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Guests and Ghosts

Guest bloggers ... ghostwriters ... It's like Forest's box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get!
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The Never-ending Weigh In

Four Years..FOUR YEARS!!!!!! I can’t believe it’s been that long since I had my gastric bypass surgery. The past three years since I blogged for Fred Parent at Weigh In have had more ups than downs (pun intended). I have gained 20 pounds since hitting my lowest post-surgery weight. But I also have continued to adjust to life as a healthy person with more joy and self-confidence in my appearance than I have ever had in my life. I’ve run 4 half marathons, hiked mountains with my family, and even taken pole dance classes. I declined a tummy tuck and boob job, opting for Spanx and pushup bras to hide my saggy skin. (Though my sagging skin seems to continue to firm up as time goes by!) My healthy life continues to be a journey with unexpected twists and turns.

Michelle progress

My biggest fear post-weight loss success was that I would get injured, stop exercising, and gain weight. That did happen in 2015. I had two separate injuries that stopped me from exercising for most the year. Of course, no exercise and eating like I was running 20 miles a week led to gaining weight. Then in January 2016 I said “Enough.” I signed up and started training for my second Marine Corps Half Marathon.

Michelle running

Then I went back to logging my food and looked at the number of calories and quantity of carbs I was eating. That was a shocker. So, I started watching what went into my body. Reaching out to my online network of weight loss surgery friends was the hardest, because I had to admit that I wasn’t the perfect patient and own my weight gain. Surprisingly, both of my closest friends had the same experience. We all had surgery within 6 months of each other and we all had put on about 20 pounds and were having trouble staying motivated to take it off. In May of this year, I joined an online support group focused specifically on healthy living. Some of the ladies are about weight loss; others’ thing is eating clean. We have a wide range of ages and sizes, but are committed to positive feedback and supporting each other. It is a safe environment to share insecurities about our bodies. There are monthly fitness challenges and we have our very own personal trainer as a member who vlogs training tips for us. I’ve only lost 5 pounds, but my size 2 jeans fit fantastic, so I’m calling it a non-scale victory!

Some things change. I don’t like diet soda anymore. I was the queen of Diet Coke for breakfast. Now I will drink a cup of tea in the morning and rarely ever have a soda, opting instead for Propel water. My love of unhealthy food continues to diminish. Just last night I turned down a slice of Dutch apple pie I made, because I knew the sugar content would make me feel yucky. My hair has returned to its golden glory. I had great hair pre-surgery and then my first-year post-surgery it became fragile, so I dyed it a darker color to cause less damage. I’m thrilled it’s healthy again and I’m back to blonde (it hides the gray much better).

Some things stay the same. I still love ice cream (my latest go to is Sugar Free Klondike bars. There is built-in portion control and the ice cream tastes yummy). Breakfast is always a protein shake (except Sundays). I still weigh my food, especially dinner. Exercise makes me feel better and I try to exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week.

Maintenance sucks. Doing the same thing day after day and not getting any “reward” (looser clothes, lower number on the scale) is a bummer for me. I am a goal oriented/project planning woman. To combat the tedious treachery of weight maintenance I have found ways to focus my energies. Initially, it was running farther/faster. That was great, until I got injured. These days I am relying on my support group and the little challenges that we share. It is a battle for me to stay motivated, especially when my commitments slip, so sometimes I try a daily challenge. (For example, today I will log everything that goes into my mouth.) When I focus on “just for today,” I can rejoice in the little successes.

Head games aren’t fun. As much as I try to stay out of my head, sometimes I just can’t. I will look in the mirror and irrationally see the same fat woman I was 4 years ago. The first thing I do when this happens is try and find a some aspect of myself that I think looks good. It may be my hair or makeup, it might be the way my shirt fits. I also share those nasty feelings with my husband and my support group. They always have my back and help me look at the situation more logically.

Focusing on the positive makes things better. The most important thing I have learned over the past 4 years is to focus on the positive things in my life. I’m not perfect, and really...I would be pretty boring if I didn’t make some mistakes along the way. The reality is my life is so much better now that I’m healthier (both physically and mentally). I no longer sleep with a Darth Vader mask due to sleep apnea, I have helped other women by being honest about my struggles, and most days I like the woman who looks back in the mirror.

Today I am feeling great about myself and weight loss surgery. This surgery was a huge commitment for me and my family; it is not a cure-all or a solution for everyone. I must remain vigilant or deal with the consequences. There are many ways to lose weight and Susan Wanderer from My Stomping Grounds here at Fredericksburg Parent just blogged about her start. You can join her weight loss journey.

Going into the holidays I always find it tough to focus on weight. Let’s be serious, it’s way more fun to bake cookies with the kids, go to parties, and embrace that holiday vibe that usually centers around food. Years ago, when I was attending Weight Watchers the leader commented that not gaining from Halloween through New Years’ was like losing weight. This stuck and I continue to apply it annually. Something new I plan to implement this year came from an article I recently read in Runners World that said even 5 minutes of exercise is better than no exercise. When out shopping I always park far away and walk. The extra steps help burn off that skinny vanilla latte and the reduction in stress from the crazy holiday shoppers is worth the effort. Please share your holiday weight maintenance suggestions in the comments below. Wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons!

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3 Things to Know When You Relocate as a New Mom

2016 has been a whirlwind of a year to say the least. I am a New York City native and I was certain I’d always live there until my husband and I got the pleasant news that I was pregnant and due in May 2016. All of a sudden the public transportation I relied on daily seemed too difficult to imagine navigating with a stroller and newborn. The busyness of the city, which we’d always loved, seemed perfect for us--but not for our baby. Before I knew it, we were packing boxes during my second trimester and headed to Spotsylvania. As much as I love Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, and the businesses we’ve encountered--it’s been a big adjustment. I’ve realized I’m not the only one experiencing a big adjustment during this season which brings me to my first point.

Baby Will and Imani

1. You are not alone.

It may not seem this way as you pace back and forth rocking a crying baby. As diapers pile up, spit up lands in your hair, and you feed a seemingly insatiable little human--it can seem as though you and your baby are the only ones in this season. My saving grace has been chance meetings with moms and parents who have been there.

When we first arrived here, I was six months pregnant and we had to organize our baby registry at Babies R Us. As I was mulling over my 14 page registry (first time mom!), I got the chance to chat with a man who worked there who had a son. We were able to discuss what he and his wife thought they needed vs. what they actually needed and I was able to make purchases I could feel good about.

My husband is an amazing photographer so as soon as we moved in, he looked into businesses we were familiar with--like co-working spaces. They’re pretty popular in NYC and allow you to work within a community without running the same risks as sitting in a restaurant that has wifi. We were incredibly relieved to attend Open Coffee at the Foundry, with little William in tow. He was well received and I later learned one of the cofounders has a 6 year old who frequents the location. She told me, “It’s tough to be a working mom especially if you have to watch your little one. But it’s important that you are able to take care of your family just as freely as you are able to work. I’ve been there first hand when I brought my daughter as an infant to a boardroom meeting! “My three month old is their youngest entrepreneur yet!

There’s a beautiful sense of relief that comes as mothers recount their first few months with their child(ren). It helps to refresh my mind and help me to see the bigger picture. This newborn/infant season is temporary. I am strong enough to make it through, and every single parent has hard days. You are not the only one dealing with your experience. Finding at least one person you can relate to can bring a world of comfort.

2. The logistics will work out.

My family has seen a slew of different doctors and medical practices since we’ve arrived. This is particularly because when we moved here, I was so close to the point where we’d begin having weekly check-ups for the baby. It can seem overwhelming to look into a home, find a doctor that shares your values, switch over insurance, get a new license, figure out the best grocery store, adjust your dietary needs etc. in a new place. The weight of responsibility can wash over you, leading you to feel like you don’t know where to begin.

My advice would be: don’t look at the entire mountain of tasks-- focus on the one in front of you. Focus on today’s to-do list. Postpartum, I had no idea how to adjust the way I’d been pre-pregnancy and during my pregnancy. I was the planner in my family and I was used to being the one who gets things done around the house. I was surprised at how bad an idea it was to come straight home from the hospital and begin cleaning/lifting things. I was used to working 10+ hour days sometimes and though I worked from home I didn’t realize how much pausing I would have to do. My newborn needed cuddling, changing, swaddling, burping and feeding. Now that he’s three months old, he crawls all over me and wants to “converse” no matter what I am in the middle of. My schedule has changed from wake up, work, sleep, to trying to complete the top 5 tasks of the day. I’ve become extremely flexible and I’ve learned to give myself grace for what I can do in this season of life.

If the laundry isn’t finished, I’ve learned that doesn’t make me a bad wife or mother. It’s something I truly struggled with when we first brought the baby home. I expected to be able to do all the things I’ve always done and handle motherhood simultaneously. I’ve learned to accept help (thanks husband!), pace myself (there’s no award for being the “fastest dish washer”), and take in the moments. I’ve been able to run into moms on walks around my neighborhood, who don’t mind my talkative baby, and give me tips on how to get plugged into mom groups in the area. If you know of any near Spotsylvania, please share in the comments section! I’d love to gain friends who understand how hard it is to write a blog while rocking a baby with your other arm.

Before you know it, the huge mountain will be a small and manageable pile. Don’t lose hope; it’ll all get done eventually.

3. Have fun!

You deserve fun. You deserve to eat out, watch a movie, go for a swim, go sightseeing, play with your children or do whatever it is that brings you joy. In the midst of a busy schedule, the best thing you can do is set aside time to maintain (or regain) your sanity. Take a load off and take a day trip. The last day trip my husband and I took was to City Dock near Sophia St. in downtown Fredericksburg. It was so beautiful watching people paddle boat and kayak with their families. We also tried Benny’s Pizza in downtown Fredericksburg--it was life-changing! It reminded me of Artichoke Pizza Company in New York. As the weather cools down, we look forward to trying the Virginia Aquarium and indoor skydiving. Do you have any recommendations, by the way? I’d love to hear your thoughts on good day trips and outings for a 4 month old!

Consider exploring your new home or visiting neighboring cities. It may even feel nice to go visit back home to see friends or family. The point is to create a balance between the work that needs to get done and the memories that are waiting to be built. It is a great bonding experience to do fun things with your family. It helps remind them that no matter how long the to-do list is, family comes in first every time!

So, if as you read this your child is screaming or drooling on your shoulder, you’re not alone. Baby rashes, colds, long nights, early mornings, and the struggle to find a shirt without spit up (that will stay that way for 24 hours), can seem like never-ending process. On top of all of this you may want to work out, invest in your relationship, check on family, and it can seem laughable that you’d find a place for all of this in your schedule. Remember, you are not alone; you can find comfort that at least one other mom is in the same boat (me!).

One of my favorite quotes is: we are all figuring out this parenting thing day by day. Even the most “put together” mama faces the unexpected because kids are just that unpredictable. The logistics will work out, so take a deep breath and focus on what you can do, not what you think you should be able to do by this point. Accept help and look for resources. And finally remember to have fun! We won’t always be brand new to the area, my son certainly won’t always be an infant, and the best way I’ve found to manage the stress is to pull away and dive into fun experiences! Find a way to make life about more than the work in store for you. Make Monday your day to try a new cafe. Or make Tuesdays your day to check out a new activity in town. Whatever you choose, fun will help you and your family to enjoy this process more.

Coles Family

Imani Coles is an entrepreneur from New York City who endeavors to change the world one young person and one conference at a time. Her life’s goal is to walk alongside others, encourage them, and inspire them to push themselves towards their purpose.

Her heart is to serve others and aid them on their journey through life by connecting them with influential community members, publishing books, blogging, speaking, hosting workshops, and loving others.

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Ready for Kindergarten

As a kindergarten teacher I often hear from parents who are concerned about whether or not their child is ready for school. My feelings about this are that if a child is legally old enough to attend kindergarten and is excited about going to school, then that child is ready. However, I do realize that doesn’t answer the question for most parents.

There are some things that make kindergarten teachers very happy if children come in already knowing. That said, a child not knowing these things certainly isn’t cause for concern. They’ll learn these things in kindergarten.
These things don’t need to be explicitly taught or drilled to children. They will learn them best through conversation and activities done together.

Academic skills that are helpful for kindergarten include being able to identify letters, both uppercase and lowercase. When you read books together, notice letters and talk about them some. When you’re at the store, point out letters and name them. If you help your child notice letters they will be interested in learning about them.

The same holds true for numbers. Letters and numbers are symbolic. There’s nothing about an S that is inherently s-like. There’s nothing about a 5 that suggests five. They are symbols children have to learn and memorize. Being able to identify and name numbers from zero to nine is exceptionally helpful. Numbers are everywhere around us. Notice them, share them with your child.

In addition to identifying letters and numbers, children have to learn more than just their names. With letters, children need to learn the sounds they make (no easy feat in English as some letters make multiple sounds and even more sounds when attached to another letter). With numbers, children need to learn the quantity that is represented.

Counting objects can be done frequently. Count carrots as you put them on a plate, count toys as you put them away, count cars you walk past as you go into the library, and so on. Counting to ten is wonderful, counting to twenty is astounding. Those teen numbers are a real pain as they don’t follow a pattern closely. As a result, children often struggle with the rote memorization of them.

One last idea is rhyming. There is research to show that rhyming plays an important role in children’s literacy development. It can be a challenge to understand so playing around with rhymes is a wonderful thing to do. Rhyme your child’s name, even if it means making up nonsense words. Rhyme words your child likes to say. Anything that works!

All of these things, letters and their sounds, numbers and their quantities, rhyming, will help your child in kindergarten. None of them are as important for a child’s development as talking with them and reading to them. Preschoolers ask a ridiculous number of questions every day. It can wear a parent down. (I know, I have two daughters. They are past this age but the memory is still strong.) Listening to those questions and responding, with answers or with your own questions, supports a child’s oral language development as well as their larger understanding of the world.

The more things children have discussed, the more background knowledge they carry with them. This, too, will help them as they become readers and writers and more mature thinkers.

Children are natural learners. It begins from day one. They learn so much about their world and themselves in their first few years. They learn to walk and talk and play in many different ways. Children are ready for school. They’re always learning.

Jennifer Orr is in her 18th year of teaching. She currently teaches kindergartners and has also taught first, fourth, and fifth graders. She is mom to two daughters, a third grader and a seventh grader.

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Open Letter to my Son

To My Son,

Growing up I didn’t have many struggles with basic development or school, but my brother, your uncle, did. I remember thinking he was such a great brother and would find myself wondering why something as simple as putting pen to paper was so difficult for him. Then I realized that, despite his struggles in school, his high energy and love of life were what made him funny, clever, fast witted, and likeable; no one seemed to see his struggles as flaws. He always seemed to look at the bright side of things and overall passed that down to me. His actions and personality showed me what it is to really embrace and love the person you are, no matter what your differences are or types of challenges you may face. It is with that mindset I was able to really understand the true meaning of love. I hope that I do my best by you, as your mommy, and pass this understanding of life on to help you with all that you may face in yours.

You are exactly who you are supposed to be. The day you were born, we knew you were special and going to bring such adventure into our lives. Although it hasn't been the exact adventure we had planned, it is an adventure full of life, love, and happiness; what more could I want? You were two and a half years old when we were told that you had a severe language delay. You were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder that day, and I'll always remember it so clearly, because that is the day that changed our lives as parents. Daddy and I were told that you were not where you should be, in regard to language development, and that you would require speech therapy and Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy to help you get where you need to be. The fear and worry became very surreal, but I am your mommy and I told myself "you must stay strong and remind Caden that he is everything God wanted him to be. This is merely a small bump in his road, not a tragic end to his beautiful life".

We have had our highs and lows along the way, but hearing you finally say words and seeing you express your thoughts through sign language is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. You were so excited when you realized we were finally understanding the messages you were trying to send us!! The glimmering light we saw in your eyes when we were able to respond to what you needed is a memory I will hold onto forever! Life doesn’t always go as you plan, but it’s those unexpected pieces that make you, you.

Being different is okay. You may feel different or weird, but remember that different and weird can be good and make you who you are. I want you to know that you are loved and appreciated for all that you bring into our lives, and into this world. No two people are the same; embrace who you are. The differences between you and the people in your life may be difficult to understand or adapt to at times, but embracing the skills and tools you have been given will make your life just as wonderful as the next person's.

I know the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) machine is not something you wish to need, but this machine helps you to show who the world you are. It helps you to communicate with the people you know and love. With the AAC, you have been given a way to express yourself; that is something we are all proud of, and I hope we succeed at showing you that it is something worth being proud of!. When your uncle Jeremy was in school, he was unable to put his thoughts to paper, therefore unable to perform the tasks required in his classes. He was assigned a stenographer to put his thoughts into writing and he felt like the odd kid in class. At first he was really embarrassed, but once he embraced this "gift", he was able to discover some amusement in it. It became very easy for him to make friends and poke fun at his struggles, rather than let those struggles define him. That is all I ask of you, my sweet little Caden. Find the fun in life, in your differences, and embrace who you are!


Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. You are so gifted, Caden. From the very beginning of your life, you were showing your true talents. You hit each and every milestone early. You rolled over in four months, walked in eight and a half months, and learned to balance and climb on things, things that many three year olds would not even have had the bravery to attempt, at just one and a half years old. Your love of life is infectious. You are full of affection, love, and smiles! One simply can’t resist being happy and full of joy when in your presence. Your embraces of hugs, smiles, cuddles, and kisses are enough to brighten even the darkest of days. The look of happiness is always on your face in a giant, dimple-filled grin. The good Lord pairing that contagious smile with those big, sparkling blue eyes made you such a heartbreaker and loveable kid. We are all amazed at the short amount of time it takes you to grasp the tasks asked of you. Things like picking out letters of the alphabet, identifying animals, choosing specific object from groups of objects, and requesting for more of an activity were a breeze for you. More often than not, it only takes one time of showing or telling you something and you have it mastered. Your teachers and therapist have always raved about how quickly you learn and how smart you are. Those are the things you need to focus on. At this particular point in your life, you need a machine and therapist to help you express your thoughts, wants, and needs, but you don’t need their help in expressing who you are or what you can do; you do that all on your own.

Don't let the assumptions of others become the realities of you. During your lifetime, there will be plenty of people who do not understand you and many who simply feel sad for you, but there is nothing to be sad about. You, like everyone, have quirks. Not everyone will understand your quirks, but that's okay, because they are what make you "our Caden". Adaptation and embracement of your differences is what makes life enjoyable and fun filled. At times you will be judged, and that is okay. Just remember, those who judge you or your differences are just afraid of what they don't know or understand. You have the ability to influence perceptions and the world's perspective on what it is to truly be different and what it means to love who you are. I have been blessed with the wonderful gift of being your mother and taking this journey with you. It has not always been an easy road for you, nor me, but I know we have become, and will continue to be, better people from our experiences and differences. Be who you are and never let yourself down. Through this journey I have discovered what it means to truly love selflessly and unbiased. You have taught me what it means to truly love who you are without seeing flaws, because they are not flaws, nor imperfections; they are perfection.

With love,

Caden family

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The Cat Superhighway to HELL

I may not have any human kids, but my three fur-kids (as my sister insists on calling them, even though I’ve begged her not to), are my surrogate children, I guess. At any rate, like “real” children, they take up a lot of time and money and require a lot of TLC.

So…in our ever-hopeful effort to keep them happy, my husband and I just shelled out a rather large amount of money for some wooden shelves. WAIT. These aren't ordinary shelves; no, sir. They are, in aggregate, a CAT SUPERHIGHWAY (CSH). So, obviously, they are worth the cost, no matter how exorbitant. That's what I keep telling myself (and my continually-about-to-divorce-me husband).

I saw a setup like these on Jackson Galaxy's show (which is totally not to say what I've done here is at all endorsed by him, so please don't sue me, Mr. Galaxy). The cats on the show -- formerly implacable enemies -- were alternately lounging and cavorting on the shelves. The idea is that the CSH gives cats a whole new area to explore and get the hell away from each other if/when needed. Or, better yet, the CSH offers a new level on which the cats can race around and chase each other PLAYFULLY. At least, that was my hope. Here are a couple of the shelves after my husband spent hours painstakingly arranging them.


Okay, empty shelves aren't as good as shelves with lounging/gallivanting cats, so I'll show you the amazing CSH in action:


Here come the cats! The arrows show you where they SHOULD be.



Yay! There's Squeaky! She loves the string! 



And, look -- it's Capt. Nap! "MMMMM! Is this catnip?"


Awwww, little Peeper loves to lounge on this CSH shelf! 


So there you have it -- our CSH is a roaring success. Oh, wait -- what's this?


Why it’s Squeaky, lazing on the couch directly opposite the MFCSH. Yes, she's yawning in my face. Jerk.

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Village Fathers is a fatherhood education program and support group sponsored by Healthy Families Rappahannock Area. Its goal is to help fathers improve their parenting skills by promoting healthy and positive attitudes towards fatherhood and parenting.

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