Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's raining awards!

I wish it were raining $100 bills. That would be nice. I could pay off our new dishwasher that we had to buy because our old one was a piece of junk and I didn’t want to continue washing dishes by hand, and… Oh, wait. Sorry I was daydreaming for a moment.

It’s actually raining fun blogging awards! Back in May I got my first notification that I was being given a blogging award and I had no idea what to do. So, I didn’t do anything. You see, I was still a baby blogger back then and I was faking it ‘til I made it!
Fast forward 6 months and I’m finally figuring it out. I’m a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. Or maybe just tardy. (I think chronic lateness is a permanent side effect of my pregnancies.) Back in college I perfected the art of procrastination, and I’ve been an expert ever since. And, there may be a little bit of early-onset dementia rearing its ugly head in there somewhere. Whatever.

Three different blogging friends have bestowed three different blogging awards on me. It’s very cool that these gals thought of me and I appreciate it. Now I have to go through and try to answer all of the questions and jump through the little hoops of each award. So, here we go.
First up is the Stylish Blogger Award, given to me back in May. Yup. May. I know. I feel bad for taking so long. Now, first things first. When I hear the word “stylish,” I do NOT think of myself. Not one bit. So, it was a bit surprising to have someone think of me this way! Yay! There’s hope after all. Kathleen at Celiac Baby! gave me this surprising title. Thank you for that!

Next is the Blog on Fire Award, given to me in September by the fabulous Cari of Bubble Gum on My Shoe. I know I’m a procrastinator. (Just like with writing my guest post for her blog, too. Do you still love me, Cari? I have the idea, I promise. I just have to write it!) She has the patience of a saint, people. I don’t know why she even agreed to write the 2 guest posts on my blog that she has. I doubt she’ll ever write for me again unless I get my act together. I digress… So, with this award I am apparently a hot commodity. Hot? That goes right along with stylish in my book. Not gonna happen. But, she thinks I’ve got a good thing going here, so to that I say a sincere thank you to her for even thinking of me.
Last is the Liebster Award, very recently given to me by a dear friend of mine, Kate of Compulsively Writing Fiction. She and I met in college and became fast friends. She is now a published author (way to go, Kate!) and you should check her stuff out. Oh, and by the way, the Liebster award is given to bloggers who have less than 200 followers. Liebster is German and means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kindly, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. Wow. That’s a lot of nice stuff, isn’t it? Thank you, Kate. That means a lot coming from you, my dear.

Each of these awards has different “rules.” First I’m supposed to write something about myself. For the Stylish Blogger Award, I am supposed to write 7 things and for the Blog on Fire Award, it’s 5-7 things. No such requirement for the Liebster Award. All 3 awards indicate that I should name the next recipients – 10 for the Stylish Blogger Award, 1 for the Blog on Fire Award, and 5 for the Liebster Award. All of them are supposed to link back to the person who gave me the award (already checked that one off the list!). When I’m done with this post I am supposed to notify the new winners by visiting their blogs and leaving a comment.  
Since it’s my blog, I’ll accept the awards the way I want to (and I don’t want to be up until 3am typing). I am going to combine the part where I’m supposed to tell you about myself and do 7 total. Consolidation is a good thing, people. Besides, I don’t know if I could come up with more than that anyway. Then, instead of naming 16 different blogs all together, I will only name one recipient for each award. Yes, I’m a cheater and I’m okay with that.

Here are 7 things about you me that you might find interesting:
1.     I’m a bonafide matchmaker. I introduced my college roommate to her husband, who also happened to be one of my good friends from high school.

2.     I have an unhealthy obsession with kitchen gadgets and office supplies. Some women like shoes or makeup or jewelry. Me? Not so much. Give me an hour inside the Kitchen Collection factory outlet store or Staples and I’m in heaven. It’s like crack to me.
Ooooh! This gadget only has 1 use and I would only need it maybe once a year or so, but it’s soooo cool! I want it! I know I’ll use it eventually…
Wow, there are a lot of designer binder clips! Who knew they came in such cool colors and prints? I need them...and these neat organizing bins, too. I don’t have one in that size yet.

3.     I am royalty – the many generations removed, mutt variety. I’m distantly related to Mary Queen of Scots. Yes, that’s right. And, yes, she was executed for treason. But royalty is royalty, my friends.  

4.     I do not like boats. I live in the land of camping, fishing, hiking and boating, but I don’t like boats. Not one bit. My husband has romanticized about getting one when we “have money” and I think he’s figured it out by now that we will NEVER own one. Almost all the times I have been on a boat something has gone really wrong. Very seriously wrong. It’s like I step in and it’s jinxed. The propeller breaks in the middle of a huge lake, the oar mount comes loose as we are being swept out to sea with the tide… You name it. The only kind of boat I feel somewhat less anxious about are the big boats, like cruise ships and ferry boats.   

5.     I can physically pick my husband up off the ground. He’s 13 inches taller and 100 pounds heavier than me. I am that strong. It started out as a dare when we were engaged and hanging out with some friends. I shocked everyone there, and I did it more than once. Yes, indeed. Better not mess with this chick. Maybe I should train to be an Olympic power lifter? 

6.     I’ve always been a bit frumpy – and nothing has changed in that department. I have never fit with the “in” crown. Have I got a story for you! Here is proof: I was on a business trip about a year after I got married. I was staying in a swanky hotel in downtown San Francisco when a group of us gals who knew each other from across our respective region in the company decided to grab a cab and head out to a club. Mind you, I am not a clubbing type of gal. Never have been. I went along for the ride just to hang out with the girls. I thought, “Eh, no big deal.”
       We ended up in front of this place that had, I kid you not, Hells Angels posted outside as bouncers. With the leather vests, motorcycles and everything. I know! And, this was in the days before I had a cell phone. I wasn’t about to chicken out and be left by myself to catch a cab in downtown Frisco while standing next to some scary looking biker dudes. There was no turning back as we headed inside the club. All I remember is that the music made my ears feel like they could start bleeding at any moment, and there were a lot of goth type folks inside. Me? Are you kidding? I dressed up to go out! I was wearing my business casual slacks, a business-y blouse and a black cardigan, wearing a strand of freshwater pearls, some sensible shoes, and carrying a doctor-bag purse. Yep. So NOT cool. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was feeling very self-conscious and was wildly trying to keep eyes on my friends so I didn’t lose them in the pressing crowd. They were dancing and having a good time. Then something strange occurred. A guy asked me to dance. This was the first time since high school! I decided I would accept the guy’s offer to dance because he looked fairly normal and he was respectful toward me. And, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I was a happily married woman proudly wearing my ring (and it’s no slouch, so it was easily noticeable). I figured it would only be 3 minutes of my life. Which leads me to my next point:  

7.     I cannot dance. At all. Well, maybe in my car. But, if I try to dance in a “regular” way I look like a complete dweeb. I can kind of move around a bit, but there is no flair whatsoever. It’s less like Elaine from Seinfeld and more like a wallflower attempting to quietly groove to the music. So, to end the story (I wouldn’t want to leave you hanging), our group left the club shortly thereafter with deaf ears and no incidences requiring the Hells Angels involvement. Oh, and the best part? My husband’s reaction when I called him the next day to tell him about how I danced with a guy in a club with Hells Angels out front. That. was. priceless.
My picks for the new recipients of the awards are:
Stylish Blogger Award: Haydn’s World – A good daddy blog is rare and this one is a gem. I am awarding Ryan the Stylish Blogger Award because he has such a unique perspective and a thorough yet well-spoken style of writing. He offers a great glimpse into the process of raising a son with Asperger Syndrome.   
Blog on Fire Award: Raising Complicated Kids – The Accidental Expert offers an easy flair to her writing about life with kids who have multiple special needs, like Asperger’s, bipolar and ADHD. Her posts are just plain fun to read. I’m awarding her the Blog on Fire Award because she’s doing such a great job!  
Liebster Award: OK. I know I said I was only going to list one winner per award, but I really couldn’t pick between 2 great blogs. So, it’s a double whammy! I guess that makes me less of a cheater now for skimping on the winners… J In no particular order the winners are:
Running to Be Still – Krismac is a mom to a son with autism. There is a true genuine nature to her writing. I like that she isn’t afraid to share some of her more tender moments with her son.
Four Sea Stars – Lizbeth has 3 young kids, 1 with Asperger’s. Her approach is open and humorous. I can laugh and relate because I have so been there.
All of these blogs are well worth the time to go visit! Read them, leave comments, and let them know I sent you!
One last time I’d like to say a sincere thank you to the bloggers who gave me these awards. I am so happy to pass them on to the next group of folks. My job here is done.   

Monday, November 28, 2011

GF Alcohol and GF Vanilla Extract

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Since we are now officially in the thick of the holiday season, if you’re anything like me, you are baking quite a bit. When I’m baking, vanilla is a very important ingredient. This time of year I use a lot of it, and boy is it expensive! Have you ever thought about whether or not your vanilla extract is gluten-free? Frankly that question wasn’t even on my radar until a couple of years ago.

One of my friends is an allergen-free baker who operates in a dedicated allergen-free commercial kitchen. At a bare minimum her products do not contain gluten, dairy, soy or nuts, but are also often free of other ingredients like eggs. I’ve had her come speak to my support group, I’ve attended one of her cooking classes, and I’ve also had the opportunity to work with her inside her kitchen. She is a wealth of information!
Regular vs. Gluten-Free Vanilla Extract
One of the things she taught me is that typical vanilla extract has gluten in it. She told me that alcohol in the extract usually comes from grains containing gluten, such as wheat. If it says alcohol (with no other explanation) on the bottle, then it probably has gluten in it. I hadn’t really thought about it before then. Most varieties available in your local grocery store contain grain alcohol, even if it doesn’t say “grain.” And, lots of the less expensive extracts don’t even contain real vanilla, but rather vanillin, an artificial flavor made from wood alcohol – a byproduct of the pulp industry. Yes…wood. Gross!
GF Alcohol Options
My friend explained how she sources her gluten-free vanilla extract from the Caribbean and has actually visited the factory where it is made using local rum. Did you know that rum is made from sugar cane? Almost all regular rum on the market is gluten-free, unless it is flavored or colored. Gluten can be a hidden ingredient in flavors and colors (like caramel color).   
Vodka and Tequila
I was already aware that vodka is made from potatoes, which makes it a grain-free alcohol alternative. However, what I didn’t know is that many vodka brands now use corn or grain alcohol in their recipe.
Another traditionally gluten-free alcohol is tequila, which is made from agave. Unfortunately, some of the cheaper tequila brands will add additional sugar or grain to their recipe.  
I found a list of gluten-free alcohols that you can reference here and here, although I have no idea how current or correct the information is. It never hurts to give the manufacturer a call to double-check if you are unsure.         
GF Vanilla Extract
Since my friend shared with me all about gluten-free alcohols, I thought that perhaps I should consider making my own vanilla extract. I didn’t think it would be very difficult and perhaps it would be less expensive!
And, now that we know about gluten-free alcohol options, we can make our GF vanilla extract! Want to know how easy it is?
Gather the following things:
1 cup of gluten-free alcohol of your choosing (i.e. rum, vodka, tequila, etc.)
3 vanilla beans
sealed container, like a glass mason jar
Here’s what to do:
1.     Split your vanilla beans with a knife, leaving them attached at one end.

2.     If you like, scrape the seeds out with the back of your knife and add them to the alcohol.

3.     Place the vanilla beans in the container, making sure they are covered with alcohol.

4.     Shake the container vigorously once a week.

5.     Store for at least 60 days in a dark place for best results.

6.     If you prefer, strain the seeds out of the extract using cheesecloth or a fine sieve before using.

7.     As you use the extract, top it off with additional gluten-free alcohol to replenish your supply. The vanilla beans will continue to flavor the alcohol for several years.
One of my 2 large bottles of rum.
I added the vanilla beans back in
September. Looking good!
It makes a perfect gift!
*Warning! If you are reading this and celebrate Christmas with my family, avert your eyes! The following information is top secret!*
This year I am making homemade gluten-free vanilla extract for our family and close friends. (I doubt any of those people actually read my blog, so I’m probably safe!)
I purchased 2 large bottles of rum. Based upon the recipe above, I then calculated the number of vanilla beans I would need based upon the combined volume of the bottles of rum I planned to use. I bought vanilla beans at Costco because it was the cheapest place I could find them. The vanilla beans they carry are larger than most vanilla beans I had found previously, which made them an ever better deal. My experience with my local Costco store is that vanilla beans are only available during the holiday season. Then I found some pretty bottles at Cost Plus World Market with cork stoppers that will accommodate the vanilla beans standing upright.
Costco vanilla beans!
I will pour out the newly prepared vanilla extract into each bottle (which holds approximately 1 cup) and then place some vanilla beans inside. Since my vanilla beans are large, I plan to only include 2 per bottle rather than the 3 indicated in the recipe. I found some Avery labels that are intended for wine bottles and are moisture-resistant (to help protect against drips). I will design a custom label and then apply it to each bottle. Viola! Christmas gifts are done!
I’m sorry I didn’t think far enough ahead to share this with you at least 60 days prior to Christmas! If you choose to make your own gluten-free vanilla extract as gifts this year, just add a note to the recipient indicating that they will get the best results if they wait to use it until the date you specify (at least 60 days after you added the vanilla beans to the alcohol). Don’t forget to remind them that they can top it off and keep making their own as they use it up.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving!    
P.S. If you would like more information on making your own GF vanilla extract, I found 2 articles online that are really good - here and here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My Personal Cornucopia: A Diagnosis of Abundance

The following is a post I wrote for another blog back in 2008. I thought I would dust it off as a remembrance to that time in my family's life 3 years ago. It feels almost like an eternity has passed since then! I hope you enjoy this blast from the past, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, the allergy-free pies are baked and the kitchen looks like a tornado came through it. Now the house is quiet and my mind is actively figuring out all of the details for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving soiree. Amidst this flurry of thought, I find myself reflecting on Thanksgiving. No, I’m not talking Pilgrims and Indians, or even a chaotic turkey dinner with family. I’m talking about Thanksgiving in terms of personal meaning. Giving thanks. Thankfulness. Reasons to be thankful.

When you have a child with special needs, or in my case, two, it is often difficult to get past the challenges and negatives constantly barraging you. Oh, the struggles! There are so many to face and overcome! It can be completely exhausting. I have plenty of things worthy of complaining about, but I would rather have an attitude of hope and thanks.

By purposely placing myself in the perspective of “thanksgiving,” it reaffirmed that our diagnosis was not one of shortcomings, but rather of plenty. Last night I attended an event for special needs families, and the speaker talked about how in the Chinese language the symbol for “crisis” is the same symbol as for “opportunity.” What a moment of clarity!

I have so much to be thankful for! Our diagnosis experience has truly been an opportunity for the entire family. Since we started down this road, we have all learned and grown so much. Our family is closer, especially because my husband and I chose to consciously face everything together. My immersion in learning about how to help my kids has made me a better parent. This experience has facilitated some self-discovery that I may not have ever undergone. I know that I have the strength to do this difficult job of parenting my special boys. Their progress is continual, and for that I thank God. There are multitudes of other reasons to be thankful during this time of Thanksgiving, and I feel lucky to have the meaning of each one of them in my life.

The battles won’t end, and the hills will continue to be steep, but there are a lot of things along the way that are beautiful and magnificent to behold. If you are caught up in the vortex of stress and burden, I challenge you to take a quiet moment to discover your personal cornucopia. May it be as rewarding an exercise for you as it was for me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You might be an autism parent if...

I recently joined Twitter at the behest of my mommy blogger friend Cari from Bubble Gum on My Shoe. You may recall her from the guest posts she did for me: Top 10 things you can go for a parent of a child with autism and The gum in my purse. She sent me a message on Twitter a day or two ago telling me to check out the #youmightbeanautismparentif thread. If you are not on Twitter, anything following a hashtag (#) is a keyword that denotes a stream of tweets under that topic. In this case the topic is: you might be an autism parent if…fill in the blank.

I got online and discovered something wonderful. She (@bubblegumcari) was right. It was amazing. It was a group of autism parents sharing little snippets of their life with autism. Some of it was freaking hilarious and some of it was utterly heartbreaking. I was quickly swept up in it and have since been participating in order to try to get it to trend on Twitter and give it the recognition it deserves. It’s been going since Sunday night, and new stuff keeps showing up all the time.

I would encourage you to check it out if you are already on Twitter. If you are not on Twitter, you might want to consider it as one more way to plug into a like-minded community who gets it. Don’t forget to follow me @CaffeineAutiMom! Once there, enter #youmightbeanautismparentif into your search box and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  

I have to tell you that it was fairly thrilling when one of my tweets got retweeted by none other than Holly Robinson Peete (@hollyrpeete)! When I saw her retweet on my feed, I think I might have squealed a little bit before I babbled about it to my husband. He seemed genuinely impressed that I made it to the big time. Yep. The big time, people. ;-)

Anyway, I thought I would share some of my own tweets as well as a few of my favorites from other people in the #youmightbeanautismparentif thread. There are so many that I can’t possibly credit everyone. I hope you enjoy!

Here are my tweets in the thread so far:

#youmightbeanautismparentif you consider an IEP meeting a date out with your husband. (This is the one that Holly Robinson Peete retweeted!)

#youmightbeanautismparentif the little triumphs and progress mean the most.

#youmightbeanautismparentif your favorite cartoon is Pink Panther because there is no dialog for your child to script. Thank you, Pink!

#youmightbeanautismparentif reading scientific papers and research studies has become a leisure activity.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you still observe "quiet time" only so you can have a little break in order to maintain your sanity.

#youmightbeanautismparent if you can whip up an amazing dinner free of gluten, dairy, and a whole host of other allergens.

#youmightbeanautismparentif your house looks like an occupational therapy clinic.

#youmightbeanautismparentif your kids say the darndest things because they use words they've memorized and don't know what they mean.

#youmightbeanautismparentif your child makes their own loud noise to drown out the quiet noise that they can't filter.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you feel like you have autism-induced OCD parenting skills - think 20 steps ahead, pre-teach, repeat, etc...

#youmightbeanautismparentif you know autism families who lost everything because insurance wouldn't pay for appropriate care and therapy.

#youmightbeanautismparentif your child is bullied and doesn't really understand it as kids being mean.

#youmightbeanautismparentif your child wears earmuffs or headphones in the summer.

#youmightbeanautismparentif your best friends in the world - the people who support you without question - are on Twitter and Facebook.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you stopped attending church regularly because it was just too much to handle.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you've turned into a medical, legal and educational expert since the diagnosis.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you've ever heard your child's screaming bouncing off the back walls of a big box store during a meltdown.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you have to leave the house with a sensory toolkit just to survive.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you hear perfectly scripted Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, and other cartoons all day long.

#youmightbeanautismparentif your child wandered and didn't respond when you called out their name as you drove by and didn't see them.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you've ever had toys thrown at your head while driving because you dared to go a different way to the store.

Here are some of my favorites from other Tweeps (the people I’m connected with on Twitter!):

#youmightbeanautismparentif you can talk about your child's perseveration as if it was your own, even if it never comes up

#youmightbeanautismparentif many of your strongest friendships are with people you've never met in real life.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you think this is the greatest hashtag EVER

#YouMightBeAnAutismParentIf you fear days off of school because it disrupts the routine.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you have to resist feeling smug if an NT child does something inappropriate & your child didn't

#Youmightbeanautismparentif Your child has NEVER bought a school lunch.........has always brought lunch from home.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you are fighting for autism insurance reform and to end discrimination.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you speak in acronyms GFCFSF, ASD, SPD, IEP, LRE, FAPE, ABA, ADOS, DAN, PDD-NOS, PT, OT, SLP

#youmightbeanautismparentif If you child can learn more from computers and television then they can from human interaction.

#YouMightBeAnAutismParentIf You celebrate the simple things, like a peaceful car ride or a full night's sleep.

#youmightbeanautismparentif if you’re unemployed and it’s not because of the economy.

#Youmightbeanautismparentif taking a shower equals 'me time'.

#youmightbeanautismparentif this hashtag shows you the whole purpose of #Twitter.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you use tag-team parenting with your spouse. Is my turn for a time out yet?

#youmightbeanautismparentif your child IS Amelia Bedelia.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you've read enough books on #autism that you could practically be a doctor yourself

#youmightbeanautismparentif You've had to explain to ignorant people that #autism is not contagious. (true story)

#youmightbeanautismparentif one moment, you feel completely alone & the next, you're a part of a large, passionate & supportive community.

#youmightbeanautismparentif you stop going to experts for help and realise you ARE the experts!

There is MUCH more than this on Twitter. I hope you can join us and be a part of the conversation! I can’t wait to see what else shows up in this thread. Follow me @CaffeineAutiMom! You can also click on the Twitter widget to the right of this post to get started.

P.S. If you're not into the whole Twitter thing, at least "Like" my blog on Facebook! :-) We have lots of fun over at Facebook, too!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Christmas came early this year!

You know how I have been on a Christmas kick? I know it’s probably driven you crazy! I don’t mean to tick you off by having my house decorated (except for my tree and exterior lights) and all of my Christmas presents purchased. I have to tell you that this is not the norm. I haven’t been this early with my Christmas preparations for several years. I’m usually early, but not this early!

Well, over the weekend I finally put 2 and 2 together and figured out the real reason why I was so organized this year. Christmas has been on my brain because of the annual event I do in our community to help children with special needs get a sensory-friendly portrait with Santa. Our event was so popular last year that we doubled our capacity this year and added a second event day before Thanksgiving.
So, I’ve been doing full-tilt marketing since Halloween from the perspective of “Santa’s Elf.” I’ve been writing up posts for the event’s blog and Facebook page, as well as passing out flyers and sending out emails. Since I knew I would be busy with last minute event details for our first event this past weekend (and knowing I’d have to do it all over again two weeks later), I had geared myself up early to get into the holiday spirit.

On Saturday I was in full holiday gear, complete with jingle bell earrings, a matching jingle bell necklace and bracelet, as well as a snowflake shirt. I even had a blinky Christmas light necklace! Not wanting to be the only gaudy one there, I picked up blinky necklaces for all of the volunteers! We even had one of our volunteers decide to dress up as an elf! Love that Christmas spirit! Our photographer and Santa were amazing – literally the best. And, in typical Angela style, I forced politely asked my gal pal, Miss C, to be one of the volunteers. (She’d like to think she had a choice in the matter, but she didn’t. I’m mean friend like that. I don’t know how she puts up with me...)
It’s truly an honor to work with people who have a heart for kids like mine. It was wonderful to see the kids dressed up in their holiday finest as we tried to capture that magical moment with Santa. The parents were all so happy to have a stress-free Santa experience for their children. It was always awesome when the kids wanted to give Santa a high-five or a hug before they left. Two of my favorite moments were when a neurotypical sibling brought Santa a letter she wrote (so cute!), and when I introduced one of the kids to Santa’s Elf (in her full elf glory) and they leaped into her arms to give her a huge hug. Awww.

Besides the event itself, maybe being one of Santa’s elves has other unintended benefits: forcing me to be organized for the holidays. Hey, I’ll take all the help I can get!
Miss C, Santa, me, and our fabulous Elf (she's wearing a blinky necklace!)
The only one M.I.A. is the photographer...she's hiding behind the camera!
One last thing… I’m curious how many of you participate in the Black Friday shopping madness. I did that once (before kids!) and it was insane. I’m just happy I don’t have to think about it this year. I will be sleeping in, my friends. Share your official Christmas kickoff plans with me! I’m dying to know everyone’s strategy.    


Friday, November 18, 2011

I'd like to thank...

Earlier this week I was thrilled to be given the honor of receiving an award from a local autism organization. I have been involved with them since almost the beginning of my family’s journey with autism, so it meant a lot to be included among the awardees.
The award luncheon was in a fancy hotel ballroom and there was a fancy meal. It was all very pretty. I was lucky enough to not only have my husband with me, but also some of my friends and fellow autism parents. I also met some great new people and we all had a nice time hanging out together at the cool table!
It was the cool table because:
a) We all pretty much knew each other (in name or reputation), or were already friends,
b) We all represented an underserved geographic region in our area,
c) We had 4 of the awardees at our table, and
d) We got to sit with the incredible mom who nominated all 4 of the winners at our table!
There were some fairly large companies represented there, including some big-name people from our local sports teams. I’m so used to doing my own thing in my own little corner of the world, that being in a big room filled with lots of important people was kind of intimidating.
I was certainly in good company! In fact, one of my friends actually brought me to tears with her acceptance speech. When she got back to the table she was surprised by my bright red nose and my mascara-stained Kleenex. I shook my head at her and gave her the how-dare-you-make-me-cry-in-public glare to which she grinned back at me like she’d been a naughty girl. At least I managed to not become a blubbering idiot on stage. I think everyone is happy for that!
The really cool thing about the experience is that it felt like an Oprah full-circle moment. When my husband and I we were first figuring out the autism thing with our boys several years ago I managed to connect with this organization. They do great work in our community for autism families. Over the years, I have taken classes from them, I’ve served as a parent mentor, and my kids have participated in some of their programs. So, for me to now be in a place where they recognize what I do to advocate for special needs families, particularly those with autism, was pretty incredible.
I’m used to getting up in front of people and don’t have a problem with public speaking, but I was pretty nervous. After I gave my acceptance speech I noticed that it took several minutes for my hands to stop shaking when I got back to my table. In fact, coming off the stage, I immediately forgot everything I just said. Every. Word. Gone. Poof. I had to ask my husband if I sounded remotely coherent. I then became worried that I’d used the word, “umm.” Titan said I was coherent and umm-free. I hope he wasn’t just paying me lip service because he’s my hubby.
Want to know the one thing I did remember from my speech? I remember that I did not thank my husband. Yup. Great job, Angela! You forgot the most important thing!!! My husband is THE reason that I am able to do what I do in the community. Without his never-ending support I wouldn’t be who I am, doing the work I do for other families. He should be getting an award, for crying out loud!
So, since I don’t remember what I said and I know there are people to thank, I’m going to set it right…in writing.
I’d like to thank:
My husband. He deserves special recognition for being devoted to our boys, available when I need him, and caring enough to recognize that it’s not just about our family but that we can use our experience to make a positive impact on others.
My friend who nominated me as the Community Advocate of the Year. She said some very wonderful things about me. Hearing those words read during my introduction was odd…almost like I was hearing my own eulogy. I received a written copy of what was said, but if I quote anything I’ll just burst into tears from the kindness of it all. So I’ll spare you…
The parents I’ve worked with over the past 3 years. You have trusted me even when I didn’t trust in my own abilities. You have been my friends and helped me grow. Your children are exceptional and inspirational.          
My boys. They are the reason I discovered so many things about myself. They led me to where I am right now. I could have never imagined being in this place doing what I do. They helped me discover a passion I would not have found otherwise.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A really awesome GFCF giveaway!

If you were on Facebook over the weekend, you know that I promised some big news on Monday. Are you ready? I’m doing an awesome giveaway! Really, really awesome. Like $200 awesome! Do I have your attention? Good!

I was over at Earth Monkey Moms the other day (you remember my Extreme Makeover Home Edition friend) and they were doing a giveaway that was super cool. They were giving away 10 spots in an upcoming live online dietary coaching program on how to start the GFCF diet for your kids. As it turns out, the consultant that offered up the prizes was someone I wrote a guest post for back in September. You can read that post at the Apples to Oranges blog here.

Anyway, I left a comment on the EMM blog that day, mentioning that if they picked me as a winner that I would happily forfeit it to someone else. After all, I do talks and meetings all the time about the GFCF diet through my support group and nonprofit organization. I don’t really need this kind of class when so many others out there could really use the info so much more than me!

Guess what? I ended up being one of the winners. And guess what else? Lindsay at EMM told me to keep the prize! And guess what I’m doing with that prize? I’m giving it away to one of you, my dear readers!
Can I just reiterate how awesome this prize is? I'm doing a little happy dance for you right now! Do you like that visual? Anyway....sorry. I'm just a teeny bit excited. 

I can tell you from my own experience that when you first start dealing with dietary restrictions it can be very overwhelming and scary. So, how cool would it be to have someone hold your hand through the process?

The dietary coach and fellow mother warrior is Lori Brienesse-Frank, and she is the gal behind Apples to Oranges Consulting. She will take you through everything you need to know about the GFCF diet in the 8-week live webinar series, which will begin in January.  
Christmas is coming early for one lucky reader this week! Would you like to know how to win? The only mandatory requirement is to leave a comment below this post, but please use the widget I’ve included below. The rest of the items listed will give you bonus entries if you complete them. So, fill in the little blanks and check the little boxes and you are done, my friends.  
I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year, than with some professional guidance from a dietary coach like Lori. You only have a few days to enter, so get moving! Good luck!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

Yesterday I had the privilege of going to Monkey’s school for their Veterans Day assembly. Of course, you may recall me telling you on Wednesday that he was going to sing a solo at the assembly. Titan and I were very excited about it and made plans for both of us to attend. When the news made it to Titan’s mom and stepdad, they decided to also drive out for Monkey’s big debut. That was all Monkey could talk about the night before!

Monkey’s song was first and it began with his solo. I think my mouth was open because I could barely believe my ears. He did such a great job! He was even in tune the whole time, which is not an easy feat for a child. My little boy can sing!
Monkey is very touchy when it comes to singing. He cannot bring himself to sing in front of us here at home. He will literally start to cry if you attempt to coax him to sing. The most he can bring himself to do is whisper the words when you are not looking at him. I’m not sure why he is so shy about it, but we try to respect that. We certainly don’t want to create anxiety for him over something he enjoys in his own way.
Getting the chance to hear him sing his solo was a treasured moment. My heart was swollen with pride because I am a former singer. He was so good that I had a hard time holding back my tears of happiness. Music used to be my life, so to know that he also has a gift for music is a wonderful feeling.
The third graders sang another song and then they invited a soldier to speak for a few minutes. After that, the mood changed considerably when a special video presentation was shared. It started with a surprise video for two of the students. Their dad, who is currently stationed in Afghanistan, sent them a special message. You could hear them crying and we all shared in the joy and heartbreak of that moment.
After that, we got to watch a video slideshow of past and present military members who are related to the students and staff at the elementary school. There were some wonderful songs playing in the background as we watched picture after picture. It was neat to see who they were related to. There were small audio clips peppered throughout the presentation from students talking about what it meant to have family members serving in the military. Hearing those young voices speak about their family was very touching.
I was seated close to a mother who was in the audience holding her baby. She was wearing a t-shirt with the name of her late husband and his rank on it. At one point, she had to leave the room because she was overcome with emotion.
As the pictures continued to flash onto the screen, you could hear the stifled emotion throughout the room. In front of me a teacher hugged and comforted a girl who was crying. Another teacher helped to escort a young gal from the room when she, too, began sobbing. Everyone in the room had been brought to tears by the end of the presentation. It was impossible not to be moved by the experience.
I live in a military town and I know lots of military families. A sizeable portion of students in the school have parents or close relatives serving in the armed forces. These children know what it is like to live without their mom or their dad while they are deployed overseas. I know I cannot ever really understand the sacrifice each of those family members makes.
My dad was in the army during the Vietnam War. He should have died 4 different times, but God spared him. I am grateful for that, because had he given the ultimate sacrifice for his county, I would never have been born and never gotten to know the great man that I call my dad. My brother also served, and I am thankful that his service was not during a time of war. I never had to feel that worry first hand.      
The assembly was a beautiful tribute to our veterans. It is hard to imagine how many people serve, but seeing image after image after image really brought that point home. I can honestly say that I have never seen so many people with tears in their eyes in one place before and it was incredibly moving. It is not something I will soon forget.
God bless our troops – past, present and future.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Veterans Day Solo

Do you remember me telling you about how Monkey rocked it out during the second grade performance last spring? It was awesome. And, I’m not just saying that because he’s my kid. He was animated and happy, and he got his groove on the entire time.

This year his class is performing for Veterans Day. He told me about two weeks ago that he wanted to try out for a solo. That was pretty much all I heard about it. He never wanted to practice the solo, no matter how much coaxing and prodding I did. I let it go and knew that if anyone could memorize a few lines of lyrics, he could.
The other day they had auditions. Mind you, they took place during the lunch recess. For him to give up a portion of his favorite school activity shows how excited he was about it. The next day I heard that they had call backs and that Monkey had been invited back for a second audition.
The following letter came home in Monkey’s backpack today:
This is a quick note to let you know that your child has accomplished something that will make you extremely proud!!!
As you know, the third graders have been working diligently on two special songs they will perform for our Veterans Day assemblies. We held auditions for the third grade solos last week. We had an incredible turnout as over 40 students tried out for these solos! As you probably already know, your child was chosen as a finalist!!!
I am extremely proud, indeed.
He will be one of four soloists and I can hardly wait to see him perform his solo on Thursday! There is something so amazing about a kid who has a hard time connecting with people socially, yet desires to perform. He may only have a few lines in a third grade performance, but I see these moments as great strides and can only hope that he will gain more confidence from the experience. 

Of course, I secretly want him to steal the show. That’s not a bad thing, is it?  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Jumping the gun

Some of you cringe at the thought of talking about Christmas until after you are stuffed full of Thanksgiving turkey. As for me, once Halloween is over it’s all about Christmas. I love the holiday season!

My holiday kickoff happened earlier than usual this year because I saw this – an opportunity to trade in old Christmas lights at Home Depot and get a coupon to use toward new lights. That was all I needed to go into the garage and pull out our Christmas décor (minus the tree). After all, I had to sort through our lights and figure out what sets I might like to trade in!
I got an excited flutter in my heart when I saw everything laid out all over the living room floor. Of course, I immediately wanted to start putting things up all over the house. My husband reminded me that I was rushing things and should wait until at least after Veteran’s Day, or Thanksgiving for that matter. He shut me down. Bummer.
But, being the practical girl that I am, I didn’t want to have to lug all of the stuff back out to the garage only to have to bring it back in again in the next couple of weeks. So, I conveniently left the décor sitting in a nice pile of bins off to the side of the room. I wonder if my hubby will get sick of looking at all of it and ask me to put things up just to get the bins back out to the garage? Hmmm…I shall have to test that theory.
At this moment I can reach out and touch the boxes of Christmas lights from where I’m sitting, but I’m being a good girl! I have a feeling that we’ll be stringing up some Christmas lights in the boys’ rooms very soon. They love having lights in their rooms this time of year! Once those lights go up, everything else quickly follows!  
All of this digging through Christmas stuff and thinking about lights has been fodder for me to organize the Christmas gifts. Sometime this week I hope to pull out my bins of Christmas gifts that I collect throughout the year, sort everything, and then figure out what I have left to buy. Much to the dismay of my friends, I usually have almost all of my shopping done before Thanksgiving.
My favorite time to shop for Christmas gifts is the after-Christmas and New Year’s sales. I have a couple of bins that I use to set aside and store gifts in an out-of-place spot. Throughout the year I periodically add other gifts to the bins when I come across bargains that I can’t pass up. I’m all about saving money! By stretching out the purchases over the entire year and only buying things when they are at a clearance prices, I help our household budget stretch further while maintaining a very merry Christmas for everyone.
When I find super deals on items that could be given to teachers, therapists, neighbors, etc., I buy in bulk. Even if I buy 10 of the same thing, I can personalize the bag, wrapping, or the card to make it fit the person I’m giving it to. If nothing else, these items can serve as stand-in last minute birthday presents and be used for other incidental occasions when there is little notice or no time to shop. It’s always nice to have a stash of gifts for those moments, and I can tell you that this method of shopping has saved me many times!  
One thing we started doing a year or two ago was having the boys use a communal piggy bank. We got one with a lid that adds up the value of the coins as you drop them in. After Thanksgiving we roll the coins and exchange them for paper bills to be split evenly between the boys. They use that money to buy gifts for each other. We take a trip to a store (like Target) and go through the toy section while each boy gets a turn to point out the stuff they like. Later on each boy gets to take a separate shopping trip to buy a gift or two for their brother with the money they saved. They really like to do this! And, the bonus is that we are able to work in all kinds of lessons about active listening, math concepts, asking questions, and much more.  

I will admit to the fact that last week I visited the Christmas Shoppe at Goodwill and also went to the mall to do a little bit of holiday shopping before the rush hits. I may be jumping the gun, but I’m loving every moment!
And, let’s not forget one of the hallmarks of the holiday season…the red cups are back at Starbucks! You can’t help but get into the Christmas spirit when you are served a peppermint mocha in one of those babies. That, my friends, is Christmas in a cup. Man, now I want one!    

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How to go gluten-free in 8 steps

Picture Credit
I have been getting inundated with requests for information on the GFCF diet – email, Facebook, you  name it. So, in order to help address some of these questions I thought it would be a good idea to recycle my first ever Guest Post that I did for BoysRising back in April in honor of Autism Awareness Month. I know it’s not standard blogging protocol to repost something you wrote for someone else, but the demand for information has been so high that I thought I would gloss over the blogging etiquette a bit and revisit this one. I’m doing it for you, my friends.

Please keep in mind that I originally wrote this post for a very different audience – one that doesn’t necessarily have special needs children or the desire to eliminate multiple types of food (like dairy/casein, soy, etc.). Although I left the post almost entirely intact, I did make a few minor changes here and there. I hope it provides you with some good information.
Going gluten-free for your health
Have you seen gluten-free products at your local grocery store recently? According to a report earlier this month from Packaged Facts, the gluten-free market has grown 30% in the past 4 years and is projected to have sales in excess of $5 billion annually by 2015. That is a huge market! In the past few years there have been many new options added to store shelves. I am grateful that gluten-free products are becoming easier to find. I hope that this trend will continue to provide consumers with better access to quality GF products at even more competitive pricing.

Maybe you’re wondering what all the gluten-free hype is about and why someone would choose to make such a change. Well, there are lots of reasons! Some people try a gluten-free diet to relieve symptoms from conditions like: rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, MS, fibromyalgia, and autism spectrum disorder. I have 2 boys diagnosed on the autism spectrum and a change in diet has been the key to unlocking speech in my youngest son. A survey found that among those families who try the GFCF diet (gluten-free, casein/dairy-free) to help with autism, almost 70% see improvements in their children. That is very significant!   
My thoughts are, if it won’t hurt them and it might actually help, then why not try it? Even though I was scared to make dietary changes and I initially resisted the idea, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My son is talking! And, some of his other physical and behavioral symptoms have also improved. As you can imagine, I am now a big proponent of dietary intervention for kids with autism and I love to share our experience with others.

April is designated as Autism Awareness Month. Since both of my kids have seen wonderful benefits from the GFCF diet and I’ve become a sort of expert on the topic, I thought it would be great to give you some basics about going gluten-free. Even if you don’t have a child with autism, a gluten-free diet can be a positive step toward improving your health. There are many symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity, some of which include: fatigue, depression, weight gain, diarrhea/constipation, headaches, asthma, eczema/rashes, joint pain, bloating/gas, frequent infections (yeast, sinus, urinary tract, etc.), infertility, etc.
Are you intrigued and thinking about taking the plunge into the GF world? Here are some tips I’ve developed out of my own experience on how to go gluten-free.

1.      Learn from free GF resources.

Check out gluten-free cookbooks from your local library and visit GF websites and blogs. See what types of ingredients you will need to acquire and become familiar with the names of alternative grains, like quinoa and amaranth. Also familiarize yourself with substitutions and how to read labels. If you’re making changes for your child’s benefit, TACA has lots of helpful information related to starting children on a GFCF diet. My favorite online GFCF recipe resource is Gluten-Free Goddess.

2.      Be prepared to spend more on groceries.

Going gluten-free is not cheap. Pre-made and packaged items are already expensive and the prices of their GF counterparts will greatly affect your food budget. If you like to bake and cook, save money by making your own stuff. Seek out gluten-free products in bulk at your local grocery store or health food store. Places like Costco are also starting to carry GF options. Another place to source and purchase GF items is online. Comparison shop before you buy and look for coupons and sales. Discontinued items or things close to expiration often end up in the grocery store bargain bin. I’ve found many amazing deals on gluten-free items by always checking this section of my store whenever I go shopping.

3.      Take things in steps.

Choose one item, like cereal, and replace it with an allergy-free version. I started my boys on the GFCF diet cold turkey. I DO NOT recommend this because it can be very difficult and traumatic. If you ease into it one step at a time your taste buds will become accustomed and additional changes will be easier. Try one new item each week until you have eliminated all gluten from your diet.

4.      Stock up on GF supplies.

After reviewing some cookbooks and recipes you will have a better understanding of what new ingredients you should buy. Gluten-free desserts and breads require specific combinations of several types of GF flours, so you will want to follow recipes to the letter. Just replacing regular flour with GF flour or a GF blend will not always yield good results. I’ve had some colossal flops along the way as I figured this out. Find a good all-purpose GF flour blend and start experimenting. My favorite brand is Bob’s Red Mill.

5.      Be prepared for a change in texture.

Gluten is a protein that imparts elasticity into baked goods. You are not going to get the same kind of result when gluten is absent from the product. Most gluten-free items tend to be crumbly and dense. When you are first starting out you will notice a big difference, particularly in breads. There will be a period of trial and error as you familiarize yourself with brands you never want to buy again and others you like and want to stick with.

6.      Focus on what you CAN eat.

If you are pining for your favorite chocolate cake or crusty sourdough boulé, you are going to drive yourself crazy. As I mentioned, there is a big texture difference. You’ll find things that work for your palate. We have several allergens that we avoid at our house, which can make meal planning fairly complex. Instead of worrying about what is free of gluten, dairy, egg, soy, nuts, and so on, we try to focus on building a meal around what we know the boys can eat without worry: protein, vegetables and fruit.

7.      Be prepared to feel worse, at least initially.

When making a change like this, the body will often go into detox mode. It can often feel like you’ve got a case of the “blahs” or the flu. My son had a hunger strike for several days when we took him off of allergens. His behavior was already awful and violent, and it actually escalated for the first 2 weeks. His body was addicted to the allergens. The offending foods created a drug-like chemical effect in his brain caused by leaky gut syndrome. Going off the food made him act like he was going through withdrawal. It was not pretty. But, it got better. The first week was the worst, and then after 2 weeks he started talking. He’s made tremendous progress since then and his body is healing.  

8.      Stick with it for at least 60 days.

After you’ve eased yourself into the GF lifestyle, make a commitment to be 100% gluten-free for a minimum of 60 days. Changes don’t always happen suddenly, so give your body enough time to respond. It’s a very good idea to start a food journal and list of symptoms prior to going on the GF diet so you can accurately assess what changes happen after removing gluten. You might notice significant changes almost immediately, or smaller changes that happen slowly.
Some people think that the gluten-free phenomenon is only a food fad, like the low-carb food craze when the Atkins Diet was popular. I strongly disagree. Celiac disease is one of the most under-diagnosed conditions in the US, conservatively estimated to affect 1 in 133 people. Autism continues to rise alarmingly fast, occurring in 1 out of every 91 children in the US. A gluten-free diet is helpful to the vast majority of families who try it in order to help their children diagnosed with autism. Many people who go gluten-free for other health reasons will often see improvements in their symptoms, too.

I strongly believe that the need for gluten-free diets and demand for GF products will continue to increase at a steady pace in the years to come. If you have any sort of health issue, I would highly recommend that you learn more about the symptoms of gluten intolerance and maybe give the GF diet a try to see if your health improves. It certainly can’t hurt!
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