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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

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.

 

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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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Autism Awesome Awareness

autism 1417942 640sml

 

So, April is the month for all sorts of awareness and appreciations. Aside from it being autism awareness month, it is also child abuse prevention month, jazz appreciation month, math awareness month, volunteer appreciation month, something with kite flying appreciation month, deaf history month and poetry month. There are more, but I don’t want to overwhelm anyone. There are a lot of reasons to be engaged, to be aware and to be appreciative.

Having a couple of kids on the spectrum (as in autism), I have always appreciated April. I’ve put up blue lights for the “light it up blue” campaign that is an Autism Speaks gig. I appreciate TJ Maxx donating money to the cause. I love seeing puzzle pieces and signs and t-shirts that sport the autism awareness slogans. I think that, for the most part, we (as a family) feel like we are a part of something big and beautiful and messy at times -- and that autism awareness is a good, great thing.

 

tommystark

 

Let me add, my kids are actually pretty proud of their autism. My son, especially, has been able to articulate that autism is a part of him. He feels like he thinks in a very special way, he can appreciate that his brain is wired differently from his sisters’ brains, and he couldn’t give a fig what others think of him because he is who he is and that’s all that there is. It isn’t all sunshine and roses (believe me, we had a meltdown today), but he really is very (extremely) confident in who he is and he is quite ok with how he views the world. Katie is very similar, but I think she is a little more sensitive to being aware of how others look at her. She wants to be accepted, I think, and cares about how she looks, how she dresses, and what other people think. We all want to feel accepted, of course, to some degree, but Katie is very acutely desirous of being accepted... by everyone. We grow these kids with big, big hearts, and rejection is super, horribly painful! Tommy, I think, just has a little more experience to be himself, whereas Katie is a thirteen year old girl... a thirteen year old girl with less filters than the typical child and with super magnified sensitivities. Imagine a teenager. On steroids. With a lamborghini. In gridlocked traffic. It's a wild ride at our house, all the time, mind you.

 

katiesitting

 

Now, honestly, I can go on and on about the good, the bad, the ugly, etc. I can get snarky when I’m tired, and I can dramatize some ups and downs of being an autism family. There are a great many ups, and quite a fair share of downs, and not a lot in between. When it’s good, it’s very, very good, which leads to the opposite of that being true, as well. I can share that I’ve had to put on the mama-bear-just-coming-out-of-hibernation-with-three-bear-cubs-to-protect hat several times during my career of mom of special needs kids. I’ve had to fight for the better part of twenty years to gain ground with insurance companies, physicians, and school officials. It’s not easy to fight for things all the time, and it is very, very hard to have to watch your child fail at something several times before actions are taken to accommodate their needs (here is where I plug in that homeschooling is a great option if you can do it). And, just maybe, these are all reasons to make autism awareness worthy of a whole month.

 

tompip

 

Now that my oldest is twenty years old, I can actually see strides in the awareness of autism paradigm. Most people, everywhere in this country, are aware that autism is a thing. When I see an older child having a meltdown in the middle of Target I look for ways to help, and so do my kids, and so do a good many other people. Not too many long years ago, my ten year old had a meltdown in Target and I got the “oh, you’re that kind of parent” snickers from people. That being said, around that same time, we, (actually- the girls and I) were at a fabulous dance studio where my oldest daughter danced, and when Tommy had a meltdown there (because he just found out dinosaurs were extinct), one of the studio owner’s kids took my oldest daughter to class, another took my youngest to play with Barbies, and the owner ushered us into her office where we could melt and deal with extinction issues in private and away from stares and glares (Thank you, Bobbi!). Anyway... Autism awareness is a good thing, and we’ve come a long way.

Now, though, there is a new challenge as the first huge wave of diagnosed kids are graduating from high school and heading toward future goals (whether those goals include college, work, or living more independently), and that is acceptance. Acceptance is such a buzzword lately, and is usually directed at social situations. Well, autism is one such situation that requires acceptance. Patience, kindness, and time are the currency of living with, loving, and working with people on the autism spectrum. Ups and downs will abound. The payoff, though, is usually a very loyal and loving individual sharing their space and perspective with you. And usually, your mind will be blown away by the depth of that person’s understanding of their world -- and yours.

 

katieally

 

Keep calm, love autism, and parent on!

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Testing Time!

robinunderbranch

 

It’s that time of year where I start to feel like I’m coming up short. Short on time, short on attention, short on patience, short on understanding. Spring is finally here, the weather is usually warming up a little, and thank-goodness daylight savings time (best invention ever!) has begun. Sunlight is a most welcome intervention for those of us that tend to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (yes, it is a real thing, and sunlight really is the treatment). So, why the spring for coming up short? The short days are over, the planet is tilting toward the sun, everyone should be starting to feel a little better... right?

Everyone has those seasons of life that are thankfully (for most) short lived, but that also wreak havoc on emotions, or relationships. No one is immune to stress, believe it or not. Everyone knows someone who seems like they have it all together: always these people are wearing real clothes, and have their hair washed, and they look presentable. Here’s a secret, though: even said put together people are stressed out sometimes, and they probably even hide out in their bathroom just to have a few minutes of peace- I’m just sayin’- I know one of these super-people, and she swears she has her moments. My season for hiding out-I can’t even-I don’t want to go out or do anything-have to talk to people...is spring. I’m irritable from the allergies (that are worse every single year!), I’m hypersensitive to everything around me, and for reasons I still haven’t figured out even after twenty-two years of marriage, my husband is always emotional in the spring. And, this makes me (very) emotional. The emotional barometer in our house is just whack-a-doo March through May. We are whack-a-doo March through May.

 

konlogsml

 

On top of everything else, it’s testing season. SATs, SOLs, Drivers License Testing, finals, projects, you-name-it, it all happens in the spring. We homeschool, yes, and we still have to do a standardized test every year. So, I’m short emotionally, and educationally - even if I really am not short educationally - it feels like I am. Did we cover enough material? Will the children score well enough to not make people think we are doing nothing? That little one of mine just does not retain any information unless it has to do with Minecraft. She dislikes history, she despises writing, she is a reluctant reader, and she barely tolerates math and science. I’m always challenged emotionally and educationally when I consider her. It’s a good thing I’m crazy about her! She has a photography assignment due tomorrow, and she is asking for one of the pistols so she can put a flower with it and call it a still-life. I’m like, “whaaaaaat?!”

 

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I can only offer a little bit of wisdom, here, and it’s this: Roll with it. I know that it all will work out. I naturally stress if given any scenario, including happy things. My oldest, Tommy, is on the Autism Spectrum, and I just had no idea what I was going to do with “this kid”. Well, Tommy is successfully living away from home and participating in training for a job. My middle child, like me, stresses and gets anxious about most of the things of life. She is my peace-maker, and she will be blessed, but it’s a hard place to be when you are sixteen. I’m sure she is going to be OK; she is going to be driving on her own soon, and she is pretty much independent school-wise. Every time I start to worry about her, she surprises me with a breakthrough, or some spontaneous bit of wisdom only a middle girl could give. Even that little one is going to pass her tests (maybe by the skin of her teeth- or mine- mind you), and keep it together for her old mom, if only because I’m praying fervently for that peace that passes all understanding. The husband, even, always seems to show up with exactly what I need (hugs and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, if you must know) even though he works so hard, and hardly gets a day off, and just needs about seventy-two hours of sleep- in a row- all at once... Some day, baby... we just need to hang in there!

 

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Testing time will pass, and the tests of life, those pesky seasons that seem to drag on and on; they will pass, too. One time, long ago, I paused long enough to blink, and here I am with three teenagers. The testing has looked different, and the seasons have varied, but we seem to keep making it through, somehow. So, to all the moms and dads and parent-people out there, know you aren’t alone! You aren’t the only one who hasn’t slept for three days. You aren’t alone in wearing yoga pants and a baseball cap. You aren’t exclusively having the worst day ever. For sure, we (parents) are all in the same proverbial boat, and sometimes it might feel like it’s sinking. This may happen for you out of the blue, or it is something that seems cyclic, and you are surprised by it, even though it happens every year, around the same time of year. Stop being surprised by stress. Know that the tests are coming. Be comforted that these seasons don’t last forever. Look around, count your blessings, and keep calm, and parent on!

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pouches explorers

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