Friday, September 24, 2010

The lovers, the dreamers, and me

I keep forgetting to post about my rainbow cupcakes. But now I've remembered. I made these beauties about two weeks ago. I took a basic vanilla recipe and once the batter was made I divided it into six bowls and added a different food coloring to each. Then I took the red batter and dropped two teaspoons into a cupcake liner. Then I followed with the orange batter right next to the red. Then I dropped the yellow into the liner next to the orange. I followed this pattern with green, then blue, and finally purple. Repeat for each cupcake.
Yes, it was a tedious job, but just look at the results:

Did I mention, I love rainbows? And so yummy too!! I frosted them with a vanilla buttercream added some sprinkles and a sugar rainbow, all edible, and called it a day.

You could also layer the different colored batter one on top on another but I like the tie dyed effect.

And making rainbow cupcakes made me think of autism.
This past year a group in Australia started Autism Rainbow Day during Autism Awareness Month. And you can be a part of their next one. From their Facebook page:

The 2nd International Autism Rainbow Day will be held on Friday, April 29th 2011. It is so easy to get involved... all you need to do is wear a bright colored shirt to represent a color of the rainbow and the autism spectrum or a piece of clothing that has rainbow colors.Spread awareness throughout the community by asking your school, place of business or community group to get involved.
The awareness campaign focuses on two important areas, community acceptance and respect, and community support and understanding for families living with autism.

I have worked with many children who have autism and their families, first as a behavioral therapist within many home ABA programs, then as a case manager for a California regional center with the bulk of my ever growing case load being children with autism. I spent many hours talking to families about how autism impacts their everyday lives and families. Some suggested advocating for better detection, earlier and more intense intervention, and more research into why we are seeing autism on the rise on an international level. But something that every family mentioned to me on a weekly if not daily basis is the perception of autism from people not affected by it. There is no way to tell who does or doesn't have autism. When you look at a child throwing a tantrum there is no way to know if that child has autism and is on sensory overload or if that child is just a typical kid who is not getting his way. Many people will assume the latter. But some people also assume that children should be perfect little puppets, only speaking when spoken to and behaving always. Of course that is just not reality. Parents of neurotypical kids face this occasionally, but parents of children with autism face this in spades. I think their daily struggle is tough enough. We need to do better for these families.

 These are the facts about autism from the AutismSpeaks website:

  • Autism now affects 1 in 110 children and 1 in 70 boys
  • Autism prevalence figures are growing
  • More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined
  • Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
  • Autism costs the nation over $35 billion per year, a figure expected to significantly increase in the next decade
  • Autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases
  • Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism
  • There is no medical detection or cure for autism
So do your part next April to raise awareness. And next time you see a child throwing a tantrum somewhere instead of ignoring them or being rude, give that mom or dad a smile. Whether their child is autistic or not, believe me, they could use it.

And now for your listening pleasure:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An open apology to trees everywhere

Paper towels.
I cannot live without them. In fact, I go through a minimum of one roll per day, sometimes more.
I know.
It's not politically correct to use them.
Perhaps I could find some reusable hemp version of a paper towel to use but then I would have to do more laundry.
Which brings me back to why I use so many paper towels. You see, I have ADHD. And because of that I get easily overwhelmed by any kind of mess. I need to control the chaos in my daily life since I can't control the chaos in my brain. So every time I see the slightest spill or coffee stain or crumbs, I grab my paper towel and surface spray and clean. I also go through a lot of surface cleaner!
It might not seem like a big deal but once there are a few little spills here or there it gets out of control fast and if it gets out of control I feel overwhelmed and am basically at a loss for where to begin cleaning and then the house gets messier and messier until it is beyond my capabilities to clean.
Then my wonderfully patient and hard working husband has to step in and help me reign in the mess.
If you visit my house unannounced you have as much of a chance of finding it absolutely spotless as you do finding it a disaster area worthy of cones and caution tape. Really.

I can hear the nay sayers already, is ADHD really a real thing? Didn't the drug companies invent it? Doesn't that mean that you are just lazy or disorganized? Aren't we all just a little ADHD?

Yes, no, sometimes, and yes. But if everyone else is just a little ADHD then I am a super duper trazillion times more ADHD than everyone.

I see all these articles about how ADHD is not a disease, or how it is just manufactured for drug company profit. I have even heard people admit that it does exist, but that it is extremely over diagnosed. The problem I have with the people writing these articles is that they don't have ADHD so how can they say whether it is real or not?
If you have ADHD, then you know it is not a pretend thing. And 40% of us who have it do not outgrow it as  adults. I actually don't believe and more medical professionals agree, that no one outgrows ADHD. The hyperactivity that some have might lessen or become more internal like those of us with inattentive ADHD and they might develop better coping skills. But ADHD does not just go away. It is a reality 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It doesn't come and go like having winter colds or occasional allergies. It doesn't feel like you are just being lazy. In fact, it has been shown that the harder we try, often, the worse things get. I know it all sounds so far fetched. Can you imagine how those of us with the disorder feel?

Here we are, trying our hardest to make sense of something that messes with every second of every day. Every attempt to wash those dishes, pay those bills or get those clothes put away is affected by it. But it isn't just the mundane that is affected. We lose jobs. Jobs we absolutely love because we cannot not be late, no matter how early we arise. We lose relationships with friends and loved ones because we forget important dates, argue to settle the crazy energy that races through our body, and seem to not care about others and their feelings. We lose out on opportunities because even though we often surpass most in creative ideas we cannot seem to get them from our head to a piece of paper or if we are lucky enough to manage that, the ideas die there because we cannot begin to get started implementing them in our lives. I get it. It sounds crazy. That's why we often feel crazy ourselves.

We spend half of our lives feeling like outcasts for being so odd, weird, and not like all the other kids. Then we spend the other half surrounded by people who love that we are odd, weird, and not like the other kids, but the general public finds the desire to condemn us for trying to help ourselves. I am not on medication. That's probably why I am able to write but still have to proofread what I write many times over and over so that what I am saying makes sense to most people. And that's also why I currently go through so many paper towels!

But I have been on medication. I took medication from my diagnosis at 24 until the year before my daughter was born at 36. Twelve years. Twelve years of pharmacists giving me the once over every time I picked up a bottle of my precious controlled substance. The drug that made things right in my head for a few hours before needing to take more. I took it because no matter how motivated I was, no matter how much I planned and preplanned my planning, I still constantly missed the mark in every area of my life.
That is ADHD.
Some people with it have hyperactivity. That's the most common type you hear about when someone is complaining about it being overdiagnosed.
It may very well be overdiagnosed for some kids who just have a whole lot of energy.
But it is also underdiagnosed, especially for girls and women who have it without the hyperactivity.

And believe me, there are a lot of us!

What ADHD isn't, is occasionally or even often forgetting to load the dishwasher, misplacing your cell phone, or forgetting to stop by the bank. Those might be a few of the ways in which it manifests itself.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

ADHD is a painfully debilitating disorder that figuratively paralyzes every decision and motivation in your life. It keeps you from being able to keep your mouth shut when necessary, wait your turn in a conversation, or even read body language. It is often accompanied by an inability to screen out unnecessary stimuli. I'm sure you've heard the ADHD joke, they say I have a hard time paying attention but really I'm...oh look a bird!
It's funny but it's also not funny. Trying taking an exam and not only do you hear random thoughts in your head but you also hear the lights buzzing, the person behind you chewing the end of the pencil, the A/C humming, the janitor down the hall dragging his feet, and the non stop chirping of at least 4 different kinds of birds. Then of course you keep seeing things out of the corner of your eye and have to constantly refocus on the sentence you just read. It's exhausting, to say the least.

I often say I wish people could spend one day inside my head. Not only would they be screaming to get out, but they would walk away with a better understanding of just how deafening the bombardment of stimuli can be for those of us with the disorder.

Can you have ADHD and not take medication? Well of course. But if you have children, or a significant other, or a job, things go a lot smoother with medication. Of course diet, exercise, supplements, and a personal organizer (or husband) helps. Just like it helps all of us do life better.

But most of us with ADHD still need medication to essentially turn that part of our brain on. It isn't something we want to do. In fact, a lot of us resist the idea. And even more of us miss doses. Someone even created a watch just for us to beep a reminder when it's time for a dose. Clever.

Some among us see it as a gift. I wonder about those people. I see a gift as something that is unexpected but joyfully accepted. For me, that is not ADHD. It has been a burden to carry, a thorn in my side, a reason to not attempt things that I believe I cannot do.
No, ADHD is no gift.
And medication isn't either. But it is a blessing.
Because when it does help it can help in a huge way. It is the difference between the person who cannot make an interview on time and the CEO of that company.
So when I read articles written by lay people and foolishly read the comments section I get very angry. Like I said, it's painful enough to have to live with the disorder to then see and hear so many amateur doctors telling you and your fellow sufferers that what you have isn't real. It's a made up disorder.

I wonder if they feel the same way about all the other disorders in the DSM that are totally diagnosed through patient history and symptoms. Funny how no one questions whether a schizophrenic really sees pretend people. I mean, THAT sounds crazy! But because ADHD is a problem of attention instead of good ole' wackiness, its very existence begs to be questioned.

If you do not have ADHD, consider yourself lucky.
Say a huge thank you to God or Allah or whoever you believe in, and leave those of us with it alone.
And if you have it, my advice is to be true to who you are. Always speak your mind even if you are scared of what others might think of you. Who cares! Chances are, they already think you are weird anyway.

Keep your chin up and let me know when you see paper towels on sale.
Pick up some for yourself and grab a pack for me too!
And to the trees I say thank you.
Thank you for making my incredibly chaotic life just a little less messy.

*(If you want to know more about ADHD you can find more information by reading this informative article, or by visiting the CHADD website. If you are an adult with ADHD or if you are an adult who wonders if you might have this disorder, then I suggest checking out ADDA, an ADHD website dedicated entirely to adults with ADHD and the unique challenges we face.)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

More Cupcakes and Kids

Cupcakes and kids.That seems to fill up a lot of my time lately. I'm good with that. Last week my 1st grader made it through his first week of homework ever so we decided to celebrate with cupcakes based on his favorite ice cream, mint chocolate chip. I did a basic chocolate cake with peppermint extract and then added mini chocolate chips to the batter. I also did a mint buttercream frosting. They came out tasting exactly like the ice cream. Success!
I have even gotten a little better at frosting them!
The baby girl is either telling me I am the #1 baker or she is asking for one more. It's not really clear.
The little man said nothing. He just ate.
And then he gave his opinion.
For something to have made my son speechless, it had to have been good.

Two days later I was back to baking again. Cupcakes don't seem to last long in this house. I am really trying to make simpler cupcakes with outstanding flavor, so I tried tweaking my chocolate cupcake recipe. In the process I found a secret, THE secret, to making the moistest yummiest cupcakes. I could tell you, but then I'd have to..well, you know the rest.
 So on  Sunday I came up with my black and white cupcake.  It's a super moist chocolate cupcake. Inside is a marshmallow creme filling, and it's topped with a vanilla buttercream frosting. This is my favorite cupcake so far.
I should call it the heavenly cupcake because it was like a little bit of heaven on Earth.
Or rather, four little bits of heaven on Sunday, two on Monday, and one yesterday.
I can't really explain the flavor expect to say this is what I believe a Hostess cupcake would taste like if it were made while you waited.  And you lived in Heaven. Can you tell I really, really like it?
I see many of these in my future.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cupcakes, cookies, and kids. Oh my!

Last week I went out for a little R&R with some friends and since I only had five thousand other things to do, I thought, why not make them some cupcakes!  So I did.
I made a couple dozen mini cupcakes. I had no idea that they made little wrappers for mini cupcakes until I was browsing through Michael's. Aren't they adorable?
All the cupcakes were chocolate! This one was also filled with a chocolate ganache and topped with a cream cheese frosting and gold sprinkles.
This mini is a chocolate cupcake with chocolate ganache frosting and pearl sprinkles.
Ready to head to their new homes!

I have to say I got a teensy weensy bit burnt out on cupcakes this week, well the clean up actually, but I was still craving something sweet and homemade. I found a new recipe for chocolate chip cookies while blog browsing and I thought I would give it a try. The kids were very excited to help.
Hands washed, check. Aprons on,check. Goofy smiles,check.
 The baby girl was a natural. I wonder if there's a correlation between being a good eater and a good chef. Hmm.
The little guy could use some lessons on keeping the batter in the bowl. And could he be any more posed? I obviously take way too many pictures.
All done!
Well I thought I had the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever but I have to say this recipe gave my cookies a run for their money. My recipe is a bit moister and more melt in your mouth like, but these cookies were firmer, while still being soft, and much more cake like. They reminded me of Cowboy Cookies in San Luis Obispo. Mmm. If you have never had Cowboy Cookies then you have to try them!
I wish I had saved the link to the blogger that posted this recipe but sadly, I am infamous for doing things in haste. I copied and printed the recipe and then closed the blog window. If I remember her name I will give her credit. But for now, just know that the recipe is not mine.

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1tsp baking soda
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup softened butter (I use real butter)
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1-5 oz package vanilla instant pudding mix (JELLO brand)
Chocolate Chips (milk or semisweet, I like semisweet)

Cream butter and sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.  In a separate bowl mix pudding mix, soda, and salt.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Add flour bit by bit until texture is right (You should be able to roll dough into a ball in your hands.  If it is too sticky, add more flour.)  Mix well.  Bake at 350 degrees on an ungreased cookie sheet until edges are just browning (12-14 minutes depending on your oven and your elevation)
 I got a thumbs up from the pickiest kid in America! He honestly is. 
We came up with a list of 12 things he likes to eat. Only 12. And two of them, mac and cheese and bacon, aren't even that great for you! He has been known to thumb his nose up at cakes, cookies, ice cream, and cupcakes if they don't meet his high standards. 

But both kids absolutely devoured them! 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Watch out Sprinkles!

For the past 6 years, the girl inside my head has had some serious writer's block. Maybe it's because the girl on the outside has been a stay at home mom for those 6 years and the amount of time needed to write anything more than folksy tales of life is not available in a perpetually dusty household with an overactive grade-schooler, a defiant toddler, and far too many dirty dishes. Or maybe it's because I figure every stay at home mom writer writes about changing diapers, that funny thing their kid did last week, or how to organize their unorganized life. Either way it is what it is and I have since found a newish hobby that I find is much easier to accommodate into my chaotic life.
I have become a baker of small cakes. I have always enjoyed baking sweets but now I am obsessed with all things cupcake. I think it started with the many cupcake shows on TV. Like an addict seeking their high I DVR every episode of Cupcake Wars, DC Cupcakes, and Cupcake Girls and then watch them over and over. I could not satiate my cupcake appetite with the watching of these shows, and so I began baking them. The cupcakes, not the shows. And I do a pretty decent job, I think.
I mean, I don't think Sprinkles Cupcakes really has to worry. I am not that fabulous a baker yet and I could certainly benefit from a few cake decorating classes at Michael's. But I am enjoying it immensely and I suddenly have visions of running a little sweets shop here in my rural town in California, more often than I envision myself in New York City, at a book signing for my best seller.
Now instead of neglecting my children to write, I include them in the testing of new recipes. So far, so good.
If you know my son you know he does not eat cupcakes. He is pretty much anti-baked goods in general which leads me to entertain the idea that he was switched at birth and that my bread, cheese, and potato eating son is out there, dreaming of a life with a mom who knows her way around a gratin. I used to bake cupcakes out of a box and he would lick the store bought frosting off and chuck the cake into the trash.
But apparently, my homemade cupcakes can satisfy even the pickiest kid in America. Last week he proclaimed my vanilla cupcake with rose water frosting was really, really good. He told me he would even eat two!
And today. Today he deemed me the best cupcake maker ever. He not only devoured 2 of my red velvet cupcakes, pre-frosting, he informed me that I would absolutely be baking for his birthday next year. He said there is no way he will eat any cake of any kind unless I make it.
Hmm. Maybe Sprinkles should be worried!

Today I did a red velvet cupcake with Italian meringue buttercream frosting. This was my first time making this kind of frosting and I have to say, I impressed myself. The buttercream is a lot lighter than typical buttercream and not as sweet. I am not a big fan of oversweet frostings so I am excited that this one came  out delicious. It works well with the delicate taste of the red velvet. I always felt like the cream cheese frosting was too overpowering for the red velvet. This is my favorite so far.

Really simple chocolate cupcake with rose water buttercream frosting and fondant roses.
Honey infused vanilla cupcake with a honey-cream cheese frosting and premade sugar bees.
I know, I know. Sprinkles would never sell prefab bees. But the founder, Candace Nelson, has been professionally baking for 5 years now. And her grandmother was a famous pastry chef in San Francisco. My grandmother was a seamstress in Mexico. Cut me some slack.
Peanut butter filled, banana cupcake with whipped cream frosting and topped with crumbled bacon and semisweet chocolate chunks. Kind of like an Elvis dream cupcake, but with chocolate. Mmmm.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Disneyland for Free

This is not one of those posts where someone tells you all about this great site that gives you free stuff, just as long as you accept five of their offers and allow them to spam your inbox every 45 seconds. And it does not require you to sit in a boring one hour presentation about some resort you would never pay to stay in and then endure another hour of torture listening to a salesperson drone on about how timeshares save you on vacations while his "manager" attempts to strong arm you into buying one of them. No. This is simply a stay at home mom's tips on getting to the happiest place on Earth, for free. If you follow my four easy steps you too can be breaking bread with Goofy while relishing the reality that it did not cost you a dime! If this is something that you would enjoy, please read on.

Step #1: This is quite possibly the most important step to follow so forgive me for going into such detail explaining it. Find yourself a husband or wife, whatever the case may be, that is not only charming, but who is also willing to go the extra mile to get what they want. Think car salesman of the month gone bad.

Let me give you an example. When my husband and I were dating, we went for appetizers and a movie one night. The restaurant bar where we ate was perfect. Quiet, relaxing, and comfortable, with a gorgeous view of the ocean. I ordered one of my favorites, oysters on the half shell, and proceeded to down several of them before we headed out to the movies. We were having a nice time watching the movie when all of a sudden I felt that feeling. This food was going to make a reappearance and fast. I ran to the theater bathroom and made it just in time to vomit on the floor. And then it happened again on the drive home, on the side of the road. Unfortunately, I spent the entire night vomiting.
The next day I did some research and discovered that oysters sometimes carry bacteria that can cause food poisoning like symptoms in some people when eaten raw. That was explanation enough for me. I got up and got ready to attend a friend's BBQ after speaking with my guy.
Despite the explanation I gave him he insisted on phoning the restaurant and letting them know what had happened to me. They apologized for my illness and offered us a free dinner in their restaurant. Now, any normal person would have accepted the offer and been happy to eat for free. But not my guy. No. He wanted the big prize, an ocean view room with balcony hot tub at the hotel adjacent to the restaurant. The manager explained that he was not at liberty to offer such a large compensation and told him dinner would be all. My guy spoke to the manager and after several phone calls and threats of spreading the word of their poor customer service, we got a one night stay in one of their ocean view rooms, with the hot tub on the balcony and a free dinner.
And we came to get free passes to Disneyland in much the same way. While enjoying a nice day there a couple of years ago, my guy got stung by a bee while crossing a bridge on Tom Sawyer's Island. We got the stinger out but his hand swelled up anyway. He felt sick the rest of the day and so off we went to the medical station. They offered ibuprofen and a list of local hospitals. As you can imagine this did not sit well with the guy who always expects the best. He complained that our trip was now officially ruined because he would either have to suffer with his large arm or leave the park and forfeit the rest of our day. We stayed and hoped that the swelling would be gone by the next day. It wasn't and this only made my husband more annoyed.
This time after getting the brush off from the medical station staff we headed to city hall, Disneyland's city hall that is, to file a formal complaint. The employee there tried to be sympathetic to my husband's plight. He listened to him rant on about controlling the bee population and how can they call themselves the happiest place on Earth while allowing bees to run rampant through the park. The cast member, as they call themselves, offered to pay for our day there. But we had yearly passes so there was no way he could really reimburse us for this one trip. My guy suggested that the employee offer us passes for the family to use on a return trip the following year. The cm gave him a look of disbelief and said that was impossible. Impossible is not something the big guy likes to hear. So my guy shot back that what was impossible was firing a gun at his job the next day should the need arise, since his hand was three times its normal size. He stated how much money he would lose for having to take a sick day maybe even two and then went on to ask for a higher up. The cast member, looking more than a little defeated, gave my husband a phone number for their corporate guest claims administrator.
We left and over the next several weeks my tenacious husband was able to verbally work his way up through the corporate office. He got through to the senior guest claims admin and within a few days of speaking with him, we received a letter offering us four 2 day passes for a return trip. And an apology. Apparently my overly passionate husband also mentioned the possibility of filing a personal injury claim, since the letter stated directions on how we could go about that, should we so choose. All this for a bee sting. Seems like a long process to undergo for free tickets and for most of us it is. But not for the obstinate husband or wife. For them, it's all in a days work.
Do you see why this step is so important?

Step #2: Sign up for a Disney Visa card and spend like there is no tomorrow!

We recently remodeled our home and due to the failing economy we were unable to cash out as much equity as we needed to complete the remodel. Our solution? We bought all of our fixtures, appliances, and a good chunk of our building materials on the Visa. Of course now we are out $500 a month to pay it off but it was well worth it. Or it will be. Someday. Once the economy improves. We hope.
In the meantime we have a whole $250 to spend on food and souvenirs at Disneyland. Oh yah.

Step #3: Spend many, many hours on the internet searching for good hotel deals.

In order to find a nice hotel for a cheap price, you need a few things such as eyes that do not tire for the countless hours spent scouring the travel websites, the ability to hold your bladder for several hours at a time, and dumb luck. Oh, and that Disney Visa.
I have found that the best website for good deals is Expedia. But you have to be fast and you cannot blink. Literally. One day while checking out a lovely Hilton in the Anaheim area, I watched the price change right before my eyes, from $59 a night to $109 a night. What? I am convinced that there were several customer service reps sitting in the Expedia office giggling to each other while imagining thousands of potential travelers pounding fists on their computers as amazing deals slipped through their fingers all because they took too long to type in their credit card number, grab a drink, or use the bathroom.
In order to get the best deal you have to move fast! But fast at the right time. Confused? Join the club. Thankfully my husband is never confused when it comes to saving a buck. I found this nice little place in Anaheim that included a made to order breakfast for two in their restaurant, a suite with an extra room and TV for the kids, a family pool, and all within walking distance of Disneyland. I almost jumped at it because of my previous knowledge regarding the lightning fast price hike with the Hilton, but my ninja husband said...wait. So we did. A full day. And guess what? It dropped to almost half the price, but only for a short time. I booked it as soon as he said go and the next day, POOF! It was back to full price. How did he know?

Step #4: Have things to sell to pay for the hotel.

Since we racked up so much debt remodeling we really should not be going on any trip, any where. At least that is what my husband believes. But if you have things to sell then it's like you are getting money for free. Especially if what you sell are things you really do not need anyway. Like pygmy goats. Or children. Okay, maybe not children. But definitely children's clothing. And their toys and all the baby items that you need for about one month and then shove into your already overflowing storage. I got the stuff selling idea from Dave Ramsey. He says to sell stuff to pay for debt, which is great. But it also works for funding your vacations! The ones he says you really should not be taking when you are in so much debt. But seriously, how fun would that be?

So there you have it, a seems-like-it-but-not-really-free vacation in only four semi-easy steps. This type of traveling might not be for everyone but unfortunately I have no choice. In the words of the younger set, that's how we roll.
Anyway, I know I will be thinking about how much money I am not spending when we visit the happiest place on Earth this year. Will you be too?