Saturday, December 28, 2013

Project #1

I am very, very lucky this week.  We have almost nothing to do, and I am enjoying some serious down time.  Guess all that work over the summer doing school paid off!  This is actually my favorite time of year...not the holiday, but the "in between" week between Christmas and New Years.  I get a good case of Spring Cleaning Fever very early, and I always manage to get many things cleaned out, sorted and put away.  Lots of odds and ends have been handled, which feels refreshing.

There has been time to lay around, watch a few shows on TV, and begin Project 2014 of trying to find a hobby!  I have loved the suggestions some of you have left in the comments, and I am just going to try as many things as I can think of.  Who knows?  The pursuit of a hobby might end up being the hobby itself! Haha!

Here was Project #1:

In honor of New Years, we started with a puzzle of Times Square.

It is totally lame.  I know that.  There were benefits to doing a lame hobby-esque thing like a jigsaw puzzle, benefits I had never thought about.  It was so easy for anyone to sit down and work with me, and Angela ended up working on it for hours with me!  Kenny and Josh bopped in and out to find border pieces or put some small portion together, and when Olesya and Matt came home from working today I had other companionship as Olesya was making cookies with her new cookie press and chatted while we puzzled nearby.  This sort of mindless activity was actually quite fun, more than I expected, because it allowed for conversation to flow generously, and meander down many interesting paths.  

We spent an inordinate amount of time discussing music and lyrics we liked, as we listened to a wide variety playing softly in the background.  Kenny walked away and conversation steered somehow toward visiting Kazakhstan when some song came on that had a techno beat.  I looked up and said, "This song totally reminds me of the loud music at the Pizza House when we went to get you guys and ate there almost every day!" and both girls laughed and Olesya said, "Angie and I both thought this reminded us of Kazakhstan!  I'm glad you thought so, too, Mom!".  Angela then said she would like to go back just one time, maybe to see if she could find some old friends and visit the orphanage once, then she added, "But I don't want to go back more than once, and I don't want to see my mom or dad ever again."  Olesya jumped in and said, "I wouldn't even know that they look like.  I can't remember them at all."  She also said, "I don't care if I ever go back.  Kazakhstan is not as nice as America, and it just feels better here at home."  Funny what 1000 pieces spread out before you can bring up inside.  Lots of pieces are being put back together over time in the hearts of the girls. Sometimes it feels like it was forever ago, and sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday that they joined us.

We are leaving the puzzle out to work on over the next few days, since we have no real plans.  I am enjoying it, and don't have any idea if I will burn out after one 1000 piecer or not.  It fits the sewing or needles, nothing too taxing on the ol' brain, requires no skill, etc.  

Nothing else exciting going on, just had to share Project #1 had begun!!  Yea, I know, "Get a life, Cindy!"...that's what I am trying to do!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Preparing for the New Year...and Getting a Life!!

Christmas is over with, and the countdown begins as 2013 slowly eases its way out the door and 2014 stands ready to enter.

I say "Good Riddance"!  2013, while not the hardest year on record for us, ranked in the lower top end.  There were many challenging situations, painful moments, and tough decisions to be made.  There was financial stress, and a lot of worry over the future which will surely continue.  When compared to other years, and the many hardships and losses we have endured, it most definitely is not the worst year ever...but 2014 is hopefully going to be a little easier.

I am NOT a New Year's Resolution kinda gal, at least not normally.  Resolutions are always broken, they are guilt inducing, and they are often all about pointing out flaws we want to fix.  Basically, I find them to be negative and refuse, generally, to make them.

However, I am going to tweak the whole notion of the Big Resolution Which Is Immediately Broken, and look forward to making 2014 different.

I am officially declaring 2014 my Year of Exploration.  Oh, don't worry, I am not going to get all existential on you, nor am I about to go take off for parts unknown to "find myself".  I know exactly who I am and where I need to be, so no need for any of that jazz.

No, what I am going to do is quite silly, actually.  I want a hobby, I want something to do with the occasional spare time I have that is relaxing and enjoyable.  I want to set aside time for things I enjoy, not just things I have to do.  I want to become more interesting, and would even settle for "quirky".  The longer we homeschool, the more boring I become.  I have little to talk about with anyone that is even slightly interesting or intriguing.  Well, that may not really be true, but what I am most interested in and passionate about is nothing anyone wants to talk reform, theological perspectives, poverty initiatives and income inequality, developmental delays.  I could talk for hours about many topics, they just are not topics anyone wants to talk about!!

I don't know a darned thing about the latest reality show stars, nor do I care to.  I find little value in pop culture, the latest hit single from Beyonce, or what talk radio blabbermouth is spouting off again this week and ticking people off.  It's all just garbled noise to me.  I realize I have grown old when I have little patience or interest in what the entire rest of the world seems to find noteworthy.

Being home full-time with the kids means I have no adult stories from a job to share, no water cooler talk to participate in.  All my friends have lives lived with adults.  It is not that I envy them, because in truth I am utterly fascinated every single day with what I do and with whom I spend the majority of my time.  While I may not envy, I do need to find something that allows me to share something besides, "We are using this great curriculum for Early American History!" one cares, nor would I if I weren't homeschooling.

I also need something that gives my brain a respite.  There is no way to explain this, but living inside my head can  It moves fast, it zips from one thing to the next, and when it hooks up like Velcro to a thought, it has to connect to it so tightly that it isn't easy to disconnect.  I want something to do for fun that is relaxing, stress-free, perhaps even a little mindless if I can tolerate that.

I also have no idea exactly what that "thing" might be.

I have been hobbyless pretty much my entire life.  I read a lot, and I know some call that a hobby, but I don't.  Regardless, I am going to pursue reading whole novels and a wide variety of them in 2014, rather than mere snippets of stories here or there.  But a hobby?  Well, I sing both at church and outside church, and I suppose that is a hobby, but still it isn't quite the same thing as saying something like, "Oh yes, I quilt...I knit...I watercolor...I practice archery...I play the piano...I bake...blah, blah, blah..."  See?  I have nothing concrete like that to say.  I produce nothing, no finished product.

Part of the problem with this Grand Scheme is that I hate everything.  Totally, seriously, I find stores like Michael's and Hobby Lobby to be incredibly painful to walk through.  It is like having it thrown in your face as you walk down every aisle, "You are TALENTLESS!!!  You can't put colors together to save your life!  You have NO eye for artistic pursuits whatsoever, give it up!"  Many times I have wandered into those Bastions of Bulk Supplies, wishing with all my heart that I could fine just one little thing I enjoyed doing, rather than looking at items and thinking to myself, "I'd prefer a poke in the eye with a sharp stick versus doing this."

Something is clearly very wrong with me.

After much thought, I realized part of the problem might be I am looking at this from the wrong angle.  I am going to work backwards , then try a few things, and see what sticks.  I also decided I needed to create some criteria to measure possible hobbies against, so I don't waste my time pretending.  So here is what I came up with:

1)  It absolutely can not involve needle, thread, yarn, cloth, or anything that requires stitching.  No way.
2)  Part of my problem has always been having a huge deficit in thinking 3D.  I can't picture things in my head that are dimensional, not at all.  It frustrates me to try and do so.  So, nothing requiring the ability to think above 2D.
3)  It must not leave me to my own devices with colors.  I must have color charts to create, patterns to use, etc. because I am not creative in the slightest in this sort of way, and I need a guide.
4)  Anything attempted can be as juvenile as I want it to be.  It doesn't have to be considered an adult activity.
5)  The finished product doesn't have to be good looking or even have a purpose,I just have to really enjoy the process.
6)  It can't be collecting of anything, because it just can't.  I like to purge too much and "things" just don't mean anything to me.
7)  If it involves too much preparation to get set up, or too much hassle to put away, it'll never get done.  Easy into the hobby and easy exit is what I need to ensure I actually do it.
8)  It has to be non-computer oriented, with the exception of the creation of digital photo albums that can be printed out, which I want to try.
9)  It can't be expensive to do, supplies must be fairly cheap.
10)  It can't have me so aggravated that I am sorely tempted to throw whatever it is against the wall and break it into many tiny pieces.

Sounds impossible to find something, but I am going to make a valiant effort and document it here for accountability.  Maybe I'll try and make my own pet rocks, raise guppies in an aquarium, or learn Swahili (No to all of those things, but you get my drift.)  Whatever it is, I am determined to give it a fair shake, and not try it once and give up.

And I am betting it will be good for a few laughs at my juvenile efforts.  I am also going to set a reading goal of 25 full books this year. (That is probably too low).   To make that interesting, I am going to be very eclectic and read a wider variety of novels, as well as way more fiction than I normally read.  I need more imaginative stories, more playfulness, less intensity.

I made a small order from Amazon this evening, my first goofball effort.  The kids looked at me like I was nuts, but it met all my criteria. out! We have some explorin' to do!!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Non-Pinterest Christmas

It never goes as planned.  Eventually, when it happens often enough, you learn to just roll with it.

Christmas is different this year.  I am sure, in part, it is because the kids are growing older, however, there has been something disconnected and it continued into today.  For the past two days, Matthew has been very sick.  Yesterday he spent most of the day asleep, waking only for soup at lunch and then returning to a deep, fevered slumber.  He has a bad virus that immediately went into his chest with a bad rattle.  Today he was a little better, but still definitely not fully himself.  Over dinner with friends, Josh started having an upset stomach and had to leave the table.  He suddenly felt really lousy, and so we decided we would go to church tonight leaving Dominick and the two boys behind.

It felt weird, incomplete...sort of like this entire year has felt.  Weird, disjointed, challenging, incomplete.

And yet, this evening, the Spirit still showed up, reassuring as always, just as it has been throughout a year fraught with the unknown.  

Tonight, as we drove home over icy streets, quiet conversation turned to the service we had just left.  We were blessed with special music from our retired choir director, whose musical gifts are extraordinary and whose uncanny ability to find the perfect selection for any moment is a blessing all by itself.  Angela LOVED a song Miss Janet selected and sang, saying how appropriate it seemed.  "What We All Want for Christmas is Peace" was very beautiful, and in a world where everyone seems to be fighting wars, be they literal or figurative, the desire for people to stop the anger and find common ground is genuine and heartfelt.  Kenny said he most enjoyed the music after the service was over, saying Miss Janet always saves the best for last.  

It was the homily that touched on not-so-old Christmas memories, and was the real hit of the evening.  All three kids talked about how much it meant to them.  Pastor Karen spoke about how love is always waiting to be born, and how it was born in the form of a baby that long ago Christmas night, but it waits to be born in every setting, in every heart.  Wow, did that one trigger a lot for all of us.  Angela said it was her favorite sermon to ever hear, and the conversation drifted toward how four years ago, in a frozen land halfway across the world, love was trying to be born in the hearts of our then soon-to-be daughters.  A hush fell over the inside of the van as Angela quietly said, "And we almost lost it...I almost threw it all away."

What a precious moment to be able to say, "Angela, but that is what makes what Pastor Karen said that much more meaningful to you,  and to me too!  All of us in our family have known exactly what it is like to experience the truth of her words this night...that love IS always waiting to be born, even in the hardest of hearts, even when it is profoundly difficult to trust because your heart is broken.  Love calls to us, love desires us, love yearns for us.  We know it, we've walked with it, we have seen it born time and time again.  For us, her words are alive and real, they aren't just words."  She was quiet for a moment and then she said, "I never thought about it that way before.  And love had to be born in Joshua, too, and Kenny, and Matt." and then I quickly added, "It had to be born in me, too, Angie.  It is a different kind of love than what we are used to.  God's love, the love that Jesus talked about and taught about, it is a totally different kind of love.  It is that kind of love that allowed your Dad and I to return to you after you turned away from us, because we had been taught that love is waiting to be born. We trusted that, even though we were scared. It is that kind of love that allowed me to hang in there with Joshua when all he did was reject me over and over again, because love is waiting to be born and I have been taught that by my faith in what Jesus shared.  Alone, without having learned that, I never could have made it."

Then Olesya chimed in, which in itself is a miracle because she rarely participates in conversations like this, "Mom, when you think about it, every single one of us in our family has lost a lot, has been hurt a lot, has had some really bad things happen to us...even you and Dad have suffered a lot.  Maybe God was waiting for us all to find one another so love could be born in us together.  Our family isn't perfect, but it is a place where love really has been born.  I never really knew what love was until you and Dad brought us home.  I never understood it at all.  Now, I wonder how I can find something this awesome with my own family someday, because what we have is really special and I want this with my own husband and kids, too."

Kenny then said, "Well, you know Olesya, you have to give love for it to be born, and people need to know your heart.  You are a very loving girl, and you are learning to be less afraid of showing yourself.  I think someday you will have a lot of love in your own family, as long as you keep practicing with Mom and Dad, and all of us."

There was silence for a few moments, then Angela said, "I don't think I could ever live without this kind of love again.  I didn't know what it was, and how much it can make you feel like a whole person.  That was the very best sermon ever because it was so right.  You know, Mom, sometimes I haven't really gotten Jesus, but tonight I think I really did for the first time.  From the time I was 7 or 8 years old, I heard this little voice inside my heart telling me to be a better person, telling me to not do some bad things I was doing by not being kind to people and being a bully sometimes.  I think tonight I get it that it was God trying to keep me open for love to be born inside me, even though I had never really had love before, God was keeping me in a place where I would still want it.  Sometimes I think if you had come even three or four months later, it would have been too late and I would have stopped listening to that voice.  It's like you saved me by coming when you did."

"No, honey, God was holding you the entire time...and would have kept on holding you.", I replied.

"Well, I am glad it was you and Dad who God sent.  I can't even think about living with a different family.  Your love is the best, and you have taught me so much." 

Olesya chimed in, "Me too!  Sometimes other parents would come to adopt, and I would want to be adopted too, but no one felt like they would be safe to be with, or that they were supposed to be ours.  I remember I felt that way right away with you and Dad."

The conversation stopped as we pulled in the driveway, and saw the lights on inside.  Our boys were waiting for us, all three of them, love waiting for us.

Inside, the warmth of the fire was welcoming on a cold winter's night.  Dominick had placed the gifts around the tree, and we all gathered to open them.  Tomorrow is a work day, as our tradition of working at the airport continues...depending upon who is well and able to go, so for the first time we decided to open all the gifts on Christmas Eve.  It wasn't the same sort of gleeful excitement of years past, as younger versions of these Big Kids would giggle and tear into boxes, bows and paper strewn about the room as cries of delight were shared.  What replaced it though was equally sweet, as slowly, one by one, presents were carefully unwrapped and explored.  It was a more mature, deeper sort of experience than in years past, richer in its appreciation of the moment and the presence rather than the hectic ripping and squealing.  I have to say, this was even nicer, perhaps, than the younger years.

The gifts from us were modest ones compared to what I know many teens get.  Despite that fact, we must have been thanked 7 or 8 times for their gifts.  Each got one moderately priced nicer gift...a Wii game for the girls, a Lego set for Kenny, a DVD of card tricks for Matt, a set of super hero action figures for Josh.  There were some small, very inexpensive items...things like $8 blankets for each for staying snuggled up while watching TV, a comb and brush set for the girls plus a necklace each, a bigger blanket for Josh's bed which he asked for, and a plastic sword set for he and Matt to play with., while Kenny got a small pocket puzzle game.  Grandma spoiled them with a beautiful carryon sized duffle bag for everyone in the family, and casino style games which we will all enjoy.  

The fun part was seeing the joy they all took in watching the opening of the gift they had purchased for someone else.  We did a drawing with everyone taking one name and buying a gift for that person.  Having five siblings means it is too expensive for them all to buy everyone a gift, so aside from the Mom and Dad gifts, we draw names and then focus on getting one appropriate gift for that person.  Each was so thoughtfully purchased...Joshie bought Olesya a beautiful pair of earrings to match a necklace she has...she was thrilled.  He didn't quite have enough money for it, running $5 short, so a friend at church told him she would pitch in the $5 and he could come shovel snow for her to work it off, an offer he happily accepted.  He was so excited to give Olesya her gift, he just knew she would love it, and she sure did!  Angela got Matt a perfect Tshirt with a picture and saying on it.  The picture was a glass half full and it said something like "50% water, 50% air...Technically, the glass is still full."  Totally a Matt kind of literal humor.   

Matthew drew my name and got me the coolest gift ever, which he clearly was excited about.  He got me a 3 month subscription to an app that provides you unlimited access to over 100 magazines and back issues.  He apologized for not getting me an entire year, but said it was more than he could afford.  I laughed and told him he need not apologize, but he also need not expect to see my face for 3 months because I would be buried in cool reading!!!  With a big grin, he told me, "Dad said you wouldn't like it, but I just knew you would!" son knows me well and has as great an appreciation as I do for the written word.

We have some awesome friends in our life, real friends, true friends...stand by through thick and thin friends. Their love has surrounded us from Day 1.  The kids were blessed this year by several who thoughtfully got them each a little something or planned a special outing, including an anonymous card with a little cash in it for them to treat themselves to something.  There was even a replacement wallet for poor Kenny, who lost his with $75 in it, a very, very hard lesson for him to learn as he continues to work on creating routines for himself so things like that don't happen.  It was such a thoughtful thing to do, though, in recognizing his need and assisting him to replace a little of what his brain couldn't manage to hang on to. Josh was absolutely thrilled over another thoughtful little silly thing...when visiting his adopted Auntie Kim's house he has always loved playing with a jar she has of these plastic little bead things that have a battery operated votive-type light that shines through it.  Simple, really, but he loves it.  Auntie Kim didn't think it at all weird, and that was her Christmas gift to him, which is probably his nightlight tonight :-)

Tonight, we all felt rich, not because of the gifts, but because of what we all share together.  Love was born here, among the chaos and messiness of real life. It is a love that is perfect, probably because it is NOT perfect.  It doesn't have to look a certain way, it doesn't overlook the annoying things we all do, and like our craft efforts this year, it doesn't have to look like anyone else''s our love, the love gifted to us, born in us, and cherished deeply by all of us.  It is a love we try to share with others, to embrace them in acceptance and include them in our odd, "Limited Edition" family.  That sort of love doesn't come in a gilded package with some expensive present in it, but it is offered freely.

So, I am afraid we won't have adorable Christmas photos this year, with perfect outfits for Candlelight Service.  Instead, this year, we have real life...sick kids, two thrown away craft attempts, a tight budget...all the things a wonderful life is really made of.

And believe me, it truly is a wonderful life!

Merry Christmas, from the Imperfect, Definitely Non-Pinterest Family!  May Love be born in you!

Merry Christmas!

Craft Project #3...if this doesn't work, we give up! could be least it was made with love.

Repairing botched craft project #1
You could tell it was just going to be one of those holidays...

The boys made Monster Sugar Cookies, and Matt, who has always loved what Pastor Karen says prior to communion, grabbed one when I had the camera in hand (and Angela had a bite in her mouth!) and started saying..."Come, come whoever you are...worshipper, wandered, lover of leaving...ours is NOT a caravan of despair.  Even if you have left your vows a thousand times, come..."


I have to think the Spirit appreciated communion with a Monster Sugar Cookie as much as anything else, as long as the Spirit is welcomed, that's all that really matters!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Delightful Surprise!

I know many of you saw this photo and read about it on Facebook already, but please indulge me.  My mom lives in California and is not on Facebook, so I have to share here or she won't be able to see it (She also hasn't figured out how to download a photo file! Hahah!  Sorry Mom to "out you", love you!)

In a strange little twist of fate, I was able to attend Matt's Civil Air Patrol Christmas party last night. I had originally been scheduled to sing with the Del Rose Chorus at local nursing homes, and had committed to that long before Matt's party was scheduled, so I felt I must honor that commitment and miss the party.  Matt totally understood, and the rest of the family was going to attend without me.  At the last minute, our singing was canceled, and I was able to go to the party after all.

I am so glad I did!

Unbeknownst to any of us, Matthew was named Cadet of the Year!  I had my camera there, and was able to get a couple of photos:

Chief Master Sergeant LaJoy

Mr. Serious is cracking a major grin!

As I also shared on Facebook, we discovered last night that Matthew had also been awarded Cadet of the Month a couple of times this year, but he had never told us.  When I asked him why he hadn't said anything, he told me that he didn't think it was a big deal, and that he didn't feel the need to brag or anything.  His Squadron leader was quite complimentary of Matt, speaking of his dedication to being at every event with one exception, and how hard he has worked this past year.  When we were talking in the car on the way home, and all of us were congratulating him, he said, "That's what a man does, he does what he says he is going to do."

We are, of course, proud of him, but I am most delighted with the qualities he is exhibiting at such a young age...well...actually...all the kids.  What it took me a long time to get was that awards don't seem to have much of an impact on any of our kids.  I am not sure why.  It is why Scouts had no appeal, it is why ribbons won for artwork are enjoyed and appreciated but quickly tucked away.  Honestly, at first it bothered me a bit, because I wanted to make sure the kids had things that would motivate them to work towards goals, to feel a sense of accomplishment.  What I really didn't "get" was that the journey itself was enough of a reward, and I was busy trying to force a sort of false reward in place of the real deal.  When I finally figured it out, I relaxed and saw they were more internally motivated than perhaps I ever was as a kid.  I am not sure at all why or how, but in preparation for adult life, it is a terrific thing.  As adults, we seldom get regular kudos, and are often left to just get the job done.  

It was very cute to sit at the table with Josh, Angela and Olesya sitting nearby, and as the Squadron Leader was describing the cadet who won the award without yet revealing it, all three of them were whispering excitedly, "That's has to be Matt!".  When his name was called out, there was a soft little whoop of delight among them.  How awesome it is to see them so proud of each other, be it volleyball cheering each other on, or something like this.

Mr. Steve, Matt's beloved friend, was there to celebrate with us.  This man has gone to every meeting with Matthew for 2 1/2 years.  He has volunteered to help with the group, and he has been a quiet but steady presence. Here he is with the rest of the crew:

One wonderful adopted Grandpa!
(Aren't Olesya's new glasses cute?)

We have been blessed ten times over with amazing, kind, generous friends who fill in the gap for family who is not present.  I don't know what we'd do without their encouragement and support, and I know our kids would be different people without them.  There is an array of wisdom, experience, talents, and perspectives that surrounds our entire family. Rock solid people who would be there on a moment's notice, who have walked the journey with us, come alongside to assist and doled out hugs and care.  There have been moments recently when we have quietly questioned whether we need to be considering looking elsewhere for long term stable employment for Dominick, but the thought of leaving our family here is almost impossible to fathom.  They are our secret Santas, our teachers, our thoughtful companions.  These people are folks we can never, ever repay in any way for their kindness and generous hearts.  We try, in the small ways we can, to pay it forward.  We offer love and complete acceptance in return.  Often that feels sorely lacking in exchange for how much has been put into us.

As I had dear friends reach out to us today, as I do almost every day in one form or another with a kind word, a hug, a little advice, I know Christmas comes for us every single day of the year.  After all, love is there every single day.  That is all we need.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Day of Christmas Craft Fails!

Today was one of those days where everything minor (thankfully) went wrong.  We had a great idea for a small little Christmas craft to make for a gift for some of our friends.  It would have been SO cool.  Would have been is the key there.  It was quickly apparent that it was going to be a complete bust, despite the beautiful images of said craft on Pinterest.

Do people seriously ever make things look like they do on Pinterest?

So, we regrouped and are trying again with a somewhat less ambitious idea.  Well, any craft idea I would attempt is less ambitious than most might try.  At least it is the thought that counts, right?

Yea, keep telling yourself that, Cindy.

Regardless, it was a sweet day for no real reason at all.  Snow on the ground outside while the sun shone bright, Christmas carols of all varieties being played while Matt and Olesya teamed up to bake cookies together, Kenny corrected another major "Fail" on our large wooden candy canes that are still not mounted outside yet, and Angela and I worked on our Craft from He--.  Josh was on the trampoline, shoveling 8" of snow off of it.  Nothing major to share or talk about, just calm, peace, soft off key singing and gentle teasing here and there.

Josh and I had a little date this morning.  While Dominick has begun working at the airport for ski season and will be MIA much of the winter, as usual, the big kids slept in and so we took advantage and sneaked out for a little treat for breakfast at our local corner bakery.  We sat there, our youngest and I, just chatting like old friends.  Josh said, "Mommy we haven't done this in years!  Remember back when it was just Matt and me, and after you dropped him off at school you'd take me for a treat sometimes?"  I said that yes, I remembered, and had so enjoyed those special times alone together.  Then I asked him, "Do you sometimes wish it was back then, when it was just you and Matthew?".  He quickly responded, "No way, Mommy.  The house was too quiet back then.   I might miss time alone with you sometimes, but what would have happened to my sisters and Kenny if we hadn't got them?  No, I think our family is just the way it is supposed to be right now."  He then added, "But we could still sneak out once in a while, just the two of us.  But we have to do it a lot now, before I turn into a real teenager and want to sleep in late all the time, too."  I burst out laughing over that one.

We ended the evening with a Girls Night In at a friend's house, where we shared a meal, shared some laughter, and even shared in singing  a line or two from the rebroadcast of The Sound of Music.  As we got ready to leave, one of the girls noted that there on our friend's bookshelf was a framed photo of our family...the one from Thanksgiving that I posted on the blog.  Is there anything that will make you feel more loved than to know someone went out of their way to put your photo where they can see it often?  There are a couple of folks in town who have pics of our family up, just as if we were tied by blood.  It is a special thing to be cared for by anyone who adopts you as their own.

Hoping tonight will bring a quick and deep slumber, its been a few nights without one!  Now I will probably be forced to relive nightmares of how my Inner Martha Stewart totally failed me this day! Hahaha!

Monday, December 09, 2013

It's SOOO Hard, But They Make It SOOO Easy

Being the parent to special needs kids is different.  The benchmarks are always rearranged, the challenges are sometimes overwhelming, and the frustration felt by both child and parent is very, very real.  Everyone knows this.

What people never tell you about special needs parenting is this:

1)  You doubt yourself  Because those benchmarks have to be realistically marked differently, you have nothing to use as a basis of comparison.  This may sound good, and it is on one hand, but on the other hand you just never feel certain that your child is where they ought to be.

2)  You cry for your kids.  Often.  You feel their pain at being different, you feel their defeats, you feel their desire to be like everyone else.

3) Endless advocating takes enormous amounts of energy.  You expend so much in trying simply to get them the services they need, that you are depleted much of the time.

4)  No one knows how depleted you are, you don't want to complain, and you muscle through.  You smile a lot, you try to remain as positive as you can, when sometimes you are crying out inside that you just want it to be a smidgen easier.

5)  You find yourself not participating in conversations when they turn in a certain direction.  You don't want to be questioned about your 15 year old 7th graders of whom you are enormously proud, but whom others look at and see only "DELAY" written across their foreheads.

6)  You speak another language, and few understand it.  You have complicated brain dysfunctions to try and explain, some of which even the experts can't really explain.  After so many years, you just "know" and give up trying to help vaguely interested bystanders "get" what your child is dealing with.  You have children who sometimes have multiple disabilities, and you refrain from details because people give you "the look", as if you are making it up to justify your kids' failures.

7)  Your kid can be smart as all get out, but others never look long enough or hard enough to see it.  They see the misspellings, the inability to accurately recall months of the year, the stuttering, the incomprehensible sentences.

I could go on and on.  I have learned so much these past several years, about myself, about others, and about our children.

The past few days have been ones in which long buried concerns arose once again.  I have no idea what it is that triggers such things, but every once in a while it will spring up and I will find myself unable to push aside the concerns about futures, about whether I am homeschooling them well because it often looks so different than public school out of necessity.  Working on the logic curriculum and seeing what appears to be something so simple be SO incredibly hard may have triggered it.  Watching Kenny be unable to use logic to narrow down where a library book is on a single section of shelving may have triggered it.  Trying to help Olesya figure out a basic mathematical problem at about a 3rd grade level and seeing her blank stare may have triggered it.

There are days when it is almost impossible for me not to feel like a complete failure.

I know that watching Angela have a very rare meltdown this afternoon enhanced it.  She and I were at the kitchen table, each working on our own projects...hers writing and me paying bills.  All was quiet as others were scattered around the house doing math, when I glance up to see  Angela's chin quivering.  Concerned and having no clue what brought this on, I asked her what was upsetting her, thinking that maybe she was writing about her past or something that brought up scary memories.  It happens around our house sometimes.  She couldn't even talk for a few moments, then finally said, "I don't know why this is so hard.  I don't know when it is going to get easier.  I know what I want to say but the words won't come out.  I am tired of sounding like a baby in my writing.  When is it going to get easier?", then my usually tough as nails daughter melted as the tears flowed from frustration.

It can be so hard.  In fact, it is so hard almost all the time that I even forget what easy looks like...I just take it for granted that we are going to have challenge after challenge, day after day.  How does a mom not cry at moments like that?  I haven't figured that one out yet, and instead just let the tears come, as maybe seeing my own heartache for them helps the tiniest little bit to feel less alone in their experience.

It can be hard to hang in there, day after day, week after week.  Kenny has slipped back a bit, we are doing some reading fluency work...again. Tonight he looked a little defeated as he talked about TaeKwonDo patterns that he just can't remember, and he said with his head hung low, "It feels like I never even learned them.  I can't remember anything."

Joshie's emotions came up this weekend during a conversation, as he cried but found himself unable to speak about what was bothering him.  We sat patiently, he found his voice eventually.  I fear so much for his future relationships, that he will be unable to communicate emotional issues well enough to have a healthy dynamic and feel "heard".  How I pray for special mates for each and every one of these kids.

Olesya's stuttering is surprising even her at how bad it is, and how suddenly it came back.  She can't talk without huge pauses right now, and we are all stymied by it.  Matt is the only one who, at the moment, has nothing really going on for him.

Yes, it can be sooo hard, but in many ways it is sooo easy.  They are gentle spirits, each of them.  They are willing to do the hard stuff, and repeat it over and over.  They rise to the challenge every day.

And sometimes, God speaks through them to give me the encouragement a disheartened and worried mom needs. Last week, the kids had a major history test.  It was HARD, 10 essay style questions, and several definitions that had to be matched.  Dominick compared it to an SAT and said he was glad he wasn't my student...and he wasn't laughing.  Today, about an hour after I sat down with Angela and held her close, I began correcting the tests.  Kenny's was first.

Oh, how my heart lifted as I read his answers!  I saw clear thinking, I saw developing writing skills, I saw deep knowledge of the topic at hand.  That young man has come so far, and even if he doesn't work on par with any other 15 year old, he is absolutely making progress I never thought would be possible three years ago.  Homeschooling saved him, I saw that so clearly on his paper tonight, and not only will he one day graduate high school, he will have a diploma that is meaningful and true...not a "special ed" diploma, with a watered down education backing it up.

As I was inwardly giving him a mental "high five", feeling like at least one of my kids wasn't feeling the full weight of failure today, I got to the last page of his test, where he had typed me a note that he never could have known last week I would desperately need at that very moment.  Oh, it had some grammar issues, and a misspelling or two, but it was perfect in message, heart and faith.  God uses that kid over and over again to deliver hugs to me, and to lift me up when I am feeling low.  Here is what Kenny wrote for me, a treasure I will always keep:

What have I ever done to deserve this?  What is it that has allowed me to be so blessed??  I must ask myself that question a hundred times a week, for THIS is what I see far more than the hard stuff.  It may be Kenny this time, but every single one of these amazing, resilient, courageous kids reaches out and squeezes my heart over and over again.  

How can I ever cease to give them all I can?  How can I not walk in double appreciation each and every day, that not only did God bless us with children when we might have had none, but that God blessed us with THESE particular children?  It IS hard, but it IS easy with this sort of love flowing constantly through and around us all, and I really and truly have no idea how it happened or where it came from.  Not only is it offered in such generous portions to both Dominick and I, but to all who circle us.  Today I saw Joshie be so attentive and nurturing to a 70 something year old very developmentally delayed gentleman who works at the food bank.  This man appears to be completely illiterate, unable to read or understand numbers.  But Josh teamed up with him of his own accord, encouraged him with such kind words and gentle guidance as he helped this man feel a sense of worth and accomplishment.  Josh didn't shy away, didn't make fun of him or find him "weird".  Instead, Josh enveloped him in love and acceptance and my heart swelled.

What I am learning is that special needs also equals special gifts.  That was one I had never anticipated.

Surprisingly Sacred Snowy Sunday

This is far too long of a post, but I couldn't find the time to write all week, so am making a Mega Post to make up for it!

We are luckily in the midst of one of the snowiest winters in recent memory, with a foot of snow falling during the week and another 4 inches last night.  The crystalline pristine view outside my window is dazzling, sparkly, and never fails to elicit in me an inner sense of coziness.

The kids have enjoyed being outside, building forts when it is not too cold.  At very low temps of around 15 degrees, it became too frigid for even the most hearty of Kazakh souls, but break times from school were spent bundled up enjoying it when they could:

They boys making the first snowy footprints!  They look so little to me here, despite how much both Kenny and Joshie have grown this year.

Wasn't fall literally just a week or two ago?  Guess it's time to get the rakes stored away, and definitely time for Halloween to be replaced!

Love how we pulled up in front of the house one day this week, and from the back seat Joshie says, "I don't like it when we call it our's more than that, it's a home."

Messy I love our wood stove!  

As the Advent Season steps softly toward Christmas, we are having a peaceful approach to the holiday.  each year I grow more and more intentional about not getting sucked into the frenzy of it all, and you know what?  Each year it is becoming more enjoyable.  We do what we can, I have let myself off the hook for what we can't manage, and we welcome all the parts of the holiday season that are fulfilling.

We had a couple of surprises this weekend.  On Friday night, we attended the Christmas party for Sharing Ministries, which is a celebration for all the volunteers who help throughout the year at the food bank.  There were over 100 people there, with 50 more expected who were likely kept away by the inclement weather and dangerously slick roads.  As I looked around the room, smiling at the many people with whom we have become acquainted, it struck me that the majority of the volunteers are not at all wealthy, but are folks whose hearts have been touched by the plight of others, despite having a less than solid footing on "middle class" status themselves.  There are so many generous souls there, doing very non-glamorous work behind the scenes so that others are not going hungry.  Our community has doubled in the number of folks relying on the food bank support during the past 3 years, and most are the working poor, those who are underemployed because there simply are no jobs with livable full time wages around here.

The surprise came when we were honored as an entire family as "Volunteer of the Month" for June.  They were unable to do monthly meetings and awards, so they recognized the selected volunteers at the end of the year.  The Director paid high compliments to the kids, saying they have developed a reputation there for being extremely hard workers, who joyfully tackle whatever task is at hand.  It was a lovely little unexpected surprise, and though none of the kids really enjoys being front and center, they were all touched by it and when we sat back down at the table, the certificate was passed around and carefully read by each one. I had no idea that the program has more youth volunteers than adult volunteers, as the local alternative high school sends them volunteers, and the high school's severe special needs kids also are invited to participate.  The kids were the only youth to earn a "Volunteer of the Month" award for the entire year, so it really was kind of special for them.

John Wright was the deliverer of another surprise, as he contacted me to let me know that SOMEONE, I have no idea who (and sure wish I did!) generously donated $500 smackeroos for me to take a pie in the face for the Pie Challenge for Kyrgyz Orphans.  I was feeling guilty over not being able to actively participate this year, as there were just too many things on my plate at the time of the challenge.  Being the one to have started the whole thing several years ago, it felt just wrong for me not to be part of it, but sometimes things just don't work out.  I was very excited to receive this news, and grateful to whomever donated.  I have a little pie to get ready for this week sometime.

Another surprise was learning that Olesya needs glasses, and will be getting them in a week or so.  We suspected it, but didn't realize she was quite as bad as she really is.  She is excited about getting her new pair of sporty purple and silver frames.  We had been holding off on the exam, assuming she would need glasses, as we had hoped the new insurance changes might mean some coverage.  As we waited and realized it will be quite a bit longer before that is all ironed out, we realized we couldn't wait any longer to get her exam done.

Poor Olesya has gradually had a significant change in her speech, and her stuttering is quite pronounced lately.  I am not quite sure what to do about that, but this weekend was about the worst she has ever been, and she actually gave up trying to say what she wanted to say.  We have no clue what caused this sudden shift. She has always had a slight stutter, but at one point it almost appeared to have receded completely, only to return far worse than it ever was.  Today, both Dominick and I had some one on one time alone with her, which meant a lot to her as none of the kids ever gets us alone very often.  She must have told me ten times how much she enjoyed lunch with me, and going into work at 4:30am with Dominick.  We chatted a lot over lunch, and we talked about her speech issues.  She said she feels absolutely no pressure or stress which might have exacerbated it, so I laughed and told her, "Well, you are just trying to keep mom busy with more research, aren't you?" She thought that was funny, but when we were done laughing she said, "We are all so lucky to have you.  I think another mom might give up on us, because we have so much that doesn't work with all of us.  I don't think I could do it if I were you."  I told her, "You would be able to do it because you are all worth every effort...and you would love your kids just as much as I love you!"  Then she asked me, "Why do you think you love us so much when our own real mom didn't?  Sometimes I just don't understand that."

How do you ever adequately respond to a question like that?

We spent time in other activities that "make the season bright" this weekend, including dinner at a friend's house after a cold and abbreviated parade appearance by Matthew with Civil Air Patrol.  We also put together our family's Christmas present to one another, which was really a gift for others.  Every year we seek out an opportunity to do a little something for someone else as part of our own gift, rather than spend more on us.  Even when the kids were little, we invited them to think about getting one less gift, and making that their gift to God, in a way.  This year, we learned about a ministry right here in town that is being spearheaded by folks with the Quaker group meeting at our church.  They are supporting local migrant sheepherders who are often victims of employers taking advantage of their immigrant status and not providing for their basic needs. We decided we wanted to help meet some of those needs for two sheepherders, so we did what we could manage to do and put together two boxes with many items from the Dollar Store and Walmart.  The kids, especially the boys, really got into it while we were shopping, and searched high and low for just the right warm, woolen socks and warm long sleeved shirts.  The girls and Dominick helped me pack the boxes up:

Empty Box #1...but not empty for long!

We have a lot of bags to empty!

The girls really had fun sorting items.  Angela said it was the best part of Christmas.

A few canned goods, some medical supplies, tea, rice, beans and more.  It's not much, and all we could afford was the Dollar Store, but it might help a little...and maybe just the reminder that they are remembered and cared about is worth even more.

Out of sight, no way to advocate for themselves, and at the mercy of employers who exploit their situation,  these men who are usually here legally on work visas are subjected to awful conditions, and are treated as sub-human.  Why, oh why, does that happen repeatedly to those who are here willing to do the work we are unwilling to do?

We did (notice I say "we" when really it was Angela who did most of this!) more painting on our wooden candy canes, and they are almost ready to be put on display:

I like how they turned out!

The past couple of weeks have brought with them some sweet conversations, and love expressed in gentle, quiet ways which have grabbed my heart.  With kids this age, one would expect a detachment and a sense of disdain for their parents.  It is what is often seen, and I didn't think we would be much different, though I sure hoped and prayed it wouldn't be as bad as I have sometimes witnessed.  Instead, we have had ever more enjoyable moments, thoughtfulness, and quiet respect.  I truly have no idea why we have somehow dodged the Teenage Bullet thus far, and a part of me is still waiting for it to arise.  Don't get me wrong, they are not perfect, and they more than make up for it with Teenage Addle Brain, as we sometimes find ourselves in typical circular conversations, or disgusting rooms that are in dire need of mucking out.  But it all seems so minor by comparison.

For example, the girls and I got into a length conversation about Dominick in a rare moment of seriousness.  We were driving home from somewhere, just the three of us, and they both started talking about how they wanted to marry a man just like their Dad, and they weren't sure they would be able to find one like him in their peer group.  Spoken in admiring tones, they talked about wanting someone with a good sense of humor who was a happy, happy man, just like their Dad.  They both want someone who is willing to work hard for his family, who is honest and true, who isn't afraid to show love openly.  Angela talked about wanting a man like her father who was loyal and would never have an affair, ever.  Olesya joined in, commenting that she wanted a husband who could be a real partner and they could be a team, like Dominick and I are.  How I wish Dominick could have been a fly on the wall for that conversation!  Moms usually get all the credit, unfairly, and I know it would have humbled him to no end to hear his daughters speak so glowingly of him.

I have been the recipient of gentlemanly courtesy, as almost every time I get out of the car, Matt or Kenny comes around to quickly get my door for me, and offers me an arm as I walk across very slick icy patches.  Now mind you, I am not THAT old...hahaha...but I don't have very grippy shoes, and I am klutzier than the average momma.  I laughed this evening and said, "You know if I do slip, I'll fall on top of you, as there is no way you'd really be able to hold me up."  Kenny said, "Oh that's OK, Mom.  Remember, we are Team LaJoy, and if one of us goes down, we ALL go down together!" and then he burst out laughing.  It really was funny, and I really have felt cared for as no one ever asks them, they just thoughtfully wanted to protect me.  

Our kids aren't flashy, they aren't super successful in a number of typical ways, and they tend to be more on the sidelines rather than in the spotlight. They'll never be jocks, and they may struggle academically for a variety of reasons in some areas. I couldn't help but laugh when I saw a Facebook ECard tonight that described the boys perfectly...and a couple of other sweet little guys we know:

There's a whole lot underneath those exteriors, and I could care less if they are "all boy", "all girl" or are not typical for their ages.  They are awesome in SO many ways, even if they are not the ways recognized and celebrated culturally.

Tonight was particularly poignant.  We ended up all attending a concert at our local Methodist church, where we met up with several friends to enjoy a more intimate setting for holiday music.  The kids had been looking forward to this as they had really enjoyed the concert last year, when we attended for the first time.  I had mixed feelings about it, as last year I was emotionally in a terrible place at this time of year, and had a particularly bad day prior to the concert in the evening.  I can still recall sitting there in the pew in this beautiful old sanctuary, tears streaming down my face as the heartache wouldn't cease.  I was fully aware that there was a change coming at our own church, and that very day I realized there was no possible way I could remain there much longer.  It wasn't what I wanted to be feeling, but I could no longer deny it.  A particularly acrimonious meeting earlier that day had left me depleted, filled with sorrow, and knowing that there was little I could do but be true to what God was calling me do to.  There was seemingly no future ahead for us, no where else to go that would be a good fit for a more liberal Christian in a very conservative community.  A year ago, I felt emptied for lots of reasons, I felt abandoned, alone, and the tears wouldn't stop.

Fast forward a year, and we had made drastic decisions that to many would seem minor but for us were leaving a lot behind on two fronts.  We left our school program, which had initially provided the support we needed to gain confidence in what we were doing as well as provided severely needed funds, but eventually served to do nothing but be a weight around us.  We also did end up leaving our beloved church, only to find new life elsewhere with many who felt the same call being placed on their hearts for change. In both cases, I had put my heart and soul into both, never imagining the ultimate outcome would be that I would no longer be present a few months later.  That was never my plan on either front, and yet, with hindsight being 20/20 as it most always is, regardless of whether it was what I thought I wanted or not, it was the right choice for us.

I'll never be happy that it happened, but I am glad we had the courage to accept what was no longer right for us and be willing to surrender our own will in these situations.  Had we not done so, tonight would not have been as filled with peace as it was.  Sitting in the same pew, listening to hymns of redemption coming in the form of a child, of forgiveness, of was as if it all had come full circle.  I looked around me and saw faces of those I love...some who bear my last name and others who are heart connected family who made it through, too.  I heard their voices, raised up in praise, a mini choir within a choir as we sat cheek to cheek. I saw two kids nestled in a pew next to one dear heart, giggling and teasing with him.  I looked over my shoulder and saw smiles filled with love and acceptance of the weird Team LaJoy.  I looked beside me, and saw strength and wisdom, the face of one who encouraged me and cared for me through some very tough times the past few years...and perhaps I have offered that to her as well in some small measure.

The sacred is everywhere. The sacred can be in a conversation in our car as we look in our rear view mirrors and talk in hushed tones. It can be in our admitting that all is not always well.  The sacred can be encountered in the check out line just as easily as in a pew.  And in my experience, perhaps more powerfully, the sacred can be encountered in our most painful moments, as I was reminded of again just this morning.  Today the sacred was staring into the eyes of my beautiful, tenderhearted, shy daughter over fries at Burger King.  The sacred was accompanied by soaring sopranos in a dimply lit church.  The sacred was in the frozen food aisle of City Market as the Muzak was playing and unplanned and as if on cue, all seven of us made total fools of ourselves by turning to one another and singing...loudly and somewhat off key...the chorus to a Christmas carol, then roaring with laughter over the perfect timing we all had.

And maybe...just maybe...the sacred is this very moment at this keyboard as I share our lives and pour out my heart occasionally.  

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Winter is Here, All is Ready!

The tree is up, the lights are hung, and the month has begun...

This year feels different. It is definitely the year where we have firmly transferred to Life with Older Kids.  We left Santa fully behind last year, and while I may be a tiny bit wistful over that, there is a part that is also relieved.  Doing Santa AND mom/dad gifts on a tight budget was hard!!  What has been sweet and a little surprising is that of all the kids, Angela is the one who misses it the most and had hoped it was real, even though she really didn't quite believe it.

The boys went BIG with lights this year, as Kenny and Matt continued with their favorite part of the holiday and decorated outside with even more lights, after having scored a box of strands of them at our church rummage sale.  Dominick helped them come up with an idea to use fence posts and rope to lift them off the ground and line the sides of our driveway with them.  The three day project was completed yesterday, and they did all the labor themselves.  Meanwhile, Josh assisted Dominick in a new addition to the yard...two large Candy Canes made out of wood that will hopefully greet us on either side of our driveway.  The girls will be painting them, hopefully tomorrow.  As soon as they are painted and up, I'll get photos of the final results and the lights at night, which look very nice.

Dominick is such a patient father, and always takes the time to explain things to the kids, or work with them to learn new skills.  My own Dad was the kind of Dad Dominick is, who could fix just about anything, was talented in a lot of areas, and made sure we knew the basics of many different household tasks.  I have a growing appreciation for this, as I see many young men growing up these days who are tech buffs, but who don't know which end of a hammer to hold.  The boys may not turn out to be quite as handy as Dominick is, or they might turn into great handyman themselves.  At least they are being provided with the opportunity to use tools, read plans and drawings, and fix a few things around the house.  I also love that the girls are not left out, either!

We had a lovely time this weekend, with our traditions firmly in place of attending the Christmas concert, helping our adopted grandpa George put up his Christmas tree, and had an added bonus of a usual fall tradition of raking leaves for a dear friend all happen on the same weekend!  We avoided Black Friday like the plague.  While I went a few years back a couple of times, it has grown to something of such proportion that it almost sickens me, with fights breaking out, and the mad grabbing at whatever you can manage to put your hands on.  I know there are great deals to be had, but I have to ask myself, at what cost?  

We are going to have a light Christmas this year, and the kids asked for very little.  I am grateful not to have been handed a list by each of them a foot long with all kinds of expensive items on it.  When I saw how minor the things were that were asked for, I actually got tears in my eyes...small things like a diary, a plastic sword, and Angela even said "Please don't buy me anything and buy something for someone else instead who won't have Christmas".  They'll each get one gift from us, or two if they are smaller items as we try to spend an equal amount on all of them.  By downplaying the importance of gifts, by not handing over catalogs and saying "circle everything you want", it has helped to keep the spirit of Christmas intact for us, and I realized we were enjoying the holidays far more with the financial stress lowered significantly.  Making the holidays be about more than "gimme gimme" allows space and time for baking together, singing, surprising others, and being with friends...all without the stress of what we can not afford to do anyway.  I'd love to be able to do more for friends who have done so much for us, but we just can't.  

So the house is ready, our hearts are ready, and we await the coming babe!  Though the kids are growing older, these are still precious times. I will never, ever take time together for granted.  We missed out on so many, that it would be almost impossible not to be filled with gratitude for every moment.