Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What is Thanksgiving, really?



55 minutes before the day of thanks. Why? How many of us truly appreciate and understand what Thanksgiving really is. In a nutshell, the Pilgrims would have essentially died had it not been for the Native Americans help. These dark skinned people who had inhabited this land for generations were met with white skin folk who just came ashore. They could have viewed these new people as intruders. They could have viewed them as inferior due to their skin color, or language, or religious beliefs, or whatever....but they did not. They embraced them (for the most part,) taught them how to farm, and saved their lives. The first harvest was good, so good that Govenor Bradford declared a special day of Thanksgiving to God for the his plentiful gifts, including the gift of Squanto.

Today that idea of thanks is skewed, at best. Sure we say grace for our meals....sometimes. But how often to we really stop to Thank God for what we have? What we wanted and did not get? Sometimes, after all,  what we want and do not get are the greatest blessings! In addition to that, how many times do we stop to pray for those who have not. We are a spoiled society who gorge on food, waste so much, and then spend hundred's and thousands of dollars on the same day (or the day after) we are celebrating being thankful....on junk.

I was watching a TV show where 6 men (3 firemen, 3 police officers) were competing in a team challenge where they had 30 minutes to eat 17 pounds of food. I thought My Gosh, how many hungry families in both this country and else where would LOVE to have 17 pounds of food! That would last for days, not just 30 minutes! How spoiled are we?! How blind are we?! We have gotten so comfortable in our cushy lives that we never stop to think about others. I was sitting in my living room tonight feel down and depressed, then I looked around. I have a beautiful house, a more beautiful home, Christmas tree, clothes, food, family....so much. There's a roof over our heads, soft beds to sleep in, carpet and wood on the floors. Look how many mothers are out there tonight either homeless with their families, or living in such horrible conditions that we wouldn't ever want to be found. Over seas families live with dirt for floors, children sleeping on that dirt...cold...hungry. It's just not right. People say, "Charity begins at home..." And yes, yes it does. But what does that mean? Well first, that's not even in the Bible, so you can just stop saying that. The Bible says that if one does not provide for his family, he is as bad or worse than an unbeliever. It also goes on to say we should not neglect the needy, but to give....and give cheerfully at that. Charity does begin at home...it begins at home by teaching and living a charitable life, and not a greedy life. We start home by realizing how fortunate we are, by praising God for his blessings, being thankful EVERY day. But if it begins at home, it must end elsewhere. We are to go out and help, give to those who have less....help with out judging or criticizing. Help because it pleases God. The Bible never said that Jesus died for all the white people in American who have the money to provide all things for their family. The Bible says that Jesus died for the sins of the WHOLE world.....black, white, brown, yellow, and all combinations thereof. Go out and help someone this Thanksgiving, show them how thankful you are for having the ability to help!

*Please ignore typos. My fingers move slower than my brain when I get on my soapbox.*

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Getting into that Holiday Spirit

Deck the Halls....fa la la la la la la la la

I've never been one to decorate for holidays much beyond Christmas. I always seem to be in a rush. There's never enough storage space for essentials, much less holiday gear, and I am just not that creative. But Christmas gets me. I LOVE to decorate for Christmas, but the past few years I've just not been in the Christmas mood. My dad was VERY sick with cancer the Christmas of 1998. That was my  last Christmas with the Christmas'y spirit'y mood, but I still put out the lights and the tree. 

Something has come over me this year. Now, a few days before Thanksgiving, I have my tree up! That has never happened before! I would have had it up even earlier, but I had to do a bit of furniture moving. My other half and I also sat together the other night and made this beautiful garland that now graces the staircase. The cat tries to take the credit for it, but it was all us! 

Sorry for the less than good photo quality....dark light + iPhone=best I could do!

This year I have a little of that Christmas Spirit. God must have something good planned for me! My heart is filled with joy and peace. I want to cook, and bake, and wrap gifts, and decorate until I can't decorate anymore. This year I'm choosing to be happy. I know that's what my dad would have wanted. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sunset

Ohio River, WV side. November, 2014


I love sunset. I can sit for ever and look out at the beautiful colors of a West Virginian sunset. The mountains, trees, rivers...all of it combine to create a serene seen that is too beautiful for words. I guess that's why I choose to photograph it so often.

My son also loves sunsets. He will run to the window with my phone and take several photos each evening of the changing red and purple sky. I think that is why this particular sunset shown above captured my attention so strongly. We normally have reds and purples blending together, but this evening everything lined up so perfectly to give off this warm orange sunset. It truly looked as if the river was liquid fire or liquid gold flowing calming around me.

If you look closely you will see two bridges. One is on 6th street and the other is on 17th street. Both are silhouetted in this photo, showcasing two of the major "landmarks" of this area. There was really not severe NEED for two bridges so closely together, and there is actually a 3rd bridge not too far away. Robert C. Byrd lobbied (more or less) to have both of these bridges put in. One was torn down a number of years ago, and there was talk of not replacing it due to the costs. The replacement is named the Robert. C. Byrd bridge in honor of the man who secured the funding. Robert C. Byrd held the the record for the longest serving senator in the U.S until 2013, and he still holds the record for the longest serving member of Congress to hold a position in both houses. He also performed Bluegrass music, recording an album and performing at the Grand Ole Opry!

Maybe that's why I love sunsets so much. They give me time to think. Even pulling up this photo I took a couple weeks ago led me to nearly an hour's worth of research on the topic of Robert C. Byrd where I learned a great deal I had never known before now! 

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Appalachian Trail: A Unit Study Review for The OldSchool House

The Appalachian Trail: A Unit Study REVIEW



This week I was granted the unique opportunity to review The Applachian Trail: A Unit Study for “The Old SchoolHouse Magazine” and www.SchoolhouseReviewCrew.com. Generally speaking, we do not do a lot of unit studies since my son tends to get bored easily, or his attention span simple can't focus on the same topic day to day. With that said,  I was happily surprised with this unit study! It was fun, engaging, and easily adaptable. For this and other unit studies and products, please check out The Old SchoolHouse Magazine's online store at, http://www.theoldschoolhouse.com/shop/ .

The Appalachian Trail: A Unit Study is full of activities that cover all of the core subjects in such a way that younger kids, as well as older kids, can all utilize this study. I am a big advocate of “long lasting” materials-Materials I can come back to later on as he gets older, and use to learn even more. This is definitely one of those lessons that we will be using again! There is spelling, math, reading, science, geography, history, sociology, and health all woven together in a fun and entertaining way. Here is a day by day of our short stint with The Appalachian Trail: A Unit Study

Day 1: We started our study of The Appalachian Trail with geography and history. We first utilized the links included in the study to learn about Earl Shaffer and Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, who were the first male and female hikers to hike the Trail in its entirety. We used this as a catalyst to research other hikers and adventures to learn about other firsts, such as the first to hike Mt. Everest and Mt. McKinley. Being a sociologist, I also used the ages of the hikers at the time they completed their journey and compared that with data from the time period when they completed their trip to try and show how remarkable the social aspect of the trek is both now and then. During these lessons we looked into the states that are crossed by The Appalachian Trail, and hit spelling by using the suggestion in the unit study to reinforce the spelling of each state, the capital, and points of interest along the trail in each state. Nothing like that Autism Hyperfocus! Here is a link for U.S. Census Data that was used for demographic information: Census .
"Grandma" Gatewood: Photo from the AT Conservancy

Earl Shaffer: Photo from EarlShaffer.com


Day 2: The unit study guide suggests reading accounts of those who have hiked the trail. I personally have hiked small portions of the trail, and I have a former professor who does extended hikes yearly with students. So we spoke with a friend of mine who did a week long hike with this professor, looked over photos, and discussed hardships along the way, and how she could have minimized these hardships-if at all. We also talked about her sense of accomplishment after completing such a daunting task. After that we calculated the number of steps she had to have taken, and the distance covered (approximately 75 miles to the tune of nearly 190,000 steps! WOW!) 

Photo from: http://www.cnyhiking.com/DVD-ScenesFromTheAppalachianTrail.htm



Day 3: We utilized the dialect map link provided with the unit study to research the varying dialects found along The Appalachian Trail. We looked into the history and origins of the dialects, and how our own vocabulary has been influenced by much of what we were researched. Then we went a bit farther and looked into regional dialects across the United States. From Potato Bugs and RolyPoly bugs to buggies and shopping carts, we looked into the varying ways people communicate. After that we used my gym stats to figure out how long it would take me to get from point A to point B at different spots along the trail. I spent 18 minutes and rode a stationary bike for 3.5 miles. So we decided round up and say I was riding 11 miles per hour. We then researched and found out that our home state of WV has 4 miles of the AT, and it shares approximately 20 miles with VA. So if we were riding at a consistent 11 miles per hour it would take me just over 2 hours to cross the WV portion of the trail! We finished up with graphing the temperature ranges that are found along varying points along the trail to get a sense of the differing climates one encounters on a hike, as well as the highest and lowest points in each state along the trail to get a sense of differing terrain.

Here are some links for dialect research: http://www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/maps.htmlhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2013/12/02/what-dialect-to-do-you-speak-a-map-of-american-english/http://knightlab.northwestern.edu/2014/01/20/behind-the-dialect-map-interactive-how-an-intern-created-the-new-york-times-most-popular-piece-of-content-in-2013/


DAY 4: This was the last day for our review. We plan on doing a LOT more, but our review time ends here. We learned some basic first aid that one would need on a hike. We also learned a lot about physical fitness. We talked about the importance of a target heart rate, learned how to check heart rate and pulse, and then we did some exercising to see what activities influenced our heart rates more (Sorry no photos! He refused to cooperate unless I was jumping, too!) We had an off day with a lot of running around that needed to be done, so we didn't get to do all that I wanted to do today. But that's ok, because we can come back to it next time!

For the Future: This great unit study has so many wonderful activities that we didn't get to do this week because we are getting ready for a variety of holiday parties. But as soon as time allows we fully intend to do the topographical map activity-You can find the directions for a salt dough map here: Salt Dough Map. We also plan to do the teepee activitie, the poster activity, the collage using brochures, and the puzzle activity where you draw the states, then cut them apart into puzzle pieces. I'm really looking forward to doing a LOT more with this unit study! Please go check it out, I'm sure you'll love it, too!

Pros: This unit study is well-rounded and packed full of great ideas and information. There are a lot of links provided, and these links foster a desire for additional exploration. The reading guide is also in depth, and provides a great deal of information. I also found the “Hiking Tips” particularly helpful. We used this to discuss former hikes we have gone on, and how we could have had a more pleasant or safer hike with these tips.

Cons: Some of the links did not work properly, and this caused me to have to do a web search for the information the link was to provide. I was OK with this since it led us to more research that we may have not ventured to had the provided link been successful. I also think printables would have been a nice addition. Perhaps some sort of word puzzles, or map sheets, or even templates in place of links for the projects would have been helpful. I think if those had been available we might have been able to complete some of the other projects within the amount of time I had to work.


Overall: Overall, we have really enjoyed The Appalachian Trail: A Unit Study. We plan to come back to it after our holiday break to do more of the fun projects we didn't get to do this week. The topic is a fun and unique topic that is close to home for us. It keeps my ASD/ADHD son's attention, so that's a HUGE win in my book! It covers all of the required subjects with ease, and throws in ideas I would not have thought about. I would highly recommend this unit study!


Monday, November 17, 2014

Rainy Day blues

Kids with autism tend to react strongly to changes in weather, Day Light Savings changes, seasonal changes, etc. My son is certainly no exception to that rule. It seems we went from mild Summer to strong Winter overnight with blustery winds and the brink of snow ever looming in the distance. Add to that the fact that it is now dark by 5:30pm, and you have the perfect recipe for "autism days."

We had such a day today.  You see, I do a lot of photography and I had some family who wanted me to do some maternity photos for them. (You can check them out here: Click here) I had to take my son because I had no one to watch him. He had been a bit hyper off and on for the last few days, but I figure it would be ok. I could not have been more wrong!

We started out with just innocent ornery boy hyper, and we ended with me sitting in my car in the parking lot, a basket full of tears, and my poor mom on the other end of a phone call trying to "fix" the problem.

But what is the problem? Good question. To say exactly what set off the shed tears is hard to say, it's more of 10000 little things that became an insurmountable climb that I could not face. And that's the thing. Anyone can deal with a bad day here and there, but when those bad days stack one on top of the other it becomes so much, that one person alone just can't seem to handle it on their own. That's when family and friends can step in, offer to ease the load a little, and help to reduce the stress. I read and article today that said mom's of children with autism had the same chronic stress as a combat veteran. Think about that for a second, because I can understand how this is so.

This is about all I can post for the day, I'm mentally and emotionally spent. I know that tomorrow is a new day full of changes and possibilities!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Technology...yay?



Sometimes higher levels of technology represent massive paradigm shifts for me. I had to create power points in my last meteorology class, and I still remember the migraine I got from this "new" technology. The assignment wasn't hard. I only to forecast the regional and national weather for a period of 3 days. Simple enough when it is your last class before graduation. The issue was the power point! I knew the basic program (Hello Libreoffice Free!) and I figured out how to add slides easily enough. But to jazz it up? Nope....wasn't happening! I got an A, more or less for effort I think, and moved on to figuring this Power Point thing out. I had to do them in other classes, but I had always had help with them before, so I just supplied the information and that was that. Needless to say, my second attempt was better, but the images were scattered all over the place HAHA! Again, I got an A and I even earned an A overall, but the nightmare Power Points haunt me, still.

I am, by trade, a photographer. (Fits with the college degree, right?!) so I stay up to date on the latest camera gear and gadgets, I have various software to use for editing. But I still prefer old school. I take a photo "right" the first time, so there's less to do later on. If given the choice, I'd do most everything with pencil and paper HAHA! But I realize I am in the minority on that, so here I sit....for over an hour, trying to figure out how to make the Widget I thought was in place work. I'm very proud to say, I figured it out all on my own....and with the help of numbered pictures!

The Fear of Failure

It happens to us all. You're at the playground, or the grocery store, or on the phone with your best friend and it happens-Someone says something that their kid can do better than yours. And then the panic sets it. Why does little Johnny finish his math more quickly than my son? Why does little Addy color inside the lines with such finesse while mine hates to color all together? What is wrong with my kid that he can't do basic re-grouping subtraction and others are doing long division? WHY DO WE COMPARE?!

We compare out of fear. We are afraid that our child will not come out on top, be successful, and have the life we have dreamed up for them. We may not want to admit it, but we have pre-planned our child's future for the most part. My son will be a meteorologist, or a math professor for MIT, or perhaps he will cure cancer, but either way he's going to win a Nobel Prize, change the world for the better, and become historical with his awesomeness. OK, so those are my personal choices for him. And in order for him to succeed as I have it planned for him, he will need that long division and that precision that only coloring will give him.

And that's only academically! How many times have we been out in public and seen that child who is so well behaved it is almost as if they aren't even real!? And of course this child is there at that horrid moment our child has decided to whine, moan, groan, complain, and tantrum All.At.The.Same.Time! So here we are, feeling like failures because little Johnny is being an angelic model child while ours is more like "Problem Child 14."

Well, here's the truth of the matter, Mom and Dad. In everything your child does, there WILL always be someone, at some point in time, who will be doing it better. There will be times when your kid will be the envy of all the parents, and times when you'd give anything to crawl under a rock and never come out. And guess what, it's ok! Yes, that's right...it is ALL ok! You're child is not a monster, he is not a brat, he is not going to grow up to be a disrespectful adult who is only concerned about himself. He is going to grow up to be successful in whatever he does, and he is going to love you and respect you for being his parent. So the next time so and so is bragging about her kid and how great they are, smile and say that is fantastic and remember all of the wonderful things your child can do.  And the next time your son pees on the family pet, just smile and remember, "This, too, shall pass...."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Autism, Homeschooling, and the Endless Search for Time

I'm still getting the hang of this blogging thing. I've been asked so many time to write about our story and our life, so please stick with me while I get the hang of this blog thing. With that said, one major question is HOW do I do it?!

The answer to how I do it isn't an easy one to answer. I am just now getting this blog up and growing (after a long time of good intentions) because I'm a one mom show. I was going to school full time, primary and solo caregiver to my son with autism, etc. Time to get my own personal thoughts out was pretty non existent in the midst of research papers and homeschooling. To get everything accomplished I would prioritize. No, I didn't always get the highest grades in my undergrad classes because they were not always placed into that top spot. No, my son didn't always get to do that great field trip or awesome science experiment because I had a research paper or exam due. The ability to be fluid and flexible has always been a necessity.

His education has always taken a top spot in the long run, but my education has been needed in order to further his. He wanted to know more about the weather, so I earn a minor in Meteorology. I need to teach him a foreign language, so I get a minor in French, and so on and so forth.

I found the best plan was curriculum with mobility in mind. WHAT?!  Curriculum such as ACE PACEs. They are small workbooks, colorful, and easily stuffed into an overstuffed book bag. Given the fact my son has autism, I also found it to be of benefit since he didn't feel overwhelmed or obligated to complete a huge text book in one sitting, as can happen with spectrum kids. The information was given in a clear manner, and repeated frequently. It is Christian based, which I also found to be helpful.

All of that sounds great, but there are drawbacks. It's kind of hard to keep up with 10 little workbooks per subject. I could have used a 3-hole punch and put them in binders, but what single homeschooling mom, full time student, caregiver to a son with autism has time for that?!

The repetition of the information is boring if your kid catches on quickly. Seriously, I was yawning at times....so we skipped ahead.

It is important to take the placement tests on line. They seem to run a grade level behind in my opinion. Grade 2 WordBuilding (spelling) had words like Man, Mat, Can, Cat....below a 2nd grade level for us.

I also utilized worksheets sites. I am quite fond of Superteacherworksheets.com and Enchantedlearning.com. Both have a huge reservoir of printables, and some are free. Easy Peasy online was used a little, but I don't think anything can really compare to pen and paper. And I used a ton of Scholastic PDFs. PDFs are nice because you can pick the pages you want to print at the time you want them. Pretty awesome!!!!!

So that's how I did it. Prioritize, use small bundles that were easily adaptable to on the go teaching, and a lot of reminding myself that no one is perfect!