Sunday, December 30, 2007
The forecast looks clear, so we should be home soon and back in the grind of daily living. It's been a good visit, and the week's flown by: I just hope the drive does, too. Please offer up a prayer for us to have a safe trip!
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Please come to the ____ 's house tonight because we will be in Kansas over Christmas.
P.S. Enjoy the cookies"
Good thing he put our name in there. Or, you know, Santa might have gotten confused.
This next picture is completely gratuitous. I'm just so proud of how smart I am...
Yes, the broom and dust pan set was a Christmas present for the little guy. (A miniature set I found at the thrift store, by the way.) I'm no fool -- might as well capitalize on his more, er, fastidious qualities. And now no more whackings on his sister's head from the broom handle.
John and I did a very good job for once of saying we weren't going to spend a lot of money on each other and then actually following through. However, we apparently still spent a little too much.
We aspired to make the 850-mile trip to Kansas in one day, but were thwarted a little over half-way through by the weather. After passing through St. Louis it started dumping buckets of rain, which turned to buckets of ice after the temperature dropped 25 degrees in about as many minutes.
Did you know you can just call the highway patrol and ask them what certain road conditions are? Well, my mom did. And she found out that the the interstate was closed west of Kansas City because of a 30-car pileup near Topeka. We don't have to be hit over the head twice, so we cut our losses and got ourselves a hotel room somewhere in the middle of Missouri.
We arrived safely at my parent's in Kansas today, where Olivia has already performed her singing and dancing for a very willing audience, and Sean-Peter has already initiated some rearranging of some Christmas decorations. I figure let 'em go hog wild and by the end of the week they'll be more than ready to see us go ... Hopefully the weather will cooperate for us, too.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Have I ever mentioned that we're really rich? What? You say I haven't? Hmmm ... well, maybe that's because WE'RE NOT. At least not in the fiscal sense. But we've been pretending like we are: We've been going around like we're All That and A Bag of Chips and it ain't no thang to pay on two houses -- yes, TWO -- and still keep the shirts on our backs.
It really hasn't been our fault, completely. We’ve had this cute little house in Las Vegas that we bought when we moved there right after 9/11, just the three of us, since this was pre-Olivia and Sean-Peter. And it suited us just fine, this little house, and the Vegas market took off and we were so pleased that we had taken the Homeowner Plunge, what with our lifestyle of moving around making that kind of scary. God Was Good and All That. And when it came time to move, not quite three years later, we decided to rent it out, you know, "just for awhile". The market was on fire and it seemed like there was no stopping it.
Yes, yes, I know. It's easy to hear the fire alarms going off now. Because stop it did, as we all know. And while hindsight is 20/20, I do feel I have to defend our lack of prescience by explaining how we had decided to go ahead and sell, the summer of 2006, at a time that we now recognize would have been the last possible good time to sell. But literally two days after we gave ourselves the nod and contacted our property manager to talk about the next step -- John got his orders for deployment, and we decided to put it off until he got back. Heh-heh. God was chuckling. Or maybe just shaking his head, those poor, poor fools.
Because John got back last Spring and we all know what was happening with the housing market by then, all over the country, but especially in the places (like Vegas) that had seen such tremendous -- and ridiculous -- skyrocketing property appreciation. We should have just left well enough alone, of course. The house was rented out just fine, after all. But as my grandma used to say, "Some people are just meant to learn from their mistakes". So we very naively decided to put it up for sale, "just to see what would happen".
What happened was a big, gigantic snowball effect that started out as a query to a realtor and reassurance to our tenant that he could stay there until the place sold, if it did -- no one was getting booted to the street or anything ... but resulted in an empty house that has steadily been draining our resources ever since.
The amazing thing, really, is that we have been able to financially support that house for as long as we have. A big reason we were able to for so long was because of the additional living allowances that you get when you're stationed overseas, not to mention the financial compensation when you're deployed (which isn't nearly as significant as most people think).
When John got his first pay after moving to Ohio, I was looking at our account and I said, "You need to check your LES, because this can't be right." I had known we were in for a pay reduction after moving Stateside, but I hadn't actually sat down and spelled it out, so to speak.
Indeed, we hadn't been in Ohio long when I spoke to my friend Ruth, who had moved from Italy to the States the same time that we did. How about that sticker shock? was what I clearly remember her saying. Thing is, Ruth and Mark had actually bought a house in Texas while still in Italy. (Yes, it was a headache, but so is house-hunting with preschoolers. I'm still not sure who suffered more.) So they pretty much landed on American soil with their first mortgage payment in hand. Sitting in our hotel, I was still just musing that our pay seemed awful low...
Just to spell it out a little more clearly: John's take-home pay went down almost two thousand dollars. A month. He did bring home an LES, and there was no mistake. Um, living in Italy is more expensive, but...
After we bought our house here in Ohio that whole thing with the house in Vegas started to hurt. Really bad. It was clear that the housing market had tanked. We were liking our realtors but they just didn't have much to work with: no one wanted to buy houses, and if they did they wanted one of the brand-new ones with the free pools and cash allowances and three-years-with-no-payments perks that builders in Vegas are now offering because they can't sell their houses, either.
So we took it off the market, and we got with a new property manager, and we signed a new contract and put it out for rent. And that sentence doesn't quite illustrate the slow and arduous torture it has been to deal with this Vegas house while moving from another country and buying a house to live in and finding our way around a new city whilst unpacking boxes and feeding and caring for three children and otherwise keeping them alive.
(Oh, and have I mentioned that John has been consumed with SOS?)
A couple of weeks ago, shortly after we got everything squared away with our new property manager, John got online and told me that there were many, many (many-many) houses just like ours for rent in the MLS system. I don't remember how many he said because I gave him the wave-off: I really didn't want to hear it because I wasn't worried. Even at the time I wondered if I was just putting my head into the sand, but I simply wasn't concerned. No matter that we had reached the end of our financial tether. What would happen would happen. Fretting about it wasn't going to help, though Lord knows I did throw up many a prayer along the lines of, "Uh, help?"
And thank God, because there really is something I'm trying to say with all of this. Two things, actually. The First Thing is that our house rented!! Hallelujah!! Can I get an amen? And just in time for Christmas! -- can it get any better? And the second, and Greater Thing, is that through all of this we never stopped tithing. And don't think that I didn't think about it. Because I did.
But to the credit of both of us, when we sat down and looked at our mutating financial situation and tried to get a grip on our responsibilities in our new home and were faced with the fiscal reality of the Dollars That Don't Be, neither one of us suggested not tithing for awhile. At least not out loud. And now that I look back, I don't think for a minute that Thing One and Thing Two are unrelated.
This whole tithing thing does freak me out. It's not a word I grew up hearing, possibly because I just wasn't paying attention, and it totally takes me out of my skin and makes me want to hyperventilate. Over the years I have been hearing others' inspirational tithing testimonies, and eventually I realized that they had something to do with me: I already knew what the bible said about it, after all. It took a bit longer for John and me to be in sync, and when we finally took the plunge to tithe, to really tithe, not just "give an offering", it was pretty scary, but ultimately uneventful. The roof didn't fall in and the heavens didn't sing out. But we were being obedient, and it felt good.
My favorite passage about tithing is from Malachi in the Old Testament:
"...Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try Me now in this," Says the Lord of hosts,
"If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it..."
I've been told that this is the only place in the bible where God challenges us to test him. It's like he's saying, "Just try me, and see if I don't take care of you better than you could ever think to take care of yourself". The beginning of the passage starts out with a little fear, by the way, but I'm okay with that: More people could stand to have a little fear of God put into them, what with God Is Love being preached and harped about everywhere you look. God is Love, but He is also Sovereign and Holy and Just, and a little reminder of that is not a bad thing.
But I don’t believe we were testing God so much as simply trusting Him: That He is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do. At the time the house in Vegas rented we had just reached the point where we were hanging on by a thread and something needed to be done -- we were down to the wire where decisions needed to be made and plans needed to be waylaid. If tithing didn't go, something else had to. I mean, those tithing dollars could sure take care of a lot of expenses ...
But it just felt like, if we stopped tithing, then we would be getting rid of the only thing we could be sure of in this unsure world. Continuing to tithe despite our dwindling balance felt more like we were saying, "Okay, God, we're doing what you told us to ... uh, now what?" I guess this is my little way of shouting out to the world that It's Real and It's True. Now, we were never starving, people: It wasn't a matter of putting basic food on our table. But we decided to be obedient, and I guess we took God up on His challenge as well. And I feel like, a couple of days ago, when we found out our house rented so quickly it was like a little wink with a thumbs up and a nudge in the ribs: Good job staying on track ... it does matter, and it does make a difference.
And if anyone is interested in buying a cute little house in Vegas, just let us know. I'm sure we could work something out.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
For you scrooges out there, or for people like me are just now realizing that Christmas is just around the corner and YOU'RE NOT READY.
The video is under three minutes -- just give it a few seconds to get to "Part II". Even non-scrooges can appreciate this one: a wry, dry rant about a Christmas gone awry.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"
No, really. Isn't she a hoot?? She really loves dance class, and it was only that much better with an audience.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Thursday, December 13, 2007
A couple of days ago he was in a meeting and someone brought up mentoring and asked for input on how to improve it. John suggested that you allow your people to make mistakes and encourage them to come to you when they've goofed so that you can develop a solution together and they can, you know, learn from it. Or something along those lines.
The response was blinks and crickets. (Did he really just say that out loud?)
The Air Force does not tolerate mistakes very well. In a service facing chronic shortages of many things, this is almost understandable. In many situations, you don't have the resources to recover from mistakes. But John was talking about giving someone something within their span of control, and from which you could all recover if some foibles occur along the way. He was saying he uses this to test and grow people, and it went over like a pork chop at a CAIR conference.
Its system of EPRs does not allow for an airman to be any less than perfect on paper: on a scale of 1 to 5, if anything other than a 5 is on your EPR it's the equivalent of a career-breaker. So, you have either Jesus working for you, or someone you'd like to show the door. There is no middle ground. With the meaning of these numbers taken away, raters are left with getting creative with the bullets: using just the right verbage; putting exclamation points just so. I shouldn't have to say how much of this "creativity" becomes outright falsehood; it's simply not realistic to think every airman has to be superman. Or wonder woman, for that matter. But having to make them all sound like that on an evaluation can be quite the writing exercise.
When no one is allowed to fail, or to even be mediocre, what motivation is there to excel? And you guessed it -- those young airmen who do want to excel, who are self-motivated and do want to improve their skills and be recognized for their efforts, they're looking around for a reason to do it. And from where they stand they're not seeing it.
Coupled with that is all the airmen the Air Force has steadily been booting out. This knee-jerk reaction they have as a "solution" for budget shortages. Some of these involuntary separations are airmen with over ten years in and working towards retirement: poof, all that time in and now they're starting over. Here's some money - now go figure out what to do with yourself. The promising new, young airmen who are looking around at this, what are they to think? I give my all and dedicate my career to serving my country ... only to get the boot at the halfway mark? No, thanks: I'll take control of my life now, thank you very much. And the ones with options -- the smart ones, the hard workers, the ones with education and wherewithal -- they are going to get out while the getting out is good. And they are getting out. That's all they talk about, when I get out, I can't wait to get out, I am sooo out of here as soon as my time is up.
And John will ask them, "Do you have a plan?" And many of them will blink and guffaw and insist it will all be better, even though they have no clue what it is they are going to do. But some of them do have a plan, and they're the ones the Air Force is going to be sorry they're losing. Especially when they realize about 5 years from now that -- surprise! -- they need a bunch of new people.
John has had many a bad day in his many days in the Air Force. He has even waxed nostalgic about his Army days when, maybe the BS factor was higher, but the backstabbing ratio was lower. But I always say, when anyone asks, that as his wife I am confident that he is a lifer -- unless they kick him out, that is. And you never know, really. Even though John of course is one of the "good" ones, that doesn't seem to matter to the number crunchers. They're just trying to save a buck; never mind they're shooting themselves in the foot in the process.
I often muse on what I would do if I could wave a Wand of Common Sense over the whole thing. If I could change just two things, I know exactly what they would be: I would get rid of the mentality that every airman walks on water come Eval time, and that anything less than a 5 on an EPR was a career killer.
And I would change the way they base next year's budget on what was spent this year. I don't know what the best solution is, but this Use It Or Lose It system they have now is completely asinine at a time when no one has money for what they need. But let's buy another $3,000 plasma TV we have no idea what to do with because if we don't, we won't have that $3,000 next year.
I can't even imagine how many millions or even billions of dollars could be saved if a government entity didn't have to look around at the end of their fiscal year and come up with ways to spend their remaining balance so that their budget wouldn't get axed the next year. Because this is not just an Air Force thing, but government-wide. They can't even carry the balance over into the next year. They have to use it now or not at all, and the presumption is that not spending it now means you won't need it next year, either. Can you imagine how much is wasted? How much frivolous spending that encourages? How much those dollars could be doing to effect change in our economy instead? Or even simply keep them from kicking out airmen that our country needs? (Because the need won't go away just because the airmen do. And what do you think costs more: retaining the airmen you have or training some new ones?)
But rather than rant on and on and making yet another gargantuan post even longer -- oh, wait, too late -- I am curious as to what you would do if you had a Wand of Common Sense of your own? What changes would you make?
** Author's note: I had John fact-check this, and he went ahead and added a little flavor of his own as well. Bet you can't tell where, can you?
Sunday, December 9, 2007
**To my family -- I don't think I have grandma's quote quite right at the end. Can someone tell me what they remember her saying?
Sean-Peter's lack of speech is apparently more lacking than I had even realized. After meeting with an audiologist, a speech pathologist, and an ENT, it has been determined that Sean-Peter has ... a major speech delay! Okay, so that wasn't exactly a surprise, but I have been learning some things about my son along the way that have been illuminating for me, and portentous of a longer road of therapy ahead of us than I maybe realized.
The base doesn't do speech therapy, so we got a referral from TriCare to have a speech assessment done by a private company off-base called "Therapy Connection", where they were very insistent that I understand they have a year-long waiting list for children needing therapy. They said it so many times I got confused. "But we can be on the waiting list, right?" I mean, I understand there's a waiting list. But everytime I said that they kept telling me that there was a waiting list so I might want to look around for availability elsewhere, because they, you know, have a waiting list. Well, of course I'll be looking around for other care, but in the meantime can I get on the waiting list? You know, the one that I do understand you have?
Anyway, once they understood that I understood that there's a waiting list we were all good. It was like they were going above and beyond being all nice and concerned, and it just served to confuse me more. I'm accustomed to military healthcare: I don't do nice and concerned. And this place did seem very good, judging by the service they gave my son as well as by the reviews I got from other moms in the waiting room. And truly, seeing what some of the problems are that other children have out there, I have nothing to complain about.
Whenever the subject of my son's er, um, speech has come up, I have found it very difficult to accurately describe what it is he does. I have tried to explain that he is unintelligible because he swallows his words, or that the sounds he makes are gutteral; more often than not he doesn't even open his mouth and will "speak" entire paragraphs without moving his lips until he ends with a punctuated "Mahm!" Or, just as often, "Bap!", his all-purpose word.
But the pathologist who did his assessment helped me to understand that most of the sounds he makes actually get lost up in his nasal cavity, not down in his throat. She also confirmed that he can make many of the sounds a three-year-old should physically be able to make: he just doesn't put them together to form intelligible words. I went into this assessment with my son with terms like "articulation" and "phonological deficit" bouncing around my brain. However, by the end of the hour, it was clear that his speech is not even far enough along to "label" him with any of these terms. In short, his speech is not far enough along to determine what kind of speech problem he has.
Toward the end of our time with the pathologist, she was finally able to get a better look inside Sean-Peter's mouth to see that there weren't any apparent physical or structural issues. And with that possibility ruled out for now, she wondered aloud if he might have apraxia, a term I was not at all familiar with. She quickly explained that childhood apraxia of speech has to do with the connection between the brain and the mouth, and she gave the simple example of a TV and an outlet: both function fine, but the cord connecting the two isn't working. Or, as I googled it later, apraxia has to do with "speech motor planning and programming". Children with apraxia have "difficulties transmitting the speech message from their brain to their mouths". This would explain why Sean-Peter can make these sounds but has difficulty using them in words.
A couple of other descriptions of apraxia resonated with me while I was googling; one said that children with apraxia may not speak intelligibly, but they sure do have a lot to say! This is so true for SP: he will go on and on and on and on ... even gesturing and jabbing his finger at you, and it's obvious he's giving you the business, but you have no idea what he's saying. John and I have laughed many times because one day it's all going to become clear and we'll get a taste of how much smack-talk he's been dishing out without us knowing to curb it.
Another description that struck me talked about those moments when you're trying to get them to say a certain word, and you can see in their expression that they really are trying. But he opens his mouth and kind of moves things around and ends up not making any kind of sound at all. And you can see the confusion come over his face like what is it I'm supposed to be doing, anyway? and it really is so sad because you can tell that he really is trying but he just can't do it. It's at this point that I say "Good job!" or something just as inane, because I am loathe to see that expression of confusion turn into frustration.
Of course, these moments of cooperation aren't as common as the times I ask him to say something and he simply responds, "No!" That's one word he doesn't have any difficulty opening his mouth for.
Our appointment with the ENT specialist proved to be quite interesting as well, although I went in there really just to rule things out. You know, so I can tell people with confidence, Yes, his hearing is fine; yes, his ears are fine, no excess fluid; no, he doesn't have enlargened adenoids or anything growing on them. That last one really has come up. The things out there you can worry about, if you really wanted to worry about something. Sheesh.
Sometimes in the military healthcare system you get a doctor who really makes you forget that they have nothing to lose by treating you like everyone else in the system. John and I have wryly joked over the years that with military healthcare you sure do "get what you pay for". Ha-ha and all that. Occasionally you come across a military doctor that doesn't remind you that their uniform shields them from malpractice suits. They're usually the ones that care so much they seem completely burned out, or they're counting the days until they're getting out -- and they always have a plan.
This doctor was one of those -- one of the good ones getting out, that is. (And, yes, he does have a plan: Eau Clair, Wisconsin will soon be gaining a very capable ENT.) He really seemed to be interested in Sean-Peter's particular condition. It wasn't the first time I'd heard, "He really is doing something unusual there, isn't he?" But it was the first time I finally had it labeled: "Hyper Nasal Speech". And he explained that he sounds the way he does because his palet isn't touching the back of his throat when he "talks". But it is capable of touching the back of his throat, because he can make the hard "g" sound. He did examine inside his mouth to rule out any physical abnormalities ... and then he left the room to do some research. Maybe this isn't novel in the "real world", but it is in the one I live in. He also acted very concerned that SP won't be receiving the therapy he needs if there's a waiting list, and he put additional notes on his file in the computer for his primary care provider that should help us if we need to come back for another referral.
But hopefully it won't come to that, because I have been working the local school district as well for what therapy Sean-Peter will qualify for through the public system ; it's just taking longer to get that paperwork squared away and appointments scheduled. In the meantime, meeting with these professionals and focusing on what I am now learning is a real problem with Sean-Peter's speech has subtly changed how I am doing things at home. I really don't think I was ever treating him like he didn't want to talk. I mean, he's sharp as a whip and twice as ornery, but it's been pretty clear that he isn't doing the mumbo-jumbo speech thing on purpose. But I do have more compassion now and am simply paying more attention to every sound he is trying to make -- and he is gaining ground in opening his mouth for more and more words, even if those "words" are still unintelligible. That's still progress, in my book.
I'm also slowly reintroducing sign language -- something we stopped doing over a year ago, I don't remember why. And I'm trying to incorporate some word drills that the pathologist suggested to me as well as some simple things to work on at home that I picked up from my googling. So far as I can tell, it's too soon to "diagnose" him with apraxia, but it's as good a place to start as any. There are worse things to be wrong with my kid, that is for sure. When I look at my little family, I am downright amazed at how amazingly healthy they all are. And when I look at my extended family -- seven nephews and all -- I am downright dumbfounded. In reference to my sister's recent blog post, if talking too much is the worst thing we have to deal with in this family, I will thank my lucky stars.
Of course, it's not luck at all. As our grandma used to say, looking at a roomful of grandchildren, "Lord, bless these wonderful children." Thanks, grandma. It appears to be working.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
And Olivia finally got to make the snow angel she's been talking about ever since she heard that living in Ohio meant snow. Snow that sticks. She was just a little disappointed to learn that snow didn't automatically mean Christmas...
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
He's also been forewarned that this base here is loathe to call a snow day unless it's a national emergency. Not that 2-3 inches is cause for a snow day. At least not in Ohio, I'm sure; though that would not be the case in many parts of this country where a few snowflakes would be enough to close down schools and make jack rabbits out of drivers with their brake pedals and send them skidding on imaginary ice into the ditch with only themselves to blame. I hate driving in Texas when it snows. The drivers are a more dangerous variable than the weather.
But speaking of SOS, I guess Sandra and Stephanie are the only ones who found the video in my previous post as hilarious as I did? Though Stephanie's email wasn't quite as enthusiastic as Sandra's comment -- at least, I don't think she scared her little girls with loud guffaws.
** Update **
Make that Melitsa, too!
Monday, December 3, 2007
This is so stinking funny, I don't care who you are. Once John and I picked ourselves up off the floor I thought of my amazing friend Stephanie, a German herself and speaker of many languages who is currently attempting to instill a working knowledge of English to a classroom full of Russians, among others.
This one's for you, Stephanie. I hope you found it to be as hysterical as we did!