SAL-VA-TION: by grace

E-LEV-EN: children from 1984 to 2006

HOME-SCHOOL-ING: since 1990

DOWN-SYN-DROME: susie and gabe

GRAND-CHILD-REN: since 2010

FAITH-FUL-NESS: my steadfast rock, my biggest supporter, my leader, my friend, my love, my husband

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Boy after my own heart

Driving in town today Gabe announced,

"Mama, I need fwench fwies."

How often I've thought the very same thing!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Growing up is not easy with older siblings "helping"

Lisa was working hard to get through her math book. She knew that when she finished it I would take her out for lunch, just the two of us. She was over 3/4 of the way through her second grade book and could just smell the lunch date. Determined to get through it as quickly as possible. she worked on it when she got up in the morning, she sat in bed with it at night, and I had to tell her to put it away at the dinner table.

She was diligent all right. But, when trying to get through 8 weeks or so of math in a few day there is bound to be some adversity. And poor Lisa doesn't handle adversity very well. When things aren't going her way she struggles mightily to keep her demeanor in check. We're working on it, working hard. I make her practice asking for help, taking deep breaths, lightening up a little when it's no big deal. The trouble is, for Lisa it's always a big deal. And it shows.

The other trouble is, she doesn't have very sympathetic siblings. One of them in particular has a very bad memory and has quickly forgotten how very much their own countenance used to (and sometimes still does) mirror that of Lisa's when plagued by adversity.

Other siblings can't relate because they are unbelievably happy and easy-going all the time. Such siblings think Lisa's troubles are funny and delight in hiding with a camera and catching her in the act of "contemplation".

Thankfully, Lisa really is a very good sport about it and laughs at the pictures. That's a lot more than similar-sibling-number-one could or would have done so you have to give Miss Lisa some credit there.

We had more trouble, however, when she announced that "now that I've finished my second grade math book I'm in third grade." I explained that she was still officially a second grader and it was too much for her raised expectations. She burst into tears.

To show you what a sport she is, I let her read this and see the pictures before I posted it. She laughed, although she didn't care too much for the last picture. I asked her if it was OK if I posted it, and she agreed--as long as I put in a picture of her happy-face.

Maybe she's growing up more than those older siblings give her credit for.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ice Fishing--more than a sport

In the Northwoods, when you say "winter" to some people it means one thing and one thing only--ice fishing. I am not one of those people. I never think "ice fishing", never.

I have been thrilled with the two-week warm spell that has cleared the snow and made the outdoors accessible to me once more. We drove by the park a few days ago so the boys could get a look at the open baseball fields (no snowblowers in April THIS year). This was the beautiful view.

We took a close-up to reveal that we also were seeing this.

But it doesn't really hit home just how die hard this guy is until we back up a bit and see this.

You would not get me to set one foot on a lake that had even a hint of open water. When we lived on the lake I made my boys wear life jackets if they wanted to walk on the lake after the first drip fell from the thawing snow. This must be the true meaning of "die" hard.

Monday, March 22, 2010

One Thing I LOVE About Homeschooling

Having the freedom to pick up and go with Keith on business trips--anytime if not anywhere!

We recently took off for a 3-day trek to Milwaukee and Chicago leaving Gabe behind with Keith and Nicole--before the arrival of Vince, of course. (I think it'll be my turn to do the babysitting for them next time--bring it on!)

We learned many years ago that purchasing an annual family pass to our local children's museum and one for the Science Center (of Chicago or St. Paul) will get you into any coordinating museum in the country, and there are hundreds. We went to four different museums on this trip (not the stuffy-don't-touch places that only I would enjoy, but the hands-on, try-it-out kind that the kids love) and were able to use our memberships from other places for all four. In this case it was about a $150 savings.

We left Keith to his business meeting in the hotel, (sure I let them peek through the crack in the door)

and headed for the Milwaukee History Museum. Our first stop was the butterfly room where we were surrounded by butterflies. The boys and I loved it; but Lisa, along with just about every child under the age of 3, was consumed with a skittish aversion to the ever-so-fierce winged creatures. It was SO hard not to laugh. She even realized how unfounded the fears were and laughed at herself, though, so I felt free to throw in a chuckle or two myself.

We also loved the miniature "Streets of Old Milwaukee" where we visited the old time candy shop, selling candy for modern time prices.

We wandered through the ethnic neighborhoods representing the many European countries that made up the city and had to get a picture by the Portuguese fountain for Mendo.

Later, as we toured other parts of the world we stopped off in Thailand and remembered Light!

I was amazed at how much everyone enjoyed our time, fully expecting that a history museum would be boring for these guys from the get-go.

Even so, one of their favorite activities was riding the escalators with Bryce and Owen trying to see how far they could reach their legs on the steps.

Next, we walked over to the Discovery Center and everyone kept busy...discovering! What an accurate name for that place. Lisa was thrilled with the sailing vessel (yep, I forgot what it was called) in the aquatics section. It was an actual ship, not just a replica, and when Lisa heard the guide say, "you can touch ANYTHING," she did! Her favorite place was the cabin where she 'built a fire,' cooked a meal, and settled into the ever-so-comfy, hard-as-a-board, made-to-fit-an-8-year-old bed.

They even kept with the shipping theme--aquatics and shipping being a major focus because of the city's and the center's location on Lake Michigan--going with the display of weights and levers and pulleys. We got to try to lift a 300-pound ship's bell with several methods to demonstrate physics. Lisa proved that with enough pulleys, she could lift the bell faster and with greater ease than her almost-teenage brother, Bryce.

In the lower level there was a hands-on tank and a display of freshwater and saltwater sea creatures. The saltwater fish were there to help visitors connect the lake with the entire Great Lakes chain and St. Lawrence Seaway on out to the Atlantic Ocean. But I really think they did it because sharks and stingrays and jelly fish are so much more interesting and touchable than walleye, carp, and bass!

Our main mode of transportation was our feet. We kept the car parked at the hotel and walked the less-than-a-mile distance to all of our sites. I think the walking was one of the best parts of the trip. You don't really see a city unless you get out of the vehicle. Our hotel was on the river so we got to enjoy a bit of the river walk as well.

Lisa and I especially enjoyed all of the sculptures along the river. Of course, we had to see the Bronze Fonz (if you don't know what I'm talking about you are probably under the age of 40), and Lisa loved the many bronze ducks along the walk.

Our final stop in Milwaukee was the Children's Museum. Lisa loved the mechanic shop and proved that she does NOT share her mother's complete lack of interest in anything automotive.

The news room was a big hit all around but the best part was playing with the green screen and making some interesting video!

Our time in Chicago was short but these guys made the most of it with two trips to the hotel pool and a walk to Navy Pier and another Children's Museum. They fought fires, built homes, climbed the rope course (much more fun than the stairs), and set a museum record on the water works exhibit.

You've wondered what kind of record could be set, right? Here's the water works exhibit. It is a series of pools and a 'river' with wooden slats to be used to dam the river and a small lock to demonstrate how ships can navigate the rapids. There are toy boats to float along the system and it's all fed by a large water wheel at the top.

My boys got the idea of blocking all of the dams, letting the water build up, putting their boats on top, opening the dams, and watching them race madly down the river. The trouble was, they weren't racing very madly. They were still just leisurely floating down the river. They tried a second time and then on the third try they figured they'd make sure there was plenty of water to swoosh those boats. They got two people on the hoses that fed the water wheel and opened all the valves. When these two got tired Mom filled in (I believe I was later referred to by Museum Staff as "Accomplice #1").

It seemed like I'd been holding the ropes for quite awhile when I asked what they were waiting for. They told me they wanted the water to spill over the edge of the lock. It was pretty obvious that the water couldn't spill over the lock without overflowing the upper pond so I told them to abandon that idea and prepare their boats. The boats were put in place, the water valves were left, and they began pulling out the wooden slats at the top of the system.

What we didn't consider was how much water we'd put into the upper pools and how it would have nowhere to go with the lower pool completely dammed up. We figured it out as the water began pouring over the sides of the middle riverway. The attendant just stood there with her mouth open as I directed the boys to pull the slats! She just shook her head in disbelief and kept saying, "No one's ever done that before."

Thankfully, the place is made for water and getting wet and there are floor drains everywhere. Within seconds there was no evidence of the wondrous feat we'd just witnessed. However, we decided to take our leave and not give them any more reason to tail us through the museum.

I said nothing more to the children until we were out in the hallway. Then, I called a huddle and quietly said, "I had to wait until we got out of there, but I just wanted to tell you, that was impressive. Give me fives!"

Sure enough, in keeping with the water theme, we walked out the museum doors and into the indoor garden where Keith was to meet us and what did they have decorating the place? Fountains. And water sprays. And what better place to see how high you can jump!

Last stop on the way home--a Jelly Belly tour. Be good and you get free Jelly Belly's. There were no records set here!

What's with the attitude and the jelly bean love bug--rather oxymoronical!

We packed about as much into three days as was possible and I felt like it! I think it took me an additional three days to feel rested again. It's hard to feel productive during a regular day when so much learning and exploring took place in those three days. I've always said if I could have $9,000 a year per student (a conservative estimate for what the public school spends) we would travel, travel, and travel. It was wonderful to be able to see and do so much so very close to home and to have so much fun together doing it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Too Thrifty?

I like to use things up, get every bit of worth out of them and maybe more if I can--most of the time.

I snip buttons off of old, useless shirts and pop them into my little compartmentalized button box.

I use my worn/torn tennis shoes for my summer garden shoes--not sure how the ground-in dirt from the holes helps my socks but I do it anyway.

I save fabric scraps for quilting (just used quite a few pieces from a dress of Dana's that I made over ten years ago on Keira's quilt).

I pass clothes down from one child to the next and have learned that there comes an age where I need to keep the wardrobe rather lean because the following sibling will either not appreciate the hand-me-downs, be embarrassed to wear someone else's 'signature' item, or feel grossly out of style by what was worn centuries ago(or was it really just 2 years ago?).

Thankfully, my children under the age of about 14 are fairly oblivious to the source of their clothing supply and will wear whatever they put their hands on (and often look like they're wearing 'whatever'--I don't claim to be a fashion enabling mom, although I really do wish I had a little more aptitude for it).

I was folding the laundry this week and set aside one of Gabe's long underwear shirts. It's been a much used addition to his one piece fleece jammies during our season of freeze. But he's outgrown the shirt and the world here is thawing so the shirt's usefulness is at its end. I considered its destination. No one to pass it on to here, mama's with brand new babies don't want/need to hang onto used clothing for years waiting for baby to grow into it, and I think it's beyond being called "gently used".

But I STILL have trouble throwing it out! Why? Because I remember paging through a catalog of natural babywear for my daughter who had over-sensitive skin and seemed to develop rashes from everything. At that time in my life I could have counted on one hand the number of new items of clothing I'd purchased for any of my children and the "all cotton, all natural, infant thermal underwear" were definitely pricey by my standards.

I bought the set, 19 years ago. It worked wonderfully for Dana, as well as for Troy, Shane, Bryce, Owen, Lisa, and Gabe. I got my money's worth and some wonderful memories worth. And now that I've recorded it I feel so much better about parting with it!

One last look.....

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Vince Byron

Age: 12 hours

Happy Nicole!

With Nana

All through lunch Gabe was chanting "Un-cle-Gabe, Un-cle-Gabe". In the hospital room he kept looking at Nicole, looking at Vince, looking for her belly under the sheets and asking, "Baby?, and then looking back at Vince. I think he's getting this whole thing figured out.

See previous post (below) for vital statistics

Granddad and Nana's 2010 Club

Carson Isaac and Keira Faith, charter members of "Granddad and Nana's 2010 Club", proudly welcome the newest member, Vince Byron. Vince was inducted into the club last night, March 17, at 11:45 pm. Proud parents, Keith and Nicole, could be described as elated, delighted, relieved, and altogether ecstatic!

Although Vince was 2 weeks early he weighed in at a respectable 7 pounds 11 ounces and was 19 inches long. It is reported he is already squatting 6 ounces and is in early training to break another MTU Husky record. I'll post pictures soon!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Ides of March

Shakespeare got it stuck in our brains, "Beware the Ides of March". The 15th of March--it is the anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., the anniversary of the abdication of Nicolas II of Russia in 1917 A.D. Historically, it is a date foreboding gloom.

Yesterday, however, was one of the most delightful days of the year at our house! The thermometer topped 60, the children were in good spirits, we have two Italian girls visiting us for the week, our school day went smoothly and quickly, we traveled several miles by foot and on bikes in short sleeves under a blue sky and summer sun, and that was just the beginning.

Keith and I took the youngest four to the park where they renewed acquaintance with the playground and we tried out the tennis court. To our mutual surprise we both enjoyed it very much. After 30 minutes of warm up Keith suggested we keep score. My legs were already shaking and I was sweating and panting, but I said yes. We finished one set with him winning 6-2. Even with his just starting to overcome a rather severe attack of gout and playing the doubles lines on his sides I was unable to fare any better. However, we had numerous respectable volleys and I was never once shut out in a game.

Back when we first met in 1983 one of our first outings together was a tennis game at Christian Park in Richfield, MN. Strangely enough, it was early March. We were better matched then, in fact, we were both just better--although my decline is certainly greater. Eleven children and their care has taken a huge bite out of my game (which wasn't exactly stellar to begin with). We've attempted to play for years, with children in walkers on the free court and toddlers chasing balls and butterflies. But, by the time our oldest boys were old enough to really help with the younger ones there were just too many for them and it was easier to give one of them a racket to play against their dad. Yesterday worked! We even have hopes of continuing throughout the summer.

To finish the day we ate a picnic supper at the park, went out for ice cream, and spent the better part of an hour on the phone wishing Chet a Happy Birthday and catching up with all the news in his and Priscilla's life. Newlyweds, as would be expected, spend very little time communicating with their parents and we all enjoyed reconnecting around the occasion of his 21st year.

It's hard to imagine another better day, although the temperatures are supposed to be way above normal again today, the sun is shining in a clear sky, and Keith and I are celebrating our 26th Anniversary!

Monday, March 15, 2010


Gabe is an imitator. He especially loves sounds--either funny mouth sounds or words spoken with inflection. Copying gestures and body language is another of his loves. We can be in the middle of a serious conversation and just dissolve into laughter when we notice Gabe, sitting on Keith's lap, mimicking his hand gestures and head movements.

Yesterday at church Gabe was much more talkative than usual. He was continually repeating phrases and words that caught his attention. He was pretty quiet and, thankfully, no one in our congregation minds his periodic jabbering and we all tune out most of what he says. He's tried interjecting a very loud, "Amen", when he thinks the service should be over that has caused a slight ripple of laughter but that doesn't happen very often.

The text yesterday morning was II John 9, discovering what is the 'doctrine of Christ'. Our pastor turned to Matthew 22:29 and read, "Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God." There was a heavy emphasis on the word 'err' and Gabe chimed in with his favorite basketball chant--"Airball! Airball!"

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Defining Gabe, 4 years later

We celebrate birthdays, marking the passage of time; and I accept that and have always embraced the idea and the celebration. But, as I considered the passage of the last four years with Gabe it seems like so much more than just the passage of time. It has been a journey, an unclear, every-turning, eye-opening, wonderment of time that doesn't necessarily rest on remembrance of this fourth year. This birthday seems less like an achievement and more like an ongoing journey, a marker that loomed in the distance, grew closer, was smiled at, and then as quickly passed right on by.

Gabe was delightful on the day, he knew the song and sang along with us all day as we would randomly break out with it just to see his big grin when his name was filled in where he's most recently heard "Lisa" and "Daddy". He began to get confused though, when the song was repeated throughout the day. At one point he looked at me when we finished singing and said, "Want cake!" He knew the routine. So, by the time we actually sat down with the cake and candles I know he was wondering, "Are these people really going to let me get on with it and celebrate?" I love the highly suspicious look in his eyes as we all sing to him, and then the look of complete joy when he knows this is finally the real deal. We forget sometimes that because he looks more like '2' and talks more like '2' that his mind really does think closer to '4'.

Every time I stood up to take a picture Gabe would raise his head for me, thinking he was meeting me up high somewhere. I finally had to resign myself to taking all pictures from a seated position!

Thinking back on Gabe's entrance into our family is different from any other child because, with him, there was a split second that defined his place and person in a way that was like no other. It was somewhat like the moment when you hear "It's a boy" or "It's a girl". Those words send your mind down a path that defines who and what that child will be--a son or daughter, a brother or sister, an aunt or uncle, and maybe some day a mother or father. There are visions of the future that begin to be outlined by just one word.

However, with Gabe, he became Gabe not when I heard "it's a boy", but when I looked into his eyes. It is almost surreal to think now of my first thoughts before and shortly after his birth. I remember feeling very old (43) as I labored. I remember the nurse telling me, at about 11 PM that I 'only' had about four hours of labor left. I remember believing her, even though my experience, ten times over, should have overruled anything she said. I remember telling Keith at midnight that I couldn't go for three more hours, that I was too old and tired to keep going and to please get me something, anything, to get me through this; and I remember about ten minutes later wondering what I was doing listening to the nurse, or anyone, instead of to my body. Gabe was born at 12:16 am.

My first thought with the last push was, "He's so little!" He was put into my arms and my next thought was, "He has such a cute little nose," (I've had a few that had a hit-by-a-mac-truck-nose). Gabe's nose was small, and delicate, and perfect.

Then I looked into his eyes and he became a completely different baby. It was almost as if my experience with him stopped and restarted as my gaze passed from his nose to his eyes. I think back to that moment that I looked at his nose and think about what a magnitude of change occurred after that look. As great as I see and comprehend that change now, it wasn't in my conscience then.

When my eyes met his almond-shaped eyes with the little folds of skin in the corners I voiced my third thought, "Does he look like he has Down syndrome to you?" My doctor said, "I kind of thought so." And I said, or thought, I'm not sure which, "This'll be different."

I wasn't afraid of 'different' and a part of me fully embraced 'different'. But, I was stunned by the sudden and marked change that came with one look into the eyes of that baby, telling me who he was.

Every baby is born as a blank page. We dream about and consider the marks that will be made on their page; and, they may or may not (more likely not) be the marks we expect. The first indelible mark is, almost without exception, an M or an F. It's the first thing we ask that helps us define who this person is, "Is it a boy or a girl, a male or female?"

One look into Gabe's eyes and his page suddenly seemed to be filled with defining marks about who he would be, what he would be, and what limitations were in store for him. It became more overwhelming for me as each day passed and I thought more deeply about all the ink that filled his page in just a split second. At times I wished to go back to that moment that I first felt him in my arms and looked at his nose. It was a different place and he was a different baby and while I didn't want him to be anything but the baby he was I resented the writing that covered the page of his existence and I longed for the blank page that he could fill on his own.

As I opened up to my oldest son, Joey; my boy become a man, independent, 21, closer in age to his father than to this baby brother, one who had the luxury of filling out his own page; I poured out my frustration at trying to weigh all of the impossibilities and problems that, foreseeably, lay ahead of us. Joey made one defining comment that changed how I looked at Gabe's page. He said,

"Mom, if you’d read a book about all of the possible problems and situations you might some day have to face with me when I was born you’d have been overwhelmed then, too. Just take things one day at a time and deal with one problem at a time and you’ll be fine."

I realized that the ink on Gabe's page wasn't really any more indelible than anyone else's. Certainly, there was a greater possiblility that he would not reach certain achievements that others would reach; but, there was no way of knowing that from the start, at least not of knowing which would be his areas of strength and which would be his areas of weakness.

Keith, his Daddy, had felt this way all along. He didn't have to wrestle like I did.

So, we watched Gabe grow--slowly. He learned to eat and smile and laugh,
to roll over
and crawl and walk,
to anticipate and imitate, to throw a ball and catch it, to shoot a ball and make a basket.
He climbs up and down steps, he follows directions, he runs--and today he ran down a driveway and stopped before he got to the road (I was beside him but he stopped on his own). Gabe explores and climbs and loves. He is writing his own page and we are all so very, very blessed to be loved by him.

Gabe's birthday was, for him, a pure joy, and he delighted in the attention and the gifts and the cake. But, he's living the next day and the next with the same enthusiasm and joy and helping all of us experience the joy and delight that he experiences.

I am delighting in the page I see being written and created daily that is Gabe.