Autism Awareness Feed

Full Disclosure Friday: Progress Not Perfection

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Happy Friday, my friends! I hope this week has been good to you. I'm sorry my posting has been rather sluggish lately - we've been in a rather busy pattern lately. But as we near the end of the year I feel my schedule is finally starting to smooth out a little. :)

So today, in the spirit of full "Friday" disclosure, I'd like to share another glimpse into our special needs family life. We've had some significant changes to our therapy situation recently, coming at a time when Earlybird is really struggling with a variety of challenges, and adjusting to a new (and first ever) behavioral medication. One beloved therapist moved away, and a new one began ...

But with change comes renewal, and with fresh perspective comes hope!

We've also been granted more ABA hours so Earlybird is now getting more therapy assistance than ever - and this includes weekends! This development could not have come at a better time, and with the med we started him on this spring we've been seeing some subtle improvements. Overall then, after a bit of upheaval, we are getting ourselves (and our boy) back on (a really good) track!

Now, I try to keep things as real as possible here. Yes, I like to focus on the positives, but I think there is also much to gain in sharing our tough times. Fittingly, this post highlights both sides of our autism journey. Oftentimes a new success highlights the larger struggle still looming - so though we're ever mindful of keeping perspective, it's so important to celebrate every step, no matter how small. 

So  ... yesterday, we braved Target together, Earlybird and me (and his therapist).

And this might seem like the most common of events - shopping at Target - but let me tell you, it was anything but! For Earlybird, managing a place as over-stimulating as Target is a real emotional and physical challenge. But, with Little Bear's birthday coming up, he really wanted to pick out his own gift ... πŸ’™

A bit of back story, first:

I shop at Target all the time, but it had been 6 years since Earlybird last stepped foot in this place. That time he was much smaller, but his meltdown was HUGE. (Wailing and thrashing-on-the-floor, security-alerting huge. 😳) That day sticks out as one of those memories we point to when confessing just how very hard things can get. (I think most autism families have them.)

Well, yesterday, with the support of our ABA therapist, our boy returned to that very same store to buy his own β€œperfect” present. He'd been talking about it for weeks, but to keep it as simple as possible, we prepared an "action card" for him. On it was listed three things:

  • present
  • card
  • gift bag

ALL DONE √

The good news is ... he did it!! We made it through the store and he completed his card.

The less-so-good news? He struggled the whole time ... and mightily.

The parking lot was busy, the cart was noisy, and just inside the doors, he stopped and said, β€œI want to go home.” But with the encouragement of our therapist, we got him moving and directed him straight to the toy aisles.

Oh, he balked, he fussed - he even yelled and stomped! But 10 (loooong) minutes later, we were back in my van headed home. πŸš™ πŸ’¨

Of course that was not a fun ride ... because EB's emotions boiled over and he really let his anger and anxiety loose in the backseat. (Thank God for our therapist!)

Were my nerves frayed? You bet. But was the mission accomplished? Yes.

So we're calling it a win. :)

Folks, don’t ever take the β€œeveryday” things for granted - the things you or your children can do without a worry or second thought. Be grateful for every mundane and meltdown-free moment. And celebrate every hard-won success!! #progressnotperfection

I am SO GRATEFUL for the support we receive and the hope we keep kindled in our hearts. πŸ™πŸ» We are so blessed by this boy whose heart is pure gold and whose hopes are the same as anyone else’s: to be loved, and live a meaningful life.

Is shopping at Target meaningful? πŸ€”

Well, it sure can be! Because our son faced his fears so he could buy his own gift for his brother. Those ten minutes seemed eternal to him, but he did it! πŸ‘πŸ»

And I can’t wait to see the look on *both* my boys’ faces when that gift is unwrapped! 🎁

Well my friends, thank you so much for stopping in today, and allowing me to share a little of my life as an autism mom. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and I will back here again very soon!


Full Disclosure Friday: Autism Siblings ROCK

Two boys

Full disclosure: Life with an autistic child is challenging ...

But as parents, we are blessed with a deep and unconditional love for our child as well as (not always, but often enough) the mental and physical reserves we need to weather what this life - and this child - throws our way.

As for life with an autistic sibling, however ... well, that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

To put it plainly ... my greatest joy in life has been being a mother to my boys, but my greatest fear is that I've somehow bungled it. That perhaps I could have expended more - energy, flexibility, confidence, whatever - to have met the needs of ALL my boys better than I have. That when Bill and I faced the challenges of autism parenting, we could have been braver or more open-minded. That we let our fear (and perhaps lack of sleep) make the decisions for us more often than not.

I struggle with guilt - not all the time, but often enough - that so much of our family life has been shaped by the pressures of Earlybird's autism. I worry that our older boys had a childhood that fell short in significant ways, or that they missed out on the life-shaping kinds of experiences their peers probably enjoyed ...

We don't travel. We don't eat out. We rarely go to the movies ... or museums ... or the town parade. They've been to see fireworks ... once.

And that's not to say that we haven't been aware of these omissions (acutely so) but I hesitate to say, "Well, we do our best." Because I'm so afraid maybe we haven't.

We are, however, getting better at this, because finally we are getting the right kind of help and figuring out ways to make things happen that we couldn't before - for Earlybird AND his brothers.

But as for our older two boys ... well, they're young men now. Their childhood is over. And though I feel it was a good one - full of love, togetherness and home-centered joy - there were times of turmoil, too. A lot of tiptoeing around their younger brother's moods. A lot of activities that had to be missed - or seriously curtailed - because Mom and Dad were simply not able to manage them. (Logistically or emotionally speaking, depending on the day.)

How often did they surpress a need - or a dream - because they could see how stretched thin their parents already were?

I've often said our older boys have gained truly great gifts as the brothers of an autistic person. Through the years they've had ample opportunities to practice such virtues as patience and tolerance, compassion and understanding ...

I'm sorry we can't go to the pool party, but Nana can't watch Earlybird for me and there's no way we can take him.

I'm sorry we can't make it to the beach today (even though we've already driven halfway there) but your brother is melting down and we need to turn around.

I'm sorry I can't come inside and mingle with your friends' mothers - EB needs to stay in the car, and therefore, so do I.

They are the least demanding young men you could know. They understand. They accept. They never-ever make us feel we are cheating them. And yet ... still, I worry.

Did we put them first, too? Did we honor their individuality? Did we meet their needs? Or did we rely on their easygoing natures a little too often?

Anther gift they've earned through the years is that they have a keen sense of acceptance - they do not judge. Because they KNOW firsthand that you must always give someone the benefit of the doubt. They know better than anyone that the full story is not always what can be observed at first glance. 

And while they may not always be compassionate towards their brother (they are human after all!) they mostly always keep their tempers in check. Because they've understood that they are the older brothers ... they are the example from which Earlybird can learn. Above all, they have been an incredible support to Bill and myself, especially perhaps since the birth of our Little Bear.

And here's the crux of my full disclosure today, the latest worry to niggle at my heart ...

How will Little Bear handle his brother's autism as he grows up? How will it shape his childhood ... his development and personality?

When we found out we were expecting a fourth child, back in October, 2012 ... we were quite surprised - make that shocked - as well as extremely happy. But yes, a little anxious, too! I had so far enjoyed three wonderful pregnancies as a mom on the young side (at 26, 30 and 32). Now as "older parents" having a "geriatric pregnancy" (their words, not mine!) we were understandably a little concerned about some of the risks that come with pregnancies over 40.

There was my health to consider, the baby's of course, and then there was our family itself. As the parents of a child with autism we couldn't help but worry about the potential risks with this next child. We knew he would be special - each and every child is - but would he have special challenges? Older parents have a higher risk of having a child with autism, as do parents who have already had a child on the spectrum ...

When we were feeling brave we'd say, well, we already know how to be autism parents and we know this child will be loved and amazing and everything will be fine no matter what. When we were not feeling brave ... well, it was harder to feel so confident. We worried about how we'd handle the needs of an infant AND those of our special needs son. We worried about practical things like the number of bedrooms in our house and the hours of sleep we wouldn't be getting ...

But I think we worried most of all about how a baby would affect Earlybird. How would he handle this? How would his autism affect his ability to accept and embrace a younger sibling?

Well, Little Bear arrived hale and hearty (after a few agonizing minutes spent blue and being assessed by a team of neonatalogists) and EB surprised us with how easily he both accepted AND embraced his little brother ... but soon enough we found ourselves wondering:

How would Little Bear fit into our special needs family, an environment that on most days could be best defined as, "loving chaos?"

How would Earlybird's autism challenge HIM?

This is a question we're still finding answers to ... especially now that Little Bear is nearly five years old, and just such ... a little person. Aware now - sometimes too aware! - and full of observations and opinions and energy and needs ...

But this post isn't about our answers ... we're still working on those. Every day I am keenly aware that EB's autism is quite apparent to Little Bear - who is also keenly aware that his brother is different. And sometimes that's a good thing ... and sometimes not. 

Already Little Bear is learning that EB can't always help his behavior, and that just because EB does (or says) something, doesn't necessarily mean it's ok for him too. Our youngest son is what you'd call - ahem - a very strong-willed child, and so I think this will be a really good thing for Earlybird. Developmentally, EB is still quite young so as LB grows, they can learn from, and with, each other. With the support of their Mom and their Dad, as well as their much older brothers, these two boys will one day be the best of friends ... of that I am sure (mostly).

Moral of the story: 

Autism siblings rock

Every child is special and every child has needs ... what a blessing it is to be given such responsibility as parents. What a gift to be so trusted with these beautiful minds and dear hearts.

I sincerely hope that as Little Bear gets older, we only get better at this. That we're able to learn from our mistakes, and remember our strengths, and see past our limitations. That we will model for our boys a level of patience and resilience and compassion that they will emulate as they get older - because one day we'll need to rely on three of our boys to take over for us and see to their special brother's needs. As hard as it is to say this - think this - Bill and I won't always be here and that I think is perhaps the greatest fear of an autism parent ...

Above all I pray we may continue to find the kind of help we need - whether it be from family, friends, therapists, medicine (or most likely a combination of all) - that supports not only Earlybird's progress, but the health and vitality of our family life, too. This is what I hope for most of all.

βœ¨πŸ’™βœ¨πŸ’™βœ¨πŸ’™βœ¨πŸ’™βœ¨

Well everyone, thanks so much for letting me share this part of my life with you all. I know I rambled on rather long, and I could probably spend another few hours picking back over this post and making it read a little smoother, but alas ... I'm afraid my computer time has reached its end! So for now I'll wish you all well and a peaceful day (or evening) ahead ...

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

See you all here again very soon ...


Mitten Strings for God: Ch. 13 "Breathing"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! I hope you are all doing well! :)

Today I'd like to invite you to sit and have a spot of tea with me, as we chat about the next chapter in our current (albeit slow-going!) book study, Mitten Strings for God by Katrina Kenison. Last month we talked about incorporating more "One-on-One Time," and today - skipping over chapter 12, for reasons explained in this post - we're moving on to the concept of "Breathing."

(Who thinks about breathing, anyway? Well, today, we will!)

Before we get started on our topic though, how about a quick look at my tea?

Today I am drinking a cup of Decaffeinated Irish Breakfast tea, which is kind of our house tea, so there's always an extra box or two in our cupboard! (I hardly ever drink full-caf tea since I limit my caffeine intake to the mornings - when coffee fills my mug and zaps my veins with the energy I need to jump-start my day!)

So please let me pour you a fresh cuppa, and please pardon the mess on the table - particularly, the cats! (Who let them up on the table, anyway??) Today being Sunday I am knee-deep in my "office hours" and trying to get a handle on what the new week will bring. The Vernal Equinox for one thing on Tuesday, as well as the start of my annual spring cleaning - and our seasonal homeschooling theme is "pussy willows." As you can see, Oliver and Archie are all-in ... because nothing invites the cats' keen attention like a little fresh vegetation on the kitchen table!

Allrighty, now let's get on with the chapter chat ...

And what an interesting thing to consider, breathing. It's something we do constantly and automatically ... yet rarely do we actually stop and think about it. Unless we've over-exerted ourselves, and/or are suffering from asthma or experiencing an allergic reaction (been there, done that) - if we are fortunate enough to have no physical ailments to impede it, our body just does what it must do ... our lungs expand, we take in oxygen ... we breathe.

And we live!

So as I read this chapter's opening passage - the description of the Kenison boys running loops around the house, exulting in the very state of being alive - I thought, what a fun and memorable story! But also ... what a lesson!

"We stand there together, hands to hearts, as their pulses slowly return to normal. Then they are off again, flying, exhilarated, reveling in their discoveries of air and speed and strength, the joy of physical experience." (p. 95)

Celebrating life comes so easily to children - they don't think about it so much, or plan it like their adult counterparts do (perhaps a tad obsessively, ahem!). No, they just happily move forward, absorbing and savoring the blessing that is LIFE. This awareness and appreciation comes to them as naturally as breathing, if you'll pardon the pun - but it's true! And I think most of us could benefit from the innocent lessons of an open-hearted and exuberant child.

"How readily our children embrace these humble lessons; how long it takes for many of us adults to relearn them!" (p. 99)

As for racing about the house, I think perhaps we adults might tire after the first quarter-lap, lol! That said, I can strongly identify with the parents here - sitting, and watching - in that first passage. How wonderful to watch our children marvel over the "inner workings of their own bodies." (p. 95)   

So when do we think about breathing, then? Well, for one thing, when we're exercising ...

Fitness walking is an excellent habit, but one I must admit I fall in and out of according to season. In the spring, as soon as the roads and walkways are clear of snow, I begin my daily morning walks. Spring is a great time for new endeavors! The air smells great, and feels great! At this time of year I feel inspired, invigorated and resolved!

But at first it's a bit of a struggle to get back in the rhythm of walking. And not just physically - making my way up the steep hill at the end of our road - but mentally, too. Beginning with motivating myself to walk out my door - making the time to walk, arranging the child care, putting on my walking clothes and lacing up my sneakers ... letting my brain move beyond the walls of my house and the issues and tasks therein.

Allowing my mind to wander along with my feet ... I find it all gets easier as the season moves along.

My breathing during these walks comes easier too as I gain stamina and my lungs get back into the swing of things. Spring and summer walking is a breeze (green flies and heat waves, notwithstanding) but by autumn I'm afraid to say - with dark days and chilly/wet weather, I start finding excuses to stay home and skip my walks. Soon enough of course, I fall out of habit. 

But to say come spring I'm eager to revive my walking habit again is an understatement! I'm ready to exchange winter's stale indoor air for spring's fresh outdoor air and take a few deep cleansing breaths! And here we are on April's doorstep, so my instincts should be kicking in again anytime now ... once the roads are passable, of course.

*glares at the two feet of snow outside the window* 

So when else do we think about breathing? Well, how about when we're trying to find calm for ourselves, or another?

Do you ever stop when you find yourself in a bit of "a state" and just - close your eyes and count to ten? (Or five, or a hundred - depending on the circumstances!) And as you count, you might find your breathing slows and whatever is happening seems a little more manageable? Even if just in a mercurial amount. Any bit of calm is welcome when the need is great.

Speaking of ...

"When I say to my boys, 'Let's take a deep breath,' I am guiding them into a safe haven, a place where they can release their pain and anger and come back to center again." (p. 98)

Throughout the book, Ms. Kesinson is quite candid about her family's choices and challenges, and as I've said before, so much of it has inspired and supported me in my own mothering. And each time I read, I appreciate some chapters more than others - because my experiences (hopes and fears) change as my children grow. 

So during my current re-read, I found myself pausing over her description of her younger son's emotional issues:

"Jack is still prone to tantrums, outbursts that frighten him and wreak havoc on the rest of us as well." (p. 98)

I couldn't help but think about my Earlybird and his struggles. When EB was very little, before he was officially diagnosed, he would have absolutely awful meltdowns. They seemed to happen all the time, sometimes for no reason, and we just felt ... so helpless. Our older boys (four and two when EB was born) were extremely easy-going children, with nary a tantrum between them. So I'm pretty sure we thought we had the whole "peaceful parenting" thing down pat ...

*rolls eyes at my younger mothering self*

And then along came Earlybird, who, by two was wigging out at the zoo, the grocery store, the neighbor's birthday party, in the car - you name it, he couldn't handle it. And for a very long time, neither could we ...

We learned of course, that Earlybird has autism, and meltdowns out of nowhere are common. They are also, unfortunately, not something he's grown out of - and let me tell you, it's a lot easier to handle the autistic meltdown of a six year old then that of a 16 year old. (Physically AND emotionally!) Thankfully though, we have learned how to help him through these challenging times and, perhaps just as important, we've learned how to make it through these tough times ourselves. Years later we have wonderful therapists working with EB and showing us the way. One of the techniques they began with him quite early on was breathing ...

So when EB is upset - afraid, mad, frustrated, whatever emotion is just too big- they encourage him to take deep breaths, for a count of five.

"Take a deep breath, EB. And again ... one, two, three, four, five."

I remember the first time I watched them do this, I thought: Right, I don't think so. That's not gonna work ...

And yet, sure enough ... he calmed down. Maybe just a little, but usually enough to get us to the next step. His attention was diverted, he could hear us again, and he'd become more aware as he slowed down his over-taxed heart.

Over time, Earlybird has learned to employ this strategy on his own. Often we have to prompt him, but now and then I'll hear him, if he's frustrated by something, muttering to himself: "Ok. Just calm down now, and take a deep breath."

How many times have I found myself (perhaps in the very next room) taking those deep breaths along with him ... ?

If I may veer a bit off topic (kind of) for a moment ...

I've been sharing more and more about our autism journey here at the blog and how we've been able to help our son, but I just want to stress that we are nowhere near perfect, nor do we have it all figured out. We take it day by day (or as we often "joke," hour by hour) and try to handle what we can, as we can. We are blessed with tremendous support, and sometimes it feels like we're on a fairly even keel ... but then something happens and we're frantically adjusting our sails once again.

For a long time we floundered, having trouble finding the right kind of therapy for EB. (Whose issues were complicated by the onset of epilepsy at age 12.) In 2014 we finally matched up with a fabulous ABA center and began home-based therapy that has been invaluable for our son. Without question, it has changed his (and our) lives. That said, we have just recently come to the decision to start him on a behavioral med. This was not a decision we took lightly - indeed, we've put it off for as long as we could. But though so much has improved for EB - there have also been some new and significant challenges for EB in the past year. Perhaps hardest of all has been the rise of an anxiety - for lack of a better word - that prevents him from fully exploring the world around him, taking part in his community and maintaining a peace within himself that allows him to benefit from the supports available to him ...

So we talked long and hard with our neurologist (a Boston Children's Hospital Autism Specialist) about this situation and while very supportive of what we've been doing, agreed with our concern that we need to do something more. So we are starting EB out on something mild and at a very low dose ... and in a few weeks we should potentially see some changes. 

So we're nervous, but we're hopeful ... because we're finally doing something, that has helped other children and adults with autism. We can only pray it will help our boy, too. As our doctor warned us, it won't make things perfect, but it will hopefully take the edge off for him and allow him (US) to live more fully.

If we can find a little more calm in our household I think all of us will BREATHE a little easier! β€

My friends, I hope you all don't mind me sharing this news seemingly out of the blue, but I felt it was important to let people know that this is where we need to go. I know many people reading here also have children on medication, and I am certain it was a decision you also took very seriously. (If you feel called to comment or reach out, I'd love to hear from you.) Throughout our journey we've handled as much as we can and we try, constantly to devise ideas and strategies that help our son with his challenges, but  ... we've come to realize, he needs more help. We need more help.

I will keep you all posted and would be ever so grateful for your prayers!

***

Well everyone, I am going to be off now, as there are still a few hours before bedtime and I still have a few more To-Dos to take care of! I hope you are all enjoying this lovely Sunday ... blustery and bright here, but at least it's not snowing! As always, I would love to hear from you if you have a moment! Remember, all are welcome to join the MSfG discussion ... archived posts can be found here ... and we're not even halfway through the book! Our next chapter is called, "Healing" and I would love to assign it a date, but I know myself too well, and will just say, it will be soon. Ish. After Easter, for sure - but I will post a "meeting time" when we get started in the new month ... 

So please stay tuned and take care! As always, I thank you sincerely for stopping by ...

See you here again very soon!


Here's a Look at Our Day!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Thursday! I hope your week's been going well!

I thought it would be fun to share a "day in our life" with you all, so as we went through our day, one day last week, I took pictures and jotted down notes. Here then is a little recap of last Thursday, March 1st. :)

(Note: Our weekdays are currently quite similar in that, Bill goes to work and I stay home with the kids. Another constant these days is we have two ABA therapists who work here at home with our 16 yo son, for a total of four hours a day. And then some days Bill works from home, and four days a week our 18 yo son has outside-the-home classes - to (and from) which Bill or I must drive him because he does not yet have his license! But hopefully he will by the end of this month!)

Ok, here we go ...

GOOD MORNING! πŸŒž

5:00 a.m.

I wake up and realize I'm the first one up, which is quite surprising because usually Earlybird is the first to rise. (He has in fact been my alarm clock for the past 16 years!) I look over to see if Bill is still sleeping, and am not all that surprised to notice that the body softly snoring next to me is not my husband's but that of our four year old son's - with his head draped across my pillows, mind you! And this would explain the crick in my neck ...

I then realize Bill has already gotten out of bed, so I grab my phone and send off a text:

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As you can see our texting skills are not at their best this early in the morning! (Per family tradition, we always say RABBIT RABBIT on the first of the month - it's supposed to bring you good luck!)

Within a few minutes I hear Earlybird get up and head downstairs, and Bill sees to EB's needs (a snack, a water cup, the family room TV clicker) while starting a fresh pot of coffee. Then I wait, in the darkness, with as much patience as I can muster (which isn't a lot), until Bill brings me that first blessed cup of coffee. sigh ... JOY!

So while I savor my first cup, curled up in the rocking chair by my bed, Little Bear sleeps on with hefty pillows piled up on either side of him. (Our bed is quite high and I don't like to leave him alone in it - yet I'm loathe to move him for fear he'd wake and be up for the day!)

It's quiet, it's peaceful, and there's a purring cat in my lap ... β€ 

Soon enough, Bill starts getting ready for work - though he often takes calls at home until mid-morning - and Earlybird is happy as a clam in the family room with his Kindle Fire and breakfast snacks. 

(Note: EB usually wakes up VERY early - he always has! Sleeping past six is rare for him. He can't be left unsupervised however, so Bill and I always rise just as early as he does.)

Now some (perhaps many!) might cringe at starting one's day so very early in the morning, but honestly, I don't mind. In fact, I actually like it! As long as I have my coffee, of course, I appreciate these early hours before the day truly begins, when I can gather my thoughts and launch the day slowly ...

So the next few hours are spent in this way - I'm upstairs watching the room go from pitch dark to soft light, savoring cup (after cup) of freshly brewed coffee, working on my phone until it's light enough to see and then I start working in my planners. (Checking email, social media, news, etc.) I also use this time to think quietly and say my morning prayers. I love catching the sunrise when I'm able ... πŸŒ…

* Morning planning: I start with my little Katie Daisy planner, at the monthly spread, crossing off yesterday's block (February 28th). Since it's the first of the month, I readjust my binder clip to the March page. Isn't it fun when you get to start a new monthly spread? I then open my seasonal planner and consult the weekly spread - where are we at, what's what for today? Thursdays are "nature walk" days, per our weekly homeschooling rhythm - and as this is "thaw/sap" week we'll be looking for signs of winter-melt and possibly, any maple trees in our neighborhood. It's supposed to be a clear and very mild day so this is perfect! Finally I move on to my Day Designer and set up my daily page. If time permits I use a highlighter to visually target drive-times and outings.

(Note: During these early hours, spring through fall, I try to grab a quick 30 minute walk before Little Bear wakes. These days however, winter weather (and dark mornings) keep me inside. I do have a treadmill in our bedroom but I don't use it regularly ever.)

8:45 a.m.

Little Bear seems to be sleeping in, so I wake Crackerjack (first reminding him to say RABBIT RABBIT) so he can keep an eye on LB and an ear out for EB while I grab a quick shower and get dressed. 

(Note: I think it would be fun to do a post on our grooming/health/beauty routines, don't you?)

Once I'm done with my "primp and prep" (such as it is) Crackerjack goes off to get himself ready for class, and Little Bear wakes up soon thereafter.

9:00 a.m.

We head downstairs to officially begin our day! This is about an hour later than usual for us, so I'm running a little behind. Earlybird heads upstairs to his bedroom since he no longer has to be quiet, but first I give him his (anti-seizure) meds. Little Bear and I feed the cats and start making breakfast ... I always tune into the TODAY show throughout the morning. I can't sit and really digest it, but I like to catch a few segments here and there. :)

BREAKFAST: whole wheat waffles, apple cider, cheese and vitamins.

I now switch to decaffeinated tea. I try not to drink caffeine after 10 a.m.

9:30 a.m.

I drive Crackerjack to Spanish class, leaving the rest of the boys at home with Bill. Just before leaving I receive an email from a good friend of mine who is organizing our March Nature Club activity (maple sugaring!). She needs me to get back to her ASAP on a few dates/times so that gets me thinking and strategizing on the drive.

I drop CJ at his class, and head back home (a five-minute drive). Kiss Bill on my way in (and his way out) and then scramble to get things ready for Earlybird's first therapist who arrives at 10 a.m.

10:00 a.m.

Earlybird is working on his daily routine with his ABA therapist, Michael. First he showers, shaves and dresses - then he works on chores like cleaning his room, changing his bedding, doing his laundry, taking out the trash, emptying the dishwasher, etc. All these tasks build good skills but are also important for working on the concept of compliance. (Doing activities that are not preferred.)

Meanwhile, I return my friend's email, letting her know the dates that work for us, give my Mum a call, and then do some preschool activities with Little Bear ... and this is where I first start taking pictures!

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Here's Little Bear coloring a Welsh dragon for St. David's Day! We also read a book, and make a paper plate cloud - in honor of March coming in like a lamb. Little Bear says he's "still hungry" and wants toast, so we pop some bread in the toaster and start working on a Peppa Pig puzzle. 

Suddenly, a telltale rumble on the road tells us mail has arrived! So we decide to head outside for a bit to retrieve said mail, check on the hens and have ourselves a little nature walk.

But first we pop downstairs to change up the laundry and see if Bookworm is busy. (He's not working full-time at the moment, but doing computer design/site building at home currently, while studying for java certification.) We find him on his computer, but he tells us he'll join us outside for a bit. (While Bookworm looks for full-time employment he has been a HUGE help to us with childcare. I feel so blessed to have this time with ALL my boys at home!)

11:00 a.m. 

Outside now, and what a beautiful day! Bright and warm, nearly 60Β°! Not at all usual for New England at this time of year. (But we'll take it!)

After checking on the hens' needs, we walk around a bit. I love our yard because it's a good size and there are always interesting and new things to "discover!" Some things are new but familiar ...

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Such as the first daffodil shoots of the year! We found these growing by the front walk, beneath the dog rose bush.

Other things are not new, but perhaps unnoticed, and definitely not familiar!

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Such as this orange and green "fur" growing between the cracks in the stairwell. (It's actually moss - aka Hairy Moss!) Little Bear, as you can see here, made sure he grabbed his shovel, because ... you never know when you might need to dig.

I leave LB with BW and head inside to place a call and check on EB and Michael ...

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Oops, but first I remember to grab the mail!

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How I love a good mail day! New books, catalogs and magazines and ok, yes, bills. But still - I love when our mailbox is full!

Back inside I find Earlybird and his therapist taking a break in the family room. (EB gets five minute breaks between tasks and usually he likes to watch a little TV during this time.) I decide to place a call I need to make ... rescheduling a long overdue eye exam!

After earning that check, I decide to work on some chores, since Little Bear and Bookworm are still outside and Earlybird and Michael have left on a bike ride. It seems VERY quiet in the house, lol! Just me and the cats ...

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... who are intently observing a chipmunk perched just outside the patio doors!

According to my weekly housekeeping schedule, on Thursdays I clean the "back rooms" - meaning, the sunroom (aka the learning room) and family room. I decide to start in the sunroom since it's just SO lovely out I can have the windows open while I work ...

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My cleaning routine goes something like this: de-clutter/tidy, sweep, vacuum, dust/wipe.

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If I'm able to have windows open all the better for airing out the room, too!

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I leave the table set with things for Earlybird to see and work on today ...

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Just as I finish tidying this room, I am hailed by Bookworm and Little Bear to "Come see what they found!" I will spare you this picture though, since what they found was most surely a rather disgusting owl pellet! Fascinating, for sure ... but also, quite gross. 

NOONTIME

Michael is off and it's time for lunch! Bookworm brings Little Bear inside and sees to his washing up, while I set about making lunch for the younger boys.

LUNCH: popcorn, lemonade, cheese quesadillas, apple slices and fig cookies.

I also keep an eye on the noontime news - it seems we have quite a storm heading our way!

Earlybird's second therapy session begins once Gideon arrives. They head out to the sunroom to start in on his homeschool assignments and various other life skills activities. I clean up after lunch - with Little Bear's help, natch - and then LB and I settle in for a bit of reading time in the living room. He's really into "The Magic School Bus" right now and as you can imagine we have quite a few of those in our collection!

(Note: I need to read with Little Bear where Earlybird can't hear us since he has a strong aversion to people reading aloud, singing, talking too much. We're actually working on desensitizing him of this sensory challenge and some days one of his therapy activities is simply to listen to me read aloud (with or without LB present, depending on EB's current mood). We do this for a few minutes or pages at a time. Otherwise, LB and I read aloud when EB is elsewhere in the house or otherwise engaged with his therapists.) 

1:00 p.m.

I leave Bookworm home with EB and Gideon while Little Bear and I head out to pick up Crackerjack from class and run to the library. But first, I pour my fresh cup of tea into a travel mug! Here is my bag sitting on the seat next to me:

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It's not the most interesting picture, I just really love that bag! We have a few books and videos to return and I have a couple of holds waiting for me.

We pick up CJ - who as you can probably tell from this picture, had a karate lesson after Spanish!

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(We're very fortunate to have an active homeschooling community where we live. CJ, like Bookworm before him, has been able to take classes with other homeschoolers at a couple of different locations. This has made a huge impact on our high school homeschooling. I plan to do a separate post about our homeschool approach in the high school years ... now that Bookworm is actually OUT of college and Crackerjack is making plans to attend in the fall.)

Ok, we're now off to the library! We are here at least once a week - to make returns, pick up holds and sometimes just to browse. Today I allow Little Bear to pick out a video or two. He has a hard time choosing and finally decides on Reading Rainbow and The Adventures of Clutch Powers. (He is SO into Legos right now!)

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Before we leave, Crackerjack points out a book he thinks looks nice for Little Bear, Shelter. It is indeed absolutely lovely, and I make a note to add it to my November planner for "hibernation" week. (I scribble myself a note on the index card attached to my little planner and then transfer that note to my seasonal planner back home.)

A few minutes later we are back home, and heading inside, but Little Bear wants to feel the soft buds of the magnolia tree ...

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He is enchanted by the texture - though somewhat dismayed when he plucks the bud off the tree without meaning to! I reassure him the tree is fine and suggest he place the bud on our nature table. 

First though, LB takes a closer look under his "microscope!"

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He places the bud on top of his bowl of moss-dirt.

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"Doing science." πŸ˜‰ This little magnifyer was a wonderful purchase! It has served us very well for several years.

Btw, here are the books I had on the hold shelf:

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The Dance of Time is right up my alley - I LOVE learning about the calendar! I forget where I heard about it, but I decided it would be an interesting book to check out! The Vanity Fair Diaries is not something I'd normally read, but I saw its author, VF editor-in-chief Tina Brown interviewed on Greater Boston one evening last month and thought it all sounded quite intriguing! (We don't watch a lot of TV, but Bill and try to catch GB every weeknight - plus Beat the Press on Fridays as well as the wonderful Rick Steves' Europe also on PBS!)

3:00 p.m.

Now, time for a break! We sit in the family room for a bit - and yes, the TV goes on! Nature Cat and Wild Kratts are favorites and while Little Bear watches, I work on my plans for next week (and the weekend) and enjoy a rather large cup of tea!

Here's where we crash for a bit ...

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I just love this east-facing window - it gets wonderful morning light, and the cardinals just love those spruce trees! The couch is a bit beaten up (though only a few years old) but it's quite comfy. :)

Just as I decide to put off the rest of my "Thursday chores" I hear a car pull up the drive ... and we are all thrilled to see it's my brother - aka Uncle Matt!

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We have SUCH a nice visit with my brother ... as usual, he spoils us with a bunch of Trader Joes treats (he's a TJ's manager) and a new game for family game night! He doesn't need to bring a thing of course, it's just great to spend time with him. :)

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And this right here is why I'm so grateful to be at home, and that I live close to my family. My life is a simple one, but it brings me tremendous joy! 

❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀ 

Now I will confess, I got off track a little at this point - I stopped taking pictures and jotting down notes! But here's my recollection of the rest of our Thursday, March 1st ... :)

4:00 p.m.

After Matt left, I started in on my usual afternoon tidy. And by started in on, I mean, I didn't get through it all. (I almost never do!) "Afternoon tidying" includes sweeping the kitchen, prepping supper, neatening the kitchen sink and counters and wiping up the half-bath in the foyer. It's really great when I do make time for these simple tasks because they greatly impact not only the way I feel in the evening but especially how my next morning goes. 

Meanwhile, the boys were all over the house doing their usual things. I can (and do) often ask the older boys to keep an eye on Little Bear if I need to take a shower or work on a project of one kind or another.

I neatened up the learning room a little, by organizing the materials used and lessons completed. Then I turned off the space heater and lights and locked the door for the night.

6:00 p.m.

Bill got home around 6 p.m. and as usual, we sat down to supper right away. This is one of my favorite moments of the day - when we can all catch up and chat.

SUPPER: potato-leek soup (not homemade), grilled ham and cheese panini, steak fries, salad.

Once supper was eaten and dishes cleared, we all retreated to our comfort zones - the boys to their devices and Bill, Little Bear and I to the family room. Generally Bill and I like to watch a little TV at this time of night (as described above) before I head upstairs (planner bag in hand!) to tuck Earlybird in bed. (Because unsurprisingly, Earlybird loves an early bedtime!)

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My planner bag with all the things I'll need in the morning!

8:00 p.m.

Tucking EB can be a process - some nights he needs "two more minutes" multiple times! - but usually it doesn't take too long, since he's such an early riser. After washing up and getting my own "PJs" on, I readied all the beds for sleep and then let Bill know it was time to bring Little Bear upstairs. After washing up and donning "footie" pajamas, he snuggled into Mama and Daddy's bed to hear his special bed stories. Currently he loves hearing these three books before bed. :)

While Bill and Little Bear read, I read my own book until my lids grow heavy ... and next thing I know, everyone's asleep, save for the older two boys who are in charge of their own bedtimes these days! 

10:00

Zzzzzzz ....

GOOD NIGHT!

Well my friends, I hope you enjoyed this peek into our day! It was a very long post to be sure, but then - our days tend to be pretty long! (And of course, I tend to be wordy!) But as always, I thank you very much for joining me here today, and I wish you all a pleasant week's end ...

See you here again very soon!


Full Disclosure Friday ❀

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday. I hope your week's been a good one!

So I've decided to start a new blogging tradition here (or maybe it already exists and I'm just late to the party) called "Full Disclosure Friday." My idea is this - every once in a while, on the occasional Friday, I will share an "inconvenient truth" of some kind, in order to shed a little light on how things sometimes go around here. Because I may be a great one for sharing plans, but I think it may be just as important (if not more so) to share the times when my plans don't quite come to fruition.

Case in point ...

I shared the above picture on Instagram today. This is me (and my polka dot slippers) in the living room very early the other morning, staring down at the usual assortment of things one might find on our rug: Legos, books, pine needles leftover from Christmas ... plus, a paper chain project gone horribly awry.

Yes, this is what has come of our Lenten paper chain, the one I so thoroughly described last month.

Now, I have a post in me somewhere (and I'll do my best to find it) about what happens when your thoughtfully arranged plans go awry - and a project you lovingly assembled for your children is met with disinterest at best ... and defiance at worst. πŸ˜‘

Because, this pretty paper chain? Well, safe to say it wasn't quite the hit I hoped for with our special needs son. As you see here, it's no longer hanging on the kitchen door as a meaningful visual, secured to the bottom of a plain paper cross - but instead laying here scattered and squashed on the living room floor.

And there I was thinking it was JUST the thing for Earlybird this year. πŸ™„

(#everydayisautismawarenessinourhouse)

Plans are fun and easy to make, it's keeping them that can be tricky. Especially when you're working with children ... and most especially when one of your children has special needs. (At least, in my experience.)

Back when I made my initial Lenten plan, what I didn't anticipate was that the paper chain project would really and truly BUG my 16 year old, autistic son - to the point where it was getting plucked at and pushed around so much it was more of a pain than anything. Getting caught in the door, the links all dusty and disorganized ...

Here I was I trying to create an atmosphere of peaceful preparation - but instead I made my son feel anxious and stressed. And let's not even begin to discuss the reaction he had to dipping his fingers into the ink pad for the cross -  THAT was a disaster from the get-go. 

So why did this happen? What about this project distressed him?

Well, as with so many things with Earlybird ... we just don't know, because he's not always a predictable kid. What works with EB once (and paper chains have been a real hit in the past) doesn't necessarily work for him again.

And just like that, when I think I'm really rocking the whole special needs parenting thing, I get a swift reminder not to take things for granted ... and to always keep our plans fluid!

So for now we're just keeping things calm around here, and focusing on the concepts of patience and observation. (And best behavior.) Filling low-key days with low-pressure activities that appeal to our son - but don't agitate. As we like to say in our family, some weeks are for pushing a little, and others are for just keeping afloat ...

Our Lent is looking like the latter to me.

Now, I know I'm not alone in this. I am sure many of you have had things like this happen that prove just how tricky it can be to read our kids (whatever their needs) and meet them where they are (not where we envision them to be).

So what do we do when those carefully crafted plans don't click as well as we'd hoped? How do we handle the disappointment and even perhaps, the dismay?

Well, first we gracefully admit defeat (on social media, natch), and shelve those β€œperfect” plans for another day. Then, we pour ourselves a big cup of coffee (or glass of wine as the case may be), tune into our inner GPS and do our best to "recalculate" ... πŸ€”

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Because if the season of Lent teaches us anything, it's that we must always hold onto Hope.

❀

Thank you, my friends, for listening. I know this wasn't my "usual" post, but it felt like something I needed to share. As always, I thank you for joining me here and if you too are parenting a challenging child, I'd love to hear from you - please know I am with you! And if it helps, we could talk more about it. :)

Keep on shining, Mamas! And don't forget: we light the way for our families, but we must kindle our own little flames first!

Take care, everyone ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


Happy New Year! Now, Howsabout a Giveaway?!

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Hello my friends, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!! I'm popping in quickly to share a few fun things that I've been busting to tell you about. :)

First of all - I hope you all had a wonderful Advent and Christmas! I can hardly believe (as is true most years) that it's come and gone so fast. Well, we're still in the season of Christmas for another week or two, depending on which calendar you follow! But I'm sure you know what I mean ... it seems like it flies by more quickly every year!

Anyhoo, let's talk about planners for a moment because I have some very exciting news to share!

So, you all might remember last Fall I held a giveaway with the winner receiving one of my homemade seasonal planners? Well, that winner was Lisa E. who kindly waited ever-so-long for me to get the planner printed and assembled and bound, and off in the mail to her before the New Year began! And she's allowed me to share a few pictures of her planner once it arrived ... (see top photo as well)!

Hi Dawn! (2)

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Gosh, do I love those vintage papers!! And Lisa, I really LOVE those color-coordinated paper clips! :)

Now, here's the really swell thing ... oh, I'm so happy to say this ... Lisa has very generously offered to sponsor another PLANNER GIVEAWAY! And what that means is, I'll be making up another one - just like mine and Lisa's - and sending it to someone else who might be blessed by such a planner!!

How incredibly generous of Lisa! How fun to create another "BS&C" planner and send it off to another mom to enjoy! I am dipping my toe ever-so deeper into the planner-making waters and hope to have more news to share on that front very soon ... :)

But for now, here's what we'll do, thanks to Lisa's kind offer. If you're interested in winning my homemade planner, please leave me a comment below, telling me something that makes you happy. It can be anything at all - a pack of gum you like or a person you love. Whatever you feel on your heart to share, please do. I'm all for filling up our new year with all kinds of HAPPY!

I'll announce a winner this Sunday, January 7th! That's in a little less than a week!

(And since the planner will probably go out near the end of the month - it takes me a bit of time to pull together - I can have the planner begin with January or February, or really, any month you'd like. Just let me know.)

Hope to hear from you, and thank you again, Lisa, for such a generous offer! I am so glad you are enjoying your planner so far - I truly love mine and find myself using it every day in partnership with the other planning tools I use. (Post to come soon on all that! Plus ... how about another Planner Party? Remember how much fun we had with that?!)

Now, before I let you go, here's my own HAPPY for today ... 

I wanted to share some pictures with you of something AMAZING that happened to us at the end of this year. Our Earlybird, who, as most of you know is autistic, celebrated his 16th birthday on December 14th. (Longtime readers might be wondering, like me, how on EARTH can this boy be SIXTEEN?) Well, as you can imagine he was pretty darn excited about, and anxious for, his birthday ... so we had a countdown going, and party lists of what to make, who might come, etc. Well, a dear friend of mine (someone I've known since my days at 4Real Forums and online ever since) decided to make EB's birthday even happier! After I mentioned that EB doesn't get much mail and that he doesn't really have many friends of his own, Maria asked me if she might send him a birthday card and perhaps a few from her kids. Of course I said, Yes! I knew it would make EB so happy. Then Maria turned to her homeschooling friends (and beyond) and mentioned EB's story ... and what started as a few cards coming his way ... turned into something truly amazing!

EB received over 200 cards!! β€

So here's a little tour of the card project, starting with our boy at the table surrounded by a batch of cards that arrived on his actual birthday. (The cards came in every day for over a week!) I hung them all over the house!!

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EB 4

EB 8

EB 12

EB 11

Eb 3

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Eb 13

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EB 6

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Well, I could show you a few more corners of cards, but I think you probably get the gist! Isn't this just awesome?? :)

Not only did this project make our special boy's birthday even more special, but it reminded us - in the midst of a rather hectic and draining month - that there is SO MUCH good in the world. And that really, people are so happy to be given the chance to show kindness to someone else. So many of these cards have wonderful drawings (reflecting his love for trains and planets) and beautiful messages of friendship and encouragement ... a few kids even offered to be pen pals! These cards came from homeschooling families, and CCD classes and a men's choir and even an ENTIRE high school in New York. Oh my goodness, I wish I could hug each and every person who did this for EB! 

Well ... we'll never-ever forget this ... it filled us with so much support and encouragement. Every time I walk through my house and see all these cards I remember how many folks thought of our son and wished him well, perhaps said a prayer in his name. And going forward we'll make sure Earlybird (aka Riley as you can probably see from the cards) never EVER forgets how much he means to those who know him. He's a special boy and his beautiful light is meant to shine just as brightly as anyone else's. I'm so glad others can see that just as his own family can!

We may never be able to thank the folks who participated in this project enough ... but I hope that their participation blessed them as much as it did us. I certainly have asked God to bless these folks for their kindness!

Thanks for letting me share all of that, friends ... may I ask you to say a prayer for these dear folks who worked so hard to make our son feel so wonderful? What a beautiful world we live in ... and what a happy feeling to begin a brand new year feeling this way!

Wishing ALL of you the happiest and healthiest of New Years! Hope to hear from you - if you're interested in the planner or otherwise!

I will see you here again very soon ...


A Special Trip to Whole Foods with Earlybird!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! Tonight I thought I'd share a quick EB report with you all, to follow up on my post from last week and let you all know how his much-anticipated shopping trip went!

Well, I'm very glad to tell you - it went very, very well. :) EB had worked on a list of things to buy, and he had the $25 gift card he earned by doing all those extra chores ... and Thanksgiving was (is) upon us! So, with his ABA therapist along for support, my mum and I took EB to Whole Foods today!

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And this was a kind of milestone event for us. It was EB's first time back to this "supersize" Whole Foods in three years, since an epic meltdown that lasted almost half an hour, and took place just inside the doors of this beautiful (crowded, colorful, noisy) grocery store. Our then 12 year-old-son had had public meltdowns before, but it was this particular experience that made us realize EB needed serious help - something way beyond what we were able to give him ourselves, or even knew how to find for him at that point ...

It was around this time we'd just started working with a neurologist (EB had recently developed a seizure disorder) and this man was (and is) just an incredible doctor. He's the kind of professional who's comfortable getting personal, if you are fortunate enough to know what I mean. At our first meeting at Children's Hospital (after EB's first grand mal seizure) and in subsequent office visits, Dr. Peter quickly became one of EB's "best friends." He always took his time with us, allowing EB his quirks (for example, doing vitals in the waiting room when the hallway was just too much to face), and really seeking to understand our child - and our family. To use a phrase I use often in reference to my children's developmental and educational needs, Dr. Peter "met us where we were at" and determined it was time to get EB some home therapy. (EB's anxiety was growing after several poor experiences with ill-matched doctors and therapists. He was steadily developing a fear of any kind of medical appointment, but visiting Dr. Peter in Boston really turned things around for our son.)

Anyhoo, six months later we were hooked up with a kind of therapy (and therapists) that just worked for EB ... and finally it seemed progress was possible. And in fact progress was being made every day - albeit in the tiniest of steps. We first worked on simple compliance and basic self-care ... and then a whole big list of hopes and dreams started to form ... things we wished for our son one day. We've done some of those things (bike riding, haircuts, a full physical at his pediatrician), but it's a long list, and we still look forward to doing things like: going to a movie, visiting a museum, riding a train ... learning to swim!!

Well, after that Whole Foods fiasco in early 2014, it was six long months before EB was able to handle being out in public again. It's a very big part of his therapy - helping EB become a confident and productive member of society, but we started very small ...

For example, we visited a local (tiny, quiet) mom-and-pop grocery to buy ... one pear. And that's all we did - walking in (with his therapist), going right to the produce department (knowing it was just inside the door), choosing one pear, bagging it, buying it ... and then heading right back to the car. And that was SUCH a success. (As in, it went smoothly AND we were so proud!) The next week we tried again and this time EB had a list of three (preferred) items ...

And happily, that day went well, too!

It has not always gone smoothly, however - we've hit snags and plateaus and Earlybird has struggled at times with ongoing sensory challenges and new irrational fears - but things have gotten steadily better these past three years. So much better that today - just two days before a major holiday, I felt (relatively) confident that Earlybird would be able to handle a short trip to this superstore in order to do his part for our family's Thanksgiving meal. He was motivated, we were prepared, and - most importantly - we had support. And it was a wonderful time!

So if I may, here are some pictures of our morning. Yes, I'm the crazy mama who takes pictures of her kids doing the silliest of things - like pushing a grocery cart - but you and I both know that even the most seemingly mundane things can be incredibly meaningful. β€

Ok, here we go ...

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First of all, it was a beautiful day! Sunny and oddly warm for November in New England. And as you can see, EB was all (tentative) smiles heading inside.

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And yup - it was just as busy as we expected! We had to pass through a waft of holiday music being piped in near the entrance - I cringed because music is a tough thing for Earlybird - but he didn't even blink.

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Safely inside the store, here's EB choosing pears ... 

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And crackers ...

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And mac and cheese! (Of course we serve mac and cheese with our holiday dinners!)

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Cart full of his goodies, EB was ready to head to the registers!

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On his list EB had: pear juice, lemonade, mac and cheese, corn muffins, ice cream, crackers, pears and flowers. Impulse items included turkey legs (for Nana to make gravy), a science magazine, and a turkey cookie for Little Bear. :)

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EB with his beloved Nana, my Mum - how much she means to us all. <3

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And here's Mama with her Earlybird. (If you knew me well you'd know that's my ... "we're almost done, he's done so well, let's not push it" smile.)

I'm just so proud of this boy!

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And a hug for his therapist, Michael - an extremely kind and patient man. He has a wonderful way with our son!

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Getting ready to pay with his Whole Foods "credit card" ... (The bill came to be more than $25, so I gladly "spotted" him the extra cash!)

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The only thing on his list that we didn't get was flowers ... and only because it was WAY over on the other side of the store and we were right there at the registers and I decided it was best to leave on a high note. I assured EB I'd pick up flowers while out shopping tomorrow morning ... because yes, I'm heading out tomorrow to get the final items we need for our dinner! 

In addition to shopping (super early, coffee-in-hand shopping) there will be much to do here tomorrow - and I'm counting on lots of help from my boys! (And Bill, who's working from home.) Things like: cleaning of bathrooms, setting of tables, cooking of cranberries, and bathing of children ... oh, how I love getting ready for a holiday!

Well my friends, thank you very much for joining me here tonight and sharing in our joy for Earlybird. He's been on a long and slow road, but we are seeing such progress and have so much hope for our boy! I'll keep you all updated on his "adventures" as I can ...

But for now I will wish you all a pleasant evening and a very happy Thanksgiving Day - if you celebrate - but a day full of blessings, regardless ...

Here's to counting all of our blessings, the big and the small! β€


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings, Ch. 7 "Play" 🌟

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! Welcome to another "Autumn Tea" here at By Sun and Candlelight, and today I'm co-hosting alongside my Little Bear! Since our current MSfG chapter is "Play," I thought it made sense to share tea serving duties with my most playful companion, and serve our (child-friendly) tea, in the playroom - aka learning room, aka sunroom. :)

Now, my tea is a cup of absolutely delicious Harney & Sons English Breakfast - a gift from kind friend and longtime blog reader, Lisa S. :) I am drinking it in a sweet owl mug - a gift from my new friend, Tammy, with whom I am part of a lovely seasonal exchange. I thought this mug was rather playful and perfect for today's autumnal tea - plus it holds a generous amount of tea, which is always a good thing in my book!

As for Little Bear's "tea," his brew of choice this week is good ol' organic apple juice, and it's served in his preferred sippy cup, alongside our snacks for the day: fresh Macintosh apples and some yummy cocoa cookies. I arranged all these things on another one of those cute melamine plates I picked up at Target recently, and then laid down a soft blanket so we could "picnic" on the playroom floor ... :)

What does your tea look like these days? Do you switch things up as the seasons change? Do you find yourself drinking more tea - or coffee or cocoa - as the weather cools? Do you ever share tea with your children, and if so, what do you serve them? I'm always looking for child-friendly ideas, especially those that involve hot juice and/or warm milk.

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Ok, I'm now setting down my cup and brushing crumbs off my book ... time to get on with our chapter! 

In "Play," Ms. Kenison inspires us to reminisce a little about the way we spent our free time when we were kids. First of all - there was more of it back then! Back in the days before screen time was an issue and play dates were a thing ...

She then urges us to think creatively about how we might afford our own kids a little more of such time in which they can be free just to play ...

  • Are our kids too busy and/or managed to know how to fill time with their own thoughts and imaginations?
  • Are their childhoods racing by with them yoked to a fast-track alongside us?
  • What can we do to foster the kind of slower childhood we ourselves enjoyed?

I agree with Ms. Kenison that a family schedule with a little more blank space is a good place to start, but some of us first need to develop an appreciation for this kind of free time. Blank space on our calendar may look nice ... but sometimes we stare at that space rather ... well, blankly.

"Perhaps we adults have lost the fine art of lollygagging, but at least most of us mastered it as children." (p. 56)

What a gift for our children - to provide more empty time in their days so that they may explore whatever comes to their minds. I bet most kids would master such a gift in a heartbeat.

"But children need time that is utterly their own - time to take up residence in their own lives, time to dream through an afternoon, time to play with the kids next door, time to wake up to their own pleasures. Above all, they need some time when we adults aren't calling the shots." (p.53)

But won't they get bored, you might wonder? Well, maybe ... but does that have to be a bad thing?

Here is a link to the original post I wrote in response to this chapter, back in 2008. And in it, I addressed this very question, as it's been posed to me in the past in regards to our homeschooling:

"To be perfectly honest, not really ... I am a huge fan of boredom. I think in today's culture, boredom is quite underrated."

I go on to suggest some things we try to do around here to entice our kids to play, but to my original list, and in the spirit of this chapter, I would add:

  • A yard that is welcoming & inspiring (play structures, space to run, a garden to craft)
  • And/or a nearby park that can be freely explored.
  • Ample time to run about, climb trees, hop rocks, and stretch those muscles a bit.
  • Natural (safe) places where kids can roam and be wild - and loud!
  • Take neighborhood walks and scout out such interesting places.
  • Ask your kids what might they do with a day free to go anywhere, do anything. 
  • Contact your local trail association and ask for suggestions.

The kind of mother I am would always need to be nearby ... it's just how I roll. Also though, my two younger kiddoes just cannot be left unsupervised. (One is autistic and the other is only four.) I do like Ms. Kenison's suggestion, that kids should be allowed to feel unsupervised, even if a parent is nearby only appearing to be uninterested ... ;)

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It's always been important to me that my kids know how to entertain themselves - for their sakes as well as mine. My mother was a very hands-on, deeply nurturing, always-at-home mom ... but she mostly left my brother and I to our own devices. We played in our rooms, and in the backyard, and we came up with all kinds of games. But Mum definitely let us call the shots when it came to outside activities. I did Girl Scouts, dance, and later on, cheerleading, and my brother dabbled in soccer - but we were very protective of family time. Many a social opportunity would pass us by in deference to our own family needs.

I'm especially glad Little Bear seems to be quite good at keeping himself busy - not that he doesn't love to have someone play with him ("Mama, text Liam and ask if he'll build Legos with me!"), but he can usually entertain himself if nobody's available. (See below!)

As for Earlybird, we're actively working with his therapists to help him learn to play nicely with Little Bear. My two youngest have similar interests - wooden trains and dirt piles, for example - but they definitely need supervision for any play-time to be successful. EB has issues with LB's chattiness and LB has issues with EB's grabbiness, and both of them can get a bit too physical with the other. EB is a gentle giant but he's BIG compared to Little Bear - who's feisty but SMALL. They play as two little kids would, but in this particular equation one of the kids is not physically little anymore. Mentally though, they're a great match!

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(The two of them helping me find an Advent branch yesterday afternoon, a project they both took very seriously. Sometimes play is all business!)

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And not that I've not kept you here long enough, but now I'd like to show you all what play looks like in my house these days ... which, for the most part, involves my youngest. So for this post I followed our Little Bear around and snapped pictures as he went about his "business." As I said above, he really does play very well ... something that's as good for him as it is for his mother! :)

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Late day light

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Ok, now I will absolutely wrap up - but as always, I thank you, truly, for joining me today! I hope you all enjoyed this post with my thoughts on play - as Ms. Kenison described in her chapter, and as it exists in my family these days. I'd love to hear your thoughts, as well! Please feel welcome to leave me a comment below, or send me your thoughts/pics via email. (Links are welcome, too!)

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

Now, I am tempted to say next week's chapter will be postponed due to the busy holiday week, but I really would like to stick to our schedule. I will plan to be here next Sunday with our next (and last) Autumn Tea (after that we begin Advent) ... and to talk about chapter eight, "Secret Places." (That sounds very much like cozy corners to me!)

In the meantime, I will wish you all well and to my fellow Americans, a very Happy Thanksgiving Week ahead! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

See you here again very soon!


Earlybird's Chores for Thanksgiving ❀

EB 1

Hello my friends, and Happy Wednesday!

A few folks have mentioned that they'd like to hear more about our autism journey and how we manage as a special needs family - and I would be very happy to share more of that! Earlybird is moderately autistic with significant developmental delays ... and he's just such a joy, an absolute blessing to our family. He is homeschooled along with his brothers, something we are always tweaking to meet his (ever changing) needs.

To be sure, as a family we have faced many challenges on our autism journey thus far, but each one we've faced (and handled with varying degrees of success) has made us a little surer, a little stronger. With time and experience, a new challenge might seem a little less daunting, and we might feel a little more confident in our choices. As time passes and all of these experiences become part of our family fabric, I grow more comfortable in my role (and ability) as a special needs mom ...

At the end of the day I can say each of my boys have shaped me as a mother in their own unique way - though perhaps none quite as dramatically as Earlybird. :)

But those are stories for a later day. :) Right now is just for sharing a nice idea that's worked well with EB this month!

As I've blogged about before, EB gets VERY excited about holidays and parties. We usually have a countdown of some sort that helps him channel this energy and pace his enthusiasm a bit. Well, no sooner had Halloween passed when we were on to Thanksgiving! Our blessings tree was up and our blessed basket was full ... but EB needed something a little more hands-on to help him prepare for the holiday in a way that was meaningful for him.

So I came up with the idea to organize a super simple chart for the days of the month, and each day EB earns a check from me, if he's done an extra chore around the house. These checks each represent a dollar and next week, EB will get to visit Whole Foods (his absolute FAVORITE store on the planet) and spend his hard-earned cash on food that will be HIS contribution to our Thanksgiving dinner ...

It has been such a hit and a great way for him to really SEE how many days we have until the big Turkey Day - and how he can be part of this annual tradition! This was done with a lot of support and encouragement from EB's daily ABA therapists, who make sure he's given ample opportunity to earn that check on that countdown! (Today's extra chore: picking up and vacuuming the learning room.)

Here are some photos from today when my mother stopped by to visit and talk about the Thanksgiving menu with me. EB joined us at the table to talk about the food list and add his own ideas. (Mac and cheese was mentioned right off the bat.)

He also showed his Nana how he was doing on his chart and she gave him quite the proud-nana pep talk as you can imagine!

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This may seem like a really simplistic idea and, well ... it is very simple. But very often it's the simplest things that work really well for Earlybird. We try to meet him where he is and where he needs us. He needs to feel included and needed. This project does that very nicely. And he needs to be given very do-able tasks with an appropriate reward. (Perhaps with a little assistance.) All these things were figured into my plan.

I thought about having him earn money to buy food we could donate - and that would be a wonderful thing to be sure - but that's just not where he is, at least not yet. Loving and aware as he is, this year he's learning that Thanksgiving is about being part of a family and contributing in whatever way that he can. And let me tell you, this boy is proud ...

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As he should be. β€

Thank you so much for joining me here tonight, my friends, and letting me share a little of our special needs homeschooling this month. I'll be happy to share more of our Earlybird tales when I'm able ... and I LOVE hearing from others with special needs kiddos. What a support we can be for each other! I'm far from an expert in all of this ... I'm still figuring things out for my own child and trying to determine what's needed next ... but I think sharing stories and successes - and not-quite-successes - is very helpful. Let me know how things are going for you and if there's anything in particular you'd like to talk about.

Blessings to all on this dark and cold November night ... I will see you here again tomorrow!


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings: Chapter 6, "TV"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! Welcome to another Autumn Tea, and the next installment in our Mitten Strings for God book study! This week we are discussing chapter six, "TV" - a challenging topic for some of us, I think! 

First though, let's talk about my tea (seen above), which reflects last week's seasonal theme, "Our Own Cozy Dens." I'm taking tea in the library this time where, I should note, there is no TV! ;)

This is the quiet room or "gathering room," where we serve cocktails and desserts/coffee when celebrating holidays with family. It's also the room in which our Christmas tree abides throughout the darkest month of the year, filling it with the softest and coziest light ...

So at Summer's end I tend to migrate back in here, to set things up as I'd like for the months to come. This room also sits on the west side of our house, and the sun sets just behind the woods seen through the windows. I LOVE being in here as the days grow short and dark, catching the very last bit of that golden autumn light. β€

Now, to continue with the cozy for a moment - with each seasonal homeschooling theme, I like to give myself a little "assignment," something I can do to experience the theme on a personal level, and/or something that will allow my family to observe it as well. This week the boys and I chose a few spots around the house to make up "our own cozy dens" for the winter ...

And here's where I am making (one of) mine!

Cozy corner in library

(It's a work in progress, so I'll post more on my nest later. I'll also be arranging play areas for LB here, too - and that will fit in with next week's chapter!)

It occurred to me though, as we "feathered," that if a family was trying to cut down on TV time, then perhaps intentionally setting up a few "comfort zones" would be helpful! To start with, choose a place where screens are not present (or readily available) - but other kinds of diversions are. And if the kids are involved in this endeavor from the get-go, then these spots will truly reflect and support their own passions and pursuits. Help them think about what kinds of things they might like to work on/play with this winter - puzzles, board games, Legos, reading, imaginative toys, crafting, etc. Organize the materials they'd need, add an extra blanket or two, and designate a space just for them. If we're looking to pry kids away from their screens we're going to need some enticing alternatives at the ready!

Anyway back to the tea for a moment - my brew this time is a lovely Earl Grey and I'm drinking it in a mug that is just perfect for the week, a gift from my dear friend, Kim. The cookies are gingerbread - of the store-bought, break-apart variety I'm afraid, but very good! (Honestly, is there anything cozier than gingerbread?) That cute platter is made of melamine (so in theory, unbreakable) and I picked that up at Target last week. I'm working on surrounding this spot with nice things to read, my journal supplies, simple playthings and good books for Little Bear ... all kinds of things that will entice us to sit down and settle in for a spell. 

Ok, now let's get on with the TV portion of my post! (And for the record, when I say "TV" here, I'm really talking about any kind of screen-time viewing since the options for such have widened greatly since 2008!)

To begin with, here is the original post I wrote on this chapter back in 2008, and since it still represents my feelings on the topic rather well, I won't try to reinvent the wheel today and say all of the same things differently. In a nutshell, I'm still in agreement with Ms. Kenison's stance that:

"When it comes to TV, less really is more." (p. 51)

Instead, I'll address how our family viewing habits have changed since the days when all my kids (the three I had at the time) were little ...

So first of all, the older boys are now 18 and 22 - so I don't really control their TV habits anymore! I asked them though, at dinner last night, how much tv they thought they watched and they both said, very little. (They do play video games and do other online things.) And when they do watch tv, it's usually something they view on their computers, as opposed to a program they watch on commercial tv at a set time of week.

Side note:

Isn't it crazy how pervasive screen time is these day? Computers, phones, tablets, TVs ... WATCHES! It seems there's a way to be connected - or disconnected depending on how you look at it - and watching something, almost anytime, anywhere. It's a wonder network tv is still in existence!

From p. 45:

".. how easily we have come to accept the pervasiveness of the media in our lives."

You know, I'm pretty sure Ms. Kenison would have to rewrite this chapter entirely if she were to tackle the topic of TV nearly 10 years later! Because the media has so many more faces these days! There are devices and distractions available for kids of all ages - and we're not even talking about social media here. She'd need a whole separate chapter for that!

Now, as for the younger boys ...

Little Bear is just four years old and truth be told, he does watch more tv than we'd like. This is mostly because of his older brother's viewing habits, and that's something we're working on (more on that in a minute). I think like most kids, if it's on and he's idle, he'll get sucked right in. Happily he's not usually idle - he has a rich imagination and gets completely absorbed in his play. But he does ask for tv on occasion - usually in the late afternoons if he's tired and wants to crash on the couch. I allow it sometimes ... but other times I redirect him. I'm not too concerned about any interest in TV as I am by his ongoing spectator status. Because Earlybird, our 15 year old son who has autism ... is, well ... addicted.

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(Can you guess what they're doing in this photo? Watching something on EB's Kindle Fire, that's what. But just look at those smiles!)

Our EB, (16 next month), watches a lot of video content in various forms. Many kids (people) on the autistic spectrum have a strong affinity for video-viewing, whatever the platform. For EB it's partly a feeding of sensory needs and also, frankly, he doesn't have many other hobbies. Video gives him something to do, a way to entertain himself in a way he's not able to do on his own, while allowing him to connect with the world at a safe distance. (He can change the channel at a whim, he's in control.)

On the up side, he's learned a LOT of interesting information through video. He absorbs things so deeply - which as you can guess is not always a good thing - but he loves science shows, railroad history, nature documentaries ... and he loves playing movies of all kinds. We have to monitor his viewing habits closely though, because sometimes he gets over-stimulated - by the content he's chosen, or just the amount of time spent absorbing video input. Even the over-abundance of options can fry his nerves (not to mention his mother's) at times. Too many choices is not always a good thing, for anyone - but especially not for our autistic son.

I can't predict if this craving for video will always be a part of EB's life, but currently we are working with EB's therapists to teach him to enjoy other kinds of leisure activities. For years now we've just allowed this addiction to build because honestly, there were other battles to face, and this one seemed fairly benign. But over the past several months we've started making some changes. We'd been seeing a connection between EB's neurological tics and his screen-time exposure. The more he watched, the more agitated he'd get and the more likely he'd be to experience such tics as blinking, clicking, grunting and stuttering. So a couple of months ago we turned off the family room tv. Just plain old turned it off, telling him (fingers crossed) that the clicker had gone missing ... and that was that. He still uses his Kindle, and he does have a dvd player in his bedroom, but the family TV is no longer part of his screen-time repertoire.

He's adapted fairly well to the change, which was a blessing. (Also a blessing, Little Bear has no background TV through the day!) Our next step is to start working some time limits into his Kindle viewing, while encouraging other pursuits. He's resistant to the limits for sure, but as with every challenge we've faced ... we take it in tiny steps, and we only ever ask for progress, not perfection. He'll get there, to healthier video habits, in his own due time. What he needs to get there he is getting - help from patient therapists, and understanding from a family who loves him. β€

To sum up - because as usual I've gone on quite long! - I think TV doesn't have to be a bad thing if it's a proportionate and thoughtful part of a well-rounded home life. Balance in all things, right? Time to sit and enjoy a special program, and then time spent doing other things - enjoying the outdoors, friends and family, honest work, and simple activities that don't flash at our retinas.

I found this comic online the other day: 

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(Earlybird, seeing this over my shoulder just now, exclaimed, "Hey, that's a perfect day!")

For most of us, I think, TV is a comforting habit, feeding a need within us ... but as with any habit, it get can get out of control. And some of us are more vulnerable than others. So it needs to be monitored and even reevaluated at times. To reference myself in my original post:

"I don't think we would ever go NO TV, but I do think we can stand to survey our viewing habits now and again. I have always said to the boys re their video game playing and television viewing that as long as we detect no difference in the amount of time they read or in the way they play and imagine, they may continue to watch and play (in the electronic sense) as they do. To this I've also added, as long as they can still "be" (happily), outside - as long as they can connect easily with nature - then I'll know our viewing habits are still under control."

In the end I'd say that I agree with much of what Ms. Kenison has to say in this chapter, but perhaps not all of it is applicable in my life, at this time. That said, going forward I would like to see ...

    Little Bear have AS LITTLE screen time exposure as possible, because it really does nothing for him at this tender age.

    Earlybird have LESS screen-time exposure, as discussed above.

    Bill and I to be aware of HOW OFTEN we turn on the TV ourselves.

And as for my older two, well ... it's up to them now, isn't it? :)

Well, my friends, I'll be on my way now, since I think I've said all I can think of to say on this chapter ... for now! But I'd love to hear your thoughts if you have time - feel free to comment below or send me an email with your thoughts/photos (or a link to your site) ...

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

Or maybe you don't have any thoughts on TV at all, but a pretty tea setting to share with us ... that would be lovely, as well!

Oh, and don't forget my Mitten Strings giveaway! Pop on over to this post for more details - you have until Friday to enter! :)

Now, at next week's Autumn Tea - and I'll aim for Friday but Sunday will be more likely - we'll be discussing Mitten Strings for God, chapter seven, "Play." What a fun topic that will be! But for now, I will wish you all well - enjoy the rest of your weekend! - and hope to see you here again very soon! β€


Autumn Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 4, Quiet

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Hello my friends and Happy Friday! And holy smokes, it's the last October Friday of 2017 - can you even believe it?! No, I can't either, but I'm not going to dwell on that just now because we all have SO much to talk about this week! And it's such a lovely October day ... we have Tea to pour, and Quiet to discuss, plus I have a really fun announcement to make at the end of this post! :)

So welcome, everyone, to another Autumn Teatime and our ongoing Mitten Strings for God book study. Today we are discussing the fourth chapter of this wonderful book, titled "Quiet." And what a nice chapter this was, full of such thoughtfulness and inspiration.

(I'm pretty sure I'll be saying this a lot throughout our study.)

Quiet is such a valuable thing to consider, on both a personal and family level ... and ... as mine is a family of FOUR BOYS ... well, you can imagine that ours is not the ... um ... quietest on the block. (Lets just say our neighbors know us well and are very kind.) I think though, the message I got from this chapter was not so much that we need more silence in our life (though that's nice too at times) but perhaps more room to hear the right kind of noise - noise that is meaningful and intimate. And maybe because of the way we all live nowadays, it's a balance we need to be mindful of - noise vs. quiet and where the outside world fits in. I think there's a real need to allow "a thoughtful quiet" to permeate our homes so we may live in such a way that allows us to absorb OUR world - not necessarily THE world - and the sweet simple details of our everyday life.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, and to quote from my original post on this chapter (from the 2008 book study):

"I could do with less noise, but I savor the sounds of my life."

Now, before I go on too much further here is a link to the post I did on this chapter back in 2008 (with so many wonderful reader comments). I'll also update this post with any current links and comments from all of you as (hopefully) you jump into our ongoing discussion!

(Everyone is welcome to participate - please see this post for more details!)

But! Before we get into the meat of our book discussion, I'd like to briefly talk tea. :)  Above you see my autumn-decorated writing desk ... with its candles and twinkling lights, golden leaves and pumpkins, and, of course, my tea. I "took tea" today in a pretty china cup I inherited from my friend's grandmother ... I thought the black, white and gold scheme was rather fitting! My brew is an Irish Breakfast decaf, and my teatime treats are two Scandinavian ginger crisps - a nod to two of my main ancestral roots. (Halloween always makes me feel ancestral!) As I sipped, I surrounded myself with autumn journals and board books, and some darling holiday cards I hoped to get into the mail before day's end ...

But now, on to our Mitten Strings discussion!

Now, rather fittingly, I (re)read this chapter about "Quiet" in absolute silence. Not a normal atmosphere for me! (Unless it's 6 a.m. or 10 p.m. - more on that in a minute!) So I was sitting in an exam room at my doctor's - in that atrocious "gown," awaiting my annual physical, all alone ... and it was absolutely still. (My doctor was running late, stuck in traffic!) Anyhoo, I relished the quiet, and began reading, making mental notes as I went along, and reminded myself once again just how much sense each of these chapters make. Not just for families with young children (as the author was back then, and I was back then - though also, still now) but really, for any one of us seeking a more mindful life.

On my drive back home, I took a moment to capture the gray, autumn stillness of the morning ...

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It was so quiet in my car - because, inspired by my reading, I decided to NOT turn on newsradio, which is my habit - and honestly, found myself paying more attention. I was so moved by the whirling leaves and the drab sky and the wet roads ... I just had to stop and snap a picture.

"Before we flick on the car radio or the CD player, we stop long enough to think: Do we want to exchange this quiet for sound?" (p. 29)

Normally I automatically turn on the car radio, but lately I've been consciously keeping things quiet. When the boys are with me, we talk more. When I'm alone ... I think. Or I roll down the window and really listen to the sounds around me ...

The same holds true at home.

"In silence, I become more attentive." (p. 30)

Attentive, yes - to a developing mood, a certain "edge" to a comment, footsteps on the stairs - plodding or rushed - the sound of the door opening when it should not be opened. That's something I need to hear, because Earlybird does like to go outside - at any hour, in any weather - and despite the stop signs we have posted at each egress, he tends to just rush out the door without asking. (Because he's a smart boy, he doesn't risk the chance that the answer will be no.) So you know, at 6 a.m. on some random morning you just might find me in my yard, in my pajamas, cajoling my son to get up and out of the dirt pit and come back inside, because now is not the time to be playing outside and people are sleeping so we need to be quiet and WOULD YOU PLEASE JUST GET BACK IN THIS HOUSE RIGHT NOW?!. (And that would be the moment caffeine deprivation takes over.) 

This chapter inspired me to take a good look at our days and where we might invite more quiet into our life ...

And to begin with, our mornings start out quiet for sure. There are, in fact, pockets of EXTREME don't-wake-the-baby quiet (though he's not a baby anymore, as he'd be swift to remind me) because LB's also a night owl so he really sleeps in. (For everyone's benefit!)

But then there's Earlybird's morning bubble in which he's got his Kindle Fire blaring and it's only 5 a.m. EB has always been an early riser, and he's awake a good hour or three before the rest of his brothers so Bill and I spend those wee, dark hours keeping him occupied, (inside) and supervised, while maintaining a level of quiet on the bedroom floor to permit Little Bear to sleep in as late as he needs. I talked about my mornings in my last post to give you a clearer idea how this time of day unfolds ...

Once Little Bear is up though, we're off! And the day itself is nearly always filled with noise of all kinds - human, electronic, feline and yes, even the squawking of our chickens reaches our ears through open windows. I crave quiet at times absolutely, but mostly I feel blessed to be surrounded by so much "joyful noise." 

So moving forward, I think looking at our family's days to discern where all the "noise" is coming from is helpful - but also asking, which noises are a valuable experience?

"Be conscious of all the different kinds of noise you allow into your life. Begin to eliminate any that don't enhance the present moment." (p. 31)

Honest to goodness as I type this now the family room tv is on. There is no one else in the room with me and I sure as heck am not interested in Bubble Guppies at the moment. But I'm so used to the background noise I didn't even think about it ...

*turns the tv off and returns to desk*

Now I hear the wind rattling the window, and the driving rain on the deck ... the dishwasher running and my 15 yo's yelling along (happily) with his train video upstairs ... the UPS truck is pulling up the road, a woodpecker is tapping on the siding, and my cat is vigorously cleaning himself under the table next to me.

I'm not immersed in Bubble Guppies anymore ... now I'm immersed in home, and open to the world - MY world - around me.

"In silence, we allow the world to enter our hearts." (p. 32)

My world is full of yelling kids and blowing wind and dishes washing and packages being delivered, etc. - simple and humble sounds that make up the "sound track in [my] life." (p. 31) How much better to be filling my ears (heart and soul) with these sounds rather than whatever might be playing on TV!

(Boy, won't the "TV" chapter be quite interesting to discuss?!)

You know, I remember when my brother and I were young, just how much my mum craved quiet. We'd be watching TV or listening to the radio - or both - and she'd be cringing and begging us to turn down the volume - or maybe to just turn that darn thing off. And when we would, she'd just visibly relax, sigh, and say ...

"Oh, that feels so good to my ears." 

I never understood what she meant by this but now that I'm a mom - of, ahem, a certain age - I GET it.

I really appreciate the suggestions Ms. Kenison gives us in this chapter. I know I want less electronic/outside noise in our life, but it can be hard to know where to start. I think though, I've found it easier to manage my children's audible input when they're at a younger age ...

"Avoid electronic games and toys that talk, beep, or make other noises. The best sound effects are those that children make themselves." (p. 31)

Admittedly, almost all of our toys are quiet toys. We do have a couple of rather "vocal" trucks, but as tends to happen ... batteries disappear or a new layer of duct tape appears on said truck, directly over the spot where the speakers are situated.

To begin with, this was for Earlybird's benefit, who, as I've mentioned (and I'm sure will mention again) has autism and has many significant sensory challenges. One of them is noise. Some kinds of noise are unbearable to him - chatty toys being one - but oddly enough, he finds the right kind of noise addictive. For example, if he's watching a train video on his DVD player or a science video on youtube, it's ALL ABOUT THE VOLUME.

So he keeps his Kindle Fire turned up high, and if he's watching TV it's also quite loud. He actually loves having both devices going at the same time if he can swing it, and he rocks and stims to the experience like nobody's business. However, if he hears Little Bear and I reading, or if - God forbid - he hears one of us singing - he absolutely loses it. These are not "noises" he can stand.

While some sounds are ok, others absolutley are not. We're still piecing together that particular puzzle, but for now we're investing in a pair of these ...

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Noise-cancelling headphones. We're currently working with EB's therapists on this, and hopefully they'll allow him to control what he allows in his ears and when. The challenge will be discerning when they're providing comfort ... and when they become a crutch EB might use to ignore things he'd rather not face. His brother's sing-songy voice might bug him but it's not going anywhere. It's something he needs to learn how to handle. I'm sure we all like to escape aggravation when we can but life isn't about escaping (at least not all the time) it's about learning to handle what we must. All my boys must learn to handle life, but Earlybird has so much to handle it's overwhelming sometimes - for him and his parents. We're always learning from (and with) our EB though, and his extreme sensory issues often shed light on how we manage our own ...

Autism is such a puzzle, as I know many of you know. Sure, I love quiet conversation, and loud noises might startle or bother me, but they don't actually emotionally disturb me. For my son the opposite is true. Finding his balance is an ongoing project, one that keeps me ever mindful of the vivid effects noise has on anyone's quality of life ...

So I guess we're working on a new normal here - between EB and all of us! Being a little more "aware" of what noise is actually improving our existence ... but not impairing it. Wielding a little discretion, while creating a simpler, softer sound track to our life.

***

But now I'm going to be even more honest. I'm nearly done with this post, and supper is ALMOST ready. I have Bill finishing the asparagus and I jumped back on here to finish my post. Crackerjack is working on his college applications and Bookworm is off somewhere else. Four year old Little Bear - antsy and in need of a diversion - asks (quite politely) to watch a preferred tv program and - as I sit here and write about a book that embraces a quiet and unplugged life - I acquiesce.

Then EB comes into the room, Kindle Fire in hand, blaring Peep and the Big Wide World ... and chaos ensues.

LB: "EB! Turn that down! You're annoying me and I can't hear Blaze!"

EB: *casts a glare at LB but turns down his Kindle*

LB: "Mama, he's not making it quiet enough!"

Mama: "EB, please turn that down."

EB: "No."

Mama: *sighs and walks over to tv* *turns up the volume*

(Because truly, we need just five more minutes!)

So there you go ... I am trying, I am. I understand there were better ways to handle that challenge just then. (Keeping LB better occupied while his parents got stuff done, mediating volume level arguments between my younger children.)

But you know, baby steps ...

What I am LOVING about this book is that it's giving me a chance to take a good long look at our family life and see where we might improve things a bit. I'm not going to let it make me feel guilty or inadequate - I've been a special needs mom long enough to know there's not room for that - but I will see what kind of light it shines on our various situations. This book fills me with hope and challenges me to do better! All while wrapping me up in a very warm and understanding hug. β€

Now, before I go, I have some super fun news to share! Next Thursday, 11/2, at 3:30 p.m. (EST) I will be a guest of Pam Barnhill's on her Facebook Live chat at Homeschool Solutions! Pam is running a series of interviews about books that shape our homeschooling and I will be talking about Mitten Strings for God! I've never done Facebook Live before, so I'm not exactly sure how it works (wish me luck!), but please check in with Pam's page - because first of all, it's awesome - and also to find out more! (Here's today's post in which she mentions our upcoming chat!) I am SO honored Pam asked me to talk with her about MSfG - this re-read is reminding me just how influential this book has been in my life as a mom as well as a homeschooler. The heart of these lessons have truly shaped what I try to do here with my boys ... and I look forward to talking more with Pam - and you all - about that! :)

For now though, I wish you all a happy weekend, and I thank you, as always for stopping by. Please share your thoughts if you'd care to - leave a comment here or link us up or feel free to email me if you wish (thoughts and/or photos) ---> drhanigan AT comcast DOT net.

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... see you here again very soon!


May was for milestones ... 🌞

Happy Tuesday, my friends - and long time no post! I feel like it's been sooo long since we last talked! I'm sorry I've not been able to post much lately. It's certainly not for lack of interest! I have so many things I want to discuss and share with you, but it's been an incredibly busy month for us - time at my computer has been scarce! But things are starting to get back to normal and I'm popping in to share some photos with you all and catch up ...

Ok, going back a bit ... here is some lovely china we inherited from Bill's godmother. This set belonged to her mother and was in need of a good home, and Aunt Anne very kindly gifted us with it ALL!

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It matches our kitchen nicely but will be used primarily in the dining room. I asked Bill if we could display some of the plates on the wall. I've always wanted to do that! One thing I love about green china is that it can work so nicely with multiple holidays - Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. :)

Ok, next - check out this super cute scrapbook paper I purchased recently!

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"The Children's Hour" is made by the same company that publishes the vintage papers I like to use when making my weekly planners. I just LOVE how seasonal these designs are and of course, the vintage look and all those cozy images of childhood. More on what I'll do with all those papers soon! :)

Next we have these lovely monthly notepads, a gift from my thoughtful cousin, Kara ...

Monthly note pads

You might recognize the illustrations? These pads are made by one of my favorite author-artists, Susan Branch! The whole set came with post-its notes and page markers ... I will find SO many uses for these papers!

Now, a couple of recent bird sightings ...

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This is a Pine Warbler I believe - a new sighting for us! And below, spotted on the very same day, is another new species (for us) ...

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A Pileated Woodpecker! She is absolutely huge! We had heard her tap-tap-tapping early in the morning (not knowing it was this kind of woodpecker) and then when a very large black bird flapping through our yard caught my eye, I grabbed my camera and starting snapping pictures. As you can imagine we were all pretty excited to add a couple of new birds to our life list...

And before I move on to recent (and exciting) events, here's a peek at a lovely new teacher's plan book I purchased recently ...

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I will do a full tour soon here at the blog - it's really well-designed and (subtly) colorful inside! And I'm quite eager to dig in and get next year organized for a new year of home education! (Our 18th!)

Speaking of (home) education ... my oldest son and (former) student, graduated from college last week! Yes!! Can you believe it? Personally I'm having some trouble coming to terms with this development! Not that I'm not ridiculously proud and happy - but GOSH did those four years go by fast! Bookworm now has his Bachelor of Science (in Computer Science) from Boston College ... here are some pictures from the Baccalaureate Mass on Sunday and Commencement on Monday!

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I will forever remember this moment ... as a mom and a homeschool mom, especially. I'm just so pleased for our young man and proud of how hard he has worked. Let me tell you - this boy took his education very seriously and really applied himself to his studies. BC is a pretty big school but Bookworm found his niche - finding good friends and a lovely girlfriend who also graduated this year ...

And now, he's home and will start looking for a job. (Won't lie and say I'm not thrilled to have him home!) Can't wait to watch his journey continue ... :)

Now, the next in line is our Crackerjack ... who will be a senior in high school next fall. But this past Saturday night, CJ enjoyed a rite of his own - attending the Homeschool Prom!

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Crackerjack attended Prom with a large group of friends, but I didn't want to include any of those kids in my post for privacy reasons. So here he is with his mom and dad!

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Ok! So we've covered Graduation and Prom ... and now for Little Bear's 4th Birthday! (Told you it's been a busy month!) We had our family over yesterday for a lunch celebrating not just LB but my brother, Matt, whose birthday is next weekend and my cousin's daughter who just turned one last week! 

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I'm sure some of you are familiar with the Nick Jr. show, "Blaze and the Monster Machines" ... a cute little cartoon featuring monster trucks (and subtle science lessons to boot!). I had the bakery do a "Blaze" cake since Little Bear just loves it. :)

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But goodness - how did he get to be four so fast? Honest to Pete, I googled "how to make life slow down" this morning because I just can't stand it ...

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Here's Little Bear greeting his youngest cousin, just three months old! He's quite enamored of babies ... πŸ’•

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And here he is with his Uncle Matt who had just informed Little Bear that some of these presents were for him. Lol, LB was not too happy to hear that! (And of course, my brother was kidding!)

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And here he is with his biggest brothers ... :)

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Earlybird  - who sometimes has trouble with parties - did really well yesterday. He joined in with the festivities (retreating to his room when he needed a break) and very nicely - one might say, eagerly - helped his little brother open presents. :)

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You are probably wondering why EB's wearing mittens. Well, it's a very long story, but very quickly - about two weeks ago the boys were coming down with a cold and Earlybird started getting nosebleeds. All of my kids, EB included, have gotten them before, but with EB it's really quite difficult to handle. As most of you know, EB has autism and with that comes extreme anxiety and sensory issues. He just panics when we try to help him and that makes the flow just awful. To make it worse, even though we were able to stop them each time they happened (every day for almost a week) he went through a compulsive issue where he would just jam his fingers up his nose to make it start. Some days I had to just sit with him for hours and hold his hands to keep him still. I had my mum and Crackerjack helping me (and of course, Bill when he was home from work) keep up with the house and Little Bear and driving CJ to class. I finally gave EB mittens to wear to keep his fingers out of his nose and he has come to really rely on them. He hasn't actually had a nosebleed in over a week knock on wood but he just relishes the comfort (emotional and physical) of those mittens. (Prayers for his complete healing would be so appreciated ... I feel we're on the right track but it's still all been a little nerve-wracking!)

Ok, back to the party! Time to open all those presents!

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Little Bear received a car carrier truck from Earlybird ...

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.. and a gorgeous, ginormous dinosaur puppet from his oldest two brothers! Little Bear is just getting "into" dinosaurs and he also just loves puppets.

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High fives for Aunt Anne, Cousin Kara, Grandma Barbara and Uncle Karl ... !

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Bill's folks with Crackerjack ... aka Grandma and Grandpa!

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My dad (aka Papa) and (great!) Auntie Marcia ... :)

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Me with my beautiful mum - better known these days as Nana!

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And here's my cousin Kate's husband Paul with their beautiful little girl, just turned one year old! πŸ’•

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Little Bear sharing his toys with his cousin ... :)

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My Bill holding the newest member of the family - our sweet little niece. πŸ’•

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Aunt Ami and Uncle Eric - the new mom and dad! - with their precious girl. Such a lovely, happy family! 

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Cake time at last! Getting help from his brothers blowing out the candle ...

BUT ... there was a bit of a snafu, lol. Please click the link below to watch a brief video I posted on my Facebook page to see what I mean!

Happy Birthday, Little Bear!

And here's a picture I'd been hoping to get - of Little Bear and his dear baby cousins. :)

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It's such a happy time when the family starts filing up with little ones again!

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Last shot ... this lucky boy had a wonderful party! And he's been playing non-stop today with all his new toys - Legos, cars, trucks, etc.! He also got several wonderful new books - a couple which we read in the rocking chair when he first woke. And plenty of art supplies that we'll dive into later this week ... as well as some fun nature exploring tools! I love this age - when they're so full of energy and imagination, wonder and joy. I am ever so grateful God blessed us with this boy ... and I pray for the ability to slow down and savor this sweet time, so that the years ahead may pass with less swiftness than they have so far ... because these are such precious days and because this was JUST Bookworm playing with toys on the floor, I could swear it. And look where he is now! πŸ’›

Well my friends ... thank you so much for stopping by, and for your patience in my slow posting - not to mention my long, rambling posts! I am stunned to think that in two days we will be in the new month of June! (Seriously, Life - remember we talked? About slowing your roll just a bit?) I will do my very best to get my June planner post up ASAP - with extra planning sheets and thoughts on the new month ahead. I want to promise a post by Thursday the 1st but realistically I will temper myself and say by the end of the week ... fingers crossed!

Hope all is well with all of you, my friends! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!


A Happy Halloween Recap!

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Hallowmas Greetings, my friends! I hope you all had a happy and safe Halloween night. Yesterday was quite fun, and naturally I took a whole lot of pictures, so today I'm here to share! :)

As per family tradition, Bill took the day off from work so we could spread out our celebrating and spend the day together, doing simple but meaningful things. To begin with, Earlybird's therapist arrived dressed as ... Spiderman! Oh, did that give EB quite the chuckle! EB himself dressed in a bright orange t-shirt (his "pumpkin shirt") and black pants, and together we drove over to a favorite farm where we picked out our jack o'lantern and a pie for supper. We took our time riding home over back roads, enjoying everyone's festive decorations. (Some people really go all out!)

Back home, around lunchtime, I started in washing up the last of the farm apples ...

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I love making applesauce on Halloween. Something about the agricultural roots of this holiday appeals to me, which was "summer's end" to our ancestors. Those folks, in order to survive, had to carefully store crops and put their livestock away for the winter - complete with a blessing of some sort. We're quite fortunate nowadays to live much more freely, but I can still appreciate that deep respect for the earth's natural rhythm.

(Of course I can still buy - and store - all kinds of produce, but these apples were purchased in bulk from a farm visit last month and were definitely getting a bit mushy. Perfect for sauce! And as for our livestock, we put our hens to bed a little on the early side last night. The nights are very cold now so we've set up a heater in the coop ... and the dear girls have JUST started laying eggs. Or one of them has anyway ... we are getting 1-2 eggs a day! Not a one of them in their nesting boxes though, lol! We find those eggs in the oddest spots ...)

Ok, back to the Halloween doings! After lunch, Little Bear and I set about painting our teal pumpkin ...

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Have you heard of this wonderful project? You can read more about the Teal Pumpkin Project here, but briefly, a teal-colored pumpkin on your doorstep signifies you offer non-food treats at your house (in place of, or in addition to, the usual candies). We take part in this because A. it's a nice thing to do, but also, B. our own Earlybird has food sensitivities that keep him from savoring the spoils of his Halloween endeavors. And we're always on board for raising awareness and respecting differences. It's everyone's Halloween, after all! :)

Next came the "haunted cookie house," a gift from my brother who works for Trader Joe's ...

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You can probably imagine how my inner Martha cringed a little as she allowed the boys to do ALL the decorating here, lol. (With Mom's hand steadying the icing tube.) Honestly though, it came out pretty well - ooey-gooey, spooky-ookie as EB called it!

And since I had a lot I wanted to accomplish before dark fell, I wrote up a quick Halloween honey-do list ...

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Only two checks so far at this point - we had a bit of work ahead of us! (And for the record, we didn't make the popcorn balls nor did we roast the seeds. The popcorn balls will happen later this week - and the chickens got the seeds!)

As the day waned I headed outside to catch a sunset shot ...

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I try to get this shot every year ... again, I love the symbolism here with the sun setting on the growing season. During this week of "fading light" we pull up all our garden debris and have a bonfire to mark the end of our harvest. (Such as it is - just some herbs, tomatoes and peppers.) Last night we could truly feel winter's approach ... a very chilly evening to be sure!

Inside again ... how I love to set a party table!

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Orange and black is traditional of course, but I tried to pull off a bit of an elegant touch. Nothing too gothic, but I did have some silky crows and feathers about, black lace and crystal candy bowls, glowing lanterns and gorgeous orange roses ...

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Oh, how I love those roses ... boo!πŸ•· 

And how about this cool bottle of wine?

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I thought the colors and label looked very atmospheric, but didn't realize the word Bogle was a Scottish term for ghost or boggart! Thanks go to my friend Tanya for the heads up!

p.s. It was very good wine. :)

As I puttered about decorating, Bill and the boys got down to the serious business of pumpkin gutting and carving ...

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This is NOT EVER a Mama job ... (ew).

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Instead, Mama was organizing a basket of "safe" goodies for my boys!

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The foyer table though ... now that was the place to find all the usual Halloween goodies!

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The middle cloth bag held spider rings, plastic rats and lizards, crazy eyeballs, and glowsticks. The cauldron on the far left held organic (EB-friendly) candies. I kept those as back up in case we emptied the first bowl!

Had to catch this shot ... our little "real" pumpkins looking out the window at the giant inflatables!

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And here's our front steps with all the pumpkins lined up, ready for their big night!

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(Flashlights inside for safety's sake.)

Back inside, we remembered to take a few people pictures ...

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Here I am with three of my four boys - our little homeschool Halloween! Really missed my Bookworm last night ... 

And here are a couple of my best fellas, all decked out in their orange (they are so good to humor me, lol) ...

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(Three of the four boys are now taller than Bill!)

And my folks came over for Halloween Supper, another family tradition ...

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Unfortunately my brother was sick and couldn't join us. I know how much he loves taking his nephews trick-or-treating and we all really missed his presence! Feel better soon, Uncle Matt!

Now, supper - as you saw above in the "honey-do" shot - was a hearty and autumnal Halloween meal. Hot dogs and mac and cheese, chicken pie ... beans and biscuits (which should have been brown bread) and squash pie for dessert. I had plain donuts too, but saved them for this morning. :)

Oh, and in case you were wondering about that hat - the "good witch" hat I've had for years - I do complete the outfit with a black ensemble and stripey- socks!

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Finally it was time for the younger boys to get into their costumes!

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(As most parents understand, we wait until the very last minute for the costumes.)

So we had a dragon on the left (his second year in this costume) and a straight-up ghost on the right. (God bless EB - he can't really handle costumes but he's ok with this t-shirt. I'll have to find a bigger size for next year!) As you can see they were getting a bit antsy for tricks-or-treats ...

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"Where are all the kids?"

 And then time at last to head out ...

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One thing I love about Halloween - and have since I was a kid - is how everything looks so different on this night, while we're walking about the neighborhood. The sky, the houses, the people, the sounds ... it really does feel spooky in a way, but it's an innocent kind of spooky. Knowing we're close to home and family and warmth and safety, makes heading out into that darkness just a little bit thrilling and a little unreal ... but wonderfully fun. :)

Of course, at the end of the night ...

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Archie just wanted to know if it was safe to come out! 

Well my friends, I know this went on very long, so I thank you sincerely for taking the time to read and share in our fun! I hope you enjoyed this peek into our Halloween celebration ... and I'd love to hear about your traditions if you have a moment. :)

For now though I wish you all well and will hope to see you here again very soon ... I've got some November crafting to talk about this week and those Advent planning sheets should be ready soon! (Not "this week soon" as I'd hoped but maybe "early next week soon.")

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... I'll see you here again very soon!


Food, Flowers, Friends ... and a Day at the Fair!

(But not in that particular order ...)

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Happy Sunday, my friends! I hope your weekend is going well, and to my Canadian friends ~ I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving (tomorrow). :)

As I write this post it is raining steadily here ... and OH MY is it chilly! I had to run out for groceries a bit ago (not my favorite thing to do on a Sunday) and I am so glad to be back home again, sipping my tea and typing away at my desk. I hear the Pats game on in the kitchen where Bill, God bless him, is filling the dishwasher (with Little Bear's "help"). I'm thinking about so many things - things I need to do, forgot to do, want to do - and feeling grateful we have a holiday tomorrow (Columbus Day here in America). It's one of those weekends when I really need just one more day of weekend!

Anyhoo ... I thought I'd share some pictures from last week. We had some very nice days, including a trip to the Fair, and a Nature Club meeting held here at our house. Please read on and I hope you enjoy!

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Here we are Tuesday morning at the Fair ... it was a little damp to start, but things dried out nicely throughout the morning. I will admit, I was a little anxious about this trip, as it had been several years since Earlybird had been to the Fair. As you can probably imagine, a large and crowded fairground is a rather challenging place for a child with autism. There's just so much stimulation - so many sights, sounds, smells - and way more people than he's used to being around. Previous fair visits had not gone so well, but we planned this year's visit with EB's behavioral therapist (who joined us during this outing). We hoped EB - who was really excited to go - would be able to handle it ... and happily, he did handle it! It was overwhelming for him at times, so we found quiet corners and simple things for him to do ...

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First up, EB and Little Bear got to make apple cider the old-fashioned way ... 

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These guys were SO nice, letting EB turn the wheel over and over again and patiently explaining the process to him. People like this - who take a few extra minutes and show a little extra patience - well, they just have no idea how much that means to parents whose children have special needs. For us it meant a quiet 10 minutes where EB could calm down and focus on something interesting. He felt a part of the Fair instead of outside of it.

A bit later on we found ourselves in another quiet spot ... inside the poultry barn, where even the loudest roosters and hens barely ruffled our feathers. Plus, the boys got to hold baby chicks!

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The nice man in the cap pictured below noticed my boy needing a little distraction and said, "Hey, hang on a minute - let me get you a chick to hold." Well, Little Bear and Earlybird sat themselves right down on the bench and waited patiently (EB's beloved therapist right by his side) and true to his word, this kind gentleman placed a tiny chick right in their hands!

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Catching our breath we moved on to enjoy our snacks outside the arena ... whoopie pies from a favorite bakery!

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(EB's ate his too fast for me to get many pictures, lol, but here is LB enjoying his.)

A stop in "Kiddieville" on our way out, and a train ride for Little Bear ...

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Once with Daddy ...

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And once with Mama. :)

(Earlybird almost got on the train but changed his mind at the last minute. Maybe next year!)

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Now, here are some pictures from our Nature Club meeting on Friday. Some of my longtime readers might remember years ago when I'd post about my homeschool group's Nature Club and what fun we had on those monthly adventures. Well, after a several-year break, I am happy to report the club is back up and running! This first meeting was just a gathering to get organized and so there were a few nature crafts set out for the kids and plenty of refreshments for all ...

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These next couple of pictures have nothing to do with Nature Club - I just want to show you some more of my autumn decorating. :)

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It was such a nice day so we were able to set up the activity tables on the  patio ...

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Activities included: making leaf fossils, autumn suncatchers and leaf-creature pictures as well as rock painting and a backyard scavenger hunt. I think the kids all had a good time! (I didn't share pictures of our friends in this post, but there were about 20 kids in all, I believe.)

And hey, here's an idea ... how about we form some kind of "online" Nature Club? I often have friends and readers comment that they wish they had something like this club for their kids and while we obviously couldn't get together and explore nature "in real life," we could share our ideas and experiences with each other here at my blog! I will have to think on this a bit, but let me know if you think you (and your kids) might be interested ... I'd run this something like I have other group projects in the past ... like Field Days, Book Party and Planner Party and the like. Maybe a monthly theme and then folks could "report in" and share pictures and observations, a little bit about the nature where they live? I think that could be fun ... :)

Have to share this one, too ...

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Our Earlybird is learning to ride a bike! :)

This an adult "trike" and so far he's taking to it pretty well! And just to note, he will wear a helmet once he starts really riding. This picture was taken in our driveway and he doesn't pedal further than a few feet at a time. The helmet will be a bit of a sensory challenge, but I know he'll wear it if it means he gets to ride around the neighborhood!

Last pic from Nature Club ...

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Beautiful zinnias and cosmos! How lovely to be brought flowers from a friend's garden? I am resolved to grow a cutting garden next year...

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New books on my desk ...

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The one of the far left is on loan from the library (it seems several friends are enjoying this story so I want to check it out!) while the other two are recent "splurges." The middle book will be my Advent reading and the book on the end is just FULL of wonderful information. Really nice layout, too. I am taking that one very slowly, reading a few pages every morning ... :)

And lastly ...

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I had to share this picture - taken on Main Street as I made my way home from the store. A horse and buggy making its way (slowly) down the road! Such is life in a small town ... :)

Well my friends, I'd best be off for now - I've kept you here quite long and so I thank you for your time and attention! I do hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend, whenever it might end, and I also hope and pray all my friends here are safe and sound. Especially those in the path of Hurricane Matthew!Take care of yourselves and your loved ones and I will see  you here again very soon ...


Earlybird's Visual Learning

My goodness but I've been working on this draft for some time now ... and yet for some reason I just can't seem to wrap it up! Well, here we go anyway ... I hope you enjoy! :)

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So here at last is Earlybird's "learning line," something I mentioned last month on Instagram and promised to show in more detail here at the blog ...

This learning line is basically a simple, visual catalog of information - consisting of sheets stored in page protectors. We've had some good success with this the past few weeks, so I snapped some pictures to share here in case this might work well for someone else's child ... :)

But first, a bit of background ...

Our 14 yo Earlybird has autism and teaching him in a way that is both engaging and meaningful has been a real challenge for us as a home-educating family. We are always looking for ways to make learning enjoyable for EB, while taking into account his varying special needs. He can't really handle long lessons or a lot of one-on-one, intense instruction so I like to "sneak in" the ideas and concepts we're working on and then revisit them to assess how things are sinking in. (EB is developmentally delayed but has a fantastic memory and a bright inquisitive mind. Some subjects (like science) he readily absorbs like a sponge, while others (for example, math) he really struggles with.) My first thought was that we'd just sit down together with a binder full of the sheets shown above, but EB can be funny about this kind of activity. I could envision myself saying, "Hey, EB, how about we sit down over here and look through your lesson pages together?" To which EB would most likely say, "Um, no thanks." Or maybe even something like "Noooo, I don't wanna ... noooo!"

(Insert door slam here.)

Compliance and flexibility are things we work on every day with EB's (amazing) behavioral therapist - and we're making progress, certainly - but as you can imagine, this kind of attitude doesn't really lend itself to easygoing homeschooling moments. It's actually quite disruptive and really messes with the lesson plans!

Hence our ongoing efforts to find methods that are appealing to EB while also training him to be more accepting of requests and responsibilities. (This is also why I tend to make EB's lesson plans with a rather wide-range vision. I sketch out some general topics and themes for a month, then write up weekly goals which get plugged into the days of the week as they work best.

My October notes read like this: Explorers, New England geography/geology, Americana artists - Moses/Wysocki, music of Harry Potter (composer John Williams), autumn weather/frost, woods/leaves, soil, migration, St. Francis, All Hallow's Eve

Side note - it is really difficult for EB to sit and listen to someone read aloud to him (re ~ sensory issues) and while he can read on his own, he doesn't have a lot of stamina for it. So in come audiobooks! Funnily enough, I've never been a big fan of audiobooks myself - preferring paper as I do - but they have been a real lifesaver! And so incredibly enjoyable. I play all kinds of literature while we drive around, bringing Crackerjack to his "out of home" classes or the soccer field or on errands, etc. It seems we're in the car every day for something or another these days! So I just casually press "play" and when EB asks me to switch back to "the news" (he loves news radio, lol) I say something like, "Oh we'll go back to that in a minute, let's just find out what happens next ..."  We just finished Peter Pan, and have now begun Harry Potter ... I am so excited to revisit this with Earlybird! It's his first time, but one of many re-reads for me!

Ok, so enough of my chatter, here are some pictures of our "learning line" - and this also gives you a little sneak peek into how the learning room is coming along (Slowly, but surely! And a full tour to come soon ... )

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So the line stretches across the entire back wall of the sunroom learning room. Bill just used "Command" hooks and a length of kitchen twine for this project. Other supplies include sheet protectors, post-it notes and small wooden clothespins. The current books are on the windowsills for now but eventually - once Bill builds me some book ledges! - they will be displayed on the walls. Both the books and the sheets reflect current learning topics ...

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Some of the things I have hanging in the sheet protectors:

  • a map of the US slowly being colored in as we cover each state
  • a state bird and flower coloring page (we're starting in New England)
  • a photocopy of a colorful state map, corresponding with the state bird/flower page
  • some Peace Day print-outs
  • a corn plant with diagram labels
  • a map of where corn is grown in the US
  • some index cards with landform vocabulary terms - these are specific to New England (EB was asked to look them up and record the word on each card)
  • the weekly forecast
  • September's poem

I've since added a compilation of seed-dispersal facts and a Charles Wysocki art book page (with New England theme) as well as some coloring pages and crafts made by Little Bear at his library Storytime.

To some of these pages I might add post-it notes with questions such as:

  • According to this map, which area of the US grows the most corn?
  • What is the capital of Massachusetts?
  • What are three adjectives that describe September?
  • What day this week looks to have the best weather?
  • What Native American tribes were found in Massachusetts? Check the Giant US Discovery Atlas

Some of these pages are photocopied from workbooks, text books, library books and other resources. Some things are found online as images or printables. (How did we ever home school before Pinterest?) The index cards are in sheet protectors with divided pockets. Currently I'm just filing the sheet protectors in a binder as is, retiring last week's pages over the weekend and hanging fresh sheets before the new week begins.

(Ok, let me rephrase that - I'm actually placing all those pages in a basket until I find a binder I like for this purpose! I need a large one, but the rings need to work very smoothly for Earlybird.)

The "learning line" is something EB uses with his therapist as well. They've been working his homeschooling into their daily sessions and it has been a tremendous help! I think Earlybird likes this approach because it's visually appealing and he feels proud to see some of his work hanging up in this way. I've heard him show visitors his learning line and he'll comment on it sometimes to me throughout the day. It's a way of keeping his lessons front and center - but with a relatively low-key approach. Some items stay up longer than a week if I feel they need to "sink in" a little longer.

Note: these pictures were taken last month ... here is a peek at the line this week!

LL october 2

LL october 1

So there's a look at one of the ways I incorporate "visual" learning into Earlybird's week. I hope you enjoyed this peek into our learning room, and as I mentioned above, a full tour will be coming up soon!

Enjoy your weekend, my friends and as always, thanks so much for stopping by ...

See you here again very soon!


A Seasonal Paper Chain for Earlybird!

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Hello and Happy September, my friends!

Now, before I get into the meat of my post - did you all remember to say Rabbit Rabbit this morning? :)

I'm happy to say I did! Well, sort of. Since Little Bear had us up at 2 a.m. (wanting out of his bed and into ours), I may have muttered a little incoherently before I remembered to say the magic words ... ;)

So today I'd like to share a bit about the project I put together yesterday. I'm a little embarrassed to share it actually, since it's really a rather basic craft - one I'm sure many of you have seen and/or done yourself - one I've shared here myself a time or two! - but it just looks so pretty and I know a lot of you love paper as I do, and I think it's sort of a new twist on an old favorite ... so here goes!

A bit of backstory ... Earlybird, as most of you know, is autistic, and one of his challenges is a real preoccupation with "things happening now and/or next." Like, holidays and special events and things he really looks forward to. He will ask to talk all about say, Easter, in the middle of July and act like the Big Bunny himself might be appearing any minute now. Then, on a whim, he'll forget all about Easter and suddenly we're hashing out the Thanksgiving menu or he's wondering why we aren't getting our Christmas tree this weekend ...

Yes, he is his mother's son - a lover of seasons and special days! And his capacity for joy is so wonderful! But I'm always looking for ways to help him get a bit of a handle on his passion - and understand the passage of time and order of yearly events and all that. I have a few things going on this year that I hope will help him, but here's the first thing:

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A paper chain for counting down the days of fall and winter!

For this project, the first thing I did was buy paper for a chain lasting from September 1st  through January 1st. I chose "appropriate" paper for each month - an alphabet design in September (because, back-to-school), an orange print for October (because, pumpkins and Halloween), a beige wood-look for November (because, bare trees), red and white for December (because, Christmas!) and festive stars for the days leading up to New Year's. I also purchased a pack of pretty heart-shaped tags. (You'll see why in a minute.) 

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I cut the paper into strips for each day of each month (this was 12x12 scrapbooking paper so I got 10 strips per sheet) and set aside a number of hearts.

Next I worked late into the night to assemble the chain ...

Paper chain 1

No, just kidding. The lighting is just dark here - it didn't really take all that long. :)

Once it was all linked up, I hung it up in the sunroom-soon-to-be-schoolroom ... 

Paper chain 4

Paper chain 5

And I added a heart tag wherever a special day would be coming up on the calendar ...

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Paper chain 3

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So here's the paper-chain plan:

Every morning we'll take down the next link in the chain and then, on the back, we'll write something we remember about yesterday. (Preferably something positive!) Then I'll roll the strip up tight, tape it closed and pop it in a large container. On New Year's Day we'll go back and read through our memories. :)

(So today we remembered that yesterday we took time to check our our neighborhood creek and found it quite empty and dry. Not necessarily positive, lol - but we've determined to begin a little science project by observing the creek weekly for changes. EB has a special fondness for this creek.)

For Earlybird, I'm hoping the paper chain will give him a fun and visual way to increase his awareness of where we are in the year. So when he wants to keep watch for trick-or-treaters I'll point out that we're not even in the orange links yet, and the tag for Halloween is still many links away! And so forth ...

(I have tags for the first day of autumn, Halloween, Thanksgiving, EB's birthday, the winter solstice, Christmas, and New Year's Day.)

If this is successful, I will do the same thing for January through April, but that's getting ahead of myself! :)

The other things I'm doing with EB this year is ...

One - He will have his own month-at-a-glance calendar to manage (I love this style for its large, lined template). Every morning, when he sits down with his therapist at their work table, he will open his calendar, cross of the day before and see what today's date is and what is on the "agenda." I'm also adding notes and stickers to make it even more fun for him!

And, Two - I am making up a three-ring binder with tabs for all the holidays and events he likes to talk about and make lists for ... aside from the ones mentioned above, he also loves to plan out shopping days (to Whole Foods, usually), vacations (Disney, for example), family parties and playdates at my folks' house. We often use these lists for language work and he holds onto them and packs them up and takes them with him until they're practically falling apart. I thought I would have sheet-protectors in this binder where we can file all these things and when EB wants to talk about something we can use the binder for reference. Halloween candy we'll buy ... pages from a catalog with costumes ... recipes we cut out from magazines ... Thanksgiving menu and guest list ... a birthday wish list ... a letter to Santa ... etc. Honestly, he really does LOVE to think about and talk about these topics! I hope these activities nurture his interests, channel his energy and help him learn a little more about how the year turns ...

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Well my friends, I hope your September started out on a good note! Thanks so much for stopping by and next time, I will have my yearly seasonal themes to share. 

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... see you here again sometime soon!


Homeschooling: Year 16!

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Wow, I can't believe I just wrote that, but - as Facebook reminded me yesterday - we began our homeschooling journey 15 years ago this month! Holy crow, that's a lot of years ... and boy did they go by really fast!

And so begins our 16th year ...

We are still getting used to a new daily routine here at home, with Earlybird's therapy taking place every morning for two hours, Monday through Friday. This is a Godsend, honestly, but I am realizing this means I need to tweak my daily routine (and expectations) a bit. EB's therapist is here from 10-12, and though I'm not directly involved, I need to be close by for support and sometimes, translation. Before he arrives, I'm scurrying about getting myself, the kids and the house ready ... and after he leaves I'm throwing together lunch and then getting Little Bear down for his nap. Next thing I know it's 4 p.m. - time to tidy up and make supper! So, I'm asking myself ... when do I clean? When do we homeschool? When do I get my older son to his classes and back? 

And how about ... when do I blog? πŸ˜‰

So this new schedule will take some adjustment, but I know it is for the very best, not just for Earlybird, but for all of us. Autism is very much a family diagnosis, after all - it changes your life in ways you never expected. So ... I will work a new routine into our day and we will all adjust ... I am blessed to have many helping hands around me and I certainly plan to make use of them! 

Anyhoo ... today I just wanted to wish all my readers, and their families, a wonderful back-to-school season! Whether your kids are in traditional school or learn at home or even if you have no kids at all - enjoy this month of transition! A time for new supplies and fresh attitudes, as we let go of Summer's freedom and embrace the structure of Autumn ...

If you have a moment, I'd love to hear about your kids and if they are in school or homeschool or have perhaps flown the nest! Just to catch you all up to speed - my four boys are now 20, 16, 13 and 27 months! The oldest is in college (junior year!) and the rest are still homeschooled. Well, except for the toddler  ... who hasn't quite begun his homeschool career just yet *wink* ... though he sure does like to be in the thick of things!

:)

Well my friends, I hope you are enjoying your Wednesday, and that your September is off to a great start! Thank so much for stopping by ... I will see you here again very soon!

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Homeschool Thoughts, Lists & News, etc.

(A bit of a hodgepodge today!)

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Happy August, my friends! It sure is hot and hazy here, but I love how the flowers just glow in the summer sun these days. And everything is so green ... I just love this time of year!

Well, I wanted to pop in quickly this morning to tell you I am *thisclose* to finishing our school reports - I just need to finalize Earlybird's ed. plan for next year. His reports are always a bit tricky because, as a special needs child, my plans must be thorough, but flexible, and his progress is not always so readily apparent. I have to put a lot of thought into what we will learn and how I will teach him these things. And because of his learning style and challenges, my methods are not always as clear-cut as just say, ordering a "Grade X Curriculum." Thankfully he does make progress each year ... I just have to really look back through all we did in each subject to remind myself (reassure myself) how said progress was made and measured.

(For example, this year he listened to audiobooks - something he didn't couldn't do before - and in this way we "read" several classic books together. I couldn't ask him to fill out a quiz or write a report, but I could - when the time was right - ask him questions about what we'd heard that day and to re-tell parts of the story, which I would write down.)

So I'm always looking for ways to "think outside the box" when constructing Earlybird's education, and one resource I have found immensely helpful are these fantastic (and free!) Living Learning Lists from Ed Snapshots. There are some terrific ideas here for experiential learning in all the main subjects! I've pinned these lists and printed them out to keep in my homeschool planner for use all year long ... :)

And speaking of Ed Snapshots ... well, I am just SUPER excited to have been invited to do a podcast with Pam sometime in the near future! (You can read other podcasts here ... so much inspiration!) I will keep you all posted about when mine will be happening ... I'm not sure what-all I can bring to the "podcast table," but I am SO honored to have been asked! I haven't "talked shop" in a while ... :)

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Let's see, what else? I also wanted to mention that so far I am really enjoying my new Day Designer! I will do a post on how I'm using it as soon as I can - I want to get some more "days" under my belt first - but I wanted to mention that if you'd like a peek at how the planner looks, DD offers free downloadable planning pages to try out before purchasing. Mind you, this is an example of a page from a flagship planner - the original Day Designer - not the Blue Sky version I purchased from Target. I'm still working out how the versions differ ... and how to personalize my own planner. More about that soon!

Ok - and here's a final thought for today - over the weekend I had my hair cut, colored and styled and boy does it feel good! (Some of you might have seen my "after shot" on my Facebook page.) And it got me to thinking ... wouldn't it be fun to do a "hair care" post here at the blog? I would love to chat about how we wear our hair, and how we care for it ... on our own at home and at the salon. Especially when we're busy with other things (kids, work, life!) or being careful with our budget. We could even - if people were willing! - share pictures. I will keep that in mind for sometime in my posting future - let me know if you think that would be fun and any other post ideas you might have for me! I'm always open to suggestions. :)

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All righty then ... I will be off now since my kids are clamoring for lunch and I'm the point person when it comes to that situation. For now I will wish you all a good week and hope to see you here again very soon!

Teach quote

(Saw this just before hitting "post" and had to share!)


Scenes of Spring ...

Happy Monday, my friends! I hope your week is off to a great start. :)

Are you enjoying the unfolding of Spring as much as I am? Oh my goodness, it's just one happy surprise after another ... and yet there's such a comforting sense of familiarity as well. This is what I love about the seasons ... there's so much joy to be found on so many levels! I've been out and about taking pictures like crazy (with my phone, that is - unfortunately my camera is on the fritz) and I'd like to share them this morning if I may ... 

Purple and white crocus

Prettiest little crocus I've ever seen - love how these tough little blossoms push their way through all manner of leaf litter and rocky soil.

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Forsythia branches for the nature shelf ... they keep getting moved as Oliver (the cat) keeps finding them and knocking them over.

Flower books

 Some inspiring library books - we're planting lots of flowers this year!

Grunt 2

Remember that lovely rhubarb I showed you last week? I finally got around to using it on Sunday ... Bill was outside chopping wood (a felled tree to make way for an apple orchard!) and I had soup simmering on the stove ... the boys were all around the house and the windows were open and it all felt so homey and good. Just as a Sunday should. :)

Felling trees 3

Bill had lots of helpers once the "felling" part was over. :) And I'm busy googling "things to do with fallen trees and branches" on Pinterest. Can't let all that good wood go to waste!

Light it up blue

 This is our blue light for the month of April (Autism Awareness) ...

Bunny chocolate

This is Mama's Easter chocolate, because it's white. :) I finally succumbed to temptation and had a few nibbles with my tea ...

Spring pajamas

Remember those "pretty spring pajamas" I mentioned in relation to the washing machine fiasco earlier this month? Well thankfully they made it out in one piece, and surprisingly none the worse for wear. I love them so much - the print is called, "Dawn Floral." :)

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Final photo - we had a lovely sunrise visit from a pair of mallards the other morning! The Mrs. was quite brave and waddled about the yard while the Mr. enjoyed the temporary vernal pond in our front woods. I rushed from window-to-window snapping pictures and I think I startled her because she very suddenly ran back towards the pond and the pair of them took off into the sunrise ...

Well my friends, I must be off, but I hope to see you here again in a few days. I'll try to have a housekeeping post up later this week ... or maybe a file crate post as I'm working on the new folders right now ... or perhaps something for Earth Day, St. George's Day or Arbor Day? :)

So please stay tuned!

And thanks so much for stopping by ~ Blessings on your day!


Earlybird's Lenten Chain

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Good Monday morning, my friends!

We have bright sunshine here and bitterly cold temps - but no snow at the moment! At least not in the air ... on the ground is a whole other story! But it's a good day - we have power (which means important things like heat and coffee can happen) and we're safe and cozy at home. These are blessings I try to remind myself not to take for granted ...

I did want to let you know that I'm having some "tech" issues at the moment, so my posting might be a bit "off" this week - but I wanted to share this quick project with you all ahead of this (Ash) Wednesday.

Earlybird, as I've mentioned, gets a bit obsessed with upcoming events, especially holidays. So I'm always looking for ways to help him understand how time passes and perhaps slow him down a bit and build up his patience. And these are good goals for Lent, I think! Well, this is what I set up for him this weekend:

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 We began the chain on Saturday, February 14th (Valentine's Day) and it stretches all the way to Sunday, April 5th (Easter). These are just strips of construction paper, and there are:

4 green strips (Ordinary Time)

42 purple strips (Lent)

1 pink strip (Rose Sunday)

3 red strips (Paschal Triduum)

1 white strip (Easter)

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Very simply, I wrote a brief note on the inside of each strip. What is this day? What might I give of myself for someone else? (So, examples would be: "Clean up Little Bear's blocks. Bring Crackerjack's laundry downstairs. Help CJ with trash. Help Mama make supper. Etc.) Helping with chores is not something EB typically likes to do so it will be a sacrifice for him to make these offerings.

(ETA - I pinned the chores around my weekly routine - so on Mondays the strip suggests laundry help or bedroom pickup, while Wednesdays are for kitchen tasks, etc. Just might make it easier for working with him on this.)

Before hanging the chain, I jotted down each strip's note in my Lenten Planner so I would be aware of what EB would be reading that day (and could prepare for things I suggested). Then I taped the loops together and hung them up in the kitchen, along the learning wall as seen above. I anchored the chain to the maps with small, wooden clothespins.

So now Earlybird has a visual reminder of how close we are getting to Easter - and a simple Lenten path that will help him participate to the best of his ability in this most holy season. It pleases me so much to bring our Faith into his world in ways that register with him, and bring him joy. :)

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Well my friends, I hope this day finds you safe and comfortable, wherever you are and whatever your weather. I have a really fun post to share next time! I've been busily nailing down those housekeeping routines - plugging tasks into a schedule - and I will be sharing it with you all very soon. It's a rather large project and I'm still trying to iron it all out, but I think it might be the most comprehensive list of housekeeping I've ever written! So stay tuned!

And see you here again very soon ...