The Adventures of Rosie Rumnoggin

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It took all of 24 hours after adopting Rosie Rumnoggin - my very own Elf on the Shelf - to discover that her personality suits me perfectly.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Creepy

Saturday, December 7, 2013

One of my clearest memories from early childhood was running around my Grandma's house looking for the Elf on a Shelf. When they recently surged in popularity I found myself wanting one in all their creepy glory.

I found out my cousin has the one Grandma used to hide for us, and then I found out how much the Christmas Retail Marketing Conspiracy wants for them, and then I gave up because I'm cheap. Until yesterday, when I was all ZOMG Freecycle! I posted the want and had one in hand - new in box, no less - by dinnertime.

Speaking of Retail Conspiracies... please tell me I'm not the only one disturbed by the whole "I'm a girl!" paired with "Skirt sold separately!" on the packaging?  

This is a special edition girl elf tutu from the Claus Couture Collection.  
Because of course.

Anyway. Bear was all over it. I told him a baseline version of the story - that they move around the house and it's fun to find them - because I decided it would be ridiculous to tell a child with anxiety disorder that it was watching him for Santa like some freakishly festive nanny cam. 

The elf was still boxed and on the kitchen table when he went to bed.  When he came down this morning, he failed to notice her comically lazy placement on the mantel and grilled me about how she got out of the box.

     Me: I guess she got out after we went to bed.  We should go look for her!

     Bear: Mommy... why are you saying lying things?

Grand plans for creating whimsical childhood memories? Foiled! Not that I really expected any different from my little Sheldon.

On to Plan B!  In which Bear helps us move the elf around for this baby brother to find!  He's actually pretty psyched about that, so I'm calling it a win.

Since then I've been brainstorming elf names and fooling no one with my feeble protests that I would not actually label her once said name is established. (Or the brand new box she came in. That I will totally keep. And label.) 

After much consideration (and, let's be real, some holiday cheer), I settled on a name.  That may or may not be based on said cheer.

May I present...

Rosie and I look forward to many wonderful years of messing with my children.  I'm sure their future therapists will thank me.

Pirate Party Birthday Cake

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

This was the year that Bear was old enough to decide he wanted to move his birthday celebration from Thanksgiving to Halloween, and he firmly declared that he wanted a pirate theme. I happily dove into Pinterest and when it was all said and done, the party was a huge success.

I was just as surprised as everyone else at how the cake came out, and I couldn't wait to share it!

No, it's not perfect. I'm a rank amateur and would never make such a claim.

Yes, that name is Photoshopped.  And yes, I realize that won't really protect my son's identity on the interwebz.  Hush up and let me enjoy my little delusion.

Yes, I know the top is off center.  Someday I'll splurge on a proper cake lifter - for now all I've got is a grill spat and I'm just happy I didn't drop it on the floor, seeing as how this was my first attempt at two tiers.

Yes, I know you can see the top edge of the cake through the frosting.  Sue me, it was midnight.

Yes, I know that the fondant bits are uneven and have rough edges.  It was my first try working with fondant outside of the class I took 3 years ago.

The thing is, I'm not sharing this pirate birthday cake because I think it's a masterpiece.  I'm sharing it because it made me and my son very, very happy.  And to show that even an utterly unskilled working mom who took a cake decorating night class at the community college a few years back can still turn out surprisingly delightful creations.  If my time in triathlon has taught me anything, it's that my calling is to be the "if she can do it, I can do it" person in life.  And I'm ok with that.

So take a look, maybe have a laugh at my expense, and maybe be inspired to skip calling the bakery next time your kid needs a birthday cake.

Halloween Storybook Roundup

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fall is my favorite season, and Halloween is my favorite holiday.  When Bear got old enough to understand that some books were about this time of year, it was no surprise that I went nuts finding lots of them to read with him.

We started at the library, but at ours the seasonal books have a lending limit of one week.  Obviously that's not going to cut it for an obsessive spectrum kiddo who wants to read his favorite 5 times a day for weeks on end.  But, it was a great opportunity to narrow down specific books it was worth purchasing.

I put so much time and energy into creating our Halloween children's book collection I figured it makes sense to share it here to save some legwork for those of y'all on a similar quest.

It's worth noting that not all are specific to the holiday - some are about the season in general and some have themes of overcoming fears that I find Halloween offers the perfect opportunity to discuss.

So in no particular order... here are the books my boys and I love reading together every fall!

2015 Update

 Five Little Pumpkins is a board book transcription of the cute little song they sing in preschools this time of year.  I was completely charmed the first time I heard it at Bear's preschool when he was smaller, and I was excited to find this little book now that Dude is preschool age.  He loves it, and we've already read it dozens of times this October.

This Pop-Up Haunted House book is done in a rhyming meter, with each pop up page illustrating a different spooky theme like werewolves, ghosts or witches. I think it's very cute and manages to be cartoonish enough that the 3 year old isn't scared. Just be cautious with the pop ups themselves - while they appear sturdier than some I still wouldn't leave this book unattended in small hands.

2014 Update

Goodnight Goon is a parody of *shudder* Goodnight Moon, and its mere existence makes me incredibly happy. There's also a Runaway Bunny parody by the same writer (The Runaway Mummy) that I'm having a little trouble finding in matching board book format I look forward to adding to our collection.

Halloween Hustle has a bouncy meter and is loads of fun to read out loud!

Room on the Broom is a sweet story of compassion and friendship that I think is a new classic.

The Night Before Halloween is a charming spoof of Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Inside A House That Is Haunted is a nice little Level 2 Scholastic early reader.

Sesame Street Happy Halloween is a spoof of Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven featuring The Count, and I just love it.

Which Witch Is Which? is another cute Sesame Street story featuring Elmo and the gang.

Halloween Jack is a cute board book featuring a few classic creatures aimed at younger children.


Please note... I am in no way affiliated with the book retailer these titles are linked to, and I receive nothing more from this post than the warm fuzzies I get from sharing beloved books with young readers.

Pastafarian Pirate Fish Craft Pumpkin

Friday, October 18, 2013

I had this foam pumpkin on the shelf for years.  I was paralyzed by the momentousness of the decision of what to carve on it.  Because a craft pumpkin is forever, y'all.

And then, at last... one fine autumn eve... I was touched by his noodly appendage and granted inspiration.

Presenting... the Pastafarian Pirate Fish jack o' lantern.


Despicable Me Halloween Candy Bags

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When we decided to do a Despicable Me family costume this year, I assumed it would be easy to find coordinated candy bags since the licensed Gru and minion costumes are all over the place.  (Not so with Lucy, you have to piece that together yourself.)

No luck with the candy bags, so I decided since I was making minion costumes for the boys I might as well made candy bags, too.

We already limit the number of houses to 10 or so, a number Bear can manage without getting (too insanely) overstimulated.  Plus, the boys are only 5 and 1 and just don't need that much candy.  Since most candy bags are big enough to hold all the candy I buy to secretly eat all October for over 100 trick or treaters, I figured it was just as well to downsize.

Project Supplies
Tote bag(s)
Black felt
White felt
Craft glue

Basic copy & paste and Word skills, plus access to a printer are also important.

Difficulty Level
Parental Scale: one cocktail, optional
Parent-Child Togetherness Scale:  your kid is old enough to use scissors but young enough to not yet be sniffing glue

I found these 8" x 8" tote bags at the dollar store.  I'd have preferred black, but the color selection was limited and at 2 for $1 I wasn't going to be picky.  I went with radioactive minion yellow.

I found this Gru logo and pasted it into Word for sizing, then printed it on paper to use as a template. 

This is the logo printed onto plain paper and laid out on a standard piece of white felt (you can find sheets of felt in the craft aisle at Walmart for about 33 cents each).  The craft bags are 8 inches square, so I did roughly a 6" logo.  You can adjust the size using the ruler in Word.

Cut a black circle for the background and a white circle for the G.

Carefully cut the G out of the template and trace it onto the white felt circle.

 1) Technically you can skip cutting the white circle, I just found it easier to do that way.

2) Trial and error taught me you'll get a cleaner look if you trace the G backwards (not shown here).  That way there are no stray pen marks on the finished side after you cut it out.

If you're using something like Elmer's glue or a glue gun, have at it. 

If you're addicted to the convenience of spray adhesive like I am, retire to a well ventilated area and place felt pieces on a disposable surface. I go out in the garage or on the back patio and use old newspaper or a chunk of cardboard from the recycle bin. 

Make sure you are applying the glue to the back side of the felt G, then carefully place it on the corresponding black circle. Seriously, if you are anything like me, double check the whole forwards/backwards thing.  Spatial relationship skillz! I do not have them.

Decide it's silly to wait for the glue dry on the logo before adhering it to the bag.

Spend several minutes trying to turn the still fragile logo over while the spray glue residue on your hands makes it stick to your fingers and fall apart.

Debate letting the logo dry and then sewing it to the bag so your kids can't peel it off like a giant sticker.  Ignore the voice of reason, forge ahead with glue plan.

Carefully measure Estimate the spacing Slap that sucker on the bag and think about making a cocktail as a reward for being such an awesome freaking mom that you just fabricated custom made Halloween candy bags.  Realize you're high from the glue because you forgot to open the garage door and head off in search of the adhesive remover, because you can't take your contacts out with felt glued to your fingers.

Pro tip: These cute little bags may be the perfect size for limiting your child's Halloween intake, but the flip side is they don't provide enough overflow that you can allocate a stash of your own.  The solution to this problem is buying extra for the trick or treaters and "forgetting" to get that bag out of the Top Secret Candy Hiding Place on Halloween night.

This is my Despicable Me Halloween costume Pinterest board
This is my pin of this Despicable Me Halloween candy bags post.

Tick Tock

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I had the dubious honor of learning that a pregnancy after having had one child on the autism spectrum means being bombarded with variations of "soooo... what are the odds this one will be autistic too?"  Ya know, because people are always so tactful about deeply personal things like reproduction.

For the record, the latest numbers put the odds for my second child at 26%.

We told ourselves that the odds were on our side.  We told ourselves that we knew what to look for. We told ourselves we would know what to do.  And we hoped.

By the time my precious little Dude was 8 months old I could no longer deny he was missing communication milestones. By 10 months old it wasn't getting any better.  I knew what I was seeing because we have unfortunately been there, done that. At 11 months, I called Early Intervention. For his first birthday, he got a full blown evaluation.  They found a significant speech delay - my 12 month old was communicating at a 4 month level - and a borderline cognitive/developmental delay.

The best thing I can say about all this is at least people stopped saying "aren't you glad this one is normal?" (File Under: People I Deserve a Medal for Not Throat Punching)

Just a few weeks after the Dude's initial EI workup, Bear had his routine neurology checkup.  I went in knowing I had to ask a question I deeply, desperately did not want to ask.  But the Dude was 14 months old and the clock was ticking... I was painfully aware that 15-18 months is the age regressive autism commonly sets in.

So, I asked him. "Is it possible to have classic and regressive autism in the same family?"

He said yes, of course. I told him that was the wrong answer.

He was quite concerned about how things were going with Dude and was glad to hear we already have him in therapy through EI.

It's been several months and we saw him again this week for Bear's checkup.  He was, of course, interested in that wrinkled eyebrow, frowny face doctor way when I told him the Dude had slightly regressed developmentally, developed dangerous sensory seeking behaviors and was now up to 3 EI therapies a week.  I asked him if he thought a Developmental Pediatrician might be a good idea; he said absolutely and quickly recommend two he has worked with.

The thing is, I don't want my baby to be an interesting case for one of best pediatric specialists in Chicagoland.  I don't want my kids to be so fascinating that the fancy doctors tell us we ought to have a genetics study done.  And I really don't want a Very Important Doctor to tell me I should take my baby for a consult with one of his colleagues. 

I know I'll get in trouble for saying this, but I'm gonna say it anyway: I don't want my baby to develop autism.

I can already hear the haters and the trolls warming up their keyboards.  But seriously? They can suck it.

This does not mean I love my autistic son any less.
This does not mean I will love my baby any less if he does develop autism.

I love both my boys with the full ferocity of a mother's heart.  More so, even, because the world is not a welcoming place for those born with different brains.  And it tears me apart knowing they will have to work so much harder to find their way.

I watch the days and weeks tick by and I wonder what will happen.  The Dude is doing very well in therapy, and we celebrate his successes.  But there's a shadow clouding my joy.  Because what if?

He's definitely got Sensory Processing Disorder.  We will not be surprised if he receives a Language Processing Disorder diagnosis. The speech therapist was happy to hear that we'd scheduled a hearing test because they're seeing the same things that concern us... and the hearing test was fine, which sets us on a path for a potential Auditory Processing Disorder diagnosis someday.  The red flags marking the path to a place on the spectrum keep piling up.

My precious little Dude is the joy of our family.  He is loving. He is engaged.  He looks into my eyes and smiles and - a year belated and coaxed out with endless months of speech therapy - says Mama.

He is a force to be reckoned with. The sun at the center of our family universe, his gravitational pull brings Bear out of his world and into ours more than anything we've ever tried.  The Dude is not just a gift himself, he gave us the gift of a richer relationship with our Bear.

I find it both easier and harder to raise a baby who notices my presence, mimics my actions, wants my attention.  And bittersweet; it was almost better not knowing how much of this I missed out on with my beloved Bear.

I hear stories about how devastated parents are when their children regress into autism and, honestly, I've been grateful that my Bear was a classic case.  Because I couldn't imagine the pain of bonding with your child and then watching that fade away.

Except that now I can. And it scares me to death.

I'm scared that all I may get is another few months with my Dude before he follows his brother into the internal world he so happily inhabits when it's autism's turn to have him.

I'm scared I'll forget what it was like, to have him smile at me and lift his arms to be held.

I'm even more scared I'll remember what it was like, and the pain will be too much too bear.

As with any child, I carpe every diem with him.  And I watch the calendar.  And watch for signs.  And wonder as each tomorrow dawns if this will be the last day he looks into my eyes and smiles.

Neighborhood Outreach Part 2: Wandering Awareness Cards Tutorial

Sunday, September 22, 2013

I've a lot positive feedback from the wandering awareness cards I created to pass out to neighbors during trick or treating a couple of years ago.  A lot of folks have asked how to make them, so... voila! Here's a tutorial.

It's worth noting that, while the examples are tailored for an autistic child, they would be equally useful for notifying neighbors that your family has an adult with Alzheimer's at risk of wandering.

General Instructions
View or download a PDF of the basic instructions for creating wandering awareness postcards.

The rest of this post provides further explanation on individual aspects of the process.

Photo Editing
If you have Photoshop (or your image editor of choice) and know how to crop and/or resize a photo, skip this part.

If you have a friend with Photoshop willing to do you a quick and easy favor, skip this part and call them.

If you want to do it yourself and need an image editor, this article reviews five free image editing progams.

(Yes, your computer probably came with Paint and it will, technically, crop a photo.  But it offers no reliable way to crop to specific dimensions, so it's useless for this task.)

What you need to achieve:
1) A close up, straight on shot of your child with a clear view of their face
2) With unnecessary background clutter cropped out
3) Sized to fit in the postcard template (3" wide by 4.25" high)
4) A resolution of at least 300 DPI

Determine Quantity
The quantity of cards you want to print is a major factor in this decision - it's important to determine how many postcards you need before choosing a template and printing method.

For example, I knew I was only going to give them to neighbors close to us who I was on a first name basis with, plus a handful of close friends and caregivers.  I needed 20, tops.

If you are doing this to educate a larger group your child often interacts with (for example, a church congregation) then the minimum order requirements for most online printers will be less of a concern and may not impact your template selection.

Template and Printing Options
 Due to technology and vendor limitations, template and print method choice are closely linked.

Option 1: Use an online printing site's built-in templates

The advantage to this is that you don't have to have any software of your own.
The disadvantage is that - while many sites offer this feature - on most it's very low quality and a waste of your time.

Vistaprint is affordable, has a great selection of templates and a robust online design function.  This is the vendor I used the first time I did this project.  My only problem was having a lot of leftover cards because they require a minimum order of 100.

Option 2: Design your own card, upload design to online printing site

The advantage to this option is that you can choose a site that does not require such a large minimum order.  The disadvantage is that not everyone is comfortable using the necessary software.

Several years ago I happened to use the site Overnight Prints for something, so I went back to check them out.  While I cannot recommend their online design function, they offer a number of downloadable templates in all the major applications to make it easy for you to make your own card.  The best part is that their minimum order is only 25, which makes them ideal for this project.

This is the list of design guidelines for Overnight Prints templates - if you click on the program you'll use at home (probably Word) just click on it near the top of this page. This project is for a 4.25 x 5.5 postcard.

If you are not comfortable designing a card from a completely blank template, you can use this template I created using the Overnight Prints template and the content from my own postcard.

Download Wandering Awareness Postcard Template - Front (Word dotx)
Download Wandering Awareness Postcard Template - Back (Word dotx)

Please note - after creating the card in this template you do need to save it as a PDF prior to uploading for print. (All newer versions of Word have this option built in now.)

Option 3: Design and print your own cards

If you have a decent color printer and don't need too many cards, this can be a great choice.

Avery makes several printable postcard products for both ink jet and laser printers. The 4 card horizontal layout will work best for this project.

This is where you can download the free Word template for Avery postcards.  Though, you don't even have to download it if you've got Word - all the Avery templates are already built into the mail merge function.

I also threw together a quick version of my postcard template using the Avery postcard template in Word.

Download Wandering Awareness Postcard Template - Front (Avery 4 card horizontal, Word dotx)
Download Wandering Awareness Postcard Template - Back (Avery 4 card horizontal, Word dotx)

I did the front and back in two separate files because it's too easy to hit quick print and end up with fronts printed on one set of stock and backs printed on another.  This way you have to think about it and will hopefully remember to flip the stock over and put it back in the paper feed while you're opening the other file.

Best of luck with your wandering awareness postcards.  I hope you never need them.

What I Need to Remember Today

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

During morning snuggles today, the 20 month old Dude suddenly looked around and said "buvuh?" in the most adorably inquisitive voice.

He'd never said that word before and it took me a moment to get it.

"Brother? Are you looking for your brother Bear?"

"Buvuuhh! Buurrrrr!!"

We giggled and I hugged him tight and I said I love you.


Happy tears. Best. new. word. ever.

I know it's 9/11 and we're doing all the remembering. I was even going to put out the flag and maybe talk about it with my son. Except turns out? I. just. can't.

I remember watching TV like I did every morning as I got ready for work. The first tower on fire. Calling my husband. Watching the second plane hit. Crying to my husband on the phone, sobbing "all those people all those people." The collapse. And the other. No one really worked at work that day.

It's too vivid and too painful. It makes me afraid of the world and threatens to steal my ability to function in it. Because that's how my anxiety works - things exist, therefore I fear them. Most of the time I'm in control and lately I've been doing so well I nearly convinced myself the anxiety is gone. But then something triggers it and I'm breathless and scared of everything and nothing all over again, teetering on the edge of a pit only I can see.

For me and so many others, 9/11 is the mother of all triggers.

You'll have to forgive me for not liking and commenting and sharing today. I promise I haven't forgotten. Will never, ever forget in ways that I think only people who struggle with an anxiety disorder can understand. I'm going to focus on the good things, because they are my shield against the darker demons in my head.

I can't ever forget the bad things. They will always haunt me. What I have to do is work at remembering that there are so many more good things in the world, just waiting for me to embrace them. Two of whom, in fact, live right here in this house.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to listen to my toddler babble about wuv.

Getting To Know You: Special Needs Student Resume

Friday, August 16, 2013

The year my son was 3, he'd already had over a year of therapy through Early Intervention, was getting private 1:1 and group OT, and had an IEP for speech therapy on hold with the school district.

In short: we knew we couldn't sign him up for plain old preschool.

But, he had put on quite the little show for the school district's evaluators at his 3 year old EI transition evaluation, and they got this crazy idea that, in their words, "he's fine."

Except that he wasn't. And we knew it.  And his doctors knew it.  And all of his therapists knew it.  And we went into debt keeping him in therapy until we sorted out which of his various doctors was going to formally bestow the inevitable autism diagnosis he needed for two reasons:

1) He's autistic.  (Duh! Just ask anyone - his therapists, his doctors, strangers at the park...)
2) It had to be on paper to get school services (Yes, that sucks. But it's reality. So let's accept it move on.)

Meanwhile, the school year and his 4th birthday were approaching and we felt strongly that he needed to start preschool somewhere

We enrolled him in a local program. He'd gone to part time daycare in their center, so they were fond of him and willing to give it a shot.  But really? They were just as aware as I was that it was a terrible fit. 

Before he started that class I really pondered how to smooth the way for him.  Then it hit me - a resume!  I write them all the time for my clients, why not write one to introduce him to his teachers?

Long story, well, ok, long... it was a hit. And I did it again when he finally started in the special needs preschool, and it was another hit.  Other parents asked me about it.  I really knew I was on to something when the incomparable Jill Smo shared my idea when school started last year.

Yesterday, my precious Bear left the comfortable predictability of his beloved special needs preschool teacher and started Kindergarten at a new school with new teachers. (Gen Ed with a 1:1 aid. Yes, I'm freaking out.)

I updated his resume and brought a dozen copies to the orientation to pass out to his teacher, the principal, the school nurse, his 1:1, the speech therapist, the janitor... ok, maybe not the janitor.  But you get the picture.  If they are listed in his IEP to provide services or have a position of authority in the school, they got one.

No crying here. Nope, not one little bit...
I also lent the teacher my copy of Answers to Questions Teachers Ask about Sensory Integration - every teacher I've loaned this book to has seemed delighted.  It's got checklists arranged by grade level, so they can copy the one or two pages that apply to their class.

I know that writing a resume isn't something everyone is comfortable doing on the fly - if it was, I wouldn't have a job.  So I wanted to share the one I created for any parents interested in doing the same to get the new school year off to a great start.

View and download a PDF of this sample Special Needs Student Resume

Download a dotx Word template for creating a Special Needs Student Resume

And here's the pin for this post on my Autism & Sensory Processing Disorder Pinterest board.

I hope this helps you as much as it's helped us.  Best wishes for a calm, meltdown free school year!