This is my new favorite, and it’s crazy easy.

sweet potato tomatillo bisque YUM

1 Tablespoon of coconut oil

1 yellow onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, smashed

1.5 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 lb. tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed and quartered

1 4 ounce can green chilis (you can adjust the heat here, Hubs prefers mild, so mild it is!)

32 ounce carton of chicken broth

1 cup canned coconut milk

In a heavy soup pot, we are going to make sort of a Paleo sofrito. Sauté the onion, peppers, tomatillos and garlic in the coconut oil for a few minutes before adding the sweet potatoes.  Continue to sauté for a few minutes longer mixing everything together.  Stir in the broth and cover, bring up to a simmer and allow to simmer, covered, until veggies are tender.  Remove from heat and stir in the coconut milk.  Using an immersion blender carefully puree until smooth.

(Not the prettiest photo, that was literally lunch in the studio about 2 minutes after the photo!)

Almost Guilty Paleo Pumpkin Fudge

fudge YUM

Eleanor Roosevelt said “Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product” and I agree. Be it a by-product of hard work, persistence, charity or giving back to community; I’m certain fudge probably wasn’t on her mind when she said that, but I can’t deny that for my Hubs, happiness was the by-product of some darn good fudge. We are on day 15 of a strict PALEO diet, hubby and I, and things are going very well. While I do not have a sweet tooth, dear Hubs does so I wanted to make him a sweet “treat” to reward him for his discipline.

There are a lot of interesting & yummy paleo “fudge” recipes out there. I played around with several, adjusted and experimented, added and omitted, until I found the “texture” that was most appealing to me and Hubs, my trusty taste tester. While Hubs did not love the addition of chia seeds, I did. I think if I had added nuts to the chia seed batch he probably wouldn’t have known they were in there.

Almost Guilty Pumpkin Fudge
¾ cup cacao (or cocoa) powder
½ cup coconut oil, melted
1 T chia seeds (optional, I personally like them, but hubby does not in this particular application)
1 T unflavored gelatin (you can omit this, but the texture will be different)
2 T maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Small pinch of sea salt
1 15 ounce can pumpkin puree (the ingredient list should have one ingredient, pumpkin)
¼ cup dates or prunes, chopped
¼ cup toasted pecans (optional)

Add ingredients in the order listed stirring between each. Spread the fudge on a small baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate. When set cut into small squares with a sharp knife.

As the dust settles…

Life is good, and busy.
It’s been so long since I’ve posted, I don’t even know where to begin!
Cooper is doing very well; he just delights us every day. We couldn’t have asked for a better transition to his new school (which happened almost 7 months ago, where does the time go?!). He’s talking much more, we’ve recently had another “two steps forward and holding” – especially in expressive language, and we are thrilled and so incredibly thankful for that. We still have “rough times” – don’t get me wrong, but I think a lot of it is “growing pains” and we are all just getting used to all the changes.
This spring we tried baseball “buddy ball” where we had some truly fantastic “buddies” who did their best to get him interested and make baseball fun for him, but, sadly, he has absolutely no interest in baseball; we gave up. And since he loves water, we also tried “adaptive aquatics” – he still loves the water, he simply had no interest in their “agenda”; so, again, we gave up. These things are supposed to be fun, and it was pretty much the opposite for him (and certainly no fun for mom and dad either!) So, those sort of went down on the books as “failures” but, no worries, we have had successes too!
A few weeks ago we had our first successful birthday party! The birthday boy was a classmate of Cooper’s (there are only 4 other kids in his class). When we got the invitation I was dreading the RSVP, we wanted to go but pretty much knew it would end (after 5 minutes) the same way all the other birthday parties we’ve attempted have ended, badly and loudly. Because, in the past, I knew those parents really well it wasn’t that big of a deal, but we didn’t really know this family…so I debated until the RSVP deadline and finally emailed our “regrets” and just told her the truth, just put it all out there. Within a few minutes the phone rang and it was the mom of this child basically saying that it would be very low key and if we wanted to try etc. So, we tried! And he did SO well! Their extended family was there and most of the kids from his class. She was right, it was very laid back and everyone “understood” – & Coop shocked us again! We were so proud of him. He even wore a shirt with buttons!! (and we didn’t hear “ALL DONE BUTTONS!” even once!). And maybe the funniest thing… he didn’t want to leave! No, probably the funniest thing was when I sat down in a lawn chair and it broke, slowly… in that slap stick comedy sort of way where my knees sort of eventually ended up under my chin…
Last weekend I did a show (Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival – my first show since Kentuck ’09!) and Grant had Coop all to himself for the weekend. The show was great, delightful neighbors, wonderful volunteers, beautiful weather, great patrons, and even though I knew they were perfectly fine without me, I still missed “my boys” a little. Grant had made “big plans” for the two of them, I admit I was a little unsure upon hearing these plans, but really, I knew that good or bad, if anyone could handle Coop and these “big plans” it was Grant. He had planned to take Coop on the metro to the national zoo… Periodically Saturday morning I would get texts saying things like “we made it to the metro station and parked, so far so good” and then finally an hour or so later “we are at the zoo having a snack!” Cooper loved it, the metro maybe more than the zoo, and he calls the metro “the macro” – we both think it’s too funny to correct at this point. On Sunday they surprised me at the show. Grant has tried that half a dozen times in the past and it never goes well, so this was another first! Coop was really happy to see me and he wanted “mama go in the car, go home” but seemed to understand that I had to stay and work. No tears, no issues, a real victory!
On Monday, sunburned, bruised and exhausted from the weekend, I started the move into my new studio at the Lorton Workhouse. I’m probably 95% moved and 75% settled; hopefully by Monday I will be able to actually start working! The other artists in my “house” (cell block?) have all been really great, and very helpful, so I think it’s going to be a good fit for me. We are required to work a certain number of hours in our studios each week, and even though I’m used to working about twice the required amount, these are “public hours”, so that’ll be good to keep me from being a complete (studio) hermit!

I’ve been trying to find an art program for kiddos like Coop (like the VSA) but so far I haven’t found anything tailored specifically toward the needs of these kids, so, who knows, maybe I’ll start one. It’s sort of been on my mind a lot lately, obviously it’s never far from my heart. We will see what comes of it!

Daybreak

Last ThursdayCooper got off the bus and wrapped his sweet little arms around me in the biggest “I’m home mom!” hug ever. That was a first, he usually sort of rushes past me and starts asking for cookies or Elmo paint, whatever is on his mind. Later that day we attended “daybreak” which was held at a local artists’ co-op downtown where the kids (with the help of the daybreak volunteers and a Liberty town arts potter) were to build a bird’s nest out of clay.

I was looking forward to spending the hour exploring the work of the artists there, but when we got there Cooper didn’t want me to leave! He has NEVER been clingy, and it wasn’t “sad and crying” clingy, it was more “mama sit” [let’s hang out] clingy. So, I stayed and had the daybreak experience with him! The volunteer who was working with him was great, it was really neat to see. I think I learned a few things by watching them together, which brings me to my point. Check this out, www.refresheverything.com/umwautismclinicplaylab. These folks organize daybreak (among many other things). It’s super easy to sign up and “vote” – you can vote for 10 non-profits each day, look for ones in your area or close to your heart, but save one of your ten votes for this 🙂 These folks are doing great things here (and would really put the 25K grant to good use).

Just last week…

Just last week (actually it was the week before, I’m a week late posting this) the sun came out and the few remaining patches of snow in our yard finally melted. The sunshine, I admit, has done wonders for my mood, my creativity and my general over all well-being. Finally I am painting again, every day, and finally I feel like myself again. The clouds have lifted, both literally and figuratively.
After the winter we’ve had, it’s funny to me how a few months ago I wrote about four inches of snow…since then… I can honestly say that in the first three months after our move I saw more snow than in my nearly 37 years prior! Cooper was out of school for two and a half weeks! Three major record breaking storms and nearly 50 inches later, here we are and it’s nearly Spring! I constantly question where the time goes…
Between snow storms, on a rare day when Cooper was in school and I was out alone I had something of an epiphany, a minor one at least. It occurred to me that I had been spending so much emotional energy missing our life in Alabama, that I was missing out on our life here. I made a little promise to myself to make more of an effort here. Part of that promise was to get my studio set up and organized. I’m happy to report that it’s finally in somewhat working order; I liken painting in this small space to doing yoga in a bathroom stall…an all around bad fit, but somehow part of it is possible, part of it doesn’t work at all, and part of it you just wouldn’t even want to try. It’s not perfect, but it no longer feels like a black hole for creativity.
In light of the events of the past several months I’ve been thinking a lot about setbacks, challenges and change. What the past few years have taught me is how to see these as opportunities, I just needed to remind myself of that. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that every cloud has a silver lining, at least not right away, and for those which never seem to present their silver lining (and they DO exist!) those are just there to force us to grow, to be better and to be stronger.
Amidst the boxes I unpacked in the studio I found the canvases Cooper and I had been working on before the move, one of the reasons we started this blog, they made me smile. Those are ready and waiting for a weekend of pretty weather where we can paint with reckless abandon together…outside. I am looking forward to that.
We are steadily finding our way here. Cooper is doing very well. He’s happy to go to school and he’s happy to be home. The majority of the time, he’s just happy; funny, busy, quirky, delightful and happy.

Such a big girl…and boy…

So, it is official, I really AM…officially…a big girl…yesterday I let Cooper ride the school bus…and I lived. OK, so it’s not so much about me as it is him, but HE loved it – mama, on the other hand, wanted to jump in the car and chase the bus down, or at least quietly follow him to school. Seriously it was ALL I could do not to do that. And the ONLY reason that I didn’t was that I was afraid he would see me and it would confuse him (before if he ever saw me at school he was pretty sure the school day was over and it was time for “why-we-go-home?”)

The idea is that riding the bus will help him to be more independent from me. I don’t LIKE that, but I do agree it’s a good thing for him. It’s a small bus and there are only a couple of other children who ride it AND there is an attendant (both she and the driver seem like very sweet people) AND I have both of their cell numbers! ALL the bus-bases are covered 🙂

The reports from both his teacher and the driver were that he did great. He came bouncing off the bus yesterday afternoon just chattering away, “school bus! skateboard! Read-a-book! I want school today!” I had been waiting on the front porch for like 45 minutes? You know, just in case they might be early… He had a great afternoon/evening and seemed no worse for the wear. I, on the other hand, think I added to my “worry lines” more than a little.

Oh, by the way, the adorable art at the top is by our precious friend Remy, I thought this was the perfect time to spotlight this amazing piece of art.

And just a few more from the cuteness files:

Last week I took him to school and we were waiting in the lobby area and someone said “hi” to him, so I prompted him to say “hi” and when they had walked on I asked “who was that?” no reply, “who did you see?” and he quickly and confidently sort of made up a name “Lurta” in the way that he does if he doesn’t know the answer, but wants you to think he does. Then without missing a beat he breaks into “Cole, Cole, who do you see? I see Kelsey looking at me!…” and so on. We’ve read the butterflies book many, many times since we’ve been here, and it’s so amazing, it’s just as good the billionth time around as it was the first time!

When we were staying with my parents (the week between the times the movers picked up and delivered) any time my little nephew Tyler would visit Cooper would get all excited and basically attack him (Cooper LOVES him and Tyler is without a doubt the most patient child I have ever met). Cooper would pull on Tyler’s shirt (or any number of other methods to get him in the floor) and try to get him to pretend to fall down. So, again, I started working on “hi” with him. And in no time he was saying “hi” THEN attacking, so I started working on “how are you?” and “let’s play fall down!” which he didn’t seem to get just at that point. But since then he’s realized that “Har-YEWW?!” often follows “hi” and he’s started using that a good bit. He’s even added “do-ing” to it on occasion, and it’s much less “har-YEWW” and more “haaar you doing?” This is expecially precious when we are tucking him in for nite-nite and he’s breaking out all of his tricks to keep us around OR at 3 AM when he’s decided it’s time for us all to wake up for the day.

And a new development. In the past if we were upset with him because he made a “red choice” he didn’t seem to realize that we were upset, or if he did he didn’t know how to respond. NOW he “gets it” and if he perceives that we are unhappy with him because of something he’s just done he looks kind of embarassed for half a second then he breaks out the “hi, hi, haaar you?”…so that’s something to work with and kind of exciting news! 😀

Greetings from "Ginia" (Virginia)

We are SO not in Alabama anymore! We had four inches of snow last weekend, big, fluffy, feather-like snowflakes all day on Saturday. Cooper kept going to the door, peeping out and reporting “It’s snowing! Snowflake!” Grant took him out to play in it a bit which he seemed to enjoy, but it was bitter cold (at least by my standards) so they didn’t stay out very long. And no, I didn’t take this photo, I borrowed it from Ansel Adams, our snow – while beautiful – didn’t look quite like this (and anyway I’ve just now unpacked my camera charger).

As most of you know this was sort of a sudden move, planned quickly and with much apprehension. The teachers and therapists at Mitchell’s Place did their best with the short time that they had to prepare everything to make the transition easier for Cooper (and we love them for it!). And the school here in VA was very receptive to their suggestions so even thouh it seemed like all of our ducks were neatly in a row I admit I was preparing myself mentally/emotionally for a potentially significant regression. Just as we’d waited for that “one step back” a few months ago, which thankfully never happened, we’ve been waiting for something, I’m not sure what, just some sign of regression I guess. However, I’m happy to report that it’s the last day of his second week of “big boy school” and we’ve seen no regression, no steps back, in fact just the opposite. He’s been a complete champ about all of this! He’s happy, he’s making progress, and oddly so much more able to “go with the flow” (NOT something he’s ever been known for).

The move itself went as smoothly as moving can go, all things considered. And then our first night in the new house was a bit of an adventure… Cooper fell off our bed and bonked his precious little heart shaped face on a dresser, blood everywhere, Grant grabbed him and after I took a quick look at the “owie” it was pretty clear we would be spending the next couple of hours at the hospital getting stitches. My train of thought was sort of “oh, OH, this needs stitches, oh it’s bad, so much blood, wait, where is the hospital? where is the hospital? WHERE is the HOSPITAL?! 911″… So, yes that’s right, I dialed 911 and explained to her that we had literally moved to the area that very day and what had happened and as I did this her partner dispatched an ambulance to our house. Now, it wasn’t that I really thought we needed an ambulance, although he had his eyes closed and I couldn’t check his pupils which did alarm me, we just didn’t know where to go! (and in hindsight, I wouldn’t have done anything any differently). The ambulance came and the paramedics were great with him and confirmed that yes, indeed, our FIRED UP, squirmy little man did, in fact, need stitches. At this point I still wasn’t thinking they would expect him to RIDE in the ambulance (which I was sure would terrify him) but they DID, however after signing some papers they agreed to let us take him in. When we got out of the car he saw the ambulance in the driveway and got all excited “Am-lance! Am-lance!” Hmm, Ok, so much for my theory that he would be afraid of it. Things went smoothly at the ER and we were back at “Cooper’s new blue house” by 9:30. The next day the DirecTV installers came and when Cooper saw their van pull up he got all excited “Am-lance! I want Am-lance!” (the photo is after we got home from the ER)

A few days later I took a tumble down the stairs, socks on stairs, not OK, lesson learned. All I remember was popping, snapping and cracking sounds all the way down. I felt so old crumpled at the foot of the stairs. Grant came running expecting to see bones sticking out (he was literally patting and checking me all over) fortunately nothing was broken, just a little whiplash. That was followed by a round of food poisoning the next day, which I totally could have down without, and I have to admit at that point I was thinking “SERIOUSLY?! What’s NEXT?!” But we are all healed up now, Cooper’s bandage came off last weekend and the cut looked maybe a little worse than I expected, but it’s healed quite a bit over the last few days.

Since it HAS been SO LONG since I last posted, I thought I would quickly list some highlights from the cuteness files from the past several weeks, just to sort of catch up.

First of all, he’s constantly talking about ‘big boy’ stuff, big boy school, big boy underwear, “It’s BIG boy!”

The other day on the way to school…”Cooper, what’s your NEW teacher’s name?” “It’s Whitton.” “No, honey, Ms. Whitton WAS your teacher at MP, but you have a NEW teacher now, what’s your NEW teacher’s name? “It’s Big Boy Whitton!” Ok, I’ll give him that one, I can see the logic.

The next day. “Cooper, what’s your NEW teacher’s name?” “It’s Keef!” (Mrs. Keith)

He’s developed an appreciation for “physical comedy” – Chevy Chase falling off the roof on Christmas Vacation, simply HILARIOUS, he laughs so hard that I get cracked up “I want THAT part, I want house FALL!” Alvin and the chipmunks, when Theodore squirts breath freshener in Jason Lee’s eyes and he falls back “I want THAT part! Funny Part!”

“It’s Chrish-mush” (Christmas)

One random morning completely out of the BLUE “I want Sama!”

“It’s contending” (pretending, and he usually IS pretending when he tells us this, so that’s really exciting)

We stayed at a hotel for a couple of nights when we first came up to look for a house, it had an indoor pool (strategically planned by dad in an effort to make it a fun trip for Coop since water was his first love, Sama was the second). That went so well that we stayed there again while we were waiting on the movers. So now, should he get bored we hear “I want HO-tel!” and he says it with that coy-i know-i’m-not-gonna-get-it-but-i-think-I’ll-throw-it-out-there-anyway grin 🙂

Last week he was playing with an “ABCs toy” – something he’s done hundreds of times, and I hear it say “spell the word egg” and then I see him pushing buttons and I hear “E” “G” “G” “That’s right! You’re a genious!” (I didn’t even know it said that) so, that’s one word he knows how to spell. Won’t eat one, but he can spell it” 🙂

And this one is really too hard to believe that I almost didn’t list it… but here goes…

He and I were playing on Youtube. He wanted to “watch monsters” so I found a little clip of Monsters Inc, but he saw one off to the side he wanted to watch so I hesitantly clicked on it (you can’t be too careful with that, right Whitton?) and it was the little girl “Boo” and a song starts playing in the background (seriously, who has time to make these little clips? much less bother to post them?) anyway, the song, it’s a Journey song, (only a little ashamed that I know that) and Cooper hears it, perks up, points and says “It’s JOURNEY!” … Now, I know he’s listened to music and various people’s Ipods etc at school, but I just can’t imagine that any of these young women had “don’t stop believing” on their Ipod, now, it DID say “Journey” in small print in the lower left hand corner… I’m really not sure what to make of that 🙂

OK, enough, sorry for the epic.

To our friends and family in Birmingham, we love you and miss you and think of you often. Thank you for all that you’ve done for us, for Cooper. Happy Holidays and all the best to you! Stay in touch 🙂

xoxo

2 steps forward and HOLDING

Over the past couple of months we have seen amazing progress in so many of Cooper’s problem areas. So much so that I’ve been afraid to write about it, it seems so very “too good to be true” – and as many autism parents will tell you, if you notice significant improvement don’t get too attached to it, it could be temporary and often, very often, it’s 2 steps forward, one step back. We’ve seen this with Cooper in the past, so we’ve been waiting for that one step back. So far we haven’t seen it and what I’ve finally mustered up the courage to do is to share our two steps forward. If, as it turns out, we do take one step back, I’ll share that too – it’s the only way to truly paint the whole picture.

Remember back in mid-July during summer break, the trauma and heartbreak we had while driving around looking at houses…”this one!” and “I want THAT one!” well, just two weeks later we found ourselves driving around again in a neighborhood and he was saying “why-we go in houses?” and “I want go in houses.” We think “why-we” is “why don’t we” because he says it to me a lot in the afternoons “why-we go paint!” The difference was so remarkable I don’t think I would have realized or even believed had I not written about it during the break. And perhaps an even bigger change…he didn’t get upset when we didn’t go a-knockin’ on these stranger’s doors!

We’ve also noticed that he doesn’t get as frustrated with us for not understanding him or not realizing what he’s asking for right away. And he’s dealing with disappointment like a champ these days. Last weekend we went to the zoo and the whole way there he was asking for ‘water play’ and there have been many zoo visits where all we do is go directly to the little splash pad and he plays until he’s ready to leave. Once we got to the zoo, changed him into his swim trunks, he remembered the giant “foam bounce” thing they sometimes have set up near the water area… He goes running out to where it’s usually set up saying ‘I want foam!” Sure buddy… We get out there and there’s no foam bounce, just an empty, damp, mulchy disappointment. I freeze, I’m expecting a melt-down “uh oh buddy, it’s not here” he stands there for a few seconds looking for it then turns to us and signs and says “all done!” – not only was he ready to change out of his swim trunks and be all done ‘water play’ he was all done zoo. But with no frustration or disappointment, just completely matter-of-fact! Yay champ!

Over all he is just so much more ‘with us” these days. I hear “I wan snuggle mama” at least once a day – remember it was about this time last year before he’d ever addressed me as mama, or anything at all for that matter! During “down time” he now sits in our laps “wah-sy lap!” (want to sit in lap) or closely beside us, often leaning over against us. He doesn’t resist holding our hand in the parking lot the way he did just a few months ago. He points at us whenever we are sitting near each other, “kiss daddy!” when we play dumb he says “mama kiss daddy!” or “tickle mama!” He’s just so much more “in our world” and continues to amaze us daily.

A couple of days ago Grant tried (as he often does) to play catch with Cooper, there was the usual 2-3 times back and forth and then surprisingly Cooper kept going! Grant was a bit surprised and immediately praised him “Good job buddy!” and sort of jokingly as a side to me “I’ve been waiting five years for this!” Cooper keeps playing and begins to add words to what he’s doing! APPROPRIATE words! “Here comes!” and “Catch it!” I was pretty shocked at what I was hearing and seeing and I turn to look at Grant expecting to see the same disbelief on his face but instead there is my dear sweet hubby with tears streaming down his face…he was playing catch with his son for the first time ever. It was truly a priceless moment.

I don’t want to give the impression that he’s so improved that he’s now reading Proust and writing essays, or even doing most of the things that his neurotypical peers are able to do at age 5, but he has most certainly taken two giant steps forward and it just makes our hearts sing.

Dad’s turn in the studio

Cooper simply adores these little over-priced paint sets from the book store. There are two little figurines, 6 little pots of paint and a plastic paint brush in the box, that’s it, but for Cooper it is the bee’s knees… So last weekend we went to the ‘train store’ (book store, they have a train table in the children’s section) and almost immediately Cooper zoned in on one of these little paint sets…It quickly became clear that we weren’t leaving the store without it. He held this treasure in his lap and inspected the contents through the cellophane window all the way home. It’s interesting to me, when he paints something 3D it’s a completely different scene. He’s so very deliberate and so careful but in the past, with me, there’s always been the same proclivity to put his hands in the tiny pots of paint as well. Last weekend when get got home from the bookstore I had to return a phone call so Grant took him up to the studio to get started. When I got up there I was really surprised by what I found. In a very painterly fashion Cooper was meticulously and cautiously painting his dinosaur, he was using the brush so delicately, very serious about it and when he was ready to change colors he would look at Grant and request the color he wanted (one color at a time, this was the rule that Grant had quickly established). There was no manic color mixing or constant requesting for different colors. He stayed completely focused and calm; there was no temptation to put his “poin-tah” in the paint, no requests to do so, no sleight of hand to distract us while he quickly gets his paint-on-skin fix. I think the difference this time actually had less to do with the 3D figure he was painting and a lot more to do with knowing his limitations with dad. It was a pretty neat experience for all of us i think.