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Monday, December 22, 2014

Nothing Has Changed, Yet Everything Has Changed

Emily Pearl Kingsly wrote a short story that became a beacon for a group of parents around the world. She asked the reader to imagine planning a fabulous trip to a place they've always wanted to go. You read the guide books, make lists of what you want to see and do, and learn the language. Imagine that you pack your bags and set off on your trip, but when you arrive, you're not in the place you'd been planning for; you're in a different place and can't leave. It's not a bad place, but it's not at all the place you'd expected to end up.

Kingsly's story, "Welcome to Holland" illustrates the shock, confusion, and grief of finding out that your child has special needs.

On Thursday, Charlie was diagnosed with Autism.

Whether we'd openly admit it or not, Jeff and I have always known in our hearts that something was different about Charlie. As our first child, it's always been an internal battle of wondering and worrying what was normal, what was concerning. Were we expecting too much? Were we making excuses for concerning behaviors?

When the evaluation process began a few weeks ago, I posted about his upcoming appointment, but never follow up about it. I was waiting to hear the whole story before attempting to retell it and even now, it's still a jumbled mess in my head. That day, he met with a psychologist, a speech therapist, and an occupational therapist. They played, they talked, did puzzles, and colored while I met with a case worker who asked me questions for about 2 hours. Coupled with his preschool teacher's evaluation and the therapists' experience that day, they concluded that Charlie has developmental delays surrounding cognition, language, and sensory self regulation and that he qualified for several types of therapy and special education instruction.

Charlie doesn't converse with us like a 4 year old should because he doesn't fully understand what we're saying. He's very intelligent, but without being able to process and communicate, it's all trapped in his head. Covered with a thick layer of anxiety, the psychologist said that the world is a pretty overwhelming and confusing place for Charlie. She said that he has many skills, but that without therapy, he won't have access to them. She also said that their interactions that day concerned her and that she wanted to conduct the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule); the "gold standard" in testing for Autsim spectrum disorders.

Last Thursday, December 18th, we returned for the ADOS. Charlie met with the same group as before and gave them all hugs when he saw them again. "Mommy's friends" he called them. I sat in a little room connected to the assessment room and could hear them talk and play through the two way glass. At first, all I could hope was that he passed everything with flying colors, but as the test went on and I heard them having the same one-sided, confusing conversations with Charlie as we do at home, my heart settled. They were seeing exactly what we were seeing; we weren't asking the wrong questions or talking to him in the wrong way.

At one point, they tried to get him to play with a doll house. "Do you want to be the Mommy or the Daddy?" they asked, holding up little plastic figures. He ignored them, arranging and rearranging the furniture. When he finally took a figure, he mimicked the motions and sounds of "play," but was obviously confused as to what they wanted him to do. Again and again through the little interactions and conversations, he came up quiet, confused, or focused on arranging/counting/spelling instead.

After about 90 minutes, they went to discuss and came back in with their findings. This is the part where I remember bits and pieces, but most of it is a blur. The psychologist said that Charlie has a really, really hard time interacting with others. He isn't sure how to read people or situations, doesn't take part in conversations, and has a hard time transitioning from one thing to another. Socially and cognitively, he is on par with a much younger child. She said that she was diagnosing him with Autism. She said that based on the language and skills that he does have, therapy will help tremendously, but that this would be a long road of keeping him on the right track developmentally.

We talked about services, went through a huge stack of resource materials, and they answered whatever questions I could cobble together in my spinning head. The psychologist could tell I was overwhelmed; anyone would be.

"Go home," she said, "Enjoy the holiday and we'll talk about the details in the new year. Oh, and Mom," she added, "You get wine with dinner tonight."

So here we are in Holland. It's not where we'd planned to be, but where we feared we'd end up. We are heartbroken and anxious, but getting the diagnosis also gave an odd sense of relief. We could finally stop worrying and wondering and start doing and helping. Nothing has really changed, he's still Charlie, he's still the same exact person he was before. The only thing that has changed is our level of understanding and information about him and what he needs.

As confident as that sounds, I go back and forth between grieving the loss of the future we thought Charlie would have and being at peace that we can do this and he will be successful in his own right. And back and forth and back and forth. I'm scared and I'm already exhausted just thinking of the road ahead filled with therapy, special schooling, routine changes....and not letting it all absorb so much of our lives that we forget we have a second child.

Today, I'm having an "at peace" day. This morning, at least. I found this quote yesterday and it almost put me in tears. I find it appropriate that it's by Joseph Campbell, as I feel like Charlie's diagnosis is my call to adventure. I don't claim to be an epic hero by any means, but we are certainly embarking on a life changing journey.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Top 5 Stocking Stuffers for Runners

**This week's Fitness Friday is sponsored by FlipBelt. This review was a match made in running heaven; I love FlipBelt, they love sponsoring bloggers, thus we bring you this gift countdown! This post also contains external and affiliate links.**

It's getting to Christmas crunch time and if you're anything like me, stocking stuffers always end up last. Let me help you out with the runner in your life! Here is my top 5 favorite inexpensive, stocking sized products that I think every runner should own.

5. Feetures Socks

These are by far my favorite socks for running. Feetures are lightweight, comfortable, prevent annoying rubbing and blisters, keep your feet dry, and the Merino wool ones are incredibly warm. There are a several cuts, cushioning levels, colors, and styles to match your needs, but all provide incredible support and comfort - even on long runs. I buy mine at my local running store (woo-hoo B3G1 sales!), but you can also find them on Amazon or through the Feetures website.

4. Sweatbands

I know what you're thinking - welcome back to the 80's. I'm serious though! Both Jeff and I swear by our sweatbands. When you're running, mostly in the warmer weather, and you have nothing to wipe your face on it's incredibly annoying. The simple, yet brilliant, sweatband is the answer. We have Adidas brand, but almost any will do the trick. Mine are pink - shocker, right? Get your 80's on.

If you're looking for something a little more stylish, the Handana has been on my own wish list this year. Worn wrapped around your hand, the high performance material absorbs sweat and dries quickly. Since it's antimicrobial it won't get funky, which is always a plus!

3. RoadID

I've written about RoadID before and still agree that it's a running must have. These super customizable wrist bands have up to 6 lines of writing to inform others how to help you in an emergency. Information like your name, birthdate, emergency contact information, blood type, allergies or medical conditions can be invaluable when seconds count. I know a few people who have had to rely on their RoadID to speak for them when they couldn't and they are endlessly thankful they had it on when it mattered most.

Don't know what to put on a gift ID? Get a gift card and let them design it!

2. YurBuds headphones

I'm 99% sure these are the most comfortable headphones on the planet. Seriously. Made of medical grade silicone, YurBuds are molded in a way that they lock into your ear and don't fall out, even when running or doing other high impact movements. They're sweat and germ resistant so they don't get funky and the package comes with two insert sizes so they're almost guaranteed to fit. I've worn these for a few half marathons and forget that I'm even wearing them. Plus, and this is important, they come in a rainbow of awesome colors.

1. FlipBelt

This is one of my new favorites (and no, not just because they gave me one to try out). I've worn my fair share of running belts, but this one is amazing! The FlipBelt is a circular tube of stretchy, comfortable fabric with a continuous pocket that runs around the whole thing. With four openings, you can easily insert and remove the things you need to carry. Need easy access to everything? Wear it with the openings on the outside. Don't worry, your stuff will stay in! Need to lock it away for safe keeping while you barrel through miles 11 through 13? Flip the belt so the openings are against your body. Your stuff is going nowhere!

I find this belt to be incredibly comfortable, even full of stuff. Since it hugs your body like the waist band of a good pair of yoga pants, it doesn't bounce. The belt is sized, so if its a gift, make sure you order the right one! I wear a size 8 pants and ordered a medium.

Would you like a coupon code for 33% off a FlipBelt? Send me an email and I'll send one* your way! Miss out on the 33% code? No worries - all readers get 10% off their entire order with coupon code Sweat10 at check out! Thanks FlipBelt!

(*One per person, to the first 15 people who contact me)

Have fun stuffing your runner's stocking!

Monday, December 1, 2014

We've Been Waiting for Tuesday

For the few weeks, we've been waiting for Tuesday. Tomorrow, the 2nd. It's been marked on the calendar for one thing or another for weeks now and it's almost here. I know I've been a little sporadic lately around here; it's been busy and yadda yadda yadda. I want to post; I have ideas and draft after draft started, but I've been distracted by too many other things to count. 

So what has been going on? Two major things, really, that come to a head tomorrow. Firstly, Jeff is still unemployed after being laid off from his teaching job back in June. We've been making it work, but it has obviously been a goal to get him back into the working world. On a random stroke of luck, I ran into a recruiter for Target while at work one day. I talked to her about Jeff and his experience and she gave me her card. I passed on the info to him and he applied. After a on site interview and a phone interview, tomorrow is his final interview for a leadership position at a local store. A salaried management position that could get us back on track. A position he would enjoy doing, be able to pour himself into, but then leave at work when he comes home. We need this so badly for so many reasons; namely his sanity and confidence, but I'd be lying if I didn't say it was financial as well. 

Who knows how long after the interview he'll hear anything. All I know is that tomorrow at 4PM is make it or break it time for this opportunity and I'm pulling for "make it" with everything I have. 

Now the other thing. It's more complicated and I'm still not sure how to wrap my head around it. Charlie. Charlie, my sweet, brilliant, quiet, quirky boy. When Charlie started preschool a few months ago, we were approached by his teacher a few weeks in. She had....concerns. Not "earth shattering, stop the presses" concerns, as she said, but rather, "keep an eye out" concerns. Alright... 

Jeff and I have always wondered if Charlie was brilliant, different, quirky, or all of the above. It's not that we aimed to label him, but as educators and generally worried preemie parents, his development is on our minds quite often. When Charlie learned his alphabet, upper and lower case, at 22 months from a talking toy, we were proud. When he learned the letter's phonetic sounds by 26 months from the same toy, we were impressed. When he started spontaneously writing letters and spelling his name, we were pretty shocked. He's always been this way. He picks things up with very few exposures and blows us away with the things he knows. When he began to forego pretend play and toys that didn't have to do with letters, numbers, etc., we were confused.

When his teacher said she was concerned, I knew exactly what she was concerned about. He lacks imagination, struggles to carry on conversations with peers and adults, doesn't ask or answer "why" questions, still engages in parallel play, at best, and often plays with toys incorrectly (spells letters with train tracks or sorts play food by color, for instance). His peers get frustrated with him because he swats at them for disrupting his organization or when he talks about letters and numbers instead of playing... There's so much more that I can't even put into words at this point. Lately, he's gotten a little better. We encourage pretend play quite a bit at home, but most of the time he just doesn't seem to get it. 

People tell me not to worry because he's smart. Yes, he is smart, but there is more to development than "being smart." Is he gifted? Maybe. Could he be bored with such little kid play? Maybe. What of this is normal 4 year old stubbornness? What is normal Charlie? What should we be concerned about, if anything?

Tomorrow at 1PM, Charlie has an evaluation with the Early Intervention program. We've gone this route before for a gross motor delay when he was younger, but not for something like this. I don't know what to expect, I don't know what will happen. My brain and my heart are so tired of worrying. I'm not afraid of a label and I'm not seeking a diagnosis. I would, however, like to know if there are areas he needs to focus on and if there are things we could be doing for or with Charlie to help.

Tomorrow is a big day and the worst part of it is that after it's all done, we won't know much more than we do right now. Once it's done, we'll be waiting. Waiting for a phone call, the next step, next appointment. Only time will tell.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tis the Pinterest Season

That day you go into the store and the Christmas decorations are out (you know, around October), you begin thinking about the impending holiday season and all it brings....your to do list. Decorate the house, put up the tree, find matching outfits for kids, send approximately 8,564 cards, the ever growing list of gifts to hunt down, and don't forget about the holiday themed festivities at daycare, school, work, Mom's group...

Holiday prep is fun and I genuinely enjoy spreading the love, but over the years I've noticed myself turning my focus further and further from my family and my home; gifts to buy, things to do, people to see, places to be. With an addition of Pinterest inspired desserts, gifts, and projects to the already crushing layer of Christmas cheer, I feel like the expectations (whether real or imagined) are more overwhelming than ever. This year, I'm taking a step back and changing my focus using the culprit of holiday pressure itself; Pinterest.

Why Pinterest? Why not. It's already a tremendous collection of creative ideas ranging from hand print art to stunning ornaments that cannot possibly be made by a normal person. Why not take advantage of it. Plus, this way we can share.

Follow Jen (All Four Love)'s board Advent Calendar on Pinterest.

Follow Jen (All Four Love)'s board The 12 Dates of Christmas on Pinterest.

We aren't doing fancy Christmas portraits or matching holiday outfits. I'm not going to obsess over menus for Christmas breakfast and dinner. If holiday socials don't fit into our family schedule, I'm not going to stress about it. Now, don't get me wrong; this isn't about locking my family in the house and ignoring everyone for a month. This December is, however, going to be about us and sharing the things we love with those we love.

A few weeks ago, I started two Pinterest boards; Our Family Advent Calendar and the 12 Dates of Christmas. One for our family and one for Jeff and I as a couple. As a family, we've been scouring Pinterest and our imagination, adding activities to these boards; activities we're excited to do together as a family or as a couple. There's no order, no requirements; just 24 activities (and 12 dates) that we hope to enjoy as we countdown to Christmas, together.

The activities aren't rocket science and don't require a BA in Fine Arts or a culinary degree to accomplish. It's simple things like baking cookies for a neighbor, bringing Great Grandpa holiday decorations for his retirement home, watching a holiday movie together, or having a camp out in the living room around the lit tree. It sounds simple because it IS simple, but it's things that I, admittedly, haven't made time for in past years. As the kids get older I want them to look back on the holiday season with memories of love, kindness, family, and fun.

I'm hoping our new Advent calendar sparks tradition for years to come, but if not, that's okay too. We'll try something else, pick new activities. Maybe that will be our tradition. Regardless of what works for us, the important part is that it works for us and doesn't become a season of stress and rushing.

That is my wish for you out there. Drink hot cocoa before bed, make more popcorn and Froot Loop garland than is logically necessary, watch cheesy movies, and keep your lap warm with little ones in Christmas PJs. May you have a holiday season full of love, kindness, family, and fun.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Fitness Friday: Annapolis Classic Recap & New Footwear

No, not new running shoes, unfortunately. This.

But we'll get to that. First, the race that got me here.

Way back five years ago, I married this guy. Don't we look so young and well rested?

For our 5th wedding anniversary I knew that we didn't need more "stuff," so instead I bought us registration for the Annapolis Classic Half Marathon. He's always wanted to run a half, I am practically addicted to race bling at this point, and Annapolis is the place we were married. Brilliant, right? Though our anniversary was Halloween, the race wasn't until November 22nd. Plenty of time to get a sitter, find somewhere to stay, and finish getting trained up.

One thing I didn't think about was the weather. End of November on the waterfront is COLD. I am entirely too non-committal to dress myself properly for running in these kind of temperatures. Do I wear this? Or this? Too much? Too little? It's enough to make me crazy. I settled on my new Under Armour Infrared hoodie and hat, Under Armour cold gear tights, and this sweet Bay Six shirt I got at the Diva's expo back in September. Finished off with Feetures socks and my good ol' Brooks, I was ready to roll.

When we arrived on Saturday morning, it wasn't nearly as crowded as we though it would be. The race cap was 5,000, but apparently only about 2,000 had registered. That's what happens when you're up against Philly, I suppose.

Here we are, bundled up at the starting line ready for 13.1 miles of freezing our butts off!

Truth be told, the weather didn't turn out to be too much of an issue. Our layers were good and kept us at the right temperature, especially once the sun came up into the cloudless sky. The sub-freezing temps did affect, however, the water stations. Carelessly tossed water + freezing temperatures = ice. Runners + ice = bad. I'm so grateful that I didn't fall, because normally I would have been one of the first ones to bite it.

Then there was the scenery; Annapolis. This was the reason I wanted to do this race. Annapolis is such a gorgeous city. The water, the boats, the bridges, and shops. Absolutely gorgeous. Part of the race took us down Main Street and across the water front, then over a few bridges. The beauty made up for the wicked, leg burning hills and lack of port-o-potties.

Though we stopped for one pee break, we clocked in at just over 2 1/2 hours. I appreciate that Jeff stayed with me without complaint despite being a faster runner. Towards the end, he thanked me for pacing him and keeping him grounded; he realized that he probably would have blazed out in the beginning and been wrecked by the end. Ah, the run/walk method claims another supporter.

After our 13.1 mile date.
I even got jewelry out of the deal.
Onto the boot...

Most of Saturday I felt fine; the typical just ran 13.1 miles fatigue. The race was uneventful, pain wise. By Sunday morning, however, my left foot hurt something awful when I walked. Not when I stood, just when I walked. I stretched, I rubbed, I took meds - nothing helped. The first few steps didn't hurt, but as I kept walking it got to the point where I'd limp. Monday was awful at work, hobbling around the office to and from meetings. Tuesday morning I went to the doctor and Tuesday afternoon I was in x-ray. Though nothing definitive showed up on the x-ray, my doctor is fairly confident based on my symptoms that I have a 5th metatarsal stress fracture. Whomp whomp whomp.

The good news is that with the boot I can walk on it and it doesn't hurt. The bad news is that I'm out of running for at least three weeks. The other good news is that apparently this kind of injury heals quickly without much issue. I'm bummed that I can't run, but let's be honest, I wasn't exactly planning on doing a ton between Thanksgiving and Christmas anyway. I guess this is a good time as any to chill out.

So what is to become of Fitness Friday in the meantime? I've got a "Runner's Wish List" next week, my spring race list coming together (hopefully), as well as a cool review of the Hipster Running Dog Leash, courtesy of my still able bodied hubby. With our hot mess of a dog, this will be a fun one folks!

Stay warm out there, runners!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wish List Wednesday: SmartMax House with Car

**This week's Wish List Wednesday is sponsored by SmartMax. I received a sample for review purposes at no cost to myself, but as always, all opinions are my own and I only review products my family uses and loves.**

Growing up, I was a little science nerd. I wanted to know how everything worked and often did "experiments" to test out whatever rhyme or reason I was curious about. Already at 4, I see the same qualities in Charlie, Mr. Curious Tinker. When I was introduced to SmartMax, I figured it would be a fun building toy for him to try out, but it turned out to be so much more than that!

SmartMax Magnetic Discovery sets are a series of plastic and metal bars, shapes, and balls with high quality magnets in them. They stick together to create not only fun shapes, letters, vehicles, and contraptions, but they are a creative way to teach kids about magnetism and structure.

For this review, we received the SmartMax House with Car set. This set, which includes a total of 22 pieces, builds a house and a small (adorable) car. Now, Charlie has obviously encountered magnets before, but not a magnetic building toy. It definitely surprised him when he dumped out the box and all of the pieces flew together into a pile!

Together, we built the house and the car, then a few letters, a microphone, several shapes, a castle; he was getting the hang of what connected to what. But why? He was intrigued. He's not a kid to "ask" why, but I know he's thinking it, so we did some experiments. Does this bar connect to this one? What about here? Why don't the balls connect to each other? Though he doesn't understand the science behind magnetism, in simple enough terms, he understood that magnets stick to each other and to metal, but that metal doesn't stick to metal and nothing sticks to plastic.

During our "experiments," Charlie and I discovered that some of the bars connect to each other and some push away (magnetism and repulsion), but all of them connect to the metal balls. We also learned that the longer bar can pick up much more weight than the medium size bars. Charlie had a blast running around the house playing "what else is magnetic?" He found out that our car keys, pots and pans, the fridge and dishwasher, door knob, the laundry rack, and the dog's license tag were all magnetic. Thank goodness we have a patient dog.

Yes, Charlie, the pots are metal. Can I made dinner now? 
Though we've categorized almost everything in the house as metal and non-metal, he's still thoroughly enjoying experimenting and building with this SmartMax set. I am hoping to buy him more pieces for Christmas to add to his collection! I've been eyeing up the Mega Ball Run. Seriously, tell me that doesn't look awesome.

No need to worry about Ginny getting a hold of tiny pieces.
Things we love about SmartMax Magnetic Discovery...

  • Large, chunky pieces that are safe for toddlers and great for little hands. 
  • Encourages an understanding of magnetism and repulsion. 
  • Teaches concepts of architectural structure as kids try different methods of building towers, bridges, and more. 
  • Bright, gender neutral colors. 
  • All sets work together. 
  • No tiny pieces, nothing comes apart. Read more about their safety here!
  • Project ideas span from young toddlers to school age children. 
Courtesy of the SmartMax website.
With over 40 different building sets available, SmartMax has more than the House with Car set. Check out all SmartMax has to offer on their website and social media outlets. I've already seen some deals for SmartMax around the internet, so keep your eye out! I think this is going to be a big one this holiday season!

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stocking Stuffer Sunday: SmartGames IQ Twist

**This post is sponsored by SmartGames. I received a sample product, at no cost, for the purpose of this review. Have no fear! All opinions are genuine and I only write about products my family uses and loves.**

I don't know what it is about stocking stuffers, but I have the hardest time finding things that aren't just random, meaningless filler (or candy, which we are still eating from Halloween...) My goal this year is to find cool items for stocking stuffers that go beyond the norm and actually serve as gifts you'll be happy to stuff those stockings with.

First on the list is my new favorite travel game - IQ Twist by SmartGames. Growing up, my sister and I absolutely loved puzzle games. She was much, much better at them than I was, but regardless, we would sit for hours working on them. When SmartGames sent me IQ Twist to try, no lie, my sister stole it and it was missing for like 3 weeks. When I finally got it back, I tried it for myself and is this thing hard! Not hard like NY Times Crossword hard, but like fun, addicting, keep my brain busy hard. No batteries, no screen - just a good old fashion logic puzzle....with a twist.

Here's the scoop. In this innocent looking travel case is a challenge book, 7 colored pegs, and 8 colored twisty pieces. They look all cute and colorful, until you need to reconfigure them back into the case in particular order!

The challenges range; Starter, Junior, Expert, Master, and Wizard. While I am still somewhere in the expert range, my sister has conquered all of them (and reminds me of this regularly). This is an example of the 1st puzzle in the "Starter" category. Line up your pegs and pieces as the diagram shows, then give it your best shot.

All of the twists fit back on the board, but only the matching colored twists can go over a colored peg. No yellow twist on a red peg! I promise, all of them have solutions....and for you cheaters out there, those solutions are in the back of the book.

Voila! This is what level one looks like completed. Now that you have the answer, you'll just have to try out the other 119 puzzles for yourself!

Small enough to throw in your purse or diaper bag this little game is perfect for travel, waiting rooms, or when your kids fall asleep in the car and you'd rather sit in the driveway for an hour than wake them up. Don't lie, you've done it too.

Now that I have it back, it's been living in my purse. It came in handy this weekend as we drove to and from the race. Jeff played with it on the way there and I played with it on the way back. Good thing we're not the competitive types or else that could have gotten ugly...... ;-)

Know someone who would love IQ Twist? Available from Amazon and the SmartGames website, you can stuff their stocking with this torturously addicting puzzle game for about $10.

SmartGames has much more than just IQ Twist. Check out their social media outlets and website for loads of information and amazing toys and gifts for children and adults.

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