Sunday, November 3, 2013

Halloween 2013

**I had a few people ask for the yearly Halloween post, especially since not everyone is on Facebook and because I didn't post our fun lunches!  I get a lot of guilt sad emails from family and friends:)

Breakfast was "Ghost Pancakes".  Ghosts say "Ooooooooooooooooo!"  For the record, Aubrey only at the top half of each ghost, which contained the three chocolate chips.
We also had "Candy Corn Fruit Parfaits".  Bottom layer of pineapple, then peaches, then homemade whip cream.  Big hit with all!
 Lunch:  Witch Fingers (cheese sticks with green pepper fingernails)
Mummies (hot dogs wrapped in dough with mustard eyes)
Pumpkins (mandarin oranges.....I just used a sharpie to draw a face)
Kids also got snack mix: Ghost Poop (marshmallows), Witch Warts (chocolate covered raisins) and Monster Scabs (Chex Cereal).

Dinner was boring....we had chili.  Good, healthy and filling before we went out trick or treating.

Theme:  Despicable Me
 Gru is the main character who adopts three girls, Margo, Agnes and Edith
Our Version:  Edith (Kate), Margo (Ella), Gru (Woody), Agnes (Emelia)
A Minion (Aubrey), Edith (Kate), Margo (Ella), Gru (Woody), Agnes (Emelia) and
Dr. Nafario
Dr. Nafario and the Minions

Gru and Vector battling it out!
In the movie the little girls deliver cookies to Vector in a wagon (the minion was extra here:) and Agnes asks him why he is wearing pajamas.  Pretty funny!
In the movie Agnes likes Unicorns.  Our Agnes preffered pushing pumpkins around.
 Our little trick or treater was AWESOME!  She understood the dressing up thing and the getting treats thing!  Walked a good three blocks and did it all herself.  She signed and spoke "Trick or Treat" at each house.  Same for Thank You and Your Welcome!   So proud of her!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Daily Routine

I had a question earlier this month about how I keep it all together, my routine.  Some mamas are struggling with one or two or three and don't have any with special needs!  Inquiring minds want to know, I guess.

The answer is....I don't do it alone!  My greatest blessing in this life is my husband.  I am able to keep it all together, because he is my partner in life and parenting and just as instrumental in making our days run smoothly as I am.  I may be the more visible each day, but he is my greatest help.  My Superman:)

Ideally my days would have a routine...and they have a basic outline, but they are far from the same.  So here goes.

*Morning alarm goes off at 5:45am - though I'll admit, I always hit snooze:)
*One of us heads upstairs to stir the girls and the other gets going on lunches.  It is usually just the 4 girls and Woody, but depending on the day, Emelia and I might get lunch or at least a snack packed.
*By 7, I'm herding them towards the door, so that we actually drive away about 7:10.  Woody usually does the morning drop off.  From 7am-9am, I try to get a little sewing done for the shop.
*The three older girls go our church school in Dallas, so there is a carpool set up and they ride with other families in the morning (I in turn bring other kids home each day).  Drop off is 7:20.

*Aubrey and Dad then stroll the aisle of the local Walmart.  Mostly because it is near school and has a bathroom, cause we can't make it from home to school without a potty break.
*Aubrey gets dropped of at 8, and then Woody and Em are off to the gym together.
*9:30ish, Em gets dropped off and Woody is off to work.  I'm checking email and doing laundry and watching Sesame Street. Or heading to an appointment.
*11-1 I'm hoping Emelia takes a good nap, so I can sew and hopefully make or start dinner.  (if I don't have a menu plan for the week, it gets ugly-so I try to make out a menu on Sunday)
*1pm We're grabbing lunch and packing up orders to head to the postal center.
*2:10 we pick up Aubrey from school and quickly chat with her teacher.
*I have an hour of time here before we pick up the afternoon crew, so we run errands or head to the playground.
*3:15pm we get the big kids, the car is now full of SEVEN kids.  I assure you that only mine are hungry and crabby:)
*4:00 we are home.  Homework, piano, dinner, etc.
*5:30-6:00 we are hoping that daddy is home for dinner and baths
*6:00-6:30pm the littles are in bed, the bigs are finishing up there work
*8:00-9:00 the bigs are going to bed
*9:00 we catch up on the day, get ready for tomorrow and catch up on work

This would be ideal!  But it isn't most days:(
*Mondays after school, Ella has piano and Kate and Alice have choir.  It makes for a larger gap of time between pickups, which is ideal for a quick doctor appointment if necessary.  We get home about 5.
*The 3 big girls have skating lessons Monday nights, so we eat quickly (crock pot meal, leftovers, or salad) and are out the door at 5:45 again and home at 7......which means that at 7 we are then getting a snack and THEN starting homework and bedtime.
{Are you tired yet....cause it's only Tuesday:)}
 *Tuesdays we get home at 4, but then head out the door at 5:30 for Signing Class.  I try really hard to squeeze in as much homework before our quick dinner again. Class is 6-7:30.  This is Aubrey's language, so we all go. Which means that after we get home at 8, we have a snack and bedtime/homework continue.
*Wednesday.....more ideal.....for now:)
*Thursday, Ella has choir after school and Alice and Kate have piano, so we are home at 4:45.  Another ideal day to squeeze in an appointment for Miss Aubrey.
*I LOVE FRIDAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
*The weekends are spent catching up, and trying to get ahead on the stuff that's gonna happen next week.

It's a crazy busy life.  But it's ours.  I get asked all the time, "How do you do it?"  Not sure if they say it because they are in awe of my super awesome mom skills and they want the secrets, or if they think I'm crazy!

Here's my secrets!

I pray a lot, and I take it one day at a time:)

It takes me back to those first days, as a first time mom.  You just weren't sure how you were going to do it.  How do you survive the sleeplessness?  How do you take care of someone who cries all the time and poops on you and throws up on you?

LOVE.  You do it because you love them.  You are personally maxed out at whatever place you are in life.  When I had one kid, I was maxed out at one.  When I had two, I was maxed out at two.  And so on.....

I'm surely maxed out most days.  And most days aren't ideal.  But we all get through it.  Appointments change my days and nap times.  Sometimes the paperwork is a day or so late or I have to run it up to the school, but all the important stuff gets done.

They are all alive and fed and loved.....and the other stuff, will get done tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

WW: Happiest Place on Earth for Aubrey

{Frozone from The Incredibles - he even signed with Aubrey-she loves when people sign with her}
{Green Army Guy from Toy Story}
{Fist Bumps}
{Put her in line to see his friends Woody and Buzz}
guy spent like 10 minutes just interacting with Aubrey, so sweet!
 {That smile made the LONG wait worth it!}
{Woody from Toy Story}
 {Buzz Light Year from Toy Story}

 {Jake and the Neverland Pirates}

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Guest Post: More Alike Than Different

This guest post is from my best friend Brenna.
We affectionately call ourselves the “Minnesota Smiths”, and call the Smith's the “Texas Hollanders”. We constantly find ourselves living “parallel lives” to each other. 

Rachel and I went to college together, and each took a year off to teach before finishing our senior year. There was a small group of us that had left to teach, so those that went back for senior year really bonded. We were both finishing up our training to be teachers and both planning our upcoming weddings. We were definitely good friends, but our friendship really grew over the next few years as we got married and started having kids. 
{Our crew of 10}
 First off, our husbands are A LOT alike and get along very well. Then we started having babies at the exact same time (our oldest girls are only 1 week apart!) and continued to do so for the next 10 years (the biggest spread between our kids is 10 months between our babies).
{Kate and Ella 9 - 2 months apart}
{Alice and Olive 11 - 1 week apart}

Woody and Rachel had girl, girl, girl, and we had girl, girl, girl. 
{Ella and Lilly 7 - 3 months apart}
We’re the same. Always. You can often hear our husbands say “naturally” just after we confirm something happening to each of us at the same time. Rachel and I even have a habit of dressing alike when it is completely unplanned! 

When we found out that we were pregnant with our fourth, Rachel was one of the first to know. Little did I  know that she was suspicious that she might also be pregnant, but hadn’t yet told Woody! Once again, the same. We were due on the same day, and once again celebrated growing our families together. Another set of buddies! 
{Aubrey and Noah 5 - 3 weeks apart}
Now here’s where we strayed from our similarities. Both of us decided to find out the gender of our baby at our ultrasound. The Smiths found out that they were expecting baby girl #4, so we were shocked to find out that we were expecting a boy! A boy?!  We thought for sure that one of the ultrasounds must have been wrong because how could they be different?? 

Shortly before our babies were due, Rachel had a routine ultrasound done just to be sure baby on track and ready for delivery (she had planned C-sections). The ultrasound showed that baby was quite a bit smaller than they would expect for how far along she was, so they referred her to a specialist. This ultrasound revealed that baby girl had a heart defect, a defect that often goes hand-in-hand with individuals with Down’s syndrome. I remember so clearly Rachel saying, “Yesterday she was a healthy baby girl, today she has holes in her heart.”  

Aubrey Elizabeth made her appearance shortly after that (she was two weeks early, and my guy was 1 week late, so they are three weeks apart). I remember Rachel’s phone call so well, “We have a new princess!” Being born early, and with a heart defect, meant that Aubrey had a bit of a rough start. She was in NICU, she couldn’t nurse, she was so, so tiny, she had jaundice…But she was beautiful. And she was indeed a princess. 
{Our "babies" Emelia and Natalie 2 and 1 - 10 months apart}
While Aubrey and Noah may be different from each other, they have a very special, very sweet friendship. They are definitely buddies, and love each other so much! People often comment on how he doesn’t have any buddies in the Smith/Hollander crew as he is the only boy amongst NINE girls! But he is always quick to correct them that Aubrey is his buddy! 

We are blessed beyond words by our friendship with the Smiths, and by the many ways we are alike and by the few ways that we are different. J

Missing posts....Pumpkin Patch

Bet you wondered where we went?  I had tried posting from my phone over the weekend....but apparently none of those posted.  Will be reposting those over the next few days to catch up.  They were worth it:)

While you wait....enjoy these from our pumpkin patch adventure this morning.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Guest Post: Parenting II

**Guest Post from my Cousin Kelly.  She was one of the first, as was Dana, to write a post for me to share. It is certainly wonderful to hear how people think we are doing as parents, but so humbling as well.  And well...hard to post "a pat on the back", which is why I've save them I guess.  But it's time to share:)
{Kelly is 3rd from the left in the back - I'm on far right in back with Emelia
and Aubrey is sitting 2nd from left in the red chairs}
"Since I have been given the opportunity, I am going to write about Aubrey’s parents – since I know that this would be something that Rachel may not have an easy time writing herself.

A brief introduction, I am one of Rachel’s cousins from Wisconsin.  Because of the distance, I don’t see the day to day operation of the Smith household.  There are many times I wish I could – sometimes I would like to be a visitor, other times I think it would truly be fascinating to be a “fly on the wall”. 

From the moment that there was an inclination that Aubrey may be born with a heart defect and Down syndrome, Rachel and Woody turned to their ultimate source of strength – their faith.  Like the rest of Rachel and Woody’s family, I prayed and waited.  When Aubrey was born we continued to support the family in prayer and love as we received pictures of the tiniest of babies hooked up to a room full of machines and monitors. 

As Aubrey has grown up there have been many unknowns, however, her family has always been a source of stability. We have heard stories of doctor appointments, various different types of therapy appointments, specialists, hospitalizations, etc.  But more importantly we have heard about the reaching of milestones, the laughter Aubrey brings, and the amazing gift of being able to see the world through Aubrey’s eyes (my personal favorite).  The focus has always been on what Aubrey CAN do, not what she can’t do (yet!) .  

As parents, Rachel and Woody skillfully create life lessons out of not only life changing events, but also daily situations.  I can’t help but think of all of the incredible lessons the girls are learning now that they will grow up and use when they themselves are parents.
{Aubrey with her Great Grandma Alice Olson and cousins}
We know Aubrey as a determined girl, but when looking at her family, this is not a surprise.  She has grown up in a family of amazing strength.  Rachel and Woody encourage Aubrey’s four sisters, each with their own special qualities and talents, to share these gifts with Aubrey each day.  Aubrey is blessed to learn from Alice’s grace, Kate’s intellect, Ella’s silliness, and she gets to learn to be a big sister to Emmie – which is quite special.  Rachel and Woody have done an amazing job of providing each of the girls with the unique tools they need to have a positive future.  They are a family with a commitment to values, faith and family tradition.

I am so proud of how graciously Rachel and Woody have raised their family.  They are a compassionate, loving, giving family that demonstrates to each of us the strength they have within themselves to face all that life will present to them. 

You have shown so many that while Aubrey may have Down syndrome, she is clearly just like each one of us.   

Love you all!

**Pictures were taken last Christmas.  The Olson (Rachel's side) gathers every year between Christmas and New Years.  All told there were 30 of us for 3 days in 1 house!  Thank you to my Aunt and Uncle for hosting us each year and to this half of our family that provides so many prayers and love and support and for being part of our "village".

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Guest Post: Parenting

**seams only fitting that today's guest post come from our good friend Dana....since I was busy all day on her Halloween cape order:)

These guest posts have all been about Miss Aubrey. For good reason I suppose. Who wouldn't want to talk about that beautiful smile and kind heart? In the spirit of nonconformity (I believe Ella shares this trait with me) I am using my post to talk about someone else.  A few people actually. Let's chat about Woody and Rachel.   

I left my first dinner with the Smiths and proclaimed them the nicest people I had ever met. At that time they "only" had three girls. Rachel delivered Aubrey a few weeks after our Koen was born. I remember sitting in my living room on a warm September day, holding my 7 week old son, watching the Smith girls play. A few feet away Woody and Rachel sat with my husband (also their pediatrician) discussing what Rachel's ultrasound confirmed. The words heart defect, femur length, Down's syndrome floated through the air and I held my baby tighter. I couldn't reconcile the difference between the happy scene I was watching and the devastating one I was hearing. But if they were scared they didn't show it.

Aubrey came into this world a tiny little blue bundle. Oh, how those early blue days scared me!  Through heart surgery, medications, hospitalizations, orthotics, glasses, hearing aids, sign language, speech therapy ... Woody and Rachel have shown a strength and commitment to their family and each other that I can hardly believe. When they discuss struggles it is about hearing loss or short stature or the logistics of getting 5 kids where they need to be. To them DS isn't something to be endured or overcome. It is simply a fact. No different than saying Emelia has blonde hair or Woody is freakishly tall.

There is a ridiculous stereotype that children with DS are always happy.  I have witnessed a few meltdowns that disprove this theory. The truth is Aubrey is happy and content for the same reason that Alice, Kate, Ella and Emilia are. They are surrounded by love, strength, acceptance and peace. Sure, I believe Aubrey will do great things. I believe all of the girls will. Down's syndrome has not made Aubrey who she is. She is kind, absolutely hilarious, smart, strong, independent, sweet and beautiful because she is the daughter of Woody and Rachel. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Kisses from Mater

Lucky for you!  Someone caught Aubrey on camera kissing Mater goodbye!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ground Hogs Day

After Aubrey was born, I remember thinking, "ok....she's gonna have some delays....but what does that mean?  How long will it take her to do things?"

I had accepted her diagnosis.  I had accepted the fact that her life would be full of delays.  But what I was curious about was, WHEN.  I came across a list similar to this one that laid it out for us.
The ranges were HUGE!  But our therapists focused us on progress, and that is where we have mostly stayed.  I remember laughing out loud about the bowel control being anywhere between two and SEVEN years old....not laughing any more.

We have been "potty training" since she was about three.  Here she is just shy of her third birthday, reading in the bathroom.  We had her sitting on the potty at regular times of the day, but she lacked all the other skills to make it happen including toughing the floor while sitting on a portable potty seat.

Her preschool teach finally pushed us to jump forward with underwear this past MARCH.  The first day, she came home with all 7 of her extra outfits....wet.  By Friday, just one!  She does fairly well at school, with only accidents once in awhile, but I would say she is more "teacher trained" than potty trained.  She has all the abilities to TELL us that she has to go.  She knows the difference between wet, dirty and dry.  She CAN stay dry.  But 7 long months later, she still isn't able to put it all together.  Even if she is wet or dirty and we ask her...she says "no".

Her afternoons and evenings are hit or miss.  We have come to understand her schedule a little better, and if I make her go at those times, she usually does, but she doesn't tell us or ask to go.

Setbacks.  This past summer she was sick and in the hospital for a week.  Potty training is hard with a healthy kid, but forget about it when your kid is hooked up to all kinds of cords!  It was THEN that she kept telling me she had to go potty and we just couldn't keep unplugging her to go with such unpredictability.  So a whole week of NOT wearing undies, meant we had to start all the way at the beginning again.  I finally gave up after three weeks of her just not even getting close and just let her wear diapers.  We just can't be frustrated all day, every day.  The teacher gave her a week of pull ups at the start of school and then back to undies.  She did well, but again, she is "teacher"/"schedule" trained.

It's like day two of "typical' potty training, every day.  You know that movie "Ground Hogs Day"?  That would be potty training and us.  It is an extremely S-L-O-W process.  Every day is almost exactly the same as the one before.  It's exhausting and frustrating and hard work.  

You know that first week of potty training, when you don't go anywhere or do anything but focus on potty training?  We're stuck there, except we aren't really.  Time moves on and we have to go places and do things.  Last week we went to Disney....4 accidents right away meant she spent the rest of the trip in diapers/pull ups.  Setback.  Went back to undies today...not pretty.  4 accidents in 1 hour at the doctors office:(  

Hoping that getting back into school tomorrow will help get her back on track.  Hoping that something clicks for her soon.  Hoping that these days of frustration and exhaustion and hard work are over soon and we can move on to new challenges!

Is it a step in the right direction?  ABSOLUTELY!  Are we close to the end yet?  NO.  Will she get there?  YES....eventually!