Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Toddler Talk, Cold Weather, and Year-End Thoughts

The picture doesn't have anything to do with what I'm going to write. It was taken recently and it makes my heart smile every time I see it. It is a real blessing having a toddler again. I just appreciate this stage of life so much more now than I did when I had the three older boys. As soon as one of them exited that stage, another entered it and it got a little tiring! But this time it's fun! Usually.

Sam picked up a new word this week - "stupid." Uh, oh! I'm not sure where he heard it. The other night he was taking a bath and we heard him holler out, "stupid!" and Paul and I just jerked our heads up. Was that our baby boy talking like that? By the next day he was going around, informing his brothers, "You stupid!" so we had to put a stop to that, even though the cuteness of it just makes me laugh. It's like hearing a little old lady swear - it's just so unexpected, it's funny! Well, it shouldn't be, but somehow, it is.

Paul is on call this week; has been since Friday. He's been getting a LOT of hours, for which I am grateful. Yesterday morning he was called out at 2am, after not getting home until around 8. He came home yesterday around 3:30 and was gone again by 6 and got home at 1 this morning. Today, he is doing inventory on his van ( a year end thing) so they aren't sending him out on any calls until he is done. Unfortunately, he's battling cold symptoms like we all are (thank you, Samuel!) so it's even harder on his system - but so far, no seizures, so that's good.

We are supposed to go to Waterloo Saturday, but it's only supposed to reach a high of 5 degrees that day. So, I told Paul if he can pick up some hours that day - and he wants to - then that would be fine. I'll just go up with the boys. We need all the hours we can get. Christmas Day I did our bills and about cried. Hours just haven't been sufficient to pay all our bills lately! Although, they did predict that because of El Nino, we would be having a mild winter. So far, that has not proven to be the case. December has been quite cold and it's the 3rd snowiest December on record since they started keeping track in the 1800s.

I ordered propane to be delivered tomorrow. Ouch - that is expensive! I ordered the minimum they'll deliver without an extra charge (250 gallons) and that's going to cost $450. We'll need more by spring, probably, but I didn't' want to charge it and this was all we could afford. I am so grateful that we burn wood because that saves us so much propane. But we still need it for the little bit that the furnace does run and then to heat our water.

Of course, this week I could have kicked that woodburner right out of the house! I have a picture that I hung behind the woodburner and it had a plastic cover in the frame rather than glass. It warped up, big time! Fortunately, it didn't' wreck the picture and I just need to buy a new frame - one with glass. But then, I saw that the end blind on my vertical blinds is all warped now, too. I was not happy about that!

This will probably be my last post of 2009. I've been printing out all my blogs from this year (which uses a LOT of ink!), inserting them in plastic covers, and putting them in a binder. I really wrote a lot this year, I'm discovering. I'm amazed at those that tell me they read everything I write - that's a lot of reading! Thank you so much! I'm hoping to parlay my writing into other venues this year, in addition to my blogging. My friend Kristi and I have determined that we are going to make more of an effort to enter the FaithWriter's contests every week that we can. It would be nice if I could use some of this writing desire to benefit others rather than just my own journaling. I'm thinking about investing in a 2010 Sally Stewart guide, too. We'll see how the Lord directs with my writing desires. It may not be time yet. My main responsibility right now is motherhood and I don't know if I can do both.

A final thought as 2009 comes to a close: yesterday I had long conversation with my friend, Jenny. I mentioned her in the post previous to this. She is the one carrying a long awaited baby girl who probably has a chromosomal disorder that will, more than likely, take her life before it begins. Jenny told me that her prayer every day for herself and her family is that God would grow them spiritually. Wow! I have never thought about praying quite like that. I pray for Paul and the boys. I pray for their physical protection, as well as their spiritual protection. I pray that God will keep them from sin and guard their hearts (particularly in the area of relationships and the temptation of pornography). I pray for strength and development of personal character. But I never thought about praying for spiritual growth. Part of me hopes that isn't like the old joke about praying for patience - if you pray for it, then God will send trials that will increase it! But I started doing that today because above all, that is what is important. That's what I want for my men in 2010.

And that's what I want for me. Happy New Year to my faithful readers!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Things That Break my Heart

Divorce...babies who die before they are born...and so much more. But those two things are on my heart today, making it especially heavy.

I found out Sunday that a couple Paul and I went to Faith with 20 years ago (I actually knew the husband from elementary school) are divorcing after 18 yrs of marriage. It makes me sad, even though we really didn't know them and I've only reconnected with the wife in the past year. I'm not casting blame or even condemning them for this decision. God alone knows. But it hurts my heart, just the same.

I just got off the phone with my good, good friend, Jenny. Today she was told that her 24 week old baby (pre-born) probably has Trisonomy 13 or 18 - which is a death sentence. She's not hysterical, but actually very calm and I thrilled to hear her testimony as she shared her conviction that despite the sadness, she knew that this is God's perfect will for her unborn daughter and for their family. But my heart is breaking for her.

And I found myself weeping as I cleaned up the kitchen...because of things that break my heart.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Week

The best week of the year, brimming with anticipation, good scents, and peppermint everywhere!

I'm actually doing well and not stressing out. We are even having school this week which is a first in my personal history of homeschooling. I got done with Christmas preparations early this year and all I have to do now is a little bit of baking and filling the stockings. That's it!

Our plans have changed with the weather. That hasn't happened since 1887 when a Midwestern storm roared across the plains and dumped 17" of snow. That's what I have heard anyway, not having actually been alive then. But seriously, I have never, ever had winter weather interfere with Christmas travel. It's not uncommon for us to have brown Christmases, which is actually a little depressing, but good for road travel. But this year sounds like it will be different. Nobody knows for sure what is supposed to happen - just that it's going to involve ice, wind, and snow. It has been raining all day today, which is seriously depleting our snow levels. But that's supposed to switch to ice as it gets colder and then a snowstorm is supposed to whip up tomorrow and Christmas Day. I have talked with plenty of people who have had to alter their travel plans for this year.

Our plans were a little bit in limbo with Paul being scheduled to be on second call for Christmas Day. But we had planned to just see what the forecast would be. If it was going to be not all that cold, then we'd be safe to travel 2 hours across the state and spend it with his family. But now this forecast has come up. And then we found out that Paul's one brother was going to be visiting his parents' for Christmas. Because I don't know who all reads my blog, I'll just say that that is a situation better avoided if we can. :( So - it looks like we are celebrating Christmas alone this year, which is a first, ever, for us. But it will be fine. I went and bought supplies for a nice ham dinner for Christmas Day. We've got gifts, food, and plenty of wood for our woodburner, so we should be more than good. It's always nice to spend Christmas with extended family, but we're a family, too.

The other day we were listening to "Angels We Have Heard on High" and David pointed out to me that it sounds like they are singing, "Glory in egg shells day-o" Thanks, David! I'll never be able to hear or sing that again without thinking of egg shells!

Sam has a new name for David, who has always been "Dah" to him (which interestingly enough, are his initials!). For the past two weeks he's been "Dee-ba" now. I think it is hilarious, as does Will, who takes every opportunity he can to also call David by his new name! David is not as amused.

A couple of weeks ago the three boys were doing dishes. I almost hate to ask them anymore to do the dishes together because of all the fighting. I'd rather do it myself. All three contribute to the problem and usually I end up removing talking privileges before the chore is over. I'm thinking this points to a character failure on their part and a disciplinary failure on mine! But anyway, Sam was in the kitchen and all of a sudden, in the midst of the bickering, he yelled, "E'rybody need stop!" The room fell silent. None of us could believe that a 2 year old had just said that! We didn't even know he knew all those words, let alone understood that what was happening wasn't right. Wow!

I have begun to notice in recent weeks that Sam seems to have a more sensitive component to his personality. On one hand he's a very rough and tumble little boy. But every so often this soft side peeks through and I get a glimpse of his little heart. Just a few moments ago he needed my help and so I got up. I didn't know that my foot had fallen asleep and when I stepped with it I twisted it and fell. Oh, it hurt! I wasn't screaming in pain, but I was making noise. Pretty soon Sam, who was sitting beside me, just buried his head in my leg and began sobbing. I think he was upset that I was upset and hurting! So then I had to assure him that I was really ok (although I'm not sure - my foot sure is throbbing right now). We've had other similar incidents and it just simultaneously warms and breaks my heart! What a sweetheart!

I took Will out on a date last night. I should have started this a long time ago. It was a chance for me to get an emotional "read" on him and talk to him about whatever. He's not all that talkative by nature, but he was willing to respond to whatever I brought up. I think he's doing ok. I think I'll try to do this with each of the boys from time to time. We went to the Dairy Queen in Knoxville - only because the Checkerboard (Pleasantville) was closed! I couldn't believe it! My mouth had been watering over the thought of their amazing onion strings all day long and then they were closed! But I got to have a peppermint/chocolate blizzard at DQ and that was almost as good as the Checkerboard's strings!

Paul got a raise last week. It's a paltry 25 cent raise and he was not all that impressed. But, I told him it's better than not getting one at all and it's certainly better than not being employed. He's a little frustrated lately with the up and down nature of his work. He's had several days this month where he didn't work because it was too warm and there just weren't enough calls to pass around. And he's had even more days where he has been home early. That stresses me out, too. He has commented a couple of times lately that had he known that this business would be like his, he would have never gone into it. I understand his frustration and I would love for him to be in a line of work where we could count on a certain amount of income every paycheck. But, at the same time, I can look back to 6 yrs ago at this very time of the year, when Paul began to sense the Lord's leading into an HVAC line of work. It was because of that that we moved out here to central Iowa and have this whole new life. I wouldn't want to go back to the life we used to have - even with its regular paycheck.

Even with the stress, God is providing. Just today we got our annual anonymous $200 Christmas check in the mail. This is the 3rd or 4th year in a row that it has come. There's no return address and usually just a simple note accompanies the cashier's check. This year it said, "For the boys." I was praying that the tradition would continue this year, because we are in a particularly tight spot at the moment! God is good to us. He is - we have so much. I'm living my dream. I always wanted to be a mother of a lot of boys (kind of envisioned having a couple of girls in there, too, but that's a different post!) in a warm and happy house. That's my life! Here we all are, together at Christmas, living out my dream. What a wonderful Christmas!

You Know Your Brain is Over-Taxed when...

you say in a previous post that Jesus was born in Nazareth! Duh! We sing, "O Little Town of Bethlehem" for a reason! Well, I don't, actually. That is probably my least-favorite Christmas song. I remember clearly having to practice and practice that song for either a school or church Christmas program when I was quite young and deciding then that I really, really disliked that song! That just hit me out of the blue the other day, several days after I had posted that. It reminds me of last Feb. when I declared in a post that Lincoln and Darwin had been born on Feb. 9th, when everyone knows it was Feb. 12th!

I was at a parental support group Monday night and I made a comment about our kids' with autism brains, "not firing on all cylinders" which cracked up the other mom that was there. After this, I don't think it's just our kids' brains we need to be concerned about!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Missing the Baby

I was driving around yesterday, pondering stuff in my head while I did so (which is generally how I miss my exits and stoplights). And it occurred to me that in the midst of my Christmas preparations, something is missing. This isn't the first year I've felt this, but I'm feeling it more strongly every year. And yesterday I realized what it is. The Baby is missing.

Sam has been bringing home papers from Sunday School this month and excitedly squealing, "Baby!" when he sees an artist's depiction of the Baby Jesus - laying serene in a sterile and brightly lit manger while his mother (why is Mary always pictured in a robe of blue? Have you ever wondered about this? Is there some historical significance that suggests she would have been garbed in that color?) hovers nearby and Joseph stands off to the side - so as not to get in the way, presumably. Sam thinks it's pretty great. We have a nativity on our living room buffet and Sam was exclaiming just last night over Baby Jesus - "Baby! Baby!" I tried to tell him it's Baby Jesus, but he just says, "Baby." In his mind I suppose it could be Baby Jesus, or his cousin Phoebe, or any of the other new babies in our church nursery. They are probably all one in the same in his mind. The important thing is that he's older than all of them!

Our Baby isn't missing. He's actually lucky because most of our nativity looks like they're survivors of a mass genocide. Evidently this set was manufactured in some third world country with substandard manufacturing capabilities. Both our shepards are missing their heads, as is one of the wisemen. Joseph only has one arm. The cow lost an ear. The goat sits on his belly because all 4 legs got broken off. The sheep is balanced precariously on the 3 he has left. The angel lost her wings. It's not exactly up to "House Beautiful" standards! Oh well. Maybe one of these years I'll just replace the whole thing. Or maybe not. The pitifulness kind of makes me laugh every year!

But anyway - what's missing at Christmas is the Baby Jesus. I get so caught up in all the "have to do" stuff that I don't spend much time reflecting on the whole reason we celebrate. Maybe it's not even realistic to think I ought to, though. I mean, really - how much time can one spend in deep thought about this? Perhaps it is just something that goes hand in hand with this season of life. I'm the busiest now I will probably ever be. Christmas generally falls on Mom and I'm no exception. But like I was bemoaning to Paul a few days ago, I really don't think all this is what God had in mind when He sent Jesus to us as a baby.

And that's not to say I don't like it. From time to time I hear other women piously say they have decided to eschew all gift giving and other busyness of the season and focus only on Christ. Okay...(secretly I have always thought that maybe they were just too cheap to do Christmas). But I don't want to do that. I love gift giving at Christmas! It's fun! The shopping part I'd be happy to give up, but I enjoy that aspect of the holiday. I like the tinsel and the lights, the treats, the family time - it makes me happy!

What I don't like is the stress of the season. Now this year I had all my shopping done a full two weeks in advance and I had everything that needed to be mailed done by the 15th. Everything is already wrapped and under the tree - I'm actually ahead of the game this year! I budget out our Christmas spending all year long so that by December, it's a non-issue. The money is there and waiting to be spent, which eliminates stress I remember from previous years. But even with those preparations, there's still a lot to do that has to be done on top of my everyday normal life. I wish there was a way to do it all - AND enjoy the season.

I remember the Christmases of my childhood and it was truly a magical time. I'd spend hours just sitting in front of our tree, looking at my reflection in the glass bulbs, willing the days to go by faster! And I remember thinking then a lot more about Jesus at the holiday. I suppose that's because we were singing about him and talking about him both at church and my parochial school. But I had a lot more time on my hands, too.

But with the advent of motherhood my focus changed. You know, I think it actually changed before then. I remember getting into college and finals were always just prior to Christmas. So now only did I have gift buying and parties and stuff do do - I had to study! And as soon as I was done with that, it was Christmas! And then I got married and was working full-time, which didn't leave a tremendous amount of time for getting ready for the holidays. But it was when I became a mom, and especially as the boys got older and I began to want to do more to establish traditions and memories for them, that stress started becoming a constant factor of December.

There has to be a way to do both. I know the day is coming that my kids will be grown and I won't have so many demands at this time of year. If I want, I can sit and think about the miracle of that little Baby born so long ago. But the truth is, I don't want to wait until then.

The story of Christmas is one of love and I think by missing the Baby, I'm missing out on some of that love. That's the real message of Christmas - obviously, it's not the gifts, parties, programs, baking, and fun music. And it's not even the story found in Luke 2, complete with the pregnant teenager, the trip to Nazareth, rejoicing angels, and shepards. The Christmas message is found in John 3:16. It's remembering that "God so loved the World, that He sent His beloved Son." He gave us His most precious child because He loved us beyond compare, more than anyone else has ever loved anybody. He loved us. He loved us. He loved me.

That's a message that isn't reserved only for Christmastime. But it's one that kind of gets lost in the shuffle of the busyness of days. So, my desire is to still find a way to do it all. Maybe that means eliminating some of what I do (although I am toying with the idea of teaching myself how to make candy this next year, so that I could do some at Christmas next year - which actually goes against the whole "eliminating" idea!). Maybe it just means being a bit more organized so that I'm not attempting to do everything in December. Maybe it means learning to let go of what's not really important (like my beleaguered nativity set) and having the wisdom to determine what to keep and what to let go.

But most of all, it's going to be about not missing the Baby. I've done that too much.

Friday, December 11, 2009

It's SN-O-O-W December

Just a little play on words there, referring to our massive snowstorm this week...It actually first snowed on Sunday while the guys were out hunting and we were in Council Bluffs. I went to lunch with a couple of friends from my old church and afterwards I wanted to do some shopping. Side note: Council Bluffs has done some amazing things with their shopping industry. They are totally developing the south end of town (no doubt because of the casinos down there) and have all kinds of neat stores. I told Paul that the JC Penneys they put in makes me "orgasmic" and he turned bright red and said, "I can't believe you said that!" It is what it is! Had I known this was in the works, perhaps we wouldn't have moved! But I digress. Anyway, while I was shopping, it really got windy and snowy. By the time we left around 7 to go home, the roads were kind of treacherous. We had extra weight on top of our van with the 3 deer strapped on there (charming hillbilly picture...and I still have frozen blood on the side of my van!) and I just prayed and prayed all the way home that God would keep us out of the ditches! He did and I am SO thankful!

Monday was fine, but the news stations were full of news about an impending snowstorm. Ben had an allergy appointment that morning and then I was able to bump up his actual shot appointment to that day just in case things were as bad as they were predicting for Tuesday. We did a bunch of Christmas shopping and it was a good day. But things were a different story by Tuesday. That morning the sky was so gray and heavy with snow and it started coming down that afternoon. By Wednesday the entire metro was basically shut down. Interstates were closed and there was so much snow and so much blowing and drifting that nobody could go anywhere. We got 16" on top of what we had from Sunday! You can see it all drifted up by our back door in the above picture. The news said there hasn't been a storm like this in the Des Moines area in 14 years. It was actually a cozy day. Paul was told not to come into work (not that he could have gotten there anyway). I did my normal stuff around the house and he cleaned up some of his paperwork on the computer desk and helped Will with algebra. It was nice!

Yesterday everybody was moving again - sort of. It was down to below zero and I think the high was somewhere around 6 degrees, so it was COLD! The roads were still a bit icy so you couldn't go as fast as normal. Paul had a lot of no-heat calls to do, thankfully. I had a chiropractic appointment so I crept to town and made it just fine. Then I shopped all day and FINISHED MY SHOPPING! I can't enjoy Christmas until that chore is done. I just can't!

Last weekend went fine. Kathy and I had an amazing time together. We always do. We decided that this is nuts, seeing eachother once a year. There is no reason we can't do this every 3 or 4 months. Council Bluffs is only 2 hours away for me and it's an hour and half for her, so it's pretty even. We also decided that we are going to do a camping trip this summer with both our families. That was Paul's idea. Apparently he and Rich were talking about that last summer at the homeschool conference and Paul told me I should mention that to Kathy. She was enthusiastic about the idea. That will be a wild camping trip because we have 9 kids between us!

The men got all their deer tags filled. Will's friend, Nathaniel, who came along, got a good sized buck. I was pleased for him. He's such a fun, witty kid - I really enjoyed spending time with him! I'll be reporting on the butchering here, soon, I suppose. That's not nearly so fun as the shooting! Ben did go for a couple of hours and when I got back to the house I asked him what he thought of it. He looked at me for a moment and simply said, "It was cold!" I had a feeling he wouldn't be all that enthusiastic about the experience. Maybe if he actually got to kill something, he'd be happier...

Ben was happy on Monday, though, when he got to go Christmas shopping with me. Nothing makes him smile quite like shopping. It always has. From the time he was a baby, he was always content to sit in his stroller and just observe everything in the mall or different stores. Will and David, on the other hand. acted like they were imprisoned in an Iranian torture camp! Sam is the same way!

I was so impressed with him while we were shopping. We had eaten lunch at the food court and a nearby kiosk had caught my attention (because it had jewelry and I am such a girl). He wasn't quite done eating so I told him to just finish up and then I'd be back to clean up and we could go. To my immense surprise, he showed up at the booth a few minutes later, carrying both the drink and the shopping bag - which is not an easy feat for him. He has cerebral palsy and his fine motor skills are practically non-existent. I asked him what he had done with our food mess and he told me had cleaned it all up and thrown it away! Wow! Maybe there is hope for him!

He sure cracked me up the other night. He and David were watching a movie in the living room and I don't even know what it was they were watching (I'm thinking now I should probably be keeping better track of such things!). Ben came to where I was and asked, "Mom - is 'son of a ditch' a swear word?" No, that's not a typo - that's exactly how he said it! I wanted to laugh so badly! But I assured him very solemnly (by biting the inside of my cheek) that yes, that's swearing and we don't say that.

I had to take Will back to the foot dr. last Friday. He has a mess of plantar warts on the bottom of his foot. Nasty! So nobody else is using the upstairs shower until that gets taken care of and he's showering with flip flops on. I thought we had those conquered but evidently not. Anyway, while waiting for the dr to come in, Sam was playing around the door. Soon, he opened it and disappeared! I caught up with him at the end of the hallway and asked him where he was going. Sam replied, "to van!" I guess he'd had enough of waiting around!

I'm going to have to post a picture of my living room one of these days. I am becoming so pleased with that room - finally. It's been painted several colors since we moved in but I just never liked any of them. My colors have always loosely been burgundy (now barn red), hunter, and navy since our first little apartment. And I still like those colors. Last January I finally hit upon the idea of painting one wall a barn red and the rest a cream color. Then we ended up buying a tan couch and things have just really come together since! I picked up some new throwpillows this fall for it. In July I ordered a red throw from a home decorating party I went to. I discovered that a quilt I bought in Branson a year ago looked very nice against my tan slipcovered loveseat. I bought brown drapes last winter and started adding other touches of brown to the room, which I am finding I really like. This week I bought my Christmas present from Mom and Dad (they give me one big check at Christmastime for all of us. I do the shopping for the boys in advance and usually get my own gift right before Christmas). I got a 5' x 8' shag area rug in a deep chocolate brown. Oh, it is gorgeous! And it covers up my boring tan indoor/outdoor carpet that's in there. The boys love it because it's so soft! I just walk into the room and smile every time now! For being a small room, I think it's really quite inviting. And just think - a year ago at this time that front wall was just drywall with splotches of mud on it. The entry way was that awful built-up thing with the peeling white and blue linoleum on it. It's like it isn't even the same room anymore! All right...enough about me and my decorating prowess...:)

Well, it's looking like David may need glasses, at least for reading. He had a tutor for a month or so and she sent me her report on the experience. She told me that David had complained about his eyes hurting and would rub them frequently while reading. I have always been aware that he seems to have trouble focusing on his place while reading, but it never occurred to me that might be because he needs glasses! Now, I feel kind of bad that I didn't recognize this before. A number of years ago we had been to an eye dr. in W. Des Moines when David's cornea got scratched by Will's toenail (yes, really!). At that time he persuaded me to have all the boys' eyes tested since I had never done that before. Well, then he really put the pressure on for me to have all 3 of them put in glasses. I didn't do it because I didn't see that they really needed it. I know from experience that the more you wear glasses, the more dependent your eyes become on them and I didn't want that for the boys. It just sounded like a way for that optometrist to make some money! But - maybe now it's time, at least for David. I mentioned it to him yesterday and he wailed, "No! I don't want to wear glasses!"

I need to get back to my to-do list. Today I have so much that instead of my normal to-do list I have a "Must get done TODAY" list. Blogging was one of my things! So, every time I get something done, then I go wrap 3 presents. That way I'm making progress on that chore, as well. And I enjoy that anyway. I have to make 5 dozen cookies today for a cookie exchange at church tomorrow, which I think will be fun (as long as I don't burn the cookies or as long as they don't turn out to be so hard that they are chipping people's molars - sometimes I have that problem with cookies). And I have to get Will over to church tonight for a birthday party. It's going to be a busy day.

I should go check the mail. We haven't gotten it since Tuesday! Whatever happened to, "...thru sleet, thru snow, thru dark of night..." And I was told at the city council mtg last night that if we don't have our mailbox shoveled out the mailman won't deliver, either. I'm thinking we have a lazy mailman! That's going to be one big load once we do get it, that's for sure!

Off to work!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

Christmas! Well, on the inside of the house anyway, I still have my fall decorations up outside and bags of the Christmas stuff littering the deck and front porch. I am just not in the mood this year. Actually, I haven't been in the Christmas decorating mood for the last decade. It's just hard when you have kids (when you are, ironically, supposed to be making wonderful Christmas-decorating memories!). It's another chore to do. If it were not for David our tree would not be up and decorated. I commanded Will to bring in the tree yesterday and I threatened him and David into assembling it. Then it stood naked and pathetic all day until David finally began decorating it. Bless his heart, he even went and found a Christmas cd with "Oh Christmas Tree" on it so he could have music to decorate by. When I got home tonight I put up the last of the decorations and David enthusiastically tinseled the tree. My mom would shudder. When we were kids, we could only put one piece of tinsel per branch, so as to have an even appearance of silver all over the tree. David was taking handfuls and wiping them over the branches. Whatever stuck - stuck!

The tree is not pretty. It's artificial, for one thing. Growing up, we always had a real tree and I tried to do that the first few years we were married. But Paul would never get around to bringing home a tree until mid-December, which was too late in my opinion. And then I found out you have to water those things or they lose their needles. And then after Christmas you have to clean up all the needles! Once we realized Ben had such terrible allergies, it just seemed like a better idea to go with an artificial tree. But it's a trade-off. I dream of having a beautiful, color coordinated tree. I love shiny balls and would love to do a tree with all the same colored balls and lights. Oh, I can just see it in my mind! But, my children would have a conniption if I suggested that. So, instead our tree is filled with home-made decorations, some special ornaments, candy canes (one box for each kid - that's a LOT of candy canes! I'm thinking I may have to rethink this tradition for next year...), and a blue construction paper star on top. It's not pretty. But it's beautiful.

I got my last Christmas card addressed tonight and I tweaked my Christmas letter. How do you condense a year into two typed pages? All I know is that nobody had better send me a card who wasn't on my "send to" list because I am down to about two cards left!

I went shopping with all 4 boys last Friday - Black Friday. Ben was in fine form. Oh, I could have stuck him under a clothing rack somewhere and left him! At one point he had gotten in trouble for not listening to David (who was supposed to be watching him) in the store. He informed me, "I'm not going to listen to anyone shorter than I am!" That kid!

I was leafing through a home decorating catalog the other day and I found something that made me laugh out loud. It was an embroidered picture of a hen on the run with a passel of baby chicks behind her. Stitched above the chickens it said, "Raising children is like being pecked to death by a chicken." Isn't that the truth?!

This coming weekend is the annual hunting expedition in Council Bluffs. Paul has decided to take Ben out for a couple of hours. I think it will be good for him. I can't quite ever picture him with a loaded shotgun (don't want to!) but he needs to be exposed to "manly" stuff like that. We are taking along one of Will's friends from church who also enjoys hunting. I will be doing some hunting of my own - at the mall, though, not in the timber! My good, good friend Kathy will be travelling down from Sioux City and we're going Christmas shopping together. It's a tradition for us. Actually, we go shopping every single time we're together! We have bonded tightly over sale signs throughout the 20+ years of our friendship.

I had an unexpected conversation Sunday night with a lady in our church, whom I really do not know because they just joined this summer. She's older than I am and I just haven't taken the time to engage her in conversation. But anyway, she casually asked me if I homeschool my kids (I get that a lot. I must have the homeschool "look" to me) and so I began to tell her about what we're thinking with Ben. To my utter astonishment, she was incredibly supportive. It turned out that she works in a special ed classroom at a local school. So she was very helpful to me, as well as encouraging.

Yesterday, Ben was being a pill and causing all sorts of problems for his brothers. So, I finally drew them aside and let them know that Ben will be going to school next year. I just did it to let them know that there's relief in sight. The way things are isn't going to be how they always are. I thought they'd smile and say something about it being past time for that. But instead, they both expressed concern for Ben about how he would adjust to going to school. How sweet is that?!

And then today Ben found out our plans. I had not intended to tell him anything until next summer. But the superintendent of the Pleasantville school system called me today while I was driving. I suppose I should have stopped and gotten out of the van so Ben couldn't hear the conversation. I was really hoping that Ben was off in la-la land in his mind, but he wasn't. And boy, did he have questions! But, to my surprise, Ben was actually kind of enthusiastic about the idea of going to school next year. Now, that may change because it's still 9 months away. I fully expect to have to deal with tears and histrionics when the time actually comes. Knowing him, though, he's going to be asking hundreds of questions over and over and over again until school starts. That's going to drive me insane. I understand that this represents a huge change and change is extremely difficult for the autistic mind. It's going to take Ben a lot of time to process the idea. But he's still going to drive me nuts with the questions.

My friend Melissa and I saw "New Moon" last Tuesday night. As big of a Twilight fan as I am, I'm quite sure I already mentioned that here. I have been cracking up, though, to see everybody else in my family's interest. The next day Will wanted me to share the entire plot of the movie with him. Saturday evening Paul and David sat down and watched "Twilight" that I still had out from Blockbuster. Today David was looking at some Twilight posters at Walmart and pointed out the Volturi to me. He figured out who they were just from my description of New Moon! I was sharing with Paul, half-jokingly, the other night about how Robert Pattinson (he plays the hero of the movies) really makes my heart beat faster. So he told me now he thinks he needs to see the movie for himself so that he can, "check out the competition." Ha, ha, ha! I think we may end up being a Twilight family before this all ends.

We're already a Hawkeye family, that's for sure! Yesterday David made an ornament for the tree out of paper. It's the Hawkeye symbol. He colored it, punched a hole in the top, strung a ribbon through it, and hung it on the tree. Tonight Sam was gazing at the tree and suddenly, with great excitement, began to exclaim, "Haw-dye! Haw-dye" while pointing at David's ornament. So cute! He's also started saying, "Tay" for "ok". I don't know why people think 2 year olds are terrible - I'm having fun! Well, most of the time. Sunday I was in the pew with Ben, David, and Sam alone while Paul was up with the choir. Will sits in the sound booth. It's always a challenge with Ben anyway. But now Sam is in there until after the song service when they dismiss the little ones for Children's church. During one of the prayers he began to shriek, "Ben - pay, eye! Ben - eye!" Apparently, Ben didn't have his eyes shut during the prayer and that concerned Sam. Oh, to be a lonely and child-less!

I have a surgery date of Jan. 25th for my ablation, I found out today. I've got mixed feelings on that, but mostly I just want to have it done. I think it will be worth it. I hope so!

Well, I should be getting these children into bed. Then, I need to follow. I made the mistake last night of taking my multi-vitamin and B12 right before bed. Apparently, they work - because I was up until after 1am! Wow! I was cruising Facebook for quite awhile, hoping to finally feel sleepy enough to go to bed. The thing is, I really didn't feel groggy today, like I would expect after a shorter night. My energy levels seem to be normal. My dr. upped my Vit. D intake to 10,000 ius a day, so maybe that's part of it, too. But I really don't want a repeat of that tonight. So, I need to wind things down here.

Hopefully, in my next post I'll be reporting the killing of several big deer by my hunters - enough to fill my freezer for the next year and enough to make them smile and brag for a few months.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Reflections on Thanksgiving Week

Here is Ben's 13th birthday picture - didn't it turn out nice? I could not decide between the final two I had narrowed it down to, so I let Ben choose!

It's Thanksgiving night. Paul and the older boys are watching "Night at the Museum" on tv, Sam is in the tub (hopefully not drowning since nobody is actually watching him), and I'm too tired to do anything but type. We did a traditional Thanksgiving meal just for the 6 of us. I cooked my first turkey, ever, and it turned out really yummy - for turkey, that is. I'm actually not a huge turkey fan, which probably has something to do with why I'm almost 39 and just now cooking my first bird. I baked two pies and I am anticipating sinking my teeth into the pumpkin one in a little bit here.

I spent several hours this afternoon reorganizing and cleaning Ben, David, and Sam's room. Since Sam's birth it has been a constant challenge to come up with enough room for our stuff. We really need a larger house, but I am reluctant to commit to a larger mortgage right now. But anyway, I'm pleased with what I came up with. For the last year I have had a toy shelf in the living room which has meant that everything in that small room is literally touching eachother - no extra space at all. I hauled that up to the boys' bedroom and I really like how that opened up one corner of the living room. Of course, that meant I now had to come up with more space in their bedroom to accommodate the shelf! I ended up taking the door off the hinges that goes to their little closet (their room has two closets for some odd reason). I completely cleaned out the little closet and got all the clothing in there moved into the bigger closet. Then I had just enough room to move the toybox and Sam's tool bench into the closet. Paul's going to put up a light in there and now it's just a cute little play area for Sam! I got everything cleaned out and vacuumed - and now I'm worn out!

Reflections on this past week: Saturday we met with our pastor again after a 6 month hiatus from counseling. It was good. He was very, very encouraging about the idea of putting Ben in school. In fact, Monday I ended up calling the school. My hand was literally trembling as I made the call. I didn't identify myself when I called, but just explained my situation. The secretary said she'd have the proper person call me back (and he never did this week) and then asked, "Is the Heywoods? You live up in Swan?" Are we that well known? I was a little taken aback. Evidently, our reputation precedes us!

After meeting with our pastor we drove up to Matt and Kirsti's to see them one last time before they moved. It was kind of sad. Matt and David played one last game of Madden football. And then Matt gave David a pair of boxy Hawkeye slippers he himself had been given at one point. They were too small for him. You would have thought Matt gave him the moon. David has not been out of those slippers all week long! He was absolutely thrilled! We ate pizza with them and my palate expanded. I had chicken and mushroom pizza and oh my - it was good! I may have to do that again sometime! This is pretty big for me, because I tend to stick with foods I know and love. I'm willing to experiment when I cook, but if I'm paying to eat out (or order in, as the case was) I want to know that I'm going to like what I get!

Will didn't go with us because he was at his first Hawkeye game Saturday. I think it was better than his birthday and Christmas combined! I picked him up from a Caseys where his youth pastor dropped him off and Will chattered all the way home. I had not heard him this animated since the first time he came home after a week at junior boys camp! Of course, it probably helped that the Hawkeyes crushed their opponent Saturday!

Sunday night Sam ran right into one of the support beams in our church auditorium. He hit his head so hard I was just sure he had split it open. I didn't even realize he had been hurt until I turned around and saw him laying face down on the carpet. Then, it was like those dreams you have where you're trying to run, but it feels like you have 100 lb weights tied to your feet. Another lady got to him first. When Sam gets really upset or really hurt it takes him quite awhile to make an actual sound. His lips turn blue and then eventually he starts crying. He's always been like that. But anyway, he got a goose egg that's a sickly shade of yellow right now and a scrape, but he didn't split it, thankfully. One of these days I know I'll have an ER tale for you with him, though. It's just a matter of time!

Sam has caught onto the idea of praying now before meals. It is so stinking cute! He announces, "pay!" and then screws up his eyes really tight and starts blinking rapidly. I'm not doing a whole lot of praying myself because I'm wanting to watch him instead! Sam has never tolerated having his nose or face wiped - ever. But this week he had a slightly runny nose. He came out to where I was and kept saying, "nose." I didn't know why he was talking about his nose until he then pointed at a tissue box. What a relief it has been all week to be able to wipe his nose without having to fight him!

I started Ben on the Risperadal this week. I'm still a bit leery, but I did some research on the internet which made me feel better. Most mothers reporting on it mentioned that their children gained weight. I don't want Ben getting to be fat, but since he's underweight, maybe this will help bring him to a more healthy weight. And most reported a decrease in the autism symptoms while on the drug. So, we'll give it a shot.

It looks like I am going to be having surgery sometime after the first of the year. I'm going in to talk to my gynecologist about scheduling an ablation. That's where they burn off the lining of the uterus. But one thing I want to know is if this procedure will take care of my near-constant uterine pain, or if it will only take care of the excessive bleeding. If it only treats the latter, then I'm wondering if we'd be better off to just do a hysterectomy and get it all over with. The nurse practitioner who did my biopsy last month gave me a choice among the ablation, the Mirena, and progesterone shots (like Depo-Provera). The last two really did not interest me, so that left the ablation. That will make me sterile, but since Paul already had a vasectomy and I'm in peri-menopause, I really doubt it will make a difference!

Monday was a rough day financially for us. Man, talk about getting beat up! First, Paul was home by noon, which is not good. When he doesn't work, he doesn't get paid. And they just didn't' have anything for him after that morning - or last Friday, or yesterday :( Then, the mail came and there was an envelope from the Council Bluffs police department. Council Bluffs uses those traffic cameras at a couple of their intersections. Evidently, Paul did something their cameras didn't approve of, although he says he can't remember doing anything remotely illegal. And the irony of it is that the reason he was down at the end of town where the cameras are is that he was serving the Lord - working on the furnaces at our former church! Des Moines has a couple of those cameras, too. I've heard one of our radio hosts on WHO refer to them a city "fundraiser." I am inclined to agree, since we are now "donating" $107 to the city of Council Bluffs! And then, lastly, I opened our electric bill. We're on a budget plan so we pay the same amount all year long and they adjust at the end of the year. Last year was great. Our bill went down $5. This year we are up to $116 - a $26 a month increase! Good grief!

Tuesday night my good friend Melissa and I went to see the latest "Twilight" movie, "New Moon." Oh, I just loved it! I am so crazy about those books and the movies! It helps having a fellow 40-ish, homeschooling mom of 4 just as nuts about them as I am, though, to go with me! I think Robert Pattinson made my heart beat even faster in this movie than he did in the first! I know at one point I leaned over and asked Melissa, "Is it wrong to feel this way since in all actuality I am old enough to have given birth to him?!" She assured me that I am just appreciating God's creation. I can live with that! I am totally looking forward to the release of "Eclipse" next spring. And I'll leave it at that since I'm sure at least half my readers are now rolling their eyeballs!

I have studiously avoided shopping on Black Friday for decades. It hearkens back to when I was a college student and stood in line for 45 minutes on the Friday after Thanksgiving trying to buy a bottle of shampoo. I vowed, "Never again!" Well, Will has informed me that we are leaving the house by 8 am tomorrow morning. He has the desire to go buy something shiny and electronic and is convinced he can get a good deal if we go tomorrow. Since I am his ride, I get to go. Sigh...

So, I'm signing off on Thanksgiving night. And I am - truly thankful. For everything.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Bigger Picture

I'm sure glad that God sees the bigger picture and orchestrates things to accomplish it, because right now, I'm sure not seeing it. This is my brother Matt and his family. Today, they are leaving Iowa and moving to Arizona. It isn't right, to my thinking. The day before Thanksgiving is when families are supposed to be coming together, not breaking apart. As it is, tomorrow, not a one of us will be together. My brother Andy, will be eating some turkey-less meal with his family in Minnesota, my parents will probably just eat turkey sandwiches in NE Iowa, Matt and Kirsti will be eating in a restaurant somewhere between here in the SW portion of the United States, and we'll be in central Iowa, eating a traditional meal in our little house.

Matt moved to Arizona following his college graduation in 1998. He soon landed a great job with some company with 3 letters for their name. I have a general idea of what he does, but I couldn't tell you what it is they manufacture. After a few years, Matt met a gal on e-Harmony, bought a house, and married the girl - all within a space of 10 months. After starting their own family, Matt and Kirsti began to feel a bit lonely for some closer family ties. Matt's family was here in the Midwest and Kirsti's in the Pacific Northwest. So they began praying about moving closer to family - one or the other. After a while, it became evident that the Midwest might be a better choice and they began to pray specifically that God would open up just the right job for Matt. They resisted the temptation to move up here without having a job in place, which was wise, but it meant that they had to wait even longer to move. Finally, in the spring of 2008, it all came together. Matt was offered a job in Ames, halfway between my parents' and our house. So, he, Kirsti, and Jake moved up. We were so happy!

Kirsti is the closest thing I have ever had to a sister and I was beyond thrilled to have them here. We immediately began planning lunches out and shopping times together. It was fun! We started having more family get togethers and were able to coax my brother, Andy, to bring his family down to Iowa a little more often. My parents loved it. They finally got to really know Jake, who had just turned 3 when they arrived in Iowa.

But things didn't work out how we had hoped - obviously. Matt and Kirsti had one struggle after another with their arrival in Iowa. It took them almost a year to get a renter for their AZ house and then they had to give up their apartment and move into the basement of some church friends for a few months. Once they had a renter they were able to buy a cute house from some friends. We prayed that they would get the house and God answered favorably. We had a good time helping them move in last May. Kirsti was newly pregnant and it looked as though things were finally settling down and turning out all right. But then the pregnancy got difficult. And then, worst of all, Matt was laid off from his new job.

And that brings us to today. Fortunately, Matt's employer was eager to get him back. So, they put their Iowa house on the market, rented another home in Arizona, and took off today. Little Phoebe is 3 weeks old and I hardly even know her. I know they are anxious to get settled. It's been a very long couple of years, full of uncertainty, struggles, and fear. And I want that for them.

But, selfishly, I want them here for me. I just don't see the bigger picture. Everything seemed to line up with God's will, but yet this had to happen. Why? What changed with God's will? I can only conclude that everything that happened was in His will and it's part of plan that we can't see. Perhaps it's only reason is for our growth and learning to trust God more.

I don't like it. There's not much use for getting terribly upset, though. It won't change things. I told Matt and Kirsti Saturday that we just have to look at this last year and a half as "bonus" time - time together that we wouldn't have had if they had never left Arizona. We live in an age of technology when staying in touch is easier than it has ever been before - mainly, through our computers, but also with cell phones and the resulting free long distance. We can visit - sometimes. When Phoebe gets to be a tween or young teenager I have plans to bring her up to Iowa for a week or so every summer so she can spend time with her Iowa Auntie and I can spoil my only niece. But it's not going to be what we had planned.

And that makes me sad.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An Incredible Birthday

A week ago Ben had his 13th birthday. He wanted to go to this new joint on the NW side of Des Moines called Incredible Pizza. It's a family fun center and buffet. So, I checked it out on the internet, downloaded some coupons off, and we went there. The first thing I noticed was the l-o-n-g line outside! I couldn't believe it - on a Tuesday night? But, as it turned out there was some school group that was having a deal there, so that accounted for the long line. The second thing I noticed was the fish symbol on the door.

This is one cool place and I'd encourage anyone living here in the Des Moines area to check it out. I imagine that they are probably a franchise, so there might even be some in other cities closer to some of my other readers. The eating part of the establishment is done in a 1950s/60s theme. They offer a buffet and the food is pretty good. It's not a huge buffet, like say, Golden Corral, but it's substantial and offers plenty of choices. Then, you have three choices of where to eat your meal. They have one room that is done up in the living room and kitchen styles of the 1950s and 60s. They play Gilligan's Island shows in there. Another room is made up to imitate gymnasiums from that same time period. They have large screen tvs playing kids' shows and then smaller screens to the side broadcasting ESPN. The room we chose was the "Starlight Theater" room, made to look like a drive-in movie theater. They have black lights in there and a mural along one wall that looks like the countryside with twinkling stars up in the "sky." They play old movies along another wall. When we were there, "Showboat" with Cary Grant and Sophia Loren was airing. It made for a unique dining experience.

Another wing of the restaurant is a game room. They have all kinds of modern-day games, along with bumper cars, glow in the dark mini-golf, and go-carts. You choose whatever dollar amount you wish to spend, pay it, and they load it onto a debit type card. You then swipe the card at each game. This is where the "incredible" part of our night came in. I was playing a game with David and Ben asked for the card so he could play a wheel of fortune game. I gave it to him and then after David and I were done, I could not find Ben anywhere. We finally found him standing in line for the go-carts. In his hand he held a ticket for the carts, which meant he had already paid for the ride. I panicked! I knew there was just no way he was going to be able to drive one of those things. So I pushed my way to the front of the line and explained to the young men controlling the ride that Ben was on the autism spectrum and there was just no way he could do this - could we get a refund? They told me that they had groups of special needs individuals come through all the time. And, as one employee so eloquently explained, "Ain't nobody that can't drive these cars!" Ok, then! They promised they would watch out for and help Ben. So, with my heart in my throat, I watched Ben excitedly climb into his car. And you know what? He did fine. He had a ball driving that thing! When he got stuck, the young men maneuvered him back onto the raceway. Ben was all smiles throughout the whole thing. I had the thought as I stood there watching that he is probably more capable than I give him credit for. I just assume that he can't do a whole lot.

Afterwards, they gave Ben a "first place" ribbon and Ben beamed as he posed for a picture with it. About ten minutes later, I was elsewhere in the game room and I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was one of the young men from the go-carts. He handed me a small trophy for Ben and said simply, "This is for your boy." I could have just cried! It has the name of the restaurant on it and an engraving saying, "First Place." He didn't know it, but a few minutes later I overheard him talking to another employee and he was saying that he had to take apart two different trophies to glue them into one, but he was determined that "that boy" was going to take home a trophy. Ben has never in his life earned a trophy for anything.

So it was a good night. All the staff at Incredible Pizza was great. At one point I thought our diaper bag had disappeared (it turned out that Paul had it) and the manager was helping me look for it! As we were leaving, we saw a rack of Gospel tracts and literature on the wall - what a testimony!

We didn't get home until well after 10 and for some reason, Ben was in the throes of a massive allergy attack by then. We did his cake and presents, but he didn't seem overly impressed - just plowed through opening the gifts without any expression at all. I guess he was tired and not feeling all that well by that point. And let's not forget the autism factor - making the gift giver feel good is not at the top of their priorities. He stuffed most of his presents under his bed and hasn't done anything with them in the week since, including his camera that he asked for. Oh well. At least we have the memories of Incredible Pizza. That alone made the night worthwhile.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Matter of Life and Death

I'll never forget the night of April 8, 1999. At that time I was about 7 months pregnant with David and we were living in a tiny little rental house in Weston, Iowa. That has nothing to do with my story - I'm just reminiscing. No, that night I received two phone calls within the space of maybe an hour or two and the irony of it has always stayed with me. The first call was from my friend, Don. He called to proudly report the birth of his first daughter. I was so happy for him! The next call was completely different. In fact, it was the opposite of the news I had just heard. I got a phone call that let me know that a lady in our church - single, in her 40s - had died from cancer. I remember just thinking about the total spectrum of life that I had experienced that night in phone calls - life and death in a single night.

We kind of experienced that again this fall. It wasn't on the same night, but within a week we received news of both the death of a friend and the birth of a family member. Actually, the birth side of things has been a bit more weighted this fall. I had two really good friends deliver babies in October, we had a great niece born that month, my niece was born Nov. 2, and we have a great- nephew that was born just yesterday. So, I've been buying a lot of baby cards lately!

The lady that died was from our former church in SW Iowa. She was a long-time family friend of Paul's family. Her name was Judy and she was just special all around. She taught in the Christian school that our former church used to have. Paul tells me that the only reason he is able to help Will with his algebra today is because of Judy teaching it to him, so long ago. He still recites all his prepositions and conjunctions, too, in some little rhyme she taught the kids in English class. That actually gets annoying. Judy was a quiet person, but with a ready laugh. When I think of Judy, the word, "encourager" comes to mind. She was that to me. She always noticed when I did little things like cut my hair or wore a new dress. She always, always had something pleasant to say about any service endeavors I put forth in our little church. Judy delighted in my children, which was enough to win my heart! She loved cuddling my babies. When Ben was born I remember her calling me (after a full day of teaching) one night and suggesting that we go up to the NICU and visit Ben together. I still have a picture of her, wearing the required yellow NICU gown, holding Ben close to her, despite all his wires and tubes. Judy cared. I have a vivid memory of inviting Judy and Richard (her husband) over to our little house to help us polish off a crop of sweetcorn. That's all we had for supper that night - ear after ear of buttered sweet corn! I remember, too, that Judy and her husband made the 4 hour trek across the state to attend our wedding - on a bitterly cold and snowy February day! I have a table topper that Judy quilted and gave to me one Christmas in a gift exchange in our ladies' group at church. I'll cherish it forever. Plus, it really matches my living room well!

Sixteen years ago Judy battled cancer - and won. This fall she was told that it had invaded her body once more. She was gearing up for the fight of her life when God very unexpectedly took her home. Paul and I were both so shocked and so saddened when we got the news. We attended her funeral on the last Wednesday in October and it was sad, but yet sweet at the same time. Everyone was relieved that Judy would not have to endure cancer treatments again, but so sad that she would not be living among us any longer.

And then on the other end of the spectrum of life, it was just 5 days later that my brother called to announce the birth of his little daughter, Phoebe - my first niece. Oh, that was exciting! It had appeared last March that Phoebe's life might end in a miscarriage and things were kind of touchy for awhile. And then, my sister-in-law was having all kinds of problems with premature labor the first part of September, which was a little too early for Phoebe to be making an appearance, so that was a bit worrisome, too. But here she was, finally, 8lbs, 4oz, completely healthy and completely whole. It was just a few days later that she was nestled in my arms and I was making little baby noises at her. So sweet!

As I reflected on the events of this one week, the song from Lion King, "The Circle of Life" popped into my head. If you read the lyrics to the song, they're actually pretty non-sensical and full of the new-agey, self-centered tripe that passes for intellectualism today. But the idea of the "circle of life" is what I was actually thinking about. Life is on-going. People die and new people are born. And the living happens in between. Judy's story was finished, the final chapter lived out. Her legacy is all that is left. But Phoebe's - well, her book is waiting to be written.

All of us have the book of our lives. And all of us will have a final chapter. It's what happens between chapter one and the end that defines who we are and how we will be remembered. I'm after more than that, though. I hope, like Judy, I'm leaving a legacy for those that knew and loved me. I'm not worried about being immortalized forever and I know that within a few generations my descendants will be saying, "Sarah Who?" And that's all right. But for now, I'm writing my book. I hope it turns out well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Travel, Shopping, Drugs, and Pictures

Oh, my goodness - what a week! I feel like I have been running non-stop for the past 6 days or so. Some weeks are just like that, I guess.

We went to Council Bluffs for a long weekend. We had a birthday party there for Will and Ben. And then we had Harvest Sunday at our old church. That's kind of their "big" day of the year. They have lots of special music (this year Paul even sang) and a big meal. Paul spent all day Monday working on the furnaces up at church. While he did that I worked on my grocery list for the next day, read, and scrapbooked and Paul's grown nephew, Chris (who is living with Paul's folks while he attends pharmacy school) skipped his classes in order to entertain the boys. I think he just liked having someone to play video games with! So we ended up getting back Monday night around 10pm.

I jumped into Tuesday feet first. Grocery shopping is a big production when you're shopping for 6 and trying to be economical about it. It takes quite a bit of prior preparation and then that morning I have to get lunches made for us, Aldi bags loaded, make sure I have my bank deposits ready, my coupons filed and ready, and sometimes we have to load up pop cans. Plus, this Tuesday, Ben had three appointments and it was also his birthday. So after doing our running around all day long, we had to meet Paul for Ben's birthday supper. We didn't get home until 10pm and then we still had to have Ben unwrap his gifts and blow out his candles. The next morning I was out the door by 8:15 in order to make it to my Moppets job. No wonder I felt like crawling into bed by the time I got home yesterday afternoon!

But today has been better. I did have a dr's appointment first thing this morning and I had to run more errands than I wanted to, but I was home by lunch time. I've gotten in some school work and I actually had time to kick Will off the computer and blog!

I found out that we are going to be a great-aunt and uncle yet again this fall - this Friday actually - on Paul's side of the family. It's nothing to be happy about though. It's an awful, awful situation and one that really just makes my heart ache. It is a crime what is being done to innocent children!

On a happier note, we are through with birthdays until January! I always breathe a sigh of relief once we get through Ben's. I plan to post separately about our experience Tuesday night at Incredible Pizza, so I'll be brief here. One employee there really went out of his way to be kind to Ben and they won me over as a repeat customer, as a result. It's hard to believe that Ben is actually a teenager now.

Only 4 more nights until I see New Moon! I rented Twilight yesterday, so now I have to carve out some time to watch it before Monday. I'm not sure how I'm going to do that unless I stay up late some evening. I read an article in the Omaha World Herald Sunday about how I am not such an oddity. Apparently, there are many, many Twilight fans that are way over the target age of the books and movies. In fact, there is a website just for these women - you have to be over 25, married, and a mother to join! I was talking to my almost 29 yr old nephew this weekend and it turned out that he's a fan, too! I knew I wasn't that weird!

Ben saw his psychiatrist this week. He wants me to put Ben on Risperdal. I'm leery. He thinks it will help with his aggression and will help him to sleep better. One side effect, though, is tremendous appetite increases. Ben already has a huge appetite (not that it is being absorbed, since he is quite underweight) and I really hate to increase that. I don't like the idea of this drug at all. But - what if it helps? The dr. also decreased his Namenda, thinking that we (ahem - that would be he) got him overstimulated by giving him so much.

I was given the gift of encouragement Sunday night. We were at our old church and my friend, Stephanie, sat me down, and informed me that she has been following my blog. I didn't know! I'm always so pleased and flattered when people tell me that. I don't know - maybe I'm gaining a host of enemies, too, by blogging. But anyway, she told me she wanted to encourage me about this situation with Ben and proceeded to do just that. I think she felt like she was blundering about a bit, trying to find the right words and not really being in a position to advise, since it isn't her reality. But I came away blessed. I needed to hear what she had to say. It was a balm to my soul - so thank you, Stephanie. And thank you to all of you who have assured me that you are praying and are offering encouragement. We will get through this, too.

Work is slowing down for Paul, so you'll probably hear me start to whine about money soon. Not looking forward to that! Paul says that had he known HVAC was such a feast or famine type career, he might not have done it. It's just as well he didn't know then because he's quite good at it and I'm thankful he found this career path. It's just a matter of saving through the "feast" times. God hasn't let us starve yet. So anyway, Paul was off yesterday. He got so much done! I came home and had a new entryway floor. I love it - I told Paul it makes my heart "happy" every time I look at it. It's wood laminate. He picked up this box at the Habitat for Humanity resale store sometime this year for just $8. And then he used a furnace box as underlayment. So, it didn't cost much at all to do our entryway. He planted my burning bush and some naked ladies out by the fence. He and Will extended our back steps another 2 feet so now they butt up against the driveway. We can just walk right off the back stoop onto the concrete. I would say it would be nice if he were home more often, but I don't want that to become a reality! We need him out there earning money, too!

You'll all have to think of Will this Saturday. He is going to his first-ever Iowa Hawkeyes game. His youth pastor was able to get some really inexpensive tickets so there's a group of four that are going - 3 married men and one 15 year old! Will (well, all the boys, actually) is batty about the Hawkeyes. He has his bedroom wall covered in clippings from the Sports section. He has mentioned a few times that he would like a yellow and black paint job in there, which hasn't happened yet. I guess I need to give up my soap operas and Harlequin romances, get off my lazy bottom, and do something around here... He built himself a loft for his mattress a few years ago and painted it black and yellow. He has quite a few Hawkeyes shirts, hats, shoes - all of which he is planning to wear Saturday. So you can think of him if you hear anything from Kinnick Stadium this Saturday! I'm so glad he's getting this opportunity.

Well, guess what?! - it's time to make supper. So, I guess that means I am done here. Tomorrow will be a little busier. Ben has his birthday picture session scheduled in the morning and then all 4 boys are getting their picture taken for a Christmas present for Paul's mother (shh...ah, never mind - she never reads my blog anyway). I'd just as soon skip that session. And then I have scrapbooking in the evening. I'd better scoot.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Midweek Report

This is my picture of the week - David conked out on the couch Sunday night. He had asked me repeatedly for a couple of days if he could stay up late Sun. night to watch his beloved Cowboys play football. I finally told him that was fine - but I still expected him to be up and at them by 8:30 on Monday morning (when chores are supposed to commence). I went to bed before he did, but Paul caught David - sound asleep, missing his game! He's still a little boy!

I want to publicly thank those who responded to my last post - the one where I bared my heart and let you see some of the ugly parts in my life. There's so many, many emotions and different rabbit trails to follow in regards to this possibility of Ben attending school. I didn't even get into them all with that post. In so many ways, I feel like a failure as we examine this possibility for Ben - a failure as a mom, as a disciplinarian, as an educator. But I also know it really isn't about me right now. I can have all the feelings I want but what matters is what is best for Ben. I am so grateful to Laurie for telling me of her thinking in the same direction in regards to an adoption they were considering awhile ago. I appreciate so much the prayers from Joy and Kim and I know there are others out there who read but don't comment - but I know who are also praying. I don't feel as isolated. I know Paul is struggling too, in his own way. Monday he had the opportunity to meet with a friend for lunch. His friend is (I think) the VP of our state's Bible College - he's up there in the hierarchy, anyway. He's supposed to be sending us some reading material on something in regards to this situation he thought would be helpful. That'll be nice. I think it was good for Paul to have the opportunity to share with another man. As a woman, I can run at the tongue a bit and I generally have no qualms about sharing personal things with about anybody who'll listen, but men are usually not wired that way. That's why they tend to be the ones to stick their fists through drywall and throw rocks. They can only take so much, too. I'll keep you updated, of course, as things progress. My heart is still very heavy, though.

Ben said a couple of things over the weekend that I thought were pretty insightful and then made me think, "Am I really considering public school and vocational rehabilitation (as opposed to traditional education) for him?" He asked me Sunday night if anyone can ever "kill the soul." Wow! And then I think it was Monday night I took Sam up to bed and David and Ben were fussing at eachother in their room. They have bunk beds and each has their own radio. So, they have to be considerate of the other and not play their own radio too loudly. David asked me to ask Ben to turn down his so he could hear his football game better. I've shared with you before how Ben likes to listen to Family Radio with its heretical Pastor Camping. Ben loftily interjected, as David made his request, "Listening to Bible teaching about the Lord God of all creation is much more important than football!" Hah!

But then there was tonight...sigh...I shopped all day long today for Ben's birthday which is next Tuesday. It's his 13th and I am following my mom's tradition of making a "13" box for the boys - 13 individually wrapped gifts within a larger box. And this is in addition to his other regular birthday presents. So it takes more time and money, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I really don't mind. David and I had a nice day alone together while Will held down the fort at home. No sooner did I cross the threshold this evening and Ben was being a beastie, inciting David to an argument. I put the bags in my room and it wasn't too much later that Will caught Ben in there, snooping. So I then was thinking, "Oh, you are SO going to school next year!"

In reality, this is a decision that has to be made apart from any emotion. Emotion will be tied up with it - there's no way around that. But ultimately, it boils down to what is best for Ben - and the rest of us.

We have a new garage roof! This is amazing to me. I posted last week about how Paul made plans to re-roof the garage because of finding shingles on sale and the promised good weather for Saturday. We had ten men and teenage boys show up at our house Saturday morning. I was blown away. I did not expect help like that! I don't know why. Our church totally pulled together and helped us so much when we had Sam and went through all the medical events afterwards. So I should not have been surprised that they came to help us put a new roof on. But I was. I am very grateful. And very humbled.

I got a letter last weekend from our school district's nurse. Apparently, Iowa has passed a law requiring proof of regular dental care to be filed with the local schools. This is just for kindergartners, 9th graders, and transfer students. This baffles me - the school? Why? And it irritates me to no end - this is totally "big brother." It is nobody's business if I take my kids to the dentist (which I do, by the way - in fact, they were all there just a week ago!). So I called the Home School Legal Defense Assoc. to see if we could wiggle out of this one. No such luck - the state does offer two exemptions. If you have a religious objection to going to the dentist (???) or if you can't afford to take your children to the dentist (which is senseless, because if that's the case then they will just refer you to the state's Medicaid or Hawk-I program which will then pay for the visits). I have one more thing to add to my to-do list. I feel like returning the form with a highlighted message on top, "Not That's it's Any of Your Business...!"

Sam got an eyeful of education yesterday. I have these motion-sensor Glade spray thingies in several rooms of my house. I think they are the coolest invention and do a lot to help cover up the smells of having 5 males living in a too-small house. Well, Sam recently figured out that if you push the button on the front of the unit, it will dispense spray. Yesterday, unfortunately for him, he was pointing one right at his face when he pushed the button. He got a shot of Glade right in the eyeball! Oh, he was one unhappy boy! Poor kid! But I bet my dispensers are safe now! For the rest of the day he kept pointing at them and saying, "owie, eye!"

Sam has developed an interest in his letters and numbers. A week ago every letter was "r" to him, but now he's expanded that to included d, b, and o. Every number is "2" though. I remember Will getting very interested in letters and numbers the summer before he turned 3. In fact, I remember that summer Paul bought this $50 orange book from a door to door salesman. I was aghast! But Will loved the book. It was all about letters, numbers, and early reading type things. So, several years later when another salesman showed up hawking the same book, I bought another one to replace our worn-out original copy! Maybe it's time to pull it out once again. Sam seems a little young yet to be learning these things, but maybe I have a prodigy on my hands!

Oh, speaking of prodigies...well, not really. But I got a "shot in the arm" yesterday. We have a senior education student from Faith (Bible college) coming to our house now to work with David. She's fulfilling a requirement for a class and it helps David. Teaching him to read was traumatic for me. I could write a lot more on that, but I'll simply say for now that it was hard. The reason was that he wasn't ready to read, but I thought because he was school aged and he wasn't that I was doing something wrong as his teacher. He finally started reading almost a year ago, at the age of 9 1/2. Well, I haven't really had any idea how he was doing. I knew he was reading, but I'm not sure where he measures in comparison to other students or how proficient his skills really are. She told me that she was impressed with his "reading fluency" - yes! (arm pumping action). My boy can read! It's just good to hear. I'm grateful he has this opportunity to work with the student, though. She really seems to be going out of her way to make things interesting for David. But we had to phrase it to him so that he thought he's helping her. He was a bit miffed when I first told him someone was going to come work with him - "Mom! I don't need any help!"

We'll be out of town this weekend, until Monday night, actually. We'll be in Council Bluffs and Paul wanted to stay through Monday so he can do some furnace work for some friends. I think the boys and I will hang out at the in-law's. I'm going to rent some movies so they don't die of boredom (or so they would inform me that that was an actual possibility). Actually, I'm going to get "Twilight" for myself. My girlfriend and I are going to see "New Moon" on the 23rd, so I have to get "Twilight" seen before seeing the sequel! I won't be on the computer, I don't think. It's hard to believe, but there is actually a computer out there that is slower than mine. And it belongs to my mother in law. We'll get back Monday night and Tuesday will be jam-packed. It's Ben's birthday but he also sees his psychiatrist that day, has allergy shots and his social skills class. Somewhere in there I have to fit in grocery shopping and Walmarting, too! I'm going to be one exhausted pup by Wednesday (which won't matter because that's my morning to work in Moppets). Pray for me! I may end up collapsing sometime next Wednesday.

Well, gotta scoot. Paul and the boys will be home soon from church and therein will end my quiet solitude. I suppose I should do something useful like pick up the kitchen. Maybe I'll take a bath. I hit the library yesterday so now I have a slew of new reading material...the bubbles are calling my name!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Letting Go

This post is one where I am going to be thinking out loud, in an effort to make things more clear in my mind. We have a huge, huge decision to make in regards to Ben. It's not one I want to make and the thought of going through with it just tears me up inside. So, you're going to get a glimpse inside my murky brain. Feel free to skip this post!

Like most normal moms, I love each of my boys deeply. But one thing I have found is that I love each of them differently, dependent on their personalities and needs. With Will, I remember just being in awe that this little person had come to live with us. He made it pretty clear from the time he was quite little that he didn't really need me, but if I wanted to stick around and make him baloney sandwiches and change his diapers, that was fine with him. And that's fine - that's who he is and I'm still crazy about him, 15 years later. But with Ben, it was different right from the start. He needed me. The staff in the NICU had pretty much written off his life, due to the extent of his brain injury. They made sure I knew that we couldn't expect a whole lot out of Ben's life. Well, that had a way of raising my hackles and I adopted a "I'll show you!" attitude. I learned how to do things with Ben I had never intended to. I learned how to stick a tube down his nose and feed him with it. I used a stethoscope to make sure the tube hadn't stopped at his lungs, which would have caused him to aspirate. I took him to one dr. after another. I stayed up late a lot of nights cleaning my house because we had therapists coming over the next day and I couldn't bear to let them think we lived in anything less than perfect order. I covered Ben's little body in Crisco shortening when his eczema was so bad, wept when his skin continued peeling off, and held him for hours when the infection set in. I bristled when doctors suggested I wasn't doing enough when I knew better. I have a vivid memory of being literally cornered at Children's Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska while a trio of doctors accused me of neglecting Ben (and predicting a sure and early death) because I refused to let them vaccinate him any more. And I stood firm. I taught Ben how to crawl, hand over hand, practicing over and over again. I was the one who danced when Ben took his first steps and I was the one who took him into the ER time and time again, when he crashed and split open various body parts. I have been Ben's biggest cheerleader, his advocate, and his Mama.

My greatest desire has always been to protect this child. That's why I began homeschooling after a disastrous kindergarten year in the public school. I found I loved homeschooling all my kids and have been a huge proponent of the whole idea ever since. It's a wonderful, wonderful, thing. My intent has been to homeschool all 4 boys all the way through highschool. But suddenly, I find that we are leaning in the direction of sending Ben back to public school, starting next year, which will be his 8th grade year. How can this be?

We started having some real behavior problems with Ben about a year ago. Some counseling helped and getting hooked up with a local psychiatrist and having him start on the drug Namenda also helped. But the problem is still there. Ben does not get along with his brothers. I had brothers - I understand that sibling fights are a pretty normal part of growing up. But with Ben it's different. He feels a need to be constantly informing them that he is stronger, older, and better than they are. He refuses to cooperate when they need his help, such as when doing chores. When he is reprimanded, it's like water bouncing off a duck - it makes no difference. Ben has no empathy, which is part of the autism curse. You can't explain to him how his words made someone else feel because he doesn't understand the whole "feelings" thing. One day this week I was very upset because I had spent a long time making and decorating some special cupcakes for my new baby niece's homecoming. Ben accidentally (but it could have been avoided) knocked my closed container of cupcakes to the floor, wrecking them. He laughed. He said that he wasn't laughing that he did it - he was laughing because I was upset. That same morning he turned on my food processor (I had the extra pieces stored in the bowl), cracking the bowl. He said he just wanted to see if it worked. These things have always happened with him. But now he's getting taller and he's extremely, extremely strong and the damage is getting worse. There is no peace in our home a lot of the time. In the moment, Ben cannot be dealt with. I can command him to go to his bedroom, but I can't force him to go there. The other day I literally put duct tape over his mouth in order to stop his abusive haranguing towards his brothers. He ripped it off. Now, later on, Ben is always, always repentant. He wraps his arms around me and tells me, "I'm so, so sorry, Mom! I'll never, ever act that way again!" And I believe he means it. But it only lasts until the next time.

That's one side of the equation. Here is the other: Ben's life is very narrow. His interests are very small. When I am not doing school with him he spends his time doing one of 3 things: 1) swinging outside (it's very soothing for him) 2) playing video games 3) playing a little game that he invented where he speaks into a microphone and records himself and then plays it back. He's pretending to be the announcer at different stores, "Henry, we have a clean-up in aisle 3, Henry, clean up in aisle 3!" and so forth. That is all he does. If it is a night where he is allowed to watch "Wheel of Fortune" (his favorite show) he will also pester me all day long with questions of do we have to go anywhere that evening (thus preventing his watching of it) or even, do I think they might break into WOF with a weather bulletin, disrupting his watching of it (never mind that the sky is blue and peaceful!). He is extremely focused on gaining the fulfillment of his desire, which is to watch that show.

Now, Ben could easily live out the rest of his life this way. I am content with the idea of having him live with us forever. But, should the Lord tarry, Ben is going to outlive both of us. Granted, he could go live with one of his brothers at that point and both Will and David have already volunteered that they would be happy to assume that responsibility some day - and I'm grateful for their tender, willing hearts. But how much better it would be if by then Ben has gained some independent living skills. He might always need some sort of supervision, but he needs to learn basic life skills. And in order to do that, his world must expand beyond what it is now.

In considering the whole option of returning Ben to school, one thing I am sure of: I don't want him mainstreamed, for a variety of reasons. But yesterday the Lord arranged a series of circumstances that put me in conversation with the former administrator of a local school system. He is a homeschooling father himself. So he understands both "sides." We talked at length about options for Ben. I found myself so encouraged as he explained how special education works at the middle school and high school level. It's no longer a matter of trying to make the child "fit in" with the other kids, but rather an attempt to teach the child practical skills that he is going to need once he "graduates." That is what Ben needs, I know! I have taught him the basic academic skills. It's taken him a long, long time but he can read and he can do basic mathematics. Is he ever going to be able to do more than that? Possibly. But that has to become secondary now to teaching him things like following through with tasks, how to talk with people, how to cook, how to do laundry, money skills and so on.

Now, we haven't made a final decision. We're still in the exploratory stage. This man that I talked with yesterday told me that he would place a call for us this week to our local AEA, explain Ben's situation, and get the ball rolling. It's going to take months to get this set up since he has been out of the school system for so long. It may be, once we get to meeting with school officials and see what they have to offer, that we'll quickly realize this is not what we want, and start looking elsewhere for answers. In the meantime we're going to be wearing out our knees, praying about this. Ben won't like it, I'm sure. It was a bit of a trial to get him to go to Kid's Club (respite care) once a month and he's still not overly thrilled about having to go, although he seems to enjoy himself once he's there. Change is difficult for the autistic mind. Hey, it's difficult for me and I'm not autistic!

I don't like it, to be honest. My heart's desire is to keep Ben home where he's always safe and he's always loved and I always know that he's been treated the right way. If we do this, I know that I will be an emotional basket case the first day of school. Just thinking about letting him go brings tears to my eyes - and it's a good 10 months away yet! It will be inconvenient to drive him to and from school every day. No longer will we have the freedom to take vacations in the middle of the school year. I bristle at the very thought of having to listen to others tell me what they think is best for my child, when I am the one who has loved him and invested so much of the last 13 years of my life into him! I wonder if we do this, is it an indictment against my success as a homeschooling mother? After all, I've attended special needs workshops every year at our homeschooling conference and never have I heard any speakers confess that the best thing for our sp. needs children might be not homeschooling them at all. If I only had more patience and more wisdom, might I not be better at this and able to keep him home?

One of the reasons we homeschool is because we earnestly want to live out the instructions that God gave to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 6, which is to teach our children about God, "when they rise up, when they sit down, and when they walk by the way" We just didn't see how we could do that if they were in a Godless environment for 8 hours a day. I am not completely anti-public school. I know many Christian parents who have made the decision to go that route and I'm not going to argue with them over it. That may be the best thing for their family. But we couldn't justify that for ourselves and greatly desired to shelter our sons from an ungodly environment until the time that they were grown and strong in their own Christian faith. Am I turning my back on that conviction by allowing Ben to attend public school? Perhaps. Although, I was encouraged by this man that I talked with yesterday. He pointed out to me that Ben's mental development is such that a lot of the "nasty" stuff he might encounter in public school is probably going to go over his head. And if he's not mainstreamed all that much, then he's going to be more limited in his exposure to ungodliness. But it's still a concern for me.

Friday night I did not sleep well and part of it was having this on my mind. I had had a lengthy conversation with my mother about this earlier in the week and had mentioned it briefly to my brothers' wives. I had hinted at it on Facebook and received many offers of prayer, for which I am thankful - I love my friends! Paul and I discussed it at length Thursday night. But Friday night I began to pray about it in those sleepless hours. And I just laid it out before the Lord and told Him what some of my fears were in even considering this. At the top of my "fears" list was and is, "How can I protect Ben if I'm not with him?" and immediately I felt the Lord speak. It wasn't audible, but it was so strong that I had no doubt whose voice I was hearing. He said, "I will take care of him." And oh, that was as humbling as it was comforting. For I began to realize that with all the responsibility I have assumed in caring for Ben, I have always had a certain amount of pride in believing that only I was capable of meeting this child's extensive needs. I knew him best, I cared for him most, therefore, it was all up to me. I think I will always carry a certain amount of guilt over the circumstances of his disabilities and I know that has factored into everything as well - "I created this, now I'll fix it" kind of thing.

I wrote this for a couple of reasons. Believe it or not, it isn't because I have this insatiable desire to make public every thought in my head! One, I needed to organize the jumbled thoughts circling around in my brain. This is a huge decision and there could be potentially good and potentially bad things, either which way we go. Two - we need prayer. If we send Ben to public school next year this will affect him for the rest of his life. We dare not screw up this decision. We need prayer and Ben needs prayer. Something has to change in our family. If this is not what we are supposed to do in order to engender that change, then we need clear direction on what is.

It's not like we're banishing Ben to Siberia. He's still going to come home every night and we're still going to love on him and teach him what he needs to know as he grows into manhood. He may live with us for decades yet. But the hardest part of loving him, for me, is going to be in letting him go, so that he can, at last, grow up and become the man that God had planned for him to be all along.