Saturday, May 26, 2012

My life in photos

Last year, I made a resolution to take a photo every day of the year and post it on my blog. My amazing friend, Kelly, has been doing this for four years, and we love checking in with her family every day to see what is new.

It only took me a few weeks to find out that this endeavor is a LOT harder than it looks. I'm not sure which part was more difficult for me: remembering to take a photo every day or posting the photos. I started out strong, but then I would miss a day. Or I would get a month behind in posting the photos and have to catch up all at once.

I finally gave up. I felt bad that I failed in keeping what seemed like such a great New Year's resolution.

But then... At the end of the year, I wanted to make a photo book of 2011. I love taking old blog posts and photos from the year and compiling them into a book. It was so awesome to be able to be able to go back to my photo blog and easily find the words and photos that I wanted to include in the book.

So, a few months ago, I decided to restart the photo blog. It only took me a few hours to post photos from March and April. (I still need to do January and February.) While I'm not trying to take a photo a day, I am trying to post photos of significant events.

My family members are really the only people who ever look at the blog, and that is totally fine with me! It's so fun to sit down with the kids once in a while and go back and laugh as we look through our adventures from the past few months.

Well, yesterday, I was thinking that I would enjoy posting my photos so much more if the blog looked better. I've been learning a ton about WordPress the past few months because I have been redesigning our church's web site. (That will be unveiled very soon!)

I'm also working on moving this blog to WordPress. It has so much more functionality and flexibility.

But until then... if you are interested in taking a peek at our photos from 2012, you can use that link at the top right of your menu or click here! The layout is very simple right now, so I will probably be making some improvements, but I really love how the navigation works.

Posting my photos really motivates me to work on my photography skills. My goal for this year is to learn how to use my camera. I'm planning to start by finding some good photography blogs. I need to learn how to use the manual settings on my camera. I need to buy a better lens. And I also want to study how to take better photos without looking posed. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

If scar tissue had a football team

... my husband's would be in the Super Bowl.

I guess that's the best way to sum up what we have learned the past four weeks about Capable Dad's amazing superpower. His body works harder than the average person at trying to heal itself. His body forms scar tissue at an incredibly fast pace. 

Now, this sounds like a great problem, right? In many cases, it probably would be. But when it comes to CD's recovery from shoulder surgery, the goal is to break through the scar tissue as it forms so he can regain movement in his arm. Even a team of physical therapists, a very strong doctor, and a big stretching apparatus haven't been powerful enough to conquer his scar tissue.

Capable Dad went in for his 10-week follow-up visit on Tuesday. It seems that each of his follow-up visits is a little more discouraging than the one before. At this one, we learned that he is part of a very small percentage of people who build up scar tissue thicker and faster than most. As a result, he has one motion that — even after faithfully stretching and pulling his arm three times a day and even after going to 2.5 hour PT sessions four times a week — is not coming back.

The doctor gave him three more cortisone shots and a warning that if he can't regain his motion in four weeks, he will need a second surgery to go back in and cut out the scar tissue. We are closing in on the three-month mark since surgery day. Once he gets to the fourth month, the doctor says patients aren't able to regain any more movement. At that point, the scar tissue has won. It forms a bond that is as strong as bone.

I'm going to be completely honest and tell you that the thought of a second surgery caused me to temporarily sink into a mini depression. OK, I know what's true:

I know that God can intervene and help CD rip right through the blanket of scar tissue that is encapsulating the back of his shoulder.

I know that the doctor said this big, white, $2,000 contraption that CD straps on his body three times a day has had amazing results in other patients. 

I know that the cortisone shots could help. I know the physical therapists can try new torture treatments.

I KNOW it's possible to avoid a second surgery. And we're praying like crazy that will happen.

But for about 12 hours, I felt like I was suffocating. It was the first time I felt hopeless about the situation. It was the first time I allowed myself to even consider he might not fully regain the motion he once had.

My mind started racing back through the sequence of events.

There was the initial surgery when the doctor said he was shocked to see how much scar tissue was already formed around my husband's shoulder, basically creating a "frozen shoulder." At the next visit, the doctor showed us the photos from inside my husband's arm. He explained how he "aggressively" scraped out scar tissue, filed away the bone and "released the capsule" that surrounds his shoulder.

At the last visit, the doctor wasn't happy about CD's limited range of motion when it comes to pushing his arm downward. While he is doing great with lifting his arm up and backward, he hasn't been able to  push it all the way down. Imagine the motion you make when you throw a ball. It's the follow-through motion at the end that he can't complete.

Four weeks ago, the doctor increased his therapy sessions from three a week to four. He also prescribed the big white contraption in the photo that we lovingly refer to as a modern-day version of "the rack." He slowly turns the cranks on the device to stretch his tendons and then hold them in that position for 30 minutes at a time.

During therapy, two and sometimes three therapists work together to try to push his arm down. One holds his shoulder in place to keep it from dislocating while the other two basically lay on his arm to try to push it to the table. It won't move.

I think our whole family has accepted the "inconvenience" of Capable Dad's inability to use his right arm. It's been good for the kids to take on the duties of mowing the lawn, carrying out garbage and helping with lots of other chores. My husband would tell you that even his pain tolerance is so high now that what seemed unbearable a few months ago has now become an acceptable level of discomfort.

It's become more personal for me.

I long for him to be able to help our son work on his pitching skills.

I am suddenly desperate to go on one of our family bike rides.

I can't wait for him to be able to sweep up the toddler with both arms and spin her around in a big bear hug.

The doctor says a second surgery won't be a major set back if it comes to that. He will resume therapy the same day and restart the race to regain movement before the scar tissue forms. But for me, it seems like we would be starting over. And that is not something my mind is ready to accept.

So, that's the news. Thanks again for reading these updates. We truly appreciate everyone who has asked us how it's going. Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers!


Saturday, May 19, 2012

The rest of the story

I can't even tell you how many times I have sat down at my computer to write a blog post to follow that last one. I didn't mean to leave you hanging for so long. And now my list of draft posts is getting way too long.

Often it is somewhat therapeutic to unpack my thoughts here on my blog. This time, it seems I'm carrying around some pretty heavy boxes that are jammed to the point I don't even know where to begin. I start writing and realize it will take me 10 posts to finish.

And that is just too much information. Let's face it. No one wants to read my epic history of home schooling successes and failures.

I've also realized that even though I like change, I don't like transitions. Starting something new is no problem. It's ending something that's hard.

So, here's the big reveal, plain and simple.

We're applying to send all three of the big kids to a private, Christian school in the area. We are still going through the process of having the kids tested and an interview, so we are "in process." We got to this point for lots of reasons. And we chose this school for lots of reasons. All of those reasons would have been revealed if I had posted the other 10 posts in my draft box. haha! :)

As most people know, during the last two years I have been working part-time, along with home schooling. This year, we decided that it was too much. I needed to give up one of those two things. So, from a financial perspective, the result would be the same whether I gave up my job to focus on home schooling or whether I quit home schooling and we sent the kids to private school. (Yes, we did consider sending some or all of the kids to public school, but again, it's just too much info.)

We had visited this school several years ago and ruled it out for a few reasons. When we went back this time, we had a very positive experience. The kids all spent a day in the classroom, and they loved it. Prior to that day, all three of them had begged me to continue to home school them. After that day, our entire family agreed that this would be a good next step for us. The kids are very excited!

Looking at the bigger picture with high school just THREE years away, we also felt this would be a good transition for the future. We know it won't be perfect. But the great thing is that we aren't looking for perfection. We've realized that we can learn a lot living with imperfect people, in imperfect situations with imperfect challenges. (Or maybe it would be perfect challenges?)

It's hard to avoid comparing yourself with other families and the decisions they make. When the kids in a family are so different and have such different needs, it's hard to even make a good decision for all the people in one family.

As parents, we all are responsible for the education of our children. For the last three years, I have taken a very hands-on approach to that responsibility by being the person who is actually educating my kids. My husband and I are still taking that responsibility very seriously, we are just doing it in a different way. We know that every option has its strengths and weaknesses. We will lose some of the strengths of home schooling, and we will gain some of the positives of being in a formal school environment. We know that, and we're at a point that we're good with it.

So there you have it! If you want to know more, feel free to ask! But I will warn you. My answer might be a long one. :)


Friday, May 11, 2012

Our last day

Today was our last day of home schooling for the year. On Monday, the kids will go to their classes for final exams and class parties. But for me, this was the last day that I will sit down with them and go through math lessons and review history facts and help write research papers as part of our home school curriculum.

If all goes as planned, it will be the last day of home schooling for at least a year. It might be the last day of home schooling for several years. I hate to actually utter this out loud, but it could quite possibly be our last day of home schooling. Forever.

We spent the afternoon hanging out with friends at an end-of-year party and then spent the evening at a birthday party with lots of school friends. It was a great way to end the year. 

Swinging on playground equipment.

Chatting with friends.

Playing baseball.

Running down a big hill.

It was the kind of day that made me want to home school forever. I would love home schooling so much if we could do this everyday. But the problem is all of that school that gets in the way.

I was a little nervous about the day and facing the inevitable question, "So, what are you doing next year?" But I was extremely thankful for the responses that I got. Sympathetic ears and understanding hearts. And I was pleasantly surprised that several people said they had been waiting for me to blog about it. So, here I am. Trying.

When we started home schooling three years ago, we did so for a few very specific reasons. Back then, home schooling was my biggest fear. Now, that I've done it, I'm not afraid of it anymore. I know I could do it again.

It also feels great to look at how different things are now and realize that all of our hard work has paid off. I don't regret one minute of the past three years.

And yet, unlike last year, when I was so unsettled and so unsure of what we should do, I feel totally at peace with our decision. It's just hard for me to blurt it out in a sentence. You know me. I like to analyze and process and give the complete explanation. Which I will. And I promise it will be coming soon.

Will you come back? Please? ;0


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Once Upon a Time predictions

Once Upon a Time, there was a woman who loved the TV show "Lost". When the show ended, she was very sad and stopped watching TV.

But a few months ago, she was in desperate need of some mindless entertainment. She remembered that the writers of "Lost" were supposed to be working on a new series. That's when she found "Once Upon a Time."

Now, she is very happy again. She gets to contemplate the mysteries of the show. She gets to ponder the relationships between the characters in storybook land. And once again, she gets to make predictions on her blog about what will happen next!


So... here we go!

I am anxiously awaiting the season finale of the first season of OUaT, and for the record, here is what I think is going on.

First, the preview for next week shows that Henry's heart is going to stop. Sunday night's episode also showed that when Snow ate the apple, she no longer had breath. So, I'm thinking that even if he dies, he won't be completely dead. Of course, Regina is the only person who understands the curse of the apple, so she is either going to have to reveal her knowledge, or once again, lose the one thing in life that she truly loves.

I think Henry will stay in his comatose state for most of next season. I think Emma is going to have to start working things out without his help. While he is sleeping, I think the writers will take the opportunity to bring out more of the back story.

It seems fairly obvious that Emma will now become a believer in the story and the fact she is the savior. Next week's trailer showed her picking up the book and being overcome by some type of force. So, I'm thinking that once she believes she will be able to see and understand things she couldn't before.

I think she will spend next season trying to get the other storybook characters to believe, as well.

Regina said the curse is weakening. She could tell because the apples on her tree were starting to spoil. I think Regina also is gaining a conscience — another sign the curse is weakening — and she is losing her strength. She is having nightmares now about the other storybook characters.

What else does it mean that the curse is weakening? I think it means that the other characters will be able to come out of their slumber, remember their past and figure out how to defeat her.

We learned on Sunday that for some reason, Mr. Gold wants the curse to end. This is very interesting since we also learned last week that Mr. Gold was the true mastermind behind the curse. I think his change of heart has something to do with his interaction with August a few weeks ago in "The Return." Perhaps he has accepted the fact he will not find his long-lost son, Baelfire, in this world, and he wants to go back to his old life. (Or maybe he realized he's too much of a coward to find Baelfire.)

We learned a few key pieces of info the past few weeks. We now know that three people were transported to our world before the curse began: Emma, August (Pinnochio) and Baelfire. Could there have been others?

We know that it's possible to reach back into fairytale land. Regina used a portal to grab one of her poisonous apples. That land is still there! There is still a little bit of magic left. Will they find enough magic to bring Henry back to life? Or will Regina find a way to go back to fairytale land to find a way to help him?

We also found out that if Emma is killed, the curse will be broken. Regina can't let that happen. Or perhaps she will now want that to happen to save Henry?

One of the big questions still out there is: "Who is Henry's father?" I'm guessing it is Baelfire. This is mostly just a guess, but Emma did say that Henry's father was a "fire man." I think Baelfire is going to play a big role in all of this.

I'm hoping the writers will start giving us more details about Henry's birth and adoption by Regina. Mr. Gold organized the adoption, so he must have had his eye on Emma and made sure Regina ended up with Emma's son.

I'm wondering if the showdown between Emma and Regina will be an actual physical battle or if it will be more of a battle against the curse. I'm thinking that as Emma gets more people to believe in the fairy tales, the curse will grow weaker.

So... I have three questions for you:
1. Do you watch Once Upon a Time?
2. What do you think about my ideas?
3. Do you have any theories about what will happen next week? The curse? Baelfire? Will Henry stay dead? Or anything else?

I would love to hear your theories!!


Monday, May 7, 2012

An undeserved gift

This is a post I wrote for our church's web site. I'm reposting it here as a reminder to me... :)


A few weeks ago, our children heard about the upcoming outreach event at The Sanctuary to help families clean up their yards. My son eagerly asked me, “Mom, can we pleeeaaaase go to “Tend the Garden”?
Our family has had the privilege of being able to take part in some of the other events organized by our Justice and Compassion Ministry, and my kids know what a blessing — and what fun! — it can be to join with other families on a service project.
“Well, we can definitely do Tend the Garden,” I replied. “We are part of Tend the Garden! They’re coming to our house!”
Our four kids were bursting with excitement. “People from the church are coming to OUR house?!” they exclaimed. “They are going to clean up OUR YARD?!”
Our kids started counting down the days to May 5. They couldn’t wait.

I will admit that I wasn’t quite as ecstatic. “Anxious” might describe my emotions a little better.
In fact, when Cheryl Lynn Cain, director of Justice and Compassion, had e-mailed me a few weeks earlier asking if we would be one of the two project sites for Tend the Garden, my immediate internal reaction was, “NOOOOOOO!”
“We don’t deserve it,” I thought. “There must be someone else who needs help more than we do.”
But in her e-mail, she said that God had put our family on her heart. Hmmm. Maybe she was right.
Cheryl Lynn has never been in our yard, so she wouldn’t have known that our garden could use some tending. When we purchased our house, we inherited a lot of landscaping. We have trees that need pruning, bushes that need trimming and weeds that need pulling. We have a large barren spot in the backyard from where we moved our old sandbox. And we have tons and tons of landscaping that could use some mulch.
Our yard is a big project in an ordinary spring. This year, my husband and I had already decided that there was no way we were even going to be able to think about it.
He tore up his shoulder around Thanksgiving, and finally had surgery on it in early March. He could barely use his right arm for the three months leading up to the surgery. Post surgery recovery has been even harder. He still has several months of recovery time before he will be able to start building muscle in that arm and use it at even a minimal level.
Between helping him, taking care of our four kids, and staying on top of my job as communications director, I didn’t really have time to think about the lack of mulch and overgrowth of weeds.
After talking to my husband about the Tend the Garden project, we both knew we had to say “yes.” We know what a huge blessing it can be to serve others. Even though we were uncomfortable, we didn’t want to steal that blessing from those who wanted to serve.
And really, at the heart of our objection was pride. We realized that we like being self sufficient. We like being able to take care of things ourselves. We aren’t used to having to ask for help. We prefer to be the ones serving someone else. It was uncomfortable to be on the other side of things.
We realized that it’s hard to open up your life to people to invite them in, let them see your mess, and raise your hands and say, “I can’t do this on my own.” As the day got closer, I learned a lot about humility. I gained so much respect for the people in my life who have allowed me to come in and help them. I learned so much about serving others by being the one served.
At around 9 a.m. on Saturday, about 10 adults and 10 kids started swarming around our yard. They brought shovels, wheelbarrows, trimmers and work gloves. Joel, our project manager, kept everyone moving and working together. They trimmed bushes. They pulled weeds. They carried mulch. They filled lawn bags. They put down sod. One sweet friend even repaired the screen on our back door.

By the time they were done, we had filled 21 lawn bags with debris. The transformation was amazing. We heard the team that worked on the second house did an incredible job, as well.

Words can’t even begin to convey our thankfulness to the families who came to help tend our garden. We were so blessed. We felt so loved. And we are so humbled by their sacrifice.

After everyone had left, I was spraying down our muddy patio with tears running down my cheeks, so overwhelmed by what had happened. “I can never repay these people,” I thought.
Then, that still, small voice spoke to my heart.
“That’s the point,” I realized. “That’s what grace is. It’s an undeserved gift. You can’t repay it.”
I’ve talked so many times about how our church shows the love of Jesus to people through our actions. That’s what these people were doing for us.
Just like my yard, my heart can be a filthy mess. I’m not capable of cleaning it up on my own. But God showed us grace and mercy. He gave us the free gift of his son to die for us to clean up the dirt and mud in our lives. We don’t deserve it. We can’t repay it. We just have to accept it.
Thank you, Sanctuary, for showing that kind of love to us! We love you!
~ Emily Neal
Communications Director
(To view photos of the two Tend the Garden projects, go to our Facebook page and click “photos.”


Thursday, May 3, 2012

She's all grown up

Eighteen years ago, before I had my own kids, before I was married, before I had even started dating my husband, before I had my first full-time job, I "adopted" a little girl.

Her name is Kebabush, and she lives in Ethiopia.

I had the incredible privilege about a year before that to spend 12 weeks in Africa. To this day, those three months would rank among the most life-changing times of my life. I came home and went through the very difficult process of reverse culture shock.

Many of you have been there. It's a feeling of disgust of all we take for granted in this country. Walking through the grocery store feels far too indulgent. Taking a hot shower is no longer a given. All of the clothing, the toys, the shoes, the food, the restaurants. It all seems like too much.

And I was desperate to find a way to do something to continue helping the people I left behind. The women whose eyes were filled with delight when I gave them my half-used bar of soap. The moms who were overjoyed with my hand-me-down shoes. The three families who couldn't stop thanking me because I took them to the market with $100 and bought them enough food to feed their families for several months.

Once home, I felt guilty standing in a hot shower with water pouring over my head, knowing they might never in their lives experience such a simple luxury.

I was so thankful I had been able to meet people in Zambia who worked for World Vision. I saw the work they were doing to help communities that didn't have running water or electricity. I saw how they helped kids get an education, even in a building without a roof. While their mission included telling families about the hope of Jesus Christ, they also provided practical assistance to help improve people's lives and make it easier to get through the day.

When I got home, I looked up World Vision and asked to be assigned a child in Africa. It wasn't long until I received a card with her picture, telling me about her favorite games and subjects. She was too young for school then, but she helped with carrying water and cleaning up the house.

We wrote letters. I sent gifts. And every year when I received her picture, I was amazed to see how much she had grown. I dreamed of seeing her in real life some day. What would that be like to walk into her village?

A lot has changed in my life in the last 18 years. I became a newspaper reporter. I moved from one city to another. I got married. I became a stay-at-home mom. I've given birth to four children of my own.

Through all of that — all of the changes, all of the envelopes that have come in the mail — Kebabush has been a constant. I can't think of any other organization or company I have written a check to more times than World Vision. I've paid off cars. I've moved out of apartments. I've paid off student loans. I've switched churches. We bought a house.

And for 18 years, I've been sending my monthly check to World Vision.

This week, I got my last bit of info about Kebabush. I knew this day had to be coming.

She grew up. She graduated from the World Vision program. I don't really know what this means. I hope she's healthy and able to support herself somehow. I hope that maybe in some small way her life was better because of my help.

I feel sad knowing I might not ever hear from Kebabush again. I've said her name so many times. I've "known" this girl longer than my own children. I might not ever know what happened to her. I probably won't ever hear if she gets married or has kids. I won't ever know if she moves out of her community in Ethiopia.

World Vision assigned a new child to me. It feels so abrupt. I'm not quite ready to accept the fact that my "adopted child" has a new name, a new face and a new family. It's bittersweet to think that this little girl will someday grow up and graduate and be on her own, too.

It feels so small to send off that check every month for a mere $30. I've done it so many times without even really thinking about it. I hold onto my memories of meeting those World Vision workers and hope that somehow I've helped.

And I think about Kebabush. A young woman now. All grown up.

What about you? Have you ever sponsored a child in another country? What has the experience been like for you?


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What did I sign up for?

For the past couple of years, I have been begging my boys to go to summer camp. Every year it's the same old story. They just love their sweet mama too much to leave her for a week to go off and swim in a lake, canoe, drink soda pop and not shower. I am an awesome mom.

OK... maybe that's not exactly true. But for several different reasons, they just weren't sure if they wanted to go.

This year, I realized that not only are both boys old enough to go to camp for a full week, but my daughter is old enough to go away to camp for a couple of days, too.

Without telling them or asking them and thus, opening the door for them to worry about who they will know and what happens if they get sick and what if it rains and yada, yada, yada, I signed them all up for camp.

A few days later, I casually revealed the news, which resulted in shouts and cheers of delight. I'm not sure if it was because I had been talkin' with my southern accent all week or if it had somethin' to do with me feedin' 'em nothin' but plain pasta for dinner every night. But one way or another, they couldn't wait to go away to camp!

They ran over to the home of their experienced camp-going friends and revealed the news. This brought out all sorts of advice on what happens at summer camp.

They came home bursting at the seams with all of the information they had acquired. The louder the camp counselor, the more fun they will have! If they drink all of their water for the day, they can drink pop! And most importantly, their moms will send them care packages!


No where on the web site for this summer camp did they say one word about the mom needing to send care packages. My heart sank. It has been years since I've really used the post office. I pay all of our bills online. I send all of my birthday greetings via Facebook. If I need to send a gift, I just ask Amazon to ship it.

How on earth would I be able to put together a care package, get it to the post office and time it correctly so it arrived in southern Wisconsin while my kids were at camp?

Could I just send all of their care packages in one box and they could divide the spoils? 

"No!" they informed me. They would each be in a separate cabin and they would each need their own care package every single day. Their friend had already told them how horrible it was his first year at camp when his mom didn't know to send a care package, and he was the only kid in his entire cabin without a box full of Oreos, Pringles and candy bars. Oh my.

Now, not only did I have to successfully send one box and hope that it arrived somewhere within the window of time they were at camp, I actually had to put together three boxes per day and get them all to camp on the correct days.

I started thinking about the time I went to the post office, and I was the ONLY person in the place. I walked up to the counter to mail my package. The postal worker lifted her eyes and glared at me.

"You're supposed to take a number," she instructed.

"But... but... I'm the only person here," I meekly tried to explain.

"It doesn't matter! You need to take a number."

I was sweating now, trying to come up with some other way to get around daily trips to the post office. How about if I pack the care packages in your luggage and each day you can grab one and then pretend you got it at the camp post office!?

"No, mom," they said. "The other kids will know."

How about if I just send you an e-mail with a gift card you can use when you get back home?!?

"No, mom. It has to come through the post office."

Oh, man. I only have 10 weeks left until camp. I better start collecting boxes and reading up on the USPS web site on delivery times if I'm going to have any hope of surviving summer camp.

I turned to my experienced summer camp mom friend in distress. How can I possibly get around this secret summer camp requirement?

Just drop off the boxes at the camp post office and label them with the days you want them delivered. The camp counselors will deliver them to your children on the correct days.


What a relief! I can sleep again at night. And ummm... there's a certain mama who might be almost as excited as her three kids about summer camp.

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