Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Silly Creatures Giveaway

How was your Memorial Day weekend? I hope it was great! We did a lot of stuff around my house, but somehow we ended up with a bigger mess than we started with. Somehow I need to find some time to fix that problem!

I am happy to announce that today we have a giveaway! A while ago I was contact by Flor, the owner and creator of Silly Creatures. After reading her story and visiting her website, I was excited to have the opportunity to share one of her Silly Creatures with you.

I love the fact that her products are all made with eco-friendly and natural materials, like organic cotton. In addition, Flor is working toward receiving a B Corporation certification. I had no idea what this was until I learned more about it here. Certified B Corporations use “the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.” That’s pretty cool!
Even before I decided to run a nonprofit, I always felt more compelled to do business with companies who were generous. I truly appreciate that Silly Creatures gives back to the community and is making a difference for meaningful organizations and programs.

The company and concept of Silly Creatures started as a request from Flor’s son, Simon. He drew pictures of what he wanted and even gave the creatures names. Flor bought the supplies and started to make her first Silly Creature. When Simon wanted to play with the stuffing, Flor decided to create a digestive tract. A child could then pretend to feed the toy and have the “food” come out the other side.  
The K-BEU family of Silly Creatures
The Silly Creatures idea was born, and several different types are now available. Polished stones serve as the food that kids can give to the creatures, and then they can push it through the digestive tract. The creatures provide play with several functions, including learning about anatomy and also helping to develop fine motor skills.

Flor was kind enough to send me a Silly Creature to give away to you! Isn’t that great? If you have a child that you think would enjoy this toy, please take a moment and enter to win! The giveaway will be open through Saturday and then I’ll announce the winner next Monday.
Don’t forget to visit Silly Creatures on Facebook and Twitter! Good luck!  

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I think, therefore my head hurts.

There are a few posts I wanted to write in the past couple of weeks, but things have just not materialized. My mind is swimming right now with everything going on in my life.

I feel like I've been notably absent from the blog recently and I probably needed to at least check in and let you guys know I'm still here. I'm alive and kicking, but I'm always on the go! I barely have time to eat, much less write a witty, awesome post for you to read! Because, as you know, ALL of my posts are witty and awesome! (Did I just hear a retching sound somewhere?)

I have been so busy working on the nonprofit - having meetings, advocating, speaking, writing, event planning, thinking, reading, strategizing, organizing, creating and dreaming - that I've barely been home the past two weeks. Make that this month. Well, if I'm honest with myself, I've been at a dead run since the end of February. 

Last week I realized that in only a few more weeks, school is out for the summer. Talk about having a heart attack right then and there! How and when did this happen? I didn't give my permission for time to move this quickly! There is so much work to be done before the end of the year!

I just have to say that even though my schedule has been out of control and insane, I'm happy. I am 1,000% passionate about the work I'm doing, even though I'm not yet funded. I could not ask for a better or more supportive husband, and I have the world's greatest friend in Miss C. Without their support, the nonprofit work would be impossible.

And you know what? People are showing up. To participate. To volunteer. There are some really great people choosing to get involved with what I'm trying to do and help me create something worthwhile and valuable to the special needs community. That right there is astounding and humbling.

When the kids are out on summer break in only a few short weeks, my schedule will clear for the first time in months. Even though I dread summer break and what that transition will mean for my boys, I think there will also be a small sense of relief as well. The thought of slowing down long enough to catch my breath is kind of thrilling! Work will not cease, but the intensity will lessen. And, this is going to sound crazy, but I'm looking forward to doing some plain old filing! I also hope to finish organizing my nonprofit's office and finally getting the last of the stuff out of boxes and into their proper places. I think that will be a good summer project.

Something deep inside me tells me that I'm doing what I need to be doing, and it's happening at the right time. I am convinced that this is going to all work out somehow. Even though there are hurdles and obstacles, things will all fall into place. Personally I have a lot of fears and worries, but God is giving me a sense of peace. Doors have been opening and I am just walking through them. In fact, I can't wait for the next doors to open so that I can walk through them, too. Bring on the doors!

That's where I'm at right now. It's a good place. A bit nuts, but good.

For the final push into summer over these next few weeks, it will be hit or miss around here. I will try to post once per week (and I'll be pretty darn proud of myself if I do more than that!). I hope to see you back here early next week when I will feature a new giveaway. Be watching for that!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Product Review: Crunchmaster GFCF crackers

A few weeks ago, the folks at Crunchmaster asked if they could send me some gluten-free crackers to try in exchange for my review. I agreed, since I am always looking for new allergy-friendly treats for my boys. After visiting their website, I determined that we could only have a couple of different varieties due to multiple food allergies. As a result, they sent me their Sea Salt Multi-Grain crackers, which were safe for my boys to try.
The Sea Salt Multi-Grain crackers are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and vegan.
Around the time I received the crackers, I had some meetings scheduled for my nonprofit. Many people involved with my nonprofit either have children with food allergies and sensitivities, or have their own personal dietary concerns. I literally had a captive audience of people who understand gluten-free. It was a perfect opportunity for an impromptu taste test!
The general consensus was very positive and there was no hesitation with their opinions whatsoever. One comment I received was that the crackers had a very satisfying crunch. Another person said that they were good enough to eat by themselves just as a snack – you do not need dip or other toppings to enjoy them.
I took the remaining crackers home to test with my husband and my boys. We all tried them out when I prepared potato soup for dinner one night. I thought the crackers would be a perfect accompaniment, and I was right.
My boys loved them so much they finished off all of the rest of the crackers in one sitting.      
From my own taste test, I can tell you that the Crunchmaster crackers have a slightly different texture than many of the typical rice-based gluten-free crackers on the market, which is a pleasant and appreciated change. If you are familiar with what I’m talking about, those other kinds of crackers can almost have a waxy feel to them, which I do not prefer.
I also like that some of their products are verified GMO-free by the Non-GMO Project. Unfortunately, the variety I tried was not verified GMO-free. I hope that Crunchmaster continues working on getting the rest of their products verified.
Another way to make the product more desirable to families like mine is to use organic ingredients. This is very important to us and we always prefer to purchase products that are organic.
Overall, the Crunchmaster Sea Salt Multi-Grain crackers were a big hit with everyone who tried them. If you are interested in tasting them for yourself, they offer a coupon on their site that you should check out.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Flashback Friday: Clearing the clutter

Last year I wrote about a very big project: cleaning my office. I will admit that when I decided to start a nonprofit, the plans to finalize my home office went right out the window. I got pulled in some different directions and then began focusing on the more fun task of how I would organize my new office outside of my home.

It has been a labor of love. I am seriously addicted to office supplies and decorating new spaces. It was a joyous event to move in to my beautiful space. I feel very fortunate to have received such amazing space, and wanted my office to stay on the level of the rest of the newly-remodeled building. 
Guess what? I’m still technically moving into my new office, AND I’m still cleaning up my home office! My new office has been coming right along, piece by piece. It was almost unfathomable how much stuff I had collected over the past several years related to autism and special needs. Getting it all out of my home and into my nonprofit space was a relief. But, I am still cataloging all of my lending library resources, binders, files, and stacks of paper into some sort of sense. With the multiple book cases, filing cabinets, and various stuff, it continues to be a big task.

Last weekend I did some major catch up on my home office. I went through most of the rest of the boxes and sorted things. I was able to get a lot of it out of the room, and I am happy to say that most of the floor is now visible for the first time in a LONG time.

My boys are so proud of the progress that was made, they have been showing it off to people that visit our house. It feels good to know that I was able to make such an impression for spending only 2 afternoons going through old stuff.

There is more work to do, both at home and at my nonprofit's office. I sometimes wonder if I will ever be done. But, I’ll keep taking it one step at a time and continue working toward my goal of fully-organized, immaculate spaces. When everything is exactly the way I want it, I’ll be in such office bliss that I won’t ever want to leave!

Read all about how starting to clean my office last year brought back some joyful and painful memories, and how the entire process has been good for my soul.
What can you never seem to get organized?     

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Guest Post: Daddy Confidential

We have a wonderful guest with us today! Jonathan, a.k.a. Daddy Confidential, contacted me a while ago and since that time I have become a fan of his blog. I absolutely love his sense of humor and really appreciate his witty perspective on parenting. And you know, it's nice to read a quality blog from a guy.

Jonathan is daddy to Fox and husband to Sarah. You will see from the picture below that Fox is a very cute 1-year old. Their family is in the process of a move from downtown Manhattan to the suburbs…which, according to Jonathan, his wife has been plotting since their second date!

Jonathan took some time to do an interview with me and I thought I should give you fair warning… You may laugh suddenly and often. God forbid you just took a sip of coffee, because you will probably spit it out of your mouth. Coffee is a precious natural resource, so we must try very hard not to waste it!!!
Below the interview is a post Jonathan wrote for his blog that talks about autism. He discusses being the parent of a neurotypical child and his own ignorance about autism. There are some great questions posed at the end of his post, so please take a moment to leave a comment and address those questions. Also, check out Daddy Confidential on Facebook and Twitter (@DadConfidential), and then swing by his blog.

Are we good? Are you ready? All right! Let’s get this show on the road.      

CAM:  There isn't usually much testosterone around here, so a male perspective is a nice change of pace! Please share with us your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about being a dad.
DC:  You’re asking about my favorite things? What am I – Julie Andrews? Jeez, you’re forcing me to talk about feelings. Fine. But it’s under duress.
Dads get to be goofballs. For some reason most moms don’t excel at being silly. Their whole repertoire is “tickle tickle!”
Jonathan practicing his monkey act with Fox.
Dads, by contrast, can really channel our natural inclination to be imbeciles. I will literally take off my shirt and act like a monkey because my kid thinks it’s hilarious. You would think I was rehearsing motion capture for Rise of Planet of the Apes. I’m method.
When kids need to be tossed in the air and caught, who do you turn to? Dads. Until my son is tall enough to get on the amusement park attractions, I am the ride. Roughhousing, horseplay, monkeying around… I will play the same repetitive game for as long my son is laughing and squealing. Or until he gets hurt.
As for my least favorite thing? I’m not sure if it’s gender specific, but I usually have to take on the role of Stern Parent. My wife is reluctant to deny our son anything, e.g. pacifier, TV, new toys, sweets. For some reason it always falls to me to be the bad cop.
CAM:  What is the one parenting task that you couldn't do (or, perhaps would never do) without your wife?
DC:  Oh that’s easy: buy our son clothes. Dads have no idea what size their kids are. Heaven help the dad who makes a solo mission to Old Navy. The shop clerk will ask, “What size is your child?” And dads will try and indicate the child’s height with a hand in the air, usually hovering around the beltline. If we spot another kid in the store – any kid – we’ll point to him and be like, “There! That kid! He’s about that size.”
CAM:  What inspired you to write a post about autism?
DC:  Ignorance. I knew so little about it. Plus my wife piqued my interest by obsessing over autism for months after our son was born.
(She still does. She’s a natural worrier. While pregnant, she’d fret about the neural tube test. When that came back clear, she moved onto things they can’t test for, like port wine stains.)
Also, I’m inextricably drawn to sensitive topics and tricky conversations. Autism is such a minefield – both within and outside the community. People untouched by it really tiptoe around the subject. And parents in autism circles can be hypersensitive to outsiders.
A recurring fascination is the well-meaning but grating comments made by parents of neurotypical kids. How often do you read on an autism blog a sentence that begins, “If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say…”?
But you can’t have constructive dialogue without the freedom to speak openly, honestly, and even offensively. This invariably leads to disagreements and disgust. But also empathy and enlightenment. Dolts like myself need the latitude to say stupid things – so long as it comes with a sincere invitation to correct and educate.
When I wrote about autism, I asked parents to vent about some rather nuanced frustrations and challenges. Their answers were among the most poignant, erudite, and profound accounts I’ve read anywhere. Months later I’m still both haunted and inspired.
I am not by nature an ass-kisser. And I am stingy with compliments. But parents of children with autism exhibit levels of tenacity and resourcefulness that are a unique testament to human potential. What distinguishes you is that unlike war veterans or Olympians or doctors performing triage, you didn’t choose to be heroes.
CAM:  I'm going to give you a lot of latitude with this last question... My readers are (well, there's a 99% chance that they are) sleep-deprived and chronically stressed-out moms of special needs children. As the token male on the blog today (tag, you're it!), is there anything else you'd like to share with all of us?
DC:  Wait, you mean it’s just me and a bunch of neglected women? Hi there. My name’s Jonathan. Um, what’re you wearing?
No, I jest. But speaking of token males and neglect: where are the fathers?!? Supporting a family comes with its own stress. But why is the blogosphere dominated by overextended moms? You should encourage your partners to guest blog (or at least leave comments) on a regular basis. Even if it’s just monthly.
Fathers have questions, opinions and insight, but it needs to be teased out a bit. And it could pay huge dividends in awareness and involvement.

The internet is an ideal format for this. If you write something that resonates, you can bask in the glory. And if you really screw the pooch, you can slink off in anonymity.

On that note, I’ll take that as my cue to scram. Nice chatting with you Angela!

Better You Than Me

When it comes to the spectrum, I’m maybe two degrees more enlightened than those who think all people with autism are savants that can count cards and toothpicks. (To be fair, Dustin did give a strong performance.)

My ignorance is no accident. People don’t gain specialized knowledge of hardship unless it’s necessary. Why would we?… to be well rounded? I mean, how much do you know about, say, Legionnaires’ disease?

As the father of a (neuro)typical 18 month-old boy, I am frequently astonished at how depleting and difficult parenting can be. And that’s with my wife doing most of the work. Maybe I’d be better equipped to handle parenthood if I were a 16 year-old Mormon fundamentalist prairie mom. But that comes with its own baggage.

So how do you cope when your child has autism? It’s not a rhetorical question. Parents untouched by autism are terrified yet preoccupied by its prevalence. It is perhaps unfair to show an academic interest when it’s not my kid flinging feces on the wall. But what do you want to me to say? “Better you than me”? (People with more tact than I will usually phrase this sentiment as “There but for the grace of God…”)

Basically, I stand in awe of the impossibly high hurdles that you must clear. Daily. Hourly. This minute. None of us can really fathom the patience and resolve required to raise a child with autism. We don’t know how to start the conversation, mostly owing to awkwardness, ignorance, or superstition. And frankly it’s hard to even tread here without sounding like an emotional tourist.

As you’ve read this far, I’m hoping you’ll address a few burning questions. They are compiled from near-complete ignorance. But there ought to be a way to gain perspective without fear of tripping over taboos.

Your answers will not herald an era of understanding. They will not put an end to people’s silent disapproval or blatant staring. But you’ve long since learned to ignore fools. These are just for me. Accordingly, I’m calling this brief questionnaire:

“Stop Staring and Finish Your F*cking Onion Blossom”

 1. What do your non-nuclear family members fail to understand about your child, despite repeated explanations?

2. If you could fire a magic bullet at anything related to autism, where would you aim? E.g. health insurance companies, educators, spouse, legislators, me (although technically I am unrelated). And don’t get too trigger happy, Rambo – you only get one magic bullet.

3. Is there a hierarchy among parents based on where along the spectrum your kids are?

4. What does your peer group commiserate about that you’d never share with outsiders (were it not for the relative anonymity of the internet)?

5. Which parents do you look at and think “Better You Than Me”? E.g. parents of a) paraplegics, b) Siamese twins, c) young republicans, d) albinos, e) kids with Down syndrome, etc. Hmmm… the question, while sincere, could be phrased more sensitively. But you’re an expert at handling inappropriateness.

Use the comments section to answer any or all of the above. Because y’know… you have so much free time on your hands.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monkey and the Cat: Processing the death of a pet

About a week ago Monkey was in an excellent mood and said something magical to me.

“Mommy, I want to be a helper. What can I do?”
It was one of those moments when the clouds parted and the angels began to sing. I never expected that question among all of the usual whining and other joys of everyday life in our household.

Over the past few years I’ve learned it’s much easier to go out and do the shopping on my own when my hubby is home to watch the boys. After Monkey’s inquiry, I decided to take him with me to the grocery store so he could be my special helper. I gave him my smart phone so that he could be in charge of our list. He had lots of fun helping me keep track and checking things off the list as we put items in our cart.
We were at a store that we typically don’t shop at, and I was a bit unfamiliar with the layout. As a result, we ended up walking down the pet food aisle, which is something we typically don’t do. Making conversation about my mistake, I said to Monkey, “We don’t need cat food anymore, do we?” What Monkey said in reply came as a surprise.

“Our cat died in 2009 just before Christmas. I was 6-and-a-half.”
I’m sure that my mouth was open at that moment due to the shock from such accurate and correct detail. I was surprised because Monkey didn’t seem to like our cat much at all. In fact, he mostly ignored our cat, just like he ignored Prince Charming when he was born (for about 18 months straight)! Of course, I now understand that a good portion of Monkey’s response to his brother and our cat was due to his autism diagnosis.

Our cat loved getting his belly rubbed by Titan. We miss him.

Monkey got a slight sideways smile on his face as he told me that his favorite thing about our cat was when he chased him around the house. He stood there with that cute look on his face for another few seconds as he thought about our cat and the fun he used to have running around after him. Of course, our cat was terrified when Monkey would chase him! I think the fact that he would take off like a shot made it even more fun for Monkey.
This little moment made me think about how little I understand my boys and how their brain works. There are so many times when I repeat myself over and over, make lists, use visual tools, pre-teach, remind, and cajole, and it seems that they never catch on to certain things.

Yet, they also retain information I never thought possible. This was confirmed to me when Monkey shared all of the details about our cat’s death. Considering how little interest and emotion there seemed to be from either of the boys when it happened, I did not expect that.
When our cat died, Titan and I talked about it with the boys over the course of a few days, and that seemed to be the end of it.  I remember quite some time ago when I had the boys in the car and all of a sudden Prince Charming asked me, “Is our cat dead?” It had been over a year since our cat had passed away, and the question had caught me off-guard. I managed to pull some thoughts together and talked about it with him for a few minutes while Monkey listened. That was the last time I heard anything about our cat until Monkey brought it up in the grocery store the other day.

One thing is for sure…I may never understand how my boys think. The way their brains process information is certainly complex! I’ll just keep rolling with it, try to keep up, and do the best I can!              

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Guest Post: Why me?

Today I have the privilege of introducing you to one of my local friends, who also happens to be a fellow autism mom. She does some great work in the special needs community. I appreciate her personally because of her generous spirit. She has been willing to share some of her time and expertise with me in order to help my nonprofit get off to a good start, which I am very grateful for.

Jennifer does not yet have a blog, and to be honest, I'm trying to convince her to start one! She likes to write (and is really good at it!), so publishing content online seems like a natural fit for her.

I feel fortunate to have her share her very first written piece with us here at Caffeinated Autism Mom. Once she gets past the nerves of having a post "out there" in the big blogosphere, I have a feeling that many more posts will soon follow. When she becomes well-known online, I can be like a proud mother hen and say that I knew her before she started blogging!
Jennifer's son, Zachary

As the Communications Manager for Dynamic Partners, California-native Jennifer O’Neal uses her writing skills to raise money so that other families can receive the same life-changing services her son did. She is also a Board Member at Academy Schools. Jennifer lives in Seattle with her husband, Dave, her effervescent 8-year old son and muse, Zachary, their two dogs, Maggy and Honey Bear, and sassy cat, Stetson.  You can reach her via email at jroneal at comcast dot net or on Twitter at @Jennifer_ONeal.

Please join me in extending a warm (and caffeinated) welcome to Jennifer! After you're done reading, I hope you will take a moment and leave her a comment below. Let's show her some love, peeps. :-) 

"Why me?"

We’ve all asked this.  “Why does my child have special needs?”  Although we may be outwardly hopeful, somewhere there is a corner of our minds where this question lives.  We might have thought it only happens to other people.  We may have believed we had cosmic exception; a guarantee that our children would be ‘typical.’ There is guilt. There is blame.  There are moments when we feel powerless. 

But are we?

Maybe, just maybe, these children are gifted to us because, with the right catalyst, we are people who will take action. 

Some of our actions will be large.  We will lobby insurance.  We will speak at the state capitol.  We will volunteer.  We will choose a new career path so we may help others.  We will create services and support groups to help our peers.  We will advocate change.

Some of our actions will be quiet.  We will help another parent find services.  We will comfort.  We will be that late night phone call.  We will believe in possibility, not limitation.  Some of us are just realizing our potential for action, but we will get there.  Collectively, we will move the needle towards a better life for the children entrusted to us. 

Some days are hard and that is okay.  Some days we have errant thoughts about typical children and the road not taken.  And a tear falls.  And that is okay too.  But we know that, every day, our children give us the opportunity to be a better person than we were the day before.

Above all, we are grateful for our champions; the people, services, and programs that have empowered us as families.  We have been championed by those we may never meet; the generous people who give time, money, and resources so that services can be expanded, therapy centers can be built, and more families can be served. 

To show this, we will engage our family, friends, and community members to help more children with special needs.  We ask you now to join us, take action and become someone’s champion.    

Perhaps the question should be:

“Why not me?” 

- Jennifer O'Neal

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