Things I Learned on my Summer Vacation…

autism and play momnivores-dilemma.com

Tongue in cheek of course. It’s that proverbial crap back to school essay.  This summer has been a challenge.  I decided it was best to stop writing for a bit.  To see if I missed it. Sometimes you need to step away from what you love to really appreciate it.

autism and play momnivores-dilemma.com

It’s this space that I love.  The quiet glow of the screen.  The looking back at who I was and this journey nearly five years deep.

A place where I’ve shared the heart on my sleeve.  Tears.  Fears.  You name it.

This space has never been about page views and sponsored posts and the like.

I suck at social media.  And regularly blogging.

But, I received an email the other day that tugged at my heart strings about the message of this here site, and realized OH SHIT! It’s been awhile hasn’t it?

So, hello again.

I’m going to be changing course here, as blogs and life often do.

All creative projects will be at ink and sky.com.  There will be some.  I’m making it my homework for myself, because without the creation of stuff I become one nasty person.

This fall, I’m homeschooling my youngest, so I will be sharing some of that journey here.  I will still be posting recipes and talking about health, because that’s what I do best.  Of course, still Mr. Moose and the autism journey.

So, this summer, I learned…to kick the bucket list. There’s no cutesy things like in years past, because well, I’m tired.

Look what an overachiever I was last year.  Too much of the Pinterest.

Chicago summer bucket list 2013

This year one thing was on my list: RELAX.  Stay home, in the yard, chasing butterflies. I lie.  I don’t know HOW to relax.  I really don’t. I’m always doing, doing, doing.  Of course stressing about the homeschool while trying to be a good mom while working from home, and the where is all of this going.

I’ve just put my faith in God, and He will show me the way.

Nicolette

 

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a tale of two brothers and a mom who may have cried while washing dishes tonight

autism and play momnivores-dilemma.com

So, yeah.  Something profound happened this evening.

I mean, far more profound than that time Moose walked in the grocery store without tantrums or a fight.  Far more profound than his first sentence.

Let me back up first.

So, this kid goes and graduates kindergarten this afternoon.  To celebrate far away from the hellish sensory overload “reception” smashed with 500 other kindergarten families in the gym (no thanks)-we took Moose to his favorite place on earth: the grocery store: Whole Paycheck.  A treat from his beloved nana if you will.  My mom also spied a kickball on an endcap and of course, had to buy the frog kickball, because that’s what Nana Magic does.  She sprinkles fairy dust and spoils them.  She swoops in when I’m exhausted and bitchy and makes everything perfect.

So, back to this kickball.

It is the catalyst for the good to come.

Had you been on my block this evening, you may have heard me screaming and cheerleading and acting like a wild woman.  Because Moose played tonight.  Without ABA prompts.  Without therapists.

He played catch with me.  With that kickball.  Overhead throwing.  Looking me in the eye.  Laughing and playing catch with his mom.  Then, Monkey, in normal younger brother fashion, gets jealous, and we switch gears to real kickball.  And Moose shows interest.

He kicked the ball back and forth with his brother.  In my front room.  You know.  Just two brothers playing.  They could have broken every damn window and lamp and I would have cared less.

It was the most magical thing I have ever seen.

Ever.  In the history of ever.

So, armed with new hope and reenergized with possibility, we are graduating from more than just kindergarten this evening.

autism and play momnivores-dilemma.com

 

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Twas’ the night before kindergarten graduation…

homeschool, IEPs, and autism

So, tomorrow. The end of an era.  Our little Moose moves on from the cushioned world of early childhood…to the big leagues.

We still have a long road ahead.  This year academics has taken a backseat to plain ol’ life skills, and despite a remarkable teacher and a overall incredible school year- this mom is at a crossroads. Where do we go from here?  New therapy?  Homeschool?  Stick it out one more year in the great program he is in?

Which is WHY it has been so quiet around these parts lately.  I’m just on a plateau-looking for  a sign, praying for grace and energy.  A whole lot of praying.

homeschool, IEPs, and autism

I have been thinking a great deal about education. And what that really means for my two sons who are both markedly different square pegs in a round-hole school system.  Well, not Monkey.  He’s home for “school” next year.  But Moose?  Part of my heart wishes to bring him home, but he is with a teacher who has a heart of gold and I don’t know yet if I can do both boys with such profound and different needs.  I just don’t know.  Only time will tell.  Moose is in a great spot “for school” while Monkey would be thrown in a shark tank with a fuzzy curriculum and 30 kids in a class.  That was a no brainer.

But first, the sad news. Moose didn’t meet his IEP goals this year.  At all. Reading? Not doing it.  Math.  We still are beating our heads over 1:1 correspondence.  But at this point, despite that I know what my son is capable of, we haven’t quite been able to reach him yet.  At his IEP this past week, I questioned the methodology.  The case manager said that was the first time a parent ever did that in a meeting.

I suggested a few things I’ve noticed here at home.  He loves predictable picture books and has some favorites committed to memory. He can memorize book phrases.  He is drawn to music.  It’s like a small crack of light at the end of the dark hallway.

During my years teaching and private tutoring, I had a lot of tough kids.  Nothing I saw in the classroom or in my tutoring business prepared me to be a mother of kids with special needs.  Nothing.  I’ve never had a kid as a “non-responder”.  Which is kind of what Moose did this year.

I really do believe God has given me these boys to crack the code of special needs. I believe the mad skills I’ve earned in my business at The Classroom Creative will serve the needs of my highly visual sons. He does give us the paths we need in life.  I believe that.  I need the resurrect the energy I had as a teacher in my 20s, and give it to my sons.

My son will read. He will write.  He will do math.  He will overcome all of this.

This summer,  plan to make up for lost time and failed IEP goals.  We start summer homeschool 8:00 sharp on Monday morning.  The coffee pot will be brewing.
Thankfully,
Nicolette

 

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Real Food for Beginners: Why You Should Ditch Cereal (Tip #1)

why you should ditch cereal momnivores-dilemma.com

I grew up on 1980s processed food.  Breakfast most mornings consisted of one of the heavily advertised cereals from my steady diet of Saturday morning cartoons.  We usually had  more than 5 different varieties on top of our fridge at any given time.

Now, my children think cereal is the ultimate treat, because they NEVER get it.  I’m up at dawn each day each day making breakfast.  Sometimes, I batch cook and freeze to save the insanity of the morning rush and the hellish mess that follows.

I banned cereal for a few years here, but I’ve soften since.  Why?  My sons see kids at school eating it, while I send them with fruit for their “second breakfast” while their classmates eat a GMO-ladened state-sponsored breakfast.  Sometimes I cave when my youngest begs for cereal at the grocery store.  Why?  The forbidden fruit theory: if mom won’t let you, man, it must be good.

why you should ditch cereal momnivores-dilemma.com

So, in moderation, yes. For a snack.  Here and there.  Cereal in the morning is a blood-sugar spike waiting to happen.  Sure, life would be a hell of a lot easier and convenient if all I had to do in the morning was pour the contents of a box into a bowl and add milk.

Health isn’t easy or convenient. I’ve had to learn this the hard way. After 20 years of migraines, I’ve finally come to a good place n my life.  That comes at the expense of removing the “fast and easy”.

Cereal, in my opinion, is the morning equilvalent of a drive-thru.  Don’t take the easy way out.

In the amount of time it takes to pour a bowl or two, you could make a smoothie.  Scramble a few eggs.  Even make a few hard-boiled eggs before hand.  You could make my epic paleo-ish crepes on the weekend, and batch freeze them.

gluten free crepes recipe

Point being, it’s crucial to nourish yourself first thing in the morning.  Load your choices with protein and good fat-which will keep you satiated until lunch.

I know when I was a cereal junkie, I’d feel the crash about 9:00 a.m. in school, complete with the low blood sugar shakes.  Even when I was pregnant with Moose, I was known to down bowls of Frosted Mini-Wheats.

Ditching cereal is subtle change you can make for your health.  Cereal is NOT food. It is a food product.  Cereal is often fortified, which, is a sign there is something amiss.  Again, I don’t totally ban cereal from my home, because I know my kids will crave it more.

This is one teeny change you can make for the better.

Start small.  Ditch cereal a few morning a week.  Protein and good fat load those mornings instead.

Need a few reasons to ditch it?

Here you go:

1.) Most cereal’s fortified.  That’s a signal that it’s overly-processed garbage.

2.) Most of the non-organic varieties are loaded with GMOs like corn and sugar!

3.) Breakfast is an opportunity to fuel yourself first thing-cereal is the last thing you should reach for in the morning.  It’s a food product, not a real food.

4.)  You will crash and burn a short time after eating it.  Don’t believe me?  Time your hunger after eating a traditional farmer’s breakfast (eggs and a protein) versus a bowl of cereal with milk.  Notice the difference in your energy level.

Let me know how it works out for you…

Nicolette

 

 

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crows, robins, and a metaphor on Mother’s Day

mother's day and autism

A few weeks back, a plump little robin set-up shop to raise her brood on my back fence.

She and I have had a few run-ins the past few weeks, mainly when I’m taking out the recycling or garbage. As I carefully opened the gate, she’d fly just a few feet away from her nest, keeping a close eye on me. I would reassure her, I’m just taking out the trash, lady. I would never hurt your nest or your babies.

My husband wanted to destroy the nest, but I told him it was bad karma. No way.

Well, this morning when I let my dog out, I stepped outside. The sun was shining, and the air was a perfect mix of comfort and cool, which I needed after a night of hot flashes and restless sleep. I woke far earlier than my family, and wanted to steal a few minutes writing before the house erupts with noise and children and the smell of Sunday breakfast. Suddenly, like it was out of a movie, a gigantic crow flew over my head and landed on that gate.

mother's day and autism

He crept slowly toward the nest, snatched one of the robin’s eggs, and flew away. I stood there helpless and horrified. On Mother’s Day, no less.

It was nature’s way of saying, yes: shit happens. Even to the best and most dedicated mothers. Even to the most vulnerable and unsuspecting.

The rise in autism numbers again last month gives me pause. It’s been quiet here at the blog, because  I’ve considered shutting down this site, as life as changed and my time has changed.  This space has been both a journey and a destination for me. I see the paths we have taken, and I know my family is here to serve others.  My honesty is my gift to any family that happens to stumble upon my words.  If I don’t share the joy and the pain, who will?  I know a few special needs bloggers helped me in the early days, and I hope to be that to a select few.

Like that crow, our modern life and environment steals children away from what should have been: a perfectly normal, healthy childhood. It just digs deeper in me with each child I know personally who is affected.  It’s not just autism-it’s asthma, allergies, ADHD, childhood cancer, speech delays and other developmental problems.  It’s 1 in 2 kids now, who are affected by developmental issues.  Almost every family I know has a kid with SOMETHING.

Rather than let that damn crow get the best of me and all of us, let us celebrate what is, rather than pining for what could have, should have been.

We cannot control what happens to us in life, in motherhood. We can only control our reaction.

This year, I’m finally gaining control of that reaction, and drinking in every moment with gratitude and grace.

Nicolette

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the Metamorphosis

another school year nears its end
the tell-tale signs of spring appear
and
i realize
the mother i once was
the near-sighted dreamer
the teacher
is no longer

i am stronger
than i ever thought possible

autism may have chewed me up
and spit me out in those early years

but never again,
will i go against my gut instincts
for the truth is in there
quietly guiding

the girl i was
and the woman i have become
because of a child
because of a diagnosis
because of questions that remain unanswered
will steer the course
of the rest of my days

i take nothing for granted anymore
each inchstone
each day
is a promise

i thank God
and welcome this challenge

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Why I am homeschooling…

John Taylor Gatto quotes

After a long and difficult process of sleepless nights and agonizing, after long talks with my husband, we’ve decided to jump the public school ship for our youngest son next year. Monkey will turn 5 just a few weeks before the school year starts.  Many parents opt for “red-shirting” (which is holding a child back a year).  My husband is in agreement that despite our youngest son’s academic readiness, a 7 hour school day complete with a HUGE class size is too much for our little guy to handle at this point.

Monkey’s IEP points to auditory processing delays, and a traditional classroom relies HEAVILY on that learning modality.   My husband’s reasoning for Monkey to school at home is different than mine: he was the youngest in his class and he felt that put him at a disadvantage.  I don’t think a traditional classroom will serve Monkey well.  It’s a square peg meets round hole situation.  He’s the type of kid who teaches himself.  Like he did to read.  By himself.  Through fairy dust and osmosis.

Red-shirting means many things for the “young 5s”, especially boys who typically need more time in the realm of social-emotional development.  CPS frowns down upon red-shirting, and will simply sort kids Harry Potter style by age, without any regard for anything OTHER than age. As it stands, we are keeping Monkey out of public school. Period.

The kicker as of right now? Moose will stay in his autism program under “flex-hours” to fit his afternoon therapy schedule.

So, one son is homeschooled, rather the PC term is “home educated”.  The other son is still in school.

I finally got around to reading a book I meant to read a decade ago when I was finishing my master’s degree in education.  A book called Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto.  And wow.  Just wow.

John Taylor Gatto quotes

 

 

So true.  The best education is the one you give yourself.  You can pay for fancy private schools.  High-priced tutors.  But, no school or teacher can give you an “education”.  Autism has given me MORE of an education than either of my degrees.  I’ve learned more blogging than I did in college.

Life is education.  School is schooling.

About “schools” here in Chicago:

Class sizes in our CPS schools are between 35-37 kids in kindergarten.  Moose’s kinder only has 10 kids with a superb teacher and two aides. For Monkey, he will be thrown in huge class with a pared down IEP.  Monkey is already reading.

So while most kindergarten teachers are spending times on letter sounds and easy preprimer sight words…my son already has that down.  So, what do you get when you put a bored kid with a few sensory issues in a huge class size with tons of distractions?

A recipe for disaster.

I’m not stupid.  I have been there. Done that. Have the tee-shirt.

As a former teacher, I know how little time is spent on personalized instruction when you have a class size that HUGE.  An IEP says one thing, but true differentiation of instruction is a unicorn. It only happens in a 1:1 setting.  So, what, 20 minutes a day in a guided reading group?  Will that really challenge my son?

I’m not saying that teachers are incompetent, by NO means.  Teachers works their asses off.  They are just given the impossible task of differentiating instruction in a system that is beyond broken.

I want more than that for my children.  Moose’s situation as it stands, is a good one.  For now.  After 2nd grade, in two years, we will face the same choice for him.

Outside the public school system, the schools don’t fare much better. Montessori would be ideal, but the tuition is more than my mortgage. No joke.  For Monkey, private school tuition ranges from 5-6K a year in the Catholic school to upwards of 20K a year for Montessori and other private schools.  That’s a lot to chew, when I know I can do a better job with Monkey.

I know exactly his weaknesses and his strengths.

Sure, I know it will be hell at first.

Just like when I was 25 years old teaching on the west side of Chicago.

But you adjust and make do.

Monkey is a strong-willed and rather gifted kid who wants to do everything on his own terms.

So, starting this summer, expect to see more homeschooling come about here.

 

Nicolette

 

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Confessions of a Recovered Junk Foodie

confessions of a recovered junk foodie

I often joke that I was raised on four food groups: gluten, dairy, sugar, and antibiotics. Antibiotics should actually be second in that list, because I was SICK all the time.

I want to give a bit of my history here, because given a few new projects I am embarking on, I need to come clean. For the first 30 years of my life, I ate absolute garbage. I was the posterchild for the Standard American Diet (SAD isn’t a pun) gone wrong. I grew up a few blocks from one of the major streets here in Chicago that was loaded with every fast food chain imaginable. I ate at them almost daily growing up and well into my 20s.

confessions of a recovered junk foodie

Food in my childhood home was mostly of ease and convenience. 1980s cereals of every color and sugar-ladened variety lined the top of our fridge. Lunch was a standard PBJ, fruit snacks, candy bars, and juice boxes. There was a lot of Happy Meals. And Taco Bells runs with my mother mispronouncing NACHOS BELLEEEE GRAAANDEE. There was a lot of food products, not real food. Sorry mom, if you are reading this, but it is the Truth. I still love you despite all the Cheez-Whiz and PopTarts.

Sure, I had Italian grandparents who made all recipes from scratch, and those memories now are more meaningful given the new lease on health and life that my son’s autism has given my family.

Over the past five years as a drafted member in the autism community, you learn a lot about food. The word gluten wasn’t even in my vocabulary five years ago and now it defines my life, for the rest of my life.

You learn a lot that you wish you didn’t know.  You learn you have a genetic condition that means you should NEVER eat fortified foods again.  You learn so much in fact, you outright cry when you see what is in strangers’ carts at the grocery store. Yes, this even includes the crap sold at Trader Joe’s and Whole Paycheck.

I am by no means perfect, by NO means. I still struggle with a few remaining demons from my junk foodie past. In all honesty, I’ve cleaned up about 80% of the garbage in my diet and life, but eating “real food” is so damn hard some time. Especially when you remember how easy it is to order a pizza or hit the drive-thru. Or zap that Pot Sticker Lean Cuisine in the microwave at lunch and pat yourself on the back for eating NO calories.

But if I can change my diet permanently, so can you. You can. You absolutely can. I’m the most unlikely person to do so. For real. I had sugar, food dye, and MSG running through my veins as a kid. I would dump four inches of Tang or Strawberry Quik into a glass and eat the sugar.

Disgusting? Yes.  But it’s the Truth.  Ask my brother.

But now, I wouldn’t dare drink soda or anything more sugary than Kombucha. That is a far cry from a kid who was able to pick out one can of pop of every color and flavor at the Cub Foods.

Now I know better, so I do better.

Implore you to look at how you spend your time differently. Cooking is true love. A drive-thru is a lusty one-night stand. Your microwave doesn’t love you back.

cooking is true love, fast food is a one night stand

A week ago, an old friend came to me for advice on diet. How little he knew made me realize it was time to share, if not only for him to reference, but for all of you too.

He said he went to his doctors for advice: eat less and exercise more. Just eat half the hamburger. That’s the problem: no one knows what food is anymore.

I’m excited to share this new series: Real Food for Beginners: a Momnivore’s Manifesto, if you will. Truth from the margins and the trenches.

Stay tuned: next up- we are talking about eggs and animal products.

Nicolette

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the mother I want my children to remember…

When Moose was shy of seven month old, after losing my dad and grandmother, both quickly and painfully, in the six months after his birth- I felt down and lost and shitty.  All of those things that are painfully raw and human and normal when you become a mother, but coupled with that was this pile of grief that I wasn’t dealing with from losing two people dearest to me.

So, I went to a social worker for sometime.  And it helped.

Today, as my sons played in the muddy backyard aftermath of the longest Chicago winter to date, this social worker’s voice popped into my head: what kind of mother do you want to be?

It’s so easy to lose sight of “the big picture”-that these little bodies in my care now, will one day, hopefully, be big and strong and ready to take on the jungle of life out there.

As my youngest sat in my lap, in the 46 degree sunshine begging for water in the swimming pool, lamenting that I am oh so mean, because it wasn’t quite warm enough to fill the baby pool.

And then I turn and look, and these children of mine are no longer babies.  The baby pool’s days are numbered.  I have car seats to sell and baby toys to pack away.  The red wagon of their toddler years has cobwebs accumulating in the garage.

Days turn into weeks into months into years, and life just keeps spinning faster and stop this train I want to get off, and freeze them  in their current state.

Because I’m not sure WHERE I was the first few years.  First it was the grief of losing my dad and gram, and then the big bad wolf of autism and diarrhea and health gone south.  Sure, I was here physically, but I was somewhere else.

Now, with sunshine returning through the proverbial clouds: I know the kind of mother I want to be.

Finally.  One who will fight.  One who will just do her best each day with all the tools at her disposal.  One who will forgive herself for screwing up.  One who will take the time to care for herself just as well as everyone else.

One who will look for those white butterflies of grace, while still honoring the cardinals of her past.

 

 

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Dandelion Green Smoothie Recipe (and wisdom from an ancestor)

dandelion smoothie recipe

So, the other day, while crying over the dead and rather gray looking produce that Chicago winters bring, I headed to the greens section at Whole Paycheck to get kale. It was horrid looking.  Next to it, was a few bunches of dandelion greens, which looked perky and happy.

And then it hit me. Yes. Dandelions!  We will make dandelion smoothies. Our livers will rejoice!  I hear by declare:

green smoothies, dandelion green smoothies

My great-grandfather from Sicily (who came to this country at age 12), would often be found roadside foraging for dandelion greens to add to his minestra, or to simply to sautee with a little olive oil and garlic. Then, I remember reading about dandelions and liver detox, and quickly tossed it into my cart.

Americans typically think of dandelion as a noxious weed, but in Europe, Italy especially, they are a prized green.

dandelion smoothie recipe

I can’t wait to trade the cart for a farmer’s market bag. Winter produce in Chicago is mealy, gray, and nasty. We’ve been surviving on frozen fruit and greens. I’m over it!  I’m sure you all are feeling the same way.

I need a lot of raw greens in my diet, because of my MTHFR issue- (a genetic condition that means I don’t metabolize folate and other b vitamins), so I’m glad to add this little smoothie to our weekly menu.  Raw greens are one of the only true sources of quality real food folate.

My boys only eat greens in smoothies or pestos.  Go figure.  Rather than battle with them at meals, I just make sure they drink these smoothies several times a week.  I’m never one to say no to any pesto sauce either.

Now, onto the recipe!

Dandelion Green Smoothie Recipe
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Dandelions are the new kale! Drink up!
Author:
Recipe type: smoothie
Serves: 3
Ingredients
  • 1.5 cup of whole milk (grass-fed cows) OR full fat coconut milk (if you are CF/vegan)
  • 2 cups dandelion greens
  • 2 medium-sized frozen bananas (I let mine get spotted)
  • ½ cup frozen blueberries
Instructions
  1. Toss all ingredients into a high powered blender.
  2. I use setting three on my Vitamix for about one minute.
  3. Yes, it’s worth the sticker shock price.
  4. We’ve used it every day for nearly 3 years.

 

To your health,
Nicolette

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