Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011: A Year in Review

2011 began with Baby Steps, literally and figuratively.  I had injured my foot a month earlier and was still recovering from a broken toe and accompanying puncture wounds- baby steps were literally all I could take.  Our family also began a process of discovery- a process that would be the focus of the entire year and would involve many examinations, counseling sessions, and medical treatments.  Our Visual-Spacial Learner was experiencing severe headaches, almost daily, as well as difficulty learning, and we were desperate to find answers. 

In February, I began to read more about how to teach our VSL in hopes of finding ways to make school less stressful for him.  These modifications helped in many ways, yet the headaches persisted as did high levels of perceived stress.  When he wasn't melting down over everyday, commonplace situations, he was in the bathroom kneeling at the toilet, sick from yet another headache.  I was one worried momma.

In March, we began to see the fruit of having introduced IEW into our homeschool a few months previously.  Our VSL was taking to this curriculum like a duck to water, and he was writing again- something he had stopped doing about a year previously.  This son, who had won a writing contest in 1st grade, had grown to hate writing so much that he would nearly drown himself in a pool of his own tears when asked to write a single sentence.  I was so thankful that IEW had him writing again that I blogged all about it, and then shared the Exciting News that the IEW blog had done a short write-up about us and linked to Olive Plants and The Write Brothers.  Enough progress was being made that I felt justified in sweeping the existing problems under the rug. 

In April, we did what our VSL most likes to do- competed in a Science Fair.  Then, due to my own carelessness, I suffered an Eye, Eye, Eye injury.  I praised God for sparing me blindness, a possible result of a severe chemical burn to the eye, in the post The Eyes Have It.  Looking back my injury seems like foreshadowing of events to come.  I know it gave me increased empathy for my VSL and brought me to a breaking point- one in which I knew that if my son was suffering even a small fraction as much as I was, we had to find help for him.  I put away the broom, and that's when testing for learning disabilities, autism, psychological disorders, and medical problems began.  I was on my knees hourly pleading for answers, scared more than I wanted to admit that he might have something serious.  Visions of brain tumors and surgery and chemotherapy plagued me.  I guess that's why I had been so busy sweeping.  But denial does not make problems go away.

I was happy to spend May Archiving School Plans.  School was done for the year, and I so needed the break.  Michael and I celebrated our 16th anniversary with some Seoul Food, a night that brought a needed break from the stress of parenting through health problems and waiting for test results.

By June, we had been told by our pediatrician that the headaches were solely migraines.  There were no other symptoms for anything more serious, like the brain tumor that I just knew was there.  We also received the results from a full academic and developmental evaluation.  The psychologist had ruled out learning disabilities and autism.  In fact, on VSL's academic testing, he scored higher than he should have for his IQ.  He was diagnosed, however, with generalized anxiety disorder.  In hopes of alleviating some of his school-related anxiety, I implemented the use of Circle the Date Planners and sought out curriculum that I hoped would continue to help me meet his learning needs.  I revealed these plans in the Great Curriculum Reveal, co-hosted with my friend, Heather.

I received a huge surprise when I went to the mailbox one day in July.  The cash inside an unmarked envelope was a Providential blessing, providing for a particular financial need while also providing a powerful reminder of how God always provides for all the needs of His children.  And as I was going through a stage of parenting in which I had to examine every little aspect of our home, school, and life in order to find what was causing my VSL so much anxiety, I had to take a little time to laugh at myself and introduce the That's So Dawn segments- in the wrong order, of course.

School resumed in August, and VSL seemed to be making huge steps in learning to cope with anxiety.  We started an art program together and recreated Van Gogh's masterpiece Starry Night.  However, blogging took a back seat because I was having to maintain a very specific schedule to help keep anxiety at bay.

In September, I only wrote one post and even forgot to give it a title!  It was a review of our first month of school, and things were going really well...

...until something major happened in October. 

Orville turned 12, and Wilbur got braces.  Those were both pretty major events, but aren't the really big event.  One day, while trying to complete a science activity using a microscope, VSL pulled away from the view finder, blinked his eyes rapidly, and proclaimed with confidence (not anxiety), "This microscope is making my eyes hurt!"

This was a break-through moment, and I began to ask him a bunch of probing questions- something he would have responded to with a meltdown just a few weeks earlier.  Instead of melting down, though, he began to describe in detail the vision problems he was experiencing.  Problems that have been present for a long time but that he had been unable to explain.  The poor vision made him feel so anxious that he didn't know exactly what he was feeling/experiencing or how to ask for help. 

At that moment, the Lord brought to mind something a friend had told me about her daughter's vision problems, her vision therapy, and developmental optometrists, so I did a quick web search and found this checklist.  As I read down the list, all I could say was "yes, yes, YES!  That is my child."  I also showed this webpage to VSL, and he said that one of the samples was exactly what he was experiencing.  I wanted to jump up and down and dance in the streets.  I believed with all my heart that the Lord had given us wisdom and was sending us to a place where my sweet VSL could finally get the help he needed.  I immediately picked up the phone and called the nearest developmental optometrist.  Three days later, he was examined and diagnosed with multiple visual disabilities.  Vision therapy began that week.

During the last two months of this difficult year, we have had some good times: A Chatty Birthday, Leafing Out, a Merry Christmas, and a Whirlwind Trip to Memphis (our former hometown).  Most important to all of us here at Olive Plants Academy, though, is that our dear VSL is finding relief.  His vision is improving, school work is becoming more do-able, he has had a reduction in headaches- from one almost daily to one about once per month- and things that were very difficult for him to accomplish are becoming easier.  He has a long way to go, but the baby steps that began this year are leading us to a better place as it ends.

Looking back on it all, I feel like Peter must have felt once the Lord led him back into the boat safely.  He had stepped out upon Christ's call and was walking by faith on the water toward the Lord in the midst of a terrible storm.  Doubt set in, and he began to sink.  The storm could have overwhelmed him, pulled him under to a watery grave, but Jesus, with mercy and tenderness, took hold of Peter and kept him from perishing.  Once in the boat, the Creator of the heavens and the earth demonstrated his power by calming the seas and stopping the winds.  As the storm ended, He gently rebuked His servant- Why did you doubt?  (Matt 14)

Many years ago, the Lord called me and I stepped out in faith onto the turbulent waters of parenting and homeschooling.  This year the winds have certainly howled and the waves have crashed.  At times I have felt myself sinking amidst them.  It is easier to doubt than to trust.

The Lord has faithfully rebuked my doubt and made my weaknesses evident. It is not by my strength that I can parent or homeschool or do anything really.    

However, when Christ called Peter, the storm was raging.  He had instructed Peter and the others in the boat to "be of good cheer" and "to fear not for it is I." 

As faithful as He has been to rebuke, he has also given His grace abundantly.  Even in the midst of the storm, there is reason to be of good cheer, for it is not the ending of the storm that demonstrates God's faithfulness to us but His grace in the midst of it.  Fear not, it is I has been the theme of 2011, and we will move forward into whatever the Lord has ordained for 2012 believing that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Rom 8:38-39)

The storms will come, but God has said to those of us who are in Christ Jesus, Never will I leave you nor forsake you.  (Heb 13:5)

Be of good cheer!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Somewhat Brief History of the Absolute Best Sandwich in the World (and eventually a recipe)

During our whirlwind trip to Memphis, we decided to go downtown to ride the trolley, mostly for the experience of riding the trolley, but also to get to the Peabody Hotel to see their world-famous ducks without having to find a place to park or needing to walk a long distance.  It was really important to me that we get to the Peabody in time for the ducks' waddle along the red carpet to their fountain in the lobby.  Even though birds in captivity don't count on one's life list, imho, avid birders should see the world's most famous ducks at least once, particularly birders who were born in the city where said ducks reside.

Well, the trolley, which was supposed to be a quick, direct way to get from a parking area on the north end of downtown to the Peabody, turned into nothing short of a fiasco.  After moving one block, we were stopped and unable to move further because fire trucks, parked in front of the convention center, were blocking the tracks.  Hundreds of people were exiting the building, so there was no way we were going to exit the trolley and fight that crowd.  We sat there for what seemed like an eternity (it was probably about 5 mins, but we were running late and tensions were mounting).  Eventually, our trolley was redirected and, instead of moving south on Main, as planned, it had to travel north, then turn west and loop around to go south on Riverside Dr.  We followed Riverside as far south as the trolley can travel and then turned east to rejoin the Main St. tracks and head north again. 

Orville enjoyed the detour
since it allowed him to see the Pyramid,
where I graduated,
up-close and personal.

Wilbur was less interested in the sights
but he thought the strapy things
on the trolley were pretty cool.

We were back in the right part of downtown but were totally turned around mentally and could not getting our bearings long enough to find the Peabody.  We hadn't been downtown Memphis in over twelve years and were experiencing that I-should-know-where-I-am-but-don't-and-feel-totally-disoriented-and-a-bit-foolish phenomenon.  So we rode the trolley around the loop once more...and again...and AGAIN!

Michael wondered if we would be stuck
on Riverside Dr. for the rest of our lives.

We had missed seeing the ducks march and were getting really hungry and wanted to get off the trolley- just about the time it broke down in front of ...

The Arcade Restaurant!

It is the oldest cafe in Memphis, founded about 100 years ago.  So, yes, it was in Memphis when we lived there, but neither Michael nor I had even HEARD OF IT!  Granted, he rarely went downtown, and I only went there when on a teaching assignment.  Whatever the case, it was new-to-us and, more importantly, right there in front of us (and that trolley wasn't going anywhere any time soon), so we stopped in for lunch.

Now, we're not Elvis fans.  In fact, the boys had no idea who he was before our Memphis trip.  But we sat at the Elvis table...

He's not mad, y'all.
That's how he normally looks
when his wife is snapping his picture over and over again
while saying (in her best Elvis voice) 
Thank ya, thank ya very much
after each click.

...because it was the only table available.  HA!

Hey!  I know who Elvis is now...
sort of.

But also because this school...

...the one where I taught before the boys were born, served the housing project where Elvis had lived before stardom.  In fact, after completing 6th grade, my students went to Humes Middle School, which used to be Humes High School, which was where Elvis attended high school. 

This was my classroom the last year I taught.
My first room no longer exists
because the building was remodeled
and the 3rd floor was removed
during the years I taught there.

So Elvis's history has intersected with our family's history and since our family history was the whole point of the trip we told the boys the story I just told you as we sat at Elvis's table and ate THE ABSOLUTE BEST SANDWICH IN THE WORLD!

No joke.

It was so good that I had to recreate it at home. 

The World's Best Sandwich (Absolutely)

1.  Spread about 1 tsp each of pesto and Dijon mustard on freshly baked rolls.
2.  Add ham- real, home-baked, glazed, yummy-rific, ham.  Add as much as you want.  I won't tell.
3.  Thinly slice a pear and layer 2-4 slices over the ham.  They used Bartlets at The Arcade, I think.  I used Asian pears at home- mmm, yummy, nummy.
4.  Spread cream cheese on the other half of the roll.  The Arcade used melted Brie, which was divine.  However, I planned to use cream cheese since Brie is pricey.  Instead, I spread on some of this cheese ball.

My family referred to this as the cheese BOULDER
when I placed it on our Christmas table.
It is a cross between spinach dip
and a traditional cheese ball.
There's at least 50 servings of veggies in there,
so go ahead and spread away!

I guess it goes without saying there was A LOT of cheese leftover and I had to use it on my sandwich!

5.  When everything is on, close the sandwich and eat up.  Oh.so.good.

Sorry Elvis fans, but it totally beats fried PB and Banana hands down.

In fact, it's so yummy that I totally forgot to take a picture of the sandwich before scarfing it down enjoying it.  (I was hungry, people!)  To make up for my faux pas, please let me end with a picture of the World's Best Ducks instead.  After lunch that day, we finally made our way to the Peabody, and birders met birdies.

We didn't get to see them march
but did get to see them swim!

Happy Eating (sandwiches, y'all, not world-famous ducks)!

Friday, December 16, 2011

What are you baking for Christmas?

I plan to have a Christmas baking day next week.  Here is what I plan to make...

Christmas Petit Fours from Molly at Mentoring Moments for Christian Women:  When I saw this recipe, I knew instantly I had to make a batch.  Those of you who read regularly may recall that I studied French in school for a variety of, ahem, weird unorthodox reasons.  Petit Fours would be one of those reasons.  The boys will get these as a special pre-Christmas treat.  After I let them grab a few each, I will quickly take the remainder to neighbors so I will not eat them all! :)

Molly recently posted another great recipe at MMCW, German Apple Strudel.  I won't be baking this one this year.  However, Molly has brought this to our church's fellowship meal, and I have tasted the results.  YUMMO!  I hope Molly brings some to church again.



Alright, IRLs, it's time to look away!

And NO peeking!


Snickers Surprise Cookies, found at Taste of Home:  I am making these to give to friends.  Shhh...it's a surprise.  That's why I told them to look away!  They better not be peeking.  :)

Okay, IRLs, you may join us again. 

Although I seriously doubt they ever looked away.

Cheaters! ;)

Red Velvet Trifle from the Food Network:  This one has toasted coconut in it!  My boys are salivating at the thought of it. We will enjoy this after our Christmas Eve meal...if I can keep my children from eating all the coconut first!

So, now it's your turn.  What do you plan to bake for Christmas, New Year's, or just because?  I'm not going to meme this, so please comment and feel free to copy and paste URLs in there that will take us to related posts at your blog or recipes at reputable sites.  Thanks and Merry Christmas!

Happy Baking!

Thank you to Molly and MMCW for granting me permission to post their petit four picture!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The 12 Days of Homeschool

This homeschool mom rendition of the tune, The 12 Days of Christmas, provided a much-needed laugh!  I hope you enjoy the video as much as I do.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Need a Gift Idea?

Support Bible Translation - Become a OneVerse Partner Today

I just found oneverse through the Duggars' blog and wanted to share with my readers.  Right now, a $26 dollar donation will fund the translation of one verse of Scripture into the language of an unreached people group.  For each $26 donation, you will receive a Christmas card with information about the translated verse and the region of the world you select.  You may then gift this card and translation work to someone on your Christmas list.

I think this would make a particularly great gift for our pastors or other church leaders...thank them for their faithfulness to the Word of God by helping to distribute Bibles translated into the native languages of others around the world.

Click the icon above to be redirected to give the gift of God's Word.

Disclosure:  I have not been compensated for publishing this post.  If you click through and donate to oneverse, I will not receive a commission.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Merry Christmas (and a bit of family history)

Seasonal Stripes Christmas
View the entire collection of cards.

Twenty years ago, Michael and I met in Memphis, Tennessee,
not far from Overton Park- pictured in our Christmas card above.
Because this spot was one of our favorite hang-outs,
I dressed the boys up and took them there
for a photo day with Mommy in November 2001.
At the time, Orville was 2 and Wilbur was 1.
Last month (exactly 10 years after I took the original pictures),
we were blessed with a whirlwind trip to Memphis.
We spent one day driving around town,
showing the boys all the spots important to our family history.
I made sure to take the boys back to the gazebo
for updated pictures so we can share
a little of our family history with you.

Merry Christmas!