Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Oh Man, I Am A Total Geek

Tell me folks, what has been one of your more exciting purchases lately?  Was it that iPad you longed for?  Maybe the new hybrid vehicle you've had your eye on?  Or tickets for that Alaskan cruise you have wanted to take for years?

Wanna know what a total geek I am?

I anxiously awaited an Amazon box this week, and ripped it open within moments of UPS dropping it off.  What was inside that I held in my trembling hands?


Thousands and thousands of words, perfectly described in just the right size font, not too much etymology to muddy the waters.  I had been seeking THE perfect dictionary for the kids to use, as the children's dictionaries we had around were too limited and the old red Websters we had forever had print that was far too small to easily read (yes, even for the kids) and too much information included.  So, I spent 2 days mulling over our dictionary purchase after looking at several on Amazon.  This is, after all, a very important tool for any student, and we will have them around for years to come.  So I finally settled on the Webster's New World Student's Dictionary and ordered two of them, in hardcover of course.

Is there anything more beautiful than a new dictionary?  No, the kids were not impressed, but are glad to have something more useful.  I was enthralled.  And there you have it, my Geek status is assured forever, especially after you learn that I will likely find myself pulling this off the shelf over and over again to read it.  yes, you got it the dictionary, and with great pleasure.  Been doing it since I was a kid, along with the phone book and the World Book Encyclopedia my parents scrimped and saved to get for us.

As far as I can tell, I am not raising any geeks one has yet to take the dictionary into the bathroom to read.  It saddens me...hahaha!

Turning the page (get it...hahahaha!) I want to share with any of you who might be interested that we played the single best game EVER tonight!  Santa got the kids a game called "Settlers of Catan".  I had never heard of it before ordering it, and somehow Amazon recommended it to me.  Seeing that it had 347 reviews with only 8 being lower than 3 stars, I was intrigued and read some of the reviews, which caused me to go ahead and spring for it as one group gift.  It is a game originating in Germany, and it has a variety of spin offs available.

It is not really a complicated game to play at all, Josh easily grasped the concepts without hesitation.  It does take about 15 minutes to learn how to play it, and most helpful was a sample game set up to view online.  Dominick and I decided to watch it first before explaining the game to the kids and it was certainly quite helpful.  It took us less than 15 minutes to get up and running tonight with all the kids.  The original version is 4 player, so we played as teams but plan on ordering the expansion pack that allows you to play up to 6 players. 

This board game is the best one our family has ever played, hands down.  It took us about an hour to play from start to finish, and there wasn't a single moment of boredom from anyone.  You create settlements, roads and cities and gain points.  10 points and you are declared the winner.  There is a spirit of cooperation throughout despite playing against the others, and there is something happening no matter whose roll of the dice it is, which keeps everyone interested.  It is challenging enough that adults will not be bored at all, and younger kids can catch on easily and not get lost.  The game board is set up differently each time you play, so it is never the same game twice.

If you have kids our kids' ages, you HAVE TO GET THIS GAME.  Angela and Olesya both jumped up and down in their seats saying "I love this game, I so exciting!".  Josh said he wanted to keep playing forever.  Matthew asked if we had to go anywhere tomorrow or if we could just stay home and play the game...and Kenny added "Can we play it when we wake up?  Please?".  This will be one of those rare games that gets played by the hours and when suggested no one will say " we have to?  Can't we play something else?".

Anyway, if you are a game family and want something that I can almost guarantee will be a surefire winner, check it out!  You can also check out their web site (this game is so popular they have web groups, etc.) at .

School Break...Really?

We are supposed to be on winter break this week, and to some extent we have been.  You sure wouldn't have known it had you walked in our house today though!  Sometimes I can totally understand the logic of those who "unschool", letting their child lead in most ways with learning.  While I would never be able to feel totally comfortable with that style, I can sure see the value in encouraging it to a certain degree.  Here in photos is some of what was going on around our house today:

Yes, in the span of a few short hours we made soap, created balloon characters from our Balloonology book received for Christmas, used Joshua's special gift...a new microscope, and examined salt crystals, pollen and other items with it, stacked and loaded firewood and kindling, built a new Lego house for the first time (Angela), took apart and investigated what is inside a broken DVD player, learned how to play Khet (a sort of laser chess game), practiced guitar and piano, watched the remainder of the Roots miniseries and played a game show style team quiz challenge afterward with over 70 questions (Olesya rocked at explaining the Civil War!) and finally went to bed. 

And this is "winter break"??  It sure didn't feel like school but it sort of looked like it :-)

Here are a couple of pictures from Christmas this year.  Check out the sweatshirts the kids made themselves and wore to church on Christmas Eve!  Now, I know that most folks would find this unacceptable...sweatshirts on such a special occasion, but it was inexpensive and festive, and the kids really enjoyed making them. 

I am working this next couple of weeks on tweaking our school curricula a bit, printing out an enormous amount of items and cleaning things up a little.  The girls have come along so quickly that we are going to move toward more self-directed study with each moving more at their own pace on some subjects.  Kenny too is showing some gains in reading, and so will be working more on his own.  We are adding in a history component to try something new.  Just a few things changing here and there as we  need to be flexible as the kids are changing so rapidly.  I am more of a After Christmas Cleaner than a Spring Cleaner as well, so it is this time of year when cupboards get emptied and organized and clothes get weeded out.  Why is it that "weeded" sounds as if it ought to be "wed"?? Am I the only one who thinks so?  Also decided to change the blog a little, nothing fancy but added more updated photos of the kids on the sidebar.  Hard to believe they have changed that much in one short year since I last posted them....Matthew has changed the most, growing over 5 inches!  No wonder I can't keep that boy in pants!

I have yet to surprise the kids with all the great Usborne books we received from our sale (Thanks again to all who ordered!!) and will break those out on our first day back in school...I can hardly wait, they will be so excited!

I am happy as a clam to have a brand new coat rack up in my bedroom!  We usually have a couple of coats each laying around as weather changes and warmth needs change, so it is a treat to see them hanging up neatly rather than laying across the foot of our bed.  I's the little things in life that make us happy, isn't it?  At least no one can ever accuse me of being "high maintenance"!  A $15 coat rack from Wally World and I am thrilled!

What else is going on?  We have started a little club at church for kids and it is blossoming, and we are planning a trip to the Grand Mesa for ice fishing on Monday!  Looks like 19 kids going, and yes, it is totally crazy but should be fun as well.  I've never been ice fishing before, so this should be interesting...and cold.  No ice huts for us!

Other than that, life is wonderfully serene at the moment.  Don't laugh at me using the word "serene", for us it really IS serene!

Hope yours is as well as we get ready to welcome in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Faith, Kids and Our Job as Parents

I received an email a couple of days ago which caused me to really think deeply about a particular topic.  One of our blog readers wrote  and she is faced with a very heartbreaking situation to explain to other children in her home and asked how we have gone about developing the faith of our children, particularly toddlers.   Her question is as important to me as ones about how do you explain adoption to your children, or how do you explain the birds and the bees.

Like the birds and the bees though, for a number of reasons, sadly, our children's faith lives are often left unaddressed. 

For many of us, (and I include Dominick and I in this as well) our own inattention to the spiritual side of our lives leads us to a place of great discomfort when it comes time to explain spiritual matters to our children.  We find ourselves lacking language and uncertain about what we believe ourselves to be true, making it extremely difficult to articulate our beliefs to our children.  Perhaps we were raised in the church and gradually fell away as we grew older.  Maybe we followed along in line with our parents' beliefs, never questioning or doubting until one day we realized we honestly didn't believe as they did, and then we never moved forward to find a path that made sense to us.  Sometimes, we are raised in unchurched families and find all things religious to be equal parts fascinating and terrorizing.  Maybe we are alienated from church and spiritual dialogue because of our limited experiences, peeking through a tiny virtual window into one corner of the church which reveals to us only the perspectives of televangelists or door knocking Mormon young men dressed neatly and sincerely asking us what we know about Jesus Christ.

Whatever the case may be, discussing God with kids can bring a responsible, capable adult to a place of knee knocking fear.

We were not always a church going family.  I have been honest and open about this in previous posts here on the blog.  I had not been raised as part of a church going family, but Dominick and I did find ourway to a congregation when we were dating and through our first few years of marriage.  It eventually became quite evident to me that this denomination's particular understanding of God was never going to be a good fit for me, and I made a conscious decision to stop attending church when I realized I was feeling further from God when attending church than I ever did prior to finding a church home.  This saddened me deeply, and created a void in my life that took years and years to fill.  Leaving church, in my mind, was the only way to preserve my relationship with God, for actively participating in something that was inauthentic for me was creating a slow death of spirit.

I remember spending many evenings searching the internet, hitting, trying to find where I might fit in, wondering what to do with my dangling faith.  It was an invitation from a friend that brought us to our current church, and surprisingly to a way of viewing God that worked for me.  At the time Matthew was 5 and Josh was about 2 1/2, and I had long since felt we were doing them a disservice in this area.

Our first Sundays attending were not our sons' first encounter with God, however.  We carried on conversations often about God in our home, about being guided by an unseen force, about consulting God in prayer on all our decisions, big and small.  They had Bible story books that were read fairly often, and we prayed together sometimes as a family.  All of that aside though, there were indeed questions I felt ill equipped to answer, but we made the attempt.  As they mature, the questions grow deeper, and the answers necessarily become more complex.

What did we do to encourage the growth of the faith lives of our children? Here are a few things that I can think of off the top of my head:

1)  First and foremost, we recognized that our children were fully
complete spiritual beings from the very day of their conception.  They came into this world whole, merely inexperienced.  We recognize their personhood and respect their intellect regardless of their age.  Yes, I mean that quite seriously, even at 12 months old, or 2 years old, or now at 11 or 12 years old.  Their faith already exists, it is our job as their parents to nurture it...or I suppose we can squash it should we choose.  We have never, ever looked at any of our children with disdain for what they don't know, nor have we thought any of the 5 is stupid or somehow incomplete.  We show them what I hope is deep respect, and do so from Day One.  Out of that respect is born reciprocity, and a respect for our opinions about faith and all sorts of other matters.

2)  We give our children space to work things out themselves, and we speak openly about that fact and encourage it.  For example, right now Kenny - who without a doubt is our most spiritually connected child and very theologically oriented - is trying to wrap his mind around who Jesus is to him, and what "Son of God" really it literal or figurative?  Is it different than us being children of God?  Yes, we have these sorts of conversations...and it is not Dominick nor I preaching at him to believe a certain way.  We share our own thoughts and insights, and then always follow it with "That is what I think, but that doesn't make it makes it right for me.  You are free to think differently.  What do you think?"  To help our kids be fully engaged in their own spiritual development, we feel we have to give them permission to think differently than we do.  I would much rather have a child who is contemplating all things spiritual on a regular basis who is coming to different conclusions than my own, than to have a child who blindly accepts what we teach without giving it any thought and one day realizes they have no clue what they really believe beyond what they were told to believe.  That is a crisis of faith.

3)  God has to be a topic that is comfortable for you.  If you are not open and freely able to discusss faith matters, how will your child ever grow to be?  Notice I do not say here that you have to have it all figured out, or that you have to have all the answers.  Not at all, and in fact I think that showing our children that we continue to learn and grow in our faith is important.  Setting ourselves up to be the "Bible Answer Man" for our kids is, in my opinion, a mistake.  Sharing the conclusions we have come to on our own and why we believe the way we do is important, but pretending to be a Harvard educated theologian rings false to any kid, and eventually we lose credibility.  Most of us, if we are honest, don't have it all figured out.  Most of us, if we admit it, do have doubts from time to time.  By allowing ourselves to be "real" with our kids, we invite them on the journey with us, we aren't metaphorically standing at the end of the road with our hands on our hips saying "I have all the answers....just trust me and don't think for yourself."

Working at becoming comfortable with faith language makes all the difference in the world.  I remember a time, not all that many years ago, when simply having the word "Jesus" upon my lips felt like I was an imposter of some sort.  In many ways it really isn't all that much different than coming to a place of comfort with language about the facts of life. 

4)  We have pointed our children toward their pastor.  We want
them to see their pastor as a resource to turn to about faith matters, that a pastor is someone who can help in their faith exploration and is a valuable asset in their lives.  Sometimes they go to them, sometimes they have moved on by the next time we see them.  Our previous pastor sat down with Matthew on a couple of occasions to answer questions he had, we refused to answer them and told him he should go to his pastor to discuss it.  Right now all the kids are in that place with a lot of questions rumbling about, and we are pointing them toward our pastor for discussion. 

Helping our kids be aware of the role of a pastor in their lives provides them with another trusted place to turn to as they develop their faith. 

5)  Explain it.  Then explain it again.  And again.  Don't underestimate anything, and don't forget that as they mature their need for deeper explanations will grow as well.  Revisit topics, discuss those Bible stories again and again and help them see the layers of meaning behind them.  A child of five who thinks about Noah and the ark will view it very differently than a child of ten will.

6)  Bring biblical teachings into today's world for them.  Help them see the truths taught in the Bible as applicable in situations they face every single day.  Create connections for them, make it relevant.  Point out how a certain situation is similar to one in the Bible and how those involved 2,000 years ago handled it.

7)  Model it, but don't make a show of it.  It's not about appearing pious and perfectly righteous to your kids, it's about showing a desire to live a Jesus life and trying hard at it every day.  Admit when you fail, point out your mistakes, talk about how you might have handled it better.  Yea, your kids will see you as fallible and human.  Trust me on this, it does not diminish their respect for you.  Instead, it elevates you as honesty always does.  I have acted in ways at times that I have regretted, and I have had long conversations with our kids about my personal failings, pointing out exactly how and where I went wrong and what might have been a better way to handle it all.  Let them learn from your mistakes, let them see you trying, failing, being forgiven, and trying again.

8)  Protect your kids as best you can, value innocence and do what you can to preserve it as long as you can.  In doing so, recognize that information alone will not wipe away their innocence.  For example, our children have known the very specific facts of life since they were extremely young.  We used correct terms, we answered questions fully...not just with what we were comfortable with...and still most who would meet our kids in person would say there is an innocence there that is unusual for their ages.  There is a difference between sheltering and keeping a child ignorant.  The facts of life will not damage a child, repeated exposure to racy scenes on TV, provocative clothing, and inappropriate role modeling will remove that innocence faster than you can say "Beverly Hills 90210". 

Be mindful of what they are viewing and hearing.  Be mindful of what is being projected yet unspoken in what they see on TV or hear on the radio.  Kids programming is not what it used to be.  Often shows with what some would deem "too adult in content" are actually richer in message than kids content ever will be.

What does innocence have to do with faith?  A lot.  It gives you more time to cement things, it gives you less jaded ears to hear your faith messages.

9)  Become part of a faith community.  Let me say it
again...become part of a faith community.  I find it funny that many have made fun of Hilary Clinton's "It Takes a Village" when it comes to raising kids, and yet those very same people find it enormously important for their children to be part of a "Faith Village".  It IS important for our children to have other adult role models who are actively engaged in developing their own faith lives.  It places faith on a different level to have an older teen from youth group express a belief in God.  As important as it is for us as adults to feel we belong to a like minded group of people, it is equally important for our children to look around and see others whose lives are centered around living a Jesus life...or a Buddha life...or a Muhammed life, whatever path calls you.  We all need to feel supported, we all need to know we are not alone in our doubts and struggles.

10)  Share with your children how you encounter God.  That very moment.  Don't be afraid of revealing too much of yourself.  Don't be afraid of appearing foolish.  When something happens and it is a Spirit Moment for you, share it with your children!  Explain how you saw God in that moment, and why.  Make it deeply personal and meaningful.  This is more than #3 above, this is more than being comfortable with the language and the Bible and being familiar with the stories of our faith. 

This is intimate....this is revealing your very soul to your child.  This is 100% necessary in their faith development.  Children often don't understand how God communicates with us.  We have to provide them with examples, we have to show them ways in which we feel God has interacted with us or reached out to us.  We have to help them find the ways God speaks to them, and we do that by sharing how God chooses to speak to us.  We also explain that God speaks to each of us in different ways, for we all are moved by different experiences. 

I hope that my new friend who emailed finds this helpful in some way.  I really appreciated the question, as it caused me to stop and ponder what we have done in the past...and perhaps what we are not incorporating as much as we should at this stage.  I have no idea how others work to develop the faith lives of their children, and I am certain that many would argue certain points in this post.  There is a large number of folks for whom our more open approach would never work, for it would be inauthentic to them.  Wonderful!  That's quite all right!  Everyone does what works for them, for we all encounter God differently, we each have a different relationship and understanding of God, even within our own families.

I don't want to set myself up as some sort of expert, for most assuredly I am not.  This is just what Dominick and I have come to the conclusion works for our family.  What counts about all the above is not the details, it is in simply doing "it"...whatever "it" might be that works for you.  The single most important thing in developing your child's faith life is to recognize the need to assist them as you can, and to validate that which already resides within them. How you do it is up to you, these are just the ways which we have found work for us.  Maybe there is a nugget to take away for yourself, maybe you think it is all rubbish.  That's OK too :-)   Even thinking about it is a step in the right direction!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Day is Done

Christmas night and the day is done.  It has been a wonderful day filled with warmth (both literally and figuratively, as Josh was out playing later on the trampoline with his shirt off...and THIS is Colorado on Christmas day!  Not Fair!), family and friends.  What a gift that we are not in turmoil as we were last year, with so many unknowns ahead.  

I realized at the end of the day that I took only a couple of photos while the kids unwrapped their gifts this morning.  We were awakened at a very comfortable 7:00 AM as all 5 traipsed into our room to wish us Merry Christmas and to beg us to pppuuuhhhlease get up so they could open their presents.  We sat around the tree and watched as each opened a gift, and all 5 of the kids were delighted with what they received.  It was less than what some kids get, but more than so many, and I am grateful that we didn't feel we had failed them as they graciously and excitedly embraced what they were given.  By mid-afternoon we had a Lego house starting to be built (by Angela, not Matthew!), pretty little soaps in the making from Olesya's soap making kit, Kenny's dollhouse put together and being enjoyed, Matthew working on a roller coaster after having read a book on the World Wars, and Joshua asking to dissect a frog from a kit given to him by our friends.  Yes folks, looks like I am in for more blood and guts as he has a worm, a frog and a few other lovely items to tear into...oh..I mean scientifically examine. :-) 

As we returned home after a wonderful dinner and evening spent at our friends house, we were all sharing about our "best Christmas ever".  The girls both said they would never forget this one, their first with their family.  The boys all had a hard time recalling any particular Christmas, focusing instead on the overall impact of traditions...candlelight services, special ornaments on the tree, waking us up in the mornings...not a mention at all about particular gifts.  It hit me that perhaps this was one of the reasons I never focus much on taking tons of holiday pictures on Christmas morning.  It's never been about the gifts for us, that is just a small piece of the season.  It is hard to encapsulate in a few photos the things that it really IS all about.

As parents, we tend to lose sight of what has the greatest impact.  Is it the trip to Disneyworld? Or is it cuddling up in bed as you read stories together?  Is it getting that new cool toy for Christmas?  Or is it throwing pies at one another in the kitchen?  For us I know one of our treasured memories will be playing Scattergories with our friends tonight and laughing up a storm with folks who also get what it is all about. The build up to the Big Events of Childhood in our minds are often the things that are remembered in the least detail by our children, and it is the things we think of as being of the least significance that create the most lasting memories.

And often, it is those more lasting memories that are harder to photograph.  But then, the mental snapshots our kids take of those moments are better than any digital image we can capture.

If only we adults could truly grab that and internalize it. 

So while today was definitely not "just any day" around the LaJoy house, and it was far less stressful than last year, it was not our "best day ever".  Those days are far more ordinary.  As wonderful as today really was, I think I like those ordinary days the best.

Merry Christmas Night to you all!

My Christmas Gift

Every time I think I know how blessed I am to parent the children I parent, they up the ante and I realize I am one truly fortunate mama.

It is now 1:00 AM and Santa finally was able to visit.  While leaving gifts out for the kids, Dominick and I received one of our own.

The kids had left out the plate of cookies and carrots for Santa and the reindeer, and both Matthew and Angela had left notes for him which we had not yet read.  As we snuck back in the bedroom after having finished with stockings, we opened up their sealed letters and read them.  What treasures they were!

From Angela:

Hello Santa.  How are you? I am very happy to saw you.  Thank you for being so genores (generous).  Santa if you can't give me the gift I will understood you.  But if you can't give me I steel have a gift because I saw you.  That my very best gift.  Thank you  Angela

Yea, almost cried with that one.  Then moved on to Matthew's.  It requires a little explanation first.  There is a man in town who is known by just about everyone.  He meanders in and out the stores, walks everywhere he goes, and is developmentally disabled.  He is someone whom many simply choose to avoid or ignore, but there are others who accept his warm hello's and greet him.  We were in McDonald's the other day when he came up to us and wished us Merry Christmas and talked to the kids gently about Santa.  Dominick is always talking to him when we see him around, so the kids were not uncomfortable with him and don't see him as being a threat.  When we lef,t the kids all wondered if he would get a Christmas gift, so we went to Walmart right then and got a backpack and filled it with a few things like socks, gloves, a utlity tool, etc.  Then we went home and wrapped it all up and placed it in the backpack, and have spent several days looking for him to give him his Christmas gift.  The kids have asked daily if we could go to town and look for him, which we have, but wouldn't you know it...we can't find him anywhere at his usual haunts. 

Matthew came home this evening after church and grabbed some paper to write a note.  I figured it would be the usual note, but was surprised to read it below:

Dear Santa,

Since you gave ALL the good girls and boys presents, I was wondering if you knew a chubby man who is mentally disabeled and is friendly  and is old with white hair.  If you know him please give us his name and address so we can give him Christmas.  He is just so friendly and has the Christmas spirit.  We wouldn't want him to miss Christmas.  Kindly, Matt

There is no gift ever that would means as much as knowing our children have these kinds of hearts.  How did God select us to parent them?  We are so unworthy of this sort of goodness in our lives...this is pure, this is the sort of love and warmth we get to live with every single day.  This just happened to be Angela and Matthew, but Olesya, Joshua and Kenny at various times have all shown this sort of care and compassion for others.  Often "others" is us as their parents.

So very, very blessed...thanks, God, for the gift of our family.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to All!

This is one of the most creative things I have seen in a long time, loved it and wanted to share it as my gift to you all!  Probably many have seen it, but who cares?  I can never evern resist the Hallelujah Chorus!!!

A Christmas at Peace

ADDITION: Please pray for the Fenske family, whose blog is shown at the right. Their daughter "M" is hospitalized...again....with shunt issues. This family has been through the ringer this year and still comes out swinging ;-) Pray for M's recovery and for the Fenske's to have a Christmas filled with joy despite the less than ideal circumstances. Yet another family embracing those children who others have forgotten...the true meaning of Christmas...Love.

It is almost 10:00 am on Christmas Eve, and the kids are fast asleep.  Their treat is to sleep in as late as they can today with no one waking them up, after having a couple of late "party" nights on their school break.  Josh is off on one of his first ever real "big boy" adventures, as his best friend's family took him skiing for the first time for his birthday, which is the day after Christmas.  Dominick is at work, plugging away serving holiday travelers along with our amazing long time crew who work with him.

And Mom?  I am sitting here writing all of you, writing my children who will one day read this blog (I hope!) and learn more about who their Mom really is. 

I am at peace for the first time in 12 years.  We are experiencing our first Christmas without feeling as if someone was not present, that someone is family-less.  This year has been one of incredible highs and lows, ones you have faithfully followed.  Adoption journeys have ended, regardless of what others keep hinting at, our family is complete.  I wonder if those who give birth have this profound and deep sense of relief as they have their last child? 

For those who adopt, I think you continue to hold your breath for months after children come home.  The adjustments are huge, the personalities are unknown, the inner strengths are being discovered.  It is as if now, a year later, we can let our guard down, handle what comes up with relative ease, and know truly that we have been successful in pulling together extraordinarily different personalities and creating a whole unit out of them, thanks to God's continuing presence. 

Yesterday was one of those days where I just felt SO whole.  Starting the day with hugs from each of the kids, we spent the day hanging out, getting Matt's new shoes (much cheaper this time!) and his orthotics were fitted.  We giggled a lot, we played a lot, and I looked into the faces of each of our children with such wonder.  It just hit me that this shouldn't work, this family of ours.  We should never be this blessed, this happy together. I am thankful that the hard times always seem to remain in the background of our memory, and the good times are the ones that rise to the top.  It's easy now to sit back and say "Easy peasy, look what we made!" without acknowledging the very, very painful stretches for each of us. 

Twelve years of family building comes at a cost, it tears down...but it restores.  It splays open...but it tenderly seals holes.  It breaks down walls, but it rebuilds with gates.  I am a wholly different woman than I was when we began, remnants remain but they are small.  I am wiser, more easily contented, and far more loving than I ever imagined I could be for I was hard and cold before.  God reached me through the immediate acceptance of Matthew, the wonder of healing of Joshua.  God touched me through the humor of Kenny, the nurturing of Olesya and the strength of Angela.  Each of our children has taught me so much.

I rarely talk about the beauty of our children, for that is the least important thing for me...the beauty in each of them resides internally for me.  But as I leaned over the side of the bed last night and gazed down upon a sleeping Joshie, there not out of fear but so he didn't wake his brothers with his early morning trip, I found my heart skipping a beat as I thought to myself "He is the most beautiful child ever to have lived!"...and at times throughout the day yesterday I felt the same thing for each of the kids.  Now, I know they are absolutely NOT the most beautiful children ever...I am realistic about that...but they are to us.  Each of them is the most handsome, amazing, brilliant, beautiful, wonderful child ever to have walked the Earth!!  Even Mr. Kenny whose self-initiated lip revision surgery worries me because I love that smile of his, is such a bright, shining star!  I never, ever have wondered what children "of our own" would look like, for these ARE our own children...perfect in every way.

And isn't that what every child deserves?  A parent whose heart skips a beat when they smile? A parent who believes in all they have to offer the world and helps them discover those gifts?  A parent who would die for them if need be?  Whose love is passionate, gentle and strong all at the same time?

Jesus had that.  Mary and Joseph believed in him.  I have to imagine Mary looking down at him with great Mama pride beating in her chest, not just when an infant but as he grew, thinking in awe "How did THAT come from ME???".  Joseph claimed him as his son, despite information to the contrary, and without question he raised him as a cherished child. 

We all have that, in God.  A spiritual parent who loves us beyond measure, who gazes down upon us with delight and astonishment.  What some have lacked in the physical presence of "perfect" parents (tongue in cheek on that one) they can find if they look to God.

I know that the peace our family has this Christmas will not always be.  I am realistic enough to know that hard times are just around the corner, and perhaps that makes this feel that much sweeter right now.  What those will be is anyone's guess, but we are due, they will come, and we will somehow muddle through the best we can. 

But for the next couple of days, we will not worry about that, we will not fret about what is to come.  We will celebrate love...for that is what Jesus really brought us all...Love.

May your Christmas be filled with warmth and peace.  May you have love this day, tomorrow, and always.

And may you know how your support and encouragement throughout the years has made a difference in the life of our family.

Our journey continues down new paths, as we grow together in love using homeschooling as one of the tools.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Almost Christmas Eve Eve

Tonight Matthew declared that he couldn't wait for tomorrow as then it would be Christmas Eve Eve.  We have had a nice day today just hanging out, taking a little break from all school work for the next several days.  I spent most of the day working with Kenny and Angela on his wooden doll house trying to get it put together..yes, this is the one from his birthday a year ago that is still not complete.  We just haven't made time for it but have pulled it out now and again to work on it.  It's been a busy 12 months for us, and we usually don't leave projects half finished like that.  It was nice having no schedule, sleeping in late, playing much of the day in between loads of laundry and picking up the house a bit.

I am suddenly not feeling terrific, fighting what feels like asthma or the beginnings of some sort of bronchial mess.  Hoping it doesn't progress as I don't have a fever or feel awful, just wheezy a bit and a  throat clearing cough over and over again. 

Then there is the dog.  Sunny...the hardest ever to train dog on the planet...the cutest little thing too but MAN is she hard headed.  She got into something and was sick all morning and afternoon, so I spent the day going from one section of carpet to another cleaning as the kids also helped.  It has been several hours now so she must be over it.  And no, she is NOT yet house trained...partially, yes, but not fully by a long shot.  Would it be ok for me to ask Santa for instant training for her?

Speaking of Santa, we had a delightful little surprise today.  Olesya received a letter from him!  She had written a letter to him saying it was her first Christmas home and she didn't even know what to ask for but wanted to say "hi".  We addressed it to Santa, North Pole and stuck a stamp on it, knowing it would go to the dead letter file.  Well, some kind soul over in Denver is sending out letters on Santa's behalf and we got a cute response back.  Eyes widened and she skipped down the hall to show her brothers and sisters. It was a special little moment for all of us.

You know, with kids such as ours, experiencing the fantasy of childhood can be so important.  They have lost so much and they yearn to go backwards to a place and time where they can recapture even a sliver of what was denied them.  Some are forced to grow up so very fast, and more than anything they want to be able to simply be a kid for awhile, and childhood should be filled with opportunities to imagine and dream.  I am glad that Olesya had Santa, even if only for one year.  I know we are soon to leave all such things behind with most of our kids, but at least they each will have had a taste of the innocence and wonder that many of us were lucky enough to have when we were young.

So now, we wait...we wait for Christmas Eve and candlelight services, we wait for dinners spent with friends, and we wait to commemorate the birth of Christ.

It's worth the wait.

A Few of My Favorite Things

I was thinking in the shower again today (Sometimes I think I ought to just live in there!) and among other things I was pondering Oprah's "Favorite Things" lists each year around the holiday time, and I thought I'd put together a list of my own, and ask you all to share as here goes!  Cindy's Favorite Things include the following:

1)  SAS Shoes - Having feet and back problems, these shoes have saved me and I simply have found I can't wear anything else for any length of time without finding myself in pain.  Although some of their styles admittedly look a bit...umm...dated and decidedly uncool, they have a new sneaker line out that still has the support and immediate comfort I need.  I have developed plantar fasciitis, have had arthritis developing in my low back and other joints for quite awhile, and while I am typically a Wally World kind of babe, I am not when it comes to shoes as the others just kill me.  These are the best shoes on the planet, period.

2)  Comfortaire Bed - Generic "sleep number" bed, not any more expensive than a standard mattress and it doesn't come with a number setting.  If we had a fire in our house, both Dominick and I have joked that we'd have to find a way to shove our mattress out the window.  While it took about a week to find the proper setting, once we did I found for the first time in years and years that I slept all the way through the night and barely moved.  I woke up and COULD move, and that too was an improvement!  Even our kids adore our bed, sprawling across it and Angela even asked if she could have one for a high school graduation gift someday :-)

3)  Swivel Sweeper - My mom gave me one about 3 or 4 years ago, and it is the single best housecleaning tool I have ever had.  I know it is one of those advertised on TV products, this one is a gem and helps me keep the house in much cleaner shape than if I had to sweep with a broom and dustpan all the time.  It is lightweight, maneuvers easily around every single thing, and we can't imagine living without it these days.

4)  Stone Mountain Purses - So I can't afford them anymore, but I loved them years ago!  The leather is buttery soft, and their styles were always practical and had the pockets where I liked them, both inside and out.

5)  Copernicus Royal Inspiration Station - Ohhh....myyyyyy...every homeschoolers dream cart.  We just got this a couple of weeks ago, and it is the penultimate storage/whiteboard solution.  It is expensive, stinking expensive, and I'd never buy it on my own but with our public school funds we were able to get it to replace the already broken cart we bought less than a year ago at Office Depot...I justified the expense with backup data and cost analysis for the next several years, and the cart remains property of the school when we are done with it, but MAN does it ROCK!!!!  One cart to hold every single teachers manual for 5 kids curricula, a printer, 3 different white boards, poster and chart display, art name it.  It is like the Swiss Army Knife of school organization, and I drooled when I first saw it,m never dared to dream we might be able to have one ourselves.  Glad I tried for it and succeeded, as it will make our lives so much easier!

6)  Swing Away Hand Can Opener - Until you have lived in Kazakhstan 2 1/2 months without access to a decent can opener, you can not understand the joy of owning a decent one. 

7)  Chrysler Minivans...any year - I know, I am boring, but my minivan is the most practical, perfect car I have ever owned.  The gas mileage is not bad at all, the cargo area is spacious and well designed, I love where I sit in terms of height and feeling like I am more in a chair rather than sitting low in a floor level seat, the visibility is great, and the ride is actually surprisingly comfortable.  While it would be nice to have one with all the bells and whistles and perhaps a lot fewer miles than 220,000 and 135,000, I love that both our old and "new" vans (135,000 IS newer, right?) are running as strong as the day we bought them and have been incredibly low cost in terms of maintenance.  It was hard making the switch into one and giving up my sporty little Subaru, but now I can't imagine driving anything else.  And yea, I know that makes me a freak of nature and a total soccer-type mom.  Oh well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

8)  IBC Root Beer - The LaJoy family special treat.  I know, we are incredibly low brow over here, no sparkling fruit juices, no aged vintage.  Sorry folks, we are who we are and there is no pretense otherwise here at Casa LaJoy...our kids will have to learn about the finer things in life from someone else or live a life of cultural mediocrity right alongside us.

9)  Usborne Books - I have gushed enough about them in previous posts, so won't bother here, other than to say they are lush, handsomely illustrated eye candy which engage the brain better than anything else.  My only wish?  That Usborne would come out with an adult line!

10)  Stave Puzzles - Never had one, will never be able to own one as they are out of this world expensive and beyond even the upper middle class tastes...but WOW, THESE are Puzzles!!!  I am not even a puzzle fanatic but these beauties can be customized in many ways and are hand crafted here in the US.  Expensive?  Makes my Inspiration Station look...well uninspired :-) 

11)  Rolex Watch (Preferably diamond and ruby encrusted) - I have teased Dominick over this one since before we got married.  I love watches and clocks, which no one would ever know as I don't have a collection or own any of value.  But I'd love to have a wind up mantle clock or a grandfather clock that has real chimes, and a Rolex is the dream jewelry piece for me.  I made Dominick promise before we got married that for our 25th wedding anniversary he'd buy my long awaited Rolex.  When Kenny's adoption came up, he looked at me and said "OK...choice time is here...a son or a Rolex, what'll it be?  We only have 4 more years and I can't do both!".  You obviously know the answer for that one :-)  With our 25th anniversary 6 months away, it looks like I can expect something more along the lines of a Timex...hahaha!

Now, the things that are REALLY my favorites?  The ones I could never live without?  Not in any particular order:

1)  Dominick's sense of humor
2)  The sense of unexpected comfort of having Angela side by side with me in the kitchen as we work
3)  Joshie's sweetness and innocence
4)  The depth that comes with Kenny
5)  Olesya's nurturing spirit
6)  The logic and smile of Matthew
7)  Colorado sunsets
8)  Woodstove heat
9)  The written word
10)  The laughter of my family
11)  The scent of Old Spice or English Leather
12)  The long and enveloping hug of a caring friend
13)  Driving with the stereo blasting a favorite song
14)  The intellectual connection of those few in life you stumble upon who can say volumes with a glance
15)  Holy Spirit moments

Go ahead now, post YOUR favorite things!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pie Splatapalooza!!!

ADDED:  Please check out John Wright's blog to see what you have helped bring about this Christmas with your donations...the first of the parties and gifts has begun! .

Thank you all so much for donating to John Wright's Christmas Pie Challenge.  There are hundreds of children in orphanages in Kyrgyzstan who will have a special Christmas thanks to you all.  We appreciate every single donation on our behalf, and it is our distinct pleasure (and a LOT of fun, even if it was messy) to present to you...

The LaJoy Pie Splatapalooza!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Norman Rockwell Doesn't Live Here...and I'll Bet Not at Your House Either

Sorry about no pie video today.  Dominick had to work and then we had a couple other things planned so it didn't work out.  Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we are all set for tomorrow night and will upload the video upon completion.

It's a week before Christmas, and we have had a special time leading up to the celebration of the birth of Christ.  A friend and I were talking today about the Advent workshop we attended a few weeks back, and how it helped put so many things into proper perspective. Now, as we draw nearer, it is time to evaluate where we sit in terms of keeping our Advent promises to ourselves.

We have definitely had a paradigm shift, but it was not necessarily brought on by the insight we gained at the workshop.  Instead we gained strength and assurance as we moved forward in further downsizing Christmas.  We have been heading down that path the past few years and thankfully made even more progress this year, although honestly some of it is out of necessity.  We simply don't have the funds to do as we wish we could do for others.  With 5 kids, most of whom are tweens, even buying a gift or two for them is hard.  They are out of the inexpensive Matchbox car stage, much to our chagrin.  We are seriously grateful though that not a single child has asked for a single thing.  Anything we get them will be appreciated, and that takes a little of the pressure off, for I can't imagine how hard it would be to have all 5 begging for specific expensive items like iPods or such, for we just couldn't do it.  Other than school related items or clothing, we don't really buy them anything at all throughout the year, so we do like to get them each something nice at Christmas. 

Don't get me wrong, not a single one of them is really doing without, for we feel that what they have is perfectly adequate and I think they do as well.  But we do wish at moments that we had more to share with others, for there are so many who have offered so much to us.  We often are not in a position to repay it and find ourselves settling for "paying it forward" in much smaller ways to other people.  We try, but it always seems like it is never enough, for often all we have to offer  A hug, a call, the gift of presence rather than presents, as our church sign said last week.  And I'll bet for some, that gift of the "presence" of the LaJoy's is a bit overwhelming! Hahaha!

A key thing for me this year was to internalize the idea of  having "enough" in an area unrelated to consumerism.  It has more to do with not buying into the media packaging of the holiday, showing us images of the perfect family gatherings with tons of relatives around the table smiling as they start to carve up the turkey.  It has to do with ignoring the Hallmark Card expectations that our holidays have to have perfectly decorated houses, lots of glittery parties to attend, and matching Christmas PJ's on everyone in order for it to feel like an authentic Christmas worthy of remembering.  TV specials, magazine ads, and modern Christmas songs all set up a standard of perfection that is unattainable for just about everyone.  We then find ourselves looking around with a sense of longing to have a holiday that looks like it came from a scene in a made for TV movie, or a Norman Rockwell painting.

Holiday gatherings today are comprised of singles with a group of caring friends, families like ours whose parents and siblings live far away, couples without children, same sex couples, families with alcoholics and drug addicts making appearances at holiday tables, gatherings of seniors whose kids all live far away and in this day and age can't always afford to travel, a single person sitting at a table alone with the sounds of a Christmas carol on the radio quietly in the background, inmates who long to be with family who may never visit, children in orphanages who create family amongst their peers yet yearn for a family of their own.  Very seldom do you find the perfect scenario at Christmas or any other holiday, and if you wait for that sort of perfection to allow yourself to be filled with the contentment that comes from knowing in your heart that what you have is "enough", your life will be spent in an endless circle of waiting for what might never be, in order to feel complete.

All of this really though, is missing the point anyway.  It is not about us, is it?  It is not about who has the perfect family photo, the best tree, the most sitting around the table this year.  We miss the point entirely when we focus on those things.

It is about a baby being born, one who would lead us to live a life that is rich with an abundance that can not come from a large bank account or driving around in the latest model car.  How did the holiday come to mean what it means today, when really it's about a baby born into poverty and not at all about consumerism or perfection?  I take comfort from recognizing that Jesus' birth date...the one the world has distorted so much, was essentially a mess.  Certainly the scene would not be a set up for one of those Norman Rockwell pieces...a kid born to two low income parents, mom finding herself in some animal stall as her newborn lay down beside her in a straw filled manger.  No extended family present, no well appointed home...just the raw beauty of the everlasting love that parents have for a child.  That was enough.

Makes you wonder how many families throughout the world would find themselves content with that sort of Christmas, and how many would find it quite lacking. 

I think we ought to hold that first Christmas up as the standard of what our own Christmas' should be like.  It would be a very different world if we all recognized that the first Christmas was the best ever, and tried to emulate that one rather than the media hyped holiday mess we all find ourselves stumbling through these days.

What we have, what we have been given, what we are blessed enough to experience in our lives is good enough, even if it isn't perfect.  We can find God in it the drawing back to family that the drug addict feels at Christmas time which leads him or her to the family table.  We can find God in the prison inmates who share Christmas carols in the quiet of the evening as they quietly sing in an unlikely choir.  We can find God in the homeless man on the street who greets you with a toothless yet heartfelt Merry Christmas as he stands before you with torn and tattered clothing.  We can even find God setting down at the table with that huge turkey in the midst of a family filled with tension and simmering anger, for at least that family who struggles to hold it together has not yet given up.

Jesus' birth meant something, and we can find that something if we look through the right lens.  Sometimes though, we have our sunglasses on and they obscure the important stuff.

I don't live with Norman Rockwell, and I'll bet most of you don't either.  The wonderful news is that we don't have to, and that does not invalidate our lives.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cool Learning Links...Even for Adults!

I have gathered a few very cool links lately that I thought I'd share with all of you.  Seriously, some of these are awesome and you need to check them out;

First is this one, which is a visual scale of the universe you can play with...totally awesome for adults or kids:

For Christmas I just had this one sent to me today, and Dominick and I laughed like crazy over it.  you may have already seen it as it has probably gone viral but it highlights just how much our lives have changed.  Check out a digital nativity/Christmas:

Then I stumbled upon some links for kids that are absolutely the very best in educational games and web site links.  Seriously, your child will have safe and engaging sites to check out if you hit these links, some of the best and not the cheesy little shoot t'em up, bang bang games....there are educational web sites from the very best designers who are trying to get information across in more interesting ways.  Every subject imagineable is featured here and there are many options.  You and your kids could spend months checking all of these out and come away with a halfway decent education on a variety of subjects without even knowing you were learning!

One that is fantastic and will continue to grow is a new site that is sort of role playing game centered around the Revolutionary War.  They are going to create other "missions" or modules as well, and this is really a wonderful site to sit down and work with.  Matthew has played it a lot already and is learning a lot.

Not sure if I posted this site yet, but I am impressed with the curriculum and the way it is presented.  Very different approach to education, and it encourages the child to be self-directed as well as come to their own conclusions about whatever they are studying.  Not a fill-in-the-blank type or multiple choice type of curricula.  There are samples online of every study, and if you are looking for something to encourage deeper thinking, I highly recommend it particularly for history and science.

You need to check this out when you have a few minutes if you are interested in education in general, very, very well done presentation in an animated format which will keep you watching:

OK...that's it...boring post but someone might find these links to be absolutely wonderful, just as we have.  It seems a shame to keep them to myself!  If you do hit any of them, let me know what you think.  I'm very curious to hear from you all and learn what your opinion is.

Yea, like you don't have enough to do right now! Hahaha!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Oh My Goodness...Busy, Busy!

So, the blog has been silent for a few days because I simply haven't had time to write!  We have been gadding about town, working on projects, and had to fit in a trip to Shriner's for Kenny this week for a post op and Cleft Team review.  Forgive me?  I have a lot to share!  Warning, this will be a loooonggg post, complete with photos, some of which might make you gag...hahahaha!  I gotta get them in before the 2011 Pie Splat gets posted, it's only fair! Ha!

We intended to have a lot of down time for school in December, which I guess we have had...sort of.  The problem is that all these great educational opportunities arise and we end up learning more when we are NOT doing "official" school than when we are! Haha!  Our church family is pretty involved in the arts around town, and as such often receive extra tickets which they kindly share with us to make it possible to go to things we otherwise could never add in as an extra for our family.  We have appreciated it so much, and the kids have learned a great deal from being exposed to great music and artistic talent of all kinds.

Before being audience members on Saturday and Sunday, we first were the entertainment ourselves!  We have created a small youth group at church called Explorers, and we have been meeting for a couple of months now.  Kids of all ages are together sharing experiences, and Saturday afternoon we took the group to go caroling and visit our church's shut ins and a couple of nursing homes around town.  Can we sing well? a  Were the kids cute?  Yes, absolutely.  Did those for whom we sang care one whit about whether or not we were on key?  Nope...they were simply delighted to know someone cared about them.  We took along handmade wreaths the kids created, and doled them out along with hugs and smiles.  It was a great opportunity for the kids to become more comfortable with nursing home residents, and to see the joy that comes from just being present can bring.

Prior to going our family had been talking about how it didn't really yet feel like Christmas. We have no snow on the ground here yet, and also the kids are growing older and that childhood excitement surrounding the holiday is beginning to fade, and it is our job as their parents to help them find a new, deeper satisfaction that comes from understanding the real meaning of Christmas and acting upon it.  I think we were successful with the caroling, at least with Kenny.  On the way home that evening we were talking and he said "You know what Mom, I think NOW it finally feels like Christmas!".   Also realizing Angela gets real satisfaction from doing anything at all with elderly people, and we need to see what we can do to work with that gift for her.  She loves older folks, finds them fascinating and is not at all uncomfortable with them.  She had the biggest smile on her face when we left the nursing home where the residents were quite disabled and she whispered to me "Mama...did you see them?  We make them so happy!  I like this so much!".  Wondering if a family ministry to the elderly is somewhere in our future.  What a gift to us to see our kids discover joy that comes from giving and not have anything at all to do with receiving.

Later that evening we went to see a children's Christmas play which was very well done and had the kids rolling on the floor laughing.  It was a Christmas treat to us from a dear friend, and we drug along a couple more friends as well to enjoy it with, so the Big Blue Ugly Van was put to good use this weekend!  I swear I am only half joking when I threaten that we are going to get a huge set of Sharpie pens and let the kids go to town on it...might be a spring project:-0

Saturday we also had the COOLEST (Warning:  Gross Pictures Below) surprise as we received a phone call from Joshie's best friend's dad who said "Hey...your kids wanna see me dress a duck?  I went hunting this morning and got one!  Come on over!".  Are you kidding me?  Of COURSE we wanted to see it, so we quickly grabbed the camera and off we went, Joshie's eyes were lit up.

I know...EWWWW GROOOOOSSSSSS!! But how much more interesting could you get for a kid who loves science? This was the next step up from the baby birds of summer. Mr. Donald, our friend, was so kind to do this and share his considerable knowledge. Just be thankful I didn't share the pics from my wonderful suggestion of detaching the intestines and stretching them out to measure (3'5" in case you were wondering). It was hilarious to watch as one by one each of the older kids got a bit queasy and stepped away, but Joshie and his buddy remained enthralled the entire time. We went a little too far though when Josh then asked if we could dissect the brain, and we elected not to using not having the right tools as an excuse to stop.

Sunday was less gory as we attended the local symphony and chorus concert with our adopted Grandpa, then had him over for dinner and a game of Scrabble...which once again...I lost...but only by 30 points. With anyone else I will often win, but even coming within 30 points with this gentleman is quite a victory. The day I beat him I will be doing the Happy Dance!

One huge bonus to homeschooling (at least for me...Dominick goes along with my thinking on this one quite nicely thought!  hahaha!), is the opportunity to have our kids have more exposure to the arts.  Our schools try, but with little funding arts is the first place where cuts are made.  Think about a life without music of any form...without visual arts...without dull that would be and how much we all would miss out on!!  We also don't always think of the numerous ways in which the arts can be used for career purposes.  Graphic design, computer animation, architecture and drafting, make up artists, disc jockey, web page design and layout,  landscaping, interior design...all these careers and a million more could benefit from a basic education in the arts.  Having the funding from our homeschool program allows us to offer the kids the chance to take music and art classes, and then there is the kindness of our gifted friends who are willing to invest time with our kids, which means so much.

Today was the end of Matt and Angela's pottery class as well as the end of their semester in their regular art class, so it was definitely Art Extravaganza day.  Their pottery teacher, Mr. Rog, is a gifted potter himself and he made the 10 week class interesting and helped the kids create some really nice pieces.  He and his wonderful wife threw a little pizza party for our whole family and had a little "show" of their work this afternoon.  Here are some photos:

In their art class they made some really adorable ornaments that are fired glass, and they created self-portraits as well.  I'll try and get pics of those up soon.

We have had a lot of very interesting conversations around here, ranging from theological in nature to women's rights.  Angela made a connection and comparison the other day which was insightful.  Somehow we ended up talking about the sinking of the Titanic and how it was "women and children" first in the life boats.  Angela looked at me funny and then asked why that was, as she knew women had few rights at that time and it didn't make sense to her that on one hand, women would be saved, and on the other they couldn't even vote and were often viewed more as property by men.  Hmmm...hard one to answer with logic, isn't it?  I guess a women's studies class is in our future.

On our way home yesterday, Kenny surprised me when out of the blue he said "Mama...thank you for all the things you do for me, I know it is a hassle a lot of the time."  I turned to him and said "Kenny, you don't have to thank me, and it isn't a hassle at all! It is what parents are supposed to do for their kids." .  He then said "I know, but lots of parents don't know ahead of time that it will be so hard, and then they are stuck.  You and Daddy knew before I ever came home that it would be harder and you still wanted me!  Sometimes I think about all you do for all of us, and homeschooling is even harder for you and we don't always say thank you.  Then I have a harder time learning things too and it makes it a bigger job for you to teach me.  I know not a lot of mommies and daddies would do all the stuff you guys do for us.  Sometimes I can't believe how much you both love us!".

All I could do was hug him...

As I type this Joshie is sitting next to me typing his first real document, a journal entry on what he thinks Christmas means. I am looking over his shoulder as he painstakingly has spent 45 minutes typing his sentences (He asked to do it on the computer, I didn't assign it for school) and he has typed thus far: "Christmas is about Jesus not about presents and Santa it is all about Jesus being born. In Kazakhstan Christmas was very, very cold it was -20 F and sometimes -50F. Are apartment was a big apartment it had one bathroom one livingroom and one bedroom and one kitchen. Jesus was the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas Eve is the day when Jesus was almost born."

As we rapidly approach the eve of Christ's birth, I hope the remainder of Advent is a warm and special time for you all. The Pie Challenge fulfillment will be happening soon, keep on checking back!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Power of All - Successful Pie Challenge Update

You know what?  You all started something, and it is pretty incredible what can happen when folks pull together to reach out to others. 

Soon, you will be treated to video of all 7 LaJoy's taking not just one pie in the face, but TWO, for we doubled our goal!  The added pleasure will be that I will personally sit on a pie as well, for I promised to do so if John Wright's goal of $10,000 total was met by the end of the challenge this evening.  It is looking highly likely that our video pie moment will take place after church next week :-)

Two years ago, one night on a wacky whim, I blogged about wanting to help Kenny's buddies in Kyrgyzstan have a little Christmas party and get a gift.  I asked you all if it was at all possible for us to raise $1000, and I'd sweeten the deal by letting the boys throw a pie in my face if we hit our goal.  Within 2 days, we hit $1000, much to my complete surprise.  Then John Wright upped the ante and issued a 2nd $1000 challenge to see if Dominick could get "pied" as well.  We hit that one too, and so not only did Mom and Dad LaJoy get it in the face, but the boys also got in on the fun and got splatted as well, much to their great joy.

Two years later, and John shared something with me tonight as we watched the countdown of the Pie Challenge of 2010 draw to a close.  From that single silly challenge of two years ago, do you realize that others all around the world (Yes, even in Kyrgyzstan) have picked up on it and issued their own pie challenge.

What started as a hope to raise $1000 for 65 kids to get Christmas has led to...get this...

$23,000 in donations as of this evening, and that doesn't even count a $10,000 matching grant to LAMb if we hit the $10,000 goal this year.

The power of One, my friend, is stronger than we all can even imagine.

But it is really not about "One", is it?  For one might start the ball rolling, but alone, we can never accomplish much.  It is hand in hand, being in community with one another, that we see amazing, incredible things happen.

$33,000 raised, all started from being very typically, weirdly LaJoy, which is not really being typically like anyone else (grin) as I sat on this very same couch in front of this very same fire 2 years and 2 kids ago :-)

It was you, it was every single one of you who donated $5 here, $50 there.  It was your own desire to see the Kenny's of Kyrgyzstan feel loved and cared for.  You heard their story, the story as told by John, myself and so many others, and you let it settle inside your hearts enough to move you to action.  YOU are the power of One...YOU made a difference and continue to do so in a million ways every day of your life.

I know that many who follow our family are not all that enamored of our God stuff.  Sure, there are plenty of self-identifying Christians that read our blog, but there are also many who are not and who might even cringe a bit when Spirit talk comes up.  Despite that internal cringe, you return, over and over again.  Maybe you see a God here that you haven't seen elsewhere, maybe you are intrigued, maybe you can identify, or maybe you think it is all hogwash but we are so nuts you have to tune in to see what other ridiculous thing we have gotten ourselves into.  Whatever your reason for being part of this community, please know that I see God in you all, Christian or not.  You have given our family a wonderful gift this Advent season, your generosity has spilled over into communities across the globe, and your open arms embrace in a virtual way those whom you have never met yet still have compassion for. 

How can I not see the Spirit of God flowing through and around each of you??

Thank you for helping keep the meaning of Christmas alive.  Thanks for taking the ball and running with it.  Thanks for proving to me once again that God does not want us living in such a way as to first say "We can never find enough money, there is never enough." but instead that God smiles upon us and wants us saying "OK God, I am counting on You...You promised so I don't have any worries at all!  All needs will be met.".

And remember, the Power of One is real...but it is really about the Power of All.

MORE MORE MORE!!! Challenge is on!!

OK Folks!  The challenge has been upped...2 pies each if we hit $1400!!  And I love Dominick's idea of having the kids chase each other around with cans of whipped cream if we hit it...and of course it will all be filmed for your viewing pleasure.

I have another goal...I want the LaJoy's to raise the most for John and the kids, after all WE have the most kids! Hahaha!  The Marquis family is closing in on us, help us stay ahead!  And to prove I am still a great sport about it and adore Hilary and Tim and their kids, despite my desire to BEAT them (all in fun, you know), I even added $50 five minutes ago to THEIR challenge to help them try and beat US! HAHAHAHA!! Maniacle laughs are my favorite!  Special thanks for the additional $50 I added that came in the mail from our weaving friend, Elinor :-) 

Come on folks, John is a couple thousand short which means some kids are going to be left out this year.  PLEASE don't let that happen!!  Join  us in the pie challenge, and change the holidays for an orphan!

Friday, December 10, 2010

$1235 and Counting!!!

We are at $1235 for donations...thanks to those who have continued to donate to the Kyrgyz Christmas Pie Challenge despite us reaching our goal at $700.  While I don't know who all has donated on our behalf, we are very, very grateful and can't wait to do the pies for you.  We were doing a little better healthwise today, but just a few minutes ago Joshie came and lay down next to me telling me he feels lousy.  I want the kids to be feeling good enough to enjoy the fun of it, so will hold off another day or two to actually do it.

Aside from the pies though, John is still shy over $3000 from his goal.  That means some of the children will not get Christmas unless we all pitch in and see to it that the goal is met. If you read this blog and have gained anything at all from following our family's story, I'd like to ask you to please consider even a $10 donation, for those $5 and $10 donations are powerful and add up.  There are only two days left in the Challenge, two more days to see to it that all the orphans John is connected with get to have a special Christmas.

Please help if you can, and if you already have, we are very grateful.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Kenny's Theology :-)

Overheard coming from the back seat of our minivan this evening while driving Kenny and Josh to TaeKwonDo:

Joshua:  Mommy, how can God be in every church and in every house in the whole world at the same time?

Kenny (Jumping in to answer):  Because God is like jelly.

Mom:  God is like jelly?  Is that what you meant to say or did I misunderstand you?

Joshua:  You mean God is like Jello.

Kenny:  No, I mean God is like jelly.

Mom:  What do you mean?  I am totally not following you, Kenny.

Kenny:  Well, God is like jelly because He fills in the on an English Muffin.  That's how He can be everywhere.  He is just spread all over and fills in the holes in churches and houses, like jelly does on the English Muffin.

Mom:  (Dumbfounded by perfectly logical kid theology, remains silent)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Pies for Seven, Coming Up!

$1065!!!  We Did It!!

Thank you all so very, very much for remembering...

For remembering the children that the world has forgotten.

For remembering that all we have been given is a gift, meant to be shared with others.

For remembering that God's work here is to be performed by us.

It's not magic, it's faith and putting that faith into action.

It's love, and you know what we at Team LaJoy believe...

Love Wins.

Thanks for proving us right :-)

Don't stop now...if you can't think of a gift to give someone for Christmas, if your parents have every knick knack known to man and don't need another one, if your Uncle Murray always hates whatever you give him anyway, do something different this year.  Donate to the Pie Challenge and send Grumpy old Uncle Murray photos of the orphans your donation on his behalf helped to have a Christmas.  Maybe Grumpy old Uncle Murray will have a smile put on HIS face!! .

After all, doesn't Uncle Murray also need to learn that Love Wins??

What a Difference a Year Makes

****Pie Challenge Update:  We have raised $545 thus far for Christmas in Kyrgyzstan...THANK YOU so much!  All 5 kids get a pie in the face, a little fact to tell them about until yesterday.  It was greeted with cheers BUT they said it wasn't fair that they don't get the chance to get US in the face!  We are $155 short of reaching our goal of $100 per family member and a pie for all 7 of us.  Please consider donating at .   We all know it isn't really about us getting slammed with pies, it is about bringing hope and love to children who are hidden away from the world, forgotten and left behind.  God has not forgotten them, but WE need to be God's representatives so they know that.  Give up that latte for a few days, help an orphan have a special day in a life filled with dreary sameness.  They can't say "thanks", but we can and do on their behalf.****

It has been one year since our family found itself hurting, bewildered, and with sinking hearts were on Day 3 of visiting the girls in Kazakhstan.  We were being rejected in the coldest manner possible with Angela leading the way and Olesya uncertainly following along.  What had begun as a trip to fulfill the expressed dream of both these young girls turned into the single greatest emotional challenge Dominick and I have ever experienced, in a lifetime together of many difficult moments.

This morning I took the time to go back and read some of those posts from December last year, when a Christmas miracle was in the making but initially appeared to be heading towards an outcome with heartbreaking results.  I don't usually go back and re-read posts.  Once they are written, they are done and tomorrow brings something new.  These, in particular, were extremely hard to read, even knowing that all turned out beautifully.  I think my difficulty in reading them explains why it was so hard this past year for my soul to recover, I hadn't realized fully until this very morning how deeply I had been effected of the events of last year.  I didn't have time to reflect much on the pain experienced, for I had a new version of our family to help shepherd and far too much on my plate to begin any kind of introspection.

A year later, there is a wholeness that a year ago was unfathomable.  Like a piece of fine china that was broken and Crazy Glued together, we are stronger in the broken places, even if we look less then elegant when propped up on display.  God's repair work is of Master quality, and what mere mortals could never fix, God somehow patched up.

So much healing has taken place, and our beloved daughters are truly LaJoy's in every possible way.  Have there been hiccups?  Certainly, but most who know us in person can attest to the fact that we are firmly family, that the girls are happy, extremely well adjusted, and have handled the transition to their new life with grace and gusto.

Walking arm and arm with both of them last night, I was struck by the fact that our relationship with the girls would have been impossible 10 years ago.  We would not have had the maturity to approach last winter with the insight we needed to proceed.  Our spiritual growth led to much needed understanding, compassion and faith in God's ability to restore hearts.  We had grown as parents, we had grown as God's children, and we had learned that God might be able to work through us to do the seemingly impossible.

During school yesterday we were working on our writing journals using topics I had selected from a "Manners" curriculum.  Our conversation somehow drifted from it being bad manners to interrupt someone, to my observations of Angela's dismissive behavior towards a couple of her caretakers at the boarding school whom she obviously did not respect much.  While she was not necessarily obnoxiously rude to them, it was quite clear that she had little respect for them and she acted quite differently with the other adults in authority.  She got a huge grin on her face as she said "Yea Mama, but they not like you...they not strong and sometimes it easy to not listen to them then I do what I want.  If you my mama in Kazakhstan...ohhhh...I never be like that, you not let me be bad! Hahaha!".

Where Olesya's love was offered easily and freely, Angela's had to be earned through respect, and that respect came from helping her feel secure in knowing we could and would handle her firmly, fairly and lovingly.  Without that respect, we would have failed at integrating them into our family.  Without the loving support that God offered through so many others who reached out to us, it would have been extremely difficult to let my own yearnings take the back seat they needed to take in order to earn that respect.  Today, both girls love us all deeply and completely, and Angela's hand that slipped into mine as I drove home last night was the hard earned reward for all the months of tip toeing around one another, all the wrestling with emotions, and every moment of pain we experienced one year ago.  Olesya is sick with a cold, and she laid her head on my shoulder last night as she gave me her good night hug and said "You the best mama ever...I love you mama."

What a difference a year makes.