Saturday, December 31, 2016

Saying Goodbye to 2016

The pictures sprinkled through this post are all from this past week. We had my father and stepmother in town over Christmas. 
I know it looks like an insane amount of gifts. Many of them were very practical things that we needed. 
The year 2016 was a challenging year for our family. I wouldn't say it was the most challenging year of all, but it was a rough one at times. Early in the year, we nearly lost my father to brain fungus and cancer. It is one of those amazing blessings that he pulled through and is still here. Although he has a daily struggle to still battle the brain fungus and isn't out of the woods yet. There have been many other smaller struggles, but nothing that will be remembered forever like my Dad's struggles.
A nice lunch at a crepe shop in town.
There have been many positive things that have happened this year. One of the big ones happened just this past week. Our daughter Goldilocks, who lives out of the home in a mental health placement, turned 16. I have been waiting for her to turn 16 for a few years now. I know it is strange to wish your child's childhood away, but for our daughter there is potentially more help available now that she is 16. There are more doctors who are willing to diagnosis her with the disorders they believe that she has but that she has been too young to officially carry on her medical records. If she blows out of her current placement, there are more possibilities of where she could live, now that she is 16. So many programs do not accept kids until they are 16, so we have waited for this year for a long time. She is currently in a stable placement and we hope that she remains there; but if she doesn't, at least we have a few options now. While we are on the subject of Goldilocks ... I will give a brief update for those who have followed our journey for years. She had a very up and down year. She has struggled with her current house mom and placement a great deal this year. I have seen the tell-tale signs that her placement could be at risk. She is causing utter chaos in the home, and her caregiver is getting worn out. The school system is a sham and they are giving her an even more pitiful education than I could have imagined. They ignore her IEP and force us to check up constantly to see if they are doing their job. They ignore her low IQ and tell her to shoot for the stars. They have convinced her that she will be able to own a restaurant some day. They give her meaningless tasks to do so that they can let her grades look good and tell her the world is her oyster, which it certainly is not. She failed end of year testing for 9th grade but they passed her on anyway. In fact, she fails almost every test. She got very low scores on the ACT (American College Testing) test (similar to the SAT test). On two of the sections, she got a grade of zero. In all, she got about 20% of the test correct. She tells me constantly that she has no idea what she is doing in school. The doctors think that she has BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), as well RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) and FASD (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder). Her birth mother also has the diagnosis of BPD and it can be genetic, so it makes sense.

Oh dear, I reread the above paragraph and it seems like one of the negatives of 2016. So onto a move positive note!

For the rest of the family, there has been tremendous growth. Dean (14) and Anne (13) are really embracing their passions. Our home is filled with music, and they are taking a higher responsibility for their own education -- more than ever before. We all have loved adding a homeschool friend once a week into studies. She will be joining us two days a week starting in January. I am finding a measure of peace in making sure that our days are filled with quality and not worrying so much about how many hours we completed or in which subjects we are behind. I know they are learning and growing into awesome young adults.
Dean got an electric ukulele for Christmas!
I am so blessed that, although both of my youngest are experiencing the full bloom of puberty, they are still talking to us about their feelings and trials, and we remain a tight knit family. There have been plenty of bumps and new rules as they have expanded their boundaries, but it continues to be going well.
Anne really wanted to skate this year. This is her second time on skates and she did well. She is our natural born athlete.
Dear husband and I had a good year. We made progress on this old house and enjoyed making more memories. We are comfortable where we are in marriage, but always aware of the importance to not become lazy and neglectful of our relationship. 

Tim (our disabled adult son) had a challenging year. He hasn't felt well much of the last few months. The wildfires in our area contributed to that. He often doesn't go with us on trips but did attend our family trip to NYC. However, it exhausted him both mentally and physically. He also stretched himself and, for the first time, attended an away from home camp for brain injured adults. That was hard for him and seemed to stretch him a bit farther than he was up for. However, his heart and pacemaker are doing well, and we made it through the year without any major illnesses or hospitalizations!

I hope everyone has a blessed 2017!

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Break ~ The Learning Creeps In

Homeschooling truly becomes a lifestyle. For those that are new to the homeschool journey and come from a public school background, there may be a sharper divide between "homeschool" and "home". But for most of us, homeschooling quickly becomes a lifestyle. Whenever we take a break from our normal studies and the learning continues to flow, I am reminded of this precious fact. Learning never stops. If our days are filled with quality, then we learn.

This week my husband had his "at-home working vacation". He likes to take one week of vacation each year that is reserved for making progress on home repairs. This week with the help of the children, he has painted Anne's room and completed an accent wall with trim work in Dean's room. My kids have gotten multiple hours of home economics for painting this school year. They are learning valuable skills for their adulthood. A penny saved is a penny earned and every job you can complete yourself saves you from paying someone else. 

Anne and Tim also had a sewing lesson with Grandma on the sewing machine. They got some last minute presents made and Anne learned how to run the sewing machine, change out the bobbin, thread the needle and do a simple craft. I say that is pretty good for a first lesson. It was all review for Tim, but still handy skills to freshen up on.

Anne has embarked on a 1000 piece puzzle. It is a winter themed puzzle featuring a polar bear and Coca-Cola. She is finding it challenging but loves puzzles, so she is attracted to stop and do a bit more throughout the day.

They both spent hours this week playing their beloved musical instruments.

Anne has almost entirely taken over our Christmas wrapping. She loves it and has even wrapped some gifts for herself (that she had seen me buy). She loves it and wants to wrap more ~ lol. 

We have also been binge watching Call the Midwife, if you can call watching one to two shows a day binge watching. 

On Tuesday they had school time with their homeschool friend, S. We learned the difference between Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic. We then learned that soap has a hydrophobic and a hydrophilic side on each of its molecules which makes it unique and a good cleaner. Of course, we had to follow that up with a science "experiment". We made our own bubble solution and compared them to touchable bubbles which have polymers in them. Fun was had by all.

The kids also wrote a story based on one of my favorite Norman Rockwell pictures, The Discovery.

Today there is cleaning to do, a party for Anne, special one-on-one time with Dean, a few last presents to wrap, Montgomery pies to make and a tree to chainsaw. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and some of the out-of-town relatives arrive. The kids are performing at church. There will be a homemade feast on Christmas, but for Christmas Eve it is pizza on paper plates! Have a blessed season everyone.

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Pleasant Week

Our homeschool is on December break. We are only doing school on Tuesdays. This week was busy and pleasant. We are almost ready for Christmas. As usual, the budget was tight this year; but thanks to lots of great coupons, shopping carefully and making homemade gifts, we have been able to keep to our goals. This Advent season, we have kept to the home more than in other years. We really needed the rest and have focused on the wonderment of the season from a quieter perspective. We only did one out and about Christmas activity this week. We went to the National Gingerbread Display at the Grove Park Inn. We always delight in the amazing creativity of the gingerbread builders. Here are a few of our favorites.

What we did for Tuesday school ~
  • Art ~ Painted our wooden snowman and gave him a new hat. Now he is ready to grace our front yard.
  • History ~ Reviewed the Berlin Airlift and watched our Mormon Tabernacle Choir DVD about the "candy bomber". We looked at our authentic piece of the Berlin wall.
  • Science ~ Made borax crystals and rock candy. We learned about heterogeneous and homogeneous solutions. 
  • English ~ Did lesson 8 in Cover Story.

Dean spent several hours at Miss Laura's house this week, working on painting a portrait. He has also been drawing a great deal this week. Below is one of his creations.

Anne needed a new pair of pointe shoes. Over the last five months, she saved up the entire $101 needed to purchase them. She saved all of her allowance, earned money doing chores at Grandma's house and worked a few extra jobs around here as well. She showed real dedication and was very pleased to be able to purchase them all by herself. I am so happy to see the lovely young lady she is turning into.

Lastly, my favorite picture of the week ~ 

Blessings, Dawn

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Week of Rest and Decking the Halls

We are officially on winter break. We are taking most of the month of December off. We are only doing school on Tuesdays with our friend S. Otherwise, it is a time of rest, catching up on projects that have been set aside and embracing the season. This week was mostly spent on rest.

What we counted for school this week ~ We did do a bit of light science with S. We made bath bombs and played with Insta-Snow powder. We learned through hands-on projects more about chemical reactions and then watched them under a microscope.

  • Anne volunteered at the local elementary public school with S for three hours. They helped a first grade class make gingerbread houses. It was an insightful experience for Anne. The teacher asked them back again. We will see if this leads to an ongoing volunteer job.
  • Dean spent four hours doing art with Miss Laura. He is working on a portrait and came home talking all about noses and how to draw them.
  • They both attended dance classes.
  • They both spent lots of time learning Christmas songs on the ukulele (Dean) and piano (Anne).
  • Dean did some Christmas shopping, which involved him budgeting, using coupons at the store, and interacting with clerks (something he is very shy about and is hard for him).
Decking the Halls ~ We enjoyed making our home ready for Christmas. There is still lots of cleaning and organizing to do. It is amazing how many tasks get put aside between school and Nutcracker season. However, we are on our way and the room we call the library as well as our hallway are all decked out.

Anne especially loved setting up the nativity this year. She made it multi-layered with the shepherds and sheep on a "hill" above Bethlehem. 

She also enjoyed setting up all of the snowmen on the piano. She really wants to learn several Christmas carols this month on the piano, and the snowmen are cheering her on.

How we are resting ~ Anne and I have been "binge watching" a show or two a day of "Call the Midwife". We are loving the show. Dean has been playing his ukulele for hours at a stretch and watching tons of comedy skits on the Internet. We also had two pajama days this week!

A HUGE blessing ~ Dean had a close encounter with a mother bear in our carport this week. He was getting some costumes out of the car when the bear came running through. He had his earbuds in and was listening to music. He never saw her coming until she was inches away. He tried to side step her and she knocked him out of her way with a paw. He punched her in the head as she growled at him. Luckily, she was in a hurry and decided to keep going. He got away with only ripped clothes and a few scratches. The regional wildlife bear expert came out and could find nothing wrong with our yard or anything that we had done to provoke the bear. It is possible her cubs were in our yard and she smelled human scent between her and them. She has left them in our pine trees before. He told Dean that he had done everything right during the encounter but needed to always check around him when walking through the carport. It seems to be a regular shortcut for her. We are to start making lots of noise and even throwing rocks at her when we see her. This will hopefully help her to move along. We are so blessed that he was okay!! It could have been much, much worse.

Blessings, Dawn

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Nutcracker 2016

My kids live for this week. They look forward to it all year long. It is Nutcracker week. The kids are living and breathing the life of a dancer at the theater. They are growing and stretching emotionally and physically. It is amazing to watch them. I overheard Dean telling Anne that he didn't feel one bit of stage fright. It just felt so natural to be on the stage. She agreed. Remarkably, she has never felt any stage fright since she was 3 years old. They just march out onto the stage and do their thing. Dean has some crazy fast costume changes this year. He has one that is less than 60 seconds. We figured out how to lay out his costume in the wings so that he could make it back on stage in time. So far, he has made it on time through the first two shows. They have four parts each and two more shows to go.
Dean (Spanish Dancer) and Anne (cat)
This year is different for me because I haven't been back stage much. They were ready to be independent and do it on their own. They may have been more ready than I am...ahem! They have handled themselves perfectly without any issues. I am very proud of the wonderful young people they are becoming.
Anne as an elastic doll
Anne has wanted to be an elastic doll since she was 7 years old. She is thrilled to finally be one of the lucky teens to do this dance.

She is also a guard and a street sweeper.

Here are a few shots of them on stage. The shots are a bit blurry, but I am happy to have the photos anyway.
Dean on left
Dean in the party scene
Anne and Dean as street sweepers
Anne is behind Dean in the center
The other huge thing that happened this week was the devastating fires that burned Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. As I mentioned before, there are many fires raging in our area. Gatlinburg is not that far from us and was struck by winds as high as 90 miles per hour that whipped up a relatively small wildfire, which rapidly grew into a monster inferno. Much of the city was lost in a matter of hours, and the death toll is currently at 13, with many still among the missing. Our hearts go out to all that lost their loved ones, jobs, pets and homes. The devastation is unbelievable. It is surreal that we are living such normal happy times less than 80 miles away from this huge disaster. We feel so blessed to be safe and sound. We are also so blessed that we got a bit of rain this week with more in the forecast. We are a long way from being out of an extreme drought, but the rain will hopefully put out the fires and help the fire fighters. Hopefully, there won't be any more crazy wind storms.

Image result for gatlinburg fire

Blessings, Dawn

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Friday Wrap-Up ~ Almost Time for Our December Break!

I can't believe December is right around the corner! The kids are looking forward to taking most of the month off from school. We will only be doing Tuesday school with our homeschool friend. I must admit, I am looking forward to it, too. We have been going strong almost every day since the beginning of August.

In our little corner of the world, the wildfires are still raging, and there is still no to little rain in sight. The air quality is keeping us indoors ALL of the time. We are getting a bit restless. Thank goodness for dance. The kids get lots of their energy out at classes and rehearsals. I, however, miss my walks. We are keeping busy indoors.

Science ~ We wrapped up several experiments this week. The first was our mummy experiment that we started back at the end of October. We carved designs into apples and covered the apples in a combination of baking soda, salt and powdered bleach. We started a control apple in a zip lock bag by itself. Then we waited the better part of a month. On opening day, we were pleasantly surprised.

Our mummy apples were preserved but spongy. The flesh was completely white. Our control apple was rotten in places and covered in mold on one side. 

We also completed our red cabbage pH indicator strips and used them. We boiled red cabbage and cut up coffee filters into strips. We then dyed our strips with the cabbage liquid and set them to dry. We also made our control liquids. We made a control base with ammonia and distilled water and a control acid with vinegar and distilled water. After a few days we conducted our experiments.  We dipped our strips into diluted milk, bleach, coffee, wine vinegar, tea and lemon. The strips changed colors. We determined by the color change whether or not the item was a base or acid. The activity worked out great.

Art~ The kids are busy making Christmas gifts in art with Miss Laura. I can't wait to see what they produce. Elijah made a very detailed Shrinky Dink. He drew the Celtic knot free hand. I am so amazed by his attention to detail. It would make a lovely piece of jewelry. It is about the size of a half dollar.

Grandma also conducted another one of her awesome art classes for my kids and their twin friends who are also homeschooled. We learned all about book illustrations. The kids looked through many picture books from their childhoods and shared memories of their favorite picture books. They realized that the illustrations in picture books are very important. We picked Shel Silverstein for an in-depth study. Then they learned about Shel Silverstein's life and looked through several of his books to find poems they liked. They each chose a poem that he had not illustrated. We photocopied the poems and they pasted it onto the page and illustrated it. 

Dean with one of his favorite childhood books, The Story of Ferdinand

We are trying to find a good stopping point for the rest of our subjects. We will be continuing art, science and geography in December. I am sure there will be lots of music, too. Next week, we are really going to have to read lots more of Hitty Her First Hundred Years in order to complete it. We also are a bit farther behind in math than I would like to be before break. However, we are not likely to get too much farther ahead, since it is also tech week for the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. C'est la vie!

Blessings, Dawn