Peter’s Favorite Recipe

Peter’s Favorite Recipe

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Upside Down Shepherd’s Pie

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Another of my favorites from eMeals.


Course: Main Course

Prep Time: 15 min

Cook Time: 15 min

Total Time: 30 min

Serves: 6 Scale Update


  • 1 12 lb ground chuck
  • 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 pkg brown gravy mix
  • 1 can low-sodium beef broth
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 24-oz pkg steam and mash potatoes
  • 1 8-ct pkg frozen garlic texas toast


  1. Cook ground chuck in a large skillet over medium heat 8 minutes or until browned and crumbly; drain.
  2. Return to skillet, and stir in vegetables, gravy mix, broth and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until thickened.
  3. Heat potatoes according to package directions.
  4. Bake Texas toast according to package directions.
  5. Arrange toast on serving plates. Spoon potatoes evenly over toast; spoon beef mixture over potatoes.
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Who Spends $11,600.00 at Bloomingdales?

Who Spends $11,600.00 at Bloomingdales?

I was having lunch with a girlfriend at Newk’s this afternoon, and just as we were finishing up, I got a call from Brad.

Me: Hello?

Brad: I just got a very disturbing text from CapitalOne!

Me: What??!? What did it say?!!?

Brad: The text asked if we just spent $11,000 at Bloomingdales in New York!!!!

Me: WHAT??!?

Brad: Do you think it’s really our bank?


(Meanwhile, my friend is nervously glancing around the busy restaurant, trying to make sure I am not attracting too much attention.)

Brad: “Please respond YES or NO to authorize this charge to your account ending in 8508.” What should I do?!?!

Me: Oh my gosh!! That’s our actual credit card number!! Someone in New York has our card!!! Tell them no!!! TELL THEM NO!!!!

Brad: OKAY!! OKAY!

Me: I’ll get on our account in a second and see what else might have been charged!!! Oh my gosh! We have to get our account locked!

Brad: Well I’m sitting outside my hair cut place!!! I’ve got to go get my hair cut! I’ll text back no but can you handle it from there??!?!

Me: Yes!!! I’ll go call them now!!!

I told my friend what was going on; we said good-bye, and before I could make a run to the bathroom (because after sitting and talking to your best friend while drinking sweet tea for an hour and a half, BATHROOM), my phone was ringing again. It was Brad.

Me: What?

Brad: I texted NO, and they sent me a message with a link in it! Should I click on it? What if it’s a hoax???

Me: No! Let me get online and look at our account, and I’ll figure it out! Just go get your haircut, and we’ll talk after!

Brad: Okay! Bye!

I used the bathroom, went out to the car and checked my email, and this is what I saw:

So, I called Capital One, and they froze our card and put a fraud alert on the account and are sending us a new card. And as I drove home from lunch, I couldn’t help but wonder…what does a person spend $11,600 on at Bloomingdales New York? I mean, how much could a person spend there? I went online, and here’s what you can get for $11,600:

A watch.

A watch that looks like a fox.

Or, if you feel like picking out a few things, there is this nice coat:

Which I think would go well, worn over this dress:

And these stylish shoes (I’m kidding I actually think these are hideous):

And then, that’s when I hit THE MOTHERLODE!!!

This bracelet would be DARLING with the mink coat! And it will only cost you an additional $9752!!!
And just look at the savings! What a steal! I mean, you’re saving $13,800 and only paying $9752??? They might as well be paying YOU to wear it!!!

Unfortunately, that puts you over the $11,600 total (the total for the dress, coat, shoes, and bracelet is $18,592), but hey! Who cares? It’s a stolen credit card, remember?!!?! It’s not like YOU are paying for any of this!

OH WAIT – that’s right! IT’S ME who’s paying for all this!!!


Also, I have to wonder what kind of person buys this kind of stuff with a stolen credit card. I mean, it’s not as if they are stealing a loaf of bread to feed to their starving family!

So, I made up a story to fit the incident. It starts with a prostitute hanging out on Hollywood Boulevard…wait. Wrong city. It starts with a prostitute hanging out in New York City somewhere, and a lonely rich guy comes along and picks her up and takes her back to his hotel where he offers to pay her an unseemly amount of money to spend the week with him. She agrees. Then the man tells her he wants to take her to the opera, but she needs some fancy clothes to wear. Only in my story, he doesn’t give her his credit card. He tells her to figure out a way to get the fancy clothes – she’s obviously resourceful – so she goes into Bloomingdales and STEALS the red dress and matching jewelry so she can go to the opera with the man who is paying her for sex. Then they go to the opera, but on the way, she tells him “I had a great time – in case I forget to tell you later.”

It just doesn’t have the same appeal, does it?

But doesn’t it make you wonder? What kind of person says to themselves, “I’ve just GOT to have that diamond tennis bracelet!!! I NEED a pink mink coat! I can’t LIVE without those weird shoes with jewels on them! Whatever shall I do??? Oh, I KNOW! I’ll steal someone’s credit card number and just use IT to buy the swag!

Maybe I’ve lived in Texas too long, or maybe I’m just a little too simple-minded, but I think anyone who steals a credit card number, then uses it at Bloomingdales, should have to spend a year in some poverty-stricken country where you have to walk 10 miles just to draw water for your family. Every day.

Of course, I’m making a joke about what could have been a serious situation. I’m so very thankful that Capital One flagged the purchase and sent Brad that text! Because if I was having to actually pay that $11,600, you better believe I would be using every resource available to find out what they actually bought!!!

Because if I’m paying for it, I should at least be able to criticize the thief for their choices!!!


Samuel’s Binary Thing

Samuel’s Binary Thing

This morning on the way to school, Samuel told me he has been working on a…machine?…contraption?…device?  Whatever. Samuel has been designing a thing in Minecraft that will convert numbers into binary.


(I kid you not. He’s 13, and this is what he did for fun all weekend.)


So, he is explaining this to me, and I’m trying – really trying – to grasp this thing he’s describing. But he just keeps talking about how binary is so simple because you know how our number system is 10-based? Well, binary is just 2-based and once he got that, it all made sense and so all he had to do is use multiples of 2 (and here he stopped to count into THE THOUSANDS – not by 2’s but 2 to the 2nd power, 3rd power, 4th power, etc.).


And at this point, he just lost me. I mean, I did the mom thing and said things like, “Wow! Did you figure this out all by yourself? How did you learn all this?” and “You’re amazing! I can’t believe you did that!”.


But then I made a slight…miscalculation (HA! See what I did there?). In an attempt to relate to what he was saying, I told him that binary just didn’t make any sense to me. Then I proceeded to tell him the story of how just yesterday, I was trying to get my computer to recognize my mouse, but for some reason, it just wasn’t connecting. I kept turning the mouse off and back on, but it still wouldn’t work. And then I looked at the on/off switch and realized that the “0” meant “off” and the “1” meant on. I had reversed it in my mind, so I was flipping it on then back off. (Because, let’s just be honest here – who thought putting a “1” and a “0” on a switch was a good idea? Would it have been so much more work to add a few extra letters??? But I digress.)


When I finished my story, he said nothing for a few beats, then finally said, “I…I…really just don’t know what to say to you right now.”

It reminded me of that scene in Joe Versus the Volcano where Meg Ryan looks at Tom Hanks and says, “I have no response to that”.


Yeah, I always knew this day was coming. My kids are taller than me, better looking than me, and now it’s official – they are all smarter than me.


Oh well, I still have the dog.



(P.S. After school today, I told Samuel I wrote this article about him, which prompted another discussion of “0” and “1”. I learned that the symbol that represents “power” on most devices is actually a “0” and “1” overlapped:














Charles Matthew Just

Charles Matthew Just


Parents gathered outside of Trent, waiting on the Class of 2022 to emerge.

On Friday – the last day of school – Matthew took his “8th grade walk”. It’s a tradition that we first learned about when Peter did his at Stafford Middle School three years ago. When Trent Middle School opened, and Matthew was sent there instead of Stafford, I was afraid the traditions would be different, but this one, at least, remained the same.

So, what is 8th grade walk? It’s sort of like a mini-graduation from Middle School. At the end of the last day of school, the 6th and 7th grade students line the hallways. The staff gathers in the foyer, just inside the doors. Then the 8th graders take a final walk through the halls, to the cheers of the students. Next, they pass the staff, giving them high-five’s and fist bumps and hugs. Finally, they step outside the school, to the cheers of the parents waiting for them.

After taking his “8th grade walk”, Matthew was ready to go home and start his summer vacation!!!

It is a very emotional event, watching your 14-year-old step outside of the school he will no longer attend and know he is now officially a High School Freshman. But with Matthew, it was a whole different kind of emotional. It’s why, as I write this, the tears are gathering in my eyes all over again. Because Matthew has been through some really tough stuff, and yesterday, he reminded us all that he’s a survivor. He’s tougher than his autism and tougher than the challenges he faces every. single. day. of. his. life.

Matthew, age 2, at Will and Meredith’s wedding.

I remember the fear I had that something was very wrong with Matthew as a toddler. He didn’t speak much, preferring to let his big brother speak for him. He didn’t respond to crib and room time outs like his brother and other children his age. He got angry for reasons I couldn’t understand, and his anger grew to rage when I tried to stop his screaming and hitting and biting. He reacted to swats on his hand or bottom like he had been beaten but without ever showing remorse –  just anger. He had to be kept home when he started biting the other kids in the nursery at church. He refused to potty train, and thus created a lot of stress for me and the poor women who worked at his Mother’s Day Out program when he was three and four years old. In fact, we changed to a different MDO every year, thanks to the bridges he burned.

When he was four/five, there was an older teacher who “got” Matthew. She loved him and observed him and figured out that loud noises upset him. She sat with him on the bench by the playground every day during recess, which he loved. He fell in love with her, and he trusted her, so he obeyed her, for the most part. I learned a lot from that woman, and began to work on earning Matthew’s trust at home. Our relationship improved so much, it was staggering. He melted into my arms when I told him “Matthew, I can see that you’re upset. Do you want to come sit and tell me about what’s wrong?”

And so it was with great optimism that I sent Matthew to Kindergarten at Boals Elementary, where Peter was already in 3rd grade.  I got my first call from the school that day, though it would hardly be my last. Matthew had stepped on the playground for his very first recess, saw a kid looking at him in what he perceived was a threatening way, and punched him in the face.

So much for all the optimism.  

Things went downhill from there. Matthew refused to sit in the circle during circle time. He colored on all the teacher’s pretty boxes and hit, pinched and bit other kids. He was sent almost daily to sit against the wall in the classroom next door. He was miserable. His teachers were miserable. And I was sick with worry. We took him to play therapy that year, but it didn’t help at all, since there was no way to recreate the stress of the school environment and one-on-one, Matthew was fine.

Matthew turned 6 just a few days after he started Kindergarten. Here he is in the middle of a circle of classmates while they sang to him.

In 1st grade, things actually got worse – something I didn’t think was possible. They put Matthew with the toughest teacher in the school (she’s now the PE coach) in the hopes that he would fall in line with the discipline she instilled in her class. Instead, he was sent to the principal’s office almost daily, which meant I was getting phone calls from the school. All. The. Time.

When Matthew got in trouble in class, he would have to sit at a lone desk in the Assistant Principal’s office and do his work without speaking to anyone.  And he loved it. He was bored, but at least it was quiet and he could work at his own pace. Mrs. Beran – then the AP and later the Principal at Boals – learned that Matthew was brilliant, completing his work in record time and then drawing until he had to return to the classroom. She also had a lot of conversations with him about his behavior, and came to love him, despite the headache he caused her.

When Mrs. Beran told me Matthew’s behavior had to change, or we would be looking at alternative school, I was terrified, but Matthew was more so. He seemed to really regret his behavior but just couldn’t hold it together in that environment. We tried everything, working with the school and the therapist, but in the end, it was Mrs. Beran submitting Matthew to the Student Success Team that changed our lives. The SST is made up of a few select teachers and administrators, as well as the school psychologist. Their job is to review problematic students and work together to figure out a solution to whatever challenges the student seems to be facing.  

Matthew’s 3rd grade teacher who called me crying after the first week of school. Now she has to have a picture with him every time she sees him.

They met during the Fall semester and began observing Matthew and interviewing his teachers.  A few days into Winter Break, I got a phone call from the school psychologist. I had never even met her before. She called me from Virginia, where she was spending the break with her parents. Her first words, after introducing herself to me, will be forever seared on my heart. She said, “Have you ever heard of Asperger’s Syndrome? I’m almost 99% sure Matthew has it.” We talked for a while, then she told me that the district autism team would be called in to do a full evaluation of Matthew, to see if he qualified for services. Those services would include Matthew being admitted to special education and assigned a full-time case manager, who would work with us and his teachers to create an individualized education plan for Matthew.

After hanging up with her and telling Brad the news, I started researching Asperger’s Syndrome. Back then, it was its own diagnosis but in 2013, it was put under the umbrella of autism. Here is what I learned:

Asperger’s Syndrome – now usually referred to as “High-Functioning Autism” or just “Autism” – is “a developmental disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.” (

“The following behaviors are often associated with Asperger syndrome. However, they are seldom all present in any one individual and vary widely in degree:

• limited or inappropriate social interactions
• “robotic” or repetitive speech
• challenges with nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expression, etc.) coupled with average to above average verbal skills
• tendency to discuss self rather than others
• inability to understand social/emotional issues or nonliteral phrases
• lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
• obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
• one-sided conversations
• awkward movements and/or mannerisms” (

The infamous hoodie

Along with autism comes a variety of sensory issued. Matthew is sensitive to loud noises (thus the fire alarm going off at his pre-school was terribly upsetting to him). He is extremely sensitive to touch, and I always tell him he’s like a cat – willing to rub up against you if he’s in the mood but hates being touched when he doesn’t initiate it. He gets headaches from bright lights and is tired a lot of the time – probably from having to manage all the stimuli. And he is more bothered by smells than any of us and frequently has to deal with a bloody nose, possibly from thin membranes inside his nostrils. All of this adds up to a lot of frustration in school, where everything stinks and everyone is noisy and often forced to be in close proximity to one another, and the lights are bright all the time. He’s also perpetually cold in school, which is why he is well-known for his heavy coat with a hood, worn every single day we allow it WITH A HOODIE UNDER IT – even if it’s 100 degrees outside.  He actually told me once he considered his coat his “armor”.

So, yeah, the diagnosis fit Matthew to a “T”. I will never forget how stunned I felt after coming to terms with Matthew’s diagnosis. Shame, guilt, grief and sadness were all part of the emotional rollercoaster I was on after talking to the psychologist on the phone that day. But there was another emotion – hope. I felt hopeful for the first time in years.

Matthew with Ashley Dekker, his case manager through most of Elementary School.

And so, within a month, he was officially diagnosed and put into special education, where he was able to receive training and help. We saw our pediatrician about medication, and he began taking Intuniv, a medicine that helps with impulse control. And with the help of some truly wonderful teachers and staff, Matthew improved. Using a system of rewards and consequences and things like sticker and point sheets, Matthew learned how to ask for help when he got upset, and the staff learned how to anticipate what would set him off. He was given a desk apart from everybody else, with blinders that made it feel quiet and separated. He was allowed to nap in the resource room, in a tent they brought in just for him, with a white noise machine in it and a sleeping bag.

Matthew with Mr. Hardesty at the end of 5th grade. That was his last year as a teacher.

Best of all? I stopped getting daily calls from the school. In fact, his 4th grade teacher loved him so much, he moved to 5th grade with Matthew, so he could teach him for another year.

But all good things came to an end when Matthew graduated from Elementary School and moved to Trent Middle School. Because Matthew’s class “opened” Trent, there was a lot of chaos and transition that was still going on when he started 6th grade. We didn’t even have a representative from the Middle School at Matthew’s ARD in 5th grade, which meant we were flying blind when it came to setting up his accommodations for Middle School. There was no one to prepare us for the huge transition ahead, and no one to help Matthew make the huge leap to Middle School.

Matthew, age 12

We saw a huge regression in him that year. He went back to hitting kids and getting in trouble constantly. And I was pulling my hair out over the lack of support he was getting from his extremely incompetent case worker. The woman had not even read his paperwork when the school year started and admitted after the first few incidents that she was unfamiliar with the accommodations he was supposed to be receiving!

The incident that pushed me over the edge happened after Matthew had consistently struggled with working in groups. He has never been a real “team player” (see definition of autism, above), and having to figure out the give and take of a group was beyond him. Add to that the chaos and lack of structure during “group time”, and we was a ticking bomb, waiting to go off. So despite the kids being told not to sit at his desk or mess with his stuff, one day close to Christmas break, Matthew walked back to his desk and there was a boy seated in his chair. The teacher had stepped out of the room, so there was no one to help when Matthew asked the boy to move and he refused, telling Matthew he needed to grow up (or something like that). Matthew responded by yanking the chair out from under the boy, causing him to fall to the floor.

Matthew’s case manager called me and was very upset with Matthew. She admitted that she threatened Matthew, telling him that if the boy had hit his head and cracked his skull, his family could sue our family and take every penny we had.

(Because yeah, that’s what a 12-year-old autistic boy needs – more stress. Thanks to her, we had to add another med to his arsenal: Zoloft, an anti-anxiety med.)

Vicki Baughman is the one in the center, holding the flowers.

After that, I had enough. I requested a meeting with Vicki Baughman, head of the special ed department at Trent. And the minute we started talking, I knew she was the one who could fix everything for Matthew. And she did. She told me she was taking over as Matthew’s case manager, effective immediately. Vicki began to make the changes Matthew needed to help him learn how to manage his emotions, to learn impulse control, and most of all, to mature as an individual. He was never required to do group work again, but chose to from time to time. He was given the freedom to leave any environment he was in at school if he started to feel himself “escalate” or get angry, and walk to the resource room, where the special ed teachers all worked. If Vicki wasn’t there, one of the other teachers would help him cool off and work through his emotions. And thanks to Vicki, he was able to do an alternative PE in 7th grade. Also thanks to her, Matthew took a social skills training class in 7th & 8th grade, and despite him saying he never learned anything from that class, I have begun to think Matthew has the best manners of anyone in our family. When he meets someone new, he sticks out his hand, makes eye contact, and introduces himself. Yes, it’s a script, and yes, he seems stiff and somewhat awkward, but people respond to that better than the kids that don’t bother to speak or introduce themselves.

Vicki (on Right) won secondary teacher of the year for Frisco Independent School District this year!!!

His Social Skills teacher, Mr. Black, also began having weekly game days, where Matthew and a few other kids stayed after school to play board games with him. Matthew LOVED these times, and learned a lot about how to interact with others even while remaining competitive. He’s now a part of a group of boys that meets at a friend’s house in our neighborhood to play DnD – Dungeons and Dragons. And before you judge the game too harshly, know that 1) I have looked into it extensively and haven’t found anything demonic about it and 2) It’s a board game in an era of digital gaming. It’s one of the only things Matthew enjoys doing that doesn’t involve a screen!

By the beginning of 8th grade, Matthew quit needing breaks from class almost completely. Vicki had him run the meeting she usually has with his teachers prior to the start of a new school year, and they were able to ask him questions about what works best for him. He was nervous, but it made a huge difference in his relationship with his teachers. When the Texas Education Agency (TEA) sent out a team to each region, to interview parents and kids with special needs in order to create a new plan to present to the U.S. Department of Education, to prove we are in compliance with the I(ndividuals) with D(isabilities) E(ducation) A(ct) of 2004, Vicki selected Matthew to go as a Middle School representative, though most of the students were older than him. He answered questions and gave opinions about what the state could do to better serve students with special needs.

So to sum it up, Matthew has gone from being suspended from school for a day in 1st grade, with talk of alternative school, to being a student representative from our region to the state. He went through his entire 8th grade year without. a. single. incident. Let me repeat that: not one time last year did he get into an altercation with another student. But it’s so much more than that. Matthew has developed a sensitivity to other people’s emotions. He has become an expert in reading people’s body language. And he has learned how to recognize his needs and ask for help meeting them.

The day he got his new Lone Star High School Band Shirt

This boy – this young man – is taking on marching band next year. Not only that, he’s going to learn how to play a new instrument – the mellophone – for marching season. He is spending a week at summer camp for the fourth year in a row – the only one of our kids to go to camp this year. He is one of the bravest people I know, and he is an inspiration to me. I can’t believe how much he has changed, and I can’t wait to see how God is going to use him in the years to come.

At camp Sunday

So I will leave you with this video from yesterday, of Matthew leaving Middle School and officially becoming a High School Freshman.  (Watch the door for Matthew as the students file out, and you can see him bow to the crowd.)


LSHS Band Night

LSHS Band Night

Peter and his “little” brother Matthew

Tonight, the two older boys had High School Band Night, where next year’s band gathers to meet the director, learn a little about how to march, and get the music for the show they will perform next Fall.  

Peter was coming from the CTE on the bus (his “A” day schedule), so he wouldn’t arrive until 5pm.  It started at 4:30pm.  That meant I had to drop Matthew off alone at the High School band hall, knowing he would be there without Peter for the first half hour.  

As I watched him walk in with his trumpet in hand, I felt…panicked.  What if he can’t handle it?  What if he gets upset?  He’s only 14 and he’s autistic.  Who will be there to help him if he needs support?

In my panic, I called Brad and he reassured me that Matthew would be fine.  So I relaxed and tried not to think about what was happening at the High School.  It helped knowing Matthew had his phone and could text me to come get him if anything happened.

At 7pm, Brad and I drove over for the parent meeting with the new director.  After it was over, we met up with the boys outside the gymnasium…and they were both ALL SMILES.  I knew immediately everything was going to be okay.  They told us that apparently, everyone who already knew Peter was astounded at how much Matthew sounds like Peter (???).  They kept having Peter say a word, then Matthew say the same word, then hooted over how you couldn’t tell them apart based on voice alone.  

Peter also looked over at one point and just started laughing as a bunch of his buddies were surrounding Matthew, looking for dirt on his older brother.

Matthew reported being tired, but he was seriously so happy, I could have danced a little jig (except I’m not allowed to dance or sing in the presence of my teen boys – they officially banned it years ago.).  

All is good in my world tonight.