Sunday, December 16, 2012

Politically Correct

My family isn't good at "political correctness".  Not because we aren't concerned with others feelings -- mostly just because we're ignorant.  :)

Ben recently got in trouble at school for calling another child a name.  A racial slur.  Certainly NOT something Billy and I condone, but  the comment, in "our day", would not have gotten us detention as it did Ben.  Beat up maybe, but not detention.

Mom and dad try to explain the seriousness of flippant speech, etc.

Ben, "Mom, I just think people in public school are too sensitive!  I mean, really, the kid wasn't actually Mexican!"

Liz, "Ben, if you were an adult, you'd be arrested for that".

Mom, "Liz, you don't get arrested for calling people names."

Liz, "Yes, you do."

Parents decide to leave it at that.

Today, Victoria asks, "What does getting your G.E.D. mean?"

Mom, "It's a test.  It stands for Graduation Equivalency Diploma or General Education Development...something like that."

Victoria, "Oh, I thought is stood for General Education Deficiency".  Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Parents decide to leave it at that.

This evening, addressing Christmas cards and gifts for our trash men and mail carrier, I say, "I don't know how to address this to the trash men.  What should I call them"?

In the words of my sister, if you don't like being called a Maid -- go to college to be something else.  She applys the same reason to trash men.  Still, I struggled.  I even googled it.

Ben to the rescue, "How's about 'Official Sanitation Control Officers'.  Unless they are "Sanitation Control Generals -- then we're in trouble"?

We went with that.

Happy Holidays Merry Christmas Everyone!

:) Shanna

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Eli's Eyeballs - An Update

When we selected Eli's file for consideration, we consulted over the phone with the leading expert on children's Glaucoma in our area AND our pediatrician.  Between the three of us, none could fully interpret his poorly kept medical records.  Basically, we knew he'd be some where between corrected vision and totally blind.

Eli's right eye is totally blind.  Not only did he have cataracts at birth (in both eyes), a separate defect caused high eye pressure (glaucoma).  By the time he came to America, his optic nerve was eroded 99%.

Because the eye gets no use, it is in the process of dying.  The end result, a prosthetic eye.

For the past 3 years, his eye has been stable.  His last pressure reading, 6 months ago was a "9" -- which is fairly low.

Yesterday, we got a call from his school teacher stating that he was crying because his eye was burning.  We saw Dr. Lee to discover that the pressure had gone back up to a "40".  High enough to be painful.  Currently, we are using topical drops to try and bring the pressure down in to comfortable ranges.  If that doesn't work -- he'll have a little procedure done.  The goal is to postpone the prosthetic for awhile longer to allow for more growth and lessen the chance of complications.

In the mean time, we thank God the kid has 1 healthy eye!  Although his left eye does not have a LENS, it is functioning normally.  He's doing well in Kindergarten, learning his letters, writing, etc.  Recently, we received a scholarship that allowed us to get a CT TV for him for $200 (normal cost $3,000).  He works with one at school to blow his papers up to the correct font size.

We are all so in love with this little guy.  Most days, I can't believe he was considered a "hard case".

Sunday, December 9, 2012

5 years we're still here...

I remember where I was 5 years ago.

Not to long before, I resigned my position at New Life Church.  Pastor Ted was gone, and so were about 5,000 other people -- and the stress of having a full time business, a large family AND being on staff at a church that seemed to be falling apart at the seems was just too much.  I had no intention of abandoning ship, but I also knew, for my sanity, I needed to simplify.  Taking the advice of my sister, I decided to simplify by eliminating what was causing me the most stress.

Had I not made that decision, not only myself, but my entire family would have been in the exact hallway -- as we usually were -- the gunman entered that morning.

My mother had been visiting and we just so happened to leave church early that morning to take her back to the airport.  I remember telling her what a safe place Colorado Springs was on that drive.  Billy was home with our small children, but Elizabeth stayed back to finish church and hang out with some family friends.

I returned home shortly after service would have ended.  The phone rang.  Billy answered and heard Elizabeth's frightened voice on the other end.  The conversation went something like this...

Elizabeth, "Daddy, don't come up to the church!  Someone is here shooting people!"

Billy asks Elizabeth's to repeat herself.

Billy, "Elizabeth, where are you?  What adults are with you?"

Elizabeth, "I'm in Pastor Brady's Office.  I'm calling from Pastor Daniel's cell phone.  He's here, Pastor Brady and some man named Jack Hafford".

We were alarmed.  And, "Don't come up to the church," translated in her dads mind to, "Shanna, get in the car.  We are going to get Elizabeth!"

We dropped our small children off at Billy's parents and headed to the New Life building, only 1 mile from our home.

It was already surrounded by SWAT team members, with shields and weapons ready for the possibility of a second shooter.  We briefly discussed driving through the building to get our daughter.  We knew exactly which door would be closet to her.  Reasonable, we were not.  We argued.  Fortunately, we obeyed the SWAT team and drove to the perimeter of the campus.  Looking back, a better choice than driving through the building.

What happened before we arrived?

Service had ended a little early that day.  Elizabeth had been heading up the stairs to the executive office to find her grandmother.  Half way up the stair case, the gunman entered the hallway opposite of her.  The security guard that eventually brought him down, entered the hallway from behind her.  Hearing gunshots and cussing disoriented Elizabeth.  Confused she started to descend back down the stairs -- straight into the danger and line of fire below.  A pastor, locked behind a glass door and shielded by SWAT team members at the top of the stairs, looked out and saw her.  He came out of the offices, tore down the stairs and pulled her back up with him until the SWAT team would open up the executive wing and let them back in.

Shortly after the campus was secured, she was marched downstairs, hands in the air -- through hallways strewn with bullet holes, blood and glass -- and directed into an area of the building -- where she would be questioned by police along with others until she was released into the custody of family friends and brought out to her parents.  Four LONG hours after her original phone call.

That evening we carted many, many people whose cars were still in the "lock downed" area from the perimeter of the campus to our home.  I'm from the South -- so when tragedy happens I feed people.  We didn't even know 1/2 the people who wound up in our care that night...I just continued to pull plate after plate from the fridge.

For days we were distracted, hyper vigilant.  Elizabeth couldn't sleep.  New Life offered counseling.  We returned to the "living room" of the building -- worshiped, prayed, anointed the halls with oil -- we decided that we would stay.

2 young girls were killed that day at our church.  Questions like, "Why them?  Why this family?  Why NOT my family?"  Ran through my mind day and night.  

I grieved -- what happened, yes -- but mostly -- I grieved what could have happened.  I didn't say it out loud, but I couldn't identify with all the people saying how thankful they were.  I would just silently shake my head in agreement...but felt dazed on the inside.

10 days or so after the event, Billy said, "Shanna, I don't know why the Work's family lost their daughters.  I just know that on THAT day, for SOME REASON, God said we could keep ours."  And, at that moment, for whatever reason, I was freed to be thankful.  And I did feel thankful.  Sad, and thankful.  Afraid, and brave.  Confused and certain.  All.  At.  The.  Same.  Time.

Matthew 5:45 He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Our family has had it's fair share, and then some, of tragedy -- so has our home church -- and many other families we know.  We aren't the picture of wisdom and calm in the midst of pain.  We argue, panic -- both want to be in control.  It isn't pretty.

In fact, after 18 years of marriage, Billy and I have come to believe that most couples are only 1 crisis away from divorce.  Certainly, given the same circumstances, most churches are 1 crisis away from becoming used car lots.  

My revelation today, not only about New Life, but about my family -- who walks through difficult circumstances even today -- is that, well, WE'RE STILL HERE.  Our church is recovering.  Our marriage is good.  Most days, we still like each other.  A lot.  Our daughter, who very rarely still has night terrors and panic attacks, has become a remarkable young woman.  Remarkable.  

There are places where we feel vulnerable, hurt, tired -- but -- we're still here.  Broken, sometimes doubting, but still coming.  Still praying, seeking, asking.  And that is faith.

God is God, and we are not.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Entertaining" is NOT My Thing

Admittedly, I'm not Martha Stewart (because everyone thinks she's boring). 

"Entertaining" is not my thing.

When I got married 18 years ago, I had no culinary skills.  Zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  My mom says I just never showed interest in such things.  Fair enough.  

We once invited a friend over for steaks.  Apparently, I didn't know that the Piggly Wiggly made marinades in little packages for .75.  So, I marinaded those steaks in Pancake Syrup.  Creative?  Maybe.  Tasty?  Impressive?  Nope.  Not even to poor, college students.

When you come over to share lunch with me, I know that you do not do so because my kitchen skills are so unbelievable (all though you might describe them as such).  I ASSUME you come because you value spending time with me -- just as my invite is my expression of how much I value you.  

I won't be serving Fennel-Crusted Lamb on Toast or Queso Fundido with Chorizo.  Actually, I quite regularly offer my friends Egg Salad Sandwiches.   Chicken Salad if I'm trying to be fancy.  And you know what?  My friends sit down with their simple fare on paper plates just as happy as if it were Crab Salad with Avocado and Tostones.  At least, I think they do!  And, on the right day, with the right person, and the right conversation -- an Egg Salad Sandwich can be quite extraordinary.  Encouragement.  Refreshment.  A life touched.

Christmas always brings out my celebratory side.  The decorations, the music, the food,  -- all communicate that something special is happening. I feel especially drawn to encouraging others this time of year.  Not just friends, but my family too.  

Of course, my family, like most is MORE busy than usual this time of year.  Billy coaches basketball MOST nights of the week/weekend...right through Christmas.  Schools schedule parties and concerts.  My business is growing and my highschoolers are studying for finals and making college visits.  Church, shopping, wrapping, mailing, etc, etc, etc.  So...I never get to all that I'd like to do.  INFACT, I find myself simplifying more and more each year.  Presence of mind and a peaceful heart are great gifts to give myself, my husband and my children, yes?

This year in particular, time and financial restraints have forced me to settle on 2 events.  My brainstorming list looked something like this...

Hosanna's 16th Birthday Party
Gingerbread House Party
Dinner Party for Friends
Cookie Decorating Party with Eli's friends
Movie Party for Teens
Christmas Caroling Party for my music students and their families
Pinterest Party
Free Trade Party

So, here's my FREE tip for the day.  Consider it your Christmas gift from me.  Really, it's one of my best.  Here it goes. DURING THIS BUSY SEASON, WHEN YOU HAVE EVENTS TO HOST, PLAN THEM BACK TO BACK.  I know.  I know.  At first read, you think I'm crazy.  

We have planned Hosanna's Birthday Party for Friday night, The Christmas Caroling Party for my students for Saturday night.  Here is the BIGGEST PRO:


Ah ha moment.  Now, you see my wisdom?  

I will keep it simple.  Hosanna's party, at her request, is Open House style with light "christmasy" snacks for 2 hours.  Then, her best friends will stay later for a relaxed movie night.  This allows our extended family, our beloved youth pastors and their kids, Hosanna's friends with jobs AND their families to come and go as it's best for them.  It's insures I'll have plenty of space to accommodate people as they all won't be here at the same time (ideally).  And, it gives her some extra, quite time for Hosanna with her bestest friends.  Perfectly perfect.

My Caroling Party for our music students and their families will involve A LOT of people.  Frankly, standing room only in the upper level of my house.  I've announced that the price of admission is a plate of goodies.  I've asked EVERYONE to help.  When a mom recently said, "What about paper goods?  Can I bring those?"  My answer is "Yes".  When another mom texted and said "I know I'm late with my RSVP, can I still come?  I'll bring 2 plates of goodies!"  My answer is "Yes".  Even my neighbors, "Can we offer the carolers Hot Cocoa and Candy Canes"?  Yes.  Yes.  And Yes.  I will re-wash the table cloth, set out my Ooey Gooey Butter Cake that I will prepare the day before, straighten the pile of Christmas Carol Songbooks I made a few years ago, plan our route through my neighborhood (while it snows btw) and that will be that.  The natural way of things will take it's course.  People will visit.  Catch up.  Make new friends.  Our vocal students will lead us in a "warm up" -- we'll savor some Christmas goodies -- and then donned in winter coats, hats and scarves we'll make our way out my front door in the snow and up the street to sing carols for the neighbors.  We will end at the home of our neighborhoods newest members.  They lost their previous home, everything including Christmas decorations, in the fires that ravaged parts of Colorado this summer.  We will belt out a rousing rendition of "Frosty the Snowman", and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town".  We will enjoy the moment as we sing "Silent Night" under the stars and end with a heart felt "We Wish You a Merry Christmas".  As we make our way back to our cars, I will know that we, I,  have not done anything impressive.  Our group will not have been THAT "entertaining".  But, others will have felt joy, encouraged, refreshed, valued.  A life touched.

Now, as YOUR Christmas gift to moi, how's about you leave a comment with YOUR best "entertaining" tip!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Public School

This may be too personal.  More information than you want to know about my family. THIS however is the convo after our first day EVER of Public Jr High School....

Mom, "'d it go?"

Ben, "Well, I didn't see anyone taking drugs."

Mom, "That's good."

Elizabeth (sarcastically), "You should try drugs."

Mom gives her a look.

Ben, "Two of my classes today were on field trips, so they just sent me to a different class.  No one seemed to be paying attention."

Hosanna, "Then you should fit right in (snaps a towel at her brother)."

Victoria, "I can't believe they let you chew gum there!  Right out in the open!"

Hosanna (whose been at TCA where gum chewing gets you a detention since 1st grade), "YOU CAN CHEW GUM IN THE OPEN?  WHAT THE HECK?"

Victoria, "There was a lot of 'touching' going on in the hall."

Elizabeth, "Yup.  Public school is super fun like that!"

Mom snaps HER with a towel.

Mom, "What did you guys have for lunch?"

Ben, "A piece of triangle shaped card board with some cheese on it."

Ben, "BTW, it's too soon to tell, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to be popul...."

Mom cuts in with an exasperated look....

Ben, "Included.  I think I'm going to be included".

There ya have it.  Too bad they don't offer Sarcasm 101.  We'd ACE that.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Today we did our Orientation at DCC.  The counselor graciously took loads of time to explain everything and answer all of our questions.

Victoria had 1,000.

Ben, not even 1.

After she went over their test results (and confirmed their "genius" IQs), and printed their schedules -- an upstanding young man walked us through the unsupervised hallways of the massive campus according to Ben and Victoria's 6th and 7th grade schedules.

Most of their classes lingered around the 200/300 hallways...where kids looked mostly Ben and Victoria's age.  Art, however, forced us through hallways with older students.

Upon leaving, Victoria's analysis, "They seem to have signs up everywhere with rules against BULLYING.  They should have a few rules about having sex in the hallways."

She exaggerates, but we all got the point.

Next we head over to TCA's East Campus to return some borrowed books.  Victoria gives a sweet good-bye to her teacher and picks up her most recently graded assignments.  Upon getting in the car and flipping through her work, she says, "I'm really glad to be leaving here!  LOOK at all these corrections I'd have had to do to my paper!"

We have mixed feelings to say the least!


Saturday, November 3, 2012

THUNDERware Part II - How to Save Yourself from Drowning

Where were we?  Oh yes, I was swooning over TCA.  Then came...

August of 2011.  Billy was working at a church in Denver (a 55 minute commute) whose leaders were, shall we say, more than a little annoyed by the fact that after several months of being there, we were STILL living in the Springs.  Weighing back and forth the cost of moving to a new city or losing our job, we reluctantly did the most responsible thing - we pulled all of our kids from the Charter School we loved, and prepared to move.  Even then, we weren't "sure" about the move per say (not even an ounce of sure), but this was our way of saying to ourselves that we WOULD indeed -- even though we were dragging our feet, refusing to put a For Sale sign in our actual yard, really didn't want too, and might burst into tears at any moment over the very thought of it -- resign ourselves to move to Denver  and ACTUALLY COMMIT to SHV Church.  

2 months later, the insanity of committing to this particular ministry team became crystal clear and after the move fell through we regretted our decision to pull our kids and, well, we wanted back into The Classical Academy.  We had been attending the school for 10 years and by this time it had grown famous for the shear length of the wait list.  5,000 and counting.

Thanks to our newly acquired "priority status", our highschooler and kindergartner made it right back in.  Our middle schoolers however did not.  They are currently #4 and #12 on the TCA Full-Time Waiting List respectively.  So, what to do with them in the meantime? 

Last school year, we participated in TCA's Cottage School - which means, Ben and Victoria met with a TCA teacher for initial instruction and then homeschooled for the remainder of the week.   No, it wasn't the rich educational experience I imagined, but we learned a lot about parenting Ben and Victoria -- we were close as a family, everyone pointed in the right trajectory -- so I deemed it a SuCcEsS.

As summer came, and my music business grew more demanding, I started to sense that we probably needed to make a change -- how was I going to do MORE and keep my head from exploding?  When I looked at our 2012 - 2013 schedule, well, let's just say, it made my knees buckle.   

I didn't feel any sense of direction and my "Lord, help!  Wisdom, please!" prayers were growing more desperate - daily.  Not knowing what to do, I did what any good homeschooling mom would do -- I ordered more curriculum.    

As the 2012 school year began, and our business REALLY began to grow, I found myself crawling out of the starting gate.  NEWS FLASH:  YOU CAN'T HOMESCHOOL WHEN YOU WORK A FULL-TIME JOB.  There, I said it.  And that's because, HOMESCHOOLING IS A FULL TIME JOB.  

As business grew, and the bickering between Ben and Victoria grew -- so did my angst.  August and September unfolded, and I found I could hardly catch my breath.  I'm an introverted person.  I need moments of alone time to process my thoughts.   At this point, I'd gone 13 months without such a moment.  Literally I felt like my crazy brain was spinning out of control in my head and about to melt and run out my ears.  I was forgetting things, not sleeping and certainly didn't have even an hour to put towards ANY meaningful relationship.  

Constantly torn.  If I was dedicating my brain at the moment to Ben and Victoria -- it could just be a moment -- because the next lesson to teach would arrive any second.  If I was teaching a piano lesson, you better believe I felt guilty that I had left Victoria to figure out her math lesson all by herself.  See the NEWS FLASH above.

I organized, and reorganized.  Planned and rePlanned.  For work alone, I was teaching 35 DIFFERENT lesson plans a month, not counting private lessons, teacher training, parent times training, and  communication with parents and prospective clients.  Lest you think that's a lot, I was also teaching LATIN, LOGIC, MATH, LITERATURE, GRAMMAR, and doing HISTORY AND SCIENCE with Ben and Victoria.  It exhausted me and I couldn't catch up.

As Billy and I talked through this past month, we knew we had to make a change.  But what?   Really, we knew what...we just didn't like that option.  The neighborhood school.  

Colorado public schools rank high in the nation.  Still.  I just didn't want too.  Do.  That.  At.  All.

I launched an email campaign to beg, bribe and bully TCA to do what I wanted them to.  But, they.  Didn't.  Budge.  Insanity on their part.

Finally -- after I felt there was NO OTHER CHOICE -- AND after one SOLID week of crying my eyeballs out -- I called the school district...who promptly passed the buck and told me to call my neighborhood school's guidance counselor.  I did need some guidance, that was for darn certain!?!?!?

She answered.  I sighed.  Loudly...figuring she might as well get to know my annoyed side right off the bat.  "Hi Jessica, I am interested in the possibility of my 6th and 7th graders going to DCC.  The district told me that there were some nuances involved in the timing.  They named you as the expert (insert a slight sarcastic tone for which I could not help myself) for me to talk to."  You could almost hear the smile on her face, "Mrs. Ramsdell, the timing is up to you.  Just do what you think is in the best interest of your family -- because in actuality -- YOU are the expert on that".  I liked her right away.

Yesterday, the kids went in and TESTED for math and language arts my request.

Monday, we all meet with the counselor to get there schedules, lockers, etc.

In the middle, somewhere between 2 basketball practices, 3 basketball games, buying groceries and going to church (all with one car) -- we have to engage in "school supply shopping trip ROUND TWO for 2012" and well -- because my kids have worn khaki pants and collared shirts to school since...Kindergarten...I suppose they are going to need some new digs.  Fair enough.

Tuesday -- along with our Titans hoodies, we will pull on our "THUNDERware" and join the drop off at DCC.  

Ben and Victoria are in high spirits.  They've moved on and don't seem to require any "closure".  I, however,  thought I was gonna cry all day.  I almost did.  Then, I reminded myself that on Tuesday, I would get 2 entire hours of quiet time in the house to myself.  Delicious.  

Yes, that thought is followed by a pang of mommy guilt...and a one sided, guilt ridden negative conversation in my head.    It goes something like...there are many emotionally sturdy, quality time/acts of service loving women pulling off homeschooling large families...and seemingly doing it with joy, deep contentment and satisfaction!  (Insert feelings of envy).  They work harder than you do.  They are rich.  They don't need to send ALL THOSE KIDS to college.  They save money because they can sew their own clothes.  Why don't you sew?  You'd have more hours in your day if you'd only get up at 4am.  Why do you require sleep?  They are more organized.  More savings savy.  More.  More.  More.

Lest you feel I need therapy, my other side usually answers, "Whatever".  

Our decision to put Ben and Victoria in a public school this week was still, for us, monumental and, of course, not without consequence for our family --  and mixed with a hopeful disappointment.  Our decision was also wrought with consequence and inconvenience for some others -- classes I'd have to cancel, lessons I'd have to reschedule.  I thought long and hard, LONG AND HARD, about the people I would disappoint.  I don't like to quit.  Certainly, I don't like to burden others.  But, you don't say,"Hey! Person who is drowning! I can see the water splashing up over your head, you're choking really loud and all -- looking quiet exasperated and blue, but could you possibly wait it out 6 more weeks until Christmas break before you make any sort of change"?  No.  You toss'em a line, pull'em up, and let'em off the hook -- you  let them catch their breath!  In this case, we just had that amount of grace on ourselves.  

It's all still up in the air of course...and we'll see how it goes.  I'm not married to DCC.  Not attached - Yet.  

But, after 17 years of parenting, our decision was...necessary.  Ultimately, still in the best interest of our children.  Billy recently said, "We need to recharge inorder to make it through the second 1/2 of the parenting years!"  The second half.  Half time.  Another 17 years to go...after all Eli's just in Kindergarten!

Blessings my friends!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Titans Hoodies and THUNDERware - Part I

We love The Classical Academy.  We wear our hoodies proudly!  Titan Nation baby!

When we decided to move to Colorado in 2003, in typical Shanna/Billy form, we flew into town from our home state (Florida) and gave ourselves 1 day (1 WHOLE day) with a Relator to find a house.  (When you have as many kids as we do -- they could eat a babysitter for lunch knowing their parents are across the country.  We are merciful people.) 

The day we choose our lot, we asked the Classic Homes representative for a school recommendation.  He said, "Check into TCA.  I hear it's good."

Always a fan of education philosophy, I had, at the time, been reading everything I could get my hands on about and by Charlotte Mason.  I had also just DEVOURED For the Children's Sake AND For the Families Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.  All rich, wonderful, idealistic books.  The idea of a classical, Charlotte Mason inspired education became my major minor obsession.

At the time, our kids attended Argyle Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida.  It was a small, Abeka using, private school - filled with people I'd known my entire life.   Graciously, they offered me my first job as a music teacher.  We LOVED it there.  Crazy loved it.  My classroom was right across the hall from Elizabeth's 2nd grade classroom.  She learned to read and forge my signature there.  And if I taught with my door open, I could hear her working out math problems on the board.  Hosanna was a pilgrim in the Thanksgiving play...after she cried and said she didn't want to do it for an hour and half.  Benjamin was the CUTEST preschooler you've ever seen...with stitches in his head.  3 times.  Billy and I actually, got married in the church building there.  My dad pastored there.  I spent hours and hours and hours of my life there.

Falling in love is a trend with Billy and I -- we get attached -- to people, to places.  Once something serves us well, we (I) have a hard time EVER letting it go.  

I like the idea of being settled.  Community.  Staying.  I don't like to "divorce" people and I hate the idea of burned bridges.  Life is richer when you live in relationship -- when you love deeply -- and it takes a long time to make an "old" friend -- all these things, I value.  It's a blessing and a curse.

So, sitting in my Florida sunroom that Feburary, I got on the internet and began to research TCA.  Immediately jumping out at me was a tab entitled, "Books that Influenced Our Philosophy".  And wouldn't you know...there was a list of all the same books I had in my library.  My most cherished titles...MY obsession was THEIR obsession  .  And, I felt an immediate connection.   

The kind of connection that leads you to believe that the God of the Universe has gone before you -- and prepared a way.  Maybe, He's planned this all along.  A connection that speaks to the deep parts of you, casts out fear and proves you're not so crazy after all!  The connection only two friends make when they read the same books.  ;)

That evening, we joined the other 2,000+ people on the waiting list -- with no priority status whatsoever.  Shortly after our cross country move, miraculously, we still got in.

Yes, the charter school has it's problems as ALL institutions/families/humans do...and to say it lives up to its ideals - well that would be far from accurate.  But we found favor there and our children have flourished.  Really flourished.  

Today, we made a change.  Still wearing our Titans hoodie, but now pulling up our THUNDERware as well.  Big change.  Come back and find out what in Part II tomorrow.

Blessings my friends!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Understated Celebrations

Today was Eli's 6th birthday.

We are into lame understated birthday celebrations...mostly.  We make a big deal over the 13th...and 16th birthday (sometimes)...and well...I don't know what else.  We are just mostly into the understated kind.  

Our recent M.O. has been to offer our kids a modest "birthday budget" and allow them to decide how to spend it.  It's enough to have a small party -- if they desire -- along with a small present if they spend it wisely.  Mostly, they decide to skip the party and have a big present.

A few months ago, Eli informed me (as if I didn't know) that "friends were actually allowed to come to your birthday party."  So, we got to planning a skateboard party -- complete with 10 neighborhood friends.

But today wasn't party day.  It was his actual birthday.

Eli watching his adoption video

I'm not into celebrating twice.  Don't judge.  We have 5 children.  Multiple celebrations (you know, the "friend party" and the "family party" and the "birthday dinner" at a favorite restaurant)  get to be a little much.  If you choose to have a party in our home, we celebrate on the party day.  If not, I'm happy to cook your favorite dinner and we invite family only over to join us.  Sweet and simple.

But truthfully, who doesn't want their ACTUAL birthday to feel special too?  And, what mom can resist?  With Eli, it doesn't take much to make him happy.

He was up early, super excited because he was turning 6.  He used the word "birthday boy" to describe himself 999 times.  It was also Mother Goose Day - so we sent him to school, dressed as the spider who frightened Miss Muffet away -- with a pan of brownies and birthday napkins to share with his friends.

When he came home, mom needed to run errands, so it was off for a birthday Happy Meal (to entertain while in the Kinkos, the Bank and the Albertsons) and then a quick stop at Target where he got to use MiMi's birthday money to purchase 1 toy.  We came home a little later with the very first ever BUZZ LIGHTYEAR toy to ever make it's way in to the RamFam home.

Eli, "I really know a lot of facts about Buzz Lightyear".  Me, "Like what"?  Eli, "Well, he was in a movie called TOY STORY 3 and he has a laser that really works!"  Later he said, "Maybe he was in ALL the Toy Story movies"?  Maybe.

Buzz entertained wonderfully while mom had to work, after all, it wasn't moms birthday.

Around 6:30, I quickly threw together a "Birthday Dinner" of chicken and asparagus -- which we ate on paper plates with Buzz Light Year as our "centerpiece".  Eli's siblings took one look at the table, the paper plates...and began to tell me how lame it was.  To which I IMMEDIATELY put them to work.  Don't mess with mom! 

Eli however was in birthday boy heaven.  Loving the momentary center of attention, he was extra affectionate.  Kissing my hand, he said, "mommy I could just hug you all day".  Melt.  My.  Heart.

We cooked some cupcakes -- given to us in our BOO bag by the neighbors -- and sang a birthday song.

To complete our lame celebration, after dinner -- we headed to Walmart to purchase some supplies for all the other kids who are attending Corem Deo this weekend.  There, he was delighted to discover he would be allowed to pick out another toy with his money from Granga.  After declaring he really liked money, he picked a Jedi sword and a hot wheels car.

As we leave he asks, "Is it still my birthday"?  "Sure", I say.  "It's your birthday until bedtime".  Eli, "Then can I stay up late"?  Me, "Of course.  Today is special".

He smiled...skipped to the car even.  Lame?  Special?  It's all the eye of the beholder.

(And for those of you who may be worried, he still gets his Skateboard party on Sunday!)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fall Break 2012

We've spent this past week on Fall Break.  For my Florida family and friends, it's just like Spring Break, but it's in the Fall.  We have fall here.  This is what it looks like...


And this....

We slept in, made pinterest crafts (well I bought the supplies for Victoria to make pinterest crafts), cooked beautiful dinners and ate at a decorated dining room table.

Billy and I had brunch together and took the kids to the Penny Arcade in Manitou - where every game is sure to cost at least a quarter.

All three of my guys playing Poll Position...

Bull Riding....sorta

Introduction to Pinball....

I spent a few hours each day reading.  I worked out and made sure I ate healthy.  I napped.  I relaxed.

I took the kids to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and enjoyed the day.  My 15 year old blessed me by tagging along and being totally delightful.  Yes, I bribed her by letting her drive us all the way to Denver...on the Highway...but still...

We found Eli a Halloween Costume for $3.99 at the Goodwill.

Some of us did a lot of this.....

And this.....

And this....

We ended the week by preparing for and having a family dinner for our youngest daughter's birthday.  Our friends Jamie and Mark let her spend her birthday on their farm, Sterling Acres, harvesting honey.

While she was away, we cleaned and made things look a little more "special" than they usually do around here...

We spent the evening watching old home movies and, Victoria ended up having a very good time with the Ramfam!

Tomorrow, we all go back to school and work.  Even though I understand that vacation is made sweet only in contrast to our hard working every day life, admittedly, we still aren't thrilled that it's over.  Fortunately, FALL is here to stay and I am making good progress on my FALL PLAY LIST.  Click here to view!

On that note, I'll leave you with a favorite vacation quote!  Until Thanksgiving Break....

To get away from one's working environment is, in a sense, to get away from one's self; and this is often the chief advantage of travel and change. - Charles Horton Cooley

Ode to my Mother....

Recently, my mother came for a visit.

She once described me as "laid back".  I'm sure I said something like, "What? I'm not laid back!  My family wouldn't describe me as laid back".  She said, "Well, compared to're asleep".

And such starts the list of differences between me and my mom...

But we're a lot alike too.  As I grow older, I appreciate this fact more and more.

My mom is a hard worker.  She likes to be prepared.  Yet she tempers her hard work with fun...and she cares that  those around her are having fun too.

Kitchen Knives

My moms "NON-LAID BACKNESS" causes her to be attentive to many details that I would simply over look.  While shopping for Benjamin's birthday party supplies she says, "You need to get some plastic knives".  I say, "Why?  We have tons of forks".  She says, "You can't spread mayonnaise with a fork.  Grown ups like knives and you have a serious shortage".  Plastic knives go into the buggy.

Shortly thereafter, she bought us a new set of kitchen knives.  Steak knives, chopping knives, paring knives.
We haven't had a new knife since we got married 18 years ago.  My father-in-law has tried on many occasions to sharpen the small, dull set we have, to no avail.  I always get strange looks when I ask a friend joining us for dinner to help by cutting a tomato with a butter knife.  We own 3 butter knives by the way.

Cereal Bowls

Mom looking through  my kitchen cabinets, "Shanna, do you own a cereal bowl?"  Me, "Sure".  My mom thinks I answer 'sure' a lot.  I then proceed to hold up a coffee mug.  Mom shakes her head no.  I hold up a ceramic chili bowl my grandmother painted (roughly 30 years ago).  Again, my mother shakes her head.  I push to the back of the cabinet and find a Christmas bowl.  "What about this one"? Now we are laughing.  That afternoon, I had a new set of cereal bowls.  Maybe our first set.  I'm not sure.

Triple E Width Shoes

Upon seeing the condition of my shoes, she insisted we head straight to the shoe store.  She announces loudly as we enter, "We need help!"  Sales girl runs over.  Mother, "Please measure her foot.  Bring every wide shoe you have in her size and try them on her feet"!  I got new shoes.

By the end of her visit, besides knives and bowls and shoes, she had bought us new blankets, pillows, a Kurig coffee maker and accessories, squishy bath mats, paid for her own birthday dinner at Red Lobster, lunch at Chick Fil A, pedicures for all the girls (including hot wax, gel polish, and my first ever toe flower/jewel), new cosmetics and left a check on the dining room table.

And I had a revelation.  She was taking care of me.

When you are a mother, in my case, a 38 year old mother of 5, you are busy taking care of others...all the time.  (And, I do mean all the time.)  You don't have chances to think about cereal bowls, knives or sometimes -- the condition of your own shoes.  Infact, it's easy to think on occasion  "Who takes care of me?  Who cooks  dinner for me or makes sure MY day is special"?  Let's face it, moms are easily taken for granted.

But, my mom was here -- taking care of me...and I deeply appreciated it.

This week, I mailed her a package of fall goodies.  A little something to make one of her days feel special too.

There is no great point here.  No moral to my story.  No wrap up of great revelation for YOU.  Just a few paragraphs to honor my mother -- from whom I've learned that it's good to give and to receive.  It's good not to take each other for granted.  It's good to take care of your family.  To say you're sorry...not to be brave...and that cereal bowls are far superior than mugs at holding Frosted Flakes.

Love you mom!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fall Play List!

I often make summer things to do lists.  You know, the fun kind of list.  This year, mine was rather short.  So short in fact I could keep it all in my head.  Something like...spend as much time in the pool as possible.  I succeeded.

Now, fall is on the horizon.  Can't say that makes me happy as of yet.  Mainly because school supply shopping, schedules and early bedtimes fall somewhere in there and those aren't my favorite.  So...I'm making a fall list of things I DO like to do...just so I can live in the moment and not miss any good thing!  Happiness!  Fall happiness!

So without further ado...

- Drink a Pumpkin Spice from Starbucks.
- Run the Turkey Trot.  Mostly run, not mostly walk.
- Plan homemade Halloween Costumes.  Plan a pre-trick or treat hot chocolate with my neighbors.

- Draw in Nature Journal.
- Carve pumpkins (Host a contest...with a prize).
- Be thankful.  Write it down.
- Read our Thanksgiving Book as a family.  Even if no one wants too.  They won't die.

- Make pumpkin bread.  Share with neighbors.
- Start Christmas Shopping
- Decorate the house for fall

- Put fall flowers by the front door.
- Make Candy Apples
- Find a Corn Maze.  Be smarter than Billy.  Beat Billy.

- Make Indian Corn Cupcakes
- Make pumpkin paper mache with Eli
- Convince the kids to bob for apples

- Spend a family day in the mountains.  Eat dinner at the Mason Jar.
- Plan birthday parties for Benjamin, Eli, Victoria, AND Billy.
- Purchase a Titans hoddie and enjoy Ben's football games.

Join me!  What's on YOUR fun fall to do list?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Parent Teacher Conference

Today was Parent Teacher Conference Day.  For Eli.

We show up, right on time, eager to speak with his sweet Kindergarten teacher and possibly the speech or occupational therapist.

Eli is at The Classical Academy's North Campus.  For those in the know, we suspected it might be a stretch putting him in TCA -- with his visual impairment.  The charter school we love is mostly great, but it is also, most definitely, ridged and set in it's ways.  When it comes to veering off the path laid out for the average child, they have a slightly "unaccommodating"reputation.  Still, we decided to go ahead and see how it goes.

As we entered the classroom, almost immediately the teacher began to tear up.  B and I look at one another.  She starts off, "It's been a challenge.  I've had to learn new things.  But, (tears flowing now), I just love him so much.  He's amazing!  He's such a blessing and you guys are amazing too!"  The speech therapist hands her a Kleenex.

B and I exchange glances.  Clearly, I'm not FB friends with Mrs. Garcia.  Otherwise, she would have known that yesterday I forgot my 8:30 am client (even though she comes at 8:30 am EVERY WEEK).  I was still in my PJ's when she knocked on the door!  I showed up at 10:20 am to teach the first of (6) one hour classes with the wrong lesson plans.  Billy's car broke down.  Elizabeth threw her $300 retainer in the trash AND lost her debit card!  My sub was running late.  Seriously, the last couple of weeks have been the scariest environment imaginable.

B says quietly, "In this case 'amazing' must mean...tired".  I whisper, "...and broke."  We both giggled thinking of all the other adjectives we'd like to throw into this back and forth conversation.  We could have entertained ourselves all day...but Miss Garcia was still having a moment.

She went on to explain her modified classroom procedures and that Eli was at the top of his game when it came to being patient and learning his phonograms.  

Finally, she cuts to the chase.  "I feel like God has been calling us to adopt," says Mrs. Garcia.  "I spent the entire last year praying about it.  We've finished almost all of the requirements to foster adopt and I think God's put Eli in my class for a reason..."

We both smile.  Shift in conversation.  Three parent-teacher time slots later -- we go home a little taken a back.

It's funny.  When you're running late in your PJ's...emptied your Dave Ramsey ER fund on car repairs for the 100th time...feel guilty for telling nearly adult daughter she has to pay for her own replacement retainer...have a "doubled-in-size-practically-overnight" business that you're not sure you're stewarding correctly (and even if you are -- it's making you tired)... and can't tell if your 13 year old son is retarded or just in puberty...amongst many, many other things....................................

Well, God can still use you.

And that's AMAZING.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My head is spinning right round....

Like a record.

Yes, you read me right.

My head is spinning.

Tonight, Billy took Hosanna to the E.R.  She decided to have a heck of a tooth ache over Labor Day Weekend -- add a cocktail of leftover drugs given by a mommy desperate to control her child's pain -- and low and behold her mouth/lip/nose swelled up like she'd eaten a tennis ball (although hard to see in this picture)!

I suspect soon she'll get a Benadryl juice box!  Her hair still looks cute though?????????????????

This story is not unlike this one...

Right before that, I was reading Elizabeth's college scholarship letter and writing in her journal.  We've been writing to her in a journal since...well...since before she was even born.  Yup, 17 PLUS years worth of journal entries.  I was almost full.  We were almost to the end.  Just 8 months until graduation.  We will wrap the journal and give it to her as a gift.  Tear.

Before THAT, I was pondering Benjamin's up and coming 13th birthday celebration.  Money is tight for us right now.  As long as things like "Back to School", "Trips to the E.R." and "Christmas" only come around EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE -- we fair pretty well.  This past month getting ready for school almost killed us.  Seriously.  Going through the Target check out I say loudly, "How can THAT POSSIBLY total $500 -- the packs of paper are ONLY 15 cents!"  My reaction in the shoe store was WORSE!  With Dave Ramsey, you win lose some.  When they told me my 7th grader needed a $100 calculator...I lost it.

13 is a special birthday in our house.  We think if our kids can survive our parenting for 13 years, they deserve some ceremonial  statement-- surrounded by our faith community -- that they've lived there childhood well.  So far, so good.  Three down.  2 more to go (we are rooting for Victoria and Eli)!

Truthfully, as if you couldn't tell, we are proud of them -- grateful -- joyful even for their lives.  At 13, we release them if you will to be young adults -- and we try to make sure they know we posses confidence they have what it takes to navigate this life well.

Here are some thoughts from my daughters 13th bdays....

Mostly today, I imagined all the things I wanted to buy for Ben.  Would I have the money to go all out?  Probably not.   

I have a lot of empathy for others in this area.  I've been trying to live by the idea that - basically, there are two choices here.  To worry.  Or to confess the things -- the moments -- God's really come through for me in the past.  They BOTH require energy and an investment of my time.  I can be upset by things I can't control -- or pray, be positive and believe God has my good in mind.  So.....

I decide to get my mind off of "stuff".  I started flipping through my Bible.  The one Billy bought me 18 years ago when we got married.  I KNOW I can give my son the gift of a true blessing...honor...and it won't cost me one red cent.   

I decided to write out EVERY scripture from my Bible that I had written the name "Benjamin" beside.  Over the years, as I've prayed for him -- if a particular scripture jumped out at me -- I'd write his name beside it and continue to "pray" the words for my son.  

The scriptures, the promises, were numerous.  13 YEARS of praying for this kid...

Mix that with a couple of conversations with hurting friends...a much needed catch up session with my cousin (and possibly my oldest friend) whom I'm missing a lot today...and what can I say?  I'm a wreck!

Where have all the little people in my life gone?

Note to self for tomorrow:  this was probably too much pondering and thinking for one day!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Weighing in on Weight Loss Surgery - Part II

Many months ago, at the beginning of 2012, I wrote a few blogs documenting my first steps and thoughts towards having weight loss surgery.  I briefly published them, only to have 101 total strangers email me about buying their weight loss products.  I took the blogs down, because, I mean really -- who cares?  Truth be told though, since having surgery 9 months ago, I've come in contact with MANY people who care -- MANY people who are in the midst of their own journey.  So, if your interested, here's post #2 of mine....

My grown up years have been good.  Maturity is good.  Learning the truth is LIFE giving.  Truth sets you free - and by the time I became an adult, I desperately needed some freedom.  In my 20's and 30's, by the miracle of God's grace, I digested much truth -- an antibody for the lies I believed in childhood.  God began to set me free in areas relating to relationships, society, beauty, worship and more.  I learned how easily we all succumb to lies and just how very hard it is for humans to live a life free of fear.  When I became a parent, I also realized the importance of not having a bad teacher for third grade (if you don't believe in the importance of that and need to be caught up, just click and read here Weighing in on Weight Loss Surgery - Part I).

Most definitely, I've gained some perspective.

Fact, shame can be hard to shake.  Shame picked up in childhood -- can last...a lifetime if you let it.  It is oddly painful and comfortable at the same time.

It was freedom I sought.  And, as it began to come -- it looked differently than I imagined it too.  In regards to my weight, I imagined it looking thin, with all my 18 year old parts back -- in a cute chevron skirt with a jean jacket.

That's not how it came to me.

Freedom came to me first, in my MIND. 

I  knew my issues with food ran deep.  THE PROBLEM WAS WITHIN ME.  And, I needed to address it in an "on-going, this doesn't allow me to quit, I have lots of support, HAVE to stop my life and make this a priority, treat it like life or death, do the hard work" kind of way.

I recognized and  let go of a lie I had heard everyday since fifth grade.  "Today, will be different.  I will change myself and lose the weight."

Realization:  That was a lie.  It sounds virtuous.  It sounds American.  But it wasn't true.  Not for me -- not in THIS particular case.

I am not trying to say that NO ONE is capable of changing their eating habits and losing weight without surgery.  Surgery wasn't my only option.

But, I knew - I knew - that MORE than I believed that today would be the day I'd change myself -- MORE than that, I believed I could NEVER change my eating habits and lose a significant amount of weight. Therefore, surgery became a very important option for me to pursue, and little did I know just how much taking the steps towards it would begin to change my mind.

I believe that when the problem is INSIDE of you, MOST OFTEN, Y.O.U. aren't going to be able to fix it by yourself.  You need help, from the outside.

I made the call to the professionals.

Agenda item #1 - Attend a medically supervised weight loss nutrition/exercise class, once a month, for 6 months.  (All said and done, I would attend for 12 months before having wl surgery)

My first class contained about 200 people with an average weight of about 400 lbs.  They called me the "light weight" - this was good.  It kept me going back.  Truthfully, I learned nothing new.  Eat more veggies.  Avoid sugar.  Avoid large amounts.  Exercise...all the time.

These were my people.

Agenda item #2 - Meet with your Primary Care Doctor who needs to sign off on your surgery.

I have a rule about PC Doctors.  Go there if you have a cold or if you need a referral.  Ours never seemed to do any real "doctor" work.  And this would not be the first time I'd brought up surgery to a doctor.

Doctor #1, "I wouldn't do that.  What if you want to have a nice, big steak dinner sometime?  You won't be able to have anything big."

Call me crazy, but hadn't I had one too many big dinners?

Doctor #2, "Just think of food as fuel and don't eat ANYTHING that tastes good."

Yea, that's helpful.

Doctor #3 (first visit), "The problem is that your diet is s**t.  Just change it.  You can do it.  You don't need surgery, you can do it on your own".  

I seriously wondered if any of these people actually went to medical school.

Overlook the fact that a doctor really doesn't need to cuss to connect with me -- in fact my expectation is that a doctor be smarter than me and show it via his upgraded vocabulary, I knew by now that "You can do it own your own", just wasn't going to work for me.  If I kept to this belief, I knew I had a real chance of becoming  the 400 lbs, 60 year old woman puffing on oxygen WISHING I would have gotten more help when I was 38.  I kindly said to the doctor I had known for all of 10 minutes, "If you will just fill out the paper, I'll try...but I'm still going to consider the surgery".

Freedom came - one simple, powerful thought at a time.

As of August 6, 2012, I am now 1/2 way though my prep work for surgery and am still moving forward.

I rarely talk about it with others.  I know there are risks, horror stories and still more changes I must making peace with a more strict, disciplined me (and raw veggies).  I'm not asking other people's opinions, permission or going into it lightly.  I'm a through, thinking, praying person.  It's my journey, and I'm owning it.  Freedom doesn't come in just one way -- and I am daily saying to God with an open mind and heart that it certainly doesn't have to come to me only in the way I imagined it would.  And, that is how you know, you really want to be free.