Snaking Past Anxiety

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As I mentioned before, Lou is a lover of all animals, no matter how big or small. Her big sister has been enjoying camp at a nearby nature center this week and has told us such cool stories of the animals she’s been getting to interact with and learn about each day. In a perfect world, I would have sent both my older girls to this amazing camp but Lou just isn’t ready. She’s surely eager, just not ready. Yet.
The nature center only has a couple days a week open to the public in the summer. So, today I took Lou and Bean for a visit to see what all the fuss was about. They have some amazing classes with a lot of their animals throughout the day. This proved to be difficult (just like most of our public outings) for Lou because of the volume of the other excited children.
The tortoise and snake class was so packed and so loud and so full of children with no boundaries on personal space (I realize this sentence makes all other kids not my own sound like wild banshees. I’m sure that, like, only 70% of other kids are like wild banshees; the rest are just wild #mykidsareperfect #noseup). Lou tried her hardest to tough it out. Most of our outings with her are short-lived and almost always end in tears, screaming or full-on meltdowns. 
 
During the class, she was eagerly listening to the presentation when I could see her hands starting to rub the side of her shorts, her face looking stressed. She pressed on and eventually sat, tears rolling down her precious little cheeks trying so hard to just hang in there and fight past the noise that is so painful to her little ears.
I gave her her headphones and asked if she wanted to step outside. Her fingers and hands started to snap and rub, a behavior she has yet to control. She quickly took the headphones and eventually decided she couldn’t take the noise anymore and started to bolt towards the door. 
We ended up waiting in a separate area so Bean could play and Lou could slip into another world with the comfort of her favorite music overpowering the undesired noises surrounding her. I have a love-hate relationship with those dang headphones. I love them because they have allowed us to go out in public when we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. And I hate them because she’s tethered to an electronic device to keep her calm. But, hey, aren’t so many of us these days? I believe that with the therapies she’s involved in that this strategy will slowly drift away and we eventually won’t count on it so much. But, for now, they’re priority if we want any time out of the house.
After some time had passed and the wild banshees had fled, we returned to see the tortoises and snakes in hope that she’d get an opportunity to interact with one. We sat in a corner and waited until an animal didn’t have a crowd of children anymore. We witnessed a toddler picking up a stray turtle and then throwing it on the ground. I wished that if my (ever so deserving) child would just have a turn and if people would just quiet down and if she’d just have her space and if she could just get up there and touch a freaking turtle. Then I glanced at her, sitting patiently next to me, swinging her legs, fidgeting in her chair, listening to her music and humming.  She was really trying. So many times the noise has just been too much, the noise that’s not that big of a deal to me is a big deal to her. Sometimes we make it to peace and quiet in time to avoid the meltdowns, the screaming, other times we don’t.
But, for now, through her love of animals, she was really trying. Her patience was even outlasting mine. And I’m really proud of her for that.
And guess what?
Just when I thought the anxiety and Autism thought they were going to claim another day…
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Leila won.
The above picture is a picture of my girl holding a 3 year old corn snake and chatting it up with a precious volunteer filled with the same animal-loving energy as my girl Lou. Even if that woman doesn’t know it, she shared a very important connection with my girl today. I really wish I could hug her. She was patient, she was kind, she answered our questions.
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Lou is learning. We’re learning. It’s a process and one I’ll never forget. We’re in this together.
Today was a good day. Today Lou showed me perseverance.
#shineleilashine

Shine Leila Shine

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I could never really describe to you our Leila. There’s so many layers to her personality; her being. She is my infinite happiness, my heartbeat. When I dig deep into my heart in search of words that I want you to know about my girl is that she’s hilarious, she’s the most kind person I’ve ever met and she has empathy as deep as the ocean. She’s our animal lover, our stop-and-smell-the-flowers kinda gal. She is the ultimate definition of caring and kindness. The world needs one billion Leilas and then some.

Since my girl was just a wee little gal, we experienced challenges in several different aspects. There were no naps, she always, always needed her Mama and change was always a challenge. Being a military family, there was always change, so our babe always was wading through a challenge one way or the other.

We noticed almost instantly that she was not a people-person. Shortly after, we realized she was an animal lover. She exhibits her love for animals even today; she reads the same book, repetitively, about animals and their habitats. Today, she has a cat and a dog and takes pride in caring for them. Her little hands have always been drawn to different textures and feels. Sounds have always been a struggle and there have been days that she was simply inconsolable.

Since moving to the United States, our girl has had some new behaviors pertaining to her anxiety. Not long after we enrolled her in public school here in the US, she started to have 5-10 panic attacks per week due to the stress. She came home from school exhausted from her little body being taken over by anxiety. Her smile became a rarity. She had lost her shine. The behavioral changes go beyond what I could ever have the capacity to explain.

We were fortunate to have the utmost support from her school administration. They were the first serious (I had had others) team of people to encourage me to consider that my sweet girl may be on the spectrum.

Through a series of tests and waiting… and a little more waiting… we were told that our girl has Severe Anxiety, Severe Depression and Autism Spectrum Disorder. I have always had my heart open to individuals with special needs, but to have a child labeled in this category is a whole new world.

We thank the Lord above for local resources that serve the local special needs community. Our girl is thriving with equine-assisted therapy, we are beginning our journey with Assisted Behavioral Analysis (ABA Therapy) and have some other therapies on deck.

Leila’s future is bright. We are fully believing our girl will shine once again. We have a score of therapies ahead and a heap of progress to claim. Not only do we believe the therapies will serve her well, we believe in prayer. If at any moment of your day, you remember our sweet girl, we humbly ask that you send a prayer up above on her behalf.

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We are thankful for our girl. God knows every inch of my heart and soul and I am blessed he has chosen me to mother her through this journey. I am privileged to call her daughter.

 

#shineleilashine

 

 

Opting Outside With Kids

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It’s been 3.5 months since we became full-time campers (and we only have a couple of months left, eek). We’ve had our ups and downs learning the way of RV life, but so far, I’d have to say I highly recommend it. One of the many reasons that we chose this out-of-the-box lifestyle is to encourage our kids to appreciate the outdoors and learn more about nature. We didn’t choose this lifestyle to simply live in a camper; we chose to sleep in a camper and live outdoors. I strongly feel like this experience has been a gift to our kids and hope that they cherish these memories as they grow into adults.

There are several research-based studies that show the benefits of simply spending time outdoors. It’s relaxing, reduces stress, and not to mention, it’s free. Which means zero dollars spent so if things go south, at the very least, you’ve got nothing to lose.

I know that most of you busy parents reading this can’t just drop everything willy nilly and move into a camper full-time, but I would like to challenge you to at least carve out time, unplug from the world and connect with your kids by opting outside.

Here are six simple ways to get your kids off the couch and into the great outdoors.

Junior Ranger Program – Most State and National parks offer some type of Junior Ranger or Junior Explorer program. This is an excellent opportunity to not only have fun outside with the different activities included but to expand a childs’ education about the world around them. The kids even get a badge/pin at the end! Contact your local park about their programs and get involved.

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And, oh, they get sworn in upon completion which is pretty official if you ask me.

Pick a Park – Even if your kids don’t partake in the Junior Ranger program, your nearest State or National park can give you details on events that are coming up in their park. These events are mostly free (or cheap), always fun and packed with educational information.

Picnic – Who doesn’t love a picnic? Grab a blanket, make some sammies and grab a jug of sweet lemonade for a relaxing picnic outside. During the season of homeschooling we are in right now, we will pack up and spend the morning at a local state park while the girls do their work and finish up with a picnic lunch. It’s a simple kind of life and I like it that way.

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How cute is my barefoot Bean learning how to walk at one of our local state parks?

Nature Walks & Observations – One of the easiest ways to get your kids outside is to take them on a simple nature walk. Find your nearest nature trail or take a safe trek in the woods. Observing your local birds and wildlife first hand is a fun way to spend time outdoors. One of my favorite resources for getting ideas of activities that encourage my kids to get into nature is ‘The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms. The Nature Connection suggests activities pertaining to the seasons, has wonderful illustrations and is extremely educational. The book also provides journal space and online links to access free printables that go along with the book.

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Fly a Kite – Most of us have kites at home, but if you don’t, kites are fairly inexpensive and a good way to spend time outdoors. We’ve flown plenty of kites while living near breezy coastlines. Often times you can find a kite tucked in the trunk of my car for spontaneous kite flying afternoons.

Camping – Yes, go camping. You can do it! It’s good for ya. Tent camping is such an adventure but if it’s a camper you’re looking for, you can find RV’s for rent by owner on rvshare.com (if you’re interested in a camp-cation on the Emerald Coast, contact me to rent our very own “Bunkhouse Bessy”). If you’re looking for ideas and activities to amp up your camping experience for your kids, check out one of my favorite camping books, ‘Camp Out!: The Ultimate Kids’ Guide‘ for endless activities, games and even campfire recipes that your whole family will enjoy.

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What’s your favorite outdoor activity with your kids?

Zahara + Grazalema Pit Stop

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Ahhh, an Andalusian summer has begun. It’s time to get up and get out to experience our beloved España. One of my favorite places to venture off to is Zahara de la Sierra. It’s just a little over an hour from Rota and the scenery contrasts greatly from the usual beach scene but is equivacantly beautiful.

So, brace yourselves, because these photos I’m about to show you will make you want to gather your friends and family and head for a hike straight away.

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White villages are like no other; quaint, quiet and charming.

The pathway to the top is very steep and not shaded which made for a difficult hike in the sun, but the views are so very worth it.

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Not bad, Zahara. Not bad at all.

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This is the reward once you finally reach the top of the very steep pathway. This little hike ends with a castle, as many good hikes do.

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Exploring the nooks and crannies of the castle is half the fun.

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My very handsome and smart brother visited for a weekend as he’s studying abroad in Rome. We visited him the weekend prior and it had been a whopping TWO years since I’ve seen him. Spain definitely has its’ perks but being away from family has got to be the worst downside. We were so happy to get to spend time with him and catch up.

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The next part I’m about to tell you is going to knock your socks off…

There is a restaurant in Zahara called Al Lago that ranks on my top 3 places I’ve eaten in Spain in the last five years. Yes, it’s that good.

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Make sure to start your meal with a selection of local cheeses (always a good choice) paired with quince and onion marmalade.

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My husband had the delicious sea bass.

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My smart little bro made the wise choice of salmon. Twas excellent.

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And I devoured this Moroccan chicken in about 10 seconds flat in the most un-lady like way. Al Lago’s moroccan chicken makes me kiss my manners goodbye, y’all.

On the way home, we wanted to bring my brother rock-climing so we took a 30 minute detour through the gorgeous mountains and went to Grazalema.

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We just love it out here.

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The views around here are just phenomenal.

To help you get on your way, check out these links:
Zahara de la Sierra via Andalucia.com
Book your stay at Hotel Al Lago via Booking.com
More information about Hotel Al Lago & Restaurant
Read about Grazalema hikes via Andalucia.com

Happy travels, y’all!

Fulltime Family

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So, our family has a little announcement.

Okay, so maybe it’s not so little. (And no, I’m not pregnant… how many of y’all thought I was headed in that direction?)

We’re leaving Spain! And that’s not the half of it.

You see, I’ve always done things a little differently and what I’m about to tell you is no exception.

Where do I begin?

Let me just get right down to it…

12 years ago I married my husband and we high tailed out of our small (population less than 2,000) hometown. We moved to Florida and fell in love with the area. Two weeks after I turned 18, we ended up leaving the country and living in Japan for three years. We took a two year break from overseas life and returned to Florida. For these past 5.5 fun-filled years we’ve found ourselves exploring Spain and the world around us with our three globetrotting chicas.

Moving back to America is a big, huge change for us and yes, these last 5.5 years have been amazing and I wouldn’t change a thing but we are oh, so ready for America. Our girls need to see the good ‘ol US of A, y’all. While I can’t wait to see our girls dig their feet in the sugar white sands along the Emerald Coast, my desire to see the world was born the minute I closed the passenger door on our tiny little U-Haul and cruised hand in hand all the way to Florida from Missouri in June 2004. I’m just not ready to settle down.

So, we bought an RV!

Well, a travel trailer. And we’ve decided to become full-timers.

You read that right. Our family of 5 (plus our dog and cat) is going to be living out a 35 foot travel trailer instead of a house.

There’s so much to see in the US and airline tickets just aren’t the same in the states as they are in Europe.

When I initially threw this idea out to my husband he was floored. Who does this? How will it work for our family of five and our pets? Luckily, through research, we’ve found that there are thousands of families all across the US that have taken the plunge into full-time RV life. I’ve loved gleaning information from them and we cannot wait for this next chapter of our life.

Our “launch date” is July 11th and we can’t be more excited.

We hope you’ll continue to follow along as it is sure to be an interesting adventure for us all!

U S A! U S A!

Happy travels, y’all!

Feria de Cordoba

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On our way to the Alpaca Farm, we decided to pop in to Cordoba for lunch. We had no idea that Cordoba’s feria was taking place and stumbled upon it. Lucky us!

Cordoba is famous for its’ horses, their yearly patio festival and mosque. Here’s Feria de Cordoba through my lens:

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This horse was trying to run for its’ life after it discovered it was free from the reigns somehow. I initially was a lot closer to take pictures of these horses when I high tailed it outta there just like everyone else around me. I love horses but I prefer to steer clear of the feisty ones.

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Ole!

Alpaca Farm Stay

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If you’ve read my blog for long, you know I love the country. I’m a small town Missouri girl who accidentally happened upon a life of world travel. I love jaunts to the city every now and again, but if you tell me there’s an opportunity to head to the country for a couple of days to do a farm stay, I’d tell you..

“Alpaca my bags.”

See what I did there?

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I’ve been hearing about this farm stay for quite some time. A lot of acquaintances I have here in Spain have raved about it. And honestly, I tend to veer away from places frequently visited by other foreigners here as to avoid typical touristy experiences. But, this was on a farm and I couldn’t resist the temptation to retreat to the middle of nowhere.

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The country was calling my name loud and clear…

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Or maybe it was this here alpaca. This girl was keeping cool in the shade, such a smart one.

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The farm is in Montoro, Spain, about 25 minutes away from Cordoba situated between hills and hills of olive groves.

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And let me tell you, it’s the perfect backdrop for a morning walk with an alpaca.

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Alan and Lorna are the owners of the alpaca farm and are such fun hosts. The whole experience includes (but is not limited to) walking the alpacas, getting to feed the animals, collecting fresh chicken eggs, use of their private pool and they even provide breakfast and dinner.

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They also have a fair amount of cute and cuddly kittens.

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And a huge mastiff named Blue. If you’ve ever had any questions about Spanish siesta, you’ll need to meet Blue. She can mentor you on all things siesta while you give her belly a good rub. This girl has it down pat.

Now, let’s get back to those alpacas…

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One footloose and fancy free chicken with jealous alpaca onlookers surely trying to talk that hen into opening up the gate for them.

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One of our girls’ favorite parts of the trips was getting to feed the animals by hand. But, if getting your hand tickled by alpaca teeth doesn’t suit ya, throwing it on the ground works, too.

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A little farm cat here…

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and another farm cat there…

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Altogether now! I had to check suitcases and pockets to make sure that none of my girls made their way out of the alpaca farm with any of these babies!

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If you’re in or near Andalucia (that’s you, Rota), you’ve got to get up and get out and make your way to the Alpaca Farm in Montoro. It’s an easy drive from Rota Navy base and an experience you’ll be talking about for ages! This trip is ideal for families, girl trips, or just a couple of lovebirds wanting to get away from everything for a couple of days. My only regret is that I didn’t know about it sooner as this would have been a great place to retreat to during deployments when my husband was away.

Alan, Lorna and all the alpacas are very accommodating, you won’t want to leave!

Check out their Facebook page, Experience Alpacas in Andalucia and book your weekend as soon as possible as they fill up quickly!

Happy travels, y’all!