So a week ago today I posted here about a Random Act Of Kindness. I urged readers here and on Facebook to join me in voting for a photo in the Virginia State Parks First Hikes contest so the family could win a 1-week stay in the park of their choice.
I found a blog post on the Love that Max Link-UP from the blog Cheering On Charlie about the photo contest she’d entered. When I read this “At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to enter the contest. Quite honestly, I have become afraid to hope for things.” I thought, I know exactly what she means.
There were also a whole bunch of nice words in the post about all the people she knew that had come out of the woodwork to vote – most of whom she hadn’t spoken to in ages… again – know how that feels.
She was really excited about all the votes she’d already received and was very much hoping that she could win first place. In that one post, I felt like I’d found a ‘kindred spirit’. I jumped around her blog and read more about her daughter, a micropreemie who has overcome some great obstacles to grow and thrive. I read about her challenges with being a special needs parents and I read about her hopes for Charlie. And then I decided that I could help her and her family win that prize. And, if I shared her story, you guys would help too.
Well, talk about a landslide of kindness. The photo, “Woodland Creature”, racked up vote after vote.
With my post here and the posts of others, Charlie’s mom caught on to our helping the cause and wrote about it here… which caused even more people to jump in to help.
Still, the nearest competitor was really on the ball. WC would go up, the other guy would go up. WC would get 10, 20, 100 votes and the competition would do the same. It was seriously stressing me out!
Then suddenly, I got a message from a friend who was helping me rally the troops that mentioned this blog post comment:
“Hi “Woodland Creature’s” mom. My name is Sarah, and I am the other high voting opponent in the VA State Parks first day hike contest (“Best friends that hike together…”). My husband (in the photo) and I decided to lay off the voting spree and concede before this contest has ended. It should all be in good fun anyway, and we had a lot of fun rallying our FB friends and co-workers to vote for us. You were such a tough opponent, matching us vote for vote or out voting us, that I had to do some Googling to see what who I was up against! After reading your blog about Charlie, my husband and I have decided that your family deserves a cabin stay more than we do. Parenting in so hard, and you’ve had a bit more on your plate than your average parent has. You were such a touch opponent, and Charlie deserves the win! I am a new mother myself, and I just couldn’t continue on for the win after reading your blog. Warm hugs to you and Charlie from Elsa (my daughter) and I. If you ever want to say hello, you can reach us over at oakwoodhouse.wordpress.com. Have a great cabin stay!”
This came from Sarah who conceded the contest so that Charlie and her family could take the prize!
I wrote to Virginia State Parks to let them know how classy the 2nd place finishers were and after reading the final results post, it seems I wasn’t the only one.
They were awarded a special 2nd place prize of a 3 night stay.
I want to thank you very much for taking the time to vote for this family and I hope you had the same case of the feel-goods that I had during the voting process. Charlie’s mom is thrilled that they’ll be enjoying a getaway this year and is oh-so-very-grateful for the role we all played in their journey to the top.
My biggest take away is that I will always be able to find a way to shake the blues by reaching out and doing something kind for others – even if I don’t really know who they are. Even if they live 1000 miles away.
We did good.
It’s finally being released across the country! Gabrielle, Canada’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film opens in Toronto at the Tiff Lightbox and in Ottawa today, and in Vancouver and Winnipeg on the 24th.
Back in September I had the pleasure of seeing Gabrielle at the Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by Louise Archambault, the film stars Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, a Quebec actress making her film debut who also happens to have Williams Syndrome. The cast was present for the screening and I had the pleasure of speaking very briefly to Gabrielle and her Mom after the Q&A was finished. She was lovely in person and her Mom was also most gracious. There was at least one other family with a child (young adult more specifically) with Williams Syndrome who asked some great questions at the Q&A – most importantly, the young man wanted to know if Gabrielle was single and if she was interested in a date, which caused much blushing for both parties. Ah, young love.
The film, a coming-of-age romance is, at times, heart-wrenching and at times, uplifting but that’s where the ‘typical’ ends. The two main characters meet in a choir for young adults with developmental disabilities.
The sweet love that grows between them is as pure as it is troubling to his parents. We see Gabrielle float between woman and girl, craving independence and needing support, finding her own way and getting lost metaphorically and literally. It is both riveting and hard to watch. But you can’t help but cheer her on in her fight to be heard and to experience love and life to the fullest.
I’m no film critic, and to be honest, I was watching the story unfold through the lens of a parent with endless questions about what will come to pass for my own daughter, so you may want to read what some others had to say about the film.
The Ottawa Citizen says “Gabrielle, the character and the performer, is someone to root for.”
The Toronto Star says “Gabrielle reminds us, through love and music, that perception is not reality and that prejudice is an attitude, not a truth.”
And the Montreal Gazette says “On the surface, it’s a simple love story: girl meets boy, girl likes boy, girl kisses boy. But Louise Archambault’s Gabrielle is much more. The Quebec director’s second feature is a deeply affecting tale of difference, dignity and the healing power of song.”
You can watch the trailer here.
I have a pair of tickets to see the film at the TIFF Lightbox for one lucky reader here in Toronto. Head over to facebook.com/mommydoCA and and leave a comment under the post for this blog entry. I’ll do a random number draw tomorrow, Saturday, January 11 at 12 noon, and notify the winner. Then we can arrange how I can get the tickets to you in a timely fashion. You must live in Toronto to win.
Even if you don’t win, I strongly urge you to check out the film, if only to gain greater understanding of Williams Syndrome and my little Obi and enjoy some great Canadian movie magic.
Something nice happened when I learned I had a child with Williams Syndrome.
I became a nicer person. I became a person who couldn’t afford to be completely self centered (though I am ashamed to say, I found those 40 self-centered years to be pretty fun. And I never really gave any thought to why there was a problem with that). Overnight I came to understand that I would not make it through this process alone – that none of us makes it through this alone. Oh, and that there were people I should have tried harder to be there for that I never even thought to reach out to. (That part still makes be feel bad.)
I also realized that the past is the past but there are things, big and small, that need doing now. And if not me, then who?
In order for my child to grow up to be loved and accepted in society, I believe folks need to have some awareness about her syndrome. Someone should really work to raise awareness on her behalf, and on behalf of all individuals with Williams Syndrome.
And if not me, then who?
There are therapies and specialists – so many it makes your head spin, and someone needs to understand how they all work together. And needs to be able to share this info with the next parent who feels lost and alone.
And if not me, then who?
Someone really should make people understand it’s not ok to say ‘retard’, ‘retarded’ or any other derivative of the word.
And if not me, then who?
Someone needs to let other parents of kids special needs know they are not alone.
And if not me, then who?
That’s the reason I took it upon myself to Cheer on Charlie in the Virginia Parks Photo Contest (in which they netted the most votes, by the way). Because they were a nice family who needed a break. Because their story touched my heart. Because someone really needed to drum up some votes so the little family with the cute little girl who goes though a number of the same therapy sessions as Obi is now who really wanted (needed) to get away had a fighting chance to do a ‘normal’ thing.
If not me, then who?
Well, in this case, it turned out to be me, and a whole bunch of you. Which is also nice.
Remember that feeling of being a nice when I come calling for my first Williams Syndrome Awareness Event. Know that we may have the only WS kid there…I don’t know any others in Toronto yet. Given the probability of having a WS child – between 1-7500 to 1-20,000 – statistically only 19-50 will be born in Canada this year.
According to those stats, there are only 2000 or fewer individuals with WS under the age of 20 in the entire country. That makes it rare. Like, really really rare.
But Williams Syndrome being rare doesn’t make it any less of my reality or her reality. It doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t learn more or accept more.
It doesn’t mean she should have to live less of a life because she’s only one of a few that has these 28 less genes than you or me.
She, and all the other little peeps with Williams Syndrome and a host of other little peeps with countless other conditions and syndromes need all of us to make sure that everyone gets to live their lives to their fullest potential.
If not us, then who?
These things need a shorter name. They’re quick to make and don’t hang around long at all. The length of their name is kind of misleading. Though, it does spell out pretty clearly what these guys are. They could also simply call them ‘delicious squares’ and have the same end result.
They remind me of my friend Marilyn’s mom, who used to bake these and keep them in the downstairs freezer… the perfect spot for sneaking from.
1 Cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 Cup butter
2 (6 oz) packages butterscotch chips
1 large package miniature coloured marshmallows
Put the peanut butter, butter and butterscotch chips in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over low heat until melted and well combined.
Add marshmallows and press into buttered 8-inch square pan.Store in refrigerator.
Chocolate. Peanut butter. These are my favourite brownies in the world. They don’t have any candy bars in them, but taste very much like a frosted candy bar filling. I had other photos, but this one pretty much sums up my feeling on these.
Recipe – I’d love to give credit for these, but my recipe photocopy has been hanging around since about 1999 and has no indication of where it’s from.
1 1/4 Cups finely crushed graham crackers (about 18 crackers)
1/4 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup finely chopped dry-roasted peanuts
1/2 Cup butter (no substitutes) melted
1/4 Cup butter or margarine
2 Oz unsweetened chocolate (cut up)
1 Cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 Cup all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup chopped peanuts
Peanut Butter Frosting
1/4 Cup butter
2 Tbsp peanut butter
2 Cups sifted powdered sugar
1 Tbsp milk
1/2 Tsp Vanilla
Combine graham crackers, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 finely chopped peanuts in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the 1/2 Cup melted butter. Press mixture evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 11x7x1 and 1/2 inch baking pan. Bake in 350 degree oven for 5 minutes. Cool.
Melt the 1/2 Cup butter or margarine and the chocolate in a heavy large saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally remove from heat; stir in the 1 Cup sugar, eggs and vanilla. Stir until just combined. Stir in flour and the 1.2 cup chopped peanuts. Spread evenly over crust.
Bake: 20 minutes more. cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Spread with Peanut butter frosting. Cut brownie into small squares. (Or cut into 24 larger bars). Place a few honey roasted peanuts on each square. IF desired, pace each brownie in a small candy cup. Makes 50 to 70 small squares.
Peanut butter Frosting:
Beat 1/4 Cup butter and 2 tbsp peanut butter in a bowl with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 sec. Gradually add 1 Cup sifted powdered sugar, beating well. Beat in 1 Tbsp milk and 1/2 Tsp vanilla. Gradually beat in 1 Cup additional sifted powdered sugar and enough milt to make a frosting of spreading consistency. Carefully spread over the brownies. Refrigerate before cutting.
Shhh, this is ‘my’ secret fudge recipe. The biggest secret is how little time it takes to make something this delicious. Confession: Though I usually make this with walnuts as per the directions, this year, in an effort to make more ‘nut-free’ goodies, I swapped the walnuts for Chippits Holiday Chips. Pretty good! And very festive.
LINE 8-inch square pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides; grease foil.
Microwave semi-sweet chocolate and 2/3 can condensed milk in medium microwaveable bowl on MEDIUM for 2 min., stirring after 1 min. Stir until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is well blended. Add nuts (or festive chips); mix well. Pour into prepared pan. Refrigerate while preparing the top layer.
PLACE white chocolate and remaining milk in medium microwaveable bowl. Microwave on MEDIUM for 1 min 30 sec., stirring after 1 min. Stir until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is well blended. Pour over fudge layer in pan. (I added extra chips to the top)
REFRIGERATE 1 hour or until firm. Cut into squares to serve.
I’m really seeing a lot of chocolate bark this year – everyone from Starbucks to the corner grocer seems to be selling it for Christmas. It warms my heart a little to see it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve received bark in my stocking. As a little girl, the Laura Secord Almond bark was there, year after year. Maybe Santa will remember this and drop some in this Christmas for old times sake.
Even if he doesn’t, the bark tradition continues around here. I find it to be an easy way to add a little something ‘extra’ to holiday treat plates. I make mine very thin, but you can use more chocolate in a smaller pan to create a thicker bark.
First is Candy Cane Marble Bark.
In a microwave save bowl, melt 8 oz roughly chopped semisweet bakers chocolate in microwave at 50% for a min. Stir and continue to heat at 50% for 30 sec more (repeat as necessary) stirring to thoroughly mix and melt the chocolate.
Repeat with 8oz of white chocolate.
Meanwhile, crush candy canes to make about 3/4 c.
When white and dark chocolate are melted, spread in touching stripes on a parchment paper lined baking tray.
I bang the tray on the counter a few times to try to evenly distribute and thin out the chocolate. Sprinkle candy cane all over.
Then, drag a butter knife in straight lines across the stripes to ‘pull’ the white chocolate down into the dark.
Let set in the fridge or on the counter overnight and snap into pieces once the chocolate is well set.
Here are a few variations. The chocolate is melted the same way for each.
S’mores Bark – with mini-marshmallows and teddy grahams.
For this one, melt 8 oz dark chocolate as above. Stir in 1 Cup mini marshmallows. Completely coating the marshmallows makes this bark WAY better. Then stir in 1/2 Cup teddy grahams and spread onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle another 1/4 Teddy Grahams onto the top and let set.
Ok – next is Oreo Cookie Bark
This one is extra easy and kids love it.
Melt 8 oz chocolate as described above. Stir in 1 Cup roughly chopped Oreo cookies. Spread onto parchment paper prepared cookie sheet. Let set.
Lastly, we have White Chocolate Almond Cranberry Bark
Melt 8 oz white chocolate as directed above. Stir in 1/2 Cup almonds and 1/2 Cup dried cranberries (in the photos I used 1 Cup and I feel that’s too much. Feel free to find your own perfect amount).
Spread onto parchment paper lined pan and let set.
And that’s it. Chocolate bark 4 ways. You can easily make all 4 in about 45 min if you need some instant gratification. Of course, you can’t really enjoy them till they set, but the fridge is your friend to make quick work of that!
Ok – now we’re really cookin’. Or baking, or whatever. Yesterday I said I’d give you a little something that would help use up any extra melty chocolate. These little fellas are the #1 cookie in my arsenal. Gooey, chocolatey. And they really look impressive. Again, not a huge batch – about 36 cookies, but so rich and decadent, that seems to be just enough. These also need a little fridge time for the dough so the delayed gratification only serves to make them sweeter.
Yield: 36 Cookies
Prep 30 mins Chill 2 hrs Bake 350°F 10 mins per batch
1. Separate egg; place yolk and white in separate bowls. Cover and chill egg white until needed. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add sugar and beat well. Beat in egg yolk, milk, and vanilla.
2. In another bowl stir together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until well combined. Wrap the cookie dough in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or until easy to handle.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. In a small saucepan heat and stir caramels and whipping cream over low heat until mixture is smooth. Set aside.
4. Slightly beat reserved egg white. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in egg white, then in pecans to coat. Place balls 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet. Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each cookie.
5. Bake for 10 minutes or until edges are firm. If cookie centers puff during baking, repress with your thumb. Spoon melted caramel mixture into indentations of cookies. Transfer cookies to wire racks; cool. (If necessary, reheat caramel mixture to keep it spoonable.)
6. In another saucepan heat and stir chocolate pieces and shortening over low heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly. Drizzle chocolate mixture over tops of cookies.* Let stand until chocolate is set.
I decided I’d take this delicious dough and invent a cookie of my own. This is one case where the idea was better than the end result. Don’t get me wrong, they are delicious. But the candycane melted and made the cookie part very squishy and sticky. Letting them cool on the parchment greatly improved the outcome.
I give you Chocolate-Peppermint Mushies
I made the dough as above, rolled in crushed candy cane instead of nuts, put a junior mint in the thumbprint and drizzled with white chocolate. Follow my lead at your own risk on these little fellers.
Wow! Everything seems to get done at the last minute around here lately. But I’m happy to say that BOTH kids will have an advent calendar this year. I squeezed out an extra day, as the boy is visiting grandparents tonight, so although it’s not hung, it’s ready to go.
I got the idea from Lindsay over at Little House Blog a few years ago here and have enjoyed filling it ever since. Here it is handing last winter.
I needed to make one for Obi so I went back to Little House Blog and used this free printable to create a second set of bags.
I love the colours and set the numbers off to the side to give it a modern feel.
They’re all done and ready to hang.
His will be filled with the contents of a LEGO advent calendar and hers will be filled with baby things like socks, headbands and some Little People.
Around here, we hang day by day to avoid the whole “Why can’t we open them all at once?” drama.
If want to make one (next year, maybe, since it’s December tomorrow) you can order the bags from Lindsay’s shop.
Oh Happy Day. December tomorrow. And we’re diving into the Christmas Baking binder to start the 12 Treats of Christmas. Are you ready to get your bake on?
I wrote an entirely different post. But when I read it, it was well… sad. You see, it was this time last year that things started to go south fast in my pregnancy. Warning signs lead to tests lead to hospital bed rest lead to more failed tests lead to worry about baby’s safety lead to emergency c-section lead to Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday in the NICU lead to home on RSV season house arrest lead to a laser focus on Obi’s delays lead to tests lead to diagnosis lead to more tests, therapies, adjusting to the new normal.
It’s been a year filled with the unknown, worry, disappointment, grief and challenges. It’s been a very, very long year. And when you stop there, it sounds like that’s all it’s been.
Which is far from the reality. As with any new baby, there have been all these tough times, but there has also been unimaginable joy. I suppose this is also the real lesson I’ve learned as a parent of a special needs child. It is true that the lows are lower. The hard times are harder than with a typical child, there’s no question. But these don’t take away from the splendour or the majesty or the joy. I think they probably make it all a little bit sweeter.
The calendar is triggering all these memories of how things went from what I expected when I was expecting to this giant uncharted sea that is Williams Syndrome. But the calendar is also signalling my most favourite time of the year. It’s easy to stay at the pity party and wallow in the woe-is-me’s, but that’s not gonna help anything AND it’s going to mean next year I’m looking back at this year as another one that fell flat.
So to try and move past what happened last year and embrace THIS season, I’ve decided to stuff my advent calendar with little reminders of all the magic that happened this year. To actually count my blessings – 25 of them – and take 25 days to reflect on what a wonderful year it’s been. Really, learning my child has Williams Syndrome is just ONE thing that happened. This also happened:
1. Our infertility journey came to an end when we welcomed the sweet baby girl that completes our family.
2. We were fortunate to spend our NICU time in an incredible environment and never worried for one minute about the love and care Obi received.
3. Although Obi ultimately didn’t become a ‘nursing’ baby, the time we spent trying was filled with sweet bonding moments.
4. My eternal newborn still has that sweet baby smell, at almost 1 year old.
5. The boy has blossomed as a loving and nurturing sibling.
6. Obi’s first smile very nearly melted me into a puddle of goo and every one since has been glorious.
7. I have learned are really good people in the world whose sole purpose is to ensure children shine.
8. I got to experience the feeling of holding a new (day-old) baby again when there had been many days I thought I never would.
9. People have been gentle with me when times have been rough.
10. My business is fine despite taking a backseat.
11. I realized how grateful I am that we live near Sick Kids.
12. Obi saw many specialists but so far has no concerning health issues.
13. Obi laughed and it was magical.
14. I learned that small babies stay ‘babies’ longer – and I love babies.
15. I took a stand against something and found others stood with me.
16. Through Mommydo, I came to feel I am not alone.
17. I got to take long walks with a sleeping baby in a stroller.
18. I got to watch a lot of great TV while a baby did not sleep at night.
19. I made new friends that I would never have met if things had been different.
20. Obi sat for the first time and I thought my heart would burst with pride.
21. I made nice with my bre.ast pump and have met the goal of 1 year of bre.ast milk for my little miss – a huge accomplishment.
22. I brought a tiny human into the world and she has changed me and all those around her for the better.
23. I learned what unconditional really means.
24. We gained a whole new ‘family’ in the Williams Syndrome community.
25. With Obi’s arrival I experienced sorrow, but not as deeply as I experienced JOY.