Saturday, April 28, 2012

Our new normal

It's been a while since I've written an update about CapableDad's shoulder surgery and what life has been like around here with our wonderful one-armed leader. We are so thankful for everyone who has asked about us since CD's surgery.

It's been seven weeks now since surgery day, and I think we finally feel like he has turned a corner. CD is now at a more manageable pain level on a daily basis. He hovers around 3 to 5 on a scale of 10. Even a week ago, his pain level was usually around 5 or 6 most of the time.

His range of motion has improved significantly. I've been surprised a few times the past week to walk in the room and see him holding his right arm straight up in the air without assistance from the other arm. This is a major accomplishment and so great to see!

His strength in the right shoulder and bicep is still at zero. All of his muscles in and around the top part of his right arm are basically gone. The doctor doesn't want him to start strengthening his bicep or shoulder muscles at all until week 12. He can't even lift a cup to drink with his right arm at this point.

I have learned a lot about the difference between being able to move your arm and strengthening your arm. Right now, he needs to work on improving his movement without compromising the area where the muscle is reattaching itself to the bone by putting pressure on it through any type of lifting.

He also has developed a secondary condition called Bursitis, which about one in 50 people get after a surgery like this. It's an inflammation in his elbow caused by all of the excess fluid in that arm. His elbow has a big swollen bump on it that gets worse with physical therapy.

CD still goes to Torture Therapy three times a week for about two hours each session. His therapist is great and really nice, despite the fact she pulls and tugs on his arm to the point of tears a lot of days. :) Thankfully, these sessions don't completely knock him out like they did in the beginning. He still needs to come home and hook up the ice machine afterward, but they don't require quite the level of pain medication as before.

It's been five months since the original injury and since CapableDad has been able to use his right arm. The rest of us have gotten used to this "new normal," and we all get excited by small things like seeing him spread butter with his right hand.

The boys have gotten into a good routine of carrying all of the garbage out to the curb, and they are learning to mow the lawn. The biggest improvement is that CD can drive now, so he can help drop off kids at various places and run to the store for a gallon of milk. A full grocery run requires him to take along a child helper to push the cart and get everything into the car. But he has tried that a few times!

I am learning to just be OK with the fact that some things aren't going to get done around here if they require any type of lifting or strength. I'm learning to say "yes" when anyone asks to help in any way. It's very humbling, and I definitely prefer to be on the other end of things.

Our church asked us if they could come over and help us do some spring projects in our yard. At first, we were both against the idea because we felt like other people needed help more than we do.

Our yard is pretty ridiculous because we inherited a lot of landscaping, trees and bushes from the previous owner. To be honest, there are just too many other things that need to be done for me to really devote the time that would be needed to take care of the outdoor stuff. I also realized that part of the reason I was worried about having people help us was because of pride.

So, I'm learning to be grateful and not worry about whether I think I "deserve" to be helped. We know that sometimes the "helpers" can be blessed as much as those being served, and we are so thankful for people who are willing to come along side us and just make things a little easier.

We all have our moments when we wish CapableDad could throw a baseball with his boys or pick up the toddler to give her a big hug. It's hard to see him in constant pain for such a long period of time. But we are thankful for each new day and the progress that he makes. And we are even more thankful to know there is an end in sight. It makes me sympathize so much with people who have a condition that might not ever get better.

Some of the other things that are happening around here:

  • Friday was our last day of enrichment classes for the kids. They have learned so much this year at our Friday co-op! You can check out some photos of what they've been doing here.
  • We're sticking to our May 1 deadline to figure out our plan for the fall. I'm actually excited that the deadline is right around the corner! I'm looking forward to a worry-free summer!
  • We will be finishing up our school year May 14, which is the last day of our academic classes. The kids will have final exams on that day, and they are working hard to finish up several projects due on May 7.
  • Baseball season is in full swing! We are looking forward to some warmer weather so we don't have to freeze our buns off during the games! We know that is coming soon.

Thanks so much for checking in! We appreciate it!


Friday, April 20, 2012

My personal season of torture

A few times a year, I have the same bad dream. It's kind of like that dream where you forgot to go to a college class all semester and you suddenly realize it on the day of final exams. Or the dream where you totally forgot to go to work for two months, and you are trying to explain it to your boss.

But in this dream, I forgot to send my kids to school. For three years.

I wake up in a panic.

Although I didn't "forget" to send them to school, I just didn't do it. My mind starts racing. Is this really even legal? I get the notice in the mail every year, telling me when to register. I just throw it in the garbage. Shouldn't someone come looking for us soon?

I start questioning myself. Have I really taught them everything they needed to learn the last three years? Have I given them every opportunity to help them become well-rounded kids? Have I ruined their lives?

The truth is that if some school official came to our house and examined what we do during a school year, he or she would probably be impressed. I secretly kind of wish we lived in a state that required testing only because it would make me feel more at ease with the fact that we are, in fact, covering all — if not more — of the material my kids would get in a traditional school setting.

The truth is that my kids have an awesome circle of friends and lots of extracurricular activities. We have time to do things and develop relationships that we might not have as much time for otherwise. Their circle of influence is definitely smaller than it would be in a typical school environment, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

And the truth is that my kids really enjoy our lifestyle. Sometimes I find that hard to believe. I can't imagine being educated at home. But when I ask them what they would like to do, they ask me to continue to home school them.

Despite all of these arguments, each spring without fail, I have to put myself through a season of personal torture. As surely as the butterflies will burst from their cocoons and the flowers will bloom on the trees, I will investigate every other possible option for educating my children.

I envy people who don't do this. I envy public school moms who wrap up the school year in May or June and look forward to a new school year in the fall. I envy home school moms who buy the next year's curriculum in April or May because they know they will be continuing. And I envy private school moms who fill out their re-enrollment papers in March and mail in the first tuition check in May.

Not me.

I make spreadsheets and lists. I compare the costs. I analyze the pros and cons. I visit school and co-ops. I get mad at the state of Illinois that I pay so much in taxes but they don't offer my children the "ideal" school environment I would like for them.

I shut down when people ask me what we are doing next year. I ignore re-enrollment deadlines and try not to panic when I get e-mails reminding me that I need to sign up for classes.

I compare myself to other people. How do my friends seem to find so much joy in taking responsibility for the education of their own children, but I feel so inadequate? How are other people so organized? How do they make school so fun?

Then I remind myself that I can't compare myself to other people. We don't all have the same number of children. Our children don't all learn the same way and have the same temperaments. While some of my friends also juggle toddlers or babies or part-time jobs, we all have different responsibilities.

I'm actually very thankful for this year. We have found a really good balance between sending the kids to classes two days a week and completing their school assignments at home the other three. Instead of saying that we "home school", I have started saying we "do school at home."

I think of a traditional "home schooler" as someone who wants to have control over her child's education. After three years, I have realized that I actually prefer to have someone else decide what we need to do each week. I'm OK with using someone else's choice of curriculum and having someone else grade my children's work.

I've been trying to think of a new name for what we do. Alternative schoolers? Home sCOOLers? (haha!) Maybe that would make me feel better.

One thing I know for sure is this. No schooling option is perfect. They all have their own list of pros and cons. We have to decide which pros we want the most and which cons we are most able to live with. Mostly, we have to stay focused on our primary objective, which is to help our children come to know and live in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

So, here I am again. My personal torture season is intensified this year because my oldest will be going into 6th grade. I would really love for him to know that whatever we do next year, we will continue through at least 8th grade without his mom feeling the need to research every option. I want him to feel comfortable that whatever environment we choose will be where he will stay for all of middle school.

I've also given myself a deadline to end my torture much sooner. In the past, I haven't stopped thinking about it until Aug. 23. This year, I plan to make this decision no later than May 1.

That's progress, right?

I'm just wondering... am I really alone here? Does anyone else have these doubts? Please make me feel better and let me know. :)


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Watching TV is harder than it looks

I know you all will be amazed by my technological genius when I tell you this, and I really hope you don't think I'm bragging. But when I was a kid, we got this incredible new device in our house that literally changed our lives.

You had to use a series of cords and cables, all connected in the correct sequence to your television set. Then, if you could figure out how to push several buttons in the right order you could actually record the shows on TV and watch them later. I'm not kidding.

The thing was that no matter how many times I tried to explain this to my parents, they could never figure out how to program the VCR. I finally came to the conclusion that it just wasn't possible for people over the age of 40 to do this.

"Make sure the TV is on channel 3," I would explain. "Now change the channel with the buttons ON THE VCR. Set the timer, and click record."

I think my parents' brains started to wander off onto other things right after they heard me say, "Make sure..." The truth was, they knew I would do it for them. So why even bother to learn?

Recently, I have discovered the awful truth that no kid living in a grown-up body ever wants to hear. I have become my parents.

Here's the thing.

Other than the few years that I devoted my life to the TV show, "LOST," I really haven't regularly watched TV for about the last decade. Oh sure. I've wandered around the house while other people were watching "Sesame Street" or "Jo-Jo's Circus," but it's rare that I actually sit down and stare at the big black box in our family room.

I'm still not even sure how this happened, but recently, I have incorporated two television shows into my life. I was worried at first about how I would possibly handle the commitment. First, I would have to memorize the times and channels that these two shows were on.

One of the shows, "American Idol," requires three hours of viewing each week. The other, "Once Upon a Time," is a one-hour commitment. Add them together, and I feel like I've got myself a new part-time job. This doesn't even include the amount of time involved to go on Facebook and Twitter to see what people are saying after AI, or go on the OUAT web site to research hidden clues and mysteries.

Now, the problem that has come up for me is that I have had some scheduling conflicts making it impossible to watch these shows live. The other thing I've discovered is that watching TV shows these days often involves a lot more than a television set.

Before I started watching TV myself, I wouldn't even pay attention when the other people in the house turned on all of the gadgets and devices required to watch something. This came back to bite me when everyone was gone but me, and the toddler was demanding to watch Barney.

We don't have cable or satellite, so most of what we watch on our TV set comes in through Netflix. I called my husband at work and begged him to walk me through the steps required to turn on the XBox or the Wii, find Netflix, search for Barney and press play. As long as no one turns on the stereo system so the sound goes through the receiver instead of the TV, I am proud to say that I can now operate Netflix totally on my own.

The toddler sits in her little pink princess chair cheering me on in delight, as I navigate through the A, B and Y buttons on the X-Box to find her purple dinosaur. I feel like I've just conquered a new level of "Prince of Persia" when I'm done. (I have no idea what video games cool people play, so I just threw out the name of my favorite from 1995 to try to impress you.)

The toddler joyfully squeals, "Barney! Found! Barney! Found!" when I'm done. I can't tell if she is shouting because she really loves Barney that much or if she is just proud of her mama for actually navigating the XBox menu.

Now, my latest accomplishment is figuring out how I can watch a TV show after it has aired. I was convinced that because we only have a TV antenna that it wasn't possible for us to use TiVo or a DV-R. I secretly loved this belief because it was a great excuse for why I would not have to learn how to program another box connected to our television set.

I recently learned this might not be true. But whatever the case, we don't have any device in our house to record TV. My poor deprived children have never experienced the excitement of hitting play and watching their favorite cartoon a day later. If it's not on Netflix, they are out of luck.

Last night when I got home from small group, I probably spent two hours trying to find some way to watch the episode of American Idol that had just ended. I searched the AI web site and YouTube and blog after blog trying to find even the tiniest video clip of Hollie singing "Rolling in the Deep." A few weeks ago, I know I had stumbled upon a web site that had the video up right after the show. I wasn't so lucky last night. I finally gave up and realized I would just have to wait until morning.

Sometimes it amazes me that I can build a web site, record movies on my phone, and download books onto my iPad, but I have no clue how to watch television.

When I got up today, I was convinced my iPad would be my best bet for TV viewing. I have successfully downloaded the ABC media player so I can watch OUAT one day late each week. Surely, I could figure out how to watch AI. Nope. I would need Flash to watch the performances on the AI web site so it wouldn't work on my iPad.

This would require desperate measures. I would have to plug in my old laptop to get this to work. I've now invested about 2.5 extra hours into this week's TV viewing, and I still haven't seen the whole show. Oh, and that doesn't even include writing this blog post about it.

We don't have a TiVo in our budget for a while, so I guess I will just have to be patient. Being a part-time TV viewer is a new skill for me, but at least I now know the steps required to watch my TV show a day late.

But then I keep having the same thought. Could it be that maybe... just maybe... we still have an old VCR somewhere in our basement? ;)


Monday, April 16, 2012

The cake that will change your life

A few months ago, I went out to dinner with a bunch of ladies to celebrate a friend's 50th birthday. When dinner was done, our waiter surprised us with a big chocolate cake. However, this was no ordinary chocolate cake.

One of the ladies had snuck into the restaurant early and asked the waiter to bring it out at the appropriate time. This friend also just happens to be a professionally-trained chef. The cake was beautifully decorated with fondant roses and perfectly frosted. But I'm not sure if it was the beauty of the cake or the amazing smell that first caught my attention.

Once I took a bite of the cake, I realized I had just tasted the best. chocolate. cake. ever.

Now, if you have been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I am prone to exaggeration and sarcasm. But let me just tell you that I am being 100 percent serious when I say that this cake will change your life!

We all assumed that our master chef friend must have some highly confidential secret recipe she used to create this unbelievable dessert. We weren't sure if she was serious when she told us we could find the recipe right on the back of the Hershey's cocoa container.

Sure enough. I went home the next day and couldn't stop thinking about that cake. I went to the store for some Hershey's cocoa and made it myself. The cake is incredibly moist, which I think has something to do with the 1 cup of boiling water you pour into the batter.

But it's the frosting that puts it over the top. If you ever make this cake, make SURE you also make the frosting.

I'm not going to type up the recipe because you have to buy the container of Hershey's cocoa to make the cake and you will find the recipe right there on the back.

You are probably wondering how this cake is going to change your life. Fortunately, I'm here to tell you:

  • Even if you normally don't like cake, you will find yourself craving this chocolate cake.
  • If you are already a chocolate cake lover, others will pale in comparison. Even when people offer you Portillo's chocolate cake, you will be thinking about how much you want the Hershey's cake. 
  • If you normally can consume a really big piece of cake, you will find that this cake is so rich you can't even finish an average slice.
  • This cake could increase your popularity. People will want to become friends with you just so you will make them THE chocolate cake for their birthdays.

So, think carefully before you make this cake. Can you handle your life being so radically changed? While you're thinking about it, I'll be baking. Let me know if you want to be my new best friend.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

HPI, cupcakes, feathers and other random news

It's hard to believe that with all that has happened in the past week we even had time to think about the Horrible Puking Illness, or HPI, as I call it for short. This week has definitely been one of highs and lows, laughter and illness, not to mention jewelry and cupcakes. So, this is one of those blog posts I'm basically writing for myself. I like to remember these kinds of things. You are welcome along for the read, but don't blame me if it's boring. :)

It really all started about 10 days ago. Capable Dad had just finished a really bad session of Torture Therapy. He came home, took his pain meds, sat down in the recliner and about an hour later started throwing up. He was already in tremendous pain from his shoulder, so trying to endure this illness on top of it was awful.

We were on spring break, and I was busy painting, clearing out and cleaning two bedrooms, so I couldn't even entertain the thought that he might have a virus that could potentially spread to the rest of us. I had moved three of my kids' clothing, toys and mattresses into the family room, and they were having a week-long slumber party while I painted their rooms. So, we blamed it on his pain medication, and even his PT agreed that he might have developed a serious allergic reaction.

The puking came and went, and somehow I managed to get the rooms put back together in time for the weekend.

Easter Sunday was a few days later. Since we couldn't travel, we invited some friends over to share Easter dinner with us. The toddler experienced her first real Easter egg hunt. You can imagine her excitement when she realized those plastic eggs contained CANDY!

She could barely stop stuffing chocolate eggs in her mouth long enough to keep searching for more. Being the awesome mom I am, I let her quietly take her Easter basket up to her room, and I ignored the reality that she was consuming large amounts of candy, just so I could enjoy some nice conversation.

When she started throwing up the next morning, I blamed it on the candy. But it didn't stop. I spent Monday washing sheets, giving her baths, changing outfits, and cleaning furniture and carpets. It seemed that as soon as I got her cleaned up from one mess, cleaned up the area where she had been sitting and then placed her in a new location, she would throw up again. It was an unbelievable day.

On Tuesday, Capable Dad had to get a cortisone shot in his arm, which knocked him flat again. This involved four large needles being inserted into his very sore and swollen shoulder.

However, I had already arranged a ladies' night out to say good-bye to my friend who was moving to Louisiana. It had become our little tradition to go shopping and out for dinner for birthdays and special occasions. So, we were off to Charming Charlie to roam around and get overwhelmed by all of the accessories. I made everyone try on a hat and model for the camera.

After that, we had dinner, and our friend, Vicky, made these amazing cupcakes! She is such a sweet friend and a trained chef who has a way of surprising us with her culinary creations.

On Friday, I knew we would be saying our real good-byes to our friends, so I did what any crazy mom would do. I scheduled another get-together at our house after co-op.

It seems like my daughter spends most of her life surrounded by boys. Her two older brothers have the majority of the play dates, and she goes along with their games of football, basketball and baseball. So, we decided to invite some friends over for something totally girly. Our friend is a hair stylist, and she came by to put feathers in some girls' hair.

I know it probably sounds frivolous. But my daughter and I love relationship, and we had a great time hanging out with the moms and daughters and doing something totally girly. Believe me. After the last five weeks we have had, it was a really nice break to just hang out and socialize for a few hours.

A few hours after the party, my daughter said she was feeling funny, and she laid down on the couch. A little while later, my husband found her crying and confused. She had thrown up in her sleep. She definitely had the worst round of HPI. That night, I laid next to her as she threw up at least every hour if not more often. This is when The Illness got its official name: the Horrible Puking Illness.

I forgot to mention that during the girly party, my 11-year-old was outside playing basketball and the ball hit his pinkie finger the wrong way. It immediately started to swell and turn dark colors. We decided to wait until Saturday morning to evaluate the finger to determine if we should take him to quick care. But about that time, he also started throwing up. The trip to the ER had to be cancelled so he could enjoy his HPI in the comfort of our home.

So, here's the quick summary:

  • Last night was the second night in a row of cleaning up after HPI.
  • There are several foods that no one in this house will ever eat again.
  • CapableDad probably is NOT allergic to his pain medication, which would have been good to know many times this week.
  • If you go to Charming Charlie with me, I might make you get your photo taken in a funny hat.
  • The 11-year-old's finger is still very swollen, but we're thinking it's a jam, rather than broken.
  • Either I have the immune system of an ox, or I will be getting sick any minute now.
  • If you read this entire blog post you deserve a prize! 


Saturday, April 14, 2012

A good kind of hurt

Friday was a day our family has been dreading for a while now. After months of trying to prepare ourselves and a week of going-away parties, it was finally time to say good-bye to some great friends.

It's easy for me to look back over my life and count the really special friends in my life. It isn't often that I find a friend who feels more like a sister. It isn't often I find a friend with kids who have an instant bond with mine and become best buddies. And even more rare that our husbands would connect so effortlessly.

This family came into our lives at a time when we were experiencing a gaping hole that needed to be filled. It was three years ago when we began to home school for the first time. We were checking out a home-school co-op and met this family with two boys the same ages as ours. Their third son easily blended in as a little brother to our boys. 

Those first few weeks of home school were a big transition after leaving a very tight private school community where my boys had some amazing friends. We were working on our school work in early September when my son got teary eyed. He liked doing school this way, but he sure missed his friends.

That's when I got determined to help my kids develop those same types of friends with the other home school kids around them. I got up my nerve to send an e-mail to this family we barely knew asking them to meet us at the park.

I was so focused on my boys and their need for friendship that I wasn't really thinking about myself. But after a few months of getting to know this family, I was pleasantly surprised at how much this mom and I had in common. A love of photography. A desire to chronicle our families' lives through blogging. Even an interest in cooking decorating! :) I don't have a lot of friends who could wander around a jewelry store with me or get excited about the newest line of OPI nail colors.

But my favorite part about this mom was her sense of adventure. I have a tendency of jumping into people's lives like a locomotive and dragging them along. I love to go and see and do and find new places.

My friend shared that interest. She was always up for the adventure, whether it meant letting the boys climb on tanks or watching sled dogs race in the snow or taking a hike through the woods just because it was a perfect fall day.

I guess you could say our boys rubbed off on each other. Ours developed a love of baseball and Nerf wars. Theirs took an interest in snowboarding and Angry Birds. Now, if one of them likes a movie, a sports team or a game, they all immediately like it.

The men were united by something you don't find very often in the Chicago area. While the rest of the world seems only to care about the Cubs and White Sox, these two had Cardinals red running through their veins. 

From Day One, this family has been a huge part of our home schooling experience. The boys always made sure they signed up for classes with their best buddies, whether it was PE or year booking or woodcarving. My favorite part of the week is hanging out with my buddy and our other friends on Friday mornings during what we jokingly call "Group Therapy." It's hard to imagine how we can continue to home school without them.

We've known for half a year that Departure Day was coming. This is the kind of thing that makes me want to put up a wall and backtrack in some futile attempt to numb the inevitable. I'm glad I didn't. We kept living out our friendship in vivid color, making the most of the months that were left.

There were lots of tears shed on Friday. But in the end, I was thankful. That's a good kind of hurt. That's how you know it was worth it. That's the kind of friendship that is more like an extended family. And it's the kind of family you won't let go of just because you are separated by miles. When a good-bye hurts like that, you know it's the beginning of a new chapter. But it's definitely not the end.


Monday, April 2, 2012

The Daffodil Glade

When my oldest son was a toddler, we discovered the Daffodil Glade at the arboretum in our area. Thousands of bulbs burst into yellow and white every year in early spring.

For many years, I would take the kids to the Children's Garden, forgetting about the daffodils until they were wilted with their brown heads drooping to the ground, ready to take a break for the summer. But the past few springs, I've made a point to get myself to the colorful glade while the daffodils were still in full bloom.

This adventure gets mixed reviews from my children. I always promise them we are going to the arboretum "for a hike." But when I ask them to all wear blue or brown or some other coordinating color, they know they are in trouble.

Thankfully, they are compliant little photo subjects. And I think they secretly love the idea of running through a field of flowers as much as I do.

I reminded them on our way home today that as long as they are living in my house, they can assume that one day out of every spring, I will be taking their photos among the daffodils.

Someday, they'll thank me.

We'll look back at all of those pictures in the middle of the flowers and they will say, "Awwww... Remember when mom used to take us to see the daffodils?"

They will have long forgotten the long car ride and how I made them pose among the flowers. They won't remember the fights in the car, their boredom or their desire to get back home and play basketball.

It will seem like one big fairy tale. A warm spring day, surrounded by flowers. And they will fondly remember their childhood trips to the daffodils.

That's what I tell myself anyway.

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