Dec 24, 2013

Adventures with Ahrens Christmas Gift Exchange

If you came here looking for the Ahrens Year in Review photo/letter, that is the blog before this one.  Sorry.  Go there next.

Adventures with Ahrens celebrates Christmas in a different way than most families.  We do not buy our children gifts- per se.  All four of us go to the dollar store (the real everything is literally only a dollar) and buy a gift for each of the other three in the family.  Then, on Christmas Eve, we each open our thoughtful gifts, and that is our gift exchange.  $12+tax, and that is the extent of our gifting for the year.  Those $12 take about thirty minutes to enjoy, take pictures, and laugh with.  This year, was like the last few- NO disappointment at all.

Our children get three gifts under the tree from St. Nicholas, just as Jesus received three gifts.  While I am not sure how much money the wise men spent for their gifts, St. Nick spends $100 per child, per year.  He also puts some sweet treats in the stockings, but our children truly love the day and the season for the traditions we have brought to life.

Our children will wake up to open their three gifts, enjoy a big breakfast of eggs, biscuits and bacon with orange juice (juice being a treat to them) and then, we will head to a noon Mass, where the day finds its' meaning.  Then, later in the afternoon, we will visit with Geoff's side of the family for dinner and time together with family that we don't get to see very often.  The day will end with sadness as each year we realize that we must wait until the first weekend of October to decorate the house again.
Our dollar store gifts ready to go… Brody even got two gifts (but not from the dollar store.)  He was needing some minty chew things.  True story.  

Shay gave Chazman a little snow globe since he has always admired hers, and Geoff gave him a little science crystal grow kit.  (I believe it's the borax crystal thing I did last year.)  I gave him some light up toy.  

I gave Shay a plastic vase with hearts on it and some glitter glue sticks to decorate it so that she will have a place to put her flowers that she gets from doing her plays.  Charlie gave her a ribbon toy, and Geoff gave her a Tinkerbell night light.  

Merry Christmas to my favorite boy child ever.  

Charlie got me another pair of those soft socks I wear EVERY.SINGLE.Day in winter, while Shay gave me a glass candlestick and Geoff gave me a measuring spoon that measures up to 4 tablespoons.  
I gave G the manger piece, Shay the Mary with Baby Jesus figurine, and Chaz gave him Joseph.  

Dec 22, 2013

Adventures with Ahrens 2013 Year in Review

How was our trip to the mountains you ask?  Well… where to begin?  First, Geoff took his birthday week off, so a week ago Friday was his last day at work for a full nine days.  Saturday night we went to see Charlie's mock gymnastics competition, then Sunday we went to a special lunch with our entire family to celebrate all the birthdays from this past week, and then, at night, headed to a performance of "T'was the Night Before Christmas" at the Falany Arts Center.  First thing Monday morning we headed up to the cabin.  (It is a two hour drive, and we made it in less.  SCORE!)
At the "Always Christmas" store in Hiawassee, GA.  
Daddy's 41st Birthday at the cabin
Grandpa Alan and Charlie pondering the great mysteries of life.  Such as- why is it that it's nearly Christmas and it is almost 70 degrees in the North Georgia mountains?  

I gave the kids the day off of homeschool, and after unpacking, our vacation began.    Tuesday we had homeschool, then we played at the nearby park.  Shay realized that she can swing herself, and spent most of her time on the swings.  The weather was amazing and unusually warm for this time of year in the N. GA mountains.  Won't complain.  Meant that we were comfortable in jackets and sunshine to stay and play longer.  Wednesday the kids went on an amazing field trip with my folks.  (I had them complete the assignments I had pre-planned for Wed. on Tuesday afternoon, after the park visit.)  Grandma and Grandpa took them to Cherokee, North Carolina, and went to the indian museum, a train museum, and a homestead.  They learned about pioneer times, and that followed along with our first book from Laura Ingall Wilder.  I was so pleased they had that opportunity, and even more so since Geoff and I got to just hang out together and even went into town to a fun antique store and back to the Christmas store they have open year long.

Thursday was more homeschool, and the park, as well as Geoff's birthday!  We had so much fun that day.  We did our school work before lunch, then headed out to the park, picked up ribs and Carvel Ice Cream cake for dessert.  Friday was grandpa's birthday and Grandpa had offered to take us all to the Franklin, NC Performing Arts Center to see the Nutcracker.  I am not a huge fan of ballets, and have seen about 10 Nutcracker ballets in my lifetime, so I passed, and Geoff and I got yet another few hours alone!  The kids enjoyed, even though Shay and Charlie have already been, she forgot that there was no talking, and when she Facetimed me from the theater to tell me it was over, she immediately informed me that she was "devastated" that there was no talking but that Grandma and Grandpa bought them hot chocolate and popcorn to share during the show.  Okay- little miss dramatic.

We left after a very late breakfast, and got home around 1:30 p.m.  After we got just out of Hiawassee, we saw a rainbow.  About five minutes after that, we see a horse standing on a ridge by the highway, with a REAL.LIFE.SANTA.CLAUSE on his back!  I honked and Santa waved at us from the hill.  It was so magical that I thought we might not get more than 15 more miles before we started seeing fairies or castles or something.  I called my mom, in hopes of letting her know that this week was magical for us. We enjoyed the calm that their cabin and their company brings us.

While the relationship I share with my father has remained a silent one over the past eleven years, he was there for me and my family during a time of extreme challenge this past Fall, and there seems to be a greater understanding of why we are where we are.  For now, we are able to enjoy each others' company, although it is appreciated because we are so silent.  As I have always said, "Actions speak louder than words."   His actions on my behalf the past few months were so supportive and loving that I could not have felt more loved it he used the words themselves.  While he is not the cause to challenges our family faced, he was part of the solution, and for that, I will never be able to properly thank a man that I don't speak to.

While we were gone, I thought about the past year, and the ups and VERY low downs we endured.  I thought about the fact that I have yet to take the time to make an annual holiday letter and photo collage for our family and friends.  I realized that some things can wait, and other things need to be done in their own time.  This year we had some really hard times.

We saw loss unlike anything our family has ever seen.  My cousin lost his long and painful battle with Cancer.  He went home in July, mere weeks before his 28th birthday.  To say that there is a hole in our hearts is an understatement.  Shay and Charlie felt a particular sense of loss when Scott left us, as they both felt very close to Scott.  Scott took time to get to know each of them one the past 7 years, and even vacationed here a couple times.  Our faith carries us each day, and Scott drops his "anchors" for us to know he is still with us.  We look forward to the day we can all be together again, and for now, we look forward to days when the rest of the family can find peace and learn to find joy again.
This was the design Charlie chose for his pumpkin this Halloween.  After I decided to home school the migit, I was put in touch with a non profit organization that grants up to $250 for education needs of special needs children.  The name of the group?  Anchor of Hope.  Yes, they are funding the intensive reading program we ordered and paid for Charlie's religious education curriculum.  Hard to describe the emotions I had when I was introduced to this group.  

This past summer we decided to re-do our flooring on the main level of the home.  We had the faux hardwoods ripped out, and guess what?  MOLD!  Long story short, it was coming from inside the wall.  So, the wall, the floor and all sorts of time consuming weeks later, we moved back into the house.  We did a cement stain based on our needs, and couldn't be happier with it.  We had friends working on our home, so we felt comfortable, although, it was a really interesting process of overnights and long drives to and fro since we spent some of the time in Marietta at my parents as the children had already scheduled day camps I had committed to.
Honestly, my OCD was nothing if not stretched to the max for six weeks this summer.  

Finished product. 

When people come to clean your mold like this after constructing a room within a room as a "containment system," you know it's serious.  I made the crew humor me.  They were fantastic.  

We made it to the Laser Show at Stone Mountain this past Spring.  

Camps…  both children had offers from both sets of grandparents to pay for them to attend camps this past summer.  I was really looking forward to sitting poolside each afternoon with friends, but I knew the offers were to good to pass up.  Shay loves tennis, and opted for two weeks of half day tennis/soccer camp. It really was amazing, even if it didn't focus much on the tennis she had hoped for.  She loved the time there, and I was grateful that she had some place to be while Chaz was at gymnastics half day camp at his gym.  He did so well at camp that we signed him up for unlimited tumbling and gymnastics classes for the month of July.  That was the best decision ever!  He could have gone to to sixteen classes each week, but we allowed to one hour classes, back to back, Monday-Thursday.  That was where he really mastered his back handspring, and now, in the CHAMPS program, he is working his round off double back handspring, as well as working on his back tuck.  He is quite proud of himself, and still loves working out at home, but is utilizing his gymnastics skills as therapy, less and less.

School began the first Monday in August, and by September, I followed my gut and made a major decision about our children's education.  Long story short, after saying I would never homeschool our children… Yep, I am homeschooling both Charlie and Shayna, and in the past four months, we have gone from questioning that decision to knowing without a shadow of a doubt, G-d is guiding "Ahrens Academy," and both children are doing better than ever!

 I had home schooled Shay after she had far exceeded her academics at preschool for her pre-k year, and then sent her into public school kindergarten.  Shay was quickly pulled into all the advanced math and reading programs, as well as tested for the AIM program.  She missed acceptance by a hair in the creativity department.  I was not all that excited for her to be pulled once a week for the program, just to have to make up work she missed in classes while she was gone, however, I was hoping that she would be challenged more than she had been in kindergarten.  In class sizes with twenty-eight students and one teacher and a part time aide, it is hard for a teacher to keep up with each child's development.  I had a suspicion that if she were to be moved to a class size with a ratio of 2:1, she would be challenged.  It took me a few months, but she finally needed help in math this past month.  She is currently working at a second grade math level, third grade language arts and reading, and third grade science and social studies, based on common core standards.  She is technically in first grade by county standards, however, if you met our young seven year old, you would know that she is WAY beyond her years.

Shay enjoys reading, cooking, playing with her American Girl dolls, singing, riding her bike, and her newest venture- ACTING!  She told me that "acting was her life," after her first play.  Both children went to a half day acting camp this past summer, and as we were leaving on the last day, the director mentioned that there were auditions a few days before school was to begin, and that we should let Shay audition for a part in "A Little Princess."  She got a part!  She actually had a significant part, and that allowed her to really experience every aspect of being in a play.  She had lines to memorize (which she did in less than 30 minutes in one sitting!), she went to countless rehearsals, made lots of friends in the green room, and had the most impressive case of stage fright during tech/dress rehearsal week.  I honestly didn't think she would allow herself to enjoy the actual play and then, want to be in another play.  She was amazing for a first timer, and then, did even better the second night!  The day after the show ended, she told me she couldn't wait to audition again, and this time, she helped pick out her audition piece and worked on a song.  She took on auditioning as a little professional, and wanted to rehearse and perfect her audition skills.  She did well, and got a part in the last play, "Madeline and the Gypsies."  She enjoyed the process so much, she said she wants to continue auditioning and acting.  We saw Shay go from incredibly shy and reserved to a shining star.  She amazes me with her tenacity to push herself, and mostly, does things in her own perfect timing.  She is a perfectionist and has the kindest heart of anyone I know.  She is still a fairly quiet and shy child, but when you see her the direction of Mrs. Tisha Gotte of STARS Drama, you know that she is exactly where G-d wants her.  This coming year I have promised to allow her to continue attending acting classes and to audition for other local theaters, if we find a play that would fit with Charlie's twice a week gymnastics classes.
This was her costume for "Madeline and the Gypsies."  

This was part of her "A Little Princess" costume.  She also played part of the indian dancers in that play.  

Make up was harder than she thought… Ticklish much?

YMCA P.E. class

Sometimes home school looks like this.  

This was taken in August.  

This was October.  The colors on the trees were magnificent this Fall.  

Each year I get a picture of the migits with Geoff from behind as they begin their night of trick or treating. 

Some times, social studies looks like this.  

Sometimes science looks like cookies.  Not often enough ;o) 

Charlie had to have a short hair cut for one gymnastics performance this December.  Different, huh?  He is growing it back out, don't worry.  

Santa was available to us for pictures after a play we attended.  He tricked her into coming close then looked to me and said, "Quick!  Get the picture!"  She was so afraid of him.  Her cheeks even flushed.  

Charlie was pretty stoked.  ALMOST as much as Daddy was.  

Celebrating Grandpa's birthday at the cabin.  

Cabin play ground area.  

Charlie and his gymnastics…  The complete opposite in gifts from his sister.  He struggles with education, fine motor skills, and speech.  However, each of those areas has grown in leaps and bounds in the past four months.  Those gaps are quickly advancing with intense schooling at home.  His speech has never been better, and he has been without private speech therapy since this summer when his insurance stopped accepting speech therapy.  He refused to talk at school, therefore, he didn't get to practice.  Two months into being home schooled he was on the phone with my dad, and honestly, my father always struggled to understand him, always using anyone around as Charlie's translator.  Well, this one day, he was talking to Charlie, and after talking to him, Grandpa asked to speak to Charlie.  (He literally thought he was talking to Shayna!)  I nearly fell out.  His speech was so clear and understandable, and continues to improve each day.  Gymnastics has been a special gift to Charlie, as he not only does it well, gymnastics allows physical therapeutic benefits to his sensory needs.

Charlie enjoys doing tricks on his gymnastics bar in the garage, playing on his tumble mat, jumping on the trampoline and scarying the pants off me with greater complexity moves, classical music, playing on his iPod and Wii, entertaining, and truly desires to be in plays with Shay.  He enjoyed the mini-play he performed during the summer camp, and each time he sees Shay on stage, he asks to be in a play with her.  The director says she is using the STARS Drama as her personal mission to share theater with all families, special needs included.  Her understanding and love for Charlie is such a blessing to me, as a mother.  We will see what this coming year brings, as he is busy with twice a week CHAMPS class, and twice a week they both attend a P.E. type class at the YMCA.
Coach Zach is especially gifted with children of special needs.  I think he is just an angel.  

Charlie was so proud of himself after his mock competition.


He seriously dresses like this- all.the.time. 

He was actually a pretty good skater!

Sometimes homeschool looks like this.

This robe was retired this month.  

See the sign.  Well, Charlie announces, "Mom- this place has low prices."  And then, a few minutes later he points to the sign and says, "See, they really do have low prices."  I guess he is starting to read.

Sometimes, home school looks like this. 

Sometimes, home school looks like a field trip with other home schoolers to a friend's house where they raise egg laying chicken.  

I love when Geoff joins me at the YMCA. 

Sometimes home school looks like a visit to a pond to collect the ingredients for a biosphere.  

Saw an outdoor free concert this summer.

One of MANY plays this year.  Shay says "Fiddler" is her new fav.  

The black and white of this is her current headshot for auditions.  

This was right as she walked in to her very first audition.  

Just hanging with the best mom a child could ask for.  

Notice the trampolining migit in the background.  That is how it goes most of the time. 

And THIS is why you must monitor your children's iPhoto on their MacBooks.  The creative editing will get you every time.  

One of the few pool days we had at the pool this summer.  

Yet another concert in Woodstock, GA.

She makes me wish I was better.  

Last day of drama camp with the incomparable, Mrs. Tisha Gotte.  

Our G-d family.  

Jenn and I were ready when the migits got off the bus for summer break.  A cooler of water balloons and water squirters.  

We even got to the aquarium this year.  

Trampoline time.  

Friday Family Fun Night, Super Saturday or a Sunday Funday.  It's one of those.  We get super yummy on those days.  

Yet another play.  

One Friday Family Fun Night we invited another family to join us on an around town  photo scavenger hunt.  This family was fantastic competition for us!  We lost by one!  But dinner was great afterwards and my ego healed quickly. 

Our stomping grounds.  

Celebrating with Nana and Grandpa for Nana's birthday.  

Geoff and I had three dates last year.  This was one of them.  Prayers of thanksgiving to have the house to ourselves as the YMCA gave us a free parents night out.  

Outdoor play… where we spend most of our time. 

Everyone enjoys cooking in our home.

Our homeschool has allowed for the most fun spur of the moment experiences over the past few months.  We spend a great deal of time at the local libraries, and have gone through many series.  Our favorites are "Katie Kazoo Switcharoo" and "The Magic Treehouse."  We began the Laura Ingall Wilder series, and both children seem to enjoy learning about the pioneer life.  Geoff and I have actually enjoyed it as well!  We are doing religion classes at home, and follow the same curriculum our church, Transfiguration Catholic Church, uses.  Shay's rehearsal schedules have made for some incredibly long nights each week of tech/dress rehearsal, and having a flexible schedule has been a blessing to us all.

Geoff…  Oh my Geoff. Where to begin?  Same old same old is usually the story with him.  He celebrated (that is a far stretch from the actual verb I could have used) six years with Synovus back in November.  While he works incredibly hard for us, truth is, he would love to have a position that challenges his intellect, and provides better for our budget.  For now, we are thankful and accepting that G-d has perfect timing, and will never let us be without.  Geoff had an adjustment period this past Fall, but we are thriving and growing from our darker moments, and honestly, I love him just as much, if not more,  than the day I said "I do," for life.

We have made some amazing new friends this past year, have enjoyed family time more now with a seven and eight year old, been healthier than past years, and are grateful for each of you, near and far.  We lift up prayers that each of you know that we are grateful to have you in our lives, even if we don't see or speak to you as much as we'd like to.  I will not wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah/ Kwanza.  I will tell you that at this years' end, we pray for your season to be joyful.  My greeting is not a denial of my faith, but an acceptance of yours.

Much love,