Sunday, December 28, 2008

Post-Christmas Cabin Fever

We had a great Christmas here! Oddly enough, it was a WHITE Christmas! I think its been about 30 years since our last one! Mike thought it was great.......I thought it was WEIRD. :) The kids had a great time, we had a good time with family and..........AH........its over! My neurotic housekeeping tendency took over on Friday morning and we got the tree out and the house is back to "normal." I know.......some of you think thats spoiling all the fun, but my neat and clean tendencies HAVE to have organization. I can only stand things being "out of place" for so long.

But I have to admit that we've all got more than a touch of cabin fever. While it is nice to be home for a few days, our family is just not used to being together quite this much. We're so often on the go-go-go.

And Jennica has had a rough weekend. She made it through Christmas fine, but the behavioral issues started a bit on Friday, worsened on Saturday, and came out with a vengeance today. It's very frustrating! We're busting our fannies to keep up on the "prescription" of the GFCF diet, the gross motor input with emphasis on rhythmic activities and upper body exercises, visual support, and on and on. It hasn't been working! I don't know. I wonder if maybe she would be even worse without our efforts. I try to remember what "the worst" was, and wonder if this compares and how. And we analyze and analyze and analyze. Is there noise that she's hearing that we don't? Is there visual support that we should be giving? Is there something we're missing?

We have made strides, which further makes us question when she is "off". We figured out that the smell of bacon sets off massive hiding-under-the-table type of behaviors. And we figured out that the sound frequency of the fan over our stove also causes a meltdown if there are multiple other noises ongoing. Okay......we've got that, and we need to understand some of the triggers in order to help her learn coping mechanisms to deal with these things. It is simple reality that she will again encounter the smell of bacon and the sound of an annoying fan running. But what about all the other gazillion million things that set her off? And what about the ones that she does to HERSELF? For example, she stripped her pajamas off before breakfast today. This is pretty normal, as she is a sensory-seeker and likes the feel of the air on her skin. Okay...........but then she was so cold at breakfast that she wouldn't eat, refused to put her pajamas back on or get dressed, but then was mad because she was hungry. Now.......its REALLY hard for me to not step back and say, "You're going to have to figure this one out!" I'm kind of a "logical consequences" sort of person. But then again, tactile processing issues are not necessarily going to allow her to make the "logical" connection that she can be warm AND get breakfast if she just puts her pajamas on. Her brain doesn't necessarily work like that! A lot of these logical connections have to be made for her right now!

And then there are all the things that I don't have a clue why she is reacting like she is. She's beginning to demand to come home in various settings in the outside world. While I know that the orderliness of our home is a great benefit to her, I'm also wondering if it is making her less tolerant of the lack of order in the outside world? I don't know! And what are the hings that her nervous system perceives as a lack of order? The singing in church? The visual stimulation in large groups of people? I don't know! The more I learn about Sensory Processing Disorder, the more confused I feel like I become!

So.........tomorrow, we have a visit with our OT. I can hardly wait! I have SO many questions and she calmly always seems to have the answers! It is wonderfully soothing to spend time with our OT, as her sheer existence is a huge reminder that Jennica is not alone in the world! And for the moment, I need to know that we're not alone! Because this weekend has felt like we're busting our fannies cooking a GFCF diet, our house is beginning to look like an occupational therapy clinic with all the "stuff" we are gathering for exercises, and sure as heck doesn't seem to be helping!!! At least not today. It will get better, but boy oh boy oh boy.........the places we go to get there!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The "fun" is wearing off

Coastal Washington State is not used to much snow. If any. The cities/counties here don't have an abundance of snow plows. People don't own snow-blowers and snow shovels. There is no such thing as a snowmobile here. So......when we get snow, its a novelty that wears off very quickly.

Well....we've got snow. Its been here for about a week and the "fun" is receding quickly. We've got over 12 inches at our house and its a big fat pain. I have to put the suburban in 4-wheel drive just to get out our rather lengthy driveway. Our shetland sheepdogs HATE the snow, and beg to spend all day every day in the garage.

And, amusingly enough, my sister and her family arrived on Sunday after a long drive from Minnesota. Yes......they DROVE. Across the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, and all of Washington. From the snow. Across the snow. To the snow. We're actually feeling really sorry for them as they enjoy coming for Christmas to thaw out a bit from their frigid winter. Welcome to another frigid winter. But at least its not 10 degrees below 0 here.

But for a few days, it was fun. Mike took the attached photo last Friday in North Cove when he was there for a work-related appointment. Snow on the ocean beach...........WEIRD. And pretty!

Wherever you are.......stay warm!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dane's latest project

Note added by me: The video clip at the bottom has an issue! It works, but the frames have been compressed. In the original version done by Dane, the little man walks smoothly across the screen and sets up the chair. In the version loaded here, it appears choppy. Apparently, I need my computer expert (Dane) to mess with it. I'll have him work on it later!

As I've mentioned before, each incoming freshman at RHS is given a laptop at the beginning of the school year. At the end of the school year, the laptops are returned to the school for maintenance, and returned to the student when school resumes. This occurs each year until they graduate, at which point the students exit out one door, while the computer heads into the "land of the obsolete". This is a pretty darn cool opportunity, as it makes a huge difference in leveling the playing field in an economically-diverse district. There are no issues between the "haves" and the "have-nots" being able to research on the internet, etc. Most of their textbooks are loaded on their computers, the kids submit a large amount of their homework by email, and they all function off of wireless internet access. Printers are available on campus as needed for the kids that don't have them at home. The school has wisely even acknowledged that it is unavoidable that the kids WILL use them as toys, to some extent, so they have wisely loaded a few games for the entire group, and many of them play large involved games via the internet.

I admit to being a tad worried about the social-networking end of things when this school year started. My boys are no strangers to computers, but there is a big difference to using the home computer vs. having your OWN that goes everywhere with you, and all of your school mates having the exact same programs, etc. Dane has gotten involved with the social networking, but so far (fingers crossed), it has been a positive thing. He chats online in the evenings and weekends with friends about upcoming athletic events, assignments, and other normal freshman-type stuff. The potential for problems is certainly there, but that is typical to life in general, isn't it? As long as he continues to behave is actually putting him in touch with kids that he otherwise wouldn't normally probably communicate with, simply due to a difference in activities. So......all the more power to them!

The school also has acknowledged that, since they are putting a lot of money and effort into this computer commitment, they want the kids to learn how to do a bit more than play and email assignments. So, all the kids take a course in computer applications. The instructor is very well-liked and, as a parent, I have great respect for his course content! The kids get to use a lot of individuality in their assignments and scheduling, so the content doesn't seem like work to them! Dane has had a blast so far, and I'm impressed with what he is accomplishing! He finished all of his required assignment submissions early, so he ended up with a work or two of "play time" before Christmas break. The below clip is an example of his work, and my personal favorite! I sincerely hope that our district is able to continue the laptop program despite the coming economic cuts. Computers are in the world to stay! If we can provide these kids with a solid basis in computer skills, they've got a great advantage as they head off to college and the job markets!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ramblings of the snowbound

We have snow. For those of you that don't live in Coastal Washington State, you probably don't grasp the oddity of this situation. It's's have snow. No big deal, right? But in places that don't get much snow (like here), the whole world comes to a screaching halt in total shock. People forget how to drive. Schools start late or close entirely for one lousy inch of accumulation. And we all dig out hats and gloves that we didn't remember owning. Its a great excuse to change the agenda!

Take me, for example. Today was supposed to be my #1 busiest day of December. Jennica had an OT appointment in Olympia this morning. And then I was going to drive home to "swap kids" and take two back to Montesano (halfway to Olympia) for dental appointments. And back home again. Tonight, we have the elementary Christmas concert at the school, right after Grant has a meeting for Junior High basketball that starts after January 1st. And somewhere in there, Jennica had a preschool party, I had an appraisal to deliver, and Mike had his office xmas party. Thanks to the OT appt, no dental appts, no preschool party. As of this writing, the concert tonight is still happening and Grant's basketball meeting is still on. And Mike still has his office party. And I will get my appraisal delivered. But still...........the snow definitely lightened my load! So sad! :)

So, I'm going to ramble about a couple of odd things that have happened in the last couple of days. Grab a cup of coffee. None of them are earth-shattering. But I think they're interesting.

1) First of all, the boys' mid-term grades arrived in the mail yesterday. They have always been good students, and Tiersten is following in their footsteps already. Grant has a 4.0 GPA, and Dane has a 3.981. Not too shabby--especially considering their heavy athletic schedules! As well as participating in football and wrestling, they are both now playing in the pep band through basketball season. Several nights each week, they are at the school until quite late with either wrestling meets or basketball games. I'm very proud that they have learned some good time-management skills, do a GREAT job of getting homework done in class whenever possible, and are diligent about doing it in the evenings as necessary. Which brings me to the "interesting" point--I had TWO separate parents talk to me at the band concert last night, attempting to commiserate about different teachers and how their children are struggling with a lack of teacher organization, assignment schedules, etc. This is happening to me increasingly often. I try to lend a sympathetic ear, but its really awkward! The parents always act like I must be aware that the teachers are so awful, but I don't hear any of those complaints from my boys. In fact, I had JUST spoken with Grant about one of these specific teachers, as I had had them as a teacher when I was in school. We talked about what a tremendously organized teacher she had been when I had her umpteen years ago and I asked if she was still so organized. Grant said, "Yes!" and expressed that assignment due dates were always given a week in advance, etc. So..........????? I'm lost. I know my boys are responsible. But they aren't THAT much more responsible than other kids. Are they? They make mistakes and screw off, too. Sometimes. So I don't know what to say to these other parents. I don't want to come across as nasty and say, "Oh, my kid is doing GREAT in that class!" But on the other hand, if I were the parent of the struggling child, I would want to know if my child needed to "buck up" and start listening better. So......??? Oy. I think I'll just keep saying, "Ummm-hhhmmmm." They can't say that their kids are busier than mine, and thus, must be just too overloaded. I don't know......

2) We had another stray cat show up on our porch. Yes.......another. To the person that dumped it off in the coldest week of the year, you are a dirtbag. This cat was really a kitten. Maximum of ten weeks old. So, of course, we took it in out of the cold. Covered in fleas and ear mites. It immediately got dumped in the kitchen sink for a flea-killing bath, treated for ear mites, received a good dinner, and spent the night in our warm laundry room. My hospitality didn't extend as far as letting it too close to Mooch, as she is a permanent fixture now and we don't really need to spread any "bugs." We have always taken in these goofy strays, doctored them, fattened them up, and then helped them find new homes. Its kind of a fun project and lets me utilize all my vet skills that I no longer have much opportunity to use on the horses. However, when this kitten refused to use a litter box and showed obvious signs of......hmmm......let's say "internal parasites", my willingness to doctor this poor little thing came to an end. We've just got too much on our plates already to deal with cleaning up after a cat every day. Mentally, I just couldn't do it. So, kitty got a ride to the shelter where, thankfully, they were happy to take her in. They will take care of her until she finds a new home. And one more time, let me repeat, whoever dropped her ARE a dirtbag. JERK!

I need to get to work, as there is still plenty to do today, even with the lightened load. We're supposed to be getting more snow over the next few days. I'm sure glad my Christmas shopping is done! :)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ballet Schmallet

Tiersten enthusiastically insisted on joining ballet this fall and she greatly anticipates every Tuesday afternoon, where she gets to dress up in her pink leotard, pink tights, and pink ballet slippers, and head off to an hour of flitting about with other pink-clad ballerinas. This is totally "up her alley" and she is loving every minute of it. A friend of mine from my childhood runs our local dance school, and she does a terrific job with all of the kids!

Yesterday afternoon was "parent visitation day" at ballet. So, of course, I attended and watched Tiersten and the other girls perform the routines they are learning for the recital scheduled for next June. We even got a preview of the recital costumes. Tiersten will be in a patriotic-type number with a red-white-and-blue costume, she'll be a purple butterfly, and then finally, a diamond (very sparkly.....she's going to LOVE this costume!). I've attended several of this dance school's recitals, but I'm amazed at how far before the recital they begin pulling all this together and how much work is done "behind the scenes". I've never been a participant before--only a specatator of the final fabulous product.

I also found myself eternally grateful that, after two weeks of ballet class in October, Jennica announced that she hated ballet and wasn't going back. One child in this recital with the hair details and costume details is going to be overwhelming enough! But when she first wanted to quit, we tried to talk to her about it and figure out why. She just emphatically stated that she was not going, and we decided to respect her choice on this issue. Even now, when she goes with me to drop off and pick up Tiersten each week, she confirms each week that she's not going to have to stay there, right? At first, this was very odd to us. She had been SO excited to start ballet, right along with Tiersten. She is very physically well-coordinated with great fine and gross motor skills. She loves music. So why did she hate ballet?

Yesterday, after 8 sessions of occupational therapy for SPD, I was able to view ballet class as it must have appeared to Jennica. The entire class is presented auditorilly (spoken) and there are a million noises happening at once. The teacher is working over here with a few girls, there is music going, there are a few other groups of girls that are supposed to be stretching or working on an exercise in other areas of the room. To Jennica, who hears everything at the same volume and has difficulty determining which conversation is the one she is supposed to be hearing, she probably felt like she was in the middle of total chaos. There is no set schedule for her to be able to anticipate what comes next. The teacher changes the plan and moves children in and out of different groups depending on who needs to work on what, or who is going to stand next to whom for the next routine. There is a "method in the madness" from the teacher's standpoint, but once again, from Jennica's viewpoint, more chaos. And finally, the motor planning--Jen is wonderfully coordinated, communicative, and has great intelligence. But the ability to physically "mimic" someone else's motions to learn a routine? No way! Children with SPD typically struggle with learning motion songs like the "Hokey Pokey" or "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" for exactly this reason. It is often misunderstood by teachers and parents as a lack of coordination, or an unwillingness to participate. Thats not it! It is just that the sensory requirements to intake instructions visually and/or auditorilly and put them into action with physical movement requires a coordination of the senses that just doesn't come easily to these kids. But turn these kids loose on the playground, and they are often the ones that want/can spin the merry-go-round the fastest, jump the farthest, climb the highest, and yell the loudest. If you don't understand SPD, it very confusing to watch these kids. Why do they exhibit such great coordination in free play, but won't participate in a song with motions? Its all about how the brain takes information, and spits back out response.

So I greatly enjoyed attending ballet with Tiersten! Ballet is not MY thing, which I think makes me appreciate her love of it that much more. Nobody in my family growing up understood my love of horses and everything to do with horses. It was MY thing. So I appreciate that Tiersten has HER thing. It is special JUST TO HER! It's wonderful to watch the joy on her face!

And I came home and gave Jennica a hug. I understood, finally, why ballet was miserable for her. Perhaps, Occupational Therapy is helping me more than it is helping her. :)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Finding the humor in everyday life

I'm not going to repeat myself and drag on and on about the difficulties of our last few weeks. Anyone that reads this blog knows how much I've been struggling. Today has been a good day and I'm basking in it! I'm also seeing the humor in my current place in life, and laughing a bit at my own expense.

First, now that I finally comprehend the true reason/necessity for a GF/CF diet, I'm 100% on board. We had, of course, been casein-free(dairy) since February, but the gluten is a much harder commitment. Despite hearing occasional smatterings of information on how beneficial a gluten-free diet can be, I think I was sub-consciously sticking my fingers in my ears and yelling "La La La La!!" anytime the issue came up just because I mentally wasn't ready to deal with it. When the information was thrust upon me recently, I obviously changed my tune and here we are. The humorous part? I'm now shopping at health-food grocery stores and buying things like xanthan gum, garbanzo bean flour, agave, soymage, and other bizarre things I never knew existed. Me. The self-proclaimed hater of grocery shopping.

Which brings me to the next humorous point. I'm cooking and baking like you wouldn't believe. And, for the moment, I'm actually enjoying it and its going very well! (We'll see if the novelty wears off!) My GF bread has improved greatly and I will actually eat it! No starving goats in sight! And I've learned that almond milk is much better for baking (flavor and texture both) than soy milk. Go figure, and who would've thought that I would ever care! My big pot of home-made chili tonight was quite good and leftovers will be great GF lunches for Jennica for a couple of days! Even Tiersten (the pickiest of all) was demanding more of my GF cornbread at dinner! Cool!

Perhaps best of all, I'm viewing Jennica's world much differently these days. While the fact that she has SPD is not going to get her a "free ticket" to monsterhood (we're well aware that a 4-year-old with SPD can still be a total brat for non-SPD reasons), I'm more empathetic to some of her responses to stimuli, and I'm noticing that I'm more patient as a result. We're using proprioceptive input (heavy work) before times when we know that she's going to have to be quiet or still for awhile. Is it working really well? No.......not yet. But at least we feel like we finally have some tools.

Lastly, I'm finding humor in the way complete and total strangers respond to rambunctious, outgoing children. Jennica is extremely friendly to strangers and loves to ride in a shopping cart and tell passersby whatever should pop into her mind at the moment. Some people ignore her, and others respond and will chat kindly with her ( SWEET she is!). And she is sweet! And then 30 seconds later she may do something totally "off the wall." She might decide to lick all the items we have in our shopping cart. Or might decide to make a leap for a box on a shelf 4 feet away. You just NEVER KNOW!

I'm even laughing a bit that 4 weeks ago, I honestly thought we may be headed for a diagnosis with her somewhere on the autism spectrum. While this is NOT funny, there is humor in the pace that we are gathering knowledge and learning. We now have it in official terms.........she is NOT going to test anywhere on the autism spectrum. NO way.......NO how. For the moment, she is just considered to have Sensory Processing Disorder. That may lead somewhere else eventually, but for now, thats where we are. A tad confusing, as ALL autistic people have SPD, but not all people with SPD are autistic. But now, I finally see clearly why autism is not a possibility. A miracle in itself as both of her biological siblings are autistic. is good! And if we can't laugh at ourselves.......I don't want to live in that world.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm learning......

I started my day with a tantrum. Thankfully, Tiersten was in a decisive mood today and stuck with the first outfit she put on, because I would not have had the patience to deal with a 5-year-old's drama of multiple clothing choices AND maintain my sanity with Jennica's shrieking. You see, in Jennica's mind, I committed a horrible offense this morning. When she finished her GF/CF waffle, she politely asked for some of her new coconut milk yogurt. All was good.....right up until I dumped only 1/3 of the yogurt "bucket" into a bowl and gave it to her in the bowl. At that point, she skipped the complaining and whining stage, and went straight to rage. Welcome to the world of SPD.

I used to feel guilty that I have become numb to my daughter's fits of temper. However, with the guidance of our terrific OT, I'm letting go of some of my guilt. While Jennica lacks the coping strategies to exist in an over-stimulating world, those of us that live with her have developed coping strategies to live......well.........with her. Sometimes, that means we just have to go about our business until she is ready to communicate in a form that makes sense. With that said, the rest of us also have to HELP her learn to communicate in forms that make sense. So.....there is a middle ground.

This morning, it was rather interesting to watch, in a rather detached sort of way. Tiersten is zipping around loudly complimenting herself on her excellent choice of ensemble for her day at kindergarten (In Tiersten's world, clothes DO make the woman.), Grant disappears to brush his teeth when the screaming starts (he's the one that deals the least well with Jennica's fits), Dane steps back and tries to analyze aloud why she would care that her yogurt is in a bowl rather than the "bucket", and I'm calmly loading the dishwasher, wiping down the countertops, and trying to explain to Jennica over her screaming that its the same yogurt whether its in a bowl or the "bucket". And then I stopped.

I have to say, that I'm rather proud of the end result that we reached this morning. Rather than continue to try to talk to her or ignore her, I grabbed the little white board that now occupies a constant spot in our kitchen for exactly this reason. I quickly drew her a picture of a bowl with something in it, followed by an empty bowl, followed by another quick sketch of the bowl with something in it. And simply told her, "Eat whats in your bowl. When its gone, I'll give you some more." She looked at the pictures, thought for about three seconds, climbed up on the barstool, and that was the end of the fit. She ate three bowls of yogurt without another gripe. Dane (always the analyst) scratched his head and told me to explain to him later why that worked. I'm just so ecstatic that it DID work and that we're beginning to understand her world that I was ready to turn cartwheels. A huge "thank you" to Renae (our OT) for her guidance.

I still don't know what caused Jen to "freak out" over me putting her yogurt in a bowl. That part I don't understand yet, but for some reason, her brain "saw" her yogurt in the "bucket". When I put her yogurt in the bowl and gave her the bowl, her visual perception of what was going to happen had to change and she wasn't able to make that adjustment. When I briefly tried to explain aloud to her that she could eat the yogurt in a bowl just the same as eating it from the "bucket", she couldn't make the necessary perceptual change based on hearing me explain it. She needed the VISUAL picture showing her what would happen if she ate the yogurt from the bowl.........she would get more when the bowl was empty. The VISUAL input makes sense to her, the AUDITORY input does not. I'm beginning to get it!!! And best of all, I could see her process the visual information in the sketch and the logic was there for her!!! WAHOO!!! If you've ever worked (and fought) with a child with SPD, you know the thrill of breaking through! We've been using visual schedules for months, but until Renae, we didn't really realize just how much of the world is auditory and if you have a child that resists auditory input, you have to put the information in a different form. In Jennica's case, the visual form WORKS!

Of course, the nay-sayers will say that if the world is auditory, this child is going to have to learn to take auditory input. I agree..........but in time. For the moment, I'm just excited to see her learning some tools, and to see US learning some tools to help her process all types of sensory input. Its a big step in the right direction with a marathon still to run.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hours and hours and hours...

Its a "given" in life that TIME is of great value. But interestingly, regardless of where I have been in my life, I have always felt busy. Before children, I was training and showing horses 24/7 (or so it felt). With each step and change in my life, time has taken on new meaning. Looking back, the busiest time in my life was right after taking custody of Tiersten, which added a 16-month-old with serious lung issues into a family with a 4-month old infant, plus the boys at ages 9 & 11, and Mike & I both working full-time jobs outside the home. I still look back at that first 3-4 months she was with us and remember it as a blur. Thankfully, her lungs cleared for the first time in her life after just a few months in her new environment, and things got easier once the 3x daily breathing treatments stopped..........until now.

Now......suddenly, I feel like I've been thrust back into the blender. Our schedule is an absolute nightmare. While I believe that we're making the best choices with the options we have available, its taking a toll on our sanity. Yesterday, I even forgot a crucial component to Tiersten's day. When my cell phone rang from the school, we were in Olympia at the OT and couldn't do a darn thing about it and I just wanted to CRY! (Thankfully.....our school staff bailed me out and Tiersten was fine. Bless their hearts!) Bottom line.........Jennica's special needs DO require some additional time, which has to come from somewhere. The time that we previously spent in the early mornings/late afternoons/evenings doing the random chores that allowed us to collapse and have some "down-time" after the girls went to bed are now spent doing therapy exercises with her, cooking GF/CF foods, and reading a ton of literature on sensory processing disorders. Once the girls are in bed, we still have to catch up with all the other laundry, dishes, making lunches, emptying backpacks, grocery shopping, and the bazillion other things that every busy family requires. And then we fall into bed exhausted just to get up and do it all over again. I won't even touch on the subject of Christmas and how everything associated with that is going to play out, or the boys' wrestling meets.

So......WHEW! I'm tired.......and I admit it. I'm having to schedule work around Jennica's appointments and other things that can't be ignored, which means that I'm working less. I'm grateful to be self-employed and HAVE that option (although my "boss" isn't real happy at the business financials at the moment.....oh wait.........that's ME). Its a little scary to take the hit in my income on top of the hit that it has already taken from the floundering real estate market. is what it is and my daughter MUST come first. We'll just have to figure the rest out later. I can't control the future, so I'm just having to live in the "here and now"--a very hard thing to do for a self-professed control freak.

But, in the meantime, if anybody sees my Fairy Godmother, could you send her over to my house? My floors could really use a vacuum!!!

Friday, December 05, 2008

A stinky, smelly loaf of bread

Last night, I baked my first loaf of gluten-free bread. The final product looks like bread and feels like bread, which my expert sources say is an accomplishment in itself. But it stinks! It smelled okay during the mixing and baking processes, but the bread smells........and not in a good way! I doubt I'm going to get it close enough to Jennica for her to even try a bite! I tasted it and the flavor is not nearly as bad as the smell would indicate, but I doubt I'm going to be able to convince Jen of that!

We've got Jennica eating a certain type of store-bought GF bread, but as the only store that sells it is 90 minutes away, we need another option. We've tried several other types of store-bought GF breads and they aren't something I would expect a starving goat to eat. So.......the adventure continues.

In the meantime, Jennica is eating us out of house and home with her new diet, which is awesome! Once we get the bread issue ironed out, which is rather important in the life of a 4-year-old that likes PB & J, we'll be set. Let's just hope that we see some concrete results that make all this worth the effort! :)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A little Ho-Ho-Ho Humor

Christmas dinner is always at our house. The sheer logistics of moving four kids and their newly-unwrapped "stuff" that they don't want to leave behind to go to someone else's house is a nightmare of epic proportions, so this is just a simple solution. My parents and whatever other family happens to be in town descends on our place. Our home is 2400 square feet on a single story with vaulted ceilings, so there is lots of room. I cook a very traditional Christmas dinner, we eat and party the holiday away, and enjoy ourselves to the fullest. (For you doubters out there, I never said I can't cook......I'm actually quite good at it. I just CHOOSE not to cook most of the time!)

This year, my oldest (very old, Hi Marj!) sister probably won't be able to come over, but my middle-old sister (Hi Susan!) and her family will be driving from Minnesota. Its always great to have them all here for the holidays and we're looking forward to Christmas with them! (I just realized that I may have insulted the sister that picked my name in the Christmas're really not THAT old Marj!)

So.........yeah, I'm getting there...........the humor part. Mike and I were debating last night how to incorporate Jennica's gluten-free/casein free diet into Christmas dinner. We want her to feel included to the utmost, but its going to take a little extra planning to keep her away from all things containing any form of gluten. She's been doing the dairy part for so long that she's got that down pat on her own and politely refuses anything that someone accidentally offers with cheese, butter, and all that jazz. She misses some of the more subtle forms of casein, but she's pretty darn reliable! However, she's probably going to lack that "fluency" with gluten in three weeks. Honestly.........I'm still going to lack that fluency in gluten in three months and I'm not four years old. So......things to think about.........And then Mike had a BRILLIANT suggestion! We'll prepare a VEGAN Christmas dinner! Experience a "traditional" Christmas of the sort that I can't imagine anyone in my family history has eaten since..........oh.....maybe since the Garden of Eden? Or......the potato famine? Or.........never?? Would you like me to pass the carrots?

After having a rolling-on-the-floor-laughing experience at the thought of my Dad pulling up to a Christmas dinner with no gravy, no turkey, or any other form of meat or animal product in any form, I think it dawned on me that GF/CF could be a whole lot worse than it is! Suddenly, when compared to a vegan diet, GF/CF looks downright revolutionary. We can do this!

But, in the distant future, when I no longer look forward to a large family Christmas in our home, I'm going to "go out with a bang" and prepare a final Christmas Dinner......VEGAN. That should cure the entire family of ever wanting to come back for Christmas! Would you like some celery to go with that fruit salad? Makes me laugh just thinking about it!!!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Today.........its all about one single word. Determination!

As of December 1st, Jennica is gluten-free and dairy-free. For those that follow this blog regularly, you know that she's been on a casein(dairy)-free diet since February. We've had the threat hanging over our heads that we probably needed to be gluten-free also, but the sheer thought of attempting to feed a four-year-old a gluten-free/casein-free diet, while holding down demanding careers and raising our other three children as well, was enough to give Mike and I both a serious case of the "screamin' meemies". However, the thought has remained in the backs of minds, and with further scientific research as to WHY some children need a GF/CF diet, we have finally reached a level of acceptance. It took a couple of weeks to get organized and ready, and yesterday was our first day. Bottom do you tell your special needs child that you have a proven method to help them improve their functioning in life, but you aren't willing to make the sacrifices of time and organization necessary to help them succeed?

Now.........for those of you that know my hatred of meal planning, I know you all are laughing yourselves silly at the thought of me preparing GF/CF meals. To those of you that don't know me all that well, I'm an obsessive-compulsive organizer and housekeeper in every single area of life to such an extreme that my sons know they can annoy me simply by turning the pillows on the couch the "wrong" direction. Dane also likes to write things like "Dane was here!" on our microfiber chair with his finger against the grain of the fabric, just because he knows I see it and it bugs me! So with that said.........the one area of life that I have REFUSED to organize is meal-planning, which I approach with complete and total haphazard abandon. Until now.

So...........determination. I am determined to help my daughter overcome her sensory processing disorders. If a GF/CF diet can help her do that...........I'm all in. Heaven help us all!

Monday, December 01, 2008

The First of December

Wow! Already the first of December! Where did 2008 go? Anybody else feel like it whizzed by?

In any case, we had a great and low-key Thanksgiving weekend here! Ahhhh.......very nice. Thanks to some time cyber-shopping, over half of our Christmas shopping is done. Just gotta sit back and wait for the boxes to be delivered. Mike and I have always taken a day off together and enjoyed spending a day shopping for the majority of our gifts, but this year's schedule is just not going to be conducive to that whole we went to Plan B. Its nice to live in a world where there IS a Plan B! :)

As for this December's schedule, the best way to describe it is "wild." All families with young children can relate to school parties, school programs, church programs, etc. And then we add in two boys competing in in Junior High and the other in High two different sets of meets. We're actually laughing because their teams practice in the same place, but not at the same time, so we even have to make multiple trips for drop-offs and pick-ups in the evening on practice days. (Laughing just because its really not a big deal and you just DO it.) Then on top of kid activities, Mike's work schedule is rather crazy this month with public hearings and meetings and stuff, which raises his stress level. And my work schedule is.....well.....what it is. And, last but not least, today we start driving Jennica twice weekly to therapy appointments to begin working on her sensory processing issues. This is a great opportunity, very much needed, and we're excited to be working with this particular occupational therapist, but its a three-hour round-trip 2 times per week, and that only counts the drive time. The therapy appointment is an additional 60 minutes or so. Whew!

But, once again, its great to have a life full of purpose and activity. Some days I wonder if I'm turning into an adrenaline junky, as its hard to sit down and relax anymore, even when I can sit down and relax.

And finally, just an important note--In the next week or so, I will be removing the link between my business website and this blog page. No.......I'm not closing either one. Its just that I'm feeling the need to protect the privacy of my family (particularly as we move through therapy with Jen and toward a diagnosis) from the random lender/broker looking for a real property appraiser, so I'm going to remove the link. However, I know there are several regular visitors here that access this blog through my Precision Appraisals home-page, so please be aware that you need to save this blog address somewhere so you can still access it. I want you all still to be able to find me here!

Love you all!

Friday, November 21, 2008

A wrestling Mom relieved...

I have a few confessions.
1) Before Dane decided to wrestle in 7th grade, I had NEVER been to a wrestling meet. Ever.
2) If my boys did not wrestle, I would have been happy to hold the status quo on #1 forever and ever.
3) I'm catching on, but I still don't really understand the sport of wrestling like I do basketball (which I played) and football (which I didn't play, but enjoy anyway).

I blame all of the above from the fact that when I was in high school, wrestlers were, for the most part, disgusting! They were obsessed with their weight to such an extreme that they spit in a cup all day at school. They wore plastic under their clothing to sweat all day, with the hope of losing another pound or two. They ate little and exercised like crazy people. And then they spit some more. And then they obsessed about their weight some more. To "normal" non-wrestling people, wrestlers were an odd "club". To this day, I can look back in my high school annuals and know the time of year that certain photos were taken of certain boys, as they had the gaunt, anorexic look of a die-hard wrestler in the height of the season.

So I sort of blamed it on God's sense of humor when Dane announced in 7th grade that he was going to wrestle. In our school, you can do BOTH basketball and wrestle during 7th and 8th grades, so I rolled my eyes and allowed him the experience......always greedily hoping that he would choose basketball as a freshman. It was not meant to be, and Dane is now a freshman wrestler. Grant, of course, is following Dane's pattern and will wrestle until Christmas as a 7th grader, and then play basketball from January-February. Dane, as a freshman, will wrestle now until roughly President's Day. Its a long season for the high school wrestling team.

I have to admit that I was relieved two years ago to find out that, in Junior High, the boys are not encouraged to lose weight for wrestling. But it was always with dread that I looked ahead to high school, knowing that self-induced hunger would come with time, if Dane stuck it out. At 5'9" and 162 pounds, he is a healthy and tough football lineman. Its a good weight for him at age 15, and I have not looked forward to him spitting in a cup to reach some ridiculously low number on a scale.

So......I braced myself as he headed into this season as a HIGH SCHOOL wrestler. But much to my pleasant surprise, drastic weight loss is no longer allowable in high school wrestling! In fact, they test EVERY athlete before EVERY meet for proper hydration on three parts of their body. If they fail to meet a certain level of hydration, they don't wrestle that meet. Period. WOW! What a pleasant change!! There will be no spit cups, no kid wrapped in saran wrap, and any other insane weight loss program that makes Jenny Craig look like a calorie fest.

Suddenly, wrestling season is looking "up" for this Mom. If I don't have to watch my sons get gaunt and anorexic for this sport, maybe I can learn to figure out the scoring system. And maybe I can even learn to call that thingy they wear a singlet rather than a "one-sie". :)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Red" Days

Somewhere along the research path on sensory processing, I have picked up on the habit of referring to Jennica's more sensitive days as "red" days. She is having fewer red days lately, which is a really good thing for her, as it means that she is controlling her reactions to her environment before she is feeling out of control and starts exhibiting outward signs of stress.

For whatever reason, she rolled out of bed this morning on "red." I'm not sure what triggered it, but its been awhile since she has been this out-of-sync so early in the morning. From a distant standpoint, it has to be somewhat amusing to watch a child say white to every black, and black to every white. I went through my standard disciplinary routine, tried to change her mood mid-stride, and she was actually pretty happy by the time she got to school. But this was AFTER spending a patience-testing 10 minutes convincing her that she could stand to have her toothbrush in her mouth today. And having her spend a solid 4 minutes in time out for getting mad and hitting me about getting dressed. (Hitting gets disciplined.......bad sensory day or not.)

So, by the time I reached my desk this morning, I felt like I had done four rounds with the captain of the Harvard Debate Team, and spent two quarters in the NFL as a nose tackle. I'm pretty convinced that if all kids were sensory defensive at 7:00 in the morning, liquor stores would open for the parents at 8:00 a.m. :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Its all about the quality of the journey...

The last few weeks have been BUSY. While I don't talk here much about it, our youngest daughter has some sensory processing issues. We've recently "ramped up" our expectations again, which means a ton of new information to read and a whole lot of detective work to figure out what truly makes her tick, so we can provide her with options for coping through her life full of sensory input.

I think, for me, the hardest part of dealing with sensory processing is that so few people have ever heard of it, and don't know how to deal with something that they can't see. I've decided that as parents, we all tend to like visible health issues........rashes, runny noses, scratches and bruises......we can deal with those. But the "bumps and bruises" on the soul are much harder to understand and treat.

Jennica is truly a miracle child, and she is the original purpose behind the title of this blog. Her daily life is miraculous! We took full custody of her at 7 weeks, not knowing how functional she would be. Talking and walking were in serious question, much less anything more. We made the commitment at that point in time to help her find her success in her own journey. And what a journey it has been! She has an amazing vocabulary, and can "swing from the trees with the greatest of ease"!! Literally! All motor functions, speech, and a billion other things that make us human are fully intact and we are so grateful. She has overcome so many of the genetic questions to which she was born!

But, in a sensory-defensive child, the appearance of normalcy is both a gift and a curse. In a public setting, she may throw desperate tantrums after hours of over-stimulating light, visual, and noise input. She is constantly seeking greater input, which means that she wants to run faster, yell louder, climb higher, and touch more things than any other kid you've ever met. A child that is externally and obviously disabled would be viewed by passersby and forgiven for their actions. Jennica just appears to be a spoiled brat. And even we, who try very hard to live in her world at times have no idea if she hears deafening static in an over-stimulating environment, or worse, minute details of EVERY conversation within 100 feet. Until she understands that not everyone senses the world that she senses, we won't be able to get her to communicate what she feels/hears/sees. To her, her world IS normal.

So.......we continue to read and learn. At four and a half, she is now developmentally ready to really benefit from therapy. We've done OT in the past, but were "given the boot" as she was typically-developing for that age group. Now, we're resuming it once again. And yet, she continues to be so "normal" in so many ways. It is difficult to identify what tacts to take without consistent behaviors. She went into complete meltdown during an evening outing with a large crowd of children two weeks ago, but survived 60 minutes in Chuck E. Cheese this past weekend with complete calm, and had a blast! I can barely do 60 minutes in Chuck E. Cheese!!! Its baffling to try to understand why she overloads so quickly in one situation, but not in the next.

I can only say that I am still so grateful to share this journey with her, wherever it may lead. As she swings from the trees by her toenails, fights with her toothbrush every morning, and tries to make as much noise as possible on metal bleachers at a football game........I'm eternally grateful to be her Mom.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

What a week!

Suddenly, it is late on Friday. I don't know where the week went. This was election-start-of-jr-high-wrestling-end-of-high-school-football-lots-of-places-to-be-week. I should have put the election part in capitals, as that turned out to be a BIG deal. Perhaps it is because I viewed this election partly through the eyes of my sons, who were really engrossed in watching the first presidential election that they were old enough to care about. Or perhaps it was because Barack Obama made this is a really compelling race (regardless of who you voted for) due to being the first black man elected to the White House. I'm not sure what it was...........but it WAS fascinating.

So anyway........I'm rambling and don't really have anything interesting to say. Not sure why I'm even here actually. Hmmmm.............guess I shall go find something useful to do. Like be a couch potato on this first Friday evening in two months without a football game. :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The "cooker"

The last few months, Jennica has developed a fun fascination for everything that goes on in the kitchen. She likes to climb up on the counter and help stir and mix. She is fascinated by everything that goes into a pot or bowl, and why. Tiersten is going through the normal phase of what she's going to be when she grows up (she says a veterinarian), and Jennica always says that she's going to be "a cooker".

Today at preschool, Jennica got to participate in making (and eating) a pizza. She also got to make a hat, and came home with a new word--CHEF!!! She has worn her new hat the entire evening!! I just had to post a photo!!
She also had a visit to the doctor today on a minor matter. To nobody's surprise, she is above the 99th percentile on height, and just below the 90th percentile in weight. She's going to be a very TALL chef. :)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Living in the moment......

October is always wild. Football. Appraisals. School. More football. Halloween parties. Birthdays. More football. This year has been no different.

But we've had a lot of fun this month, and its not even over yet. Mike's parents visited for a weekend, and its always great to see them. Mike was gone for four days on a business trip, and returned just in time for he and I to take off for three days for my birthday. (The new Tulalip Resort is a great place!!) Both boys have played a ton of football, and Grant was a big part of a big win last night against their biggest rival, Willapa Valley. (20-0!!!) They will both transition into wrestling in the next few weeks, which is a slower pace for all of us and will be a welcome downshift.

And surprisingly enough, I continue to be buried in appraisal work. I'm grateful to be seeing continued success, despite the worsening economic conditions. With the election now just a short distance away, I'm not even going to fathom a guess at what is to come. I have my own opinions, but will keep them to myself at this point.

Tomorrow night, I'm throwing a big bash here at the house for 20 or so of my nearest and dearest friends. It promises to get a little rowdy, and I'm looking forward to laughing a lot, and enjoying a rare chance to catch up with everyone.

Happy Fall!!!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I have been humbled today

Today, my oldest dear aunt is having surgery for a very serious medical issue--an issue that could shorten her life tremendously.

To me, she has always been "my crazy aunt." She is a mother of six, and the youngest is a few years older than me. As a young child, my home was typically quiet, respectful, clean, orderly, and we were expected to follow the rules. Aunt Betty and Uncle Clyde's house was chaotic and loud, with what seemed like a gazillion noisy kids and pets constantly coming and going. They had cats with funny names, like "Daisy Mae Lulubopper" and "Miranda." And my aunt "collected" chiquita banana stickers on the insides of her cabinet doors. Her older children always seemed to be moving from home to college or somewhere else, but there always seemed to be furniture in a truck parked somewhere nearby. When I was still quite young, she moved to a little place in the middle of nowhere "to grow herbs." And she ran for some political office once. I remember seeing signs with her name on them, and she was in a parade...........big things to this little girl.

In any case, I haven't "had time" yet to send my Aunt Betty a card since her diagnosis. My intentions have been good, but the follow-through hasn't been there. My excuse is that I've been too busy, running kids here and there and working.

Today, I went to my mailbox and, lo and behold...........there is a birthday card for me from my Aunt Betty. More than a week early, and filled with her usual humor. Not a single mention of the surgery she faced today. I would imagine she sent it early, not sure if she would feel well enough next week to get it done. But I have been too busy to make a thoughtful gesture?

And, so I have been humbled by a wonderful and thoughtful lady. I will be getting that card in the mail, letting her know I'm thinking of her, too.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Who knew we needed a crash helmet to watch the news?

Turning on the news these days is a scary event. Regardless of what you choose to watch, if you change the channel enough times, you can hear predictions that are completely opposite. For every well-reputed speaker declaring doom and gloom, there are just as many well-reputed speakers stating that, "Its all up from here, folks!" It's enough to drive the sane to......well......insanity.

Some people tend to think that appraisers have a special knowledge. Like we can crunch a bunch of numbers, sprinkle them with some pixie dust, and KNOW what your house will be worth six months from now. While I rather like the thought of being gifted with a crystal ball, or Yoda-like powers, appraisers base everything on historical analysis. Sometimes that historical event occurred 5 years ago, sometimes 1 year ago, and sometimes only yesterday, but it has always already occurred. Hence, it is historical. Do we sometimes utilize that historical analysis to "predict" values? Yes.......but only very rarely in something called a "prospective value," and it is full of risks..........which is why it is so rarely done.

Ninety-nine percent of an appraiser's job is determining a current market value based upon sales of similar properties that have already occurred, known factual data of what it costs to build the same property, and/or lease a similar property. When the market is stable, its not such a tough job--check your data and statistics regularly, and work away. But when there are numerous external influences to value that are changing gets a whole bunch tougher. What happens when someone's down payment goes "poof" in the stock market? What happens when someone relies on income from an annuity to make their house payment, and all the sudden that annuity is worth 50% of what it was worth last month? These things ARE happening in a lightning-fast manner.

So.......I'm donning my crash helmet and forging ahead. This might just be a bump in the rollercoaster ride, or it might be a plunge to the bottom. Until my crystal ball shows up, I'm just going to keep analyzing the data as fast as it arrives. And bracing myself every time I turn on the news.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Busy busy busy....

A couple of weeks have gone by since I last posted here, but I've been BUSY. Despite all the economic scramble, I'm still extremely busy with appraisals. Add the four kids and all of their activities........and I feel like I'm operating at a dead run some days. I'm not complaining, as its great to have a life full of purpose and activity.

In any case, amid appraisals, parent-helper day at preschool, kindergarten open house, football games, and all the other chaos, we've been having some fun.

First, a cat moved in with us. Uninvited. She just showed up one day and hasn't left. I'm not a big fan of cats, and after the unplanned demise of the last two, I swore we weren't getting any more cats unless they came with an "Automobile Avoidance Safety Class." I refuse to get attached to this one, but she doesn't seem to care. In the first 24 hours she was here, she got a bath in the kitchen sink, treated with Advantage and ear-mite meds, and wormed. She still didn't leave. So........we unaffectionally refer to her as "The Mooch," and she sneaks in the door whenever possible and roosts in whatever warm lap is holding still at the moment. She's gaining weight and her skin problems are improving. We'll take her in and get her spayed in the next week or so. At which point, after the investment of funds, she will probably "meet" a car. Sigh.......

Second, this past week was Homecoming at the school. Grant came home from Wednesday's football practice with a new haircut, which we "decorated" for game day. See photo. Dane went to school on "Decade Day" looking like Hyde from "That 70s Show." See next photo. :)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It takes a secure teenager-Version 2

Two years ago, I took a photo of Dane before his first Jr. High football game, wearing his game jersey and my cheerleading skirt from ump-teen years before. So..........not wanting Grant to feel left out, he got the same treatment last night. His first game is tonight and he will be starting at Safety and Wide Receiver. WAY TO GO, GRANT!!!!!

In any case, after 50 odd years of green-and-gold colors in our Junior High, and red-and-black in our High School, the school voted this past year to change our Junior High colors also to red and black. While this means that Grant has a brand-spanking new uniform in red and black, the effect in my cheerleading skirt (the old green and old) is not quite as much of an "ensemble" as it was for Dane a few years ago in his green and gold jersey. But still.......Grant, nice outfit!!! :)
Love you!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Our new "playground"

We have been planning on buying a swingset and/or sandbox for the girls for awhile, but have never done it. This past weekend, we hit the jackpot! Some friends' children had outgrown their swingset, so passed it on to us for a very small price, and insisted that we take the sandbox, too. The girls are in seventh heaven! This afternoon, they got out of the suburban and ran straight to the yard. They didn't come in the house at all until dinnertime. Jennica is calling it her "playground," which is pretty cute. Four swings, a slide, the tower, and a climbing wall on the far side. We definitely SCORED!!! See photo of a very happy Jennica! :)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Friday night lights!

Our first home football game of the season was last night. The same as last week, the opposing team had twice as many players, and while we had some good plays, we were out-matched. Dane got a fair amount of playing time, which is never enough for his satisfaction. :) I thought about reminding him last night that we weren't sure if Raymond would have a team at all just a few months ago, but decided to keep my thoughts to myself for now. He is living in the moment and giving it his all, so the last thing that he wants to hear right now is that losing is better than not playing at all.
We had a brief moment in the stands last night that was a huge reminder as to why I adore my husband. A Raymond graduate was sitting in the Raymond cheering section with her parents, but had a son playing for the opposing team. I had been quietly gritting my teeth for more than a quarter, as I listened to her increasingly rude comments about Raymond's lack of skill and the vast superiority of her son's team. When it finally deteriorated to a point of, "Raymond SUCKS....," my dear husband turned around and informed her, "We have a son playing on that team and we don't really appreciate having to sit here and listen to you speak about them in that way." He was polite, but blunt. I almost stood up and threw my arms around him. She continued to cheer for her son's team, which we had no problem with, and stopped her bashing of Raymond. Way to go, Mike!!
And so, despite our second loss of the season, I'm proud of these boys. Off the field, they've overcome some very large obstacles. I had two unexpected meetings this week with two of the senior boys that I've never personally met before, and was shocked to be greeted in both instances with a broad smile and recognition as Dane's Mom. They both went out of their way to be courteous and friendly, which impressed me. Those things matter to this Mom. Go Raymond Seagulls!!!

Bananas and cinnamon??!!??

Grant has always had strong food aversions. Early in life, he developed a skill that has come in rather handy--he attended a Day Care that required kids to "try" everything on their plate. After vomiting his entire lunch a couple of times following the tiniest bite of something he insisted he wouldn't like, he was exempted from this rule. He will still throw up if he eats something "nasty," which earned him a trip or two to the school nurse's office, until he finally convinced her that he really never was SICK........just disgusted by something at lunch that he ventured to try.

Oddly enough, the two food aversions that have really stuck with him are bananas and cinnamon. And I'm talking ANYTHING banana-flavored and ANYTHING with cinnamon. Banana bread, banana-flavored otter pops, cinnamon toast, cinnamon rolls, apple pies, you-name-it. To me and everyone else I know, these are both very WEIRD "food hates." Spinach.......sure. betcha. But bananas and cinnamon???!!!???

These days, he is old enough to throw it back in my face if I try to tease him about his food aversions. He just flashes me a grin and tells me that he will eat a cinnamon roll if I eat a bowl of macaroni-n-cheese first. YUCK!!!!! Or a slice of fresh tomato. EEEWWW!!!! maybe he gets the food thing from me. But I still think its weird not to like bananas or cinnamon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fabulous Four

All four of our kids waiting for the school bus. the years are flying by!!!

Tending to Hair Affairs

After spending the entirety of my life with hair fashions that promoted waves, curls and body, and for a while, even BIG hair......I feel rather stupid that I have now purchased a hair straightener. My goal is now to have straight, flat, lifeless hair. Too funny!

My hair naturally has a lot of wave, and is pretty thick. For the most part, in my present life state, I don't have a heck of a lot of time or desire to spend on what my hair does or does not do. Many days, its wash and wear. On days where I have a little more time or have a function where my appearance feels a bit more important, its wash and blow dry. At some point in my future, I will probably spend more time on my hair. At the moment, the time just isn't there and I'm good with that! Other priorities top the list.

But last Friday, I got my hair cut and the girl straightened it when she styled it. It was a different look for me, and kind of fun. Also, Tiersten has a TON of very thick, wavy hair, and I thought it might be fun to occasionally try to tame it with a straightener. So.........purchase I did.

I have already tried it out, and even though the end result looks okay, it still feels funny. Flat, straight hair. I wonder how long this trend is going to last?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

On to Week Two...

The first week of school flew by busily for us and its time to gear up for Week 2.

Tomorrow is another big day as Jennica joins the other three at school. She did this routine last year also........half days, Monday thru Thursday..........but this year, we are SO excited to have Miss Hailee as a teacher! Tiersten had her last year in 4-year-old preschool and she is a fantastic preschool teacher. Fully-certified, she teaches preschool by choice. She's the type of teacher that we would love to have more than once, so maybe we can convince her to bump up to a higher grade level in a year or two. :)

Tiersten's first week of Kindergarten was GREAT.........just ask her. She piled off the bus the first day, and didn't stop talking until bedtime, at which point she just about fell asleep standing up. Exhaustion is putting it mildly, but she rolls out of bed each morning at 6:00 rearing to go. :)

Grant started football practice last Monday, and discovered that perhaps he should have worked out a bit more over the summer. Considering that we suggested this repeatedly all summer long, he's not getting much sympathy. I know.......mean parents. After his second day of Junior High, he announced at dinner one night that Junior High is not much different than 6th grade. Yeah............whatever. :) Dane laughed.......and we just sort of nodded our heads.

As for Dane..........well........our school gives a brand-new laptop to each incoming freshman. Fully programmed with more than he will ever use. Wireless internet........the works. He will return this laptop next summer and the school will "clean it", update the programming, and give it back to him. This will recur each year until he graduates, at which point his laptop will cease existence, as they figure it will be outdated by then anyway. Pretty cool, huh? Many of his textbooks are online, and he has a required advanced computer class that he is going to love. He now has an email address, which I will share with those of you who wish to "bug" him. :) Also, Dane's first football game was Friday night. His coach is a little notorious for not letting freshman play at all, so Dane was delighted to see action in the first game!! He played a little in the third quarter, and most of the fourth quarter. They got beat badly, but least he got to play, right? He was also laughing because their quarterback came dashing along the sidelines yelling "Beeeeeeeeeeep.............." loudly enough that they could all hear him. And right in front of them, got absolutely levelled. So much for trying traffic signals..... :) While I know it wasn't great for the team to start with a solid loss, I have to say that I'm pleased so far with how high school football is going. Considering that, in June, we weren't sure if we would have enough kids to field a team, its nice to see them on the field. One game at a time........

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

First Day of School

Wahoo! Today is the first day of school! The boys were pretty ho-hum about it all, but Tiersten.......she's a whole different story. Today is her first day of kindergarten. She barely touched her breakfast and didn't even want to hold still long enough for me to snap a picture or two this morning. I thought for sure she would pick out a dress to wear, and was surprised that she actually chose to wear jeans and tennis shoes.........I think she has big plans for recess and the new play equipment at our playground. Kindergarten at our school is full day and very academically-challenging (seriously!!), so it will be interesting to see how exhausted she is tonight. And tomorrow night. And the night after that. :) She will be riding the bus home this year, so I'm looking forward to seeing her this afternoon! Ahhh.........the advantages of working from a home office.........

Dane has been practicing football for two weeks, and his first game is this Friday. He is enjoying it all, and as one of the few freshman, is getting to know his older teammates. Grant starts football practice with the Junior High team tonight, and their first game is not until the 18th.
Last, but not least, Jennica starts preschool next Monday, so she has one more week of day care before heading off to school with the "big kids." I expected a bit of temper from her this morning when Tiersten headed off to school without her, but she was surprisingly amiable about it all. Whaddayaknow. :)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Blog ranting...

By sheer nature, I tend to a person that with strong opinions that is willing to speak my mind. With that said, I also try to be aware of the havoc that personality trait can cause on others, and attempt to temper it with good listening skills and make an effort to think about things before I speak. The result is that sometimes by the time I have thought through my response on an issue, I have worked myself into a real frenzy and the recipient of my opinion gets a REAL earful. In this particular case, I'm going to blog my "earful", as there really isn't anyone in particular at which to direct my frustration. So here's the deal--take it or leave it!

Our school district has, in my opinion, a really fantastic elementary school. The administration has taken huge strides to spend money wisely to keep class sizes small, teacher competence is through the roof, and parent involvement is good (at least up until about Grade 5 or so). I could go on and on about all the terrific programs offered in our primary grades. So my hat is off to our elementary and they are specifically excluded from my about-to-be-rant. 'Nuff said.

Our high school sucks. The female students seem to do okay. The boys are a nightmare. Drug use is rampant, parent involvement is very poor overall, and our student population is comprised of far-too-many losers. Well........guess what? I've got a freshman son, and a son entering Jr. High. Just peachy! Not the greatest environment! However, we have been well aware of the issues at hand, and have stayed put for several reasons. First, we feel strongly that the teaching staff in the school is very, very good. They aren't the problem, and we feel that our children can get a good education at our school, and yes, education is a priority in our family, as opposed to athletics alone. Second, we don't feel that the correct answer is to "run" from your problems. We feel strongly that it is a more important life lesson to teach our children that you deal with life's problems with integrity and honesty, and face them head-on. So........we have chosen to stay put rather than "choice out" to one of our neighboring districts. (By the way, we also feel strongly that our neighboring districts also have many of the same problems--they are simply hiding their problems a bit better at the present time.)

So, Mike and I have attended the last two school board meetings, voiced our concerns, and have felt like we have been treated with great respect. We have been the ONLY parents in attendance over these specific issues, which is somewhat expected, but still appalling. Our school board is willing to take action, and are in the process of making some big decisions. Honestly, I'm not sure of the outcome, but I give them credit for their willingness to try to find solutions rather than just agonize over the problems.

But this evening was a student-athlete meeting at the school, and I was the only mother in attendance for a football player. By far, most of the kids had attended alone without ANY parent, despite the fact that the letter sent home had requested parent attendance. I found myself feeling like the oddball, even while my brain says that I BELONGED there. What more important thing could I possibly do on a Sunday evening than attend a meeting that explains my sons' extracurricular activity for the next 10 weeks!!!!???!!! This is important to my children, and therefore, is important to me!!!

So........I'm left with a feeling of frustration and anger for those parents that can't be bothered. Will they be able to be bothered to pay attention when their child is arrested for drug use? Or when their child doesn't graduate from high school?

Really ticks me off..........Part of me wants to say that its going to serve the parents right when their children fail, but I don't really feel that way at all. For what I see happening is parents failing their children.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

School countdown (and some mischief!)

Yesterday, our Day Care was closed for a staff training day, so since the girls were home (which means NO appraisal work will be accomplished), I scheduled the day off in my schedule and ran away for the day with my kids. :) We loaded up in the suburban with my Mom and headed an hour south for a picnic and a great day on the shore of a lake. Mike surprised us by meeting us there, and we all enjoyed some time in the sun. With football starting next week, and school starting right after Labor Day, these opportunities are slipping away. And, as much as I hate to admit it, it is always heavy on my mind that the boys are nearing an age where summer jobs and other commitments are going to encroach. So.........whenever I can, I'm going to enjoy a leisurely family picnic together!!

As always, Jennica managed to slip some mischief into the day. On the way home, we stopped for pizza at a well-known local restaurant. She had finished eating and was beginning to wander the restaurant a bit. It is one of those places that feels somewhat like a cafeteria, and it wasn't a big deal to have her circling our table, but her circles kept getting larger, while we boxed up our leftovers and prepared to leave. Suddenly, Jennica was at our table with a large piece of watermelon! She was happily munching away, while Mike and I scolded her for raiding the salad bar.

When we got out to the parking lot, I noticed that Dane and my Mom are both laughing hysterically. They finally explain that, as we were all trudging out of the restaurant, they took a gander at the salad bar and there was NO watermelon anywhere at the salad bar. I am less than amused at this point, and Jennica is still happily munching her watermelon. The following conversation proceeded while I'm buckling her into her carseat:

Me: "Jennica! Where did you get that watermelon??!!!???"
Jennica (very matter-of factly while still munching): "From the man in the black hat."
Me: "WHAT man in the black hat?"
Jennica: "The man back there in that place." (Still chewing away.)

I didn't see any man in a black hat. My Mom is laughing again and Grant is beginning to join in the hysterics also. They're definitely NOT helping.......

Me: "Jennica.........Did the man GIVE you the watermelon? Or did you just take the watermelon?"
Jennica: "I taked it." She's pretty much down to the rind now, and hands me the juicy chunk of green for disposal. UGH!

At this point, I contemplated going back into the restaurant to look for a man in a black hat and apologize for my daughter stealing a piece of watermelon from him. But then again, what would be the point? So we left. I know there were a few birthday parties going on around us, so I hope that she just non-chalantly lifted a piece of a loaded plate of watermelon at one of the parties, rather than swiping a piece of fruit off of some singular person's plate!!!

To the man in the black hat, whoever you are..............I apologize. My daughter is a very cute 4-year-old with no manners. We're working on it. What else can I say? SHEESH!!!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A week of vacation...

I have returned to "normal life" following a great week of vacation camping with Mike & the four kids in the Cascades. It was surprisingly relaxing.........a real testament to the fact that the girls are growing up and getting easier. We accomplished some serious "nothing-ness", which was exactly our goal.

I'm posting some fun photos of the kids being kids!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gone too soon

I think this guy "got it." If you haven't been fortunate enough to hear him speak or read his book, it is worth the time and will make you stop and think about your life. My prayers go out to his family.

Do you want to be a "Tigger" or an "Eeyore?" You decide........

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Forever at last

Three years ago, a sibling group entered our foster care system. They were placed with a foster family for what was supposed to be a period of about three months, and just now..........three long years later..........they are finally transitioning to their "forever family." This lengthy term in foster care is becoming increasingly rare, as there are now laws in place that try to prevent children from languishing without permanency. However, the path for these particular children has had many twists and turns, and it has taken time to resolve the issues.

I have the utmost admiration for these particular foster parents, who have resolutely endured tremendous challenges and have remained steadfast in their commitment that their home would be the only stepping stone between these kids and their permanent home. For a time, it even looked like these children might be returned to their past-abusive home, and the foster family was facing the unbelievable task of helping to prepare them to transition back. Somehow, they remained patient in believing that justice would prevail. While I would have been raging wildly at the social workers, this family swallowed their frustration and focused on day-to-day life. When the kids left briefly to an adoptive placement, this family welcomed them back with open arms when it all fell apart.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have known these children. They can be incredibly demanding of attention, fight amongst each other like cats and dogs, and drive you to the brink of insanity. They have each struggled with deep depression, have huge trust issues, and are the definition of "needy." But there is a certain courage about them, too, that makes my daily challenges seem so small in comparison. They've faced abuse and rejection that no human being should ever have to endure, and still have the strength to get out of bed and face each day.

And now.......they're starting all over again. In a new place far away. With new people that they don't know. A new home. A new school. A new bedroom. A new yard. A new neighborhood. And they're told that this is "forever." There is no home to go back to on the weekend, or at the end of the summer, or after Christmas, or any other time. This IS home. In all of its unfamiliar glory. I'm sure they will be allowed to visit and talk to their foster family, but their foster home is no longer "home."

There is a saying about giving your children the two most important things in life--One is roots, the other is wings. I wish these children the utmost successes in life. I hope that they've grown roots to build on, and I hope they know that we're all cheering for them to FLY.........

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My secret is out...

My secret is apparently now out in the open. This was such a huge secret that even I didn't know about it! Nobody had thought to let me know before, so I can be eternally grateful to the emails I have been receiving for informing me. You see...........I have erectile dysfunction. The email gurus of the world are kindly offering me Viagra and/or Cialis at heavily-discounted prices so that I may resolve this issue. Isn't that great??!!??

All humor aside, where in the heck do these companies get our email addresses? I could understand it if I had submitted an online questionnaire regarding this medical issue. Or, perhaps, even if I was surfing the internet looking for discounted prescriptions for ED. But I have done neither. Furthermore, I am a woman and my first name (obviously female) is part of my email address! I just wouldn't consider myself a "marketing target" for erectile dysfunction products. And yet, day after day after day, I delete them from my junk-mailbox. Along with a huge variety of other sexually-related prescriptions, products, etc., to which I have never searched for, considered purchasing, or frankly, even knew existed.

My "delete" finger works very well, so I don't really consider these emails offensive. More of an inconvenience, I simply delete them away. But they baffle me somewhat. If this is targeted marketing........well............somebody needs to narrow their target.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Only three kids for a week

Yesterday, we took Grant to Camp Bethel for a week of Junior High Camp. He always seems so shy and quiet. Its kind of hard to drive away and feel like he's actually going to have a good time. However, each year he keeps asking to go back and always claims to enjoy himself, so go figure. I just keep trying to remind myself that he is 13, and that his life is HIS journey. It's not fair to compare his camp adventures to my own, where I looked forward to it all year, couldn't wait to go back, and could barely be bothered unload my gear from the car before running off to be with the friends that I had missed for months.

Yesterday was also Dane's 15th birthday, so we left the girls with friends when we ran Grant to camp, and took Dane golfing on the way home. He REALLY likes to golf, but doesn't often get to play a full round, so this was a treat for him. He didn't play real well yesterday, and had to grudgingly laugh at his own frustration which was only making his game go that much worse. Welcome to golf, Dane!! :) He's grown so much in the last year or two that its almost unreal. He towers over me now, and just rolls his eyes at me when I make a point of reaching up to pat him on the head.

And lastly, the girls had a GREAT time with our friends. Brandi and Brittany not only painted their nails, but also did an intricate miniature stamping thing on each nail, which the girls thought was terrific. They got to pick out which stamps they wanted to use for each nail, and what colors, and they were completely in seventh heaven. We do "girly" things at home sometimes and paint nails, but I don't think I would have the patience for the intricacy involved in this little design process. I can't even believe that Jennica would hold still for it all, but she was all decked out and enjoying it to the max. Too funny!!

So this week will be a little quieter with one less kid at home. It already doesn't feel quite right...but I hope Grant has a GREAT time!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Riding the rollercoaster...

Coming to the end of this week, I'm mentally exhausted. Despite the financial turmoil that the news seems to delight in reporting, I'm still very busy with appraisals. I've put a lot of effort into being very versatile for exactly this type of market, and it seems to be paying off. While conventional lending has slowed somewhat, FHA is booming. While real estate purchases are lagging a bit, my private work has increased dramatically. I'm grateful that I can shift my workload into other areas and that I have the tools to make the transition effortlessly. With a huge plug to A La Mode/Aurora, my software provider, they keep the behind-the-scenes invoicing and accounting simple so that I can focus on valuations without losing track of the financial end of my business. They are the most expensive software option for appraisers like myself............and worth every single penny.

With all of this said, the weak economy takes a toll on my mental state some days. With fewer properties selling, my selection of recent comparable sales is much smaller than it was 12 months ago. With properties that are unique to begin with, I feel like I'm sometimes pounding a square peg into a round hole just to come up with three comparable sales that barely define "comparable". I don't blame the lenders when they call and ask, "Is this the best you've got?" I sometimes find myself apologizing for the lack of good data, as if I could go out and create better sales.

And then things happen like the IndyMac Bank failure last Friday, which creates deepening concern for other lenders and consumers alike. IndyMac appears to have been deep into fraudulent practices, and most appraisers can tell you that fraud has become a common practice in the mortgage business. We find ourselves voraciously defending the lenders we find to be ethical, while at the same time hoping that the fraudulent ones go bust. When appraisers chat together, the "David vs. Goliath" conversations are common. Which big lender will be the next to fall?

Over the past three years, I've cultivated wonderful friendships with other appraisers across the nation. When I feel like I'm losing my perspective, they're always there to make me realize that appraisers, as a group, are all deranged. Its a career requirement. If you don't enter the field deranged..........just give it a year or two.

And so we sit and continue to type, report after report after report. We watch the news along with the rest of the nation, and watch the stock market rise and fall with the most recent financial news. Just like a roller coaster, its too late to get off, so we might as well enjoy the ride. Let's just hope that there are still appraisals to do at the end.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Re-discovering golf

Prior to our daughters entering our lives, golf was a regular part of our lives. As small children are not real understanding about the concept of staying out of the way of swinging clubs and flying little white balls.........we've taken several years sabbatical. Suddenly, we seem to have jumped back into it with a vengeance.

As a whole, Mike plays extremely well. Disgustingly well, to be honest. He introduced me to golf, and I try to remember when I get frustrated that someday I'm going to get even by sticking him on a horse in front of a large group of people, and instantly try to get him to feel a "diagonal" or a "lead". (Any idiot can SIT on a horse........but it takes some time in the saddle before you begin to FEEL the horse. Golf is not the same.....You don't really get much of a learning period before you approach your first tee box feeling (and looking) like a completely uncoordinated fool in front of all the folks hanging out in the clubhouse.)

So, despite the fact that I'm still pretty green at golf, we've been getting out and having a good time. I was going to wait a few months to upgrade my clubs, but Mike begged me to buy new ones. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) I sunk a chunk of cash into a really great set of hybrids that I'm loving. Even the boys are getting out with us and playing a bit. They participated in a two-day junior's clinic a few weeks ago and picked up some great tips. Dane is itching to get his hands on Mike's new Cleveland driver. :)

Sometimes, I wonder at how easily I find myself slipping into obsessive hobbies/sports. I blame it on my history with horses, as the only way to truly be competitive with horses is to totally absorb yourself in them. I find that with golf it would be very easy for me to own virtually every contraption, tool, etc. that goes with the sport, and I can easily justify it to myself! Similar to horse sports, where it doesn't take very long and you own a gazillion bits, boots, pads, and a whole host of other horse-y contraptions. Fascinating or bizarre? I'm not sure......

But one thing is for least I don't have to feed my golf clubs twice each day. Or vaccinate them. Or buy them a truck and trailer. I can even throw them in the corner for months on end and they'll still be there. Perhaps a little dusty.........but no worse for the neglect. :)

A weekend of sunshine!

Mike and I ran away this past weekend with just our two girls! To sunny Eastern Oregon where Mike grew up. VERY warm.......VERY dry........and lots of sagebrush. A big change from the dampness and mold of Western Washington.

It never ceases to amaze this Western Washington native how you can actually see into the distance over there. And see through the trees, where they exist at all. I'm much more accustomed to very dense green stuff EVERYWHERE. I find it comforting.........Mike finds it a tad claustrophobic at times. I feel a bit "unsheltered" in Eastern Oregon, while he loves the wide open spaces. :)

In any case, it was nice to get away for a few days and see his family! The rain pelted our windshield just north of Portland, so we were welcomed home from sunshine by the normal rainforest weather.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I have recently embarked on a new fitness cycling program and it really feels great! I'm alternating cardio-workout days with weight-training days, and enjoying the sense of accomplishment that I get each day from taking charge of my physical health again. I've allowed too much time to go by where I've been focused purely on the business and family, and my personal fitness has suffered because of it. So.........feel the burn!!!

But I've run into a little bit of a snag. My cardio workouts are really messing with my sleep patterns. I always work out in the morning, and I'm finding that I've got a lot more energy to carry me through the day. However, after 3-4 hours of sleep at night, I'm waking up like someone turned a switch to "on." Which means that bright and early about 1 a.m. in the morning, my brain is running on high. This morning, I laid there for about 30 minutes trying to "will" myself back to sleep. No such luck. So I got up. But what does one do at 1 a.m. in the morning, without running the risk of waking up the rest of the family? Of course, I ended up at my computer. So here's what I'm finding I do at 1 o'clock in the morning:
1) Work on appraisals? Nah. I usually consider it, but I don't seem to have the concentration my work requires, even though I can't sleep.
2) Play cubis online. I've even won a badge or two. You wouldn't believe how many people are playing those games in the middle of the night!!!
3) Shop for golf gear. Oh YEAH! :) I have wisely left the credit card out of the picture, as what may seem like a wise purchase at 1 a.m. might not seem so smart in the daylight, but I'm hoping to upgrade my clubs in the next few months, so its fun to read up on all the latest technology. I'm still debating.........Taylor Made? Callaway? Cleveland?
4) Surf ebay for anything interesting. That get's boring pretty quickly.......

And then I try to stumble back to bed and go to sleep, just so I can wake up at 6:30 absolutely EXHAUSTED, and spend the next three hours trying to get woke up. So I'm yawning today, and more than just a little. Fortunately, today is the day our housekeeper comes, so I'm ignoring the basic around-the-house stuff and just focusing on staying awake for appraisals.

Anybody know how long this sleep thing will last? Should I tone down the cardio workouts? What a pain in the neck!

Monday, June 23, 2008

"Mom......Jennica's putting rocks in her ears."

There are just some phrases that a mother never wants to hear. This past weekend, our whole family was outside in the backyard and Tiersten came around the back of the garage, "Mom...Jennica is putting rocks in her ears." I immediately stopped what I was doing and let Tiersten lead the way back to Jennica so I could investigate.

Jennica was, in fact, cramming pea gravel into her ears. For the most part, they were falling right back out. Except for one tiny little piece that she had thoroughly wedged into her ear canal. Really special. Really friggin' special.

Mike and I quickly came to the conclusion that attempting to remove it on our own was only going to shove it further into her ear. So we shut down the rototiller and the lawn tractor, left Dane in charge of Grant and Tiersten with strict orders not to operate any machinery while we were gone, and packed Jennica off to the ER.

I think ER staff develops a certain sense that enables them to "read" parents and situations when they walk in the door. There are certain situations that require urgency and certain parents that demand it. And then there are parents that are obviously "frequent flyers" in the ER, and show up more exasperated than panicked. We definitely fell into the latter category on Saturday and the ER responded accordingly. Jennica was obviously not in any pain, and wasn't bleeding. In fact, she seemed to be quite delighted to be the center of everyone's attention without having to compete with her sibilings. The ER doctor on staff that day turned out to be our wonderful local surgeon, with whom we had been previously acquainted (he put 44 stitches in my leg about 6 years ago and he's operated on both of my parents), he's wonderful with kids, and he's way over-qualified to remove a small rock from a little girl's ear canal. With Mike and I helping to hold her still, he used an itty-bitty little tool and wiggled the rock out.

Now........this is the second trip that we've made with Jennica to the ER regarding a foreign object shoved into her ear. The last time was when Tiersten tried to turn her into "Sister Potato-head" (see previous post from a couple of years back). Hopefully, there won't be a third trip...

So we, the exasperated and "frequent flyer" parents, went home. We've had ANOTHER good chat with Jennica about how nothing is to be put into her ears and she nodded solemnly and did a good job of pretending to be listening. Whatever...........sigh.............