Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sometimes Fun Trumps Laundry

Last weekend, it was kind of cold and rainy, so my daughter and I were stuck in the house trying to find fun things to do. After we had baked something and painted (my usual stand-by ideas for fun), and when Flanna didn't want to play with play-dough (my other fall-back fun indoor activity), I had an idea to have an indoor egg hunt. We only had 12 plastic eggs, so the hunts went pretty quickly. I would hide them and then she would seek them, and then she'd hide them, and I'd seek them. I was surprised at some of the tricky hiding places she used!

And the cool thing about our day was that, even though I really needed to be doing my dishes and laundry, I made a conscious choice to choose fun. (It helps that this choice fits with my Happiness Commandment #4.) And it payed off in big happiness dividends.

Now, of course, I can't choose fun over laundry every day. But on days when I can, I feel like I'm actually living my priorities, instead of just "getting by." And that's a pretty nice feeling.



How did you live your priorities this week?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Little Gift



Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I've been doing a little planting lately. My window herb garden (see the pic?) is doing pretty well, which is really satisfying to me. And just as I was pondering what I wanted to plant outside once the rainy streak finally ends here, an amazing gift kinda dropped in my lap. My landlord, Edna, told me that what I had thought were abandoned flower pots on the back landing are actually communal herbs for everyone who lives in our house. There's some pretty established rosemary, some mint, and two things I'm not quite sure about. (Maybe thyme? I'm a newbie at this!) But Edna promised she'd explain it all to me soon. Yay!

Check out the lovely pic of the rosemary. Some days I'm amazed at how lucky I am.

Really, I'm kinda lucky.

I actually once got a fortune cookie that told me, "You will succeed at everything."

See? Lucky.

I mean, I met the perfect guy for me at 16. I ended up loving the job I naively chose as a teenager. I stumbled into a really cool assistantship in grad school that was amazingly perfect for my skills and interests. I accidentally got pregnant while tons of my friends struggle with infertility. My daughter was born healthy and strong, and continues to flourish and learn.

And now these cool herbs drop from the sky on my back steps.

What luck!

Perhaps I should go buy a lottery ticket.



How have you been lucky in your life?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cotton Tails



My friend Nikki has taught me a lot about being a good mom. Like how to be a bold advocate for your child. And how to think big even in a small town. And how to be flexible when dreams go sour. But one of the small things she taught me, which has really made a difference in my life so far, is to treat your child's teachers well. She is so thoughtful to her children's teachers, and I'm always envious of the neat teacher gift ideas she comes up with.

So, I always think of her when holidays come up and I'm trying to come up with teacher gift ideas. This week, to celebrate Easter (or Pascha, as we call it in my church), Flannery and I made some cute bunny bags to hold some little gifts for her teachers. I think I must've seen this done at a preschool during one of my SLP internships or something, so I can't take all the credit for it. (Although I did add the cotton ball tails myself!) It's a really easy wrapping idea for spring.

You just take lunch-sized paper bags and, while they're still folded, you cut out a bunny silhouette. Then, you open them up, glue on buttons for eyes and a nose, glue on a cotton ball for the tail, and draw a little mouth. Flannery did lots of the steps herself (except for the cutting part. That would've been an ER visit for sure.). And when we were done, she said,

"These are so great, mom." Very matter-of-factly. And that made me pretty darn happy.



What lessons have some of your friends taught you about motherhood?

Speechy Sunday - My Bag of Tricks for Autism


Some of you have requested some speech ideas and tips, so I'm trying to honor that. These ideas are just general strategies that work for me, and should in no way to be taken as medical advice. If you have a child or grandchild who needs speech and language support, there is no better way to get it than in person with your very own SLP. You can find a certified SLP in your area by going here.

Today I wanted to talk about some very basic starting places for therapy with children with autism. I usually work with children in early intervention and at the preschool level, so these lists apply best to children under age 6. This is just a brief list of a "bag of tricks" that I might try on my very first visit with a kiddo with autism. Every child is different, but these little strategies and activities are the ones that I've found most successful with the families I've worked with over the years.

My Bag of Tricks: Strategies

Figure out the child’s individual motivators/special interests - Here are just a few of the many motivators/special interests I've encountered with my clients: letters, numbers, dinosaurs, Thomas the Train, coloring, being in small enclosed spaces, dropping toys down stairs/a hill/a ramp, favorite foods, Moon Sand, farm animals, Backyardigans, spinning, jumping, strong hugs, strong back rubs, hard high fives...the list goes on. Sometimes it's hard to figure out a certain child's motivators. Try to think about what the child does when left on his/her own, and sometimes that's a good clue.

Start with teaching requests - (ex: Please, More, I want it) Requests set the wheels of communication learning in motion. They are the first cog to get moving, and often bring other skills along with them.

Pair sounds with actions if you want the sounds to be imitated or used by the child - I often work on trying to get children with autism to imitate my actions first, and then to imitate sounds and actions, as well. Kids play by imitating one another's actions, and often teaching motor imitation can help social language skills, as well. (By the way, here's a cool research article about that.)

Work Hard to Connect with the Child (maybe by using their interests or some fun sensory play)

Make it fun! - I know you have an agenda...you're an adult working with a child with autism. But try to make "engaging and having a mutually fun experience" be your primary agenda. After engagement, skills will come. Don't worry! (Here's a neat review of some studies that discusses how teaching kids how to play with toys is actually an effective therapy strategy for getting kids to talk more, not just a fun experience.)

Entice the child to want to request and play. - Be a circus act! The more exciting and interesting you are as a playmate, the more you're going to get from a child. That includes attention, language, time, focus, engagement, and even learning. Think about the best teachers you had growing up. Weren't they the ones brave enough to tap dance on the table if the whole class learned their multiplication tables (like my 3rd grade teacher, Ms. English did)? If you want learning to happen, you have to know how to motivate and entice kids into the process.

Be predictable in format, but change it up regularly. - Most children with autism love predictable routines. But be sure to try to build in some changes each week or so in order to get the child used to dealing with unexpected things, and to work on flexibility.

Keep it Short and Sweet (KISS) -Overplan activities, and move on if one is not motivating/fun for the child. I absolutely love book sharing with kids. But many of my students with autism are not into books unless the book is about their special interest. Or maybe they're into books, but only want to turn the pages without actually listening to the story. So, while I try to plan book activities that are exciting like touch and feel books, or books with actions for us to do together, I usually keep these activities short, and abandon them completely if they're not working well. I'll of course keep trying, and eventually, many students will figure out the fun things we can do with books, but I have to remind myself that it's not a failure to stop a planned activity short--it's just smart. Plus, I don't want to lose my "fun cred" with the kid by forcing them to endure a boring activity.

Enlist parents/sitters/siblings as teaching partners - If you've found a fun activity that your client or child loves, by all means, teach the fun activity to the child's parents, sitters, siblings, grandparents, etc., so they can try it with them, too. I really find that I have to "plan for generalization," because many children with autism learn a skill in one setting and have a really hard time using that skill in any other setting. Quickly giving the reins to a parent once a child "gets" an activity, and being there with them to problem-solve how things are going when they're trying it out, is a wonderful way to make that generalization more likely to happen. (If you're interested, here's a neat research article about a parent-implemented treatment for kiddos with autism to help them learn imitation skills.)

Repeat Repeat Repeat - I like to begin playing with kids with autism by showing them a really interesting play routine a few times until they are interested in engaging in the routine with me. And then, once we've done the routine a few (or a zillion) times, I try to back off and see if they will fill in pieces of the routine. I find that once kiddos learn a basic play routine, and begin to be able to predict how it will work, their engagement level really jumps. And when kids are engaged, that's the point where we can get them learning!


So, that's a brief list of some of my top strategies. Now for the fun stuff. The actual activities I like best to spark a connection with a child with autism:

My Bag of Tricks: Activities (with links to toys I like & a brief script you could use to teach a play routine using these toys)
1. Spinning tops (1-2-3-go........uhoh-it stopped!)
2. Pound a Ball Toys (bang bang bang, aaaaand-out!)
3. Trains (1-2-3-go, aaaaand-stop)
4. Cars down a ramp (up up up, wheeeeee down)
5. Toys down a slide (up up up, sliiiiiiide down)

The cool thing about sharing my bag of tricks with you is that perhaps I can convince you that therapy doesn't have to be hard work. It can be fun, and doing something proactive with kiddos with autism, while having fun at the same time, can really boost a family's happiness!

If you're interested, here's a related post I wrote recently about my favorite autism treatment books. And click here for a few of my favorite autism-related websites.

Oh, and by the way, the cute bag at the top of this post was made by my friend Carla. Here's her cute etsy site if you wanna see more of her stuff.

Also, on a completely unrelated note, it made me really happy to read this article today about knitters working to provide free knitted prosthetic breasts to mastectomy patients.



What's your favorite play activity to engage in with your child (or client) with autism?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Time Management, Time Schmannitchment.


I was looking over my happiness commandments, and I realized I haven’t really written about #10: Be Prompt and Polite. That’s probably because this is the happiness commandment I have the hardest time keeping. I’m very polite, I think, but I am the least prompt person I know.

And yet I somehow managed to procreate with the most prompt person on the planet (by the way, that witty alliteration was unintentional! I just noticed it when I re-read this before posting it!). So in order to keep from driving said spouse off the side of a cliff, I have worked and worked on being more prompt. I’ve read books on the subject. I’ve researched it online. I’ve tried to scientifically modify my own behavior.

And all this research has led me to the conclusion that I have poor temporal perception, that I underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete activities, and that I try to squeeze too many tasks into the amount of time allotted.

Yikes! I’m a time management mess!!

Julie Morganstern, organizer extraordinaire, recommended in one of her books to actually take a week and time yourself in all the activities that you normally do. Since the times will vary, doing this over a week will allow you to figure out the average amount of time it takes to get tasks done. I have never been focused enough to do this, but I do think it’s great advice.

The things I’ve done that have worked to make me more prompt include getting up earlier in the morning, preparing everything ahead of time in the evening, overestimating driving time between clients’ homes, starting to end speech visits long before I think I should end them (which it turns out is usually right about on-time), and planning to be places 15 minutes early so that I can catch up on some reading while waiting once I’m already there. This last one is a sort of behavior modification program I came up with for myself, and works when my schedule isn’t crammed to the gills. Which is rare. But at least I’m working on it. (Insert sigh for my poor prompt husband here. Oops, again with the alliteration..this is getting scary.)

The thing is, on days when I actually get up early, and have things prepared ahead of time, and am on time to all my appointments, it really does give me a happiness boost. So you would think that would be reinforcing in and of itself. But I guess not enough. Ugh. I think I need to read Julie Morganstern's book again for some inspiration.

One day, I will be both prompt and polite, and a peck of pickled peppers.



Do you think it’s rude for people to be late? What helps you be on time for things?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Look Back Once in a While

video
Every once in a while, I'm trying to post interviews with amazing and insightful people who inspire me! This week's focus is Dana. Dana is a fellow SLP working in early intervention in Georgia. She has 3 children and owns her own speech practice. She balances work & family seamlessly, so I was interested to hear her answers to my happiness questions. Here they are:

1. What's something small that you do regularly that makes you happy or cheers you up?

I look at home videos of my kids when they were babies. It really makes me appreciate how quickly they are growing and changing. Listening to their laughter or words makes me happy.

2. What would you like for your children to know about happiness?

Happiness is priceless. It costs nothing. Little things like sunny days can make you feel happy.

3. What do you do to keep yourself and your family happy amidst life's struggles?

Try to keep routines, like having dinner together. The routine of sitting down and talking about our day is something that we all look forward to.

---

I completely agree that looking back at videos of my daughter gives me a huge happiness boost. There's something about watching adorable memories unfold that puts the little stresses of life in perspective. Thanks, Dana, for your insights! (And by the way, the video at the top is of my little one's first steps! Enjoy the excitement!)


By the way, I really enjoyed this post from my friend Lauren, who writes the blog Sharing the Journey. Her idea about "treating yourself" one sense at a time each day of the week is something I'd like to try!


What memories make you happy?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's Easter Every Day

As part of my happiness resolution to "Share and Create Family Traditions," Flannery and I made Easter cookies last weekend. From scratch, at that! Cookies are a family tradition on both sides of our family. My mom is a master cookie maker. Her chocolate chip cookies are amazing, and all my friends from childhood say one thing they remember about my house is the smell and/or taste of chocolate chip cookies. Isn't that a neat memory? And then, on my hubby's side, his aunt is an amazing cookie maker, as well. At every holiday get-together, Aunt Sharon brings beautifully decorated (and incredibly yummy!) cookies...our favorites are gingerbread men and sugar-cookie cutouts.

I really love to bake, so this is a tradition that's easy for me to keep. Any time we're looking for something to do, my first thoughts go to baking something. Flanna's gotten pretty good at measuring, pouring, and stirring carefully, and she's slowly learning how to not gorge herself on cookie dough. (I think she gets that inclination from me...Mmmm, cookie dough.)

Anyway, our Easter cookies turned out really cute, thanks to Aunt Sharon's frosting recipe and some new "neon" food coloring I found at Kroger. The neon coloring made really cute pastel colors that were still vibrant. (And now I'm excited about using it to dye our easter eggs when the time comes.)

Making cookies with my mom and sister is something I remember really enjoying, and I hope Flannery will remember our happy baking times fondly one day, too.


What traditions from your childhood do you want to keep going?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Do What Needs to be Done


I'm working like crazy this week to try to prepare for a week off just after Easter. I'm seeing clients for extra visits, trying to get most of my meetings squared away ahead of time, and basically trying to catch up on everything before I leave for a bit, so that I'm not totally overwhelmed with work when I get back from our break.

It's funny, I thought that this week of crazy overscheduling and meetings and paperwork was going to make me stressed out. I mean, I've been staying up late into the night (or is it really the wee hours of the morning?...who knows!) to get paperwork done, and I've been filling my days with back to back therapy sessions as much as I can.

But it's actually a relief in a way, to get things checked off of my list ahead of time and not have as much waiting for me when I get back. Don't get me wrong...I still have a pretty hefty to-do list. But each little productive task I'm accomplishing this week has made me happy so far.

Tired. But happy.

Now, I'm off to another IEP meeting.



What will give you a wave of relief (and maybe a little happiness boost) if you can get it checked off of your list? (For me, it's getting my taxes sent off...but maybe I'll get to that this weekend!)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Does our Sorrow Define Us?

I was really struck by a blog post I read today at Time's Fool (recommended to me by Sarah Fain has Starfish Envy, one of my favorite blogs). It was a story about how we all get labeled by the tragedies we go through.

Especially in small towns, I can see how this happens. How somehow we become, "the girl whose dad died when she was 16", or "the girl whose parents had all those affairs," or "the girl whose dad was gay" or "the girl who accidentally got pregnant and had to get married," or "the girl whose dad went to jail for drugs." And even as adults in a larger world, sometimes we still get labeled by the hard things we've gone through, like "the one with the son with autism," or "the one who couldn't get pregnant," or "the single one," or "the one who lost her parents," or "the single mom."

What's interesting to me about the whole idea of labels, though, is that when I think back about people I know, these "sorrow labels" aren't something I think about in a derogatory way. Knowing that my friends have gone through sorrows makes me respect them, love them, more. How could you not love, "The one who cared for her mom while she was sick. The one who took charge of her family's situation when her dad passed away. The one who was brave enough to adopt even while she was single. The one who accepted her dad as a gay man. The one who learned how to teach her son with autism. The one who took her grandkids in when her daughter couldn't care for them. The one who worked three jobs to support her family after a divorce, and The one who never gave up hope for a child after years of infertility?"

The link between sorrow and happiness is complicated. But while I've been focusing on happiness most of the time on this blog, I don't want to discount the importance of tragedies in our lives, too. In my happiness interviews, that's one thing I've seen as a theme across many people's responses--that sadness can sometimes lead to happiness somehow. Maybe it's just relief from getting through a sad time. Maybe sadness opens us up somehow. Maybe it's that we develop greater empathy for others in a similar situation.

In any case, although I first recoiled at the thought that our sorrows might define us, I'm not so sure how I feel about the idea now. I'd much rather be defined by my happiness. But maybe that's impossible, or at least overly optimistic.



How do you think people would describe you in terms of a "sorrow label"? Do you feel strength or sadness from that now?



By the way, I also really like this post by Sarah Fain called "You Gotta Get Sad to Get Happy."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Grow a Little Bit


My basil is beginning to sprout. (Chives, too, but I didn't post that pic!)

My windowsill herb garden is beginning to actually work! I picked some fresh cilantro to go with our chickpea masala last night. Yum! And the little basil and chive shoots make me really happy every time I see them peeking up through the soil. My daughter just wants to touch them and water them constantly, which I'm sure isn't the best gardening technique, but I like that she's excited by the growth.

The whole idea of growth has been really important in my happiness project so far. I've found that the times I'm the happiest are when I can see myself growing (not wider..hah!). When I stick to my happiness resolutions and actually do get more exercise and clean my house regularly and learn my Spanish each week, I really am happier.

And those times when I get overwhelmed by work and laundry and dishes and let things slide and don't work on Spanish for a few days...well, you really don't want to hear about that. Lemme just say that it's not pleasant. Definitely not happy.

There's something about continual growth and learning that is a safety mechanism for my mental well-being.

Maybe it's just feeling productive. (I heard an interview on NPR today about the qualities NASA looks for in astronauts, and was really interested to hear that one of the ways they try to preserve the psychological health of their astronauts is by building little daily successes and daily productive tasks into the astronaut's work schedule each day. Cool, huh?)

Anyway, growth. It's pretty cool to watch. And even cooler to be a part of.


In what ways are you growing right now?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Notice Opportunities


The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work.
--Thomas A. Edison


For some reason, I made the naive decision to put together family tree information for Flannaberry for her baby book. I was thinking I would go back maybe 6 generations and draw it on a little chart like the cute tree you see in the photo. And then tuck the cute family tree into her baby book for posterity.

What I didn't expect was that I would be given tons of information on my family (and my husband's) dating back to the 1700s.

Yup, the 1700's.

So my little family tree chart might be expanding just a weeee bit.

Because I just can't take all this information that my mom and dad and my husband's grandmother have given me and just tuck it away in a file somewhere. All the lists of names and dates look like a bunch of hard work right now, but I'm trying to see them as an opportunity. (Thanks, Edison, for being so spot on in your advice.)

So, I've started entering all of our data into Ancestry.com's cool website. It's so easy that I'm really getting sucked in. I promise I won't become a genealogy freak, but seriously, I love all of the cool family names I'm discovering like Sultanah, Stony, Zella, & Silas. And I also love reading the little notes my dad took in the margins of the papers my parents sent me, and learning things like the fact that Robi's grandmother is 2 years 2 months 2 days older than her brother, who is 2 years 2 months 2 days older than their other sister. See, cool, right?

But goodness gracious, it's a lot of work to organize 4 branches of a family tree!

I'm throwing my overalls on and digging in, though. This really is an opportunity to bring my dad's hard work to fruition, and to be a storehouse of family memories for my daughter. So wish me luck as I roll up my sleeves!


Do you have any interesting branches in your family tree?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Enjoy the Anticipation


In a few weeks, I'm going to visit my family & friends back home for Easter. And then we're heading to the beach for spring break!

I'm already getting ready for the fun times we're going to have. I bought my daughter some adorable sundresses for the beach. I bought my niece and my daughter cute matching dresses to wear while they hunt eggs. I've been digging out the beach toys we need to bring with us. I've been talking up all the fun things we'll do together while we're with family and friends to Flannery. I bought sunscreen. I've been looking through my closet for hats that have wide brims but don't make me look silly. (I hate to get sunburned, so I'm really careful at the beach!) I've been scoping out good treats to buy for filling Easter eggs for the great egg hunt we'll have at my in-laws' house.

All this might sound like a little much considering that I have 2 weeks until we leave for our trip. But, I know now that it's not just that I like to be prepared for things. I like anticipating fun. It makes me happy to think ahead about fun things. And doing little things to prepare for fun events is a good way to enjoy the anticipation.

Maybe that's what made the year I was engaged so magical...the anticipation of all the wedding fun. Or what made my sickly pregnancy so bearable...the anticipation of baby fun.



What happy times are you anticipating?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Reflect on the Mystery of Time


Today I mentioned to a dad at the park that my little girl is going to turn 4 next November. And I had this strange dizzy feeling as I said it, that the world was spinning very fast, and time was passing way too fast, and this life that I love and try to make happy is flying by at breakneck speed.

It almost made me cry.

Now, I know I'm a sentimental softie, and I'm also exhausted and a little sick with allergy stuff right now. But the moment in the park today, combined with the fact that one of my best friends just celebrated her 40th birthday (as she waits to be chosen as an adoptive mama), really got to me.

Time. It is mysterious.

Me. I'm not so mysterious. But I was just 8 years old, like, yesterday. Sitting in a tree writing poems in the woods. Making up sad songs and dreaming about my future husband and future children and future job. (By the way, that's me with the red hair in the picture.)

And now, this is my life. The life I dreamed about in the tree. It's real, fleeting, hard, tough, and pretty amazing most days. I've really got to take it all in. Open my eyes and watch. And listen.

I'm working on it.

---

Oh, by the way, I just found out that I love the Finches. This song of theirs, called "The House Under the Hill" really seemed to fit the whole "life flying by" theme of my day, so here are the lyrics if you're interested. Better yet, listen to it for the full effect.


The House Under The Hill :

Well, I'm the same kid I was
Out in the schoolyard
Hallowed my pockets with sticks
From the parking lot
Alone

Though I walked alone
I was sure there was somebody
There on my shoulder, quietly guiding me
Home

I counted to 1000, 2000, and even
Math game and nicknames for friends
That I rarely meet
But years roll along, along so graciously
And so gracefully we age into infinity
Oh

There is a house under a hill
With no windows, with no doors
And everything I've ever lost is there
Between the boards and beams
Oh, old friendships
Old virginity
A younger little ghost of me
Together, they are celebrating
All the time they've gained:
"Tonight, again, we celebrate
another tiny gain!"

Alone, I am nameless
And fearless and faceless
I see just my knees
And two hands held in front of me
Mine for this lifetime
So kindly I'll treat them
My blood pumps
My lungs bellow
So I will let them be.

---

Does time feel fast or slow to you at this stage of your life?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bath+Book+Wine=Happy Mama


Every once in a while, I'm trying to post interviews with amazing and insightful people who inspire me! This week's focus is Dianne.

Dianne is a friend of mine who I met working in early intervention in Georgia. She is a social worker, and works to help families with disabilities learn ways to support their children's growth and development. She is also an organizational guru, and writes the Clutter Free Journey blog about how to declutter your home and life. She has a gift for helping people grow and make progress in their life. Most recently, she's inspired a big change in my home via her "10-item-per-day Clutter Challenge". Oh, and on top of all that, she's a mom to 3 boys! Here are her answers to my happiness questions:

1. What's something small that you do regularly that makes you happy or cheers you up?

1. A long, hot bath with a good book and a glass of wine!
2. Being creative, ie: sewing, decorating, refinishing furniture, painting, blogging
3. Reading, I have at least 4 books at a time, that I am reading at most times
4. Talking to and spending time with friends
5. Meditating. I really notice a difference when I practice regularly. It helps me see things in a different light and keeps it all in perspective.

2. What would you like for your children to know about happiness?

Their attitude is the most important indicator of their happiness and that other people will bring joy to your life but are not responsible to make you happy. Happiness is in the simplest things, that you need to be aware of while they are happening and not miss them.

3. What do you do to keep yourself and your family happy amidst life's struggles?

Keep the faith and find happiness in the simplest of things, appreciating what we do have.



I agree with Dianne that a good bath is soo nice! And being creative regularly really does boost my happiness, too.



What simple things do you appreciate about today?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Finish a Project


My cousin recently sent me this photo of a quilt she just finished making for her oldest son. Cool, huh?

And it got me thinking. Finishing projects is really something that makes people happy.

This weekend, my daughter and I planted a little herb garden for our windowsill. Nothing big...we just planted a little cilantro, basil, and chives. But every time I walk by the little planter, it gives me a tiny happiness boost. And I bet that every time my cousin walks by the cute quilt in her son's room, she feels the same way.

Little projects are fun. I have lots of friends who knit or quilt or sew, and I really wish I did those things, because having a little finished product every now and then is satisfying. (I actually tried to learn to knit two separate times in my life, and I came to realize that I'm just not math-y enough to do it. All the counting and the patterns were just not my forte. Sad!)

So I've started a few projects that appeal to me and don't require counting or crazy amounts of concentration on my part. I'm working on my daughter's scrapbook, so that I can Be the Memory Keeper. I'm working on an art project involving my family tree, so that I can pass down family stories. Just the anticipation of these projects coming to fruition has already brought me a lot of joy. (I learned that anticipating fun brings me happiness, so I now love to plan fun events way in advance so that I can anticipate the fun for a while...it's, well, ...fun!)

So, I may never be a great quilter, or knitter. But working on my own little artsy, creative projects is pretty satisfying, too!


What project are you working on (or thinking about starting) right now?

Today I'm Debbie Downer


My Happiness Commandment #4 is “Have Fun” or “Be Silly.” It’s really embarrassing, but I’ve found that it’s one of the commandments I really have to remind myself of regularly, because I’m kind of anxious by nature.

If you’re a parent, you know you’re better at parenting when you can be silly. The days you can be lighthearted and joke around are the days you feel like you’ve got this parenting thing in the bag.

And right now, I’m not that lighthearted, silly, joking kind of mama.

Today, I’m that oh-my-gosh-my-corporate-taxes-hafta-get-done-ASAP, geez-I-just-rear-ended-the-car-in-front-of-me, why-does-my-dog-keep-throwing-up?, oops-we’re-out-of-juice, do-I-really-have-no-clean-socks?, why-is-my-upstairs-neighbor-constantly-vacuuming?, I-just-can’t-begin-to-eke-out-a-grin-today kind of mama.

Frankly, the current me is a drag.

Poor Flanna has been very patient with me. While I, on the other hand, have pretty much not been patient at all. Ugh.

But amazingly,

Luckily,

(Thank heavens!)

My husband came home in time to put Flanna to bed today! And right now, he’s in the bathroom with her, getting her into her PJs, and singing the silliest song ever with her. It’s called, “I’m still here in the bathtub,” from a neat kid’s book by Alan Katz.

These are the days my heart aches for my sweet sister who’s a full time working single mom. How the heck does she do it? Here I am with the most amazing partner in all this, working a flexible part-time job, and I still have my fall apart days.

Sigh.

Anyway. I’m off to have a little chocolate. (Happiness boost!) And to get my tax stuff finished up. And hopefully to get some socks washed and dried for tomorrow.

And then (fingers crossed!) maybe tomorrow I can be that super silly mama I like to be again.

Oh, and I think I’ll call my sister and volunteer to borrow her kiddo for a week this summer.


How can you help out a single parent? Financially? Volunteering babysitting time? Offering to dogsit when they go out of town? Let’s all make a point of helping where we can this month!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Agree or Disagree?


Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.
--Henry David Thoreau


I'm not sure if I agree with this statement. I mean, I know that success is usually tied to intense hard work, but I tend to think that most successful people are looking ahead at the big picture while they're working. That their focus on success is what is driving them to work so hard.

As for happiness, which I kind of use as my yard-stick for measuring my success, I really think that since I've started to "look for" happiness, it's come to me more easily. Maybe it was there all along, and I just didn't recognize or appreciate it.

Or maybe now I'm "busying" myself with working towards happiness. Hmm. I'll have to think about this one.

What do you think?

Friday, March 12, 2010

I'm up on my Soap Box Today


People are always looking for the single magic bullet that will totally change everything. There is no single magic bullet.
--Temple Grandin


I'm not a skeptic by nature, but there are lots of quacks out there when it comes to helping children with autism, so as a responsible speech language pathologist, I try to make myself be skeptical. Because without being skeptical, I won't be very much help for parents who are trying to sort through the good, the bad, and the ugly resources out there for autism treatment, to find what will work for their child.

I agree with Temple Grandin that there's no single thing that is going to be a quick fix. Successful treatment of autism spectrum disorders takes time and usually a ton of effort. And in my experience, it usually takes a combination of resources and strategies, often from a wide range of disciplines (which is one of the reasons I like the SCERTS model for treatment a lot...it lets you borrow a little from lots of different treatment models.). The hard part is that the combination of therapy strategies that work perfectly for one child with autism may not do diddly squat for another kiddo with autism. Even on the same end of the autism spectrum, no two kids are alike, and no two kids respond exactly the same way to any strategy.

But, that being said, here are my all time favorite autism treatment books:

1. Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism by Catherine Maurice - This was the first practical clinical resource I ever bought for autism, and it gives specific activities to try to help children learn in a very structured manner. If you're trying to decide what skills to start teaching during "ABA"ish therapy time with a young child, this book is helpful.

2. Comic Strip Conversations by Carol Gray - I LOVE using comic strip conversations. I've used them with kids as young as 3 and on up into high school, to teach the basic pattern of different conversations. I remember when one of my kindergarteners learned how to participate in the /"Hi, how are you today?" "I'm fine, how are you?" "Fine, thanks"/ conversation. She grinned from ear to ear when she figured out that this little conversation is pretty predictable. I've also used comic strip conversations for greeting others when they walk in the door, for asking to go to the restroom, for asking friends if you can play with them, etc. Life never actually goes just like the comic strip conversations do, but you can imagine how these comics can reduce the anxiety associated with social situations for kiddos with autism. (By the way, I love to use Carol Gray's social stories, as well.)

3. Visual Strategies for Improving Communication by Linda Hodgdon - Visual strategies are the closest thing I can think of to a "magic bullet" for children with autism, in that they really are helpful for pretty much everyone. I really can't think of a single kiddo I've ever worked with who hasn't benefited from visual supports, and I use them like crazy for children who aren't on the spectrum, as well. Visual supports is just a fancy word for things like: picture schedules, sticker charts for good behavior, the green/yellow/red light idea for behavior management, etc. For kids who are not yet verbal, I really love to use picture boards to give them ideas of what to talk about and an easy means to begin communicating (just touch a picture). Here are some cool picture boards that a wonderful SLP (and a former fantastic teacher of mine), Cathy Binger, created to go along with some children's books. There are also some hands-on ideas for how to use visual supports in books created by the TEACCH program.

4. Relationship Development Intervention with Young Children by Gutstein & Sheely - This book is pretty much just a collection of fun games to play with your child with autism in order to help them connect with you and learn. I wish it had videos to go along with it, because it can be a kind of dry read. But the activities are great fun, and for novice SLPs, it's a great place to start in terms of planning for therapy activities. The website Autism Games (and its companion blog) has some great videos of therapists and families playing games like the ones in this book, if you're interested. RDI therapy is fun, so families usually enjoy this approach.

5. Parenting Your Asperger Child by Sohn & Grayson - This book is written especially for parents, and I found it helpful in identifying personality subtypes of children with Asperger's (for instance, Rule oriented children versus logic oriented children versus emotion oriented children) and which strategies seem to work best for each personality type. I also thought this book addressed strategies for reducing anxiety well, and I've even borrowed some of those strategies to use with children who aren't on the spectrum but who are often anxious.


Let me know if there's some resource that you really like that I don't have listed here! I always like to learn new things, you know!


Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only. The information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should seek the advice of your health care provider regarding any questions you have. You should not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog. The Gladdest Thing Under the Sun disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on the information on this blog.


What topic do you get on your soapbox about?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Secrets from the Kitchen


Today I made ratatouille in the crock pot. It’s cooking up now, and filling my home with a lovely garlicky aroma.

Mmmm, garlic.

Which brings me to my reason for posting today. Garlic. (Yup, garlic!)

For the first 30 years of my life, I peeled garlic the only way I knew how…the tedious, sticky, now-I-smell-like-garlic way. You know, I cut the garlic ends off and then picked away at the skin of the garlic until it was sticking to my hands and mostly off of the garlic clove.

But about a year ago, something marvelous happened. I saw Gaida De Laurentiis (on the Food Network) peel garlic. The easy way.

Can you believe it? There’s actually an easy way!

Here’s how she did it:

How to Peel Garlic
1. Cut the woody end of the garlic clove off first.
2. Then lay the garlic clove flat on a cutting board,
3. Lay a knife flat side down on top of the garlic clove
4. Push down on the flat side of the knife to smush the garlic clove briefly
5. The skin will now come off easily.

If you’ve never peeled garlic this way, trust me, it will change your life. It’s revolutionized my cooking. (Or at least made me a little quicker at the chopping stage of cooking, but, hey, I’ll take it!)

And it makes me happy to have little tricks to make things easier when I’m cooking. Like today, I actually used my garlic press. Another trick! A minute of chopping saved by a handy cute gadget!

Another little happiness boost!


What little time-saving tricks for work or home do you just love? (C’mon, it’s fun to share your expertise!)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Learn Something New


One thing I know about myself is that learning new things makes me happy. Since last Christmas, I've been trying to learn new kid songs on guitar to share with my daughter, which has really brought me a lot of joy! And now I'm trying to be brave and use my guitar skills at work, too.

Every Tuesday afternoon, I co-teach a bilingual preschool group. It's one of the things I love best about my job right now. And lately, I've been pushing myself to learn new songs each week to share with the group. This week, I learned how to play "The Wheels on the Bus" on my guitar...luckily my coteacher knew the lyrics in Spanish. For next week, I'm hoping I'll be able to sing along a bit better. So I'm challenging myself to learn some verses this week.

Here are the guitar chords for "The Wheels on the Bus" in English. And below, I'll post the lyrics of the song in Spanish, in case anyone's interested. Fun stuff!


The Wheels on the Bus – Guitar Chords

D
The wheels on the bus go round and round
A D
Round and round, round and round
D
The wheels on the bus go round and round
A D
All through the town

-----------------------

Las Ruedas Del Autobus (en Espanol)
(To the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus”)

Las ruedas del autobus van girando van,
girando van, girando van.
Las ruedas del los autobus van girando van,
por toda la ciudad.

La gente en el autobus sube y baja,
sube y baja, sube y baja
La gente en el autobus sube y baja,
por toda la ciudad.

La bocina del autobus suena
piii piii, suena piii piii
suena piii piii
La bocina del autobus suena piii piii
por toda la ciudad.

Los bebés en el autobus lloran waa waa waa,
waaa,waaa,waaa
waaa,waaa,waaa
Los bebés en el autobus lloran waa, waa, waa
por toda la ciudad.

Los padres en el autobus dicen
shh, shh, shh,
shh, shh, shh
shh, shh, shh
Los padres en el autobus dicen
shh, shh, por toda la ciudad.

Las puertas del autobus se abren y cierran,
Se abren y cierran, se abren y cierran
Las puertas del autobus se abren y cierran,
por toda la ciudad.

Los limpiadores del autobus hacen suish, suish, suish,
suish, suish, suish; suish, suish, suish,
Los limpiadores del autobus hacen suish suish suish,
por toda la ciudad

Los conductores de los autobuses dicen pasen atras,
pasen atras, pasen atras
los conductors de los autobuses dicen pasen atras,
por toda la ciudad

La gente del autobus se sube y baja,
sube y baja, sube y baja,
la gente del autobus se sube y baja,
por toda la ciudad

Cuando sube un bebe va waaa,waaa,waaa;
waaa,waaa,waaa; waaa,waaa,waaa
Cuando sube un bebe va waaa,waaa,waaa
por toda la ciudad

Las mamis del autobus dicen te amo,
te amo, te amo
las mamis del autobus dicen te amo,
por toda la ciudad.



What's something new you'd like to learn?

Monday, March 8, 2010

My Superpower: Red Ballet Flats


Even I don't wake up looking like Cindy Crawford.
--Cindy Crawford



Today I wore my cute red ballet flats to work. There’s something magical about those shoes. I feel so together when I wear them. Invincible even.


One of my coworkers today wore an amazing necklace with bright stones. When I complimented her on it, she said that she wore it today because she knew it was going to be a stressful day at work, so she wanted to wear a little comfort item that brings her joy. I really liked that way of thinking.

So maybe my adage of “look good, feel good,” is only partly true. Maybe it’s also that certain things you love to wear bring you cheer, or confidence, or comfort. My red shoes give me the feeling of being professional, confident, and still a bit fun.

Isn’t that why people keep mementos? They remind you of a happy time, or of someone you love, or bring back a feeling you once had. Maybe it should be that way with clothes, too.

I’ve been trying to declutter my closet, and I’ve been really strict with myself that I only keep clothes that I absolutely love. Knowing how the way I dress (and look) affects my happiness level has given me the courage to get rid of items that seem sensible but that I don’t really love like crazy. If I think to myself, “If I wear those pants that don’t fit just exactly right, it will make me feel less confident all day,” it helps me let the pants go to my goodwill bin without feeling guilty that I’m getting rid of perfectly good pants. My friend, Dianne, of the Clutter Free Journey, says we should only keep what we love, and “blow the rest away with a breath of kindness.”

I’m definitely keeping the red shoes.


What item in your wardrobe makes you feel more confident?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Listen to What You Like


Pandora is the best. Really, it is.

I have this saying that "Everything is better with Pandora."

And it really is!

Occasionally Flanna and I remember to bring my laptop into the bathroom during her bath time, and she's so much more amenable to suggestions like "scrub your chin" or "clean your ears" when music's playing. (She's at that stage where her first response is "no" or "I don't want to" to everything right now. Even though she usually does what you ask soon after.)

Pandora has taught me what I like and don't like in children's music. I like folk roots, acoustic sonority, major key tonality, vocal harmonies, and lots of guitar picking. I don't like Raffi. Sorry, I just don't. He creeps me out for some reason.

So here are my top picks for children's music. Basically, they all pretty much have the above listed qualities. And they're fun, too!


Top Picks for Children’s Music:

1. Elizabeth Mitchell – She's my all time favorite for kids' music. Her albums, “You are My Sunshine”, “You are My Little Bird” & “You are my Flower”, are all just wonderful. We own the first 2 albums and love them so.
2. Renee & Jeremy – I just love their song “Sleep My Love” on the album “It’s a Big World”
3. The Laurie Berkner Band – We own the album “Buzz Buzz”, and it's really fantastic fun.
4. Lisa Loeb & Elizabeth Mitchell – Who doesn't like Lisa Loeb? And her harmonies with E.M. are gorgeous. Their album “Catch the Moon” is niiiiice.
5. Kirra Willey - A great song is “Dance for the Sun” on the album of the same title. I like this one because it sings Yoga moves!

OK, that's all I've got. I tend to find a few artists I like and listen to them over and over. And over.

My husband just loves that about me. :)


What songs do you love best from your childhood?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Family Rules

A friend of mine sent me a link to a blog called the Pleated Poppy, because she was interested in making this cute "family rules" canvas like the author made, for her home.

And that got me thinking.

What are my "family rules"?

At first, I thought I could use my happiness commandments. But those are individualized just for me, and didn't seem just right for my whole family. Now, I don't think I'm crafty enough to make one of the cute family rules canvases like the one in the picture (and that level of craftiness wouldn't really work with the rest of the kind of traditional vibe my house has). But I like the idea of developing a set of family rules that we can use in our home.

So, I've been working on it. I have a rough draft of some rules, but I'm not ready to write these in calligraphy just yet. Here's what I have so far:

Family Rules
1. We're on the same team.
2. Be respectful.
3. Say “I love you” often.
4. Share.
5. Notice little moments.
6. Pray.
7. Encourage one another.
8. Be lighthearted.
9. Work hard; keep trying.
10. Breathe deeply.
11. Say “thank you” every day.
12. Respond with a blessing.

There's something missing, but I'm not quite sure what.


What are your family rules? Or what were your family rules as a child, if you had any?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Smile More


If you're as old as I am, you probably remember Allie McBeal's dance therapy, where she "acted happy" to improve her mood. Well, I've been trying something similar for a while now (ever since I posted an interview about Smiling When You Wake Up). When I'm feeling blue, I make myself smile, and, really, it does seem to help me feel better.

Last week, though, my daughter accidentally head-butted me by jumping up while I was leaning down to pick her up. And then I was unable to smile for about 4 days. My bruised, busted, swollen lower lip wouldn't allow it. A grimace was about all I could muster.

And for those few smile-less days, I was pretty darn blue.

Now, maybe it was because I looked kinda scary and asymmetrical. I actually felt kinda hideous. And you know, with the whole, "look good, feel good" thing I know about myself, I could understand being blue when I wasn't looking my best.

Anyhow, my smile-less few days were not happy.

So, now that my lip has healed (well, almost), I am appreciating my smile-ability! Today, I tried to smile while driving, while talking on the phone, while ordering my burrito at Taco Bell. Yup, I'm living it up with smiling. And it's made for a happy day!


By the way, here's a neat article about how smiling children make for happy marriage partners. Interesting stuff!



What made you smile today?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Be the Memory Keeper


After we read books at bedtime, my daughter often asks, "Mom, can you tell me the story of when I was born?" She loves to hear about how she cried right away, and how the doctor said, "Oh, she's so strong!" (She's also interested in how exactly she got out of my belly, but we're glossing that part over for, oh, say, the next 10 years!)

When I visit my niece, too, she often asks for me to tell stories of when she was little. Since she was adopted, we don't really have the full details of her birth, but we try our best to recount a story that is as close to what happened as we know from the info we do have. And, of course, we have lots of cute stories from when she was little and called me "cheechay," and called Flannery her "baby panawee cousin."

There's something mysterious and magical about hearing happy stories about yourself when you were too little to remember everything. I hope that my daughter and niece create a life story in their head that includes how everyone around them cherished them, and enjoyed them, and regarded them as interesting at every stage of their growing up.

My sister has done a good job of being the "memory keeper" for her daughter. She saves artwork and school papers, takes pictures of every little fun outing, and made an adorable scrapbook of my niece's life so far.

I, on the other hand, am pretty good about taking pictures, but poor Flannery's artwork and school papers are strewn all over our house in random stacks and bins, with virtually no hope of ever being labeled with the correct date for posterity. Also, I recently discovered that the storage container labeled "for Flannery's scrapbook" in our storage closet actually holds random pictures from my high school, college, wedding, and grad school days, with a few photos and pieces of artwork on top that really are for her scrapbook.

Yup. I am an organizational wizard.

Anyway, I was inspired by a clearance sale on adorable Scrapbooks at Target today, and I took the plunge. I bought a scrapbook. A cute, girly, striped pink and green and brown scrapbook.

Then, I came home, and while Flannery was napping, I started organizing the few mementos I've saved for her so far into coherent scrapbook groupings. Like a lot of projects I keep putting off because I "don't have enough time," I was amazed at how quickly the project started coming together. In about an hour, I had about 10 groupings that I can one day turn into cute little pages about such topics as "the great-grandmothers," "with the grandparents," "Easter," and, my favorite, "how I've grown" (featuring paint-handprints from various ages).

I really can't believe how quickly my unorganized box of stuff became a project in-process.

And I'm excited to sit down and document some happy memories that can become part of Flannery's life story in her head.


What memories from your childhood help you define yourself?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Make Your Own Happiness


What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me.
--Helen Keller


You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
--Mohandas Gandhi


Sometimes I need a little reminder that happiness isn't going to be a product of finally having the right job, or the right house, or a child, or a husband, or lots of money. Sometimes I need a reminder that this is my real life. Right now. With my imperfect house and my imperfect job and my imperfect attempts at being a good wife and mom.

This is it.

And if I want "it" to be happy, I need to work at creating that happiness. Bit by bit, piece by piece, moment by moment.


What are you waiting on to be happy? Stop waiting--start creating!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Best and Worst


Most of the time when I ask my daughter what her day at school was like, she says, "I don't remember." She's 3, so maybe she doesn't remember. But lately I've been tricking her into telling me a little more info, and here's how:

I'll say, "What were the Best and Worst things about today?"

And then, she'll say something like, "The best was, I made a blue picture", or "The worst was, I fell off of the swing", or if I'm lucky, she might even say something like, "The best was when you came and had lunch with me." Hey, I'm going to enjoy those for the short time they last!

I also like to use the "Best and Worst" strategy after we've gone somewhere together as a family, to review it on our way home. I love hearing what each person's best and worst were. It's a good icebreaker for those shy or quiet family members, and it's a nice way to figure out what each person likes best, too.

One word of warning, though. We as parents tend to want our kids to never experience a "worst" situation. But I think it's good for kids to talk about bad stuff, as important as processing the good stuff. So, when your child says, "The worst was when we saw that monkey who was so loud!" on the way home from the zoo, you have to catch yourself from saying, "Oh, that wasn't so bad, really!" The bad stuff can be validated, and kids actually move on more quickly from it if their feelings are reflected back without judgment. So, you could say something like, "Yeah, you didn't like that part at all!", or "You thought those monkeys were too loud!" My favorite child -talk authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk) really convinced me of the importance of reflecting back what kids say to us, so that they learn to trust their own intuition about things.

Anyway, some of my happiest memories are things that at the time, I had listed as my "best" for the day. Maybe saying the moment out loud to others soon after it happened solidified it in my memory...I'm not sure. But, in any case, the "Best and Worst" strategy is one I'm going to keep using whenever I can!

So, for today: My best thing was snuggling on the couch with my dogs at the end of the day.
My worst thing was the horrible dizzy nauseating icky migraine I had.


What ice breaker strategies do you use to get your family to open up to one another?