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How Do the Blind See a Tree?

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Most people can look up and see a tree.  To a child who is blind or visually impaired, their concept of a tree is the bark they can feel. Their concept of a tree is that it is” rough”.  If they have some vision, they can tell that a tree is brown at its trunk, but “a blob of green” above the trunk.  They could grow up and their whole lives not know what a tree “looks” like.  Expanding such basic knowledge of their world is called expanding the core curriculum. It consists of concepts that are not taught in school, but are still important lessons for that child to learn in order to grow up as an educated adult who is blind.

One topic covered by the nine students, ages six through thirteen, at an April vacation program, was the concept of trees and their differences.  During a nature walk, students found that some trees were so small they could fit their hand around the trunk.  Some trees were so large that it took all nine students holding hands to encircle the trunk. Some trunks were very rough, with deep groves, and some were smooth, with little lines barely traceable by their little fingers.

They learned that evergreen trees stay green all year, and they giggled as they carefully touched the sharp needles. They never knew that trees could be so prickly!  Under the tree, they found the pinecones from which a new tree may grow.

They learned that oak trees, in the spring, have no leaves.  They closely examined the branches of an oak with a few dead leaves still attached, carefully feeling them and making the connection with the leaves they see on the ground in the autumn. Acorns which were still attached to the tree branch were felt with much enthusiasm.  They had collected acorns from the ground underneath the tree, but to actually see it attached seemed to be a surprise. They felt the new buds on the ends of the small branches, buds which would soon bloom into leaves.

Students learned about flowering trees, in full bloom during their springtime visit.  Most students were amazed that a tree could have flowers.  In their minds, trees and flowers were two entirely different things.  But there they were; pink blossoms on the end of a cherry blossom tree branch, gentle, sweet smelling little flowers.

As they were feeling and looking at the trees up close, students were in awe.  So many different types of trees!  And they would not describe a single one of them as “rough” because they were finally able to look beyond the bark.

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(I apologize, it has been a busy summer and this is a repost from 2 years ago.) For more stories about children who are blind, please, read my book. Here is a link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11 The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

A Whole New Meaning to “Swimming with the Fishes”

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I have been fortunate in that my mother loved to travel and she often took me and one of my kiddos “along for the ride.”  One of my favorite spots was Discovery Cove, part of Sea World in Orlando.  Discovery Cove offered a make believe coral reef with lots of beautiful fish swimming around and huge stingrays that would swim close and touch you. It was so amazing, and was as close to real snorkeling that I had ever been. With a life jacket, snorkel and mask on, Marie, (my 13 year old daughter who is profoundly deaf and has PTSD) and I spent the day swimming around, amazed at the many varieties of tropical fish. It was like being in another world.  In one spot, there was a glass wall and you could swim next to sharks.  Up until this point in my life, this was as close to real snorkeling, and SHARKS, that I would get! It was awesome!

Near the end of the day, Marie’s medication began to wear off as we had stayed later than I anticipated.  She began to get anxious, but she didn’t want to leave.   I told her one more swim around the coral reef and then we’d head back to the hotel.  As had been happening all day, a stingray came up and touched Marie on her leg.  In fact, she had been petting them for most of the day, calling them her “friends”.  For some reason, this touch was different than the rest.  She became frightened and had a full blown panic attack.  She started SCREAMING her high pitched scream and she was signing (in American sign language,) “The fish is going to eat me!” (Why the fish would think she were any tastier later in the day than earlier, I don’t understand.) To get away from the stingray, she climbed onto my back.  I tried to calm her down, but it was difficult to do sign language while trying to swim with a child on your back, and she was screaming so loud her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see what I was saying anyway!  By this time, we were halfway around the coral reef and as far from the shore as you could possibly get.  Marie decided she was not safe enough on my back because her toes were still in the water,  so she climbed up on my shoulders to get completely out of the water!  Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to sink UNDER the water for her to stay OUT of it.  I started screaming along with her.  (Albeit alternating choking with water and screaming.) She was truly frightened the fish was going to eat her and I was truly frightened I was going to drowned.

They have several life guards there and our dilemma was not hard to miss, with Marie standing upright and me bobbing in and out of the water choking. Because we were so far out, it took the lifeguards what seemed like an eternity to reach us.  When they got to us, Marie refused to let the lifeguards touch her, screaming and kicking at them.  (Good old Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up when you least expect it!)  What three of the lifeguards ended up doing was supporting me in the water while she continued to stand on my shoulders and scream. Of course there was a huge crowd of onlookers on the beach, some taking photos.  (We really were quite a sight!) Once on the beach both Marie and I collapsed into the sand.  The life guards asked if we needed to go to the hospital, but I was still breathing and Marie had stopped screaming and was crying quietly, so that meant we had both survived unscathed.  Well, maybe not totally unscathed, I’ve lost my wanderlust  for snorkeling!

 

If you are interested in reading more, I have written an e-book entitled The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane  available at I-Books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Mothers, Help Your Sons Grow Up to be Fathers…

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My oldest son, Francis, grew up amongst a caravan of foster brothers and sisters. Specializing in newborns and infants who had been affected by prenatal drug exposure and addiction, our family was usually comprised of my husband and myself, Francis, his sister, Dinora, who had been adopted from Guatemala, and one or two foster babies. Despite the fact that Francis is severely visually impaired, he played an active role in child care, frequently holding a little one, feeding a bottle and changing diapers. When going to the mall, he and his sister would proudly push the double stroller. (With the 2 of them, he could be a pusher without having to see where he was going…) Throughout his childhood, sixteen foster babies lived with us, and caring for them was just a fact of life.

Francis is now an adult with a Ph. D. from Cambridge, a well paying dream job, a wonderful wife and a cozy home complete with a grill for grilling steaks and a lawn to mow. And, as of three weeks ago, a newborn baby. My week spent with his little family renewed my faith in the power of what is learned in childhood. Without even knowing it, I had trained Francis how to be a good father! He bundles his little girl up in a baby blanket, like I had bundled up those babies who were going through withdrawal. Newborns like being in a tidy bundle because they arrive with strong startle reflexes and without much control of their arms and legs. By pulling her arms and legs in close and securely wrapping a blanket around her little body, baby India can feel safe and secure. When she is awake and alert, Francis rocks her and sings songs to her, songs that he heard me sing so many years ago: “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Hush Little Baby,” and “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”. Even though she couldn’t possibly know the songs, the sound of his voice quiets her, and these songs are easy to sing. When he is expertly changing her diaper, he plays “This Little Piggy” with her toes, gently pulling her feet to his mouth to kiss. He exaggerates the “wee wee wee home” by tracing his finger from her toes to her chin, tickling her slightly before kissing her forehead. And while she sits in his arms on the couch, ready for bed, he reads her books with very large print; “Goodnight Moon”, and “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”.

On the evening before I left to fly home, he looked over at me and thanked me for giving him the opportunity to practice on all those babies years ago. All of his friends are having babies now, he said, and they are all in a tizzy. Because of the practice HE had, he is a confident parent and not at all nervous with India. I realized that by being a foster parent to infants, I was not only caring for little ones, but also nurturing parenting skills in my oldest sons, skills that will ensure he will be an awesome father!

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For more stories about Francis childhood and our adventure with foster children, please, read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

A Christmas Gift from Above Retold…

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Our family went last night to visit a shrine. as we do every Christmas. The lights were magnificent! The live manger was awe inspiring as the choir sang nearby. Of course, over the years it has become more commercialized…Merry Go Round ride for $3. Ride in the trolley, $5. $4 dollar popcorn and $5 dollar cotton candy. $12 for a small book about the nativity, and $25 for the accompanying small stuffed sheep. $9.95 for a children’s chicken nugget meal. Of course, with more and more lights, the expenses increase, and they have to fund it somehow. But I digress… The money making aspects of the shrine in no way minimizes the true spirituality and healing nature of the location, which is worth all of the money in the world.


We adopted Dinora from Guatemala at the age of 6 weeks, and I was so thrilled to have a daughter!!!  She came with a variety of diseases common in s 3
rd World Country, scabies, intestinal parasites and malnutrition.  But we loved her and fed her and she blossomed into an adorable baby with big black eyes and shiny black hair.

At the age of six months, it became apparent that Dinora was deaf.  She had not yet started to babble like other babies her age, but she also did not turn to her name, or looked at the dog when she barked, or seem to notice the footsteps of me coming into her bedroom.  She would be laying there awake when I walked in, (and, believe me, I am not light on my fight.)  When she finally would see me, she would startle.  She had not heard me.  The day I knew it for sure was a day she was sitting next to me on the floor while I was doing the dishes.  I accidentally dropped a huge lobster pot I was cleaning and it made a horrendous clang on the floor.  Dinora happily sat there playing, her back to the pan.  She did not startle.  She did not cry.  She did not hear it.

We then made the rounds of the doctors.  She flunked regular hearing tests, and had a brain stem evoked response test.  Her brain did not respond up to 90 decibels.  The doctor informed me that she was severely hearing impaired and that we would try hearing aids to maximize her hearing, although they would not be strong enough for her to hear normally.  They took the impressions for her ear molds.

That evening, our family went for a pre-Christmas visit to a shrine beautifully decorated with Christmas lights.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  I had a two year old son who was legally blind, and now I had an infant daughter who was deaf.

There was a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes surrounded by prayer water and many large candles.  There was also a large display of crutches and wheelchairs of people who had been healed by her.  I helped my son, Francis, who was 2 1/2 years old, light a candle. Because it was almost Christmas, and the only candles he had seen were on a birthday cake, he merrily sang “Happy Birthday Dear Jesus”.  I remember saying a non-de-script prayer, still upset that Dinora was deaf.  I still thanked God,  but was not quite as enthusiastic as usual.

The next morning, the dog barked and Dinora woke up!  I thought it was a coincidence until I started to walk into her room and she turned to smile at me. She had heard my footsteps!  I started talking to her and she started babbling back.  Only a day earlier she had been fitted with ear molds for hearing aids!  I excitedly called the doctor, who agreed to see her that day.  Her hearing was tested and it was normal!  Neither I nor the doctor could believe it.  He said in his 29 years as an ear doctor he had never seen anything like it.  He told me that it had to be an “Christmas miracle from Above”.  The visit the night before to the shrine came to mind.  A miracle HAD occurred, and I was  embarrassed because I had not thanked God more enthusiastically the night before. He had granted me a miracle even though I did not ask for one.

Dinora is now 28 years old and has had perfect hearing ever since that day! And I have lived life with a peaceful,generous heart because I know, without any doubt, that God is with me.

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To read more about our life as a family, please read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Buy Me Something That Tickles Me

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Lately, some of the things that I say reflect things my mom said decades ago. I met a woman the other day who was cheerful and bouncy, with a large white flower in her bright, red hair and a wide smile. I immediately told my son that she looked like a hot ticket. He looked at me like I was crazy. “She’s a WHAT?” he asked.

And so it is with the items on my Christmas list that I gave my teenage and young adult children, most of whom are economically disadvantaged, (ie poor, broke, don’t have a pot to piss in). I asked them to get me something that tickles me. For those unfamiliar with this description, what I am asking them to buy me is something that makes me giggle inside. “Ahhhhh”, you think, “There can’t be too many items that do so that are inexpensive and suitable to give as a Christmas gift.” But you would be wrong.

Things that tickle me:
**Socks with far out designs. (I work with young children, usually on the floor with my shoes off. While my dress has to be “casual business”, my feet can be free and easy.)

**Jelly Bellies, especially popcorn and licorice flavors. (I would be on cloud 9 eating them, one by one, savoring the flavor.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it would be so awesome if one of my children would buy me a body wash from Bath and Body works, for my nightly bubble baths. (Sweet Pea is my favorite scent!)

I would be made in the shade if I were gifted with a nice, strong pen, preferably with purple or green ink.

A new mug with a sentimental slaying would be fab. (I LOVE to drink my tea.)

A gnarly new wallet would be welcomed, (one with extra room for pictures of all my kiddos!)

Bubble gum flavored lip gloss, with a hint of pink coloring, would help me look like a fox. (even if only around my mouth area…for the first five minutes…before I lick it off…,)

So, you can see, I would be tickled by a variety of inexpensive items that my kiddos could buy me for Christmas. In fact, anything that they buy for me with love will be copasetic. It would bum me out if they spent a lot of money on me, because it really IS the thought that counts!

As I crash on Christmas eve and go to sleep, I know opening my presents on Christmas morn will be a gas, yet won’t cost my children an arm and a leg.

Here’s to hoping your children get to keep their appendages also!

The Little Things for Which I am Grateful

Joining my blogging friends, I am thankful for my family, friends, and our comfortable life. However, the holiday of Thanksgiving also provides a wonderful opportunity to express my appreciation for the “little things” in life. For instance, all of those wonderful times when you get green lights all the way to work! I actually treat traffic as though it is the norm to prevent getting annoyed or anxious. That way, I am super happy (and thankful) for those times when all of the traffic lights are green and it’s like smooth sailing all the way!

There are several other little things for which I am grateful:

curling irons: without them my hair would be frazzly and I’d look like Einstein, (no offense Mr. Einstein, if you are reading this from heaven…)

working pens, preferably in a lively color: who has not had the problem of searching frantically for a pen only to finally drag one out that doesn’t work?

TIVO: there are only a few television programs that I like to watch, and they inevitably are televised during a time I am unable to watch them. TIVO is a life saver AND a time saver because I not only get to watch “my” shows at a convenient time, but can fast forward through the commercials!

reading glasses: yes, I have reached the age of needing reading glasses. How wonderful it is to put them on and not to have to squint!

coin holders in cars: putting all of my spare change in the coin holder serves me well when quarters are needed for a parking meter or a Diet Coke at McDonald’s! (No reprimands, please, I know Diet Coke isn’t healthy, but I love it anyway!)

money found in the dryer: isn’t it exciting when you have emptied out the dryer and several quarters and a dime are sitting there at the bottom? I was SUPER lucky the other day and found a twenty dollar bill! (It was like winning the lottery!)

half and half cream: we go through so much milk in this house that there was a time when there wouldn’t be any left over for…..sob, sob…that first, steaming, wonderful cup of morning tea. My wonderful husband discovered half and half which no one would dare drink. Problem solved!

comfy shoes: there is nothing that stabilizes and calms me more during the day than wearing a pair of warm and snuggy comfortable shoes.

spritz of body spray: not being a perfume person, there is nothing better to lift my spirits than a nice body spray of citrus or apple cinnamon. (Of course, if it is late in the day, it COULD make me hungry…)

I am very thankful for all of these little things in life that have, in some way, added to my happiness in life. Now, if ONLY I had an automatic car starter, (hint, hint, hubby dear.) MAYBE I will get one for Christmas. Then, in the freezing winter, I can walk out to a WARM car with my comfy shoes, stylish hair, smelling of fruit. Ah….I can only dare to dream…

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To read more about our life, here is a link to my book:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

Out and About with a GPS!

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After my last disastrous attempt to use Mapquest directions to find a location, my husband had pity and surprised me with a new GPS. (He’s a heck of a great guy!) Marie and I have been using it to go places; new doctors, apple orchards and so forth. Like any curious child, Marie not only wants to know WHERE we are going but HOW to get there, and the inevitable “Are we there yet?” I don’t know HOW to get there, and even if I DID, to describe the actual directions in American Sign Language would be dangerous while driving, (especially because two hands are needed!) So Marie latched onto the GPS as though it actually was a small satellite guiding us. (Somehow, I think I may have misinterpreted exactly WHAT a GPS is in ASL to her.)
Hiding the screen from me so I could see, Marie excitedly gave me the directions street by street by street. In order to make it more like a fun “game”, I made the mistake of turning the sound off. The problem was, either she was a little late in signing “Left at next street”…or, more likely, I was paying intermittent attention to the road and missed her directions. Our trips ended up more zig zaggy and lengthy than I would have preferred. I confess, I cheated. When she wasn’t looking, I turned the sound on without her knowing. Now when we use it, she still gives me the directions street by street, thinking she is the sole direction provider. I no longer miss the proper street because I’ve already been prewarned by the GPS, and Marie blissfully thinks she is doing a magnificent job guiding us to our location.
Ohhhhhhh, I’m a sneaky mother….

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To read more about our life, here is a link to my book:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

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