Saturday, June 5, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Happy 65th Birthday to my wonderful father! And now for his 65th birthday list like the one I made for my mom.

My Dad...
1.) Is a cornball.
2.) Is an extremely faithful person.
3.) Is generous to a fault.
4.) Has always paid special attention to those less fortunate.
5.) Built many a club-house for us kids, including a tree-house.
6.) Took us to the free softball games at Kellet Park with a brown bag full of home-made pop-corn.
7.) Comes up with some of the biggest pipe-dreams imaginable.
8.) Makes some of those dreams a reality, much to my mother's chagrin.
9.) Spent lots of time with us kids, answering any question we might have about God, the Bible, and the church.
10.) Led family devotions every night.
11.) Supported my mother unconditionally in fulfilling her dream of home-schooling all of us kids.
12.) Painted 3 foot diamonds on our sidewalk to make our house easier for people to find.
13.) Loved to plant fruit trees.
14.) Is very, very quirky.
15.) Loves history.
16.) Took me out for ice-cream on numerous occasions to discuss my boyfriends.
17.) Hauled van-loads of kids to church in his old, blue van in which he had installed carpeted, wooden benches all along the sides.
18.) Wiggles his feet for comfort (which I inherited).
19.) Has a temper.
20.) Suffers from severe, chronic back pain which makes it difficult to function.
21.) Was in the Navy.
22.) Grew up on a dairy farm.
23.) Has created some beautiful paintings.
24.) Has the respect of many a formerly down-trodden person who is able to live a better life because my dad helped them in many ways and gave them a second chance.
25.) Drives like Jehu.
26.) Used to be an atheist.
27.) Used to be a preacher and car-salesman simultaneously.
28.) At one point, delivered newspapers, worked a full-time secular job, and worked full-time in the ministry to provide for his family.
29.) Owned and rode a Honda motorcycle for several years.
30.) Sometimes thinks he's funny when he's not.
31.) Sometimes doesn't know he's funny when he is.
32.) Set all clocks in our house 15 minutes ahead of time and called it "Pratt Time."
33.) Requests (adamantly) that people just walk in his house instead of knocking.
34.) Hasn't an ounce of pretense in him.
35.) Corralled the family and any extras into leaving by announcing at the top of his lungs, "Pratts and all those riding with Pratts, get in the Pratt-mobile!!!!"
36.) Is a good cook.
37.) Loves masking tape.
38.) Liked to take us kids crabbing and let the little crabs loose on the dock to chase us.
39.) Listened to the radio blaring at all hours of the day, including at the dinner table which always made my mother furious.
40.) Started the Enid Youth Rally and had a big heart for the youth, even though he wasn't always successful with them.
41.) Calls me "Bubbles."
42.) Came to my fast food job almost every morning on his way to work to eat breakfast and see how I was doing.
43.) Fell in love with my husband before I did.
44.) Would yell, "Everybody pick up ten things," whenever someone came to visit.
45.) Came outside in his underwear with a gun one night when we girls thought we saw someone looking in our window.
46.) Sang at high volumes early in the morning.
47.) Loves to make giant whole wheat pancakes with fruit in them.
48.) Was incessantly telling us girls to get off the gas pedal when we played the piano.
49.) Hates to go fishing but took my brother anyway.
50.) Bought us all kites and took us to Purdue Park to fly them.
51.) Taught us kids how to drive.
52.) Performed my wedding ceremony.
53.) Wants to believe the best about people.
54.) Raised us with very black and white convictions and was always able to explain why.
55.) Sings well.
56.) Has been beaten down many times.
57.) Always gets back up...a little slower each time, though.
58.) Can be very obnoxious.
59.) Never wears jeans.
60.) Taught us girls how to change a tire and do minor car maintenance.
61.) Drove many miles to take our family on trips and vacations, singing and playing car games along the way (and fighting too).
62.) Loves to hear someone play the saw.
63.) Got the whole family involved in cheering for the St. Louis Cardinal games during baseball season.
64.) Is a good whistler.
65.) Taught us all what it means to love God and work hard.

I love you, Dad! Wish I could be there with you today!

Monday, May 17, 2010

If Only Everything Were Always Ideal...

They offered me a job working in the kitchen three days a week at Allika's school. It's pretty much the same thing I was doing before on a volunteer basis, but I get paid for it now. I thought that was pretty cool.

I've already been able to be there when she's experienced a difficult situation or had something exciting to show me. That makes me feel good.

She's learning a lot of social lessons that have been very good for her and us both. She's learning how to treat the fat boy in her class that everyone else thinks is full of germs. She's learning how to be friends with the little girl who doesn't have any other friends and sometimes thinks that even Allika doesn't want to be her friend. She's had to set boundaries when some of the kids have been mean to her. She was able to handle a difficult situation by confronting it in a respectful way and getting her teacher involved. She has had to face fears and learn that everything doesn't always turn out as badly as she thinks it will. We have had to work with her and guide her through learning how to handle some of these situations, so I think we have been learning some new parenting skills, as well.

I am so proud of her! I think she is learning so many life lessons that will be extremely valuable to her as she grows up and has to deal with some of the same situations, but on a larger scale and in an uncontrolled environment.

I'm not sure that she would have been provided with the same scenarios by just staying at home with Van and me. She does have neighborhood friends, church friends, and other home-educated friends, but even in those environments, she would not be faced with the same kind of situations as she has been at school. Plus, her contact with those people is much more limited.

There are still so many things I prefer about home-schooling. When I think of going back to it, however, I see that there are a lot of really great things I would be giving up at her school. I am coming to realize that there are pros and cons to each option, but I can't have the best of both worlds. I don't know, maybe there's something out there that does offer that option. That would be ideal.

Until I find it, though, I am slowly coming to terms with this new transition in our lives. It has been good in many ways. We will continue to see how it goes through the summer.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sorry

Okay. So, I have about 15 minutes, and I owe it to you guys to post something because life has been so full lately, and I love it, but it means a lot less time to keep in touch with all of you...which I don't love.

Anyway, the last two weekends we had out-of-town company. It was so much fun and made us feel so special that they would come just to see us. We went to see the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Awesome, people! Remember how I told you that I'm the one who races through exhibits at top speed while Van has to absorb every inch of them? Well, not this time. I was just enthralled with the thing. It was so worth the time and money to see it. In fact, I would love to do a detailed post just on that. But it's doubtful.

We also went to the Festival of Nations with our company. That is such a neat experience. They have all the different ethnic foods, music, dancing, and crafts. I always have to get the bread pudding and chicken curry from Nepal, the gyros from Greece, and the wantons from China. We all got different things and were sampling each other's food. It was so much fun.

Another thing we did was go see the Minnesota Orchestra play Vivaldi's Four Seasons. It was a special free concert funded by Target. They had this 15-year-old violinist. He was out-of-this-world amazing. They also played Summertime by Gershwin in this very cool jazz arrangement. Outstanding! It went by so quickly and the kids were just sitting on the edge of their seats, soaking it in. It was so neat watching Allika, because she was absolutely entranced by it all. There were sometimes when we would look over and she would be conducting the orchestra herself or pretending to play various instruments.

Speaking of Allika, she's doing so well in school. I really need to update you guys on that...and so much more, but I've got to go now. I really hope I can be on here more frequently. Thanks for being patient with me while my life goes in a million directions.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thanks To My Husband...

...here is a glimpse of some of our experiences over the last two weeks.


Allika, at the zoo with her friends, Skyelynn and Morgan


Sitting on a turtle






An Easter egg hunt in our backyard with Allika, Tea, Avery, Joy, and Kenny


First day of school


Trip to Duluth: Allika, throwing rocks into Lake Superior






Allika and Van at Lake Superior


Allika, chasing sea gulls


View from Enger Tower


Enger Tower


Climbing down from Enger Tower


View from the ledge


Silly People


Allika, at her first Art Fair...can you tell she didn't want her picture taken?


Allika, in front of her locker








Allika, having fun at her school playground

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's Been A While

Wow! How long has it been since I blogged last? Two weeks? Life is kind of zooming along, and I'm sort of just holding on for dear life until I get adjusted enough to be able to seat myself and take in the scenery. Plus, I was wanting to include pictures of some of the stuff we've been doing lately, and...I have a confession to make. Anything that involves more than typing and hitting the submit button lands in my technologically-skilled husband's "to do" box, which is quite full at the moment. Therefore, there will probably be no pictures for a while, which saddens my heart immensely.

Where to begin?

Allika has officially started week #2 of her new school. I am withholding my opinion until we get a little further along, and I can be a little less emotional in my assessment.

As far as Allika is concerned, she absolutely loves it. She has already learned a lot about being friends and the difference between true friends and lousy friends. Her tooth chipped off (again) last week, and she was so petrified of going to school with a broken tooth. She thought no on would want to be her friend and everyone would laugh at her and make fun of her. I told her that if someone wasn't going to be her friend because she had a broken tooth, they weren't her true friend anyway. Well, by the end of the day, she was so excited because she had found a true friend in Annie. Now, whenever we talk about Annie, Allika is sure to mention, "And Annie's a true friend, too."

The only negative thing she does say is that she is so tired by the end of the day. I can see the exhaustion on her face and in her actions. I have been told that for the first month it will be that way. Of course, this causes my emotional mother instincts to revolt and cry out against the injustice of seven-year-old children going to school thirty-five hours a week. Surely, no one else has ever successfully raised children with those kind of school hours.

There is a constant battle going on inside of myself, trying to stay alert and cautious, recognizing the need to slowly let the string out a little more while still holding on to it, distinguishing between my own happiness and what is best for my daughter, deciding what are healthy intuitions that need to be heeded and what are anxious emotions into which the truth needs to be spoken.

I have started volunteering in the kitchen three days a week. I was going to start helping in the classroom today, but I have a little cold and am still waiting on my background check. I have met many wonderful parents, teachers, and students and do feel like God has me there for a reason. I am already scheduled to get together with one mother who wants to discuss the adoption process with me. I have also been able to talk with a mom who has experienced tremendous loss.

I was so happy to hear Allika say to her friends, "Oh look! That's my mom! Hi Mom!" She was so excited to see me there. Then, she asked if I could be the teacher in her classroom. That gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Unfortunately, she wasn't as excited for her friends to see her dad. That is something we have just run into, and it is breaking my heart. We are trying to figure out how to handle the situation the best way. He has struggled with weight all his life, and I think she is realizing that he is bigger than other kids' dads are and it is starting to embarrass her. She loves her daddy so much, and he is the best kind of daddy any girl could ever want, and I'm not just saying that.

Anyway, just another teaching lesson in the journey of parenting.

There is so much I want to tell you all about. The last two weeks have been jam-packed with activity and blog-worthy events. I think I have written enough for now, though. I will try to do a better job of keeping up, but I can make no promises.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Changes

As you can see, I've been making a few changes to my blog. Nothing much, but I like it. I am really technologically challenged, so changes will probably be slow over the life-time of my blog.

Another change to report is that we have officially decided to send Allika to the new school. She will start next Tuesday. We went out and got her uniforms. She is so excited about wearing those. More power to ya, kiddo.

I have been in somewhat of a depression over the whole thing. My mom finally got it. She said, "You feel like you're losing your job." It was so nice to talk to her about it and know she understood. I feel this emptiness when I think about having 35 hours a week without her. I know it isn't going to be that drastic because I will be volunteering at her school part of that time, but it still will be a different kind of interaction with her.

I also feel sad when I think of leaving the whole "home-schooling culture." It definitely is a sub-culture, a different way of thinking, and a way of life. It is kind of like leaving one religion for a different one. Yes, that is a dramatic way of putting it, but that is how I roll. I just have to keep being honest with my feelings and emotions over this.

There are these really militant home-educators who will not let me off very easily. But there were also these really militant public educators who gave me a hard time when we decided to home-school. It just goes to show you that child-rearing decisions are very personal and must be made by the parents, with the child's best interest in mind.

I am so scared of bullies, perverts, and anything that might hurt my daughter. We are trying this over the summer (because they have school year-round), and you better believe that if something doesn't seem quite right, we will resume home-schooling or another alternative in a heart-beat. I know I am very intense and high-strung about this, but education is a very formative part of a child's development. Of course, I'm studying that part of development in college right now, and it's scaring the snot out of me. I cannot take it too lightly.

We already decided not to let her take the bus because it was an extra TWO HOURS (!!!!!!!) every day just riding the stinkin' bus! That's forty-five hours a week of her being gone. No way. She's only seven for crying out loud!! Those are adult working hours! It will mean an extra forty miles of driving a day, but it's worth it to spend some quality time with her in the mornings on her way to school and discussing her day after we pick her up.

We will see where God takes us. For now, we are taking this huge step ever so gingerly. We don't know what he is doing, but he is doing something, and we will trust him with the outcome.

Okay, onto something else I wanted to share with you all. I got the reports back from my blood tests and ultra sound, and I am still doing great! The thyroglobulins (of which you ideally want to have none) were not undetectable, but they were really low, so they will just keep an eye on them.

When I went in to get my ultra-sound, the lady told me that it is not uncommon to find more lymph nodes, so I got kind of nervous. Then, she started clicking away on her keyboard and measuring and holding the ultra-sound head in one spot for a really long time. So, of course, I was thinking, "Great! She found another one! You've got to be kidding me! I don't want to go through this all over again!"

Well, we got all done, and she said I could go. Just like that. I looked at her and asked if I needed to talk to the doctor or anything. She said that she hadn't found anything to bring to the doc's attention, so I was good to go. Phew!! That little scare there made the relief even more palpable when I got the good news.

Thank you, God, for another six months of good health!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Big Decisions, Part II

Today, we all went to check out the school we are thinking about sending Allika to.

When we pulled into the parking lot we all sat there and prayed together that God would give us wisdom and help us to see what he wanted us to see. We asked that he would open and close doors in an obvious way and that our hearts would be very sensitive to his direction, even if it would involve sacrifices and inconveniences on our part.

I know some of you probably think we're taking this a little too seriously, but I do believe it will have a great effect on Allika's future and the direction of her life.

Van and I got to observe in several of the classes, and Allika got to attend the classes as a guest. She absolutely loved it. She was a little awkward socially (go figure), but was very excited that several of the kids liked her. She did very well academically. She will be put in 2nd grade for reading and the advanced math class. She will finish out the remainder of 1st grade in all her other subjects (science, art, phys.ed., music, geography).

They do teach both creation and evolution. A note is sent home to the parents when evolution is being taught to let them know what aspects are being covered and when. That way, when the kids are at home, the parents can go over exactly what is being taught. They also allow the kids to choose not to participate in those portions of the lessons if it goes against their beliefs to do so.

They do really well at adapting to each individual child's level of learning. They do one-on-one teaching with children who need it. We saw little desks set up all over with a teacher and a student working together on something. In addition, children are put in higher grades if the child is advanced in a particular subject. They also set their classes up with different "stations" of specific aspects of the same subject. The children rotate through stations and learn about a particular subject from various angles. I believe they referred to it as differentiation. It gives students the opportunity to learn according to their particular learning style.

Everything is very hands-on, even in the higher grades. The kids are also encouraged to be a part of some of the decisions regarding the school. They vote for what equipment to buy for the playground (they get votes for different decisions based on how many books they read), they help to build the playground, they clean parts of the school that they have a personal connection to. It gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility.

They value parental involvement and require it, so I am excited to get involved in Allika's school that way. Today, she was asking me and Van to please leave, so I don't know how thrilled she will be to have me there, but oh well. It's part of life.

All our questions and worries were answered very satisfactorily. There just seem to be several indications to go ahead with it that we probably shouldn't ignore. One thing we find very interesting is that we are scheduled to start April 6, and there are over 200 people on the waiting list to get in. How did that happen when we weren't even actively pursuing an education with them? The other thing is that all our reasons for why we wouldn't want to send her to school (which are probably different than most people who home-school) are no longer valid in this situation. When we combine that with some concerns we have had lately about some things that are hard to explain here, we wonder if God isn't preparing the way before us to send her to this school.

The only thing that's really hard for me is not being able to be with her all the time. I know part of parenting is slowly letting go, but this doesn't seem very slow. I love spending time with her and getting to experience life together. I also dreamed of being a home-school mom. It is how I always pictured we would be. I don't like to admit defeat, but I do think this will be better for her in the long run. I know not everyone will understand or agree with our decision, but I also know that they aren't aware of all the details surrounding our decision. They still may not agree even if they were.

Anyway, I think we are leaning toward giving this a try. It is a huge decision. To some of you, it may not seem that way, but for me, it really is difficult.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cancer Update

It's been six months since my radioactive iodine treatment. Today I went in for my six-month check-up. They did some blood work and will be doing an ultra-sound on my neck next week. That's just standard procedure every six months. There is nothing alarming that has caused them to order these procedures.

The doctor did feel something abnormal on my neck when I swallowed, but he thinks it's just scar tissue.

There is a 30% chance of recurrence with thyroid cancer, especially when it has spread to the lymph nodes. I will believe I am in the 70% until I am told otherwise. That just makes the most sense to me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Big Decisions, Part I

We have been presented with an interesting situation. It is one that we were not actively seeking out, nor did we see coming.

It has happened so quickly that I am not sure what to think about it.

We got a call from a friend this week whose children were accepted into a very nice charter school that is really hard to get into. There are long waiting lists and they do a lottery to choose new families.

She informed us that they had one opening for 1st grade. So, Van gave them a call and, sure enough, they just needed to do a placement test and get our registration form, and we would be all set to start April 6th.

Just to give you a little background - we had looked into this school several years ago and were really impressed with it. They have school year-round which helps the students retain more of what they learn and gives really nice breaks all year long (one complete week or more off per month on average). They also get one month off in the summer, so they don't have to be in school the whole time all their friends are out for Summer Break. They adapt the style of learning to each individual student because they understand that not all students learn in the same way. Parental involvement is mandatory; you are required to volunteer a certain amount of hours each week. Art and science are the emphasis, although they teach all subjects from a classical curriculum (you can google what that means because that is almost a whole other post). We have been informed that they teach both creation and evolution (we haven't verified that yet, but we will), which is what we plan on doing in home-schooling in order to help her form a very intentional and studied-out worldview.

Another thing we like is that a large majority of the students there were formerly home-educated and are part of families who have a lot of the same moral standards and beliefs that we have. I know that doesn't necessarily mean anything because those kids can sometimes be the worst ones when they are given a little freedom, but sometimes it ends up being the other way around instead.

Anyway, for various reasons, we did not end up sending her there.

And now we are faced with this very sudden decision.

We are rather conflicted about it. Home-schooling has started to feel more comfortable, and yet, there are still some issues involved.

Allika has a hard time interacting with and relating to children her own age. She is an only child and also experienced some minor "bullying" issues in the Montessori school she was in previous to home-schooling. These factors cause her to relate extremely well to adults, but shy away from forming new relationships with children her age.

I am well aware of all the talking points home-schoolers use regarding socialization. I was home-schooled growing up and, obviously, home-school my own daughter. I understand that home-schooling itself does not cause socialization problems for children later on in life. However, I do believe that there may be other issues that could potentially hold a child back socially, and I am not sure if Allika experiences those issues or not.

(By the way, there are several things involved which I can't really share on this blog at this point. I guess that seems kind of unfair to those of you reading my blog and trying to understand our dilemma.)

Her counselor has told me that I wear too many hats in my relationship with her because I am, of course, her mother, but I also have to take on the roles of friend, sibling, and teacher. If you will remember a while back, I posted about some of the difficulties being her teacher has added to our relationship. She has advised that allowing someone else to fill the role of teacher would free me up to be her mother and friend.

Having said all that, I have gotten to a place where I think home-schooling is working better for us. We are approaching the end of our first year, and I am looking forward to beginning our second year in the Fall. I love getting to teach her things, although it hasn't been as "Little House on the Prairie-ish" as I had originally envisioned. Having her home with me is wonderful, and I will certainly miss her during those thirty-five hours a week that she will be gone. I ask myself if that is a valid reason to keep her home with me or just my controlling nature.

Here in the cities there are so many opportunities for home-schoolers that I never had growing up. There are excellent drama clubs, speech clubs, debate teams, competitive sports, and so many other options for kids who are taught at home. I have joined a really great and supportive home-school coop and will be able to put Allika in various classes one day a week next year.

Furthermore, our community offers many wonderful learning opportunities at very affordable prices.

All of these should provide Allika with plenty of chances to socialize and learn from someone besides me.

But not on a daily basis.

And she is still an only child.

And I would be deeply involved with her education if it were out of the home.

And they would capitalize on her strengths, which happen to be my weaknesses (art and science).

And I could go on and on with the dilemma we find ourselves faced with.

So, we wonder - is God plopping this in our laps because it would be a beneficial change? Or is God using this difficult choice to cement our decision to home-school our daughter?

We still have a meeting with them to test Allika and observe several classes. There are still doors God can swing wide open or slam completely shut. I wish he always worked that way. But sometimes he doesn't make it very obvious, and we don't feel his definite leading until years later when we can clearly see why we were supposed to do one thing over another.

In the meantime, we will keep asking for wisdom.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Face Is Still Red

I had the most embarrassing moment of my whole entire life this week. I learned two lessons out of my humiliation in the process.

Allow me to share.

(Certain names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

One of the kids I babysit for is usually picked up by his mother, who pays me each time she leaves. Lately, however, his father has been the one to pick him up, and he has not remembered or thought to pay.

I have made comments to Van about the fact that the dad must think the mom is paying me and the mom must think the dad is paying me and neither one will probably ever realize I am not being paid.

Well, the last time the dad came to pick up the boy, my daughter said, "Mom, is it okay if I say this?"

That should have just been my first clue.

"Well, Allika, I don't know what you're going to say, so I can't tell you."

"But, Mom. Is it okay?"

"Is it something I've told you not to say?"

"No."

"Okay, just hurry up and say it."

(The dad was trying to leave and Allika was keeping him there to tell him this comment in question.)

The next ten seconds are ones that I wish I could erase from existence for all time. It happened in slow motion and I stood there wanting to scream and stop her from saying what she said, but it was too late. I couldn't.

Here are those words that shall forever live in infamy:

"My mom keeps on saying that you always bring Joe over, but you never pay her."

I wish I could have stuffed those words right back in her mouth. I stood there, horrified, wishing I could disappear. I didn't know what to say, because what she said was partially true, but I had been misrepresented and misquoted.

So, here are the lessons I learned from this little humiliating event:

1.) If my daughter asks me if it's okay to say something of which I am not aware, the answer is a resounding "NO!"

2.) Do not discuss anything around my daughter that I do not want her to repeat to others.

The thing about it is, the very same day, she walked into the Doctor's office and announced to the receptionist and everyone in the waiting room that her mom was going to cut up all the credit cards, and she was very upset about it because she wanted to keep them for herself.

That wasn't even close to the kind of humiliation the other episode provided me, though.

This makes me wonder what great little tidbits of information regarding our family life she has shared with her Sunday School teachers, doctors, babysitters, etc.

I can't say I was never warned about this stage.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How to Really Love a Child

Be there.

Say yes as often as possible.

Let them bang on pots and pans.

If they're crabby, put them in water.

If they're unlovable, love yourself.

Realize how important it is to be a child.

Go to a movie theatre in your pajamas.

Read books out loud with joy.

Invent pleasures together.

Remember how really small they are.

Giggle a lot.

Surprise them.

Say no when necessary.

Teach feelings.

Heal your own inner child.

Learn about parenting.

Hug trees together.

Make loving safe.

Bake a cake and eat it with no hands.

Go find elephants and kiss them.

Plan to build a rocketship.

Imagine yourself magic.

Make lots of forts with blankets.

Reveal your own dreams.

Search out the positive.

Keep the gleam in your eye.

Mail letters to God.

Encourage silly.

Plant licorice in your garden.

Open up.

Stop yelling.

Express love.

A lot.

Speak kindly.

Paint their tennis shoes.

Handle with caring.

Children are miraculous.

I don't know who wrote this, but I like it. Sometimes I take parenting too seriously. While I know parenting is a serious venture, it doesn't mean I can't smile and have silly, ridiculous fun with my daughter in the process. I want to try to do better at this.

I want my daughter to picture me as always having a smile on my face and a love for life no matter what comes my way.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Valentine Surprise

Surprisingly, this past weekend turned into a very nice Valentine's celebration. I thought Valentine's weekend was going to consist of me accompanying a friend on a trip to South Dakota Saturday morning through Sunday afternoon, a quick dinner with my husband Sunday night (and possibly my daughter since babysitters are scarce then), nannying Monday morning (which I usually don't do on Mondays) while my husband watched a little boy from our church for me (which I usually do on Mondays), class Monday night, and trying to write a paper in there somewhere. Whew!

But...

I found out on Tuesday that we would not be taking the trip to S. Dakota after all.

And then...

I found out on Friday that I would not be needed to nanny on Monday.

Those were enough changes to our schedule to get me all excited and thinking that I was going to plan a surprise get-away for my husband.

Well, you don't usually get released from two major duties like that in a row, so you've got to take advantage of that when you can.

What I failed to think about was that it wasn't going to be a walk in the park getting this little idea of mine together.

The first thing I had to do was find an over-night sitter. I tried calling my sister, even though I knew that she probably would have made plans with her husband for that night, plus her daughter would have school the next day. But Surprise! She was free to watch Allika and her daughter was out of school for President's Day. Yay!

Now, I had to make reservations at a Bed and Breakfast the Saturday before Valentine's Day. Yeah right! The first few places I tried to reserve were full. I finally found a room, and it was even less expensive than I thought it would be. It was in a historical building, furnished with antiques, and containing a jacuzzi tub. I was so happy!

I wasn't able to make reservations at the Melting Pot, which is where I really, really wanted to go, but I got in at Fogo De Chao. That's a really neat experience, too.

All I had left to do (I thought) was to keep it a secret from Van. That didn't happen too well. Thanks to a seven-year-old daughter and a husband who had to go and try to make his own Valentine's plans for me, he found out that I was planning a surprise, over-night get-away. I was still able to keep the destination a secret, though.

You are not going to believe this, but I totally forgot all about the little boy we were supposed to watch on Monday. After I had made all these plans and was starting to get really excited about the way everything was falling into place on such short notice, I suddenly remembered.

Now what?

I couldn't cancel reservations without losing money because it was less than 24 hours now.

I knew it was my own fault for forgetting, and I had nothing more to do than chin up, be responsible, and let the consequences fall where they may.

I decided to call and see if there was any way it would even be possible for me to be gone Monday morning. It was worth a try.

Lo and behold! Her kids were out of school on Monday, so they would be able to stay with him during the morning and I would come pick him up when we were done with our little excursion.

Phew! Now we were all set.

Nope.

It wasn't until Sunday morning that I remembered that I needed to find someone to watch our dog. She has to take two pills a day or she will have seizures, so it was very important that I find someone to take care of her. A couple from our church graciously agreed to keep her at the very last minute.

The final thing I had to make sure was done before we left was write my paper. It was due by class time Monday night and I wouldn't have much time to write it between coming home and watching the little boy.

Thankfully, I got it written.

After all that scurrying around and stressing out, we had a wonderful, marvelous, phenomenal, and amazing time together. We played games, did some antique shopping, discovered a great new Mexican restaurant (of which we are connoisseurs), watched some of the winter Olympics, enjoyed the hot tub, tried a new culinary experience at Fogo De Chao, and just had fun visiting with each other. It was a much-needed and hard-to-come-by reprieve from all the hustle and bustle of our crazy lives.

I would really recommend a little time away for every married couple. If you say you are just too busy to make it happen, that probably means it's imperative that you do.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Seven

My daughter turned 7 on January 29th. I guess seven is the stage where they are sort of caught between wanting to stay a little child and wanting to be an older child. The other day Allika got dressed very carefully and deliberately and then came out and asked me if she looked like a teenager. It kind of bothered me. I didn't like it that she was growing up. I didn't want her thinking about fashion and looking older than she is. She is supposed to be my little girl.

A short time later though, she was bumping elbows with a puppet and catching her wiggles in her hands to tie them up and put them in her pocket. Back to her old self.

I know growing up can be a little difficult on her, too. There is such a hard-to-find balance between being too little and being too grown-up. She pushes me away so that she can be independent, and then, calls me back because she needs me again.

I guess this is what the next several years will be: me watching her grow up too fast and trying desperately to slow things down, but all the while, knowing this is the way it's supposed to be and hoping and trusting that, by the grace of God, we have given her the tools she needs to go to the next level of life.

(Whew! What a nice, long, emotional run-on sentence that was!)

(Now, on to things a few feet closer to the surface.)

We had a little party at the Nature Center with some of her friends and family. My brother and his family came up from Centerville, IA to help us celebrate. It was very nice getting to see them and knowing that they had come so far to be with us. My sister and her family were also there, along with several good friends. It was so much fun.

We did an animal theme, so I had the kids do a little "animal hunt" where they found all the animals I had hidden. For prizes, I went to Half-Price Books (love that store!) and bought a bunch of brand new children's books about animals for .50 cents each. They were all different, and the kids loved picking out which one they wanted.

Allika made brownies for her birthday cake. I decorated it with my sweet decorating skills (ha ha).

The Nature Center did a presentation on the different adaptations of amphibians and reptiles and then brought out several different animals for the kids to touch and hold and learn about.

I think everybody had a lot of fun, and Allika got some really neat projects and things that she has been enjoying.


(The sign that greeted us as we walked into the room)


(Allika and several of her friends, waiting for the festivities to begin)


(Allika and her cousin, Tea, dressing up as reptiles and amphibians to show their different adaptations)


(The kids, observing a snake)

In the next few days, I will be sharing about what she bought with all her birthday money. Joy of joys!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

If It Were a Snake, It Would Have Bit Me

The other day, Allika and I were headed to the store together. As we were walking through the parking lot, we passed a lady with her arms full of groceries. Just as we met, she dropped one of her bags and cans of pop went rolling across the parking lot.

I'm sure you all are waiting for me to say that I used it as an opportunity to teach my daughter about helping others, and we happily bent down and began picking up the cans for the lady.

But I did not.

What went through my head was, "Oh, she must be so embarrassed. I will pretend like I didn't see and keep on walking. If I make a big deal about it, it might humiliate her further."

When we got to the door of the store, Allika looked up at me, very concerned and upset, and said, "Mom, why didn't we help that lady?"

I turned around and saw that several other people from other areas of the parking lot had surrounded her and were helping her pick everything up and load it in her car. I had been standing right next to her and hadn't lifted a finger.

At that moment, all my reasoning for the choice I had made to keep walking seemed so silly and stupid, and I just felt awful.

Not only had I set a bad example for my daughter, but I had missed an opportunity to make someone's day better...to make a small difference in someone's life.

I am always thinking about how much I want to change the world and make a huge impact on humanity. I feel like my existence is for the purpose of making a difference. The problem is that I look for the big splashes that I can make. I am constantly looking for a program or organization I can help or oversee. That has yet to materialize, however.

Sometimes the time and effort it takes trying to promote the right ministry keeps me from noticing each individual person and considering how I can make their life a little easier.

I have heard that my life is like $1,000,000 dollars. Spending that money is the mark I will leave on humanity. There are three ways I can handle my potential impact: keep it all to myself and not spend much of it on anyone else; spend it all in one huge, life-changing display of self-sacrifice; or spend it slowly and quietly over the course of my life on each situation in which I recognize a need.

So many of us are looking for ways we can lay it all down at once and go out with a bang. In reality, there are only a few that will be called to spend their $1,000,000 dollars in that way. For the rest of us, we will be asked to spend a dollar here and ten dollars over there. Our impact will be the phone calls we make to a lonely widow, the visits we share with a sick senior citizen, the rides we give to someone without a vehicle, the babysitting we provide for a single mother, the physical touch we extend to a mentally handicapped person, the hospitality we bestow on a homeless family, the meal we make for a college student, the games we play with our children, or the pies we bake for our enemies.

Of course, those things aren't as flashy and recognizable. They may not win us any awards or get our names engraved on any plaques. But Jesus promised us something even greater.

"...I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:40

"But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:3-4

"...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,..." Matthew 20:26

"But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. The your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked." Luke 6:35

"And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward." Matthew 10:42

I am not belittling anyone's intentions to do something big like becoming a missionary, helping out in a third world country, running an orphanage, or founding a life-changing ministry. It's just that for me, I can wait and wait for those types of opportunities all my life and miss the very real needs right in front of my nose because they seem so small.

I was reminded of that the other day when I walked right by the lady who had dropped her groceries all over the parking lot.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Need to Do: Learn Patience

Yes, we are still trying to adopt. As we get closer to March, we get closer to a lot of our paperwork expiring and the need to have to redo and update most of it. It can get very frustrating since this will be the beginning of our third year of paperwork. (The first year was grossly mishandled by our case worker. We got a new and wonderful case worker last year, and now, we begin another year with her.) We will also have to go through twelve more hours of education.

A few months back, I was trying to locate a specific e-mail from our adoption agency. To my surprise, I found an e-mail that I had never seen or opened, which is really strange because I check every day for e-mails from the adoption agency. Really strange. It was about three weeks old. When I opened it, I felt my body just go weak because our case worker was asking us if we would be interested in submitting our home study for two sisters who were three and four years old.

"YES, YES, YES!!!" I wrote back. But it was too late.

I was so upset and disappointed about that. I actually had a little talk with God. I said, "You KNEW I wanted those girls!"

Van said God was not surprised by that e-mail. He had known about it all along.

The following Monday, I got another e-mail from our case worker. This time I opened it right away, and she was asking to submit our case study for a little girl named Karianna. Her nick-name is Kari.

I was so excited because somewhere in my mind, I thought this must be the reason why I didn't get the last e-mail in time. Kari must be the one we are meant to adopt.

Silly me.

A few weeks later we got another letter, telling us we had been selected as one of the final 15 families to be reviewed for the possibility of becoming Kari's family.

Excitement. Maybe this will be it!

Two months later and we have not been chosen.

Somehow knowing her name makes it harder. I kept thinking, "Kari." I would think of her name and picture her face. It kind of led to me imagining her as our daughter. You can't help it. When you are waiting and waiting for something, and you think it might finally become a reality, you start to let your mind imagine it happening, even though you try to tell yourself not to.

I guess that's why we try to stay pretty emotionally neutral. Sometimes you let your imagination get a little too carried away, though.

So, we're coming up on another year of more paperwork and more classes. We keep filling those forms out and signing up for those classes because we know that someday there will be a match. Our daughter is out there waiting, perhaps just as skeptically, for a mom and dad who think the world of her, a sister who will smother her and drive her insane, and a home that isn't perfect by any means but is full of grace and love.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Life in the Form of a List

Here are some of the things that have been going on in the last couple of weeks. I am not guaranteeing the intrigue of any of them. This is just our life on the surface.

1.)Three birthday parties and one baby shower in 2 weeks. One of them is Allika's, so I have to do a little planning and organizing for that. I'm not going to do a ton because I tried the whole "do-it-yourself" party last year, and it was quite the disaster. Instead, we are having it at the Nature Center and letting them do most of the entertaining.

2.)Taking Allika to a variety of fun, learning experiences. Some of the ones I can remember right now off the top of my head are the physics circus, story time at the library, and tomorrow night I will be taking her to the Children's Theatre to see Mr. McGee and the Biting Flea. A friend gave us tickets for our birthdays. Sounds like fun.

video
(One of the demonstrations at the Physics Circus. They did a lot of really great science experiments on a level that would help kids want to learn more.)

3.)Learning that the friend I told you about earlier who had lung cancer has another malignant tumor in her lung. It is inoperable since it is close to some major arteries. She will have to undergo chemo and radiation. These are the times in my life when I feel so helpless and inadequate. I want so badly to say and do the right things, but I don't know what they are.

4.)Getting really, really sick for about a week. I went to the doctor, and they said it was a virus. It really wiped me out for a while there. I kept running a fever off and on and couldn't swallow because it hurt so badly, even when I took an ibuprofen.

5.)Pretending to work on my homework for my classes which start February 1st. I'm excited to be learning the things I actually went to school to learn and not all the general stuff that isn't as fascinating to me.

6.)Having my thyroid medication increased for the third time since my thyroidectomy. It still isn't as high as it's supposed to be. I will have it tested again in 5 weeks. I would like to think my low thyroid levels might be to blame for the 10 pounds I've gained, but I'm sure it really has something to do with the holidays and my sick love of chocolate.

7.)Cheering on the Vikings as they get closer and closer to the Super Bowl. I'm really not a huge football person. In fact, I have always made fun of my husband for his allegiance to a team that couldn't care less whether or not he existed. This year, however, I kind of got caught up in the spirit. I'll go back to my ridiculing ways soon enough, but in the meantime, I'm enjoying the excitement while it lasts.

Skol Vikings!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Questions

What am I accomplishing? Am I making any difference for anyone? Are we all supposed to make a big splash, but some of us just never achieve our potential? Or are some of us destined to never see huge results but required to remain faithful? How do you know you have done enough and it is time to move on? How do you know you're supposed to stay and measure success by how faithful you are rather than by how many results you see? Is the effect I have on others an indication of the legitimacy of my call? When people stop appreciating my efforts have I lost my ability to produce a positive, substantial difference? Do I do what I know is right to do, even if it is misunderstood as wrong?

Sometimes it is hard to take one step at a time, not knowing if I'm headed in the right direction. It's a little disconcerting to have to just trust that the one who is holding my hand in the dark is going to lead me to the place where it will all make sense.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."
Galatians 6:9-10


A Hint of Life? By Amy Carmichael

We only see the scorching earth.
Lord of the seed, we cry,
Our sowing seemeth little worth
In ground so dry.

But if the eyes of angels see
Some hint of tender green,
Anoint our eyes that they may be
As angels', keen.

O mighty Quickener of the dead,
Dost Thou see life astir?
Dost Thou see harvest gold outspread,
As though it were?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The last couple of years, we have tried to give a lot of home-made gifts to help keep from blowing an even bigger hole in our pockets than we already do. (I cringe writing the last part of that sentence, knowing that my mother and father, and possibly a few others, will cluck their tongues after reading it.)

Anyway, this year we decided to do a family CD together as our Christmas present to everyone in our church, our family, and a few friends. It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun. Poor Vanny-poo got the brunt of the hard work. He had to play the piano for all the songs. The month of November was full of late nights where I would lay (lie?) in bed, listening to the clicking of the piano keys as he practiced his music with the earphones on. Bless his big, happy heart.

My job was to play the flute for one song and narrate for another. Allika got to sing "Away in a Manger" as a solo.

Oh! I guess I also had the hard job of folding card-stock into CD cases. I found the tutorial here.

We had gotten a free photo taken of our family at the Christian Community Fair, so that came in handy for the cover of the "album." It wasn't the most professional looking picture since we weren't expecting to have it taken, but it is a good representation of the essence of our family...pretty booger-head and down-to-earth.

And here is a sample of a couple songs. (Forgive me for making you have to endure more Christmas music after Christmas.)
Silent Night
Away In A Manger

The one difficult part of using this as our Christmas gift/card/photo, was that we had to severely limit to whom we could send it. It was very difficult to not be able to send it to everyone we wanted to.

Overall, though, we were very pleased with our home-made Christmas present this year.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Milestones

I have returned. Now all ten of you can throw a party and celebrate that I'm back. (That's ten, including my family.)

Give me two weeks off and I will get very, very lazy. I loved my vacation from life, but now it is really difficult to get back into the swing of things.

So, let's see...what has happened?

My husband's parents were here for two weeks. They just left yesterday. We got to spend Christmas with them and my sister's family. We love games, presents, food, kids, sledding, and music, so that's just what we decided to do. Great times they were.


(Allika and her cousin, Tea, opening presents)

I graduated. There is so much emotion and excitement packed into those two words. I walked across the stage to receive my diploma. I kept telling myself to take in the moment because it would have been so easy to just let it all come and go so quickly. It was amazing, though. When I think of everything that has happened in the last two years, it is hard for me to believe that I've come this far. I still have so far to go, but I am celebrating each step along the way.


(Me with my daughter and nieces at my graduation)

We got to celebrate the ending of one year and the beginning of the next. I guess I'm getting old. There are two reasons why I suppose this:
1.) I don't get a thrill out of staying up until midnight to bring in the New Year anymore, and 2.) I get all gushy and sentimental about all the significance of what is taking place before my eyes.

So, I guess it's back to life again: blogging, home-schooling, working, college, ministry,...things that involve waking up before noon.

I think I'm ready for this. Bring on the living of life! Here's to a New Year!!