Hello from The 4 Brothers Ranch! Our family has a lot going on and a couple blogs in order to keep things organized. You can find all our homeschooling stuff here! Annissa's regular everyday blog is called A PAGE IN MY BOOK and also there is a blog to update the kids medical issues at MY UNIQUE FLOWERS. Please check those out too!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Our Holiday Letter 2012

Hello everyone visiting to read our annual Christmas Letter :)   We appreciate you coming to read it since we couldn't afford the extra postage to send it to everyone.  It is the wonders of the interenet - for sure!

Happy Holidays 2012!!
 Greetings from the Yahnke/Stoffel household!!  We hope and pray that this letter finds you all doing well and in uplifting spirits!  We sure do miss hearing from all of you and hope maybe you’ll drop us a line once in awhile!  (hint!)  Let us know what is going on in your lives!

HELLO to all our Family & Friends…. It is our annual Christmas letter, some of you love it, some of you hate it – but you all have to put up with it and then you can burn it ….  (heehee)

            This year has been a long one for us.  There have been ups and downs, and a lot of idle contentment. 

            So let’s go through some updates.


The photo is Calahan and Mia.
            In January Cal turned 16 years old.   He’s been struggling with school a lot.  There were some issues with the highschool not following through with his IEP and accommodating him the way they were supposed to.   We found out that he has some depression and a lot of anxiety issues due to the years of bullying he went through in Wisconsin.  Due to the anxiety issues, he couldn’t bring himself to remind his teachers, or stand up for his rights through his IEP.  I brought it to the attention of the school, and nothing changed.  I got the line of “Well, he needs to remind them.”   No, I’m sorry – it’s not HIS job to remind them.  And I know they have a lot of kids going through their classes all day – but it’s still THEIR job to support these kids.  Due to these issues, and the anxiety and a clear regression that I picked up on, we decided to keep him home this year and homeschool/online school him. 
            Calahan has been dating the same girl for awhile now.  They have been dating the better part of almost two years.  He got her a Valentine’s gift this year and I’m sure he’ll be getting her a small Christmas gift.  They have a lot of similar interests.  Her name is Alana and she has an identical twin sister – I can’t tell them apart, but Cal can. 
            Calahan is also looking forward to figuring what he wants to do in a few years when he goes to college.   He is really interested in mechanics, computer video game creations, and animal conservation.   He is learning a lot about the World Wars right now and history.  He is especially interested in World War II with the Nazi’s and Holocaust.   Since we have German on mine and his Dad’s side and Dennis has Jewish on his. We’re also going to cover some Egyptian stuff and Mythology soon, which I’m excited about.


Noah on a horse in May at Corey’s Day

            In February Noah hit the age of 10!!  Every year we celebrate the life of this child that “wasn’t supposed to live.”   He had a lot of struggles in school this year too.  He is the size of a second grader and he is at a 1st – 2nd grade level academically.  (He should be in 5th grade.)   The school made accommodations to pull him out of class so he can get more direct help in the areas he was at… these are the same accommodations he’s had for the last several years.  I have asked, begged, them to keep him back a grade, but they continue to push him through saying “it’s better for him to be with his peers.”  Well, this is where “No Child Left Behind” fails.   Is it really better to push a child through when he is not ready?   No.  Instead – my child who never had self-esteem issues before – suddenly starts developing them.  He feels stupid because his classmates he’s grouped with have to fill out his work for him ….  He feels stupid when he doesn’t understand the work going on in the class room because it’s way over his head and he pulls a folder out of his desk and starts working on work that was his level by himself while his class does other stuff.  He feels stupid when he gets pulled out of class all the time to do work all of his classmates know already.   This is good?   When Noah started to express to me how he thought he was “dumb” and “stupid” I knew enough was enough – so we also pulled him out to homeschool him.    In addition to the self-esteem issues he’s now developing – there were medical issues.  The kid was sick so much during the last school year that he was almost placed under the truancy law.  We had figured it out so it wouldn’t happen again – but regardless, how can he learn if he’s not there because he’s feverish, vomiting, sick and I can’t send him to school because I’m following their rules of not sending kids to school sick.  (Obviously other parents don’t follow this rule because my kid kept coming home sick!) …  So – we just felt schooling at home this year was better all around. 
            Thankfully, nothing major has gone on with Noah this year.  We continue to work on his speech, working on getting him to wear his hearing aid because he doesn’t like to.  We work on his muscles in his legs which he will always have issues with.   He has to have major dental work as soon as we can get that process going – since he has shark teeth (baby teeth that don’t fall out and adult ones coming in where they are not supposed to) and he has a couple of teeth growing sideways which are going to cause major issues, and at least one under developed one.  He is going to have to have surgery and need major orthodontics.  If that’s all to report, I think it’s a pretty good year!  (Noah was diagnosed with an extremely rare trisomy before he was born and we were told he wouldn’t live.)


            In April Nathan turned the big FIVE!  There has been a lot on Nathan’s plate this year.  As Nana’s FAVORITE grandson (and she’s not ashamed to admit it!  Just ask her photo wall at work – it’s ALL Nathan ALL the time!  But she does have the whole family as her wallpaper!) he is spoiled.  I think it’s tough for all of us not to give in a little more to Nathan.  

Nathan in May during Corey’s Day on the Farm.

            He finally got over the 25 lb hurdle and is a whopping 27 lbs now!  He’s getting a little taller but the fact he is soooooooo tiny causes issues with clothes.  His pants are constantly falling off.  I get pants and watch him yank yank yank on them all day.  So I throw them in the giveaway pile.  It’s hard to find things that fit him, and something we end up celebrating when we do.  Especially when Kaedyn is husky and handing down clothes to his older brother.
            His Autism has gotten to the point where there is absolutely no doubt he has it.  He may not have the same symptoms as other Autistic kids, he is friendly – he doesn’t shy away from strangers a lot, but he doesn’t like to make eye contact a lot, he doesn’t mind being touched by people he knows, but he has to have sensory toys, and he definitely has his classic autistic melt downs.  He needs a lot of positive pressure to bring him out of his melt downs.  He has a few weight blankets/objects that he loves and uses all the time.  He disappears into his own little world and avoids kids he doesn’t know,  He has to have things a particular way and he is a little accommodating if we are off his normal routine, or if things change but if they can’t return to normal within a few days, all hell breaks loose.  He is still rather non-verbal, but he is definitely better in the talking department since his cleft surgery repair in May, but we all still get very frustrated at times trying to figure out what he’s asking or wanting or trying to tell us.  We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of his electronic communication device so that we can finally start a solid form of communication with him since he didn’t pick up sign language.  We have been waiting since May but are hoping we’ll get the phone call ANY DAY NOW. 
            In addition to the cleft palate repair and the ACD, he recently received hearing aids for both ears.  His hearing loss is not as severe as Noah’s is in the one ear, but it’s significant enough that he needs them.   When he got them in (just recently) he kept saying “WOW” over and over at all the new sounds he was hearing.  But he also quickly got overwhelmed, especially with both hearing aids in.  So we’re going slow right now, and only having him wear one hearing aid for as long as we can get him to, which is an hour – if we’re lucky – right now.  We’re trying to make it part of our morning routine that he puts them in, but it’s hard right now.  He totally rejects it.  But we’re hoping with both of them (Nathan and Noah) sharing this issue, it’ll make it a little easier on both of them. 
            Nathan is still doing daily injections of human growth hormone to hopefully increase his growth enough to get him close to or over 5 foot.  We had an insurance change and after fighting two years to finally get him use to his first device where you couldn’t see the needle, he’s now having to use just needles – and it’s a major anxiety issue for him.   It’s a constant battle, there, too.   It’s so hard to have to *hurt* your child to benefit them. 
            In other news, he started Kindergarten this year and he’s amazingly smart, if I do say so myself.  Due to his Autism he is in an inclusion classroom most the day, but he does go to his regular classroom too.  When he gets overwhelmed, he tells his helper it’s time to go back to the inclusion room. 
            I see the same pattern I did with Noah – where all the kids stop and say hi to him.  He’s a very popular kid – much the same as Noah – and he has a lot of friends.  It truly warms my heart that children embrace kids with challenges and are different.  Infact, Nathan has a helper at lunch who helps him get his food and encourages him to eat.  She’s a fourth grader and we’re going to get her a little something for Christmas for her help with him this year.  (Nathan has a lot of things going on.  He has a form of Primordial Dwarfism, which is his main diagnosis.  He also has Autism.)


Kaedyn during an event we went to.

            This past September, our lil’ man Kaedyn turned FOUR!   He has made a lot of progress this year in the speech area.  Instead of talking “Nathanese” …  he can now carry on full conversations with us.  We call him bilingual because he’s the only one who can talk to Nathan and understand him. 
            He is in his second year of preschool and he is over fifty pounds!!  He’s twice Nathan’s weight, and only ten pounds away from Noah! He is doing very well and is super smart.  He loves to do things on the computer, help Daddy out in the kitchen cooking, and likes to do “the dishes” (play in water.)   Infact – the last two get him into a lot of trouble sometimes.   He likes to go in the kitchen and take whatever he can find and mix it into a bowl or a pot and add whatever liquid (someone’s drink or water from the sink) to create his own “soup” ….  Yep.  A lot of trouble. 
            He is the one who makes me want to pull my hair out the MOST, but he is also the most cuddly loveable little boy in my house, and the one who keeps us in tears laughing the most.  Not that the other kids don’t do their fair share of both, but I can honestly say – Dennis and I thank every day for Kaedyn (as we do all the kids).   He is our comic relief.

Dennis and Annissa

            A lot has happened with us this year, mostly – health wise.  A lot of scary stuff, in my opinion, to us anyway.    

            Most importantly – Dennis and I are celebrating our SIX YEAR anniversary this year.   I know that may not seem like anything but since Dennis could never make it through a year of marriage before, that says a lot!  (HA HA) …. 
            Last November Dennis lost the ability to walk.   He got the flu shot on November 3rd last year and then the following week on a Monday he had a seizure (or what we think was one.)   By that Friday he was in the hospital with the inability to walk.  He ended up going through a ton of tests, none of which pointed to anything definitive.  He ended up in a hospital over in Seattle, and then came home.  He was home for Thanksgiving – but shortly after he ended up back in the hospital.  This time, he ended up being transferred to a rehabilitation center.   He was there for several weeks and barely made it home for Christmas. 
            Since then, he has been through more tests, a ton more hospital visits.  He had the diagnosis of “bi-lateral leg weakness” and we got frustrated and felt as if we weren’t being heard.  Something was obviously wrong, and we felt like they were just brushing it all off because they couldn’t find a reason.  They had MRI’s done of his head and spine, which ruled out MS.  He had a few spinal taps, revealing protein in his spinal fluid.  He’s gone through EMG’s where they put needles in your nerves and muscles and send electric shocks to see how they react.  He’s baffled doctors.  So they did the only thing they could seem to do and called it “Conversion Disorder” which they assured us didn’t mean it was all in his head, but in reality – you look it up – and it says psychosomatic.   He basically fired the one neurologist and went to a new one which we instantly fell in love with.  Why?   Because she listened and she HEARD us.  She understood our concerns and assured us, in her opinion it wasn’t MS (which is what we thought.)  She also assured us, she wasn’t going to completely rule it out.  She ordered more tests, including an MRI that hadn’t been done of his neck and cerebral spaces.  Well, we got the results back from the MRI and – finally – we might have answers.  Dennis’ spine in his neck is messed up, he has a lot going on in there – and it seems to explain it all. 
            In news for me, I found out that I’m diabetic – after being pregnant with Kaedyn and having gestational diabetes, it never went away – I was taking medications for it, but it screwed up my liver sending my enzymes through the roof, to the point where I can no longer take over the counter pain medications, or my diabetic medications.  So I then became insulin dependent and insulin resistant having to take a lot of insulin for it to work.  It’s under some control now – it’ll always be a work in progress.  Something that I’ll struggle with and have to constantly adjust. 
            On top of this, I found out that I have other issues going on.  Besides my auto-immune disorder I was diagnosed with when I was 16, I found out that I had a heart murmur when I was 25 (after Noah was born.)  Recently – after an ECHO…  we found out it was a little more serious than just a “murmur.”  I have a hole in my heart and because of this hole in my heart, the right side of my heart is overworked and enlarged.  I have become very symptomatic.  I am tired out a lot, one morning I woke up and my lips were bluish – it concerned me and I showed Dennis – but they pinked back up shortly after.  I break out in severe sweats easily and it’s so hard for me to be active when I’m in a swimming pool of my own sweat.    
            So yeah, things aren’t easy – for any of us. 

            I am looking forward to going back to school, hopefully soon.  It’s something I truly loved doing and am definitely going to go back to.  I haven’t had a chance to work on my writing much.  I’ve done a little photography work.  I did a few shoots this year and am looking forward to doing the birth and newborn photos for a friend.  I’ve have been really busy taking care of everyone. 


            In June of 2010 we adopted a black cat and named her Mia Bella.  In November of 2011 we adopted a Chihuahua and named her Marnie Lola.   This year, in May, we ended up taking in a 5 week old kitten a friend found in her garage who was severely underweight – and quickly became attached.  So we adopted her, also, and her name is Autumn Aurora … or “Rori” because it’s easier for Nathan.  Mia is anti-social and totally Cal’s cat.  Marnie gravitates to whoever is the sickest that day and cuddles, otherwise she can be temperamental with the kids and is usually around Dennis or I.   Autumn is one of the best cats we’ve ever had.  She doesn’t beg for a lot of attention but completely tolerates the kids handling her. 
Mia Bella

Marnie Lola

Autumn Aurora - above at 5 weeks old, below grown up into a pretty kitty ... 

            Almost two years ago we moved into an upstairs apartment and after Dennis lost the ability to walk, that became an issue.  So we finally got the opportunity to move into a lower (ground level) apartment – and it just so happened to literally be the apartment below us.  Not often you can say you are going to move down ten feet.  So we moved from our upstairs apartment to a lower one.  It not only makes things a lot easier for Dennis, it allows him to go outside on his own, be more involved in the kids lives, and it allows us to be a lot less *strict* about them jumping around, running, and stomping.  We are ALL a lot happier down here.  So our address has only changed slightly, but it has changed.  (See new address at the bottom of the letter.)

Noah, Calahan, Marnie, Nathan & Kaedyn at the park.

            Like every year there is life and death.  Our extended family of both family and friends who are family to us, have had some exciting news with births.  There are a few who are expecting.  A couple miscarriages that I virtually held hands through and offered my ear, love and support.  Most of all, we suffered a great personal loss this year.  

            We found out in April that my (ex) Mother-In-Law, Jeannie Gonyer, was dying.  This came as a huge HUGE shock because she was only 58 (at the time, she turned 59 shortly before we lost her.)  She had suffered a “mini-stroke” late last year, and she didn’t want us to be burdened with the news, so it took her a long time to tell us.  I didn’t tell the kids, by the time I found out – she was doing well, or that’s what she was telling us. 
            In April, I got very excited because I had been doing some extensive genealogy and it was something that Jeannie and I shared a passion for.  I had traced her line back to English Royalty, several Kings, Nobility, and some interesting stories.  It was a project I was doing with Calahan.  So we excitedly tried to get ahold of her for weeks, but she didn’t call back.  I messaged her over facebook with no luck.  And then, seeing a few messages on her facebook profile, I messaged her niece.  I remember asking her if something had happened.  She messaged me back and confirmed what my gut was telling me, and fears I didn’t want to face. 
            I found out that she had another stroke, and they found out that the previous one and this one were caused by a rapidly growing type of brain cancer, and at that time, the tumor had already taken over half of her brain and was completely inoperable.   She was given days, to weeks.  She didn’t want us being told, she didn’t want the kids to worry.  We sent her flowers for her birthday.  The kids talked to her once on the phone but it was difficult for her and she was very confused. 
            You never want to have to tell your children that someone they love is dying, or has died.  Even if it is a part of life, it’s not an easy part at all. 
            My kids gained another angel this year, watching over them and protecting them.  I’ll keep her memory alive in them, her love of history, especially.  
Grandma Jeannie with Noah on his first birthday.

            Speaking of genealogy – Dennis and I have had a lot of fun with that this year.   We involve the kids, of course, because knowing our heritage is amazing.  We have found connections to a lot of English Royalty on all sides, links to the Salem Witch Trials – especially on Dennis’ side – one of his ancestors was hung as a witch….  I joke it was my ancestors that hung his in Salem, and in one line I actually found a link in the English Royalty where one of my ancestors DID hang his, once or twice.  We can’t trace his Italian side, or the side that is – via family history – Jewish and was involved in the Holocaust.   I also can’t get any further on my Dad’s side – and all this frustrates me to no end.  But seriously – tracing some of the lines back as far as I can (to the 800’s and some further!) …  is AMAZING.  But it’s the royal lines because they kept records.  I’m a direct dependent of the Plantagenet line of English Royalty – and of course all the French, Irish, Spanish royalty that married in.  I have a blog where I share stories I find of our ancestors.  Have I said it’s amazing?  If anyone in the family has older photos of our ancestors – articles, anything – I would REALLY REALLY appreciate if you can scan the documents/photos and send them to me. This includes my ex husband’s side for Cal and Noah’s trees, Dennis’ and mine.  We are working on trees for all five kids. I will add them all the blog for the whole family to have access to.  I think it’s really important.  If you can’t email them to me (mammarazzi13@aol.com) …  I have the ability to scan them and send them back.   I would greatly appreciate it since it’s an ongoing project we’re doing for homeschooling. 

Another homeschooling request – I would greatly appreciate it if you could send us a postcard from where you are at.  We are doing a project with that.  So far we have 16 post cards – we could definitely use more.  Homeschooling is a lot of fun.  We are enjoying it.  We’ve had a lot of fun so far, we’ve made our own bouncy balls (they weren’t very bouncy)…  we have a caterpillar that we found that we can’t identify and is in a cocoon – we think it’ll be a moth – but we’re still waiting.
 As for our darling Jessa.  There still hasn’t been any contact.   She turned 8 years old this year and we got a cupcake cake for her and celebrated, thinking of her.  Her mom insists on keeping her out of Dennis’ life only because he cannot be a “full time Father” …  she refuses to give us her address, and no longer even updates Dennis (even though she only really did that once.)  We can’t afford to fight it right now, so all we can do is continue to keep records, write her and keep the letters for her, and hope someday we can hand her the box of love that we have for her.  She is, and always will be, part of our family – if she is with us or not.

We were thankful to be able to participate in Corey’s Day on the Farm again this year.  It’s an event put on for children with medical issues.  They get to ride horses, there is a petting zoo, hay rides on tractors and horse drawn trailers, free food, lassoing, just a lot of fun stuff.  Nathan got to go last year, we thought Noah was going to go – but it didn’t happen so we made sure that both of them were able to go this year.  They both had a great time, and it’s something we look forward to – greatly – every year. 

We love it here in Washington and we’re thankful we moved here.  The kids have great medical care, and I think the weather is a lot more tolerable for all of us.  Even though it rains here a lot in the winter – I’d rather deal with that then having to unbury our car from two feet of snow and the frigid cold in Wisconsin.   Although, I have to admit – I don’t miss the cold, but I miss the thunder storms, and I miss watching the snow fall and seeing it outside.  I also miss our family and friends back home. 
On a last note, I just want to say a very very heart felt thank you to those of you who sent stuff to Nathan for his surgery in May.  It made things a little more bearable for both of us. 


(ask me over facebook cuz I'm not publishing that on the blog! LOL)

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