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Kristen is a home­maker, home­schooler, and a home­keeper. Her experience includes nineteen years of practice, raising three kids, a husband, and a dog. Writing about her life helps her stay sane. She believes that sharing stories helps others by providing opportunities to share advice (and helpful hints) about homeschooling, and raising kids on the autism spectrum, while supporting marriages and families that are striving to thrive.

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Shannon Enos is a wife, recovering Pinterest addict, and homeschooling mom of two young girls. Her hobbies include analyzing music with her husband, pretending she’s going to finish that crocheting project she started 4 years ago, and making lists of things she has already completed just so she can cross them off. Shannon values truth, education, the arts, open minds, humor, and “Nashville" binges on Hulu. She believes that learning happens everywhere, whether you’re paying attention or not.

 

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Pink Owl

Special Needs, Special Times

Tommy update:) 

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It's been awhile since I've updated you guys on my son; I didn't mean to leave anyone hanging for words about what’s up with the graduated boy! Here's some background, to catch you up/refresh you:  http://bit.ly/1zHt13d
 
All is well. To be honest, although it's all well and good, it is a tad frustrating at times to be kind of in the same place.  Everyone is familiar with the phrase, “no news is good news?”  Well, in our case, I think if things aren’t chaotic and I’m not having to fight for something for him, that is what "no news is good news means."  I’m so used to delays, and funding, and fighting for accommodations and rights, that it’s actually pretty weird to just be... waiting.
 
Since our trip to the ever-efficient DMV, we've had a few adventures.  Tommy and I bravely tried to go to college- community college, that is.  Tommy confidently told the college counselor he wanted to be a Jedi knight, or, if that wasn't a valid major, perhaps an adventure archeologist (think Indiana Jones) was another option… The counselor suggested he take karate. Um, no. We aren't paying for that.  I asked about online courses and was told freshman don't get to take online courses, so he could ride the Fred-bus, for free, from North Stafford down to the Massaponax exit.  Again, no.  While I appreciate your (the college counselor) confidence in my son, I maintain the realistic mom perspective, who has been living with him for his entire life… It just wasn't feasible.  I’m serious about having to remind this child to do everything.  Problem solving skills and things specialists like to refer to as executive functioning skills are totally lacking in the make-up that is Tommy. So… No college. Not for right now, anyway.
 
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Tommy with Tomo
 
We did get news that in October the funding for special needs kids/adults to get services at the training center in Fishersville was open and his spot in line had come up-  Were we interested? YES! Absolutely, yes..  So, in May, Tommy will go for transitional living skills, and evaluations for future job training. That training would probably be done in Fishersville as well, at a future date.  I'm both elated and terrified. It’s kind of weird (that word again) for things to be working out (slowly, yes, but forward moving, for sure).
 
The Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) has been wonderful. We have the best case worker, and she really has listened to us (both Tommy and my husband and me) and has worked to get him on the list to receive services.  I wish I had known about them three years ago, though.  I was thinking this time last year that Tommy would make it into one of the collegiate autism programs.  Because he was “college bound” and on target for graduating with a standard diploma, I wasn’t aware of the services/school in Fishersville.  I wasn’t aware of anything other than the colleges that take on autistic students, partially my fault, being so sure that he’d get in.
 In hindsight it would have been easier to transition Tommy if this process was started three years ago. This is a known issue- that the resources for autistic people are out there, but it's hard to learn about them. There are gaps in communication between teachers, job coaches, and clients (which means us- the parents of children with autism).  The gaps are closing, albeit slowly.  The Parent Resource center and the disAbility Center in Fredericksburg are excellent places to find out about services, classes, workshops, etc.  They are staffed by wonderfully helpful people, too. I can tell you that no one has been hiding these services in the background, waiting to be stumbled upon.  It’s just that the right people aren't aware of them all.
 
So, what are we doing in the meantime?  Well, we are waiting for May.  We’re trying to get good habits of getting up, getting dressed, grooming, etc. established and maintained. It's hard, when there isn't much for him to do, though.  He volunteers at the library one day and goes to church on Sunday.  He's started a blog (at my insistence), and posts a couple of times a week (also at my insistence). Other than that, he listens to music (classic rock), dreams about time travel, obsesses over finding lost artifacts,  speaks about the conspiracy of alien technology, thinks about appraising swords, and mentally trains to be a ninja/survivalist/shaolin monk. 
 
It’s certainly hard to see him sitting in the same position, on the same couch every day.  It’s especially hard when anyone tries to offer helpful suggestions such as ‘just volunteer more’, or ‘maybe he can be a greeter at Wal-Mart”.  Well, the Wal-mart gig is a program one has to qualify for, and the volunteering is in conjunction with a librarian that we have known for several years, who knew Tommy, and graciously ‘took him on’ so-to-speak.  I don’t mean to sound mean, but when I get these kind of suggestions, I feel like I’m not trying hard enough to help him be successful.  Also, Tommy, in short doses, seems just like a quirky kid.  Not everyone gets to experience Tommy for several weeks in a living environment.  It’s different, I assure you.  He’s not just quirky.  Yet he's so smart, and funny, and loving, and… I could go on and on.  However, he needs reminders, and patience, and time, and more reminders.  And I just love him so much, and I really do want the best for him:)
 
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Tommy with his baby sister
 
So, to all of us special needs parents: carry on!  We are all in it together, and we need to do things like blog, share on Facebook, and all matters of social media to let everyone know what is out there for our kiddos.  Also, like I’ve said before, don’t be afraid to share.  I know I’ve been a blessing to others, and for sure, there have been many occasions when I’ve been blessed.   From talking to listening, or by offering to run an errand, or when you pick up another child from school, anything you can do in order to give another parent a break, these can be the things that make or break a day.   Sometimes ten extra minutes in your routine is all you need to accomplish a mountain of “to-dos”.  It’ll be appreciated.  Promise.  But we can’t help each other if we aren’t sharing with each other. 

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happy new year

Ever since I graduated from college I have been caught in a time vortex.  The years really do go by faster.  Those important life moments certainly do happen in the blink of an eye.  Having children has multiplied this time vortex. I am always surprised when a new year rolls around… I know it sounds silly, but, for real, I am always like, “What!?” 
So… It's 2016… I know I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. So be it. 
This year, instead of individual resolutions, I've decided our family is going to set some family resoloutions.  It's going to be great! Hopefully.  Each member of our family is going to set some individual goals, things we each know we can work toward, but as a family, we are going to try some collective resoloutions this year.  So, with the first week of 2016 coming to a close, I've been thinking of sharing these resoloutions with everyone.  Accountability, for one, is why I'm writing about them, plus, resolutions are a popular thing to post on blogs, and, I think it's always good to share good ideas.  At least, I think they are good ideas, and it's nice to share.  So, on with it, because, pretty soon it's going to be 2017... like tomorrow, you know… That time vortex thing. 
Here are the things that I have come up with, as family goals.  
1.  Be the best you (for each of us)!  Sounds so cliche, right? But, for real, every day is a gift and none of us are promised tomorrow. Be the best you that you can be.  This may mean being a better spouse, or mother, or sister or brother.  Work hard on being better than yesterday, and definitely better than last year.  No matter what hat you’re wearing, no matter what job you are doing… Be the best.  
2.  Be intentional. Call your friends, talk to your family, make eye contact with the store clerk, smile at the Starbucks barista.  You have a million little opportunities to impact someone’s life.  Don't stay put in your own little virtual world.  Live in the real world, and do FaceTime with your actual face with the actual person that you're actually hanging out with. 
3.  Throw stuff away.  We are living in an abundance of stuff.  Most of us don't need another device, or more knick-knacks or more clothes, or jewelry or whatever. Stuff. Too much. It is next to impossible to escape it. Think about how big our houses are, our apartments, our yards-- everything is big in the USA.  If it isn't something that you think is beautiful, or it isn't something you have used in the past year, then it is time to donate it. 
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4.  Live simply.  For me, this is my big goal.  I want to draw in and really live within simple means.  We need food, shelter, and relationships. Our kids need that from us, as parents. Our spouses need all that, too.  I want to be able to look back at this year and know that I really spent time with my friends and family, and that we did life together. It is idyllic, maybe, but it is the goal I’m looking most forward to working on. Time. Relationships. Simplicity. 
Finally, of course, there are the practical goals. Starting our school day on time is one, for example.  This year is going by too quickly for me to fit in history, apparently.  I need to get us on an earlier start time. It's too bad that no one, not one person in my family, copes with mornings well… especially cold mornings, and dark mornings…(no, thank you).  Daily movement, eating green vegetables, daily flossing, these are all good goals, too.  I can list a ton of practical things, really, but that takes too long, and I'm not sure that listing all the practical things fits the goal of living simply. 
What are some of your goals (or resolutions, if you prefer) this year?  Maybe it's to read more books, exercise, eat healthy, or run a race. Whatever you do, I wish you lots of luck!  New Years are synonymous with fresh starts, so make it great! Be the best you can be!
 

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it's still the most wonderful time...

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I really do enjoy this season. So many people complain about the pressure of the holidays, the parties, the financial frenzy, and running ragged. That part is tiring. After the first few weeks in December, though, I actually feel like we get to slow down a bit and exhale. It has been hectic, but at least it’s not cold. I do not really care for the cold, but lucky for me, we seem to be enjoying a very mild fall. I don't like the early darkness, either, but Christmas lights make it totally bearable. Our part of the neighborhood is really lit up, this year, too. Maybe the warmer days are encouraging others to get outside and put up those holiday lights!. Plus, I've yet to hear “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer” which is also, really, so very awesome. All is not so calm, but is very bright in Virginia!

 

My kiddos are all older, now. My youngest is twelve (years old), and is quite desperately hanging on to her belief system in Santa and his elves. Well, one elf, in particular. Her name is Emma. She is new to our house this year, specifically for Katie. It's so fun to move her around, and be creative in making her believable… especially for a twelve year old. It's a good thing Katie is older, I guess, because she reminds me all day that the elf is supposed to move more, like every day, as it gets closer to Christmas. And sometimes, the elves do naughty things and, “Oh, I wonder where Emma will be tomorrow?” I get plenty of reminders. It’s a big responsibility keeping us parents up to date and on task.

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So, this morning, Emma vandalized the downstairs bathroom, complete with a lipstick “ho-ho-ho” scribbled across the mirror, and a roll of toilet paper strung all over. Katie was thrilled! She didn't even mind cleaning it up. I was like, “she’s your elf, so you get to clean up after her!” ... Nice.  A little household training thrown in there! It was magical- especially for me. I love it that the kids all want to still enjoy the wonder and magic of the holidays. From lights, to decorating, to elf antics- it's so fun. I've heard of some people doing polar express rides, reading a different holiday book every night, and having holiday movie nights! I’ve even found instructions online for a Lego Jesse Tree devotional. As stressful as the holiday season can be, it is great to be able to just relax a bit and enjoy some of these traditions with the kids. I love seeing all the pictures on-line, on social media, and reading about new ideas to share with my family. I can't do it all, I know (and you can't either- don't make yourself crazy trying to do everything!), but a couple of new things are fun to try. 

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This holiday season, maybe you could think about taking in a light show, go to the ballet, or go to a concert. There are plenty of schools putting on shows and concerts. There are so many ways you could enjoy the holidays.

This year, I'm more convinced that we need to be giving back. There are so many hard things going on in this world. We can’t solve all the problems for sure, but we could be a small part of the solution, perhaps. I think it's good for everyone to think of serving in some capacity. There are so many things you can do! Some of the things my kids have enjoyed are the toy drives. We've packed shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse, which sends shoeboxes to underserved children all over the world. The kids have also always liked picking out a toy for the Toys-for-tots donation boxes. There are also Angel trees around the region, where you pick a specific child to get specific items for. There are food drives, blanket drives, coat drives, and clothing drives going on at various churches, too! It's easy to lose sight of the people in need in this region, living among commuters, and neighborhoods with lots of lights, and stores all decked out with holiday trappings. The need, though, is there. It's here. It's all over. Give, if you can. Serve at church. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, or at a soup kitchen. Give a happy meal to the man on the corner with the help sign. I think, too, that giving is a good part of the spirit of the season! With family members deployed, burdened shelters, and busy first responders, the opportunity to help is never more needed than right here, right now. Plus, it feels good to help.

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 Afterwards, enjoy that give-back glow that you feel. It’s good for your complexion! Then go home, have some hot chocolate, and relax. Snuggle up with the kiddos, read a few books, and have sweet dreams.

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It's The Most Wonderful Time...

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… Of the year!!! I really do think this is true. I really love the holiday season.  I enjoy the decorating, the baking, the Advent, church services, songs, and movies.  I know it's cliche, but I am the epitome of the “most wonderful time of the year” person. I am probably a cross between Buddy the elf and Clark Griswold (before the meltdown, and as a female).  Don’t judge.

 

It is a hard time to be jolly, merry and bright for some of us, though.  I know plenty of people who are riddled with guilt this time of year over family differences, marriage differences, and traditions that may be hard to embrace. My husband and I have been married over twenty years, and we both still disagree about some of the Christmas traditions, and how we celebrate them.  We are both oldest children, which makes us both type A children (I mean adults) which makes it hard to negotiate and compromise. We've come a long (long, long, extremely long) way over twenty years, and we have had to make some new traditions- much to the chagrin of our parents.  We are a family too, though, and sometimes we have to make decisions for us.  I want everyone to be happy, and honest.  It's not always easy, for sure. I don't have great advice on this one, but I do know being honest, with love, is a good choice.

 

World events certainly aren't so cheerful right now. I was making light of traffic and associated road rage by saying, “the holidays really bring out the best in people.”  But when I paused to really think about it, it wasn't so “light”. On the contrary, I think it's pretty dark.  Some people really are battling loneliness and the pressures of the holiday season.  When I was working in the hospital, it was heartbreaking to have to witness the desolation of some of the patients. Now, we are in a time and place of high pressure- jobs, finances, expensive housing and living- add to that gift giving, party going, forced family fun, and a forced smile- well, it's easy to see why some people can crack.

 

But, this isn't meant to be a downer post. I want to encourage everyone to relax, breathe, pray, and enjoy this time of year.  We could all “use a little Christmas… Right here!”

 

Relax:  not every Christmas decoration has to go up.  Some years, the tree went up, and that was it. A wreath on the door went outside, but no lights.  We've had some pretty crazy stressful holiday seasons, and it's ok if the lighted skating rink doesn't go up on the hutch.  The kids and I were all sick one year, and we managed just fine with the tree, and a wreath. I felt guilt, for about five minutes, and that energy ran out fast! It's ok. Promise.

 

Breathe:  literally- in and out. Very deep. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Take a walk, take a bath, take a nap.  Find a little time to relax. Go potty by yourself. It'll do you and the kiddos some good.

 

Pray:  count your blessings. Serve. Thank friends and relatives you know that are serving in the military or are first responders.  They are dealing with a lot right now. Donate old clothes and coats. Do something kind for someone. Count your blessings again. It helps. Even in hard times, being thankful for one thing, will lead to being thankful for another, and that will lead to realizing that you might just be a pretty lucky (blessed) person.

 

Enjoy:  everything! I'll admit it's hard to enjoy all the rain we’ve had lately, but I have enjoyed the “balmy” feeling the rain brings.  I love watching the lights go up on the houses in the neighborhoods.  Enjoy the songs, the fun movies, the sweet movies, the funny movies.  Enjoy your kids thinking and wondering about Santa, about gifts, about giving.  Read some books.  It's a great time to get out of the house and walk around looking at displays in the stores, or on people's lawns. Have fun. Your kids are excited, no matter what traditions you celebrate. We were fortunate enough to be invited to a Hanukkah celebration a few years ago. We learned so much and had the best time. Sometimes, our holiday differences can be a bridge to better understanding and greater sensitivity toward others.  Share your traditions with each other-let that be a new tradition!

 

There is something for everyone this time of year!

 

What are some of your favorite things to do during the holidays?


What are some of your favorite traditions during the holidays?

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Candy Fairy

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Here is a true story: Once upon a time… I loved Halloween, trick-or-treating, and getting dressed up. I loved the cute costumes for my little ones. I enjoyed dressing them up, and taking adorable pictures. These adorable pictures featured the likes of Tigger, Mulan, Cinderella (my favorite), and the dragon trainer dragon (I can't remember his name). The baby was even a sweet-pea for her first Halloween! I relished having a few days of my favorite candy (I love, love, love peanut butter cups). Even better was being able to toss any remaining candy into the trash when I had had enough. Those were the days.

Then my children became teenagers (and a remaining tweenager).

My sweet Halloween pictures are currently tainted with zombies, scary makeup... things, and the not-so-bad Bobba Fett (from Star Wars). I had a sugar skull this year, too. These creatures (that look like my children and their friends) are not so cute anymore (not like Tigger and Mulan, anyway). The makeup is fun, although I have glitter everywhere. still. The costumes are pretty creative. The candy, though, that I used to throw away (guilt free, mind you) has become a sugar habit, and a quick fix for the afternoon doldrums, all adding up to an extra few pounds.

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Halloween has definitely changed a bit for me.

I'm feeling stuck. I want to let the kids have their fun and their candy, while also teaching them about nutrition, and self control. It’s hard to talk about the consequences of sugar, though, while we are in the midst of a meltdown, as a result of said sugar. Red dye #40, and other preservatives don’t help the meltdown issue, either. When do maturity and the realization that too much sugar is a bad thing happen? What age are you when all of that is supposed to click?

This year, I told the kids they could have all the candy they wanted on Halloween night, and then again all day Sunday, but the candy fairy would be throwing out any remaining candy after they went to bed on Sunday night.

Mistake number one.

The youngest is fundamentally opposed to giving up on the belief of any fairy. If I tell her there is a fairy for something, then there is no amount of back-peddling that can undo the existence of said fairy. In this case, I have now introduced a new fairy into the Halloween situation. As soon as I mentioned the fairy, the negotiations began. She (the sweet-pea, remember) started with separating and sorting all her candy. She made peace offerings to the fairy so that, “just maybe she won't take it all away Sunday night.” The main peace offering was a gallon sized ziplock bag of candy, with all the peanut butter cups included, for good measure…

I've been SO played.

Even though it is kind of sweet that my favorite candy has been offered to the "Candy Fairy", I’m totally aware that the sweet pea is onto me. To make sure that the “fairy” is fully informed of the candy crisis, the petitions of good work began. This child (that little one) proceeded to explain about all the hard work she put into her costume, how she walked long and hard, for hours, up-hill, etc, and that she just didn't understand how on earth a fairy would deprive her of something she worked so hard for? How could it be, that a benevolent fairy would take away candy from such a hard working spirit? I did what any sane mom would do. I gave in and said that I was the candy fairy.

Mistake number two.

Does anyone else agree that parenting is, like, the hardest job ever? I struggle with consistency. Every time, that is my short falling of effective discipline. I'm a softie, too emotional, and not a hard-liner. I've read countless books about this, so I speak (write) with confidence on this subject. To be effective, I have to be consistent. Thank God (literally) that I was attracted to and married to my husband who is the exact opposite of me. We may not keep the kids out of therapy, but we are offering and providing them with the best of both worlds of parent types. Together, we are both indulgent and strict. Hopefully, the children will turn out to be well rounded grown ups. We can hope, for sure. They will probably have a candy addiction, though.

The nugget of knowledge in this situation, I think, is that there has to be moderation in everything, even candy. Perhaps if I didn't limit it so much, it wouldn't be such an issue? The question mark is because I really don't know- I've heard both pros and cons on that approach.

One thing is sure, though. My youngest is not the type of person that infers meaning from vague directions, or responds well to suggestions. She needs a very clear if “a” then “b”. Clarity is a good thing! I think the clear approach, and plain-English directions will work well for every child, in any situation. Consistency, too, is a good thing.

So...as you transition from Halloween into the Christmas season, think of the candy fairy. She ended up giving the kiddos of this household a few extra days of candy. Thank goodness the elf-on-the-shelf came to the rescue! Our elf is a girl, and she wisely indicated that if anyone wanted any remaining candy, they had better ask permission first.

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Pouches is ready to kayak on the beautiful Rappahannock River. She’s also ready to learn more about how she can protect the river’s health using the Friends of the Rappahannock new River Report Card, sponsored by a surprise grant from the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region (CFRRR).

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