Thursday, July 25, 2013

Who Do You Wish to Become?

This past week, our home has been quiet...really, really quiet.  We are down to just one child home with four others off at camp, and it has given all of us a chance to evaluate what our lives might have been like had we stopped adding to our family after Matthew arrived 13 years ago.  While I will admit how wonderful the break has been from a constantly running washer, 3 loads a day in the dishwasher, craft projects from Olesya leaving little messes all over the house, no running commentary on just about everything from Kenny, and much isn't nearly as wonderful as it is to actually experience all those things most of the time :-)  A break has been nice, though, as it has allowed me time to get some detail oriented work done for the coming school year, and it has given us time alone with Matthew, which is special when we get one on one time with any of the kids, not just Matt.

This comes at an important time for Matt, and I can sense that.  He is in the process of deciding exactly who he wants to be in the world.  I am not talking about careers, I am talking about character.  Does he want to be one to chase the almighty dollar?  What will he value?  What parts of himself is he content with, and what parts does he want to tweak?  He is in a great head space right now, with little distractions around us, to talk openly and comfortably about such things.

Tonight after Dominick went to bed, Matt went and grabbed his big old blanket to wrap around himself as we sat at the kitchen table and talked for two hours.  He shared with me some of the music that he liked that was new to him at camp, some of it Jason Mraz whom I have heard a little of and liked, but not had time to listen much to.  We sat there huddle over his iPad, talking about the meaning of the lyrics, the style, and how similar we are in our musical tastes.

Kenny and Angela are my easy talkers, the ones who are passionate in their beliefs, and deeply engaged by many issues.  They wear their hearts on their sleeves and will immediately jump headlong into mind boggling conversations at levels often explored more in college classes...or psychologist's they try to make sense of the world around them.  Matt, on the other hand, is quieter, less outwardly passionate, and he lives a more quietly introspective life of the mind.

Tonight I asked him questions about who he thought he was growing into, and what he thought of himself.  He said that so far, for the most part, he liked himself a lot and thought he was an "OK" kind of kid who worked hard and tried to do the right thing most of the time.  He said he wished he could more easily connect with the thoughts he had at camp throughout the year, because he really felt God at those times, but that he realized that was a unique setting and not possible to recreate all year long.  However, he said he was always reminded at camp that he could go either way with his decisions, he could be selfish or he could be generous of spirit, and he talked about how hard it was sometimes to fight the selfish side.  With uncanny wisdom for his age, he spoke about chasing things like new cars, new stereos, bigger and better houses, etc. and how he already knew that the "cool factor" of those things wears off quickly, and you're always left wanting more.  He said he doesn't want to spend his life never being satisfied because he hasn't worked on the more important parts of himself so that he doesn't have the need to chase "stuff".  I was so touched by his observations, and realized there is a lot going on inside that young man's brain right now.

Interestingly, when I asked him what words he would hope people would use to describe him one day, he stopped to think for a moment, and then said, "Most important to me is that people could say I am someone they can always count on, that I am dependable.  I really don't like it when you can't count on others.  I want my friends and family to see me as being strong and capable, that they can lean on me.  I think a real man gives that sense of being strong and able to do things.  I like that a lot about Dad." He stopped for a moment, then added,"And I think I want people to see me as a person who cares about things and is kind.  Sometimes, I am not as kind or thoughtful as I could be, not because I don't want to be, but because I just don't think about other people the way I should.  But what I really want, and don't laugh at me mom, is I want to be seen as influential.  Wait, that's not the right word, what I mean is I want people to think  I am wise, so they listen to me.  Maybe that's the same thing, maybe not. I don't want to be thought of as silly or stupid.  I want be wise enough that other people will be able to trust my judgment."

I don't think that at 14 years old I could have spoken as well about who I wanted to become when I grew up.  I had some vague ideas, but character was not something I gave a lot of thought to.

There is a lot of blossoming going on around our home these days.  Kenny is showing signs of maturing and is stepping up in small but noticeable ways to take on small responsibilities without being asked.  Angela is thinking a lot about what her goals might be as she grows into adulthood, and Olesya is gradually beginning to catch herself when she is less centered and unfocused, and is able to self-correct.  Joshua has always been a little old man in a kid's body, and though he still needs blankie to help him feel safe and secure, he is growing taller and more confident with each passing day.  In the next couple of weeks, he'll join the big kids in volleyball, a sort of Rite of Passage around here.

It is such fun to see the kids stretch a little and grow.  Watching their passions develop, or seeing them test the waters of a variety of things in an effort to discover those passions is a real gift for any parent.  There is, of course, a little sadness at seeing the youngsters disappear, but unlike some I have never felt all that melancholy over it, as we may be losing the little kid but we are gaining a new and exciting older child with each developmental marker they pass.  We are hitting them at a slower rate, that's for sure, but in some areas, I think they are well ahead of the game in many ways.  For all the developmental delays that challenge our family, and as much of an oxymoron as this might sound like, they are advanced in maturity, and they sure know how to love with all of their hearts.

Matt could barely contain the enormous grin that spread across his face this evening as we spoke via Skype with his new AutoCAD drafting teacher.  As his elective this year, and despite a very heavy academic schedule, Matthew decided to enroll in a beginning AutoCAD course taught as a distance learning course by a licensed teacher in Florida who teaches both in a public high school, and for a local college.  This is an amazing opportunity for him to try out something he might really grow to love, and at a very affordable cost.  He will have one on one interaction, and will have to be self-directed to move through the course and develop a portfolio of his work.  As we sat together watching the screen being controlled by his teacher who was explaining to both of us the mechanics of how the course would work, he leaned over and whispered to me, "I can't wait to get started, I have wanted to do this all my life!"  His teacher is SUPER, and is very personable and knowledgeable about the subject, injecting his enthusiasm into his teaching as he said several times, "Now watch this, this is so cool you won't believe it!" and a flat drawing became three dimensional right before our eyes.  This appeared to me to be the perfect marriage of motivated student and exciting educator, and I can't wait to see what comes of it this year for Matt!

Angela is talking about photography and design, Joshua wants to explore shooting sports, Kenny is not quite certain what new direction he might seek but I have no doubt something will tickle his fancy eventually...he does know that when he is able, he wants to take Philosophy, but I'd really like to see him find himself a little more.  Olesya is exploring more and more in the kitchen, playing around but lately taking over complete meal prep, and we found a great web site for her to work with that walks you through the basics.

Who will they become?  Each day brings a new surprise, a new reason to celebrate and appreciate the unique young people we get to live with.  Though none of them are in a mad hurry to grow up, they are reaching out into the world and testing the waters. Our job is to give them a boost now and then, and help them regroup and understand what their exploration is all about.  This phase in child rearing is definitely different, but equally wonderful.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Church Camp is SO GOOD

Church camp time has arrived, signaling the nearing of the end of summer.  Matthew was at La Foret last week, and today Angela, Olesya, Kenny and Josh all left.  We were so grateful that our pastor brought Matt home as she was there for a week of Contemplative Camp, and I am grateful to Dominick for doing the "Drop Off Run", giving me a week off before I head over for the pick up next weekend.

When Matthew arrived home, he was exhausted and almost non-communicative.  He had been awake until 3:00 AM the night before, then up early to get packed to leave camp yesterday.  He was grumpy, tired, hot...and very much still in the La Foret world, not quite ready to return.

He started to revive a little during dinner, and as he came back to himself he laughed more than we have seen him laugh in a long time.  He talked about how he was intimidated at first by the much older kids, and then as we fleshed that out we realized that mostly it was the difference between Big City kids and Country Boys from Montrose.  He had us all laughing as he compared it by saying, "In Montrose, the cool dudes wear cowboy boots and compete in the rodeo and walk like they ride horses all the time.  In the Big City the cool dudes have expensive clothes and shoes, and walk like gangsters."  While he admitted there was a lot of difference in experience...and age...between himself and many of the others, he said everyone was very open and accepting of each other.  It was clear, though, that there were some cultural differences, which is something we don't often think about in rural versus urban situations.  I love the chance he and the other kids all have to recognize those difference, and yet still come out of the week saying, "They were a great bunch, even if we were different."

It seemed he felt on a deeper level, and for the first time, that he had found his "tribe" and recognized it.  He spoke of what wonderful, enlightening, and intelligent conversations were held in the evenings about everything from immigration to gay rights to poverty.  He said that the kids in his cabin were all so bright and, more importantly, willing to listen to other perspectives respectfully...and even change their minds if they were persuaded by the logic of the presenter's point of view.  I have never heard Matthew talk about having been with a group of kids who felt like home in quite this way, and I think part of it is that he tends to lean on the mature side.  This time he was with his peers, and it turns out that like his mom at that age, his true peers are a few years older than he is. Not surprising at all.   We talked about how those sorts of conversations were an extension of what we do at home all the time, and how many kids never have that opportunity at home and only at camp.  It seemed it was just nice for him to be around kids who were more progressive in their thinking, who were able to formulate ideas for themselves rather than parrot their parents' beliefs, which is often what we run into in our neck of the world as we are sadly is lacking in diversity in many ways for kids growing up here.

What he spoke of with great interest and awe of was the small group of campers and counselors from Venezuela who joined their camp this year.  He shared how they danced for the talent show, the girls with their dresses swirling around them.  This group added so much to the camp experience, and Matt said he wished he had taken Spanish rather than German, and that our less outgoing kid even made several attempts to try and speak with them.  He said he was more comfortable with those without a common language and using an interpreter due to all the times we have adopted and been in the same situation, and he was anxious to at least try and connect with them.  As he recited their names, I could tell that they made a big impact on him.

As dinner ended and the night wore on, we all moved to the couch to sit and continue visiting while eating homemade ice cream.  We laughed over everything as Matthew mimicked the way some of the kids talked or shared their jokes.  He was such a contrast from the kid who walked in the door, almost in a stupor.  Matthew always has a hard time talking about things that affect him.  It has to be gently pulled out of him with pointed questions first, then gradually broader questions.  Once he started though, and he came out of the daze, he talked non-stop, a sure sign for him that great things happened at camp.

What touched me most though was how moved he was by the spirituality of this past week, something he rarely ever talks about despite us going to church regularly and talking about such things around the dinner table often.  He said the week was about "presence" and being present in the moment.  We all talked about how kids and adults alike have no idea how to do that well.  I explained that one reason I absolutely refuse to worry about answering the phone or a text the moment it is sent is because it is my one rebellion against the norm.  If I am talking with someone, I rarely will answer the phone...and yes, that means if I am in conversation with my children or husband.  I explained that everyone teases me about it, but that I feel it is more important not to be ruled by technology, and to be very present and in the moment for the person in front of me.  We talked about how some people don't understand that about us homeschooling, and that we are working and not available for chatting, mainly because I want to protect that time as Sacred Learning Time and have good boundaries around it.

The conversation turned to learning how to put boundaries around our sacred time, and that it can be hard to do that but we miss out on so much.  The kids all chimed in with how important our family time is, and how few families make it for themselves.  One reason Angela doesn't want to compete in more sports is because she loves her family time, even if we are doing nothing more than watching a movie together.

Perhaps the best thing to come from camp for Matt was that it was the first year he came away having made a friend he actually wants to keep in contact with.  He described his new friend as being a great storyteller, very outgoing, and super smart.  He also talked about wanting to attend our denomination's national youth event next year, which pleased me to no end, not because I care much if he or any of the kids get greatly involved in our denomination, but because he will have another opportunity to be with youth who are like him.  It is the first time he has ever expressed any interest in such a thing even though I've brought it up before, and I think it can only help him grow, not only in his faith, but in confidence in who he is.

So, Round 1 at camp was incredibly successful!  Round two will hopefully be just as much so, and I can not wait to hear the stories, hear the laughter, and listen to the new songs that come home with the other kids!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Growing More and More

There are moments when you look at your child and realize that there has been a little leap yet again in maturity, and you hear the tick tick ticking of the clock counting down the time you have left for the family to exist in the way it currently does.  We all know it passes far too quickly, but there are times when it just seems to jump forward rather than ease that direction.

This weekend we had a double duty trip to the Denver area, as I was working at a homeschool show representing Nancy Larson Science, and the date coincided with the weekend we were to drop Matthew off at La Foret, the kids' church camp.  We all piled in and got out of Montrose for the weekend, which is always fun even if it is an extremely long 5+ hour drive.  We had no plans other than the hope of meeting old friends, which the weather didn't allow to happen, and swimming in the hotel pool, which the kids got their fill of.

I spent the weekend working at the show, meeting Catholic homeschooling moms, and looking into the heart of my daughter.  Angela asked to stay with me Friday, and we talked and giggled so much that the time flew by.

We somehow got on the subject of birth parents, and Angela admitted she wished she had baby pictures of Olesya and herself.  She also said she couldn't remember at all what her biological parents look like, and she wondered if they were still alive, and if they were sober or still a mess.  What astounded me was when she said, "Mom, I know this sound crazy, but I totally forgive both my parents...even my mom for the bad things she did.  When I first came home, I didn't really know what to feel about them, and I was scared to talk about them at all because I didn't want you to get mad at me or think I wanted to go back.  I had all these feelings about them that were a big mess inside.  Now I am more mature, and I don't even feel like being angry at them anymore.  All that does is make me upset and doesn't change anything."

"Angela, I am proud of how far you have come in your understanding of your parents.  There are a lot of people who would let their past hurt them for the rest of their lives, but somehow you've figured it out and that takes a lot of hard work." I said.

She surprised me when she responded, "I couldn't have done it without you.  You showed me how to forgive.  You helped me talk about things that were deep inside and bothering me so much, and you always forgive people, even ones that hurt you badly."  Then she added, "It is a perfect fit, our whole family, isn't it?  I mean, when I look at our family is when I totally get God and believe in God.  There is no way any of us should have ended up together, and you and Dad are the perfect parents for us.  I sometimes think about if I had ended up with a different Mom and Dad, and if they had wanted me to be the kind of girl I'd never want to be.  I am SO glad I ended up in my family!"

Later the conversation turned to boys, more specifically brothers.  There were several very nice boys at the orphanage, and of course they were in many ways like her brothers.  She said many of them were kind and fun to play with.  We talked about her old life and the friends she left behind, what might become of them, who she thought had a chance at making a real life for themselves and who she could already tell even at young ages probably would immediately end up in trouble, or worse, upon leaving the orphanage.

It was during this part of our afternoon conversation when Angela's love for her brothers really came across.  She compared them to her orphanage mates and to boys she knows in America, and she said, "No other boys are as nice as my brothers.  We tease a lot and joke with each other, but really Mom, I watch other boys and none of them are as polite, helpful or good as my brothers.  I also think you and Dad adopted the cutest boys ever!  Maybe it is their personality that makes them cute, but they can tease but not be mean at all, and I like teasing with them."  She then specifically talked about Kenny, saying, "And Kenny may have problems Mom, but he is the most loving boy ever.  I mean, all three of them are, but Kenny is special that way because his love is so open.  The woman he marries someday will be treated like a princess, and I think he will find a good wife even though he may need help remembering things.  Some girl is going to want the kind of love that Kenny can give them, and will see how it is worth the work to be with him.  I don't know of any boy who is as really sweet as Kenny is."

We talked about Joshie and wondered together if he will ever truly feel 100% secure in his life,or if he will be carrying around a blankie when he is 30! Haha!  We spoke of Matthew's solid strength and quite sense of humor.  Angela said she was particularly glad for Olesya that they were adopted into our family, because she was afraid that boys who were different from her brothers might have been very unkind to Olesya.  She said, "Remember when we have talked about everyone not letting Olesya give in to us so she can become stronger and not try and earn our love by giving us everything?  A lot of boys would have taken advantage of her, but our brothers would never do that and actually try to help her grow stronger and know she is loved for who she is.  They don't talk a lot about love, but they show it all the time. I guess guys mostly don't talk about love, but it is more important to act loving, and they always do.  I was really worried about Olesya at first, but it didn't take long to see that our new brothers were really, really good boys.  Remember the little ceremony they did for us in Kazakhstan?  I think that is when I knew we would both be safe in this family."  (Here is a post from that time 3 years, even looking at the photos again brought tears to my eyes!  What a challenging, amazing time in our life: )

I am so glad that our sons unknowingly created a sense of quiet acceptance from the very beginning.

Angela and I spent the rest of the evening at the booth, waiting for the few attendees to get out of workshops.  We were huddled over my cell phone laughing like crazy as we goofed around and texted Dominick and the rest of the gang.  Considering that is something I never do, it was quite hilarious to see our mistyped words!  They sent us pictures of them swimming trying to make us jealous, and we sent photos back showing we were having just as much fun! Dominick even sent us a video of him chewing something in slow motion, teasing us as we waited for dinner.

One thing I enjoy most about being a member of our family, is the joy we take in the silly, less-than-thrilling-day-to-day activities.  This could have been a relatively boring weekend for the entire clan, instead it turned into a sweet time of togetherness, marking the ways in which we are all growing and maturing together.

The second day of the show was when we saw some of that growth out of Kenny.  He hooked up with several kids there,some from a long time adoptive family we know and had fun with two years ago, and he spent much of the day playing with them all over the place.  There were many great things for kids to do at this facility, as it had outdoor play equipment, a gym, and a youth room with game tables.  Often I ask myself if Kenny will ever manage to grow up to be a responsible individual, even though we recognize his challenges are through no fault of his own.  This weekend my hope grew!  I told him he could continue to hang out with his new found friends, but he had to check in with me every 45 minutes or so, and he couldn't leave any particular area without letting me know.  I honestly expected him to blow it the first hour, but I'll be darned, that kid checked in like clockwork throughout the entire day!  He used his watch, he wasn't a minute late, and I complimented him several times telling him how proud I was of him for this accomplishment.  A year ago, I think this simple task would have been impossible for him, and as small of a step as it might seem for a 14 year old to do, for Kenny this was real progress!!

Dropping Matthew off at camp today was the first time I have ever had any concerns.  This is his first year in the high school camp, and he is a young 14 having just turned 14 in June.  That means there is a wide age gap between he and the oldest kids in camp with him, and I could tell that he was a little intimidated by the sheer size and age of the kids as he checked in.  Despite it being a church camp, many of the girls were many girls dress these days.  It's hard to explain, because our kids are not naive despite being homeschooled, and we have worked hard to keep that from ever happening.  However, they are definitely on a different wave length than many of their peers, and as they grow older...particularly this past year or is far more noticeable.  Some of it is due to our insistence that they not yet enter the world of social media and do not carry phones around or remain unengaged with earphones in.  Part of it is living in a very rural area versus the majority of the kids at camp who are Denver Metro youth.  Part of it is also that we homeschool and are not at all tuned into the typical teen drama.  I know he will be fine, and talking with my mom on the phone later we agreed wholeheartedly that Matthew is solidly grounded and will not get sucked into anything he shouldn't, but I do hope he will not feel too out of place.  He never has before, and I trust the counselors to work their magic with this diverse group of city vs. country kids.  However, I noticed at check in that Matthew was one of the few to give a firm handshake to the adults he encountered who were doing paperwork, and he looked them straight in the eye and was conversational with everyone...something that a year ago he would have struggled more with.

I laughed as we had barely reached the local gas station before heading to the highway for the long drive home when one by one the remaining Team LaJoy members called out from the back seats, "I already miss Matthew!"...and..."Who will tease me on the drive home?"

One reason I love working the homeschool shows is that I encounter some pretty amazing moms who never fail to help me grow in new ways, too.  I had the privilege to speak with a mom whose 16 year old son functions at about 4th grade level, and her attitude about meeting him where he is at and helping him become who God intends for him to be...NOT society...was so uplifting.  We talked for over an hour (and yes, she ended up purchasing from me! Haha!).

Another mom who has homeschooled 14 years stood and talked for quite a while as well, and she brought up the socialization issue and the gap we are now starting to notice more ourselves.  Having graduated two and having two more not far behind, she gave me the benefit of her experience, or better yet her children's wisdom.  She explained to me that what was happening was normal, and that her fears were assuaged when her own kids reminded her that they got along fine with adults and younger kids, and actually got along fine with kids their own age as well, they just didn't care to go through all the "junk" that comes with teen life and preferred the company of older folks.  When she voiced concern they told her, "Mom, this only lasts for 3 or 4 years, then everyone is out in the adult world and becomes friends with whoever they want without worrying about age.  We're just starting that early and everyone else will catch up.  Don't worry, we aren't missing anything."  As they are now in their mid-twenties, she said she sees how they were perfectly correct, and she was worrying far less about it with her younger two teens.

Now we are settled back home, everyone is snug in their beds after an emergency rush outside in our jammies to grab our empty pool, which was sailing away in the heavy winds we are experiencing!!  If we hadn't reached it in time, our big 15' pool would have flipped right over the top of our house and flown into our neighbors yard or windows. Never a dull moment.  So it is time for bed, and hopefully I can get a decent night's sleep.  We are all growing, and I am feeling more and more how I am growing older and older as my right hip continues to give me fits as I try and lay down to sleep at night.  Managing to get four hours of sleep a night, on a good night, is doing me in, but the pain is keeping me awake.  Maybe tonight I will be too worn out to notice it.

Every day with this family of mine is such a gift.  Watching our children continue to grow and learn has been beyond anything I ever could have imagined.  Being treated so thoughtfully every day is icing on the cake, and I never, ever take it for granted.  Growing every moment, changing as time goes by...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Why She Stayed. Why I Stay. Why We All Should Stay.

What is family?  Is it a legal entity recognized by a government? Is it relationship ordained by God and recognized by a church?

Or is it hearts connecting by choice?

I have read about a wide diversity of  families, and I live in a family which was created uniquely.  I have never, ever seen a family like the one whose story is shared in the video below.  Please, please take the time to watch this.  I know it is 21 minutes long.  I know you may not have time at the moment, but bookmark it and come back to view it.  It is the single most touching story of an unconventional family that I have ever heard...and it will be impossible for you to watch this and not shed a tear or two.  Click on this link, but then don't neglect to read the accompanying story as well.  The last few lines will kill you.:

Why I Stayed

How many producers would have gotten their story and walked away?  How many would have said "no" to God's call?  How many would have refused to get involved?

I tell you, Love Wins.  Every Time, as long as we say "yes".

Would love to hear your comments.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

A Mess

I've been a bit of a mess lately.  Not a "hot mess" (I SO dislike that phrase!), but definitely not myself.  In fact, I've been sort of like the mess I have lived with at home this "stuff" all spread out on the table for me to examine as I try to figure out what in the world is going on inside my head and heart.  I have taken about a month of downtime, a three week hiatus from Facebook, and I've tried to clear out the cobwebs in my gray matter attic.  I've actually hibernated a bit, if truth be told, and the more I hunkered down, the more I wanted to!

This past 4th of July weekend, we decided to do a little touching up around Casa LaJoy.  Remember my feelings about Facebook and the perfect lives of so many that were beginning to get to me?  Well, instead of going out and trying to pretend I was someone I wasn't, I took a good look around and decided gratitude was a much better path.   Part of being grateful for all you have been given is taking care of it.  As I walked from room to room, I realized that I really had no yearnings at all for the things we are always shown.  House Beautiful has never been something I've aspired to!  House Comfortable?  Yes, that's more my style.

However, as I looked around at the wonderful blessing of a warm home with plenty of space we have been blessed to own for the past 17 years, I had an "Ah Hah" moment.  It wasn't high end finishing touches I felt was lacking, nor was it new brand name furniture or a total remodel that I wanted.  When I stopped to think about it logically, the only thing I have ever wanted was a neat and clean home that had things that sort of matched :-)  Not terribly high standards, I'll admit, but then when you think about it, what else do any of us really need?  So we took an inventory, and made a little list (actually, a not so little list) of the things that were looking worn, ragged around the edges, or needing neatening up.

We dreamed a little, too.  Dominick and I spent an evening wondering if there was some way we could do some remodeling to give us a layout we would prefer with a more open floor plan.  After hashing it out for a couple of hours, we realized that to get what we wanted it would take a big remodel and addition, and after considering that for about 5 minutes, it was rejected hands down due to cost.  Our home would not easily lend itself to rearranging much either.  I expressed a desire to have a tile backsplash in the kitchen, which would make cleaning up after Olesya's culinary explorations so much easier.  Once again, Kenny, who is now designated Mr. Practical when it comes to money, talked it through with us and said, "Mom, that may not cost that much in comparison to other things, but wouldn't paint two or even three times be much cheaper and still give you a clean wall?"

Dominick and I looked at each other, and realized we have created a monster, and we just might never be able to justify the expense of certain things from now on, as long as Kenny is present! Haha!  I love how he has taken our lessons to heart and is able to apply them in real life circumstances.

With list in hand, we traveled to Home Depot in what often appears to be our own circus.  We almost never go out anymore without having people give us strange looks, there are just too many mismatched kids who are now BIG and take up a lot of space.  I mean, seven of us in an aisle is a pretty large group these days!  I had long ago grown pretty immune to it, but Angela finds it humorous and interesting how often people stop and stare at us.  We wandered the aisles grabbing stain, polyurethane, brushes, and other assorted items.  We were going to tackle an official Freshening Up of our entire home!

Over the last 7 days, we have cleaned our aging carpets and 25 year old couches, thanks to Dominick's upholstery cleaner.  We have touched up wall and trim paint throughout the house, thanks to having saved and marked all our old paint...yes, even from walls painted 10 years ago, the paint was still good to use!  We tackled cleaning up and weeding a bit outside, and sadly had to get rid of our totally cool pallet planter project as everything died in this extraordinarily unusual heat we've had this year.

We washed all the remainder of the walls and doorways, and fixed carpet leading into the boys' bedroom where it was pulling away from the threshold.  We then stained and re-urethaned all the wood trim and short backsplashes in all three bathrooms and the kitchen!  Who ever thought wood was a great idea for that ought to be shot.  We also completely scrubbed and waxed the kitchen cabinets, and we were all so surprised to see they look like brand new!!  We took down some rickety blinds that were in need of replacing, and instead installed super inexpensive new curtains from Walmart.  Definitely not designer quality, but neat, clean and new.  We needed a new faucet in the kitchen, as I have spent the last year having the handle come off in my hand half the time, so we replaced that as well.  Home Depot had a super deal on a stainless steel sink and faucet combo, which allowed me to have a mini-dream come true...a large single basin sink where I can wash Family-Of-Seven sized lasagna pans!  It's not installed quite yet, hopefully tomorrow, then I can soak and scrub till my heart's content!

Finally, we got a new picnic table for our coverless patio, along with an umbrella at end of the season clearance prices.  Yes, I know it was barely July 4th, but our local stores surprisingly are already clearing out all their summer patio items and bringing in school supplies.  Makes me a little sickened to see them speed up our seasons even more.  For the cost of one can of high temp black spray paint, Olesya did a terrific job refreshing our old, rusty fire pit.

So, though I didn't get a new designer kitchen with an island, breakfast bar (Yes, Jill, I will remain forever covetous of yours!), and drop down lighting, I DID get a home that looks fresh and clean.  We spent very little, but the difference in my spirit is overwhelming...or at least it will be when we finish painting the kitchen tomorrow and I get my dining room table back.

Here are a few pictures of our progress:

Command Central
Our master list, which was added to over the weekend.

The carpet in the boys room had really been bothering me, as it was pulling away from the threshold and their constant traffic was causing it to look really bad.  The picture doesn't show it very well, as we had been trying to staple it down to keep it from further damage.  We need new carpeting, but that is years away from being able to afford, so we need to do what we can to keep it looking reasonably decent for now.  I didn't want it totally torn up, so we decided to replace the useless wood thresholds with metal ones.  Again, not designer or even matching, but neat and clean, and will save the carpet from further damage.  We replaced three of them.

Matthew is really learning a lot about home maintenance, and now often can handle things all on his own.  Kenny has the ability, but his organizational challenges make it almost impossible for us to assign him a task and let him "go to town" on it.  Hopefully one day he'll be able to, and if not, he will be a most able assistant!

It's a blessing to have children who care about their home, and take care of it.  Angela was working on the staining in the kitchen and she declared, "Mom, I love taking care of our house!  It is fun to see it change, and to know we have made it nicer."

Olesya and Kenny are prepping the area.  We are seeing them put to good use the things we have taught them on the "Rental Rehab", and they all needed very little guidance other than explaining how stain and polyurethane were different than paint.  

Angela is beginning to mask off areas and sand. The drawing on the upper left which is on the fridge is an Angela Original, a gift for our anniversary.

You can't see from the photos taken further back in the room, but this shot shows how faded and dried out the wood has become after 17 years.  What this doesn't show is how icky the walls are, though not nearly as bad as the wood because we have fully painted once and touched up the paint twice before.  Our countertops are old formica and definitely scratched up quite a bit, but that was more than we could tackle so we'll live with them for a long time to come.

Matthew is learning how to disconnect and remove a sink.

I often take for granted the skills that Dominick has that have so benefitted us over the years.  He has done a complete overhaul of our dishwasher once (we have the original one that came with the house!), and repaired our washer and dryer multiple times.  Our old fridge lasted much longer and could have kept going if we hadn't really needed a larger one. has become a favorite link!  I am glad that all the kids are learning from him how to maintain items and save money.  These days they always calculate out how much our savings is versus what it would cost to have it repaired by someone else.

And I have to say, I never, ever thought I'd look at my newly minted 14 year old and feel at moments as if I am looking at a man.  They are all growing up so, so fast, and though there is still plenty of kid left in each of them, the young men and women are fast coming to the forefront.

Guess it was probably a good thing we replaced the sink as well!

Joshie wasn't left out either, as he spent 3 or 4 hours learning how to iron and ironing our new 
Wally World curtains.  That kid can stick with a task like nobody's business, and though we offered help several times, he declined saying he liked it and wanted to get good at it.

With all these big kids, it is nice to still have a little guy to sneak in tight spaces!  Here he helped Dominick disconnect the stove.

Sweaty, tired, hot...what an awesome Dad our children have. Never in a million years would I have imagined back when I was 15 and we first started dating that Dominick would be as engaged and involved a father as he turned out to be.  Angela and Dominick have a special relationship.  They tease each other mercilessly and Angela's favorite refrain is, "Oh Dad..." after he says something goofy or tricks her.  He is definitely her Daddy, through and through.

So this is just part of the mess we've had for the past 5 days.  It's worse tonight because no one in my family works quite the way I wish they know, maybe neat and orderly, putting things away when you are done with them, being able to find things because your work space is picked up.  Nawwwww, why would we do that?!?!  Ugh!  I have one friend in Mr. Steve who surely understands how hard it is for me to just wade in and turn a blind eye to it :-)

Regardless of what is stained, moved, or cleaned out, 
this will always remain.

So, the mess is a productive one, and I remind myself that after the dust has settled and the paint dried, life will return to normal.  Life IS messy.  It isn't the cover of a magazine, and just as models are Photoshopped to death these days, we never realize that people don't truly live like the cover shots might have us believe. We don't see the designers who came in beforehand to prep the rooms, we don't see the props brought in to make it look more appealing.  We don't see the debt that sometimes accrues, the not-so-picture-perfect family life that takes place in those supposedly flawless cover homes.

We forget, in our granite and marble countertop desires that the overwhelming majority of us live in a formica world.  The world is not made up of just the 1%ers, nor is it even comprised solely of the 20%ers.   No, the real world consists of mostly people just like us, living in homes much like ours, doing the best they can to create a place where their family is safe and comfortable.  Many women just like myself manage to raise happy families in homes that are devoid of the beautiful designer touches that I STILL wish I actually had the talent to bring into our home.  But you know what?  Our mess is beautiful, our life is beautiful, our very ordinary formica existence is about as sweet as anyone could ever hope for.  

Sunday, July 07, 2013

You Can Do This Too

We live in a world in which Bigger is Better, and in this particular instance, I am not speaking about McMansions or stretch limos.  I am speaking about the sense that we have to Go Big in our ministry efforts, or we are somehow not living up to the gospel call.

I have Ministry Envy.  Stupid, huh?  Well, let me explain...

I am Facebook friends with several folks who tackle mission work in foreign countries. Many adoptive parents feel a call to give back to the countries that allowed them to become parents to their beloved children.  They go places, they take medical supplies, they photograph their journeys, they build playgrounds.  There are non-profits formed, there are villages "adopted", and there are Big Plans made.

Then there is me, sitting here in my LazyBoy Lounge Chair.

I, too, said yes.  Man, I have said "yes" to SO many things I was uncertain of, terrified of, or horrified of.  Preaching is one of them, homeschooling is another.  I say "yes" over and over again, I try to force myself to get out of my comfortable box (or figurative LazyBoy, if you will), and still, 3 years post-Lay Ministry training, and I am still clueless what the point of it all was...but sadly, still I cannot deny the call was real and still feels real.

But why? I dunno.

I do know that thus far, I have never been personally called to overseas ministries.

Lately, however, I might be starting to get it a little.

We have an amazing pastor, one who never fails to reach me and teach me.  Tonight's sermon totally spoke to me.  It was a multi-layered work that I need to read and re-read to dissect the ways in which I can use it.  At its core, it was about simplicity, about not overcomplicating this Gospel thing, about "being" being equally as important as "doing".

Twice recently, I received this message in less obvious fashion than a sermon, and tonight's preaching just piggybacked on it.  Friday evening, we had planned to make it a little earlier night.  Thursday's holiday festivities had left us awake very late, and we were all pretty bushed from the unusual heat as well.  Dominick headed off to bed, and I said I would soon follow.  Kenny, Angela and Matthew were all joining me at the table for a little late night snack of Fishy Crackers, and somehow we drifted into conversation about the value of imprisoning people over a certain age, and whether prison was for rehabilitation or punishment.  This led us to further examples of former SS officers who had worked in or overseen the operations at the concentration camps, and the ability of someone to turn off their conscience or to become hardened and calloused to the plight of other humans.

We sat there, huddled over a bowl of Goldfish, talking, debating, and puzzling over acts which mankind has puzzled over for all time.  How does a human act in such inhumane ways?  How does a Mob Mentality change one's ability to do the right thing?  What is it inside a person that gives them the courage to stand for justice in the face of certain danger?

The next morning, I was so tired, but I explained to Dominick why we all hadn't gone to bed as early as we had hoped.  There are moments, I said, that can't be recaptured, and if you miss them or shut them down, the opportunity is missed.  It's about being aware of simply "being" rather than doing, and in parenting, I have found that in the midst of all the doing...of which there is plenty...there absolutely needs to be some "being".

At the food bank this past couple of weeks, God has been speaking to me long and hard.  I have not yet figured out whether it is about something connected specifically with their mission or not, but I have been working up front more, and am face to face with the "customers" as they are called, many of whom I am discovering I have known from previous work contacts.  I am learning so much about what poverty looks like in our town, and realizing that in some cases it looks scarily like us.  Dominick and I are always incredibly aware that we are not that many rungs up the ladder from public assistance, and that by the grace of God we have made it thus far.  But many, many people we meet there are underemployed, not unemployed. They're doing their best, but are unable to make it to a little better standard of living no matter how hard they try.

But aside from that obvious fact, what has struck me is that ministry there at the food bank comes in many forms, and it is definitely not just the person in need of food, for there is need for food of another kind in just about all of us.  There are those who are desperately in need of community, so they volunteer to have a place to go and a place to be of use each week.  There are those whose young lives are completely messed up and directionless, who are in dire need of mentoring and boundaries, and they are often school or work ordered to volunteer.  There are those who are trying to feed the masses, stretching every donated dollar as far as they can, who are in need of encouragement and support.

It is so odd, but it was as if there was a sign over every single person I encountered there the past couple of weeks that was in bright neon, expressing a ministry need that may not be as conventional as being dark skinned and living in a hut in some parched land overseas, but the need for human connection, as well as divine compassion expressed through  that human connection, was just as urgent.

Gradually, ever so slowly, God is seeding me, showing me perhaps what I was called to do and one day might grow into.  I am not a preacher and never will be.  I am not a singer, not a wisdom teacher, not a leader.  Lately it has felt as if my every failing and weak point has been brought to the surface in grand scale.  Oh, I am not SO many things.

But...but...I can be present.  I might have just one gift. I can do what some people can't, and I can more easily say the things others are too uncomfortable to say in those situations where you wish the floor would drop away and you could disappear.  I never want to disappear, instead I want to grab hold of a hand, look into the eyes of that person who is before me, and let them know they are not alone.  I guess, maybe, I am good at one thing and maybe only one thing.  It is what a dear friend or two call the "touchy feely stuff".  It doesn't scare me, it doesn't intimidate me, it doesn't turn me off as it does so many others.  I am not scared of it, because for me, that is the exact moment when God is more present than ever before, and that feels like nothing worldly ever can.

I may never be able to preach or teach with words, but I can hold you when you cry, or give you space for the tears to come.  I can listen to your fears, I can offer whatever insight I might have, and you can leave me knowing you are loved.  I won't run away in the face of whatever has you so upset, I won't leave you alone in that place.

Maybe I can do this with no qualms because I have been there far too often myself, and I actually was so very alone, and I desperately don't want that for anyone else I know.  It hurts too damn much to have people avoid you because they don't know what to say, or to have people turn away because it is raw and real and it touches a little too close to their own fears.  I have had to "pull the plug" on someone I loved, I have had to watch life ebb away, I have had to be strong so others could finally be weak.  I have had to empty rooms of beloved ones who are no longer with us, I have had to empty rooms of the heart so that there is space for new love.  I have had to say "no" through tears, wishing I could say "yes" but knowing it would solve nothing.

As the refrain from tonight's sermon reminded me, "You can do this."

There are many, many things I can never do, or can never, ever do well.  Sadly, they are things that I wish I could succeed at, but I have to accept my many limitations.

But "being"?  Being with you in pain, being with you in sorrow and grief, being with you in dark times, being with you in fear, being with you as you get very honest with yourself?  That I can do.

It's not glamourous, it's not something that gets posted about on Facebook or blogged much about, because it is too mundane, too ordinary.  It is absolutely not putting in a playground at an orphanage or bringing much needed medical supplies to an AIDS riddled country.  It's not about wearing a stole on Sunday and preaching from a pulpit, but then, that is only part of a minister's job.  It's definitely not the Big Ministry Plan, but for the person whose life you touch, it can be Bigger than Big.

What it is, is real.  It is in the moment, it is one on one, it is the hard stuff that is seldom spoken about.  It may be the hard stuff, but in some ways, it is the least complex part of "being Christian"...or for that matter "being Muslim" or "being Buddhist".

So, my eyes are verrrryyy, veeerrrryyy slowly opening.  God already said, "You can do this."  I think I just have to discern that "this" is.  With each passing day, with each attempt at something new, I the very least...learning what "this" isn't.  That is just as important.

Friday, July 05, 2013

What's Going on in LaJoyland

** I am adding this information in here, as I already received an email and a comment on this post asking where we got the AGS Globe textbooks. I found the AGS Globe books in two places, one is, and the other is I much prefer Wieser Educational, as their web site is better designed, and they have a really nice preview available for almost all materials sold.  You can get a good feel for what a textbook or workbook contains there.  You can also look for used selections on, as they have many very good used copies (I purchased student and teacher additions there that are almost all like brand new for well below the retail price).  Hope this helps! **

I seem to have little to blog about recently, which in some ways is very good.  We had a wonderful, relaxing, stress-free 4th of July, and the past couple of weeks have been mainly about getting school work done, testing out our new curricula for the year, and not a whole lot else.  I have been in a different sort of mood lately, tending to pull inward a little and hibernate from the world a bit.  My Facebook hiatus has been helpful, and with the unseasonably hot weather we've had here this summer we all have agreed that it has been nice to just hang out with the swamp cooler on and do school work rather than be out in near 100 degree temperatures.

Mainly, we have been working on science, and it seems we finally found a good fit.  We are doing Biology and Life Science, with plenty of dissections (Blech!!) and microscope work:

Here we are doing an experiment with worms, and their reaction to light and dark surfaces.

Angela thought it was so funny to watch the worms, but no way would she touch them!

We bought two microscopes to share for the year.  They are high powered, good microscopes.  With Joshie around, it is highly likely we will be using them for a good long time.

Olesya looking at the tools that came with her dissecting kit.  No dissections until later in the year, thank goodness.

Josh and blankie checking out the 'scope.

Joshua just gets the hang of this science stuff so easily and quickly. Here he has created a slide with a cover slip and is examining a piece of hair.  

For those who read our blog for homeschooling curriculum ideas, etc. (just a few folks, I know, but I like to share what we've found that works!), we are using lab kits from Quality Science Labs.  They contain a full year of experiments and supplies, including a very simple, easy to understand lab book.  They have middle and high school lab kits for several topics.  Joshua and Olesya are doing the upper middle school life sciences labs, and Angela, Kenny and Matt are doing the high school biology labs.  They kits come with virtually everything you need, including all specimens to dissect, dissection tools, petri dishes, and much more. You do have to supply the microscope.  These kits are very well done, and we will probably be using this company's kits throughout the remainder of our homeschooling.

For those looking for textbooks for high school with special needs or English Language Learners, we finally found something that is now working extremely well.  Pearson Publishers has a series called AGS Globe.  Two companies who focused on the special needs market merged (Globe Fearon and AGS) and were then bought out by Pearson.  After a total bomb with textbooks from another company, Walch Publishers and their "Power Basics" texts, we found this new publisher and it is perfect for our needs.  It presents all the common core material for high school biology, but at a lower reading level.  For Matthew's needs, it also has more multiple choice and fill in the blank questions versus requiring lengthy written essay type answers.  Matthew really, really disliked working 100% on his own for much of his curriculum last year, and with this textbook, Kenny and Angela can join him.  Even though we have to go through the material at a much slower pace than some might, Matthew is much happier having learning companions and he told me he didn't mind the slower pace to allow Kenny and Angela to ask questions and go over vocabulary.  I was growing discouraged trying to meet the needs of all three of them, thinking I'd never find something that would work well, but this is proving to be a very effective tool for us.  

It is a real dilemma sometimes, trying to meet the needs of kids who are all the same age, but wide apart in skill levels in almost every topic.  I am finding that meeting in the middle is a good strategy, and while the reading level is certainly low in some texts for Matthew, we can meet him at the higher level in his English courses.  It is far better for him to be happy in joint learning where we can, than to ensure that the reading level is higher for ever subject.  While science and history are going to be at lower reading levels, he'll be using a combination of an 11th grade reading text along with a college reading anthology this year.  Once I finally let go of trying to have the curriculum be everything for every subject for every kid, and realized we could let go in some areas while stretching in others, it grew a little easier to find materials.  For history, we are going to throw in some Teaching Company college instruction level video lectures as well.  I am not yet sure if we'll be able to wade through that with all five kids, or just Matthew, but that too will ensure a higher level in history is met, just not through a written text.

By the way, I know much of this is boring as heck to many of you who visit the blog, but I feel an obligation to share what I can as many have shared with me.  There are a handful of people who read this blog and are homeschooling older adopted kids, or special needs kids, and the higher the level the harder it is to pull it all together.  Learning what has worked for one family can often lead to solutions for I appreciate you bearing with me while I sometimes spew this sort of seemingly boring information. :-)  There is very little out there to help families like ours, so it becomes even more important to share opinions on what seems to work.

We continue to volunteer on Mondays at our local food bank, and that has proven to be such a valuable experience.  The social contact there is unlike any other that we would have, and it is a great learning tool.  Just this week we witnessed a very sad situation with a young high school aged girl who appeared to be a bit naive, but was flirting with a couple of young men in a very provocative way.  If only she had heard what these guys said about her after she left, she would have been crushed but perhaps learned an important lesson about her own self-worth.  It led to a long conversation afterward about how we need to respect ourselves, and about how young men should never talk about a girl.  

But there are other benefits aside from the social interaction with people from all walks of life.  We have had wonderful, thoughtful conversations about poverty, about food insecurity, and about work ethics.  At the food bank, they have a supervisor who they work for while often I am working in the office or helping clients with food requests.  The kids are proving to be extremely well liked by their supervisor, who has often complimented their ability to work in a mature fashion.  At the end of their shift each Monday, they are the ones who remain behind to finish the more menial tasks that others walk away from, such as sweeping and mopping the floors, and washing down all the tables.  While we will have a very difficult time fitting in our volunteering during the fall, when they all start volleyball, I think it is a more important activity than just about anything else they are doing, so we will definitely find a way to keep it in the schedule.

Dominick has been busy this summer, as thankfully work has been coming in.  I don't know how he handles getting up so early, often going to work at the airport for the 6:00 am flights, then going to detail cars for 10 or more hours in almost 100 degree heat.  If our family relied on me to do the same, we'd have long ago starved and lost our home. We have been blessed this past year with a couple of employees who have proven to be a great help, and God has blessed us with enough work to keep these men busy at least part-time. Dominick often takes on employees who others would never consider. It is one of the things I love dearly about him.  He doesn't see a "parolee", he sees a man who needs a fair chance.  Sometimes, of course, it doesn't work out.  Other times, however, you can see you have made a difference for someone as they try to re-enter society and re-build a life.  I doubt Dominick would ever see himself as ministering to anyone, but that is exactly what he does...he has ministered to the souls of many a broken man through the years, offering them hope, respect, and a little dignity.  He has assisted them in getting their driver's licenses, given them rides back and forth to work when they couldn't yet drive, and fed them daily when they might not have money for even a McDonald's hamburger.  Many of these men have so little education that they can barely read or write, but almost always they have been incredibly hard workers, and we are so appreciative of their efforts which help us put food on the table and clothes on the backs of our kids...and sometimes theirs, too.  I doubt that few would ever see an auto detailing business as a place for healing and a stepping stone to returning to wholeness, but that is exactly what Dominick has made man at a's about a lot more than our paycheck.

We spent our Fourth of July morning attending the local parade.  This is the one we are usually in with Dominick's business, but this year we decided not to do it and instead just go watch Matt as he marched in it for Civil Air Patrol.  We told him ahead of time that we would cheer for him as he walked by, and he grinned and said we couldn't make him smile.  I said, "Oh yea?  Watch me!  I know I can make you can't resist."  As he walked by, we hollared and cheered, and he didn't crack a smile.  Just as he passed I yelled out, "Don't smile, Matthew!!" and even with his back to us, we all laughed as we saw his cheeks pull into a big smile.  Mr. Serious has a serious soft spot for mom :-)

Our crew minus one, plus two young friends visiting!  
Waiting for the parade to start.

Another young friend of ours, but not so young anymore!  Allison is dear to us, she is the daughter of our longtime employee at the restaurant, and we have literally watched her grow up. We first met when she was 12 and her mom came to work for us.  Mom still works for us, and Allie is now a grown woman and a 1st grade teacher in Portland!  Small town living can be so terrific...families become intertwined.  Allie's mom has covered for us at the restaurant for every single one of our adoptions, we couldn't have our family without her!  Allie has babysat our kids, washed dishes at the restaurant, and been a part of our life for many years.  We were so glad to get to see her while she visited this week.

The LaJoy Women.  Sometimes I see a rare photo of us together, and I realize we really do look a lot alike.  LOVE LOVE LOVE my amazing, wonderful, awesome, very special daughters!!!  
My dear ones...

Here they come!!

Mr. Serious, marching proud!

We had a church picnic this afternoon, then watched the fireworks together.  We love our church family so much, and we've all been through a lot together.  What makes 'em so special?  Well...would you believe the gentleman in the bib overalls is our longtime friend...a judge...who just happens to love playing with the kids??  Humble as they come, and a kinder man couldn't be found.

It is sweet to me to see our kids become the "older ones" and share their time with the younger kids in their lives. They are always warm and caring, and willing to play with and entertain the younger children.  It is definitely a "pay it forward" sort of thing for me, as I recall the many hours some wonderful older kids spent with ours, and it warms my heart to the core to see that kindness being repaid to others.  This little guy visits his grandma, who is a close and dear friend of mine, and he has long idolized Matthew.  When he is here visiting, he always tags along behind Matt, who spent almost the entire afternoon and evening with his little buddy.

It's proving to be a different sort of summer this year, we've all noticed the difference.  The weather, the kids growing older, the changes that came in our life this year...lots of things are just a little different than in years past.  It might be a little unsettling, a bit uncomfortable, but it is in those uncomfortable times when we grow the most.  We are enjoying every moment with our teens and not-so-teen :-)  I know many complain about this stage with kids, but thus far we are finding this stage to be mostly delightful, in spite of the typical teenage spacey head that hits from time to time.  We couldn't ask for better young people to be living with, who are so generous and thoughtful, helpful and kind.  I know it all may change tomorrow, for it seems that many have the need to warn me about the awfulness we are soon to experience.  I am not naive, and I know we have a long way to go, but for now...for today...I am going to continue to squeeze every drop of joy out of our family that I can.  Whether it be cracking up at the bluntness exhibited in old shows with Hell's Kitchen chef Gordon Ramsay, laughing our way through Target as we share 3 sodas with 7 of us so we can afford to have a cold drink, or grinning over our personal jokes that no one else gets but we all find funny as heck (and probably totally stupid), we are loving together, living together, and being the light together in the ways we can.

And that is what is going on in LaJoyland.