Saturday, May 16, 2015

Watching Change

I must be strange, because it seems to be the little things that often could be easily overlooked that make me the proudest.  We are seeing such maturity springing forth from the kids lately, and real progress in areas where we had hoped to eventually see movement.

Recently, Olesya really shined.  This young lady came to us so timid, so willing to put her own needs aside for everyone else, so unable to speak her mind and share her heart.  She had spent years trying to be invisible, and to just get along with others by giving in, quite the opposite of her stronger willed older sister who had a fair amount of confidence and courage in speaking up.

A few weeks ago, we were involved in an important conversation with a family friend, and the kids were each voicing their opinions about certain issues.  Much to our astonishment, Olesya stepped up and with nary a concern boldly stated her opinion with great passion and thought.  Long gone is the child who willingly cloaked herself in the role of the proverbial "dumb blond" of the family, and there before us sat a strong, self-assured, assertive young woman. This is such a significant change for Olesya, and it is gratifying to see the consistent work put into developing her self-esteem pay off.  She is beginning to really see herself as woman of substance.  I couldn't be prouder or more pleased.

Last night I had another wonderful side of one of our kids revealed quietly to me, and both Dominick and I were deeply touched upon learning of this.  One of Matthew's fellow Civil Air Patrol cadets is moving, and last night was his last night at CAP before departing with his family to a new state.  After coming home from picking him up, I received an email for Matthew on my email address from this young man, explaining to Matt that before he had gotten home he had lost a letter Matt had given him that evening, and asking if he could resend it because he really wanted to read it.  I was unaware of what was going on, so I went to tell Matthew about the email and to ask him what was up with it.

Mr. Unassuming glanced up at me, and said, "It was just a note I wrote him to encourage him and tell
him how much I enjoyed working with him in CAP.  I know moving at this age is going to be hard, and I wanted him to know someone understood that, and that I know he will be a success wherever he goes."

Wow.  I know many look at Matt and see a teenage boy who is less obvious in his sensitivity.  He has an engineer type brain, usually quiet, very concrete and not as outwardly emotional.  But what others outside the family often aren't privy to is his artist's and poet's heart.  I look at him, and in moments like this, I see a young man with a capacity for caring, insight, and kindness that is unusual in someone his age.  We have worked a lot with Matthew on expressing his feelings, and this was a sign that we have made very real progress there as well.

These are the things that really matter, far more than Algebra or reading Shakespeare.  We spend a good portion of each school day working on life skills, on developing Emotional Intelligence, and on creating more self-awareness.  Through the years I have often wondered if my insistence on teaching these specific skills, which are often never given a second thought in a traditional classroom, has been wasted time because it doesn't give the appearance of true academics.  Maybe they are simply important to me, and we have lost valuable time that could have been better spent on other subjects.  Then something like this happens with Olesya and Matthew, and I am reminded that character matters, and that developing the whole child was our original intent 6 years ago when we started homeschooling, not just churning out report cards with A's on them.  We want to see our kids turn into healthy, happy, well functioning adults, who are sensitive to the needs of others and willing to step up to try and make a difference in the world around them.

I am so lucky I get to witness their gradual maturing into the neatest young people I know.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A New Era!

God has a sense of humor, I see it all the time.

For some reason, God really likes to play the Ultimate Comic in our life, and I can't help but chuckle over it.

This past Tuesday morning at 9:30 AM, God was belly laughing looking down on Dominick and I, as we signed documents to complete the sale of a new business we purchased.

Yes, finally, after what has seemed like an eternity of prayer, waiting, exploring, and fearing we would soon be packing up our home to try and start a new life, we found laid out before us the solution to our employment concerns for Dominick.  Despite our incredulity, and with a great shaking of heads along with an "Are you SERIOUS?", it became clear that God had a surprise for us.

We are the happy new owners of House of Spirits, a wonderfully busy little liquor store here in Montrose.

Yup, the couple who absolutely does not, and ever has, touched alcohol now owns a liquor store.  Ironic, isn't it?

Not when you listen.  We took Matthew's sage advice and really paid attention and were patient, trying very hard to discern what God wanted to us.  And true to form, when it is right, everything falls in place...not without a lot of struggle and hard work, but it became evident almost immediately that this was "the thing" that was supposed to be part of this next phase of life for us.

Not only that, but it fulfilled every single desire on our Business Wish List!  Our "Ultimate Heart's Desire" list included the following:

1)  Dominick wouldn't have to work physically as much anymore.
2)  It would bring in enough income for us to at least maintain...or come the lifestyle we have now.  We are at the stage that we don't have a whole lot left we can cut without it being things like life insurance, etc so we needed a base amount that came close to what we were earning before.
3)  It would be a business I could run if something ever happened to Dominick and he had to be out of work for awhile.
4)  It had employees so income didn't cease if Dominick went on vacation.
5)  It was a business that had a position available for Kenny to eventually work into, where he could feel satisfaction in a job well done, but would be supervised well for as long as it took for him to be able to work at and remember the daily tasks involved.
6)  We could find a way to finance it.
7)  We really wanted to stay in Montrose

We knew we would have to give in on a few items, as we knew we were seeking a lot, but if one is dreaming, they might as well dream big, right?

It is a long story, almost too long to tell, but this was obviously the exact thing God had in mind for us, and we are ever-so-grateful to have every single one of our dream wish list items fulfilled.  The deal was prayed over together by both Dominick and the old owner, there were connections all over the place that helped make it happen, everything fell into place in what was really only a 3 week period...and that means we were able to sell ALL the restaurant equipment without ever having to move it ourselves AND the detailing business ended up in the hands of the young man who had worked for us this past year with things falling perfectly in place for him as well as we and others circled him to give him a chance at a new future.  This may sound silly, but I am almost more happy for him than I am for us, for it was obvious he was deeply moved by some of us taking a chance on him and believing in him.

So, for the first time in almost 20 years, Dominick will have one job, and we might eventually get to see him more!  Well, not for awhile, for as I am typing this he is still not home yet at 10:30 pm and he was there at 6:00 am.  There is a learning curve, and a lot to do to get him up to speed, but he will do very well with this, and I haven't seen him this happy in years.

We are going to struggle.  A lot.  For years.  More than we have already.  This was an enormous leap of faith, our biggest yet.  We robbed Peter to pay Paul, and Peter is now in debt seemingly forever...HAHA!  This really did end up being our "Hail Mary" pass, and at our ages that is very, very scary.  However, our family never seems to do things the way others do, so maybe the fact that it was a big leap is most fitting for us. The kids are thrilled over this, and all of us feel firmly that this was the thing we had been waiting for, the opportunity that God wanted for us to move forward with.  That lessens the fear a little :-)

So, without further ado, here are the pics of our newest addition!

The store...House of 4900 square feet!

A Wall of Beer!

Dominick working at the counter :-)

The Wine Room

More Wine

We have it all!!

Dominick checking everything out!

We are relieved.  We have handled the stress well, but it has not been easy to live with the threat of losing everything hanging over our heads. There is a new concern of being able to handle the debt load, but we talked it over with the kids thoroughly, who really are our business advisers, and we all agreed that it was worth it even if we have to do without.  What a group of amazing kids we have, as each joked that we could always manage to get by on Top Ramen and hot dogs if we needed to, and you know what? They would happily do just that.  We all know that short term pain might yield long term rewards for every single one of us if we can just make it through this next year or two.

So a new era has begun, we heaved a sigh of relief, and then we hunker down to work even harder to make it all work!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Being Claimed

It was 15 years ago on Mother's Day that I became a mom for the first time.  Thrust into my arms was the tiniest, sickliest infant baby boy who wrapped his arms around me and never let go.  Fifteen years later, the strapping young man before me bears little resemblance to the 14 lb 11 month old he once was.  Little did I know that four more children would follow that would fill my heart and our home even more.

During that fifteen years span, we all worked together to do the hard work of claiming one another, of becoming family, of healing old wounds and seeing ourselves in new ways as we throw away old self-images and wrap ourselves in the cloak of love and acceptance.  It has not always been easy, many of you have been along for the whole ride and have watched the progress from afar.  I have spent countless hours holding, rocking, talking and nurturing children through their pain, and have been blessed to see them take tentative steps out into the light.  Some are fully there, and some are still hanging out in the shadows occasionally.  It is a slow process to become a Beloved One once one has been carelessly cast aside.  Accepting that you have value and worth, internalizing it, and living into it is harder work than anyone might ever understand.

It is usually I who has done the claiming, and I have never really been claimed in the way I have claimed others.  I really had no idea what it feels like, I only know the effort that goes into making sure it happens.  This year though, I have been claimed in a new and profound way, and it is more life changing than I knew it could be.  I truly had no idea how much complete and enthusiastic acceptance and love could mean.  Most of my relationships have gradually developed over time, there has been a slow dawning of what might be possible in a friendship with someone,  and then a slow yet steady living into a new connection.   I have some of the most rock solid friends a woman could ever want...or a family could ever want, for that matter.

The past few months, however, I stumbled into a friendship with someone with whom the claiming was instant connection on both sides after the sharing of a mere single email.  In stark contrast to how almost every one of my previous friendships began,  I was not only claiming someone, and stated so with no hesitation and almost immediately, but the claiming was reciprocal.  At first, I admit to a lot of doubt.  Why would anyone truly pursue a deep friendship with me, of all people?  No one could possibly like me that much, that quickly, to want to grab and claim me.  Yet the stuff of real relationship was all there, and it was important, and despite my feelings of unworthiness, someone saw value in me, and wanted me in their life.

Then something even more wonderful happened, I gained a couple more amazing kids in my life in the form of my dear friend's children, albeit long distance.  I, of course, fell in love with them immediately (Come on, I AM a "serial adopter", I have been told!) but with the distance and lack of opportunity to be interacting often, I had no real way of knowing if that connection would grow.

And once again, I was claimed...unexpectedly, beautifully, and lovingly.

I was adopted, and my "certificate" was in the form of a T-Shirt.  You see, my two newest additions conspired with my five "live ins" at the behest of one of the long distance ones, and created and paid for the coolest gift I could have ever received.  Take a look at this:

 Here we are on Mother's Day.  Everyone looks so tall and grown up!!
  I received a lovely homemade card in the shape of a flower, and each of the kids wrote a sweet note on the back of one of the petals. 

Yes, two more names, Christi and Billy, who both wanted to be included...
and claimed me, all of us really, as theirs.

Others have claimed us in very special ways, as I received a very lovely card from another friend who is not a mommy herself but who is very important to me.  One of the people who has claimed us all in a deep way is our beautiful Miss Mary, whose heart is as big as...well...a mural!

Certainly claimed by Miss Mary!  Best teacher they ever had...really.

I think this turned out so beautifully!  They all had a wonderful time, and I hear a little singing and dancing was involved along with painting.

Angela created this butterfly and the flowers freehand, getting ideas quickly from Google images on the spot.  Of course, tech was involved :-)

You know, I used to totally laugh over the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child."  Many years ago, I would have absolutely agreed with the riff on that one that makes the rounds on Facebook from time to time that says, "I've seen the village and I don't want it raising my child!".  As I experienced a true sense of community around our family, I began to see this differently.  

We, as a family, have been claimed in a unique and wonderful way that still astounds me.  Over and over again, someone steps up with encouragement, teaching, nurturing, and support of all kinds.  Why do WE deserve so much care?  I can't help but ask that question.  I do know this, however.  If you don't want the village raising your children, maybe the problem is YOUR selection of the wrong village!  As for my village, we know we wouldn't be where we are without it, and we value it more than anything we have in this world.  It takes a village to claim us, and we claim it...then we do what we can to contribute to it.  

And that is really what it is all about.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"You're a Nobody"

This past week I was incredibly moved by an article I read online, and I have wanted to write about it every single day, but simply could not find a way to approach what I was feeling.  I guess I had to sit and simmer with it a bit before attempting to put anything into words.

Lately the news has been filled with tragedies, events that have us questioning where our country is headed.  Where are we going wrong?  Episode after episode of questionable police shootings of suspects who are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty.  Abuse caught on cameras, now so ubiquitous that every passerby  has one and can record what was once a "his word against mine" policing culture that is being proven to be a bit more arguable than first imagined.  

There are natural disasters claiming thousands of lives in poverty riddled nations where rebuilding will be decades long, and where families already destitute are now worse off than ever before.

Daily there are horrific stories of abuse and neglect of children at the hands of their own parents, some almost unthinkable in scale.

Venom is spewed at every opportunity from political candidates who, in an effort to elevate themselves, manage only to pervert the national dialogue and leave the American public more passive and uninterested than ever in the governing process, jaded and sickened by the unnecessarily lie-filled rhetoric that bursts forth from both sides of the aisle.  

We are immersed in a culture in which we elevate that which is ugly, and tuck away that which is gentle and good, deeming that sort of news only fit for page 8 or 9 in the newspaper, buried away from the sensationalized front page headlines.

But every once in awhile, something happens that reminds us of the goodness of humanity, and of how even the seemingly most evil have souls that can be touched and transformed, if only someone cared enough.  

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's sentencing hearing found the infamous Boston Marathon Bomber with little support as the death penalty was being considered.  With the death penalty looming over him, and a very disturbing history working against him, there is little hope he might escape paying the ultimate price for his crimes.  Whether one is for or against the death penalty is not the point of this post, and there are millions who feel that even lethal injection would be too good for this 21 year old man.  In fact, victim of the bombing, Rebekah Gregory, who lost her leg in the terrorist act, is on record as saying in a comment directed toward Tsarnaev, "Now to me you are a nobody...".  Rebekah's feelings are certainly understandable, life as she knew it was ripped from her by a single destructive act, and she is entitled to all the rage and hostility she is feeling.

But what struck me so strongly was the very words she used. 

"Now to me you're a nobody..."
Isn't that really where the problem starts in the first place?  When we fail to see someone, when we fail to see their very humanity, they become desensitized and hardened, allowing them to commit acts one might not have ever imagined when the heart was softer and more pliable.  There is great damage in feeling you are a nobody.  There is great damage in no one "seeing you", and leaving you isolated.  We humans were made for relationship, and the further distanced we become from others, the harder our heart grows, and the easier it is to have blinders on to the pain and suffering of others.

And isn't that exactly what happened to Dzhokhar?  He was an acknowledged nobody, and when it begins to hurt too much, we all try to become a somebody, even if in the worst possible ways.  The callous, murderous act didn't suddenly "just happen" one crisp spring day in Boston.  No, the countdown clock to violence started ticking down many years prior, when Dzhokhar was far younger and walked through the world as a nobody to most folks.  

And those around him failed...they failed in compassion, they failed in nurturing, they failed in seeing him.  

This young man with the hardened heart, the one who had seldom been noticed, made a wrong turn somewhere along the line, and without even realizing it, his fate was would just take a couple of years for that to become apparent.

But teacher Bekki Norris is different, and she had eyes that could see.  Testifying at the sentencing hearing, Norris spoke of Tsarnaev as a "really smart, hard working kid" when in 7th and 8th grade.  It was an unpopular move for the former middle school teacher now turned principle.  Testifying in behalf of the defense about a criminal who committed an almost defenseless act.  Why did she do it?  Why did Bekki Norris step into the witness stand and do what few would ever do in this case, speak of Tsarnaev in terms that were caring and warm hearted?  

Her response was both surprising and Christ-like in every sense.  Sitting there in the lion's den, Bekki Norris found her voice and used it to counter the very problem brought to light by the understandably outraged victim, Rebekah Gregory, who named it so clearly in stating, "You're a nobody."  When posting on Facebook about why she spoke for the defense, Norris replied with compassionate conviction saying, ""Yes, he did the unforgivable. And yes, I still love him. And -- this one is hard to fathom, I know -- he still needs love."

Without negating the evil he had perpetrated, Norris added, "He was already rightly found guilty. I testified to help the jury see why he might be spared the death penalty. I also hoped to show him, in spite of what he's done, that someone cares about him as a person,"

Funny how Christ shows up in places you'd never expect.  

Isn't that what brought Dzhokhar to be carrying a homemade bomb that Spring morning in the first place?  Wasn't the fact that there was not enough care for him as a person the very thing that made it so easy for him to be persuaded to participate in such a heinous act, bringing about the death of so many and the life altering injuries of even more?

No one can blame Rebekah Gregory's response after the fact, we might all say similar things as we went about the act of "moving on" with our life and trying to come to grips with an experience that changed the entire course of her life forever.  I am not blaming her one tiny bit for expressing herself in those very words..."Now to me you're a nobody..."

What I am trying to say, and what Bekki Norris was pointing out, was that Tsarnaev was once a little boy with great promise, whose future looked bright until he grew ever more into the nobody that Rebekah called out.

How many nobodies are there in your life?  How many kids or adults remain unseen, unacknowledged, and unloved?  How might their lives be different if just one Bekki Norris stepped in early enough with eyes that see another, and words that  speak of possibility and hope? 

What good does it ever do for someone to be a nobody?

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's are not born, they are made.  They exist because they are nobodies in a world that has us all yearning to be somebody.  They are created very simply, by people just as normal as you and I, who elect to walk by without a glance.  This may sound like an oversimplification in this case, as one looks at testimony that outlines a trajectory that included exposure to radical Islam, an ever shifting home life, and an older brother who lured a younger one into a new way of thinking.

But when you think about it, oversimplification or not, when any human being becomes a "nobody", bad things happen.  When we are a "somebody" to even one person, that can sometimes transform a future.

No one deserves to be a nobody.

My faith teaches that regardless of what we have done, we still matter, we are still worthy of care, concern, and compassion.

Bekki Norris' words were perhaps the single best sermon I have ever heard, and she put action behind the words.  

May we will do the same.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Just Another Day in Paradise

"Just Another Day In Paradise" Phil Vassar

The kids screaming, phone ringing
Dog barking at the mailman bringing
That stack of bills - overdue
Good morning baby, how are you?
Got a half hour, quick shower
Take a drink of milk but the milk's gone sour
My funny face makes you laugh
Twist the top on and I put it back
There goes the washing machine
Baby, don't kick it.
I promise I'll fix it
Long about a million other things

Well, it's ok. It's so nice
It's just another day in paradise
Well, there's no place that
I'd rather be
Well, it's two hearts
And one dream
I wouldn't trade it for anything
And I ask the lord every night
For just another day in paradise

Friday, you're late
Guess we'll never make our dinner date
At the restaurant you start to cry
Baby, we'll just improvise
Well, plan B looks like
Dominoes' pizza in the candle light
Then we'll tippy toe to our room
Make a little love that's overdue
But somebody had a bad dream
Mama and daddy
Can meand my teddy
Come in to sleep in between?

Yeah it's ok. It's so nice.
It's just another day in paradise.
Well, there's no place that
I'd rather be
Well, it's two hearts
And one dream
I wouldn't trade it for anything
And I ask the lord every night
For just another day in paradise

Well, it's ok. It's so nice.
It's just another day in paradise.
Well, there's no place that
I'd rather be
Two hearts
And one dream
I wouldn't trade it for anything
And I ask the lord every night
For just another day in paradise

For just another day in paradise
Well, it's the kids screaming. The phone ringing
Just another day
Well, it's Friday. You're late
Oh yeah, it's just another day in paradise

Most people would take a look at our life, and would see anything BUT "paradise".  In fact, for many it would be more like Dante's Inferno, a chaotic, daily struggle to keep it all together.  Daily, it is so hard to just keep up...bills, dishes, laundry, appointments, grading, more laundry, grocery shopping, medical documentation, academic planning, banking, "churching", sweeping, sleeping.  

We forget that in the midst of all of that craziness, something is happening...a life is being lived out, touching other lives being lived out, and what happens in those moments is what life is really all about.

Taking for granted the little interactions each day, we forget that had one decision be made differently, everything would be different.  As time piles upon time, we forget what an impact we have on those around us, how the little things add up to big things.  

Every day, without fail, each of our kids gets a long, slow hug from me each morning.  For some, it is when they are barely awake and have just shuffled out for breakfast.  For others, it has been due to an intentional seeking out of mom for the morning hug.  Sometimes, we have raced to get ready for school, and when all are sitting there, it is a let's-go-around-the-table sort of thing as I lean over and bear hug each and every one of them.

Those hugs add up, and we don't even notice it.

The little consistent things matter far more than we ever would imagine they would, until we are on the downhill slide of parenting and see the tangible results of years of constant connection.  How many hours did we read with and rock Joshie and Matthew to sleep?  How many hours of that sort of interaction did the others miss?  

If we spent only 1/2 an hour each night with the boys until they were 6 years old, subtracting for a missing first year, we still would have reached almost 1000 hours of time together. 1000 hours!  And I can tell you for certain it was far more than that, for Curious George was begged for over and over again, and Green Eggs and Ham was served a gazillion times.  

And that was only bedtime reading.

I wonder sometimes how many hours of conversation I have engaged in with our kids, how many tears have been shed, how many horrible memories shared, how many reminders of how important they are to us have been stated.

Yesterday I received a beautiful email from Angela, and in it she said something I will cherish forever.  She made me rethink our life, made me step back and view it from all angles.  The grass is dying and much of it has been replaced by weed patches.  Furniture in all but one room is mismatched and some of it pretty threadbare.  Cars have dents in them, rusty doors, and far too many miles on them.  Money is tight and will be even tighter in months to come.

But you know what?  She doesn't see any of that.  She doesn't view our life through the same lens, and she opened my eyes last night with what she said:

"You know more about how to get a child's heart when it was once broken, and that is what makes our lives seem like  a paradise."

Paradise??? This??? REALLY???

So tell me, what blinders have I been wearing and how long have they been on?  What am I missing?

Ahh...I do fail to see it sometimes.  I fail to see the constant, daily laughter when we are all together.  I fail to see the peace which we live within.  I fail to see the comfort that comes from being heard, or the joy in finally accomplishing some new task or learning something new.  I fail to see much of it at all most of the time, blinded by busy schedules, school planning, and simply the daily emotional toll that is taken in trying with all my heart to be a very present and aware mom, which means tuning in 100% of the time.  All of it hinders me, and keeps me from seeing our Paradise.  I spend far too much time contemplating all the things that really don't matter, and I spend far too little time looking at...well...the little things that are really what make up a life.  The Big Things are often just interruptions in an otherwise dull, but fulfilling existence.  Why is it fulfilling?  Because you have to look in the right places and with great intent.  Paradise is really right there, it has been all along.  We just tune it out, placing others things on a higher rung than they deserve.  We elevate the superficial and relegate the important to the back seat, mismatched values fully on display with such acts.

Most people have lives that look a lot like ours...a mad scramble to maintain a middle class lifestyle, attempts here and there in little ways to make the world a better place, and lots and lots of failures along the way.  

Just like everyone else, we keep on trying.  

But I really think the thing I need to try harder at is seeing my own Paradise right here.  It may not have sandy beaches and crystal blue waters.   It has a lot more going for it than that.  It has love, respect, and peace.

Paradise is right here.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

All Work and No Play Makes for a Boring Team LaJoy!

Last week was a semi-vacation break.  We have had a lot on our hearts and minds, and we all needed some time together to simply be a work schedules, no worries (as much as possible), no school, no early rising.  Sometimes it is important to listen to that little voice that warns you that reconnecting is really necessary in any given moment in time, and that is what we did.  We listened, and we decided to just be present with one another.

That doesn't mean we didn't work on some smaller projects around the house, do a little yard work, etc. but we did take time to stay up late and watch movies, to sleep in late and ease our way into the day, and to hang out.  One day  we just went to a local park taking along bikes for some of the kids, and we went on a long walk:

Our city just added a new feature at our favorite park, and now the river is set up such that you can put kayaks and other floats in there, or easily walk down stone steps to fly fish.  They did a beautiful job of enhancing the park and this was our first glimpse of it.

Dominick and Matt are watching fly fisherman.

Josh, Kenny and the girls all brought bikes, while Matt's back can't handle that yet.

So much for being Big Kids! Haha!

Afterward, for a "big treat" to make the day special, we went to Burger King and had milk shakes.  Yup, we LaJoy's live life on the wild side, I tell you!  However, after walking and biking 3 or 4 miles, that icy cold shake hit the spot.

We live in a place that is admittedly less than exciting for most "city folk".  We have a bowling alley and a swimming pool, a movie theater and a Drive In, but that is truly about it.  If you need entertainment that is more arts and culture oriented, this is definitely not the place to be.  But the, the views are incredible, and we have many parks to enjoy, rivers, mountains, and more.  
As the week went on, we did a few projects:

All the bikes needed maintenance, and Josh is doing a fine job repairing tires and brakes these days. 

Matthew saved us a fortune by repairing THREE laptops, including changing out keyboards, cleaning the components, and soldering in new plugs.  Yes, we are very lucky to have our own personal IT Guy, though Angela has also done her own repairs, changing out her own iPad screen!  I love how the kids are learning how to do such tasks, and are so willing to tackle them:

Yesterday, we decided it was time to take the new Christmas gift from Grandma out for her maiden voyage.  We went to a local park with a small lake, and spent the afternoon on the water and walking/biking the trails.  It was an eye opening experience in some ways for Dominick, as the kids needed instructions to be able to properly inflate and use the kayak.  Kenny was assisting, and perhaps for the first time Dominick really and truly saw in a concrete way how Kenny struggles.  It is not that he hasn't known, but that he hasn't experienced it in a learning environment in quite the same way I have, and often when he is teaching Kenny something, it is a hands on activity.  This time, he was reading aloud from an instruction book, and didn't realize how little Kenny was catching of the verbal instructions.  Auditory Processing Disorder can be debilitating, and it has been estimated that Kenny is only picking up on about 40% of what is said to him if it isn't accompanied by visuals or interactive discussion.  Wow, was that apparent yesterday!  He tries so hard, and comes across as so articulate and engaged, that people seldom realize just how handicapped this young man really is.  We are continuing to pursue getting help for him and an evaluation for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, as that appears to be the underlying problem.  I often look back though, and think how glad I am that we elected to homeschool, because of all the kids, Kenny has benefited the most from that decision.  We still have a long way to go, but he has made enormous progress and continues to do so.  

However, walking through the world as Kenny LaJoy is not easy.  He has the most amazingly positive attitude of anyone I know, but he endures a lot of frustration, and a lot of misunderstanding.  Having what is essentially a "broken brain" is very, very painful on so many levels.  As he matures, he is more self-aware, and that also makes it harder.  The good thing is that he CAN learn, but he sure has to be taught differently, and I continue to learn new approaches with each passing day.

Eventually, after multiple explanations, we got the "yellow submarine" kayak on the water:

Isn't she beautiful??  Thanks grandma!

Hurray!  Finally on the water!

Good exercise for Matt, who is starting to go a little stir crazy lately with the lack of much physical activity as his back heals.

Lessie didn't stay in the kayak long, she has a little fear of the water, but is working on it!

And Dominick is just like her and refuses to go in the water because he doesn't know how to swim...he jokes that he sinks well!! Haha!

Western Colorado has been showing off this past week, with the most stunning blue skies and clouds.  Made for a really beautiful afternoon.

How these kids love their Daddy!  Every one of them adores this man, who has worked so hard for them, and does his best to spend as much time as possible with them, too.  Here we are, smack dab in the middle of the supposedly awful teen years, and we have been so blessed that these years have been just was wonderful, warm, and loving as the earlier years were.  We continue to wait for the other shoe to drop, as so many have told us "just gets worse."  So far, so good...and I can't think of five more interesting, thoughtful, sharp, kind young people to be around.  Well...I might be just a wee bit biased :-)

Even Sunny came along for the afternoon!  However, she stayed in Dry Dock...

As the kids occupied themselves on bikes and with the kayak and little blow up boat we also brought, Dominick and I went for a long walk around the lake, talking as we strolled, catching up, becoming almost re-acquainted with one another.  We spoke about the past 15 years of our lives and what a ride it has been, and where the next 15 might lead us.  After so many years of being exhausted by such incredibly long hours at work, it has been quite an adjustment for Dominick to be able to rise at a reasonable hour, and to be awake past 7:00 pm.  He has free time that he doesn't know what to do with, and of course great concern over the fact that he has the free time in the first place.  It is a huge adjustment, and we talked honestly and openly about the need for us to learn to be around one another more.  I have literally spent almost 29 years virtually alone every evening, and waking alone as well.  We were ships that passed as we snored at night.  In some ways, it might be a preview of what retirement might one day feel like (if we can ever retire!) and we each need to make figure out a new normal.  While wonderful, it doesn't mean it isn't odd at first.  I am so glad we have the sort of relationship where we can look at one another, admit such things, and laugh about it without either party being offended.   It allows for an honesty that helps us in so many ways!  No doubt, in time, a new routine will be settled into, and we will wonder how we ever lived any other way.  What will help is if we can feel somewhat secure in our future, as certainly that effects everything right now as well.

Today, after playing all day yesterday, we had an enormous project to work on...the dreaded Annual Garage Cleanup.  Those who know us or have read the blog might recall that THIS is usually the deal breaker, THIS is the thing that brings about our One Big Annual Argument every single year, always in early spring.  Don't get me wrong, he is a hot headed Italian, and I am a not-always-subdued German, so there are more small altercations throughout the year as our hard headedness gets in the way of good ol' common sense, but this Annual Garage Cleanup ALWAYS triggers it for me!! Haha!  I am a structured, organized Virgo who fits the usual descriptions to a "T", while Dominick is a typical Aquarian in that he is...uh...unpredictable and a bit less organized (a huge understatement! Haha!).  This year, though, I couldn't fault him, as everything that had to be moved out of the airport restaurant that couldn't be shed had to come home, so we had quite a mess to organize.  Dominick worked all day detailing cars and washing 18 wheelers, so the kids and I got our groove on, and kicked it into high gear cleaning, so he wouldn't have to face meant we could get rid of things while he wasn't there to say, "But I might use that someday!!", so we all hustled to take advantage of our window of opportunity!!:

Before the cleaning commenced

Sorting into piles...electrical...paint supplies (remember all the painting projects?  7 people painting means 7 rollers, etc.)

Seven hours of sorting, cleaning, tossing, and organizing times six people is 42 man hours of work
Team LaJoy strikes again!!

We look a little Cooler Happy there on the top shelf, don't we??
And yes, that IS 6 #10 cans of chili, thank you very much!  And 12 lbs of spaghetti, 8 lbs of penne pasta, and only 4 lbs of elbow macaroni.  It won't take long for that to disappear, sadly.

Tomorrow will be church, then home for a lazy afternoon.  Josh has discovered a new book series and has read 2 1/2 books over the past 7 days, each one over 400 pages long...I am betting he finishes book 3 tomorrow afternoon :-)  The girls will likely practice Russian, Kenny might watch a video, Matt will probably play Sim City and continue to build his metropolis, and Dominick and I just might take a nap...or read...or do as little as possible.  It will be a relaxing end to a week filled with not a whole lot that was very exciting, but was fulfilling in all sorts of ways.

A little work, a little play, a lot of love.  What else could anyway want?