Sunday, September 25, 2016

O Mio Dio

Since I last wrote, our family spent a week at Camp AweSum in Northern Wisconsin at Moon Beach; we welcomed Elena our exchange student from Italy; we all started school (except Audrey who goes to in-home daycare); we went to Wisconsin Dells for a fun Labor Day weekend with our friends LaVonne and Kyla from Chicago; I sold our camper; I turned in my application for full professor; and we, and by we I mean I, added a Jack Russell Terrier called Olive to the family (yes we still have Ruby); My mom and dad have now moved to Legacy House assisted living; and though she’s not quite two, Audrey is officially terrible. "O Mio Dio"Elena says several times a day. This American family is really something.
These two are soul sisters. Elena loves being with Audrey especially when Audrey is not pulling out all the stops on the terrible twos. Did I mention the Audrey throws things? She talks non stop. She's fearless, and she's been known to bite, do flips on the couch, slap Mason, and bite. They don't call it the terrible almost twos for nothing.

Elena gets right in and plays with the kids...but we couldn't talk her into paddle boating in Lake Menomin. It's a long way from the beaches in Sardinia.

First day tour of Menomonie.

She wasted no time making herself at home in the kitchen. We love it when the house smells like garlic and onions.
I resurfaced this tub. I knew that Elena would be put off by the old cracked surface. Okay, maybe I can do even more with the bathroom as Elena has already told me that in Italy, the bathroom is the most important room in the house.

Sisters. One likes to cook and one likes to eat.

The pictures are out of order, but here she comes. I was so excited to see her finally get off the plane.

Mason went on a building spree. He likes it when he has fellow architects to play with.

She's here! I had to go alone to great her because her plan was several hours late. She flew from Milan to Frankfurt, to Chicago, then Eau Claire.

I wanted a dog with a little more pep, so I adopted Olive, a one-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. And by pep I mean...has a pulse and will play with kids and me, of course.
Audrey loves her Elena. It's great to have a sister from Italy. Elena couldn't be nicer. Perfecto!

Leah, Elena, Mason, and Audrey...enjoy the pasta prepared by Elena. Her cooking is one of the great joys she's brought to our house.

Julieanne is 5 already. We enjoy seeing our friends at birthday parties.

Here's Miss Audrey at Julianne's 5th birthday.

Mason was a kitty for the evening at the Menomonie social.

Mason, Audrey, and Kyla. There wasn't a quiet moment.

Our girl squad at Christmas Mountain.

Love the red shoes and the selfie stick.

Here we are petting the two time race winner in the running of the Llamas. I found the event to be overrated.

Shopping is Elena's favorite pastime.

Please say this isn't true. It was on the "what not to wear" rack.

Kyla and Audrey. They were sisters for a few days.  Kyla wanted a baby sister, and Audrey was happy to oblige.

We love Elena's teen spirit. She finds the craziest artifacts to pose with. Here she is with her new boyfriend.

Kyla, Glenda, Audrey, and LaVonne. Livin' the dream for a day.

Elena is a Mustang for the year. She is looking forward to going on the senior trip to Washing D.C. in October, but first this is homecoming week. Watch out world. I've seen this girl in her homecoming dress...and she's a knock out.

Mason's first day of 2nd grade with teachers Ms. Schneider and Ms. Berhow.

Shopping for school supplies. Elena had never seen so many. She starting filming the isles in Walmart just to show American excess (I think).
Audrey says: WHAT?

LaVonne is the one with the awesome hair.

Mason and Kyla at the Dells. Both age 8.

See that teenager taking pictures of Lake Delton? She's with us.

LaVonne and I have been friends since the first day of grad school at UIC.

Moon Beach right after the rain. It was calm and stunning.

More Moon Beach. We will go back every year. We enjoyed meeting the other families. It wasn't relaxing for me since I had to chase two little kids around, but the knowledge I gained and community I became a part of was priceless.

I love how the canoes look when they were all lined up. Such brilliant colors. I feel in love with Northern Wisconsin.

These chairs were full and the beach was brimming with kids and parents every afternoon.

Mason was perseverating on heavy books. He was reading dictionaries and phone books.

Jeff and Shayna Lund took Audrey and me on a canoe ride.

Audrey was too little to be part of the daily group activities. But she enjoyed drumming with the girls.

Just a little bedtime story from the dictionary.

Horseback riding was fun, even in the rain.

That's my Audrey chillin' out on the canoe ride.

Please let me know if you're interested in attending this upcoming workshop:

Autism Spectrum: Understanding the Characteristics to Intervene Humanely

An all-day presentation by Dr. Glenis Benson

October 8, 2016, 9:00-4:00

(lunch on your own)

First Congregational United Church of Christ, 420 Wilson Ave, Menomonie, WI 54751

 Dr. Glenis Benson has supported persons on the Autism Spectrum since 1977.  Her graduate work has all been conducted with persons on the Spectrum.  She has presented nationally and internationally and has journal articles, book chapters and a DVD to her name.  Glenis is a founding board member of Camp AweSum.  She teaches at both UW Madison and UW Oshkosh as well as consults throughout the state and country.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Long Time Gone

Happy 8th birthday to my handsome prince, Mason. I loved you before I met you. Now, you ask me several times a day, "Mom, do you love me?" Yes, of course, I do.  It can get a little annoying to be asked so many times, but I'll keep reassuring you, and I know you are trying to make conversation.

We had a party for Mason in our yard on July 17th. That was a big day since I was also the guest speaker at First Congregational UCC, I was trying to pack for a very long trip. I love having friends over. Nothing makes me happier than seeing kids playing in the backyard.

Mason picked out his cake. He wanted a white cake with pink frosting. Mason and his friends enjoyed playing with sparklers.

Ellen knows how to relate to Mason. He loves to be tickled.
Ellen Carlson gave Mason a map of Wisconsin. She remembered that all he wanted at the Lion King was a map, and we couldn't find one. Mason cherished that map, and every map he found at rest stops. I would here him declare, "Oh, here we are." He had no idea where we really were.

The Ropella's gave Mason a magazine about log homes. It kept him occupied for a few days. He loves to look at house plans and pick out the house he wants to buy when he's a "big man."

I tried to get a picture of Sahlma and Audrey together, but Audrey ran forward too fast. Sahlma and Mason were in daycare together from age two or three. Sahlma and her family are moving to White Water. We will miss them.

I've become a quadraped. Everyone wants to hold Audrey, but she clings to my leg. This is a stage, right? She friendly as long as I'm holding her. Jeff and Darlene were visiting from Florida. Gemma is one month younger than Audrey. Gemma tried to get Audrey to engage with her, but Audrey wasn't having it. We're glad Jeff and Darlene will be visiting relatives in Menomonie every summer. These girls are going to be friends.

I love to see kids of all ages playing in our yard. We are lucky to have so many friends. I'm thankful to Shayna for coming over early to help me get things together. I thought I was losing my mind. I couldn't remember where I had put the plates and decorations I had bought. Shayna asked me if they were in the pantry. Duh, of course they were. I'm also thankful to Leah for coming over and just helping in every way she could. She made an ice run. We always need more ice.
On July 18th, we set out for Fargo. I decided to go North so we could go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and then over to Montana. The campground in Fargo was part of a city park attached to NDSU. When I went in the office, they had my registration for the previous day, so there was only one campground left. It was on the Red River, and it was not good. It was hot and muggy. Mason asked if he could ride his bike around while I set up the camper. I said yes. At first he stayed close, and then he disappeared. A young boy told me that Mason had gone to the play ground. I was trying not to unhitch the Explorer, so I was hoping he would come back quickly. He did return, then as I was calling him to stay in camp, he rode off quickly. He didn't come back. I had to unhitch the camper and go and look for him. There was only one narrow road out of the park. It took a long time just to get out of the park. I didn't know whether to call the police and put out an Amber Alert, or just keep looking by myself. Usually Mason is wearing bright colored clothing, but that evening he wasn't. I finally spotted him by the ball park. When I drove up to him, I was so mad. I tried to get him to explain to me what he was doing. All he could say was, "I wanted to see." I put Mason's bike in the back of the Explorer, and he wasn't allowed to ride it for two days. Ugh, I won't camp in Fargo again. All night cars with loud music drove by. When I think of camping, I think of whispering pines, not loud rap music.

One day two, we made it to Roosevelt National Park. It might as well have been the Grand Canyon. It was so hot. The Midwest was experiencing an unprecedented heat wave. A few days before the trip, I had the handle on the back pop-out bed replaced. Our camper is a hybrid, and the handles need to securing latch to keep the bed from falling out. I had no idea that the new handle was not working. We stopped at the welcome center, then we made out way up 8 miles to the Cottonwood campground. I had no knowledge that the back of the camper had unlatched and the double bed mattress had actually fallen out close to the opening of the park. As I pulled into the campground, a ranger pulled me over and asked if I knew about the back of my camper. Of course, I did not. I can't see anything behind the camper, for sure. Anyway, I headed back to the visitors' center to make a report and hope that someone had turned in my mattress. As I was out in the parking lot putting duct tape on the back of the camper, a ranger pulled up and said he had left the mattress by the phone booth in the Cottonwood campground. I had a reputation. When we got to the camp ground, it was hotter than blazes. There was no running water or electricity. The only campers who seemed happy were people with solar generators. I didn't like our assigned camp, so I drove around for a while trying to find a camp with shade. There wasn't much to choose from. Finally, I ended up in a camp that really a joined another camp. There was a single older man camping alone there. He told me he was from San Francisco, and he was just going wherever the universe told him to go. He took a strong interest in Audrey to the point that I felt uncomfortable. I took the kids for a long walk and tried to avoid this guy. The problem was that Audrey liked him, too; and she really isn't that friendly with most people. The next morning he told me that he was moving on to Sturgess because he knew there would be campgrounds there with swimming pools and electricity. I had planned to stay for two nights in the park, but no way was I going to suffer there in that heat. I decided to go on to Montana. I had no cell phone coverage from T-Mobile for most of my trip. I had planned on using the GPS on my phone for directions, but without cell connection, I couldn't use the phone.
Mason and Audrey overlooking the first vista in Roosevelt National Park. People were spotting buffalo and mountain goats. I spotted Prairie Dogs.

Mason never has too much reading material. He looks for maps, pictures of houses, and pictures of garage doors.

I had to take pictures of the camper to get it insured. You can see that the handle on the left is black. It was that handle that caused me problems for the entire trip. My cousin Krista and her husband Gerry even took time on their anniversary to try to fix it. Gerry finally decided that it needed to be welded. I was going to pull it up to Heber to have him weld it, but I made another mistake. I went up American Fork Canyon. I forgot about the Alpine Loop. Once I was on the loop, I couldn't turn around. I was just praying to safely get to Provo Canyon. When I got to Provo Canyon, my back brakes were smoking. I had to call Krista and Gerry and tell them that we would not be coming up for dinner. I wasn't sure the Explorer was even safe to drive back to my parents' house, but we made it, and the next day it seemed fine.
When we left North Dakota, I must have taken a wrong turn. I ended up going further south toward Billings rather than north toward Havre. I put my first dent in the Explorer in Lewistown. I backed up too quickly, and the camper made a sharper angle than I anticipated. I hit the camper, and put a dent in the left wheel hub. The dent now stands as a constant reminder that I need to be more mindful when I'm backing up. We stayed the night in Lewistown. (Following the Lewis and Clark trail). I had seen an RV repair shop, so I was hopeful that they could help me. When I went there the next morning, the guy suggested that I needed to find someone who specializes in locks. He had no idea what to do to fix it. At that point, I was still using duct tape. At least Lewistown, MT was not as hot as North Dakota. Plus, we could take a shower at the campground. It's the little things like showers that make a big difference. We ate at McDonald's because I needed the free internet. I was contacting my friend Susan every day to tell her where we were. I told her if she didn't hear from us that she should call the police. Sometimes, it was hard to find a wifi spot to check in, and the cell phone was out. NO SERVICE. From Lewistown, we drove through Great Falls. My brother had lived there for a few years with his young family, but it's much bigger now than I remember it. From Great Falls, we made it up to East Glacier. On the way to East Glacier, we stopped at a grocery store in Browning. Browning, MT is home to the Blackfeet Nation. The food there was easily twice what I pay in Wisconsin. As we drove up toward St. Mary, I could see that there weren't many campgrounds. We pulled into  a KOA, and I waited in line while they turned away four people ahead of me. I kept praying that someone would call and make a cancellation. And as the employee was telling me that they were full, another employee said that a space had just opened up. We were so happy to be there with a pool and pancake breakfast. It felt like heaven. Mason played in the hot tub, while Audrey and I swam. Mason also started riding his bike again. This time he stayed close to the camp. I started to realize that this is not a good camper for us. We need something that we can just pull up and be ready. I can't watch Mason and Audrey and also set up the camper. The pop-outs are quite heavy, and they take a while to get the set up right. Then there's cooking, cleaning, etc. I usually had Mason push Audrey around in her stroller to keep her occupied.
I took pictures of the maps of rest stops so I could find my way to East Glacier.
Who knew? I didn't remember seeing this before.
This sign says Welcome Home, Glenda. I lived in Montana from 1993-1998. I went back once around 2000, but I haven't forgotten how blue the Big Sky is. We parked our car and took the free shuttle the top of the East side of the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier Park. I saw a lot of people having fun in the famous open air red busses. I looked into taking a tour, but all of them were a full day tour and cost at least $100 per person. That's something we will do when the kids are old enough to appreciate and tolerate it.
Mason enjoyed his freedom again, and we all enjoyed the cooler temperatures. At night, it was getting down to about 46 degrees. I loved it.
Morgana and Audrey sharing Huckleberry Ice Cream. Audrey calls her Auntie Gana. We also had the famous Flathead cherries.

Mason quickly became friends with Morgana. She was a natural at understanding him. I wish we could move her here to Menomonie!
The next day, we drove down to West Glacier. We went back through Browning and down to Columbia Falls. I had three nights reserved at the West Glacier KOA. The campground was by far the most beautiful campground I had ever seen. There was so much to do there. We even attended a Baptist Worship service on Sunday morning (Probably my first and last). We were fortunate to see my friend Morgana. The kids fell in love with her. Morgana and I were close friends when I lived in Montana, and she helped in the health food store I owned in Bigfork. When we went to Bigfork, I hardly recognized the place. It's probably been fifteen years since I've been there. Electric Avenue had a facelift. The town was busier than ever with tourists. Morgana and I went to an awesome thrift store and then spent most of the day playing at Sliders Park.

The next morning Morgana drove up to West Glacier, and we all to the free shuttle up the west side of the Going to the Sun Road. We had fun looking through the gift shop. Mason wanted a book about the solar system, and Morgana bought Audrey a book called Glacier Babies. We capped off the evening with campfire dinners and s'mores. The next day, we drove around Flathead Lake like I had done hundreds of times, but it seemed more beautiful than ever. I kept wondering if there was a way to get back there. The closest university is in Missoula. We drove south past Missoula and then into Idaho. I had hoped to make it all the way to SLC in one day since I'd done it many times in a truck or car, but pulling the trailer really slowed me down. We made it to Idaho Falls and found the only campground we could find. It was overbooked, but the owner let us pull up to a tent spot on the lawn.
We stopped at Hell's Half Acre in Blackfoot Idaho. Mason got to see lava from a real volcano.

The next day was Mason's actual birthday, July 26th. We arrived in Riverton about 4:30pm. We all showered and did laundry, then went over to Rocky Mountain Care where my mom is in a nursing home. Mason's papa bought him a beautiful birthday cake. Mason wanted white icing, and Papa wanted carrot cake, so they both got what they wanted.
We came into Utah from the north.

We all enjoyed this delicious cake from Schmidt's Bakery. Grandma looked scary to the kids. They didn't want to touch her. Mason finally started giving her hugs. Audrey would not go to her. My brother tried to put Audrey on my mom's bed, and Audrey yelled, "I said, No."
My mom has been in the hospital and nursing home since Memorial Day. Her 100 days allowed by Medicare will soon run out. She remains paralyzed from the waist down. There is not evidence that she will walk again even with a walker. She is working on getting up and being transferred by one person, but as of right now, it takes two people to transfer her. She cannot go to assisted living unless she is a one person transfer. My mom and dad don't seem to have talked about or made a plan for doing anything other than staying in their home and relying on their neighbors and church friends to continue to help them. My mom has repeatedly said she was going to die at home. However, we don't get to choose where we die. My mom was angry and having a hard time accepting that she will not return home. My dad seemed like he would just not hear or acknowledge the need for change. I knew it was going to be tough going there because their neighbors wait for me to come and then tell me what's going on and really ask me what I can do about it. Also, my aunt died last year at this time, and her death has left a big hole in our life.

Audrey and Leo at the splash pad. Leo was wearing a full-body Nemo swim suit.

We took five kids to eat pizza. Mason had fun playing with his cousin Serena. They were singing into the microphone.

Audrey and Cosette playing at the splash pad.
My mom's case worker at Rocky Mountain put me in touch with a woman who helps place people in assisted living facilities. She took me to tour three facilities. One of the facilities was brand new in West Jordan on 4800 West and 70th South. My parent did not like the location. They seem to have agreed that they will go to Legacy House in South Jordan, but this depends on her getting stronger and becoming a one person transfer. Legacy House only has 1 caregiver for every 12 residents. Right now, my mom is used to people doing everything for her whenever she pushed the button. I'm not convinced that she will be able to go to assisted living, but we don't have a back up plan at this point. My parents have a reverse mortgage on their home, so if the house is not sold now, the could lose what equity remains. Their assisted living expenses will exceed the funds they have coming in. We are working on getting my dad's VA benefits, but even then, they will need at least $1000 per month from the trust. Not only am I frustrated that we are dealing with this mess, I am thinking more about how I can be prepared so I don't run into the same problems.
Cousins make the best friends: Mason, Audrey, Lacey, Serena, Leo, and Cosette.

We had fun at Thanksgiving Point at the Museum of Natural Curiosity. Audrey splashed all the other babies.

Pizza and pop with five little ones. And I'm still smiling.

We spent one day with my cousin Kim and her sons Dylan and Alan. We enjoyed laughing and eating together at Costa Vida.

This picture typifies Audrey's response to anyone but mom holding her. Audrey and Mama are tight.
My loves are asleep after watching the Olympics and developing their own tumbling routines.
After twenty three days of living in the car, both kids were covered with snacks and pop. Audrey's car seat needed to be hosed down. Clothes were not for her. She sat there being "thirsty" and pouring water all over.

Audrey was very upset to come home and sleep in her own crib alone. After sleeping with me for 23 days, she wanted to continue.

We are thankful to all our family for making an effort to get together with us. We wish we could spend more time with you, but we appreciate the time we do have. We are thankful to Lisa and Nicole for making an effort to get all the little cousins together. We are thankful to Zach and Tanner for all the help they gave lending extra hands and arms. We wish Tanner success in the Air Force and pray for his safety as he will be deployed to Qatar. We are thankful to Kim for a fun afternoon visiting and eating to our hearts' content. Tres Leches has never tasted better. Good luck with your move to Logan, UT. We are thankful to Krista and Lacey for coming to Thanksgiving Point and also driving to Richfield for Juana's family reunion. We are thankful to Kameron, Jen, Logan, and Jackson for the fun picnic in the park. We are thankful to Liz, Becky, Burt, and Tim for stopping by our house. We have a childhood bond that will never be broken with time. I'm thankful to Becky for remembering that twenty five years ago when our grandma died, I told our Great Aunt Audrey that someday I would have a daughter and name her Audrey. I had no recollection of that conversation, but I'm thankful to my little angel Audrey for coming to our family. We are thankful to have had safe travels even though it was pretty crazy at times. These are times we will not forget.

On Sunday we go to St. Germaine Wisconsin to camp for a week at Moon Beach. This time we will be staying in a cabin. We are looking forward to our international exchange student coming from Italy in two weeks. We hope she enjoys her time with the Jones family.