Thursday, December 31, 2009

Are you living AND loving life?

Today I was poking around the pantry and came upon a vial of grapefruit essential oil I bought a few months ago at Whole Foods. Back then, I was using a grapefruity shower gel and realized how much I loved the smell. I'd bought the essential oil to dab onto light bulbs, so that when they heated up they'd let off the scent (I read that somewhere, I do not instinctively know this stuff). I put some on one bulb once, and that was it.

I had a little epiphany as I stood there in front of the pantry, the grapefruit oil staring me in the face: I have not been savoring life enough. I mean really savoring it. I am so busy and distracted that I neglect or literally forget to do things I consider pleasurable. It's like I'm steering a shopping cart through life—kids, work, chores, therapeutic stuff for Max, and other must-dos piled up inside—and taking barely any breaks to cruise in a convertible with the top down. Not that I own a convertible.

While I'm sure this is true for many moms, as a mom of a kid with special needs, I've got a whole lot more piled inside my shopping cart.

These are the things that I would love to savor more of:

• Curling up on our big fat armchair with a good book. Oh, and spending time at the library picking said book. Half the fun is in the find.

• Crocheting. I've mentioned before that I've been crocheting a granny-square blanket for Sabrina for two years now. I've done maybe 14 squares. That's seven squares per year, not a great average.

• Baking. I was in Macy's a couple weeks ago and saw this Martha Stewart tea cake pan that was incredibly inspirational. I am not 100 percent sure what a tea cake is, but it's definitely little and cute.

• Playing piano. I stopped after Max was born. We have a Kawai upright that's mainly used for banging (by the kids, not me). I learned by the Suzuki Method, which emphasizes learning by listening and repetition. My mom would play records of classical music, and then when I'd sit down to play the pieces at the piano I could more or less sound them out and not be reliant on note-reading. As a result, I suck at note reading, but I'm not half bad at playing.

• Dancing. Any kind—at clubs, ballroom dancing, jazz, ballet, you name it. Dave, he of the White Man Shuffle, is not all that into it. It would be very cool to take a salsa or tango class with some (hot) instructor.

• Traveling. Before we had kids, Dave and I got around. It would be amazing to go someplace foreign with the kids. I think next summer they might be up for it; I'm going to look into renting a place in Italy or France or anyplace with good cheese, which I am sure they will appreciate.

• Photography. I adore taking photos of the kids (in case you hadn't noticed). I'd love to have more time to shoot scenery and portraits. A good friend recently suggested I become a kiddie photographer specializing in children with special needs, an incredible idea. It would take some doing, given that the very fancy, sophisticated camera I use is a Sony Cyber-Shot 10.1. I don't think I've ever seen a photographer using an idiot camera.

Well, those are the things that spring to mind. What's on your list of things you'd like to savor more of?

istock photo/David Sucsy

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A disabled mom fights to keep her son

There's been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about Kaney O'Neill, which I've had ample time to read because I'm still sitting around with my left leg propped up. The sports medicine doc I saw today isn't convinced my ACL is torn, but my lateral meniscus (a.k.a. cartilage) may be. I am learning lots of knee words. MRI on Thursday at 6:45 a.m. Woo. Hoo.

OK, back to O'Neill. As recounted in a Chicago Tribune article, she is a 31-year-old Navy veteran in Des Plaines, Illinois who's a quadriplegic. She can't walk, move her fingers by herself or feel anything from her chest down; she got hurt ten years ago during Hurricane Floyd. Last December, O'Neill discovered she was pregnant. Her ex disagreed she could handle her child and in September, sued her for full custody of their son, Aidan, who's now five months old. He claimed her disability "greatly limits her ability to care for the minor, or even wake up if the minor is distressed."

O'Neill maintains she always has another adult on hand to help care for Aidan, whether it's her full-time caretaker, live-in-brother or her mother. The custody case is expected to return to court in January.

An attorney quoted in the article, Howard LeVine, said, "Certainly, I sympathize with the mom, but assuming both parties are equal (in other respects), isn't the child better off with the father?" He noted that O'Neill would not be able to teach her son to write, paint or play ball. "What's the effect on the child—feeling sorry for the mother and becoming the parent?"

I am pounding the keys as I type this, all riled up. This is not some knee-jerk reaction from the parent of a kid with disabilities. I wouldn't necessarily trust an adult who had Max's challenges—dexterity issues, balance issues, mobility issues—to handle a baby alone. However, as long as O'Neill has an adult around to help with the physical responsibilities, she is up to the job.

Her mind is not paralyzed. Her common sense is not paralyzed. Her personality is not paralyzed. Her heart is not paralyzed.

What say you?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

7 Questions For...a college student with cerebral palsy

An amazing woman named Erin Breedlove recently found this blog, for which I am grateful. She's a college student with cerebral palsy who's studying to be a musical therapist and has a blog, Empowering People And Changing Lives. As Erin writes, "Though my CP is mild, I feel the social effects of it almost daily. Everything from the stares by ignorant people in the aisle of the grocery store to the frustrations of being nineteen years old and unable to drive as of right now seems to get to me.... I know, though, that I am blessed." Erin's supersmart, funny, enthusiastic and really inspirational. See for yourself!

How old were you when you were diagnosed with cerebral palsy?
I was diagnosed at 14 months of age, but the injury that caused it was congenital. The complete cause is still unknown, but the considerable factors are that I was born as "Twin A" and at 26 weeks gestation. At birth, I suffered a brain hemorrhage with a "grade 4+" bleed, which means that I was losing more blood from my brain than my body was equipped to handle at the time. In addition to cerebral palsy, I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, which is an excess of cerebrospinal fluid on the brain. My parents, my doctors, and I all believe that both injuries are connected; however, they are two separate injuries that result in two separate conditions. "Twin B," Caitlin, is absolutely fine; she's s a broadcast journalism major at the University of Georgia.

What prognosis were your parents given?
My parents were told that I would never walk, talk, read, write, or drive. The doctors didn't expect any sort of functionality out of me. In fact, I began proving them wrong when I was two years old and could spell my name. When I was four and a half, my doctor was "breaking the news" to my parents that I would have to be placed in a wheelchair. Not even a year later, I took my first step. Since then, I have graduated high school with a 3.91 GPA and gone to college. The only thing that hasn't come for me yet, but will very, very soon, is driving.

Growing up, which therapy was most helpful to you, and why?
The 15 years of physical therapy that I have gone through due to its rigor and its nature of strengthening muscles that are necessary for many vital life skills. The therapist that taught me to walk is my angel. She worked with me from the time I was two months old until I was five-and-a-half to ensure that I could walk. Physical therapy's main focus for me, as with many others with cerebral palsy, was to strengthen my "big" muscles (i.e. the muscles that you use to walk, play, and climb, such as your hamstrings and your hips). I find myself applying the skills that I learned in physical therapy as a young child on a day-to-day, and sometimes even hourly, basis. For instance, when I put on my clothes, the stretching and the coordination involved are possible due to the exercises and the many years of therapy to which I committed myself.

What's been the biggest challenge for you?
That's a really tough question. In a broad sense, the biggest challenge, and the one I've faced for my entire life, has been dispelling the stereotypes that people have regarding people with cerebral palsy and disabilities in general. Simply because I "walk funny" doesn't mean that I can't achieve my dreams. Simply because I sometimes have a hard time with the physical act of handwriting doesn't mean I can't type 85 words per minute with one hand!

In a narrow sense, one of the hardest things that I have had to learn has been washing my hair with one hand. I'm female, and fortunately, but unfortunately, I have a thick head of hair, so it has been difficult. However, just as with anything, with practice, persistence, determination, and willpower, anything is possible!

Why did you decide to become a music therapist?
Music therapy combines all three disciplines in which I've seen myself at various points in my life: a healthcare professional of advanced degree, a music teacher, and a special education teacher. It will give me the opportunity to become a healthcare professional and will give me the opportunity to obtain knowledge from a medical, musical, and special education perspective. One of my mentors, David Knott, leads a session in a Youtube video that inspired my final decision. You can also read more about my inspiration on my blog.

Music therapists are certified by the American Music Therapy Association. Thus, I will complete my undergraduate degree in music therapy, which will include both courses that are therapy-intensive and those that are music-intensive. Those that are therapy-intensive study the methods and practices of music therapy such as the characteristics of certain impairments and the ways in which music therapy can best serve those populations.

The music-intensive courses are no different than those that a music major must take. They include courses in music theory, in certain instruments and the methods used to learn and play those instruments so that a student may gain proficiency, and music history.

The "methods" courses will be tough for me, but there have been some modifications made for me in those areas. The methods courses consist of courses in stringed instruments, in brass instruments, in percussion instruments, and in using the voice as an instrument. Music therapy majors are required to have three of the four methods courses. Since voice is my primary instrument, I will take the vocal methods course. I will also take the percussion course, but instead of taking the brass and strings courses, i will take seven semesters of a mixture of sign language and a nice hodgepodge of things that will benefit me in my therapy career such as psychology courses and special education courses.

There is also a requirement of guitar proficiency, as stated by our certifying board. Thus, the music therapy department will be teaching me, despite all of my dexterity issues, to play the guitar! I am more than excited, and I plan to post videos of the experience to my blog quite often!

Upon completion of my coursework, I am required to spend 1,080 hours in an internship with a board certified music therapist, as stated, yet again, by our certifying board. I'm already looking into internships in Illinois, Ohio, New York, Georgia, and Tennessee. At the termination of my internship, I will move on to take the certification test. Then, I hope to become "Erin Breedlove, MT-BC (Music Therapist-Board Certified)" and begin my Master's program, while working as a Graduate Assistant for my school. After practicing for a few years, I hope to attend Florida State University to obtain my PhD in Music Therapy, largely influenced by my current adviser, mentor, and dear friend.

What kinds of things do you love doing in your spare time?
As a college student, I'm inclined to say, "Spare time? What's that?" In all honesty, though, in the spare time that I do have, I absolutely love to blog. I've just found a sense of community within the blogosphere, and it has really shown me that I can exercise another of my passions, which is creative writing, while educating others regarding an issue that is so near and dear to my heart.

In my spare time, I also work with individuals with special needs in a variety of volunteer settings. Mostly, now, however, it has been in the music therapy and related settings, but I have worked with these special people for seven and a half years, and it has been the best seven and a half years my life has ever seen!

I'm also the president of our organization for disability advocacy on campus in which I am responsible for coordinating awareness activities to educate the campus community in terms of the lives of people affected by disability and the issues facing the disability community.

What's the most important advice you'd give to a parent of a special-needs child?
Never, ever lose faith or give up hope in your child and/or his/her abilities. The going may get tough, and the hope may run short, but your child can sense whether or not you support them, no matter the age. Don't let yourself use the words "You can't" or "You're different" when around your child. Sure, there may be things that they cannot do, and you may know them from a medical standpoint, but let me assure you, friends, that miracles happen each and every day. Frankly, as one of my dear friends says, "What is normal, anyway?"

Your child can sense your support, and there is an endless stroke of gratitude in them when they become independent adults for the times that you didn't lose faith and the times that you encouraged them to be all that they could, despite the limitations that they may have had and the challenges that they may have faced.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Our ski trip: one accident, two happy kids and an OMG pizza

Here's the view from our room at the Clay Brook Hotel at Vermont's Sugarbush Resort. I could have sat on the couch all day and looked out the window. Actually, I did sit on that couch for two days in a row, with my leg elevated. You can guess where this is headed.

Friday was absolutely gorgeous—sunny, thirtysomething degrees. Sabrina went to ski school, Max went to day school (we signed up for Saturday adaptive skiing), Dave and I went out for a few runs. I've been skiing maybe eight times in my life, and I'm still a beginner. I flew down this slope about four times, no prob. Then we decided to try the adjacent slope, called Pushover. How bad could a slope called Pushover be? Well, I hit an ice patch and down I went. My left knee went the opposite way. I managed to ski back to the lodge. The doctor thought I'd torn my ACL, a ligament that is kinda sorta crucial to your knee's well-being. He mentioned I'd need an MRI and physical therapy but I decided to not worry until I see a sports medicine doc when I get home. I am very good at delayed worrying. I am also very good at sitting on a couch. Hanging out after skiing (aka aprés ski, its fanciful name) is secretly my favorite part, anyway.

My souvenirs of the trip and, wow, does my leg look slim in x-rays. I think I need to get myself an x-ray camera, that way I would never look fat in photos.

The living area of our suite, where I aprés skied my ass off.

Sugarbush has a program for adaptive skiing run by Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports. The team was amazing; they colored and played with Max first, so he'd feel comfortable with them before they took him out. They actually try to make the skiing as least adaptive as possible so kids can be their most independent. The three volunteers with Max said that he kept his skis parallel when they slid him around, no small feat. Max had a blast until he caught sight of Dave nearby, and then he was done.

Sabrina had to get used to the ski boots (at least she didn't complain they weren't pink), but once she got past their clunkiness she decided she liked skiing (that's her on the far right).

There was a game room with a pool and air hockey table, a Wii and other toys. Besides being beautiful, Clay Brook is totally amenable to kids, not to mention adults. Vermont's famous for making maple syrup and good cheese, but I'm telling you, they also make some supernice people.

The kids enjoying the jacuzzi. Sabrina, in a rare show of sisterly love, decided to help wash Max.

Max's purple masterpiece. When we picked him up from his first day at the day school, the supervisor asked, "Did you know he likes purple?" HA!

They personalized his boots for him.

One morning, we drove around for a couple of hours. The area had a lot of working farms.

A semi-frozen canal.

A dog got really mad at me when we stopped the car to shoot this.

If you're still skiing when you're over 80, you definitely deserve a prime parking spot.

The area had a lot of great places to eat. We did some cooking in the room, which had a full kitchen. Max whipped up his famous pot o' donuts.

We dined at Timbers, the hotel's nice restaurant, and The Common Man, housed in an 1820s barn (wild mushroom ravioli: yum). Tonight, we got a babysitter, went out to American Flatbread and had the best pizza of our lives.

This is Matt, making the pizzas. His cap is an object of contention; everyone else there thinks it's a strawberry, but Matt maintains it's a tomato. I struck up a conversation with the owner, George, who helped build the clay oven. It's a type of oven made to bake breads, but George had the genius idea to use it for flatbread pizzas. He's a good guy who delivers pizzas every month to a local hospital's pediatric ward. And oh, the pizza! It's a revolution—all-natural, made with organic flour and tomatoes, and lots of organic and locally-farmed produce and meat. The crust is thin, but not crunchy; the slice basically melts in your mouth. We had a cheese-herb-pepper combo, then Dave ordered a mini a chard-potato-corn one. Thankfully, there's a frozen version, in case you're drooling onto your keyboard.

So, that was our trip. Max was into adaptive skiing, Sabrina made good progress, Dave skiied up a storm, my ACL is in dubious shape but I'm walking OK, I am now a certified aprés-ski instructor, and we are all totally relaxed and happy.

And don't I look so svelte in x-rays?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Welcome to storytime

Hello, friends! Merry X-mas to those of you who celebrate it.

Today, I'd love for us to gather round ye olde blogge fireplace and tell a favorite story about the kids—a fond memory, a funny moment, a time your child wowed you, anything that comes to mind.

Here's a Max story:

Back when Max was two and learning to walk, he'd cruise around our house in his Pony gait trainer.

This is it.

Man, Max could cruise in that thing. He'd do lap after lap around our first floor, his little feet working furiously and awe-inspiringly. At the time, I was hesitant to let him use it outside. I had deep concerns about Max fitting in with other kids in the neighborhood, and I thought it would call attention to his challenges. Looking back, it's hard to believe I felt that way, because now I'm of the mindset that if you don't get Max, there's something wrong with you. But there was definitely a lot of denial going on, issues with my own acceptance of Max's condition that I had to work through.

Eventually, I decided to hell with what anyone thinks. And so one glorious fall day, we took Max outside, plopped him in the Pony, and let him go. We live on a dead end, and soon enough Max was zipping up and down it, his usual big smile plastered across his face. And suddenly, all these kids on our block were racing after him shouting, "LET ME TRY! LET ME TRY!" They thought Max was the coolest thing on wheels ever. Max kept giggling; he knew he was cool, too. Later, a mom told me her kid said he wanted "Max's bike" for Christmas.

BTW, I'd offered up this gait trainer for grabs once before, and it's still available because the person ended up getting another. It's size 0, here are the details. E-mail me at if you'd like it, you'd just have to pay for shipping.

I hope you're all enjoying the family time. We're headed to Vermont!

Now, what story about your child would you like to share?


Photo by phanephotog

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Our kids' special powers

It started with purple, Max's new favorite color in the whole wide world. He assembled a bag of purple treasures.

Soon, our house was decked out in purple...

...down to the kitchen sponge.

Max now has three purple cars, two purple shirts, one pair of purple socks, one purple hat, one purple snow coaster and a purple partridge in a pear tree (OK, not really, unless we can track one down on ebay).

Lately, something funny's been happening. People around Max are getting sucked into his purple spell.

Our babysitter, Linette, and Max's occupational therapist, Nafeesa, started wearing purple tops.

Belle, a sweet teenager who reads this blog, saw this tree and snapped a photo because it reminded her of Max.

His teacher made him a purple horse.

[I bought purple underwear, but you'll just have to use your imagination.]

Another reader, Anji, excitedly informed me about The Purple Storean entire store filled with purple stuff.

My friend Lauren came to visit and surrendered her purple sweater.

And reader Kate wrote to tell me that if I had another girl, I should name her Violet.

In a recent post a parent wrote that her child, like Max, has "special powers," and the words have stuck with me ever since. Our kids really do have special powers—powers to overcome physical difficulties, powers to change people's perceptions of kids with special needs, powers to spark people's excitement with their own excitement.

Whatever challenges our kids may face, their spirit shines through.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"M-A-X spells MAX!" says Max. A stem cell miracle? Who knows....

This is the week we're due to e-mail an update to Dr. Kurtzberg, the wonderful Duke University doctor who did Max's stem cell transplant in August. It's been four months, and while she said that if we were to see results they would happen at around the six-month mark, she wanted us to get in touch in December.

I haven't seen any major transformations in Max since the infusion other than his sudden passion for the color purple, not a known benefit. I feel like I've maybe seen some improvement in cognition and alertness, though it's impossible to say whether that's the stem cells doing their thing. It was always going to be a crap shoot: We'd never know whether Max's progress would be due to the stem cells, due to his own natural development, or a combination of both.

You know what?

I don't care.

I'll take whatever progress he makes, for whatever reason. I'm not concerned with the hows or the whys; all the proof I need is in his smile, in his eyes, and in the sound of his voice saying "M-A-X!"

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

There's no business like snow business

Pretty pun-tastic title there, eh?

We had a glorious time in the snow on Sunday, so much so that we booked ourselves a last-minute trip to Vermont for the weekend. We haven't been on a vacation since the Disney Cruise, so we're all really excited.

Max held his own clomping around, I was so proud of him. He's pretty steady when he walks, but the snow can throw him off-balance. Even when he fell, though, he thought it was hysterical.

Sabrina had a meltdown before we left the house; she didn't want to wear the navy blue snow bib I'd gotten for her at Target for the bargain price of $16.99. "It won't make me look beyootiful!!!" she wailed. Yes, tragic, they were out of pink.

After she finished having a tantrum, we baked cookies. Then she realized I wasn't backing off and she agreed to wear the damn snow bib.

For the first time ever, Sabrina went down the hill by herself on a saucer (we got them each a purple one). Max wasn't ready to use his yet, maybe next year.

Max literally squealed when he and Dave flew down on a sled.

Could Max look any happier?

We found a resort that offers adaptive skiing, so we'll be trying Max out on that again. He did OK last year. Sabrina pretty much whined, "I'm coooooold" her entire first time skiing. This kid could win the Olympic gold medal for whining if it were a competitive sport.

All in all, it was a wonderful day, and I can't wait for more snow fun later this week. Not psyched for more whining. Still, it's impossible to truly get upset at either one of my kids. Their cuteness saves them every single time. I'm sure you feel the same about yours!

Monday, December 21, 2009

And the winners of the great pear giveaway are...

...Annalene and Jakiesmom. Enjoy the fruit from The Fruit Company/USA Pears, and may they make your holiday and new year that much sweeter.

I'm done with December giveaways, but they were such a hit that I'm going to do more throughout 2010. For now, you will have to content yourselves with my usual blah-blah-blah, photos of the kids and stories about all their drama. And I have to say, the pics of them in the snow are particularly great (only minor drama involved), they're coming up next.

Opening our kids' eyes to the world around them

Saturday, our town had an adorable Dickens village set up, with cute mini houses, a petting zoo and a horse-and-buggy ride. Sabrina and I went with her friend Nora from down the block and Nora's mom.

Sabrina loved the bunnies.

I scoped out the scene and called Dave; I wanted him to bring Max. We both knew Max might wig out at the petting zoo. We both knew he wouldn't want to go on the buggy ride. And yet we knew we needed to take him.

The truth is, it's usually so much easier not to take Max to new places. He gets scared. He gets unnerved. He cries. He wails. But the thing is, if we don't keep trying, he'll never outgrow his anxieties. And his brain won't thrive. On our last visit to the neurologist, he told us to expose Max to as many new places and situations as possible. His words were, in fact, "he needs significant visual stimulation." To help with his cognition, to spark his imagination, to expand his horizons—all that good stuff.

And so, Dave came with Max. Sabrina ended up going back to Nora's house, and that left the three of us standing there and watching people board the buggy, Max peering from behind a bush.

We tried to coax Max into the pen with the bunnies and ducks, but there were a lot of kids in there and he balked. He was mildly interested in the goats, sheep and llamas, though he was very interested in the horse trailer—he kept pointing to the animals, then to the trailer, hoping he'd see them getting herded inside.

I yearned for him to go on that horse and buggy ride, or to play with the animals. I don't want Max to stand on the sidelines of life, watching it pass him by. But at times like this I have to remind myself, yet again, that it's just me projecting my own wants onto Max. For now, he is happy observing. And that's the best we can do for him—expose him to different sights and let him experience them in his own way.

When we got back home, he had a blast running around in the flurrying snow.

That was his kind of happy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

We have more winners!

The winners of the Arhaus Bon Bon Candles: LV, who will be lighting one of these candles and jumping into a whirlpool with a book and wine; Territory Mom, who will be fipping through channels as she inhales; and JSC 123, who will be relaxing with a candle and a long, hot bubble bath.

Wow. That sounds good—I'm in for a vigorous day of snow play. Maybe I can take a relaxing bath tonight, should some free-time miracle occur.

And now, the winners of the Abaca box of Mighty Leaf tea: Carla, who'd like to read Blue Sky July as she nurses her brew (I have that book and keep meaning to read it) and Sweeter the berry, who's planning to read The Case Against Homework as she sips.


You can still enter to win a box of premium pears from The Fruit Company and USA Pears (2 winners).

OK, I'm headed for the great outdoors now. We got about eight or so inches. Nice!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

First snow, plus the winners of the Nivea, Eucerin & Aquaphor gift baskets

Congrats to Mary and AshleyOhio for each winning an amazing basket of Nivea, Eucerin and Aquaphor. I wish you soft, silky skin all winter long.

Shout out to Anonymous, who wrote the following and should seriously consider a career in advertising:

Oh the weather outside is frightful..
Some NIVEA and EUCERIN would be delightful...
As long as my skin is around the snow
Nivea and Eucerin will make it glow, make it glow, make it glow...

You can still enter to win:

• A box of Arhaus candles (3 winners)

A hand-crafted box of Mighty Leaf Tea (2 winners)

• A box of premium pears from The Fruit Company and USA Pears (2 winners)

It is seriously gray outside my window as I type this, we're due for a major snowstorm—as much as twenty inches. Excitement! Dave and I went to Target last night and got the kids some snow saucers. And can you guess what color they came in and why Max is going to be out of his head with excitement?

Here's a hint for those of you not yet familiar with Max's obsession.


Too-cute photograph with too-cute baby by Shutterblog

Friday, December 18, 2009

Santa Claus: The Interview

I recently found out that my friend Ellen's boyfriend, Scott, is a Santa. But not just any Santa—he is a world-class Santa, an eight-year veteran at A Major Department Store on 59th Street in NYC. So I got him on the phone, and he spilled.

Me: "What are the most popular toys this year?"
Santa: "Girls want Barbies, American Girl dolls, a piano. The boys want Transformers, Star Wars characters, DX toys. Both boys and girls always want dogs."

Me: "What are the more memorable things kids have asked for or said to you?"
Santa: "One little girl asked for a pig. Then there was the kid who said, 'I want a new boyfriend for my aunt!' And one girl the other day, a dead ringer for Eloise, told me, 'My Daddy is coming but he looks like he should be my grandfather, he was married twice before he married Mommy.'"

Me: "OMG! Hey, it's interesting that nobody's mentioning those annoying Zhu Zhu Pets. Who cares?"
Santa: "What are those?"
Me: "My point exactly! So, do kids ever come in with their lists on BlackBerries or laptops?
Santa: "No, no, they still write things out or bring me pictures. Sometimes they'll give me candy, or they try to give me a tip and I'll say, 'Go find someone on the street who's really needy, and give them that dollar in the name of Christmas.'"

Me: "I don't know, I'd take the tip. Kid-ding! OK, got any horror stories to share?"
Santa: "Well, usually an elf will let me know about the next kid coming to see me. So one time, an elf tells me that there's a little boy coming in who's 8 and his parents want me to tell him he wouldn't be getting anything for Christmas cause he's failing math. I start talking to him—has it been a good year for you, what can I bring you and so forth. Then the elf reminds me, 'What about the math?' And I tell the kid, 'So, we're having trouble in the math department. Don't worry about it, you'll never use it, anyway!' His whole face lit up. His parents couldn't say a word."

Me: "Santa, you're my hero! What advice do you have for parents bringing their kids to see Santa?"
Santa: "You never know what's going to happen. Kids may not smile—babies don't understand the meaning of 'Smile!'—or they'll cry. You can't believe the notes kids can hit when they cry! I'll tell them, 'Does the Metropolitan Opera know about you?' A lot of parents come expecting the Norman Rockwell photo, which they probably won't get. But they might get something hysterically funny or very loving or outrageous to send to grandma."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

We have, special treat: an awesome recipe

The winners of the Cheryl&Co. Plaid Tidings VIP Gift Tower of sweets: Carolyn G. and Lynn. Someone from the company will be in touch about shipping out your treat. Enjoy, and save some for me! Ha, ha.

Note, that is not either of the winners above. Keep reading!

In the responses to the giveaway for the premium box of pears from USA Pears, Barbara from Boston asked about a pear butter recipe. Just so happens that USA Pears has a fantastic one, I practically drooled onto my keyboard. And I think Max will go ga-ga for it. Even more so if I dress up like this babe, snapped at some Halloween parade.

Enjoy! It calls for Bartlett pears, but the Anjou and Bosc kind work great, too.

4 pounds ripe pears, preferably Northwest Bartletts, peeled, cored, and cut to 1-inch chunks
5 cups apple cider
2-1/2 cups light brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon powdered clove
2 tablespoons vanilla extract (optional)

• Bring cider to boil over high heat. Cook until reduced to 2-1/2 cups, or half.
• Add pear chunks and cook until fruit is soft and translucent, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a food processor. Puree until mixture is smooth.
• Wash original pan, or use another. Add fruit puree, brown sugar, spices, and stir to dissolve. Bring mix to a simmer, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Cook until very thick, 30 minutes or more.
• Remove from heat, cool to room temperature. Add optional vanilla if using it. (Taste at this point; you may not want to add it.)
• Put pear butter into clean sterilized canning jars, seal with canning lids and rings. Process according to jar manufacturer's directions or in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Photo by Erina753

A trip to the dentist

Let me just say that taking Max to the dentist does not rank among my Top 10 Activities of Fun Things In Life. He's orally sensitive, and hates having his mouth touched. So I tried something new. I booked appointments for myself, Max and Sabrina. I figured if Max saw me having my teeth cleaned, he'd be less freaked about it.

It didn't quite work out that way.

Max watched, fascinated, as the dentist poked, scraped, polished and flossed my teeth. (Question: Why do they not have flavored toothpastes for adults? How come only Sabrina got her choice of watermelon, bubblegum and cherry? Don't adults deserve flavors, too? Hello, Pina Colada and Strawberry Margarita?). Max seemed excited to hear the dentist had a purple bib for him. He loved it when I turned on the water jet to rinse.

Then it was his turn, and he most definitely did not love it. He wailed. I had to clutch him on my lap as Dave held his hands and the dentist did the world's fastest exam. Good thing a bunch of his teeth have fallen out—fewer to look at!

Finally, it was over, and the dentist let Max choose a toothbrush. He picked a Diego one because it had, you guessed it, purple.

Next, Sabrina's turn. She had to lie on my lap and whimper, too, because she didn't want to be outdone by her brother. Max stood guard to make sure she got her fair share of torture.

Then Max got it into his head that my teeth weren't clean enough. So he grabbed the polisher and tried to do some work on them, though he did not bill me for his services.

Sabrina chose a purple Spongebob Squarepants toothbrush. The kids had a big fight when we got home because as it turned out, Spongebob had more purple on him than Diego did.


Who knew a trip to the dentist could be this thrilling?!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday giveaway: Win a box of premium fruit

This is Max's favorite fruit in the whole wide world. The second he tried mashed pears as a seven-month-old, he was hooked. And unlike sweet potatoes, they don't turn him funny colors.

News flash: It's National Pear Month! Other eye-opening bits of info: To see if a pear is ripe, check the neck. If it yields to pressure, it's good to go; by the time a pear gets mushy around the middle, its overly ripe. Oh, and if you want to keep your pears looking great (I like to display a bunch in a glass bowl on our dining room table with cranberries scattered in, so very Martha of me), dip them in a solution of 50 percent water and 50 percent lemon juice. Thanks to USA Pears for those tidbits, and for giving away this Pear Medley from The Fruit Company. Two four-pound boxes are up for grabs, worth $30 each. I've tried these pears and they are sweet and juicy, just like my kids.

To enter, leave a comment below about whether you are pear-shaped (bigger on bottom), apple-shaped (busty), or banana-shaped (slim and tall). I'm an apple, all the way.

BONUS ENTRIES: After you leave your main comment, you can leave a separate comment for each of the following that you have done.
Tweet about this giveaway and leave a comment with your Tweet time stamp (translation for Twitter newbies like me: click on the time below the Tweet, which shows you the URL). You can use this Tweet:
Win a box of premium fruit from @LoveThatMax, 2 winners, ends 12/20,
Follow LoveThatMax on Twitter.
Subscribe to the To The Max feed; you can do that here, or another way, and leave a comment saying how you subscribed.
Join the To The Max fan page on Facebook.
Follow this blog on Blogger.
Blog about the giveaway on your blog or website, and link back here. Leave a comment with the URL.

This giveaway is open until Sunday, Dec 20, 11:59 EST, and is for U.S. and Canadian residents. I'll pick two winners on, announce them on Monday, Dec 21 and send e-mails. Note, if you don't have a Blogger account (or an email listed on your Blogger account) you must leave your email.

Update: This giveaway is now closed.

Can you sew a button?

Last night, I went to a book-launch party for How To Sew A Button…And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew. My friend Erin Bried wrote it after she mistakenly made a Swiss chard pie instead of a rhubarb pie and realized she’d forgotten some important things her grandma had taught her, like identifying vegetables in the produce aisle.

Her granny’s gone, so she interviewed ten others and got their tips on cooking, cleaning, saving, loving, looking good and lots more. The result: a supremely helpful, witty book packed with the kind of homespun wisdom everyone could use. I actually do know how to sew a button, but am otherwise domestically challenged. Like, this weekend, Sabrina polished an upholstered chair along with her nails. My solution: douse an old toothbrush with nailpolish remover and scrub the fabric. Dis-as-ter. My next solution was to flip the cushion over. I’m big into cheating.

Come to think of it, maybe I should start reading the book to the kids at bedtime. Curious George? Feh. They will be much better children if they’d only learn how to make the house smell great (simmer cinnamon sticks, cloves and lemon or orange peel); unclog a drain (sprinkle one-half cup baking soda down the drain, follow that with ½ cup white vinegar, let it fizz for 15 minutes, then pour in hot boiling water); de-squeak a polyurethaned wood floor (sprinkle talcum powder into the cracks); and brew their own beer. There’s also a handy guide to folding a fitted sheet, but I think I’ll be OK if the kids don’t do that though, hmmm, that would be excellent occupational therapy for Max. (You can see Erin do a video demo here).

This book would make a nice present for a friend or relative. And if you get it for yourself and make some homemade beer, or your kids do, save some for me.

Got any great tips to share that you've learned from your grannies?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Max and Sabrina sing Spongebob Squarepants

I just found this on the Flip, recorded by Max's music therapist. Let's just say I'm not the biggest Spongebob fan, but there is something to be said about shouting "SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS!!!!!!!!!!!!" at the top of your lungs. I am going to try that next time I have a crappy day. Although I'd probably wait till I get home to do it.

And, yes, Max has got rhythm!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday giveaway: Win a hand-crafted box of Mighty Leaf tea

Are you the type to settle down with a nice cup of tea and a book? Or were you once the type to settle down with a nice cup of tea and a book, before you had kids? I fall squarely into the "once" category, though it always seems like a nice fantasy.

Here's some help if you also have that fantasy. Because maybe, just maybe, your dear husband will take out the kids one afternoon and you can have that nice cup of tea as you dig into a book, uninterrupted by shouts and whines and runny noses. This Abaca Tea Box from Mighty Leaf Tea comes with 30 tea pouches including White Orchard, Chamomile Citrus, Orange Dulce and Ginger Twist. The box is so pretty; it's made of plant fibers (an eco-good thing) and has a whittled coconut-shell button.

To enter to win one of two, leave a comment about which book you'd most like to read while sipping your tea. On top of my list: What The Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell's latest book.

BONUS ENTRIES: After you leave your main comment, you can leave a separate comment for each of the following that you have done.
Tweet about this giveaway and leave a comment with your Tweet time stamp (translation for Twitter newbies like me: click on the time below the Tweet, which shows you the URL). You can use this Tweet:
Win a hand-crafted box of Mighty Leaf Tea from @LoveThatMax, ends 12/19,
• Follow LoveThatMax on Twitter.
Subscribe to the To The Max feed; you can do that here, or another way, and leave a comment saying how you subscribed.
Join the To The Max fan page on Facebook.
Follow this blog on Blogger.
• Babysit my kids so I can go read my book. KID-DING!

This giveaway is open until Saturday, Dec 19, 11:59 EST, and is for U.S. and Canadian residents. I'll pick two winners on, announce them on Sunday, Dec 20 and send e-mails.

Good luck!

Update: This giveaway is now closed.

My new kind of happy: It's all about the small stuff

On Saturday, I took Sabrina to a birthday party for one of her friends, and noticed an adorable little boy wearing the kind of foot braces Max has. I started chatting with his mom in that instantly candid way you can be with other moms of kids with special needs. Within five minutes, as children around us painted and giggled and dashed around, she told me her son was a preemie, and had mild cerebral palsy. I told her Max had a stroke at birth and also had mild cp. We kept chatting. "I'm grateful for every thing he can do," she said.

I knew exactly what she meant, of course. I take nothing for granted with Max. Nothing. I mean, tonight, my homeboy and I were hanging in bed watching Hip Hop Harry, his latest TV obsession, and all of a sudden I noticed Max scratching his cheek. Only he was doing it with his pointer finger. This is a major deal for Max, to isolate his finger that way, since usually his fingers are held tight together.

It made me happy.

I've been thinking a lot about the topic lately since I'm reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It is an incredibly inspiring, engaging, funny, real, eye-opening book, based on Gretchen's popular blog of the same name. She spent a year testing out different research and theories on achieving happiness, boiling it down to everyday stuff anyone can do. It might be the most helpful book on the topic you'll ever read. It is that good.

Max has redefined what happiness means to me. Before he came along, happiness usually meant a big chunk of pleasure—a vacation, a promotion, buying my first place. Through Max, I have come to appreciate the little joys. Of watching him color, something he only got into this year. Of making him giggle when I chase him around the house. Of seeing his eyes light up when we're out and he spots something purple and exclaims, "UR-UL!" "UR-UL!" Of the wicked grin he gets on his face when he's teasing his sister (I know, it is so wrong of me to be happy about that but I can't help it). Of watching him struggle to try and do something, like pick up a toy, until he figures out a way. Of the beautiful mess he makes when he holds an ice-cream all by himself and eats it. Of the squeal he lets out when he's careening down our street in his jeep as I beg, "Slow down, Maaaaaaaax!!!!!!" (I think he's more amused by my pleading than by the speed.)

Obviously, kids have a way of making you appreciate the "small moments," as Gretchen calls them. But I think those small moments are even more bliss-inducing when you have a kid with special needs. Not that Max (or Sabrina) provide the only small joys I have in my life. Sunday morning, I got to take a long-ish shower; I blasted the shower radio and sang along to The Kinks' "Come Dancing," and that made me happy. As I wrote this I downed three chocolate-coated Oreos, and they made me happy. Then Dave walked in and gave me a neck massage. He gets happiness pointers for trying, but my knotted-up neck is a sorry excuse for a neck right now. Oh, and in case you're wondering, Hip Hop Harry doesn't make me particularly happy, though watching Max try to breakdance does.

So, my friends, here's to those mini bursts of bliss. What has your child done lately that's made you happy that way?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

And the winner of the Tanya Lochridge necklace... NeeNee. Congrats and, as my mother would say, wear it in good health!

Holiday giveaway: Win a box of beautiful home candles

They're almost too pretty to burn, right? From Arhaus, these Bon Bon Candles—made of natural wax—come in strawberry, milk chocolate and other scents. And, yes, you'll want to keep them out of reach of your snack-crazy kids.

I have three boxes to give away, worth $21 each. To enter, leave a comment below about your favorite way to relax at home.

BONUS ENTRIES: After you leave your main comment, you can leave a separate comment for each of the following that you have done.
Tweet about this giveaway and leave a comment with your Tweet time stamp (translation for Twitter newbies like me: click on the time below the Tweet, which shows you the URL). You can use this Tweet:
Win a box of gorgeous home candles from @LoveThatMax, ends 12/19,
Follow @LoveThatMax on Twitter.
Subscribe to the To The Max feed; you can do that here, or another way, and leave a comment saying how you subscribed.
Join the To The Max fan page on Facebook.
Follow this blog on Blogger.
Blog about the giveaway on your blog or website, and link back here. Leave a comment with the URL.

This giveaway is open until Saturday, Dec 19, 11:59 EST, and is for U.S. and Canadian residents. I'll pick three winners on, announce them on Sunday, Dec 20 and send e-mails. Note, if you don't have a Blogger account (or an email listed on your Blogger account) you must leave your email.

Bon (bon) chance!

Update: This giveaway is now closed.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

And the winners of the Starbucks giveaway are...

Shelly, Jenn, Deb, Kari and Deborah. Congratulations to you, and season's drinkings!

I'll be posting a new giveaway tomorrow (teaser: they look good enough to eat), so drop by.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holiday giveaway: Win a $270 basket of skincare products

I know, I'm on a roll with the giveaways. I got it into my head that I wanted to get you great stuff to win, and I worked it! Because you're such dedicated moms, because of the messed-up economy, because it's the season of giving.

I think you'll like this: a gift basket of goodies from Nivea, Eucerin and Aquaphor. There are two baskets up for grabs. Each one includes...

From Nivea: Touch of Beauty Cream Oil Body Wash in Fig Blossom, Touch of Sparkle Cream Oil Body Wash in White Calla Blossom, Touch of Harmony Cream Oil Body Wash in Shea Blossom, Body Age Defying Moisturizer, Creme (travel size and 2 oz.), Natural Tone Hand Cream, A Kiss of Flavor in Cherry and Passion Fruit, A Kiss of Moisture Hydrating Lip Care, A Kiss of Relief SOS Lip Care, Smooth Indulgence Hand Cream, and Body Skin Firming Moisturizer.

From Aquaphor: one 3.5 oz tube, one 1.75 oz. tube, two-pack of small sizes, Baby Wash.

From Eucerin: Calming Creme, Everyday Protection Body Lotion, Calming Body Wash, Gentle Hydrating Cleanser, Q10 Anti Wrinkle (4 oz.), Plus Intensive Care Hand Creme, Plus Intensive Care Foot Creme, Plus Intensive Repair Body Creme, Original Moisturizing Lotion (16.9 oz), and Everyday Protection Face Lotion.

BONUS ENTRIES: After you leave your main comment, you can leave a separate comment for each of the following that you have done.
• Tweet about this giveaway and leave a comment with your Tweet time stamp (translation for Twitter newbies like me: click on the time below the Tweet, which shows you the URL). You can use this Tweet:
Win a $270 gift basket of skincare products from @LoveThatMax, ends 12/18,
• Subscribe to the To The Max feed; you can do that here, or another way, and leave a comment saying how you subscribed.
• Join the To The Max fan page on Facebook.
• Follow this blog on Blogger.
• Blog about the giveaway on your blog or website, and link back here. Leave a comment with the URL.

This giveaway is open until Friday, Dec 18, 11:59 EST, and is for U.S. and Canadian residents. I'll pick two winners on, announce them on Saturday, Dec 19 and send e-mails.

Good luck!

Update: This giveaway is now closed.

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