Sunday, December 14, 2014

Our Make-A-Wish Trip to New York City


This past week, we had the huge blessing of Make-A-Wish granting a special wish for Eliana. Her wish was to go to New York and meet the ballerinas at the New York City Ballet's The Nutcracker!

In an interesting twist, The Meredith Vieira show heard about our story and invited us to participate in a segment as part of Make-A-Wish's and Macy's National Believe Day. That was pretty crazy!

Our trip started when a limo picked us up early Saturday morning and took us to the airport. Everyone was so excited! Our flight was great. The pilot approached us at the gate and asked the kids if they'd like to come see the flight deck. They couldn't believe it. This had nothing to do with Make-A-Wish. It just happened to be an extra special surprise.



The pilot met us as we were getting off the plane and presented each of the kids with wings that said "Junior Crew". They were thrilled!
 
We had a super sweet flight staff loving on our kids during the flight. It took two taxis to get our crew to our hotel and we had lunch at a nice little cafe right across from our hotel. We met up with our very sweet Make-A-Wish rep and got on the most claustrophobic subway ride ever to head to the American Museum of Natural History. Everyone had the same idea on this rainy Saturday. We saw some fun exhibits and watched a great show on space. It ended with witnessing a surprise marriage proposal. (She said yes!) Then we enjoyed a less crowded return route. We settled in our hotel room and ordered delivery from a deli.



Sunday afternoon a limo picked us up and took us to the Empire Hotel where a makeup artist was waiting to get Eliana ready. We spent an awkward afternoon with interviews and lots of walking around with a camera crew. So weird. Eliana wasn't as cooperative as they may have wanted, but she loved being pampered. She was sadly working on a bit of a cold and was all sniffles and grumpy faces during our downtime.

We watched a little greeting video from Meredith telling Eliana that as part of her wish she would be going on stage after the show to meet the ballerinas. We went to the Lincoln Center and got to explore a bit before the show started. 



All of the kids loved the show! During intermission, we went down to the pit and Liam told the orchestra what a great job they were doing. After the show, it was time to go backstage! 
 


We were able to meet a few of the dancers and they presented Eliana with signed ballet shoes. They were so sweet and Eliana was so nervous. She got to talk to them for quite a bit and they did some ballet moves with her. Liam was chatting them up and telling them that everything was so beautiful. 



Her face just says it all, doesn't it?

Our ride home was full of crazed chatter. Everyone was still humming the music and we enjoyed some cupcakes from Crumbs Bake Shop. 





For the rest of the trip, Liam kept asking when we could go back and see the ballerinas again. The next day we headed to Battery Park for a ferry to the Statue of Liberty. It was a cold and rainy/sleety day. Everyone was pretty miserable, but they pushed through it like champs. Hot cocoa helped!



 We spent a short, but fun time exploring Liberty Island.



And finally got to see Lady Liberty. My Whovians were glad she didn't turn into a Weeping Angel!


That afternoon we stopped by Macy's Herald Square for part of the National Believe Day promo. For every letter written to Santa, Macy's would donate $1 to Make-A-Wish. We don't really do Santa around here, but the kids played along to support Make-A-Wish. :)



Things were quite rushed that day and we ended up getting a late start to seeing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. It was so fun! The kids were on the edge of their seats. Literally. I had to keep telling the littles to take their hands off the back of the seats in front of them. :)



The next day, we headed to NBC Studios to film a segment with The Meredith Vieira Show for Macy's National Believe Day.

The Meredith Vieira Show and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon share a hallway. Ricky Gervais was in a dressing room waiting for his time on Jimmy Fallon. Liam and Eliana were walking down the hall when they spotted part of Questlove's bow tie collection hanging on a clothing rack in the hallway. They stopped and were going on and on about the bow ties. Ricky Gervais laughed at my kids, ya'll. And then we got rushed down the hallway.



Meredith Vieira was so nice. She even wrote us welcome letters to read backstage before filming.



 We made it to Rockefeller Center after The Meredith Vieira Show. It was so pretty!




The next day was our last day in New York. We hit up Central Park on probably the coldest day with the worst weather for our trip. 


The kids really wanted to see some sights from a Doctor Who episode called "The Angels Take Manhattan". For example, running across Bow Bridge like The Doctor.






Or pretending to be taking care of a coffee run like Rory Williams at Bethesda Fountain and Terrace.



 Our last subway ride before waiting to leave.



We had a wonderful time thanks to Make-A-Wish, Macy's, The New York City Ballet, and The Meredith Vieira Show. This little princess had a beautiful wish and was happy to be heading home.



You can watch our segment from The Meredith Vieira Show here.


Something that didn't make the cut from our on set segment, was a nod to our boys in the audience where Meredith asked them a question. They were so excited about it and did such a great job.

Meredith had asked the boys if they liked the subway.
Jonathan: Kind of. It was crowded.
(laughter)
Caleb: And we saw a rat!
(lots of laughter)
Meredith: So you really had a New York experience!

If you'd like to read more about Eliana's cancer journey, you can begin with Part 1 of our story, Discovering Medulloblastoma: The Back Story

We spoke a lot with the producers for the pre-recorded portion, but our segment had to be cut to just about 5 minutes. Unfortunately, discussions about our faith didn't make it through editing. I wanted to take a moment here to expand on the biggest question we were asked during the pre-recorded segment.

What got you guys through that time with Eliana being diagnosed and going through treatment?

This was a time where our faith really became tangible to us. It's one thing to say we trust Jesus when things are going along in a day-to-day routine. It is quite another thing to be completely helpless in a life and death situation, yet still be able to say, "Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way." That was a gift from the Lord. That wasn't anything from us.

Ultimately, we trust that God is in control of our lives and our health. While we were/are terrified of the idea of losing her, we understand that God gave Eliana to us and it is his will which determines her fate. One of the hymns that held us together (and still puts Eliana to sleep when I play it), is "In Christ Alone". There is a beautiful lyric which I sung on repeat in my head, "From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny." That's it. He had the final say over death at the cross. He has the final say in every heartbeat of our precious girl.

God used others to provide for us in practical ways. We are grateful for the medical staff who took such great care of her. We had family and friends who physically got us through with coming to stay with us; bringing meals; grocery shopping for me so I could have 5 minutes home with my boys before the next hospital run; helping us arrange childcare; and hosting Liam's therapy appointments. We had other moms actually homeschooling our children! We'll never be able to thank them enough for uprooting their lives to serve us in the name of Christ.  My husband's work was so understanding and flexible. I still don't know how my sweet man functioned day to day when his baby girl was going through all of this miles away from him. Well, I guess I do know. It was all by the grace of God. 
Our trip was a great time of enjoying one another and focusing on the joy that Christ has brought to us through this journey. We are so grateful for everyone who helped make Eliana's wish come true!
 
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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Making Homeschooling Easy Peasy


This year marks our 7th year of officially homeschooling. The evolution of our homeschooling is probably not too far off from others. At first I used a boxed curriculum with everything included and a method for reporting grades. I was terrified of how I could possibly do this homeschooling thing and my husband and I both felt accountability was needed. Next, I moved onto a less restrictive boxed curriculum, because I was feeling a little better. Additions were attempted based on wanting to do some more fun things, but something had to give between the requirements of the boxed curriculum and the other things I wanted to add. I had two kids only separated by a couple of grades and future plans to homeschool our other two children. It seemed to be too much for each of my children to have their own requirements for History, Science, Art, etc. We'd never get our school day complete going in FOUR different directions for all of those subjects.

That next year, I began looking into piecing things together on my own. I began blog-hopping and comparing my homeschool to everyone else's. My good intentions got away from me. Just about every time I saw a free e-book or read a blog post about some new idea, I hit that download button immediately and added it to the running list of what we were going to be covering. Yup, that year kind of fell apart around us.

Somewhere between nixing the boxed curriculum entirely and scrambling to put together my own plans, I stumbled upon Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool.  The first glance seemed a little too good to be true. I looked it over briefly and filed it away somewhere, but I kept going back to it.

Fast forward to April 2013. . .the school year where I burned everyone out with all my awesome ideas. I had revisited Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool and decided maybe I'd just start at Day 1 for everyone's respective levels to see how things go. Well, Day 1 went amazing. So did Day 2. And it kept getting better.

So, what is Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool?

It is a FREE online Christian curriculum put together by a homeschooling mom, Lee Giles, as a ministry to other homeschooling parents. Isn't that wild?!

Here's a little bit about it in her own words from Easy Peasy's About page:

This is my attempt at putting my children’s school assignments online. I am writing it to make it available to other families as well. While it has made our school days run very smoothly, my grander goal is to help other families, especially anyone feeling like they couldn’t homeschool because of time or money pressures. More and more I am finding families who are using this curriculum because it gives them confidence in homeschooling. . .

This school is good for anyone who needs/wants to save money or time. As for money, the curriculum is free. The materials are online and free. You will need to purchase paper, etc., but it requires no books or major supplies. In this way it is also good for those living overseas who have limited means of access to English books, etc. As for time, this is a way for your children to work independently and to free you from planning. . .

Your children will need access to a computer and the internet and to you! The children are often instructed to tell a parent or older sibling about what they just read. Be available or assign an older child to be available. Occasionally they may come to you and say they earned a high five or a hug. Please oblige! About once a week the kids also get a little something extra, just for fun, tucked into their school day.

This school is intended to be college preparatory. They will read challenging books and will always be reading something. Most of the books are chosen from the Robinson and Ambleside curricula. You can read the book lists and specific course descriptions on the individual course pages.

I have sought to make this curriculum comprehensive, but not intensive. The lessons are short, intended to keep the school day short. At one point I had three children doing school on one computer and they were able to take turns and finish before dinner without a problem. Also, children in the same age bracket (first through fourth -L- and fifth through eighth -M-) can work at the same time on half of their school day. My children spend their extra time reading, writing, exploring, experimenting, programming, drawing, creating, working, doing chores, helping others, etc. and PLAYING!
Easy Peasy has truly been an answer to prayer and an end to so much frustration for our family. And we're not alone. When I first came upon Easy Peasy and it's great Facebook community, there were less than 4,000 users. Today, there are close to 28,000 users in the main Facebook group along with many other sub-groups. The Easy Peasy Facebook page has over 36,000 fans.

I fell so in love with this curriculum that I began to help out in the Facebook groups as other parents began discovering the curriculum and were looking for some guidance. From there, I was asked to admin in some of the online groups. I have met so many wonderful parents through Easy Peasy's online community! I have been blessed with the opportunity to help in the creating of some of the high school curriculum. This last year, I was able to design the Easy Peasy British Literature course and I have plans to help out even more. Obviously, I love it!

We are now well into our second year with Easy Peasy and we could not be happier. The curriculum is growing with EP Readers now available in the Easy Peasy Store. EP Readers are the entire reading course. Everything’s in there: assignments, readings, vocabulary exercises, answers, etc. There is always something going on behind the scenes while we parents are able to enjoy such a wonderful homeschooling resource. I am excited about the future of Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool and I am thankful to be a part of such a fantastic homeschool community!



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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

His Grace: Much More Than A Dose


Where would I be without Jesus?

I often wonder this when thinking about my weaknesses, or the things I tend to fall into based on my personality and such. Knowing what a strong grip issues like pride and anger have had in my life even with my Savior beside me, I am not sure what I would look like. I am not sure I really want to know. I mean, yikes!

My home life growing up was full of chaos and violence. Church was a place of refuge for me. There was definitely a facade on my part where I didn't reveal what was happening in my home, but there was a genuine connection being made in my heart. Knowing I had a heavenly father who loved me no matter what. . .this was priceless to me.

Now, I had a lot of misunderstandings about grace. Part of that was immaturity (both mentally and spiritually). Most of it was this feeling that I was incapable of doing anything right to the point of not being good enough for someone to love. Oh, I certainly believed grace and salvation to be a gift. The very definition of grace is unmerited favor, right? Unearned. But, strangely enough, I simultaneously thought that if I couldn't get myself together and stop acting out in anger and selfishness, then maybe it wasn't quite sticking. Like, I was somehow doing this whole grace thing wrong.

On some level, I sort of had the right idea. I can't do any of this on my own. I can't be the type of better that adds up to too much in the end. The very reason I need saving is that I am not good enough. I am not holy like God is. I am not righteous, as the Lord is righteous. If the standard is the holiness of God, none of us can get there. But, my standard bearer understands more about me - more about my true worth - than I could ever understand myself. Jesus offers me (and you) a trade. It is the greatest trade in all of history. Sometimes, I imagine it a little something like this:
"You know that thing about you that makes it impossible for my Father to look at you? That's sin, and I want you to give it to me. I want your secret ugliness, your selfishness, your hatred, your bitterness, your anger, your rebellion, your dishonesty, your unfaithfulness. I want to take it and wear it all like the cloak of shame you have been wearing. And, in its stead? You can wear my goodness, my selflessness, my love, my joy, my obedience, my peace, my kindness, my faithfulness. You can wear it as the cloak of glory that is mine. When my father looks at you now, he will see this glory. He will recognize it. He will embrace you as his very own. And he will never bring up that shame again. You will remember the shame. Oh, yes, you will remember it, because now you can really see how awful it is. Just a glimpse of the Light makes the dark so much deeper. . .so much more insidious. Sometimes you will slink back into those shadows, but you will not remain there. You just cannot. He will take your hand and never let you go. He will lead you. And you will want to spend the rest of your days thanking, loving, and learning about the One who gave you this new life."
I talk a lot about grace on here. (Have you seen my site's title?) Of course, the name is sort of a play on our medical issues, but the reality is that the grace of Jesus is much more than whether we have physical health or an easy life with "perfect" children. Challenges, struggles, and even times of carefree joys are all temporary. Grace is eternal. I never want to look at my life and think that such a gift is somehow just about finding peace and comfort. If I were to do that, I would indeed be doing this whole grace thing wrong.

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