Welcome to the Scharrer family's real life story! Most of our story is written for, and about, our four kids and the spice they add to our lives. It's our story of happiness, craziness, and sometimes ridiculousness. We've journaled through childbirth, the terrible two's, private school (and our public school experience), an autism diagnosis, medical school, residency, and long-term mission work in Africa.

Now we're following a new adventure, which involves a 45 foot motorcoach, homeschool, and as many ski slopes as we can go down in one year.

For posts from while we were living in Zimbabwe and updates about our future plans in Zimbabwe, please see our mission blog...


28 March 2017

Scharrer Family Vail Ski Vacation + Seven Tips for a Smooth-Sailing Ski Trip with Kids

We just got back from a family ski vacation in Vail.  On the way there, I told the kids that there were only two rules for our ski vacation.  One, there was no bed time, and two, you had to have fun.  As you can probably guess, those rules were followed with a lot of cheering and questions like, "What??  No BED TIME???!!!!  Woohoooooo!"
Erik and I have only ever had one goal in mind when it comes to our kids and skiing and that's that they enjoy it.  Through everything from just learning to ski, to ski competitions, the main goal is always, and only, to have fun.

All four of our kids were on skis by 18 months old and I realized very early on that taking kids skiing is not an easy task for the mother role.  At ski competitions, I often joke with the other moms about how easy a swim competition would be compared to getting our kids ready for a ski race.  Haha, it's all worth it, though, and most importantly, I think it's both valuable and amazing to have an activity that our entire family can enjoy doing together.

As I packed for our family to go to Vail, I made note of a few things (besides the normal snow pants, gloves, hats, mittens, helmets, goggles, ski boots, wool socks...) that are essential to our ski trips running smoothly.  So before I officially document our Vail ski trip, here is my list of the top seven tips for a smooth running ski trip with kids:

1.  Invest in some good merino wool and learn to layer.  Erik is OBSESSED with merino wool and I have to admit that I am, too.  It is a bit pricey, but it will keep you warm.  It dries quickly, so it keeps you dry (which keeps you warmer).  It doesn't hold odor, so you can actually wear it multiple days in a row, making it a great choice for long ski trips!  It's easy to wash, which is great for those middle of the hill potty accidents.  It's also not itchy or too thick and easy to layer with.  I've heard that Minnesotans are expert layer-ers and I have to believe it 's true!  Warmth is found in layers.  Warmer warmth is found in layers of merino wool.  :)  

2.  Spend the extra money to get waterproof mittens.  We have had our fair share of mittens and one of the best things you can do for your kids is get them waterproof mittens.  Not only will their hands stay dry, but they will then stay warmer.  Before fully investing in waterproof mittens, I was carrying 2-3 pairs of mittens per child to the ski hill each time and changing them out every time they got too wet.  Having waterproof mittens is worth every penny!

3.  Put on as many things as you can before heading to the hill.  I used to worry about the kids getting too hot and would only half-way dress them before heading out.  I have learned, though, that half-way dressing and then hauling all of the extra clothes to the hill is way more work than it is good.  And you get hot carrying all that extra stuff, anyway!  We put e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g on our kids, including ski boots, helmets, and goggles, before heading to the hill.

4.  Bring snacks/lunch with you.  Buying food slope side is expensive!  Fill everyone's pockets with snacks before heading out and if you can carry a backpack, bring your lunch.

5.  Have one goal: to have fun.  Erik and I try to be really aware of what our kids are feeling on the hill.  If someone starts getting bored or tired, we switch things up, take a break, or split up into two groups for a while.  Each of our kids have developed their own unique interests on the hill.  Maida loves to go fast and straight down.  Skogen finds every jump on the mountain.  Klaasen takes his time and loves to pave his own trail.  Torsten rides on the side of the trees, always looking for a trail he can take through the woods.  Being flexible and patient, encouraging them to have fun, and allowing kids to explore is rewarding.  Even with all our different styles of skiing and varying abilities, our family enjoys skiing together.  With keeping things fun and enjoyable, everyone is happy on the slopes.

6.  Bring a boot and glove dryer.  I  thought Erik was so dumb when he hauled this on our first ski trip 12 years ago, but I have to admit that I couldn't have been more wrong.  Even waterproof mittens get wet (sweaty) and will need some drying before using them again.  Ski boots also need drying out each night.  With four kids, we run our boot dryer all night long until everyone's things have been dried out.

7.  Use a humidifier in the hotel room.  Another mom suggested this to me  this year and I will never leave home on a ski trip without one again.  Especially when travelling somewhere with high elevation, a humidifier helps your body stay hydrated over night.  It also helps with the dryness of the air, which eliminates the stuffy noses in the morning.  

To be honest, I could probably add a hundred more things to this list, but these seven are my favorite.  Now before another year passes I better "scrapbook" the Scharrer Family Vail Ski Vacation...

This ski trip was very different than any other ski trip we've been on.  There was no extended family along to help with the kids or teammates to hit the pool with.  It was just Erik, the kids, and me.  We had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be so amazingly wonderful!  Our main purpose in going to Vail was for Erik to attend a medical conference there.  He had conference from 7:00am to 10:00am every morning and then again from 4:00pm to 7:00pm each night.  These hours worked out perfectly for our family!  The kids were able to sleep in while he was at morning conference.  Then I'd get them ready to ski and we'd head to the mountain when Erik got back. Four to five hours of skiing a day for little legs is plenty.  We'd head back to the hotel in the afternoon, Erik would go back to conference, and I'd take the kids for the free s'mores provided by the hotel every day, and then to play in the pool.  We ate a late dinner every night and had a lot of fun with big dinners since we never spent money on lunch.

On day three, Erik took the big boys skiing while I took Maida and T shopping.  Skogen and Klaasen were so excited to go with Erik.  They hit every black diamond they could find, they dropped cliffs and skied the bowls on the back side of Vail.  Erik couldn't believe how hard it was for him to keep up with them!  While they skied, Maida got her touristy-type things she wanted.  We took Torsten for ice cream, too.  It was a much needed break from skiing for all three of us.

On day four, we all took the day off from skiing.  This was really hard for Erik to do, since it was a nice sunny day, but it was important for the kids to have a break and he had lots of surprises up his sleeve, too!  The first thing we did was find a playground!  Ski towns are full of fun things like parks, ice skating rinks, and other kids activities.  Next we rode the gondola up to the top and went to Vail's Adventure Park.  The older three got to ride snowmobiles!  They had never driven anything like that before in their lives, so it was fun to watch them!  After snowmobiling, we got coffee and hot chocolate at a little shack on top of a peak, and then we headed off to the Alpine Coaster.  We had originally decided that Torsten would be the only one to ride since he was too small for the snowmobiles, but when we got to the top, the guy working offered for our entire family to ride for free!

We got done with our activities a little early, so Erik was able to join us in the hot tub for a while before conference!

On day six of our trip, we decided to splurge and take the kids to do something none of us had ever done.  We took the kids dog sledding!  It was such an amazing experience and something we'll never forget!

After an early morning dog sledding trip, we skied Beaver Creek. All four of our kids went down the DOUBLE BLACK DIAMOND Birds of Prey run.  This is the course that is used for the World Cup races and where several of our kids' favorite skiers race.  It was a tough hill, but so worth it!  People were clapping and cheering for Torsten as they passed by on the chairlift.  I'm not sure if many other four-year-olds even attempt it!

After skiing, we got some quick appetizers, and then went ice skating!  It's safe to say that the Scharrers are better skiers than skaters!

On day six, we skied Keystone open to close.  It was a long day, but Keystone had a lot for kids and such a great variety of terrain.

We left Keystone around 6pm, stopped in Denver for dinner, and we were on the road home by 9pm.  Erik and I switched off driving about every three hours and we made it home by 10am.  It was such an amazing vacation.  I honestly can't imagine it being any better.  I am so thankful for Erik and how hard he works - even while on vacation.  I could not have gotten up every morning at 6am, but he did it and never complained once.  I am thankful for Mayo Clinic for paying for our entire trip.  I am so happy that our family has an activity that we enjoy doing together and it's something that we can do together all over the world.  My little babies looked so cute in their goggle tan lines when they went back to school on Monday! I can't wait for many more Scharrer ski trips!!!

11 March 2017

It's been a year.  A YEAR!  I used to follow blogs that would fall of the face of the earth and wonder how in the world that could happen.  I never thought I'd be one of those bloggers.  There are so many memories in life that I loved to blog about, to preserve here.  In November of last year, however, I found myself surrounded by life experiences that maybe shouldn't be shared. I struggled with what to say, how to say it, and when to say it.  Life was suffocating me and I had all I could handle just holding on for the ride.  I didn't feel the need to remember or share any of the struggles that I was going through.  As I look back on the last year, though, I realize how much our family grew!  I see how each experience was a stepping stone for the next and we are all better because of what we went through.  Maybe I should start from the beginning and go from there...

In November, after five years of struggle and looking for help in all the wrong places, Klaasen was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This is something that we saw coming, but all at the same time, didn't.  It was a hard thing to swallow, to accept.  We lived in a state of denial for several weeks.  Then as the denial turned into acceptance, we lacked the desire to publicly share this diagnosis with anyone.  Our main concern was Klaasen.  How would he feel about being "different," about having a diagnosis?  I didn't know how to preserve this piece of our family's experience here on the blog.  I wasn't sure how to write about my days, which mostly consisted of restraining Klaasen as he screamed and fought through some of the hardest, most deepest battles that we couldn't possibly even begin to understand at that point.  Klaasen's diagnosis seemed dark and like it needed to be kept a secret.  There was hope that he'd grow out of it soon with the proper help and no one would ever need to know.

The months that followed included Maida's ruptured appendix and hospital stay.  Our family was broken and scared.  10 days in the hospital seemed like years.  Not knowing her diagnosis and watching her come so close to death was one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through.  I struggled with writing through the unknowns.  I had trouble understanding and accepting the medical decisions that were being made, but when these medical decisions were being made by my husband's co-workers, I didn't outwardly question and I especially didn't feel right blabbing my heart and feelings publicly on the blog for all to read!  Living through the night of her diagnosis, though, and watching the clock tick away as I knew hundreds were praying for her while she was in her scan, was one of the most powerful nights of my life.  It's funny how you start to get numb to God's presence when everything is honky-dory.  It isn't until you need him the most when you really start feeling him again, knowing that he's there, RIGHT there with you.

PICC line antibiotics, doctor appointments, transitioning back to school - everything fell into place.  Maida was the strongest little trooper and I will always be proud of her for making it through something I don't think I could have.  Skogen's ski season continued on without his sister and Torsten didn't mind getting shuffled from grandparents to friends and back again during Maida's hospital time and recovery.  Klaasen, on the other hand, seemed to spiral out of control.  In an attempt to help the situation, and set him up for kindergarten in the fall, we started him in a new preschool class.  It was a classroom mixed with special ed and typical children.  It seemed like this was going to be a good fit and we had hoped that it was finally our key to piecing together a great path for Klaasen to go down.  The first two weeks were a delightful honeymoon stage.  Klaasen jumped right into the class and seemed to really enjoy being in school again.  Soon, though, the phone calls started coming.  At first, just calls from the school to tell me of little incidents that were happening.  Then, calls requesting me to go up to the school and pick Klaasen up.  Day after day after day I was called.  Almost always, I would enter an over-turned classroom and find Klaasen curled up in the the corner of the room.  He was so disturbed that he didn't even seem to recognize me.  Blood vessels would be popped on his face and his body was stiff and rigid, ready to fight at any moment.  I could hear the other children cowering in a different classroom down the hall, scared and asking for Klaasen to leave.

One day at the beginning of April, I was called to his school once again.  As I carried him to the car, he was biting me, slapping me, and pulling my hair.  He was screaming loudly and viciously.  His weight and strength was too much for me to carry and I fell several times trying to make it to the car.  When I finally made it to the car, he wouldn't get in . I wanted to just sit down and love him, making all things better like moms are supposed to be able to do.  On the other hand, I wanted to set him down, spank him, and tell him how naughty these choices were. I remember choosing to forcefully throw him into the car, though, looking into his teary eyes, and asking him why he couldn't just be normal.  It was then that my heart broke into a million pieces.  I was losing control and I had just asked my son what I had prayed no one ever would.

I never sent him back to that school again and in early April, Klaasen started going to a therapy center run by the state of Minnesota.  They worked with kides ages 3-5 who needed help with feelings and emotions.  This was a great stepping stone for us into the world of autism.  They helped Klaasen get a grip on his body and what he was feeling.  They helped us understand autism and how it doesn't have to be this big bad monster that it had turned out to be for us lately.  We stopped hiding the diagnosis and we started celebrating it.  We began to understand what was going on with Klaaesen and what we needed to do as his parents, his advocates!  Klaasen continued with therapy through the summer, which was such a blessing.  It gave him some time away from the house and gave me a little break from being his 24/7 caregiver, which was really great since we were in the process of moving, too!  Klaasen started occupational therapy, also, along with one day a week of skills therapy at an autism center in Minneapolis.  All of these therapies were a fight to get into, causing many sleepless nights as I planned and prayed, but the battle was completely worth it.

As summer came and went, we grew a lot as a family.  Maida, Skogen, and I joined Erik on Tour de Togo and made the three day bike ride to church camp, raising over $30,000 in the process!  We spent some time with cousins up north at the lake for the Fourth of July and we really enjoyed living in our new townhouse in the middle of the city.   Lots of mountain biking, road biking, and pool time at the nearby sand bottom pool!  

In the fall, the kids all started at new schools. Maida, Skogen, and Torsten all started back into private schools after our rough year with public schools and we couldn't have been more thankful for that.  Klaasen's therapists helped us advocate for Klaasen as we got an IEP written up and got him into a school that appeared it would work well with his special needs.  Travelling soccer took up most of our weekends in the fall, but we also had time to enjoy some fall bike rides and planning for our Halloween costumes.  The kids dressed as smurfs this year and we had a warmer than normal evening of trick-or-treating, which meant they got way more candy than usual!  November came before we knew it and it was time for our planning trip to Zimbabwe.  Unfortunately, because of cost, Torsten and Klaasen had to stay home, but Maida and Skogen joined Erik and I on our journey.  It was such a blessing to see Maida and Skogen jump right into whatever we were doing for the day in Zimbabwe.  They opened right up to the people there and I learned a lot about love, acceptance, and compassion from my children.  

The holidays came and went with my family joining us in our home for Thanksgiving as we flew into the US from Africa on Thanksgiving Day!  Christmas was celebrated in Oklahoma with Erik's family.  Ski season came and went.  We enjoyed all of our travelling ski weekends (even though it was so much work!!) and the kids really improved on the snow this year.  Even Klaasen and Torsten got out to the mountain several times and we're excited about them possibly joining Maida and Skogen on the ski team next year!  

Now we have just under two months before we make the six month move to Zimbabwe, Africa.  It seems as though the planning for this longer trip is suffocating my daily life as I worry and fret about way too much, but I'm learning how to give God the control.  Klaasen has been able to drop a few of his therapies and start going to full day school!  Overall, he has more bad days than good, but we celebrate the successes as they come. We're very thankful that home life is going a little smoother.  He is scared of the long airplane ride across the ocean, but deep down I feel like he will really enjoy Africa with not as much stimulation and a slower-paced life. Maida has bloomed in her new school with lots of friends and a wonderful teacher!  She has become involved in anything and everything she can, including the cheer leading team, and she is really truly loving life to the fullest.  Her appendix was taken out over the summer, so now no more worrying about that!  Skogen jumped right into a classroom full of boys and has been welcomed nicely in his classroom, as well as in soccer and ski team.  Skogen really enjoyed his time in Zimbabwe and I'm looking forward to him being a leader for Klaasen and Torsten as we all go over in May.  Torsten started preschool this year and loves the independence school brings him.  He has been a great asset to his classroom in many ways, but most recently with his help with an autistic little boy.  I love Torsten's big heart!

Hopefully now that I've written a novel trying to briefly cover the last year, I can stay up-to-date more regularly.  I started this blog in 2007 as a way of including our far away family in our daily life, but have realized that writing about our life is much more than that.  It is a way of documenting precious history, preserving it in a journal-type fashion, something that our family can treasure always.  

We write to taste life twice, once in the moment and in retrospection.”
~Anais Nin