Tuesday, July 31, 2012


You know how having a kid with special needs can often make life seem like it's a bit out of your control?  

Oh, who am I kidding here?  Life is pretty much always out of my control, special needs kid or not.  And since there is so much that I can't control, I like to exercise my authority over what I can.

Notice I said "what" I can and not "who" I can.  Ryan doesn't really go for my attempts to exercise my authority over him.

I think that's one of the reasons I'm frequently organizing things around my house.  

Because while I may not be able to just take charge of autism and boss it around, I can be the commander of my closet.  Or the guru of my garage.  The mastermind of my medicine cabinet.  The kingpin of my kitchen.  The.... ok, ok.  I'm done.  But I'm sure you can see that I like being in control just a teeny-tiny bit. 

These days, I'm all about making our family life just a little bit easier.  


Finding ways to do the stuff I need to do in the simplest means possible.  Especially since we are about to embark on a new journey with the Bird - public school kindergarten.  I want to have all my ducks in a row at home so that I can face 504, IDEA, FAPE, ARDs, IEPs, BIPs, LREs.... well, I think you get the idea. 

For example, I recently started getting all our prescriptions filled at one nearby 24 hour Walgreens.  It saves me from making trips to three different pharmacies, as well as trying to get there before they close.

Another example: I finally went through my recipes and pulled out our family favorites.  Then I created three weeks worth of menus.  I started with Week One, then we went to Week Two, and finally to Week Three.  Then I just start over again.  

When I started this menu rotation, we actually ate supper at home every day for three weeks.  That's pretty remarkable for us.

One more example: I just went through our coat closet, removing anything that didn't belong in there, dumping suitcases with broken wheels, and giving away too small jackets.  You can now enter the closet without tripping over plastic Easter eggs, the vacuum cleaner hose, and rolls of gift wrap. 

The most recent make-over in "Operation Streamline"?  

The pantry.  

It was chronically messy and I was always buying stuff I didn't need and not buying stuff I did need because I couldn't find it on the shelves.

I went straight to the source of all things organization - Pinterest.  I looked at lots of pictures of pantries, but unlike many of the pantries I saw, a real family lives in my house.  And we buy real food - bags of chips, jars of peanut butter, bottles of syrup, sandwich bread, and canned food.  I knew I wanted something pretty (I have a tiny bit of a "thing" for jars.) but more importantly, it needed to be functional.

After about three days of emptying packages, wiping down shelves, driving to Wal-Mart twice, arranging, and re-arranging, I give you..... my pantry:

I left a little bit of the door (on the right side) in the picture so you could get an idea of the size.  While I would love to have a beautiful walk-in pantry with electrical outlets and plenty of shelving, I do have a good sized pantry.  The shelves are deeper than I like, which means things can get hidden. 

The jars help me see at a glance not only if I have a certain ingredient but how much of it I have. And without all that multiple sized and colored cardboard packaging, my pantry looks nice and uniform. 

Bushel baskets on the pantry floor hold chips, popcorn, and vegetables like potatoes and onions.  The large flat basket contains snacks for the big girls.  Cereal boxes on the far left would look nicer in some canisters but we go through cereal like no one's business in this house so I would constantly be filling and re-filling. 

No.  I don't have much control.  But I'm the president of this pantry.  And right now, that's good enough for me.


How long has it been since you've seen some cute family pics?  Well, if you don't follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (@lanarush), that's just too long.  

So, for your viewing pleasure:

Please disregard the unidentified lady guzzling a beer in the background.

In the picture below, that girl on the right?  She just turned 16.  And that girl on the left?  She's leaving for college on August 12. 

See what I mean? No control I tell you.  Time to start another organizing project....

Friday, July 27, 2012

More PECS Talk

Since I heard from several of you who are quite interested in PECS, I decided to devote a little more time to it today.

First thing I would tell you is that if you're not on Pinterest, you should be! It's a great resource for all kinds of special needs, including lots of information on PECS.  I found most all of the pictures and links below on Pinterest.  If you'd like to follow me there, I'm pinterest.com/lanalrush.

Also thanks to Pinterest, I found a great website that makes creating PECS cards a breeze.  It's called www.mrsriley.com and I highly recommend it.  You can upload your own photos, find pictures on the web, search the library of cards made by other users as well as 3000+ symbols, click and drag to your preferred template size, and print.  Easy as pie.

Now. There are lots of ways to organize your PECS cards.  One way is a binder, like this one:

Large PECS Communication Notebook

with sentence strips like these:
Extra Sentence Strip for PECS Notebook

While this is not my preferred method of storage, that doesn't mean someone else might not love them.  And if a PECS notebook is something you'd like to try, now's a good time to do so.  A sweet reader left a comment on Tuesday's post to pass along that www.especialneeds.com is having a close-out sale on many PECS accessories and the prices are great.  So hurry up and take advantage of the low prices if you're interested.  And thanks Mom25 for the tip!

In Tuesday's post, I showed you the PECS set-up we currently have in our house.  In case anyone missed it, it looks a little something like this:

But there are more decorative ways to display your cards if you're a crafty sort of person:

In the picture above, I really like that little drawer shelf for storing the cards by category when they're not in use.

From Bella & Bambino, here's another cute idea for a PECS visual schedule, using a cheap frame and magnetic paint.
Click here for directions.

Use old cookie Pan...Chalkboard paint and attach to kitchen door. Great idea for PECS & visual schedules.

Here's an idea for a little more discreet way to have PECS cards at the ready.  Plus, since it's a lower cabinet, the cards are right at a child's height.  Handy!
Click here for directions from Under the Table & Dreaming by Stephanie Lynn.

Good idea to use alongside iTouch

So we've seen several ways to store, organize, and display the picture cards.  How about some creative ways to put those cards to use?

Use PECS cards and a paint stick to make Story Sticks, an easy and fun way to involve a child in the plot of a book.  Paint sticks could also make a make a great portable visual schedule.
Click here for directions from Making Learning Fun.

story sticks for Brown Bear Brown Bear...velcro on a paint stick with pics...good for small routine chart too

Virginia Commonwealth University has a great explanation of just about every kind of visual schedule out there and the orderly way to progress through them.
 Click here to learn more.

types of schedules for kids

Click here to visit the blog, She Wears Flowers and you'll find a tutorial for making a felt shopping book for use with PECS cards at the grocery store.  This could be a great way to get your child involved in shopping as well as an easy way to show that the food cards stand for actual food items.

For Clara's PECS.

Last but not least, my simple method of carrying the cards along with me when I'm out and about with the Bird?  Book rings:

Easy to stick in my purse or even hook on the strap.  Quick and easy to take on and off depending on what the day's activities are.  Simple to sort through and make a selection.  And the key rings can be divided by categories - places to eat, errands to run, fun things to do, and so on.

So while PECS may not be as fast as pulling up an image on your iPhone or iPad, there are lots of ways you can make it work for you.  And most importantly, for your child.

Have a great weekend and I'll see you Tuesday!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Goin' Old School

You know how technology just keeps moving forward and all these electronic devices just keep getting better and better?

Well, things are just a little bit different at the Rush house these days.

 For the past year or so, Lily's behavioral therapists have been attempting to use an iTouch and the Proloquo2Go app as Lily's main means of assistive communication.  And while there have been vast improvements in her ability to "talk" with the device, the missing ingredient still seems to be plain and simple functional communication.

As in, grabbing the device spontaneously (with no directive from an adult) and using it to say something like, "Drink" or "Cookie" or "Potty".

She is a whiz at scrolling through and finding all kinds of stuff on the iTouch but hasn't seemed to yet grasp that when she needs or wants something, she should get the device and use it to tell us exactly what that is.

Or at least, she's not doing this at home.  

So we're going back to what we know works.  Or worked at one time, maybe I should say.

Before the iPad, Lily was using something called PECS, or a picture exchange communication system. 

In a nutshell, PECS is an alternative form of communication that uses pictures rather than words to help individuals "talk".  For example, when given a stack of pictures of food items, the person can flip through them, make a selection, and then be given the actual object in exchange.

We're using the door of our coat closet as "PECS Central".

Setting up PECS requires just a few supplies:

lots of sticky backed velcro,

a small laminator,

and all the pictures you can think of.

I haven't put labels at the top of the columns yet but I usually try to organize my cards into categories such as food, routines, and play.  The top half of the door displays all the cards:

The bottom half of the door has strips ready for arranging the cards for specific purposes, such as:

long strips to indicate steps in a routine,

a First Then card that allows Lily to see that when she first does a less desirable activity, then she gets to do a more preferred activity,

and a Choice Board containing a few Mom-approved activities that Lily can choose from.

We did a PECS system with Lily back when she was two and it actually worked well.  She caught right on to the idea that giving me a picture card meant that she would get the real object in exchange.

While this system has its drawbacks, I'm hoping that it enables us to get back to basics with Lily and reaffirm for her that pictures can help her get what she needs and wants.  Once I feel like she's really got a good handle on the meaning behind the pictures and is using them functionally and comfortably, we'll try transferring the concept digitally with apps such as First Then, My Choice Board, and other PECS-type assistive programs.

Simple and straight-forward.  That's the goal.

Anyone got other ideas for me?  Please share!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Food, Glorious Food

Oh my.  

If you love tomatoes, then you're going to love me for this.

I have this friend, Susie.  You can meet her if you click right here.

She's a bit of a local celebrity around Austin - known as "the good news girl".

Two things we have in common:

We are both married to pastors and we both love good food.

So let me ask you a question:

Does this look like good food to you?

Well, let me assure you, it is good food.

This is Susie's Margarita Pizza.

I first made it when we were in Aspen.  Then I made it again when we got home.  Then I ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.  So that means I've eaten this yummy deliciousness three times in the past month.  And I already want it again.

And you're going to want it, too.

So without further ado, here's the recipe:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Margarita Topping:

In a bowl, combine 4-5 diced fresh tomatoes (or you can use a couple pints of sliced cherry tomatoes - that's what I did), 3 minced garlic cloves, 4 tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 tsp sea salt, and 6-7 thinly sliced basil leaves (I increased the basil because we love it so much).  Let sit at least 30 minutes.  You can make this a day ahead and refrigerate - just be sure to bring to room temperature before using on pizza.

Pizza Crust:

OK - here's where Susie and I differ.  She makes her own crust.  I cheat and do one of several options - buy refrigerated pizza crust dough at Whole Foods, buy ready baked homemade pizza crust from my grocery store's bakery, or in total laziness, I buy the Pillsbury refrigerated pizza crust in the can.

In my defense, I'm not against homemade crust.  It's just that no one in my family really cares that much so it's an easy shortcut for me.  If you insist on making your own crust, click here for Susie's recipe.


Roll out dough of your choice and bake for no more than 8 minutes.  Take crust out of oven and cover with slices of mozzarella cheese, usually about 8 or so slices.  Stick back in oven just until cheese starts to get melty.  Then take back out of oven.  Using a slotted spoon, gently sprinkle tomato topping all over the top.  Place back in oven for no more than 5 minutes.

Basically, you want the crust to be done to your personal preference but not have the tomatoes get all wrinkly and roasty-like.  Know what I mean?

Really.  You should make some tonight.  I'm not even kidding.  Your taste buds will thank Susie.

And since we're talking food today, let me give you a couple links to some Pinterest recipes that are winners in my house.  Plus one loser so you can avoid making it yourself.


* I did make my own enchilada sauce rather than using that nasty canned stuff *

* Everyone in my house loves this recipe *

* quick and easy-peasy *

* please do not make this if you don't have ice cream & milk at the ready *

* another recipe demanding ice cream & milk *


* should've known when it said "without tons of sugar and butter"! *

OK - so now you must be asking yourself, "What does any of this have to do with raising special needs kids???"

And my reply is, "Absolutely nothing."

But hey.  We've all gotta eat, right?  

See you Friday!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Vacation Lifesavers

I cannot even begin to tell you how wonderful it was to have the month of June off together as a family.    The first week, we hung out at home, then spent two incredible weeks in Aspen, Colorado, and finally, spent the last week back at home, trying to stretch those final days before reality set upon us once again.

Now, I absolutely love to travel.  But traveling with Lily can be a challenge, to say the least.  And it's not just the actual traveling time that can be a trial.  Choosing a destination that all of us enjoy and setting up a comfortable and safe home base requires much advance planning.  And while I love to visit new places and explore, when Lily is along with us, it's much simpler to stick with familiar territory.

Which is just one of the many reasons we love Aspen.

Since this was our third time to visit, we knew exactly what to expect.  We knew the layout of the condo so we could decide the best way to "Lily-proof" it.  We knew we wouldn't need to rent a car because hotel shuttles are always available.  Since we knew we didn't need a car, we knew we didn't need to lug the car seat along.  Since we were arriving around supper time, we knew which pizza place to call for delivery the first night. Knowing I'd have a fully stocked kitchen and a nice grocery store in town, I planned for a few meals at home and made a list before we even left Texas.  And of course, we knew the best place to eat incredible oatmeal pancakes and the best place to buy fresh homemade cookies.

But more importantly, Lily Bird was amazing!  I was a little worried that we would come home exhausted from trying to keep up with her 24/7 for two weeks, because I'm not going to lie - her going to school is a break for me.  But she quickly adapted to vacation mode.  She ate in restaurants like a champ, lounged around the condo, took naps, watched movies, went swimming, and explored all over Aspen in either her jog stroller or the bike trailer.  Honestly, this was the best trip we've ever had with her.

There were several things that made our vacation work so well.

You know those few moments on an airplane when you can't use electronic devices?  Also known as the moments when time seems to drag ever so slowly?  Inside our carry-on, I packed a separate bag of non-electronic things for the Bird that I could quickly grab to keep her entertained.  Most of the stuff inside the bag was cheap party store type stuff - stickers, notepads, a whiteboard & markers... that kind of thing.

But a few items in my little goodie bag held Lily's attention longer than others...

Little self-inking stamps like these:

Wild Animal Figurine Self-inking Stamps (#8185024)

For whatever reason, Lily loves these cheap things.  And we let her go nuts with them - stamping papers, magazines, DVD cases, even our arms and legs.

Good ol' Play-Doh:

Of course, the Bird can't be like everyone else and her favorite way to use the play-doh was for us to take balls of it and roll them up and down her arms and legs.  Kind of a play-doh massage, if you will. Strange, but it kept her happy so I'm not complaining!

Lacing cards:

OK, so maybe she needed a little bit more encouragement from us to actually do these but she did and it killed a few more of those endless non-electronic minutes.

Travel games, specifically Connect Four and Perfection:

While Lily didn't technically play these games according to the manufacturer's instructions, she did enjoy dropping the pieces into the game boards.

Of course, we didn't spend all our time on the plane so here's a few things that made the rest of our trip so awesome.

First, this amazing bed:

 The Safety Sleeper in black canvas

The Safety Sleeper is a safe, fully enclosed, and portable bed for children with special needs.  Plus, it looks cool and the Bird loved it!  It's lightweight and is quick and easy to assemble.  It comes in a large duffel bag that we labeled as special needs equipment, checked with our suitcases, and the airline didn't charge us for it. A twin size mattress fits snugly inside.  We just asked the hotel to put an extra twin mattress on the floor next to our bed but you can also use an inflatable mattress if you prefer.

Our only other option would have been to have Lily sleep with us 14 nights in a row, with her popping up every 30 seconds, looking around the room, searching for an iPad, and us wrestling her until she finally fell asleep two hours later.  This awesome bed allowed us to safely and securely tuck Lily in at night, knowing she could not escape and wander around, which allowed us to rest comfortably ourselves.  I really think this bed, more than any other item, made our vacation a success.

By the way, if you decide to purchase a Safety Sleeper Bed, would you be kind enough to let Rose know that you heard about it from me?  Thank you kindly!

The Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case for the iPad.

Simply stated, this case works!  It's sturdy and almost waterproof.  Granted, it's not the smallest case you'll find, but it's the only one that Lily hasn't managed to destroy or remove the iPad from.  And at around $35, you can't beat the price!

Burley Bee Trailer

While we don't currently own one of these, this is what I would purchase if we were in the market for one.  We rented two different bike trailers while in Aspen and this one was far superior to the other. We could keep Lily more safely contained, the interior was comfortable and roomy for her, and there was a very large storage compartment on the bike that was quite handy.  Lily loves to go fast and feel the breeze on her body so I'm pretty sure that bike riding was her favorite vacation pastime.

Last but not least, we love our BOB Revolution jog stroller.  That thing goes everywhere - including the airport, something I wasn't aware of.  Even though the stroller is hefty, we were able to gate check it at no extra charge.  And I'm not sure there's a square inch of downtown Aspen that our BOB didn't roll over.

In the Rush family, good rest and good fun makes for a great trip.  And these items helped us do just that - relax and have some good, clean family fun.  Maybe they'll do the same for you!

Happy summer and I'll see you Tuesday!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Good and The Bad of Blogging

When I first started blogging, I had no idea what to expect.  I thought it was a good way to keep in touch with extended family, sharing pictures and stories that would help all of us feel connected.

But blogging has done much more than that.

Let's start with the good stuff:

When I first started writing this blog, it was truly a life-saver.  It really helped me deal with some of my emotions and feelings regarding Lily's special needs.  It was therapeutic to write it all down, get it all out there and off my chest - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It gave people a glimpse into our everyday lives that hopefully educated them on what it's like to raise a child with special needs, therefore opening their eyes and hearts to families all around them in need of understanding and compassion.

It also helped me to focus on the positive aspects of our life with the Bird.  To look for the silver lining. To look for blessings in the midst of the sorrow.  And to remember to laugh when I felt like crying.  I learned the true meaning of joy no matter the circumstances.

And y'all.  The people I met?  Astounding.  I discovered this amazing community of special needs bloggers that welcomed me with open arms, commenting on my thoughts, sharing helpful advice, commiserating on bad days, offering solace, comfort, encouragement, and understanding.  The sense of relief I felt in knowing that others were living this same life right alongside me was huge.  I found a whole other kind of family and they continue to be a blessing to me in so many ways.

So there I was, just trucking along, writing five days a week on my own blog.  Then visiting other blogs, checking in with my online buddies, leaving comments, tweeting, and just generally trying to keep up with their lives, too.  I mean, I felt connected to these precious people and I wanted to know what was going on in their lives, how their kids were doing, what was going on in school, how their vacations went, and so on.

And here's where the blogging turned a little bit bad for me:

I could not stop thinking about special needs.

I was writing about it myself.  I was reading what other people wrote about it.  I was researching it.  I was reading books on it.  I was searching Pinterest for therapy ideas.  I was food shopping and cooking with special needs diets on my brain.  I was reading my Bible and constantly relating everything to special needs.

Slowly, but surely, I lost myself in special needs.

I had no escape.

My mom asked me one day what I would do if I quit doing anything at all that had to do with special needs and I honestly couldn't come up with an answer.  I didn't even know what I wanted to do anymore.  

And that, my friends, is not a healthy way to live.

And I had done it to myself.

I felt guilty if I wasn't spending all my free time doing something related to special needs.  If I was watching mindless television, that was time I should have spent coming up with new snack ideas for Lily's diet. If I was reading a fun book, that was time I should have spent on the computer, researching autism.  If I spent a few hours walking the mall, that was time I should have spent preparing some therapy activities for when Lily got home from school.

And have I mentioned that I have two other daughters who occasionally like to have a little bit of my undivided attention?

I knew I shouldn't let special needs consume me but I felt guilty if it didn't.

There's irony in there somewhere, I'm sure of it.

Now, to June.  Ryan was taking the whole month off from work.  So after much thinking, I decided to take the month off from blogging.  And I wasn't going to read other blogs, or be on Twitter and Facebook that much.  I was doing a little unplugging.

And guess what?

I freaked out for about two weeks.

I didn't realize how wrapped up I'd gotten in writing my blog.  And reading your blogs.  My mind was constantly on the lookout for blog material.

But more than that, I thought I was going to be exposed as someone who didn't care about special needs.  As someone who had just given up on her daughter and trying to find the next best thing for her life.

Ummmm.... hello?  That's a little extreme, don't you think?

But after those slightly panicky two weeks, I started to relax.  To enjoy.  To quit thinking about blogging and special needs.  To love on my family.  To spend time with the Bird without trying to teach her anything.  To just play.

And it was simply lovely.

Now, I still want to blog, for all those same good reasons I mentioned up there in the beginning.  But I want to maintain that simple loveliness I discovered during my "sabbatical".

So here's the new and improved plan for Along Came the Bird:

I will blog two days a week, typically Tuesdays and Fridays.  I may occasionally throw a Wordless Wednesday picture up there, but more than likely, those cute photos will only appear on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I will visit my sweet online friends and their blogs on Tuesdays and Fridays as well.  I know that means I might be a little behind in hearing some of your news but I'll still enjoy catching up with you and hearing about what's going on in your neck of the woods.

I will read for fun.  I will wander the mall every now and then.  I will watch some mindless television.  I will do less and as a result, accomplish more.

And I will not feel guilty.

No sir.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Week in Pictures - Fourth Week of June

After an amazing and wonderful two weeks in Aspen, we spent our final week off back at home in Austin, hanging out with the family and relaxing.

Fresh off the airplane, we walked into our house to find someone had broken in!  But instead of taking anything, this sweet "burglar"(aka, my mother in law) had delivered flowers, pizza, brownies, and milk, saving us a trip to the grocery store that night.  That's my kind of thief! 

We spent several mornings making our usual rounds on the Hike and Bike Trail...

with Lily snacking her way along in the Bob stroller.

The Bird has discovered a new favorite snack - Tofutti Cuties ice cream sandwiches. Since this is probably not an official "Dr. Goldberg-approved food", we'll just keep this little secret in the family, ok?  Sometimes a kid's just gotta have a treat.

Chilling on the Lily Pad.

Strawberry shortcake

Since it was 100 degrees at the Farmer's Market, our first stop was for popsicles.  Ryan was going to share his with the Bird but he quickly realized that sharing was not was she had in mind.  

She starts off eating quite delicately...

but since popsicle sticks are for sissies, a sticky mess (and an unclothed ride home) was the delicious end result.

And there you have it!  You're now officially all caught up with the Rushes!

Come back Tuesday and I'll share a few things I learned while taking the month off.  Maybe you can relate...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Week in Pictures - Third Week in June

I know I told you I was taking the month of June off from blogging.  

And I know I promised you a picture post on Fridays just to keep you updated.

And I did a good job with the first two Friday picture posts.

And then I totally and completely fell off the blogging bandwagon and have left you hanging for quite some time now.

So today, I'm posting pictures so you can see how we spent the third week of June in Aspen, Colorado.

And Sunday, I will post how we spent the fourth week of June back at home in Austin.

And then Tuesday, I will be back with an all new post that will actually consist of words I wrote! Can I get a "Yee-Haw!" and an "Amen"??

Now, I think you'll be able to tell that this first batch of pictures was taken by Ryley, my oldest and the official photographer of the family.  Like, she uses a real camera with lenses and everything.

Now this next batch of photos was taken by me, with my iPhone camera. Not as lovely as the real thing, but hey, at least I'm taking some pictures! (If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, you've probably already seen these.  And if you don't follow me there, you should!)

Even though it looks like the Bird is biting me, it's really just a sweet kiss.

Vacation hair.

S'mores fun with friends.

And last but not least, here's Lily Bird reminding you to check the blog tomorrow for more pictures! And to take it easy!

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