Sunday, April 29, 2012

Vacation? Field Trip? Self-Revelation?

Is it a vacation?  Is it a field trip?  Is it family down time?  How about a combo of all of the aforementioned!  We have learned so much as we discover things about Colorado history that we didn't know, or had only a little knowledge of.  We have also thoroughly enjoyed our time together, something of which we often don't ever seem to get enough of.  I know that sounds a little odd, considering we homeschool and also spend more time together than a lot of families do, but we really and truly love being together.  Do we drive each other nuts sometimes?  Of course we do!  But we also know how blessed and fortunate we are to have each other to drive one another crazy.  Maybe that alone is the difference, when you recognize what you once didn't have, you don't take it for granted...and I don't mean just the kids on that one.  Dominick and I spent plenty of years dating and married without children, and maybe that makes this time in our lives all the more precious.

For the field trip part of our trip, we are taking advantage of being here in Denver and seeing as much as possible, and there is a LOT to see and do!  For those of you who don't homeschool, you may not realize that there is a big conflict between many who homeschool the traditional route...with no government oversight...and those of us who are part of a public alternative education program like the one we participate in.  Believe it or not, simply because we accept funding from our school district and agree to use secular curriculum, we have been told we are not "real" homeschoolers.  It doesn't matter if all the education is done at home, it doesn't matter if in fact I use fewer outside educators than many "real" homeschoolers do, and it doesn't matter if  we spend hours and hours learning and growing together.  In fact, I was denied the membership in a neighboring town's homeschool group because we are not "real" homeschoolers due to the fact that we accept government funding and are therefore under the control of the government.  I will never understand why human beings do their very best to segregate themselves, no matter what the issue.  Doesn't matter why, we humans will always find a way to divide and create reasons in our own mind that justify ill treatment of others.  

However, I was thinking today how wonderful it was that we receive a little of our educational tax dollars back so we can use them to enhance our learning this way.  For our older adopted kids, in particular, it has proven to be incredibly valuable and I am certain it has helped the girls learn English faster as well as better understand American life.  They NEED to get out of a classroom, they NEED to see, touch and feel things.  It helps them make connections, and two years home now I am seeing more and more how our work during year 1 is allowing them to build their new learning on top of it.  Throughout the past couple of days I have heard constantly "Oh, that is like..." or "Remember when..." and it has reminded me of the value of hands on, in person education for any child.  We would never be able to do what we have done the past couple of years with the kids without our school, and I am 100% certain that the benefits outweigh any perceived downside, at least for us.

Yesterday we went on a mine tour, descending 1000' below ground into what was once a real working gold mine here in Cripple Creek, Colorado.  We had an excellent tour with a guide who kept the language simple and easy to understand, so all 5 kids got a lot out of it.  They were shown step by step the way machines had changed over the years and how mining developed, and we saw firsthand just how dangerous it was to work in a mine.  It was really a great experience, and since we live in an area where we are surrounded by mines, old and currently operating, it helped bring it all to life for everyone.  Here are a few photos:

 Rockin' the hard hats and ready to go down the shaft!

 Above ground and below ground, Team LaJoy is ready to get to work!

 The entire family made Angela stand by this sign and read it carefully.  'Nuff said :-0

 This is one photo of the inside of the mine.  All the tracks are still present, lighting is everywhere for the tours, and there were stations set up with all the equipment throughout the tunnels.  We got to hear how loud each one was and see how it worked when our guide, a 35+ year veteran of working underground showed everything to us.  In some odd way, I found the mine tunnels beautiful.

Checking out one of the ways miners used transportation underground, Olesya wouldn't even get on it, I think it scared her a little!

We drove around Cripple Creek and then had an interesting "connect the dots" conversation about how towns spring up like this...mining towns, railroad towns, oil towns, etc.  I questioned the kids about the kinds of businesses that would be needed to support the miners, and we talked about how in the old days towns like this would always have saloons, laundries, boarding houses and bordellos.  Then we talked about prostitution and how it is the world's oldest profession, where it is legal and why it is illegal.  What I loved most was how this then drifted into treating women with respect, and how women also need to respect themselves...topics that all the kids need to give some thought to.  

Cripple Creek is a couple hours from Denver, and we had to pass through Colorado Springs to get there, so we stopped in Colorado Springs to see the Garden of the Gods with its stunning red rock formation.  We spent a couple of hours wandering around, watching some of the rock climbers whose talents were almost impossible to believe, and observing wildlife.  Of course the kids did some low level climbing of their own.

 It was a little late in the day to show off the rocks from the location we were at, but at it's best it looks like this...not photographed by me:

I loved this photo of Josh, every once in awhile with all the kids I'll get a natural unguarded, un-goofy smile.

 The entire gang goofing around.  Unposed they always come up with better groupings than I could ever direct.

 Angela insisted on taking these photos, and since Lael commented about needing one of me on the blog, I decided to post them.  When I looked at them my first thought was "Wow, we are really growing old!".  I see so many blogs with very photogenic mommies and daddies, and that just isn't happenin' here...but that doesn't really matter much in the long run, does it?

We all arrived at the hotel room and completely flopped down on couches and beds, exhausted and happy. We slept in this morning and got a little later start, which was just fine with all of us.  We decided this morning to change our schedule a little and headed to the Denver Art Museum, and the brand new Colorado History Museum which just opened yesterday.  Arriving on a special day, we were able to watch Native American dancers as they performed outside the museums, and that served to enhance our experience inside where we visited the Native American exhibit along with many others.  The kids found a corner where they had set up activities for learning more about the culture and art including beading, etc.  I had to eventually drag them away as they were really enjoying what they were doing:

I am thinking that mosaic tile work might be in our near future!

 Josh was fascinated by an art book featuring all sorts of famous works and artists in a variety of styles.  He sat with it for over 30 minutes and wanted to know if our library had it.  I may just have to find it for him!

Did we come to the museum to view art, or to create it?  The area was nicely set up and the kids all were was Dad, at least for a minute or two.

Taking kids to an art museum and having a good experience means not forcing them to spend tons of time viewing exhibits that they have no interest in, and letting them sort of steer you through the museum.  We bypassed Asian art, stepping off the elevator, looking for a moment or two, and stepping right back on.  However, we did find the African art exhibits to be very interesting, and in fact Angela and I both were taken with the same artist's work, Moyo Ogundipe:

I LOVED this!  Up close it was astounding, the colors were bright and the patterns in each tiny section were so interesting to look at.

We all headed over to the modern art exhibits, and that is where we struck gold, figuratively speaking.  Everyone found a variety of works which captivated us.  Of course, there were plenty of works that were a tad bit underwhelming...paintings of a black box on a yellow canvas and other such ordinary looking things that the kids all said "And THAT is art?  They got PAID for that?", but then there were some really thought provoking pieces as well:

This was very unique and we all stood there with our mouths agape as we walked through it.  Red everything, and we wondered what the meaning of it all was.

Then there was this piece:

Angela quietly said "This reminds me of the Holocaust."

 They each found pieces that made them stop, look, and think...and I was glad to witness that.

The last exhibit we saw ended up being the favorite of several of us, and it was the pin/brooch exhibit of former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.  I had heard about her pin collection and the book that was written about it, and was intrigued so I was pleased we would have the opportunity to see it.  Wow!!  It was a tremendously moving collection to view, and to have the symbolism of many items in the collection explained.  We were fascinated enough to want to try and find that book as well.  The quotes on the wall of Madeleine's were equally interesting, here is one:

We walked a block down and visited the newly opened Colorado State History museum, which had a limited number of exhibits opened.  Though it was not fully complete, we still enjoyed it very much and it was very interactive.  We learned a lot about the internment of the Japanese in a Colorado camp, which was something we knew little about.  This museum will be a real destination when it is finished in the next couple of years, and even Dominick said he would like to return to see what all is eventually added.

The most important part of the day came when we least expected it, and that was on the drive back to the hotel.  I have no idea how the topic got started, but somehow we ended up speaking about our own individual weaknesses, and our personal fears.  Holy Moly, was there some honesty there, and conversation turned hushed and quite honest as we talked about things we need to work on, how those weaknesses will affect each of us as we mature, and there was a lot of sharing going on about Dominick and I and how our relationship works based upon acceptance of our individual weaknesses and playing to our strengths.  The self-evaluation was pretty accurate and without judgment, just practical and matter of fact.  

I am always humbled by the courage our kids show, the honesty, and the maturity that they walk through this world with, even when it is very, very hard.  Angela was incredibly open as she shared about how hard it is for her to feel close to people, how she gets along well with others and likes them, but she is particularly careful about who she lets enter her heart.  I was able to tell her how happy I was that she decided to let me in, and we had even more conversation about her "weakness" about sometimes valuing strength over softness, and how it is indeed possible to be both.  She admitted that it is very hard for her and that in her old life she had to be tough and strong.  She also questioned why she lied a lot in Kazakhstan, and yet here she doesn't want to at all.

Olesya, as always, remained very sweet girl finds it so very hard to talk about her feelings, and Joshua said outright that it is hard for him to talk about things because he doesn't feel he can trust a lot of people with his secrets and thoughts.  We all laughed as we talked about how men often  find it a challenge to open up about what they feel, and that many are like Matthew...the "strong, silent" type, but Angela surprisingly brought up that when Matthew is in the mood, he is very able to talk about his feelings.  He then added that sometimes he remains quiet because he needs time to think things through, and he wants to have the right answer the first time and speak about what he really believes rather than correct himself later. Kenny, on the other hand is one we all agreed is very good at talking about feelings.  

So, our evening ended with a sense of revealing ourselves even more to one another, growing closer as we admit our fears and failures, our joys and sorrows.  How fortunate we are, I remind myself daily, that we all exist within a family where we feel safe and secure enough to be less than perfect, and where we are constantly encouraged to be more than we think we can be.  What starts out as a simple conversation so often becomes something richer and deeper than I ever imagined it would be. Seven souls locked together by hearts that are willing to be connected, willing to see more and feel more than many would be willing to risk.  It's hard work, it's also awesome work.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Main Event!

It is 11:30 PM, and we are just now winding down after an extraordinarily busy and happy day.    We spent the first portion of our day in places we couldn't photograph...the Denver Mint and the Federal Reserve.  It always surprises me how many free things there are to do if you take the time to look for them, and our kids always seem to really enjoy whatever we do even if it's a location many kids might complain about being "stuck" seeing.  We all learned a lot at the mint, and Joshua in particular loved hearing the statistics about the dollar amounts transported in their carts, and the fact that the Federal Reserve in Denver can store $73.5 million dollars at any given time.  He also broke out with $4 of his own money to purchase an Abraham Lincoln book of famous quotes that we found in the gift shop along with an Abraham Lincoln coin.  I tell you, that kid is obsessed with good ol' Abe.  Kenny bought a beautiful proof set and he grinned as he turned around and told me "Mom, I still have the other coin I bought on our trip to NY and DC.  Maybe coins are good luck for me as I haven't lost them yet!"  Kenny loses everything, so he was proud of himself for still having it and felt safe to add to the collection.

We spent some time just driving around downtown Denver, looking at the various buildings, people watching, and talking about the history of the city.  We had wanted to visit Union Station because we had watched a short film about it, but it is closed for renovations so we had to move on.

Next came the Capital Building, which we had visited once before with the boys, but we wanted the girls to see it as well, so we went ahead and took a tour again.  It really is a beautiful building, but Olesya declared that she was far more impressed with our nation's Capital, even though this one was still "nice".

The main event for the day was still to come, and we went to LegoFest at the Convention Center.  This was really all about Matt's dream coming true, but all the kids really loved it and were surprised how much fun they had.  There must have been about 7,000 people or more spread out over 3 acres of Lego Heaven.  We even saw acquaintances from Gunnison and visited a bit, which was a nice surprise.  It was stunning to think of the amount of cash devoted to plastic bricks, when one added up the entrance fees, as well as the volume of sales they made in their on site store.  Matt did not give in to temptation, as Legos are really quite expensive and he is at the point now where quite honestly even the largest, most expensive kits at $400 would provide barely an afternoon's worth of entertainment.  His skill level long surpassed the cost of the above average kit, so we just don't buy them anymore and he builds without plans whatever pops into his head.  I should have taken a few more photos of some of his more elaborate creations recently, which includes a 4' cross bow which actually shoots Legos across the room at high velocity, a 4 1/2' aircraft carrier with hydraulic lifts for small planes to come up on deck, and some sort of huge airplane which I am too lame to know what it was, but it had movable wings.

Here are photos from today:

 I love this picture of the boys, taken outside the Capital is hard sometimes to get natural smiles out of all of them at the same time!

 Olsya, our 2nd Mom/Head Girl Scout, getting ready for the long day ahead.

 Looking up at the dome in the Capital Building, the kids loved how ornate everything was.

 Josh with his hero.  I keep wondering when he will move on to someone else!

 YEA!!!! The long awaited extravaganza has finally arrived!!

 This was our one treat for this trip, which is being funded by our homeschool program.  Normally we would never do something so extravagant, but how could we resist with a Lego obsessed kid like Matt?  We thought he had earned the right to attend, after all these years and the hours upon hours of creating he has done...I am so glad we did it, he was over the moon with joy.

 Lego sculptures were everywhere and were quite impressive.

 As you can see, it wasn't just Matthew who had a good time.  Angela is actually a pretty talented artist, and using Legos comes easily for her to create interesting items.  Poor Olesya and Josh were more along for the ride, enjoying seeing things and looking at the various ways Legos were used, but neither are really all that into building with them.  However, when asked they both jumped to say they had a lot of fun and it was a lot better than they imagined it would be.

 Kenny loves Legos but is not gifted at building them, he struggles to think spatially, but he always really enjoys playing with whatever Matthew has built.

 Josh was in a class with the rest of the kids, and that tiny little thing you see in his hands is all he managed to make after 20 minutes or so.  It didn't seem to matter, he loved watching the other kids all around him as they built incredible things.

 After the class, Angela and Matt show off their space ships...15 minutes or so to create something after having been given tips by a Master Lego Builder.

 And here is the Master!  Did you know there are only 7 Master Builders in the United States, and they create most of the large scale models you see all over America?  This is one of them, and he was a really nice guy who you can tell is very, very pleased with his career.

 Speaking of the Master Builder, whose name I have forgotten, the boys sit back and admire one of his creations...a model of Lightning McQueen from the movie "Cars".  Super impressive!

 This model took over 1800 hours to is hard to fathom it.

 Kenny with another model of Harry Potter, which was a timely thing to come across as he is trying to read the first Harry Potter book right now!

 One of the cooler activities was this one.  An outline of the United States is laid out on the floor, and visitors can create anything to use as a landmark somewhere on the map, and they build until it is filled.  So, of course, we built!

 I am not a creative person and Legos are not something I like working with at all, but Dominick does!

 Angela was building at first, as was Joshua, but both gave up eventually to become Matthew's trusted assistants.  They ran from bucket to bucket to gather specific colors and sizes of Legos for Matthew, who then set about making his own contribution to the US Map.

 Here he is, just beginning, no drawing or plan other than what is in his head.

 It starts to come together, but he has limited time if we want to see other things, so this was about 45 minutes from start to finish. is becoming clearer, it is a replica of  a segment of the Golden Gate Bridge!  He had a couple of adults watching him at this stage.

 Legos are serious business.

 He told me "Mom, I wish I had a lot more time and something to use as cable, as this doesn't look at all like what I'd like it to look like."

Not half bad, I'd say from her reaction!

Tomorrow we will be sleeping in a little, then visiting the museum and the planetarium.  We are all worn out from the past couple of days, and are looking forward to a slower pace tomorrow.

I am betting Matt has dreams of plastic bricks tonight!