Sunday, November 30, 2014

november in an instant

"How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors. It changes a child's personality. A child is resentful, negative - or thankful. Thankful children want to give, they radiate happiness, they draw people."
-Sir John Templeton

I am thankful for November. I am thankful for husbands and daughters and leaves and church and friends and piano and food and flowers and family and school...and pumpkin pie. 

I am thankful for November. 

Thanksgiving (or the holiday that shall not be named)

Thanksgiving has been a bit of a sore spot in our home for the past five years. SOMEthing always goes wrong - seizures and head wounds, throw up, gravy explosions, turkeys taking twice as long to cook as they should and more. Thanksgiving day has not been in our favor for a few years. Each year, I'm determined to fix it. And this year I gave it an honest effort...

For the first time since college, Ryan and I were able to spend Thanksgiving with family. His grandparents moved back to their home in Nauvoo, IL last month so two of his uncles and one of his aunts and their families all came to celebrate together. We packed up the car with our sides and pies and made the trip two hours south. 

The dinner was delicious and the company was fantastic. We love getting together with his family. Leah loves her permanent spot in great grandpa's arm on a cushy seat. Kate loves the attention she gets from the cool, older girls. And we all love eating good food, so there's that. 

We decided to get a hotel and stay the night so we wouldn't have to leave dinner early. Kate was fascinated with our perfect view of the Nauvoo Temple that night in our cozy hotel. As we were getting our things settled for the night, Ryan said, "I think we made it through the day without any major catastrophes. The Thanksgiving curse is broken!" As it was only 8:00, I warned him to not jinx us. He then went outside to the car to grab some of our things and I started to get Leah ready for bed. I asked Kate to grab me something and as she did, she slipped on the cover of the pack 'n play and, let's just say, lost a fight with the armoire. Her cry was blood curdling - Ryan heard it from outside. I scooped her up and there was blood everywhere. I ran to the bathroom to try and clean some of it up and figure out where it was coming from. I was cleaning it up as Ryan ran back into the room. When he asked what happened, I simply informed him the Thanksgiving curse was still alive and well. 

Luckily, she had only torn the upper labial frenulum (that little flap of skin connecting your upper lip to your gums). We cleaned it up pretty quickly and she had no major damage to her teeth or mouth. Just some bruising and swelling. She got plenty of extra attention from great grandpa in the morning (ice cream spooned right into her mouth!). 

We almost made it through unscathed. It seems whatever terror is lurking happens later and later in the day each year. So maybe by next year we'll be free. 

Despite Kate's torn up mouth, we felt grateful for so many things. We brought back our Thankful Tree with the girls throughout the month and had fun discussing all of the things with which we are blessed. 

And when we returned home, we had a belated Thanksgiving dinner with the Oakes family. Because if living away from family for nine years has taught us anything, it's that Thanksgiving just isn't Thanksgiving without...friends. And, you can never have too many leftovers. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mommy school x2

This month, I got the chance to teach our preschool co-op group twice and it just gets better every time! I'm getting the hang of knowing what kinds of activities to plan, how long I'll be able to keep their attention for various activities, what they will/won't eat and what kinds of art projects to tackle. 

The kids are doing so much better with their routine and, for the most part, really get along well. 

On November 4, I taught the letter K and did a "K is for King" craft (though I realize later, this might be confusing because it was a crown and K is not for crown. We played with play dough using objects that start with K (a "K" cookie cutter, keys, etc.) on a letter K mat. I also taught about circles and we played a few fun activities to recognize them. The monthly theme is Thanksgiving, so we talked about what we were thankful for and wrote about those things on red, yellow and orange circles then glued them onto thankful trees.  

On November 25, we learned about the letter N and did a craft about "N is for Night." I'm loving the stickers for craft time. Not too messy and all of the kids can figure them out! Perfect. We made "nine noodle necklaces" and played Elefun with "nets." We learned about rectangles and then made rectangle placemats for our upcoming Thanksgiving feast. 

We learned about the first Thanksgiving and the kids dressed up with hats. We made our own pumpkin and raspberry pies and then ate our Thanksgiving feast (turkey lunch meat, mashed potatoes, rolls, corn, pies). Holidays are so much fun with kids and this was a great day to teach preschool. They loved it! 

And I love that I have a break until January! 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

a very happy unbirthday

Kate seems to have caught my enthusiasm for birthdays - most importantly, hers. After the celebrations from my birthday wore off, she started to get excited for her own. The only problem is, her birthday is in May. "May firteenf" to be precise. And May 13th is half a year away. 

The poor girl was so excited and so incessant with her outbursts of enthusiasm for her big day, that we decided to celebrate her half birthday. We grabbed a donut, lit a candle and sang the (un)birthday song to all in attendance and that was that. 

It curbed her enthusiasm, gave me a chance to tell her there were a few other birthdays and holidays before her big day, and gave us all an excuse to eat a donut. Win-win. 

A very happy unbirthday indeed. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

the return of the recital

I finally returned from my piano recital hiatus after 3.5 years. The last one I held was in spring 2011 in California! I only had 2-3 students in New Hampshire and some of them for only a year, so I never really got in the recital groove. My first year in Iowa, I only had one student and didn't think she'd want to perform a one man show. So when some friends asked if I wanted my now six students to join in their combined recital, I happily obliged. And my students were all excited to participate too!

It was held at a local music store in their recital hall and was just perfect. Between four teachers we had 20 students. A few of my students have only been taking lessons for a few months and they were phenomenal. I was so proud of all of them and can't wait to see what this next year holds. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Primary Programs and the Lion's Den

Sometimes it's small moments that make me take a step back and realize how blessed we are to have Leah as included and welcomed and accepted as she is. I know that there are many who have children with special needs who don't feel this way and I don't take her inclusion for granted. 

Leah was asked, just like all of the other children in our church congregation, to participate in the annual Primary Program. In this program, kids ages 3-11 put on an hour long meeting about a gospel topic. They gave Leah a piece of paper saying, "My favorite scripture story is [blank] because [blank]. 

Now, Ryan and I could have easily thought of a great scripture story and written it out for her. But we knew that Leah had a favorite and we owed it to her to figure out what it was and why. 

So began what I thought would be a long and tedious process of questioning. But it ended up going something like this:

Mom: Okay, Leah, we need to figure out what your favorite scripture story is. Do you have a favorite?
Leah: Yes (with eyes, of course, that is to be assumed from here on out...)
Mom: Okay, is it a story in the Book of Mormon?
Leah: No. 
Mom: The Bible?
Leah: Yes. 
Mom: Okay, is it about Noah's Ark?
Leah: No. 
Mom: Is it about Daniel in the Lion's Den?
Leah: YES. (A big, fat, resounding yes with piercing blue eyes staring me in my browns and a giggle and smile to boot.)
Mom: Great!!!

That was it! So quick. And so certain. We then proceeded to read the story from the Bible and talk about the reasons she liked it. I brought up lots of things and she let me know what she did and didn't want to include in her talk. This is what we came up with - it has full Leah approval. She presented this part in front of our entire congregation with her switch. Nice work, Leah! 

"My favorite scripture story is Daniel in the Lion's  Den. 
Daniel kept the commandment even though he could get in trouble. 
Heavenly Father sent an angel to protect Daniel from the lions. 
Daniel was a good example. 
I can follow Daniel's example by praying to Heavenly Father 
and keeping his commandments." 

It makes my heart burst to know that Leah participates so well in our church programs and that she is growing in her knowledge just like the other kids. What a powerful example she is to me! And a cute one at that. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

not speaking

I find myself at a loss of words when it comes to this post, which I guess is appropriate considering the topic for which I have no words is the Not Speaking campaign for Rett syndrome organized by Rettland Foundation

This October, many joined together and took a pledge to NOT speak for one hour in an effort to raise awareness for Rett syndrome. Other forms of communication were allowed, but no speaking. Stickers were provided for each participant to wear as well as cards to pass out with information about Rett syndrome. 

We had some family and friends sign up and support us, which we are so grateful for, but I was really touched when Leah's 1st grade class decided they would collectively not speak for an hour. 

Yes, 17 six and seven year olds NOT SPEAKING for an hour. Their lovely teacher had them begin during the last 30 minutes of instruction and then continue for the next 30 minutes as they traveled home. 

After the experience, she wrote an email describing some of their thoughts and feelings and her words are much better than mine. 

"I'll start off by saying my expectations were low when deciding to ask 17 six year olds to be silent for ANY amount of time. Let alone an hour. I just have a VERY chatty group this year, so I knew it wasn't going to be easy... Or so I thought.

They not only surpassed my expectations, but they shocked me! They really did 'not speak' for the full 30 minutes!! If only I could use this campaign every day! I'm not sure how they did once they left my classroom to head home, but they each worked so hard before dismissal. There were a couple of slip-ups and then others would take it so seriously and remind them to be quiet. I even heard a girl whisper "For Leah!" which completely melted my heart. It was amazing and touching and so cool to witness.

The next day we discussed the experience while sitting in a circle. Leah joined us so the kids could ask her questions as well.(Leah was also in the room for the "not talking") Many students said "it was hard" for various reasons, most being that they couldn't communicate what they wanted. One student, told the class the hardest part was when a friend couldn't read the card and his friend started thinking he was mad and didn't want to be his friend anymore. He used the word frustrating to describe how he felt, and he admitted he finally cracked and talked "just a little" to tell his friend the real reason he wasn't speaking. You could tell he was truly conflicted over it. It led to a great discussion about how frustrating it must be for Leah ALL the time, and when we asked her - she gave a very big YES! it is frustrating sometimes.

Some students shared things they did to help them communicate... Writing notes, using our mini whiteboards at school, or even hand motions. On student raised her hand and asked "But what does Leah do, since she can't really do those things?" Again, was a great point that we were able to discuss. Leah told us "yes" she can use her hands sometimes (with a switch or cards) but that it was hard.

When I asked what they learned, a student explained they learned more about what is was like to be Leah or any girl with Rett syndrome. We talked about how that was the point of this experience and hopefully others learned a little, too, when we "talked" to them.

We finished the discussion with a picture and I believe Leah LOVED every minute of the attention and celebration."

After their discussion, the kids in her classroom wrote about their experience. Here are some excerpts of what they said:

"It was hard I couldn't speak to my friend and my friend couldn't speak to me. It is not easy to be Leah."
"I learned it is hard. I had to write on a piece of paper."
"I couldn't tell my mom how my day was."
"At my house my friend came over and it was hard to ask which game he wanted to play. I used my fingers to tell my mom to help. It was pretty hard. I loved it."
"I had trouble on the bus because other kids tried to talk to me."
"I feel bad for Leah, but she is used to it. I am not."
"I think that it's hard for people that have Rett syndrome to do what they want to do."
"It taught me that kids that have Rett syndrome can not communicate how we can."
"It was hard! The frustrating part was when I had to ask to go to the bathroom, but I couldn't!"
"If you wanted to tell someone to stop, you couldn't and that was hard."
"It was hard, but also exciting because we got to know how it is to be Leah."
"Leah talks with cards. I learned that people talk in different ways."

To be honest, I find so many of these revelations so eye opening. But there are a few I really love. 

"It is not easy to be Leah."
That student is so right. It isn't easy to be her. And yet, more often than not, she makes it look easy-ish because of her attitude. I need to be continually reminded of how NOT easy it is to be Leah. 

"I feel bad for Leah, but she is used to it. I am not."
There is so much truth in this statement. She is used to it and there is something to be said about this life becoming Leah's and our family's norm. We have worked hard to adapt over the past six years and some things have become easier. Thank goodness for that.

"It was hard, but also exciting because we got to know how it is to be Leah."
It makes me so happy to know that other kids are excited to get a better glimpse into Leah's life and the things she struggles with on a daily basis. They are excited! They want to get to know her and wonderful opportunities like this make that possible. 

In the end, the gratitude I feel for those - old and young - who participated in the Not Speaking campaign leaves me a little, well, speechless. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Decades Date Night, the first

For awhile now, I've wanted to have a couples costume party where couples come dressed up as famous or well-known couples or things that just go together. But looking at the calendar for October, there wasn't a single weekend night that worked. I was chatting with a friend about it, asking her if a costume party on November 1 would be ridiculous. Her jaw dropped to the floor as she told me how SHE had wanted to do a couples costume party as well, but wanted to have the theme be different decades in the 20th century. 

So, we decided November 1 wasn't ridiculous and we threw ourselves a party! 

Ryan and I opted for 1920s. I had fun twirling the flaps on my dress while he spent the evening perfecting his 1920s vernacular ("hey there big cheese", "that's the bees knees", "hi dawl") and typing on his air typewriter. There were a handful of hippies (seriously hilarious in those tight pants), some great depression folks and a few 1950s sock hoppers. 

We had some last minute cancellations, but it still turned out to be an hilariously fun night! Good food, great friends and so many laughs. We spent the evening playing a trivia game with questions about different decades from the 1920s to the 1980s mixed with some minute to win it games. The dancing was by far my favorite. We got some wall flowers out on the floor! 

This will definitely be something I try to make into an annual tradition. Can't wait to see what costumes people come up with next year! Thanks to the Johansens for hosting! 
Johansens, Kriters, Davidsons, Oakeses
Flahertys, Laytons, Josies

october in an instant

"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."
-L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

That about sums it up.