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, 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.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Give Me What Is Right for Our Kids....

A BIG apology to everyone who has had to hear me rant this week on this subject.  I finally just put it all in writing to our Board of Education and emailed it. 

Neosho is an awesome school, but we need everyone's input, expertise and vote of confidence to stay awesome!  Awesome takes work and facing some often harsh self-images for the purpose of improvement. 

Please disregard any typos or grammar errors that I tend to make more freely when I feel passionately about something and I am passionate about this subject.  We have needed a new Jr. High School for over 5 years.

If you are not from Neosho, but an educator or school administrator please consider reading point #4.  It is true in most every community in our area. 
                                                                                                                                                                                Dear Neosho R-V Board Member;
I have been hoping that this letter would not need to be written.  My letter is concerning the inability to pass the increase needed for a new school.  It is typically my policy to only offer solutions, not criticisms.  However, I am finding it difficult to offer solutions without explaining what has gone wrong.  Please set aside egos and read this with an open mind.  I am hopeful that my observations may help our district get the Junior High School building that it has needed for over 5 years.

1.       Our new superintendent was not given the proper chance to build a rapport with voters before he was out “with his hand in their pocketbooks”.  Decker’s first contacts with community groups should have been to give a “state of the district” assessment.  He should have had a year to brag on what is going well and prepared people for what he saw as challenges for the district.  He needed to give people a vision to “buy into”.  Instead, Decker was introduced and then sent to tell the community how badly the school needed money.  I am sure it was done out of urgency, but it disengaged some voters from the feeling of being a part of improvements and made many informal community leaders with concerns appear as opposition in open forums.  Additionally, it is generally believed that passing tax increases is good for a superintendent’s career so without rapport, Decker’s meetings with the public seemed self-serving to some, rather than being a genuine need in our community.
                Our school needs other things too, and by mentioning the building on a list of big and   small things that are needed would give time for people to see progress and “buy in”.  Even a             SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis written by/for Decker and published in the newspaper or online would have prepared voters to be a part of change. 

                Changes to the front of the high school surprised the community.  Signs should have been up   months before construction started and a media blitz should have explained how and where the  money was coming from and why the front of the school was selected.   The way it was handled, lead many to take the attitude “See, I voted no and they found the money in their deep pockets.”

2.       A clean-up of past mistakes and misunderstandings should have occurred.  Carver was a big disappointment to many voters, especially older citizens.  As I have explained to Shawn Dilday and Tim Crawley, the day after Grandparents’ Day is not a positive time to get school reviews at the Senior Center and other meetings of grandparents.  The lack of parking at South and Carver and the excessive walking distances at Carver are viewed dimly.  Carver has never had ADA complaint parking despite complaints since the ribbon cutting event (that I could not attend because the only ramp was blocked).  A second ramp and parking in the back lot was added, but the door was kept locked for 6 years.  Crawley says a buzzer was added over the Summer and I look forward to using it.  However, unless a note is added to the information sent home concerning Grandparents’ Day, most people won’t know that the back lot is now an option.  Crawley explains that he is new and did not know of these problems, but our new leaders must fully understand our past mistakes and challenges!   I was furious when I saw the artist’s depiction of the new Junior High with the disabled parking as far from the main door as possible!  It told me that the district is not learning from its mistakes and it is not interested in “my” issues, which should be “our” issues.  If Crawley had known that the parking at Carver is viewed negatively, he could have asked the artist to correct the drawings before they offended people.

Questions and concerns about past problems, donated land, location, and clumping so many schools close together by a bus barn needed lots of public forum exposure at community meetings, on the web, on the radio and in the newspaper before asking for money.  I have heard so many people say, “the bus barn, Carver, Middle School and a Junior High that close together?  What if there is a tornado?  Our community will have too many assets in one place.”  Plus there are concerns about traffic.  Some people already feel that pickup and pulling onto Norway is too congested.  If intersection improvements are planned, then this should be public knowledge.

3.       The Devil is in the details…asking for millions of dollars before releasing a floor plan sketch that demonstrates good stewardship of the money is only inviting critics and “no” votes.  Of course construction costs can be estimated by square footage, but voters want to know what is in that square footage.  I toured the high school on a day that the air conditioning was running and the fire place was burning in the library.  The nice amenity of a relaxing fireplace was instantly rebranded as “showing off” and wasting resources. 

Current estimates say that 30% of our population is in arrears on one or more major loans.  When people must keep their thermostat in the 60’s in the winter and people are forgoing air conditioning, neighbors have a hard time voting for an increase that will place further hardship on their friends and loved ones, especially if they are thinking that the new building could be built for less. 

4.       Neosho is a town of hardworking and thrifty people.  It is not a town of cheap people.  It is a town of people who know the value and power of a dollar.  The school has presented itself at “odds” with the basic community values of stewardship and fiscal responsibility numerous times without realizing it.  One example is the school supply lists.  Those lists have more name brands than they should, and the name brands are even bolded.  (Elmer’s ® purple glue, what is wrong with Scholastic® purple glue at ¼ of the price!  Metal blade Office Depot ® scissors are identical to Fiskar’s ®at 1/3 of the price!)  Post-its, Crayola, Play-doh, Eagle, Avery binders, Clorox wipes, Papermate  and Ticonderoga pencils,  Expo markers, and Germ-X just make me want to scream, “Who do you think we are!” (BTW- Kudos to Dr. Fox’s building which did not include a single brand name on any list!  It is much appreciated.)  Does the BOE realize who buys 60% of our kids’ school supplies?  Let me tell you, it is grandparents.   You just asked limited income patrons for more at the ballot box right after they just bought “you” brands that they don’t have in their own homes.  Yes, I said “you” and not “their kids” because when the school asks for brand names it becomes about the school’s needs and not the kids’ needs.  Name brands need to go! 

5.       Shorter Fridays cost people money.  When the school day was shortened many folks found themselves searching for affordable after school care.  People have turned to grandparents and the goodwill of neighbors who are now providing funds for snacks and recreation for little ones and big ones every week.  Our family is adding extra hours for a nurse’s aide because my children’s medical needs cannot be met through a program like the YMCA.  We are not alone because other special needs families have called me looking for affordable ideas.    Our nurse’s aide costs $12.38 an hour.  That may seem small, but it will equal $1,188.48 or more in new expense for our family by May 2015.  Was this even considered when the BOE voted to shorten Fridays?   This Friday schedule change has hit a lot of people in an already empty wallet.

6.       The problems need clear explanations.  Never did I hear the public being informed that the 8th-12th graders are dismissed a minute early to get to/from the trailers.  If that 1 minute happened just once a day, that is almost 3 hours of lost instructional time per year.  No one explained that instructional time is also lost during tornado watches/warnings.  No one took a picture of a crowded hallway at the high school.  No one showed the class meeting in the atrium.  There was no list of classes/opportunities that cannot be offered at the high school because we are out of room.  Neosho is a VERY giving and generous community, but in order for generous people to help, they must see the needs.

7.       Do you fully understand how much money the school asks our community for already? 

ü  Field trip money (lots of field trip money),
                  ü  money for required school planners,
                  ü   school picture money two times a year (and you just try to tell your little one that you aren’t buying their cute picture!),
                  ü  3+ fundraisers a year plus a PTO Carnival with baskets to donate to and raffle tickets to buy/sell,
                   ü  book fairs,
                   ü  school dances/fun nights with concessions,
                   ü  book orders,
                  ü  Spirit Day tattoos/face painting,
                  ü  sports fees,
                  ü  Stuff the Bus donations,
                  ü  school T-shirt money,
                  ü  gifts for teachers,
                  ü  classroom snacks (about 9 times per year per child..store bought and individually wrapped) plus store bought birthday cupcakes,
    ü  teacher appreciation carry-in meals, and  
                  ü  donations for Trike A Thons and Pennies for Patients and on and on….

 It is no wonder voters may be experiencing “compassion fatigue”.  It is time to say “Thank you” and limit the requests.  One school picture is enough.   One fundraiser is enough (and fundraiser assemblies are a BIG waste instructional time).  I personally would pay money to not have my kids involved in fundraising!  Ten dollars a year for field trips (including Summer school) is enough.  Book orders and book fairs are  often a financial burden, and the carnival trinkets are a choke hazard and in the trash in a week.   My kids have seen more movies in theaters with the school than with our family.  Who spends cash this way?  In today’s economy, less is more.    

Steps in the right direction include the following:

Ø  Align the schools needs with the community’s values. 

Ø  Work on engaging in a rapport and cooperation with all citizens by providing multiple opportunities to ask questions of the public and to share concerns with the public in a variety of settings. 

Ø  Create a system for “knowledge management” in which mistakes and misunderstandings of the past are imparted to new staff so consistent answers can be given as these issues are revisited.

Ø  Take the narrow focus off the building/overcrowding temporarily.  Broaden the lens and show people the other challenges.  I, for one, am alarmed at the small percentage of students taking advanced and honors’ classes and the stagnant average of our ACT scores.  If the district can show the public their problems, the creative solutions, and the opportunities to help be a part of the solutions, especially in non-monetary ways, then people will feel more a part of the school.  This will show the voters that money is not the only solution that the R-V uses to solve our community’s challenges.

Ø  Don’t put this back on the ballot for at least a year and consider an April 2016 election.  (April is a great time for people to give money at the ballot box as some have just gotten a tax return.  In fact even fixed income families often get the Property Tax/Circuit Breakers credit return right before the April election so they will have just had a reminder that the increase will likely not affect their overall budget.) 

Ø  Get a focus group of about 18-20 people and look hard for folks who openly say that they voted no to serve on the committee.   During the wait time for it to be on the ballot again, get a specific plan and get feedback from the focus group before releasing it to the public.  Adjust the plan accordingly and then “wow” people with the value of their dollar.  Tell them exactly what they are getting and show them that it is the right building in the right place, with the right features and at the right price.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need any clarifications.  I apologize for the length of the letter, but I should have drafted it sooner...five years sooner.

Leatta Workman

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

When the scales won't drop...

Hubby and I on a recent (and rare)
date night.
I have been stuck for 4 weeks.  I have had what TOPS calls "turtles".  No change in my weight and no progress.  It is the pinnacle of frustration.  Especially when I haven't splurged, indulged or even sniffed a food that I shouldn't! Sacrifice equals results...right?!  Well, not so much here lately.

I tried a number of "tricks" to try to end this plateau including eating more raw, increasing my water consumption and avoiding all except the leanest proteins.  However, I had to admit that it might be time to apply some of that nasty "E" word.  You know the one.  Exercise.  I went to two water aerobics class and did some crutch-walking (1/4 mile).  I am pleased to say that yesterday I weighed in, and I had a 1 1/4 pound loss.  It wasn't the 3 pounds that I was dreaming of...but I am happy to see the scales moving down again.  Considering the results, I guess I will be scheduling some more of that E word this coming week.

For those of you who don't know, this brings my weight loss to 157 pounds.  Just 2 1/2 more pounds and I will be half the woman that I was in January 2013.  (Now if only, I hadn't let myself get to be 3xs the woman that I was on my wedding day!) 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

July Review #4: KitchenAid Dishwasher

We purchased a KitchenAid dishwasher with ALL the bells and whistles (on clearance from Best Buy) in the Fall of 2012 and it has been a huge disappointment.  We picked it over a Bosch because it had a built in disposal and a third tier flatware rack.  It was also energy star approved and well rated by Consumer Reports.

However, almost exactly a year after we bought it, the (3rd tier) silverware rack that we thought was so neat, broke and fell out.  Then at Christmas time 2013, the latch on the soap dispenser broke and it would no longer stay closed, which meant the soap did not dissolve at the right time for the dishes to get clean.  In January 2014, a pan got against the rinse agent stopper during the wash cycle and melted the stopper enough that it no longer holds rinse agent.  Then in February 2014 the front started separating and no matter how we put it back together the screws strip out and it separates! 

When I contacted Kitchen Aid the customer service representative said this was not typical, but it only had a year warranty.  His only advice was to let the parent company which turns out to be Whirlpool know about the problem.  He also suggested than an extra extended warranty may have been a good option at purchase.  Of course, I am on the phone thinking, "I shouldn't NEED an extended warranty!"  We do not plan to buy a KitchenAid when we replace this "new" KitchenAid dishwasher...and I am very leery of Whirlpool now too.

The broken third tier flatware track.

The separating front panel with stripped screw.

The broken soap dispenser and melted rinse agent stopper
that now leaks.

Monday, July 14, 2014

July Review #3: Riccar Vacuum

This product is made in the USA!  That is rare these days and this vacuum is even made right here in Missouri.

Our vacuum cleaner is a Riccar that we got used.  It has been very durable and is affordable to get repaired.  In 7 years, the only repairs have been to replace a filter and the power cord.  With my wheelchair, I am tough on power cords because they catch under my wheels and before I realize it, I yanked on the cord until it pulls loose while I am vacuuming.

Previously we have had a Singer, a Kenmore, and a Hoover.  Each of these lasted less than 5 years and eventually had poor suction. 

The Riccar picks up dirt on carpet exceptionally well.  However, it does not do well on solid surfaces like hardwood.  There are lots of attachments and the only design problem is that the hose to connect the attachments is 2" off the ground so it requires being able to reach the ground to use the attachments.  However, it you need exercise, this vacuum keeps you caught up on toe touches!  It is not a lightweight design and it is not fun to use on stairs, but it can be done.

Once again my reviews are not paid reviews.  They are just based on our family's use of the product.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Traveling Home From IRD

We made it home tonight around 7pm.  There was a lot of driving today and only a few stops.  However, I had my one and only diet splurge of the trip.  Of course, it was Imo's Chicken Pizza!  And having stopped at a St. Louis Imo's, I was able to buy a bottle of their O calorie Red Wine Vinaigrette Salad Dressing, which our grocery store no longer carries!
Add caption

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Day 5 & Day 4's Secrets

Today Grace, Corrine and I were all awarded International First Place Awards for our weight loss with the help of TOPS in 2013.  I don't have the official photos yet, but here are some snap shots that we took in our room on Day 4 before we went to a wonderful dinner to honor the winners.  (We couldn't tell you yesterday because it was still a SECRET until the ceremony today.) 


Now you know that I am not a complete wimp that I went to bed early last night!  We all had to do our makeup and get dressed up for the dinner and then we started today (Day 5) at 5am so we could be at the  Milwaukee Theatre in the green room by 8:30am.

To review what we achieved, Grace lost 49.25 pounds in 2013.  Corrine lost 23 pounds, and I lost 131 pounds.  We are each in different categories of weight and age so we did not compete against each other.  However, since we were all involved in the awards ceremony, we have very few pictures since it was hard to carry things like a purse and camera.  The TOPS official photographer took lots of photos, but it will be a few weeks before we receive copies of the photos.

Today wrapped up our time in Milwaukee at the conference.  Before we left, we got in a visit to the Bastille Days Festival, and we made it to Springfield, IL before we had to get a hotel for the night.  After some swimming, a visit to the fitness room and a hot bubble bath, I am headed to bed and plan to sleep in a bit in the morning before driving the rest of the way home.  I am anxious to get home and see my husband and kids!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Day 4: THAT Call from Home & Being Sore

The first session today started at 9am and went until almost 12:30pm.  It was a great session with a wonderful before and after parade called Lost Baggage.  People showed their old clothes and their new healthier size and everyone looked great!!!  The Century awards were so inspiring.  Jo who has lost over 300 pounds is my hero!  I cannot wait until I qualify for the Century award.

Then this afternoon, I got THAT call from home.  The "when will you be home...I am exhausted" call.  I actually thought that I would get THAT call Tuesday, but hubby is tougher than I thought!  However, I was able to give him some encouragement and tips on bribes, deals and food choices that should improve his last two days on solo.  (Come to find out, he was giving the boys Kool-aid as a treat for good behavior which is kind of like shooting yourself in the foot with our boys...red dye does not improve behavior and the sugar just makes them hyper.) 

I am so proud of my husband for taking this on alone! No one call Family Services...Angela (our house hero) is helping him during the day...but even with Angela our crew is a 24/7 job and it works best with two parents on duty.  Trust me, I know when hubby is away on debate team trips; it is a BIG job AND without Grace and Corrine to lend a hand, it is even a BIGGER job!  I am so proud that he is willing to do this to help us stay motivated and on our journey to better health.

The long sit during the morning session left my hips sore...VERY sore so I confess that I had to skip this evening's long session.  My morning will start very early in the morning so we can be packed and ready to check out of the hotel.  I took a LONG soak in a VERY HOT bath and went to bed early!  Tomorrow afternoon I start the long drive home and my hips are probably not going to like that sitting either.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Day 3: IRD is in Full Swing!

Today was the first full day of IRD events and sessions including the opening session.  We are learning a lot.  The section by Dr. Joseph Skelton , MD was our favorite so far.  He had great information and ideas for new "diet rules".  He suggested some rules of three including three meals a day and snack only when it has been three hours since a meal and three hours will pass before the next meal.  His advice and ideas were practical and do-able.

The beautiful stage backdrop.

The theme displayed on the BIG monitor.

Corrine with the program booklet.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Day 2: Taste of Chicago

At the Jelly Belly Factory
Our morning was busy, but then we had free time at the TOPS International Recognition Days so we headed into Chicago!  Along the way, we visited the Jelly Belly Factory.  Then we got our nails done.  Next we took a train into Chicago to Union Station and a cab to Millennium Park.  Grant Park was our next stop for the Taste of Chicago Festival where we had the BEST Jerk Chicken that we had ever ate!  Then we walked by Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower) and took the train back out of Chicago.  We finished the evening with dinner at Taste of Tokyo where they bring sushi to you by floating boats.  At the restaurant, we enjoyed amazing food and service!  Reviews online were mixed about the service, but we are pleased to report that our server was TOP notch!  We got back to our hotel very exhausted, but it was a great outing!
Showing off their nails while waiting for the train.
Grant Park
Millennium Park

Garden at the Chicago Art Institute
Corrine discovers why taxis and wheelchairs are not
a good mix...cramped travel!

On the train we discovered that our T-Shirt meant it
when it said EXTRA large...oh well, Daddy gets a
new T-Shirt.

Taste of Tokyo

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Arriving in Milwaukee

Grace, Corrine and I have arrived in Milwaukee for the International Recognition Days of TOPS.  We drove over 8 hours to Holcomb, IL yesterday and then on to Milwaukee today after spending the night at Aunt Treva's and Uncle Bill's house.  Here are some pictures from our adventures today.

Cousins:  Grace & Corrine with their Cousin Jake

We rented a bike for 2-4 people with a surry top!

One of the nice views of the city on our bike ride.

Corrine riding in the basket while Grace peddled.
"We" peddled around Lake Michigan near the Art Museum.
One of us peddled more than the others....

At South Park Beach

The Beach was pretty much empty...and it was beautiful.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July Review #2: Cuisinart Waffle Iron vs Snoopy

Many years ago while in college, I bought a "fun" Salton Snoopy waffle iron for less than $10.  I used it until 2007, when I was given an expensive Cuisinart Waffle Iron. 

The Cuisinart worked as expected for the first 5 years, but during year 6, some plastic trim came off.  Then this year, the handle
came off.  I had to open it with a butter knife and close it with an oven mitt.  Recently, the back hinge has broken, but it still works so now I use oven mitts to open and close the waffle maker...yes, I am still using it in this condition.  The plates are still wonderfully non-stick and look like new.  The outside looks terrible, but it cooks.  I think Cuisinart has done okay for our family, but I did not pay over $70 for it.  Remember it was a gift and a truly great gift is one that you would never splurge on for yourself!  So this was a great gift!  I have appreciated the convenience of making waffles faster, but I had hoped that with a name and price like Cuisinart that it would last forever, like Snoopy who is still with us in the farm kitchen to make our visits special! (But as you can imagine, it takes a long time to make enough Snoopy waffles for my crew!)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July Review #1: Skillets

In the past 25 years, I have probably had 8 to 10 skillets come, get worn out and go.  Some were cheap sets and some were expensive brands.  However, I have one skillet that has lasted for over 20 years and if you read my blog, you can already guess what brand it is...Lodge Cast Iron.
The crack:  After 20 years of heavy use, and Lodge
replaced this griddle free of charge.
To be fair, I must explain that my Lodge Cast Iron flat skillet 90G recently developed a crack after 20 years, but the outcome has me even more impressed with Lodge.  I contacted the company and they explained that they do not have a written warranty, but they stand behind all their products.  A week later a new 90G griddle arrived at my house!  (I am pretty sure that Lodge paid more to ship it to me than I paid for the skillet over 20 years ago.)

Some of you may be saying, I hate cast iron because it sticks and when cooking eggs, I agree!  (I have never gotten eggs done to my satisfaction without using a lot of oil.)  However, with the exception of eggs, I have found that keeping my skillet seasoned is the secret to great non-stick cooking in cast iron skillets. I oil the skillet after each wash and complete a full heated seasoning about once a month. Here is a link to how I keep my cast iron seasoned.

By the way, for the best pizza crust ever, make a pizza in a cast iron griddle or skillet, but you may never use your pizza pan again!!!  There are even cast iron pizza pans.