Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Five Engaging Books about Special Needs and Inclusion

My Friend Isabelle by Eliza Woloson

This sweet story is about a boy and his friend Isabelle. He talks about how they are different like their height and how fast they run. But he says they also like to play grocery store and dance together.  The story doesn't mention  that Isabelle has Down Syndrome, but does talk about it after the story. This is a great book to read about inclusion; despite differences, we can still be friends.

Janine by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

My kiddos all loved this book.  The illustrations are colorful and so much fun. I love Janine before I even read about her. She has wild ponytails and mismatched socks and always a smile on her face! Despite being bullied by her classmates, Janine refuses to change who she is and loves everything about herself. Eventually the other children recognize her kindness, see her amazing self-confidence and realize they want to be friends with Janine.

My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete

Holly and her daughter, Ryan, wrote this book based on their own experiences with RJ, Ryan's brother who has autism. Twins, Callie and Charlie like many of the same things, yet they are different because Charlie has autism.  Callie talks about both the things she doesn't like about Charlie's autism, and the strengths he has because of his autism. I liked that Holly and Ryan included both positive and negative things about autism because it allowed them to explain what autism may be like for someone. Lia especially liked this book and said it touched her heart when Charlie comforted his sister and told her that he loved her.
 "Charlie has autism. But autism doesn't have Charlie."

We'll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen

When five year old Emma learns she has a new baby brother she imagines all the things they will do together. They will ride in the car and eat snacks, fly to her favorite Aunts home and get presents, and paint with an octopus at the art festival. But when dad delivers the news that the baby has Down syndrome Emma starts to rethink what they can do together.  As she goes through her list from before she and her dad realize that Isaac will be able to do all of the activities that she had wanted to do before. She asks:
 "If Isaac has this Down thing, then what can't he do? My dad hugged me. He said that as long as we were patient with Isaac, and helped him when he needed it, there probably wasn't anything he couldn't do."

All My Stripes by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer

The pictures in the is book are so fun and my kids loved looking at it. Zane and his mom talk about all his different stripes and talents and what makes him unique. This is a fun book about autism that helps children understand that all of us are different. And different is good. And seriously, Jennifer Zivoin's artwork made this my kids' favorite book to reread.

Monday, May 22, 2017

How I learned to respect my parents

My grandfather, Samuel Gilmore, was an amazing man. I can't count the number of lessons I learned from. His family was central in his life. He even retired early so that he could spend more time with his wife who had serious health issues. Grandpa Sam was always supportive and giving and he is my hero. 

Grandpa with Cheryl and I in Florida
My Mom Jean

When I was about 14, we were visiting my grandparents. They had a miniature pool table that I loved to play. As I was playing one night, my mother announced it was time to go and I said something to the effect of "one minute, I need to finish my game." I'm sure my tone was impatient or sharp.

It could have been either the words I said or my tone, but my grandfather grabbed my wrist and sternly said "When your mother says it's time to go, it's time to go." I had never seen him angry, least of all angry with me. I could only sheepishly say "Yes sir." I turned from my game and went out the door with my mom. 

I don't remember much about what happened before or after that visit. The only thing I do remember is my grandfather being angry that I had been disrespectful to my mother and that I had disappointed him. 

That incident has stuck with me over the years. Every time I think about respect, I think back to that moment. And every time I see my children disrespect their mother, I feel the need to teach them the same lesson I learned. 

Grandpa with his twins, Mom and Aunt Janet
It can be difficult to teach children respect. It can also be difficult to control your emotions when your children disrespect their mother. I know I take many deep breaths before I can teach respect. It doesn't do any good to go into the discussion angry, at least that's the lesson I've learned over the years. So how do we teach our children respect for their mother? 

Remind the child who their mother is. Take time to remind the child about all the wonderful things that his/her mother does. Talk about the times spent talking, reading books, running them to activities and how much she loves them.

Explain to the child what disrespect is. Help the child understand what was disrespectful about their behavior. Then work with the child to determine a better way to handle the situation. For instance, in my story above if I had asked my mother if it was okay to finish the game, there could have been a different outcome.
Jan, Dad (Norm), Cheryl, me, Jean, Grandpa at our ring ceremony

Develop a Relationship. Had my grandfather not spent time with me, loved me, and worked on a relationship with me, I might not have learned the lesson he tried to teach me. I might have reacted angrily or ignored him. When we develop good strong relationships with our children, we create an environment that fosters teaching. If we have not developed that relationship, our words may have no effect.

Help the child see the need to ask forgiveness. This can be difficult. A lot of times the child will not want to ask to be forgiven. However, asking for forgiveness allows the child and his/her mother get back to a place of respect and love.

The above are just some ideas on how we can teach our children respect. What are some ways that you teach yours?

Friday, May 19, 2017

More Summer Fun

I had some great responses from my posts about summer. I'm excited/nervous for the change (change is hard for special needs kiddos) but it is coming whether I am ready or not. And I love looking back on some of our great adventures and remembering the amazing times we had. But sometimes those memories take some planning.

Jaelle from had some great ideas for summer activities. I love that she created lists of read-a-loud books, summer movies, and activities for summer fun. I may just print her whole magazine and put it on my refrigerator. That way I can point to it when the kids get bored and let them choose their activity. Here's her link for some great summer ideas.

Image by Jaelle Kaylor at LDS Parenting 

Other people commented that school's have excellent sports camps for usually a great rate. I have put my children in some of these and they usually had a great time.

I had some people want more information on my weekly plans for Camp Beat the Heat. I've included the Welcome Summer Week and the Mystery Week below.

I also want to mention that I made sure I had some time each week for me. I hired a sitter once a week to come watch my kids and called it my "Mom's Day Out." I would usually grocery shop (because 5 kids, 3 with special needs, 2 not walking well, NOPE). And I would take myself to lunch and read a book. I relaxed and refreshed so I had energy to keep going.

Don't forget to spend some time planning WITH your kids. Create a Summer Bucket list of items they want to do. It may surprise you that their favorite activity isn't the movies, but may be games night with Mom and Dad. Creating a list ensures that everyone's favorite activity will be accomplished before summer's over.

I love spending time with my kids and I'm excited to get Camp Beat the Heat back up and running.

If you have additional summer fun ideas, PLEASE include them below so the rest of us can use your great ideas! Thanks.

Those are some crazy kids!

Welcome Summer Week

Items Needed:

Pop bottles
Check on Window markers and paint

Books Needed:

Summer by Alice Low
Mouse's First Summer Lauren Thompson
Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright

Prep Work:

Prep homemade ice cream

Food Needed:

Capri Sun
Hot dogs
chocolate bars
graham crackers


Summer of the Monkeys


3:00 Pick up from School and go to Bahama Bucks.
4:30 Change clothes and get into pool. Watch movie in pool?
6:00 Pizza Night
7:30 Go over Camp Beat the Heat activities for the summer
·         Schedule (Daily)
·         2 dollars per book (Reading Incentive)
·         Make Poster (Camp Beat the Heat)
·         Do "My Summer Wishlist" for each child
8:30 Introduce 1st Read Aloud Book
9:00 Sleepy time


7:00 Bugle Call
7:30 Cabin Inspection
7:45 Leave for Swim
8:00 Swim Team
9:30 Home and Dressed
·         Morning Chores
·         Clean Room

11:00 Morning Fun Time
·         Beach Party with Friends
·         Treats: 
o   Licorice
o   Capri Suns
o   Fruit
·         Lunch
o   Hot Dogs
o   Chips
o   Homemade Ice Cream
·         Get splash ball to play games

2:00 Send Friends Home, Clean-up Time
2:00 Craft Time
·         Shirts (summer shirts)
·         Message in a bottle to cousins (Letters sent in plastic 2 liter bottle to cousins)
3:00 Leave for Swim Lessons
5:00 ILP Ellie/Levi
6:00 Dinner
6:45 Campfire Night with S'mores and Read Aloud Book
8:30 Lights Out


7:00 Bugle Call
7:30 Cabin Inspection
7:45 Leave for Swim
8:00 Swim Team
9:30 Home and Dressed
·         Morning Chores
·         Clean Room

10:30 Morning Fun Time
·         Start Summer Scrapbook
·         Decorate Car
·         Decorate Back Window (get window friendly paints)
11:30 Lunch
12:00 Makutu's Island
3:30-4:00 Quiet Reading time at Home
4:30 Brain Time
5:30 KP
6:00 Dinner

6:45 Movie Night (Drive In?)

Mystery Week 2010

Items Needed:
mustaches (for disguises)

Books Needed:
Mystery ones (didn't make a list, just searched library for any mystery books)
We liked:
Encyclopedia Brown
I Spy books
Nate the Great
A to Z Mysteries

Prep Work:
Get clues ready for party

Food Needed:

Movies Needed:
Scooby Do


Ellie to play group
Sam has friend over

 Camp Fun Time:
·         Get mustaches
·         Make Message in a Bottle for Levi. Mail it
·         Call friends for party
·         Play mystery board games
·         Make Wanted Poster of Bad Guy
·         Article of Faith 1
Reading Time
·         Mystery Books

Adventure Day
Mystery Dinner

Movie Morning
Games day and Swimming

Friends afternoon: Pool party, clues to find dessert

Home Blessing
Watch a Spy Kids Movie
Mystery Cupcakes for cooking school
Any activities we didn't get done already

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Self-Contained versus Inclusion

I had heard of Donuts with Dad and Muffins with Mom, but I had never heard of Munchkins (doughnut holes) with Mom. But doughnuts of any kind are a hit with kids so Grace and I were excited to attend.  I love spending time with my sweet Grace. She is a Daddy's girl, so anytime I get her by myself I'm happy to go. 

This year we transferred schools to be in the district's self-contained classroom. I have been worried all year about Grace leaving her neighborhood friends and wondered if she felt a part of the community at her new school.  So that morning I was concerned that she wouldn't know many people and would be nervous about where to sit. But she spotted a friend right away and talked with him as we ate our donuts. Then we spotted Grace's best friend and she was totally happy. 

Grace loves her friend and we hear all about M- at home. I'm so grateful Grace has such good friends.

Transferring schools was a difficult decision for us. I asked Grace a few months ago if she would like to return to her home school next year or stay in the self contained classroom. It wasn't even a difficult decision for her. She wants to stay.

Educationally I know she is getting the help she needs. We had problems in previous years. She is really good at looking like she knows what she is doing. She has fooled many a teacher that she understands the assignment and is working away, when she actually has no understanding of what to do. I think many of our special needs kids develop this talent as a survival mechanism. It makes them look like everyone else so they are not "different."

So entering a classroom where the ratio of teachers to students was smaller and the education was more tailored to her, made sense. But I worried that she was missing her friends. I worried that she was missing out on being stretched with interactions from typical peers. And I just worry sometimes if we made the right decision, because that is what moms do: we worry.

I know that inclusion is the big thing and there are many benefits to it. And it is what I wanted for my daughter. But my daughter is happier doing a bit of both. She spends the majority of her day in the self-contained classroom and attends specials with a typical 4th grade class. So for now we are staying. That may change in the future, but if Grace is progressing and is finding friends, then I am satisfied.

What decisions have you made about self-contained versus inclusion? How have you handled this decision?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Camp Beat the Heat

When my children were young we moved to Arizona. I grew up in Idaho and spent summers enjoying every minute of summer heat. We rode bikes, jumped on the trampoline, slept under the stars, and played outside every day. (Except the days I was curled up in my room reading ALL the BOOKS I could get my hands on.)

So moving to the land of 115 by day and 95 by night was a shock to say the least. Combine that with special needs children who need constant stimulation and activity (who are we kidding, all kids need that). But my children with special needs seemed to need order and routine more than my others. So I realized quickly that I needed to come up with an idea for summer that didn't involve passing out in the heat or being cooped up inside all day staring at the television.

I couldn't afford to send them all to camp, and maybe they were a bit young for that when I started this idea. So in about 2006 I decided to start my own camp. Because we lived in Arizona we called it: Camp Beat the Heat. Everything we did had a camp feel to it.  Waking up was Bugle Call.  We  had cabin inspection every morning before the fun could begin. I taught them KP meant Kitchen Patrol and lights out was serious business. At the start of each summer we made a huge CAMP BEAT THE HEAT sign that hung in my family room all summer.  The kids got to decorate and color it every year. I wish I would have taken pictures of each years signs, they were fun to look at all summer and very creative.

Everyday had an activity and every week had a theme.  For example, one week we would study bugs. The next the stars. Another week we would learn about mysteries (think Scooby Doo, Encyclopedia Brown, Agatha Christie, and puzzles/games they could solve). All movies, books, activities and learning centered around this theme. I would reserve all my next's week material at the library and pick it up on Monday. This kept my costs down and allowed more money for spontaneous ice cream outings.

Learning about ladybugs for bug week.
Making root beer is a science experiment.
Fort building.
Happy campers.
Another fort in a fenced off area of the yard.  They loved their forts.
I still juggled therapy, play groups and swimming lessons with this schedule but it all seemed to work together.  Mondays were play groups/cubs/library time. Tuesday's were Summer Movies. One day a week we would plan an Adventure Day (think field trip) and another day was for cleaning and quieter activities at home. I've included 2009's agenda below for you to see our weekly list of activities. I also would have a more detailed plan for each week that was more specific.

Where we spent part of every day!

I even had a Summer Theme that we would use for our family reunion as well. In 2009 it was Who's Your Hero? We learned what a hero was and tried to show that each child had characteristics of a hero inside them. Each week would still have a theme (bugs was a favorite), but the overriding summer theme helped me to incorporate character building oppurtunities.

My planning took a few weeks before school let out, but each succeeding year was easier to plan. During the summer I didn't stress too much if we missed an activity, or if one activity didn't go off well. We just moved on to the next thing. And if something threw us off schedule, that was fine. I adopted a go with the flow attitude in order to keep things fun and happy.

Annual field trip to Tortilla Flats to eat Cactus Ice Cream and swim in the lake.

Baseball night with Dad field trip.
This summer my children are 9, 10, 13, 14, and 16, and I've already told them we are doing Camp Beat the Heat again. (Camp ended about 2 years ago when my daughter attended summer school.)  I have 3 old enough to be "Camp Counselor's" this year.  Maybe I'll work in Mom's nap time.

What are your ideas for summer fun?  How do you keep your kiddos excited about learning and away from the television all summer?
Swim Team craziness

Camp Beat the Heat Weekly Agenda 2009

Who is Your Hero?

7:00 Bugle Call
7:30 Cabin Inspection
7:45 Leave for Swim
8:00-9:10 Swim Team
9:30 Morning Chore
10:00 Camp Fun Time
 ·         Monday: Library, Cub Scout Morning, Speech Morning, Play Group
 ·         Tuesday: Leave from swim team, MOVIES!
 ·         Wednesday:  Friends Day
 ·         Thursday: Field Trip Day
 ·         Friday: Splash Park
12:00 Lunch
·         Zone Cleaning

12:30-1:00 Quiet Reading Time

1:00 Afternoon Activity
·         Monday Craft Time
·         Tuesday: Cooking School at 3:00
·         Wednesday: (Friends home at 1:00) Craft Time
·         Thursday: Home from Field Trip, Movie Afternoon
·         Friday:  Cleaning Afternoon, Kid's Choice

3:00  Swim Time if finished with Afternoon Activity

4:30 Brain Time (books, puzzles, worksheets)

5:30 Dinner Prep and KP
·         Monday: Ellie
·         Tuesday: Levi
·         Wednesday: Sam
·         Thursday: Mom
·         Friday: Dad

6:00 Dinner
6:30 Babies Asleep
6:45 Evening Activity AND Nightly Reading
·         Monday: Family Home Evening
·         Tuesday: Campfire Night/Stars
·         Wednesday: Board Games
·         Thursday: Swim Night
·         Friday: Movie Night

8:30 Lights OUT!  (Look For Drive-In Night)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Last Day of School

We have a tradition. The last day of school is a huge celebration that starts with Mom being able to "surprise" the kids.  The first year I did this I filled up water guns and about 75 water balloons.  I left a sign on the front door that I had a surprise for them in the back yard. I ambushed them and then they joined the fight. The kids loved it and so did I.

So the next year I felt I needed to up my game. I bought silly string and we had a silly string war.

Princesses do squirt silly string! 

Even Dad got in on the action.

The best way to get it all off was to just jump in the pool.

Shortly after that we moved to a cul-de-sac with some amazing moms. The neighborhood kiddos were unaware of the tradition so we ambushed all our kids walking home from school.  We had super soakers, water balloons, and whipped cream. It was a messy year. But the kids loved it. 

Four of my kids covered in whipped cream.  Clean-up was crazy.


Covered in whipped cream and water.  Fun times.
I still have the grease spots on my drive-way from the whipped cream. Good memories. And right after the mess, we all changed and got in the pool. Not that the whipped cream helped the pool chemicals any.

The next year the cul-de-sac moms decided to remain cleaner and we stuck with water only.

Except one stray can of whipped cream.

Don't we look lovely after a water fight. But these amazing women keep me sane.

The next year we opted for an even cleaner party and gave the kids ice cream sundaes and root beer floats.  You can see how excited Lia was for that option. She hit the ground running from car pool.

Even Ellie's junior high friends joined in on this end of school party.

Lia still had to get a little messy with the ice cream bowl.  It is tradition after all.

So this year one of our moms moved (still sad about that Vanessa!!) and we haven't decided quite what to do. I need your help with any fun party ideas.  What have you done for the last day of school?

Sunday, May 14, 2017


For five years I was a mom-in-waiting. Waiting is hard and the ache of wanting was constant. And I thought Mother's Day should have been renamed "Bury my Head in the Covers and eat Chocolate Day."

I remember trying to go to church on Mother's Day.  (Silly me).  Moms showed up with flattened corsages, macaroni necklaces, and "I'm a Mom" buttons with pictures of their children's faces.  Each message from the pulpit was about being a mother.  I lasted through one song and the prayer one memorable year before I left the building sobbing and vowed never again on Mother's Day. 

BJ and I endured 5 years of waiting, infertility, IVF and the constant question from others: "When are you going to have children?" Yes, Mother's Day was hard because it exposed that my heart's desire had not yet been realized.  We even had one miscarriage after IVF that almost shattered me. 

But it didn't.  It made me stronger.  Towards the end of our waiting time, we were on the adoption list and we knew that eventually, we would become parents.  The tightness in my throat relaxed as I began to trust that God had a perfect plan for me, and that I just needed to be patient. I remember excitement building as I put my trust in God that He would fulfill His promise to me. Children were coming. I had done my part, I had to let Him do His part.

So one night as we discussed what the sleepless nights, long hours, crying and spit-up would be like (me with stars in my eyes); we decided to be happy.  Absolutely deliciously happy with where we were in our lives.  Right NOW. 

This meant 
  • enjoying a full night's sleep 
  • relishing in the fact that we could escape to a movie, anytime
  • spending hours cooking and eating dinner, just the two of us
  • delighting in our clean house
  • savoring quality couple time
  • traveling whenever and wherever we wanted
Because who knew how many of those we would have after a baby came? We actively developed the art of enjoying life in the moment.  I would even say things like, "Wow, we are blessed with another full night's sleep. I'm going to enjoy it." 

Now don't get me wrong, we still ached for children. I still would have given up all the Sunday naps in the world for a baby. But at some point, you must learn to be happy in the now.

And do you know what? It worked. I was calmer. I developed faith in God. (I still didn't go to church on Mother's Day. Let's not push it.) And I could HONESTLY rejoice with friends who were pregnant and experiencing motherhood.

Today on Mother's Day there are so many still putting in time as moms-in-waiting. But I have come to realize a mom-in-waiting has so many different faces.  She could be the woman waiting for her first child. She might be waiting for her wayward child to return home. She may mourn the death of a child. She may still be waiting for her 15 year old autistic son to call her mom for the first time. She might mourn the loss of her own mother. She may be waiting for the joy of motherhood to come because the postpartum depression is overwhelming. She may be waiting for a partner to parent with. 

For those struggling as a mom-in-waiting, you are not alone. There are those near you who can help in the waiting time. And there is great joy to be found while waiting. Look for the simple joys of daily life. Realize the strength you are gaining as you wait. And know that God has a plan, and it is beautiful.

And last know that I love you and wait with you. Motherhood involves waiting. But we can wait together as sisters and as women. May God bless you in your waiting.

Levi, our much awaited first born

Friday, May 12, 2017

Daring Greatly

On the day I heard about this book, I was gasping for air. Pieces of myself were held together with string and sheer will power. The smile I wore as a mask was most likely betrayed by my red eyes and lack of mascara. I was sure the pain in my heart screamed at everyone around me: "Failure. Faker. Poser."

I had gone to book club hoping for distraction. I desperately wanted out of the pain of my life and wanted talk about unimportant things like the easy summer read we were reviewing that night.

Fortunately for me, I have a friends who read things of substance, as well as fun summer reads. My friend, Rachelle, mentioned this book: "Daring Greatly" by Brene' Brown. I'll never know if she could see my struggle, or if she was simply guided by God to suggest this book.  But it truly was an answer to what I was seeking.

That week my husband and I had been through a parenting moment that rocked us to our core.  It still hurts 3 years later.  I promise I will share at a later time, but there is more than my feelings to consider in the telling of the story; so that will have to wait for another time.

When Rachelle told me about this book I knew I needed to read it.  Brene' starts the book with this passage from Theodore Roosevelt's speech "Citizenship in a Republic."

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. . . ."

This passage reminds me of what it is like to raise children AND raise children with special needs. We will try and fail, and try again.  We will come up short.  But we keep trying, because to quit is not an option.  So we continue each day to dare greatly.

Brene' makes the argument that connection is the point of human existence.  But in order to wholeheartedly connect with another human being, we must be vulnerable.

That seemed so opposite to what I had been taught and how I lived my life.  As a parent of three special needs children I had created quite a shell around my emotions and my struggles. To allow others to see my fears and weakness would be shameful. They could already see that my children weren't perfect and that I wasn't a perfect parent. Why would I share more of my struggles? But as I read her book and reviewed her research, I could see she was correct.  And Brene' is not a touchy feeling "this sounds nice we should try it" hack; she has researched connection, shame, and vulnerability for years.  The research backs up her argument. However, her book isn't just data, charts and numbers either. She weaves together the stories of the people she has researched with the data to create a great read.

What this book helped me realize, was that by hiding my pain from my friends, I was closing out my connection to them. I wasn't allowing them to learn from my pain, and I wasn't allowing myself to heal. To connect with my children, my husband, and others like me, I must allow myself to be vulnerable.  Her book is one major reason I started this blog. I want to connect with other parents so that we can see we are not alone and that together we can dare greatly.