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How Does Your Garden Grow

Hello there.  It’s again been about 2 weeks since I last wrote, what with Connor’s schedule, home remodeling, a million other distractions and delights.  I was going to write about any number of these, especially the things that have me pulling my hair out.  But instead, I felt like I could use a little positivity on my blog today.  So I’m going to write about my garden.

My garden is my happy place.  Or perhaps I should say it’s my therapy space.  (My happy place is and always will be in a book somewhere).  My garden allows me to work at something and see a “fruitful” result.

It gives me the time and opportunity to work through my stress.  Weeding, pruning, seeding, fertilizing, watering, harvesting, it’s all a lot of work and a lot of time.  And it is absolutely worth it.

We work at so many things in our lives which don’t produce results for years, if at all.  There’s no medal for potty training your child, no award for taking good care of your animals, and if you’re very lucky the prize for being a good parent will be having a healthy, successful adult.

Gardening allows you to work hard and see the fruit of your labor within months.  During the time from seed to salad, you are able to watch your garden grow, each day, getting a little bigger, a little brighter, a little more full.

Last year I began with two potted tomato plants and one jalapeno potted plant.  I got a few fruit off of each plant and then watched the winter cold kill them.  Not the most auspicious beginning to my gardening.

This past spring I decided to go a little bigger.  I began with one raised bed and two small potted tomato plants.  I also dedicated myself to gardening, giving it my time and attention every day.  My garden flourished.

So I expanded.

My garden

My garden

This was my garden on July 2nd.  Since then things have changed, as gardens do, as life does.  My pumpkin plant had to be trimmed back, my tomatoes have grown larger and bigger, and much of my work has been harvested.

 

Squash, beans, peas, strawberries, tomatoes

bounty2 bounty3

You can see by these pictures that my garden likes to grow things plentifully and extra-large.  The jewel of my garden this year was my giant zucchini.

Connor with Big Baby

Connor with Big Baby

We named him Big Baby.  He weighed 10.8 lbs and  was 25 inches long.  We took him to the fair.

safety first

safety first

We entered Big Baby into the biggest zucchini contest at the OC Fair.

zucchini3

And we won!

The life of a garden is never over.  It’s cyclical, so maybe I have a new gem growing in my garden right now.  Maybe I won’t have another giant prize winner for years.  Either way, I plant, I grow, I harvest, I feed my family and I feed my soul.

A New Experiment

As I’ve noted before, I often feel like I’m conducting experiments in  how I raise my child.  Connor is not typical, nor is there any clear way to treat autism.  Thus much of how I parent is based on trial and error, collecting data, and performing experiments.

The new experiment for this summer is trying out a typical preschool.

Observation: Connor has entered a stage in his development in which he is mimicking classmates and other children he comes into contact with.

Problem: Given that Connor spends the majority of his time with other special needs children, he has begun to mimic symptoms and problematic behaviors of these other children.  His language also stopped developing, keeping it on par with classmates.  Connor has displayed frustration and displeasure in attending his regular special day class.

Hypothesis: Being around neurotypical children will encourage Connor to use more language and develop typical social skills, while reducing problematic behaviors.

Proposed Method of Research: Connor will attend a typical preschool, with a developmental program, two days per week.  Connor will also engage in extra curricular activities with typical peers, such as swimming lessons, play dates, and unstructured social environments (ie playing with unknown children at parks, beaches, etc.).  Connor will continue to attend special day class two days per week, as well as participate in a reduced ABA schedule, regular speech therapy, therapeutic horseback riding, and physical therapy/gymnastics.

Findings: TBA

Obviously when I was mulling over the problems and possible solutions in my head, my reasoning was not so clear and scientific.  In fact, I distinctly remember telling Connor’s psychologist that a large part of why I wanted to conduct this experiment during the summer was that I had “a gut feeling” that this was the right thing to do for him.  I’m hoping the science will back me up!

For the most part, at least in the most current research, the benefits of inclusion seem to outweigh the possible problems, but there are still causes for concern, still reasons to worry.  The recent research encourages me that this is right move for Connor, who is on the high functioning end of the spectrum.  And so far, Connor seems to be loving his new school! In class he isn’t speaking to much, and he has had a few frustrations, but at home I can already see some positive effects.  Just in the week since he’s started, Connor is using full sentences and spontaneous language more often than before.

Now maybe this is just a conincidence, and maybe it’s not.  Only time will tell.

Here are some articles on the benefits of inclusion:

Why Inclusion Benefits all Kids:

http://www.parents.com/blogs/to-the-max/2012/11/06/uncategorized/why-inclusion-in-classrooms-benefits-all-kids/

Benefits of Inclusion:

http://www.ehow.com/info_8656410_benefits-inclusion-preschool-children.html

Maryland Department of Education list of Inclusion Benefits:

http://olms.cte.jhu.edu/olms2/3841

 

Summertime Schedule

Ah, summer! A time for fun! A time for relaxing! A time for chaos!

When you are autistic, the unorganized, seemingly endless days of summer can appear as a nightmare!  Sure, the first few days of sleeping in are great.  Then the trips to the beach, the park, the theme parks all seem nice on the outside, but something deep inside starts to go a little haywire.  By the two-week mark, circuits are as fried as all the yummy summer food you’ve been eating!

Or at least that’s how life appears to be for my son.

Connor fights school.  He whines about the appointments.  He complains about having to do all the non-recreational stuff he has to do for his ASD diagnosis.  “No school today!” is a common refrain at our house in the mornings.  He usually follows it up with “maybe tomorrow”, as if he’ll be more prepared by then to buckle down.

What he may not consciously realize is that every time we have a prolonged break from school (and thus a break from routine), his world starts to spin out of control.

There are too many options, too many fun things to choose from that he eventually suffers from choice paralysis.  When his days are structured and ordered, we have a clear, limited number of choices because our “free choice” time is limited.

To a child this may sound like torture! Only having an hour or two of free time each day! During the summer!!! This woman is a fascist!  But for the child with autism, the structured day is the mental equivalent of eating your vegetables.  You may not always like them, and I can dress them up to taste better, but they will in the long run make you healthier and stronger.

Since school let out two weeks ago, I’ve watched my son’s behavior slowly devolve from happy, compliant and self-contained to needy, angry, and defiant!  Tantrums went from 1 or 2 every other day to 2 to 3 every day.  Time outs tripled.  Bad behavior, we had happily curtailed, reemerged.  Anger was always near the surface.  Hitting, kicking, throwing things, all behaviors we had worked on diligently for the past year and had successfully disappeared from his repertoire began to take shape again.  Perhaps worst of all, his language began to disappear.  Words were replaced by screams and grunts.

The de-evolution culminated on Saturday when we were driving home from my sister’s house.  Connor was in the back pretending to be The Amazing Mumford.  When I chimed in with his magic words “A la peanut butter sandwiches” something in Connor snapped.  He took his seatbelt off and lunged at me.  Thankfully we were close to home but for those few minutes in the car there was a violent struggle as I tried to fend of the little demon that had replaced my child and drive at the same time.

That night I cried, Connor cried.  I drank wine while Connor drank juice and was put to bed by my husband.

The next day my precious child had no recollection of the event, but I still felt scarred by it.  I avoided him all day, leaving the parenting to my husband.  I busied myself with groceries, cooking, gardening.  That night we left Connor with my parents so I could have time out of the house and away from my child.

By the time I returned I felt better, more centered and ready to face the daily struggles of parenting an autistic child.  When I picked up my son, he was so happy to see me, so happy to hug me and kiss me; I wondered at the seemingly dramatic change in him.

But when summer school began Monday morning, and we began our routine, my happy child reemerged.  Sure, he didn’t want to go to school that morning, but by the time I picked him up, he was happy, compliant, and eager to get on with his schedule.

While all children benefit from consistency, children with autism seem to need it to function.  And though Connor enjoyed his first few days of freedom, I have a feeling, he’s secretly happy to be back in school

If you’re interested, here is some more information on why consistent schedules are important for both typical developing children and for ASD children:

Autistic Children Need a Consistent Schedule

Norrin’s Story of Schedules

The Importance of Schedules

Ready, Set, Routine!

Hope

In the history of mankind there is only one emotion that I can think of that is both equally uplifting and equally cruel: hope.

Hope keeps you holding on to bad situations, wishing for things to improve.

Hope wakes you up in the morning, puts your feet on the ground, and makes your eyes stay open, when all you want is the sweet, obliterating, deep sleep of sadness.

Hope keeps you afloat when everything else tells you to give up and sink.

Hope teases a light at the end of the tunnel that may be escape, or it may be the train.

Hope puts one foot in front of the other, when all you want is to turn back.

For me hope can be an especially cruel companion. My vivid imagination allows me to see my dream played out, as if it was already happening.  My dream becomes so real, so tangible, that my hope is an after-thought, because the conclusion has already been reached.

I can envision the child in my arms. I can clearly see Connor in mainstream classroom.  I look around my home and I see what could be, not what is.  And it all fills me with joy.

I am a hopeful person.  I can’t help it.

So when life disappoints me, when it falls short of my visions, I feel betrayed by my own heart.  My hope pushes me to such heights of belief that when reality steps in I am shocked.

I don’t despair for long though, it’s truly not in my nature.

I see the good, I look for the bright side, and I always have hope.

The Conception Game

Similar to the dating game, the conception game appears to take a lot of preparation, but in the end, it’s just a guess.

Or at least it is for me.

My cycle is not what anyone would call regular.  It never has been.  That’s why I was on birth control for 14 years!  The only other time I’ve willingly gone off birth control was with Connor’s surprise conception….while I was on birth control.

Also like the dating game, this conception game feels very awkward.  I spent so many years trying to avoid getting pregnant that it seems now counter-intuitive to attempt conception!  Sure it’s what we want and what we’ve planned for and our lives are in a very good state right now to have a baby, but there’s this little voice inside me that keeps screaming “NO! Think of all the things you’ll be missing for the next 10 months!!! Think of all that wine waiting for you!”

I do love wine.

But the bigger part of me wants a baby.  The louder, larger voice sends up dozens of prayers each day asking for a baby, any kind of baby, just one for me.  I bargain, I plead, I try humbleness, but really it’s all just prayers for the same thing: a baby.

So I’m charting.  I monitor my cycle with the intensity of micro-biology engineers.  I also run through various symptoms every day: are my boobs bigger? is there any cramping? any food aversions? nausea? unnatural tiredness? overly frequent urination?

But on any given day I seem to have all of these! My boobs appear to be larger, but then they seem larger every month when I near the end of my cycle.  And yes there is cramping, but I also have cramping during PMS.  I am tired, nauseous and peeing frequently on any given day, pregnant or not! I have a 4-year-old who drags home every disease known to man on a regular basis.  So I could be pregnant or I could have the flu.  I could be pregnant or it could be PMS.  I could be pregnant or I just worked out after getting 4 hours of sleep due to my tossing and turning preschooler.

All that amounts to is that the symptoms don’t tell me anything.  I have to test.  So I start testing 10 days out, then 7, now 5, and still nothing.  With every test my hope rises to an apex, only to crash back to earth.  I have wasted more tests in the last two weeks than in the rest of my life combined!  Hope keeps me going, fear keeps me from testing today.  I’m afraid of being disappointed again, despite the fact that my rational mind knows that it’s still a little early to test, that I might not know for certain until the day my cycle is actually set to end.

But screw my rational mind! Seriously, I hate being rational.  I just want to have a positive test today.  Stupid game!!!

Le sigh….

Ok, I’ll try rational again now.  Here are the facts I remind myself of when I feel like marching into the Doctor’s office and demanding daily blood tests:

1. I’ve only been trying to conceive for two months.  Two months! That’ s nothing.  That’s just peanuts to the universe.

2. I already conceived once without even trying, so the chances of a second conception are good.

3. I haven’t reached the end of my menstrual cycle yet so I need to cool it.

4. It’s summer and if I wasn’t pregnant that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing what with 4th of July and BBQs and baseball games, etc.  Not a bad thing at all.  In fact it would be nice to enjoy some sushi and Kirin on a warm night, something I couldn’t do if pregnant.

5. I have my hands full with my ASD son.  Adding a possibly difficult pregnancy (if my last one was anything to go on) and a baby to the mix will be a challenge.   So there’s really no rush.

But like the dating game, I can choose to ignore the good candidates, the ones with reasonable answers and polite tones, and go for the bad boy with the attitude who makes no rational sense whatsoever.  I’ll try to pick one of those nice guys and stay on the stress-free side for a while, but we’ll see how long that lasts.

Disappearing Depression

The fact that I disappeared from the blogosphere again shouldn’t really be surprising.  I tend to do that every once in a while.  I get overwhelmed with real life, events, crazy schedules.  Sometimes I’m fighting a different battle.

This time around I was fighting my old nemesis: depression.  We have a long history, depression and I.  Diagnosed at 16, I’ve struggled to maintain control of my mental health.  For the most part, this is a war I win, though depression occasionally wins a battle.

So why did depression raise its ugly head this time?  It was my own doing, unfortunately.  The good news is that the husband and I are trying to get pregnant.  Yay!!  The bad news is that means attempting to wean off my antidepressants.  There are far too many worrisome studies out there about the relationship between mothers on antidepressants and autism risks in their children.  Here and here.  Given that I already have a child on the spectrum and I was on an anti-depressant for a few months during my first pregnancy, you can imagine my worry and my guilt!  My doctors and I are all committed to getting my off the drugs for this pregnancy, just in case.

But this is where things get dicey.

I weaned off the drugs too quickly.  I went from 20 milligrams to 10 over night.  My body did not like that.  In fact, it stopped reacting to the drugs.  It took about 10 days for depression and anxiety symptoms to set in.

At first it wasn’t too bad.  Sure I was a little more tired, a little more irritable, and lot more hungry, but those aren’t symptoms that couldn’t be explained away by PMS, really really bad PMS.  Then I started losing my temper with Connor.  My normally patient parenting style disappeared.  I felt fed up with him every day.  I had not interest in engaging in play.  I just wanted to plop him in front of the TV and be done with it.  But hey, that could just be explained away by saying I was juggling the needs of a special need child and tired.  Then one day I just started crying.  Someone had something totally innocuous and I just started to sob.  Something was wrong.

Back on the full dose of medication, I had to fight my way back to feeling normal.  It takes a few weeks for medication to work your system back up to an even keel, so in the mean time you’re stuck knowing that something is wrong and not being able to do anything about it but wait.  Like the saying “fake it til you make it” I had to spend many many days trying to get back to a place where I felt like myself again.  I started using Dr. Low’s method of handling my anxiety and depression.  I was back to spotting anxious behaviors, endorsing myself for trying, reminding myself of my averageness, etc. And like always, after a lot of hard work and a lot of self-reflection, I was able to get back to a good place.

The only downside now is that I still need to wean off my medication.  We’re doing a baby step approach now: 20 mg to 15 mg.  Then if I’m ok in a few weeks, we’ll try going down to 10 again.

I need to be ok, whether I’m on the medication or not.  There have been several studies that show mothers suffering depression during their pregnancy experience many different types of disadvantages as well. 

It kind of seems like I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.

There are other things I can do to help my mood while I’m weaning off the drugs: light therapy, exercise, nutritional adjustments, spending time outside, regular therapy, etc.

It’s still scary, though.  Part of me hopes we get pregnant right away and the added hormones help my mood, like they did last time.  And part of me hopes it takes a while so I can get this medication thing worked out.

Either way, all I can do is my best, and hope that’s good enough for our future baby.

Wedding Details: The Invitation

I thought I’d start my wedding posts at the beginning: the invitation.

The invitation

The invitation

When you’re doing a certain theme for your wedding, the invitation is the first representation of that theme that your guests will see.  Therefore, in my opinion, it’s important to make sure that the invitation makes an impression.

Our wedding, as you can tell, had a library/book theme.  To keep with the theme I decided that a library card would be a cute way to send out our invitations while still conveying the necessary information.  And because this wedding was being done on the cheap, that meant I was designing, writing, and printing the invitations myself.

As with all things I do, I began with research!

Here is a lovely example I found on Etsy:

Graham and Olive Stationary

Graham and Olive Stationary

The Graham and Olive Etsy store has very unique, beautiful invitations and sundry items.

However, this example (and the many I found like it) were for Save the Dates.  I was not going to send out a Save the Date! In fact, the fewer people who came to our wedding, the better! Seriously.

Using this Save the Date as an example, I came up with my own version.  But first I needed supplies:

1. Library cards

I considered using a template and printing on card stock, but I’m super computer challenged when it comes to downloading and then utilizing things like that.  So I opted to do it the hard way.  Yay me.

Library cards from the Library Store

Library cards from the Library Store

I purchased two packets of library cards, each containing 50 cards, from the Library Store via Amazon.  Each pack was 2.99, plus shipping and tax.  The total was $14.42.

2. Library Card Pockets

I’m sure I could have made these, but really, why would I? The time of construction and cost of the paper would have been at least equal to, if not more than, the buying the pre-made product.

From Ideal School Supply

From Ideal School Supply

Again I purchased two sets of 50, each for $4.49.  This time shipping was covered by my Amazon Prime membership, so the total came out to $9.70.

3. A Template

This was the part of the project that perhaps took the longest.  I didn’t have a template available (mostly because I can’t figure out how to download and integrate one into my computer) so I had to make my own.  This meant measuring the card and creating a word document to the size of the paper, the width of the internal margins, and then the width of the lines on the card.  Fun stuff.

Here’s what I came up with:

Home-made template

Home-made template

Even doing all this, it took several trial and error attempts with the printer to make sure everything lined up.

4. Date Stamp

My mother bought this for me so I don’t have to count it into my budget! yay!  I used a typical date stamp you would find in any office, library, etc. to add the dates of the RSVP deadline and the date of the wedding to the card.

Stamped

Stamped

There were two reasons I chose to do it this way: 1) I couldn’t figure out how to add letters going horizontal like that on the template; 2) I liked the authentic look of it, like you would find on a traditional library card.

5. Library Stamp

Again, I don’t count this into my budget because I’m a huge nerd and I’ve had this stamp for years.

My personal library stamp

My personal library stamp

As Connor and I say: BOOM BABY! I’ve had my own personal library stamp for my ever growing-home library for at least 5 years.  It’s pretty nerdy and pretty awesome (just like me! heehee).

Library Invitation Card

Library Invitation Card

Last, all I had to do was assemble all these pieces together and I was done.

All in all, the invitations cost $23.82.  If we factor in a percentage of the ink I used, I feel comfortable rounding this up to an even $25.00.  Not too shabby!

The best part of the invitation project was how much I enjoyed the finished product.  It was exactly what I had envisioned! It perfectly encapsulated the theme of the event, as well as my personality.  I was also pleased with the response to the invitations.  Nearly everyone who received it commented on how much they liked the invitation, particularly impressed by its uniqueness.  The fact that I was able to create a product that was so well liked for such a small amount of money truly made my heart swell with pride.

Next, all I had to do was bring that same level of personal investment and attention to detail to the rest of my wedding. No pressure!

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