You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2014.

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I’m not even going to mention how over the frigid temperatures I am; I won’t even mention the words Polar Vortex.  Without that being said, I will say that going outside to play is not  an option right now.  My oldest daughter, Madison, is a real trooper, but Sophie and I are babies.  Sophie actually is a baby so she has an excuse, but I just can’t enjoy this weather.  And, if you are anything like our family this winter, the cold and flu season has hit you hard.  Cabin fever was quickly setting in, so I had to take the rare opportunity of us all being healthy at the same time to make a long overdue trip to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ.

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LSC is most definitely a day trip as it takes over an hour to get there from Orange County but totally worth it.  I remember my mom taking us as a kid and unlike other museums, I couldn’t believe you were actually allowed and encouraged to touch everything.  A lot has changed since I was there as a kid, and it has only gotten better.

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The science center has four floors of interactive exhibits.  (There are too many  to name so be sure to check out their website.)  The great thing about the exhibits is that they are diverse and and layered, meaning you can just scratch the surface of any topic if you are with little ones or dig deeper if your kids are older or their interest calls for it.  My girls love construction, so we started at the main floor Skyscraper! exhibit.  Anything you ever wanted to know about how a skyscraper is made from conception to construction can be explored and experienced: walk a steel girder high above the center’s floor, operate a crane, or test a buildings strength in a high velocity wind tunnel.  My kids are little, so we just touched the surface of this exhibit.  Next, we headed all the way up to the fourth floor for the Bob the Builder exhibit where my girls immersed themselves for quite some time.  After that, we headed down to Infection Connection which seemed appropriate after all the colds and viruses we have recently had.  Madison and Sophie  stepped into the lab where their hands were coated in “germs.”  They then had to wash their hands before sticking them back under the black light to see how they did.  Let’s just say, it’s no longer a mystery as to how we keep getting sick.  Hopefully, it’s a lesson learned.  We explored several other exhibits but by no means hit them all.

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The Liberty Science Center is one of the most family friendly places I have come across.  It has ample parking located in front ($7 a day).  There are restrooms including family restrooms on every floor, conveniently marked and located.  There is a  cafe with healthy choices and reasonable prices in addition to allowing  you to bring your own food.  The staff was pleasant and very helpful.  For 2 adults, 1 child, and under 2 are free, it came to $54.25.  It is on the expensive side, but the experience was worth it.

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The center has so much to do, more than can be done in one trip.   However, it is small enough to be able to maneuver easily without getting lost or overwhelmed.  It’s a great place to go if you have children of varying ages.  There are several exhibits geared toward the 2-5 crowd, many for the older ones, and it’s fun for the adults too.  My advice is to check the website and make a list of exhibits that are age and interest appropriate for your group, so you have a general idea of what you want to accomplish.    The Liberty Science Center is the type of place that truly is fun for the entire family.  We are already making plans to return.

So there wasn’t much positive to report from our trip to West Point. Our team left on the losing side, but it was a nice experience visiting the grounds where it all starts for many of our nations soldiers. Shane was excited to hear that this is where it all started for Duke Basketball’s Coach K as well, where he played point/shooting guard for ARMY from 1966-1969, and then returned as coach in 1975. Hopefully our next visit will have a better result.

For Luke, his basketball tip off was a success. Beautiful People started their second season of basketball with a stellar turnout. Since I was not physically there, I had my wife Amy fill me in.

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One of the great things about Beautiful People is the option of Luke running into a classmate outside of school. The fact that Luke doesn’t have the group of “friends” I had when I was 10 makes me sad and crazy at the same time. As much as I would rather Luke go to the park and get in on a pickup game of basketball, that isn’t an option right now, so the fact that he has this is awesome. When he does run into his classmates or when he sees them having the same interests, he gets very enthusiastic about what is going on.

blog5  When Luke came home he didn’t give me the guilt the treatment that I missed basketball, but instead went with the option of telling me what I was unable to see. We went through some photos that my wife took and Luke was able to commentate from there. I was happy to see Luke following through his shot the way we talk about as well as improve on his dribbling. As I mentioned before, Beautiful People gives these children the option of being a part of something that is theirs.

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It was also great to see the amount of volunteers who were there to help these kids along. There were many familiar faces who lend their time weekly as well as some new ones. It always helps when the volunteers are outgoing and know the sport they are participating in. Luke paired up with Lauren who plays for the CYO team here in Warwick.

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Looking forward to week 2 this Saturday!

I also want to take a moment to mention another organization called One Step at a Time, Inc. on April 27, 2014, One Step at a Time will be hosting their 4th Annual Bowl-A Thon In Memory of Daniel Fratto. All proceeds benefit Beautiful People. The event takes place at Colonial Lanes in Chester and I will be updating information as the date draws near. Last year we had a great turnout and are hoping for the same or better this time around. If anyone is interested in sponsor forms please let me know.

For more on Beautiful People go to http://www.beautiful-people.us/

For more on One Step at a Time, you can visit their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/onestepatatime.biz

 

What is an Independent Educational Evaluation?

If your child receives special education services the school district will periodically use formal tests and measurements to evaluate your child. You may not agree with the assessment and are allowed to request an Independent Educational Evaluation, IEE. That means you ask a professional who is not employed by the school to do the evaluation.  You may qualify for this to be done at the school expense, not paid by the parents.

Why would you ask for an independent evaluation?

If you feel the district failed to access the area where your child’s particular skill or weakness would show, you should request the IEE. An IEE may provide the information you need to make informed decisions about your child’s education. For example: if you child has great articulation in speech but doesn’t understand spoken directions, or informal conversation with peers, a speech evaluation will assess and reveal those weaknesses. A test of their articulation would not be a complete profile of the student’s current level of performance.  If your child is very bright but when given an exam they are so anxious they forget all the answers, it would be appropriate for the district to do an inventory of basic emotional issues. Schools evaluate many children. I have seen testing done for a student named Robert and at the top of every page the evaluator speaks about John. This sets up red flags that a computer generated this report and the parent might question if this is really their child that is being reviewed?

How do we start this process?

The parent requests an independent evaluation at a CSE or in writing when they suspect the district evaluations fall short. The school can pay for it or the school district must file a due process complaint and state their district evaluation was appropriate.  A hearing officer will be appointed and hear the case. This officer will either request the evaluation be done or conclude the school’s evaluation was appropriate. If you are not successful at this level an appeal can be filed.

How do you pick the evaluator?

The school can provide you with a list of qualified individuals who could conduct the evaluation. You may review their list but reserve the right to use a provider that is not on the list as long as their qualifications meet the same criteria as the school’s providers.

What if the parent has their own evaluation that they have already paid for?

When a parent has an independent evaluation the school district must consider its content in any decision that is made about the child’s free appropriate public education.  This policy is part of the Procedural Safeguards.

Go online and look up more information about Independent Evaluations, or contact an advocate or non- profit that helps students with special education needs. A great resource on the web is www.Wrightslaw.com or pick up some fantastic resources of Andrew Cuddy’s “ The Special Education Battlefield” on Amazon, or” When the School Says No…How to Get the Yes”, bu Dr. Vaughn K. Lauer.  If you have trouble finding help the school can refer you to someone who is qualified to help you understand your procedural safeguards.  Lisa Bock

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You’re two days from pay day, have just enough money for gas to get to work, are pulling leftovers out of the fridge trying to invent dishes to last you till you can get to the grocery store, and you turn down plans to go out to dinner with friends. Everyone has been here, the scrape and scrimp survival stage.

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You swear you’ll be better with your next paycheck so you don’t end up here again.  But then pay day arrives, you breath a sigh of relief, and then promptly forget everything you just went through, well until two days before your next paycheck anyway.

I’ve come to the conclusion that for most people, our financial habits when we are broke are NOT the problem, it’s our financial habits once we have money that cause our downfall. Now that it’s just about time for tax refunds here are 4 tips to use your refund wisely so you can avoid those survival days.

1. Start an Emergency Fund – Even if it’s small at first, $500 to $1,000 socked away in a savings account can mean the difference between an emergency and a financial disaster. If your car or a major appliance breaks you won’t be running to use your credit cards, getting loans, or worse trying to pay out of your paycheck leaving you with a huge shortage and unable to pay your regular bills.

2. Skip The Fancy Vacation & Pay Down Debt Instead – Sure you really want to go on vacation and you so deserve it for working hard all year, BUT you’ll be working so much harder for so much longer the more debt you carry year to year. Go camping, visit family or plan a few staycations instead. Check out myfamilytripplanner.com for great family-friendly destinations in the Hudson Valley. Once you’ve paid off one debt, snowball that monthly payment into your next debt. Once you’re free of debt, you’ll be shocked at just how far your paycheck can really go.

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3. Stop Getting Refunds – Yes this sounds crazy right? Who doesn’t want that nice sizable chunk of change? It makes us all feel a little like we won the lottery. But that money is yours and you’ve just lent it to the government interest free for a year, while you struggled month to month.

We tend to view lump sums as “extra,” “fun-money” or a “win-fall” that wasn’t earned, when nothing could be further from the truth. You earned every penny of that money and you should put it to work as rigorously as you would your paycheck. Talk to your accountant and human resources department about increasing your withholding so you have more money per paycheck and a smaller or no refund at the end of the year.

4. Pay Yearly Premiums – You often get discounts for paying car, home, or life insurance premiums yearly rather than monthly so why not use your refund to pay cheaper rates for insurance and eliminate these monthly expenses from your budget.

You could also check with other service providers to see if you can prepay your bills for the year for a discount. My husband and I switched our home phone provider to a VOIP (voice over internet provider) and paid $200 for 2 years of service which works out to $8 a month, which is far cheaper than any other plan I’ve found and it has eliminated this monthly expense for the next 2 years.

What do you plan on doing with your tax refund?

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Photo credit: Mt Peter

I am not a natural athlete.  I lack the competitive drive, natural agility, and most importantly interest.  My daughter, on the other hand, was born an athlete; every sport she tries she loves and excels at.  The one sport I do enjoy and am semi-competent in is skiing.  I have been impatiently awaiting for Madison to be old enough to learn to ski with me.  Loving all sports like she does, I was really hoping this could be the one sport we could enjoy together.

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Madison turned five years old last week, and for me that felt like the perfect age to start skiing.  Not having skied in the last two years because of pregnancy and then having an infant, I didn’t trust myself to take her for her first time so I signed her up for a lesson at Mount Peter in Warwick.  Chris, our instructor, is also the ski school supervisor and the father of a four year old whom he taught to ski when she was 18 months.  So, I felt confident in his ability to keep Madison safe and to provide a solid lesson.  He told me he could teach her to ski in an hour but wanted to take her up the ski lift.  I had initially thought he would teach her the basics like putting on and taking off the skis, walking around in them, and then perhaps the magic carpet on the smallest hill, so I was not emotionally prepared to let her out of my sight and up the mountain.  I was also doubtful he could teach her to ski independently in only an hour, but I kept that to myself.  Chris was disappointed but understanding of my hesitancy.

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After securing Madison’s skis, they headed over to the magic carpet, and Madison took her first ride up the hill.  As soon as they reached the top, Chris had Madison skiing on her own while he skied in front of her.  By the end of her hour long lesson, Madison was snowplowing down the hill independently and just getting the hang of making turns.  Chris was right.  He had her skiing in an hour.  It was all I could do to keep myself from jumping up and down on the sidelines, although I did a little to keep myself warm.  When the lesson was finished, Madison was frozen but so proud of herself.  Chris had been a great instructor: totally kid friendly, made the lesson fun, gave Madison confidence on the slope,  and appeased my crazy worrisome mama ways.

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Mount Peter Ski & Ride is a great place for beginners and families of varying abilities.  They have trails to accommodate the novice and experienced skier, offer free lessons with the purchase of a lift ticket on weekends and holidays, and their rates are reasonable.  We took advantage of the weekday special: lift ticket and private lesson for $65.  We also had the benefit of having the bunny hill to ourselves, and practically the mountain as well which was well maintained.  We, of course, checked out the girl’s bathroom which was newly renovated and even provided a basket above the toilets for gloves and other ski accessories you may need to remove.  Madison and I ended our day with a snack of rather expensive french fries in the lodge before heading home, but you do have the option of bringing your own food.

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The bad news is the Hudson Valley is cold right now and will be for awhile.  The good news is that means our local ski slopes are thriving.  We can’t escape the cold, so let’s make the best of it and enjoy what winter has to offer.

When it comes to dividing my time amongst my kids, this upcoming weekend will mark the first of many dilemma’s, both physically and emotionally. Once again, basketball is at the center of it all. Luke will be starting his second season of basketball with Beautiful People, while Shane will be playing up in West Point with his CYO team (where I am the assistant coach). Choosing between my kids is on my list of least favorite things to do, but I will be with Shane and not Luke this weekend and that makes me very sad.

Doesn’t it always seem that nothing is going on, and then all of a sudden, everything is happening at once?

I am lucky, yes lucky that Luke is so awesome and understanding. He makes situations so much easier for me, where if the situation was reversed, Shane might not be as forgiving.  Talking to a child with special needs can be difficult in one sense, but if you are open and honest about things they tend to be more receptive to what it is you are telling them. In Luke’s case, not only will he be more receptive, but he will remind me all week that I missed his first game because of the reasons I stated, and I will be at the next one. He knows how much I love basketball, how much I love my family and how much I want to see my boys play. I won’t physically be at the 2014 Tip Off, but I will be there in spirit. Once again, I am grateful that he will be there with his mom and VERY grateful for Beautiful People and the opportunity Luke has to play basketball.

This is one problem…I still have a third son waiting to take the floor!

For more on Beautiful People go to http://www.beautiful-people.us/

PS – Kyle Korver’s streak of hitting a 3 pointer is up to 110 consecutive games.

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After the holidays are over in January, we are spending more time indoors than any other time of the year. Most of the recreational programs our daughter attends are on a hiatus. College doesn’t start up again until the end of January, and it is very cold outside. It is easy to find that the family is spending more of their recreational time on television, video games, Netflix or other electronic gadgets.

My oldest daughter Melissa suggested I join in the Amazon Prime offer to help with holiday shopping and shipping charges. All the shipping costs of “prime” merchandise are free for two day shipping. Along with the contract came a surprise, another package of digital streaming videos for free. We already have “on demand”, “Netflix” and a large collection of DVD’s.  I was surprised when Sara alerted me to a few videos she would have liked to watch on Prime were charging a fee. I was pleased that Sara scanned through the information carefully and caught the charge. Sara has a developmental disability and epilepsy. She could easily scan information but impulsively wants to press all the buttons for a quicker, instant prize.  Prime dangled the words “free” in their advertisement but clearly these were not “free” videos to view.

I saw this as a great opportunity to work on some general life skill goals I am currently working on with Sara. First, together, Sara and I wrote a list of shows she liked that were not free. Then we searched the Amazon internet site to see if they have a customer service number. Recently in Sara’s college class she had to do some public speaking. Sara found this difficult to do in front of a group & advocating and speaking on the phone is something that might help her with class presentations.  Sara could let Amazon prime know which shows she would like them to change the charges on. There wasn’t a phone number for customer service, but a link to send an email. Sara and I went over together what she should put in an email to let Amazon know her desire for a “cheaper” or free video stream of her favorite shows. Amazon emailed her back and said they would pass on her suggestions to the correct department. Then I had Sara decide if she was satisfied with the response she got. Sara decided she wants to get back to them in a few weeks about other shows she might be interested in. Sara felt that it was okay to email Amazon in one month. She posted it on her new calendar to remind her she would like to review the Prime free streaming in a month and monitor if any of her favorite shows have gone down in price or changed their fee to free. I was pleased to turn some of our electronic time into learning about customer service, consumer complaints, calendar skills, and the art of negotiation.

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A strange phenomenon happens sometime between your late 20s and early 30s. You start watching shows on HGTV where home envy runs rampant. Buying homes, selling homes, renovating homes, and on and on. Once you’re a homeowner you find yourself drawn to these shows either for purely voyeuristic purposes (doesn’t everyone want to see what houses on the Island of Tahiti look like?) or you’re looking to cure your home woes.

House Poor

I remember distinctly the moment I knew for certain I was house poor. My husband and I bought our townhouse at 24 and 25 respectively when all the rentals we looked at made our two bedroom apartment with black mold lining the wall look like the Hilton. Six months after we bought and winter settled here in the mountains, I came home from work one day, exhausted, frustrated and positively broke. I stood crying in my living room because I knew my house was making me poor.

The cost of the heating and utilities was a shock since our apartment had included all of that in the rent. Slowly over time we started to earn more money and it wasn’t so bad, but boy did it made me realize just how much we suffer for the biggest purchase of our lives – our homes. Buying a house is like marriage in many ways. It takes a LOT of work to maintain and some people find it difficult to hold onto that loving feeling they once had for their homes.

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Love It or List It

On that note, enter HGTV’s show Love It or List It. Home owners work with both a designer to renovate their existing home so it better suits their needs and a realtor who shows them new houses in the hopes of convincing them that moving is really the answer to their problems. I’m completely drawn to this show and I see the two hosts in my head like the proverbial angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. I don’t know if I’m the only one that watches the show, and wants to punch out the homeowners every time they whine and complain to each of the two hosts trying to help them. It takes the term ungrateful to a whole new level and sometimes I wonder if they are told to act like that to build the show’s drama.

Who Doesn’t Want Their Dream Home?

There are very few episodes in which the home renovations meet every item on the home owners wish list, even though the renos are absolutely breathtaking and often solve some of the biggest issues for them. The homeowners often give the designer a budget of $40,000 – $50,000 and at the same time give the realtor a budget of a good $60,000 – $100,000 over what their current home costs and I sit back and watch transfixed until the last few minutes when the couple must decide to love their home with its renovations and also some flaws or choose a brand new home that checks every item off their wish list.

Home Ownership Is Like Marriage

I find myself cheering when the couple decides to love their home again instead of going into debt to get that bigger, better dream home. I know in my heart how the spin off show to those who choose to list it goes.  Fast forward a few years and that loving feeling they had for their dream home has faded and flaws are found where they once only saw perfection. Yes home ownership is a sort of marriage. Without the commitment to love what you have, imperfections and all, you’ll never be happy.

If you are a parent of a special education student and notice it’s hard for your child to get back in the swing of things after the long winter holiday, your child might be a good candidate for extended school year. This is an option for a six week program (or more, if appropriate) to help prevent educational regression. As you approach one of your least favorite meetings of the year—annual review—think of how you can make it work for you. In the Hudson Valley, once-yearly reviews for Special Education Students will start as early as January, so take some time to consider whether your child has shown regression during the recent break, and LET’S DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

To consider if a student regresses, educators look at how long it takes a student to be retaught the information they knew during the school year once they return from summer break. If the student needs substantial remediation to get to where they were the previous June, they should be offered a summer program. Teachers will look at a long weekend, holiday breaks or a few days of illness as an indicator of how the child would do at home without educational supports for the summer.  Some districts only look at regression, but many other factors can be considered when weighing if a summer program is needed. When a teacher notes that a skill is only just emerging, that student can also be considered for an extended school year.

Is your child doing okay with their academics but they have severe behavioral issues when they miss school? Your child’s academic progress may very well be hindered by behavioral regression. Many students struggle after their routine is changed over the weekend or a holiday. A teacher might see a negative behavior they thought was extinguished emerge after a long break. These kind of students benefit from keeping the structure of school, or come September they might have to start from scratch on their behavior programs. That being said, a great behavior plan that was effective in the classroom setting during the school year will no longer help manage those negative behaviors if the student took too long of a hiatus.

There are many options for students requiring an extended school year. Students may go to a county center based summer program. This is a simple way for a district to meet the minimal requirements to prevent regression. Many districts however will try to develop programs in their home schools, working with a staff that knows the student best. Itinerant consultant teacher services for students with unique needs can also be utilized. Our children can be very successful working on goals in an inclusive setting. Maybe consider letting your child attend one of the wonderful camps that are so abundant in the Hudson Valley. Teachers can work closely with camp staff to fully include the camper in all aspect of the camp community. Teachers can opt to work with the student at home or camp on academics. Communication skills can be improved by immersing students with language rich campers. Social skills can emerge when a camp program includes special needs students. My suggestion would be start early when evaluating if your special needs child would benefit from extended school year.  A better way to build a bridge for a good school year is to have it start with an enriching summer experience. 

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When I set out to start writing this blog, my hopes were to help out other dads of a child with special needs.  Much like writing a journal, I would use the platform to let people know that whatever it is you are thinking is ok. Part of me found this to be therapeutic. From anger to joy, writing always brings out different feelings in me. Luke is always on my mind. Sometimes situations or conversations that occurred a while ago resurface in my brain and I have to let them out. Talking to other people can help, but sometimes after I spill my thoughts, I want to reach out and grab them with hopes of taking all of them back. Today, I’m going to write them down and hopefully if you are reading this, it’s because you want to and you know where I am coming from and can take something useful and positive out of it.

Like most people this time of year (this was a thought around Christmas) I am just looking forward to a break from work. I started thinking about something that transpired between my son (10) and a group of girls (maybe ages 4-7). We were at my other son’s soccer practice, which is always boring for Luke and my younger son Cole to be a part of. Luke and Cole were playing with this small group of girls, when I heard someone crying. My initial reaction is always, “I hope that is not my kid”. Well, it was. One of the girls did something to Luke, not sure what, but he felt the need to scream as if she ripped his heart out. I can’t explain the frustration I feel when Luke is unable to (or chooses not to) tell me what happened. Of course I think this is a group of “mean girls”, and will probably grow up to be the same, but in their defense they don’t know Luke’s story. It took some time, but Luke eventually told me that one of the girls grabbed and scratched his arm. Something to that affect. What really made me upset is what happened a few weeks later when one of those girls told my son Shane that “your brother is weak”.

So how do we handle children who just don’t get Luke’s condition?

Here are a couple of tips…

  • I honestly get tired of the term “Special”. All our kids are special right? Well my son needs special or specific attention to live. He doesn’t see things the way the next kid might. He doesn’t react as quickly as the next kid can.
  • The way we talk up kids who have exceptional talent in sports, dance or academics can be the same way we talk about kids on the opposite side of the spectrum. His brain doesn’t process in the same fashion as the next kid’s does. This will not only affect his thinking, but his motor skills and physical ability.
  • As a parent, I will take ZERO offense to you educating your daughter or son in this area. I’d rather a child at the playground go in knowing about Luke, then sit back and think something is wrong with him. There’s nothing wrong with him, he’s just not like you.

One day our children will be held accountable for their actions. That day is not now. We, as parents are the ones who need to lead by example. So I am asking that you do that. Whether it’s screaming at a teenage referee from the side lines or using inappropriate language in your car, your children are always watching, listening and most of all, learning from the most important person in their life. Happy Parenting!

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