Fun · My world

Becoming a lanky young man


Christopher is a good big brother

 

Christopher surprised me the other day.  Lately I have been noticing little changes in him.  He reads more than he used to just for his own pleasure.  He has a deep sense of honor and wants to be brave and noble.  He is less emotional, less whiny, more capable of plucking himself up and getting on with whatever unpleasant task he is facing.  But the thing that surprised me was just how tall he is getting.

My little boy is growing up.  His arms are long, his legs are long and his body is stringy long.  He has taken to climbing trees and swinging out of them, riding his bike endlessly and running when ever possible.   I love this new phase.   

Blogs I Know · Fun · My world · Simplicity

Simple Woman’s Daybook — June 16


the Simple Woman’s Daybook
is hosted by Peggy at the Simple Woman.

FOR TODAY June 16, 2008

 
Outside My Window… It is rather grey this morning. The clouds are supposed to burn off. The trees are looking very green
I am thinking… Really I’m not yet. My coffee is still brewing.
I am thankful for… My husband, he is a good dad. I am so thankful that he has a new job. Not only is he happy to be employed, but he likes his job so much better.
From the kitchen… I got my new pans and I will be baking bread and maybe a lemon cake today.
I am wearing… Broken glasses. I need to get these puppies fixed soon.
I am creating… Today I will finish sewing bloomers for Hannah and cut out Sarah’s.
I am going… Slowly crazy?? Today is a home day.
I am reading… The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Laundry, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell and It’s All Too Much.
I am hoping… That the sun comes back out.
I am hearing… The dogs tags ringing, coffee brewing, birds in the back yard fighting over the food.
Around the house… I am working on my Summer Fling, Today is the Kitchen’s day.
One of my favorite things… Coffee
A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week: Continue working on my fling. Start writing my organization plans. Work on our summer enrichment plans.
Here is picture thought I am sharing…

My guy with baby Josh 

Autism · Catholic stuff

Thank you

In Mass today I had one of those “God Strikes” moments; it was one of those times where something really normal happens and it completely blows me away because there is some small miracle happening.  Rachel turned to me right as the consecration was beginning and said very clearly and signed “thank you”.   It was really significant because we almost didn’t go to mass this morning.  We had a special Father’s Day breakfast and we were running a little late, Christopher couldn’t find his belt, Josh couldn’t find his shoes, Rachel was really on the edge of being too excited and I had to fill up the car with gas.  We almost didn’t make it out the door.   I am so glad we did.

Rachel just loves mass.  She loves Communion.  I know she was so happy to go, but her being able to communicate that so clearly was really a little miracle.  I love those little mini-miracles.

 

Autism · My world

The Rest of the Story

 This post is really the third of a series I have written about what we went through in placing our autistic daughter, Rachel, in a residential setting.  There first two posts in this series are:  A Note From the Edge of the World  and  Life like a String Pulled Taunt.   You can read all that I have written on autism here.

 


Rachel checks our her new room at her house.

 

 It was a new school year and a new school.  Rachel was starting middle school.  She was a sixth grader.  But the transition, as most transitions with Rachel, was rocky.  Her classroom was in a big middle school, quite different from the small neighborhood elementary school.  Her teachers were having difficulties with her acting out in class.  By the beginning of November it was apparent that this particular placement wouldn’t work for her.  We switched to a different program, one designed for children and teens with developmental disabilities coupled with behavioral issues. 

 We had settled Rachel into her new class.  She was having a little bit of a hard time, but this transition was a bit easier.  Her behaviors were still highly volatile.  If she was very happy she would act out, if she was upset she would act out, just about anything.  She was heading into full blown puberty.  All the physical changes were starting to take place and the hormones were flowing.  The mood swings, the temperament changes were there just like they would be for any child her age, but with Rachel being unable to express herself like a normal girl the frustration was multiplied.

 At home we knew that it was only a matter of time before something happened.  More and more I was answering questions from my other children about why Rachel was mean, why she was hurtful, why it was ok for her to hit or pinch or kick but not ok for anyone else.  Driving Rachel anywhere alone was risky.  She had learned that she could get a big reaction by attacking the driver.  She had also started hurting herself on occasion.  One afternoon in early November she became very agitated in the car and began banging her head back into the seat she managed to pop her jaw.  She instantly stopped her tantrum and began crying.  When we got home I took her to the pediatrician who looked her over and said that she would be fine, just a little sore.  But we were all concerned.

 Life was never absolutely normal for us, but it wasn’t all a trip through the third level of hell either.  Days would pass where nothing in particular happened.  Rachel was more verbal than she had ever been before.  She began to show a real interest in words and would have me sit and write words out for her, “cat”, “house” and she love having the names of the family on her lists. “Joshua”, “Hannah”, she liked to have her nails polished and watch TV with Ashley.  She loved to have her hair washed and brushed.   We were all excited with baby Sarah on the way.   The children were looking forward to Christmas.

 But, as we knew would eventually happen Rachel crossed the line too far.  She was upset in the kitchen, ran into the living room and before I could catch up with her she grabbed Christopher and bit him in the upper arm.  It was bad, it hadn’t broken the skin, but that was more luck than anything, it left a huge bruise.  We took Christopher to our doctor and she looked at me and said “If this had been you or Kyle I would be on the phone to child protective services.”  It was a nightmare.  We had no option left; we had to make the call.

 We called our social worker Kim, we told her that we were going to have to go for a crisis placement.  Now you might remember that almost a year before we were told that crisis placement meant no choice, 24 hours or less and the child was out of the home with other frightening possibilities on top of that.  But the second we actually made the call the scenario was different.  I am not sure what happened.  The state didn’t place Rachel in a crisis placement, but they did start looking for a out-of-home placement for her.  We were told it could take a few days or a few months but probably about three weeks.  It took almost two months to find a placement that would work.

 The options broke down into two main categories: foster-care or a residential group home.  We were very nervous about the foster home option.  One of the things we hoped for Rachel was more structure than a normal home could naturally provide and her elopement issues and unpredictability worried us in a home setting.   Finally Kim called very excited.  A place had opened up in a group home for teens, in Portland, they would be able to meet her needs, and Rachel would be close to home.  It looked like a great fit.  

 We visited the home, talked to the staff and the managing company staff, filled out more and more paper work.   Everything worked out.  The week after Sarah was born Rachel moved in to her house.  It is a tidy ranch in a good neighborhood; the back yard is surrounded by a tall cedar fence and Rachel has her own room.  It is home to five teens when Rachel moved in she was the youngest, and one of two girls. Her bedroom was painted pink, with Princess Stickers on the walls.   We had several meetings where plans were made for Rachel’s care and happiness.    The things she liked and the things she didn’t were taken into consideration.  Each week her activates are planned, she can go bowling, shopping, even horseback riding.  Support staff comes with her to enable her to manage these things. 

 At home we have found that not being solely responsible for Rachel twenty-four hours a day seven days a week, week in and week out had allowed us to be more focused on Rachel when she is home.  We aren’t’ constantly worn down.  We have been able to come out of the “bunker” mentality and live. But it has been a slow process.  Dr Turner told us that it would take at least a year for us to decompress as a family.  He said at first we wouldn’t change how we lived because those habits that we had adopted to deal with Rachel were pretty entrenched, then we would feel some amount of guilt.  We wouldn’t do things as a family and have fun because it would feel wrong not to have Rachel with us even though those things would have been unmanageable with her, like camping or going on vacation.  Finally we would adjust to it and find balance.  

We also found that we have gone through phases of adjustment with seeing Rachel.  At first we were there frequently and brought her home almost every weekend.  For a while it seemed like we didn’t see her enough.  But now we have found a balance.  We try to make sure she is home every other weekend.  At first the transitions on the weekend were very hard but now things are easier.  Rachel loves coming home, but is happy to go back to her house. The placement has been good for Rachel, good for the other children.  It isn’t perfect.  There have been small issues with the group home staff from time to time.  For a while a big thing was Rachel’s hair, which is naturally full and curly.  Rachel has always loved having it brushed and washed, but the house staff would have a horrible time with it and would let it go and it would get tangled horribly.  But this issue was addressed and worked out.   

Emotionally it was a difficult adjustment.   I cried when I took the locks off the kitchen cupboard, but being able to leave the doors open for the first time in the summer was like a dream come true.  Christopher had a very difficult time when Rachel first left.  He blamed himself.  The younger children were in ways glad to see her go, but now they look forward to Rachey days.  Rachel had a bit of a hard time the first few weeks.  She ran away from the house or staff a few times, but she soon adjusted.   I look at it almost like she is at boarding school.  We always knew that Rachel would one day be in a group home setting.  We hoped that we would be able to place her as a late teen or early twenty.  My first husband, Rachel’s father, worked in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities.  He had seen how difficult it was for those adults who came in late, when their parents died or were no longer able to care for them.   They had such a difficult time compared to those who came in as young adults.  We didn’t want to stifle Rachel.  We wanted her to be able to leave our home and become as independent an adult as possible.  She deserves her own life, her own space and things and friends.  We just didn’t expect to have to be doing that at 12 or 13. 

 Placing Rachel in residential care was the single hardest thing we have ever done, but it has turned out to be one of the best decisions we have ever made

Autism · My world

Life Like a String Pulled Taunt


Rachel in 2005

You can read the final installment of this series here:  The rest of the story.

 

It was one of those crazy afternoons.  Rachel wanted a something from the kitchen not finding it she started to get upset.  I told her to go to her room, because that is her “safe place” where she could unwind by herself.  It was never a problem for Rachel to go to her room, but she was already agitated.  There is a particular little set of notes that Rachel hoots when she is winding up to have a meltdown. “Dut da dut da da” high and stressed little notes letting everyone know that she is not able to calm herself down.  Then she turned and ran out of the room, through the living room, down the hall and slammed her door.  Five year old Hannah appeared from behind the big, blue chair in the living room with two year old Josh right behind her.  “Mommy we hid, when Rachel was getting mad I got Josh and we hid.”  What could I say?  “Good job”, I think was what came out of my mouth as I sat down and for the millionth time wondered what we were going to do.

 

A year before I had sat down and poured out my heart to my laptop.  I was at the end of my rope, I knew I had to do something, but I was unsure what to do.  I had two options and neither were options I wanted to pursue.  After writing that article about a month passed before things got worse.  After dropping Ashley and Christopher off at school I was driving back to the house to wait for Rachel’s bus.  Rachel was agitated.  I didn’t know what had set her off, but she was really upset.  We were stopped at a light and I was looking out the passenger window when she kicked at me.  I was able to move and she caught me in the shoulder, but if I had been looking the other way or driving at the time she would have hit me in the head.  If we had been on the freeway… The “what ifs” overwhelmed me. 

 

By the time we got home and Rachel’s bus came to take her to school I was shaking.   I sat down on the couch and started crying.  After a while I thought I had myself together and started making calls.  One agency would refer me to another.   Everyone I spoke to was kind; they listened to me break down over and over while I tired explain that  we couldn’t do this anymore.  I couldn’t manage Rachel’s behaviors.  But the only thing they could offer was to refer me to someone else.

 

Bouncing from one group to another I learned a lot.  Rachel was too young to be in the adult mental health system.  We had too much money for some state programs but not enough to pay for private programs and our insurance wouldn’t cover anything for autism.  There were programs for children with mental retardation but Rachel didn’t qualify.  Programs for autistic teens, but not that would be able to provide services to someone with behaviors as severe as Rachel’s.   There just weren’t services out there that I could find that met our needs.  By the end of the day I had called a dozen agencies and support groups and I had two appointments.  One appointment was with ARC the other with the Oregon Disability Determination Services. 

 

When Kyle got home we talked.  I told him what I had done and what had led up to it that particular day.  I can’t imagine anyone more supportive than my husband.  Autism can be stressful to the whole family, not to mention the marriage.  But Kyle has always been steady and solid.  He arranged to come with me to the meeting with DDS.  Social services make me nervous.  My personal experience with them and the stories I have read and heard from friends made me feel like talking to the state was walking into a dragon’s den.  Fortunately Kyle would be there with me.

 

For the appointment with ARC I was on my own.  It was with a woman named Wendy.  On Thursday, February 24th I drove downtown for my appointment.  I waiting in the tiny waiting room for a little while and finally someone came out to explain that Wendy was tied up with another client across town.   I went to the car with a sick feeling as though I would never find anyone who could help.  I was just sitting there in the car already exhausted and in the middle of a minor breakdown when Wendy called and asked if I wanted to reschedule or wait.  I had nothing else to do so I waited.  She came back and we talked, but the best they could offer was respite care.  We have respite care, my parents would watch Rachel from time to time, but this was beyond that.  We needed something more structured for Rachel than we could provide Rachel needed it. My other children needed a life where they weren’t at risk from Rachel’s behaviors.  All this hung together.  Something had to change on a somewhat perminate basis.   But that is beyond ARC’s services.  Besides, ARC is mostly for people with mental retardation anyhow,   I really needed to talk to the State Department of Human Services.  Bounced again. 

 

Oregon Disability Determination Services is part of the State Department of Human Services.  On March first we met with Sheryl.  At that time residential placements were based on need, basically to get Rachel placed at all required a crisis placement.   We sat down and filled out a small mountain of paper work to see if Rachel qualified.  We would be assigned a case worked.  We had had a case worker through DDS years before.  She had been helpful when we were first coordinating Rachel’s educational services, but since we had good family support we didn’t need them.  So we were shelved.   Now we needed them and had to get back into the system.

 

That was when things started to get worrisome.  To place Rachel might take years going through the regular channels.  The only possible way to get her placed quickly was a crisis placement.  We were told if we called in a crisis they would find an “immediate” placement.  This would mean Rachel would be out of the home in 24 hours.  We wouldn’t have any say in the initial placement, and then they would find a permanent placement where we would have some say over the placement itself. 

 

We started hearing a lot of conflicting information.  We were cautioned that a “full blown” crisis intervention placement might involved DHS Child Protection Services and if a placement for Rachel couldn’t immediately be found that the CPS might place our other children instead, the logic being that if Rachel was a danger to them it would be easier to move them to safety than to find a suitable placement for Rachel.  We were also told the placement might be far away.  If the first available appropriate placement was in Le Grande that is where she would be and there wouldn’t be much we could do about it.

 

With all this uncertainty hanging over our heads we couldn’t do it.  We were quickly approved and assigned a case worker, her name was Kim.  She turned out to be fantastic.  Summer was coming and she helped arrange for Rachel to spend a week at camp.  Things seemed to be settling down a little, I tucked the business cards I had collected into my day-runner and we waited.   While the situation was very difficult at times it was also better than risking all the unknowns.  We hoped and prayed that Rachel would get better and we hung on as long as we could

Funny Questions · My world

Funny questions from the past few weeks.


Eugene De Blaas — The Love Letter

Every once in a while I like to go through the search terms people use to find this site to see what questions are being asked to lead people here.  Funny enough sometimes I know that they won’t find the answer they are looking for in what I have written, even more humorous is when I actually know the answers anyhow.  Here are some of the latest.

What is a child receiving communion called?    Anyone who is entitled to receive communion can be called a communicant.  For first communion it would be “first communicant”.  

Where can I learn the catholic rosary?   Not here,  but The Rosary Center  or Catholic Online both have the prayers.  And you can use the same Rosary beads for a chaplet as well.  My favorite is the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

What is the most important moment in my life?  You are in it.  Right now is the most important moment in your life.  It is the only moment you have any control over.  All choices are made in the now.  All plans, all dreams depend on how we live the little moments of our lives.  Who and what you are living this moment for makes all the difference. 

Does the Grotto in Portland have the luminous mysteries?  I don’t remember them having them.  Their website is here and their Rosary page is here

What does it mean to be living a Catholic life?  For me it means you are working on forming yourself, your conscience, your habits and practices in the image God wants for you, that you are striving to be like Him within the structure, the tradition and the support of Catholic teaching.  In short following the precepts of the Church.

As always the Catechism of the Church has a better answer than I could ever hope to form:

II. THE PRECEPTS OF THE CHURCH

2041 The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor:

2042 The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.”) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the Mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic Celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.82The second precept (“You shall confess your sins at least once a year.”) ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.83

The third precept (“You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season”) guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy.84 

2043 The fourth precept (“You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church”) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.NT1

The fifth precept (“You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church”) means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.NT2

 

 

III. MORAL LIFE AND MISSIONARY WITNESS

2044 The fidelity of the baptized is a primordial condition for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the Church’s mission in the world. In order that the message of salvation can show the power of its truth and radiance before men, it must be authenticated by the witness of the life of Christians. “The witness of a Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have great power to draw men to the faith and to God.”88

2045 Because they are members of the Body whose Head is Christ,89 Christians contribute to building up the Church by the constancy of their convictions and their moral lives. The Church increases, grows, and develops through the holiness of her faithful, until “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”90

2046 By living with the mind of Christ, Christians hasten the coming of the Reign of God, “a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.”91 They do not, for all that, abandon their earthly tasks; faithful to their master, they fulfill them with uprightness, patience, and love.

 

How do I prepare my autistic son for 1st Communion?  A lot of that will depend on where on the autism spectrum your son is.   I have written about First Communion and autism here.  In the US the most important document on the topic is: Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities.  Most pastors I have known have been very open to working with families dealing with disability issues.  There are some out there who aren’t and that is very sad but we are all human and struggle with our own fears, discomforts and prejudices and I would hope that we always keep in mind the Proverb: A mild answer calms wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger

As far as practical advice goes the two most helpful things in general I can say are: Practice with a few unconsecrated breads and wine before the actual sacrament so you can see if there are any taste or texture issues that might cause problems, and social stories are very helpful.    Your child’s school probably has software to help create one or you can find images online and put one together yourself.  One of these days I might get around to putting mine online.

Being a good wife means what?  You might be looking for the “1950’s home economic textbook’s 10 step guide to being a good wife”  here is it at snopes  or you might want Aristotle’s work “On a good wife“.  You might be looking for the Proverb 31 description or Titus 2 and in the end, even thoug one is a ‘joke’ they all have similar themes.  If you were to condense them all down  you get something like this:

A good wife is woman of worth in her own right.  She is someone who is thoughtful, just, kind, modest, graceful, respectable, honorable and faithful.  She takes good care of her home and household.  She is wise with her family’s assets.  She avoids any scandal.  She takes excellent care of her children and her family and shows consideration and charity to her community, the poor and the needy.  She loves her husband, showing him respect, support, devotion and affection.  Above all she serves God.  

I have written a little more on the topic of being a Good Wife here.

 

Autism · My world

Support for autistic teen

I have typed that into google many times over the past five years.   I was always hopeful.  It always turned out somewhat dissappointing.  I did it again today.  Lot’s of information from people living on the spectrum.  Those who are obviously high functioning enough to use a computer and type their thoughts and feelings in a coherant manner.  Some of what they say is insightful a great deal of it has about as much to do with my daughter Rachel as if they were talking about a completely normal teen.  My concerns for Rachel aren’t  how to help her be cool, or how should we handle dating but things like what is the process for placing her in an assisted living situation, how do I avoid getting CPS involved in my family’s life if she hurts her sibling — should I even worry about that — could CPS actually help or are they clueless when it comes to special needs?

 Searching again by adding aggression into the search box.  I hoped to up the relevance.  It leaves me wondering again.  Am I alone out here?  I know I am not, I know there are other families dealing with these issues.  Why is it so very difficult to find support? 

Uncategorized

Menu Planning Part 3

From Template to Table

In my last two menu planning articles I have rambled through the basics behind menu planning and put together a template and some concepts to keep in mind when planning out the week’s menus.   This article builds on those ideas and goes from the menu template to the shopping list to the table.

Every family has their favorite meals and dishes, some families deal with allergies and others have strong likes or dislikes.  Additionally culture influences what the menu looks like.  Do you enjoy curries or is pork sausage a favorite?  When I first started seriously menu planning I found that I wanted to make some changes in my family’s diet, mostly looking for healthier choices.  We like meat load, steak, burgers… basically a lot of high-fat red-meat heavy meals.  We also struggle with getting in a good number of vegetable and fruit choices unless I am menu planning.  It is very tempting for me to plan the dinner menu and ad lib the rest but life works better and our diets are healthier if I avoid this temptation.  My menu template is just that… mine.  I find it works well for my family but your might be completely different.  So if you find this doesn’t work for you or you feel it isn’t healthy enough please change it to your heart’s desire.  But, as an example I will use my menu template.

Several years ago I took the time to ask each family member what their favorite meals where.  Lasagna, taco casserole, salmon, chili, lemon-ginger chicken, chicken Budapest, pesto and pasta, steak… the list went on.  I found that we were short on fish and vegetarian/legume dishes and heavy on red meat.  I took the meals my family loves and put them into a database that would generate up to 52 nights of meal options.  I added in several “try a new fish” and “try a new veggie” nights.  This, I reasoned, would allow me to introduce new options and keep those that my family liked.  Thus was born my first incarnation of my “menu planner” software solution.

Making your family’s favorite meal list:
This is going to be unique to every family.  To create mine I sat down and wrote out those things I knew would be on the list and then asked everyone to tell me what they liked too.  Some items are a universal hit, some are liked by most the family, some are beloved by one or two of us.  I go back and forth on the number of menu options you need.  Part of me thinks it is fun to have a variety of meals that go through a long cycle, other times I think some family members would be happy with the same thing every week (Tuesday is Taco night, Friday tuna casserole and Saturday is pizza for example).   Right now I am settled on a four week rotating cycle with spots for new items to try three times.  

Trying new things is also a personal option.  Some people love to cook and can cook well, they either follow recipes meticulously or they are able to just be creative and turn our brilliant meals. Others struggle in this area.  Cooking is a skill, good cooking is a matter of practice and great cooking is an art.  If you are unsure of your cooking skills don’t start out by being really creative.  Start with some basic recipes that your family likes and master those then expand your cooking horizon if that appeals to you.  If you start out with seven simple healthy meals that you take the time to master you and your family will be more happy with the results than if you start out trying to do twenty-eight complicate menus and keep adding in new things in an attempt to find something better.

My parents taught me this quite by accident.  My mother is a really great woman, but her skills in the kitchen are underdeveloped.  I remember when I was young she would go through magazines and clip new recipes, go shopping with her neat list and have the very best of intentions to spend as little as possible.  The sad fact was that she didn’t like to cook much.  She viewed it as an awful chore and would try to speed through it as fast as she could.  If an onion needed diced it would be cut into huge chunks (faster that way), if something needed roasted it was just a little bit higher temperature (just add 50 degrees) than the recipe called for (it would be faster) if something had to simmer it would be boiled for a little while (yes, that would be a speed thing too).  The stove top seemed to have two temperatures off and high.  Spices and seasoning where measured quickly, added  in all at once and stired for as brief a time possible — except for vegetables which need to be boiled to mushiness.  No one really liked to eat mom’s meals.  So her feedback was my father dutifully gulping it down and the children (me included, sorry mom) whining about how the food sucked.   No wonder she dreaded the whole thing and was greatful when we got old enough to cook for ourselves.

My dad is a very good cook.  It started out that for some reason he took a liking to Chinese cooking.  He had a friend come over to the house one Saturday and teach him how to make some of his favorite dishes. Then dad got a couple cookbooks and started practicing the dishes that sounded best to him.  He was very careful in his prep-work, everything was cooked at the proper temperature in the manner the recipe called for.  He would purchase quality ingredients and measure them very carefully.   Everyone loved Chinese night, mom loved it (good food and she didn’t have to cook, what wasn’t to love?) and the happy children chowed down and proclaimed it all wonderful.  Dad learned to cook.  He started with something he liked, asked someone with more experience to help him get started then practiced.  He also followed the recipes to the letter, used the proper techniques and started with quality ingredients.  It became something he enjoys still.

So, don’t stress if you feel your cooking isn’t superb right now.  Good cooking can be learned.  Start with easy basics, follow your recipes to the letter, maybe take a cooking class or two.  Enjoy the process.  Don’t rush your cooking and realize that even if the family grumbles and moans at the moment there will come I time when your skills improve and you and your family will be delighted with the results.  Cooking is a small thing and can be a chore, but as with so many mundane tasks,  if done with love cooking becomes a pleasant service.  Take care to do those little things that make the difference, even if the difference doesn’t seem large, the people who serve in your own home are the most important in the world.

Novice cook or full blown chief extraordinaire there will still be a finite list of meals that you will pick for your family.  You decide how many weeks you rotate your list, you might find that you have some absolute favorites that show up more frequently than others or you might have two or three weeks of things that loop.

I have 28 favorite meals with three “new meal” nights which replace one of the favorites.   I like to start with dinner’s main course.  We have three nights where I have meat, one chicken nights, two nights with fish, and one legume night. If I am being smart I check the local sales fliers, what is in season locally and my freezer to help me plan what to eat.  Using my family’s favorite meal list I populate the main dish for each dinner.  Once this is done I can plan the side dishes.   I try to keep in mind that little poem:

Something soft and something crisp
Should always go together,
And something hot with something cold
No matter what the weather;
Something bland needs the complement
Of something with tang and nip.
Follow these rules and all your meals
Will have taste appeal and zip.

After the dinner options I plan out the lunches, breakfasts and then snacks.  Then I pull the recipes out, multiplying the servings as I need to  so I know what to purchase.  For instance if a recipe calls for an 8 oz can of tomato sauce for four servings I am going basically double it.  I break the list into staples and produce.  I will pick up all the non-perishables in one trip which leaves me to pick up produce, meat and dairy in smaller shopping trips to help assure freshness.