Easing Transitions

         Hey there 🙂

I thought I would reappear for a second here and share a few little charts with you that we’ve been using around here. I’m assuming that we are not the only ones who struggle to keep transition times positive. When there’s a list of things you want your kids to do and you’re racing against a clock only you seem to be aware of, it’s hard to keep things cheerful and stress free. Whether it’s lost shoes, forgotten homework, library books, messy faces or backwards tights all it can take in those stressful moments is one little straw to bring the whole thing crashing to the floor! Let’s face it…it doesn’t exactly make you feel like Supermom when you show up for school 5-10 minutes late five days in a row. (I should know!) If your kids are already struggling emotionally, all it can take is a grumpy Mama breathing down their necks to shove them onto the fast track to a very bad day for all of the above!

So…how do you somehow get all those things accomplished without nagging at them and at the same time teach responsibility?

My answer is VISUALS.

After living with a child diagnosed with Autism for almost 10 months, I fell in love with all things PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System.) During that time I bought myself a cheap little laminator at Walmart ($60 will get you a laminator, pouches and little velcro stickers). I have been using that thing for everything I can get my hands on ever since! I LOVE to laminate things. It makes them durable, clean and it’s just so much fun! 🙂

Anyway, while we were fostering this child, I made hundreds and hundreds of little pictures for us to be able to communicate and understand each other. We had pictures of foods for mealtime and grocery shopping. We had pictures of jobs that needed to be done, down to specific steps for things like going to the bathroom and getting dressed. We had pictures of emotions to communicate how we were feeling. We had pictures of social rules, consequences and even a little square for hugs, kisses and I LOVE YOU. For little R, it meant for the first time he had a voice to be able to communicate what was going through his mind, even if his physical voice would not cooperate in the way he wanted.

There are thousands of websites that can give you ideas for creating visuals for your child. For R it was a way to communicate in every part of his life but even if your child has a perfectly functional voice (like both of mine do), visuals are still a great way to reinforce expectations and teach new skills!

For my girls, being able to see pictures of the jobs that need to be done have made our morning routine so much smoother. Now I don’t need to keep track of every move they’re making in that hour before leaving the house. They each have a list of what needs to be done and know that until their boxes are all checked off, they are not allowed to move on to playtime. If they do happen to skip one, they know that Mommy will catch it as she breezes through the house making that final sweep and they will not be able to blame anyone else for not doing it because it was on their list! It makes them feel great when they do all their jobs and don’t have to be reminded ten times to hurry up, go back and get socks or stop playing and get ready! The other great thing about visuals is that you can easily tailor it to match your child’s ability and comprehension. My daughters’ charts don’t look the same. At first I just made them each a checklist like this:

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However, my littlest A did not do so well with this method. It was too big of a stretch for her to see words and pictures and try to comprehend what she needed to do on her own. So I made this one for her instead:

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Now she has a list of only pictures, and instead of running around armed with an erasable marker (which is an accident waiting to happen) all she has to do is move her picture from the TO DO column on the left to the ALL DONE column on the right. The physical motion of having to move each sticker helps her keep track of what she’s done and makes it harder for her to accidentally check off a task she has not actually completed.

Are our mornings perfect?

No.

Kids will always be kids. They still fool around, get their tights on backwards, brush their teeth in 5 seconds and miss the peanut butter around their mouths when washing faces. They move at the speed of a snail some days and we are still late for school sometimes.  I have to call them back to remake sloppy beds, wash properly or focus on their tasks.

But…

It helps us stay on track and makes the morning much less stressful for me when I can make the list be the boss instead of a harried Mom being the boss. Now, instead of it being Mom vs. Kids it feels a bit more like we’re a team all working toward the same goal.

A few other visuals we use sometimes are:

Dressing Prompts for all those tricky winter layers like snow pants and boots

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and an after school jobs list to get the lunch bag and agenda up to Mommy’s counter to be signed.

There are a thousand more visual projects I’d love to do and a few more we enjoy that I don’t have pictures of. One of my favourites is making grocery lists for kids when you’re going to the store so they can help shop too! For little ones, you can use pictures. For older kids you can make them their own list and even send them to another area of the store to get a few items if they’re responsible enough. Teaching little ones to dress is always a challenge and visuals are great for that too. Posting step by step instructions you can help them refer to makes them feel like they’ve done it all on their own. We had a step by step guide for using the bathroom posted for months to help make sure hands were washed, toilet was flushed, etc. Organizing your child’s toys and clothes is another great way to use visuals so they can start taking responsibility for where their things belong.  If you have children that struggle to understand social situations or are anxious in new environments, social stories can be a great visual tool to help them understand and  prepare for situations they’ll be facing.  You can use visuals as a teaching tool for those precocious toddlers who need more to keep their brains busy, too! 🙂  McDonald’s ordering booklets are fun and easy.  Let  your child choose what he/she would like next time and use her voice and pictures to tell the person at the cashier.  I’m guessing when you do a quick search online you’ll soon have lots of ideas too! So buy that laminator! 🙂

As for the actual pictures, you can use a variety of tools.

  1. Your camera. Real pictures taken of individual items.

  2. Free clipart online

  3. Websites that offer clipart, PECS or ready made charts.

    Once you have the pictures, all you do is load them onto your computer, paste them into a program like Microsoft Word or Office, shrink them down to the dimensions you’d like (1 or 2 inches usually), print them off, cut them out and then zip them through your laminator. Once they’ve been laminated you cut them out and stick a little square of velcro on the back.

    Voila!

    Have fun 🙂

    AF

Let it Snow

It’s snowing outside! 🙂

First snowfall of the season on October 31.

This girl is happy.

In fact…this morning has been just about perfect.  My husband didn’t have to leave for work until 9:00, so we slept in.

Woke up to big, beautiful flakes of snow falling outside the window,

the girls happily playing downstairs by the fire,

and a warm kiss beside me.

Ah.

Fluffy slippers,

all of us meandering through breakfast and morning routines together

and then rushing the girls out the door at the last minute because…surprise…we’re late!

Checked out the Christmas sales starting in the flyers,

lit some candles,

and turned on the Christmas songs

all as the flurries continued to fall.

My daughters prayed for snow, so they were delighted to bundle up in their winter coats, mittens and hats this morning and go out into the cold.

What about you?

Are you ready for the Christmas season creeping up on us?  What do you love about the next two months?  Don’t tell me what you hate, because those are all listed off thousands of times every year and we really don’t need to review those! 🙂

Some side notes…

We’re heading out tonight on our “alternative to Halloween” activity…collecting food for the local food bank.

We’ll walk the streets with all the ghosts, princesses, zombies and fairies until we’re too cold,

our wagon is full of canned soup

or Daddy shuts us down,

and then we’ll go warm up with some pizza!

It’s an early to bed night here since tomorrow is a BIG day.  We’re going to go visit the girls’ foster families for the very first time since placement four months ago.  I’m excited, but nervous and trying to prepare for the emotional disruptions next week is likely to bring.  It’s 2 steps forward and 1.9 steps backward as we stumble through this maze called attachment together.

To be honest, I’ve been having a rough few weeks.  It’s just such hard work some days, and the stakes are so high.  So much depends on me and half the time I don’t have a clue what’s really going on.  Our mornings are shaky at best, and one wrong move on my part can send us all spiralling into anxiety, fear, anger and power struggles.  I try to do it on my own too often.  I let myself fall into the easy, muddy ruts that bring us all down.

Too tired.

Too grumpy.

Too overwhelmed.

Too busy.

But good friends and God reminded me this week that I am called to so much more than this.  There is a power available for me if I will only submit my heart to the path it takes to get there.  I must be willing to let go of my irritation, my pride, my fear and my frown.  One step in front of the other, I can choose to be the kind of woman He longs for me to be.  Not perfect, but eager to serve.  Not superwoman, but flexible and cheerful even when mittens are lost and the night was too short.  Three quarters of the battle is won when I kick that big stubborn will of mine into gear!  I know better than to let myself off the hook too easily because I know just how much I can really change with a positive attitude and a heart ready to bow to the Spirit’s gentle nudges.  That decision on Wednesday made the last half of this week so much better than the first!

It’s still snowing! 🙂  Better pull out those layers for tonight.

Cheers!

AF

 

 

I want to be ALONE!

Ok.

So this is me being honest and letting you all know that even though we’re pretty excited about our new family of 4…we’re normal.  Not every day is rainbows and shimmer.

Right now I am hiding downstairs in my jammies while my husband builds a tree house with the girls and let me tell you I am just drinking in the quietness here!  Some days I am full of energy and happiness and amazement…and other days I’m just plain old tired.  Also…my personal bubble is nonexistent these days which sometimes makes this Mama Queen of the Grumps!  Wiry little arms hugging, pulling, yanking and poking at me all day long.  Affectionate?  Yes…but Mommy is not always in the mood for affection.  Mommy is not always in the mood for silly, nonsensical chatter and stinky morning breath in my face.  Mommy is not always in the mood for bony little bodies jumping on me.  Mommy is not always in the mood for whiny little voices following me all over the kitchen as I try to get everything done that needs to be done between 5 and 6pm.  Mommy is not always in the mood for markers all over the floor, glue on the table and macaroni bracelets in the bathroom sink.  Mommy is not always in the mood for little bodies climbing up on the countertops and sending a zillion cups crashing to the floor while clumsy hands search for that perfectly pink favourite.  Mommy is not always in the mood for an out of control garden hose spraying my basket of dry laundry.  Mommy is not always in the mood for little voices calling “Watch me!”

Sigh.

Yup.

Pretty normal.

My husband is awesome about this.  He helps chase away the “Mom guilties” that want to come in and just bash me to pieces when I just need to be ALONE!  The other night after the girls were in bed I went out for like 5 minutes to pick something up and I could’ve just laughed out loud!  I felt like a FREE WOMAN!  Of course when I got back 5 minutes later two little faces were peering out the window at me calling…”Mommy!  Where did you go?!”  Like it was the most insane thing ever that I would go somewhere without them!  After all, we are pretty much inseparable…and to bring some balance to this post…I am SO thankful that I am in the position where I am able to be a stay-at-home Mom to my daughters.  I truly am grateful for that, and would not change it for the world.

However…that doesn’t mean my patience level is any higher than yours and I just wanted you to know that it’s real life around here, too!  Bedtime is usually one of my favourite times of the day.  I love to be able to tuck them in, read stories, hear them pray and just feel connected at the end of the day.  But there are some days all I want is to give a quick kiss and then BE ALONE!  Days like this one can make me feel incredibly guilty, because I know there is a Mom somewhere who would love to be able to have just one more exasperating, annoying Monday!  Some days I am that Mom…there are two little faces etched forever on my memory that make me ache with loneliness some days.  I love my girls…but I’ve learned that nobody can be replaced.  Each new little person finds their own place in my heart…a place I didn’t even know existed until they came.  The one left empty will always be just that…empty…except for the memories.  So I understand we need to treasure every second.  Just writing that made me cry.  There is a little buzz cut that used to come lay softly on my cheek every single morning and make all kinds of happy, endearing noises…and every single morning I miss that little buzz cut.  There is a pair of vivid, joyful brown eyes that used to make me smile every single day as they danced to the sound of belly giggles…even on the worst days…and I miss those brown eyes every day.  I did not think it would hurt this bad for so long.  But I’m getting off topic.  The annoyance is already starting to fade!  Lol.  Count your blessings, right?

But I’m not supermom.

And some days I am just plain old selfish…or didn’t get enough sleep…or it’s that time of the month.  Some days I am overwhelmed by the intensity of life with two little girls who need to be loved so well.

Being a mother means you get to see the worst and best of yourself almost daily.  It’s really quite the rollercoaster.  I never knew how selfish I was until I got married.  Then I knew.  Two years later, I became a ‘mom’ for the first time and I learned my selfishness ran much deeper than I’d realized.  These little people in our lives teach us so much more than we could ever imagine we didn’t know!  I like to think, though, that with so much opportunity for messiness and absolute failure there is so much potential for growth!  Every moment I choose to force a smile instead of a scowl, every time I choose to soften my tone…I get a zillion opportunities every day to be like Jesus!  And if I fail…well…at least there are still many more chances to make it right.  And the little people we learn from?  They are so quick to bounce back with a smile and a hug.  They will forgive every time.  They will love you no matter what.  After the worst day, they will still want goodnight hugs and kisses.  After the fiercest tantrum they will smile and say I’m sorry before you’ve even sorted through your own mass of feelings.  That is beautiful.

I’d like to think it’s ok to fail sometimes.

I like to remind myself we all get grumpy every now and then.

This is where abundant grace comes in…for my children and for ME.

Akeisha and Alexa love to hear us say we will love them no matter what.  Always and forever.  Some days I need to hear that from my heavenly Father, too.  He will love me no matter what.  Always and forever.  It isn’t my acts of service or my moments of graciousness or my stunning successes that earn me His love.  He loves me simply because that is who He is.

Thank you, Father

Ps. On a lighter note, the girls have been playing pirates the past few days!  LOL  It’s hilarious!  “Arty AR AR” is apparently pirate lingo.  Outfits are complete with paper eye patches, stick swords in a fabric sheath and paper hats.  So adorable 🙂

 

Happy, Tired & a Little Sunburnt

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So I promised to tell you about our first camping trip with the girls, so here it is! 🙂

We, being the greedy locals that we are, took advantage of our rights as the hometown crowd by setting up our tent on our chosen site a night early.  We found an amazing spot on Huckleberry Island that friends had told us had a great little sandy beach.  It was absolutely fabulous!  Definitely our new favourite spot.  It was perfect for the kids to play in and out of the water and there was plenty of space to set up our tent on sandy soil covered with soft pine needles…which around here is like discovering gold!  Most places, especially on Georgian Bay crown land, you are literally pitching your tent on a rock.  So this was a bonus! 🙂

Since this is a popular spot for people to go camping it includes a fire pit, rack for cooking, ‘toilet’ in the bushes, table/shelf built between two trees and rope to hang your food in trees overnight.  For those of you who are not campers, this is so that the wildlife does not get into your food.  Bears and raccoons are not welcome midnight guests!

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Finding this spot on Thursday evening was just such a special gift from God.  The girls loved it and seeing it beforehand helped them be even more excited!

Friday I scurried around all day crazily trying to get everything packed and Kirby was able to get off work by 4 o’clock, so we loaded everything up into the work boat. I will add in here that we’ve been abundantly blessed by Kirby’s employers at Rockscape Design. Their generosity is a challenge and huge blessing to us! We are so grateful for them and the many ways they have blessed us in the past few years.

The girls were so excited to get there and explore our ‘home’ for the weekend. They went into the water briefly Friday evening already, but didn’t last long since it was pretty chilly. Kirby ended up having to run back home for a few things I forgot…the camera battery and memory card and his swim trunks! Sigh. One of those moments where you go…really?!

Once we had everything we wanted and needed there, we settled in for some FAMILY TIME. Was awesome having all the time in the world to just be together and enjoy the outdoors. I forgot how exciting things like camping are for kids. It was so much fun watching the girls set up their beds in the tent (complete with ONE stuffy Mommy allowed them to bring), run around exploring, searching for caterpillars, finding a perfect spot to build a fort with Daddy and pretending to drive the boat.  They love campfires at home, but cooking all our meals over the fire was so fun for them.  Alexa thought that was her favourite part of camping 🙂  We got to stay up late eating s’mores, have story time beside the campfire, have chips and PB&J at random times, go for bear hunts in the bushes and swim in the beautiful, pure waters of Georgian Bay.  The girls slept great in the tent, bundled up in their fuzzy onesies and sleeping bags.  Our tent was on a bit of a hill and Alexa ended up at Daddy’s feet by morning, curled up in a little ball somewhere in the fluffy depths of her sleeping bag.  We all had fun doing dishes in the lake, though an awful lot of dishsoap seemed to disappear over the weekend with two small pairs of hands squirting!  Akeisha got to help Daddy drive the boat and practise her lefts and rights 🙂  Both girls hate porta-potties, so this makeshift toilet in the bushes with spider webs just under the rim and an awful stench was not the best experience!  Every time we had to take a trip there we’d talk about being brave all the way there and then sing songs to distract us while we got the job done…this is something I started awhile ago at a park where we needed to use the portable toilet.  It works! 🙂

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Mommy and Daddy?  Well…we just relaxed in the sun and water, enjoying our beautiful daughters ❤

The girls are already anxious to go again…and so am I.  It’s the best thing in the world for a family trying to spend lots of time together and shut out the rest of the world.  I’m not hard core enough to be able to head out tenting for a week, but a weekend is perfect.  Easy, fun and FREE vacation 🙂

AF

 

This Little Life of Mine…

This week has been so good 🙂

I am just so enjoying each day I have with my girls and it feels like we’re hitting a nice little groove…which I will try not to expect to last too long!  Last week felt a bit bumpy and I just felt the Grumpy Mama Syndrome setting in, which is the last thing any of us need these days.  So this week I was determined to be positive, say yes when I can, keep things light and just enjoy my daughters.  The pay off has been awesome! 🙂

Monday we just enjoyed being together after a busy weekend.  Hung out at home, cleaned up the house a bit so we felt sane again and ran a few errands.

Tuesday we went strawberry picking with some great friends of ours.  It rained a bit on us, but that was ok.  It was wonderful to spend time with friends again, and since these particular friends include kids ages 4 and 6, the girls had a great time.  By the time we made it home it was pouring rain and the house felt cool and damp, so we all ended up in jammies making strawberry pie for dinner.  On my way home from our friends I had noticed Pizza Hut’s sign…Tuesdays kids eat free…and we couldn’t quite pass that up on a rainy day 🙂  So we ate pizza for dinner and even managed to squeeze in biking up and down the street with Alexis from across the street.  Akeisha and Alexa love to bike, especially with Alexis, and I am so proud of how well they’re doing!  Akeisha loves to zoom up and down the street, showing off her tricks to us.  Alexa is gaining confidence each day and making lots of progress, despite the hard work it is for her little legs to pump those pedals.  She’s so proud that she can now bike down our big hill!  The girls also had fun watching Alexis try out her four wheeler-turned-two wheeler on Tuesday night.  She had been saying for about a week to Kirby, me and her Mommy and Daddy that she was ready for her training wheels to come off!  So Tuesday night ended up being the big night, and off she went!  The first few rides were rough, but in no time she got the hang of it and by today she’s a pro 🙂  This is what I love about our neighbourhood…the whole street felt like it was lit up as the kids zoomed up and down shouting out “Look at me!” and parents and neighbours waved and smiled and clapped.

Wednesday was the day for grocery shopping, making strawberry jam, and some laundry since it was nice and my dryer is broken 😦  I just have to insert here that I LOVE strawberry jam!  I love it on toast, muffins and icecream 🙂  My girls now love it, too, and even though it is super unhealthy because it’s loaded with sugar we eat it almost every day.  Alexa loves PB+J…on toast or a wrap, especially with this jam!  It is the recipe off the Certo package, which my Mom used when I was a kid.  I just can’t quite imagine anything better!  Yesterday I realized there is also a recipe on their for Strawberry-Banana Jam, and since I had bananas I tried a bit of that too.  Thinking that is going to be super yummy as well, though I haven’t actually tried it yet.  Anyway, back to Wednesday.

Early afternoon Alexis wandered over, as she does most days, and she and Akeisha got creative making a fort in the bushes!  Copying Franklin’s Secret Clubhouse, I agreed to sacrifice an old sheet and they strung it up over their little house.  All afternoon they blazed trails, collected treasures and cared for their worms and caterpillars in their little fort.  I love seeing kids use their imaginations to play this way, so I was delighted 🙂  They had hot chocolate…yes, in July…made signs and got covered in mud and sand.  Alexa joined in the fun a bit, but was a little less enthralled with tromping through the bushes.  Akeisha was so excited, it was all she could talk about all evening.

Today we are enjoying the beautiful sunshine and scheming about our camping trip this weekend.  As long as the weather cooperates we plan to spend the weekend roughing it on one of the many crown land islands on beautiful Georgian Bay.  If it rains…well…I guess we can always head out early, since it’s so close.  FREE, FUN and CLOSE BY!  Love living here in the summertime 🙂  We’ll see how tenting treats us and what kind of adventures we can come home with on Sunday.  This morning Akeisha woke up early and went straight out to her fort, bundled up in her housecoat and two coats over top of her pajamas!  LOL.  So far she has eaten breakfast (her toast, milk and banana) and lunch (KD) out there.  Alexa cautiously joined the fun a bit later, but was a little worried there would be bears!  She came in sniffling to tell me that Akeisha was out bear hunting with her water gun but she was afraid she would get “attackled!”  I reassured her that, though there are bears around here, they would stay far away from noisy children 🙂  She still has not ventured back there much, however.  I guess the mud, sticks and mosquitoes don’t draw her quite as much.

It is all the wonderfully ordinary moments that I am just loving this week.  Dirty feet, sticky hands and messy faces.  My bathroom floor covered in bubbles from a little girl’s messy bath; what feels like thousands of ketchup stained purple and pink shirts in my laundry; tousled auburn hair against my cheek every morning on top of a sleepy smile.  I guess it’s because that’s what motherhood looks like.  KD on the floor, caterpillars on the deck, little arms and legs covered with scabs and bruises, shoes inside the door and markers and stickers everywhere.  Right now there’s a little girl sitting in my lap with hair that smells like mosquito repellent.  There’s another little girl dashing in the door giggling about something.  It’s time for me to go and give them some attention, but I hope this gives you a peek into our lives these days 🙂

The other night the girls were dancing around the living room and snuggling with Daddy while I played the piano.  Since we’d just been biking I thought of the song “You Can Let Go.”  I started singing it, but even though I’d sung it a thousand times before I only got a few phrases in and felt my throat closing up.  For the first time I thought about these two little girls someday growing up and walking down the isle beside my husband.  Because of that, I want to treasure every moment.  Too soon they won’t be little girls anymore tugging at my hands and holding up their treasures for me to see.  There is so much to do, and so little time…so one day, one moment at a time we will treasure this little life we have.

YOU CAN LET GO

By Crystal Shawanda

Wind blowing on my face
Sidewalk flying beneath my bike
A five year old’s first taste
Of what freedom’s really like

He was running right beside me
His hand holding on the seat
I took a deep breath and hollered
As I headed for the street

You can let go now, Daddy, you can let go
Oh I think I’m ready to do this on my own
It’s still a little bit scary but I want you to know
I’ll be okay now, Daddy, you can let go

I was standing at the altar
Between the two loves of my life
To one, I’ve been a daughter
To one, I soon would be a wife

When the preacher asked
“Who gives this woman?”
Daddy’s eyes filled up with tears
He kept holding tightly to my arm
‘Til I whispered in his ear

You can let go now, Daddy, you can let go
Oh I think I’m ready to do this on my own
It’s still feels a little bit scary but I want you to know
I’ll be okay now, Daddy, you can let go

It was killing me to see the strongest man I ever knew
Wasting away to nothing in that hospital room
You know he’s only hanging on for you

That’s what the night nurse said
My voice and heart were breaking
As I crawled up in his bed and said

You can let go now, Daddy, you can let go
Your little girl is ready to do this on my own
It’s gonna be a little bit scary but I want you to know
I’ll be okay now, Daddy, you can let go

Hope you all have a super weekend!  I’ll let you know how the camping goes 🙂

AF