Keeping the Peace

Fight or Flight…Travel, Blogging, and the Courage Factor

Here I am, exactly two months from the launch of my blog, working on a whopping third blog post. I had the best intentions of making this a regular thing, but time has escaped me. Let’s be honest, blogging looks a lot easier than it is really cracked up to be. It’s not like you can just sit down one day and land the perfect piece, photos and all. A certain amount of thought has to go into these things. You want to be creative, current, witty, grammatically correct, and all with the perfect photos attached to it. What’s so hard about that? Aside from the time needed, which no stay-at-home mom has on a regular day (and much less during summer), there’s the whole courage factor.

I know, it sounds crazy to think one would need courage to blog, but it’s so true. I worry if anyone will even like what I’m writing? Will anyone even read it? What will they think of me? Not only that, but I’m being very candid about our struggles and also sharing a lot of our joys and victories on here. Does anyone really care though? Will it be appreciated? Can I make an impact on a life? It’s all very daunting and it does carry a lot of responsibility. I want happy readers! Make this a weekly blog post you say? Ha ha ha! I’ve eaten up two months already just by agonizing over whether or not my writing will be accepted and whether or not my pictures are up to par. Will you settle for bi-monthly? I’m scared of commitment (just kidding).

Actually, this lack of courage thing has been a constant in recent years and not just when it comes to my writing capability. It’s scary to take risks sometimes. In the last few years I’ve developed a fear of flying, which is crazy coming from a person who has flown all over the world, without a second thought. I didn’t have the courage to travel alone and I most certainly didn’t have the courage to attempt flying with my family and my daughter with autism. I would rather drive wherever we wanted to go and stay on the ground, pure and simple. In my mind it was never going to happen!

We recently took a very last minute trip to Puerto Rico for my company’s launch there and to visit some family. I thought that a short flight was the perfect opportunity to put ourselves through the supposed torture. I did gain a lot of courage and learn a valuable lesson from both my kids on our first flight together as a family. I learned that making a situation fun for them made it fun for me. Tinkerbell had sprinkled pixie dust on our plane, so of course we were going to have a magical flight! You would have thought when they received their plastic wings from the flight attendants that they were valuable gems. I secretly have my own pair stashed in my drawer because they were just plain cool. Their courage to just hop on board and make the adventure without a second thought reminded me of being a kid; innocent, unscathed and carefree. My daughter especially floored me with her excitement and her pure joy for the adventure. She didn’t question one sound or bump (whereas I call every noise and shake into question).

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We had an amazing trip together! There were a lot of firsts on this trip besides the flight and the visit to Puerto Rico itself. For the first time they visited National Forest (well, they slept through most of it, as you can see) and Luquillo beach, they saw Old San Juan, they had their first piragua (this is basically the Puerto Rican version of a snow cone), they ate their first pan mallorca (if you visit, two of the best are at and La Bombonera, both in San Juan), and they experienced a little bit of the culture and the paradise that is our Isla Del Encanta (island of enchantment). There are so many amazing things about PR, so make sure to visit if you ever have the opportunity.

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So, as much as I wanted to dodge all the things I was afraid of this year, the journey of peace I’ve been on has had different plans for me. I’ve discovered that without courage, there is no peace. If I didn’t have the courage to write and be open about our experiences, I would not have the peace of knowing that I’m out there sharing our story and making a difference in the lives of others. So, I will be making this writing stuff a regular thing. As far as flying and that whole scene, let’s just say, it’s still not my favorite thing to do. I’m able to relax somewhat and breathe through it (granted a glass of wine would probably improve things). More recently, our Puerto Rico trip gave me the confidence I needed to make a flight to New York on my own and conquer that fear. The main thing is that I’m doing it and I will continue to do it. My kids learned a little bit about their family history and culture and fabulous memories were made. There’s no way I’m missing more of that! Is it still scary to write and put yourself out there? No doubt! Do I still cringe on an airplane? Yep, totally! (wine needed if that’s going to ever change) Here’s the thing though…It’s actually taking that leap and doing whatever scares you the most that will propel you from being paralyzed by fear, to living courageously, intentionally and fully. It’s been more important for me to stay in the game and fight through the challenges, instead of taking “flight” and trying to escape them, if you get my drift.

Speaking of leaps, she also took her first ride on a bigger water slide than she’s ever been on and since this pic, she conquered an even bigger one than one I thought she’d ever do. Another first.

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I often think about how my daughter has courage every day to face autism and her fears. I face anxiety and my instinct is to run away. She faces anxiety regularly, meets her fear head on and moves past it in the time it takes me to decide whether or not I want to confront mine at all. She doesn’t even really get that she has this neurological disorder that has taken pieces of her away that we are all slowly trying to get back and put together with her. Maybe she knows she’s a little bit different or maybe she doesn’t, but hey, we are all different, right? Label aside, she just works hard every day to learn and grow more through her challenges. Most of us can’t even imagine challenges like these, yet we still live in fear of what we don’t know or what a particular outcome might be instead of just enjoying the journey.

Here’s my advice…travel, blog, and do whatever your heart desires! Don’t let fear keep you from your dreams or keep you from sharing the unique things you have to offer to this world. Embrace the challenges, don’t run from them. Take some leaps or even baby steps, but keeping moving forward. Make the adventure with your spouse, a family member, or your best pal. Most importantly, enjoy your journey and by all means, be brave!

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Keeping the Peace

When It’s Art, Not Just Photography

Since her art graces our homepage (and will surely be popping up all around our blog), I knew that my next post just had to be about our friend and photographer, Courtney Ortiz, of Courtney Ortiz Photography. You can read more about Courtney’s work here http://www.courtneyortiz.com/meet-courtney/  We had the pleasure of having a family session with Courtney and then more recently, she took professional headshots for me (that’s for a future post).

As some of you know, I’ve been obsessed with photography since I was a little girl.  I think my mom had a huge part in that because she always had a camera in her hand.  As a teenager, I’m sure I cringed at the thought of yet one more shot of me on stage or at a school event.  I’m sure I rolled my eyes a time or two at the request for one more big smile so that she could capture the perfect shot.  Over the years though, I grew to love the art and have loved taking my own photographs and capturing those amazing moments in time.  While I’m no professional, I definitely learned how to look through my lens with a different perspective and how to be creative with my shots.  My mom definitely taught me a thing or two about all that. I gained a huge respect and admiration for those who have made a career out of it and are truly artists.    It’s only as an adult that I appreciate all those pictures my mom took and what she instilled in me when it comes to cameras and photography.  I find such a peace now in taking pictures and preserving them for my family.  I especially love when they are displayed on my walls like the art that they are! (Side note, I have what I thought was a great pic of my wall display, but it turns out it’s only Instagram ready. So keep an eye out for that snapshot in a future post).

So, back to Courtney….it was truly an amazing gift to have the opportunity to be her subjects in a photo session.  We have been lucky to work with a few great photographers, from our wedding day, up to the birth of our children, and including some of our kids’ milestones.  I’ve loved all their work and I highly value what each of them do.  No one has more appreciation for it than this lady!  This experience was like no other though and it’s one that keeps on giving.  Courtney has become a friend, which definitely made working with her a breeze!  What’s amazing is how effortlessly she shot us and really captured the essence of our family.  There is a whole lot of fun and personality here and an abundance of love.  She nailed it all from behind her lens. Then, what came out on the other side was magic.. the most perfect and treasured pieces of art, all of my family.  She was so great with my kids and I suspect some of that comes from her teacher background…my teacher friends are always the best with my littles!  I especially loved how she captured their sibling relationship.  They argue like all brothers and sisters, but they have a ton of fun and are the best of friends.

We had the kids’ Halloween costumes with us, so we promised they could don them for the first time, if they followed directions and played along for the photo session.  Courtney was so spot on when she actually let them wear them for some of the shots because it truly brought out their personalities.  She was patient, sweet and fun, which we all know is a necessity when working with kids. I watched in amazement as she engaged our children and I saw how she worked with our daughter if she struggled with anything.  She is so quick with that camera (extraordinary professional that she is), yet it seemed like she slowed us down for a little bit to where we could just be ourselves and enjoy the moment.  That’s when the magic happens and she creates her masterpiece.  Most importantly, mommy felt stress free and we all know if mommy is happy, everyone is!

I’m excited to share just a few of our favorite shots from our session with Courtney Ortiz Photography.  Make sure to check out her website at www.courtneyortiz.com and give her a follow on facebook at www.facebook.com/courtneyortizphotography  When you are looking for that extra special photographer that just gets you and your family and can relay that to photographic art….art that will grace the walls of your home for many years to come and that you and your family will treasure for many generations…..well, look no further.  Courtney Ortiz Photography is where it’s at!

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Keeping the Peace

The Start of My Search for Peace

I had hoped that my very first blog post would make its debut during the month of April.  As you can see and as I remember my father would so fittingly  put things “I’m a day late and a dollar short”.   I struggled with what would be the very first story I would share here.  Where do you start when you have a million experiences you want to share that have led you to this exact moment?  In all honesty I’m taking the easy route on this first post.  I’m reflecting on a piece I was asked to write just two years ago, about our personal journey with autism.  Inevitably, it wasn’t used for that person’s blog, but my ever so awesome friend and fellow autism warrior mom scooped it up for her amazing charity’s blog called Puzzle Peace Now.  The best part of the experience was that she asked me to add a paragraph to my write up about how I find my peace.  I thought it was a great idea, but had absolutely no clue how I found my peace.  Most likely that was because I had none.  It really made me think about what I did for myself to be in that place of serenity when life was serving up challenges and I was surrounded by complete chaos.  Little did I know that is when my search for peace began.

Much like two years ago, I desperately wanted my blog and my first story to fall during autism awareness month.  I guess it is appropriate that once again I missed the month and probably for the same reasons…fear of putting it out there, wanting to make the awareness last a bit longer (past when the media gives it constant attention), and partially because being bombarded by autism awareness for a month can sometimes be too much when you are already living it every day.  It’s probably one of our most important stories though because it effects of our whole family and it is essentially what brought me to this place.  So, I’m reflecting on that piece I wrote on this my very first official blog post.  I think it is the best place to start this new adventure and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to share it with those of you who haven’t read it.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012 (Originally posted on Puzzle Peace Now’s blog http://www.puzzlepeacenow.com/blog/2012/07/12/Darlene-G-.aspx )

I’ve always been a dreamer and a planner.  All my life I dreamed of having a family.  I married my best friend and was blessed with a little girl and then a little boy.  My dreams of a family came to fruition.  Together, my husband and I made plans for our children’s future.  We tried our best to prepare for the challenges this life can serve up, never losing sight of our dreams.
 
What we have learned in our almost eight years of marriage is that we cannot plan for everything.  We could never have been prepared for our daughter’s autism and we certainly never dreamed of it.  Her diagnosis rocked us to our very core.  It made our family’s future seem a little less bright and it seemed to shatter our dreams in an instant.
 
Our daughter was diagnosed just recently, at the age of three.  She hit all her milestones and any concerns we had for her development were minor.  Nothing jumped out and pointed to autism, at least no autism we knew of.  We just knew she was a very special girl of great intelligence.  We celebrated what made her special, but those same differences were not embraced by everyone.   Friends were lost along the way.  Little did we know that from the day she was born, leading up to her diagnosis, and beyond it, we were being prepared to have the best, most loving support in place.  We would be surrounded by the kind of people we needed, to help us make our way through the journey ahead.
 
April was autism awareness month.  Part of me thinks I delayed writing this piece because I didn’t want the awareness to end with the month of April and part of me feels like I delayed writing it because I wanted to be done with being bombarded about awareness after April.  I also knew that sharing our personal story would be very emotional and hard for me to get through on paper.  We are still very new to the world of autism and still need to educate ourselves every day.  While we deal with this disorder day in and day out, most people have no clue what our autism looks like.  That’s because the spectrum is so vast and there are so many faces of autism.  So, we have tried to be very open on our journey of awareness so that others may be enlightened along the way.  Awareness is “having knowledge of” and while we have first-hand experience with autism, too many people do not know anything about autism.  Our hope is that if more people understand autism, more people will find the need to help end this growing health crisis.  More people will fight to find a definitive cause and more importantly a cure for this horrible neurological disorder that robs so many of so much.  Maybe even more people will treat kids like ours with the love and kindness every child deserves.
 
It has definitely taken a village, but our daughter’s future is shining brighter than ever! It truly is amazing what early intervention can do.  She has been surrounded by the most exceptional therapists, teachers, and loving adults who care for her, consistently engage her, and who have never expected anything less than amazing things from her.  She is “high-functioning” and is exceptionally smart.  Her progress has been nothing short of amazing. We are excited that in the near future she will be able to be in a regular kindergarten class.
 
Still, most days are challenging.  Often we deal with tantrums and melt downs that other parents never face.  We have to become experts in behaviors and language in order to work through issues of flexibility and help our child to communicate.  We still have things to work through and tons of progress to be made. The insurance headaches never go away and the bills never stop coming.   It’s a daily job advocating on our daughter’s behalf, on top of our regular jobs, running a business, and doing our best to raise funds and awareness for autism causes.  The rigorous daily schedule of school, therapies and activities can be exhausting for her and our whole family.  Life is definitely a little more complicated and it can be extremely stressful.  The worrying never ends and the tears keep flowing. You have all these dreams and hopes for your child that you feel you will never see come to life.
 
At the same time, we have gained so much in the wake of autism.  By that I mean, autism has taught us a lot about this life.  It hasn’t been a blessing or a gift.  Our child is the gift.  Autism is something that is just plain horrible. It causes heartbreak for our family on a daily basis and has taken away pieces of our daughter.  However, autism has taught me more understanding, patience and acceptance than anything else has in my life.  When faced with something that is so challenging and so life-changing, you are forced to grow in ways that you would otherwise never expect.  We have bigger and even better dreams for our family that we know we can and will achieve.  We’ve stopped planning so much and started living a bit more.  Most importantly, there is so much love…an abundance of it! It surrounds us, supports us and lifts us up every day.
 
It sounds strange, but I do feel our family has found a certain peace in the wake of autism.  Peace and love – what more do we need, right? Sure, we all come across challenges and negativity in this life, but surrounding ourselves with all things positive and peaceful definitely makes this reality easier to navigate.  Our family’s peace is found in life’s simple pleasures. It’s in our times spent at the beach and in our little getaways.  We feel it right before we start a new day and when we’ve tucked our kids in for the night. We have peace when we see their smiles, when we hear their giggles, and while we watch them play together.  I find peace in painting, reading, and music. My husband finds his peace rocking out with his band. Together we enjoy peace over a great meal and a nice glass of wine (or several glasses, depending on the day). It’s not always easy, but it’s about doing our best to carve out that time for ourselves.  Our peace is in knowing that our daughter is happy, that she is thriving and that she is doing and is going to do so many amazing things. 
 
Autism is not who our daughter is, it’s what she has.  It does not define her.  She’s just a regular little  four year old girl who loves the beach, dancing, music, piano, swimming, dress up, and of course, Disney.   She could be your daughter.  Yes, she is different because she has been affected by this terrible neurological disorder called autism, but if you can look beyond that you will be one of the lucky ones to discover someone exceptionally beautiful, inside and out.
 
My advice to all those families, like ours, who have been newly diagnosed, is simple.  Plan a little less and dream a little more.  Practice your patience, work on acceptance of all differences and build your awareness.  Put on your armor every day and get ready for the fight of your life.  You are your child’s best advocate, so stare autism square in the face and say “Bring it!” Join the fight to find the cause and a cure wherever and whenever you can.  Remember that you’re not alone.  Your community is here to support you.  Surround yourself with peace, love and positive people.  We may be living with autism now, but I truly believe that in the end, love will conquer all.  Autism will lose this fight!  Finally, there will be many people that tell you your child “Can’t”.  To them I say, “Watch her!”
Make sure to visit www.puzzlepeacenow.com to see all the amazing things they are doing for kids with Autism in our community