Thursday, December 26, 2013

Peppermint Oreo Pops

These are an absolute favorite in our house - especially around Christmas. My favorite part about them is that they are super simple to make!

What you need:

One package of Oreos (Double stuff, because more is better!)
Two packages of Wilton Candy Melts
Lollipop sticks
Crushed candy canes (2 is plenty)
Cake pop wrappers

How to do it:
Line your counter with wax paper and separate your Oreos. Then, using one of your lollipop sticks, scrape out a small channel in the creme so your stick will have a place to sit. Be prepared to break a few! I find that I break less if I start from the outer edge and go in. 

Now, following the directions on your candy melts, melt about half of one of your bags in a bowl and dip the ends of your lollipop sticks. Place them down into the grooves you made in the creme. 

Place a dime size drop of your candy melts on the backs of your creme-less cookies (I just use the back of a spoon) and press them back together. Wait about 20 minutes for the candy melts to harden before you start dipping them. This is a great time to crush your candy canes!

Once your cookies are reassembled and set, melt the rest of your candy melts. Now dip your cookie pops, swirling them around the bowl to make sure they are thoroughly coated. Holding your cookie pops flat and tapping them against the side of the bowl will help smooth out the top. Place coated cookies on your wax paper to set, sprinkling the tops with crushed candy canes as you go. 

Once your cookie pops have hardened (about one hour), package them however you like. I usually use cake pop wrappers and ribbon. Be creative and have fun with it :)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

At Least He Doesn't Look Autistic

"Well at least he doesn't look autistic."

In the months since Carter's autism diagnosis, countless people have tried to comfort me by reassuring me that there is nothing obviously, physically wrong with Carter...well, aside from his super thick glasses and ankle braces. I suppose what they mean is that he doesn't have the trademark characteristics of, say, a child with Downs; something that places him into a defined category of disability. I usually take the statements with a smile and a thank you. Surely they're just uncomfortable and don't know what else to say on the subject. In truth, it brings me no comfort to know that despite his unimaginable daily challenges, Carter is still "cute". Autism does, in fact have a "look", it just seems that no one knows what to look for. 

Carter falls into this awkward gray area where he is high functioning enough that he is going to be able to succeed on his own one day, but limited enough that we are going to have a hell of a time getting him there. There are moments, horrible moments, where I hate where Carter fell on the autism spectrum. If he had more severe symptoms, maybe his struggles would be more obvious to those who don't know him. Maybe people wouldn't stare at him in public, criticizing my inability to control his behavior and providing horrible commentary that is not at all out of earshot. They would immediately recognize that something is different about him and hopefully cut him some slack, but this would mean wishing a greater burden on my baby. If he weren't autistic at all, we wouldn't be in this predicament, but I would be wishing away one of the things that makes Carter so uniquely incredible. Autism is hard. 

One of the most endearing things about Carter, and something that makes me fall in love with him all over again on a daily basis, is his stimming. There are several things that he does for self-stimulation, most of them not so charming: his nails are bitten down to bloody nubs as a result of his ever-present anxiety; he repeatedly pounds his fists up and down his forearms out of frustration; he'll rub the flesh off any earlobe within his reach in an effort to calm down. What I absolutely adore, though, is what happens when he is happy...

I recently accompanied Carter on his preschool field trip to the pumpkin patch. I was heartbroken, watching him play alongside the other kids, but never with them. He would wander off by himself to spin in circles and, when dizzy, throw himself down in the mud. I was already battling tears (because I didn't want to be that crazy mom) when Carter found the slide. It wasn't much, just a wooden ramp up to the top of one of those big corrugated culvert pipes, but Carter immediately fixated on it. The ramp was too steep for him to walk up (he refused to wear his braces that day) so he dropped down on all fours and carefully made the ascent. At the top, he paced around, inspecting every inch of the top of the slide. He had to step aside to let a couple other kids through, then he went right back to his inspection, look...pace...look...squat...look...pace...turn...repeat. Finally, he was ready. He settled in at the top, and let go. Within a second, he had shot to the bottom so quickly that he landed on his bottom a good three feet from the base of the slide. I braced, waiting for the wail that usually accompanies any unexpected jolt to his senses, but it never came. Instead, a huge grin broke across his precious face, and he started stimming.

It starts in his hands, which begin to flap like a tiny baby bird's. Then, his entire body starts to quiver. His breath comes in quick gasps and it's as if he can't decide whether to laugh or squeal...the result is a curious combination of both. He starts to run, but there is so much joy and energy coursing through his tiny quaking body that he becomes increasingly uncoordinated and his run is then punctuated with clumsy skips. On this day, in the middle of the pumpkin patch playground, I could no longer hold back the tears as my son, trembling with elation more real and intense than any of us will ever feel, plummeted repeatedly down that slide and onto the muddy ground below. I've never seen anything more beautiful than this display of pure joy, nor have I ever seen anything "look" more autistic. 

Telling me that my child doesn't look autistic is in no way a comfort. It in no way takes away the worry I feel each day as I try to adapt the world around him so that he can function. I still have nights when I lay awake, looking for any trace autism inside myself, trying to figure out how my son ended up this way. I think of every single awkward social encounter I've had; break down my own, sometimes debilitating anxiety. When I don't find the answers there, I retrace every moment of my pregnancy, searching for the turning point where Carter went from neurotypical, to autistic. I've spent hours obsessing over this, as if I could come up with a better explanation than the arsenal of doctors from various specialties that Carter has at his disposal. I always come to the same conclusion. It doesn't matter where it came from or how it happened. That's not something I can change. I'm not even certain that I would change it. I have more love for this boy than my heart knows how to hold and I am so proud of him...for exactly who he is. 

I want the world to feel that way about him too. I want them to see him and understand him rather than dismiss his differences simply because he's "cute". I want them to recognize his more difficult behaviors as a result of the incredible overstimulation he experiences every second of every day rather than shake their heads in disgust at the "misbehaving" little boy. There's a quote out there somewhere that says something like "Autism isn't a disability, it's a whole different operating system." As corny as that sounds, nothing is closer to the truth. Sure, my blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy looks just as normal as any other kid, but what's going on inside of him couldn't be more different. I'm so tired of the look of sympathy people give me when I mention the word autism. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's how Carter operates and it shouldn't be hidden, it should be celebrated and society should be educated. Besides, the signs are there for those who care to take the time to look. They're there in the gnawed off fingernails, in the self inflicted punches, in the tears when all of his senses are bombarding him at once, in his silence and the terror on his face when we are in a crowd.  During his field trip that day, I was told again that "he doesn't look autistic." I shook my head in silence, watching my hand-flapping, squealing son, shaking with joy over his last trip into the mud at the bottom of the slide; watching as he stood apart from the rest of the class, spinning faster and faster, pure bliss on his face as he collapsed to the ground; and I knew from that moment on, that the world can no longer be deprived of seeing him the way I do. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hey, Moms and Dads. You're Getting Lazy.

I had this fantasy when I graduated high school that I was going to become a groundbreaking, inspiring, incredible teacher. I truly believed I was going to change the course of history through the lives I touched with my work. A year before I graduated college, however, I changed my major to nursing. Why? Because I was quickly realizing that all of the reasons that made me want to teach in the first place, all of the hopes, dreams, and inspiration I wanted to pass on to growing young minds, would never be realized...because parents are lazy. 

We live in a society where we expect others to do our dirty work. This includes raising our children. Deny it all you want, but it's true. Parents drop their children off at school and honestly believe that the 7 hours of group instruction they receive while there will be enough. 

Here's a newsflash people:
A teacher's job is not to prepare your child for the world. It is not to shape them into the people that you want them to become. They are not responsible for your child's education. That is your job. A teacher's job is to inspire a passion for learning, to encourage, to challenge, to be an example. While the role they play in your child's life is invaluable, it is purely supplemental. You are your child's first and most important teacher. 

It's amazing how many kids are entering the school system unprepared. A staggering number of children are starting Kindergarten without knowing their alphabet or even how to count, leaving public school systems to clean up the mess parents are leaving at their doorstep. The school system shouldn't be teaching kids how to count, or read for that matter. These fundamental basics should be taught at home, not in a classroom where your child is one of many. One on one time with your child is crucial and can very easily be the difference between their success or failure.

Parents are also finding the realization that their children are average a very difficult pill to swallow. People are getting all frazzled when their kids bring home "average" grades on their report cards. In fact, just last night, I witnessed a teacher being publicly berated because a child that goes to her school received a B on his midterm. This child isn't even her student yet the mother was lashing out at her anyway. The teacher's response, however, was beautiful. "I'm sorry you're upset but it's wonderful that he's not a straight A student. Would you rather him just sail through school, or do you want him to be challenged? Besides, you are your child's first teacher. At school, he is one of maybe 50 kids, but at home, he's number one." The mom responded with a lot of nonsense about how she was busy and couldn't be expected to "do it all." I couldn't believe someone could stand there and say they are too busy for their kids and act like they aren't her top priority. I was also glad that the teacher was able to hold her own through all of the ridiculous ranting because things like this are happening all too often. Parents are refusing to make adequate time for their kids and teachers are being unfairly expected to pick up the slack. 

When my middle son began needing physical, occupational, and speech services, I took him to therapy three times a week where he worked intensely with his therapists. I quickly realized though that there were 165 other hours in the week where he wasn't getting what he needed. I've never had an interest in being anyone's therapist but three hours a week wasn't going to teach my son how to speak, how to interact in society, or build his muscles so that he could walk without braces on his legs. Those 165 hours are my responsibility. I would move heaven and earth for my kids. In this case, I rearranged my work schedule, gave up anything that resembled a social life and dedicated myself to being Carter's number one therapist. Why? Because that's what a parent is supposed to do. Carter wasn't going to succeed if I didn't make time with him a priority. Sure, he still receives therapy from the "professionals" but I view that time as a learning experience for myself. They model the things that I need to be doing with him all the time at home. I learn from them and act based on their example, and because of that, my little boy is thriving. 

The same principals apply to your child's education. If they're struggling, you find a way to be there for them. Be the parent willing to move mountains for your child. Use your child's teachers as examples for yourselves. In my house, there are 5 hours between the end of the school day and bedtime. That's 5 hours I could be continuing their education. It doesn't have to be all books and worksheets either. Discuss world events, cook together, just share the events of your day and how you feel about it. There are learning opportunities everywhere but we can't share them with our kids if we aren't there for them. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes with Whipped Cream Frosting

It's fall, which in my house means pumpkin everything...pie, bread, you name it - we love it. These cupcakes are no exception, right down to the awesome Oreo "crust" on the bottom. Everything about these cupcakes screams fall. The only thing missing is the apple cider!

For the cakes:
24 Golden Oreos
1/2 cup of oil
1/2 cup of applesauce
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 cup of brown sugar
15 oz can of pumpkin puree
2 3/4 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of salt

For the whipped cream:
1 pint of heavy whipping cream
1 cup of powdered sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla
Pumpkin pie spice to sprinkle for decoration

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare your pans with liners.
Separate Oreos and place them at the bottom of each liner, cream side up. (You can discard the cream-free cookies...or eat them if you like that sort of thing)
Using a wooden spoon, combine the oil, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla. 
Stir in sugar and brown sugar until smooth (Make sure it's lump-free!)
Stir in pumpkin puree
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. 
Add dry ingredients to moist ones and stir just until combined. (You don't want to beat all the air out of your mix!)
Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full and bake for 18-22 minutes. 
Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Using a whisk attachment, beat heavy whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and mix until well combined. After you pipe it onto your cupcakes, you can sprinkle lightly with pumpkin pie spice for decoration. 


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Changes - a Carter Update

I hate taking my kids to other people's houses. I spend the entire outing with a pit in my stomach, just waiting for them to cause some sort of disaster; whether it be Natalie being vocal about her need for a nap, or Carter pooping on a rug or something. 

That's exactly how I spent yesterday afternoon when I dropped Jake off at his friend Kelly's house to play for a while. Kelly's mom, Katie, is one of my first and best friends that I've made since we moved to Stanford. She's been there through all of the craziness we've been through with Carter and she has seen him at his worst. She also hasn't seen Carter since this summer. 

The last time Katie saw Carter was at Kelly's birthday party in June. Carter spent most of the party on the floor of her living room, butt up in the air, rubbing his face on her rug. I'm not sure if he even talked while we were there. Yesterday, I thought nothing of it when Carter walked in and spoke directly to Katie in words that she could understand...until her eyes grew as big as saucers and her jaw dropped to the floor. I was just thankful he wasn't screaming or spitting on anyone. When he walked calmly down the hall to Kelly's room to play alongside the other boys, I realized that we have come a very long way in a very short time. 

A couple months ago, Carter was still struggling to make himself understood. His speech therapist approached me in the cafeteria while I was having lunch with Carter the other day to tell me how she couldn't believe the progress he has made. I smiled and thanked her but didn't think too much of the compliment. I spend so much time helping Carter overcome his obstacles that I haven't stopped to notice the incredible changes he has made. He enunciates now!!! His speech is by no means perfect but I'm finding that I am no longer the only one who can understand him. 

He's talking to kids in class. After weeks of silence, Carter broke out of his shell and is actually making friends. His teacher told me that he sometimes doesn't know how to take it, but everyone wants to play with Carter. Here I was, worrying obsessively over Carter never having anyone to play with because of his behavior and now he's the popular kid in class? I couldn't be happier. 

On top of these social changes, we're making huge strides physically as well. His strength is improving. Sometimes, I'll even let him go to school without his ankle braces. He's walking farther before he tires out. His core strength is improving and he's actually able to sit unsupported for a few minutes at a time. 

Last night, he grabbed a hot pan on the stove. While the burn didn't hurt him, he recognized that it was hot and withdrew his hand before it could do any real damage. It wasn't long ago that he would have just let his hand sit there until an ER visit was necessary. The occupational therapy is working!

The most life-changing event of the past couple weeks has been his vision. A year ago, we were told that the abnormalities in Carter's optic nerves would cause him to lose his vision entirely. As rapidly as he was losing his eyesight, it seemed that this was going to happen sooner rather than later. We gave up on UK and found this rockstar opthalmologist at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute who said that with a few surgeries, he thought he may be able to salvage Carter's eyesight. After just one surgery, Carter's brain is recognizing both of his eyes. The vision loss has all but stopped. The eye patches are history (for now) and we don't even have to go back to Nashville for another 6 months. No braille for this family!

I understand now why Katie's jaw hit the floor, and why she nearly stroked out when Carter shared his beloved Mickey Mouse stuffed animal with Kelly. (By shared, I mean he stomped down the stairs with it, shoved it in Kelly's face, said "Play wif dis", and stomped away.) It's funny how blind to all of this I have been when I'm the one who obsesses over improving Carter's life every second of every day. My sweet boy is making real, tangible improvements. We are always going to struggle with his autism and other physical issues, but now I have hope-real hope-that our future isn't going to be quite so hard. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Labeled - Life Since Carter's Diagnosis

When Carter received his official autism diagnosis two months ago, it was one of the hardest days of my life. It's not like I didn't know it was coming, but there is something so devastatingly final about being handed that report. 

My mother in law tagged along when I took him to this last session at the Vanderbilt Childrens Hospital in Nashville. Autism has never existed in her world and it's becoming clear that it never really will. It's simply an empty word to her, used to describe all of the "bad" or "odd" behaviors coming from my child that seem to be beyond my parenting skill. 

I watched him through the grueling five hour assessment and prayed that he would do something, anything, that seemed normal...that would shatter the stereotypes associated with kids like him. He didn't though. He hid under a chair when the doctor tried to talk to him, he began punching himself and throwing/biting his blocks when his Lego tower came crashing down, sat paralyzed with fear when asked to sit at a table to complete a puzzle. He ran to the corner of the room, rubbing his face repeatedly on the ground to feel the texture of the carpet, never once did he look at the student who was assisting the doctor with the assessment. When the student excitedly praised his ability to draw and attempted to hug him, I had to intervene, quickly explaining that too much praise and excitement will cause an instant meltdown. And the hugging? Please. She must be new at this. She looked at me like I was crazy, like I was cruel for depriving him of the praise. How do you explain to someone that there are only a handful of people in the world who Carter has let in his inner circle...and even we have to walk on eggshells, being careful not to disrupt the fragile environment inside him. 

Carter lives in a body that is constantly trying to sabotage him. The things that need to cause him pain (heat, falling, cuts) have no effect on him leaving him dangerously prone to injury. Yet the smallest of things like a tag in the back of his shirt will have him screaming in the floor like he is on fire. The sound of the vacuum cleaner is strangely soothing while an airplane in the distance is deafening. His muscles are weak, causing him to stumble and his brain fights every second of the day to keep up with processing these magnified sensations. 

By the end of the session, the tension in the room was palpable. Carter had clearly had enough and was now on his kneeling in front of my chair with his head buried between my knees. When Dr. Peters said that yes, my child very clearly was being diagnosed with ASD, I wanted nothing more than to hug my baby and cry. Part of me was relieved. I knew that with this diagnosis, he would be guaranteed the services he needs in school (our insurance only covers so many private therapy sessions and those were running out fast). All of the concerns I had over the past two years had been validated. All of the times my husband told me I was overreacting, that Carter was just being Carter, I was right to have been worried. Yet, the other part of me, the part that knew from this day forward, I would have to adjust my expectations, that I was taking on the job of raising this precious little out of sync boy...that part of me was crushed. I remember the overwhelming feeling of responsibility when my oldest son was born. I was responsible for nurturing a human life. That day was nothing compared to this. Here I am, a veteran mother of three and I didn't have a clue what to do next. I desperately wished that (any second now) someone would walk in the room with step by step guidelines of what comes next. Instead, we were dismissed back into the real world with smiles and polite handshakes. 

I walked to the parking garage in silence, squeezing Carter's hand tightly in mine because he likes the pressure. My mother in law walked along beside us, happily chatting about Lord knows what. I did my best to block her out. How could she not see what a big deal this was? As we made our way back to the interstate, she called my father in law.

"Yeah, yeah, we had a good time." (We did?)
"That doctor said Carter has Autism." (This isn't a casual conversation. It's not like he has a cold)
"Courtney said that's okay because he'll get money or something for school." (No! He doesn't get money! He is now guaranteed the services he needs in school because we make too much money for him to qualify without that diagnosis being official! How many times must I explain that?)
"He'll grow out of it." I slammed on the brakes. 
"Oh, I have to go so Courtney can focus on driving. I'll see you in a few hours."

Neither of us spoke another word on the way home. 

When we finally made it home that night, I deposited Carter's sleeping body on the couch (he won't sleep unless I'm right there) and sat beside him, handing the thick black folder full of Autism information and resources over to my husband. He opened it, flipping through a few of the pages, then scooted it across the coffee table saying, "Nothing in that folder is going to tell me who Carter is." That was our first and last conversation about his diagnosis. 

Later that night, I laid beside Carter in his bed, anxiously awaiting the moment where his breathing slowed and I felt the tension relax from his body. Only then would I know that it was safe to slip away to my own bed...and least until he awoke and realized I was gone. I stroked his hair and cried. I cried because I knew that my boy would have challenges to overcome that I could not begin to imagine. I cried because the overwhelming responsibility of being his mother seemed far beyond my ability. I cried because it seemed so unfair that such a bright little boy was hidden behind the walls of ASD. Then I prayed, because it was all I had left. 

The days that followed were filled with google searches for Autism resources in our community. I purchased books on Applied Behavioral Analysis even though Carter is fairly high functioning and ABA is usually used with the more severe cases. I obsessed over every detail I could find that might make Carter's life easier. The more I searched, the more I was stunned to find that we had already implemented many of these strategies in our home. We use picture schedules, we even have our own schedule for bedtime. I'm wait patiently while he rubs his cheek on the carpet. I was not horrified during the third week of school when he teacher mentioned that he was still refusing to speak and had even peed/pooped in his pants every day because he was so upset after I had left. When he's upset, I quickly offer him my earlobe because, for some reason, rubbing it is the quickest way to get him to calm down. I quickly realized that the Carter that I love and adore today is the same precious boy I drove to Nashville the morning of his diagnosis. His diagnosis didn't change a thing about him, it has only helped me understand him better and I am grateful for that. 

A couple weeks ago, I took Carter to Applebees to eat lunch. We got there right as they opened and the restaurant was quiet and deserted. Perfect. Carter whispered to me that he would like a salad and broccoli with milk (he loves veggies). When our food arrived, he happily started munching away. I sighed with relief because it looked like we were going to make it through an outing without any sort of a meltdown. Then, they turned the music on. The overall change in noise level was almost imperceptible, I probably wouldn't have even noticed if Carter hadn't gasped and choked on his food. He frantically demanded to know where the music was coming from and I desperately searched the ceiling for the speakers. I had already lost him though. He slipped under the table with a bloodcurdling scream, his hands over his ears and started writhing on the floor and sobbing. I knew we had to get out of there fast, but at the first sign of trouble, our waiter had bolted for the kitchen. After what seemed like an eternity, the waiter finally emerged with a to-go box that I dumped Carter's salad in. I threw some cash on the table because the waiter was still standing there, dumbstruck, and apparently wasn't going to get our bill. I shrugged and said, "Sorry, he has autism and the music is really bothering him," and we headed out the door. If there is one thing that I hate most about all of this, it's the stares and muttered comments from the judgmental strangers who have no idea what your child is dealing with. They never stop to acknowledge or understand the terrified little boy who just wants the music to stop, they just eat their 2 for $20 meals in their own quiet misery. 

I worry incessantly about Carter's future - whether or not my hopes and expectations for him are realistic. I pray every night that one day, others will be able to see the amazing little boy behind the quirks and outbursts, and will grow to love him as much as his daddy and I do. I pray that he finds his way through school. Autism, after all does not leave an obvious physical mark like Downs or other disabilities and it is so easy for ASD kids to simply be labeled as "bad". Especially if they are on the more moderately functioning end. I long for the day where our family hits our stride and we can put the word "Autism" on the back burner. I pray for a day where the hours and hours of therapy can end because Carter is ready to face the world without it. I pray, with every thought that crosses my mind and every decision that I make, I am doing what is best for Carter and not for myself. I pray that I live up to the enormous task of being the mother that he deserves. 

Carter has taught me what it truly means to be a parent - what it means to give every bit of yourself over and live for another person. It's so easy with Jake and Natalie (his brother and sister) because everything seems so black and white. I love them with all of my heart and they're growing into incredible little people. With Carter, I'm parenting on a completely different level, something that is not possible to understand until you're doing it yourself. Every day is a challenge, scary even, but I start every morning with one goal in mind: To let the little boy inside of Carter be the happiest he can be. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Message to Sports Parents

Jacob has played soccer every year since he was three. We've had a couple years of t-ball and we're debating basketball this year as well. All these years, at every single game or practice, there is always at least one parent there who just doesn't get it. This is for them. 

To the parent who forces their child to play a sport they don't like
Your child's worth is not based on their extra curricular activities. I'm sorry that you never made it to the major leagues but there is a difference between encouraging your child to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new, and expecting your child to make up for your presumed shortcomings. You are setting them up for failure. Sure, encourage them to give it a try, but if it's not for them, that's okay too. By forcing them into activities that they don't like, you are robbing them of opportunities to pursue interests in which they could really flourish. Your kid doesn't like soccer? Fine, teach him how to fish. Your daughter's not a prima ballerina? Great, maybe she's the next Thoreau. As hard as it can be sometimes, you must realize that your own dreams are often exactly that...your own dreams. 

To the parent on the sidelines, shouting criticisms until your face turns blue,
You aren't a drill sergeant. And if you are, your incessant ranting is still distracting and obnoxious. Stand down soldier. Can you imagine being seven years old, out on a soccer field that seems like it goes on for miles. You're tired after a long day at school but you're out there playing anyway. You're trying, you really are, but you're just not at your best today. Then, Dad starts yelling. "Are you blind? Do you even know what a soccer ball looks like? What is wrong with you?" 

Why would you even want to play? Your child already knows if they missed that pitch or didn't block that goal. Why would you want to publicly berate and humiliate them? You're the one person in the world who should have their back no matter what and you are letting them down. This isn't the Yankees. Calm down. In elementary school, sports are supposed to be fun. Your kid isn't going to be any less successful in life if he isn't the next Derek Jeter by second grade. You're teaching them to place too much value on the wrong attributes, and you're passing on a nasty attitude as well. Little Johnny out there is learning that they are a disappointment in your eyes if they aren't the best or the fastest. Make it a point to let them know how much you love to watch them play...even when their team loses, even when they trip over the soccer ball and fall flat over their back, even when they forget they are even playing and start chasing each other around the field pretending they're zombies. Encourage their efforts, praise their perseverance and determination, and you will have a happier, more confident child. 

To the parent whose face is buried in her iPhone until it's time to go,
You're missing out. Your children are growing up in front of you and you don't even see it...and trust me, your kids are noticing. Checking in at the soccer field and snapping a couple quick pictures as evidence of your being there does not mean you got the full experience. Your child is learning new skills, building relationships with his teammates, and often times looking to you for approval and you're missing it. How soul crushingly disappointing do you think that feels to them? Your child is venturing out into the world and that's really freaking scary for them. They still need your support, your praise, your encouragement. They aren't going to get it if your face is buried in a phone. Trust me, that Pinterest meatloaf recipe that you will never make can wait. Hell, your dinner is coming from a drive-thru tonight anyway. Prove to your kids that they are number one in your life. Drop the technology and just be involved. 

My rant for the night is over :) Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Fatty McFatterson (must die)

When I meet someone for the first time, the first thing I do is tell them my name. The second thing I do, is find some way to apologize for being fat.

It's hard to believe there was ever a time where I bordered on anorexia. Before I had kids, I would go into a full blown panic if my size 2 jeans started to get snug and I would stop eating for days at a time. I loved being tiny. Then I found out I was pregnant. If you had asked me then, I would have told you that my routine didn't change that much. That I didn't eat that much, that I was still pretty active. I blamed it all on the gestational diabetes and the insulin resistance that comes along with polycystic ovarian syndrome. I'm a great bullshitter. I did everything I could to shift the blame. In retrospect, it was my lack of action that made me fat. I dropped the gym altogether and my eating habits became so incredibly unhealthy that the numbers on the scale just continued to climb. 

During the eight months that I was pregnant with Jacob, I gained 122 pounds. Yes, you read that right. One hundred twenty two. I remember being half devastated, half in denial during my last OB/GYN appointment when I glanced at my chart and saw the word "obese" written near the top of the page. Obese was never a word that could be used to describe me. Surely my doctor was just an asshole. I never really liked him anyway...

The day I had Jacob was the happiest of my life. The c-section went great. I had a beautiful, perfect little boy. The next morning, the nurse took Jake to the nursery so I could take a nap. I remembered then, that I was supposed to be skinny again. Imagine my surprise when I reached down to feel a belly that still felt...well...huge. I dragged myself out of bed and into the bathroom and threw my gown on the floor. I hated what I saw in the mirror. My once perfect stomach was sagging in front of me. There were stretch marks everywhere. Even my boobs looked horrible. My husband found me crumpled up in the bathroom floor sobbing hysterically. 

That's when I gave up. 

My weight put a terrible strain on my relationship with my husband. We were already young, with a very unexpected baby, but now my already fragile self esteem was shattered. I hated myself. How could I have let this happen? How did people this big actually go on with their lives? Why would they even want to? Every time I saw a girl who was prettier than me (that was pretty much everyone), I would glance back at Bob just to see if he was looking at her. How could he still want to be with me? I became a total nutcase. As the weeks went on, the depression got worse. When I finally convinced myself that I couldn't wear maternity clothes for the rest of my life, I went shopping and not only discovered that I had to shop in the plus size section, but I was also a size 22. Newsflash: they don't make cute clothes for big people. The shirts are all boxy and floral and the jeans are all made out of that weird spandexy material and have bedazzled pockets and stuff. Someone needs to do something about that. 

I finally started to lose weight when I found out I was pregnant with Carter. You should never start an intense workout during pregnancy. I don't advise that at all. I started jogging. Every single day I spent at least an hour on the treadmill and I cried the entire time. I ate healthier. I made changes. When I gave birth to Carter, I weighed 25 pounds less than the day I found out I was pregnant with him. I continued to exercise. I stayed active, I ate the right amounts of the right foods. By the time he was a little over a year old, I had managed to work myself down to a decent 170 pounds (an 80 pound loss) and a not bad looking size 12. I still hated myself. 

I made an appointment with a plastic surgeon in Louisville. I had worked off all of this weight but I needed to ditch the extra skin. I had the $12,000 payment all worked out and even scheduled a date. Just a few short weeks before my surgery, I found out I was pregnant with Natalie. 

My pregnancy with Natalie was a long and arduous one. The details are certainly to be saved for another time, and another blog. The main point here is that I was on strict bedrest for 27 weeks. I gave up again. I gained the weight again. 

In some ways, this was even more difficult for me than the original weight gain. I was busier, more stressed, and I knew how hard it was to lose the weight the first time. I made excuses again: I was on bedrest for half a year, I don't have time to work out, It's harder for me to lose weight than normal people. 

I hated going out in public because I was so disgusted with myself that I didn't want to force strangers to share in that disgust. I would punish myself by eating more. I was going to be fat for the rest of my life anyway, right? I now weigh 20 pounds more than I did when I was 37 weeks pregnant with Natalie. I even made a half ass suicide attempt a year and a half ago which brought me nothing but a couple long hospital stays and a few co-workers who still think I'm nuts. 

I'm putting a stop to all of this. I have come to the realization that it isn't my weight that is disgusting, it's my unwillingness to do something about it. Rather than make excuses, however valid they may be, I have to own my habits and take responsibility for them. 

I've already learned the secret to weight loss: It's exercise, eating right, and portion control. That's why nobody ever does it. We live in a society of drive-thrus and convenience. We're too busy to cook, we cruise the grocery store parking lots looking for something just a couple spaces closer to the door, we spend our days off in front of the television. This isn't supposed to sound's a problem that I have too. It amazed me the first time I sat down and looked at the things I ate over the course of a day...without even realizing it! 

As of this morning, I'm down 9 pounds. That means I have 74 to go to get to my goal weight of 160. (Sure, do the math, I don't really care.) My halfway goal (getting below 200) will hopefully be reached by Christmas. It's time for me to make a change. That way I don't look back on the rest of my life with regret that I didn't do something sooner. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Conspiracy Theories

There are days where I swear (and I know I'm right about this) that my kids are conspiring against me. They wander off to their respective rooms or sometimes even team up and find something nice and quiet to entertain themselves with. I'll wait a few minutes just to make sure the coast is clear before doing something crazy, like pulling out a book or turning on one of the 50 shows on my DVR that I keep telling myself I'll eventually find the time to watch. They see me, I know they do, getting comfortable on the couch, convincing myself that it's really happening this time. I'm really going to get that 30 minutes to myself today. Then...they strike. 

It's not always an obvious attack. I swear the military could make great use of their tactics. Carter will come in the living room with his keyboard and pound on the keys until I realize that I've read the same paragraph on my Kindle at least 4 times and I couldn't begin to tell you what it was about. Natalie will be fiercely independent all day long, and the second I've turned Dexter on, she's two inches from my nose telling me "Oh Mommy, I wub you so much!" and showering me with kisses and big bear hugs. Jake will catch me sneaking off to bed a little early and race to "steal my spot", then proceed to jump on the bed until everyone has to go to bed and it's too late for me to do anything but sleep anyway. 

Recently, Jake has been developing his "false sense of privacy attack". My in-laws live very close to us and the kids often spend the night there on the nights before Bob and I both have to work the next day. This is a huge lifesaver for us because we don't have to drag the kids out of bed and drop them off at 6 in the morning. Those are the nights where I can usually plan on having just a few silent moments and they are the only times where it's calm enough for Bob and I to catch up on each other's weeks...among other things. One night, not too long ago, we had decided to go to bed early and had just gotten undressed when the door came flying open and Jake comes stomping in, announcing that he had changed his mind and was staying home instead. Oh, and, by the way, it's gross that we were both going to sleep in our underwear. This is happening more and more these days and is contributing to my escalating paranoia that I'm never truly going to be alone. It's not usually safe until about midnight or so, and even then I feel like we need to turn out all the lights and board up the windows. You never know when he'll decide to come home. I'm telling you, he's a master at sneak attacks.

The most impressive part of all of this, is that they manage to make me feel guilty for wanting to do anything for myself in the first place. It doesn't matter that I've spent the entire day playing hide and seek with them, included them in anything and everything right down to meal preparation, and sang cheesy songs with them until my eyeballs were ready to burst. Every second of every day is dedicated to them in some way whether it be Carter's therapy time, or spontaneous dance parties to cheer up a grouchy Natalie. I feel terrible for asking the kids to go upstairs or kicking them out the door to play outside because the show I'm watching is inappropriate for them.  It's like I might as well be saying "Go away"...and only jerks tell their kids to go away. In my head, my mind is screaming, "MOMMY JUST NEEDS A MINUTE!!!" but I smile and compliment Carter's incredibly loud keyboard efforts. I put the Kindle down and watch Jake "rocket ship" off of the swings for the 50 billionth time, and I switch the TV back over to Mickey Mouse and snuggle with Natalie because the day is coming where she wont want to snuggle anymore. I may have only seen a couple episodes of True Blood this season but, hey, I guess that's what DVR's are for. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

THE Cake (or, the most amazing thing to ever come out of my oven)

I first got a bite of this cake about ten years ago when I was having dinner with my husband's (then, boyfriend's) family. I knew, in that moment, that my entire life's destiny was to marry into this family so that I could get my hands on this recipe. Okay, so maybe that's not the only reason why we're together today, but I have to admit it's a perk :)

Anyway, this is the most amazing thing I've ever tasted. If you (even somewhat) like coconut, you'll absolutely agree. So, without further ado, here it is...

Coconut Cake with a Lemon Cream Cheese Filling (And Boiled Icing!)


  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of butter (Room temperature. Cake ingredients always always always should be room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups of flour (all-purpose is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 3 cups of fresh grated coconut (If you don't want to grate your own, you can pick some up at a Whole Foods, or I got mine at a little Amish store. Just be sure it's UNSWEETENED!!!)
  • 4 oz of cream cheese (room temp!)
  • 3/4 pounds (approx 3 cups) of powdered sugar
  • 1 lemon zested (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  • Boiled icing (recipe to follow)

Got your ingredients ready? Let's bake!
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  • Lightly grease and flour three 8-9 inch cake pans
  • Using an electric mixer, cream the sugar with 1/2 cup of the butter (You'll use the rest later)
  • With the mixer running, add the oil and mix thoroughly
  • Add the egg yolks one at a time and mix thoroughly after each
  • In a separate bowl, sift the flour and baking soda together
  • Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to your batter and mix thoroughly
  • Fold in 2 cups of the coconut using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula
  • Using an electric mixer with a wire whip attachment, beat your 5 egg whites until stiff. (For more information on how to tell what stage your egg whites are at, please visit:
  • Fold the egg whites into the batter.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 24-30 minutes or until the center is set.
For the filling:
  • With an electric mixer, cream the remaining butter with the cream cheese.
  • Add the powdered sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of your buttermilk.
  • Using a rubber spatula, spread a layer on top of each cake, then stack them on top of each other. The filling will eventually soak into the cake, making it ridiculously moist and yummy :)
Now for the icing:
The whole purpose of making this cake is to make the icing. Seriously, the icing is what makes this cake happen so pay attention to what you're doing here!

  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 3 egg whites (room temp!)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/8 heaping teaspoon of cream of tarter
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes.

Increase your heat slightly and bring the sugar to 240 degrees. If the sugar starts to crystallize on the sides, wipe down with a damp brush. 

Meanwhile, combine the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in a medium sized mixing bowl. Beat on low speed until soft peaks form. Increase to high speed and beat until stiff peaks form. 

Once your egg whites are stiff and your sugar water is nice and syrupy, pour your saucepan in a steady stream (mixer running!) into your egg whites. You're going to beat for approximately the next 6 hours (kidding, beat for 5-10 minutes until the icing is fairly thick and spreadable). Whip in the vanilla. 

You should have about 1 cup of coconut left. With your mixer on low speed, incorporate this into your icing. Get a rubber spatula ready and frost your cake. You'll need to work fairly quickly because if you've done the icing right, is sets pretty fast. 

Now go take a nap. You've worked hard enough for one day :)

This is what happens when your husband is responsible for cutting the cake. Hahaha!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Truth About Being a "Special Needs" Parent

I never asked to be the parent of a special needs child. In fact, I despise that term. It brings to mind images of smiling Downs kids and relays for cures for Autism. Things people generally have warm fuzzy feelings about. 

There are so many things I hate about my role as Carter's mom. I hate that we have to travel 3.5 hours to Vandy so that he can receive the care that he needs. I hate that I nearly punched another mom in the face for not making her kids stop making fun of Carter's eye patch in Hobby Lobby a few days ago. I hate that we can't go anywhere where he has to walk very much without having to remember his ankle braces. I hate that his stubbornness and behavior infuriates me so much sometimes that I have to put myself in time out and remember that these are things that he can't control either. I hate that I sometimes feel that I can't give Jake and Natalie the attention that they deserve because I'm so wrapped up in Carter's therapy schedules. I hate that Carter is the kid in the grocery store that everyone stares at because he is throwing the tantrum in the floor. I hate that his infinite pain threshold makes nearly everything he does dangerous. I hate that he has more obstacles to overcome than "normal" kids and I fear for what that could do to his sweet spirit. I hate that I can't protect him from the world. 

Many special needs parents try to make the job sound glamorous, like it's all sunshine and rainbows and they wouldn't have it any other way. Many special needs parents are full of shit. You don't smile when you're getting kicked in the face trying to curb a tantrum. You don't smile when your child zones so far out into his own little world that he doesn't hear a word that you say. You don't smile when every single time you're at a doctor's office, they seem to find something else "not right" with your baby. 

All that being said, being Carter's mom is truly the most incredible and rewarding experience of my life. It just isn't one big Kodak moment. While he has a special gift of knowing just which buttons to push to make me slightly crazy, I've never seen anyone love as fiercely as that boy does. In fact, Carter bit one of Jake's friends just a couple weeks ago when they were play wrestling because he thought Jake was getting hurt. You don't mess with the people that Carter loves :)

One of Carter's quirks is that he's brilliant...insanely brilliant...he just doesn't often let people see that side of him. But, my God, when he does let you see how much he really knows, it takes your breath away. There is so much going on in that little mind that very few people get to witness. He'll write his name, alphabet, and a few other words when he thinks no one is looking, he is better than I am at puzzles. He's incredible.

There are days where I feel like going to work is easier than staying at home. My days off feel like I'm racing between destruction zones created by a tornado named Carter. Nothing he ever does is malicious though. He's really quite thoughtful. Bob and I were trying to decide if I should paint Natalie's room purple or yellow yesterday. Carter disappeared for a few minutes, then reappeared to announce that he had painted Natalie's room purple AND yellow!

One of the biggest lessons I've learned as Carter's mom: I can laugh at things that would send most moms right off the deep end :) I think he did a beautiful job. 

Most of the behavior problems that we have come from his inability to feel pain. He just doesn't understand the implications of some of his actions (ex: You can't throw your sister off the couch just because she's in your way). We have to be especially careful when he gets excited. When he's hyper, he'll jump off the stairs and stuff like that and it's obvious that he doesn't feel the impact. We made two ER trips last fall for stitches and a couple months ago, he dumped a coffee pot on himself and despite his chest being covered in blisters, he merely shrugged and said, "Sorry, Mom. I spilled your coffee." I'm terrified whenever I can't see him because there is no telling what he's doing. 

As far as his vision and his weakness, when the boys were making fun of his eye patch the other day, it was Carter who took my hand and said "It's okay, Mom." I was so ashamed of myself in that moment for finding myself being comforted by the little boy I'm supposed to be protecting. But, in a small way, it showed me that he is so much stronger than I ever will be. His vision doesn't affect him because he doesn't know what it's like to see clearly. What he lacks in physical strength, he makes up for with the most vibrant and energetic personality I've ever seen. 

When we first started finding all of these things, his opthamologist was under the impression that he may lose his vision completely (Thank God that isn't the case now). I cried every morning on the way to work because that was the only time I was alone. I was so tired of putting on my "strong mom" face. One morning, I hadn't quite finished crying it out in the car and a co-worker dragged me into the bathroom, literally shook me by the shoulders and said "Don't let his problems become handicaps." I need to text her or something when I'm done with this because I'm not sure if she knows just how much that statement impacted me. It's practically become my mantra for when I'm overwhelmed. And she was right. Absolutely right. Carter is Carter. There is nothing wrong with that. It's his environment that needs to adapt, not him. 

Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's hard. Really hard. Every second of every day. I'm grateful that God gave him to me and not someone unable to provide him with everything that he needs.  At the end of the day, I have so much more gratification because I have to put 200% of myself into parenting and I'm succeeding. Carter really seems to be thriving. Sure, there are some nights when I crawl into bed feeling like we've all just survived a war, but the important thing is: we've survived.

Easy Homemade Finger Paint!

We've had some great storms here lately, followed my some really great rainbows.
So obviously, I decided the kids needed to know the colors of the rainbow. To assist me in teaching them all about ROY G. BIV (not to mention primary and secondary colors), I enlisted the help of finger paint. We made it of course :)

What you need:

  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 cup of corn starch
  • 2 cups of water
(I usually double this recipe though)

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan, then put on medium heat and whisk until thickened and clearish. Once your paint is cooled, separate into containers and add food coloring to create desired colors. Baby food jars work great. I knew my kids were going to use it all that day so I just used a muffin pan. 

When we were finished, we used mini marshmallows as stamps and painted dot rainbows on construction paper. Seeing all the fun we were having, my husband even joined in. He decided that the paint would look even better on the kids' faces. 
Needless to say, I think this project was a winner :)

Strawberry Champagne Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting


Okay, so I actually only have a couple pictures. This past week, I obtained a large bucket of strawberries from a sweet co-worker who grows them on her farm. 

And yes, they tasted as amazing as they look!

Anyway, I was determined not to let a single one go to waste so we've had a sort of strawberry themed week. The kids took care of the majority of the bucket. (I'm thankful every day for Clorox 2), we pureed some and made fresh strawberry lemonade and, of course, strawberry shortcakes. My favorite of our strawberry creations though, were the cupcakes that the kids happily finished off after lunch today. 

What do you need?

For the cupcakes:
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of sliced strawberries
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup of your favorite champagne (Please remember that, when cooking with alcohol, you can absolutely taste the quality. I recommend purchasing something that doesn't taste like battery acid)
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil
For the frosting:
  • 1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) of salted butter
  • 4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract (none of that imitation garbage)
  • 4 tablespoons of strawberry puree

How do you bake them?
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
  • Get your muffin pans ready...paper liners, grease, whatever makes you happy
  • Go ahead and puree all of your strawberries. I just used a hand mixer and a bowl. A smarter person would have used a blender. Measure out 1/2 a cup to use in the batter. Set the rest aside. You'll need it for your frosting later
  • In a bowl, whisk together your flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. 
  • In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, oil, champagne and strawberry puree at medium high speed until blended and smooth. 
  • While mixing, slowly pour your liquid ingredients into your flour combination and continue mixing just until ingredients are thoroughly combined. 
  • Fill your liners 3/4 full with batter and bake about 18-22 minutes
  • *Remember, with cupcakes, under-cooking is always a better mistake than over cooking. Nobody ever had anything nice to say about a crispy cupcake.
  • Let them cool completely

Now for the frosting...
  • With your mixer, beat the butter until completely smooth
  • Add two cups of the powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons of the strawberry puree, and your vanilla and mix until smooth.
  • Add the other two cups of powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons of strawberry puree and mix some more. 
This frosting is the perfect consistency for piping so grab a bag and frost away.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Magic Milk

Before you get all excited, this post has nothing to do with ridiculously beautiful men prancing around in nothing but their underwear. We keep it PG here on this blog :)

This experiment has been repeated in my house many times and, in fact, is how I managed to get dinner ready at a decent time this evening. The best part about it is you already have everything you need right in your kitchen. (If not, you desperately need to get yourself to the store!)


  • Milk (Whole works best...this project is based on the fat content of the milk)
  • Food coloring
  • Pie pan (or I guess a plate would work too)
  • Dish detergent
  • Q-tips

How do you do it?

Pour enough milk in your pan to completely cover the bottom. 1/4" will do. Then choose a few different colors of food coloring and put 3-4 drops of each near the center like this...

Next, coat one end of your Q-tip in the dish detergent, then place it in the middle of your pan of milk. Here, let Natalie show you how it's done!

All you have to do is hold the Q-tip still in the milk for about 30 seconds of awesomeness. Your milk will end up looking something like this. 

Cool, right? So how does it work?

Milk is made up of mostly water but it also contains fat and proteins. The dish soap, however, is made up of molecules that are bipolar (hydrophilic or, water-loving on the polar end, and hydrophobic, or water fearing on the non-polar end). I explained this to Jake as the opposite ends being somewhat like a magnet. The water-loving molecules are attracted to the water in the milk and dissolve. The water fearing molecules on the other hand, latched on to the fat and proteins. With all of that rearranging going on, everything gets pushed around very rapidly, which is what you see with the movement of the food coloring. 

Have fun!

Lava Lamp in a Jar

When I promised Jake a different experiment every day this summer, I quickly realized that I truly have my work cut out for me. Every day when I put the kids to bed, I'm scouring the internet in an attempt to find inspiration to get us through the rest of the summer. Hopefully, I can live up to the task!

This project was ridiculously simple. No mess, took seconds to set up, and was tons of fun. Not to mention it provided the perfect background for a discussion on density.


  • A glass, jar, or bottle (preferably one with a lid...we used a spaghetti sauce jar)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Food coloring
  • Water
  • Alka-Seltzer

The instructions are simple! Fill your jar about 3/4 full of vegetable oil. Then fill the rest of the way with water. Leave a little room at the top of the jar though, you don't want it overflowing. (Notice how the water sinks to the bottom while the oil floats on top.)

Add about 10-12 drops of food coloring and stir. (It only colors the water. Hmmmm....) You want your water to be fairly dark in color so you can really see what's about to happen. 

Wait just a minute for the mixture to settle back down from all that stirring. Cut your Alka-Seltzer tablets into smaller pieces (like 6 or so) and drop in one piece at a time. Then, sit back and watch the happen!

So, how does this work? 

We all know that oil doesn't mix with water. Water is heavier (more dense), which explains why it sinks to the bottom of the jar. This also explains why the food coloring only mixes with the water. Their densities are similar and their molecules are much more friendly with each other :)

When you add the Alka-Seltzer, this causes little carbon dioxide bubbles to form. These bubbles attach themselves to the colored water, making them float up to the top of the jar. When they pop, the little blobs of water float back down. Voila! 

Note: Once you used up all of your Alka-Seltzer and all the bubbling has settled down, tightly screw your lid on the jar and tilt from side to side. The oil and water combo makes a neat wave motion that just might keep your little scientist entertained for a few more minutes!