What I Do: Special Needs Adoptive Mom


I have loved all the What I Do fun going around the web, so I thought I’d throw mine in, too!

Wednesday Recipe Roundup {the blueberry edition}


If you ask my Little Man what his favorite food is, he will undoubtedly say “blueberries.” It seems we all have an obsession with these tiny, juicy, antioxidant-rich spheres of goodness. We tend to go through several pints a week. I’m waiting for us to start turning into a blueberry a la Willy Wonka.

In honor of the hiking family’s obsession with blueberries, I bring you a recipe roundup of our favorite recipes plus some that we really want to try. Click on the links to find the recipes. Enjoy!


Blueberry Breakfast Cake


20120229-103524.jpgphotos: mine, as if you needed any help figuring out that the cruddy cell phone shots were taken by yours truly.

What, you don’t eat on an Iron Man plate? Pff.

There is only one thing to say about this recipe….DIVINE! We devoured an entire cake one lazy Saturday morning. Just perfect.


Sunny Morning Muffins

These muffins will rock your world. They are delicious and super handy on those crazy, chaotic school mornings.


Overnight Banana and Coconut Milk Oatmeal (plus we added blueberries!)


photo: mine

I followed the recipe exactly and then added fresh blueberries during the last hour of cook time. I think this is now my favorite breakfast dish! We actually call it “monkey oatmeal” at our house and the kiddos ask for it almost daily.


Blueberry Buttermilk Scones

photo: marthastewart.com

I haven’t tried this recipe yet, but it sounds delish. I love scones and I love blueberries, so how could it not be awesome?


Blueberry-Coconut Baked Oatmeal

photo: familyfreshcooking.com

Another oatmeal recipe to try!


So, do you have any blueberry recipes for me? If so, I want to hear about them!

Let’s take a walk outside…

An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.
– Henry David Thoreau



I kept Big Brother home from his pre-school today. He was having some minor health issues, but I just thought that a day off might help him. Now before you judge me, you should probably read this post, and then this one.

Go ahead, I’ll wait for you.

Did you read them? OK….

So instead of school, I took Big Brother to the one place I can count on to bring out the best in him–to the peace and quiet of the forest. Big Brother was so excited to go on a little hike this morning and he did awesome! He explored, walked on his own, climbed and jumped and collected leaves and sticks. No tears, no tantrums, no fits….just smiles and laughter–a rare treat for us all. For a moment, the current worries and struggles of being a special needs child and mommy melted away. It was just us and the stillness of nature. We both really needed it. Maybe I needed this time with him more than I even realized. Sometimes I even get this crazy notion that our early morning hikes together are helping to heal his tiny soul, one step at a time.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
– John Muir


Camping Firsts

Today the weather was downright spring-like. We enjoyed playing outside all day long and soaking up some glorious sun. This evening Big Brother was looking through some old pictures and came across the ones from his first camping trip last summer. Between the womderful weather and the old pictures, I’ve already started dreaming of our next camping trip. I think we will make that happen soon….but where? Here’s a recap from Big Brother’s first trip. I realized that I have never publicly posted about the trip before now.


July 2011

Reelfoot Lake

I’m pleased to report that Big Brother’s first camping trip was a wonderful success! On a whim, we decided to go camping somewhere new. So we loaded up the car, strapped on a canoe and headed to Reelfoot Lake (it’s really more like a swamp/wetland area.) I had always wanted to visit this very unique place, so we thought, hey, why not now? Yep, we’re those kind of people….those spontaneous, last-minute, flying by the seat of your pants kind of people. Plans, shmans. It usually works out ok. In this case, it worked out wonderfully.

We enjoyed our time viewing bald eagles, cranes, deer, turtles, and snakes in the bayou-like wetlands made of bald cypress trees and lily pads, which Little Man kept referring to as ipads, lol. We camped, paddled and hiked. It was very hot but a great experience! And guess what, I forgot my camera (banging head against the wall) but I snapped some photos with my phone. Ah, I used to have a brain that wasn’t mush, but those days are far behind me it seems.

The boys were not into smiling or posing this weekend…















And who could forget Little Man’s first camping experience. That’s a must read post (3 things my 2 year old taught me about camping.) We got ourselves an education on that little trip.


May 2009

This Memorial Day Weekend we spent time at the Ocoee & Hiawassee Rivers and the Cherokee National Forest. This weekend was also Little Man’s first camping trip. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. More on that towards the end of the post…

Hiking Daddy playing on the Ocoee River:






The campsite:


The Smores:


Helping Daddy:


Watching Daddy play:


Trying to be like Daddy:



The three of us took an excursion on the Hiawassee River:





Well, Little Man loved the “gentle” thrills offered by the Hiawassee. This child loves the water and he loved getting to ride in a boat. He did awesome!

If you’re looking for a relaxing rafting/kayaking trip with class 1 and 2 rapids, I would highly recommend the Hiawassee River. You can even intertube down it . If you would like to step it up a notch and get your adrenaline pumping a bit more, head on over to the Ocoee River where you will find some class 3 and 4 rapids. These two rivers are about a 30 minute drive apart from each other. Neither of these spots are too challenging for Hiking Daddy, but they are just fine for me and the little River monster. The Hiawassee is very kid-friendly while the Ocoee is better suited for older kids and adults and age limits are imposed (in terms of rafting and kayking). The surrounding forest is the Cherokee National Forest and is breathtakingly beautiful. Many great hiking and camping spots abound in this region. So, go on and take a trip down the river, you won’t regret it!

Now, onto the title of the post. I recieved some education this weekend from my close-enough-to-two-to-make-you-want-to-pull-your-hair-out son. I love my son so very much and he is an awesome kiddo, but let’s just say that he made our trip very interesting this weekend. Here is what I learned.

1. If a tent filled with pillows and sleeping bags looks like an inflatable playhouse (like pump-it-up), feels like an inflatable playhouse, and well, is an inflatable playhouse…do not expect your child to stop playing and to go to sleep. Even if it’s 2 am and you’re exhausted and all you want to do is curl into the fetal position and cry, do not expect you child to go to sleep. Instead, pack up camp and head to the nearest motel. Just do it. 4 hours of sleep is better than no sleep at all.

2. For the love of all that is holy, do not take said child to a dining establishment for breakfast the next morning in a place where there are no highchairs or any other ways to restrain a child. Seriously. Don’t do it. You will be very sorry.

3. Smores are good. In fact, they are so good that they may be substituted for a healthy dinner at which point Mommy may then wave her very worn out white flag to signify her final surrender.

With all that being said, we did have a fantastic time and I’m so happy we took this trip. Little Man had a blast and despite all the challenging moments, it was so much fun. My son rocks. He is such a trooper and is willing to try anything his crazy parents drag him to do.


I’d like to think that we now have this family camping thing all figured out….guess it won’t be long until we have another chance to find out!

10 Tips for Mixing Hiking and the Special Needs Child


{our hike to Virgin Falls on the Cumberland Plateau, TN}

If you know our family at all, you are probably fully aware that we love the great outdoors. Hubby and I spent many of our pre-kid years hiking and camping in the wild blue yonder. We vowed that once we had children, we would also include them in our outdoor adventures. Why let parenthood slow us down? we frequently mused to ourselves. Once Little Man came along, we kept good on our promise and swept him away with us into the wild. He loved every moment of it. When Big Brother came along, we knew our entire world was about to change, including our outdoor activities. Still, we wanted to do the best we could in helping Big Brother fall in love with the natural world. And guess what? It’s been a great and wonderful adventure in and of itself–different, but great.

I’ve come up with some practical tips to share about hiking with a special needs child. Obviously, this list is geared towards our experience with Autism. Each child is unique with varied needs, but hopefully you will find some sort of inspiration within the list. The most important goal is to just have fun and to be creative in finding a way to bring a love of nature to your child.

1. Practice makes perfect

When Big Brother came home, we immediately started spending as much time as possible outside. He was used to a life within the orphanage, so we had much work to do! We started with exploration of textures in the backyard and then moved to short, easy walks at nearby parks. Big Brother was not used to walking any amount of distance, so it took time to build his leg muscles (and motivation) to want to walk for any length of time. We built our way up slowly and made it fun. By 6 months home, we were doing short easy hikes/walks at a nearby park. Gradually, he came to love the time outdoors. The peace and quiet of the woods turned out to be the best environment for him! Now he asks to go hiking all the time and can even be heard saying “fun hikng.”


{exploring the back yard}

{Big Brother jumping for joy on his first real hike in the Smoky Mountains}

2. Define and adjust your expectations

Once Big Brother joined our crew, we redefined what a “good hike” meant. Did it mean making it to a summit or a far-away waterfall? Or did it mean completing 30 minutes of a leisurely walk in the woods? The goal was to ensure everyone had a good time, not to find victory in the final destination.

{almost to the top of Mount LeConte, before Big Brother came home}

{a low-key stroll by a creek on Fiery Gizzard Trail,with Big Brother}

3. Location, location, location.

When in doubt, keep it short, simple and safe. Start out on trails that are flat and non-treacherous. Your child will be more enticed to roam free and you won’t be a nervous wreck. Make sure the weather will be pleasant to your child. Big Brother is unable to tolerate cold weather, so we try to only take very short strolls when the temperature dips down (which luckily for us in the south is not too often).

4. Be prepared.

Big Brother is obsessed with three things: balloons, swinging and food. You can imagine then, what we pack along for our hikes! Lots of balloons, a camping hammock and of course his favorite snacks.  Our Little Man has yet to complain about his brother’s special accommodations, and in fact, has taken full advantage of them as well.




5. Be flexible.

This is obviously a no-brainer. Go with no expectations.

6. Bring your sense of humor.

You know the old saying, if we didn’t laugh, we’d cry! Sometimes you may just have to realize that your typical hike may look different to those who do not have special needs children. It’s not a time to worry about outsiders, it’s your time to have fun. If something doesn’t go as planned, laugh and let it go.

7. Know that the few first times may prove to be challenging.

On our first real hike, the temperature unexpectedly dropped and it began to snow. Don’t let the photo below fool you, we only made it half a mile before turning back. Big Brother was not happy, but it certainly didn’t damper his love for the outdoors. One (or two or three…) bad hike doesn’t mean failure. It merely means it’s time to brainstorm ideas about how the outdoors can be made fun for your little one. You will find a way.


8. Take it slow and follow your child’s lead.

We started showing Big Brother pictures of places we could hike to in order to get his input. He really enjoyed looking at pictures and although he is limited verbally, he could still express interest or disinterest. Turns out he loves waterfalls and streams. We make sure to incorporate one in each hike.

9. Take advantage of the sensory-rich environment.

Let your kiddos get muddy and wet. Let them stuff their pockets full of dirt and rocks. Our little guys have started collecting items from each hike to make memory boxes. It makes the trip much more fun!

10. Relax, enjoy and take some pictures.

Remember, this is your time away from it all. Take a deep breath and enjoy the scenery and the time with your family. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be great.  Over time we have managed to help foster an appreciation and love for nature in our children, but we did it on their terms, not ours.





To see more photos and details from our hikes, please visit our Take a Hike page. You can also visit Nature Rocks to find some inspiration for your next outdoor adventure. Now go take a hike!

Great Ipad apps for kids {also for kids with special needs}

I’ve had some friends ask about what Ipad apps my kids enjoy. Here are some that both Little Man and Big Brother enjoy, and they are as educational as they are fun:


For my typically-developing 4 year old Little Man, the TeachMe Kindergarten app has been great! It covers basic spelling, word recogniton and math. Even Big Brother enjoys playing with this one, too. Once you answer enough questions correctly, you can earn coins to purchase items for various sticker pads. It’s a great way to introduce the concepts of saving and planning ahead!

Another great app is the Shaun the Sheep app (Home Sheep Home 2). My kids love this quirky claymation show in real life and the app is great for Little Man as it forces him to use logic and reasoning to guide Shaun and his friends through various tunnels amd mazes. It’s also fun and challenging for mom and dad, too 😉

The BOB books app is also excellent for both boys and offers a range of activities at various skill levels. We love these books in real life, and the app is great for building word and letter recognition and for facilitating early reading skills.

Specifically for Big Brother, who is language-delayed and has autism, the TouchandLearn-Emotions app by alligator apps has been great for helping him to decipher facial expressions and a range of emotions. Also, the iWriteWords app is a favorite of his. It guides Big Brother to trace letters and numbers and to spell simple words. Other letter tracing apps include the PocketPhonics app and Alphabet Tracing app. LickingLetters is another great game for letter recognition. In this game, the frog must lick and capture the correct letters to score points.

The Thomas Misty Island Rescue book app comes with puzzles and other activities that both boys have enjoyed. In fact, It has been a favorite for a very long time.

I hope you find this helpful. Now let me know what apps you love!! I would love to find some more apps suited for Big Brother’s special needs….If you have any great Autism apps to share, please leave me comment!!

The evaluation that kicked me in the gut

Big Brother had an informal evaluation by a child psychologist who specializes in both developmental disabilities and international adoptees (I know, right??!!) The point of the appointment was to really just gather some pertinent information about him before his full formal evaluation takes place, sometime in the near future.

{Backstory Here}

Most of the time was spent with us explaining his complicated background and answering developmental questions asked by the psychologist. The last five minutes were spent with the psychologist actually interacting with Big Brother.

Where do I begin?

We walked into the room and Big Brother immediately starting showing signs of extreme stress and anxiety. I could see the switch flipping. 3…2…1… he was gone. He was back in fight or flight mode and he was ready to rumble.

He climbed on the tables, threw the toys, screamed, obsessively started counting aloud as he slapped himself. He stomped around and made unintelligible noises. But none of that really bothered me. Classic stress response in my sweet boy. What happened next is what really got to me.

He spotted a small snack container filled with cheerios sitting on the psychologist’s desk. I won’t go into the details of what happened next, but if you’ve ever seen a post-institutionalized child from a background of neglect with food issues, you can imagine. It was heartbreaking. When he finally was allowed to have the cheerios, he shoveled as many into his mouth as possible and tried to hoard the rest.

I was sitting right there. He knew I was sitting right there. I had just fed him a meal where he had eaten more than a grown man. He knew I had snacks in my bag and in the car, too.

I had not seen the food drama in months…..in nearly a year, to be exact. It usually only happens now if he is away from me (which is not much).

But here we were. I fought back tears as I watched the weight of four years worth of trauma unfold before my eyes. I felt as if someone had punched me in the gut. I was immediately sucked out of my warm, fuzzy bubble into a place where the magnitude of Big Brother’s past traumas had come into sharp focus. I started gasping for air. My head was spinning. The psychologist starting telling us about her observations….I wanted to scream, I wanted to run. I wanted to grab my children and run away to a deserted island where they would never have to deal with this wicked, cruel world again….a place where we can live in our warm fuzzy bubble together, forever.

Big Brother was not the only one in full stress mode.

I took a deep breath and prayed. And cried. I needed this–to be reminded of how tightly trauma’s grip can be. Now it was time to wipe the tears and roll up my sleeves.


The next day I took Big Brother to school. In his room he looked me in the eyes and said “Mommy in school.” I told him that I couldn’t stay but that mommy always comes back. He then looked at me and said “Mommy come back.” He kissed me and I actually caught the slightest grin grace his lips as I pulled back.

And that’s when I thought to myslef Take that, trauma! Watch out world, we can do this.

And I know we can, and we will. Together.

The lovely Little Man


{sorry for the cruddy cell phone pics…it’s all I’ve got!}

Little Man has been pretty busy lately. He has started taking martial arts lessons and absolutely loves it! Every day after class he says “Mommy, I love martial arts!” Although he is the youngest in his class, he is doing so well. I am very thrilled that he has found something active to do that he truly enjoys. I just have to laugh during class because he usually has this silly, ear to ear grin plastered to his face the entire time. He cracks me up! I just can’t even convey in words how great it feels to see him enjoying himself and having an activity that is all about him and not his brother. Big Brother uses class time to play his educational games on the ipad so it is a win-win for everyone.

On the first day of class Little Man begged me to let Big Brother (with my assistance) out there with him to try out class. Unfortunately, Big Brother just isn’t ready and didn’t seem interested, so Little Man had to brave it alone 😉 I think he is now glad to have this all to himself! Big Brother might gain some interest as he watches his brother. If not, we will be on the lookout for an activity he can enjoy as well.


After Big Brother was done answering his birthday questions in the previous post, Little Man wanted a turn. Since we didn’t do it on his last birthday, we decided to go ahead and do it now. It was so much fun to get a peek inside his brain! Enjoy.


How old are you? 4

What is your favorite color? blue.

Favorite animal? giraffe and penguin

Who is your best friend? Mommy (melt my heart again!!!!)

What do you want to be when you grow up? a daddy and work at a college like Mommy

Favorite movie? Dragon Tales

Favorite book? “Your Kind of Mommy”

What makes you happy? toys

What makes you sad? going to time out

What is your favorite thing to eat? blueberries

What is your favorite song? God Our Father

What games do you like to play? Don’t Wake Daddy (a cute kids’ board game)