Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Kitchen Update

Our summer has been a crazy busy mixture of appointments, swim practices (both Eli AND Itty Bitty), and changes around the house (including a KonMari style clean out)!  Still, I'm trying to keep up my goal for 20-30 recipes in the kitchen!

At this point, I think I might make it to 20 recipes - I don't know if I will make it to 30 or not...but am still hoping.  The best news is that since we've been cooking at home instead of eating out, the kids are actually eating more and gaining a healthy amount of weight, while P and I are losing some weight.  Eli is actually really building a lot of muscles in his stomach, shoulders, and back from so much swimming!

We've had couple recipes completely flop - but the few I've listed here went well.  I'm picking up with recipe #6, since I listed the first five in a previous post.

6) Zoodle Lasagna

For this one, I simply swapped lasagna noodles for zucchini strips. I made my regular meat sauce (that we often use for spaghetti squash) and mixed in a lots of diced, cooked veggies with the ricotta cheese.  The veggies were super convenient because they were leftover from a veggie quesadilla the night before :). It was a little zucchini heavy, but was delicious. I've seen other people use butternut squash slices for this one, so we may try that, too.

7)  Fake-Out Chipotle Barbacoa

There are a ton of these recipes all over the internet, lol. I think the one we used was okay - but it wasn't exactly like Chipotle's version and was more time consuming than I'd like.  I can't see making this one often when we have a Chipotle nearby.

8) Chinese-style beef and broccoli

This one was a definite winner! We used garlic and ginger to taste, then used equal parts Tamari sauce, brown sugar and water. We added cornstarch as a thickener. This was super simple to do and delicious.  This ended up being a little saltier than we wanted, so I'll cut back some on the Tamari next time - I will also probably add snow peas since we love those, too!

9) Brie and Artichoke Chicken Bake

This was a great way to use leftover chicken breast. I put large pieces of two already cooked (leftover) chicken breasts in a casserole dish, covered it in a can of diced tomatoes, some diced chiles, half of a thinly sliced onion, half of a large jar of marinated artichokes with a few tablespoons of the artichoke marinade, then topped the whole thing off with some Brie cheese and a handful or two of shredded Gouda cheese.  YUM!  This is a new favorite and another we will DEFINITELY want to use through fall.

10) Fake Brownies

We saw a recipe for vegan, dairy and grain free brownies on YouTube that we decided to try. UNfortunately, I forgot the name of the chef! The brownies have a date and almond meal base and are delicious!  They are chocolately, though they don't *really* taste like the real thing. Still, they are rich and satisfying - and they definitely settle a chocolate craving :).


I've picked out the next few recipes we are going to try, and am very excited about them. I'm not a big soup eater (though I do love plain chicken broth), but several of the upcoming recipes may be soups.  I am a little frustrated that I haven't found many freezer meals that we would like.  I may change my freezer strategy for the school year, concentrating on already cooked (home cooked and shredded) meat, fruit and vegetables.  This could give us a little more flexibility in the long run, though I'm not sure it would save much time on a busy weeknight.

As always, I'm open to recipe suggestions!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

In the Kitchen

Okay, okay...this is definitely *not* a food blog...but in the last two years, we've really been in a rut for cooking and eating. This summer, we've decided to try to something new.

Before Eli, P and I used to write out a cooking/food list for the MONTH, watch for coupons, and hit sales for various items to cook/freeze.  This really helped bring down our food costs, while still eating great food. After Eli came home, we went through a period of adjustment when we decided FED was best...and then settled into a routine of making cooking/food lists for a maximum of a week or two, while I salivated over the idea of having a large freezer to freeze more recipes. At the time, the only meals that I was froze were the chili that I made/make every October (I usually make several gallons at once) and chicken pot pie (which I probably haven't made in at least four years, since it's not a favorite).

When we became a foster family two years ago, cooking from scratch became less of a priority and we miss it. Because I have food allergies, we simply began to rely on the same basic meals over and over, even though we were actually given a large freezer (YAY!) when P's parents decided to upgrade theirs (thanks guys!). 

Now that things have settled down a TON and it's just the four of us, it's time to go back to what was working so well!  A lot of the recipes I used to use are lost or need some freshening up - and quite frankly, our tastes have changed and broadened quite a lot.  I think we're in a place to begin really stocking up the freezer for the busier school months and planning ahead for at least two weeks at a time.

So, this summer, I've committed to trying out a variety of new recipes - my current goal is to hit somewhere between 20 and 30 recipes this summer that are either quick/easy or freezable in large enough batches AND delicious. After beginning this journey, I found that I kept forgetting what we'd already cooked, so I decided to blog about what we're doing. This way, I can search for what we did when I'm looking for ideas :).  I'm definitely open to suggestions for easy, gluten free recipes.

So far, we've had five really good recipes! 


1. Paneer Tikka Masala

I tried this dish recently in a restaurant, loved it, and have been desperately looking for a way to make it at home. I finally found a great brand of paneer, which is like a pressed cottage cheese that doesn't fall apart or melt when simmered. We used a jarred sauce (Maya Kaimal) because I wanted to save some time; while we did try other sauces, this was the most delicious one we tried. We added some veggies (peas and onions) and a little white rice to round it out.  We loved it so much that I bought two more jars of the sauce just to keep in the pantry for when we want it!  It would also be fantastic with chicken when I don't have time to drive to a specialty market for paneer. Steaming the rice was the longest part of making this dish. I think it *could* be frozen, but there's not much point when it's so quick to make.

2. Crab Stick Omelettes

This recipe is from Chef Julie Yoon (from the YouTube show Bits & Pieces) and it's super quick to make.  Several of our recipes have been ones that I learned from her on YouTube, and this one is deceptively simple to be so delicious.  I did do a couple of things differently than she did, though. I used real crab claw meat, as it's hard to find gluten free crab sticks. I also gently sautéed the thinly sliced onion until it was just barely softened before mixing it with the crab, as I'm the only one in my family that really loves raw onion.  I'm now experimenting with adding other thinly sliced or spiralized vegetables and such, but so far, the original recipe is our favorite!

3. Korean Noodles with Black Bean Sauce

Okay - this one was WAY harder than I thought it would be because gluten free black bean sauce doesn't exist in any market that I've found.  My Korean friends though it was a little icky that I would even *try* to make a gluten free version.

The recipe I used was based on another recipe from Chef Julie Yoon. I ended up using a salty, fermented, Japanese soybean paste. It did work, though it was definitely NOT black in the end!  I do think it wasn't as sweet, perhaps, as the original dish is supposed to be, but the sauce was velvety smooth and a good balance of flavor. We used round rice noodles for serving. We tried it as leftovers the next day for lunch, but it was simply not as good as the day before (I'd hoped it would be better after a night in the fridge, as many recipes often are).  This one is definitely worth trying again; for the next attempt, I actually found the whole fermented black beans and will try to make a homemade black bean paste.

The only downside to this recipe is that it is more work-intensive than I'd like. A lot of the work comes in from extra steps to avoid gluten, though.  Still, I don't think it would freeze well, so it may just be a special-occasion type dish. If I can create a freezable homemade black bean paste, this one would be much easier to make.

4. Massaman Curry

Everyone who knows me knows that I adore curries - and that Massaman is definitely my favorite. I used to get my Massaman curry from a local restauarant that is owned by a friend who understands my dietary restrictions.  Unfortunately, she had a long-term family emergency and left her restaurant in the hands of her (adult) children who don't cook nearly as well as she did :(. So, I decided to find a way to cook one of my favorites at home. It took a while (and at least 3 somewhat decent tries in between), but I finally think I've made a great replica!  I used Maesri Massaman Curry Paste, and started cooking with the recipe on the back of the can. I subbed in good chicken stock for about 1/3 of the coconut milk that is called for, I doubled the amount of potato and chicken, and added in bell pepper. I served it with steamed vegetables (carrot, zuchinni, broccoli, and cauliflower) and white rice. There were no leftovers, as everyone pretty much had seconds (or thirds). I'm about to stock my pantry with several of these cans and several cans of coconut milk - at least until I decide to tackle making my own curry paste (not ready yet!).  It does take a while to prep/simmer everything - but it's beyond worth it!


5. Green Papaya Salad

Another favorite from my friend's restaurant was green papaya salad. In her absence, the restaurant wasn't selling enough of this dish, so they temporarily removed it from the menu. I had a definite craving for this, and picked up a green papaya to try my hand at it.

I was thrilled to find out that it's very easy and super quick to make!  All of the recipes that I found on the internet basically started with garlic and chili pepper mushed together to make a paste. Then, lime juice, palm sugar, and fish sauce (and sometimes peanuts or dried shrimp) were added to make the dressing. Last, shredded green papaya, and sometimes other veggies (especially tomatoes) are added and lightly mushed into the dressing.

Everyone here loved my version, and I enjoyed making it.  I definitely wouldn't serve this as a main course, but it goes well with a lot of other favorites around here - especially crab cakes or salmon croquets.Though it's not freezeable, it comes together in about 10 minutes from start to finish.

So, here we are so far...hopefully, the rest of this summer food challenge will be as delicious as the start!















Wednesday, May 24, 2017

State of the Homeschool

So...here we are, at the end of Eli's Kindergarten year, and the beginning of Itty Bitty's two year old year.

On the whole, even though I thought we would be homeschooling full time this year, public Kindergarten was good for Eli. His school is incredibly unique, and all of the adults do an amazing job trying to meet his needs. He's really matured a lot, and it forced us to really deal with his sensory issues in a new way.  His six months in OT this year were also very well worth it!  While he still has some problems, he has really begun developing healthier coping skills.  Though he still struggles somewhat with friendships and with understanding social norms, and he is very sensitive to criticism and teasing, he's made amazing progress.  Our plan is to go back to this school in the fall for his first grade year; I recently even found out who his first grade teachers will be : ).

Preschool has also been really good for Itty Bitty. His teachers have challenged him in ways that I wouldn't have thought of on my own, and it's resulted in a lot of new skills!  It's also great for him to hear all of the other children talking/trying to talk - it's helping him to try more to speak.  He's really learned better self-feeding skills (including improving his use of spoons/forks and CUPS), and he's already trying to "read" books (by turning pages and babbling to us) and trying to count (he approximates the words one, two, three, and sometimes four). He still receives therapy services in three areas, with the hope of dropping a service in June.

So, with the satisfaction that we have with public school/day care, it may seem unusual to some that I still write homeschool posts. Eli, though, still has an insatiable desire to learn - and he's so far ahead of grade level in so many areas that we are definitely still 'afterschooling' (as well as sending appropriate work to school) to meet his needs. Itty Bitty's needs/delays at this age are still so significant, we have to work with him extensively at home to help him overcome his rough start in life.  I'm also a big believer in Montessori-ing everything I can at home, as I believe it's the best way to help little ones learn and become more self reliant.

Because our homeschooling/afterschooling year is definitely year-round, I thought I'd just go ahead and share where we are today, and our plans for summer. During the school year, for Eli, we tend to do math, reading, writing and music 3-4 days per week, science and social studies at least once per week. For Itty Bitty, we do therapy exercises every day, and have begun incorporating several practical life activities a few times per week.  Most of the 'work' I'm planning to do with Itty Bitty is more of a playful introduction; at his age, mastery would be great, but isn't expected : ).

Math:
Eli is several years ahead of his age group. This school year, his teacher and I have been supplementing/adapting his work to meet his needs throughout the year. In math, he functions around a 3rd-4th grade level, with exceptional logical reasoning skills.  He completed the gifted second grade problem-solving course from Noetic Learning (Challenge Math) this spring with a 98%. He's currently working through Art of Problem Solving's "Beast Academy" books for grade 3; and we should be finishing book 3A in mid-June and will continue into book 3B.  We paused on Life of Fred for a little while, as he needed time to practice some skills before he continued in the series. We will resume with Life of Fred 'Farming' and the 'Making Friends with Numbers' series next week.

Itty Bitty is just beginning some math concepts that we are going to work on this summer. He's learning to count by rote, and we're trying to teach him to sort objects by an attribute (like color or shape) and learn to follow daily routines. In addition to quick, simple Montessori trays, we will be using iPad/Kindle apps like "Bugs and Buttons" and "Starfall".

Reading:
For the most part, with reading, we are simply encouraging Eli to read a variety of books. We started out with a reading challenge this semester, but changed it midway, when it really wasn't meeting our needs (more about this later). In a few weeks, our library will begin its summer reading program, which requires children to read 24 books. Every other year that we've done this, I've required Eli to stay in the ballpark of his Lexile range. This year, I've simply told him that he needs to make reasonable choices and that I'd like him to read at least 6 nonfiction books. His personal goal is to read the first Harry Potter book : ).  I'm assuming that I'll need to suggest some books to get him going...but he's already told me several books that he's picked out :)!

For literacy for Itty Bitty, we are doing the library's summer read-aloud program (which also requires 24 books). I've already selected most of the books we will read together - most of which were favorites of Eli at this age!  We will begin to work on learning lowercase letter sounds and shapes, too.

Writing:
We are slowly working through Cursive Logic for writing, and Eli LOVES it; he only has one more section left, and takes a lot of pride in his work. I'm going to order him the "Art of Cursive Logic" for summer, along with a new set of felt tip markers.  We are also going to practice writing in cursive for some of our copy work.

Itty Bitty has recently learned to scribble!  This is a skill we've been waiting on, and I'm excited. For writing, we're going to practice using a variety of tools to scribble and color, so that he can strengthen those fine motor skills! I'm also going to try to find a few fine motor skill-based Montessori activities that he really enjoys, so that we can encourage him.

Music:
Eli will continue working on piano and will probably continue violin. We took a complete, month-long break from violin while we've been busy. We are going to start back next week, as life slows back down a little. At this point, he is still (a year later) learning from Suzuki book 1 for violin, and it's slow going because we are both beginners. I'm on the lookout for quality supplementary material for young violinists!  Piano is going extremely well, and Eli continues to make huge strides in learning. We are currently using a mixture of Faber's Piano Adventures 2A (theory, lesson, and sightreading), a chord/scale book, and Alfred's combined level 2/3.  We also have a variety of easy sheet music, and a couple of level 2 supplementary books. Eli's interest in piano has been seriously spurred on by his success at playing prelude in church; he's working on another song to present, as well.

Itty Bitty can repeat/hum many of the songs Eli plays on piano. We're going to continue working with him on singing/learning songs with words through frequent use of repetitive songs. We also have his xylophone and drum that he can use when he needs to/wants to.

Science:
I picked up a copy of a book called "Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers " that is an amazing resource for science at home. We're going to do some inquiry based science at home, but we're also going to work in a few programs from local parks and our zoo, so that we have some field trips :). We are also going to re-read Pre-Biology Level 1and Pre-Chemistry Level 1 from Dr. Rebecca Keller to go along with everything else.

Itty Bitty will get to watch the experiments we do and participate as much as he is developmentally able. We will do some pictorial nature scavenger hunts with him, to help him learn to match and classify simple items (like sticks, pine cones, leaves).  Right now, Itty Bitty is really into things that fall, can be thrown, or that roll, and he's constantly experimenting with his racecar track to see what he can roll down it!

History/Social Studies: In history, I think we are going to rely heavily on trade books and field trips (including one to our state's history center!) for both kids. Our state parks have a robust history programs that I think would be a good fit for us. However, I've not really seen a gifted history program that I think Eli would really love. I'm open to suggestions here!  I'm thinking of working a little on Native American history, since that's what our state parks focus on.

Art: I actually plan on having an art project almost daily, which is a change for us. Eli is now really into painting and making things, and I've found a lot of good resources for ideas online. I also found an interesting book on painting with acrylics that, if it works out, I'll share some of our projects here : ). Itty Bitty is now enjoying coloring/scribbling, painting, and experimenting with different materials.  I'm hoping to teach him felt/paper weaving (though I'm wondering if he might not be ready for it), simple scissor use, and using stickers.

Foreign Language:  Eli has shown HUGE interest in learning other languages. He's definitely interested in learning Korean and Japanese.  We've found a couple websites/materials to help us get started with Japanese, and I've had several resources in Korean, just waiting for him to be ready for them.  He's mildly interested in Spanish, too, but it's so often taught in schools, that I think it's more important to work on the other two.

Itty Bitty is still learning to speak, though he definitely understands the Korean words I use with him. I plan on trying to use more Korean vocabulary with him, but most of his work in language will be working on his speech exercises and learning how to speak, as he has some significant delays in this area.

Practical Life: As always, I try to take summer time (as well as a couple weeks in the winter) to rearrange the boys' spaces to make them reflect where the kids are developmentally and what they want to learn.  For Eli, the biggest changes will likely be in the kitchen. I'm planning on having him work a lot more on learning cooking and am going to rearrange the kitchen a little to help him out.

This is the bulk of where Itty Bitty's work will be. Itty Bitty is working on self-feeding with a spoon, getting dressed, and potty training. He loves to 'help' by pretending to sweep and vacuum, and he loves water play (including pouring). He has the ability now to start learning to scramble eggs with supervision, to help remove clothes from the dryer, to match socks, and to do quite a number of other pretty cool things.

This is all in addition to a REALLY busy swim schedule. Since Eli made both the year-round and the summer swim teams at our local pool, he has 3-4 practices a week! Overall, it's been very beneficial to him, and helps him to stay calmer and happier. He's really learning a lot of positive character traits, and I think he often feels like it gives him an additional sense of identity to be part of a team.  His first actual meet is soon!  Itty Bitty will also be learning some swimming this summer, as we will be doing a parent/child class.  We're hoping it helps him loosen tight muscles, learn to enjoy the water, and coordinate better. I really feel that this is one of the things that made such a difference last year. I already have his swim diapers ready!














Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bear

Our sweet, loyal, loving Shepard mix, Bear, died Monday night. 

I wanted to take some time to write about him, since I think I've barely mentioned any of our pets on the blog.

We got Bear (and his brother, Rocky), 16 years ago when they were tiny puppies. They were born near P's aunt's house, in a ravine off the side of the road. The mother's owner had moved to a new house and left her behind. I was in college at the time, and was so excited to have a canine companion. P's parents volunteered to let us keep the dogs at their house, until I got a place of my own.  Bear and Rocky spent their time racing around the pasture, swimming in the pond, chasing horses and trying to catch birds. Bear was a remarkable bird hunter...he's lie in the pasture quietly, and when birds would swoop down on him periodically to snatch his hair for their nests, he'd catch them in one strike (and then would de-feather and eat them...blech).  When P and I got married and got our own home, Bear, Rocky (and Spike, our cat) came with us. When we went on vacations, we would often plan them with specifically to include the dogs (Spike didn't care for travel).  We went camping/hiking often, to lots of different places - even several different states. Once, we took them to the beach, where they were able to run and play.

Although Rocky and I occasionally did agility and other forms of doggie fun, Bear was never really into that. He loved going for walks/hikes, but he was almost always very calm. He tried to analyze or figure things out before acting almost all the time, and was very deliberate. He was gentle, very intelligent, and very, very patient. The only problem we ever had in Bear's youth was his tendency to chase cats, though he eventually stopped.

Until a few months ago, he was very healthy. At a very recent visit, his vet proclaimed that his bloodwork was perfect for his age. But, Bear had a health crisis in March, which resulted in him refusing food and losing a dramatic amount of weight. We had several trips to our vet (and a trip to the emergency vet), trying to help him. Recently, he'd begun eating again, had gained back two pounds, and seemed to be feeling better. He wasn't running around as much, but was interested in life and happy.

Monday night, when we went to feed the dogs, he didn't come in. P tried to get him to get up and come in the house, to no avail. I went to try, and realized that it wasn't that he didn't WANT to get up...he couldn't. Examining him further, I realized that he could no longer feel his back legs at all. We took him to the emergency vet, and heard the news that he'd likely had some type of stroke, and wouldn't survive much longer.

I stayed with my Bear, who, with the vet's help, quietly slipped from life in the middle of the night in my arms. While I know that 16 years is a long life for a bigger dog, I don't think he was ready...and I know I sure wasn't.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Update: Eli is SIX!


I haven’t meant to be away for so long! I had a couple posts that I started and never finished, so let’s catch up with an Eli update.

For starters, Eli is now SIX!  When did *that* happen?  How is he so big??  I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but it feels like he’s really a big kid now, instead of a tiny preschooler/Kindergartener. Some of that has to do with actual, physical growth – he’s blown through several clothing sizes recently. I bought him some new shorts for summer a couple weeks ago in a size 4…only to turn around yesterday and realize he’s outgrown almost all of them. This is the same child who wore a size 2T in shorts last year. Thankfully, I got a good deal on them and can hold onto them for when Itty Bitty is older.  The swim trunks from his aunt that looked HUGE on his birthday - they came down almost to his ankles and were too big in the waist (even with a drawstring!) - now fit well enough for him to wear to swim team practice. 

Eli’s also gone through some huge mental and emotional leaps lately. He’s settling down a lot, and is showing much better control/understanding of his sensory issues. We still have once or twice a day issues, but we’re nowhere near the constant struggles he was having. At this point, we’re planning to stop his OT to see how he does without the extra support.  We’ve gone from getting negative behavior reports from school almost daily to only having one negative report in the last 4 weeks. The people at his school have remained wonderful allies and are very supportive of him – and I think he’s starting to understand and accept the help he’s being offered. 

One of the deals that I had with Eli was that if he had two solid weeks of good reports from school, that I would let him try out for our local swim team, which had tryouts through the month of March. Since he met his goal, I took him to try out for the team…and he made it! He can only manage the full 25 meters using backstroke, but he’s learning a lot and is thriving. He started with once weekly practice, and is now up to three times weekly (which turns in the four times weekly in late May, when meets start). 
Though I’d planned on letting him continue in formal piano/violin lessons, things were simply not working out. Eli still very much wants to play both, but he had gotten to the point where simply picking up his violin would cause him to burst into tears, and he really started to get deeply frustrated with his piano lessons. His self –confidence was coming apart at the seams, and we were accomplishing less by continuing than we would by quitting.  Lessons were punctuated by his frequent tantrums/outbursts and everyone's frustation. So…we stopped. He had officially been in piano lessons for 14 months and violin lessons for almost 8 months when we stopped. I play piano well enough to continue teaching him, and we are both enjoying this (so far). He's super excited about it right now, as he recently played for a prelude to service at church (which went really well). One benefit of me teaching him is that when he masters a song in just a couple of days, he doesn’t have to wait to continue learning/moving forward; the other (biggest) benefit is that he gets to pick some of his own music, so he's playing songs that he enjoys. In addition, I was able to choose a different set of piano books that suit his ability levels very well. If/when he exhausts my abilities, I’ll once again send him to someone more qualified than me J. Violin is a bit different, as I am NOT a violinist. BUT - we both learned enough in his 8 months of lessons for him to continue to practice what he knows and to keep moving forward.  In the meantime, I found a violin in my size so that I can learn along with him and try to keep up.

Academically speaking, Eli continues to excel. Since two, Eli has always been a surprisingly capable reader. His reading has continued to develop at an amazing rate, and he can devour easy chapter books in an hour or two.  He's been known to walk down the school hallway with his nose in a book, taking small steps so as not to run into anything, LOL.  I don't think I started doing this until at least 5th grade!  Right now, he loving Captain Underpants (Pilkey), the Dragon Masters series (West), the Bad Guys (Blabey), Bad Kitty (Bruel) and Wayside School (Sachar). I was very proud of him for reading Captain Underpants and passing the AR test for the book.  We've just started talking about summer reading, and Eli has it in his sights to read the first Harry Potter book. 

Eli is also doing great in math. This spring, he was enrolled in an online math class for gifted second graders - even though he's only in Kindergarten - and he recently completed it with a 98% average. While I did check his homework before he turned it in, he completed the work himself and learned a LOT. We are very seriously considering having him complete a follow up course this summer, but I'm hemming and hawing about it. I've had him beginning to work through the "Beast Academy" series from AOPS, but this has been really hit-and-miss for us. The problems in this series all seem to be either really difficult for Eli or WAY too easy.

In other random Eli news:
 - Eli started horseback riding lessons and LOVES it. He's really progressing quickly, and I'm kind of hoping he wants to do a summer day camp with the farm :).
 - Eli has asked to join 4H, but with no time in the day, it will have to wait until fall. This might also depend on whether he ends up trying out for the year-round swim team, instead of just the summer team.
- Eli is really enjoying painting and artwork lately. One of his teachers at school has had a huge impact on his art and has really given him an appreciation for it.
- He is still very heavily into the Legos/Star Wars everything!  He's a bit sad that we didn't let him see Rogue One (I thought it was a little too much for him).
- He still enjoys sleeping in the top bunk of his bunk bed. I think he secretly enjoys having Itty Bitty in the room with him, though he sometimes complains about Itty's snoring!
- He's been BEGGING to go fishing soon - he's quite the fisherman and it's one of his favorite things to do with Grandpa.


As we wind down to the end of the school year, I should have a bit more time to do some catching up here!




Sunday, February 12, 2017

P52 Weeks 3 and 4

I've been doing a pretty good job keeping up with Project 52, and getting at least one picture a week that I like. However, my computer is no longer reading SD cards, so getting them uploaded is a beast.

Still, here are the moments from weeks 3 and 4, with weeks 5 and 6 to come soon!

Coffee shop playground...Itty Bitty getting mischievous!










Violin practice








Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Officially 2E

Oppositional. Obsessive. Impulsive. Frustrated. Gifted. 2E.

Poor Eli is racking up a LOT of adjectives right now. 2E says a lot! If you're not familiar, it is used to describe a child who is "twice exceptional"...in other words, a child who is simultaneously gifted and has a diagnosis of a problem that interferes with learning...in Eli's case, a sensory processing problem. Suffice it to say that I've been spending a lot of time at his school lately, in conferences. I've had more than three hours of conferences this week alone.

I'm not exactly surprised by everything that's happened. The issues we are having are EXACTLY why I didn't initially plan/want to send Eli to public school....but even still, I think the ultimate decision to send him has been correct. Eli's always had some difficulties managing his behavior in group settings, beyond what is typical for his age...and I think participating in school may be the best way for him to learn to manage his behavior.  Eli actually really wanted to go to Kindergarten (and deep down, I think he still wants to!)...and I'm so grateful for such a wonderful school that is really trying to meet his needs.  I think it also really helps him to continually get the same reinforcing messages from many adults in his life, rather than just from his parents and grandparents.

This fall, when Eli's behavioral issues were escalating, like they tend to do in late September/early October, we felt as though he needed help beyond what we were providing at home and school. So, that's when we went for an evaluation...and came out with a diagnosis and information on sensory problems. Eli started occupational therapy shortly afterward, and it's making a big difference for him. Initially, his issues at school improved, and when Sunny left, the issues at school improved even more (though issues at home escalated somewhat).

Two weeks back at school, after Christmas break, his behavior was back to where we were in this fall, and that's where we are today...though if you ask me, I actually think his behavior may be actually worsening over time. At this point, we believe that many of Eli's negative behaviors are driven by his sensory issues and anxiety, though there are definitely some I don't understand (such as WHY he would lie about taking an AR test that he earned a 90% on). While pulling him out of school completely to go full-force in homeschool has been considered, I'm afraid that it would give him a sense of failure for not even completing his Kindergarten year. I also feel like his best chance at doing well in elementary school is at his current school...they've been very supportive and are invested in him doing well.

Our current plan to help Eli is multi-faceted. We are going to continue "afterschooling" because it gives him a chance to really exercise his brain...and I'm going to start sending work to school with him, in an effort to support his teacher. At this point, according to the testing reports sent home by the school, Eli's abilities are equivalent to students in the end of third grade...but this is also where the test stopped (the test he was given was electronic, and stops testing when the student demonstrates achievement that is 3 grade levels ahead of what he is enrolled in). Testing to officially enter the school's gifted program hasn't been provided yet, but will be soon - and the gifted coordinator at the school level is already providing some support in the classroom. In the meantime, he's being encouraged to pursue independent projects, independent reading, and we enrolled him in an online course for gifted second graders.

We are also going to work with his school to develop a 504 plan, so that the accommodations that he has for his sensory needs (the ones that are working) will be documented and continued, and so that he can be evaluated by the school's OT, which will give him another layer of support. I've also asked that he not be given repeated warnings when his behavior is inappropriate...instead I've asked that whomever he is with either give him an immediate consequence or a sensory break. We're also working with his teacher to look for patterns in his behavior, so that we can better intervene; his principal is already beginning to consider the best classroom for him next year.

At this point, we're going to also wait-and-see how he does, before pursuing any further evaluations. Eli is still begging to be homeschooled full time, and told me this morning (when I said "Good Morning") that "It isn't a good morning when I have to go to school."

I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried about him.









Sunday, January 15, 2017

Adoption Talk Link Up: 2017 Intro

Our family has been through a lot of changes in the last year. Many years ago, my husband, P and I started the adoption process, and a couple years later, brought home our first child, Eli, from Korea.  More on this here. When Eli was almost four, we decided that it was time to consider adoption again. This time, though, P and I both felt drawn to consider foster care adoption in our state, and committed to becoming a foster family for a year.  Within a very few months of starting the process, we had our first foster child, W. Less than two months later W's arrival, we received a call about a newborn baby...and received Itty Bitty. In the first twelve months of being a foster family, we had FIVE foster children (no more than two at a time!). At the end of the year, we decided to re-certify for a second year, as we still had Scooter and Itty Bitty, and we were still going strong.  We've now officially been a foster family for 23 months. This year, we will re-certify again, but only because Itty Bitty is still a member of the foster care system; we do not have plans to foster another child until Itty Bitty is older.  Though I cannot yet talk openly and candidly about all that has transpired in Itty Bitty's case, we are still hoping, praying, and expecting to be able to adopt him : ).





No Bohns About It

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Project 52: Week 2

It was a week where it felt like almost ALL of my pictures came out blurry.  Still, this was one of my favorites.  This was one of Itty Bitty's favorite books this week :).


Weekly-Wrap Up: After Schooling

And here we begin, re-joining the weekly wrap-up :). Although we do utilize public school/daycare for our boys, they are not getting everything they need during the day. Eli is definitely underchallenged, and continues to come up with new ways to make mischief. Itty Bitty needs a little extra encouragement and support. I am a HUGE believer in the Montessori method, and believe in child-led learning...and that learning doesn't stop in school.

So what happened this week?

Even with beginning after schooling, the week was somewhat stressful for the adults, with too many items on our agenda.

Hence, there was probably too much of this:


Still, he did manage to practice violin and piano at least twice this week, although his music theory work is still untouched...I'm going to have to get after him a little bit tomorrow :). I tried to get a picture of him practicing, but all of them were so blurry, I didn't bother to use them.

Eli has being showing a lot of interest in cursive writing lately, so he chose to spend some time practicing.



We also began working on grade 2 subjects on IXL, and Eli completed at least one lesson in each of the four content areas this week.  Eli has also shown a renewed interest in all things Korean, and asked if we would reload Rosetta Stone onto his ancient laptop. He surprised himself with how successful he was, and was thrilled that the program had him speaking a few words within about five minutes. He really doesn't understand yet WHAT he said...but it's a start.  He's shown interest in Duolingo for Spanish, too, so I may give him a chance to start this week, just to see what he can do.



Eli continued working on his reading challenge. As of now, he's in the middle of reading "Night of the Ninjas" by Mary Pope Osbourne (a Magic Treehouse book, this will count as his mystery) and he began reading "Diary of a Minecraft Zombie Part 1"by "Zack Zombie", which counts as the first book in a series.

Itty Bitty is doing great with some of the new things we've been working on; he loves putting his laundry (and everything else) in the laundry basket, and really enjoys washing his hands. We focused on working on a lot of his occupational and speech therapy goals this week. He is absolutely using the word "out" frequently, consistently, and with meaning. He is definitely trying to communicate more :), both in sign language and his own toddler-ease babble. We worked on picking up large-knob puzzle pieces and putting them back in place (OUT is easy for him, IN is not). We are working on how use use various types of cups and straws, and with the encouragement of his speech teacher, we've begun NOT thickening small amounts of water for him to practice swallowing thin liquids. We also worked on stacking blocks, playing his apps on Kindle (especially read aloud books on Reading Rainbow) and playing airplanes/cars.

The books we read with Itty Bitty this week include the "Pout-Pout Fish" by Deborah Diesen and "Noisy Dinosaurs".




Weekly Wrap-Up

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge!

So, with the beginning of the new year, we are back to do partial homeschooling (what some would call after schooling) with the boys. I feel like, after taking 2016 off, that we really need to get back to it...Eli benefits so much from after schooling when we do it, and Itty Bitty is now at an age where he will, too. I missed the Weekly Wrap-Up with Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers, but will hopefully be ready for them next week!

Itty Bitty is just now old enough to handle practical life and sensorial activities (Montessori style), and we will be pursuing those, as well as singing songs, working through his therapy activities, and reading lots of books together.  This week, the things we worked on include putting dirty clothes into the laundry (he's VERY good at this 😊), helping Eli bring me clean clothes from the dryer to fold (he mostly tried to put the clean clothes in the hamper), using utensils to eat (this is a major work in progress), telling the dogs "out!", and peeling bananas that I start for him.  We read "Click Clack, Ho Ho Ho" by Doreen Cronin, "I Want My Hat Back" by Jon Klassen, and "The Little Duck" by Judy Dunn.  We've been singing the Daniel Tiger theme song, the Number/Letter of the Day Song (Sesame Street), and the Christmas version of the "Hallelujah" song (not sure who wrote this...it's not Leonard Cohen's version?), which Itty Bitty attempted to sing a bit this morning. Itty Bitty LOVES all things music and sometimes surprises us with his preferences.

Eli is in public school Kindergarten. Even though his teacher really does try to give him challenging, individualized work, it's really difficult for her to do without relying on computers programs or iPad apps. His current reading level is about mid-3rd grade, according to the school's assessments, and his mathematical knowledge is a hodgepodge mixture of second, third, and fourth grade arithmetic. He is reading early chapter books competently, and has understanding of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. For homeschool activities for math, we are going to use a combination of materials, including Art of Problem Solving's Beast Academy, Life of Fred and IXL. For reading, Eli actually came to me and asked if he could do a reading challenge similar to the ones we complete in the summer...and I'm all for it!  After much discussion - in which I suggested 12 books, and Eli begged to do 20 - we settled on an outline of 16 books, selected by the guidelines below:

1. A book he selects because of its pictures
2. A biography
3.  A non-fiction book
4. A book of the Bible (from his Children's Bible)
5. A book written at least 100 years ago
6. A graphic novel
7. A book suggested by his parents
8. A book about a different culture
9. A book that is the first in a series
10. A book published last year
11. A mystery book
12. A science fiction or fantasy book
13. A book published the year he was born
14. A book that teaches a skill
15. A book that won an award
16. A book with a non-traditional point of view

Eli has until the end of May (when summer reading programs begin in our area) to complete this challenge, and he has to read all books independently (with one possible exception...the sci fi/fantasy book he wants to read may require a little support). I'm reading/re-reading the books too, so that I can question him about each and check that he understands what he's read. So far, he's selected several titles, with help, for his reading project - and he's very excited about some of them.  We also set a reward for finishing this project with fidelity - and ice cream from our local parlor was his special request!

Soon, we will begin incorporating more science and social studies/history...and hopefully, a little bit of Korean or Japanese language, practical life, and fine arts.  Eli already takes piano and violin lessons, too, in addition to occupational therapy, so we've a heavy schedule...in other words, we're going to take it all one step at a time and one activity at a time : ).

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Project 52: Week 1

I've decided to try to do a Project 52 challenge to help improve my photography and to make sure I'm taking the time to really take pictures of the boys as they grow.  It's still a little tricky because Itty Bitty's adoption isn't finalized...so I cannot show pictures of his face.  Also, you'll notice (as I've said once before) that "Itty Bitty" is no longer a fitting blog name for him...he's gotten so BIG!! He's also always in motion...something I really wondered if I'd be able to say about him when he was a fairly immobile infant. I really wanted to get a picture of them in front of the fireplace in their matching PJs that Aunt Jeanette gave them for Christmas, but while waiting on Eli, Itty Bitty had climbed up on the couch and just discovered that it was bouncy. I kinda let it go for a minute so that Eli could join him so that I could get a picture : ).