Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Dead-End Biker Gang

My two teenagers belong to a gang and honestly I couldn't be happier about that!  It's a biker gang, as in bicycle bikers, and the gang formed up last summer, our first summer here.  The most recent meeting of the Dead-End Biker Gang was about a half hour ago when I captured them before they took off on a summer ride:

Dead End Biker Gang: Tom, Davis, Steve, Derek 
The two wearing regular glasses are my guys and the two with the cool sunglasses are the boys from next door, Derek and Davis.  Derek and Davis are several years younger than my 19 and 17 year olds - they haven't even reached their teenage years.  But the maturity and compassion of those two younger ones - oh my goodness!!!  As cool as those sunglasses are, the boys wearing them are even cooler!

My guys, Steve and Tom, just learned how to ride last summer - at the very end of summer. Their summer actually began with a weeklong special iCan Bike camp hosted by a local special rec association in early June.  During those sessions I would watch the campers and their trained Bike Buddies work through their paces using the camp's specially-designed roller bikes and then advance to the non-roller bikes with the handles on the back.  Training wheels were never part of the "curriculum."  The goal was for each camper to ride a two wheel bicycle without training wheels by himself or herself by the end of the week.

The camp buddies - sometimes three to a camper - ran or at least walked fast alongside the biker-in-training in the big gym- all the while holding that back handle of the bikes. It was impressive to watch.  By the end of the week, the campers and their steadiers must have gone about a million miles!  My two campers did ALL of their miles inside the gym - they were the only two who didn't progress enough to "graduate" and ride on the outdoor track by week's end. I don't know if it was their Down syndrome that kept them in the exclusive just-in-the-gym group (they were the only two in that group and the only two at the camp with Down syndrome), but on that last day the staff offered solid advice to me.  Have them practice every day on the bikes I had just purchased for them which followed the camp's recommendations - the top two being: 1) the wheel size should allow the rider to sit on the seat while having his feet flat on the ground and 2) the special steadying handle should be installed on the backs of their bikes.

So with the whole summer in front of us, the very next day after camp ended, out we went in our backyard with its gentle slope down to the flat open grassy area - perfect for getting the bike practice underway. Steve and Tom - on their camp-approved bikes wearing their camp-approved helmets, practiced every summer evening after supper, turn after turn one after the other (I think I ran and fast-walked about a zillion miles!).  With those first practices being behind our house Derek and Davis could see what was going on from their backyard and in no time at all came over and joined in by cheering the grass-riders on.  That was the ticket right there - that cheering on from friends.  Really cool friends!!

Practices soon moved from the grassy backyard to the front sidewalk and then to the small section of street in front of our houses that goes a little ways before it deadends at the prairie.  Derek and Davis always cheering them on and riding alongside on their bikes and even taking a turn at the handle-holding-steadying job.  The Dead-End Biker Gang was born!  More nights than I could count the sun would set and the glow would linger a bit and that Dead-End Biker Gang would still be riding and cheering and not wanting to quit.  And guess what - both Steve and Tom, many sunsets after the Dead-End Biker Gang had ganged up and about a week before school was to begin last August, the boys with Down syndrome rode their bikes free and fast right into the last sunset of summer! It was really cool!  Thanks to their really cool friends!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

This one umbrella

Goodness... it's been awhile since I've been here in the blog world - I was over in the website world this whole time!  Trying to create one.  What a thing that is!  And what a world the webworld is!  It's mind-boggling - I don't think I'll ever NOT be boggled by  it!

So here's what I do know - creating a website is very tricky.  I absolutely, without a doubt, completely understand why it's called a website - it's just like a spider web.  Tangly, thready, sticky, delicate and if the early morning sun gets to glance off and shine through the dew drops stuck on it, why it's just a beautiful thing! And spiders, while they're doing all that creating, make it look so easy.  But when a butterfly, for instance, gets the idea to make a web, yikes.  

At any rate, the Upside of Downs website is now up and running - and it's come a long way since the "reweaving" of it began a few weeks ago!  It had a few mushed up, super sticky, I-just-ran-into-a-cobweb-in-the-haunted-house-and-this-sticky-thready-thing-is-all-over-my-face-and-it's-super-icky moments, but hopefully those are gone now.  

"Helping Others UP from their DOWN"

The Upside of Downs is a not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) fundraising/charitable organization my family and I founded awhile ago.  The mission of the Upside of Downs?   It exists in order to support the many others who are challenged in the various ways that our own family has also been challenged - simply put, to help others "up" from their "down."  What with all the experience with our own special needs children and caring for parents with Alzheimer's and having several adult children serving in the military, we feel closely tied to their challenges and their blessings, their struggles, their gifts, and the amazing heroic spirit present in each one of them.  These members of my own family are the inspiration for the Upside of Downs and its "umbrella" mission: to reach out and help all special needs heroes, and those affected by Alzheimer's, and military veterans wounded while serving. The Upside of Downs upholds an umbrella for these three hero groups.  

Here's how we do that umbrella holding.  First we raise funds through fundraising events and the awesome website donation button you'll find in the website - (there's also information in there on how to donate the old-fashioned way, a check in the mail).  And then we pay it forward - to organizations that align with the Upside of Downs vision of protecting, caring, researching, and advocating for the umbrella heroes such as (these are our most recent recipients): the Wounded Warrior Project, Special Olympics, Alzheimer's Association, Semper Fi Fund, Travis Manion Foundation, Cure Alzheimer's Fund, and the FVSRFoundation (a local special needs recreation association).  These organizations provide the hands-on help in our common mission and the ones for which we gladly, and stubbornly in a butterfly-weaving-a-spider-web way, provide monetary support in order to pay it forward to the heroes under the umbrella. 

All right then, that's it for now - I've got to get lunch ready for the school's-out-for-the-summer gang - which reminds me - wherever you find things that really work in the website, that was USNA Midshipman second class Jack Meier's doing! He was home on a short summer leave and devoted his down time, lots of it  (with extreme grace and patience I might add) to the launching of the Upside of Downs website!  

Until next time, you all take care and God bless!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ahhhh...The rain finally came

"Smiling Rain Cloud" by Tom Meier
So about a week ago Tom brought his "Smiling Rain Cloud" project home from school - it was end-of-the-year-clean-out-the-classroom time.  I was impressed with his work, very impressed; the fine motor skills he had used to create it made me smile - in a similar fashion as his cotton-faced cloud - so I hung it up. 
The week went by - busy and increasingly hot and humid - and summer vacation for the boys finally arrived a couple days ago.  I love this time of year; I love having my boys around all day so that adventures can just happen - we don't have to be so hemmed in by the clock or the calendar when summer vacation arrives.  So rarin' to go we all are, let's get this party started, school's out, school's out, SCHOOL'S OUT!!!  YAAAAHHH!!!!

But then, uh oh... NOOOOOO!!!  This can't be!!!  NOT NOW!!!!  The boys are in their first day of FREEDOM and SUMMER FUN and RANDOMLY TIMED ADVENTURES....  No, no, no, no, no!!

But there was no stopping it, there is never any Stopping It.  That was two days ago. 

"It" is this thing that happens to me when a drastic change in temperature is coming in the next couple days.  And some kind of precipitation, usually lots of it, big old snowstorms or rainstorms or rain soakers are part of the deal too.  I feel it.  I don't need a meteorologist or radar or anything like that to tell me - it's crazy, I know, and it's all in my head.  But then that's where crazy usually is, so it makes sense.  It's a storm's-coming-bomb-in-the-head that blows up and hurts like crazy.  And in just half of my head - so I guess I should be grateful for that that it's not my whole head.  But in the days leading up to the release of all that rain or whatever is about to fall out of the sky, grateful for 1/2 a head not exploding isn't what I am.  Half my face puffs up, the one nostril runs, the one ear hurts like crazy, the back of my head - 1/2 of it only - oweee - the other half wants to run away, and 1/4 of my teeth hurt - the upper half on the exploding side.  I don't know what this is, I don't know if there's a name for it other than crazy-storm-predicting-osis - but it's definitely a thing for me and has been for quite some time.  Maybe it has something to do with a drastic change in atmospheric pressure - I don't know BUT I do know this - the rain finally came about an hour ago and the smile on the cotton-faced cloud hanging in my window is matching mine - once again!!  And so let the adventures begin!!!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Greedy Grandma Syndrome

Greedy grandma and her sweet faraway grandbaby 
Right when I'm done here I'm off to the grocery store - but I've got a couple minutes and some coffee in one of my favorite mugs, and I've got something to say:  I LOVE being Mom but being a Grandma - that's what I'm having a hard time with - a really hard time. 

I suspect most Grandmas who live far from their grandchildren feel the same exact way.  In my case, my heart actually aches on account of this - I mean I can feel it hurting deep inside - that sounds all dramatic and medical and what not - but it's the truth.  Not seeing my only grandbaby and not lifting her up in the swing and giving her a little push or handing her the bananas to put in the grocery cart or changing her or reading her books or baking cookies with her or stomping around in mud after a good rain or dancing with her in the family room on a Wednesday morning just because - not being able to do those and a million other daily things - that's what I'm grumbling about. 

I just absolutely, beyond what may be considered reasonable, love the dailiness and the work and the hands-on-help kind of life.  Being a "visit" Grandma - I don't love that - I'm terrible at it.  Helping babies, toddlers, children, adolescents every day in very useful and simple ways - and some complicated ways too - for the past 31 years that's what I know and love with all my heart.  But this every once in awhile "visit" business where the visits are few and far between and blink-of-an-eye brief - not good, not now - not at 57 years old - maybe at 157 years old.  Maybe.

I'm not positive but that just might put me smack dab in the greedy-middle-aged-lady category: I mean, c'mon - I have six children - four in the grown-on-their-own-out-in-the-world-doing-wonderful-things-serving-those-in-need category and then my two special needs teenagers, Steve and Tom, in the at-home-and-doing-well category  - yet - I want more.  Or rather less - as in less distance, 1000 or so miles ought to do it - between my grandbaby and me.  That way I could scoop that sweet little girl up right now and take her to the grocery store so she could put bananas in the cart and then we'd return to Grandma's house to dance in the family room a bit.  And then, I don't know, maybe we'd even make some cookies.  Hmm...that would be great.

Okay, coffee's gone so off to the store I go.

Til next time, take care and God bless.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Mother's Day Letter

Mother's Day is almost here - only a couple more days to go.  I wished I could've found a nice card or two for my daughter, but I couldn't.  For the life of me I just couldn't find the right one at the store the other day.  My daughter's a Mom in her late 20's married to a wonderful man and together they have a little girl not yet two years old and another baby girl due in July.  I'd dearly love to see her and her sweet little family and spend the entire day with them but they live over a thousand miles away, a 20 hour drive one way.  As distant as that sounds, and it is a ways away, it's not as far away as where they lived before.  That far-flung place was an ocean away plus the 2,000 miles of land one had to cross before even getting to that ocean.  Oh goodness, sometimes it feels as if that little family lives on the moon.  Anyway, back to the card buying escapade.  During my entire search, I saw not a single card in that fully-stocked, overflowing card aisle at the store that fit.

Some of them came sort of close - I even had a couple in the cart, but then there was something that didn't sound right, that didn't ring true, and back they went.  All the cards for daughters who are Moms I examined very closely - this way and that, words, pictures, even the sounds/music of the noisy greeting cards.  But not a single one was right. All the examining and interpreting and mulling took way too long in my son Steve's eyes, my shopping buddy, and everyone else's eyes too who happened by.  So there it is - I just couldn't find a Mother's Day card for my daughter. 

Now this may be a bit awkward for everyone, my daughter, you, me -  but I'm going to do it anyway.  I'm using this blog space today for her Mother's Day greeting from me.  The things I say here are 100% true.  It might not seem like it if you don't know my daughter, but for me to fill you in and give details and specifics about her wouldn't be prudent.  Moms of military daughters learn this.  And sometimes the Moms have to write a greeting letter when the cards at the store don't say the right things! 

Dear Daughter, 

Over the years there have been so many times that I've been completely awestruck by you.  And even more times than that I've been inspired by you.  This happens whether you're half way round the world following orders or on a rare visit home, in my kitchen making a batch of amazing cookies.  It matters not, the time or place, you inspire me.  Even though I'm 30 years older than you,  you've taught me, no, no, make that shown me, by your example - never by force or  harsh word - how to live life gracefully and to the fullest.  You've been a beacon guiding me.  You can't help but shine, you shine all the time.  And I see it. 

You, dear girl, have been through impossible situations in your lifetime - impossible from my perspective.  I'll never, ever experience those particular impossible things in my life.  And you've come through with grace and quiet strength. You make it look smooth, easy, somehow.  How do you do that?  Me?  I'd be squawking and flapping and running around in awful circles.  

Your journey, as a civilian and in the military, has looked so unwaveringly graceful to me.  So graceful and so generous.  I've seen from a distance your journey, that road of yours, riddled with potholes, jagged boulders, impossibly steep climbs, no guardrails on the descent, in foreign lands, on American soil.  Your "road" has been washed out at times, completely impassable, yet on you go, you find a way, uncomplainingly, somehow, some way, always.  And something else, seeing to others' troubles before dealing with or even realizing that you are in some sort of peril yourself is as natural as drawing breath to you. It's you.

From my perspective what you've done in life and how you've done it  - with grace and selflessness and humility -  is magical.  You're like a great magician who does impossible things before my very eyes, right in front of me, and I can't now nor will I ever figure it out.  I am in awe of you, I am inspired by you, humbled and forever blessed by you.

Happy Mother's Day Daughter!  Love, Mom

Friday, May 1, 2015

Semper Fi

I haven't written a thing here in the  Family Room for OVER a WEEK!  But I've got excuses... all kinds of excuses!  In short -  Life just kept happening at a break-neck pace around here, one day after the other with no time for writing anything except maybe the grocery lists - of which there were many - one to guide each of my several grocery shopping adventures to accommodate each of the several special eating occasions  - these past eight days. 

It seems that the 8 days that've passed since being here in the Family Room have been like, well, let's see... a tug-of-war?  Or maybe more like a tornado?  Or, I know, like a couple Gigantic Magnets pulling in completely opposite directions.  Whatever it's been like I do know this - these days have been: amazing, sad, scary, heart-wrenching.  And ...they've been filled with laughter, tears, rain, sunburn.  There were birthday celebrations, a prom, Special Olympics Spring Games Track & Field Day, a biopsy, IEP meeting, piano performance, bowling practice, a movie matinee outing, field trips and yesterday. 

Yesterday, the Day I Was Filled With Emptiness.  It was an awful feeling and quite shameful for me to feel that way, but shameful or not, I felt filled with emptiness. Being filled with emptiness sounds dumb and... it is dumb. But that's how I felt - yesterday.   Today in the light of this sun-splashed May First blue sky day, I'm actually embarrassed to think I could EVER feel empty... ever - but I did.  For awhile - a wallowing while. 

And this is why, early yesterday morning, this guy pictured here in an old photo taken a couple years back (the guy in the middle, in uniform) left - for good.  We all knew this day was coming and as it turns out it arrived later than originally scheduled; it's the old "hurry up and wait" aspect of military life this family has come to know.

August 2013 - PLC Graduation
This son's orders (coming a year after his college graduation/commissioning in the Marine Corps) were the reason for his departure yesterday. Shortly after breakfast and after seeing his two youngest brothers off to school for the last time, with his car packed with uniforms, boots, paperwork, his computer and a few meager belongings, he drove away - leaving his full-time civilian job of the past year, his two youngest brothers, his Dad, me, home - for good this time. For a good, long time.  He is now in the category of "our kids who only visit us" (that would be 4 of the 6) and the sub-category of "our kids who only visit us when Uncle Sam approves" (that's been 3 of those 4).

As Mom to 3 military kids, it's been awesome and awful at the same time throughout the years.  And yesterday the shameful, embarrassing, feeling sorry for myself, "awful" completely overshadowed the "awesome"-  with a big, dark, self-serving stupid old shadow.  It was all about the nothingness I heard at 5:00 when he'd normally be coming in the door from work, and then that terrible empty spot I sat across from at the dinner table at 6:00, and later around 9:00 the rotten lack of shenanigans I didn't witness as I readied his younger brothers for bed - it was awful and left me filled with emptiness. 

But today - I got about the business of not wallowing, not being so selfish in my perspective, and not letting "awful" win the day.  How ridiculous - "awful" winning the day.  Honestly, there is just too much awesome in all of this.  My son is doing what he's meant to do, what he's trained for and he's worked for for a long time.  He's serving our country, protecting and defending those of us here at home, putting others before himself, and all the while willing to put himself in harm's way to accomplish that.  So my being all selfish and whatnot?  That's not cool.  I'm done with my wallowing!

Take care all and God bless!

Semper Fi

Thursday, April 23, 2015

April 23 - Throwback Thursday

A Welcome Sight
That - right over there - that picture of the Statue of Liberty - isn't that neat?  I think it's neat. I love how Lady Liberty's arm reaches up to the sky and how she holds that light for all to see.  And the way her robe drapes around her so gracefully and simply - I love that.  That graceful, simply dressed lady has welcomed thousands, millions, to our American shores over the years right there in New York Harbor.  She's been a welcome sight to the immigrants and visitors and vacationers and the travelers coming back home. For many who see this sight for the first time, including me decades ago, we just can't seem to help those goose bumps that bump up on our arms, the lump that gets in our throat, or our heart skipping a beat or two.  And the tears - oh the tears - that just kind of come out in that sting-ey, surprising kind of way.  The Statue of Liberty just has that effect. I consider myself lucky to have seen this sight those many years ago while on vacation with my husband and three of our six children; the other three hadn't been born yet.  Now of those three, one was able to at last take this sight in last year, when he was 20.  He's the one who took the picture you see here.

So, it was during last summer, after having been tossed around in some rough seas aboard the Brave (a small sailing vessel) and having seen no land for awhile, that my son Jack, a United States Naval Academy midshipman on summer training, laid eyes on this sight for the very first time and was he glad of that.  It was welcoming, it was inspiring, it was safe.  On that August day in 2014, Jack joined in a sort of bonding-like way with the thousands of folks who've seen this welcome sight for the first time as they've sailed or steamed into those very same harbor waters.  Jack's great-grandfather (my Grandpa) Soren Andersen is one of those folks. In 1910 he'd left his family and small village in Denmark in order to serve his apprenticeship in the building trade here in America.  Grandpa Andersen was a Danish immigrant aboard that steamer, the Copenhagen vessel Oscar III.  He steamed his way across the Atlantic to a bright new future along with a couple hundred other people.  During their 14 day crossing they shared stories, meals, chess games, and the occasional accordion concert below deck.  I remember Grandpa saying that the journey went pretty smoothly, all things considered, and that the crew and the immigrant passengers were "pretty well organized." He did say that when he saw the Statue of Liberty come into view that day in 1910, he was glad.  It was a safe, welcome, very inspiring sight to him.

Now not only do my Grandpa and my son share this bond of seeing-the-Statue-of-Liberty-for-the-very-first-time-from-the-New-York-harbor-waters, they also share the age they were at the time - Grandpa was 20 when he immigrated. And guess what else? These two share a birthday - TODAY!  April 23rd! On Throwback Thursday!  Soren Andersen in 1890 and Jack in 1994. 

If grandpa were still alive he'd be celebrating his 125th today alongside his newly 21 year old great-grandson Jack!  It'd be the long-ago meeting up with the here-and-now and finding they'd have a ton in common.  Kind of gives me goose bumps - and a lump in my throat!  

Even though these two members of my family never did have the chance to meet in person (they missed each other by about 11 years), it seems they might have met in spirit somewhere along the line, they just have so much in common - from their April 23rd birthday to their  Statue of Liberty sighting through their 20 year old eyes to their sea-faring adventures and their military service (Grandpa served too, during WWI in the US Army), and a whole host of other things.  The way I see it, one is almost like a throwback version of the other.  And another thing I see is a bit of family resemblance in those two! 

Soren Andersen - April 23, 1890
 Jack Meier - April 23, 1994
God Bless you both!