Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Strike a Pose





Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wildlights

On Thursday night, we visited the Columbus Zoo for their Wildlights members-only preview night. This event grows more popular every year and even the members only night was very crowded. Since it is impossible to see the entire Zoo in one visit with a 3.5 year old and an 18 month old, we will visit several times to see all of the lights. By the time we ate some dinner and Owen finished the second of his trips to the potty, we had just enough time to ride the carousel and look at the lights on our way back to the exit.

Even with image stabilization, it is difficult to capture a photo that is not blurred without a monopod or other stable surface.

Bundled Clara unhappy to be trapped in the stroller.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hi Baby!

Clara really enjoys baby dolls and stuffed animals. When she sees one her eyes light up and she gets a big smile, particularly if it is one that she has not seen for awhile. As you can see in the pictures below, she loves to give hugs and to have conversations which consist primarily of "hi baby" intermixed with toddler babble. We have to be vigilant when we are in settings where Clara can interact with real babies because she would like to play with them too.


Clara giving hugs to her baby.


Clara having a serious conversation with her baby.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pumpkin Carving Part II

Owen and I completed our first jack-o-lantern more than a week before Halloween, and several days of warm weather took their toll. Therefore, we had some more work to do on Friday and Saturday. Fortunately, I was able to convince Owen to use old school freelance techniques on two of the three remaining pumpkins. Each of the old-school jack-o-lanterns took about fifteen minutes to complete, whereas the pattern jack-o-lantern took nearly an hour. Once again, Owen was diligent in his supervision of my carving efforts.

Ghost in the Field

Old School Jack-O-Lantern 1

Old School Jack-O-Lantern 2

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dancing with Clara

Clara and I recently had an opportunity to spend some time on the dance floor during the wedding reception of a family friend. While I don't want Clara to grow up quickly, I hope that someday in the future we will find ourselves on the dance floor again following her wedding.

May I have this dance?

Hey Daddy - is this therapy in disguise??

Trick or Treat - 2009

Clara the Butterfly

Owen the Pirate

It was a brisk night for track or treating - especially after the 80 degree weather we had on Friday October 30 - but much fun was had by all. Owen is not very happy about our rationing of the candy and his new motto is "I'm still hungry - for candy". Fortunately, he is not yet old enough to sort and inventory his loot, so Ellen and I can still sneak a few pieces without causing a major meltdown.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cleaning House

Clara is relentless in her battle against dust.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pumpkin Carving

Every year I get suckered in by those pumpkin carving books with intricate patterns and special carving tools. What a great idea, I think to myself, until I spend an hour or more scooping pumpkin innards and carving all of the little details. I tried to explain to Owen that when I was a kid jack-o-lanterns had simple triangle eyes and jagged toothed smiles, but he had his heart set on the ghost in the castle pattern. Although Owen in not quite willing to scoop the pumpkin innards, he was certainly by my side to supervise every move and cut. Owen was also true to the code of three year old kids by asking about 5 million questions during the process.

We finished the carving process just before Owen's bedtime, and had to light it up.

A spooky masterpiece!

Unfortunately, we carved the pumpkin too soon and the recent warm weather has taken it's toll. Looks like we'll be doing some more carving before the end of the week.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Owen and Clara

Clara and her "bubby" Owen.

Before Clara was born, we frequently talked with Owen about becoming a big brother and what that meant for him. He was only two and half years old at the time, so it was hard to grasp how much he understood; however, he was excited about having a baby sister and handled the transition from the nursery to his big boy room and big boy bed very well. Still, we did not know how he would react once he had to share mommy and daddy with his baby sis.

While he was not sure what to think of Clara the first time he met her in the NICU, he quickly warmed up and wanted to hold her the very next day. Since then he has had a few moments when he asked us to put Clara in the crib because she was tired or to put her in her jumparoo because she wanted to bounce so that he could have our undivided attention (or uninterrupted floor space).

Owen has been the best big brother that we ever could have hoped for. He always wants to help Clara with her "exercises". He offers encouragement when she is working hard to accomplish a new task and generously praises her achievements. Owen often tells his preschool teachers that his little sister is going to grow up to be big and strong. He is also very protective of Clara. During one of our first meetings with the local Down syndrome new parent support group meeting, Clara was laying on a blanket squiggling and squirming and one of the older babies kept trying to crawl over to see her. Owen was concerned about the baby trying to get to his baby sis and made sure that he was a barrier between the two.

It is obvious to Ellen and I that Owen and Clara share a special bond. Clara is always happy to be with her "bubby" and always wants to be involved with anything that Owen is doing. There are many moments when Owen will give Clara a hug and a kiss for no particular reason. We are blessed to have such wonderful children and look forward to observing as their relationship continues to blossom.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bangs

As you can see in the photos below, Clara's hair had gotten long enough to cover her eyes and her face. Since her hair is very fine, most barrettes or hair clips don't stay in her hair very long, especially after she discovers them. Using small rubber bands with a ponytail worked well, but was always a challenge with an extremely flexible and strong toddler that knows nothing of the concept of remaining still. While feeding Clara breakfast last weekend, Ellen finally got tired of Clara's hair hanging in her face; therefore, she decided to trim Clara's bangs. Check out the before and after results below.

I think there are some pretty blue eyes hiding behind all that hair. When Clara wants to crawl but does not want to give up her toy, she carries the toy in her mouth while crawling.

There are those beautiful blue eyes!!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Clara and Chase

What can't we go out and play with the big kids?

Before the weather turned cold, Clara loved to stand at the back screen door and babble away. In the picture above, her friend Chase, our daycare provider's son, decided to join her to watch the older kids playing in the back yard. Although Chase is three months younger than Clara, he learned to crawl at the same time as Clara and learned to walk before Clara. While I am proud of Chase's accomplishments and offer my praise to him, it is sometimes bittersweet to be reminded of Clara's delayed milestones. Those bittersweet moments are fleeting because I know that Clara is making steady progress toward her milestones in large part because she is motivated by her friend Chase.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Testing Boundaries

While Owen is generally a very well behaved kid, he is rapidly approaching 4 years old and occasionally tests his boundaries. When he is tired or bored, Owen tends to develop selective hearing. In such instances, we give Owen an opportunity to correct his behavior and inform him that he will receive a time out if he does not behave. When he complies, he is praised for his choice. At the completion of a time out, we help him apologize for the specific issue (e.g., not listening, name calling, hitting, etc.) and reassure him that we love him.

During the past couple of months, Clara has decided that she should throw her honey bear or straw cup onto the floor after every single drink. Even though the dog has been pelted many times by the flying cup, he remains loyal in his spot waiting for scraps from the toddler learning to self feed. We have been trying a combination of verbal reinforcement (i.e., speaking and signing "no") while helping Clara to guide the cup back to her tray after a drink. When she returns the cup to her tray unassisted she receives vociferous praise; however, the cup still goes to the floor 99% of the time. She would do the same with plates or bowls if set them in front of her. While I think that we are using the correct approach with the cup-throwing discipline, I am concerned that disciplining Clara, especially during these early years, is going to be a challenge.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Soccer - Fall Season

The fall soccer season is almost complete and I have finally found time to post a couple of pictures. During the spring season, Owen was the youngest of the four boys on his team. This season he is the youngest of the seven boys. Owen is as tall as most of the older boys but he is slower and a bit more timid; therefore, he spends most of his time chasing after the pack. When he catches up to the pack, he is not enthusiastic about getting into the middle of the pack of kicking feet. Owen is doing much better in practice this season, but is starting to get frustrated when the older boys score all the goals during the games. The post game parent tunnel and snacks seem to erase any lingering goal scoring envy.

He has the look of a serious soccer star...

...but sometimes gets distracted and needs a friendly reminder to chase after the ball.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Vacation Adventures

During the week of Labor Day, we decided to take a few days of vacation. Our initial plan was to go camping, but the forecast called for thunderstorms. As such, we decided to set up camp in Grammy and Grandpa's back yard where we would have access to their camper in the event of thunderstorms.

Owen attends afternoon preschool Tuesday through Friday; therefore, we decided to leave following school on Tuesday and to return prior to school on Friday so that Owen would only miss two days of school. By the time we arrived at Grammy and Grandpa's house on Tuesday it was too late to set up the tent, so we set up shop in their camper for the night.

Since Owen enjoys trains, we decided to visit the Warther Carving Museum in Dover, Ohio on Wednesday. The museum houses numerous scale model trains (see pictures below) that were hand carved out of walnut, ebony and ivory by Ernest Warther. The museum also includes scale models of other mechanical equipment including a model of the steel mill where Ernest once worked. Ernest could have sold his carvings for large sums of money; however he perceived his carving as a hobby and was reluctant to sell his carvings. Initially Ernest designed and crafted his own knives that were specifically tailored for his carving needs. Ernest ventured into design and fabrication of kitchen knives in response to a request from his mother for a knife that would not become dull so quickly. When the steel mill went out of business, Ernest began to manufacture hand crafted kitchen knives to support his family. The Warther family continues to manufacture high-quality hand-crafted kitchen knives. If you are looking for something to do in northeast Ohio, I highly recommend a visit to this museum located less than a mile est of Interstate 77 in Dover, Ohio.

One of several trains carved from ivory.

One of several trains carved primarily from ebony.

This train was carved from a walnut tree stump.

The weather cooperated and we were able to sleep in the tent Wednesday night. Dinner consisted of pie-irons and smores cooked over a back yard campfire. Clara was too excited to fall asleep in the pack and play, so Ellen laid down with her on one of our air mattresses. Owen decided that he needed to join them. After awhile both kids gave in and fell asleep. When I got up to put sleeping Clara into the pack and play, we realized that Clara had fallen asleep cuddled up to Owen. Unfortunately it was too dark and too late for a picture.

On Thursday, we traveled to the Cleveland Zoo to meet up with Nana and Papa who had arrived on Wednesday from Phoenix, Arizona. We decided to visit the zoo because they were hosting a visiting display of life-sized mechanical dinosaurs. We knew that Owen would enjoy the dinosaurs, but were surprised that Clara seemed to like the dinosaurs as much as Owen. Clara seemed to think that the dinosaurs were big toys and kept trying to stand up in the stroller to get a closer look. This display has been extended until October 25, 2009 and costs only $1 after admission to the zoo.

What that behind Ellen and Owen?

Owen hiding behind Papa from the T-Rex.

Clara wanted an up close view of the T-Rex (and the other dinosaurs too).

Let me out of this stroller so I can play with those moving toys!!

Papa getting sprayed by the spitting dinosaur after we tried to warn him several times.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tranquility


Owen has declared that we must see the fish during every visit to the Columbus Zoo. He would stand at the glass watching the fish for hours if we would let him. Even when the zoo is busy, the aquarium offers a peaceful place to rest for a few minutes and cool down (summer visits) or warm up (fall/winter visits). Therefore, Ellen and I are generally happy to oblige Owen's request.

Since we live reasonably close to the zoo and have a membership, we visit the zoo several times each year and try to limit each visit to less than four hours. As such, we visit only a portion of the zoo and the aquarium during each visit. Fortunately, the aquarium is generally in the middle of the zoo, so we do not have to trek to the far reaches of the zoo to see the fish.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Little Helper

During the past couple weeks, Clara has decided that standing is a worthwhile venture because it significantly expands her ability to get into stuff. She has also decided that she needs to be involved with all activities. If we leave her alone to play in the living room, even for a moment, she is on the go tracking us down. In the pictures below, we were in the kitchen trying to empty the dishwasher in an attempt to find our counters. Miss Clara was not happy to be left out and decided that we were in dire need of her help.

I'm ready to work!

I hope this spoon is clean because you know that I have to put it in my mouth.

With the recent cool afternoon weather, we have been able to open the doors and windows during the day. Clara's new favorite activity is to stand at the back screen door talking to the outside world or to the dog if he happens to be nearby. The fact that the breeze blows in her face is a little added bonus for Clara.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Exploring Her Environment

Hmmm...I wonder what I can do that would be fun?


This empty shelf down here sure looks fun.


My review of the fun shelf - thumbs up!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tricycle Ride

Owen and Clara's Nana and Papa were able to spend a couple of days at our house recently following the calling hours and funeral service for my Grandma Rose (Papa's Mom and Owen and Clara's Great Grandma). Since we only get to visit with Nana and Papa a few times each year (they now live in Phoenix), Owen takes full advantage of his opportunities to play with Papa. In the picture below, Owen is showing Papa that he can ride his tricycle all the away around the block.

You can't catch me, Papa!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Developing Language

To this point, our approach to helping Clara learn to speak has not been much different that our approach with Owen. We describe what we are doing while playing and eating, imitate her sounds, try to connect sounds with pictures while reading books, etc. We have been a little more deliberate in implementation of these techniques with Clara and we have incorporated signs along with spoken language. Both Owen and Clara love the Baby Signing Time DVDs - we watch them frequently and Owen has become quite proficient with most of the signs. Clara has also recently started to receive speech therapy once per month, which largely consists of interactive observation with demonstration of techniques that we can use to further develop Clara's language skills.

At 14 months Clara uses several words in context including yay (while clapping), up, mama, dada, bubby (nickname for Owen), step, go, all done, hi, and baby. Clara also consistently uses the sign for eat and somewhat consistently uses the signs for more and all done. At the end of breakfast this morning morning Clara signed all done while also saying all done - we were very excited. Clara cannot quite get her fingers in the correct order to sign play and love, but she smiles every time we sign love and seems to understand the sign for play.

One of Clara's favorite play activities is to see herself in a mirror (or anything else with a reflective surface). Every time she sees herself in the mirror she waves and enthusiastically says hi baby. She also loves to dance with the baby and give kisses to the baby in the mirror. Recently, she has started to wave bye to our day care provider's son when Ellen picks Clara up at the end of the day.

Clara picked up the word step because she hears it so often during her treadmill training sessions. For the past month and a half Clara has been walking on the treadmill four times per week. We started the treadmill training based on research conducted by Dr. Dale Ulrich of the University of Michigan which indicated that treadmill training could help children with Down syndrome walk months earlier than children who did not undergo treadmill training. She walks for one to two minutes at a time at a speed of one-half mile per hour. Overall, each session lasts only fifteen minutes. While she was initially resistant, Clara has been doing very well over the last couple of weeks, walking for up to two minutes without complaint. Additional information about the treadmill training research can be found here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

An Angel Went Up to Heaven

Our last visit with Owen and Clara's Great Grandma Rose on July 4, 2009

Saturday night as we were preparing the kids for bedtime, the telephone started ringing. As I looked at the caller ID and noticed my Mom's telephone number, I knew the message before I even pressed the answer button. My Grandma Rose, Owen and Clara's Great Grandma, had passed away a short time earlier. Her suffering had ended, her journey to the Cross was complete.

I laid down in bed with Owen and explained that Nana and Papa (my Dad and Grandma Rose's son) would be coming in from Phoenix because Grandma Rose had died. Owen asked " I am not going to see Grandma Rose ever again?" I explained that Grandma Rose would always be with him and Clara, watching over them. He then said "An angel came out of her body and went to Heaven and now Grandma Rose is in Heaven." While we attend church regularly, we don't frequently discuss the concept of angels in the context of death. Even if we did, Owen is usually busy playing quietly during worship. Furthermore, this is the first family death in his brief three years, so we have not had this discussion in the past. As such, I found Owen's explanation both interesting and comforting.

In early March, Grandma Rose had been rushed to the hospital with severe chest pain and difficult breathing. She had not yet established advanced directives; therefore, the caregivers used heroic measures to keep her alive. One of the valves in her heart was not working correctly and blood was not circulating out of her lungs appropriately. The doctors provided a grim prognosis for her continued survival. The family gathered at the hospital hoping for survival, yet saying goodbye without saying goodbye. Little did we know that she would improve enough to return home less than three weeks later.

Grandma Rose spent most of the next five months living in her home. Occasionally, she would be taken to the hospital when she was not feeling well. She spent the last two to three weeks living in a hospice where they could provide comfort care to ease her discomfort. During the middle of this week, she told the doctor that she was tired of laying in bed being useless and that she was ready to die. When she spoke with my Dad on Friday, he said that when she said goodbye that he sensed it was her last goodbye.

As an adult approaching 40, it is interesting to look back on experiences that have shaped me. So many happy moments of childhood and young adulthood involved Grandma Rose. She was a masterful storyteller, spinning a tale together based on the random trinkets she kept around to entertain my brother and I when we would visit her. I remember sitting on the front stoop of their house under the maple tree playing with the "helicopter" seeds. We took many walks down the sidewalks consisting of a mix of slate slabs and new concrete. It was nearly impossible to leave Grandma's house without something to eat. Even if you had just eaten a full meal, the smells emanating from the kitchen would convince you that you had just a little more room. Our annual Christmas Eve pierogie feast will always remain one of my favorite memories. Oh how I wish I could bottle the atmosphere of those evenings - kids anticipating the morning to come, rich family conversation and laughter, great homemade food in seemingly endless abundance. Grandma's basement was always full of new surprises. Each visit would yield some new toy that Grandma had found. One New Year's eve, Grandma was watching my brother and I while Mom and Dad were out. Grandma and Grandpa had some friends over to play cards and I spent the evening counting the empty beer cans produced by the group, with particular attention to Grandma's consumption. It is a story that neither of us ever forgot.

The memories are so plentiful, so rich, and so comforting. I simply feel compelled to celebrate her life instead of mourning her loss. I know without doubt that she will always be with me and my family in this life and beyond.

Friday, July 31, 2009

VBS, Swim Lessons, and Preschool

We are at the end of the second of three very busy weeks. Two weeks ago, Owen attended a week of Vacation Bible School (VBS) at our church from 6:30 to 8:30 in the evening. Since Ellen and I both work full time, we had to rush home to prepare and eat dinner quickly so that Ellen and Owen could get to the church on time. After the first couple of hectic days, our sitter was kind enough to offer to bathe and feed Owen before we picked him up so that we would not have to scramble every evening. Her kids also attended VBS so she just included Owen as part of her preparation routine.

Owen singing during the last night of VBS

Owen had a great time at VBS. Each night he would give me his three year old account of the evenings activities and proudly display his crafts. One night, the Pastor gave Owen a river rock for singing so well and Owen was so proud of his reward that he had to take it to bed with him. Needless to say, the performance by the kids at the end of the week was excellent and we all enjoyed an ice-cream social to celebrate the end of the busy week.

The end of VBS happened to coincide with the All Ohio Bike Festival motorcycle light parade. Since the parade route went right past the church, we set up chairs and waited for the parade to start. Owen passed the time running and rolling down the grass hill with his cousins. Clara was happy to be out of the house and up past her bed time. The procession of motorcycles was shorter than years past, but everyone still enjoyed the show. During the 5 minute car ride from the church to our house, both tired kids passed out in their car seats. Fortunately, I was able to wake Owen up long enough to use the potty and to get a quick washcloth wipe down.

Watching the motorcycle light parade after the last night of VBS

This week, Owen started the first of two weeks of swim lessons from 6 to 6:30 in the evening. So we began two more weeks of rushing home so that we could get to the pool on time. Although Owen was tentative about putting his head completely under water at first, he really enjoys playing as a group with similarly aged peers and has gotten increasingly comfortable with the water each day. It is nice to see him adapt quickly when placed in a group of kids that he has never met.

In addition to swim lessons, Owen started his first year of preschool this week. We have enrolled Owen as a peer model in the preschool run by the County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Each class consists of a mix of kids with developmental delays and "typically developing" peers. Students with delays benefit from interaction with peers that demonstrate age-appropriate social and language skills while the peers benefit by learning that their classmates with delays are more like themselves than different. Owen enjoyed his first day of school and is happy that he finally gets to ride the school bus.

Owen and Nathan (the baby sitter's son) showing off their backpacks before the first day of preschool.

Getting on the bus for the first time!!

The week after next should bring some relief; however we might feel a little lost when we do not have to scramble to get out the door.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer Fun at the Playground

During the Fourth of July weekend at Grammy and Grandpa's house, we took advantage of the nice park that is just around the corner to burn some of the always abundant kid energy. Last year, Owen was intimidated by the size of the slides and other fun items on the play set and would not do anything without Mommy or Daddy close by. This year, he was all over the play set and even attempted some of the more difficult ladders. It was hard to tell what Clara enjoyed more, playing or watching her brother play.

Having fun in the tunnel tubes

Here I come Dad!!

The twisty-bumpy slide is my favorite!

Climbing the rock wall

Can you tell that Clara loves to swing?