back to sleep. And can't sleep when they finally can. That watches them spin around and around, and push, and twist and ache, unable to get satisfied. To just feel comfortable in their own skin.

I'm the one that takes the blows. Has the bruises and bite-marks. And catches them mid-air when they try to throw themselves on the ground. I face the screams and explosions, come closer when others back away. I see the confusion, the longing, and anguish where others might only see defiance or temper. I'm the one that sees, hears, and feels what they live with. Because, I'm the one that holds them when they cry.

And I carry as much as I can so they don't have to, so they are free to just be children.

The children that everyone else wants to "just wait and see".

But I do see. Better than anyone else. I see that for which I don't have answers, and that's why I ask for help. I'm starting to plea.

Because waiting...isn't working.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

She's Starting To Really Stack Things...

Knock it down.
Knock it down.
Over and over and over.
At least she's happy when it falls down. Some kids cry or throw major fits. She saves that for when I take my phone away from her. Or diaper changes, during which I sometimes will let her watch a video on my phone just so that she will let me get her clean and a new diaper put on, but which just results in a massive meltdown when I have to inevitably...take the phone away from her.

Oh, and see the canister with a blue lid and slightly different shape than the rest by her leg in the second picture? That is the poor rejected off-brand can. She wouldn't use it on her stack. Even when I would hand it to her, she put it on once, then took it immediately off and tossed it. Every other time it was offered, she would shake her head vigorously and push it away.

(Sorry about the fuzzy pics, it's hard to catch good shots of her sometimes, she moves so fast!)

Top 10 Teusday

Today's Top 10:
We gave up regular tv around five years ago. It was initially circumstantial, we moved into a camper (a story for another time) and were waiting a while until we found a tv that we really wanted. Well after a couple of weeks, we realized that we really didn't miss it. In fact we thoroughly enjoyed it.
We found ourselves with a lot more time to read and study, and we played games more. But the biggest thing was how much more willing we were to go outside, just to be outside. We didn't have a screen trap holding us hostage in our chairs, or beckoning us to come back because this or that was going to be on at a certain time.
We didn't completely cut out all media entertainment. We had a portable dvd player that the kids used to watch movies on. And we had a laptop that we could use for research, study, banking, email, games, and movies also.
One of our favorite things to do is watch movies or old episodes of our favorite shows, but we, everyone in our family except Grace, have a hard time regulating our screen time. Having constant access to non-stop tv programming is very hard for us to control. And it becomes disruptive to us. But we recognize that in ourselves and so decided that we simply would not receive tv signal. We have a tv, and a dvd player, and a wii, and that's it. No satellite or cable. We can watch anything that comes on dvd.
I am a very visual person, so my mind is easily distracted by movement. If a tv is on, it is very hard for me to completely focus my mind on other things. Not always, but I've had to train myself to tune it out. I also have the problem of just wanting to veg when the tv is on. And when my mind gets interrupted, I get edgy. It's ridiculous for me to get irritated about needing to cook dinner because Wheel of Fortune is on, but that's what will happen. And lastly, even when I'm not even interested in watching, having it on as a background sound very quickly becomes noise pollution to me, I get tense and agitated, though this can vary a lot from day to day. Some days it's no big deal, other's I really can't handle it at all. What is on contributes greatly to my ability or lack thereof to tolerate the noise.
The guys are similar in being visually distracted by tv. If it's on, they can not not watch it. And not only that, but it's as if it sucks them in and they can't break free. Zak will sit there for an hour, literally, and just watch a dvd menu repeat itself. Someone has to actually tell him to turn it off, and until the screen is black, his eyes are glued to it. But on top of that they can not not hear it either. Zak cannot get his schoolwork, chores or bedtime stuff done if someone is watching something. And since our living room, library/school zone, and kitchen all kind of flow one into the other, he can hear it and often see it from just about anywhere.
This became a BIG problem when Grandpa moved in with us. He has only two hobbies. Reading and watching tv. We had hoped that maybe we could keep him happy with dvd's until his room was finished. But no, that did not last long, and he became pretty insistent about wanting to watch the news. And since he is very picky about movies, and the library seemed to be running low on documentaries and biographies about John Wayne and Ronald Regan, we were kind of stuck. So Victor bought an antenna and set it up. We were able to pick up two channels that way.
That was great for Grandpa. He'll sit there all day and watch court shows. But it was a huger than HUGE distraction to the rest of us, especially Zak. Poor guy had a really hard time focusing on his school stuff for those couple of months. So we were relieved to finally be able to set up his tv, in his room, and to have a relative media peace restored throughout the rest of the house. And an important reminder that no all access tv is definitely better for our whole family.
So here are my Top 10 Reasons I love being tv free!
10. No fighting over two shows on at the same time.
9. I read my news instead of watch it, which means I only read what I want.
8. Black outs are much more fun when you are not mad about missing your show. Plus we can still watch by simply popping the disc into the laptop as long as it's charged up :) Ahhhh, movie by candle light.
7. We are way less exposed to disturbing images or previews. And those that might pop up as a preview on a disc, we can skip or fast forward.
6. We all are much more imaginative when we are bored.
5. We can request just about anything from the library. There have been times when we will see a movie at the library sooner than at Redbox.
4. We can wait for a whole season of a show to come out on dvd, and then watch it when ever we want.
3. We have ultimate fast forward or rewind control, and can pause anytime that a little person needs something.
2. NO COMMERCIALS! Then the occasional one we happen to see elsewhere is actually funny since we haven't been bombarded with it 500 times a day.
1. Our family is just happier. All of us. Less stressed. Less agitated. Way more organized and in control. Our screen time revolves around our lives, not the other way around.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Le Petit Gourmet

Welcome to my new feature, Le Petit Gourmet, starring Grace, one of our resident foodies and aspiring chef. Grace loves to help in the kitchen, she asks frequently to pour, stir, and her favorite, taste test. So in my efforts to help her find her groove, I am acting on one of my goals to really get her more involved in cooking. We can't do this for every meal, sometimes things are just too chaotic, or rushed. But some evenings are much more laid back, especially if Kit had a decent nap in the afternoon. So my goal is to have at least one cooking project a week in which Grace is involved almost in every step. Then she can continue to help with the other meals as life permits.

This by no means leaves out Zak. Zak spends a lot of time in the kitchen as well. In fact he makes a mean batch of mac-n-cheese with only us on stand-by these days. And eventually, we plan to assign him one night a week that is his night to cook. So he is getting a well rounded kitchen education. But his interest does seem more focused on the fact that the end result is something edible, and less on the process itself.

Grace however seems to have a much deeper interest, which perhaps might someday even grow into a passion for all that goes into preparing delicious meals. She will taste just about anything. Her eyes light up when she sees foods combine and transform. And she is usually the one to come tell me that something smells "absolutely delicious, can I help stir?" (Her brother is more like a hound dog, he'll walk in and tell me exactly what he smells, be it cornbread, cookies, or chicken - and promptly asks how long until we eat. Obvious sign that teenage-ness is approaching.)

So anyhoo, it's high time I take advantage and cultivate her interest, and what better way than simply diving right in with a meal that can easily feed six, at least twice. I put up the safety gate. Enlisted Zak as a babysitter. Put on one of Kit's favorite movies, and told Zak to replay it when it was done, and to try to play with her if she started getting fussy. They both actually did fantastically well, and didn't bother us at all.

This week on the menu:


  • 1 bag of frozen vegetables, we used a stir-fry mix
  • 1 12 oz. package of penne pasta
  • 1 lb. of fresh or frozen shrimp, we used frozen uncooked (chicken would be awesomely delicious as well)
  • 1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce, mine is Bertolli's Vodka Sauce
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2-1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups (approx.) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons diced garlic
  • olive oil
  • rosemary 

I handled the jobs which required moving hot pots or boiling liquids. I also put the dishes in and removed them from the oven. But other wise Grace poured, stirred, mixed and taste tested to her hearts content. She will be seven very soon, and has had quite a bit of kitchen experience so this her natural next step. If you are wanting to involve your kids in the kitchen more, you might choose to start simpler. Depending on their age and abilities, they might be better suited only pouring, measuring, and mixing items over the counter or sink, and stirring non-stove mixtures. As always, let common sense and safety be the guide.

We obviously do most of our grocery shopping at Wal-Mart.
Start water in a pot to boil the pasta. Then thaw the frozen veggies and the shrimp in a colander. Spray with warm water, or immerse in warm water, until thawed. It only takes 3-4 minutes max. Set these aside.
Add noodles when water is at a rolling boil. Let these cook while you prepare the sauce. Preheat oven to 350.
In a deep skillet, or a sauce pan make a few rounds with olive oil. Enough to lightly coat the pan.
Then add garlic.
Measure out the heavy cream. (You can do this any time, I just had her do this while I opened the tomatoes.)
Add tomatoes.
Add the heavy cream.
Add the parmesan cheese.
Cook on medium-low heat mixing well, and then stirring periodically, bringing the sauce to a simmer. As soon as the pasta is cooked almost al dente, drain (we just added it to the colander with the veggies and shrimp) and rinse. Then toss the pasta, veggies, and shrimp until mixed. Pour into a large (at least 13x9) baking dish. Dollop the ricotta cheese on top.
Use a spoon to cut the ricotta into the pasta mix until evenly distributed.
Sprinkle with fresh or dried rosemary.
Pour sauce mixture carefully over the pasta. Use a spoon to spread evenly. Then sprinkle on an even topping of mozzarella.
Place in oven and cook for approximately 30 minutes, or until cheese is golden. Then lick the spoon, of course.
We went ahead and washed our pots and dishes and Grace was an excellent rinser.
Ingredients for the pie:
  • 2 pie crusts, we used the refrigerated 2 pack from Kroger
  • 2-3 bags of frozen mixed berries
  • 1 package cream cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
Cut cream cheese into cubes, approx. 2in squares. Place the berries and the cream cheese cubes in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for about 5 minutes to thaw berries and melt cheese. While that is thawing, unroll one crust and place it in pie pan.
When berries are finished thawing. Add sugar and stir mixture well, but try to leave berries mostly intact. Use a slotted spoon to spoon berries into prepared crust. Add liquid if needed, but these continue to release more liquid as they bake, so be careful not to add too much. We added too much. Oh well.
We saved the remaining berry sauce to add to smoothies later. You can see why I call it Seussicle pie. It is a lovely fuchsia, usually only seen in the imaginative worlds of Dr. Seuss.
Unroll second crust on a cutting board or wax paper. Use a knife, toothpick, or like us a corn cob poker, to create a fun design of vent holes in your top crust. Then spread some softened butter over the crust. You can use a brush and melt the butter if you have one, but I just used butter at room temperature and spread it with clean fingers. 
Carefully place top crust over pie and press the edges together. Cut off any excess. Wrap the edges with foil to prevent them from burning as they cook faster than the rest of the crust. Place whole pie dish on a cookie sheet to catch drips. Line it with foil if you have nice cookie sheets. We have an old ruined one designated for this purpose.
By this time your pasta bake is probably bubbly and golden. Remove it carefully from the oven and place pie in. Cook the pie for approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.  
We paired our delicious pasta bake with salad and ate while the pie baked. Yummy!
And later, after the pie had cooled for about 20 minutes. We had pie!

And to wrap it all up, what would this post be without a quote from the chef?
Scene: We are serving up the pie.
Me: Do you guys want your ice cream on top of your pie or under your pie?
Zak: I'm having mine a la mode!
Grace: I'm having mine a la noooo. I'd like two separate bowls please.
Well, only cuz you were such a great chef tonight.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


This weeks theme:

sea shells
decorative glass beads
craft fuzzy balls
craft feathers
foam sticker fish
small plastic containers for scooping, sorting, dumping, etc.
feel free to add anything that you might find on a beach, this was just what we had already, so the whole thing cost $0!
Tip: If your kiddos need a new twist on it, this one can easily be changed up by adding water, just like at the beach!
And bonus, no sunscreen needed!!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Another Laundry Rant

I think my desire to find order in chaos is what constantly drives me to delude myself into thinking that 'tomorrow' will be better, cleaner, quieter, smoother. But today was yet another reminder that my life was not meant to be clean, quiet, or run smoothly. No, indeed. All my big plans for establishing order, routine, and self sufficiency were cruelly suffocated in the span of less than 45 minutes.

Here's what happened.

1:30 p.m. - Zak finally starts working on his daily school assignments. I have Grace haul their burgeoning laundry hamper into the laundry room so that I can finally teach her how to start and load the machine. (We have had a few hic-ups on the way to starting our laundry routine.) I show her what settings to put the machine on, how to measure the soap, and show her the full line on the machine so as to not over load it. All goes well.

1:45 p.m.- Grandpa emerges from his room and announces that he has stripped his bed and needs all his linens washed. Victor informs him that the washer is busy and that it is going to be a long time before I can get to it. Grandpa says that's fine, there's no hurry. But we know better. Plus when I look over at the pile that he has brought out, I realize that he has stripped the entire bed including the mattress cover. I'm not overly concerned about washing the sheets, I have a clean set that I can put on his bed, but today was not the day I had this planned, and it is nearly impossible to do housekeeping chores in his room when he is there, it's very stressful. So my stress level just rose from around a 4 (not sure it ever drops below this) to about a 6.

1:50 p.m.- Grandpa comes out with more laundry, including the towels that I just put in his room yesterday, and the blanket that he never uses, that I washed just a few weeks ago. And re-emphasizes how important it is that all of these get washed. Stress level moves up to 7.

2:00 p.m. Grandpa emerges with still more laundry, his actual clothes this time, and is more than a little upset that the pile is still on the floor in front of the laundry room. He remarks that his bed doesn't have any covering on it, and Victor emphasizes that just because he decides that it's time for his clothes to be washed doesn't mean they CAN be, that there is already other laundry being washed and that it is going to be much later that his gets done. Grandpa is not happy. Meanwhile, Kit is following me all around, throwing fits because she can't touch everything she wants to touch, or mad because I keep putting her down in order to have my hands free to accomplish things. Kit is not happy. Stress level up to 8 1/2.

2:20: The washer is done. I have Zak transfer the clothes into the dryer, which he does just fine. I bring Grace in to start their second load. After she puts the soap in and gets the water going, I finally take Kit out who has been crying the whole time because I won't let her on Grace's stool, I won't let her have any candy, and because she is just plain tired and past her ability to wait for Mommy any longer. I leave Grace to load the remainder of the clothes and sit down in the rocking chair to nurse Kit. Kit is finally quiet.

2:25 p.m. Grace yells for help from the laundry room. I yell back what does she need help for. She yells back that something happened to the washing machine. I yell back asking what. She yells back "that thingy fell!!!" After several more failed attempts to elicit more detailed information, I get up, haul Kit to the laundry room to find out what's happening. I don't see any "thingy". Victor arrives, and doesn't see any "thingy". Finally, Grace is descriptive enough to draw our attention to the entire wash basin, which has apparently collapsed somehow and is sitting two inches below the rim of the washer where it is supposed to be. I put Kit down, who of course starts crying. Upon closer examination, we see that it is indeed somehow detached from it's proper place, though we have no idea how. The dryer is running, the wash basin is full of clothes and water and soap now. I have Grandpa's pile still sitting in front of the laundry room door. Kit is crying. My washer is clearly broken. There is no chance of accomplishing today what I had hoped. Stress level - exploding!

I start crying. Victor hugs me.

And that is how once again, I was reminded how foolish and futile it is for me to ever think that I might have a handle on anything around here.

But, the washer is still under warranty. They will be coming to fix it tomorrow. The kids at least have one load of clean clothes so no one is out of underwear. And now we have a concrete reason why Grandpa's clothes will not get washed today. Thank goodness I have spare sheets and towels! So I guess, everything will be better tomorrow.



Baby Kisses

WORDY WEDNESDAY will return next week. So today you get to see Kit meet her new cousin for the first time! She was full of hugs and kisses for him.
A couple weekends ago, we girls headed up to meet the newest member of our great big family. I was a little concerned about how Kit would react. Her history with babies hasn't always been very loving. She kind of likes to pull their hair. And any time I have ever held one around her, she gets very jealous.
Much to our delight, she was very smitten with her new cousin, and was very affectionate. She didn't mind me holding him at all, and was very interested in feeding him, all by herself. She kept pushing my hand away from the bottle. She liked to experiment by taking his bottle out, then popping it back in. He didn't seem to mind a bit. I was very happy to see her be so sweet and gentle.