Life Skills

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Photo by Oskar Henriksson

I’ve been in a mud bath of apathy. It’s not a lack of motivation. I’m motivated to do a lot of things. The problem is, I can’t seem to get going on anything. I have lots of unfinished tasks. To get moving, here are several techniques that I use with varying degrees of success.

Make a List and Work It

 

When I can’t decide what to work on, I often dump all of my ideas onto a list. Sometimes I prioritize, sometimes I don’t. Writing things on a list makes them demand attention. Plus, you have the added bonus of being able to cross items off when you finish them. That in itself is a reward!

Move Yourself

 

Sometimes getting moving helps a person to get moving. For instance, before tackling my list, I would like to try to begin pushups training. Hopefully, this will stimulate my body to produce adrenaline, which will help me move forward. At least I’ll be more awake.

Be Accountable

 

Telling someone else that you are going to complete a project can help. This works better if they ask you about your progress on the project. When they ask, be honest about how things are going on the project. If you hit a stumbling block, say so. Perhaps they can help you over it.

Create Mini Goals

 

Instead of making it a goal to clean the bathroom, break it up into smaller tasks: clear the counter, clean the mirror, wipe the counter, sweep the floor, swish the toilet and scrub the tub. Give yourself credit for doing any of these steps. The result will please you.

What do you do to get out of the mud? Put on your boots and get moving!

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Photo by Yaroslav B

 

I am a runner.

I do not run fast.

I do not run far.

But I am a runner.

I run to stay healthy.

I run to stay sane.

I run because my body aches to move.

My feet long to feel the pound as they hit the road.

I’m not an experienced runner.

I do not run marathons.

I’ve never entered a 5K.

I love seeing the nature in my own neighborhood; saying hello to the dogs that bark at me as I pass; chatting with neighbors.

This only happens when it is cool outside.

Soon it will be 95 degrees by 9am.

My walks will take place even earlier.

The sunrise will be my friend.

My shoes aren’t expensive.

My outfit is not perfect.

My hair may be a mess.

I don’t own any ear buds or headphones.

I listen to the birds and the sound of my own breathing.

I savor the season.

I am a runner.

 

 

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Photo by Stephanie Hofschlaeger

 

It all starts out so innocently. A couple fall in love and decide to get married. Soon enough, they decide to have children. At first, the children are precious, delicate beings, content to nurse and sleep and laugh and cry. Even when they are crying, though, they are precious. At some point, say around the time they start to walk and talk, they change. They can manipulate their environment.

In short, THEY LEARN TO TAKE OUT TOYS.

New parents often fall into the trap of buying all the latest toys for their precious creations. It’s one way of showing love. The grandparents, especially if they live out of town, often show their love this way, too. If you have more than one child, there are often multiples of favorite toys. For us, that meant three Bob the Builder dolls; three special, light up firetrucks; three identical sets of Legos; and three copies of Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection. The result is mountains and mountains of toys and books.

The problem is, clutter makes some kids edgy. Others may feel overwhelmed and not be able to clean up because they don’t know where to start. I always tell my children that if their rooms are too cluttered, then the firemen can’t get to them if the house catches on fire. Dramatic? Perhaps. But why not make it easier for them by setting a few simple rules.

Rule #1 When One Comes In, Two Go Out

This is one of the simplest methods I have found to declutter. When the grandparents send a new toy, encourage children to choose two to donate to those who are less fortunate. Forget about selling them on Ebay, Craigslist or at a children’s consignment store. Just let them go. It takes lots of time you probably don’t have to document, photograph, package, list and mail those toys. Send them to a local charity. Of course, don’t donate anything that is in poor condition. Only donate the quality you would wish to receive.

Rule #2 Have a Place for Everything

Seems simple enough, but how many things do the kids own that simply don’t have any place to go. There is only so much space in a house. At some point, there are no more bins, boxes, shelves or corners. Plus, the adults need and deserve their space, too. If there is no where to put a new toy, then get rid of an old one (Rule #1). Oh, and buying new containers just creates more clutter. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Rule #3 Throw Out Broken Toys or Ones That Are Missing Pieces

Many kids, mine included will figure out some reason why they should be allowed to keep a broken toy. My favorite is “He can just be a headless robot, like the Super Battle Droids on Star Wars!” Let’s get real, here. Broken toys are not worth the space they take up. You will most likely never send off for an extra game piece. (OK, maybe if it is a really important game that the entire family plays over and over and over again.) Out with broken toys or toys with missing pieces. Same with books. Unless it’s worth the time, effort and expense to repair or replace, toss it!

Rule #4 Mom and Dad Have Final Say

This is something crucial that parents often forget. You are the parent. You make the decisions. Children are not developmentally capable of parenting themselves. So hold firm. Stand your ground. Control the toy clutter. Your kids will be happier, and so will you.

How do you control the toy avalanche?

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Photo by Katelyn Thomas

Now that the deer in the headlights sensation has worn off, we are trying to move forward with our lives. Life does not stop when the breadwinner is laid off. There are a million things that we don’t think of that need attention. It’s very overwhelming. In fact, it’s very tempting to just escape and procrastinate. But that does no one any good. In fact, ignoring the situation can MAKE IT WORSE.

The Pit of Despair

 

When my dear one was laid off, one of the things that I worried about was that one or both of us would sink into a depressive pit from which we could never emerge. To some extent, that did happen. Spouse hid his head in a riveting historical novel (which he had read at least three times before) for two days. He just stayed in bed and read. I, on the other hand, spun around trying to fix things – you know, be proactive. I felt resentful that he was not trying to fix the situation immediately. I really didn’t react with much empathy. Never mind that he was laid off on a Friday and deserved a weekend off. Neither his reaction nor mine helped. Instead, after the flurry of activity, we both got sick for 2 weeks. The kids did not. Finally, I succumbed to a rather deep depression for a few days.

Initial Decompression

An acquaintance mentioned that my husband and and I were both probably “shell-shocked” and needed some time to decompress from both the layoff and the toxic work environment that he had endured for 13 years. I relaxed and tried to allow my husband to grieve his job loss and come to grips with our new situation. I immediately sought counseling. I am still on a waiting list, but just the act of calling to make an appointment relieved a great deal of stress. We leaned on family and friends to get through this period of initial shock.

The Plan

What did help was sitting down calmly and attacking the problem systematically.

  1. We agreed to have weekly financial meetings. These meetings would help us to work together and keep me from feeling that I had no control over the situation. He would tell me how his job search was going and I would refrain from repeatedly asking him about it. I would keep him abreast of our income and expenses and provide a weekly financial report.
  2. We brainstormed a list of things we needed to do to keep our family afloat financially, medically, and emotionally. When the list was done, we assigned tasks for each of us to do to run the household. This gave both of us direction and purpose in taking our family to the next stage.
  3. We made it a priority to safeguard our physical health, our mental health, and our emotional health. We committed to eating healthy, taking daily walks, and doing yoga. As I mentioned, I called for counseling. We decided to keep some things, such as weekly skating (only $10 for me and the 2 younger kids), occasional movie rentals (under $3 per movie), and date nights (using coupons and 2 for 1 deals only) in the budget for now.
  4. We re-instituted the weekly family meeting to keep the kids informed. It is important to remember that a lay off affects everyone, down to the cat (though he doesn’t have as much to say).

We haven’t heard back yet about that job. Our future is still uncertain. Our lifestyle will change of necessity. But we will emerge stronger and with more life skills than we had. It will take all of us, working together, to build a new life.

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Photo by Unknown

I’ve been following the advice of David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, for some time. I wouldn’t consider myself a GTD Blackbelt by any means, though. His system of increasing productivity is thorough at best. At its worst, it can be considered overkill. To follow his system by the book takes loads of time and mountains of effort. And that is what I lack.

Controlling the Flood

I aspire to be one of the uber-organized, with a place for everything and everything in its place, but the reality is that I am constantly struggling to keep the clutter and outright mess under control. I am the perfect candidate, for benefiting from Getting Things Done . I need to control a multitude of projects: writing lesson checklists, shopping for our school texts, planning menus, managing the ever-growing list of home maintenance chores, completing housework, appointment setting, budgeting, writing, chauffeuring. This is not a complete list by any means. My head can not contain it all. Getting Things Done is the perfect tool for a wife and mother of 3. It is clean, it is neat, it is organized.

If It Doesn’t Work, Let It Go

Now don’t get me wrong. I love this system. I just need to tweak it for my own use. If motherhood has taught me anything, it is that it is OK to change things to make them work for you. I spent precious time and energy setting up my tickler files. Then, they just sat there. Nothing was ever added. They were never checked. Once I added an invitation to them only to almost miss the engagement because I had lost the invitation – IN MY TICKLER FILE.

Bye Bye Tickler, Hello Calendar

So, I am letting go of the part of the system that does not work for me. I refuse to feel guilty or bad in any way put myself down for not following through. What I have done is to free myself from worrying about something. I can spend my time and energy in better ways. I still need a way to have a tickler file, though, because I just can’t keep everything in my head. Enter the online calendar. While researching ways to implement the GTD system, I ran across this video:

I have now begun use my Yahoo Calendar more and more to keep up with the kids appointments, husband’s gigs, school commitments, church meetings and other items. Life is much smoother now. Thanks to Michael at The Black Belt Project.

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Photo by Adrian Gtz

I am almost used to having a boy in school. Almost. If you are homeschooling a special needs child and are thinking of sending your child to public school, I want to send you some words of encouragement. I have been homeschooling my 3 sons for 12 years, Birthday season is almost here, but right now, my boys are 12, 9 and 6.

Until Now…

 

My eldest has Asperger’s Syndrome. His main issues were sensory(all areas but eating and food), but he also has some auditory processing issues and sequencing issues, plus some day to day issues that just can’t be categorized. Since he has never been to public school, I have always just used his age when telling folks what grade he is in. So, he is in the 7th Grade.

Up until now, homeschool has helped us work through many of these issues. However, this year we decided to put him in public school because our mornings were constantly filled with tears and we weren’t getting any “school” done, only meltdown interventions. We decided to try him in the neighborhood middle school in the middle of 7th grade.

The First Hurdle

 

At first, I thought this would be horrible. To start with, this school required uniforms. We had never been able to get him to wear anything but t-shirts and jeans. Button downs and slacks were out of the question. He was just as picky about the colors – no white and only dark colors. As for shoes, he had worn the same brand, color and style for 4 years. To my utter amazement, when we told him that it was “the rule”, he cheerfully helped pick out his uniform, a white polo shirt, khaki pants with a belt and black on black shoes. I tried to give him as much control and ownership over the process as I could.

Problems were solved without me

 

I have to admit, the first week was an emotional one, but mostly for me. His biggest complaint was that he didn’t like waking up early and he didn’t like having to follow a strict schedule. I noticed that learning where his classes were was a challenge, but he got through it. In fact, with the exception of a small meltdown AT HOME during ONE homework assignment, he has been all smiles. He recovered quickly from that meltdown and was able to correctly complete the assignment. His teachers have seen the beginnings of meltdowns but quickly moved in to mitigate the situation. I never heard about them until much later.

Non-Issues

 

All of the issues that I thought would be a problem just weren’t. The crowds, the noise, the smells, having to sit next to strangers (this is a biggie for him) were non-issues. By the second week, he had memorized his schedule, learned where his classes were, and had communicated with his teachers and the administration. By the 3rd or 4th week, he was beginning to talk to other students. I think that now, he actually enjoys public school, though the computer class and the robotics may have something to do with that. He also enjoyed dissecting a frog.

Be Open

 

I was very up front about my son’s diagnosis with the administration. I told them exactly what his issues and triggers were. He does not yet qualify for Special Ed and he may not. It turned out that his math teacher was a former Special Ed teacher and that his other teachers were more than willing to accommodate his needs. His science teacher moved him closer to the front and all were willing to listen to him and help him navigate public school life. His shop teacher even sat with him at lunch that first day and chatted about how things were going. I just had a mid-year conference with all of his teachers and got glowing reviews from all of them.

In Hindsight

 

If I could do it over again, I would have enrolled him in 5th grade, where there is less movement from class to class and where he might have an easier time getting used to the public school environment. My son did not use the bathroom the first day because he wasn’t sure when he could do that. I helped him by organizing his binder every night and going over all of his homework. I also still remind him to turn things in. I temporarily suspended all of his chore requirements during the weekdays and often tidy up his room for him. These are small things that I can do that take some of the pressure off him, and make time for his homework.

At Home and At Public School

 

I still homeschool my neurotypical sons. I do not know if they will want to attend public school. (My middle child will be in the 5th grade next fall.) But I have seen a dramatic change in my eldest. He is all smiles these days. No matter what he learns or doesn’t learn in public school, he is learning the invaluable lessons of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. He is learning to interact with life beyond our front door. The academics are a bonus. I still plan to homeschool in the summer because I do not want kids doing nothing all summer. But we can have a light load and pick up his favorites that he left behind, like Greek, Latin, and some readings.

The Big Picture

 

While I dearly love homeschooling, with Asperger’s, I have had to look beyond the academics and decide how to best serve my son, who will enter society at large someday. Before, I was really truly worried that my son would never be able to leave home, get a job and live on his own. My doubts are still there, but they are retreating. He is now looking forward to “choice sheet night” this week, when he will choose his classes for 8th grade. I do not know if he will attend public high school. My husband and I have decided to take it one semester at a time, knowing that if things are not working, we can withdraw him at any time to attend our “private school”.

Communication is Key

 

As for Special Ed, as you know, there are many hoops to jump through. Make sure you start jumping before his first day. And communicate, communicate communicate with the teachers, administrators. Get to know the cafeteria lady and the librarian. (The janitor told my son that “at this school we tuck our shirts in, son.”)They are there to help your child have a positive experience. Ask directly for what you need, but don’t be afraid to let go a little and let your child flourish.

While your child may have other issues, I urge you not to underestimate him. Take it one day at a time and communicate with your child. He will tell you if things are not right. You will know how things are going even if he says nothing. Build strong support at home and there is nothing he can’t do.

When Things Are Not Working, Change and Follow Through

Our lives have recently changed dramatically. My 12 year old has just started public school. It was a fairly quick decision on the surface, but really, it had been on our minds for many months. T has not really been thriving in our home school environment. Since the beginning of this year, he has been tearful and has not been able to complete a full day’s worth of work more for than one day at a time. On most days, he was only able to complete 1 subject. Every now and then, he would surprise me and complete several subjects; but mostly, it was tears and frustration for us both.

At first, I blamed this difficulty on his diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome . We have had to work through sensory issues, fine motor problems, emotional issues and processing issues. On the other hand, I had said many times, “If you can’t be successful here at home, you will need to go to the school down the road.” This is the strict parent speaking. I realize that this had been, up until now, an empty threat. I know that such threats are not conducive to learning. I realized that at this point, at 12 years old and in the 7th grade, some thing would have to change soon, as high school and college are growing closer.

A Sudden Transition

Our transition was rather sudden. In a perfect world, I would have gradually gotten him ready for public school in the fall. Starting in the early spring, I would have looked for a good school, gone to the orientation day in the fall, toured the school ahead of time and mentally prepared T for the atmosphere of public school. Of course, this is not what happened. One Monday in November, before Thanksgiving, I decided to put him into 7th grade at the neighborhood middle school. We all put away our studies for the day to get the paperwork from the school office, buy a uniform and supplies, and retrieve his vaccination records from his pediatrician. The next day, he started.

Throughout all the preparation, I could tell by looking into T’s eyes that he was nervous. I was a wreck and tried not to cry a mother’s tears, usually reserved for kindergartners, now flowing for my 6 foot tall adolescent. However, he was cheerful and helpful throughout the entire process. There were so many new things to adjust to, for me and for him. We both had about 10 new people in our lives. T also had the campus map to contend with as well as unfamiliar routines, crowds, bells and other sensory bombardments. But we both survived. We got through it all. The things I thought would bother T were non issues.

I Love the Smiles

T seems to be a very well-adjusted middle-schooler. His first report card is filled with A’s. Academically, I have no real worries, though, as with any child that age, I still have to remind him to turn in his homework. More importantly, the tears are gone. T has started smiling again. Most days, he gets into the van full of tales of the day – and the smiles…I love the smiles.

Our lives are now filled with taking T to and from school, helping him with his homework and washing his uniform. His weekday chores are suspended for now, as he gets used to his new life, and I am sure he’s happy about that. We plan to take things one semester at a time. The younger two are now starting to think about public school in the fall. On the other hand, now that we all have to get up early to get T to school on time, they finish their schoolwork by noon.

T woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. It was not even 10 am and he was growling at everyone. When I asked him to narrate his first reading, the tears came quickly. Normally, I would work with him on the material until he was able to give an acceptable narration. Often, his stubbornness and my demands for perfection would drive both of us to tears.

Today, though, I tried a different tack. Today, I was able to stop viewing his tears and refusals as a behavior issue. This is something that I know intellectually that one shouldn’t do with someone on the autistic spectrum. Try as I may, I always fall into that authoritarian parenting style.

Today, I did a few things differently. First, I backed off. I acknowledged that he was feeling down today, and that , like  Alexander, "Some days are like that…even in Australia." We talked about whether it was the schoolwork that was making him sad, or whether it was something else. Turns out, it was both. The something else was just a sadness that he was unable to pinpoint. When he said that he couldn’t do any school work today, I said that that was OK.

Secondly, I encouraged him to find something to lift his mood. I gave him some examples of things I do when I’m in a bad mood. I knit, read, take a bath, do yoga, etc. I suggested that he wrap his brother’s birthday present, to which he readily agreed. Wrapping gifts is not his forte, and he needed help, but he was willing to give it a try.

After that, I gently encouraged him to look over his school schedule and decide what things he thought he could accomplish. In the end, he read a chapter from Little Pilgrim’s Progress, completed two pages of Greek, and practiced piano. This is not anywhere near a full day’s work for T. However, his mood was improved FOR THE REST OF THE DAY! Folks, this is big. T’s bad moods can last decades.

I hope I can remember what I did today so I can repeat it. We’ll try that reading again another day.

On another note, my baby turned 4 today! Happy Birthday, R!

I frequent a number of blogs, mostly in the categories of homeschooling, autism, housekeeping/organization, life hacks, and personal finance. Occasionally, a post crosses from area of interest to another.  One blog I read regularly is The Simple Dollar. On it, Trent recently wrote a very good article on cultural literacy.

Wikipedia defines Cultural Literacy as

"… the ability to converse fluently in the idioms, allusions and informal content which creates and constitutes a dominant culture. From being familiar with street signs to knowing historical reference to understanding the most recent slang, literacy demands interaction with the culture and reflection of it. A knowledge of a canonical set of literature is not valuable when engaging with others in a society if the knowledge stops at the end of the text – as life is interwoven with art, expression, history and experience, cultural literacy requires the broad range of trivia and the use of that trivia in the creation of a communal language and a collective knowledge. Cultural literacy stresses the knowledge of those pieces of information which content creators will assume the audience already possesses."

This is an invaluable life skill that we as homeschoolers must not neglect. In many ways, we, as homeschool educators have more chances to teach Cultural Literacy than do public educators, who have to keep their numbers, meaning test scores, up. We have all day, every day to point out items that are worthy of being known to our children, as well as modeling the skill by engaging in a little research ourselves. Check out Trent’s blog and this post in particular.

Happy Reading!

Photo by Marcos Santos

I know I haven’t posted in a long time. But, you know what? I am not going to apologize.  Lately, life has just been more important. Nothing spectacular, just regular, everyday ole’ life.

Life is more important than the internet. Just in case you missed that, LIFE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE INTERNET. However, the internet is fun. And interesting. And exciting. And boring. And often, a waste of time. There is a place for all of that.

The other day, my oldest pulled me away from checking my e-mail for the umpteenth time. We played several exciting games of tic-tac-toe. The difference was, I was playing with my son. We only played for 5 or 10 minutes. We tied most games. Each of us won at least once. We talked, we giggled. We decided that the pencil really won. That was way more important than the internet.

So, if you’re reading this instead of playing with your kids, talking to your spouse, or petting your cat or dog with undivided attention, I urge you to log off, put the computer to sleep, and spend some time with the outside world. Even staring into space has its benefits.