Friday, December 25, 2015

Happiest Christmas greetings!

Merry Christmas!!

Jesus left Heaven to come live with us so that He could show us how we ought to love and live and serve. Accept Jesus as your savior, and experience freedom from oppression- He will bring you rest.

Happy birthday, Jesus! Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 18, 2015


Experience over stuff.  
I'm moved by this concept... We don't need more stuff! 

We need time. Time with loved ones. Time with our kids. Time with each other.  Time with Him.

I love the glitter, the lights and the wrappings- I do. I really do. But the whisper in my ear that is God is saying love. Time. Prayer. Love. Love the hurting. Love the broken. Love each other.  Love Me.

He is speaking to us, and we are so busy, and so wrapped up in the wrapping up of gifts, and He is the Gift. He is Peace.  He tells us to be still and know...

So, take some of the moments and exhale. Breathe in and out. Rest in Him.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

It's the MOST wonderful time of the year!

I really do enjoy this season. So many people complain about the pressure of the holidays, the parties, the financial frenzy, and running ragged. That part is tiring.  After the first few weeks in December, though,  I actually feel like we get to slow down a bit and exhale.  It has been hectic, but at least it’s not cold.   I do not really care for the cold, but lucky for me, we seem to be enjoying a very mild fall.  I don't like the early darkness, either, but Christmas lights make it totally bearable.  Our part of the neighborhood is really lit up, this year, too.  Maybe the warmer days are encouraging others to get outside and put up those holiday lights!.  Plus,  I've yet to hear “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer” which is also, really, so very awesome.  All is not so calm, but is very bright in Virginia!

My kiddos are all older, now.  My youngest is twelve (years old), and is quite desperately hanging on to her belief system in Santa and his elves. Well, one elf, in particular.  Her name is Emma.  She is new to our house this year, specifically for Katie.  It's so fun to move her around, and be creative in making her believable… especially for a twelve year old.  It's a good thing Katie is older, I guess, because she reminds me all day that the elf is supposed to move more, like every day, as it gets closer to Christmas. And sometimes,  the elves do naughty things and, “Oh, I wonder where Emma will be tomorrow?”  I get plenty of reminders. It’s a big responsibility keeping us parents up to date and on task.

So, this morning, Emma vandalized the downstairs bathroom, complete with a lipstick “ho-ho-ho” scribbled across the mirror, and a roll of toilet paper strung all over. Katie was thrilled! She didn't even mind cleaning it up.  I was like, “she’s your elf, so you get to clean up after her!”  Nice. A little household training thrown in there! It was magical- especially for me.  I love it that the kids all want to still enjoy the wonder and magic of the holidays. From lights, to decorating, to elf antics- it's so fun.  I've heard of some people doing polar express rides, reading a different holiday book every night, and having holiday movie nights! I've even found instructions online for a Lego Jesse Tree devotional.   As stressful as the holiday season can be, it is great to be able to just relax a bit and enjoy some of these traditions with the kids. I love seeing all the pictures on-line, on social media, and reading about new ideas to share with my family. I can't do it all, I know (and you can't either- don't make yourself crazy trying to do everything!), but a couple of new things are fun to try.

First of all, consider going to your place of worship! Being a Christian, Christmas is truly a big deal!!! It's just not about gifts, and stuff, and parties... It's about God choosing to come to live among us to teach us how to live, and to ensure our eternity. Christmas matters because of Christ. Jesus loves you. God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to earth. Just. For. Us. For You.

This holiday season, maybe you could think about taking in a light show, go to the ballet, or go to a concert.  There are plenty of schools putting on shows and concerts.  There are so many ways you could enjoy the holidays.

This year, I'm more convinced that we need to be giving back.  There are so many hard things going on in this world.  We can’t solve all the problems for sure, but we could be a small  part of the solution, perhaps.  I think it's good for everyone to think of serving in some capacity.  There are so many things you can do! Some of the things my kids have enjoyed are the toy drives.  We've packed shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse, which sends shoe-boxes to under served children all over the world.  The kids have also always liked picking out a toy for the Toys-for-tots donation boxes. There are also Angel trees around the region, where you pick a specific child to get specific items for.  There are food drives, blanket drives, coat drives, and clothing drives going on at various churches, too!  It's easy to lose sight of the people in need in this region, living among commuters, and neighborhoods with lots of lights, and stores all decked out with holiday trappings. The need, though, is there. It's here. It's all over. Give, if you can. Serve at church. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, or at a soup kitchen. Give a happy meal to the man on the corner with the help sign.  I think, too, that giving is a good part of the spirit of the season!  With family members deployed, burdened shelters, and busy first responders, the opportunity to help is never more needed than right here, right now.  Plus, it feels good to help.

Afterwords, enjoy that give-back glow that you feel.  It’s good for your complexion! Then go home, have some hot chocolate, and relax. Snuggle up with the kiddos, read a few books, and have sweet dreams.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


It is so horrible and awful to hear news of terrorism, acts of terror, any kind of terror.  My heart is heavy for the people of Paris. While many people immediately start questioning the "how", and what-political-agenda allowed this to happen; I think it's important to immediately think of prayer.  140 people dead is certainly tragic.  Think about the people, though: "my brother was killed" or "I haven't yet heard from my mom" ...

Individuals- innocent individuals- are laid to rest.  

Pray. Pray for peace. Pray for compassion. Pray for forgiveness. Pray for strong leaders. Pray against hate and fear. Just. Pray.

Friday, October 30, 2015


Oh my stars!!!


I believe this has been a better week in our little homeschool.  More scheduled -- in terms of schoolwork, anyway. 

I believe I am also coming to the realization that I need to be more intentional and present with the girls while they are doing their work.  As independent as they are, they still do better when I'm in the physical space with them. Plus, the history is read aloud, and we picked our curriculum based on that fact- that we would be doing the bulk of school together.

So... Baby steps of progress are still steps... moving forward (mostly).

Also, it's halloween!!! We (the children) love halloween, and the candy (not really for me- there should be a sarcasm font).  So, today (after the school week is completed) we will be carving pumpkins, and making wolf ears (for Katie) and putting together a costume for Tommy (he just wants candy, but I told him I won't be giving candy to teens unless they are dressed up). We do happy Halloween, only, ahem, cough, but happy is loosely applied here. Katie was a happy zombie last year. I will also be putting invitations to church on all the candy bags:):) happy!

I am focusing on blessings this week, too.  I have SO much to be thankful for. I'm a very blessed lady.  I am, however, a very human lady, so focusing on the blessings is important.  Looking up, while I'm feeling down, is the most helpful, sobering posture I can take to change my earthly perspective to an eternal perspective.

God sees us. He knows. He loves us in spite of being human:)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Rest, too!

I have the privilege of writing for fredparent. Here is the link to that post:) 

And join me in prayer for all of us busy families! I don't wish to glorify busy-ness at all... Sometimes, though, it seems like a reality!

Don't forget to rest!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

one of those weeks...

So... It has been one of those weeks.  You know the kind:  if something can go wrong it probably will. All of us have this feeling of impending doom.  Anxieties are on high alert ( if autism lives at your house, one of the side effects is anxiety for everyone).  Tommy is sure that SHIELD agents are canvassing the neighborhood, and Katie swears she saw the evidence of an Incredible Hulk footprint at the marketplace.  The computer isn't co-operating; I takes an hour and a half for it to decide to work. On top of that, my tablet was frozen for three days.  This causes a bit of mayhem when you're trying to homeschool your kids (for me, anyway, it causes stress- all math is done on the computer). I know it's a first-world problem, but it is a big problem for this OCD mom.  We are in week four of school, and we are on week two in the curriculum.  Can I get a collective sigh? (~s~I~g~h~)

When these weeks occur, I usually want to eat a stockpile of chocolate peanut butter cups. It's true- just being honest.  I have endeavored, however, to partake in the diet/exercise phenomenon, so peanut butter cups are not available. I do, however, have copious amounts of leafy green spinach and a handful of radishes in my fridge.  I'm not finding anything that really equals the calming effect of the peanut butter cup, though. So, I've just been praying, and deep-breathing, and eating spinach, and exercising.  I'm trying to feel relaxed and ok.  I'm reassuring Tommy and Katie that SHIELD is not in the neighborhood, nor is the Incredible Hulk, but Danielle undoes that by telling them she is an agent, undercover... Goodness! I need to reign us all back in (life at our house is nothing if not entertaining).

So.... guess what???  Here comes the main point:  I'm OK.  It's Saturday, my tablet is sort of working, the computer is powering up, and I didn't feel any guilt in having French toast for breakfast.  No doom has occurred for us.  Although somewhat dramatic, it was just a hard week.  All of us got through it.  In the spirit of anything-goes, my friend texted and said she and her husband were on their way over for lunch, and they live in Austin, Texas (surprise! They are in town!). I'm in my leggings, and my Captain America shirt, and I feel mighty, because after they leave, I'm going to work out. I don't much like to work out, but now that I've started doing it, I like the way my body feels while I'm doing it.  It's been 27 days, and I've exercised for thirty minutes on every single one of those 27 days.  

So, here is my other main point:  even when it seems like everything that can go wrong will...there are still steps you can take to make sure some things go right.

You can offer gratitude.  Studies show a grateful heart is a happy heart.  The emotional world you live in can be falling apart, I know, it's happened to me, but there is something you can be thankful for.  My go to thanks happens to be indoor plumbing. Also, toilet paper.  I'm serious. Think about it.

You can go for a walk.  Studies also show that we don't get enough sunshine, or out door time, for that matter.  There is a whole new mental-health issue called something like nature-deficit disorder.  Just do it, as the slogan goes. You don't have to dress up or put on makeup. Just go for a walk around the block (and breathe deeply- and face the sun).

You can pray (or meditate, or deep breathe, again).  I will always say that- for every situation. Faith is powerful and awesome, and, dare I say, imperative and essential. We are supposed to bear one another's burdens, and we can't do that unless you are sharing them. I especially would rather know a friend needs help, then to find out later that I could have helped, but just didn't know. Pray for one another, love one another.

You can lean on a friend.  Most friends don't know you may be having a hard day (or week, or month). Don't be afraid to share. I have personally experienced this many times- the 'I had no idea' moments. Things can look really fine when someone is falling apart.  Again, when we know, we can rise up and help!

The hard days (weeks, months, seasons) will happen.  Your kids will be stressed, your marriage will need attention, you will feel manic and/or depressed. Every one of us, though, can do at least one small thing for ourselves to make a moment better.  Sometimes it's service for your kids or family. "I love you" looks a lot like dinner and a cookie, or maybe a vacuumed floor, or folded laundry. A bubble bath may be just enough to calm frazzled nerves- for you or your kids- or your spouse, for that matter.  Being grateful for running water, toilet paper, and indoor plumbing can put stress into perspective. Texting (or calling) a friend is invaluable.  Even if they can only cheerleader from the side lines, that could be the boost you need to get through the day, or night.  Fresh air always can bolster a mood- "a breath of fresh air" is a good phrase for a reason.

So, mamas, dads, parents, care-ers  of others:  keep on keeping on! You are doing awesome work. It may not always look pretty like Pinterest, but it can be so meaningful and pretty with purpose. Love is patient and kind, and is always a verb.

Keep calm and care on!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Happy Fall, y'all:)

I am one of those crazy people that loves all things pumpkin! I love pumpkin coffee, pumpkin coffee creamer, pumpkin pie, etc.... I LOVE the taste of all things pumpkin. I love, love, love crisp weather, too, but not too crisp. I enjoy being outside when it is just warm, and not sweltering, when there is a cool breeze, but not hot wind. The allergies here (here, being Virginia, apparently the worst place to live if you have allergies- and if you never had allergies, you will have them in this region of the world. Eventually.) are unavoidable, so I can't air out my house the way I'd love to, but we make the best of it- you know, with Zyrtec or something of that nature (I can only air out the house when it is below freezing, or the first few days of early spring, before the first blooms show up- all five of us have wicked allergies).  I digress...

Back to this season: pumpkins, apples, harvest time... It is really a fantastic time of year!  We are so lucky to live in a place where the leaves change colors so vibrantly. I love to see God in creation. This year, for some strange reason- probably because I'm just getting older, and weirder, I see God in nature. And it is awesome. The ocean, the mountains - Virginia has both- are places that God is so big, and I am small but significant. So, look for splendor in everything!

Virginia is great for fall festivals, too.  We have totally taken advantage of living here by going to fall festivals, craft fairs, mountain drives, picnics, and pumpkin patch places. We've never been to any of the Apple groves, but I understand those to be pretty spectacular, too!  So, my point in writing about all of this is to illustrate how awesome it is here, and how many varieties of activities there are to take advantage of. And a lot of them are free- which is nice, because if you have kids, you probably have a budget.  Like allergies, the high cost of things around the Northern Virginia region is unavoidable.

The other reason for talking about how awesome Fall is, and how wonderful this area is, has to do with plain 'ol optimism.  This week, with the rain (does Virginia have a monsoon season I was unaware of?), with the shorter days, it's easy to start feeling a little down.  This family, all of us- even the dog- have seasonal affective disorder (unofficially diagnosed).  When it is overcast, rainy, cloudy, etc. for any length of time, we start to go in hibernation mode.  I don't like to hibernate until February, simply because I don't like the cold.  So, when I noticed that my family was starting to mope around, I started to look up the activities going on around the area (on fredparent, of course:)).  I'm thinking we are going to stock up on some vitamin D, and update our rain jackets, and go out anyway. I lived in Germany as a kid, and if we waited around for the sun to do things, we would have never done anything (in Stuttgart, anyway, it rained a lot).  So, what keeps us inside, now? I know the answer is technology, but I'm really trying to fight that battle right now, and get us up and out, simply because it's healthy.  Plus, there really are a lot of cool things and goings-on to take advantage of around here!

So, happy Fall! Happy pumpkin-spice everything time! Enjoy where you live, with whom you live, and get out there and just do it.  It's Fall y'all, and it's a happy time to be in Virginia.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Nobody ever wants to really dwell on it, or talk about it.  We shield our children from it to the best of our abilities.  We explain it away, and we put it on the "back burner" and we wait.

All of us have experienced loss- every human, actually starts life with a loss: loss of warmth, loss of darkness, loss of our umbilical cord... Really, as much as we try to shield our precious little ones from loss, to have life, there has to be a loss.

And this great mystery of life, of all that we have, of all that we get to experience, endings remain sad.  Usually, anyway, endings are hard.

I grew up moving every three years.  I think my mom and dad did a pretty good job helping me and my brother walk through "good-byes", and "see you laters".  This was way before the Internet, and long distance calls actually cost a lot of money (yes, we did have TV, and Atari game systems were, and still are pretty cool).  Today, the world is a lot smaller, and with FaceTime, and email, it's actually pretty easy to keep in touch in real time. But, back in "ancient times" we wrote letters, and had to wait for a reply. It was hard to leave friends, and sometimes family every three years. These were losses.

These moves and losses were especially hard to deal with when I was a teenager. I'm not sure I realized how difficult it was to experience this type of loss until I was older, no longer in the military, but the friend saying good-bye. I was suddenly the one not moving. I felt left behind.  I literally had a mental health worthy depression in my mid-thirties when my best friend moved to the west coast.  We're talking not-wanting-to-get-out-of-bed depression. It was a tough year. I wonder now if that was just a culmination of all the good-byes I've ever said or experienced finally breaking the surface of the carefully calm good-byes over my entire life.  Did I really ever  deal with good-bye? Maybe I just was always "fine" because I was really just not dealing with the emotion of it all. I don't know. I've been friends with the (now) seven families that have moved in and out of the house across the street.  It's a bit of a running joke on our street, that I've been friends with all of them. They've all moved. I've been left behind.  I know now to deal with these losses as they happen.  Depressions are serious. I'd like to avoid them in the future. Like I said, that was a tough year.

Parents have to deal with all sorts of losses, though, every day.  We may not think of them so seriously:  the first tooth, the first roll over, the first sleep-through-the-night, the first crawl, walk, etc.  They are all losses, natural and sometimes happy, of the various stages of your baby's life. It happens daily. Your little one is getting older, and more independent.  Does your family have a pet? You'll be dealing with a loss eventually.  Moves, best friends, grandparents and great grandparents... Saying those kind of good byes are especially precious. I recommend you give them special attention, especially if you have an especially sensitive child (I need to follow my own advice, here).

There are all kinds of books to help illustrate and define death and dying- for kids, and for parents.  In fact, a lot of the books that are for children are just as good for the adults that are reading them to their children. I cling to my faith, so, I recommend books that deal with death according to your faith; they can be especially helpful.

We experienced a very unusual, and unfortunately sudden death of a family member this summer. We were quite stunned, actually, and while it seems like we are all OK, I think we will be dealing with this on many different levels in the weeks to come.  My grandmother is 91, and lives with my mom and dad.  My uncle, her baby, the youngest, died unexpectedly.  She has dementia, most likely Alzheimer's, so it has to be re-explained, re-lived through, almost daily. My mom is exhausted. My grandma is mostly sad. My dad is trying to keep it together.  This is a hard, difficult, crazy, weird type of loss.  It was not expected (I keep saying that, because he was 58, and not sick). It's unclear exactly what happened.  There has not been a lot of closure. Even the memorial service, while lovely, was so quickly put together, and accomplished, that it seems... surreal, maybe. My uncle was struggling with a lot of different issues, some so private that as they come to light we are all feeling somewhat responsible, in a way, for not knowing the pain he was in. Wondering... What if?  What if we knew? If only? Could we have helped?

As I write this on the anniversary of 9-11, the over-riding thought I have is this:  I didn't tell him I loved him.  I didn't share my faith with him. I didn't call to check in with him. I just didn't... And I should have.  So... Remember your loved ones. Pray for your friends and family. Pray often.

Monday, August 17, 2015

August Already!? I think I say this EVERY August!

by Lakis Fourouklas

 Yes, yes... I know time flies when you're having fun.  It also flies when you have a crisis, by the way.  Time, it seems, is always going by too quickly, in hindsight, especially.  So, it's already the middle of August (!) and I'm wondering what happened (?), because surely it isn't almost September!?!  I guess the middle of a month doesn't always mean it is almost the next month... but for me, who apparently doesn't have a good grasp on time, it means exactly that.  This also means I have to get organized to homeschool the two remaining non-graduated kiddos in my household (and probably the graduated one as well, because we have yet to find a good fit for him).  This means that I'd better get my you-know-what (insert your favorite word for backside here) in gear.  Like, soon.

So...a little back story:  I wanted to title this post 'seven stitches and one unexpected demise'... But my close friends and family insisted that it wasn't a good idea to do that.  The thing is, though, that this summer has NOT gone according to plan.  We've had a lot of not-planned-for things happen.  Life happens, and it is messy and beautiful, and sad, and amazing.  I've learned that I enjoy routines, and schedules, though.  It may be because I have autism in my family, or it may be the nurse in me, or anxiety... the list goes on... Whatever the reason, routine is my friend.  So, once I'm out of it (routine), things tend to just go by, and by, and then it's the middle of August and almost September, for example.  So, this why I want to share about the beauty of routine.

I love, love, love homeschooling my kids.  I enjoy getting to spend the best part of their day with them.  I love that I can teach Bible and prayer and encourage our relationships with Jesus.  I'm actually very excited that no one at our house is in another school setting this year! Four years of public-school high-school was a little bit on the tough side for us.  We are not morning people; we are definitely not 0630 AM people. My husband, God bless him, is a morning person, and faithfully gets up every morning very (very) early.  He tolerates us non-morning people very well.  The rest of us (not me, and not any of the kids) did not inherit a morning gene.  We do follow a routine, though, and life is just much better all around when we stick to it.

Repeat after me:  routines are beautiful!!

Our day (for example) looks a little like this:

8:00-9:00-- wake up, breakfast, coffee (yes, we all drink it. We love coffee!), get dressed, etc.
9:00-10:00-- morning chores, tidy up (I find I am able to be attentive to school stuff when I'm not worrying about waffle syrup sticking to plates. And floors. We have a Labrador. Floors need to be swept, or I imagine that little dogs are growing out of the fur piling up around the baseboards), devotions, Bible time
10:00-12:00-- history/literature/grammar/writing work
12:00-12:30(ish) lunch, stretch, walk outside, jump up and down...
12:30-1:15 (or so) math. We must accomplish math. It has to be done. Math. I don't like math.
1:15-2:something- the kids work on science homework (they are in a co-op for that- I also don't like lab science in my house. This year the girls are both doing chemistry- one in middle-school, one in high-school, legit, a scientist is teaching it, and I'm so glad I don't have to).

The afternoon time is usually free for playing, reading, art, running errands, and get-togethers (the newly twelve year old informed me that I could no longer call them play-dates).  We tend to eat dinner between five and six. One day a week we go to co-op only, and it is all day, so we don't "do school" on those days, and Wednesdays are music days, so they will look a little different, too. One evening a week is spent at the library, and one is spent at gymnastics.  We also will be doing a speech and debate club this year, on Fridays, in the afternoon.  Friday tends to be a light day no matter what curriculum we use, so I'm glad that club is on a Friday.  Sundays are church days. Bam! We have a routine:)

Although I've never done this before, this year we all (meaning the homeschool folk in the house) have planners, so each day will have a checklist for what needs to be done.  I'm looking forward to seeing how it works.  I hope it does work, in that I hope that by writing a plan for the week we will be kept honest and realistic about getting the school work accomplished.  We are far from perfect, and usually, around the holidays, we fall a bit out of routine with traveling, and family, and special events.  And for some reason, February and March are difficult to get through.  I suspect it is because of the cold, and being inside so much.  Another thing I've learned about everyone in this family is that we are ALL seasonally affectively disorderly (SAD) in the cold, dark months. It's true!  We get spring fever, too, but we tend to power through and try to be done with our (school) work around the first week of June. By the end of June I'm usually missing my routine, which is why this year I tried to implement a summer routine.  Then summer happened, and seven stitches and an unexpected demise later, I'm scrambling to organize myself for September.  It is okay, though.  Like I said, life is beautiful, and messy, and sometimes we are in a season of just-getting-through-it!

Getting into a routine is awesome. Structure is especially good for toddlers and pre-schoolers  and kids with any type of anxiety or autism issues.  It's also just plain good to know what is expected from everyone (spouses included!) from day to day.  We, as parents, know what to expect, and the kids know what to expect.  Also, putting on the schedule or calendar anything out of the ordinary (field trips, doctor appointments, party days) gives the young ones time to process a different routine.  It really does help avoid a meltdown (it doesn't eliminate them- meltdowns are like ninjas; they come out of nowhere). Think about it: everything on earth has a routine!  Seasons, animals, nature, even existence has a pattern to it.  Routines are good. Routines are beautiful.  Please feel free to share yours!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


It has been a little wild this past July! We have been busy doing I-don't-even-know-what. 

I know my girls went to camp for a week.  It was weird to be home with just Tommy (Mark was working a lot, so he and I were the proverbial 'ships passing in the night').  Tommy and I got down to business (after two days of non-stop chatter)  and went to get information about (perhaps) going to Germanna, and maybe volunteering at the library.  The Library trip resulted in one filled-out application, and 23 checked out books. Success!   The Germanna info session was very well put together.  It looks like it won't be a problem for him to take some classes in the fall while we wait for the possibility of some of the state-run transition programs to become available.  He is at the top of the waiting list. 

I learned, though (at Germanna), that he needed a valid, current, official, photo-ID.  All students need to take entry placement tests for english and math.  That, in itself, should be interesting, since he doesn’t test well.  Also, Tommy doesn't drive (or make beds- too many steps).  His high school ID wasn't official, or, technically, current. I have his social security card, a voter card, an insurance card, and a library card, and nothing with a picture on it, apparently.  In a brief moment of genius, I remembered we had passports, but, guess what (?) they were, of course, expired.  No ID, no test, no college.  ~sigh~

Sooooo.... I told Tommy we had to go to the DMV.  

"Isn't that the most miserable place on the planet?"

Hmmm.... Those words must have come out of my mouth at some point in the last ten years.  So, yes, I told him, and bring a book.  A long book. It's always a very long wait. 

"Can I get a motorcycle license while we're waiting forever?"

"Umm, no. Not until you can make a bed, and shower head to toe in the right order, my friend; motorcycle driving comes after car driving, which comes after bed making, and showering correctly.  And it won't be forever- just a few hours. Maybe."

I'm thinking I said all of that out loud, in a huffy manner, probably with a snap to it. Tommy, though, just takes these type of things in stride because he is a black and white type of kid, and what I said made a little bit of sense to him, in his world. 

Let me tell you:  it has been a long time since it has been just Tommy and I, alone.  He talks. A lot. He paces. A lot. He flaps. A lot. He has a lot of conversations with just himself. A lot. He has a lot of aha moments about the universe and time travel and swordsmen, and baby bats.  He dreams about being great. He likes to be the guy who saves the day, then disappears into a time warp or worm hole and only those that really know him would know that he rescued humanity.  It's pretty cool stuff, except when it's played continuously on a loop, on repeat, for a week, and the only witness to it all is me (and even then, it's still cool, it's just tiring to hear it all again. and again).  By day three (believe me), the DMV was an awesome break to get us out of the house doing something. Anything. The DMV, people.  Dad was home on day four, so that helped me. A lot.

When I write, I am reminded that I have so many blessings where Tommy is concerned.  We don't know what is happening next, but we are trying to keep moving forward, and that is pretty cool.  It's faith. It's trusting in the unseen, but moving forward despite not being able to see.

On day five, when the girls returned, the volume of the house went back up about 30-45 decibels. The bickering resumed.  Three siblings fell right back into their own language, their ongoing rivalries.  It got chaotic and loud again, like they hadn't even been gone.  The laundry was piled up, like, way up. It was beautiful.  And Tommy had two other people to talk to, and interact with.  Did I already mention the word beautiful?

It's funny how routines shape us, isn't it?  It takes one little change to realize some pretty profound things about yourself, your life, your relationships... like the blessings that abound all around, and the beauty of an unusual child, and the importance of photo IDs.  For real, though, relationships really matter, and the time you spend building that with your kids is so important.  One day, they will be 18, and you'll be struggling with what-do-we-do-next and that communication you've developed will be awesome, and meaningful, and important.  It'll be hard and sweet at the same time, and you'll be so glad for it!

Praise, God!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Summer Studies

Over here on his blog, the original blog, I just want to offer a little more depth to my posts. I could never fathom taking credit for good things in my life, without acknowledging the best thing in my life: Jesus Christ.  I was sharing the painful parts of a story the other night with one of my longest-time best friends, and she remarked to me that I was a better woman than her... I'm not, though, I insisted. That's not me. As in, literally, not me. It's Him. With a Capital H, Him. Only through Him, can I live at all. Certainly, only through Him can I forgive.  It's true love. I will be praying for all of my dear ones to know Him. I pray that I can share Him more often, more beautifully, and more boldly.

I have the best plans of continuing to homeschool over the summer.  These plans consist of very organized days, eager and willing children desiring to do their math, and soft music playing in the background.  I think that all of the workbooks for summer bridging activities will be interesting and they will inspire learning and creativity.  Doesn't everybody imagine such summer days?  

I wonder when I will stop dreaming about such summers, and will just embrace what really happens.

I wonder when I will stop being surprised by my plans not working out the way I want them to.

This summer, I'm trying a little more of a proactive approach (for my psyche, anyway) that involves only a few days a week of actual work, and less than a few hours of time a day devoted to such work.  At least, I think, we aren't just lounging around doing nothing. My children's brains aren't just being lazy, wasting away into nothingness.  I think of it like a compromise.  A very flexible compromise.

After all, there are days that I am lazy, too.  It's hard to admit that out loud, but, it's true.  There are summer mornings when I just don't feel like being organized, or on time.  We don't start lessons, because I don't make it a priority, and the kids don't have it as a priority.  Some days are just... well, lazy.  Here is the compromise part:  It's OK.  

It's ok to be in our pajamas all day.  It's ok to skip math and go to the pool. It is even ok to wait to start the laundry until tomorrow (or the next day). 

So, we are trying to be a little bit disciplined and a little bit flexible.  We are having an expectation of math and grammar three days a week.  While I don't think this is asking too much, my kids continue to balk at said assignments. 

"It's summer"
"The sun is shining"
"It's too cloudy"
"My head hurts"
"My stomach hurts"
"My third toe on my right foot hurts"

You get the idea.  They think I was both born yesterday, and was never a kid. Meh.

This is my proposal (read: expectation, read: demands):  Three days a week, less than a few hours a day (sometimes less than an hour a day).  Work on the (wretched) math and grammar (please!).  The oldest daughter still actually has curriculum to finish- as in, she still owes me, like two papers, and has another novel to get through before she can start junior year.  She, actually, is very agreeable to my (ahem) proposal.  We also have a loose schedule of crafts, library time, science time, and Bible study.  In my perfect vision it isn't such a loose study schedule (I guess I'm a little bit of an organization freak- I like schedules like I like geography and timelines- everything in its own time and space).  In reality, though, we have these lazy days, and rainy days, and sunny days, and sick days.  We also really do have to get the laundry done... everyone has grown, and most of the girl's shorts are a little too short for my liking.  They really only have, like, three pairs each.

July is the fun month, though, where we relax a bit on the schedules.  Like I said, it happens every year.  It gives me time to get organized for next year, and it allows the breathing room needed to re-evaluate what did and didn't work for us.  I'm embarrassed to say that I've just figured out that the way I teach (that, mind you, worked for my other two kids), does not work (at all) for my youngest.  So, this July, specifically, this week, will be spent putting together next year's curriculum for her.  I'll keep you posted!

Homeschooling is the best thing ever, even when it isn't the best thing ever.  I love that I can do it, that my husband wants us to homeschool our girls. It is hard at times, but so worth it to be able to spend the best parts of our days together.  Sure, it's nice to get a break, and yes, I have those moments when I wonder what on earth am I thinking, but over all I wouldn't change it.  I love the summer-time when we all can relax a bit, even though I sometimes struggle with all that relaxing.  It is a great gift to be home with the kids.  And, for real, I know that they really are learning... even when they are "not".

Friday, July 3, 2015

Happy Independence Day

I love, love, love July fourth!  I love the fireworks, I love picnic food, I love the red-white-and-blue.  I love being patriotic!  I grew up a Navy-brat, and moved every three years, but we always celebrated the fourth.  In fact, the best three July fourth celebrations I remember were celebrated in Stuttgart, Germany on Patch Barracks.  The fireworks were incredible... so incredibly close... that part actually made me nervous. They were close.  Did I mention they were close?  I actually remember feeling heat and smelling gunpowder. Awesome.

So, what are you all doing?  For the first time in a long time (very long time) we are attempting to celebrate with the masses.  I wrote a few weeks ago about going to the zoo for fun, and how those plans seem to always go awry.  So, we are planning (diligently making plan A, plan B, and plan F). We have food contingencies, bathroom contingencies, rain ops, etc. We have bug spray, bug screen, sun screen, hats, tents... you get the idea.  In our pursuit of the celebration of life and liberty, we are are arming ourselves for defense against a meltdown.  I'll keep you posted. We will be hopefully partaking in the Heritage Festival, and enjoying the celebration of independence outside! All. Day. No wimpiness will be tolerated... says the husband. 

There are so many cute things out there, in cyberland, to do, to be festive, to decorate, to cook.  I so enjoy looking at the pictures of everything.  The trick, of course, is to not get sucked into the perfection of it all.  Does this happen to you?  It happens to me all the time... the beauty of pinterest, the perfect recipes, the artistic crafts...  Yes, it is all gorgeous, and exciting, but don't set yourself up for failure.  Most of the recipes do not end up looking like the pictures of the recipes. Sometimes the crafts don't turn out, either.  Just remember, that you are being creative and creating a festive atmosphere for your family, and that is where the love is.  Your family will appreciate your attempts, and love you for loving them so much to be making red, white, and blue cupcakes, and jello, and hamburgers.  It's a blessing to be the keeper of the home:)

I've also read about communities doing a decorated bicycle parade, and having prizes for those dressing up with a patriotic spirit.  This sounds so fun, that one year (some day)  I totally plan to organize a neighborhood parade for the kids.  I've been saying this for a few years, though, and July Fourth is like, tomorrow.  In fact, you may be reading this after the fourth, which is fine, because there will be a celebration next year, too, and I may have that parade thing up and organized by then.  Also, there will be Labor Day, Patriot Day, and Memorial Day coming up... you know, soon.  All of these holidays celebrate patriotism, too.  Red-white-and-blue is always in style!! Time to start planning!

Books, too, are an important part of our repertoire for any and all holidays.  We. Love. Books.  I picked up three simple picture books about July Fourth at the library yesterday.  We will read them together tonight and tomorrow. I don't have baby-babies anymore, but I still like to use picture books, because they read quickly, the pictures are fun and beautiful, and the information is still good, and correct.  Instead of trudging through a textbook teaching the story of The Declaration of Independence, you can read the same information in a story book with pictures.  I have a seriously (like diagnosed, for real, severe level) distracted adHd child.  She can't handle loads of info at once, and certainly doesn't have the attention for a long book.  Story books, with pictures, is the way to go.  My older, non-distracted child loves the art and simplicity of these books as well.  And my oldest, autistic child still appreciates read-aloud time here and there.  He says he is too old for it, but I find him usually hanging around, and looking at the pictures, and listening intently.  It's sweet.

I give thanks to God for blessing me so richly in this time and space. Too often, we take freedom for granted. We take general luxuries and celebrations for granted, too. By we, I mean the collective "we"... I know I'm included in that- I worry about meltdowns at the park, not getting shot at in the park.  Join me in prayer this weekend to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ that do have to worry about violence, and persecution. And their freedom, or more concerning, their lack thereof. Prayers, sometimes, are all we can offer.

So, whatever holiday celebration y'all are planning this weekend, please enjoy it!  And if you're reading this after the holiday, then kudos for planning ahead for next year!  I hope everyone enjoys their weekend, no matter what!  Happy Independence day!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

busy marriage

June, at last! I can't believe how quickly May went by. I guess the old adage of "time flies..."

Whether it's fun, or just busy (or hopefully both), time flies. Period.

So, I was thinking about writing on the subject of marriage, again, and I was trying to come up with a good, exciting topic, but my brain is kind of, like, frozen (not the movie- just the state of being).  I've been so focused on how unintentionally busy I am, and how I can't believe I have a man-child graduating from high-school, and lacrosse playoffs, and swim season, and the list goes on, and the time flies by, and I just become kind of frozen. But, I think, marriage is part of parenting, and it's so important, and it certainly deserves time and space and priority.

My husband and I had to deal with a lot of time apart last month, and I think that is part of the reason why May was here and gone before I even had time to think about it!  He was traveling (like, out-of-the-country- travel) and the kids and I were just busy (ugh, that word again!) with the rhythm and routine of the every day.  Let me just add that this kind of travel involved no phone contact (not exaggerating), seismic activity (yes, like earthquakes), and ten time zones. Apart. So, we, the children and I, were kind of really on our own.

Well, it's easy to fall into some interesting habits without the accountability of your spouse being present, or at least a phone call away every day,  such as, kids hanging out in the bedroom, in the bed, in the bathroom (privacy?)... It's actually amazing to me how easy it is to fall into these patterns. Three weeks can be a long time, I guess.  God bless those families that have to be apart longer for deployments, extended travel, or single/unaccompanied tours of duty, and situations like that! Three weeks may seem like nothing, but it was long for us. Plus, the whole no contact thing just added to the situational stress of being apart.  So, I had kids arguing over the front seat of the car,  whose turn it was in the bed, and things like who was last downstairs, so who had to go turn off the light... Oh my goodness! I'm also pretty sure we ate out almost every day (nutrition? what?) and I skewed the budget for the next month because of that.

Needless to say, we were very, very happy to have Daddy back home after three weeks! While it was hard to be apart, and out of touch, and all that, it was actually kind of hard to get back together and back into being married, and parenting on the same page, too.  Long, long ago, when I had just two kids, and one on the way, my husband deployed to Kuwait.  It was right after 9/11, and he was a reservist who got activated to serve overseas.  The children were so young, then, and I don't remember it being so hard to adjust to him being home again. Of course, it could be that I went into labor, and we had a new human in the house right after he returned.  We were all adjusting to something new.  This time, though, with older kids, and everyone having an opinion (and expressing that opinion) getting back into a routine was not quite smooth. We had to have a few discussions about bedrooms and boundaries and what we had been doing for three weeks.  We needed to talk about the expectations now that Dad was back in the house.   

Part of the transitional bumps (this time) relate to the kids, our boundaries (or the lack thereof- I am so working on this!), and parenting, of course, but the bigger picture relates to marriage, I think.

Our marriage relationship is a barometer for our home.  We need to connect and respect that our relationship speaks volumes to our kids.  The way my husband and I relate to one another teaches our kids how to relate to one another.  Our children are watching us, and they are learning so much about behavior and choices and consequences.  When we are angry or frustrated, it almost always means the younger ones are going to be angry and frustrated.  Interestingly, though, now that I have teenagers, just because we are happy doesn't necessarily mean they are happy (are all teens moody?).   

When my husband and I take the time to make our relationship a priority, it translates to less anxiety in the home.  It also teaches our children respect- respect for our marriage, our space, and our time. It is a symbiotic (the big homeschool word for the week) relationship. This means that we are mutually beneficial to each other.  The children are learning from us, and certainly we are learning from them (patience, self control, joy… things like that). The kiddos are learning boundaries.  When things are being communicated and conveyed appropriately, the kids aren’t so stressed about what to expect.  Consistency (my personal struggle) is the key to happiness - for kids and adults.

Let me say this, too: marriage is all about service. It may not be a popular idea, but in faith, God gave us a design for marriage! It involves serving each other and having specific roles that He ordained. From the beginning, friends. I am a helper, my husband is the head, and respecting that design is actually very liberating. We need to be humble to each other, serve each other, and love each other. And forgive each other. Daily. It's really ok, I promise!

That leads me to:

... another touchpoint... which is the sharing of control.  When your spouse returns from travel or deployment, or whatever has called you apart, it is important to let them back in to the front seat!  The returning spouse needs to be afforded the respect to continue to parent and make decisions.  In our marriage, we (my husband and I) share the control-freak gene.  We are both oldest children and we both like to be in charge. Sharing of control is hard business, but it’s important to our marriage, and our family.  It has taken some time, and, yes, some arguments, and some more time, and we are still learning to share the control.  It is nice to not have everyone fighting, and control is usually the center of any argument in our home.  My oldest likes to have the illusion of control, the middle is usually in control, and the youngest desperately wants control.  For them to see either Mark or me give up the control of (insert here) type of issue, they are learning that it is ok to not always be in charge.  

So… enjoy your marriage!  I hope this may speak to someone today!  As always, let me repeat that I am not an expert- I took “Marriage and the Family” at age nineteen in college, and I should have payed better attention.  I do have some experience, though, and a lot of great role models in my life, and God, of course.  To His glory for the success of my marriage, for sure!  It is an awesome thing when we can all be together, and all be on the same page, same sheet of music, etc. and have some fun on this business of family and parenting.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

spring rush

Praise to God!!!

I've gotten through another winter and an autism awareness month:)  Things are looking up!  I have warmth and sunshine and happiness returning to my body.  I posted over on Pink Owl for Fredericksburg Parent magazine.  Please check it out.  Because I've committed to another human being that I will write regularly, I think most of my posts will be over there... but I'm going to post them here, too:

I am loving this warmer weather, and all of the pretty colors!  My nose and eyes aren't enjoying it so much, but I am.  Flowers (especially pink ones) make me happy. Warm weather makes me (and my body, mind, health,and bones) happy, too!  The sun and synthesizing vitamin D is, apparently, so important (for moms and kids)! Who knew?

Thank you for the warm response regarding autism awareness! It's such an important topic, in my opinion, and not just because my son has it.  I think that everyone is going to have or know a loved one "on the spectrum", if not now, then in the very near future. What is considered "typical" may become outnumbered by what is considered autism.  So, in my opinion, the importance of why or how or what makes autism so prevalent is not what we should be focusing on. Of course, preventing it would be great, but, I think accepting people with autism, and learning how to reach and teach children with autism is so much more important.  Showcasing the gifts that come with the autism diagnosis is also important.  It is so special to think about the things that make my son special, especially on those days when things aren’t, you know, so special.

Here is another thing:   Including the parents in the making of education plans, and the planning of supporting interventions and the placing of accommodations, also, is paramount.  I have heard so many (too many) stories of parents (mostly mothers) being shut out of classrooms and learning environments for their children in the school system.  I did not have this experience, but it is frustrating to hear about because sometimes parents are the translators for their children, and anxiety surrounding language, transition, and safety is so hard to overcome (for everyone - parents and children).  I have an eighteen year old, and it's still hard (to overcome all that anxiety)!  While early intervention is so important and so, so awesome, working as a team is imperative for everyone's success. I did not always get exactly what I wanted put in place for my child, but having an open mind, and communicating with educators insured that safety was always in place, and any barriers to communication with Tommy were overcome.  Everyone desires to be understood, and the entire autism community deserves that opportunity, including parents and classroom teachers, and, of course, the child. I know that educators want to help, primarily. They aren't in it for the money, folks, so mutual respect is definitely important!

I've got to say, from my perspective, I have had a really great relationship with my son's team of people throughout his scholastic career.  He started when he was three in the school system, so it's been a long relationship with so many great people. I can't believe, in fact, that it is coming to a close!  I'm going to miss the security of Tommy riding a bus, and being escorted to classes and having someone available by phone or email all the time.  Really- even on the weekends I would get answers to emails!  There was not one teacher who didn’t want the best for Tommy.  I’m going to miss his teachers.  I'm going to miss his paraprofessionals who kept him pretty organized. I'm going to miss everything being so close and so safe. Especially the so safe part...

I guess it's just that the old adages of "time flies" and "they don't stay little for long" are really hitting home.  I can remember the baby that is now six feet tall so, so clearly, like it was yesterday (another old adage).  I wish I had another year to get things ready for transition, to help him just a little while longer.  I wish I was better prepared. I wish I could prepare him more.  The thing that is time, though, would still go by so quickly, and I will always be unprepared. Every parent is. That is the messy beauty of life, though... we need to soak up every moment- the good, the bad, the not-so-pretty, and pass on what we know to each other.  That is why I write- to count my blessings, to figure out what I'm learning, and to celebrate what's beautiful, and to try to learn from what isn't. I believe it's so important to share the autism experience, too. We need to share so much, because we are all so different.

My middle daughter and I are often commenting that reality TV at our house could be a big hit.  Just the other night I was browning beef, the smoke detector was going off, Katie was screaming and plugging her ears (spectrum, maybe? Definitely sensory issues with that little one...), Pippin was barking and Danielle just walks in like, "really? Where are the cameras?" Tommy is just flapping and growling at us all, as Danielle gets a magazine to wave under our overly sensitive smoke detector.  I can't cook well, I'll admit that, but I promise nothing was burning! It was only about three minutes of mayhem, but the fall-out lasted all evening with ears hurting, and nerves unraveling. Maybe that doesn't seem so funny, but laughing instead of crying just feels good sometimes.

And... so does the sun- it feels good - and studies show it can better your mood! The pink flowers are also quite lovely this time of year. So, get out and enjoy! There is time in every season to rush around, but it takes a strong person to be still and enjoy the beauty in every moment during the rush that is spring.