The Fun Continues

Turns out, not only is Z dyslexic, she is severely dyslexic.  And severely dysgraphic.  With highly probable ADHD.  And just to keep things interesting?  Irlen Syndrome.  Turns out we are learning disability overachievers.  Yay!

Once I had compiled all of my information, I scheduled a meeting with the school.  The whole gang was there: principal, counselor, teacher, head of special ed. for the school district.  At first, I was getting a your-daughter-is-doing-fine-why-are-you-bothering-me? vibe.  After a little conversation, it became clear that I was the most dyslexia-educated person in the room.  I filled them in on what I knew and they warmed up to my agenda.

When the lady from downtown arrived, the mood turned cool again.  She looked Z's test results and said that the first set by itself wasn't enough to prove dyslexia.  And that taking the CTOP, a dyslexia diagnostic test, twice in such short succession called the results into question.  Luckily, I knew she had been exposed to the test - or one like it - in kindergarten.  And that was why the second tester gave her the Part B of the test (that she hadn't seen before) and got very clear results.  When she saw how well informed I was, she seemed to change directions and decided that she would accept Z's diagnosis as dyslexic.


Next came the debate about what to do about it.  One of the diagnosticians mentioned that I would need to choose one remediation program and stick with it, so as not to confuse Z with differing terminology.  So when the lady from downtown, mentioned it, too, I felt like she had done her homework.  In the end, we decided to do outside tutoring to help with the dyslexia problems and accommodations in the classroom to support her until she is ready to go without them.

We decided that a 504 plan with a formal diagnosis of dyslexia would be the best way to insure that she gets the support she need for the rest of her public school career.  All in all, I am feeling quite pleased with the results.  I think everyone is happy and best of all, Z will get the help she needs to be successful.

Rats, Foiled Again!

Irony?  I has it!

I finally caved in to the siren song that is Amazon Prime.  Because of the cheap shipping?  No.  Because of the free Kindle book every month?  No.  Because of the streaming video?  Yes!

When I tried to watch a show, I discovered that none of my devices are Amazon Prime compatible.



Um, Yay?

So this week I have had a simultaneous "Yay!" and "Oh, sh!t!" moment.  My baby girl, my first born child, my brilliant headstrong daughter is...


Am I shocked?  Um, no.  I have suspected that something was up since pre-school.  Difficulty writing.  Difficulty rhyming.  No interest in independent reading.  Was it?  Wasn't it?  I just wasn't sure.  I knew I had arm-chair quarterbacked a dyslexia diagnosis on both her dad and paternal grandmother, but what did I know?  My master's degree is in reading not learning disabilities.

In Kinder - at the talented and gifted magnet - her handwriting continued to be atrocious, but otherwise she blossomed.  Still not super interested in reading on her own, but if pressed, could do well enough.  I was troubled by her letter reversals and seeming inability to conquer certain sight words, but I was assured it was all developmental.  Besides, the school district has a policy of not testing kindergartners for dyslexia. First grade is still plenty early for a diagnosis, right?

In first grade I was up front with Z's teacher about my fears/suspicions.  She assured me that she had a son with learning difficulties, so she knew where I was coming from.  I felt supported!  I was confident she was watching for signs that something might be amiss.  So come January, when her spelling grades TANKED, I was taken by surprise.

I scheduled the first of a series of teacher conferences wherein her teacher asked me, "Why are you so set on labeling her?" when I inquired about testing.  Z was given tutoring in spelling.  Her teacher gave her extra kinesthetic spelling activities.  I became a spelling flashcard nazi.  Our combined focus helped Z pass - barely.  But it was enough to satisfy the powers in charge of these things.  Tutoring was successful!  There is no need for those pesky dyslexia tests!  See ya in second grade!  I asked if I had her tested at my own expense, if those results would be considered and was told the district wouldn't honor them.

Thank goodness we lucked out with her second grade teacher.  She is everything a good teacher should be wrapped with a layer of laughter around a soft gooey center of kindness and compassion.  All she needs is gift wrap and a big pink bow!  We love her so much!  Her concern for my baby has literally brought me to tears on multiple occasions this year.

About a week into the school year, on second grade orientation night, I tried to squeeze in a visit with Z's teacher during a lull.  I just wanted to put her on the look out for Z's difficulties and have her call me if she saw any red flags.  She immediately linked arms with me and asked me to come chat with her after the meeting was over.

She told me she had started documenting Z on the first day of school.  She took ONE LOOK at Z's homework journal (where she copies assignments from the board) and knew something was going on.  When I told her my suspicions, she was like, "Of course!  That makes sense."  She called in her team mates and we discussed things we could do to make Z's life easier and more successful.  Whew!

Alas, the wheels of progress turn slooooooooooooowly.

For all her teacher's accommodations, Z was still falling behind in reading.  A computer based reading test, (iStation, anyone?  Does anyone know anything about this program?) put her reading level at way below second grade.  Her teacher knew this couldn't be quite right and moved her up a level or two, but she was still behind every. single. one. of her classmates.  A fact made obvious by the Accelerated Reader program - the books are shelved according to reading level, so it was clear to everyone that she was different.

That was the last straw for me.  I was volunteering across the library and I could see that Z was the only kid at the first grade cart.  It broke my heart.  It was time for action.

I called everyone I could think of that afternoon: the head of the dyslexia department for the school district; a local clinic that tests for dyslexia; my friend whose sister is dyslexic.  Man, I missed my mom that day!  My friend headed off my hysteria (thanks, Bun!).  The clinic called back and directed me to some really excellent information about dyslexia.  She asked me to review the videos and call back if I was interested in scheduling  testing.

The videos were long and painfully dull, but they were an information gold mine.  The more I watched, the more convinced I became that Z was the poster child for dyslexia.  She couldn't seem more dyslexic if she were trying!  Freaky high I.Q.? Check.  Slow labored reading? Check.  Super high comprehension? Check. Dysgraphia? Check.

I signed her up for testing and mentioned to the school councilor what was going on so she wouldn't be blindsided when I called for a conference the following week.  I told her that I understood that the climate in the district was such that I wasn't expecting dyslexia services, but that I would take the information that we gathered and use it to force a 504 plan (required accommodations without the need for a special ed. hearing).

I ended up having her evaluated by two different testers - a second opinion is always good, right?  Both of them said she was a clear case of dyslexia.  With a probable dose of ADHD thrown in.  Interestingly, I got calls back from all over Wester that afternoon.

The head of the district's dyslexia department called me back and questioned why I felt the need for testing on my own.  She assured me that my outside testing data would be considered for placement in the dyslexia program and that she would even attend the conference when we discussed it.

As soon as I hung up with her, Z's principal called me.  She was also suddenly sure that we could get Z considered for the dyslexia program.  Her principal is great and I know we are on the same team here.  Everyone is - from her kinder teacher (who I loved so much I requested her for Q) through her second grade teacher.

I am NOT bashing the school district.  It is just amazing to me that it takes this much effort to even get my daughter looked at by the district.  As much as a formal diagnosis of dyslexia SUCKS for Z, I am relieved that she is finally going to get some appropriate help.  Finally.

But what about all the kids who don't have pushy moms like me?


More Gardening for Masochists

So we left my fair garden back at square one.  (Get it?  Square foot gardening?  Ha!)  The first order of business was weed death.  Luckily, my dad-in-law (aka: Dr. Death) whipped up an extra strong batch of weed killer and hosed the whole enclosure.  Then, because he is awesome, he went back and pulled up the worst of them - five feet tall!  thorny!  sneeze inducing! - and carted them to the dumpster.

That left me with a less weedy, but abundantly rocky, garden.  I learned from last summer's experiment that I needed more room for vines, so I decided to add an additional bed around the two sides of the garden that back up to a barn and a car port.  A loooong skinny bed with trellises on the wall sides.  In order to build my vine garden, I needed to level the ground where the bed would go.

So. many. rocks.

The previous owners had chucked all of the rocks they dug up (in a traditional dig-up-the-ground-style garden) into the corner of where I wanted my vine bed to go.  So I schlepped a big inconvenient pile of rocks from inside the garden into a less inconvenient pile outside the garden.  Then I used an assortment of implements to pick, hoe, shovel and rake the rocks into submission.  Whew!

Now on to weed control.  More (so! much! more!) pick-hoe-rake-and-shovel-ing later, it was time to roll out the weed blocking fabric.  Bear in mind, I had put off getting the ball rolling until the west Texas spring heated up to 100+ degrees.  That made all of the pick-hoe-rake-and-shovel-ing just that much more fun!  It was a total sweat-fest that took most of a week to adequately complete.  I did have help from my super-helpful in-laws.  I have to say that Grandma's attention to detail probably added a little time to getting this stage completed, but considerably upped the quality of the weed removal.

Once the weeds were subdued, I rolled out the weed blocking fabric.  In 20 mile per hour winds.  Yay!  So I would roll out some fabric, stand on it and try to move cinder blocks on top of it while the wind blew the fabric around Lucy-and-Ethel-style.  It wasn't pretty.  One pair of heavy-duty garden gloves later - I actually wore the finger tips off! - the bones of the garden were complete!


The Masochistic Gardener

So what do you do when you move to the desert?  Why, put in a garden, of course!

Put in a garden? you say.  Didn't you do that last year?  Why, yes.  Yes, I did.

It was what I shall call a 'successful experiment.'  That is to say, I put in a ton of work to grow about 20 bushels of basil (win!), a mega mint and a pumpkin vine that tried to take over the world.  After babying the garden through a summer of record breaking heat, I threw up my hands and walked away when the rabbits ate my one and only pumpkin just weeks before Halloween.

This was a tragic miscalculation.

I learned a lot in my first summer of vegetable gardening.  Square Foot Gardening?  Awesome!  Shoddy site prep for said garden? Not so awesome.  Forgetting to turn off the automatic sprinkler timer?  Not awesome. At. All.  By the end of our freakishly warm winter, the weeds had taken over my garden.  Again.

I needed a whip and a chair to get inside the fence when it was time to get started for the spring.  The basil had petrified into a woody bush.  The mint was so massive that it had invaded fully half of my garden.  Rabbits had moved in under it, built condos and bred like, well, rabbits.  And the weeds?  Oh, my.  Desert dwelling weeds are hearty buggers.  Grass and stickers had grown up not just around my raised beds, but through them.  There was a tragic miscommunication regarding weed removal and my M-i-L accidentally ruined all of the soil that remained from last year.


Basically, I was back to square one.  So I decided to do it right this time.

(To be continued!)


Life Lessons Suck

Tomorrow is awards day at Z's school.  Awards include Perfect Attendance, Honor Roll, Perfect Homework, the Principal's Conduct Award and the like.  We are a talented and gifted magnet school, so all of the first grade parents are invited to will attend and photograph and/or video the recognition their preshus snowflake's many accomplishments.

Z won't be getting an award.

I'm okay with this.  Mostly.  I don't want to give her the expectation that she will be awarded just for showing up.  I want her to know that effort is required to get the gold star.  But, seriously?  Do we really have to learn this lesson in first grade?

It has been a rough year for Z.  Me, too, really.  She caught every virus early and often.  No perfect attendance.  Homework has gone from being a no-brainer to a daily battle.  No perfect homework. She is showing all the signs of being dyslexic, and the hoops that must be jumped through to get tested for the dyslexia program are EPIC.  No honor roll.  She inherited her mother's gift of the gab.  No conduct award.

T suggested that we institute First Grade Skip Day.  I don't really think that is the answer either, but, geez!  My heart aches for my sweet baby.  Not that I'm entirely sure she will be bothered by her lack of brightly-colored-copy-paper-certificate validation.  It has never occurred to Z that she is anything less than AWESOME.

But what if it does bother her?  I guess it is just a lesson that everyone needs to learn.  Why do life lessons have to suck so much?



Have I ever mentioned that I lived in Italy when I was a teenager?  My dad worked for NATO in Naples in the early '80's.  Easily my favorite place I ever lived.  EVER.  I could see the Mediterranean from my bedroom window.  The people of southern Italy were the nicest.  And the food?  Well, that goes without saying - but I'll say it anyway:  AMAZING! 

Surprisingly, my favorite dish wasn't pasta.  It was a salad of all things.  Specifically, Caprese Salad.  You know, that fresh mozzarella and tomato salad that all the fancy Italian places serve these days.  When we got back from Italy in 1986, no one had heard of fresh mozzarella yet, let alone water buffalo mozzarella!  Especially in small town North Dakota, which was our next assignment.  I don't think I got to have a Caprese Salad for 15 years.  That is a long time to crave something!

Nowadays, you can get fresh mozzarella at pretty much any super market if you don't mind coughing up the cash for it.  And mostly I don't.  But we are rapidly approaching basil season here at Casa de Critical Mass, which means that I will putting basil in every dish I can think of  (So basically, pesto, lasagna, and Caprese Salad.)   Between the basil in my garden and the tomatoes in my Bountiful Basket, I feed my girlfriends Caprese almost every week.

I found saw a pin and that got me all excited, but when I read through all the steps, I decided that making cheese was not for me.  Then I stumbled on this pin!

Andrew Wilder from Eating Rules posted an excellent (and simple!) recipe for making home made mozzarella at Simple Bites.  In just 30 minutes and with a minimum of weird ingredients, you get home made cheese!  I had to try it.  You know, just as soon as I ordered the one oddball ingredient off the internet.  (Wester isn't long on cheese making suppliers.)

So when Sister L came for a visit, I had the perfect opportunity to experiment on make it for her!  I am beyond pleased to report that it turned out perfectly!  All I am going to change for next time is adding a little more salt.  Otherwise, it was perfect.  Which is a good thing.  I have enough rennet for 19 more batches! 

That is a lot of cheese.


I Got a Rock

Q just had his fifth birthday (Mah baybee! Sob!).  For weeks ahead of time, he kept asking what he was going to get for his birthday.  Finally, just to give him an answer, I told him he was getting sticks and twigs.  His father joined in with me and added rocks to the list.  Yup, he was getting sticks and twigs and rocks for his birthday. 

A little while later, when it actually was time to open presents, T thought it would be funny if we wrapped up a rock for him to open.  So he grabbed a rock from the yard and I put it in a little gift bag with the rest of his presents.

It is a lot of fun to give gifts to Q.  He gets really excited and makes gratifying exclamations about how cool each gift is.  As it happened, he chose the bag with the rock in it first.  I figured he would laugh a little and move on to the next present.  When he opened it, he looked up at T and said, "Thank you, Daddy!  What a pretty rock!  See how pretty and shiny it is?  I love it!" 

I love that kid.


It's Not a Tumor!

Last October, right before my birthday, I went in for my yearly eye exam.  I got the whole shebang: glaucoma test, dilation, visual field test.  That's the one where you put your head in this kind of space egg thingy and click a buzzer every time you see a little flash of light.  It uses magic and computer programming to map out your vision and show any blind spots. 

Imagine my chagrin when I failed the visual field. At first I just chalked it up to crappy genes and encroaching old age, but my kind doctor informed me that there shouldn't be significant changes in the visual field unless you have glaucoma or an eye injury.  Then she said, "It might be (insert scary medical term that means BRAIN TUMOR here).  You need to come back in three months for a re-check.  If it continues to get worse, you will need to see a neurologist.  But don't worry about it."

Yeah, right.  Happy birthday to me!

I had to have several awkward conversations that went something like, "Guess what!  I might have a brain tumor!"  To which my husband/sisters/friends looked at me blankly and waited for the punch line.  Good times.

Luckily, the crazy holiday season did a pretty good job of keeping my mind off of it.

So today was the day of the big re-exam.  It's not a tumor!  My test came back consistent with all the visual field tests I had taken before last October.  That test was an anomaly.  It could have been that my eyes were dilated, or that I was dehydrated, or hormonal.  Whatever.  All is well now.  Whew!

Trailer Trash

The ranch has been in the family for about ten years now.  So it has been ten years since we set up our base of operations: a mobile home.  A very nice mobile home (Seriously!  It looks just like a house on the inside with drywall and everything!), but a trailer none the less.  Well, the ranch is in west Texas - the land of no trees.  There are wind farms down the road from us.  In a word: windy.  Very windy.

All that wind has started taking its toll.  We have lost a shingle or two.  The time has come for a little maintenance.  My father-in-law was planning a trip to the home improvement store to pick up some replacement shingles.

Now, my FIL is an eminent physician.  A pioneer is his field.  Before he left for the store, he turned to us and asked without a hint of irony, "Do you think we should put some tires up there to hold the shingles down?"

I just about died laughing and then realized he wasn't joking.

Transition to redneck complete.


Finding Balance

Lest you think this is some high minded new year's resolution post, um, nope.  If that is what you are searching for, move right along and I'll catch you next time. This here post is about MAH BAYBEE!

It was a banner day at Casa Critical Mass yesterday.  It was the day that I took the training wheels off of Z's bike.  As soon as I got them off she just took off down the driveway without a care in the world.

I can't believe my sweet baby girl is big enough to take off on two wheels!  I am so proud!  And also, quit growing up so fast!  You are my little girl!  But with every day she gets a little more independent and I get glimpses of the person she will be some day.  Sob!  (Sunrise, Sunset playing softly in the background.)


About the time she got to the end of the driveway, she went, "Oh, wow!  I don't have training wheels!" and "I don't know how to turn!" and had a mini panic.  The more she thought about it, the more wobbly she got.  All of a sudden, she was pushing herself along with her feet instead of pedaling.  Maybe college isn't so close after all.

I was really proud of her determination to master this new skill.  Since we took the trainers off, she has clocked about 100 miles around the driveway and the bottom of the cul de sac.  Now she is begging to take a longer bike ride around the neighborhood.  That's my girl!


Thinking Small

So.  December happened.  Wow.  Holy over commitment, Batman!  Even though I got all of my shopping done well in advance, we barely managed to get the tree decorated in time.  Never the less, Christmas was great.  Kids had a blast.  Much food was consumed.  Great times with family and friends.  And then it was over.

Now it is that time of year when we feel the need to make resolutions.  Huh.

I don't currently have the mental wherewithal to make plans for an entire year, so maybe I will just make resolutions for this week.  Yeah, that sounds more manageable.

  • Get out of bed.  I know this doesn't sound like much, but given the super-bug my kids gave me for Christmas, it is a SUPER big deal.  For the last three days I have been just this side of comatose while the kids were in school.  Staying awake when your body demands rest is more difficult than you would think.  Luckily, we were well stocked with mac and cheese and frozen pizza, because I couldn't manage any real cooking.
  • Make a recycling run.  Wester doesn't have curbside recycling (DRAG!), but I still try to do my part.  The post Christmas packaging is taking over my personal garbage dump laundry room.  If I don't take care of it soon, my husband is going to have a planet-bashing hissy fit and throw it all in the dumpster.
  • Clean the master bathroom.  It is just not right that I am required to dust my bathroom.  (My mom used to say that dust shouldn't happen to good people.  I couldn't agree more.)  But out here in the windy desert southwest, enough dust to write your name in accumulates over night.  Add some steam and hair products and you get almost instant yuck.
  • Write two posts on this here blog.  Hey, already halfway there!  Chica is disgusted with my lack of writing, and I can feel my brain melting from lack of use.
That sounds like a manageable week.  Maybe.