Saturday, April 30, 2011

Year Winding Down

The school year is winding down for us, a bit earlier than we intended.  We have a little of this and that to complete before our trip, but it seems that we all have a bit of spring fever, including Mom!  We missed the track meet they had been preparing for, and I was a bit concerned last weekend when we learned of our nephew's death that the kids would be upset about it.  I should have known better, as when I explained that we had to quickly leave for Tucson and apologized that this meant they would miss their track meet, the only response I got from the gang was "That's OK Mom, we didn't care about the meet much anyway, we just did it to have fun!" and Kenny, with a big grin on his face, added to much laughter "None of us would have won anything anyway!"  I still feel badly though, especially since we had just had to cancel Angela's birthday party AND they missed out on Easter as well.  How fortunate we are to have children whose priorities are different, who never complain even when missing out on events that are very important to them.  During difficult times, such attitudes are more helpful than anything else ever could be.

Friday was spent resting, with all of us sleeping in late, then the kids were quite excited to head to the bank where we had all the coins counted that we have saved for about 3 years.  We have a special friend who contributed 2 years ago, and we have dropped every spare penny into the jar all this time specifically for a trip to Washington, DC.

It is hard to believe we are actually going to do this!!!  This is a dream I have had since before we ever even had children, that we might get to take a super special trip like this.  Of course, that long ago I never would have imagined traveling overseas as we have done.  What makes it even more fun at this stage is that the kids are developing dreams of their own for our family, and not just dreaming, but talking about how to make those dreams a reality. Their Big Plan is that we save for the next several years and all go to Europe for their high school graduations.  Matthew wants to go to Germany in the worst way to really see all of it, and Kenny and Angela have Royal Fever and want to see London.  They are all already planning on how they can work and pay their own airfare, and if they save that long they will have enough.  You know what?  I wouldn't put it past them all to do it!

I have been planning for about 2 months for our next school year, as we school year round and will begin in June when we return.  While much of what we do will simply be moving on with curriculum already in use, I have a few new things to throw into the mix.  The kids have all expressed that they love the projects and such that we do, and not being a very creative person it takes me a lot of work to come up with new ideas.  We have three that still have to study state history, so we will tackle that this year and will take some cool field trips.  Matt and Kenny are going to study mining while the other three cover our state.  For reading I have decided that we are going to spend the next year or two reading as many of the Newbery Award winners as we can, in an attempt as a family to read every single one of them.  Ambitious?  Yup!  I'll come up with smaller projects around the reading, and we might have a Book Review night and author study as well.  I won two auctions on Ebay for about 110 of them, and we spent time labeling the spines with colored tape so we know which of the books in our collection is the award winners and part of our project.  I loved it that the kids couldn't resist sitting down at lunch as we were working on them and had to start reading them:

I read recently somewhere that a home that has 500 books or more in it greatly increases the chances that a child will graduate college.  If that is true, then by golly we sure ought to have some college grads a few years from now.  We laughed today as we talked about that figure and said that if we include library books, quite literally we might be up to about 6,000 or 7,000 by now!  Kenny is turning into a reading machine, and I find myself saying the same things to him that my mom said to me "Can't you put that book down for just a little while?" My mom actually got called by the school when I was in 3rd or 4th grade and told that they had a little problem with me, as all I wanted to do at lunch time and recess was sit off by myself and read.  I guess it would have been preferable for me to chase and kiss the boys as most of the girls my age were doing :-)  Thankfully, my Mom thought there was no problem at all with me spending my spare time reading.

Tonight was the kids' annual art show at the end of their school year.  This is a big event and this year it was held at a local art gallery.  They all had artwork proudly displayed.  Due to our week prior we forgot it was this weekend and didn't get invitations handed out to anyone, so there was no one to really show off their work to.

Here are some of their works...


Angela really has quite an eye and a subtle artistic gift


This was my favorite of Matt's, a mosaic


I smiled when seeing this one, so very Olesya in style!


We all thought this was quite good for an 8 year old!


It is always fun to see the kids come home after class with their artwork.  They are learning about specific artists, styles, mediums, etc. and we are so lucky to have access to such a great art school here in our little town.  I loved all the pieces the kids' teacher selected to display, but it was this one that spoke to me deeply, as it did all of us the afternoon Kenny brought it home:

Without words, it says a lot about how Kenny feels about his lip, and we all better understand why he feels a need to have further surgery to refine it.  The day they all did their self-portraits, I loved our kids all the more when everyone agreed without prompting that Kenny's was the very best of all, that he captured his likeness better than anyone else did.  The way they all surrounded him with love and support that afternoon without any prompting from anyone to do so filled me with a profound sense of appreciation for the haven we all have living with one another.

Time to get to bed, we have a special baptism tomorrow for two special young ladies!

Thursday, April 28, 2011


We arrived home this evening, but the day wasn't without it's adventures.  Ohhh nooo, it couldn't be that easy!  Driving along in Navajo territory stopped at a Subway for lunch and ended up getting hung up in the van on a speed bump when our spare tire, which is mounted under the center of the car beneath the front seat area, dropped and caught under the car.  It seems that when the fellows at Sam's Club changed our tires yesterday, they failed to properly secure the spare.  We were VERY fortunate it wasn't while we are driving at 70 mph on the highway, and felt that Someone was watching out for us to have it happen when and where it did.  Of course, we were blocking traffic in the driveway of a busy shopping center, but none of us lost our cool over it and ended up laughing as Matthew asserted it was just another school lesson and more practice in learning about changing tires. 

Here are a few pictures of our escapades on the way home...

Can you say "ironic"?  I hardly think stopping to change a flat tire qualifies as making something a "rest area".

He looked so forlorn...

Went off walking while the menfolk worked on the tire, and found this image.  I am loving playing with my new camera!

It was a long and exhausting trip on many levels for all.  And yes, there is Version #4 of Blankie :-)

Advice from the Peanut Gallery for the tire changers.

We did stop at Four Corners, which as usual was a total rip off but now we can say that all 5 kids have stood there and no one feels left out.

Not at his best, but feeling better and trying to help Dad.

Olesya and her buddy, Sunny, playing at a gas station where they had cut outs...and an attendent with a pistol on his hip.  Seriously.

Our trip was not a pleasure trip by any stretch of the imagination, but it was good to reconnect with our family even under these circumstances.  However, I will confess that the desert is absolutely my least favorite place on earth.  I'd take Petropavlovsk in the dead of winter over the desert.  I know there are some who find great beauty in  the open spaces of Arizona, but it leaves me feeling empty and yearning for my heart home.  Driving about 2 hours from home, snow settled comfortably on high mountain peaks, I felt that familiar peace that always comes over me when entering "my" home turf.  Isn't it wonderful that God has created such a variety of unique environments so that every soul can find their true haven?

It's good to be home.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sponge Mom

It's been a rough few days, with today being the topper. We've had a funeral, emotional breakdowns (Angela), ill children (Matt) running a very high fever this evening, a flat tire and unexpected expense of having to replace all 4 while on the road, and...well...still some joy in the mix.  Just being together is that joy.

Last night was terribly hard on Angela, as memories surfaced during an evening get together with family and close friends of Jake's.  Somehow I ended up sitting with my two most emotionally vulnerable on my lap, Angela and Joshua, and was so glad that my newly minted teenager was in my arms when it all overcame her.  This poor kid, man, there is so much healing that still needs to occur.  At least it is happening, and I am very grateful that our relationship has progressed enough that she feels safe to let go.  But man, we have a very long way down this road.

Last night she was grieving the death of her birth grandmother, something that she never really had the chance to do.  Events were buried deep within, and never surfaced until this past year.  Sitting there on my lap, safely cocooned while witnessing the healthy grieving of others, she was able to let some of that out.  She is absolutely the furthest thing from a typically dramatic teenager, this was just more pain that needed to be expressed.  In many ways, I sensed that for Angela, this was the chance to finally acknowledge the depth of her true loss.  She also sadly has intertwined with this loss the fear for her own life that was present at the moment of that great loss, and that confuses the issue for her.

After her tears subsided we went for a walk outside, and she said she hates thinking of her grandmother even though she loved her, because she gets so scared and she doesn't want to remember that night.  I don't blame her at all, but I reminded her that she was letting her birth mom take her grandmother away a second time by allowing her memory to be only of that scary last day together.  I explained to her that the sum total of her grandmother's life was not that terrible moment, but was all the love and protection she had given the girls up until the time her mother took her grandmother's life.  I told her how sad it would be if she allowed her birth mom to have this much control over her memories of her grandmother, that it would be like a second death.  We leaned on one another there in the cool desert evening, crying again together for this great loss and the courage it was taking Angela to face all of this finally.

Today at the funeral she did quite well until after it was all over, then as she got in the car after the casket was lowered she lost it.  We've come a long way in a year and a half, but this wound will be years in healing.

I was proud of how all the kids handled themselves this week, and today all but Angela elected on their own to go in and view Jake and pay their respect before the casket was closed.  I know each was very scared to do it, and I never would have even suggested it, but one by one, they each looked up at me and said "I'd like to go see him." and off down the hall they went.  I admire the courage and poise each of the kids has, and never would have had it myself at their age.

Last night, in the can on the way back to our hotel, the subject came up about what heaven might be like.  None of the kids believe in a literal heaven with streets of gold and all that we are told.  But I love their ideas about heaven even better.  It was Josh who piped up and said "I don't believe in some of what they say it will look like, but I do think God will wipe away our tears once we get there, and we'll never cry again.  That would be nice."  Then Kenny the family Theologian said "I think tonight was a little like heaven, like God uses each of us to wipe each other's tears away.  I think sometimes heaven can be here on earth too.  Just like everyone being there to wipe away the tears of Uncle Peter and Auntie Beth, or you and Dad wiping away Angela's tears.  That's God using all of us to make heaven here."

The more I am around our kids, the more I dig their theology.  It is so much more Jesus based than what the scholars espouse.

I am pretty much on overdrive at the moment.  In an email to a friend last night I wrote something I just actually saw clearly, and it explains why at moments I feel so wrung out.  I have spent the past 10 years absorbing the pain of our children's past in an effort to help them heal.  It is like being Sponge Mom Square Pants (because I am a total square, we all know that!).  I suck up as much of it as I can possibly take in as they gradually let it out.  After all, we can't leave the mess lying there on the floor between us, if I don't absorb it, they might reabsorb it themselves after working so hard to gain the courage to let it out in the first place.  It is worth every moment of effort and every tear shed myself, but man, it is exhausting and it sometimes takes a long time to recover from it myself.

It's not only absorbing that pain, it is trying to remain ten steps ahead of it in terms of strategy...what would be the most helpful right now?  Are there feelings that need to be drawn out?  Am I missing something that I should be "getting" here?  What is the underlaying cause of this eruption?  Is this a time when silence is best?  Do I dare suggest what I am thinking or will that push the emotion further down? How can I "name" this emotion for them in a way that will make sense to them?  All of this while I know deep down inside there is only so much I can do, that this is all a process that I am merely witness to and not at all in control of.

I was awake almost the entire night last night after all that transpired with Angela.  I can't shut off some of what comes unbidden.  I literally laughed at myself as I thought "How in the world can I get myself together enough to get ready for our huge trip in a week and a half?  I just want to sleep for 5 days.", but I don't have that luxury, nor can I let my guard down as there will be more emotionally to follow this, and I need to be at the ready when it appears.  One of the sad things about older child adoption, aside from missing out on so much that you;d love to have of their early years, is that you are constantly pressured, knowing you have such a limited amount of time to help bring them to wholeness, and to embed certain things in them...things that under normal circumstances take an entire childhood to set firmly in place.  But when a child comes to you with half their childhood already gone, this urgency exists that helps motivate you to remain alert and proactive.

Tomorrow dawns a new day, hopefully one without further auto trouble or high fevers as we undertake the remainder of our long drive home.  And for all of the above that I just shared about how hard it can be sometimes, I recognize what a gift it is to have the chance for those moments, hard or otherwise.  Tomorrow in another LaJoy household, the reality will begin to settle in and the real mourning begins as lives move forward without a son and brother.  That too will take years to heal, and will remain forever a pain that can't quite be escaped.

Life is about the pain, life is about being Sponge Mom.  It ain't always pretty, but it is real.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

God's Beloved

Photo by Cindy LaJoy, April 23, 2011

There is darkness, there are times when we walk through valleys barefoot and naked, our souls seemingly the protective covering of cloth-like propriety.  We wretch, we scream from our guts, we repel from tenderness for fear it will be the single word or touch that will break down that last vestige of strength that is helping us make it through.  In those bleakest of moments, the chaotic winds of emotions have us both yearning for connection and crying out for solitude.

There can be no pain that cuts as deep as having a child precede us in death.  It is out of the natural order.  To give life only to stand by helplessly at a hospital bedside as that life force gradually takes leave forever alters our understanding of life and death, our perception takes on a clarity previously unknown.

Our nephew's death has left a Jake-sized hole in the heart of his family.  Nothing will ever fill it, we all know that.  24 years of memories were strewn across the hearth in the form of family photos, mementos, stuffed animals...tangible pieces of a life well lived, never to be forgotten. 

A mother sits at a table, supported in her sorrow, surrounded by those other sons who have entered her life through marriage as a guitar strums, songs gently carry on the desert wind as her voice lifts in praise of a God that still...even with her. 

A father, shoulders bent with the burden of occasional doubt and aching for the loss of his ever-present companion, swings aside his brother, both grown and graying, each so very similar in their undying love for the children God has entrusted them with.  They speak softly of the things men speak of at times like this...the "doing", the "did", the "should have's". 

The sisters curled up close on the couch, silent in their togetherness, drawing comfort from the familiar that harkens back to childhood.  Amidst the drums and the weights, there in their brother's domain they seek out the assurance without a word.  We are still family, we are still here, we are still one...and his spirit still remains.

There are the other players, the aunts and the uncles who've traveled from afar, whose presence is a temporary distraction from the finality that is approaching, the day when they lay their baby to sleep under a blanket of God's good earth.  The honesty, the willingness to laugh while tears still stream unchecked, the certainty that Jesus holds their child now that they can not, all of it is a testament to the One Love that has always tied this family together.  God is, God was, God always shall be.  Forever.  When their ground has been shaken with a trembling unlike any they have ever felt before, they find solid ground and safety  in that.

I leave you with Jake's favorite quote from his Facebook page.  If only the world could see the God he saw and now resides with:

"Many people think that the mark of an authentic Christian is doctrinal purity; if a person's beliefs are biblical and doctrinally orthodox, then he is a Christian. People who equate orthodoxy with authenticity find it hard to even consider the possibility that, despite the correctness of all their doctrinal positions, they may have missed the deepest reality of the authentic Christian life. But we must never forget that true Christianity is more than teaching - it is a way of life. In fact, it is life itself. "He who has the Son has life," remember? When we talk about life, we are talking about something that is far more than mere morality, far more than doctrinal accuracy. " - Ray C. Stedman

Jake lived that life, his family lives that life, and even in their darkest hour, they have a peace that eases their bruised and battered souls.  As I sit here gazing into the sleeping faces of the five we hold so dear, I know that they too are God's.  We will hold them close, we will guard them with all our heart, but they are not ever truly ours, they are God's.  Cast aside all arguments about doctrine, denomination or dogma...for in the end, none of that is as important as knowing you are God's beloved. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jake's Passing

I don't have time to write much at the moment, but our nephew, Jacob is now at peace.  Thanks for the prayers of so many who carried him the past couple of days. 

Our Easter this year will take on greater meaning than ever, sadly.

I already know God is with Jake's parents and sisters, they carry the Spirit with them wherever they go, even into the Valley.

My Easter post was written and posted earlier this morning and you can read it after this one.

An Unholy Holy Week...Nor Not

I have tried, but failed miserably.  It does not feel like Holy Week to me.  Not in the traditional sense at least.  Oh, there are holy things going on all around me in quiet, subtle ways, but there have been distractions from the Big Holy that I should be focusing on right now.  Lent was meaningful for me, even though I was not able to get the "me and God" time that I had attempted to gain.  Somehow though, God and I still managed to connect on a deeper level even without the specific, scheduled time.  Maybe I should "get it", that I am in a stage of my life right now where schedules and planning will not always stick, and see it as an opportunity to embrace spontaneity and to learn how to better recognize and use the brief interludes I can capture.

We are continuing to pray for our nephew, Jacob, and appreciate your prayers as well.  Currently, he is still on a bypass machine and an external pacemaker, and the MD's will try and wean him from the machines when they deem it appropriate.  Where is the holy in this?  It is in Angela saying yesterday on her birthday "The best birthday gift I wish for is that Jacob get better."

And she has never even met her cousin yet.

Getting stuck in Duluth to start my week may have been a less than holy experience to some, but somehow for me the Holy was there as well.  Odd, I know, maybe my expectations of what is "holy" or not remain lower than average :-)  But there was the call from our pastor who just wanted to check in and lend her moral support knowing I had left behind the responsibilities of home and hearth and might be frustrated.  There was the moment when I responded that Dominick was as good a mom as I was, and everyone would be fine without me...and both of us knew that to be true.  How much holier can you get than a marriage that blessedly and assuredly works?  A marriage where my hubby, when "stuck" an additional day with 5 kids which will have to be accommodated while he is trying to work says  to me "What can you do?  It's no big deal and this will just mean you get a break for one more day.  Lay around the hotel room and relax!" and there was no guilt for me, only peace. 

While gone Kenny was sick, and of course upon my return two more fall victim to the fever, sniffles and chills.  Josh and Olesya came home Thursday after their track practice and each headed to lay down.  Olesya sprawled on her bedroom floor and slept deeply for 3 hours, and Josh hit the couch and took a feverish, restless nap with his still beloved blankie tucked in beneath him.  (Version #4 for those who keep track of such things, and he still has a sliver of #3 he carries with it!) 

OK, so many folks might not be able to see the Holy in kids getting sick, but when this meant the cancellation of Angela's planned birthday party yesterday, I saw the Holy in her easy acceptance of it, and of the kids' rallying of insisting I make her favorite meal and a cake anyway, so we could sing to her.  We'll reschedule the party for next week, but knowing it was only the 2nd one she has ever celebrated and how she talked about it for weeks prior, her graciousness over the situation showed me a little bit of Jesus.

Prior to the arrival of the Plague...oh, I mean the bug that hit us, we all went to Target where we picked up a gift or two for Angela in anticipation of her special day.  The kids all pitched in to get her...guess what...a Super Soaker water gun.  As we were walking to the cash register Matthew stopped and grabbed something, and when we got to the check out he placed the movie "Tangled" on the counter along with the gun.  I asked him what he was doing and he shyly looked up at me and said "It's Angela's favorite movie." and I said "But the other kids can't afford to get the Super Soaker if you don't pitch in, they don't have enough between them."  he whipped out his wallet and without looking up said "I know, I am going to get her both things." as he pulls several bills out of his wallet.  With tears in my eyes, I put my arm around him and said "I think your sister is pretty lucky to have you for a brother." and again without looking at me he said "Yea, well, she's a pretty nice sister too."  The Holy was very generous that afternoon this week on a Target sales floor...

Kenny had an appointment to get braces back on his upper teeth again, and we signed a contract for yet another few thousand dollars of dental work.  Before we went, he asked me to take a couple of pictures of his teeth, so we could see how they change over the next couple of years.  He also asked me to take a photo of his lip as he is going to have a lip revision surgery sometime this summer and is anxious to see a change there.  I am quite honestly feeling some trepidation about that one unlike any of the other surgeries, because to me his smile is already so beautiful, and I worry it might not make it better but would instead take away that Kenny grin I love so much.  But looking inside his mouth it is easy to see why his speech is still unclear, and I was thankful for the opportunity to sign that financial contract so we can help our son one day speak his words clearly, words that are so often filled with insight and compassion.

There's still a fistula there (an opening) but this is SO much better than it was when he first came home, and teeth are somewhat in the right location...well...sort of.  At least he doesn't have a fully open palate, and holes in the palate that were between his lip and teeth have been closed.  He has an extra tooth that has erupted there inside the palate that is small and needs to be pulled eventually, and the orthodontist told me that there is a large tooth that is impacted way up high near his sinus cavity that will likely need to be surgically removed too, not pleasant news. 

Then Kenny and I went out to lunch, just the two of us, on a long awaited date.  I promised him a date alone with Mom if he read all the A-Z Mysteries, which he did, so this was the fulfillment of a promise.  There, sitting across the table from my 12 year old son whose tiny body is more like a 9 year old, the Holy made itself known again.  Somehow we got on the subject of what he imagined himself doing someday, what kind of business he'd like to have.  He began talking about investing in stocks now with some money and wanting to learn more about how to own a company.  Then he added he wasn't sure as he was pretty interested in "God stuff" too, but also wanted to have a business of his own someday. 

Then, from out of left field, he says "I want to make enough money so you and Dad aren't poor when you retire.  You have given up so much for us kids, and I don't want you to work when you are old.  I want you to travel and relax."  I reassured him that any decisions we had made that would effect our retirement were ones we would never regret, and that we actually might not be the kind of people to be very happy staying home all day, going to play bingo or traveling to Vegas for slot machines...hahaha!  He was very serious when he replied "I know you might like to still work some, because you and Daddy are hard workers, but I don't want you to HAVE to work, I want it to be a choice for you.  Someday, you'll see, we'll all take care of you just like you have taken care of us." 

I laughed and told him that our children were NOT our retirement plan, and he needn't worry about our future.  After all, hadn't God already taken very, very good care of us?  Couldn't we walk in that assurance in the future?  He sat there thinking that one over a bit, then responded "Well, yea, I see what you mean.  I know God will always take care of all of us, but I think God brought us together to take care of each other I would worry about my brothers or sisters too if they needed help and I'd take care of them too.  Do you think that is how God takes care of us?  By making us see we should take care of others?"  and again, the Holy made itself known.

This week is about talking a long walk with Jesus, it is about suffering for others, it is about victory over the world and death, it is about placing your needs beneath the needs of others.  Holy Week is about new life, about renewed life, about living a Jesus life.  Sure, it is about death as well, but if death is all that Holy Week symbolizes, so much is lost.  Do we focus on the cross or the empty tomb?  Do we focus on kept promises or the betrayal of others?  Are Jesus people a "glass half full" lot or are we "glass half empty" folks?

Holy Week has been an odd one for us this year, but one can find different kinds of holy around them each and every day.  As I began writing this blog post, feeling a twinge of guilt for the lack of attention we paid to the events 2000 yearrs ago, I had a thought.  Maybe we LaJoy's have been too busy living out the Holy to reflect on it this week.  And I'll bet you a million bucks, that's just the way Jesus would want it.

Wishing you all a blessed Easter, and hoping that for at least a short while this weekend we all can find the time to reflect on the Holy that is, was, and always will be.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Urgent Prayer Request

Please join our family in prayer for our 24 year old nephew, Jacob.  Jake had heart surgery yesterday in Arizona, and he is struggling to remain here with us.  Jake has had ongoing heart issues due to a birth defect and several surgeries throughout his life.  He was having a valve replaced yesterday and the surgery was more complicated than originally thought, and he is not recovering as expected.  Right now, from what we understand, he is on life support and is in an induced coma. They installed a pacemaker as after the 12 hour surgery his heart was weak and unable to hold a stable rhythm. 

Jake is the son of Dominick's brother, Peter, and I can't begin to fathom what Peter and his wife Beth are going through right now.  They have three daughters as well, and it always brings a smile to my face to read the kids' Facebook posts to one another, filled with love and admiration for each other.  This is a truly close group of siblings and a wonderful, loving family who need their son and brother home with them.

Thank you for carrying the LaJoy's in Tucson in your prayers.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I Have Found My People...

...and they live in Duluth!!  The blog has been silent because I have been traveling and find myself, once again, sitting in an airport waiting for a flight home waaayyyy past the time I should have returned.  I am becoming a firm believer in The LaJoy Flight Curse, as it seems that when a LaJoy flies, there is always some sort of unexpected adventure or delay...or perhaps one is the same as another :-)

I came to Duluth to work with Madon Daily at the Nancy Larson Science exhibitor booth, and arrived on Thursday afternoon for the MACHE (Minnesota Association of Christian Home Eductors) annual conference.  I had  a blast, as Madon is sort of my older twin sister in an almost eerie way, and we had a lot of laughs while working and driving through snowy streets as we ogled the massive waves and tug boats on Lake Superior.  It was terribly cold with wind whipped evenings as we left the convention hall.  Then, in true LaJoy fashion, I missed my flight out because I somehow set the alarm incorrectly.  I rescheduled my flight for later that afternoon, and after Madon dropped me off and headed off down the road I discovered that the reservation clerk on the phone rescheduled my flight for the next afternoon (today).  And there was no way to get back home.  None.  Hmmmm...

So, I found myself at the Duluth Days Inn last night, and will now not arrive home until 10:00 PM tonight.  There are so many worse things, like being stuck unexpectedly in Petropavlosk, Kazakhstan for 2 1/2 months.  After that, nothing will ever really ruffle my feathers much again.  So, I took a long, hot shower, laid around and surfed the net, did a lot of thinking in peace and quiet, and here I sit in a coffee shop at the airport having gobbled down a toasty turkey sandwich and looking out over the very empty runway.  After all, it IS many flights in and out ARE there??  As I quickly found out, not many...hahaha!

However, during this brief interlude here in this lovely frozen tundra-esque city, I realized that I have found my people, I am amongst my tribe here.  Sitting here in the airport I see lovely mid-western women in seats all around me, little to no makeup, Alfred Dunner clothing on pleasantly plump bodies., short, practical no fuss hair styles, and I feel I have come home.  Hard to explain, but I have never visited what would truly be considered the mid-west before, my grandparents were transplanted mid-westerners to the coast of California where I never fit in, even as a child.  I knew I was not destined to remain in the land of glitz and glam, a hard body I would never be.  No, I am more of the squishy body crew, the large bosomed, broad hipped, never-looked-good-in-a-bathing-suite crowd even as a teen.

While I know my experiences here are surface only, the folks here are open faced, warm hearted, welcoming, hardworking who can still get down to old Olivia Newton John and Carpenters muzak. I feel as if I have actually stepped back into Lake Woebegone, trust me, it is a real place and is nicknamed "Duluth".   They are my long lost tribe, and I will leave here having gained a bit more insight into my previously unknown roots, and perhaps a tad bit wistful that this was taken from me long before I was born, that the call of California that wooed my ancestors unknowingly pulled me forever from the land of my tribe where I would have been able to walk amongst my true peers.

Now, on to other ridiculous insights...sorry, the Diet Coke is getting to me...

I often find it difficult to gather my thoughts for blog posts these days, and funny how after I got out of the shower this morning, otherwise known as Cindy's Thinking Chamber, I had a ton of them in mind, thoughts tumbling around, swirling in a messy little vortex of homeschooling, faith and tribal connections.  I also have a couple more pieces of our homeschooling long term game plan that fell in place, clicking almost audibly as they snapped into their rightful seat on the Long Train to the Unknown that is our family's educational mode of transportation to the Great Big Somewhere that will lead not only the kids, but Dominick and I as well to new and exciting places and insights.  Whew!

You have absolutely no idea how there are times when I wish I could shut my brain off.  Oddly, it is uncomfortable for me when it is still, and yet it is equally tiresome when I can't keep the tentacles from slithering all over the place.  This weekend Madon and I were talking briefly about Mind Maps and their possible use in helping pull things together for Kenny.  Madon is a former gifted and talented teacher, who is quite frankly, simply one of the brightest people I have ever met and flits from one thought to the other about as fast as I do, which I am sure makes our conversations seem somewhat schizophrenic to the outsider listening in, but is a sheer delight for me.  I am very lucky to have a couple of other key people in my life who understand this or are like this as well, so from time to time I feel less like the odd duck that I really am, God Geek, Homeschool Curriculum Freak that I am.

Anyway, I was Googling Mind Maps while we were speaking about them, and seeing images of them I thought it reminded me of my own actually well organized set of thoughts that reach outward in so many directions that it is no wonder I have a hard time keeping track!  I decided to create one here so you could check out this VERY cool tool which I found a version of online for free called "Spicynodes" at www.spicynodes

So here is my own personal Mind Map which reflects an extremely limited look at my thoughts at this very moment, and only abbreviated about homeschool.  I sat here for an hour creating one that had several other topics but lost it and realized it would be far too huge to present here anyway. This will give you an idea of what it is like though, and how limitless it's uses are. The cool thing is that this is animated!!  Click on each of the sub-categories and it opens other items on the screen  Surely someone else will find that this is a "must have" tool in their arsenal too!  I know, I get excited over the silliest things :-) Just go with me on it:

Now, I am going to take another sip of the cool, refreshing beverage in the silver and red can next to me, look up from the screen, and probably begin Lame Post #2 :-)  Sorry for the stream of consciousness flair today, sometimes you just have to ride the wave when it comes, yelling "Cowabunga, Dude!!".  Sorry, I AM from Cali, you know.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Waiting for Superman

I watched the movie "Waiting for Superman" last night, and found it to be a fascinating....if lacking...look at our public education system.  The movie uses the stories of several elementary aged students in failing schools to wrap around the explanation of why our schools are failing.  The main point being the lack of good teachers, and the inability to fire poor performing teachers due to tenure.  These are good points, but I personally felt the film didn't go far enough.  There are multiple reasons why schools are failing today, and I am unwilling to lay the sole reason at the feet of poor teachers.  In fact, there are times when I feel sorry for teachers for being stuck within the same broken system which their students find themselves trapped in.

The film failed to point to other, equally important causes of failure, and directed our attention toward lower income families whose children we find ourselves rooting for as they await word about whether they will win spots in various charter schools as lotteries are held.  These tender young children really grab our compassion as we see them, bright eyed with dreams as big as any middle class kid's dreams.  It is hard not to get drawn into the drama, and the disappointment one feels when some of the children get "left behind" when they are not able to secure a spot in a preferred school is touching.

However, the film seems to see charter schools as the panacea, but a quick search through Wikipedia garners information that shows that while charter schools do reflect a little improvement, overall the results are still abysmal.  Check out this chart from the Wikipedia article:

While I do think there are charter schools whose success is well above the norm, overall charter schools are obviously not the perfect solution either.  Those charter schools whose results are far superior usually rely on a model where students are in school many more hours a week, including Saturdays, and have little time to pursue other interests beyond academic.

Another key point that "Waiting for Superman" failed to make was that many students come from homes where learning is not supported, where parents simply don't care enough to read to their children, to encourage them with homework, or where lives are stable enough that learning is able to take place.  The families shown in the film were hard working, decent American folks who desperately wanted their children to succeed and were willing to work extra hours to earn tuition money or were shown spending time with their children and helping with homework.  If only this were the norm, and not an exception in many communities. 

Teachers can't teach children who don't come to school ready to learn, and to omit this key component from the movie is leaving out a very critical point.  Sitting in my own sons' classrooms many mornings, it was clear which kids would be able to succeed and which ones would be dropping out eventually, even if you hated to classify them that way at 9 or 10 years old.  It was almost impossible not to see it, as clearly there were kids whose learning was supported at home, and there were those for whom Cheetos and hours alone with the TV were the daily routine.  That doesn't even begin to tackle the more difficult home lives of some children where drugs and alcohol were rampant, where Dads were in jail and moms were trying to hold it together, where children were sleeping on Aunties couch or were being raised by grandparents because parents had dumped them there or were incapable of parenting any longer.

To blame teachers 100% for the failure of our children to learn would be unfair.

After viewing the film, I was curious what the standing was for our local schools.  How were they doing?  Was I imagining it that it was as bad as I had thought it was?  Five minutes and I had my answers thanks to the internet.  Want to know why we are homeschooling?  Let me share, and I'll bet for many of you this is no surprise for your own local public schools just might be in the same shape.

Olathe High School, where our children would attend, has a graduation rate of 89%.  Doesn't sound half bad, does it?  But let's see exactly what the performance level is of the students they are allowing to graduate...

I checked the state CSAP scores for 10th graders for 2010 for Olathe and Montrose High Schools, which is the last grade level required to take the annual state achievement tests.  These are the tests our kids just finished taking a couple weeks ago.  The percentages provided reflect the percent of students considered proficient at their grade able to read, write and compute at a 10th grade level.  Our kids would have attended Olathe High, but we had the option of moving them to the "better" school in Montrose should we have so desired.  Here were the scores:

Olathe High School                                 Montrose High School

Reading     59%                                      Reading     73%
Writing      34%                                      Writing       48%
Science     41%                                      Science      53%
Math         30%                                      Math          33%

Stunning, isn't it?  70% of the 10th graders at the school our kids would have attended are incapable of calculating math problems at a 10th grade level, and 66% are incapable of writing at a 10th grade level.  Even the highest score in reading is sickening.  No wonder it is said that the average news article today is written at the 5-7th grade level, it is because we as a society are incapable of reading anything of a much higher level!  When Matthew told me that more than half his class couldn't read and he was bored because things were moving so slowly, he was not exaggerating at all.  Any child working merely at grade level and not being a gifted reader would find it hard to remain engaged with classes filled with kids who can't read or write at the most basic level.

Even if we were to look at the stats for our other high school option, it is unfathomable to see how poorly overall these students are performing...when 52% of the children from the supposedly "better" school  still can't write at grade level and their math and science scores are so low it is pitiful...and that, my friends are the options we have before us here.  Oh, I almost forgot, we have the charter school option for pregnant teens.  that's it.

So, our local schools are graduating the vast majority of their students, but what exactly do those students know upon graduation?  It is no surprise that colleges are now reporting they have to offer remedial classes to most of the incoming freshmen. 

This is proof of exactly what we encountered with Kenny, an unwillingness to STOP and make sure our child knew how to read well, even when we asked two years in a row for him to be held back.  What I thought would happen is reflected in these statistics.  Kenny would have graduated high school, but he would have been functionally illiterate.  The girls?  I shudder to think of it...

Looking at this, I must admit, is a confidence builder, because there is no way I can fail at teaching my kids compared to this.  The next time someone asks me why I would think I could possible be qualified to teach my kids, I will find it hard not to laugh out loud.  How can I do worse than this???  Every time I feel concerned that we aren't teaching enough, aren't making enough progress, etc. I am going to remember these statistics and realize that we are not failing our kids by bringing them home, we just might be saving them.

What are the answers?  I don't have them, but someone needs to look at our system and start over.  Public education is not effectively teaching our children anymore.  Public education is a massive failure.  Notice I do not say the teachers are a failure, because I do think there are outstanding teachers in a system that is broken, as the movie suggests.  Good teachers are stifled and not rewarded, bad teachers have a free ride to retirement.  Materials used in classrooms are flat out bad and don't work, new fangled textbooks are created every year and test scores continue to drop.  And let's not leave out families who don't support learning, who don't value education, who don't care.

"Waiting for Superman" is only a starting point, a good one, but it doesn't dig deep enough.  We decided not to wait for Superman any longer, as are millions of other families who are desperate to see to it that their kids can, at the very least, read and write when they graduate high school.  I never imagined having to take it into my own hands, but our sons and daughters are NOT going to graduate high school unable to to read or write at a 12th grade level, they will NOT be pushed through a system like cattle even when we beg to get help.  We are blessed beyond measure that somehow we are able to have me home to take on this challenge, but what about those families for whom homeschooling is impossible?  What about the hard working folks who love their children deeply and want the best for them, who spend night after night helping with homework and reading to their kids in an effort to provide them a better education?  What about those who have kids like ours, who are English language learners but whose parents are incapable of teaching them the skills they need in English?  Those families don't want their kids to fail, but they have no options. 

I think the time has come to forget about Superman, and recognize that the entire Justice League itself would have a difficult time saving the educational day.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Great Word Debate

I am pooped!  We have had such a busy week as we are in the Big Push Mode to get everything done on our End of the Year Goals list before our "7 in '11 Grand Vacation Extravaganza".  I have a list stuck to the fridge of everything I am hoping to accomplish with the kids, and we are gradually making our way through it although it is seriously a lot of work.  I tend to always bite off a bit more than I can chew, but once we knew we were really and truly going to DC I wanted to throw in a bit more learning to make the trip more relevant.  So we are in the midst of watching the entire Liberty's Kids series...40 episodes of cartoons with big name actors doing the voice overs (tonight we heard Dustin Hoffman as Benedict Arnold and Walter Cronkite has been Ben Franklin!) as the history of the formation of our country is played out.  Even Dominick has enjoyed this and we laughed saying we were learning things we never were taught in school ourselves.  I can't believe how valuable Netflix has been to us as a family.

I tried to take photos today of the kids all beginning to work on their Colonial Life lapbook in preparation for our trip to Colonial Williamsburg, and the camera is indeed 100% dead. The Fonzie Smackdown worked for one round of photos, but today I had a weird black bar across my image and they were all eerily over-exposed.  Perhaps I should have posted them anyway and called them modern art!  While we knew it was on it's last leg, we had hoped to nurse it along for awhile, but that's not happenin' now.  So tonight was spent comparing and contrasting digital SLR cameras online, and guess what we are getting for our 25th anniversary?  A new camera.  Not quite the Rolex I envisioned when I was 17 and teasing Dominick as a newly engaged young woman (I have to laugh at calling myself a "woman" at 17, but that's our story and we're stickin' to it!).  However, the camera is far more practical and tens of thousands less! Hahaha! 

Besides, I have all the Rolex's I'll ever need, my little diamond and ruby encrusted Kiddos ;-0  And generously, much to my surprise, they all offered to pitch in and help buy us a new one with their money earned working on Saturdays for ski season.  Of course we declined, but their enthusiastic and authentic desire to want to gift us with something like that really WAS better than any Rolex!! pics until a decision is made.  We'll stick with a Canon I think, but which model is up in the air.  My first real camera was a Canon AE1 Program which was my graduation gift from high school and was used for about 20 years before I stepped into the digital world.  While in my affluent community as a kid many graduates were getting trips to Hawaii and there were a lot of keys to brand new cars being handed over, I was thrilled to get my camera and knew how much my folks had sacrificed to be able to give it to me.  It remained a prized possessions clear up until right before Joshie's adoption trip as the world slipped into the digital age and we realized we were at the break even point on a trip like that...we would spend about as much on film and developing as we would on a new digital camera and printing inexpensively only those photos that turned out well, so we made the leap and never looked back.  I doubt that any camera purchased today will last as long as my first one did, as technology creates premature obsolescence these days, but I'll keep whatever we get for as long as I can...and Dominick promised not to drop the new one!!! :-)

In the midst of our busy day today, we began working on this killer terrific new workbook on word roots.  It is a 5 year program (we don't plan on it taking us 5 years though) and is PHENOMENAL.  The kids really enjoyed it, and we had fun with it.  It teaches words in the same way I was taught all those years ago, but that somehow has been overlooked in recent years...focusing on word roots, prefixes and suffixes in a very systematic, organized fashion.  I am teaching all 5 kids at once, and as a vocabulary and spelling help it is extraordinary and was JUST the tool I had been searching for.  I found this at the show in Memphis and am so glad!  I know 98% of you aren't interested in such information, but for the 2% out there who might be you can find it at .  This is terrific in particular for older adoptees, as it has been tested in ESL situations and shown marked improvement in a mere 6 weeks of use 15 minutes a day.  However, any student would benefit from this program, and I am betting that this would virtually eliminate any vocabulary work necessary for those preparing for ACT's or SAT's, if you are going down that road eventually.

Anyway, I had to share with you where this took us...and I hope no one is offended.  I was trying to explain how words morph as time passes.  I don't know WHY I this example popped into my head, but it was perfect if a bit crude.  When such examples come, I usually use them as the first thing that comes to mind is often the best.  We talked about the word "bitch" and its original meaning, then how it changed meaning to be applied to women, then how it morphed into the surfer cool term bitchin' when I was a kid, and how it also could be used as a verb.  The kids were absolutely fascinated (I kid you not!) that one word could change so radically and have so many meanings over time.  I threatened them with being drawn and quartered if I heard them using it :-)  and interestingly, they had never heard it before!  I couldn't believe that some kid or adult hadn't said it around them at one time or another, but they were clueless. 

We then also talked about "dotcom" and "email" and their origins, which also surprised them as they just knew them as the words they are.  I'll admit this was a bit off course from our workbook, but hey, you gotta go where the muse takes you...hahahaha!  And a HUGE connection was made for them all today with this, as they began to understand how words start as one thing and continue to change with the times, something they had never considered before. 
Now, please don't think I am a terrible  mother OR teacher for the example I used!  After all, the original word was NOT a bad word, and I did point that out!

And now you ALL know you would never want your children attending the LaJoy World School, for they would come home with potty mouths acting as if it was perfectly acceptable and wondering why you were mortified after they repeated certain things.

A super busy week stretches out before us as well, and I will be in Duluth this next weekend with Nancy Larson Science at another homeschooling show, which I am looking forward to. 

Kenny starts round two of braces this week, as we go in for spacers for the next set on his upper teeth.  It has been nice to see his smile without braces for the past several months, but we are not even close to being done with him and are looking at several years more with another round with the palate expander sometime later this year.  We are awaiting word from Shriner's about when his next surgery will be, which is a lip revision at his request. 

Last week we finally got his vaccinations done so we could move forward with that.  Everyone but Josh needed more so we walked out of County Nursing 2 hours after arriving having 13 vaccinations between 4 kids.  Must have been a world record, and it took them even longer because Olesya's records showed her having vaccinations before she was even born!  I found this highly amusing considering we had been under the assumption she was a year younger than she actually was when we went to adopt her.  Now the Kaz records were messed up in yet another area, but it really threw the nursing staff for a loop and for a few minutes I was given the evil eye, as if I had somehow forged the documents and then done so incorrectly! When it was all over we walked out with a few tears having been shed (Angela and Matt) and few hands having been held as Joshie was the Official Hand Holder and did a great job providing comfort to his siblings, and giggling over Olesya's weird noises made while getting 4 shots...she was a riot!

It is SO nice finally having Dominick home on a normal schedule after ski season.  He gets up so early all winter, around 3:00 AM, and then is understandably wiped out when he gets home at night, so we feel like we lose him for 4 months or so.  Last weekend was the last one of ski season, so now we are back to being able to hold coherent coherent as we LaJoy's will ever be!

You are now up to date with this rambling post which has probably bored you from beginning to end.  Sorry about that!  Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Need an Afternoon Cry?

Read John's blog today over at where you can see what YOUR dlonations did for one young boy this past Christmas during the pie in the face challenge. 

Then read further and discover he is talking about Toktagul...yes, that's right, OUR Kenny!  My heart is breaking, and right there over the Spaghettio's I shared it with the kids and couldn't keep from crying.

This beautiful boy, alone in the world, whose heart was warmed by a simple act of kindness.

Thanks, John.

LaJoy World School

Joshie this week "Mommy, it's too bad every kid can't have as much interesting stuff in school as we do!"

We HAVE had an interesting week, and homeschooling IS interesting for students and teacher alike!  As mentioned before, we have begun a very brief overview of world religions as part of our history studies.  The kids have all been assigned a major world religion to study, and in some ways this project is more about learning how to use reference materials and introducing research to  them than it is about religion.  But we are all learning so much, and have been fortunate to have guest teachers visit with us.

We started off the week with an old friend, Miss Jane and our new friend (and Jane's) Miss Pat who spent an entire morning with us in deep discussion about Judaism.  Miss Pat is Jewish and a retired librarian who kindly offered to share her knowledge with us, and we learned so much!  She brought books, and plates and intelligence to the table :-) After spending a couple of hours being bombarded with questions, our friends still had the strength to move forward with a hands on demonstration of how to make a traditional Jewish food item, potato latkes! 

It is days like these when I am just so happy that we made the choice to homeschool.  I'll be the first to admit that we have been blessed with an abundance of wonderful folks willing to give of their time and share their knowledge with the kids.  I am not sure why we are so lucky in this regard, as I am sure that being around five busy kids can be quite overwhelming to many, but we are surely grateful for every single person who is willing to spend time with our children to help them learn and grow.  God has surrounded us with extraordinary people!

Later in the week, Kenny spent time with Jane's husband, the infamous Mr. Steve, who greeted him at the door looking quite Arab-like in traditional garb, then proceeded to spend over an hour explaining Islam to Kenny, talking about the 5 Pillars of the Muslim faith, teaching him about how they say their prayers, and even letting him borrow a prayer rug to bring home to show the other kids.  Kenny had already done some research, but this helped bring it all to life for him.

Olesya had a special treat this week as well, as she went to her first gathering of quilters with Miss Jane, who is teaching her sewing (and sneaking in math along the way...shhhh...don't tell Olesya!).  There she had the honor of working beside a 94 year old quilter, and also was greeted warmly by another close family friend, "Grammy Marge", Joshie's best buddy's grandma!  Olesya spent the morning feeling very grown up, and completed a pot holder for me.  She already finished a baby blanket that will be sent to Papau, New Guinea as part of a mission project, and I think we have stumbled upon something that she can call all her own and an area where she can shine.  Already Matthew and Joshua asked her if she could repair their jackets, which she did.  Olesya badly needs a way to move out from under Angela's very long shadow.  There are so many complicated emotions and experiences that weigh upon Olesya's opinion of herself, and I am thrilled she is finding her own way, tentatively, and she is now being labeled "The Crafty One" in our house! 

While I have no pictures, Matthew is being growing in new ways as well now, as he has jumped into his first real job working on a farm for one of the most decent, good men we know.  Someone from our church approached us to ask if  Matt would be interested in doing a little work around his place, as he needed some help and always hired help in the spring.  He said he noticed Matthew had grown a lot this year and he wondered if we felt it would be appropriate despite his young age of only 11 years old.  We knew Matthew would leap at the chance, especially because he likes this gentleman a lot and it would be a good opportunity for him to earn money on his own, aside from his work with Dominick during the winter.  

While his work with Dominick has always been a "real job", and we have expected all the kids to take their work even for us seriously, it is totally different and more pride inducing to earn money from someone other than your parents. His employer has been mighty pleased with him, and even spoke to Dominick today about having Matthew do even more work for him someday when he is able to drive! Haha!  A few years down the road (thankfully!) but it was wonderful to hear from our friend this morning that the groundwork we have laid with Matt is paying off, and at 11 years old he is already seen as a diligent, strong, respectful employee whose work is worth the pay he receives.

As the typical school year is beginning to wane, and I look back over this first full year of having all the kids home, I can't help but smile as I recall all the assumptions others have about homeschooling, and I foolishly had as isolated kids are, how narrow their lives are, how much less they might learn than in a regular classroom.  Oh my goodness, I don't know how we possibly could have learned more in the past 10 months or so or how we could have been more engaged and involved with those around us!  Deep Breath as we review:  For the 4 younger kids we literally went through 4 years of phonics, 1.5 of grammar, 1 of spelling, 1 of math, did 3 very challenging in depth-book studies, read more books than would be possible to count...well over a couple hundred each, filled a composition book and a half of writing exercises, did 2 years of reading comprehension workbooks while Matthew also did 2 years of reading comprehension workbooks along with 1.5 years of the very challenging Reading Detective reading comp series, he wrote no less than 8 short essays in addition to daily writing practice and reading the very challenging "The Hiding Place" and doing a very intense book study on it in addition to 3 others and an Editor in Chief editing workbook, read no less than 12 Landmark History books in addition to the gazillions of other books he checked out from the library, and we all studied the continents of Africa, Australia and Antarctica and created full sized maps of each continent, completed a a full year of science curriculum and are starting year 2 now, will finish with a world religions and philosophy overview and display board in the next couple of weeks,  began guitar and violin classes and Matt and Kenny continued with piano, took outside art classes all year studying no less than 6 different artists and replicating their work as they learned about their styles, 2 of the kids took pottery class, all advanced two times in TaeKwonDo where Matt and Kenny both broke boards for the first time and Matthew is now 1 step away from a red belt test which is the last one before black belt, visited the Butterfly Pavilion in Denver, saw the Body Works exhibit in Denver, dissected ducks, frogs, worms and other disgusting things, made baby quilts and learned how to sew, made African masks and did detective work on a dead animal skeleton, grew from NO English to fluent English, grew from reading ZERO in English to reading 4th grade level in English, Kenny more than doubled his reading speed and FINALLY FINALLY learned the months of the year...and remembered least for today :-), Joshie discovered a love of biographies and read about Hitler, Marco Polo, Daniel Boone and Neil Armstrong, we all watched the entire series of Roots, Colonial House and Frontier House along with bios of Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, are going to finish the entire Liberty Kids 40 episode series, Hotel Rwanda, the Lost Boys of Sudan, The Pianist, The Hiding Place, and several National Geographic documentaries on various countries all taking at least 2 times as long to watch as we stopped to explain everything we could, did a lap book study of the White House and will complete one about Colonial Times which will take several weeks...let's see....did I forget anything??? HAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Ahhh...if we look outside our academics we helped others in many ways this year by volunteering for highway cleanup, working in the yard at church, visiting the senior shut in members of our church, prayed for many folks in Japan, in Kyrgyzstan, in Haiti, donated food to the local food bank, were Secret Santa's to a man in town, spent hours creating handmade soaps and chocolates for our church's Women's Union for a Valentine's Day surprise, served the younger children in our Explorers Youth Group and helped with childcare here and there as we could (the kids) with the younger ones, spent time helping our adopted Grandpa put up his Christmas tree in a new found tradition, pulled a fun loving 12 day Christmas prank on a friend to brighten her holiday, raked leaves for someone who had a huge task ahead of them...and I think that may be it for now.

Oh yes...and Angela now realizes that she lives on planet Earth :-)

Man oh man, have we come a looooooong way, Baby!!

We were trying to see if we could afford to get TShirts made for our trip, a way to easily identify us from a distance should we get separated, and a way to formalize our educational field trip for what we have had called "Seven in Eleven" by a dear friend we can't wait to meet in person on our trip.  Seven LaJoy's in 2011.."7 in 11"!!  We were all sitting around the craps table (yes, we are playing craps many evenings to help the kids with odds and multiplication...FUN way to learn it!) and the Dealer...I mean Dominick...and I were trying to come up with a name for our little school.  We all tried on a few names and then realized the one that fit best was "LaJoy World School", for it has double meaning for us.  The most obvious is that our kids are from the other side of the world.  The main reason though is that we are not trapped behind the walls of an institution, our kids have had ENOUGH of that!  Years of lack of contact with the outside world, lack of understanding of their own culture because they were never really a part of it, years of...well...for heaven's sake, Angela not even realizing she lived on planet Earth!!! 

So, the WORLD is our school, literally and in every sense.  Oh, we won't be taking any trips around the world or anything, but we are going to soak up as much of our world as we can during these school years.  We are going to experience it, touch it, hear the music of it, explore it and CLAIM it!!!  It's OUR world, for better or worse, and we will not let anyone limit us in our learning.  Want to learn how to fly a plane, Matt?  Let's look at ground school...who cares if you are only 11!!  Angela, still dreaming of being a nurse?  Let's go shadow one and see what it is like!  Kenny, want to start a business?  Give me time, we'll work on that one too!  Olesya, want to learn the craftOlesya, want to learn the craft of sewing?  You got it, girlfriend!  Joshie, want to do experiments on human bodies?  Whoooooaaaa....we might have to rethink that one :-)  Hahaha!  Well, certainly there is a morgue or coroner nearby who could help us out with that one someday, right?  Ugh!

Now tell me, how can I NOT be having fun with this?  After all, I have the best class ever to teach!!

And now, the teacher needs to get to sleep rather than thinking up more crazy learning hijinks!