Sunday, September 18, 2016

Celebrating Fall

A few weeks ago, I walked outside in the morning to turn on the sprinkler in my garden, and to my surprise, the air smelled different. I can't put my finger on it, exactly. Maybe it was a hint of crispness in the air. Maybe it was that the recently mowed wheat fields were giving off a slightly grassy, dusty scent. Whatever the case, it was faint, but I could just barely smell it: Fall! Once I realized what I was smelling, I stood there in the damp grass, breathing in as deeply as I could while everything inside me wanted to jump up and down and yell for joy!

Fall has always been my favorite season. My mom loved fall and made no secret of it. My childhood memories of fall are filled with apple picking, beef stew, a Saturday morning spent hauling and stacking a winter's worth of firewood, watching football on TV, baking apple pie for my dad's October birthday, and the spicy scent of wet fallen leaves after the rain. Those memories make me feel all cozy and comfortable inside, so I have always welcomed fall with wide open arms.

Then came 2010-2015. Six falls spent feeling miserable in flip flops, air conditioner running, and kids swimming after school. Six falls of humidity, love bugs (if you don't know what they are, look them up), and watching for hurricanes. Six falls of leaving most of my decorations in boxes because it feels ridiculous to hang orange leaf garlands everywhere when the only color on the trees outside is green. Because Florida. Six Florida falls, which are the ultimate insult to an autumn lover like me.

So naturally, that hint of crisp air at the end of August set the joy bells pealing madly in my heart! That was three weeks ago. Today, fall is in full swing here in the Pacific Northwest. My Red Delicious apple tree is loaded to the point of breaking. The north facing sides of trees are turning yellow. At night I'm opening my bedroom window and throwing an extra quilt on my bed, because there's nothing better for sleep than a warm bed with delicious, cold air to breathe! Most evenings, we enjoy a fire in the fireplace...not because we need the warmth, but because it just feels right. I'm experimenting with all different kinds of soups in my Instant Pot. I wear jeans and hoodies morning and evening, but am comfortable in jeans and t-shirt during the day. I LOVE IT!

So what do we do to celebrate my most favorite season? That's easy! There's so much to do!

  • Go for a hike in a state or county park. The weather is perfect and the scenery is breathtaking!
  • Visit one of the fall festivals at the little farm town to our north, where they have hayrides, a corn maze, and homemade pumpkin donuts.
  • Go apple picking (yummy snacking apples, not like our Red Delicious apples at home)
  • Make applesauce out of our Red Delicious apples from home
  • Burn cinnamon candles
  • Put up some favorite fall decor and buy a few new pieces
  • Plant a few pots of mums in pots on the front porch
  • Gather pinecones to put in glass bowls around the house
  • Cook soup and homemade bread!
  • Take photos of the kids in all of nature's glory
  • Buy a new fuzzy hoodie
  • Collect colorful leaves
  • Go to a pumpkin patch and get pumpkins
  • Go to a local farm that lets you press your own apple cider
  • Read by the fire at night
  • Make an apple pie and eat it to celebrate my dad's October birthday
  • Throw the football around with the kids
  • Go to a high school football game
  • Start planning Halloween costumes
  • Start thinking about this year's Christmas crafts
  • Be thankful that I no longer live in the land of 90 degrees in October.
Happy Fall!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Unexpected in September

Last week I went into a meeting with Pepper's school counselor. We were going to discuss his 504 plan, which provides accommodations for his ADHD and for his giftedness. My little guy has been struggling with some pretty intense anxiety the last few months, too, we were going to add some other accommodations as well.

And then came the words I never expected to hear: Pepper has a really unique combinations of quirks and struggles. Have you talked to his doctor about a, b, and c?

A: Pepper is unable to engage in meaningful conversation with his peers unless it is about a topic he is well-versed in. In other words, Pepper lacks some very fundamental social skills, the main being the ability to understand the give and take of normal conversation. This means he has incredible difficulty making friends.

B: Pepper seems unable to integrate the sensory information from his environment. He has to wear noise-canceling headphones in order to work in class. He has to chew on a sensory necklace in order to keep from eating his school supplies. He has to sit on a yoga ball in class to keep from falling out of his chair repeatedly during the day. He has very strong food aversions...all texture related. He also has an extremely low pain threshold. He is easily overwhelmed by all of this and melts down frequently.

C: Pepper has a brilliant mind. He has a photographic memory, a vocabulary that surpasses mine (not exaggerating), and incredible mathematical skills. He is also a speed reader.

As the counselor pointed our A, B, and C, everything just kind of came into focus. All of a sudden, I looked at Pepper and was able to see what the counselor couldn't say.


After a phone call to Pepper's old pediatrician (who was his doctor from when Pepper was 3 until our move in June), I scheduled an appointment with Pepper's new pediatrician. I filled out some paperwork. The doctor talked extensively with Pepper and with me. And we concurred. Pepper is on the autism spectrum.

As I look back at his life, I'm able to see it, and I can't believe I missed it. The signs have been there since he was a toddler. But somehow I missed it.

Pepper has been a hot mess at school. He's anxious all the time. He's frustrated all the time. He's in the clinic and the counselor's office every day. He's performing poorly on schoolwork, which is NOT normal for him. He has had physical anxiety symptoms like crazy, too. Matt and I talked briefly and prayed briefly. The answer was very obvious: time to homeschool Pepper.

Today I withdrew him from school and ordered a bunch of curriculum. I assured the school it has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with the needs of my son. He's going to be getting occupational therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to help him with the symptoms of his autism and anxiety. Not having to pull him out of the classroom for therapy will be greatly to his advantage. And because Pepper is so brilliant, I'm going to be able to provide him with learning opportunities that will match his love of learning and his high intelligence.

On one hand, I'm sad because autism is kind of a big deal, and not what I was expecting. On one hand I'm glad, because now I understand him better and can meet his needs better. And if I had three hands, I'd also add that I'm excited because he's going to thrive as a homeschooler.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Kid Updates: Snapper and Bubbles

I haven't done any updates on the kids in a while. I'm snuggled up on the couch awaiting the next wave of misery from the stomach bug that is making its way through out home. Now is as good a time as any.

Snapper will be turning 14 next month and is just a few weeks away from starting high school. High school, y'all! When I started this blog, she was in kindergarten. Kids grow up so stinking fast. On one hand, I'm sad because the years are ticking by way too fast. On the other hand, I'm delighted because Snapper is a really remarkable young lady, and I am thoroughly enjoying this stage of her life.

Snapper is in the middle of her big growth spurt right now. She was a tiny kid for so many years, but has made up for lost time. She's 5'5" and gaining on me every day. I'm hoping she continues to grow for a while yet, because she needs some height to balance out her size 12 feet. Not joking...she has HUGE feet! Snapper is my very capable right hand around the house. My goal for all of my kids is that by the time they start high school, they will be capable of running the house by themselves. Snapper is fully capable of that. She can do every cleaning task thoroughly and with excellence, including the laundry. She can cook pretty much anything you give her a recipe for. She manages the milking and care of our three goats, and takes care of cleaning the milk for our family. She can make goat cheese, any kind of jam, and this summer I taught her how to can fruit. She maintains our acre of lawn and contributes significantly in the care of our garden. She also babysits with excellence. She is capable and strong.

Snapper will be carrying a full course load in school this fall, taking every honors class that is available to freshmen. She's also auditioning for Jazz Ensemble (vocal) and will be playing volleyball. In her spare time, Snapper loves singing, reading, reading, and reading. She loves to draw anime and is working on her own graphic novel. She loves hanging out with her best friend, whom I'll call Davey. Davey is like Snapper in so many ways, and the two girls have a blast together. Snapper loves spending time with our chickens and goats. She lives and breathes volleyball, and has been running a couple of miles per day to build up her endurance for the volleyball season. She's also chomping at the bit to get involved with the youth group at our new church.

Snapper's personality remains pretty much the same. She is SUPER outgoing and friendly, and doesn't generally care what other people think of her. She stands out in a crowd of kids as the one who is going the opposite direction as everyone else. While her peers don't often know what to make of her, the adults in her life adore her because she is bright, engaging, unique, and is one of the deepest thinkers I've ever met. Snapper is cheerful, selfless, and compassionate. She is the one who will notice the person that no one else sees. She's a champion for the underdog, the awkward, the disabled, and the other marginalized people around her. She still struggles with anxiety, OCD and ADHD, which manifest themselves in scatterbrained-ness, forgetfulness, and quirkiness. But she is doing really well with developing coping skills, and I am confident she will come out on top.

Snapper had long wanted to be a chiropractor, but recently she shifted gears and is leaning toward pursuing a degree in special education. She has an amazing gift for connecting with kids who have special needs. Maybe this comes from having sisters with special needs. I think it is a gift from God. She will be a great advocate for kiddos who need extra support and understanding.

I adore my oldest girl, and and loving watching her blossom into such an amazing person.

Bubbles is quickly closing in on 12 years old, and she is about to start 6th grade. I am so glad that our new school district has 6th grade as part of elementary school! Bubbles missed out on so much time getting to be a kid, that this extra year will be a great benefit for her. Like Snapper, Bubbles is growing like a weed. She is 5'1" and wears a size 9 shoe. The school clothes I just bought for her were the last time I will shop in the children's department for her. Next time we buy clothes, she'll graduate to juniors. 

Bubbles was 7 years old when I became her mommy, and other than the year of training she received from her wonderful foster family, she had no clue about how to live a healthy lifestyle. Hygiene, housework, nutrition, and the most basic of relational skills were totally foreign to her. Because being in foster care--regardless of how wonderful the foster family--puts any child in a state of high alert, they often have difficulty learning. It took a good year after we finalized our adoption for Bubbles to be able to relax and feel safe and secure. It was another year before Bubbles really began to blossom. Now she's making up for lost time. She's nowhere near being able to manage the tasks of a home. She has mastered loading the dishwasher, caring for the cats, and cleaning a bathroom. She can cook macaroni & cheese and brownies without assistance. She takes excellent care of Sweet Pea, and at this time next year, I think she'll be ready to do babysitter certification.

Bubbles really struggles in school. Prenatal substance exposure caused brain damage that profoundly affects her learning. However, Bubbles is the hardest worker I've ever met, and her hard work pays off. She has a strong IEP that gives her the accommodations she needs to succeed. When Bubbles receives a passing report card, we celebrate. Her best subject is writing...but only if she is able to dictate into her iPad, because the physical process of writing is so hard for her. But when she can speak her thoughts, she is incredible. Bubbles excels at athletics. In 15 months of taking gymnastics, she progressed to a Level 4. She has decided not to pursue traditional gymnastics anymore, though, because she hates bars and beam. Instead, she is interested in trampoline & tumbling. She also just finished with a horse vaulting camp, and is trying to decide if she wants to do vaulting (gymnastics on horseback) or tramp & tumble. We'd also love for her to try volleyball and softball at school this year. She has a very stocky, muscular build and Daddy and I think she'd be great at softball. In her spare time, Bubbles loves tumbling, doing arts & crafts, and playing with Snapper, Pepper, and Sweet Pea. She also likes to bake (and eat) dessert and to help me when I cook. 

Bubbles' blog name perfectly describes her personality. She is spunky, bubbly, energetic, and outgoing. She is full of fun and is the life of any party (this can also be read as, "she's really loud!"). Bubbles has experienced tremendous adversity in her life--adversity that would destroy most people. She has consciously chosen, over and over again, to work hard to overcome her past. She is the most courageous person I have ever met. She has an incredibly strong sense of justice, and is quick to stand up for what is right. She is wise beyond her years, and is very humble. If Bubbles struggles anywhere, it is with her tendency to be overbearing. Her persistence serves her very well...she just has to learn how to temper it, because misdirected persistence can come across as bullying and harassing. But those moments are so few...we can almost overlook them. She also tends to be lazy (at everything other than school). But we're working on that! You can't survive on a farm for very long if you're lazy!

Bubbles is not even close to deciding what she wants to be when she grows up. Some days she wants to be a social worker. Other days she wants to be a realtor, a chef, or a athletic coach. I think she'd be great working with kids in some capacity. She connects really well with younger kids and does a great job caring for them.

Because of security concerns, I will not post any photos of Bubbles' face. Here's a photo of her at vaulting camp this week, though! I sure do love this sweet girl.