Monday, February 25, 2013

A Trial Run!!

I did something today.  It was something that found me engaged in much internal debate for a long time, 2+ years, actually.  It would be something fairly insignificant to most folks, I know, but for me it was a little bigger.  

I tried to do it last year, but couldn't manage it.  The need for groceries took my "mad money", leaving me shrugging my shoulders saying "Oh well, guess it wasn't meant to be."

But it kept niggling me.  I tried to brush it off, but I couldn't.  I don't even know why, really, it is just one of those things.

Then this year came around, a year that was quite stressful, and kind of sucked a lot of soul out of me for a variety of reasons I won't get into...none of which, thankfully, have anything to do with my beloved ones.

The last straw came when I lost choir, that one thing just for me that brought me incredible joy each week, and filled me up.  It was also one of the few adult things away from the kids I counted on regularly to keep me from becoming a babbling adolescent-esque fool.  Homeschooling, and doing it with real commitment, is not just throwing the kids in front of a computer all day while I eat bon bons and watch Oprah re-runs. It really means a 10-12 hour a day...then going...well...nowhere. Back to the laundry room, maybe, but you don't get to "go home" from work.  I love it in a million ways, but I am being truthful when I say there are moments when simply not getting out every day or being around adults more can be a little hard from time to time.  Of course, the flip side is that I get to be cozy at home every day, and I am around my favorite people in the whole world, so there are definitely pros and cons :-)  

So, I decided I needed something to rejuvenate me a teensy weensy bit.  I needed something just for me, something I might get a little lost in when I needed to.  So, I did it.  I actually did it today.

I am giving a trial run at learning the harp!!  After much conversation and research, I found a company that will rent one long distance, for a period of four months, before a commitment is made to purchase it.  So, for a $50 a month rental fee, I am going to try something totally new and different!

Here she is, isn't she beautiful???:

I keep trying to tell myself this is not stupid.  I don't have the luxury of affording lessons, I haven't played any instrument since high school, I don't know keys or chords, and I don't read bass clef.  But ever since the day 2+ years ago when I sat down at a dear friend's harp back in Virginia, I have yearned for one to play, even if I never learn to play right and just strum to make myself happy.  Sitting at her harp, resting it against my shoulder and feeling every sound in a way that many instruments don't let you feel it, there was something mystical and sacred about it for me.  Maybe that is how Matthew feels about Legos when he gets lost in creating, or Olesya when she just can't wait to comb through magazines and cookbooks looking for new things to try.

I bought a highly recommended "Teach Yourself the Harp" book and DVD on Amazon, signed the contract today, and will give it a try.  Renting it is safe, because if I find I am the total loser I suspect I might be, and don't force myself to practice, I can always return it.  I really have no idea if I can learn this without an instructor, but several folks on various harp forums have done so, at least well enough to satisfy their desire to play a little.  I am under no impression that I will actually ever be good at it.  I don't care about performing, nor do I imagine myself sitting at a $10,000 floor harp some day.  I am basically very uncoordinated, and I am pretty sure this will be something incredibly hard for me to do, especially without lessons.

That's OK.  What is it that I have been saying to the kids for years?  Do the hard thing?  That, and you don't have to be good at it to enjoy it?  Well, I guess it is time to put up or shut up.  I want to try, and I think it will be great for the kids to see me attempting something that is very, very hard...just as each of them has done so admirably.  

But mainly, I just want to sit in a quiet room and run my fingers across the strings over and over again.  That alone is beautiful, even if I never manage to put notes together in a way that follows anything written on a page.  Sometimes, we need to chase after beauty, even if we will never quite catch it.

I am trying not to feel guilty.  I had a little money stashed to cover the rental fee, money I saved by effectively robbing Peter of  a little more than it ended up costing to pay Paul.  Still, it is money that could have been spent elsewhere, and I know that.  I have played mind games, justifying it to myself for the past week.  I was going to rent a super cheap one, because A) I didn't want to rent a much nicer harp, find that I love it, and am spoiled by it but can't afford to keep it, and B)  I don't need an expensive toy.  However, a couple of my men folk convinced me otherwise.  Kenny really got deep into conversation about the whole idea, urging me to do it as he weighed out the pros and cons of better harps versus lower level models.   Dominick convinced me when he sort of laughed at the name of the super cheap model, called a "Harpsicle". 

Ultimately, I realized that beginners at anything often go with lower quality tools for whatever they are trying to learn, and often get turned  off of something because it is frustrating to work with inferior products.  We've all done it, saved a few bucks on something thinking it wasn't really worth wasting additional money on it, so we quit when, if we had the right tools, we would find it enjoyable.  If there is any chance at all that I might actually be able to learn this, then I don't want to ruin it because I bought a harp with no levers, or not enough octave span, and I throw my hands up in the air and give up.  Well, I admit I might end up doing that anyway, but at least it will be due to my recognition of my own lack of talent, not due to a poor quality instrument.  So we are renting  a decent little entry level harp, not a toy, but not a Grand Dame of harps.  If I like it and stick with it, I am not yet sure what I'll do.  I am not going to think beyond just enjoying it when it arrives.  I really hope I won't be blogging four months from now saying,"Eh, I give up!".  But then, even if that does happen, at least I will have tried.  You have to try a lot of things to find the ones that really speak to you. And who says you need to be "good"?

A little music is needed in everyone's life.  I've missed the peace it brought me, so I am reaching out for a little.

While I wait in great anticipation, my only dilemma is...what do I name her??

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bread of Life

I have been remiss in blogging regularly, and that has been a  intentional.  I found I needed a bit of a respite from many things, and needed to rest in daily family life a little while.  We were home for a few days after returning from California, then loaded up in "Jorge",our "new" full size van we purchased last spring for a maiden voyage, of sorts.  While we have driven it around town a little, it was intended to be used for longer family trips when luggage and space were more of an issue.  I didn't take it to California because it hadn't been road tested yet, so to speak, and traveling alone with 5 kids across the frozen desert we figured it might not be the wisest move to have that be our first long road trip with it.  So we waited until Dominick was going with us to Denver.  I am super pleased to report that Jorge was fabulous!  Everyone had much more room, we didn't bottom out the van, and it was a very comfortable ride.

We went to Denver as a treat, the kids having saved to go see a Christian/Family comedian who was putting on a show there at a mega church in Loveland.  Tim Hawkins is hilarious, and we have seen him onYouTube several times.  The kids asked if we could go if they bought their own tickets, and we agreed we would pay for the hotel and gas if they would do that.  It was perfect timing, as it was around Dominick's birthday, Valentine's Day, and our anniversary of the girls' homecoming 3 years ago.  I know, we are crazy to drive 6 hours one way for a 2 hour show, but we are LaJoy's and you ought to know how nuts we are by now.

It was SO worth it!  My, how we laughed, harder than I think I have in years.  It was so nice to enjoy something like that as a family and not have to cringe because of inappropriate comments made.  He is Bill Cosby-esque in his brand of humor, something you can't find very often these days.  The kids all cracked up over the Mom and Dad references and the common things we ALL say as parents.  We must have enjoyed it even more than I realized, as after the show we were getting a drink at a local fast food joint, and a woman approached us who had been there as well.  She told us she didn't know what to laugh at more, Tim Hawkins or our family!  She said it sure looked like we were all really enjoying ourselves, and that she loved seeing all of us having such a good time.  Kenny was the most hilarious of all, as he has a real funny bone, and he was actually sliding down his seat as he was doubled over in hysterics.  He even said to me, "Mom, if he doesn't stop it, I think I'll laugh so hard I'll pee my pants!!"

If you are ever looking for good, clean humor to enjoy with your family, check him out, you won't be disappointed:  Tim Hawkins, Comedian/Musician

Laughter isn't just the best medicine, it can be the very bread of a happy life.  No matter how hard times get around here, and we certainly have our share, the laughter is what pulls us through.  We have always been able to find the humor in our circumstances, and I never take that for granted as I know what a true gift that is.   We all know hard times always come around, but being able to relax into family life and view things through a bright orange lens...or clown glasses...helps in so many ways.

Speaking of bread of life, Thursday we were busy with school, blinds drawn so we could watch a couple of videos that illustrated our science lesson, when we heard an unexpected knock on our door.  What a surprise as we welcomed in a couple of new friends who attend our church whom we hadn't ever had the chance to get to know very well.  We decided back in December they would make perfect targets for our 12 Days of Christmas prank, and the Riordan's were SO enthusiastic when two days before Christmas  we revealed it had been us leaving little notes and gag gifts for almost 2 weeks. We have done that three different Christmases now (we actually had two targets this year!), and it is really enjoyable to sneak up every night and rush away hoping not to get caught.  Well, our friends enjoyed it so much, that they had a warm cake waiting for us on the night of the Big Reveal, and we all gathered around their dining room table to visit for a bit and get to know one another a little better.  You see, we didn't really know them all that well, but they had gifted us with some summer peaches and we thought it would be fun to use this opportunity to get better acquainted.

Well, it seems the Christmas cake they made to share with us wasn't enough, in their eyes, and so here they came this week bearing a tray of wonderful baked treats and a delicious loaf of what tasted like onion rye bread.  Mmmm...mmmm!!!  A sweet note of appreciation for our winter gag accompanied their gift, and we all had our hearts warmed on a cold, snowy winter afternoon.

One of the great stress's in my life the past several months was the fear that our public homeschool program would be closing its doors.  There was a long, protracted situation with our State Board of Education which was finally resolved, and our program now begins the intense process of trying to gain charter status approval in time for school to begin July 1st.  While things will definitely be changing for us within the program, it is a great relief that we will still have access to all the terrific benefits the program has offered us. While we could still homeschool independently, and I am not longer fearful of that prospect in the slightest, the truth is the funding and academic support has been very helpful to us the past 3 1/2 years. We also would very much like for our kids to receive a standard public school issued diploma.  Now it feels like we can breath a little easier.

I have also had a little answer to prayer as well, as recently I met a homeschooling mom whom I have a lot in common with.  We met at our school, and quickly discovered that we were similar in many ways.  She has a 3rd grade daughter who hit it off with Olesya right away, as they are both super crafty and have moms who are not.  Surprisingly, she also took an instant liking to Joshie, which was kind of cute.  We have only gotten together once, but she voiced the same sort of isolation I have felt, saying just as I have almost word for word, that it would be so nice to meet even one homeschooling mom friend to have someone to talk with about what we do all day, which  no one else is even slightly interested in.  I had really given up hope, and pretty much accepted that we would spend our homeschooling years with me having no real cohort.  I am hopeful that we can manage to get the kids together a couple times a month, just so that we can chat and fill that little hole we both seem to feel.  I consider myself incredibly blessed to have non-homeschooling friends who tolerate my limitations due to schooling all day and not being able to "do lunch".  They have shown a great deal of respect for what we are trying to accomplish here, seeing it as my "Real Job".  I know many moms don't have that support and encouragement from non-homeschoolers, and for me it has been vital to keeping my own spirits up.  Well, that and being able to access Facebook throughout the day as my own sort of virtual Water Cooler to visit around! Haha!

Friendship can be the bread of life as well, new friends, old friends, topic specific friends, call in the middle of the night friends, cry on your shoulder (or you on theirs) friends, techie friends, spirit friends, they are all like a wide variety of warm loaves.

I am deeply missing choir.  I knew I would, but I didn't know how much.  I miss music, I miss the mini-sermon each hymn and anthem was to my soul.  We are doing an admirable job of finding ways to add music to our worship service each week, as many of my talented friends have found the courage to step up to a keyboard played only in private or not for many years.  Seeing them all step out of their comfort zone is a real encouragement to me.  But while I am enjoying hearing their  talents and gifts on display (and being a little jealous I have nothing to offer musically!), there is something very scared about participation in choir which has left a gapping hole in my life, larger than I could have anticipated.

The bread of life comes in different forms for each of us.  That which nourishes us doesn't always have to look the same as it does for our neighbor.

Tomorrow I will find myself leading worship at a small little church quite a drive from here.  It is in another lovely old building, long a landmark in its tiny community.  It is not something I will ever be comfortable with or good at,  but it is a privilege to be asked.  A couple of weeks ago I was liturgist at church, and Matthew asked if he could sit up in the front pew with me.  Right before worship began, he turned to me and said, "Mom, you really ARE nervous doing this, aren't you?"and I didn't deny it, saying that I actually hated speaking in public and was always uncomfortable doing it.  He said he thought I had always been exaggerating when I had said that in the past, but now he realized I was telling the truth.  

"Why do you do it then?  Why don't you just say no?"  he asked.

"Because I think it is super important for you guys to see Dad and I challenging ourselves to do things that are hard for us.  We want you to be willing to try things, to do things that are not always comfortable, even if others would back out." I replied.

Later, in the car, we all had a long conversation when Matthew brought that up in front of everyone else.  All the kids have signed up to serve as liturgist this year, not just Matt and Kenny.  Matthew explained to them how even now I am still actually uncomfortable with it.  The conversation turned in the direction of doing hard things in life and not taking the easy way out.  Angela is quite nervous about doing it, as is Olesya.  Joshua, surprisingly, is not at all...though he might be when his turn rolls around.  Kenny is amazingly comfortable with it, and has been since the first time he tried it.  Matthew is our most introverted, but after doing it a couple of times said, "I am glad you suggested I force myself to do it.  I thought I'd be scared, but after doing it I realized I wasn't after all.  I just thought I would be.  If I hadn't tried it, I never would have known that it wasn't all that scary.", as he tried to encourage the three who haven't yet stepped up to the pulpit in Sunday morning to help lead worship.

The bread of life means ever expanding, as yeast causes the dough to rise, so too do we grow.

We've had a solid winter break, and this week we are back with our noses to the grindstone.  We have a lot of material to cover for school as we anticipate a late April Westward Expansion Field Trip!  I have some reconnecting to do with friends who have patiently waited to be able to get together.  I have to take a few more bites out of the crusty Bread of Life, what a gift!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Precious Time

When I was visiting with my dear friend Jill last night, we were talking about the "Mommy Wars" which we absolutely refuse to participate in with each other.  Our lives look very different in many ways, and yet we work at our relationship and respect each other.  She'd never make the choice to homeschool her kids, yet she was the first one to come to our house with support and "How to Homeschool" books in her hands, ready to encourage and validate the choice we had to make for our kids.  I have always so appreciated that from her, and others who have also offered so much to help us succeed.  The wonderful extras that others have brought into the kids' lives have made homeschooling a much richer experience than I could ever provide alone.  For example, the younger four are reading Pearl S. Buck's "The Big Wave" (I love Pearl S. Buck!) with our retired teacher friend, Miss Mary.  She has traveled the world over and brought a Japanese tea ceremony right to our front door yesterday! She shared many Japanese items collected by her and her husband, and the kids drank "Creamsicle" tea and green tea as well!:

There are times lately when I am really feeling disconnected from "real life".  My working friends, many of whom have no children still living at home, are leading very different lives than I am.  I find myself struggling to find topics to talk about, and knowing that I must sound so boring.  The truth is, I have a vibrant internal conversation going on all the time about all sorts of things!  The problem is, they are of no interest at all to most people.  I am fascinated by education these days, and am reading all sorts of articles about where the 21st century student is headed.  Debates about "flipped" classrooms, technology and its adaptation, inequality in education and the disproportionate numbers of minority students who drop out, college costs and % of students who amass tens of thousands of dollars in debt for careers that pay $30,000 a year, CLEP and DANTES testing, distance learning...all of these are things I could go on and on about. Yea...not really the stuff of juicy Starbucks conversation.  Throw in with that my interest in all things faith and my heart's yearning for a clearer sign of God's call in my current life, and I make for a really dull companion for most.  That is, unless you are planning a Westward Expansion field trip, then I might come in really handy!!

Regardless of how "out of the loop" I often feel these days, it is all so worth it.  There is no way at all I would ever say that these years aren't probably the best of my life.  Sometimes, you have to give up something to get something.  What I have gained is truly irreplaceable.  Precious time with my children, more than I ever dreamed I could have, is worth far more than being a charming dinner companion.  The solidity of our relationships at home, the knowledge that even as they are growing into teens they enjoy being with us, and the hopeful long term growth academically of all of the kids tells me we made the right decision.  Yes, even if there are times when I know my friends have to work really hard at staying connected due to scheduling, my own inability to speak to things that the regular world is involved in, and my very unhip, uncool daily life, I still wouldn't trade it.

As I have spent the past couple of months planning out next years' curriculum, the brevity of this time in my life has become even more apparent.  No longer am I trying to force myself to be the Artsy Craftsy mom to engage elementary aged sons and daughters, now I am dealing with laying out four years of...I can't believe it...high school!!  Matthew starts high school next year, and I ask myself when did this happen and how did it happen so quickly?  Making it even a little odder is that he has changed so little over the years.  Unlike Joshie, my only other "baby" who has changed drastically over the past several years, Matthew looks like a large version of his two year old self, he carries himself exactly the same way, and he is just as calm and quiet as he was way back then. We had just one single tantrum out of him his entire toddler years.  No kidding.  One.

He is moving toward the high school years with the same sense of aplomb.  As I shared in conversation last night, I have asked him how he feels about homeschooling through high school, wanting to make sure he is not just going along for the ride or that his heart's desire hasn't changed.  We have offered to buy him a class ring, a letterman's jacket, etc. so that he, and eventually the others, will not feel as much like they are missing out.  He quickly declined, saying, "Why do I need that stuff?  That's a waste of money just to look cool."  Then he added, "Mom, you are forgetting something.  We can't really miss what we have never had.  I don't care about Proms and stuff, and probably wouldn't have gone even if I was in regular high school.  That's just not my style.  I don't want to go back to public school, it would be too boring and I wouldn't have time to learn the things I want to learn.  As long as you'll teach us, I want to stay home.  It's just better."

Here it is, 2/3rds of next year's curriculum, all ready to go!  
But where is that high school literature?  Ugh!!

So, I embarked the past several months on high school curriculum research.  It has been FUN!  I know, I am weird, remember?  Because we are teaching a couple of subjects together with the other kids, I have a bigger challenge than most.  Trying to find something for history and science that meets in the middle is tough.  The other 4 will have to stretch at times, and Matt will have to settle for a little lower level at moments.  However, I have a plan....muahaha!  Lower reading level English as a Second Language science and history textbooks combined with The Great Courses college video lectures which we will all view and discuss will make for a very interesting setup.  Over the next two years we will be doing 3 Great Courses that are 48 lectures each along with our textbook.  I am also going to throw in some reading from both conservative and liberal perspectives especially for Matthew about how each thinks the other side has gotten it all wrong :-)  We'll see what he thinks about it.

The one area that is stumping me is literature.  Matthew reads at a fairly high level, and his 8th grade text has proven to have wonderful stories but his vocabulary isn't being tested as much as I'd like with it.  As I look at many of the high school texts, other than the Shakespeare components, I have not been impressed.  For one thing, in the homeschooling arena, everyone seems to think good literature was only written 100+ years ago.  Sorry, I disagree and want him reading a wide variety of classics as well as more modern literature.  Personally, I loved a comment I read years ago where someone said, "I don't get it, just because a story is old, doesn't necessarily make it GOOD."  But homeschooling curriculum often focuses largely on the classics, and I don't want a standard high school textbook either, as that is just not much different than his high level 8th grade book, from what I have researched.  Someone suggested the Norton Anthologies, which are actually college texts, but I think I might have fallen in love with them.  We are going to look at a few other options at a homeschooling show in March, as Matthew is going with me, but I do NOT want busy work study guides, and I want him reading really well written literature.  I am seeing how, with all the kids, our literature selections being carefully chosen has made an enormous impact on their writing.

Recently, to our surprise, both Matthew and Joshie tested as gifted.  We all sat around the table and talked honestly and openly about the test scores...a conversation that could have been quite awkward in some situations.  All the kids were asked by the school to take the test, so we could have more data to work with in developing critical thinking skills which are sorely lacking in some areas with Angela, Olesya and Kenny.  We are seeing huge improvement, but it will take years to make up for what was not developed early on.  I decided that there was no more reason to hide the results from anyone than there was to hide Kenny's challenges.  So, we gathered around the table and laid out the results.

Actually, we were thrilled with ALL the results, and could honestly express that with the kids.  Angela and Olesya scored in the high average...and that was having been English language speakers for less than 3 years AND taking tests that were each a grade level  above what they are at home because of the state mandate of moving them up a grade due to age.  Our resource consultant said that everyone at the school was extremely surprised at their results, and that if tested a couple of years down the road (which they might elect to do) they might actually test in the gifted range!  The biggest success of all was Kenny, whose self-esteem has been battered time and time again over being called "low IQ" by school staff and who has had services denied because of low IQ.  HA HA HA...Boyfriend tested smack dab in the average range!!!  We all giggled with delight as I got up and did the happy dance, telling him over and over again, "I told you so, I told you that you were as smart as everyone else!!"

What I dearly loved about this moment though, was how Angela, Olesya and Kenny each reacted upon hearing Matt and Josh's scores.  Matt has taken a bit of a beating himself the past 3 or 4 years with his frustrations over his writing.  Tears have been shed multiple times as he just couldn't understand why he couldn't write what he wanted to say, and as I assumed he was being lazy or careless, something I am not proud of.  The school has called him "twice exceptional" because of being special needs with dysgraphia, as well as gifted.  Coming as no surprise at all for an intense Lego kid, one person who tested Matthew came out to talk to me at break time and said he had never seen any young person in his 27 years of doing this have as high a score in Spatial Reasoning as Matthew did, he told me he essentially topped out the test.  He actually used the word "brilliant", which was waaayyyy overstating it, for sure, but did make me smile for a moment.  Hey, I don't normally get moments like that with our kids!! Haha!  I'm used to hearing comments like, "Did Matthew really write that?  Ohhhhh..." with a nod of kindly sympathy.

The kids were all so happy for him, Angela saying, "See Matthew, we KNEW you were super smart!  You just need help in one area, that's all.  I am not surprised at all!" .  Other than helping Matthew feel a little more validated, any "gifted" label is pretty meaningless for us.  As I explained to all of them when we sat down to talk, I am teaching them all in exactly the same way, and have the same materials being used pretty much with all except for Kenny with reading, and they all know this to be true.  There are no gifted classes for them to go to, nor any need for them.  We might find we have access to a little more funding for Matt and Josh, I explained, but that will really be the only difference.  We were able to talk honestly about the advantages Matthew and Joshua have had simply by being in a family from very early on, and the sort of developmental delay that almost every single child adopted at even a slightly older age deals with.  It was actually a very deep conversation, as the kids didn't really know a lot about how institutionalization can affect brain development, so I shared about what lack of stimulation can do, or how having someone talk with you and not at you can make a huge difference.  A moment I will hold close is how Matthew looked at all three and said, "You all know I am not smarter than you.  Good grief, all of you write better than me even with only 3 years of English!"  to which there was a big laugh.  Joshie said, "So, we all are smart and mom will make everyone smarter.  The only thing I am really good in is math.  That's not a big deal."

When I said that I had been a little hesitant to talk about it with everyone, because I didn't want anyone thinking they were somehow less intelligent, Angela said, "Oh mom, don't ever keep secrets from us, especially not GOOD ones!  This is awesome!  And Olesya, Kenny and I have gotten a lot more of your attention and time because we needed so much help.  Matthew and Joshua have always helped us and never gotten mad because we took so much of your time.  They need attention, too, and shouldn't hide if they do well.  You celebrate when we do well, so we all need to celebrate when they do well, too!  Besides, it's just a test, and you told us tests are just for you to know how to teach us.  Now you know more what to teach us all.  That's all that's important." then she grinned and added, "You have already told all of us that we are very smart, and moms are ALWAYS right!!" which had everyone cracking up.

What really is important is the stuff not measured or scored.  In the long run, no one is going to care one whit what score any of our kids got on any test, or whether they are "gifted" or special needs.  What they are going to notice most is their character.  Are they deeply good?  Are they faithful?  Are they responsible, kind and warm hearted?  While, of course, I care about them getting a decent education, I will have failed if they get high SAT scores while reflecting little to no graciousness or morals. One far outweighs the other for us.  That is why we feel strongly that the non-academic activities are probably more important than doing more grammar or hammering out an essay.  This is what is important:

For Valentine's Day, we delivered little gift baskets to five of our older congregation members.  A group at church put them together and asked if we would play Cupid, which we loved doing.  We visited nursing homes and doled out hugs...a far more meaningful afternoon than sitting in front of a math book.  That evening, as we drove to a local homeless shelter, we talked in the car about it being the girls' anniversary home, and how lucky we all were to be together.  None of us could think of a better way to give thanks for the love we share as a family than to spend that evening sharing that love with others as we served many families a special dinner, letting them know that they, too, were precious.

High school, anniversaries, is all passing so quickly.  No, I may not be hip or cool, and I may not be someone you'd want to be stuck next to at a dinner out because I can't talk about office gossip or the latest fashion trends, but time is precious, and this is more important.  It always will be. I need to remind myself over and over of that, as I see Matt's baby pictures on the wall and his high school textbooks waiting for us to begin.  

Friday, February 15, 2013


Sweetness is...

Joshie loading Walkie Talkie Apps on his Ipad and mine, so that we could whisper good night to each other this evening.

Watching all five kids delightedly playing hide and seek and Army with their younger friends.

Having Olesya wrap up a cupcake for her brother when he wasn't around to get one.

Snuggling on the bed reading with Matthew this morning as we talked about literary themes...and future careers...and big dreams.

Friends who don't see me as the freak I really am, or who don't think I am a completely incapable ninny for ending up in Salt Lake City after a wrong turn...the second time in my life.

A hubby who, despite our agreement NOT to worry about Valentine's Day this year in light of our trip to Denver this weekend, brings me flowers and a card.  Even sweeter, when I say I feel badly that I didn't get him anything he says, "That's OK, it just makes up for all the years I didn't do something. I still have a few more to make up for."

Angela saying, "Mom, you give us the BEST writing assignments!"

A clean car, if only for five minutes.

Kenny's smile every morning, and long bear hug.

Candy filled hearts and Hallmark on a single day are not what it is all about.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Special Moments and American Pie

Life with the LaJoy's tends to be a bit pedestrian.  If you are looking for major excitement, you'd need to look elsewhere.  Our days tend to be filled with what some might consider to be the, work, church...sort of a Middle American existence.  While we do make every effort to get the kids out in the world with travel, so that they do not have a small town mentality, there are moments that we realize you can take the kid out of the small town, but you might not ever be able to take the small town out of the kid.

I like that.

I like that our days are generally simple and predictable.  I like that there is a sense of continuity in our weeks.  I like that our joy comes from the things that are real and permanent, rather than transitory in nature.  I crave as little drama as possible, which to me indicates healthy relationships and peace of mind.  I love the sense of humor the kids have that comes directly from their dad, so it surrounds me all day long.

What I like most, though, is just being together, laughing together,and loving together. The past few days with the kids has reminded me that it is the little moments that add up to make a big life, or at least a life with big meaning.  Sometimes we just have to stop and see it, rather than expect a big life to look like something with a big red "S" for special.  The special moments are woven throughout our days, if we just look for them.

I have a few of them tucked away from this week right now.

Olesya making a cake at GrandmaToni's house. It didn't turn out so well, in fact, it slipped and the top half ended up on a second plate and we called it the Mountain of Goo.

Kenny began working towards his Bronze Certificate for the Congressional Medal with Grandma Alice, who taught him how to solder.  Sharing her lifetime worth of experience working on assembly lines, she was able to help him quickly learn a new skill.

A finished project! 

We explored the Santa Barbara Mission one afternoon.

"What's in here?"

Matthew being...well...a thirteen year old boy. :-)

We giggled a lot as we came upon signs for "Alien Jerky" when we traveled back from California and headed toward Las Vegas.  We simply couldn't pass off a daily dose of kitsch, so we had to stop and check it out.

There were animatronic aliens in an alien car!

And considering we were in the vicinity of Area 51, it was appropriate to find aliens and their spacecraft.

What really got us laughing was our official Road Kill Jerky, which we devoured.  Living in Colorado, where deer hits on the highway will often lead to someone quickly getting a tag to pick it up and get it processed, the idea of eating Road Kill takes on a whole new meaning.  Eeewwww...

Perhaps the best moments of the past week have no photos to accompany them.  Sometimes you just have to put down the camera and be part of the world.  Small town kids hit Vegas as they all excitedly asked if we could go up in the glass elevator just one more time.  Seeing them with an inexpensive pleasure of playing pinball machines as we blew a little time at the Pinball Museum where Matthew happily declared it was like a casino for kids.  Watching from afar as they pointed to the dolphins that happened to be swimming right up at the shoreline when they were out wading in the Pacific.

The one I will not soon forget is standing at night in the middle of the bright neon lit Fremont Street in Las Vegas after having spent the afternoon walking the Strip with its Gucci and Rolex stores.  I loved it as we explored Fremont Street, with all its cheesy gift shops, street performers, and live bands and having the kids all declare that THIS was more like it, and THIS was what Las Vegas should be, that it felt more real and human.  Better yet, seeing their undisguised surprise and delight as the neon went dark, and suddenly overhead the entire three block long TV screen started showing a creative video put together with images to accompany Don McLean's "American Pie".  Thousands of people stopped dead in their tracks and starting singing, "Bye, Bye Miss American Pie, Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry..."  Watching their upturned faces take it all in, swaying as we all sang together, looking around me as people of all races were joined with our family in a common experience was a real treat.  

Elevators and 1970's singer songwriters, grandmas and sloppy slipped cakes, hours long car drives and stepping over wet towels and ever-bigger bodies in tiny hotel rooms.  These are the special moments.  I treasure them, one and all.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Kyrgyz Celebration...Kyrgyz Suffering

13 years ago, when we were busily compiling documents, meeting with social workers, and attending adoption classes, I never would have been able to predict what the future would hold.  The beautiful Kazakh baby boy that was born the day after we submitted our initial paperwork awaited us, but little did I know that with our adoption we would be adding others to our family...and I don't mean those that would carry our name.  From coast to coast, and even abroad, we have been so surprised how entering the world of adoption brought the opportunity to celebrate with one another, and to suffer with one another.  This past week brought a little of both.

I can't count the number of times I have found myself coming face to face with people who are technically strangers, yet feel like close friends.  Years of sharing our adoption journeys have created a bond which many might never be able to understand, but these bonds are as real as can be, and they have helped sustain us through interminable waits, or difficult and trying times post adoption.  

In addition to adoptive moms, our lives have been enriched from having met translators, cousins of translators, missionaries, aid workers, social workers, orphanage directors, and many others.  Collectively, they are the most amazing group of individuals that anyone could ever wish to count among their friends.

This week we spent an entire day and evening with friends who have met us through our adoption of Kenny in Kyrgyzstan.  We had the chance to visit with John and Julie Wright, who have been engaged in life saving work in Kyrgyz orphanages and homes for disabled adults, as well as many who are homeless or at risk and living on the edge.  They are lovely and loving, and as authentic as one would ever hope a missionary could be.  Without care for denominational connection, they simply leave themselves open for God to use them however God can.  And how they have been used!

Kyrgyzstan is the minority in our home, with four Kazakhs and two Americans, so we try to make every effort we can to help Kenny know that we consider his country just as important.  That's one reason we look forward to any opportunity to be with folks who treasure Kyrgyzstan.  Kenny is older than almost all the kids that ever made it home from Kyrg, consequently many of his adopted countrymates are 5 years old or so.  It doesn't matter, he still loves having the chance to be with those who are from his old home.  

I enjoy being around moms who understand a little of what our life is all about.  We speak a language others can't interpret, a language filled with abbreviations and  city names that are unfamiliar.  It is a language that often reveals the losses our children have suffered, the hurts we have attempted to help heal, and the sights and smells we can never forget that will haunt us for the remainder of our lives...eyes that belong to unnamed orphans looking up at us, the particular shade of blue/green on orphanage walls throughout the former Soviet Union, the sight of children being force fed as quickly as possible as they try not to gag on their food.

But the conversation doesn't end there, and after a purging of sorts, what dominates is joy!  We marvel at how beloved sons and daughters have grown and are thriving, we watch with huge grins as we joke about future arranged marriages, and we talk about the same sorts of things mothers everywhere have talked about for centuries.  Underneath it all though, is the belief that each and every one of us has been given a gift so very precious that words can never quite express it...but we understand that as we gaze upon the children surrounding us and think of how far they have come.

Lovely Mamas

Yes, he is my real Daddy!  There are no "fake" daddys!

And yes, they are REAL brothers!!! Hahaha!

Love my virtual friends, especially when they become "real" friends! :-)  Here are the Melissas...two of them!

A room full of children who not all that long ago were alone in the world.
Is there any more beautiful sight than belonging?

Just as the Moms need their time to be together and share, so do the kids.  Even if the words don't come easily, simply sitting around a table with kids whose lives include the same experiences helps you feel more "normal".  It's a shame older kids don't have more opportunities to get together.

Hmmm...this mom looks a little more like she "fits" with the boys!  

Who cares who fits with who.  In this group, it is hearts that match and are the only thing that matter.

Everyone had SO much fun!  Nine hours later, it felt like we had barely started partying!

John treated everyone to a Central Asian feast...and it was scrumptious.  I so wished Dominick could have been standing at the grill with him, they would have had such fun!

Familiar foods...and safe to eat, unlike our doubts in Kaz and Kyrg!

Yummy bread!

Three countries...Kazakhstan, Taiwan, Kyrgyzstan.

Three Mommies...real moms with real kids.

Less than 12 hours later, these smiles would turn somber as we all learned that the chances for the remaining Kyrgyz children to come home to their families was pretty much washed away.  The only adoption agency who was accredited to work in Kyrgyzstan declared bankruptcy Friday morning, leaving families with no recourse to be refunded tens of thousands of dollars paid in fees, and with almost no hope.  For many of the families, this is the second agency they worked with to have closed its doors (one of them was our old agency).  Faces of children longed for and prayed for by so many flashed before us as we felt the sorrow and heartache of those mommies...real mommies...whose children will likely never find their way home to them.

Amir is one of these remaining children.  Kenny's buddy whose committed family has waited five years to bring him home, may never tuck him in at night.  The parents of all these kids have gone through so much, they have made trips to Kyrgyzstan, they have advocated relentlessly for their children's adoptions, they have paid fees over and over again, redone dossiers multiple times, had hopes lifted only to be dashed, and have done everything humanly possible to gain traction for their children's lives to be saved.  They are an inspiration to us all, and our hearts break with you, for we have never forgotten your precious children.  

Why?  Why did our children make it home while others never will?  Oh, we know...we know our children are no more deserving than the ones left behind, and there is a little survivor's guilt associated with all of this as I post photos here on the blog of smiling, happy faces of children who did make it home to their forever families.  It is why we can't forget, it is why others may never understand why adoption and birth countries remain part of our lives forever, because you can't just walk away.  We have friends bound for the streets if someone doesn't do something, we have friends in Petropavlovsk and Bishkek who are aging out of the orphanages even as I type this tonight, and they have nowhere to go.  There are children whose brains are not developing which will effect them for the rest of their lives, there are children whose lack of decent nutrition is right now causing rickets and other abnormalities, there are children for whom the lack of one on one care is doing irreparable damage to their souls.

So, while we celebrate, we also mourn.  Every conversation is tinged with the knowledge that be it in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, China, or Africa...there are children who will never have what our own children now have.

It's why we need the John and Julie Wrights of this world.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

A Great Commodity

Writing from a hotel room in St. George after Day #1 of our California Road Trip to visit grandmas and visit with John and Julie Wright along with other Kaz adoptive families, and I am so relaxed other than the nagging sound of High School Musical 2 playing in the background.  We are one shy of a full family, as Dominick had to remain home which we all hate, but I was reminded all day long why I often shake my head and consider myself so blessed.

I woke up this morning to hear dishes clanking and found Joshua filling the dishwasher while still in his jammies.  No one around, no one to ask, and when I poked my head in the room he said, "Hi Mom!  I wanted to help us get ready to get on the road.  Why don't you go wake up the other kids and I'll finish here."

Throughout the day I had help from every corner...gas being pumped, bags carried, phone charged for me (Don't laugh, those who know me and my phone issues well...), and just such a comfortable ease to our time together.  I am spoiled rotten in so many ways, and love road trips with my family.    I know many dread them,  but for us it is always a treat to get out of rural Colorado through the middle of nowhere! HAHAHA!  Guess we live a VERY dull life, considering we must have said a million times today that we had seen hardly anyone for 2, 3 then 4 hours driving.

We are at "that stage", the one so many dread...and we have it times 4!  You have no idea how many times upon learning that we have 5 kids, 4 of whom are early teens and a year and four months apart, I hear "Oh man, I am SO SORRY for you!" as they give me a look of great sympathy and compassion.  While once in a while I do miss those sweet younger years, and occasionally yearn a moment or two for the years we missed with Kenny and the girls, I wouldn't trade this time for ANYTHING.

Earlier in the week I was picking Matthew up from Civil Air Patrol, and somehow we got on the subject of teens.  I told him, "Well, don't you know, this is the phase when I am supposed to wish you away for several years and maybe let you return around 25 years old?  This is when your parents are supposed to not trust you, get mad at you, and say they don't understand you!"  Matt laughed and responded, "And I am supposed to yell at you and slam my door all the time, right?  Isn't that what teens do?  And roll my eyes at you, that's a good one, too!"  We laughed and then he asked, "But why, Mom?  Why does it have to be like that in families?  I don't get it, none of us hate you and dad OR think you are stupid! What starts first, the kids acting up or the parents?"  Good question, and one I am glad I am not silently asking myself each night.

The kids had dinner over at a friend's house a week ago, and they had such a nice time.  The next day Angela said they were all laughing, despite Josh burning his hand on hot spaghetti and getting whacked accidently by Olesya with the Wii remote when he walked behind her.  Angela said, "They asked us if it is like that at our house all the time, if we always laugh and joke like that."  She then said,"We all said yea, pretty much all the time."  then she said, "Mom, sometimes I think we don't realize how lucky we are, that we are happy." and Olesya added, "Even when things are hard,  we still laugh.  Even when you get mad at us, we end up laughing afterward.  I like that because it never feels like we are in super trouble."

I know we are barely entering the toughest years.  I know that we may find ourselves at the bottom of a pit looking up and crying out in great pain.  I have lived long enough to not be fooled into thinking it will always be this way.  The truth is, for each of the kids, it has already been a long road and they also know life can be very, very cold.

Maybe though, we just might get through what is supposed to be the "worst" years with laughter tempering the hard stuff.  Maybe their prior struggles have helped them have a greater appreciation for the loveliness of what we all share together.  As we said goodbye today to Dominick at the airport where he was working, and all five kids didn't hesitate to give him a good long hug and shout out "Love you, Dad!" as we walked out the door, I had nothing but a strong sense of gratitude for love expressed so easily by those whose very age dictates it ought to be hidden, or at the very least whispered...not shouted out for all around to hear.

Love's expression delayed might as well be love not expressed at all.  Laughter is a commodity worth far more than anything available on Amazon.  Yes, the teen years are going to bring a wide variety of challenges for us, a family whose teens will remain in high school longer than others, a family whose teens may find it harder to mature at the same pace as others.  But I pray that the laughter is always present, and that the love is always expressed through it all.  If so, no matter how hard these teen years become, we will be OK.

Laugh on!!

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Well, FINALLY...Pie in the Face!

I am so sorry that we were not able to get this done several weeks ago.  There has been a lot going on in our lives, we were illness delayed, work delayed, and school delayed.  We finally got 'er done though, and we want to thank everyone who donated to the Pie in the Face Challenge on John Wright's blog to see us get splatted with a pie.

We all take things for granted.  Most of us take for granted that at Christmas there will be toys under a decorated tree, stocking hung from the mantel, and family to celebrate with.  A few years ago, the first Christmas after Kenny came home, the faces of Kenny's buddies left behind in the orphanages of Kyrgyzstan would not leave me.  Kenny was about to experience his first Christmas with us, and people he loved and cared about would have very little to mark their own holiday.  Most importantly, he was loved.  Days were now filled with hugs, people who really cared about him, and hope...most of all, hope.  We decided, with the help of the Wright family, to see if there was any way to bring a little Christmas to Kyrgyzstan.  Boy, were we surprised how many other folks wanted kids in Kyrgyzstan to have Christmas too!

While two of Kenny's friends have since been adopted, his friend Amir remains behind, caught in a morass of governmental red tape the likes of which most have never seen.  The politics alone are what are keeping him from the family that steadfastly awaits him, and every day he grows a little older, a little closer to aging out.

Christmas is for Amir, and all the other children who remain imprisoned in a system that simply can not meet their needs, for nothing can meet a child's needs like a committed family can.  So we are grateful to those who remember the children who go to bed every night with empty tummies and little hope.  Thank you for helping to encourage them, for helping them to know that they are precious and never forgotten.  John and Julie, thanks for pulling this off yet again.

So, as long promised, here is your payoff!

Thanks for the opportunity to have some messy fun!  Every year, the voices in the background grow deeper...and our love for each of our pie throwers grows deeper as well.  Next year, let's try and raise enough for all the kids to get one!!