Friday, October 30, 2009

Bite Size S’mores

This morning we are heading for David’s school to watch his class perform a play for the little children in the Child Development Center attached to the school. I had never heard of a Child Development Center in a high school until I was photographing preschoolers for a living. Basically, it is a class that is more vocational in nature. The high school students have this class for multiple years and are taught the stages and care for young children. I have been very impressed with the Centers that I was involved with during my photography days.

But, this is a very big event for us since the last play David took part in was nine years ago. His history in The Theater was one that could best be premiered on America’s Funniest Videos. In preschool, the entire four-year class dressed up as little angels. David looked so sweet and innocent in his halo, clutching his beloved teddy.

It went downhill from there. The class got up to sing as the older classes were telling the birth of Jesus and our little “angel” began his death scene. Now, this scene will always be considered as one of the most dramatic in the history of all school plays—even though it was not part of the script. And in case you didn’t catch his first death he continued to replay it through out the entire pageant. When we asked him why he did it we got a four-year-old’s response of “I didn’t want people watching me.”

That sure did the trick.

The next year the casting of the pageant was done to better suit David. Instead of performing the poem with his class he was given the part of “little boy on Christmas morning.” He played this part very well, since the part was for him to play with toys under the Christmas tree during the entire play. He didn’t play one death scene!

So, when we got our invitation to this play—that David forgot to tell us about—we jumped at the chance. It is about five little pumpkins and David is the narrator and will be behind the curtain.

The teacher has also invited the parents to a time of refreshments following the program. Since I have been without my college kids that I used to cook for I decided to make some treats to take with us. I was trying to come up with an unusual finger food dessert and came up with hand held s’mores. It was so easy and required little clean up and would be great to make with even little children.

I took a large marshmallow, dipped into heated up Baker’s dipping chocolate and then into graham cracker crumbs. After putting them on a plate to dry I took a spoon and drizzled chocolate over the tops of them. To add a twist I decided to make caramel ones. I dipped a marshmallow in caramel, then Heath toffee bits and then drizzled the caramel over the tops. I loved the autumn colors of the finished dessert and the fact that there is little clean up! The only thing I had to keep an eye on was keeping my fingers clean of the chocolate or caramel when moving the marshmallows around since I didn’t want the smudged prints to get on the marshmallows.

Since this is David’s first year of not going out to get candy on Halloween we have made little goodie boxes of candy for the students in his class.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Festival of Leaves

A couple weeks ago our town held its annual Festival of Leaves. It is a wonderful time of the community getting together for a good time. The Historic Society began this as a fund raiser and a way for the community to learn about the history of the area. The local museums are open and you can explore them free of charge! Can’t beat the price and it is a great way for kids to learn history—hands on.

We began the day walking down Main Street—that was closed for the day. There were vendors that sold a variety of wares down several streets.

David was very excited about the parade when he saw his high school’s marching band. He didn’t know any of the kids, but loved that they were there. It truly was a community parade, with car after car carrying the local “Festival of Leaves” beauty queens. The local cancer camp for children had a truck loaded down with the kids throwing candy into the crowd. Local churches and politicians had a good showing. Since the area is so rich with history from the civil war there were soldiers and their ladies in the parade.

We visited the local museums and David was thrilled when he got to pick up real cannon balls. Even though they were the smallest in size they were very heavy. The small musuem held so much history that I was amazed. A piece of rope that hanged Abolitionist John Brown was on display.

We toured Belle Boyd’s simple home. Belle was a Confederate spy who provided valuable information to Generals Turner Ashby and “Stonewall” Jackson. General Jackson made her a captain and honorary aide-de-camp on his staff.

She was later betrayed by her lover and was arrested on July 29, 1862.

I had packed a picnic lunch, but we supplemented it with baked goods from one of the local vendors.

This will become one of our must-do events each year!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Not A Typical Day at the Zoo

Last Saturday we were allowed behind the gates of a very unusual zoo. The Smithsonian's National Zoo has a research center just about four miles from our home and each time we have passed the large imposing gates I have had the urge to be able to see what is kept within them. Last weekend they held their annual Autumn Conservation Festival which is the only two days each year the gates are open to the public.

Red pandas
It was very well attended and had lots of fun, educational an tasty booths. I had spent the last day cooking and baking so that we would have a wonderful fall picnic. The atmosphere was very family-friendly with kids of all ages seeing animals that they have never seen. The grounds of the center are so beautiful with well-cared-for lawns and beautiful buildings. I have always loved that the Smithsonians have such beautiful buildings. It would be very easy for the buildings at the research center to be strictly utilitarian. But the buildings give you the feel that you are at an old vineyard in the wine country of Italy.

North American bison
We had our very first look at the Red Panda; they must not like mornings because they just relaxed the first time we watched them. When we saw them again late in the day they were putting on quite a show as the chased and tumbled over each other. The center had information sheets about the animals so that people could become more informed about what they were seeing. These beautiful mammals used to thrive in Asia's mountains feeding on the bamboo forests. But over the last 50 years the population has declined over 40% making them an endangered species.

David, the teen, is always hungry so he was ready for our picnic lunch almost as soon as we got there. We had sausage and apple hand pies, maple and oatmeal cookies with apple cider. We had cookies left over and gave them to a parking attendant that was having a hard time with a screaming woman who didn't like where she had to park at. While Rich and I finished our meal David collected some of the beautiful fall leaves that fell from the tree we were eating under.

Clouded leopard cub
We climbed up a long winding hill to see the Bison. These big animals were not afraid of the people who came up to their fence. They would come over to the fence to get some grass to eat then retreat to the top of the hill. After laying in the grass for a few minutes they would lumber back down the hill to get more grass. The sheer size of the Bison didn't intimidate David who tried to slip his hand through the fence. The Bison were just a couple inches from us and I kept thinking about how thunderous the ground must of shaken when they were able to roam free in the early years of our nation.

The walking was taking its toll on Rich so I got some water from the hospitality tent. The coordinator came to check on Rich a few minutes later and this gave us the chance to hear some of the future plans. They are hoping to advertise better next year and hope to open up the center more then just the 2 days each year.

David and his horse friend
Our last stop was at the clouded leopard cubs. Here we had to stand in line for a few minutes, but they were well worth the wait. These two little cubs rolled, tumbled and chewed at each other in play.

We saw lots of different animals in between, but these were the highlights—except for David who had to be pulled from the horse. As David was talking to the horse he sneezed on David—gross! But, for David it was cool.

Monday, October 5, 2009

School Daze

Well, I spoke too soon on my last blog post. The school situation lasted exactly 2 days—yes 2 days. The school that was to work perfectly for David turned out to not be so perfect after all. The problem is David has some rough edges, but is not a tough kid. In fact he is very immature for his age. So when he got to a school that held 18-year-olds that have spent most of their lives fending for themselves, we all began to worry about his safety. The school recognized this the first day so they made some changes on the second day and found they could not give him the safe environment that he would need. So we were back to Square One.

We were then set up to check out another school setting within the district. On first look we had some major concerns, but during and after the meeting we knew this was not the setting that David would succeed in. Some of my concerns dealt with issues that I could not use to keep David from attending this school. One of those issues was the very liberal bent of the teachers. Since it is a small school they don’t have P.E. every day, but one of the days they did have it they picked up trash at the park and when they got back to school they sorted through it to create “art” work about how we are destroying the earth. This is not what I would consider Physical Education. The teacher whose class David would be in didn’t seem thrilled at the prospect of David being there. This, again, I could not use as a reason to keep him from attending there. So at 4:00 am I was on the Virginia Department of Education website to research a way to keep David from attending.

Our front door
The first line of defense was a safety issue. The school is on Main Street and just a few feet from a road that has traffic speeding by all day. The school is set in an old home that is need of repair—the railings on the front porch can’t be leaned on because they are so loose. There is about a five-foot drop from the porch.

My second reason was the educational aspect of the school. No true Physical Education course means no diploma. Also the school hours were 9:00 to 3:00, however due to busing issues the students are picked up between 1:30 and 2:00 which is shorter than the hours required by the Virginia Department of Education. This school also takes one extra Teacher Work Day a month, which means the students are not able to attend the amount of days required by the state.

When I mentioned all these issues with the head of special education it became obvious that something very individualized would need to be done for David. So the request for a one-on-one behavioral specialist that was denied originally—“that is not an option”—would now be requested by the school. David would get a one-on-one and return back into the original high school he began the school year at!

But, as you can imagine this process has taken quite a bit of time and wrangling. So, for the last three weeks David has been attending the second of the three schools after school hours for two hours a day. That meant I was chauffeuring him back and forth each day and he was home for the majority of the day. We have also been in meetings almost daily with a variety of county workers.

Milkman doorbell (outside of door)
This morning we were up bright and early to have another meeting before school began. This meeting was attended by his new one-on-one and David’s school schedule was adjusted to give him a truly individualized school plan. He will attend History in a classroom setting. He will then have P.E. every day (to meet those VA Dept. of Ed. requirements) with a small class. He will have a Life Skills class (they are teaching budgeting right now) and for his math class he will work with a computer teacher and his one-on-one and will be taught on the computer. David works well on the computer and finds it much more quick-paced and enjoys the challange. We have even worked out him joining a club or two during the half hour he gets to school before classes begin (flex time).

We are very happy that we were able to work out all these issues and finally get David back to school. David was more than ready to go back to school and likes his one-on-one.

Milkman doorbell (inside of door)
During all this we had a bit of a health scare for David when I found a lump in his left breast. Since we don’t know a lot of his birth parents’ medical history we were a bit concerned. We had him checked out and though we must watch for any changes we are told it’s not uncommon at his age to develop this.

I promised to show you our new home and haven’t forgotten, I just haven’t gotten any work done lately with David home and all the meetings and paperwork we have done. But I thought I would share a glimpse of our “milkman’s doorbell” from our side porch. It has the sound of an old-fashioned bike bell. Also our front door has so much character that I just love it. We have decorated our front porch with pumpkins and garlands of fall leaves. We even had someone stop in the street in front of our house the other day to get a good look at it.

We have not found a church yet, though we have visited a couple. But we are not in any hurry to commit to one church. We are checking out the options and waiting to see where God would have us to become a part of.