Friday, August 31, 2012

Our AAC Journey - The Beginning - August 31, 2012

At the beginning of the summer, my daughter's amazing speech therapist (we'll call her M) sat us down and told us that she felt it was time to start exploring AAC devices for my kid. And we were all more than ready to accept this challenge. My daughter's speech has come so far in the past three years since she's been working with two very wonderful speech therapists (before M there was L, and L was also excellent). We actually understand many words now and on occasion a few multi-word sentences. My daughter also has signs - and she has started using her iPad to communicate in a very unconventional way by rejecting most of the free versions of the speech apps that I put on there to try out and instead using certain other games and apps to tell me what she wants. For example, she puts on a game about a monkey who eats fruit when she wants fruit, tapping insistently on whatever fruit it is that she wants (oranges, grapes, apples...) or putting on an app that features songs and scenes and insistently pointing to the scene with the ocean and the octopus while saying words like "water!" and making signs for swimming, pointing to herself and then outside...all while I was saying back "Yeah, well, it's cold. And the pool is closed. And NO WE ARE NOT GOING SWIMMING RIGHT NOW."

So you might say to me, Marla, your household has an iPad? That's great! You've got the technology already in hand. You're done!

I wish it were that easy. I have a few issues with using the iPad as a speech device for my daughter that are, I'm pretty sure, unique to our situation - I WISH this was not the case, and I suspect it will change as she gets older. But for now (she's 5), the problem is how stubborn she is with the iPad. She uses it as she feels like using it and she refuses to use it for just one application. Even at the new therapist's office (I'll get to that in a minute), she took an iPad she was handed that was fully loaded with a speech app and she looked at it, laughed, and immediately found the music, the games, and the other apps loaded on there. It's a very useful tool for her and for us in so many ways, just not this one.

So. We started seeing V and then S within a practice that is dedicated to all things AAC - it's their speciality and they are the best of the best. And it has been incredible. First we ran through all of the usual evaluation hoops - and my kid rocked them. She went to the smallest level of squares on a page and still was able to find spots within the grid. She sorted things into categories with ease. Every step of this process was met with smiles and cheers. She impressed the therapists over and over and over. It felt good to see my kid succeed when so many times evaluations are full of me making excuses or just being kind of frustrated.

We tried out different devices including the aforementioned iPad, the Dynavox, and the Vantage Lite2 (and one other that is lesser known but that we didn't care for so I'm not going to get into it). The Dynavox was really shiny, and the therapy practice said that almost all of the kids they see use it. However, they just didn't feel that it was the right choice for us, which surprised all of us (I really walked into that office thinking OK, Dynavox, that's it, end of story). The therapists said, among other things, that the number of options that my kid would need on a single screen would max out quickly with the Dynavox - and that the VL2 would offer that extension. Also we all agreed that we liked the VL2's language system better for her. Plus, the VL2 was lighter weight, had a well-placed handle (important for a kid who can almost kinda sorta walk-ish) and had fewer bells and whistles (give my kid a camera and games and Internet access and we're back to the iPad problem). So we chose the VL2. It just felt right.

And then I got a call telling me that while it wasn't public information yet, the VL2 was going to be discontinued shortly in favor of a newer system. So we put this all on hold for a week while I waited for news - or at least a press release - that never came. And waited. And waited. And was sad that we were so close and then, as always, an obstacle was thrown in our path.

At last we went to the therapist and said look, we have to move forward. We just can't wait. What do we do? And we talked it through and weighed several options (go with the Dynavox after all? wait? see if we can get a used machine? talk to the wonderful local support person about all this?) and eventually we all agreed that the VL2 was still the best option and that really, if you're getting involved with technology, you could kill yourself chasing after the next newest option. My kid has the iPad2. The iPad3 came out soon after - what am I going to do? Nothing. The iPad4 probably will be fancypants. I could never keep up. Technology is changing month after month, year after year. It's just a fact.

FINALLY the official statement from PRC was shared with me and then became public shortly thereafter - and it is that the VL2 is being discontinued because of a part issue. I think that because I knew this was coming, the blow was softened once it finally happened (because I was pretty much crying when I got the very first call about this). Also, PRC isn't taking away its support of the system, it's just not making any new ones. I have high hopes that the next generation of product that it releases will be even better. I will have a pang of sadness when that happens, wishing that we could have just waited that much longer to have that shiny new thing, but we couldn't. The right thing for us for now is available and therefore it's the thing that we're pursuing. And there is the hope that we'd get approval for a new machine before the magical five-year-window expired if we needed one because the case would easily be made that the machine we had was actively discontinued.

I am BEYOND excited and thrilled that in a few short weeks (because this is a done deal, the paperwork has been submitted and is moving along even as I type this) my daughter is going to have a new method of communication. And I am also so so so thankful to M that she put us in touch with V and S who are going to be holding our hands - literally and figuratively - every step of the way, teaching us how to appropriately use the machine, how to program it, how to maximize it for my daughter. I'm also thankful to our local PRC rep who has been open and honest with us and who is going to help us teach others around us about this system, and I'm VERY thankful for a school system that is full of excited people eager to reach out and help my kid. (They've been working with her with very basic AAC devices since she started preschool.) I couldn't do any of this alone and I am very lucky to have a supportive team surrounding us.

And so we wait. And I will write a new post when we have the device at home to let you know how it works out for us.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Random Roundup - August 21, 2012

  • The kid's school year continues to go very well. Yesterday when we picked her up, her teacher said she'd been dry all day. I said, "Oh, great! So when do you think we can ditch the pull-ups?" She said, "Um, you did. You sent her without one on today..." Indeed, my husband had done that by mistake - but she ROCKED it. In fact, she stayed dry for about 24 hours. So today we tried again. And sent her with extra pants, undies, and pull-ups. I really think she can do this! Her biggest obstacle is that she can't get up and walk to the bathroom or say, clearly, that she has to go - but she can actually do both in her own way, she's physically capable of being potty trained, and she's just so damn smart... We're on our way!
  • Today I believe we will be signing the final paperwork to be submitted so that she can be one step closer to getting her AAC device! She's had two therapy sessions using it now (everything up until two weeks ago was evaluation vs. actual therapy) and she is doing incredibly well with it. I just cannot wait until she can communicate more clearly with us. Her speech is getting better and better, but her frustration level is at code red -- so this is going to be excellent.
  • There is an exciting new resource for vegetarians (me! lacto ovo me!) and vegans in Atlanta - the Crack the Plates Atlanta Vegan Guide! It has a listing of every vegan, vegetarian, and vegan-friendly restaurant and grocery store in the general Atlanta area. It's a work in progress, so feel free to submit suggestions (I submitted Radial - and look, it's there now! whee!). I absolutely love how veg-friendly Atlanta has become. I've eaten at or shopped at many of the places on that list, but there are so many more to explore!
  • I have a new Tivo and it is ridiculous how exciting I think this is. Tivo made me an upgrade offer I couldn't refuse ($50 for Lifetime Service on the old box, free wireless adapter, multi-box discount, and Hulu Plus for 6 months) so I went for it. Plus my old box's dual-tuner functionality was messed up because of some changes to our cable service, and I missed being able to record two shows at once... If you're wondering "But Marla, how do you afford such frippery?", well, we don't pay for cable - it's part of our condo fee - so this is very worth it for us, although I am waiting for the first post-Tivo cable bill because I think we have to pay a bit extra for the new HD service we now have. ANYWAY, I caught up on Grimm, I'm now watching Community, and I just love how HD TV looks. Yes, I love TV. I admit it! I do! I am looking forward to the new TV season cranking up - in particular, I'll be watching Revenge, Once Upon a Time, How I Met Your Mother, Hart of Dixie, MAYBE Revolution, Grimm, The New Normal, American Horror Story: Asylum, and...probably whatever else my Tivo can hold. 
  • Speaking of gadgets, yesterday I ordered a new cell phone. We use Virgin Mobile, so our monthly bills are really cheap. The first phone I bought was $50 on Black Friday and was totally good enough for what I needed - but of course I craved an upgrade. So I saved up every $5 Amazon gift card I earned from Swagbucks (referral link!) as well as a few GCs I earned elsewhere and some extra dollars I earned around the Internet. That plus the phone being on sale meant that I was able to buy a $200 phone for $30. HTC One V, I can't wait to get you! I also went on eBay and bought a new case and screen protector, but I'm really hoping the phone will squeeze into the jogging armband I already own.
  • I'm back to running. My back has been hurting, so I haven't pushed it as much as I'd like, but I am trying to run at least 20-25 minutes a day, three days a week. My new goals is to eventually be able to run a 5K without walking at all. I am inspired by Sheryl Yvette and her ability to run 15 miles without walking. If she can do that, I can do three. I CAN. 
  • I'll be introducing Kari Chapin, author of the excellent Grow Your Handmade Business (referral link!), at the Decatur Book Festival in a few weeks. VERY exciting - can't wait to meet her and hear her tips for crafters like me! Also hoping to catch Dame Darcy, Kevin Henkes, Patrick McDonnell, and Leela Corman, among many others. Wheee!
  • That about sums it up, I think.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Handy Dandy Guide to Thrift Stores and Thrifting in the Atlanta, Georgia, area - August 8, 2012

I've now been thrifting in Georgia for about eight years (yikes!) and I feel like I can now speak with a tiny bit of authority on the subject. Or not. Hey, if you know more than me, have more info than me, or can help me out, please comment and/or link me to your own blog post about thrifting in Georgia!

(Did you see what I did there? I hope you didn't, but if you did, know that it was totally shameless. OK? OK.)

So here are my thoughts on the major thrift stores in Georgia - particularly in the Atlanta-ish area, but not confined to ITP because I actually do way more thrifting OTP anyway. Again, feel free to chime in in the comments about what you think!

Let me start off by telling you what my dream thrift store would have (while being realistic - I mean, of COURSE I want it to all be free and vintage and in perfect condition, but I'm more talking about the store I'd walk into in reality and dance in). This way you'll know my biases when I get to the specific stores.

+ Fitting rooms
+ Large selection
+ No stinky smell on the clothes, either from body odor OR from some high-intensity fumigation chemical
+ No stinky smell in the store, either from babies or adults or just general unclean conditions
+ A clean atmosphere in general - not one that makes me feel like I need a bath in Purell after I'm done shopping
+ Excellent prices topping out at, let us say, $5 for an item of clothing and $2 for a book of any type
+ Clothes sorted by size! (Yes, there are stores that do this. It's awesome - although never ever trust the store's system because people move things around all the time!)
+ No counter behind which are hidden things that both have value and that don't and those things between there that appear to have value but don't (knockoff designer purses, for example - I promise you that 90% of the Dooney & Bourke purses you find in thrift stores are fakes). Ugh. Ridiculous.

Again, all commentary below is about my experience in Georgia. I have had different experiences at the very same chain stores in other states (Massachusetts and Virginia are two where I've done pretty extensive shopping as well). So take that into consideration as you read.


+ Excellent selection overall of everything under the sun
+ Often can find high-end or middle-end name brands, not just Target/Walmart/Kmart stuff.
(I'm guessing this is because Goodwill is such a known name that people are more likely to donate it there?)
+ Stores are usually clean
+ Fitting rooms
+ Weekly half-price color
+ They're everywhere and they're usually in strip malls with other stuff so that your husband and/or children can go elsewhere while you shop, if they so desire (or is that just mine?)
+/- They are *sort of* careful about their tagging with the little plastic pieces and *usually* don't make holes in important parts of the clothing
- They sort the clothes by color, not by size
- Everything in a clothing category is a single price, with no variation, so unless you hit a half-price color there isn't a chance for a super great deal (The good part of this is that there's no "this item has no price tag so you can't have it" policy - and housewares are priced by the piece)
- The prices are jacked up. I know they are a charity. I know they have overhead. I know they are often found in real shopping plazas and that they need to pay the bills. I don't care. Paying $7 for a pair of used jeans kills me! And paperback books for $1.50? They used to be 75 cents! I'm stubborn! 

Value Village

+ Very good selection - the stores I frequent have great kid clothes and great jeans almost every time
+ Very good brand availability
+ TWO weekly half price colors
+ Monthly half-price-everything day - the last Wednesday of the month (yes, it's chaos that day, but also the deals are plentiful and I haven't felt it was ever all that picked over because it's a weekday)
+ Items are priced by piece so you have a great chance to find a bargain (and I still haven't figured out how they come up with the pricing - the phase of the moon? The person on pricing duty? No clue.)
+ CDs are 80 cents, which is cheaper than a single-song download (selection is pretty bad, but I've found a few gems in there)
- Stores are often sketchy and chaotic - and a bit out-of-the-way from the main drag
- No fitting rooms (though they do have a return policy - 7 days, tags still on, receipt in hand, you get store credit that you can use at that moment - which isn't bad if you live nearby or go regularly to the VV) 
- Clothes are sorted by color rather than by size
- They staple the fucking tags to the clothes and make holes and often ruin really amazing deals. This is my number one peeve at Value Village. I have seen so many things be ruined! Ugh.
- They write on their books, and sometimes it can't be wiped off or removed

Salvation Army

+ Pretty good selection - though it always seems to me like the clothing skews older/frumpier
+ Fitting rooms
+ Items priced by piece rather than by category so you can dig out good deals
+ Prices are reasonable though housewares seem overpriced to me and the pricing on everything is random
+ Half-price color of the week
+ Weekly half-price clothing day - every Wednesday
+ Great prices/selection of DVDs (I just learned this! $3 for a new DVD works for me)
- Our politics do not mesh in some areas (ahem)
- Their prices are sometimes ridiculous
- I find a higher percentage of ripped/stained/unusable clothing on their sales floor than at any other store, and this has been the case at three different SA stores that I've visited in the area
- Books are too expensive unless you hit a sale

(I don't get to St. Vinny stores as often as I'd like - feel free to help me fill in this list!)
+ Nice selection of quality clothes (but all the stores I've been in are small, so it's limited)
+ Great prices on books (and I seem to remember they have a half-price book day every week)
- Stores are small
- I don't remember the prices being that great

+ Half-price everything every Monday (CHAOS though)
+ 75%, 50%, 25% off colors every week
- Stinky and dark
- Overpriced, even on half-price days
(I live near one of these and I rarely go unless I am in the mood for chaos. I did find an amazing vintage ashtray there once though! I also accidentally bought a glass that had a dead spider in it...)

I of course have my secret indie spots that I'm not going to tell you about right now. The thing about independent stores is that they are absolutely hit or miss and you are always taking a chance. Some indie stores are absolutely amazing, some are ridiculous. Some have pricing that makes you do twirly dances in the aisles, some make you roll your eyes. You just have to walk in and see what you see. 

What do you think? How's the thrifting where you live? If you live in Georgia, do you feel similarly or radically different? Are there chain stores I've forgotten? Do you want to tell me about your super secret shopping spots? (oooooh!) Leave a comment!

Coming soon, a post about my personal loves and hates about thrifting!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Post-summer-vacation school update and thrifting extravaganza - August 6, 2012

School is back in session - yes, yes, we start "oh mah gah sewwwww early" - it's because the schools here are on a 6-week-on-1-week-off schedule. We will have a break in September, one in November, one in December, one in February, and one in April. I think that covers it. It mixes things up. I am not sure I like it - it interrupts our routine and always seems to happen at the point where the kid has finally settled down - but I have little choice at this point.

And the kid is doing really well. She has a good, solid team in place and I think they kind of get her better this year than in past years. Then again, we're only three days into the school year, so we'll see.

There was a bit of a setback in acquiring her AAC device but right now I don't have enough information to share with you why (it is related to the manufacturer and changes being made therein). I just am hopeful she'll have it in hand before the end of 2012.

My friend Amy's birthday was the 4th, so I scrambled to get up to visit her on the 3rd, and of course we indulged in some good old-fashioned thrift shopping. And I got a LOT so you'll have to bear with me. My blog, my rules. I love these posts!

Sidenote: I am working on a post about thrifting with topics such as "Thrift Stores in the Atlanta Area - What You Need to Know" and "Why I Love and Hate Thrift Shopping." Stay tuned.

We went to four - FOUR! - stores on Friday. By the fourth store, I was kind of exhausted (do you blame me?) but it was just all so much fun. I'm working on creating a wardrobe for the fall - in September it will have been one full year since I began Weight Watchers, and so each season I have to get new clothes (what a shame!) and get rid of the old.

Not shown in the giant picture-spam below - a cute pair of velour/corduroy pants for the kid, a really cute panda shirt (she wore them because she dumped milk all over herself at dinner - the styrofoam cup was no match for her squeeze - they were 50 cents each), and two books about babies/breastfeeding (also 50 cents each) that I was going to resell but instead gave to Amy to give to a young woman who is pregnant and needs them.

First store - Value Village! We hadn't been to this one in a bit, but I've been near it many times over the summer visiting another friend and yet hadn't stopped in because I was always with my husband and he's just not into it. (Also, this VV is a tiny weensy bit sketchy.) The half-price colors must have been just changed because there were plenty of them on the floor (pink and red). Yes! But I felt a bit distracted for some reason, so I actually didn't get/spend a lot there.

Gymboree (the green shirt), Esprit (the red swirly top), Hanna Andersson (the pink turtleneck hiding at the bottom), Sketchers. All with half-price tags, so about 65 cents each.
Baby Gap - not half price, a whole $1.29. A bit big for her, but I think she'll grow into it very soon.
My brother's alma mater and a really cute shirt on top of that. $2.49, big spender.
Old Navy jeans in my size but "short" (VV doesn't have fitting rooms, everything's a guess, so I stick to jeans that are known entities when I shop there) and half-price so $1.75.
Breaking my no-more-books rule. $1.50 and I wasn't sure if I had it already and the app I used to use on my iPod Touch to keep track of my books stopped working, but happily I found out when I got home that I only own Maus II. Now I own Maus I as well. Good stuff. Fun fact: Art Spiegelman was my college graduation speaker. 
See? Barely spent a thing - just over $10. But then as we were driving away, I noticed a big, shiny Salvation Army that I hadn't ever noticed before. So we went in. I rarely shop SA for various reasons - some political, but more because I just don't tend to find stuff there. And I didn't find much again but what I did find...

Squee! The Last Unicorn - which I'm pretty sure I own on VHS somewhere but not DVD. It appears to be brand new and it was $3. I started re-watching and again, cried. Like I always do. I have the stuffed animal unicorn somewhere...
YES! Pink guitar for my daughter, who is very musical and who played a friend's daughter's pink guitar last weekend. $9 - a bit of a splurge, but I found out the thing sells for $20-ish when new, so still a good deal. And it has silver flames on it.
Then onward to what you now know as my favorite store...where I spent more than I usually do. Nearly $20! What???? The pile I dragged into the fitting room was monstrous. I pared it down. And then pared it down again.

Wonder Woman T-shirt - $1.50

Super soft and comfy Sesame Street peace shirt. A tiny bit big but that makes it fit nicely. $1.50.
One of my favorite finds of the day - Gwinnett Gladiators shirt autographed by the entire team! The signatures are a bit faded but who cares? It's SO COOL. It's my husband's size so he gets it. 50 cents.

Front and back of grouchy ladybug shirt. Too small for me, too big for my kid - but she'll grow into it. It was too cute to leave behind. 50 cents.
Two pieces of clothing for the kid. 50 cents each. 
Cute Old Navy skirt for me. $1. Weirdly, an identical skirt in a beigey color just didn't fit right, but this one did. I mean, it's not really weird - that's how clothes work these days. Vanity sizing and dye lots and weird washing and...all that. Anyway I like this - it has fake distressing all over it. Way cute.
Three pairs of jeans - 2 Old Navy, one Refuge (Charlotte Russe - the denim is nice and heavy and soft). $2 each. One of them is a size smaller than what I usually wear, which was exciting. Again, vanity sizing - they're stretchy and I totally get that. But still. They fit, they were cute, they were $2, I got them. I so rarely find jeans at this store that I was really pleased. And yes, if you're keeping score, this makes four pairs of jeans I bought in this trip and I now have a bajillion pairs of jeans in my closet. I grew up having about two pairs for the school year and getting made fun of for wearing the same pair twice in one week (which is RIDICULOUS, I know) so I think I'm making up for that now.
Three long-sleeved T-shirts. $1 each. One is Express and is really nice and soft and thin. The other two are delightful as well.
Yeah, I did buy a few other books and keep them - but the paperback (50 cents) is about women in Turkey and is published by Seal Press (a favorite) and the hardback ($1) is RAY BRADBURY and is 100 of his stories. It's gorgeous. I needed it.
Phew. Epic. So then I said, well, let's go one more place. So we hit one more indie store that was having a sale - 25% off all clothing. Which is funny because their clothes are so cheap to start with, but hey, I'll take it!

J. Crew skirt. Casual and comfy - something to pull on at the beach/pool or to just lie around in. I just couldn't resist its squishy charm. $2.25.
LOVE THIS. It's by Nike ACG and it's a skort (or, per Wikipedia, a scooter?). It doesn't scream sporty to me - I wouldn't run in it - but I like that it's short, khaki, and has the shorts under it so it's not too revealing. Awesome. $2.25.

Anne Taylor Loft skirt (for what it's worth, a petite - but in two sizes bigger than those jeans I told you about above - so yeah, I don't get it at all). No shorts under this, I might have to add my own bike shorts to the mix or wear it with black leggings. Love it though. $2.25. 
A whole entire outfit! I fell in love with the skirt first, then scrounged around to find a shirt. The shirt is Benetton and doesn't actually fit me that well, but it will work with a tank top under it, I think. $5.50 total. But I washed the two things together and now, looking at this picture and the skirt itself, I think the skirt is now just a tiny bit...pinker. Oops. OR good, because now it matches the shirt better! 
Another long-sleeved soft top. $2.25.

Belts! $1 each - I was looking for some small skinny belts to create an outfit I have in my head. Now I can.

And last but not least, a Mini Boden shirt for my kid. I think this was 75 cents. THE END!