Friday, August 19, 2016

Thoughts From the Back Porch: My Visit with Small Talk, SLP

I know how busy people are these days and catching up on the blogs can be a task. This post will likely be lengthy, however to truly do it justice, it has to be told in full. This is a story of friendship, so I'll spare no words. 

It all started several years ago, when my soul sister and I started sharing photos and quips on social media. We had been liking and commenting on each other's SLP-based photos back and forth for a while, when one day I posted an activity using some winter themed stampers. My social media and SLP compatriot "hearted" the photo and expressed how she liked the stamps. I had ordered them from Oriental Trading and received triple of each stamp, I think, so, I asked her if she wanted a set. She was thrilled and I was happy to send them across the country to brighten her day. The rest, as they say, is history. A cross-country friendship between Small Talk, SLP and Doyle Speech Works was born, moreover the relationship between Pam and Annie has flourished ever since. 

I remember the first time we chatted in real time via instant messenger. I was cooking dinner and we started getting to know each other outside of the public eye. The times we chatted became more and more frequent and open, sharing bits of our lives, our joys, and our frustrations. Now barely a day goes by where we don't touch base, even if it's brief. After a particularly grueling day for one of us, we wished we were sitting on the sofa together with a glass of wine. I remarked that one day that dream would become a reality. Time passed, as it does, and Pam sent me a message asking if I really meant it, would I really come to Oregon and visit? I did get a little nervous, not about the visit (well maybe a little), but about time and money, kids and work. I thought April 2016 would work, alas, no such luck. June arrived and I thought it was high time for an adventure! Now I was waiting on my husband, could he get the time off after recently starting a new job? No he couldn't, but I could! The time was right and on June 30, 2016, I found myself on a plane Oregon bound! YEEHAW!!! When I arrived in Portland I headed to retrieve my baggage and I heard, "Annie?" I turned and saw Pam! We embraced and held each other and were both filled with such emotion! I cannot even describe it adequately. We hopped in her car, started talking and never once did we run out of things to talk about. There was never an uncomfortable moment. Why would there be, we had already bared our souls for years. Now our families? Our families trust our judgment, yet there were a few comments from both sides (What if she's nuts? You're going to let her stay here?). We already knew, though. We were connected.

Our adventures began with what all SLPs do when they visit each other from across the country, a children's book and toy store!! Yes, we both walked out with items for therapy. 

We proceeded to Industry Restaurant for happy hour, a well earned margarita, salsa and guacamole! Simply ambrosia after a day of travel from the east coast to the west. Pam's husband met us there and I loved him the moment we met! We returned to their lovely home and shared our love of fine food by cooking dinner together. It was early to bed for me still not having adjusted to the time differential. I slept comfortably and happily, blissfully exhausted.

The next day began with a lovely 2 mile walk and face to face conversation! Pam invited me to observe her therapy session (with parental permission of course) which was a real treat. What a wonderful experience seeing an incredibly gifted SLP at work. I loved it and wish we had more opportunity to observe each other and collaborate not just with materials and ideas, but practice. Following therapy we headed to Portland for some sightseeing. Portland is bustling and everyone appeared so healthy and active. I love a city. There is just so much to do. We began at the International Rose Test Garden and then headed into the city proper for a visit to Powell's Books, the Food trucks (we went to the grilled cheese truck. Oh My!), and a walk across Tillikum Crossing for a view of Oregon's Bridge City. Naturally, no trip to Oregon is complete without a stop at a brew pub. I can't remember the name of the one we visited in Portland, but while I was there I didn't meet a brew I didn't like. Yummy!!
International Rose Test Garden
Bridge City, Portland, Oregon
Powell's Books: So many books, miles of books, so little time!
Saturday was reserved for hiking. I love to hike and so do Pam and her husband. In fact, we talked frequently about hiking together (I wish Jim had been able to join me). We live in NH, and the hiking is wonderful, but nothing had prepared me for the Pacific Northwest. It was like hiking in Middle Earth, lush and green and majestic. It is beyond compare and beyond words. The day was absolutely perfect and the hiking sometimes steep, yet manageable. I did almost fall backwards down a mountain, when I looked up at a view and stepped back! Gave us all a scare and Pam was grateful she didn't have to call my husband to tell him she lost me down a cliff! We had worked up quite an appetite (and thirst) after hiking, so we went to McMenamin's in Edgefield for a burger and, you guessed it, a cold brew! The focal point of McMenamin's, aside from the spectacular gardens, artisans, and outbuildings, is a hotel that is a restored county poor house built in 1911. The history, architecture, and artwork is remarkable.
Hiking the splendor that is the Pacific Northwest
Sunday morning brought church. To share this moment with my friend and her husband after all we had shared over the years is beyond description. Suffice it to say, I was overwhelmed. Following church was another delicious brewery and restaurant, Ancestry. The gustatory memory of my chicken sandwich and brew is still vivid. I am going to try and replicate that sandwich at home.  My amazing hosts then shepherded me off to the Anne Amie Vineyard in the Willamette Valley. Wine, oh sweet, wine, and vistas like no other. I left with a bottle of Prismé we still haven't opened. I'm waiting for just the right moment. 

Monday was July 4th and Pam and Dan were prepping a barbecue for their children. It was another picture perfect Oregon day, with wonderful weather and even better company. I went to bed fairly early knowing my adventure was coming to a close. I had to leave at 3:30 in the morning to get to the airport and Pam was gracious enough to drive me. 
Red, white, and blue!
Frequently, social media is viewed as a black mark, and it can be, but it's a tool. If it's used in the way it was intended it affords us the opportunity to find information and establish meaningful relationships. I think of my experiences as the modern day version of writing pen pal letters. Many a relationship was forged via pen and paper and the relationships I have made are truly no different. Perhaps the chance to talk daily vs. weeks or months even enhances those relationships. I have spent many a summer morning on this very porch enjoying coffee with my girls. Some may view my trip to Oregon (and my trip last year to Ohio) as a leap of faith. When Pam and I discussed this possibility we agreed; nah, it wasn't a leap of faith, it was meant to be and the natural next step in our story. Our story. To be continued...

Friday, July 29, 2016

Thoughts from the Back Porch: Summer Post 4

Work. Often, during my workaday life as a school-based SLP, I think of work as a four-letter word. There are days and weeks I think will never end. There are days and weeks that go by at the speed of light, leaving me little time to complete all my tasks. It can be an endless cycle of do, complete, redo, restart, test and retest. It can be exhausting. It's the type of exhausting that renders me prone on the couch and ordering pizza for dinner. The type of exhausting that when Saturday rolls around, the thought of cleaning can bring me to tears. While, the physical aspect of SLP life is limited to trips up and down the hallway and in and out of chairs, the mental piece is substantial and exacts a toll both emotionally and physically.

Fast forward to summer. My summer is work is different; it is generally pure physical. I don't shy away from hard physical labor. In fact, during the summer I relish it. I like to sweat. I like to get dirty. I like planning and planting and mowing and weeding yard work. At the end of the day when I'm grubby and tired I can look at the fruits of my labor and get deep satisfaction. I can see what my toils have produced and I love it. Summer is good for my soul.
I mentioned to some SLP friends recently as we were sharing photos of our gardens, that if I were a rock farmer, I'd be a millionaire. NH is rife with rock. Our landscape is crisscrossed with picturesque rock walls and many towns have ordinances that prohibit their dismantling, as they are inherent to our New England character. As beautiful as these rocky scenes are, they are a bane to gardeners. So what do we New Englanders do? Use the rocks. Over the years I have built a number of rock garden beds. I have single handedly, hunted, harvested, hauled and built these beds. 
This week I wanted to further fortify our fire pit (yes, I am in an alliterative mood). For roughly three hours I scoured the woods for rocks and dug them out.
I piled them into the wheelbarrow.
I pushed that wheelbarrow UP the hill that is our driveway.
I hoisted them out and carried them to their final resting place.
I strategically placed them one on another.
I put my feet up and felt a sense of pride in my strength and my work.
Now, I know that my efforts at my day job yield results. I see the student who has made some measure of progress and I receive the rare note from a grateful parent or student. More often than not, though, we are unsung heroes and we miss the end result of our labors. I want to reframe my vision of my daily work as an SLP. I don't want work to be just a four-letter word. Perhaps, in the spirit of growth mindset, I can envision my task as building a rock garden. Each and every day, I search for a beautiful rock. I carefully extract it from the earth, that has a firm hold on it. With strength I carry it to the place where it will shine. When my work is done, I look at the end result and I am grateful for the toil because it has yielded a purpose, it has touched a child. Isn't that why I do what I do?

Monday, July 18, 2016

I'm Visiting the Speech Bubble

I am so happy to helping Maureen, a.k.a. The Speech Bubble, with her blog as she prepares for her little baby! Expecting your first baby is such a special time filled with joy, happiness and a healthy dose of nerves. As many of you already know, my first baby is preparing to go off to college. I too am filled with many of the same feelings as Maureen! I wish her all the best as she readies herself for this next big time in her life.

It is always exciting to do a guest post and I am happy to share what I consider to be the highlights of ASHA Connect 2016. So head on over to The Speech Bubble and enjoy!  <3 Annie

Monday, July 11, 2016

Thoughts from the Back Porch: Summer Post 3

The past two weeks have been busy! On June 30th I headed to the Pacific Northwest for a person to person SLP linky with Pam of Chit Chat and Small Talk. I was home for one day and then on to Minneapolis, Minnesota for ASHA Connect 2016 for an educational and fun-filled experience. 

I will share much more about those adventures in future posts, but today my thoughts were clearly focused on memories. Naturally, upon my return I had to attend to all things domestic: laundry, cleaning, and organizing consumed my whole day. While it seemed dull in comparison to the fun of the previous two weeks, it was good to settle back in back at home. As I straightened the house and dusted photos, I recalled people and events. As I folded laundry I recalled who gave me this beach towel or that top, and I read little notes from my children as I sorted through items on my bedroom bookcase.

Memories. Memories can trigger laughter, sadness, bitterness, remorse, and more. My memories of my little ones are so much more intense as I prepare for our daughter's big step into the world of college. I came across this note that caused me to pause and truly miss those days of young children. 

It reads Christmas Eve 2008: 
Dear Santa, 
I have a question that has puzzled me all day: 
which country do you root for in the summer and winter Olympics? 
You probly have a pen to answer my question so I leave no pen.
Merry Christmas, 

Santa responded in this way.
My Dear Nora and Mack,
Here at the North Pole we are doing what we can to be "greener." I know that you are two very smart children and you feel the same way, so I instructed the elves to pick only children who would understand. I had them wrap Mack's presents with the red paper and Nora's with the blue paper. That way we wouldn't have to waste all those tags. You should tell your parents to do the same thing. Think of the trees we will save!!! I love you dear children. Merry Christmas!

Santa Claus

P.S. These days we travel the world with a laptop, so I don't need a pen! During the Olympics, both summer and winter, I support all the athletes regardless of the country they represent.

I was filled with such love for my children as I recalled their curiosity and innocence. It is both wonderful and bittersweet to think on those days. If our children grow and develop the fortitude and confidence necessary to spread their wings and leave home then we have done well, but my thoughts today longed to smell their hair and feel their heads as they rest upon my chest, to hear gales of laughter and hold tiny dimpled hands.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Thoughts from the Back Porch: By Sparklle SLP

Hello Doyle Speech Works readers. I am Sparklle SLP from Speaking About Remarkable Kids Learning Language Everyday. I am a school-based SLP, Mom, blogger and TpT author. I am always so excited when SLP bloggers visit each other's blogs so, when my dear #slpbestie Annie invited me to participate in her Thoughts from the Back Porch series, I was all hooves in (more on that in a moment). 

When I read Annie's first post in the series I totally related. 100%. While she works and resides in NH and I in OH, our school-based SLP positions have a trending theme. When Annie remarked, "I went through the proper channels and was effectively shut down" it was as if I was speaking her same thought, literally, roughly three weeks earlier when my own school year ended. I love how Annie is vowing to use a positive mindset with attainable goals in an effort to promote change.

I, too, have moved beyond the shut down. Summer is galloping on by and I am determined to not let it pass without soaking up loads of time with my own kids at home.  You see, for 9 months, I spend an enormous amount of time with everyone else's kids.  My chosen career fits me perfect. I love being a school-based SLP. I can use my creative, ambitious mind daily. Being a mom is no different and I am grateful to have the time off to enjoy my kids at home during the summer. Today, I'm planning to shed some light "literally" on thoughts and actions from my back porch.

I have three lovely, intelligent, creative, involved children of my own.  Today's post is about my middle child. She fits the middle child syndrome perfectly! She's independent, creative, can avoid work better than most, tends to enjoy her time alone, and will seek attention in ways that cause a few additional grey hairs. My #2 is incredible. She's like chaos flip-flopped upside-down with this amazing ingenuity and she's only 7!

For quite some time now, she's been into Breyer model horses and has taken over my husband's basement office to accommodate her stables, pastures, arenas, a tack room, a training arena, and a bunkhouse.  When we go shopping for groceries, we bring home boxes and they are quickly converted into horse accommodations. She uses a variety of office and craft supplies to create saddle racks, bridles, halters, lead ropes, feed buckets, wash stall supplies, and the like. She has master glue-gunning skills and popsicle stick engineering.  I bring in the lawn tractor (AKA vacuum) often to swipe up the debris.

I neglected to snap pictures of her before barns (insert sad face; however, she took video of the adventures of her horses). Below is the start of her hot walker (this is a new vocabulary word for me) and tack room.


When this girl gets an idea, she is on it like metal to a magnet. You will hear her feet pitter-patter down the steps and the rummaging begins. Last week, "wooden stables" was verbalized. Scrap wood was obtained. Power tools were plugged in. The adventure began. 

This SLP mom used her creative, organized focus to help the ingenius youngster to use her powers to design stables for her ever growing team of horses. 

We sketched, measured, cut,




staged, reconfigured...


and now the designing is hers for the making.


These actions from my back porch, the perfect backdrop for quality time with my middle child, proved to be just what this SLP mom on summer break needed. Who would have thought power tools and hammering could relieve stress? Totally an added bonus. I am looking forward to witnessing her completion of these barns and the narratives that will follow.  See how the SLP in me still emerges in the summer!

What are your thoughts or actions from your back porch this summer?  Do they help you to rest, create, reflect, or enjoy?  Please share in the comments. Thanks so much to Annie for the invite and the prompt to share my stable story.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Thoughts from the Back Porch: Summer Post 1

School officially ended for me on June 16th and let me tell you, I was ready! I love what I do, really, I do, but this year was quite challenging. I completed a TON of evaluations, IEPs and assorted other paperwork. It seems I was scheduled for a meeting before school nearly every day! Consider the math; an extra 30 minutes every morning times 180 days amounts to 90 additional hours per school year!  If I was to be more conservative and cut that down to three mornings a week (atypical), that is 90 minutes per week times 36 weeks (180 days ÷ 5 weekdays= 36 weeks) yields 3,240 minutes converted to a whopping 54 additional hours! Add to that the 1-2 hours added to the end of the day to catch up on lesson planning, writing those evals, and anything else that needs completing! It seems the expectation to silently consent to extra, extra, extra has become our new normal.

I prefer not to carp and would like to be part of a positive work environment, so I went through the proper channels and was effectively shut down. I suggested the flexible service delivery model, dedicated meeting days, etc. I was told, "nothing is going to change." How should I respond to such stonewalling? What do I say while trying to maintain professionalism and grace under fire? Speech-language pathology, and in larger part education, can be such a joy, and yet, it is often disappointing to be part of a bureaucracy. I crave the respect that is afforded to other professions. I often feel cornered into behaving like a petulant child ("Well, I guess I just won't be available before school any longer!")

The above scenario illustrates what I would consider thinking from a fixed perspective. I am reading Mindset by Carol Dwerk, Ph.D. and LOVE IT. I began reading it at the suggestion of Jennifer Hatfield, MHS, CCC-SLP of Therapy and Learning Services, Inc. (who is helping us with executive functioning as a family. More about that in a future post.) This is what I have gleaned so far; I spent a good part of my life in a fixed mindset, not accepting challenges for fear of failure, thinking I lacked innate abilities, seeking validation from others, etc. At some point that all changed. I remember a very distinct turning point. I was at bootcamp and I shared that I had decided to run a half marathon. Someone asked me "Why?" I responded, "I don't know why. I just think I can." That to me exemplifies a shift toward growth mindset thinking.

You might be wondering, what does this have to do with WORK? In as much as I have approached my personal life of late with a growth mindset, I truly believe much of my work life has been viewed through the lens of a fixed mindset or at the very least a "mixed" mindset. This past school year I saw much of my situation as untenable, never changing, out of my control, and that resulted in considerable anxiety. As I reflect on the stresses that come with my position, I am thinking, much of it was created by my thinking. Yes, we are often asked to complete tasks with herculean strength, but what if I can view these tasks as an opportunity for growth? No...what if I CHOOSE to view these tasks as an opportunity for growth?  I, more than likely, won't feel that crushing sensation in my chest.

I am very fortunate. I get to spend my summer recharging my batteries, passing many restful hours on my back porch. I read.  I look at my flowers. I watch the butterflies and hummingbirds. I ignore the begging chickens and I think.
This provides a wonderful opportunity to reevaluate the previous school year. What worked? What didn't? This school year has allowed me to see that when the pressure mounts, I struggle to maintain a healthy balance, I get cranky and "fixed." As part of my growth mindset practice this summer, I am setting goals: attainable, realistic goals that allow me to capitalize on my momentum. For instance, last week my goals were to run 11 miles (not all at once), transplant some deeply entrenched perennials, bake and read three chapters of Mindset. CHECK!! I found having clear expectations of what I wanted to accomplish helped me stay the course.

My approach toward the stresses of my job can be growth oriented too, just as it is for my personal life. In fact, it really should be. So as I look at my math computation above I can reframe my thinking from "I have added anywhere from 54-90 additional hours of work to my job," to "We haven't found a solution to the meeting debacle...yet, but we will!"

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Rush Hour for the Win!!

I have not had a moment in the past three weeks to blog! I thought about it every few days, but could not muster the time or the brain power to put pen to paper, or at least finger to keyboard. Interestingly, I found I missed connecting and sharing ideas! I suspect your end of the year activities have you completely immersed as well.

As the end of the year approaches, I feel the need to stay sane and centered, so I print less, create less, and depend on the tried and true more. I have written before about how adapting games for multiple speech and language targets is a win-win. It's great to use games kids already know the rules for and infuse them with language rich content. One of the games that provides a real bang for the buck is Railroad Rush Hour.  This game involves arranging train cars on a plastic tray and then maneuvering them in order to get a little, red engine out. The version pictured below is the Rush Hour Jr. edition, where younger players move vehicles in order to get an ice cream truck out of a traffic jam.

What you can do:
  • Have your students verbalize each move they make in a grammatical sentence. They can practice verb tenses, pronouns, and word order.  Students can also verbalize what you or other players are doing.
  • All descriptions can be accompanied by perfect speech (or almost perfect).
Describing/Sentence Formulation
  • Have one student describe the arrangement of the vehicles as they are displayed on the card to another student. The emphasis can be on size, color, directional orientation (horizontal, vertical), positional concepts (under, beside, over). After all vehicles are in place the puzzle can be solved.
  • The solutions to each puzzle are depicted on the back of the cards. Have one student give verbal directions as to how to solve each puzzle to a partner, referencing the solution. The solutions are in a sort of code that the student has to interpret.  For instance, if U3 is pictured on a green locomotive, it means move the green locomotive up three spaces. 
Concept development
  • Number, size, color, position, and direction concepts can all be incorporated while playing any of the Rush Hour games.
Listening and Following Directions
  • Have students become the hands of a Rush Hour puzzle solver. This involves attentive listening and comprehension of directions and concepts.  Students can also be encouraged to use listening strategies such as requesting clarification and repetition.
Executive Function Skills
  • Puzzle solving is an amazing opportunity to talk about planning, action, and review as well as brainstorming possible "road blocks."
Add on decks are available. For a little variety try Safari Rush Hour, too! Happy driving!