April 29, 2013

Joy in the Family: Family Update

Tombstone will have to wait.

We are in our super-busy time right now, when Kyle has baseball, John still has tae-kwon-do and the girls have their aerials.  May, which I have started calling "Mayhem" will go by in a flash because the beginning of the month, the girls and I and my grandma are going to a retreat in Prescott (yay!), my mom is visiting us (yay!) the girls have their aerials performance (yay!), I will be visiting Memphis to see my newest, incredibly cute niece (yay!), and Kyle has Little League baseball playoffs (yay!).  And even though the juggling and trying to figure out what to fix when we are double booked every single night is challenging, I am finding joy in seeing my kids develop skills and learning how to manage disappointments and challenges.

Kyle has a good teaching coach this year and has tried out to be pitcher.  He is not incredibly consistent, but everyone has to start somewhere and he CAN strike kids out.  His current position would be something like clean up pitcher or maybe 3rd string.  In one game, he stole home when the pitcher dropped the ball and his run prevented the opposing team from tying the game and going into extra innings.  There was some testosterone-based drama at the game which I don't like very much that involved a call that our coach didn't like.  As he was protesting the call, one of the parents on the other side decided to "help" the umpire defend his call.  This particular person acted like he had his heart set on his son playing in the major leagues by the time he was 18 and that is not a compliment.  I envision a future adult who might hate baseball. The umpire eventually stepped in because the game was being delayed by the silliness.  Tonight, he hit an honest triple, honest because he didn't get to go to extra bases because of overthrown balls.

Later that day, John had an in-school karate tournament last weekend and will have a regional tournament this weekend.  At the regional tournament, he will have to perform the full routine.  In classes, until you become a black belt, they only practice half the form unless there is an upcoming regional tournament.  They will sometimes pull tournament-registered kids out of class to review the whole form.  This time, however, they set up additional free classes to go over the form.  We missed one class to go camping, so the night before the in-school tournament, John learned the whole routine for the first time.  At the in-school tournament, the kids had the option of doing the whole routine or half.  John decided to do the whole routine.  It took him a LOOOONNGGG time to get through the routine and a few times he stood, rocking in place trying to remember what came next for 30 seconds at a time.  He made it through the routine, though he missed some of the elements.  He didn't get great scores, but, boy, I was sure proud of his chutzpah.  He also didn't get great scores in the weapons, partly because he was making it up as he went along as opposed to other competitors who had a set routine that they did.   After he got ready for sparring, he put his head down on his bag and started crying.  I tried to find out what was the problem, but he couldn't tell me until afterward.  Finally, his name was called to spar.  His opponent was a recommended black belt, which means that he was preparing to test for black belt.  I was worried.  The primary judge must have been concerned, too because she asked him twice if he was okay and was able to compete.  Both times he nodded his head.  The minute they started the round, I saw him take all of his frustration and focus it on getting a point on his opponent.  He ended up getting three points before ultimately losing.  I was so proud of him pulling himself together and focusing on the next job.  He ended up tying for third to get one medal in the tournament.  Fast forward an hour and John explained to me that he had been crying because he knew going into sparring that he wasn't going to win a medal for the previous two segments (showing good math skills, I might add).  I am so glad I wasn't fully aware of why he was crying because I probably would have said something like, "There's no crying in karate!" which would not have been helpful.

It was a good opportunity to talk about all the great things he did that didn't involve winning a medal, like trying to do something when he knew he hadn't had enough time to practice and pulling himself together enough to be able to score against a recommended black belt and just getting up there to try and compete.  And then we talked about what he could do to do better at the tournament, like trying to teach me the full routine (because teaching it to someone else is the best way of learning the routine) and actually planning a weapons routine.  And practicing it to get smooth.

The girls are getting ready for their Spring performance in a couple of weeks.  My  mom is flying in to take a little vacation, which will be wonderful.  She will be able to see them perform, maybe see Kyle practice and see John in his karate class.  This year, we will be finishing school right before Cub Scout Camp for John, Eric and Kyle.

We are studying Rome as a Republic right now and are playing "Conquest of the Empire" (think "Risk" set up for Roman empire-building).  Kyle, of course, chose Greece and worked to get Rome.  Elizabeth is occupying Carthaginian territory.  She bought a boat and is working on capturing islands.  Jessi is set up in Asia Minor and John and I are the very important but possibly easily conquered Hispanola.  And in the process, I am challenging them, especially the really competitive ones, to view this game as fun, regardless of the outcome.  "Playing games is fun and winning is a bonus" is the attitude I have asked them to take.  And I also have to adapt this attitude because I am not very good at strategy games and sometimes put too much of my identity in winning.  Learning together is a joy!

April 21, 2013

Camping at Kartchner Caverns

It has been a delightfully strange spring this year in Arizona.  To this northern transplant, it actually felt like spring.  You see, what most Arizonans call "spring", everyone else north of the Mason Dixon line calls "summer."  That is because Arizona summers involve what I have called "pizza-oven" hot temperatures.  If anyone wants to get a good idea of what "hotter than hell" feels like, come to Arizona in July or August.  Usually, by this time, we are considering turning on the air conditioner because temperatures have already crept into the mid-90's (which is not considered hot by the natives).  However, the nights have been delightfully cool in the 50's and we have only just hit 90 in the past two days.  I have loved it.

While the temperatures were still what natives would call cold, we started planning a few long-weekend camping trips around the state over the next few months.  We have several locations already chosen and last weekend, embarked on our first one:  Kartchner Caverns, which was a clear winner among all the destinations for the kids.   It is located about thirty minutes south of Tucson, about 2 1/2 hours from the Phoenix metro area.  This is still part of the "low country", so visiting it in the summer is not recommended.  We chose last weekend because it was the only weekend at the time of planning that didn't involve a baseball game until sometime in May.

Kartchner Caverns was discovered in 1974 and is a nesting place for bats.  It became an operating state park in 1999 after two years of construction to preserve as much of the cave as possible.  Kartchner Caverns is unique in two regards.  Most people think of caves as being below ground.  This one is part of a hill, which means that it is about ground level to the campsite.  I am not sure, but I think that is the reason that this cave, unlike the most preconceived notions people have of caves, is rather warm.  It is also a very wet cave, with high humidity in spite of its desert surroundings.  So basically, touring the cave is like going outside in St. Louis in May.

The whole area is covered with mountain ranges and Kartchner Caverns is in a series of hills in the valley between the Santa Rita, Huachuca (pronounced wa-CHOO-kah), Whetstone, Mule, Dragoon and Rincon Mountain ranges.

We arrived Friday late afternoon on a cloudy day that in any other area, would have produced actual rain and not virga.  The kids started playing games while hubby and I set up the tent.  The campsite was surrounded by mesquite trees and we accidentally set up the entrance quite close to a tree, requiring us to duck as we walked toward the table.  Several of us forgot once or twice during the weekend and either had branches grab our hair or whack us in the head.  The campsite itself was very nice with electricity and water at every EVERY campsite.  The water spigot alone was worth the slightly higher campsite cost.  It also had free showers (not as common in Arizona) and the bathroom was pretty nice.  The only downside is that we couldn't light a wood fire, which has been the case wherever we have camped in Arizona.  That night, I tried a variation on s'mores that I found on Pinterest that we called the "smorito" because it involved flour tortillas, nutella and marshmallows.  We were located between the Foothills trail and the trail to the Discovery Center, where you start your cave tour.

We spent Saturday morning hiking the Foothills trail and the afternoon touring the cave.  Kartchner Caverns also has a state junior ranger program for the kids, which everyone except for John participated.   The cave was breathtaking, with all sorts of stalagmites, stalactites, "bacon" and other interesting limestone formations.   We took the Rotunda/Throne room tour.  The tour guide was pretty well informed and obviously loved the cavern.  Almost as impressive was a huge mud pit that had some ancient bat guano in one area of it.  The mud "lake" is more than 20 feet deep, though most people only sink knee deep.  The tracks of the original explorers are preserved like a set of really deep cross country ski tracks.  Rangers and scientists who are studying the cave use those original tracks both to preserve the eco-system and because no one wants to slog through knee deep mud to make a new one.  Even though it is very pricey, the cave tour is totally worth it.

The wind REALLY picked up that night, bending the tent in every direction and causing the rain fly to flap loudly most of the night.  The sunshade, which in Arizona can actually be used as a  sunshade and not a table-sized umbrella, was twisting alarmingly in the wind.  Sometime around ten p.m., Eric took out the poles, collapsed the six folding chairs and put them on top of it to keep it and them from blowing away.  Later that night, he found the wind had blown some of the chairs off and was turning the sunshade into a sail.  He pulled up the stakes and brought it into the safety of our vestibule where it stayed put until morning.  Sunday morning, we had an easy, no-cook breakfast, broke camp and headed for Tombstone before returning home.  Tombstone is another story.

All the pictures were taken by my wonderful hubby, who is much more talented in photography than I am.  We have no pictures of the cave because Kartchner Caverns does not allow ANYTHING to be brought into the cave.  If you want to see what it looks like inside, check out this video, which does have some lovely video footage of "bacon" formation--linear, marbled formations that actually look like bacon before it is cooked.  It also does a good job of giving the back story and features one of the discoverers.
Playing games before our hike.  This was a guessing game where one person had to guess a literary figure in  a book they had both read.

One of the hills near our campsite.  The Foothill trail did not lead to this peak.  It was part of the Coconino National Forest (they use the term "forest" loosely around here).

I love the craftsmanship of the sign,

We are resting in the middle of an ocotillo "forest"

Adding a rock to a pile at the highest point of the trail.  The valley is spread out below us.  We are all wearing camelback water systems.

You might see a hill in the lower left.  I believe that it is the hill  where Kartchner Caverns is located.

No gallery of photographs would be complete without the kids making silly faces.

A lovely lizard.  The tail looks like it has scales, but that is just the way it is colored.  It was one of three different kinds that we saw.  This one is the prettiest.

April 4, 2013

Prayer Request

God has drawn me out of my pity party.  I really have so much for which to be thankful.  For one thing, He continually puts up with me and sticks by me closer than anyone.  He has been with me through my singleness, beautiful and ugly moments in my marriage and in raising children, beautiful and ugly moments in friendships.   I am a huge pain in the neck, sometimes, and would totally understand God saying "sayonara."  But He is faithful and has carved me into the palm of His hands (Isaiah 49:14-16)

There is a family that REALLY needs your prayers.  They have been an inspiration to me in terms of listening to God's voice and sacrificially loving complete strangers that live 9,000 miles away (and ten hours time difference) until they become family.  Soon after we moved to Arizona, I met this homeschooling mom who suddenly felt a desire to adopt, even though her family had moved into a smaller home.  And suddenly felt God focusing her and her family's attention on the plight of orphans in Ethiopia. Basically, orphans are considered 3rd class citizens in Ethiopia and if they never get adopted, they face an uphill battle to get jobs or even advanced schooling.  Following God's call, they started by informally adopting two young men from an Ethiopian orphanage as their parents.  God has forged an incredibly strong bond over several thousand miles between the family and these two men.  The teenagers they adopted were still living in an orphanage at the time and were the "fathers" for all the young boys there.  (Boys and girls are kept in separate facilities.)  The mom eventually visited her boys four times, once with her husband and birth children.  With God's help, she even planned projects to improve life in the boys orphanage, like having people make new pillowcases and stuffing them with pillows purchased in Ethiopia for the boys in the orphanage.  During the 2nd visit, God brought a ten year old boy at the orphanage to her attention and during the fourth visit and with much prayer, they decided to adopt him.

Soon after that decision was made, a few months into a paper wrestling match with the Ethiopian government and raising the funds to pay for the adoption, they noticed that their tweenaged daughter was losing weight and developing a rash that wouldn't go away.  For five months, they went to different doctors trying to figure out what was causing the weight loss as they saw their daughter become a shadow of herself.  Eventually they found a doctor who diagnosed her properly:   dermatomyositis.  It is basically an auto-immune disease where the body attacks the skin and muscles.  Wounds never heal, they only get worse and the body can create sores on the skin which turn into wounds.  Patients also get progressively weaker without treatment.  They found other problems, like a very bad reaction to the nickel in her braces that was essentially poisoning her body.  All in all, her body was under attack in at least five different ways.  She is currently taking more than 300 different medicines, most of them homeopathic and gets a weekly IV to treat the dermatomyositis.  The good news is that three of the attacking agents have been dealt with and that her body is healing.  The one exception is the dermatomyositis.

Since she has been diagnosed, she has developed two sores on her elbows that will eventually require plastic surgery, once the doctors have determined that she is well enough to be able to withstand the stress.  However, in the last week, she has developed two more sores on her feet and one on  her finger.  When she was first diagnosed, the doctor said that 1/3 of the people with this disease have it go into remission, 1/3 of them deal with it on and off for the rest of their lives and 1/3 of them remain severe cases and can even die from it.  The fact that she is continuing to develop sores makes it more likely that she will have to deal with it the rest of her life.    Unless God intervenes.  And because God is a God of hope and futures (Jeremiah 29:11), I have hope that God will swoop in and deliver a "shock and awe" moment to the rheumatologist and the other doctors treating her that are trying to prepare the parents for the possibility of a lifelong battle.

Even through this ordeal, this family's faith and trust in God is amazing.  To be able to cry in frustration at how horrible the situation is and still praise God is truly sacrificial worship and faith.

Please join me in praying for this family, John, Tamara, Kristelle, and Kyle and their adopted sons Emnatu and Ayal, that God will continue to uphold them in their faith and strength in Him, as He has done so for so many months.  Please pray that they would experience Him as The Comfortor as well as The Healer and Great Physician.  Please pray for healing in the near future, or at least for it to go into remission, not just for the sake of the girl, Kristelle, and her family, but for the sake of the precious boy in Ethiopia who needs a mom and dad.  And if you remember, please pray on Friday, April 12 at 7p.m. Pacific Time for Kristelle while she gets baptized during a prayer, praise and baptism event.

Thank you!  And if you want to get status updates, go here.