Thursday, January 5, 2017

16 Cousins ALL Together

On Saturday December 17th we headed out for a two-week Christmas vacation.  We pulled the kids from four days of school to go on a cruise with my family.  All of my siblings were there, my mom, my Aunt Merle and all 16 cousins. It was SO FUN to be altogether! 

When we arrived in Long Beach we enjoyed the sunny weather and chased the waves at the beach. 

We also met up with Connie to enjoy some hot tubing and to kill some time before getting on the ship on Monday. 


Carnival provided a cruise that we could all afford, and we were really happy with our experience.  It was super family friendly.  The kids couldn’t wait to try out the water slides on the ship, although the water turned out to be freezing cold.  

So they all hit the “kids hot tub”.  Every time I see this picture I think of a joke I heard at one of the comedy shows.  “What do you call a hot tube full of kids? Pea Soup.”  We were all so happy and content. 

Cathie gave all "the girls" matching hoodies.  It's not just fun for kids to be twiners!

Our first night at dinner Josh and I ended up at a table with two four year olds and two six year olds.  Josh made the best of it by giving manner lessons.  The girls were so cute learning how to use their manners in the formal dinning room.

My mom gave each of her grandchildren a book of 25 brand new one dollar bills along with wallets, purses and other cute things.  They loved having the extra spending money (or for some of them money to save.) 


Our ports weren’t amazing, but at least I wasn’t temped to spend a lot of money on excursions.  Our first stop was Catalina.   

Cara and Emi enjoyed shopping.  Caleb and Colter went crab hunting with Keith and apperently found some impressive crabs.  Josh went bargen shopping with Connie while the rest of us sat on the beach in the cool air and sunshine.  The kids tested out the water.  It was indeed COLD . . . 

Every group has a show off that will do anything to get everyone to laugh! This group happened to have Johnny!

All you can eat icecream on the ship wasn't enough for Caleb when he had money from Grandma burning a hole in his pocket. 


Our second port was Ensanada, Mexico.  Cathie, Christie and our families got of the ship together and we spontaneously rented a bus to go to the blowhole.  Yes, we filled the whole bus! 

Andy was on his own vacation.  He roomed with my Aunt Merle and enjoyed nearly complete freedom.  We’d show up for breakfast, as he was just finishing up.  If we couldn’t find him he was most likely at the buffet or the miniature golf course.  I think he ate all day long!! He was my only child that didn’t want to go to the kids club because he needed to be 9 to check himself in and out.  He didn’t want to go and get stuck there.  He took full advantage of his freedom! He wasn't happy about getting off the ship with us until he got a giant soda. 

I have seen blowhole’s before so it wasn’t that exciting to me, but the kids LOVED shopping between where the bus dropped us off and the blowhole viewing.  It was nice that it was only one street of venders.  The kids were extremely impressive negotiators and came home with more junk than I care to remember. 

Christie spoiled the little girls with cute “Mexican dresses”. 

I’ll admit that piƱata colada’s and churros were amazing! 

The view was fantastic too!

Day three also included formal night.

Our waiters were really fantastic with the kids.  They made the kids little origami gifts and did magic.  And of course did some dancing with them. 

The tweens REALLY got into dinner and loved ordering many dishes.  Cara and Emi loved the strawberry bisque that was poured onto these strawberries. 

I’ve always hesitated planning a cruise for a family vacation because I look for vacations that provide family bonding.  I don’t know if I’d do it with just my children, but it was perfect to do with extended family.  Ali and Johnny loved the kids club and I didn’t feel too guilty when they were there because they were with cousins.  They did adorable crafts and had fun themes.  Johnny and Ali after pirate night at the kids club! 

I was surprised at how much the kids enjoyed the programs and entertainment.  I loved that they could choose to come or not.  It was usually up to them.  This was so much better than going to a cabin or meeting at a home because we could all relax and not worry about cooking and cleaning.  It was the perfect extended family vacation!


Our final day was at sea.  We took advantage of the extra time to take cousin pictures.  There are always little ones who don’t want to cooperate, but it is fun to capture the moment in time. 

We kept ourselves busy even having lots of fun on our day at sea.  We won a couple of solid gold trophy’s. Caleb made himself the butt of the comedian’s jokes two nights in a row, giving us all a great laugh.  We were sad to see it come to an end. 


We had one last day to enjoy being with the Coombs so we took advantage by going whale watching. Josh drove our family and the Coombs in the RV bus to another port to catch our whale watching boat. Unfortunately the weather was cold and a little rainy, but we were glad to not say good-by yet.  We didn’t see any whales, but we did cruise along with a pod of dolphins for a while.  It was really amazing!  We all LOVED seeing the dolphins!!

After a sad good-by we headed to extend our vacation another week by driving to Santee Lake RV Park near San Diego when the Coombs went to the airport.  The motor home has been such a blessing to us because we don’t have to pay for eating out or staying at hotels.  It makes traveling really affordable. 

The Traditional Portion of Christmas

December went so fast!  It feels like we just put up the Christmas decorations, and they are already down. The kids only slept under the tree once! Good thing we jumped on that early in December. We didn’t have a lot of time for our traditions, but we did have an amazing month!

I am always seeking for ways to keep CHRIST in CHRISTmas. This year we went to the First Presidency Christmas devotional the first Sunday in December.  It was fantastic to be in the same room as President Thomas S. Monson and his amazing counselors.  I felt so good about giving my children the opportunity to experience being in the presence of the prophet in the conference center, and the world-class music of the Tabernacle Choir, in a one-hour event.  We loved it!  It is definitely something we will do again!

The kids didn’t really have any school Christmas programs, but Cara did have a NOVA graduation.  We kept busy on Saturday’s with Andy’s basketball games (of which I have zero pictures.) He was on a team with his buddies and they dominated.  There was talk of it being a stacked team, but really it was just the neighborhood kids that want to play together.

And snow fall, but as you can see Johnny was conflicted about what kind of goggles he wanted to wear.

We enjoyed some pre Christmas celebrations with neighbor gifts . . .

Our ward Christmas Party was unique and memorable.  It was a live nativity complete with a camel and donkey.  It was in a huge, heated barn and really something else.  I guess I’d never seen a camel up close.  I was amazed at how tall and big it was.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Josh's new hobby . . .

Apparently November wasn’t terribly exciting.  I guess I’ve been in the trenches of life and parenting and haven’t taken pictures.  I do adore the way that Ali cares for her stuffed animals.  Cara has purchased a couple of My Life dolls.  (The 18 inch dolls.) She likes to play with them, but I laugh because she is also scared of them.  She keeps them in the box and in Ali’s room.  She wouldn’t want anything coming to life in her room in the night.

Thanksgiving was nice. I appreciate that we don’t have to travel to spend time with family. The kids enjoyed relaxing.  Josh and I traditionally love shopping on Black Friday, but more and more of that is happening online so we didn’t go out this year.  The love of a deal must run in their blood because I woke up to the kids sorting through the Thanksgiving ads and Cara, the girl who saves all of her money, making a list of things she wanted to buy.  I had a doTERRA booth at Novemberfest for the fourth, and most likely last, time.  Josh worked on his new hobby . . . 

Yes, Josh purchased the 1973 MGB convertible.  For months he has been talking about putting up a vision board.  A place when he can visualize his goals and dreams. Finally he printed one thing for the board – a picture of a 1973 MGB.  I harassed him about only having one thing on the board.  I didn’t even know he had a dream car. He told me that it symbolized so much more than a car.  It was a symbol of freedom of time and money among other things.  Two weeks later this car showed up in the classifies. It was as new as it could be and still have the chrome bumper that Josh wanted.  It only had 41,000 miles.  It hadn’t been driven for three years but seemed to be in mostly operating condition.  The CRAZY thing is that they were only asking $3000.  It was worth at least $10,000 more than that.  I strongly encouraged Josh to get it.  I feel like if your dream car only cost $3000 and you don’t have to go into debt to get it you should get it.  I feel like God was willing to give Josh what he wanted all he had to do was pick it up.  He has loved tinkering with it since we picked it up.  We have rode around the neighborhood in it a few times, but the weather got cold and snowy the day after he picked it up (not to mention that the brakes need to be replaced) so it will likely be spring before we really drive it. 

Caleb had his first band concert.  He was SO EXCITED for it.  He invited all of our local family.  He did a great job and I was totally impressed with the progress the band has made in just a few short months.  Playing percussion this year has been a great blessing for him.  He loves it.  I am hopeful that he will find a great group of kids and a place to “belong” in band.  It was sure home for me when I was in High School. 

We are making baby steps of progress with Caleb.  Josh took a Love and Logic parenting class in November, which has helped him to release emotional attachment to the decisions Caleb makes.  Caleb is also becoming involved in the afterschool robotics club, which is basically lego’s for teens. He also took a programming class two nights a week in November so he was extremely busy.  It seems like the busier he is the better he does as long as he feels accepted and successful in what he is doing. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

504 Accommodations: ADHD, Anxiety, Depression

In November met with Caleb's teachers and created a 504 plan for him.  Middle school is tough for everyone, but when your brain is working against you (more than the average middles school brain) it is really tough!  Basically having a 504 means that his teachers are aware of his special needs and they are encouraged to make specific accomidations to better meet his needs and to help him be more successful in school.  The following are the "notes" I took to the meeting and shared with his teachers to help give them a picture of what is happening as well as the accomidations I requested. 

I'm posting this information because it may be helpful sometime in the future or for someone else who is experiencing similar struggles.  These are the "notes" I took to the meeting and shared with his teachers and administrators to help give them a picture of what is happening as well as the accomidations I requested. Some of the accommodations are already making a big difference for Caleb. 

My Goals in creating a 504 plan for Caleb – 
• Prepare for future by building confidence and capitalizing on his strengths
• Avoid overwhelm so he will continue to put forth effort
• Make middle school a positive experience so he will thrive in High school and LIFE

It has taken many years for me to come to terms with the fact that his mental illness is real.  It won’t simply go away through better parenting, more severe consequences, or greater rewards. I thought I could compensate for what he is lacking at school by doing more at home, but he is completely rebelling against my encouragement.  He is not having a “normal” 7th grade experience. I have feared labeling him or making accommodations because life doesn’t make accommodations, but he has to be successful in his education for him to learn to be successful in life.  

Caleb’s ADHD Symptoms: Compared to students in his age group he shows Lack of Self Control and Emotional Control. He struggles with initiating responsibilities, working memory, planning and organizing, and self-monitoring. A lack of dopamine also manifests in obsession with time and the next activity, never being satisfied in the moment. 

Caleb’s Anxiety Symptoms: Headaches, stomachaches, nausea, vomiting, difficulty sleeping, reluctance to go to school, and asking the same questions over and over. 

Caleb’s Depression Symptoms: He is desperate to escape his life.  We limit screen time, which would be his first choice for escape.  Other manifestations include suicide talk and running away.

Accommodation Ideas: 
1. Preferential Seating: Near teacher, as far as possible from distractions, sit next to a well-behaved roll model. He needs encouragement and reminders to stay on task. He may also need follow-up after directions are given to make sure he understands what he is to be doing.  He doesn’t seem to process instructions as well as others. He needs to know that he is noticed. 

2. Incomplete Assignments: Break long assignments into smaller segments, each with a deadline. Full credit for reduced work when he shows he gets a concept.  He will get 0/30 when he has 30 questions on a math test but he will get 5/5 when there are fewer questions and no social pressure to hurry.  Consider doing every other math problem, but if he misses it he has to do the other problem to get the concept? Maybe he could set a timer for 5-10 minute intervals and he could get up and show the teacher his work. 

3. Increased time to turn in assignments. It is like he doesn’t even get that assignments were due until they are posted on his missing assignment list on power school. Present assignments and due dates verbally and visually. 

4. Preferential Power-up teacher: Teacher that will follow-up with most important tasks.  Maybe math or language arts teacher. 

5. Hand Picked Teachers and Schedule: He performs best in an environment where there is structure and teachers who are attentive to needs. We may want to look at his schedule and have his higher academic classes mid-day.  His brain doesn’t get going first thing, and may shut off by the end of the school day. 

6. Testing Conditions: His main problem is racing through wanting. He is also highly distracted, not even knowing what he read.  Should he leave the room for tests? What would help? 

7. Safe Person: Send him to Mr. Winkler when he seems to be struggling or creating problems in the classroom. 

8. Cool Down Pass: He gets pressure built up from anxiety. He may feel sick. What to do when he needs or wants to leave the classroom?

9. For Impulsivity: Discuss behavior in private rather than calling him out in front of the class.

10. Restless Behaviors: I know he taps his pencil and never holds his legs still.  Consider creating opportunities for him to stand or move. Using the timer as recommended in point 2 and allowing him to stand up every 5-10 minutes when he checks in with the teacher may help. 

11. Lunchtime Learning: I love the idea of this natural consequence for most students. Caleb is not motivated by it, and I think there is probably a better option for him.  Maybe he could get out of lunchtime learning by showing Mrs. Crosbie that he has completed one missing assignment during power up? He NEEDS lunch time to be out of a desk and to develop his social skills.  I think it is adversely impacting him. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Stayn’ Alive

As if Halloween isn’t crazy enough, the elementary kids get to dress up for Red Ribbon week every day the week of Halloween.  Here is a sampling of crazy hair day.

Johnny kept telling me “we need to get ready for Halloween!” I finally figured out that what he felt we needed to do was carve pumpkins.  Lucky for him Cara was willing to comply and do the work!

Josh and I had fun dressing as hippies.  My kids hadn’t seen my outfit when I volunteered at the school for the class parties.  I think some of the kids in Andy’s class recognized me before he did. 

Caleb had planned his costume in anticipation of going out to scare people, but to avoid that I allowed him one more year of trick-or-treating.  He would be stealing everyone else’s candy if he didn’t have his own.

Cara loved helping her school class with the Haunted House for the school carnival.  I’ll admit that I was really impressed with the work they did. She is sure growing up!

Andy almost wore his costume out before Halloween.  There were many opportunities to dress up before the big day. 

Ali was a “dark bride” although she didn’t like wearing the vale, but I was just happy that she was happy. 

Johnny was really excited about being a dragon, and I was glad that he was happy with a costume we had on hand.  I love the increased independence my kids are experiencing.  It is fun to enjoy life with them!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Putting Life into Perspective

I have experienced some of the most challenging moments of my life over the past 6-8 weeks.  Caleb’s first few weeks of seventh grade were fantastic, but things went down hill very quickly.  His anxiety escalated to the point that he was throwing up and getting head aches every day at school. For three plus weeks he was calling me 3-5 times every day from the school office, usually to tell me how sick he was feeling.  His ADHD leaves him feeling totally overwhelmed, disorganized and extremely behind in his classes. He is a mostly obedient kid outside of the home, but with Josh and I he is extremely defiant. It is difficult to get him to comply with homework and simple tasks.  I’m not talking about normal teenage sass. I’m talking about serious defiance. He simply refuses to comply no matter what the consequences may be. 

A few weeks into the extreme anxiety he decided that he was going to kill himself.  For about a month he spoke daily about suicide.  There have been a few times that his threats have been accompanied by irrational action.  Each time appeared to be in an attempt at manipulation, for example, swinging the door of the car open while driving because I wouldn’t take him out to eat or holding a butcher knife at his heart because Josh was insisting that he go on a scout camp out with him.

Caleb normally takes about 80% of my parenting energy, but over the past few months helping him has consumed much of my life. We have been working with two different therapists, his school counselor, teachers and principal, and any other resource we can find.  He is a complicated case with three obvious mental conditions working against each other ADHD, Depression, and Anxiety.  Together, with the difficult time of middle school, they are creating a huge mess!

I have done my best in the past to avoid labeling him.  I never wanted his teachers to know that he had ADHD and was on medication for it. I wanted to compensate for any of his personal weaknesses by working harder at home so that he could progress as normally as possible without the stigma of labeling by his teachers or peers. My ideal was for him to NEVER use a diagnosis as an excuse but to learn to compensate and thrive. I didn’t want him to be on a 504 or IEP, but at this point we are exploring all possibilities to help him to begin thriving in life again.

I have been an extremely studious parent reading a bookshelf full of parenting books.  I studied behavior management in both my under grad and graduate schooling.  I dreamed of being an amazing mom!  To say that Caleb has rocked my world of everything I ever thought I knew would be the understatement of the century.  I will easily admit that I have been extremely humbled by this experience. I am learning so much about giving my burdens to God.  I am recognizing in a very real way that so much of life is totally out of my control.  It is my job to do what I can and then allow Christ to carry the burden of the rest.  It is easy for me to see, even as I experience this trial, the personal growth that I am receiving. 

One “benefit” of this difficult time has been my humble heart and my willingness to seek out and follow any prompting giving by the Holy Spirit.  For example, I have called people who I haven’t spoken to for years and found they had just the perspective I’ve needed. I’ve made lists of new strategies to try and I am trying to focus on the fundamentals of living and teaching my family the gospel. One impression I had was to take our family on a trip to the Handcart Pioneer Sites when they had a few days off of school for UEA. 

We started out our road trip at the Utah Olympic Park ropes course in Park City.  We went a few years ago and the kids have been begging to return.  Of course we had to pause for a few pictures on the winter Olympic equipment after which we started with the beginner course.  

Josh was too big for the beginner course so he really wanted to do the intermediate course.  As we watched him the kids decided they wanted to try the intermediate one as well.  Caleb, Cara and Andy did it. I was proud of them for overcoming their fear of heights and they were so pleased that they completed such a challenging course. A discussion about our ability to overcome challenges was the perfect kick off to our weekend. Caleb, even more than the others, was extremely proud of his accomplishment. 

One of our pit stops along the way to Martins Cove was Fort Bridger.  I though it was well worth the time to stop.  In fact I could have spent much longer there just enjoying the beauty and imagining the events that took place there.  I was impressed with the preservation of the Fort and the history was actually fascinating to me.

It was October 19 when the blizzard hit that left the Martin and Willie Handcart companies stranded and the Sweet Water River frozen solid. We spent the day of October 21 at Martins Cove and luckily the weather was beautiful.  We were comfortable in jackets as we did the five-mile round trip walk to the cove.  It is incomprehensible to me the suffering that these handcart pioneers experienced with 145 of the 600 loosing their lives from the most unimaginable conditions. I felt frustrated that our children appeared to not really care about learning or feeling the spirit.  They were mostly concerned with their own comfort.  It was our intention to create an opportunity for personal spiritual experiences.  I don’t know if they received that, but it was a nice day.  They were present and they participated. I believe that they will at least look back on the experience with fond memories. We had fun pushing, pulling, and even running with the handcart. 

The kids seemed to especially enjoy our time at Independence Rock. It may have been because they weren’t being asked to be reverent.  If you look closely at this picture, the little specks are the kids running up the 13-story rock.

While they climbed over (multiple times) I took the opportunity to walk the mile around it, mostly by myself.  I think it is having quiet moments, no matter the venue that provides opportunities for the spirit to speak. It was surreal for me to see a heard of pronghorn’s and watch a bunny as I was considering the names, dates, and experiences of those who left everything they knew for hope of something better in a new country.

 The entire trip I kept thinking to myself that God attended to the people of those handcart companies as they suffered, but why did he allow that severity of suffering to happen? Why didn’t he give them beautiful weather like we had? I’m sure I don’t know the answer, but one possibility is that countless others have found strength to endure and to press forward through difficulty by studying the handcart pioneer stories, especially the stories of those two companies that suffered so much. It sure puts life into perspective!

Our next destination was Rock Creek Hollow where 13 of the Willie Handcart Company were buried following their ascent through Rocky Ridge.  They were forced to walk, some of them up to 28 hours, through the blizzard over Rocky Ridge, until they reached Rock Creek Hollow because if they stopped they would freeze to death.  One thing that struck me is that they did, they all kept walking until they reached camp. Then, that night, due to exhaustion, starvation and exposure 13 of them died. The amazing thing is that they made it to camp. So much can be learned from their determination.

Unfortunately the historical mining towns of Atlantic City and South Pass were closed for the season.  It looks like there are some cool things to see there. We enjoyed a few bonus stops along the way home. One surprise was Fossil Butte National Monument where we saw hundreds of fossils. It was awesome!

We spent our last night in Bear Lake to enjoy a little down time, where we weren't on the go every minute. It is fun to be together in the motor home.  Caleb is usually happy (maybe a little too happy) tackling people and making everyone laugh and scream. The kids play games together and we snuggle up and nap on the bed in the back.  It is nice to have the flexibility of stopping to sleep “wherever we get.”

Our final stop on the way home was at Tony’s Grove.  It was on my list of things to do this summer. Better late than not at all.  There was snow, but it wasn’t cold.  We even took the walk around the lake.  It was so beautiful!!

I am grateful for my pioneer heritage and for the legacy of determination, hard work, perseverance, and most of all testimony that they have left for us. I hope that my children will treasure the memories we have created on this trip and when times get difficult for them they can turn to the things that they learned and felt to strengthen them.