Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Princess and I

About a year ago, I made a edit to my code on the blog and messed up my archives. I can't link you to this old post, so I will borrow some of the text to mark the date. This is from an original blog titled ''The Queen'' my review of the movie starring Helen Mirren based on the death of Princess Diana. Everyone knows of my obsession, if you don't then you really don't know me but I will tell you a bit of my story in this piece. Where was I when Princess Diana died:

It all started when I was five and my older sister got me up at 3 am to watch the wedding of Charles and Di. All little girls dream of being a princess and watching that wedding with all of the flowers,silk,tulle and diamonds I was enthralled. A real life fairy-tale and I never read another fairy-tale again. I would beg my parents to buy me Princess Di books and magazines. At one point, I had every book written on Princess Diana. For a period of two years, I would cut out the picture of the Princess Di bride doll every time my Gramie got a new Good Housekeeping or Enquirer. I knew every member of the Royal family before I knew all the presidents or states.

 I got a cabbage patch and a new book on Princess Di the same Christmas in 1984 and which one do you think I still have? My favorite birthday present of all time? When I was nine I was informed I was getting something big , bigger than a breadbox and smaller than a horse. My two grandmothers got together and bought me the Princess Di Bride Doll by the Danbury mint. I was shocked and amazed as I pulled her out of her box , smelled the lace and tulle and saw the "real'' cubic zirconia tiara! I put her back in the box and up in the closet awaiting a special case for her. She is so big she doesn't fit a standard doll case plus she has a 5 foot train and veil that make her even bigger. I would take her down and look at her every once in awhile but in the box she remained and eventually moved to my Gramie's for safe keeping.

Fast forward to 1997.. I am married and pregnant with my first child and the Princess Diana fairytale is long gone. I am adult and have seen my fantasy of Diana collapse into reality. The Sotheby's auction was that summer and I was hoping to get the auction book which was autographed. Marty's dad had passed away and I inherited his Grandma's china cabinet. So we drove over to Gram's to bring the doll home and display her for the first time. I go into the closet and drag out the black trash bag containing the box. I decide to take a peak and check her out and Marty was laughing at me.

 My Gram comes into the room and says "You better come see the news on the television. It's Diana she has been in an accident" all of the sudden fantasy and reality collided. It was real she was in Paris and there has been a wreck. I grabbed the doll went home to watch the events unfold.

I had a answering machine full of messages as I get home with people calling to tell me the news. My dad called to ask me if I had heard the news? As we were talking and he says " did you just see that?" and I said "no" and he says "She is gone".  My Dad delivered the news to me, my childhood idol was gone.

 I am a hysterical mess over someone I didn't know. I guess for me it was the same as it was for many when Elvis died or Kennedy died. I had people calling me for days offering their condolences and people at work doing the same. I wanted to go to LA to the embassy to sign the condolence book but Marty couldn't go and I was too pregnant to go alone. So my friend/co-worker Catt went with me to LA to sign the book a truly kind gesture. Days later,I once again got up at 3 am to watch the funeral and this time cried so hard from grief and sadness mixed with anger.

It's been 17 years ago today, I miss her, wonder what she would have become? People still give me Princess Diana books, when the royal wedding came along I received gifts from around the world. Princess Di still lives in my closet. She made a brief appearance in decor for William's wedding. Really can't wait for Harry to get married, I have all kinds of fun things to put up.In fact, I saw my paper cups my friend Jan gave me and thought with a sigh, ''Can't wait until Harry gets married.'' I plan on dragging my friend Andrea to London for that, we should have gone last time!

 Time has passed by so quickly just taking a moment to stop and remember....

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Product Review: Kiss Me Organics Green Tea Matcha

As a young girl, I would beg my parents to take me to Benihana's restaurant for dinner. Sure the tepanyaki cooked in front of you is fun as a kid or adult. My mind was on other things, my sole purpose was to get to dessert and green tea ice cream. I loved green tea ice cream and eating there was the only time I got that dessert.

A few years ago, my cousin Rissa told me Starbucks made a green tea latte. I had no clue, since I am not a frequenter of Starbucks. So I started drinking those on occasion to get my green tea fix. Then Haagen Daas came out with green tea ice cream as a special flavor. Of course, none of these things are healthy or good for you, definitely not something you want to buy all the time.

When Kiss Me Organics approached me to review their product, I jumped at the chance. I love green tea,baking and was curious to try their product. Organic matcha has a natural metabolism booster, anti -oxidants, UV protection which helps promote skin health. How much better can your green tea fix get?

I ordered the Matcha Powder their exclusive retailer and received my package at light speed. The first thing we set out to make was our own green tea latte with the matcha

The recipe is included in the recipe book that comes with your purchase.  Our next adventure was making green tea cupcakes with green tea frosting.

The frosting was the best part and cupcakes were super moist. They were a green tea lovers dream dessert next to green tea ice cream.

Definitely worth the price, the powder goes a long way and can be used in multiple recipes. Highly recommend Organic Matcha Powder

*disclaimer* this was not a paid review but I did recieve the product for free in order to write the review.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

MTTB Series: That Goody Two Shoes, Sandra Dee

It's time for another edition of the ''Music that Takes Me Back Series'' which somehow inexplicably became "'MTTB'' somewhere along the line....who knows? Not me.

One of my favorite 80's songs is ''Goody Two Shoes'' by Adam and the Ants. It's always a song that has been a theme song of mine. I admit it...I am a goody two shoes. This song also reminds me of my friend Valerie, she loves Adam and is a huge fan.

Once I asked a friend about high school parties and why I never knew about them, she told me, ''Julie we all knew you were a goody two shoes and didn't do that stuff''

I've been called ''naive'', a ''Pollyanna'' and a goody two shoes for years. I don't consider myself those things but I guess that I am.  I guess that you could say I truly am a Gidget, Sandra Dee, Tammy with an edge

I really did try smoking in a Denny's on a bet with friends once and I ended up getting sick and crying while choking in front of my friends.

I just am a rule follower, who likes to be fully in control of my faculties at all times. Growing up with a sister who was out of control, I just preferred to be overly well behaved because I wanted to be nothing like her.

Guess that does make me a goody, two shoes, Sandra Dee ( who was an alcholic in real life that struggled with addiction, go figure) who is fine that label.

Love these songs, they always take me back to my youth.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Happy Birthday Friend Series: Happy birthday Traci!

Twelve years ago, our family joined a new church with a tiny group of young families. Conner joined the AWANA program that same year and one of his leaders was another mom named Traci. She really loved working with the kids and brought her three young boys to the same program as well. The next year, Traci became leader of Conner's program and set out to help him learn. The year before, Conner had not finished his book which was very sad for him.

Traci learned that Conner could listen to a CD to memorize his verses and gave him one. Not only did he finish his book that year, he did extra credit as well! Traci believed in finding Conner's learning style and working with it. She was truly one of his first champions in life.

We soon became phone pals, Traci was a stay at home working mom and we became friends through our long phone chats. Life had been tough for her, we had both faced battles with family leaving us and letting us down. She had a lot of walls to climb but God gave me an open door through the walls and she slowly but surely let me in and let me be her friend.

Rarely in life do I look up to people, we're all on the same level playing field in my book. I do however admire Traci's faith. She has a humble and honest faith, she sets up no pretenses and doesn't pretend to be perfect. Through the years, she has come to me, asking for prayer, showing me her downfalls, taught me many lessons about a true faith with humility, grace, honesty and dignity.

Traci used to be one of my biggest homeschooling skeptics, we had many debates about homeschooling during our phone calls. Then one day, Traci pulled her boys out of school and graduated two sons through homeschooling. She is a true champion for homeschooling now and has actually taught me many things!

She has lived a mother's worst fear, having your child diagnosed with an incurable disease. She has been a caretaking mother to her son Josh for many years. She has taught me many things about motherhood, living in the face of adversity and carrying on.

During the years Marty was ill, she was a huge supporter. Her perspective came from a place many don't understand or get because she has lived it in her own home. I truly couldn't have made it through without our many phone calls.

She won't like this blog because I have said too many nice things for her liking. She never pretends to be perfect, holier than thou, or anything other than someone trying to live their faith with flaws and all. She is real with real struggles and imperfections. Truth is, that is why I admire her.

Happy birthday Traci, I miss our phone chats or dropping by your house to chat. Though miles apart, we are still dear friends even though we may not talk as often. Wishing you a very happy birthday filled with many blessings!

Friday, August 1, 2014

The End of the Endless Summer

It's August 1st, it has been a long hiatus from blogging as I have started my new career path here in Tennessee. My plans to write my book while on my break have been waylaid by life being overwhelmingly busy with the processes of starting again here in Tennessee. Traditionally August is about music, blogging and celebrating life so I decided time to write again about our life and the happenings here in Vol country.

Sometimes we hide what is going on instead of being honest with others outside our inner circle. I have found being truthfully honest as an open book works better. People come to you, they share with you willingly because you can understand life isn't easy all the time.

This summer I have put in over 200 hrs at work, this has been a huge blessing and really kind of exciting for me. For seven wonderful years, I was a stay at home mom whose husband worked 80 plus hours a week supporting me and the kids as he faced major health issues. There were times he barely made it to work, passing out and being rushed to the hospital with blood pressures over 200/100 while waiting for his transplant.

I was raised in a family of working women, I watched my grandma take her nap on the floor each day during One Life To Live, fix her hair and go off to work the swing shift. My aunts Maggie, Patty and Jeanette all went to work and worked hard for their families. My mom has worked since I was fairly young, first as a pre-school teacher and then in her current role for the last 27 years. My grandpa's worked, and my Dad is the hardest worker anyone knows even technically working on his days off to help others. I was raised to be a hard worker, I know no other way. I never dreamed about being a stay at home mom until I had two kids and they needed me. I always knew, it was for me to work.

Marty and I moved to Tennessee for many reasons, we felt called here and without a doubt it was for me to have the current job I have. It is the perfect fit for me, helping others who are in a role that I have spent years in myself. I am really good at what I do daily and this is the job for me.

Marty has a job where he is off for the summer with no pay. So my job this summer was to work as much overtime as possible to try to fill in the gap. Moving took our entire savings until he got a job and we have been slowly re-building this past year. Marty looked for a summer job but in the south, things don't move quickly and his summer job started this week.....he goes back to school on Monday!

Marty has a lot of faith in God's provision and it has been truly amazing for all of us to see God working it out. We have made it through and our bills have been paid, we have eaten and still lived fairly normally with a few small edits to the normal budget ie. no vacations or grand eating out adventures, no shopping for non necessities etc.

Why am I sharing what most people hide? because sometimes people need to hear the real truths in peoples lives. Sometimes they need to know they aren't alone in struggling. I had a wise young man tell me,'' when people see the ''perfect'' family they aren't seeing the whole picture.''

Summer was so fun, my mom, aunt, uncle  came to visit. We went to Dollywood, traveled to see some of our Cherokee history and just enjoyed being a family together. It was so nice to see my aunt and uncle, who I hadn't seen in a few years. It was nice to have my mom here and see family.

We also traveled to my cousin Ben's wedding,  he married a beautiful girl brought a new member into our big family. It was so nice to share in their day, it was very emotional, I cried numerous times. Ben and I danced together crying wishing our grandparents could be there too. I love my uncle's family and being with people who I look like is nice.

Then July, the Tour de France, my favorite event of the summer. It was tough because I worked and couldn't really watch the race. Thankfully my friend Dot drove seven hours to spend the weekend with me watching the finale of the race. Even though I missed a lot of racing, I think this tour will be memorable to me forever because of some really special reasons that have to do with the people of the cycling community in general.

Now August is coming, Marty is heading back to school and life is returning to normal. The kids will both be in high school this year and we have a lot of work to focus on with that. Conner has two jobs, Elizabeth is baking up a storm and making new friends.

One thing this summer, we have been grateful for those friends who have supported us in prayer as we trusted God. So many were there for us, lifting us up and making the effort. As we make new friends in Tennessee, Elizabeth and I have been learning to look forward instead of looking back. Sometimes we get disappointed things aren't the same with the friends we left but then we remember life is moving forward not back. We are thankful for those who make the effort to come visit, to check in and listen to us.

We have enjoyed the beautiful summer weather, lots of really good family time, laughter, happiness and joy. One of the things that happened was Debbie, our donor Jerry's mom sent us a video of Jerry's life and bracelets. I look at my wrist with Jerry's name on it every day, I realize how good our life is because of their gift and how Marty not getting paid is NOTHING compared to where we came from. We are blessed and grateful for our life now, we are really loving our new jobs and life in Tennessee.

As tradition, August is the month I do my ''Music that Takes Me Back'' series.  Summer is always about the Beach Boys. So I will share something Marty has said to me all summer:

PSI have been working on memorizing Matthew 6 this summer:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

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.