“Eat Mor Chikin”

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July 12th was “Cow Appreciation Day.”

We celebrated with a trip to Chick-fil-A.

Every year on “Cow Appreciation Day” Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country open their doors and hand out free meals to customers who are willing to dress the part for a free meal.

Being fans of all things free,

and being HUGE fans of Chick-fil-A

we pulled together our cow get-ups and drove over to our favorite chicken restaurant.

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We weren’t alone in our willingness to look the part of a fool for free food. The parking lot and restaurant were teeming with bovine.

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The event was not without incident, though.

Tyler had a meltdown in the parking lot, leaving me to help him settle down in the car while the other four kids headed inside to get their chicken sandwiches.

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In his frustration he ripped his cow shirt off with Hulk-like finesse, leaving a scattering of cow hide on the floor of the van.

Poor Tyler is struggling with hard, huge demons from his past and this was one of his tougher days.

So, while we worked through the muck of emotions that were consuming him

 the other kids sat on the curb, enjoying their chicken, dressed as cows.

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Just another day in this bizarre experience we call life.

Projects and Play

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It’s been said:

moments

Here is a look at 10 moments that have been the building blocks of our days at Patchwork Farm this week.

If I had to summarize how the minutes of our summer are spent in just a few words I’d call it,

“Projects and Play.”

1…. The summer months allow our homeschooling family a break from the demands of the school year and allows for more opportunities for play and for tackling some of the projects around the house that there never seems to be enough time for when school is in session.

I work to balance the play and the projects in such a way as to keep the feeling of a “labor camp” at bay and avoid mutiny among my children. The solution I have come up with is to have a set block of time set aside every morning for cleaning/organizing projects. I try to make it fun by :

#1. Picking a job small enough to be completed within an hour so that we can all walk away with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

#2. Work all together. I find that if we all work on a job together, as opposed to sending the kids to work on one task while I work on another, we are more productive, there is less fighting, and we have the opportunity to talk and connect as we work.

One of the tasks we tackled this week was bathroom drawers. The kids all picked a drawer to work on while I organized and cleaned out under the sink.

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We purged, wiped, cleaned and walked away feeling a wonderful sense of satisfaction. It is amazing what can be accomplished with 7 of us working for a short amount of time!

. When the job is completed our afternoons can then be open for play.

2.  Rusty returned from Boy Scout Camp! It was wonderful to have him back home. His calm, quiet spirit was missed this week. He had a wonderful time with his leaders and scout troop. While there he earned many merit badges including:

Citizenship in the Nation, Wilderness Survival, Movie Making, Sculpture, Wood Carving, Pottery and Metal Working.

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The projects from his sculpture and pottery class.

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In his metalworking class he made a fillet knife and an eagle chess piece that he painted.

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These were not the only souvenirs he brought back from Scout Camp. He also brought back a body covered in chigger bites. Poor kid was so itchy. The bulk of his bites were from his ankle to his head on the right side of his body. We think he got them during his wilderness survival overnighter when he was sleeping on the ground.

3.   A few weeks ago a refrigerator box arrived via UPS and was left on our porch. It was huge but when we went to move it we discovered it wasn’t too heavy. It was addressed to Toby and had been sent by his mom.

What was in it?

A GIANT ROOSTER of course.:)

It was for his birthday and he was thrilled. It now has a place of honor in our living room.

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4. This week in Young Women’s the girls learned to make homemade cinnamon rolls (as well as other homemade breads.) They had a lot of fun learning from the Greens and when they arrived home were anxious to share their newly acquired skill. The boys were eager to taste the fruit of their labors, so on Thursday the girls took over the kitchen for a few hours and whipped up all sorts of yeasty delights.

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5.   Molly continues to work on her driving skills. She is getting braver and this week took to the highway for her first “over 60mph driving experience.” She was nervous but handled the pressure well. We are getting closer to having a second independent driver.:)

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6.   “We’re in the Money!” or so it felt surrounded by thousands of pennies, nickels and dimes this week. In the evenings, while watching a movie as a family, we began rolling the coins we have been collecting for the last two years. Years ago we began the habit of saving pocket change. Whatever is loose in our pocket or purse at the end of the day goes into a jar. This then turns into fun money or vacation fund. It always astounds me how much can add up by saving a few pennies at a time.

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Once the container is full (in this case we used a capped off PVC pipe) then we begin the process of rolling the coins. It is a fun project to work on in the evenings and all the kids get a thrill of seeing the pile of rolled coins grow and knowing how much we have saved.

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This time around Rusty had the task of going through the quarters, before they were put in rolls, to find all of the National Park quarters to add to  our collection.

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7.   This week we headed over to Ellwood City pool to cool off a little. My parents gifted us with a family membership as a thank you for watching their farm while they were in Michigan. It was incredibly generous and we have so enjoyed being able to go play at the pool!

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8.   On  Monday, after an afternoon of swimming at the pool, we made a stop at 7-11 for a free slurpie. It was July 11th (7-11) so 7-11 was giving away free small slurpies to every customer who walked through the door. The kids were thrilled!

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9.   Then on days we didn’t go to the pool the kids created their own water fun in the yard with a roll of plastic, a hose and some soap. Summer just isn’t complete without an afternoon of  homemade slip-n-slide fun!

10.    And after a crazy week Daddy came home!! Toby arrived home on Monday night and will be home with us for a week or two before he heads back up to Michigan. Everyone was thrilled to see him pulling down the driveway!

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Well, there you go…

A look into the moments that make up a week of our life here at Patchwork Farm.

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Cranberry Community Days

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bouncy castle

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That was Rusty’s motto at Cranberry’s Community Days on Saturday evening. Since Rusty was at Boy Scout Camp over the 4th of July, and had to miss fireworks, we decided that we would head over to Cranberry Township on Saturday evening to watch their Community Days fireworks.

We went for the fireworks having no idea all the other fun that was offered….

and the added blessing we discovered was that it was all free…

the best sort of fun!

Upon arriving, the first thing we encountered was the bouncy house area. The boys were so excited. It was for kids ages 14 and younger. Rusty was thrilled that he just barely made the cut, but then discovered that his size was working against him when the workers questioned his integrity when he told them he was 14.

Poor Rusty!

You could tell he was struggling with the adult scrutiny, even though he had no reason to feel guilty. I finally stepped forward and confirmed that he was being truthful, that he is just big for his age, and that he wasn’t there to cause trouble he simply wanted to bounce with his little brothers. Once the volunteers realized that he wasn’t a troublesome teen who was lying about his age they stepped aside and let him play.

The following picture KILLS me!

I felt like I was the owner of an overgrown Mastiff puppy in a dog park full of Chihuahua owners.  ;)

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All the boys enjoyed the bouncy house area!

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After spending a significant amount of time bouncing we moved onto the booths that were set up around the park. It was fun to explore and check out all the fun free activities different businesses, churches, and organizations were offering.

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At the Home Depot booth some of the kids made toolboxes to take home to store their treasures in.

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Another booth was offering face tattoos and popsicles.

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Tyler and Ozzie loved the hula hoop competitions offered by a local physical therapy business.

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Ozzie was quite the hula-hooper!

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Molly loved having her face painted by a talented young artist who we discovered was a  homeschool graduate and kindred spirit.

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Isn’t she gifted?! I’m sure it helped she had such a lovely canvas to work with.:)

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It was a perfect summer evening and atmosphere was intoxicating. The live music, bright colors, carnival smells and bustle of people brought a magic that can only be found at a summer fair.

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When the sun began to sink in the sky we found a grassy hillside to set our blankets and chairs on and we waited for the light show to begin.

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 Rusty was the reason we came to see the fireworks, but we were all blown away by the fireworks show put on by Cranberry Township. It was spectacular and in our humble opinion beat Pittsburgh’s show this year.

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It was lovely sitting in the grass,

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on that warm summer evening,

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with my greatest treasures,

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watching the fireflies dance below the explosions of color in the sky.

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This is what summer is all about!

Finding Healing at the Lake

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Well, we made it through a week of Toby’s absence…

Boy, was it a long week!

It is funny how the absence of one or two family members affects the climate of the entire household. This week that feeling was particularly pronounced with the duel absence of Toby in Michigan and Rusty at Scout camp. The absence of older male energy had a profound affect on the home, but the effect was most greatly felt by Tyler.

The result of that climate change was noticed almost immediately. The absence of testosterone in our home resulted in feelings of powerlessness and insecurity for Tyler…

although it took me a few days to figure out those were the emotions behind the behaviors.

The behaviors were explosive. Ozzie’s fears and insecurities bubble up to the surface in the form of manipulation and hurtful words. Tyler’s fears and insecurities bubbles forth in the form of physical destruction. Walls were punched, glass was shattered, books were ripped, and every shirt he wore this week had a hole chewed through the collar by the end of the day as a result of fearful energy needing a release.

He was in constant motion and I didn’t stop moving either. Whether that energy was happy or angry I moved with him through the day, constantly supervising and assisting, much like the mom of a toddler.

The build-up came to a head on Wednesday when, after a destructive rant, Tyler broke down. I heard his breakdown before I saw it. Following the sound of muffled sobs I found him in his closet. He was buried under every blanket he owns lying curled in a fetal position at the bottom of his closet crying…and by crying I don’t mean little boy tears. I am talking about soul-wrenching wails. Wails of mourning and of grief. The type of wailing that breaks forth from deeply buried hurts and can’t be soothed.

He wouldn’t talk…couldn’t talk. But I knew how to read the clues. The biggest clue as to the source of his breakdown was the location of the breakdown. He put himself back in a closet…the very place he was kept as a  small child. There in a closet he was locked away by his birth parents and only set free when they needed to hurt him or his siblings.

I sat on the floor outside his closet and was overcome with such anger toward his abusers. The fact that any child should have to carry the sort of pain that my boys carry on their little shoulders angers me. I sat on the floor and all I felt was rage and helplessness.

Tyler slowly began to deflate and was able to find his words through the sobs. He still wouldn’t leave the closet but he threw the blankets off himself. Under the mounds of blankets I found a sweat drenched 9-year-old boy curled as tightly into himself as he could shrink himself to be. His eyes were tightly shut and he was pressing his hands to either side of his head trying to gain control over the thoughts that were consuming him.

“I just keep seeing it,” he said.

“I can’t make it go away,” he sobbed.

“She is trying to kill me,” he wept.

Finally I found out the driving force behind the behaviors. His constant motion was a tool to keep from thinking. The destruction was the frustration over the thoughts that would break through his wall of defense. The lack of sleep was a calculated choice to avoid the nightmares that haunted him.

The reason behind it all:

Tyler thought his birth mom was going to come and kill him and Toby wasn’t here to protect him.

He didn’t feel safe.

Consumed by fear and anxiety he coped in the way that was most familiar to him.

Our therapy session with Tina on Thursday confirmed all my suspicions and conclusions. He is drowning under the waves of suppressed memories that are now crashing forth…and it breaks my heart.

While parenting a traumatized adopted child I have learned may things…so many things.

But the biggest lesson I have learned is that when assessing a situation and considering what parenting tools to pull from the toolbox the key is to pick the tools completely opposite of our natural inclination.

Its like being trapped in a 24/7 version of the childhood game: “opposite day.”

I’ve learned:

When you want to raise your voice you must whisper.

When you want to punish by sending them to time-out for isolation, it is essential you remain close by.

When you are tempted to shame, you must encourage.

When they are pushing you away with their words and actions you must pull in closer.

When they are shouting, “I hate you” they are actually pleading, “Can you love me? Even when I’m like this?” And you must show them you can.

When you want to de-escalate a situation by decreasing the energy in the room sometimes the best way to do that is by escalating it.

And that has been a tough one for me to learn.

My natural inclination, when a situation is escalating, is to try to let some air out of the balloon. When my oldest three were little I called this my “Mr. Roger’s mojo.” I would soften my voice, slow my movements, look them in the eye, and speak calmly and the energy in the room would lower. My “Mr. Roger’s mojo” is completely ineffective on Tyler…especially when he is escalated. This is common with traumatized children. For a child who came from a noisy, loud, angry, chaotic environment “Mr. Roger’s energy” is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and threatening. To make them comfortable you need to bring the energy and chaos they are craving, just in a healthier way.

You don’t escalate the energy with the screaming and throwing and hitting they are begging for, but rather with “happy chaos.” You have a pillow fight, you chase them around the room, you have a foot race, jump on the trampoline or

 GO ON AN ADVENTURE!

Which was just what we did on Friday. Tyler was struggling and while my natural inclination was to batten down the hatches and brace for the storm that was coming I knew I must do the opposite. I had to meet his energy and raise it a notch. So we jumped in the car and left on an adventure.

We drove two hours away to Lake Erie for a day of fun in the sun. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous about heading two hours away, without Toby, after the week we had, but I was following my gut and following God and knew this was what we needed, so I put on my brave Momma face and we went.

It turned out to be an amazing blessing. It was just what we all needed. We needed to get away from the house, away from triggers, away from responsibility, and just play as a family. The kids swam for hours and the result was a little boy who fell asleep at the end of the day. After a week of sleepless nights and high adrenaline tension Tyler finally found the release his body was calling for.

The key to finding that relief was not found in letting air out of the balloon, but instead by  blowing up that balloon up until it popped. Only then did my little boy find relief from the weight of anxiety that he had been shouldering all week.

Here is a peak into our wonderful day at Presque Isle State Park on Lake Erie:

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Presque Isle State Park

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It was a BEAUTIFUL state park. It felt like we were at the ocean.

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My adoption treasures

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Miss Molly soaking up the sun.

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There was nobody there. It was just our little family, the lifeguard, and a few extra stragglers.

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Looking for sea glass.

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This gorgeous bird allowed us to walk right up to him.

 

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1…2…3…Dunk! The kids were worried the lake would be extra cold but it was actually quite nice.

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It was a beautiful day!

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Grace captured this shot of our walk down the pier.

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It was a good day.

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Happy 4th of July

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The 4th of July fell on a Monday this year, making for a lovely long weekend. It was a much needed reprieve in the midst of two busy weeks.

The girls and I arrived home from Young Women Camp on Saturday afternoon. After a needed afternoon nap we began the process of transferring things like flashlights and camp chairs from our camp pile to Rusty’s packing pile. He was headed to Boy Scout camp, so the evening was spent getting him packed to go.

Unfortunately he had to be dropped off at 5:30 am on the morning of the 4th so he had to miss watching fireworks with the family, but he was so excited for his week at Scout camp that we didn’t feel too bad for him!

He left with his troop early Monday morning and will return home on Saturday.

After dropping off Russ the bulk of the day on Monday was spent preparing Toby to leave for Michigan. He was hired by my sister and her husband to replace their roof and add an addition onto their home. This means he will be living with them for most of the summer and returning home just days before we leave on our cross country road trip, so we spent most of the 4th of July packing him up to leave, loading his truck with his tools, finishing the last of our planning for the trip and nailing down our itinerary so that we can finish making reservations, and making a list of what work we still need to get done on the bus before we leave.

He will come home on Tuesday for one or two weeks while he waits on building permits and will use that week at home to finish up the bus. Whatever doesn’t get completed in that time just won’t be done for our road trip. The good news is that most of what is left to be done are the “extras” and finishing touches.

Then he will head back North with Molly and Rusty (they are going to spend the remainder of the summer working with him as his laborers) and they will all return for the first day of school. The kids are looking forward to spending their summer with the Kirks and learning some valuable skills as laborers for Daddy.

Grace and I will stay behind with the two little boys and hold down the fort here.

After Toby and I  felt we had a handle on planning out the next 3 months then our “planning” turned to the evening as we decided what to do for the 4th of July.

For the last few years we have gone down to the Point in Pittsburgh for their epic fireworks show. Pittsburgh does it BIG and it is always awe-inspiring and stunningly beautiful. This year we were uncertain as to whether we would venture downtown because of heavy rainstorms. We waited to make the call until the last minute and finally at 8:00 pm the sun began to breakthrough the clouds and we decided to go for it.

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The sky stayed  dry for the remainder of the evening and the added benefit of late afternoon rain was smaller crowds. There were only a small fraction of the people that normally gather at the Point for the fireworks display.

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We arrive 30 minutes before the show began and enjoyed walking along the river down to the Point.

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We found seats without any effort and enjoyed a late evening picnic as we waited for the show to start.

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The energy was palpable and the combination of sights and sounds made the 4th of July come alive.

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It makes me proud to be an American!

Playing in the background as we watched the show was this classic, patriotic tribute:

“If tomorrow all the things were gone,
I’d worked for all my life.
And I had to start again,
with just my children and my wife.

I’d thank my lucky stars,
to be livin here today.
‘ Cause the flag still stands for freedom,
and they can’t take that away.

And I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

From the lakes of Minnesota,
to the hills of Tennessee.
Across the plains of Texas,
From sea to shining sea.

From Detroit down to Houston,
and New York to L.A.
Well there’s pride in every American heart,
and its time we stand and say.

That I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

And I’m proud to be and American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.”

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Happy Fourth of July from our family to yours!

Girls’ Camp…year 7!

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“Hi Ho… Hi Ho…It’s off to camp we go”

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After months of preparation and weeks of purchasing and packing we are ready to go!

 

This past week was spent in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania as the girls and I attended Young Women Camp with our church. As illogical as it may sound, spending this past week with 100 teenage girls was just what I needed. Getting away and heading into the woods was just the boost I needed to recharge my “batteries,” refocus on the bigger picture, and spiritually refill my bucket so that I could return home and be a better momma and wife. It was wonderful laughing with the girls and other leaders and stepping away from the distractions of the world for a short time. Camp week was just as Kimberly Rinehart describes:

“Camping is more than just getting away.

It is the clear blue sky, the song of a bird, the beckoning woods, the wide open spaces.

Camping is greeting the breath of dawn unhindered by the walls of city life and watching the sun set in ribbons of color as it says, “goodnight” to a perfect day.

Camping makes hearts grow lighter and food taste better.

It’s sharing songs around a campfire and gazing up in silence at a star-filled sky.

Camping is more than just getting away. It is the thing we need to rekindle the spirit of a simpler time, refresh our hearts with nature’s beauty, and remind us that life doesn’t have to be so complicated after all.”

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The theme this year was:

Press Forward with a Steadfastness in Christ

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Each day the larger theme was broken down into the four smaller focuses of “Feasting upon the word of Christ,” “Having a perfect brightness of hope,” “A love of God and of all mankind” and “Endure to the End.” Each day there were devotionals, guided scripture study, and focus classes that revolved around each of these phrases.

In our 7th year cabin we played off the fun theme of Dr. Seuss, incorporating it into our decorations, pillow treats and devotionals each night. I picked a Dr. Seuss book to read to the girls every evening that encompassed the theme of the day…

Feasting upon the word of Christ……. “I can read with my eyes shut”

Having a perfect brightness of hope……. “Are you my mother?”

A love of God and of all mankind…….. Horton hears a Who”

Endure to the End……. Oh, the places you’ll go”

Then while sharing a spiritual thought or story we discussed the lesson that could be taken from the Dr. Seuss tale if we but listen with spiritual ears. I was astounded at the insight of the girls and the wonderful discussions that came from our evening devotional time.

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The girls at camp spent their days working as levels and their nights sleeping as levels with the other girls their age as well as their two adult leaders. Molly was a 5th year girl this year which meant she had the opportunity to serve as a youth leader and help plan lessons and devotionals for the 3rd year girls she was over.

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I was at camp as the leader over the 7th year girls. These are the 18-year-old girls that choose to come back to camp the summer following their senior year before they head off to college or other plans. The activities that fill the campers’ days vary by level and what skills are needed for certification. For the 7th year girls the days aren’t spent getting skills passed off but rather serving as “goodwill ambassadors” around camp.

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Much of what they do is quiet, behind the scenes acts of service. They plan fun, free time activities for the girls each day:

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They run the camp store where the campers can make purchases from snow cones and popcorn to bandanas and water toys. These items aren’t purchased with traditional money but rather camp tokens that can be earned through helpful deeds and kind acts witnessed around camp.

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They plan pillow treats and thank you gifts for everyone that is at camp and spread goodwill and joy through these secret acts of service.

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They wake the campers each morning and lead the evening programs each night.

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They step in and help where needed whether that is as an extra set of hands on a hike with younger campers or in the kitchen lending a hand to the awesome kitchen staff who make sure we are all well fed at camp.

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This year they also started a new program to encourage the girls to keep their cabins clean. They called it the “Golden Dustpan Award” and the winners were announced daily at dinnertime with a clever song written and performed by the 7th years.

(Sung to the tune “Dear Future Husband” by Meghan Trainor):

“Dear future campers here’s a few things you need to know

if you want to win the prize each and every night.

Oh, sweep the floor. Oh baby, sweep the floor.

Make your bed and maybe even shut the door.

This ain’t a laundry mat. Don’t do that.

Pick up your clothes. Pick…pick up your clothes.

You got to know how to pick up like a lady. Don’t drive your leaders crazy.

Throw that trash away.

Ahhhhhhhhh….Dear future campers,

Here’s a little thing for the winners.

Tonight’s prize goes to cabin _ _ _.

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This was a musically talented group who used their creativity to write a thank you song for the cooks,

As well as win first place in the Oatmeal Challenge with their original music medley!

This was my 7th year at camp but my 6th year serving as leader over the 7th year girls and it is a job that I love. These girls are exceptional! It is joy watching them mature every year as they move up from level to level and then witness that maturity peak as they step into the role of camp leaders.

The group this year was especially near and dear to my heart. They were such an extraordinary group of young ladies and it was a joy to have my oldest, Miss Gracie,  as one of my 7th years. Although Grace has one more year of high school this was her 7th year at camp. I have spent the last 6 years looking forward to being her camp leader and that privilege, in conjunction with the opportunity to work with such awesome 7th years, made this camp year extra special!

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While much of the JCDs’ (7th years) week is spent serving everyone else at camp I try to plan a special activity just for them in which they have the chance to make something for themselves to take home. This year we tie-dyed pillow cases for them to take with them when they leave home as a memento of their 7th year at camp.

The also had the chance to help teach the other campers how to make the jewelry craft for the year…a neat arrow charm bracelet reflective of our “Press Forward” theme.

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Our BIG service project for the week happened on Thursday when we weeded and mulched the beachfront area of the state park we were staying at. We spent 3 hours working and with the manpower of 100 girls plus leaders we were able to complete a very big job. The park was incredibly grateful for the 350+ man hours of service we were able to offer and the girls were able to experience the blessings that come from working as a team and the satisfaction of a job well done.

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After a hot, sweaty morning the girls enjoyed some fun free time in the afternoon. The kitchen staff served us a delicious lunch of walking tacos and then the girls were free to swim, enjoy water time on the kayaks and paddle boards, or simply relax and visit with friends on the shore.

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Molly tried her hand at paddle boarding for the first time and rocked it like a champ!

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Camp unity peaked on Friday when the girls were asked to work together on a special unity activity. They were broken into 4 groups and given the task of building, decorating, and using a traditional maypole. It was fascinating to sit back and watch as a team of many personalities figured out how to work together to accomplish the task set before them. The end result was inspiring and beautiful.

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There is so much good that comes from Young Women’s camp for these girls:

They are spiritually fed, they are able to escape the distractions and pressures of the world for a while, they are able to learn new skills, be silly with each other, serve others, become more Christ-like…but one of the greatest blessings that come from escaping into the woods for a week are the friendships that grow from that shared experience. Not only among the girls but among the leaders as well. What a joy it is to stand in the darkness of the camp commons and hear the giggles of girls coming from the cabins as they talk, laugh, share, and bond with each other.

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On Saturday we arrived home tired, stinky and sore. Physically I was drained but emotionally and spiritually I was charged and filled to capacity. Heading into the woods for the week with 100 teenage girls and their leaders was just what I needed. I am so grateful for the amazing, inspired, awesome leaders that made the “magic” happen. What a joy-filled week it was!

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A Night of Magic

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A night of magic is what we were seeking,

and magic was what we found

when we stepped into the surreal world of Pandora through the magical performance of Cirque du Soleil.

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“Inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar, Cirque du Soleil transports you to the world of Pandora in a visually stunning live setting. Experience a storytelling odyssey through a new world of imagination, discovery and possibility.”

This was Toby’s birthday gift. For years he has expressed a desire to experience the unique theatrical magic of Cirque du Soleil. When the kids and I discovered they were coming to Pittsburgh during Toby’s birthday week we decided to surprise him with tickets…

and boy was he surprised!

He didn’t even realize they were in town.

I bought two sets of tickets for us to go without kids. I would have loved to have gone as a family but the cost of tickets made it unrealistic, so we decided to make it a special date for the two of us.

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Wow!

That is all I can say about Toruk…Wow!

The music was moving, the talent was inspiring, the acrobatics were unreal and the visual affect was…well, magical!

We were taken on a journey into a different world.

It was incredible.

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My love, I hope your birthday was simply magical!

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A Happy Camper

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I’m back!

I have been off-grid for a week and a half and now find myself with the arduous task of trying to catch up with many long overdue blog posts.

The girls and I spent the last week in the woods with 120 other teenage girls and leaders from church, at our annual Girls’ Camp week. (More on that in a future post)

But prior to leaving last Monday for Girls’ Camp we went camping as a family for the weekend on our skoolie’s maiden voyage.

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The start date of our cross country adventure in our converted school bus is quickly approaching and the goal is to get a few practice trips under our belt before we leave. The weekend before we left for Girls’ Camp happened to be free so we joined up with the Holt family and the Hudak family for a weekend camping trip to Pymatuning State Park.

The kids eagerly pitched in to help pack and prepare the bus for take-off.

The bulk of the work inside the bus is completed (with the exception of a few more cabinet doors that need hung.) Painting the outside of the bus is the next big project on the to-do list, but everything that was needed to be completed prior to taking it out on the road was done so we were clear to roll!

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The littles were vibrating with excited energy as we headed down the driveway on our first skoolie adventure!

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The ride there was a lot of fun with this as my view:

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The girls even bravely took turns at the wheel:

When we arrived we quickly got set up. It is crazy how much easier it is to “set up camp” this way than our traditional means of tent camping. Camp chairs were set up while the bus was hooked up to electric, sewer and water.

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I was able to get dinner cooking in the crock pot while Toby got us set up for the weekend. I must admit that after a weekend of camping with air conditioning, a fridge, running water, and my own toilet I can see how easy it would be to get soft and lose our camping edge. I felt a bit guilty and spoiled by the ease of the weekend!

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We had a wonderful weekend getaway. It was fun camping with friends and the kids loved having buddies around to go off exploring with.

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Our days were spent swimming:

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Fishing:

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The only catch of the day:)

 

Going on walks around the campground:

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Making memories around the fire:

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And relaxing with family and friends.

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It was a lovely break from a busy June and a perfect lead-in to a week of camping with all my favorite young women! We all went home feeling rested and renewed…

Thanks in part to luxurious sleeping conditions😉

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As we were leaving camp we made a quick stop at the Spillway to feed the carp. The Spillway is one of those traditions that has gone hand in hand with Pymatuning camping from our very first camping trip there with friends years ago.

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The carp there are so abundant and condensed that the ducks literally walk across their backs.

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The kids all got a kick out of tossing our leftover bread into the water and watching the fish flop and wrestle over the falling pieces of stale bread.

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I can’t decided if I am more fascinated or grossed out by the experience…

but either way,

it is an experience!!

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It was a lovely weekend with the people I love most,

and a perfect kickoff for many future adventures in our home-grown,  skoolie bungalow!

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Toby’s Holiday Trifecta

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Every June, in the course of a matter of days, we have three major celebrations.

I call it “Toby’s Trifecta.”

During one week a year we celebrate Toby’s birthday, his Father’s Day, and our anniversary…all big events.

This can prove to be challenging for the wife who must come up with a way to celebrate him in a special way 3 times in a matter of days. And as tempting as it is… I refuse to lump them together into one big celebration. I know this would be easiest solution,  but as a person whose birthday falls within days of a major holiday (Christmas) I know how depressing it is to receive “lumped gifts.”

And Toby has always done such a fantastic job of making my birthday special despite the after Christmas crash that all are feeling on December 27th that I feel the need to really amp up my game every June.

But I’d totally be lying if I said it was easy.

Buying for boys is hard. It is especially hard buying for Toby because he sets the bar so high. He is my “grand gesture man,” and everything he does is  creative, thoughtful and well… grand. It is hard enough to come up with something absolutely perfect for a man who insists that he doesn’t need anything, and then when I finally do come up with that perfect gift I can’t sit back and rest on my laurels and enjoy the glory…

I have to come up with something equally special two days later and then two days after that!

Aaah! The pressure!

But we were determined to make Toby feel as loved as he makes all of us feel, so we pressed on, determined to make the magic happen. I must say that the older my children get the easier it is becoming because I now have a few extra brains creatively trying to come up with a plan rather than relying on my own creativity…

And the invention of Pinterest has also taken the edge off.:)

This year we celebrated:

41 years of Toby’s life.

19 years of marriage.

and 18 years of fatherhood.

Here is a look into our (read with a booming voice) :  Week… of…. Toby!

Father’s Day began with two extra kiddos as we had Q and Nevaeh for half the day. This is so reflective of Toby and how he lives his life. He opens his home and heart so willingly to children not his own and makes them feel welcomed and loved and cared for. I look at the father he has been to all our children, those sired by him and those born to other men, and I see a perfect example of selflessness and fatherly love.

The kids made his day special with Mickey waffles for breakfast before church, and homemade cards and gifts.

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Tyler even made Toby a tie in his primary class at church, and not just any tie: A candy tie!

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It perfectly complimented the other tie he was wearing that was a Father’s Day gift from a few years ago.

In the afternoon Toby received his favorite gift… the best gift he could ask for:

A Sunday nap!:)

On Tuesday we celebrated our 19th anniversary. I woke to this beautiful gift.

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My parents surprised us by sending us an anniversary card with a gift card to Applebee’s, so after work Toby and I enjoyed a date night with no children! We had a wonderful dinner and enjoyed uninterrupted conversation as we reflected on the last 19 years and discussed our hopes and dreams for the next 19.

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Then we enjoyed a movie…at a theatre…that wasn’t a cartoon!

We went to see, “Now You See Me 2.” We loved the first movie and were eager to see if the sequel would measure up. It was as good as the first! So exciting! Now that I understand all the plot twists and turns I’d love to see it again and watch for all the hidden clues.

It was a perfect night!

Then round three of Toby’s Trifecta continued on Thursday when we celebrated Toby’s 41st birthday.

In the morning we went shopping so the kids to buy the parts to the gift they had planned. They wanted to make Toby a basket that highlighted some of the big events from 1975: the year he was born. They did their research, made a list and then shopped for items that could represent those big events. They had a lot of fun working together on their 1975 basket for Daddy.

When they got home they added tags explaining each item and included a card that expressed the sentiment that of all the things that came out of 1975 he was the best!

In the evening we put off giving Daddy his gifts until bedtime since we had to drop Rusty off for a young men’s activity at church. While he was competing in the “Wacky Olympic Games” we took Toby to dinner. We ended up going to the Texas Roadhouse which was a fun choice. Toby and I hadn’t been there in 10 years and the kids had never eaten there.

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The boys loved the fact that they provided you with buckets of peanuts to munch on while you wait, especially since you are encouraged to throw your shells on the floor. I think they got a thrill out of doing something so naughty.😉

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When we were finally seated at the table the first thing Tyler did was pick up the rolled silverware and unrolled his fork and knife from the napkin. Confused, he held up his black linen napkin, and asked, “What is this?”

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Our usual eateries only offer paper napkins with their logo printed on them. 😉

These napkins left him flustered and confused, uncertain if they were there to wipe your face on or to curl up in if you got chilly. His confusion continued up until it was time to leave when he lifted his napkin and asked, “So do I get to take this home?”

This confirms the fact we need to expand our dining horizons beyond the golden arches!

Dinner itself was delicious. The atmosphere was fun and festive and everyone had a wonderful time. I only wish Rusty could have been there. He would have loved the ribs!

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After dinner and picking up Rusty we headed back home for gifts and cake. The kids gave him their 1975 gift basket and I surprised him with tickets to Cirque du Soleil. He has talked about wanting to see this show live for years so I decided to surprise him. He deserves it!

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This week was all about Toby.

We celebrated him as a father.

We celebrated him as a husband.

Today we celebrated his life and the extraordinary way his life has touched countless others. We are blessed to call him ours.

Happy birthday, dear Toby. Happy birthday to you!

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Some final touches…

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We are just about to head out on our first overnighter in our converted school bus. The morning was spent packing the bus, removing all Toby’s tools, and decorating it. This is the task I have been waiting 12 months for. I’ve been itching to get my hands on this blank slate and add my creative vision to our home on wheels.

Here’s a peek of what we have been up to this morning:

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We found many organizing treasures at Ikea including these adorable dog tail hooks for everyone’s towels.

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The master bedroom

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The kids covered the fridge in magnets from previous trips and adventures.

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Our HAPPY place!

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Our kitchen/living/dining room.

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Boys bunks are completed and ready for bedtime.

IMG_4081 (2)On the wall of our bathroom hangs a framed map of the USA with our bus trip route highlighted.

 

We are so excited for our first weekend in our tiny home!

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