Today's guest post comes from a local Pittsburgh mom and freelance writer, Tara Darazio. Tara blogs at http://apassionforthepen.wordpress.com. How did you know when you'd found "the one"?
Today we are starting a new series at Pittsburgh Mom called "Make it Monday". On Mondays we will share something for you to make (including directions). It might be a craft, children's activity or a recipe. To submit a blog post for Make it Monday, email
. Our first "Make it Monday" post comes to us from Guest Blogger Suzanne Yip.
Today's guest post comes to us from Suzanne Yip. Suzanne is a stay-at-home mom. who lives in the South Hills. Her family relocated to Pittsburgh a little over a year ago for her husband's work. Prior to moving to Pittsburgh she owned an alternative school lunch delivery service. Her company made, packed and delivered about 200 healthy lunches a day to schools in Northern New Jersey. She recently started a food blog highlighting healthy family friendly recipes. Along with recipes she share some tips she learned in her over twenty years in the food service industry
I do not like to sneak veggies into kids food. I like to take nutrient dense veggies that kids may not particularly care for and use them in a recipe in hopes they may gain a new appreciation for the veggie.
I have gone through most of my life hating spinach but wanting to like spinach. As a kid, I wanted to like spinach because of course, it made you stronger...according to Popeye cartoons. As an adult I have wanted to like spinach because it is full of calcium, vitamins, fiber and lots of good thing for my body.
Many years ago I began a quest to find spinach I like. I have tried spinach so many ways....thanks to the many chefs I have worked with. I still do not like spinach as a stand alone vegetable but I found I like in mixed in with other foods.
With this in mind I set out to use spinach in many of the recipes I served to the children through the school lunch program, Yipson Foods. This Baked Ziti recipe proved that yes, kids will eat spinach. When we debut this on our menu approximately half the orders for the day were for Baked Ziti. We noticed as we were cleaning out the lunch bags for the day that the kids ate all or almost all of the Baked Ziti (including the spinach!). More importantly, the next time we served Baked Ziti on the menu over eighty percent of the kids ordered the Baked Ziti and again, they actually ate it!
This became one of our most requested recipes by parents. Enjoy!
8 oz. uncooked whole wheat ziti pasta
8 oz container sliced mushrooms, chopped (I use baby bella)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
9 oz package of spinach leaves
1 cup light ricotta cheese
2 cups Marinara Sauce, heated (My recipe is posted on the blog)
1 cup part skim shredded mozzarella
grated Parmesan, for topping
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1. Preheat oven to 375º.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and set aside in a large bowl.
3. Meanwhile, coat a large skillet with olive oil and bring it to medium heat.
4. Add onion and cook for 3-4 minutes.
5. Add mushrooms and garlic, and cook for another 5 minutes, until mushrooms are soft.
6. Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.
7. Remove skillet from heat and stir in ricotta cheese.
8. Add mixture to the bowl with the cooked pasta, then add the marinara sauce and ¾ cup mozzarella. Stir well.
9. Transfer the mixture to an 8×8 baking pan sprayed with nonstick spray. Top with remaining mozzarella, plus some grated Parmesan.
10. Bake until hot and bubbly, 15-20 minutes.
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Here's a little secret about some of us families who have a child with autism; we hate to go out in public. That sounds horrible but it’s the truth. This is because autism is mainly a social syndrome, meaning that social situations including communication, interactions with new people and public places with large crowds can cause a huge reaction from our kids. This also means that some of our kids do not interact the way society dictates. Some are non-verbal, some are verbal but are monotone and expressionless, some have no problems communicating to one person but cannot handle more than one and so on and so forth. Therefore, when our kids get into these public situations, they get scared and different reactions can result such as grunting, hiding, running away, flapping the arms, jumping up and down, screaming, crying, throw themselves on the ground and many other things.
So really it is no surprise that we parents typically just stay at home with our kids. And if we do venture out and one of the above reactions occurs, it can be an emotional drain on us parents. We love our kids and many of us have built up a hard exterior wall to the reactions that we get from those ignorant people around us who glare, make comments, or snicker but even though we have this wall up, it still hurts.
The reactions are not entirely the fault of people being ignorant to autism because our kiddos show no physical signs of the disorder and look like your typical child; therefore, many people think that we are just being "bad" parents and can't get control over our offspring. And so the comfort of our homes or our typical places becomes the norm to avoid the behaviors of our kids and the reactions from those strangers.
However, yesterday hundreds of families like ours ventured out of our safe zones to experience something that I know I thought I would never be able to take my autistic son to see: the iconic musical production of Disney's The Lion King.
Pittsburgh is one of only three cities that offer an autism friendly version of The Lion King through funds provided by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The production is adapted to remove elements that would typically send our kiddos into a meltdown such as the removal of strobe lights, the quieting down of the music, only the dimming of house lights so total darkness is avoided, and the kids are allowed to be "free" to bounce, clap, flap and talk all they want. When my husband and I saw the ads for this production we jumped on it and bought our tickets excited to do something new and different with our aspie (our son has Asperger’s Syndrome, and many call themselves aspies). We had no clue of what to expect and were more than pleasantly surprised by our experience.
The moment we got out of our car form the Theater Parking garage we were relieved and knew we made the right decision to come. The first thing we saw were tons of volunteers in bright yellow Lion King shirts that were ready and waiting passing out sensory toys to all the kids and were also helping all the families get to the theater with ease. As we walked, our volunteer detailed us on the special sensory rooms that were set up at the Benedum to relax our son if he got to overwhelmed due to the people, the performance itself or the noise. Our volunteer walked us all the way to the ticket attendant where she said her goodbyes and wished us a happy show. Can you believe that?! And every family that we saw come in had the same treatment with their own volunteer to help them along. Amazing, if you ask me. When we got inside, for every one child I would say that there was at least two volunteers to help the flow of traffic, to help if families needed it, to direct people to the sensory rooms they might be looking for, or to help you find your seat along with the regular attendants. It was amazing to say the least. Our son wanted to head for the "quiet" sensory room that was set up to relax the senses. Inside the room was complete dark and silent, with multiple bean bag chairs, rocking chairs, and small colored light displays in each corner that gave an incredible relaxing feel to the room. Our son loved it and immediately climbed into a chair to take a break from the outside world. When he was ready we set out to find our seats and to get ready for the show.
So in a perfect world where there are rainbows and butterflies everyday I would begin to tell you how our son loved the show and had an excellent time. However, we don't live in that world and unfortunately our son did not like the show. Before I detail his reasons, let me first explain that many kids with autism, especially Asperger’s, do not like change. They like things to be consistent and almost predictable, and because of this many of our aspie’s root problems with the show stemmed from this fact. Here's what he informed us as to why he did not like it.
1. The Lion King cannot be on a stage. It can only be on a screen or on TV.
2. The costumes and painted faces "were all wrong."
3. The stage version strayed from the movie in content. And instant deal breaker for our son.
4. It was "long". And to be fair on this one, it seemed like many of the kids around us were struggling with the time thing.
And there you have it. Why our son will tell you why he did not like the show. But if you ask me, it was phenomenal and a pure success. I know it doesn't make sense as to why I think it was a success even though my son didn't like it at all, and to be honest it doesn't have anything to do with the performance of the play itself, which was wonderful. For me it has more to do with those around us than anything else.
When we first got to our seats the boy that sat right in front of us looked to be around the same age as our son, who is five. When we sat down, my son started bouncing up and down and tapping me on the arm saying, "Look mommy, look! That boy has headphones on like me!!" "Yes he does," I say, "that's totally cool!" And it was. It was sooo cool for him to look around and see a bunch of kids have headphones on and to be bouncing in their chair like he was. It was cool that he could see that there are so many others out there "like" him. It was also so cool for me to look around and see all those parents who are in the same situation as we are, doing what they can for their child. Many times my husband and I looked at each other with a knowing smile when we saw things that we have survived or been through, such as the several princesses, cowboys and pirates that walk by with their parents. Been there, done that, I thought to myself knowing that the only way those parents probably could get out the door without a huge meltdown was to let their kiddo go out dressed as whatever pretend hero they are obsessed with at that time. We also saw parents with their kids having a stress free day out because like us, they knew that the other parents around them knew exactly what they were going through and didn't judge them for a second.
So, yes, my aspie didn't like it, but all in all we had a great day! And as we were driving out of the city to go home I couldn't be more proud of the Steele city! It's a great place to live for many reasons, but I have to say it did shine even more on that day.
Today's guest blog comes to us from Lisa Lohr. Lisa is a stay-at-home mom of two boys ages 2 and 5, with the oldest having Asperger's Syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder). Also a wife, geochemist, dog lover, news junkie, travel bug, foodie, and blogger who recently got a new found love of social media. For more stories from the house of crazies check out www.lolwithbipolarandaspergers.com
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Today's guest blog comes from mom Angie Ashbery. She is a stay at home mom of 3, a 7 1/2 year old boy and 5 year old boy/girl twins. She is also a member of SHOPMOM, South Hills of Pittsburgh Mothers of Multiples. Their life is busy, crazy and definitely never boring!
Spring! The season my family has been waiting for!!! It’s one step closer to summer vacation, camps and swimming pools. But, is that a good way to look at things?
Doesn’t the year fly by too fast already? It’s amazing to me when I see Facebook pictures of kids on their first day of school when I could swear that child was just born! I wish it was easier to take things day by day, slow down a little bit. But, I’m realizing that the quick ways of the world don’t just affect me…they affect my kids too.
The other day, I actually had to say to my twins, “Wait until the garage door goes up before you try to get out.” Seriously? This is because the day before, they were racing to see who could get to the car first and my son tried to run through the large, very visible garage door before it was even over his head. Needless to say, he had a small goose egg on his head for a couple days. Why does everything have to be a race? Is it really all about who gets there first? My kids race to see who can get to the car first, who can get up the stairs first, who can grab a toy first and who can get dressed and undressed first. Even though they’re five now, they’ve been doing this since they were little. Fast crawling was a must. Speedy toddling was a necessity. And now that they can run, it’s much more interesting.
Is that an advantage or a disadvantage to having a twin brother or sister? We’re just getting into the school adventure and sometimes I worry that their competition will cause them to rush and make mistakes. But, maybe it will force them to surge towards new ideas, teaching each other as they do so.
As time goes on and my kids move forward in their abilities and aspirations, sometimes I wish that times were slower. That I could keep them in this house forever, not subjecting them to sicknesses, bullies, failures and disappointments. But I also realize that those things are what life is about…and ultimately how they will learn the most. Maybe trying to be the first isn’t always so bad. After all, they also race to see who will be the first to give me a hug when I go somewhere. In those times, we’re all winners.
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Today's guest blog comes to us from reader Sandy Moore, who blogs at PennsylvaniaEnergy.org
The first time I noticed there was something a little different about my mother was when I heard her say
the word “box.”
“Hey Sand – would you mind grabbing this BAWWX? I can’t hold all this.”
I was only six, and I was well behind the curve on my potty training. You only have so many years to soil
yourself without grave repercussions, so I took a smoke-‘em-if-you-got-‘em approach . Sorry mom, you
got gamed. I knew what I was doing.
In addition, sociolinguistically, I was precocious. I quickly diagnosed that “BAWWX” was not “box.” My
father, groaning from the couch, seemed to pick up on the same thing.
“BAWWWWWWX – HELP ME WITH THIS BAWWWWWX,” he mocked, stretching the fictitious AWs as
long as his lungs would allow, as she smirked, laughed, walked past both of us and set the bawx down
without any assistance from either one of her big, strong men.
Perplexed and unhelpful as I was at the time, it couldn’t make more sense looking back on it. My
mother, a supremely friendly, unabashed Pittsburgher, was no less supremely friendly and unabashed
than any other Pittsburgher. Even though she’d moved across the state to raise her family in
Philadelphia, she’d brought her Western PA behavior in tow. The flood of cheestesteaks, irascible sports
fans and other Philadelphia clichés had cloaked her Burghness, but it hadn’t stymied it altogether. Boxes
were occasionally labeled as bawxes; Heinz was the only ketchup worth buying; the time she ran into
Lynn Swan on the street would always be her favorite one-upping story.
And it was all because she, like most other Pittsburghers, seems to have a muddled air of self-
awareness, affability and general disinterest in others’ disinterest in Pittsburgh. I realized this after I
moved out and spent four years of college in Pittsburgh, doused with roommates, friends, relatives and
strangers who’d all spent their formative years in the steel city. All of them, friendly and consciously
over-prideful as can be, made me realize what an insanely cool culture had shaped them as well as my
Ultimately, I guess the point of all this is to reach out to other displaced Pittsburgh moms: don’t
ever lose touch with your roots. Someday, your child will grow to appreciate your passions and
idiosyncrasies. And until then, go easy on him when he can’t get the hang of the big boy toilet. Some of
us work a little slower than others.