Thursday, December 17, 2009

Here Comes Santa Claus: Toy Ideas for Kids with Dyspraxia

Finding the right toys for your child's Christmas or holiday gift or even their birthday can be a challenge. With most kids there's so much they want, but usually only so much you can afford. If your child has Dyspraxia or another developmental condition, you probably find yourself needing to purchase toys that can help with your child's fine motor and vestibular development in addition to the fun toys they want.

If you are trying to keep your toy spending in check by combining fun with functionality, you might want to consider some of the toys below. By and large, they are toys that were recommended to me for my son Brendan by our occupational therapist. There are a few I found while researching this post that seem cool. For the most part, they are for kids with mild to moderate levels of impairment. And for the record, I have not been paid or otherwise endorsed by the makers of any of these toys, nor was I asked to include any specific toys in this post. It's all me, Baby....

The first is the Plasma Car. I had not heard of this until our therapist recommended it, but it looks like a lot of fun. MeMe will be giving this to Brendan for Christmas this year and I hope he will enjoy it and that it will help him develop more spatial awareness. The Plasma Car is a ride-on toy that uses no batteries or leg power. It uses kinetic energy and centrifugal force from the rotation of the steering wheel to move. It's great for kids who need vestibular stimulation and can also help with motor planning issues. And because it doesn't use leg power, it's great for kids with poor leg strength who have trouble pedaling.

Next on my list are Wedgits. Wedgits are great multi-dimensional building blocks (for lack of a more fitting term). You can use them with your kids to help them see and repeat sequences and to recreate structures you build. Brendan got these for Christmas from MeMe last year and has really enjoyed them. They were his favorite thing to play with during therapy, so it was a no-brainer to add them to the list.

Perhaps not quite as much fun, but a great tool for building upper body strength and aiding in motor planning is the Scooter Board. We don't have this yet, but depending on how things go when we resume OT in January, we might end up with one. I do know Brendan loves using it and anything that makes at-home therapy fun and easy for me, wins in my opinion, because so often it's a battle to get him to do our home exercises.

I guess you can see that vestibular and motor planning issues take up a lot of room in my head. We also struggle with hand strength and fine motor coordination, as well. The next item, while very basic, is basically where you want to start when you're trying to help your little one build up the strength and flexibility in their hands to do something like grip a pencil. We spent a lot of time when Brendan was 4 and 5 playing with clay and Play-Doh hoping to improve his hand strength.

For the child who is a bit older – maybe Kindergarten or first grade or older – the nifty Spyrogyro pen is really cool. It encourages them to hold the pen properly and the chunky grip makes it easier to hold it the right way. Also, when the harder the child presses down on the pen, the smaller the shapes they draw get, giving them a better sense of how hard or how lightly they are pressing. This would be a cool stocking stuffer.

Thanks to it's just being plain silly, Mr. Potato Head is a great tool for helping develop fine motor skills that transcends age to some extent. My silly almost-seven-year old loves it as much as his three-year old baby brother. It's great at forcing them to pick up and manipulate small pieces. It can be frustrating at first, but the more they play with it, you'll see improvement.

I'll try to add more to my list as we go along, but for now, for those of you looking for last minute gift ideas for your Dyspraxic children or other kids with development issues, here are a few to get you started. Good luck! And Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Life is a Highway: Happy Birthday, Beckett!

"Happy Birthday to You! Happy Birthday to You!" we sang.

"Me?" Beckett squealed delightedly as we sang, 15 or so smiling faces showering him with love and affection.

He genuinely sounded surprised and delighted, his James cake that I baked and decorated just for him, sitting before him.

It is that sweetness, that sense of wonder and delight and joy in everything he does that makes my sweet Beckett so special. Perhaps because he has been such an easy baby and toddler when compared to his beautiful, intelligent, sensitive, stubborn, Dyspraxic brother who questions everything and pushes every button, that these three years have all but flown by. Or maybe it was the distractions of a life lived more fully this time. Whatever the cause, I want my baby back. (Okay... Am I the only one who just heard that Chili's commercial in my head? Okay. Good.)

Seriously. Where did all the time go? How did he get to be so big and strong and tough. He talks constantly and makes up funny stories. He says the funniest things. He has a delightful sense of humor. He's just like his big bro in his love for all things Thomas. But he also loves animals. Especially elephants. He does the cutest impersonation of a baby elephant and insists that I be the mommy elephant.

He just moved to a big boy bed on Monday night. I got a fantastic deal on a great mattress on craigslist from an interior decorator who does model homes. And I bought his cute, old-fashioned solid wood bed at a yard sale last summer for $5. I plan to paint it, but he was eager to have his own bed like his brother instead of the crib he was still in with the side removed.

He helped me pick out dinosaur bedding for it, which I haven't ordered yet, but plan to do later this week. It will be part of his Christmas presents. The bed was his birthday gift from Mom and Dad. His brother gave him the James train (which he had already) as his gift. We encourage Brendan to give Beckett one of his toys that he has outgrown as a gift each birthday and Christmas. How long that can last, I don't know. But I love how Brendan has embraced and really gives it a lot of consideration.

All of this rumination is really, quite simply, about how much I hate the passage of time. I would have liked to have had more children. I still long for a daughter and find myself increasingly resentful of friends and acquaintances who are expecting who tell me they are having girls. Not all of them, of course. But some. I know that I don't feel like I could do the whole pregnancy thing again. Not because I feel old physically. I actually feel fantastic. But, I am regaining my body. I am more physically fit than I ever have been in my life because I started working out pretty consistently after Beckett, dropping out from time to time because of my schedule or sickness or whatever. But the idea of taking 9 months off, of getting stretched out again. I can't do it. Call me selfish. Call me vain. (You're so vain! I bet you think this post is about you, don't you, don't you?) Whatever. I am turning 40 in January. I want to own my body for once and love it.

Beckett's birthday is just another mile marker on Life's Highway that reminds me to embrace and enjoy every day, every moment. I spend way too much time locked up in sorrow and worry, anxiety and grief over my failings or loss or the failings and loss of others. All I have is now. All any of us have is now. I want to be thankful for the beautiful gifts – Scott, Brendan, Beckett, Courtney (my bestest friend) my friends, extended family, my talents, my home, my health, my faith – and let the rest of the chaff flow on down the river.

And I want my sons to live their lives filled with gratitude and joy. How can they do that if their parents don't embrace that attitude?

So, what is the best gift I can give my Beckett? A life lived fully, in love, in faith, in joy.

Happy Birthday, Little One.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: 5 Fun Holiday Activities for Kids

To celebrate and promote the premiere of Dora's Christmas Carol, Nickelodeon has invited Twitter Moms to share some of their favorite holiday activities and traditions they share with their kids.

When it comes to the holidays, I'm just a big old sentimental softie. I bet y'all wouldn't have guessed the obvious, huh?

I love traditions and I love making new traditions with my husband and sons. I want to create happy holiday memories that the boys will carry into their adult lives. And I hope, someday, they'll share some of these same activities with the kids.

The first and most obvious tradition I share with my boys is decorating the house for Christmas. Growing up, my family always put the tree up the day after Thanksgiving and this is a tradition I strive to continue, although there have been a couple of years (like when I was pregnant with my second son), that it hasn't happened until later. I put on Christmas music and pull all the decorations down from the attic. I start outdoors with wreaths on the door and windows and garland around the door, a few lights here and there. Then we move inside where we have two trees. The one in our living room is a more formal tree with white lights and fancy decorations, but the second one is all about family! It stands in the corner of our kitchen near our kitchen table and has brightly colored lights and all the decorations the kids have made plus all of our special decorations that we have been given over the years by the grandparents. Part of this tradition is that each year I take the kids to pick out a new decorations for themselves and one for me and my husband. So far we have lots of Sesame Street and Star Wars ornaments for the boys and lots of guitars and musical notes for my husband while I get Santas because I love Santa.

Another way we celebrate the season is a tradition that started when my oldest was in preschool that we participate in through the school. The year he was three, as I was about to give birth to his baby brother around Christmas, this tradition took on new meaning for me. The preschool, which is part of an Episcopal church collects and organizes bundles of new baby items like diapers, blankets, bottles, layette, socks, pacifiers, etc., and puts them into what they call Baby Jesus Baskets. The baskets are then blessed by the priest at the church and taken to Atlanta's public hospital and given to new mothers and their babies who are in need of the items. I love doing this each year, but as I said, having my own December baby and imagining what it would be like not to have the resources to give him the basic necessities has made this tradition even more special to me.

Baby Jesus Baskets may not be as much fun for the kids as it is for me, but I hope they learn to give from their hearts, expecting nothing in return through that act.

Something that is more fun for them, and maybe the thing they love most other than Santa, is watching all the holiday movies and tv shows together. From It's a Wonderful Life to How the Grinch Stole Christmas we are a family that devours Christmas media. Our schedules are busy and since we also have a lot of basketball to watch at this time of year, we often Tivo the shows so we can watch them later, but we love sitting down and laughing or crying together as we bond over the perils, pratfalls, and precious moments holiday TV.

While my fantasies of spending a day in the kitchen baking 10 different kinds of Christmas cookies with my daughter may never come to fruition since I don't have a daughter and the boys seem to have no inclination toward the culinary arts so far, I am planning to introduce a new tradition this year that is tangentially related to baking: the gingerbread house. I figure the building aspect of the project will appeal to my little Lego lovers and give me a chance to play around with icing. Since I hate gingerbread I won't be baking it myself. We'll just buy a kit, but I think it will be a fun way to spend a day off from school in the week or so before Christmas and hopefully be a fun thing we can do year after year.

Our biggest and most meaningful tradition, the one that I think they will carry over with them in the most significant way, is spending Christmas Eve with Grandma, or MeMe, as she is known in our family. We spend the day at her house with all the cousins running around playing. There are usually Mimosas for the ladies and bourbon for the gentlemen. The kids create chaos but seem to love being with one another. At least until someone has a meltdown.

We eat a traditional Christmas dinner then we all go to Mass together at the church my husband and his brothers grew up in. There are so many of us now, we can take up almost two pews. We always sit in the same place if we get there in time and enjoy the beauty and solemnity of the Christmas Eve mass. I always cry when I feel the weight and beauty of the moment and am reminded why we celebrate Christmas. I look at our family, big and imperfect, and I am able to forgive slights and see only what I love about these people and feel thankful that we are all together for that moment.

After Mass, we head back to my mother-in-law's where we have dessert and the kids open their presents from MeMe. Then we bundle everyone into the car and head back home to snuggle in bed and wait for Santa's arrival.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Words: When Children Learn Words They Ought Not to Know

"Mom," the conversation began, as oh so many do these days. I can tell from the tone of Brendan's voice that he has something important to tell me.

Usually when a conversation begins this way, it involves the newest cool trick he has learned in Lego Star Wars for the Wii
or some super-awesome-fantastically amazing-so-great-it-must-be-bought-today Star Wars toy.But not this time.

Now, let's pause for a moment... I bet you're thinking that whatever was coming my way was something that I was utterly unprepared for. And any other day besides today, you would have been right. I so did not see this coming. But thanks to fate, luck, the perfect alignment of just the right celestial bodies, and my super-awesome-fantastically amazing-so-great-I-don't-know-what-I'd-do-without-him husband, I was ready.

So, the conversation continued, "Mom, some of the kids at school told me and Peter that there's a word called fuck and that it's a bad word. But I don't believe them because I've never heard that word before. Peter didn't believe them either."

I must have stood staring at him for a full 10 seconds, mouth agape, completely in shock. In shock, not because my angelic-looking six-year old just dropped the f-bomb, a word, by the way, that I didn't learn until I was in fifth grade (Thanks, Renee, for corrupting me!). Well, at least not entirely because of that, because honestly, it was pretty shocking.

No, I was in shock that he'd never heard it. While my husband is someone always in control of the what he speaks, an artist and master of language who doles out his words carefully, with the precision of a Vegas dealer and rarely utters a cuss word unless it is demanded by the situation, I have the mouth of a sailor. More or less. Well, at least I did until Brendan came along.

Then, I took great pains to dial it back. I had no idea how successful I had been because I have only been aware of the times when I've missed the (effing) mark. Like the time we were watching The Simpsons and Homer yells "Dammit!*" And Brendan, in a burst of glee and triumph shouts, "Mom! That's what you always say!"

My daze of shock and awe over Brendan's discovery of this new verbal device was cut short as he pulled me back to the moment with his persistent questioning. "Well is it?"

"What?," I responded.

He gives me an exasperated sigh and hand gestures that demand my attention as he asks me again, "Is fuck a real word?"

And so, there I was, in the middle of the kitchen having one of those real-life teaching moments with my son, thinking, "I am so NOT ready for this. Not ready for my baby to be learning such bad words and who are these bad children who are teaching him this?" when I realized that I was ready.

Instantly, I flashed back to the evening before when Scott and I were sitting in bed and he read me this article. Can you believe that? Less than 24 hours earlier, my husband reads to me a random, but very funny and insightful, article from a dad dealing with exactly the same situation I found myself in? What kind of awesome luck is that?

So, I turned to Brendan and said, "Yes, honey, that is a real word. And it's the worst word you can possibly say. There is no word worse than that one and I hope that you'll choose never to say it to anyone. And by the way, who told you about it?"

He looked at me as if he had just learned the coolest thing in the world, saying, "Wow. I didn't know. I'm sorry I said it and I won't say it again," which I guess, is about the best you can hope for in that situation. I'm sure it will come up again. I just hope I'm lucky enough to have read someone else's witty response to their child the night before so I'll be prepared when it does.

*For some reason the bastardization of "damn it" to "dammit" bothers me. A lot. But when I hear Homer saying that line, I believe he's actually saying "Dammit!". So, that's what you get folks. Even if, technically, it's wrong.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Come Together: Help for Anissa Mayhew

In the span of less than 24 hours I've heard two horrible, heartbreaking stories that make me want to squeeze my husband and babies and hold them and not let them out of my sight.

First, last night I read about a fellow blogger and Twitter Mom, Anissa Mayhew, who had a massive stroke yesterday afternoon. Anissa is a very popular blogger and has three children. Her youngest, daughter Peyton, just celebrated one-year of being cancer free after fighting leukemia since she was 2 years old. How much can one family bear? And why should they have to bear so much. I find this especially horrifying for some reason. I don't know Anissa, but I feel for her as a fellow mother. I know how much I love my husband and my children and the idea of being yanked away from them in this manner is gut-wrenching. I feel so sad for Anissa, her husband, and her babies.

Then, this morning, I heard from another friend about one of her neighbors whose daughter was stillborn at 39 weeks just a few days ago. The baby's umbilical cord became knotted and she died.

It breaks my heart. All this loss and suffering and sorrow. I don't understand it. And I hate it. And to be honest, it all just shakes my faith a little too much.

I won't stop praying, though. I can't. Because it feels like the only thing any of us can do. I know that's not entirely true.

In fact, there is something we can do to help Anissa's family. If you are in the Atlanta area, or if you want to send a gift card to a restaurant, Blockbuster, or something that can help keep her kids occupied and entertained, you can go here for information on how to help.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Major Network Making Documentary about Learning Disabilities

I thought I'd share this news I just got from Warren Fried at Dyspraxia USA:

DOCUMENTARY ON LDS seeking people in US interested in participating


Major cable television documentary on learning differences seeks CHILDREN 7-14 YEARS OLD who have found a talent, strength or interest that is a source of self-esteem and pride. We are looking for EXPRESSIVE young people who are interested in helping others by sharing their experiences living and learning with dyslexia, dyscalculia, an auditory/visual processing disorder or any non-verbal ld. MINORS MUST HAVE PERMISSION OF A PARENT OR GUARDIAN TO BE CONSIDERED.

Please contact us about your child in complete confidence at LDFILM@AOL.COM < LDFILM@AOL.COM> with his or her age, first name, type of school currently attending, location, and a brief synopsis of your child’s schooling and social life. We will contact you shortly.

What do you think? Would you let your LD child participate in something like this or do you think it would be too hard on them? Brendan's too young, but if he were old enough, I'm not sure if I would do it or not. I mean, by allowing your child to be filmed you might potentially help someone else and break down the stigmas associated with Learning Disabilities and hopefully teach a few educators that there are many and varied ways to learn and that just because someone does have an LD does not mean that he or she is stupid and cannot learn. Just that they may need to learn in a non-traditional manner.

I don't know, though....

I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. And if you're going to submit your child's name, especially if he or she has Dyspraxia, I'd love to hear from you, too!

Oh! By the way, I hear the network that is filming this is –cough, cough – HBO. In case that makes a difference to you. They generally do a very good job with their docs as far as I have seen.

Anyway, let me hear from y'all on this. I am curious....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Living La Vida Loca and Loving It

What a long month it's been and we're only 10 days or so into it.

Last week was spent with two boys and a husband all with the stomach flu. It started on Halloween night and didn't end until sometime early this past Sunday morning. So far I haven't gotten it, but did have alternating chills and hot spells with nausea on Saturday night while caring for a still vomiting six-year old.

Earlier that day, though, everyone was fine – well, the kids and I were fine, Scott was still sick. We spent the day in Cumming with my in-laws taking in my niece's play in the a.m. and then going to my nephew's football playoff game that afternoon. Maybe it was the hot dog and Icee at the football game that did Brendan's tummy in.

Thrown into that mix were Brendan's first basketball practice, which he loved; starting his big first-grade Language Arts project on blends; and learning that we are doing Thanksgiving at our house because both my sisters-in-law have other plans with their families this Thanksgiving.

When I wasn't taking care of sick people last week, I spent much of my time updating my resume and sending it to friends in the hope of networking. I really need to create some more freelance work for myself and/or find a regular gig. There's something about working that makes me feel happy. I feel like a real human again, with my own thoughts and ideas that involve something other than what's for dinner. I enjoy talking about words and the functionality of web sites and how to translate one person's idea into words another person can understand and that drive people to action.

I also had an article published in Special Needs Parenting magazine. It's been really nice to get so much positive feedback on it. Mothering is an often thankless job. It has been nice to do something and have others tell me they appreciate what I did or that I did a good job on it.

I am working on another seralized article for a different parenting magazine.

With all of that going on, finding time to blog has been hard. I was awarded the "One Lovely Blog" by Sarah at The Stroller Ballet, but haven't even had time to write about it or share the bloggy love with some of my other favorite bloggers. Oh well. Maybe tomorrow.

For now, it's time to revel in the still warm and loved feeling I have after spending the morning with my Familia group from my church and get to cleaning the kitchen and starting supper before we head to speech therapy after school.

Have a lovely day, my friends. And thanks for stopping by. In case I haven't told you lately I really appreciate you all. Smooch!

Maclaren Recalls 1 Million Strollers

We're mostly out of the stroller phase, except on long walks where the jogging stroller still has a role to play, but a friend sent me this and I figure I can help spread the word because I know some of my readers still use strollers.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Office of Information and Public Affairs
Washington, DC 20207

November 9, 2009
Release # 10-033

Firm's Recall Hotline: (877) 688-2326
CPSC Recall Hotline: (800) 638-2772
CPSC Media Contact: (301) 504-7908

Maclaren USA Recalls to Repair Strollers Following Fingertip Amputations

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with the firm named below, today announced a voluntary recall of the following consumer product. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed.

Name of Product: Maclaren Strollers

Units: About one million

Distributor: Maclaren USA, Inc., of South Norwalk, Conn.

Hazard: The stroller's hinge mechanism poses a fingertip amputation and laceration hazard to the child when the consumer is unfolding/opening the stroller.

Incidents/Injuries: The firm has received 15 reports of children placing their finger in the stroller's hinge mechanism, resulting in 12 reports of fingertip amputations in the United States.

Description: This recall involves all Maclaren single and double umbrella strollers. The word "Maclaren" is printed on the stroller. The affected models included Volo, Triumph, Quest Sport, Quest Mod, Techno XT, TechnoXLR, Twin Triumph, Twin Techno and Easy Traveller.

Sold at: Babies"R"Us, Target and other juvenile product and mass merchandise retailers nationwide from 1999 through November 2009 for between $100 and $360.

Manufactured in: China

Remedy: Consumers should immediately stop using these recalled strollers and contact Maclaren USA to receive a free repair kit.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Maclaren USA toll-free at (877) 688-2326 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or visit the firm's Web site at

To see this recall on CPSC's web site, including pictures of the recalled product, please go to:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright: Wash Post Advice on Parenting, Dyspraxia, and Anger

Warren Fried, founder of Dyspraxia USA, sent me this advice column from the Washington Post's Parenting Advice columnist, Marguerite Kelly.

As the mother of a Dyspraxic child, I know all about the frustration and anger these children feel. I am also well familiar with the mirroring instinct in kids. That's a phenomenon common to all kids, though, not just Dyspraxics. The mother who asked for advice talks about how her son mirrors her calm anger and stages sit-ins to express his displeasure. I am a yeller and a crier when I am angry. So is Brendan, much to my dismay. I want to be the calm authoritarian, but that's not what I learned growing up because... Guess what? My mom yelled. And spanked. And on at least one occasion smacked me across the face. I am thankful I don't do those things. And I am learning to show my displeasure calmly.

But, that's neither here nor there.

What struck me about Kelly's advice was how off the mark it is. The woman clearly has no idea what Dyspraxia is or how Dyspraxic kids think.

There are as many ways to expess anger as there are people and I don't think having a little boy who stages sit-ins or refuses to do something he doesn't want to do is an example of passive-aggressive behavior. Of course it can be, but defiance of authority is not always passive-aggressive. In this case, it appears to be quite a direct expression of anger and fear.

I did like her advice on how to deal with the specific issue of the child refusing to go to school. But, I think she fails to account for the fact that with Dyspraxic kids there is a lot of fear involved and they learn, very quickly, how to be stubborn and hold out for long periods of time to avoid doing things that are scary or hard for them. If nothing else, kids with Dyspraxia are persistent when it comes to getting their way. And it may be weeks before leaving him home with a sitter convinces him that going to school is a better option. It may never work because he doesn't care how much fun the kids at school are having when going to school only exacerbates or highlights the issues he has trouble with, like writing, learning, or fitting in with the other kids.

I think the first thing the mother should do is talk to her son's teacher to find out why he doesn't want to go to school. Is he struggling to do the things the kids in his class are doing? Is his speech affected by the Dyspraxia? If so, are the other kids teasing him? There are so many things that might be causing this little boy to be unhappy at school that need to be addressed before throwing down the gauntlet with him. I guarantee you, that if this child is afraid of school and having difficulty fitting in, he is the tiger in the analogy offered by Kelly. A Dyspraxic child who is resisting doing something that is frustrating to them will outlast his or her parent almost any day.

I speak from experience. Brendan hated school until he was diagnosed with Dyspraxia and we began therapy. We fought about his going to school every single day because he was miserable. Even in Kindergarten he compared himself to the other children and knew he was different because he could not do many of the things they did with ease. After eight months of occupational therapy and a year of speech therapy, things are easier for him he enjoys school much more.

Again, this article or advice column highlights one of the many reasons there needs to be more awareness of Dyspraxia.

Only through early diagnosis and treatment can a child with Dyspraxia have the hope of fitting in and adapting to the everyday challenges school offers. Merely forcing a child into the situation without offering him or her the therapies and adaptive skills necessary to do the work and fit in, is only going to increase any anger or frustration the child is already experiencing.

Then, you'll really have a tiger on your hands.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Autumn Party Recipes

Yesterday, I promised via Twitter that I'd post the recipe for the Apple Upside Down Cake I took to a party for Beckett's playgroup. I also took a very simple appetizer that will amaze you with it's ease and deliciousness.

So, without further ado, here's the recipe...Oh! Wait! There actually is further ado. I should note, that the recipe does not call for pecans. At all. But, I decided to add pecans into the butter/brown sugar layer that goes into the bottom of the pan. I also sprinkled the apple slices that go on top of that bottom layer with cinnamon and it all tasted fantastic. If you don't like nuts, don't do it, but come on! Pecans. Brown Sugar. Butter. Together! I'm just sayin'.....

Oh! And, if you want, you can just substitute a yellow butter cake mix and add the apples and spices into that if you don't want to fool with mixing a cake from scratch. Which, by the way, y'all, is what I did!

Okay, so now, without any further ado,
Apple Upside Down Cake:

1/3 cup butter, cut up
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
6 very small red cooking apples (1-1/4 to 1-1/2 lb.), halved, stems removed, cored
1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
Vanilla ice cream (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place 1/3 cup butter in a 9x9x2-inch baking pan. Place in oven 5 minutes or until butter melts. Sprinkle brown sugar over butter; stir. Arrange 9 apple halves in mixture, cut sides down. Bake in oven 10 to 15 minutes or until bubbly.

2. Meanwhile, peel remaining apples. Coarsely shred; set aside. In bowl combine flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, ginger, and cinnamon. Add shredded apple, milk, 1/4 cup butter, egg, and vanilla. Beat with electric mixer on low until combined; beat on medium 1 minute. Spoon over apples, spread evenly (apple may be exposed; some butter may come to surface).

3. Bake 35 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes. Loosen edges; invert onto platter. Spoon any topping in pan over top. Cool 20 minutes; serve with ice cream. Makes 9 servings.

And for the appetizer. You won't believe how easy this is. But it's so yummy....

Jalapeno Jelly Cheese Spread:

1 block Cream Cheese
1 cup Cheddar Cheese, shredded
Jalapeno or other pepper Jelly (You can also use a sweet-hot Chow-Chow or Pickaninny sauce for this if you prefer)

Mix softened cream cheese and cheddar until smooth. Shape into a ball or use a mold to shape.
Remove cheese from mold and put on serving tray.
Spoon jalapeño jelly over cheese and serve with Wheat Thins or other crackers.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Beans and Cornbread: Two Great New Recipes for Fall

Was reminded this week of a great fall recipe I haven't made in a while. It's also a favorite of mine to make for friends who've just had a baby or have a sickness in the family and need a hand. You can also make ahead and freeze to pull out in a pinch. And I've included a new favorite side dish that goes great with it: Grape tomato and Avocado Salad.

Chili Casserole with Cornbread Topping:

1 lb. Lean Ground Beef or Turkey
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 15-oz. can of beans (pinto, black, red kidney, or chili beans)
1 15-oz. can of diced tomatoes (can use diced tomatoes with chili peppers for a spicier version)
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
red pepper flakes to taste

1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, Mexican blend, or Monterey Jack)
1 15 oz. can creamed corn
1 tsp. sugar
1 packet Martha White Cornbread Mix (Can use jalepeno cornbread mix if you like)
buttermilk as needed*

Saute onions and peppers until tender, add ground meat and brown. I add the salt to the meat while it is browning. Next, add beans, tomatoes, and spices. Simmer until well blended and aromatic.

While chili is simmering, prepare Cornbread mixture. Add creamed corn to cornbread mixture with tsp. of sugar. Add buttermilk slowly as needed to help cornbread mixture reach smooth and spreadable consistency.

Pour chili mixture into a casserole dish and add layer of cheese over chili. Then pour/spread cornbread mixture over chili and cheese. Bake in preheated 350º oven for 45 min. or until cornbread is golden brown on top.

Serve with dollop of sour cream and grape tomato and avocado salad.

Grape Tomato and Avocado Salad:

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
3 ripe, but firm, avocados, chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley or cilantro (or both), chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 T lemon juice
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt to Taste

Toss all ingredients together in a non-reactive (glass) bowl. Serve immediately or chill for up to 3 hours before serving.

If you try these out, let me know what you like and what you don't. I made this salad for friends who just had a baby last night and wish I had photographed it. It was really beautiful. I may make it again this weekend for us and if I do, I will take a picture and add it.

If you have any great fall recipes you'd like to share, please leave them in the comments section and I will post them with a link to your site.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Great Moments in Parenting

Generally speaking, I think Scott and I do a pretty great job parenting our two sons. We are loving, supportive, encouraging, provide structure and discipline to their lives. Every now and then, however, we have our moments when we go slightly off the range and our words or actions in relation to the boys might be called into question.

Sometimes, thanks to my short fuse, I think I'm just one perfect mom who never makes mistakes away from a call to DCS. Like the witch lady in the waiting room at Scottish Rite's Therapy Center who looked at me in horror and disbelief when I groaned loudly and exclaimed, "Beckett, I am so mad at you right now!" after Beckett stood in the middle of the waiting room and peed all over himself and the floor and then says to me, with a smile on his face, "Mommy! Pee!" In my defense, he had been potty-trained for over a month and it was the first day of his now-week-long potty strike and the fifth time that day he had wet his pants and found it amusing. So, while it should not have been put on public display probably, I do feel my frustration was warranted.

That negative moment aside, the questionable things we say and do are, as often as not, just plain silly. Like the time I told Brendan that he had to brush his teeth because the tooth fairy would not want his teeth if they were yucky and had cavities. When he pressed me on what she did with the teeth, I told him she makes necklaces with them and only wants pretty teeth. Whether he has nightmares about a Tinkerbellish lass with a ropeful of children's teeth dangling about her neck or not, I couldn't tell you, but it did – at least for a while – make him an avid proponent of dental hygiene.

Then there's the story Scott told Beckett last week when the wee one was on the verge of a meltdown because he didn't want to go to preschool. Seeing Beckett's bottom lip start to quiver when I said, "It's time to go to school," Scott took quick, evasive action before the four winds of the toddler apocalypse started to blow in full force. He said, "Beckett, you have to go to school today. This is the day the monsters come to help Mommy clean house."

Monsters? Instantly, he had Beckett's attention and mine. "Yeah. While you're at school the monsters come and they wash the walls for us. But they're kind of scary and you wouldn't want to be here while they're here."

"Oh. Otay," Beckett replied and that was that. He looked a little befuddled, but he acquiesced and came downstairs calmly and was ready to go to school. And it hasn't come up since.

I was duly impressed with Scott's quick work in diffusing the situation and even more impressed with his creativity. Which really should be no surprise considering the fact that he's a musician. But then again, I am a writer, but not nearly so quick off the cuff.

Now, however, I am dying to know about your parenting highlights? What are the funniest, weirdest, silliest, dumbest things you've said or done with your kids and how did they work out? Please share....

Friday, October 16, 2009

Neighborhood Bully: TSA Takes Woman's Son!

I am shocked and appalled by this story. I have personally experienced the ineptitudes of the TSA at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport, but this woman's experience goes beyond ineptitude into sheer stupidity and exposes the TSA as the actual terrorists. I cannot imagine what she went through. I got shaky and cried just reading about it.

I truly hope the national media picks this up and something changes. These TSA employees clearly bullied this woman and they need to be fired.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thankful Thursday: Friends in Low Places

The last few weeks have been very challenging, filled with ups and downs and all-arounds. The one thing that I can say has consistently kept me thankful and sane and happy much of the time is knowing that I have girlfriends (and a guy friend here and there) that I can count on. The guys I don't really count on and they're not the same kind of friends as my girls. They're mostly just high school friends who pop up on Facebook with the occasional wiseacre comment here and there, but they're good for a laugh.

My girls, though... I could not live without them. From my best friend Courtney who lives in Texas and has been through...well, roughly the last 20 years or so of my life to the amazing women who live in my neighborhood and go to my church and participate in my playgroup and play Bunco together and share the same routines and rituals of my everyday life, I am blessed to know some kick-ass, hotter than Hell, sage, loving, supportive, funny, talented, crazy, amazing women.

There have been times when I feel like I don't fit in, but I think that's mostly been me, holding back. Fearing that I don't fit in and making it so. When I let go and trust that people will accept me just as I am...potty-mouth, messy house, crazy life, ambitious, slack, flaky, I am often surprised that they do. And that's when they let me see all the messy aspects of their own lives. And that's when things really get interesting.

So, all this then, is what I am thankful for on this rainy, rainy Thursday.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mixed Bag O' Blessings

We just returned from Brendan's speech therapy at Scottish Rite. He's now getting help with speech at school and through our insurance and it seems like he's improving even more rapidly than I would have hoped.

Still, no one takes me seriously when I mention that he stammers. It might be that he only does it with me. But if so, why? He should be the most comfortable talking to his mom.

I don't know. Today has been a really bad day for all sorts of reasons and if I think too hard about that one I may just burst into tears.

I am proud of Brendan for how hard he works and how far he has come since he was diagnosed with Dyspraxia last autumn. He is worlds from where he was then, yet I hate it that he does have to work so hard for what comes naturally to everyone else in the world.

He's starting to say he hates school again but won't tell me why. I fear it's getting difficult again. I just want something in life to come as a gift to my beautiful boy. Something that he is great at without trying too hard that he loves doing.

He told me today he wants to play basketball this winter. He brought home a flyer about a church league. I don't know what to do. I am so afraid he'll try it and struggle and be the worst kid out there and take another blow to his self-esteem. Yet, I don't want to deny him the opportunity. I guess I need to put my fears aside and let him struggle and see what he is capable of. He may surprise me.

And the league for five and six year olds is a "learning" league, so no real games. Just learning opportunities. Maybe it will good for him and me.

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely believe kids should be allowed to fail every now and again so that they learn from their mistakes and don't get any ideas about life being easy. That said, Brendan has already had plenty of challenges and failures as a child and it's time for him to find something he's exceptional at. I'm just not sure basketball is the ideal sport for the kid who suffers from something that was once known as clumsy child syndrome.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Blog She is A-Changing

I'd love to have your feedback on the new look of the blog. What do y'all think?

I've putzed around way too long on this to want to undo it, but I would like to hear your thoughts. It just felt like it was time for a change.

So, let's hear it....

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Qu'est-ce que c'est gateaux?: Hummingbird Cake Recipe

Wednesday was my honey's birthday so I made his favorite cake. This recipe is the same one Scott's grandfather used to make when Scott was a boy. His mother gave it to me and I'm going to share it with y'all because this is the most amazing cake in the world and it deserves to be eaten and celebrated:

Hummingbird Cake


3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 can (8oz) crushed pineapple, well drained
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups chopped firm ripe banana

Preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon together into mixing bowl several times. Add eggs and salad oil to the dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon until ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple and 1 cup pecans. Stir in the bananas. Spoon the batter into 3 well-greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes,or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 pounds confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine cream cheese and butter; cream until smooth. Add powdered sugar, beating with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.

This cake is so rich and delicious. I love it, but I usually only make it on Scott's birthday because it is so special.

Some folks like to put chopped pecans on top of the icing, but I hate the way that interferes with the creaminess of the frosting.

Also, Paula Deen has a version of this cake that is slightly different. My recipe makes a really dense cake. Paula uses Self-Rising flour and omits the baking soda. Everything else is exactly the same, though, including the quantity of the flour.
Her version makes a slightly lighter and fluffier cake that still tastes fantastic!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Kind of Magic: I Love My Son's Sense of Humor

You're getting a doubleheader today, folks. Two blog posts! Woot!

You'd think I'd save them up and spread them out, but why would I want to be so organized when I can write and deliver in such a willy-nilly fashion as I do?

So, as I type, Scott is on the phone right now with his mom. Both boys are at his mom's this weekend and he called to check on them. Apparently, they're having fun. Brendan got on the phone and pretended to be his little brother and totally tricked Scott. He's hilarious that way. His sense of humor is very much his Dad's.

He loves to do funny voices and imitate his favorite characters in movies. He does a brilliant Yoda. And yes, he can sound exactly like Beckett. He gets me in the same way all the time, calling out from the living room while I'm in the kitchen, saying, "Mama, need you. Need you!" which is often how Beckett summons me. I go running in to see what's wrong and there's Brendan, lying on the floor holding his stomach because he's laughing so hard. He knows he can do the voice. And, sadly for me, has gotten me the same way more than once.

I just think it's funny and interesting. I have to admit, I've wondered if he's going to end up on Space SNL. We have a niece who has blossomed into a very funny and talented young actress doing community theatre and I wonder if this might be where Brendan's gifts lie as well.

I just love watching this side of his personality emerge. He is a joker. He loves to laugh and make people laugh, yet so far, he's not the class clown at school. No, he saves it all for us.

I know time will tell and reveal to us and to him what his gifts are and what he wants to do with them. For now, I am content just to hear my clever boy's delightful peals of laughter and know he's flexing those creative muscles.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Over the Rainbow: Thankful Thursday

It's a sunny day in the ATL and there is hope in my heart.

My cuddly two-year old Beckett is sitting in my lap while I type telling me all the colors on the birthday candle that came off his daddy's birthday cake. We're about to go to our playdate with his best friend, Cooke and one of my best friends, Lucy. I have a press release to get out today, and phone calls to make. I am looking forward to joining other friends in a woman's group at church in the next few weeks. The air is crisp and soon will be the time for family gatherings. And I hold in my heart a sense that good things are on the horizon.

I am grateful.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sorry for 2009: The Things I Never Knew About Parenting

Dear Mom,

Wherever you are out there in the Cosmos, I want you to know something.

I'm sorry.

For twenty odd years or maybe longer, I've been carrying around what amounts to a whole set of deluxe Samsonite, packed tight with my anger and hurt toward you over all the ways I felt that you let me down. I'll spare you the whole inventory, though I suspect in the spirit world, assuming there is one and you are there, that you know all this anyway. And you're probably laughing your ass off.

One of the items that topped my list was the fact that you never let me do anything as a kid. No sports. No dance lessons. No music lessons other than church choir. Not even Girl Scouts. I have been so pissed off at you for years because I felt like you didn't give me a chance to discover any of my gifts or talents. I had always assumed you didn't do these things with me because we were poor and you couldn't afford it. I realize now how expensive these things are.

But now, I also see that the expense lies not just in the actual cost of the activity, but also in the time it takes to do these things. The hours spent sitting at practices waiting for your child, time at games. Time to go buy uniforms. And on top of all that, there is a limit to how much control you have over any of it.

Unless you have volunteered to coach the team, be the den mother, or organize the event in some way – which admittedly, is even more of a time suck – you have zero control over when you'll be there or for how long.

I see now, that working two jobs and making less than $30,000 a year for most of my life, you had little opportunity to give me the kind of childhood I wanted...the one I am now trying to give my boys.

I know now how much it sucks. God. It sucks.

I have been livid for a month now that our stupid Cub Scout meetings are at 6:30 p.m. on Monday nights. Pick the worst day of the week and then plan a meeting for supper time. An hour long meeting that not only interrupts our dinner hour, but runs into our bath and bedtime routine. Thanks, Boy Scouts of America.

The thing is, I remember you serving as den mother for my cousins Troy and Trevor when they lived with us when I was little. It seemed like those meeting were later in the night, but that might be a four-year-old's memory of such things. Who knows? I just remember you did it for them, but not me. And I never understood that.

I think I do now. You were obligated to care for your brother's kids and he wanted them in Scouts. By the time I was old enough to do anything, you were working two jobs to make ends meet. And by the time I was in high school and old enough to get myself around, I was working after school and on weekends. It was too late.

I wonder, I still wonder even today sitting here writing this, how my life would be different if I had taken dance or been in Girl Scouts or played a sport. Would I be more confident? Would I believe in myself more? Would I be athletic and not have to worry about my figure? Would I be a master at sales making six-figures a year because I had learned to sell Girl Scout cookies so well? Who knows?

But I have to stop being angry at you over failing to give me those opportunities. I know now what a sacrifice it is to give your kids those things and I know you had very little to sacrifice, either in time or money or self. I still think you were self-absorbed and selfish and that played a big part in your unwillingness to give me more. But, I also know that to some extent you were just doing the best you could.

And I'm sorry that I've carried this anger – and at times a very strong hatred for you – around this long.

Now I know how hard it is to be a parent and to give of yourself. I know how very little there can be to go around sometimes. I hope I am making better choices than you. I hope my sons never have to even contemplate whether or not I loved them or wanted the best for them. I hope they never look back and think "my mom was so selfish." As much as I hate some of the things I have to do or choose to do for my kids – like dealing with a screaming toddler while his brother is in a Scout meeting – I do them because I hope and pray I am helping my sons become smarter, more confident, happier, and more well-rounded young men who can look back some day and think "Wow! I had a great childhood. My parents really loved us and went out of their way to give us the things we needed to succeed in our lives."

You weren't able to do that in the ways I might have liked. But, I hope and choose now to believe, that you really did do your best and give me all you could in your way.

So, Mom, once again, I'm sorry for being pissed off at you all those years. I love you. And I forgive you.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You....

I'm just so discouraged by the political dialogue in this country.

How sad is it that the President of the United States can't give a simple speech to our kids encouraging them to stay in school, do their best, and act obediently toward their parents and teachers without members of the opposing party going all apoplectic?

I just fail to see how this is cause for alarm. There's nothing remotely political about President Obama's speech, yet there are parents who are going to pull their children out of school on Tuesday so they won't have to hear the President's propaganda! Are you kidding me?

I heard one mother, from Colorado, I believe, who was quoted as saying that this government scares her. Really? Because I find watching young men and women die in a foreign country so that our (former) vice-president and his pals can get richer and our country can (in theory) have greater access to Middle Eastern oil, and having my civil rights trampled upon by the Patriot Act, and having my child's ability to gain access to the services he needs to get a good education stymied by the No Child Left Behind Act a hell of a lot scarier than our President telling kids to stay in school.

I really think our country is dying. And the reason is that too many people, some of them very smart people, have closed their minds. They've shut down their ability to reason and think for themselves and are unable to do anything other than espouse the party line. They are unwilling to even listen to any thoughts, beliefs, or arguments other than those they already believe in. Until we return to a place where both sides are willing to engage in constructive dialogue with one another and not just shout ugly words like Communist! or Fascist! at the other side, our country will cease to grow and thrive.

This commentator has it right. I couldn't agree more with what he has to say.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Adventures in Potty Training: Dyspraxic Child v. Typical Child

When I began the potty-training process with Brendan, when he was two-and-a-half, (the age, mind you, that had been recommended by all the books I'd read, our pediatrician, and my mother-in-law), I was confident that my smart little boy would be potty-trained in no time flat.

I believed that I could and would be consistent in our efforts. I had read a variety of methods and decided on the one I thought best for our lifestyle and his temperament. I was optimistic, to say the least.

For weeks, we struggled. I changed my methods. I tried everything my friends and family suggested. I gave up. I waited until he was three and tried again. This time, we had a bit more success, but still battled daily urinary accidents. And going poopy on the potty? Forget it!

When he was four and a looming August 10 start date for pre-K lay ahead in my future, I was panicking. Freaking out. Finally, after having tried everything to motivate him, educate him, help my son, I called our pediatrician. Her advice? Give up. Literally.

She said to give up trying to train him for one month. She said to put him in pull ups and just leave him alone for one month. To not even mention it. Against every thing that I believed to be true and sacred about parenting, I did exactly what she told me. worked.

About one month before school began, we put Big B back into regular underwear, told him he was to use the toilet for everything, and he did. He was able to start school with no accidents and he did great.

If only I had known then that he had dyspraxia, I could have saved both him and me many, many tears and hours of pain and anxiety over all of it. I could have saved his self-esteem and my own.

Now that he's been diagnosed, I know that late toilet training is a symptom or sign of dyspraxia. Back then? I just thought he was too stubborn or too easily distracted to focus on what his body was doing. Now, of course, I realize that the process of nerve endings and signals back and forth between brain and bladder and the various other body parts involved is so complicated that the dyspraxic child isn't physically mature enough at two and some not until they are much older, to get it right.

Now I know though. Still, when I began potty training Little B three weeks ago, I began cautiously and fearfully. I was fearful that I was entering another Showdown to the Death. That's what training Big B felt like to me. Between the potty training that was going wrong and the lack of sleep, I really thought one or both of us might die before we were done. And as I began training Little B, I really thought that it had the potential to be just as bad. To me, it felt like Potty Training PTSD. Just thinking of going through that again made me want to crawl inside myself.

I needn't have worried, though. By virtue of the fact that he doesn't have Developmental Dyspraxia, Little B has flourished in his efforts to be a Big Boy.

We spent a couple of days with him in pull-ups, being introduced to the toilet. I would give him juice and then every 10 min. thereafter put him on the toilet with the potty seat attached. After those first two days, he went into regular Thomas underwear, hand-me-downs from his big bro. After a couple of days that consisted of lots of him sitting on the toilet while I ran water and read books to him as we waited for him to pee only to have him have an accident as soon as we left the bathroom, we moved on to successful peeing in the potty with lots of M&Ms and stickers for rewards.

I took Little B to the store where I let him pick out his own underwear (he chose Sesame Street and Thomas) and the rest is history. We're three weeks in and he has only had two accidents the last week. He still hasn't pooped on the toilet, but I'm no longer worried.

I can't tell you what this kind of success has done to restore my confidence as a mom. I'm trying to focus on that and not beat myself up about not knowing Brendan was different. He was my first and I didn't know. And neither did our pediatrician. I talked to them a lot about it and they just kept telling me kids train when they want to. I can wish all day that we'd had an earlier diagnosis, but it doesn't change anything.

All I can say is that my heart is with every parent who is trying to potty train a dyspraxic child. And with that, I would say that if that describes you, be patient. It will come to them. Try, too, to remember that it is not a reflection on you or your parenting abilities if your dyspraxic child toilet trains late. Just keep your patience. I didn't have the luxury of knowing what our problem was and I wasted many tears fighting a battle I could have avoided.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More Back to School Recipes

By not blogging last week, I'm off schedule on doing my Back to School Recipe Reviews that I promised, so today, you're going to hear about three different recipes I tried before I forget them myself.

First, I made Wendy's Chili* for lunch last Saturday while the kids were at their grandparents. The only thing I altered was that I made it without meat, just a purely vegetarian version. It was lovely, filling, and very tasty. I love chili and this one gets high marks. Best of all? It was SUPER EASY!

*I just re-read this post and realized that it sounds like I made chili from the fast food chain known as Wendy's. I didn't. It's a recipe from my brilliant fellow blogger and friend, Wendy Armstrong.

It probably would be better had I added the turkey, but I didn't have any and didn't want to go to the store. So, here's the recipe again so you don't have to look at the comments on older posts:

1 2-alarm chili kit (available in most any grocery store)
1 lb ground turkey breast
1 small can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes w/ green peppers and jalapenos
1 can black beans
1 can pinto beans

Brown turkey breast. Add contents of chili kit (chili powder, cayenne and salt), plus can of tomato sauce and 2 cans water. Stir. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Add diced tomatoes and beans. Cover and simmer for about 25 minutes. Add masa (also included in chili kit) if desired. Serve with chili fixins (we like rice, grated cheddar cheese, sour cream or low-fat plain yogurt).

Next, I made Spanish Shredded Beef, a recipe from the Publix Aprons collection of quick and easy recipes. This one was so easy, an adept tween could pull it off if mom or dad need help in the kitchen:

Spanish Shredded Beef

1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon roasted garlic
1 (17-ounce) package fully-cooked beef roast au jus
1 (8-ounce) can Spanish tomato sauce
1/4 cup sofrito (Spanish seasoning sauce)
1 tablespoon minced onions
2 tablespoons sliced green olives
1 tablespoon capers
4 drops hot pepper sauce
2 cups instant rice

1. Preheat large saucepan on medium-high 2–3 minutes. Place water, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and salt in medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil on medium-high for rice.
2. Place remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and garlic in large saucepan; cook 1 minute, stirring often, or until heated and fragrant. Stir in remaining ingredients (except rice); cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until thoroughly heated.
3. Stir rice into boiling water. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand 5 minutes.
4. Remove beef from heat; shred meat using two forks. Fluff rice with fork. Serve over rice.

I omitted the sofrito and the olives and the capers because I didn't have sofrito which they sell at Publix, thought capers were a bad choice for this dish, and Scott does not love olives the way I do. It still tasted great. Instead of serving it over rice, I put it inside whole wheat tortillas and served it with corn and fresh bell peppers.

It was not quite the hit I thought it would be with the fam, but I liked it a lot and had the leftovers for lunch the next day.

And then, last night, I made Chicken Paprika, a recipe from this awesome crock pot cooking site that ViolinMama recommended.

You can follow the link there to check out the recipe. It was very simple to make and the fact that I started it before noon really opened up the space between 5 and 7 p.m. All I had to do at that time was put on some rice to go with it, cook a vegetable (green beans, if you must know), and add the sour cream to the sauce. Not hard at all.

It does create a lot of dirty dishes which almost, but not quite, defeats the purpose of the quick and easy meal. As far as the flavor of the meal, it was okay, but a little bland. I'm not sure what I would add to improve the flavor though. I'll have to think about it more next time I make it, if I do. The kids actually liked the chicken which is good. And honestly, I think they'd eat rice at every meal if I made it. Same goes for green beans, which I was sad to learn, are one of the least nutritious vegetables.

So, there you go. Three more quick and painless (unless you're a chicken, cow, or turkey) school day dinners.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Greatest Dog Ever

This isn't the post I thought I'd be writing today, but it is the one in my heart. The one I need to write.

Thirteen years ago this month, Scott, who was my boyfriend at the time, called me up and told me he had a surprise for me.

I could not imagine what it might be. We had been dating about seven months at the time. The 1996 Summer Olympics had just ended, so it wasn't tickets to an Olympic event. The only thing I could think of was tickets to a show. I just had no idea.

So, I hopped in my car and drove over to his house. He led me up to his bedroom and there, sitting on a bath towel in the middle of his bed, was the cutest, sweetest, most adorable little floppy-eared puppy I had ever seen. He was tiny and black and tan and he had the cutest little pink tongue that was eager with the kisses.

Instantly, I fell in love.

We named him Cooper. Special Agent Dale Cooper, actually, after Kyle MacLachlan's character in Twin Peaks. Even as a six-week old pup, our Cooper had something of a sage and mysterious nature.

He came to live with me in my apartment which had just been burgled a few weeks prior and soon he was a fine guard dog without our having to train him at all. He also quickly learned to go outdoors to do his business and in my recollection only had a few indoor accidents.

The one place he lacked self-discipline, it seemed, was his love for chewing shoes and books. But, with a little tough love, he soon outgrew those habits and became, by our reckoning and that of others, one of the best behaved dogs you could ever hope for.

Cooper is an amazing dog. And he has been well-loved from the day Scott found him hanging around a neighbor's yard hoping to get in the fence to be with her two Basset hounds.

I credit him with saving my life on at least two occasions. Maybe more. The first time came when he was just one year old, a long and lanky pup whose ears had finally decided to stand up.

Scott and I had just moved in together. It was going to be our first night in our first home together, but Scott had been invited to a wedding in Baltimore that weekend. I spent a stormy Friday night unpacking boxes and setting up our bedroom. Around midnight, I was so tired, I went to bed with Cooper asleep on the bed beside me. I had just drifted off, it seemed, when Cooper began growling, deep in his belly, and awoke me. I then heard two male voices right under my bedroom window, discussing the best way to get into the house. Cooper began barking and I called 911. The two men were gone by the time police arrived, but I believe that's only thanks to my sweet and protective boy.

About two years later, he pulled me away from our mailbox just seconds before a drunk driver crashed into it, right at the spot where I would have been standing.

At 13 years old, he still barks when he sees someone walking down the street or a strange car in front of our house. And since the day they got old enough to throw a temper tantrum, Cooper has come to stand between me and a screaming crying boy as though he wants to protect me from them.

All of this, and really, Scott is his Alpha, his master. Scott who used to feed Cooper the crusts off his Pop-Tarts. Who made sure I indulged Cooper with pig ears and dog toys.

Still, I don't know that I have ever been loved as unconditionally as I have by Cooper. And my heart breaks as I see him changing and becoming less and less himself, day by day.

It began when he started having separation anxiety. And then he stopped coming to greet us when we came home. Soon, even rain showers were making him shake, cry, and follow me around the house the way the most severe thunderstorms once did.

On Friday, he wandered two doors down to a neighbor's house. When I went to shepherd him back home, he didn't recognize me and almost got hit by a car as he tried to run to the other side of the street to avoid me. As he trotted toward our house, he kept looking over his shoulder fearfully at the strange woman who was trying to get him.

A fair amount of reading has led me to conclude that he has Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. He has almost all of the symptoms. The worst, aside from his not recognizing briefly on Friday, has been his inability to sleep at night. It seems it has gotten worse the last few days, too.

I know that it is inevitable that he will die. He has already exceeded the life expectancy for a dog his size by about three years. And, for the most part, I'd say he has had a good life. Although, I keep reliving the moment when I knelt beside him at five a.m., in our foyer, the morning I went into labor with Brendan. My water had broken a few hours earlier and as we ran around the house making phone calls, packing last minute items into bags, loading things into the car, Cooper followed me and kept an eye on all that was happening. He knew something was up, if not what.

I knelt beside him and hugged him and I couldn't hold back my tears as I told him I was sorry that his life was about to change. I knew it would never be the same for him again.

But, the day we brought Brendan home and sat him down in his carrier in the living room, Cooper checked him out and added him to the pack. Moments later, when our orange tabby Mao walked over to check the baby out, Cooper instantly jumped up, barked and nudged the cat away with his nose.

Still, I go back and wish there had been enough of me to go around. To keep up the daily outdoor play time of throwing the tennis ball or a stick. I hope the walks, the tummy rubs, the special treats, the love the kids have shown him have made up for some of the joys in life he lost when the kids came into the picture.

I don't know how much time he will have left with us and us with him. I do hope I can make each of those days as great as possible and that in the moments when he recognizes us and his life that he knows he is, always has been, and will continue to be loved and known as the greatest dog ever.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Beautiful Life: When Ordinary Moments Become Extraordinary

I just watched this video by the band Fisher, who Scott and I discovered way, way, way back in the past when music by indie bands on the Internet was a groundbreaking phenomenon. The song and the video are just so joyful they have helped make my Monday.

I had to share it because it feels like an extension or perhaps rather an expression of the golden ball of Happy that I felt in my heart and soul on Saturday night after a perfectly ordinary day spent with Scott and The Boys.

We slept in, which for us means about 8:30. Then we just puttered around the house. I played with the kids a little, fixed breakfast, made a shopping list. Scott did some work. We ate lunch, and then went to the Buford Highway International Farmers' Market so I could pick up some produce for the week and get the things I needed to make a Broccoli Salad to take to a friend's house for dinner that night.

When we got home, we rushed to get ready to go to our friends L. and F.'s for dinner with them and their two darling little boys. And it was the perfect evening of perfectly ordinary pleasures. Margaritas on the patio. Delicious food like bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed peppers. Smoked burgers. Broccoli and potato salads. Watching the boys run and tumble and play until they were exhausted, sweaty, sand-covered little messes. It was the kind of night that helps people grow closer and can stay in your heart forever. And what I loved most was that it did seem perfectly ordinary in the sense that these are people who have grown to be our friends slowly and over time to the point that we now have a shared history and I hope a long shared future. It didn't seem like a big deal to be going to their home. It just seemed perfectly natural. The way friendships do over time. And it's a wonderful feeling.

Even after we left, loaded into Scott's car with our leftovers and sweet, sweaty, sandy boys, and half a pitcher of margaritas L. sent home with us, I felt so...Happy. All four of us together, laughing and teasing and joking. I felt like I couldn't stop smiling as I thought, "This is it. This is what my life is and it's amazing and I am so thankful for it."

Sadly, it's a rare thing that a day spent doing not much of anything makes me feel connected and alive and perfectly content the way this past Saturday did. The experience, though, makes me appreciate the wonder of my life that much more and makes me determined to experience that joy in every day if not in every moment.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Fast and Yummy Recipes

I have gotten some excellent comments and recipe ideas so far and will be giving them all a whirl. Thanks to everyone who has given me their ideas so far. I can't wait to try Wendy's chili and some of Suz's vegetarian ideas.

In the meantime, I'll give you the recipe for the main dish I made last night, Oven Fried Drumsticks. I liked them, but they weren't as huge a hit as I had hoped. Brendan liked them okay. Scott might have liked them better if they had crisped up more in the oven, which was my fault. I forgot to turn them while they were cooking, so the top half was crispy, but the bottom was not. It all still tasted good and I'm really happy to have leftovers for today's lunch.

I served them with green beans cooked in beef broth with onions and mac-n-cheese (from a box, but doctored up with real cheese).

Breaded and Baked Chicken Drumsticks Recipe
Recipe adapted from a Deviled Drumsticks recipe in Bon Appetit, March 2001.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon or whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp finely chopped chives or green onion greens
6 large chicken drumsticks, about 1 1/3 lbs
Olive oil
1 Place rack on upper third of oven. Preheat oven to 425°F. Coat the bottom of a shallow roasting pan or baking sheet with a thin layer of olive oil.
2 Mix together the mayonnaise, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce in a medium bowl. Mix together the breadcrumbs and minced chives in a separate medium bowl.
3 Sprinkle each drumstick with salt. One by one, dip each drumstick in the mayonnaise mixture, turning to coat. Then dip the drumstick in the breadcrumbs mixture, turning to coat. Place the drumsticks on the prepared roasting pan.
4 Bake chicken for 20-25 minutes, until just cooked through, and juices run clear (not pink) when poked with a sharp knife.
Serves 4-6.

I'll tell you where I changed the recipe.

I omitted the Worcestershire because I was out, but sprinkled in a bit of Montreal seasoning into the mustard/mayo mixture.

Instead of chives or green onions, I added paprika, oregano, and garlic powder to my breadcrumbs. And I used Smart Beat spray instead of olive oil on my pan.

I prepared the mustard/mayo blend and went ahead and coated the chicken with that, put it in a ziplock bag and put that in fridge to sit for about 4 hours before cooking.

I also went ahead and prepared the breadcrumb mixture earlier in the day and put that aside so I wouldn't have to do it during the dinner crunch.

Come time to cook, all I had to do was dip the drumsticks in my breadcrumbs and bake. I also lowered the oven temp to 350 and cooked for 50 min. because I tend to burn things at higher temps.

Hope you enjoy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Back to School Recipes: Got Any?

School days mean we're crunched for time at both ends of the day.

I told Scott this morning that we seem to have a black hole in our house that sucks up any amount of extra time. So, I need to find some ways to save time. Specifically, I am looking for quick, easy, healthy dinner ideas.

If you send me your favorite quick and tasty dinner ideas I will post them on my blog, complete with a review of the recipe after I've made it and a link to your blog or web site. Click on my profile to find my e-mail address or post it in the comments section. And if you don't have any great recipe ideas, but your friends do, tell them and have them post their favorites.

To get things started, here's what I made for tonight's dinner. It was the first day of school for us and I wanted to be prepared for homework, hearing about Brendan's day, and just being with my kids, so I pulled out the old crockpot and made:

Garlic Chicken with Artichokes and Peppers

12 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (8-9 ounce) package frozen artichoke hearts
1 sweet red pepper, cut into strips
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed
1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
1 (1/2 teaspoon) ground black pepper
1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or chicken thighs
1In small skillet cook garlic and onion in hot oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes, or until tender.
2In 4 quart slow cooker combine the frozen artichoke hearts, sweet pepper, chicken broth, tapioca, rosemary, lemon peel, and black pepper. Add chicken; spoon garlic mixture over chicken.
3Cover and cook on low setting for 6 to 7 hours, or on high setting for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dyspraxia USA Works to Raise Awareness of the Hidden Handicap

Here's a link to the press release I sent out yesterday on behalf of Dyspraxia USA:

Press Release

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Congressman Hank Johnson to Hold Town Hall Meeting on Health Care Reform

Thanks to State Senator Curt Thompson for this update:

Congressman Johnson to Host Health Care Reform Town Hall

Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia’s 4th Congressional District, proudly serving DeKalb, Rockdale, and Gwinnett Counties cordially invites you to his 2009 Health Care Reform Town Hall.

The event is scheduled for Monday, August 10, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Georgia Perimeter College Clarkston Campus, Cole Auditorium/ Fine Arts Center, 555 North Indian Creek Drive, Clarkston GA 30021

Scheduled Panelists include:

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson
Moderator: DeKalb Commissioner Larry Johnson
Michael Young, Grady Hospital CEO
Dr. Sandra Ford, District Health Director for DeKalb County
Dr. Arthur Kellermann, Emory University

Congressman Johnson and his staff will update the status of health care proposals. A panel of health care professionals and advocates will discuss reform. The final hour and a half will be open to the public for questions and comments.

DIRECTIONS: Georgia Perimeter College 's Cole Auditorium and Fine Arts Center is at the corner of North Indian Creek Drive and Memorial College Avenue in Clarkston. Driving south on I-285, take the East Ponce de Leon exit toward Clarkston, exit 40 -- turn left. At North Indian Creek, turn right and take it to Memorial College Ave ; take a left. The Cole Fine Arts Center is on your right. Driving north on I-285, take a right at the Memorial Drive exit, exit 41. Turn left on Rockbridge Road, right on North Indian Creek Drive and a right on Memorial College Ave. The Cole Fine Arts Center is on your right.

For more information, call Andy Phelan at 770-939-2016 or visit

Day of Remembrance and Healing at National Shrine of St. Jude

Today is a Day of Remembrance and Healing at the National Shrine of St. Jude for all those affected by cancer.

The Claretian Order who run the shrine are there praying to St. Jude for intercession on behalf of everyone suffering with cancer, their friends, and their families.

Here is a message I received from Fr. Mark Brummel, Director of the Shrine of St. Jude:

May the Lord bless you and keep you and all those you love, especially those affected by cancer. Throughout today’s liturgies at the National Shrine of St. Jude, we will pray in a special way for all those who suffer from cancer. I invite you to join us today, and on the first Wednesday of every month, as we call upon St. Jude for the healing of cancer. Please send your special intentions for healing and remembrance of those affected by cancer to the Shrine today.

Join with them in prayer today.

We pray together:
God of healing mercy, in Jesus your Son you stretch out your hand in compassion, restoring the sinner, healing the sick, and lifting up those bowed down. Embrace us now in your loving care, particularly those afflicted with cancer, for whom this intention is offered. May the Spirit of Jesus bring us all health in soul and body, that with joy and thanksgiving we may praise you for your goodness, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Preparing Your Child with Dyspraxia or Sensory Processing Disorder for School

Beginning a new school year can be very exciting for most children and their families. New school supplies. New clothes. New friendships. New teachers. There’s a lot to look forward to.

For children with Developmental Dyspraxia or other Sensory Processing Disorders (Sensory Integration Disorders) and their families, back-to-school time can hold an entirely different set of thoughts and emotions. It’s a time that can be fraught with fear, anxiety, and other negative feelings.

With a little planning and effort on your part, you can calm your own fears and help your son or daughter enjoy a smooth transition from summer fun back into the classroom.

I’ve talked with a number of parents, educators, occupational therapists, and family therapists to cull their best and most effective ideas for preparing your child with SPD/SID and have compiled them here.

For Makasha Dorsey, the mother of Justin who will enter Kindergarten this month, it was extremely important to establish the fact that her family was in control of Justin’s SPD, not the other way around. She and her husband spent the first year following Justin’s diagnosis with SPD closely monitoring their son’s behavior to find out what some of his specific issues and triggers were. She says, “Like most children, he likes to know exactly what's going on and when. Therefore, we use social stories, calendars, and daily schedules to help prepare him for school.”

Before classes begin at Justin’s elementary school, Dorsey scheduled a meeting – without Justin – to meet his teacher and get his schedule of daily activities. During the meeting, she took photographs of the school, Justin’s classroom, his teacher and her assistant, the school principal, the hallway, bathrooms, and the front office, which she then compiled into a social story called Kindergarten. During the week prior to the start of school, Dorsey will use the story and implement the daily schedule at home in order to help Justin prepare for and acclimate to his first school experience. The preparation will culminate in taking Justin to the school’s open house to meet his teacher in person. Dorsey says that she knows on the first day of school, “I can take him to school and know that he will have a great day because he has been prepared.”

She also points out the importance of educating your child’s teacher about Sensory Processing Disorder. Because it is a relatively new diagnosis many teachers and administrators have not heard of SPD. Dorsey compiled a booklet for Justin’s teachers using information from "The Out of Sync Child" and "Its So Much Work to Be Your Friend". She gave copies of her booklet to Justin’s teacher, the principal, school nurse, and school counselor.

Sharron Dark, a special education instructor who teaches in the Washington, D.C., public school system agrees with the importance of educating the educator and any support staff who will have contact with your child. She points out that most mainstream classroom teachers are relatively unfamiliar with and uncomfortable with diagnoses like SPD. She says that providing them with basic information about the condition is extremely helpful, but you should be careful not to overwhelm your child’s teacher with too much information. You should also be wary of undermining your child by setting up low expectations with the teacher.

To prepare your child and encourage them to be excited by school, Dark recommends taking your child to the school before school starts when it is not crowded in order to help familiarize your child with the school. She also suggests taking your child to shop for a special item such as a new backpack or lunch box. Finally, she recommends using puppets or dolls to create and act out a story about the emotions your child may be feeling with regard to starting or returning to school.

Minneapolis mom Eileen Parker recommends integrating sensory therapies like weighted blankets to help calm children with Sensory Processing Disorder while in the classroom. This is an item that parents can introduce to their child’s teacher during an open house or meeting scheduled before school begins. Parker’s child benefited so much from the use of a weighted blanket that she launched her own line of weighted school Lap Cozys that help ease anxiety and help with concentration and focus.

Remember that every child is different and you know your child better than anyone. That said, most children with Dyspraxia or any other form of Sensory Processing Disorder benefit from having a routine and from being prepared for transitions. Starting school, whether for the first time or the fifth time, remains a huge transition after a summer that may have offered a more flexible schedule with lots of down time. Taking the time and effort to prepare you son or daughter for the start of school can pay off tremendously in reduced stress and better classroom performance. Your child and his teacher will thank you. And you just might thank yourself.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

That's Me Trying: The Movie Little Children and a Revelation

I saw the movie Little Children early Saturday morning. For some reason, I was awake at 5:30 a.m. when it came on and I got caught up in it.

Let me preface the rest of this post by letting you know there may be spoilers in here, so if you plan to see the film, you may want to stop here.

Scott had seen it before and liked it. I wasn't sure I wanted to see it. With the primary focus of the film being on a stay-at-home mom (Kate Winslet) who is dissatisfied with her life, I thought the film might hit a little close to home. Making it even creepier? The fact that my friend Jean has told me that I remind her of Kate Winslet.

The movie was hard to watch for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I did see bits of myself in Winslet's character, Sarah.

Sarah is a stay at home mom and kind of a failure. She has her Master's in English Lit but never finished her Ph.D. She's in kind of a loveless, passionless marriage. She has a little girl, but she's so absorbed in her own drama, her own ennui, that she can't take joy in the wonders of the world, the profound and beautiful moments of her own life that are right before her.

When the movie opens, Sarah is at the park with her daughter on a playdate with three other moms from the neighborhood. They're all very WASP-y and Stepfordy. I do kind of think the director went a little far with it. There's a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead, one dressed in pink, one in yellow, and one in pale blue. And they're mean and judgmental and you know they all talk about each other behind one another's backs.

They help Sarah out begrudgingly and with lots of snide little comments about how she should make a list for herself when she realizes she has forgotten her daughter's snack at the playground. And naturally the child is melting down and humiliating her mother because she feels neglected and she wants her snack.

I related to the mousy Sarah so much in that scene. Her disheveled appearance is a stark contrast next to the ironed and button-downed, if not stylish women who surround her and that combined with her scatter-brained inability to create a successful park outing for her child reminded me of myself in a couple of ways.

I mean, I'm not always like that. But I have had my moments. I just went on a playdate with my not-yet-potty-trained two-year old to a friend's house and forgot diapers. Fortunately, when he needed a change I was only four doors down and could walk home for a diaper while my friend watched Beckett. And when I'm around the well-groomed beauties in my neighborhood, I always feel a and disheveled? Even though I know I'm not and I actually try to look good most of the time unlike Sarah who is of the pretentious "I'm too intelligent for make-up and a hairstyle" ilk. I live in a neighborhood with an unusual amount of beautiful and well put-together women. But I digress.

Thankfully, that level of screwiness is about where my similarities end with Sarah. Sort of.

Sarah ends up having an affair with Brad, a stay-at-home dad she meets at the park. All the stay-at-home moms in Sarah's cohort have their collective eye on him, but Sarah somehow gets his attention and they begin an affair that ultimately culminates in their plan to run away together.

There's a lot of other things that happen in the movie and I won't bore you with them. I will get to my point here though.

The biggest way in which Sarah fucks up and is fucked up is that she can't get out of her head. All she can do is stew in her own sense of tedium and neglect until she meets Brad and then, almost instantly, the two of them get swept up into each other's lives, scheduling daily playdates for their two small children just so they can see each other. This gives her a break from the monotony of her life, but it does not get her out of her own head, nor does it make her in any way a better or happier person.

The thing is, I know what it's like to think that you're going to get married and have kids and have this perfect little life and then realize that you've not only put any other dreams you had on hold, you've up and abandoned them completely.

Although, I think in Sarah's case, having a child was a convenient excuse not to finish her dissertation and thereby avoid "real world" responsibilities. Except, guess what? Having and raising a child is very much of the real world and requires a completely different set of skills than teaching English Lit.

The thing that pained me most about this movie was how little Sarah was capable of connecting with her daughter. She simply could not get out of her own way to be able to engage with the child on any level short of taking care of her basic necessities. At one point, she tries to pay a neighbor who has been caring for the little girl while Sarah is out conducting her illicit affair with Brad, and tells her neighbor it's "for your trouble," ignoring all the sweet, generous comments the neighbor makes about what a delightful little girl Sarah has.

I know there have been times when I am guilty of those same crimes. There have been times when my worries about life, the stresses and anxieties of the world, my own sense of being lost or having no sense of purpose or wondering what my purpose is keep me locked inside my head, unable to do more than make sure everyone is clean, safe, and well-fed. But, I am very much aware of this fact and am fighting daily to make sure that I am present and engaged as fully as I can be in life, thankful now for every moment.

And that is where Sarah and I differ. Sarah seems to have no sense of being disengaged. Not really. She seems to believe that the "life" she has created with Brad, with both their children lurking around the fringes as a convenient excuse for their relationship, is real and she takes great effort to sustain it, yet she can't be bothered to stop staring at her reflection in the mirror (almost literal navel gazing), long enough to greet her daughter whom she has not seen in 24 hours.

There's a lot not to like about this movie with it's unintentional humor, annoying voice-over, some bad acting, and really, really annoying characters. Still, I'm glad I saw it; glad I saw myself in it a bit. It made me realize that while I may be imperfect, at least I'm here. And at least I'm trying.