Monday, September 28, 2009

Fall Colors Driving Tour

I wanted to share with my readers some of the beautiful photos that we took as part of a drive that we went on this weekend to take in some of the beautiful colors of autumn. We couldn't have asked for a nicer day. Temperatures in Denver hovered around 80 degrees, the sun was shining and the sky was a brilliant blue.

We headed out from our house and decided to follow Highway 74 from Evergreen to Morrison, Colorado. Evergreen's name really does suit it as the roads are lined with lots and lots of evergreen trees. While pretty in it's own right, wasn't exactly the range of colors that we were hoping for.

We continued our drive along Highway 74 until we reached the quaint town of Kittredge and spotted a road-side park. We decided that the park looked the perfect spot for a picnic. We unloaded our car and spread out our blanket to feast on chicken salad, croissants, grapes, chips and peanut butter cookies. The girls had fun playing on the playground structures and chasing their daddy around the park.

I wandered on my own, to get some nature shots, and discovered that a path ran behind the park and down to a lazy little river. I grabbed the family and we all had fun dipping our toes (well, Cara fell down at one point) in the cool water.

We got to talking to other families in the park and discovered that we had just passed a road that promised much more spectacular fall colors--Squall Pass which leads up to Echo Lake and Mt. Evans (a 14,000+ foot peak, able to be reached by car). We decided to alter our course and headed up Squall Pass Road, just outside of Evergreen. The locals were right and the scenery along the way was absolutely breathtaking. We really do live in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. I pulled over numerous time just to appreciate the splendor.

At one point in our journey, I pulled over to get some shots of the mountains as well as Denver's skyline from way 5,000+ feet above, and we found snow. That, of course, led to an impromptu snowball fight. How many kids can say that they got to play in real snow in September? We had a blast even if we did come away with some cold fingertips!

We ended our trip with a stop at Echo Lake (at an amazing 10,600 ft) before heading down into Idaho Springs. We had a wonderful, relaxing and very simple day--something that we need to do more of!

You can click here to see an album of the pictures taken on our tour.

My Favorite Time of Year!

Fall is, by far, my most favorite time of the year.

I love the crispness in the air, the cool nights made for curling up under blankets and sipping cocoa.

I love the beautiful contrast between brilliant blue skies and the color of autumn leaves.

I love the colors of fall, the reds, oranges, deep yellows and browns. So very comforting.

I love how fall seems to foster a sense of family togetherness. Hunting for the perfect pumpkin, getting lost in a corn maze, playing in piles of leaves.

I love the foods of fall--apples, cider, donuts, pumpkins and the familiar comfort foods like soups, roasts and casseroles.

I love wearing layers of soft clothes that make me feel warm and safe.

Fall is the most wonderful time of year!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Opposite ends of the spectrum

I have discovered that a great deal of the time spent parenting is spent being an advocate for one's children. While we fight for Cara's IEP to be honored, on one end of the spectrum, we push Caitlin's school and teachers to challenge her academically, on the other.

We've always known, since Caitlin uttered her first words and drew her first scribble, that she was academically advanced. This is the child who knew her ABC's and could count to 50 by the time she was 2. She asks to do math, workbooks and to read chapter books. The questions that she asks us lead us to a Google search in the quest for answers. Her knowledge base and vocabulary are just astounding. Just the other day, she was telling me how people get different skin colors and freckles.

It has been a challenge, faced by her teachers and ourselves, as parents, to keep up with her quest and hunger for knowledge. Her Kindergarten teacher recognized Caitlin's enthusiasm and met it by advancing her in both reading and math throughout the school year. By the end of the school year, Caitlin was doing 2nd semester 1st grade math with ease and reading chapter books fluently. Her standardized test scores showed that she was at the level of the average 3rd grader in most subject areas. We were blown away and so very proud!

Over the summer, instead of dreaming away her days, Caitlin was doing a Summer Bridge workbook and learning more and more interesting facts as we explored the area where we lived. We checked out about 100 books a month from the library and discovered more wonderful learning websites. Her quest for knowledge did not ebb over the summer. In fact, she went into 1st grade knowing more than she did at the end of Kindergarten, which according to her 1st grade teacher, is very rare.

So, imagine, if you will, how bored our poor child must have been when, at the start of first grade, she found herself reviewing the very basics of mathematics and reading. She was coming home from school every day saying how bored she was and even pretended to be sick on a few occasions to escape the boredom. Now, I want to say, that I know that Caitlin is just one of 28 students in the class and that her teacher has to figure out, after a summer away, where each student in the class was, academically. That said, I had a talk with her wonderful teacher (Mr. H, we'll call him) and we agreed to work together to keep Caitlin interested and challenged while he got her classmates up to par.

Mr. H has since divided the class into groups based on their academic ability and Caitlin is in a group with like-minded peers. Within the group, she is able to work at her own pace using the current math book and activities. She is soon to start the second half of the 1B math workbook that she started on in Kindergarten. At home, we are working on carrying and borrowing, addition and subtraction with money, basic multiplication and story problems.

I'm not going to lie, at one point, we were considering trying to find a school better equipped to handle Caitlin's educational needs. I went and toured 4 different schools only to learn that they are all full for this school year. Coming to terms with the fact that we needed to make the best out of the situation at her current school (and the fact that Caitlin genuinely liked her school, teacher and peers), I approached her principal, who was not very supportive, and asked me what exactly I wanted her to do. Did I want her to promote Caitlin to the 2nd grade? No, what I wanted the school to do was to teach my child at a level which best fits her needs, within her current classroom. My argument being that each child learns at their own pace.

Feeling a bit defeated, I went back to her teacher. I should have approached Mr. H right from the get-go as I found him to be a very wonderful and caring teacher. He had noticed, in just a few weeks of school and very little one-on-one time, that Caitlin soared above most of her peers. He pledged to help me keep her interested and together, we formulated a game plan. It was full steam ahead!

In the short bit of time that has passed since the changes have been made, Caitlin has come home mostly happy after school, enjoys and is even challenged by, her school work and is looking forward to starting a new math book soon as well as moving up to another reading level (she is currently on Level I--the levels start at A and go up. Mos of her peers are at around level D or E--but feels that it's too easy!). I guess I've fostered my love of books onto my children! It is so refreshing to know that a little bit of advocacy has paid off in big dividends.

I have learned that having a positive relationship with your child's teacher is the best tool you can have for making sure that your child is getting the most out of his/her education. It is so helpful when you have your child's teacher on your side, working to do what is in the best interest of your child. I am very blessed, thus far, that Caitlin has had teachers who really do want her to succeed and are willing to go "outside of the box" for that to happen. I have no doubt, that with Mr. H's support, Caitlin will have a great year in 1st grade and continue to learn new things.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Parent Day @ Preschool

Cara's preschool hosted a Parent Day a little while ago. It's a chance for parents to come into the classroom during class hours and see their child's daily routine.

It was great fun to watch Cara participate in class and I was just amazed and how much progress she's made and the things that she's learned. She isn't totally up to par with her classmates, but it's still so amazing to think about how far she's come.

Here is a glimpse at a typical day in Cara's class:

This is the routine chart, so that the students know what they are doing next.

Here, Cara is waiting for her teacher to ask who's hand print she's holding. Each child has a hand print with their name on it that they put on the felt board as they come in each morning. I'm am proud to report that Cara can pick out and recognize her own name!

Next, her class sang some songs for us. Cara really got into several of them and it was fun to watch all the kids singing and copying their teacher. Cara's special education teacher helped her participate in a couple of the songs as well.

Every week, they write a new story, one line at a time. Her teacher picks a different student to contribute to each part of the story. It's funny to see what the kids say for the next line. I bet they've written some wacky, off-the-wall stories! They also work on vocabulary as new words are introduced into the story.

At the end of the day, we did a project to coincide with the theme of the month, which is "Our bodies, ourselves". The parents traced their kiddos and then helped them color their bodies to match themselves. We made a flat Cara! It is now hanging in her room. We had fun coloring though Cara was much more interested in what everyone else was doing! I got to flex my (very small) creative muscles.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

What I've Learned

I wanted to share some wisdom, some things that I've learned in the past two years since Cara's diagnosis. These things I've learned as I walk down the road of being a parent to a child with special needs--

You will...
**always wonder if you are doing enough for your child and second-guess yourself. Would that test have made a difference? Should we have gone with that doctor?
**be your child's biggest advocate and cheerleader.
**appreciate the small stuff. Every little thing that your child learns to do will seem Earth-scattering. You will also feel guilty for not thinking that your older child's milestones were as important. You will celebrate each of these accomplishments with pomp and circumstance.
**redefine normal. Your special needs child will have their own definition of what is normal and you will embrace it.
**discover a new meaning to unconditional love. Your child will remind you daily of what this means.
**learn new ways of seeing things through the eyes of your special needs child.
**live in constant fear of the unknown, of your child getting sick.
**learn that no one knows a child like its parents and you will learn to trust your instincts.
**it does take a village to raise a child and that it is even more crucial when raising a child with special needs. You need a very special team of people to help care for your child and help him or her reach her potential. Your team will be made up of people that you never thought you'd have the privilege of sharing your parenting journey with but now can't imagine not having by your side.
**be prepared to learn a whole new language called medical jargon and to become almost an expert on your child (all his or her diagnosis or conditions). You will be throwing out medical terminology without even thinking and expecting others to know what you're talking about.
**discover every child is unique and that what works for one child doesn't necessarily work for another. This means that you will learn not to compare your child to others and that you will get creative with how you teach things to your special needs child.
**get frustrated, no matter how patient you are or how much you love your child. When we can't control something, we tend to get frustrated, it's natural and it's okay!
**learn so much more than you ever imagined you could from someone so young.
**feel your heart swell with a love like no other.

Talking Politics & Health Care

With all of the press and media coverage surrounding President Obama's plan for health care reform, I felt compelled to weigh in with my two cents. I will spare you all of the details as I'm sure many of you know of our plight but here are my feelings, as raw as they can be.

Over the past few years, we have had various health insurance providers from a private, specifically negotiated plan to a individually purchased policy. We went from having no medical debt to having debt equal to a year in a public higher education institution. In my eyes, this has happened because hospitals are willing to charge not only for the services provided for the doctor but for the use of the hospital and everything in it. I mean, it is really necessary to charge me $12 for a tube of diaper rash cream and then $63K for a procedure that lasted a whole 30 minutes(yes, we're talking about a shunt surgery here)?

That's not to say that I'm not grateful for the quality care that both myself and my family have received, but must it cost us so dearly?! Should a husband have to work 80+ hours a week? Should a family have to chose between eating or paying the mounting medical bills? Should a medical service provider be able to threaten financial harm to a family despite the fact that this family is doing everything they can to pay their bill on time? Should one have to forgo medical treatment because of the financial impact it will have? Must we live in fear of the "what ifs"...the fear of getting sick?

The way I see it, this shouldn't be allowed to happen in a country that prides itself on being industrialized, modern and forward-thinking. I totally support what President Obama is attempting to do--bring affordable health care to everyone citizen of our country. To end the privatization of health care which has lead to the rising costs and lower standard of care. To make sure that every child born in our country has the equal chance to grow up healthy. To make sure that no one dies because they couldn't afford simple or life-saving treatments or procedures.

For my family, personally, this would relieve us of a huge burden. We wouldn't live in fear of Cara needed a shunt revision or Caitlin needing to visit the ER. Ben & I could get the routine care that we desperately need without having to think about how it will effect our checkbook.

I have to admit that I am a bit naive as to exactly how President Obama plans to accomplish this but from where I stand, thousands of dollars in debt and living paycheck to paycheck, I can't imagine that it could be much worse than this.

One might say that due to the financial gain received from performing top-notch procedures and developing new drugs and treatments, American medicine far out-reaches its socialist counterparts. Without the competition and reward, our standard and expectation of cutting-edge medicine will be diminished. To this, I wonder, why can't the exploration of medicine just be for the betterment of mankind, for the victory over disease, and not for the financial gains or endorsements? We need to return medicine to its core--the want, desire and need to help others. Take away the monetary attachment and replace it with a feeling of charity, pride, empathy--whatever it takes to get people motivated to do something just because, simply put, it's the right thing to do, not because they have something to gain from it.

We have seen socialized medicine work successfully in other modernized countries. Surely, we have something to learn from them. When a tourist in a foreign country can obtain medical services for less than it would cost an American citizen here in this country, something is fundamentally wrong! Granted, no one wants to have to wait 6 months to have an ultrasound or to receive dialysis but no one wants to go into foreclosure on their home because such things cost them their livelihood. We must task ourselves with the job of finding that happy medium, so that it's not just a dream, an agenda but a reality.

I truly believe that our President has our country's best interest and well-being in mind as he approaches both the Congress and the American people with his plan for health care reform. While he may not have the perfect solution, at least he is moving this country, finally, in a direction to forever change the way we think about health care. It is a right, not a privilege! I have seen what the rising cost of health care can do to a family and it has to stop! It is my sincere hope that something is done, and soon, to fix this mess. I want better for my children.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Writer's Block

I'm suffering from a severe case of writer's block. I have several potential blog posts waiting to be edited, finished and posted but I just cannot get the words to flow. That and the fact that we have been pretty busy around here, which has limited my free time which I would normally use for writing.

Hopefully, along with the changing of seasons, will come a revelation of clarity. Until then, enjoy these last few days of summer!


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