Experiencing a Tornado

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Our spring was kind of crazy this year.  Just as our school year and extracurricular activities were winding down, our town was hit by a tornado.  The funny thing is, we studied earth science last year, and when we learned about tornadoes, my children asked if one would ever happen where we live.  I responded that it was unlikely.  I guess I was wrong!

We were in the parking lot at the supermarket when it hit.  My cell phone had just announced “Tornado warning in your area.  Seek shelter immediately.”

Rain started pelting our car harder than I have ever seen, and the wind was out of control.  In retrospect, we should have just gone back in the supermarket until it was over.  Because we were only 10 to 15 minutes from home, though, we tried to get home as quickly as possible.  However, we live in a very wooded area, so we found that every street that we tried to go down was blocked by fallen trees, with tall trees waving threateningly everywhere around us.  We ended up having to turn back and find another road to go down.  At one point, we reached a road that was blocked, but several cars were trying to get past, so my husband and the other drivers hopped out and were able to pull the tree out of the way so that we could pass.

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We finally got to the entrance of our neighborhood and found that we couldn’t go in, because a large tree was blocking it, along with the power lines that it had taken down with it.  The storm had ended.  We briefly considered finding a hotel for the night, but our two-month-old puppy was at home, alone, in his crate.  We had to get to the house.  So, we parked our car, and my husband, two little ones and I got out and started for home on foot.  We had to hike through our neighbors’ yards because the whole length of the street was covered in downed trees and power lines.  There was so much destruction that we were afraid to see what our house looked like.

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When we finally arrived home, we were shocked to see that we only had some branches down, but not one tree had fallen.  There was no damage to our house.  The only real concern was three very large trees had been partially uprooted and were now sitting on an angle.  We ended up having two of them taken down shortly after, as they would have come down on their own in the next big storm, possibly killing someone.  The largest of the three was 96 feet tall.

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We were grateful to have made it home safely and that our home was not damaged in the storm.  There were at least two deaths in the area that day and extensive property damage.  This house, that is down the street from us, had a tree fall through the second story, landing just 5 to 10 feet away from where someone was sleeping.

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During the storm, the twister was yanking trees right out of the ground, roots and all, and then slamming them back down to the earth.  We live in a lakeside community, and as the twister traveled down the lake, it even ripped the porch right off of a house along the water.

Because of all the downed power lines, we were without power for almost a week.  Since most people in town have well water, that meant we were without running water also.

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During this adventure, my eldest son wondered why nature was so destructive at times.  I wasn’t really sure how to answer that.  As life began to return to normal and roads were opened up again, there were some very noticeable changes in the landscape, though.  A pine forest around the corner had lost so many tall trees and tops of trees that a previously dark road was now bathed in sunlight.  Our vegetable and flower gardens receive much more light as a result of the 96-footer that was taken down.

Our yard is covered in heavy, dead branches that loom threateningly and that were scheduled to be taken down in the spring but that had to be put on hold because the tree-trimmers are too busy with emergency clean-up work (our leaners fell under that category).    If left to their own devices, those dead areas aren’t going anywhere until nature sees fit to bring them down in some catastrophic way.  In the meantime, they prevent the light from nourishing the new life that is trying to emerge underneath.

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Perhaps these storms are a metaphor for our own spiritual walks.  When God comes along and tears down our strongholds, it is painful at the time and can appear to us to be destructive.  In the long run, though, we discover that it was necessary for the new growth that He wanted to work in our lives.  As long as we were clinging to those old, dead areas, the light was unable to get through and shine where it needed to.

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. – 2 Corinthians 5:17

 

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Fine Art Study – The Renaissance

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I have been hoarding artist study materials for a while, as this is something I really want to go over with my children, but often find that it gets put on the back burner.  They really enjoy it when we are able to make time for it, though, so I was glad to find an opportunity to utilize them recently.

We use The Story of the World as our history curriculum for our homeschool.  We are currently on Volume 2:  The Middle Ages.  When we reached the chapter about the Renaissance, I decided this would be the perfect time to incorporate some fine art study into our school year.

First, I pulled out our set of Memoria Press art cards, and picked out the ones that were appropriate for the time period.  We looked at the cards, read the information about the pieces, and discussed which we liked best and why.

Next, I chose some prominent Renaissance artists to focus on – Michelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt and Raphael.  I used this timeline to help me narrow the choices down.  I have biographies from the Great Artists Series by homeschool bits for each one, which also include links to online videos and activities about the artist.  We focused on one artist per class.  We read the biography together, answered the review questions, watched some of the links, and viewed examples of the artist’s work.  We used some of our art cards for this, as well as Enrichment Studies art pages (you can receive free art pages from them each month if you become a subscriber).  We also visited the Google Arts & Culture page.  One caution about the Google page – many of the pieces of art on it contain nudity.  My son is not a fan of Michelangelo as a result.  He said, “I understand him painting Adam and Eve naked, but King David wore clothes!”  Oh, well.

Another source that we used was a series on YouTube called Art with Mati and Dada.  We discovered it a while ago and my children really enjoy it.  We found the episode that went along with the artist we were reviewing that day and I let them finish the lesson by watching it.

When we finished studying all of the artists that I had selected, I picked some of the art cards that we had viewed and wrote the last name of each artist on index cards.  I laid both sets of cards out and had the children match the name of the artist to the art that they had created.  I was pleased to discover that they were able to match them up without much difficulty and had fun doing it.  We hung the matched sets up in our classroom afterward so they can continue to observe them.

I found that tying the study of art into our history lessons worked well.  I didn’t feel like I was taking time away another subject, but was enhancing it instead.

 

Edited to add:  If you will be studying Renaissance artists with your children next year, I just found out that Enrichment Studies will have a new study on that time period that will be available.  Each week will focus on one artist, and each day there will be a video about the artist and/or their work sent by email.  There will be coordinating Fine Art Pages to have on display in your home during that week as well.  It will give a short, daily dose of art appreciation that’s easy to find time for.

 

Developing Patience for the Road Ahead

Developing Patience for the Road Ahead

Back in May, I wrote this post for the Homeschooling with Heart blog.   I almost didn’t get it written, because a tornado hit our state, and we lost power for almost a week.

The first two days, my children kept asking when they’d be able to watch TV or use the computer again.  I’ve made a point to limit their screen time, and because there was less availability and dependence on these things when I was raising my two adult children, having a device always on hand to entertain them just didn’t seem natural to me.  Even so, my kids still went through a withdrawal of the screen time that they are allowed to have.

They began to wander outside frequently to entertain themselves and joined with some neighborhood children to build a shelter in the woods behind our house.  I ended up having to coax them indoors for meals.  They managed to find something to engage them that also created an opportunity for teamwork and socialization.  It was almost a blessing in disguise.

Meanwhile, I was going through the withdrawal of having running water and access to information about what was going on, without phone or internet service.  I attempted to model patience for my children, along with gratitude that our home was not damaged in the storm and none of us was injured, although it became more difficult to do as the week wore on.

My reflection on this experience is that you never know when a situation like this will happen.  Many things are out of our control, and it is easier for you and your children to deal with when the virtue of patience has been developed.  It is these moments when it is really put to the test that you begin to realize just what an important life skill it is and how much you are actually lacking it versus what you would normally give yourself credit for.

In my opinion, the real long-term benefit of learning to wait until later for what you want now is the ability to wait on God.  It took many years of waiting and praying before I met my husband.  It might be a spouse, a job, the birth of a child, or any number of things that you or your child needs to wait on God for.

One thing that I have found helpful for my own children is making it the default that they wait in public (at a sibling’s extracurricular activity; at the DMV) without devices to entertain them.  If they’ve had practice stretching and developing those muscles during these short periods of waiting, I believe it will help them to be better prepared for the marathon when it inevitably comes.

My goals for the future are to be a better example of patient waiting in times of stress, to pray that God strengthens both my patience and that of my children, and to trust that He can do this work in us.

 

“A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him by heaven.” – John 4:27

“But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” – Luke 8:15

The Importance of Outdoor Education in a Digital World

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I grew up in a large city.  Swapping childhood stories with my husband, he was appalled when I explained that recess at the schools that I attended meant being released to an enclosed, asphalt yard.  I counted myself lucky that I actually had a backyard at home with trees and flowers.  Most of my friends only had a small square of grass in front of their house.  Needless to say, our exposure to nature was a bit limited.

Luckily, the private school that I went to recognized this need.  We had an environmental education program in grades 4 through 6, where we got to stay at a campground for a few days in the fall and the spring.  I recently asked some old schoolmates about it, and found that they have as many treasured memories of the experience as I do.

Unlike me, my children are growing up in a more rural area.  They have much more experience with nature than I did.  Even so, when we went camping for our family vacation this year, and completely disconnected from electronics (no TV, cell phones, or other devices), my children were even more engaged with the world around them than normal.  Some of the things that we did were:

  • Identified leaves and plants that we found
  • Learned about wildlife that was native to the area
    • Learned the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes
    • Learned how to identify raptors in flight
  • Collected leaves, ferns, etc. and made charcoal rubbings and sketches in nature journals
  • Observed and felt moss growing
  • Found a bird’s nest
  • Saw the natural growth and decay of the forest
  • Learned how to build a fire and cook over it
  • Practiced carving wood
  • Collected pine resin and learned some uses for it

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My son actually remarked that he thought life was better without TV!  Being outside without the distractions of modern society allows for more intimacy with nature and with each other.  We interact more fully with each other.  It inspires awe.  It demands use of all of the senses and strengthens observation skills.  Navigating on uneven terrain helps to develop core strength and a sense of balance.  Self-directed learning occurs naturally in the outdoors, as children ask questions about the world around them.

In my son’s case, I’ve watched his confidence grow as he is now able to answer some of his younger sister’s questions.  Sometimes, he can even answer mine, when he shares a tidbit that he has learned from his father.

Of course, we can’t camp all the time, but now that it is spring, we often finish up our school day with a walk.  I ask them to point out any signs of spring that they notice and it is fun to witness the progression from day to day.  The exercise, fresh air, and connection with nature is calming and has pretty much the opposite effect on them that screen time does.  Screens have their place in our lives, but they cannot replace time spent outdoors, which meets a need that seems to be instilled in us from our Creator, to recognize our part in His creation.

 

“But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you;

And the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you;

And the fish of the sea will explain to you.

Who among all these does not know

That the hand of the Lord has done this,

In whose hand is the life of every living thing,

And the breath of all mankind?”  – Job 12:7-10

 

Free Classical & Charlotte Mason Homeschool Guide

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Since September, I’ve been contributing to The Old Schoolhouse Magazine’s Homeschooling with Heart blog.  I received an email from them the other day letting me know that they are offering this free resource based on classical Christian and Charlotte Mason homeschooling methods and encouraging me to share it with my readers.

Since I am a classical homeschooler who tries to incorporate a lot of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, this is right up my alley.  I downloaded it right away, but it’s taken me a few days to begin reading it, because we adopted an 8-week-old puppy and he has kept us busy!

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Anyway, I’ve begun going through it and I’m really enjoying it.  You can download your copy for free here.

Happy reading!

Growing Things

So, this happened on Monday. . .

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. . .and so did this.

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This avocado pit has been sitting in a jar of water since the fall.  I grew an avocado plant a couple of summers ago that got big enough to transplant to a pot, until my daughter’s cat got to it and ate it.  All it takes is a few toothpicks, a jar and some water, so (after making some guacamole) I decided to try again.  The pointy end of the pit goes in the water.  This took until March to get a root, and I’ve been watching it get bigger and bigger, anxiously waiting for that stem to emerge at the top.

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Another kitchen experiment that I’m trying is garlic.  I had a store-bought clove that sprouted, so I planted it, along with a couple of others from the same bulb.  My son and I put potting soil in the pot, moistened it, and gently pushed the cloves (sprout side up) down into the dirt.  These came up quickly!  Garlic doesn’t do well in our garden, so I’m trying the container method this year.  After opening these bulbs up tonight, it looks like we’ll be planting some more.

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We also started some lily seeds.  I had some lilies come up in my yard last spring whose bulbs had been given to me by a friend and planted a couple of years before.  I saved seeds from them, but didn’t know what type they were.  We also gathered seed from some lilies around town, so they could possibly be from different types.  It turns out that lilies are kind of complicated to grow.  Some types are epigeal and some are hypogeal.  I guessed that these were hypogeal and the kids followed these directions, to put the seeds in moist peat moss in sandwich bags.  I’ve been keeping them on a seed heating pad.  So far, nothing has happened.  However, looking at photos of lilies this week, I realized that the ones in my yard are Asiatic, meaning that they are epigeal.  So, we planted some in a seed-starting greenhouse today, along with some vegetables and other flowers.  We’ll see which method works!

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My daughter’s sweet potato is crazy with slips!  My son’s half finally got roots, but we discovered today that it was rotting, so we tossed it in the compost bucket.  Luckily, the second sweet potato that we started is progressing nicely.  Both halves have nice roots and a little slip is beginning to emerge on one half.  He recently figured out how to download photos that I take and insert them into a Word document, so he has been using them to create his own report on the progress.  He calls it his “homesteading book.”

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It snowed again this morning, but the sun came out in the afternoon and it warmed up, so we took advantage of that to plant the seeds that I’ve been meaning to get to for a couple of weeks.  Here’s hoping that we are officially done with snow and it will finally begin to feel like spring!

 

“To everything there is a season,

A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”

– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

 

 

Starting Sweet Potato Slips as Nature Study

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Now that spring is here, my children and I are spending a lot of time studying nature.  We are classical homeschoolers, but we incorporate some of Charlotte Mason’s ideas about education into our homeschool, especially her emphasis on nature study.

The first thing we decided to grow this year was sweet potatoes.  My son came home from Cub Scouts last spring with a sweet potato in a cup of water, and we patiently waited for something to happen.  It took quite a while, and I was on the verge of throwing it out, when it finally got roots.  Eventually, we transplanted the slips to the garden.  It was a bit late in the growing season, so the sweet potatoes that were produced were pretty small, but still tasty.  This year, we figured we’d get a head start, and hopefully, end up with a larger harvest.

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To start your own, follow these steps:

  1. Buy some organic sweet potatoes from the store.
    1. Technically, you should be able to use any sweet potato, but most conventional potatoes are treated with chemicals that prevent slips from growing.
  2. Wash your sweet potato.
  3. Cut it in half.
  4. Stick 3-4 toothpicks in, across from each other, about halfway down your potato.
  5. Balance the toothpicks on the edge of a wide-mouth jar. We’re using salsa jars.
  6. Add enough water so that half of the potato is submerged.
  7. Keep them in a warm, dark spot for the first week. We placed ours in a cabinet above the refrigerator.
  8. Check the water level and refill as needed. Change the water if it becomes cloudy.

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Keeping them in a cabinet for the first week is a trick I just learned, and roots appeared much quicker this year than they did for us last year.  After that, you can move your jars to a warm, sunny spot.

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We’ve been making official observations on their progress every Monday.  I ask my children what changes they notice, we discuss it, and they update a nature journal page.  We’ve been using a template that we used to chart tomato seed progress last year and it’s worked really well for us.  I found it on Notebookingpages.com.  They are very compatible with a Charlotte Mason approach to education.

Here are some of the ways that we have used these pages over time:

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Eventually, your sweet potatoes will grow little plants on top called “slips.”

  1. When the slips reach 5-6 inches high, you can carefully pull them off and place the roots in a glass of water with the leaves above the liquid.
  2. Put them in a sunny spot and allow them to keep growing. Your sweet potato should continue to produce new slips.

At this point, you can take your study even further, if you like, and plant the slips.  When the ground is warm enough (at least two weeks after your last frost date), they can be planted in the garden.  You can plant them directly in the ground or in a container.  We used a large 10-gallon bucket last year.

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To plant your slips in a container:

  1. Drill holes in the bottom of the bucket.
  2. Find a spot next to a fence or trellis for the plant to climb.
  3. Prop the bucket up on something to allow for drainage underneath.
  4. Add a mixture of potting soil, peat moss, and manure to the bucket.
  5. Moisten your soil well, keep it loose, and shape it into a slope.
  6. Plant your slips on their side, with the top end toward the fence.
  7. Water as needed to keep the soil moist.
  8. When the leaves have dried out and turned yellow in the fall, dig up your sweet potatoes.
  9. Cure them in a cardboard box, unwashed, in a cool place (55 to 60°) for about 6-8 weeks for maximum sweetness.

One of the things we liked about growing them was that they were low maintenance.  The plants are a pretty addition to the garden as well.  I hope you enjoy growing sweet potatoes as much as we do!

It’s Time to Start Seeds!

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As spring approaches, I am looking forward to what has become a homeschool ritual for us at this time of year – starting seeds.  When my son was in kindergarten, I decided that would be a good science lesson for him.  However, it became a learning process for me as well.

After growing seedlings indoors, we ended up transplanting them outdoors after the ground thawed.  We learned about caring for the garden, when to harvest the fruit and vegetables, and finally, how to save seeds for the next year.  Each spring, we begin the process again and try new things.  We experimented with starting the seeds in different types of containers, growing various types of plants, and planting them in the garden in new ways.  We have tried a raised pallet garden, container planting, and a hugelkultur.  We learned how to compost.  We fought with powdery mildew, blight, pests, and made homemade sprays to deal with some of these issues.  We learned about pollination and even hand-pollinated some squash.  We expanded our garden last summer and let the area that comprised the original garden lay fallow.  This summer, we will test whether that has a positive impact on our plants.

If you would like to try seed-starting with your children:

  1. Find out your plant hardiness zone to figure out what seeds to plant and when.
  2. Gather supplies.
    1. Pick a container. You can order a seed-starting kit, use egg cartons, Styrofoam cups, peat pots, etc.
    2. Pick seeds. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and some flowers are often started inside.
    3. Pick up some seed-starting soil. You can make your own or buy it, but it is different than regular potting soil.
    4. Download one of the free plant life cycle worksheets or seed journals that are available online to teach your children about the process.
  3. Place some soil in your chosen containers, water well and add a seed to each. Push carefully into soil.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Prick small holes in the plastic wrap as well as the bottom of your containers for drainage.  Keep in a warm spot or place on a seed heating mat.
    1. Label each seed! We write on plain popsicle sticks that we insert in the soil.
    2. Water often, but use something with a gentle flow, to avoid displacing seeds. We’ve used a spray bottle or a water bottle with a small hole made in the cap.
  4. Once the plants emerge, remove plastic wrap and move into a sunny spot.
  5. When the seedlings get their second pair of leaves, move to larger pots with plenty of compost.
  6. If you are going to transplant to the garden, harden them off about a week before planting.

Of course, not everyone has a backyard that is large enough for a vegetable garden.  One friend of mine starts seeds with her children indoors and they watch the seedling grow, but the process ends there.  Another grows her plants in containers.  There are many ways to incorporate it into your homeschool, regardless of whether you live in a rural or urban area.

I have found it to be such a rich learning experience.  Not only is it hands-on, but it inspires awe in the perfection of God’s creation and His provision for us.

 

How to Make a Homemade Shamrock Shake

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Each March, as we prepare to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I remember those yummy, bright green Shamrock Shakes that I used to look forward to as a child.  The thing is, now that I eat a much more natural diet, they just don’t taste quite so good to me anymore.  Also, since my children have food sensitivities, they would bounce off the walls if they drank something that was so obviously artificially colored.  So, a couple of years ago, I started looking for a recipe to make my own.

This is how we make ours:

  • 4 cups of all natural vanilla ice cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1½ cups whole milk (you could substitute any milk that you prefer)
  • Optional:
    • For green color, add 1 cup of spinach, kale, or peppermint leaves
    • For a sweeter shake, add 1 tablespoon of sugar

Blend well and top with whipped cream.  Serves: 3-4

The original recipe that I found calls for a tablespoon of sugar, but I didn’t add any sugar this time.  My family’s feedback was that it wasn’t necessary.  I also used some peppermint leaves that I had saved from my peppermint plant and frozen last summer, but I ended up adding spinach, too, in order to get the light, mint green color that I was looking for.  You honestly cannot taste the spinach and the benefit of using it is that it adds some nutrition.

This milkshake is dye free and Feingold friendly, although the use of peppermint and spinach make this a Stage 2 recipe.

I hope you enjoy making and drinking your own Shamrock Shake as much as we do.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Our Experience with Pediatric Stroke

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Pediatric Stroke Warriors, a group that I follow on Facebook, shared this video recently to heighten awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke in a child:

 

Unfortunately, for our family, this is not new information.  My eight-year-old son, Jude*, was a full-term baby, delivered with the umbilical cord around his neck.  He was lethargic and his face was gray.  After a few deep breaths, he regained his color and appeared fine, but a few hours later, began experiencing focal seizures.  He was jerking his right arm, from the shoulder down, in a rhythmic manner which I recognized was not normal for a newborn.  I called the nurse, who rushed him to the neonatal intensive care unit, where they performed both a spinal tap and an MRI before he was twenty-four hours old.  The MRI found the cause of the seizures – he had suffered a stroke on the left side of his brain.

At the time, we did not know what his prognosis would be.  The doctors told us that newborn stroke patients fare better than adults because their brain is still developing, and other areas of the brain might take over functions of the part that was damaged.  As it turns out, he has been very blessed.  Because the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, he has monoparesis (a type of Cerebral Palsy, muscle weakness caused by damage to the brain) in his right leg from the ankle down.  However, unlike many stroke survivors, he does not have speech difficulties or muscle weakness in his face, hand or arm.  He does not have any cognitive impairment, either.

He goes to physical therapy once a week, wears an AFO (ankle foot orthotic), and a device called a WalkAide.  He had a gait analysis done last year, and I had to answer a ton of questions about what he is able to do, whether he requires assistance to do it, how far he can walk, etc.  I was feeling a bit sorry for him, because we had come to the point where the brace was no longer enough, and his physiatrist felt that he needed more aggressive intervention.  Filling out that questionnaire was humbling, though.  I kept answering “yes” to almost every question, “no” to his needing assistance, and admitted that he can hike for a few miles.  The only thing I couldn’t say that he can do is play sports.  As my husband pointed out, it is unlikely that he would have been athletic, anyway, because neither of us are.

I will write a follow-up post about the more recent interventions that we have utilized, but I thought it was important to share this video and information about pediatric stroke for those who are not aware of it.  Until it happened to my son, I had no idea that a baby could have a stroke.  The sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner the patient can receive the care that they need.

 

*I have decided to use pseudonyms for my children, to protect their privacy.