Easter at the Homestead

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Last weekend we headed to Ohio.
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Since we had spent Easter day with Toby’s family, this was our second Easter celebration…this time with my parents.
We could not have asked for more beautiful weather. It was a perfect spring day. Between the bright blue sky, kelly green grass, and purple violets, the Homestead was alive with color.
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Much of the day was spent outside enjoying this ideal spring day.
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For lunch we enjoyed a picnic lunch of subs, potato salad, deviled eggs, and pickled watermelon rinds.
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The animals gathered at the fence to watch us eat. Perhaps they were hoping someone might toss them a roll. 🙂
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It is funny to see how alive and engaged the critters become when they see the kids arrive.
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After lunch we participated in a new Easter tradition, something we had never heard of before. This Easter tradition was introduced to us by my soon-to-be sister from Texas. Upon hearing that my poor, Pennsylvania children had never experienced cascarones before (a Easter tradition in Texas) she sent a package as a gift. “What are cascarones,” you ask:
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“A cascarón is a hollowed-out chicken egg filled with confetti. Cascarones are common through Mexico and are similar to the Easter eggs popular in many other countries. They are mostly used in Mexico during Carnival, but in US and Mexico border towns the cultures combined making them a popular Easter tradition.

Popular for generations as an Easter tradition in the Southwest, they are now making a splash elsewhere in the United States.”

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She explained to my mom how they work and that getting hit with a cascarone is supposed to bring good luck.

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So we tapped into our very shallow, pretty much non-existent Latin roots and grabbed an egg.

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What fun they were!!

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I think we have established a new Easter tradition, although Tyler suggested that next year we just use regular eggs.

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It could be fun. Messy, but fun. 😉

After our cascarones battle it was time to switch gears from Easter to birthdays, as we planned to take advantage of having everyone gathered, so as to celebrate Ozzie’s and Molly’s birthdays.

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Life has gotten busier in recent years and the added distance between our homes (2 1/2 hours as opposed to 1) makes getting together a bit tougher, so we have begun clumping birthdays and celebrating 3 months of birthdays in one sitting.

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Both kids were tickled pink to receive such perfect, thoughtful, creative gifts from my parents.

Ozzie received two new puzzles and a deck of John Deere playing cards. They couldn’t have picked a better gift for my puzzle loving boy!

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Molly received a Ukulele…an adorable Ukulele! She has been talking about wanting to learn to play the Ukulele and Mimi and Pop Pop heard her wish and granted it.

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Mom even had special Easter treats for Toby and I.

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It was very thoughtful!

The remainder of the day was spent soaking up the sunshine, enjoying birthday root beer floats, and playing Frisbee as a family.

How blessed we are!

Cone of Shame

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For a mangy gang of farm dogs, our pups have had their share Beverly Hill’s surgeries. Yes, each and every one of our puppies have, at one time, gone under the knife for the same procedures the rich and pampered ladies of L.A. pay big bucks for.

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When Winnie, our English Bulldog, was a puppies she went in for an eye lift. (Her Upper lid was so droopy it was causing her eyelashes to rub against her eye. This surgery was needed to prevent blindness.

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A few years later Ellie May, our Bashar (Bassett Hound/Shar pei mix), had to get her ears “quilted.” (This was a result of her breaking the blood vessels in her ears from banging them off walls and furniture.)

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This past week Olive went under the knife to have her stomach stapled. (This wasn’t a weight loss procedure. We discovered that when Toby responded to the vet’s plan with, “Ok, but I’m up next!”) Rather this was a preventative measure they decided to take while she was already opened up and under anesthesia for her spaying.

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Great Danes, like some other dogs with large chest cavities, run a risk of their stomach flipping. This is quite often fatal as you don’t realize the problem until it is too late. So far we have taken preventative measures by feeding her three small meals a day instead of one large meal, as well as not letting her run or play for 30 minutes after eating.

This surgery makes it so it is pretty much impossible for the stomach to flip.

While they were inside her, spaying her, they went ahead and stapled a portion of her stomach lining to the wall of her chest cavity. Hopefully this prevents any future medical issues.

She came home the evening of her surgery tired, sore, and sporting a cone of shame that would eventually lead to the rest of us being tired and sore!

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I know many of you have experienced the challenge, following getting a puppy “fixed,” of keeping a recovering puppy still and calm in the week following surgery. It is no easy feat. Now imagine keeping a 100 pound, emotionally needy, hyperactive Great Dane puppy quiet and still for 10 days after surgery and you can understand our fatigue.

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Prior to surgery she was a clingy pup, as is typical with this breed, but following surgery she is a complete baby and refuses to leave my side or the side of any family member in the area.

Olive is a leaner. She must always be touching someone. She will either stand on your feet and lean against your legs, stand in front of you pressing her head against your stomach, or follow you around so closely that if you abruptly turn there is a collision. This is just part of the charm and challenge of Great Dane ownership. (Which is why she is an ideal therapy companion for Tyler)

Now add to that personality a sharp edged plastic cone and you end up with bruised and bleeding family members. She doesn’t seem to understand that she is limited and has spent the last week tearing up our legs with every lean, and knocking over every breakable in the house as she forces her cone covered self through spaces she used to be able to fit through.

Just when I thought we were in the home stretch of things returning to normal, she broke out of the house when backs were turned, and then proceeded to run, jump, and pirouette around the front yard, in joyful exuberance…finally free of the leash she has been walked on since surgery.

The result: torn stitches, internal bleeding and  round 2 of surgery.

So here we are, back to day 3 of recovery.

So if you stop by and find us all wearing snow suits and shin guards in this 78 degree heat you’ll know why.

The Cone of Shame is Back in Play!

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Annapolis, Maryland

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Every year 21st Century Cyber Charter School plans a big, end of the year field trip for their students and families. These field trips are the highlight of the year and no effort or expense is spared by the school. In the past we have joined our teachers on field trips to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio; Mt. Vernon (home of George Washington) in Virginia; and a high in the sky climbing course in central Pennsylvania. This year’s field trip took us all the way to the coast as we visited Annapolis, Maryland.

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Annapolis is a city no one in our family had ever visited before so we were excited when we heard this year’s field trip would take us on a tour of the Naval Academy and a water tour of the harbor.

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The event took place last Wednesday.

To help facilitate the logistics of moving 21st Century students from all corners of Pennsylvania to Maryland in an organized way, four “bus stops” were established throughout the state. The school rented charter buses to transport their families to the field trip. The closest “bus stop” to our home was located an hour away in Monroeville. We were asked to arrive at 5:10 am.

This meant alarms were set for:

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And we were headed out the door just before 4:00 am. It was an early morning!

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We arrived, checked in with the teachers that were traveling on the Pittsburgh buses, and received our t-shirts to put on. Every year the school has t-shirts made for that year’s field trip. This helps in keeping track of the large crowds, but also serves as a fun souvenir of the experience.

This was the t-shirt design for our Annapolis trip:

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Once everyone arrived we loaded on the two buses and prepared for our five hour drive to Annapolis. I was a bit concerned that Tyler would struggle with 10 hours on the road so I packed accordingly, with a backpack full of drinks, snacks, fidget toys, card games, and toys. The bus also had TV screens which allowed the teachers to play Disney movies on the drive out and the drive back. This definitely helped pass the time.

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We traveled with our co-op friends. The Hudaks and the Stones were also attending this fieldtrip, so the kids were able to sit together on the bus and we were able to stay together as a group for the tours.

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When we arrive we gathered by the water’s edge for the arrival of our tour guide for the day. Annapolis was beautiful!

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Charming cobblestone streets, a prime location on the Chesapeake Bay, and centuries of history make Annapolis a great destination for a day trip.

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Squire Richard was assigned to our group to give us a tour of the Naval Academy and historic Annapolis. He was funny and informative, a perfect tour guide.

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We began our day by touring the Naval Academy:

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There’s no denying the U.S. Naval Academy is the anchor of downtown Annapolis. Training the leaders of the United States Navy since 1845, the Naval Academy currently offers 18 different majors and enrolls 4,400 midshipmen. Life for a midshipmen is strictly regimented and while there we spotted plebes, or freshmen midshipmen walking around in their crisply pressed uniforms.

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Some of the places we visited were:

The Main Chapel: Here they conduct both Catholic and Protestant services that are open to the public.

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The Crypt of John Paul Jones was found below the chapel: Jones was one of the greatest Revolutionary War naval heroes.

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From there we headed back to the water’s edge for our harbor tour:

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With over 533 miles of shoreline and the Chesapeake Bay as its backyard, there is no better way to experience Annapolis than out on the water. Known as the “Sailing Capital of the US”, a steady parade of sails can be seen throughout the bay while kayakers and paddle boarders prefer to explore the miles of streams and inlets around Annapolis.

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For our tour we hopped aboard the Harbor Queen, a 40-minute narrated cruise of the Annapolis Harbor and the banks of the U.S. Naval Academy. It was so nice to get out on the water.

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We had a great time on the cruise and were able to learn even more about Annapolis’ history.

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While on the water we enjoyed our picnic lunches. It was a bit chilly but one couldn’t deny the exceptional views and the fun novelty of eating on the water.

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After our lunch and relaxing sightseeing tour of the water, we met up with Squire Richard once more for our foot tour of historic Annapolis:

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With over four centuries of history and a rich mid-Atlantic heritage, Annapolis is known as a “Museum Without Walls”. While strolling through the charming brick paved streets of the historic center we stopped by historic St. Anne’s Church, strolled past the homes of the three signers of the Declaration of Independence that called Annapolis home, and visited the place were history was/is made in the Maryland State House.

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While you may know Annapolis as Maryland’s state capital did you know it also briefly the capital of the United States in 1783? That is just one of the secrets I found in this captivating town by the bay.

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One of the biggest highlights of these big field trips for my kiddos is the chance to socialize with their teachers whom they love but interact with primarily through the computer. It is always fun to connect in person!

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Ms. Cloetingh- an English teacher in the school and head of Mural Club.

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Mrs. Zaayenga- The girls’ Chemistry teacher

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Mrs. Scarpignato- Ozzie’s learning coach and special education teacher.

 

By 2:15 pm it was time to meet back up with the buses for our uneventful, five hour ride back home.

By the time we had arrived back in Pittsburgh we had spent the day sitting in a moving vehicle for 11 hours and no one was eager to climb back into cars for the final one hour drive home. I think our family and the Hudak clan were the last to leave the parking lot.

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It was a L-O-N-G day, but a REALLY FUN day!

Grocery Shopping made Easy!

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I remember a season when grocery shopping was one of the most overwhelming, challenging tasks on my “to do” list.

It was at a time in my life when I had three kids under the age of five and my Myasthenia Gravis symptoms were at their worst. Simple tasks like brushing my hair or bathing my children were impossible on the days when my muscle weakness was at its worst.

Desperate to maintain as much independence as possible I quickly learned tricks and strategies to get through my days. Simple tools like a headset for my phone so I didn’t have to hold up the phone and a mixer for stirring rather than stirring food with a wooden spoon reserved arm strength that could then be used for other tasks.

A cooling vest made leaving the house during the summer months possible for a few hours at a time and a handicap parking hang tag made going to the library a possibility. I was able to save my steps for walking through the library rather than wasting my limited strength for the walk across the parking lot.

One task I never found a good solution for, however, was grocery shopping. It was a task that required such an expenditure of energy and strength, that it would put me down for days after the task. I tried to use my energy wisely and budgeted out every step by making sure my grocery list was written to follow the aisles of the store, so as to save any backtracking. But even with all that planning I lived in fear that I would run out of leg strength mid-shopping and not be able to make it back to the car with my children and groceries.

Eventually we solved the problem by waiting until Toby was home to grocery shop, but I resented my body and the limitations it put on my ability to be independent.

I remember thinking, “Oh, how I wish there was such thing as grocery delivery.”

This week I experienced the very thing I wished for so many years ago when I tried out our local Walmart’s new “Pickup” program.

Oh, how my 23-year-old self would have loved it!

Even now, with no physical limitations, I could appreciate the time saving/ money saving convenience of being able to shop at home and simply pick up my grocery order without having to take Ozzie and Tyler in the store.

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 Here is how it works:

Step 1: Go online to Walmart.com and find the closest Walmart participating in the pickup program by entering your zip code.

Step 2: Register and create an account.

Step 3: Begin shopping! It was so convenient to be able to sit at my desk with cook books open and create my shopping list online by typing in and clicking the groceries I needed. You can specify brands and quantities and a running list of items you have selected appears on the left side of the screen and keeps track of your total. This is important in that you must spend $30.00 to qualify for pickup services.

Step 4: When you are done shopping, you pay for your cart load of groceries via credit or debit card.

Step 5: Select the desired day and time of your pick-up. Then while you are at home sleeping a “personal shopper” will do your shopping for you, bag it up, and have it boxed and waiting for your arrival.

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Step 6: The next day (or on the day you selected) pull into the specialty pick-up parking spots. You can indicate your arrival with the Walmart app or call the number posted on the wall in front of you to let your personal shopper you have arrived.

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Step 7:

Then you wait, with your children buckled in and contained, for a Walmart employee to come out with your bagged groceries. They load them in your car, letting you know if any substitutions have been made due to products being out of stock.

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You sign for your order and you are ready to go.

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The cost for this service: nada…zilch…zip.

(Although my mom might argue the cost for this convenience is my soul. I come from anti-Walmart stock. Sorry Mom! ) 😉

BUT, It was SO EASY!

The only think that would make the program better is if they sent home an employee to unload the bags and put away the groceries on the other end.

As a thank you for being first time pickup customers we received a bag of samples and extras, including a can of soup and a bottle of chewable vitamins.

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What a blessing this service would have been 15 years ago.

What a blessing it was today.

Although today’s grocery shopping challenges differ from the ones in the past, the ease and convenience is equally appreciated.

And I know Toby appreciated the $25.00 that was saved on impulse purchases that end up in the cart when I shop with hungry little “helpers.”

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I give the experience two thumbs up.

Yep…I liked it. I liked it a lot!

 

 

Easter Morning

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Easter morning began with excited calls from behind closed doors,

“Can we come out yet?”

Once Toby and I positioned ourselves in the living room we gave them the green light to come out and see if the Easter Bunny visited.

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There were a few sighs of relief to see a basket with their name on it. For some of our kids there is always a bit of anxious anticipation on the eve on Easter and Christmas as they wonder whether this holiday will be their morning of reckoning for some less than stellar choice made in the previous weeks.

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But like Santa, the Easter Bunny was merciful, and all found full baskets on this Easter morn.

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I was transported back the childhood joy of digging through Easter grass in search of the black jelly beans, as I watched my kids pull out their Easter surprises from their baskets one treat at a time.

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After everyone’s baskets were empty it was time for the egg hunt.

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The Easter Bunny hid the eggs we dyed the night before around the main living area of the house, with the kids all in charge of searching out and seeking 10 eggs each. The egg hunt didn’t end until ALL eggs were accounted for. Unlike plastic eggs, it is essential that all the hidden eggs are found when you are searching for hard boiled eggs!

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Then it was time for church. Baskets were laid aside and everyone got dolled up for Easter Sunday. Breakfast consisted of hardboiled eggs and resurrection rolls.

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After church we joined Toby’s mom, aunts, uncle, and cousins at Aunt Beth’s house for Easter dinner.

It was so nice seeing family that we haven’t seen for the last two years. I couldn’t believe how big all the kids had gotten. I know the feeling was mutual, especially when they saw Rusty.

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Our Easter celebration at Aunt Beth’s began with an egg hunt outside. Rain was expected in the afternoon so it was wisely decided to begin the day with the egg hunt and end with dinner.

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The kids were split into two groups with two different hunt areas. The three under five year olds searched Beth’s yard, while the eight older kids searched Mimi’s yard.

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It seems that whether 8 or 18, an egg hunt is always fun!

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After each kid found their 10 eggs we moved back inside for our delicious Easter dinner of ham sandwiches, potato salad, deviled eggs, baked beans and strawberry pretzel salad.

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Everyone filled their plates and wandered off to find a place to sit with much of the family moving outside to enjoy the beautiful spring weather.

We spent the afternoon enjoying family, catching up, and playing frisbee.

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It was a perfect Easter.

Time to Decorate Eggs!

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For the past few years we have been going on our scrapbooking retreat the week before Easter, due in large part to the fact we all homeschool and our kids are on Easter break those days. The downside of going away days before Easter is that you have to jump back into real life in an epic way when you return home and have 24 hours to make Easter happen…

At least that was the case with me this year. We have been moving at light speed these last few weeks so nothing was done prior to leaving despite all my good intentions.

So, the night before Easter we were coloring eggs for the bunny to hide the next morning.

Egg coloring is a creative pursuit all the kids can get into, even Tyler who bucks  most things artsy. We always seem to run out of eggs before they run out of creativity, so this year I planned accordingly and hard boiled 54 eggs.

This meant everyone had all the eggs they needed to try every Pinterest design they had stumbled across involving rubber bands, wax, gold leaf, glitter, glue, feathers, and belly button lint. 😉

Here is a look at the creative process and backstage peek into “Easter Artistry” at Patchwork Farm:

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Red Door Retreat

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Every year I run away for a few days to scrapbook.

This tradition began over a decade ago when my dear friend, Becky, began planning a weekend retreat every January for her Creative Memories customers. It was a chance for us to get away and devote days to scrapbooking our lives without the interruption of everyday living. I have always had a strong testimony of the importance of recording the story of our lives and recording the evidence of God’s goodness in our lives. For me this began in the form of journaling, evolved into scrapbooking, and now is done primarily through blogging, but my heart is still most devoted to the art of scrapbooking. There is something almost spiritual found in the art of taking photos of those you love most, and combining them with written word and scraps of paper and lace, that fill my soul with joy.

My conviction about the importance of having a recording of our stories and capturing the moments of our lives through  photographs has only increased since we entered the world of adoption. I see how the lack of personal history in the form of scrapbooks or pictures hurt my boys, making me all the more determined that their current story be recorded and recorded well.

This annual scrapbook weekend also served the added purpose of being a time of rest and renewal. I was able to step away from the busyness of life that consumed my days and focus on self care, stillness, laughter, and creativity…all balms to my soul. And I could do it without feeling that nagging momma guilt, because I was gifting my family with something special and important.

Over time that weekend retreat evolved as some friends were lost and new friends were gained. It went from being Becky’s planned excursion at a bible college to something a group of us co-op moms picked up when that era ended.

For the last few years we have gone away scrapbooking for 3 days at Scraphappy, a charming little house rented out to scrapbooking groups like ours, but this year when we went to book it we discovered it had closed without notice. There was a moment of panic, as all of us really live for this creative retreat, but then we rallied and began searching for an alternative location.

That is when we stumbled across Red Door Retreat. Located near Sandusky, Ohio, this would prove to be a great Plan B!

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We left Tuesday morning with a packed mini van full of papers, photos, gifts, fabric, computers, stickers, and enough food to feed a small nation…eager for our time away to begin.

I was especially looking forward to a few days of respite.

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We arrived and discovered a sanctuary for our souls.

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The house was charming, and bright, and clean. The first floor contained our living area, kitchen, and four bedrooms with two twin beds each. There was a total of four bathrooms.

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Down a set of stairs lay our gathering place. It was an ideal workspace, set up for any type of crafter, with extra outlets, lots of light, and large personal work spaces.

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It our group we had an eclectic array of crafting going on this year. Typically we are all scrapbooking but this year we had Wendy working on a quilt for her son’s graduation gift, Corrina making homemade cards, Lana and Tauni scrapbooking traditionally and I spent three days digitally scrapbooking.

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While not my first choice, a digital scrapbook was the only choice for scrapbooking our seven week trip around the country. If I had scrapbooked traditionally I would have probably filled 10 albums, so a digital book was the best plan.

Over those three days I managed to complete my 90 page bus trip album and a 50 page Disneyland album…a huge success for someone so tech challenged!

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It was a wonderful three days. Most of our day was spent crafting, but we also made plenty of time for late night chats, lingering meals, and a lot of laughter and fun,

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Which came in the form of:

Fun gifts like this creative, homemade zippered container from Wendy. We always look forward to her home-sewn gifts!

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 Of Pandora II,

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A “Headbands” game created by the Hudak kids for our weekend,

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and fun prizes.

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It was just the escape I needed to catch my breath, refocus on the big picture, and reflect on all the blessing waiting for me at home.

Sometimes a girl just needs to get away

To want to come back home.

Gracie has Decided!

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Oh, how my heart has pinched for Grace as she has worked through the process of making her first big life decision… the first of many that will follow.

It was also a test of restraint for Toby and I as we made an effort to really step back and let Gracie work through the decision making process on her own, with little input from us.

She had a hard decision to make as she pondered and prayed over the six acceptance letters she received. She wanted to make sure her goals were in align with God’s plan for her and she spent much time praying over her choices.

The decision was further complicated by the two focuses she feels called to: American Sign Language interpreting and special education. While these two focuses don’t seem too disconnected, she soon found the opposite to be true.

The more she researched these two areas she feels called to, the more she realized there was no simple, easy path to get there. These two majors simply didn’t overlap in any easy, efficient way which meant she would have to pursue this two degrees separately.

The debate then became whether to pursue them simultaneously or back to back. Which led to her second obstacle of finding a school that offers strong programs in both fields.

Oh, how my heart ached for her as she ran into roadblock after roadblock in pursuit of finding the path that would lead to her dream. But I watched and was able to witness the manifestation of the spiritual growth and maturity that has occurred over the last few years as she accepted each roadblock as an answered prayed that that path was not the right one.

The answer to her prayers finally fell into place with our last college visit in the most unexpected place when we visited CCAC. This is not even our county’s community college but we decided to tour it after hearing about their ASL interpreting program. We were able to meet with staff and ASL majors that had completed the program and were working as certified interpreters, and it felt right.

Grace felt at peace for the first time in months. She knew it was where God was calling her to begin her higher education journey.

She will complete a one year ASL certification and two year ASL interpreting program and get her associates degree as an ASL interpreter while simultaneously knocking out all the basic credits she can put toward a bachelor’s degree. We will see where the Lord leads her in three years when she moves on to a four year school to complete her Bachelor’s degree in special education and/or ASL interpreting.

We are so happy for her and so proud of the prayerful way she leads her life in accordance with God’s great plan for her.

And we are so excited to see how the Lord will use her to touch the world.

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We Love You, Gracie!

“Empowered to Connect”

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On April 7th and 8th I had the opportunity to attend an “Empowered to Connect” seminar, offered as a simulcast through a church in Beaver. It was 16 hours of education and insight into the effects of trauma on kids and how to parent kids from hard places.

I attended with hope that I would glean even a crumb of knowledge that would help me parent my adopted sons. We have been in crisis mode for the last six months and it has taken its toll on our family. I went, desperate for help, hoping for the missing key…and I got it.

It is not an exaggeration to say it was life changing.

And for the first time in a long time I felt HOPE.

It has been a dark, long, lonely winter and it was as though I had caught sight of the first frail crocus pressing up through the snow with promises of spring on its petals.

I felt the hope of “what could be” course through my veins as I drank in the answers to all the “whys” and hows” that have consumed me for so long.

I felt God calling.

I finally had the map to this foreign land I have been wandering through for the last four years. The key is in the trauma and how we address the trauma, rather than focusing on the behaviors which are the external manifestation to the trauma.

It was my Oprah Winfrey “ah ha” moment.

We had some pieces of the puzzle. Some of these things we were doing instinctually, some were tips we had read, and much of our wisdom came in the form of puzzle pieces given to us by our therapist, Miss Tina , but this experience was as though someone finally showed us the lid to the puzzle box. I finally understood what all those pieces were meant to look like when put together and it gave me an end vision of what we were working toward. It finally all made sense.

Now that we have answers we jump into this new way of parenting. It will be hard. It will require commitment. It will be a long, tiring, ever evolving road. But we now understand where that road began and where we are headed, and so we will begin again, better prepared for the journey!

I now give “an out” to all of you who follow and support us but perhaps aren’t in the trenches yourself from having to finish reading the second half of this blog in which I share a small sprinkling of this amazing therapeutic parenting strategy,

But if you are one of my fellow RADish families, or you are a friend or family member of someone who is struggling, perhaps you will find a nugget of wisdom that will help ease some of the weight you carry or someone you love is carrying.

For local friends: If you read this and feel so called to learn more there will be a rebroadcast of this incredible seminar, “Empowered to Connect”

“Pathway Church will be hosting the rebroadcast of the Empowered to Connect conference on Friday and Saturday, April 28th and 29th from 10:00am.-6:00pm. The program was developed by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, a child development expert. Since its a rebroadcast, it will be a free event however childcare and lunch will not be provided. If you would like more information about the event, please contact Michelle Smith at milomiche410@gmail.com

(What you will get from the conference far exceeds what little information you can glean from my notes!)

Here is a smidgen of what I learned:

Understanding the science behind the effectiveness of TBRI:

The trauma our kids have experienced have had a neurological effect on how their brains function. Kids from hard places tend to have an underdeveloped “upstairs brain,” the part of the brain that allows us to think, reason, learn, remember and regulate our emotions. They also have a hypersensitive “downstairs brain,” that is responsible for survival responses. This means kids who have been traumatized react in extreme ways and take more time to regulate and calm down. They may even perceive non-threatening situations as threatening.

Trauma is a wounding. It overwhelms the ordinary adaptations to life. Trauma can create PTSD.   This is not just an emotional response to troubling events; it’s the expression of a persistent deregulation of body and brain chemistry.   Brain is assaulted by neurotransmitters — brain chemistry can be altered for decades.  With this change, arousing events can trigger flashbacks.

Trauma creates chaos in our brain.   The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped portion of the brain.  It’s the emotional part. It’s the primitive part of the brain.  It interprets messages that there’s danger or it’s safe.  It knows nothing about reasoning or cognitive functions. It deals with feelings and emotions. It controls emotional reactions such as fear & anger.

(Amygdala) It’s the alarm portion of the brain. It becomes highly active during and while remembering a traumatic incident.  It controls our behavior. When you’ve been in trauma it’s hypersensitive–overreacts to normal stimuli.

 Trauma freezes thinking.

Traumatized people have alterations in their brain. Memory is affected by lapses–there are deficits in verbal recall.

The frontal cortex ability is decreased. Less ability to do left-brain functions–it can’t distinguish a real threat from a false threat.  Intense stress or trauma is accompanied by the release of hormones.   A nerve running out of the brain to the adrenal glands triggers adrenaline and noradrenaline secretions.   Adrenaline and noradrenaline surge through the blood stream causing the heart to beat faster and prime the body for an emergency.

Then these hormones activate receptors on the vagus nerve running back to the brain. This causes the heart to continue to beat faster, but also signals various parts of the brain to supercharge that intense emotional memory.   These hormones assist the individual to mobilize in the event of emergency. They also sweep through the body, return to the brain, and trigger the release of more equally powerful hormones (cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, oxytocin, vasopressin and opioids).

This flood of hormones produces the “fight-flight” response in most people.  When a trauma hits up to 70% of your brain-bound oxygen is diverted into your muscles to propel you somewhere else.

(This will read as bad behavior in our kids…hitting, breaking, biting, bolting)

But for a few individuals, it produces a “freeze” mode. In this instance, all those hormones are rushing through the body and have no appropriate physical response.  The stress has paralyzed the victim.

(This can read as defiance in our kids)

The behaviors can’t be fixed through consequences or bribes because what we are dealing with isn’t a “I won’t” issue. It is a “I can’t” issue. The response is a deep seeded physiological response to a perceived threat.

Every behavior has a function so we must ask ourselves, “What is the need behind the behavior?” In other words, “The behavior is the smoke. The need is the fire. We must train ourselves to look past the smoke to see the fire.”

When parenting kids from hard places we must see the trauma behind the behavior if we are to respond in a healthy healing way.

 

“If we attack behavior without compassionate insight as to why a behavior exists, then we never generate true lasting healing for our children.” -Karyn Purvis

What does that mean in a practical sense?

Step 1: Recognize what is happening in that moment by practicing mindfulness in our parenting. We must think “trauma” not “behaviors” when we see our children losing control (ie: fight, flight, or freeze mode.)

Step 2: Once we are in the trauma mindset we must step in to help our children regulate. We do this by approaching our children calmly and connecting by getting on their level, making eye contact, through touch, behavioral matching and playful interaction.  “Connection must come before correction.”

Step 3: Ask our child two key questions:

  1. Do you need help regulating? (We need to serve as our child’s external modem until they learn to self-regulate)
  2. Then ask, “What do you need?”

Step 4:  As you engage with your child apply strategies that empower our kids to succeed.

  1. Consider their physiological state. Are we addressing their cognitive well-being by meeting their physical needs? (i.e.: sleep needs, managing hydration, managing blood sugar, regular physical activity, etc.)
  2. Apply ecological strategies. The ecological strategies help us design our schedule and environment so that we can avoid common breakdowns through the day. We do this by:
  3. Managing transitions. Transitions are hard for our kids (even good transitions) because they represent change and the unknown. Consider our children’s life experiences and what transitions they have lived through and we suddenly become more empathetic with the heightened emotional response we get when a daily or life transition takes place for our kids. We can help them manage by giving them reminders, announcing upcoming transitions, and giving five minute warnings.
  4. Develop regular rituals (routines that foster connection) to anchor parts of your day which will increase feeling of security in kids that come from hard places (i.e.: prayer times, bedtime stories, playtimes)

Step 5: Give our children the tools needed to self-regulate. Help them discover a tool box of self-regulation tools that help them regulate when they go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Some ideas include: the use of a weighted blanket, chewing gum, physical activity, or calming activities.

Step 6: Respond in an IDEAL way.

Immediately. We should be addressing behaviors within 3 seconds.

Directly. Go to them, make eye contact, use an authoritative voice, use appropriate touch and playful interaction.

Efficiently. Our level of response needs to meet the level of the behavior. “Don’t use an elephant gun to kill a fly.”

            Levels of escalation:

Level 1: (Playful Engagement) Low level of escalation, sassy tones,  interrupting.    Parent response: playful engagement, “re-dos,” actively learning.

Level 2: (Structured Engagement) Higher level but there is no physical threat. No one is in danger. Parent response: Be firmer, try to get them to express their needs verbally through negotiation rather than using behaviors to express their frustration.

Level 3: (Calming Engagement) Situation has escalated to the point where a child needs help regulating and calming themselves. Parent response: help the child regulate.

Level 4: (Protective Engagement) Active threat of danger and harm.  Parent response: Provide safety for all involved.

(If engaging in an IDEAL way the situation should never escalate to a level 4.)

 

Action Based. Resolution should be action based, allowing our kids to make amends through their actions.

Leveled at the Behavior. We never attack the child’s character. That only feeds into feelings of self-loathing and shame. Correction should ALWAYS be leveled at the behavior not the child. Making it clear that while their behavior is not o.k. they are still deeply loved. Children who come from a trauma background have a very powerful shame core. Our interactions with our children should never feed into that internal shame. “These children bled before they came to us. They shouldn’t bleed in our care.”

Step 7: Powerful response tools to help our children and the situation from escalating:

  1. “Are you asking me or telling me?” (level 1)
  2. “Try that again with respect.” (level 1)
  3. “Do you need a re-do?” (level 1)
  4. “No hurts. Please try that again.” (level 1)
  5. Give two choices. “Which one do you choose?” (level 2)
  6. “Do you need a compromise?” (level 2)
  7. “It looks like you are having a hard time regulating. What do you need right now?” (level 3)

Step 8:  After the interaction everyone involved should leave the experience feeling calm, connected, and content. That is successful engagement.

Step 9: Other strategies that build trust and foster attachment:

–         Say “yes.” For every “no” you give your child you should be seeking seven opportunities in the day to say, “yes.”

–         Use Time-in rather than Time-outs.

–         When things are hard bring the child closer rather than sending them away.

–         Parent with resolutions rather than consequences.

–         Have daily planned one on one time daily to connect with each child. This time (10 minutes) should begin with connection (eye contact and touch), should be child led play. During this time the parent should not teach, parent, or question. Let the child lead the play. Match their behavior, praise their character and engage in healthy touch. Daily one-on-one time fosters attachment.

–          Create purposeful learning activities to teach life skills during non-escalated times. During a meltdown is not the time to teach the importance of saying, “please.” Instead these important life skills should be taught through playful engagement. (ie: playing “Mother may I “PLEASE” take three steps?”)

So how will you know if TBRI is working? Karyn Purvis’s answer:

“You will know it is working when joy and laughter return to your home.”

“Equipped with deep understanding of attachment, sensory processing, brain chemistry of fear, the impact of my history, and strategies to connect, we can bring deep healing to our children.” – Karyn Purvis

 

Molly Turns 17!

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Molly is 17!

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We woke to snow on her birthday!

 

Early spring is a busy time at Patchwork Farm as we celebrate three birthdays in a row with Ozzie, Grace, and Molly’s birthdays each falling a month apart.

This birthday began as all birthdays do here at Patchwork Farm with an early morning wake-up serenade and cake for breakfast.

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This year was a bit different, however, due to an unusually packed Friday. Grace was on the schedule to work, Toby was at work, and I had committed myself to a two day simulcast conference…something I was struggling to remain committed to after Ozzie woke up itching for a fight.

Holidays are hard for Ozzie. Birthdays, in particular, are hard for Ozzie. Through therapy we have discovered that the motive behind the sabotage that often occurs on other’s birthdays are result of hard feelings he has about memories of his birthdays in his birth home. They were not nice and he struggles with feelings of anger and resentment towards the parents that stole his childhood from him. When he sees another one of our children being celebrated and loved he feels threatened and fears that by them receiving, he is losing out. What he deals with is not unique for kids from a trauma background, but it does make holidays and birthdays hard. I struggle to find the balance in addressing his trauma triggers while still protecting the birthday child from Ozzie’s efforts to sabotage and derail their special day.

This is why I was so worried when I committed to spend 8 hours of Molly’s birthday outside the home and leave Ozzie home with the other children. It was only the prompting of the Holy Spirit and hope that through this conference we would get much needed help and direction with the crisis at home, that I left the house for the day.

But, even with many prayers prayed, I hedged my bets with a special deposit in Molly’s love tank before I left for the day in hopes that even if things derailed in my absence the day would not be a complete washout.

My solution: an early morning breakfast with Molly before I left and before her school day began. I took her to Eat n’ Park for the breakfast buffet, where we enjoyed a very special hour of waffles, bacon, and one-on-one time before our day began.

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The conference was life changing and I recognized God’s hand in leading me there as soon as the first speaker began talking (more on that in the next blog.) Meanwhile everyone survived at home.

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That evening we enjoyed a family dinner. Molly requested spaghetti pizza, salad and garlic bread.

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We also has “fancy “soda, which then evolved into a concert of epic proportions when the empty soda bottles were turned into musical instruments.

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Gracie got home from work at 9:00 and we celebrated Molly’s birthday as a family with cake and gifts.

Everyone had put much thought into their gifts for Molly. As is tradition, the gifts were given from youngest to oldest. Tyler gave Molly three new lipsticks that he picked out himself.

Ozzie bought her a Bambi pillow.

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He was thrilled that she was thrilled.

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Rusty bought Molly the Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog.

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Grace was excited to give Molly the gift she had been working on for quite a while. She decided she wanted to paint Molly a painting that was reflective of Molly. She decided to combine this with their shared love of American Sign Language and paint her the sign of a word that describes Molly, and then finger spell her name at the bottom. Gracie’s biggest struggle with this project was to decide which adjective best describes Molly. She came to me with a list, hoping for help deciding. In the end she chose the word, “Special.”

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The gift was received with as much love as it was given.

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Molly was touched to tears.

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Our gift was also a hit, although much less sentimental and a lot more practical. For Molly’s 17th birthday she received her first cell phone. In our family we have the rule that ownership of a cell phone comes only with a need for a cell phone. Which means: a driver’s license or a job. Molly now meets the prerequisites which means she is now the owner of her first cell phone. She was very excited.

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The next day we enjoyed the birthday activity that couldn’t happen on her actual birthday due to our crazy schedules that day. We surprised her with tickets for the family to go see “Shrek: The Musical” at Lincoln Park, a performing arts high school near us.

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It was so much fun. The caliber of talent was exceptional. The costumes, backdrops, and use of puppetry were unreal. It was hard to believe that we were watching high school students. Molly loved it!

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Even the little boys enjoyed themselves. There were just enough 10-year-old boy jokes sprinkled in to make a play enjoyable for them as well.

Happy birthday, Miss Molly. I hope you had a good day!