Friday, July 24, 2015

Flying at Half Mast

You will never do anything
in this world without courage. 

It is the greatest quality
of the mind next to honor.  
                                              - Aristotle

My oldest daughter captured this photo today.  The white clouds and the stunning sky made for a perfect backdrop to the flag that was flying at half mast.  She edited the colors in the photo giving it a vintage look.  

The vintage look reminds me of the past.  It reminds me of patriotism, too.  

Patriotism, courage, and honor are admirable qualities.  You hear about those qualities in the people who fight to defend our freedom.  Today, as we saw multiple flags in our community flying at half mast, my daughter and I remembered those for whom the flag is flying.  

We remembered their honor and their courage.  

We remembered their strength and their sacrifices.  

We remembered them, and we prayed for them. 

For their families, for their loved ones, and for those they left behind...we prayed for you as well.  

xo, Cat



Thursday, July 23, 2015

Where My Demons Hide

Every few months I hear a song that reminds me of a friend who took her life.  With the world in full swing all around me, I go numb whenever I hear the song.  I heard the song again this morning.  Hearing it prompted me to share this post.   

I've lost a few friends to suicide.  Learning to live without them has never been easy.  I care deeply about my friends.  I always have.  That's why when one of them passes away, it hurts. That's why when a friend takes their own life, it hurts even more. 

I had so many things running through my head the last time I lost a friend to suicide.  Writing sometimes helps me process things, so I wrote an angry letter.  Writing the angry letter obviously wasn't going to bring me answers from my friend, but I'd hoped that it would help me begin to heal from the sadness, from the emptiness, and from the profound loss.  

Writing helped a little bit, but I will never fully heal from losing someone to suicide.  

 --

Written sometime in the middle of winter a few years ago...

When I got the call that you had died, I couldn’t believe it.  Initially, I was told that you’d gone to sleep and didn’t wake up.  My mind was confused and my heart was broken. 

Died?  No.  She was young.  So alive, successful, beautiful.   

It didn’t seem real.  While my head was trying to grasp the reality of that phone call, I immediately thought back to the last time I saw you.  It was just a few weeks ago.  It was an ordinary day, sunny with clear skies.  We caught up, we laughed, and we made plans for later.  We’d gone to lunch and did some shopping.  We’d spent the whole day together, and we talked about everything. 

Or so I thought. 

Several hours later, I got another call.  My life shattered once again.

She left a note…

Oh, no.  No.  No.  No. No. NO!  This cannot be happening!  Please, not this. 

I was with other people when I got that call.  Smothering a scream, in a matter of seconds it felt like I spiraled through several emotions.  Gasping for air, my sobs turned into rage.  Tears burned down my cheek.  

How could you do this?!    

Your note was short.  You left some of your earthly possessions to friends.  You stated requests for your burial.  I thought how selfish of you.  A reason for leaving was not included.  That, and whatever troubled you, will forever be a mystery.  

The next few hours and days were a blur.  Until I got mad.  I was so mad.  That’s when I sat down and wrote this angry letter.

Hey!  Hey you.  Yeah, YOU.  You don’t get to put your death date on the calendar and then tell us what to do.  You ditched us.  You don’t get a say in how you’re buried.  You don’t get a say in where you’re buried either.  

But you did have a say in how you wanted to be buried.  And I made sure to be there for that.  Those of us close to you would be there to honor you, your life and all of the good that you shared with us when you were alive.  

When you were alive...

I’ll never know the demons that haunted you when you were alive.  I’ll never know why the demons got the best of you or what you tried to do to make them go away.  It devastates me to know that suicide was your best option.  Your death may have come at the right time for you, but it came at the worst time for me. Suicide is final, but it will continue to affect those of us you left behind.  

The hurt that I feel will leave deep emotional scars.  I know that some days will be harder to handle than others.  I know that I'll eventually stop asking questions and stop thinking about what ifs.  I’ll know that I'll learn to live with the sadness and with the pain.  I'll learn to live without you, too.  I hope that at some point I find peace in the process.  But peace is nowhere near me right now.  Peace is the farthest thing I feel.  

I'd do anything to go back to that last day.  That day of shopping, and laughing, and talking.  That was one of the happiest days I'd had in a long time.  I ache thinking about it.  That day.  It was the last day that I saw you.  It was the last time that I said goodbye to you.  I never knew that it would be goodbye forever.  I so wish it wasn't goodbye forever.  

My beautiful friend.  

Miss you now.

Love you always.  

xo, Cat




Friday, July 17, 2015

But Once

This was made for me many years ago.  It hangs in my walk-in closet.  I don't normally decorate our closets, but I love that I see this every morning when I'm getting ready for the day and again every evening when I put my clothes away.


I've been thinking about the saying on that wall hanging quite a bit lately.  It acts somewhat of an examination of conscience for me.  It's actually what helped me to curb the time I was spending on Facebook.

I'm still checking in every now and then on FB, but I'm not spending nearly the same amount I was in the past.  That's because I was finding little good in what I was reading the longer I stayed online.  I didn't feel any sort of kindness, nor did I see much good.  I was seeing the opposite.  I'd walk away from the computer wishing I hadn't read something or seen something or felt the emotions I was feeling.  

Those images and those negative comments may have flashed across my screen but once, but some of them, including the emotions I was feeling, ended up staying with me long after I'd log out.  


I shall pass this way but once
Therefore any good that I can do
Or any kindness that I can show
Let me do it now
For I shall not pass this way again

When I read that quote I am reminded to be conscious of a few simple things:  to do good and to be kind.  Something else that comes to mind lately when I reflect on it is more important - what I say, what I write, what I read, and how I respond to others, even if that encounter is only once, can have a permanent affect.  Knowing that, I'd rather my encounters with others be positive, hopeful, helpful, and charitable.  Not every one will be, but those sorts of encounters are ones that I desire for myself. Those are the ones I'd hope others would want from me as well.  

I shall pass this way but once...online, at the store, in Church, among my community...therefore any good that I can do...for others, for my family, for myself...or any kindness that I can show...to those around me, to those in need, to those I've yet to meet...let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again...

What a great way to live - with goodness and with kindness! I'd like to strive for that.  I'd like to always remember to live like that.  To remind myself to do that, I'm going to continue to cut back on social media, and I'm going to keep that wall hanging exactly where it is.  I've had that wall hanging in my closet for four years now.  I read it at least twice a day.  I reflect on it several times during the day, too.  In the closet it will stay so that I see it when I wake, and so that I can reflect on it before I go to sleep.  


Kindness and goodness ~ may we all encounter those simple acts throughout the day.  

xo, Cat



Thursday, July 16, 2015

Confirmation - You're Doing It Right

I wasn't thinking about an old post when I went looking for an email last night.  The email that I was looking for was from 2004 and was about a Confirmation class that I taught at our Church.  I typed "confirmation" into the search box and hoped the file I was looking for would pop up.  It didn't show up on the first try.  So I tried again.  And again.  And again hoping I still had that email.  

I never found the email that I was looking for, but another email from 2005 kept popping up in the search results.  After the fourth or fifth time seeing it highlighted, I clicked on it.  It was the email that inspired my Older. Wiser? Stronger! post. In that post, I wrote about something that one of Ronan's doctor's had said to me.  I was so nervous during that appointment.  I didn't need to be.  Turns out the doctor found me and my dedication to Ronan inspiring. 

Imagine that!  
2004.  Things were so unclear back then.  We were just learning how to navigate the medical system.  We were just learning how involved we needed to be.  We were also learning who had our back and who didn't.  Dr. H had our back.  That's why I'd sent that email about him to our family. 

(…an excerpt from that email to my family at the beginning of this journey…)
The first day of the interviewing was grueling since I was the one answering countless questions to the early intervention pediatrician, psychologist and social worker.  At the end of the medical exam and history session, an almost hour-long interview of recapping what's going on with Ronan, the medical doctor closed Ronan's folder and just sat in his seat.  He looked like Dr. Freud and I thought I was going to be nailed as that nagging Mom that I am.
The doctor kept quiet for at least another full agonizing minute before saying, "Mrs. Jameson, if you had come into any doctor's office 30 years ago, you would have been kicked out."  
I said to him, "Because no one would be able to diagnose Ronan?"  
"No," the doctor said, "…because you know too much." 
Then he looked at me and said, "If you had come to my office ten years ago and said that you think foods caused behavioral changes I would have laughed in your face."  [He had already commented on wanting more info on digestive enzymes and was impressed they worked—Ronan, at 29.5 months old finally started walking 3 days after starting enzyme and dietary intervention.] 
The doctor still looked like he was going to yell at me, and I sat pensively in my chair.  I thought I was going to get slammed since I knew he wasn't finished.
He slowly looked up at me and said, "If I was a special needs kid, I would want you for my Mom."  
I walked away from that conversation very hopeful.  I was so proud of me and that little boy who is such the sunshine in our lives. Days can be real tough, but we'll keep doing what we're doing to keep Ronan’s little world going round and round.

Thanks for helping send a prayer up for us.
Love, Cathy 

We've had countless doctor appointments since 2004.  Not all of them have been as successful or as hopeful as the one I described to my family.  Sadly, some of the providers we've seen in the past didn't have Ronan's best interest in mind.  Nor did they respect me or my husband.  Some appointments have ended rather brusquely--like the one I describe in my chapter in Autism Beyond the Spectrum.  Other appointments have been a total waste of time and leave us with more questions than answers and with more despair than hope.  

It's hard to bounce back from one of those types of appointments.  There we were ready to listen, to learn, and to do whatever we need to.  Instead, we run into a brick wall in the form of a doctor, a nurse or an administrator who would rather ignore, condescend, and deny treatment or services that Ronan needs and rightfully deserves.  

It's unfortunate that that happens.  When that happens, hope doesn't just fade away, it blows up in my face and leaves me an emotional, weepy mess.  That's because hope isn't constant.  Sometimes it slips away.  

Hope fades away when a therapy doesn't work out.  

When a doctor we've trusted leaves or retires.  

When a program that's been working wonders gets cancelled due to funding.  

Hope also fades into darkness when I'm just too tired to keep it alive.  I may be older, wiser and stronger on some days, but other days?  That's when I just feel older.  And tired.  And hopeless.  I wasn't feeling that way when I stumbled upon that email about Dr. H and his kind words last night, but I'm glad that I saw that email anyway.  I was reminded of so many things when I reread it.  

I was reminded to be confident, to be proactive, to keep hopeful, and to always speak up for Ronan. When I remember to do all of that, Ronan does well.  I do well.  It confirms that as hard as some days are, I'm doing the right thing.  It does something else.  It confirms that others, like Dr. H way back in 2004, can see that I am doing the right thing, too.  

xo, Cat  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mourning Has Broken

Mourning on a Sunday morning.  That's not how I wanted to start the day.  But that's exactly what happened just a few weeks ago...  

With my husband away for the weekend, and with me forgetting to get a sitter for Ronan, I prepared to take all five kids to Mass.  I've successfully taken them to Mass before, so we got ready for Church like we would any other weekend.  After getting dressed and filling our bellies, and grabbing Ronan's bag of tricks, we were ready.  We even had a few extra minutes to spare.  I was proud of us.  

We arrived to the Church parking lot and pulled into the last handicapped spot.  The kids got out of the car as I prepared to unbuckle Ronan.  Before I could do that, Ronan was already signing no.  Then he kept signing it.  

No. No. No. NO. NO.

"Come on, Ronan.  Time for Church.  We're going to say hi to God," I encouraged.  

No. 

"Time to get unbuck--" 

No.

"Hands down, Buddy.  The kids are already out and wait--"

No. 

Calling my oldest over, I handed her the backpack and whispered, "I'm going to try again, but this is not looking good."

Worry settled over her face.  "Mom.  Mom...is he going to be okay?"

I didn't know.  Some attempts to go to Mass have been successful.  Others, not so much.   With our try, try, try again attitude, I told her I'd try again.  

"Ronan, let's go, honey.  We can get a special treat afterwards."

NO.  But his ears perked.  

Special treat.  Special treat?  Special treat!

Shoot.  I shouldn't have said that because now Ronan wouldn't budge.  He thought we were going to get a special treat instead of going to Church.  

I reached in and tried to unbuckle Ronan's car seat again.  I was greeted with Ronan's fingernails and his foot.    

OOF.  

"Honey," I calmly called for Fiona.  "Honey, get the kids back in the car.  This isn't working." 

"Mom, can I try?" big sister asked.

"No, sweetie.  He's really upset now.  I don't want you getting in the mix," I said as I closed the car door.  But Ronan moved his foot and blocked the door.

Signing all done to Ronan, I said, "Hey, Buddy.  Plans changed.  We can be all done.  Let's go home."  

All done?  Ronan was just getting started.  

He moved his foot back in the car, but as I closed the door, he'd stick his foot in the way.  Two more times.  Three more times.  And now with a shoe thrown in my direction as I tried to close the door once more.  Ronan most certainly was not at all done.  

It took longer to leave the parking lot than it did to drive to it.  When we finally did leave, the drive home was worse than the parking lot stand off.  Ronan was full of tears and was far from finished with his massive meltdown.  The meltdown wasn't over when we pulled into our driveway either.  It continued for another 20 minutes.  

Ronan held me and then pushed me away.  He reached for me and then turned away from me.  He tried to calm down and then got worked up all over again.  While working to keep him calm, I scurried Ronan's siblings into the office and asked Fiona to find a Mass for us.  When we've missed Mass due to Ronan's inability to attend Church, we find a link for that day's Mass online to watch.  Mass online will never replace receiving the Eucharist, but it's what we've had to do.  
Fiona called out to me, "Mom, we're ready."  I tiptoed in the office and motioned for her to begin.  The younger siblings pulled the piano bench over and sat down.  I hovered between the doorway and the hallway where Ronan was crying.  It took a few minutes, but things got quieter.  Ronan got quieter.  As he calmed down, he reached up--not to scratch or to protest, but to ask for help.  

As Ronan reached up, I reached down to scoop him up.  He gave me a hug, let out a big sigh and held me.  I held him gently but reassuringly.  I whispered, "Shhhh, you're okay.  You're okay..."  With tears still running down his face, he relaxed and rested his head on my shoulder.   

I swayed with Ronan in my arms.  He didn't fight or wiggle or attempt to get down.  He stayed there quietly holding me and I him.  When he was completely calm, Ronan began to listen and to pray.  As Ronan's tears of sadness were drying, we prayed together.  

We prayed for Ronan.

We prayed for each other.    

We prayed for healing.  

We prayed for guidance and for hope, too.  

And to always have the strength to try, try again. 
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit...Amen.
Mornings filled with sadness, confusion and massive meltdowns are tough to get through. Fortunately, those mornings fade away.  As they fade away, they become a learning moment. They later become just a memory. That memory can last a lifetime, but the moment itself will always been temporary. Thank goodness those tough moments are only temporary.  

xo, Cat

May your morning be blessed today and always. 

One of my favorite songs from Cat Stevens




Friday, July 10, 2015

3 Gluten-Free Casserole Meal Ideas for Busy Families

During the school year I was getting away with last minute meal prep for my family.  I would get so busy (or distracted) that by the time 5:30 rolled around, I'd find myself panicking.  That was around the same time that my kids' tummies would begin to rumble.  That's also when Little Buddy, who could happily eat 24 hours a day would yell out, "Hey, Mom!  What's for dinner?"

Dinner?  

He can't be serious, I'd think.  The kid just ate snack...  

I'd slowly glance at the clock and realize...TWO hours ago.  

Oh, no!  Dinner!

Dang it.  

I did it again, I'd mutter to myself. 
Mom, what's for dinner?
Um...
You'd think that I'd have this making dinner thing down.  I've been making and serving dinner for our family of seven for a long time now.  But, once again, I'd get caught up in something else and lose track of time.  It would be a race against the clock to to thaw some meat, to figure out what to do with it, and to begin the prep work for whatever sides I thought could go with the meal. 

Happily, none of the food I'd end up throwing together last minute tasted terrible.  Quite the opposite!  They were some of the best dinners I'd ever made and garnered lots of compliments--even from my pickiest eater!  But who wants the pressure of racing against the clock to get a meal on the table with five hungry, hungry hippos underfoot?  Not this mama.  

I knew that I needed to make some changes.  

First, was to plan my day better.  Next, was to actually plan a dinner menu each week instead of going by the imaginary one I ignored in my head daily.  Third, was to follow through on those plans.  As I tippy toed into making some positive changes, I could see that things were going to be better.  

Our schedule was smoother, and I wasn't feeling so rushed.  Dinners were plated sooner than usual, and they tasted even yummier than before.  In fact, I was able to add some new dishes to the mix.  Now, before you think I added more work for myself and spent too many hours thinking about what to make, I promise that I didn't flip through tons of cookbooks or scan through hundreds of online recipes to find new meal ideas.  Since I am a work in progress and admittedly, somewhat lazy in the kitchen, I just threw what I already had in the fridge into a casserole dish.  

Casseroles?  How have I forgotten how easy those were?!

Casseroles...yes!  

Here are three of those casserole dishes--all gluten-free, that we rotate (sometimes twice because they taste so YUM) during our busy week:

Chicken Chicken
Measurements are for my family of 7; adjust recipe according to your family's needs

Ingredients: 
6 chicken breasts
1 jar mild salsa (we are wimps, the milder the better)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese


Directions:
Preheat oven
Cut the chicken into cubes and place in a casserole dish
Toss a jar of salsa onto chicken cubes
Sprinkle cheddar cheese over the chicken and salsa
Mix ingredients so that chicken is covered with salsa and cheese
Bake at 350° for 50 minutes 

Serve:  
To make it a full meal, we serve Chicken Chicken with a side of organic rice, a garden salad, gluten-free tortilla chips (we like this brand), and organic sweet corn.

Optional:  
Add a dollop (or three!) of sour cream to the chicken; serve Chicken Chicken in hard taco shells (we like this brand).

--

Cheesy Meat
Measurements are for my family of 7; adjust recipe according to your family's needs

Ingredients: 
3 pounds of ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
1/2 jar mild salsa (again, we are wimps, the milder the better)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:
Preheat oven
Brown the ground beef
Once browned, add packet of taco seasoning to meat (we like this brand)
Place meat in a casserole dish
Sprinkle cheddar cheese over the meat, and then mix
On half the casserole, mix 1/2 jar of salsa into the meat (not all of my kids like the extra flavor of the salsa)
Bake at 350° for 25 minutes  

Serve:  
To make it a full meal, we serve Cheesy Meat with a side of organic rice, a garden salad, gluten free tortilla chips (we like this brand), and organic sweet corn.

Optional:  
Add a dollop (or three!) sour cream to the Cheesy Meat; serve in hard taco shells or use tortilla chips as a spoon to gobble the tasty goodness up.

--

Super Noodles
Measurements are for my family of 7; adjust recipe according to your family's needs

Ingredients: 
2 pounds ground beef
Salt
Pepper
Garlic
Basil
Oregano
2-3 jars of marinara/red sauce (or your own homemade red sauce)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 package gluten free noodles

Directions:
Preheat oven
Boil noodles (we like this brand)
When boiled, drain and pour noodles into the casserole dish
While noodles are boiling, mix spices with ground beef (I don't measure--not because I am lazy, but because I've always eyeballed how much is just the right amount. If you are the measuring type, I would guess a 1/8-1/4 tsp of salt and pepper and 1/2 tsp of garlic, basil and oregano)
Brown the meat in a medium sauce pan
Once browned, drain the fat
Add red sauce to the meat and mix
Place meat in a casserole dish on top of noodles
Sprinkle shredded mozzarella cheese over the meat and noodles, and mix
Bake at 350° for 25 minutes  

Serve:  
To make it a full meal, we serve Super Noodles with a side a garden salad, fresh organic green beans or brocolli, and oven warmed gluten-free bread (we like this brand) dipped in organic olive oil on the side.

--

Those meals, all named by Little Buddy and as organic as we can make them, plus a regular taco night, plus an Italian night (or two) like spaghetti and noodles or lasagna, plus a barbeque night (or two), plus a pizza night (gluten-free, of course) makes for over a week's worth of healthy and yummy meals for us.  
  
Now, these dishes may not be that exquisite or be culinary magazine worthy, but they require more discipline on my part (something I welcomed), and they continue to receive great reviews from each of my children.  The extra praise is nice, and the planning ahead has been good for all of us.  

Planning ahead is loads better than running around like a crazy woman in the kitchen.  Being the crazy woman can be fun every now and then.  But it's never fun when the kids are hungry, when a tired husband who's worked all day is on his way home, and when something as simple as starting dinner thirty minutes earlier can make for a smoother transition to the evening.  

Since life can still get in the way, on that days that I do get dinner started later than usual, or when things get overwhelming, I'm not afraid to toss in the (kitchen) towel and turn making dinner into a game.  My kids love to eat, and they love games, too.  


While I quickly whip up breakfast for dinner,
 the kids run around like silly gooses
looking for food and zombies.  

Those night don't happen very often, but when I tell the kids to hunt for their food while I get a quick dinner made, well, those nights are never boring.  They are actually a lot of fun.

Here's to fun.  

Here's to happy.

And here's to making more yummy dinners!

xo, Cat


--

P.S. I'd loved to have added a picture of each meal, but each time that I make those dinners, we eat them too fast to capture them on film!  I'll add some photos when I can. :) 

I am in no way affiliated with the brands/companies linked in this blog nor am I receiving any compensation for mentioning their products.  


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Rock Bottom

I saw a post about grief being shared by some special needs mamas today.  I'm guessing that each one of us mamas--those raising a special needs child and those raising typical children--have probably had to work through the stages of grief at least once in her lifetime.  I know I have.  

I wrote about grief a few years ago sharing some personal thoughts and experiences of mine in that post.  I chose to write about the topic after hearing it being discussed on a television show.  I wasn't looking for a lesson on the stages of grief when I turned on the show to drown out some of the emotions I'd been dealing with.  But a lesson is exactly what I got after reflecting on those stages long after the show was over:

As the show continued, a character quoted Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and the Five Stages of Grief.  Hearing those stages hit me.  They hit me hard.  So much for relaxing, I thought.  Instead of paying attention to the rest of the show I was thinking about Ronan, wondering about his life and also brainstorming this post.  I contemplated Kübler-Ross’ model.  It suits more than just for those who have suffered a loss through death.  The five stages, although not always experienced by every individual, nor followed chronologically, made sense to me.  As the parent of a child with special needs, especially knowing that my child was typically developing for a period of time, it does fit the criteria of a terminal loss.  I should note it’s not so much the physical death of a child I was reflecting upon because, thankfully, my son lives and breathes.  But his abilities and his disabilities remind me daily of loss, loss of what he can do and what he can’t do.  Sadly, our community has witnessed deaths resulting from issues with autism.  But my original thoughts about Ronan’s great needs and of what could have been, and later what should have been had I known more – yes, those. They exist.  They are true.  They are real.  They are unfortunate.  And for many, these issues could have been prevented. 

Grief is not an easy subject to talk about nor an easy emotion to work through.  I've been mostly successful in moving through the stages and cycles of grief as I experience them, but not without support, extra prayers, and the will to get through them.  I don't have one set strategy for each stage (or for the others that Mary mentioned in her comment after my post) but I am thankful that when I start to feel overwhelmed, when I sense a feeling of depression coming on, or when I think that giving up seems loads easier than pushing through, I at least recognize that things are getting bad.  

Knowing that I've hit rock bottom isn't the best feeling in the world nor the best place to be, but when I hit that dark and dismal place, I recognize it.  Not only that, I know that I will soon realize that after hitting rock bottom, the only other direction I can go is up.  

Looking up gives me resolve to get up.  

To do something.  

To try again.

To always remember to try, try again.  

A process, grief and all that comes with it is one of the hardest emotions I have had to work through.  I know that I very likely will experience grief several times as a mother.  I know that I will learn from it each time I experience it.  I also know that no matter what brought that grief on, I will always try, try again.  That seems to be my motto:  try, try again.  With all that we've had to handle, it's a good one to live by.  It's one that I don't plan on letting go of any time soon.

xo, Cat


If you have any strategies for what's helped you through the stages of grief, please share them in the comments section below.