Thursday, February 26, 2009

Joseph is a Winner!!!

My son is a winner.

And although I know this...sometimes, HE does not. son is INSANELY bright. And he has an INCREDIBLE imagination. He also has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He is the sweetest and most tender boy. He puts a lot of passion into things, and therefore suffers a lot of heartbreak when they don't work out. He's a fiercely loyal friend. He is blessed with faith...he believes things, even against insurmountable odds. Like Santa Claus. And dragons.

These are things I love about Joseph.
But they are also the things that bring him down.

His whimsical nature gets him labeled as immature (at best) and lazy (at worst). His teachers see his almost constant state of daydreaming as a major life obstacle. This has earned him a diagnosis of ADHD, for which he takes medication. He is bright enough to answer complex math questions straight from his head, but totally unable to tell you how he came up with the answer. He'll absorb everything he sees and make amazing connections that leave his parents and teachers surprised and bewildered, but he can barely read a few paragraphs without coaching, or write down his ideas legibly for others to read. We can thank his dyslexia for that. He can tell you all about his thoughts and dreams and discoveries...but you have to listen really carefully, because his speech delay makes him hard to understand.

So although he's bright and beautiful and amazing, his teachers find him "difficult" and a "challenge to work with", and have even gone so far as to call him "disruptive", although when I ask them if he is acting out in class, they tell me that, No, he's not exactly acting out, but they find it distracting that he always seems to be more interested in what's going on outside the window or inside his desk than what they are currently lecturing. He's not riveted on their every word...and that bothers them. Luckily, he spent most of his day with a speech/reading/and language specialist. But recently, that's changed as they try and "wean" him off ESE in preparation for Middle School. the transition has been, well - let's just say it's "rocky".

Watching Joseph struggle in school is like catching a magnificent butterfly in a glass jar. It flutters about helplessly, an exquisite being of nature, but is trapped inside a confined space surrounded by an invisible barrier. The butterfly will desperately beat it's wings against it's glass prison, unable to escape, or even fully extend it's glorious wings. It's beautiful...but imagine how much more beautiful it would be if it were free to fly as high and far as it was capable, without any strings or walls or tightly sealed lids.

With teachers already bringing attention to his quirks, it doesn't take brain surgery to figure out that his peers smell an easy kill. Kids at this age are cruel, and they seek out differences in others as justification for torment. Joseph has always had a hard time making friends. He has historically been an object of ridicule with other kids. He likes sports, but is not a star at any one thing. He prefers to make up imaginary worlds at recess and play a part in his fantasy than shoot hoops. That means he spends a good deal of time at recess playing on the playground equipment and talking to himself. He gets teased for reading slow and mispronouncing words, and for the lisp in his speech. His clothes are hand-me-downs and usually patched or a little too big.

He is VERY good-looking, with big green eyes and an easy smile, and always a gentleman...he holds doors for girls and says "please" and "thank you". He is a little shy at times, and then over-the-top gregarious at others. Last year was the first year the boys in his class started calling him a "fag" (which he, innocently enough, believes has something to do with the fact he wears glasses).

Can I say that my son is better than all these kids combined?

This year in my Christmas letter, I wrote about how Joseph has tried really hard this year to get out of his comfort zone and try new things. He ran for Student Body Vice President (he lost, but he tried). He joined an after-school Environmental Club, and a before-school Orchestra class. He also joined an after-school athletic program run by local law enforcement. The first semester they played kick ball. He was always chosen last or sent out to left field, but he kept coming back for every practice (I think he may have been happier in left field, where he could stare at the sky and spin around in circles, or catch ladybugs in the clover). When the second semester rolled around, the coach (police officer) let him re-join to play Flag Football, where he plays a center guard. He likes that he can "hike" the ball. I encouraged him to try out for the school track team, and he told me he wasn't a fast runner...but he went to try-outs anyway. He didn't make the team, but he placed second in the long jump. He tries hard in Cub Scouts, and has almost earned his Arrow of Light...completing almost every activity badge in the book.

I am so very proud of him.

And I love that when we bought him a book called The Care and Keeping of Dragons, he actually believed that it was a real handbook...and asked me for weeks if we could get a dragon as long as he promised to build a safe enclosure for it in the backyard. Maybe I'm a terrible mom, but I eventually told him that our lease agreement had a "No Dragons Clause" because of fire hazard, and we would have to wait until we owned our own home again. He accepted my explanation, but still continues to sketch plans for the perfect dragon pen so he'll be ready when we move.

I don't want him to change. To accept reality. To be any different than he is. His challenges in school have taught him to work harder. His challenges with friends have made him more compassionate to others. And now he's learning to stretch his wings and try new things.

Glass jar be damned...I believe someday he'll break free and be the most amazing creature anyone has ever laid eyes on. A fragile butterfly no more...but a powerful dragon, which no prison, physical or mental, will be able to hold.

And I am writing all this just to tell you that my boy won "Best Use of Theme" in our annual Cub Scout Blue and Gold Banquet Dessert Contest last night. He made "Edible Eagles" (the theme was "Americana"). Click here or go to the "Jungle Food Chain" link on the right side of this page.

He was awarded a certificate and a Yo-yo...which hasn't left his hands since he got it. Even though I asked him to leave it at home, I'm sure it went to school with him, where I'm sure he'll play with it in his desk while the teacher is talking, successfully driving her nuts. He'll be transfixed with the way the light glances off it's beveled surface and glitters on the metal sides of his desk. It'll make him think of a vast treasure of rubies horded by hulking trolls that live in the mountains. And before you know it...Joseph will be gone...the only evidence of his existence being an empty shell of a boy sitting in a chair at a desk in a school...

...while his mind lengthens it's mighty leathery wings to soar through icy skies on buffeting winds, yearning to reach the distant purple peaks in pursuit of sparkling ruby treasure.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Getting Old

I am getting old.

Just ask the white hairs that keep sprouting up uninvited all over my head.

And now, proving my ever encroaching senility...I need glasses.

Because I'm blind.

Next week, maybe we'll discuss dentures.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Big Cypress Swamp Walk

Ya know how I'm always sayin' that there are some amazing things to do in Florida? And that you just gotta' go out there and do them?

Well - we did an amazing thing today with my sons Cub Scout pack and a couple girls from my Brownie Girl Scout Troop...we went on a walk through the cypress swamp at Big Cypress National Preserve.

The Webelos from Pack 424: Joseph, Liam, Joshua, Oscar, Chequevera, and Nicolas.

The Brownies from Troop 10224: Jessica and Savannah

We started our trip by seeing the gators in the canals that surround the Oasis Visitor Center at Big Cypress, and then watched a movie in the center about the Everglades. We saw animals, shells, and bones of animals that are native to Big Cypress. Then our guide, a Park Ranger named Jason, gave us a lesson on the importance of the Everglades and of the National Parks program before he led us on our walk. I was rear guard for the walk, so most of my pictures are of people's backs...but hopefully you get an idea of how totally cool this walk was.

The winter months are the perfect time to plan a trip like this, as the mosquito population is WAY down (thank goodness), and the lack of rainfall makes the swamp a little more accessible. In the summer months, Big Cypress gets an average of 60 inches a rain A YEAR...and the water would easily be chest high in places...which means it would be over the heads of some of our Scouts. But in February, we were rarely more than knee deep...the highest we got was up to our waists.

Primary president Michelle Rosales and Webelos Den Leader Ingemar Lopez were cheerily up to the muddy challenge of exploring a swamp.

Park Ranger Jason was so AWESOME with the kids and let us explore and ask lots of questions (and he was really cute, too!!).

The kids all started off REALLY scared to go on the walk...worried about gators and water moccasins and leeches and snapping turtles...but after only a few short minutes, they were excited and amazed (thanks again, Park Ranger Jason).

The boys are all having a great time getting wet and muddy and exploring nature.
He took us through the river grass prairie, which was really just a whole lot of ankle deep sticky black mud that sucked the shoes off the kids,

The boys traverse the dry prairie river...trying to be careful where they step...

Like, foot in ankle deep mud/glue...

and then into the cypress swamp. It was amazing to be walking through the water, which was amazingly crystal clear until our sloshing about churned it up, and be surrounded by these beautiful cypress trees that were covered with spiky air plants and dripping with Spanish Moss and the occasional orchid.

Jessica and Joseph wade through the swamp on their way to the gator hole...check out all the air plants, ferns, and Spanish Moss that grows symbiotically with the cypress trees!!

Spring is just starting to show in the swamp, and the cypress are growing a new coat of bright green spiky needle-leaves, and the wildflowers are just starting to pop up and bloom...low lavender carnivorous plants and single tall yellow blooms that look like over-sized sunny Bachelor Buttons standing out boldly against the grey barks of the cypress.

Park Ranger Jason took us to a gator hole where we saw a big 'ol gator just before he hid under water, and watched a smaller gator (about 3 feet) climb up on a log to sun himself. The wallow was surrounded by egrets and herons, anhingas and vultures...all looking to eat and feed in the gators hole. Park Ranger Jason explained that alligators like to make the deep wallows to live in when the dry season shrinks their hunting territory. The wallows attract fish and birds and other animals who are also looking for deeper water to survive. Park Ranger Jason said the alligator is like a landlord...he'll let everybody come share his wallow with him. But after a while, he decides to collect the rent, and CHOMP!!... You never get to check out.

The kids thought that was hilarious.

Park Ranger Jason points out interesting flora and fauna in the gator wallow. I wanted to get a pic of the gator, but he was so well-camouflaged with the log he was sunning on that it wouldn't show up on my camera (my zoom isn't powerful enough!!)

I know that this is a trip that they will remember for a VERY long time. I certainly will.

Nicolas takes a break from sloshing...not really caring how wet he is, anymore.

You don't need to be a part of a group or Scouts to take advantage of this only-in-Florida opportunity. Big Cypress, like all National Parks, has some GREAT Ranger-led programs. To check out what any National Park or Preserve has to offer, just go to and find the park you're interested in. If you want to learn more about the programs specifically at Big Cypress, visit, or see the list of ranger-led activities at

Have fun, and go explore your matter WHERE you live!!

Even after a hose socks and shoes are shot!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The New Man in My Life


What a day.

I'm not a big fan of Valentines Day anyway. I try to make it cute for my kids, but that's about where my passion ends. I guess you could say that "I've lost that lovin' feelin'...".

I'm not bitter on purpose, it's just that Jason always works INSANE hours on February's a big day in restaurant biz. And there is no one I'd rather spend V-Day with than him.

This year, though, I spent Valentines with a new man. He's strong and silent. He's clean and modern. And my knees were literally weak when I held him.

His name is John.

Yup - my best friend on Valentines Day... the guy that got all my love... was my toilet.

After a week of battling the stomach flu in my kids, Kaitlyn, Jason and I ALL caught it AT THE SAME TIME in the wee hours of the Day of Love. And let me tell you...I LOVE Saltine crackers. And I LOVE Gatorade. And I LOVE my dear old John.

Happy Valentines, everybody.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Nicolette's New 'Do


Well - here it is. My baby's new haircut. With some professional help, at least she looks more like a pixie than a boy with a bowl cut.

Maybe it'll grow back faster and thicker and stronger...

At least she's still uber-cute...


Friday, February 6, 2009

Nicolette and the Attack of the Scissors (Also Known As: More Evidence That I'm a Bad Parent)

Have you ever tried to do something...worked really hard at a project of patience...only to have all your effort thwarted by someone who doesn't share your vision?

I have.

It's frustrating.

Especially when that thwarter of grandiose dreams is none other than a four-year-old girl.

I have been trying to grow hair on my littlest daughter since birth. She has lovely hair...fine blond tresses that hold every sunlit kiss that Florida has offered her. But in four years, it has not grown past her shoulders. Her bangs grow even slower...having never grown out longer than the tops of ears in all that time. Just this past fall, I was finally able to gather ALL HER HAIR and put it in a ponytail. It was miraculous. it was wonderful. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could envision little Nicolette, running gleefully through the lapping waves at our favorite beach this summer, with streaks of sunlight flowing out behind her.

Never mind that she doesn't like her hair fixed, even in a simple ponytail, and will usually rip out anything I've done to it seconds after I've applied the last layer of hairspray.

Never mind that she doesn't even like her hair BRUSHED, and so it always looks like a tangled nest.

I knew that someday, those things would change. And her hair would be long and shiny and pretty.

But hopes and dreams and visions of vanity came crashing down.

While instructing the kids to pick-up (yet again) the front room, I came upon a pile of sunlit golden locks upon the floor. I stood there transfixed at the way the slanted sunlight streaming through the blinds played an the slightly curled tresses. It was so pretty.

As reality began to sink in, I thought: "It must be Barbie hair. she cut her Barbies hair." But wait...we don't HAVE Barbies. And their hair is doesn't have all the shades of sun and sand trapped in its wisps.

Like a woman about to face the horror of , well, home-done haircuts, I turned and looked at Nicolette.

"Ohhhh, nooooo...." I moaned.

How could I have missed it? When had she done it?

Her bangs...cut close to her forehead.

All the hair underneath the top layer, cut ragged and crazy.

All over her head, huge chunks of hair were cut shorter than others.

It literally looked like someone tried to teach a four-year-old how to layer. Which, essentially, is what happened. Minus the teaching part.

Nicolette got sent to her room, where she cried herself to sleep. I gathered as much pretty hair as I could off the floor, and vacuumed the rest.

I feel responsible...I had, after all, set her in front of a movie so I could finish my book. But I don't want another blog devoted to my failings as a mother. So I am shamelessly going to blame someone else. And I think that person should be (drum roll, please)...


Yes, Kaitlyn.

Kaitlyn cut her bangs herself last weekend, and let Nicolette watch. So it's her fault...sorta. Kinda. Well, not really. But, c'mon!!! I don't WANNA be responsible this time.

Its not right...but I'm going to be okay with it. That's what teenagers are for...for blaming things on.

Well - that's what dogs are for, but we don't have one, so I guess a teenager is the next best scapegoat.

And I know the truth...and will have it burned into my conscious every time I look at her mangled tresses. I am a bad parent. My baby looks like I let her play with weed whackers.

Excuse me. I have to go sort ponytail holders and cry now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Johnsons go to Australia - Question and Answer Session

Wow!!! Thanks guys!! We got such an overwhelming response to our video yesterday!! I am so impressed...we started the day with only 24 views, and this morning I saw that we had over 500!!!! I really appreciate the LOVE, people!! Lets not give up...I hope to have more and more views over the next few days!!

Along with all the views, there have also been a lot of questions. So, I'm going to do my best to answer any and all questions here. Here it goes:

Is This A Real Job?

Absolutely. This is a genuine position with Tourism Queensland. There’ll be a thorough recruitment process – this isn’t a competition based on luck.

What are the duties of the Island Caretaker?

The Island Caretaker will need to post a weekly blog, photo diaries and create video updates to let the world know about the unique experiences available on the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef. There will also be some interviews with members of the media. The contract involves spending six months on Hamilton Island, one of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef. The Island Caretaker will also travel to other islands and enjoy activities such as sailing, kayaking, snorkelling, diving, picnics, bushwalking and more.

What is included with the job?

One return airfare from your nearest capital city in your home country, accommodation and transport on Hamilton Island, travel insurance for the six-month contract period, access to a computer, internet, digital video and stills camera, plus travel to a number of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.

Where will you live?

The Island Caretaker will live in a three-bedroom home on Hamilton Island. We'll also be given a "buggy" (golf cart) to get around the island.

Will you get paid?

Of course!! We'll be paid $150,000 Aussie dollars (roughly $105,000 US dollars) for 6 months of "work". WAY MORE than we make in a YEAR.

What will you do about Jasons job?

He'll quit. I know it sounds harsh, but this IS the opportunity of a lifetime, and we are making more than we've ever dreamed of it won't really be a big deal. This is HIS idea, remember.

If he quits, what will happen when you come back?

If Grand Lux won't take him back, we'll take our stuff and go back West to be with family. In fact, this is kind of the way we're HOPING it will turn out. Jason will either find another job in a part of the country we want to be in, or he will return to school.

Now that you mentioned "stuff", what will you do with your house, car, and possessions while in Australia?

We are renters, and the job conveniently starts the exact day our lease is up. We will sell or donate almost EVERYTHING...most of our furniture and belongings, and store what we keep. Without Jason working for The Grand Lux, we will no longer have the BMW, so we will only store one car. It's possible we might even get some family or friends to take it for us, or take over payments.

What about education for your kids?

I am very confidant in my ability to home school. I did it over the summer with my kids, and we had great success (see blog posts for June, July, and August 2008). I also plan on working something out with my children's schools where they can work with their classes through live webcasts, giving my kids classroom time, and the schools the unparalleled experience of having a classmate share their experience from the Great Barrier Reef. And in a place Hamilton Island - just BEING there will be educational in every way, every day.

What about things like doctor visits and emergencies?

Health is VERY important to our family. We will, of course, make sure all our doctor, dental, ortho, and optometrist appts. are up to date before we go. We don't know yet if we'll Cobra Jasons insurance, buy temporary health insurance on our own, or be content with the travelers insurance they provide. Right now - we're leaning towards the latter, but we need to do more research.

Okay - I guess you HAVE thought this through. When will you know if you've been chosen?

The Tourism Board will chose 50 short-list candidates by March 2. People will vote on those 50...just like you're rating mow. Out of those 50, 10 will be chosen by the Board to travel for a final interview on Hamilton Island. In addition, the one video applicant that gets THE MOST VOTES will be sent as a "Wild Card" applicant. While on Hamilton Island, there’ll be a panel-style interview as well as group activities with plenty of opportunities to enjoy the life above the Great Barrier Reef. There will be skills tests, practice interviews, etc. After that, the Board will make the final decision, and the job will start July 1 and finish January 1, 2010.

Wow!! This sounds really great!! How can I help you guys do this?

Just keep viewing our video, or send an e-mail to ask other people to view it. And if you get the chance, check out our blog at and make comments there. We added our blog address on our video interview, and if the Board checks out our blog, we want them to see that it is well-written, engaging, and that people actually read it...and if they read it now, they'll DEFINITELY read it if we're posting about living in the Great Barrier Reef.

Thanks again for viewing our video, guys!! I am SO GRATEFUL to have such amazing friends. You guys ROCK!!!

We'll keep you updated as things progress!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Best Job in the World...Part Two

Okay friends and family!! Here it is!!

Our application to Australias Great Barrier Reef has been accepted!!! Hurray!! That means that now, you can go on-line and vote (only one vote per computer/e-mail)!! So here's the link...

After you vote, please copy and paste and send to all your friends and family, and have them click the stars to rate our video, too. Hey - post it on your blog, even!!

This is a fantastic opportunity for our family, and it would answer a lot of different prayers. Please take 90 seconds of your time and view and rate!! It would mean so much to us!!

50 short-list applicants will be chosen March 2, and then 10 applicants from that 50 will be chosen, along with one wild card applicant that receives the most votes! Let's try and get the Johnsons to Australia!!

Thank you!!!

P.S. - Don't forget to view the outtakes and video that I posted on this site as well. Leave a comment while you're at it - we want the people in charge of choosing the potential "winners" to see that our families blog is read and commented blogging will be a BIG part of our job in Australia if we win!!

Freedom For Brigham!!!

Finally...after 3 LONG weeks...Brigham is getting his cast off. He was really excited (and so were we...there was a funky smell emanating from his arm)...

But then we started teasing him about the saw accidentally cutting off his arm...and he got kind of nervous. See how he's protectively cradling his hand? He looks scared, huh? Should I admit that Jason and I thought this was funny, and if I did, would I have to file this blog with all the others that demonstrate what a bad parent I am?

But then the very nice lady who let Nicolette put the cast on Brigham came in with the saw, and Brigham recognized her, and was instantly relaxed. He didn't flinch at all...he was very brave...

We washed our hands, and saw that Brigham still has an ugly bruise on his palm...its all green and yellow. Ewww....

At least that funky smell wasn't some kind of fungus!! And now Brigham is a free man again!! Hurray!!