Monday, December 28, 2009

It's a Wrap!

The sun is shining outside, but the chill in the air is like a 2x4 to the head reminding us all it's winter. As December draws to a close, I'm thinking ahead, as many are, to the year 2010.

Christmas was a mixed bag for the Falk family this year. As excited as we were to begin celebrating the holidays (the anticipation beginning on November 1, since Halloween was over), the stomach flu germs invaded our home, requiring that we juggle our plans for celebration. With four of the five family members having had the flu over with by the evening of December 23, we felt certain that better things were coming with the holidays. And we were right. And although I did get a bit ill yesterday, little could dampen our enjoyment of the holidays as they finally arrived.

Christmas Eve was a quiet affair for the family with the kids retiring for the evening by 7:30 (their choice) to allow Santa ample time to make his visit. Nestled in their beds, dreaming of wondrous things, Santa did indeed arrive, bringing many things the kids looked forward to for some time. For Jarod, there was an ipod he had been wanting. Natalie found a large fire station with truck, furniture and fire fighters under the tree, much to her delight. And Maria found American Girl Kit Kittredge, with her dog, Grace, waiting patiently for her under the tree. And for the entire Falk family, it was a Wii Christmas. Each child received a Wii game, Mom opened the Wii Fit Plus, and Dad opened the Wii Sports Resort with the appropriate accessories. Santa was very, very kind to bless our family with so many goodies!

Christmas Day we spent traveling to Fort Atkinson to meet with the rest of the Falk and Sanders families. We enjoyed some treats, but mostly the chance for quiet conversation with family we rarely get the chance to see. Natalie decided to make her own snow in the basement, and so she took the ash bucket from next to the fireplace and proceeded to spread them out over the entire basement. Aside from the 30 minutes it took to clean that up, the visit was a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

On the 26th, it was a Super Duper Mueller Family Christmas Day--two parties at once! Chris was working in Sheboygan that day, but caught up with us at mom and dad's. We began in Chilton at the community center with the extended Mueller family Christmas. Of course we sang our dinner blessing songs (to the tune of Edel Weiss) and Happy Birthday to Jesus, as is Mueller family tradition. After a wonderful meal (complete with Grandma's poppy seed birthday cake for Jesus), we spent time visitng with family. I headed home with enough time to give the kids some quiet time at home before the next hurrah. Around 5 p.m., we left for Mom and Dad's house and caught up again with our family. No Mueller family Christmas is complete without pizza, of which there was plenty, and we also enjoyed grasshoppers. After a flurry of gift opening, hugs and swoons of delight, kids retired to the basement for videos while the adults played a family card game favorite, golf.

Sunday dawned cold and bright, and left Chris with a problem. A sore knee from the day before began swelling immensely, forcing him to call in sick (especially since he couldn't stand in the shower). Jarod and Maria had spent the night at grandma and Papa's house, so Natalie and I took Chris to urgent care where we were told he has a massive cyst in his knee. He will need an ultrasound this week to confirm this, and then eventually a visit to an orthopoedic surgeon for treatment. A brace and meds are helping in the meantime.

We joined the family out at mom and dad's again, playing games and relaxing until early afternoon when Mom and Dad treated the entire family to movies at the cinema. Many of us watched Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakuel, while the rest caught The Blind Side. Jarod and Maria had seen a movie in the theater once before, but for Natalie, this was a first. She was a very good girl and seemed only mildly disappointed when Theodore didn't reply to her as she cried out, waving frantically, "Hi Theodore! Hi! It's me, Natalie!" Popcorn certainly made her smile, too!

Although my upset stomach canceled our plans for a final Christmas party with dear friends from work, the holiday season showcased how much love and joy the season can bring. Thanks to all of our family and friends who shared in this beautiful season--you are, by far, the greatest gifts our family has known.

God bless you all in the coming year!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Germs have finally invaded the Falk household. Natalie has a fever, nothing terrible, but it certainly doesn't bode well. Ever the worrier about the kids getting sick, I'm taking it in stride, especially when Natalie wants to "snuggle and cuddle" placing her warm little cheek against mine. Absolutely adorable...I hope I still think so when my own fever starts cooking. :)

Thanksgiving this year was a quiet affair, but enjoyable, too. We had a lovely dinner with mom and dad at their place, during which mom and dad announced they feel it's my turn for next year. Not a problem, but since it is also our turn to host the Falk family for Christmas next year, I anticipate this will be an expensive and intense proposition. Still, I love the holidays and being able to welcome everyone into our home is a joy. I'm already looking ahead and making plans...a little obsessive, I must admit.

Tonight we'll deck our halls with boughs of fake fir trees as we set up our Christmas tree and watch Bill Murray in Scooged. The kiddos have been making paper chains to hang around the house, and the front entrance of our house is aglow with multicolored lights. I'm already feeling that twinkle of magic that comes with the holiday season, and I'm looking forward to rest of the joyous events the season will bring.

I have to say, though, that as always, I'm grateful this year for the many blessings in my life. Family, friends, career, a warm home, enough food for us all, and vehicles that function most of the time remind me that I have more blessings than I can count. Now that is a beautiful thought to fall asleep to each night.

I pray for the same blessings for all of you, friends. Be well.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lord, I feel like a slacker

As I look back here, I realize my last post was February 11, and all I can say is I have no excuse for my procrastinating ways! My apologies, as always.

As I sit here Jarod has just informed me that Natalie used water colors to paint her own face in the therapy room. Maria is pecking away at the piano keyboard jamming to some melody of her own creation. And Jarod is busy telling Natalie that she's naughty.

So, see? Even though it's been 10 months, some things never change.

But some things do change. Here's the summary of the past months:

I graduated from Lakeland College with my masters degree in counseling back in August 2009. I underwent one interview and was told that while my interview was perfect, the principal prefers someone she can control who is less strong minded. Whatever. And because the district closed a couple of schools, my interview at North was canceled because a displaced counselor took the open position. That decidedly ende my attempts to attain new employment before the beginning of the school year. I'm back at North teaching freshman English and Pre-college English for seniors. I'm enjoying myself, I relish being back with good friends, and I'm hopeful about a future in counseling down the road.

Mostly though, I'm enjoying being able to just be a mom and wife again. I forgot how much I missed out on during grad school, and just being home to keep the house clean (a losing battle to be sure), or to read stories, help with homework, chat with the therapists, it all seems like a luxury I forgot I had. I'm grateful for the gift of time.

Chris continues to work at the Affinity Clinic on Koeller, though is bored by the work. He's used to full hospital sized labs and medical technology work, and a clinic is definitely a slower pace that focuses a lot on phlebotomy and basic testing which is less his style. He accepted a second position at St. Nicholas Hospital of Sheboygan and is finding that although he doesn't like having to be gone from home more, it helps him enjoy a position with more of the work he enjoys doing. For now, he's staying put, and make consider other jobs down the road. Who wants to rock the boat in this economy?

Jarod and Natalie are now in school together at Carl Traeger. Jarod has moved on to 3rd grade and spends his entire day in the regular classroom doing grade level work. He has a few friends, and has mastered the playground monkey bars--something of which he is very proud! He excels in Science, Art, and Social studies. He continues to work hard at Math and Literacy. We are extremely proud of him, like any other mom and dad would be!

Natalie is also at Traeger in kindergarten, and likes riding the bus every day with her big brother (who reminds her she cannot pur her head on him and sleep on the bus). Natalie often talks about a boy named Max in her class ("I love Max, he's my boy"), and gets along well with classmates, spending the entire day in the classroom. She struggles with behaviors sometimes, but the teacher keeps a hula hoop around that tends to be a great motivator for her to behave. She reads extremely well, and looks forward to school as well as therapy. Natalie continues with full time therapy in addition to full time school. Her day is fully booked and she drops off to sleep easily each night. But the development we've seen is absolutely wonderful. it's rewarding to see what a funny and sweet little girl she is becoming.

And then there is our Maria. A first grader at Washington Elementary, Maria is known by her teachers, I am told, as the most compassionate student they've had in a long time. Maria is the first one to help a student who has fallen, clean up when there's a spill, say "good job!" when someone has done something well. She is always smiling, and her teachers adore her dimples the most! She is also very bright. Recently her teacher told me that first graders need to be reading at a level 10 by end of first semester, and Maria is currently at level 20. She also scored an advanced in singing for music class. Yes, that's MY baby! She is completely proficient on her report card, which is a testament to her enthusiasm for school and ability to follow rules and work hard. She loves playing with friends, playing games on the computer, and gives some of the best hugs you could hope for in the world.

Other news is that Jarod finally got over his fear of dogs this summer, and underwent his interview with Canine Companions for Independence to receive a skilled companion animal. Jarod made it through the interview with flying colors, and we are thrilled for him! He won't get a dog yet for another year at least as the waiting list is long, but we are already preparing for the trip we'll make to Ohio when that day comes.

As life can be filled with many joys, so, too, come the sorrows. Only a week ago we celebrated the funeral service for Henry Morgan Anderson, the beloved 3 year old son of our dear friends, Sarah and Darrin Anderson. While no anwers are yet available to explain this tragedy to the family, I admire the courage they've shown in beginning to slow, tedious, painful journey toward healing. I ask that you pause a moment to not only pray for Henry and the Anderson family, but also to give thanks for the many blessings the rest of us take for granted in every day life. It should never take a tragey like this to remind us how blessed we are, and yet that's often how it works. I know I thank God every day, in the midst of the natural fervor of my busy life, for the beautiful family with which I've been abundantly blessed. May I never, never forget how lucky I am, and may I never take one moment with them for granted.

And as Thanksgiving draws closer, know too, dear friends, how grateful I am for all of you. It is the nature of life these days to become distracted with many things, but know that I am thinking of you, grateful for the role you play in my life, and the opportunity to serve as a friend to you as well. Just one more proof there is a God, dear friends. The beauty of human relationships and connections is the best evidence there is.

God bless, be well.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rookie Road Rules

Practicum time has arrived, and I'm now embroiled in the everyday semantics of academic and career counseling, along with the occasional social emotional encounter to round it out. To be honest, it has been wonderful so far, though I find it difficult to live in a constant state of worrying about whether I'm doing enough, learning enough, gaining enough experience, doing things well, etc. I have some confidence, but as I've said before--I'm used to have interns, not being one. The paradox is frightening!

It helps to have terrific people to work with, and I'm surrounded by other supportive, helpful counselors who make me laugh and give excellent guidance. Each has his/her very distinct style, but they complement one another. I'm almost halfway through this first placement, I'm working with a group counseling project, working with our "tweenies"--students who should be seniors but are actually juniors credit wise--and mostly seniors prepping for graduation, college and tech school. I've been able to participate in numerous meetings and sessions that give me a very different view of my school. And I like what I see. I worry though, this is all a mirage. And just when I get comfortable the mirage will disappear and I'll be back where I started.

But I digress.

The family is engrossed, at the moment, in a Max and Ruby video. Our kids are nuts for Max and Ruby--two little bunnies that get into a bit of trouble. You can imagine how Jarod, who stims on people doing naughty things, likes this video!

Speaking of the little boy, he had his IEP this past week, and is lasted for 2.5 hours! It was a reevaluation IEP, which is done every three years. Therefore, there were a lot of reports to go through before we could discuss current progress and IEP goals. His team is excellent and the information was very helpful. There is discussion about Jarod's placement next year--autism program, or CDB, which means cognitively disabled borderline. If her were to stay in the autism program at Traeger, he would remain largely in the regular classroom. However, there is concern about his ability to progress when 3rd grade is likely to be tough and the district may not be able to provide him with as much para support as he has had in the past. On the other hand, if he were to go to CDB, he would spend more time with similarly abled peers, but this may cause a regression in his behavior which has improved via inclusion. In CDB, he would be on this side of town and have more para support. If he stays at Traeger, he would be with people he knows in a school he likes. It is difficult to know which way to go. However, since one of my practicum placements is at the school CDB would be in for Jarod, I plan to do my homework, check out the school and teachers, and make a decision toward the end of the year. I'm not worried so much about the program as I am about which placement will best meet his needs.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we were invited to Ohio to CCI regarding a possible dog for Jarod. Our appointment will be on April 20 at 1 p.m. We plan to drive down on the 19th, and drive home on the 21st. The drive takes 10 hours nonstop, so the 19th and 21st will be long days. I've also thought of driving back part of the way on the 20th, but we wouldn't get to a hotel until 10 p.m., and then I doubt it's worth it! So we'll plan it this way for now and see how it goes.
In the meantime, I'm setting up an appointment to discuss medication modifications for Jarod since his current regimen isn't helping as much as we'd like. We're also putting together a social story and hopefully a video of the facility before we go so he knows what to expect.

The girls and Chris are fine. Chris is applying for part time weekend jobs to pick up just a few extra hours a month. I'm working with homebound students and Carroll Electric has hired me to do some writing for them. A publishing company called Eye on Education also hired me to review a textbook and I just completed that, which was an interesting experience. I kept the manuscript and will definitely be checking out the text once it is published!

Natalie's therapy starts on March 5--only 3 weeks more to wait! Our neighbor will be serving as our nanny since we must have someone in the house for therapy to occur--the therapist is not responsible for her. So the neighbor, Jessica, will be in charge of Nat, and will be helping to keep the house clean since she won't have to actually watch Nat very much. It's a great help and gives the neighbor some much needed income as well. It will be difficult, though, to say goodbye to Cathy who has watched our children for 7 years. Lord knows I'll be working to keep in touch!

I'll stop rambling, dear friends, and leave it there. Our happy thoughts and good wishes go with you wherever you are! Be well.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Just a quick note that we've been invited by CCI to a personal interview in Delaware OH. This is the company with which we're working to possibly obtain a therapeutic dog for Jarod. It is a difficult application process, and the final step before a tentative acceptance is the personal interview. We are attempting to schedule this during spring break. Wish us luck!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama wasn't kidding when he said Change had arrived.
And it isn't just true for the country.

This week marks the end of my teaching time, and counseling practicum officially begins on Monday, January 26th. Natalie begins therapy on March 5. Maria's speech instruction is coming to a close, and piano lessons are o the horizon. And for Jarod, with his IEP on February 5, things are looking to possibly change even more.

Shari Hart, the district's autism consultant, called me today to chat. Jarod is due for his three year evaluation. They are doing a full assessment on him. His IEP is scheduled for Feb. 5. But this is particularly important because the autism program in elementary goes K-2. Once they hit third grade, they have to be pretty independent in order to stay at Traeger. If they cannot, they are usually shipped back out to the CD program.

The issues Shari was concerned about are his serious lack of socialization at school--really isolating himself, no friends to speak of, though thankfully he's unaware of that. However, once third grade comes, the kindness of students tends to wear off and they aren't so tolerant anymore. She's worried that in regular classes he might be a target. Also, she is concerned about how dependent he is on the para, Mary. He relies on her all the time, and it's her efforts that keep him going at school. They often aren't sure how much he processes without her. So yes, he can do the work, but he needs cues and lots of extra time. He is pulled out for speech, special help with literacy, and math is likely to follow soon.

So we talked about what CDB would mean (it is the less severe--it stands for Cognitive Disability-Borderline). He may not even have to have his label changed (from autism). But it would mean he would go to school at Emmeline Cook, where my good friends Julie Anderson and Amy Sippert are. They talk a blue streak about the CDB teacher, how great she is, so that's a plus. Shari said he'd still be able to be involved in regular ed, but would have more pull out and smaller groups. She said it would cater to his need for more processing time, and that smaller groups might help him socially, not to mention the fact he wouldn't have to drive across town everyday. But then she said they could maybe make all of those arrangements at Traeger, too.

When the IEP happens on the 5th, we're going to do goals and discuss tentative placement. Since there's a semester left, we may call an interim IEP meeting to discuss placement only sometime in May, if it's needed.

I'm not sure which way things will go. We have time, we need to look at all the data, and we need to keep in mind what's best for Jarod's needs. I'm a huge proponent for inclusion (especially since Jarod behaves so much more appropriately when spending time with his regula ed peers), but third grade gets tougher. If he needs the extra time and a smaller setting (for pull out times), perhaps that is something to consider as well. Lots to think and pray about.

After the winter comes the spring. And hopefully some light will be shed so we can help Jarod blossom as I know he can.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Delaney the Wonder Dog!

2009 finds our family in the midst of new challenges. The holiday season for all of us was wonderful, though I feel terrible I never got around to sending out Christmas cards! But then Jesus never did them either, so really, I don't feel that bad about it! :) We did, however, do the traditional birthday cake and song for Jesus at the Mueller family Christmas! He is, after all, the reason for the season!

Anyway, one of our biggest challenges of late, as most of you know, is Jarod's issue with dogs. His fears have limited our ability to get around and visit others since so many families we know have dogs. We've decided this has gone on long enough, and have made some efforts in helping him. We've applied to Canine Companions for Independece for a skilled companion dog for Jarod. A friend of mine at school, John, is a puppy raiser for CCI, and he has a dog right now he is raising and will be returned to the facility in Ohio in May. The puppy's name is Delaney, and we have helped Jarod to grow comfortable with petting and playing fetch with Delaney. He asks about her often, and requests visits with her because he figures he can trust her, whereas he has little trust with other animals. Our idea is that we can help Jarod learn how to work with and control dogs in our own home, and help him generalize that to the community (as opposed to attempting to avoid dogs for life).

The application process is arduous. After filling out a 15 page application, Chris and I completed the first major hurdle which was a 90 minute telephone interview. We were honest with them about Jarod's limitations with dogs, and they appreciated our honesty since many parents of autistic children apply and lie about their child's feelings with animals, only to show up and the child has serious issues. The second step is then to complete a professional referral from the therapists which we send down. If CCI still likes us, our family is invited to Ohio for a personal interview in which Jarod would meet and briefly attempt to work with some of the dogs for the day. Next, if the personal interview is successful, we are placed on a waiting list lasting anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. Once the wait is complete, we would be invited to a team training session which is 2 weeks of daylong classes and workshops with the dog. Jarod and Chris would travel down to learn to work with the animal and care for it properly. Chris and Jarod would have to learn all of the dog's commands (more than 50!), pass written quizzes (that's Chris) and demonstrate proficiency in controlling the dog. If, at the end of the two weeks, they complete the course successfully, they bring the animal they are matched with home. The dog would then be Jarod's constant companion (except for at school), and would travel with him.

Although it is an involved process, we believe this will be helpful in many ways. First, he'll learn to adapt to the reality of dogs in life, secondly he'll have a social ice breaker--something concrete and appropriate to discuss aside from toilets and ceiling fans, and finally, he'll always have a constant friend and companion who is his best bud. As a bonus, the girls, especially Natty, love dogs, so this is a two for one deal!

Speaking of Natalie, her challenges approach as well. Natalie has completed her 2 year wait for a therapy slot and has made it to the top of the list. I'd celebrate, but then Winnebago County must still verify her eiligibility--in other words, did she improve too much in the last two years? We're waiting, but if she makes it, therapy would begin February 20th, and we're thrilled! Think of what that could mean for her and for our family!

And poor Maria had a rough day just today. First she was attempting to pull a soda out of a plastic pack and pulled the entire pack into her face, giving herself a black eye! Later, we took the kids sledding at garbag hill. She started sledding down the hill, her sled turned around, and she didn't see she was heading right for a light pole. She ran smack into it and hit the back of her head along the pole as she was thrown from the boogie board. She remained conscious (thank God!), cried big tears and peed her pants from fright--literally. We called her pediatrician who assured us that although this was possibly a first degree concussion, she was not in danger since she neither lost consciousness, nor was she vomiting, which would be expected in more severe head injuries. As I write this, she's jumping on her bed, so I'm no longer worried. Still, I think she aged me 10 years today!

In the meantime, I hope this blog finds you and your family well. I wish you all the blessings of health, family, friendship and love in the coming year!