Life in a Small Town

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If you grew up in a small town and I left any important qualifiers out, please comment below!

When I was in high school, one of our homework assignments was to write about the attractions of our home town. Well, I went to the teacher and politely asked, “Mr. Main, the assignment is to write on the attractions of our hometown?” And he politely replied, “Yes.” So, being a high school student and sarcastic, I questioned, “But, Mr. Main, I live in Latham.” He just laughed and said that there had to be something there. Well, truth be told, there really wasn’t. But, again, remember I was sarcastic, so I did the assignment.

The lake. This oversized mud hole is enclosed in fencing and is located on the edge of town. No room for a fishing boat let alone a ski boat. People don’t eat the fish that they catch there, they are afraid of what they have been eating in the mud hole.

The gas station. We lived 15 miles from town and our gas station was not on the highway, it was inside of the town. It sold gas by the 1/2 gallon at a price that the stations in town were selling for a whole gallon. You guessed it, the cars were lined up for miles to buy gas at that price. It never had any gas sales except to those unfortunate souls that were on “E” and couldn’t possibly make it another 6 miles to another gas station that sold it by the full gallon.

The watertower. This was looking pretty shabby, but one year they gave it a fresh coat of paint. It was coincidentally the same color as the neighboring town’s water town that they had just painted. So nice of them to give us hand me down paint!

Festival of lights. Yes every year at Christmas time, the grain elevator in town would put on a fantastic display of lights – a huge star. Probably had 50 light bulbs in it!

The grain elevator. Let me tell you what, this town was full of activity at harvest time. Farmers lined up all day to sell to the grain elevator. It was the most traffic the streets saw all year. Also was very entertaining to act goofy while all the farmers had no other choice but to sit and watch. ha ha.

The annual ice cream social. This event was huge when I was little. Huge raffle prizes, like TVs, carnival rides, tractor pulls for kids, softball games, it was an all day affair. It has since dwindled in size and attendance, but one thing has not changed, if you live out of town, your chances to win the raffle prize are quadrupled over someone who is a home townie. It never failed. It was a lot of fun when it was a huge event. I remember my cousins would come stay that weekend from a few hours away and we would partake in the activities of the day. That small town event is what makes a tight community.

The post office. Where all the mail comes in from every where. This is also the place where all the good gossip takes place. Want to know who is cheating? Who is getting married? Who is moving in town? Just go to the post office! If you live in a small town, I can pretty much assure you that at least once a week, you hear someone say, “I was at the Post Office the other day and I heard….”

The rock pile. Just as the name implies, it was a HUGE pile of rocks. We had two parks (odd for a town of 250 people, but we did!) but if you gave any kid in town a choice of places to go, they would pick the rock pile. You could “snow ski” down the side of it and climb back up.

Pop Machine. Odd I know, but you just have to know that we went many years without one. It was an exciting day when they put that machine in. It was in a good location, the center of down town. Down town, lol. It did not have Pepsi or Coke, it was stocked with RC cola products. I don’t even think you can buy RC anymore? But, it was pop, it was cold, we bought it and drank it.

And when I wrote the conclusion to my story, I wrote something like this: “Well, I could sit here and write all day about all the attractions of my town, but a cat just got ran over in the road and I have to run out there before the crowd does.” It’s sad, but it is true, it was just about all the excitement that town could take.

But, looking back, it was a close knit community where everyone knew everyone. We didn’t have a house alarm, no need to. My neighbor’s house had the perfect view of the driveway. She was at home every day and she could tell you who stopped by, what they were driving and if they chatted with her a bit. She babysat me many times after school until my mom got home. She always had a bottle of Coca-cola – the glass kind not the 20 oz plastic bottles they have today. We played bingo, dominoes, puzzles, and when it was nice outside, croquet. She was our neighbor the entire time I lived in that house. And for all the times she took care of us, my parents repaid the favor. They checked on her when she was there by herself as she got older, to make sure she was ok. We visited her several times in the nursing home. It was a sad day when she passed away. She was more like family to us than just a neighbor.

Overall, living in a small town really made you use your imagination. We made mud pies, sand cookies, and did goofy things when cars would drive by, like hold up signs that said they were going the wrong way.

When I was a kid, you could ride around town on your bicycle and feel safe about it. There were no cell phones back then. It seems like people paid attention more, they cared more, they socialized with each other more. I don’t know, maybe it is because we didn’t have the technology then that we do now. Now, you can play a DVD movie anytime you want, watch one of 500 channels or play one of many video games. You can even get on your computer and write a blog! We had 3 channels, you missed your show, you just missed it. No recording available. When I got my license and I left home, I was unreachable! My parents had no clue where I was unless I called to tell them. We had paper books that we journaled in, or “blogged”. It was private and usually held sentences like, “I was bored today, Mary couldn’t play.” It seems like the stone ages, but it really was only 30 years ago! How times have changed! We have hand held computers in our hands that also make phone calls. And this same technology that keeps us up to date on the latest news and our friends. However, this technology can also keep us from living life with real, live people. And make us miss things that happen to those beings right in front of our faces, because our faces are buried in the technology.

I don’t live in a small town any longer. And even if I did, I don’t think that it would really be apparent. People today are not as sociable in real life as they once were. Technology has been great at helping us to become more knowledgeable and more productive, but in reality, I think it is stripping away our relationships with other people. Do you live in a small town today? What do you think, am I close to my assessment?

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Growing Up 1980’s Style

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If you are 20 years or younger, this blog post is just going to blow your mind with the lack of technology people from my generation (born in the 70’s, growing up in the 80’s) had when growing up.

Cell phones. We did not have them, they were not invented yet. When we left home, we were off the radar. Oh, unless your parents had a CB radio, which of course only worked in the car. “Breaker, breaker, 1-9, do you copy?” There was a whole different language for its usage, in fact, everyone had their own CB nickname – called a handle. When they were invented, they were HUGE and had to stay in your car.. after all, they were a car phone. We had to rely on pay phones to make calls, or get to know some random people and use their phones. Today, that would be kind of scary.

And cordless phones in the house? Nope. If you were lucky, you did have a very, very long cord on your house phone that would reach into two rooms. There were no push buttons, a rotary dial and no speaker phone. Now, this could also be a game, as when your parents were on the phone, you could do whatever you wanted without physical harm if you stayed outside of the radius of the cord. “Neener, neener” However, if they dropped the phone, you had better run as all bets were then off. *Physical harm – this is something that many parents discontinued practicing. It was a spanking on your rear end (Parent had slapping the rear end in a disciplinary way). It was not enough to break the skin, leave welts, but just enough for the child to know the behavior was not appreciated. This was also practiced in schools, called ‘swats’ which gave a whole different reaction to being sent to the principal’s office. This was the reason why bullying was not tolerated in our day – even the bullies feared the swats.

Now, back to the phones. Single phone line, no call waiting, no caller ID. Every time we answered the phone it was like Christmas because we had absolutely NO idea who was on the other line. Could it be a salesman? A friend? Grandma? You didn’t know until you answered the phone. Oh, and when we were not home, the phone just rang, and rang, and rang. We didn’t have answering machines. And when you called a friend, if they were using their phone, you got a busy signal. This means you just have to try your call again later. And it was not a nice operator telling you this, it was an annoying “BEEP BEEP”.

Music – We had it. One records that easily scratched with no way to fix, rendering it junk. And 8 Track Cassettes. Bigger versions of the cassette tapes, which you also probably know nothing about. Those were introduced in our elementary school days. And phased out shortly after we graduated high school. The radios in cars – yes we had them, but they didn’t have a digital read, it was a dial, you had to get the dial in just the right place to get the station in.

Television, if you were lucky, you had all color televisions, if you had more than one in your house. And we didn’t really watch it that often, mainly because we only had 3 channels of public broadcasting. We had to utilize antennas for signal and sometimes cover the tip with some aluminum foil. There were no reality shows, no MTv, however, on Saturday morning, there were GREAT cartoons, hours of great cartoons. And during the evening time, we had great shows: Little House on the Prairie, The Jefferson’s, Different Strokes, Family Ties, Wonder Woman, The Greatest American Hero, The Dukes of Hazzard. So many memories of those shows! Remote control? Nope…and push buttons on the TV itself were rare, it was usually a dial. No VHS or DVD or DVRs, so if we were gone when a show we wanted to watch came on, we just missed out. There was no recording it.

We spent a good portion of time … outside… with other kids. We played hide and go seek, tag, on the swingset, rode bikes, played ding dong ditch and made mud pies in the sandbox. Oh, and when we were bored and the rain was pouring, we played board games. OR, when we got to be tweens, we made prank phone calls. They were great! Remember, no caller ID! Or made our own ‘phones’ tin-can-telephone

The school sports teams were more exclusive, if you didn’t make the cut, you just didn’t get to be on the team. Not everyone received trophies, we learned at an early age that life is not always fair and if you want something, you must work hard for it. The school teachers did not have phones in their classrooms, nor did they have TVs. When we watched movies, we watched them on a film projector.

We didn’t have Nintendo until the late 80’s we had Atari, a very primitive game, but it was fun nonetheless. Our child hood toys were Fisher Price playhouses il_570xN.701856792_t12gwith no electronics, only our imaginations to make those little family people come alive. Our out door riding toys were powered by us. Pedals, we had to work to move. Like a tricycle, fire engine or a big wheel.

Computers did not exist. We used a typewriter. No electricity required, but you had to line up the paper just right. No correction either on some. You made a mistake… you just started over. It took FOREVER! If you wanted to make a copy? Yea, there was no copy machine, you needed to type two copies at a time via carbon paper. Oh, spell check? Yea, it was called paying attention in Spelling class or using the dictionary. We had to know it or look it up. When your letter was done, you addressed an envelope and put it in the mail. It took days to get there and an even longer time for a response. Finding a book was even more fun, we had to look it up in the card catalog at the library. It’s a really archaic system. No downloading it on iTunes (There was no iTunes, no Internet!) It’s like one step above the dinosaurs, right?

Microwaves were just coming about towards our late childhood. When we had something hot, it was made from real fire on the stove. The grill used had charcoal, no gas. And dishwashers? No way. We actually had to wash them in the sink and dry them by hand.

Even fitness was different. There was a YMCA and a YWCA, but no really widespread ‘gyms’ that I can remember. What I do remember was when VCRs came into play, we had “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” with Richard Simmons. images If you have never heard of Richard Simmons, I highly suggest that you look up a video of him on You Tube or Google him. He was QUITE a character, completely different than today’s fitness leaders like Chalene Johnson, Shaun T, or Tony Horton. Simmons is something you have to look up and see to believe!

Today’s kids are always connected in some electronic form. Cell phones are everywhere. New policies at schools were created to prevent their use during school hours. In my time, given the same technology, we would have just known better. We did not like the swats, as usually that meant that you got another by your parents when you got home. At school, we wrote notes to each other, folded them up in creative ways and stuck them in each other’s lockers. We talked for hours on the phone… if you lived local. If you lived in a different town, unless your last name was Rockefeller, you were likely limited on long distance usage. There was no Facebook, no Google+, no Twitter, if you wanted people to know what you were doing or how you felt, well, you had to verbally tell them, or write a note!

While it wasn’t full of technology, those times were some of the best times in our lives. We were young and carefree. We had no bills, no jobs, summers and all holidays off of school. We used our imaginations to the nth degree. We had person to person contact, socialization and networking. The thing that I look forward to in the future, is reading someone else’s blog about how different their childhood from the teens was different than those of the 2030’s. 🙂 Maybe they will more closely resemble the Jetson’s.

I Have Now Witnessed FOUR Miracles!

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Let me start out by saying that this is simply amazing and I am eternally grateful for God’s blessings in my life.

My mom’s family is relatively small. When we meet for holidays, there are 16 of us now that are official – blood or marriage – you know the people that have no choice and the people that didn’t get scared and run away, ha ha! When I was little, about 10 years old, that number was 7 in total. If you have read my post, “Have you ever seen a miracle” my grandfather in that post is the same that was part of the 7 people. So, that makes this additional story even more unique. From that 7 people, my parents and I were the only ones that lived in the next town over, in fact, the rest of the family lived on the same block as each other, and still do today. When we grew to 8, it was my aunt Theresa joining the family, then came 9, 10, and 11 with their kids Amy, Aaron and Chris. Then my husband and two kids followed. Here are the 11 of us – hey wasn’t that a show?

So, miracle number 1 was my grandfather turning completely around surprising the cardiologist who had given him less than 24 hours to live. (See “Have you Witnessed a Miracle” on my blog for the full details. Let me now tell you about miracle number 2, was my aunt Theresa after undergoing surgery what seems like yesterday because we were so scared, but really it was several years ago. She was in the hospital for quite some time as the doctors were trying everything to make her better. And they were successful. I was suffering from bronchitis that refused to go away so I wasn’t able to visit her so my recollection just isn’t as good as if I had been there so I could use my photographic memory. My memory is bad due to M.S. I guess, so all I know is that they weren’t sure she would make it and that uncertainty lasted way too long, just like my bronchitis. It seems like it was over a month. I had to depend on family to text me. This was in June, so we were really grateful at Thanksgiving time that year that she was there with us.

Number 3 is my grandfather’s son, or my Uncle Rick. It was Tuesday, early December, I had just arrived at work (that is not the miracle, ha ha) and somehow, I missed two phone calls and the two corresponding voice mails. As I noticed it, I looked at who they were from and told my boss, “uh, oh, this can not be good news.” My aunt had called me at 5 something in the morning and then my dad followed a voice mail at 7 something. So, there is only one way to find out – I listened to the voice mails. And I was right, it was not good. My uncle Rick was taken to the hospital via ambulance, he thought he was having a heart attack. Especially concerning because he is also diabetic, which is known for causing circulatory issues. My dad’s voice mail was just to ensure that I had heard about my uncle. So, I immediately called my aunt. Rick had felt the symptoms for an hour before he drove around the block to Steve and Theresa’s house to tell them that he thought he was having a heart attack. They immediately called for the rescue team. He was taken to a local hospital that just recently restricted the cardiologists that could practice there, you have to be a hospitalist specific to that hospital. The patients do not get to choose who they see – not a good move in my opinion, but nonetheless, they made the policy. My favorite cardiologist, Dr. Kola is not a hospitalist, so he was not able to see my uncle which really made me uneasy. I KNEW if Dr. Kola was in charge everything possible would be done, now I had to wonder. Since Theresa said her husband, my Uncle Steve, went to the hospital with him – I texted him, “How is Rick, if they haven’t seen him yet, load him up and take him to the other hospital where Dr. Kola can see him.” And the reply was that, “He is in recovery now, heart cath done and a stent put in.” Truly amazing since this was only 2 hours and 15 minutes since they called the ambulance. So, when Rick came out of recovery he told my uncle that he was feeling better. I went to visit him for a little bit before my next meeting. He was in good spirits. When I greeted him, I simply asked, “So, were you a little bored this morning?” And he chuckled and said, “I just didn’t want to go to work.” I just replied that “You know you can just fake it and call in sick.” Sarcasm and humor, that is how all my family rolls. 🙂 He said he was feeling better, but was aggravated he had to lay flat for 6 hours on his back. Yes indeed, as he should feel better. The doctor told Rick that he was “lucky to be alive”. His main artery to his heart was almost completely blocked to a point that very few survive the cardiac event. Especially given the amount of time that he had symptoms before he sought help. So, this was miracle number three that would join us again at the holiday table. Praise God!

Now, onto miracle number 4. So, my uncle’s heart attack was on Tuesday. A few days later, on Friday my husband and I went to bed at 10:30 p.m. (we are quite the party animals, I know). I awoke at about 12:30 a.m. by my 15 year old son, Brian, talking with his dad. All I heard coming out of my slumber was, “Alyssa” (my daughter), “accident”, “Aaron” and “ICU”. Well, that popped my eyes open faster than the alarm clock going off. I believe my response was, “WHAT?!” So Brian said he had gotten a text message from Alyssa asking if we knew my cousin Aaron had been in an accident and was ICU at the hospital. Uhm, no, we were not! Apparently she had seen something on Facebook. I went to bed early, so I was clueless. I immediately called his sister, Amy – is this true?? I was sincerely hoping for some prank of someone trying to be funny… but it was true. At that point, he knew he had a broken sternum and bleeding in the brain, but not much else. The dreaded answer to ‘do they think he is going to be okay’ was “they don’t know, they said it would be touch and go from here. they may move him to Springfield.” ugh, Springfield is the ultimate center – the one that you know things are really bad if they go there, (in my opinion). I then called my mom to make sure she knew, she was sleeping too and did not know. So, then I decided I would go back to sleep and go visit him in the hospital later that day. I thought about how I had babysat for him from the time he was 6 weeks old to a little over a year. Now he was married with an almost one year old daughter, Selena. He has changed quite a bit since then. All the memories danced in my head as I prayed until I fell asleep. I did visit him that day, the next and just about every other day as I could. It was rough. The first week he was in ICU and was sleeping or barely coherent. Then, the day came where they moved him to a regular room before they transferred him to Springfield for therapy, so I left at lunch that day to visit him before he left town. It was so great to see him looking more like himself, talking, moving around and playing with little Selena. She was full of smiles – it was the first time that she got to see him since before the accident. And it was during this time that I saw the stubbornness of our Grandpa (aka miracle #1). Aaron was having difficulty walking with his right leg so a bed alarm was installed to alert the nurses if he tried to get up. Already that day in the short time he had been there, he had gotten up and changed his clothes. During our conversation, he started to get up. His wife, Jessy, asked what he was doing. He needed to go to the bathroom. Jessy was going to get a nurse, but he was on a mission, so she tried to make sure he didn’t fall instead. She asked if he was supposed to go on his own and he replied, “they didn’t tell me that I can’t”. At this point, he was off of the bed and the alarm sounded… BEEP BEEP!! And I told them, “That would be a NO.” He made it to the bathroom with Jessy’s help just before the nurses got there. Later that day, they must have realized what a renegade they had on their hands and moved him directly next to the nurses’ station. Or maybe they learned who his grandfather was, as he was stubborn in the same way. He felt he could, so he tried! I told Jessy and Aaron that he came by it honest. Our grandfather climbed on the roof to fix shingles within 24 hours of being released from having his leg amputated from below the knee down. (Well, they didn’t specifically tell him he couldn’t, so he did!) Aaron was in that room for a few days, then sent to Springfield Memorial for therapy. Luckily, they deemed him able to come home and have therapy on an out patient basis. He was released on December 23rd. He was home for Christmas! Not that he was bouncing off the walls as he would of when he was a little kid, but he was there. Praise God again. From the look of the car, it is a miracle.

As my husband drove to my Grandma’s house for Christmas Eve dinner, I just thought of how lucky we were. We could have been two seats short of what Thanksgiving dinner was just a few short weeks before. God was good to us and truly blessed us with two more miracles, both in the same week. And so, I thought that this holiday could be called Thanksgiving/Christmas because we certainly had rights to be Thankful.

When you think about who you think will be next to pass through the pearly gates, you rarely ever think about these quick turns of fate that could affect anyone around the table – it doesn’t have to be the oldest person, or the person in the worst health, you just never know. A few years ago, it could have been my aunt after surgery. This year it could have been a heart attack and/or a car accident. Cherish your family and friends while they are here, hold them close and never take for granted the time you have opportunity with them.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

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This has to be the way of life of an Aspie, I am convinced. My son has been diagnosed with Asperger’s for the last 6 years. In the very beginning, we were learning all kinds of things about dealing with Brian and his new diagnosis. The first thing was learning the inability to differentiate between social cues, eye contact and making inferences. Next was a lesson in don’t ask, don’t tell.

I learned when I came home from work that my daughter, Alyssa, had arranged to go to a movie with a friend. His parents picked them up, we were to pick them up. I wondered how much time we had until we needed to pick her up, so I asked my husband what movie they were watching. He did not remember. Looking up the movie theater schedule there was a variety of movies and ending times. So, we all loaded in the car and I questioned my husband about how he could possibly let her go to a movie, with instructions to pick up, without knowing what movie or what time it was over. Since our drive to the movie theater was 25 minutes, I questioned this over and over the entire way there. We ran through the list of movies playing and none of them really struck and bell.

While sitting in front of the theater, I turned around and asked Brian, “Do you know what movie your sister went to see?” He immediately answered, “Yes, Kicking and Screaming”. I couldn’t believe it and at the same time, I found it quite comical. He sat in the back seat and listened to me questioning my husband to a level of badgering the witness in a court of law, but never shared that he knew which movie. Mainly because we didn’t ask, lesson learned.

I ran in the theater, found the ending time of the movie and we picked up the kids as promised. This was the beginning of our learning that Autism is very literal. There is black and white, it does not have shades of gray. I still find this rather comical. 🙂

To find out more about Autism, specifically Asperger’s Syndrome, click here.

When a Hug Just Isn’t a Hug

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Ok, so…. It was 50 degrees the first three days of last week. Then on Thursday, it dropped to 10, started snowing and blowing. As any other weekday, I was getting ready for work and my son went out to feed and water his dogs as usual. He returned and hastily informed me that his dog, Beau was loose. He had put the other outside dog, Daisy, Beau’s sister, in her cage in the garage to keep her warm, which is where Beau would have went had he not broken his chain and took off for exploration. Beau breaks/shreds his chain at least every 3 months, and they are heavy duty chains, well, more like metal ropes, so we have spares on hand. (After several 3 am trips to Wal-Mart to purchase a new chain, we recognized this was going to be an ongoing issue). It was dark outside and, of course, the back porch light was burnt out and we couldn’t find the heavy duty flashlight. Brian was worried about his dog, he knew it was cold and feared he would get lost or worse. He wanted to find him, I could see the anxiety building. I told him to get on the school bus and I would look for Beau before I went to work. Thinking I would go outside and find him quickly…. Ha ha. So, I drove around the neighborhood, no sign of Beau. I drove to work to fetch (pun intended, ha ha) my laptop so I could sit at the dining room table and watch for him to return. An hour later, I was back in the neighborhood driving around looking for any sign of Beau. Nothing. I walked around the yard, yelling his name, still nothing. I could hear dogs barking, which led me to believe he was nearby being social. The wind had died down and the sun was warming things up a bit, so I came up with a plan to lure Beau back. I put Daisy outside on her chain. Then I put Beau’s food in his bowl along with a BIG rawhide bone Santa left for him and went back inside to start working. Not even 40 minutes later, I looked out and saw Beau jumping around, playing with Daisy, as if he was taunting her because he was off gallivanting around. I quickly grabbed my coat and boots and went to reconnect Beau. Much to my surprise, he came to me (my outside dogs are very skiddish). I rubbed him behind his ears, brushed the icicles off his fur and asked him, “So beau beau, did you have fun gallivanting around?” and I am not kidding you, if he could talk, he would have said, “YA!! It was a blast and a half!!” then he led me to his circle to be chained up…. I guess he just had some wild oats to sew.

All I can say is I am glad he is back, but he could have picked one of those 50 degree days to sew his oats. It would have made it much more enjoyable to walk outside looking for him. When my son came home from school, he busted in the door and immediately asked me if I found his dog. I said yes that Beau came back to tell Daisy about his adventure. He said, “Thank God!” And then, he walked over and gave me a hug and said a very heart felt “Thank you”. And he’s not a hugger, with the Asperger’s Syndrome, (high functioning Autism), picking up on those social cues and showing affection are HUGE. The last time he voluntarily gave me a hug was at the cemetery after my grandmothers funeral. Another time the hug was unexpected, but very needed and welcomed. So, even though I was aggravated beyond all get out to miss work and tromp around in the cold and snow, it was worth it for the hug from my son. Parenting is hard with any child, but with parenting an Aspie it can be SO rewarding in moments like this, that you haven’t experienced since they were toddlers and now are a teenager (when parents get cooties)…

I remember so vividly a time we went to visit my mother-in-law (Nana), Brian was about 2 1/2-3 years old. We got out of the car at the end of the driveway and Nana was standing near the front door. Brian got out of the car and ran towards her with his arms out yelling ‘NANA’ and she put her arms out ready to give him a big old hug. But, he stopped just shy of the hug, and with a little wave, said, “hi”. It was so funny, because everyone thought he was going to jump up and give a huge hug, but settled for a wave of the hand and hi.

So, you can see why the hug was so special. I will cherish the memory forever and not just the hug, but the fact that he is maturing and picking up on those social cues…. ❤

Laser Eye Surgery – To Do It or Not To Do It

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So, I have been wearing glasses since first grade, essentially all of my life except 6 years. I remember vividly walking out of the eye doctor’s office after picking up my first pair of glasses…. I COULD SEE!! So who knows out of those 6 years how long I actually needed glasses. I was near sighted (could not see distance) and additionally had an astigmatism.

Each year meant new glasses as my eyes got worse. And with each year, the glasses got thicker and thicker. I hated wearing them, but never knew how much until I was blessed with soft contact lenses my sophmore year of high school. I had depth perception and when my eyes watered, I could see the water, crystal clear. I know these seem small, but they are huge when you haven’t experienced them before. We had hoped that moving to contacts would slow down the progressive decline of my vision. Who knows if it really did or not, they did get a little worse each year. I loved wearing contacts because that meant that I could wear SUNGLASSES!! Woo hoo!! But also because the glasses did not slide up and down my nose in the heat. Not to mention the fact that they did not fog up going from outside heat to inside air conditioning.

At some point, the soft lenses, although made for astigmatism, became extremely hard to fit where I could get a good script consistently. It was at that point that my eye doc said I needed to move to hard lenses or back to glasses… Have you heard the phrase, “HELL no I won’t GO!!” well that was how I felt definitely about glasses and partially about hard lenses. I had them in my eye for about 1/2 second before I told them to rip them out, and that is why I had soft lenses. But, we all have to pick our battles right? So, I thought well… I can suck it up and try the hard lenses. And so, when they came in the doc put numbing drops in my eyes so I couldn’t feel the discs of hard plastic in my eyes. It kept them in long enough that I could drive home and keep them in for the first few hours I was to wear them. Don’t get me wrong the next day was not sunshine and roses putting them in, but the few hours the previous day was enough to start a callus to form on my eye, which makes them comfortable. So, it was a successful transition. These were fantastic and saved me money. My eyes did continue to get worse, but I could take them to a local place and they would grind them to fit the new prescription in about 10 mins. Pretty cool. And when I got a piece of fuzz under my contact, I could actually flush it out… try doing THAT with a soft lens… it AIN’T gonna happen folks.

And, all good things must come to an end right? You guessed it, as my eyes got worse it became harder and harder to fit even the hard lenses. Going back to glasses was NOT an option. Mainly because I had grown accustomed to peripheral vision and when I would drop my glasses, I couldn’t see them to find them. My husband had to listen for things dropping and come aid me in finding them because he knew I could not see them. I can’t tell you how many times I dropped my contacts, especially with the soft lenses that were clear that he had to hunt for. I asked my eye doctor about lasik eye surgery. He thought I would be a candidate even though my vision thoroughly stunk. My vision was -12 diopters of near sightedness with an additional -5 diopters in astigmatism. So, the below examples are not nearly as bad as my eyes were and you have to mix them together to get the full effect of my vision.

I could be a candidate! Now, can I afford it? Insurance does not cover it. At this point, I was willing to go for it. I budgeted it in my flexible spending account after I confirmed that I was a candidate with the surgeon.

Now, my first visit with the eye surgeon was quite an ordeal. They dilated my eyes… no problem right? Well, except for it was a super duty dilation – it took 5 days for the dilation to be gone. I sat in the dark at work with my computer on low, low brightness. I was a better candidate for PRK as opposed to lasik with the Multiple Sclerosis and the Thygessens Keropathy I have. 98% of people with Thygessens completely remove the issue with PRK. PRK doesn’t put a flap on your cornea… it completely removes it, which means a longer recovery period.

Oh, and I had to stop wearing my contacts and start wearing my glasses. I had to get rid of the callus on my cornea as well as let my eyes return to their natural shape. The hard lenses actually change the shape of your eye to help your vision become better. This started on November 11… and continued and continued for what seemed like forever. I missed my peripheral vision, my sunglasses, the ability for my nose to sweat and not lose my glasses. But, beauty is pain, right? At that point, let me tell you, I just wanted to SEE comfortably. It was not a beauty issue for me. Finally after several trips for measurements of my eyes, it was GO time. FINALLY!! And then the forms… the SCARY liability forms. I was so overwhelmed that I started crying. I am not a crier. I was scared out of my wits! I had lost vision in one eye due to optic neuritis and it was awful, I did not want to end up that way permanently in one or both eyes. But, after I calmed down, I realized they HAVE to put this language in there for their liability in case something happens. I mean when I had my appendectomy, the possibility of death was brought up. I came out of that one okay, so move forward and schedule the date! March 26th, 2 weeks away. Yes, I had worn my glasses for over 4 months… it was pure torture. I so looked forward to being done with them.

Surgery day came and when I arrived at the office, they gave me a Valium and I had a seat. After a few minutes, they called my name, my husband led me back there. There… to the LASER. I was laid down on the table and the doctor came in. I started to ask him a question, really to chicken out, and before I could take in a breath, he had the spreader in my eye and placing the numbing drops. After about 3 seconds, he took this thing – (I couldn’t see it remember?) that my husband said looked like an electric toothbrush and used it to scrub the cornea off of my eye. Shortly thereafter, he told me to look straight ahead at the green light… which I could just barely see. Within a blink of an eye – lol, I couldn’t blink, my eye was held open! The laser was running and I was thoroughly concentrating on holding my eye still as still could be. And then onto the next eye, same thing. They put some more drops in my eyes and I got to take a breather. When I sat up, I could see the clock on the wall!! I couldn’t even tell there was a clock on the wall before the surgery! It was simply amazing, I couldn’t believe it. My vision was not perfect, but with PRK, it is not instantaneous since your cornea is missing… It is a healing period of at least 6 months. Even if I had to go back to corrective vision, my options were open, I could go back to soft contacts if I needed to.

So, it was time to go home. WOW the sun was SO bright!! I put on my bug eye goggles and laid back to rest. When I got home, I went directly to bed, with my goggles. These things were super sexy and if robbed in the middle of the night, the intruder would for sure think you were some super hero fly human and take off running. It was time for putting in drops… eye drops, my new BFF. I looked at the clock from the bed…across the room. I could see it!! Awesomeness. In fact, I dropped my eye drops that ere in a clear tube on the floor and before my husband could get it, I bent over and picked it up off the floor. He was shocked that happened. And now, if we were robbed in the middle of the night, I could see the person without slapping around above my head for my glasses.

This was not gum drops and rainbows quick recovery. It was a process. My eyes fluctuated, as is normal with PRK in general, not to mention my Thygessen’s. (Yes, remember that 98%? Ya, that is not me, I am the 2%. Why can’t I have that luck at good things that happen? lol). But I just used cheater glasses when needed. I had a +2 and a +1 on hand. Now, I can see 20/20 on a good day, 20/25 on a bad day (usually when I am tired). I have saved money on contacts and contact solutions, my cost of eye drops has reduced since after the surgery. I only occasionally use eye drops, less than when I wore contacts. Most importantly I save time getting ready for the day and for bed. No contacts to put in/take out. No eyelash getting in my contact to irritate my eye while I am driving on the interstate. My eyesight is not perfect all the time, but it is good – I can go without corrective eye wear while driving. This was definitely the best decision I have made to inflict pain on myself. I would do it again if I needed to. If you are contemplating Lasix or PRK, go see a surgeon to see if you are a candidate. Ask questions, lots of them. Get referrals on the surgeon. Find out if your insurance covers it. Then make an appointment – imagine – seeing in the middle of the night without glasses, seeing in the shower without having to put contacts in, it is unbelievably wonderful. It is freedom from glasses/contacts.

Real Life Twister – The Tornado

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Real Life Twister – The Tornado

It was a sunny and bright Sunday afternoon in early March, 2006. It wasn’t swimsuit weather, but it was outside weather and my husband took advantage of the day to replace a railing on our back deck. An absolutely gorgeous day for early March. Enjoying the day completely until I heard on the TV that the St. Louis area was getting hail the size of softballs along with isolated tornadoes (Why do they feel the need to say isolated? They don’t usually travel in packs?) Anyway, it was absolutely gorgeous at our house, but I know the directions that storms travel and we were next on the list. So I started preparing for a storm. I took the two outside dogs and unchained them from their trees and took (dragged) them into the garage along with our older dog, Simone. They really, really didn’t want to go in there. (We didn’t have Coco then). My husband was putting railing on our deck and told me that I was nuts, we weren’t going to get hit. I was always afraid of storms, hated them, didn’t want to be in a tornado, ever. WELL, the storm started at about 8:30 p.m. I had taken the kids downstairs at about 9:00 p.m. because something in my gut told me not to listen to my husband. We were watching the rotating circles on the TV news grow closer to our house.

My husband is fascinated by storms and likes to watch them. So he was on the deck watching the storm roll through, even though it was 9:30 p.m. and pitch dark. Well, he had noticed he didn’t see any head lights on the road a few miles away. Intrigued, he continued watching when a flash of lightening cracked the ground and he saw the blockage – a HUGE TORNADO on the ground. Then, he slammed the sliding door shut and I heard heavy, running footsteps. At this point, I directed the kids to the bathroom to take cover. I had pillows and thick blankets in there and we had the kids get into the tub and cover up, we also got under the blankets.

It was quite the experience, I will never forget it. We sat there and we heard the wind blowing, hail and then a large thud on the roof, followed by another thud. My daughter was also afraid of storms. In fact, when they were younger, she would yell, “I’m scared!!” when it would start storming, so when my son started to talk he would call the storm an “ascared” because that is what he heard her yell. When the winds started churning, it was loud. My daughter asked if that was thunder, I completely lied – and said, yes. I knew she would be really scared and feared she would completely freak out on us and I was already freaked enough and knew we would both be freaking if that happened. Acting strong and fearless is hard work, but a mom has to do what a mom has to do. I know it was really a short stent, but it seemed like forever. When it had been quiet for several minutes, we ventured out of the bathroom. The first thing was that we were thankful that we were all safe. I then noticed a trail of water running down the wall in the hallway out side of the bathroom. It appeared to be coming from upstairs. I did not feel that this was going to be good. I expected to see the sky through our newly made convertible house.

We took some deep cleansing breaths and ran upstairs to see what part of our house was still standing. First thing, we checked on the dogs in the garage. They were a little spooked to say the least, all curled up in a corner on bean bag chairs. Everything else we saw seemed OK, but we heard running water. Then we arrived at the master bedroom. Water was pouring from the ceiling fan, so much that it bent the blades and was falling right onto our bed. Our mattress was the most uncomfortable thing at less than 2 years old, but was a dud of a mattress, we hated it. So, I turned to my husband and I said, “Well, I know that this is really going to break your heart, but it looks like we will need to get a new mattress.” Actually, it was kind of a pretty fountain, if it was not in our bedroom. We went into the living room and called the insurance company to report the claim and then went outside. While we were waiting to finish the claim, we heard a crash and from the master bedroom a bunch of little yellow puff balls came rushing out. My daughter asked what that was and we went and looked, it was insulation. The saturated drywall had given out and crashed to the bed. This was soon followed by the rest of the ceiling. So, we then went to the garage, as that ceiling was wet as well. Just as my husband opened the door, he quickly had to close it. The mess only landed on my car, which was the opposite side of the garage that the dogs were hibernating in. (Luckily we were able to remove and there was no damage to the car, besides a few minor scrapes that buffed out.)

Now, to go outside – we had to get away from the sea of insulation. I immediately noticed that the dog houses were gone from Beau and Daisy’s circle. This would have been the first and second thud that we heard hit the roof. One dog house was relocated from the front yard to the back yard, stopped by a big pine tree. The other was no where to be found. At this point, I was glad for my defiance and not listening to my husband tell me I was over reacting. The yard was polka dotted with shingles from the roof, stuck in the ground like little tombstones and others leaving a trail out of the yard and into the field across the street. The trail of shingles went for a long ways in the field. And there were a few in the siding on the side of the house as well.

The roof, or lack there of, would have been the root cause of the water leakage. It was quite interesting that the two satellite dishes (a necessity when you live in the boon docks) were completely untouched, but the shingles and tar paper removed.

On the north side of the house our kids’ trampoline was placed in front of the pool. I found that the tornado had apparently slammed the trampoline into the front of the pool, flipping it upside down and landing in a tree. The insurance adjuster asked my husband, “Do you normally keep your trampoline in the tree, or was that a result of the storm?” My husband told him we found that it prevented injuries if the kids couldn’t jump on it. ha ha.

Trees were snapped off like twigs all around the yard.front of house after tornado

roof up close tornado damage

hay bale path tornado

tornado mess in yard

shingle path tornado damage

playset tornado damage

trees damage tornado

tornado damage above garage roof

tornado damage to tree

trampoline tornado damage

roof tornado damage

pool n trampoline tornado damage

tornado damage above honda

tornado damage honda

tornado damage m bdrm bed

tornado damage floor m bdrm

tornado damage M bdrm

000_0181 And of course, the dead trees were all still standing, it was the trees we liked that bit the dust… literally.

All in all, besides dealing with the insurance on replacement value, tarping the roof, then replacing the roof two weeks after the insurance adjuster finally came, having the drywall all replaced that put us in a hotel for 2 weeks… two long, long weeks. (Replaced were the: master bedroom, bedroom below the master in the basement, living room, dining, kitchen and garage ceilings) and the miscellanous other items that needed to be replaced – I think that we all came out of the situation as more cautious on tornadoes and not as afraid as we were. Still afraid, but not nearly as bad – we have lived through one. I hope we never have go through another. It took several years before the dogs recovered, for a while I thought I was going to have to take them to the doggie shrink for anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medication. I will say that from there on out, when I would come and get the dogs to bring them inside, the were very obedient in following along and not fighting. Our older dog, Simone, would hide under a Little Tykes work bench when it would storm – afraid she was going to have the drywall cave in on her again. I myself have learned to rely on the weather radar, storm spotters on the scanner, and my intuition on taking cover. My intuition served us well in that instance.

I felt blessed because I know we could have lost our entire house and contents, one of our dogs, or worse yet, one or more of us. It is times like that when you really realize what is important in life – the things you can not replace – like your family and your doggies. ♥

Bad times will happen in your life, they sometimes can not be avoided. (Even though the insurance sent a letter to ask my agent how to prevent a future claim like that one…. live in a camper and move away from the storm each time? Build a bubble around my house?) They are going to be a part of life, but you don’t have to make them your entire life. Learn from them and grow into a more diversified individual. Focusing on the negative or the “what could have been” doesn’t let you move forward. You have to deal with the problems, put them behind you, and move forward. A positive attitude/outlook is contagious, so is a negative one… Which one do you want to spread? I can guarantee that the more you spread a positive one, the better your life will become. Surround yourself with more positive people, see the good and embrace it.

There is no “ï” in “Team” But There Must be “Team” in Your Child’s IEP

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I will start with a *Disclaimer – I do not lump all people, all educators into this blog. It is not meant to insult educators. It is meant to highlight a parents perspective on the strides that educators will go to help children. In my experience some are below par and some are going above and beyond. The thoughts on how we are failing our teachers and our children are mine. That said, I think that when people dream about being a teacher, they think about how funny kids are, how eager they are to learn and summers off are a plus, but we all know that they don’t get into it for the high pay. Believe me, I do not feel that our tax dollars are well spent in this arena. I know I would not have the patience to deal with kids and feel that those that do, thus they should be paid a mint. And I think colleges that have education degree programs should prepare teachers for all students – high IQ, low IQ, special needs, accomodation and a class in the benefits of an IEP as well. I don’t think that they do that very well, if at all, which is a shame for both the teacher and student as both could be far less frustrated. That is a whole nother soap box and not the point of my blog today. And my other concern is the fact that people trained to recognize these issues are not allowed to tell parents due to the HIPPA act. This act is more of a pain than anything else, again, a whole nother soap box. Any how, they don’t understand up front that not all kids learn the same, not all kids learn easily, not all kids are “normal” (what ever that is). Some kids learn extremely fast and become bored with the material and some need introduced to the material in multiple learning formats (visual, audio, hands on, etc.). Some kids need structure, check lists, common processes to be successful. And some kids require a special level of learning styles that they normally wouldn’t implement. Teaching any grade level is not easy, it is sometimes very much a challenge and requires assisting those children sometimes more than others.

So, any how, to move to the real purpose of my blog is to share my frustrations as a parent that had a very intelligent child that needed the additional tools to succeed in getting good ‘grades’. So, this is my experience and may not mimic yours. When the time came for Pre-school screening, I was excited and sad at the same time – my youngest was growing up. Brian had been in day care and social settings, but didn’t really interact with the other children, he was very much self entertained. Which, by the way, is not necessarily a bad thing – I grew up as an only child, it was a necessity. However, when I had an opportunity to play with other children, I took it! He didn’t test well for pre-school. He very much had a fear and screamed when within a certain spatial circle to people he did not know. Even though I sat with him and held him, he didn’t know the proctor and screamed bloody murder throughout the entire event. I gave up, obviously pre school was not his calling. And amazingly enough, he learned some new skills and coping mechanisms besides screaming at strangers so that by the time he was set to start kindergarten, he was ready. Well, so we thought. Hand to eye coordination was difficult, so use of scissors was challenging for him. Another issue was that he didn’t favor one hand over the other, so he used them both, which caused him some confusion as his brain would switch over from giving instructions from one to the other. This we worked on. I didn’t force him to be right handed. He chose to write with his right and eat with his left. His kindergarten teacher was very frustrated because he struggled with the simple things – he didn’t understand lining up in a boy girl line to go to the bathroom. We told the teacher that we didn’t do that at home, so it is new for him. 🙂 But her main complaint was that he didn’t pay attention, he didn’t follow the conversation with eye contact, he didn’t pay attention. Since we didn’t notice him lacking in any of the lessons of the day, we told her to call him out on it when she noticed it. She did and to her surprise, Brian repeated, verbatim, the last 3 sentences she said. At this point, she changed her teaching strategy with him and the rest of the year was pleasant for us all.

Between Kindergarten and first grade, Brian read all summer. We were shocked when the first grade teachers (it was a co-taught class) said he couldn’t read. Well, we told them that he read all summer, but they said he couldn’t read when asked to in class. This little turkey had decided he didn’t want to be called on to read to the class, so he opted to pretend he couldn’t read. One day, they paired up for math story problems. There were several in the class that had problems reading. Brian was paired with another little boy to complete the problem. When they were done, each pair read the problem (if they could, otherwise, they shared how they interpreted it) and gave their answer. When it was Brian and his partner’s turn, Brian knew the other boy could not read, so he started reading the story problem and the teachers were elated. Brian had the eyes of a deer caught in headlights… the jig is up. They contacted us and said, “He can read!!” Of course we weren’t surprised at all, we knew he could. I for one found it very interesting and comical that he had pulled off his ‘inability to read’ that far into the year. A true indication that stubbornness truly does run in my family. 🙂 So, the cat was out of the bag, he can read. During his first grade year, we were offered speech services for Brian to help him as he had difficulties in spatial questions – Who, what, why, when, where and how. If you asked who, he would tell you when or where.

As we went from each grade to the next, I would meet with the teachers to discuss things that I notice in Brian’s learning in order to help them understand how they can help him. Through many, many parent/teacher conferences, we noticed trends that affected Brian the most. The WORST class room experiences were not in the lessons, it was in the structure of the class. The simple things – rules to follow, a schedule. The teachers who gave the expectation to turn in your work before you sat down, was good enough for him to note, and do every day. The teachers that varied between passing it up to the front, handing it in at the beginning, then at the end, and sometimes when they got their book out for the lesson. These were awful! He never turned in his homework. It was done, he was overstimulated by the surprise that he would forget where he placed it, etc.

Brian attended this school from Kindergarten to Fifth grade. We moved the summer between fifth and sixth grade as I had had far too many parent/teacher conferences that went absolutely no where. The IEP goals were created and ignored by the teachers. The IEP conferences were not attended by the speech therapist, the teacher, the principal, counselor, other services as it should be a collective environment to share in the child’s progress. We had one meeting with all, but for the most part, it was us and the speech therapist. For all those parent/teacher conferences, I could tell beyond a shadow of a doubt which teachers were caring and which ones found him to be a nuisance. First of all, they would contact me with a constructively detailed concern and looking to meet with me to resolve. They were looking for my help. Second, they would actually meet me before school started, I did not have to leave work to accommodate their “prep” period. And third, they would actually take to heart what I told them and involve me in helping him be successful. This school never once offered up resolutions that included them tutoring on a one on one basis, they just wanted to claim ADHD. Poo on ADHD, it is not the answer to everything.

His fourth grade year, we had been contacted on a daily basis in some form or another with a list of grypes from the teacher. One or two of the teachers mentioned learning disability testing several times, but my husband was against the testing for learning disabilities, he didn’t want to put Brian through that. But we talked about it and I told him, we have to be able to help him. I need a good resolution, instead of stumbling through every year. I knew that there had to be something that I could do to help him. I scoured learning disabilities on the internet, I finally came across something called Asperger’s – high functioning autism and it described him to a “T”. So, during fourth grade, I requested the learning disability testing and was told to go through my pediatrician. So, I did. As I discussed the issues, (and this is why I love this doctor) he got really upset with the ADHD reliance. The entire time we were talking Brian was sitting quietly, being good. He had this pediatrican from the minute he was born. The pediatrican then gave me the rights as a parent – if the school district is requesting it, they need to perform and pay the costs of same. Further, the Dr. said, “he does NOT have ADHD or ADD” and noted that in his file. I then shared Asperger’s Syndrome and he asked a series of questions and agreed it was a possibility. He gave us a referral to a psychologist. This took some time, as all of the school records and medical records were sent to the psychologist for review. This was referred in the spring of his fourth grade year and our appointment was the following fall. From there, we requested him to go through the testing for disabilities. Much to my surprise, we were denied the testing because he was “an average student” per said fourth grade teacher that contacted us daily. And she shared that we were taking him to a psychologist for Asperger’s determination. Of course the board said no, they didn’t want to pay for testing and it was their way out. Really? I was enraged!! Apparently “Average” is D’s and F’s and a C or B thrown in? It became painfully obvious to me that this district that I graduated from had lost sight of what was important – educating children. It is just sad first of all, to be competitive in the job market, the economy, we HAVE to start putting the expectations in education of our children. I believe that I told her and the principal face to face that if that was this school’s expectations from its students that instead of diplomas at high school graduation, they may as well hand each one a McDonald’s cashier application, as they would be lucky to get that with the poor education they were given. Because who will be running this country when we are in nursing homes?? They will! So give them an excellent education. This was a very emotionally enraging time for me as a parent, as a graduate of the school district, as an American, and as a human being. Second, if he is average, why were they calling, emailing and scheduling conferences to grype about how they can’t figure out how to teach him. I asked her straight up, “Do you do this type of correspondence with all of your other ‘average’ student’s parents?” To which, in true politician style, she back pedaled. OF course all this would be done during the school day, because 1 minute after the buses departed, they were outta there, the school was locked down. Very convenient for people who work a town away to leave mid day. Especially those that work in a cruddy office environment that expected you to make up every single second or take vacation time to do so – again, whole nother soap box. I appealed to the superintendent many times who refused to do anything because it was a “building specific” problem. Gosh, I thought he was the boss over all the schools?? I don’t think he had a clear understanding of his position, with the exception of when pay days were. (I still haven’t figured out what his job was and quit trying since we have moved.) We had it, the teachers were not helpful, the kids were unaccepting (he had one friend and many, many bullies, because the school tolerated it) so we made plans to move to another school district. A plan that took a whole year to implement, but well worth it.

At the IEP for the beginning of fifth grade year (where only the teacher and speech/social work teacher showed, I told them that he had been dx with Aspergers and poo, double poo on HIPPA because the speech teacher (God bless her, she made the most improvement on him over all) said, “I have suspected that from the first time we met.” Really? Because of HIPPA, she couldn’t tell me – if she could have referred me to a specialist it would have saved us so much heartache and really helped us to guide him better. She was truly the only thing I missed about that school district. Their culture was poor, there was no accountability, and all the people that I had been able to rely on assistance had retired 3 years prior. The WORST three years ever, by the way, as far as our children’s education goes – even my daughter was having ridiculous issues.

So, at the new school, we visited prior to the school year started. We were cordially greeted by the custodian who showed us to Brian’s new classroom. Along the way, she took great pride in her work, detailing how it was a mess right now, as every year she removes all the furniture from the class rooms and cleans ceiling to floor, including the walls, shampooing the carpets, etc. This to me was a sign of great things to come, as at the old school, the custodians would rarely ever look at you, let alone greet you. We met with the principal, who had reviewed Brian’s file already and had positive suggestions and ideas. We met with his 6th grade teacher before the first day, she was new too. She was excited and bonded with Brian very quickly. This was a very comforting feeling because I knew with Asperger’s the power of change was very unwelcome to Brian. He never liked the new school year. However, she was very empathetic and willing to go the extra mile to determine what really helped him. He never had an issue with changing schools, moving, which was a great relief. She highlighted his strengths to the other students and made him feel successful, she investigated papers that had missed 90% of the questions. She found that he was taking the directions too literally and when she applied his outlook, the answers would have been correct. So she took the extra effort to help him see what the instructions were really looking for. She contacted me a few weeks into the school year, not to gripe, but to express her concern over Brian’s troubles in math. She asked if we minded if she tutored him after school two days a week with a few other children. What a blessed day!! It was then that we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that moving was the absolute best decision we could have made. Brian felt like a champion, he made friends and the overall culture of the school was different. When we went to the first junior high open house, Brian had so many of his classmates saying hi to him and they had even nicknamed him, “Briguy”. So heart warming for us as parents to know that they made him feel like he belonged.

During 6th grade, the social work/speech therapist and I met to discuss Brian. When we discussed certain services for the autism spectrum disorder, she said that he was not eligible for them because the prior school district never gave him that label that would entitle him to them. I was enraged. So, in 6th grade, we completed the autism spectrum tests and paperwork to correct this issue. If you have ever taken these tests, they are full of questions like, “When child was 18 months old” “When child was 2 years old” “When child was 4 years old”. As so much time had passed by, many of the questions referenced things that aren’t in the baby book, activities, preferences, but my husband, daughter and I completed the best that we could. In fact, my daugther and I answered the question, “Does the child rock back and forth” with a no. I got up to put clothes in the dryer and out of the corner of my eye, Brian was working on the laptop, hands folded between his knees and rocking back and forth. So many of these actions had become a ‘norm’ for us that we just didn’t see them any more. I shared this experience with my daughter and we just kind of laughed at how we overlooked it. It is amazing the things you notice when you are asked if they happen. Since there were a couple of Asperger’s children, and the speech and social therapists were not too familiar, the school district sent them to a conference on autism and Asperger’s syndrome and they came back with all new ideas and strategies. It was a very ecstatic moment for us as parents to see the lengths that this school district would go to help its students achieve.

My wish is that all schools would go to this length. As teachers, educators, principals, etc., please remember that it is not always the algebraic equations that affect a child’s learning, sometimes it is just the culture and schedule of the class room. Being consistent may help improve some of the students that seem to be “unteachable”. Don’t write them off, spend a few minutes with them and get to know what makes them tick. They have so many strengths that other kids can really admire if you highlight them. Brian wasn’t picked to be in groups at first but once the teacher highlighted his intelligence and superb memory for facts and data, he was one of the first few chosen after that.

Don’t pass them to move them on to someone else, don’t fail them because they don’t understand the questions. Mainly because there may not be a someone else that will take on the challenge. They may all take the same road too and that fails these kids. These kids can all be successful in life, they just need someone to take a moment to believe in them, show them what they are good at and how to overcome their weaknesses. And if you are a parent in a similar situation – this is what I have learned. I should not have stopped at the superintendent, I should have attended every school board meeting and voiced my concerns as a parent. Talk to other parents, do they have the same issues? Get them on your cause, often parents don’t want to raise an issue because they feel that they are the only ones. And if that doesn’t work, I am just going to say that we lost money (thousands) on the sale of our house, but it was worth every dollar. In our new district, we gained time. Time not corresponding with teachers daily, not visiting the school to straighten things out, less time being angry and upset, less bullying (it is not tolerated there) and more importantly, I was relieved and delighted to know that my kids were cared for as people. When they were hurt, when they were doing good, when they were doing poorly, in all aspects, this school was in it for the education of the kids and that my friends is truly priceless.

My Tips to Getting a Great Car Deal!

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My Tips to Getting a Great Car Deal!

So, you are in the market for a new car. It is very, very important that you are very careful. We must be prepared with knowledge when car shopping so that you are just as HAPPY with your purchase after the dealer as you are when you are test driving. These tips are from my own experience in wheeling and dealing. We have had multiple experiences in our life, 25 vehicles that I can think of, and I may be forgetting a few. It’s sad, I know, but I am sharing what we have learned to hopefully help some people not make the mistakes that we have made. So, here are some key points that we now follow to a tee.

(1) What kind of car do you want to purchase?

In our experience, if you don’t have some kind of idea what automobile you want, you can be swayed into anything, and anything may not be the car/truck that makes you happy after you drive off of the lot.

We generally have a pretty good idea what we want. Sometimes we can be hasty, as we did in the most recent purchase, luckily we were not too hasty. My husband owned a Mazda 3 and we recieved a call from the dealer that we could easily trade up to a newer model of a Mazda 3 with a better interest rate and a lower payment without extending the terms. THIS intrigued us. SO, we loaded up the car and headed for Beverly… well, the car dealer that is. 🙂 On the one hour drive there, we talked about the Mazda 3. The one thing that intrigued us about trading was the pure fact that the Mazda we had needed tires again and it only had 40,000 miles. Now, this is normally not an uncommon event, however, we had already replaced the tires at 18,000 miles. Due to a design flaw, the tires on the Mazda 3 wear funny and need replaced frequently, unless of course, you can withstand abnormally loud road noise. We can not. So, given this fact, we decided to look at a Mazda 6 IF they did not have the same issue.

(2) Be able to stand your ground for what YOU want.

This is SO important! If you can not come to terms on the features on the car, the price of the car, the price of your trade in, stand your ground until you find a car that you LOVE everything about it.

Same car, continuation of the story above. We arrive, the salesman greets us and sits us down to discuss what we are looking for. So, we say, “Well, we like the Mazda we have, it is fully loaded, but if we can unload it for a good deal on a like car that doesn’t need tires every 15,000 miles, we would trade.” The salesman says that he has not heard that complaint at all on the Mazda 3. WHICH I really BIT my tongue, because he sold us this car and he was most certainly the person that assisted us in getting dealer cost on the early replacement of our tires. So, he had heard of one complaint before, OURS! He continued on defending the Mazda 3. I have been to enough dealerships and given the run around, spending HOURS in their showroom, that I don’t want to waste any more of my life at a dealer. SO, at this point, I sternly interrupted him and said, “It doesn’t matter what the truth is about the Mazda 3 and tires. If we can’t make a deal, we will continue driving this car. We are not interested in a Mazda 3 because we have been advised by YOUR mechanic that there is a design flaw on the 3 that causes early deterioration of the tires. That is really the end of the Mazda 3 conversation. If you would like to continue this conversation, let’s move on to a different car. We would like to look at the Mazda 6, considering it does not have the same tire problem.” When you remember that these guys generally work off of commissions, being stern let’s them know, you are 2 steps from walking away. He quickly changed gears and we test drove a Mazda 6. Nice car, lots of additional options, but the seats were far from comfortable. And I don’t know about you, but I sit in my seats a lot when I drive/ride in my car, so this was an important feature to us. We return from the drive, the salesman asks, “What did you think?” And, remember, I’m not interested in beating around the bush, so honestly, “The car was nice, but the seats were way too uncomfortable.” And he asked, “Do you want to go sit in it again?” My thought at this point was WHAT? I asked him, “Why, did you change out the seats in the last five minutes with more comfortable ones? Because we thought those were awful.” Again, defensive salesman appears, “Let’s go sit in it again and maybe you will think differently.” Really? Wow, that is insane. So I replied, “I’m pretty sure my butt doesn’t need a second opinion, they sucked.” I personally thought this was quite to the point and the salesman should move on. Apparently I was wrong as the salesman again asked if we wanted to go sit in the car again and “What monthly payment would put us in the 6.” Ok, time for the smack down, “Ok, I am just going to lay it on the line. If the Mazda 6 payment on the 6 was free, I am still going to grype every single time I get into the car about how I hate the seats and how they make my butt hurt. Simply, I am not interested in the 6.” Yea, so maybe I didn’t use the word “grype” or “butt” in this comment, but you get the picture and finally the salesman did too, he started looking at other cars.

(3) What the market price is for the car you are looking at. And if you have a trade in, what your payoff amount is and what your trade in should be around.

If you simply go into the dealership and tell them your monthly payment amount needs, they will give you an offer with a monthly payment amount that is anywhere from $50-100 over what you indicate, with $5,000.00 down and at any terms that they can get to achieve that payment amount. They are out for commission, their concern is simply not with your financial situation. That is up to you friend, so know it.

We look at Kelly Blue Book for retail of the car we want and note that for the next step. We then look up the wholesale, retail and trade in of our car we are looking to trade. You have to know the range of these numbers because the dealer is not going to finalize a deal that loses them money. If you owe $10,000.00 on your car and retail is $5,000.00, wholesale (what the dealer would pay cash for a car at auction) is $3,000.00 and trade in is $4,000.00, you need to be in ready for the conversation about how “upside down” you are in your car. Meaning that you owe way more than what it is worth. Not uncommon, as soon as you drive off of the lot, your car you just paid $10,000.00 for will automatically reduce down to trade in amounts for worth. We generally cut them off at the pass and say, “Yes, we trade often, we owe way more than it is worth, save the lecture, just tell us your offer.” You must know the range of your car – in the above, if they offer you $1,000.00 for trade in, you know you have some negotiating power. If they offer you $4,500.00 for trade, you know you are getting a good trade. Knowledge is power my friends.

(4) What kind of loan rates your preferred bank or credit union can provide.

Most banks and credit unions have loan calculators, if not, Google loan calculators or download one for your iPhone or Droid, there are tons of apps out there. Run the scenarios, example:

Payoff on the car you will trade: $10,000.00
Car you own’s trade in value: $8,000.00
Negative equity: $2,000.00.
Purchase price of the car you want to buy: $20,000.00
Purchase price of the car PLUS the negative equity: $22,000.00
If you know the tax rate, that is great, we generally figure 9% tax. You only pay tax, in Illinois that is, for the difference between retail of the new car and value of the trade in. In this instance, 9% tax on $12,000.00
Purchase price of the car you want to buy: $20,000.00
MINUS
Car you own’s trade in value: $8,000.00
= $12,000.00
$12,000.00 MULTIPLY 9% = $1,080.00
And add in about a $1,000.00 for title, license, and doc fee.
So, you need to figure your loan amount to be:
Purchase price of the car you want to buy: $20,000.00
+ Negative equity: $2,000.00
+ Estimated Taxes: $1,080.00
+ Estimated Title, License, Doc fee: $1,000.00
Loan Amount with no down payment: $24,080.00

Now run the scenario against what your bank terms will be.

You should also look at the financing offers offered by the manufacturer if you are planning on purchasing a brand new car. Run their terms in the calculator and see if it is better than your financial institution. Then, it is a must that you go and confirm with your institution that if you are successful of getting a deal that matches these figures that you will be able to secure the funding from them. 🙂 Pre-approval helps to keep you from falling in love with your dream car, only to find out that you can not obtain the financing. 😦

(5) What your budget is, what payment you can afford AND what kind of down payment you can afford – if you want to put one down. This goes hand in with the step above. Is this a payment you can afford? Are you comfortable with the payment? If not, look at why you want to trade- if there are problems with it, like a transmission issue, what is the total cost to bring it to the level you would be happy to keep it. Weigh those two together and determine what the best decision is for you.

One thing that we have not added into the equation is a down payment. Typically we do not put money down on a car. Cars do not hold their value plain and simple. We would rather put that money towards real estate and make improvements in our home that would increase it’s value instead. Dealerships want you to put money down to help get you better financing, thereby increasing the chances that you will take the deal. BUT the question is, is it the right thing for you to do? If not, stand firm and tell them “No money down”.

(6) Document….

Keep track of all the scenarios from above. Know your information, keep it handy to reference when they bring the offer to you. Don’t get blinded by the shiny brilliance of your proposed new car that you find yourself blinded by debt later.

(7) Ask questions and take time to think about it!

Many dealerships will offer maintenance deals. Whether it is free oil changes, reduced prices on services, etc. Get this information and compare it to what you are currently paying. My husband will make a complete spreadsheet. When the gas prices started to sky rocket oh so many years ago, we had a Dodge Ram and a Dodge Durango, both out of warranty. Not really the picture of excellent gas mileage at 11 mpg and 17 mpg respectively, increasing out gas budget to an unacceptable amount. I had driven the Honda Accord of one of my co-workers on many occasions and it always drove as if it were a brand new car – smooth and quiet. And they got excellent gas mileage. We wanted to look at something all wheel drive or 4 wheel drive to replace one of the vehicles because we lived in the middle of the country, so that was very important during Central Illinois winters.

We went out one Saturday morning set to trade both vehicles to more economical replacements. We got our two top picks, from two different dealerships and went to lunch at a local Dairy Queen with free internet/computer access and re ran our numbers looking at the Jeep Liberty trade in, etc. We knew we wanted the Honda, but weren’t sure about the trade for the Ram. The numbers were supported utilizing financing from the dealerships, they beat our financial institutions.

Dodge Ram traded for a gently used Jeep Liberty – 11 mpg vs 17 mpg, 4 wheel drive, gap insurance, extended warranty, family friendly, ability to pull a trailer. Payment? Reduced $20 per month, gas savings, note worthy.

Dodge Durango traded for a new Honda Accord – 16 mpg vs 33 mpg, comfortable ride, fully loaded, free oil changes for the first 36,000 miles, increased payment of only $25.00 a month utilizing Honda finance terms, adding gap insurance and extended warranty. Gas savings? PHENOMENAL! It was a learning curve parking such a small car from the big Durango. 🙂

We were far better off than we were that morning. We had reduced maintenance prices, warranty, reduced monthly car payments. The pre-work paid off.

I hope you have the best dealership experience from here on out! 🙂 Did I forget something? Have you learned a trick or two? Leave it in the comments so that others can be in the know! I am always looking for tips on this subject! 🙂

I am a Community College Dropout!

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I am a Community College Dropout!

Can’t you hear the song from Grease as Pinky contemplates quitting beauty school? Well, I have been a community college drop out, not once, but twice. Sure we can blame it on getting pregnant, played around too much, didn’t focus on school or “taking time for myself”, but really, I think it was just another reason for people to validate why I dropped out. Those excuses really are not the root cause. If you are a teacher or a parent, maybe even a high school student I hope that this helps you. I know I use(d) these as a guide for helping my kids. Let me just start by saying that I do hold both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Management and Organizational Leadership from Millikin University and Benedictine University, respectively. So, it turned out okay, it was just far more of a struggle than I think really had to be. In high school I was, what I call an average student – A’s and B’s. I hold education important, so I don’t feel that C’s are ‘average’. To stay competitive, we really need to up our game in the educational system. So, back to the story. I started college with a summer course immediately after I graduated. Pshychology 101, at 8:00 a.m. three days a week. Hind sight is always 20/20, I am not a morning person by any means now, and as a teenager, sleeping until noon during the summer was a necessity. Why I chose that time, I will never know. But, I did great at it and got an A – woo hoo starting out college with a 4.0! Then the fall semester came and I was signed up for a full course load for the nursing program. I was kind of lost, as all my friends were drifting away. We went to the same school, but their class schedules were different than mine and I don’t think I was sure of what I should do. That is really weird of me to see that as I have always been an independent person. Growing up as an only child, you kind of have to be, but in high school my friends and I hung out between classes, hung out at lunch, after school, etc. It is something you wait for your whole child hood, but when graduation happens, you really aren’t sure what to do, who you are, where you are going. It can get lonely. I was struggling with my course load, keeping up with the assignments, my heart just wasn’t in it, so, I dropped all my classes. Not really a stellar time in my life, it didn’t really make my parents happy. Neither one of them had a college education, so it was important to them that I attend. They of course, were in the working world and saw the importance that college educations had. Me? Well, I was a teenager, and what do all teenagers think their parents know? Squat. Yup, like I said, hindsight is always 20/20. But, we have to learn those lessons on our own. Best lessons are the hard lessons you learn by making mistakes. The love of my life (well, at least the last year at this time) was in his second year of dorm life at a four year college an hour away on a full grant studying engineering. He struggled with some of the roommates he had, calculus classes, and I think that same feeling I had… Where are all the people that I know? Who are all these weird people? 🙂 When he lost his grant, during the summer semester, he obtained loans, but those were weighing on his stress level. Ultimately it was all too much and he decided to return home to attend community college, the same one I dropped out of. I was thoroughly enthused as I missed him VERY much! Well, I bet you can tell exactly where this is headed… we were in love, I was almost 18, he didn’t want to move in with his parents, I was ready to get out of small town living so we got an apartment together. Really intelligent, since I worked at K-mart part-time and he worked for his dad’s machine shop that had just opened a year before, part time. I wish that I had that same belief that everythign would be great and just jump into decisions like that…. We were invicible! 🙂 Christmas came and I learned that a few months prior, he purchased an engagement ring which he gave to me Christmas day. On December 27th, reluctantly I took a pregnancy test that turned out positive. Well, that kind of put a little bit of a damper on our cloak of invincibility, but everything happens for a reason. Sure the first thing our friends asked was, “What are you going to do? Keep it? Abortion? Adoption?” Dumb question in our minds, as abortion was not an option (I will have to blog another time on the story behind my being an only child.) No way were we going to give a product of our love for each other away to someone who may not raise them with any morals or worse…. We did it, we were already planning to be together, this just sealed the deal. We planned a wedding and were married about 6 weeks later on February 20th. I can publish this as I have never hidden the fact from my kids that I was pregnant before we were married. Remember I hold education very important, I wanted them to learn math and the gestation period for a human being. 🙂 Obviously the story doesn’t end there, I said in the beginning that I had a bachelor’s and master’s degree. And it doesn’t. Basically through living life without a college education, I learned that I was the one who didn’t know jack squat. Frankly, I didn’t know jack or squat. What my parents saw was what I learned. If you want to be successful in your climb on the career ladder you need a college degree. My husband learned first. He worked for his dad for my pregnancy and he had a dream to work for Wagner Castings as a CMM programmer, which came to fruition when Alyssa was just a month old. A full time gig with benefits, but on third shift. Almost a year later, he obtained a position at a Fortune 50 company as a machinist when Alyssa was about to turn 1 year old. This gave us far superior benefits as well as an 80% raise. He worked a lot of overtime in this job, many 12 hour days, many weekends. Started out on 2nd shift, then moved to third shift. It was rough on a family. I had worked odd jobs as needed to get a little extra cash and obtained a full time job at a local credit union. After a few months there, Alyssa’s respiratory infections got progressively worse until they just didn’t go away. Poor thing at 18 months old we thought she would cough up her toe nails. Many missed days of work for me as I couldn’t take her to the sitter when she was sick. This continued for several months. Meanwhile, we were planning on expanding our family and after trying for a year, when Alyssa was just about 27 months, I found out I was pregnant. I stopped working full time and focused on family. We found out when we switched pediatricians that she had Asthma. With that diagnosis and breathing treatments, life was hunky dory again. Well, remember my husband had two dreams, well, his third was to become a processor at the Fortune 50 company. However, when he talked to the supervisor about moving, he was told that he would need an Associate’s degree. He was really reluctant to get it, but I nudged him to go for his dream. He graduated from the community college and guess what? He did not immediately move up. Very aggitated, he kept applying with no success. He went back to talk to the supervisor again and this time was told that now it required a bachelor’s degree. He was throroghly aggrivated and refused to do so. After several times of being told the lack of a bachelor’s degree was what was holding him back, I finally nudged him to follow through. He graduated after countless hours of studying and weekend classes. After six months of passing around his resume, he finally got that dream to become a processor. Even better benefits, day shift job and the sense of achievement. And no loans, his schooling was paid in full by the company. So, throughout all of this, I worked several more odd jobs here and there to supplement the income since he was not working as much overtime. I worked full time at a criminal defense law firm, which was somewhere I never imagined in a million years that I would work at, much less enjoy. I took a correspondence course and became a paralegal and moved to a bigger, civil law firm. Another job that I really enjoyed the work. I enjoyed my co-workers. My boss? Depends on the day. This law firms method of employee retention was to pay far over what other firms pay so that the employees do not feel that they can take a pay cut. Well, several things changed during the time that I worked there. Push was on velocity and quality. Well, we all know what happens when you rush through things – you make more mistakes. These mistakes were simple errors in transferring of information, but in the legal realm of representing banks in foreclosures, it can mean thousands of dollars in fees and lost time fighting to correct the error. Each of these errors was never forgiven as if they were etched into the drywall. When you work in conditions like this and they continue to push for perfection at a higher velocity, the only thing that happens is the pressure causes more mistakes. My boss was your best friend one minute, but the second that you crossed her (in her eyes) you were the spawn of satan. In my four years working there, I called in ‘sick’ the day of work only when it was a true emergency – people, I came to work with strep throat eating ice cream all day if I could. I came to work with a respiratory infection that I took the cough syrup with codeine as directed when I got to work and ended up passing out in the break room. I had a spinal tap done that ended in a spinal headache, but I attempted to come to work. My boss saw the pain on my face and increasingly getting worse and told me to go home and get well. This day she was caring. when that headache lasted a week, I had become the devil. This was when the light switch flipped on. not only did her ridiculous reactions annoy me, but the spinal tap confirmed a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. This diagnosis meant that I can’t plan for the future as if I am invincible any longer. I had to start thinking about how my life could change in the next minute and not be able to walk or something as equally as strange. I needed to work full time to get my kids ready for college and if I was going to want to retire someday, I had to do something different. So, my husband knew how frustrated and upset I was getting with my Jeckel and Hyde boss and told me to do the same thing he had – go back to school. As I look back some things that I think would have helped me would have been: – Having a specific career goal by the time I was a sophomore in high school to work towards. I just took whatever was on the schedule, if I had a choice, I generally chose a study hall, which didn’t build any skills for me at all. Sure, it was a good time with the other students and the teacher if you chose the right study hall, but nonetheless, not very academically challenging. – Career Cruising Assessment available to determine my strengths and weaknesses (or really anything of that type). If you don’t know what Career Cruising is, please check out their website. This is a skills, needs and preference assessment to help you determine what careers you would be good in/happy in. If you want to learn more about it, you click on the career and it gives you a host of information – the job title, description, average earnings and the education needed to go into the field. The down fall is that your school has to participate in it and actively push it to the students. And, I feel incredibly old saying this, but alas, when I was in high school, we were just getting computers…. the internet was years away. But something of the same nature would have been a great tool. – Once completed, some type of mentorship program or job shadowing opportunity with someone in that field. – (Neither of my parents went to college, so they couldn’t guide me. Students with parents that have not been in school need the extra coaching and guidance. Or workshops for the parents, support groups.) – RCC programs – have classes in blocks that compliment each other. Instead of fitting the classes into your program when able to, a nice schedule to follow. – RCC Counselors to schedule classes to fit the schedule of the student. No 2-4 hour breaks between classes. Maximize their time, they get bored between – it is not high school anymore not everyone is free at that same time. It gives you time to realize you are alone…. When I returned to RCC, I talked to a counselor and they had me going every which direction. I took the course book home and courses required by the program and I did the schedule myself. Took out an unnecessary class and as a working mom, utilized the evening classes to maximize the time I was at school so I could maximize the time I had with my kids at home. – Positive support of teachers and counselors throughout school, starting in Kindergarten. Help support their excitement, show them how to get there. One of the times that I will neverforget, when I realized that the radiology program was not going to be an option, I sought out my Bio 202 teacher, Mrs. Godin to pick her brain on her thoughts. She told me, “You are smart, you can do Anything you want. Can you be a Physician’s assistant? No doubt in my mind. No doubt in my mind that you could be a physician. You are very intelligent and I know you would succeed at any of those.” That one moment in time, changed my life. I no longer did status quo. I went for the gold! Excellence in everything I did. – Job shadow opportunities in careers the student feels that they would like to be involved in. At my son’s IEP last year, he had mentioned Auto Tech and they were going to put him into vocational. I asked that they not, I know Brian and he would not like it. Later that week, my husband said that he needed to take his car to the dealer for an oil change. My son said, “Why don’t you do it at home?” My husband asked if he wanted to help? Brian said, “Ok, as long as I don’t get squirted with oil, I don’t want to be dirty.” If we had put him in vocational, he would have failed. With his Asperger’s he never would have come to us and said, “I don’t like that”. He would have just been non-compliant. For me, in school, if I had been given a job shadow opportunity, I might have fell in love, it would have been visual what I wanted to do, I would have developed the dream/goal. – I went thorough several degree options. Rad Tech, nursing, biology, legal. The biology is an interesting one. I tested in math placement at RCC and I needed FIVE classes to qualify me for the program, so I gave up and went to work full time thinking that I would never finish – That is two and a half years added onto my school time. When I started Millikin’s PACE program, I didn’t place any higher but I only needed two 10 week courses to fulfill the void. More expensive, but well worth it. RCC and Millikin should partner up and leverage the accelerated classes to help people get up to speed, get their degree and get done. The longer you drag it out, the more likely they are to get discouraged and drop. (I was discouraged twice and MAD when I found out that I could have taken 2 classes at MU.) Put the options in front of them instead of them having to figure out how to make their plan work. To me, the counselor was more focused on RCC profit instead of my school ‘career’. Anyway, not that any one of these things was the driving force, ultimately it was my decision to drop out. And it was my decision to return to finish my bachelors and masters degrees. Unfortunately not every one of the drop outs will return.