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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Calm After the Storm

And then the storm stopped...

First footprints
Shoveling supervisor
Snow Angel
Icicle Cane
Practicing Her Own Preaching
Rosy Cheeks and Red Mittens
Van Ice
All Tuckered Out

Forecast is calling for more snow, and flurries, and snow, and rain, then snow... Many schools were canceled here again, though my kids just had a delay. It's rather impressive how bad the roads still are. But then again, we still have our power, unlike thousands to the East, to the South ... so I am not complaining.

The Happy Housewife Guest Post

I wrote a guest post over at "The Happy Housewife" (she's on my sidebar), "How Does Your Husband Help While He's Away?" Go on over and take a look -- and leave a comment, too, if you don't mind, so's I don't feel like a schmuck and she's sorry she posted it.

Plus, I'm sure some of you have lots to say on the subject, and I really would like to hear some more ideas on the issue. We've got a TDY coming up in about a month, and it will have been almost nine months since John's last one -- that's like, 10 years in military time.

And if you're not reading Happy Housewife, you should. She's a military spouse who home schools her (six going on seven) children; she posts great, frugal recipes; and she writes about managing and organizing her home, which just warms my little HGTv heart, I tell you what.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

No school for the kids...again.

Every time I look out I swear it's snowing harder. I guess it's in a hurry to cover up all the ice, since it rained during the night. Even Sean-Peter's private therapy is closed today. Even the base is closed today. Now that's saying something.

A few seconds of snowfall, for your viewing pleasure. (You know, just in case you're somewhere like, oh, I don't know ... Texas.)

And these kids aren't going anywhere. I'm just saying. And since I started this whole process of (an unsuccessful attempt of) editing videos and downloading? It is snowing harder, and the flakes are considerable smaller, hopefully not threatening to turn to ice...

But you'll just have to take my word for it: I have run out of time and my children have run out of patience, what with all the fiddling around I've been doing, trying to combine the clips above into one, obviously unsuccessfully. I promise you I followed the instructions exactly as they were written, in the Windows Movie Maker program that was, indeed, right here on our computer. Any techie suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I made a healthy meal for $2.25. And the whole family ate it.

My friend Erin started a website last summer to help herself prepare frugal dinners for her family -- she used the blog to motivate herself and to hold herself accountable. A math teacher by trade, she enjoyed talking with her husband at dinnertime and breaking down the cost of what they were eating. (I could so totally relate. Um, not.)

What she didn't count on was how quickly her site would attract readers and take off into the blogosphere like a rocket ship. I've lost count of how many interviews she's given, how many times she's been featured on the local news station... My mother-in-law lives in San Antonio, Erin's hometown, and she recently saw a feature mentioning her blog. "Hey," she wrote to me, "Is $5Dinners your friend's blog you've talked about?" (Why yes, it is, Becky -- did I ever get around to emailing you back to tell you that?)

I am not a math teacher by trade. I could no sooner break down how much a dinner cost off the top of my head than I could stand up and sweep the tablecloth off the table without crashing all the dishes to the floor. But you know how they say be careful about the company you keep ... they might rub off on you and all that. The other day I found myself exclaiming to Erin what a cheap and delicious meal I had prepared for my family and how everyone loved it!

I'd say that I'm not sure what's more exciting about that statement -- the cheapness or everyone loving it -- except that I really don't concern myself too much with everybody in my family liking what I make: I figure I've done my job just by putting it in front of them on the table. "You can lead a horse to water," and all that.

But it really is a bonus when everyone likes what you made and asks for more and it totally helps the budget. Especially in these trying times and all. (Anyone want to rent a cute little house in Vegas?) Because, honestly? I've attempted meals that even I don't like, and that's a bummer.

The last time I made a meal using raw beans, for instance. Blech. I was turned off of this amazing cheap ingredient for ... well, for quite a while. Until recently, I decided to give them another go. Black-eyed peas, to be exact. (Are they of the bean family?)

Black Eyed Peas and Sausage over Rice

16 ounces dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and sorted
1 medium onion, diced
1 sausage link, cut into pieces
3 or more cloves of garlic (can you have too much?)
1 teaspoon seasoning salt
black pepper to taste

Presoak peas as directed. (I soaked them all night, at least 12 hours.) Drain the water from the peas and place peas in a crockpot. Add all other ingredients, plus enough water to cover. Stir well. Cover and cook on low setting 8-10 hours. Serve over rice.
Approximate cost: $4.25

I won't try to break down each individual ingredient; but I do know the beans were about $1.50 and the sausage was about $2.00 (with a coupon). But the thing is? This was two meals for four people. I won't even count Sean-Peter, who wouldn't touch a single bite the first time we had it. (We're working on that.) The second go-around he had two helpings (eating one. thing. at. a time). Everyone else ate their fill the first time -- John had two heaping plates -- and several days later again when we had it as leftovers (I did make fresh rice). And there's still some leftover that I will finish off myself in a couple of lunches.

Total cost for one meal serving four people ~ $2.25.

John has already asked for it again, but I told him, sorry, I've got some recipe using pinto beans lined up first. Stay tuned and I might let you know if that one's a hit, too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Our Very Own Extra Terrestrial

And if you don't know what this title is referencing...then, well, I just have nothing to say to you. What can I say? I'm a child of the 80s.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Um, It's Cold Here?

So cold that schools were closed to ensure that no child would freeze mid-step on his way to the bus stop. Or to the school itself, such as may be the case.

Not that our young teenager would ever walk out the door without his coat on. Especially in freezing temperatures. I have never found his coat left hanging there after he's walked out the door, declaring that it's not that cold. Ahem.

But it is cold today. Even Conner would acknowledge that. The kind of cold that takes your breath away and soaks into your face within one nano second before numbing it all together. Like, windchill factor of -24 degrees cold? I had never imagined. This is Ohio, for pete's sake. Not the Arctic.

Speaking of Pete. For your viewing pleasure I am posting a video of him singing one of his preschool songs about the continents -- one of my particular favorites, being the map freak that I am. How cute is that? Three- and four-year-olds learning the names of the continents already.

He actually sings it through twice: this is a good representation of how he will self-direct and self-correct when he isn't happy with how he sounds.

The second video is our very own little snow bunny, taken a couple of days ago (before the temperatures plummeted) when we rediscovered the video feature on our point-and-shoot. Ooh, we are nothing if not on top of all things techie here. And if you don't ignore our little mutterings at the end of Olivia's cuteness, you will bear witness to our discovery that our little camera can record up to 25 minutes of video, and not the 25 seconds that we had always thought.

Yes, I am kicking myself. At the very least, I could have been keeping a much better digital video diary of Sean-Peter's speech progress. (I do have some clips of him recorded on our archaic 8mm that I will someday transfer to a DVD...)

And if anyone knows how to edit these video things? Surely there's a site online somewhere offering these services for free. We would surely appreciate you passing that information our way.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

He's a poster child for early intervention, is what he is.

This evening Olivia and Sean-Peter and I were looking at an "I Spy" book before bedtime, taking turns picking something we spy for the others to find. Every time it was Sean-Peter's turn, "I spy... a blue airplane!" and no matter how big or how blue that airplane, and no matter how fiery a trail his eyes (and sometimes his finger) were blazing right to it, we had to try really hard not to "spy" it right away lest we incur his wrath.




"Now...let me give you a hint..."

Even Olivia played along. And as soon as someone was permitted to spy it -- EVERY TIME -- Sean-Peter would exclaim, "Ah, you STINKER!"


Just a few months ago Sean-Peter's "I spy" came out "I 'py". And his "stinker" was a "'tinker". A few months before that he had maybe a dozen words that he opened his mouth for consistently, not all of them intelligible to the unfamiliar ear. A few months before that -- less than a year ago -- his speech was almost completely unintelligible. If you could even call it speech. A typical sentence went something like, "Mm-mm-mm-mm-BAP!"

My biggest complaint, which isn't really a complaint, is that no one meeting Sean-Peter for the first time believes me when I tell him them that he's apraxic. His teachers? and his therapist at the school? They're all new to him this year, which has not been a problem at all, no sirree, not so far as his progress goes. Because progress he continues to make and mucho-much of it is thanks to them, so Thank You Professionals because truly these women are angels from heaven who certainly only contribute to helping this little miracle on earth.

But apraxic? They don't believe it, not for a minute. "Children with apraxia don't progress this quickly..." is all I've heard, aside from the barely refrained laughter. I in turn refrained from pressing the point. Because really, what is the point? He's getting the help he needs, and he's responding to it beautifully. If my only complaint is that no one will believe me that he's apraxic, well ... isn't that about the best thing I could ever hope to hear?

He's a poster child for early intervention, is what he is. It's not like I made the whole apraxia thing up, after all. I heard the word at his speech assessment for the first time myself exactly one year, one month, and one week ago -- not that the date is emblazoned on my brain or anything. He had just turned three. It took almost four more months for him to be officially diagnosed at Dayton Children's Hospital by a seasoned pathologist, one who has worked with apraxic children for "a very long time" (her response when I asked her how many years they've been diagnosing and treating children with this). "A verbal apraxia (motor planning problem) is apparent." It's all there in black and white.

Within months of starting private speech therapy Sean-Peter was opening his mouth for sounds I'd never heard come out of his mouth before. I always used to say that he "swallowed" his words, but I learned from the professionals that what you heard was called hypernasality, or velopharyngeal incompetency. The pathologist who diagnosed him said that hypernasality is rather common with apraxic children, but she had never heard a case so severe. (That just sent warm fuzzies down my spine I tell you what. I just wanted to lean over and kiss her.)

I've written about Sean-Peter's private speech therapist before, calling her "The Speech Whisperer" so amazing has been her ability at every session to get him to produce new sounds. Melissa has always said that Sean-Peter is very "stimulable" -- and he is. But sitting there session after session, witnessing how much she is able to pack into 30 minutes, it is just amazing.

And being able to view the sessions to learn the techniques myself allowed me to stretch the lessons into our routine at home. I know many mothers will sit down with their wee ones for a full-on speech therapy session at home once or several times a week. But for us I found that it was easier, more natural, and very effective to incorporate the visual cues I learned from Melissa during our everyday speaking throughout the day.

Back when he used to keep his mouth closed, if Melissa had worked on getting him to emit the "ee" sound that week, for instance, every time Sean-Peter would say a word with that sound I would cue him to open his mouth by using the technique I had just learned from his speech session. I did that sound, for example, first by having him look at me while I pointed to both of my cheeks with my fingers while opening my mouth wide. Eventually I cued him by pointing to just one cheek. Then if he was close by but looking at something else I would sometimes lightly tap the side of his cheek. Eventually all he needed was a verbal reminder, "Let's say that again, buddy."

All of this progress was often done by the time we were ready to go back the next week for his next session. This is not normal, I do by now recognize. It's no wonder that a professional meeting him today cannot believe he was ever apraxic. It's a plain miracle, is what it is. He's amazing.

Not that we're done jumping hurdles, by any means. But the hurdles are much, much closer to the ground.

After Sean-Peter started school again and I told Melissa about the feedback I received from his teachers and therapist there, she almost started to question the diagnosis herself. Even before that, during the summer when I would ask her, "If you were to meet Sean-Peter for the first time today, would you still believe he was apraxic?" And she would say yes ... but then always qualify it by saying apraxic children don't usually progress so quickly.

By last August, Sean-Peter was speaking so well and was rarely, if ever, reverting to speaking with that hypernasal way of his that used to be so familiar. But the pacing of his speech, his prosody, was very effortful and choppy; his speaking lacked fluidity -- it still does. And one thing he had never been able to do was sing.

I'm not talking about singing like he couldn't carry a tune and his voice would make a dog cry or anything like that. He's always been able to hum (which doesn't require opening your mouth) as the day is long. I'm talking about singing the lyrics, the words, to a song he might hear from his sister 50 times a day. Like the "ABC" song or "Old McDonald". The kid can carry a tune, I'll warrant that. But he couldn't spit the words out in time to a rhythm to save his life. In fact, I couldn't even get him to try. Cue professionals.

So Melissa decided to work on a song, starting with "Old McDonald". This was in August. It became clear rather quickly that this was extremely difficult for him. It was the most frustrated I'd ever seen him with her and the first time he was drawn to tears. She simply worked with him to say, "Ee-i-ee-i" without breaking between the two sounds. He tried over and over again, with the same result. "Ee. i. ee. i." Oh, it was painful.

And now? Well! Did I ever mention that his preschool teacher used to train as an opera singer? (For real!) Her teaching incorporates sooooo many songs throughout their class time I would be very hard-pressed to try to remember them all. It has been invaluable and came at the absolute most perfect time for him. And yes, he is singing. My heart just jumps when I overhear him mindlessly singing a tune, albeit a bit choppy, whether it's one from his class or one he hears a million times from his musical sister. He'll even get goofy and make up his own lyrics like his brother and sister are wont to do. And to think, a mere five months ago the struggle to link together "Ee-i-ee-i" brought him to tears.

Shortly before the holidays, Melissa invited another speech therapist in to observe the last five minutes of his speech session. She basically just asked Sean-Peter a question to get him talking. She wanted the other pathologist's opinion and purposefully hadn't given her any of his background information.

This time was so short, but it provided me with so much information that will help me to continue to help my son. After maybe two minutes, tops, of listening to him prattle on about something that his dad had done (he totally ratted him out on something and it was so funny, but darned if I can remember what it was now) the other pathologist remarked that in addition to some articulation errors (a very common developmental delay) she thought it seemed like he was having to almost search for the next word he wanted to say. But it wasn't -- this was key -- like he didn't know what he wanted to say; rather, he was groping for the right way to say the word, for the proper sequencing, as they call it. In other words, he appeared to be struggling to just spit it out.

This is telling, because for someone who isn't a professional speech pathologist or who isn't intimately familiar with my son, it might be very easy to think that he is having a language issue rather than a motor planning problem. In other words, they might think he's having trouble understanding the question rather than just having to work harder at voicing the answer.

I think about when it comes time for him to start kindergarten, these are the kinds of things that I will need to be aware of for helping him transition into a classroom with a new teacher who will have a room full of kids and not the time necessary to figure stuff out like this on her own. Or at least not right away. This is the kind of information that will help her to understand a child like mine, who may still have lingering effects of this apraxia as it effects his speech and his ability to just spit it out. Once upon a time I wasn't even sure if he would be able to attend kindergarten, so uncertain was his future in mainstream education. Now his progress seems endless and our options wide open. Label it what you want, I know a miracle when I see one.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Apparently my hiatus from home improvement is complete.

Too bad John's office isn't. Here's a snatch of the wall after one hour of removing wallpaper border.Here's a very poor photo showing the opposite side of what was left.What you can't discern from this view is the jog to the left the wall takes. Just when you thought no more wall border could fit in such a narrow space.

Toward the end of the afternoon John came in and exclaimed, "Wow! You're already down to the end of that wall?"
And I'm all like, yea, already. A mere three hours later already. My how time flies WHEN YOU'RE NOT REMOVING WALLPAPER BORDER.

Then I chewed up his head I had just bit off and spit it out.

Not really. That would have made even more of a mess.

A friend told me recently that her husband read an article saying that if a housewife were paid for what she did she it would be the equivalent of about $25,000 a year.

I just laughed, "At least!" I think they forgot the weekend overtime on that one.

Stay tuned for an "After" photo. It might be awhile on this one.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Glamour Girl Goes to School

"It's just me and you, mommy," Sean-Peter said after school, waiting for Olivia's bus to bring her home. Then, "Now it's just me, and you, and Olivia, and we're waiting for Conner!" Sean-Peter has a distinct choppiness about his speech, if you can imagine a deliberate pause between every other word or so.

It was a shock to the system, everyone going back to school and work and real life after so many days hanging out with no real agenda. We were all ready, truth be told -- Olivia sprinted to her bus this morning. Sean-Peter's comments just reminded me that this little boy doesn't always adjust so quickly to changes and voicing a play-by-play was helping him adapt to our new (old) schedule.

I must admit that, as Perry Como croons, "Mom and dad could hardly wait for school to start again." And the last thing I really felt like doing was fulfilling my commitment to volunteer at the kids' school today. I really just wanted to sit at home and stare into space...

But alas, duty calls, and a good thing it did. Because after I finished my time in Sean-Peter's class I caught one certain little girl in the hallway walking past her classroom door with her little friend (let's call her Rita) with her little satchel thrown over her shoulder -- and yes, she was wearing her sparkly new dress. Only that wasn't all!

You see, Olivia wanted nothing more for Christmas than some makeup and a vanity where she could sit and look at herself and preen. Never in a million years would my five-year-old self have wanted some makeup, let alone known what to do with it if I got it. But Olivia is a girly-girl if there ever was one so makeup she got and preen she did. With strict instructions that this was for play and dress-up only at home and not for anywhere else, even for fun.

But she couldn't resist taking some to show Rita, her friend on the bus she looks up to in all her mature first-grade worldliness. When I work at the school Olivia always chooses to take the bus instead of going home with me, "Because I don't want to miss Rita." Whether the two met later that day by happenstance in the girl's restroom I don't know. What I do know is that Olivia and Rita were walking down the hallway side-by-side chatting like a couple of high schoolers, and Olivia had on dark pink lipstick bigger than life.

When I called her name she turned and ran to me for a hug so excited to see me as usual. When I called her on the lipstick she immediately acted sheepish: she knew she was caught. Of course she knew I was going to be at her school today: she may be sneaky, but at least she's (not yet) savvy.

I escorted Olivia into her classroom where her teacher had noticed her straying. "Got a little distracted coming back from the restroom, did we Olivia?" Ooh-wee. I'm afraid we may be in for it with this little one. Lipstick in kindergarten ... what's it going to be in fourth grade? A little black book?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"A Flock of Seagulls"

Does anyone else have any idea what this title is a reference to?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

"purple spaceship" *

Earlier today we heard that tale-tell "Koosh!" We turned the corner and found this.Ah, those Christmas tree ornaments are hard to resist. The culprit? Olivia or Sean-Peter you might imagine -- partners in crime would be a better bet. But no, they were nowhere near the scene. Instead, we found this critter, trying to act all casual.

Little stinker. I think he's telling me it's time to take down the Christmas decorations.

*Title compliments of Conner. He's nothing if not random, to borrow 7th-grade speak.

Friday, January 2, 2009

I seem to be confusing New Year's with Spring.

The Vietnam Veterans of America organization cold-called last week to ask if we had anything we might like to set out for donation right before the New Year. I eyed the bag of clothes meant for the thrift store that'd been sitting by the front door for over a month and told them yes, we'd have at least a little something. They sounded grateful. I gather these calls don't usually end so successfully, if they even start in the first place. We are, after all, like the only people in this country who don't have caller ID.

The day before the pick-up they called to remind me and verify our address. That was just the motivation I needed to gather more stuff. I started with the storeroom under the stairs where I'd been collecting items meant for the thrift store. Items which, in all honestly, would probably wither and die before ever finding new friends through consignment; the thrift store's schedule simply doesn't jive with my life and I'm finding weeks turning into months before I make it there with another load.

Besides, truth be told, all that money I've made consigning? I just tallied it: in the past year I've commissioned $473.68. And it's probably all gone right back into the thrift store. Much of it on needed items, yes -- shoes and clothes for the kids, for instance. But much of it? Meh, not so much. Just impulse buys that were such a bargain. It's one thing to get Sean-Peter some snow boots when he's outgrown his old ones. It's another to get him a cute shirt because it's such a bargain at $2.75, when he's already got a drawer full of cute shirts that were such a bargain. That's a weakness of mine, one I am going to work on this next year. A resolution, perhaps?

Repeat after me:

"Just because it's a bargain doesn't mean you can afford it."
"Just because it's a bargain doesn't mean you need it."

Even when it's for my kids. Especially when it's for my kids.

Let's all stamp that on our debit cards, shall we?

I gathered a decent pile rather quickly, but this was just the beginning. I decided to tackle a daunting, neglected task: my room.
You can't really tell from this photo but that pile is double deep. You might notice the tag still on at least one of the items. The bag is a backpack I bought in Sausalito some 15 years ago. I still love it, but it's frayed at the ends and I probably haven't used since three moves ago. One of the sweaters is from high school. More than a few shirts I've had since college, over fifteen years ago now. Another sweater has a tag from Montgomery Ward. Did you know Montgomery Ward's going out of business after 99 years? I hadn't realized they were still in business.

And no, those are not my dinosaur footy pajamas. The little ones' outgrown clothes often camp out in my space while they wait for me to find them a new home.

I've been carrying around so many things mindlessly, move to move, place to place, pregnancy after pregnancy... I always lost the weight after each baby, effortlessly, by breathing, it seemed. But in the last two years I've gained almost ten pounds that seem to be here to stay, and I don't mind, actually; I always wished I could gain weight but I'm one of those people who never could, until now. Comes with age, I suppose. I only wish it would redistribute itself a bit (why couldn't it all go to my boobs?) but that's another topic.

So I aimed a critical eye at everything I owned, figuring out what no longer fits and being honest with myself that it never will again. And fessing up about the things I simply don't wear even though they're perfectly good clothes. If I said to myself, "I might have a use for that someday," I got rid of it.

Then I moved to the linen closet. That most wondrous of American inventions and something I so took for granted when we moved here that I just threw things in there willy-nilly. And there those things have sat for almost a year-and-a-half.John was concerned when he saw this pile. "What about towels for when we have guests?" I told him to go look, just go look, at what is still in the linen closet and then try to explain to me exactly why do we still have so many towels? Why? Why? And where on earth have I been keeping them when we didn't even have a linen closet? I think that's what happened: they were stuffed somewhere so elusive they survived by evasion.

And three solitary fitted sheets. What happened to the matching flat sheets? And how long have I been carrying around half a twin? Another mystery for the ages, like the socks that disappear in the dryer, things just up and walk away (sometimes with a little help) with every move. The only question is, how many moves ago.Pillowcases. All of them. No, we don't own this many pillows. Yes, everyone already has pillows on their beds with pillowcases on them. I really can't explain this. Does anyone else have a problem with abundance?The final pile, gathered in one day. There's more back by the cat that's not quite visible. Although the cat's a keeper. Even though he still tries to sneak out the door every chance he gets. Look at him there, just waiting. Like he knows all this stuff has to go outside. Stinker.

I didn't stop once they carted this stuff away. I tackled the entry way closet next, Sean-Peter's closet ... wonderful inventions, these closets. Very dangerous. And we've never had so many before. About the time I get around to utilizing them effectively it'll be time to move again.

And I went to Goodwill today, to take back some jeans that didn't fit Olivia. She does need jeans. Just one more good pair will help get her through the winter, but I got her two. Oh, and a dress.

Which she didn't need.
But this is one little girl who loves her dresses. The sparklier the better. And for $2.19? Come on.
This is why I don't make New Year's Resolutions. I already fell off the wagon.