In the Saddle

Reta Jean loves her dance class, and we’ve been trying to find an activity that Raymond will love, too. He wanted to read all his books at the library before he left, so that didn’t work out well. He really wanted to do dance class with Reta Jean, but there were too many people and too much activity. I mentioned to the other dance moms that I was looking into horseback riding (hippotherapy), and one of the moms knew somebody. Miss Amanda works at an equine therapy center out of town, but boards her horse, Mr. Q, at a local farm, and offers lessons there. Perfect!

Last week we went to meet Miss Amanda and Mr. Q. I wasn’t sure how Raymond would react to a big horse, but he absolutely loved him. He got to brush him and give him treats. He even introduced himself. “Hi, Mr. Q. You can call me Mr. R.” At one point Mr. Q twitched his tail and brushed Raymond’s face. I knew it was all over when Raymond instinctively hit the ground. I was wrong. He stood right up and said, “That did not feel good in my mouth. That was not good manners,” and went right back to brushing him.

Mr Q meets Mr R

This week Raymond got to ride! I asked Amanda to send me a brief rundown of what the schedule would be, so we could let Raymond know what to expect. On the way to his lesson Raymond asked if Hulk could show up. (He often speaks in terms of superheroes. When Raymond is channeling the Hulk, it can get ugly.) Carly was able to join us today, so she and I both told him Hulk was not allowed at the barn. Raymond made sure it would be OK for Captain America, Iron Man, Batman or Spiderman to show up. I told him all of them were welcome – even Thor, Ant Man or Black Widow –  as long as Spiderman didn’t shoot webs at Mr.Q. We also let Amanda know that Hulk was not allowed. She’s still learning his lingo, but she already speaks Raymond very well.

Raymond’s rules:

  1. Naptime voices in the barn
  2. No running in the barn
  3. No Hulk around the horses

After picking out his helmet and gathering saddling supplies, Raymond reported to his mission. He helped Amanda get Mr. Q ready, and they headed into the arena. Carly and I hung out in the observation room because we didn’t want to be a distraction to him.

On a mission


He learned to get on, give commands, and use the reins. Amanda said there was only a brief, “Am I supposed to be this high?!” moment, before he settled in. After awhile, Carly and I could tell he was done, and were very happy that Amanda picked up on it without us needing to bring it to her attention. She knows her stuff! Once more around the arena and they were done.

Horseback  Walk on

Apparently, getting off the horse is a little tricky. Hands and feet get twisted around. It took a little bit for Raymond to figure out what went where, before he could get off.

Lesson over

Before leaving, Raymond got to give Mr. Q a hug and some cookies. He had the best time, and can’t wait to see Mr. Q again next week.

Hi Ray

Disclaimer: I’ve never been a horse person. I’m sure I’ll use a lot of the wrong terminology while I’m learning. Don’t laugh at me.






Everybody Loves Raymond

I’m going to be a bragging Gabba and just say Raymond is brilliant!

Carly used to sing him ABCs as a lullaby, and he learned to write his letters by the time he was 2. At 3, he was reading fluently. Now, some people think we’re exaggerating and maybe he just knew sight words. No. We would hand the kid a menu, magazine, brochure, whatever, and he would read it. He needed help with some of the harder words, but the kid was good! We were worried about what he would do in kindergarten. How much of the day would he be expected to sit quietly and wait to be taught something he didn’t already know?

"D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori's car" -Raymond

“D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori’s car” -Raymond

His favorite show was “Letters.” The rest of us know it as Wheel of Fortune. He would clap and cheer when the wheel spun, then go around the room, shake everyone’s hand and say ‘gratulations at the end of every round. Carly discovered a show called “Signing Time,” and soon Raymond using the signs he knew while he spoke. Once he learned how to change the language setting on Carly’s phone or his tablet, he was following directions in Spanish, French, German, we’re not even sure of all the languages he uses. Of course, the directions are the same regardless of the language, but it was still crazy the he would change the language and know it was saying the same thing.

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He loves spelling so much, it’s all he would do on the soccer field. While the other kids were chasing the ball, he would be standing in the field, writing words in the air with his finger. Ball, sky, bird, grass…all the things he saw were words he could write. As far as soccer went, Raymond enjoyed the pre-game practice, and the team cheer – “1-2-3 PeeWee Pumpkins!” – but didn’t like being on the field to play. Carly and Joe spent the games trying to head off meltdowns, hoping he would take to it as he became familiar with the game. That didn’t happen.

As much as Raymond wasn’t crazy about soccer, he LOVES his family. Reta Jean is his best friend. Miss Riley isn’t much fun yet, but he likes to make her giggle and laugh. Joe recently signed him up for jiu jitsu, so the two of them get to roll around on the mats. His favorite family game to play, when he was younger, was going around the table and asking everybody, “What’s you favorite color (animal, food)?” If we answered incorrectly, he’d shake his head and give us the right answer. When the cousins come visit he enjoys playing with them and showing them around the farm. He likes his down time, though, so sometimes he likes to go to a quiet room and read or play with his tablet.


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Ray and the Girls

Feeding Critters

He likes cooking, art projects, playing outside, and feeding the pacas. He DOESN’T like the “hoosters.” We’ve tried to tell him most of the chickens are hens, and he really wants to be friends with them, but they scare him so badly, he can’t stand it.ray and pacas

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He also loves movies and superheroes. I’m Batman, Papa is Iron Man, Reta Jean is AntMan, and Raymond is Captain America, Wolverine, or Hulk, depending on his mood. Papa calls Raymond Santa Claus, and they discuss where the reindeer are parked when he comes over. If we aren’t superheroes, we’re Minions. I especially like to be King Kevin. More often than not, when Raymond is having a conversation, his end of it is movie quotes. The rest of us, with Carly’s help, figure out which movie he’s on so we can be part of what’s going on in his head.

Not only is Raymond AMAZING, we recently learned he has autism. As he’s gotten older, some of his behavior patterns started raising little red flags. Carly saw it way before the rest of us. It was so hard for her because how do you know if your child is struggling with something, or if you just need to be a better parent? Even Raymond’s pediatrician said he just had “some anxiety,” but it was not really anything to worry about. When a 3 year old has a meltdown when they’re told it’s time to stop doing something they’re having fun with, it’s seen as maybe being a little bratty. But, when I finally took 4-year-old Raymond to Reta Jean’s dance class, and he was SO excited to get to go, but had a total meltdown as soon as we walked into the studio, that was more concerning.

None of us immediately thought of autism as we watched Raymond having a harder and harder time. He is very verbal and loves interacting with people. I think, as most of us understand autism, those two things alone would eliminate a diagnosis of autism. Here’s where the diagnosis came from: In hindsight, the accelerated reading skills could have been a sign, but who ever thinks, “My kid is too smart, there must be a problem.” We also learned about “scripting.” Children with autism often work from scripts. Playing “Letters,” asking questions he knows the answers to, and speaking in movie quotes are all forms of scripting. When you really start paying attention, Raymond will answer questions, let you know if he wants or needs anything, but really doesn’t have a spontaneous conversation. I mean, it’s cute when your grandson comes to your house and says, “Hi, Gabba! I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you for stopping by.” (Think about that one for a minute.) He can tell you anything about any of the superheroes, as is very typical in autism. He has his facts down and loves to share them with everyone. And then there’s the meltdowns and becoming totally overwhelmed when there is too much going on.

With Carly’s guidance we’ve all learned how to best help Raymond. It’s a whole thought-shift, understanding his behavior is caused by his autism, and is not him acting out deliberately. If he’s going to be doing something new, we make sure we tell him everything we possibly can about what’s going to happen. We’ll even practice a script with him, so he knows how he’s supposed to interact. We make sure we don’t switch activities without giving him a warning. Usually, we can tell him we’re going to do something different in 5 minutes and he does pretty well. When Raymond says, “I don’t feel well. It’s time to go home. I need to go home now,” we have learned he’s warning us a meltdown is highly likely. He’s had enough. By giving him a book or his tablet and letting him take a rest, away from everybody, a meltdown can often be avoided. Joe is great when it comes to meltdown duty. He can take Raymond into his room, sit down with him, and get him breathing and calm.

One show that has been a HUGE help is “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” It’s a cartoon, based on Mr. Rogers, and deals with all sorts of social situations. For a kid who depends on scripts, a script with the wisdom of Mr. Rogers is a really good thing. We’ve all learned phrases like, “That was fun, but now it’s done,” or “choose one more thing.” My personal favorite is, “When you’re angry and want to roar, take a deep breath and count to 4.”

I got permission from Carly before writing this because a diagnosis of autism isn’t one a lot of people are comfortable sharing. Because Raymond’s autism comes across as very different from what many people would recognize, we hope to help and educate others. Carly and Joe took Ray to school for evaluation before being able to get him in to see a behavioral specialist. We know he will need a very specialized program in school, and the teachers have told us they’re up to the task. The diagnosis will allow Raymond to learn how to do school, without getting in trouble for the occasional meltdown. It will also allow the school to learn how Raymond communicates, without assuming he’s being a stinker when he answers all questions with a quote. For reading, he will need to be in a 1st or even 2nd grade class. His math scores put him right at grade level.

Every professional who has met with Raymond has the highest praise for Carly, and so do we. Without any professional input, she taught Raymond how to self-regulate and control his anxiety. She made sure the rest of us understood what we could do to help Raymond navigate his world. She has been willing to learn, try new things, adapt, and pave the way for Raymond to be successful. We’ve all done our best to step up, but she has been the driving force.

We’re so excited to see what Raymond will accomplish. He’s such a sweet, smart, cool little kid. Autism is something all of us will need to learn more about, in order to assist and advocate for Raymond. As he gets older he’ll understand we’re all with him on his journey, and I have all the confidence in the world that Carly will keep us on the right path.

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Hard Cheese

I FINALLY get to make hard cheese! I’ve been waiting to get a cheese press, and I finally did it. Now, some people say, “Oh, poo! You don’t need a cheese press. You can use plastic pipes for molds and weights to apply the right enough of pressure.” Really? OK, yeah, you can. But, no. I read the instructions for different cheeses and they said things like, “Apply 10 pounds of pressure for 10 minutes. Then, apply 20 pounds of pressure for 10 minutes. Finally, apply 50 pounds of pressure for 12 hours.” So, I can make molds, buy weights, and have a clunky thing that may or may not work. Or…I can get a real cheese press.

The set

It may not look like much, but it has springs that are gauged to specific weights. Press it and forget it. I was so excited to get going!

I decide to start with farmhouse cheddar because it’s supposed to be easy. First, 2 gallons of milk. And a pot big enough. I discovered my cheese pot is 2 gallons, which doesn’t leave any room for stirring and stuff. For this batch, I guess I’ll use my canning pot.


Cheese directions are crazy. Heat to 90 degrees, add starter, keep at 90 degrees for 45 minutes, add rennet, heat to 100 degrees, BUT increase heat slowly enough that it takes 30 minutes to increase 10 degrees, keep at 100 for 45 minutes, cut, set, drain, press. Easy, right?

Mesophilic      After starter

adding salt

That lumpy stuff at the end, there? I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be more clumpy, and less like soggy cottage cheese. I was super-careful to follow all the directions, but it was hard to know if I was doing the heating part exactly right.

When I took my cheese making class last year, I remember specifically the teacher saying if you followed the directions, you would have cheese. It may not be the cheese you thought it was going to be, but it would be cheese. Before taking that class, I probably would have dumped this goopy mess. But, what the heck. Let’s follow the pressing directions and see what happens.

Press 2

The cheese mold gets lined with cheese cloth, then the cheese goop gets glopped into it. A disc, called a follower, goes on top, and the block over that. The wooden part gets tightened down, and the whey is pressed from the curd. Words like goop and glop are probably not supposed to be used at this point, but that’s what it is.

It’s set at 50 pounds, so I go to bed and hope for the best. I’m really afraid that I’m going to take it out of the mold in the morning, and it’s just going to sploosh all over the place.

Ta da!


Yeah, I know. It doesn’t look like cheddar. It’s still pretty crumbly. It has to set for 2-4 days to dry out, then it gets waxed and ages for 4 weeks.

This is after setting for about 30 minutes.


I wasn’t going to try another until my first cheese was done. Since I can see there are problems with this one, I’ll try another in a few days. I guess there really is an art to this whole cheese thing.