Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year in a Word

2014. Yikes. I remember when my high school graduation--1997--seemed eons away. And now... well, now it seems eons away also, but in the opposite direction.

I've never been huge on New Year's resolutions, but last year I decided that January 1 seemed like as good a time as any to make some changes. Instead of making a list of goals, though, I chose a word to focus on for the year. My word for 2013: Intentional. I picked 4 areas in my life that needed some attention, and decided to spend the year intentionally focusing on those themes. Did it work? Yes--when I actually stayed focused on them. Some areas saw more improvement than others. But overall, it was a success. The one-word focus simplified my thoughts and goals and even day-to-day decisions.

I hadn't really planned to do it again, but over the past few weeks, one word has been gnawing at me. I've been thinking about it, dreaming about it, talking about it... and I think I have found my focus for 2014.


This year, I will be planning and acting and choosing with the word growth in mind. Specifically, I want to grow as a wife, as a mother, in ministry, and in my own personal spiritual life. I will make some more concrete goals in some of those areas to help me keep on track (I learned from last year that this is the key to my success!), but just having that word in mind, that singular focus, will help me to filter decisions and opportunities that come up.

So take a look at your goals for this year, whether formal or informal. Is there a theme? Could you sum up your aspirations with one overall topic? What word could you use this year?

Happy 2014!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Cookin' it up at Christmastime

It's Christmas Eve! And after a brief warm spell, I woke up to find SNOW on the ground this morning! All is right with the world.

I love Christmas cooking. I love cooking in general, but cooking at Christmas is especially lovely. I know it's late, but I thought I would share the recipes I'll be making over the next couple of days.

First, dinner tonight. We have to leave for church before dinnertime, and we won't be home until bedtime... so I decided to make a big pot of soup that the kids can have before we go, and then we can keep it on warm during church so that maybe they can grab another bowl while we read before bed tonight.

I'm making this for Christmas Eve, but if you're going to have ham in the next couple of days, this is a fabulous thing to make with the leftovers. And my kids LOVE it! In fact, Lamb just hugged me and thanked me because she could smell it cooking! Oh, and it is SUPER easy, which is always helpful at a busy time of year.

Ham & Bean Soup, Zookeeper Style

1 small onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1-2 stalks of celery, diced
2 tablespoons butter
3 cans (15 1/2 oz each) Great Northern Beans
2 cups cooked ham, diced
1 can chicken broth
1 bay leaf
salt and white pepper to taste

Cut up veggies. Melt butter in large saucepan, add veggies and sauté until tender-crisp. Rinse beans. Mash 1 can, keep the rest whole. Add beans, ham, and broth to pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer; add bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Simmer until heated through (or until ready to eat).

See? Simple. And so, so, so good. Tonight I am serving it with French bread, but I often make corn bread to go with it. Mmmmmmmmm... I'm hungry.

Next up: Christmas morning. For this, I am making two recipes I found online. They are both recipes I have made before, and they are BIG HITS! The eggs nests were a little intimidating to me at first--it seemed like an odd mix of ingredients--but trust me, the flavors come together AMAZINGLY.

In an effort to save a little time (because there are about a thousand other things I'm supposed to be doing right now), I'm just going to post the links here. PLEASE take the time to check them out. They are delish.

Brunch Egg Nests
Breakfast Casserole

And for Christmas night, our newest "tradition." (We've made this the last two years, and Lamb insisted that we make it again... ON Christmas night... AT my mother-in-law's house. She is adamant that this is tradition and we can't change it!) We will be at my mother-in-law's, and she will handle dinner, but this is a fun little dessert. The green gel and the smashed candy canes (I use strawberry) make it sophisticated-looking, which the kids (and grown-ups) love.

North Pole Strawberry Smoothies

So those are my big dishes for the next few days. What's on your menu???

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Last-minute gift ideas for special kiddos

Christmas is in a week! A WEEK! And this post is long overdue. I'm sorry. But better late than never, right? I, for one, still have some Christmas shopping to finish up, so I'm hoping I'm not the only one.

Buying gifts for kids can be surprisingly tough. You'd think with the millions of options out there, it would be easy to pick up anything and everything--and in some ways, that's true. But finding something meaningful, fun, and useful--something that will really be enjoyed and not just be more stuff--can be a challenge.

And then you get to the bonus round: buying for a child with special needs. What on earth am I going to do now? you ask me. As if it's not hard enough to buy for a typical kid, who wants typical things just like their typical peers; now I need to find a gift for a kid who doesn't necessarily act like his peers, who may not be able to play like his peers, and who might not even be able to communicate like his peers! What on earth do I get that kid?!

First of all, take a deep breath and relax. Quit freaking out on me already. We'll get through this together.

Disclaimer... Keep in mind that Roo is 3 years old. I am going to give you my thoughts on this topic, but it may vary if you are talking about an older child or adult with special needs. I can only speak from three years of experience, after all. :-) Also, some of these suggestions are tailored specifically to kids with Down syndrome. Again, I'm writing from my own experience here.

I'd like to offer you some general buying tips, and then I'll give you a few suggestions from our favorites. Are you ready? You might want to write this down... oh wait, I'm doing that for you. Well, then, have your printer ready or something. Here we go...

Tips & Tricks

  • Ask mom or dad. This is a perfect example of how much kids with special needs are like their typical peers. I have 5 nephews and a niece (none with special needs), and I never know what to get them for birthdays or Christmas! Every year I ask their parents (or them, as they get older) for gift ideas. Sometimes we may feel awkward when a child with special needs is involved--maybe you think asking a parent for gift ideas will point out how different their child is. But no, it just shows that you care and want to get something the child will like. Ask away!
  • Stick with the chronological age on toys. If you haven't gotten suggestions from Mom or Dad and you're standing in the toy section at Target, buy a toy that coincides with the child's chronological age. Even if the child isn't ready for the toy yet, chances are they will be one day. Buying a toy for a younger age range--again, unless the parents have suggested it--can be risky, because you may unintentionally insult the parents with a message of "I think your kid is just a big baby." Better to help them plan ahead than to assume that they are behind.
  • Bring on the bling! Colors, lights, songs, sounds--the more, the better! Sensory stimulation is great for all kids, but especially for kids who have developmental delays. For example, because babies/toddlers with Down syndrome are less mobile than their typically-developing peers, they are likely to play with a smaller amount of toys for a longer time--they can't run from toy to toy to toy like their friends. So a toy that is more stimulating gives them a bigger "bang for their buck" while they're playing.
  • Check for the catalog. Toys R Us has a great catalog specifically designed for differently-abled kids. They do a great job of giving ideas AND of explaining the educational and/or developmental benefits of each item.

Great Gifts for Special Kids (and aren't they all special?) ;-)

Here are a few of our favorite things we have:

The Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Musical Table
We have an older model (Ours originally belonged to Monkey), but Roo loves it! Before he could stand, we gave it to him without the legs (and then added them later, obviously). This table offers great options for songs and sounds, and it has held up great for almost 6 years!
A case is available for the iPhone/iPod and for the iPad. We only have the iPhone one, and it is heaven sent! Roo loves to play with apps on my phone... and he also loves to throw. This case lets me give him my phone without raising my blood pressure the entire time he has it.

iTunes Gift Cards
While admittedly not as fun as giving toys, gift cards for apps (and songs!) can be a fantastic gift for kids with special needs. Kids love to get on the iPhone and iPad (see the gift above), and there are some great educational apps out there--but not all of them are free. In fact, some can get really pricey!
Roo got this for Christmas last year, and it is great! It is colorful but simple. There are a variety of ways to put the coins in, which provides good fine motor skills practice. There is sorting and matching. And when you're done, all of the pieces can be stored in the cash drawer! Love it!
Chunky Puzzles
Kids with Down syndrome tend to have delayed motor skills, so activities like puzzles provide a fun way to hone those skills. We especially love the Melissa & Doug line, like this one...
Balls, balls, balls!
Roo loves to throw, so balls are one of our favorite things for him. But balls are a versatile toy--they can be played with by one person or a whole group; they can be thrown, rolled, bounced, sat on, tossed in a basket, hit with a bat or club; they can be big or small; they are an all-around blue ribbon winner! Two years ago, my brother and sister-in-law got Roo a set of these sensory balls, and I love them (and so does Roo)!
Another basic and classic toy, it's also another favorite in our house. Sorting, matching by shape, matching by color, and more! Kids who don't have the fine motor skills to put the shapes in the correct hole can take the lid off and just practice dropping them in the bucket. And dumping them out is always tons of fun!
Roo absolutely loves playing with Monkey's myriad of remote control cars, but he can really only handle one or two buttons. These remote control cars are great for little ones.

Other ideas

Here are some more great ideas. Some are basics, others are things on Roo's wish list that I can't personally review (yet), but all would be great ideas...
  • Books
  • Color-sorting toys (like this one from Lakeshore Learning)
  • Prewriting skills toys (this one and this one are on Roo's wish list)
  • A small trampoline with a handle
  • Play-doh or theraputty
  • Sing-along CD player
  • Kid-friendly tablets (Roo is getting the LeapPad Explorer for Christmas, so stay tuned!)
  • Foam or wooden blocks
This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it's been helpful. What are your shopping tips or gift ideas? I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

When your words come back to haunt you

If you are at all familiar with my blog or have heard me speak, you know that I feel strongly about letting go of expectations. Sometimes we have to let go of the "should be"s of life and accept what is. It feels scary, but it is so freeing when you finally get there.

Sometimes that's easier said than done. And I'm not even talking about the big, scary circumstances of life... like, say, finding out that your 3-month-old has a chromosomal abnormality that is going to completely rock your world. No, I'm talking about the day-to-day things, like... well, let's just say for example, you want to put up Christmas decorations and do some cleaning, and you have a very sick and clingy 3-year-old and you can't get anything accomplished.

Not that that has ever happened to me. Or is happening to me today. It's just an example I have pulled out of thin air, obviously.

OK, you got me. It's a true story. You know, that's happening to a friend. Let me tell you her story.

This friend of mine has a little guy who may or may not have thrown up in the van on the way to my her speaking engagement yesterday. And he has had terrible diarrhea ever since. Today it's to the point where the poor guy won't even sit down--he just squats all of the time. He's pretty happy, other than the 20 or so times a day that he's getting his diaper changed. And he won't eat a blessed thing. Poor sweet boy.

In the meantime, the house is full of bins of Christmas decorations. And the kids' rooms are overflowing with toys that need to be sorted through and pared down to prepare for the onslaught that is called Christmas. And her new office is full of bags of things that need to be donated and files to sort through and various junk that has just found its way in there. And her garage is still full of stuff from when the basement flooded this summer. And she didn't plan to change diapers every 15 minutes and search for the best cures for diaper rash and coax her sweet child to eat just one.single.bite of applesauce or yogurt or just about anything.

And she got a little overwhelmed.

Then she remembered the talk that she gave the day before, the one where she says that each of us is created for a unique purpose. The one where she says that we have to let go of our own agenda and recognize that what seems like "Plan B" to us is often "Plan A" for God. He's got this. Life may take a different turn than you expected, but God had it in the plans all along, and He will use it for good. Embrace it, don't fight it.

Then she realized that this may not be limited to big-life scenarios. Maybe she needs to let go a little. Maybe the source of her stress isn't really the things on her to-do list, but her unwillingness to change her timeframe. Maybe God's plan for today doesn't involve snowglobes and wreaths and cleaning. And maybe, just maybe, if she embraces her day rather than fighting it, she'll be pleasantly surprised at where it takes her.

Maybe she should take her own advice more often.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a sick little boy to snuggle.