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There’s Always A Turkey (And I’m Not Talking Poultry)

Call me crazy, posting twice today (on a holiday!) but maybe its just because I need a little “me ” time  on such an ahem “family intensive day.”

I was an only child, and am still a bit of an introvert, so although I love family holidays, they can be a bit, well, exhausting.

Especially when you have to deal with the turkey.


Well, that isn’t the turkey I’m talking about. (Even though cooking it just right can be a pain too, oh the pressure of getting it perfect!) But I digress.

This is more like the turkey I’m talking about:

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers [49] Storybook Rangers - Part 2

Well, not really. But that is what it feels like, and I think you all know what I am talking about. Its that ONE family member who shows up hours later than they are supposed to, the one who reaps all the benefits, but doesn’t contribute one iota to the work, toting a powerful weapon, and leaving a path of destruction in his/her wake…

Wait, what?

Well, they do say that “the tongue is like a sharp knife… (it) Kills without drawing blood.” and seems there is one “turkey” in the bunch doing just that. Every family has one (or two) that are saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, and generally making some of us wish the (poultry) turkey was stuffed with xanax instead of cornbread and sausage.

As the parent of a chronically ill child who “looks great,” we are often targeted by the “turkey” for unsolicited advice or judgements. It used to really get to me. Now, not so much.

There are plenty of other family members who are perfectly delightful. I know that there are literally hundreds of thousands of families that are playing out the same exact scene (if you don’t believe me, go check your FB messages and friend statuses.) So why should we be any different? This is one of those it is what it is times, and its really not about you. There will ALWAYS be a turkey on Thanksgiving (or any other big family get together) so don’t let it spoil your day. Smile, nod, and move along.

Or just picture them for what they really are.


Works for me!


The song starts off ” It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” and the holidays can be amazing. They are times filled  that can be filled with goodwill, family togetherness, gifts, and great food…. but they  can also be times of stress and depression.


In fact,  google will show you that stress and depression during the holidays are so common,  that searching for the phrase “holiday stress and depression,” will result in over 23 million articles written to help you cope.


I think its safe to say holidays can be stressful too. (If you want to read a great article on how to cope, visit the Mayo clinic site here)

While the Mayo clinic article is geared more toward adults managing holiday stress, it is important to recognize that kids may have more stress during the holidays as well. Relatives that are difficult to get along with (every family has a turkey on Thanksgiving, right?) lack of control, over-fatigue etc can contribute to children’s stress levels. In fact some studies even believe that parents’ stress levels can contribute to  increased stress in their children (kind of a vicious cycle, right?)

In addition to the obvious mental health component of managing stress, research over the last decade has been exploring the relationship between stress, flares, and increased symptoms of Juvenile Arthritis. Although older studies (done in the 1980’s) did not show a firm correlation, newer research points to a causal relationship between disease activity and stress.

I’ll say it again. Wow.

The study published in 2005 by Laura E. Schanberg1,*,Karen M. Gil2,Kelly K. Anthony1, Eric Yow1, James Rochon  explores the possibility that disease activity can be influenced and worsened by stress, depression and poor mood. (It does NOT indicate that JA can be caused by stress, just to be clear.) A great summary of the scholarly research can be found here.

So what does this mean to me as a parent of JA kids?

It means that helping my children manage their disease, also means helping them manage their stress. It means that since the holidays bring on their own set of stressors, that this is not the time to “make” them work out all their own differences.I keep an ear out for disagreements and intervene a little sooner. I help them keep the peace a little more than I would other times in the year.

It means I give them the tools they need to keep them at their best to cope, from making sure they get adequate rest (despite the holiday schedule changes) to helping them keep their health on track by eating right and balancing “splurges” with good food that will keep them from feeling “blah” and sluggish.

It means that I have to make a conscious effort to manage my own stresses so I don’t get grouchy and snippy, adding to their load or creating that vicious cycle.

It means that even though I am pulled a hundred and one different directions, that I take time to listen if they need me to, and that I work harder to recognize their non-verbal cues…all things that are harder with the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Truthfully, all these things could be applied to a “normal” family without JA. Juvenile arthritis just tends to magnify things in our case, and knowing that these normal holiday stresses could magnify the effects of the disease just makes it even more important for us to recognize and handle them.

If you would like to learn more about stress and juvenile arthritis, you may find the following websites helpful: (Schanberg et al article 2005);2-S/full (Schanberg et al 2000) (slightly off topic, but this one relates to massage and JA- and how massage reduced the stress hormone cortisol, thus reducing pain and disease symptoms) (stress induces increase of IL-6 production by leucocytes);jsessionid=5jYkGsBDlfpc9RMKXCZY.4

How do you handle holiday stress?  If you have a JA child, do you notice a difference with increased stress and disease activity?



The LAST day.

Its the LAST day.

Although we try to be thankful year ’round, the whole month of November is the season of giving thanks in our home.  Every day I make my kids come up with something to share, something that they are thankful for, NO REPEATS. (I do it too, I don’t just torture my children.)

Life is what you make it, and the same applies to our holiday celebrations.

We could make Thanksgiving just about this:

And we do to a degree. Like most Americans, a huge Thanksgiving feast is a once-a-year deal that makes shopping for new (bigger) stretchy pants on Black Friday a tradition.

Or we could make it more about this:

The "First" Thanksgiving

The “First” Thanksgiving

…remembering those who came before us, the hardships they faced, the kindness of the Native people, and how all this ties into the history and culture of our great nation.

We could even make it just about this:

NFL Thanksgiving

NFL Thanksgiving

…because we are a football family, and what is Thanksgiving without the addition of a little pigskin?


But we don’t.

We try to do more. One of the BIG things that living with Juvenile Arthritis has taught us as a family is to make the most of what you have, whenever you can.

In the spirit of this concept, we make our Thanksgiving much, much more. Thanksgiving is the entire MONTH of November for us.

It seems like for most people, Thanksgiving gets squeezed out, awkwardly thrown in between Halloween and Christmas. This year it even had to share with Hanukkah! But, it is such a wonderful holiday on its own. We try to give it the attention it deserves, and make the whole month of November our Thanksgiving season.  We pause to give thanks for something, every single day. We try to pay it forward, every chance we get- to give someone else a chance at their surprising “thankful of the day” (meaning, I am holding a lot more doors open at the store for the person 10 steps behind me, and there are a lot more free coffees in the line behind me at Starbucks, if you know what I mean.) We take more time out of our schedules to volunteer, or participate in events with a purpose (like the Jingle Bell Run!) We work at making it the season of giving, and giving thanks, rather than a single day of gluttony, sports, paper pilgrim napkins, and dealing with the Turkey in the family.

But much like all other good things in life, it too must come to an end. Today is the last day of November.  Thanksgiving has had a whole month in our family, and December 1st will usher in the Christmas season, although many of the same concepts will apply. We will still work at being more thankful every day, but our focus will shift to the giving.Coming out of the “Thanksgiving season” it will be an easy transition. Last year for Christmas both my boys passed on almost all Christmas gifts for themselves, and used Christmas funds to help shelter animals. (You can read their story here, featured at the Missing Niche)  I can’t wait to see what they do this year. I’m a little wistful to let go of Thanksgiving, but I can look forward to beginning another wonderful Christmas season, and tomorrow that day will be here.

Before I go, I want to share my “thankful of the day” with you. The last day of the Thanksgiving season this year is also the last day of Nablopomo- the blog contest and challenge I took on this year, to write at least one quality blog post a day for the entire month of November. I can’t tell you how thankful I am that is done! I am also thankful that you all take time out of your day to come here, learn a little bit about Juvenile Arthritis, and share a piece of our lives. Time is valuable, and I appreciate your sharing yours with us. Have a wonderful “last day of Thanksgiving” today!





Shop ‘Til You Drop…Or Don’t

exhausted shoppers

Ok, so I’m going to jump on the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa before Thanksgiving thing. Just for a minute. Bear with me.

Normally I am one of those “don’t-rush-through-the-holidays” kind of people, and truthfully, I still am.

I believe October is for Halloween, visits to the pumpkin patch or apple orchard, playing in the leaves and football.



I believe November is all about giving thanks, stopping to pause daily and counting our blessings. Enjoying our family for Thanksgiving, and of course, football.

Toon Football Turkey

I believe December is the month for the giving season, regardless of your faith. For us it’s about Christmas, presents, playing in the snow and yes… still about football. (but hey, we are a retired NFL family, what did you expect?)


But I also believe in being prepared. Although I have taken the pledge NOT to shop on Thanksgiving and I am focusing on the Thanksgiving holiday for the month of November, I am also preparing for the next round of holidays by keeping a few things at the back of my mind. You see, having two kids with juvenile arthritis has changed my perspective a bit.  I know that even with a “normal” family, three weeks may not be enough time to prepare for the Christmas season, so if you add in OUR worries (such as what if one of my kids flares, and keeps us housebound, or even worse, sends us for a hospital stay?) then you can see why I am even more vigilant about planning ahead.

How do I do this without being consumed by Christmas before Thanksgiving?

Glad you asked.

I pull each of my kids aside and ask them how they feel about members of the family. I want them to think about ways that those people make a difference in their lives, and how that translates into being thankful for sharing their lives with them. Then I ask them to think about (and I mean REALLY think about) something we could do for them, or get for them that would mean something for that person. It’s not about giving gifts, its about giving thoughtful gifts. Sometimes the answer comes quickly, other times it takes a few weeks to come up with the perfect thing. This is why I start early, but still honor the Thanksgiving spirit by considering the blessing that person is in our lives, and considering what type of gift would honor the contribution they make.

When my boys were really little, they heard their dad lament the retirement of his favorite threadbare blanket from our pre-marital days. It was super soft, and had a satin binding all around. It wasn’t just any blanket, it was one of those luxuriously cuddly, comforting snuggle-me kind of blankets, but its useful life was truly over. That year, my boys thought the perfect gift for their dad would be a replacement blanket, a bigger one that all of us could cuddle under for movie nights. We looked all over, but couldn’t seem to find one that was similar to the one that he loved. Finally, I came across one online and ordered it. The boys made cards and wrapping paper, decorated with the classic preschooler reindeer made of hand and footprints, kind of like the one below:



Bonus! Cute wrapping paper for dad but making memories with mom!


He still has that blanket, as well as memories of them snuggling under it, wanting to watch football or movies with him. It was a gift of the heart, not just from the store. The same Christmas, I got an automatic pot stirrer, so that I could spend less time in the kitchen, and more time with them. They were really gifts from them (and we still chuckle about that pot stirrer!)

Early on, we made our gift giving about the quality rather than the quantity. We made it about the thought over the actual present and as a reflection of what that person meant in our lives. To do that well, we had to do it a bit before Thanksgiving, but I still think if fits well with the NOVEMBER holiday!

Then I take it one step further.

Now that my boys are older, we also think about how we can make a difference with our Christmas shopping. As I mentioned, we put our families first, and spend the Thanksgiving weekend at home, together. We do more shopping online, and what we do locally, we try to support the “little guy,” or family owned businesses.

We make our online shopping count too, utilizing links that provide a charitable affiliation, like Amazon Smile. This is a GREAT program where you buy everything that you normally would from Amazon, but by using the Amazon Smile portal (and at NO additional cost to you) .5% of the purchase price will be donated to a charity of your choice. You can even spread the wealth and change your charity partway through the shopping season! Of course, since pediatric rheumatic diseases are close to our heart, we would love for you to follow our lead and choose a cause like Cure JM or  the Jeffrey Gottfurcht Childrens Arthritis Foundation. Both charities can be found within the approved organizations list on Amazon Smile. If you are shopping there anyway, why not?

Shopping less, or at least not shopping ’til we drop, may be part of our “new normal,” since my kids just can’t tolerate that much activity, or risk being out with all the crowds since they take immunosuppressive medications, but it also helps us keep sight of the true meaning of both seasons- we are thankful, we are thoughtful, and we are giving in the true spirit of  the holiday. We are less stressed because we plan in advance, and do less commercial activities while spending more time doing family activities.


Isn’t that really what the holidays are supposed to be about?