Thursday, September 26, 2013

Half a glass

I haven't blogged in 6 months. I started half a dozen posts that I couldn't finish because I was in a dark place. I've been desperately hoping for something good to write about. I have an overwhelming tendency to gravitate toward the negative in most situations. I am not trying to be a Debbie-downer. Often it can be a very helpful trait as a mom.

We all know that optimists see the glass as half full, while pessimists see it as half empty. I tend to take it a step further and expect that someone will spill their glass and I will have to clean it up. (Ah, the lessons of motherhood.) With this mindset, I am usually prepared for the worst case scenarios that can make or break an average day. But the flip side is that I have to work extra hard to find the positive side of a situation.

So, that is what I have been doing for the past 6 months. Jacob has made a lot of progress in speech and language therapy at Wolfsons. He is an excellent reader. He fully participates in his Sunday school group at church now. His favorite thing to do is play educational games on the iPad. Ever since his birthday, he starts many tasks with  "Mom, I am 6 years old now so I can do it myself." He is a great, if sometimes overprotective, big brother. Jacob had a great time at VBS and Rock Band Camp this summer. He is sweet, silly, and smart and I love him.

But we have had some big ups and downs with his medications and their side effects. One caused major anxiety and resulted in potty accidents and fear of going to the restroom. Every single day. At home. At school. At church. Everywhere. He would have to have help going to the restroom and needed constant reassurance that only his faith gave him. "I am brave. God and Jesus are with me in my heart, so I can be brave, right?" This is what he had to tell himself over and over for months, even after stopping the medication. This broke my heart a dozen times a day. My mental health began to verge on whether or not he was wearing the clothes I sent him to school in or not... And did I mention that Emily decided this was the exact same time that she wanted to be potty trained?

We have also dealt with a loss of appetite and weight loss, insomnia to the point where he has gone 36 hours without sleep a few times, and mood changes. Even after all of that, he still does better on the medications than off of them (believe it or not). I could go into lots of details here, but I won't. If you have questions about this part of our life, please ask me.

Jacob has a very late birthday and technically started kindergarten as a 4 year old last year. That combined with not being on grade level in every area prompted us to have him repeat kindergarten. I am sure this was the right decision. I prayed very hard for the right teacher for his second year of kindergarten. I thought our prayers were answered when he got Mrs. Wise, whom we have know since Jacob began his therapies in Pre-k. All of his work was coming home looking better than ever. No potty accidents. He moved his behavior clip up to the highest spot a few times.

We were thrilled. Everything was falling into place. I even shared my praise reports with church and school friends that often pray for Jacob. The glass was finally half full!

Remember when I wrote in one of my first posts that the process of finding out about Jacob's diagnosis was like standing in the ocean getting pounded by a wave that you thought you could brace yourself for?  Well, wouldn't you just know that as soon as I opened my mouth to say something positive, a huge wave knocked me to the ground? We got a letter from the principal telling us that he would have a new teacher starting the next school day because his teacher was "recruited by the district to teach for another school." What this actually means is that she applied for a different job and didn't get it until after they completed the first 12 day count, leaving 18 kindergartners and their parents very disoriented.

He got a new teacher that has a background in special education and I really like her. She is very organized and is doing a great job for being thrown into such a crazy situation. We got to know all of the support staff, too, including the new CSS site coach. I was really impressed that she called me to introduce herself and learn more about Jacob, even after she had met my husband at orientation.

The school year was just rolling along: Jacob was doing his work, his behavior clip was moving up most days, and we were settling into our new routine. My boss asked me how Jacob as doing and I got to tell her how wonderful he was doing in school.

Can you see the wave coming? (Or maybe someone just spilled their glass.)

We have a new side effect from the medication. Jacob cannot stop rubbing his head because the medicine, he says, makes him itchy. I got an email telling me what a difficult time he has had lately finishing his work because of the rubbing. She has tried several techniques and nothing has worked.
I don't want to switch medications because our next one to try takes a whole month to start working, if he responds to it at tall (many kids do not).

In the same email, the teacher responded to my request for the site coach's email address. Guess what? They pulled her to teach Kindergarten and now there is a new person on the job!  Now I just need to find some time to have a meeting with the principal to discuss how some of the choices made this year have weakened the special education department and keep hurting the children that need stability the most. This is Jacob's last shot at the good foundation that kindergarten provides and I am not ok with the lack of communication and the shuffling of teachers at the end of the first quarter.

Will it help? Probably not. But maybe before they make one more change to the staff helping my son they will think, "Oh no... We will have to deal with that annoying mom if we do this."

That just about sums it up. Every time I think things are going well, they get worse. I've been trying
to figure out how to help Jacob for nearly two and a half years. The victories are small and sparse. The setbacks and problems  come in all sizes but they never stop. Some days I am treading the water, but most of the time I am drowning. My only strength comes from The Lord.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hard to say

It is after 10 pm on Sunday night and it is freezing! I snuck into Emily's room to make sure she was warm enough. Despite sleeping with 4 blankets, she is rarely actually "covered" when I check on her before I go to bed. Jacob went to bed later than usual tonight but I was surprised to find him still awake when I opened his door.

I decide to lay down with him just for a few minutes. He has one of those Twilight Turtles that cast stars and a moon on the ceiling. There are three color options for the stars and I'm so glad he likes the calming blue stars. Emily likes the red ones because it is as close to pink as she can get from her turtle, but the harsh red glow reminds me of staring at an alarm clock.

"Everything is so hard for me."

My heart breaks into a thousand pieces, as it comprehends what Jacob has just found the words to say.

He starts to talk about things at school, a computer center and a listening center, listing different things that are hard. I'm trying to remember specific details but it is a blur. I'm listening to him but I realize that the main reason I feel something physically crack deep inside my spirit is because my worst fear has been realized. I've said those words to people before, usually through tears: "Everything is just so hard for him." But I've never said it in front of him.

And now he's realized it, too. To hear those words come from his own mouth, in such a sad, resigned tone... it is just too much.

I hold him and tell him that I know things are hard but that I am going to do everything I possibly can to  help him learn and grow and be happy. I remind him of all of his teachers at school, at church, and therapy that are doing their very best to help him. I remind him that God loves him very much and will always be there to help him.

"I promise that things will get better," I say. The words feel hollow, almost like a lie because I know that things will probably get worse before they get better.

I wonder what it would be like if everyone in my life was trying to change me? How would I feel, how would I act? Would I be angry? Would there come a point in the day where I would just say, "No- I am done." Would I be sad? Would I overreact to things?  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. (Anyone want to take a guess at some of the issues we are currently trying to help Jacob cope with?)

It looks like I just got a lesson in compassion from my 5 year old by looking at the world through his eyes.

And suddenly I feel better about my promise that things will get better. If nothing else, I have gained a greater insight into Jacob's heart and that is where all real change, any change worth fighting for, will happen.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Detours and dead ends

I haven't written in awhile. I was waiting until I could write a really uplifting, positive post about Jacob's progress since our new diagnosis. The specialists at UF told us that he has a mixed receptive and expressive learning disorder, not autism. In short, this means that he communicates and processes things like a 4 year old instead of a 5 year old.

Here is the quickest recap of the past several months that I can manage:

  • September 20th: Diagnosis from UF & begin process of trying to get a speech/language therapy evaluation at Wolfson's so that Jacob can start therapy.
  • October 17th: Meet at Jacob's school to have his IEP revised to include language therapy. (Free, convenient, and included the possibility of being seen more than once a week.) It is a process to collect data and evaluate if his problem is a need that could be met with extra help in class or warants therapy, so we were told that it would take a few months. I didn't want to wait, so after giving my written consent to start the process with the school, I still pursued the private route.
  • Found out that the school didn't place him in an inclusion class like we were told that they would. His teacher is actually referred to as a "ghost teacher". But changing classrooms at this point would be a nightmare so we just all try to make it work.
  • November 1st: Started dealing with major anxiety issues and inappropriate behaviors on a daily basis. In one night, I went from having a child that was happy to sleep on his own to having a kid that absolutely wouldn't sleep without me. 
  • Called the UF "specialists" and were told to get him therapy 30 miles from our house, weekly. Therapy. For a child that cannot express himself or answer even the simplest "Why?" question. NO.
  • November 14th: Met with the pediatrician to figure out what to do, including the possibility of medication. He advised us to wait it out on the meds, start the language therapy before even considering therapy (which he agreed would be a waste), and use some behavioral management techniques to improve the behaviors.
  • Thanksgiving break: After we returned back to our normal schedule after the break, it was as if something had clicked inside of Jacob. He was calmer, happier, and gradually started sleeping on his own. His behavior was just much better and I wasn't the only one who noticed. 
  • November 26th: FINALLY get an appointment at Wolfsons. He gets accepted for therapy, and I was told that we might want to consider Sensory Processing therapy as well. He has always had sensory issues, but they keep getting brushed aside in each diagnosis because they seem to be getting better with time. I decided to start Speech first, and hopefully after he was in speech at school, we could start the sensory stuff at Wolfsons.
  • December: I wrote a note to Jacob's school when his progress report came home to check on the status of the data collection, etc... for therapy at school. I was told that they just had to finish up the process and get him on the MRT schedule. (They hold 2 of these meetings a month.)
  • We manage to get in for 4 therapy sessions at Wolfsons by December 31st before our insurance changed. 
  • January 2: start trying to get Jacob's therapy approved under our new insurance plan. End up having to miss 2 weeks of therapy waiting.
  • January 12: Get a call from the guidance counselor letting me know that Jacob's paperwork had never been filed or something and the data collection process that takes MONTHS was NEVER STARTED. "Sorry, could we get you to sign a new consent form?" At least they had me date it "October 17", so that he could become a priority instead of being put at the bottom of the list. 
  • Ever since Christmas vacation ended, Jacob has been off the wall, unfocused at a new level, and exhibiting weird tendencies that (the therapist confirmed) are related to sensory processing issues. I ask her to start the evaluation process for sensory therapy. 
  • January 21: Decide to take the risk of therapy not being approved and still take him to his session. ($130 instead of a $30 copay for 30 minutes. I find out that he has been removed from the therapy schedule because of the insurance problems. All of our convenient 5 pm appointments were gone. For the next 9 weeks, we had to find random and totally inconvenient appointment times.
Today, January 23rd: Officially denied coverage for therapy from the insurance company. (Getting this information took 3 times longer than I was originally told it would take.) The bright spot is that we will probably be approved for a scholarship program where we only have to pay a copay (similar to insurance). I just need to fill out a single form and get the insurance company to fax me an official denial letter. "Sure, no problem. We'll have it faxed to you and the doctor today," said the seemingly helpful customer service representative. 5 pm= No fax. If I don't get my application in asap (like, tomorrow) I will lose all of the random appointments and be put on a waiting list. 

I also called the guidance counselor shall I put it mildly?... lit a fire under her "la-dee-da, the system is just slow and you can't fight it" butt to get his language therapy eligibility evaluated. NOW. 

If you actually took the time to read that, is your head spinning? Mine is. 

Like I said, I've been waiting to write an encouraging post about how well Jacob is doing and how much progress he has made with all of the therapies and interventions that I've been ensuring that he has. 

Still waiting...

Discouraged doesn't even scratch the surface of describing how I feel about how people and institutions are failing in every possible way to help me help my son. That is all I want. At the risk of sounding bitter, I've accepted that this is our road but I hate it. Someone call my travel agent because I want to select a new destination. I want to be on the road that gets us invited over for play dates with other Kindergarteners; where we could even think about looking into music lessons for the kid who already has a passion for it or joining Cub Scouts or soccer; the path that allows me to have a full conversation with my son without it ending in total frustration for one or both of us.

I know in the depths of my heart that it could be SO much worse and I am truly grateful that it isn't. But I can't help but look at Emily sometimes and think, "But it could be so much better." 

Guess how long I get to attend that pity party? About 10 seconds. Then I am invited right back to my life of trying to make the best of it and doing everything I can to pave the road ahead for Jacob. The past 5 months have been full of detours, dead ends, pot holes, and any other metaphor you can think of. The rest of the foreseeable journey actually looks worse than I ever thought we'd be on.

Please God, fill up my tank. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pour my love on you

Today was a big day in my little world. On top of leading 3 worship songs, I spoke for the first time in church. I hadn't planned on speaking, but these words just hit me while I was getting ready this morning. I can sing all day in front of anyone, but speaking just makes me feel...vulnerable? It pushes me way out of my comfort zone. I wrote my thoughts down so that I would have something to guide me during the 2 services and I had a few people ask me to put it on my blog as a kind of devotional. It is my prayer that this is helpful or encouraging to at least one person that will read this. 

I do not usually speak on Sunday mornings. It is interesting that I was asked to lead this particular song (Pour my Love on You) because it is all about not being able to find the right words to show your love for God.

For the past year we've been working with our 5 year old son who was diagnosed with high functioning autism. After a year on the waiting list to see the experts in the field of autism and months of testing, my husband and I found out this week that our son does not have autism.

He has a Language Processing Disorder. This basically means that even though he is just as bright as the average Kindergartener, he has trouble getting out the answers, even when he understands the question. Lots of times, he will be trying to explain something to me and find himself unable to totally express himself. He gives up trying to simply tell me. He will grab my hand and say, "Look, I'll show you."

And that brings me back to this song. It is all about showing our love even when we can't find the words. It can seem like an impossible task sometimes- finding the words to thank God for everything that He is and everything He has done in your life. So, we just... don't. But today, just take a few minutes to consciously pour your heart out to God in genuine worship.

Just take His hand and say, "Look, I'll show you."

At the end of the service, Clay brought Jacob back into the sanctuary so that he could hear me sing the song. He couldn't see me very well, so they walked down front and stood in front of me while I sang. (I'm so glad that I didn't see it, or else I never could have made it through the song!) But my best friend (who took the picture) said that he just kept saying, "My mommy is singing to Jesus" over and over.

I think this might be my favorite picture of all time.

And it is so appropriate. I can talk about Jesus until I am blue in the face, but what is going to make a bigger impression on my children (especially Jacob): talking about loving God or using my gifts to actually do it?

Today was my turn to say, "Look, I'll show you."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Monterey Chicken (My Daniel Plan approved BBQ sauce: Bone Suckin' Sauce from Whole Foods.)

Cilantro lime chicken with black beans and corn

Beef Fajitas (with whole wheat tortillas)
White Chicken Chili

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Baked ziti I love to make a big batch of this and eat one for dinner that night. Then I take the others and freeze them for later after they have cooled. This is my official meal that I take people after they have a baby. It reheats well, and I just add garlic bread, salad, and dessert.

Garlic Pesto Chicken with Tomato Cream Penne Pasta

Angel Hair pasta with Chicken & Spinach (This is making it into the regular rotation. Soooo good!)

Monday, September 3, 2012


Crock-pot Breakfast Casserole

1 (32 ounce) bag frozen hash brown potatoes
1 pound bacon diced, cooked and drained, or 1 pound cooked ham, cubed (I used diced ham and only a little bit.)
1 medium diced onion
1 green bell pepper diced
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1 dozen eggs (I used egg substitute)
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper (more or less to taste)

Place a layer of frozen potatoes on the bottom of the crock pot, followed by a layer of bacon then onions, green pepper and cheese. Beat the eggs, milk and salt and pepper together. Pour over the Crockpot mixture, cover and turn on LOW. Cook for 10 to 12 hours. (10 hours was perfect for us. I turned it on High for the last 30 minutes, but I don't think it was necessary.) 

 I will try this for breakfast. The poster said that it was very filling. I love smoothies, but I'm always hungry before lunch.Hopefully this will be what I'm looking for.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Royal Birthday Bash

One day out of the blue, my son decided that he was a king. Naturally, this meant that his baby sister was the queen, my husband became "Prince Daddy", and I was granted the title of "Princess Mommy".  We live in "the blue castle". His flip flops became his official "king shoes". The list goes on and on.

The Royal Family
Because their birthdays are only 5 days apart, I decided to throw a double birthday party for my little  king and queen. Here is how I threw a "Kimperfect" (a.k.a. cute & on a budget) birthday party for 13 kids and 18 adults.

Kimperfect Notes


I usually love sending out cute, printed invitations because you'll have something to stick in the scrapbook. I fought this instinct and went with an evite. I chose the princess crown template & here is how I worded the invitation:

Hear ye, hear ye! 

The honor of your presence is requested at the royal birthday festivities for King Jacob V and Queen Emily II.
Join us as we slay a dragon, rescue the King's treasure, and partake in a royal feast.  Your little ladies are welcome to wear their favorite princess dresses. Armor will be provided for the knights.

I looked for a very long time for some high quality royal birthday decorations. Most princess stuff, unless you're going with a true Disney theme, is really tacky. The knight stuff is also pretty lame. I really didn't feel like making everything like I did last year, so I was willing to pay a little more for the convenience factor. 

Then I hit the jack-pot: Meri Meri. She had two themes that went very well together: "Calling All Princesses" and "Brave Knights". After a lot of comparison shopping, I found that the best deal was the direct Meri Meri website and I bought (for each theme): garlands, small cake plates, cupcake kits, party hats, and the princess castle centerpiece. This got a little pricey, but I found a coupon code for 25% my order on . I think with shipping, it was $75. Yikes! But remember, I was buying for two kids. 

I used my Circuit machine to add their names and ages to the banners. Emily's was easy- I just glued the letters or numbers to the garland. Jacob's garland was very nice, but I had to cut card stock backings for the letters (which I double matted). I added balloons to cover the spot where I used a nail to hang the banners in the corners of my dining room.

The full view of the banners. 

Emily's banner

Jacob's banner


I love to make extravagant cakes for people. But the more I looked into creating a giant castle cake, the more I began dreading it. Wilton sells a castle cake kit that looks great, but got very poor reviews. So I decided to go the "easy route" and make cupcakes. Hahaha. Easy. 

My original plan was to get a Publix sheet cake and put the castle on top of it, surrounded by the cupcakes made from the cupcake kits (they have princesses and knight toppers). But the more I played around with it, the more I realized that I needed cupcake towers. 

Wilton makes cardboard toppers for $5.99 that you can decorate. 
For both towers, I used scrapbook paper to cover the tiers & ribbon to cover the edges. I set the castle on a cake plate to give it some height and covered it in pink fabric ($2 from Walmart). 
I found 2 amazing recipes on Pinterest for the cupcakes. The knight cupcakes are Andes Mint cupcakes and the Princess cupcakes are white wedding cake cupcakes with vanilla butter cream frosting. These were totally from scratch cupcakes, so the cost of making them was fairly high. I didn't realize it was going to cost so much, but I probably spent at least $50 in ingredients. I made all of the cupcakes the week of the party and once they had cooled, I frosted them and froze them until the party. 

I also gave out extra cupcakes as favors. To package them, I used tongs to put the frozen (so that the icing doesn't smear) cupcakes into little plastic cups (dollar store!). Then you open up a cellophane bag and roll it down (like you're rolling the sleeves on a sweater) before dropping the cup into the bag. Finish it off by tying it with a ribbon and (if you had more time than I did) a "thank you for coming" tag. 


The girls decorated magic mirrors. I bought pink double-sided stand mirrors from the dollar store. I cut out card stock circles ahead of time to hot glue to one side of the mirrors after they were decorated with markers, crayons, glitter, foam stickers, and princess stickers. 

If I could do it again, I probably would have decorated a hand mirror, but these were cute, too. I wanted a craft that wouldn't be thrown away or destroyed as quickly as a foam crown or something.

Each of the boys decorated a knight's shield. I made 8 shields for less than $15- that is better than Oriental Trading. They were easy to make!  I just cut out shields from foam boards from the dollar store, painted them with silver paint ($0.50 at Michael's), rolled the sides in white glue and glitter.

To decorate, I bought knight stickers and red duct tape (to make a cross). And I used a small piece of velco on the back as a handle. (I'll post a separate tutorial soon.)

   Slaying the dragon (pinata) was King Jacob's favorite part of the party.  This pinata was ridiculously hard to break! Prince Daddy ended up smashing it. 

It was also kind of girly looking. To make it look more fierce, I added some tissue paper flames. 

Inevitable jousting matches. I bought the foam swords at the Dollar Store and Michael's.

I bought a Discovery Kids cardboard castle at Burlington Coat Factory. The kids had a get time playing in a "real" castle. It had towers, a drawbridge door, etc... Totally worth $15.00. 

Kimperfect notes:

* For the menu, we served salad, a veggie tray, chips and salsa, hummus, Chick-Fil-A nuggets, Pepperidge Farm Chessman cookies (which looked really cute with the theme), and Bugles. I ran out of time & motivation to add cute signs to the food. If I could do it over again, I would have called the bugles "Dragon Toenails", the nuggets "King Jacob's golden nuggets", "non-poisoned" apple juice, etc...
* I bought several yards of red, blue, and gold costume satin fabric at Walmart for the table cloths. Instead of confetti, I used craft jewels.
* I wanted to try this ice cream idea from Pinterest and even bought fleur de lis and princess cookie cutters, but again, I ran out of time. Someone will have to try this and tell me how well it turns out.  

Happy party planning! 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Baby Shower Cake: "Welcome to the Nest"

A good friend of mine is expecting her second little girl and the choir threw her a baby shower at church. I think she was a little over the traditional idea that everything for a girl needs to be pastel pink, so I decided to step outside the world of stereotypical baby shower cakes. She likes birds so I decided to do a "Welcome to the Nest" theme. After a quick search on Pinterest, I found this cake and used it as my inspiration. 

Materials needed:
  • 2 Cake mixes of your choice (I used a chocolate Duncan Hines mix.)  
  • Icing (homemade or store bought)
  • 2 boxes of white fondant (You can find this at any craft store.)
  • Gel food coloring (I used Wilton . This works much better than the food coloring drops.)
  • Wilton Nature Fondant and Gum Paste Mold
  • rolling pin or fondant roller
  • 2 round cake pans (6 inch and 8 inch)
  • confectioner's sugar 
  • Roll and cut mat (optional, but helpful)
  • Fondant smoother
  • a cutting tool with a small, sharp blade. (There are special fondant tool kits that you can buy, but I used the cutting kit that came with my Circuit machine. A small knife or an exact-o knife will work, too, if you're on a budget.)
  • Cupcake liners 
  • paintbrush
  • shaping foam (in the cake aisle)
  1. Bake your cake (and cupcakes if desired). I decided to make a small cake surrounded by cupcakes. I used Wilton Color Cups, which I found at JoAnn's (36 for $3.00). The liners are made of foil, so they cook evenly and retain their color while baking. You can even bake them without a cupcake pan.                                                      
  2. Let your cake cool completely before transferring to a working surface. Put the cake on top of something that you can move easily (a cake board, a cookie sheet or thick piece of cardboard covered in tin foil).
  3. Mix your fondant colors. Divide one box into 4 equal parts: pink, green, brown. Add the left over quarter of white fondant to the entire 2nd box of fondant and color it blue. I am a novice at this, so here is a link to a really great website that explains how to color fondant. Be sure to read all of the tips! 
  4. My K-imperfect moment on this cake: I made the mistake of only buying one box of fondant to cover my two tiered cake. So I rolled out the fondant thinly enough to make the circle cover both. If I could do it over, I would have covered each tier individually.
  5. Roll out the fondant. Lightly dust your smooth work surface or the Roll & Cut Mat and your rolling pin with confectioners' sugar to prevent sticking. Roll out fondant sized to your cake. To keep fondant from sticking, lift and move as you roll. Add more confectioners' sugar if needed.
  6. How big does your circle need to be? The diameter (the distance across) + the height of the cake + the height of the cake + 2 inches of wiggle room.  This means that for a cake pan that is 8 inches across and 3 inches high, you would need (8+3+3+2=) a circle that is 16 inches across.   
  7. To move your fondant in one piece, roll it onto your rolling pin and then unroll it over the cake.
  8. Smooth out the fondant with a fondant smoother. This is probably the hardest part.   
  9. Trim away excess fondant and tuck the ends under the cake gently.
  10. Don't worry too much if there are some minor tears or creases in the fondant, especially around the base of the cake. This is a good cake for beginners because there is an easy way to cover these mistakes.

How to make the decorations:

This part is simple, but time consuming. I did this while watching a movie. :-) I didn't finish in one sitting, so I put the pieces that I had finished in a tupperware container until I was ready to decorate.

Use the mold to make the pieces you want (leaves, flowers, branches) by pushing pieces of fondant into the mold. Bend the mold to make the pieces come out and them trim them using your tools. To trim them, I laid them on a piece of shaping foam. (This is optional, but it was nice to have.)
A branch on the shaping foam.

Attach the branches on the cake first. To attach pieces, paint the back of the decoration with water using your (new) paintbrush and press onto the cake. You can use frosting, too, but I thought painting them was easier and I didn't have to worry about excess frosting being smushed out around the decorations. 

The first thing I did was cover any creases or bumps along the sides of the cake. Then add more branches to fill in the gaps. 
The first branches placed to cover the imperfections.

Next, add your flowers and leaves. 

Cover any problem areas first and then fill in the rest.

How to make the bird family:

One of the party hosts had bird napkins that she'd picked up from IKEA, so I modeled the birds (one for each family member) off the napkins. 

1. Roll a ball of fondant into an egg shape in the size that you would like the bird to be. flatten the bottom of the egg so that the bird will stand up.

2. To make the wings, I used the leaf mold and then pinched the end to make it look a bit more pointed. Attach it to the bird with a wet paintbrush.

3. To make the tail, roll out a small rectangle of fondant. Use your cutting tools to add line impints to it to resemble feathers. Attach it to the egg shape in the back with a wet paint brush.

4. Shape tiny eyes and a small beak using leftover fondant. Attach to the face. 

5. To make the nest, make a few brown fondant branches using the mold. Twist them into a nest shape. For the egg you can just roll a small piece of fondant into an egg shape, or use egg shaped candies. Jordan almonds would work well, too, but I didn't want to pay $7.00 for the bag.

Overall, I think it turned out very well considering it was only my 2nd time using fondant. Don't refrigerate the cake because the moisture will make the fondant sticky.  

Extra tips and suggestions:

  • Use the 40% off coupons to craft stores like Michael's or Hobby Lobby to buy the mold, fondant, and any of the other higher priced items needed to work with fondant.
  • If there is a step you don't quite understand, google it. Chances are good that you will find several links and youtube video tutorials that will help you. 
  • I love some of the specialty cakes from Publix, like vanilla with strawberry cream filling, that I have a hard time recreating. You can always order an undecorated cake and add the decorations yourself. 
  • If you want to make your cake in advance, you can freeze it. Just cover it in saran wrap and, for extra measure, tin foil. De-thaw it to room temperature before decorating. 
  • For a really moist, thicker cake I always prepare my cake mix with: 4 eggs, 1 (3.4 oz.) package of instant pudding, 1 1/4 Cups of water, and  1/2 cup of oil to prepare the mix. Add approx. 15 minutes to the listed baking time. (Note: this works really well on chocolate cakes.)   
  • Wrap your cake board in wrapping paper that matches your cake if you don't have a pretty platter or cake stand to display it on. 
  • If you're making a large version of this cake, follow these rules for stacking a cake.
  • This is a link to a chart for the amount of fondant needed to cover other shaped/sized cakes. I think they over estimate the amount of fondant needed, but that couldn't possibly be because they are trying to sell you something, right? 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Welcome to the Bat Cave

I am sitting in a room that I have only seen in movies and police shows. There is a large two-way mirror so that I can observe what is going on in the other room.

It is a 12x5 space (that I will generously call a "room") and is packed with chairs and rubbermaid bins. I have to sit in the dark and listen via a tiny speaker.

There is a piece of printer paper taped to the wall that reads, "Welcome to the Bat Cave" above the Batman symbol. I am neither encouraged nor amused.

I am watching Jacob go through another battery of tests to confirm his autism diagnosis. This time we are dealing with the medical specialists at UF's Center for Autism Research and Development (CARD).  
He is there for an I.Q. test and an ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule). 


Something inside one of the rubbermaid bins has just "mooed" at me. (Okay, that was funny.)

During the I.Q. test, he is asked to identify objects, follow increasingly complex instructions using manipulatives (i.e. "Give me the horse... Give me the house before you give me the tree."), and match cards with 4 choices. The instructions are minimal and even I had a difficult time figuring out what they were asking him to do when presented with the matching section.

As he took the test, I found myself mentally yelling the correct answers at my little boy from behind the glass, as if I could raise his I.Q. score by the sheer force of my will.

Flashback: I am standing over a bassinet watching my 4 day-old son sleep. I should be sleeping, too, but I cannot stop watching him. I am terrified that he will just stop breathing without my continued presence willing it to continue.

Maybe this is why the Bat Cave sign bothers me. I have no super powers in this room. I stop listening to his answers as the questions get harder.

Then we are moved to another room for the ADOS. I have been through one of these before, so I know what to expect. There is a therapist in the room that sits in the corner taking notes while another plays with Jacob in a scripted fashion. As I walk him to the new room, he grabs my hand and says, "Don't leave me."

I leave him.

I pick up the pieces of my heart and get settled into another observation room. It doesn't start off well and I immediately start to see what they see. A sweet, slightly stiff little boy. Just enough avoidance of eye contact to raise concern. A reluctance to answer questions that are not repeated or rephrased so that he can understand them.

And then something wonderful happens. My Jacob shows up.

He is delighted to find a remote controlled bunny under a cloth, which he figures out how to work by himself. He tells the therapists, without prompting, that bunnies are his favorite animals because they are so soft.

He shows off his new, light up Buzz Lightyear shoes.

He throws a birthday party for a family of dolls, complete with a play dough birthday cake. When told to "feed the baby the cake" and is handed some kind of odd object to use as a spoon, he replies, "Wait. I've got a better idea." He scouts out the room and the toys and actually finds something that looks more like a spoon.

He remembers the details of an activity better than the therapist does...twice.

He is cooperative, interested, imaginative, and enjoying himself in an unfamiliar place without his mommy, even after hours of testing.

I decided to keep Emily and Jacob in school through June so that I could have a little break to get things done around the house. Today is his last day at the school he has gone to since he was barely two years old. I'm pretty sure I will cry harder today when I pick him up than I did at his graduation. His teachers have instilled in him a love for Jesus that I didn't really think was possible in such a young child. He has learned so much and I am so grateful that First Baptist Jr. Academy was part of God's plan for his life.

So, I guess what I've learned today (and over the past 5 years) is that I can't be everywhere. I won't always be there to help Jacob through all of his obstacles in life. There will be times where he says, "Don't leave me" and I will have to leave because letting him fend for himself is the right thing to do. But God is there, and helping Jacob understand that he can call on his God for strength is what will give me peace when I have to let go. (Someone please remind me of this in August when I send him to Kindergarten.)

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah. Psalm 46:1-3,7

 "Fire Chief Jacob" on his final share day at school.
He had to come dressed as what he wants to be when he grows up.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Asking the hard questions, Part 2




Have you ever been in the ocean and braced yourself for a wave that is about to hit you?  A wave that looked small? A wave that you could see coming? A wave that knocked you down because you clearly underestimated its strength?

My wave was YES.

Autism. His teacher thinks he has autism.

My mind flooded with all of our excuses for his behaviors, with questions about why no one cared to mention this sooner, with the realization that we had lost a valuable year of early intervention if this was the case...I flashed back to my courses as a Music Therapy major at FSU. I vividly remembered two things from a course on Special Education that I took my senior year, preparing to work with the children of other people:
1.  a vocabulary word (term), "chronic sorrow," which refers to the long term reaction of parents who have a child with a disability.
2. The name of a book, "You Will Dream New Dreams".

The new wave I felt was NO.

No, I will not dream new dreams for my son. I want the dreams I have in my heart right now. I want the dreams that I wrote out for him in a letter on his first birthday & put in his baby book on the page "A Letter from Mommy."

And chronic sorrow? Nope. Not something I wanted to become acquainted with, except possibly being sensitive to this when dealing with other people that have special needs children.

And then the waves really started to pound me.

Guilt. Did I do something during my pregnancy to cause this?
Anger. Why me? Why my son? 
Confusion. God, I don't understand? I prayed for this child. I struggled with infertility. And while he was being formed, I specifically prayed against many things, including autism. Why?
A little wave, hope. This isn't a diagnosis, just a theory...right?

And then it didn't matter how I felt at that moment because my tears washed my mommy-goggles right off. The rest of my questions had a purpose- how do we get him the help he needs? What do I do first? I knew the teacher was right. He was clearly high-functioning, but autism made a lot of sense.

"High-functioning" became a life preserver that I begged others to throw to me as I talked to the pediatrician, former and current teachers, the director of his wonderful school that cried right along with me, my friends... really, anyone who needed to know about our suspicions. For whatever reason, it softened the blow of the "autism" label.

The "A" word was one of the hardest things to get over at first. When I think of autism, a few pictures come to mind: "Rain man" and an image of a robotic child, sitting alone in a corner lining up toys. That wasn't Jacob.

But we started the testing process. After requesting an extra long appointment with the pediatrician, we got a referral to UF's CARD (Center for Autistic Research and Development). It took me 6 weeks to fill out the enormous packet of detailed information on Jacob. My crazy scrapbooks, baby books, and calendars that I spent so much time on (see my post "Why do I do it?") really came in handy! But there were still questions I didn't know the answers to. (How many moms out there know the exact month that their child was able to walk up the stairs? able to walk up the stairs without stopping on each step?) We were put on a waiting list. 

Then we started testing with Duval County. More paperwork. After our first set of 2 hours of non-stop testing, the speech pathologist and psychologist came back into the room to give us their results. 

"We see autistic children all day. Jacob does not have autism. We think he has ADHD."

What? I tried very hard not to make excuses for him, but I knew better. I am a teacher. I see ADD and ADHD all the time. Jacob does fine in all sorts of situations where he needs to stay in line, sit in circle time, and so on. He can be crazy but he is a 4 year old little boy. And this diagnosis didn't explain any of the sensory issues that he had with loud noises, bright lights, food textures. And even though he was fully potty trained at home (even through the night), he still didn't want to go at school. 

They were the professionals and they were wrong

I could have run with their diagnosis, away from the terrible A word, and back to the doctor for medication. Meds help lots of kids. But they were wrong. I came here asking the hard questions and I wanted the truth, regardless of what it was. I can look back now and see this as a defining moment in our lives and, even more so, as a mom. 

I asked for more testing. 

We got it. The next day we came back for an ADOS, a diagnostic screening test for autism. Red flags popped up all over the place and after many, many more tests, they told us what we already knew. Autism, not ADHD. High functioning (woohoo!), mild, but on the spectrum. 

My son has autism. Oh, I just hate that word. Autism. I hate telling people that he has autism because I know what images come to mind and they don't begin to capture everything my creative, affectionate, talented, intelligent little boy with the same cool, spiky blonde hair really is. 

But if there is anything I have learned as a Potter-file, it is that, "Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself." And 2 Timothy 1:6-7 reminded me that, "For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." 

Fear is a liar that I don't have time for. 

Fast forward: After months of behavioral, developmental, and occupational therapy, I've started to see major improvements in Jacob. I'll revisit those months in my blog later. We're starting Round 2 of the diagnosis with CARD (after spending 10 months on the waiting list) for an official medical diagnosis.
But today I just want to celebrate my little graduate, who will start regular kindergarten (with some extra services) in August. I am so proud of how far he has come in such a short time and grateful for the privilege to be his mommy. 

Asking the hard questions

My son was a fat baby. There- I said it. He wasn't solid. He wasn't husky. He wasn't chunky.

He was FAT.
At 4 months old, he outgrew his infant carrier. I used to prop him up in the cart at Target or Publix with blankets and my purse until he could sit up on his own. At 9 months, he weighed 31 pounds. That is the weight of an average 3 year old boy. 

But I had my mommy-goggles on when I looked at my sweet baby boy. I wish I had a dollar for every time I said, "He's just solid." (It would have helped pay for all of the formula he was chugging.)

I can look back now and see his resemblance to the Michelin Man, but I didn't want to see it then. When people, especially strangers, called my baby fat, it bothered me. Not enough to make an issue out of it but it bothered me that when they looked at him, that was all they saw. 

What about his awesome hair? His sweet little laugh? He was the happiest, low maintenance baby in the world. According to “What to Expect the 1st year/The Toddler years”, Jacob was right on track developmentally.  The only “red flag” I had when he was a baby was the odd way he wouldn’t look you in the eye if you held him too closely. You had to hold him at a distance if you wanted him to look right at you. My sweet boy with the spiky blonde hair & chubby cheeks was just perfect.

And then he turned 2.

Jacob didn’t speak in full sentences until well after his peers. He stopped eating almost everything he once loved. He didn’t like to touch the sand or the water at the beach. Walking barefoot in grass was torture. He never wanted to play with the other kids. He went through stages where he would be completely obsessed with different objects and ignore the rest of his toys: sticks, strings, soap bottles. We had to force him to go down the slide at the playground. I could write a book on potty training, as I have now read every book, article, and blog on the subject during the 2 years it took to PT my son.

There were lots of excuses we had for the way our now 3 year-old behaved.
  • He’s a boy. Boys aren’t as verbal, as easy to potty train, etc…. as girls.
  • He doesn’t have any brothers or sisters to copy.
  •  He is the youngest in his class.
  • Maybe he is just shy.
  • He is just very cautious.
  • Every kid goes through stages.
  • He is just a late bloomer. Everyone develops at their own pace. 
  • And even with all of his little quirks, he was happy, silly, affectionate, etc... 

Some of them came from his teachers.  I remember talking to his teacher when he was 2.5, and pointing out that his speech was much less developed than his peers. His sentences were much shorter and even the quality of his speech sounded younger than others his age. She said, “Yes, and his gross motor skills are not as developed. But he is the smartest child in class- he knows all of his letters, shapes, and colors, and can count to 10. And he is the youngest!”

She was right. He was very smart. We waited until he was almost 2 until we let him watch TV and he quickly became a fan of Sesame Street. I’ll never forget driving behind a Fedex truck when he called out, “E! E!”, pointing to the truck. It occurred to me that E had been the letter of the day on Sesame Street. I wondered how many other letters he had learned, so when we got home, I drew the other letters from that week on his magna-doodle. He had 
learned a handful of other letters all by himself! My child was a genius!

Five days before Jacob turned 3, we had the biggest excuse yet for his increasingly challenging behaviors: Emily was born. This sent his potty training into total regression. After spending my entire 3rd trimester on my knees with M&M's and sticker charts, this was a crushing blow to my patience and post-partum psyche. He also became depressed. Being separated from me during my hospital stay totally traumatized him... and he really didn’t like his sister.

After an entire year of waiting to see if it was something more severe or just the result of being the youngest, shyest, most cautious BOY in his class, whose world had been upset by the arrival of a sibling, my husband asked his wonderful teacher the difficult question:
                                          “Do you think that Jacob has autism?”
                                      And that was the beginning of our journey.

                                                                  End of part 1.