Favorite "Meditation of My Heart"

Call unto me,

and I will answer thee,

and shew thee great and mighty things,

which thou knowest not. --Jeremiah 33:3 KJV

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Surviving Snow Days

As I have mentioned before, snow days are tough for my kids to handle due to the unexpected change of routine.  However, these recent "late in winter" snow days even caught me off guard, and I did not have my "secret" stash of activities fully stocked.  I usually have a movie or two that they have not seen or a game save back for tough days or I have a small new toy or some old toys that has been hidden away for a while.  I also usually have some "pinterest" type activity supplies to try and a kid-helper-friendly recipe or two, and I only had one of these on hand and it did not go well. (See photo below of snow coloring.)

So with the usual stash depleted, this is what we did....
LOTS of snow ice cream...

Igloo building

Bigger igloo building 

David "wired" the igloo with Christmas lights and a power strip
for his electronics.
Snow "iced" lattes.

Soda slushies

A "pintrest" idea that wasn't very good.  It was too tiring for the
little guys to keep squeezing the triggers. 

The teens and tweens liked the squeeze bottle painting better, but
even they complained about their hands cramping.

Dances in the dining room

Lots of coloring

Not to say that they got bored, but even
Hannah asked to color!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

My Birthday

For birthdays at our house, we let the birthday person pick the dinner menu.  However, when it is my birthday, my kids have interpreted it to mean that they pick their favorite of what they think are mom's favorite foods.  I think it is cute so I let them all order up their LONG lists of foods.  Then I pick from what is in the freezer or what "shows up".  (Everything marked with an asterisk below was donated to us today or recently.  Sometimes I use donations to "pretend" that I am on a show like "Iron Chef", but today's blessings went together fairly easily.  Needless to say, I am very thankful for the opportunity and blessing of being challenged to make meals out of free food!)

Tonight's dinner ended up being meatloaf, salmon (which I have had hidden in the freezer for months), mushroom* brown rice, squash*, steamed artichokes* with balsamic dip, baked potatoes* (baked in the crock pot), french bread* and Cowboys "clearance" cupcakes*!  Salmon is one of the kids' favorites, but since it is pricey we only have it every several months so they were especially thrilled!

The kids (except Corrine) were home from school today on a cold weather school closing day.  Some of my children do not deal well with unplanned changes of routine so it was a long day of being asked millions of times if we can go to school. The fact that Corrine got to go to school while they stayed home made the day even harder for them.  My husband got me roses for my birthday, which is a rare treat (like 4th time in 16 years), and it was very nice to have them for comfort as I SLUGGED my way through the meltdowns, demands, snacks, lunch, snacks, demands, meltdowns, dinner prep....of the day.  Snow days are harder than the weekend for us since these snow days "sneak up" on us.  Also there was no snow/ice today, and this made it even harder for them to understand why they weren't doing what they usually do on Thursday.  Plus I think having this school week start on Tuesday (since Monday was teacher's meetings) had already confused their schedules.  

So when everyone was pleased with my birthday dinner and cupcakes, then that made me very happy with my day! (And now baths are done and everyone is snug in their beds...the day seems like it wasn't that bad.)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Blessings of 2014

2014 had a lot of struggles for our family, but in the midst of the losses and hardships, there were beautiful blessings.  I have always been amazed by how God has brought resources, people and encouragement to us through likely sources such as family and unlikely sources such as strangers and acquaintances.  This past year brought exceptional blessings.

In 2014, we had a number of needs that seemed like they would become overwhelming, but none of them did.  

Needs which had me concerned and praying included the fact that our refrigerator had started freezing foods like lettuce, our vehicles were all having expensive "issues" some of which were caused by vandalism, Hannah's piano and Brailler needed fixed (at the same time), and our house (and the rentals in Kansas) had unexpected repairs needed several times.  Plus "the usual" stresses of keeping our household running and our out-of-pocket medical paid had my prayer life flourishing.

Ed has always said that I can spin straw into gold, but there was no way to "spin" or even juggle the large number of needs that were coming at us!  However, resources arrived as needed through so many sources!  Extra jobs, gifts, unbelievable deals, and bills that never got billed despite my calling for an invoice several times...you know who you are, if you are reading this...well, all I can say is a LOT of thank you's!

A food ministry through our previous church from while we lived in Carthage provided us with many donated
Our  SURPRISE Thanksgiving Basket
from Fellowship Baptist
vegetables and food items.  My cousin's family continued to supply us with venison.  My aunt provided several donations of milk.  Sometimes food just showed up in our garage from unlikely and sometimes unknown sources.   Plus food and household supply deals through Surplus/Salvage stores and advertised sales and coupons made my household envelop go farther than it ever should have (which is good because I was taking money from it to cover other financial needs)!

My TOPS chapter and friends helped us fund our trips to State and International Award ceremonies. Several TOPS friends and family gave me clothes as I lost weight and did not have clothing in my new sizes. Plus a friend even gave me a formal dress when I won the TOPS award for weight loss so I could meet the stage dress code!  (And as icing on my blessings, a TOPS friend from Kansas knitted and mailed all the kids stocking caps that they love!)

A friend on Facebook donated TWO huge bags of clothes to our quickly growing oldest son who officially became a challenge to keep up with this year since he sprouted from a size 10 to a 14-16 just this year.  AND all these donated clothes fit!

We got "curbside" dishes and a recliner when a neighbor was cleaning out to move.

Some of the school supplies
and snacks.....
My parents paid the kids' school lunches through April 2015! Which is NOT a small BILL even with reduced lunch prices!!!  (My parents do a LOT for us, but this bill is almost $1000 per school year.)  And my mom helped me buy and find deals on school supplies and the 48 days of school snacks that were needed for our youngest kids to meet their school's snack obligations...yes, that is 1152 individually wrapped, healthy, store bought snacks...the thought makes your head hurt doesn't it!

My aunt and uncle gave us the refrigerator from her new house, and it does not freeze lettuce or eggs and it is bigger than our old one!  Plus they gave us an unbelievable deal on buying their minivan (as our Durango was needing many repairs with over 318,000 miles on it).

The Wassenaars gave us HUGE watermelons, bell peppers, oranges, their entertainment center...plus her sister gave Corrine a bedroom set...and you thought you had good neighbors!  Truthfully, we have amazing neighbors everywhere in our neighborhood.

People helped me find walnuts that we could pick up to fund Christmas.  Two ladies in particular may have "scouted" the town and harassed ALL their friends with walnut trees into letting us pick up their walnuts!  It was such a blessing!  All I know is between the walnuts, the aluminum cans and some scrap metal, we somehow funded Christmas for our kids and our Compassion child (and could even afford postage on a few Christmas cards which is really something with the cost of postage)!

Our family got approved for a reduced fee family membership to the YMCA in August.  So for the first time, we are enjoying the local YMCA's facilities and I am enjoying the aquasize classes.

Other blessings included the loss of our favorite (and the best) pediatrician Dr. Shari Smith being temporary because she was able to open a new practice in November!  (Having a doctor and staff who values our kids as much as we do is an immeasurable blessing.)

Pro-Lube continues to keep fixing our vehicles within what we can manage financially, which is no small task when our newest car has 220,000 miles on it and our bus has over 310,000 miles on it.  It is a wonder that we don't spend all our time broke down along the roadside!  I know sometimes they must think, "You broke what and how!"...thinking of a certain bus lift that they welded back into working order. These are a talented group of mechanics!

Countryside Pharmacy keeps humoring my forever search for more affordable formulary medications to keep our co-pays low.  But despite my relentless search of lower cost medications, they provide us with amazing and smiling service and even 7 free movie tickets to the Summer Kid's Movie! (You won't get that at Walgreens!)...which brings me to the blessing of Nate no longer needing his expensive heart medication as of March 2014.

Mike's Heating & Air got our old HVAC system working despite our previous repair company telling us that it was unfix-able on one of the hottest days of Summer.  Ed and I could certainly live without A/C, but some of our kids should not for medical reasons so when J.J. got that old system to pump out cool air...well, my stress level took a huge drop!

Hometown Bank keeps providing smiling employees and wonderful services including letting me abuse their free faxing and notary services despite having a balance, which should not earn us any free services!

The schools that serve our kids continue to be a blessing in their efforts to find and keep the right people and services to meet our kids needs.  This year has been a struggle for them too as new people have had to learn the unique challenges, needs and values of our family.

Then in the section of blessings that probably only a few families need.  Jon finished getting his teeth fixed and

Hannah with her working
with some help from a friend, I am no longer making payments on that bill.  Insurance finally agreed to cover some of Jon's diapers and let us get him a power wheelchair.  Hannah got a manual Brailler loaned to us indefinitely so we could avoid repairing the Mountbatten Brailler.  A friend sold an amazing baby grand electric piano at the right price so we could replace Hannah's piano that was needing repairs.  Plus despite Hannah's cochlear implant becoming outdated, we had no repair costs this year because Boy's Town Research Hospital has enough donated parts from old systems to keep Hannah's processor functioning.

And with Ed's 168 mile a day commute, lets not forget the blessing of lower gas prices!  The daily commute price has dropped to $14 per day from $22 per day!!!

The biggest blessing of all to me was being able to help others even as we struggled to meet our own needs.  I am forever grateful when God provides a surplus of donated food or items that I can pass on to others who I know could use a blessing.  This year we were able to pass on a neighbor's washer and dryer, garden surplus, "yard" eggs from our chickens, outgrown clothes, and so much more.

God has provided us with an abundance of wonderful people in our lives...our pastor, teachers, doctors, nurses, therapists, mechanics, pharmacists, repair people, clerks, cashiers (yes, I know MY cashiers), neighbors, friends, family and so many more.  Thank you to everyone!  May we all have a blessed 2015!  (Sorry this post was so lengthy!)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Big Family Blessings vs. The Critics

NOTE:  This post may be TOO much big family reality for some people.

I get fatigued by the criticism that is often heaped on big families, especially growing families.  Many, if not most, large families are hesitant and downright afraid to announce a new addition to their family, even if the new addition is a puppy!

Critics who are often beloved, extended family will say things like,
           - "Just what you need!  What are you thinking!"
           - "How are you going to afford more!"
           - "You want this?  Don't even ask me to babysit."
                   ....and on and on.....and on.  It is so discouraging!

Equally difficult for big families is the ability to be honest about tough times, especially financial ones because someone will say,
            -"I guess you shouldn't have had so many kids"
            -"What do you expect!  You have too many kids."
            -"You haven't taken your poor kids to XYZ!"
     Insert the theme park, water park, or movie of your choice for XYZ
So as I am preparing a New Year's Eve post on the blessings of 2014, I realized that I need this post explaining a few things about the realities of big families.

1.  The decision for a family to grow is NOT about what a family can afford!  It is about what a family can sacrifice.  I frankly couldn't afford my first born.  Most people probably shouldn't afford any kids, if they really thought about all the what ifs of parenting and what could or might happen.  When a family grows, they are saying that they are willing to share and sacrifice all that they have for a new family member out of love.

The growing family is not saying that they have extra money and they want to "pay for" a new kid!  Kids are not living room furniture sets.  If people want to tell a family that they cannot afford new furniture, go ahead.  However, if they want to discourage a family from growing in selflessness, then they need to think about what values a family should teach their kids.  Family success is not about how much a family spends per child, it is about how much they sacrifice per child.  A child can be lavished in gifts, toys, clothes and entertainment and not feel like their parents love and accept them.  The value of a child starts to be established when their joining a family is announced.  People need to build up that value, not debate it.
Our family at half its current size (with Baby Nate whom we were
just hosting at the time):  With half the children, we did not have
twice the resources.  My abilities to use resources
wisely have grown with experience and God's provision
has been consistent. 

2.  Big family values may not look like small family values.  Parents of big families do not see it as a failure if their kids don't have snow boots and are using bread wrappers with rubber bands over their shoes.  Parents of big families don't view hand-me downs and thrift store clothes as second best.

Big families who cannot "do Disney", NEVER think to themselves, "If we just had fewer kids we could go". Big families instead think things like, "We ended the month with 78 cents in the bank and the dental bill paid so we win!"

It is NOT a lifestyle value system for the faint of heart.  If it sounds terrible to you, don't have a big family. However, realize that some of us LOVE all our kids and the rewards of "winning" with a bank balance that would make you shudder!

3.  Having a BIG family and a small bank account is NOT irresponsible!  It is no secret that our family is Dave Ramsey fans.  We think he offers the best financial advice out there.  The point where we differ is on the goal.  Dave suggest saving so you can give, but we feel called by God to invest in our kids.  Emergency funds are important and they will get used in a big family.  Being debt free (except the mortgage) keeps us sane.  Having a retirement savings plan means that we have a hope that we won't live with our kids. BUT we will NEVER live at the level that Dave's full plan offers because we have too many expenses...yes, kids' expenses.  Our affluence is not money.  Our affluence will be to turn out God fearing, loving and hard working adults with a desire to better the world and who are amazing parents to raise our grand kids! 

4.  Big families are NOT trying to "milk the system".  Sure there are exceptions, but almost ALL big families have two hardworking and industrious parents.  These are parents who know the enormity of what they are doing because they live it!

We have 10 kids, and to be frank, it has gotten me gallons of free milk from WIC and reduced price school lunches. That is right...the "system" gave me milk for my kids to drink and a better price on their school lunches. No food stamps.  No free phones, cars, etc.  NOT ONE!

BIG families don't get a check, just the public condemnation that comes with people thinking that the BIG family is "doing it" for the government check that doesn't exist, even if the kids are disabled!  (Pardon the "doing it" pun, I couldn't resist.)

My grocery list alone is probably more responsible for economic stimulation and development in our community than most government programs for small businesses!  The reality is that "the system" is milking big families.  Doubt that claim?  How many of your kids can you count on your taxes?  All of them, right?  I only get to claim 3 for most sections of the tax code and I have never gotten credit for more than 5 because I would need much more income to claim the deductions of kids 6-10.  The tax code is written to help families with 2-3 kids.

So please think before you offer your disapproving opinion on a big family that is growing and/or struggling.  BIG families have BIG responsibilities and they know their realities all too well.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas 2014

Thank you to Grandparents, Cousin Cassidy (the suspense to open your presents was killing them), House Hero Angela (who gave us pizzas and a movie for a perfect family movie night...and a mommy's cooking night off), Karry who sent several of the kids their own cards (Vanessa has hers hung up and may NEVER take it down), the Deckers, the Wassenaars and the Brazeals who gave us diet-friendly fruit treats, and so many others (known and unknown) who helped make this a truly special Christmas! 

The two anonymous cards with encouraging words and gift cards were especially surprising and helpful!  Ed and I had so much fun planning and going on a restocking shopping trip for peanut butter, jelly, ketchup, dryer sheets, cereal, shampoo, razors, toothpaste, dishwasher soap, printer ink, spices, butter, cheese and so much more that keeps our household running...it is such a stress reliever to have these critical items on hand again! 

We appreciate everyone so much!  Thank you.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

"The Day We Take Down the Fly Paper and Put Up the Christmas Tree" & Other Events

Thanksgiving came and went as quickly as ever.  We spent Wednesday at my parents' house for a family dinner.  The kids were excited because this meant a family trip in our bus.  This was our first trip outside of town since we had mechanical trouble on the way to the farm in August.  The kids were a bit nervous about every sound and wind sway at first, but they soon settled in and went to sleep for the trip.   

Then Thursday was Thanksgiving at our house with all the feasting and board games that we could handle.

Friday marked our annual decorating day which we tease that it should be called "The Day We Take Down the Fly Paper and Put Up the Christmas Tree".  With so many kids constantly fanning the back door, we indeed keep a fly paper or two up from April thru November, and Thanksgiving marks the point that I feel we no longer have a fly problem!

We got most of the decorating done, but we were short a strand of indoor lights so we will have to finish "decking out" the big Christmas tree (pictured above with the fly paper) sometime this week. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

First Day of School Worries (Revisited)

On this First-Day-of-School Eve, my three kindergartners to-be have been very excited.  At dinner we asked them to tell us why they are excited.  Both Mark and Luke explained because they will get money.  After a few moments of confusion, we realized what they were saying.  Both of them thought that they would get money for perfect attendance like during Summer school!  Needless to say, we had to burst that bubble as we couldn't let them think the school would pay them on Friday!  After the bad news, the boys are still excited for the bus ride in the morning, but they are much less excited about actually going to school.

As I was sitting at my desk tonight and thinking of all my worries for my kindergartners, I could not help but remember when Vanessa and David started kindergarten.  I had so many worries.  However, on that day, a misunderstanding lessened my worries.  I found this story that I had written about their first day.  I thought that you might enjoy reading it too.

In May of 2009, I was dreading what was ahead for David and Vanessa.  I knew my own early experiences in school and I was worried.
For the past year, I had stayed at home with the kids after their adoptions. We had worked on pre-school skills, life skills and English skills to get them ready for kindergarten.  However, that year flew by quickly and it was soon going to be time to go to traditional school in August.  I was very reluctant, but I knew this was a step that they needed to take. 

Kindergarten would be a big step with all new adventures, new skills, new friends and new discoveries.  However, it was the new discoveries that worried me and to be honest, even scared me.  I can remember my first year of school, and while it was not a bad year, I learned some tough lessons that year.   Lessons that I still sometimes wish were not true.  I cringed at the thought of David and Vanessa learning similar truths about their world.
In the 1970’s, I lived an ideal life with my parents on a small farm.  My grandparents lived beside us and our community and church were small.  Due to my being born with a disability, I had been to see the “Big City” many times and frequently spent weeks at the Children’s Hospital with kids from all over the world.  School would prove to be an intrusion into my ideal life.  From my very first day at school, I started to learn tough lessons.  No one looked like me.   No one was taught like me, and ultimately I learned that not everyone wanted me in their school.  Unlike the hospital, with kids with all types of disabilities and unlike my home, with my father who was a disabled veteran and our neighbor with a wooden leg, at school I was the only one with an obvious disability and at first I was a curiosity.  Eventually, my classmates became bored with being entertained by my every move and they mostly accepted me as a playmate.  Recess became the best part of my day because I mixed freely with my new friends.  In the classroom, I sat in the back at a table and colored.  I could catch bits and pieces of what the others were learning and I was occasionally given a book like theirs to look at while they did their lesson. I learned the words for kids like me.  I disliked the word “retard” the most.  Some teachers didn’t think I could be taught and I learned that some did not want to waste time with me.  Even the principal doubted aloud in my presence if I belonged in their school.

My early experiences were the solid foundation of my fears for David and Vanessa.  Haitian by birth and now living in rural America, they enjoyed a small community of family and friends.  They had already made many discoveries, just coming to join our family.  Starting in the airport and continuing at church, they found out that few black people spoke Creole, even the darkest skinned people spoke English.  To add confusion, a white woman with light hair spoke Creole to them because she had lived in Haiti.  David knew that he looked different than me.  As he colored pictures of moms and kids, moms were orange and kids were brown.  However, what concerned me the most is that like me, neither David nor Vanessa knew that their community was not like their home and church. 
To try to ease the transition to go school, I made arrangements for David and Vanessa to go to pre-kindergarten, two Vacation Bible Schools and a day camp.  When the first day of Summer school arrived, David and Vanessa were so excited to get to go play with lots of kids.  I drove the kids to school that morning, and I got Vanessa to her class first.  Due to her disabilities, she had already met her teacher and toured as part of the process of getting the school ready for her so she separated from me quickly and was ready to start her day with the help of a classroom aid.  David and I went more slowly to his classroom, pointing out where the cafeteria and restrooms were located and finally stopping to take a picture of him outside the classroom. 

We entered the room and we were greeted by an experienced and prepared teacher who had activities already going at the tables.  I took David to the seat for him, and he immediately dove into playing with the building blocks at his table.  I lingered and took a couple more pictures as he started to talk to the boy next to him.  I was pleased to see that the boy was a minority, and based on a brief exchange with his mom as she left, I knew they were from Guatemala.  I was pleased that David would not be the only minority student!  David had told me bye, and I was across the room when I heard the little boy ask in a suspicious tone, “Who was that?”  I stepped behind a cabinet out of view. David said, “My mom.”  The boy said, “That’s not your mom.  She’s white.”  I sucked in my breath and waited to hear David’s response.  David said insistently, ”She is my mom.”  The boy said, “Not your real mom.”  I was about to step back around the cabinet, when the teacher interrupted the boys with a new activity.
That afternoon I went to get David from school.  The little boy and David saw me waiting in the hall.  I could hear enough to know that they had resumed their previous conversation.  I stepped closer to the door as the boy was asking David questions again.  David replied, “There are white moms too”.   Then the little boy asked, “How do you get to school?”  David seemed annoyed as he answered, “I told you; in a car.”  The boy inquired, “But who drove the car?” David seeming more annoyed, ”My mom!” The boy confused, “Your real mom?” David pointing to me in the hall, “Yes.”  The boy then said, “She can't drive.”  David who was looking completely annoyed now; responded, “White moms can drive too!”  As luck would have it, the bell rang and David came running to me.  I figured I’d explain the little boy’s concern about my disability and driving later.

On the way home, David told me all about his day including about the boy who kept asking him about his mom all day.  David explained,” He has a brown mom.  He doesn’t know about white moms.”  He exclaimed, “He didn’t even know that white moms can drive!” 
I decided that David understood the little boy just fine so I never explained the boy’s concerns.  However, that afternoon I felt more confident that David and I would do just fine handling the tough realities of kindergarten…one misunderstanding at a time.