There's Still Time to See #IntoTheWoods

There are three things in this world that I absolutely love: Disney, fairy tales and musicals. And when my three loves join forces, I get starry eyed. I guess that's why I love Into The Woods!  

Back in November, I was invited to a screening of Into The Woods. I went solo after work (yeah, I don't care about going by myself to the movies) and the theater was packed with long time, star struck, die hard fans. I had no idea what I was about to see. I remember when Into The Woods was playing on Broadway, I just never had the opportunity to see it. And I totally regret never seeing it live. But I am grateful I got to see it on the big screen. Because if you love Disney, fairy tales and movies - Into The Woods is a must. 

I loved that I saw another side to my favorite fairy tale characters. I liked that the story line stayed true to the darkness of the Brothers Grimm's tales but still had humor and whimsy.

I really wish I could say that I could pick a favorite character. But it's hard to choose just one. 

I mean, Meryl as the Witch is just amazing. Because...MERYL!

Emily Blunt as the Baker's Wife is also wonderful. I've been a long time fan and she always plays a different character. I admire that about her and I was surprised by her voice. While I wasn't familiar with the Baker or his wife's tale but as far as character's go, I think I identified with her most.

And then Anna Kendrick as Cinderella is perfect - she's fierce and feminine. And I love the over all message that her character conveys, especially for young women.

But the voice that really blew me away was Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood. I especially love when she sings "I Know Things Now." 

I will be honest, Into The Woods was not at all what I expected. I don't want to give it away if you've never seen it but I liked that there was a little plot twist. I laughed out loud and I cried. The entire movie just makes me want to sing. I may not be able to wait until the movie comes, I think I need the soundtrack.

If you haven't seen Into The Woods yet, what are you waiting for? It's still playing in theater.     

“Into the Woods” is a modern twist on several beloved fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. This humorous and heartfelt musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), all tied together by an original story involving a Baker and his Wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt), their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the Witch (Meryl Streep), who has put a curse on them.
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A photo posted by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez (@laliquin) on

The Benefits of Video Games for Kids with Autism

Once I read an article about video games being problematic for boys with autism. Micah Mazurek and Christopher Engelhardt (of the University of Missouri) conducted a study regarding boys with autism and video game playing, and the “results suggest that children with ASD and those with ADHD may be at particularly high risk for significant problems related to video game play.

I do not agree. I think video games can be a major benefit for kids with autism. Ever since Norrin started to take an interest in video games, I have seen nothing but improvement and I want him to keep playing

My husband, Joseph, is a big time video game player. (Like up all night playing Madden during Football season gamer.) Joseph’s like a big kid when it comes to playing video games. He will not eat sleep or think of anything else until he has conquered it. And his love of video games was something Joseph wanted to enjoy with our son, Norrin.

Norrin's been intrigued with electronics and gaming since he was a toddler. And he's always loved watching his dad play. As Norrin got older, video games became the way for them to connect. 

We have an Xbox (and the Kinect), an Xbox One, a Play Station and a Wii. And we have gadgets and games galore. We’ve been trying to get Norrin to play video games for years especially after he was diagnosed with autism. It was the reason why we bought the Wii – because Joseph read an article about how they helped kids with autism. (Come to think of it, that’s how we came to purchase our first iPad.)

And while the love of watching video games seemed natural, the ability to play hasn’t come easily for Norrin. 

Initially, he didn’t have the coordination or the attention skills to play. It’s only in the last few years that he’s starting to get into it. It began with the iPad and Angry Birds. Eventually he moved on to other games like Temple Run. And lately he’s taken an interest in playing the Wii and Xbox Kinect - especially Disney Infinity.

Video games have opened up a whole new world for Norrin. They have given him life skills that could have never been taught in a classroom or at a table. They motivate him and inspire him to do better. So as long as Norrin keeps learning, he can continue playing.

     6 Ways Video Games Have Helped My Son with Autism     

Concentration. Playing video games requires not only skill but concentration. You need to anticipate what’s coming next and plan your moves accordingly. Watching Norrin play a game like Temple Run is impressive. He really focuses on what he’s doing.

Hand/Eye Coordination. The first game Norrin learned to play was Angry Birds. When Norrin was first diagnosed with autism five years ago, he couldn’t even point his finger – it was something that needed to be taught. Years later, we had to show Norrin how to use his index finger in order to play a game like Angry Birds. He was clumsy at first, not knowing how to aim but now he plays really well (better than me)!

Age-Appropriate Activity. Norrin is 9-years old and still watches Sesame Street, Super Why and Blues Clues. He also plays with toys that aren’t always age-appropriate. Video games allow him to be just like any other boy his own age. As he gets older, video games will help Norrin socialize appropriately with peers.

Confidence. Norrin likes winning and he likes when we make a big deal about him winning. When he wins at a video game, he looks to us for approval and praise. With each win, he gets a boost in confidence.

Communication. Norrin is quite verbal and able to express his needs and wants. However, much of his speech is still scripted language. When we play video games together, it gives us a chance to have a back and forth conversation. And Norrin uses spontaneous language to express his enjoyment while playing.

Imagination. When Norrin was first diagnosed, he had no imaginative play skills. We had to teach Norrin how to imagine, how to pretend play. The other day while playing Mario Kart, Norrin said, “I want to be Yoshi Dad!”

Do you play video with your kids? If so, what improvements have you seen?  

I wrote this originally for Parents on July 31, 2013 but have made edits for 

How The DC Toys Collector (aka the Highest YouTube Earner) Has Helped My Kid With Autism

I have no idea how Norrin found the DC Toys Collector or even how he discovered YouTube on his iPad. All I know is that I spend many Saturday mornings (many mornings, afternoons and evenings) listening to the sound of her voice and the peeling of plastic and the crackle of cardboard. And I spend many evenings laying in bed with the glow of iPad as Norrin watches his favorite videos.  

I watch Norrin watch her videos, in amazement. He's so focused and happy - as if he were opening up the toys himself. 

Then I'd think to in the heck does this person spend all this time making these videos and who are all these people watching them?

And then I read that the woman behind DC Toys Collector is the highest YouTube earner and made $4.9 million just to open toys (see below).

OMG! $4.9 million?! {insert wide-eyed, jaw dropped emoticon here}

As a blogger (who has done a handful of vlogs) I want to feel some kind of way about this. Because isn't that the blog dream? To strike it rich. But I really can't. For so many reasons that are completely obvious when you see my YouTube channel. 

I can never begrudge a person who has done so much to help my kid. I mean Norrin has learned something by watching her videos. Norrin has autism and has spent more than half of his life working with therapists. But this faceless woman (all you see are her hands in the video) has taught Norrin how to describe things - which is MAJOR for a kid with autism. He's picked up new words and adopted some of her cadence. 

What I love most is that he's learned to imitate her behavior. Whenever he gets a new toy, he opens it up and starts to talk about the product with enthusiasm and knowledge. He pays attention to the details and really tries to read the descriptions on the box. We've even started to video some of his unboxing of toys. (Nope, not ready to upload those on YouTube just yet...but who knows? Maybe one day.) He talks to me and asks me questions about the toy. We have back and forth conversations. 

So who cares that my kid is one of the 3,497,402 subscribers that has made DC Toys Collector a millionaire. What she has given me is worth so much more.    

12 Things I Want To Do Before I Turn 40

On September 18th I will turn 40. 40! And I'm feeling some kind of way about that. Because it's a milestone birthday. As a kid I remember thinking about what my life would like when I was 25. Never 40. Because as a kid 25 seemed glamorous and 40 seemed old. As I'm approaching this major milestone, I feel far from old. How can I feel old when there are so many things I still haven't done? And I'm not talking about jumping out of a plane or backpacking through's a bunch of little things. Things I want to do for myself. So I put together a list of things I want to do before I turn 40.

          My Before I Turn 40 Bucket List          
  1. Get a tattoo*. I've been thinking about a tattoo for years. Joseph has five and I have none. Joseph thinks at this point, I am more unique since I don't have one. 
  2. Get a nose ring*. When I was 18 I got my nose pierced. When my mother saw it she said, "If you don't take it out, I will rip it out." I, obviously, took it out. But it's something that I've wanted ever since. 
  3. Get a passport. I've never owned a passport. But I am going to make it a point to get one this year, even if I have no plans of going anywhere.
  4. Do something in NYC I've never done before. I have lived in New York all of my life but there are things I've never seen or done. I have some ideas in mind...
  5. Treat myself to a spa day - massage, maybe a facial and a mani/pedi. I've only had 1 massage in my life and that was about 4 years ago. And I've never had a spa day. I think I deserve one.
  6. Read at least 10 books that I own that I haven't read. I have SO MANY BOOKS. And so many that I haven't even read. I have no business buying any new books until I read 10 that I already own. 
  7. See a Broadway show by myself. I love Broadway musicals and plays. But I don't get to see as many as I would like. Joseph isn't really interested in seeing anything and planning an evening with friends can be tricky. I would be completely fine going solo. 
  8. Have drinks at the HIMYM bar. I am a huge How I Met Your Mother fan and I read that the bar was inspired by McGee's Pub (a bar in midtown).  
  9. Take yoga classes.  Because remember how I want to relax
  10. Run a 5k. I like running - well sort of. I am lazy and I like my couch. I would like to run a 5K this year. And I also want to train to run a Disney race. I have my eye on the Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland next January. But let me get that 5k out of the way before I have marathon dreams.
  11. Find a pair of jeans that I feel fabulous in. Last year, I broke up with my favorite pair of designer jeans. They hadn't fit in nearly a decade. And lately, I've been wearing leggings - it's just what I feel most comfortable in. This isn't about losing weight for me anymore. It's about feeling good. 
  12. Learn how to use a DSLR camera. This year I really want to step up my blog game. (I actually have a blog bucket list in mind but that's for another post). And part of stepping up my game is do more with photography. And I want to learn how to use a DSLR - Joseph owns one, so I have no excuse
*I doubt I will get a nose ring or a tattoo but I've been saying that I'm going to do this before every birthday for the last 15 I feel obligated to keep that tradition going. 

There isn't anything on this list I can't do, I just have to do it. And do it before I turn 40. 

And Then I Burst Into Tears (in Public)

Being a stay-at-home mom was never part of the plan. Not even after Norrin was diagnosed with autism. And while there are moments when I have my SAHM fantasies, every so often - especially during school breaks, I am reminded of my original choice to be a work outside the home mom. 

And then something crazy happens and I think - if  I was a stay-at-home mom this would not be an issue. Yesterday was one of those days. 

I arrived at work at 8:30 am and I had my day planned out. 

Like most mornings I called my mom to check in. My dad answered and said my mom would call me back. He then told me that my grandfather had passed away the night before and my mother was making the necessary arrangements. I hung up and stared at my computer screen for a few minutes unsure of what to do next. My first instinct was to pack up sh*t, shut down my computer and take the train into Queens to be with my mom. But I knew that wasn't an option and so I went about my work day, wanting to get through as quickly as possible. (This post isn't about my grandfather and I am not ready to write about him just yet.)

And then at 1:45 I get a call. There was some confusion with Norrin's after school pick up. Any other day I would have tried to call my parents first to see if one of them could get to Norrin. But my parents had their hands full. I put my stack of paperwork aside, e-mailed my bosses and ran out of the office.

By the time I walked across town to the 6 train on 59th Street (the walk is 5 minutes longer than the connecting trains - and I needed the walk to clear my head) I had just missed a train. But I was still good with time. 

The platform was unusually crowded. And when the 6 came along, it was crowded but I pushed myself in. 

Then we get to 86th Street. And that's when the train stopped, announcing train delays due to a police investigation. In my head I'm like, are you effin kidding me? Five minutes, ten minutes pass and people start walking off the train. I check the time nervously calculating my time and it was getting close. 

Another ten minutes pass and I walk off the train, my hands shaking by this time and walk close to the exit so I can use my cell phone trying to contact someone, anyone who could pick Norrin up from the bus at 3:20. I called Joseph. And I call two friends. No one picked up the phone. And I am basically screwed. 

On the platform I see a man talking to the cops. And the cops are questioning a woman. The woman had pushed the man and the man felt like his life was threatened, so he reported it to the cops on the platform and THAT WAS WHY THE TRAIN WAS STOPPED. 

In my head I'm thinking, they have to get the train going soon (and a few other things I'll keep to myself) I squeeze myself in a crowded train car. 

I look at the time. It's 2:45 and I am still in the city and I need to get all the up to The Bronx. 

And that's when I started to cry. Thank goodness for big sunglasses! Because I'm standing in a packed subway, crying. At 2:50 the train finally pulls out of the station and I'm hoping that nothing else goes wrong. 

By the time I was able to call the bus driver and matron it was 3:21pm. And I am RUNNING. (Um...did you see my vlog? I am overweight and out of shape.) The matron is kind of yelling at me... They had been waiting in front of the building and I could hear Norrin in the background. I apologized in between pants and said I was running as fast as I could. "If you need to drop off another kid, go ahead I'll wait." The matron said something I couldn't understand and then hung up. 

By the time I got in front of my building, the bus was gone. GONE! 

And then I burst into tears. Like ugly crying, shoulder shaking, hyperventilating tears. 

The bus came back within five minutes - they just drove around the block. I never worried that they wouldn't bring him back it was just the stress of the day had taken its toll. And I hated the thought of Norrin not understanding why someone wasn't there to pick him up. 

Being a working mom has so many benefits but then there are moments when being a work-outside-the-home mom sucks. I may do many things but I am not a super woman. I cannot be in two places at once and I cannot do it all with ease. I truly have to depend on a village to help with my kid. And when you have a kid with special needs putting your trust in the village can be really hard. That's the flip side. 

I Gave My Wedding Dress Away

I walked into RK Bridal completely overwhelmed. There were racks everywhere jam-packed with wedding dresses. I didn't know where to look first. I didn't have anything particular in mind. All I knew was that I wanted it to be simple, comfortable and affordable. Joseph and I had been married months earlier and the wedding dress was for our one-year wedding anniversary.

Most women spend months looking for the perfect dress, pouring over magazines and trying on gown after gown. I picked out three. And the dress I said yes to was the second one I tried on. It was a few sizes too big and a bit dingy from wear, but I just knew the moment I slipped it on that it was the one. The seamstress took my measurements and I put down my deposit. I think I was in and out in less than two hours.

I loved everything about my dress. I felt beautiful in it.

And that was it. After our day was done I took it to the cleaners, placed it back in its storage bag, and put it in a storage container. It has been there ever since (almost 11 years).

Over the years I have seen many friends in their wedding dresses. And I've seen quite a few share photos of their dresses being recreated as baptism gowns for their daughters.

I don't know if that was something I would have considered if I ever had a daughter, but seeing it always made me wonder.

January and August always make me sad. Those are the months I am reminded of my loss. And it hurts. Ever since that day four years ago, I've been looking for a way to heal - a way to commemorate that there was once another child.

I can't remember when or how I first learned about Angel Gowns.
Angel Gowns of WNY is dedicated to creating beautiful final-photo and burial gowns, handcrafted by volunteers, from generously donated wedding and special occasion dresses, to offer comfort to grieving families in NICUs during their time of loss. Angel Gowns are beautiful gowns that are hand made by volunteers for babies that never make it home from the hospital.

But I do remember deciding that I was going to donate my dress to them. (One dress can clothe 8 - 15 tiny angels.)

This week in my effort to embrace my word for 2015, I took a mental health day. And I started cleaning out closets. I pulled out my wedding dress for one last look. I asked Joseph if he was okay with my decision to donate my dress. (He was.)

And today, that is what I did. I packed it up carefully and it's now en route to Buffalo.

It wasn't an easy decision, letting go of my wedding dress. But it felt like the right thing to do. I will always love my wedding dress, but knowing that it may bring just a little bit of comfort to a grieving family is what makes it all the more special to me. And that gives me a sense of peace that I have not had in a long time.

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I Messed Up

It's been a while since I've felt like this. Since I've been in Warrior Mom mode and sent an email to school administration inquiring about services. But I messed up and now I'm determined to get it right. 

It was the last week before break and I was buying my gift cards for Norrin's teachers and therapists. I realized that I didn't know the name of Norrin's Physical Therapist. And it was the first time - since September that I thought about it. 

He didn't start this school with PT services. It was something one of his teachers suggested Norrin receive PT as a safety issue so that can better navigate his environment. Over the summer he was evaluated and PT was added to his IEP.   

Now I LOVE Norrin's school. It was well worth the year of kindergarten hell (see related posts to catch up) and suing the department of Education. I am grateful that we were able to find a school like the one Norrin attends. I know he is safe there and that he cared for.

But I allowed my love for the school to overshadow everything else. I became complacent. I sat back and relaxed, thinking my job was done...And because I assumed everything was taken care of, Norrin has not had a single PT session since September. 

I'm not mad at the school or his teachers. I get that these things happen. Especially since there's been so many transitions for Norrin since June. I'm mad at myself for not catching it sooner. 

Now I know. No matter how old Norrin is and no matter how much I love his school/teacher - I can never take anything for granted. I will always need to be Norrin's #1 advocate. Because no one else will make sure he has the things he needs in order to navigate this world. 

Related posts from (my old blog) AutismWonderland

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