Wednesday, February 23, 2011

School Days--Part 1

We have entered that brave and scary world of public education! Fraught with frustration and anxiety, the process for special ed is nothing short of mind bending. There were days when we actually considered putting our house on the market and moving. And that's saying a lot because we LOVE where we live.

We live in a small town and this is their first year to have a special education program. Needless to say, there are still a few quirks to work out on their end. To their credit, things ended up working out for the best for everyone involved.

From the beginning it seemed like Snugglebug was being placed in the same category as most people place him. Afterall, he looks healthy. On the outside, he doesn't seem to have any problems. He's just quiet. Right? The initial evaluation did not go well to say the least. We picked up on attitudes that just didn't seem to understand why we were there in the first place. Questions seemed to be leading, and the reasons for Snugglebug's use of sign language was questioned. We left feeling completely dejected and we prepared to fight for a place in the program.

In the end, they analyzed all his records and came to a much better understanding of who Snugglebug is as a person. We were surprised to see the change in attitude.

They opted to place Snugglebug in a brand new class which had only been started a month earlier. This class is purely experimental and completely outside the box of most other special ed programs. The one goal of this new class....To teach speech to children with severe speech issues. Using the same tools as any other preschool classroom, games, music, story books, puzzles, Play Doh, crayons, etc, they encourage speech from the children. It seemed like a perfect fit for Snugglebug except for one concern. We were adamant that Snugglebug have an interpreter and that he continue his sign vocabulary. To our amazement the teach, a speech pathologist, was also a certified sign interpreter. What are the odds of that? According to someone in the know, slim to none in even the largest of school districts.

Our first ARD was far from what we expected. Everyone was amiable and cooperative. There were no surprises from either side of the table. The teacher was already aware of our desire to continue sign in addition to speech and agreed that it was necessary.

After all the horror stories we have heard, after the horrid evaluation, we were stunned to receive all the services we needed for Snugglebug. It was better than winning the lottery! Talk about your unexpected blessings, this was it. We left with a spot for Snugglebug in their new class and permission to start the very next week.

To Be Continued....

School Days--Part 2

Snugglebug's new class is three days a week in the morning. We missed the first day due to a doctor's appointment, so we started on day 2 of their week.

I stuck around on the first day to observe the class and students to make sure it would be a good fit. I had not had an opportunity to do this prior to his start date because our ARD was so close to his third birthday.

Snugglebug's anxiety of new situations is higher than the average three-year old. So, staying behind on the first day had another help him ease into things. We've been working on various techniques to help him deal with his anxiety, and I was able to show the teacher our techniques throughout the morning.

Our first technique is nothing unusual. We let Tigger, Snugglebug's best bud, go to school with him. Tigger has the great ability to break the ice and test things out for Snugglebug. Tigger's not afraid of anything. He'll jump out and try new things where Snugglebug would never dream of it. Oftentimes, Tigger can show Snugglebug just how much fun a task can be and get him to try it. Stuffed animals are just magical that way.

Our other device is the use of a microfiber cloth (the kind used to clean eye glasses). Snugglebug will become so anxious that he will actually bite and chew his fingers till they bleed. The cloth gives him an outlet for his anxiety, something similar to a worry stone, and keeps him from chewing on his fingers.

While Snugglebug was extremely anxious, the other kids were glad to see him and welcomed him with open arms, inviting him to sit next to them and even offering their chairs. It was so wonderful to see the other kids so accepting. He never said a word but automatically had new friends.

He was timid at first and didn't want to participate, but as the morning wore on he became more and more interested in the tasks at hand. Less than an hour into the class, he was giving the teacher high-fives for participating. It was at this point that I started to cry. I explained to the teacher how rare it is for him to give a high-five on the first day and that we have good friends who still don't get a high-five. It was a huge step!! I knew at that moment that he would be just fine! He was going to love his new class, his new teacher, and the other students.

I wasn't wrong!! The next morning I told Snugglebug that he had school today. On any normal day, it is a battle to get him dressed and out the door, but on day 2 of school, he was more than willing to get ready. In fact, we were ready 15 minutes early. We ended up just sitting in the school parking lot waiting for them to open the doors.

On day 2, I walked him to his classroom, where he walked right in and made himself at home. We said goodbye at the door, and I headed to the office to fill out mounds of enrollment paperwork. He never whimpered or cried. He never wondered where I was. He had a great day! His teacher even video taped him dancing with the other kids. He had a blast! Day 2 was a huge success!!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Book Review: Unto The Hills Devotional by Billy Graham

Unto the Hills contains 365 devotionals, all written by Billy Graham. First printed in 1986, the devotionals are as relevant as they were almost 25 years ago. Each devotional speaks with as much power as if Graham was speaking right to the reader about today's world.

The devotionals cover prayer, family, Christ, serving Christ, and many, many other topics that are viable to any Christian no matter where their walk may be. Whether they are a new Christian or a grounded, mature Christian the devotions will make you stop and think and ponder your own life and your own choices.

I love the fact that Graham closes each devotion with a prayer. The prayers are short yet to the point.

I can see this book laying on the night stands of many, many homes for many, many generations. This book has already proven to be as timeless today as it was 25 years ago.

I highly recommend this book for a person to buy for themselves, a new Christian, a family member or for any occasion. I give it 5-stars. This book will be on my night stand and used as a devotional for many years to come.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Crock Pot Polenta--The Impatient Italian's Polenta

The first time I tasted Polenta was at my Italian in-laws table. As a good Southern girl, I had grown up with grits as a staple, so Polenta was love at first bite. That was eight years ago, and ever since then, I had every intention of making Polenta at home. I took mental notes while watching my father-in-law make a batch of polenta. I asked about the cornmeal and the recipe. Yes, lots of notes, but it wasn't until this past Christmas Eve that I finally gave it a try.

Why did I wait so long? I'm impatient. Polenta requires patience to stand at the stove and stir and stir and stir. On Christmas Eve, I cooked Chicken and Wine (another fabulous recipe of my father-in-law) in my Crock Pot and turned my efforts to polenta. Only I didn't allot enough time and halfway through cooking on the stove top, I shoved it into an oven proof container and baked it the rest of the way. Can you say impatient!

So for the impatient Italian, I had to find a way to cook polenta in the Crock Pot. My Crock Pots are my best friends (aside from the living breathing humans who are actually my best friends). So, today with Stephanie O'dea's Chicken Cacciatore cooking in my 6-quart Crock, I was determined to make the perfect side dish to Cacciatore, polenta, in a crock pot. I succeeded!

The Impatient Italian's Polenta
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 4-6 hours
Cooling Time: 1-2 hours


4 Quart Slow Cooker
1 Reynold's Slow Cooker Liner
2 Cups of Cold Water
8 Cups of Boiling Water
3 Cups of Cornmeal
6 Tbs. Butter
4 tsp. Salt
2 4x8 bread loaf pans lined with cling wrap

Yield: 2 loaves

Line a 4-quart slow cooker with the Reynold's Slow Cooker Liner, not because I am endorsing them but because if you don't you will have a giant sticky mess that will take longer to clean than it would have to cook the polenta in the first place.

Pour the cold water in a bowl and add the cornmeal, slowly, stirring as you add each cup. Make sure the water is thoroughly incorporated with the cornmeal. It will make a large sticky ball.

Pour the boiling water in the slow cooker and add butter and salt to the hot water. Once the butter is completely melted, add the sticky cornmeal mixture one giant spoonful at a time, stirring as you add to incorporate the mixture into the hot water. Stir well and put the lid on the slow cooker. The cornmeal will sink to the bottom of the crock. That's okay.

Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours. Stir every hour or you'll have some excess water on top of the polenta, and it will be more cooked on the bottom than the top.

Once cooked and while it is still hot, spoon it out of the slow cooker and into the bread pans lined with cling wrap, making sure to press the polenta into the corners. The cling wrap will allow you to dump the polenta out easily. Let it cool in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours before serving.

Your finished product will be a lovely loaf of polenta that took 5 minutes to throw together.

The Verdict

My husband won't touch polenta, no matter how it's made, with a 10-foot poll. I think the Italian gene skips a generation, but my son ate enough for both of them. I thought the polenta tasted just like my father-in-law's. The best part is that the recipe makes way more polenta than my son and I can eat, so I sliced the loaves, wrapped them in cling wrap, and packed them in vacuum packed bags and froze them.

The polenta in the crock, post-cooking. The odd color on top is due to the fact that I did not stir it. I started the crock and walked out the door, returning 6-hours later. The discoloration doesn't hurt anything and if you don't have time to stir every hour. It won't ruin it.

This is what your crock will look like without a liner. I highly recommend them and won't cook anything in my crock's without them. I'm way too impatient to clean stuck on food!

The polenta in the bread pan looks ugly, but the top will be the bottom of the loaf. No one will ever see it. Be sure to press the polenta into the corners of the pan so your loaf is nice and even.
The finished product! Once cool, the loaf will slip out of the lined pan. You can throw the cling wrap away or use it to wrap the loaf.

Yum! All it needs is some juice from Chicken and Wine or Chicken Cacciatore!!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lessons Learned from WAY Too Many Snow Days

Here in Texas, we are snowed in for the third day in a row. Schools have been out and the children home for three days in a row! I only have one child, so I am not having a nervous breakdown, but I feel for those who have more than one child at home. We have been thoroughly entertained with lots of Sesame Street and Elmo. I've seen Elmo Goes Potty so many times in the last three days that I am wondering why my child isn't completely potty trained by now. Unfortunately, we are no closer to the potty than before, but I am one step closer to having the entire 45 minutes completely memorized.

We were only supposed to be home one day this week. Monday was the only day I had to complete a mound of paperwork and a long to-do list that included at least a half dozen phone calls. (The latter is only a big deal when you have a toddler around who the minute you are on the phone starts screaming.)

I spent the day in the house rushing around from task to task and completed 90% of my list by bedtime. I honestly didn't expect the ice to be this bad, or I wouldn't have bothered with at least half the list till the next day.

Tuesday and Wednesday were both below freezing and the annoying ice didn't go anywhere! We had therapy and doctor's appointments both days so both days I called to reschedule. I finished my to-do list, made my phone calls, and faxed mailed necessary paperwork. I was done by noon on Tuesday so then I started to clean and haven't stopped cleaning yet.

So, here we are on the fourth day for us to be home this week. I can't remember the last time we were home four days in a row. I think Snugglebug was just a little bug when we had that much time. From the time of his diagnosis till now we have been on the go from one appointment to another. I once did the math and calculated that 20 hours out of every week is spent either on the road to or from an appointment or actually at an appointment. This doesn't include weekend stuff like birthday parties and church. That's equivalent to a part-time job! And those 20 hours are the reason that I categorize myself as an on-the-go mom and not a stay-at-home mom. Yes, there is a difference in the two terms.

But, alas, the last four days I have been off from that part-time job and have been a stay-at-home mom. It has been rather interesting being at home and having no place to go. I have learned that if I were a stay-at-home mom, I would probably be bored out of my mind, in search of a time-consuming hobby, and have a very, very clean house.

Each of the last three nights we have had a delectable dinner when we would have probably eaten sandwiches or something that I could just quickly toss in the oven. I am a fan of marinading and baking and microwave vegetables. But, this week we have not had microwaved vegetables, and I have returned to some recipes of the past and tried some new recipes. I also made cookies and rice pudding!! While I love cooking, if it were not for my part-time job of being an on-the-go mom, I would have to work-out a lot more to maintain my figure.

I suppose I have learned a great lesson this week and that is that I highly appreciate having to take my son to therapy and doctor's appointments. It's a strange thing where lessons are learned!