Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Xanthe's Photog Skills

Xanthe and Xoe are serious budding photographers.  I know I've posted pictures that Xanthe has taken before, but I just have folders and folders of random ones both of them have taken.  I decided to just put a bunch into one post for Xanthe, one for Xoe. 

Let me just say, that for photography skills, I have been seriously impressed.  I even showed the pictures to our magazine photographer and she had some amazing things to say.  You can tell they both just have the eye for it.  So, here you go.  A smorgasbord of Xanthe's pictures.  Some are great and some may be blurry, but still look because you can see the angles she was going for or the cool shots she was trying to get.  

(This is a closet mirror that is open and she is standing in a doorway in its reflection.  The radiator behind it is actually on the other side of the closet)

I've even used a few of her pictures in the magazine, they're that good!

Ummm... can you say amazing?!

This one she was trying to so hard to get him to do put his tongue to the side but he kept getting distracted. She had so much patience and tried for so long. I want that here as a memory.

It's funny because a few times I've wanted a picture of something and I've said, "Xanthe, can you take a picture of this whole scene." All my pictures and angles turn out totally wrong.  I even once said to her, after she had already shot a table full of frames, to maybe shoot it from "this angle." She shrugged her shoulders just appeasing me, but I'm sure she knew it didn't look good.  Then when I saw the picture afterward, I was like, "Ya, that stunk."  haha.

They've got a lot to learn but like I said, they have the eye for it.  Xanthe said she doesn't want to take classes cuz she doesn't want someone else telling her how to shoot pictures. I'm still trying to teach her she needs to learn the basics, such as lighting.  She's thinking someone's gonna mess with her "art."

Great skills huh?  I'll post Xoe's, if I can just sort through the amusement park ones. There are like 300.  They went a little hog wild taking pictures of fountains and running through sprinklers and driving the cars. :)  Til then!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

German Soccer Game

The girls had a friend who won tickets to a local German soccer game and gave them to us. The arena is across the street from the army base so we just walked over there.  Since the girls are super into soccer this year, they were way into it. I think this was our last warm day of the summer so we were all really hot. The girls had a few layers on and had to shed a few towards the middle of the game.  This was a pretty exciting game.  Brian even suggested getting season tickets.

They painted their faces with red and black eye liner pencil.  Xoe's was the only one that didn't get wiped off. She kinda looked like she had chicken pox. :)

Xoe, Christine, Katryn, Xanthe

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another Day at School

I just couldn't resist snapping these pictures of him going to school. I took him one day, rather than riding the bus because he just needed to sleep in.

This is him looking for cars when we cross the street.  I say "Look left. Look right." and he does!  He looks both ways and then reaches up for my hand. He's such a good little boy.

I know this looks like the exact same picture but for some reason I love it.  I love that you can see the back of his head and his ears... I just needed to post this picture.  I also love this backpack. It's a different one than his first day of school. the style is the German style of backpack that I have loved every since arriving here.  It looks so much more ergonomical and the because of it's hard shape, the books seem to fit better and the kids' back don't hurt.  What do I know? I just love the design and seeing these German kids walking around with them. They're super expensive for the older kids too... like 60-100 Euro (about $100-$150).  Kerstin... help me out on this... I've heard they buy a backpack and lasts them for a few years.  Is this true?  Well, anyways, I couldn't handle that Toys R Us had miniature sizes. :)  It's great for storing toys in there too cuz the shape doesn't collapse.  I kinda wish it would be okay for me to get an adult one but I don't think it is. :)

Going in with his class.  They all have to hold hands. It's the most darling thing I've ever seen.  And they "talk" the whole way there.  They see the same pictures so they talk about the sun and the weather and they look up in the sky. Then they use simple words for opening doors... "Key In, Turn, Pull, Open".  I learned a lot from the day I attended their class.  I'll post more about it later but all of our houses should be set up with this way for those with young kids.  They teach so many amazing things through play... part of doing their jobs they have matching pull cards, as well as shapes and colors on the CD player buttons to help change and start the CD.  I'll have to ask if I can come in and take pictures of it so you can all see.  It totally opened up a whole new world for me (Yes, the Aladdin song just went running through my brain).

Spencer loves the little boy he's holding hands with... Joe Joe. Too bad Joe Joe doesn't reciprocate. He's a cute little boy but hasn't learned to play with other kids yet.

I'll post more about his school inside the classroom later.  But for now...let's just say he's been doing amazing! He's already speaking a few sentences, albeit not quite super clear, but he's doing it.  Yay! for Spencer.

Oh, and one other update... I've been talking to a few people about his shaking hands and a few teachers have said they think he might have some sensory issues (where he needs pressure massage and other ways to calm himself down rather than doing the shaking thing with his hands... Just as another option).  Then it just so happened that a few days ago, the Occupational Therapist noticed him doing his shaking while she was in the classroom for another child. She's going to test him and we may get some extra help in that area so he may be able to sleep better at night and it might also help with his speech (since he may get a little overly excited but not know how to calm down, he may get sensory overload and his brain can't focus on speech).  His shaking is just like how some children scream when they are excited.  It's normal... they're just going to give me ways to assist... without us having to pay for it and him getting it inside the classroom. Awesome, huh? So there's everyone's update. :)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Makeshift Train

About a week and a half ago, Brian flew to a conference back in the states for a week.  Spencer and I took him to the airport.  We got there early so we had some time to kill.  I realized that this might be his favorite place, more than when we sit for hours watching trains at the train station or riding the train into downtown Wiesbaden to go to the "bookstore with trains" (He does sign language to tell me that

Here they not only have a seating area where he can play in a ball pit and climb up into the rocket ship, but it's huge floor-to-ceiling windows are right along one of the runways so we could see planes taking off and landing. There is also a main train station underneath the airport that is a major hub for trains going in and out of Frankfurt. 

But to top that off, they have a shuttle that runs from one terminal to the next.  Sort of like a smaller version of the monorail at Disneyland.  But this one looks like a train. For all Spencer knows, it is one.

So, after Brian had to say goodbye and go through security, Spencer and I sat on this shuttle going around and around the airport.  HE.WAS.IN.HEAVEN!!!  It took some major bribery to get him off.

(Don't judge!  It was way too early in the morning for makeup and this picture of Spencer was just too cute NOT to post.)

This was his favorite part... when we got to the switchtrack.  Looks just like the bigger version of his Thomas train track. :)

Good thing the only cost for all of this is either a train ticket to the airport or the cost of parking. Not bad for some cheap entertainment. :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Decorating for an OCTOBER Holiday

On Sunday, SEPTEMBER 18, 2011, you can absolutely bet we decorated for Halloween!  

It made my whole Sunday brighter!  I wait all year for the oranges, blacks, greens and purple colors of this holiday.  The mere mention of it as I was making lunch sent my girls into a flurry and they brought all 8 storage bins... yup, you read that right... 8!

And I'm still thinking my decorations have never had much rhyme or reason. I need to fix that.  My sister, Nanette's house is amazing at Halloween time. I need to embrace my obsession and do some serious decorating.  Too bad Germany doesn't celebrate Halloween.  I may need to put on my thinking cap and get creative.

I am now in the process of planning another Murder Mystery Party and a Pumpkin Carving Dinner Party (can you say, Dinner in a Pumpkin?).  

And thank you to my resident in-house photographer, Xanthe Villa, for taking all these pictures.  She and Xoe are the most amazing photographers.  Way better than me.  I just handed her the camera and she went to town.  Girls of many talents!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Spencer's First Day of Preschool

Warning: LONG Blog Post

Many of you know Spencer has an extreme speech delay. As of August 2011 when we visited the developmental pediatrician (a doctor who diagnoses developmental delays), he only spoke between 3-5 words.  As a contrast, most children his age are having full conversations with their parents.

The doctor prescribed private speech therapy 120 minutes per week with an American Speech Pathologist, as well as being around other kids his age, using a picture augmentative system (computer/ipod programs or homemade pictures to help give him another way to communicate), continuing sign language and be accepted into a special education preschool for kids under the age of 5 to help their developmental delays.  

We went through the whole process of IEP meetings (special committee meetings to approve him to receive care, as well as figuring out what goals the classroom will have to meet by the end of the year), more doctor and pathologist tests and closing out meetings with EDIS (the specialists who were helping us with him until the age of 3).

We also went through a process of getting him "ready" for school.  We knew he was going to get on a bus with total strangers so the school and our family did as much as we could to get him ready and not so scared about transitions (which is something else he doesn't like, moving from one activity to the next).  I'll post the little books we made to do this, and about the classroom's orientation, which was so darling.  But for now, I'll post about his first day of school.

We wanted Spencer to see his sisters get on their bus. Here he is with Xanthe right before we walk to their bus.  His bus was coming shortly after.

His backpack (the options were slim pickings by the time we were told we needed a full size one, but I actually love it.)
Here he is after we've buckled him in.  This was the only day he hasn't cried. I told him I was following the bus and would meet him at school.  All the days after that he has cried getting on the bus... probably because he has a 20 minute bus ride until the other kids get on the bus.  We've since gotten approval for him to bring activities on the bus and a little school book of all his classmates and teacher that helps him look forward to where he's going.

Here he is on his bus. So cute, huh?  They pick him up and drop him off every day. He's on the bus for about an hour but one of the boys he knew before is the first pick up so that makes him happy.

The bus and I arrived about 30 minutes early because the other kids who usually ride the bus with him had their parents take them to school for the first day. So, Spencer and I kind of just hung out waiting for the rest of the kids to arrive and the bell to ring.

His little preschool is inside the bigger elementary school so there were lots of kids around. All the older kids already started a week before, except for the preschools and kindergarten classes.  So, there were a lot of other excited little ones, as well as their excited parents, which made for a very exciting day.  I cannot tell you how excited he was. He was SOOOO excited.  He had already visited the classroom and met his two teachers so he just couldn't wait to get in.  This is us sitting in front of the school waiting for the bell to ring.

Standing by the front door ready to be the first in line.  

When he realized it was taking a long time we decided to go explore and find friends.

We looked for his sisters but they weren't off the bus yet (their middle school is right next door, attached to the elementary) and by the time they got off the bus and their bell rang, we had been in the bathroom and missed them.  His school starts later so we just wandered more.  A lot more kids we knew from church and the community started to show up.

At one point he just stopped and started staring at the murals on the wall. I thought it was pretty amazing he just stared at each mural like he was in an art museum.

Spencer has a crush on these two little girls from church.  He usually only sees them at church and when Sophie (the one above) ran up to him and got in his face, and Spencer realized who she was, he almost had a heart attack.  Then Ciara ran up to him and they were chasing him around and he was in heaven.

When the bell rang, we still hadn't seen his class. We must have missed that "Memo" of where to meet his class outside so we just headed inside to the classroom.

This video is long but I have realized I really want it there.  My reasoning-If I don't put it there and just leave it in a file on my computer, I'll never go back to look at it.  So this is for my enjoyment, as well as yoursm if you can sit through 2 minutes of him walking through school, and want to see a good video of Spencer's personality and excitement for school.

Part of their day is finding their locker with their own pictures on it, taking off their coat and hanging their backpack all by themselves.  They learn to take care of themselves from day one and it's pretty amazing how well Spencer does it now.

The teacher is very thorough teaching them instructions with pictures.  Spencer is a total visual learner so this has been a great strategy from Day One.

Hanging up his backpack

Hanging up his jacket

Getting his folder out of his backpack to give to his teacher

Since Spencer has been there two weeks, he has already advanced amazingly.  He is copying and imitating words a lot, and all on his own will speak about 10 words to us without any prompting.  It's so cute to see him try and know that by speaking words he can get faster.  We know he is frustrated with one-word sign language and is ready to speak sentences. He puts two or three signs together to form his own sentences, but  you can tell he really wishes he could talk.  The main speech pathologist in Landstuhl (the huge famous American hospital an hour away from us) has told us we need to get him to try repeating words after us and praising him even if they sound funny.  So... we're making progress.

I know many of you have asked what our plan is for coming home since our last comment from the doctor was that if we didn't find a speech pathologist by the end of the year we would have to go home to the states.  The status is this-- we don't have very many options over here.  We don't have any American Speech Pathologists, except for those an hour away... and traveling there two or three times a week just isn't fair to a 3-year-old... and we haven't found one "on the economy" (or German) that feels could teach him what he needs to catch up or make a lot of progress.  We'll still be trying to find someone but their way of education, etc. is different from ours so we have to do a lot of question asking and filtering.  The language barrier can be a big hindrance in this case.