Monday, September 8, 2014

Everyday Confetti - Book Review

This year round guide to celebrating holidays and special occasions offers ideas and recipes for both major and minor events. Throughout its 12 chapters the authors, Karen Ehman and Glynnis Whitwer, provide readers with a constant stream of ways to integrate the Christian faith into daily life with fun and excitement.

The goal is to create lasting memories that instill Christian values into your children throughout their lives. Appropriately then, many of the holidays are from the traditional church calendar and those that originate from a secular origin are given a Christian slant. This is a book written by Christians and mostly meant to be used by those of the same belief system. The authors are connected with Proverbs 31 Ministries which has the mission to help women deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ.

An autism mom's thoughts

When I was provided this book by the publisher, Revell a division of Baker Publishing Group, I was specifically asked to review it from the perspective of a mom or family raising kids with autism. So as I was reading, I simply asked myself the following questions: Would this integrate well in our household? Do I know of other autism families that could utilize this idea? would it be worth it for an autism family to purchase this book? Is this particular idea enough? Are there enough ideas that could easily be implemented in an autism family?

The answer to most of those questions is a resounding MAYBE. While there are plenty of times the authors expressed that readers should adapt ideas to fit their own families (and gave examples on how they did just that themselves), there wasn't even a single example of a family with special needs considerations utilizing any of the ideas. So, if you do have kiddos with special needs, autism, developmental delays or any other similar challenges, you should plan on having to adapt nearly every idea to fit into your family's world. Of course, that in and of itself is not unusual for an autism family (or a family with twins, triplets or more for that matter), but it is a situation that gets old when it's constant. Sometimes it's just nice to have something actually FIT in your world. This book will not alleviate any of that frustration, in fact, it may simply add more. It is however a creative spark and if that's all the authors intended then they succeeded.

What I liked

1. An encouragement to live with intentionality

The authors say in the Forward, "Life goes by too quickly and at the end of the year we can look back and wish the simple moments had been celebrated more. We wish there'd been a few more pauses. We wish we'd made more opportunities to look into the eyes of someone we love and say, with words and actions, 'You matter. I value you.' ..."It's the little touches that say, 'I remembered.' It's celebrating effort. Rejoicing together in success. Supporting each other when discouraged. These are the times that weave our hearts together."

Personally I need constant reminders to live with intention. Why? My world is filled with managing occupational, ABA, and speech therapy appointments (times 2), constant mad dashes to pull something out of Angel triplet's mouth, countless trips to the potty that still end less than successfully (times 2), transitioning into a parent of an adult at the same time as parenting kindergartners, and all the other variables and levels of chaos that only an autism family with triplets could enjoy every day. Reflection and Intention fall victim to Survival and Urgency every single damn day. While a reminder to live with intentionality doesn't mean I will do so to the level I really desire, it does help me re-focus my mind at least for a while.

2. Celebrating dinnertime and birthdays

For me the first way of being intentional in honoring your family is by protecting and encouraging dinner around the table together. The tradition of eating together as a group brings about more than a tendency for healthier eating habits, it also provides a consistent opportunity for communication and support. Dinnertime was really important when I was growing up too and while I believe strongly in the concept, the actuality of it in my current family is less consistent than I like.

In the first chapter, the authors suggest some ways to celebrate each family member (both in a birthday situation and also just because) and it also elevates the dinnertime tradition at the same time. One of these that I really liked was having/using a Family Honor Plate that a family member would get to use at special times throughout the year (you choose the times). Use it as positive reinforcement for desired behaviors, the passing of milestones, or simply to say "We love that you're part of our family." Make the plate somehow special, you could even decorate it at one of those paint your own pottery places.

Another idea mentioned that's similar to the honor plate is to celebrate each family member on their own name day. Some names actually correspond to feast days and you can use that day as an honor day for that family member. There is an American calendar for name days as well, but if your family member's name isn't on it, just make up their own special name day.

There is a whole chapter devoted to birthdays which can be a difficult day to celebrate for many kids with autism. Delays in social awareness, communication and relationship building are common for many kids with autism, so birthday parties and other celebrations can be quite overwhelming and complicated to plan. In the birthday chapter, I found some ideas (like creating a special place mat or tablecloth with pictures of the family member to honor) could be easily used to make a special day a little more special without causing too much chaos. That's a huge win for an autism family.

3. Christmas evaluation

The authors propose a wonderful idea to help reduce the stress and craziness of the Christmas holiday season. They suggest a family meeting before the season begins. To do what? Simplify and make sure what you're doing is right for your family. You can help assign tasks and make sure everything you're doing is truly meaningful for your family. I am definitely doing this idea this year, because with one child at college, I know our holidays are undergoing a whole new perspective.

"Gather everyone around the kitchen table to answer questions about your family celebration. Encourage everyone to be honest with their responses and promise no hurt feelings. The goal is to discover your unique way of celebrating the holidays and help alleviate some of the Yuletide 'Yikes!'"

4. Trove of ideas

As I read through Everyday Confetti, I marked up the book - things I liked and things I didn't, questions, comments, sometimes I even carried on a conversation with the authors (well, one-sided anyway) and basically made the book my own. I went back and counted up the ideas I found interesting and potentially fun enough to figure out how to do in my own family. After counting up the "I want to try this" notations, I came up with 34 ideas which doesn't include any of the many yummy-sounding recipes. The book offers anywhere from 5 to 10+ recipes per chapter (and there are 12 chapters). So even for an autism family I found 34 ideas that I'm interested in exploring plus I know I will want to try some of the recipes. That's not too bad for a 182-page book.

What I didn't like

1. Narrow perspective

If you are hoping this book will broaden your perspective or horizons around holidays, you need to know it probably won't. It may provide new ideas, but always from within the same cultural perspective. What is that perspective, you ask? Well, I couldn't see that anything was coming from anywhere besides a nearly complete white bread, Protestant Christian, middle class, American, suburban to rural perspective overall. Okay, so yes, the Tripped Up Castle is filled to the brim with white, Protestant Christians, but I don't want to raise my kids with the idea that this perspective is the only one that matters. 

I will credit the authors for at least mentioning other groups, but it seemed to be from the tone of we need to understand our other brothers and sisters and their culture so we should celebrate Black History Month, Native American Day, Cinco de Mayo. It came off as a sort of "I'm writing to people just like me about those other people, the ones not like me but who believe like I do so they're okay" type of tone. This narrow viewpoint may be partially due to the expected market/audience for the book - predominantly Evangelical or even Fundamentalist Christian or a Protestant Christian who have conservative political and economic leanings, but I believe the authors themselves would indicate they want to reach out to as many people as possible with their ideas, especially those who consider themselves Christian, conservative or not. That larger group includes a lot more diversity than what's represented in this book. Christians are African American, Native American, Asian, Latino and much more. Our skin color is all shades. Our heritages are from many different places not just Western Europe, so it really bothers me that there was such a lack of diversity presented. That's not the "confetti" I want to spread in my household.

2. Special needs unrepresented

This really goes hand in hand with my number 1 of what I didn't like in the book. Many families have unique situations, not just autism, but many other special circumstances which require them to plan and carry out activities very carefully in order to best serve the needs of their whole family. I never felt there was even a thought of "how will this actually fit in the family confronted with special needs every day?" Specifically, I think of autism and sensory integration issues that were completely ignored (because, of course, that's the world I live in). It's as if the writers never even had a thought that many families (potentially 1 in 61 these days according to the latest CDC numbers) may be struggling to celebrate any holiday at all in the midst of a sensory minefield. This misses a huge segment of people.

There are at least 20 ideas or more that are deal breakers for those with autism or sensory integration issues or both. It was never suggested anything be toned down. Nothing was presented that would tell readers the authors understand many people can't even approach any celebration without serious anxiety.

While there are plenty of recipes in the book, there's no mention of any that might be suitable for families struggling with food sensitivities or allergies. If you're an autism family attempting to follow a gluten free lifestyle, you will have to adapt these recipes on your own. Vegetarians and vegans likewise do not exist in this world the authors discuss.

3. No photos, not even one

I'm not sure who made the call on this one, authors or publisher, but I don't agree with it. Photos help people understand what you're presenting, especially when you're talking about decorations and holiday ideas. If they were trying to keep the purity of thought so that readers could imagine the idea more effectively in their own family, I guess I can see it somewhat. But what about all those recipes? Perfect opportunity for some yummy looking photos! (Please understand I HATE cookbooks without pictures. What's the point if I can't see how it's supposed to turn out?) Mostly, however, the lack of photos in this instance comes off to me as a cost-savings measure in publishing. Also, when the book is pitched as Pinteresty idea book, then the lack of photos seems silly.

4. Every day is a holiday or special occasion

While I do like the idea of living with more intentionality, I'm not sure I'm all on board with the idea of making every single day some kind of a special day. I recently finished reading A Thousand Days in Venice and while the author of that book is preparing for her upcoming wedding, one of her vendor's tells her that a little suffering (or a little misery) brings out the sweetness of life. Later when the author reflects on how perfect her wedding day and life is at that moment, she thinks about how grateful she is for that little bit of misery or suffering which also occurred because it truly did make her more aware of when life is sweet.

The authors state at the beginning, "Our desire with this book is to spark your creativity and provide you with ideas for planning and implementing wonderful holiday and holy day celebrations with your loved ones. But we don't want to stop there. We hope that with a little ingenuity and a slight shift in your spiritual perspective, you will learn to toss a little confetti into the everyday too - to be on the lookout for days and ways to make the ordinary extraordinary."

When I mentioned the idea of making every day more filled with confetti, Lotte (almost 18 now) said, "That's stupid, Mom. If you make every day special then you won't even recognize the specialness of the days you really designed to be special."

Too much special, too much of a good thing leads to a lack of gratitude in my eldest's eyes. I'm not sure I completely disagree. I do think an additional sense of embracing the magical and the special of even normal days is vitally important. Finding joy in a sunset, the beauty of a child's laugh, the amazingness of a child speaking words they've never spoken before... However, even King Midas learned that too much of his favorite thing was just plain greedy and actually led to more discontent. The key is balance I think.

Overall, I give the book an OK to Good rating. I think there are some good ideas, but as a Mom with two children with autism, it will require a lot of adapting to fit any of the ideas in our home. Honestly, I'd probably be more interested in a book that addresses celebrations and how to really enjoy them while minimizing the meltdowns, explosions, and emergency situations they can bring on. And, while the ideas are good, I'm not positive some good Pinterest research wouldn't provide you the same result complete with photos. A quick Google search led me to another book I'll be adding onto my reading list & hopefully reviewing as well.

Want to see more book reviews? Well, I love to read, so comment with suggestions and I'll add them to my list. I'm always reading about eight to ten books at a time. Have suggestions for great books for autism families? Please comment with those ideas too!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Licking the bowl clean

Dinner tonight was a gamble. Using up some frozen shrimp and scallops that had been in my freezer for a while. And I served it to five-year old triplets no less. A few adjustments along the way, of course, but don't ask me what they were. I can't remember. All I know is Angel triplet liked this soup so much she literally licked the bowl. Apart from bad table manners, it makes a Mama feel awesome when her kid enjoys the food so much that licking the dinner bowl clean is even thought of.  

In other news, Princess triplet merely smelled it, and Sunshine took 4 bites.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Kindergarten for triplets

Our Level 1 road is currently down to one lane for resurfacing.
The Kindergarten triplet first day of school pictures didn't happen. I mean they didn't happen as a group. And that's a big day for triplets. And it's the reason for wearing matching outfits in the first place, right? The picture? The picture of three cute little girls all holding hands with their cute little backpacks on... yeah, I don't have it, maybe we'll try again tomorrow. 

In the midst of road resurfacing which has taken out the whole far side of our street (don't ask me how I'll get out of my driveway later this afternoon to pick up girls from school for therapy), getting three littles ready for two different bus schedules, accommodating the brand new "cold turkey" potty training approach which eliminates the safety net of pull-ups for any daytime hours for our two with autism, the following photos will have to do for 1st Day of School shots.
Angel triplet
More Angel triplet

Princess triplet says NO MORE PHOTOS!
Princess triplet

Sunshine triplet
More Sunshine