Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Conner Overcomes

When Conner was four years old, my friend Staci noticed something one day while babysitting him. She noticed he would reverse letters and had a hard time with his colors. She had a daughter the same age as Conner, who knew these things and Stacy mentioned to me that maybe something was going on? Conner was a boy and boys tend to be developmentally behind girls, so I thought nothing of it.

We had chosen to homeschool our children long before our kids were school age. We liked the idea and thought it would work for our family. Staci's daughter and Conner's cousin were starting school that fall so I decided to start Conner, I had started school at 4 1/2 and thought he was ready. We started with a very simple curriculum and basics. The first day, when quizzing Conner, he kept missing the letters but Elizabeth who was two was picking them up. Halfway through the term, Conner was frustrated because his sister was catching on but he wasn't catching on. We decided to stop and wait until he was closer to six to start Kindergarten based on everything I had read regarding boys and learning.

The following fall, we started Kindergarten again armed with more resources and material.  Everyone was questioning my ability to homeschool and our family's choice. Conner was still writing in complete mirror image by that spring and struggle to pick up reading. He would also jumble sayings and phrases, struggled to get his words out in order, he also failed vision testing at the pediatrician and eye doctor. We had a feeling, that something was going on with him. After testing by a neuropyscholgist , we learned Conner had a language processing disorder, along with dyslexia. Basically, he had trouble processing what he was being told and putting it down on paper and knowing what to do with it?

Our hearts broke as parents, how would he overcome this and what would happen to him someday? would he be able to make it through school and go to college someday? When you learn there is something wrong, you grieve the ''what could have been'' after a while, I set out to educate myself how to best teach him. Basically, we formed our own IEP based on Conner's learning style.

I learned that Conner really was good at memorizing things and picked up by listening to things set to music. His AWANA leader Traci helped me get a CD for his verses to listen to. The first year he had failed to finish his book, the second year along with the help of this CD, he finished his book and extra credit. Another friend directed me to a Language Arts program especially for kids with learning issues.

We had tried several reading programs, We finally found the funny enough, Hooked on Phonics along with an Orton Gillingham based approached worked for him. I hid the fact his sister had learned to read from listening to the hours I spent teaching him. When he was eight years old, he proudly called his Poppa Brown to read to him. Conner could finally read.

Eventually that same year, he figured out that he was behind. He found out his sister was on his same level at six that he was at eight and that he had a learning issue. We cried a lot of tears that year, I encouraged him to find ways that worked best for him and taught him in ways that suited his tactile learning style along with using as much set to music that I could.

Fast forward to 2014, Conner has long ago learned to compensate with his learning style. I have likened our homeschool adventure as being on a fast moving train that you cannot jump off. He path clearly set out to graduate has been long laid out by his rate of learning and what needs to happen. We offered them the chance to go to public school when we moved to TN and both kids chose homeschooling. Conner especially because he knows what needs to be done  and happen to graduate based on our long ago formed IEP.

This year, he wanted to join a local academy. As parents, we had put him in other classes before but this was out of the homeschool community. It entailed a lot of reading, memorizing and writing. Memorizing is his strong suit but writing is still something he struggled with in the past. Testing is something that has been tough in the past as well.

He has blown us away with his hard work, diligence and study habits. We have not had to help him, to push him or prod him during the academy. He has found his niche, excelled beyond our wildest dreams. He came home last night, one week left in the academy to say he got all of his tests back. He scored FIVE 100% scores including his mid-term with the lowest score of 85% on one test. To say we're thrilled, overjoyed and proud is an understatement. His future looks very bright and he has even formed a game plan for post high school, all on his own.

I wrote this for the other mom's out there, the mom's who are in the trenches still struggle to find answers and plans. For mom's still searching for answers, grieving that loss of ''normal'' and wondering, ''what will happen to my child?'' hang in there, fight, don't give up, listen to your gut and don't let anyone bring you down. There is hope and your child can overcome.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Remembering Jimmy, Help Us Never Forget

25 years ago on a warm May night in Southern California, I sat on the floor of our apartment watching t.v. on our console television. I don't remember what I was watching, it was early evening the sky was still light but I remember the little yellow words that scrolled across the screen. Across the screen of the show I was watching the words "Frigate USS Stark bombed in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Iraq" crawled slowly across the screen.

"Mom, Mom, Jimmy's ship has been bombed" I yelled into the kitchen where Mom was cooking dinner. She came out and tried to tell me I was wrong. "No Mom, I am right. Jimmy is on the Stark. I know it" she ran to the phone to call my Gramie. I was only 10 years old, 4 months shy of my 11th birthday.

Of course, Gramie confirmed that I was correct and we waited. The next day word came, Jimmy was one of 37 sailors killed on the Stark. Jimmy was actually my Mom's cousin, son of her beloved Aunt Pat in Visalia. Aunt Pat was the sister of my Kankad ( Grandad) and the only living relative we had to my Grandad who had passed away several years earlier.

We often made the trip up the 99 north to Visalia to see Aunt Pat and her boys. She had five boys whom were more like brothers to my mom. In fact, their families had lived together when my grandparents moved out from Kansas in the 50's until my grandparents bought a house. They were a close knit family and I grew up close to the boys as well. We all referred to each other as "cuz" and just loved being together.

I remember my last visit in the winter, seeing Jimmy come down the hall wearing a sweater and his trademark smile. He had served one enlistment in the Navy and re-enlisted for a second. He had told my Gramie that he was going somewhere he really didn't want to go. In fact, a letter from Jimmy arrived just days before his death for my Gramie. He never failed to remember his "Aunt Mearle" by sending her cards, letters  and gifts. It was a ceramic Stark ashtray in Gramie's living room that was in my mind when I saw the little yellow words.
Bob Kumerow and James Stevens
1987 on board the USS Stark Courtesy Karen Stevens

Seeing the face you love in the newspaper in class at school listed as one of the dead is something you never get over. Seeing your aunt receiving a flag with your mom bawling in the background splashed across the front page of another paper. Things like that never leave you as much as remembering a beautiful smile and a great laugh. He was my uncle Greg's best friend and I can say that Greg never was the same after that day. Nobody was the same ever again...death has a way of leaving that mark.
2/8/60-5/17/87 Freedom isn't free

A year later, the Veterans in Visalia decided to start hanging casket flags in the cemetary on Memorial day and having service to remember. My Aunt Pat was one of the first to donate and Jimmy's is flag number 36 right as you walk in. In 1990, she asked me to attend with her and I remember her standing when they asked the gold star mom's to stand. It was held under a green funeral awning in a grassy area, maybe 60 people in attendance. She wanted me to take a picture with by Jimmy's flag together which I didn't know would start a tradition in years to come.

Aunt Pat and Julie May 1991

In the years following, I would grow closer to Aunt Pat. She was a huge part of my life and I eventually moved to be close to her. I got to spend two years living in the same town as her and enjoyed that special time together.

She passed away in 2001. I continue the tradition of going to the cemetery each memorial day for the service. It was grown to nearly a thousand in attendance with almost two thousand flags lining the streets of the cemetery. It is truly one of the most beautiful, moving sights to behold. Each year, I line my kids up in front of Jimmy's flag and make them take a picture. Next year, I hope to be able to attend the national memorial in Mayport,Florida to represent our family.

I want my kids to know that freedom comes at a cost. I want to carry on a mother's love and make sure her son isn't forgotten. To make sure that a memory lives on and the world doesn't forget. Jimmy never got to see 30, I have lived longer than he did now.  Life has gone on but the memories don't fade and I won't let that ever happen.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Guest Blogger Alison Valdez: From Girls to Grandma's: Friends Who've Stood the Test of Time

My Aunt Alison has one of the most amazing groups of friends. Their story is one that spans decades,and generations. Since I am one who has more one on one friendships, never part of the group really. I have amazing friends, I really have learned a lot from watching this group.  I admire this group of friends and their dedication to each other.They have been friends since youth, their kids are friends, their grandkids are friends and their husbands are friends. I asked my Aunt Al to share their story with others on Just Jules:

When Julie asked me to write a little something for her blog, I agreed readily. She mentioned that she thought we were inspiring.  I am not sure about that, but loyal for sure.  I think there is an adage that goes something like," there are no friends like old friends,'' and I believe this to be true.  (But as you meet people throughout your life, and you remain friends for many years, then they become old friends).  I think friends are family that share no DNA, and I love them as if they did.

      There is not a day in my life that I don't remember my friend Lisa. We grew up together and were best of friends from the time we were toddlers and our parents lived next door to each other until my parents died and their house was sold. Our moms were great friends and died less than two months apart. Lisa is the person with whom I learned a lot of life's lessons. Fighting, Jealousy, boys......!   

  After we grew older, we were each others maid-of-honors.  Lisa has moved all over the United States, and we have remained friends all of these years. Karen and Jeananne and I did not become friends until we met in high school.  The dynamics of our high school group was really funny. A group of pairs (Lisa & me, Karen & Nancy, Jeananne & Jill, Lauren & Anne etc...), blended into a larger group.  The group would splinter into different pairs and trios and expand over the years.

    Karen and I became closer after we were married, and lived reasonably close throughout the years.  We are Godparents to each others oldest daughters, and our children have been friends for life, and now our grandchildren are going to do the same.  We still see each other almost every free weekend, just to laugh and talk.  Jeananne was closer to Karen and Nancy, and I guess that I wormed my way into that friendship as we got older. 

 We still meet at El Cholo and have margaritas and dinner and laugh and tease each other like we are still 16. We don't get to see each other enough, but have fun when we do. My friend Jeannie, is the latest model.  We met when our children were in grade school. We volunteered for the same things, and became friends because of our kids at a common time in our life.  We have only known each other as adults and have merged our friends and families.  It is as if I have known her my whole life.

 None of us is married to a man that knew each other before they were introduced by us.  Yet they have become friends, and enjoy each other as much as we do.  We go on vacations together.  Sometimes mother/daughter trips, and we have been known to houseboat together as families etc... Best of all we have traveled as couples to some fabulous world destinations TOGETHER.

      So now is my turn to wax poetic!  The very best thing about friends is they know you and lots of your secrets and still remain a true friend.  Not to be cliche, but they have your back.  There are lessons that I have learned from my friends that you don't learn from your family.   Your friends are there because they want to, not because they have to.  You don't have to agree on religion or politics or how to raise your children.  Accept and respect the other persons views and rights.  I have not always been the perfect friend, and am glad that my friends have looked past my wrongs.  I have not always understood how or why they do what they do?   What I do know is that we all come from different places and pasts that have formed the people that we are today.  I like my friends as well as love them and consider myself blessed.

     As I reread this I realize that this does come from my past and my family, whom I am extremely glad I have!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Happy 14th birthday Elizabeth

Today our baby girl turns fourteen, she is heading to high school next year and it hardly seems possible that she will be 18 in four years. The past year has been a difficult year for her, moving away from California and her friends was a test of strength and faith.

E with her younger cousin Peyton

Elizabeth and her pal Oscar

She spent a lot of time very sad, sad she wasn't making friends in TN and sad her friends in California were far away.. We had a lot of tears, prayers and deep talks. I am so proud of her for overcoming her trial and moving forward.

Baking has become a new hobby, she can make a mean cobbler and sweet tea, she is becoming a southerner at heart.

She has been working studiously, helping immensely around the house even learning to cook dinners while I work in the evenings.

Her sense of humor wicked, she makes us laugh with her sharp and witty comebacks. Dr.Who is her new obsession along with Lord of the Rings and Sherlock. She may have a penchant for all things British......

We are so proud of Elizabeth and the young woman she is becoming!

Elizabeth's 10th birthday slideshow for a peek at her growing up.
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Friday, April 25, 2014

Happy Birthday Friend Series: Happy Birthday Anita

A few years ago, I had a private, closed Twitter account where I spent a lot of time talking to two friends. I added a few strangers but mainly just read tweets and conversed with my two friends. Conner and I had started becoming more interested in professional cycling. One morning in May 2011, Conner and I sat in our living room watching The Giro d' Italia sobbing because a rider on our favorite team was killed in a fatal crash on that mornings stage.

While our family and friends around us tolerated our strange hobby, we had nobody to talk with about it but each other. We really knew little about the sport or the community of the sport. We had attempted to make some friends in our area but nobody was friendly. So one day, Conner and I decided to create new Twitter accounts to talk about cycling. So I randomly started an account and started searching for people talking about cycling. About ten people in, I randomly followed, a lady named Anita, I followed her and she followed back. We chit chatted and she immediately tweeted me a list of who to followed.

Random is never really random. I was meant to know Anita and she introduced me to a world of wonderful people. The list of people she gave me transformed into friends and now I would say, they have become a family to our family.

Anita and I have never met. We just chatted cycling and life. Our family was planning to move to Georgia and the south. Then one day, Marty decided he wanted to move to Tennessee. Anita and her family lived in the exact area Marty had chosen to live. I immediately contacted Anita and her family, they really helped assimilate us to the area.

I finally got to meet the famous ''Divas''

We love Anita's family! Her Dad, Jeff aka ''DadBurnett''  has become a best friend and mentor to Conner, and our favorite Twitter Grandpa. Her husband Vic and his family are truly some of the kindest people I have ever met.

When we moved here, Marty was jobless. My first lunch with Anita and her mother in law Jane aka ''my southern hot momma'' she told me the county was hiring in Marty's field. Guess what? Marty got the job, he would have never known about it if Anita hadn't mentioned it.

Anita helped me through a lot of tough stuff this past summer. We don't get to see each other a whole lot even though we live in the same area. We are both busy working moms with families but I know if either of us needed each other, we would be right there.

Loved being there on the day Anita and Vic moved into their new home.

Truly can say, starting a Twitter account to follow cycling brought me some of the best friends who became a family. Thankful for all Anita has done to expand my world unitentionally or not, nothing is random or by chance. I love the way this friend came into my life and changed my world. If we're tweeps, there is probably a chance it is a ''six degrees of Anita B Franklin'' connection.

Love you Anita. Wishing you a happy birthday and a wonderful year filled with happiness and joy!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Blog Tour: My Writing Process

A week ago, my friend Naomi (@woobiesmum on Twitter) asked me if I would take part in a blog tour she was hosting on her blog. You should go read her blog, she is a true writer who has labored hard on her craft.

I agreed since it was different than other blog tours. Writers encouraging each other in their writing process and sharing tips on how they write. I never have and likely never will consider myself a writer, just a girl who babbles on and people humor me by reading along.

Q1: What are you working on? 

Currently, I am working on an outline for my book. In the next few years I plan on writing a few books. My first book is a non fiction account of my Twitter adventures. Everyone is always asking about how I got to do this or that? almost always the answer is, ''It started on Twitter'' so I am going to write a book about it.

Q2: How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Since I write non-fiction, the difference is nobody has lived my life and experiences. My stories are unique because they are my stories. Every writer of non-fiction has a unique story to tell. So every work of non-fiction is different.

Q3: Why do I write what I do?

Writing has always been cathartic for me. As I have documented, I have a super memory that is full of memories, stories, pictures. A giant Rolodex in my brain. So writing helps me get the memories out on paper for the world to see, improves my memory all while  sharing my life story. Really this blog is more for me for some reason, people like to read it?!

Q4:  How does my writing process work?

I write outlines in my mind, almost everything I write starts in my head, outline, blog, pictures are all put together there. Then I sit down and write it out on the blog. Very rarely do I use Word to write a blog. Everything is written on the blog itself. I edit as I write, going back and editing old blogs after they are published. I told you, I am not a writer.

If you're a writer and interested in joining the blog tour, let me or @woobiesmum know on Twitter and we will email you the information.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Growing Kids, Growing Garden

It all started the spring of 2006, after my grandparents dying eight weeks apart, my mom going through a major surgery, I was pretty worn out. When I came home from my extended stay in Whittier, my hometown the kids and I were wading through grief together. Death is hard enough, two deaths together is extremely hard. So one day, I decided that the kids and I would plant a memory garden in honor of my grandparents.

Many don't know, I am only a second generation Californian on one side and a first generation on the other. Three out of my four grandparents were from a small corner of southeast Kansas and my Grandma Brown was from Milwaukee, WI ( that is why my family are Greenbay fans for those who've always wondered)

I decided to plant sunflowers to honor my Grandpa's Kansas heritage and Zinnia's because they are known for attracting butterflies. Once in my grandparents backyard, a butterfly landed on my shoulder as my grandma and I conversed. She told me it was a good luck sign, so butterflies have always reminded me of her since then.

The first year, we amended the soil, tilled our little patch in front of our condo, planted seeds and waited. The first sprout poked through and we were thrilled. We came up with a plan to take a picture each week to watch our garden grow. Elizabeth was five and Conner was seven, so I would make them stand in front of the sunflowers to chart their growth each week. At this time, social media was a blog and Myspace, it became a hit with my ''online friends'' and a tradition to follow for many years.


2007 ( look they are hugging)



Then 2010, Marty was really sick, we just stopped planting the garden. Our lives were just dark and tough, getting throug was the goal. The next year after his transplant, we were traveling so much and didn't have time. One year later found us planning to move so we took this substitute picture at Stanford on the first anniversary of Marty's transplant

Last year we just grew Zinnia's which attracted many butterflies, which we loved.

After a three year hiatus, we've planted our sunflowers again. We always plant the beginning of April and see our blooms around July. Sunflowers and I have become a bit synonymous, my friends always sending me gifts with sunflowers. I wait all year to watch the Tour De France which often goes through the sunflower fields in France, I wait all year for that picture on my television screen. 

A few days ago, I posted a picture of my new budding sunflower. I made the quip that I doubted that I could get my bickering teenagers to pose in front of the plants this year. My friend Andrea balked a that, she said the kids must pose, it is tradition. We shall see how it goes......

For my new friends, I wanted to explain the tradition and story behind the sunflowers. As you all know, everything I do has a story or a meaning behind it. One year, one of our sunflowers grew over 17 feet tall, we called it ''Poppa'' just like Conner called my grandpa.

Now I have a collage on my wall of my growing kids in front of the sunflowers. Truly some of our most precious memories have come from gardening together. I will keep you all posted on the progress of the 2014 Tennessee sunflowers.

 My Favorite picture of my garden