Sunday, January 26, 2014

A New Week, A New Beginning

This post doesn't want to be written.  I've tried to sit down no less than three times this past week, and for some reason, words just aren't coming.  My mind is wrestling with a lot these days, things that are unrelated and disconnected, and that is probably the reason why it is not gelling to write much...things needs to be sorted out for me to experience threads that can be talked about.  So this is a disconnected, informal, journal-like post tonight.

1)  My journey to find a hobby continues.  Silly though it might be, I am trying coloring in a coloring book with colored pencils.  It is mindless, and actually a little fun with music playing in the background.  I love mandalas, and bought a pattern book with a few mandala like patterns along with others:

Yea, I know it is lame.  That's OK.  I also know it won't last but for maybe a page or two.  Definitely not long term hobby material, as I realized I actually feel stressed doing something like this. I grip my pencil extremely tight, and that is not relaxing.  I always have done that, which is why I used to hate writing because it was not physically pleasing.  That may sound weird, but someone out there might understand.  So, I'll play around with it a little, then move on to something else.

2)  We are under some pretty deep stress over Dominick's work situation, which is looking like it is going to change.  Not sure what direction God is leading us, though we are trying to be intentionally discerning and thoughtful about it.  It is not going to be an easy year for the LaJoy's, but then, I guess it never really has been "easy".  Good?  Yes.  Easy?  Never.

3)  For all the challenges with academics, we have had some successes as well.  I assigned the kids a research project and written report on a Founding Father of their choice.  While everyone did pretty well, Kenny completely blew me away.  BLEW ME AWAY!  I offered no help whatsoever, wanting them to apply skills I have taught them with me stepping back to see what was retained and could be applied.  We've been seeing some backsliding with Kenny in terms of some of his memory and attention issues, so it was even more surprising to see the end result was a paper of considerable length (probably would have been 6 pages or so if he had not double spaced and used a different font).  He used note cards to create a chart that was broken down into categories to organize his gathered information, then took those notes on the chart to use as an outline for his paper.  His paper was well written, informative, and accurate with relatively few edits throughout.  We always allow him to use spell check, as he will likely need it as an adaptive tool his entire life (This is the kid who read "Illinois" as "Louisiana" the other day, clearly, we have issues...hahaha!). Have you ever cried over a silly four column chart before?  It was a thing of beauty, a research masterpiece...or so it felt.  That he could organize information in such a way was a huge leap for him.  That he was able to apply skills taught in a way that worked for him is not something we have often achieved.  This was awesome, and I needed it desperately for encouragement, and as a reminder that we may still have a long way to go, but we have come a very long way, too.  Sometimes, that is easy to forget.

4)  Angela is totally loving her Graphic Arts class!  I just knew she would, and am so pleased that I thought to enroll her. It is a wonderful fit for her, and her teacher told me after this last class, "Oh, this girl has big talent, and I am not just saying that.  She really ought to think about this for a career, she's a natural."  Thus far they are only working on basics about fonts and typography, and software will be brought in sometime during the next couple of weeks.  On one of her assignments she was tasked with writing her name graphically and  in a font she created herself:

5)  All the other kids were enrolled in a one day ServSafe course for restaurant workers.  It is put on by our local health inspector each month, and is designed to train food service workers in food safety.  It covers things like holding temperatures, storage of food, sanitation, etc. and there was a test at the end. They were, of course, the only kids in the class, and Josh may have been the youngest ever to take the course.  They all passed and earned their Safety Card:

6)  For electives this semester, we are loosely doing a variety of things.  Angela is doing a country study on India, a place that has long fascinated her.  Olesya is studying Japan, and with the help of her sushi making kit will be treating us to a Japanese meal!  Joshua has decided to follow in Matt's footsteps and wants to explore learning German, which we are doing through our local library's access to Mango Languages online software, as for some reason our Rosetta Stone program doesn't want to reload.  Kenny and Matt are going to learn basic electronics together using a book I found on the Make Magazine web site.  This book is awesome, and has rave reviews on Amazon, so we'll see what they can blow up around here with it.

7)  I am taking two one month courses on grant writing, beginning in February.  Why?  Because it sounded like something I might enjoy, and is a different sort of skill that I might be able to put to good use for projects with our church, or perhaps for Sharing Ministries Food Bank where we volunteer.  I think it will be very interesting, and I can hear the eyeballs rolling even as I type this...but hey, remember, I am the gal with no hobby, what did you expect I might enjoy?  Crafts?  Oh Goodness, no way.  This will be way better!

8)  We found a new curriculum to use for Olesya with Math, it is a high school level Math Fundamentals textbook which goes back to whole numbers with addition, and quickly runs through it, while also teaching calculator skills.  It may or may not work, but it is a start, and we will be using other materials as well to supplement.  We'll see where we are in another year or so.  Our goal is to have her 100% solid on everything through about 7th grade math by the time she graduates high school.  If so, she can function quite well with every day life, as most of us never use Algebra or anything much beyond unless we pursue certain careers.

9)  I am putting together a study on poverty and income inequality for church, and am researching myself for a wide variety of materials to use to develop that.  Normally, I totally love this sort of thing...digging for just the right engaging materials for a topic, etc.  I am finding, however, that despite volunteering to do this, I am growing intimidated as I think more about it, mainly because everyone around me at church is far more educated than I am.  To say I am completely unqualified to teach these adults anything is a pretty big understatement, for this is a highly educated, very articulate bunch of folks.  I am concerned about making a fool of myself, and hope I didn't make a big mistake with this.  At least I know they'll be kind, even if I blow it.

So things are happening, maybe not things that are of any interest to anyone other than us, but they are indeed happening.  I am a pretty boring person to be around these days.  Though I am doing things, they are things that are generally of little interest to others.  I have no one in general to share some things debating the merits of one curriculum over another, or one learning style or method over another.  I have no one to share the sweet joy that comes from singing with others, even when I screw it up.  I have no one who digs theology to talk to.  Everything I am interested in is a complete bore to the average person, and it makes me feel like a total freak sometimes.  Well, if I am being totally honest, I have felt like an outsider freak type my entire life.  I had hoped that might dissipate as I grew into maturity, but that feeling seldom leaves me.  I guess that's OK, it just is what it is, and I wouldn't change my life to mirror anyone else's, so maybe this is just the way God intended it to be for me.  

A new week begins in 15 minutes, a new beginning filled with promise.  I am grateful for new beginnings, and will wait to see what God puts in our path as we walk from Monday through Friday.  The most important thing is that we try, never giving up, always trusting that All is Well.  I will give thanks each morning, and thanks at the end of each day, knowing that no matter how difficult it is, life is good, and all we need, we will have.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Difference Between "Perfect" and Wonderful

It has been a discouraging week.  Not an awful one, but discouraging none the less.  This statement totally doesn't fit the title of this post, but read on, I'll get to that.

Our logic curriculum is a stark reminder of what is not developed in some of our kids, and it took 20 minutes of walking through reading a 3rd grade level bar graph with only two pieces of data on it to answer 3 simple questions, because we just never learned how to walk through analyzing anything when we were young.

We are also facing serious learning disability #3.  I'll say one thing, at least when our kids have challenges, they don't do it small.   Nope, by golly, if they are going to have an area of deficit, it is going to be "whole hog"...none of this, "Well, they are a little weak in math-writing-reading" stuff!  Haha!  No, we are going to be REALLY low in our area of challenge...Team LaJoy goes for the gusto in all we do!  We kind of like to keep it at about the third grade level, if that, when not worked with and remediated.

We have known all along that Olesya has issues with math, and have suspected Dyscalculia.  This past week, her inability to do basic math functions with real world questions came to the forefront, and it is obvious she has deficits well beyond what we initially thought.  When asked what 1000 plus 350 was, it took her almost 5 minutes to come up with the answer and even then she wasn't certain she had it correct.  When asked how long the Revolutionary War lasted when given the years, (8 years total), she couldn't figure out that it was a subtraction problem.  When trying to read a third grade level graphs, maps or charts, she can't do it.  She is like Kenny with his reading when it comes to math, it is like her brain is swiss cheese.  Some days, she does fine, other days, it is like she was never taught a thing.  We have done place value over and over again, and yet when asked this week to read the number 365,000 she read it as "thirty six hundred thousand and fifty". ::sigh::

And this is at 14 years old.

I reached out via Facebook, on online forums, and to the fabulous retired special ed. teacher who helped so much with Kenny.  While there were plenty of suggestions, there was little concrete help.  That's because Dyscalculia, which Olesya most surely has according to everyone, is something for which there is very little curriculum available and no real official test to diagnose it.  The most helpful suggestion came from the special ed. teacher who said that at 14, we need to be practical...we need to give her a calculator and start working on fundamental life skills math and let go of what she can't do.  It will take us years to get her solid in those basic skills, and we don't have years to waste.

And I feel like a loser, because it feels like I am giving in.  I know we need to acknowledge that there are some things we just can't fix, and I know we have already repeated fundamentals a gazillion times, but time is working against us these days, and our teen years are not the time to repeat first grade yet again.  Worse though, I feel like a loser because I am supremely ashamed to admit that I worry that others who know our kids will see their areas of disability and misunderstand...thinking I am doing a poor job of homeschooling them and judge me for it.  Isn't that a dandy thing for me to even think about?  What kind of mom does that?  Clearly, a rather self-centered, insecure one.

The kids appear to be  "normal" reasonably bright kids, then Matt will write something without his adaptive technology and people's eyebrows raise because they haven't got a clue what he was trying to say in writing. Or Kenny will be unable to provide someone with his address or phone number because he forgot it again, and they'll turn and look at me as if I am some sort of lazy, no good homeschooler who is guilty of academic neglect.  Or Olesya will be unable to tell someone what time it is, and I try to let her work it out rather than supply the answer, and again I'll get the look.

I am ashamed that I care what anyone else thinks about me, and whether I am doing a good job or not.  I'll admit though, I don't want others to think I don't care, that I am incapable, or that I have ruined our kids' futures. They have no idea what we deal with every single day, they have no understanding at all of the reality of what malnutrition, neglect, and lack of brain stimulation can do to a child...let alone the unknown factor of whether there was drug or alcohol abuse involved while our children were in utero.  All they'll do is make a snap judgment and see a kid who can't read, tell time, or write.  After all, "they look so normal".  That's because they ARE normal, they just have an area that is really hard for them, well beyond "not quite getting math".

Maybe I am just tired of juggling so many balls in the air, and inevitably some continue to crash to the ground no matter how hard I try to keep up with tossing them.  This is also a very long road, homeschooling all the way, and unlike others, I hold my breath almost daily, not really able to predict what the end result will be.  Most others who homeschool can see typical, realistic gains.  We hope we don't step back an entire grade level after two weeks off.

We have a very supportive group around us though, and they often have no idea how much that helps.  It's the little things that make a difference.  I know she didn't realize it, but a week ago our pastor gave me a much needed lift when someone was talking about their appreciation of how busy I am and how I am "trying to homeschool five kids" and Pastor Karen quickly jumped in to say something along the lines of  I was doing more than trying, I was doing a very good job of it.  She couldn't have known how I needed that sort of validation, and it meant a lot.  My "work" feels like it looks quite marginally performed on the outside, because some don't have the benefit of the knowledge of how far we've come.

Someone said to me last Sunday, "I have a hard time reading your Facebook posts because your family seems so perfect." and I laughed, saying, "You haven't been around long enough to know how imperfect we are." and I proceeded to share a bit with her about the past 15 years, about the rejection and hard earned love of children I held close in my heart, about financial struggles and feeling as if we are continually living somewhat on the edge, about learning disabilities and kids who couldn't read a lick until they were 13, or who witnessed awful things and needed time to learn to heal and trust.

You know what, though?  I still ended it with, "But in some ways, you are right, because I still see it is pretty perfect, even though I realize others wouldn't.  I guess I choose to celebrate that as often as I can, because it is just too hard if I don't."

Like our pastor's comment, the Spirit sends what we need when we need it.  Despite the hard week with school work, we had a couple of phenomenal moments I'd love to share, because I truly believe the sacred appears right before us but we are not always good at recognizing it.

I try to inject in our learning character issues, matters of social justice, and other things of spiritual concern.  No, I don't teach Bible...maybe one would say I do more teaching of what Jesus did, not what he said.  Friday afternoon, I showed the kids a TED talk, you may have seen it as it made the rounds on Facebook Lizzie Velasquez, TED Talk this week.  It was by Lizzie Velasquez, a young woman who has a disorder that causes her to be unable to gain weight.  While in high school someone uploaded a video of her to YouTube and named her "The World's Ugliest Woman".  Her TED talk was all about how do you define yourself, and making sure the world doesn't define you for you, but that you define who you are.  For those interested, here is the link:

After we viewed her talk, I asked each of the kids to share how they defined themselves.  They were all quiet for a few moments, and then Kenny started. He said, "I'm quick thinking, I am good at math, I am especially good at talking with people, and I feel God in my life.  I am a future business owner."  Angela quickly added for him, "You are also very kind.", then she said about herself, "I am a person with big dreams, I want to be a traveler, I want to help people somehow."  The other three were quiet until I nudged, and it was Olesya's turn as we went around the table.  "I am good with animals, I am a generous person, and I am good at writing."  Joshie said, "Hmmm...I am loving and I am a hard worker.  I am a pretty good student."  Matt was last and he said, "I am not sure.  I think I am smart at some things.  I am stable and responsible.  I am part of a great family.  I am just me!" he finished with a grin.

I sat there, realizing that my week was ending with special encouragement as I listened to our beloved ones share how they define themselves.  There were SO many other ways they might have defined who they were, and they would have been correct.  What I didn't hear was the really moving thing.  I didn't hear:

"I am an orphan.", "I am adopted", "I am a child who has witnessed great violence", "I am a kid with a cleft and speech problems", "I am a child who doesn't want people to get close to me", "I am stupid", "I am broken in some ways", "I am scared", "I am someone who was rejected by my own first parents", "I am worthless", "I am incapable".

Perhaps most important of all, there wasn't a single child defining themselves using the words, "I can't..."

There was no "I can't..."

I may be a complete flop at homeschooling.  I may never get Olesya to do Algebra, and I already know Matthew will never write intelligently without his computer by his side.  Kenny may or may not ever live on his own, Josh may cling to us forever, and Angela may never make it to be a world traveler.

But I have not failed.  I have not failed.  I have not failed!!  

I need to hold this one close for a good long while.  I need a reminder that our children feel capable, confident, loved and have dreams.  Somehow, and I am not really sure how, we instilled in them that they are worthy and they can succeed despite their start in life and despite any learning disabilities or other challenges they may have.

I have succeeded, even if the world never, ever sees it.

I sat quietly for a moment after they were finished, and I told them how astounded I was that they saw themselves in such positive, powerful ways.  I said, "The world will often see what you can't do, they will want to label you as 'adopted', 'incapable', or maybe cruelly even 'stupid' because there is something you can not do. They would be wrong, and I am glad you already know that."

Angela then said something that will stay with me forever.

"Mom, we were orphans, we were unloved, we were uneducated. We aren't anymore.  I know what you are saying, that other people will try and call us a certain thing, but we know who we are."

...and Josh said with a giggle, "We're LaJoy's!"

Sometimes I just shake my head in disbelief, because my life is something so wonderful I couldn't possibly make it up.

Yea, I said wonderful.  There's a difference between "perfect" and "wonderful", they are about a million miles apart.  

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Workin' for a Livin' - A Great Lesson

"Hey Mom!", Matthew said, "I think there is something wrong here..."

I looked over at him and away from the road a minute, as we were driving home from the airport, where I picked him up after working in the morning with Dominick.

He had opened his paycheck, the first one of the season, and had a quizzical look on his face.

"This is $73.00.  It's too much money, I only worked 10 hours during the last two weeks."

I grinned, knowing it was a little surprise.  "No, it's right.  Your Dad and I talked about it, and felt that since
all of you are now replacing adult workers he would have normally hired for the weekend shifts, it was only fair that you earned a real wage.  Take a look, you are now earning $8.00 per hour, just a little over minimum wage."

A moment of silence followed.  "Are you sure?  That's a lot of money! You guys don't have to do that!  We aren't even 16 yet.", he said.

"Yes, we are sure.  You all are doing the work of adults, you are responsible like adults, it is only fair that you get paid like an adult.  Age shouldn't be a factor, as long as you perform the work well."

As it slowly dawned on Matthew that he just received a $3 per hour raise over last year...that they ALL had received a raise, the excitement was evident.  He asked about what all the taxes were, what the abbreviations meant, and if he would owe taxes at the end of the year.

All five kids have matured into excellent employees who take direction well, work with purpose, and can be counted on to get the job done.  Our long time manager at the cafe told us last year, "I wish your kids were old enough to work full-time, they are better and more reliable than anyone else we hire."  Coming from her, it was an enormous compliment because she has high standards, and has never been one to "kiss up" and say what she thinks we might want to hear.  She and Dominick are a great team because they both understand each others directness.

We talked about it at the beginning of ski season, which is when Dominick stops auto detailing and works indoors at the restaurant, which is really more like a soup and sandwich place that is utterly dead during the 8 months off season, but can see as many as 2000 people boarding flights a day on the weekends during ski season.  We discussed how many hours the kids might be able to work, what scheduling would make sense, etc.  Kenny needs more supervision and wanted to try and learn new things, and Josh wanted to work one shift a weekend, while the girls and Matthew all wanted as many hours as they could get but still wanted some time off here and there on some weekends. They all created a rotating schedule together, with the very early morning shift being covered by Joshie on Saturdays and Kenny on Sundays.

After much deliberation, Dominick and I both agreed that until all are at least in their junior year of high school, academics must come first and there is to be no regular job that gets in the way of school being the #1 priority, regardless of age.  Many might look at our eventual older teens and wonder why they are not working a regular 20 hour a week part-time job at 16 or 17, but Angela, Kenny and Olesya will still only be in 8th or 9th grade.  Because they are far behind their peers, their entrance into the world of work will be delayed, but doing side jobs here and there and working for Dominick when they can helps them earn some spending money and develop financial knowledge that is backed by real work.

Upon opening their paychecks later on, every single one of the kids was ecstatic and disbelieving.  We must have been thanked ten times!  We explained that we hired fewer adults this year because they had proven we could count on them, so we wanted to give them what they had earned.

All the kids have worked since they were little or came into the family, and all of them actually quite enjoy it.  Angela and Olesya, in particular, couldn't wait for ski season to start, and they are spending about 5 hours each shift on their feet...but this year they have new responsibilities which is exciting to them.  Both girls are learning how to work at the sandwich table, churning out orders, making food look good as it goes out.  They are each so proud of being allowed to handle "the table" as they see it as a very responsible role in the functioning of a highly busy restaurant during the peak times.

We've gradually added more duties each year as the kids have grown up.  From the time Matt and Josh were literally able to walk, they have "helped" at work.  We'd slap an apron on them, and they'd stock the condiments, empty boxes, clean shelves, help set up souvenirs or put price tags on things.  Then they all graduated to calling out orders and interacting more with customers by cleaning off tables and serving them non-alcoholic drinks.  They have all put in 4-5 hour shifts the past couple of years doing dishes and all the other tasks, but this year was the Big Leap to the majority of the "real work", and they are taking great pride in this step into adulthood, a mini rite of passage.

It makes a difference, and it has helped them better understand how hard their Dad has to work.  They've all put in stints helping detail cars in the hot sun (as has mom in years past!), feeding the masses, etc.  They know that grocery money doesn't come easily, that Dad is exhausted after 10 or 12 hours on his feet.  They've done it in part, and it has sunk in.  They also see the rewards as their bank accounts blossom, and they are far less likely to blow their money on frivolous things.

They are also turning into mature young people, right before our eyes.  This morning, I went to pick up Josh and drop off Angela and Matthew.  At barely 11 years old, Joshua arose all on his own at 3:45 AM after having gone to bed earlier than everyone else to get enough sleep.  He got himself ready, and was waiting on the couch for his Dad to come pick him up and take him to work (Dominick had to leave earlier than that), where he worked for five hours straight prepping for the day.  He stocked coolers, got baking items prepared, prepped items for the sandwich table, and much more is on his morning "To Do" list.  No complaints, eager to work, at 11 years old he is definitely earning $8.00 per hour, and then some. I had questioned Dominick initially about Josh earning as much as the older kids, and he just laughed at me, then said, "Age doesn't matter, he works as hard as any of the adults we've ever had there...and does a great job.  It wouldn't be fair NOT to pay him the same!"

Many would complain about running their kids here and there for shift work, many have thought we are "not
letting them have a childhood" because they work once in a while...and work hard.  I've had comments about them being "just kids", and I know some don't understand having an 11 year old get up that early to go to a job.  Me?  I rejoice!  What we have in the opportunity to help them begin the steps to adulthood is unusual, it is a blessing that Dominick is self-employed and can spend time with his kids at work, teaching them, mentoring them, being with them...teasing them.  I teach at home, but he teaches something equally important at work.  He models hard work for them, he models diligence right before them, he models organizational skills, juggling lots of balls in the air, handling employee situations, preparing yourself for the day ahead and thinking far in advance.

How many Dads get to spend that kind of true, quality time with their children?  It is NOT a burden on either parent or child, it is a gift, something many don't have due to the very nature of their employment or the attitudes of their kids.  Joshua is a morning kid, totally like his Dad, and the early shift is perfect for him.
 Kenny is not a morning guy at all, but he loves working alone with Dominick, without the craziness of the busy part of the day, and he can work carefully through his prepared list of items, practicing staying on task and not being distracted while it is practical to do so.  He is learning how he can better prepare himself for a work world that will be incredibly challenging for him, at even the lowest levels of employment, and he is succeeding.  Kenny will need oodles of work experience, of training and repetition, in order to make it some day.  That we have the opportunity to offer him a safe environment for that training to happen is the best situation possible for him.

Matthew is forced to deal with people, not his strong suit, and to be placed in situations where he can not be as deliberate as is natural for him, but has to operate at top speed and think quickly.  He is honing his ability to be more comfortable in social settings that our little introvert finds unsettling at moments.

And the girls get to tease their Dad mercilessly, they get to laugh at him, joke with him, and never yearn for a caring male whom they try to replace in other, more destructive ways.  They get compliments from him on how they handle situations, they get chastised when they get too goofy, and they both adore their Daddy, each saying multiple times that they want to marry a man just like him.  Can there be a greater compliment a man could ever receive?

The rewards are many, the downsides...none.  It may not make sense to others, many never really "get" us and our parenting style anyway, so I am beyond caring about that these days.  I remind myself often that our job is to protect their childhood innocence, not prolong childhood itself.  We are preparing young people for a future that is uncertain, but certain that it will be far more difficult for them to get ahead than it was for us or our own parents.  They need to take on challenges, see what they can accomplish, know that they are capable of more than they thought, feel confident in their basic skills.  They are gradually doing just that on these long winter days, and hot summer afternoons.  As I happily escort them to the bank on Monday to deposit those first whopper paychecks that are much larger than the year before, it will be such a kick to see them visit with the bank tellers who already know them so well, and I am sure there will be a little conversation about their hard earned raises :-)

They are becoming...well...just "becoming"...and it is an honor and privilege to witness it.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

A "Limited Edition" New Year

We made it through the holiday season, and as I sit here on a bright and clear Thursday morning, the house is extremely quiet as every young person still slumbers after several late nights in a row...just because they could stay up late!  What fun it is to watch movies and play games until the wee hours, when you have nothing you have to wake up for the next morning!

Nap Time for the Birthday Boy!

Our New Years was a quiet one this year, which was perfect for the mood we were all in.  New Years Eve day was Ice Skating Day for Josh's birthday!  We took he and a couple of his buddies to the next town over and went ice skating.  Well, the kids went ice skating...hahaha!  Dominick and I both abstained, me because I am the klutziest person in all the world and don't need to hurry along that broken hip I know is in my future, and Dominick because we are always extremely cautious of his activities and don't need a broken leg or wrist to keep him from working.  We all had fun though:

The one time everyone was upright! Haha!

Oh I love I love seeing you mature into a fine young man, and it is not too soon to call you that, for you really are a young man these days.  Still have those adorable dimples high on you cheeks! :-)

Kenny wasn't nearly as tentative this time around!

Twin Set 1 - Matt and Olesya 

Helping one another remain on their feet...

Or Not! HAHA!!!!  Poor Olesya spent more time on her bottom than on her skates!

Twin Set #2!

Yea Matt, no one's ever done that before in a photo!

We spent New Years Eve with friends playing games, singing a little karaoke, and catching up after a long year of work and distractions.  We headed home by 10:00 pm, considering ourselves having celebrated righteously as it was officially New Years Day on the East Coast.  It was a good thing we did, because Dominick got a call New Years morning requesting that he come to work on his day off because someone was ill.

We have spent our week off just hanging out, being quite lazy which is unusual for us, though we still took our shift at the food bank and as I am typing this were phoned and asked if we could come in today, which we will.

Something felt like it was missing though, despite what a calm, restful time we have had.  It just didn't quite feel "finished" in some way.  We had all been together, playing and hanging out, but we hadn't really stopped to reflect on much.  Deciding to fix that, I went to Walmart and bought a couple bottles of sparkling cider, and a set of new wineglasses, which for some odd reason the kids all seem to love.  Last night after dinner, we turned off all the lights, lit a few candles, and gathered on the couch.  By flickering candlelight, we snuggled next to one another and reminisced about all that had happened in 2013.  One by one we each offered what we thought was the hardest moments of 2013...the split of our church, the difficult decision to leave money behind and strike out on our own with homeschooling, the stress with work that Dominick has experienced this past year.  It was a year filled with "Stepping Out On Faith" moments, something we thankfully have a lot of practice at, but it still is fear inducing at times.

We then went on to talk about what was terrific about 2013.  The subtle glow from the campfire-like flames lit the faces of each of these dear, precious ones, and having boxed up the sorrow, grief, and fears of 2013, we shared our joys from this past year.  One by one, we recalled the tender moments, the blessings, the exciting things.  Surprisingly, despite how hard 2013 was, we quickly saw how God had provided so well for us, had carried us, and how the year had been filled with wonderful times to cherish.  Josh spoke first and spoke of how happy he was that our family has great friends, and some of those friendships had grown deeper this past year.  Angela reminded us of the fun times we had on the road, exploring new places.  Olesya was glad that we had changed school paths, as it was more relaxed and a richer experience because of it.  Matthew quickly added that Sharing Ministries Food Bank had become a big part of our lives and he was glad of that.  Kenny was happy we had the chance to try riding ATV's, and that we laugh more than any family he knows.  We went on and on, naming so many things that were our "wealth" this past year.  There was far more to celebrate than there was to grieve.  Success came in big and smaller ways, even if not readily apparent to the outsider.  There were failures, too, but somehow they were overshadowed by all that was good.  The main thing was we saw how we really and truly do have "enough", even when our culture tells us we should desire more, even when we might perhaps want more ourselves.

The one thing that came out strong and true was how this was the year that we all came to really understand how fortunate we are to be together as a family.  I don't know why, but there was something that triggered a heightened awareness of the blessing it is to be part of Team LaJoy.  Maybe it was going through a really rough time together with kids old enough to know what was going on.  Maybe it was their ability to now look around them, listen to the news, and see that what we have is indeed rare.  We spent quite a bit of time talking about how being a connected family that is present to one another doesn't just happen, it takes work, it takes everyone participating and not settling for less than respect for one another, emotional honesty and openness.  That may sound like a weird conversation to be having with your kids, but I think it is awesome that they treasure what we have just as much as Dominick and I do. A while ago the kids came up with the label "Limited Edition" for our family rather than "weird", "unmatched" or Angela's favorite, "Uniquely Developed".  They joked a lot about that and have asked if we could get someday get TShirts with that on it, they like it so much.  None of us take what we have for granted, all of us know what it is to live without it, and maybe that alone makes all the difference.  All I know is I sat there sensing God's presence smack dab in the middle of us, blanketing us with something new as we approach the flipping of the page on the calendar.

We aren't a family with young kids anymore, those days are behind us now.  We have reached a different stage as Josh just celebrated his 11th birthday and the other four are 14 and 15.  We are in a new stage, where we are measuring and comparing, assessing who we want to be as we move gradually toward adulthood.  As talk around the couch turned to the difficult financial times we are in, what 2014 might hold for us, the futures that are unforseeable and somewhat scary seemed much less so when we know we will face it together.  All the kids talked about knowing that we will all somehow make it if we stick together, that none of us will fall if we share the load.  Angela talked passionately about being so lucky to have such caring brothers and sisters, and how she hopes that as they grow older  that never changes.  What was even better was the sense that no one is going to settle just for "making it", but that dreams are going to come true because hard work will make them possible.

As we raised our glasses to toast the New Year, we resolved not to make any resolutions, other than one...we will each take a day of the week and be aware of what is happening that day, and recording any "Happy Moments" that occur.  We're going to fill a jar with them,and next year on New Year's Eve we will once again sit by candlelight, and relive all the good things that came our way in 2014.  Sure, there are bound to be some less-than-stellar moments, and perhaps even some downright awful ones...though we sure hope not...but being intentional about looking for the blessings in every single day will help us keep our priorities straight, and our hearts open to all the good that happens around us.

So here's to 2014!  May this coming year be filled with learning, growing, and caring for every single person around us.