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Amanda Rioux Photographer

Preserving Your Summer Sanity

If you are anything like me and are a Momma to kids of elementary school age, summer can become somewhat of a mixed blessing. The first week after school closes you are probably saying “Halleluja” and “Good Riddance” to rigid schedules, homework check ups, and generally running around like a chicken with your head cut off trying to check all the boxes you are supposed to check. As the days turns into weeks this feeling of relief will fade as your kids start whining and bickering while you grasp at straws trying to figure out how to keep them entertained all summer long.

At that point you either become the “Over Scheduling Momma” who fills up the weeks with various camps and activities trying to keep the peace, or you have to figure out how to strike a balance between relaxation and a schedule where people don’t kill each other. I have been the parent who has over scheduled to the point that it didn’t feel like the kids/myself had any down time before starting another rigorous school year. That was the summer of  VBS….. The one where we went to every local vacation bible school to the point where we could have taught the classes. It seemed that every church within a 45 minute radius decided on the same theme that year and I still can’t get the catchy song “Journey off the map” out of my head. Believe me I have tried. I digress…….

In an effort to strike a better balance we now only do two camps per child per summer and try to plan other activities that allow them some engaging down time. In planning activities the goal is always to have them be technology free, creative, and for the most part independent from me. This is not because I don’t love my children and don’t enjoy their company but it’s because I don’t believe it’s my sole purpose in life to entertain them. They are going to learn to use their imaginations even if it’s against their will! What’s the point in having multiple kids if they can’t at least help entertain each other?!

So if you are already hitting that part of the summer where you are pulling your hair out, your house is trashed, and you can’t think of what else to do with these little people you used to think fondly upon as your children, here is a list of things that seem to work for our family.

Disclaimer: We are a quirky family and my kids may or may not be on the weird side so execute these ideas with caution. My husband did just make a gold mining sluice so we could pan for gold at whimsy so there is that…..

  1. The Lego Challenge: Give the kids a set time limit and challenge them to make an invention. All my kids have their own Lego sets and are competitive by nature so this one usually takes about half the day. That’s half a day that you can do laundry, clean, or sip a cup of coffee and read a book!
  2. The Nature Scavenger Hunt: Send your kids out with a baggie and a list to find items found in nature. If you live in a rural area you have an advantage on this one but before we lived on a farm we also used to do it in our neighborhood park. For little ones that can’t read I’ve used clip art or put them on a team with their older sibling.
  3. The Play Doh Contest: My kids can spend endless hours making Play Doh dresses for Polly Pockets, furniture for animals, or my favorite, trying to replicate Shopkins. The other variation we do often is to use Kinetic sand and bury small items in it or mold them into waves for surfing Polly Pockets.
  4. Make a video: My kids also spend a lot of time making “How To” videos as well as stop motion animation videos using their figures and things around the house. We often view them with a bucket of popcorn when they are finished.
  5. The Voice: This one works really well if you have swivel chairs in your house! Have your kids take turns debuting their talent and kindly judging others as you act out your own rendition of The Voice. This one brings a lot of laughter into the home as my kids also like to come up with fake names/personas and sing in the voice of their own quirky character. Another spin on this is to have a dance contest.
  6. Water Day: There are so ways to do this one but I say use what you have. Slip N Slides, diving for gems in blow up pool, water balloons, sprinklers, you name it! When it is hot yet you don’t want to have to put your swimsuit on at the public pool these things will buy you a couple of hours!
  7. Art Camp: One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if I make up a bogus contest my kids will buy into it every time hook, line, and sinker. This means that I can turn any art activity into a contest. Coloring, painting, crafting, you name it! Buy in is important if you want little ones to do something for a long time. That is why you have to get them excited about it. Maybe open an art exhibit where they hang pictures they have created all over the basement with painters tape. My kids also don’t seem to notice that I basically find a way to give them each a praise/win over the course of the activity.
  8. Hide and Go Seek: Another favorite is to have a person hide something like a sock monkey and then take turns finding it. I usually start this game when I need a good 30 minutes to finish something I’m working on. Simply grab the the item closest to you and say, “Hey! hide this thing and see if your brother and sister can find it”! Remember, if you sell it well, they will buy it!
  9. Cooking Contest: Obviously you have to have an older responsible child monitor this one if you are going to use the stove but it can also be done with younger kids by giving them proper boundaries. My oldest daughter watches a lot of cooking shows like “Chopped” so we like to have cooking contests and then throw in a weird ingredient to see how they can fit that in.
  10. Summer Theater: Have your kids put on a mini play where they write the script, dress the part, and perform it for the family.
  11. The Lemonade Stand: This one has been tricky since we moved out to the farm but we still figure out ways to work it in. The lemonade/sweets stand is a good way to teach your kids about entrepreneurship. They have to make the goods, use marketing, sell the product, count the cash, and then decide how they will spend/save it.
  12. Reading Time: Every day at a certain hour require some down time where your little ones have to snuggle up with a book. You can read my previous blog for book ideas!
  13. The Doll/Stuffed Animal Cafe: My girls love to create an American Girl cafe and use items from the house to make seating/decor as well as create food using clay. This could also work with stuffed animals for boys.
  14. Summer Olympics: This one is on Maizy’s list for the summer. The basic idea is to create a fun outdoor event and compete in different areas like hula hooping, bike races, etc.
  15. Camp Out: Borrow a tent, make some smore’s, and sleep out under the stars with the kids. We tried this one recently with a bunch of families on our farm. We ended up having a horrible storm that night so only a few stayed all night but I haven’t abandoned the idea for next year.
  16. Learn Something New With Your Kids: This is one that is always on the list at our house as living on a farm seems like an endless opportunity for learning new things. From taking care of animals to planting a garden and canning, there is always something that can be shared and passed on to your children.
  17. Tournament Time: I wouldn’t describe the Rioux family as an overly athletic one but we do like to have Bocce ball tournaments in the summer and have added other sports like kickball and softball as Kai’s interests have headed in that area in particular. We will often invite other family and friends over to make it more fun.
  18. Field Trips: This one probably goes without saying as many people take field trips to the zoo, library, etc……but try to think outside of the box and expand your world view a little bit. Maybe hit a museum, national park, exotic pet store. Follow your children interests and see where it takes you. I know that my girls in particular have a love for antiques like I do so we will visit a quaint little town an hour away called Bell Buckle that has been preserved in time and has many antique stores. We’ll shop all day long and then eat in the cafe ending our journey by buying dessert from the local Malt Shop.
  19. The Goodwill Hunt: I’m a lover of Goodwill as you never know what you will find there. Since my kids share my love we will often search there for treasure together. You can often find Maizy searching for vintage dishes, Lyric looking for forgotten Lalaloopsies, and Kai digging through the junk bin for Lego mini figures or Pokemon cards. We often find family games, puzzles, or projects there that we can later do together which then results in a family activity that we can engage in that evening. That’s a two for one special!
  20. The Kindness Game: Teaching kids to do things unselfishly for others is a good thing any time of year. Maybe visit an elderly neighbor who loves kids, deliver dinner to a family that is struggling in some way, or make a care package for the homeless man that sits at Kroger. Try to get your kids thinking about ways to serve others.

These are just a few ideas that will hopefully help you survive the long, hot days of summer! I also should probably mention that my kids do have chores to do over the summer months and that we try to get those things out of the way before we play. When I’ve exhausted my list and the bickering starts, I usually invite friends to come over for an activity. On the farm we often have “Popsicles on the Porch” days where friends come over to play for a few hours, pet some animals, and eat some popsicles before they go home. And who knows? During the last weeks of summer when the going gets tough, I may even sign them up for another round of VBS! I hear the theme is Submerged this year 😉

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Summer Book Lists

I am a bookaholic. Always have been and always will be. It’s just that I love reading more than pretty much anything else and even when pursuing hobbies of other types, I still refer to books to learn more. My love for books covers all genres and I’m pretty sure that if I landed on a deserted island and had food to eat and books to read, I would be just fine. I don’t think I ever told my parents I was bored in the summer because I was usually too hooked on a book to lift my head up.

I say all that to say that out of the 3 of my kids, I have 0 voracious readers in my home so far…….. Maizy is reading on an 8th/9th grade reading level but has a tendency to start many books and finish only a few. Kai pretends to read books so he can escape the task all together. Lyric(who may be my last hope) is just starting out so I’m not quite sure yet where she will end up yet. So you can imagine my distress when the summer whining starts happening about what there is and isn’t to do because besides the many farm activities these kiddos could engage in, they have zillions of “just right” books at their fingertips! I feel like a drug dealer trying to find my children’s gateway drug/book to get them hooked on reading as I constantly bring home books from different genres and reading levels in the hopes that they will develop a passion for it.

Over the years I have become somewhat more successful at it by allowing them to guide me in the search as well as reading with them before bedtime at night. This summer I’ve been reading the classics to the kids and it seems to be working so I thought I’d share our summer book lists just in case someone else out there is stuck in their book choices.

Maizy is going into 5th grade and started out reading the Junie B Jones series and the American Girl books in her younger years. Independently she reads a lot of cook books because that is where her interests are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught her reading Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating, the Starbuck’s Experience, Pioneer Woman Cookbooks or anything Alton Brown….. Fiction seems to be harder for her to stick with but she does love The Babysitters Club and Harry Potter series. Together we are going through the classics like Bridge to Teribithia, Anne of Green Gables, Blubber, and Little Women. We even have a book journal to help us keep track of what we are reading this summer.

Kai started out reading the Mercy Watson series in first grade and over the years he’s taken a liking to the Magic Treehouse series, Geronimo Stilton, Goosebumps, Puppy Patrol, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Together we are reading the Chronicles of Narnia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Super Fudge by Judy Blume.

Lyric loves all things Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious, and Charlie and Lola. We’ve also been reading Ivy & Bean, and Pippi Longstocking. Our current favorite book to look at/read has been Farm Anatomy by Julia Rothman as it speaks to her interests and has colorful illustrations about everything farm life.

During the school year we also started doing nightly devotions. Each child picked out their own devotional book based on their interests and I have found that to be a good way to get a couple of pages of reading in them every night before bed as well as talk about some pretty big subjects.

Although we do buy some books at book stores and off of Amazon we get the majority of our books from Goodwill and have had great luck finding complete series of books there. You can especially find many of the old favorites from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s!

As far as my reading goes it is still a little all over the map but here are some of my favorites if you are looking for a great summer read! Maude(based on a true story), The Bronze Horseman(historical fiction/love triangle), Yellow Crocus(historical fiction), Followed Frost(fairy tale), The Bird and The Sword(fairy tale), The Nightengale(historical fiction), All The Light We Cannot See(historical fiction), Wool(Sci Fi), Coming Clean(memoir about living with hoarders), Let’s Pretend This Never Happened(a little over the top but hysterical memoir), The Glass Castle(Memoir), The Kitchen House(historical fiction), The Wedding Dress(historical fiction), Secrets Of A Charmed Life(historical fiction), Me Before You(sad romance), and The Martian(fiction).

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid

It’s our first kidding season here on the farm and just like any expectant parents, we’ve approached it with excitement and some trepidation. Months ago our vet came out and performed an ultrasound on our two female goats. At that time the Vet said it should be a couple of weeks so we read the literature and watched over those goats like we were their security! Every day, we’d check for any signs that would prove that this would be the day! While I was at work I would even have my awesome husband text me “goat hiney” pics just so I could see if they were dilating. Of course he was concerned that at some point he’d have to explain all of the goat butt pics on his phone but I lovingly reassured him that I would take the fall if it ever came to that…..

As the weeks passed and turned into months, we sort of gave up hope that they would ever come. Our vigilance waned and we decided that Vet medicine was a lot of guesswork with so many species to be knowledgeable about. Of course the moment we quit watching over the goats like hawks was the very moment something would happen! The first goat delivery we missed completely as we picked our kiddos up at the bus stop and then went out to the pasture to do the chores.  Voila! A precious baby goat stood in the goat stall by her Mom looking like she’d been there all along! There was a blundered gender reveal/the hubs may not be the best with goat anatomy….But this kid that was first named Larry and later Lacey was adorable and strong and took to life at our little homestead quickly. There were tea parties, goat cookies, dress up, a visit to the local elementary school, and lots of goat singalongs….

When our second goat delivered it was the coldest night we were up against all winter. We had just put our two younger children to bed and headed back out to the pasture with our oldest child because we had watched Daisy laboring hours earlier. By the time we got there, there was one very vocal baby goat bleating and moving by Momma Goat and then much to our dismay a completely still/quiet newborn goat that looked like he had been discarded in the corner of the stall. Maizy immediately started toweling him off and trying to work some life in him. After about 45 minutes we heard a weak cry from our weakling and it was about that time that we got a big surprise in the form of another set of hooves making an appearance as they exited our sweet Daisy. Now we had heard that it was rare for a goat to have twins during her first kidding but we hadn’t even heard that there was a possibility of triplets! The other shocker was that they were all boys!(I checked this time) Not the gender we had hoped for but still a blessing to finally see these guys. Two active, tan and white bucks that closely resembled their mother. And one pitiful, little, pure black buck that would barely lift his head. We then got on the phone to ring all of our goat people for their best advice and sprung into action! We blow dried the babies and then my poor husband had to move the (200 pound)Mom while Maizy and I moved the baby bucks to our other building for a better chance of survival. They would still only have a little space heater to keep them warm but it was the best we could do without bringing the whole lot of them in the house.

The next day we were all relieved to see that they had survived one of the coldest nights all year but still our wimpy kid, Coal, wasn’t looking so hot especially when you compared him to his more aggressive young brothers named Bert and Ernie.  We took the wimpy, little guy indoors and tried for hours to bottle feed him with no success. Maizy held him all that morning rubbing milk on her fingertips just trying to get him to eat something. When we started to lose hope for him is when a friend suggested letting Momma Goat have another go of it. We took him back to the building and of course he would suddenly look alive when seeing her again as he shakily walked right over to her to start nursing!

So,  as it stands today we still aren’t out of the woods yet(cue the Taylor Swift music), but we have made some progress! And I’ll take that over having to give bad news to our children any day! We are learning that just like with parenthood of the human variety, the fears and worries don’t cease when they are out of the womb when they are of the goat variety either. Oh! and I know that most people find it odd that the Rioux clan gets so sentimental about goats, and pigs, etc…… But the truth is that when you live like this and care for farm animals with your kiddos…you get invested in the outcome because life is precious and all of God’s creation seems like a miracle! Here are some baby goat pics!

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Holiday Cheer

This holiday photography season was the busiest I’ve ever experienced as I started out saying that I was only going to do a day’s worth of mini shoots and ended up shooting every weekend for 2 months straight! I had trouble saying no especially since I could shoot so easily at the farm this year.  At the time I thought I might not survive it but looking back despite some weather hurdles, one naked toddler incident(my own), and one broken finger/donkey accident, it was a lot of fun. It’s always a joy to connect with families and see how much everyone has changed and grown over the year. There were babies in spades which Maizy in particular loved. My kiddos also loved serving everyone milk and cookies when the photo shoots wrapped up. I’d say the only exception to this is when after a long day without available parents, a screaming Lyric ran out to where I was shooting in only her muck boots! The only other incident we had was when I was taking some shots of some teens with our animals in the pasture and the horse and donkey got into scuffle over grain. Burpy our donkey tried to get out of the way of Snickers and barreled into my finger which resulted in a broken pinkie… You know what they say about working with kids and animals! Overall though, it was great recording some sweet memories for some precious families. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep the first two days worth of pics on my computer to save room for more and then I had a word press issue uploading some, but here are a few of my remaining favorites! Thanks so much to everyone who came out and let me take their Christmas photos!

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Wildly Clothing Company

I recently shot some fall and winter photos for Wildly Company.  They are a new company that produce ethically made kid’s clothing. What is ethically made clothing you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you! It’s clothing that promotes fair labor practices while creating sustainable jobs for families. The clothing is cute, simple, and comfy. You can check them out at willdlyco.com! Wildly is also partnering with Jonas Paul Eyewear which you can see Lyric sporting in a couple of pics. You know how this family loves their glasses! This child focused glasses company reminds me a lot of Warby Parker which sends frames straight to your door to try out. I love how simple that is. You can find them at jonaspauleyewear.com.

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Pioneer Girls!

My oldest daughter, Maizy decided she wanted to have a Pioneer Girl Cooking party to celebrate her entrance into the double digits. This wasn’t a huge surprise as Maizy has been getting up at 5:30 in the morning for several years just so she can catch a couple of Pioneer Woman episodes before school each day. She’s also been making family meals for years and has become quite the chef herself!

In preparation for the big day, each girl received a recipe card in their invitation so they could share their favorites at the party. The decor was all Pioneer Woman cookware found at Walmart.  Maizy has been slowly collecting it and placed it on the tippy top of her birthday wish list. The thing I love about it is that it very much matches the colorful vintage style of our home. We even whipped up a couple of simple bunting banners to match! Sweet G’s in Nolensville also made the most adorable sugar cookies inspired by Ree’s cookware line.

As girls entered the party, they picked out a vintage apron to wear. Maizy and I have a sickness when it comes to collecting things like retro aprons so there was an abundance to choose from. We kicked off our cooking party by making mini pies in mason jar lids. We had a pie bar on our farm table full of every pie filler and ingredient you could imagine. It was fun to watch the girls get creative with their ingredients as well as their decoration of the pies.

While the pies were cooking we hit them with a blindfolded taste test full of food items like: dark chocolate, asparagus, and even pop rocks!  Then when the pies were cooling, we made the Pioneer Woman’s french bread pizzas which were delicious and very easy.

As lunch was winding down the girls all decorated plates with icing. We lined them up in our front window for judging and noticed that our oldest Great Pyr, Abel wanted to get in on the judging as well. The winner of both the plate contest and the taste test won a Pioneer Woman mug full of candies. We finished up by  singing Happy Birthday to Maizy as the girls ate their mason jar pies with ice cream. They were sooo good! I think I may have to make mini pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, that was how easy/tasty they were.  It was  also the perfect dessert for the event since Maizy has never been a big fan of cake. I’m not sure she’s mine……  After that the girls put their boots on and ran straight out to the pasture to hang out with the animals and play freeze tag. It was one of those parties where I hardly snapped a pic after it started because 4th grade girls are very busy! Here are a few of the pics I did take….

 

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My Farm Girl

My experiences with kids over the years have led me to believe children come programmed with their own personalities, likes, dislikes, etc… Although we can try to persuade them in different directions as parents, the reality is that they are their own beings. Obviously the environment we grow up in is influential, but that nature part of things is huge! Case in point, my daughter Lyric. I have 3 children and although I had huge dreams about my son in particular taking to this new farm life we are living, it’s truthfully my youngest daughter that has become the farm kid.

Where my oldest daughter likes the garden and cooking, and my middle child likes rural living when it suits him, my 4 year old is the one that knows how to do everything on the farm. Lyric is the one who feeds the animals with me daily. She enjoys being outside pulling weeds, running around barefoot, and caring for all of her furry critters. When she goes out to the pasture, every animal out there runs to her because they know that this is the person that takes care of us! I so enjoy watching her stand up on boxes in the feed room to reach the feed scoops as she opens the food bins to get her job done. I love hearing her encouragingly talk to the chickens as she gently scoops them up to check for eggs. After that she carefully puts the eggs in her dress pockets and even though we often crack a few on the way, it’s so worth it to see her becoming the responsible young lady she is becoming. I don’t have tons of pasture pics of my other kids because unless Maizy is riding Snickers or Kai is chasing goats or our cat Scraps truthfully they aren’t out there all that much. But I could take pics of Lyric daily out there doing her chores. Pictures of piglets following her, ponies nuzzling her, and chickens clucking around her. I have a feeling that these are some of the memories I will hold most precious someday.

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9 Things Parents of Emotionally Charged Children Want You to Know

Disclaimer: I know this is a photography blog but some things in life you just don’t want to take a picture of. Please forgive me as I take a departure from happy pictures of families playing together and instead share a topic that is near and dear to my heart.

This is a post I’ve almost written 100 times but just never followed through with until now. I’ve worked with families and children for close to 20 years in a counseling capacity and I really thought I knew what I was doing….. But it wasn’t until I had my middle child that I realized I did not have a clue. This is a post directed at anyone who knows a special needs child in the area of emotion and behavior. These kiddos are often diagnosed with things like: ADHD, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, and Mood Disorders. Despite all the differing diagnosis what many of these children have in common is that they have trouble handling their emotions and as a result can be very challenging behaviorally due to their frequent melt downs and outbursts. As a parent of a child with ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Severe Anxiety it became my mission in life to find out everything I could about these kids and what can be done to help them. I’ve made many mistakes along the way but I’ve also learned a whole lot and even though I am now in a club I never would have signed up for, I find myself driven to reach out and help others who are in this club too. The only way I can do that is through complete transparency which is what led to this blog post. Here are some things that I think most parents of what I call emotionally charged children would want you to know.

1. They Need Respite– Interestingly enough parents who have emotionally charged children are the least likely to ask for help. The reason for this is because they know how hard it is to be around their child and as a result they would never ask anyone else to assume that job even for a couple of hours. The irony is that a kiddo who explodes on them at home, will most likely be a perfect angel for someone else. I have literally had to make friends of mine hand over their kids and take a break and every time these children were the portrait of perfect behavior. But even if they weren’t it wouldn’t matter because giving that parent a much needed break is worth its weight in gold.

2. They Need A Support System– Parenting an emotionally charged child can be extremely isolating. While everyone else is on facebook touting the cute and adorable thing that their child most recently did, this parent feels like they are lucky to have survived another evening after their child just exploded because their underwear felt too tight, their peas tasted funny, their feelings got hurt, or fill in the blank….. The isolation is gradual but over time these parents can feel embarrassed/ashamed/depressed over what is going on in their home and think that others could not relate. And the truth is, you can’t! But you can listen, distract, bring coffee, pray for them, care….. Often times they are just too plain exhausted to pick up the phone and that is why you need to. They don’t want to grow apart from you but sometimes don’t know how not to. So Keep trying! Even when they tell you they can’t have coffee 10 times in a row, or they don’t pick up the phone for months at a time, just realize that they are on a battle field and it’s hard to take a break when you are at war.

3. They Need Compassion Not Judgement– This is a biggie in a time where everyone has an opinion about everything. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say things or I have read things that are just completely off base given the situation. Sometimes it’s well meaning and sometimes it is not but bottom line is, don’t ever judge a parent of any child let alone an emotionally charged child. Just don’t do it! Like ever! You have absolutely no clue what the day to day entails for a family like this and what battles they are fighting! Sometimes it takes my husband and I hours just to get my middle child dressed and able to go to school! Even if we wash his favorite outfit every night, the next morning it might not feel right and there will be yelling and crying and throwing clothes and this is all before 8:00! I can think of several friends who have little ones with autism that have been rebuked publicly for their child’s behavior when in truth the child was just overwhelmed, scared, or upset about something that they couldn’t get over in the moment. Or what about the student who has ADHD who can’t get her homework done because she’s used everything she had to pay attention all day at school and her brain feels completely fried when she gets home.

Even well meaning family members can get in on this act and I have to tell you that even as a Grandparent, Aunt, Uncle, etc., you still cannot completely get it. The child is detonating like a bomb on a regular basis due to anxiety/sensory issues/mental health issues and outside people want to tell you that you are too easy on them or too hard on them. But the reality is that these parents are experts on their children. They have tried every behavioral chart, diet, essential oil, and consequence out there and they know what works best for their kid or at the very least what doesn’t work. Overall you will find that they are doing their best in hard circumstances and should be hugged instead of hated on.

4. They Need Understanding– Have you ever watched that old civil war movie about the young bi-racial girl that “passes” as white? I think it was titled Imitation of Life. I was always so fascinated by that concept as a child. How did the character feel as she portrayed herself as one thing but felt like another? The truth of the matter is that it has its similarities to the plight of an emotionally charged child. Often times they seem very normal when in a public setting such as school, church, and other outside activities. But it’s like the soda can that has been shaken all day and then what happens when the top is popped at home is that they explode. The emotional child can often hold it together all day at school suppressing all of the feelings, sensations, and noise and then Bam! when they get home and they are in a comfortable setting the fireworks begin!

On the one hand parents often feel thankful about this aspect because it’s like, “Yeah! My kiddo passes! People think he/she is normal!”. But on the other hand it’s frustrating because you feel like if they can treat the people at school with respect, they should be able to do the same at home. It’s also hard to decide how to deal with things like parent teacher conferences, and other extracurricular activities when teachers and coaches will describe your child as one way but you know a completely different side of them. Do you just smile and nod your head? Do you “out” them and let the person know what the reality is about your child?…..It’s often a hard call.

5. What Works For Your Child Most Likely Won’t Work For Their Child– If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “A good old fashioned spanking would do wonders for that kid!”….. Let me just say, it’s not that simple. These behaviors have different origins and have to be treated very differently than the every day child. When it comes to discipline and changing behavior, I could pretty much throw everything I was taught in college away and start over! Disciplining an emotionally charged child is as out of the box and challenging as it gets and is completely unique to that specific child! When I meet with families this is the thing we often talk about most and as a team we literally dissect every part of the day to find where the break down is. We then have to look at motivation and come up with a plan and routine that is completely tailored to the person.

6. This Type of Disability Is Hard On The Family– I’ve read in several places that the divorce rate for parents of kids who fall in any of the above categories is close to 80%. I can totally see why. This is a family that is put through it’s paces every day and when people are worn out they can really find themselves in some unhealthy cycles in the home. It can shake the most rock solid couples you’ve ever met not to mention what it does to other children in the home. I always liken it to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These family members have been through it and they have the scars to prove it! Inviting siblings of an emotionally charged child over to play or giving them a little extra love as an outside person is always appreciated.

7. This Is Not A Cute, Cuddly Special Need– O.k. I know there is no such thing as a cute, cuddly special need but what I’m trying to say here is that in these cases things can get ugly. Just getting through crazy sock day at school can be overwhelming for the sensory issued child. Or what about the ADHD kiddo who can’t filter noise and is in a loud pep rally? And who can leave out the beginning of the school year for the anxiety ridden child? The issues are all different but the result is very much the same. Kids have a fight or flight tendency in these situations and because of this you will either see angry outbursts, a child melting down in tears, or a kiddo that will just plain bolt. What is hard about this is that unlike in cases where a disability is more evident, these children often seem relatively normal till something happens that triggers their emotional response. The good news about this is that when we figure out what the emotion/feeling is behind the behavior we can often help prepare kids or at least recognize their triggers and try to avoid them.

8. Their Kid is Not a Scary Monster– Maybe you’ve seen some outrageous behavior from a child in your kiddo’s class and as a result you are thinking in your mind that you’d never want to do a play date with that kid….. Before you go ahead and check him/her off the list you need to know a couple of things. First off that kid might be the most sensitive and loving kid you’ve ever met. These children have a tendency to be sensitive in all areas and sometimes it’s surprising how caring they can be. Secondly, they often have other talents from having to dig deep on a daily basis emotionally and as a result can be very creative, passionate, and even humorous. They are also usually very loyal by nature and are often the biggest champions for other kids who are being bullied or are perceived as the underdog. The last thing is that being around an emotionally charged child can help your child develop empathy and acceptance towards others. Just ask my daughters! When my oldest starts talking about how difficult it is having a brother with these issues, after I validate her feelings I then remind her how wonderfully compassionate and caring she is as a person. I think her brother might have had something to do with that!

9. They Love Their Child– Despite all of the above, they love their child with a fierceness that not even they understand. In our house we use humor a lot when describing our son and the day to day dealings we have with him. Hey! It’s laugh or cry and we do both! Even though I may be slightly sarcastic about parenting my son, I love him deeply. I know this love runs deep because it is tested on a daily basis and it still rings true. Even on days when I’m exhausted and want to throw in the towel, I don’t. He’s a child of God who was fearfully and wonderfully made and he has purpose in this life. My job is to help him find out what that purpose is. So I’m going to keep on laughing, and crying, and sometimes beating my head against the wall in hopes that this kid is going to use all of this in his life to in some way help others!

Note: Although the thoughts expressed in this blog are my own literary diarreah, I’ve gleaned so much knowledge from others out there who have been living this life or working with these children longer than I have. A couple of my favorite books are: The Explosive Child- By Ross Green, The Out Of Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz, and Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Krasinka.

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Harmony Hill: Welcome to the Funny Farm!

We now have 8 months of rural living under our belts and it has been quite a wild ride!  From the undertaking of a major renovation to adding farm animals to our lifestyle we’ve learned a lot.  Mistakes have been made along the way but we’ve also met some great people who have taught us a great deal. In fact we pretty much stay in touch with every family that we either bought animals or plants from. My Kindle is now full of books about raising chickens, goats, and equines as well as topics like companion planting and clean living. And as much as I’d like to say we’ve got it all figured out, there is still so much to learn.

When we started this life overhaul several short months ago, we had envisioned a life where our kids would grow up learning about responsibility and where food comes from. I think it has been so much more than that. My son who was diagnosed with ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and severe Anxiety was one of the major reasons we made such a drastic change with our lives. I especially wanted to see him playing in the dirt, interacting with animals, and developing confidence. Although there is no magic wand to make the issues he faces go away, I do believe there is value in unplugging him from his device and plugging him into a more hands on lifestyle.  I’m not going to say he is a completely changed child as a result of our endeavors but we have watched him making great strides in certain areas. A boy who was formerly terrified of his own shadow can now be seen running with the goats, holding chickens, petting equines, and wrestling with the dogs. That feels huge when I look back to how he used to climb his Dad if he even thought a dog was nearby a year ago. And for the whole family things like weeding the garden, feeding the animals, and gathering eggs have replaced a good majority of T.V. and iPad time at least in the months where it has been enjoyable to be outside.

One of the coolest aspects of this whole project is that this place has not only helped our own kiddos but I’ve also watched it boost the confidence of the children who come over to visit. It has become sort of a mission to reach out to other families especially those with special needs children in the emotional realm. I have been counseling kids and families for close to 20 years and yet I feel like what can be done on our little farm far outweighs what I can do in an office. It definitely has Chris and I thinking about how we can use what God has blessed us with and make it into more of a ministry to others. Right now our little hobby farm consists of the following animals: Abel- Our number one Great Pyrenees. He’s an old soul who loves kids and is often seen with several of them sitting on his back. Prim- Our 8 month old Great Pyrenees who loves getting into things and is always ready to play. Snickers- Our large 24 year old pony. He’s a funny older gentleman with a sweet nature and a stubborn streak at times. Burpy- our mini donkey that is often confused about her breed. She loves people but can often be found hanging with the dogs who she is supposed to by nature hate…. Sky- Our hermaphrodite fainting goat that was bottle fed and as a result adores people and acts more like a puppy. Rosetta, Daisy, and Bob- The rest of our goat crew. They are a more exclusive group but love people when it is feeding time. Scraps- Our resident barn kitty who likes to peek in on all the animals. And last but not least we have seven Easter Eggers that lay beautiful olive green eggs each day. Of course Chris is also trying to talk me into getting a KuneKune pig but we have such a harmonious group out there right now, I hate to upset the balance. Whatever the future of this place holds, I think we are heading in the right direction! So stay tuned! Here are some pics of the animals on our funny little farm. Update- Looks like we ended up with a stupendous pig after all! Meet Peppa the pot bellied pig!

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Farm Fresh Wedding

When my little Sister told me that she and her boyfriend David were planning on tying the knot, I knew instantly that she would want a small intimate affair. Megan has always been very quiet about her relationships and a tiny farm wedding with close friends and family seemed very fitting.  We were all very excited to pitch in to make this wedding happen as David and his 6 year old son, Kit had already become a big part of our family. David and my husband Chris hit it off instantly and my son, Kai started asking me on a daily basis when Kit was going to become his cousin as they turned out to be bosom buddies. I’ve watched David take all the craziness of our family in stride and treat Megan with great love and care. This was a love story we were all happy to be a part of but the challenge with this wedding was that we had a very short time frame to pull it off as well as several surprises along the way. It was determined that my husband Chris, My Mom Teresa, and myself would be handling all aspects of the event which would be held on our 10 acre farm in TN.

We had most of the arrangements planned and then the week before the wedding Megan tried on her dress again and didn’t like it. She ended up changing the style of her dress which also meant we needed to change quite a few of the wedding details to follow suit. The change from a more formal white wedding dress to a more casual ivory wedding dress was a positive one in the end as it allowed us to be more casual with other aspects of the event. A carpenter friend of ours named Chris Shoap made planter boxes as the table centerpieces and we then sprayed mason jars a pretty robin’s egg blue and filled them with succulents to place in the planters. Vintage handkerchiefs were hung as a festive garland and sodas were served out of an old Maytag washing machine. We tried to use as many of the natural elements around us so we also used our farm fresh eggs on the table. Although our Easter Eggers do lay beautiful olive green eggs, I will admit to spray painting a few blue to help create the desired effect. Sweet G’s Cookies used this color palette as well as she made beautiful mason jar cookies. Although we did have an Alabama groom’s cake for David, Megan who has never been a fan of cake chose cookies and Grater’s ice cream as her portion of the dessert menu.

My husband Chris made a registry table from an old door we scoured from one of my father-in-law’s properties and Jani White did the chalkboard art for this display. My 9 year old daughter Maizy, also used a window from the old house where we found the door so she could create a collage of Polaroid pictures from the day as a wedding gift. One of my other favorite elements from the day was the use of our run in for the ceremony as we cleaned it out and filled it with lit mason jars for the event. Flower filled mason jars were put at the end of each aisle to complete the look. One funny aspect about cleaning out the run in is that we had to temporarily re-home our youngest goat named Sky with her goat friends in the pasture. Sky is used to hanging with our family so she seemed quite confused and even spent the ceremony nestled in between the groom’s legs as she leisurely took a nap.

The last big hurdle we had to face is the fact that I got food poisoning the night before the wedding and was deathly ill for days afterwards. This is not good when you are the wedding decorator and photographer. I watched friends and family pitch in to make all the details come together beautifully but it was still a question mark as to who was going to take the photos. I called a couple of photographer friends but everyone was out of town for Memorial Day weekend which meant I had to say some huge prayers and put my “big girl panties” on and press on.

In the end everything came together and it was a beautiful day! Chris and my sweet Momma worked all morning putting together all of the last minute details for the big event. When everything was ready,  my Dad walked Megan down the aisle and my husband Chris did the first part of the ceremony which was full of 80’s/90’s pop culture references so he could keep things on the light side. Of course by the time he turned it over to my Dad to make it official, Chris was the one in tears! After the ceremony the grown ups went into the house for some BBQ while the kid’s dined in our play camper. Each kiddo had a goodie bag full of silly items such as: coonskin caps, fake moustaches, etc., that they made good use of while the adults had some kid free conversation indoors. The kiddos then joined us for dessert while David’s StepDad Jim played us some bluegrass on the guitar. When the sun was setting I grabbed the newly weds and we headed outside for some last minute photos on the farm. We ended the day rocking on the porch and reflecting on all of God’s goodness. What a blessing it is to have such special people to share life with! Here are some pics from their big day!

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