Archive for November, 2009

Update on Graham

November 4, 2009

Graham Photo for Blog4

A few months ago, I wrote a post about my son Graham.  I was blown away by the response I got and the lovely supportive comments and emails that followed.  At the end of that post, I mentioned that we were waiting on the Seattle school system, waiting to see whether a) doing the right thing for our children or  b) bureaucracy would win out.  I’m happy to tell you that this one went to the good guys (and gals).

About a week before the developmental preschool program was set to start, I got a call from a woman who told me she would be Graham’s teacher.  We set up a meeting at his new school and were introduced to his teacher, the room assistant, the speech therapist, and the director of the entire program.  We agreed on an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for him with goals for the next few months.  We were assured that the (now updated) results of his testing will follow him for the next three years, so his status as a student with special needs does not change as we approach next fall and the utter confusion that is kindergarten in North Seattle.  We were assured that they would help us navigate those waters.

Graham’s new schedule started on September 21st.  He goes to school from 1-3:30 four days a week and also continues to go to his old prechool 9-12:30 three mornings a week.  On Monday and Tuesday, he is essentially in school from 9am-4pm.  This is a lot of a yet-to-be five year old who was still taking a 2-3 hour nap almost everyday up until the schedule change.  The first few days, when I got on the little school bus to help him off, he was totally passed out.  Evenings became really tough for him as the exhaustion set in.  We re-organized.  We set his bedtime much earlier – the same as his younger brother – and things improved.  Now he seems to be adapting to his new schedule.  And he is very happy at his new school.

Graham comes home singing songs I have never heard before and talking about parts of his day without prompting from me.  He brings home art projects he is extremely proud of and he finally – finally – potty trained.  I was starting to wonder if he was going to go off to college in diapers when his new teacher suggested that we tell him the rule at the new school was underwear only.  Within four days he was completely trained with not an accident since.  It was yet another lesson for me in not underestimating the wonder that is Graham.  When the light switch turns on it is on.

Graham photo for blog1

Our new routine is as follows.   I pick up the boys at morning preschool, drive to the “new school” which is, thankfully, only a few blocks away.  I park the car, gather up the boys, and then we begin one of the sweetest 1 block walks I will ever know in my life.  Yes, it involves shivering and/or getting soaked these days, but to hold two little boys’ hands – one of them wearing a backpack almost as big as he is – as we approach a real live big boy school…  It’s almost more than I can handle.  Nostalgia for what will not be someday overtakes me and I sometimes just have to stop and watch them.  I know it’s just the blink of an eye before they will stop holding my hand and then just another blink before they don’t want to talk to me at all.

Graham turns five years old at the end of this month.  I had thought about writing this post in honor of his birthday but I had an experience while at Jen’s yoga retreat a couple of weeks ago.  Not to sound too woo-woo on you here, but I always dedicate my yoga practice to Graham.  Some yoga teachers will invite you to set an intention at the beginning of a class and it is always his beautiful face I see at that time.  No thoughts, just his face, and the hope that my practice will send some extra energy his way.  He is my intention, my dedication.  Just like every time I catch the clock at 11:11 or I throw a penny into a fountain, I think of him – wish something for him.

Graham Photo for Blog3

In Jen’s peaceful serene yoga room, I poured out stress and toxins with my breath and my sweat.  At the end of two hours, I felt utterly spent and exhausted in the best kind of cleansing way and laid happily on my mat for shivansana.  In the first few moments of that rest, Jen turned on some of the music from The Mission – that glorious, heart-stirringly beautiful piece of music that can bring tears to my eyes even when I am not feeling overly emotional or exhausted.  And in a moment, I had tears streaming down my face, mingling with the already drying sweat from the class.  In that moment, the following thought came to my mind – almost as if someone had whispered it in my ear or I had seen it written on a blackboard – “Why Can’t It Be Enough?

The day before I had spent the morning with Graham.  He had a very low grade fever, with no other symptoms, and I decided to keep him home from school.  I still had errands to run and he happily came along with me.  Before we went to pick up his brother, I took him to lunch at one of his favorite spots.  We were sitting there, waiting for our lunch, and I was over-conscious of the fact that we weren’t talking.  It’s not as though we were silent, but there was very little back and forth conversation as there would be with a typical child of his age.  I wanted that, the flow of conversation, so badly.  I asked him questions on topics where answers could come easily for him, and I would get my one or two word answer, then – quiet.   I just kept running my hands along the baby-soft skin of his cheek, or bringing my face to the top of his head for a kiss and inhaling the intoxicating smell of clean little boy hair.  I told him I loved him.  I told him I was proud of him.  He kept looking at me and smiling, unaware that I was longing for more.

In my shivasana moment, I saw that scene again with new eyes.  And therein lies the question – “Why Can’t It Be Enough?“  Why can’t who and where he is right now be enough?  Why must I always notice who and where he is not?  This is not new territory – it is my biggest challenge with him.  And what I really mean by that is the challenge with myself.  Choosing to celebrate all the many varied things that makes him wonderful instead of pointing out (in my own mind) all the ways he is not like his friends is just that.  A choice.  And here is where a mom in a movie would suddenly change her entire her attitude and embrace her child wholeheartedly.  Everything would change and happiness would prevail until the credits rolled.

Obviously, this is not a movie and life is more complicated.  I am not one of those people who can wish something and just make it so.  I wish I was more peaceful about having a child with special needs and I work hard at it every day.  Sometimes I am so thankful for him that I can hardly believe my luck.  I watch a child on his preschool playground haul off and hit another child and I wonder, “Is that what I want?  A typically developing bully?”  Of course not.  I’ll take my speech and cognitively delayed sweetheart any day of the week.  My baby who thinks life is nothing but fun and happiness  – as every almost-five-year-old should.  My baby who who touches people’s lives.  When he leaves morning preschool, there is a chorus of “Goodbye Graham!” from kids and teachers alike.  Sometimes I can’t help but wonder what lesson I am being taught by the challenges he brings.  I struggle.  But lately I keep coming back to that big question and it makes my vision blur every time.

Graham Photo for Blog2
(I love this picture of him.  It is pure Graham.  Smiling and in motion.)

I don’t have an answer here and I certainly don’t have any advice.  This will be my journey with my older son.  My journey with Spencer will be different.  Randy asked me if I ever make a wish for Spencer or dedicate my practice to him.  Nope.  That boy will present other challenges but he does not need my yoga energy right now.  Every parent travels down a path with a child.  Sometimes that path is clear and easy and sometimes it is twisted and complicated.

When we first settled into speech and classroom therapy with Graham, about three years ago, his teacher handed out an essay that a woman with a special needs child had written.  It’s called Welcome to Holland and it compares awaiting the birth of a child to planning a trip to Italy.  You buy your tickets, you book your hotel, you anticipate the food you are going to eat, the sights you will see, the people you will meet.  On the flight to your long-awaited destination, the flight attendants tell you to prepare for the landing in Holland.  Holland?  Windmills, canals, wooden shoes – what?  At first you are floored by this change in your itinerary – your entire world is thrown off.  Your arrival takes a huge adjustment.  This is not at all what you signed up for.  And then, slowly but surely, you do learn to adjust.  There are wonders to behold in Holland.  It is different than Italy but it isn’t any less special.

I never thought I had expectations for my children.  I would be fine with them being a railroad engineer or a physicist.  They could go Ivy League or state school, or no college at all.  They could be an athelete like their dad or a thespian like their mom.  I guess I just always assumed they would be “normal” and I think that is why I got Graham.  My favorite comment from my last post about him actually came from the director of his morning preschool, herself the mother of a child with special needs.  I’m paraphrasing here, but she said that these children come to us not necessarily to teach us a lesson or because we can handle them or we “deserve” them.  They come to us because we as parents are strong and we can advocate for them.  They need us to fight for them.  I hold onto that thought everyday because it is such a strong and powerful way to think about life with Graham.  I got him because he needs me and because I am lucky.



Holly B’s Orange Swirls

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These are the orange rolls that almost weren’t.  Sometime on Sunday morning I got hit with a bad bug.  I hesitate to even say “flu” because that seems to throw people into a panic.  I had a fever and the worst sore throat of my life.  Randy had to leave town Monday morning so the timing was truly awful.  Fortunately our preschool is very flexible and we were able to get some extra hours so I could sleep.  I figured there was no way I could stick to my Holly B’s challenge this week.

I woke up this morning still not feeling well but also just so bored.  I’m tired of laying down, I’m tired of all the terrible TV options and I don’t have the attention span to read when I’m sick.  I figured I might as well bake.  Besides, I have been excited about baking these rolls for the past week.  Over the many years of eating Holly B’s treats, I have tasted just about everything and I do have my favorites.  If they have just been pulled out of the oven, I will always choose a cinnamon roll.  But every so often, an Orange Swirl will call my name.

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Here is where one of those weird food tics come to light.  I like oranges (especially clementines) but I don’t like anything orange flavored.  Orange popsicles and lollipops are a last resort for me.  I don’t even like the color orange and I certainly would never choose to eat orange cheesecake or pound cake, even one I have made.  (OK, just for fun, here is another tic.  I like fresh cherries and cherry flavored things, but I can’t stand cherry desserts.  Like cherry pie, cobbler, etc.  Yuck.  Yes I know it’s weird.)

So why do I like these rolls?  I don’t know.  Because they are delicious?  Because the orange is subtle and the glaze is lemon (which I love)?  Because that Holly B can really work some magic?  Why ask why?  Sometimes in life, I have found it is better to not ask, especially when it comes to baked goods.  Just trust and enjoy.

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One Year Ago:  Moroccan Harira Soup

Orange Swirls

Adapted from With Love & Butter
Makes 10 rolls

In her book, Holly directs you back to her Basic Bread recipe (with the Orange Bread variation) for the dough.  For the sake of clarity, I am combining the recipes here.  I found this dough to be exceptionally sticky, so please heed the advice to keep flouring your board and the dough well.  Also my dough measured about 16 inches by 28 inches and it all turned out fine.

For the dough:
3/4 of a fresh orange, unpeeled, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp. honey
1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) quick-rise yeast
2 tbsp. mild tasting oil
5 cups flour, plus more for dusting
3 tbsp. milk powder
1 3/4 tsp. salt

For the Swirls:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
1 cup sliced almonds
1 tsp. nutmeg

For the glaze:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup honey

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, purée the orange.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add 1 1/2 cups warm water and process to a fairly lumpless liquid.  Transfer the mixture to a measuring cup and add enough warm water to bring the level to 2 1/3 cups.  Pour this mixture into a large bowl.  Add the honey, yeast, and oil.  In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, milk powder, and the salt.  Add the dry mixture to the wet.

Using a wooden spoon or a stand mixer, mix the dough vigorously until it is too stiff to continue.  Coat your hands with a little flour and knead the dough inside the bowl (this really minimizes the mess on your work table).  Knead until the dough is smooth, or use a dough hook.  (DT: I used a spoon and then the dough hook.)  If it feels too stiff, sprinkle with warm water and continue to knead; if too wet or sticky, add a little more flour.  Two to five minutes of kneading should be enough.  Dust the ball of dough with a little flour.  Lightly oil the bowl and place the dough back inside.  Drape with a dishtowel and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size.  (DT: Mine took about an hour.)

Once dough has doubled, do not punch down, but gently turn onto a well-floured surface, taking care not to deflate.  Flour the top of the dough and pat it into a rough rectangle.  Now take a rolling pin and finish rolling the dough into a rectangle about 12 inches wide by 28 inches long and 1/4-inch thick.  Check the underside of the dough frequently for sticking, sprinkling with flour as required.

Place the rectangle of dough in front of you with the short sides top and bottom.  Brush the dough with the melted butter.  Drizzle on the honey and distribute the almonds and nutmeg evenly over the surface.

Starting with the short side, roll up the dough, tugging gently as you go, to create a snug log.  Turn the log seam side down and slice into 10 even tolls with a serrated knife.  Space the rolls out evenly on a large parchment paper covered cookie sheet and let them rise for 30 minutes, or until puffy and nearly doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F with the rack in the center position.  Bake the Swirls 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake 8 to 10 minutes more, or until slightly browned.  Check the bottoms:  The tops can look pale while the bottoms get too dark.  Allow the Swirls to cool slightly while you make the lemon glaze.

Heat the lemon juice and honey in a saucepan or in the microwave.  Brush on the warm Swirls.  Serve with butter.



Tomato & Goat Cheese Tarts

November 2, 2009

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It’s November and that means it’s NaBloPoMo.  That stands for National Blog Posting Month and some people will be writing a post every day.  I attempted it last year and did fairly well.  Seeing as I have already missed a day, I guess I don’t need to tell you that I will not be participating this year – just too busy of a month (and I have also come down with a nasty bug).  But with all the upcoming cooking, I will probably have lots to share.  Just not every day.

I wish I could have shared these tarts with you.  Not only were they delicious, the recipe made four of them and we only ate two.  I encouraged Randy to bring the leftovers to work with him for several days running (he just forgot) and eventually had to throw them out because they got soggy.  I hate that.

It might seem strange for a vegetarian, but I really love Ina Garten.  I have four of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks and hers is the only show on the Food Network I can watch anymore.  I have made many of her recipes and they never fail.  Yes, about half of each cookbook is off limits to me, but the half I can use is terrific.

These tarts are a classic in my opinion.  The only thing that takes time is caramelizing the onions but if you have some on hand (they keep for days in the refrigerator and I’ve heard you can successfully freeze them), this elegant meal comes together in about half an hour.  Ina makes these tarts round but in order to get four, you would have to use two sheets of puff pastry and throw out the perfectly good scraps just to get a pretty shape.  I used one sheet and cut the pastry into four rectangles instead – no waste.  (Except for the finished uneaten-after-several-days product.  Sigh.)

You will notice that there is no basil on my tarts.  Sometimes I will go to great lengths to get a forgotten ingredient, like walking both unwilling boys up to our neighborhood market only to find that they forgot to carry my forgotten ingredient and then piling both boys – still unwilling – in the car to find a market that does carry it.  This was not one of those times.  I’m sure the basil would have taken these delicious tarts over the top and they certainly would have looked prettier, but I’m all right with what I got.

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One Year Ago:  Baba Ghanoush

Tomato & Goat Cheese Tarts
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Make 4 individual tarts

I find the best way to thaw puff pastry is in the refrigerator overnight.  For this recipe, you will only use one sheet.  Take it out, wrap it in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator.  Wrap the remaining sheet in plastic and place back in the box and place the box back in the freezer.  Now you have one for next time.

1/2 package (17.3 ounce) puff pastry, defrosted
Olive oil
4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions (2 large onions)
3 large garlic cloves, cut into slivers
3 tbsp. dry white wine
2 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
4 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
4 ounces garlic-and-herb goat cheese, such as Montrachet
2 large tomatoes, cut into 8 1/4-inch thick slices
3 tbsp. julienned basil leaves
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler

Unfold the puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface and roll it slightly to an 11 x 11-inch square.  Cut the pastry into four quarters.  Place the quarters on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium to low heat and add the onions and garlic.  Sauté for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are limp and there is almost no moisture remaining in the skillet.  Add 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper, the wine, and thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned.  Remove from the heat.

Using a sharp paring knife, score a 1/2 inch-wide border around each pastry square.  Prick the pastry inside the score lines with the tines of a fork and sprinkle a tablespoon of grated Parmesan on each square, staying inside the scored border.

Place one-quarter of the onion mixture on each circle, again staying within the scored edge.  Crumble 1 ounce of goat cheese on top of the onions.  Place two slices of tomato in the center of each tart.  Brush the tomato lightly with olive oil and spring with basil, salt and pepper.  Finally scatter 4 or 5 shards of Parmesan on each tart.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.  Serve hot or warm.



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