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Back-to-School Pinspiration

When the school year wrapped up in June, I felt pretty burned out. I was also over my classroom set up and needed to change things–new posters, new room arrangement, and a new view. This summer, I looked to Pinterest for inspiration to revamp my procedures come September. Here is what I’m digging into.

I love some well-placed snark and sarcasm.  Check out Meme Hall and Bathroom Passes and Using Memes to Connect with Students. Every time I use a meme, students actually read its message!

meme_collage

My class rolls for the 2015-16 school year look mighty brutal. The table I use for supplies like pencils (because middle-schoolers NEVER have a freaking pencil), glue sticks, scissors, and paper will have to be commandeered as a student desk. I went to IKEA with some teacher friends this week and bought a Dignitet curtain wire, Riktig clips, and Bygel containers. I’m going to mount the sucker under my whiteboard for easy access to supplies and for hanging awesome work and/or papers missing names. There are so many IKEA hacks on Pinterest, and homeschool resources have amazing ideas for maximizing space and staying organized.

ikea_classroom

I also found these Valbekant sticky notes at IKEA. They only cost $0.49 for a three-pack. These would be awesome to use with an activity center like Tabletop Twitter, having students respond to quotes or primary sources.

valbekant_ikea

Since our students are issued Chromebooks, I also keep an eye on technology resources. Here are a few pins I’m interested in incorporating into my classroom:

Movie Poster Template — Because it’s just cool.

Playing History — So many games, so little time.

SMS Generator — Students create fictional text messages between historical figures.

Tagxedo — These word clouds look incredible!

Tools for Your Paperless Classroom and Google Tech Tools — I already use a few of these apps, but there’s always more to explore. I am going to survey my seventh graders at the beginning of the year to find out what educational/project apps they like using, what they hate, and why.

pinterest_prof_development

Teacher work week officially starts on Monday, but I went to school today to set up my classroom. I bought this Ullgump rug at IKEA to add texture to my room.  I put it under my desk, and all I could think the rest of the day was… “It really ties the room together.”  Thanks, Lebowski.

(Image sources: Pinterest)

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One Perfect Day

We are lucky to have access to camps, sports, and recreational opportunities in our area for children of all abilities. We just spent a couple days in Virginia Beach for Surfers Healing–which is one of the most amazing events I’ve ever witnessed. Hopefully you’ve seen them highlighted in the news. We first heard about the group years ago…

That was before we were also on the autism path. Then last year, parents from Thing 1’s class talked about their experience with the surf camp. I jumped online when the registration link went live and signed up Thing 1 for Surfers Healing. On the surface, it seems like a simple concept: an experienced surfer paddles out tandem with an autistic child to ride waves. Once you see these surfers in action, you are in awe of both their athletic strength and strength of heart. And all the volunteers…volunteers everywhere showing extraordinary patience, compassion, and enthusiasm.  It’s beautiful and poignant and such an awesome sight to see.

This year, we signed up both Things 1 and 2 to surf.

Since we don’t really take vacations, we treated these two nights at the beach like one. Then Murphy’s Law happened…anything that can go wrong, did go wrong. But I have to back up a few days to explain it all.

On Wednesday night, we checked on Thing 1 after he sneaked off quietly to bed to find projectile vomit all over his bedroom. We woke him up to clean and decontaminate, only to watch him puke all over the hallway. A few hours of carpet cleaning later, the house still stunk, but everyone was in bed and resting comfortably. Thursday morning, the sun was shining, birds chirping, and Thing 1 seemed happy with no signs of distress. Thing 2 woke up coughing. Great… But since the cough did not sound horrible, we gave him some cough syrup and hit the road.

We stopped at Busch Gardens and spent a few hours riding roller coasters before continuing on to Virginia Beach. The boys rode the log flume for the first time, but of course it turned into a Thomas & Friends reference…we were on Misty Island, with jumping Jobi logs, looking for Bash, Dash, and Ferdinand. It was a great day, the boys were well-behaved, and we enjoyed family fun time while Thing 3 stayed home with the grandparents.

Busch Gardens Tram

We checked into our hotel Thursday evening, ate dinner, talked about how awesome the next day would be, and went to bed.

That night, Thing 2 woke up, coughing like crazy, gasping for air, and burning up.  We stood outside urgent care when they unlocked the doors Friday morning…except I didn’t have his insurance card, the receptionist would not accept my husband’s card with the same policy numbers, so I called our insurance company to fax a copy of Thing 2’s card before we could register. That removed the “urgent” from urgent care. Thing 2 felt miserable and made sure every staff member knew how upset he was by screaming and kicking and hacking all over them. A couple hours, one negative strep test, and one clear chest x-ray later, I was told it was viral, and we left with a steroid prescription and continued breathing treatments. No surfing for Thing 2. We returned to the hotel where he collapsed and took a nap.

Meanwhile, my husband took Thing 1 to the beach. Last year, Thing 1 was intrigued by the water and activity, but flipped out when it was his turn to surf. The life jacket went on, and he lost it. This year he was cool as a cucumber. Life vest went on and he jumped on the surfboard without hesitation. With Thing 2 sleeping on the sofa and my husband sending me pictures and video, I cried a little. I was so proud of him and bummed to miss it.

There Thing 1 goes…

IMG_7207-e-69314

After napping and meds, Thing 2’s fever broke, and he kept asking to “go to the water.” We ate dinner on the boardwalk and let Thing 2 put his feet in the water.

Surfers Healing VB

Except he did not stop with his feet and jumped into the ocean with his clothes on. Typical.

Thing 1 and I walked to the end of the pier and saw a fisherman hook a shark. That was a little disturbing, but Thing 1 was not phased.

Surfers Healing VB

Surfers Healing Virginia Beach is a two-day camp serving over 400 participants. Felt like a long shot, but I contacted them and asked if Thing 2 could return the next day if he remained fever-free. The response was only one word: “Absolutely.” Thing 2 slept well that night, his cough was not oppressive, and his fever did not return. Saturday morning, we were back at the beach! Like Thing 1 last year, Thing 2 was not a fan of the life jacket. He started crying, but a volunteer scooped him into his arms and carried him to the surfboard. No time for hesitation. I’m grateful for the patience of that volunteer and the surfer–because it took Thing 2 a few minutes to relax. He loves the water, but being around strangers and trying something new was terrifying. Once he got his bearings, the rest was magic.

Surfers Healing VB

Surfers Healing VB

Surfers Healing VB

From there, we headed home via the Jamestown Ferry. It’s funny…take the boys to the beach for two days, and it’s just okay. Put your car on a boat and cross the water, and they are amazed. Needless to say, the Ferry was the piece de resistance.

Jamestown_Ferry

My cell phone rang on the way home. It was the urgent care nurse we saw on Friday. A radiologist and another doctor reviewed Thing 2’s chest x-ray, and it was not so clear after all. He has pneumonia. I don’t think I will win a parenting award letting my pneumonia-infected 5-year-old surf and frolic around the Tidewater, but I guess it was worth it for one perfect day of aloha therapy.

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Spinach Mini-Muffins

All because this lonely jar of baby food took up valuable pantry real estate for too long…

spinach muffins

I tried to donate it, but the food bank does not accept glass containers. I hated the wasteful idea of throwing it away. So into muffins it went.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 6 oz. baby food (I used the jar above, but any flavor/variety will work)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two mini-muffin tins.

In a stand mixer, combine applesauce, baby food, egg, vanilla, sugar, and oil. Separately sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the applesauce mixture and blend until just combined. Scoop the batter into greased mini muffin tins, filling each cup 2/3 of the way. Bake for 12 minutes. Allow to cool and serve to your hungry toddlers! Makes 24 mini muffins.

spinach muffins

Two thumbs up from Thing 3 and his cock-a-doodle-doo hair. The muffins were moist and pretty yummy, if I do say so myself. The dog stole three off the cooling rack when I wasn’t looking, so they are also greyhound-approved.

spinach_muffins

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Why You Should Adopt a Greyhound

Here is your chance to learn about greyhounds, support our local rescue, and save on your next dog food purchase! So keep reading…

We adopted our first greyhound in 2003, before we got engaged or married, before kids, before the minivan and living the suburban dream. Researching breeds, we looked for a young (not a puppy) rescue dog. We wanted a dog with a reasonable level of energy since we were willing to walk daily, but jogging was out of the question. We also looked for a low-shedding breed that would not exacerbate my allergies. Labs, goldens, and shepherd mixes were out of the question. We checked Petfinder and our local SPCA weekly. I don’t remember exactly how greyhounds entered the conversation, but we connected with a greyhound rescue and the rest is history.

We met Dirtywater in October 2003. He was 2-years old and raced at tracks in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The gentleman who ran the greyhound rescue brought him to our house. Dirtywater sniffed the perimeter of our family room, sniffed us, flopped on the floor, and fell asleep. Love at first sight. Obviously, Dirtywater was not an acceptable name, so his forever name became Bocephus. Bo for short. He was the perfect family dog for 11 years–there the day we got married, when we brought three babies home from the hospital, and he had an unspoken relationship with our oldest son that is the stuff of fables. In May of 2014, Bo’s age finally got the better of him.

greyhound_adoption

Most greyhounds around the world are bred for racing; so most adoptable greyhounds are retired racers. Greyhound racing is a dying spectator sport in the United States, and declining revenues means declining track and kennel conditions. Groups like PETA and GREY2K USA exposed multiple accounts of confinement, injuries, and poor breeding practices around the country over the last 10 years. In the end, though, there are still more retiring racers than adopters, and greyhounds are destroyed as a result. When you adopt a retired racer, you gain a family member, friend, and support an international community dedicated to giving these dogs a second chance. Here’s what you should know about the gentle giants:

  • When you adopt an adult dog, you know what you’re getting. They are already full-grown in size and personality. Since race dogs spend their entire lives on tracks and in kennels before retirement, they are not used to living in a home. Glass doors, hardwood floors, and stairs are foreign to them, but they learn quickly.
  • Adult dogs require less work than puppies. Housetraining those dogs already used to a turn-out schedule makes things pretty easy.
  • Greyhounds are quiet indoors, laid back, and love to lounge in their favorite soft spots. They require less exercise than other breeds. There’s a reason greyhounds are called 45-mph couch potatoes, but they can be as active as you are. Adoption groups work tirelessly to match you with the right grey for your lifestyle.
  • Greyhounds are naturally well mannered.  They are quiet, usually compliant, easygoing, and require minimal grooming.
  • For allergy sufferers like myself, greyhounds make great pets because their coats are light, short, low-shedding, and not oily. They groom themselves like cats and do not slobber. No offense to my doodle-owning friends, but there is no such thing as an allergy-free or hypoallergenic dog. Those terms are marketing ploys for the designer dog business. If you want the real scoop on pet allergies, check out the Mayo Clinic or this New York Times article.
  • Greyhounds are a healthy breed. They are bred for physical superiority on the race track, and large-breed problems like hip dysplasia are nonexistent. The biggest time investment you’ll make in their health and grooming is regular teeth brushing.

The books Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies by Lee Livingood and Adopting the Racing Greyhound by Cynthia Branigan detail the ins and outs of adopting, training, and loving these dogs. If you’re interested in adoption, read one of these books!

This year, we adopted our second greyhound. She is 2-years old and raced in Alabama. We described our family dynamic (three young children, two with autism), and the adoption agency screened possible candidates for therapy dog training. Belle arrived in May, skinny and infected with hookworms. She cannot stand to be absent from her family. By family, I mean me. I leave the house and she’s howling at the top of her lungs. I go to the bathroom and she whines at the door. Belle is my shadow–affectionate, sometimes smothering, but she only wants to give and get love. She’s still learning the ropes.

Here is Belle the weekend she arrived, already Thing 2’s skinny and stinky pillow.

greyhound adoption

Fast-forward 10 weeks later, she gained 10 pounds (thanks to a fantastic food from Nature’s Select of Central Virginia), got treated for those nasty hookworms, and sports a fancy new collar.

greyhound adoption

greyhound adoption

When we’re out walking, whether the neighborhood or anywhere else, I field a lot of questions about greyhounds. Since we do not have dog tracks in Virginia, I guess people are not familiar with the industry or the work of adoption groups in our state. If you are looking for a furry family member, I hope you consider adopting a rescue first. Then I hope you check out greyhounds.

We discovered Nature’s Select later in Bo’s life. Bo loved it, and so does Belle! We prefer feeding kibble approved by the Whole Dog Journal; Nature’s Select meets that criteria and made our dogs’ skin and coat look and feel amazing. Buying Nature’s Select, we support a wonderful local family-owned company, and the food gets delivered right to our door. Try it for yourself by ordering your next bag of dog food from Nature’s Select of Central Virginia and use the coupon code HELPGREYS (all caps); you’ll save 15% off your first order, and $1 per bag will be donated to James River Greyhounds.

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Easy Homemade Salsa

I love going to farmers’ markets, and I love that my father-in-law grows and cans tons of vegetables. Summer tomatoes are abundant now, but do you know that tomatoes are one of the most politicized crops ever? At the risk of sounding like a nerd, I’ve been interested in the sources of my tomatoes since I read this article in Gourmet magazine in 2009 that detailed wages and living conditions of Latino farm workers in Florida. Today CBS Sunday Morning showcased a story on the growing demand for “fair food,” and tomatoes are center-stage in this argument. Unless our tomatoes come from my father-in-law’s yard or are in season, we do not eat them. Despite the unholy and unnatural year-long growing season (stepping off my soapbox now), tomatoes do offer excellent health benefits. They are a fantastic source of Vitamins A and C, folic acid, and antioxidants like lycopene, choline, beta-carotene, and lutein.

But holy tomato, Batman, we had the red fruit coming out of our ears. With our last few tomatoes wallowing away in sadness on the counter, I made salsa.

Ingredients:

  • 6 tomatoes, quartered
  • 4 jalapeño peppers, halved (I removed seeds from two peppers)
  • 1/2 of a red onion, quartered
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (that’s about three cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons Wildtree Chipotle Lime Rub
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cups fresh cilantro
  • Juice of half a lime

East Homemade Salsa

Add all the ingredients to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until all ingredients are diced and combined.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed (my husband said it needed more salt…whatever).

I love all things Wildtree, but if you don’t stock their line of seasonings like I do, you can substitute cumin.

Transfer the salsa to your favorite airtight vessel and store in the refrigerator.

East Homemade Salsa

Best enjoyed the next day!

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Happy World Breastfeeding Week!

wbw2015-logo-m

World Breastfeeding Week 2015 is August 1-7.  As someone who had breastfeeding successes (Things 2 and 3) and epic failure (Thing 1), I fully support a woman’s right to feed her baby–however that works for her. But why is breastfeeding awesome? Well, breast milk provides ideal nutrition for infants with all the protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and antibodies a baby needs. Breast milk is easily digested. It’s linked to lower occurrences of asthma, ear infections, SIDS, diabetes, and obesity. Besides the obvious bonding that happens, breastfeeding also burns extra calories, releases the euphoric hormone oxytocin, and lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancers for mothers.

When it works for mother and child, it’s awesome. When it doesn’t go so smoothly, there’s always formula…and there’s no shame in that.

Even though I am no longer nursing, I am interested in World Breastfeeding Week because of the focus on breastfeeding and the working mother. As a pumping mom, it shocks me how little protection and time new mothers have to express their milk at work. As a teacher, I had difficulty carving time out of a busy day to relax for 30 minutes for a productive pumping session. There were always meetings and conferences to attend, papers to grade, e-mails to compose, lessons to plan, and not enough hours in the day. Thankfully, the great Commonwealth of Virginia is doing more to protect those rights.  Our current state laws include:

  • Va. Code § 2.2-1147.1 (2002, 2015) guarantees a woman the right to breastfeed her child on in any place where the mother is lawfully present, including any location where she would otherwise be allowed on property that is owned, leased or controlled by the state. The bill also stipulates that childbirth and related medical conditions specified in the Virginia Human Rights Act include activities of lactation, including breastfeeding and expression of milk by a mother for her child.
  • Va. Code Ann. § 8.01-341.1 (2005) provides that a mother who is breastfeeding a child may be exempted from jury duty upon her request.
  • Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-387 (1994) exempts mothers engaged in breastfeeding from indecent exposure laws.
  • Va. House Joint Resolution 145 (2002) encourages employers to recognize the benefits of breastfeeding and to provide unpaid break time and appropriate space for employees to breastfeed or express milk.

The only two times I’ve been called for jury duty, I was breastfeeding. Guess who didn’t have to go to court? Score for the boob juice.

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I searched for coupon codes, freebies, and giveaways. If you know a soon-to-be mom, consider passing these gifts along, and I’ll update the list as I find more offers.

Finally, here’s a quick round up of my favorite breastfeeding products and resources:

  • Latched Mama: Designed by a local RVA entrepreneur, here you’ll find stylish and functional clothing for nursing mothers. Get free shipping on orders $75+. Love the side-access styles.
  • The Leaky Boob: Blog, reviews, honest advice.
  • La Leche League International
  • Ergobaby 360: I nursed Thing 3 in this many times, and it continues to be one of his favorite modes of transportation at 15-months old. Worth every penny.
  • Motherlove Nipple Cream: For obvious reasons.
  • And if you still want more, here’s my Pinterest board all about babies and boobies.
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Diagnosis Day… Now What?

Recently a mom contacted me the day her 3-year-old son was diagnosed with autism. She needed an outlet, a virtual shoulder to cry on maybe, and someone to explain where to go next. Talking with this mom put me right back in our own diagnosis day for Thing 1. Honestly, it was difficult to confront those feelings again–stunned at missing red flags sooner; confusion over what services are needed, where to find them, how to afford them; guilt because it must have been something I did or didn’t do that caused this; frustration trying to understand the spectrum; relief to finally have a diagnosis; fear for my children growing up in a cruel world not made for their sensory and communication needs; and anger. Anger at everyone and everything.

So…your child is diagnosed with autism. Now what? Here are my observations and suggestions on your next steps.

First, there is a grieving process, so give yourself time to wrap your head about what ASD means for your child. Talk to your spouse. Talk to your pastor. Find another parent to vent to. Whatever you do, do not wallow and stew in your anger, fear, and sadness. I could not tell anyone about the diagnosis without crying. I made other people cry with my crying, and then I felt guilty for that! But it’s okay to cry. You will go through the range of emotions, and then you’ll pick yourself up and prepare to kick ass.

Second, know your insurance plan inside and out. Figure out what therapies are covered and the coverage amounts. Learn about the autism insurance mandate in your state. Make sure you are taking advantage of all available coverage. Having mandated coverage in our state was a game-changer for our family because it afforded us significantly better services than our county’s early intervention or early childhood special education programs.

Third, learn about Medicaid waivers. In Virginia, we have EDCD and ID/DD waivers. Regardless of where you live, qualifying for waiver services requires tedious screenings (and, more frequently and unfortunately, appeals and more screenings). Your local Autism Society of America chapter is the go-to source for understanding waivers. Most offer workshops and many other resources. A couple weeks after Thing 1’s diagnosis, I called the Autism Society of Central Virginia and left a message asking about waiver workshops. Since I just missed their last one, the ASCV president called back and spent almost two hours with me on the phone, telling me everything I needed to know. That was a huge breakthrough because after that conversation, I had a plan.

Fourth and finally, join a support network. You can find this in a Facebook group, joining the Autism Society, going to a TACA coffee talk. Commiserate with other parents, ask questions, share recommendations, stay connected. Me, I started following blogs, and some of my favorites are:

Our diagnosis and psychological report for Thing 1 came with a massive to-do list. The psychologist recommended we consult with a geneticist, neurologist, and gastrointestinal specialist; increase the frequency of Thing 1’s speech and occupational therapy; and get our son intensive ABA services. We spent time lingering on wait lists, and it took 3 months to increase speech therapy, 10 months to start in-home ABA, and years to visit all the medical specialists. Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest through the trees, but we have much to be grateful for five years into this autism journey, especially the ways our family is loved and accepted.  Yesterday we threw a big birthday party for our older boys, and eleven little kids and their families showed up to party with us.  It was heartwarming to see all these neurotypical kids play with our boys and sing “Happy Birthday.” And that’s what it’s all about, right? Kids enjoying their childhood, making friends, learning, growing, and having fun. It’s difficult to see that light and feel hopeful on diagnosis day, but I promise you will get there. Water_Birthday Find additional resources here:

First 100 Days Kit–Autism Speaks

Handy Handouts

Introduction to Autism–TACA

The Out-of-Sync Child: Great book!

Wrightslaw Special Education Law & Advocacy