Chocolate with sprinkles!

Golden Birthday

I get pretty excited about birthdays, but especially excited about birthdays with special dates like a golden birthday or the time Noel had a birthday on 12/12/12. Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to Cooper’s fifth day, probably since the day he was born. This is also the first year that Cooper has anticipated his birthday. Ever since Ellen’s birthday whenever the subject of birthdays comes up he would tell us, “My birthday’s next!” The Sunday before his birthday they sang to him at church and gave him a little gift. When we picked him up he beamed, held up all five fingers, and whispered “I’m five!” When I broke the news to him that it wasn’t actually his birthday he was pretty upset, but then when I showed him the calendar and talked about the next couple of days of birthday fun he brightened up.

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About a year ago I learned that the fire stations in our district do free tours if scheduled four weeks in advance and I put a reminder on my calendar to call and schedule the tour a month before Cooper’s birthday. Once the date was set I prayed there wouldn’t be a fire since fires would take precedence over the tour. (Then I felt bad and prayed no one would have to be involved with a fire as it seemed less selfish . . . ) We invited a handful of friends from church and preschool and started the party at the fire station. The firefighter that led our tour was really great with the kids. We had one of those small world moments when he noticed Cooper was wearing a CTR ring and told us that he too was LDS and used to attend meetings at our building when he lived in the area. After the boys had their fill of hoses and trucks, we headed back to our place for lunch. I let Cooper choose the menu and we ended up having Mac n’ Cheese and Churro Cupcakes.

The day after the party was Cooper’s actual birthday.

CincoHe woke up early and perched on top of the couch grinning over his presents, waiting for Noel to get back from a run so he could open them. Our schedule was pretty normal (school and speech therapy), but he was excited to take fruit kabobs to school, show off some of his new toys to his therapist, and have a “special” lunch at Costco.

That night we finished our fiesta with fish tacos and chocolate tres leches cake. I thought for sure he’d be completely worn out from all the excitement, but about an hour after bedtime I heard Woody announce, “There’s a snake in my boots!” and went into his room to find him huddled under the covers with several of his new toys.

Tres LechesBecause we hadn’t done enough celebrating, I took him to the zoo the next day where he got his free birthday ice cream cone and ride on the carousel. I was kind of glad when the birthday celebrations were finally over, but I really did love what a kick Cooper got out of everything. Even though mothering him sometimes stresses me out or makes me emotional, I’m truly blessed to be his mother.

Best Buds

A Little Boy’s Dream

All Aboard

My parents visited for a few days last week. Both of the kids loved having grandma and grandpa around, but I think their visit was especially heavenly for Cooper because we did so many of his favorite things.

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Posing for my mom.

They “chased” clouds and ended up hiking all the way to the top of the mesa near our house.

Grandpa kindly hauled Ellen around when she reached her limit. We’re working on increasing that limit . . .

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We toured Hammond’s Candy Factory and ate a bunch of reject candy.

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Can you tell he’s excited?

Then on their last day we pulled out all the stops. We took the light rail into Denver. 2015-04-25 12.25.10Then we took a bus to the Denver Firefighter’s Museum where Cooper got to pretend to be a firefighter.

Driving the TruckHiking, touring a candy factory, riding on trains and buses, and dressing up like a firefighter – all with grandma and grandpa! I’m not really sure that kind of excitement can be topped.

Best Buds

While they visited, my mom also snapped some photos of us, which the kids did NOT categorize as fun. However, my mom’s skill transcended the bad moods to catch some really nice images. Funky Town Take 2

The only bad thing about their visit was that a few hours before they arrived we discovered that all the rain we’d been getting had taken our basement on another trip to Funkytown and the guest bedroom was not habitable. The kids however, were not sad at all that grandma and grandpa had to sleep in the living room as it made it easier to jump on them first thing in the morning. Thanks for visiting mom and dad!

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A letter to My Firstborn

A few days before you were born.

The day before you were born.

When I went into labor with you I was completely at peace. Yes, you were technically preterm and yes, I’d never been through labor and knew considerably little about motherhood, but deep down in my budding momma heart I just knew that everything was going to be okay. I didn’t rush to the hospital or even wake your dad, but just spent a few quiet hours with you in the pre-dawn. The two of us peacefully laboring together before all the hubbub began. Today, even though I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to strengthen your perceived weaknesses in communication, I realize what a gift it is that the two of us can just sit and be. Words may never be your forte, but there is strength in quiet. As Susan Cain says, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”

Holding you for the first time.

Holding you for the first time.

You were so excited to come into this world, racing in weeks before your due date with a labor much quicker than most women’s first, but then at the last second it was like you panicked. All the Hippie books I’d read hinted at magical slip n’ slide birth moments, but with you it was two exhausting hours of sheer force exertion on my part before you finally made your appearance – your brand new head all scraped and bruised from our struggle. Five years later, you and I still have these moments where you freeze and I push you out into the world, but I’m learning to prod more gently and be more patient. It’s less agonizing for both of us.

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Your Grandma Cindy did a great job of photographing you, but if you look close you can see the scab and bruise on your head.

They didn’t let me hold you immediately because your premature nature posed risks to your health. I waited anxiously until the doctors determined what I already knew: that you were perfect. When they placed you tenderly into my arms your dad and I looked at each other, happy tears welling in our eyes, and felt more complete than we’d ever felt before.

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Your timing was terrible. Your dad missed a final to be my side as we welcomed you into the world and you and I succumbed to a state of delirious exhaustion instead of attending his graduation. But what we didn’t realize at first, was that your timing was also perfect. Retrospect shows how family visits, job interviews, and a big move all fit perfectly into place around your little puzzle piece. You taught us, and are continually teaching us, that things don’t always happen the way you hope, but they happen in ways that are better for you in the long run.

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I was so worried about having a boy and what sort of roughness that would introduce into my life, but you’ve always had the sweetest spirit about you. You were the first child, grandchild, and nephew and you softened all of us. Your aunts, who didn’t particularly care for children, and your angsty teenage uncles all held you in gentle awe. Even my dad, your grandpa, the man who schooled me in the art of sarcasm, melted into a puddle of coochy coos at the sight of you. Everyone that meets you remarks on this gentle quality you have. It’s possibly one of your biggest vulnerabilities, but I also think it’s one of your biggest strengths.

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Now you are almost five. A full-fledged kid headed to kindergarten in the fall. I worry about you more than you will probably ever know. I worry that I’m not doing enough for you or that I’ve turned you into a science project with therapists for friends. I worry about whether other kids will be nice to you and how you’ll do in school. When I spiral into these worry cycles I’m overlooking something very important: how strong you are in your gentle way. Instead, I should think back on the day you were born and remember what I knew from the beginning, that in your own way, you are perfect and everything is going to be okay. I promise to try and remember that more often.

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Love,
Mom

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Easter 2015

We’ve had some pretty exciting Easters, and while this one definitely wouldn’t fall into that category, it was nice to have a low-key Easter this year.

Easter Buckets

On Easter morning, the kids came out to find their Easter buckets (yes, buckets). They were excited to get warm weather pajamas, a special gift (a book for Cooper and Hello Kitty silverware for Ellen) as well as a somewhat spiritual movie (and personal favorite) The Prince of Egypt.

Bucket Buddies

Cooper giving Ellen one of her eggs.

After reading the Easter story in their picture scriptures and eating a wholesome breakfast, we let them go hunt for eggs in the backyard. We put two different kinds of stickers on the eggs with one assigned to each of them, so they’d find an equal number of eggs. They were really good about only taking the eggs that belonged to them.

Bad squirrels The squirrels, however, were not good at this. We’d hidden the eggs about an hour before the kids started looking for them and the squirrels got into four of them. Everyone thinks they’re cute, but trust me, they’re really evil. Fortunately, most of the candy was stuff we’d reused from our church’s egg hunt and most of my homemade peanut butter cups were safely in the fridge.

After the kids each ate a few pieces of candy, it was time to watch General Conference.

2015-04-05 10.00.57The kids obviously didn’t have the attention span to watch all of the sessions in their entirety, but they did enjoy the music and they got excited when President Monson spoke.

2015-04-05 13.29.34In between sessions we had a picnic in the backyard and relaxed elbowed each other in the hammock.

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After all the sessions were over, we had a lovely ham dinner with shredded potato casserole, roasted carrots, and pound cake for dessert.

P4050062After dinner the kids tried to catch rabbits until we made them take baths and go to bed. (Much to the bunnies relief.) It was a rejuvenating weekend on all fronts.

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Nutella consumption linked with autism

autism_nutellaAfter an exhaustive meta analysis of many factors that could potentially be causing the spike in Autism rates in recent years, I have found the one factor that is alarmingly correlated: Nutella consumption. Well, specifically interest in Nutella as evidenced by Google searches, but I think it’s safe to say that increased Google searches of Nutella means increased consumption. My scientifically proven* hypothesis is that increased Nutella consumption during pregnancy causes an excess of sugar and hazelnut compounds in the bloodstream of the mother that pass on to the fetus and alter the chemistry of their developing brain. The full research study, co-authored with Dr. Mr. Andrew Wakefield, will be published soon** in the medical journal The Lancet.

 

*not using the actual scientific method

**not published at all

For actual interesting cutting edge research on autism, see this TED Talk.

 

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Light It Up Blue 2.0

Autism Speaks Light It Up Blue

It’s World Autism Awareness Day! Here’s an update of our experiences since my light it up blue post last year.

The last year by the numbers:

  • 2,000 miles driven for autism related therapies and appointments
  • 5 therapists worked with
  • 1 autism center quit
  • 2 IEP teams collaborated with
  • 1 therapy graduation (occupational therapy)
  • 1 gajillion forms filled out
  • 6 seasons of Parenthood watched

The past year has been a learning experience. We’ve learned that not all autism centers are created equal and that sometimes driving farther to see a better therapist is worth it. We’ve been touched by friends that volunteered their time to watch our kids so we could attend various meetings and classes. We’ve been grateful for good insurance and that we live in a state that has health insurance mandated autism treatment. We are slowly building our “village.”

National Autism Awareness

To many outsiders, we seem like a completely normal family since right now Cooper is often able to hide behind shyness and being young. When I tell people he as an ASD diagnosis half the people are surprised while the other half realize that was the thing they couldn’t quite put their finger on. We aren’t completely sure whether it will become more or less obvious that he’s on the spectrum as he gets older – only time will tell. Often, even we go long stretches where we forget he has a diagnosis, but it always has a way of sneaking up and slapping us in the face. Sometimes it happens when someone mistakes him for a younger child or when a friend posts about the hilarious thing their kid just did. And often it happens when I pick him up from preschool and other kids excitedly spout off paragraphs about what they did as I ask Cooper simple questions based off the cheat sheet his teachers give me every day. In those instances, it’s so easy to get discouraged and forget how much progress he’s made.

Probably one of the hardest moments of the year was when Cooper participated in his first Primary program. It’s one of the best Sundays of the year where the kids provide all the talks and music for our main church meeting. We knew this would be a challenge and were nervous about him being on display for everyone, but were optimistic. Cooper is familiar with many of the people in our church community and the Primary president, a family friend, would be helping him with his part so we really thought we might be able to pull it off. We practiced the part at home and Noel attended the two rehearsals. Additionally, we took him to the church when no one was there and let him practice talking into the microphone and saying his part to an empty room. When the big day came, we held our breath. Every kid (including the ones his age) said their part in the microphone and sang songs in the funny way kids do. Their parents beamed. When Cooper stepped up to the microphone he just stood there stiffly with a goofy grin on his face and scrunched up eyes. When they sang, he flapped his arms, picked his nose, and stared into space. Afterwards, people told me, “It was so cute the way he waved his arms up there!” “He’s shy, but with more practice he’ll get it!” They were all well meaning. I did my best to smile and not cry or yell, “You know he has autism, right?!?!” It could have been worse, it really could have, but still our heart ached that we couldn’t just blend in. And the hardest part?  He knows every word to those songs and probably had his part memorized.

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The kids have no idea what autism is or that Cooper has an ASD diagnosis. Right now, Cooper just thinks he has special adult friends with cool toys. Honestly, Ellen will probably figure it out before he does. One time when I took Cooper to speech, Ellen turned to him and said, “I’m going with [the therapist] and you’re going with mom, okay?” I told her that’s not how it works, that we come here for Cooper to see his speech therapist. She seemed fine with the answer, but it’s only a matter of time.

Even though there are hard and frustrating moments, sometimes autism can be funny. Ellen was being particularly saucy one day and I asked her, “Are you being a sassy pants?” She replied with, “I’m not being a sassy pants! Cooper’s a sassy pants!” Cooper, who was flying an airplane around the kitchen, paused, looked down at his pants and then looked at me with a puzzled expression. Clearly, his pants weren’t sassy. Through it all, he’s a genuinely sweet kid that’s actually quite intelligent. It’s just unlocking it that’s sometimes the challenge.

As a parent of a child with ASD, we often feel a huge responsibility. I know every parent worries about doing the right things to help their child succeed, but when you have a kid with a disability it’s so easy to feel that if you don’t try the right diet or therapy or eliminate the right chemicals from your lives, your child, and by extension you, will be a failure. It’s a challenge to figure out the balance of letting Cooper be himself (and being okay with it) and getting him the help he needs to thrive in this world. We have the luxury of his autism not being incredibly obvious, but with that comes the burden of figuring out how to share this fact with others. I personally struggle to know how and when to mention his autism, not because I’m embarrassed, but because on some level I feel like I’m betraying him, but at the same time I feel like I’m betraying him if I’m not open about it. I just don’t want the subject of autism to be his awkward life-long icebreaker; I want people to see him as Cooper first and foremost.

LIUB

Autism is a hot topic right now. While in some ways I’m glad it’s getting attention, sometimes the theories get tiring. As a parent of an ASD kid it can be frustrating to see your child turned into a statistic that gets thrown around whether it’s in scientific studies or stupid articles people share on Facebook. The next time you read an article about autism, just take a second to remember that people stand behind those numbers and that correlation doesn’t always equal causation. (Honestly, this is good practice for most statistics.) I don’t claim to be an autism expert, there’s a lot I’m still learning, but if you ever have a question I’d love for you to ask. Really.

They have a saying in the autism community that “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Our experience is ours only. Some experiences are harder, some are easier, but for most of us, it’s a crazy combination of hard and easy.

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Finding cairns helped motivate the kids. Other hikers thought it was adorable and cute, rightly so.

Desert Oasis

A part of my heart will always belong to red rock country. Technically, I grew up in Brigham City, UT – a town most people have only driven past and where the school year can’t start until after the county fair. While the town and community obviously helped mold me into who I am, my soul will always claim the muddy waters of the Green River, the sagebrush strewn trails of the Wasatch front, and the red hoodoos of Southern Utah. A desert girl at heart, whenever my feet are on red dirt, I’m home.

I have always been fascinated by things that are green since they are rare to my natural habitat, but I remain fiercely loyal to the land I was raised on, loving anything that is dusty red. To borrow Edward Abbey’s words, “If we had water here this country would not be what it is. It would be like Ohio, wet and humid and hydrological, all covered with cabbage farms and golf courses. Instead of this lovely barren desert we would have only another blooming garden state, like New Jersey. And where then would people go when they wanted to see something besides people?”

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Generally, when we get homesick for sandstone we head to Red Rocks, but at some point the hole in our heart gets too big and we have to have the real thing. We didn’t make any plans for Spring Break this year. We were just going to hang out at home and I’d take the kids to do some cool local stuff, but when I talked to one of the other preschool moms and she mentioned their plans to go to Moab I became painfully aware that the emptiness inside of me had grown so big it was dangerously close to swallowing me up. Our souls were in dire need of the comforting warmth of desert heat. In what may have been our first spontaneous act as a couple, we obsessively began planning a last minute, extended weekend trip to South Eastern Utah. We were giddy with excitement.

When Noel woke up in the middle of the night shivering uncontrollably, only hours before our planned departure, both our hearts sank and one or both of us may have even cried. After sufficient moping, napping, and general consumption of bland foods we regrouped the following afternoon. Noel was feeling significantly better after some uninvited purging (food poisoning?) and the car was already packed, so we decided to resume the trip one day late. Little did we know that a huge Jeep Safari was going to kick-off that weekend and our first and second choices of campsites were already full. Luckily, I’d read about a lesser known campground on my friend Valerie’s travel blog and the folks at Pack Creek Campground were able to squeeze us into half a group site. It was not ideal as it felt like all the jeeps, trucks, and RVs were closing in on us, but we were glad to have something. Every morning the jeeps would file out in lines and we’d head off to wander the desert on our own two feet, even the little people, quenching a thirst only a desert can.

St. Patrick's Day-001

A Full Week

I recently read an article titled “Busy is a Sickness” that struck close to home. I’m a high-functioning, chronic sufferer of self-induced busynesss as well as the complaining symptom that often accompanies it. Since reading the article, I’ve been trying to change some of that about my life. This last week was a bit of a challenge to that goal. Between having my sister visit, putting on a church event, trying to be involved with a community issue, and getting a little ambitious with projects, things were a little hectic, but definitely full. I’ll spare you most of the tedious details, but here are the highlights.

I knew the week was going to be busy and wanted to knock out as much prep as I could on Saturday. I borrowed my friend’s steam cleaner and cleaned all of our carpets. It turns out the carpets were filthy and glittery.

Glittery Mess

Has my basement been doubling as a night club?

Because I was feeling a little overly confident (or maybe just delusional), I thought I could also squeeze in a tiny house project where I filled a bunch of cracks in our front door and stained it. This is something I’ve wanted to do for the last four years and for some inexplicable reason, bad-timing aside, I just couldn’t put it off any longer. The problem was, I forgot our formula for house projects and didn’t do the math so even though we started the project Saturday, it wasn’t officially finished until Tuesday evening.

Cracked Door

Can you see the light coming through this poor, old, parched door?

All in all, it worked out. Our facade is much improved if I do say so myself. Bonus: light now only comes through the window.

Before and After

Both Cooper and Noel suited up on Sunday and I had to capture my handsome fellas. It was good to have a day of rest – God really knew what he was doing with that one.

Suit Up

Monday, my sister, Hope, and her son, Porter, flew into town. Hope’s husband, Joe, was in Costa Rica for a class (right . . . ) so logically she came to the next best place to have fun. The kids were beyond thrilled. Ellen kept saying, “Porter’s my buddy.”

Cousin HugsTuesday we all wore green and spent most of the day prepping for a dinner for our church women’s organization. The kids did a great job of entertaining each other and even though my support staff was pretty much MIA, we pulled everything together for a lovely evening. Bonus: Since I always make sure we have a nursery for these events, Noel was able to attend a community meeting about an important school issue.

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On Wednesday, we picked Cooper up from preschool and spent the afternoon at the zoo. Everyone was a little testy by the end, but it was nice to not be on the clock for wood stain time frames or event start times.

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Picnic lunch

Zoo!

A picture Cooper took of us.

Gorilla

He was very excited to see the gorilla. Maybe because he recently saw Tarzan for the first time?

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Cooper patting Porter’s head when he started to fuss.

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Ellen being a baby.

Thursday, my brother, Mitchell, received his mission call and we got to watch him open it via Skype. He’ll serve a two-year mission speaking Dutch in Belgium and the Netherlands. I’m so glad he’s made this decision and am excited for all the adventures and learning experiences he’ll have.

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Today is the official first day of spring. I got up extra early to take Hope and Porter to the airport and then made a bunch of mini pies for a teacher appreciation lunch. The house felt a little lonely with Hope and Porter gone, but we’re glad they were able to visit. Life is definitely full.

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The flowers blooming in our front lawn.

A beautiful day

Ski Day

Eight years ago Audrey and I started this adventure of our life together. A lot of things have changed since then. We’ve gained some dependents, moved to another state, and are homeowners. This year we celebrated by taking a Tuesday off from work, dropping the kids with a friend, and declaring a snow day. I snagged us some tickets from Craigslist and we cruised up to Copper Mountain for our first day on the mountain since before Cooper was born and our first time skiing in Colorado. A great time was had by all. We got the opportunity to feel both young again (freedom!) and old (pretty sore the next day).

Minuses

  • Mediocre snow
  • Ski lifts (Can’t we find a less terrifying way to get to the top?)

Pluses

  • No children
  • Gorgeous spring-like day
  • No children
  • Super hot ski buddy
  • The cat snowsuit (see below)
  • Did I mention, no children?
Ellen patiently waited all day for us to sing "Happy birthday," but blew out the candles before we finished the song.

Miss E Turns Three

This was the first birthday that Ellen anticipated. For weeks she’s been telling us that “Ellen’s birthday is next.” When it comes to planning anything for my kids, I always turn to Pinterest and not in the way you would expect. Pinterest is a great way to visually display options which is perfect for kids who are young or struggle with verbal communication. This year, Ellen chose a Chocolate Covered Strawberry cake (check out the review on our food blog) and a trip to the zoo to see the animals. There’s a gallery below that details the fun we had.