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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Birthday Cake - A Life Lesson

It was the best of cakes.  It was the worst of cakes.  It smelled and tasted wonderful but looked like an unholy nightmare.  But in the end, my son had an awesome birthday and a cake that made him happy.  Creating the Birthday Cake also resulted in some interesting life lessons for me. 

Yesterday was a blur of activities that culminated in servings of birthday cake for my 6-Year-Old's celebration.  The process of creating the cake is what I want to share with you.  First of all, I am not a cake decorator by any means.  My mother was the cake angel when it came to birthday celebrations (and an assortment of other special events.)  My sisters Nancy and Joy inherited the creative genes when it comes to confectionery delights.  Cake baking and the subsequent artistic requirements of frosting are far removed from my repertoire of motherly skills.  Here's what happened...

Yesterday began with my usual chauffeuring duties of getting everyone to work and school.  Nathan had another doctor's appointment to check his blood pressure.  Once again , it was high.  More medication was added to his regimen.  I wondered if there would be time to swing by the store to pick up the items needed for cake baking.  Nathan said, "We can do this mom. Let's go."  So we raced into the store and purchased everything needed to bake, frost, and decorate a cake for Sebastien.  Everything was loaded into the car with just enough time left to get to Sebastien's school.

Sebastien had asked me to have lunch with him and bring cupcakes for his classroom.  So Nathan and I arrived just in time to share this special moment with Sebie.  We ate lunch together, watched him play during recess, and then returned to his classroom to distribute miniature (store bought) cupcakes.  By the way, it's a good idea to take a container of wipes to help clean frosted faces and desktops. We departed from school and returned home.  Just enough time to bake the cake before returning to school to pick up Sebastien.

Now, I'd like to say that the warm weather or the altitude played into the cake fiasco that followed.  However, I must accept full responsibility.  First of all, I used two boxes of cake mix that carried two different sets of directions.  I didn't realize that one box requested oil and the other seven tablespoons of butter.  So adjustments had to be made given our time constraints.  I planned to use part of the cake mix to create a separate smaller cake.  This would get cut it into the shape of Thor's Hammer and sit on top of the larger base.  (It's all about the super heroes right now.)   After considerable adjustments to the oven and careful timing of the cake, two pans with beautiful Golden Butter Cake emerged that looked and smelled wonderful. I was hopeful.

We left to pick up Sebastien from school.  He entered the car with a happy, content smile as he excitedly told me he couldn't wait for tonight's celebration.  The boys and I proceeded to our next destination and picked up their dad.  Both children were asleep by the time I got to his work and continued to sleep after I dropped him off at home.  Next stop:  Middle School to pick up Isabella.  She too looked like it had been a good day for her.  We returned home and I began to work on the cake, which had time to cool off.  I set up my supplies and began to turn the pan over onto another larger sheet cake pan.  It gave me plenty of room to work my "magic." 

Then... disaster struck.  Part of the cake stuck to the pan.  (Yes, I had properly sprayed it to prevent sticking...but forgot to dust it with flour as well.)  I could have stopped there and just iced the large cake.  But I went ahead and figured out how to cut layers as I had planned.  Using a strand of unwaxed dental floss, I was able to create a nice division of the fragile cake.  (Keep a roll of floss in your kitchen just for cooking purposes.  It works great.)  I had to then piece together a puzzle of cake layers using a mixture of melted strawberry jam and frosting.  It took lots of patience, but I finally managed to get that thing together...all three layers. 

My main problem now:  What to do about Thor's Hammer.  The layer I had planned to use for the Hammer was needed to add an extra layer to the cake and hold everything in place.  I created a template in the shape of the hammer and called my brother who was on his way over for dinner.  "Do you have any sprinkles or food coloring?"  He didn't, but managed to find sprinkles at a store.  We added the sprinkles in the template then removed it to reveal..."Thor's Hammer!"  Uncle Nicholas had also brought small superhero figures which we added.  And the cake was complete!  We put it into the fridge to set while we went to dinner.

When we arrived home, it was present time.  I removed the cake from the refrigerator and let it sit for awhile to reach room temperature.  Then I offered everyone a slice of cake.  It was delicious.  The layers looked nice and didn't fall apart.  It wasn't the most beautiful cake.  It wouldn't win any prizes on the "Cake Boss" or allow me to have my own show on "Food Network."  But Sebastien was happy and content with his mommy's efforts, and that's good enough for me. 

Life Lessons by Cake:
  1. It's ok it you have to make adjustments to original plans.  It allows you to demonstrate another type of  creativity as you are problem solving.
  2. It's never a good idea to compare yourself to someone else.  Everyone has different skills and abilities, so give yourself a break.
  3. It's ok if your product is not picture perfect. 
  4. Making the effort is part of the gift you give of yourself.
  5. It's a great feeling of accomplishment when you finish a project that has been a challenge.
Have a Wonderful Long Weekend and Enjoy some Cake

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Get 'em in bed - "Catholic Style"

Apologies if this blog title mislead you in any way.  Let me reassure you that my subject matter is pure, virtuous, and completely appropriate for public viewing.   I wanted to find a way to share my technique for getting my children to bed last night.  Bedtime is an on going dilemma that necessitates  a dramatic approach at times.  Last night was no exception.  My two boys do not like sharing a room and have very different activity levels and sleep habits. Nathan, age 8, is willing to go to bed on his own when he becomes tired.  He has a moderate level of energy compared with his more active sibling.  Sebastien, age 6 (as of Friday), is much more animated.  He would be perfectly happy to bounce, do back flips off the mattress, and complete wall climbing flips that rival that of Jackie Chan's maneuvers during Rush Hour.  Sebastien has a hard time settling down and has been known to stay awake until well after 10:00 P.M. 

Last night I made sure Sebastien had a relaxing bath and story time prior to bedtime.  I began my prompts well before 8:30 so he had the appropriate "sensory cues" needed to begin his descent into dream land. We proceeded to the bedroom where night time prayers were said, little faces were kissed, bodies were reluctantly tucked in for the night under covers, and lights were turned off.  That's when the "Resistance" emerged.  Giggles, tumbles, rolling over, and verbal exchanges between the brothers ensued.  I could feel my frustration bubble to the surface.  I really wasn't in the mood for confrontation yet again.  So...I reverted to a favorite technique.  Prayer!

Whenever I am stressed, I fall back on what is familiar and comfortable.  I learned it at home as a child and it was reinforced during my years at Catholic School.  I began to say the Rosary.   "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee."  I started in my normal voice so that they could hear what I was doing.  Nathan giggled, "Mommy's saying the Hail Mary again."  Sebastien continued to attempt his own version of entertainment.  I ignored his distractions.  By the second decade of "Hail Mary's" followed by "Glory Be"  and then an "Our Father" to start it all over again, the boys said, "Please mommy...stop praying."

I calmly advised the boys that I planned to keep reciting my prayers until they settled down and were quiet. As I continued to pray, I adjusted my rate of speech and began to lower my voice.  By the fourth decade I was at a whisper.  My soft, meditative "Ring around the Rosary" continued as I ignored any movement or comments from my sons.  I decided to recite every prayer I could think of that I had memorized from Catholic School.  Before long, I realized that Sebastien had fallen asleep with his tiny arm wrapped around my arm.  I heard a deep sigh follow by what sounded like a loud snore. I looked over at his brother and saw that Nathan had also succumbed to my litany of sleep routine.

Since my years at Catholic School I have had the opportunity to learn about "free-style" prayers.  I love the opportunity to feel as if I can talk to God more directly.  I also appreciate the value and importance of the more "repetitive" prayers that were memorized from childhood.  In times of stress, the repetition can be a source of comfort and allows you to meditate in a different way.  I am encouraging my children to explore both methods in an effort to help them learn how to cope with the many challenges they will face in life.  Learning to get to bed on time is only one of many.

So that's how I got my children to go to bed and fall asleep "Catholic Style."
Information on How to Pray the Rosary:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Another answer to "Why Did I End Up Here?"

So many times I wonder why things happen the way they do.  This summer was one I will always remember.  My previous blog entries explained how I took a vacation and ended up relocating to another state.  The series of unplanned and unpredictable circumstances left me feeling confused at times.  I had to push away moments of self-doubt and feelings of guilt that I had disappointed my family.  Challenges have a way of doing that to a person.  Here's what I hope to share with you today...

There is usually a plan and reasons behind unexplained detours.  In time, the reasons are revealed and the answers to , "Why did I end up here?" are clarified.  Last Wednesday was my time to have some of those questions answered.  I can't begin to tell you how relieved and grateful I am that God had a bigger plan in mind for my family than I could have ever imagined.

All of my children have had problems with asthma.  Last year my son Nathan struggled the most with asthma related symptoms.  He frequently needed to use inhalers and a nebulizer when his breathing was affected.  Often, he experienced facial swelling and fevers that prompted several visits to the Emergency Room.  Each time, he was given breathing treatments and Prednisone, a steroid, to treat his symptoms.  His Pediatrician reassured me that the swelling resulted from the asthma.  I asked if there could be something else wrong beside the asthma, but was advised that many children have similar symptoms from asthma.  We continued to treat Nathan with Ventolin inhaler as needed, Flovent 2x/daily, and Albuterol via Nebulizer at night when his coughing was severe enough to keep him awake at night.  This went on for over one year.

During our stay in Colorado this summer, the children experienced reduced asthma symptoms.  None of them required Albuterol via Nebulizer. Their need for inhaler treatments significantly decreased.  We only used the inhalers 2-3x all summer.  It was wonderful to have an illness-free summer.  Due to our "spontaneous relocation" requirements, I ended up reapplying for health insurance in Colorado.  I immediately arranged medical appointments for all children since we needed to have a place to transfer medical records from Georgia to Colorado.  The appointments were scheduled just in time.   Nathan was diagnosed with a chronic medical condition that will require on-going monitoring.

A little over one week ago Nathan began to retain fluids that made his face, legs, and stomach swell more than we had ever seen before.  Thankfully, he had an appointment scheduled for last Wednesday.  I told the doctor that our previous Pediatrician had treated his Symptoms as if he only had asthma.  I told her that I felt there was something more going on.  She checked him thoroughly and asked for a urine specimen.  Sure enough, he was spilling proteins and blood into his urine. 

Nathan was diagnosed with  Nephrotic Syndrome   which is a type of kidney disease where there is loss of protein in the urine.  When protein is lost from the blood, there is swelling of the face, arms, legs and abdomen as fluids leak into these tissues.  The cause is uncertain.  The doctor told me that taking him to the Emergency Room where he was given Prednisone (a steroid) probably kept him from going into kidney failure.  I wish his previous Pediatrician had been more aware of this disease!  I kept thinking, "What if I hadn't taken him to the ER as often as I did?"  A mother's instinct should always be taken seriously! 

I am relieved to finally have a reason for Nathan's frequent trips to the ER.   I am grateful for all the challenges I faced this summer.  I am appreciative of this opportunity to reorganize, reconnect, and reinvent my family life here in Colorado.  Most of all, I feel blessed that I trusted myself to take care of my family and take a huge leap of faith in remaining here.  I believe I had to be here so that I could establish a better network of medical care for my I had struggled to maintain in Georgia.  (Our health insurance situation there was tenuous at best.)

Nathan's swelling has already decreased since he has been taking the Prednisone. His Pediatrician is also prescribing a medication for high blood pressure and to prevent stomach irritation...side effects of the Prednisone treatment protocol.  Thank God we found a good Pediatrician who identified the problem.  So, if anyone asks why I ended up here....I'll say it had to be part of a bigger plan for our family. 

Update as of 07/08/2016

Nathan has been doing extremely well since his diagnosis three years ago.  His symptoms have been in remission for almost 2 years now, but we continue to have him tested every time he gets a cold or infection.  Thankfully that has been minimal.  He will need to continue being vigilant regarding this condition, but we feel hopeful that things are going well.  That first year of his treatments was challenging, as he required weekly visits to the doctor to check on medications.  


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Blessed - Patience Rewarded

Patience is one of the greatest challenges I face.  I'm sure I'm not the only one.  I struggle with this on a daily basis.  I wish things happened with a little less drama.  I would love to go an entire day without feeling like a drill sergeant with my children.  And I really want to be more tolerant of individuals who refuse to put on their turn signals, cut me off in the parking lot, or insist on smoking near the open door to the laundromat where my just cleaned clothes risk absorbing some of that lovely aroma.  (All three of my children have asthma, so I am especially impatient with running through the gauntlet of smoke.)

Patience is often in short supply.  I have searched high and low to find a warehouse that provides extra, bargain-sized helpings of this commodity.  Alas....there is none to be found.  I even have a hard time finding it at church, if you can believe that.   (My children are known to pick this particular time of the week to test the limits of my motherly love.)  The one place I thought I could regain a little of my love for humanity and revitalize my tired spirit is often the source of further aggravation as my children continuously ask, "Is it almost time to go?  Is mass almost over?  How much longer Mommy?"   I know this stage won't last forever, so I continue to go, pray, and hope life will become a little more relaxed if I keep trying.

Patience.  I search for it, hope for it, and long for it like a person who is directionally challenged dreams of a state of the art Global Positioning System for a long road trip.  (I am actually quite directionally challenged and fond of Map Quest and similar resources.)  So imagine my surprise when I checked my bank account this morning and found that my former employer had indeed decided to pay my vacation time!  I had a great conversation with the owner a couple of weeks ago, and was relieved to clear the air regarding the miscommunication surrounding my vacation pay.  (See three previous blog entries if you missed them.)  I was informed that they had decided to pay my vacation time, but until I saw it posted I didn't want to get my hopes up.  I feel very blessed today. 

Sometimes when things go wrong, it's easy to lose heart and feel discouraged.  It's hard not to take things personally when someone let's you down.  But I am very grateful that I had the conversation with my former employer and maintained professionalism and respect. I still miss the children and colleagues with whom I worked, and hope to maintain contact with them.  It is easier to keep a door open than to rebuild a bridge that had been burned.  It's easy to look for the bad things in life.  There's an abundance.  What is more rewarding is having faith that things will work out if you stay focused, have a kind spirit, and maintain a positive attitude. 

Today I am blessed and believe once again that patience is it's own time. (Not necessarily when you want it to happen.)

Wishing all of you many blessings and rewards for you patience.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Moving Forward - Part III

Where were we?  Oh yes.  My employer chose not to pay my vacation time.  When I called to find out what had happened, I was chastised that I did not verbally inform my employer that I wanted to be paid for my vacation time.  Hmmm.  Did I not complete a leave request form?  Indeed I had.  I also remember telling my employer that I wanted to use whatever vacation time I had left.  Turns out that a discrepancy on the vacation form made it possible for the Director to overlook my request.  She agreed to ask the School Owners to look into the matter.  I trusted that this would be taken care of so that I could return to Georgia in time to begin the new school year. 

Again, I checked my account on the next expected payday and found myself lacking funds.  I once more called my Center Director and was greeted with what amounted to a different type of "pay back."  I was told that ,"Well, Mr. XYZ felt that he didn't need to pay you since you left he and Mrs. XYZ in a bind by leaving.  Additionally, The Infant Room had an increase in enrollments and we had to hire a new Lead Teacher to replace you."  Perhaps a sudden increase had actually occurred in the one week time since I last spoke with her.  However, I was sure that there was something I could have done to help out if only on a part time basis.  I was advised that I was no longer expected to return on the date I had written on my vacation request form.  "We'll call you if we need you." 

There was a deep sense of disappointment that I had been unceremoniously dumped.  If at any time the Center Director had indicated I could not take a leave of absence I would have respected that decision.  If I had known that taking my children to see their dad would result in an inability to receive my earned vacation pay or that I would have no job upon returning to Georgia I surely would have postponed the visit.  Most of all, I felt like I had let everyone down.  I missed the infants and I missed talking with their parents.   I also missed the coworkers I had grown to love.  We had worked so hard together to make sure the Infant Program was one that made us proud.  I felt like all my efforts had been disregarded.

Moving forward is never easy.  It takes a lot of humility and forgiveness to let go of the "What might have beens."  Here's the thing.  It's never good to second guess yourself.  You do the best you can under given circumstances and proceed as planned.  Sure there will be plenty of individuals who disagree with your choices or don't understand your motives.  Can you imagine what life would be like if you felt like you had to justify every action you take, every word you write, and every breath you chose to breathe?  Believe me, it's no way to live!  Although guilt has it's purpose in the the world, an excess amount prevents you from moving forward and living the life God intended for you. 

I am currently in the process of  "moving forward."  I have filed for unemployment while I continue to look for work.  My children will attend school in Colorado Springs for now.  We are gathering birth certificates, applying for medical insurance, and getting the necessary forms completed to begin a chapter in our history I'll call "Return to Colorado."  Perhaps I have unfinished business.  There are worse places I could be "stranded."  Whatever the reason I ended up here, it's now my job to make the best of our adventure and embrace the results.  I can do this!  I've reinvented myself before and I'm quite awesome at creating new environments for my children.  I hope that they will grow to be resilient, accepting, and versatile individuals with a zest for life.  Most of all, I hope my family will understand that I am doing the best I can for my children. 

Planning is still a good idea. I love list making.  But I also know that there needs to be a lot of flexibility built into your thought process.  The strongest tree in the forest is not the one that stands upright, but one that sways and bends in the wind.  (A favorite quote..just can't recall who said it.)  And this ends my vacation story.  I look forward to documenting our new challenges.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Consequences and Resolutions - Part II

My five-year-old's recommendation for our trip to the park set into motion a series of events that I never could have foreseen.  There were too many factors involved in what transpired following this visit to believe in simple coincidences.  Something bigger was at work here.  Yes, I ultimately made decisions.  However, if I had known about the consequences, I may have played my cards quite differently.   Sometimes, you just have to take that trip, see those sights, and experiences the sensations that accompany the journey. 

Following my introduction to A. Adams Jones, author and publisher of the debut book "Blind Innocence", I began to realize how pressured the past eighteen months had been.  Once again I had been left to raise three children alone (after a brief attempt by their father to reunite everyone in Atlanta,Georgia), survived a horrific car accident where someone slammed into my car as I was stopped at a red light - pushing me into the car in front of me (thank God the children were not in the car at the time), re-entered the work force as a teacher, lost my apartment and moved into an extended stay hotel, and struggled to deal with some very challenging group dynamics in my classroom. 

One day at work, after another stressful situation arose, I decided that it was time to take a break from all the chaos and  reclaim my spirit.  There is only so much a human can physically and emotionally tolerate before you realize you're headed to the zoo.  I submitted a leave request to my Center Director.  I had hoped that since we had college students returning to help, the room would have adequate coverage in my absence.  I was advised that I may not have the Lead Infant Teacher position available upon my return if enrollments increased, but was assured that something would be available.  I was told, "We are going to honor your request."  Since the Director was also a single mom of three, I felt like she understood I needed to take my children to see their Dad.  They hadn't seen him in eighteen months.  Their behaviors indicated to me that it was time that they went for a visit.

My plan seemed sound.  I spent the first day of my vacation updating Developmental Milestones folders for each child from my classroom.  I organized important forms and other paperwork that the staff would need in my absence.  I left all of my personal resources including books and activities so the infants could continue to enjoy them.   The following day I delivered the files to the school and left numbers where I could be reached.  The vacation pay I expected would be just enough to fund my return trip.  Everything seemed to be set for my road trip too. 

With a well packed car, directions, a map, and snacks, my three children and I set out on our adventure. We crossed five states and drove from Smyrna, Georgia to Colorado Springs, Colorado in two days.  (I have always love to travel.)  This time I did it with three children.  We had a blast!  The visit with their dad went well and I was sure I had done the right thing.  My first hint that all was not well  with my plan came when my bank account failed to show my vacation time had been paid.  Never assume people will do the right thing.  You'd think I would learn after all this time.  Yet I continue to trust, believe, and see the good in people.  Sometimes to my detriment .  This turned out to be one of those times.  Next Posting...
Moving Forward - Part III         

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Spontaneous Moments & Unexpected Consequences Part I

I am once again in a situation where I need to be reminded of all the wonderful, unexpected moments that occur in my life.  These moments of inspiration allow me to grab a rope as I dangle from a precipice so I can pull myself up.  First a little back story:  Two months ago, I announced to my three children that we would go to the park.  It was a Saturday.  My plan was to take them to the playground so they could burn off some excess energy .  My five-year-old, Sebastien, excitedly told me, "Mommy, let's go to that big park by Walmart."  I hadn't thought about going to Tremore Park, but something told me that we should go there. 

I had originally thought we could go to Rhyne Park, closer to home near their school.  It was not meant to happen.  So even as storm clouds threatened to release their burden upon us, I ushered my three pumpkin-headed monkeys (a term of endearment I coined just for them) into our mini-van and proceeded toward our destination.   Minutes later, we pulled into a parking space and I released my little wild ones onto an unsuspecting playground.  Several other parents had the same idea.  We all hoped the rain would wait while the children unleashed their pent up energies. 

As I watched my "free-range" kinder dash from climbing walls to swings to monkey bars, I noticed that the nearby covered picnic pavilion was buzzing with activity.  It looked like a family had reserved the space for a celebration - a birthday perhaps.  Several adults made a path from their cars to the pavilion with large, covered aluminum pans filled with food.  A grill was started and soon the aroma of cooked burgers and hot dogs filled the air.  Someone decorated the pavilion with balloons and posters.   My stomach grumbled.

In my haste to get the children to the park, I had forgotten to eat.  I could handle that.  What I feared was that the heavenly scent of fresh-grilled meat would reach my always-ready-for-more-food children and the whining would ensue.  I held my breath and waited for the moment one of them would come to me and begin the litany of "Mommy I want a Happy Meal, I am hungry, I need something to eat, etc..."  Usually this was released in the style of a Gregorian Chant - only more annoying and much less relaxing.  Anyone who is on a tight budget can attest to the fact that there is nothing happy about a "Happy Meal."  It's way too expensive, not very nutritious, and the toys are usually a starting point for terrific arguments.

Turns out I didn't have to wait very long before one of the kids asked when we could get something to eat.  The drizzle of rain and the requests were simultaneous.  I decided that we'd wait a few minutes since my children wouldn't melt or waste away anytime soon.  During my wait, a young man from the picnic pavilion walked over to me and handed me a post card style invitation.  That buzz of activity wasn't a birthday party.  It was a Book Signing for New Author and Publisher A. Adams Jones for her book "Blind Innocence."  The gentleman invited me and others on the playground to attend the book signing and enjoy free food.  Wow.  I had a choice to make.  Should I go ahead and  meet the author?

I had no money with me that day.  We were between paydays and I needed to take the kids home to cook dinner.  The rain was beginning to come down with more intensity.  I waited to see if anyone else would go first.  But nobody stepped forward.  I am not the most outgoing individual, but I do have three very entertaining and confident children who often "force" me out of my comfort zone to do the unthinkable.  And there was that opportunity to feed them right there.  I took a leap of faith and walked over to the author and introduced myself and my three children.  I learned that her book was based on a true story and I found myself drawn to her kind spirit as we spoke.

A.Adams Jones took time to talk to me and to my children as a videographer documented this stop in her book signing tour.  For some reason, it touched my heart and gave me hope that I too could write about my experiences in a way that might encourage people and help them through rough times in their lives.  She was encouraging and even gave me a signed copy of her book with an offer to call her if I ever needed to talk or pray.  I was especially grateful for the book since I had no funds with me at the time.  My children were so comfortable around everyone that they ended up making friends, eating well, and having another great family moment to add to their history.

That day was significant in many ways.  It jump started my interest in writing about my own trials as I struggle to raise my little family, forgive past transgressions, and move forward spiritually, emotionally, and in my career choices.  I never could have foreseen how that day would impact future decisions. My "inspirations" ultimately caused me to lose my job and end up stranded in another state with my three children.  Yet I am convinced there was a purpose behind the events on that day.  Next posting...Consequences and Resolutions.  You don't want to miss this one!

 UPDATE:  May 26,2016
In honor of the author who inspired so many changes in my life three years's a re-post from 2013 PLUS links to this author's books and video synopsis.
 Blind Innocence