Monday, February 27, 2012

A quote about Courage

 Today on Facebook, a friend of mine (who doesn't read my blog) posted the following quote as her status: 
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”
~C. S. Lewis
 I love it and wanted to share... will be keeping it close in mind this year! 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Word of the Year - 2012

Finally, since it's almost March, I present you with this year's Word of the Year:


I attended the Fresh Grounded Faith Women's Conference a couple of week's ago, just about the time I was really praying over my Word of the Year. The speaker was Jennifer Rothschild, who has been blind from the age of 15. She encouraged us to "Go Gutsy". I could go on and on about her message and I still might do that because it's very pertinent to my life right now, but I have to take Riley to youth group soon. LOL What did become clear to me that weekend is that I live my life in fear - fear of the kids' futures, fear of screwing up, fear of not doing things right. And that's NOT how I'm supposed to live as a child of God.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." 2 Tim. 1:7

God has shown me over the last few months that I can give things to Him and He is trustworthy. He will be with me and carry me through. The one area that I keep wanting to cling to is the kids' futures. Why on earth do I think I love them more than God??? That's absurd!!

"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." Jer. 29:11

He's got it planned out. He knows. I don't. I need to trust and pray!

It was hard to pick a word this year because I learned over the last 3 years of choosing "Words of the Year" that God apparently takes this seriously! LOL When I chose Trust, He gave me lots of opportunities to trust Him. I didn't do very well. Then last year I chose Joy because I wanted to learn how to have Joy despite my circumstances - and boy did He give me plenty of opportunities for that. I'd like to think I did a little bit better.

So when I choose Courage this year, it is with eager anticipation of the ways God will present opportunities for me to be strong and brave and trust Him to take care of me and my family!

"Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageos. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord." Psalm 27:14

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Narration vs. Summary

Today, during Reece's writing lesson, she said something that reminded me of a blog post I wanted to write!

"Mama, is this a summary or a narration?"

You may be wondering, "What's the difference?" Well, you're in luck - I'm going to tell you! At least, I'm going to tell you the difference as we use those words at the Black Pearl Academy! :)

The confusion came when we began to meld the classical approaches from Well-Trained Mind (Susan Wise Bauer or SWB) with Charlotte Mason's (CM) approach. Each approach uses the term "narration" but they use it to mean quite different things, at least in my understanding.

When CM says "narration" she means the child telling back everything he or she can remember about a passage without interruption. After the narration is over, then the teacher can work to pinpoint areas where the child may have misunderstood or simply overlooked the information. The use of questions is strongly discouraged.

When SWB says "narration" she means the child giving back an overview of the most important information in the passage. You teach the child how to do this by first asking comprehension questions, and then guiding them to begin to recognize the most important information. In other words, a summary.

This drove me absolutely crazy when we began to implement CM. I would ask for a written narration and get 3 sentences. I asked over and over on CM groups how long a written narration should be, but never got any clear guidelines.

Since I believe that both narrations and summaries are important skills, I decided to approach it a bit differently with Reece. I really like the Writing With Ease series written by SWB. It contains oral narrations (summaries), copywork, dictation, and transitions the child to written narrations (summaries) over the course of 4 levels. All of the selections are from classic literature and it's scripted exactly what to say. So it blends the CM way of teaching writing with the WTM way and it's all laid out for me. This wasn't available when the big kids were younger, so I wasn't able to have that sort of hand-holding.

So when Reece asked me if I wanted a narration or a summary, basically what she was saying was, "Do you want me to tell you the most important stuff, or do you want everything I can remember?"

And she's good at both! :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weekly Recap: Term 2, Week 5

Yeah, it's a little late for a recap when we're halfway through with the next week! LOL Things are going well with our lessons, though, which is a good thing - it's just keeping me very, very busy. But the work is getting done, and everyone is getting to their activities, and we're plugging away.

Reece is already coveting her next spelling workbook. I use Rod and Staff's Spelling by Sound and Structure with her, but I was considering switching to a more CM dictation-based program for her when she finishes her current workbook. But she found the next book (which was leftover from when Riley started it but never finished) and she has been drooling over it. How can I not use it when she loves it so much??? It would break her heart!

Austin is hanging in there with Algebra... got Bs on his last 2 tests!

Riley is also settling in with Pre-Algebra finally! She wants to be a very independent learner, which is great until she doesn't understand something and won't let me help her because it makes her feel stupid. (Can you just hear the teenager in that logic? LOL). She watches the lesson on DVD, and then she comes to narrate it to me. Usually from the narration, I can tell if she understands or not. If she doesn't, I'll try to highlight and area that she might have been confused about. So far, it's working and there have been few "math-related" arguments these days.

I need to get into the groove of blogging again... there is so much I want to share. Just so little time to actually compose the words. :(

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Weekly Recap: Term 2, Week 4

I know I promised a better recap, but I'm going to have to break that promise! I can tell you that it was a much tougher week. Apparently posting that Riley's behavior has improved dramatically was not the best idea! LOL  I can tell you my reactions to her behavior this week were much better than previously, however that didn't make it any less emotionally draining to deal with. And unfortunately, I had to take away an activity for this weekend that she was really look forward to. This is the part of parenting that I really do not enjoy. I had told her on Monday that she had until Wednesday to improve her attitude and behavior. Then I gave her until Friday. And even this morning I thought that perhaps if her attitude was good today she could still participate tomorrow. But, no. And she was shocked and dismayed this evening when she realized that we were not going to let her go. I wish I could believe that missing this event will dramatically improve her behavior next week - but Riley has never been the kind of child who learns better behavior by consequences.

Reece continues to do well with her lessons - she is amazing with the drawing lessons in math!! She is also begging for more history, which is so cool!! Her writing lessons are finally including quotation marks and she is beyond thrilled, which makes me laugh! It's not every 4th grader who can be heard exclaiming, "Finally! I've been waiting to learn quotation marks forEVER!!!" LOL

Austin's positive attitude continues to impress me. But he can't help but be frustrated at some of his struggles. I have been praying about whether or not to have him tested again for learning disabilities. He had a fairly comprehensive evaluation last spring which did not reveal any LDs, but even she admitted that his work samples scream, "This is a child with some sort of learning problems." We cannot afford another neuropsych eval at this point, but I have been praying that if it needs to be done that God would provide the way.

That's about it for now. I'm going to try again to do my Word of the Year post tomorrow. I have the word... just need the time to compose some thoughts! :)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Weekly Update: Term 2, Week 3

Sorry... crazy busy weekend! We lived through Week 3 just fine. Austin even got a B on his latest Algebra test! YAY!!

I promise a better update next week.

And the Word of the Year is coming, too. Hopefully tomorrow evening!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Update: Austin

I saved Austin for last so I could pray over how much to share about his fall. I think if he were writing this, he would tell you that these were the worst days that he ever experienced. It certainly was hard to watch him go through these struggles. I felt completely helpless. What I'm about to share, I share with the utmost respect for my son. He is, without a doubt, the bravest person that I have ever met. With everything that he was going through during the fall, he still managed to play a record-breaking season of baseball, take a fishing trip to Florida with another family, and help out his dad at church when he needed a back-up drummer.

It started over the summer rather innocuously. Looking back, I suspect it was the pressure of starting "high school" that pushed him over the edge. Once again, he was having thoughts that he couldn't control  and it got so bad that he didn't want to leave the house. When he mentioned a few times that he wished he were dead - we decided it was time to get help. I called the Marcus Autism Center to get him an appointment with a professional who was familiar with the autism spectrum and could tell me if this was autism-related or something more. The first available appointment was in December. I was making this call in September. And yes, they were aware that he was saying the things he was saying.

Fortunately for him, things improved somewhat through the fall. Slowly but surely, the thoughts diminished. He had his rock band to focus on, and that was so beneficial! And then, just when things were starting to look up..... BAM!!!!

We got a phone call from the mom of one of the band members saying that her son had called her to say that he thought Austin was having a seizure at band rehearsal. She had told him to call 9-1-1 and she would call us. He did so, and my dh headed over to the band rehearsal location. By the time he arrived, the paramedics were there and Austin was conscious. My mother had been in town, so she stayed with the girls, and I met them at the hospital.

I never could have known that night sitting in the ER (same room as the last time he had a seizure) how dramatically that moment would change our lives. Never in my wildest dreams! Up to that point, Austin had always been very upset about being on the autism spectrum (in fact, he would barely accept the word Aspergers, certainly NEVER autism) and having epilepsy/seizures. He wouldn't tell ANYONE! But in the ER room, he told me that he realizes how important it was that his band mate knew about him (they have been family friends since the two boys were 12 months old!). The other two boys were just freaking out and confused by the convulsions... his other band mate knew it was probably a seizure and called for help. Austin decided - ON HIS OWN - to tell all of the guys in the band about his medical history. And when he did... they just kind of said, "OK, cool... let's go work on this new song!"

It changed everything!!!! These guys, who Austin calls "like brothers to me", accepted him for who he is! And it gave him such confidence!! He started going to church on Wednesday night to be part of the youth group. It was awesome to watch! We saw the neurologist (now that we were back on medication) and she really made him mad when she commented on him being so skinny. I had never seen him express his displeasure to an adult like that before, and I really loved it because, honestly, she had been rather rude to him and me. He's 15, NOT 5. She kept asking me what he eats... well, he's 15. I don't watch him nonstop! She talked ABOUT him instead of TO him. And when she did talk TO him, she was so rude.

December rolled around and it was time for the appointment with the psychiatrist. I asked Austin if he wanted to keep the appointment since he was doing so much better. He said he would like to go ahead and talk to the doctor. So we did.

And again, I was surprised by my son. We discussed options with the doctor and Austin asserted himself yet again. He told her that he would like to try some medication to help with the anxiety and obsessive thoughts. I sure wasn't expecting that. Not at all. But I had to respect Austin's point of view and the fact that he is taking charge of his health. In just 2.5 years, I won't be able to make medical decisions for him... he needs to learn how to advocate for his own health needs. I filled the prescription (a generic form of prozac) and we asked him to pray over the decision, as we would be as well, since this was something none of us had prepared for.

After about a week... Austin was ready to give it a shot. To say the changes have been remarkable would be a serious understatement!!! A few weeks after he started the meds, he started texting . Girls. And then, he was calling. Girls. Yeah, we were all stunned. He had had a cell phone for almost a year but barely touched it. Now his phone was 'pinging' so much we had to tell him to silence it!! Just yesterday, he walked into church and walked right up to the youth table in the sanctuary and sat down with the rest of the kids. Six months ago, it took my husband nearly an hour to get him into that same room!! It's been an amazing transformation - and despite the medication, we are so happy for him! I guess I didn't realize that I had such prejudice and fear regarding antidepressant medication... but it seems to be working for Austin, and I pray it continues. He had told the doctor that he "couldn't live like this anymore" - and now he doesn't have to!

Here are a few pic from the fall - starting with baseball (one heck of a season!):
A cool shot of Austin on board their fishing charter... heading out into the Gulf of Mexico:
A shot of Austin behind the drums at a gig - do you know how hard it is to get a clear shot of a drummer??
And here he is behind the drums during a church service!

Academics have been more of a challenge this year than ever before, but the effects of the meds seem to be transferring to school work as well. While math and science are still absolutely kicking his butt - he is exhibiting much more patience and perseverance, and I think ultimately that will result in a better understanding. It's hard to learn much when you are anxious about having such a hard time with learning!

So, there you have it - that was our fall. :)  And now you're all caught up on the kids...

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Update: Riley

When I left you, I had mentioned hormones. It is for good reason that I mention that word. It turned our entire family upside down. Riley has always been a challenging child - full of will and drama and spunk. She has always been a puzzle when it comes to discipline.

But then the hormones hit. And things went bad. Really, really bad. The drama went into hyperdrive and the spunk became defiance. I read book after book trying to figure out what was happening and how to fix it. Nothing worked. It came to the point where we asked the pediatrician for a referral because her behavior was nothing short of irrational. Unfortunately, our insurance doesn't cover a child psychologist or psychiatrist. I started reading a book titled A Praying Life, and there were some answers to be found there - I couldn't MAKE her change. I can't parent in my own strength, and since my strength was gone... that wasn't any surprise. I started praying, and I don't believe it's a coincidence that we are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

I'm going to digress a bit here and talk about myself for a few moments. Going through this time has been very good for me as a parent and as a child of God. You see, I have never had confidence in my parenting. Austin was so different and we didn't understand why until he was 10. That's a long time to feel like a failure. Many ASD parents have a "typically-developing" child to whom they can look and say, "See? I parented that child, too, and he/she is fine. So I can't be THAT bad of a parent." I had Riley. Not your typical "typically-developing" child, you know? Didn't help my self-esteem one bit, and that just made it all worse. And then this hormone-stuff kicked in and BAM!!!! But when everything seemed to hit rock bottom (and I mean EVERYTHING - last fall was absolutely, positively the worst days I've ever experienced) and I finally started turning to God and listening to Him, He brought us all through it and out of it. I just had to learn the hard way that I cannot control anything. And I don't have to! I just have to trust.

OK, back to Ri....she has really come around the last month or so. She's still a pre-teen, at least for a couple more months, but she is reasonable again. It's so nice to have her back! :)

Riley is all about dancing. Literally. It's all she does and it's all she wants to do. She takes 2 ballet classes per week, plus a modern/contemporary class, plus her dance company rehearsals. Here are a couple of pics from her dance company's Christmas performance:

I'm so glad we homeschool so she can devote as many hours per week to dance as she does - and boy if I could afford it she would be in dance classes ALLLL the time! LOL It does affect her homeschooling mostly because she doesn't see any future that doesn't involve dance, and she sees no need for higher education if she wants to be a professional dancer. I tell her that I am going to give her a college preparatory education, even if she thinks she doesn't want to go to college. She is not thrilled with this, but this is one area where I won't budge.

One area where I did budge is on math curriculum. I love math, and that is no secret. And I have always used what I consider to be a challenging math curricula for Riley. She is capable of it, and I wanted to push her to extend herself. But the problem is that, at least right now, she HATES math. It was a huge battle each day. Finally, I gave in and switched her to Math U See for Pre-Algebra. I also gave up the notion that she HAS to be in Algebra 1 by 8th grade. Yes, that's what the advanced students in our area do - well, technically speaking the advanced kids to Alg 1 in 7th and regular college prep does it in 8th, but you know what I mean. SHE is not motivated to do it. And I can choose to battle her, or I can choose a perfectly acceptable option of MUS. She still might hit Algebra 1 in 8th grade, but it's not going to break my heart if she doesn't. My success as a parent and a homeschooler does not lie in that arena.

Around the house, Riley and Austin have become very close recently. Their relationship has always been precarious because she was developmentally closer to him than their 3 chronological years. It was hard for him to see her succeed socially where he struggled, and many times she took on the roles of the 'older' sibling without the benefits which surely felt unfair to her. But lately they have really come together and I have often found them talking to each other in Austin's room. It's VERY cool - I want them to be close!!

That's about all for Riley's update... I am really looking forward to watching Riley enter young-adulthood, now that she has become human again! ;) I know I haven't seen the last of the "terrible teens" ... but I'm trusting God to get us all through it in one piece!