Sunday, October 31, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Here we come!

Now that Halloween is drawing to a close, our attention turns to our novels! :) Here are our word count goals:

Mom - 50,000
Austin - 10,000
Riley - 7,050
Reece - 5,572

It's going to be quite a challenge for me to get my novel written this year, but I've used some race entries as motivation to get the job done! LOL

Will keep everyone posted on our progress! :)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some bright spots...

Yesterday during Riley's ballet class, the 3 remaining homeschool moms (her class used to be mostly homeschoolers) and I started a conversation about high school. With my emotions running high, I fought back tears as I described some of my recent struggles. Later as we were leaving, one of the moms said, "You know... it's just part of being a mom, to worry about what the future holds for your child. I know you have it to a greater extent than others, but it's just a part of parenting."

That was a mini "a-ha" moment for me, and it recalled a conversation I just had recently with Austin where we were discussing his social anxiety. He had told me that he doesn't talk much in public because he's afraid of saying the wrong thing and looking stupid. I assured him that most teenagers are worried about the exact same thing - autistic or not. He was actually quite surprised - I'm not even sure he really believed me, but rather just thought I was saying that to make him feel better.

So going on the premise that it's not unusual to be concerned about my teenager's future, realizing that I tend to worry more than most (even though I know that I'm supposed to TRUST God and not worry), I will devote this post to a few things that have given me glimmers of hope recently.

1. The biggest one happened during church on Sunday. Reece had taken a squishy toy with her like she usually does, to calm her during the service, but she was 'juggling' it during worship time. I told her not to do it or I would have to take it away. She got upset and she crawled under the chairs. We're in the front row, so it's not like we're invisible - and I was worried that it would distract dh on stage leading worship. But I ignored it until worship was over, and then motioned to have her come sit on my lap. She actually got over it all fairly quickly, and I was thanking God to myself while we were singing "Indescribable", when I noticed that she was singing along. I started to cry at the overwhelming emotion of it all - not only had she pulled it together so quickly, but she was actually singing along when just a few months ago merely being IN the service was still quite overwhelming for her!

2. Math is still going really well for Reece. I love having something for her that gives her confidence in her abilities as a learner! It really makes ALL of her lessons smoother as a result.

3. Riley is doing much better with time management. Her schedule is incredibly full with 3 days a week of dance, one day of glee club/theater class, and youth group on the fifth day. She is easily distracted, and would piddle her time away, and still be working late into the evening. While I don't like having to put a time limit on her lessons, it's necessary for this year. If possible next year, we will need to scale back on her activities... or maybe her classes will fall later in the evening and it won't be such a crunch to get her where she needs to be. Regardless, she has learned that I'm serious when I mean the work needs to be done before dance class. She even made herself a little grid for time management (of her own creation!) and she posted it on the board above her desk.

4. We are on track, or even a little bit ahead, in just about all of our subjects! There are a just a couple that are behind, but that's because we started them later than the others. I don't think we've ever been this "on schedule" before. I wish our discussions/narrations were better, but that will be my goal for after the Christmas holidays.

5. Austin really seems to be "getting" fractions, thanks to Key to Fractions. He'll finish the series soon, and move on to Key to Decimals and finally Key to Percents, which should both be easier since it was really fractions that gave him the most trouble. As of right now, I'm planning to keep him going with the "Key to" series for Algebra and Geometry. If he successfully completes those before graduation, I will gladly look into my options at that point! :)

Well, there you go... a bit nicer reading I'm sure! :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Movie Review: Temple Grandin

This is another one of those posts that's going to get too long, will surely involve much rambling, and may well end up being more of a time for me to spill my guts rather than review a movie, so I welcome you to grab a cup of coffee/hot chocolate/Mike's Hard Lemonade and make yourself comfortable, or just go ahead and move on to your next blog! :) Either way is fine with me!

One more quick note before I get started: I really have intended to actually blog about our school year but things just keep happening. I promise to get to that as soon as I possibly can.

And now... the movie review (and there will be spoilers):

First of all, let me say as a movie fanatic, that this was a very well-done movie. I absolutely loved Claire Danes' performance and I can clearly see why she won the Emmy. I was also surprised to see one of my favorite actors, David Strathairn, in the role of Dr. Grandin's high school science teacher/mentor - he also won for his role. I felt the movie was well-made, and it was enjoyable to watch.

As a parent of two children on the autism spectrum, it goes much further and deeper than just a good movie. I cried off and on through the movie, specifically the scene where Mrs. Grandin is being told by the doctor that her child has autism, and later where she sees her daughter being teased when she is at the boarding school and the science teacher stops her from leaving with Temple. Both of those scenes hit me hard as a mother of a child with autism.

Wow, this is harder to write than I expected. My thoughts are not flowing - instead they are coming all at once and very disjointed. I hope this all makes sense.

I loved seeing how Temple's smile when something really excited her. I know that expression, even though my kids smile quite freely. There is still something about that look of pure joy they get when they are really, truly excited - and it's usually over something other people might think is weird. But it's not to them. To them, it's pure joy. It also makes me remember how excited Austin used to get when my mom would come to visit. He actually would get so happy, he had to leave the room. He couldn't even say more than hello. He would see her, smile, and then go to this room. It was like that at Christmas time, too. For years he would see the presents and go right back to his room. Too much emotion to process.

I wonder if my kids will ever find their "thing" like Temple did. It really worries me at times, especially with Austin. And I'm not sure if that's because Austin will be a 9th grader next year and I'm spending a lot of time getting my ducks in a row for high school. But academically, it looks less and less like college is in his future, especially a four year college. Thankfully, he is opening up to the idea of life beyond high school that doesn't involve four year college, which is a huge answer to prayer. Several times recently, since his ankle surgery really, he has told me that there are "lots of opportunities out there". What does that mean? I truly don't know... and, while I trust that God has a plan for Austin's life, I often find myself terrified that I won't be able to figure that plan out in time to help Austin pursue it. Reece is still so young that it seems like I have plenty of time... plus I'll have had the experience of getting Austin and Riley to this point.

At the end of the movie, Temple says that her mom made sure she was in school, and out doing things, and being around people. This really hit me hard. I've been wondering lately if I made a mistake in homeschooling. It seems like our circle of homeschoolers has dwindled to practically none, especially when it comes to boys Austin's age. We know many families with young children who homeschool, but few with teenagers, fewer with teenage boys, and even fewer with teenage boys who seem to be able to/desire to relate with Austin. He spends a few hours a week with other boys during the baseball seasons (even with his broken ankle he was going to all the games and sitting with his teammates in the dugout). But I can't put him in academic classes, which is really all there is offered for this age group, because he can't keep up with a high school level class. I've debated asking the teacher if he could participate in the class as well as he can, not be graded or receive credit, and see if they would allow this - but if the work is overwhelming to Austin, it will damage his self-esteem, which seems to be precarious at best these days. Ugh, being 14 is HARD - Autism or not.

And I'm worn out. Mentally exhausted and drained. This school year has actually been one of the best in terms of getting our work done, but I don't feel like I've been able to give any of the children what they really need in terms of interaction and teaching. It's just about all I can do on any given day to get the meals made, never-ending laundry tended, housework somewhat completed, and the lessons for a 3rd, 6th, and 8th grader done. There are few times that I feel like I've had a good 'socratic' discussion with anyone. I'm barely staying on top of the readings, let alone analyzing it for myself so I can discuss it with them. I'm finding that I love the teacher's manuals that will give me some direction on what to say, because it's hard to really think deeply about "The Littles", "Little Women", and "Around the World in 80 Days" all at the same time. What are they missing out on? Is there an amazing art teacher that Reece is missing out on by being home with her mother who is loathe to get the paints out because of the mess. Is there a way for Austin to get auto mechanics classes, or maybe some sort of meteorology class where he can learn more about storm chasing? What about drama and choir for Riley that involves children her own age, rather than constantly involving the younger siblings because it's convenient for the other homeschool parents? I do the best I can... but there are 3 of them and one of me. And sometimes it would be nice - so very, very, very nice - not to be having to do all of this all by myself. Sometimes it would be nice to be the one they are complaining TO, not the one they are complaining ABOUT.

Okie dokie... back to the movie! LOL

Temple drives a car and lives on her own! That was so exciting for me! You don't know how often I wonder if Reece will be able to drive and live on her own. I'm pretty sure Austin will be able to drive, but with this economy, and the likelihood of him not having a college education, I am concerned about his ability to support himself and live on his own.

I also loved the moment towards the end of the movie where Temple was having a hard time leaving the store through the automated doors, and a kind lady helped her by holding the doors open. Outside the store, Temple learned that the lady's husband worked for the plant that Temple wanted to redesign. God placed that lady in Temple's path for a reason. Through that small interaction, she was able to get an inside connection to a place that was inaccessible to her previously! It was awesome!

Ok, I warned you I was going to ramble. And wow, did I! LOL Hope that makes some sense. I am still so full of emotions even now, nearly 24 hours after watching it. But I'm not sure if that's a reflection on the movie, or on the state of my mind recently! ;)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A sad farewell to Heidi

Today marked a sad occasion at the Black Pearl Academy: we finished reading Heidi. Yet again I find myself wondering why I never read this book as a child! It was so touching and so lovely! Reece actually didn't want to start the chapter today because she didn't want it to end! She says she doesn't think any other book will be as wonderful as Heidi!

I have to include another quotation or two, similar to the last one I blogged about, but really meaningful to me. Heidi and Clara are in their beds, trying to go to sleep after the exciting day where Clara takes her first steps. Heidi again talks about how wonderful it is that God doesn't always give us what we are asking for right away.

"Clara considered this, and then she said, 'But in that case, perhaps we ought not to pray for anything, because God knows - as we don't - what is best for us.'

'I don't think that's quite right either,' Heidi replied quickly. 'We ought to pray to Him every day to show our trust, and that we know that everything comes from God. If we forget Him, then sometimes He lets us go our own way, and then things go very wrong with us.'"

Wowsa!!! And this is a children's book??? Talk about convicting!

So next week we move on to The Secret Garden, another book I've never read. Riley read it several years ago - but I just gave it to her to read, because I was busy with OT/ST with the other kids. It's nice to have an excuse to read it aloud! :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Inner Editors

It's hard to believe it, but NaNoWriMo begins in less than two weeks! I had decided that we weren't going to participate this year, since we really have too much going on, but the kids were rather upset when I mentioned it - even Austin. Since the reaction was so intense, I decided we needed to attempt it, at least.

This week and next week we'll be doing our preparation work using the free workbooks on the NaNoWriMo Young Writer's Program website. These workbooks are a really great way to discuss the important parts of a novel and how to approach writing one. We really used them in-depth last year and I know it helped the kids so much! I'm going to use them myself this year to flesh out the idea that I'll be writing, since it came to me last year as a dream and I only wrote down what I saw at the time.

I'm truly not certain that I'll be able to complete a novel this year. I am running two half-marathons this month, plus a 5K, plus Harry Potter 7 at midnight, plus a Christmas Shopping Day with my mom, plus a day out with my book club! That doesn't leave very much time for writing! LOL But I'll give it my best shot! :)

Today we sent our Inner Editors packing, and tomorrow we'll decide on our word counts and incentives!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More praise for RightStart Mathematics

There have been a few neat things going on with Reece and math the last two weeks. I have been so distracted with Austin's needs that I haven't had much time to post, let alone to reflect - but that's a topic for a post on a different day! :) I just need to write this one down before I forget!

Last week, I was getting ready to introduce her to the math balance. This manipulative reminds one of a regular balance (like she used to play back when she had a "school box" of toys that came out only during lesson time - she used her balance and the little counting bears together), except this balance has numbers and pegs and 10mg weights to attach to the pegs. The goal of the introductory lesson was to introduce the balance by using 2 of the weights and put them on the same number on each side to show that they balanced. Then you would use 3 weights - 2 on one side and one on the other (to make 10s). Well, I got out the balance and then Austin needed help with something so I told Reece I'd be right back. By the time I returned to her she had been exploring the balance and she said, "Mommy! Look at this!" and she placed weights on the 5 on one side, and on the 2 and 3 on the other side. She was so proud of herself! I said, "I wonder if you can figure out how to balance a 10." She went right to it. Then she took up 2 weights and put one on the 10 and one on the 5 on the left for a total of 15. Then she played around for a minute and put weights on the7 and 8 on the other side - this took some trial and error, something I'm working hard on with her (you don't have to be right the first time every time). She was so excited!

The next thing was yesterday when she was working on adding 10 to a number. She has been introduced to regrouping via the abacus(what RightStart calls 'trading' - it's hard but the term is growing on me). These problems of adding 10 she could use the abacus or not, but she was very pleased with herself that she didn't need to. But then we got to 93. Her answer was 104. I knew just from looking at her face and the uncertainty with which she gave her answer that she knew what she was doing, but her language processing was getting in the way. I suggested she put it on the abacus, and she had a little meltdown. "I'm not a math whiz anymore!" I assured her that she was, she just needed a tiny bit of help to see the number. So she did the problem on the abacus and had her "A-HA!" moment. I wrote more on the board for her to do... hundreds, and thousands, some with regrouping... er, trading, and some without! And then I gave her the REALLY, REALLY hard one: 995 + 10. I told her this would be hard so she might want to use the abacus. She merely grinned at me and said, "1005". I asked her how she got that answer, and she told me she traded two times on the abacus inside her brain. I wrote the answer on the white board and she asked if we could leave it there and could she draw a heart around the problem! ;)

Finally, today we began telling time with an analog clock. That's what they're called, right? The clock with the hands and the numbers? LOL Anyway, she's been dreading this for months. She was determined it was too hard. We began with adding 100 to a number, and she had no trouble with the trading in her head. Piece of cake. We were getting ready to do the first clock lesson which involved exploring the geared clock and learning where the numbers go on the clock. She played with the clock while we were doing the numbers thing, then she held the clock up to me with a time on it. It read "10:56" and she said... this is the time it is now. I said, "Actually, that says 10:56. To make it say 11:56, you need to make the hour hand be closer to the 12, because it's nearly 12:00, not 11:00." She looked at it for a minute, and then fixed it. And then she knew how to tell time. Because she started putting all sorts of different times on the clock - bedtime, supper time, rest time, rest time is over, the time it is now, the time it is now, the time it is NOW. LOL Anyway, she basically taught herself how to tell time! And she thought it was going to be so hard! ;)

I'm so relieved that math is enjoyable and understandable for her now! I keep beating myself up over waiting so long to get this program. But maybe she wouldn't have been ready for it 2 years ago? Maybe she just needed the time developmentally and now she's ready for math. Regardless, I'm SO pleased! She is totally a math whiz! LOL

Saturday, October 09, 2010

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

In case, like me, you weren't aware that October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month - now you do! I learned about it from the blog of a fellow ROTE runner, Andi. Her little boy has Down Syndrome.

At our old church, there was a family who had a teenage daughter with Down Syndrome. She had several children after that child, and I remember a conversation with her when she was pregnant with one of those children. We talked about the pressure the doctors were putting on her for testing. She told me about the number of births of children with Down Syndrome in the world going down because many people were choosing to terminate the pregnancy. It broke my heart. Shortly after this conversation, the top news story was about the discovery of a gene marker for autism and how this could lead to prenatal testing for autism. So that discussion hit quite close to home.

Anyway, I just felt like I needed to share with you that October has another meaning...