Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Bible, According to Pepper

This afternoon I was sitting at my craft table cutting quilt pieces. Snapper was reading in her room, and Pepper had been playing out in the patio. All of a sudden, I heard his sweet little voice speaking from behind the couch. I turned to look, and saw that he had on his puppet, Partner, and was using the couch as a puppet stage. After about 10 seconds of listening, I jumped up and tiptoed over to the computer to transcribe his monologue. This was one of those rare opportunities I have to capture brilliant pieces of life, and I am so glad I didn't miss it. Matt has the video camera at the office, or I would have recorded the puppet show that way.

"Hi there, boys and girls. Welcome to the Bible Show with Partner. I'm Partner and it is time for you to learn about the Bible. So listen up, boys and girls, because there's going to be a test. God makeded Adam and Eve and they lived in a perfect garden. They didn't have some clothes back then, so Adam and Eve had to hide in the bushes all the time so nobody could see their you-know-what. And a snake came that was really Satan and makeded them eat an apple. But God told them not to eat it or they will die, so they were disobeying God. He was really mad and makeded them go out into the dirty, mean world. And Noah builded an ark because God telled him to, and he took lots of animals on the ark, even dinosaurs, and God flooded the world. After the flood, He sent a dove and a rainbow. And Ruth's husband died. Her and Naomi went on a trip, and Ruth went and gotted to take food from Boaz's field. Ruth was Jesus's great-great-great-great-great-infinity grandma. Jonah was on a pirate ship trying to be a pirate and run away from God. It got real stormy. and God wouldn't stop the storm. So the pirates throwed Jonah into the ocean and a whale came and ate him. He was in the whale's tummy for 3, 3 days. He prayed and God is everywhere so God heard Jonah praying.Then the whale barfeded Jonah up, and Jonah never disobeyed God again. And Mary had a baby in her tummy that God put there. And Joseph married her. And their baby was born in a stable in Bethlehem. His name was Jesus. And Jesus is God and Jesus is God's Son. And shepherds came. And a big star. And angels. And wiseguys. It was the coolest night ever! Zaccheus stole all the money. He was little and he climbed a tree to see Jesus. Jesus grew up and did no sins, so He died on the cross. He died on the cross for all our sins because everybody sins. And Jesus was dead. And then 3 days later, He roseded from the dead. Someday I'll see Him in Heaven because He is my Savior. He can be your Savior too if you ask Him to save you. He saveded my life when I was dying in the pond so I know He is real. Jesus forgaveded my sins and saveded me forever. I hope you were listening, boys and girls. Now you have to take a test. That's all for Partner. Bye!"

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Grand and Lorious Plan

My kids are riding the school bus this year. It was a big decision...Not! After a week of spending 90 minutes in the car each day driving the *one mile* to and from school and waiting through traffic and car lines, we opted to try the bus. Because our kids would have to walk along a very busy road to get to school, we're eligible for bus service, even though we're only a mile away. There is only one stop between our house and school, so they're only on the bus for about 10 minutes each way. It works out great for us, and they love it. Yesterday I learned that they use those 10 minutes on the way home to plan their afternoon. Yesterday when I picked them up at the bus stop, they were bursting with their plan.

Snapper: "Mom, we have a grand and glorious plan!"
Pepper: "Yup! A grand and lorious plan."
Me: "Sounds exciting! Let's get home and we can sit together and you can tell me all about your plan."
On the 1-minute drive home, I heard that Snapper and her friend C stay in at lunch to sharpen all the pencils and clean the whiteboard because they want to serve their teacher. I also heard that Pepper had to move his star today because he was touching one of his friends when they were in line for the drinking fountain. Apparently this teacher is serious about "keep your hands and your feet to yourself."
Once at home, they unpacked their lunchboxes while I scooped a dish of ice cream for each child. Every now and then it's nice to have a break from their traditional after-school fruit and cheese snack. We gathered together around the table to hear "The Plan."

Snapper: (takes a deep breath, sighs dramatically, places both hands on the table) "Our plan really is grand and glorious. We have decided that we are tired of fighting every day."
Pepper: (vigorously nodding) "Yup. We're tired of fighting. We love each other and we want to get along."
Snapper: "So today we are going to try something. We are going to do our homework. Then, we are going to go in Pepper's room and I will help him clean it."
Pepper: "We'll clean my room together. Then I'll help Snapper clean her room."
Snapper: "Then, as a reward for our hard work, I will put my Irish music on my cd player. I'll put Pepper's favorite song on repeat, and we will dance together." Pepper's favorite song also happens to be Snapper's favorite song, too...
Pepper: "And we'll dance until the cows come home." Where did he get that? I don't think Matt or I have ever said that...
Snapper: "And we will not be mean to each other."
Pepper: "Yup, we're not allowed to be mean. We'll only be very nice. I'll give Snapper lots of hugs."
Snapper: "And I won't push him away when he tries to hug me."
Pepper: "And we won't do anything without permission."
Snapper: "He means he won't come in my room without knocking, and I won't sneak in his room to borrow his toys without asking him."
Pepper: "And we'll all be one big, happy family."
Snapper: "Yup. One big happy family."
At this point Pepper whimpers like a puppy, bolts from his seat to Snapper's seat, and falls into her arms crying. She starts crying. And I finish off my ice cream while my two kids cling to each other and howl. I am still not sure how I managed to keep a straight face. OH THE DRAMA!!! These kids are running on the school's cross-country team this year. I'm wondering if I should put them in theater instead...
When I kissed their sweet, sleeping faces on my way to bed last night, I realized that they had successfully carried out their plan. Not an ounce of argument was heard in our house yesterday. I hope they bring home the same plan today, because I'm loving it!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

ADD: Snapper's Story

I love Snapper. She will turn 9 in a few weeks. She is sweet, compassionate, and intelligent. If I could bottle her energy and sell it, I would make a fortune. The kid could (and has) run 1.5 miles at school, then gone on to swim a mile at swim team, and comes home full of energy and ready to ride her bike or roller skate. Ten months ago, after years of frustration and struggle to follow directions and complete simple tasks, Snapper was diagnosed with ADD. 

We conferenced with her teacher, filled out a pile of paperwork, and met with her pediatrician. We made diet modifications and decided to put her on a low dose of medication to allow her brain to function better. Our goal was not to calm her down, but to allow her to function in such a way as to reach her full potential. We experienced some bumps as we tried to find the right interventions and medication dosage for her. Ten months later, we have finally found the perfect balance. The combination of a high protein, low sugar, complex carb-rich diet, coupled with intense exercise, intervention at school, and the right dosage of her medication has turned Snapper's life in a totally different direction. Though her ADD symptoms have been present since she was 3, they really began to interfere with her everyday life when she was 6. It all came to a head a year ago. At the beginning of last school year, a simple math worksheet would take an hour for Snapper to complete unless I was sitting with her, coaching her through it. When she did complete it by herself, it was full of errors. Writing assignments caused a torrent of tears, and could take as long as two hours. The prospect of taking a test gave her an upset stomach. Her teacher often described her as being frantic. Cleaning her room was torture. I couldn't even have her unload the dishwasher because her head was always in the clouds, and she would drop dishes. It was difficult to have a conversation with her because she would change the subject so frequently, and left thoughts hanging. She even used to regularly get in the shower with her socks or underwear still on. 

Life is different for Snapper now. Every day she comes home from school, unpacks her lunchbox, gets a healthy snack, tells me about her day, and settles in to do her homework. Last Thursday she calmly told me that her class had taken a diagnostic math test, and she had "quite enjoyed it." Yesterday she started with math, which was 2 pages. After she knocked out the math, she pulled out her book, set the timer, and read for 20 minutes. Then she got out her reading notebook and wrote a full-page log of what she had read. She used her dictionary to look up two new vocabulary words, which she copied into her notebook. Then she put her papers in the proper place in her binder, packed her books and binder in her book bag, cleaned up her space, and headed to her room. Without help. Not even a peep from me. Independently completed her homework in 1 hour. When I checked her math paper, she had not made a single mistake. Her reading log--which isn't due until Friday--was beautifully done. No tears, no struggle, no frustration, no errors.

Over the last week, Snapper had made a huge mess of her room. This always happens if I don't step in and make her clean it up every day. I let it slide this week, and it was really a pit. Historically, when her room has gotten this bad (because of my neglect) I will tackle it myself. The amount of mess she had in there would have been enough, a year ago, to crumple her into a heap on the floor in tears of total overwhelmed-ness, and she just could not do it. An hour and a half after she entered the pit yesterday, she called me in. This is what I found.

All her clothes neatly folded and organized on the shelves. Not a toy or earring or scrap of trash on the floor. I opened drawers. I checked corners. I snooped and poked and prodded. And guess what? Everything in that bedroom was put away in its proper place. It is neat, organized, and clean. She even dusted and vacuumed! I'm telling you, it's a miracle. She has come so far! I am so thankful for a good doctor, for great books to educate Matt and me about the specifics of ADD, and for successful interventions on Snapper's behalf. Snapper's self-esteem took a major boost yesterday, and she is loving life.

*Lest I make this process sound like it has been simple, let me assure you that this is not the case. The decision to put her on medication was a very difficult one. But as our pediatrician put it, if someone has poor eyesight, you get them glasses. If a child has cancer, you get treatment. If Snapper's brain is constantly in chaos because it doesn't function as it should, you get help for her, even if help comes in the form of medication. It took us three tries to find the right dosage, and the times when the dosage was wrong were hard for Snapper. Too low a dose just took the edge off. Too high a dose made her nervous, jumpy, fearful, and tearful. But now we've hit the sweet spot. Snapper will tell you that she can turn off the noise in her head. Her thoughts don't get sucked into space. She doesn't constantly feel like she's forgetting something. When she tries to focus, her brain does what she tells it to do. She isn't always nervous anymore. When she looked at the mess in her room, she automatically came up with a plan to conquer it, and it became a challenge, not a nightmare. 
Difficult process? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely!

Project 365: Week 22

It's Meet the Teacher Day at the kids' new school. Snapper is excited to have Mrs. N for homeroom, writing, math, and science. She has Mrs. H for reading, language arts, and social studies. She has a third teacher for gifted. Busy girl! Pepper can hardly wait to start kindergarten. His biggest concern is whether or not there will be any adorable girls in his class...

Spider-man and Spider-girl. Pepper and his friend A love to dress up. I think Pepper especially loves this girl because she enjoys his collection of boy toys. She even has her own Optimus Prime costume! A is one cool little chickie! 

A's big sister S is Snapper's best girl friend. They love to be together.

First day of kindergarten and 4th grade 

Mr. Tough Guy reading...Cinderella? LOL!!!

Look at what Pepper is holding. Uncle Paul and Auntie Jessica sent him a bag of plastic bugs for his birthday. It was the most perfect gift, because he loves those bugs and plays with them every day. He is holding a grasshopper he named Popper. Look carefully at what Matt is holding. It is a real grasshopper that I named Goliath, because it is as big at the over-sized fake Popper that Pepper has! Yikes!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Project 365: Week 21

Our new town has a monthly farmers' market. We celebrated being back in town by making a morning trip to the market. 

Snapper's swim team had a year end party and awards ceremony. She had fun bowling with 5 of her favorite teammates. We are very proud of Snapper for earning the Spirit Award for the team. She also won a high point trophy--a big accomplishment when you take into consideration how many girls are in her age group in Central Florida! 

There are lots of chickens roaming free through our town. These chickens make their home outside the library.

Snapper and Daddy spent some time online researching our family history. 

Pepper wears his helmet when he rides his hoppity-hop. Mr. Safety Patrol! 

This was an epic battle between Darth Daddy and Jedi Pepper! 

Pepper turned 5 when we were on our road trip, and I didn't get the opportunity to take his portraits during his birthday week. So this year's portraits were done one month late. Happy belated birthday to my 5-year-old boy!

Monday, August 22, 2011

And He Laughed!

My little Pepper boy loves books. He loves to sit with a pile of books, enjoying the illustrations. He loves to have books read to him. He does not, however, understand the importance of learning phonics. Yes, he wants to read independently...when he is 6, he says. But the fact of the matter is that children are now taught to read in kindergarten, and he is 5, not 6. The time to learn is now. So every day when Pepper comes home from school, we sit down together and spend 20 minutes working on reading. We have developed a nice routine. When I homeschooled Snapper in 1st grade, I used the Spalding Method to teach phonics and spelling. This method gave her a wonderful foundation, and she has been very successful in those subjects. Because of the success Snapper enjoyed, I have been working on phonics with Pepper at home.

Pepper's teacher sent home a list of the most frequently used words in the English language. Every day we read through a few sections of the list. Pepper does not enjoy reading the words. He does, however, perk right up when he finds those words in his books later. Together he and I have made flashcards of the phonograms he is encountering in the words on his word list. As of today, 6 days into school, Pepper can read the following phonograms and can identify the sounds they represent:
oo  wh
ee   ing
ay   ng
oy   tch
er   ow
ar   sh
or   th
We will continue to add more phonograms every day. I know (from experience) that understanding these will help him to become a much stronger reader and speller.

Every day after we finish his word list and phonograms, we apply that knowledge by reading an easy book together. He has gotten to be a much more confident reader after only a week of working on this together. I look forward to the day when it "clicks," and he can understand why we work on phonics together. I think the "clicking" began today. We were reading our book, and he encountered the word "playing." He gasped, pointed at the word and said, "There's ing! That word is play-ing!" I love those moments.

Our book today was Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems. It is a hilarious story of an elephant and a pig who are playing catch, when a snake friend asks to join their game. The snake exerts noble effort, despite the fact that he doesn't have arms. Pepper read (without protest) almost the entire book. And throughout the whole story, he laughed, and laughed, and laughed. Even now, a half hour later, he has taken the book to his room and he is reading it to himself, chuckling. If you have little kiddos, go check out this simple book from the library. You are certain to enjoy a good laugh, too.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Project 365: Week 20

Day 1 in Wyoming. Matt and Brad were roommates in college, and we look forward to visiting Brad and Amy whenever we can. It is really fun to see our kids enjoying each other.

Snapper loved Brad and Amy's dogs. They are too cute!

Back in Little Rock, we got to meet with our community group from our church there. Bob and Sylvia are precious friends who happen to be some of our very favorite people. Sylvia was Pepper's Cubbies leader during Awana 2 years ago, and he adores her.

We stayed with friends Scott and Jenny and their four sweet girls. They are coming to visit us in December, and I am counting down the days!

Homeward bound!

 We spent the night in Hattiesburg, MS, and then had breakfast with my high school friend Christian. We have only seen each other one other time since his graduation, so it was awesome to catch up with him.

Another day on the road.

On our last morning, we stopped and swam at Panama City Beach in the Florida panhandle. I had planned on doing portraits of the kids, but the humidity was so ridiculous that my camera completely fogged up. So I was stuck using my phone camera, which just doesn't cut it for me. Bummer! The saddest part of the day was seeing the evidence of the Gulf oil spill. While everything looks okay, the water has a foul smell, and there are tiny oil droplets clinging to the bits of seaweed in the water. When we were searching for shells in the water, we found some tar balls. When we went back to our hotel to shower, we realized that our skin was oily, and it took hard scrubbing to get our skin clean. So, so sad.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Project 365: Week 19

Halfway through our conference, every ministry was given two days to meet individually. Because our team is so small, we decided to use our time to build our friendships, rather than having meetings. The 5 of us spent a beautiful day eating at fun, local places and enjoying scenic Rocky Mountain National Park.

Meanwhile in California...Snapper got to be the first of our family to meet the newest cousin, Baby A.  

While Matt and I were in our conference, Pepper got to go to Kids' Camp. He loved every bit of it, except for the "forever long nap" (30 minutes) each afternoon.

Meanwhile in California...Snapper got to have a sleepover with my Auntie Maggie. AM is my mom's sister, and she is the important link my kids have with their Grammy. Since my mom isn't here to know her grandkids, AM is substitute Grammy.

Every year, the conference team brings in a few big-name performers for the staff to enjoy. This year, we were treated to performances by Tenth Avenue North, The David Crowder Band, and our favorite, Tim Hawkins. We got second row seats, which were fabulous. It was also a bit gross, though, because Tim Hawkins sweats like nobody I've ever seen.

Meanwhile in California...Snapper got to have a sleepover with my sister, Auntie Jenny, and Uncle Daniel.

On Sunday, we took Pepper up to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Our intent was to take him to Frontier Days, but a flat tire and a tornado warning thwarted our plans. We ended up seeing a movie and buying a cowboy hat for Pepper instead. And I got this awesome photo of my guys!

Meanwhile in California...My best friend Noel drove 3 hours to spend the day with Snapper. Snapper will always cherish her memories of the day the two of them spent together at the beach and the Boardwalk.

She is back! After 9 days apart, we were very happy to get our girl back.

Our conference finished on the 16th. On the 17th, we drove up into northeastern Wyoming to visit our good friends Brad and Amy. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Project 365: Week 18

On our last night in Little Rock, we stopped for frozen custard at our very favorite place, Shake's. I'm telling you, there is nothing more wonderful on a sultry summer evening than a concrete made of chocolate frozen custard with crushed Reese's cups mixed in. Oh. My. YUM!

This road day through Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas was made much more fun by caravaning with our dear friends Jim & Karon and their three kids. We had lunch at Braum's, stayed in a hotel with a pool, and enjoyed dinner together.

The kids were thrilled to add cross another new state off their "States Visited" list. At ages 5 (Pepper) and 8 (Snapper), these kids have been in 30 U.S. states!

After a great night with friends, we headed to CSU Ft. Collins for our staff conference.

July 18th. With pounding heart and sweating palms, I put my precious daughter on a plane by herself. I couldn't hold back the tears as she walked down the jet bridge. As required by the airline, I stayed at the gate until her plane took off. It's a good thing I did, because after 20 minutes of sitting on the tarmac, the plane returned to the gate with a major mechanical problem. Southwest is amazing, though. They got everyone off the plane, moved us to another gate, and brought in another plane. No frantic struggle trying to get everyone re-booked onto different flights. No one was bumped. After a 2-hour delay, the entire flight boarded a different plane, and they took off with no problem. Snapper did great. She sat next to a nice, older lady who comforted her when she got sad about leaving Mommy. Snapper said that she stopped crying as soon as the plane took off.

2 hours later, she ran off the plane and into the arms of my parents. Snapper was spoiled R-O-T-T-E-N during her 9 days in California. We are SO glad we chose to send her to them.

Our conference kicked off on the 19th. There is nothing in the world like worshiping with 5,000 other missionaries. It was beyond words.

Matt got to teach a seminar along with his manager, Kathy. During the seminar, we launched our puppet video blog.  Click on this photo if you want to see the blog! Matt wrote it and is the puppeteer. I recorded it. Oh, and I made the puppet. Pretty cool!

Meanwhile in California...Snapper got to have a sleepover with her beloved cousins C&L. When their mommy Missy and I were kids, we used to love to have sleepovers together. Sometimes our moms would take us on Pajama Rides at night. They would steal us out of our beds, put us in the car, and take us to some wonderful place, like the ice cream parlor, or the toy store, or on drives to see Christmas lights. Missy took the girls on a Pajama Ride for frozen yogurt.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What Makes Me Proud?

On Friday at Meet the Teacher, Snapper's teacher sent home a questionnaire, requesting information about each child in her class. The questions were typical, and were easy to answer. There was, however, one question that was more out of the ordinary.

What makes you proud of your child?

That made me think. What does Snapper do that makes me proud? She has many accomplishments that make me proud. I am proud of her excellent swimming. I am proud of the awards she has won. I am proud of the great memory she has. I am proud of her cuteness. I am proud of the obstacles she has overcome with her poor eyesight and her ADD. I am proud of the sweet relationship she has with her brother. I am proud that when she would walk through the halls of her old school, she was always greeted by children of all ages. But none of those were things I wanted to put down on the form. It got me thinking: what about Snapper am I the most proud of? It didn't take me long to come to my answer.

Snapper has a tremendously compassionate heart. Ever since she was very tiny, she has been drawn to people who have special needs. Whether it means holding the door for an elderly person, befriending a child with a disability, or standing up for the underdog, Snapper reaches out to people in need. At the end of 3rd grade, she even stood up (against two 5th grade boys) for a girl who had relentlessly bullied her all year. Snapper doesn't care what others think of her; she will stand up for what is right, even when it means going against the flow. She joyfully and willingly serves people with special needs. That is what I am most proud of.

At pick-up each day, Snapper goes from her classroom to the K-1st grade car line, where she waits for me with Pepper. When I arrived to pick up the kids today, I was surprised to see Snapper's teacher waiting for me. She came to the car and told me that Snapper had walked into the classroom for the first time this morning, and headed straight over to the little girl in a wheelchair. She immediately formed a friendship with this child, and spent the whole day assisting her. Because the chairs in the cafeteria are permanently attached to the tables, the wheelchair does not easily fit at lunch time. The little girl in the wheelchair asked if Snapper can join her at a separate table for lunch each day. The teacher requested permission, which the principal immediately granted. For the duration of the time this little girl will spend in the wheelchair (a few months), Snapper will be her lunch buddy and classroom aide.

What makes me proud? I am proud that on Snapper's first day in a new school, she reached outside of herself to serve a child who had a need, a child that the other kids overlooked. I wish I could take this particular moment and display it in a trophy case, because it means more than 1000 Awana trophies and swim medals.

First Day of School, 2011

5 years old
Starting kindergarten
3 feet, 8 inches tall
38 pounds
Size 13 shoe, Size 5 slim shorts, Size 5/6 shirts

Three weeks shy of 9 years old
Starting 4th grade
4 feet, 4 inches tall
62 pounds
Size 3 shoe, Size 7 slim shorts, Size 8 shirt

Loving, cuddly, affectionate, friendly, creative, imaginative, funny

Generous, compassionate, kind, friendly, energetic, spunky, smart

Most looking forward to eating lunch at school.
Can't wait to see if there are any "adorable girls" in his class.

Most looking forward to making new friends.
Can't wait to learn about Greek mythology in the Gifted program.

Favorite subject is math.

Favorite subjects are math and science.

Loving each other more and more as they get older.

So happy to be together at the same school this year!

Can't understand why the kids did not come home with me. She kept vigil, sadly meowing at the door, waiting for them to come home, for 2 hours this morning. Now she is my shadow as we adjust to the quiet house together.