Life Lived Differently

A Lesson to be Remembered

Today was one of those days when I remember life with Matthew is always different. Not necessarily more challenging than raising one of your kids…just different.

We’re up in the Arizona mountains this week and have been working on yard projects so I told Matthew that we would do something fun today and go hiking. He was all for it and gathered his things as requested ready in short order to head out. This was a surprise to me as Matthew is like many people who believe walking is just a reason to get from point A to point B and that it’s only necessary to get to point B if they have something really worthwhile, like say, French fries.

No matter, I took Matthew’s enthusiasm as a sign of, what, maturity(?) and we jumped in the car. It was only a few miles to the trail head and I was talking about what we might see along the way when we came to the turn off sign. Suddenly reality hit Matthew and he let me know in no uncertain terms that turning off the road was not what he had in mind.

Most of you who know Matthew have not seen some of strong negative autistic traits like hand flapping because they are infrequent but he does do them when stressed or particularly frustrated. And there it was, as we drove into the parking lot he started telling me, “No, no, no…” with both hands flapping.

Still, undaunted and because the little beagle was excited to be on such an adventure, I convinced him to get out of the car…and then out to the trail. The hike I chose was a trail I had been on years ago just before being diagnosed with cancer. That trip we hadn’t made it very far before I pooped out and in hindsight I blamed it on my health, not the trail. So I told Matthew he could make it; that it wasn’t all straight up the mountain; and that we might see some elk or deer.

The sign said it was a short two miles to the springs and hey, we’ve been walking on the treadmill so it should have been pretty easy. Well, maybe it was easy for the dog but for Matthew, it was not so good. Much of the trail was eroded from rains and so narrow that we had to walk single file. Matthew is not brave when it comes to walking downhill when one side has a steep drop off especially if he could not hold on to my hand. But I was determined we would complete the task and my running commentary as we trudged along was filled with positive affirmations and prompts to hang on to the dog’s leash (in Matthew’s case, it is helpful as well as distracting to be responsible for something besides himself) as well as reminders to quit protesting.

Here we are. Oh, I know it doesn't look too bad but you can see the trail is worn down about a foot from the surrounding hillside even on this nice stretch.

Here we are. Oh, I know it doesn’t look too bad but you can see the trail is worn down about a foot from the surrounding hillside even on this nice stretch.

I hoped once we reached the ridge line the hike would become more level and easier walking but it didn’t and gradually I began to realize that with every uphill step how much of a challenge the return going down would be. But the fates intervened and just as we neared the end of the trail we ran into some high dollar mansions built on the top of the mountain. A spectacular view of course, but I knew that those rich people probably weren’t driving a dirt road with their Maserati’s and that we might be able to walk back down the mountain on paved road. Sure enough, with a small amount of trespassing we managed to find a road for this gated and very secluded neighborhood.

Protests and all, it was still beautiful.

Protests and all, it was still beautiful.

As we walked back Matthew decided he no longer needed to cry and the city boy was much more comfortable…until his leg started cramping and I was reminded that those legs have to work so much harder because of how he has to walk.

A challenge in deed. I tried to get Matthew to stop and rest but once we hit pavement his only thought was to find the car, which we finally did.

At the end Matthew was very happy with himself for making the whole trip but when I mentioned that we could take Dad along next time I was met with more very loud protests.

On the plus side, the little dog was a great walking companion but curled up like a pill bug once she reached the back seat of the car. Whew.

So, what’s it like for you? Have you ever said, “Hey, let’s go for a hike!” and everybody piled in the car because they weren’t really listening and thought you said, “Let’s go get an ice cream.” only to realize the truth after you passed Dairy Queen???

Matthew do you want to go on another hike???

Matthew do you want to go on another hike???

By the way, I haven’t yet figured out what Matthew thought we would be doing that was fun, though maybe it was going to the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie, that he would think is fun and he would willingly jump into the car for.

A Family Tradition Resurrected

When I was young the family owned a commercial fishing boat in Southeastern Alaska. Fishing is seasonal and when the salmon are running you’d best be out working if you expect to catch any. With a livelihood so dependent on the fish schools and weather we didn’t take many days off in the summer. But each year on the Fourth of July we would knock off early to celebrate Independence Day.

Where we were and who we were with always varied but one constant was that we would make homemade ice cream. We stored caught fish in a hold covered with ice so the key ingredient of crushed ice was always plentiful. The ice cream maker was hand crank and took long enough to freeze that everyone got a turn, starting with the smallest person and finishing with the strong men as the ice cream got to its final stages. This personal involvement made it taste oh so much better than anything store bought. It was the best.

Fast forward to today. We still celebrate Independence Day with family and friends but over the years we had gotten away from making ice cream. Two kids with lactose intolerance put a damper on the effort needed especially since they couldn’t enjoy the fruits of their labor. Still I’ve continued to have a yearning for the homemade treat. So when I ran across a recipe for coconut pineapple ice cream, made without regular milk I mentioned it to Mom. To my surprise they still had the old ice cream maker and a tradition resurrected.

This ice cream maker is well over 40 years old.

This ice cream maker is well over 40 years old.

The recipe we used came from Pineapple Coconut Ice Cream but we adapted it for our family. It can work for your vegetarian/vegan friends too. Mom had told me that her old recipe called for sweetened condensed milk and we were curious about how this would be replaced until a little research showed us that the Cream of Coconut was not ‘coconut cream’ but a mix used often for Pina Coladas and was a thick syrupy sweet delight with a lot of potential for dairy free holiday treats. I found the Cream of coconut in with mixers in the alcohol aisle. If you buy coconut cream in the ethnic aisle it may be a completely different product more like butter or just fat and without sugar.

1 can Cream of Coconut or use just under 2 cups¾ cup canned Crushed Pineapple drained plus
2 Tablespoons Pineapple Juice
1 1/2 cup Coconut Milk (I use coconut/almond milk)
1 cup Coconut Flakes

This recipe was just right in our 2.5 quart maker. We tried it first with a half recipe and it was fine I think you could easily double it for a larger maker.

You will also need crushed ice and rock salt. Table salt will not work. Bigger cubes of ice will work but are not as easy to handle.  If you are using an ice cream maker, either electric or hand crank I recommend doing it outside because there is bound to be salt water spilled.july 4th 011

 

As far as the recipe goes, mix the ingredients together, best if you can do it ahead of time and then store in the refrigerator until ready to make. According to my folks, a chilled mix is best. We made ours early in the afternoon and then once it was as stiff as we could turn it we transferred the deliciousness to containers and put the freezer until we were ready. Back in the old days we would mix as much as we could then cover with additional ice and a blanket and just let it freeze harder in the mixer.100_3139 100_3142

Just like in years gone by everyone was enlisted to help including the kids and grandparents. Matthew had to be convinced that he should crank longer than 30 seconds but with Grandma’s help he got in his fair share of turns. july 4th 013 100_3150

This ice cream was so easy and so delicious that we will be making it again for our Labor Day festivities. We are excited to add this fun tradition back to our summer holidays. It is guaranteed to add good memories.  If you want to give it a try let me know what you think. And if you use a hand crank mixer be sure to send me a picture!

Are You Accommodating?

Recently we traveled to Southern California. No matter when you visit the San Diego area it’s beautiful but especially in summer and especially for us “Zonies.” It’s a welcome respite when the temperatures climb over three digits as evidenced by the high number of Arizona license plates seen on their freeways.

So there we were with a free afternoon and we decided to visit the Cabrillo National Monument. Regular readers may remember the excitement Matthew gets when he can stamp his National Park Passport (I know, I should have realized this years ago and he could have filled his book by now.)

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the first European to step onto the West Coast of the United States back in 1542.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the first European to step onto the West Coast of the United States back in 1542.

Anyway, off we went to see the monument, watch the navy ships entering the bay and to enjoy the beautiful weather. Oh yes, and Matthew had his passport book.

When we arrived the headquarters to the park was being renovated, retrofitted, to be more earthquake strong. The main visitor’s center was closed but signs directed us to its temporary housing. Right in front of the entrance, was a display case that caught Matthew’s eye. There was a prominent arrangement featuring a junior ranger badge and its accompanying paperwork.

I was somewhat familiar with the Junior Ranger program. It’s for kids who are given an informational paper with questions to be answered as they visit the park. The last time we looked at it was when Rebecca was young and Matthew could sponge his answers off sister to earn a badge.

But it caught his eye so I walked in ahead of the boys and explained my predicament, asking if I might buy a badge for Matthew. There were two people working at the desk. The younger girl just looked at me as if I had a second head while the older man stated quickly that the badges must be earned and no one could simply buy one. So I explained that Matthew does not talk and cannot write but that he really, really liked badges and rangers. The man paused a moment and then said, “Well, why don’t you do the project with your son? It would be a good learning experience for you both AND when you complete the questionnaire you can both pledge to be good rangers.”

Thank you Mr. Ranger!

Thank you for understanding Matthew’s desire and not being stuck in a regulations rut that wouldn’t allow for accommodations.

Off we went; to see the monument, the lighthouse, and to learn about Point Loma.

Raise your right hand and swear...

Raise your right hand and swear…

The questions were harder than I expected…and at one point we had to send Bob back to find an answer but we persevered and we succeeded.

Admiring his new badge.

Admiring his new badge.

The result: as you can see, Matthew took the swearing in ceremony very seriously.

Junior Ranger Matthew with his Cabrillo National Monument certificate and badge.

Junior Ranger Matthew with his Cabrillo National Monument certificate and badge.

After you visit the monument be sure to drive down to the shore and spend a few minutes looking through the tide pools while you watch the ever changing ocean waves and then through the beautiful and humbling Ft Rosecrans National Cemetery which reminds us how many brave warriors died that we might enjoy living in this great country.

 

Junior Ranger Matthew with his Cabrillo National Monument certificate and badge.100_2974

But back to my point… I know that for everyone reading today’s story it’s like preaching to the choir. You already know Matthew and people like him who might need a little extra effort to accomplish their goals. You already understand how important it is to be accommodating. And for all your understanding and willingness to spend those additional minutes we thank you.

 

The Treadmill

It occurred to me the other day when posting the story about my pea soup years that I hadn’t written since the end of January. So, for the three of you who have been wondering about the hiatus here’s the scoop.

Last year Matthew and I started walking on a treadmill. Then summer and vacation took over followed by fall and excuses, etc. so the treadmill stood there collecting dust. After the holidays we (and that’s the empirical ‘we’) decided to start again and get back in shape. We found that 30 minutes a day could work neatly into our schedule and we were set.

Set, that is until the day I talked to my friend Georgann. Georgann has been my inspiration, she is one of these walkers who goes out rain or shine and gets her exercise. We were sitting there talking about walking, I smiling smugly to myself when she pulled out her FitBit which show she had logged in six miles that day.

SIX MILES?

The one and a half mile stretch that Matthew and I were so proud of suddenly seemed pretty miniscule, no wonder we were barely breaking a sweat. So, I decided to step it up a notch. Well, yeah. That didn’t work. In fact, this is what I looked like:

I even thought the treadmill was broken because it kept speeding up but the repairman assured me that the problem was all me. I was not keeping up and dragging the track down and every so often it self-corrected. Through extreme perseverance we ever so slowly improved.  Today some people see us walking on the treadmill now and wistfully mention  they would like to keep up our pace… I remind them we didn’t start on high speed.

But this was the point where our exercise began to interfere with, well, everything else. It took time to find the time in each day. Something had to give…and it was me. Instead of sitting in bed leisurely drinking coffee I had to get up and get going so that I could be done in order for Matthew to hop on for his turn at precisely 8 o’clock. It has to be a 8 o’clock because that’s when Daniel Boone is on and that’s a requisite. Initially, we were so tired that getting our exercise in was the highlight of our day…sheesh, we were worn out.

Finally, after almost six months we’re finally getting there. We have significantly increased our speed, distance and endurance.

Matthew is doing very well with his walking. I was worried because he has a particular gait reflective of his cerebral palsy diagnosis and tight, tight calf muscles. But as my mom pointed out to me, Matthew looks really good on the treadmill. In fact, now that we are paying attention we realize he is walking better on the treadmill even through the up and down hill routine. I’m hopeful this will translate into more balanced muscle tone in his legs and better walking in general. I also finally realized that instead of blaming Matthew’s droopy, sloppy, ill fitting shorts on worn out elastic or his super heavy wallet (the one stuffed with picture gift cards), the truth is that he was becoming very fit and has lost much of his belly. When we went shopping for new shorts we discovered he went down TWO sizes! TWO! No wonder his pants wouldn’t stay at his waist.

Matthew looking fit!

Matthew looking trim!

On the other hand, my progress is a little slower and my pants still don’t fall off. Hey, I’ll still blame the chemo. So what if it’s been over four years? Okay, okay, maybe it’s harder to lose weight when you become a woman of a certain age… But the important thing is we are becoming healthier and in better shape.

I knew you'd want to see my progress so Matthew took this pic for you!

I knew you’d want to see my progress so Matthew took this pic for you!

So that’s it in a nutshell. This is where we’ve been, the whole spring we’ve been putting on the miles and never leaving the living room.

Is a treadmill the best form of exercise for you? I surely don’t know, but it works for us. It took time for me to be comfortable with Matthew enough so that I didn’t have to stand right next to him. I knew that if he ever fell he would not want to get back on.

After all these miles and we also can share what we like and don’t like about the treadmill, about our shoes, and about how important it is that the treadmill is stationed smack dab in front of the television.  In fact, this treadmill was tucked away in the bedroom where it served as a clothes drape for Bob until we moved it. There’s no two ways about it, mindless TV viewing helps the time go by. We’ve decided this exercise is important enough that we even picked up a reconditioned model for our time in the mountains. You are welcome ask questions or even to come by and try out our treadmill, just don’t come when Daniel Boone is on.

Tough Times and Pea Soup? Of course!

I meant to get this written in May but as usual time escaped me. Those who know me can probably attest to my unique filing system. The good thing is that while I always put things in a safe place that is never too be remembered I often run across unexpected items.

Like this picture of a very young mother with her toddler and new baby (it’s from a few years back).mom 1960

The picture belies the challenges faced by this young mom and I wanted to share one story that I grew up hearing.

I was reminded of this narrative because May is both Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday. When I was just six months old my parents adventurously packed up all their belongings and left the then depressed area of New England hoping to find a better life in the brand new state of Alaska. Faithful readers will remember that last year our family made the drive over the AlCan Highway. We were stocked with our satellite cell phone, CB radio, GPS and maps upon maps, a month’s supply of food and every supply we could imagine needing for our trip. We also knew what was waiting for us at the other end. My parents did not have that luxury (and remember this was in the pre-disposable diaper days so Mom was not like but was a Pioneer Woman washing clothes and diapers out at the end of each day…) I can’t imagine their strength or tenacity.

Still, the trip is a story for another day, I promise to press Mom for details. Today’s tale relates events that happened after they arrived in Anchorage. My machinist father found work with the Civil Service, a good job that would allow them to save and buy land for a future home. But, it came with a caveat. The job was in the Aleutian Islands…far, far away from the city. Mom and I stayed in our little travel trailer, family and friends all thousands of miles back in New Hampshire.

The arrangement probably would have worked pretty well except for a snafu by the government (some things never change). Dad’s paycheck didn’t arrive. Pretty soon Mom had used up the savings and we’d eaten all our food. What’s a mom with a baby in the middle of nowhere to do?

Well, fortunately, the new neighbors learned of our plight and like the pioneers of old shared with us. According to Mom, the one thing they had lots of was…

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Dried peas. Yes, a simple but nutritious food that made a filling soup and the dried peas stored well. I don’t know how many meals we had before Dad finally got the word that his paycheck was in limbo and managed to get money sent home. Was it a week? Two? Longer? But, more importantly, how many meals of pea soup could you manage? Would you have given up and gone back home to a more familiar and comfortable place? How tough are you?

As Gregory Peck famously said, “Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.” Today the events are hard to imagine and may even be unbelievable but they are true and as I think about loved ones who are facing enormously challenging times I am reminded of this story. I am reminded of my mom who didn’t give up and went on to live another twenty years in an area that was so wild with moose and bear that she had to keep her .357 always within reach. It was a far cry from the comfortable New England town she grew up in.

Are you going through some tough times? I know Mom is not the only tough person I know. I bet you can outlast the challenges too.

P.S. The picture above is my mom, I’m the cute toddler and my sister is the baby and …

P.P.S. I still like pea soup 🙂

Curried Sweet Potato Soup–a new recipe

Every day around four in the afternoon Matthew starts roaming the kitchen looking to see what is on the menu for dinner. It makes sense then to include him in the preparation and soups are something he is likes to help make. This is a good recipe to have kids help with. 100_2380

Yesterday we forayed outside our normal routine and tried a new soup: curried sweet potato. The soup turned out so delicious I’m sharing it with you.

The idea of curry, especially to my meat and potatoes husband, was a little scary. Some people have warned us that curried foods were hot and spicy. But we are brave souls and there’s always McDonald’s just down the road if the soup was too inedible.

What prompted me to make the soup was that I discovered in our local Sprouts grocery store, a whole shelf of bulk spices. I’ve been shopping there for years and never seen it but I’m sure it’s not new. Anyway, I was able to measure out just enough of the spices and not buy whole bottles that could potentially be tossed if we didn’t like them. Here is the recipe from which I based our soup: Curried Sweet Potato Soup.

This soup is naturally gluten free and can be dairy free if you use just oil for the sauteing and a milk substitute. (If you want to cut down on the fat, don’t use so much :), you can also find light coconut milk at the Asian market or in larger grocery stores. You’re smart, you know what to do.) I used large yams in the recipe and it made enough soup for six…and that’s at two bowls apiece for the boys.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large sweet potatoes (or yams)
  • 2 Tbsp butter or margarine
  • 2 Tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 brown onions, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp of garam masala
  • 1 tsp of curry powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cans of chicken or vegetable stock (I used low salt)
  • 1 lb silken tofu firm cut into chunks
  • 1 cup of coconut milk or regular milk

Things I did different from the original recipe:

·         I have since read several recipes and they all say use sweet potatoes not yams. I can’t tell the difference and yams were on sale so that’s what we used. I also read that you are supposed to roast the sweet potatoes ‘to caramelize and enhance the flavor, well maybe… but I just cut them into big chunks and boiled them. Peel after they are cooked-it’s lots easier.

·         I didn’t use whole celery stalks; I just cut the leafy tops off a bunch and chopped them up. Celery stalks were eaten later, with peanut butter…

·         One thing I did not try but am sure would taste good is some bell peppers.

·         I have seen recipes that talk about choosing a spicy or mild curry. What I found at Sprouts just said curry powder. But, and this may be important…I neglected to write curry and garam masala on the bags so when it came time to make I took a guess that the curry powder was the more yellow one and the brownish one was garam masala. Since you use a tablespoon of one it might make a difference in the spiciness. The original recipe says that if you can’t find the garam masala you can just add more curry powder—just taste it before you go to crazy.

·         I also added tofu for protein. Husband did not know it was there until I told him. I think it adds a nice smoothness to the soup.

·         We did not use coconut milk. We drink almond/coconut milk so I just used this…I think you could add regular milk with the same effect. If your soup is too thick add a little more milk or add some water.

Preparation:

  • Slice the sweet potato into large pieces. Boil in water until tender. Let cool, then peel.
  • Cut up the onion, garlic and celery. Saute in your large cooking pot in margarine and olive oil until tender.
  • Add spices and heat through (if you think it might be too spicy add half and then taste-ours was not at all hot). Add your cut up tofu now. Remove from heat and let the tofu absorb some flavor for twenty minutes or so.
  • Cut up the sweet potatoes and add to your sauce pan, stirring to coat.
  • Add stock, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are very soft.
  • Use your hand masher and beaters or blender to blend until smooth. (I used a hand blender with great results.)
  • Add milk and stir to combine. Heat through.
  • Ladle into bowls. Add a dollop of sour cream if desired and serve with garlic toast.

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Trust me. You will like this.

The Nose

You may remember that it was just over a year ago we lost our much loved Sadie.  It was hard on the family to put her to sleep but everyone agreed it was for the best; her hips had given out and she couldn’t walk any longer.

Those who have had pets know what I’m talking about. There is a strong emotional bond we humans form with these dogs who love us without restrictions. And yes, I say dogs; because I know my cats, who might like me, just don’t have that same relationship.

So, that said, we all grieve differently and we all decide whether to risk attachment and assume the responsibility to another pet at different times. The family, for example, was ready for a new pup last summer but not me.

Still, as more time passed it did seem like we were ready for a new dog. For months Bob had been getting emails from friends to whom he had put out feelers. I managed to ignore them all, until last month. Bob was busy at a job site and without looking had forwarded an email with a picture of “Sadie”.

Really.

A pretty common dog name, no doubt, but for us, one that called our attention.  So I called the lady and it turned out that “Sadie” was a lost beagle whose owner couldn’t be found. This woman was part of a beagle rescue program and had taken the dog because her friend had indicated she wanted one. But, like sometimes happens, when the woman was given the dog she backed away from her statements, saying they just weren’t ready for a pet. The rescuer’s husband wouldn’t agree to their having a third beagle so she decided to seek out a good home for her. Lucky for us.

Sophia Wendt, once known as Sadie.

Sophia Wendt, once known as Sadie.

The only stipulation to getting the dog was that the woman would have to come meet us. She invited me to come see Sadie but I laughed and told her that once Matthew saw the dog there would be no leaving it so she arranged to come visit us and bring the dog along. If we passed muster the dog would be ours. This turned out to be our most exciting Christmas present ever. Of course, we kept the dog and now almost a month later this is home.

While the name Sadie caused us to call initially we decided that this new dog should have a different name so Sadie became Sophia.100_2363

The cats were especially concerned with the idea of a new dog in the house, they too had gotten used to the quiet. Spooky (the black one you have never seen) turned into a giant puffball of fur with saucer eyes. But they are all now, if not friends, at least mutual acquaintances; the cats now allow the dog to sleep on the bed next to them with just the occasional wary glance her direction.

Sophie thinks the pillows are for her exclusive use.

Sophie thinks the pillows are for her exclusive use.

Now that Sophie is more comfortable with us we have learned some things about her. She is gentle and Matthew will tell you she has the softest ears. At about two years old Sophie has had some training and likes to go for walks or rides in the car. As a beagle, she has a definite hound dog howl. She hates to be alone–we wonder if she lived with someone elderly who was always home and liked to sleep in.  And she has a nose. She is always tracking in the back yard and it doesn’t matter if she’s in the upstairs bedroom, if I start cooking she is right there to see what’s going in the pot. You can’t hide a snack because the nose knows.

Someone had food up here...

Someone had food up here…

So if you come to visit, prepare to be greeted by a wagging tale and a howling greeting of a loving dog. Of course, if I’m cooking you’ll find The Nose in the kitchen.

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What’s for dinner???

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