This is my 500th blog entry.
I don’t know why, but this seems significant to me. Probably because when I started this almost three years ago, I couldn’t imagine what I’d find to write about.
I guess I found some things!
Also, as a fun little aside, it’s snowing on my blog starting today. I love WordPress!
I try not to use my blog as a platform for ranting, but Portrait Innovations has me so angry, I want to spread the word, so other people don’t have the same bad experience we’ve had.
We went to Portrait Innovations last year for the third time for Christmas photos (we’d had some other pictures done there as well over the years). We started with our Christmas portrait. Actually, that’s the only reason we were there–to get a Christmas picture of just the children together. Even though we had the first appointment of the morning, we had to wait for the “Christmas studio” to clear, because the other family scheduled walked in the door first. OK, fine. So, we finally got in the room, 20 minutes later than I was expecting, but we were still doing OK. The children had their picture taken, and it was a decent picture, even though I wasn’t thrilled with it. The photographer wasn’t, in my opinion, very good with children, and certainly not good with a child with autism, which is unfortunate for a portrait studio that caters to families, but whatever.
So, I thought we were done. They had taken at least a dozen pictures, and I knew that out of those, at least one would work. So, I was ready to go over to the computers and finalize my order. And that’s when the real trouble started. (Let’s keep in mind here that Moose has autism, and when he is in a strange place, for a long time, doing what appears to him to be nothing, he freaks out. He may cry or shriek or just try to leave, but he doesn’t always do well with unfamiliar situations.) They began telling me that I “had” to go into the other studio, and have pictures taken with a different background, and with different groupings of the children, as well as individual shots. I explained that I didn’t want any of that, that I came solely to take a Christmas portrait, and that we were done with photos. I was again told that I “had” to go in the other room for the “rest” of our session. I told them in no uncertain terms that I would *not* be taking any additional pictures, and that I would leave without anything at all if they continued to persist. At that point, I was told that “this one time” they would let me just select my picture, but that they “don’t do things that way” and that if I schedule an appointment, I “have” to do the pictures the way they say.
That’s funny…the previous two times I had been there for Christmas portraits, I didn’t “have” to do any of that. Yes, there was the traditional hard sell when it came time to order, but I was expecting that. They didn’t try to force me into other rooms for additional pictures, and actually had, in the past, seemed kind of relieved that I didn’t want anything extra, because they were, of course, overbooked, and running behind.
So, I didn’t know what to think. Did I just end up with a really bad photographer, or a photographer having a really bad day? Did their corporate outlook change somehow? I had no way of knowing, so I’ve kept this experience in the back of my mind all year, because I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again.
I called our local Portrait Innovations this morning, and explained my situation. I wanted to come in when they first opened (not a problem, they still have early appointments available), and I wanted to take only a Christmas portrait of all four of my children. That’s all. And I explained why: I have a son with autism, and if he is forced to sit around and wait, we will not be able to get a picture that is worth buying. I also explained that it would be in their best interest to work with me, because if he has a meltdown in their studio, he will start shrieking (nothing I can do about that), and it will make the experience unpleasant for us, the employees, and their other customers.
Even after hearing all of this, I was told on the phone that we could start with the Christmas background, but that we would also “have” to take some pictures with another background. Of course, they reassured me that it would be “really fast” (what a joke! Because taking pictures with children is ever “fast”), but we would “have” to do it.
Now, I get that these companies need to make money. And I know that the way they do that is by getting people to buy more than the cheap-o package. But I also think they could show a little grace to a family that has a child with special needs. I wouldn’t even mind so much if the second background could just be pulled down like they do at Wal-Mart. But to have the second set of pictures taken, you have to go to a different room, which almost always already has another family in it, and often has at least one other family ahead of you to get in it next. That all adds up to a very long wait, bad enough for children, but unbearable for a child with autism. Not a great business model.
I could just schedule an appointment with them anyway, and then make a fuss like I did last year. But I’d rather not do business at all with a company that is so rigid in its sale tactics that they can’t understand that not all families are the same, and that it may not be possible for us to make it through the appointment done their way. So, I’ll take my business elsewhere, and I’ll encourage others to do the same. There’s just no reason for any company to show that little compassion to their customers.
Today’s Christmas school was a little more Christmas-y, although we had no Christmas craft–that will have to wait until tomorrow. We started by reading The Three Wise Women of Christmas. In one storybook are three very short stories; one about Elizabeth, one about Mary, and one about Anna. It’s not terribly substantial, but gives some basic information about each of the women (the section about Anna is probably the most unknown to children), and shows how God was faithful to each of them.
As a follow-up to yesterday’s discussion of the church year, we read through Behold the Lamb, which is a companion to Ordering Our Days in His Peace. Behold the Lamb focuses on the symbols we see in church. The books begins with the different symbols for the Trinity, and then breaks them down further into symbols representing each of the Persons of the Trinity. There are also symbols for Word and Sacrament, as well as evangelists and apostles, but the biggest portion of the book is symbols for the various seasons of the church year. We especially focused on the symbols related to the Time of Christmas–nothing really new there, but we very much enjoyed the artwork.
There were two parts of the book that were especially fascinating to Turkey and Bunny. The first was the two page layout on different styles of crosses. There were several that they had never seen before–they were especially intrigued by the anchor cross. They were also interested in the symbols from two legends that have come to represent Christ. The first, the Phoenix, was new to them, but *I* had heard of that one before. The second, the Pelican-in-her-piety, was also new to me, and I thought that story was particularly fascinating. Although the story of a mother bird feeding her babies with her own life’s blood so they might survive is not true, it certainly is a great representation of Christ’s love for us.
I love days when even I learn something new!
- 2/3 cup butter
- 2/3 cup flour
- 7 cups milk
- 4 large baking potatoes, baked, cooled, peeled and cubed (about 4 cups)
- 4 green onions, sliced, or 1/2 cup regular onions, diced
- 12 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
- 1 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 Tbsp. salt (more or less to taste)
- 1 tsp. pepper (more or less to taste)
In large soup kettle or Dutch oven, melt butter. Stir in flour; heat and stir until smooth. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly until thickened. Add potatoes and onions. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients; stir until cheese is melted.
Can be put in crock-pot to keep warm.
Today’s lessons had very little to do with Christmas. Instead, we focused on the church year. It seemed like a good place to start since the first day of Advent was yesterday.
Turkey and Bunny are familiar with how the church year is set up, but I wanted to get a little more in-depth with it, as well as look ahead to the specific dates we will be celebrating later on in this church year. To do that, we started with our church year calendar. This is the third year we’ve had this hanging in our school room, and it’s a great resource. It shows all the major dates of the specific year, and also marks the lesser commemorations we might otherwise miss. It’s a part of our opening every morning to check the calendar, see what season of the church year we’re in, and note any special days.
As we were noting the festivals of this church year, we marked them on a church year spinner. It was actually Turkey’s idea to turn it into a spinner, where he and Bunny could mark the seasons as they change; it was my plan to just make a wheel and fill in the appropriate dates. I think it’s much better the way he suggested! This spinner is actually not so different from our big calendar, but it gives only the highlights of major feast days–much easier for at-a-glance checking, so both have a place in our schoolroom!
We then read the first installment of the “Mouse Prints” series that was put out by CPH a while back. As its title suggests, the focus of this book is The Time of Christmas. There are also books detailing The Time of Easter and The Time of the Church. They’re out of print now, but if you can get your hands on a copy of this set, I highly recommend it. This is a great way to introduce children to the times of the church, and what each of the seasons mean. We’ve read through the whole three book series several times now, but Turkey and Bunny still love it, because the stories (and illustrations) are just so cute!
On a more serious note, we also went through Ordering Our Days in His Peace. We read through the entire Advent/Christmas/Epiphany section, and then skimmed through the rest of the church year. This book compares the church year to a story, and shows that like a story, it needs a beginning, middle, and end for it to make sense to us. I think it’s a great analogy, and Turkey and Bunny were really captivated by it–they had never heard the church year described that way before.
I confess, I left buying my advent candles to the last minute. New Year’s Eve, if you will. Both of the small Christian bookstores near us were sold out (not that they had many in the first place), so we had to drive into St. Louis this morning, to pick them up at the Catholic Supply Store (where they were even on sale!).
First, let me say I love Catholic stores. Yes, there are some things there that I find a little odd, but they also sell lots of really cool stuff. And this Catholic supply store reminds me so much of the store I used to go to as a child in my hometown–two-story set-up, Fontanini wall, (I love Fontanini nativity scenes!), banners in the back of the store–the whole thing is very reminiscent of what I remember from childhood. Not a bad place to do some shopping!
But, I was struck by several interesting things while I was in there. First, in the irony category–the Arch books spinner, and the large number of children’s story books published by CPH. There was something very amusing about seeing so many books from a Lutheran publisher in a Catholic store. It made me feel a little less out-of-place in there, that’s for sure!
I was also surprised to see that, while there were many CPH titles, there were very few (if any) books from other Protestant publishing houses. Of course, the main selection of books came from various Catholic publishers, (along with the small selection of CPH books), but no other Protestant titles? I found that to be somewhat telling. It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of American Protestantism, especially all of the vapid books that are sold with a “Christian” label (Joel Osteen, anyone?), and it was nice to see that the Catholics seem to agree with me.
I definitely think I’ll be going back there in the future–I may be a Lutheran in a Catholic store, but I think I found enough common ground to make me feel like less of an imposter!
On the day after Thanksgiving, our town has a tree-lighting ceremony and community sing. There are also free horse-drawn trolley rides, (which happen to be operated by a family from our church!), decorated windows to admire, (the jewelry store is always our favorite, because of the train sets running past the windows, carrying beautiful diamond rings), and a gingerbread house contest, with entries ranging from the cute, (by children), to the amazing, (by professionals such as engineers and artists). This is one of my favorite things about living here. It’s so nice to see families turn out and participate in a community event.
Every year that we’ve gone, the first song we’ve sung has been “O Come All Ye Faithful.” I have to admit, this brings a tear to my eye every time. I don’t think there are too many places left where a community activity like that begins with the singing of an actual Christmas hymn. It’s not like this is a church function; it’s a city event. We also have a nativity scene set up on the town square, which I realize is becoming more unusual (separation of church and state and all), and so I cherish seeing it again every year. Watching people gather together, of their own accord, outside of church, and recognize the true Reason for the Season, does my heart good. I’m glad my children can witness moments like this, as well.
There are some ideas and activities I used for Thanksgiving that don’t really fit in any one day of school, so I’ll share them here.
FamilyFun is an excellent website for finding great activities to do with children. They have special holiday sections, and I got quite a few ideas there. It has become a new tradition to play their “Thanksgiving Day Parade Bingo,” (from the Thanksgiving TV Bingo section), while we watch the Macy’s Parade, and this year I even had our sheets laminated (there’s also a football version, but I’m not really into football, so I didn’t bother…). They also have some really cute coloring sheets, and we took advantage of several of those.
Unwrapped is one of Turkey’s favorite TV shows, because he loves watching how things are made. As luck would have it, there are several Thanksgiving episodes, and so we learned about how things like stuffing, gravy, and cranberries are made. I count this as educational, because they manage to cram a lot of information into just one episode, but Turkey and Bunny just think they’re getting to watch a favorite TV show!
We all really enjoyed watching The Real Story of Thanksgiving on the History Channel (even Ladybug liked it!). This show detailed this history of Thanksgiving from the very first one, through all of the changes it has seen over the years. Much of the show was light-hearted, but it was full of historical information and interesting facts. Did you know that domesticated turkeys (the kind we typically eat on Thanksgiving) are pure white? I think that was the biggest surprise for all us as we were watching!
I got the idea for the silhouettes that we made last week from Great Colonial America Projects. We didn’t really use the book too much this year, but it has some cool craft activities, and it also gives a lot of history mixed in with the projects.
We also watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving several times. The real gem on this disc is “The Mayflower Voyages” segment. While it may be a Peanuts show, it’s also incredibly historically accurate. I can’t believe how much Turkey and Bunny learned (and retained!) about the Pilgrims, just from the repeated watching of this movie.
The last day of “Thanksgiving School” is always a fun day. We read a silly book, The Night Before Thanksgiving, which, just as it sounds, follows the same pattern as The Night Before Christmas. This story does an excellent job of highlighting most of American Thanksgiving traditions–turkey and pumpkin pie, visiting family, football, Pilgrims, and parades. It sadly doesn’t mention Who we are thanking on this holiday, but it is a secular book, after all, and you can’t get everything you want in one book.
Because we do need to learn a little something, we also read Milly and the Macy’s Parade. I found this book a few years ago, and while it is a fictionalized tale, it does give a good idea of how America’s most famous parade came about. It also helps children get a good feeling of what it might be like to be strangers in an established country, and how you might try to bring a little bit of “home” with you in any way you can.
Every holiday should include watching one fun, non-educational movie, so we picked By the Light of the Silvery Moon. It isn’t technically a Thanksgiving movie, but part of it does take place at Thanksgiving. It’s a fun movie, and there some hilarious scenes with a live turkey intended to be Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey and Bunny think it’s a great movie–their laughter was quite raucous!
We finally finished our “thankful turkey” today, too. It’s always fun to see what kind of things Turkey and Bunny come up with when giving thanks–some very sweet (learning about God, their family), some completely obvious (Legos), and some very surprising (the police–I’m assuming the public servants, not the band, but as Turkey is familiar with Rock Band, who knows?).
We have also made hand and footprint turkeys every year. I try not to reuse crafts too much, at least not yearly, but I think this is a special one, because it lets me keep a record of how much the children are growing. In Kindergarten, I had to do all of the cutting for Turkey and Bunny, (12 hands and 4 feet in total–it took forever!), because it was more exact than they could do at that point, but now they can do it all by themselves. This is one of the crafts that I make sure we save at the end of every year, and I know that I’ll love looking back on them someday!