Monthly Archives: April 2012

What’s Beautiful: Strength and Running for Children in Need

A couple of weeks ago I saw some friends post on facebook about how they were going to participate in a 5K that benefits Soles4Souls, an incredible organization that I have donated to many times in the past.  Soles4Souls provides shoes for children in need here and all around the world.

It got me thinking.

I should do this, I thought to myself.

Then I remembered that over the course of the last year, the stress and challenges of raising an older adopted child with significant special needs had left me completely and utterly out of shape. Workout?  Who has time for that when you are parenting kids from hard places?

But then again, here was my chance to hold myself accountable to getting my physical health back on track. This was supposed to be my year to make my health a top priority.  If I don’t take care of myself, then who will be able to take care of my kids?  I made a pledge to sign up for the 5K.

Fast forward to last night.  I somehow came across the What’s Beautiful Competition by Under Armour Women.  The competition involves setting a goal (a big one) and challenging yourself over the course of the next 9 weeks to accomplish that goal.  The competition requires that you post videos, pictures and notes about your progress. You must rally a support team and show the world what is beautiful.

So, the light bulb came on.  I can run that 5K, help kids in need, and do it all for a chance to show the world what is truly beautiful through the What’s Beautiful competition.  It all came together in one of those aha moments. I’m going to do this.  I deserve to be healthy!  And my kids deserve a mom who cares enough about them to take care of herself.

So what do I think is so beautiful?  Watch my video below to find out!

5 Tips for Getting Kids Excited about Hiking {and some free printables!}

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As a family, we spend most of our time outdoors and have chosen to make outdoor exploration a priority for our children. On most weekends we can be found hiking, camping, taking a nature walk, playing at the park or canoeing down the river. As a result, our kids often need little motivation to go on a hike. In our family, hiking is a way of life. But as they become older, I worry that it might take some level of motivation to compete with all the new activities and interests that will come into their focus. I have thought about the things we already do to keep hikes fun for the kids, and maybe they will bring you some inspiration as well. If you happen to be a parent to a special needs child, make sure to check out my post on hiking and the special needs child (also applies to all children, really!)

1. Incorporate a goal. We live in the south where Spring is very warm and the Summers are downright hot. That means that for almost half of the year we are able to splash and swim in the water. Consequently, the goal for a lot of our hikes includes reaching a waterfall or nice, cool swimming hole for our water-loving kids. Other times the goal may be to reach a small cave in which to explore or even a nearby playground for an after hike play session. Whatever we do, we try to incorporate an end goal to work towards. I find that having a goal provides enough motivation to keep everyone on the trip happy and it builds a sense of accomplishment as well.

2. Keep them busy. So you’re on the trail hiking and there is a lot of ground to cover….now what?

Try games such as I Spy, Crazy Steps (you call out a funny way to walk or jump and they have to do it), stop to make some rock sculptures, play chase up the trail (our favorite at the moment), stop for a swim if it’s hot enough, and my all time favorite–scavenger hunts! Don’t know where to begin? No worries, I’ve found some free resources to help you out.

Fun and free resources for scavenger hunts:

Colorful and Photo-filled Scavenger Worksheet

Spring Nature Walk Scavenger Hunt

Summer Nature Walk Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunt worksheet that can be colored

Scavenger hunt for the park

Creep Crawly Scavenger Hunt

I Spy Worksheet

3. Add some friendly competition to the hike. Use the games and activities mentioned above to create some competition. It seems like everything is a competition with my Little Man as it is, so we might as well use it to our advantage! Kids love the chance to compete and win a prize, so make sure you have some treats on hand to reward the winner and the efforts of all the participants.

4. Bring along some friends. I just recently created a hiking group for some local friends and their families. I am thrilled to lead such a fun group of people on some family-friendly hiking trips. The best part is that the kids will now have lots of new friends to interact with on the trail. It will be turn an ordinary hike into an awesome play adventure.

5. Celebrate the completion. We have always celebrated the end of a long, successful hike with some kind of reward or treat; a meal out at our favorite Mexican restaurant or a trip to the ice cream shop are common ways we’ve rewarded ourselves in the past. My hubby and I used to do this for ourselves even in our pre-kid days and we’ve carried it forward ever since.

No matter what strategies you employ to keep your kids excited about hiking, the main point to remember is to keep it fun and to keep it interesting!

Have some ideas to add to my list? Let me hear them!

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National Park Week

This is the last weekend of National Park Week, your last chance to visit one of our nation’s beautiful parks for FREE! Check out National Geographic’s Best Hikes in the Parks for some inspiration. If you live in the southeastern US, you can check out one of our favorite hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. It made the top 20 list! I am reblogging our excursion below. Now get out and take a hike this weekend. Somewhere, anywhere….just get out there!

The Hike to Mount LeConte (Alum Cave Trail)

Wow. If you are looking for a great trail, here it is! This is definitely one of the most scenic trails in all of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Fantastic–one of the best trails we’ve ever hiked. It was a strenuous hike and by the end of it our legs were about to completely give out…but it was totally worth it.

The trail is roughly a 10 mile round trip that can be completed in 6-8 hours (or less, if you’re really booking it…we did it in 5 excluding our hour break at the top). It encompasses an elevation gain of over 2,500 feet and boasts spectacular views, very steep ascents, narrow rock ledges, paths through both old growth forest and cove forest, and gorgeous views of the Alum Cave Creek and Styx Branch. At the summit, the trail ends near the LeConte Lodge which sits at an elevation of roughly 6,500 feet. We decided to take a break at the lodge before heading back down the mountain. And yes, the only way to get to the lodge is to hike up the mountain! It’s a pretty neat place (very primitive but absolutely a very nice place) and next time we will be making reservations to stay there overnight. All I can say is that if you like to hike and you don’t mind a work out, give this trail a try. You will not be disappointed!

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Be Still Friday

[Stealing a moment just for me. Taking a deep breath, being still, capturing a fleeting moment of beauty.]

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treasure in the pond

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curious log

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on the fence

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pretty flowers

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guess who found my coffee

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Why yes, Mr. Draper, I have been away too long. But now that I have cable again, we can see each other as much as we want through the miracle of on-demand. Shhh. It will be our little secret ;)

boy (noun): a noise with dirt on it

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leaping Little Man

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climb, Big Brother, climb

Little boys come in all shapes and sizes,
Shy and adventurous, full of surprises,
With misshapen halos and mischievous grins,
Small dirty faces, and sweet, sticky chins.

They’ll keep you so busy, and yet all the while
Nothing can brighten the world like their smile.
And no greater treasure has brought homes more joy
Than a curious, active, and lovable boy!

-Author Unknown

It’s days like today that I never want to go inside! There is nothing better in the world than getting to play with my two boys each day. Hope you all are enjoying your day as much as I am!

5 Ways to Encourage Compassion and Acceptance in Your Children

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As a follow-up to my last post, I thought I would give you some tips and insight from my own perspective about how you can encourage your children to embrace and welcome those who may be different from them. Granted, I am no expert in this area, but in terms of personal experience I have a lot of ideas. You see, I have had to guide my typically developing 4.5 year old son (Little Man) to be more compassionate and understanding towards his older, special needs brother (Big Brother) who came into our lives last year. This past year has been a steep learning curve for us all. Luckily, my Little Man makes that job pretty easy as he is naturally a very compassionate kid (as far as 4 year olds go.) So what can you, as a parent, do to help instill these values into your children? Here are some ideas.

1. You have to start the conversation. Perhaps your child already has a friend or classmate with a particular disability or special need. Maybe it’s just a child who has some other noticeable difference. If so, I imagine this conversation has already been initiated by your child in some way or another. But a lot of young children may not have come into close contact with a child with special needs, so it’s important to bring up the idea about differences at an early age. You don’t even have to focus on special needs. It can be as simple as talking about everyday differences and how being different is a good thing. For instance, Little Man likes to compare how his eyes are brown while mine are blue. We talk about our differences and why it is a good thing that there are so many shades of humans on the planet. We also talk about how Little Man and Big Brother communicate in different ways. One way is not better than the other, they are just different.

Differences can be celebrated and appreciated when they are brought into focus by you, the parent. I’m not implying that you dwell on every single difference you encounter. Try to incorporate this attitude naturally into your everyday conversation and before you know it, you will have a child who embraces the differences he or she sees with a positive attitude.

2. It’s good to role play. What better way to teach kindness than to practice it. When your school-aged child encounters someone different from them, odds are you will not be nearby. We role play a lot at home, especially when we are talking about safety and what to do when approached by a stranger. Why not practice social situations that might arise at school? Have your child practice what they might say if another child is being mean to a someone in their class. This is something we have been working on with Little Man. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.

3. Model the behavior you would like to see. You already know that you are the strongest guiding force in your young child’s life. If they see you consistently displaying kindness, compassion and understanding towards others, they will learn to do the same. No one is perfect and we all have times of frustration and a lack of compassion, but remember, your children are watching you. Telling them to be compassionate and showing them are two completely different things.

4. Create the opportunities to interact with those who differ from your child. Branch out beyond your normal group of friends. Leave your comfort zone every once in a while to give your child an opportunity to make friends with those who may differ from them. If you start at an early age, your child will be able to have a more accurate picture of our diverse world.

5. Don’t overdo it; too much of a good thing can be bad. Big Brother may have some differences, but he is still just a kid. Remind your child of their similarities! He has feelings and thoughts of his own. Just like others, he has strengths and weaknesses. He may not be able to do all the things your child does, but that is no reason to pity him. He has some special qualities that really rock. He can blow up a balloon faster than any adult I know. He can climb just about anything, and I mean anything. He may need help some of the time, but he isn’t helpless. It’s okay to offer help, but it’s not okay to treat him like an alien or to automatically think he isn’t capable of doing something. Let him be Big Brother. He’s really good at that.  He’s also really human, just like you.

Teach compassion and kindness, but also teach your child that all people, regardless of obstacles, can achieve great things.  We are more alike than we are different.

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So why should you care about making a concerted effort to building these values in your children?

“A new survey by the Interactive Autism Network found that nearly two-thirds of children with autism spectrum disorders have been bullied at some point. And it found that these kids are three times as likely as typical kids to have been bullied in the past month.” (article here)

Together, we really can change this. I will leave you with a video I made tonight after bath time. Yes, that is my voice. You’ll never guess what region of the country I am from–hey, I was tired and hungry, sure ways to make my accent drag on even more. The boys were quite giggly because they thought using the names Little Man and Big Brother was quite ridiculous. But you can see that little conversations like these can add up to big changes down the road.

Also, for those who were wondering if Big Brother was aware of what was going on, this post may bring you some insight.

So tell me, what do you already do to help your child be a compassionate and accepting member of society? Anything I should add to the list above?

It’s never too early to teach compassion {Big Brother goes to school}

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Yesterday was a big day for my 5 year old son, Big Brother. While his brother, Little Man, was busy reaching an important milestone, so was he. I won’t talk about all the milestones we missed with Big Brother. He was nearly 4 years old when he came home from Hong Kong. Suffice to say that we missed out on a lot and I am still in the grieving process for that loss.

If you have been following Big Brother’s story at all, you know that he has Autism and is significantly cognitively impaired, and that school has been an epic battle for us (need to catch up? visit the Autism tab up top.) Yesterday we visited the special needs room where Big Brother will be spending his kindergarten year. With assistance, he will spend some time in a regular kindergarten classroom as well.

Much to my delight, Big Brother did awesome with his visit and really seemed to enjoy his experience. We never know what to expect with him, but I am happy and relieved to report that it went very, very well. So well, in fact, that I was just plain giddy the rest of the day. I am super proud of my special boy!

But I want to share with you about something that happened. I am in no way trying to put blame on a particular child or parent, but I thought it was a perfect example of why it is never too early to teach compassion to your children.

When we visited the regular kindergarten classroom, Big Brother sat with the other children on the floor as they practiced counting and sight words. Right away, the children seemed curious about the boy who was holding a stuffed little lamb while squeezing it and making strange noises. It wasn’t a big deal. Kids are just curious creatures, just like us big kids! But then Big Brother tried to answer a question that the teacher had asked. Big Brother’s language is only sufficient enough to address his most basic wants and needs, so he really wasn’t able to answer correctly or in a way that the other children could understand.

The little boy sitting next to him laughed at Big Brother’s answer. He looked at the kids around him and repeated what Big Brother had said, encouraging the others to laugh as well. And then it was over. I know this boy wasn’t trying to be mean and is probably too young to even understand the situation. But it got me thinking.

When should you start talking to your children about compassion, acceptance and embracing differences? Now, as in right now. I assure you, it is never too early.

So, want to know how to get started? I will be back later in the week with some tips on how to talk to your kids about compassion and acceptance, so stay tuned!

Firsts {Little Man loses a tooth}

I didn’t get to see his first smile. I didn’t get to see him roll over for the first time. I missed the first time he pulled himself up with the help of his barren, metal crib. I didn’t get to see his first tooth poke through. I didn’t get to see him crawl for the first time. I missed so much.

I missed all of those first year milestones.

But yesterday, my 4.5 year old Little Man lost his first tooth.

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I cannot express in words how much each milestone means to me. I know, like many who are parents through adoption, what it feels like to miss out on so many of them. I savor and treasure the milestones we experience together.

And yes, it is a bit young to be losing teeth. In fact, Little Man has two more ready to come out. My son has had major dental issues from the time he first arrived home. He has had surgery and many procedures to salvage the wreckage of extreme and early malnourishment.

But yesterday, non of that mattered. All that I could see was my sweet, precious son standing before me, beaming with pride and sharing a special moment with his lucky mama. My heart was soaring.

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Every child deserves a shot at life. Every mom deserves to experience these milestones with her children. That’s why I support the Shot@Life Campaign. Please consider making a donation for life-saving vaccines that will give a child a shot@life.

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What’s the most recent milestone you celebrated with your child?

Are you ready to make a real impact? {Shot@Life}

Now that you’ve read my last post (if not, click here to read Why I Support the Shot@Life Campaign), are you ready to make a real impact?

Consider donating in order to purchase life-saving vaccines for children in developing nations. For the cost of a week’s worth of coffee, or a large pizza, you can change a child’s life forever.


Your donation could:

Protect a child from polio and measles for his lifetime for only $5

Pay for vaccines to protect a child from the two most deadly diseases – pneumonia and diarrhea for just $15

Give a child a lifetime of immunity to protect her from pneumonia, diarrhea, polio and measles for $20

Protect three children from these four diseases for a donation of $60

Join my fundraiser by going HERE. Thank you for your support, please spread the word!