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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

Tommy is Home Again!

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My Tom-Tom has returned, once again, from time spent at Woodrow Wilson Workforce. He has been there since January, and was supposed to be there until October. He, however, decided to be a rock star and finish his training program three months ahead of schedule, with good grades and glowing reviews, to boot!!! Who knew?! Uh-mazing!

 

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So, apparently, the training is self-paced. Apparently, also, Tommy does well with computers and data entry. I kind of thought he would do well with that, and he proved me correct. He texted mid-June that he was going to be done in July.

“What do you mean, done?!?” I exclaimed, “is everything OK?”

I was slightly panicked as I tend to think the worst in every situation, and I was worried he was failing, or something. The “something” being I-don’t-even-know-what. I was like, “Face-time me right now!!!” He assured me that everything was fine and that he was just working so well, and ahead of schedule. I still emailed his guidance counselor the next day to verify that the “or something” wasn’t happening. It wasn’t. He really was ahead of schedule and doing great. How about that?!

His training certificate says that he is proficient in handling business and information technology. He did an internship in the media center on campus, too. The evaluations from his teachers, counselors, and coaches say he is ready for job placement.

I can not say enough good things about Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center! The transitions between trainings and life skills groups have been seamless. The communication with Tommy’s case manager from here has been excellent. Next up is our meeting with his case manager to determine what is going to happen after he goes back for his driver training in October. Tommy has expressed interest in maybe taking a few college classes, and getting a job in an area of interest for him. He understands that he can’t be a Jedi, but he hasn’t ruled out a job in forensic archaeology (think Indiana Jones). We shall see.

 

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I’ve got to say that two years ago I was just not able to visualize this point in time. I couldn’t fathom Tommy living on his own, or being able to complete training for a job. Granted, he was in a very structured living and training environment, but he did do it without me nagging, coaching, instructing, and nagging some more. I keep saying that not-mom is sometimes the motivation that certain kids need to have things ‘come together’ for them. Several things (grooming, cleaning, organizing, focusing) have to synthesize in able for kids like Tommy to get a boost in maturity to be able to handle a college or job environment. That, and a lot of prayer. Wilson Workforce has been our answer to prayer.

 

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Of course I’ll be posting more Tommy updates as our situation unfolds. For right now, we are happy to have him home. We are continuing to work on life skills (that grooming thing!). We still are needing to encourage Tommy to reach out to some of his friends. Refereeing TV time and chore rotations has become a daily occurrence (funny how odd numbers stimulate the fighting and sibling rivalry gene), since fifteen minutes after he arrived home a few weeks ago. Sigh. Also, though, it’s been great to see him be able to relate with us, and to be excited about seeing some people. I love having my brood under one roof, too. It does seem like the volume has been turned up at my house, though. I’m not having silent coffee time in the morning anymore. Tommy always has something to convey first thing in the morning. I’ve been reminding him that I’m not so nice until I’ve had that first cup... just keeping things real.

 

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Keep calm, and love having your kids home, because you’ll blink a few times and they’ll be twenty years old. Parent on!

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Girlfriends

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I remember being in middle school (wretched, awful experience) and finding out that the girl I complimented every day was telling people that she thought I was annoying. I was heartbroken. Mama had raised me to say nice things to people, and to have good manners. I complimented this girl’s outfits and hair. She looked awesome, and cute, and perfect, so I told her so. I remember another girl, who was quiet, but in with the “in crowd” softly defending me. In hindsight, I can see how precarious her situation was, defending the annoying girl to one of the a-list girls. At the time, I was just grateful that another girl kind of “got me” and said so. This girl and I ended up moving to the same high school together, in a different state, and we became tight, best friends. She and I still keep in touch.

I have one other girlfriend that I’ve known since childhood, since she and I were ten years old. We are still close, and I think of her often. She is one of my son’s godmothers (he has two). Both of these ladies were in my wedding. They were among the first to find out I was pregnant. And, thank goodness for Facebook, because we are able to live on the fringes of each others’ lives since they are in California, and I’m here in Virginia.

 

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There are several types of friends, aren’t there? I am so grateful for the many people that have been a part of my life. There have been many that arrive right on time, it seems, to be there just for me. Because I’m Christian, I truly believe these friends are purposefully put in my path, and me in their path. Nothing is accidental. I’m always baffled at the details of my relationships that coincide with people that I may have just met, or have known forever.

Sometimes, relationships with other women are just plain difficult. The dynamic becomes toxic. I had a friend that I truly loved and cared for, and I still do, but we had to separate for my health and sanity. It really felt like “breaking up is hard to do.” I felt terrible, because emotionally I was so invested, but I also was becoming so enmeshed in her life, that I was neglecting my own. The relationship just had to change. Some people are just hard to love, and hard to let go.

 

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Couple friends are important to marriage as well. Mark has friends, and I have friends, but there are a few couples that we love together. The soul loving and encouraging relationships that keep us encouraged and keep us encouraging others is so, so important to a marriage and, of course, to the individual. When marriage becomes difficult, you need couples that can come alongside of you to mentor and love you through tight spots. We need to be able to reciprocate that, as well. Marriage is altogether hard enough; friends help us laugh, cry, and mourn the hard stuff of life.

 

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I think every woman should have (at least) one person in her life who is not a superficial girlfriend. I don’t mean superficial as fake, either, I just mean that as a face-value type of friend. I think having women in your life that can encourage you and be honest with you, and you can do for them in return is essential for what I like to call, “doing life.” I have friends in my life that are like accountability partners with me. When times are hard, these ladies can say to me, “what is true about your situation?” When times are great, they are celebrating with me; when things are not so great, they are praying over me, and lifting me up. To be able to cheer one another along in mothering, mentoring, family-raising, and marriage-building is a gift I wish every woman can have. Reciprocity and accountability help me to be better. My hope is that everyone has at least one other woman that they can partner with to live life well.

 

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Motherhood is beautiful and terrifying. Maintaining the health and well-being of a marriage is tough love. Make some friends that will help you, and that you can help in return in this journey of parenthood and family-raising. Love is a long road. It’s nice to have friends along for the ride.

Keep calm, love your friends, and parent on!

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Bucket Lists

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Since the advent of Pinterest, I’ve become something of a bucket-list type of mom. We all lose our minds, every once in awhile, right? I mean to say, Pinterest makes everything “possible” and “do-worthy.” I can make anything and everything and for next to nothing, on a shoestring budget!

Before I get accused of enabling a burgeoning addiction to Pinterest, this post is more of a cautionary tale. I totally can get into bucket-lists, but I’m a little more realistic about what I am and am not capable of than when I first started Pinterest. I’d like to amount it all to maturity, but I think I’ve become just a little more skeptical of how easy it is (or isn’t) to do a project.

Also, discretionary funding of big projects that begin with “I saw this great idea on Pinterest...” has been dubiously limited by the man of the house. 

So, that being said, I have gotten some great ideas on things to do with the kids, and some projects to make, that truly are not expensive from the Pinterest-of-wonder-world. Plus, there are tons of ideas on the "what-to-do-that-doesn't-require-a-plug-or-charger"  list.

All-in-all, there are lots of good things to be said about the fabulousness of Pinterest, plus the ideas are what count, but... proceed with caution! The “make this ice rink for three dollars with materials from the dollar store!” project doesn’t work... not for three dollars, anyway, and not in my backyard --just keeping it real. Also, the glow-in-the-dark spray painted planter pots don’t glow that brightly, unless maybe you use (at least) ten cans of the stuff. I speak from experience. But, I digress.

 

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Bucket lists are great for summer, unless they get too long, in which case you might find that you will be bringing on feelings of anxiety and remorse over NOT getting enough things done. That won't do. The bucket list is meant to be fun! It’s also meant to be helpful, especially for those days where it seems like the TV has been on for 72 hours, the computers have been bogging down the wi-fi for days, and the kiddos look a bit like manic cycle, hollow eyed Voldemorts and still have the nerve to say they are bored, hungry, starving, and desperate.

 

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Our Bucket list, for example has some of what I would call "big ticket" items, like, make a trip to Washington DC for the day, so we can breeze through a few of the Smithsonian Museums and the Library of Congress (we are total book people). It’s amazing that we take such a great amount of resources for granted. DC is fun, there are tons of things to see, learn and do, and you can take the train for about the same amount of money as driving in and parking for the day. It’s a no-brainer. Pack lunch, though, because I am pretty sure the food industry in DC can be classified as racketeering and/or an extortion operation. The Smithsonian is free; the food is not!

 

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Another big ticket item for this year is planning a day trip- possibly an overnight trip to hike a part of the Appalachian Trail. We like to hike, and the AT is practically in our back yard. It’s still up for debate if we are going to do it this summer, though, or wait for it to get a bit cooler.

Spending the day in Old Town Fredericksburg is on the bucket list, just because it is fun to explore the antiques and the books and visit all the little eateries that Fredericksburg has to offer. We always have fun tooling around Princess Anne and Caroline Streets.

 

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Other things that can go on a bucket list are things like scavenger hunts, library days, themed lunch days that can go along with whatever book(s) you and the kids are reading, tea parties, backyard nature treasure hunts, and things that are easy and not too expensive (or free) to do. We’ll have board game day, and movie marathon day, too -- great for epics like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and High School Musical. Relax and enjoy!

 

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Lastly, we pick out a few projects to try from the many wonderful things we’ve pinned from our Pinterest boards. Mine include composting and starting a garden- a real garden- that is edible. I have exactly one tomato (a squirrel robbed me of the other one), several radishes, a tidy little spinach crop, and lemon thyme, which is supposed to keep the bugs away. Danielle is crocheting a quilt. Katie is Minecraft-ing her heart out. Tommy is reading, and finding obscure facts and daydreaming about the multiverse that is his world. My husband, bless him, tolerates and encourages us in our sometimes wacky pursuits. Big bubble making is always fun, and inexpensive, for example, and we all get into it.

So, keep calm, keep your Pinterest in check, make a bucket list, and parent on!

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Healthy Intentions

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So, my neck is stiff and my left arm makes everything hurt when I move it. Fibromyalgia is SO not fun. I’ve touched on the subject of living with chronic illness before, but, since it is an ongoing battle, there is ongoing stuff to post about. The stuff of life is sometimes, just, tough.

I’ve resolved to be tough in return, although I certainly don’t necessarily feel like it most of the time. Believe me, when my eyes opened this morning and I discovered that my neck wasn’t in working order, I really did not want to get out of bed. It’s Saturday, after all; I could be considered justified in my actions by staying in bed, right? The thing about that, of course, is that parenting doesn’t stop on Saturdays. So... up I got.

The middle child, also living with a chronic illness, was already up and had, bless her heart, made the coffee. We tend to mirror each other with symptoms sometimes. We also mirror a coffee habit.

“Bad night?” I asked.

“Meh.”

“Yeah, me too.”

We drink in silence. I am loving that my teenager is a lot like me, and I apologize for it at the same time. Often you can hear me saying, “sorry, you got that from me.” However, we are blessed to appreciate each other in ways that our other family members don’t quite get. Plus, love looks like being quiet with a bowl of coffee in the morning, sometimes.

 

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One thing that has been very much on my mind and in my heart during this season is staying healthy. Health is paramount to survival, I think, and claiming a willpower (think Dave Goggins) to stick to that intention is important, too. It isn’t easy: it’s hard. It isn’t always fun, sometimes, frankly, it stinks and it is painful. Keeping moving and keeping active, though, are so, so helpful to the intention of health. Not once have I pushed myself to just go on a walk when I’m hurting and then felt worse afterwards. I always feel better, even if I hurt before I set out.

Not only is health important for me, it’s important for my family. My kids need to see that I value pursuing a healthy lifestyle. They need to learn that being healthy and staying active is part of life, and not a huge obstacle to overcome everyday. I know so many people that have just seemed to give up on eating healthy and being active. The excuses for avoiding exercise and choosing potato chips over fresh vegetables are endless. I know when I’m eating well and moving my body I feel better. I’m a better wife, and a better mother when I’m living in a healthy way. I want to encourage everyone to consider health over hurt... even when it does hurt. Keep at it! I’ll be your cheerleader! I can even actually say I understand that it seems impossible to overcome pain, but I struggle with that same issue. Some days, we need to rest, but most days, we need to move. It’s worth it!

 

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Living with chronic pain, chronic illness, or any health challenge is, well, challenging. I’m constantly reading and learning how to manage not only my symptoms, but my daughter’s as well. On top of that, the other special needs in our family need to be managed, too. Almost every special need and health issue that our population needs to address, though, can be helped (if not resolved) by nutrition and activity. I really believe that. Current, popular media captivates us, and our kids, to crave the most unhealthy snacks and cereals on the planet. Add video games, binge watching TV, and constant electronic usage, and we are being set up for a very unhealthy future. From what I have gleaned over several years of parenting, red dye #40 and sugary snacks do not help the health of the family. While we do indulge in treats, and vacations are pretty much sugary snacks, and red dye #40, we detox immediately upon return to the real word. Whining and gnashing of teeth... but that is just the way it goes sometimes. That’s Life. It’s a song from the eighties, I think.

Life is certainly a bumpy road at times, isn’t it? I often wonder “why me,” and then I quickly think, “why not me,” and move on. Prayer and Faith are awesome and what I lean on, lean into, and live for on a daily, hourly, minutely basis. Love and patience come from above; I couldn’t do it on my own, for sure.

 

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I guess we never stop learning, do we? As parents, and as adults, I mean. I may have graduated from school, but I am constantly learning. Information about diets and nutrition and health studies is a very fluid subject, these days. My advice? Balance. Move. Faith. Health. It looks different on everyone. Find what works, and what makes your body feel healthy, and stick with it! You can do it!

 

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Keep calm, claim health, and parent on!

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Special Needs

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Special needs is a very broad subject to write about. Truly, anyone can have special needs. I often write that our family wears our autism on our proverbial sleeves. The oldest and youngest are both on the spectrum (officially). Truly, though, a lot of people in my and my husband’s families would meet criteria for an autism diagnosis if the same information was available thirty years ago. We laugh (a little) and say about our kids, “Yeah, they come by their autism honestly.” Really, we all do.

The collective “we” have learned so much over the past few decades about autism spectrum disorders. We don’t know enough, but we’ve come a long way in the diagnosis, and treatments available for families with children on the spectrum. It’s natural to wonder about the hows and whys of the autism phenomenon. I think about that stuff a lot less than I used to, though, because, now, I am simply living through it. While it is validating to have the label/diagnosis, working on raising and launching my family is the reality of my situation. We have more ups than downs now, and more funny stories than sad ones.

 

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I get asked about how and when and what-did-it-look-like when we first started pursuing testing for Tommy, and later, Katie. Developmental milestones, and the delay of said milestones are the obvious answer to that question. Well, that only worked for our first child, though. Katie’s diagnosis came much later in her life, and only after a lot of frustrating situations. Special needs can look obvious at times, right? Everyone can see Down’s Syndrome, for instance, and people in wheelchairs and on ventilators obviously have special needs. With all the awareness campaigns for everything under the sun, though, just how aware are you? I certainly am not always aware. Can you recognize a special need when you see it? Sensory disorders, obsessive behaviors, and anxiety disorders are all special needs, too. You can’t necessarily see depression, but is that any less special than the challenges we can see?

 

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My Tommy (for example) is fundamentally opposed to shoes, and has been for many years. This is not a problem in the summer, but when you see a child (or man-child grown) wearing shorts and flip-flops in the snow, can you recognize that the situation is probably a special needs issue, and not a “where-is-his-mother” issue? What about the screaming kid in the parking lot? I’m guilty of thinking “what is that parent doing?” instead of, “Oh. Sensory issue. I get it.” Both of my spectrum kids refuse winter coats. I’ve stopped buying them, as a matter of fact, because they won’t wear them. And the notion that they will learn to wear heavier coats once they’ve just been cold a few times is a lie from the pit of... well, it’s a lie. They have been cold plenty of times, and those coats looked fine and lovely hanging on hangers in the coat closet. Forever. I finally relegated said coats to the Goodwill this year. I didn’t recognize some of those types of “symptoms” in Katie right away, though. She was twelve when we finally had our “oh! I know what this is!” a-ha moment!

 

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Aside from sensory issues making us special, we have food issues (everything is an issue, as a matter of fact). The different foods on the plate can. not. touch. This will completely ruin a meal. And making said children just go hungry doesn’t fix it, it just makes everyone cranky. Food can’t touch. Period. For a long time we couldn’t use the word “nose” because it would send Tommy into a spiral. Katie does not tolerate thunder. She will make herself pass out to avoid hearing it. My husband, who is afraid of nothing, does not get it, but even he is like, “do what you have to do, it’s going to storm.” We are a special family that can’t have things too loud (I seriously carry earplugs in my purse), too bright (sunglasses are stashed everywhere in the car, in the house, in the coat closet), too dark (three out of five of us are afraid of the dark, and we have nightlights in every bathroom in our house), or too quiet (fans. In every room).

Change, of course, is another problem. We do a family briefing every morning. I’m not kidding, we are special that way, and we talk about possible deviations from the plan. IF there is a change from the possible changes that wasn’t addressed that morning, the day is usually needing to be ended sooner rather than later.

I have learned to be able to say, “Sorry, we have to go home.”

It is far better in the long run to end an afternoon early instead of trying to muddle through a meltdown.

 

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Special needs families are special, indeed. I’m proud to belong to one, actually, and I love to write about it. Perhaps we (you, me, us) all belong to special needs families, because most of us can relate to having special issues... right? We may look underdressed in the winter, and over prepared in the summer, but we are better and stronger for it. And, sometimes we eat dinner at three in the afternoon because we’ve had to end the day before it gets any worse, but that can be special, too. Midnight ice-cream parties make up for three o’clock in the afternoon dinner-times.

Keep calm, stay special, and parent on!

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Pouches' Community Corner

Adoptive parents in Fredericksburg now have a new partner on their journey to a healthy family. In 2016, Children’s Home Society was awarded a $125,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Social Services to extend their Richmond area post-adoptive services to the Fredericksburg area.

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Now CHS is looking to find adoptive families in the area who need support before they hit a crisis point. “It doesn’t matter which agency they adopted from, or when that happened,” said Buckheit. “We want to offer a lifetime of support to adoptive families in the Fredericksburg area, especially those who haven’t been aware of our services in the past.”

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