A Spirit-filled Weekend

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This was a busy, Spirit-packed weekend for many members of our family. It was also a weekend filled with many great experiences. The craziness began on Friday night for Grace and Molly, with a trip downtown to attend the Winter Jam concert playing in Pittsburgh.

Winter Jam in a concert showcasing contemporary Christian artists. When the girls’ friends caught wind that Winter Jam would be coming to Pittsburgh they invited Grace and Molly to go with them.

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“Winter Jam Tour Spectacular, also referred to as simply Winter Jam, is an annual American music tour featuring Christian rock, Christian rap, and contemporary Christian music bands, stunt and/or comedy performances, and a speaker. It is the United States’ largest annual Christian Music Tour. It has also provided a platform for non-profit groups such as Holt International, an organization that provides sponsorship and adoption for orphans.”

Woody took one for the team and graciously offered to be the driver and chaperone for the night to the six girls that wanted to go.

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They left at 4:30 so as to be downtown Pittsburgh at 6:00pm when the doors opened.

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The cost for the show was $10.00, an impressive deal for the opportunity to see so many incredible artists live and on stage.

The girls said the energy in the arena was electric. The vast amount of people in combination with the strong Spirit felt there was energizing and moving.

They loved all the artists but definitely had certain favorites including:

Tenth Avenue North

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Crowder

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The girls were also moved by the adoption message (a message near and dear to all of our hearts) of the evening, that was highlighted through Holt International.

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“Holt International Children’s Services is a faith-based humanitarian organization and adoption agency based in Eugene, Oregon, United States, known for international adoptions. The nonprofit works in eleven countries, including: Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Mongolia, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Uganda, and Vietnam. This work includes a range of services for children and families including efforts in nutrition, education, family strengthening, orphan care, foster care, family reunification, child sponsorships and more.

At 11:30 the concert was over and Woody took them to Denny’s for a midnight dinner.

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The girls returned home around 2:30 am, exhausted but exhilarated by the experience. They headed straight to bed knowing they had to be out the door early Saturday morning.

On Saturday the three oldest kids had a youth temple trip to the Columbus Temple. They arrived at the church parking lot at 9:00 am to carpool with a great group of leaders and youth.

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The kids had an amazing, Spirit-filled day serving the Lord and enjoying the sweet spirit felt within the walls of the temple.

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They arrived home 12 hours later at 9:30 pm, eager to share all about their experiences from the last 24 hours. As we sat in around the living room it was fun to hear all about their day at the temple and listen to the girls gush about the fun they had at Winter Jam. They pulled up songs on their computers to play for us by artists they really enjoyed at Winter Jam.

As a mom I love hearing them share about the things that move them, that touch them, that make them feel closer to Christ.

We ended our Spirit-filled weekend with a visit to Mimi Joy’s church on Sunday morning to listen to her speak about the mission she just returned home from. It was touching to hear her stories of the people she taught and the lessons she learned as she was busy doing the Lord’s work.

It was a BUSY weekend, but what a wonderful sort of busy!

Boy Scout Winter Campout

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Last weekend, while I was enjoying an “escape form all stress” weekend with my parents, Toby was winning the “Father of the Year” award here at home.

The boys  also spent last weekend away from home, but their accommodations weren’t nearly as luxurious as our digs. Last weekend was the scout’s camporee and Klondike Derby so the boys were all sleeping in sleeping bags and cooking over the fire. The girls definitely got the better end of the deal (although I don’t think any of the “under 40” boys would agree.)

So after a hard week of work Toby sent us girls out the door with a smile and a wave, packed up camping gear and three excited boys, and headed to Camp Baker for some mid-January camping.

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What a trooper!

Because there was nobody home to watch him, Tyler received permission to join the big scouts at the winter campout with Toby, and boy was he excited! He knew he wouldn’t be participating in the scout activities but he was excited to sleep outside, cook over the fire and spend time with Toby, Ozzie and Rusty.

The guys were blessed with unseasonal winter weather that was much warmer and wetter than usual. This made sleeping more comfortable than past winter campouts but the mud proved to be a bit of a challenge for some of the outdoor activities.

Saturday was spent rubbing shoulders with other scout troops as they participated in skill building challenges like fire building, knot tying, and flag signals.

Rusty expressed that learning to signal with flags was his favorite activity of the day. The boys took turns using the signal flags to send a message across a field to another scout who had to record and decode the message within the moving flags.

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The campout ended with the Klondike Derby. The Klondike Derby is a sled race between the different troops with one scout riding on the sled and the other troops pushing it in a race to the finish line. Our scouts’ homemade sled, while probably the prettiest one on the start line, proved to be the most ineffective in a race across mud. Its heavy frame and smooth gliders were built for snow. But the boys had fun nonetheless.

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The Boy Scout Winter Camporee was a success!

Homestead Blessings

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As a child “HOME” was not a single, specific place. Growing up with a military father the location and appearance of the place we called “home” varied. Some homes were rural, and some suburban. Some homes had yards while others were apartments with balconies. Some of those homes were rented, while others were owned.

My “HOME” had changed 10+ times by the time I left home, married and established a home of my own. Some might imagine that would be hard on a child, moving so frequently, uprooting, and starting over, but I never found that to be the case. Actually it was quite the opposite. Like a family of nomadic turtles I quickly learned “HOME” was something that moved with you. It was never the house, the neighborhood, or the community that made a place “HOME,” but rather the people.

Home is “Our anchor, our refuge, our port in the storm, our happy place,” and all that stability and security has nothing to do with a place. It has to do with who resides in that place.

Home is about family.

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This weekend I went HOME.

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The girls and I spent the weekend at the Homestead. This quiet slice of land in Ohio is the place where my parents have grown roots and settled down following my father’s retirement. The Homestead is not a part of my past or my history. I have zero connection to the land, the neighborhood, or the area (although it is a lovely place.) My connection and draw to the Homestead are the homesteaders that call that slice of soil “home.” So although I have no history there, I always feel a sense of returning home when I visit.

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It is a place of refuge and a port in the storm…a place where I can return to a simpler time of life. When I pull down the driveway I find myself reverting back to the easy role of just being a daughter.

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Every now and then it is nice to just be a daughter.

This weekend I was blessed with that opportunity, and although I was still a “mom” since the girls were tagging along, I had none of the responsibilities of that role, only the fun and ease that comes with years of parenting work that results in a sweet friendship with our children as they grow into adulthood.

The weekend was a birthday celebration for my mother and I. My birthday falls days after Christmas, and my mom’s birthday falls the beginning of January, so it has become a tradition to have a “Girls Only” weekend of fun and frivolity after the craziness of the holidays settles down. It gives us something fun to look forward to in January.

The girls and I drove out on Friday. Molly did all the driving, thrilled at the 5 hours of round-trip driving practice she could log. Friday night was spent enjoying dinner and catching up. Everyone enjoyed a good night sleep so that we could begin our 24 hour marathon of fun well rested.

We squeezed A LOT of fun into our short weekend visit including…

* A delicious lunch at Broken Rocks Café:

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The homemade lemonade is delicious!

 

*A trip to the movies to see Hidden Figures…which we gave 2 thumbs up. What a great film!

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* Window shopping in charming downtown Wooster:

* A shopping spree at Friendtique, the BEST thrift store in all of Ohio!

My parents gave Grace, Molly and I  gift certificates for Christmas which we couldn’t wait to spend. I also received birthday money from my grandmother that I included in my spending spree budget. I was thrilled with all the pretties I found for my home:

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The girls used their gift certificates in the clothing section and found all sorts of great finds:

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Like this pretty periwinkle coat Grace purchased.

 

*And Craft time! We had fun making homemade cards and paper crafts (compliments of a Paper Pumpkin subscription I bought my mom for her birthday last year):

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The best part of the weekend, however, were the quiet times…the peace and renewal found in the Ohio countryside, away from the trauma and the drama. It was a weekend of returning “HOME” to a simpler place and a slower pace…

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I felt myself exhale the tension-filled breath I had been holding for the last few months.

I left feeling strengthened by my time spent there.

It was a weekend of rest, of renewal, of encouragement, and quiet. And it had nothing to do with the places and everything to do with the faces.

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There is something to be said for returning HOME.

Road Trip Video #4

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3 1/2 months have now passed since we returned from our trip of a lifetime. With life consuming us, these days of exploration and ease seem like a lifetime ago. It was an amazing adventure, one we will look back on with fondness for decades to come.

Grace collected photos and little videos from every leg of our journey with the goal of documenting our adventure in a series of 5 (10-20 minute) videos. It has been a couple months since her last video. With all that has been going on she hasn’t had a spare moment to finish her last two videos of the trip, but last week, with the conclusion of the second quarter of school, she had a few days off and finished video #4. This video highlights our week and a half of vacation following Disneyland but before we reached Missouri. (Our adventures in Missouri will play out in Gracie’s final video.)

Some of the stops included in this vacation highlight reel include:

The Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Petroglyph National Park, Four Corners, Mesa Verde, Roswell NM, and Carlsbad Caverns.

I think Gracie did an excellent job of capturing the adventure, the beauty, and the incredible memories we made as we rolled cross country in our converted school bus.

Enjoy #4!

PJs and Pancakes

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Throughout the year we have a variety of special occasion days sprinkled into our Co-op calendar to keep things interesting and fun for the kids.

These special days include holiday parties, service projects, and themed days when the kids can dress up and take a break from the ordinary. This is especially appreciated and looked forward to during the drab month of January.

 And while these themed days are fun for the kids, they can represent extra work for the moms. The exception to that rule is “Pancake and PJ Day.” This is the day that the moms look most forward to and we usually plan a couple “PJ and Pancake days” for the school year.  This is the one “theme” day that is easier than an ordinary co-op day. On ” Pancake and PJ Day” my workload is cut in half. I don’t need to check to make sure everyone has clean clothes or matching socks. I don’t have to pack lunches for everyone the night before. Instead we are able to sleep in an extra 20 minutes, roll out of bed, and head straight for the car in our PJs.

The kids love the ease and novelty of going to co-op in there comfy PJs, and I love the ease of no wardrobe battles with Tyler. The kids also love the pancake lunch that replaces a standard packed lunch on PJ day. The pancakes at Co-op tend to be much more popular and enticing then mom’s pancakes at home. I don’t know if it is all the fun and unusual toppings that are offered on Pancake Day, in addition to the usual syrup they get offered at home, or if it is just because someone else is making the pancakes that add to the appeal. But whatever the reason the pancakes are consumed with a lot more enthusiasm on Pancake Day then they ever are at home.

Last Wednesday was “Pancake and PJ Day” at co-op. It also happened to be the final day of the quarter for all the students at co-op who attend 21st Century Cyber Charter School. For some students this added to the fun of the day and made it a play day for those who had already turned in all their assignments for the day.

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While other students were scrambling to turn in their remaining 3rd quarter work before the 4:00 pm deadline.

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For the girls who had completed their work for the quarter, their day at co-op became a play day. They brought in a movie and popcorn and had a movie day, watching Gracie’s Christmas gift from Molly, Kim Possible.

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For the younger students at co-op, and those who are students in schools other than 21CCCS (like Tyler) , the day was a typical co-op school day with history, science and art classes being taught.

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For lunch the kids lined up at the counter to make up their plates of pancakes and yummy toppings.

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After co-op the bookmobile came. This is always a treat. Once again it is something the kids look forward to (everyone loves picking out new reading material) but has the added benefit for this busy mom of saving me a trip downtown to the library. I love that it comes to us, and the kids get a kick out of this charming library on wheels.

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We had just enough time for everyone to pick out books before we had to head out for Tyler’s weekly Occupational Therapy appointment following our Wednesday co-op.

Then it was a race home so that Rusty could submit his last two Language Art assignments before the clock struck four.

Thank you, Cinderella, for those extra grey hairs!

Wednesdays are never boring!

The Courage to Feel

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Our therapist, Tina, is exceptional. She is a fount of endless wisdom and support as she walks this road of healing with the boys and I. She is incredibly perceptive and intuitive, able to assess and discern needs and struggles hidden beneath a façade of distracting behaviors, and see the emotional hurts driving those behaviors.

Both of my boys struggle with naming, feeling and expressing hard emotions. Strong feelings ( either “good” or “bad”) are overwhelming and threatening given their history of abuse and neglect, so they stuff them deep. But stuffing down emotions isn’t a sustainable solution. You see, the more you stuff them the bigger they grow until they eventually explode out of us in an unhealthy way (ie: tantrums, self injury, manipulation, etc.) So one of our primary goals in therapy and at home is to get both boys more comfortable with emotions.

This journey began with simply giving them a vocabulary base so that they could name what they were feeling. This was key, especially for Tyler, who struggled to differentiate between angry, disappointed, hurt, jealous, sad which he lumped  all together under the umbrella of “Mad.” When he couldn’t find a word for what he was feeling he would call it “Bored.” As his Momma, I could assess the situation and his body language and see the truth behind his statement, “I’m just bored.” I could see that he was anxious, or sad, or scared, but he couldn’t. So step one was to simply expose him to the world of emotions, the words and their meanings, so that he had a reference to draw from.

We did this by vocalizing our emotions daily in his presence. This was an entire family effort and required a lot of mindfulness as a family to voice statements we would normally just be thinking in our heads like, “Ahh, eating soup on a cold day makes me feel so happy and cared for,” or ” I feel so angry when someone honks at me when I am driving.” It felt uncomfortable but it was an essential step to helping Tyler understand the vast array of emotions, the situations that cause us to feel those emotions, and the understanding that everyone feels emotions, and it is not scary to feel them.

Once that foundation was in place we then began working with Tyler on being able to discern emotions in others. Once again this was addressed in therapy by looking at pictures of people’s faces and photos of different situations, and trying to read the emotion by looking at facial features and body language. This is a skill we all use daily and don’t really give much thought to so it was bizarre to look at this skill in such an scientific and analytic way. We would literally map the face of the person in the photo noting the similarities of what the muscles of all of our faces do with different emotions (ie: the tensing of the jaw, narrowing of the eye, and creasing of the brow when we feel anger.)

Once this skill was learned in therapy the real work was done at home as we practiced this skill out in public. As we walked through the grocery store I would point out a person and ask Tyler, “What emotion do you think she is feeling?” We began with obvious situations like a person crying or yelling and eventually worked toward evaluating more subtle emotional clues.

From there we moved into the dark scary world of analyzing and naming our own emotions…a skill that would have shut Tyler down when we began this journey. As he was feeling an emotion, especially a strong emotion like anger, excitement, disappointment, or fear, he would be incapable of facing it, feeling it, and naming it in that moment. So we began by working on naming emotions that were felt during an experience that had long passed, therefore no longer emotionally vulnerable. I would say something like, “Remember the day we drove into Pittsburgh for the court hearing. What were you feeling that day?” It was still a hard challenge for him to express the emotions, but he was far more capable of expressing those emotions than trying to express the emotions he was feeling in that moment, a request that made him feel vulnerable and unsafe.

For the last 18 months this is the work we have been doing. It is all about emotions. Helping him understand the variety of emotions a human can feel, understand that everyone feels emotions, that there is no such thing as a bad emotion, that it is ok to feel emotions, and important to name what you are feeling so they don’t grow too big within you.

And all this work is simply the needed foundation for the real therapy work ahead when we began facing the memories of abuse.

He has made incredible progress. He has evolved from a child who was emotionally shut off and incapable of naming his emotions outside of the safety net of the emotion “bored,” to a child who can name emotions, read emotions and express emotions. When I see him cry I see a victory of epic proportions. When he can look at me, stomp his feet, and say, “Momma, you are making me so angry!” I jump for joy. We have reached the point where he is able to pull from a vocabulary of 20+ emotions and name what he was feeling (after he shuts down) within a few hours after that incident. This is huge.

The next step is to get him comfortable and capable of voicing how he is feeling in that moment, something he is unable to do at this time.

One of the therapy tools Tina is using to help with this is a wonderful book called, How Simon Left his Shell: The Courage to Feel for Young People by Andrew Seubert.

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She used this book last year with Ozzie. We would read a couple chapters in therapy each week and then be given emotions homework to do at home.

Here is another therapist’s review of the book:

“This book is about the adventure of the hero, Simon the turtle, and his mouse companion, Ronald, “Socrates of the swamp”. Together they embark on an adventure that uniquely delves inward more than outward: into the emotional landscape of vulnerability, anxiety, guilt, fear, as well as attachment, joy, love, forgiveness, and creativity.

The charm of his characters are able to carry on credible dialogue, illustrating the value of a mindful witnessing of emotional awareness, without shrinking away from the experiential complexity of dysregulation. His story normalizes emotional overwhelm, anxiety and depression in a ‘child accessible’ way while illustrating the journey of healing and self-discovery.

With gentility and charm it makes the case for being present with even the toughest feelings and riding out the storm to reap the benefits of transformation.”

This book had a powerful impact on Ozzie and I am finding Tyler too is connecting with the characters. Just this past week Ronald shared that when he was hurting he used to keep really busy caring for the other animals in the swamp, running from house to house, trying to be helpful. He kept busy so he didn’t have to feel. He shared with Simon that we can’t “busy” our emotions away. To get through the hard feelings we must feel the hard feelings which requires stillness and presence and the willingness to feel them. Then in feeling them, really being present in the emotion, we realize that sadness and fear don’t kill us. We can feel them and live to tell the tale, and what’s more, by feeling them we move through them and get to the other side of them.

This resonated with Tyler. He spoke up, interrupting the story after Ronald said he likes to keep moving so that he doesn’t have to feel stuff, saying, “Hey, that is like me!”

This week we read about Simon’s big step of facing his fear and leaving his shell. This step of faith, moving into the unknown, left him feeling scared and vulnerable. So in the story Ronald gives Simon a t-shirt that says, “Big Guy” on it to help him feel brave. When we reach this part in the story Tina has the kids decorate their own t-shirt that they can wear to make them feel brave when facing scary emotions and hard therapy.

She asks the kids to draw and picture and pick a mantra to write on the shirt…a statement of truth they can lean on when overwhelmed with the work. For Ozzie that mantra, or truth, that he needed to be reminded of to be brave was:

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“I am a Good Kid”

For months he wore that shirt every week to do therapy with Miss Tina, saying the shirt was like a super hero cape and made him feel brave.

For his shirt Tyler chose to draw a picture of himself with Toby…who truly is his emotional lifeline and security…with the mantra:

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“I Love Dad and Daddy Loves Me!”

Clothed in this symbolic armor of safety and protection we will continue forward in our journey with Simon the turtle, Ronald the mouse, and Tyler the brave, as we face and feel our emotions courageously and fight for healing.

courage

 

 

R*E*S*P*E*C*T

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Monday night was family night and all week I felt directed to touch on a particular topic, so after dinner was cleaned up and dishes were put away I gathered the troops in the dining room and introduced the theme for the evening with a little song and dance number to this classic ditty:

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Family Night occurs weekly at our home. This weekly activity is set aside for a certain night and cleared from all other commitments and activities. It is dedicated to the care and keeping of our family. This is the time we counsel as a family and discuss upcoming events, coordinate schedules, touch on chores and finances, get input for the week’s menu, have an open forum to discuss any struggles or issues anyone needs to discuss, as well as discuss any changes happening in the family.

For example this week we began implementing a new chore/allowance system. We are giving this new system a trial run to see how we like it and see if it is an effective long term system for our family.

Allowance/chore payments is something I have vacillated back and forth on over the years. There is a part of me that feels strongly that chores are simply an element of being part of a family and payment to live in a home. The struggle with this train of thought came as the kids got older and we felt it important to teach our children the importance of money management, of saving, and tithing. They had to have an “income” to learn these money skills and put them to practice. Our solution in the end and the answer we have hung our hat on these last few years is to give the kids a set allowance  weekly that they split into 3 piles: save, spend, tithe, while still expecting a set of chores to be done daily, unconnected to the allowance. There are two income brackets in our home based on age, with the older kids receiving one allowance amount and the younger boys receiving another.

But recent discussions with the older kids made me realize that we have outgrown the old system and need to allow for more independence, accountability, and opportunity for reaping the rewards of effort and hard work, because our current system is a bit socialist in its foundation allowing equal pay for all while some are clearly putting forth a much greater effort. As any failing communist nation can tell you, this system does not lead to ambitious, hard working, self-motivated citizens. Why put forth more effort while your lazy comrade is reaping all the same benefits with none of the sweat.

I also see a desire in my older kids to have opportunities to earn money now that their needs and wants exceed their set allowance. For the kids too young to get a job outside the home this system gives them opportunities to increase their cash flow if they are willing to work for it.

And I won’t lie…it also results in eager and willing workers who are motivated to tackle chores that have fallen to the wayside or that I would love to pawn off on someone else when my days get busy…for a small price.

So here is the system we are going to try out for a while:

  1.  Each child still has set daily chores that they are responsible for every morning. They are the chores they have been doing all along and will continue to do for the simple privilege of living in this house and for being a member of this family.
  2. Allowances will no longer be given.
  3. Instead there will be a set of envelopes put out each week with household chores that need to be done with the payment for that job inside the envelope. The jobs vary in difficulty with simple chores like “replace the TP in the bathrooms” and “windex the bathroom mirrors” to bigger jobs like “cleaning out a closet” or “organizing a bookshelf.” The payment for each job is reflective of the difficulty of the task and range from .25 to $1.00. With $5.00 being paid for an entire room cleaning (ceiling to floor cleaning and picking up).
  4. And each job’s payment is dependent on that job passing Mom’s inspection.

It has been a week and so far the initiative is impressive and my home is cleaner than it has been in a long time. The kids are thrilled and race for the board when new chores are added, and I feel like some of the stresses that have been hanging over my head have lightened. We will see if this new system has “staying power” but so far I’m finding it to be a success.

Then when we are done with the family management portion of Family Night the fun part of the evening begins.

Sometimes we do something seasonal for family night, like go to see Christmas lights or carve pumpkins. Sometimes we do something solely recreational. But most often the evening consists of a lesson, activity, and special treat with family members taking turns being in charge of these different parts of family night.

This past Monday I coordinated my lesson with Rusty who was in charge of our fun family activity. The evening began with my lesson on RESPECT. I chose this topic after noticing a struggle with it in one particular child, but also felt it was a good reminder for ALL of us.

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So after my dynamic introduction of the topic, and my killer Aretha Franklin impersonation, (Thank goodness my children were all to stunned by the show to think to pull out their devices and record my performance) we began the lesson with this question:

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 The best definition I found was this printout which broke down the basics of respect in an easy to understand way:

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This became the foundation of our lesson. We went through each point, discussed what it meant, and talked about how we could strengthen that point in ourselves and in our family. It led to a powerful and much needed discussion that forced all of us to hold up a mirror and reflect on how we can each be more respectful in our own lives.

Our lesson led into the next part of our evening…the activity. The activity that Rusty had prepared allowed us to apply what we had learned about respect, as it was a team challenge that required us to work together, take turns, and listen when someone else spoke. You see we had to work well together or we wouldn’t escape in time. We had 60 minutes.

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After a incredible experience at an Escape Room in Kansas City last October we knew we wanted to do it again as a family. Unfortunately the budget doesn’t allow for a family of seven to do this very often so when I saw this Escape Room board game for sale before Christmas I knew it would be a perfect gift for Toby. Last night we played it for the first time and it was killer!

(It really was…Yes, we died.)

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The game follows a very similar outline to the Escape Room experiences that are so popular. In the game box were four different escape room challenges of varying difficulty. We chose the escape challenge called “The Virus.” All the envelopes for this challenge were laid out on the table, along with the lock box that had to be unlocked before the count down clock on the box reached 00:00.

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The game began with one teammate read the outside of the envelope that told the story behind the challenge and gave the instructions needed to start the challenge. In this case we were scientists in a laboratory working on a secretive and much sought after virus. The flask breaks. We are stuck in the room with the spreading virus and have 60 minutes to figure out the code that unlocks the lock box containing the antidote.

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The game began when we pressed the red button,starting the one hour escape timer.

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Then we opened the first of three envelopes. Each envelope contained clues, mind benders, and puzzles needed to figure out the first set of four numbers that gave us access to the next envelope of clues.

For added support there were clue cards that were opened when the timer reached set times that helped keep us moving forward in the game.

The board game had the exact same adrenaline filled excitement and team building power as the Escape Room challenge we enjoyed in Kansas City. The games were challenging and well thought out and the entire experience was a lot of fun!

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In the end we missed the deadline by minutes, meaning that in the end…

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Yes, it seems a bit morbid but it was one of the best family fun nights we have had in a long time,

And I think we all gained a little more R*E*S*P*E*C*T for each other’s problem solving escape room skills!

The Squeaky Wheel

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It has been said:

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

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As head “emotion and behavior mechanic” of our family, I must say there is undeniable truth in this old adage.

In past blogs I have referred to this parenting struggle as “triage”…a necessary practice used to focus the most time, energy and resources on the child in greatest crisis at the moment. It is a survival tool for any family as sacrifices are made to keep the weakest, sickest, most hurting family member in tact for the sake of the entire family unit.

It is a necessary practice but regardless of its necessity with it comes its fair share of heavy parental guilt.

We all long to be the super mom that can effortlessly meet the needs of all our children equally, with no single crisis or struggle taking priority over another, but as mere mortals we are limited in our own strength, in our own capabilities, and in our own power. This  humbling realization is usually brought to our attention when child #2 is born and previously high “supermom” standards are dropped for the sake of survival and sleep. Then #3 is born and any illusions of motherhood perfection are tossed out the window as we engage in parenting behaviors we swore we never would…that no true “supermom” ever would.

You know the ones I’m talking about:

Using the TV as a babysitter so you can take a 3 minute shower,

Giving in to your toddler’s plea that ice cream is an acceptable lunch,

Bribing your preschooler with a toy from Dollar Tree IF THEY WOULD JUST GO TO SLEEP. PLEASE JUST GO TO SLEEP!

It seemed that with the addition of each child my Momma Mojo decreased exponentially.

In my early years as a mother I struggled with frustration and feelings of failure as I compared my parenting skills as a mom of one with my parenting skills as a mom of three. I considered all that I wasn’t able to do for my kids now that there were multiples…you know: the homemade baby food, the mommy and me playgroups, the daily crafts built around the letter of the day. Now I was simply trying to get everyone fed and have them all still alive and well when Toby got home from work, raising my arms in victory when his truck pulled into the driveway:

“WooHoo, we survived another day! Everyone is alive!”

Now that I am older, and maybe a bit wiser, I recognize that the shift in focus and priorities that occurs between baby #1 and each additional child isn’t a weakening of Momma mojo but a strengthening of it. We learn that we can do longer rely on our superhuman powers but now, in our weakness, turn to a greater power. In my frailty and failures I have become more dependent on the Lord and have found a strength and sweetness in the journey of motherhood that only comes when we have reached the end of ourselves. It is often when we are at the very end of our rope that we look up an take note of who is holding us up at the other end of that rope.

This is a lesson that has become more powerful and more pronounced in my life in the last four years. The addition of two children from traumatic backgrounds though foster care adoption has completely changed my parenting game and make me completely dependent on the Lord’s guidance and power as I parent through some of the hardest, darkest struggles a parent can face. The “supermom” that parented Grace  17 years ago has nothing on the Super God that leads this broken, hurting, lost Momma today. It is His power that has sustained us and lead us through a minefield of scary and traumatic moments these last few months as we help one of our adopted treasured face down some enormous demons from his past.

In the midst of this war I have found myself trying to get a handle on the mom guilt that comes with the triage of caring for the child in crisis while the other kids simply must hang on for the ride…

and while I, as a parent, know that all the kids need some oil. It is the squeaky wheel that was the recipient of all we had to offer during these last two months.

Now that Toby is home and the patient is stable enough that I can leave his bedside, or at least take shifts with my handsome coworker, I can now check on all the other patients wandering around the hospital in their open backed gowns.

This is what parenting triage is all about. Good or Bad, this is reality…at least in our home.

This “checking in” with the others is coming in the form of some adjustments in the schedule, reprioritizing, and setting of some new goals as a family in 2017. One of the big adjustments we made this past week is to pick up on our “one on one dates.”

“One on One time” is a practice we began 10+ years ago, when the kids were little, as a means of making focused, individual time with each child a priority. As a home school family it felt as though we moved through life as a group, with all family members present for most activities. This togetherness, while a blessing to our family as a whole, didn’t allow for a lot of individual, specialized attention for the individual. This noticed need led to us setting up a weekly date that was written into our daily schedule for each child. As our family grew this specialized focused time became even more important as it gave me an hour of  uninterrupted time with each child every week to take their vitals and really know where they were at emotionally.

This special time is something the kids look forward to. It occurs every day between 5-6 pm as one child meets with me for a date. The kids get to choose what activity they want to do with me in the uninterrupted hour they have with me. The activities are as varied as my children and their interests. One might choose to bake, another might want to go for a walk, one of my boys usually will choose a Wii sports showdown against mom, while still another might choose to do a craft.

This special time each week is a chance for me to check in with each child, to make a memory, to listen to that child without sibling interruption, and let that child really have a safe and open forum to discuss what is on their heart, as well as an excuse to lay down the broom or pile of dirty clothes and just play with my children.

It is a parenting tool that has served us well.

Unfortunately it is a tool that had to be set to the side these last two months, during a tough season, so that all my time and energy could be spent on the child who was in crisis. Now that things have stabilized we have begun “One on One” time again.

Grace was up first.

And she wanted to make homemade bath bombs…a new hobby of hers.

She gathered up all of her supplies. From my mom she was gifted with hand-me-down soap making supplies, including molds, dyes, and scents that have made crafting bath bombs all the more fun.

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She pulled up the recipe she always uses and we got to work.

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We began by mixing the ingredients

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Until the texture and consistency was right.

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Then we added our scents and dyes.

There was 20+ scents to choose from and it was fun sniffing the different flavors and deciding on what combinations would smell good together.

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Once the scents and dyes were mixed in to make the perfect color we were ready to pick what mold shapes we wanted.

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The mixture was pressed into molds and then popped out and laid on a towel to dry.

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The end results smelled so yummy and will be a fun addition to our bath time.

But the real reward was not the completed bath bombs. The real reward was a sweet hour spent with my sweet girl and the chance to listen to her talk about her concerns, her wishes, and her hopes for the future as we sniffed the sweet smells of citrus and blossoms.

It was a wonderful hour spent with my oldest.

Parenting can be hard, exhausting, discouraging… heartbreaking. When you are on the battlefield, hunkered down in a trench with one of your children who is “bleeding to death” …just trying to keep them alive… it is easy to feel overwhelmed and incapable of this parenting stuff,

But then the sun comes out,  a cease fire is called, the bullets stop flying, and you can emerge from the darkness…

check on the other troops…

and breathe a sigh of relief.

That is what parenting is all about.

The struggles are inevitable.

It is not about being a “supermom.”

Sometimes the goal is simply to not go AWOL.

Take  deep breath, Momma…

You will survive this battle.

You will win this war.

Mimi Joy is Home

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After 18 months Toby’s mom, Joy, has returned home from serving a mission in Missouri. She served with honor and we are so proud of her.

She arrived home on Sunday so Saturday was spent preparing for her arrival. When she left she put her house up for rent and moved all her things into storage. Now that she is home she has decided to continue renting out her home for extra income and live in the apartment above her garage.

Saturday was spent moving her things from the storage unit into to her apartment and getting things set up for her arrival home. This all happened the morning of New Year’s Eve.

Our morning began early. We scheduled to meet men from  church at the storage unit to help move all her things up to the apartment. This meant we needed to be out the door and on the road by 7:00am, which shouldn’t be hard, but with our crew of 7 and all the supplies we were toting (bungees, straps, moving blankets, donuts and water for the workers, soup and flowers for Mimi, etc.) it is amazing we made it out the door on time.

We took two vehicles so as to cut down on the number of loads we would have to make back and forth from the storage unit to the apartment. Toby had 4 of the kids in his truck that was towing the trailer, and Grace rode with me in the van that had been emptied of the bench seats so we could fill it with boxes.

The reward for our early start to the day was this beautiful sunrise. Gracie shared that she always found sunrises to be more vivid and beautiful than sunsets, “They are God’s gift to early risers,” according to Grace.

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We arrived at the storage unit, lifted the door to the storage unit, and were grateful for the help that arrived. The job of moving Mimi’s things would have taken our family all day without the help of all the volunteers that showed up. With all the great help the move only took a few hours.

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After the moving crew had left we took on the task of trying to get the apartment somewhat livable so that when Joy arrived home she had all the basic comforts to survive (bedding, toilet paper, towels and dishes) while she took her time unpacking her personal decorations and household items.

We split into teams and began combing through boxes to find the most essential items and then each took a different room to work on. Molly headed up the kitchen, while Toby set up the bed in the master bedroom and made up the bed so that she would have a place to sleep when she got home. Grace and Rusty began unpacking bathroom boxes and I set up the living room. The two little boys acted as runners for the rest of us, delivering boxes to the correct rooms and carrying emptied boxes down to the garage.

We worked most of the day but didn’t make a huge dent in the pile of boxes in the hours we were there…it is hard to put other people’s things away not knowing what is important to them and what they’d rather leave in storage, but we did make it livable and hopefully a bit homey. We wanted her to walk through that door, not feel too overwhelmed, be able to kick her feet up, and feel the satisfaction of a well served mission and the joy of returning home.

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Welcome home, Mimi!

Loving some hand-me-downs!

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Before Christmas break the girls received an unexpected surprise in the mail. It was a package from Krista (my brother’s girlfriend.) A few months ago she shared that she was culling her closet and wanted to know if the girls would be interested in some hand-me-downs, to which they eagerly responded, “Heck Yeah!”

Before Christmas the first installment of clothes arrived along with some stickers, calendar, and treats for the boys tucked in. She is incredibly thoughtful and didn’t want the boys to feel left out. The girls were thrilled with the selection of jewelry, scarves, and charming pieces of clothing.

On Christmas the girls received the second installment of hand-me-downs from Krista that my brother graciously brought with him from Texas.

The girls were in heaven!

The day after Christmas they had fun trying on, sorting, and divvying up all the treasures,

and then putting on a fashion show to show off some of their new looks.

Here is just a small sampling of the gems the girls received:

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Thank you, Krista!

The girls are LOVING their new hand-me-downs!