Monday, January 31, 2011

My confessions...

Confessions:

1. I'm addicted to Chick-fil-A fries. I'm serious. Like, today I woke up and the first thing I thought about was fries (not my sweet husband laying next to me or my daughter in the other room... fries). They are waffle style, with just enough salt to make your mouth water. It doesn't help that they are gluten-free (because of this, we find ourselves getting them on the road often).

2. I'm also addicted to corn tortilla chips. This is a long addiction that has been hard to break. I break it, then a month later it's back. The chains are strong my friends. Heaven help me if there's queso in the room. Yikes.

3. I wore pajama's all day the other day (and into the next day). Yes, glamorous I know. If they had like a stay-at-home mom Vogue, you would not find me in it! The outfits that I wear around my house are atrocious. Just think 14 year old boy.

4. I watch the Kardashian's. I know, slap my hand. Please.

5. I reheat my coffee 5 times a day. I make a huge pot and as the goes on, my cups sit there and get cold as I chase my daughter around the house. It's just easier than making more.

6. I spy on my neighbors. I have names for them and I'm creepy.

7. I watch golf on TV. I love it! Blame it on my father. Then blame it on my husband.

8. I make excuses to go to Target. All sorts of them. The biggest excuse is, well.... Target probably carries it....I usually leave with everything but the thing I needed.

9. I don't get offended easily. I'm sorry, please try. It's really hard to offend me. I'm sure many of you try and have failed. The only way to offend me is to hurt someone I love. That is a whole different story.

10. My husband and I like taking drives. Like 80 year olds. Don't mock it until you try it people.

11. I LOVE the Naked Gun movies. I laugh way to hard.

12. I cried when the Crocodile Hunter died. So tragic. If I had to go, it would not be by a sting ray ... I want to die in an epic moment. Like falling off a cliff trying to save something-- of course succeeding;)

13. My daughter entertains me. She makes me laugh and cry and feel more love than I ever imagined.

14. I hate school but I love learning.

15. Sometimes I want to find my old cats that I gave away on Craigslist. Just to catch up and see if they feel bitterness towards me. Cats don't feel... but, I think mine did.

I'm sure you learned more about me here than you wanted and are now wondering why you even read this. You are bored, or curious or just in the mood for a little Earls fix. It's understandable. We are irresistible us Earls;) Next post will be all Bella therapy related so this one was for fun!

After a while Crocodile. Oh, ok... that just made me think of Steve Irwin. Dang sting rays.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Here am I...

God keeps laying this story on my heart and I felt like it was important to share. The story of Abraham (the father) and Isaac (the son) always struck me as absurd when I read it in the Bible. After all, Isaac was the much anticipated, cherished, adored...ONLY son of Sarah and Abraham. As a parent the story makes me cringe inside. It makes my skin crawl with discomfort thinking that God would request something of Abraham that was so unbelievably hard. To sacrifice his one and only love. To lay down the life of someone who is your flesh and blood....your joy.... your wellspring of life. I cannot imagine the pain Abraham felt in his soul, yet he was so faithful. He realized that Isaac belonged to God, not him. He was on loan. God created Isaac and with His swift justice could take him away. Or worse, have Abraham do it.

The Sacrifice of Isaac
22:1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy [1] will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; [2] as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” [3]

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his [4] enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

I love how Abraham says "Here am I" to the Lord. He woke after a sleepless night ... a night of daggars to the heart. Saddled his donkey and set off. Holding his pain inside from others. Lovingly ushering his son toward certain death - by his own hands. Just as Abraham is about to fulfill God's command something amazing happens... "But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” .... I KNOW THAT YOU FEAR GOD. That was the lesson here. God had already known the future of Abraham and Isaac. He knew that day would not include the death of Abraham's son. He wanted Abraham to experience the "fear" of God.

This story girds me with strength and fear equally. Strength in understanding that God owns my daughter. Not just owns, he breathed her into existence. Perfectly knowing every facet of her. Perfectly knowing every ability I possess to take care of her. Fear because I am so weak. Every little bump in life seems like a giant mountain and I easily slip. It feels hard sometimes to constantly be climbing to attain something I cannot ever really reach. The peak. The top. The place wear it's "easy"-- the "grass is greener". The fact is, God is glorified in our weakness. He is more clearly seen and experienced when we are falling down the mountain, getting cuts and bruises.

So, by no means do I desire to walk in Abraham's shoes. I do however appreciate the way God reminds us that we do not "own" those we love. He does. And I am thankful.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lately...

Wow, life has gotten so busy.

Josh is back to work visiting his ships, counseling crisis situations, and being a daddy & husband full time. I am on my way in my next master's course in my program learning all about "inclusion classrooms" (where special education students are mainstreamed with general education kiddos). This topic is super interesting to me (in comparison to my last class that was so boring-- it was all statistics and snoooze... look I fell asleep just trying to describe it). :)

Bella is getting ABA 3-4 times a week and starts Early Learning this week Tuesday. I am coming to realize that when they say "Bella" has intervention, they really mean "Annie" has intervention. Basically, they are training me (and Josh through me) to teach Bella. Because she's so young, she is getting in home services which is wonderful. I can be in my PJ's and drink my coffee while working with them and her. These therapists probably think I don't own clothes other than sweats and old boy shirts. Oh, well:) At least I brush my teeth... well, then drink coffee which cancels that out...

We found out that we will be here 18 more months for sure. We have decided that we are going to move from Norfolk to Virginia Beach. Mostly because our church is out there, her therapists are from there, and well... it's just got more to offer for our little girl! I've loved "some" things about Norfolk... especially how close to the ocean we are. I will not miss the men trying to sell me "tazer guns" at the local supermarket though... or maybe I will? We are on the house hunt right now for an awesome rental. We want to get a place with a HUGE play room where we can do all of Bella's therapies. So, we shall see. Feb. 28th is going to come fast!

Oh, Josh and I are going to........ wait for it........DISNEY WORLD! Yep, bought our tickets. Done deal! After all, it is the "happiest place on earth". Josh's wonderful mother Carol is coming to watch Bella for 5 days. I'm not sure how I will leave my girl for that long but I know one thing, Josh and I need a little "break" or a "rendezvous" if you will. It's pretty much been crazy since Josh returned and all of our emotions have been geared toward Bells. We had planned on going to Italy this spring but have decided the distance and cost with Bella's prognosis and treatment is not feasible. So, Disney it is.... and I am totally pumped. My back should be on the mend by then so i don't have to roll around in a hover round the entire time:) Hover rounds are pretty sexy if you didn't know... you can take them to the grand canyon (or so the commercial shows). Still, I'd like to walk.

Please keep the Earls in your prayers. The adjustment of having a child with autism has proven to be a bit harder than we thought. It's weird because as soon as she was diagnosed it just hit us from all sides. I feel like we've picked up most of the pieces and have some sort of normalcy but we will have days where we just hurt a little inside still. We've decided to remind ourselves that Bella's future was always meant to include this diagnosis. It helps to not think of a future that was never there to begin with. I'm not saying her future is not bright, it is ... it's just a different shade than I had originally planned. I'm sure it's like hot pink still:) She's a sassy thing! God is good all of the time.

God bless!

Monday, January 17, 2011

"I invented Post-its"....

...quote from "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion".... really bad movie that I loved in high school but totally don't recommend...

...well, the holidays are over. Oh, and it's official. We've both actually lost weight this Christmas!!! What?! Who does that? Christmas is the time for me to wear my extra "stretchy" jeans and I feel like it's ok to invoke the "unbutton your top button" rule when sitting at the dinner table during the holidays. Don't try to act like you don't do this people, I know I'm not the only one. The worst is when you forget to button it back up and your belly actually shows. Yes, it has happened. Luckily I don't embarrass easily. I'm not talking about weight to pat me on the back (believe me, I'm no toothpick). I actually was flabbergasted at the doctors today when I realized I weigh as much as I did when we got married. And Josh, well he's like almost at high school weight. Now he's a super, extra, hot chaplain...just saying. Yes, I know. Chaplain's wives should not speak like this but hey, he's my husband. He's hot. Don't judge. Your the one who wanted to read this so I blame you for my outburst ;) (wink).

Not sure if it was the anticipation of seeing my ultra slim/ripped hubby after seven months of being apart, or the stress of being a single mom with a newly diagnosed autistic girl.... or possibly the fact that we stayed home this Christmas (and didn't get the chance to be stuffed full of delicious and sinful sweets by the mom's). Either way, I cannot complain. The crazy part is that I haven't even been working out. I've been eating better. I'm eating what Bella eats (Gluten-free/Casein-free) as well as trying to follow the Paleo Plan www.paleoplan.com (check out the recipes section). The Paleo Plan is actually naturally gluten (wheat) free and can be adjusted to be casein free (milk). I've found some other great recipes for Bella on a blog (just tried this one and loved it): http://ourgaggleofgirls.com/recipes/page/2/. It's a whole new life here at the Earls house now. If I'm not trying to find out what in the world has gluten in it, I'm making appointments with Early Learning teams and ABA specialists, or studying for my master's class. I feel like my mind is full of post-it notes. That's how I'm functioning because it's hard to keep everything straight these days!

Bella is making marked progress in her words this week. She said "block", "apple please", named off numerous animals without our prompting, and actually grabbed my hand to show me something today. Oh, and she's been super loving. I am happy. She's had her moments but I feel... in some small way... progress is being made. We meet with a therapist tomorrow to work on behavioral treatments. Just having these meetings gets me excited about her future.

On an annoying note: I totally threw my back out to the point where I could barely stand or walk this week so Josh has had to do EVERYTHING. I mean, not to get too detailed but today I couldn't sit on the toilet without his help. I have been prescribed tons of drugs and I have an MRI in the future. So, I have something to say about turning 30.... 30-- you are a mean age and you are totally making me feel like I'm 70!!! Life will move forward with our without this back issue so I'm going to think positive. Oh and muscle relaxers are amazing. Hoping not to get addicted. I have much stronger drugs that I have yet to try. I'm afraid I'll get loose from the house and roam the neighborhood drooling. Which would be so fun except for the child that I gave birth to who needs me coherent at all times. :)

Off to do more homework. Josh is asleep. He pulled the tired mom card on me (poor guy has to get up every night with Bella b/c I can't lift her right now). He's amazing. He deserves it!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Josh's Yellow Ribbon Extravaganza



An old Swedish hymn says,

"He whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what he deems best—
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest"

I am thankful for pain and pleasure. People, I am not making this up. Do I love that my child was diagnosed with autism? No! But, I love my child and I love that God is in control. He has never steered me wrong, and I believe he is faithful to do the same for my daughter. I was telling a girlfriend the other day (who was saying how positive she thought I was all of the time), that the amount of time I spend in the bathroom crying is almost comical. Yes, the bathroom. I think we can all agree it's the most quiet & peaceful place one can go to be alone (well, unless I've eaten cheese). Ok, why do I always end up using "potty talk"... back to what I was saying.... the bathroom is the place I go to talk to God--which usually results in tears. It's amazing though how God, in his perfect merciful way, gives me rest and blessings in abundance after "toilet tears" --- oh gosh, I just made that up... I'm good!

Moving on from from toilets...





...lets talk about pleasure!

It was Josh's birthday yesterday and I planned a huge surprise for him this last weekend. My wonderful parents (and sister Candace) packed up and drove down to Virginia for the weekend. Their visit was such a blessing to us. I have especially missed my family after living with them for so long this summer. Part of this quick visit involved watching Bella for the night so I could sweep Josh away to Lynchburg VA (our college home town). I got all of Josh's favorite college buds to come and we surprised him at our favorite restaurant Isabella's (www.isabellasitalian.com). I love that place (I worked there in college and Josh worked for their sister restaurant Meriwether's)! This celebration was, of course, for his 29th birthday but also a "Welcome Home From Deployment" of sorts! I made yellow ribbons for everyone to wear, planned a few toasts for him, and then we celebrated all night (and by all night, I mean like 12---come on people, we are old). My husband deserved this get-together. I know he especially missed some of his greatest "guy" friends (or boyfriends as I call them). I truly wish we could've invited EVERY person who prayed for us, thought of us, or loved on us through this deployment:(

Thanks to all our family and friends who took part in this weekend. I cannot tell you how much we love you all. We have never felt so loved --- to the core of our hearts --- than we have recently. Even little Bella feels it!

Speaking of Bella, here's an update:
-She is using a fork and spoon and eating very well right now.
-She said "mommy" the other day (not to me) but was mimicking the TV. I cannot wait until she says it to me;) This is a start though.
-She has started crying when we (Josh or I) leave the room. This is s positive change!
-Her appointments with ABA and Early Learning went well, we really like the people who will be coming in home to work with her. We will probably have someone in the house working with "us" 3-4 days a week.
-Gluten/Casein/Soy Free eating is still a work in progress. We are doing well though. I've seen some positive changes. Still waiting to fully cut everything out and then document from there.
-She's had more "good days" than bad this week. Praise God!
-She seems to want more attention from us, we cannot complain.






Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hard.

I told Josh today that I feel like we are under a heavy cloud right now. It's full of rain and keeps pouring. I am thankful that God gives me (us) any joy in tough times because I don't know how we would do it otherwise. I am not going to complain, or throw a pity party for myself but, I honestly feel exhausted. I have joy, it is deep in my soul and it is from Him.... but my heart aches a little. It hurts like the feeling of being overwhelmed and not knowing how to solve something or not having the capacity to help someone who is hurting. I've been sick, Bella's been sick, Josh is sick, then I got sick again---vicious. I know we are not the only family to get sick this winter but I'm a little "spent" and the sickness has truly refined me.

We will survive. The sun will come out again and our joy will be complete in Him.

We are still working on revamping our eating. I say "we" because our little family is going to do this. We are all going to eat like Bella. Praise God we had already started the Paleo Plan (shout out to Josh who has lost almost 40lbs this year--extra shout out to our friends the Lee's who are Paleo professionals to say the least). The whole Gluten Free, Casein Free, Soy Free diet is a doozy. It's pretty much hard core. It's a bit confusing to me still (even though I have bought every book in existence on the diet). Gluten is found in household products as well as food so ... yah. When I go to the supermarket I am like walking in circles trying to figure out what I can and cannot buy. All in time though. Speaking of supermarkets....

My Bella.

She has a hard time in public places. A lady that runs the day care at my gym came up to me today to ask why I never come to the gym anymore and where Bella was.... I hadn't seen her in like 7 months. I told her that Bella has been diagnosed with autism and that last time I tried to bring her to the gym day care she banged her head on the floor the entire time to the point where she was bruised. She then got frustrated from the pain in her head and wacked herself in the face with a toy until she bled. Yah, that's why I don't go to the gym anymore. It used to be my outlet:( I feel selfish for even trying now. It's unfair to Bella, she really hates it. So, I go when Josh can watch her but .... then I hate leaving his presence when he gets home from work--- so, I guess I will focus on eating healthy (wink).

Today Bella (despite my best efforts) was frustrated. I'm pretty sure she cried all day long. Over this or that ... basically, she hates that I don't know what she wants. But, she cannot tell me. She doesn't really speak, she doesn't point. She just runs and screams. Like if she wants juice, she'll run into the kitchen and cry. Sometimes she'll show me by standing by the fridge door.... sometimes she'll grab what she wants... other times she just throws herself on the floor in full tantrum. I look into her sweet little eyes and say the words I think she's trying to say, we go through the list of EVERYTHING in that kitchen until we figure it out. By the end of one trip to get juice, I need a nap. I love her so much.

Autism is hard. I cannot fix her. I hate that. It makes me cry. I am doing and will do EVERYTHING in my power to give her the best of everything though. One day, I feel like I'm going to look back on days like these and smile at how far God has brought our girl. I can't think that far ahead though, I have to make today count.

We met with her Early Learning Intervention team yesterday, they will help with the everyday communication, play issues. Tomorrow she meets with Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy. She's one busy little lady. I could not be more excited to start these programs.

That is life today, tomorrow is new and blessed. Did I mention, I love my husband. He's so patient. I can see it in his eyes --- that same thing I feel. We want to "heal" Bella. We want to take it away, but we can't. We CAN love her and give her every ounce of "us" there is to give though.

It's official that was a pity party. It's done now, so I am going to watch 30 Rock.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The cutest autistic girl ever!



video

Josh and I have found Bella's autism (although extremely challenging) to be pretty cute too! Check out these stacking skills. We think she may be an architect one day ;)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

In the new year...




Whew...we made it, 2011.

2010 was, to say the least, eventful. We got a deployment under our belt, traveled the United States visiting all sorts of family and friends, got the diagnosis of Bella's autism, oh-- and I turned 30! Wow, the memories are so numerous, I'd like to take some of them and store them in a box to remember fondly later on in life. Other memories were so hard, I'd like to just move forward and not think of them again:) Is that bad?

Josh's experiences were so different than ours. He lived on a ship....who does that? It was a whole different world for him. He tells me it's like he had to think of home as "being on pause" while he was away to make it easier on him. That way nothing would change. It's been amazing to sit and hear him recount the stories of the lives of his sailors and the impact he had on them no doubt. I can't speak for him, but I do believe he loves the navy and his role as a Chaplain. This deployment confirmed the strong calling he felt so many years ago was divinely inspired from above. Ok, maybe it's a bit love hate. Loves what he does, hates being away from us. I know it tugs on his heart strings more than most. He's passionate. Passionate about God and passionate about us. Do I love the navy? Yes. I'm so proud of those who sacrifice their lives for our freedom. It's a HUGE sacrifice and now I fully understand that! --- oh, but it's love hate for me too!

So, in this new year the Earls are just happy to be together. Josh jumped back into his roll as husband and father with such ease it was amazing. They tell you that it can be hard to "get back into the swing of things" after deployment but not in our case. It was natural and perfect. We spent Christmas together (just us) then got to visit with family after the fact which was great!

I am taking my next Master's in Special Education class in a couple weeks. I think I have a new found passion for my program (to say the least). I am dying to do more research on autism. Right now, I am reading as many books as I can about treatment programs, special diets, and everything else there is out there for Bella. I am still totally overwhelmed with it all but I want to be as informed as I can before getting "advice" from medical professionals. It seems that everyone has different opinions about "what works" for autistic children. The fact is, they are all different so we will see what it takes to help Bella moving forward. Right now, we are working on helping her not bang her head in frustration, getting her to tell us what she wants, and her diet. Small steps towards the big picture. Her first Early Learning Intervention and Applied Behavioral Analysis appointments are this week. Can't wait!

Happy New Year all!