Sunday, August 24, 2014

Miss. Helen Passed Away

Two weeks ago we lost our dear neighbor, Miss. Helen.  Helen was special for so many reasons.  She moved here when Tad was still living in our house as a child.  She lost her first husband to cancer and then met Fletcher Williams.  When they married, she asked  Tad's father to walk her down the aisle - his siblings still remember her as Mrs. Gill, but to our kids she has always been Miss. Helen Williams.  No stranger to sadness, Helen buried both of those husbands and two of her three children - Frankie to complications of diabetes and Melanie to cancer - since she first came into our lives.   She had just turned 89 when she died, having been diagnosed with leukemia just days before.

Miss. Helen was our friend, our nurse (as a retired pediatric nurse she was my go-to person to determine if a cut needed stitches or a limb needed X-rays), a grandma and our neighborhood porch sitter.  She has always had her chair on her porch with an extra (used to be Fletch's) for whichever neighbor chose to join her.  Often, it would be our Andrea joining her, with Tali or Nehemiah tagging along closely behind.  In her latter years, Miss. Helen's hearing and eyesight weren't all that and she and Andrea shared the special bond of the hearing impaired - hollering at each other and smiling often.  They also shared a love of elephants, both sharing with the other the highlights of their own personal collections.  Her grandson Ryan who has Down Syndrome and was much-loved by Helen, was the last one we saw sitting on Helen's chair on the porch, explaining to us over and over again that his whole family would be at his Grandma's funeral.  He sobbed through the whole service.

Helen always had gifts for all the children at Christmas and a card for the ones who visited her regularly on their birthdays.  The tree in her front yard still bears the mouth, nose and eyes she bought and hung on it to entertain all the neighborhood children.  The Mary statue in the backyard is the centerpiece of a small memorial garden some of the neighbors planted for her when Fletch died.  It's all I can do to not pull out my gardening shears and trim up the bushes in the front yard which Helen would be doing if she were still here.

Helen died on a Friday.  On that Tuesday, the kids came in and reported they had seen her in her car in her driveway and she had spoken to them.  Since this information came mostly from Andrea who is somewhat of an inaccurate reporter, we had trouble figuring it out.  Helen had been in and out of the hospital for a month or two and as far as we knew was living out her last days in a nearby nursing home.  It turned out that on the day before, Helen had just visited with her priest and had been putting her affairs in order.  That behind her, she asked her daughter Mary to take her to the casino.  She played her slots for the last time, went out for ice-cream and then stopped by the house to sit in the driveway and get one last look at her homestead.  She had asked Mary to call the children over when she saw them in the yard and when they came to her, she matter-of-factly stated to them that she was going to be dying soon.    With that, Mary drove her back to the nursing home where she died a few days later, peacefully, with her remaining family around her.  Helen was very ready to meet up with Mr. Gill and Fletch and Frankie and Melanie again.  She was a faithful believer and a model neighbor and friend.  She cared for everyone.  We miss you, Helen.  I can't imagine Mary's heartache and loneliness that must go well beyond our own.  And I thank you, Helen, for that last parting gift of your honesty and love toward our children.  Andrea is no stranger to profound loss herself and Helen definitely made her own passing much easier  for Andrea by sharing her own peace and joy in her last days.

Miss Helen has passed away but our love for her never will.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Vocational Training

The high school specials get to do these awesome trips about once a month with their vocational transitions advisor called Community Based Instruction (CBI for those in the know).  Today they took a trip to ChickFilA supposedly to get a taste of various jobs they could tackle should they ever be hired by said company.  Sometimes I'm really not sure how helpful the trips are but the debriefing sessions never cease to entertain.

Today Andrea wanted to tell me about it immediately through the door off the bus.  That sweet lady in the picture is named Betsy - just like her sister - that was exciting!  She also had a little stuffed cow bearing a "Eat more Chikin" placard around its neck which she proffered to Zak who was a wee bit hesitant to accept.  Once she unloaded the cow, she donned her official ChickFilA employee paper boat hat and proceeded to tell me what they had for lunch.  Unfortunately her grasp of articulation is a bit…um..impaired.  Ten minutes later I learned that they had eaten waffle fries for lunch.

Yum but, uh, what did you *learn*?

We wear headset.

You wore the headset?


I'm thinking wearing the headset probably involves a pretty good grasp of those articulation skills she just butchered, not to mention, most of the headset wearers I've seen also man…woman…person? the cash register.  Last official report I saw Miriam was still trying to discern a nickel from a quarter.

Miriam!  I moved on to Miriam to see what she had learned on this trip.  When asked about it, she smiled broadly and said

We learned to say Pleasure You.

Pleasure you?

Yes.  Pleasure You.

Just those two words? Just like that?

Yes.  (and here she pronounces it very carefully so as not to possibly be misunderstood a third time) Pleasure You.

Philip was a bit more helpful.  He was also very enthusiastic about wearing the headsets but then went on to describe more practical jobs they had learned, such as clearing tables in the dining room.

Their advisor sent me these on-the-scene pictures.  I really love them and I can just imagine how that would go:

Welcome to ChickFilA how may I pleasure you? And for the love God, please don't order waffle fries!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

2013 - What We've Been Up To

Ok, so maybe one post a year is what you get but I do have a hankering to start writing again so who knows.  It's been an eventful, albeit angsty, year for us.  Lots of changes happening - shifting and moving and growing.  We now have 6 teenagers in the house - 4 of them turned 16 in 2013.  We have a licensed driver, another with a permit and we can actually allllmost see the end of our diapering days - after 17 years of 1-3 kids in diapers at any given time!  This was the year of the Great Room Shift - a project involving building a new bedroom, installing two doors, painting, and shuffling around four other bedrooms and moving 9 kids.  It is, in fact, still a work in progress but in 2013 we managed to complete the basic structure of all the rooms and get all kids settled where they belong.  It was also another year of changing churches for us.  Over the summer we began to feel a bit too big for our small Ukrainian mission parish and are now beginning to settle down in a larger Antiochian Orthodox parish in York, PA to which we hope to move closer once we launch JT and Ben.  St. John Chrysostom has been a bastion of generosity toward our family and we are so happy to have new friends, while trying to stay in touch with our first and very special Orthodox church family.

Tad's big fun for the year was an ensemble role in a local theater company's production of The Producers.  The show is quirky and fun and irreverent and involved him dressed in leather.  He had a blast and he totally rocked that part!

I've been doing some more teaching - signed up at the local college to teach homeschool acting and improv classes.  I've also been trying to get back into performing myself, taking classes and getting onstage whenever I can.  I did one brief performance at Magooby's comedy club and another at The Creative Alliance for the Stoop Storytellers.  My goal is for 2014 to be full of chances for me to get back on stage and make people laugh!

Here's a line-up of what the kids have been up to:
 Zachary will be turning 3(!) in March and will be my forever baby of the family (yes we are DONE growing our family - just coasting from here on out).  He spends his days lining up cars on any surface he can commandeer, learning fight tactics from his older brothers and alternately humming the Star Wars theme and the Imperial March in perfect pitch.  He loves everything Star Wars and gets whatever he wants.  He is the cutest Beast any of us have ever seen and he has the whole family wrapped around his whole danged hand.

 Faith turned 4 in August and her personality is a strange mix of everything girly as taught by a gang of boys.  Her world revolves around Hello Kitty and being cute and she has plenty of both.  She is our star Blond - from the top of her head to the very innards of her brain.  Her favorite activity is face timing her godmother whom she absolutely adores. She and Tali came out of the Great Room Shift with new beds, clouds painted on the walls and a Zak in their room.

 If I could sum up Tali in one picture this would be it.  She is her own person.  She turned 5 in June and had a life-altering experience in August as a flower girl for my nephew's wedding.  She spent several days with the wedding party being pampered and pal-ling around with her fellow flower girl.  She loved all the grown up attention and responsibility and cherishes those memories in her heart of hearts.  Sadly, we got a flat tire on our way to the wedding and missed her big moment!  We made it in time for the reception to be able to watch her interact with all her new-found friends.  I can see this kid has lots of adventures ahead of her.

Nathan is the lover, caretaker and torturer of all the family pets.  He often wears the ferret to do his math (which he has whooped in spite of what he may tell you about how much he doesn't like it) and never forgets to feed the dog.  He turned 7 in July.  He and Miah had their second season of Parks and Rec soccer which he loved.  Nathan is an out-of-the-box thinker with emphasis on the word think.  He always has an idea to share, a project to do or a problem to solve.  In The Great Room Shift he gets to share a room and a bunk with his best buddy Philip.  He has the tenderest of hearts towards Philip and Andrea and thinks the world of them.  He and Tali sang in their first choral performance at our homeschool choir's Christmas production.

 Oh my! What can I say about my Davey?  He turned 9 in August and is growing into such a thoughtful little person.  He is boisterous and loud and constantly in motion and somewhere in the center of that tornado is a strong, sweet spirit .  He also played Parks and Rec soccer this year and thinks he might want to try travel next year.  He is most commonly seen around the house with a weapon in hand and considers himself Zachary's primary instructor of tactical battle moves.  He enjoys Science and is in his second year of learning karate at our homeschool co-op.  Tad cast the spell of role playing and computer games over him and John and they spend lots of time pursuing those hobbies with their dad.

John is still our budding chef.  His homeschool course this year includes weekly cooking challenges and he is working his way through two on line courses in artisan bread baking and croissants as well.  He was relieved when we took the pressure off to cook for the whole family and now gets the chance to make recipes as written without quadrupling the ingredients.  He's a well-rounded dude who also enjoys science and has some natural acting instincts.  He also played Parks and Rec soccer, takes karate at homeschool co-op and is now among the rugby-playing Klopcics, playing his first season of touch rugby in the Spring.  He reached a landmark double digits two weeks after David's birthday.  He and David got their own castle dungeon in the basement in the Great Room Shift.  If he can't be found elsewhere, I can pretty much bet he's camped out in his top bunk with a good book.
 Betsy turned a beautiful 12 years old in September and her insides are as sweet as her outsides.  She is also an avid reader who devours books more quickly than I can feed them to her.  She has a unique sense of style.  She played her second season in the Spring with North Bay touch rugby and loved the friendships she made and being part of such a family oriented sports organization.  This past year she taught herself (and a few siblings) how to knit which has manifested itself in lots of pouches and purses distributed amongst her sibs and friends.  Betsy took an improv class with the Baltimore Improv Group with one of her best friends and remains interested in theatrics. She also loves to write and has created many an adventure for her younger siblings.   Her highlight of the year may have been having her turn in Williamsburg for a week with her Muffy and Grandad all to herself.

Ruth and Betsy became roommates and best buddies in the Great Room Shift.  Ruth passed the teenage mile marker just in time for the new year - turning 13 a week before Christmas.  We have been very fortunate that her sickle cell disease has remained asymptomatic for another year.  She got to spend 2 weeks at Grammy's house in Ohio all by herself which was a great break for her from all the craziness here.  She is an 8th grader at Southampton Middle School and has added some fun new activities to her schedule.  She has been able to take up flute lessons at school and joined the Special Olympics cheerleading squad.  In the Spring she participated in the Staccatos production, being one of their best singers with a speaking part and also earned herself a solo in her school's Winter Chorus concert.  She has also been teaching herself piano - definitely one of our most musical kids!

Ben was the last to turn 16 for the year in November.  He has been through driver's ed and has his driving permit but he prefers to take that slowly (I can't imagine why he wouldn't want to be a licensed driver in our household!). He has had an extremely busy and creative year.  Probably at the top of his list of favorite activities is getting involved in a small film production company run by a home schooled friend of his.  Together they made a couple of fun little videos, produced three videos for a contest and Ben is now the props and costumes guy for their Star Wars fan film currently in production.  He has crafted masks, weapons, costumes and props - both for fun and for production and is thoroughly enjoying the exploration of new materials and construction processes.   He and his cousin drafted a friend to participate in an intense  game development contest for which his management skills helped earn them top honors.  He has been studying hard mostly under the tutelage of my sister in Randallstown where he goes to "boarding school" for a few days every other week.  He has begun his college search and is trying to define his varied interests into a recognizable and desirable major which is proving a bit difficult.  He finished his second season with the tackle rugby team with whom he will be traveling to Ireland in 2014 and played his last season with the touch rugby program.  Ben was somehow able to maintain his bachelor sanctuary in the Great Room Shift. 

 Philip was the third to turn 16 in July.  He is now officially the world's largest Korean and towers over me in height.  I think he wins the award for most personal growth in one year, growing remarkably in impulse control and ability to have much more independence.  He is in his third year at C Milton Wright high school in a diploma track program which is proving to be quite a challenge for him.  He keeps himself busy at school with lots of friends he's met through Chorus (where he also earned himself a solo in the Winter Concert!!), Best Buddies and Sports for Life.  He participated in the Staccatos production but thinks 2013 may have been his last year for a while.  This year his Parks and Rec soccer team took first place in the league (again!) and he got to participate in high school sports as the ball boy for the Varsity soccer team at C Milton.  In his free time he's usually with his best buddy Nathaniel and he actually got a chance to get on a plane with Nate and fly to Maine to vacation there with Nate's family.  He loves to read comic books, is working on his sports card collection and prefers to listen to music on his iPod over any other activity.

Andrea, avid elephant collector,  was the 2nd to turn 16 in June.  She has had an exciting year as well - especially as the recipient of a new Ponto bone assisted hearing aid.  When her original BAHA broke and could no longer be fixed, she became one of the first people at the John Hopkins audiology center to try the new Ponto technology.  So far we are very happy with it and Andrea likes that it came in a box full of fun stickers with which she can accessorize it.  Andrea is in her 3rd year at C Milton Wright on a certificate track program.  She now has not one, but TWO jobs where she is gaining vocational skills she will need when she gets launched into the great wide world.  She works in her school cafeteria helping as needed - usually packaging cookies and wiping tables.  She also got a new job this school year at Miah's elementary school as the school paper shredder.  She keeps very busy with her many friends at Best Buddies, Sports for Life, Special Olympics Cheerleading and her community based instruction trips.  She had a role as a maid in the Staccatos production and spent quite a bit of time on the sidelines of the C Milton Wright field cheering on her brothers and friends.  She is our family ambassador to our elderly neighbor, making several trips a week to visit with her and loves to send cards, notes and pictures to all of her friends.

JT was the first to turn 16 in January and as of next week will be 17 - which is officially the number of years we've been doing this parenting thing now.  His life is all about school, soccer and work - we don't see much of him awake these days.  In 2013 he finally got to reach his goal of playing for a club soccer team.  He joined the Baltimore Bays and went to tournaments around MD, PA and even one in Manhattan.  This year his team will do all those, plus they are NC bound as well.  He hopes to play soccer in college and we are dipping our toes into the NCAA recruitment process.  In order to help pay those hefty soccer fees, he has now completed a full year as an employee at a Burger King owned by his coach where he's learned some really valuable lessons about life.  In addition to all that, he is a junior at C Milton Wright where he also plays trumpet in the band, played for Varsity soccer (which won the regional championship this past season) and finished out a stellar Spring track season as a hurdler and member of the relay teams.  He is interested in pursuing some aspect of sports medicine.  He is our first licensed driver and so far has only used his newly earned license to drive himself to and from work.  I'm not sure how long it will take me to get used to seeing him grab my car keys and just head out the door.  At almost 6'3" he towers over the rest of the family and makes it easy to identify which fingerprints are his (generally the ones on the ceiling). In the Great Room Shuffle we moved the crib permanently out of his room and he acquired his own bachelor pad.

The oldest but shortest, Miriam had a milestone birthday this year, turning 18 in October!  We took her to social security where she filed for disability benefits and is now "earning" a monthly income and paying us rent and for her own medical bills and personal items!  (Woot! woot!)  She is also in her third year at C Milton Wright where she is continuing her filing job in the office as well as her job at a local assisted living facility polishing the ladies' nails.  She landed a pretty big supporting role in the Staccatos production as Whitson the detective's assistant.  She also is active with Best Buddies, Sports for Life and Special Olympics cheerleading where they will all compete in June.  She is still all about Disney princesses, definitely has a mind of her own and in her spare time loves to color, listen to Disney music and croon along on her karaoke machine.  She and Andrea now have their room all to themselves where they live together like an old, married couple.  Never before have I seen God so perfectly match two sisters as the best of  friends.

 And finally, we get to Adora and Nehemiah.  Adora lit up her cake with 27 candles in October (huh?! How did she get that old?!) and Miah turned 7 a few weeks after Nate.  They are living in a basement apartment with a homeschooling friend of mine a few minutes from us and Miah is in 1st grade at Hickory Elementary which is a great school.  Adora is the family hair artist (there's been lots of coloring and braiding going on) and soul food chef (holidays aren't holidays without her fried chicken).  Miah mastered reading in 2013 and he and Nate tore up the U8 soccer field together while Adora played soccer mom.  They come "home" for dinner most evenings and Adora is gracious enough to occasionally kick me and Tad out of the house for some alone time.  No doubt they are just as much family as the rest of the monkeys in this post.

 I wish all my friends, family and blogosphere readers a happy 2014!