Keeping the Peace, Life

Celebrating Our Son, Our Brother, and Our Unsung Hero of Autism

Please indulge me while I dedicate this post to my son. Let me recount all the wonderful ways he has blessed our life. We celebrate him every chance we get, but his birthday seems the perfect time to sing his praises. Many kids like him are often the unsung heroes of the special needs world.

Nine years ago on this very morning, a very special boy was born. We named you Gabriel, which means messenger of God. No other name would be more fitting because just like the archangel, our boy has delivered many beautiful messages to our family.

He was two years old when he started going to daily therapies for his sister. He grew up around all of our autism support team, participated in therapies, and witnessed the challenges that come with the disorder over the last seven years. To him, our life was no different than anyone else’s and he embraced it. It was a message he conveyed of acceptance.

We knew early on that our son would be a ray of light in our lives. He was the happiest baby, always smiling and laughing. Today he is the comedian in the family, always keeping us in stitches. He has always been so sensitive to others’ feelings. When he was two, I was choking on an antibiotic pill and he instinctively said “Mama you’re ok”. Even back then, he was easing my mind. As he grew, he learned more and more about autism and could see when his sister was having a difficult time. Just like he did with me when he was two, he would always comfort her. Just the other day they got flu shots at the doctor. He bravely went first and when his sister still broke down after hers, he calmly talked her down from her frenzy. God knew we would need this message of compassion.

When he was a little older, he started asking me why his sister had a lot of trouble with certain things. I explained autism to him the best way I knew how to. He would learn when she needed a break or he’d even employ some of the therapy tools we had learned. Sometimes he’d use his gift of making her laugh to help her get through something she was struggling with. Over the years, I’ve done my best to hide the tears when things have gotten hard. But on some occasions, he would find me and immediately start comforting me like my little protector. Such a beautiful message we have received over the years of how best to show love, patience, comfort and understanding.


Photo By: Courtney Studios

It hasn’t always been easy for him as a sibling of a child with special needs. He’s had his share of frustrating moments. I know many times he has sat in the shadows, waiting for his turn in the spotlight. But through it all, his own light has always shined so brightly. We’ve always seen him as this old soul, with the kind of maturity you don’t see in some adults. He has always been so kind and thoughtful. He’s been a great brother. I believe he helped her social skills progress in the early years. He was his sister’s first friend and he has been her very best friend. By being who he is, he has sent a clear message to everyone they come in contact with that if someone is different, it’s doesn’t make them less deserving of friendship.


Photo By: Courtney Studios

Growing up with a sister on the spectrum has made him grow into a wonderful human and a more inclusive person. A kid like him is actually the best champion for inclusion in our schools and in all areas of our world. I’ll save that soap box for another post, but you get my drift. Just being a brother and friend to his sister has taught him so much about how to be a good and decent person. His positive and optimistic attitude toward life and its difficulties has been a great lesson for our whole family. We have felt the message we’ve been sent is to always be in a place of gratitude.


Photo By: Courtney Studios

We don’t talk about the siblings of kids with special needs enough. The journey can be tough for them, but they are also pretty darn resilient. These days most people are aware of autism, but this world is still lacking in the acceptance area. These kiddos are showing us all how to be better friends. They are setting the example and modeling acceptance by learning to be kind, patient, compassionate, and understanding above all else. They are all sending the message, loud and clear, that people of different abilities should be included, not disregarded. Kids like our boy make our lives better and help us to be better.


Photo By: Courtney Studios

Gabriel, I want to say how proud I am of you. You’re the sweetest, most kind-hearted, and thoughtful boy. When things get hard, instead of complaining, you look for the positive and you allow yourself to grow and be better from the challenges you face. You are a wonderful son with a heart of gold and a sweet, gentle soul like no other. You’re the best friend and best brother a girl could ask for. I love your freckles and those beautiful light brown eyes. Every day you make me smile and laugh. You’re the sunshine in the rain. Baseball rocks because of you, you’re my favorite foodie, and there is no one in the world I love singing Zach Brown Band songs with more. I’m so blessed to be your mama.

May all your dreams come true and may this birthday year bring you endless joy. Thank you for being a light, for sharing your love, for living your faith, and for being the kind of true hero this sometimes crazy cruel world needs. In our family, you don’t go unnoticed. Your light burns bright and we celebrate the blessing of you today and every day. We love you so much bud bud.

Mama, Daddy, and Gracie xoxo

Keeping the Peace, Life

How Autism Obsessions Like Baseball Have Made Me More Grateful

If you have a child with autism, chances are you’ve been a witness to some type of obsession. You’ve probably heard your child talk about something like trains incessantly. Maybe you’ve seen them play candy crush on their tablet for hours on end. It’s not always easy dealing with these obsessions as a family. But I’ve learned that finding something to be grateful for in those moments, makes things a little bit easier.

In the early days, I remember our daughter scripting a scene from a show over and over again. That experience taught me about her echoalia. It also taught me patience. We didn’t get any conversation back then. Just a few words repeated from something like the Backyardigans. It felt frustrating and hopeless at times.

But although they were scripted, they were words. She was saying something. She couldn’t convey feelings or sentiment. I didn’t know it then, but it was helping me to grow my patience more and appreciate anything she could verbalize. It took several years, but the words “I love you” never sounded sweeter. As a mom, I took for granted that hearing those words from my children was a given. When it finally happened, I felt so grateful.

As she got older, we exposed her to many things. She had daily therapies that helped her grow. Anything we could participate in (even when we were sometimes not welcome) we would try. We encouraged her to try new things and opened her mind to lots of possibilities. So when she became passionate about something, I realized we basically asked for it.

All the therapies and activities helped to develop her language. We went from no conversation to a child that would never stop talking. We went from a child that would play alone on the playground, to one that was engaging every person she came in contact with. She became a social butterfly. Her language developed more and more. The more she matured and learned, the more she wanted to be exposed to new things.

It also resulted in an intense focus on her interests that she would immerse herself in daily. I say intense because whatever the interest, you would need to be prepared to hear about them ad nauseum, for hours on end. This is not your every day repeating from a child. This is talking about a topic or interest obsessively. But she was talking, she was passionate about something, and she was sharing her thoughts and opinions. I never knew I’d get to be so grateful for those things.

The list of obsessions we’ve been through is too long to share. I remember when she was tiny and I was pregnant with our son, she would constantly stick her finger in my belly button or pinch the fat on my underarm while sucking her thumb. As a toddler, it could be anything from watching sight word programs on repeat to playing with legos all day long. When she was little, she didn’t want anything to be red and would only use the blue and yellow bowls in the house. We’ve gone from being just focused on everything to do with the universe and space to having multiple fascinations with wearing costumes, geography and states, business cards, playing chess and books.

Every single obsession has opened my eyes to new possibilities and made me a little more grateful. I never dreamed my kid would some day not only read and understand things like inference, but would become an avid and skilled reader. That sight word obsession paid off. Who would have thought her favorite color would be red some day and that in an emergency, she would be able to see the color red in blood and still calmly express a concern to us. I never imagined that her building with legos over these many years would develop her fine and gross motor skills so much. Not only that, but she’s building robots with them and has aspirations to be an engineer like her dad.

Some of her obsessions have even broken down barriers we thought we’d never get past. I mean who would think a kid who doesn’t like clothes tags and has sensory challenges would ever put on a costume or enjoy a Halloween? I would have never thought our daughter would get into any sport, let alone be good at it.
But watching a Summer Olympics years ago got her excited about being a swimmer and little by little, she taught me all about the sport. Then she pursued being on the team, despite her anxieties. I’m so grateful to watch her grow in her sport and for the many hours of swim talk.

I’ve learned so much about our universe, our fifty states, and so many other things that I would have never exposed myself to. In many cases, her obsessions have even broadened my own interests. There was a time you would have never caught me at a baseball game, I thought they were long and boring. But once her brother started playing, she was all things baseball, all the time. She knows more about the history of baseball and baseball stats than most adults do. Our fandom started with watching our son play, but her obsession with all things baseball truly thrust us into being Marlins followers and a family of baseball fans. We’ve made baseball memories now that I’m so thankful to have.

One of the most recent things I’ve noticed is how her intense focus on certain things is truly helping her to become more independent. As a parent of a child with autism, you always worry if they will be able to make it on their own. The persistence that comes with her obsessions seems to get her past her own fears. It’s helping me get past mine too.

Recently she became interested in cooking, when she never wanted to even be in the kitchen. After learning to make scrambled eggs, she would literally have to make them every single day. To this day, we have to explain to her that we love that she can cook, but no one wants or needs to be eating eggs every day. Her persistence is amazing! It’s because she’s talked about scrambling eggs so much that she has learned to cook other things.

She’s also become obsessed with looming, knitting, and crocheting of late. I never did any of those things when I was little, although my crafty mom and grandmother both attempted to teach me. But she has taken the time to memorize every stitch in a 500 page needlework book. Consequently, I’m learning about them too and after a few lessons from my mother-in-law, I’m knitting a scarf for my daughter. Once again my horizons have been broadened.

Her obsessions have helped us all grow and learn to appreciate every little thing that much more. At times my patience has worn thin. I can get tired of hearing who had the most RBIs in the latest game. There are days I eat the eggs just to stop hearing about it.

But I have to remind myself how all these things have helped her grow. They’re part of what makes her the amazing girl she is. I have to remind myself how much her obsessions have made my life that much more beautiful. If you can find the beauty in what challenges you, then you can find the gratitude for it.

Keeping the Peace, Life

Faith Means There Will Be Bad Days

I have this shirt that says “No Bad Days”. I wear it almost weekly. But if I’m being completely honest, I don’t believe it. Not for a second. There are plenty of bad days and I have them regularly.

I consider myself to be a pretty positive, uplifting and, moreover, a faithful person. Given any day, I can usually find the joy in it or just something, however small, to be grateful for. But even my faith doesn’t preclude me from having bad days. As a matter of fact, it sort of guarantees that I’ll have lots of bad days. They can consist of an extra healthy dose of autism, arguments with my kids, a crappy encounter with a really mean person, physical exhaustion, or just a difficult mental health day. No matter the size or level of “suffering”, it comes with living this temporary life we live on Earth.

Now, I’m all about the glass half full, having a positive mindset, using positive language, and keeping a positive perspective overall. But some days, even though I know I shouldn’t and even though I know I should be grateful for it all (yeah, I said that, grateful for suffering), I just want to sit and wallow in it for a bit. Not like a “woe is me” deal because there is always someone going through more, but more like a momentary lapse in my usual sunshine and rainbows attitude. Because trust me, not a single one of us can be that positive 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s just not humanly possible.

Crazy as it may sound to some, we are meant to endure pain and suffering here. Sure, we should do our best to be grateful, but we’re human and sometimes there are things that just suck, pure and simple. Sometimes we just have to say we’re having a bad day and just deal. It doesn’t mean we don’t know that we are meant for much more eternally.

So yes, positive people have bad days too. Let us have them. We’re not immune to them. People of faith don’t have more or less hardships in this life. The difference is they know that pain has its purpose. That the suffering we endure here will one day be no more because he suffered for us. Yes, there will be plenty of bad days. I can guarantee you of that. I may complain, be angry, or ball in a corner of the house where I can escape my children. But because I believe, I know the bad days won’t last forever.

If you can, embrace the bad days. Find the joy, the gratitude, or the purpose in each of them. If you need a moment to be completely angry and annoyed at the difficulty of it all, do it! There’s no joy in seeing anyone suffer, but if there was never pain in a day, we would not appreciate the painless ones nor the ones full of joy.

As the saying goes, “everybody wants happiness, nobody wants pain, but you can’t have rainbow without a little rain”. Remember that sometimes the people with the most sunshine and rainbow attitudes have gone through a lot of pain themselves. We’re resilient people when it comes to our positivity. We may bend and have our down moments, but we will never break. Faith keeps us from dwelling on the bad and keeps us looking toward all the many things we have to be grateful for.

Bad days are a given. No one can’t pretend they don’t exist. But even if we are miserable for moments, we don’t have to live there. We can choose every day to find the ever present joys, bad day or not.

Keeping the Peace, Life

If Different Means Less, We’ve Got So Much More

We all have unique qualities that make us all very different from one another. It may be physical traits, special talents, where we come from, or even our likes and dislikes. Sometimes our differences are in the form of challenges that we may have.

Everyone is fighting some kind of battle. That we know for sure. No one’s fight is harder than another’s, it’s just different. But when a lot of your challenges are social and you’re perceived different from others in the way you act, socialize, and make friends, it’s a special kind of hard.

That’s Autism for you. It makes it hard for you to make friends. Sometimes it makes it hard for your family to make friends or even keep friends. It can be a lonely road and sometimes very isolating.

Many times we say “Different Not Less” which applies to the individuals. But truth be told, being different does mean less in some ways. Believe it or not, the kind of less I’m talking about is also freeing in that it is a daily reminder of what we truly need.

Recently I’ve realized more and more that while we need to be kind to everyone, we don’t need to be everyone’s friend. Not like facebook friends because let’s face it, a lot of those people are just acquaintances really. I mean in the true sense of the word. Those people that truly get you and are there for you and your family, in good times and in bad. It’s a lesson my children have been learning all too often lately and not without some heartache. It’s been particularly hard for our daughter.

I try and see the good in everyone, but I also couple that with a healthy dose of reality. I know that the word friend is thrown about very easily, without much thought about what it truly means. Quite often I remind the kids to be kind to everyone they come across, even if that person isn’t kind. I also tell and show them what real friendship looks like in the people and families we surround ourselves with. They see who makes an effort with us and those we make effort and space for in our life.

I have explained to them that they don’t have to hang out or socialize with everyone they know. We’re all different and we all gravitate toward different kinds of people. But I’ve also told them to value true friendships they’ve built and that they should nurture them. It takes real effort to be a good friend. You can be nice and respectful to someone without feigning interest in them. You can be accepting of someone and their differences without pretending to be their very best friend. That’s honest and still kind. But being a fake friend is worse and just plain cruel.

We don’t get it right every time, but we do our best to live out our faith. As a family, we strive to love all people, even those that hurt us the most (that’s always the really hard and tricky part). In a world where these types of qualities aren’t always valued, autism is just a fraction of what makes our family different. And while all those differences together have not made everyone a friend to us that we come in contact with, they have truly surrounded us with the best people.

It’s a small circle of families and individuals, but the bonds are true. They are friends in the true sense of the word. They are friends no matter the time or place. More than anything, they are genuine friends that value our kind of different and that is something special.

Yes, being different in so many ways has meant less friends over the years. If we wanted quantity over quality, we could see that as a problem. But it’s actually been one of the biggest blessings. It has really drawn us toward the most amazing, faithful, thoughtful, kind, and generous people and away from those who don’t appreciate or value us.

So we will continue to embrace our different, even if we don’t have the most “likes” real or otherwise. The number of people that actually treasure that doesn’t even matter. We find our worth in our God alone. We will still try to be kind to every soul we come across, even if they don’t turn into a friend or even if they pretend to be one. But we won’t apologize for our differences or for having some of the most basic expectations of friendship, like honesty and inclusion. You have to genuinely value our friendship. You have to be real. We don’t do fake for quantity’s sake. Less will always be more when it comes to having authentic friends.

Keeping the Peace, Life

45 and Flawsome!!!

In just a few more hours, I will be turning forty-five and flawsome! Honestly, I still feel like I’m in my thirties. It truly is just a number, but it brings with it so much life and so many blessings!

There are a lot of mistakes I’ve made over the years and with that comes many lessons learned. Flawsome is a silly word I discovered on the internet, but it perfectly describes this point in my life.

I spent a good portion of my teenage and adult life picking myself apart. Some of it came from others, but a lot I directed at myself. My thighs and butt are too big, I have too many scars, my hair is too straight, I’m too sensitive, I’m such a doormat, I’m not smart enough, and the list goes on and on. We women can be too hard on ourselves.

I’ve wasted a lot of time worried about what people think about me, worried about what tomorrow may bring, and worried about how I was going to fix all the supposed flaws and problems of my life.

But it feels like everything started changing when I got into my forties. That’s when you really get to know your true self. I stopped tearing myself apart and started embracing everything about myself. I found peace in living more in the present and stopped worrying about what is out of my control. Most importantly, I stopped caring what other people think.

There’s always room for improvement. So part of my commitment to myself is to continue to grow every day. I have accepted all my curves and the beauty of each and everyone of my scars. In the last two years and partially thanks to hormones, I now have crazy curly hair that I can’t control (be careful what you wish for). I wear my heart on my sleeve and I say exactly what I mean. It may ruffle some feathers at times, but I don’t apologize for who I am and I don’t lay down and take people’s crap anymore either. I’ve realized how much knowledge I’ve gained over the years. I’ve explored my creativity and have discovered my strengths.

One more thing that I’ve learned in my fabulous forties is to say no. No to too many commitments, no to people trying to make you feel small, no to all the B.S., no to people telling me how big my dreams can be (thanks to my girl Rachel Hollis for that needed reminder) and no to pointing out all of my perceived flaws to myself and others.

There has been a peace lately that has been so comforting. Perfect peace doesn’t exist, but letting go of trying to be everyone’s idea of perfect and just being and accepting your own badass self truly brings you to a place of acceptance. When you’re not trying to be anyone else than your authentic self, that’s peace.

We were made just as we are, imperfectly perfect. Embrace your beautiful self, “flaws” and all. Because flaws are flawsome, just like turning forty-five is! All of it is part of your unique gift to the world. Don’t let anyone, even your own narrative, tell you differently.

Keeping the Peace, Life

Saying Goodbye to Summer and Its Healing Powers

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of to do lists, school prep, and a whole lot of transition. Our summer together was great and we are still in denial about it being over. There were some hard moments in this season, a lot of tears, and emotional struggles. But this summer helped us heal in more ways than one.

10 Summers Left

There are challenging moments and like a lot of moms, I look forward to a little break. The truth is those hard moments are just a blip in our time together. The kids are such a joy to be with. I’m all too aware that one day, they won’t want to hang with us as much, if at all. Summer is our time to really enjoy each others’ company, We get to adventure together and make a ton of great memories, without worrying about schedules or obligations.

Every time I see that article circling around about how we only have 18 summers with our kids, I full on ball. The clock just keeps ticking and we can’t stop it. It means that we have just 8 summers left with our big girl and 10 left with our little boy. It breaks my heart to think about it. I really wanted for this summer to be a special bonding time between for us.

Our Kids

My relationship with my daughter has suffered the last two years. Between pre-teen moments and the struggle of regulating her emotions (all super amplified by autism), it’s been a challenge to say the least. Summer always seems to be the best remedy for all of her challenges. She is just so joyous during this season. I remember when the transition into summer was so hard because of the lack of routine. Now it’s a welcomed change.

Our son has his moments, but more often than not, he has a great attitude about pretty much everything. He gets so excited about summer and looks forward to the time we spend together as a family. We wanted to front load his summer with as much fun as possible because we knew he was headed into a difficult ear surgery toward the end of it. Surgery = no fun.

Summer Heals

So as usual, summer’s superpowers worked their magic. Summer gave him the time he needed to be a kid, without a worry in the world. It gave him peace of mind. It reminded him that even though there are tough times, we always have so much to look forward to and be grateful for. He had the opportunity to be still and begin to heal both physically and emotionally from his experience in the hospital.

Summer healed my daughter and I in a very different way. Our relationship was still not the best over break and although it’s hard to say, I continued to feel like my daughter didn’t want anything to do with me. All of her frustration was directed toward me. Some extremely tough behaviors would reveal themselves whenever something fun or preferred would end. It felt like they would never let up. It wasn’t until a few days before school was about to start that she had a breakdown, which led to our breakthrough.

She was very anxious about going back to school and confided in me that she would be really homesick and upset to be away from me. I felt so bad to see her struggle, but I also realized in that moment that I was her safe place. All the days I cried wondering how much harder it would get seemed inconsequential as I saw her pour her heart out. I realized that she was enjoying all the time we spent together too, even though some days it felt like it was her mission to drive me absolutely batty. It suddenly made these past couple of years of daily behavior challenges and heartache all worth it. Summer made her realize how much she treasures this time together.

Treasure Your Summer

I think summer does that for all of us. Even when are kids are wearing us down and it seems like they find joy in making us insane, we know it. When we are exhausted and we are just waiting for the day we can send them packing back to school, we realize it. You see it in the way we count down the days until summer starts after a long school year. We all treasure it, even if we don’t always realize it when it’s happening.

Sooner than we would like, our summers together will come to an end. Before more time passes, we have to take stock in all the wonderful things the time brings us. We have to look at all the healing powers of this season and how it can bring us closer together. Saying goodbye to summer is never easy and it gets harder every year. I’ve come to appreciate this season so much more for all that it’s done and all that it has meant for our family. I hope you will too, even in the tough moments.

Keeping the Peace, Life

The Joy of Missing Out

Everyone seems to be talking about their FOMO (fear of missing out) all the time. There’s a fear of missing out on an activity, the latest trendy product, or even a trip somewhere. We’ve all been there. There’s been that thing you didn’t want to miss out on trying because everyone has said how fabulous it is. What about that place you’re dying to go? Or what about that thing you have to get so you can take a picture of it because it’s all about the gram? People have a hard time being left out of anything, whether it’s the latest new gadget or it’s the place to be.

JOMO

But I’m here to tell you that it really is ok to “miss” out on things sometimes. Passing up on things, saying No sometimes, and choosing the simpler things can really bring so much happiness to your life. I’ve experienced a lot of what I’m calling JOMO lately and I gotta say that there really is a joy that comes from missing out on all the things. I read a lot about this in my new favorite magazine Breathe that my dear friend turned me on to. The truth is that in a lifetime, we will never have it all or do it all. It’s great to have dreams and goals, but it’s also important to just be happy with what you have and what you’ve done. There is so much joy to be had in just being with your people and enjoying the simple things in life.

We’ve found it’s a great lesson for our children too (one that they are still learning). It’s hard when their friends get a smartphone, a television, or a computer. How do you explain to a kid that they don’t need it when they feel like they’re missing out on something? No child likes to feel left out. It’s not something I really had to deal with as a kid. I felt blessed with what we had and got to do as a family. Things seemed different back then. Now it seems like we are living in a much more entitled world. It’s so much easier to think you are missing out on something instead of just being content with what you have. No one is content anymore.

Learning To Miss Out

It’s been a process teaching them to be happy about missing out. Let’s be real, we’re all still learning. There are still occasions where some new gadget pops up and I have to remind myself that I really don’t need that thingy. Adding to all the material things we already have can give momentary happiness, but in the end it all just leaves you empty. People really don’t consume consciously anymore and it’s something we are working on as a family. It’s not just a saying…it truly can make you happy to have less, rather than having more.

Then there are all the experiences and activities kids are exposed to these days. As a kid, I got to experience so much too, but I was thankful, satisfied, and happy with what I got to do. I had activities, but I also had downtime that I enjoyed and experienced healthy boredom. I wasn’t always looking for the next thing to fill my time and I didn’t feel entitled to do or have more. There were plenty of kids running circles around me in life, but I was perfectly happy and didn’t know any different. Kudos to my parents for raising us the way they did.

Our kids have learned how to entertain themselves too and be happy with all they have and all they get to experience, but not without a struggle. Just like most kids, they’re always wanting more and wanting to do more. Trying to keep up with what other kids are doing is a real thing, but we want them to discover that in the moments they are supposedly “missing out”, that they have the opportunity to experience real joy in so many other things. They know we don’t have to have a lot of toys, we don’t have to make every birthday party, and we can try different sports and activities, but we can’t continuously do them all. Sitting at home for the last couple of weeks while my son is recuperating from ear surgery has definitely brought that point home and while there is a world of things going on out there, they are perfectly happy in here hanging out and so am I.

We try to practice having experiences over things, but even having an experience can get out of hand these days. There are so many activities the kids can participate in and so many things we can do as a family. A lot of these experiences are not family friendly in the cost department and there’s no joy in going broke over them. We wanted to take our kids to their first concert, but prices even for the nosebleed section are ridiculous, so that’s something we will happily miss out on until later. We love to travel, but the bigger trips will have to wait until the kids can fully appreciate the price tag. The joy they will have when they go overseas for the first time as a teenager like I did, will be priceless and the memories they will have of that experience will stick with them all their lives. Besides, road tripping cross-country and seeing all of the U.S. treasures has brought us so many happy times.

Finding Joy

Joy can be found in the simplest of things. We’ve “missed out” on a lot of things, but we are happier for it. We love enjoying our cozy home, where we are never far from each other. We love cooking family meals together. Our family loves playing cards and board games, reading together, and watching movies. Sometimes we craft and do DIY projects that are fun. We’re a musical family, so we love a good jam session. As crazy as it sounds, we even enjoy cleaning up and taking care of our house. More recently we’ve found joy in letting go of a lot of things we don’t really need so that we can take time and enjoy the things we really treasure.

I get that there are a lot of things we see everyone accumulating and doing that look amazing. I’m not saying to never jump on board the fun if you can. Just don’t be afraid of missing out on anything. There’s always joy waiting for you around the corner, if you’re willing to be open to finding it in places that might not be currently trending. #JOMO

Food, Keeping the Peace, Life

Sitting In Your Season And Cultivating Your Best Life

Every now and then, I come across a real gem in the piles and piles of books that I purchase, collect, and basically hoard until I’m able to devote the time to read them. I don’t believe it’s all a happy coincidence though. There’s a time and season for everything, right? The title and the cover definitely has to draw me in and I like to think that has something to do with my selection. But before anything else and without me even knowing, God has worked his plan and purpose into my selection. He knows that it’s something I NEED to read right now and he never makes mistakes. This time Cultivate was speaking to me and it makes perfect sense now because I’m in a season of growth.

Summer is going by so fast and everyone and everything is busy and growing, including our garden. In late Spring, I found myself growing seedlings from anything and everything I could get my hands on and filling our Tower Garden with every vegetable and fruit it would hold. My kids have even gotten into it, especially my daughter Grace, eating basil straight from the garden, taking care of the slips in the window sill, and helping me plant and look after our seedlings. For months now we’ve been watching things blossom and grow. I’m usually slacking in the green thumb area, but this time around I’ve found a lot of success and managed not to kill too many plants. Growing my own foods from seed has been so therapeutic and rewarding.

So it was amazing to pick up a book like Cultivate that likens where I am in my life right now to gardening, especially since I’m actually in the thick of it myself (the gardening I mean, of course). The author also had a daughter named Gracie like me and we had shared a lot of the same life experiences. If I’m being honest, I’m in the thick of it in my life right now too. I’m an almost 45 year old stay at home mom and I hit a major speed bump. I always knew being a mom was part of my purpose and the sacrifices we’ve made as a family have been so worth me being stay at home mom. So going back to the “working outside of the home world” after twelve years was not my cup of tea, nor did it feel like it was filling my need to serve and fulfill my purpose. I had been pursuing other interests that were leading me absolutely nowhere thus far. I was feeling like I was being called to something more, but I just didn’t know what that something more was.

Then along comes this book and I realize, I’m right where I’m suppose to be. Right now I don’t need something more. Something more may come later. Does that ever occur to you when you’re feeling lost that you really aren’t lost at all? You always hear there is a time and a season for everything, but I guess I never realized I was in a season of my own right now. I didn’t realize that being at home and here for my kids right now was all the purpose I truly needed. More importantly, that it matters a lot and that it’s enough.

Embrace Your Season

In our society, we’re conditioned to think that we always have to become something more or start something new, because if we don’t, we won’t be enough. We’re always wanting to jump from point A to point Z in our lives to find our next purpose, without thinking about the time in between. What if we’re just suppose to sit in our season, whatever it is, and let ourselves grow?

In reading this book, I discovered that you can cultivate a purposeful life right where you are at this very moment. That doesn’t mean that if you’re going through a growth period like I am, that it’s easy street. On the contrary, it’s hard as hell! There are major growing pains, there are stumbling blocks all along the way, there’s loss, and you have to rely on others sometimes during the process. It also requires a ton of patience, which I can always improve on. But just like my garden, the growing can be so beautiful and inspiring if you just let it happen!

I’ve had some growing pains like pursuing my Masters Degree, which may or may not pan out. It just might not be the season for it…still TBD. That’s just like the growing pains my squash is having as it keeps developing all female blooms and no male blooms, which consequently will make no squash. Clearly it’s the season for girl squash…whoop whoop! Money has been a stumbling block for both me and my garden. Until I got back to business, money was a little tighter and that also meant waiting until now to purchase the dirt for our raised bed garden. Our sweet potato slips have been growing and ready for weeks and finally they have the loose, rich soil they needed to be planted in.

Loss and Being in the Wait

As for loss, we all experience that regularly. It’s the sad part of life. Loss of a loved one, loss of a friendship, loss of a dream, or just feeling you’ve lost your way or purpose. I’ve experienced all these types of losses. In my growth, I’m not immune to loss and neither is my garden. I didn’t give my plants enough water and they shriveled up. Then I gave them too much water and not enough sun, so they wouldn’t perk back up. It wasn’t a total loss, but a loss nonetheless. Not every seed germinates, not every seedling takes to being transferred, and not every plant produces fruit. Our strawberries will probably not produce a single fruit and our one strand of cilantro may not last the summer, but they served their purpose and some bird or insect will benefit. Everything has its time, it’s purpose, and it’s season.

Gardening takes a lot of patience and time. You can’t have a full grown plant overnight. You are at the will of the weather and garden pests. There’s a lot of waiting for a fruit or bloom. Sometimes there’s too much rain and sometimes there’s not enough. You depend on the sun to come out, the clouds to provide just enough shade, and the rain and soil to provide just enough nutrients. When you’re growing, you have to be patient in the time and space you’re in. You have to be comfortable in the wait before whatever may come next. You have to be open to change and you have to rely on the help of others when things get tough or trying. Think about how our children rely on us as they navigate childhood and grow up to be amazing little humans. They need us to grow to their full potential, just like our garden needs the weather.

Giving Yourself Grace

One other important lesson from the book is the one of grace. This is something we all need a little more of. When you’re in a season of growth, you have to give yourself grace. There are going to be good times and bad, but you have to embrace them both. You have to be easy on yourself because you’re not always going to feel like sitting where you are. You might become completely stir crazy and wonder when something is going to change. We all have to do better at giving ourselves room for making mistakes. That’s when the real growing happens. That’s when you see all the rare beauty.

I recently transferred some rain lillies from my mother’s garden in the Keys home where I grew up. My mom reminded me that they are the same flowers I’ve seen in pictures that she used to put in my hair as a child. I mistakenly let them sit out of water for a day or two before I replanted them and another plant I brought. For days they just sat wilting in the window box I planted them in. I thought for sure I had killed them all and I was disappointed in myself that I didn’t transfer them quick enough. The other plant never took to the soil, but then, when I wasn’t looking, the roots of the rain lillies miraculously took hold in the dirt and the blooms opened up up for a few days before they fell off. Even after my mistake, there was still beauty, if only for a moment.

Time To Grow

It’s so true what they say, you grow through what you go through. If you’re going through a growing period, you’re not alone and you’re in the right place. Don’t feel like you have to be more or do more. I promise if you read this book, you’ll feel better about standing firm in this place. Embrace this time fully. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at all the beauty that is waiting to blossom in this season for you.

Keeping the Peace, Life

Change Of Seasons


Easter and Spring make all things new again and with them, most inevitably, comes change. Not only can it be difficult, but it can be life altering. They say change is good, but if it was good all the time, we all wouldn’t avoid it so much. We would just embrace whatever comes our way. But even if it’s good for us or good will eventually come from it, it is hard to give in.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about change, especially with another April here. These last seven years of having autism as part of our life has been full of non-stop changes that have effected us all. I see how much it has impacted our children and how quickly they are growing up and changing. I see how much my husband and I are aging and yet we’ve gained so much strength. I feel like I’ve changed so much as a person, mostly for the better, I hope. And yet, just when I think I’ve caught up with all the changes and have come to a place where I’ve accepted them all, something else comes around to shake things up.

Our daughter will be eleven this November. That still seems so little to me. For the last year or so, I’ve seen so many changes in her and I think she see is starting to see them in herself too. She’s maturing in many ways and it’s freaking me out. Change has always been hard for her and not having control of certain things can cause her distress. So I know it’s been hard for her.

I’m going through a lot of changes too. Not only are the wrinkles setting in and the white hairs getting harder to cover, but I’m nearing the “change of life” (there I said it!) and it has me a complete and total hot mess. I cry at the drop of a hat lately. Right now I feel like everything is on fast forward and I can’t find the pause button.

I know all kids get a bit ornery in their teen years. I know the tween years can be the beginning of your kids talking back and knowing it all. I would love to say it’s just a little defiance we’re dealing with. But this is different. I mean sure, that’s a small part of it. But this has felt like a struggle for complete independence from me. She’s been pushing me away and it’s breaking my heart.

Granted I’m WAY more sensitive than I would be normally. But how could she not need me anymore? How could she already be tired of my advice, my help, or my company? Lately I have felt so sad that our relationship isn’t what it once was. I’ve made the classic rookie mistakes, engaging in arguments, taking everything she says to me so personally, and letting it all crush me to the core.

She’s trying to feel like she is in control of something. I get it now. The truth is, she still needs me, but not in the same ways she use to. I had always hoped she would mature more, albeit a little behind her peers. Now that day has come. Now she’s growing into a little lady with her own fashion sense, her own ideas, and most definitely her own opinions. I’ve been all caught up in my own emotional roller coaster to really understand that she still needs me, but just in a different way.

Right now she needs me so that she has someone to let loose on after a hard day of doing and being her very best at school. She needs me to listen. She needs me to be firm, but loving. She needs me to be honest. She needs me to not take anything she says or does right now so personally. She needs me to be forgiving, forgetful, understanding, and patient. But more than anything, she needs me to be the one constant in her life. The one person that is always there for her and the one thing that never changes.

Yep, things are changing. We can’t change that. All we can do is accept things as they are and try to roll with the punches. There will be more changes and more difficult seasons like this one. But my daughter and I had a long talk and we made a great plan! Our plan is to change together as a team, but in love, respect, patience, and lots of prayer. We also have a plan for having a lot more fun girl time. There is one thing that will never change and that’s our love for each other. Because nothing, not autism, nor any other change in life can ever take that away. That is one really amazing thing that I’m glad will never change.

Food, Keeping the Peace, Life

On Veganism and Perfectionism


The Rough Road To Veganism

It was about two and a half years ago when I started feeling very sick. My anxiety was spiraling out of control. As a result, my stomach started bothering me pretty regularly. Food and I have had a love-hate relationship for quite some time now. So when I found out my regular tummy aches were due to Gastritis, I went on a mission to make food not only my friend, but part of my healing process. This began my long road to veganism.

I began eliminating different foods from my diet, starting with meat because it can be very hard to digest. Then I removed most spices from my cooking to see if any of them were irritating my stomach. I ate only fish and eggs for a long time, but eventually I gave them up too. Trust me, giving up seafood for this island girl is no small feat! But little by little, I was feeling better, my stomach was healing, and I was losing weight in the process.

I started to eat my five small meals out of bowls to control my portion sizes and I continued to eliminate different foods such as processed foods and even grains. Then, this coffee with creamer junkie, cheese addict, and Greek yogurt loving mom gave up dairy! The pounds started to melt off. The more things I removed and replaced with more fruits and veggies, the better I felt. I was becoming more energetic, feeling stronger, sleeping better, and I wasn’t having any more digestive issues. Less than a year later, I had lost 40lbs just with changing my diet. I was mostly eating veggies, legumes, nuts, fruits, and some whole grains. My diet wasn’t perfect by any means, but I knew I was on to something.

What The Health

I watched every health documentary out there. All of them made an impression, but the one that impacted me the most was What The Health. After watching it, I knew that the choices I was making for my diet were not only helping me, but they were making a difference to animals, our environment, and the entire planet. I felt like I was headed in the right direction, but what if I made a mistake? What would people think? How would people react if I had a chunk of cheese one day or if I accidentally ate a dish not knowing it had meat in it? What if I sneaked some chocolate? (all things that have actually happened)

When we are talking about our health and life choices, we shouldn’t be worried about what anyone says. We all make mistakes and not one of us is perfect. But as humans, we tend to care a lot of how others see us. Someone makes a change for themselves for the better, and our human reaction is to scrutinize their choices and tell them why their choices are wrong. Even worse, we like to call them out if they fall short of what their ultimate goal is. These are some of the reasons why I’ve avoided putting a label on my diet or lifestyle up until this point.

Vegetarian, Vegan, or Some Other Label

There were a couple of times in my past that I attempted to become a Vegetarian. It never lasted too long though because I would fall off the no-meat wagon and be too afraid to continue, lest I made anymore mistakes. There didn’t seem to be a lot of non-meat substitutes back then and definitely no was there room for error. In my heart, I wanted to be Vegan for such a long time, but it scared me. I’ve always leaned toward the lifestyle because it seemed the most humane, environmentally friendly, and healthy way to live. So this crunchy granola girl was all about it! But again, it didn’t seem attainable or sustainable.

If you went vegetarian or vegan, not only were you scrutinized by your meat-eating peers who constantly asked where you were going to get your next protein from, but the vegan community did not seem welcoming to those of us who were either mulling over the idea or just starting to make a few small changes. I also didn’t like how meat-eaters or mostly plant-based eaters were sometimes treated. I mean, how can you encourage or welcome these potential changes in others if you subscribe to perfectionism? Of course, we would all like to be successful in our choices, but if you’re going to only focus on how we should avoid failure, then that will give negative vibes to those attempting to make a change.

We live in a world of labels that can sometimes attempt to put limitations on what people can be or they can foster an idea of perfectionism, which in reality, does not exist. You can read about my thoughts on labels from a previous post here . As humans, we can only do our best to achieve our goals and even the smallest steps and choices toward that can make a huge impact on our lives and the lives of others. It’s time to stop worrying so much about what people or things should be called and stop trying to fit them in a perfect little box, with no room for ever going outside the lines. Care what people think, but if we truly believe in something, we should sit firmly in that choice without letting others’ opinions effect that choice.

Veganism Doesn’t Equal Perfection

I chose Veganism and I started the process about a year ago. Yes, I’ve made mistakes along the way and I’m sure I will keep making them. My goal isn’t perfection. It is to do my best to be healthy, to be compassionate to animals, and to be environmentally conscious. So if I accidentally eat something that is not completely free of animal products, please don’t judge me. Just encourage me to keep going and keep trying! Call me plant-based, vegan, veganish, or wannabe vegan…it really doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that I’m eating mostly plants and it has been life changing!

I feel great and it’s awesome to see my husband and kids slowly making these changes as well and embracing a more vegan lifestyle. They are mostly plant-based eaters now and I truly believe it’s because I’ve accepted where they are in their journey, and I have never asked them to live up to some idea of perfection. If you want to encourage others to try veganism and this way of eating, then accept them as they are, flaws and all. Most likely you’ve been where they’ve come from or made your share of mistakes. The idea of perfectionism has no place in any community, nor does it allow for love if that love is only conditional on our performance. If we are more accepting of mistakes, we can strive for excellence together instead of demand perfection of one another.

We’re In This Together

Life isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s amazing! I’m so happy with the the choices I made that led me to this point. All of it has brought me so much peace in my life and such peace of mind. I’m excited to see how using these foods as my medicine, adding more daily activity, and continuing to focus on my overall wellness will have even more positive effects on my life, my family’s life, and the lives of others. So, if you want to try to eat more plants and even give veganism a try, go for it! I’ve got your back. I guarantee you it will change your life in ways you probably can’t imagine. And hey, if you “screw up” and eat a burger or decide it’s not for you, that’s cool too. No judgement here…only love.

Peace, Love, & Plants,
Darlene