Support: What’s it all about anyway?

After an event earlier this week, I thought it might be a good idea to write about support and what I think good support should be.

The definition of support, according to dictionary.com, is to sustain a person under trial or affliction.  In this case, autism and the many issues that go along with it is the trial/affliction.

To me, supporting someone includes giving them a variety of resources (from all members of the group) so they can decide what best suits their needs and take action as they see fit — basically providing them with a number of tools for their toolbox that they can pull out as needed.  We all have different experiences and for a parent with a child who is newly diagnosed on the spectrum, it can be overwhelming

I belong to several different support groups and late last week I decided to join one called Autism Network of Fort Belvoir.  I thought it would be a good chance to connect with other military parents (even though my husband is now retired) and swap experiences and information.  I’d been there a few days and it was a positive experience, adding my two cents when people had questions about therapy or other issues.  Then on Monday night I thought I would post about a TACA (Talk About Curing Autism) coffee that was coming up the next day.  The local TACA group is a great group of ladies and we talk about a variety of issues including diet, poop, doctors, treatments, supplements, the list goes on and on.

Well, interestingly enough me posting about that event got me removed from the support page.  Say What?!  I messaged the admin and asked why she removed me.  She told me she and I did not share the same beliefs regarding autism.  In fact here’s what she said, verbatim:

“Because we don’t share the same beliefs regarding autism. It is my feeling that autism can be cured so your coffee doesn’t work for me. And ultimately it is my page so I deleted you. There are plenty of other support networks and pages out there to meet your needs, including AMFAS. If you can’t find a page, I encourage you to start your own. That is what I did when I couldn’t find one that met my needs.”

I’ve never met this woman personally and so how does she know what all of my views on autism are, just because the word “cured” is in the acronym TACA she makes a judgment on my beliefs.

I’ve witnessed the support she provides in her own way by setting up meet-ups between other parents and children, and trying to enlist people to help with donations for those in need.  Those are all great things!  I wouldn’t think about attacking her methods of support, but now I see there’s a critical link missing.  She is denying the other parents in that group a more expansive realm of knowledge simply because of what she does or doesn’t believe in.

This was my response to her:  “It’s very sad you are so close-minded. There are a lot of different things I believe about autism. TACA is a very good support group and it’s important for people to have choices. I have never in any way said I disagreed with what you’re posting. I’ve tried to add to the conversation. If that’s not support, I don’t know what is. What you’re giving is definitely not support because you are not allowing people to explore their options.”

And she replied back:  “That is why I encourage you to start your own page. You and other people with your same beliefs can have coffees and do things the way you want. I don’t have to agree with everything you say nor do I have to share it. This page is about what I needed, what I wanted for support. So I could care less if you think I am close-minded. It was never about you or what you think. Best of luck.”

One of the parents I heard from had been attacked because of her beliefs and another gal I know was also deleted from the page.

So, basically because she does like the event that I posted she’s denying me (by removing me from the page) and other people who belong to the page a variety of information and extra avenues of support — clearly a disservice to the people depending on that page for support, especially parents with a new diagnosis. I certainly hope they will look to other support venues and not limit themselves to the narrow scope of support that her page provides.

Interestingly enough I had two other mothers reach out to me yesterday from that page.  I hope that they and other parents will join some of the other great groups that are available in our area and not be limited in the support they can get.  Just to name a few there’s AMFAS, POAC, AS-NV and FAN just to name a few.  There are so many resources out there, I encourage them to reach for the sky and never stop learning about how they can help their child.

And, if I can help those parents in any way I’m ready and able to do what I can.  After all, that’s what I think support is all about.

Good, now quit yelling at my son!

The challenge of dealing with teachers

Sometimes it can be such a challenge to deal with teachers when you have a special needs child.  This is especially true at the beginning of the year because the teacher does not know your child and there’s a growing pain period until the teacher learns more about your child’s behaviors, attitudes, learning style, etc.  Unfortunately, sometimes the challenges persist the whole year long.

Earlier this year when I found out who our special ed teacher was going to be for 6th grade, the negative comments started rolling in.  And, the feedback has continued to roll in all year.  Can I just say that I’ll be glad to have 6th grade behind us?

The teacher: I suspect a wolf in sheep’s clothing

First I was asked what I thought about this particular teacher.  Well, I didn’t know her so I didn’t really think anything.  She seemed nice enough at the back-to-school day.  I have my suspicions that she’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  I heard from parents and children alike that she’s mean.  One boy actually told me that she was the meanest teacher in the school.  He should know.  He had her for awhile in second grade to help him with his fine motor skills.  She saw his handwriting this year and told him that it wasn’t any better than it was in second grade.  Nice.

A fellow Mom had several other parents coming to her saying that their children were reporting that the teacher was yelling at her son.  My son was coming home and telling me at least once a week that she is mean.  He still complains that she’s mean — more than once a week. And, he says she yells at him.  Unless the child is endangering themselves or others there shouldn’t be a need for a teacher to yell at them.

An e-mail to the teacher garners a somewhat unprofessional response

In October I sent her an e-mail about my son’s complaints about her, which were that she doesn’t use her manners (say please and thank you). Also he told me that she made a comment about how he was acting like a second grader.  Hello?!  Generally special needs kids don’t always use actions that are on the same level as their typical developing peers.

She responded by telling me that she had asked him for his binder more than once and so he was letting him know he did not have a choice.  I guess manners couldn’t be used in this instance.  What some of these special ed teachers don’t understand is that when these children are taught something, like manners for instance, it becomes important to them.  Using them will go a long way with the child and likely get more cooperation.  Also, she explained away the second grade comment by saying that it was not directed specifically at him but she was telling the class that now that they were in 6th grade she expected 6th grade behaviors, not 2nd grade behaviors.

Then came the kicker in the e-mail.  “He also tells us about things that happen at home and I am sure that is actually not accurate but his version of the story,” she wrote.  She could have responded without bringing home into it.  I thought that was somewhat unprofessional.

She just not warm and fuzzy

I had a meeting with the principal about some other issues and I addressed the fact that I’d received so much negative feedback about this teacher.  The principal told me that the teacher is very experienced, “she’s just not warm and fuzzy.”  I know my son.  He needs a teacher who is firm.  Someone who provides structure.  It would be nice if she was also a little warm.  I think he would respond better to someone who had those qualities.  He is not responding well to this teacher and it makes his learning experience a negative one.

More recently I spoke with a Mom whose son is now a freshman in high school had this teacher in 2nd or 3rd grade.  She went in to observe the class one time.  She said the teacher was even mean when she was there observing.  Ugh!

Today I exchanged e-mails with the teacher again on a matter considering an upcoming meeting with a middle school official and I was just so tempted to respond, “Good, now quit yelling at my son!”

Our most vulnerable children

Special needs kids are our most vulnerable kids.  They don’t have the same learning styles and they may have mannerisms that are not normal.  This opens them up for bullying.  So, why should they be bullied by a teacher too?  No child should have to endure a mean teacher.  Strict yes, mean no.  Administrators should make every effort to place teachers who are even-tempered and kind as well as experienced in the special education classroom.

Birth of a boy named Caleb and memories

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This time 12 years ago I was at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio where I had just given birth to a wonderful boy we named Caleb.  Little did we know the journey that would be ahead.

My pregnancy with Caleb was fairly normal until about a month before he was due.  Right before Christmas 2000 I spent a couple of nights in the hospital and after that I had to go once a week for fetal monitoring.  He was a stubborn little guy.  I’m not sure if I can really say little — he was just shy of 10 pounds when he was born, 9 lbs, 15.4 ounces to be exact.  He was due towards the end of January but decided to stay in his safe, warm place for almost another two weeks.

Little did we know that we wouldn’t find out until almost six years later that Caleb is on the autism spectrum (that’s a story for another post).

He’s a wonderful boy who inherits his stubbornness from both of his parents.  He loves almost any kind of video game — although he doesn’t always understand that they are meant to be challenging and becomes frustrated when he can’t get past a certain level.  

Caleb likes to give hugs and he gives good ones. He loves sweets and a lot of other foods he is not supposed to have.  He likes watching TV, fishing, camping with his Dad, going to Chuck E. Cheese and Golden Corral (which doesn’t happen very often), and he loves going to the pool in the summer. He also likes playing with the blood pressure cuff and stethoscope at the doctor’s office.  I’d like to think he might be a doctor someday, but he doesn’t like school that much.

When Caleb was young I put him in his crib for bed with one of the board books only to go upstairs later to find he had fallen asleep with it over his face.  I wish I would have taken a picture but I was afraid it would wake him up.  I have to wonder if that’s one of the reasons he doesn’t like reading.

One time he fell down the stairs at our house in Hawaii.  Luckily they were carpeted.  Well, it scared the crap out of my husband and I and I think Caleb was startled initially.  Then, the next thing you know he asked, “Can I go on that ride again?”

One of my fondest memories of Caleb is from when we were walking back home from the Hickam Officers’ Club one night and he looked up into the starry Hawaiian sky and declared, “Beautiful.”  I remember being amazed because I’m pretty sure he wasn’t yet 3 years old.

A few others of Caleb’s most memorable moments include when he was chatting up the teenage girls waiting in line for the Big, Bad Wolf at Busch Gardens.  He was quite the flirt, even at 5.

Then there was the time he told his Spanish teacher in first grade that she should learn how to speak English because she lives in America.  Of course, this may bring a chuckle to some but he learned a valuable lesson that day — the teacher actually knows several different languages.

One time when I was out of the house on a Saturday morning Caleb decided he wanted to go visit the neighbor girl — about five years his senior.  My husband didn’t hear him open the front door but moments later when the doorbell rang there stood Caleb in his pajamas, outside the front door with the neighbor.

My husband laughs about the time he took Caleb to an indoor pool near our house and Caleb tried to wolf whistle at some young girls.

Then last year when he found out his ABA therapist had gotten engaged (she’s a very beautiful young lady), he was jealous … which was a little amusing.

A couple of weeks ago it started to snow a little bit when he was at chess club.  One of the boys was grumbling about how it wouldn’t snow very much.  Caleb told him, “I asked God to make it snow.  Now we just have to trust him because he will make it snow.”  And then when he was playing Minecraft and he built a cross.

The most recent memory I likely won’t forget was getting a call from the principal at his school to tell me that he’d been caught throwing his supplements in the trash at school — did I mention that he’s sneaky?  Apparently the janitor had been finding supplements in the trash for a few weeks.  He was hiding them in his backpack, taking them to school and ditching them so he wouldn’t have to take them.

So, today we celebrate the birthday of Caleb.  We are thankful for spending the last 12 years with him.

Whiny Wednesday and other important stuff

The TV’s not working

Last week my son said the TV upstairs wasn’t working and I didn’t think much of it because I rarely watch TV.  That’s because I’m too busy spending time on Facebook.  Anyway, we tried to reset the set-top box and tried troubleshooting to no avail.  So, on Sunday I thought perhaps we could take the set-top box to the mall and trade it for a new one and I called the evil provider to make sure we could.

Enter the blood-sucking Verizon

So I call Verizon and ask if we can trade the box in at the Verizon Experience store in the mall.  Right off the bat I’m put off because the phone call does not start with the English recorded voice, but the Spanish recorded voice (customer service foul #1).  We are in America folks, recordings should always start in English, unless you’re calling a Latin American business.

The friendly associate assures me that we can trade the box at the store.  So, we hop in the car and it’s off to the mall.  Once there, they tell us to go to the Customer Service counter at the back and they will help us.  We get back there and we’re second in line and there’s only one rep waiting on people …. figures.  The line is starting to back up behind us and the person — who’s still at the counter — is taking forever figuring out what options he wants on his account.  My husband sends me out to find a manager to ask them to get another person behind the counter.  When I return there are two more folks behind the counter, one just for mobile, and my husband is still second in line.

When we finally get to the counter the girl informs us that they don’t have those kind of boxes (standard set-top box, yes we still have a dinosaur TV in our house) and she can either give us a HD set-top box or an adapter.  We opt for the adapter because, of course, she neglects to explain that HD boxes are backwards compatible (customer service foul #2).  We get the adapter home, my husband hooks it up and it doesn’t work either.  WTH?!

Lousy customer service

So Monday I get online and live chat with a rep … I’m thinking this person doesn’t know English very well because they keep typing, “I understand your concern.”  (customer service foul #3) After I explain to him that I need to get a new set-top box sent to me he tells me that he cannot send one because I left my box at the store and need to go get it back.  Now, I’m really getting pissed!  This should not be rocket science people.

Then I call the Verizon store and the kid tells me that I can’t come pick up my box because it’s already shipped.  Last time I check shipping doesn’t occur on Sunday.  (customer service Foul #4) So, I ask to talk to a manager.  He assures me the big store manager will call me at noon.  Noon comes and goes and it’s after 1:30 … no phone call.  (customer service foul #5) So, I call the store back and explain the situation to a new person who tells me I can bring the adapter back in and trade for an HD box because HD boxes are backwards compatible.  Finally!  It seems like I’m getting somewhere. 

I get to the store and the same girl is at the counter … not enthusiastic about that.  Good news is there’s no waiting so I tell her I want to trade the adapter for an HD box.  I consider ripping into her for not telling us the day before that the boxes are backwards compatible and they no longer make standard set-top boxes, but resist temptation.  She tells me to call the toll-free number to get tech support to activate the box.  I walk out of the store with a new HD set-top box.

An e-mail from Verizon

Yesterday I check e-mail and Verizon has sent us a message talking about our recent customer experience.  I wonder if they figured out I wasn’t happy because I disconnected chat without saying thank you.  In the e-mail they offer a free on-demand movie.  Whoop de do!  How about after all these customer service fouls you offer my husband a free Pay-per-View UFC?

The TV still doesn’t work

So yesterday I call and the first time they are transferring me through to tech support they disconnect me (customer service foul #6).  I call back again and thankfully get a friendly tech support guy on the phone and he’s very helpful but he still can’t fix the TV because there’s something wrong with the signal coming into the house.  So, now I have to wait for the rep to come out tomorrow and our TV has not been working for a week.

More bad customer service from Monday

My husband shows up to a follow-up appointment with his ophthalmologist on Monday.  The gal asks him if he has a referral.  Well, he didn’t take a paper copy with him so she turns him away, instead of looking it up in the system or calling our insurance.  TRICARE sends a copy of the referral to the provider every time they issue a new referral.  So, he had to reschedule his appointment for tomorrow even though he had a current referral.  Lesson learned:  always take a copy of the referral with you.

Those pesky mortgage mailings

Since we re-financed our mortgage, we’ve received several mailings each week asking us to refinance our mortgage.  This week my husband got one addressed to Ralph.  I had to snicker because his name is Steve (although his middle name is Ralph).  Do you ever want to do business with folks who don’t have enough attention to detail or can’t pronounce your name right (we constantly get calls from people who don’t know how to pronounce our name)?

What ever happened to attention to detail and real customer service?  They must be going the way of our Constitution.

In other unrelated news

My daughter got her driving permit this week.  So far, no driving yet but later this week when my son has an after-school activity maybe we’ll practice in a parking lot.  Smart teenager that she is, when I took her to get her permit as she’s reviewing the manual she’s pointing out all the driving mistakes her parents make — you know speeding up to get through a yellow light (hey, at least it’s not red!), speeding up when people are trying to pass (sometimes “me firsters” really are irritating and I just took off from the light so of course I’d be speeding up).  I guess I better start looking for the “Student Driver” magnet for my car and see if I can buy a sturdy crash helmet.

Until next time, be safe out there people!

 

“The Big A. The Gift that Keeps on Giving.”

Autism is no picnic

Having a child on the spectrum is no picnic.  Even if your child is high functioning there are still many hills to climb, assorted obstacles to normalcy.  One of those challenges is social skills.

The Early Years

When my son was a toddler he preferred to play by himself.  I’d go to the child development center to pick him up and invariably he’d be sitting alone.  That was several years before we got the autism spectrum diagnosis of PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified).

As he got older we noticed that he gravitated towards older kids and he really liked teenage girls.  And, his Dad was sort of proud of that.  Again, before we knew he was on the spectrum.

When he went to elementary school it was hard for him to make friends because he didn’t always know how to verbalize how he was feeling so if someone got in his space he might pinch them, scratch them or hit them.  There was a boy his age who lived next door and he would go over and play video games (this was before we had a PS2 and before Wii came out).  If he got frustrated with the game he threw the controller.  And, that was not cool.  We tried to explain to him that he couldn’t do that.  After a few times the other boy didn’t want to play with him anymore.

We got his diagnosis right before he turned 6 and enrolled him in a social skills group.  I remember the first time we went there.  It was a little intimidating even for me.  One of the children was older and was refusing to go in and practically had to be drug into the room.  Luckily my son was interested in participating.  The problem was that he was one of the highest functioning kids there so it really wasn’t much benefit to him.

New house, new school

The first Christmas we lived in this house my husband asked my son what he wanted for Christmas.  My son, then a third grader, replied that he wanted a friend.  Something like that really pulls at a parent’s heartstrings, you know?  You see even though we had my son in Scouts so he could get to know some of the other neighborhood boys, he didn’t quite fit in and for the first year we invited a bunch of them to his birthday party.  After awhile you sort of figure out who might be his friend and who won’t. 

In fourth grade, he had a couple of boys who would try and stick up for him when other kids tried to pick on him.  By now the hitting, scratching and pinching had pretty much resolved itself.  And the problem was that he really didn’t get that these other kids were picking on him.  It rolls right off his back — which can be good and bad. 

Making friends

We had some play dates at our house with those boys who stuck up for him and a couple of them ended up being his friends.  Our ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapists spent time with them too to help facilitate the play dates and help him with his social skills.

They went to the pool, did clubs at school, played after school and on weekends and went out to eat together.  Until recently.

Trouble in Paradise

Earlier this year my son began having difficult moments with one of his friends.  Harsh words were spoken.  A conversation took place between myself and the other Mom.  If I had left it up to my son he would never tell me anything was wrong.  I never knew such drama occurred between boys.

The first time I was able to talk to my son.  Both my husband and I explained to him how you should treat a friend if you want to keep them. The next day he went to school and worked it out and everything seemed back on the right track.  About six weeks later it happened again.  Again we spoke with him.  An apology was made but things weren’t quite the same.  Where he normally played with his two friends most Saturdays, only one invitation was issued in a couple of months.

The Final Straw

Then Friday the phone call I didn’t want to get came.  It was my son’s friend.  Several times that day he tried to talk to my son and my son kept running away.  Finally when he was able to get an answer on why my son was acting that way, my son replied that he was tired.  There was some talk about not getting invited to a birthday party (my son’s) and it just wasn’t nice.  Why does picking up on social cues have to be so hard?  We discussed the situation with him.  Were we able to break through to him?  I thought so, but maybe not.  Several times over the weekend he tried to contact his friend through face time, text and phone calls.  One brief response came of “I’m busy.”

This morning I reminded him that he needed to resolve the situation and how he should do it.  Unfortunately it did not go well.  Now my son is down to one friend.  My husband says, “The big A. The gift that keeps on giving.”  I ask him to please not be negative and to try and find something positive in the situation.  Sometimes the situation seems so bleak.

This evening when we asked my son who he sat with at lunch he said he sat down with some girls but they got up and left.  He ate alone.

My son is a great kid.  He has quirks.  He wants to have friends.  I hope that as he gets older more people will look past his social awkwardness and he will become better at reading social cues.

Getting Ready to Put on the Warrior Mom Cape, Again

We’ve all donned our Warrior Mom capes when it comes to our children.  Fighting for what they need at school, calling out the bullies at the neighborhood pool, calling the Services Squadron commander when the summer camp program let my daughter crisp fry to a crackly crunch at the beach, telling the doctor that they won’t get that flu shot.

I’ve copied school board members and cluster superintendents on e-mails to the principal of a former school, I’ve told school administration that “the school psychologist will not work on my son’s case and make sure you keep her away from him,” I’ve called the school counselor when a persistent bully called my daughter a pervert.  Yes, I’ve donned my Warrior Mom cape on more than one occasion.  And now it’s time to pull it out again.

A big transition

As I think about my son starting middle school next year I’m reminded of Dory in “Finding Nemo” when she says, “Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming.”  Click photo below for video.

 

Middle school will be an interesting transition for my son, one that I’m worried about.  Children on the autism spectrum don’t always deal well with transitions. This will be going to a new school with more kids.  He’ll have to get used to having a locker, dressing for gym class and finding his way from class to class in a much larger facility.  He might not be able to eat lunch with his two friends anymore.  I hope he will make some new friends.  He’s such a great kid!  That’s not even counting the academic things.

Planning for change

It’s already begun.  In fact, perhaps it began with his last IEP meeting when his special ed teacher mentioned that she might recommend self-contained classrooms for him in a couple of subjects.  And so I’ve just scheduled a meeting with the special education department chair to observe the self-contained classrooms.  A week after that my son will go with his class to visit the school and the next night is the curriculum night for parents.

What will those classrooms be like?  What will be best for my son?  What will help him to fit in the best?  What electives should he take? Where will he succeed?  These are all questions I hope will be answered when I go for this observation.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

This autism thing has been something that we’ve had to take one day at a time, one minute at a time, one situation at a time.  It’s a journey.  There’s no getting around that.

Ever since my son was in kindergarten, I’ve never been able to leave him alone to do his homework.  If I do he will write a word in the blank even if it’s not the answer just to try and fool me into the fact that he did his homework.  He takes SOL tests and circles an answer even if it’s not correct just because he wants to be done with the test.  For some reason I have not yet been able to communicate to him why these SOLs are important.

My son is capable of so much and he’s very smart.  I have to figure out how to get through to him so he will understand why school is important and why he should do his very best.  It’s frustrating and tiring to have to sit with him while he’s doing his homework to make sure things are getting done because if I don’t I’ll get a note home the next day … “Science homework was not completed. Math homework was not finished.” Even though he said he did it.  I must continually check everything.  And, I sure hope he gets this homework thing down soon because I don’t remember a lot of the stuff anymore.

Now as he prepares for middle school I will check everything.  Fortunately my daughter went to the same school so I already know some of the teachers and the counselors.  I was pleased when she was there are hopefully it will go as smoothly when he is there.

But for now, I will prepare to don my Warrior Mom cape.  It’s time to get ready to do what’s in the very best interests of my son.  It’s what all us good Moms must do.

Can I just say I’m not looking forward to puberty?  That’s a different story for another day.

Guest blog: My 12-Step Plan for 2013 “Mom’s Peace Promise”

Today I bring you a guest blogger. This lady is a wonderful leader, mentor, military officer and all-around great person.  She never ceases to amaze me and make me smile.

A New Year’s must-read, particularly for all parents and all military: Our MomsInHawaii.com blogger who is deployed in Kyrgyzstan, Col. Shirlene DelaCruz Santiago Ostrov, resolves in 2013 to let peace begin with her … and lays out 12 practical steps for how she plans to do it in small, gentle ways every day.

Shirlene DelaCruz Santiago Ostrov

It’s happened.  I’ve hit the wall.  I’ve been here for six months now, living a double life as a deployed military officer and a mom (10,000 miles away).   To be honest, it’s been a bit of struggle.  When we heard about the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings, all of us out here serving in the military wanted nothing more than to hug our children and know they were safe.  I’ve got to admit, I am one of those illogical “Mama Bear”- type moms.  When it comes to the safety and wellness of my children, I can be downright irrational.  Yes, I know that my children are safe and sound with my loving husband in Hawaii, but you can imagine how hard it is for me to personally find peace without having held my children for so long.  It’s been quite a test for me.

Indeed, serving during wartime in a foreign land is not exactly a logical place to find “inner peace” but I don’t know anyone at all, military or civilian, who is especially peaceful at this moment. The whole world feels a bit threatening.  We are filled with fears and worries – about losing our homes, losing our jobs, retirement packages, freedom.  We are concerned about the state of our nation, the recent elections, the war, and global political unrest.  Each day presents a new struggle we must grapple with.  There is no doubt that we are living in very tough times.  Chaos is everywhere–but the key is to find peace within this chaos.   So as I sit in my hooch on the other side of the world welcoming 2013 in a quiet and reflective moment, I’ve decided to make “Mom’s Peace Promise.”  I am going to look for gentle ways to incorporate peace into my everyday life and pass it along to people I know in meaningful ways so that we can all weather the storms of life better.  And don’t be fooled by the name of this  “resolution-ish” manifesto, this promise is not being made just so I can be a better Mom.  This challenge is being made so I can also be a better wife, a better sister, a better daughter, a better friend and absolutely a better commander and leader.  Here’s my 12-step program on how I plan to do this. 

1. Practice Gratitude.  I am going to focus on the positive in life.  I believe that harboring a sincere attitude of gratitude will invite more to be thankful for.  I also hope to be an example for others to follow.  I will examine areas of your life in which things are going well and find opportunities to be grateful.  I will start with faith, health, family, friends, nature, friends, love and laughter—then acknowledge them.

2. Enjoy the Journey.  In every difficulty or failure in life, there is a lesson and an opportunity. I promise to look for the lesson and learn from it.  I am reminded by the humble people of Kyrgyz Republic and the little they have, that life is precious and doesn’t have to be difficult. I will spend 2013 finding joy in everything.

3 . Cultivate Loving Kindness.  With the hustle and bustle of a very busy world, we’ve come to an existence where sharing our love and our kindness is not always an easy task, and sometimes even downright inconvenient!   But sharing kindness is one of the most powerful ways to create peace.  I hope to show, through gentle example, that there is a great reward each time we greet another human being, or a situation, with love instead of anger, resentment, and fear.

4. Be Silly, Laugh, and Have Fun.  This is perhaps the easiest part of my promise to fulfill!  I plan to hang out with people who bring out the best in me.  I’ve learned all too well that seriousness and intensity can steal your joy and cause anxiety. I’m going to watch my children and follow their lead in laughter and play.  I’m already thinking of a joke for my staff meeting tomorrow.  (It goes something like this:  Knock, knock…)

5. Foster Optimism.  I’ve seen time after time how staying positive may very well prolong our lives.  I am going to challenge myself (and family, friends and fellow military warriors) to catch those negative thoughts early and then gently transform them.  I’m going to always give people the benefit of the doubt.  I am going to be gentle with myself and others while keeping my thoughts positive, hopeful and happy.

6. Turn it Off!  This is the hardest one, having a habit of always being connected to my work 24 hours a day/7 days a week/365 days a year.  Technology has made me perennially accessible and has become a leash.  Upon completion of this deployment, I plan to disconnect on the weekend. The lame part is I hear my own excuses already!  I promise to give my work brain a rest.  It’s a given that if your life is overflowing you will never be able to achieve balance and manage it all. It’s just not possible. I’m going to be ruthless with this one.

7. Follow my Bliss. I’m going to dance more often. I’m going to volunteer with children. I’m going to learn to play the ukulele better and sing at least 25 songs by heart.  I’m going to read “chick lit” and mystery novels. I’m going to take a design class because it is something I’ve always wanted to learn how to do. I will promise to take naps when I’m tired.  Most importantly, I plan take time out from being in charge, in control or in motion.

8. Be Generous.  This is another one that is easy for me to do.  It really makes me happy to give of my time, talent and resources to those who need it. I will always leave a large tip, donate frequently to charity, and this year I will teach someone to read.  I will always go the extra mile, give the benefit of doubt, give praise.  I will lead my life by example and never hold back when I have an opportunity to share. My 2013 mantra will be “Live to Give”.

9. Don’t Take Things Personally.  As a middle child of eight children, I have an uncanny need to make sure everyone is happy.  It’s my nature, it’s my personality.  So when things don’t go exactly right, I tend to shoulder a lot of personal baggage.  I plan to finally learn this lesson “It’s not about me.”  Like I’ve stated over and over, this life we live in can get very crazy.  People are busy, weird, and lost in their own stuff. When things don’t go as planned, I plan a four-step recovery plan:  stay calm, be clear, get over it and move on.

10. Don’t Compare or Complain.  I’ve always loved this saying:  “You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses”.  And one of the best things that I’ve taught my children (and I think they learned this lesson well), is that the sooner they learn that life is not fair, the happier they will be.  I’ve never heard these words uttered out of their lips: “It’s not fair!” and I feel a small triumph in that. So while life is continuously throwing curve balls, I plan to do exactly what I preach to my own children.  While life continues to be “unfair”,  dream big, work hard and do what’s right anyway.  And don’t whine about it. Attitude is everything.

11. Forgive Every Day. Oh wow, this is a hard one, especially for this self-professed “road-rager.”  So the next time someone cuts me off in traffic, I plan to instantly forgive.  Additionally, for the cashier who is mean, for the child who failed, for the Airman that consistently makes poor decisions, for a fellow commander who doesn’t listen…oh dear, the list is endless!  And forgiving people for the small stuff is as important as the big stuff.

12. Create Joy.   I’ve been married to the most wonderful man for more than 22 years now and we seemed to have such a wonderful marriage because together we have the power to create joy in everyday things.  Every simple moment has the potential for joy if you choose let it happen. Folding laundry can be a mundane chore you can’t avoid or but we let it be an opportunity for impromptu “date night” where we watch silly TV shows and laugh uncontrollably together.  Walking the dog allows us to enjoy the quiet rhythm of our Hawaii neighborhood and even doing yard work allows us to enjoy the beauty of the landscape that we cultivated ourselves.   Even a trip to the grocery store becomes an adventure for us (does this mean I need to get out more?!! HA!).  In all seriousness, we’ve navigated a dual-military career home for so long and had to endure so much time apart serving our country, that we take great joy in the most simplest of chores.  Perhaps that’s a lesson learned for us all.

 So there you have it.  A simple 12-step plan for me to infuse peace amidst the chaos of the crazy, stressful world we live in.  Writing “Mom’s Peace Promise” as I ring in 2013 in land far away from home brings me great hope for the New Year.  I hope we can all find our own ways to bring peace to our homes, our families, communities and world we live in.  So as I get ready to put my combat boots back on and get out there to do the work my nation needs me to do, I have two thoughts.  The first thought is of  my wonderful husband Mark and my beautiful daughters Jessica and Julia — they are the reason I serve, and I am so blessed to have them in my life.  But just as important, to all of you, I wish you the most beautiful and blessed 2013 full of health and happiness.  And most of all, I wish you PEACE.

Not Everyone Has a Good Attitude about the Real Meaning of Christmas

The other morning I woke up and was looking at my Facebook notifications when I saw one from my niece that said something to the effect of, “Don’t tag me in this bullshit stuff again!”  Uh-oh.  I knew I didn’t tag her in anything, but the next notification down revealed that my sister had tagged her in the following photo:

Now, I don’t have any problems with this photo because I believe this, the birth of our Savior, is the real reason for Christmas.  And, I know my sister means well but she might not want to tag EVERYONE in the family who’s on Facebook unless she knows what they truly believe.  If it were me, I would probably share the photo on my wall for those who agree to enjoy and share with their friends.

Then I went to my niece’s Facebook page and she had a post about how she was going Christmas shopping and she hates Christmas and wishes she lived somewhere where they didn’t celebrate Christmas.  Whoa!

I thought it sad that she have such a negative attitude about a wonderful holiday because she is such a beautiful young lady.  Since I’m not very close to her (she lives on the other side of the country and I’ve only seen her a few times in her life) I have no idea why she feels this way.  However, I thought her response to being tagged could have been handled more politely so I sent her a note:

Hey XXXXX,

I saw Aunt XXXXX tagged you in a post that she also tagged me in. And, I saw your response to it. I’m not sure she will see your response because it was a photo from another site, but try to cut her a little slack, OK? A simple “Please don’t tag me in these type of posts anymore,” would probably suffice.

Hope you find a new job and that you get some nice Christmas gifts. Gift cards are always easy and make a nice gift if you don’t want to spend too much time shopping.

Love,
Aunt Heather

 

Her response was to unfriend me and I’m sorry about that.  So, I sent her another little note:

You know XXXXX my intent was not for you to get pissed at me but Aunt XXXXX’s husband is dying and that’s the only reason I was asking you to cut her some slack. I’m sorry you felt the need to unfriend me over that message.

I hope that someday my niece will learn compassion towards people who don’t share the same beliefs that she does.  The Lord knows this is still something I’m learning about.  I also hope she will find some happiness in the season of the one who was born on this day, and died on the cross so that we may have eternal salvation.

If you’ve never taken the time to read the story of Christmas, I invite you do so so.  Find out about the baby born thousands of years ago.  You can experience real peace if only you will just believe.

For more information, read the Christmas blog at Gospel.com

Let’s all practice peace during this Holy day.  God bless you, my friends!

Case of the Stinky Brussels Sprouts

Pork roast was a normal Sunday dinner in our house when I was growing up.  My Mom would cook it with sauerkraut and serve with “gluey” mashed potatoes.  Just sitting here as I write this it makes my mouth water.

This summer when I was home my Mom cooked a pork roast and my daughter really liked it, so I decided to give it a try.  I cooked pork tenderloins quite frequently but I’d only cooked a pork butt roast once or twice.  My daughter likes pulled pork and thus her delight at my Mom’s pork roast made me decide to give it a whirl when I got back home. 

I ordered a small roast from the local farm where we get our meat, Fields of Athenry Farm.  Then I called my Mom on instructions for cooking because I knew she put it in the oven straight out of the freezer and a few hours later the flavors were tantalizing our taste buds.

So a couple of weeks ago as I was roaming around Wegman’s, I happened upon shaved Brussels Sprouts which gave me an idea.  After all, I heard that bacon and Brussels Sprouts were quite yummy and since pork roast was on the dinner menu that night perhaps I could throw these in and try something new.

Image

Now, I’ve been married to my husband for nearly 20 years and in all that time I’ve never been able to cajole him into trying Brussels Sprouts.  And, my husband loves bacon and most other pork products so maybe by cooking them in with the pork roast I could get him to eat them.

Well, he came home from work and the house was smelling like … well … Brussels Sprouts.  And unfortunately they do not have a pleasant smell — no matter how good they taste.  So not only could I not persuade him to try them, but he told me not to cook them in the house again.

Now, I’m sure that if I told my husband that Brussels Sprouts are one of the foods mentioned to retard cancer, according to my friends over at the Heal Thyself! website, that he’ll want to eat them every night … NOT!

Those Brussels Sprouts sure tasted good.  But, the smell lingered into the next day and I had to run my Young Living essential oil diffuser for quite awhile before the odor of those little cabbages disappeared all together.

And as I get ready to post this my husband wants to know if I’m asking anyone how to cook Brussels Sprouts without making the house smell like ass.  He says he thinks the answer is just to not cook Brussels Sprouts. 

I welcome your words of wisdom.

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