Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's Time

"For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).

After much prayer and consideration, I have finally reached the decision that it is time to say goodbye to the blog. I have enjoyed these past few years of sharing my heart, the ups and downs, the victories and the heartaches. But after praying about it and evaluating my priorities, my husband and I have decided that right now it is best to close up shop.

For a few months I have had a hard time putting my finger on why I was feeling compelled to leave the blog world. I've been back and forth with different ideas, including switching over to another host, buying my domain, and redesigning the blog. But that ultimately would not settle the issue I knew in my heart but wasn't ready to admit.

Tamer and I have discussed it here and there, and he has tried to help me figure out a solution as well. Finally, he said something that really stuck with me. And it makes perfect sense to me. When I began blogging a few years ago, I started blogging as a way of coping with the daily life of autism. I was searching for something that I was not able to find. In these past few months, while I was not necessarily looking for it, I found it.


It started with saying goodbye to social media. Once I let that go, I was truly set free. If you've been torn with the idea of nixing social media, I highly recommend it. I've never been happier in my life. One of the smartest things I've ever done to better myself, was to disconnect from Facebook.

Once I said goodbye to Facebook, I accepted the path that God had revealed to me. Several years ago, God had led us to a local church with a special needs ministry. But I was not ready to accept the idea of changing my faith from what I had been doing all of my life, even though what I had been doing all of my life never felt quite right to me. I not only went out of my way to avoid where God was leading me, I deliberately ignored and refused to listen. But at the start of this year, there we were, finding ourselves back at the local church with the special needs ministry looking for a church home. This time, I went in to worship with an open mind and a broken heart. God was rebuilding me, and now that I was ready to listen and be molded. I submitted to my Lord, and again, I felt a new freedom...a freedom I had never experienced before.

Once I accepted the path God was leading me to, I was able to find that elusive contentment that I have searched my whole life for. It just happened. I wasn't really looking for it. And I only realized that I had found contentment some time after I had found it. It was only after pondering what this new feeling filling me every day was, that I was able to put a name to it. Contentment. I like the sound of it. I love the feel of it.

Just this morning, as I was starting my day with prayer, I was thanking God for the laundry and the dirty diapers and the dishes, and that doing these little chores would glorify God. For years I have wanted to go somewhere, be someone, or do something, always looking for the greener grass, and never quite able to accept that autism will not only slow us down, but completely derail us and our plans. It has been a long, slow and painful journey to accepting the truth that my plans are not the same as God's plans, and that the plans God has for me are far greater than anything I could ever hope for myself. My plans may not have worked out, but they are working out exactly as God has planned them. Accepting that truth brings freedom...and contentment.

As I close out this last post, I want to thank all of my readers. These past few years of seeing your pictures on the sidebar and reading your comments has meant a lot to me, and I will always be thankful for that. For my followers by email, I may not know who you are or how often you visited the blog, but I am thankful for you too. And I am thankful for your precious children and loved ones that brought you to this blog in the first place. May God continue to fill you and your children with a never-ending portion.

I am not sure how long the posts will remain up. This blog has been a journal for me as I've searched for my place in this world. Saying goodbye to it isn't easy. As I transfer my journal into a more permanent storage for my personal use, I will continue to maintain the blog and check for or reply to messages/comments. After that I will permanently close the blog down.

Oceans of love and a million thank yous for your part in helping me cope, find answers, seek God, and find contentment. It is my prayer that if you are seeking answers, God, or contentment that you will seek with all your heart and find what you are looking for (Jeremiah 29:13). Ask.Seek.Knock. and the door will be opened for you, too (Luke 11:9).  

God bless

Monday, March 17, 2014

Making Connections

Luke has been making some incredible connections in the world around him lately. There are so many I don't know if I could list them all. 

I have no idea if Luke understands what the globe is, but he loved looking at it. 

Luke has recently shown a lot of interest in the cats. He enjoyed brushing Monster, but as you may be able to tell by the mischievous look on his face in the second picture, he had more fun throwing the cat brush (which is exactly what he did one moment after I snapped that picture!). The boys recently got hair cuts and Luke was rubbing his hair and then rubbing Nuptial's hair, making the connection between "soft." 

Here he made connections by grouping animals into habitats that he thought they belonged in. This toy has the habitats differentiated by background color (blue: ocean, yellow: wild, red: farm, and green: home). I drew out the four zones on a large piece of paper and let him sort the animals how he chose. I don't blame him for putting the snake in the wild and the hamster (mouse) in the farm habitats. :)

These aren't really connections he is making, I just think they are adorable. We always joke (not where he can hear us) that his potato head toys look like they are either on roller coasters or getting arrested. :) We also question if this is how he sees us...with two sets of eyes and arms above our ears.

Luke has recently started to enjoy sitting down for picture books. One of his new favorites is Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and he loves to put the cards in sequence. You can find these printables here.

I am still drawing out picture and vocabulary cards for Luke. His vocabulary has expanded to over 200 words that he can spell with minimal or no help. He is trying so hard to say them, only a small handful are decipherable. Here is one of his favorite cards, the Yo Gabba Gabba card. I have since added the names of the characters to the front. Next, Luke is doing "shh" to one of the YGG songs. And while the YGG music is playing in the background, Luke sits down and reads a book and also gathers his YGG toys.

Luke is understanding his brothers' names and how to spell them. He is also spelling more complex words, such as helicopter, rectangle, bicycle, and word phrases.

On Saturday afternoon, we walked around our local outdoor mall and a group of college-age kids approached us and asked us about Luke's disabilities. He was wearing shorts, so his orthotics were visible. Then they asked if they could pray over him. So we all gathered together and everyone laid their hands on Luke while the young man in the black shirt led a prayer, proclaiming God's wonderful and beautiful design but also asking for God to send healing if it was in his will. We weren't sure how much Luke got from those few moments we gathered with this group of kids. When we put Luke to bed that night, we saw that he had pulled out a nativity set to play with. He hasn't played with that set in weeks.

He has also started making connections like this one pictured below. His favorite video is Baby Einstein On The Go. The narrator goes through the different vehicles "on water," "on land," and "in air."

This afternoon, Luke completed a little weather puppet with a poem. He loved it. He cut out the cloud and I cut out the smaller pieces. I had set a popsicle stick on the table to use, but after glueing the poem onto the back, there wasn't much room left for the stick. But Luke insisted, so we made it fit off center. Then Luke went upstairs to Paul's room and found a smaller popsicle stick and wanted that one attached too. It was rainy all day today, so we were able to get in a lot of talk about clouds and rain today. I just love how he wanted to carry around and play with this little puppet this afternoon. To me, that says he recognizes or admires his completed work.

Tamer took this picture of me drawing out new cards for Luke and as you can see, he likes to watch me draw. I was trying to draw him a picture of Clifford. As I would draw, Luke would take my hand to make me stop and look at him, and he would shake his head no at me. So I would start a new one. You can see how many he rejected before he was finally satisfied. Eventually I had to switch sides with him because he kept getting so close his face would push the end of the marker.

And finally, this last one has to do with overcoming major hurdles for both Adam and Luke. Here are a couple of pictures of the 2nd/3rd graders leading the worship a few weeks ago. Adam is in the lower center of the choir stand. And next, Luke sat in the sanctuary for the last few minutes of worship! He is usually in the special needs class for the entirety of both services, but on this particular day he needed a diaper change in the last few minutes of church, so I just brought him back with me, rather than leave him for 5 minutes. But Adam has come a long way...standing up on the stage and singing...we are so proud of him!

And finally, I just have to share pictures of this little guy. Our puppy was born about ten days ago. We are super, super excited! My brother's dog had puppies and we got to pick first. We can't wait to bring him home. My sister just visited and made sure to send me these adorable pictures! Look at that adorable little face!

We are incredibly excited about all of the amazing connections Luke is making.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sharks Homeschool

We have had some fun learning going on around here lately. I've shared about what Luke has been doing lately, but I haven't shared what the other boys have been up to in our Sharks Homeschool in quite a while.

We are still studying about Colonial America in our history study. When I started this study, I had intentions of making it through the American Revolution by the end of the school year, but I am not so sure we will make it that far with the time we have left in this school year. When we started the year, we studied Jamestown and Williamsburg extensively because we were planning our vacation up there. We spent more time on Colonial Virginia than I had originally penciled into our plans. That's ok though. I was more than happy that the boys got so into it and learned so much. Around Thanksgiving our homeschool landed in Plymouth and we are about to close out that part of our study. On to New York...

We have also been studying the human body this year. Last January I purchased a human body curriculum with the intention that we would finish out last school year with that and would study botany this year. The boys have been so interested in the human body, we have spent so much time in each chapter, averaging a month or more with each chapter. I am not so sure we will finish with our study of the human body before this school year ends. That's ok too. I'm so glad that the boys are getting so much out of their studies.

Here they are making models of blood using syrup, dried beans, candies, and food coloring. I think of all the chapters they have studied so far, the study of blood has been their favorite. Though, I do think they had a lot of fun making models of the lung last month. I originally penciled in two weeks for the chapter on blood, and here we are more than four weeks later, still engrossed by the magnificent creation of plasma and blood cells.

In addition to these big topics, we've sprinkled in a few mini units as well. There's no shortage of mini units to pick up in January and February. I've had to pick and choose. I try to alternate which units I pick out for the boys so that they aren't getting the same things over and over every year. Plus, there's just no way to really get a solid study of everything that happens in these two months.

This year, since the Winter Olympics were taking place, we briefly studied the history of the olympics. We did not go too deep into our study, and actually I chose not to do a continent or country study this year. I must admit, I'm not a big fan of the olympics, so I intentionally avoid focusing too much on them. We did discuss the ancient olympics and Greece very briefly. Instead, we chose to do a study of the Greek influence in the Tampa Bay area, which is primarily the Greek-Orthodox church and the dangerous trade of sponge diving. We live close to Tarpon Springs, which is the largest Greek community in the US. We met up with another homeschool family and spent a few hours exploring that area. We walked around the sponge docks, ate lunch at an authentic Greek restaurant, and went to a sponge museum, complete with creepy mannequins. The rain was brutal that day, but that was ok. It made the day a little more memorable I think.

Here are some pictures from our day in Tarpon Springs.

As I mentioned we live in Florida, which has a very mild climate, so while the rest of the country has been buried under snow, we have been enjoying our shorts and flip flops weather for weeks. Our winter here is very brief and mild. One of the other unique things we have around here are manatees. We did a mini unit on manatees and decided to meet up with our homeschool pals for a field trip to the TECO (Tampa Electric Co) Manatee Viewing Center.  It really is an amazing place. We have the uniqueness of the warm winter climate and an abundance of warm weather loving creatures, like the manatee. The manatee would normally migrate to Central and South America during the "harsh" Florida winters, but the power plant releases so much heat that the canal has exceptionally warm water that attracts the otherwise migrating manatee. On our cold winter days (that would be days below 70), the manatee swim into the canal at the power plant. We went this week in hopes that we would see a bunch of vegging manatee, but alas, the past two weeks of warm, sunny days (70s and 80s) has meant warmer waters in other areas of the Gulf of Mexico. They don't go far, but they don't stay in the canal if they don't have to. This particular day was supposed to be in the upper 60s, but it ended up being in the upper 70s. We saw a few manatee, but only got a good look at one. The MVC has a great education and conservation room. I highly recommend it. And it's all free!

Here are some pictures from our day at the MVC. Those big stacks are not releasing pollution, the TECO employees and the self-guided audio tour makes absolute certain that viewers understand that it is water vapor. :) Luke "was" carrying his Mario dolls with him. And in a moment of tantrum, he threw one of them into the gulf. So long Koopa Troopa! One of the volunteers said they would normally send a volunteer down to retrieve a dropped item, to reduce the amount of litter in the water, but a bull shark was hanging around, and those guys are pretty aggressive. We never did see the bull shark but we did see plenty of black tip sharks and more little crabs than we could count. We also saw a snake and plenty of water fowl. Luke loved walking through the mangrove tree canopy.

The nostrils of the manatee are out of the water. 

The two boys are also still doing wonderful in Taekwondo, learning all of their forms, kicks, punches and stances. They have their next belt promotion test this week, and will be moving on to the high white belt. I'm very proud of them both, but especially Adam. He has overcome so much with his sensory and behavior issues to be where he is at today.

Adam jumping

Paul jumping

Adam making a big jump...

Even Master H was impressed that Adam made it and landed on his feet!

He was so proud of himself...we are proud of him too! 

Love Master K's reaction to Paul not clearing the jump. 

They had a wonderful laugh together. I love how Paul adores Master K! 

So that sums up our Sharks Homeschool around here lately. In our Special Sharks Homeschool, Luke is still reading and spelling lots of new words and gaining new words every day. He has done wonderfully with the addition of the new listening therapy we started him on about six weeks ago. We are seeing amazing connections in his communication and behaviors. He has adjusted beautifully to our new church home and has even started to sit down in his Bible class. He's still not ready to go into the sanctuary, and that's ok. After all, it is loud in there...there's a full orchestra, band and choir. I was overwhelmed the first few times I visited there and I don't have sensory issues. Luke appears to be incredibly happy at church, and that means the rest of us are happy too! He starts playing softball with the special needs champions team in just a few weeks! Hopefully I'll have some great pictures and updates for that.

I have other updates that I'm excited to share too, but that's for another post.

I hope all of my readers are doing well. And for my homeschooling friends that are probably either counting down the days with excitement or with nervousness about getting it all done this year, relax, it'll all work out. We are counting down with just ten weeks left in our Sharks Homeschool year. We have to finish up two weeks earlier than I had originally planned because of other events going on, but if you ask my boys, they're quite ok with that! Secretly, so am I! :)

Love to all!