Monster Jam

Our boys received tickets to Monster Jam in their Christmas stockings this year. Carson has been a fan of monster trucks since before he was two. One of my favorite video clips of him is when he was 2, singing “Come on Let’s Drive that Monster Truck.” Such a sweet baby voice. And then there was the time he was so jazzed about the monster truck wall decals that Uncle Mike and Aunt Jenna got him for his birthday. Swoon. From the ages of 18months to 3 1/2, he typically had a monster truck in one hand and Little Dog in the other. Carson and Samson

We took Carson to the Monster Jam pit party just before he turned 3 (Feb 2013). Carson monster truck bday

He had a monster truck theme for his 3rd birthday. dscf9618

Carson had this Lots and Lots of Monster Trucks dvd that he watched every single day for at least a year. Things happen so gradually sometimes in parenting that there isn’t always a defined moment when things shift, but at some point Camden started watching that very same dvd. He memorized the songs. He’d get out his alphabet puzzles and lay out the same words/phrases/names of monster truck drivers, that was shown on the screen. I posted the following picture on Instagram on February 4, 2016, which was exactly one year from when we took him to Monster Jam. monster jam dvd 2016

It was fun to see Camden involved in pretend play with his monster trucks. He’d get out the track that his dad had made for Carson’s 3rd birthday, and he’d reenact what he had seen on the videos. monster jam course play

I enjoy finding things for our family to do together, so I was thrilled at the thought of us going to Monster Jam this year. A little over a year ago, I never would’ve guessed that Camden would be interested in monster trucks, and I certainly didn’t think we’d all be going to Monster Jam. It’s really crowded and extremely loud. We were going for it!

I had picked up free passes for the Pit Party a couple weeks before the event. Unfortunately, I left those same passes at home on the big day. The box office was completely sold out. We had arrived at 2:30, and the actual Monster Jam didn’t start until 7:30. There was a super nice couple behind us in line that gave us two tickets. And then I found a guy that was selling the free tickets for $20 each. We negotiated and headed into the Pit Party. monster jam 2017 overview

My plan was to give us some time to see the trucks and drivers up close before it got really crowded, which did not take long. Camden was happy and a good sport, but he started getting a little uneasy/confused asking about the race. At that point, I realized I hadn’t clued him in. In his videos, the trucks are always racing or doing tricks. They aren’t just sitting there doing nothing. If I had a time machine, I would’ve explained it to him better and written him up a schedule. Something like this:

  1. see the trucks and drivers
  2. go back to the van to eat dinner
  3. watch the Monster Jam races

Lesson learned. We talked him through it, and he calmed down. Even as his mama, I can forget the importance of clueing him in to what is going to happen. So we checked out some trucks and drivers and all was well. img_8373

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This picture with the boys and the driver of Stone Crusher is my favorite! They look like pals…like my boys could be part of the pit crew. stone crusher

I totally sound like my mother-in-law, but I had no interest in dropping a ridiculous sum of money on sub-par stadium food, so we went back to the van after the Pit Party and while we were waiting for Monster Jam to begin. As we were headed to the van, a couple of monster trucks drove by. Grave Digger drive-by

We ate dinner and chilled before heading back into the stadium. AT&T Stadium

We sat up high, but thankfully had front-row seats to give us a good view and more room. The incessant kicking from behind was unfortunate, but you can’t win ’em all. 🙂 Monster Jam seats

We knew we were taking noise-cancelling headphones for the boys. Brian picked some up for us that day, and I am SO GLAD he did! It would have been uncomfortable without them.

I LOVED watching Camden’s big smiles and excitement! monster jam smiles

AT&T Stadium was completely sold out! img_8478

Mom and dad have protection. 😉 Mom and dad headphones

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I have looked at these pictures numerous times, but as I uploaded them onto my desktop, check out what I noticed on the monster truck above Camden’s head on the jumbo screen? Kind of fun. =) Camden Carson Monster Jam 2017

The free-style competition is my favorite. It was awesome! I am old and not a fan of crowds, so we bolted when there were three trucks still left to race. Between the drive home and getting up for church thr next morning, I say it was a good call.

This was a FUN activity for our family to do together. It also reminds me of a very important lesson that I can often forget…just because something is a certain way now, doesn’t mean it will always be that way. A year ago, I wouldn’t have guessed that Camden would’ve enjoyed a loud and crowded monster truck show. And I am sure that there are things he will do a year from now that I can’t even imagine today.

Looking forward to my next post when I share our new Autism Awareness designs!! I am CrAzY over the superhero one!! =)

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Camping with the Crew at Tyler State Park

My mother-in-law was in town for a visit, so we took her camping with us last weekend. Last month we revisited Eisenhower State Park, and we wanted to try a new spot this month. We opted for Tyler State Park since it seemed to fit our criteria.

Over the past two years, we’ve refined what we look for in a campground.

Our list of demands preferences for camping (it keeps growing):

  1. We prefer a destination less than 2 hours from home. Camden doesn’t love car travel, but under 2 hours is reasonable.
  2. We like having a site with a screened shelter. It’s not 100% necessity. Maybe 95%. It’s helpful to have a place (other than our van/truck) to store our stuff…a place to flee from bugs when we are eating…a place to take refuge from rain.
  3. We want electricity and running water.
  4. We want to camp at a time of year when the temps get at least down in the low 70s at night so that we can sleep.
  5. We like a campground that has a beachy lake swim area. Really nice if the day-time temps are warm enough for swimming. We gotta have stuff to do, and swimming is a great past-time for our guys.
  6. We need a reasonable amount of personal space. Instead of a free-for-all system, we like being assigned a number and having some room.
  7. Hubby needs a good flat space that accommodates our 6-person tent.
  8. Mama likes a water-view.
  9. The kiddos need room to play (and preferably where they can have some independence)…to ride bikes, play soccer, drive the remote-controlled cars, etc.

Tyler State Park is just at the 2 hour mark from our house. We packed up the truck, picked the boys up from school after lunch, and we headed straight to the campground.

I had seen site S6 online and liked it, but hubby felt there wasn’t much play space. img_4538We settled on site S3 and it was a good home-away-from-home for us. The sheltered sites are in area 9 as you can see on the park’s facility map. I’ve heard good things about area 2 (the Lakeview tent and trailer camping area), as there are spots right on the water. Apparently, if you want a lake view site it’s best to arrive early.img_4135 img_4162A panoramic of our site: img_4243

 

The boys explored and played with their RC cars while we set up the tent and unloaded. The trees were so pretty!

We walked over to the fishing pier.

Then the boys “helped” me get the beds put together in the tent.

We feasted on chicken fajitas for dinner and then played around our site. We brought the boys’ bikes and they did enjoy riding them, but the roads around our area where too hilly for Camden to ride independently.

I had some chill time in the hammock Saturday morning.

Carson and Brian played with the walkie talkies while we headed out for a trail walk.

The trail was close to our campsite. It was an easy walk and nicely shaded.

So pretty and peaceful.

Carson, Brian and Grandmom played some Uno.

Thankfully, our site had some decent space to kick around the soccer ball. Carson loves soccer and Camden loves the hammock, so all was well.

It does make me smile to see how much Camden enjoys the hammock. So happy, and Carson so content with Little Dog.

Number 1 on our trail map listed a children’s wading pool and waterfall as points of interest. When we got there, here’s what we learned was considered the children’s wading pool. We passed and headed to the swimming area instead.img_4262We typically like there to be a sandy beach area at the campgrounds we visit to allow for sand play and water activities. The swim area at Tyler had a concrete wall with steps into the water. There was a sand area near the water. Here’s a panoramic of the area: img_4264It was clean and well-maintained. There were bathrooms nearby and a little store. The weather was sunny and 85-88 degrees with some wind. It was a nice day, but the water was a bit chilly. We still had a blast, but about 5-10 degrees warmer would’ve been helpful. Camden loved having Grandmom to pull him around on the floats and play. Carson and Brian played ball and jumped off the pier.

The boys did have a good time digging and playing in the sand.

The little store by the swimming area is where you go to rent boats. We walked over to see what the options were. img_4319Carson fed the ducks while we tried to make a decision.

We rented 2 of the 2-person kayaks for an hour. Grandmom stayed back. Carson and I shared a boat.

Brian and Camden shared a boat.

The lake was small (but pretty) enough that we were able to easily row around the lake within the hour that we rented the kayaks. Here’s the view of the swimming area from the middle of the lake. img_4458After a night in the tent and spending the day in the water, we were all looking forward to getting back to the campsite for our dinner of sliders. Brian realized the burgers weren’t packed, so we headed about 6 miles to Chili’s. Oops.img_4469Brian made breakfast Sunday morning and then we started packing up. img_4480It was extremely helpful having Grandmom with us so that she could watch the boys while we packed up.

A group shot in front of S3 before heading out. img_4543If you look at the trail map, point of interest #3 is near where we road bikes. We chose the EZ Loop since it was 3/4 of a mile and received an easy rating. img_4549It started out okay, but quickly became more of a challenge certainly for Camden’s adaptive bike, and at times, for Carson’s bike. It was hilly, narrow, and lots of tree roots growing across the trail. I wouldn’t have given it the “easy” rating, but that’s from the perspective of a special needs mama. The pictures look harmless. That’s because I was pushing someone’s bike and was unable to snap photos.

We stopped at the park entrance to snag a few shots in front of the sign. I always intend to get pics when we first arrive, as opposed to when we are all exhausted and dirty and done. Maybe next time. img_4571img_4578img_4582We enjoyed Tyler State Park. I’d be a-okay going back. I think our favorite is still Cooper Lake State Park. There are two sides of the park: Doctor’s Creek and South Sulphur. Both great!

You can check out our other camping trips here:

If you have any tips, suggestions, or favorite places to camp around TX and OK, I’d LOVE to hear!!

 

Camping with the Crew at Lake Bob Sandlin

Our family had a wonderful weekend camping at Lake Bob Sandlin. We got back into camping about a year and a half ago. Here are some of the camping trips I’ve blogged about:

Eisenhower State Park camping trip
Turner Falls camping trip
Cooper Lake South Sulphur camping trip
Cooper Lake Doctor’s Creek camping trip

We have a list of demands preferences for camping:

  1. We prefer a destination less than 2 hours from home. Camden doesn’t love car travel, but under 2 hours is reasonable.
  2. We like having a site with a screened shelter. It’s not 100% necessity. Maybe 95%. It’s helpful to have a place (other than our van) to store our stuff…a place to flee from bugs when we are eating…a place to take refuge from rain.
  3. We want electricity and running water.
  4. We want to camp at a time of year when the temps get at least down in the low 70s at night so that we can sleep.
  5. We like a campground that has a beachy lake swim area. Really nice if the day-time temps are warm enough for swimming. We gotta have stuff to do, and swimming is a great past time for our guys.
  6. We need a reasonable amount of personal space. Instead of a free-for-all system, we like being assigned a number and having some room.

The boys didn’t have school on Friday, so we headed out after lunch. The campground is located in Pittsburg, TX, and hour and forty-five minutes from our house. The boys watched Finding Nemo, and then we were there. I had booked a spot with a screened shelter. It’s first come first served, and we were thankful to get a great site.

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We’d had a lot of rain in the morning and were expecting more in the afternoon, so Brian wanted to get the tent set up ASAP.

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Camden loves the Muddy Puddles episode from Peppa Pig, and he was thrilled to reenact it in his rain boots.

So glad we wore rain boots because it was pretty messy and definitely more fun with boots.

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The boys love having their bikes when we go camping, but they do take up a lot of space. Brian purchased a metal cargo carrier before our last camping trip to tote the bikes. It’s a big help. We grabbed a trail map from the office. The boys rode a lot near our camp site, but we only did one trail. It was really muddy, and even though the .64 mile trail was listed as easy, it was a bit much on Camden’s adaptive bike.

Meals were yummy and fairly minimal effort, as we prepped as much as possible beforehand.

I love this picture of Camden in front of the tent. The kid is one happy camper! If you are reading this blog, odds are good you are aware of the statistics on ASD kids wandering to water. When we camp, we always make sure an adult has their eyes on Camden. There are times when Brian and I are both working on a task, and that’s when I’ll have Camden sit in one of our camping chairs with his iPad. I am able to keep my eyes on him. He certainly enjoys his electronics, but here is how much he loves camping…I was helping Brian with a meal and told Camden to sit in a chair and watch his iPad. He tells me “no thank you.” SO COOL!!! He’d rather ride his bike, drive the RC cars, or play! Play hasn’t/doesn’t always come easy, so I was elated!

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Happy camper poster child. Notice the lights behind him? That’s how the camping veterans roll. Crazy how much more fun it is with lights. Kind of magical. I think it’s an essential item now.

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The boys spend a lot of time on the remote controlled cars when we camp. It’s a fun activity for them to do together. We have the Rock Crawlers  and they’ve been a good fit for us.

The campground has a playground which we enjoyed for a bit.

There was also a small fishing pier. It was really crowded so we basically walked onto the pier, turned around, and walked off. See how impressed they look? 😉

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A sandy beach area is on our short list, but apparently I didn’t do all of my homework. There was a swimming area, but no sandy beach. You just kind of jump in. Probably not a big deal for most folks, but our boys can play in the sand for hours. Here’s the swimming area entrance to give you an idea.

The weather was a bit mild the first day we swam, but hot the second day. We had a blast…well, except for Carson saying he was cold. This is when the sandy beach would’ve come in handy. Camden had gotten two ant bites and could barely walk on Sunday, so it was nice to hang in the water where he didn’t have to put weight on his foot.

Brian bought me a hammock for Mother’s Day which we all enjoyed on this trip. Camden spent the majority of the day in it after he got the ant bites. Carson napped in it twice.

Tent sleeping is always challenging. Thankfully, Camden slept every night. Not sure it was all the activity or the Benadryl and melatonin. Whatever. The boys and I played fruit basket turnover with our sleeping arrangements. I’m thinking twin size air mattresses for all of us is the way to go. Here is our tent set-up:

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It was a bit warm and humid for comfortable sleep and there was some insect screaming. My quick Google search seems to point the finger at the cicada. What a dumb way to attract a mate, if you ask me. The last night we were there, random loud fireworks were going off which was disturbing to my boys who don’t like super loud noises.

We did venture to Wal-Mart one day. It’s only 9 miles from the campground and on the long list of things we forgot to pack, chocolate was one of them. What were we thinking?! So we had to go and rescue the chocolate. On the way back, we took a picture in front of the entrance. Every time we go to a state park, I always comment about getting a picture in front of the sign, but we never have until this trip. Not our best family photo.

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Here’s Camden on the pathway between our site and the bathroom. While Brian is in charge of bath duty for the boys, I will say he’s gotten it down to an art now. The kids are much better about showers these days, which helps. They go to the showers in their swimsuits and water shoes. Brian takes a canvas bag with toiletries and towels to hang up. There is always so much water on the floor, and he doesn’t want the boys touching anything, so he tries to keep it as stream-lined as possible.

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We stayed at screened shelter 85 and would recommend it.

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The boys watched Cars on the short trip home. Lots of laughter from the back seat. =)

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YAY for another successful camping trip! Woohoo!! I love making these memories with my crew!

Road Trippin’

We hit the road at 5:30 last Friday morning to head to Austin for Camden’s doctor appointment. The stretch from Dallas to Austin is a lot of stop and go, fast and slow, so leaving at this time was perfect. We stopped in Waco for breakfast and had plenty of time to spare for our 10AM appointment. At the doctor visit: IMG_5795After that, we grabbed lunch and then checked in to our hotel. Camden doesn’t ask for much. He points out hotels around town and remarks, “hotel.” I loved staying at hotels as a kid, and apparently he does too. IMG_5940The boys were thrilled. The hotel had an indoor pool that the guys made good use of. Brian said this swim time was his favorite part of the trip because they had a blast and both of the boys are tall enough now that there is a lot less stress involved for the parents. Camden felt more secure since he was able to touch the bottom. IMG_5813IMG_5848We got cleaned up and headed to In & Out for dinner. Camden was stoked to be sitting close to the train tracks. IMG_5878IMG_5880We’ve been in Austin several times, but this was the first time we took the boys to the Capitol building. We didn’t arrive until after 6PM, but the doors were still open to check out the inside. IMG_5884IMG_5886IMG_5894IMG_5896IMG_5914Saturday morning we took the Austin Steam Train from Cedar Park to Burnet. Here’s the blurb from the website:

This 66 mile round trip excursion journeys through the Texas Hill Country, crossing the wooden trestle bridge over the South San Gabriel River and Short Creek Canyon. During the two hour layover in Burnet you can enjoy lunch on your own, a leisurely stroll around the historic town square and the Wild West Gunfight (weather permitting). Finally, relax and enjoy our historic cars as the train returns to Cedar Park in the afternoon. All cars are pulled by our 1960 Alco diesel locomotive. Parties of two may be seated at shared tables. This ride is 6 hours round trip with a 2 hour layover. SCHEDULE: Departs 10:00 AM, Returns 4:00 PM.

Cost is around $28-40 each. If it’s your birthday month,  you get a free ticket so I made use of that! Camden is very interested in trains (Thomas the train, model train layouts, I Love Toy Train dvds, etc). He struggles with gravitational insecurity and doesn’t like the feel of elevators, escalators, planes, etc. I’d heard this train was pretty smooth, so we were hoping it’d go well. He was uncertain when we arrived, and once the train departed it took him about 15 minutes to relax. After that, he was fine. Camden’s iPad is often utilized to help with tough transitions or new and uncertain experiences like this one. I decided it was going to be a no iPad excursion. The ride was 2 hours one-way. He did great! Once we arrived in “beautiful Burnet” it was time for lunch. The locals recommended a certain restaurant, and once we got there I saw that it was buffet. I’m not a fan of most buffets, so I passed. Thirty minutes before departing back to Austin/Cedar Park, there was a short play with an old western back drop. I had forgotten to pack Camden’s noise-cancelling headphones, so when the first gunshot was fired, he was done. I don’t see us doing this train excursion again, but I certainly enjoyed trying something different. IMG_5944IMG_5947IMG_5949IMG_5970IMG_5977IMG_5980IMG_6040After the train ride, we headed to New Braunfels to stay the night with some of our dear friends. Camden and Carson LOVE going to their house. When we were at the hotel, Carson told me, “Mom, I love hotel-ing, but I mostly love staying at Ms. Danielle’s house.” =) They have two teenage boys who are amazing role models for my boys. We were fed, loved on, and encouraged. Our friends headed out for church Sunday morning and we packed up. I peeked in the play room/man cave to see the boys having a jam session. Totally cracked me up!IMG_6075.JPGWe loaded up our stuff and headed to Morgan’s Wonderland, an all-abilities park in San Antonio. The weather was overcast and pretty pleasant. The park had gotten a Ferris wheel last month and we were excited to try it out! Camden had me in a choke hold the entire time.IMG_6088IMG_6122IMG_6127IMG_6136IMG_6174IMG_6202IMG_6216IMG_6232IMG_6241IMG_6248IMG_6272IMG_6285IMG_6337IMG_6339IMG_6340We logged four hours at the park, and then started the journey back home. It was a short but fun trip!

Talking to Camden’s Classmates About Autism

In the spirit of Autism Awareness Month, I was hoping to visit Camden’s class to educate the kids about autism. I searched the internet for sample letters or ideas on how other parents had navigated this. Not much luck.

Today I had the opportunity to talk with Camden’s general education class about autism. I think it went well, and I’d like share in case it benefits other parents. Camden’s teacher and I spoke about expectations. I composed the letter below, and it was sent home to the parents last week:
autism letter for parents
I had 30 minutes with the class. Not a ton of time to cover such a big topic, but it helped me focus on what was most important. I introduced myself and jumped right in to “What is Autism?” We talked about autism being a neurological and biological disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and exhibits repetitive behaviors. While people with autism have those three characteristics, autism is a spectrum disorder and there are varying degrees. I emphasized that quote we’ve all heard numerous times, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” reading to Camdens classWe went over the CDC’s autism statistics. 1 in 68 in the US have autism. 1 in 42 boys. I made sure they knew that unlike Strep or a cold, that autism is not contagious. I showed them a picture of a child with Down Syndrome, and talked about various special needs, like Downs, that people could see from the outside. Autism is different. When people look at Camden, or other people with autism, they look like everyone else. That can be tricky since Camden looks neurotypical, people often expect him to act a certain way. 12891488_10154091992909283_1672379358648847446_o.pngI made the graphic below that went home with the kids to point out some of the ways Camden is similar to his peers and some ways he is different. I wore my Different Not Less tee and drove home the point that Camden is different than them in several ways, but that doesn’t mean he is any less of a person.
same and different from peers
I went over Camden’s list of similarities to see how many of his classmates had those things in common. Most of them did. Then we went over Camden’s differences. Some things they were already aware of, and some things they learned about Camden today. I was glad to be able to talk about common ground and to also discuss some of the challenges/differences of kids with autism. Camden’s classmates were incredible! They were such an amazing audience, listening and participating and tracking with me.

We read the picture book My Brother Charlie. The pages are colorful and it’s an easy read-aloud that covered everything I wanted to get across. The book reiterated the aspects of autism I had gone over, and it talked about how these siblings were similar and different. Ultimately, it is a story of love.
my-brother-charlie-book
Then I addressed the various questions that the students had submitted: How many teeth has Camden lost? What is autism? What does Camden do for fun at home? What causes autism? Do adults have autism? Have we tried sign language or a communication app with Camden? Good questions! They are a sharp group!

We talked about how that just because a kid with autism may not be able to communicate, it doesn’t mean that child doesn’t know what is being said. It’s important to be kind with our words to everyone. I told the students how sometimes people assume that just because a person can’t talk or talks differently, that people may think they aren’t smart. That’s so not true! I have an uncle who is deaf. He has his doctorate and was recently honored Teacher of the Year for his district. Super smart guy. I explained how some people with autism use letter boards or their iPads to communicate. We watched this powerful two-minute video about Dillan, a young man who is non-verbal but communicates with his iPad. Amazing! 1412255_10153852862719283_5283849152844647883_oI looked into their sweet eyes and told them from the bottom of my heart how much I appreciated their kindness toward Camden. I see them high-five Camden, race with him on the playground, slide, help him in class, etc. kindness-matterns

I sent them home with Camden’s picture and this colorful and easy-to-understand pamphlet: http://www.bridges4kids.org/pdf/Growing_Up_Booklet.pdf

I am grateful for the opportunity I had to talk with Camden’s classmates about autism.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. If you done this before, I’d love to hear how it went.