Saturday, August 25, 2012

46th Birthday

Resting in a very crowded hotel room in Denver after a long day, I am surrounded by smelly socks, sprawled out bodies, and steamy wet  bath towels.  Aren't I lucky?  I do not ask that facetiously, I realize how lucky I really am to be with these 6 other people I walk through life with.

Yesterday was my 46th birthday, and I spent it on the road.  We came here to visit the annual Gift Show to find souvenirs and trinkets to offer in our little gift section at the airport.  We walked up and down aisles and aisles of booths, using our five "employees" (and legally they are!) as our "test market".  Much of what we sell is directed towards kids...magnets, TShirts, bracelets, etc.  It proved quite valuable to have them all along, as they pulled us away from some items and approved of others.  We did not actually place any orders yet, as we will do that back home when we are not under any sort of sales pressure.  It was another lesson for the kids to learn, how to push back gently when a sales person is trying to get you to commit on site.  We decided that once we return, as a school assignment we are going to give them a budget in real dollars, not "pretend", and have them do the math, figure out order minimums and shipping costs, and eliminate items from our possible list to come up with our final orders.  Dominick and I are always looking for ways for the kids to see how they will use their skills in real life once they are out of school.  What better way than to have them spend our money? HAHA!!

My birthday was sweet.  On Wednesday night I was taken out to a very nice restaurant by our "adopted grandpa", and had an evening of adult conversation and Scrabble afterward.  What a treat!  A real restaurant with cloth napkins! HAHA!  Because we were leaving, the kids wanted to celebrate the night before, so Thursday evening I was surrounded by giggling, teasing, laughing kiddos, all excited to have me open the little gifts they had selected for me.  We all laughed as the tape couldn't be found so wrapping paper was folded around boxes, and then Kenny lost the envelope to the card from the boys, so they all laughed even harder over that one.  What an eclectic collection of gifts I received!  A computer game from the boys and Matthew even loaded it for me.  Josh got me a singing card that talked about me not being older than rocks :-)  I got a hamburger press from Olesya which was so cute because I was looking for one with her recently at Walmart and couldn't find it, but she saw it and didn't tell me so she could get it for me for a birthday gift!  Sneak girl.  Then each of the girls also got me necklaces, one with a "C" from Olesya, and a beautiful heart locket in gold that said "Mom" on it from Angela.

Dominick surprised me and took my wedding ring to get repaired.  It is a small diamond with 2 chips, one on either side, and one disappeared a couple weeks ago and was discovered only when the prong snagged on something.  We laughed over it, because really my ring is not an expensive one and the little missing chip is so small you almost literally need a magnifying glass to see it.  However, I didn't want to snag or cut anything with the sharp prong sticking up, so I hadn't been wearing it until we could afford to get it fixed.  That was a super nice surprise.

Maybe though, my real present came under the guise of "nothing special".  As we wandered from show room to show room, my heal started acting up again.  Plantar fasciitis is proving to be pretty debilitating for me and healing is not appearing to be around the corner very soon.  Matthew was so kind and solicitous, taking my hand and arm several times, offering to let me lean on him.  As I was limping along, Angela offered to stop right there in the middle of the Merchandise Mart and rub my aching foot.  Olesya went downstairs at our hotel tonight and bought one large cinnamon roll and shared it with everyone in the family.

Nothing special...none of it...and yet how truly special it is.  Who needs a fancy birthday celebration when every single day is special in seemingly little ways?  My gifts are delivered constantly, my heart overflows.  I am one lucky woman, and I never forget it.

As we left one of the vendors this afternoon from whom we will order several different kinds of Colorado Christmas ornaments, he called all the kids over and offered them each some candy from his handy basket.  He and his wife looked at me and said "You have such a happy family, you don't see that much today.".  This was after we were all in there trying to vote for our favorite ornaments in order to make our decisions.  I am so pleased that someone can look at us and see "love" written all over us.  We stand out all the time for things that would male some folks uncomfortable for being different...different races, ages all the same, disabilities.  Standing out as being loving is one thing I'd never shy away from standing out about.

Sometimes, we all need reminding that being family is the single most important thing we are called to do together.  We have rough times just like every family does.  We work hard daily with the kids to talk with them when we see an attitude emerging that causes us concern.  There are things we probably talk to them about that others would not find to be any big deal at all, and sometimes maybe we are too attentive to the whole relational part of "family".  But we are trying to be intentional about who they turn out to be.  We had a talk with Matthew just this evening when we saw an action out of him that was out of character.  As I told him this evening, we will have failed as parents, even if he grows up to be successful in work or academics, if he does not turn out to be the kind, caring young man we know he is.  We have had a rough week with Kenny who is stepping way back in the "pushing his way" around behavior, telling people what to do, not keeping his hands to himself but having to touch everything in reach.  Angela overstepped today, telling one of the kids what to do and I had to remind her in a humorous yet "you know I really mean it" way that my job is to parent, not hers, and it kicks things out of balance if she doesn't respect it.  All in all though, it is minor stuff that we try and nip in the bud immediately.  They aren't perfect anymore than we are.  I apologized to them just the other day for jumping on them too quickly over something, and having thought about it afterward realized I was taking out a bad mood on them and was a little inappropriate.

The molding never ends.  It never ends for us as adults, parents and spouses either.  Our kids have molded me in countless ways, all for the better.  There are times when I think "Man, will they EVER get it?  Will this EVER sink in?" and then I am humbled when I am certain God has asked the same about me, "Will she EVER get it?  Will it EVER sink in?".  As I begin my 46th year, I am sure God has much more in store for me to learn.  I am glad I am learning it with the people I find myself in this life with, both those under my roof and those whose hearts are tied to ours through love.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Team Astana!!!

Tuesday we had a unique "PE Education Course" as we went to witness the start of Stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge professional cycling race starting right here in our little hometown of Montrose!  Now, normally, this might not have been something we would have fought the crowds to attend, but we had a special reason to make sure we were at the starting line...Team Astana from Kazakhstan was there!  We were joined by our dear friend, Miss Lael, who surprised us by wanting to root for the non-home team right alongside us.

Before we left the house though, we of course had to be prepared:

Kenny and Matt are making posters to cheer on our team!

This always cracks me up...the jogging suit Matt got in Kazakhstan is like many other things there...a "knock off" where the English is spelled wrong.  Now we can say for certain that yes, there indeed IS an "I" in the word "Team"! HAHAHAHA!

We got our flags out, Josh wore his traditional outfit, Kenny donned a hat, and we were ready to rock!

We arrived and realized this was a bigger event than we had thought it would be. Many people were there to meet and greet teams, to watch the introduction of the riders, and to cheer them on.  Finally, the Kazakhstan team arrived...and they were in their usual form...not very warm or friendly, very abrupt and unsmiling.  However, thankfully we are culturally aware enough to realize this is not an indication of their lack of pleasure at being greeted, it is just the way they normally carry themselves.  Matthew was able to get signatures of some of the riders, who must have been surprised to see folks carrying their flag here in the middle of farm country.

Dominick and Kenny are the courageous ones among us, they will go up and talk to any stranger!

Matt was quite proud of his autographs!

Here the cyclists are getting ready.

Their bikes were very cool, as you can see they had their country depicted.  What didn't show well in my photos was that along the underside was a sticker with the typical scroll work found in Kazakhstan.

Soon it was time for the race, and we headed to the starting line.  The kids were handed out trading cards with one Kaz team member on it

When this cyclist came by, he singled us out to wave to before lining up at the start.  See?  They may not show it in traditional ways with typical smiling faces or warmth, but every culture is different.

Waiting for the start!

Go Team Astana!!

And yet again they found us in the crowd and waved :-)

I love these opportunities to connect with Kazakhstan, and wish we had the same for Kyrgyzstan.  Kenny was disappointed that there was not a Kyrgyz team there, his country just has a long way to go to get it together enough and participate more in international competitions like this.  The kids all really enjoyed being there, waving their flag...and Kenny has sort of adopted Kazakhstan as his own as well :-)

There as a brief moment for me, silly though it may seem, where tears came to my eyes.  I don't know why...maybe because I just am so grateful for being able to have the family I have and for the country who shared its children with us.  Maybe it was recalling the Kazakshstan I know and love.  All I know is that seeing the colors of the Kazakhstan flag makes my heart fill with just as much pride as seeing the good old red, white and blue...and my life is much richer for it.  The experiences we had while visiting there, the people we met, the country became more than just an anonymous flag to me.  It became Salta and Ayana, our two "adopted" daughters who came and spent a month with us here in Montrose several years back and who send me photos of their new families and children.  It became Ira, our interpreter whose life is so very, very hard and whose own heart was sweet and tender.  It became Zhazira, the wonderful assistant director at the girls' orphanage who sat across the desk from me and talked mom to mom, it became the "cookie ladies" who went from frowning to grinning a mile wide as Dominick approached.  

The flag also became the children left behind, whose hearts grow colder each day.  It became poverty, corruption, greed, distrust, and much more.  

Funny though, it is the warmth of the hugs that is more quickly recalled, it is the relationships that endure.

Didn't know a simple little bike race would bring all that up for me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And the Bar Keeps Moving :-(

Yesterday started out with a lo of excitement, as our family attended the start of phase two of the USA Pro Challenge Cycle Tour here in town with a team from Kazakhstan participating.  However, the day quickly ended on a difficult note as we receive bad news from our homeschooling program, and we have been working on our attitudes ever since.

Late in the afternoon I received a phone call from our Resource Coordinator (RC) who works most directly with our family.  She certainly dreaded making the call, as she had to tell us that suddenly...after 3 years of enrollment...the state caught an "error" and now we have to move them up a grade due to their age.  When we initially enrolled them, a couple of staff members and I looked at a chart the state had that dictates what age is allowed to be considered what grade, and we selected their grade level based upon this.  We had never heard a word about it until yesterday, when the state came to the conclusion that we were wrong, and contacted our homeschool program to tell them they had no choice but to move the girls from 5th and 6th grade, where they are perfectly suited to be, to 6th and 7th grade.

And just like that, we lost an entire year of education.

Because we are part of a public school, technically, and are "schooling at home", we have to abide by standard state rules. We don't have the flexibility that traditional non-affiliated homeschoolers have.

My emotions ran the gamut yesterday from anger, to sorrow, to acceptance... to strategic planning on how to work with this sudden change in our long term game plan.

At first glance, this may not seem to be such a big deal to many, but as the night wore on, I saw many ways in which the impact of this could create surprising challenges.

1)  Olesya has literally had only 4 years of "real school", let alone the fact that two of those were in a foreign language.  Now they are calling her a 6th grader...when in America that would mean she would be working on her 7th year of academics.  That is a huge gap.

2)  What if we can't homeschool in the future?  What if we find we have to put them back in traditional schools?  Though that is not at all our plan, should an emergency arise, they would be placed in grade levels that are completely out of their reach.  It is one thing to be called a certain grade at home but have the freedom to work on whatever grade level work is appropriate, it is another to be thrust in a class where you simply find the work to be impossible to understand because it is all at the true grade level.

3)  We just did finally feel successful...caught up...on target.  Now, it is as if that has been ripped out from under us as the bar has been moved higher and higher up.  We have worked SO hard the past 2 1/2 years on school, moved at lightning speed through material, and our test scores were a "reward" of sorts for everyone.  We celebrated, we patted ourselves on the back...and now it is as if all of that is null and void.  Sure, I know that it really isn't, but it feels that way and we need to put it aside.  The problem is, our test scores from now on will reflect that they are not proficient and more importantly will not provide me with an accurate reflection of how they are doing so I can judge where we need work and where we are doing well.   The tests are a waste of time in terms of measuring against others, as I could care less about that, but it was helpful to use to see areas of growth or needing improvement. Now it will be pretty invalid because they will be testing using materials that are so far off the mark that it will make them pointless for my use.

4)  Fear.  Angela in particular was very upset upon learning this.  She told me "Mom, there is no way I am only one year behind Matthew.  If they put me in 7th grade, I won't know anything!  I barely am a real 6th grader!   I CAN be, but I need more time."  What I loved was she realized her own potential in saying "I can be", what I hate is that she feels pressured now, and that is one more thing I need to work with and relieve.

5)  So if we manage to get them the minimum skills necessary to graduate at this accelerated schedule imposed upon us, this has the potential to cost us thousands of dollars in remedial college classes for those who elect to go that route, because they may not be adequately educated for certain subjects.

There are just a lot of ways this can impact us.

Everyone in the family was concerned, we all had a long talk about it last night and even the boys were adamant about it and asked if I could go to the state and try to get a different ruling.  Matthew even asked if it was worth hiring a lawyer over.  It was easy to get caught up in the disappointment and anger over the unfairness of this situation.  It was not misdirected anger either, as truly it is not our local school or even our District doing this, it came directly from the state.  We were told this has happened a couple times before (our program often gets kids like ours, who do not fit in a standard classroom by age/grade level), and fighting it would be fruitless.  Our local school had already tried to argue on our behalf before calling us.

We've worked so hard, it is difficult not to become discouraged by something like this.  We school part time all summer long.  Unlike many homeschooling families with kids who are on track and homeschool 4-5 hours a day, we homeschool 8 hours...and sometimes 9 hours a day.  We school during the winter on weekends for a couple of hours here and there.  And we take few breaks during the day.  The kids truly work their behinds off, and rightly or wrongly, it feels as if our hard work is being punished.

Taking a deep breath, we all stepped back and by the end of last night and early this morning we had come to new conclusions, proving that often it is not what happens to you, but how you view it, that really matters.

1)  We are SO lucky to have this program and the funding that makes homeschooling possible for us!  Without it, we would have a far less rich academic experience.

2) They can call the girls whatever grade they want, but we can continue to do what we need to at home.  We'd never get that at a standard public school.  They can call them 7th and 6th graders, but we can still teach 4th grade grammar, 5th grade spelling, sit side by side and read every single story together explaining every single word that is not understood.  We can teach 4th grade science to my "7th" grader, we can be at 4th grade writing skills with her as well.  Olesya can take the next 4 years of necessary to get through elementary math if necessary, even if they call her 6th grade now and she is working on 4th grade math successfully.  In a classroom, they'd be forced to use grade level curriculum even if it made no sense to them at all and they fell further and further behind.  We have flexibility, regardless of grade level assignment.

3)  We can do a 5th year in high school, as long as they graduate by 21 years old.  Our program contacted us this morning and are totally in support of that idea.  In other words, we'll lose on this end, but they will allow us to make up for it on the back end. Then they will still get a diploma from our school district, rather than a diploma issued by Mom.  Dominick and I both want this for the kids if we can do it.  Being older graduates anyway, we feel it will validate their education more to others who might not be pro-homeschooling.

4)  Now I can really ignore test results, which in the long run just might be healthier as long as we know they are making progress.  Our culture gets too caught up in that, and I raise my hand to say "Me too" sometimes with measuring "success".  Yes, I need ways to critically evaluate their progress, but maybe being able to look at state results as totally irrelevant for us is a good thing.

5)  God knows what we need. I will fight for the kids tooth and toenail (my Mom's old saying!), and maybe we need to see ourselves even more as not being bound by a system in our learning.  We had a wonderful conversation last night that led us to talking about continuing to finish learning after high school and outside the system, if necessary.  I was so proud of the girls' response as they said they knew what they would need to have to be successful, and they would do whatever it took to get there...that graduation age was not important, learning was.  Maybe God knew we needed that perspective more than typical "system" thinking.

With the unique kids we have, they just never "fit".  They don't "fit" in sports teams because of ages and grade levels, they don't "fit" in school because of gaps in knowledge and time needed to catch up with language skills, they don't "fit" in social settings with peers because as they grow older they are finding it difficult to understand what is being talked about with language levels increasing beyond their abilities.  They don't "fit" because for many of them, the bar is simply out of reach...set too high...unreasonable in the demands it places on them.

Where do they "fit"?

They "fit" in God's family, where they are accepted for who they are and helped in so many ways to succeed.  They "fit" in the LaJoy family, where people will stand up for you, nurture you, love you, and laugh with you.

We'll figure it out, we'll keep plugging along, and we'll put this behind us and keep a good attitude about the stuff that is really important.  We'll be grateful we fit together perfectly, and that creates a foundation that can never crumble, no matter what the outside world does to try and chip away at it.

We are Team LaJoy.

Go ahead, set that bar day, I promise you, we WILL fly over it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

We Did It! We Did It!! We Did It!!!

Sorry, long post with pics!

It can be so easy to get bogged down by the daily struggles of life.  Lately, as I look around, all I see is personal failure on many fronts.  Nothing big, just lots of areas where I wish I were doing better, wish I was more effective, wish that maybe something...anything...would be easy.  Dominick and I have thrown our hands up in the air lately as every.single.thing. is breaking, broken, needing repair, looking bad for some reason or another, and even when fixed it needs another repair.  Door handles, clothes dryers, vehicles, computers, swimming pools, tires, tables, you name it.

School has been rough with the kids, but definitely better than it was 2 weeks ago.  When I say rough, I don't mean because of the kids really, but because subjects are growing more challenging, language is becoming more difficult as we hit higher level vocabulary, and Kenny is still confusing "a" and "e", "p" and "b", "o" and "u", "f" and "th"...and today added "qu" and "g" to the mix.  Angela, whose language skills are probably the highest of all three of our older adoptees can't hang on the new words or their attached concepts to save her life this week, and it is frustrating both of us as we hit this wall.

The past couple of days though, I have been renewed in ways I never expected, and reminded over and over again that the tough things are worth it, and that I am blessed in countless ways even if others would never see it that way.

The biggest news?  Tonight was one for the record books, at least for our little family.  After attending a Board of Stewards meeting for our homeschool program, I had our Director share our basic state test scores for the kids.  I had been sort of dreading it, because rightly or wrongly it feels sort of like my own personal report card, and with all we deal with it can be another blow to see that we are so far behind despite how hard we work at our school work.  And believe me, we work HARD.

The state tests were taken almost exactly 2 years to the day of beginning homeschooling the girls after coming home with not a lick of English (the test results were from the test taken this past March).  So with Kenny who is severely learning disabled, 2 English as a second language learners, Matt who has some sort of dyslexia/dysgraphia/dyscalcula going on that has yet to be diagnosed...and little Joshie all in the mix, I held my breath as she offered to show me the scores on her laptop.

Everyone, every single child, every single subject:  Proficient.  Not partially proficient, not unsatisfactory.  P-R-O-F-I-C-I-E-N-T.  In fact, 3 of the kids scored advanced in math, and get this, Angela was a hair breadth away from ADVANCED in writing.

I almost started to cry, I kid you not.

We did it, and I actually can't believe it.  Kenny even scored solid in writing and reading both!  Reading is based mainly upon comprehension, which has never been his problem, as processing speed and accuracy/word recall is.  Olesya...proficient in math despite her very real inability to "see" certain things in math.  Matthew, proficient in writing...must have scored high enough to push him to the bottom of proficient because his mechanics are, frankly, terrible, and I mean still waaaaayy below grade level, but good enough it seems to at least pull him out of "partially proficient".

How I wanted to do the Happy Dance!!

I needed to see progress right now, I needed to not see just the day to day grind of explaining and re-explaining things until I am blue in the face, trying to find that new way to say something so it will make sense or stick.  I needed to see progress as we do phonics yet again with Kenny, I needed to know that all this effort indeed does add up to success somewhere along the way.

Then Dominick told me something that made me re-prioritize it all.  He said that the kids were at the kitchen table until after 6:00 pm tonight, working on their school work.  This was after I left the house at 4:00 this afternoon and told them they could quit for the day in about 20 minutes.  When I asked them why they all kept at it, I was told that they were working and just didn't want to stop until they were finished.

Now, really, it is great that we hit "proficient" in all subject areas.  I know that most parents would likely cast a quick glance at state test reports, see "proficient" and then toss the report on the table as they moved on to something else without giving it much more thought at all.  Proficient would be the expected norm, the only acceptable scores, or perhaps advanced would be expected.  So I know that our "accomplishment" doesn't really mean much to most folks, though for us it is huge.  But even though that does reflect some level of academic achievement for us and wouldn't impress a single soul, what I really thought about as I sat down to write this was not scores, charts or categories.  What I thought about was five kids who always give it their best effort, even against enormous odds.  I thought about five kids who can be trusted to work hard at every single thing they do, who have developed a work ethic that really will be behind whatever success they manage to achieve in their lives far more than any letter grade or score will.

Tonight I am grateful that we did it, that we achieved what two years ago seemed impossible.  But what I am most grateful for is walking through Walmart with rotating children all wanting to walk next to me with their arms draped over my shoulder as we laugh and carry on.  I am grateful for the fact that they are even here in our home, cherished and safe.  I am grateful for the kindness they show their parents and others on a regular basis.  I am grateful that they are healthy and whole.  I am grateful that we have had opportunities to enrich their lives.  I am grateful for every person who has contributed to their well being, who love and nurture them, who spend time with them and in their own way have adopted our kids as their own.

And really, after reflecting on such things that are really what make our children who they are, scores on a piece of paper, even decent ones finally, just takes a back seat.

I don't know if next year's test scores will be the same.  It is likely that as the grade level gets higher, we will find it harder to advance because of the time it takes to develop higher level vocabulary.  We might drop in some subjects, we might hit more roadblocks.  Heck, I am sure we will hit more roadblocks.  Luckily though, their self worth...and not measured by the state.  For us, we don't measure math scores or editing mistakes.  We measure laughter, we count the love.  In that, I think we probably get an "A".

Here are some pictures taken over the past couple of days as we enjoyed some family time together and  just hung out.  This is far more important, and is the stuff that really makes a person feel whole.:

Happy, Happy Birthday, Dear Olesya!!

Thirteen Years Old!

We spent the day in Grand Junction, just window shopping.  Her special treat in lieu of a party was to have the entire family go out to dinner at the Golden Corral.  She was SO excited about that, because for us it is a huge treat to go out to a real restaurant like that.

While she got a small purse and a memory stick for her documents, this was her real gift...and she loved it.  I think we will all loved what she will be doing with it.  We joked that she will have an entire kitchen outfitted long before she ever moves out on her own someday.

The boys all were having a good time as they watched Olesya open up the gift they got her, a computer game about pets where you can dress them up and give them a bath.

Josh with the ever-present blanky.

Kenny doing the boogie!

We joked about not having first day of school clothes to wear, but we did have First Day of School totally radical, cool tie dye folders!! Haha!

This is part of Kenny's reading program, the Wilson Reading System.  We have thus far spent about 6 weeks on the main phonics sounds of these letters and digraphs.  We have tons more to go, and the program is quite involved.  There are workbooks, a BORING BORING reading book that drills and pounds sounds, he has to take dictation, and practice identifying sounds and spelling sounds he hears.  His lessons take an hour each day, and it is about 10 parts to each lesson.

Regardless of how long each lesson is, we are starting to see real results!!  We are identifying specific problem areas, he is beginning to break the "guessing habit", and he is catching his mistakes and self-correcting more.  It is actually a pretty complex program to learn to teach, as it is usually taught by teachers after attending a two day seminar on how to use it.  Today as I looked at something Kenny wrote for his writing workbook, which is not part of the program, I realized that he had only ONE spelling mistake in it!  For him, that is amazing!  It wasn't but about 2 1/2 years ago that I think I blogged about how worried we were because we gave him a test at home of the 100 basic words for 3rd grade, I think it was, and he misspelled over 80 of them.  The above is amazing for him and we are so proud of his hard work to get this far, and his outstanding attitude that has kept him motivated.

That's our boy!  Still a lot of work ahead, still many, many issues to try and deal with, but finally...true success in an area of huge weakness!

We had a surprise night out in GJ the very next night after having driven up the day before.  One of Dominick's old food delivery drivers texted him Sunday night and asked if we would be interested in tickets to watch a baseball game at the local college field up there.  I had no idea (although Dominick knew) that Grand Junction had landed its very own farm league team for the major league Colorado Rockies, named ever so creatively, the Grand Junction Rockies.  Tickets were cheap, so we decided to go ahead though none of us were expecting much out of the evening.  Surprise, surprise, we haven't had so much fun in a long time!  This was the lowest league possible, I believe, not even an "A" level team, but instead part of the Pioneer League.  The young men were between about 17 and 23, and some had some real talent.  We were right above the 3rd baseline dugout, and having never been to a farm league baseball game I didn't realize how very "down home" it would feel.  Like going to a pro game without all the traffic, overpriced food, or crowded restrooms.  I love baseball anyway, and these young kids were such fun to watch.  Everyone laughed, danced to the music that was playing throughout the evening, stomped and was awesome and I think we will definitely try to make a few games here and there in the future.

The young ballplayers were giving out autographs, signing their baseball cards that were given out free upon entrance to the first 500 attendees.  We all got packs of cards, and the kids each set off to get signatures from as many players as they could.  You never know, one of these young men will one day make it to the major leagues, and we can say we saw them back when they were rookies.  So far they have sent over 30 players to the majors in the past 11 years.


Clowning around with Dad.

The game had a thrilling end, with the deciding run not advancing until the bottom of the 9th.  With 92 mile per hour fastballs being thrown, this was not your low level of play, but instead was true raw talent working on skills to hopefully get them to the next level.  Angela and I had the most fun, I think, as we cheered our throats raw, and sat on the edge of our seats with each play.  While everyone said they thoroughly enjoyed it, we were the ones most into the game.  What a total blast!!

Back to the grind this week, as we continue to work hard and get ready for volleyball practice to begin next week for four of the kids.  Poor Joshie is too young still, but he'll eventually get his chance next year.  

Tonight, as I readied myself for bed, Matthew came up to me and gave me a big hug, saying sincerely "Thanks so much for teaching me, Mom.  I couldn't do it without you, literally!".  It was the perfect end to a happy day.  Tomorrow might be awfully hard once again, or it could be easier, who knows?  All I DO know is that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing at this stage of my life.  There could be no job I might do that would be more valuable to our family.  It might bring in some much needed cash, but this brings an even more necessary brighter future to our kids.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Late Night Heart Talk

As a parent, you have to be aware that the conversations you need to have with certain kids who have more introverted personalities have to happen when they are ready.  Often, when they are ready is not when you are expecting it, but if you are really tuned in you can sense when they might be more open.  It is now 1:27 AM, and I am fresh in bed from having had some precious alone time with Olesya, who opened up to me in ways she has never done before.  How did it happen?  I stayed up with her to help her finish a cake she is making for a French Revolution Birthday Party for Joshie's buddy (It was decorated with a Bastille, or a reasonably facsimile.), and then we cleaned up after the house was quiet and nothing but the hum of the dishwasher accompanied our conversation.

I had a phone call earlier in the evening with my friend, and we talked about Olesya's hesitance to plan a birthday party this year.  We hashed over reasons she might be unable to get excited about it.  I am so grateful for the people in our lives who love our kids too, who let us bounce things off of them as we work through how to approach a problem.  I hadn't really talked this out with anyone else, and it sure helped and probably prepared my heart for the conversation later in the evening.

With everyone in bed, I asked Olesya if she could even name what it was that was bothering her about her birthday, or why she just wasn't enthusiastic about it this year.  Was she feeling somehow slighted over Angela and Matthew's birthday, which was a little bigger this year to make up for missing Angela's last year?  Was she uncomfortable turning 13?  Was she wanting a party but trying to keep things easier for us?  I told her I just couldn't figure out what was wrong this year, when the prior two years she had LOVED her birthday and waited anxiously for weeks for it, while this year it was like it wasn't even happening.

She got quiet and said "Well, I think maybe there are a couple of reasons."  I urged her to go on "I really miss Meridian and Rowen, and it feels sad to have a party without them."  Our young friends are the children of the couple who just got married recently, and they moved out of state right after the wedding.  Angela too had a very hard time with their departure, crying a lot the day we said good bye.  Although the kids were quite a bit younger than ours, this was the first time that friends in America had to bid farewell, and I guess  it was harder on both of the girls than I had understood.

We talked about that for a few minutes, about how friends come in and out of our lives, and how that can hurt...but how caring about someone also is one of the best feelings in the world and we need to not shut down our hearts just because it hurts when they are gone or have to leave us, because we'd miss out on too much love and laughter.  She took this in quietly, then said "You're right, Mom.  Maybe that is what I am doing, because it was what I learned in Kazakhstan.  I'd make a friend, then they'd leave the orphanage, and I'd be left alone.  Sometimes it was better not to make close friends."

I then said "Is it hard turning 13 years old?  Does it feel too grown up for you?", thinking that maybe time was passing too quickly for her and she wanted to grab on to her younger years for as long as she could.  While that wasn't it, there was another reason that was related and I very much understood what she said when she told me "No, not at all!  But I think maybe I am not comfortable because I don't know whether to have a kid party or a grown up party...sometimes I feel like a little kid like Josh, and sometimes I feel very old and I don't know what to do."

Ahhhh...the dilemma of many tween/early teens.  Too old to really be a kid anymore, too young to be more adult.  It's not a fun place to be, and most of us can relate.  Olesya said "It's like I want to be a kid for awhile longer, but I don't really even know I am stuck."

Then she really had me smiling when she said "But I think the biggest reason I didn't want to think about my birthday was that it is on the same day as Zack's, and I was really excited about making his cake and it was like that was all I could think about and I couldn't get it out of my head!"  She then added in a very serious tone, "Mommy, I am not lying when I say I want to have my own business someday.  I want to learn how to run a restaurant from you and Daddy, I want to maybe have my own bakery or something like that.  I know that sounds crazy because I am only 12...well...almost 13.  I asked Daddy the other day how old you have to be to get a food license, and he said he wasn't sure but we could find out.  I dream about maybe even selling stuff just for a day, like at the corn festival or something like that."

And just like that, our conversation turned into a softly voiced list of all of her gifts, as I named them one by one.  I told her I had every confidence that she would live out her dream, because she had all the skills to do so.  I shared that I saw in her the ability to put in long hours and work very hard, the desire to learn new things, an ability to be highly organized which is what it takes to run a business well...and a love of being in the kitchen and serving people.  A shy grin appeared as she said "Thank you Mommy!", and I then said, "It has been so much fun to watch you change and grow these past 2 1/2 years.  You have really discovered who you are and what you want to do in this world!  So I am wondering, in what ways do you see that you have changed, because I see a lot of changes in you!"

She stood there quiet for a moment, leaning on the other side of the counter as she thought, then she said, "Well, I don't think I am lower than other people anymore, I know I am equal.  Sometimes I forget and don't act like it, but I always hear your words in my head now and try to remember it."  She thought a bit longer then said, "And I know I am smart now!  I thought because I was dumb in math that I was just dumb, but now I know I am smart in a lot of things, besides, you were bad in math and I think you are super smart so I can be smart too even if I am bad at math."  Finally she also added "Most important, I have changed because I am loved and I know it is always there for me.  It makes me feel different about everything."

Then she came around the counter and gave me a long, slow hug and said "Thank you Mommy, for everything you do...for teaching me, for taking classes with me, for cleaning up with me.  You are the best Mom ever."  and then she grinned wider and said, "And even though I sometimes get mad when you catch me, I am really, really glad you are not letting me act dumb." and then she giggled as she said, "How do you ALWAYS know?"

Mom secrets, Olesya, and someday you'll "always know" too!

We finished cleaning up, and put the cake to bed for the night.  I stood there with my arms around my almost 13 year old daughter, whose heart is as big as the Grand Canyon and whose confidence is growing daily and might one day match it.  The early morning calm was settling over the entire house as we stood there, all the lights dimmed with the exception of the yellow glow from above the stove.

This was worth staying up until 1:30 AM.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Daily Life Update

School is back in session, and it is MUCH improved over last week!  Now that everyone has their head in the game, we are moving along fabulously well.

I was thinking today just how much I actually enjoy teaching our children.  Of course there are days that are BORING with a capital "B".  I mean, just how many times can I go back over phonics with Kenny and not find myself hiding a yawn?  How many explanations do I need to offer to explain that "the", "a", and "an" are important in the English language?  That is definitely NOT the fun part, as any mom would attest I am sure.

So what IS fun about it?  I get to use my ingenuity to try and find new ways to present old material, I have the opportunity to move away from the traditional textbooks for some subjects and teach it in a whole new way, I get to spend hours and hours looking for resources that are GOOD and that the kids will enjoy learning with.  I know it may sound nuts, but I love nothing more than trying to find a new resource or reference tool that will work better for our kids.  Our new math curriculum is working so well, and they all want to do math first in the morning these days!  When does that ever happen?  Olesya is enjoying a lot more success with it, and her lack of dread over a subject that doesn't come easily to her makes all those hours of research worthwhile.

I love that we can use real life for Matthew having to write a letter of thanks which also outlined what he learned from his Civil Air Patrol camp and making it into a writing assignment.  What could be better than crafting a letter that someone really will be reading?  Or assigning a page of writing about our corn festival experiences this weekend, then sitting with the girls as they shared the similes and metaphors they included?  Or having Kenny learn how to program a cash register and make change, while also calculating sales tax?  Having the kids see how they will use what they learn in real life makes it all more valuable, even in their own minds.

I had a conversation today with them about why we are studying Westward Expansion and creating a notebook to highlight our studies for the year.  They all enjoy history, so I didn't hear any "This stuff is stupid and we'll never use it!" but Angela hit the nail on the head when she clearly understood why we study it and said "Mom, I know why!  Because you are using history to teach us how to think about the world, how to know what is truth and a lie or...what is that word?"  and Kenny threw out "biased" and she said "Yea!  That's it!  What is biased or not.  You are using history to get us to use logic, and history is just on tool to teach it."  Then Josh said "Plus it is cool!  We learn about things and then see how we are still the same, and yet different, from all those old people a long time ago.  Like our politics is still the same, but we have TV and the internet so we get our news differently."

I am giving a lot of thought to high school and how I will approach it with Matt.  I have some subjects ironed out, but I asked him today about history and general social studies, and he admitted he preferred not to use just textbooks, and hoped we could find ways to learn like we use now at lower grade levels.  I am thinking of using The Teaching Company DVD's for many topics and then assigning "real books" to flesh out topics.  For those unfamiliar with The Teaching Company, they have terrific courses of lectures from the best college professors in the US.  I have sampled  a couple of them and found them to be extraordinarily good.  I have also found a couple of textbooks I might use as supplemental material with questions and assignments on certain topics, so that I wouldn't need to be all that creative to come up with appropriate essay questions, Q&A, etc.  It would be a lot of work to pull this all together into a seamless course, but it would also be interesting.

it is not always easy to find ways to keep the kids learning a couple of subjects together, so Matthew isn't isolated in his learning.  That is probably my biggest challenge as a homeschool mom.  Well, that and keeping laundry moving :-)  I am exploring all sorts of options for high school and post-high school, and just recently learned that our state offers a 5th year senior program which will pay the tuition costs for high schoolers remaining technically high schoolers for a 5th year but attending college. I need to learn more about it, but that could be a huge bonus for us if we could take advantage of such a thing.

Our Westward Expansion study is going to be cool!  We have started it concurrently with our Elections study, which we will conclude with the election in November.  We are "notebooking" our Westward Expansion unit, creating a divided notebook filled with all that we learn and paper activities which I will show later in photos.  I have two pages of resources we are using, from books and worksheets to movies and documentaries.  We will be creating poster board maps of the Lewis and Clark journey, the Oregon Trail, the Native Nations that inhabited the areas, the forts that were established...and they will research it all and put it on one map.  They are all actually looking forward to that part of the project.  Then there are the questions I will throw out that they will create small charts or essay answers for, such as "From the French perspective, what were the positive and negative sides to the sale of the Louisiana Territory sale?".  Olesya struggles mightily with that sort of thinking, and yet she sees the need for her to develop that sort of ability to think things through with the facts on hand.  It is neat to watch the kids as they grow in their ability to think deeper and more logically.

Volleyball begins next week, and that will take up a lot of time...three afternoons a week for a good portion of the afternoon.  We need to be very intentional about school work so we can actually get it all accomplished!  TaeKwonDo won't be too far behind either, starting sometime in September.  We have a very busy fall ahead of us, but all 4 kids are looking forward to volleyball, and so are we!  Watching them all will be a joy, and poor Joshie has just one more year to go until he can play.

On a sad note (sort of), we have had to make the decision to sell Old Blue (our big van) , and are also going to put our beloved Big Bertha on the market.  Old Blue already sold, and we were pleased we got what we paid for it 4 years ago!  Can't beat that!  Now Big Bertha needs to say goodbye.  We want to keep her, but we really need to be practical and purchase a larger van.  With the kids growing, and our frequent road trips due to where we live, we decided we need a better suspension and larger vehicle to carry the load.  When fully packed, we are close to bottoming out on longer trips, and the kids are only going to get taller.  We will keep our minivans for running around town economically, but we must find something safer for the longer trips to Denver, California, field trips, etc so we can be safer.  We are thinking a full size van conversion.  Hopefully someone will buy Big Bertha quickly, and we can use that money to put towards a van that will work well for us.  We hate doing it, but maybe we can find an older used trailer to pull with a van somewhere along the line.

What else is up?  Not much, just the daily grind.  I am ready for fall, my favorite season of all, but we have a few weeks to go yet.  I am ready to settle in and am not much of a summer person.  I could do without a really cold winter anytime soon, but the brisk air and changing of the colors is something I adore.

Not much else to report.  Will try and have more pictures soon of something to post!!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Hello, Mr. President!!

When I decided that we would study elections this year as part of our social studies course, I had no idea what wonderful opportunities would present themselves to enhance the learning.  First, we were present for a local candidate to announce his candidacy for state representative and had the chance to work on his campaign a little by handing out fliers and walking in the 4th of July parade to represent him.  Sadly, we also saw the negative side of a campaign there as well as we were "boo'd" on the parade route because our young candidate was a Democrat in a staunchly Republican town.  We had a long conversation about the right to free speech, as well as our own obligation to act respectfully despite disagreements, regardless of how others might elect to practice their free speech rights.

We have learned the basics about elections, political parties and their beliefs, polling, negative campaign ads, skewing statistics/data and polling questions to present a candidate in a particular light.  We have had long discussions about what makes a good candidate, how much their conduct in the personal lives ought to affect our opinion of their ability to lead, how good orators tend to sway voters regardless of their political platforms, and a candidate's marketability in today's video oriented world.

As a continuation of our study of the process of being elected, we had the honor and privilege of seeing  a huge grassroots political rally for a sitting president as he runs for re-election.  As I shared with the kids, this is something that relatively few people ever get to do, and this is something they can tell their grandchildren someday...that when they were young they saw America's first African American president in person.  Regardless of one's political leanings, that alone made this a momentous afternoon for our family.  It also was a great way for the kids to all understand what a political rally is actually like.  Experiencing the energy in the packed high school gymnasium was really quite something to see!

Here we are outside the venue, Grand Junction High School, where it was about 97 degrees!  We had barely obtained tickets, and were thrilled to get them after standing in line over an hour Monday morning...there were a mere 2 tickets left after we got our 6, so we felt quite fortunate.

Above is just a small section of the long line we waited in for almost 2 hours before being allowed to enter the high school gym.  There ended up being at least a couple hundred people behind us in line before we were moving forward.

The kids didn't complain a single moment...unlike their mother! HAHA!  They brought books to read while in line waiting, and we had a funny remark from a woman behind us who saw Olesya's three book selections and asked "Just a little light summer reading?"...she was reading books about the Holocaust and The World of Spies.  When I said that was balanced by Joshie's book on Super Heroes, she laughed...then she asked if we were homeschoolers! Haha!  Seems she homeschooled herself, and said she can spot them a mile away, largely because they are always carrying books with them.  Matthew had a large tome with him that Miss Lael gave him for his birthday, a very old book about war strategies.  Now THAT was heavier reading, but as he wades his way through it he is thoroughly enjoying it.  My kids have more serious interests than I do...

We finally made it inside and it was stifling hot, as one would expect when a high school gym is packed to capacity with pre-sweated bodies! Haha!  The mood was cooperative and congenial, which helped a lot.  I did end up getting kicked the entire time by a two year old who was quite fussy and angry at her parents who were not smart enough to realize this might not have been the best place to bring their little one, poor thing.  We thought we had a couple of hours to blow, sitting there in the sweltering humidity watching as someone passed out across the gym and had to be carried out.  Thankfully President Obama arrived earlier than expected, so we all had a reprieve.

We all found it interesting to watch the media...the cameras, the reporters, etc.  We also got a kick out of watching the Secret Service Agents watching the crowd!

We saw teleprompters, although it didn't appear the President was really using them.

It was hard not to catch the spirit of excitement that flowed throughout the crammed gym!

Angela is the main true Obama fan in our home, she is quite taken with the fairness and equality of having our first African American president, and is now waiting for the first female president whom she hopes might turn out to eventually be Elizabeth Warren.  She also wants to see the first Latino/Latina and Asian president in her lifetime!  She said that only then can America say it is truly possible for anyone to succeed.  She also said she really wants to get involved in politics and perhaps run for office or be an aide to a congressperson or the president one day.  

You know what? 

It wouldn't surprise me one bit if she does.

Joshua was very, very uncomfortable with the noise level, something I hadn't anticipated ahead of time.  In fact, when we went outside the gym once to take him to the porta-potty, then returned, he almost started crying because the loudspeakers and cheering bothered him so much.  Guess we still don't quite have all that sensory stuff worked out yet :-(  Sensory integration disorder creeps back in his life over and over again in a variety of ways, this was just one of them.  I am thinking that loud rock concerts are probably out for him.

Watching all the hoopla with this wonderfully varied family I have, I was struck by how diverse we are...just as the signs on the church of our own denomination right across the street from the gym reflected..."Our diversity unites us!"  No wonder we belong to the United Church of Christ, it is a perfect fit!  There I was, sitting with side by side with my Asian and Russian Kazakhstani children, two of whom are now strongly identifying as Independent, one who most definitely is Libertarian and knows it firmly even at a young age, one who is most likely a Democrat, and one who has no preference yet, all of whom have a registered Independent mom and a Republican dad.  Theologically we are all over the map as well, exploring, growing, and learning who we each really are.  We are all on our own journeys, yet are joined forever in love.  We are American, Italian, Kazakh, Russian, and German.  The one constant is that we are LaJoy's...a family forever despite our differing perspectives.  

Unlike many of our fellow countrymen who seem to feel that our differences MUST divide us, we choose to let it tie us together, respecting one another's developing opinions.  As their parents, we have no agenda for them other than to have them mature into kind, thoughtful, generous human beings.  We also want them to see that kind, thoughtful, generous human beings come not only in all colors, shapes and sizes...but in all belief systems as well.  We want our kids to grow up to respect the fact that others may not always agree with them, to learn that they don't need to force their opinions down others' throats, that the fact that others have different viewpoints doesn't make them "wrong", per se, it just makes them different and not at all someone to be hated, vilified or mocked.  If we can manage to raise children into that kind of adult, we will feel successful.

As I looked around the bleachers, I realized I was surrounded by people of all races and socio-economic backgrounds.  Quite literally there was the man sitting right behind me who was the weathered older caucasian farmer in bib overalls, and next to him was a very professional looking African American middle aged woman.  Perched on the seat above them was a Hispanic family with two younger children and none of them spoke English very well.  In front of me was the well educated older, retired professorial couple, and next to them was the long haired aging rocker in a Hawaiian print shirt.  Right smack in the middle was the six of us, sans our big ol' Italian.

There we all were, taking part in a political process which peacefully brings about a change in power every four years in our country.  We complain and bemoan the fate of our nation, we speak often about what is wrong, what is not working, what we wish were different.  For just a moment today I let all of that negative rhetoric slide off my back and relished being part of one of the most amazing countries in the world, a place that willingly allowed us to build a family of non-blood related members who are not from our country, a place where we have clean water, safe food, decent educational opportunities, toilets that work, access to health care, and a non-military solution to changing our governmental leaders.  I believe we DO still live in a country where anyone can succeed.  Oh, I know we aren't perfect, and there still are a great many changes to make, but we are so, so blessed to live where we live.

I don't care if it is Romney, Obama, or Paul for president.  I know we will vote, our voices will be heard, and we have a choice.  I know there will be no machine gun fire outside my polling station.  I know that one group will not storm the White House to throw out one "regime" and install another.  I know my children will one day vote, can hold office (if not the presidency itself, due to being born abroad), can get an education, can buy a home, and can speak openly about what they disagree with, should they so choose, without getting shot.

Truth is, you can argue about the candidates and their platforms until the cows come home, we are STILL blessed. Yea, I mean that, even if you vote for the "other guy", whoever that may be for you.

The thing I'll remember tonight as I lay my head on my pillow?  Angela's comment after we left.  All the kids were talking about the afternoon, and Angela said "Mom, thank you SO much for bringing us! This was better than going to Disneyland, seriously!!"  Matthew looked at her dubiously and then she added "I have never seen anything like it, and this is better than Disneyland because it is real, not pretend, and this is what changes the world for people.  I LOVED IT!".

Too bad all Americans don't feel as moved by our political process.  But one young lady in the crowd did.  Who knows?  Maybe she just might change the world herself one day, all because she realized the possibilities when she was young and went to see our President in person.

You just gotta love America!