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Archive for April, 2012

Today I threw caution to the wind. After seeing a really cool Home Depot video, I decided to assemble my own backyard chandelier because I am a big fan of ambience and lighting fires (controlled, of course).

No fingers were harmed during production.

Three primary challenges faced me…my Kindergarten-age son, the inclusion of glass and freshly applied solar nails. In my favor were my 8-year-old daughter (some days she is more responsible than I am) and the assembly was fool-proof (no power tools, hot glue or counted cross-stitch required).

The project was simple…take a hanging planter, some glass jars, twine, a hook and votive candles…do some fancy-schmancy tying and “voila” … an intimate Parisian café in your backyard.

Right Over Left, and a bunny through a hole somewhere

Judges Score: Adorable Factor 10.0, Technical 4.5.

All starts well. However, the plot thickens when my son is unable to tie a simple knot around the jar using the twine. One would think a Kindergartener would know how to tie simple knots. But this is South Texas. Most kids can’t tie their shoes simply because common footwear is either flip flops, cowboy boots or shoes that fasten with Velcro (my son had each of these on at least once today). Asking a young child to tie his shoes here is like expecting a Hawaiian to know how to shovel snow. It’s just not a skill that is practiced frequently.

So, he quickly loses interest and instead focuses on the “clanking” sound made by banging two jars together. Intervention! I quickly suggest he go look for bugs under the deck. The diversion succeeds and my daughter and I continue the work.

I got this Mom!

All goes smoothly until I must slide one end of twine under the piece fastened around the jar. My nails have never been pretty but always functional. But this past week, I splurged for some sparkly solar nails. They look great. But they render my hands useless for fine motor activity (including writing this blog…thank God for grammar and spell check).

So when all is said and done, my daughter takes over and finishes hanging the jars. I might as well go dig for bugs with my son…maybe my bling claws would be useful for that!

It was for a good cause, big guy! #flipflopnation

Ultimately, the chandelier really turns out nice. And the best part…just for posting one of these pictures to the Home Depot Doing  Nation page, they gave a $100 donation to Operation Homefront. If you are so inclined and don’t have solar nails to impede your progress, check out the six DIY projects from Home Depot. Your backyard will benefit and so will Operation Homefront!

And, tonight, we practice tying shoes!

 FYI: Home Depot suggests a hanging planter in their video but you can get creative with this project. I actually bought one of their plant stands and just hung it upside-down. In addition, they sell beautiful, inexpensive globes you can use for lighting. We just happened to use small jars we had on hand. And you can choose real or battery-powered votives. The project in general will cost about $35 – 50 and takes about 45 minutes to complete. Good luck!

Susan Miller is Operation Homefront’s fantastic Director of Online Communications, a Mom, and now a Doing Nation veteran.

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Nathan Richards, 2012 Navy Military Child of the Year, in D.C.(Welcome guest blogger Nathan Richards, age 9, and recipient of the 2012 Navy Military Child of the Year award.)  My Mom said before we left for D.C. “I hope you behave!”  She also said, “I hope you can act like a young man all the time, there will be a lot of important people there.” I was thinking, “yeah….all the Military kids will be there. Hahah Mom.” She also said, “I hope you have fun! But most of all I hope you can really embrace the opportunity you have and remember, Nate the Great, with great privilege comes great responsibility.” She is pretty smart but I don’t think I got it till we went to D.C. and we were at the Gala (the Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year Gala ).

Hope! Now that word carries a lot of weight. Many times military kids can feel like they have no hope. No one hears them, no one cares what they are saying and they have no power in what is going on. Well, this past Thursday I saw a lot of HOPE for all of us!

Operation Homefront, many important members of our military and a lot of sponsors saw the hope we need!  Four girls, Alena, Chelsea, Amelia, Erika, and me, were lucky to represent all the military kids at a Gala. We each represented our own parents’ branch and are all humble and proud to serve you. There was many speeches and they all spoke of the hope we showed other military kids and the HOPE all Military kids need.

Sammy Davis, the Medal of Honor winner said he saw hope in our eyes, and played Shenandoah. It made me sad because it made me think of my brothers and Dad who were deployed. It also made me Happy because it made me think of all the fun we have when we are hiking, wrestling and sitting on Rocks on our mountain talking to each other. It was one of my favorite parts of the whole week.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey said we have profound thoughts! We are the way we are because of all the situations we have to deal with! The CNO (Admiral Jonathan Greenert) was at the table with me all night and said I didn’t fall far from the tree. He was right about that. My Dad and brothers are always setting great examples for me! Everyone there was a huge supporter of the hard times we can have as military kids, and they all are trying to make it a little easier for us.

Award recipients visit the White House.

Award recipients visit the White House. The buck stops with Nathan, sitting in the middle.

The idea of HOPE for military kids came to me when we were touring D.C with our parents, and Operation Homefront. We visited many of the awesome sites that are in our Nation’s Capitol.  During our trip I heard and saw the word Hope 11 times. We went to the Vietnam Memorial, and there is a Nurses Statue there. One of the Nurses was named HOPE, she was looking up to the sky and you could see she had HOPE. That inspired me too , because when our parents are gone we have HOPE , they will be ok and come home soon. Then on the Vietnam Wall was a note written by a little kid that said she missed that person and she HOPEd they knew it. I hope all the time when my brothers are deployed they know I miss them and HOPE they miss me. We went to one of my heroes monuments, Martin Luther King Jr. He had a dream, but my favorite quote of his is “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’”

We went to see the White House and there is a lot of HOPE there. Mrs Obama is a huge supporter of military kids, lots of changes are in the works to help military kids. Dr. Jill Biden has a book coming out soon for kids about what her Granddaughter did when her Dad was deployed.

Givanha Penserga, a top 5 finalist for the award, came to support Nathan Richards.

Givanha Penserga, a top 5 finalist for the award, came to the awards banquet to support fellow Navy kid, Nathan Richards.

But I think the biggest HOPE for Military kids I saw this week was the military kid, a girl, named Givahna Penserga, who came all the way from her home to see me. She was one of the top 5 for the Navy and just as awesome as the rest of us. It was one of the biggest honors of my trip to D.C. It gave me HOPE that all military kids can support each other, help each other through the hard times and be there to celebrate in the good times. We are the biggest HOPE any Military kid could ask for, each other.

I  HOPE she keeps inspiring others and puts HOPE in them like she did for me!

The recipients for 2012 Military Child of the Year representing each branch of service.

2012 Military Child of the Year Recipients (left to right): Alena Deveau (Coast Guard), Chelsea Rutherford (Air Force), Amelia McConnell (Army), Erika Booth (Marine Corps), and (in front), Nathan Richards (Navy).

The ceremony was so exciting and the Color Guard gave me goosebumps. I don’t think I have ever stood so still, straight or very proud as I did during the National Anthem. We all heard awesomtacullar (that is for you John) speeches about ourselves and our families. We received a $5000 check from Operation Homefront. And then Veteran’s United gave us a $2000 scholarship. An extra special thanks to Soldiers’ Angels for the laptop. This is my very first blog on my own computer, amazing feeling!

Everyday when I get up, I have an awesome trophy to look at me and give me the inspiration to do the best I can as a “Military Brat.”

It was almost unreal to know that I was there to represent all the Navy kids. Can I live up to the job Operation Homefront gave me ? I HOPE So.

Thank you to Operation Homefront for giving all the military kids,  1.2 million of us,  HOPE!  And thank you to our travel escort, Mr. Jay Anderson. He is the president of Operation Homefront in California, a Major in the Marines and a really cool guy. He has great riddles and loves logic puzzles, so the trip was really fun.

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Find out more about Nathan and all our 2012 Military Child of the Year recipients. Follow Nathan’s blog. See pictures from the Awards events in Washingont D.C. View a video highlight of the event.

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By Allison Perkins

I hate autism. And that is ok.

My daughter was diagnosed with the disease at age 3. Call it a disorder or affliction – whatever makes you feel better. But it is a disease. Something inside this child causes her to flap and scream and act differently than “typical” children are supposed to. And it stinks.

Within three years of her diagnosis, two more of our friends’ children had received similar notes from their doctors. When we PCS’d to Hawaii, it felt like nearly every family we met had a child who either was diagnosed or who was in the process of being screened. It wasn’t coincidence. Across the country, the number of children receiving a diagnosis on the spectrum is rising rapidly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a 20 percent increase in the number of children diagnosed with the disorder. Autism is unusual among afflictions because it affects every child differently. There’s no “typical” autistic child. I have learned, that among families, there is also no “typical” reaction to receiving a diagnosis.

I’ve met mothers who embrace their autism-hood with the fervor of a crazed sports fan. They decorate their car, clothes and Facebook pages with all things autism. I’ve met moms who are constantly attending meetings and walking to find a cure. They all gush about how great autism is. How it’s a gift, not a burden – that autistic children are special.

Yes. My daughter is beautiful. She is special. But that doesn’t mean I have to love the autism. That doesn’t mean I have to build her entire life around that single word.

I am tired of people introducing her as, “This is Rachel, she has autism.” I would much prefer, “This is Rachel, she loves birds and she is going to talk obsessively about them for hours, even after you ask her to stop.” Or even, “This is Rachel, she’s going to start screaming, stomping and biting when this social situation becomes a little too overwhelming but she really does want to be here and is trying.”

To me, autism is not special. It’s a terrible, terrible fate that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s made my little girl, who in moments of lucidity, can tell you she wants to have sleepovers and go to scouts and ride her bike up the street just like other little girls, unable to do almost any of those things. When she tries, there always comes a point where the autism takes over and it is all too much for her to process. She breaks down. The worst part is that she knows she’s breaking down. After the screaming and the kicking has stopped she’s crying not because of what she’s done, but for what she knows she can’t do.

At a recent Girl Scout sleepover, while the other girls stayed up and giggled through the night, Rachel went into another room and cried herself to sleep. She wanted to be with her friends, but her body, her autism told her otherwise.

Because children on the spectrum can continue to progress and then backslide at any time, I am terrified for her future. I can’t imagine how she will be able to work or live once we are no longer here to care for her.

For now, at age 8, Rachel has made incredible strides that make her stand out as lucky. After saying her first word at age 4, she can finally speak in full sentences that make sense. Until about age 6 her responses were nonsensical, one-syllable words. She finally became potty-trained at age 5. She can swim and read simple words.

But, she has obsessive speech patterns, makes repetitive noises and has incredible difficulty managing her social skills. The medications doctors have given her over the years to manage her outbursts have turned our sweet little girl into a 120-pound giant who towers above her second grade classmates.

Every day is a struggle to keep her emotions in check. Every day of our lives is touched by autism. But I refuse to allow autism to be my life, or hers.

I don’t own a single autism bumper sticker. I don’t participate in the local autism walk.

While other parents use their autistic child as the reason they can’t leave the house, I am dragging my daughter to every event possible in the hopes that the more I make her do, the more she will learn to cope with every day social situations.  While I have come to grips with the fact that Rachel will always struggle, will always be different, I have not accepted that Rachel equals autism and autism equals Rachel.

As a type-A, pro-active parent, autism is my worst nightmare. There is no easy answer. There is no cure. What works for one child may do nothing for another. There is no way to tell what her future looks like.

I love my daughter, but I hate autism. They are not one in the same.

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