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Being home always beats being at work, but anyone with kids know that both the kids and the parents will eventually lose their minds if they do not break up the routine. At the advice of fellow blogger Bethanne, and due to some Lego sets the boys received for Christmas, we decided to go to Lego Land Discovery Center on this winter break.

Legos have been a tricky subject around here. The process usually goes something like this:

Boys “Ooh that’s cool, can we get that?”

Dad “Sure, are you guys going to help me build it?”

Boys “Yea!”

Everyone gathers around as I spill the Legos onto the table. They help separate, put the mini figures together, and then disappear leaving me to complete what was started.

I have a reason for all three of them to learn and appreciate this process. Cole (4), I want to see if he can follow instructions. Shane (8) has ants in his pants. He actually put together a Marvel set for the first time without my help. Then we have Luke (10). For a child w/Special Needs it’s just a great way to see if he can start and complete a project. It’s great for reading comprehension as well as occupational motor skills. He’s not quite there yet, but getting closer. The other issue is after all this time is spent, nobody wants to play with them. After building Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Castle, we put the entire set behind a glass!

At home, Shane assists Luke with his Marvel Lego

At home, Shane assists Luke with his Marvel Lego

Back to the Discovery Center… Bethanne described a calm off day with her girls, us on the other hand went at the wrong time! Due to school’s being out the place was pretty crowded. To give an idea, when you first enter, there is one of 3 rides. We were there for 40 minutes and basically accomplished nothing.

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Once we got past that initial set back, things went as expected for a crowded themed spot and everyone had a good time.

What we were able to see:

  • Lego Factory Tour
  • Lego Mini Land
  • Kingdom Quest (Ride)
  • Lego Racers Build and Test
  • Merlin’s Apprentice Ride
  • 4D Lego Movie (movie titles seem to change throughout the day)
  • Lego Construction Site (while enjoyed by most, looked at times to be a scene from Lord of the Flies)
  • Lego Store
Waiting for the Merlin's Apprentice Ride

Waiting for the Merlin’s Apprentice Ride

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Amidst all the chaos, I would still recommend the Lego Discovery Center. It’s located in a pretty cool outdoor shopping plaza in Ridge Hill, so you can easily make a day out of the trip. It is a bit pricey. $98 for 3 children/2 Adults, but unless you are going to the park, what isn’t pricey these days?

They do not allow outside food, but were accommodating to Luke’s food allergies, which is always a good thing and there is a little eating spot where they sell pizza, salads, sandwiches and chips.

Hopefully, this trip will inspire the boys to stay the distance as we put together the Lone Ranger Constitution Train Chase later.

Happy New Year!

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To the frugal warrior practicality is king. My husband knows this and that’s why I pretty much know that whatever he gets me for the holidays or my birthday is going to have some practical purpose.

Diamond Bracelets Vs. No-Barf Bands

PSI Bands
This year, he scored a home-run gift with a set of Psi bands. For those that don’t know, these acupressure bracelets are used to relieve nausea from motion sickness or in my case morning sickness. For the past few days I’ve been wearing them I haven’t prayed to the porcelain god even once and for that reason I couldn’t love his gift more if they had been diamond tennis bracelets.

If you didn’t get what you wanted for the holidays, here are four strategies to make the most of your exchanges or gift cards.

Save Money By Skipping The Sexy Items

1. Get Items You REALLY Need – It’s not a sexy choice to redeem gift cards or use store credit from gift exchanges on things you need, but it’ll certainly benefit your budget. I used some store credit from a return on a pair of maternity pants. That is pretty much the definition of an unsexy gift, BUT my belly is much happier not having the circle from the button on my jeans tattooed on my skin.

Use the money you would have spent from your budget on that needed item wisely. You can put it toward your emergency fund, toward that big purchase you’ve been dreaming of, or toward paying off debt. Frugal warriors like myself know that there is nothing sexier than freedom from debt.

Shop Like A Frugal Rock Star

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2. Hit The Clearance Racks Hard – Now that the holidays are over, stores will be clearing out winter merchandise that didn’t sell so there are some great opportunities to save big by hitting the clearance and sales racks. Plus that store credit or gift card will go that much further when you can get twice as much stuff.

One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure

3. Re-gift It or Sell It – Got a gift card to a store you never shop at or a gift you can’t possibly use? Then why not re-gift it to someone who can use it? Or you can sell it online, think ebay, craigslist, cardpool and the like. But keep in mind you aren’t going to get the full retail value, but something is definitely better than nothing.

Recycling With HEART

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4. Donate Unwanted Items or Gift Cards –
Consider donating unwanted gifts to charity. It’s like recycling with heart. You can get a tax credit for gifts made to IRS registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, just be sure to ask for a receipt.

What are you going to do with those gifts that really didn’t fit the bill?

With 2014 on our doorstep, it’s a good time to set goals for the New Year. This year our respite worker, Rebecca, wants to work on time management with my daughter Sara. For Sara and her peers with developmental disabilities, time is a difficult concept—it’s an abstract thing! Just reading a clock makes it seem easy, but this year we will focus on how to use time. This goals aims to support Sara in a way that makes her prepare before an event rather than simply knowing what time something starts. We’ll focus first on what to do in the half hour before she takes her lunchtime medication—like having something to eat and finding her pills in her purse—so  that she can be healthier and more independent in 2014.

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In your home, are there higher goals you could be setting for your children? Are they as independent as they can be? Do you need some assistance from the school to add ADLs (activities of daily living) to your child’s education plan? This is where we can translate setting real life skills for your child into something you can ask your school for.

Schools like to keep things more binary than we’d like for our special needs children. If you allow them to set goals for your child, chances are they will want to focus on things like math or writing. Though well intentioned, maybe your child with autism needs help understanding how to get dressed in the morning and what constitutes appropriate attire for school versus what’s appropriate for gym class. Perhaps your special needs teen could use some help navigating how to use social media appropriately, and what’s not okay to talk to strangers about. Maybe your child can’t follow rules at home—the school can add these things into your education plan. Think about what you struggle with daily, and utilize the challenges you face at home to set educational goals for your kids.

 If we wanted to apply the time management skills we are struggling with for Sara to the school annual review calendar, winter break would be a good time to collect our thoughts before it’s time to really sit down and start planning for the next school year.  Here are my two favorite things to focus on before annual review:

 

Do you have a lot of information about your child from your classroom teacher or therapists?

Now would be a great time to get in and see your professionals before all the decisions about the next school year are made. Get in to see your child’s teacher. Request a classroom observation which is a great way to look at what the other children are doing in the class and if your child is keeping up with them.

 

Do you need to ask your doctor questions before annual reviews begin?  

Doctors can tell you how your child’s disability is affecting them and what kind of therapies they need. Keep your doctor up-to-date about any behavioral shifts, obstacles, or cool things your child has accomplished. They’re professionals who can help you dictate what’s best for your child. Use them as the resource they are. A school may not offer you services you could really use without a doctor’s recommendation. Remember, everything costs them money and it’s impossible they aren’t considering their bottom line.

Let’s make time management be the goal for 2014—for us and for our children. Getting ready for annual review can take a lot of time, so start preparing now to become well informed. When you attend your last meeting of the year, you will be glad that you started to focus on it now.

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Possible Spoiler Alert: Do not let the young kids read this…

This year, more than years past I have done my best to talk to my kids about what I feel the real meaning of Christmas is.  It’s highly unlikely a classmate will tell them that Jesus does not exist, so our other concern is that of the existence of the big jolly fellow.

My boys, in particular, my son Shane are starting to question all things involving Santa Claus.  Like dealing with bullies, we can’t be by our children’s side all the time, so we have no control over those who wish to plant that “Santa isn’t real” seed.  3 years ago, like many families we added the Elf on the Shelf to our Christmas tradition. Our Elf’s name is Jingle and every night he flies back to the North Pole with information about my children’s behavior and Christmas wishes. When he arrives back at home he hangs out in a different spot until it is time to fly back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, where he will begin planning for next year. The reason I am bringing this up is I have been somewhat of a Scrooge the last few years. Every year my wife reorganizes the house so the tree can fit and she can set up her Christmas village. I have minimal input. The kids love it, and as grumpy as I come off, truth is I love her for it.

Here are some of examples of the questions we have been asked:

  • Shane set up his iPod Touch on Jingle. He asked if we can hit record before we go to bed so he can see where Jingle goes at night. (we kind of kept “forgetting”, until he forgot that he made this request)
  • In our room, Shane thought it was a little odd that the wrapping paper behind the door was the same that Santa used last year. First, how the heck does this kid remember the wrapping paper from a year ago and second, that was a very good question. (my wife quickly responded that last year, due to an overabundance of deliveries, Santa dropped their toys off and she wrapped them for him) Not sure he bought it, but the questions stopped.
One of Jingle's hangout spots

One of Jingle’s hangout spots

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I’d hate for any of my kids to hear the words “Santa isn’t real” or be made fun of because they believe there is a Santa Claus, by some kid at school. Maybe if we all tell our kids that nobody likes the kid who blows the lid off that story, other kids will think twice before opening their mouths. Who knows? What I do know is while I don’t think there is a guy in a red suit making his way down my gas fireplace, I do believe in the magic of this time of year.

Whether it is a snowflake on Christmas Eve, purchasing a toy for a stranger or hearing the words your son is seizure free, Santa can be all of those things. Believing is the first step in moving forward.

There was an episode of the Brady Bunch where Mrs. Brady lost her voice a few days before she was scheduled to sing at Christmas Eve mass. While visiting a Department Store, all Cindy wanted was for Santa to give her mommy’s voice back so she can sing at church. Not sure of what to do, the man said ok, sure. Mr. Brady was livid and confronted the man. Saying how can you promise a little girl something like that? Sure enough, after the commercial break, Mrs. Brady woke up talking and later that night sang beautifully at mass, much to the delight of Cindy and the relief of Mr. Brady.

So what is the idea of Santa Claus to you?

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I don’t know if I’m the only one, but the last few years I tolerate all the stress of Christmas for just one reason – my kids. When you’re a kid you just don’t see how much time, effort, money and planning go into this holiday. There is all this pressure to provide a magical event that blows every other day of the year out of the water.

Santa’s Sweatshop Doesn’t Prepare My Credit Report

Some days I’m really pissed at myself for going with the flow of fooling my children with the “magical Santa Claus” who fulfills kids’ wish lists. Unlike me, he has a sweat shop of elves instead of a budget.

Santa Claus

Bah Humbug To Santa and Martha Stewart

If I’m sounding so bah humbug, I apologize, but I recognize that all throughout this time of happiness and cheer there is an army of frazzled parents who don’t quite feel like they’re measuring up. Whether that’s due to their financial situation or because they aren’t the Martha Stewart type (yes I mean me), I can appreciate all that parents do and sacrifice, and how much pressure we mount on our shoulders all in an effort to give our kids a little taste of “magic.”

Christmas Is About The People

Christmas for me is a little haunting. I have lost too many people I love and can’t share the holidays with. If I’m lucky I can name a few presents I’ve gotten over the years. They are just the colors that swirl through my memory but the faces, those are what are etched in my heart at Christmas time.

Hannah & Jay Christmas pic

For Those Stressed Out and Struggling

I’m not saying the whole holiday is horrible or that it’s all “magical.” I think we just miss what the “magic” really is. It’s moms and dads who scrape together enough money to get some of the things their kids want, but worry that it is too little because “Santa” doesn’t have bills to pay. This post is for all the parents who stay up late baking cookies and stress about burnt edges or ribbon curls and wrapping paper perfection.

You Are The MAGIC!

This is for every parent who cares about making their child’s memories of Christmas perfect. I’ll give you a secret I’ve learned through my lost loved ones, YOU are the “magic” my friends. It’s not the presents or any other holiday trapping. The holidays are wonderful because you would move the ends of the Earth to make your children happy. It’s your face they will be replaying years from now and all the memories of  boxes under the tree will be like so much wrapping paper in the waste baskets of their lives.

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Christmas vacation is two weeks long.  As a teacher I would have rejoiced.  As a mom, I cringe- just a little.  What are we going to do for two weeks?! It seems like it should be so easy with all those new toys in the house, but we all know that will only get you so far before everyone is crying about how bored they are.  Infuriating isn’t it?  Luckily, there happens to be a lot going on in our area to get us through the break and enjoy our time together.

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1. The Hudson Highlands Museum will be open on Thursday the 26th and Friday the 27th from 12-4 in addition to their normal weekend hours.  At $3 a person with live animals, presentations, and crafts, it’s a nice way to spend a few hours.  If dropping off your kids while making those returns to the mall or enjoying a few hours of post-holiday peace alone is more your thing, they are also offering a mini camp on Monday, Dec. 30-Friday, January 3rd (excluding 1/1) from 9-11:30 for $22 a day for non-members.  Pre-registration required

2. Bear Mountain Ice Rink ($5 per person plus the cost of rentals if needed) is open everyday except for Christmas Day.  The carousel ($1 per person) is also open on the weekends.

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3. Luckily (or not) we have snow.  This opens up a few more opportunities such as the obvious sleigh riding, snow ball fights, and snowman building.  However, if you’re looking for a little more speed and a little less work of dragging yourself, your kid, and your sled back up the hill over and over and over, then Orange County Park tubing is for you.  You get to slide down manicured snow tracks at great speed to then be pulled back up by a rope just so you can do it all over again.  This is the first year Madison will be big enough to go.  I’m secretly dreading it which is how I know she will love it.  $13 for OC residents, $17 for non-residents

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4. The Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum is always a great option for kids.  In addition to their regular hours and exhibits, they have a few special events going on during the break.  Reservations required for all special events

-December 23rd at 10: Wild World of Animals,

-December 30th, the inflatable Planetarium will have showings of A Day of Winter Stars

-December 31, New Years @ Noon party with music, activities, refreshments and every parents favorite: noisemakers!

5. Have a sports fan?  Army Hockey has a home game on January 4th at 7:05.  Tickets are $13-17 per person.  Madison’s grandma took her last year, and she loved it.  Her favorite part?  The cheering.  I was the designated cheerer for her driveway games everyday for over a week last year.

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6.  Bowling, for us, is a family event that we all enjoy.  Many bowling allies offer specials for the long holiday vacation.  Our nearest alley, Colonial Lanes in Chester, is offering a weekday special of a half hour free with the purchase of an hour.  They are also hosting a family friendly New Year’s Eve Party with bowling, music, and food.

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7.  Don’t forget to relax.  It is a vacation,  and a well deserved one after all the hustle and bustle of prepping for the holidays.

Santa’s almost here, and that means it’s Christmas cookie time. We plan to make our cookies on Monday and Tuesday so they’ll be fresh for Christmas eve. If you’re looking for a recipe for a simple, kid-friendly cookie that the little ones can help create, check out a few of our family’s favorites.

Chocolate Chip

The Chocolate Chip Cookie

I love Alton Brown for his willingness to create a fantastic chocolate chip cookie for the gluten-impaired. I’ve tried many a chocolate chip recipe and I can guarantee you that you will not taste the difference between this cookie and one loaded with gluten. To dress this up for the holidays, I swap out half of the chips for red and green M&Ms. In February, this looks great with Valentine’s M&Ms as well.

PB Blossom

The Peanut Butter Blossom Cookie

Ever since my friend Linda gave us a tin of cookies including peanut butter blossom cookies, I’ve equated these with Christmas. Many recipes for these cookies are floating around, but making them gluten-free can be tricky (they tend to get too dry). Thankfully, my hero Nicole at Gluten-Free on a Shoestring has mastered this recipe (and so many others) and recently shared it in time for the holidays.

Lemon Slice

The Lemon Slice Cookie

Before becoming gluten free, a bunch of friends and I would participate in a holiday cookie swap. One year my friend Kelly brought over this incredible lemon cookie– light, crunchy, slightly chewy, and delicate. Like a sugar cookie that married a lemon cookie and had a precious little lovechild. I was determined not to say goodbye to this cookie due to dietary limitations, and fortunately found a similar recipe, again at Gluten-Free on a Shoestring. Not bad! And if you want to dress these babies up a little fancier, I love the drizzle and silver-sugar-sparkle idea here. I think we’ll try that this year, if I can get back out to the store for silver sparkles. Well, the edible kind, that is. We have plenty of silver sparkles in our house, but not the kind you’d want on your cookies.

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook. Happy baking, and have a wonderful holiday season!

I work hard to advocate for my daughter Sara. When she was younger I needed to speak up for her; she didn’t use or have a lot of language. When she was four years old, Sara contracted encephalitis which caused speech and global delays. During the progressive process of her illness, day after day she lost more and more of her speech.  When we left the hospital, her vocabulary was down to about eight words. Slowly she recovered some of her speech with intensive speech therapy coupled with a good education plan. I strongly believe the immersion of typical children in her school day was an effective therapy separate from 1-on-1 and group speech therapy. This structure—incorporating special needs students with typical students in their grade—is called inclusion placement. Inclusion exposed Sara to the most children who had grade level vocabulary. Inclusion in some districts is hard to ask for. Discuss it at your special education meetings. Inclusion should be the first placement you speak about, always.

 

 Why am I thinking about education services this week, when I should be getting ready for Christmas??  I’ll tell you—a few things happened this holiday season that made me grateful for the opportunities Sara has had in education. I realize that Sara is speaking up for herself, asserting herself, and making her own friends.  She went to Walden Bowling Lanes for a Holiday Party for Beautiful People, a great organization that runs recreational programs for people with special needs. The director, Jan Brunkhorst, asked Sara for a favor. Why this so cool to me: The director by-passed me and went straight to Sara. Sara has built her own relationship with Jan and felt comfortable making a request directly to Sara. She wanted Sara to participate in a new fund raiser where Sara and her respite worker, Jamie, are going to place a collection box in their local village to help collect funds for the program.  The box has a picture of Sara’s summer baseball team. They noticed it was last year’s picture and quickly combed through Jamie’s iPhone until they found a picture they liked better to decorate the box.  Jan now considers Sara the ambassador of the program and will leave her in charge of this collection box.   So if you are out an about in the Ville, Washingtonville, and see the Beautiful People donation box, throw some coin or paper money in. Seems like a regular box, but for me it shows how far we have come: from an eight word vocabulary to an adult with complex relationships and an ambassador for one of her favorite activities. What a great joy it is to hear Sara speak up for herself and build her own relationships.  Lisa Bock

 

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It’s just about that time of year to start making those familiar resolutions to change this or that in the new year. Since I’m pregnant, vowing to lose weight is pretty much useless so I’m going to focus on what I do best, making financial resolutions so that 2014 will be a better year than 2013. Not that 2013 was bad. My family made some great strides by setting a budget, starting an emergency fund, buying a term life insurance policy for me, and paying off roughly $8,000 in debt, but there’s a lot more we can do to put us in a better position in the coming year. Here are my top 5 Financial Resolutions.

Planning for the What Ifs

Will

1. Make a Will – This is just one of those things we’ve been putting off for a long time, because no one wants to imagine they’re going to die any time soon. I feel a little sick just thinking about it, especially the part about deciding who would get custody of my kids if something were to happen to me and my husband. Nobody wants to think about that happening, but then again I don’t think any of us would want our kids to become wards of the state either. I’m going to look into setting up a simple will through legalzoom.com.

2. Kick Up the Emergency Fund – We had a decent emergency fund going when our household suddenly found ourselves down not one but 2 cars back in July so buying two new used cars did some major deflating of our emergency fund. We have a base fund, but I really want to kick it up to cover at least 3 months of expenses.

Time’s Running Out

Erase Debt

3. Pay off our Credit Cards – We have two credit cards with fairly small balances with special promotional 0% APRs that expire in 2014 so I want to make sure they are paid off before the promotional period is up. I’m going to pay them off when we get our tax refund and then I vow not to use my cards in 2014 at all.

The Future is Coming, Ready or Not

4. Start a Spousal IRA – Since becoming a stay-at-home mom nearly two years ago, I’ve stopped contributing to any kind of retirement fund. While we were initially navigating the single-income waters, my retirement was put on the back burner. After a little research and talking to a financial adviser at my credit union, I discovered that I can open a Spousal IRA with as little as $50 a month so as soon as the credit cards are paid off I’m going to reallocate those would-be payments to contributions to a retirement account for myself. I think this is an important move all stay-at-home moms should make, because let’s face it, we often forget to take care of our needs and our future isn’t going to wait just because we’re not ready for it.

5. Make Room for Baby! – This one is both literal and figurative. With a new baby due in July, we really need to prepare for both the additional costs in our budget and continue to make progress toward our home renovations so there is literally room for baby.

What are your financial resolutions for the new year? Share them here. Follow me on Facebook because the peer pressure will be good motivation.

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When people talk about the holidays, they often reference traditions: decorating the tree, baking cookies, and meals with loved ones.  Secretly wanting to be one of those families with a cool and unique tradition, I always check out the over-the-top holiday tradition lists on Pinterest.  They are usually elaborate or expensive like 24 Christmas stories- one for each night in December.  Reality: books are expensive, and how do you store 24 books the other 11 months, and do you have to buy 24 new books next year?  I get it.  Sounds fun.  But, not for me.  And then I realized, we do have a tradition and it may not be unique, but my kids think it’s pretty cool and isn’t that the point anyway?

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Every year we head over to Manza Family Farm to pick our tree.  They have it set up as a country Christmas on the farm complete with reindeer, Santa, and a horse drawn buggy ride.  They also have a wooden train that kids can play on which is when I realized this was our tradition.  We have a picture of Madison playing on that very same train every Christmas since she could walk.  Every year she refuses to sit on that same Santa’s lap and every year I have to explain why the reindeer can’t fly right  now.  Then, we walk the same rows of trees, pick the most stunning tree we have ever seen and head home to decorate that tree.  It is simple, and it is magical.

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To visit Manza’s country Christmas is free including seeing the menagerie, playing on the wooden train, and sitting on Santa’s lap .  There is always the option to buy a tree or any other Christmas greenery, and if you do, the buggy ride is free for one (otherwise it’s $5 over 3 years of age).   In addition, there are pony rides for $5, hot chocolate, fresh baked pastries- the apple cider donuts are a must for us, and ornaments are available for purchase.

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While not a Pinterest worthy tradition, it is a simple tradition which is just our style anyway.

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