Is Trouble Making Genetic?

Back when I was roughly Ellen’s age, I decided it was time to leave my mark on the world in a very literal way. My mother had previously been an Avon representative and had a good supply of nail polish. When she was occupied (I think gardening) a friend and I got into her stash and proceeded to paint everything – our bodies, my toys and books, the kitchen table – EVERYTHING. I don’t have any photographic evidence of my mischief (this was back in the days of film cameras and I think documentation of their child’s unruliness was not the first thing that came to my parents’ minds), but if you visit my parents’ house they can point out spots on various pieces of furniture where my “art” still stands strong 26 years later.

Nail polish on the Floor

Today when Cooper ran into the kitchen to inform me that “Ellen has purple all over her hands!” and I found her hands and a small portion of my bedroom floor lacquered with purple nail polish I almost had to laugh. She doesn’t seem to be quite as devious as I was as a child, but maybe that’s just because I didn’t have a big brother keeping an eye on me.

Fancy Hands

Cooper Turns 6

This year, Cooper was sick the week of his birthday. He had a rough couple of nights with a croupy cough and I kept him home for two days. The day before his birthday, Ellen was inconsolable from the moment she woke up. She had a fever and just wanted to be held. I gave her medicine and it finally seemed to kick in after about an hour when she became deliriously happy. After 45 minutes she crashed again and fell asleep in my arms.

Poor Ellen

Generally, she’s the type of kid that doesn’t get slowed down by a cold,* so her behavior was concerning to me. I called our HMO and they were able to get us in that afternoon. Of course, the appointment fell during the period of time when her second round of pain medication was working and all the nurses seemed somewhat skeptical and I may have felt somewhat vindicated when her rapid strep test came back positive.  They ran a test on Cooper too, but it came back negative. Since strep doesn’t cause coughs, we figured he just had a cold and nothing more. They said they’d send it to be cultured just in case and let me know if the longer test came back positive. We went home and continued birthday preparations alongside house sanitizing.

Birthday Morning

The morning of his birthday, he seemed pretty healthy when he woke up. It was the first night he hadn’t woke up with a coughing fit and he was really excited to go to school. We let him open a new outfit and a game from grandma before going to school.

Kabobs

He’d chosen to take berry and marshmallow kabobs for his birthday treat and there was no way he was going to miss sharing them with his friends.

Scootin' to School

He really wanted to ride his scooter to school and I decided to let him even though I knew we’d be late. The secretary is pretty used to giving us tardy slips anyway . . . When we walked into the classroom several of the kids yelled, “Happy Birthday Cooper!” and he just beamed from ear to ear.

New Shoes

We’d bought Cooper new shoes for his birthday, but they didn’t fit. He was pretty upset that I wouldn’t let him wear them to school, so I told him we’d try to find some that fit when he was done. As we were walking into the store, I got a notification that the long strep test had come back positive and I just had this image in my mind of him handing out fruit kabobs to every kid in his class . . . We quickly tried on shoes and I even let him by the blue ones he wanted even though I wanted to buy the black ones (because they were cheaper).

Connect Four

Back at home, we played one of Cooper’s new games while we waited for the doctor to call, then swung by the doctor’s office/pharmacy to get Cooper his antibiotics. **

Present Poser

Planes!

Marble WorksWhen Noel came home from work we let him open the rest of his presents from us and from the family. Pretty much every gift was met with excitement.

Tres Leches Cake Blowing Out Candles

We had empanadas for dinner followed by tres leches cake. (Happy Cinco de Mayo!) Every time someone asked Cooper what kind of cake he was going to have for his birthday he would say, “The one with cherries!” because of the picture of this recipe. We made sure to buy maraschino cherries for the occasion.

Piñata Helper

We’d given Cooper the option of going camping or having a party with friends for his birthday. I really thought he would choose camping, but he was very excited about having a party with friends. Even though we didn’t invite everyone in his class,*** I was still kind of overwhelmed by the guest list.  Cooper has gone to a couple of birthday parties and they’ve all been pretty fancy. (Think: rented petting zoos, build-a-bear, and playing sports at an indoor sports complex.) I didn’t even entertain any thoughts of competing with that for something like a child’s birthday party. Our plan was to draw with sidewalk chalk, blow bubbles, play some games with balloons, beat a piñata, and have cake.

Bubble Madness

The weather of course, had other plans. An hour before the party there was a torrential downpour complete with hail and thunder. Luckily, I had a backup plan. We kept the bubbles on the porch and drew on black construction paper with sidewalk chalk at the kitchen table.

Balloon Madness

I cleared as much as I could out of the main room in the basement for balloon games. It was a little bit crazy to have 10 kids running around the house, but the kids had a lot of fun. I like to call it controlled chaos . . .

Mike Wazowski

Mike Wazoski piñata

We’d hoped to do the piñata on the porch, but by the time we got to piñata time thunder was booming again and we decided it was best to stay indoors. I made a homemade paper mache piñata that looked like Mike Wazowski from Monster’s Inc. It held up really well to the hits of 12 kids.  (Ellen and a friend joined in.)

Piñata Goods

I made little fabric bags out of scrap fabric (really easy) and put homemade play dough, homemade robot crayons (kids helped me make these), and skittles in each bag. Then we put all the bags in the piñata. I thought this would cut down on the fighting that would occur when the piñata broke, but not all of the little boys were able to process that idea. We figured it all out in the end though.

Blowing Out Candles Dulce De Leche Cake

Cooper chose a Dulce de Leche cake for his birthday. I don’t think the other kids were used to such fancy cake and a lot of it got thrown away, BUT I have no regrets about making it because I got to eat some of it and I have very high standards when it comes to eating baked goods.

Exhausted

This was us after the kids left. I should mention that we also ran 11 miles that morning, so we were pretty much exhausted. I think Cooper really loved it though and that’s what matters most.

New Toy

*One time, I took Cooper to the doctor because I thought he might have an ear infection. While we were there, the doctor looked at Ellen’s ears too and discovered she not only had an ear infection, but two. While we waited at the pharmacy she ran around like a crazy person and almost toppled a display for online prescription renewal. My dad happened to be with me and I remember him saying, “If this is what she’s like with a double ear infection, are you sure you want to get her the antibiotics?”

** It’s always a tiny bit stressful to me when both the kids are on antibiotics because Ellen is allergic to the ones Cooper takes so I have to be extra careful not to mix them up.

*** One day after school Cooper was listing off names of people that said they were going to come to his party. I panicked a bit because we hadn’t invited everyone and I didn’t want him talking about the party at school. I told him, “Buddy, you can’t talk about your party at school. We didn’t invite everybody and we don’t want the kids to feel bad.” He started to cry and told me very firmly, “Mom, they’re not bad kids, they’re good kids!” Sometimes the literalism of autism can be fun. I told him, “You’re right, they’re good kids. I meant, we didn’t want them to feel sad.”

What Do April Snowstorms Bring?

A. Lots of broken branches
B. Everything being cancelled or postponed
C. The cold season being extended
D. Decrease in morale
E. All of the Above

In case you were wondering, the answer is E.

Spring is always sort of an adventure in Colorado and this year was especially exciting. We’d hoped we’d gotten the worst of the snow out of our system in March, but it kept coming with a vengeance  in April causing everything from the Scout fundraiser dinner to a few of our long training runs to be cancelled. In between snowstorms though, we’d pull out our shorts and sandals as we’d get glimpses of beautiful weather. Some of the month’s highlights include:

  • The arrival of our apple tree we ordered a year ago. Cooper was extremely disappointed when I pulled it out of the box and exclaimed, “That’s not an apple tree, that’s a stick!”
  • Earth Day/Week – Noel got to drive a Tesla and Earth Day pulled through with nice weather.
  • Ellen going to work with Noel – She was so excited and made quick friends with one of the other kids.
  • The cat killed 4 baby bunnies and 2 squirrels in one week! He’s now on house arrest an indoor cat because the bunnies here carry a disease that can kill animals and make people really sick. Plus, his murderous frequency was a little concerning . . .

Easter 2016

This year, Easter kind of snuck up on me. I’d spent all of March studying the Atonement and trying to figure out how to teach my Sunday school lesson on Easter Sunday, but hadn’t given hardly any thought (other than to purchase a ham) to celebrating Easter with our family. Literally, the day before Easter Noel and I talked about what we wanted to do. We decided we wanted to try splitting up the secular celebration of Easter (gifts and egg hunt) from the spiritual celebrations, which meant we would be doing our egg hunt that day. We swung by Target to pick up Easter shoes and buckets (deftly dodging the Zombie parents pushing around carts full of candy) and then mixed up some homemade egg dye at home.

Kids checking our the eggs.
Kids checking our the eggs.
Kids dying our eggs.
Kids dying our eggs.

While the kids watched a movie, Noel and I stuffed a few plastic eggs with candy family members had sent and some homemade peanut butter eggs.

The day before our "spring" egg hunt.
The day before our “spring” egg hunt.

Since the ground was still covered in snow, we hid the eggs inside, which allowed for a certain level of creativity.

Egg in a dump truck.
Egg in a dump truck.
A sweet ride for an egg.
A sweet ride for an egg.

The kids had a lot of fun finding the eggs and opening the gifts in their buckets (warm weather pajamas, Annie’s bunny crackers, and some things from their grandparents).

Cooper finding an egg in Olaf.
Cooper finding an egg in Olaf.
Easter buckets.
Easter buckets.

Then on Sunday we tried to focus on the spiritual aspects of Easter. Noel sang a beautiful rendition of “This is the Christ” in a double quartet and my Sunday School lesson was at the very least, meaningful to me. I of course didn’t take any pictures of anybody in their Easter clothes since we rushed out the door to get to church and people were already starting to undress by the time we made it back home. Plus, picture taking has never been my strong suit.

Our Easter dinner.
Our Easter dinner.

After a fancy dinner of ham, potatoes, croissants, and asparagus, we had a little lesson about Easter (aided by this lesson from Behold Your Little Ones and our church’s Bible Videos). The kids really impressed us with how much they were able to tell us about Christ’s death and resurrection.

Little Almond Cake.
Little Almond Cake.

We finished off the day with a little almond cream cake. At this point, Ellen realized we were winding down and started to whine about how we hadn’t done Easter yet. I asked her what Easter was about and she said, “Jesus.” We repeated the conversation a couple of times before she exasperatedly said, “Mom, but we haven’t found eggs!” When I reminded her we’d done our egg hunt the day before she was a little disappointed, but didn’t put up too much more of a fight. I really liked putting the egg hunt on a completely different day and will probably do it again in the future; the kids will get used to it eventually.

Light it Up Blue 3.0

This is my third Light it Up Blue post (1.o and 2.0) and definitely the one I’ve worried over the least. This is the first year that I don’t choke up every time I talk about Autism, and the first year that it has felt truly “normal.” Yes, there’s been a few bumps in the road with Cooper now and again, but we’ve grown comfortable with ASD being a part of our lives – it’s our normal. I admit, I sometimes do get a twinge of sadness when I take him to the grocery store and he acts like a possessed beat boxer or when I realize other kids Cooper’s age are zooming around on bikes sans training wheels while he laboriously pedals at a snail’s pace even with the training wheel safety net, but I know he’ll get there, just in his own time and in his own way.

Cooper has grown so much. Remember last year how I was so depressed by Cooper’s performance in the Primary program? Well, this year he said audible words into the microphone and I cried for a completely different reason. He’s also blossoming at school. Just in the last month he’s started playing tag with the other kids when school is over – something he’d never wanted to do despite my encouragement. One afternoon he came up to me and asked me to tie his shoe and one of his classmates said, “Cooper can talk!?!” I said, “Of course he can talk” and then Cooper piped in, “I sure can!” which made me want to give him a million high fives. He’s growing and learning, and honestly, so are we. I’ve become less guarded about his Autism and at appropriate moments have told many people about it this last year. It has been unbelievably freeing. I don’t know if it’s my attitude about it or that we rub shoulders with a lot of great people, but 98% of the time people have been genuinely accepting and eager to learn more.

In some ways, our journey with Autism has been easy. We have awesome insurance, an outstanding support network, a cooperative therapy team, and a kid with a lovable temperament, but that isn’t everyone’s journey. One of the things that I found most surprising about the ASD world when I first wandered into it, was how divisive it can be, but I suppose that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise considering the amount of ground the spectrum covers. The diagnosis ranges from families that would do anything for a “cure” from the debilitation it brings to their children to individuals that shun “treatment” and call for universal acceptance of their quirky perspectives. I obviously fall somewhere in between. I want Cooper to succeed in the world, and I think that will only happen with both acceptance and treatment. I truly hope that balance can become the norm for the whole range of the spectrum.

World Blue

Spring Break 2016

Urgent Care
Kids reading magazines at the pharmacy.

I guess you could say Spring Break started early for Cooper since he didn’t go to school the last three days before the break. There’s a nasty cold that’s been going around and we all caught it. In two weeks we:

  • Went to our HMO’s Urgent Care twice.
  • Called the nurse hotline three times.
  • Visited the doctor’s office three times.
  • Treated two ear infections.
  • Learned you can get canker sores on your uvula.

Thankfully we have good insurance. All of the illness and related appointments made it so we weren’t able to leave for our trip as soon as expected. After we’d established that no one had anything life threatening, we decided to still go on the trip, just a day late. (This happened last year too, hopefully this won’t become a trend.) We weren’t really better, but the snowy weather was bumming us out and we figured we might as well be sick somewhere warm.

Our drive out of town.
Our drive out of town.

We left early Saturday morning. Despite the forecast predicting little to no accumulation of snow there was several inches on the ground and we slid through an intersection and into a curb on our way to the interstate. Luckily, the interstate was better plowed, but it still took 90 minutes to go the first 25 miles. (Ski traffic definitely didn’t help.)

As we got farther from home, the skies cleared and our spirits lifted. We stopped at a rest stop/park in Parachute and everyone shed their down coats and enjoyed the sun.

It was a long day of driving, but we made it to Capitol Reef just before dinner time. We were meeting up with the Walker clan and my parents. Hope and Joe were heading out that night so we only got to spend a few hours with them, but it was so nice to see them.

Orchard

The fruit orchards were in bloom and we had fun singing a couple of rounds of “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree.” Blossoming trees and red rock are some of my favorite things, so this part of the trip did my heart good.

Red Rock and Blossoms

Hope, Joe, and Porter stayed until after dinner and we almost got to a point where Porter wasn’t completely terrified of us. At the very least, he was brave enough to take Cheetos from us.

The next day we went on a little hike with my parents to Hickman Bridge. It was good to get out, but for the first time ever Noel and I found our hiking capabilities to only be as good as the kids.’ Turns out we were more worn out than we thought.

The kids had a blast with my parents and we were all sad to say goodbye to them after a brief picnic. As for us, we headed South to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park to continue our trip. This was our first visit to Capitol Reef and we’re definitely going back to hopefully see more next time.

We set up camp in Escalante and had a delicious dinner of rice, salmon, and asparagus. After roasting some marshmallows, we all took warm showers and went to bed. We all stayed warm and were relatively comfortable, but our sleep was still restless since we were all coughing and sniffling.

The next day, we took the kids to Devil’s Garden in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The kids loved the self-direction we gave them to climb and explore and probably put in more miles than if we’d been on a trail. We played there for quite awhile before the wind picked up and blew sand in everyone’s eyes. We headed back to the State Park and let Ellen take a much needed nap in the car.

Our Petrified Tree Hugger.
Our Petrified Tree Hugger.

Before we left, we knew we needed to check out the petrified wood. I’d read about it on my friend’s travel blog, 51 Cent Adventures, and knew we needed to check it out. The hike (Petrified Forest Trail and Trail of Sleeping Rainbows) was supposedly only 1.75 miles, but it felt much longer. Whether that was because it actually was or because we were kind of rundown, we may never know.

It was cool to see all the petrified trees. Noel said in some ways it was better than the Petrified Forest National Park, mostly because there were lots of small pieces of petrified wood here, whereas at the National Park most anything you can lift has been taken. (In spite of the fact that you aren’t supposed to do that . . .I don’t think it has anything to do with poor management on the National Park’s part, I think just a lot less people have visited the state park.)

Dead to the World

That was our last night camping and we were all so ready to go home, eat ice cream, chill, and sleep in our own beds. The second I woke up I started packing up sleeping bags and pads. By the time Noel woke up (he’d moved to the car because he couldn’t stop coughing when he was lying down) I’d packed everything the kids weren’t sleeping on. (We are blessed with sound sleepers.) Generally when we camp we are the last people to leave the campground, but that day we were the first to leave. Before heading home, we stopped at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, UT. When we were first married we would wake up to Utah Public Radio, and at that time Hell’s Backbone Grill was one of their sponsors. Sometimes they would read the menu items and Noel and I would salivate longingly. We really wanted to eat there when we did our backpacking trip back in 2009, but we felt pretty scraggly by the time we were done and not really restaurant appropriate. While our kids are not necessarily restaurant appropriate, really ever, we decided to risk it and gave them a nice long talk about how they needed to behave themselves and not do things like throw fits or plates around. The food was amazing and really ended the trip on a positive note. They’d only been open for the season for a day or two so the staff was getting back into the routine. They were all very welcoming though and when our breakfast took a little longer than expected they more than placated us with some free streusel-topped apple cake. When the breakfast arrived, it was indeed heavenly.

Snow

We made it home safely on sunny, clear roads. After eating soup and popsicles, we slept amazingly with all of our humidifiers going. The next day we woke up to a blizzard (18+” by the end of the day!) and were so, so glad we were already home.

9 Years

This year marked our 9th wedding anniversary. Noel and I put a lot of thought into what we wanted to do. We’re always tempted to dress up and try to do something fancy, but ultimately we decided we get more enjoyment out of owning who we are and doing something less fancy.

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A friend kindly agreed to watch the kids and we headed up to a nearby open space park after picking up some Chinese takeout. We enjoyed our dinner as we watched the sunset. Then we went on a night hike and enjoyed the stars. IMG_20160310_173903599_HDR

It might not be the typical anniversary celebration, but it was definitely true to who we are. Here’s to many more years of owning our unfanciness.

Ellen Turns Four

Four-Year-Old

Ellen has been looking forward to her birthday since Christmas. (Admittedly, I felt very much the same way four years ago about her birth day, but with a lot more hormonal angst.) For months she would frequently tell us, “My birthday’s next!” This year, her birthday fell on a Monday which is a pretty busy (and very Cooper-centric) day for us and I was really worried about how to make the day feel special.

Zootopia

The Saturday before her birthday we took her to see Zootopia. The kids thought the movie was hilarious and it had a depth and sense of humor that also appealed to adults. After the movie was over though, Ellen was disappointed that we didn’t have cake and threw a minor fit when we reminded her that it wasn’t actually her birthday yet.

Birthday Cake

To torture her even more, I made her cake the evening before her birthday. She went to bed before it was frosted, but she was still pretty upset that I’d made cake, but didn’t let her have any. She chose Smitten Kitchen’s Best Birthday Cake. A choice I’m pretty sure she made primarily because of the sprinkles.

Morning Cake

The morning of her birthday she was very excited to see the finished product and even more excited that I’d saved the scraps I’d cut off the layers to make them level for her to eat.

Morning Presents

We let her open one present before Noel headed off to work and Cooper to school.

Balloons

Then she and Cooper played with balloons instead of getting dressed and eating breakfast. Cooper was late for school, but it was the probably the first reason for checking him in late that didn’t annoy me terribly. (Some examples of previous reasons for being late include: Cooper wanted to wear the blue socks not the white ones, Ellen didn’t want to wear a coat, Cooper stared at his breakfast for 20 minutes and then decided he actually wanted to eat it when it was time to get in the car, and everyone slept in because we didn’t leave Urgent Care until two hours past bedtime.)

Dad!

Noel hadn’t left for work yet when we got back which delighted Ellen. She LOVES her dad and cries if she doesn’t get to give him a big hug and a kiss before he goes to work.

Shopping Girl

While Cooper was at school I took Ellen to Target. She had some birthday money and I told her she could pick out a present. I think she enjoyed wandering the store looking at everything more than she actually enjoyed the toy she chose. We wound through the toy aisles for almost an hour with her exclaiming, “Look mom!” close to a thousand times. My patience with this exercise was probably my greatest birthday gift to her.

Play Dough

After we picked up Cooper, Ellen had a brief period of time that she could play with her My Little Pony play dough set that she chose. This picture is the last documentation of the colors being separate and recognizable.

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Cooper had speech therapy in the afternoon and Ellen and I built this impressive marble run.

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We spent a few minutes at home prepping dinner and then headed to swim lessons. Ellen loves swim lessons and is extremely confident in the water; however, she is not the most well-behaved pupil. When the instructor is helping the other kids she’s always jumping into the middle and splashing or trying to swim across the pool. One particularly bad day, Ellen got put in “swim lesson time out” so the instructor could uninhibitedly help the other kids. She graduated with excellent ratings on all of her skills, but the suggestion that she needs to listen more. It’s kind of funny because when I signed the kids up for lessons I worried a lot about how Cooper would handle them and he ended up being one of the best behaved kids in the class.

Birthday Cake

After showering off, we headed home where we opened the rest of Ellen’s gifts, skyped with some family, and then ate macaroni and cheese and cake.

Crazy Hair

This picture is from a few weeks later, but is a pretty good indication of Ellen’s personality. She’s feisty and spirited, but has the most tender moments when she’ll ask deep questions and genuinely listen. She’s sassy and full of energy, but never passes up an opportunity to snuggle. She can throw the hugest tantrum about absolutely nothing, but she always compliments my outfit choices. She hates having her hair done, but loves twirly dresses, jewelry, and having her nails painted. She will fight you tooth and nail to do anything that wasn’t her idea, but then will surprise us by volunteering to help empty the dishwasher with great enthusiasm. It’s sometimes a rollercoaster, but we’re glad to have Ellen in our lives.

February: Two Different Perspectives

When I downloaded my photos from this month I found two very interesting stories. First, the tale of our February (minus our awesome Groundhog Day) according to my photos.

Then, some amazing gems from the kids’ documentation of our February. Their gallery opening is in the works, stay tuned.

Best Groundhog Day Yet

It’s pretty much universal knowledge at this point that I love Groundhog Day. (For the history, read this post.) But even beloved holidays can grow a bit lackluster and I’d say the last few years have been just that.* This year my enthusiasm was back. It was my turn to teach Joy School and I’d planned an awesome, yet age appropriate, lesson about Groundhog Day history with fun books, art, and shadow activities. I was pretty psyched. Then Groundhog Day rewarded my enthusiasm with something even better: a blizzard that closed school and warranted a late start for all government offices. For the record, I am not snow’s number one fan, but when it comes to this type of precipitation my attitude is go big or go home.

In my opinion, the whole purpose of Groundhog Day is to break out of the rut of winter (cue The Wintry Day) and remember that life is worth not just living, but celebrating. The extra family time made it so we were really able to bring an appropriate level of wackiness to our festivities. We carved a Groundhog Day jack-o-lantern,** properly educated the children on this important holiday with my Joy School lesson, snowshoed through the neighborhood (much to the amusement of many neighbors), ate our traditional Rice Krispies treats, and of course watched Groundhog Day after the kids were asleep. It was my favorite Groundhog Day to date.

*In fact, I looked back through the blog and the last time I blogged about G-hog day was 2013 – and it was a pretty lame post considering it was my 10th anniversary celebration. I’m so ashamed.
**Halloween was atypical last year and our pumpkin never got carved. When the New Year rolled around and the pumpkin was still in great condition we cheered the winter squash on in hopes it would make it to Groundhog Day.