Sunday, November 29, 2015


On the first day of Advent, I had no internet
At my in-laws in Pennsylvania.
On the second day of Advent we were on our way home
From my in-laws in Pennsylvania.

And so I write this blog post on the eve of our trip to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, realizing that my plans to write every day of Advent won't exactly be every day of Advent, considering we'll either be without internet or on the road for at least 10 hours. 

I'll first start posting my Advent posts on December 1st, instead, with perhaps a little about our Thanksgiving and Advent adventures mixed in. I'll try to link to them here, in an effort to keep a list of them all in one place. 

Stay tuned for the further ADVENTures of the rannygahoots.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

White Space

I've had a new blog post screen open on my computer for days. OK, weeks. It's remained white space until just this moment. I've wanted to write, but the words just haven't been coming. Pain has gotten in the way. Packing and planning and cuddling and trying not to watch Christmas movies has also gotten in the way.

It seems when pain levels are high, there is white space where deep thoughts should be. In fact, there is white space where any thought the connects to any other thought should be. I miss the most obvious of connections, making life ten times more difficult. I've completed grocery shopping and moved on to picking up things for my class, realizing after leaving the supermarket that three of the items I needed for class were, in fact, groceries. That sort of thing happens with increasing frequency as of late.

But there's hope in the form of cat scan guided sacroiliac joint injections in my future. Just a couple weeks away, as a matter of fact. I'm both excited and scared. I'm not so much scared of the procedure, but of the side effects, of it not working as well as we're hoping, or of it not working at all. 

I'm also excited that they might just be my ticket to walking, sleeping, and enjoying life more fully. I can barely wait!!!

But wait, I must. 

It seems fitting in this time of waiting - Advent. 

Speaking of Advent, and of White Space, I have a plan - a hope for this season of waiting. I'm going to write - to fill up the white space that has become my mind and my blog with words and thoughts and photos. Every day. And blog what I write, good or bad, long or short, intelligible or nonsensical. 

We are using Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift as our Advent devotional this year, with many of the pretty and fun free extras she has on her website. I found it months upon  months ago and loved what I read then when paging through it. In the book, each day of December leading up to Christmas has a Bible verse followed by some beautiful thoughts and intriguing questions. I've not read any of them in months, and plan to take the next day's Bible verse and write about it the night before without reading any of what's in the book...writing about how that particular Bible verse talks to me (or not!) in that moment.

But for now I wait. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Worst Wait

Advent has to be one of the best times of the year. The waiting, centering on the meaning of the season, and all that goes with it. Waiting for Advent is worse for me than waiting for Christmas.

I'm trying my best not to give in. It's supremely difficult, with stores and ads and preparations and my deep, deep love, to hold out until it's time. I don't know how much longer I can wait. 

My name is Amanda, and I'm a winter holiday movie addict. I'd watch them year round if my family would allow me. I usually have a "Christmas in July" movie marathon, but somehow didn't this year. It's been over ten months since I watched a winter holiday-themed movie. I might die. 

I have to admit that this addiction may be the major reason I can barely wait for Advent. I have a little over a week to wait and then you won't see me until the New Year, as I'll be in bed with hot chocolate or hot cider watching movie after movie. Just watching the movies in my Netflix queue will take a month. 

We watch our first movie on Thanksgiving night ... A Muppet Christmas Carol. Speaking of which, I'm in a slight panic because the book of Christmas movie dvds has disappeared. We can't find it anywhere. I'm freaking out just a little. I must pack them for our annual journey to Pennsylvania to spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws. 

In my house, you won't find many Christmas decorations ... usually some lights around the inside of the dining room windows (ok, I think they're still up from last year), our Advent spiral, our homemade Christmas tree and the kids' stockings. Oh, and the nativity scene(s). How many we put up depends on how much space we can find to display them. And then there are the Mary holding baby Jesus figures that adorn my walls and bookcase year round. They count, too, right?

What you will find are the sounds of the holidays. If a movie isn't playing (gasp!), there's holiday music wafting through the house. Laughter abounds as the children put too much decorating sugar on the sugar cookies and build a Christmas tree out of framed and unframed photos from the past year. Whispers scurry after children putting together gifts and doing good deeds in secret as "Christmas Angels" for their sibling or parent. The Word rings out each morning and evening as we put aside time at least twice each day to wait, to prepare, and to center ourselves in Advent. 

I love Christmas Movies Advent and can barely wait for it to begin!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Fifty Five

Fifty five children lurked in the twists and turns of the long, dark hallways. Some were bruised, some bound, chained, gagged, or a combination. Groans, pleas for help, and screams could be heard throughout the labyrinth. All were there for one reason. 

These amazing youth designed their own costumes and their Childhood Nightmares themed rooms, from paint and set to lights and sounds. They wrote their own scripts, including not only an experience in their own room, but a transition to the next as well. Epoch Arts Haunted House consumed these young people for several Sunday afternoons, hours at home and at Epoch Arts in East Hampton, CT tweaking costumes and adding things to their rooms, as well as two tech days and four astounding nights of fright. 

Not only did the youth, under the guidance of some fabulously creative adults, put together an astonishing Haunted House, but they provided baked goods and other confections for sale in the Cafe each night as well. 

Freakish zombies attacked the hayride and several scary girls rode the hayride or wandered around Epoch Arts. A troll-like figure emerged, ready to snatch overly rude or inappropriate guests from the Haunted House and escort them out of the building, as well as fixing myriad lights, curtains, and other objects that faltered throughout the evening. 

There were ticket sellers, food peddlers, a popcorn popper, and the Ones with The Most Dangerous Job of All, at least according to one smallish guest. You see, there were several brave souls who wended their way through Haunted with pitchers of water and funnels - it was there job to water the creatures that lurked within. This, according to the child, was a job she most definitely would not want, it being especially dangerous and scary. 

And then there was me. Living forty minutes away from Epoch Arts and unwilling to drive back and forth twice a night with Princess Peach Gone Wrong, I decided to be available for whatever was needed of me during the Haunted House. I did my daughter's make-up and helped others with theirs. I found myself assigned to laying down the ground rules and slightly freaking people out before they entered the first room - as well as timing entries to maximize the number of people who were able to experience the creepiest of creeps each night. 

My spiel, which started out with a simple welcome - no photography - the actors won't touch you so please don't touch them - evolved to something like this...
Welcome! Before you enter our Haunted House, I need to lay down some ground rules. No photography, please. Also, please don't use your cell phone or any other device to illuminate our Haunted House - we like it dark in there. Our actors won't touch you - please do not touch them. Please treat our actors respectfully - some of them are quite small, quite scary, but quite small - we wouldn't want to have to send our resident troll after you to drag you out for inappropriate behavior. Please stick together. Several times during your fifteen minute journey through our Haunted House you will be asked if your group is all together in the room. If, by that time, you have lost the power of speech, simply nod your head to indicate when all the members of your group are present. We wouldn't want to lose anyone .... again. Good luck!

We had a few accidental injuries, a lost contact lens leaving a child near-blind (but he carried on), lots of actors needing to sneak out to the bathroom (one more than the rest of the actors combined, it seemed), and several rude guests who were, indeed, extracted from the Haunted House and escorted from the premises. But all in all, Childhood Nightmares was a roaring success. 

I feel blessed to have been a part of it. To observe my children - all the children - thoroughly enjoying themselves despite, and perhaps because of,  the hard work and long hours they put in was heartwarming. 

Most breathtaking to witness was the community of tweens and teens who gathered enthusiastically (most of the time) to put this all together. Room leaders and staff stayed late and arrived early. Staff and parents brought in or made food to ensure that everyone was well fed before they got to work. The young adults looked out for each other, getting help immediately when a "guest" was inappropriate with the female members of the cast so he could be swiftly removed, or when someone needed anything from an ice pack to a snack. Everyone took good care of each other. 

Before the last night of Haunted ended, plans were already in the works for next year, by both the children and the adults. That, in itself, speaks volumes. 

Fifty-five or so children, a bunch of adults, lots of love, and tons of blood, sweat, and tears made for one hair-raising haunted house with a lot of heart. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Conversations I have with people are....interesting.

For example: 

Me: Ugh. Can't keep anything straight. Need pain meds. Though I'm not sure if the pain meds will make it better or worse! LOL And I still need to get to Target. Hrmph. Sometimes I don't feel like adulting.


My cousin posted this the other day. I can so relate, though I know you meant it on a pain level instead of maturity, which I can relate to even more!

Me: Pain level, maturity - both!!! I so just want to throw a fit and stomp my feet and throw myself dramatically onto my bed. But it would hurt too much! 

And then there are the conversations I have with my children. 

Children: Minecraft mumbojumbo blah blah blah Magic the Gathering gobbeldygook.

Me: What is this language which you are speaking? Nothing you say makes any sense to me. It's like I've been transported to another planet or something. 


Child: Can I do math? 

Me: No, you may not do math. We need to do other things. Like watch a movie or something. It's too late for math.


Child: When are we going to sleep?

Daddy: Next Thursday.

Mama: After you see the lunar eclipse.

Child: I pick next Thursday.

And the conversations with my husband:Me: "My back hurts."

Husband: "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Me: "Make it go away."
Husband: "I can't. Then you'd only have a front and that would be weird." 

Then there are random things I hear throughout the day...

"I only died once while carving my jack o' lantern."

"My high today was exploding pigs."

"Alia, it's my turn to play on the computer! Stop giving people cake!"

Conversations with friends and family definitely aren't normal, but I wouldn't want it any other way.

Monday, October 19, 2015

On Fire

The trees and the sky were on fire. It was our first morning at Camp Calumet in Freedom, New Hampshire and the views from the shore of Ossipee Lake couldn't be more spectacular. Siting on the beach, serenity warmed me in the cold October morning air. Children expressed their eagerness to go to breakfast as I found it increasingly difficult to pry myself away from the beauty God was blessing us all with that morning.

It was a weekend full of fun, good food, pumpkin carving, apple cider making, crafting, playing games, hiking, and all the other usual activities. We met great people and reconnected with friends from prior years. 

The lake holds my fondest memories of the trip. As the long weekend wore on, the trees were increasingly ablaze with color. Just the sight alone captivated me. I had some wonderful conversations with my children on the beach and was blessed to really connect with my oldest child, which isn't always easy. 

The pontoon boat ride sparked great conversations and inspiring views, even if my ten year old companion huddled under my sweatshirt the entire time to avoid wind in his face. 

One last beach sunset greeted us in blues and pinks as we eagerly awaited the closing campfire. Just to sit in the stillness of the evening, awash in sky blue pink, was worth the entire trip. 

Sounds of small waves lapping the shore soon gave way to songs and stories. The fire danced as children and families performed skits. We shared faith and fellowship, God's light shining through us as the campfire reflected on our faces.

Perhaps the most precious of memories dawned early on our last morning when three of my children and I ventured to the beach, one still in her footie pajamas (and flip-flops!) shortly after six o'clock. The misty mirror lake invited us to venture out in kayaks for an early morning paddle. After quiet conversation, laughter, and quite a few comments about how cold but beautiful it was, we fell into a few moments of silence. 

My thoughts drifted among the accumulated memories from the weekend, some good, some no so much. My frustrations over the effects of my body's limitations on my expectations for the weekend floated away, and love and laughter are what bubbled to the surface of my mind as we paddled back toward shore. 

As our final morning came to an end, my soul was on fire with renewed zest for life, balanced with a deeper sense of peace within myself. As the weather gets colder and life presents more challenges, the memories held within this trip will inspire and comfort me. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Breaking Sabbath

I wondered what I had done to my Sabbath. 

Sundays are set apart for my family. We go to church for Coffee and Conversation and Worship. We stay for Coffee Hour, catching up with friends and family over veggies and dip and a multitude of sweets. We go home, rest, read, play games, hang out, have dinner, do our nightly devotions and slip into bed contented after a day of relative rest.

But not this Sunday. Or next. Or the following Sunday. Or the one after that. Instead we will be rushing from church to home almost immediately following worship. I'll drop off four kids, pick up lunch, and be off once again with a thirteen year old and, hopefully, some coffee. I'll bring Haley to one of our favorite places to be - Epoch Arts - so she can help build, decorate, script, and costume a "Childhood Nightmares: Video Games Gone Wrong" room for Epoch's annual haunted house. No relaxed Sabbath for me. 

The first day was this past Sunday. I successfully ushered children out the door of church, even amidst their pleading that we stay just a few more minutes. Lunch prepared the day before, we ran inside, picked up lunch and my computer, and bolted out the door in hopes we'd make it on time. Mostly there, with a little time to spare, I made a short detour for coffee. 

Upon arrival, we were greeted in a whirlwind of excited teens, questions about homeschool co-op, and hugs from people we hadn't seen in months. In short order, Haley was off to sit in the theater in a circle of forty or so teens and I found a comfy spot on a couch with my coffee and computer ... for two hours.

Two hours! Two hours of relative quiet. Two hours to myself. Two hours to read, to write, to pray, to contemplate; to have wonderful conversations with amazing people; to listen to teens planning crazy, scary, mind-bending rooms with equal amounts of passion and teamwork, and to just sit and breathe. 

It turns out I'm not breaking Sabbath, I'm getting a delightful break on the Sabbath.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Of Church and Lobsters

From Gathering to Sending, they participate in worship ... through the prelude, the readings, the sermon, the Meal, the hymns, the prayers, all the way to the postlude. Well, they do in some churches, anyway. Others banish them from the sanctuary before things get too serious, too intense, or maybe just too bothersome to have them around, so it seems. 

I don't understand sending children somewhere else, such as "Children's Church" or the nursery at some point during worship. Granted, I slept through many a sermon as a child, taking everyone standing for the Gospel reading as my cue to curl up in the pew and snooze. But the times I stayed awake, I got something out of it. Like the sermon about lobsters and how when one molts, others gather around it and protect it while it's vulnerable, waiting for it to rebuild it's exoskeleton before it ventures out on its own. I don't remember what Bible reading was being referenced, but I do remember the message that we are here to be a community for each other, to take care of the vulnerable, to love each other, to work together, to be the church (not a building, but a people).

My children have always attended worship from start to finish. The entire service is Children's Church - worship for all of God's Children. My children sometimes get more out of it than me.

One of my children, at age 4 or 5, returned from receiving a blessing at the Communion rail with tears streaming down her face. When I asked Haley what was wrong, she answered, "I feel like I'm missing out on something very special." We spoke with our Pastor about First Holy Communion that day after worship. 
Alia blessing Gramma
My youngest, Alia, has attended worship nearly every Sunday since she was eight days old and attended cross-generational Tuesday Night Sunday School since she was ten days old. From a very young age, she has had amazingly deep things to say on the subject of death (To Dust We Shall Return and There's One More Angel in Heaven are just a couple examples), mostly due to the time she spends experiencing worship in its fullest. She also walked out on a sermon once when she was a mere two years old. Why? Because our Pastor used part of our Tuesday Night Sunday School lesson from the previous Tuesday in his sermon and Alia took offense at having to listen to a repeat of what she already knew. "Pastor already SAID ALL THAT STUFF!" 

Time and time again all of my children have said astoundingly beautiful things or asked thought-provoking questions based on what they gleaned from attending a full worship service.

But... children at worship??? Aren't they disruptive? 

I have five children, two on the autism spectrum. Worship can be challenging for and with children. I've suggested streaming the sermon into the restroom, as that's where I ended up more often than not during the sermon with five small children! With a family member or friend helping them navigate between the bulletin and the worship book, and a little patience (ok, sometimes a lot of patience), it's possible... and totally worth include children in the full worship experience. One learns how to behave properly during worship and grows in faith by watching others, by being involved in worship, and by being recognized as a full and valuable member of the church (not a building, but a people).

What happens to children who are involved fully in the worship experience?

They join the choir (Alia sings with the "adult" choir when it suits her, and Haley has been a full member of the adult choir since she was twelve).

They serve coffee hour, as my eldest Aspie son does. It may just be his penchant for desserts, but it is what he does to be more fully involved in our church family.

They become an acolyte, crucifer, or both (Haley and Zachary serve as both acolyte and crucifer in our church).

Or they fuss and fidget and drive you slightly insane during worship and then totally surprise you with a question or comment regarding a reading or the sermon when you least expect it, as Coren (who happens to have Aspergers and is sensory seeking, making worship a challenge for him), age 10, does. 

Instead of seeing Children's Church as a separate experience, perhaps we need only to gather around and support our children while they develop their worship skills and until they are able to navigate worship on their own. Like lobsters. Sort of. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Get a Job

Why don't you just get a job? 

I've heard this several times over the past few weeks. I'm assuming the people who said it to me are concerned with our financial situation (trust me, I am, too!).

I have mentioned to my husband my need to add income to our family finances several times over the past few months, and have been set straight by both him and my body.

I have a full time job managing my health, working with my two autism spectrum children, my child with autoimmune issues, and my other two children and their quirks. This includes researching illnesses, medications and treatment options; scheduling and attending appointments; getting to various tests and medical procedures; keeping prescriptions current; maintaining a stock of supplements; and making sure each of us takes the proper medications and supplements each day. I work with my Aspie kids on behavioral and life skills, I get infusions every five weeks, and deal with side effects and the damage disease has already done to my body on a daily basis.  

I have a full time job homeschooling my children. We unschool, which, for us, means a big investment of my time lining up educational opportunities, gathering materials that help our children follow their current passions, driving children to and from various activities, answering myriad questions a day, and helping each child with whatever they might need whenever they need it. This includes doing math in the car, interrupting housework to research the answer to a random question which then leads to an hour or two of exploring a topic, or running to the store to get items needed for a scientific experiment.

I have a part time job volunteering. I teach two to three classes at homeschool co-op; work with a few awesome women to run the co-op; am on the Tuesday Night Sunday School Planning Team; sing in our church choir; am on the Mutual Ministry committee at church; and help put together our church's Christmas Pageant. I am a La Leche League Leader, taking calls daily and holding monthly meetings ... and I also run the silent auctions for LLL of CT's annual conferences; am an administrator on the Living with Psoriatic Arthritis message board; and participate in giving opportunities like New Beginnings (providing low income school children with clothes for back to school - I get to use my frugal skills and other people's money to clothe as many children as possible!) and Operation Christmas Child. All of these I can do at my own pace, in my own time, for the most part. 

I have a part time job taking care of our household, from housework to finances to scheduling - it's up to me to keep us organized. I clip coupons, find the best deals, scour thrift shops for needed items, barter, trade, and do whatever I can within my power to save as much money as I can while meeting my family's needs. I pack for vacations and weekends away, for Summer Camp, and for Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania. I deal with various food allergies and issues, preparing meals that will work for as many family members as possible.
I battle exhaustion and pain daily in order to accomplish all of the above, which is a job in and of itself.

I know many people living with chronic illness for whom regular employment isn't possible. For some, just living with their illness is a full time job with too much overtime (as mine is at times). So instead of asking why we don't just get a job, please assume that we would love to if we could.

As for me... Forget getting a job. I might need to hire someone to help me with the ones I already have!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Double Digits

There are certain birthdays that get to me. Ten is one of them. TEN whole years. Double digits, even. And that Coren has reached this milestone blows my mind. What happened to my chubby cheeked four year old? He's supposed to still be four, right? Or six. Definitely not ten. TEN. 10.

Ten finds Coren taller, more sure of himself, and bursting with creativity. His Minecraft creations blow my mind. His kindness and compassion inspire me. His continued need for mama snuggles is just plain awesome. He connects with people easily and has a wealth of knowledge in that decade old brain to share. 

Sometimes is difficult for me to remember that he's no longer six or seven. No longer little, really. Perhaps it's the adorableness he continues to embody. Maybe it's his verylongwords like canIwatchamovieinZachary'sroomifZacharysaysit'sOK, 
or his playful nature. Whatever it is, he makes it really difficult for me to fully absorb the fact that he is indeed OLD.

My Moondragon...
Ten wishes for your tenth birthday:

1. I wish you keep your kind heart always, and that it serves you well in life.
2. I wish for you to always be open to offering and receiving hugs - you give the best hugs ever!
3. I wish for you to follow your natural curiosity where it leads and learn a lot along the way.
4. I wish that you'll always embrace your uniqueness and not be defined by any labels.
5. I wish for you to continue telling me all the interesting things and ideas going on in your creative mind.
6. I wish that the world will be an accommodating place for you as you maneuver through life.
7. I wish that you'll always be as comfortable being yourself as you are now.
8. I wish you would give me some chocolate. I could really use some chocolate.
9. I wish that you would just accept that fact that although you are cute, you are also adorable. 
10. I wish you would stop growing up so fast, while at the same time I enjoy seeing you grow up and am curious to see who you will become. 

Happy TENth Birthday, Moondragon!