Saturday, August 29, 2015

Crossroads Ladies Tea Party

Last Wednesday night, our church ladies hosted a tea party to welcome me to the church. It was so thoughtful and fun! If I've learned anything about Crossroads, these people love to get together and hang out. I'm really excited about getting to know the people better, and Wednesday night was a great step in that direction! We ate, drank tea and played a few games. It was a fun night and the time passed too quickly! Thanks for throwing such a perfect party ladies! 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Israel's School and Therapy Update *Summer 2015*

I've been waiting to write this out until I had a completed update to give you guys! (If you're new to the blog/ our family, our oldest son Israel has cerebral palsy).

When we knew we were moving to the city, we talked with a few friends who had kids with special needs in New York. We were warned that the process to obtain services was lengthy and that we would need to be prepared to advocate for Israel, and we might possibly need to hire an attorney. Our IEP team in Alabama was fabulous and did updated assessments on Israel before we moved, because we hoped that would speed up the process for us.

In New York, they have two rounds of open enrollment for pre-k students. The first round was in the spring and the second round was from June 22 - July 10. The second round included schools that didn't get filled up the first time, and new schools that were added to the list. In the second round, there was only ONE school in our neighborhood on the list! I spoke to several NYC school board employees before we moved, and was told conflicting information by every one. One person told me that Israel might not get into pre-k because we missed the first deadline, but it was possible he could at least get home services (I REALLY NEED HIM TO GO TO SCHOOL!). One person suggested that I call every pre-k in our neighborhood to find out 1. if they were handicap accessible (because legally they don't have to be) and 2. if they had an open spot/ could I be added to the waitlist. I started doing that and the first school I called said that I can't just be added to the waitlist if my child had special needs - they would need to know what services he needed and if he would have a one to one assistant.

On June 22 I called the school board and left messages, as I was trying to navigate how to find the right pre-k for Israel. I wasn't getting anywhere, so I decided to march down to the office and talk to someone in person. I didn't have to wait too long until two very helpful and enthusiastic workers looked over his paperwork. They were so appreciative of our Alabama IEP team because they had the updated assessments and a very clear IEP. They immediately connected me with the United Cerebral Palsy in Brooklyn and we had an appointment for the next week to look at the pre-k there.

Israel had been in an "inclusive" pre-k in Alabama, which meant that the class was typically developing kids, and he was the only special needs kid in there. I loved this model because he was able to learn from and observe the kids. He did attend the UCP daycare in Alabama twice per week, but the classroom was a mix of kids with varying abilities and development stages, and so Israel was not at the same developmental stage with every kid there. I loved this model too! Israel wasn't at either end of the developmental spectrum there, but he fit right in and the teachers were fantastic and so patient with him!

Anyways, when we visited the Brooklyn UCP I had very mixed feelings. They keep the kids separated in classrooms according to ability. There's a classroom for kids who are all nonverbal and nonambulatory, etc. We saw a few classrooms where it seemed like there was more of a mix of stages, but it was pretty clear by looking in each classroom what each one's challenge area was. There were classrooms where the teachers were very friendly and even invited us in to play for a few minutes, and some classrooms where the teachers didn't even acknowledge us. The teachers and students are so diverse- speaking different languages and from completely different ethnic and cultural backgrounds! We went to one classroom where there was a male lead teacher and the class was doing a little musical parade around the room. They invited Israel in, and he walked around holding a teacher's hand and a tambourine. He LOVED it in there and I appreciated that the teachers immediately included him. That class was all semi-verbal kids and all of them are ambulatory. We were so excited that this class had an opening for the fall and he will be in it come September!

After we left UCP and were offered a spot in that class, I had really mixed feelings for about a day. I really thought Israel would be in a more inclusive setting. Will and I talked about it, and he helped me see the positives of the situation. Being at the UCP pre-k means that there are trained professionals in the class who are all prepared to help kids with special needs meet their developmental goals. There is an amazing therapy room and there's even a pool in the building for weekly water therapy! (Part of his school packing list is a bathing suit and swim diapers!). All this to say... we are excited and at peace about this next season for Israel and his new school. I'll give more updates on that when he starts September 9!

On the therapy front, we have been using Sensory Freeway since July 2. For the first few weeks, we were paying for his therapy to go twice per week for one hour of PT and OT. When I had a meeting to go over Israel's fall IEP at the school board, I was in a feisty mood and decided that I would sit there until we had some summer services worked out for Israel! I pulled up the IDEA 2004 law on my phone and pretty much demanded that they cover his therapy services for summer, as it was my understanding that an IEP is a legal document and since our Alabama IEP said that he would get continuing services, then he should be getting them paid for by NY! Well... that meeting lasted for two hours and several specialists were called in, but God was faithful and the school board was gracious. Israel is getting MORE services than we had been receiving in Alabama (3 PT, 3 ST, and 2 OT per week) and he started getting all of those at Sensory Freeway, paid for by the school board, at the end of July and until August 26.

Three days per week we trekked the 12 blocks down for his therapy, and Israel developed great relationships with his summer therapy team (he'll get new therapists at school in a few weeks). This summer he started saying several new words, started cruising along furniture, rolled over, put himself in the all -fours position, and pulled all the way to stand! It was a HUGE summer for our boy and we were blown away by the immense progress in just a few short weeks! I can tell that having therapy so often is going to be really beneficial to his growth and development.

We had our last day at therapy yesterday and I'm just so thankful for this summer and for the easiness of the transition. When I think about my anxiety in May and early June, 99% of my worries were about Israel and how we would find a school and therapy team for him. God provided for our needs and the fact that he hasn't skipped a beat but has made tremendous milestones has been just the encouragement that our hearts needed. In a bit of transparency, the other day we were both feeling a little discouraged and when Israel pulled to stand, it was just the boost we needed to show us that we are here for a purpose and God is doing big things in all of our family members - we were brought to New York for each one of us to thrive under God's plan, Israel included!

So I'd say this was a successful summer. I learned that sometimes you have to put on your social worker face and make the phone calls and sit in the meetings long enough to get what you want, and sometimes you have to walk lots of blocks and make sacrifices but they will be worth it. I'm so proud of Israel and cannot wait to see the ways that he continues to grow and thrive. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Keeping Cool in Summer

I cannot believe that summer is winding down, and although this has been our most eventful summer ever with our big move, we have enjoyed all of it! We have had a long summer this year, because summer weather starts in April in Alabama, and when we moved it was 100 degrees! When we landed in Brooklyn in June, it was just the beginning of summer in New York (and technically summer ends here in just a few weeks!).

Although the Alabama heat is much thicker and humid, at least there is air conditioning! Air conditioned cars and houses help so much. Here in New York we have had to try a few different tricks to keep our apartment cool.

During the daytime, we have utilized the many free water play areas in the Brooklyn parks. We keep water bottles handy every time we go out, and keep the kids hydrated.

We have window air condition units in our bedrooms, and three fans (one ceiling) in the living room, where our guests sleep when they come. For the last four years we have had seasonal sheets (thick fleece ones in winter and jersey knit sheets or sateen sheets in the summer!). Israel always sleeps with his weighted blanket, but in the summer we just pair it with a thin sheet instead of a comforter.

We also have a little bit of a nighttime routine. Ever since we moved to New York and sweat so much during the day, everyone gets nightly showers to cool off. We've done our research to find that lavender is one of our biggest tools in the nighttime routine. I love lavender candles and lotion. We put lavender essential oils on the kids and we use a blackout curtain in their rooms to drown out the city lights. We've always battled some sleep issues with our oldest child, but he seems to be making some adjustments and we have learned to remain flexible.

What do you do to keep cool in the summer? Who else is ready for the fall temperatures just around the corner?! 

Monday, August 24, 2015


Last week I had the pleasure of hosting four of my best friends from Alabama. They flew in Wednesday afternoon and left Saturday afternoon, so it was a great visit!

Wednesday night they came to Bay Ridge and we ate dinner in and then strolled around the neighborhood, finally settling at the Jean Danet Bakery next to our apartment. We had the delicious cheesecake and got some croissants for the next morning's breakfast!

Thursday morning we got ready and headed to Manhattan for two days. Beth generously booked us a hotel room in Times Square, so we loaded up what we needed in backpacks!

We started out at the 9/11 Museum. Beth was able to get us free tickets because she was doing some contract work for the museum, and then my friend Stephanie gave us a tour for free! She works as an archivist for the museum and she was so knowledgeable. I would definitely suggest getting a tour guide if you do go inside the museum so you don't miss anything!

We went to Stephanie's favorite Bubble Tea shop!

Beth had to stay and do some work, so the rest of us met my friend Janet at the Empire State Building. She works in the building and shared her VIP pass that allowed us to go up to the top without paying and we could skip all of the lines! It was so fun!

Afterwards, we met back up with Beth at the hotel and grabbed a quick lunch. We walked around Times Square and got makeovers at Mac! Then we went to Matilda that night. It was really fun! The show had an incredible set and Mrs. Trunchbull definitely stole the show. We were all amazed at the talented children performers!

A few of the girls went on a hunt for cheap pizza... and came back with Sbarro haha!

Friday morning we all slept in until about 8 am. We had a quick Starbucks breakfast and headed to Chinatown and Little Italy to explore. We went to the Meatball Shop for lunch, which was my second time there and it was so yummy! This time I got one of the homemade ice cream sandwiches... they are so fantastic!

After lunch we headed back to the hotel to check out and freshen up. We went to Strand Books, and then went to Hell's Kitchen neighborhood and met one of Beth's friends for coffee. We took a quick peek at Central Park. We ate dinner at Shake Shack and walked around some more. Shelli and I people watched in Times Square.

We went to Finding Neverland, which was my second time seeing it and it was just as fabulous the second time! Matthew Morrison is just fantastic, and he has such chemistry with his co-star who played Mrs. Davies.

Shelli and I went up to get our bags from the hotel and we saw Vern Troyer checking into the hotel!

Saturday morning we went to Cream donuts and had a picnic on the pier. It was a perfect day! We walked around Bay Ridge, did a little shopping, and had lunch at Ho Brah.

I'm so thankful for the relationship I have with each of these girls, and the sacrifice they each made to come visit me! It was such a refreshing weekend with my BFFs! I'm thankful that time and distance haven't changed anything. 

I am completely exhausted though and I need some time to recover from our busy week! Love and miss you already ladies!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bronx Zoo

As part of Edith's birthday celebration, we went to the Bronx Zoo, which is one of the 5 zoos in New York, but the biggest.

It's supposed to be about an hour drive, but it was about twice that and completely awful because we went on a Friday afternoon and there was so.much.traffic and Edith had her first two year old meltdown. It was so bad. By the time we actually got to the zoo, Will and I had headaches and we weren't in great moods. But we decided to put our happy faces on and make some good memories, dangit! :)

We only had two hours to explore since the park closed at 5, so we had to be quick and pick the top things on our list. We started with the Monorail, which was a cool train thing that took us around the park. Israel loved the train aspect, we adults loved the animals, and Edith just snuggled me.

After the monorail we went to the bug carousel, which was a hit with the kids!

We explored other aspects of the zoo. It was really fun looking at the different animals!

The Bronx Zoo was a lot of fun and we can't wait to go back. We got a year pass so we will start checking out all the zoos in New York!

Edith's Birthday

In my family, birthdays are always a big deal. It's not really about presents, but that it is your special day (and lucky me - I share a birthday with my older brother! Double the celebration!). When I was growing up (and even as an adult) my mom would decorate the house with balloons and signs, prepare pancakes or fancy breakfast, and the birthday person would get to decide what we ate and did for the day. There was always a birthday card and a general feeling of "it's your day!" and I love carrying on that tradition with those I love.

On Edith's birthday, we left early and went to the park. The kids love this park that is about 10 blocks from our house, and I can manage both of them there because it is enclosed. We were the only family there at the beginning, but there was a group of Asian ladies exercising and Edith kept walking among them.

After our park outing, we met Will for a quick donut (a McGee favorite) at DD's.

The kids took good naps and then Edith and Will went to the Children's Museum (they have free hours on Thursday afternoons!) while Israel and I went to therapy.

They also stopped by a park on the way home!

I brought home some of 5 Guys Fries and a cupcake from our neighborhood bakery and Edith had her favorite foods for dinner.

We had already celebrated with her cake and presents a few days before, but I think the day was pretty special! We love our girl! 
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