Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Morning light

Papa reading to Braydon just an hour before his stroke

 In August 2011, our lives were caught unexpectedly in a storm we named "Hurricane Stroke." While Hurricane Irene's winds and rain beat down around us in NC, my Dad was suffering from a massive cerebellar stroke. The ER doctor didn't want to believe us and tried to discharge him. We refused after he was unable to hold a pen or sign his own name on the discharge papers. I am so thankful we put our foot down that day because it saved his life.

When the hospital let us down multiple times and almost tried to kill my dad (overdosing him, telling us he wasn't having a stroke when he very much was having a MASSIVE one), he was finally transferred to UNC's Neuro-ICU. He needed to be airlifted but there were tornado warnings in effect and the flight team transported via ambulance instead. I have never in my life been so thankful to see a Tar Heel hat than I was the night the flight crew arrived in my dad's CCU room.

After having life saving brain surgery where they removed some of the dead tissue and also a part of his skull, he remained critically ill. We lived hour by hour, minute by minute. We didn't sleep much, we ate what we could stomach, and we watched a lot of HGTV. The nurses, teams of doctors and surgeons, MRI techs, and many, many more nameless remain the heroes of 2011 for me and my family. I don't remember all of their names, but we cannot say it enough...Their care for my dad, and for my family as a whole was remarkable and "Thank you" doesn't even seem adequate.
These are the two chairs that we attempted to sleep in while waiting for my dad's emergency brain surgery to be finished. This by far was the worst night of my ENTIRE life.
Inside the waiting room, and the phone where we learned that Dad had survived surgery.
The ICU waiting room we became too familiar with.

Mom, you were a rock. I shouldn't have been surprised because you always have been. There are so many moments throughout that whole ordeal that are just too difficult to even try to formulate words, so I won't. You know those moments. Yet your faith remained strong, your love and commitment to your husband never waned once. To watch you 1st hand care for, love on and serve your husband in the midst of such difficult circumstances was such an incredibly amazing life lesson for me. Thank you for honoring my dad and sitting by his side. Thank you for sacrificing your own wants and needs just to stroke his hand if he called out for you. Thank you for modeling what selfless love looks like.

In the wee hours of the morning after "night duty" as I was racing home from Chapel Hill to get back to the kids, a song came on the radio by one of your favorite Christian artists. As I listened to Mandisa singing, I began sobbing and had to pull over because I couldn't even see. It was in the midst of not knowing whether you would even make it until I got back up there to see you. But as I looked up through my tears and saw the sun rising, I heard Mandisa's words: "We may weep for a time but joy comes in the morning, the morning light." It felt like a direct message from my Daddy to me...Even if it is my time to go, you will weep for a time, but when you see the morning light rise up, you'll know that I am home. Home, where there is no weeping. Home, Sweetie. Whatever happens, I'll be home." Every time I drive by that spot in the road, I am reminded of that moment. About how sadness cannot last forever. About how someday, there will be no more heartache or pain or suffering. I'm reminded that the darkness cannot remain dark forever, the sun will always come back out.

Now that it is a year later, our "normal" is different. Our normal includes "sleep club" where Papa is the counselor and dinner times always include story time proudly brought to you by Papa. Normal includes a cane, a lot more free time, and having grandkids leaving toys all over your house. Normal is never having enough milk, chewing lots of Double Bubble, and a slower pace. It means Papa's "homemade" oatmeal surpasses any other establishment's breakfast hands down. It means letting go of a huge chapter in your life as a public school educator and opening the next chapter of educating your grandkids on being a part of our family community. It means spending a lot more time learning about God, finding new ways to be the hands and feet of Christ like we are called to do.

Dad, I am so thankful God's plan for your life included more time with us on this temporary stop we call "life". You are so very, very precious to each of us!! We love you and celebrate each day we have together here on earth!

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Photo credit: Christina Valentine Photography

I used to think that I wanted a “normal” family. You know, sons who were star athletes and a daughter who loved playing sports just as much as she loved playing with dolls and ponies. We would be going to academic award assemblies, be playing a pivotal role in the PTA, and be a part of every booster club available. We would only visit the doctor annually for our kids’ well check and (of course) for their annual sports physical. Every year, we’d take vacations of epic proportions: Disney World, Hawaii, Coast-to-Coast road trips, etc. Each one packed with life changing experiences for our kids and for us as well.

But that was before my denial bubble burst, before the reality of my life would no longer be avoidable. That was before the autism diagnoses. Before the checklists, the MRI’s, EEG’s, and sleep studies, before all of the medicines and supplements. Way before commuting 2-3 hours to see multiple doctors seemed like it would beneficial. All of that was before I realized my path would not only test the strength of my character but my marriage as well.

The term “normal” is odd because it is such a vague term and it often depends on perspective. For example, to a seasoned marathon runner, a “normal” run could be 10-15 miles, whereas for a person who is out of shape, the only “normal” run would be running from the car to inside when it’s raining. For a family seeking to eat “Pure” or allergen-free, normal grocery shopping includes multiple stops to local farms, co-ops, the natural food store as well as ordering online from farms, dairies, and other vendors states away. To another, going to more than one store for groceries is just NOT normal and a waste of time. But yet, we all seem to unconsciously subscribe to a notion that there is one universal definition for “normal” especially when it comes to our children.

Even after my oldest son’s diagnosis of Asperger’s, I still yearned for “normal.” Not necessarily for me, but for my son who struggled in school, especially with social skills. He longed to have friends, to be accepted. I just wanted him to have a “normal” experience, just like every other kid. He was constantly bullied, picked on, and would beg me to keep him home. We went to meeting after meeting after meeting with the teacher & the administrators, and we would advocate in order for my son to have a “normal” school experience. With the hand he was dealt in this life, I felt like at least he deserved normal.

My perspective changed, however, when I was able to attend a one day surf camp put on by Surfer’s Healing at Wrightsville Beach, NC. Everywhere we looked, we were surrounded by people who understood what we go through. When Braydon didn’t respond someone’s question or statement, they continued on with the conversation, as if he had responded. They didn’t stare at him and then glance at me with the “How dare you let him be so rude to me!” look. I’ve been plenty of places where the extended “Autism Family” has gathered at conferences, rallies, support groups, etc. But those experiences have never impacted me so much like the day with Surfer’s Healing did.

I overheard one of the volunteers at the surf camp talking with my husband about how the ocean was so pure and every time you go into the ocean’s water, you come out new. As I stood on the beach, with the sun shining down on me, sand between my toes, and seeing the smile plastered on my son’s face, it hit me.  NO! I don’t have to accept anyone’s definition of normal. NO! I don’t have to feel bad that Braydon’s doesn’t meet anyone else’s standards. NO more guilt trips, NO more weeping for what he won’t have that other kids have. No more subscribing to “normal”. He went into the ocean with Surfer’s Healing and just like the volunteer said, Braydon came out new and so did his Mama.

Photo Credit: S.Hughes Photography
So from today on, every morning I will wake up next to a picture of my son surfing as a reminder to say NO! to anyone’s definition of normal. Our normal involves many trips to different doctors and therapists. My son doesn’t have to respond to people if he doesn’t want to and I won’t let anyone make me feel bad about it. Our normal requires extra effort, extra understanding, and lots of extra grace on everyone’s part. Vacation means anytime away from home, whether that’s overnight at a hotel before an MRI or a daytrip to the Lego store. It means tons of flexibility and very low expectations. At birthday parties, whether it is playing by himself, collecting rocks & sticks, of actually participating in the party, I won’t feel embarrassed as long as Braydon is having fun!  We will keep our eyes on what works for OUR family and try to encourage people to enter into our normal to gain some perspective. After all, Epicurus said “Do not ruin what you have by desiring what you have not…” (

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Teacher gifts!

I had seen this on pinterest & LOVED the idea for an end of the year gift for my kids' preschool teachers. I wasn't exactly sure HOW I was going to do it though because usually any time I try to "write" on anything crafty I've done, I manage to royally screw it up.

I started by getting their hand & feet prints on separate sheets of card stock & let them dry. I knew that would be a task to get a 2 yr old & a 4 yr old to "work" with me on this, so I figured it was plenty of work for day #1. I could figure out the rest later as I went along. I had planned on using the Tempera paint we already had, but when I went to check it out I realized we were pretty low. I ran to Michael's and got a six pack of 4 oz. Tempera paint bottles for 6.99, but had a 40% off coupon, which made it about $4.50. I have no pictures of this because I was busy trying to make sure they didn't get the paint on the floor or the furniture!! (Priorities!)

While I was searching through my craft corner to find something to work with, I came across packs of poster board I had bought at Target a few months ago when they were on clearance for 62 cents a pack. I decided that maybe I could cover the board with scrapbook paper or something to make it "stand out. I looked at the measurements of it & realized that if I cut each sheet in half I could make (4) 11x14 frames with minimal measuring, since it was 14 x 22!!

I had some awesome wrapping paper that I thought would just make the colors of the hands & feet POP so I just cut it and attached it to the back using my scrapbooking tape/squares. I attached the cut out hand & feet prints, as well as a heart from glittery scrap paper I had left over from Makenna Rae's birthday party in December. I printed the words from Microsoft words & attached them. I also added their names & "2012" so their teachers could remember the year they were given to them.

Since I only had one really good hand print for JoJo & his feet were smaller, I used both of his feet and only one of his hands.  This is the final product for JoJo's teacher after adding the $5 frame I got from Wal-Mart.

Makenna's hands were accidentally on top of one another (because 4 year old's sometimes struggle to listen!!), so I used 2 hand prints and only one foot print because of space limitations. I loved the variations of the layout though, and the both ended up looking completely unique, just like they are!!

Cost Summary:
Paint: approx. $4.50
Frame: $5

Pulled from my stash:

Card stock
scrapbook supplies
wrapping paper

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hurricane Prep for Kids

While we prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Irene here in NC, we're focused on preparing our homes, making sure we have enough supplies, etc. We watch the forecasts, check the updated hurricane prediction models, etc. Here's a little information on creating a Family Disaster Plan. (And make sure you've got enough medication, diapers, formula, etc in addition to your "regular" supplies!) But aside from this, how can you help prepare your little ones without getting them upset or overly anxious?
My oldest son Braydon is very much a worrier. He hates the thought of bad storms coming and the last time we had a severe weather problem here, places all around us got hit by a few tornadoes. We had to prepare ourselves though to "shelter in place". All of this left Braydon extra nervous, especially with our recent "jolt" with yesterday's "earthquake".

So this got me to thinking about preparing our kids "Disaster Distraction" bag: Items that would make them feel secure, that would distract them, that would allow them to feel that, God-forbid if things were to be catastrophic, they would have a piece of normal with them. Something also to keep them from driving us crazy with "I'm boooorrreeed" should we lose power. I made a list & wanted to share it with you to help you prepare your own.

I was able to assemble three of these (One for boy age 7, girl age 3, boy age 22 months) with things right in my own house in a relatively short time. I'm fairly confident that you'd probably be able to do the same as well. There's no "right" way or wrong way to make one-what works for one family may not work for another. Your kids could not like to color, maybe they prefer to write a story or make a collage. For example, I know for sure that I'm including scraps of fabric in my youngest son's bag because he loves to try to make "hats" out of them. But your kids would probably say "Mom, why did you put scrap fabric in my bag?!?" You know your kids better than anyone else so use what works best for you.

-Small flash light with batteries-keep it simple, no need for an expensive "Character" one. (see below) *Frugal Tip* I buy Halloween flashlights on clearance after Halloween is over. I know that's still several months away & won't help you now, but maybe it will help you for next year!

-A Sheet of stickers to "decorate" their flashlight so they can identify their flashlight from their siblings'.

-GLOW STICKS-these will be so much fun for the kids & you can even get the ones that turn into bracelets/necklaces so you can locate little ones in the dark. Again, no need to break the bank-A simple run to your Dollar Tree is all you need!

-Puzzles/bouncy balls/small non-electric games/Boardgames (checkers, chess, memory, etc) to pass time, even if by flashlight. Use "Spanish & English" memory pictured above and have "school" time as well!

-Deck of cards It's amazing what creativity comes out of children with a few hours of no electricity & a deck of cards! You can even have a "card throwing" party....You take turns showering each other with cards (have the "victim" put on a pair of sunglasses if you are worried your kids might get over excited).

-A small soft toy/stuffed animal. This doesn't have to be new. Surely you've got some extra stuffed animals laying around. *Frugal Tip* I purchased the animals above in May of this year at an Old Navy. They were left over from Christmas & originally had a clear plastic envelope attached to put a gift card in. I scored these for 10 cents each!

-A Ziploc bag of peppermints, butterscotch disks, or other hard candy. Make your own rules & put them in the bag. For example "You may eat ONE candy for every hour the power is out" AND/OR a Ziploc bag of cookies/cereal/pretzels/dried fruit

-An envelope with index cards with Bible verses/quotes about not being fearful (this comes in handy for my little worrier!)

-A coloring book & crayons/markers, dry erase board & makers, construction paper & scissors. All of these or some of these-it's up to you!!

GIRL-SPECIFIC ITEMS: Hairbrush/comb, hair bows, jewelery, nail polish, dolls/barbie dolls and accessories, horses, etc.

BOY-SPECIFIC ITEMS: cars, army men, airplanes/helicopters, legos, balls, Star wars figures, superheroes/action figures, guns *gasp!* (Yes, we let my son play with nerf guns!!)

IDEAS FOR TODDLERS: Use your judgement for putting in items above in your toddler's bag. Kids love to put things in their mouths & the glow sticks are toxic if they bite into & break them. The items below are geared specifically for those toddlers who will insist on their own bag!

-Bubbles are not only a distraction for little ones, but it often becomes a distraction for all. Allow the older children to take turns getting to blow bubbles for the younger ones to "catch".

-Plastic Eggs (from Easter) I can't take credit for this idea because I know recently I saw a blog post some where about it but after searching forever to get the link I couldn't track it down. But then I remembered, the for months (seriously months!) after Easter, my kids were still playing with the plastic Easter eggs. After having stepped on one too many, we finally decided to retire them to the attic until next Easter. But I went up there & grabbed about a dozen because I know that as soon as my older 2 saw him playing with the eggs, they'd want one. This way it gives them 4 a piece if they all want them at the same time!

-A Ziploc bag of cereal/cookies/pretzels/dried fruit

-A small photo album with pictures of things they like (for example, JoJo loves dogs, so his is filled with pictures of dogs, puppies, people with pets, cats, etc) You can see that I've combined actual photos (on the far right is my sister's former crazy Jack Russell Terror, I mean terrier) along with pictures that I cut out from my coupon inserts!

-An old cell phone. Toddlers love to pretend and mimic what they see their parents doing, and they love to talk so combine these together and BINGO! Entertained toddler (at least for a few minutes!) Just make sure that the battery is taken out of the phone because even if you have upgraded to a new cell phone & there's no longer service on the phone, a 911 Emergency phone call can still be placed!!

-A Ziploc bag with Paint store samples from your local hardware/super center store. They can look at the different colors, make a rainbow, you can have the identify things that start with "red" such as an apple, or the sky for blue.

Here's hoping that this post is in vain and that Irene decides she likes going a bit to the East and miss any further landfall!!!


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Monday, August 22, 2011

Super Shades Sale (Send the Trend)

Today only you can pick any of the sunglasses from Send The Trend for 30% off! All items are $29.95 before the discount with there is always FREE SHIPPING via UPS Ground! Use the promo code: FUNDAY (expires Monday, August 22nd, 2011 at 11:59 PST)

If you're a Project Runway fan like me, you might recognize the co-founder of STT, Christian Siriano and love the fact that you're getting designer styles without the designer cost. You also don't have to leave your house! Can I get an AMEN, or perhaps a more fitting "FIERCE!!"?!?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Harris Teeter w/ the girl

Makenna Rae & I got to go out to the grocery store and left the boys home with Daddy! I had a list of items to get that were really good deals and I wanted to make sure I got the "saturday only" deals before they sold out.
Since my mom has an e-vic account, we used her's since she was not going to use them. Above was the first transaction using her Vic card. Here we go:
(2) Gushers fruit snacks: Evic sale $0.97 each ($1.94/2) used $0.50/2 q doubled, $0.94/2 or $0.47 each.
(1) Snackwells snack: Evic sale $1.49 used $0.75 q doubled, FREE
(3) Tic Tacs $1.29 each ($3.87/3) used (3) $0.75 q doubled, FREE
Band-Aid 20 count, mark down $1.49 used $0.50 q doubled, $0.49
Germ-X, 1.5 oz mark down $0.34
After that transaction, we did mine. I had the same deal for the fruit by the foot as the gushers above as well as the Snackwells, Bandaids and the Tic Tacs. There were also the 4 boxes of cereal at $1.97 each ($7.88/4) used (2) $1/2 q's which made it $5.88/4 or $1.47. Normally I don't buy these kinds of cereal, but since Braydon is really nervous about starting a new school, and he's been begging for some "cool" cereal for a while, that now would be the time to do it. I can swing $1.47 a box, not so much $4!!!
(3) Rhodes 12 ct. frozen dinner rolls $2.39 each ($7.17/3) used (3) $0.75 q's $2.67/3 or $0.89 each.
2 lb. pkg. of Ground Beef sale price $6.97. & 4 lbs. Boneless skinless chicken breasts sale price $9.95 *USING MY $10 mail in rebate for meat/poultry*
Hormel Black label Bacon sale price $3.07
(3) Perdue "Cars" Chicken Nuggets (2 pictured because that's what the kids ate for dinner!!) $4.99 each ($14.97/3) had (3) on package $2 store q's, $8.97/3 or 2.99 each
Bryers Pure Fruit Bars-had a raincheck for a FREE box from a meal deal a while ago & since it's the last week before school starts, I thought now would be a great time to cash it in! (Did I mention how I love how rain checks never expire?!?)
Harris Teeter Sweet Apple Chicken Sausage sale price $2.50 had an on pkg $1 off q $1.50
Items not pictured:
(2) Minute Maid 10 pk juice boxes Evic sale $1.77 ($3.54/2) used (2) $1 q's $1.54/2 or $0.77 each. (these were not pictured b/c I took them out of the pkgs to put in the bottom drawer of the fridge!)
Harris Teeter Honey Wheat bread $1.69
(2) Aunt Jemima French toast 10 count boxes sale price $1.49 (or $2.99/2) (these & the waffles below were taken out of the box & individually wrapped for Kenney's work to make it faster for him to grab in the AM)
(2) Aunt Jemima Homesytle 10 count waffles sale price $1.49 (or $2.99/2)
I had one $2 off your next purchase catalina that I used, so altogether, I paid $ 51.52 OOP. I will get $10 of that back from my meat rebate, which will bring it down to $41.52. BUT I just realized that they didn't give me the Evic price on the my 2nd transaction for the Snackwells, so I'll have to go back tomorrow & I'll get the full price back! YAY!! So that means that the total will be $39.02 for $116.86 worth of food (for transaction #2 only)! This equals out to a 67% savings, which is not bad considering the meat and breakfast food I got!