Monday, March 25, 2013

Simple Gifts

We live lives of quiet desperation, or we make a choice to live lives in the moment, relishing the little things that make it all worthwhile.  Usually, those are not the "Big Gifts", but instead are the "Simple Gifts" that end up being so meaningful and long remembered.  As those of you who are long time blog readers probably already know about us, for our family, the simpler the better.  That's not to say we are not up for an adventure or two along the way (and we've surely had those!), but those aren't the things that define our happiness.

The past few days were filled with those seemingly insignificant moments.   Everywhere I looked, I was surrounded with tiny pockets of joy, and it just felt so sweet and life affirming.  For all the challenges that living a life brings, there is the distinct pleasure of the smile or hug amidst the turmoil.

I was blessed...and I do mean witness a commitment ceremony for a friend of ours who has come through a time of incredible emotional trial to find love on the other side.  Seeing not the blush of young, innocent love, but instead witnessing a more mature, wiser, "been there, done that" kind of love was a different sort of experience. Few were present other than immediate family as I fulfilled my commission to take photos of their special moment, and seeing her beau take her son under his wing as if he was his own reminded me of just how many men and women willingly tackle step-parenting with all their hearts.  But for me, the especially poignant moment was when she knelt down for her turn to make recite her vows to her son, and the look that crossed her face as she attempted once...twice...three times to put her love for her son into words, only to find herself coming up short in trying to describe the depth of her love for him, ending in an embrace as deep and as long as could be...that was a real gift.  

Many wouldn't find Simple Gifts of the heart on a trip to Walmart, but that is exactly where I found myself thinking over and over again how incredibly lucky the seven of us are to have found one another in this big world.  It is understandable that through the course of every day life, certain things are taken for granted.  Having a happy family is the wealth that I wish to be measured by, and if so, then I am worth more than Bill Gates and Steve Jobs combined.  Here we are, all of us traipsing from aisle to aisle so that I don't have to do grocery shopping alone, Dominick wandering off here and there with one kid or another, and we are laughing, joking around, and having a great time.  At Walmart.  With a full shopping cart.  For no reason at all.  Angela must have been feeling the silly happiness too, as she asked me quietly, as we walked toward the cash register, "Mom, how come everyone always looks so sad or mad?  Why doesn't anyone ever smile?"  and I briefly said something like, "Well honey, some people have very hard lives and life isn't very happy for them. "  and she said, "I know for some people that is true, but not for everyone.  I think I know why.  They haven't had someone teach them that they can make a choice to be happy.  I think that is what you and Dad teach us every day, that even on the hard days, you can make a choice to be happy and thankful for what you do have, instead of being mad about what you don't have." 

If Angela is correct and we have managed to teach our children only that one thing, then I'll feel successful as parent.  Knowing our kids are really internalizing some of what we find to be truths in this life is priceless.

On Sunday, Matthew, our man of few words, showed us in music and images how he has internalized his family's values.  He created a special short presentation to be used during the offering.  He spent several hours working on it, after a mere 30 minutes or so of basic instruction with Windows Movie Maker software.  I brainstormed with him to get his creative juices flowing, and I briefly showed him what some of the effects were with panning, and fading in and out of images.  That was it, and he was off and running.  He shyly showed me his first "rough cut" of it, and my jaw literally dropped.  Now, it is not a Hollywood presentation by any stretch, but he selected lovely music that had all of us singing around the house for days (and Josh STILL is). What spoke to me, as his mom, was how he so sensitively and innately matched images and effects with the lyrics so beautifully that I would never have thought it was a first effort.  It was Matt's way of telling us, whether in words or not, "I get it, Mom and Dad, I really, really do."  I am sharing it below so Grandma can see it, as the file was too big for us to email...and I am laughing as she wouldn't know how to open it and view it anyway! HAHA!  Sorry, Mom!

This week, I had the love and support of numerous friends, hugs galore, time to read a chapter or two in a couple of books, had a hubby who loves me come home to me each and every night, and had an icey cold Diet Coke or two...or three :-)  Spring is sort of in the air, life begins anew, and the Simple Gifts are the things that I cling to that let me know I have a bounty right before me.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Testing Reveals More than Academics

Hurray!!  State testing is over today!!  Well...except for Matthew, who still has science left on Friday.  He told me he didn't mind though, because Miss Kathie, the Special Ed. proctor assigned to him, keeps bringing him special goodies.  He came out of the testing room yesterday with homemade scones!  Sheesh!  I asked how he rated, and he grinned and said, "It must be my gentlemanly charm."  Yea....riiiiggghhhttt.

I am so glad I have never made a huge deal about these state tests, even way back when we were in public school.  Angela and Olesya are already feeling bad enough about them this year.  After the school was forced by the state to raise them up a grade level to 6th and 7th, they are testing way above any of the material they have covered.  They were fairly solid in most areas for 5th and 6th, but Olesya was still pretty behind in math and will continue to be as there is something wrong there that I just can't figure out.  Both girls are doing fantastic in school, but with only 3 years of English and any sort of very good education at all, they are behind in many ways which matter only at state testing time.  Throw them in a grade level higher and it was a recipe for disaster!  However, they had a pretty healthy attitude overall, but both commented every day about how much was on the test that they had never seen before, and hoping they didn't score too low.  I asked them, "Score too low for who?  Me?  I am your teacher, remember?  And I already KNOW what you don't know, and I already KNOW you will eventually know it, so in the long run, what does it matter?"  That seemed to help them keep perspective.

Joshie's test proctor was laughing yesterday when I signed him out as she said, "Your son has the most eclectic reading tastes of the whole group.  He went from King Tut to Elvis Presley to Abraham Lincoln over the past three days.  I wish we had a fourth day to see what he would bring in next!"

Kenny, however, came out of the testing for the first year feeling incredibly confident!  Wow!  That was wonderful to see.  Not cocky, just saying he knew he had done pretty well on it, and he said, "Mom, this was the nicest testing I've ever done.  For once I didn't feel like a dummy in there.  It was actually kind of fun!"  Moments like that are when I realize the past four years have been totally worth it, even if it has been challenging for all of us.

One thing I realized, while standing around visiting with other mom's who were proctoring, was how very, very lucky I am with homeschooling.  It isn't something I have ever given much thought to, because it has always been like this for us, but every single other mom was complaining about how hard it was to motivate their kids, and how they sometimes want to give up and send them to public school because of the constant daily battles over getting work completed.  This was a real eye opener for me, as from day one I have never had that problem, not once.  The kids aren't perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, (OK...I ME they are pretty perfect!!  But I know to others they aren't! Haha!) but they get up every morning ready to work and learn, they never argue or whine about what they are assigned, they are diligent and try their best each and every day without complaint.

Matt's Miss Kathie said to me yesterday after testing, "No wonder you love homeschooling, I would too if all your kids are like Matt!  He is the most organized 13 year old I've ever met, and such a happy kid for his age...most are usually so sullen."  I guess I have blessings I wasn't even aware of to the degree I probably should be.  As Joshua wakes up each morning and breaks out the computer for his math before I even arrive at the table, or as Angela comes to me and says, "Mom, don't forget to add in five hours of reading I've done over the past two days." I think I need to be a lot more grateful.  Sometimes we don't see the blessings right before us, but as other moms talked about back talk from their kids, lying about getting work done, and having to ride them constantly, I realized how very, very easy God has made it for me with our sweet five kids.  Maybe God knew I couldn't handle this with all the special needs we have if I had to deal with attitude as well,because I am just not that patient.  I had many moms look at me when they learned I homeschooled five with a lot of special needs thrown in and say, "Oh man, no way would I try that...I can't do it with two!"...I couldn't either if my days were like theirs.  The frustration was so evident in their faces, and they wanted so much to do a good job with their whose test scores will come back higher than ours.  It was just what I needed to remind me of the relative little importance of the past few days, and I said a little prayer asking for peace in the homes of these moms who are struggling so much every moment of the day.

We'll get past this week, and back to finishing up our year in anticipation of the Great Westward Expansion Escape trip!  I had a mom come up at testing yesterday and ask me if I would send them postcards along the way on our trip so they could follow us.  What a great idea!  That will be fun, especially since two of her kids were adopted from Russia and are on the kids' volleyball team, so we will look for special cards for them that reflect our trip's purpose.  I can't really think about it much right now, even though it is 3 weeks away, because the end of ski season is always the roughest as Dominick is wiped out, we are in great need of time alone...and awake...together, and we have tons to finish so our school year is completed by April 15th, the day we leave.  I guess I'll start the real planning on...oh...let's say April 14th. Hahaha!

Off to get some laundry done, some kids moving, and the day officially started!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Snippets of This, Snippets of That

I've been a Bad Posting Mommy!  It's been crazy around here, and I have had a lot on my heart and mind, as well as a lot going on.  This is a snippet sort of post, just a little of this and that with no cohesion at all.

1)  Olesya is a darling.  Just a total sweetie.  I opened my suitcase in Loveland to find a homemade card with a roll of Lifesavers attached to it.  She made croissants tonight for the first time, and will soon be working on breads from this book which I sent her as a little surprise before I left for the homeschool show in Loveland:

She was SO SO SO happy about this!  Her reaction was as if I had bought her a huge Hobart mixer or something.  I am hoping that soon I will have pics to post of lovely loaves she has made from this.

2)  Volunteering at Sharing Ministries is great.  We love our time at the Food Bank each week, and last week we went to help with a monthly food order they receive.  Our family unloaded 6 or 7 pallets full of food, and moved it into place in a trailer.  We discovered later that what took all y7 of us an hour and a half to do would have been done all alone by the supervisor, Miss Cathy, and would have taken her several hours.  We all looked at each other and decided right then and there that we wouldn't let that happen again, and we are now going to make sure we go every month to help with that order.  One thing the kids are really learning there is a terrific "first job" sort of skill, and that is how to work efficiently, and how to keep busy.  As their Dad has taught them at the restaurant, but they are now applying elsewhere, "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean."  They are doing all sorts of tasks there, operating pallet jacks, loading and unloading, rotating stock, packing food boxes, and interacting with all kinds of people.  This may be one of the best things we have done as a family.

3)  I am knee deep in our school program's Charter School application process.  Met tonight with a group working on special education policies and procedures.  I am really enjoying the group-think going on, working with incredibly intelligent folks, and participating in something at such a deep level like this.  I love Big Picture thinking, analyzing things from various sides, looking for the gaps.  I hadn't realized this might be right up my alley.

4)  I am proctoring our state testing for our school, called TCAPS.  Matthew is taking his entire test with accommodations which allow him to use his adaptive software for writing.  The Special Ed. Coordinator for the entire program is his proctor, and we see each other at lunch break where she regales me with anecdotes about Matt.  She told me, "He doesn't look like a funny kid, he comes across as very serious when you first meet him, but he is hilarious!"  She said she told him he could be creative when answering the math questions which required a sentence sort of response.  Later, she read it, and said that in response to one of them he typed, "Elementary, my Dear Watson...the answer is..."  She is falling a little in love with him, and he grinned as he showed me an entire bag of cookies she brought him today.

5)  I haven't had time to practice the harp in 5 days.  I could be practicing now, but the house is too quiet.  I am itching to get back to it and move on from Twinkle Twinkle.  It certainly won't happen this way.

6)  I was asked tonight at a meeting what my Master's Degree was in.  What a hoot that was when I explained I had only a high school diploma.

7)  Kenny is shooting up, I can't believe that he has grown about an inch and a half in just about a month!!  I have watched him at TCAP testing from afar, and I am so glad to see him acting in a more mature manner.  He now fits in nicely with the 12 year olds.  Yea, I know he is 14.  So what?  He is growing up, something that seriously at times we worried about.

8)  Angela to me, "Mom, I want a job where I can travel a lot.  I love home, but I LOVE going places!  Maybe I'll be a nurse after all, so I can go work with people like John Wright and help kids in orphanages."  What a lovely, lovely thought that is...and she could do it, too!

9)  Made the GREATEST score on a microscope at the homeschool show.  HUGE HUGE blessing, as we need 2-3 of them and not more than half an hour earlier Matt and I had been talking about it.  On a table with used books was this microscope, being sold by a retired scientist :-)  The scope and all the accessories...$130.  Retail value new?  $400ish.  Told Dominick it would be slim pickin's this week for groceries because I couldn't pass up this great deal.  When I walked in the door with it, he opened up the box and was as happy as I was over the bargain!  I love that my husband is so supportive and encouraging.  I was thinking the other day that I am very, very blessed to be a stay at home mom AND to have a husband that trusts my judgment 100% in everything I do.  He never questions the direction I want to take with educating the kids, he never questions the money spent outside our funding (or any other money spent on anything else), and not once has he ever made it feel like I am asking him for money when I need cash.  Being a wage earner myself since I was 12, the hardest part of being full time mom could very well be not bringing home the bacon myself...or least the bacon bits :-)  Dominick is just so terrific about the equal partnership part of marriage, and I am grateful daily for that.

10)  We are reading an incredibly thought provoking book for Lent at church, "The New Jim Crow", which is about the high rate of incarceration of African Americans in the US.  Fairly academic, it is nevertheless profoundly interesting and eye opening, to say the least.

11)  I need to write more interesting posts, but brain space is absorbed by other things at the moment.  Maybe in a few weeks, if we get to take our field trip.  We are awaiting word about approval, and are hopeful to hit the trail on the 15th of April.  I can't even think about it right now because there is so much else on my TV Tray.

That's it!  Nothing interesting, just trying to make sure I don't break the habit too long of blogging because Loser Mom that I am, this is my sole record of our family.  If I stop this, I don't even have  scrapbooks to rely on!  More later this week.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Growing, Growing

I have realized one certain thing in life.  We never stop learning, unless we choose to.  We can, of course, elect to turn it all off and just coast through, but that is just a sad way to live.  I have had a very introspective past week or two, thinking about hard and unpleasant things, and learning more about myself.  I've also been watching everyone in my entire family grow and learn.  I guess I've had a bit of an awakening, a mini one.

You'd think that after 26 years your spouse would have very little to surprise you with, but Dominick has revealed new layers to himself over the past few weeks.  It is SO much fun to watch your spouse grow in new directions!  He has taken on new roles at church, and shown a lot of restraint and wisdom.  His gifts for dealing with dollars are being utilized as well, and I think he totally missed his calling and should have looked into being an accountant.  Italian guys are not necessarily known for being in touch with their feminine side or their ability to openly share their feelings, but this is another area in which Dominick is surprising me lately, as he has noticed things about the kids or I and voiced his appreciation in areas previously overlooked.  For a brash, burly bear of a guy, he is a totally loyal sweetheart of a man.

Joshua was liturgist at church this Sunday for the first time, and he proved up to the job.  We practiced all week at home, and I typed out his parts in red so it stood out clearly for him. It was hard not to get a little verklempt as he first stepped up to the pulpit, barely able to see over the top, dressed in his favorite burgundy long sleeve dress shirt...with ratty old blue "blankie" draped round his shoulders as if it were a unique stole of some sort.  He handled it all with great aplomb, as if he had already done it several times before.  It was yet another reminder that we are quickly moving further and further from young childhood.  But we still have blankie, so all is not yet lost :-)

This weekend the domestic side of Olesya rose up, and it is easy to see how much she actually loves being in the kitchen and is gaining confidence there.  Although I know it is impossible genetically speaking, she has a little of her Grandma Toni in her.  We bought these enormous 10 pound chubs of ground turkey many months ago.  Don't laugh, but they were bargain basement price so we took advantage of it knowing we'd never find it that cheap again, and we bought 240 pounds of ground turkey!  Yes, the chest freezer was packed to the gills!  I know someone who read this just gasped and had no clue anyone would ever buy that much, but living on a super tight budget, the only way you make it is to never pass up on once-in-a-lifetime type deals.  Anyway, so we cook it up and freeze it, 20 lbs at a time, then we have easy access to quick meals.  Olesya LOVES cooking this up.  Guess what my most despised job is?  You got it.  She slips on that apron and grins widely every time she gets the chance to do this nasty little job.  She also baked bread and dinner rolls this weekend, and wanted to go on to make some cookies before I kicked her out of the kitchen.  This girl has totally found her calling, be it with animals or pots and pans.  I wish I were more able to steer and guide her in her pursuits, but I need to see myself as the facilitator rather than the educator in these areas.  As we talked about our church's involvement with a local homeless shelter and our chance to serve meals there once a month, she begged me to be able to make cupcakes for April's meal.  I love that our girl has found her niche and pursues it with gusto.

Then there is Angela, whose gifts lay in areas that are less obvious or tangible, yet will eventually blossom as she grows into the possibilities that stretch out before her.  I found myself being ministered to by my lovely daughter this weekend as we talked about a wide variety of subjects, and I listened to her astute observations and reminders.  This girl needs just a little more time under her belt, then watch out world!!  She has a passion for social justice that is surprising in a person her age, and she wants to put muscle behind it as well.  Today as we left Sharing Ministries, the local food bank we volunteer at each Monday morning, we learned that they get their big monthly delivery of a semi-truck full of food tomorrow.  Angela was the first one to turn to me and ask if we could go down tomorrow and work to help process the order.  The other kids all agreed they wanted to do it, so I guess school will have to wait, as hungry tummies can't.  Angela has also asked me several times when we can go see what we might be able to do at another local ministry where assistance is provided for homeless folks and lunch is served.  She is the one who talks about the difference various groups make in our community, and she is the one who is willing to stand up for things and open her mouth.  We had a situation with her at work this weekend,when someone made a racist comment to a gentleman who is working for us part-time.  Angela told me about it and said she wanted to say something about how inappropriate and no funny it was, but she feared doing so because it was an adult who made the comment, and she has been taught to respect adults.  I told her that speaking up against racism is never wrong, regardless of her age,and that as long as she was respectful in how she worded it we would always back her up.  We then practiced a variety of approaches she could take to handle such a situation in the future.  There are so many seeds planted in this soul, I think it will be so interesting to see the ways in which she one day strikes out on her own and forges new paths while putting her arms around the shoulders of those she has compassion for.

Kenny has struggled this week, as we are sort of bottoming out from one of those cyclical tough periods he often experiences.  But he too is showing growth as of his own accord he wrote me an apology note for a minor infraction, saying he realized how frustrating it must be at times to work with him, and how grateful he was that I continued to push him to be accountable.  He is beginning to catch his behavior at moments when he starts getting spacey, or allows himself to take the easy way out.  While that has been curbed a lot over the past couple of years, there are times when we have the bad weeks when it flares up, and I find myself banging my head in frustration.  I couldn't ask for a sweeter spirit to work with, but the times when he backslides are so hard.  When things just won't click no matter how many different ways I try to explain it, I tell myself that this too shall pass, but sometimes it is just reteaching and reteaching over and over again...and that can be disheartening unless I pull back and look at the bigger picture to see the overall growth.  He is so smart, but his learning disabilities are complex and require an enormous amount of energy on my part to think about ways to present material so he can hang on to it.  The hardest times are when we hit these rough patches, and I begin to wonder if he'll really be able to hold a job or live fully on his own, because it really is questionable at this time.  But Iam reminded that he is starting to mature and see things that need to be done, and step up to do them without walking by the sink and grabbing a sponge to wash a pot sitting there, or cleaning up the living room without being asked.  And hey, he is brushing his teeth every single day now without reminding him,and I consider that a great victory!! We talked just today about how it is time to begin having him carry his wallet with him every day in his pocket.  I loved how he understood what I was getting out without saying it as he looked at me and said, "I think that's a good idea, Mom.  I think it will take me a couple years to get used to having to remember it and train myself to not lose it.  If I do it now when I have no money or ID, it won't matter if I lose it, and eventually I'll get in the habit.  But I think I will screw up a lot at first.  Maybe by the time I am 17 or 18 I will be good at handling that."  Well, that gives us 3 or 4 years to get him capable of remembering his wallet every single day.  We ought to be able to accomplish that by then :-)

Finally, there is Matthew, who had a little chance to shine today.  He is learning how to create slide shows using Movie Maker software, and to add in music.  He created a little 2 minute show to be used during communion in a couple of weeks, and he put in many, many hours learning how to use it, then working on his first project.  This afternoon he presented it for approval to our Worship Team, who enjoyed it and thought it was appropriate for use.  For his first effort, he really surprised me.  He is gradually learning technology and showing an incredible aptitude for it.  He just gets the logic of how it all works.  We ran by church tonight to try a version of it on the big screen there, and then he asked if he could treat me to a shake from McDonald's to "celebrate our first project".  It was so sweet to see him whip out his wallet and casually hand me a $10 bill.  We talked for a bit in the car as we slurped our icy cold treat.  He talked a little about how he enjoyed doing this, and he thanked me for taking the time to teach him new things when there was so much else I had to teach all five kids.

He then said something out of the blue that really made me think a bit.

"You know mom, I need to thank you for homeschooling me.  I mean, I sort of started all this when I was so unhappy in 5th grade.   I never thought when I came home that first day and just knew it was going to be an awful year at school, that you'd ever do something like pull me from school and homeschool me.  I was a little scared at first, but I was also really, really glad. Then you ended up having to homeschool all of us, and I know that it was really hard and sometimes still is."

I told him that I appreciated him saying thanks and he went on, "I also figured out something as I was working on this slide show, and it might sound silly.  I don't think I could have done this if I were still in school."

"Why not?  Do you think you wouldn't have had the time to learn the software?" I asked.

He replied, "Well, yea, that too.  But as I was working on it, I realized that I wouldn't be sensitive enough if I were still in school.  To do things like this, you can't be afraid of letting that side of you show that is softer.  If I were still going to regular school, I think I would be worried about being too cool, or being made fun of for making something creative and kind of emotional.  Maybe not everyone would be that way, 'cuz some kids have more courage.  I don't think I'm one of them.  I'd rather not be picked on or noticed, and I'd just bury it.  I really liked doing this, and I am glad I am not the person I think I would have been, so that I am not embarrassed to do something more sensitive like this."

A moment that totally caught me off guard, as we sat there beneath the bluish light cast from the overhead parking lot lights.  Not only are we learning about technology, but we are learning more about our inner selves.

As for me, well, compared to the growth that surrounds me, I am on the far left of the LaJoy Family Bell Curve.  Nothing is going on with me that reflects the sort of learning that the other 6 members of Team LaJoy are experiencing, but there are a few things I guess.  I am reading a book for church for Lent titled "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander, which has been a challenging read requiring a lot of attention.  I am learning a lot about charter schools and the laws that govern them, as our school begins the arduous process to become a full-fledged charter. I am continuing to learn little tricks with the iPad and various apps, which makes me day more productive. I am not learning about cooking, cake decorating, slide show presentation, public speaking, or governing...and I am glad about that.

I do, however, have a beautiful harp staring back at me from 3 feet away, which I have been spending time with.  I have managed to find time to practice my little beginning skills every single day, for at least 10-15 minutes.  I am working into it gradually, as my fingertips are not calloused and I am not nimble in the slightest, so it is extremely awkward to have my fingers do what I want them to do.  But Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is coming along nicely, and Go Tell Aunt Rhodie is looming on the horizon, calling out to me from page 7.  It will be a long time before I can play anything "for real", but thus far I am enjoying just plucking away, hearing the tone, and trying to make my fingers do the talking :-)

We all keep on growing, and enjoying it very much!  School year's end is drawing close for us, and the next one will bring about a lot of changes as we step it up a notch.  Go Tell Aunt Rhodie is waiting for me!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

She's Here!

Today was just a wonderful, wonderful day.  Not only did I have a few hours of quiet as Dominick took all the kids sledding, but my new friend arrived!  Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I just can't believe it!  She is so pretty I almost didn't want to touch her.  

We received a call from the transit company that they were going to deliver it tomorrow.  Instead of waiting, Dominick and I hopped in the van this afternoon and drove into town to pick it up.  The kids all hovered 'round as we opened the box and lifted out the case with the harp in it.  I just couldn't believe how beautiful it was, and could hardly wait to get my hands on it.  10 minutes later I was quickly learning how to use the automatic tuner, then Matthew and Dominick helped me get it tuned up...which lasted about 10 minutes for the lower strings as they begin the process of stretching and settling in.  Olesya made dinner for us so I could spend an hour just playing around.  As I sit typing this, my new best friend is sitting 2 feet away from me.

This is a super special treat, and I am still surprised I went through with it.  Four months...I have four months to work with it during the rental period to see if there is any possibility that I might be able to teach myself how to play, and then if it proves possible, I need to figure out how to buy it.  I can't help but grin as I sit here thinking of a recent conversation with encouraging friends who, upon learning this was a limited rental situation for me, offered to each take turns renting it in their names so I could keep working with it.  Now that's friendship!

I see how the kids are able to learn new things, biting off tiny chunks at a time, and they actually sort of inspired me to think it is possible to do this.  As Kenny threw out at me as I was going back and forth over the decision, "Mom, you have already had to learn so many things about teaching us with homeschooling, why do you think you can't teach yourself to play the harp?"  That's my Kenny, ever the optimist and cheerleader :-)

So, I am off on a new adventure of learning.  It may seem odd to some (because I actually do recognize just how strange I really am), but I tend to sink a little into depression if I am not learning something new or have a challenge in before me.  Yea, like my whole life right now isn't somewhat of a challenge, but it's not the same thing. So why not learn the harp! Haha!

I'll post a video eventually, maybe after I have "Mary Had a Little Lamb" down pat, or perhaps "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star".  

And I still have to come up with a name for her, a totally COOL name!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Red Rock Adventure!

Ready to Rock!

It must be adventure time for the LaJoy's as field trips and harps loom on the horizon.  We had another unexpected adventure yesterday, when we were invited to go on a hike with a friend. What we thought was going to be a relatively short hike turned into a five mile trek into some of the most beautiful land I have seen up close in a long while.  We drove to Dominguez Canyon, about 45 minutes or so from our home,where we then set off.  Being ski season until the first week of April, Dominick is still working all weekend each week, so he was unable to join us.  It was Olesya's turn for her work shift as well, and though we offered to let her have it off, she elected to work anyway as she wants to save money while she has the opportunity to do so.  Those of us who ended up going decided it was a good thing she didn't come along, because she probably would not have enjoyed it as much as she is about as outdoorsy as her Mama...who had no choice in the matter on this one :-)  My bum hip was really, really feeling it by the end of the day, and getting up this morning and walking on it was akin to minor torture.  But I did it, and I am glad I did!  It wasn't really a tough hike, as it was mainly flat the entire time, just some rough terrain.

I am sure you all are not interested in this many photos, but Dominick is asleep right now, and I want him to be able to see what we did at 4:30 tomorrow morning, when he logs on, so I am posting a lot of photos for him.  We started from the parking lot where the landscape looked like this:

Energy and excitement was high as we started our day, and the weather couldn't have been better.  Yes, I know we live in Colorado and yes, I realize you see no snow in this photo...hence the cause of our drought.  The mountains off to the right are where we were headed.

The Gang 

We saw piles of old railroad ties...

We hiked for a mile or so alongside the Gunnison River...

We crossed a cool bridge...

We climbed a ton of rocks.  Ok, who am I kidding, THEY climbed a ton of rocks!  Matthew and Kenny, in particular, were the Billy Goats of the group.

Then we raced to see the first waterfall.

It was awesome!  And grandma, don't freak out about the rock Matt is on, it was a bigger ledge than it appears to be.

Everyone loved getting to the bottom...

And climbing their way back out!

Matthew decided to help lift Josh out.

We had lunch and took a much needed break.

And Mom forced everyone to let me take their picture.  They were good sports.

They found this huge old tree to climb that had perfect broad branches to hang out on.

Or lay on!

Despite having the remnants of a nasty cold, Angela was a real
trooper and still ended up enjoying herself.

We saw some AMAZING rock formations.

And we loved surprising mom after having climbed up on them!

This was an area above another waterfall, where water pools up and has smoothed the rock formations to a super slick surface.

Matthew grabbed the camera for this one, and Kenny grabbed me!

Angela enjoyed listening to the waterfall behind her...which dropped at least what looked to be 80' or so.

Angela and I giggled as we watched our Tom Sawyers from behind.  Matthew's dangling jacket was so funny!

While we don't often get out in this sort of terrain, it really is beautiful and we are so fortunate to live less than an hour from the high desert, red rock, forested areas, and so much more.  We have joked about it a little, feeling guilty because we are not a super outdoorsy family.  We enjoy getting out in it a little, but we are not like some of our friends who climb fourteeners, go off for days in the back country with nothing but a backpack, or go tent camping all the time.  But you don't have to be a mountain climber to have a deep appreciation for the awesome landscapes we are surrounded by.  Just taking a drive up into the mountains for a picnic lunch is a 40 minute trip in just about any direction, and we experience wildlife, vistas that go on for miles, and the hushed silence that many never get to hear living in more populated areas.  Heck, we hear that out our door each evening...with the exception of the occasional cow calling at the auction yard a mile down the road. Sometimes I take it for granted, this beautiful playland that surrounds us...but not often :-)  I still feel as blessed each morning when I look out my kitchen window at sunrise as I did the morning I first woke up in this house after moving from California.  I doubt that appreciation will ever go away.

The treat at the end of our hike in, before turning around, was to see real Anasazi Indian petroglyphs, which as you can see are quite clear.

While there was a little etched graffiti in various spots,the petroglyphs were in remarkably great shape for as much traffic as passes by.  One thing I will say about Coloradoans, there is a deep respect for the land and the natural resources we have here.  You seldom see litter or graffiti in our park areas or road sides, and people seem to want to preserve that which is unique to our area, some of which is found nowhere else.

The boys were also fascinated with the boulder itself, as you could see the erosion at the bottom.

I think this was my favorite photo of the day though:

Joshie was climbing up, but having a hard time getting back down.  Kenny jumped up to go over and help guide him to safe footing.  This was the symbolic Photo of the Day, as throughout the day the kids all helped each other, and me as well.  Those are the photos I don't always catch, as the camera is often put away when, for example, Matthew knew I was having a hard time with my hip but rushed back to encourage me to see a little hidden pool he had spotted.  He told me I couldn't miss it because he thought it was so beautiful and quietly hidden, so he urged me to come with him as he firmly took hold of my arm, and continued to help me safely hop over rocks and gently guide me to solid ground. When we peeked around a huge boulder to see this shaded pool with snow still tucked around the edges, he softly said, "See, I told you that you couldn't miss it.  Isn't it beautiful? ...and I said a silent prayer for the sometimes not so obvious tender heart of my 13 year old son. 

Another moment was toward the end of our long, hot day, when Angela noticed that Joshua was flagging, and for a moment looked near tears as he explained his feet were really hurting.  He turned his head to the side as he quickly wiped a tear, hoping no one would see it.  It didn't escape Angela, who quietly came alongside him, and took his backpack from him to lighten his load for the remainder of the last mile.  His grateful smile spoke his thanks, and I couldn't stop from thinking how blessed we are to live with such thoughtfulness out of our children every day.  They aren't perfect, and they do have their moments once in a great while, but overall we are incredibly lucky to be parenting this group of warm, tender, bright, kind young people who care so much about each other and their parents, and who wouldn't think twice about lending a hand or helping carry the heavy load.   There are times when Dominick and I look at one another, and we both know we have all we ever dreamed of right there in the open faces of our five beloved ones.

The week begins in...well...less than an hour.  The books will be hit hard, volunteering tomorrow at the food bank will keep us busy, and meetings for church and school are scattered through the weekly calendar.  The anticipation of the arrival of Mom's new toy seems to be affecting everyone, as Joshie jumped up Friday when the UPS truck pulled into the driveway and he cried out, "I think it's here, Mom, I think it's here!", only to be disappointed when the driver approached the door with a small package rather than a very large box.  

About 6 more weeks of school to go, then we celebrate!

Friday, March 01, 2013

Puzzle Pieces

It's been a long couple of days as I worked to prepare our Field Trip Plan to be submitted to the school for review and, hopefully, approval.  It is an incredibly complicated process, as there is a lot of documentation of prior learning that must be done, cost outlines down to the penny of every dollar expected to be spent on the trip, maps of all mileage, justification for each stop along the way.

Then each document is times five kids.

It is a banker's box full plus accompanying maps the kids made of Westward Expansion.  Many families don't take advantage of the school funding for field trips because it is a pretty detailed and complex project.  As I sat at the laptop today I realized how much our learning scaffolds, even as adults.  Paperwork for international adoption forces you to learn how to be organized in a big hurray.  I submit everything tomorrow and await committee approval, which will take 3-4 weeks as it goes through the committee and the district school board. If so, our trip will be amazing...a blessing in every possible way:

Jorge the van will get a workout on this trip!  We are very excited about the prospect of going on such a great adventure, and would love to hear from anyone else who recognizes where we are heading and has ideas for things we just can't miss.  If approved, we plan on departing April 15th, when we will most likely be officially done with school for the 2012-2013 year.  Matt may have a few math and German lessons left to complete, but he has made it a goal to finish by then if at all possible.  All the other kids have already just about finished everything else, and actually started math for next year so they'll just keep going.

Not much else going on around here, other than plowing through school and finishing planning for the next academic year.  It may feel early to some to be thinking about it, but we will start our new year by the end of May, so I don't have much longer to get it all together!  Angela and Olesya have both been down with pretty severe colds this past week, and I am hoping they are in better shape in the next couple of days. The boys and I have managed to avoid it thus far, though Dominick definitely did not.

Spring is now on our minds, and we are planning a little science project!  We were talking about phototropism (I sound so smart, don't I?  Don't worry, I had no clue until I read it today! haha!) and we are going to experiment.  Phototropism is the growth of an organism toward or away from a light source.  We got the bright idea to set up a camera on a tripod, get a plant and set in in the window, and take pictures every 15-30 minutes.  Then we will create a slide show to see how much movement there was.  It should be cool!

We have been SO enjoying our little Apple TV box that attaches to our TV and allows me to mirror what I see on my iPad onto the TV while wirelessly connected.  Wow, what a wonderful time saver and great learning tool it has been!  We use a lot of video illustrations for school, especially for science, because there are so many awesome 3-4 minute clips out there to explain various principles.  Being able to tap my iPad and have it immediately show up on screen has been totally awesome, and may be one of our better homeschooling tools.

I had our special education meeting for Matthew last week, which was helpful.  It was sweet to hear one of his evaluators say that it had been a long time since he was around a young man his age who was so polite and appeared to be such a nice, respectful kid.  We looked at test results, and they were as quirky as Matt himself is.  Kathie, the special ed coordinator, explained some of his scores, which were predictably all over the map.  His spelling and phonics fluency were at 12.9 grade level.  She said that with his issues she expected his spelling to be awful, and was tricked by his test because then she remembered that  words in isolation are no problem and he almost always got 100% on his spelling tests.  She said he has a better command of spelling phonetically than most do also.

Every result in every category were well over his 8th grade level, that is until she got to the writing sample.  Bingo!!!  Hahaha! I can't believe I am excited over that, but at least our frustration was finally understood and validated.  His writing sample was at a 5.6 grade level, and she explained that it was that way due to his editing skills and spelling when not isolated, not his actual use of vocabulary which was 12th+ grade level.  She laughed as she said, "No wonder you were not getting it, I didn't either!  He is a super bright young man, but his writing looks a 5th grader, which completely doesn't match his intellect.  I imagine you were pulling your hair out!"  So that explains that little bald spot I have :-)  Kathie and the other special education staff person said that dysgraphia like this is very subtle and hard to detect, particularly when it is in kids with Matt's is almost always assumed to be laziness.  Yea, I thought so too for quite a while, much to my own shame.

We learned something else, as they tested him for motor skills issues, as well, and they could clearly see a processing disorder with his drawing/writing.  He was able to complete three dimensional drawings quickly and easily of the sort that most would not be able to do (like me), but even on the most simple ones like just a diamond, it was ill proportioned and off kilter.  They had never seen that either in someone whose spatial relationship skills were so high, which was a big tip off to them that something is quite off base with Matt.  His terrible printing is due to some sort of as yet unspecified disorder.  We have always wondered about his vision, because he is always totally on top of whatever he is working on, nose very close to it.  Somehow, this is all connected. is documented now, and they will allow him to "legally" use adaptive technology for any writing he does, including for his state testing.  Once it has been documented for the next 6 months to a year, they can create what is called a 504 plan, which will be with him for the rest of his life and will allow him to use adaptive software for writing in college, as well as allow him to prove learning in different ways aside from just writing.

The odd thing is...he can really, really write. He has a unique and very interesting, descriptive style which, when edited, is actually quite beautiful.  But it has to be edited up the wazoo.

You know, I shared this recently with someone...I actually prayed over each of our adoptions, asking not for perfect children and being willing to love whoever God sent us, but asking specifically that our life with them be rewarding and interesting...not dull.  I think I was blessed in that area, times ten! Haha!!!  And blessed it really is, no matter what challenges we have.  I have sunshine in our home in the faces I see each and every morning, I have intrigue and interest and passion in so many areas with them all day long.  My life, which to many on the outside might appear to be incredibly boring as I am home all day with our kids, is the furthest thing from boring. I have five little puzzles to figure out, I am Mom Sherlock Holmes, only without the cool pipe!

Another puzzle yet to be pieced together is dear, sweet Olesya.  Yesterday Angela brought her up as we drifted into conversation about a character in a book.  She asked me why Olesya was the way she is, why she doesn't let anyone really get to know her.  She wanted to know if I thought it was on purpose, or if she even realized she was that way.  One thing that is interesting to me, and making me pause is that, unlike Kenny and Angela, Olesya never, ever talks about her life in the orphanage.  Stories will come out from Kenny and Angela, and when I turn to ask Olesya about if something like that ever happened or what she remembers, inevitably she avoids answering with a shrug of her shoulders, saying she just doesn't remember anything.  She says she doesn't remember any of it...not even the later years when she was finally reunited with Angela in the same orphanage.  It is beginning to make me wonder if her claims are true about not recalling anything about that horrific night her grandmother died. I know people can block out things, but for her to block out her first entire 11 years is not is avoidance.  I am praying about this hard right now, asking God for insight into how to proceed.

To give you an idea of how far inward she is, Angela turned to me during our conversation yesterday and said, "Mom, don't feel bad.  You are trying everything you can, and you are the only person who ever has. I have known her all my life, and I don't know her anymore than you do.  Actually,  think I know you heart more than I do my own sister, and you and I have only been family for 3 years.  She hides from all of us, and I think she remembers more than she wants to talk about."  Angela also told me that she was very happy when I caught on to Olesya early on, and began encouraging her to be open, and to see herself as intelligent and capable.  She added, "If anyone can help her, Mom, it;s you.  Maybe someday she will change.  Maybe someday she will feel safe enough and good enough about herself to share all her feelings.  It is a hard thing to do. It's not like she doesn't love all of us a lot, she shows it all the time.  She just can't be honest with herself.  Maybe she is cared of remembering everything, and it changes who she is right now. I know I was very, very scared and shameful of it (ashamed), too, like people would think I was awful because of things that happened to me.  Now I know that was wrong, but I was just embarrassed about how all of it felt inside.  You got to me, though, and I think one day you'll get to Olesya too."  Then she asked, "Do you think something happened to her at the other orphanage before she got to me?  She was always so shy the couple of times I went to see her there, she acted different."

Food for thought, another puzzle to try and figure out.  This one might prove to be the most difficult to put together.  Lots to gnaw on.

Not much else going on....guess I have enough anyway :-)  Night all!