Friday, August 22, 2014

Olesya is 15!!

When you've been cheated of years less than most parents have with their children, it becomes ever more precious. As they grow older, each birthday is tinged with a sweetness that only parents and children who have been denied making memories together can truly understand and appreciate.  Olesya's birthday was this past week, and she turned 15 years old.  We have only had the privilege of celebrating five of those birthdays with her.  We have no first bite of birthday cake photos, no 1, 2 or 3 year old cards saved.

But what we have is here and now, and it is a gift to each of us.  We had no big party, just dinner and a cake together:

Matthew insisted on baking Olesya's cake, and Angie patiently customized it with decorations.  We rarely call Olesya by her name, and she has a couple of nicknames that we most commonly use.  The kids call her Ole' and I tend to call her Lessie, so Angela put Ole (as in Olay) on the cake for her name.
It is hard to believe she is 15, and she admits she doesn't feel 15 but more like 13 or so.  That is probably a pretty accurate assessment of where she is, developmentally and emotionally, and as she says, she is in no hurry to grow up!  I love watching her and Angela savor what remains of their childhood.

Best Buddies!

The Gang

Olesya is in love with some Bollywood hunks, so Angela bought her a poster of some cuties!

Kenny isn't so sure about Bollywood...Haha!
These two regularly crack us up!  Our gift to Olesya was new boots, she has wanted them for ages.  Josh decided to model them with her!

An incredibly tender moment for us all to witness was when Matthew and Joshua presented Olesya with their gift to her.  She was shocked and they just couldn't wait for her to open it.  They both were with me one afternoon and said they wanted to get her something special this year, just because.  They selected a very beautiful bracelet, and I know she felt a bit  like a treasured princess because of their thoughtfulness.

So pretty!

The biggest gift of all, siblings who truly care for one another.

Kenny got in on it by helping her put it on.  
Angela watched and later said to me, "Mom, we have such nice brothers.  Olesya and I are very lucky we ended up in this family.  We could have had brothers who were mean, or just didn't care about us.  I think we will always be friends and be close."  I hope so, Angie, and I am glad the boys have you, too!

Joshie is digging Olesya's pink bag...he is such a goof!

What a sweet evening it was.  Nothing exciting, no major expensive gifts, just time spent together enjoying what a family is all about.  Olesya, you are the kindest young lady I have ever met.  You are beginning to gain more confidence in yourself, and are very slowly seeing your own worth.  Team LaJoy needs your creative spirit, your tender soul.  May your 15th year be as wonderful as you are!!  We love you dearly.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Small Talk

This morning, while standing near the dairy case contemplating whether to buy 3 or 4 gallons of milk, I was surprised to see an old friend from our public school days.  She stopped and we chatted, asking the usual questions moms always ask when running into one another.

"How's your son?  How's school for him?  What are you doing these days?", we ping ponged back and forth for the first 3 minutes.

Then it came, the inevitable lull when you have little in common to talk about other than a former life that little resembles the one you live today, and you know you ought to be saying something but you can't dig up anything else to ask or add.  This was a mom I was genuinely quite fond of, and I left feeling a little melancholy, wishing I was good at small talk, that I was more able to stand there for half an hour chatting about this and that.  I was struck again by the fact that no matter hard I have tried, I have spent the majority of my Mommy Years being very, very alone in my motherhood journey.  I also realized something else...

I don't do small talk.

I am not practiced at it, I am not comfortable within its realms.  What other women pull off with ease is, in some ways, pure torture for me

Instead, what I am well versed in is Big Talk, you know, the kind that moves from shallow to deep end of the pool in the time it takes to draw a single breath.  I have spent years living in that realm, where hearts with ragged, torn edges are exposed.  I don't ask for these conversations, they just seem to follow me, and it is not just within the confines of our family.  We have an inside joke that every time I invite a random mom to come hang with us at the local swimming pool for an afternoon and visit with me while her young'uns play, sometime during our time together, she will end up in tears as she shares concerns.  This has happened at least 6 times, and if I meet someone new there, I will be seeing the kids watch from the sidelines to see if the mom friend is crying.  I am glad I can be a resting place for someone, a safe place where things can come out that might have been long buried.

We've had an incredible amount of Big Talk around here lately.  There are things being shared that I am not going to openly write about at this time, and there are concerns that are easy to be open about.  Let's just say that nothing is simple right now.

Big Talk this week centered around Matthew's visit to Shriner's Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City, where he was evaluated for  ongoing back and orthopedic issues.  It's been about 2 1/2 years since our last visit, and Matt has been diligent about following instructions for activities not to participate in.  We ended up taking Josh along with us.  The original plan was for everyone to stay home, and just Matt and I make the trip.  Kenny and Angela both had work to do with Dominick, one at the restaurant and one pressure washing, so Olesya and Joshua would be home by themselves.  Late the evening before we were to get on the road, Josh came to me trying his best not to cry, telling me that he just didn't feel comfortable being home alone with Olesya and "no big kids or parents", and asked if there was some other arrangement that could be made.  He said he didn't want to hurt Olesya's feelings, but it just didn't feel good to him.  We totally feel Olesya is competent to be home with Josh, but we realized they are too close in terms of school work, etc. for him to feel she was "older"...and thankfully Olesya graciously understood as well.  It was decided that Josh would go with us instead.

What a beautiful, lovely drive we had!  I had pre-loaded some podcasts on my iPad for the desolate, long drive, and yet never touched them.  Instead, the boys and I visited and sang our way through the Utah desert, talking about life, music, faith, and futures.  The older our kids become, the more I enjoy my time with them.  They are such interesting people!

The next day, Matt and I found ourselves alone for a bit in the exam room as we waited for the doctor.  We giggled and played with the kids toys in the room, and laughed over a silly book about a grandma taking her garbage out.  When the doctor arrived, all laughter stopped.  Looking at the new xrays that had just been taken, it was obvious that surgery was now a reality.  I was very proud of how Matthew handled himself, and saw immediately how much he has matured since our last visit there.  This time there was no prodding necessary as he answered the MD's questions fully, providing details and explaining how much pain he was in most of the time.  We discussed what surgery might be like, and it was quickly decided that this would be the best course of action.  Matt was given a choice, and he bravely opted for it, as he knows it will do nothing but get worse over time.  After some conversation, we all agreed to let him play volleyball, return in November for another follow up and schedule surgery for after the first of the year sometime.

The drive home was much more contemplative than the drive there.  Matt admitted he is scared, and he knows this is not minor.  We talked out the pros and cons of waiting versus moving forward, and he was firm about going ahead with it, which I think is very wise, but I would have understood if he had elected to put it off.  We were told it would be a 6 month recovery, and probably a second surgery as well to go in and remove hardware after healing.  That was a lot for him to take in, and when we arrived home it was a lot for everyone to digest.  Everyone spoke of how Matt would have to come first then, and everything else would have to be second on the list.  As we talked with the family, Matt laid down and put his head on my lap, something he hasn't done in a long time.  I reassured him that it would all be fine in the long run, that he was getting the very best of care from folks who knew how to keep the pain at a minimum and really knew what they were doing so he could have a better future.

I barely had time to consider it all before moving on in my mind to preparing Angela for repeat root canal.  Everything went fine, and she was thrilled with the dentist we found who did my crown recently.  That made a world of difference because she came out saying she was no longer terrified of dental work, as long as this dentist did it.  He is very kind and considerate as he is working, and so we have solved on problem for all my dentist-shy kids.

We have some heavy stuff going on around here, fears about the future abound.  Next weekend we are going camping for the second time in our new-to-us trailer, and I think we are all long overdue for a breather. Despite all the concerns, we are able to share our feelings and be open with one another about fears.  That is the killer for families, when emotions get buried and there is an unwillingness to draw upon one another for strength.  We have no idea what the coming months will look like for us in all kinds of areas, but we are together, we are strong, and we are facing every challenge with an entire loving Team behind us.  That's all that really matters.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer Camp, Phase 2

Funny, when our kids go to camp, then return home, it always seems as if I have to go into Overdrive.  Emotions are brought to the surface as events of the week are processed, an it leaves me wondering if every parent of kids who go to church camp experience this.  Dominick and I are deeply moved by the ways in which our kids's lives are transformed by their time at camp, and it is worth everything in the world to us to get them there.  However, I always end up feeling as if I need a week vacation after tending to their emotional needs.

This year has, by far, been the year of biggest emotions ever.  Lots of things have arisen, some of which I am not at liberty to share at this time.  Things that will take us years to work with, I fear.  It's also very, very good that such things have surfaced.  

Angela and Matt came home anxious to talk about the topics of conversation at camp.  A missionary with the YMCA working in India was a speaker, and Angela was enthralled by him, as she is with all things from India.  She participated in groups about social justice issues, and it is so easy to see a future for her doing something to advocate for others, whether it be a vocation or an avocation.  Matthew spoke for the very first time openly and clearly about his developing faith and his perceptions.  While hearing about many kids' claiming deism but not necessarily Christianity, Matt said that for the first time, he really was able to understand how much he had learned from Jesus' teachings, and though he could never be a literalist when it comes to Scripture, he now firmly sees that he claims Christianity for himself because he believes that the things Jesus taught were the best path for a fulfilling life...and the path he genuinely wants to walk.  

The struggle with the "tough girl" image for Angela was something that came up for her, and we had long, tear filled conversations about how much she...and I...lost by not belonging to one another when she was younger.  We spoke of missed cuddle time, of nurturing that is awkward to offer in ways more acceptable with younger children, and of her desire to somehow get in touch with her softer self and help bring that forward more in her life.  Kids who have to protect themselves and younger siblings at very young ages find "Tough Kid" as default mode.  We made a list of ideas for things she could do to help bring that side to the forefront, and we both agreed that after the new year we are going to work hard on finding her a volunteer position working with the elderly, as that is when we both see her very tender side come forth. 

Attending the high school camp now, our kids are around larger groups of kids their own age than they usually get to mingle with, and for the most part these are "big city" kids, not "country bumpkins".  It was eye opening for both to listen to the revelations shared by others about drugs, alcohol and sexual exploits of kids their own ages, or younger, as others found a safe place to talk about their concerns for their lives.  This was not bragging, this was sharing about using other things to fill up the empty places that so many young people walk around with.  I asked them both if they felt odd when such conversations came up, thinking Matt in particular might feel awkward or nerdy being such an "inexperienced" square.  He sat thoughtfully for a moment, then responded, "No, Mom, I felt lucky that I didn't need all of that to feel mature, and that I don't have to go looking for things to help me feel whole.  It didn't bother me at all to talk about not doing that kind of stuff.  That's not what makes someone a man, or an adult, and I have too much I want to do with my life to screw it up with that."  We were so happy that he seemed confident and self-assured about who he is in the world.  

Both of them seem just a bit further down the road to adulthood after this camp, in all the right ways.

Summer is fading fast, and we are gearing up for a new school year.  The printer has been running, wildly spewing out page after page of curriculum as I prepare writing notebooks, and other items.  Volleyball begins in 3 weeks or so, and we have a trip to Shriner's for Matthew next week, and I have a trip to California to visit mom and see how she is doing later in August.  I'm trying to find more time to write blog posts, and I am hoping that life will get back into a bit of a routine so I can create space for that.  I miss it when I don't blog, even though I know it is pretty "half baked" most of the time.  It is my "working it out" place, and right now, there is a lot to work out in our lives.

Off to sleep now...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Church Camp Week #1

It has been a highly emotional few days, as Olesya, Kenny and Joshua returned from church camp. I have no idea how other people's kids react when they return from a week away at camp, but it never, ever fails to have an enormous impact on our children...and this year more than ever.  All three kids were moved to the point of tears upon their return, and all expressed a wish that camp never had to end.

Joshua has spent the past 3 days crying off and on, because the experience was deep and rich for him.  He wishes desperately that camp were longer, and came away for the very first time having a far better understanding of what/who God is, and encountered the Spirit perhaps for the very first time in a recognizable way.  He also internalized that he loves who he is, and though he struggles with emotions he told me he realized he doesn't want to change a thing about himself.  Camp also seems to have helped him be able to talk more about his feelings of insecurity, and how he still has feelings of complete terror that arise in minor situations.  As he cried, we talked about ways for him to handle those emotions, and how they may never fully disappear but that his awareness can lead to healthier ways of dealing with them.  Watching his eyes well with tears over and over again as he spoke, I was struck by how this child has the strength of 10 men, and has come further than we ever would have imagined when he was young and full on RAD.  Yet there is still so much work to be done...

For Olesya, there was an awakening to her own wonderfulness, as she excitedly told me she figured something out. She had a  rough couple of weeks prior to camp that came out the day before when she had a very emotional meltdown as she talked about feeling bad about who she was, about not being super skinny, about not being attractive in her own mind.  Speaking with a firm resolve I have never heard from her before, she told me about how being at camp somehow helped her see herself as perfectly normal, and she saw how she needed to start speaking up for herself more rather than just give in to everyone around her.  Of all our children, Olesya's self-esteem is by far the lowest, and we constantly work to try and build her up.  Sometimes it feels almost impossible to undo what was done to our kids...or in Olesya's case to help her stop wanting to make herself invisible to the world.  Something clicked for her at camp which I hope carries over long afterward, and she began to see herself as somehow worthy of more than being relegated to the back seat of life.

For three solid days, Kenny has been doing nothing but writing.  He decided at camp, with the encouragement of his wonderful counselor, that he was going to write a book about his understanding of God.  He is titling it "The Human God", and he has literally written for hours and hours without stopping.  Kenny always cries at the end of camp, because he loves it so much and it allows him to spend an entire week immersed in all things theological.  For him, that is a little slice of heaven, and it hurts when he has to part ways.

Kenny shared one final thought before going to bed the night after camp. He told me that he realized something very important at camp in a way he never had before.  "Mom, I think I came away even more grateful for my amazing family than I ever have been.  I always know I am lucky to have all of you, but for some reason, this year I heard more stories that were hard to hear, and for most of the kids their families were a big part of why they were unhappy.  When it was my turn to share, I could only think of how my family is the greatest thing to ever happen to me, and how we are all kind and respectful with each other.  I guess I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have.  We are boring because we don't have any drama, but I think I really like boring!"

This year was incredible for these three, and as I explained in a thank you message to their counselors, for our kids La Foret is not just a chance to have a great time and learn more about is like a year's worth of therapy work crammed into a single week.  They come away with pieces of their hearts put back together, having healed a little bit more with each passing summer.  I usually spend the week post-camp dealing with the emotions that have arisen, having quiet conversations and helping them work it all.  It is an honor that they are willingly sharing such things with me, particularly at this age when many shut down completely and hide behind a mask of disdain for all things parental.

Three down, two to go...I hope Matt and Angela are having the time of their lives and learning more about themselves.  I hope we have lots to talk about after they arrive home and we debrief.  Those two are both very deep rivers, and it will be interesting to hear what they have to say if they feel called to share.

Camp weeks are awesome.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Three Less has been over a week since I last blogged.  Every once in awhile life gets busy, and I prefer to live it rather than write it :-)

We had guests for a week, and had a lot of fun traveling around the area, visiting the beautiful sights, staying up late and chatting.  We don't often get overnight visitors, so when we do it is a special treat.  With five kids and a dog, and being quite far off the beaten path, I don't know WHY on earth anyone wouldn't want to come stay at Casa LaJoy...hahaha!

The house is extremely quiet this week, as Olesya, Kenny and Joshua are off at church camp...their beloved LaForet in Colorado Springs. We are three less around here, and it feels weird!  Thankfully, not a single forest fire has been reported yet, which sadly has almost become a tradition for camp months.  Angie and Matt are home, and we are realizing we really live with several adults these days, not a houseful of kids.  Dominick and I ran into town yesterday to take Sunny to the groomer for her annual shave down (I hate the way she looks like this...sort of a combo of a lamb and a greyhound dog!!  Ugh!), and came home to a mowed yard and the trash cans hauled to the curb without us saying a word about it.  When we went in the house, we thanked the kids for being so responsible with being reminded, and they both acted as if it was no big deal at all.

It is nice to get the kids in different groupings, as the dynamics are very different and it often reveals nuances that are missed in the larger group setting.  Angela and I have been watching inspirational mini-films that she has found and shown me, and we both really love the same sorts of things in that regard.  Tonight, though I am getting a night out with friends at the movies, Angie and I plan to stay up really late and watch TV together...chick flicks or shows that we usually put aside for everyone else.  She is looking for a Bollywood film to share with me, her total passion...and we have spent time looking at all the handsome Bollywood actors on Google.  So cute, so Angie.  She says she would like to marry a man from India or an African American man, because she finds them to be quite handsome.  I have to admit, she has very, very good taste :-)  We often tease one another because our taste in other things runs quite counter to one another.  She is a big sunglasses, leopard print, large dangly earring kind of gal...and I am more along the lines of small stud earrings, animal print hating, practical glasses kind of mom.  Somehow though, it works, and we do have a crossover of "likes" that appears fairly often.  We joke that all we have to do to select a gift for one another is pick out what we hate, and we know the other will adore it!  Hahaha!

And that is sort of how our family rolls, we don't have any expectations that anyone has to like the same things, believe the same things, etc. to be "right"...unless it is core morals or values.  Other than that, everyone is quite free to be exactly how they want to be, though Angela's more Russian style and taste has had to be tamed a bit as she recognized early on that in American, some of what is an acceptable "look" in Kazakhstan is viewed here as leaning more toward a "hooker look", so she recognizes the need to drop it down a notch!  We just laugh over the differences, finding them amusing without judgment.

Matt is working on an enormous project for me, and has spent at least 15 hours on it already with probably 100 more to go.  I am so grateful for his help, it is tedious and time consuming, and I really couldn't do this project without help from he and others.  I will soon be talking more about it here, but it is also what has kept me from blogging as much as I have been very busy with research and working on it, which has required a lot of computer time.  I am gradually growing excited about it, as is the whole family as everyone will be involved at some level.  I have no idea if we will be successful or not, but we're going to give something a try.

Dominick and I looked at one another yesterday and said, "So this is what it would have felt like if we had stayed with two kids."

The pros:

1)  Far fewer dishes.  I had NO idea really, just how often we ran the darned dishwasher around here!
2)  Quieter
3)  Less "stuff" laying around that has to be picked up
4)  Leaving the house is far easier with two than just get ready and go, and we aren't really waiting for anyone
5)  Food...we have it...I have not yet hit Walmart and don't need to.  I live in a perpetual state of dreading the Walmart run, or being on a Walmart run.
6)  The dog spends time with me, normally she hovers around the kids all the time, and most often Olesya.  Suddenly, I am an attractive companion.

The cons:

1)  Quiet is definitely over-rated.
2)  Less laughter.  More people = more silly things happening to laugh about
3)  No Kenny
4)  No Olesya
5)  No Joshua

#'s 3, 4, and 5 are enough alone to negate the Pros of #'s 1-6.

As for Dominick and I, he is just staying quite busy working in this awful heat, getting up very, very early almost every morning and coming home quite tuckered out.  I am trying to adjust to my new bifocals.  It is not going well and to say I hate them is an understatement.  However, in order to move my attitude to gratitude this afternoon, I took my glasses off and looked around, trying to do ANYTHING for 10 minutes without seeing.

It worked.

Popped those bifocals on and was immediately so grateful that I can see with some semblance of normalcy versus what my naked eyes see like.  Funny how we really can do little things to change our outlook tremendously.  Don't get me wrong, I'll still complain about them now and then, I am sure, but at least I will come back to center quickly with that simple reminder of naked eyes that literally can not function at all and would mean the very end of life as I know it if it weren't for me half inch thick coke bottle bifocal lenses.

Another week of camp next week after a trip to Colorado Springs to drop off and pick up, and we will get life back to normal, whatever that is around here :-)

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Happy Pictureless Fourth!

Well...I did it again...totally forgot my camera when I wanted to have it with me.  Guess I'll have to paint a picture with words, something that is always a struggle for me.  First though, I have to catch up because I was a bad girl and didn't post much this week as other things occupied my time and heart.

I didn't write here about our special anniversary last week, though I posted on Facebook about it.  28 years married, 32 together, and we rarely do anything special for our anniversary. Usually, we can't afford it, don't want the hassle of finding someone to watch five kids, or have been in a place where we didn't feel comfortable leaving the kids.  This year though, the kids gave us an anniversary that was beyond a cruise or high end night out on the town.

We were debating whether we should go out to dinner or not, and the kids all told us to plan on it.  In the days leading up to it, they kept asking us where we were going, etc.  Saturday comes along, and we knew we were going out to eat but were in the great "Where do you want to eat?" debate when Josh and Olesya each come up to us and hand us gift cards they had purchased for us.  One was for Outback Steakhouse, which is too far away but will DEFINITELY be on the agenda, and one was a Visa gift card.  Neither was aware of what the other had bought, so it was a funny moment...and terribly sweet...when they gave them to us.

Off we went to a local Mexican eatery, where we enjoyed just sitting and visiting without others present.  Many might think that is rare for us, and in some ways I guess it is, but we are pretty lucky to be able to find the time at home often to talk.  We just tell the kids we need some time without them interrupting, and they occupy themselves. What we don't often get is the time, period, where we are both awake and alert, where schedules are not such that it is squeezed in between the next thing to do on the list, etc.  After dinner, we went for a long drive in in the evening "golden hour", traveling off the beaten path and winding through ranch land with a mountain landscape in the background that I still never take for granted.  What we can have at a moments notice is what others pay dearly for a vacation to experience. Believe me, it is worth the is also worth the effort it takes to make it here, for it is soul filling in ways a typical city can never, ever be.  We may some day have to move from here, but my heart will always live in this place.

Arriving home, we pulled up to find a sign greeting us, wishing us a "Happy Anniversary", and once inside the door, it was obvious that a lot of work had been put in to cleaning up the house, setting the table with a tablecloth and wine glasses with root beer waiting to be poured.  While we were gone, a cake had been baked and frosted, and the viewing area prepared as Angela had a special surprise for us.  We all gathered in the TV room, where Matt the Tech Man had her computer hooked up to the TV, and we were treated to a slide show she had put together for us that told our story along with some tender and funny comments mingled with the photos.  It was darling, humorous, and so, so sweet.  We watched it twice, both Dominick and I with tears in our eyes.  When it was done, we hugged and thanked her, and she dissolved into tears herself, saying she had no idea why she was crying but she was so glad we loved it.  We stood there, the three of us in a long, slow hug, each of us with tears streaming...filled with a gratitude that only those who have been through the fire of trying to help Love Win can understand.  We knew why she was crying, and that alone was the best anniversary gift a parent could ever have.

We found one another in this world, and our love was hard fought for...and damn, it is good.  Angela's hesitation four and a half years ago was logical, her actions were painful but understandable given her life circumstances to that point.  Today, her love for her family is fierce and intense.  She has a soul deep appreciation for all that Team LaJoy is, and loves us with great zeal.  It was an honor to feel the love that flowed through her that night, to know it took her two weeks and many hours to create "our story", all the while savoring what she is a part of...she belongs somewhere and she belongs to someone.  She now has "her people" and she knows their story, having folded it into hers.  Words alone can not express the power in that, and once again we were humbled to have the Spirit flow through our home in a big "Whoosh...".

That was not all, over cake we opened cards from each of the kids.  More tears.  Our kids really, really put things into words beautifully, and more than one person has told me that when they receive a card or note from a LaJoy, it is a "keeper".  Kenny's touched us so deeply as he wrote:

"Your love is wider than the roaring seas. Your love is deeper than the abyss. Your loyalty for each other rockets into space. Your marriage is the eighth wonder in this world. It burns bright, showing all those that seek it.

Together you laugh through thick and thin. As one you pierce through life with laughter, joy, hope, vision and love. As a body of one you give life and form to a family of your own. With encouragement, support and love you create a life that transforms other people's lives. You were made for each other in every way possible."

We are truly not "all that", but to know our son sees us that way is quite special.  That he would put it into words is even more so.  I want to preserve his words here, as I often do other things the kids say or write, because paper might one day disappear, and I never want to forget these little things that made up our life.  Oddly, this blog is our family journal and scrapbook, and I as the kids mature and grow older, I am ever more grateful that I have continued to blog and save this bits of treasure from our life here...and I am thankful for a dear friend who saves it every month for me by backing it up!  How I'd hate to lose all that is recorded here.

So, needless to say, it was a lovely anniversary.

But wait, there's more celebrating to be had!!

I am still so mad that I didn't bring my camera!  Life conspired against me to keep me from running back home and getting it.  Yesterday friends cooked up a 50 1/2 birthday celebration for Dominick to coincide with the 4th of July, so he would never guess.  And he didn't :-)

We spent the late afternoon and evening with an outdoor BBQ, and Dominick sitting on his "throne", a new office chair that the kids purchased for him.  It was an old fashioned Fourth, with an egg toss, water gun fights for the kids, and believe it or not, "Cut Throat FourSquare" was played for a couple of hours by adults and kids alike. It was a hoot, and the adults took it very seriously, sacrificing our bodies to the cause as many of us, including myself, took tumbles.  Dominick was spoiled with several gift cards for JCPenney, so he could purchase some new clothes for himself and was warned not to use them on the kids.  This man has put himself last on the list, year after year, and has always insisted that everyone else get what they need despite my haranguing that he needs new clothes, too.  He lost a lot of weight this past year, and really desperately needs some pants that fit...but along came his own root canal and still-in-need of implant, my own recent crown after a shattered tooth, and on and on and on.  Because he works in grubby conditions, he has always worn grubby clothing because logically, who wants to pressure wash greasy gunk and ruin good clothing?  But it has left him without anything very nice for non-work wear as he hasn't replaced anything.  He will be well outfitted now, as friends showed such generosity and love for him.

Having no plans to go the fireworks, Angela and a couple other kids in attendance expressed their dismay, so at the last minute, three cars ran off to find a somewhat secluded location from which to view them.  There, in the evening summer glow with a light breeze caressing us, we adults pulled out the yard chairs while the kids ran ahead and giggled, oohing and aaahhing with each colorful explosion.  We spoke softly, we adults who have now shared many years of friendship and many other happy 4ths together.  We have created a history for all of these kids and grand kids, memories of holidays shared, of adults and kids playing together, of shuffleboard and horseshoes and Killer Foursquare.  Kenny's first 4th of July was spent with this crew, and every one ever since.  These people have wrapped their arms around this rag tag family who is just trying their best to make it, they have loved us thoroughly, and hopefully, they have felt the love coming right back to them from us.

So, pictures or not, we had a splendid 4th of July week...the entire week has been a celebration of love and all things 'Murica...which to me really means family and friendship, as well as sacrifices big and small.  Next time, I won't forget the camera!!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sometimes I Take for Granted

Sometimes I take for granted that...

1)   I have people in my life who love me just the way I am.
2)  I have a husband who works incredibly hard, who never complains about his work.
3)  I have a warm, comfortable bed to sleep in each night.
4)  I can have clean clothes any time I want.
5)  My children love and respect me a lot, and never hesitate to show it.  They also like being with me.
6)  I receive tender touches each and every day from someone around my home, be it an arm across my shoulder, a peck on the cheek, a long bear hug just because, or a hand that reaches for mine.  This may be my #1 thing to be grateful for and not take for granted.  Human touch is important.
7)  I have matured in my faith, and thus panic less while seeking and listening more.
8)  No matter how poor it is, I still have correctable eye sight.  Bi-focals on order, and super expensive lenses because of the Rx being so high, but at least I can still see the leaves on trees clearly, and the smiles on the faces of those around me.
9)  My car runs, I can rely on it because it is in good shape regardless of how old or how many miles on it.  I don't have to hold my breath when I turn the key in the ignition.
10) I have several friends to laugh with...and cry with when necessary.
11)  I have a husband who has been my one and only forever.
12)  I have a happy, yellow house.  I absolutely love pulling on to our street and seeing our happy yellow house.
13)  The water that comes out of the tap is clear, cool, and clean.
14)  I can read and write well, I can understand virtually anything I read no matter at what level it is written.  I realize that many Americans do not have that ability, and it has made a huge difference in my life.
15)  Every day of my life, there are smiles around me, there is virtually no anger, no arguing, no discord.  I know I take it for granted, but I often give thanks for this very thing, for I can never express my gratitude for that enough.
16)  I have strong, smart, capable people circling me, some who carry my last name and some who do not.
17)  I have what I need, and some of what I want...and that is a blessing.
18)  I am safer than many are when they go to sleep at night.
19)  I take for granted that I have children, wonderful, amazing, super thoughtful, pretty darned perfect children.
20)  I take for granted that I have suffered some hardships in my life, and where I am today in life is a direct result of those hardships.

Ten minutes ago I stood in the hallway while five children crowded around me, telling me about their evening and what they had done while I was gone.  They were quietly standing there, one tall one with an arm around my waist, another grinning from ear to ear telling me about a project they were working on.  As I reminded them that Kenny and I would be gone for his MRI in the morning, one by one they each said something along the line of, "OK, I can work on my math/stock market research/civil war leader report.  Don't worry, we'll be busy until you get home."  Then I was sweetly asked how my evening was, and if I enjoyed it.

I know this doesn't happen in many homes with teens this age.  I know that for many moms returning home from an evening out, there would barely be an acknowledgment of her presence, or a demand for her to do something for them.  Instead, I had my laundry pulled from the dryer and folded/hung for me by either the kids or Dominick, the kitchen was cleaned up so I had no mess to take care of, and I was hugged a lot and told to have sweet dreams tonight by my own children.

Sometimes I might take it for granted, but truthfully, it isn't very often.  With every quiet conversation, every hand hold, every glance up from what they are doing and a chipper "Hi, Mom!" is uttered...I know how blessed I am, I rarely forget it, for it is the key to why my life is so sweet.  With every sweaty end to a long, hard, hot day, with every laugh at the antics around us, with every night he comes home to me, I know I am blessed, and I rarely forget it.

Reserving gratitude for Thanksgiving is a travesty.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I Love Epiphanies!

Do you ever have moments where you have a happy epiphany?? Today was one such day, and it caught me a bit off guard.

This afternoon, the kids and I were deeply involved in helping a friend pack a UHaul for a cross country trip to move to California.  There were four other adults around, helping to pack this couple's belongings, and when we arrived bearing a large refrigerator dolly, the project started.  Within 10 minutes one thing was surprisingly apparent...

Our kids have developed a sense of teamwork and an ability to assess a situation and act accordingly that is rare in a group of kids this young.  I don't know why I saw it all of a sudden, but it was as if every frustrating moment of teaching logical thinking, planning, etc. all fell into place, creating a sort of beautiful ballet, carefully choreographed movements, leaning on one another's gifts and avoiding weaknesses.  There was little need to tell them what to do, they just got in and somehow seemed to know exactly what was needed, and didn't wait to be told.  Boxes were handed to one another in bucket brigade style, minimizing unnecessary running around, quiet consultations were held about how best to move particular pieces of furniture, and all was done so efficiently that it would seem there was a professional moving team present.

It was a thing of beauty to watch, truly...until the adults present thwarted it.

The kids politely stepped aside as some sort of quiet power play erupted between adults present.  Though not at all directed at the kids, it was interesting to watch as all action slowed to a snail's pace, and Team LaJoy quickly recognized they needed to just let things unfold as others worked through their issues.

We operate differently as a family, as Dominick and I really respect our kids' opinions.  Though we may not always agree with them, we have always heard them out, encouraged them to share, and very often do end up acting on their recommendations or ideas.  This may seem odd to some, as I know many families have a more top down kind of hierarchy, but we see our kids as thoughtful and intelligent, and find they bring a fresh approach to things that helps us view it all differently.

Matthew quietly asked me, "Mom, how old will I have to be for other adults to take me seriously and not just push me aside like I am a kid?"  He was trying valiantly to hold back his suggestions for how to pack more quickly and solidly as his area of giftedness in spatial thinking makes that a total breeze for him.  He knew it would be inappropriate to say anything, and decided the best tactic would be to walk away and let the adult struggle, as it was clear there was no desire to hear suggestions from anyone else, be it another adult or a child.

"Probably when you are 30 years old, people will start treating you like you actually know something.", I replied.

He was silent for a few minutes, then said, "Sometimes I appreciate you and Dad a lot more.  This is one of those times.  You never treat us like we are just kids.  Thanks, Mom.", then he walked back into the fray, willing to do what he was directed to do, respectful as could be.

Another little epiphany is that Joshua is really maturing.  Today he went for his "interview" to volunteer at the library.  He had completed the application all on his own, and when we entered the library he walked right up to the office by himself without any urging on my part and knocked, then confidently sat down to answer any questions they had about his application.  He arranged his volunteer time...Tuesdays between 11:00 - 1:00 pm, and will be doing lots of odd jobs around the library, eventually leading to shelving books.  He came out and told me all about it, and that his first day next week he would need to go in a little later to be trained.  I thought back to how reluctant he would have been even a year ago to do something like this on his own, or talk to a stranger by himself, and I couldn't help but smile.

That young man has come a long way.  He may still bring his blankie camping with him, but there is a quiet self-assurance that is emerging that is so rewarding to see in him.  He is so cute right now, as he bandies about with an enormous necklace with a lightning bolt pendant dangling from it.  It cracks us all up, as he unknowingly looks like a mini-Asian gangsta' wannabe, which was TOTALLY not the look he was hoping for!  He was startled to see that the necklace arrived with a 3 inch lightning bolt instead of a very small, delicate one he thought he had ordered on Amazon.  Though he was pretty disappointed in it, he decided to wear it anyway, because he paid for it and didn't want to send it back.  Since he knows nothing of hip hop culture, it is even funnier, because he has no clue why we might find it funny.

Tonight was another final epiphany of the day.  We all sat around chatting about our future, Dominick's work, and a couple of ideas we are working on.  The kids literally stunned me with their encouragement and support as we talked.  They spoke of God's guidance in our lives as I admitted that I am not hearing or seeing any clear directions, and they reassured me that they all feel we are on the right path, in the right place, doing the right things...and that in time we would know what God has in store for us all.  To hear such easy, every day acceptance of the Spirit's presence was surprising, as it came so naturally that it was clear to me that they indeed have taken in and are putting into practice all we have tried to teach them over the years about being patient while the Spirit takes time to work, and about having a sense of knowing when something is being guided by God or not.  To know that those lessons have been taken to heart and that the kids are that connected was a real gift to me.

We are at a stage where we are starting to see the fruits of our parenting labors.  I had someone recently ask me how I could stand being with that many teenagers all day, as they spoke about how much they hated this stage with their own kids.  For me, it is just the opposite, these years are so special.  We are seeing the kids blossom into fine young adults, people whose word can be counted on, people who are growing more aware of the world around them and realize they have a place in it.  The girls are both so, so special in our lives, lending a strong feminine vibe that is enjoyed by all of us as they point out things that would go right past the boys.  They all have so much fun together, and I couldn't imagine when we were young parents that we would ever, ever find the teen years to be so joyous.  Watching your children put into practice many of the things you have tried to teach them is particularly sweet.

Even cooler was looking in the rearview mirror after hitting the library today and seeing Angela had checked out an enormous biography on Ghandi, and Matt was reading a large tome on Warren Buffett, Joshua was enthralled as he read about tsunamis and stopped every 2 minutes to share some awesome fact, Olesya was knee deep in more forensics books, and Kenny was totally engrossed in the first book of the Left Behind series.  Our little bookworms wouldn't even look up from devouring their selections, and I couldn't help but laugh out loud at the tiny little miracle that is these kids.  Four years post adoption, and the girls are fully fluent and following interests they never imagined having.  Four years after being pulled from public school being unable to read at a 1st grade level, and Kenny is sailing along reading for fun!!  Five years later, and Matthew is doing what he always dreamed of doing, reading as much as he wants and pursuing his varied passions at a level far above anything he would have been able to find time for were he in a classroom.  Four years later, and Joshua is using his math skills to analyze stocks for his pretend portfolio, giddy as he makes his selections and steps into a world he might not have discovered at this stage.

I love epiphanies!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Time Set Aside

We went camping this weekend, for the first time in a couple of years.  It was a first outing for our "New to Us" hybrid camping trailer, recently acquired after months and months of stalking Craig's List, Ebay, RV Trader, and more.  We got our deal, by golly, as patience once again proved to be our best bet.  We had saved all the money I had put aside for the now returned harp, as well as all I had earned working at the homeschool shows in order to eventually be able to acquire what we hoped would turn out to be the right rig for camping adventures.  Without access to the funds from our former Charter Homeschool program, which was such a blessing to provide such wonderful academic field trips, we new would likely be unable to afford any travel at all unless we found some way to make it more affordable.  For larger families such as ours, it can cost upwards of $200 per night for hotels at even moderately priced places.  Throw in a few meals out, and you have costs of what can be $300+ a day or more to travel, without the cost of gas.  We wanted to still be able to get out and see things, but needed a replacement hotel room/personal kitchen to keep it more economical.  Hence, our desire to find the "perfect" Rolling Yurt for our Eurasian Crew.

Here's a glimpse of our trailer, now nicknamed "Guadalupe" to accompany the Big Green Machine (van) nicknamed Jorge.  We thought they would make a cute couple :-)

It was worth the months of looking, Guadalupe is 11 years old, but was in almost mint condition.  We stumbled across her, and turned out she was being sold by someone Dominick knew and trusted.  All of us were ecstatic, we never expected to find something so nice in our price range...she should have been thousands more!  We ended up with a hybrid, as we needed as much space as possible but with a smaller towing length and weight.  With a small slide out,and two pop out beds, this fit the bill wonderfully.  We no longer have a "One Butt Kitchen" and can pass one another, and there is a place for every shoe (a real menace we discovered long ago!), every book, every flashlight.  An enormous kitchen helps make it so much more comfortable for so many people to share a trailer.  We felt a bit like we were sleeping in a mansion versus our other experiences.

The kids get the bunk ends, the boys on one Queen size and the girls on the other.

Dominick and I get the fold out couch and the fold down dinette as our individual beds.  We couldn't believe we could actually sleep seven comfortably.

This has almost as much storage as our kitchen at home!

Best of all?  No wheels fell off, no leaks were found, no holes in the tent ends, nothing at all went wrong!!  Imagine that!  Hahaha!  Our first two nights in Guadalupe were so comfortable and cozy, we just couldn't believe it.  We kept our first trip relatively close to home, and just two nights, in case something went wrong.  Inside we managed to cram four bicycles, a large cooler, and a small BBQ that mounts on the side of the trailer as well.  We still look a bit like the Clampett's, but we are more organized.

The kids had a blast riding bikes all over, walking trails with Sunny, discovering cool lookout points.  Ridgway Reservoir is consistently rated the top state park in Colorado, and we are so lucky it is nearby.  Kenny and Matthew went on a biking adventure, riding about 10 miles over trails all by themselves, returning feeling like Real Men as Matt needed a little minor doctoring for a cut hand.  Joshie is in need of a larger bike, as none of us had realized he had outgrown his old bike, but is not yet tall enough for the bigger boys' bikes.  We need to save a little money and see if we can get him an "in between" bike until he gets a smidgen taller.  While the Big Boys were on their trek, Josh and the girls went with Dominick and I on a boat ride with friends from church who were camping nearby.  It was the first time on a small motorized boat for any of them, and they all thought it was wonderful!:

Windblown and loving it!

This was the view quite literally from our campsite. Pretty awesome, huh? 
Only 45 minutes from home...Colorado, how I love you!

Sitting on a rough hewn log bench high above Ridgway Reservoir, a dear friend and I watched an unequaled sunset play out before us.  The criss crossing of small sailboats creating a pattern of clear plaid upon the smooth, calm water, we took it in while quietly speaking of matters small and large, each of us pausing every few minutes to exclaim about the beauty that was being recreated over and over again in new patterns before us, as if God was manipulating a Holy Etch-a-Sketch on the sun dappled lake.  More than once I wished I had not left my camera behind, and multiple times I reminded myself to live in the moment, and not worry about capturing bits of collected data, but rather let my my mind record it indelibly on my soul.

It was time set aside, nothing else at that moment needed our attention, nor would we let anything pull us away.

Funny, but I have noticed that as our world around us speeds up, faster and faster keeping everyone busier and busier, our family seems to be feeling the need to slow down, to buck the system.  The kids all proclaimed that they are really enjoying doing absolutely nothing much at all this summer but a little activity here or TaeKwonDo, not much in the way of outside activities other than volunteering at the food bank, or doing a little church stuff.  They are daring to be different, not lazy, but intentionally slowing down when most young people their ages are speeding up as they begin thinking of padding college applications with activity after activity.  Ours are spending days doing a little school, a lot of reading, a lot of exploring different ideas and interests.  Not once have I heard, "I'm bored!!!" but often they've chanted, "I am so glad we have nothing we have to go do!"  I hope something is seeping deep within them, that they begin to understand they are the masters of their lives, they can control what happens and how busy they are.  Josh's big interview at the library is tomorrow, as he hopes to be allowed to volunteer.  His big excitement about that is that then he would be at the library every single week and be able to check out books more often!  He also loves the organization of a library, but said, "I want to volunteer, but I think one day a week for a couple of hours is plenty of time."

We can't wait until our next camping trip, which will necessarily be a few weeks away.  We have long time friends coming to spend a week with us, then church camp for all the kids.  That will be enough excitement for July, but we'll be planning the next get together for Jorge and Guadalupe, and hope to visit someplace totally new.

In the meantime, a few more moments that I did manage to capture.  Summer is moving slowly along, wonderfully restful and beautiful...Josh took these four photos:

Smiles and giggles, over very little!
Classic Kenny, aka:  Watermelon King

Lessie and her best friend!

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Summer Exploration and Falling More in Love

Every once in awhile you find yourself walking through a few days, just knowing it is special.  Nothing really all that extraordinary on the outside, but you sense the closeness of those you love more intimately than at other times, you have a greater appreciation for all that surrounds you and you are intentional about not taking it for granted.  Maybe it is because there is a small change up in routine, maybe  you sense the passing of time, or maybe you simply stop and look around you, seeing it all more clearly for a bit.  Whatever it is, you capture it on the film of your heart...and sometimes the sensor or your digital camera...and you can't help but feel how rich you are in so many ways.

This weekend we quietly celebrated Matt's 15th birthday.  FIFTEEN?!?!?  Where did my baby go?  Hidden beneath the hairy chin, the deep voice, and the broad shoulders I am thankfully still able to see that little guy:

Matt, you have a wicked, dry sense of humor that I totally dig.  You're such an incredibly intelligent, wise old soul and every one of us love how skilled you are at A) Finding us terrific new music to listen to, B)  Coming up with the perfect factoid to match whatever it is that we are conversing about, and C)  Being our Personal Tech Guy.  Oh, I miss my Doopy Doo sometimes, but if he were here, 15 year old Matthew wouldn't be, and I am having SO much fun with 15 year old Matt!  Thank you for still wanting your Mom and Dad to be close to you, to snuggle with us once in awhile, to beg us to sit down and play a video game with you or watch some video clip you've stumbled upon. In today's world, I realize that our relationship is rare among teenaged boys and their parents, and we don't for a moment take it for granted.  You, young man, are a gem, and what makes you even more special is how unaware you are of how your siblings idolize you, and how handsome and sweet you are.  Nothing is more attractive than a kind, quietly confident young man who is completely unaware of how awesome he really is on so many levels.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, Matt.  Our entire family couldn't be what it is without our calm demeanor through rough seas of change, your open hearted acceptance of so many others, and your unknowingly setting such a good example for your other siblings. You have always set the stage and standard, and been observed far more closely than you ever knew...but we sat back and saw it each and every time.  Oh yea, and thanks for sharing your goldfish crackers with me :-)

We spent Saturday driving 2 hours away to a state park that for years we have wanted to visit.  Rifle Falls has a reputation for being beautiful, and we sure were not disappointed.  All of us were eager as we loaded up the car and drove north, after having allowed ourselves the luxury of sleeping in late.  Everyone excitedly exited Jorge the Van, and headed down the very short trail toward the falls.  The boys were looking forward to exploring and climbing, and the girls had cameras in hand ready to snap photos for their beginning photography course we are all three working on together over the summer as an elective class.  Here are the LaJoy Men, grins a mile wide, anxious to get going and wishing mom would stop taking pictures!!!

It is growing harder and harder to think of any of the boys as "boys", not only due to their size, but in large part because they act far more like men these days.  Seeing this photo, I couldn't help but grin myself...for I know the secret that this isn't just for the camera at this very moment.  This closeness that is so visible here carries on throughout all our days.  What love they all share with each other!!

The girls were ready for action as well.  How they too have matured!  Young women already, our time together has, in some ways, felt far, far too short, but in other ways it is almost impossible to remember our Pre-Angela and Olesya life!  They have brought us giggles galore, softened us all, and been a delight to me personally in numerous ways.  Shopping together, being slightly girlie together (let's not get too carried away! HAHA!), speaking as women together as we make our observances about the world around us, I simply could never have fathomed what a blessing they would be to our family.  

Within just a few moments, ahead on the trail we saw THIS:

Better yet, we got to hike up behind the falls, and over the top of them...time to take off to see it all!

Men on a mission

Dad and Angela working their cameras

I paused to take note of something up close, wanting to have examples of macro photography opportunities all around us.

Steps leading to the trail above the falls.  Sort of a symbolic photo for me of the surprises that await you if you are willing to keep climbing, keep working, keep dreaming.  I really liked this photo when I saw it.

Matthew behind the falls.  The cool mist covered us all as the sun played hide and seek with us the entire afternoon.  There were small caves behind the falls to explore as well.

Dad and Lessie at the front of a small cave.

Joshie loved being near the top of the falls, and could have sat there for hours if there hadn't been so much more to discover!

Inside one of the cave areas

Dominick watching all the kids head down the trail.  This was our pre-Father's Day celebration, and he had such a nice outing!

Angela giggling as she takes the long way up a slope, she could have taken the steps a mere four feet away!  This was more fun.
As we hiked further up, I was treated so sweetly.  My right hip is causing me more and more trouble as I try and go up stairs or climb upward, and every single time we hit a place that I had to go up or down any great amount, one of the kids was always there holding their hand out to help me.  "Don't worry, Mom, we'll wait for you." or "Here, let me help you." was often said, and I was so grateful for the thoughtful gestures.

Ahhhh...this is what we came for!  Rock Climbing!

Kenny is always sweetly compliant when mom has the camera in hand and yells out, "Hey, Smile!!"

Our Big Adventurers!

Joshie decided to stay a little lower.

The girls on the lookout for wildlife, but all we saw were chipmunks.  However, there were signs near the restrooms warning of...get this...Moose attacks!

Awww, this little guy tugged at my heart strings this weekend.  He slept on our floor one night, after begging to sleep in our room.  On our way home from this trip, we stopped at the mall located halfway between Moose Attack Country and Home. We needed to pick up a few things, and headed to the Boys Dept. to get Josh a couple of much needed shirts.  Matthew was with me as the other three went off looking at something else with Dominick. We quickly realized that Josh can no longer find clothes in the Boys Dept. to fit him, and Matthew and I looked at each other with stunned expressions as we headed off the the Men's Dept. for Men's Small shirts for broad shouldered, barrel chested Josh.  It means I have had my last "kid clothes" shopping experiences, and I was a little melancholy about it.  Matthew cracked me up though when he said, "Mom, this feels weird.  Is this how it feels every time one of us grows up a little more?  I don't think I like it much.  I want Josh to stay little, and it is hard to think of him growing up so much!!"

Yup, Matt, stings a little, doesn't it?
It's also pretty cool to watch those you love grow and gradually work their way into adulthood in teeny tiny steps.  But I won't pretend it is easy.

Along the trail toward the top of the waterfall...

Here we are!  At the top!

Awesome sight and sound

These two.  What a gift they are to each other in so many ways.  How glad I am that homeschooling has allowed them time together to discover how much they really like one another.

Lessie...her new glasses sure help with taking photos!  
We teased her about not losing them in the water this time :-)

What a spectacular view!

When they weren't climbing rocks, they were climbing trees.

At the base of the waterfall, I didn't seem to get as many good photos of Angela this time :-(

At the end of the hike, we were greeted by a Ranger with a table of animal skins and antlers to look at.

We took our time coming home, stopping at a couple of campgrounds to check them out, enjoying just being out together.  After stopping in Grand Junction at the mall and Sam's Club, we finally found our way home at 10:00 in the evening!  Everyone agreed it was an absolutely perfect day, the best we have had together in a long time.  As we have an intentional "Staycation" this summer, we are going to take several day and camping trips to places around the area we have always intended to see but have never made the time to actually go.  Living where we live, it is almost impossible to see everything within a day's drive, as you could explore for weeks on end and still never see it all.  We want to go to Durango, Mesa Verde, White Sands, Moab, and more...all within a few hours of us.  We have been to Durango and Mesa Verde when we had just Matt and Josh, now it is time to go back with everyone, and they are all old enough to now remember it!

We know we are blessed to still have this time with the kids. At their ages, we ought to be rarely seeing them, as so many families find their true family time ends around 12 or 13 years old as activities and other things take precedence.  I know that works for many, many families, but I think we are all of the same mind that we don't want family life to end.  Each of the kids talks about loving spending time together, they plan things we will do together as everyone grows older.  As I sit and listen, I hope we have laid a foundation for deep ongoing relationships with one another even as everyone eventually moves on to their own adult lives. But I do know one thing, none of us are ready to give up what we have right now, and we relish each and every moment together, whether we are working together, or having fun. 

As Angela put it, "Why doesn't every family do this stuff?  You don't have to have a lot of money to have fun together, there are a million free things to do in America!"  She's totally right, and we intend to do as many of them as we can squeeze in! :-)

And I think that at Rifle Falls I fell a little more in love with my family.  Didn't think it was even possible, but with each passing day I realize that yes, you can find yourself ever more in love with those dear to you.  What a surprise, it was something I had never realized about life!