When LOVE does more than win- MY MESSY BEAUTIFUL

This post is part of a blog project called the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project – to learn more or join, click HERE. Because we are a better together as 2 than alone as 1 here at Milestones & Miracles, we are each submitting an entry for this exciting opportunity! The project is part of a celebration kicking off the paperback release from one of our favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton from Momastery.  To check out the book that we love (and have given too many times to count as gifts: click HERE).


When I proudly walked into my first job as a Physical Therapist, I expected many things and most were as I expected…healing patients, increased motion, decreased pain and swelling, some blood, sweat, and tears, but most of the time, I saw progress. There was a lot of beautiful.

A few years later, I became a mom, and in the process I started adapting everything about myself (sleeping patterns, my new “scent”, my definition of the word “ok” (adj://state of being meaning everyone is fed, safe, and relatively clean), and my job. I began working as a Pediatric Physical Therapist in Early Intervention (no one older than 3 years old accepted) in the homes of families in West Virginia. This season of my life is where I began the true understanding of my messy, beautiful being.

Do you remember the first time you became a mother? Sometimes I felt there was a one-size-fits all approach to the oh-so-popular hot topics of sleeping, eating, toileting, child-care choices etc. Most of the time, I worried if I was choosing the correct answer on the new parent multiple-choice test. The rest of the time, as I left my little house cacoon and wondered into others homes, I wondered if they were making the right choices.  After ten years of mothering my own kids and helping other parents while they learn more about their own children, I know there are no one size fits all approach to parenting.  I know that we all have to show up and try our best. I know that we need each other so very much. And I know that it is the hardest and most rewarding job ever. It is truly messy and beautiful.

When I walked into a family’s house today, the mother said, “Please don’t mind my house it is so messy.”

I gave my standard reply, “I didn’t come here to see your clean house, I came here to love you and your baby.”

She’s a foster mother loving and learning about a child whose mother likely used drugs and alcohol during pregnancy and who shakes like a leaf when we try to simply move her around. I never saw a messy house. I never saw a “messy” family. I just saw the beauty.

So many of the families that my business partner and best friend are privileged to work alongside show us the beautiful. The ironic thing is that we are sent to these homes to teach their families how to help their babies learn to walk or talk, yet in the process we end up learning so much more.  Being in someone’s house is messy. Sitting on floors and holding snotty, slobbery babies is literally messy. There have been times I have literally had to move animals or piles of Cheetos to make a small space to sit!  And then there was this a few weeks ago.

But, being invited into someone’s home weekly is a big deal. No one can hide laundry, or pet hair, or tricky family relationships, or financial hardships, or worst fears and biggest hopes forever. Eventually we get in – not just to the home but also to the heart. It’s a huge amount of trust to take and a huge amount to receive. We don’t take it lightly and often the miracles of our lives come out of it.

Meet Emily. Sweet Emily. When I met her, she was blind. Her parents were told she did not develop much of a brain in utero and that they should consider abortion, which was not an option for them. They got brave real fast and made the decision to donate her organs shortly after birth. Except…Emily lived. She had surgeries, and long hospitals stays, and too many predictions of “she won’t do this” to count.

Emily At Birth

Emily At Birth


I remember shining a light in her eyes and moving my finger towards her nose with no response at all. Not a blink.   Her mother’s initial goal was to help her get enough control of her head to nurse or take a bottle safely. It was a relatively small goal for most, but for Emily (and her new and nervous PT) it was Mount Everest.

Days turned to weeks. Weeks turned to months. Months to turned to years. Emily slowly progressed. Each “inch”stone forward was something huge to celebrate.

Emily was learning to see light, roll to her side, babble.

I was learning that hope was the spark to all good things starting.


Emily was learning to respond to her sister’s voice by giggling, to suck a bottle, to hold her parent’s fingers.

I was learning that family is the safe place where we all start to get brave and start to take chances.


Emily was learning to roll, and pick up toys, and call her Mom when she needed help.

I was learning to call on someone greater than I when I felt weak or challenged.


Emily was recognizing familiar people in her community, who helped watch her when her parents needed a break, and sharing meals, and sitting tall.

I was learning that relationships – with my husband and my friends keep me happy and honest and real…and they need to be fostered with time invested.


Emily was trusting her parents to not let her fall at first…and then to learn to fall safely.

I was learning to take chances and learn from mistakes.


Emily was learning to walk with a walker and recite bible verses and see people 30 feet away.

I was learning that nothing is impossible with God, and love, and patience, and trust.

Shining Her Beauty At The Beach 3 Short Years Later

Shining Her Beauty At The Beach 3 Short Years Later


Emily’s doctors repetitively said to her parents, “I have no explanation for what she is doing. Medically, this should not be happening.”  When Emily turned 3 and started preschool (and working with a new therapist), before I fell in to my post-Emily funk, her mother gave me a collage that included a picture of her brain CAT Scan at birth and at 1 and 2 years old.

Underneath were the words, “Thank you for being part of the miracles that is me.”


People: Love doesn’t just win. Love changes things – big time!  Love changes brains. Brains that people have for the next 90 plus years! Love pushes miracles along. Love turns the mess into beauty.

These images sit in my office and 3 years later, I still can’t look at it or say those words without crying. Yes, it is beyond kind that her family graciously recognized my efforts as her therapist, but that is not why my tears fall. My tears fall because Emily’s family took what most people would regard as messy – a child with extremely expected limitations, obstacles that most would see as to much to even try to overcome, family life infused with doctors and therapies and big decisions, stresses to family relationships – and they SHINED and showed the world the beautiful. Their beautiful. They showed me the beautiful too.

The laundry wasn’t always folded. The emotions were not always calm, cool, and collected. It was rarely easy. The answer wasn’t always readily there. But the beautiful was. It never left – not for a second.

Being a mom and being a therapist is my calling. I know this. Mothering alongside other mothers is my joy. Being in their homes in not sterile or structured or easily predictable. I’ve learned to be part PT and part counselor, friend, and fellow crisis manager. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It is THE reason that my bestie and I created Milestones & Miracles. We wanted to share our therapy lives and the support that our “Mommy Posse” gave us with the world – to let others know what we have learned.  Messy makes life beautiful.

Out of my daily messiness, I see the beautiful. I learn more about what really matters and more about myself. At the end of some days, when I fall into bed exhausted and overwhelmed, when I’ve fed my kids cereal for dinner (again) and have felt guilty from ignoring them for work, or drug them to another meeting,  I laugh and think to myself, “God, please don’t mind my messy life.”  Through the example of Emily’s family and so many others, I can easily fall asleep knowing he replies, “I didn’t come here to see your clean life. I came here to love you and your babies.”

To see a video of Emily and her brave sister singing about LOVE – click Live Love.

Because Glennon inspires me to embrace my messy and beautiful life - I can't wait to share this in paperback! #CarryOnWarrior

Because Glennon inspires me to embrace my messy and beautiful life – I can’t wait to share this in paperback so my friends can be inspired to #CarryOnWarrior

MY new found ATTRACTION to all things MAGNETIC

Because I get to PLAY for work – I find I get on kicks. For a while I was obsessed with BLOCK PLAY (and that has stuck with me as a forever love), but lately it has been MAGNETS.

Magnets are so much more fun than I remember them being as a child and I have been having a great time watching children’s faces as they play for the first time with magnets – the shock – the awe – the curiosity seems to grow the more they play. So I thought I’d use this post to share some MAGNET PLAY ideas with you.

It started with these. I was in search of the big red horse shoe magnet but couldn’t find anywhere locally so I ordered this super powered one from Amazon.com

photo copy 9


And for fun, I threw in some of these…but they ended up being smaller than what I wanted (and so great for own kids but not my “work kids.”)photo copy 8

And for fun, I threw in an old favorite…magnetic stones..these are also VERY strong and were purchased at a toy store in a velvet little bag.

photo copy 11

From there — the Magnet Obsession grew and we had fun discovering a few things!




Watch this idea for a Magnetic Lego Car





One of my little buddies has mild Cerebral Palsy and trouble using one hand. Typically small items are hard for him to grip. The magnet stones, however both provide him some strengthening (through resistance experienced when pulling them apart) and assistance (through the same attraction) that helps him hold and play with them longer than other small toys — end result – he was less frustrated, had more fun, and was excited to engage in purposeful PLAY that hopefully carries over to his long term function with his hands!

Watch this example of Play with Magnets

Whether you are a therapist, childcare provider, parent, grandparent, or anyone else who PLAYS with kids, I hope you’ve found this post ATTRACTIVE and that the ideas will be MAGNETIC for your creativity  during play and inspire you to share the science (and fun) of MAGNETS with a child today!  What are ways you use MAGNETS to PLAY?

For more ideas on PURPOSEFUL PLAY paired with detailed milestones – check out 1-2-3 Just Play With Me today! And see why Early Head Start staff, childcare centers, therapists, and parents find it practical, useful, & FUN!

See Fun Science Kits to see some of the cool toys in this post!

** Always use caution with children who can not play with magnetic toys for medical reasons (such as those with shunts) and be present and engaged to avoid chocking with little ones!


A Preschool Checklist in Pictures: what you want to see when picking your peanut’s preschool.

Preschool…once a privilege to a few kids is now commonplace for most.  Kids that enter kindergarten without any preschool experience are the minority these days.  Nursery school, as it was once called, was geared primarily toward affording children opportunities to play and build social skills.  Preschools today may mention play and building social skills in their description but more often stress their academic structure and extracurricular offerings such as foreign language exposure and computer skill training.  What?!?! We need to get back to the basics people!  What 3-5 year old kids need is exactly what our ancestors found to be most important:  PLAY!  Because we know that the best way for kids this age to learn is through trial and error, hands on exploration and free play, we must find preschools that stress these things and not other developmentally inappropriate skills.  A wise woman once said, “Preschool is not boot camp for kindergarten.”


I couldn’t agree more!  Why are we expecting 3 and 4 year olds to sit for 30 minutes of tabletop structured writing activities?  Developmentally they shouldn’t be able to do this, so why are we expecting it from them?  There is a lot to be said in trusting a child’s natural developmental trajectory.  How about we don’t become overly excited when standards (set too high for their tender age) aren’t met in preschool and instead expect those skills when they are developmentally appropriate?


My son is blessed to attend a preschool that stresses the most important things for the preschool years:  allowing children opportunities to grow in their independence, develop a strong sense of self, and be able to use their creativity in working and learning as healthy, thinking individuals.  His school offers opportunities for true and creative play.  Reading this might worry some parents because no where in this school’s mission statement is there mention of learning to write his name, label shapes or count to 20.  Funny thing is, he has learned all of that and SO much more.  But the material is presented in a way that is fun, interesting and memorable to him; no worksheets, flashcards or repetitive writing tasks here.  He is engaged through multi-sensory activities that afford him age appropriate access to learning. Absolute perfection in the preschool world!!


The fabulous school I am referring to is Child’s Play, Inc.  Miss Melanie, Miss Liz and Miss Aimee are the extraordinary teachers at this school that I am forever thankful for.  Below are snapshots of what their school days look like.  I felt the learning that takes place at Child’s Play is much better expressed through Miss Melanie’s talented photography (shared on her Facebook page) than any typed checklist I could provide.  Take a look, a close look at what and how the children are learning through the fabulous experiences they are engaged in.  Keep these photos in mind as you decide, visit and attend prospective preschools with your little one.  Give childhood (and preschool-hood) back to our kids.  These years should be when they develop their love for learning, not when we are training them to be soldiers!



If you need something more to read, this article includes a GREAT checklist for parents when exploring options and visiting preschools.  Good luck in your search and may you also be as fortunate as I in finding a preschool as perfect as Child’s Play!

Better Than Pinterest – We’ve MADE IT for you too!

Regret is an unusual place. I try not to visit it often and rather choose to go with the motto of trying my best each day – with the encouraging promise of starting over and over again daily. However, in working with infants and toddlers, it’s hard not to want a few “do overs” with my own kids. Sometimes that means baby gear. What I would have done for a nursing cover! A stuffed animal that played a heart beat! And Sofie the Giraffe…don’t get me started.  But stuff is…just stuff. Memories are so much more. And for me personally, memories of playing with my daughters are the most precious. In that department, the place where I’d like a do over is — PINTEREST!  Oh what I could have done with Pinterest! (Or maybe what I would not have done IF I had Pinterest then! Milestones & Miracles could easily be on that list!) What kind of Pinner are you?








OR #2







I’m not a true “crafter.” I don’t have a crafting room. I can’t stand to follow the directions or watch a tutorial for a “pre-made craft.” I don’t crochet, knit, or sew (not even a button). I don’t line things up symmetrically or color inside the lines. I gave up paper scrapbooking for the ease of a printed photo book years ago.  But I do like to create…especially for fun. Lacy & I have both loved learning and sharing through Milestones & Miracles Pinterest Page, and our Pinterest feedback tells us – there is a great deal of  interest in PLAY! (wahoo – yipee)

Our online feedback also tells us that you – our super awesome audience – are more than likely, a) a parent, b) a therapist, c) a childcare provider, and/or d) working somehow in early education. WE KNOW what that means – you might have a super huge passion for PLAY and all things creative and fun for children – like those darling items found on our very popular DIY PLAY Board, but also WE KNOW that you e) likely have no time to do much of this on your own. You, our friends, are busy working, volunteering, serving, training or being trained, cooking, cleaning, carpooling, counseling etc.

So – I’d like to ask for some real honesty in the form of a show of (virtual) hands – HOW MANY OF THOSE PINNED IDEAS HAVE YOU ACTUALLY CREATED? Thought so. Me too. I think I have done 2 in maybe 3 years. (P.S. I know a few of you that actually make many things from Pinterest. You are superhuman, but I still love you).

We are getting excited to visit Celebrating Connections Early Childhood Conference next month and are attending as vendors and speakers. (If you are also going – COME SAY HI!) In preparation, we thought we’d make some hands on examples of how easy it really could be to create some developmentally appropriate (And fun. And cheap) toys!

Plus – my day started like this.

snow play


And ended with kiddo #2 cold and crying inside – and eager to get into an activity with me (and we honestly may be here for 3 days!). So – we CREATED some PLAY materials today and decided that at Celebrating Connections, for every copy of 1-2-3 Just Play With Me that someone purchases, their name will be entered into a drawing to win ALL the DIY PLAY TOYS that we create from now until then (Feb 21st).  And we decided to extended it to our entire PLAY POSSE – whether you are attending the conference or not.  That’s right – to some, this might just be up-cycled scraps, but to those of us who spend hours on the floor covered with hugs and snot – this is the GOOD STUFF! Of course, if you aren’t interested, you can give them away! But if you are who/what we suspect you to be – we are sure the children in your life will be excited for some new adventures through PLAY.

Here’s a few details – It’s really pretty simple.

  • Each purchase of 1-2-3 Just Play With Me from today though 2/21/14 counts as 1 entry to the random drawing that will take place on the afternoon of 2/21/14.
  • The winner will be notified through email.
  • DIY Play Items are pictured below but will be added to all month – check our FACEBOOK PAGE for new additions!
  • If the winner is present at the conference or in our local area, we will be happy to deliver these gems in person. If you happen to win and live farther away, we’ll be happy to Paypal invoice you the shipping costs and will ship to you for the most reasonable option possible.  (If this means you only want the smaller, lighter goodies – that’s fine too!)
  • Childcare Centers that choose to participate in our CHILD CARE incentive will get one entry for each copy purchased.
  • Already have a copy of 1-2-3 Just Play With Me yourself? Who do you know who has a little one and would love a practical way to engage and learn about their baby? Customers love these as shower gifts! (and if you win – you can chose to keep the DIY toys or give them with the gift!)
  • Lacy & I can’t win – even though we are tempted to keep this stuff for our work and her 3rd kiddo, but everyone else is fair game!

So here’s Round 1 of the potentially free PLAY awesomeness!  Enter to WIN today –  and even if you don’t win this loot – you will get 3 YEARS of detailed milestones paired with education & purposeful PLAY!

DIY Noisemakers. Filled with: Beans, Beads, Scrabble Letters, Glass Gems

DIY Noisemakers. Filled with: Beans, Beads, Scrabble Letters, Glass Gems


Box With Small Opening (formerly known as a tissue box) filled with strips of fabric knotted to allow hours of fine motor fun!

Box With Small Opening (formerly known as a tissue box) filled with strips of fabric knotted to allow hours of fine motor fun!

Ring Toss

DIY Ring Toss

Allows for fun hand-eye coordination, spatial relationships, and motor PLAY!

Pull the colorful strings through - and then turn it over and start again! Keeps baby busy for hours while working on a pincer grip!

Pull the colorful strings through – and then turn it over and start again! Keeps baby busy for hours while working on a pincer grip!


Take A Trip Magnet Game

Take A Trip Magnet Game

Use magnets on either side of this "map" to guide your "car" throughout town, building language and motor planning as you go!

Use magnets on either side of this “map” to guide your “car” throughout town, building language and motor planning as you go!

DIY Abacus - counting, naming colors, or just keeping little hands busy!

DIY Abacus – counting, naming colors, or just keeping little hands busy!

Sensory Matching Cards! Feel the creative textures and build language while describing them - OR - play a matching game!

Sensory Matching Cards! Feel the creative textures and build language while describing them – OR – play a matching game!

color matching

Play with a purpose! Match the correct paper clip to the same color! Fine motor & cognitive at their best work!


A DIY bed made with LOVE for your child’s favorite friend! Endless opportunities for imagination & fun!




The Mother of All Guilt…LIFTED! Learning to allow my kids to mess up so that they can use their SUPERPOWERS!

So I experience guilt ALL the time…I’m talking like every single day.  I don’t feel guilty about not doing the dishes or skipping out on some work that needs done, but I always ALWAYS feel guilty about my shortcomings as a mother.  I am indeed my worst critic when it comes to how well I am raising my kids.  I make mistakes, rake myself over the coals, make myself pay and then go to bed feeling defeated, disappointed and sad.  My whole life I have been told that I am too sensitive, a soft-hearted person who needs to just, well…TOUGHEN UP!  But mothering is the most important job of my life.  I can’t screw this up, because if I do I’m not only screwing it up for myself but my negligence trickles down to others.  Others who happen to be innocent victims who deserve better.


Typically my guilt is over yelling too much in a day, for things like running late, which is not my 8, 5 or 1 year olds fault, ever.  It is clearly my fault because they depend on me to keep them on time and I am always NOT on time.  Or I feel guilty for not playing with them enough.  Which is probably something I shouldn’t be admitting because clearly I understand the complete importance of PLAYING with my kids, but some days work, email, social media, a new magazine, Say Yes to the Dress, they all just get in the way of me getting on the floor.  Other days the guilt comes from less frequent events that just pop up.  One of those times happened not long ago.


As I have mentioned before my second child, Big O, has taught me A LOT in his short 5 years of existence.  You can read more about that HERE, but briefly over the past year we have implemented new behavior strategies, put our family on an entirely new diet (with much success) and linked up with one of my favorite occupational therapists who recommended a brushing program.  Just quickly, in case you aren’t familiar, Big O is a sensory seeker.  I never noticed any sensory issues until after his baby sister was born.  He loved her and was so proud to be a big brother.  He enjoyed holding her and loved touching her soft skin.  In fact he loved touching her soft skin a little too much.  He would rub her cheeks and ears ALL the time!  So much so we began disciplining him for it because he WOULD NOT STOP!  But after several months of discipline I began to realize that this maybe was something that O just couldn’t help.  He began to tell me, when I asked why he wanted to rub her face so much, “She’s just so soft!”  Some other things started coming together in the sensory awareness world as well:  O often wanted to rub the inside of my arm when sitting next to me on the couch, he had a very difficult time at school sitting in circle time, constantly moving and reaching out to touch the friend next to him, he would also put his arms inside his shirt to rub his own belly.  And the one thing that could make O stop dead in his tracks was a back scratching, the boy loves a good back scratchin’!  He loved the sensory input that was provided through skin to skin contact.  It took me a while, but I finally came to the realization that no amount of discipline or bribery could stop him from seeking out these behaviors.  Again, something in his little brain caused him to crave this input and he could not stop himself.  So in following our OT’s recommendation we began (literally) brushing him with a little plastic brush to satisfy the sensory input he craved so that he didn’t seek it out in other ways.  The program helped, tremendously!  So over the past couple of months I had begun to wean him off of the brushing.  He seemed to be handling it okay and if I saw some sensory behaviors pop up, I would just revisit the brushing program once or twice and he would be back on track.  Well over the past few weeks the signs have been there; he has been more touchy-feely with his sisters, pulling his arms inside his shirt and putting little things in his mouth and even though I knew the signs, I ignored them.


So fast forward to a few weeks ago at Ninja class.  Big O has been loving his ninja class and successfully participating which brings me great joy!  But this particular day he had difficulty keeping his hands to himself, touching and teasing another student during class, which clearly isn’t acceptable behavior.  Sensei called Big O out during class, giving him a verbal warning that if he couldn’t keep his hands to himself he was going to have to sit out.  At the end of class he made Big O stay after so that he could further discuss (and scold) him, letting him know how disappointed he was in Big O’s behavior as one of the veterans in the class and how he expected more of him.  Big O handled the disciplinary action well, he argued a bit, but Sensei put a quick end to that and Big O just listened and agreed to try better in the future.


As I sat there and listened the guilt was like a load of bricks on my shoulders.  I felt my posture drop as I endured the scolding as if it were my own.  Would Big O maybe have been able to hold it together in class better if I had been implementing his sensory strategies at home, was he just touching those kids b/c he was seeking some sensory input that could’ve easily been quenched with the brushing program that I had become too lazy to do?  When Sensei was talking to him I wanted to shout out, “But he has a sensory seeking disorder, he can’t help it sometimes, he just HAS to touch!”  “It’s my fault, I’m the one who should have to sit in time out next class, not Big O!”  No guilt is as great as that in which you know exactly what you could’ve done to avoid your child’s humiliation.  Wow, I had hit a mommy low.


That night we started the brushing program back up.  And I started processing what had happened earlier in the day.  You know it’s hard to always be “ON”, I thought:  on with is diet, on with his brushing program, on with the behavior strategies.  I’m not always going to be there, hovering over him to rescue him from whatever the world throws his way; it’s unfortunate, but it’s reality.  The world won’t cater to him the way I do…maybe it was okay that “O” suffered some natural consequences for his behavior today.  After all he handled it all quite well.


Unfortunately our generation of parents has allowed society to place enormous pressure upon us to be EVERYthing for our kids.  So much so that it sometimes handicaps our kids from helping themselves.  It can sometimes prevent them from using the tools we are trying to teach them to be independent.


You know that saying about using your superpower for good or for evil?  As a mother I think it’s our job to help our children learn to use their unique superpowers for good.  O’s superpower is his strong will.  If I succeed in helping him learn to use if for good, then maybe, just maybe one day we will address him as Mr. President, Big “O”!  (a momma can dream, right?!)  Parenting him and my two girls is an ongoing and fluid job.  Sometimes I feel like I should or could do more to help them.  Regardless of my self-assessment of the most important job I’ll ever have, it’s my job to make them be independent using the attributes that uniquely make them them!  That day in ninja class my initial reaction was guilt.  But after some reflection I realized a year ago O could not even participate in a group activity successfully with peers.  He rarely could do those things with me, at home, without frustration.  Even though he needed scolded and corrected, and even though I felt somewhat responsible for that, he used his superpower for GOOD that day!  He was able to apply the strategies we’ve been working on at home, with me by his side, all by himself.  He not only took the class but was able to take constructive criticism well.  He may not have liked it but it no longer prevented him from participating or wanting to return to class.   And at the end of the day that meant we both did our jobs well!  Weight lifted, posture restored…keep mothering on!


"But MOM, she is just SO soft!"

“But MOM, she is just SO soft!”


Want to learn more about Sensory Processing Disorder?  Nicole wrote a fantastic blog explaining what it is and how to know if your child may be struggling with processing their world.  Read more HERE.

WHAT’S IN YOUR BUGGY? A visual guide to help you dive into Feingold.

I am more of a visual learner.  That being said, I really struggled (and often dreaded) those first grocery store trips when we  started following Feingold.  I knew a lot of the foods we were eating were not on the diet so I couldn’t breeze through the store in automatic mode tossing in our weekly ration like I always had.  It took more planning on my part; making a list and researching the possibilities in my Feingold Food List book all before hitting the store.  Thankfully I was fortunate enough to make those first trips alone…no kids in the cart (or do you call it a buggy?), no distractions from the playing field.  I HIGHLY recommend the same for you.  Being by yourself while you figure this out will equal less frustration and a quicker trip.  My first trip, the one I referred to in this blog, took 2 hours!!!  I’m not telling you this to frighten you, just prepare you!  My husband thought I was in a ditch on the side of the road when in reality I was just blocking traffic in the organic aisle of Martin’s!

Don’t be discouraged, it gets easier, MUCH easier.  I can now recognize labels and items that are Feingold friendly and our family has established our favorites, our go-tos in the weekly meal rotation, that I toss in the cart with ease.  In the beginning I would read my book, try to familiarize myself with the brand and product names prior to grocery store arrival but this really didn’t help me out much.  What I think would’ve helped me is a picture, a real photo of the what the item looks like on the shelf.  Because we all know when you are juggling the baby in the cart who suddenly can unbuckle herself, the 5 year old who insists on grabbing every glass jar off the shelf and the 7 year old who keeps wandering off you don’t have time to read labels in the aisle.  You need to have the visual of that item in your mind so you can quickly glance, grab, and drop it in the cart before the baby gets a concussion, the 5 year old splatters glass and spaghetti sauce everywhere and the 7 year old gets kidnapped!

The items pictured below were (mostly) all on the approved list (The Feingold Approved Foods List Book, Stages 1 and 2) in 2013.  I have yet to receive my 2014 book.  Because food companies change ingredients from time to time I cannot guarantee that these items remain on the approved list.  To be certain you should join the Feingold Association to receive their materials and know for sure that what you are getting is salicylate, preservative, artificial flavor and color free.  The only true way to follow this diet is by purchasing the Feingold materials.  Unfortunately food companies don’t always disclose all ingredients on their food labels.  Feingold has done the work of writing food companies asking them to list all ingredients in their products so that they can place the item on the approved (or not approved) list.  Not all companies participate, but thankfully a lot do.  Variety is always a good thing!  Also, I can’t stress enough the importance of going ALL IN if you want to try this diet.  Feingold is strict and trying to do it on your own will not give the diet a fair chance for success.  Salicylates are found in many fruits and a few vegetables (the Feingold book lists those offenders) and in Stage 1 (the first 6 weeks of the diet) these have to be avoided.  Stage 1 is like detox from foods containing salicylates, preservatives, artificial colorings and flavorings.  In Stage 1 an item that is organic and all natural may not be “safe” because it is colored with berries (berries contain salicylates, therefore they are not permitted in Stage 1).  Another thing to consider is personal hygiene products.  Most soaps, lotions, toothpastes, and shampoos contain scents which are not permitted on Feingold.  Again, don’t be inimidated.  If I can do it, you CERTAINLY can!  I just believe to do Feingold the right way, you need to purchase their materials.

I find the majority of the items listed below at my local Food Lion and Martin’s.  Thankfully, with the growing popularity of eating clean, grocery stores are beginning to expand their organic offerings.  The store that I prefer to go to and satisfies most everything I need (except for O’s favorite hot chocolate that can only be found at Whole Foods!) is Wegman’s.  Have you been to one yet?  Seriously, you should go!  You could spend like a whole day there…it’s AWESOME!


Okay, so now you’re ready!  With these images burned into your mind and your sneakers laced up tight you’re sure to have Feingold success with these items in your BUGGY!

TRUSTING MY GUT. AND HIS. One Mom’s journey in understanding the gut to brain connection.

I always felt destined that I would have a child with special needs.  I felt that because of my love for special needs children it would be completely natural for me to love and raise such a unique child.  This was not a fantasy…I never imagined it would be easy or that I could do it alone, but I felt by the grace of God I could and would handle it.  I knew from an early age I had a special talent or gift in working with children with special needs.  The first thing I told others I wanted to be when I grew up was a special education teacher.  I would spend my recess playing with Lacey and Albert, whom both had Down’s Syndrome, helping them learn to see-saw (I know, I am dating myself!) or play ball.  From an early age I had the gift of patience.  And even then I remember after spending time with Lacey and Albert, I felt full, renewed, satisfied that I had done something that day that mattered.  As I got older my dream of becoming a special education teacher changed to wanting to become a speech-language pathologist, which is what I ended up getting my master’s degree in from WVU (Go Mountaineers!).  This profession has fit me perfectly.  I get to play with children every day that I work all while helping them achieve one of the greatest gifts we too often take for granted, communication.


So after graduating, getting my first job and getting married it was soon time to start discussing children with my husband.  We started our family and after 3 healthy children were born we decided we were complete.  Despite them all being healthy, I still had this urge that I was meant to mother a special needs child.


While my second child, Big O (as we lovingly call him, he was 9lbs. 4 oz at birth!), has never officially been diagnosed with a medical condition, he has taught me A LOT about unique challenges in his short 5 years of existence.  All the things I did right (and had no guilt over) in raising his older sister were all WRONG with him.  He didn’t sleep as well as she did, he nursed ALL the time, he didn’t respond to traditional discipline methods and he wasn’t (and still isn’t) scared of my “angry” voice.  While he stole hearts with his unique look and deep toddler voice, he had a tendency toward ornery-ness and everyone described him as “all boy”.  The day he turned two, something changed in him.  He upped his game.  But I just regarded it as the terrible two’s and didn’t give his acting out much more thought than that.  Then he turned 3…and he upped his game even more.  But I just attributed his behavior fluctuations to the tumultuous threes, and blamed the fact that he was about to become a middle child and that we had just moved into a new house, neighborhood and state.  Then he turned 4.  My third child had just been born a couple of months before so his world had been turned upside down, I was hormonal and definitely more impatient than normal and he was just (very) strong willed.  Needless to say, over the past year or so we (my husband and I) have begun figuring out the puzzle of our Big O.


Allow me to elaborate:


Owen is strong willed, he was described by his preschool teacher (with 15+ years experience) as the strongest willed child she had ever worked with…thanks, I guess.  He had his own ideas and there was no persuading, bribing or convincing him otherwise.  I found nothing that motivated him consistently, nor did I find a discipline method/punishment that worked consistently.  I searched, discussed, cried, prayed and felt ashamed that I, being a person who works with young children daily, couldn’t figure out my own child.  After my third child was born I hit a breaking point.  I couldn’t do it anymore.  I wasn’t myself.  I had become so impatient with my children and husband, some mornings I didn’t want to get out of bed for fear it would be another “bad” day for Owen/me/us.  He argued with me over EVERYTHING…what to eat for breakfast, what to wear, whether or not he would brush his teeth, leaving for preschool was a fight, drop off at preschool was sometimes difficult, and the list goes on.  At its peak, he began to have small outbursts where he would get upset over something that made no sense to me and there seemed to be no trigger…I couldn’t figure it out.


I started where most parents turn for help – Books. I read books on strong willed children and talked to friends about discipline methods they recommended.  The Strong Willed Child, You Can’t Make Me But I Can Be Persuaded, 1-2-3 Magic (for the 3rd time!) all resonated in me.  I gathered different tips from all of their talented authors but none “fixed” our situation completely.


God bless my BFF and business partner, Nicole and my mother.  They spent hours on the phone with me counseling, encouraging and listening.  Finally during a phone conversation with Nicole on a weekday morning after an awful weekend of trying soccer with Owen, she helped me realize I had to reach out for help.  What was going on was more than I could figure out on my own.  My ego was bruised, but I felt relief at the same time.  It was time to surrender.  Sometimes you just have to know when to fold ‘em.


We started with our pediatrician at O’s yearly well visit.  After O left the room she and I had a lengthy discussion about what was going on with Owen’s behavior.  She was wonderful, attentive and concerned.  She reassured me by saying she felt it was mostly a matter of maturation and that she didn’t believe any diet out there would help transform his behavior. Whew…I was off the hook with the whole diet thing.  I had heard of a diet that could possibly help kids with symptoms similar to O’s but I was afraid to try it.  It would be a lot of work and I mean, seriously, if my pediatrician doesn’t believe in it, then really, it must not be worth even a try…or was it?


So I walked away not feeling like that was the end of the story.  That wasn’t enough for me.  So I decided it was time to reach out to the wonderful women I am blessed to work with every day in my job as an early interventionist.  I contacted Leslie, one of the most awesome and knowledgeable Occupational Therapists I have ever known.  She recommended a brushing program to address O’s sensory needs.


Next, I spoke to Chrissy, the most patient, wise and amazing behavior analyst EVER!  She sacrificed 4 hours on a Saturday afternoon to discuss our concerns and get to know O.  Her suggested behavioral strategies were so simple, yet so profoundly impactful.  She educated me on “the beast” that made it hard for O to listen, follow through, and give up control.  Understanding how his mind was working helped me to understand why what we were doing wasn’t working and why what she was suggesting would work.  I wish she could move in with us!


I knew if we were going to give O (and us) the best chance for positive change, we had to go full throttle.  It was a combination of my years working as a therapist and hearing of parents doing the Feingold diet, Leslie’s experience using the diet with her children and Chrissy’s encouragement (You can do anything for 30 days!) that drove us to give Feingold a shot.


Except for the little I knew about the diet through my work, I didn’t really have a good understanding of the Feingold diet.  I overheard some moms at the local book fair discussing how red dye made their sons “crazy”.  My ears perked up as I eavesdropped on their conversation and the wheels in my head began to turn…could this be something that might help O?  Did he really get that much red and yellow food dye anyway?  In December 2012 my husband and I began reading food labels and eliminating anything that had red dye #40 and yellow #5.  These two food dyes have the worst reputation of the bunch, so it was obvious for us to cut them out first.  After a couple of weeks we noticed a change; O was more in tune with us and what was going on in his environment.  Hmmmm…this is when we began to wonder if there was something to this.


January started out good with preschool and O’s overall behavior at home.  Then about half way through the month things started getting back to his “normal”.  All in one month, his teacher asked me to stay so she could speak with me about O’s day, I broke down in front of his teachers, and I lost my cool with O in the car after a not-so-good note came home from school.  I couldn’t keep keeping on like this…


When I would speak to O about what “bad” things happened at school or at home during the day he would say to me, “But mom, it’s just so hard for me to be nice” or “It’s just too hard for me to do my work”.  And after hearing this a few times I began to believe him.  I finally began to realize there was something in him that he couldn’t control.  He knew he should resist, he knew right from wrong, but something wouldn’t allow him to do the right thing.  Something inside his little mind wouldn’t allow him to give up the control.


So by now it was March.  We were still cutting out obvious food dyes and I had just been in contact with Chrissy, my behavior analyst friend who encouraged me to give Feingold a try for at least 30 days.  Because if I didn’t, I would always wonder, “What if…”.  So nearly kicking and screaming I borrowed the materials from a friend who had done the diet with her boys in the past.  And they sat on my office desk for weeks…then one day I picked them up.  This turned out to be one of the best moves of my life, and O’s.


My first trip to the grocery store was grueling.  Book in hand, Coke (my indulgent beverage of choice!) in cart, and cash, lots of cash in my wallet I made it through the organic aisle and walked out with a cart full of what I hoped were Feingold friendly groceries.  The next day I visited Whole Foods…whoa…cha-ching!  I have only made two trips there in 8 months.  There are certainly a few things I can only get from there, but thankfully my local store can supply most of our weekly essentials and Whole Foods is proving to be only a quarterly necessity.  My budget is thankful for that!


After those first trips my head hurt!  I had decided that for this to work the whole family had to go on the diet in the beginning, for at least the first 6 weeks (stage 1 of the Feingold Diet).  It certainly wouldn’t hurt any of us to eat a little cleaner!  So that’s where we started.  All in.  Feingold followers we were all becoming!


It has been nearly 10 months since we began following Feingold.  We will not turn back now.  With each passing week the food shopping and planning becomes easier and the change in my son is all I need to know we are doing the right thing.  As thankful as I am for the verbal support and encouragement I received in the beginning, I longed for more practical tips, recipes and guidance to get me started.  That’s why I wanted to write this blog.


As moms we all belong to each other, I believe.  What I know about raising kids I am happy to share with someone who is struggling.  And what I don’t know (diet, behavior strategies, sensory help, etc.) I want others to share with me.  That was the motivation behind Nicole and I developing 1-2-3 Just Play With Me; a resource that shares with others what we know helps infants and toddlers grow, develop and build bonds with their families.  As we have pushed forward promoting our product we have remained mothers at home to our collective 5 children, who daily teach us MORE that we want to share.


I hope this blog encourages all those that can identify with our story.  I pray that you too reach out for help, lighten the load on your own shoulders, stop blaming yourself for what you can’t fix and find support in those you call upon.  In the weeks to follow I will be posting more from our Feingold journey thus far.  If you are on a similar journey, we would love to hear from you.  We all belong to each other…we are all in this together!


O enjoying a red Hug Jug pre-Feingold!

O enjoying a red Hug Jug pre-Feingold!


To learn more about the Feingold Diet and The Feingold Association of the United States please visit www.feingold.org.

Toddlers Need Tweezers

Hi friends. Happy 2014.

Wishing you health & happiness in the new year. We know that our Milestones & Miracles friends KNOW that regular PLAY (for kids and adults) contributes to keeping us all happy and healthy.

So if you are planning on spending time in creative play this year – we wanted to take a moment to share a fun way to shake up regular play and to make it purposeful play with very little work/effort!

Remember toys that looked like this?




They made us exercise our hands without even knowing it. They strengthen tiny muscles in the hand that help with handwriting, pinching, poking, pointing, sewing (so I hear?), crafting, cooking, or whatever we use our hands for in our work (hammering, typing, drawing etc.).

Toys that are more prominent in our stores today – like the one below, don’t challenge tiny hands in big ways.


But have no fear. Just because it’s not easy to find in a store – doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek it out. Think of all the ways your child plays. How many of those activities could you add a set of plastic tweezers to? Tweezers are fun for kids (“Really Mom I can use this TOOL?”) and can add that needed fine motor attention that many toys lack.

This set can be found HERE on Amazon.



A quick glance at our MOTOR PLAY BOARD on Pinterest, shares ideas we found through a quick search, like these.




tweezer nut sort

tweezers play doh

tweezers bugs

tweezers nature


I personally love the bug option! But think beyond these examples…

Why not let your child eat snack with their tweezers?

Picking weeds with tweezers is helpful and fun!

So is sorting socks into matches (and you’ve thrown in a cognitive skill too!)

For larger items – use salad tongs – why not clean up the playroom this way?

Like these suggestions? We LOVE adding purpose to play! That’s why we filled this sweet box with detailed developmental milestones paired with purposeful play ideas that are perfectly matched for your child’s interest at each step along the way! We’d love to send you 3 years of PLAY today – visit us here!

open box

Have you ever used tweezers with your child? Or a child you work with? What creative ways do you like to enhance play with fine motor work with tweezers?




Don’t Check Out Yet! Things to consider before choosing toys for your child!

Do you still have last minute shopping to do for that new baby of yours?

Before you head out to that mainstream toy store, may I offer a helpful word? (Or maybe a few)

I’ll keep it short and sweet…it is 2 days before Christmas. None of us has time.


1. PLEASE consider your child’s developmental level before purchasing that toy. This may seem easier than it actually is. I know what you are thinking – “Oh I do that. The age is on the box.” But consider this. Those big toy stores also sell this to parents of new babies.



Even if you have no familiarity with child development, I’m sure any adult (when they step back from the marketing trance) inherently KNOWS – this is not developmentally appropriate. So don’t trust that the age on that box matches with your child’s age. Educate yourself on REAL development before you head out. There are lots of ways to do this. We think we have one of the easiest for parents (info on your child’s age paired with practical play suggestions will even fit in your bag – click here if interested), but whether you choose our product to educate yourself or some other way – just choose something!

2. WHY DOES IT MATTER you ask? Here’s why. Babies learn through PLAY. Purposeful play that matches their current developmental level matters more than you think. This type of play develops the brain in ways that will be essential for function later in life. YES, I mean it. BLOCK PLAY helps the brain in many way – but most importantly with spatial reasoning – used for everything from putting leftovers away in the correct sized container to geometry. Play that encourages language prepares your child for their future relationships with peers, family, and co-workers. Motor based play makes sure their bone density develops so they don’t get stress fractures during the first year of soccer. I could go on for hours. TRUST ME. It matters.

3.  If it matters, why don’t the stores tell me? Or why don’t they sell things that are more appropriate for my baby? Simple. You will buy that plastic laptop, handheld game player, cell phone, play table, cube – whatever – that counts, and sings the alphabet in 4 languages. And they know you will. And so will your neighbor. And your sister. And your cousin. And the MAJORITY of new parents. Why? Because the people selling those products are also sharing the message (even if it is not directly marketed that way) that your 18 month old needs to know her ABC’s. And you are hearing it (even if you don’t realize you do) and you are also hearing society’s pressure with that little voice in your head that whispers “If she can’t count to 10 in the next few months like Smarty Pants down the street, she’ll never get in to Harvard, and she’ll never be happy.” (OK – maybe an exaggeration- but you get the point). So without even consciously thinking – you go. You become the ant in the marching line buying the light up toy so your baby will be happy and smart. AND NOT LEFT BEHIND. Only wait – what REALLY will make your baby smart is not those toys, but your pots and pans. Or a wooden ring stacker or shape sorter, or some home made toys like those found HERE. But…guess what? Those don’t cost nearly as much. Or anything. Pause for a second and think about WHO is telling you WHAT to buy and WHY.

Do they have your child’s best interest at heart? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO SCREEN TIME (that’s right zero TV, DVDS, Any Media devices with screens) before 2 years of age. Why do a large portion of “baby toys” involve this type of media? Empower yourself to become the deciding factor in what your child learns and plays with.

4. Ok I’m on board. I’m ready to help my baby be happy. And smart. And healthy. And I’m ready to spend less money. But where do I find these toys? It’s not easy. This I know. Our first suggestion is make them. There are lots of suggestions on our PINTEREST PAGE for DIY PLAY that are cheap and pretty easy (neither of us is overly crafty – promise). And yes, you can make your baby a toy and wrap it. He/She doesn’t know the difference. We also offer a board with toys for each age and continuously add new favorites. 1-2-3 Just Play With Me includes a reference section that shares toy suggestions by age and type of play.  Next, think local. Google “developmental toy store” and look for shops in your area. In November of 2013, we started selling 1-2-3 Just Play With Me to store like this. Check our retail link for the growing number of these types of shops. Many sell online as well. When in doubt – search online for the brand. We like and trust names like HABA, Melissa & Doug, Manhattan Toys to name a few. Sill in doubt? Check out our BLACK FRIDAY shopping post or ask us on FACEBOOK – we love to help shop!

5. What else do I need to know?

Less is more. Too many toys are overwhelming and confusing. Keep it simple. Set limits. Show your love with your time – not your wallet.

The best way to play is WITH YOU. We all learn through examples. Your presence (not presents!) and your child’s imagination are the secret ingredients for successful learning through play!

I had a conversation with an old friend who is a new dad yesterday. He asked for my advice on toys and I shared most of what I wrote here (thanks for inspiring this post D!). He agreed and was excited about what we discussed but joked, “OK, I guess we are taking everything back!” Sorry to him (and to you) if I just created some extra errands for you, but TRUST US…when you pair your child’s developmental level (interests and abilities) with purposeful play – you will see (and enjoy) the magic of PLAY – not just on Christmas morning!

Interested in the concept of pairing development with play – more tips for toy shopping can be found HERE, including questions to ask yourself before checking out with that toy. 


toy guide

Growing Your Own Virtual Village

I’m a big believer in the concept that a village raises a child. Whether it’s your Mommy Posse of friends that become family or your actually family, in my mind, the more people loving a child, the better for that child.

My family is big (in numbers and personalities). Growing up I believed it typical that everyone’s grandmother watched them daily (along with most of their cousins) and cooked dinner for 10 or more people many weekday evenings, 15 or more on weekends, and 40+ on holidays. Everyone does that, right?

Growing up, I also knew there were MANY eyes on me. Eyes that read me stories, eyes that smiled when I had a birthday, a sporting event, or a good report card, and eyes that were watching if I chose to make a bad decision. It was like having many sets of parents — the good and the bad parts (coming from a child’s view) but now, as an adult,  I know it was all good.

My mom has a much younger sister (a surprising joy to our family) and her children were born when I was in my late teens. They moved to Canada but that did not stop the family village. We spoke regularly enough to know, celebrate, discuss, & analyze most of their childhood and teen years – from first steps and words, to first dates, to first day of living in new college apartments. We drove them crazy, but I loved really “knowing” them, despite the geographical distance. (p.s. my hunch is – they will agree with me one day).

As our family grows – and grows – and grows (our next baby is coming in February!), and spreads out across this beautiful world, it could be harder to stay in “the know” with the family, but it hasn’t been…because of the two miracles we call FaceTime & Skype.

As ignorantly irritated as I get when I don’t have wi-fi or our home server is down (how impatient and obnoxious is that?), I am incredibly awed by the fact that I can share a conversation with my cousin Tania in France while she gives her baby a bath at night and I prep dinner. I adore the fact that we get to see Halloween costumes and Christmas gifts live with my cousin Nina’s boys in Colorado. We are able to see my newly married cousin’s exciting house renovations and weigh in on tile and paint choices. I’m amazed that my 83 year old immigrant grandmother spends many hours a day warmed by the virtual presence of her cousins across the globe (literally).  Years ago, they might be luckily to have 1 phone call a year!

And as a mother now myself, I am so thankful that my family stays connected with my daughters and that they learn what life is like all over the place in a “real time” way. My cousins in Kuwait have shown them sand storms out the window of their home. Australian cousins have shared their view of winter even though it is blazing hot summer here in WV at the same time (this BLOWS the kids minds!). My Teta (grandmother) shares live cooking shows of what she is making. My girls read books and share art projects and lost teeth with my in-laws. My Aunt Lisa watched my daughter’s entire 4 year old birthday party via her laptop (yes she’s awesome). Skype and Face time bring those we love and miss right into our living room and next to us at the dinner table.

The aspect that I love the most about the endless opportunities of “virtual visiting” is when it comes to babies. I LOVE my family and I LOVE their new babies even more. It’s actually painful at times not to be able to scoop up those babies, bring over a lasagna and do a load of laundry, or babysit in a pinch when distance forbids it. But visiting through the web is the next best thing. I want the babies in my family to KNOW me and my family. I want to be a part of their village. I want to be the eyes that celebrate, love, and watch out for them.

Our newest baby for the moment is sweet Lilie Rose, who lives in the lovely South of France (lucky her).  (Side note: if you are interested in how having a baby in France differs from the US — Read HERE – it’s our personal family observation). We saw her last April and won’t see her in person again until July.  She has and will change incredible since then, and thanks to Face Time, I haven’t had to miss much. I’m sure I drive my cousin crazy at times, but when I Face Time with her I also do some of the same things, (most of which are act like a total lunatic) because I want her to recognize and know me too. I always sing her the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” (it’s our thing) and she now smiles as soon as I start despite the fact that I am a HORRIBLE singer. Family loves you no matter what, right? Here is Lilie and I sharing some time together (excuse the appearance – ehh – It’s because of the time change 🙂


Banana Phone Call For Miss Lilie Rose



Imitation – she can open her mouth like me (luckily she is not as scary!)



Washed the Spider Out! (her favorite part!)


If you have family (or friends that are like family) spread out, do you spend time visiting them via the Internet? What are fun ways you engage with them? If not, I encourage you to give it a try. There are many ideas to connect and play with babies and young kids even if you can’t be in the same room.

Here are some to try:

  • READ – chose the same bedtime story to share repetitively (make it YOUR thing) or introduce new ones.
  • SING –  (even if you are bad – like me). Young children love songs and finger plays (and they really enhance language development).
  • BABBLE AND PLAY – babies learn imitation before they learn conversation (more on that HERE). Be a part of the team that uses purposeful play to start that first conversation.
  • SHARE – Your meal, your home, your yard, your day. Children learn through exposure. Your environment is certainly different that theirs, so play show and tell online!
  • QUESTION – if they are old enough to talk, ask questions. How was their day? Where is their favorite toy? Can they jump yet? Ask them to show you!

Need more ideas to enhance purposeful play in person or online? Click here! (We ship for free and can include a personal gift card when sent as a gift!) 


I am Physical Therapist. I don’t have extended formal training on how the minds of young children emotionally develop. I am not a child psychologist, but I am a daughter, a mother, a niece, a sister, a granddaughter, a daughter and sister in law, a cousin and a BELIEVER that growing the number of people who love and are involved with your child can only be a good thing.  It was for me. I know it will be for my girls.