Sunday, July 15, 2018

Our Homeschooling Journey

As most of you know, we have been homeschooling for the past 16 years, in some form or another.  We began our homeschooling journey when our oldest children, DJ and Adriana, were entering 5th and 3rd grade respectively. We chose to homeschool through a local charter school and it was a good fit for us. In 8th grade, Adriana decided she wanted to go to public school and we agreed. Our neighborhood was opening a brand new high school the following school year and our schedule was getting increasingly busier with the addition of our three boys. Adriana attended public high school and went on to graduate from there, while DJ graduated from the charter school. Both were the right fit for each of them.

DJ graduation 2010
Adriana graduation 2012

Since our younger boys all had special needs and required a lot of therapy, they were all enrolled in public school for preschool and their early elementary years. We went on to adopt again in 2008, this time a baby girl. In 2010-2011, we were having a lot of IEP meetings with the school district to communicate the needs of our boys. There just seemed to be a lack of understanding from the administrators and the particular teachers that year, as well as denial that any of what we were saying as parents could be true. The boys would come home from school so overstimulated that we would end up dealing with behaviors until bedtime. For one of our boys, we were finally able to get more supports by the end of the school year, but we were told those supports would be scaled back the following school year. We had enough and decided to homeschool the boys the following school year. We felt that it was important to let the boys finish out the current school year, as they only had a couple of weeks left.

In the Fall of 2011, we began a new journey of homeschooling. We decided to homeschool our boys independent of a charter school and filed an affidavit with the Board of Education. In our state (California) we were required to keep attendance. Of course I kept all of their school work too in case there was any question of if we were really “doing school”. We began by exploring themes and creating projects as we were learning. Lots of hands-on fun! You can check out our posts on the ladybug life cycle, the solar system, ocean diorama, fun with flubber, ocean diorama, killer whale costumes, and much more! We also did a lot of practicing our social skills, from learning how to order meals at a restaurant to exploring local museums. We concentrated on toileting skills as none of the boys were toilet trained yet. Yes, even in grades 1st, 2nd and 4th. We also found a great program called Autism Center for Excellence (ACE) for children who are on the autism spectrum. It was at Sacramento State University which was only 30 minutes away from our house and Alex began attending 3 days a week. Since James still had an open cleft palate despite 3 surgical repairs, he required intensive speech therapy. We had him attend the Maryjane Rees Language, Speech and Hearing Center at Sacramento State University for a semester. Unfortunately he was also diagnosed with selective mutism and anxiety, so he would not speak outside our home or to unfamiliar people. It's incredibly difficult to do speech therapy with a student who refuses to speak!

Early days of homeschooling.

During that first year of homeschooling independently, we happened to move. Since our boys still required additional therapy, we sought help from the new school district. We went through the IEP process and were granted services under an ISP (Individual Service Plan), since we elected not to enroll the boys in school. We found this to be very helpful and I accompanied the boys to speech and OT at the local elementary school. That only lasted a year as we moved again.

Then came the educational experience of a lifetime...a cross country trip during the summer of 2013. We were on the road for 2 months and were able to visit locations such as Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, the arch in St. Louis, Niagara Falls, Statue of LibertyWashington D.C., Myrtle Beach, Disney World in Florida, the Riverwalk and Alamo in San Antonio, TX, and the Grand Canyon. During the school year prior to this trip, we studied US History so the kids would have some background information. We even took part in a postcard swap where we sent 49 post cards from our state (California) and received post cards from a family who had been assigned to each of the other 49 states. As each post card was received we colored in the state it was from on a map of the United States. The kids looked forward to checking the mail everyday for a new postcard.

We continued homeschooling for the next 2 years as our family expanded again. This time with a girl and a boy! Social worker visits, doctor appointments, family visitation, and more therapy for the youngest 2 did not leave much room for homeschooling.
Rissa working with PT.

Then Joey received a diagnosis of autism and ABA (Applied Behavioral Therapy) sessions were added multiple times a week, in addition to speech, OT and feeding therapy.

Joey working with ABA therapist.

James began receiving services for speech and OT through our local school district (different school district). Alex and James attended a social group once a week (separately). Before Rissa turned 3 we had several meetings with our school district about her transitioning to preschool and we decided to also enroll the boys in public school. We worked with our new school district to assess all three boys and conduct IEP meetings. Alex was now in high school, James in junior high and John was in his last year of elementary school.


We decided to continue homeschooling Amada due to her anxiety, but with the support of a charter school. We soon found out that the grade level curriculum, especially for reading and writing, was too difficult. We requested that Amada be tested for an IEP. Right before Christmas break it was determined that she qualified for an IEP and would begin receiving speech and resource support. We began using curriculum more geared towards her level and needs. Because school was much more challenging now, it became increasingly difficult for Amada to focus and actually complete her school work. We debated having her attend public school the following year, but she was adamant that she did not want to. 

The boys were adjusting well to public school for the most part, with the exception of Johnathan's behaviors.  More IEP's and the addition of a mental health counselor who came to our home were necessary. Despite being turned down for Alta California Regional Center at least 3 times, we persisted and had Johnathan tested by a Neuropsychologist. This testing revealed that Johnathan had an intellectual disability, just like Alex and James, and was eventually deemed a client of the Regional Center.  

The following Fall, Rissa began attending Center Preschool, a full inclusion preschool. After several months it was apparent that her anxiety was worsening, so we decided to keep her home until after the Winter Break. Then when she returned, I attended with her to give her some security and share clues about her with the instructors. We also began seeking treatment from The Attach Place in the form of neurofeedback.  Her anxiety began improving!

In the Spring, when Joey turned 3 and also began attending Center Preschool. I was no longer able to attend with Rissa because of Joey's behaviors, but he became her security person. It was also decided that he needed to have an aide that would work him 1:1. This worked out nicely and I was able to dedicate more time to working 1:1 with Amada at home.  We decided to continue with the charter school another year. 

Fast forward through an entire school year which brings us to the present. With Rissa entering Kindergarten in a couple of months and Amada needing much more support than I can give her, we decided to enroll them both in our local elementary school. This will be the first time in over 15 years that I am not homeschooling in any capacity! And can I say that I am looking forward to it. I realized this summer that there is no need to scour curriculum, get my ordering done early in order to be on top of the planning, etc. and it is marvelous! I will however be attending a lot of IEP meetings throughout the year since all 6 children (currently at home) require them.

Please let me know if you have any questions and I will gladly answer them.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

DIY: Lavender Bath Bombs

Do you love to use bath bombs, but don't want the expense of buying them? (I can't be the only one who thinks they are crazy expensive?!?) I can make my own with all natural ingredients for a fraction of the cost. Plus my kids love them too! When I make them for the kids, it's fun to hide a small toy inside for a fun bath time surprise. Or make really small bath bombs for a relaxing foot soak.

1 cup baking soda
1/2 cup citric acid
1/2 cup epsom salt
3/4 cup corn starch
2 Tbsp + 1 tsp oil of choice (I use sweet almond oil)
2 Tbsp water
40 drops of Lavender Essential Oil (I use Young Living oils)
Liquid coloring if desired
Dried Lavender flowers if desired

1. Combine the dry ingredients (baking soda, citric acid, epsom salt, & corn starch) in a bowl and mix.

2. In a small bowl, combine the oil, water, essential oil, and liquid coloring. Mix well.

3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients a few drops at a time. Mix well with hands. Add dried flowers if desired.

4. Mixture should hold together when squeezed without crumbling. You may need to add a small amount of additional water to achieve this.

5. Quickly push the mixture into molds. Press in firmly and let sit for at least 24 hours or until hardened.

6. When dry, remove and store in air tight container or bag. Use within 2 weeks.

These also make great gifts! When I am giving them as gifts, I like to include a card with the ingredients just in case someone has allergies. I am including a FREE download of this to you. Just click on the picture below.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Recipe: Potato Salad

This is the only potato salad I've ever made. It's that good! Sorry guys, no exact measurements. I eyeball everything, then add what's needed to taste.

5 pound bag of potatoes
1 stalk of celery (I use ~ 4 pieces off the stalk)
4-5 Kosher dill pickles
6 eggs
2 heaping serving spoon size scoops (probably ~1 cup) Best Foods mayonnaise
Drizzle over the top (~2 Tablespoons) French's mustard
Salt & Pepper to taste

Peel potatoes and cut into cubes. Boil until soft enough to poke with a fork. Rinse with cold water. Boil 6 eggs until done, about 10 minutes. Rinse with cold water. While potatoes and eggs are boiling, chop celery and pickles. Place in a large mixing bowl. Add mayonnaise and mustard. Stir. Once eggs are cool enough, peel and chop. Mix with celery and pickles. Once potatoes are done, add to mixing bowl. Stir all ingredients and add salt & pepper to taste.

You can make this ahead of time and store in refrigerator. I usually make mine several hours before I want to serve it so it has time to cool off. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Our Adoption Journey: Pre-Placement

We originally answered the call to be foster parents in 2005.  I know God had been working on my heart for a while, but I kept coming up with excuses as to why we shouldn’t do foster care.  For one, I was on permanent disability, suffering with joint pain and chronic headaches from a meningitis infection I contracted in 2001.  I was also home schooling our 2 biological children and wasn’t sure how it would effect that.  Daniel was working nights at a local grocery store.  We were really involved in the recovery ministry at our church, both teaching classes on a weekly basis.  God was relentless though.  It seemed like everywhere I turned the subject of foster parenting or adoption came up, including a dream I had one night.  And then a friend I hadn’t talked to in years called to announce the adoption of their son through foster care.  

I finally approached Daniel in January 2005.  I told him about this burden on my heart to become foster parents and that I wanted him to pray about it.  I would only move forward with the certification process if we were both in agreement.  Within a week, he came back to me and said that he felt this was the direction God wanted our family to take.  We knew the foster agency we wanted to work with because they were a faith based agency and we had some friends we attended church with who had previously been foster parents with this same agency, then went on to adopt.  I scheduled an appointment for our orientation and we attended.  At this orientation, we ran into another friend from church and knew we were in the right place.  The facilitator at this orientation said so many things that touched us.  

We turned in our application and were very motivated to begin the certification process.  Daniel had just undergone surgery on his feet and was off work for 8 weeks.  We began getting the house ready and had our home inspection.  Because Daniel was off work, we were able to get through the entire certification process in 6 weeks!  We received a call before we were officially certified, wanting to know if we would be able to take 2 children.  They were placed with another family within the agency, but the foster mom was having health problems and they needed to be moved.  We made the necessary arrangements and the social worker finished our certification.  Then we received another call stating that the children ended up going to live with relatives.  We were so disappointed.  {This was only the beginning of all of the ups and downs that we now know are part of being foster parents.}  

Another week passed and we were getting anxious for a placement.  {I can look back and laugh at the absurdity of that.  Wow did we have a lot to learn!}  Then we received a call from a county worker that she had 2 boys who needed to be moved from their current foster placement.  She described Alex as a very quiet 2 year old, with red hair and big blue eyes.  Then she said James was 12 months old and that he had been born with a cleft lip and palate.  I told her that I did not know much about the care associated with a cleft lip and palate, but that we would be willing to take the boys.  I had a background as a medical assistant and figured that would help with taking care of James.  We made arrangements to pick up the boys in 2 days, which was our son's 13th birthday.  In the mean time, I did a lot of research on children with a cleft lip and palate to educate myself about the necessary care associated with it. {That researcher in me has come in handy on numerous occasions.  I truly believe that knowledge is power.}  

We were excited and nervous all at the same time, although we didn’t know quite what to expect since this was our first placement. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Joey's Journey: Strabismus Eye Surgery

Joey suffered from a right sided head tilt from the time he came "home" at 2 months old. The medical term for head tilt is torticollis. We did exercises with him and eventually physical therapy. He didn't tolerate physical therapy very well because he did not want the therapist to hold him or touch him. Some sessions he would scream the entire time. This was prior to Joey receiving his autism diagnosis, but I was beginning to suspect it. 

Then his in-home Occupational Therapist recommended having his vision checked. We saw a Developmental Optometrist, but at the time it was extremely difficult to perform an exam on Joey. She did however suspect that Joey had strabismus. (I reported that when Joey was not upright, his left eye would roll upwards.) This would need to continue to be followed. We were eventually referred to a Pediatric Ophthalmologist. It was then that the diagnosis of strabismus was confirmed. Again, the exam was difficult. In fact, the doctor performed the exam with Joey in the backpack carrier that we used on a daily basis due to Joey's extreme sensory processing difficulties. 


When we returned to her office around the time of Joey's fourth birthday, he was much more cooperative with the exam. The Pediatric Ophthalmologist said that it was more apparent on exam now that he has strabismus. She gave us the options of waiting and continuing to follow up on an annual basis, or surgery to loosen the upper eye muscle to help balance the eye.

We opted to proceed with surgery. In the case it was altering his vision, we thought that correcting it sooner rather than later would be better. Also, if we could correct the torticollis before it became worse or caused permanent damage that would be an added benefit.

Joey did great through the surgical process! The hardest part was keeping him on "low activity" for a week following surgery. We made a YouTube video documenting the process. Please let us know if you have any questions or comments.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Disneyland Tips & Tricks

Since we are nearing the end of our Disneyland Season Pass year, I thought I would share some tips with you. We generally travel as a large group, with multiple children who have special needs, so keep that in mind.  One thing I found to be helpful is to plan in advance. Think about the items you or your children use throughout any given day, then make a list. I am including the list I use for you to download if you'd like.

Going to an unfamiliar place is difficult enough, but when it's filled with crowds and new sights/sounds it can be overwhelming. If you are not familiar with Disneyland, I would recommend that you sit down with a map of the park prior to your arrival. We also had our younger children watch videos of Disneyland on Youtube so that it would not be completely unfamiliar. I created a social story for our son who has autism.  You can find that video here:


We recommend downloading the Disneyland app seen below onto your phone prior to your arrival also. It will give you park hours, showtimes, wait times for attractions at Disneyland and California Adventure, locations of characters/dining/shops/restrooms/guest services, as well as you can link your pass to get FASTPASS vouchers loaded directly on them.   

We are naturally early risers since our children wake up early every day. That is very beneficial when visiting Disneyland. Get to the park early and beat the crowds! We have found that visiting the park opposite of the one offering the "Early Morning Entrance" is a best bet also.  For the more popular rides, you will want to get your FASTPASS vouchers first thing to ensure that your ride time isn't at the end of the day. If you are traveling with a child who cannot ride and need to have 1 adult wait off the ride with them, you can ask for a rider switch which will allow the adult who was waiting off the ride to gain entrance through the FASTPASS entrance once the remainder of the party has exited the ride.

If you are traveling with a guest who has a disability, you can check in with guest services at City Hall or any green umbrella throughout the park to have a DAS (Disability Access Service) added to their pass. This will allow the disabled person and their party to obtain a return time for that attraction. This is helpful as you don't have to actually wait in the line while you are waiting. You can use the restroom, get a snack, or even enjoy another ride!

Feel free to comment with any questions and I will respond as soon as possible.