Wednesday, August 29, 2007

First day of school

Monday was our "first day" of school. 

It seems a little silly to have a "first" day when we school year round, but we are just starting back after several weeks off AND we are starting some of our new curriculum, so it was a first day in some ways. 

 I think I've probably been overly optimistic about how much we can get done this year (I always seem to do that!) but for now we are doing: Saxon Math, R is halfway through #2 (math is her most difficult subject) and M is halfway through 5/4. M loves math, and the way his lessons are structured. R hates math (any math!) and so getting her through her math lessons is often an exercise in patience for me! (And lately I've been failing that lesson terribly!) I need to remember my knitting when R's doing math, it helps a lot to have something to do to keep my mind off the fact that we just keep taking two steps forward and one and a half steps back again!) 

 We'll start Learning Language Arts Through Literature (R, 3rd M, 4th) in a few weeks. Before we start though, are doing a little unit study on Shakespeare using the classic series of books by Edcon, supplemented with other books about "the bard". My goal is just for the kids to be familiar with who Shakespeare was, and have some exposure to his works. Teaching kids with cognitive delays can be so tricky sometimes. I know that much of what I'm teaching will not be retained (without constantly reteaching... which is saved for the basic subjects like math and reading) but I do want them to have some frame of reference for important people and events in our world. So I teach about things like Shakespeare hoping that, even if they don't remember the specifics, they will retain enough of what they've learned for their next exposure to the subject to have some meaning... 

 Ok, moving on.... I bought Building Spelling Skills for each of the kids again this year. We used it last year and it worked out beautifully, I was so excited to have finally found a spelling curriculum that "fit". Unfortunately, the jump in difficulty from last year's book to this year's has been too much and they are both stressed and struggling. I might have to dump this curriculum completely and start the search all over again... 

 We are still working on Story of the World 1 for history, and (wonder of wonders!) when we sat down on Monday to review I found that both kids remembered quite a bit of what they'd learned before our little break. We're learning about Ancient Egypt right now, and I was a little apprehensive about it because R has a lot of anxiety about mummies. She's handling it well though... so well that I'm considering doing the "chicken mummy" project in the book. Has anybody out there done it already? (Does it really work??) 

 Just for fun we are also going to try to learn a little Spanish this year. I've wanted to at least introduce a foreign language for awhile now, but haven't been sure how to do it. Some other members of our homeschool group are using Speedy Spanish and like it, so I thought I'd give it a try. 
We're not going to even try grammar or writing, just understanding and speaking some basic words and phrases... Since the Speedy Spanish seems a little dry, I'm supplementing with a Spanish workbook I picked up years ago at Sam's and put away for "someday"... Developmentally it (the workbook) is pretty appropriate for them, and they enjoy the activities on each page. (Not to mention the review being good for them!)  
We are participating in our homeschool group's co-op, and are looking forward to all the cool classes coming up this fall. 

The kids should also start back with Special Olympics next month... I think they'll be swimming and possibly bowling. 

 I've been trying to think of ways to keep our school time fresh and interesting (for all of us!). After homeschooling for so long (8 years) and with so little movement developmentally (at least with M) it's easy for things to start to feel pretty stale. I've been playing around with the idea of offering the kids "electives" every few months. Letting them pick a "class" or activity to try for just a limited amount of time. M wants to learn to sew for example, or maybe we could take classes down at the pottery shop in town, or go on weekly hikes, or go geocaching. I'm still trying to figure out how to make it work ( without making myself crazy), but I think the idea has possibilities. 

 So that's our school day (at least for now). Summer is nice, but it's good to be back into our regular routine again

Monday, August 27, 2007

At the hop...

Last Saturday was the birthday party that my neighbor made all the poodle skirts for... 

 I have to start by saying that I don't really understand (or agree with) the trend of huge birthday party "events" for kids. (You know, where each year the parents out do themselves with clowns, magicians, pony rides, etc. spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars to celebrate the birthday. Maybe that's not the norm in other parts of the country, but where we live it seems to be fairly common...) For the most part I like smaller (calmer) family centered birthday celebrations. 

The birthday party on Saturday was a full-scale extravaganza.... but it was a lot of fun. The neighbors had set up a "malt shop" outside, complete with a soda fountain and tables and chairs (and refreshments of course!). They'd hired a DJ who played a constant stream of 50's hits and there was a karaoke machine, and a bubble machine showering bubbles over everyone. Each child got a t-shirt with "A's Sock Hop 2007" printed on it (in pink for girls and blue for boys!) and each girl got a poodle skirt. The dance floor was made of plywood circles painted to look like records and (when the kids weren't playing on the water slide or the trampoline) they boogied, slipped and slid (the bubbles made the dance floor slippery) to Elvis and Chubby Checker. 

 M was in heaven... There was plenty of food and people to talk to, and when things got a little boring he could grab the mic and sing karaoke for a while.

 

 R and some poodle skirt friends...

 

 All that dancing we did after seeing "Hairspray" paid off!

 

 R was a little shy during the party... She was fine with M and "A" (the birthday girl) but seemed anxious and unsure of herself around the other kids... That was unusual for her, she's usually so outgoing... but unfortunately she's been having a lot of problems with anxiety and her OCD lately, so I'm sure that's what was going on. 

 All in all though it was a great party, and the kids enjoyed themselves... (and R's poodle skirt is hanging in her closet, just waiting for halloween!)

Friday, August 24, 2007

It felt pretty cold here last night, but I had no idea the mountains were already getting snow! From today's news:

~

Coloradans Awake To Dusting Of

Snow On High Peaks

POSTED: 8:20 am MDT August 24, 2007
UPDATED: 9:29 am MDT August 24, 2007
DENVER -- An overnight storm has left a dusting of snow on the high mountain peaks after dumping hail and rain in some parts of Colorado.


National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Baker said that mountain snow isn't unusual for late August. He said the snow fell mostly above 13,000 feet and was more granular than the flaky snow that's common during winter and spring storms.

 Luckily it warmed up nicely down here on the plains, and the kids were able to enjoy their co-op class. The class was a combination of learning how to play chinese jumprope and playing in the "sprayground" at the park. 

As you can see it wasn't too cold for R to enjoy the water! She wasn't too excited about chinese jumprope, but I think the work of learning a new game just couldn't compete with the fun of the sprayground. She has her own chinese jumprope now though, so we can play with it at home too.



Thursday, August 23, 2007

a taste of fall (and some rambling and whining)

Brrr.... it's cold this evening! After an gray, overcast day, and rainstorms this evening, it's cooled down to a crisp (for August!) 55 degrees and I'm enjoying a nice hot mug of cocoa for the first time in weeks. 

I love the fall, and have been looking forward to it... but I have to admit, when I walked through the cool evening to the barn tonight and started thinking about breaking ice from the watering trough, and trudging through snow drifts to get to the barn, I also started counting my blessings that we probably have another month to six weeks before it starts to get very cold. 

 I've been canning and freezing the riches from our garden, and now have about 20 pts of tomatoes, 8 pts of bread and butter pickles, and a couple pints of pickled jalapenos in the cupboard, as well as green beans and (WAY too much) zucchini in the freezer. It's been a lot of work, but it's worth it to get to enjoy the taste of garden veggies this winter. 

The tomatoes are still producing, and the green beans are just getting started. The cucumbers and zucchini seem to be slowing down (hopefully) and we have at least a half dozen good sized pumpkins on the vine, just waiting for Halloween. 

 I spent this morning canning and this afternoon making more phone calls. I'm still trying to track down some in-home support for M. I haven't found anything great yet, but I have gotten a good education about what's out there... I found one program that is very well known in this area. They send "trainers" into the homes of people with developmental disabilities to help the family learn to deal with problematic behaviors. The trainers counsel the family and actually do some family therapy (this I learned speaking to families who have used this organization). We've started doing an intake with them, and during this process I asked about the qualifications of their trainers. The director of the program said they don't have any PhD level trainers, but some have a Masters Degree. She said it's hard for them to keep trainers with graduate degrees however, because they can't afford to pay much. (We would pay $50. an hour for the trainers, but much of that is eaten up by overhead). So I asked what the minimum qualifications for trainers are. The answer floored me. Trainers are only required to have a GED, preferably with some work experience. 

What?! 

Why would I pay $50. an hour for someone with no qualifications to come into our home and work with M? (shaking my head in puzzlement) That's just crazy! 

 I also called another organization that I've been avoiding for years. It's director, a psychologist, called me several years ago and asked me to come and train his staff on FASD. I said I would but ended up having an emergency with M and having to cancel (not last minute, I gave him some notice). I offered to reschedule but he was really snippy about it, and wouldn't reschedule the training. I've hesitated to call this organization, even though they provide in-home services, because I figured they wouldn't have called me to train if they knew more than I do about FASD. That was several years ago though (and I'm running out of places to call), so I decided to give them a call. The same psychologist/director who had been so snippy to me answered the phone (hmmm... no receptionist, money must be tight over there). I didn't tell him who I was, just asked about the services they offer. He was arrogant and borderline rude in answering my questions and started the conversation by saying they work with many, many, kids just like M. (With the attitude of how could I be so stupid to even ask that question!) When I said that I was surprised by that because childhood onset schizophrenia is so rare, and having it co-occurring with FAS is even rarer, he questioned the schizophrenia diagnosis, saying it might not be accurate. He was so full of himself he was funny, and I couldn't help pushing his buttons a little... asking questions specific to FASD and, when he answered arrogantly and patronizingly (while at the same time showing his ignorance), calling him on it. Finally he stated that he "knew of no reason why specific interventions are needed for FASD" (versus other developmental disabilities) I thanked him, told him I'd found out all I needed to know, and hung up. 

 Hmmm... maybe I should call back and offer to train him and his staff! ;) It sounds like they need it... 

 I'm still finding mostly dead ends in my search for supports and services for M, but I am learning more about what's out there, and it's been a good reminder to me that what we are doing some good stuff here at home. Our "program" is looking pretty good compared to the "real" programs I've found out there! 

 We work at the library tomorrow morning, and have a co-op class afterwards. I'm hoping it warms up, the class is at the park and a little sunshine would be very nice! The kids will be learning how to use a Chinese jumprope, so it ought to be exciting. :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

long catch up post...

The past week has been a busy one... 

I've spent it trying to get caught up around the house, talking to potential service providers, and getting ready for M's birthday party. 

I finally finished a couple of outside projects that have been half done for awhile... 

One of them was a stone and mulch path around the back of the house. It was an area that always got muddy, and the mud always ended up on my kitchen floor. (grumble, grumble) This was a project I'd wanted to do since we moved in, but it's taken a while to figure out just how to do it. I ended up driving to Elizabeth (next town over) where they have a large town park full of huge evergreen trees. The kids and I raked under these massive trees and loaded up all the pine needles (filling every trash can and big barn bucket we have!) and brought them home. I used the needles as the "bed" for the flagstone I used for the trail, and for mulch around the stones. It worked better than I expected it too, and I'm already planning another trip to Elizabeth to get more mulch for my next project. Here's how the trail turned out:

 

The border to the right of the flagstone is just cedar mulch right now, but I'll probably plant it next spring. I think I'm going to fill it with some tall ornamental grasses... 

I also got the gardens weeded, and planted some Rose of Sharon out front. Unfortunately the deer seem to think the Rose of Sharon is delicious, so I've had to start covering them every night to keep the deer from eating them down to nothing! 

Also, this past week, we got some changes done in our fencing. This is something I've wanted done for ages, but I couldn't find anyone to do the work at a price we could afford. Finally, a few weeks ago, we found a couple of guys willing to do the work as a side job, at a very reasonable price. We had them move two sides of our little pasture fence. It takes some space away from Grant and the goats, but overall it works much better. 

Here are before and after pics (sorry, the only before picture I could find is one I've already posted...).  

Now the front yard will go down the hill, to where the new fence is. The garden is out of the pasture now (away from the pumpkin eating goats!) and the trail to the barn is also out of the pasture (no more manure on the trail...). 

I had them put the fence close to the trail, because, during and after blizzards, it helps to have the fence to hold onto when slogging through the snowdrifts, and I've left a 10' gap between the garden fence and the pasture fence so we still have drive through access to the big pasture. We still have to remove the old fence posts. We'll reuse some of those posts, and the old gate, to fence in my big front garden. It just has field fencing around it now (which the deer can easily jump over if they see something that looks especially yummy!) so we'll replace with chain link. (I know it's ugly, but it's what we have to work with...) 

This morning as I was getting ready to go to the barn to feed, I heard the funniest little noise from the backyard. It took me a minute to place the noise, but then I realized it was a fawn. I looked out the window and saw a tiny spotted fawn trapped in our backyard. It was running up and down the fence, crying for it's mother. I ran for the camera but just as I got back outside, it found it's way back down the fence and through the open gate. It quickly bounded away, back to mom, and I took this family picture.

 

Unfortunately my time on the phone this past week was much less productive then my time outside... So far each of the leads I've found for in-home service providers has turned out to be a dead end. The providers are full of endless excuses why they can't work with M. I think one therapist I spoke to a week ago was probably right, most people are afraid to work with someone as challenging as M. I mean really, why would anyone want to take on a child like M, when there are tons of less complicated kids they can fill their schedules with? I'm starting a new round of phone calls this week, not so much because I expect anything to come of it, but just so I can know I did everything I could to find support for him. 

M's birthday was yesterday, and we celebrated on Sunday with his "potluck party". He loves trying all the different kinds of food that people bring, and he REALLY loves being the reason for all the fuss. It was a good day, I hired a one-on-one aide to be with him so I didn't have to try to watch him constantly, while hostessing at the same time... It worked really well, but unfortunately the person I hired isn't available to help out on a regular basis. 

Well, the sun's up and the animals are yelling for breakfast... and I'd better post this before it gets any longer! Have a good day....

Monday, August 13, 2007

What's for dinner?

My sister has tagged me... 

For some reason she wants to know what's on the menu at my house. 

If this sounds better then what you're having J, should I plan on setting a place for you at the table?! I'm happy to, but only if you bring your pickle recipe with you! :)  
So.... here's our menu (dinner only), it relies heavily on the garden this time of year.... 

Monday: Grilled chicken salad. The salad is lettuce, tomato, carrot and cucumber from the garden, with one can of corn and one can of black bean mixed in (both drained of course), and a little shredded cheese on top. We use salsa as the salad dressing... 

Tuesday: Hamburger/zucchini casserole with marinated cucumbers 

Wednesday: pizza (take and bake from Sams!) 

Thursday: homemade "chipotle" burritos (grilled chicken, black beans, rice with cilantro mixed in, cheese, sour cream etc), applesauce 

Friday: Grilled hamburgers, chips and sliced tomatoes Saturday: mexican hamburgers... (tortilla filled with burger cooked on the grill, refried beans, cheese, sour cream etc, smothered with green chili, with chopped tomatoes and lettuce on top Sunday: BBQ chicken, potato salad, parmesan zucchini

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Is anyone else confused?

After reading Renee's comment, I thought I'd better clarify some things...  Renee left a very sweet comment, which read in part:

"I know that M. O. really appreciates all the info you’re able to give her from experience, but I know that we all wish you didn’t have so much experience in dealing with this."

 M.O. is a dear friend and a wonderful mother who has been struggling with social service's involvement in her life. I've tried to help by offering suggestions based on my experiences with social services. Any help I've been able to give M.O. in dealing with the situation she's in has come from my years of working with social services.

I was a foster parent (off and on) for more than five years and later,  I worked with the various county social service agencies for almost another five years... training caseworkers, case aids, and foster and adoptive parents. I drove all over the state (often bringing the kids with me) to train. Two years in a row I trained at the annual meeting of the foster care coordinators, and I presented at several conferences attended primarily by social workers and counselors. Through these experiences I learned a lot and I was able to get a peak "inside" how the system works. These are the experiences I draw on when I'm asked a question about how social services works...

The concerns I've had recently with social services have different.  The reality though is that VERY few children as severely disabled as M is are living at home, and almost none are homeschooled. Because we are breaking new ground in many ways I'm having to demonstrate that this can be done... There has never been any allegations made against us, although there has been concern expressed about whether or not it's possible to maintain a child like M in the home, ESPECIALLY when homeschooling full time and having no in-home supports or services.

Friday, August 10, 2007

inhale

I feel the air move through my nose and into my lungs. My lungs effortlessly fill and it feels wonderful. I think it's the first full breath I've taken in a week. 

After a very scary few days, when it appeared as though social services was becoming "officially" involved in M's care, it looks as though that isn't going to happen. I had visions of them questioning our homeschooling... insisting that I put him in school (what a nightmare that would be, after 8 years at home!), or a day treatment or residential program. I was thinking it might be time to hire a lawyer.

I haven't slept much this week... There is apparently no confidentiality when dealing with social services (a fact I used to know back when we were foster parents, but have somehow forgotten since then) and finding that one of the caseworkers I was talking to was "copying" her emails to me about M to someone at county sheriff's department was extremely disconcerting (ok, it was downright scary!) but as it turned out she had good intentions. She wasn't trying to report us or imply any wrong doing on our part... She just didn't know we already have a CIT officer, and was trying to line one up for us. I disagree with her methods but I let the lapse in confidentiality go, figuring at least there was no harm done, and sometimes it's best not to rock the boat, especially when you are so close to shore... (and being able to leave the boat behind!)

The county social service workers I've spoken to this week seem like they are trying to be very helpful, and they have given me information that has led to finding what looks like some good resources for M. It wasn't until this afternoon though, that I started breathing a little easier and thinking that maybe things could actually get back to normal again here soon.

It's funny how wonderful "normal" is after coming so close to losing it...

I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off and I can breathe again, and look into the future... like tomorrow or next week... and make plans that I actually feel confident about being able to keep.

  From a book I'm reading: Happiness equals reality divided by expectations. My happiness has increased dramatically, even though the reality of life hasn't changed (M is still unpredictable, symptomatic, and in need of constant care). What has changed are my expectations... We were at risk of losing M, and now that danger seems to be fading. I like this equation, I've never quite thought of happiness in a mathematical way before... 

Ahhhh.... normal is wonderful.

  The next time I complain about normal, please slap me...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

It's been a long and challenging few days... 

Last weekend started happily with plans to celebrate R's anniversary. Nine years ago Sunday, R officially came to our house to live. We don't celebrate the date our kid's adoptions were final, instead we celebrate the day each of them came to live with us...their anniversary... since that's really the date they became part of our family. Her sisters came home from college for the day and we make plans to eat at Gunther Toody's (a great 50's diner) and then go see "Hairspray". We had a great time, and we all loved the movie... although (LOL) I don't think R ever really believed me that Tracy's "mom" in the movie was really a man (John Travolta) in women's clothing. 

When we got home we were all out on the front porch when DD#2 (who had been a dance major at School of the Arts) decided to teach R some of the dance moves R had been so impressed with in the movie. After fussing at DD#2 to be careful not to hurt her sister, I gave up and just let them go... R bonked her head a couple of times but did manage some pretty good flips as well! 

Getting ready... (R needed to stand on the flowerpot to be tall enough for the flip)

 

Then they linked arms, bent their knees, and...

 

...over she went!

 

That led to DD#2 giving M some impromptu tango lessons.... I think they made a pretty good couple.

 

Unfortunately things have gotten complicated again since Sunday... 

M's pdoc is once again thinking it may not be possible for us to continue to care for him at home. So I've spent the past two days on the phone, trying to line up (and find funding for) some in-home support for M. If I can show the pdoc we have that kind of support in place I think she'll relax a little and leave things alone. I'll be feeling unsettled for awhile though, she's notified the county that she has concerns about M continuing to live in the community, so once again I'm half waiting for a phone call from social services, asking to come out so they can check the situation out. 

When I went out to the barn tonight to feed the animals, the sun was just setting... and it was just beautiful! The sky turned from brilliant orange, to dusky gray, and finally, to dark...



Saturday, August 4, 2007

Awesome Day!

Yesterday was just a wonderful day... 

We bowled in the morning with R's Girl Scout troop, and had a wonderful time. R worked on getting the hang of throwing the ball (without making it bounce!).

 

And was fascinated by the ball return....

 

M got a strike and did a happy dance (actually he happy-danced after every turn, but after his strike it was especially happy!). Sorry the picture is a little blurry, he was moving pretty fast...

 

Guess where R was? That ball return never did lose it's allure...

 

In the afternoon we headed across the street to help our neighbor with a sewing project. She's making felt poodle skirts, one for each girl invited to her daughter's birthday party. (Yes, her parties tend to be full fledged extravaganzas!) She bought the pattern, felt and poodle appliques for the skirts but.... doesn't know how to sew. So the kids played and watched movies while I adjusted the pattern, and showed Steph how to pin it on and cut it out. It was sooooo nice to do something "normal". I haven't sewed much in years.... really since shortly after we got M. But it felt so good to be accomplishing something concrete... something easy and uncomplicated, something I know how to do, and helping a friend at the same time. 

M did well during the time we were at her house, and R and Steph's daughter played happily the whole time we were there. Steph has 9 skirts to make, so she'll cut them all out this weekend, then I'll go back and teach her how to use the sewing machine to put them together. As we walked home from Steph's it was lightly sprinkling and the sky was dark. Luckily the rain held off until we were home. It rained hard then though, and I stood out on the porch and just enjoyed the cool, fresh, wet smell of the rain.

 

After the rain, we did some school. M seems to suddenly have "lost" a significant amount of academic material he previously knew. We're not sure why the sudden problems with cognition, but I need keep track of what's going on and doing school is the easiest way to measure how he's doing cognitively. I'm planning on doing our regular schedule of "sit-down" school at least three times a week for awhile (even though we really could keep a more relaxed schedule for another month or so) just to keep track of M's thinking. This is another time I'm so glad we're homeschooling... This kind of sudden loss of skills would be missed (at least for awhile) if he were in regular school and out for the summer, and might be missed completely if the teacher didn't know him well, or attributed the loss to summer break. 

School time yesterday was a joy... both kids did well, with almost no whining or complaining! M seemed to be thinking a little more clearly and R showed me that she can count all the way to 100 by 2's. This is a big accomplishment for her, something she's been working on for a while (and gotten very angry and frustrated about!). It's interesting... she often can't see the "pattern" to things. She can count by ten's to hundred and by 2's to ten very easily, but to combine the two... repeating the 2,4,6,8, sequence preceded by the 20, 30, 40... sequence has been very difficult for her. That trouble seeing the "big picture" is an FAS thing, something I've known about for years and taught others about in the trainings I used to do. But it still takes me by surprise sometimes when I see how it impacts her learning. So anyway... I was VERY happy to see that R had mastered that skill and to see how proud she was of herself... We had a quiet evening, watching a silly movie together, then playing a game (Sequence... a real favorite of ours!) before bed.


I love days like yesterday... If I could somehow record it and replay it from time to time, I would. But since I can't I'll just have to blog about it and save it this way.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Picture post...

Since nothing very exciting is going on here (although that alone is pretty exciting to me!) I decided to do a picture post of our day...

The day started with a beautiful sunrise, one I just had to take a picture of, and one thing led to another and pretty soon I was taking pictures of everything... (I need to get S back, I obviously have waaaay too much time on my hands!)

Here's how the day started... 5:30 a.m. and a breathtaking sunrise. (It made me think of the song "Morning Has Broken", which I've been humming ever since this morning.)



  Then out to do the outside chores before M wakes up. The garden was watered...



  ...the animals were fed.....



  ...and their pen cleaned.



  Then we were back inside for the inside chores. (Which aren't nearly as much fun!)



  (much better... don't you think?)



  R and I spent some time this morning playing with a June bug we found. She was afraid to let it touch her at first, but when she saw me touch it she decided maybe it wasn't too scary. We learned that June bugs are a kind of scarab beetle (Who knew? I love the internet!) and decided we might just have to do a quick insect unit study! :)





I had to hurry to get M's blood drawn before the courier came to take it to the hospital. M is so used to finger pokes that he makes it easy, and we even got done with a few minutes to spare!





  After lunch and "quiet time" we worked outside for a bit, got a little school done...



  .... then hit McD's for dinner before heading out to softball practice. (M and R really are in this picture, they are both wearing white shirts.)



After softball it was home and into bed. 

This is where I should put a nice picture of tonight's sunset... Unfortunately, I was busy feeding the animals and putting the kids to bed and totally missed the sunset. 

I'm sure it was beautiful... but since I didn't get a picture of it, I'm going to cheat. This is a sunset picture I took last month. (and I'm sure this evening's sunset was almost the same! LOL)