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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.



We're All a Little Mad Here

Before and After

 prebedroom

Don't judge...

I love makeover shows! It doesn’t matter if it is a person, a home, or a business, I love seeing before photos and after photos of just about anything. I can totally relate to the character, 'Cher' in the movie “Clueless” delightfully squealing, “Project!”

Maybe it is just the satisfaction of a completed goal, or project that makes makeover shows so appealing. Perhaps there is satisfaction in the completed task of anything that just makes those feel good endorphins course through a person’s system. Who doesn’t enjoy that great feeling of “well done,” or the anticipation of that fresh, new feeling that comes with cleaning up a living space, or room (or house, or body)?

 

new bed

 

I think it started with Extreme Makeover, Home Edition for me. I would cry each week for the several weeks I was able to watch the show (before I realized that crying actually incited migraines... ugh!). First of all, I could pretty much relate with every family that was being profiled- cancer, autism, rare bone disease, returning war hero... they all represented someone I knew or someone I was praying for. Second of all, the finished homes were just beautiful! I loved the stories, and I loved the beautiful living spaces. Next, I discovered Clinton and Stacy on “What Not to Wear.” I fantasize about them being my aunt and uncle that are just fabulous, and dote on me endlessly (hence, the fantasy). I actually picture them in my head when I have to buy new clothes. Usually, they are shaking their head “no” at me. I’m learning...

 

fabric

 

So, I’ve recently been trying to right size my life and wardrobe, my health and house, my menus (thanks, Deb!), my wants and needs, that type of thing. Because I have the benefit of experience (my youngest is thirteen), I know that my wants far exceed my needs. I know the value of patience. I know that good, nice furniture really could (and indeed did) wait until we were out of the toddler and preschool stage. Now, I am much more fully aware that my children don’t really need more than a few nice outfits, because they will surely be hard on the every-day outfits and they shouldn’t cost too much, because stains happen (and rips, and tears). Health is more important than fashion, and fashion really needs to be comfortable, and most of the neighbors could really care less if the flowers didn’t make it in the ground, or if the grass went a little long for one week (or three). Speaking of makeovers... our yard, for goodness sake, is a corpse... but I digress.

 

fabric2

 

Recently we have had the extreme pleasure of having a bit of an extreme home makeover. I’ve been as giddy as a teenager in love! Our youngest is a teenager, and we scrimped and saved and waited, and decided that this was the year!! Can I just go ahead and highly recommend Lazy Boy and Bassett Furniture in Fredericksburg? These lovely ladies from each store came to my house and took measurements and totally put a plan together for the rooms we wanted re-done, or “made-over,” if you will. The only thing missing from my experience were the TV cameras. I got to finalize colors, and pillow trim (!), artwork, and rug selections. The before and after pictures don’t even do it justice, because, y’all, my (whole) house was a collection of mismatched, hand-me-down furniture! (Did I just say y’all?!?) So, the couch was a featured prop in my prom pictures (1989!?!). Oh my heavens, it was so time to trade up! I am happy to announce that we have very grown up and very new furniture in our living room and bedroom. Let me tell you, too, that it feels so good. And that couch... it is still in our house... it’s part of the homeschool room, now, and we even let the dogs on it. That couch will probably end up in one of my kids’ homes one day. It’s pretty sturdy.

 

couch

 

So, extreme makeover, home edition, Kristen style, has been enormously fun and extremely rewarding. I’m still a work in progress regarding menu, health, wardrobe, cooking wise, but I love to write so I’ll keep everyone updated. Let me add, too, that waiting until the children are older to get nice furniture has been the best choice ever. Mostly because we can put mortal fear into them about drinks and food not being allowed on the furniture, but also because, I think, they actually understand the value of working hard for something nice. Hopefully, that’s it, anyway. It could just be that nothing is really broken in yet, so they aren’t just flopping around on the furniture in all their grubby gloriousness. We shall see.

 

newcouch

 

Have fun, do a makeover, keep calm, and parent on!

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What Love Looks Like

mabcmom

 

There is nothing like having kids to illustrate the breadth and depth of love. I love labor stories! I love hearing about how my friends have experienced labor and delivery. I adore those newborn pictures, of those tiny humans looking around in wonder at their new view of the world. The stories both awe and amuse me. For example, some of my friends decided to do all natural labor; some friends had birth plans. I know mothers who “winged it”, and I know mothers who have had to have every second of their experience monitored because of health reasons. I know some mothers who have ushered in children who have died within minutes of birth. All of these stories, and babies, and lives are beautiful, and brave, and courageous.

I, myself, have had three (very different) children, and have three very different birth stories. I was of the “give me drugs” variety, and “epidural immediately please” patient. That worked great for the first two, but Katie tried to arrive while I was being frantically driven to the hospital by my very stressed out mother. We made it- to the hospital, I mean- and I even got an epidural (which didn’t work), but she was born 45 minutes after I got to Labor and Delivery. It hurt. A lot. And here’s the thing: it still does.

 

trampoline

 

Love is a great and wonderful and terrible and beautiful thing. Love speaks truth and love speaks honesty, and with truth and honesty sometimes we have to deal with being uncomfortable or having hurt feelings.

Love sometimes looks like saying no to a screaming toddler, and subsequently saying no to the full cart of groceries in the produce aisle so you can deal with your screaming toddler.

Love looks like safety helmets and knee pads. Love can be scraped knees after a solo two-wheeled bike ride. Sometimes it’s even a broken collarbone after learning how to do cartwheels, and doing one two many. Tears and smiles and shouts are all the things that make up this love business.

 

dmv

 

Now that I have teenagers, and a twenty year old(!), I find myself thinking about how much easier things were when they were younger. It’s so cliche, isn’t it? I couldn’t wait for things to get easier! I wished away the first year, just wanting a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, and then lamented about how busy the toddler years were, and then couldn’t wait for them all to go to school, and then we decided to homeschool, and then I just wished for graduation... the list of wishes continues to grow. Love hasn’t gotten any easier, for sure. What was physical exhaustion fifteen years ago is now mental exhaustion.

 

prom

 

Love looks a lot like a broken heart at times. Independence is awesome, and it has always been what I pray and hope for and write about, for that matter. However, these little independent creatures now have their own voice, and opinions, and ideas, and they frequently don’t match up with my thoughts and ideas about stuff. Love is letting go. Love is embracing your kids after a poor choice. Love is unconditional and love is a choice. It’s hard to stay calm while the thirteen year old is telling me that she shouldn’t have to get things for us in the house because we (parents) are perfectly capable of getting said things. It’s difficult to fathom that the sixteen year old would rather us not go to the prom celebration with her; that she wanted to do it alone. I love you. I correct you. I adore you. I am exhausted in love with you.

It’s OK, though, mamas and dads, they do still love us. It’s actually developmentally appropriate for our kids to want to separate from us as we all get older. It's a success, friends, when these loves decide to want to do something on their own. We (parents) however, need to be strong and courageous to show that love also looks a lot like trust. I trust you to drive the car solo. I trust you to make the right decision about that friendship. I trust you to keep in touch with me about difficult situations. I trust you to stay home alone. I trust that you will call me if you are in an unsafe situation. I trust that you will ask for my help. I love you. And although I want to lose my mind, I’m utilizing all the deep breathing techniques and prayers that I know of in order to not lose my mind.

 

deepbreath 

 

Hang in there, parents! Keep calm, start practicing trust exercises, and parent on!

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Gardening Woes

annadani

 

Can I just say that the path to being a good gardener is laborious, at best? Spring is here, the monsoon time has started, and the naturally occurring fauna (read:weeds) is (are) sprouting. Everywhere. Even on my front porch, which is made out of cement, by the way. It’s overwhelming.

 

meadow sml

 

I remember growing up and observing my parents taking meticulous care of the earth surrounding whatever living establishment we happened to land in. I grew up a Navy-Brat (the very best kind of brat), and literally lived somewhere new every two to three years up until I departed for college at age eighteen. My parents were not necessarily as neat and meticulous inside the house, but the outside was manicured and beautiful, no matter if we were renting, living on base, or living in a house they owned. We even lived in an apartment in Germany for three years, and I have vague memories of green plant things happening there, too.

My dad grew up in North Dakota. Yes, people actually live there. He was the youngest of seven and he grew up on a farm. I don’t think the farming gene ever leaves farm people. I remember my dad farming something in every place we lived, even if it was just tomatoes out of a pot. My mom grew up the oldest of three in the South (with a capital S). Just like farming can’t be taken out of the farm kid, South can not be removed from a southern girl. We always had flowers. She knew the name of all of them, and copiously (and fervently) planted every spring, in a race to get “the plants in the ground” before... Before, what? Before they died maybe? I don’t even know. It just felt like a race. Needless to say, our yard, garden, flowers, vegetables, always looked awesome. And there is nothing that beats the taste of a just picked tomato- for real, I’m just sayin’

 

squirrel sml

 

I totally recall saying to my mother when I was old enough to hate being a sweaty teenager that I would never, ever garden like she did. I wouldn’t need to complain about the heat, an early frost, or a proliferation of squirrels, because I’d just have a yard, and that’s it. I could care less about the flowers, the yard, or lack thereof.

So, you can probably guess what is coming, right? I’m not sure when the shift happened, but one day (suddenly, and to the surprise of both my husband and me) I did care, I decided. I wanted the flowers, the grass, and the vegetables. I wanted a yard without weeds. I wanted the grass trimmed regularly. I wanted all of it.

 

vegetables sml

 

Here is the thing, though: Much like cooking, which I never enjoyed, therefore I never paid attention to, I have no farming or gardening inclinations whatsoever. A green thumb? Mine must be black! I can’t ever remember what "zone" I’m in, and I can’t tell the difference between a dead plant or a dormant plant. There must be at least thirty-seven species of grass that make up my lawn, and just last year I learned how to work the lawnmower, only because Mark was out of town, and we’d had thirty days of rain (remember that last Spring?) and it was necessary to mow, because of snakes. I’ve seen the snakes. They are of the Copperhead variety. No, thanks. I have kids and dogs, so the Serengeti grass had to go.

 

poppy sml

 

Gardening to me, sometimes feels like I’ve been sick from school for a week (or thirty years) and I am trying to catch up on all the work I’ve missed! I’m sure the librarians are chuckling under their breath every March when I check out as many gardening books as I think I can understand (I need colorful pictures and simple language and steps... numbered steps... with more pictures). I’ve learned a few things (aside from how to work a lawn-mower), though. I like it. I look forward to the challenge. I read something new. And, I try to learn from my mistakes (which there have been a lot of). I don’t plant pretty flowers until May. It can still get pretty cold at night in April, and some of those pretty flowers are expensive. I don’t try to plant from just seeds anymore. I buy the plants already started and well on their way to surviving. I’ve involved my kids. Once the kiddos have ownership of something, they tend to want to care for it and nurture it and be better at it than their sisters and brothers are at it. I’ve learned to not spray Roundup on my entire lawn to kill the weeds. Just say no. It’s poison, first of all; secondly, you will end up with nothing for awhile, and then you will just have more weeds. If it hasn’t rained in two days, especially in the heat of July and August, you must water those plants! Rotate your crops, even if your crops consist of only one sunflower plant. Containers are wonderfully helpful, too. Virginia clay, or slate, or mud-slate is not the friendliest growing environment. People that have containers tend to have vegetables to share, and flowers worthy of butterflies and hummingbirds.

Finally, while the librarians might be chuckling at me, they also are the most helpful people on the planet, and want to help. If you want to garden and need a how-to with very specific style and language, they will match you to the right how-to book in no time at all. Plus, they love to do book matching! I have heard on more than one occasion that matching a reader to the right book is a passion of theirs. The books are free to checkout and renew, as well, of course. I believe that the 4-H also sponsors growing and plant workshops (for free!) at several library branches throughout Stafford and Fredericksburg. Libraries are the best deal ever.

 

asian 1839798 640sml

 

Just like cooking or gardening, or whatever it is that might stump you in life, I offer this advice: pause, take a breath, step back, and try to learn about how to overcome the task at hand. I’ve been in my house since the late nineties and I still am learning the ropes of gardening and yard care. I have some beautiful azaleas and creeping phlox. I haven’t managed to kill any of my trees. I have two lavender bushes, and one rosemary that keeps coming back. Still, the yard is not what I envision, and I’ve only had one successful year of tomatoes and zucchinis, but I haven’t given up! This year, I think we are going to try some container gardening and hope for the best. I may not have inherited a farming or South gene (although, I think my parents would insist that I, at least, have the South gene), I have inherited the wanting to try to have a beautiful outdoor space. And, Spring is here. It’s time to get busy.

Keep calm, grow a garden, and parent on!

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a peek inside an autism family

Finishing up with a month of April autism awareness posts, I figured I’d mention all the wonderful, positive, right things that are the stuff of life when living in an autistic family (because, truthfully, after a while we all feel a little spectrum-y).

 

family

 

First of all, we have all acquired a habit of taking on some of the physical and verbal tics of our kids’ autism traits. We will all join in flapping with Tommy and/or Katie if the situation warrants that sharing of emotion. Yep, sometimes we just need to get stimmy with each other. When one person communicates and processes dialogue with flapping, it’s just natural to pick up on that, and join in. Clearing the throat is another trait that we all pay attention to; throat clearing accompanies explanations (sometimes very long ones, so we either settle in and get prepared to listen, or we tell (ususally) Tommy to wait, we need to address this later). So, sometimes accepting means mirroring, and we get that in our house. It doesn’t always work, now... all of us flapping and clearing our throats together in Target might set off some red flags, but at home, it works well to communicate, “I get you.”

 

katieupsidedown

 

We all laugh and cry a lot. The emotions flow freely at our house, with not a lot of filters. This is both good and bad. We, and I mean all of us humans that make up this family, know when each other are happy, sad, mad, annoyed, upset, etc. We’ve named what angry eyebrows mean, what mashed lips convey, and what tears communicate. Every facial expression has gotten a name and an emotion attached to it. 

 

tompippi

 

We love fierce! These kids, especially, keep me on my toes. I can witness fighting for thirty eight hours straight, but the moment one child thinks another has been slighted, judged, or mistreated, protective-sibling-mode is on full and glorious display (again, without a lot of filters) for everyone to witness. More often than not I am feeling proud and thinking, “wow... these kids have that love and protect thing down pat.” Sometimes, though, I’m like, “can you keep that in your thought bubble, please?” Teaching social awareness and situational respect is tough stuff. I’m constantly learning, myself, actually. No one can claim, though, that love is absent at our house.

 

kateflap

 

This crew has learned to be very (very) specific with our words. The first time I told Tommy to “go hop in the tub,” and he literally hopped into the tub and nearly cracked his head, I took note that I couldn’t assume that phrases wouldn’t be interpreted literally. “Hop to it,” involved hopping. Amelia Bedelia was extremely helpful to us early on. I had to be careful with imaginary play, too. When Tommy was five, he decided to try flying out his window, complete with cape and mask on. I caught him right before he had pushed the screen all the way out. After freaking out completely (“What are you doing?!?!” --”Trying to fly!!!”), I had to explain the difference between real and pretend people... which didn’t go so well, actually, and needed to be revisited frequently. Also, all aspects of home safety had to be reevaluated and updated, and explained. I have to admit we had to reevaluate and explain again with our third child, who is also on the spectrum. She wasn’t diagnosed until later, but there it was, around age five, she wanted to fly, and she was in a tree, not a bedroom window, but still -- I can’t lock a tree and put a safety latch on it. Specific words. Often repeated.

 

ksleep

Finally, acceptance. Learning to accept each other, even when we are all different, is huge. I may not agree or like what you say to me, but I accept you. We all need a little grace with this one, too. It doesn’t necessarily feel accepting sometimes, say, when my child is telling me he would save an animal’s life over mine. However, I can accept (after I’ve had a few minutes to sit back and think about it) that said child feels very strongly about how vulnerable an animal is, versus how resourceful a human is. Plus, I’m allegedly older and wiser, and should be able to give the kids a little space to think and formulate opinions, and voice said opinions. This, quite obviously, doesn’t always work, especially when respect becomes an issue. All children need to learn to respect their parents, even if it means they don’t accept an explanation (Why isn’t Superman real?!?! Why are dinosaurs extinct?!?!”). So, accepting and respecting are two things that require continuous training and learning on all of our parts. Regardless, the accepting of each other is the beauty of a neuro-diverse family.

So, keep calm, love, laugh, accept, and respect, and parent on!

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but, no support groups!

IMG 2934

 

I last wrote about the awesome month of April being the awesome month of autism awareness. Furthermore, I challenged the readers (y’all!!) to help move the collective thinking and discussions surrounding autism into more of an autism acceptance stance.

I wrote last week about how my kids are proud of who they are, and how understanding that autism means their brains are wired differently and work differently than most of their friends’ brains do. On the surface, it’s a pretty easy explanation. I don’t want to diminish though, that we have had many tears, many gut wrenching conversations about how being different is not so easy. Trying to explain why they don’t get many birthday invitations or sleep over invites is a difficult conversation to have. “Because your brain works differently than most other kids,” is not always an acceptable answer, either. I’ve often commented that it would have been nice to get an instruction manual with these kids, because I’m so sure I’m messing things up everyday because I’m missing the manual! All we can do is muddle through sometimes, and pray, like all the time, I guess. I am no expert, but I’m proud that my kids are proud, of even the hardest stuff.

So, we (the oldest and the youngest- the two on the spectrum) were in the car for a road trip on Monday. Tommy had been home for Easter, and his birthday, and I was returning him back to Woodrow Wilson. We got on the subject of April and autism and awareness.

“I hate that phrase!” Tommy exclaimed, “Aware... of what?!”

“Autism,” Katie answered, “yeah, I think it’s weird, too.”

“Huh,” I chimed in, “one of my friends said she was wary of any day or month with the word ‘awareness’ attached to it.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Tommy answered.

“Yeah,” Katie added, “So you’re aware... now what? Do you want a prize or something?”

“Huh.”

 

tsword

 

When I can’t think of an intelligent response, “huh” usually suffices. It works well when I’m surprised or flabbergasted, too. Which, of course, I was-- both surprised and flabbergasted. I thought they were both “good” with autism awareness stuff. I thought they understood that the awareness campaign was to help more people understand and be aware of the differences and challenges that arise with autistic family members and friends. I, therefore, started to espouse all the things good about the autism awareness campaign and I even told them that I had a post going up that very day about all that stuff.

“Mooooommmm,” from Tommy, flapping, in the back seat.

“Mom!” from Katie, bouncing in the front seat. “It’s ok!”

“It’s just that I think it’s not a bad thing, you know, being aware and even accepting of people that see the world differently, and all that.”

At this point in our trip we were on the mountainous portion of the highway, so I couldn’t really look into my kids’ faces and try to ascertain exactly what they were feeling and trying to convey. Tommy tends to be very wordy, which is interesting because he was so not wordy until he was four. Katie is more physical, though. Their faces truly help me understand them better. I felt a little blinded, at the moment, on a curvy mountain road.

“Alright, well, awareness is fine, mom, but then what do you do with that? So, that is what I mean.” Tommy answered quite plainly, not upset; Katie, I noticed out of the corner of my eye,nodded in agreement. Then, Tommy continued.

“Furthermore, I think autism is what makes great people great. You can’t argue that some of the most brilliant people have autism, and a lot of them are my heros. This is what I love about the idea of a multiverse. The multiverse is full of different people, warriors, heroes, artists, that all probably have autism... so why do I need a support group?”

Wait... what? Support group? Katie rolled her eyes, and sighed, “Here we go.”

I guess they had already been talking about this, and I missed it.

“Yes, yes, in school the guidance counselor wanted me to go to one, and in highschool I had to go to one, and they even have one at Woodrow Wilson. I’m not an addict or on drugs, or addicted to anything bad... so why would I need a support group? It’s stupid!”

“Huh,” I answered. “Well, I have an easy answer, actually.”

“Go on,” he prompted.

“Well, support groups don’t have to be bad. They’re good, actually, even if you’re in one for a not-so-good reason. MOPS (Mothers of PreSchoolers) is a support group. Prayer group is a support group. Small group is a support group. I’ve been to several autism support groups, and I have even been to a breastfeeding support group.”

Eeewwwwww- from Katie. Flapping from Tommy.

“So, see? Sometimes people just want and need support in things that set them apart, or make them different, or are challenging. It helps to make you feel like you aren’t always messing things up, and that you aren’t alone.”

Without missing a beat, “Well, I don’t mind being alone.”

I know. I know. I know. It is kind of crazy that the majority of people with autism that I know would much rather be alone, or in a very small, like only one other person, group situation. Maybe the groups are made by the neuro-typical people that want the neurodiverse people to feel more like the neuro-typical person would want to feel... In other words, a support group sounds like a great idea to me (neuro-typical), but it would be to make me (neuro-typical) feel better. And here is the epiphany: autism awareness should be about acceptance. We all see things a little differently, and in the autism community every person with autism is different. Hopefully, the awareness part of the autism awareness campaign will lead to more acceptance of those very things that make each person with autism unique. So, after a pregnant pause, I answered:

“Well, then, I guess you don’t need a support group, then... but, isn’t autism awareness ok?”

“Yeah, just leave out the support groups.”

 

kids

 

Copy. Got it. Keep Calm. Accept autism. Support groups optional. And Parent ON!

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Bikers Against Child Abuse, Inc. (BACA) exists to create a safer environment for abused children by empowering children to not feel afraid of their world. Imagine how an abused child feels when a group of large bikers rides up to their house, inducts them into their club and then escorts them to court to testify against their abuser.

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