In January when we were seeing a certain specialty doctor at Children’s Hospital Colorado, I mentioned the trip we had just returned home from the month before. I mentioned how we drove the very long way to see my mom, how we went to Mount Rushmore, how two of my sons went to different renowned doctors in the Twin Cities, how Vince received his chemotherapy at CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) while we were at my mom’s house, etc.
“We have a beautiful country and it’s great to see,” Doctor said, “but you have to stop touring the country through children’s hospitals.” She explained to me that she has another patient who has a very rare medical problem and that mother goes to a new children’s hospital in a new area of the country “at least every year”. Doctor thought is was always great to get a second opinion, but that if we were on vacation, we should simply have fun. “Stop touring the country through children’s hospitals,” was her conclusion.
I had never thought of it that way, that we were touring the country through children’s hospitals, but she was right. While seeing my beloved mother in New Jersey was a great part of the trip, the main reason for the trip was to visit these very renowned doctors and get their expert opinions. Vince’s neurooncologist said the neurooncologist at CHOP was the “top guy” in the country for Vince’s particular combinations. I had read some very promising things about the neurooncologist in Minneapolis and the orthopedic doctor (for my oldest son’s extremely rare bone deformity in his leg) in St. Paul. That, combined with the fact that our insurance (through my husband’s employer) provides a slight reimbursement for traveling far for Vince’s treatment/ second opinions through their Pediatric Cancer Centers of Excellence Program meant Road Trip.
We had an excellent trip, all things considered. I got some great answers in Minnesota. Vince is now on the treatment proposed by the Minneapolis neurooncologist and we are making plans for my oldest son to have surgery on his leg (in a way that they don’t do in Colorado) in St. Paul. My wonderful friend came with us for one leg of the trip and watched my other children in Minnesota while we went to the doctors. My sister flew to Chicago and helped us drive from Chicago to New Jersey. We were able to spend a long time with my wonderful mother and my son was able to keep up on his chemo treatments at CHOP. Kevin flew to Cleveland- I met him along the way and he helped us drive from Cleveland to our house in Colorado. Yes, it was a crazy trip. Yes, I had my six children seven and under with me. Yes, I saw parts of the country that I had never seen before. But the most important thing is that I learned some very valuable insights about my sons’ health conditions that will hopefully lead them to overcome them.
I will do it again, even this year as we make plans for leg surgery 1900 or 1000 miles away. I told you that I will go to the ends of the earth for my babies, or at least the ends of the country.
So, yes, I toured the country through children’s hospitals. Guilty as charged.
Posted in Vince's Brain Tumor Battle by Laura with no comments yet.
I love John Saxon. I first became acquainted with John Saxon’s math program when I attended high school since my school used the program. I was always good at math, but I had never been challenged or reviewed like I was with John Saxon. When I was a junior in high school, my teacher happened to be the Mathematics Department Head. Mrs.MathDepartmentHead was always singing the praises of John Saxon and frequently showed us a snapshot of her with John Saxon. As a stupid teenager, I rolled by eyes, but now looking back on it, I see she was right- John Saxon’s math really is awesome. As I am teaching elementary math to my young children, I am remembering my own elementary math and I see how the formation of my own non-Saxon Math was lacking and how my Saxon-years were different as Saxon Math actually forms the mind mathematically. My junior year math class was Mrs.MathDepartmentHead’s pride and joy. We were her most advanced group besides Calculus. There was a math book conference of some sort and John Saxon himself would be there. Mrs.MathDepartmentHead volunteered our class to work the conference. When the day came, I was very behind on my schoolwork in other subjects. I talked my parents into letting me take the day off from school. I knew that since my entire math class would be out (on the trip) and since those students were in the majority of my other honors classes, I wouldn’t miss any work since the other teachers wouldn’t teach much with 3/4 of the class missing. My parents agreed and I didn’t go to school that day or attend the math book conference. John Saxon died a year later. I forever missed the opportunity to meet him or at least stand in the same room with him. And now all these years later, I regret playing hooky from school and never meeting John Saxon. It is amazing how I feel the consequences of this seemingly insignificant decision all these years later.
I try to buy used homeschool books whenever I can- I am all about economics. A few times, kind and generous people who have used the same curriculum that I have have even given us some of their used homeschool books. By nature, our family of six young children in a small house are not very gentle on our things, homeschool books included.
Our copy of the Saxon Math 6/5 Solutions Manual was falling apart. The front and back covers were gone and I thought it was beyond tape and clear contact paper. My oldest son was using it and I intend for it to last through all six of our children. I didn’t want to fork over $20- $25 (that I don’t have) to replace it. (But here is my Amazon affiliate link if you didn’t get yours yet.) I will detail how I fixed it here and perhaps you can copy this procedure if it will work in your own home for your own books. Oh, and for the curious who have picked up on the fact that my son is only in Second Grade and yet is doing fifth grade math, he’s a math genius, that’s all. Put another checkmark in the why-it’s-good-to-homeschool-column and let his mama brag- my son is able to set his own pace in our homeschool and that pace just happens to be three grades ahead in math.
To fix a homeschool book that lost its cover, first gather your supplies. You will need string, the book, a drill, a long thick drill bit, a pen or pencil, a piece of looseleaf paper, a plastic folder with fasteners inside, and a piece of wood you don’t care about (I used firewood).
Next, put the looseleaf paper on top of the first page and trace the holes.
After that, drill the holes you have marked, with the whole book on top of the wood you don’t care about. (I didn’t want to drill my kitchen table.)
Next, use the string to secure the book into the fastener holes and tie it. You’ll probably be able to do a better job than me- I ended up with a bit of loose string, but I think that’s OK.
Next, depending on your string type, burn the ends if necessary to prevent unravelling.
And there you are, here is your fixed homeschool book with its new cover. I should probably add a label, but I didn’t yet. Hopefully, it will last through my remaining five children’s use. I have had it in use for about a month or two after I have fixed it and so far it is holding up perfectly.
In the pictures above, you can see what the fixed book looks like from the outside and from a random page on the inside.
Posted in Homeschooling in Our Little School on the Prairie by Laura with no comments yet.
Having children is all about milestones. There are milestones for baby…
When Baby rolls over.
When Baby sits up.
When Baby eats solids.
When Baby crawls.
When Baby stands.
When Baby walks.
The Milestones continue into the preschool years…
When He can count.
When He can say his ABCs.
When He knows his sounds.
When He learns to read.
When He can write.
There are religious milestones, too, like when He says his prayers, or Receives His First Holy Communion.
There are big-boy milestones, too, like when he gets his drivers license or graduates high school.
Milestones are a huge part of growing up- they really are.
Today is three years since Vince had his first brain surgery.
A few weeks ago, this picture popped into my facebook newsfeed. Apparently it had been one year since Vince had surgery to have his port inserted. A milestone for sure.
With Vince and his brain tumor battle, he has tons of milestones we never asked for. Who ever wants a port and who wants to have one for a whole year (and counting)?
When Vince was an infant or when I was pregnant with him, my husband and I anticipated his milestones. We wondered when he would walk. We wondered when he would talk. We thought about his future. Would Vince follow in his father’s, grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s footsteps and be a Lincoln County farmer? Would he get married and make me a grandmother? Would he become a priest? Never, never, never did we think he would have brain tumor. Never, never, never, did we think he would have all of the milestones that go with it, like a port, chemo, experimental medicine, MRIs, speech, PT and OT to overcome his residual effects. I never even knew what a port was.
Vince’s brain tumor battle has brought many more milestones with it, milestones we never asked for, milestones that were never even on our radar.
Posted in Vince's Brain Tumor Battle by Laura with no comments yet.
Are you familiar with the All Souls Day Scramble? A typical All Souls Day goes like this: Weeks ahead, Father will announce that there are sheets in the Church lobby on which to put the names of those faithful departed. Other Catholic organizations will mail you ample papers requesting the names of souls, too. Then there is my scramble. I usually forget to mail the list into the organization. I may have prepared it, but I forget to mail it. Either way, these poor souls do not get their Mass. As far as the sheets at my parish, I may fill them out, forgetting about 75% of those poor souls. In the car on the way, I may think, ‘oh, I need to put down Suzy Jones’, but when I get to Church, that is a different story. Usually, I will still be thinking of forgotten names until Lent.
November second is All Souls Day. It is the day (well the month, actually) when the faithful pray for our faithful departed. There are special graces for this. Most parishes have an All Souls Day Mass or even a novena of Masses which are offered for those souls which we parishioners designate.
A few years ago, I found a way to avoid the All Souls Day Scramble. I typed a list of these faithful departed souls on my computer. I saved it. I printed out two copies, one for my parish’s Masses and one for that other Catholic organization. (For the record, these were mailed in a timely fashion this year.) I now have it on my computer, ready to be added to throughout the year, and ready again for next year to avoid the All Souls Scramble.
Eternal rest grant onto them, O Lord, and may Your perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God forever rest in peace. Amen.
Posted in Catholic Organization by Laura with no comments yet.
Hello, is this Mrs. ___?
This is Sally Smith. I’m a nurse in the neuro-oncology department at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Your son had an MRI today.
Yes, he did.
Well, this isn’t really easy for me to say, but your son has a brain tumor.
I know he has brain tumor. He had an MRI to see what that little lump was at the base of his skull.
No, he has a brain tumor. In his left frontal lobe.
Yes, he has a little lump at the base of his skull. That’s why he had the MRI.
Yes, but the MRI found a brain tumor.
So, the brain tumor is a separate thing?
Yes, the brain tumor has nothing to do with the little lump. We made you an appointment. You need to bring your son in tomorrow at 10 am. He will see Dr.Neuro-oncologist and Dr.Neurosurgeon, see them both.
The brain tumor is a separate thing.
What? Are you saying he has a brain tumor? A brain tumor?
Yes. Your son has a brain tumor. (pause) It’s probably a low grade one. If it was a really bad brain tumor, we wouldn’t have even let you leave the hospital. (pause) So you need to bring him in tomorrow at 10 am to see Dr. Neuro-oncologist and Dr. Neurosurgeon. We were able to get them both to come to the appointment.
Even though I remember much of this conversation, I don’t remember the rest of it.
I was home alone with the kids. That morning, Vince had an MRI to investigate what the lump was at the base of his skull. The other children had slept at their grandparents’ house the night before. We went early in the morning to Children’s Hospital Colorado to take Vince to his MRI. We came back as soon as we could. We met Kevin’s parents and the children at the Turkey Crossing Cafe. We had a nice meal and went home. Kevin then went to his parents’ house to do some farm stuff. And that’s when I got the phone call, the phone call that changed everything, everything ever.
I managed to somehow call Kevin and tell him I needed him to come home immediately.
I remember that day, January 2, 2014 to be exact.
I remember that phone call.
And I always will.
Posted in Vince's Brain Tumor Battle by Laura with no comments yet.
Posted in Laura, Vince's Brain Tumor Battle by Laura with 6 comments.
During our many trips to Children’s Hospital Colorado, I have bumped many people in the hall. Some of us had lengthy discussions, some we have just seen or see all the time and some we have just seen once or twice. (I have changed all the names here.)
There’s Sally, the teenager. Every time I see her, she looks worse and worse, weaker and weaker. She comes by herself and meets her father at CHCO after he comes straight from work, leaving early. I have no idea what type of cancer she has and if it is her disease or the treatment that weakens her, but I think of her often and cannot imagine what it must be like to go through that as a young lady.
There was John and his father. John is also a teenager. He was there for his first annual MRI and checkup. He had had a brain tumor, had a few surgeries, had been on and off of chemo for a total of 8 years. He was clear and was down to annual MRIs for the first time. John’s father said the doctors had told him John wouldn’t make it, and I’m so grateful that he is still with us. John had a stroke from one of the surgeries and still walks with a limp and has limited use of his non-dominant hand. But he is still with us and smiling. What a nice young man. It was so nice to see John on the other side of treatment.
There was the lady and her teenage son Ernie who had down syndrome and leukemia. Ernie’s treatment required hospital admission during the week. For months and months. Twice. Ernie’s half-sister had to go stay with her otherwise absent father because she was not allowed in the in-patient areas. Ernie’s mother was a single mom and somehow held it all together. I haven’t seen them in a while and I pray that it’s because Ernie has recovered. Or moved. I don’t want to think of any other possibilities.
There was Stacy and her mom. Stacy was a teenager and had just started chemo and had to receive it six days per week for three weeks. She had long dark straight beautiful hair past her butt. I’m scared to think what happened to it.
There was Suzy, the single mom whose son Peter had only spent one day outside of a hospital ever in his whole life. He was 18 months old and coded out multiple times per night sometimes. She had already lost a child years before.
There was Harry, the four year old boy who was playing with my kids but could not even turn his head because his tumor was so big sticking out on his neck. He did not let that stop him from pedaling a tricycle through the oncology floor.
There was the little boy in the elevator yesterday who had just had brain surgery a month before. He reminded me of Vince. He was about the same age as Vince when Vince had his second surgery (four) and had the same scar, in the same place, just on the other side. He even had the same hair color as Vince.
There’s the lady who takes her born-premature infant twins there a few times a week for follow-ups to their issues. My kids play with her other child in the daycare room.
There are the parents I see with tears in their eyes in the halls, trying to hide it.
There are the happy patients. There are the miserable patients.
I see people leaving the hospital with suitcases, stuffed animals and helium balloons.
I see families with an entourage of support in the form of aunts and uncles grandparents, cousins and what-not. I have seen twenty people in the PICU waiting room for just one child. The parents were in the PICU with the child and the other relatives would rotate in and out.
I see parents by themselves. I see single moms, single dads. I cannot imagine this. This is hard enough and I have Kevin’s support.
I hear children scream and cry. They are in an infusion room with the curtains closed tight. Their chemo is painful to them and they scream the whole time.
I see small families. I see big families.
Kevin’s even seen a former inmate, he thinks, and it did not hit him who the guy was until after we’d left.
I see people who don’t speak English and have a medical translator translate what the doctors and nurses are saying to them so they can understand what is happening to their child.
I see all kinds of races and backgrounds.
I see all kinds of religions. Everyone from those who look literally like Marilyn Manson to Mennonites, to those in full hijabs, to… everyone.
I see all kinds of classes. There are those who have old beat up cars and those who have new Lexuses. There are those parents who come straight from work and are wearing a suit and tie and those who have a fast food uniform on. If you want to see everyone getting together, not caring about class, race or teeth, look to Children’s Hospital- they help everyone. And just the reverse is true, too- cancer is also non-discriminatory.
The doctors and nurses are the generals.
We are all soldiers. The kids are soldiers. The parents are soldiers and Molly Pitchers. We offer each other a kind word, a quick conversation, sometimes only just a smile. Not one of us is there because we want to be, but we are. We love our children. We are fighting with them. We are bonded with each other, like no other camaraderie I have ever known in this war we don’t want to be in. We are bonded by our love for our children. And we fight…
Posted in Vince's Brain Tumor Battle by Laura with no comments yet.
June is over and I’m honestly grateful. Here on the prairie, June is a month of schlepping. I’ll define schlepp here because although it’s a common Jersey word, people out here probably don’t know what it means.
Schlepp- To carry clumsily or with difficulty; To move slowly or laboriously; To go on an arduous journey. (Yiddish)
We homeschool. We also live in the middle of no where. You may recall that I have already discussed how out here, the schools are everything. My own theory is that because there are no other cultural institutions, there is just nothing else and therefore schools are thee defining cultural institution by default. A post office, school and a grocery store is really what makes a town out here. I mean I suppose that given that your other options are hanging out at the grocery store, the railroad tracks or the post office, the school seems appealing. Even though I belong to two different homeschool groups in the Front Range area, they are far and we hardly know any other homeschoolers out here. The two other homeschooling families I know live 25 and 35 miles away, respectively. There are hardly any other activities (besides school) for children to participate in out here.
Out here, the local school calendars roughly run from the Assumption (August 15th for all you non-Catholics out there) to Memorial Day. While I one of the reasons that I originally homeschooled was to not arbitrarily plan my life around what some school board decides when the children should be off or in school, I find that I must do this anyway, as the schools finish in May and June is when they start the summer activities. These summer activities are wonderful in their own right, however, they are my children’s only chance to participate in these type of things. So it’s June or it’s nothing.
This was my son’s third year and my daughter’s second year playing tee-ball. While there is nothing wrong with tee-ball, it’s tee-ball or it’s nothing. There are no other sports for them to participate in. I really don’t know exactly how the tee-ball league is structured. I do know the tee-ball is through the towns, not the schools, but the players use the schools’ fields. The participating towns range from 60 miles away from my house one way to 40 miles away the other. The games are against the teams from the same town the same night, which is great at accommodating siblings. On a typical game night, for example, my daughter played her game at 5 p.m. and my son played his at 6 p.m. Tee-ball is pretty much the whole month of June. There was one practice in May and the tournament wrapped it all up the last Saturday in June.
My children also attended swimming lessons in Limon. While the program was great and professionally run, it is still about 25 miles away. These are the closest swimming lessons to us. I am extremely happy with them and so were my kids, but honestly, I’m glad they’re over.
My children are also attended Dance Camp, and, yes, I sent my son, too. While these ballet lessons are expensive (thank you to my kind in-laws for paying for them) I view them as a once in a lifetime opportunity. The ballet teacher grew up here in Lincoln County and teaches dance in Denver. She came back to hold camp. In my children’s lifetime, they have never before had an opportunity to attend professional ballet lessons in our area.
And then there is Storytime… The very local library only had a summer story time for June. The librarian is extremely awesome and has thoroughly motivated my children to read, but again, it’s June or it’s nothing.
Additionally, the librarian in the next town has cranked up Storytime to twice per week in the park. Her Storytime is always fantastic year round, but we have made an increased effort to attend it for the summer because we’ve been in town anyway. She also tends to cater to the grade school kids more in the summer as opposed to just the preschoolers during the school year.
Oh, and I forgot lunch in the park! A wonderful charitable group seeks to bridge the gap on summer lunch and lunch during the school year. They recognize that children from low income families receive free school lunches and that these low income families may struggle to put food on the lunch table throughout the rest of the year. The result is lunch in the park, free to any child, no questions asked. We have joined the group for lunch quite a few times. It is wonderful for both the children and their parents to socialize with each other, not to mention the free lunch.
June was also an extremely busy month for my farmer husband Kevin who planted maybe 300 acres of millet and still worked his full time job.
We had also planted a huge garden which the grasshoppers now chomped down in its entirety. We had two out-of-state friends visit us separately. My dog ran into the street and got hit by a car and died. My cat that I had from the time I was single got sick and had to be put down. I also have new baby chicks that I’m taking care of- they’re now about a month old now.
And then there is the usual- getting Vince to Chemo, going to Mass, buying groceries which are insanely far, etc.
I had a day on June 16th, for example, where we went to Limon (25 miles away) for swimming lessons, Storytime still in town, lunch in the park, back home because we forgot my daughter’s shorts, the pool in Hugo during a little down time, dance lessons, back home while they were in dance, back to Hugo to pick them up and then off to Stratton 60 miles away to play two tee-ball games. That was about 200 miles and a whole lot of wear and tear on all us. My wonderful husband took Vince to Chemo the next day just so we wouldn’t have to schlepp again.
So, yes, June was a month of schlepping, mainly because there are otherwise no local activities for my children to attend. These enrichment activities are blessings and are almost necessary to make my children well rounded and be able to interact with their local peers. However, I honestly couldn’t wait for June to be over so we can go back to our normal life of just about never leaving the house except for going to Mass, Chemo and Costco.
Posted in The Garden, Touring Eastern Colorado by Laura with 2 comments.
It was in June of 2015 that we learned that Vince’s brain tumor had grown back again. Vince would need another tumor resection surgery and perhaps chemotherapy. They were unsure about his prognosis. We made plans for a second brain surgery.
Last Fourth of July (2015), as I was driving the children to the fireworks in the local town (to meet my husband there after he got off work) it hit me: what if this was Vince’s last Fourth of July? Independence Day was the first holiday since that diagnosis, and it hit me, hit me hard- this mama had a break down that night.
Well you know the rest:
He had the brain tumor removed.
It grew back again.
He started chemo in March, and now chemo is our new normal.
Vince is surviving and thriving.
Yeah, his tumor did get bigger between the last two MRIs in spite of starting chemo.
Yeah, they moved up his next MRI a month sooner to keep a closer eye on it.
Yeah, they may change up his chemo depending on the next MRI results.
Yeah, this tumor could be a lifelong battle for him.
Yeah, he could be on chemo for years.
We don’t know what his future brings.
But yesterday, Vince celebrated another Fourth of July. And this is a victory.
I rejoiced in celebrating the Fourth of July- not just because it’s our country’s birthday, but because it was one more Fourth of July that I can celebrate with Vince!
Vince cannot wait to celebrate Fourth of July 2017- he’s already talking about more fireworks.
Posted in Vince's Brain Tumor Battle by Laura with 2 comments.
“There is nothing in the world so good as good neighbors.”
Ma Ingalls, quoted by Laura Ingalls Wilder in On the Banks of Plum Creek.
Living out here on the prairie, we probably have a different definition of neighbor than most others. The houses are extremely spread out. I would use the word “neighbor” to describe someone who may live 10 miles away. I have to say that every one of my neighbors has always treated my family and me kindly. They can be counted on for a helping hand always, even to put out fires.
Certain neighbors have sold their house and are moving to a different state. I will miss them. While I wish them the very best in their new state and their new chapter in their lives, I am selfish and I will miss them, I will miss my friends.
My neighbors were there for me, time and time again.
There was that time when my cat Mr.Hooper kept running away to their house and I drove over to pick him up. Mr.Hooper stepped on the lock button in the pickup truck and locked himself and my oldest (who was a baby at the time) inside. My neighbor and my father-in-law had to break into the pickup to rescue my son and Mr.Hooper. Mr.Hooper decided he like them better and is now their cat. He is coming with them to their new state.
And who could forget the time my pasture went on fire and my cordless phone was lost and dead and I threw the children into the pickup and sped over to their house and barged right in screaming for them to call 911 for me? They watched my kids for me while I went to go check on my house, and they kept my sanity. They weren’t even the slightest bit upset when I ran into their house.
And then the time they helped me chase my llama all over the prairie, getting Kuzco home again when he wasn’t very happy about his new home.
They have supported all of my little endeavors, even purchasing eggs from me back when I had chickens.
They have always shared their kindness with me, cooking meals or treats for us when I had a baby or was going through a hard time.
They have remembered my children. They have shared sentimental things with us, like a book, for example, that their neighbor shared with them when their own kids were little.
They have always offered me kind words and encouragement and hope.
In short, while I am so happy that my neighbors will be starting a new chapter, I am sad to loose my friends.
Goodbye, Good Neighbors. I hope that you enjoyed your time in your little house on the prairie as much as I have enjoyed your time here. Geography had made us neighbors and your wonderful constant kindness has made us friends. I am proud to call you my friends and I will miss you.