School Bus Conversion: We can see the finish line

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It has been almost a year since that rainy June day when Toby woke with the grand idea of attending a school bus auction. (Yes, such a thing exists.) We were a year out from our big, once in a lifetime, “our children will be leaving us soon,” “we are running out of time,” trip across the United States.

As a child my family took two trips out west to see some of the awe-inspiring National Parks. I look back on those two trips as some of my fondest childhood memories. I wanted to take our kids to some of those same sites that I look back on with such fondness.

We will be visiting a lot of those same sites but many of the places we will be traveling to will be a first for us as well.

As we began the planning for this month-long adventure we began calculating the most affordable way to travel as a family of seven, and after pricing out the cost of two hotel rooms per night over the course of a month, or the cost of renting an RV and paying by the mile, we realized that Toby’s crazy idea of buying a used school bus and converting it into a home on wheels might be the most affordable option of all…

especially if we could get a used school bus for the right price!

The added benefit of investing our money into converting a school bus into an RV as opposed to putting those same funds toward hotel rooms is that at the end of our adventure we will have a finished RV that we can enjoy for years to come.

The renovation process began with removing the seats and gutting it. Over the next eight months we worked as a family whenever we had a free evening. The bus was rewired and plumbed for a kitchen and bathroom. Walls were added and the bus began looking like a home.

In the last month our RV has really begun taking shape as the progress becomes more visible. For a few  months much of the work that was happening was important but “behind the scenes” details that weren’t too thrilling to see. Now we are into the more visible and fun stage of renovation..

We are nearing completion of the inside of the bus and are ready to have it inspected and be cleared to take it on the road. Inside the bus we still need to install cabinet doors, cover and finish the bench, and add some last finishing details.

This summer we will be painting the outside of the bus. The kids are looking forward to this big summer project.

Here is a look the latest progress:

Toby has finished building our master bed. The headboard lifts revealing a deep storage cabinet within the headboard. Toby also used the hinges off an old truck bed to make it so our entire bed easily lifts for access to the vast amount of storage beneath our queen size bed.

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Doorknobs have been added to the bedroom, bathroom, and closet doors.

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The girls have been given the assignment of sewing curtains for all the windows in the bus and privacy curtains for the boys’ three bunk beds.

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Rusty has been helping Toby with some of the wood projects on the bus. He was given the assignment of cutting, sanding, installing and staining safety rails for the three bunk beds.

Here is a look at the finished bunks. Rusty will be on top, Tyler in the middle, and Ozzie claimed the bottom bunk.

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The kitchen is done with the exception of cabinet doors. The stove is installed, the kitchen sink is hooked up, and the fridge and microwave are strapped down.

The bathroom is nearing completion as well. Our bathroom consists of a sink and toilet. We opted not to use our valuable and limited space for a shower but rather for a storage closet, knowing that most places we would be camping offered public showers.

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In the “living room” area of the bus we have a futon that will lay flat at night and become the girls’ bed for sleeping. Toby also built a bench for additional seating. Originally we planned on have two matching futons face each other in the “living room” but discovered that the depth of the futons resulted in a very narrow walkway, so instead Toby built a bench which will be stained, cushioned and covered. The seat on the bench will lift up providing a spot for us to store the girls’ futon bedding during the day.

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Between the two couches in the living room Toby installed brackets on the floor that our dining room table will lock into when set up. He designed the table to be removed and stored behind the seats when it isn’t meal time and then can be set up when it is mealtime or when the kids need a table to do schoolwork at. We found a table top made of cork at Ikea, making it easy and lightweight to put up and take down as needed.

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In the front the bus Toby has installed seats for traveling. We decided that we wanted the kids to have seats with seatbelts for traveling. This was due in part to the  safety laws that varied from state to state that we were traveling through, but also for this Momma’s peace of mind. I just felt that when the kids didn’t need to be up and moving I’d rather them be buckled up. Toby found used seats out of an old van at our local junkyard. These seats recline and are more comfortable than the original bus seats that we considered reinstalling. (Plus they have seat belts.) :)

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Toby also rebuilt the bus steps, covering them with beautiful hardwood flooring, making them turn at an angle, thus allowing room for my co-captain’s chair to be installed next to the driver’s seat.

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Behind Toby’s head hangs a TV with a DVD player for those 8-10 hour days of travel,

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And beneath my feet Toby built a nifty shoe holder that the kids can stash their shoes in when they enter the bus. Toby has truly found every square inch of unused space on this bus and come up with ways to turn them into creative storage solutions.

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We are getting more and more excited about our trip as this “home away from home” takes shape.

I think a certain puppy is going to be very disappointed to find out she isn’t coming along!

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Time for Tea

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The day had finally arrived for Gracie’s 18th birthday celebration:

A Downton Abbey Victorian tea party.

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My mom made reservations for us to hold Gracie’s tea party at The Zimmerman Bury Octagon House in Marshallville, Ohio. This Queen Ann style octagonal house was built in 1883 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It now serves as a museum of the middle class Victorian way of life.

Taken from their website:

“Victorian Holiday High Teas at the Historic  Zimmerman-Bury Octagon House:
Enjoy an authentic Victorian Holiday Pink High Tea at this unique National Historic Landmark, located 6 miles North of Orrville on state route 57.  Drink in the ambiance of the Victorian era while savoring a buffet of tea sandwiches, pastries, fruit salads & always English Trifle, plus more.  Your hostesses will greet you in 1880’s clothing, provide a history of the house, and serve the period foods created from original family recipes.”

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Our tea party was scheduled for 1:00 pm. After a relaxing morning we began dressing for this special occasion. We gathered in the guest room and had fun doing each other’s hair and make-up as we dolled up for this special event.

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When we were all done getting ready we went outside to get some pictures before we left for the Octagon house.

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When we arrived were greeted by the butler who was waiting outside to escort us in.

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The home was charming and reflective of the Victorian style common at the turn of the century.

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The lady of the house sat us in the parlor where she shared with us some of the history of the house and the Victorian customs of that time period.

As she spoke a little kitten wandered into the room to say “hello.” She told us that the kitten was a stray that had been found under the front porch of the home. When they took her in the decided that if the cat was a boy it would be named “Downton” and if it was a girl it would be named “Abbey.” It turns out they are also fans of the show.:) The kitten ended up with the name “Abbey.”

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The head housekeeper then announced that tea was served.

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We were led into the dining room. The table was covered in delicious food including: three different types of tea sandwiches, scones, welsh rarebit, tomato aspic with dill sauce, fruit compote, trifle, and desserts. For our drink we were offered three different tea choices or strawberry lemonade.

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We were seated in the parlor to enjoy tea time. We had so much fun feasting on delicious food, admiring the décor, but most importantly visiting and making special memories that we will be able to look back and reflect on in the years to come.

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Having her birthday tea at the Octagon house was a special gift from my parents that I know Grace will all look back on with fondness in the years ahead. It was such a special way to celebrate a special birthday with a very special girl!

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Our tea party ended with birthday cake as we all sang to the birthday girl.

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“The most treasured heirlooms are the sweet memories of family.”

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A Belated Mother’s day

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We spent Sunday in Ohio.

My sister, Kelly, and her daughter, Lydia, had driven down to my parents’ house for the weekend. They had traveled 7 hours south from their home in northern Michigan to celebrate Gracie’s 18th birthday with her at her Downton Abbey tea party.

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Because our family is spread from Michigan to Texas whenever we do get together we take advantage of that rare treat and celebrate all the birthdays and holidays that fall around that time. This weekend we celebrated Grace, Molly, and Kelly’s spring birthdays as well as Mother’s Day with my mom.

Since Grace, Molly, and I needed to be in Ohio on Monday for the tea party we decided to drive two vehicles out to the Homestead and then at the end of the day Toby could drive back home with the boys and the girls and I could stay and begin Gracie’s celebration.

It was a perfect day. The sun was out and the temperature was ideal. We ate lunch outside and then opened gifts.

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The kids each painted Mimi a flower on a canvas for Mother’s Day. (Grace is holding the rose Tyler painted since I couldn’t get him to come over for a picture. He is still self conscious about his new hair-do.)

 It was nice to be able to celebrate Mother’s day all together (I just wish my brother, Travis, could have joined us.)

Molly and Grace also received their birthday gifts from Aunt Kelly…beautiful necklaces that were so personal and perfect for each of them!

The remainder of the day was spent enjoying family time outside:

Playing with the farm animals…

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Tyler challenging Bobby to a duel.

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 Blowing BIG bubbles…

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And playing our traditional game of badminton….

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Around 5:00 the boys headed back home and the girls’ night began.

The first item on the agenda was hat decorating. I had picked up some inexpensive straw hats for us to decorate for the tea party. The girls had fun raiding Mimi’s ribbon and flower stash to create lovely tea party hats.

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While we created we had fun taking Downton Abbey personality quizzes online to determine which character we would each be.

When the hats were done the girls put on swimsuits and hopped in Mimi and Pop pop’s hot tub for a soak.

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Then it was time for party favors!

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Mimi had found a beautiful antique tea set that she purchased for the big day. She had filled each tea cup with treats for every girl to take home, and then gave Grace the tea pot, creamer and sugar bowl as part of her gift. The set was charming and was just Gracie’s style.

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My party favors for the group were Downton Abbey paper dolls that I found online and wrapped with a pair of scissors for each girl. (Thank you, Pinterest!)

We ended our evening by watching an episode of Downton Abbey to set the tone for our tea party the following day and to introduce Lydia to the characters and story since she had never seen the show. Gracie carefully chose an episode that would be entertaining and appropriate for a 10 year old, as well as one that highlighted all the main characters. She chose Season 1 episode 4 when Branson comes to Downton Abbey to be the new chauffer and Sybil wears pants.

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It was a perfect way to end a wonderful day with family,

as well as a perfect way to start Gracie’s Downton Abbey tea party birthday celebration.

Downton Abbey Chic

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This past Monday we celebrated Gracie’s 18th birthday in style…

Downton Abbey STYLE!

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A few months ago, as we neared Gracie’s March birthday, we began discussing what she wanted to do for this milestone birthday. After all 18 is a big deal! She informed us that what she wanted more than anything was to have a Downton Abbey tea party with Molly and I, my mother, my sister and my niece.

Needless to say I embraced her birthday vision with enthusiasm.

I couldn’t think of a better or more fitting way to celebrate Gracie’s special day. As lovers of the historical period drama, Downton Abbey, the females at Patchwork Farm began planning Gracie’s birthday tea with creative enthusiasm.

I love a good theme-party and knew at once what Gracie’s 18th birthday gift must be:

A Downton Abbey tea dress!

Having absolutely no skill to bring to the sewing table I knew I would need outside help to bring my birthday gift vision to life.

This is where my dear friend, Wendy, came into the picture. She is a seamstress and owns a sewing business where she does everything from custom dresses to alterations. She is incredibly talented and when I approached her about hiring her to create a custom tea dress for Gracie’s Downton Abbey tea party she happily agreed to take on the project.

We decided that instead of surprising Grace with a finished dress for her birthday we would surprise her with a birthday card informing her of what her gift would be, thus allowing her to help in the design and creative planning of it.

When Grace found out what she would be receiving for her 18th birthday she was thrilled!

Over the next month she exchanged many emails with Miss Wendy. She sent pictures of different Victorian styles she liked and Miss Wendy guided her through the process of picking fabrics and colors.

When decisions were made Miss Wendy went to work, meeting up with us a few times for fittings along the way.

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The end result was enchanting,

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 and so very “Gracie!”

I’ve always said Grace was born in the wrong era. With her classic features and period clothing she looked like she had stepped right out of Downton.

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This past Monday was her 18th birthday celebration.

My parents’ gift to Grace was to generously book her Downton Abbey tea party at a historic Victorian home in Ohio. I will post pictures of her special 18th birthday celebration soon,

but first here is a peek at the birthday girl:

Lady Grace

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Stay tuned for pictures of the special memories we made!

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A Rainy Saturday

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The day was a wet, rainy one, but that didn’t deter us from the many activities that were scheduled for the day.

The day began with “kid collecting” as Grace and Molly returned from their friend, Stephanie’s, 18th birthday party sleepover.

Rusty also had a birthday sleepover with his good friend, Alton, and some of the boys from co-op.

Nobody got a lot of sleep on Friday night, but there was no time for naps on Saturday. We had a busy day in store!

Our day began with the girls arriving home at 7:30 am. They had signed up to walk in a charity walk with their friends Olivia and Tatum. The 2 mile walk took place in Pearson Park and raised funds for the Alpha Omega Center (a pregnancy counseling center in New Castle.) The walk was a walk for life. The weather was cold and rainy but the girls still had fun walking together for such a good cause.

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When the girls were done walking we picked up Rusty and headed home to get Toby and the little boys. They had gone in the opposite direction that morning for Tyler’s soccer game.

Before we parted ways I checked the soccer website and was surprised to see that the fields were open despite the rain and that no games were marked as cancelled, so Toby took off with Tyler in his soccer gear. When he arrived the found they were the only ones there. Games had been cancelled. This has been the reoccurring theme this season. With much rain comes many game and practice cancellations…unfortunately we never seem to get the memo.

Next week will be the last game of the season, which Tyler will miss since we will be out of town. It was an anticlimactic, sad sort of soccer season due to an unseasonably wet spring.

At noon we all piled into the van to drive to the park for a picnic with friends. One of the girls’ dear friends (and a beloved babysitter of our little boys) Cindy Biernesser has returned home from serving an 18 month, full time mission. This was her homecoming picnic. The rain continued to fall but didn’t affect the fun since lunch was served under a pavilion. It was so great seeing her!

After lunch Toby and the kids joined friends out on the connecting ball field for Frisbee fun in the pouring rain.

Then it was back home for a couple of hours of home/ bus work before we were headed to Cranberry for a youth dance.

The kids had invited  Olivia, Lucas and Tatum to join them. The theme was Alice in Wonderland.

Although they didn’t want to dress in costume they did want their outfits to reflect the theme and they carefully chose “Disney Bound” themed outfits that offered a nod of familiarity toward different Alice in Wonderland characters without being true costumes.

Some examples of what I mean by “Disney Bound” outfits:

Here is what they came up with:

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Grace as the “Queen of Hearts”

Molly as “Alice”

Rusty as “The White Rabbit”

When we arrived we were impressed with the effort and creativity that went into the food and decorations.

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It was all so charming!

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The kids had a blast!

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Then it was home again and off to bed. The next few days hold much fun as my sister and niece come into town for our Mother’s Day celebration at the Homestead and Gracie’s 18th birthday party: A Downton Abbey tea party…

Yeah!!

The Day of the Dread

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Dread is an emotion I battle. It is a sin of mine. It is a sin that stems from living outside today, focusing on tomorrow, and not trusting God.

I am a planner. I am an organizer. And like so many of us, my greatest gift has the tendency to turn into my greatest weakness when my focus falls from Heaven and settles upon worldly cares. You see, as a planner, I am always focusing on the next step. My mind is never at rest. I am always planning three moves ahead in fear of dropping the plates I have so carefully balanced and spinning above my head.

My ability to plan and organize is a gift that God is able to use and bless others with, but only when I am focused on Him. It becomes my greatest weakness when my focus falls away from Him. That shift in focus turns an asset into sinful control when used to do all that I deem necessary in the course of a day rather than surrendering my time to the giver of all time and rest in the gift of the present moment.

That sinful need to control leads to the paralyzing emotion of dread. I hate feeling dread. I hate being so worried about what is coming tomorrow that today is stolen from me. I hate that rock in the gut feeling that comes from worrying about the uncontrollable and the unpromised time of tomorrow.

When I find myself consumed with dread I know it is time for reassessment and redirection. Not necessarily in how I am using my time but in who is directing my time. You see DREAD is much more a symptom of a spiritual deficit rather than the time deficit that it presents itself as.

The month of May brings many additional time pressures as we wrap up the school year. There is the pressure to finish our lessons for the year as well as the new addition of outdoor responsibilities of yardwork and putting in the garden. September and May are hard months for me as a homeschooler because they are the months when school year responsibilities and farm responsibilities overlap. With the coming of June the burdens ease as my time and energy can be focused on summer chores, but for this short season it feels like the weight of responsibility is doubled. Add to that the fact that we are ALL ready to begin summer break, but must push through these last few weeks of school work, and the result is a Momma that is dreads the alarm going off in the morning.

Tuesday was a DREAD day. Monday night I climbed in bed already carrying the weight of responsibility for a day that hadn’t even arrived yet. I felt that weight of worry in my gut as I surveyed the 24 hours that lay before me and wished I could just fast forward to Friday. I hate feeling that way. I hate wishing away the days of my life in hopes for easier days tomorrow.

I stopped myself. I knew what the answer was. I just needed to apply the solution that has proven itself time and time again as the best antidote for dread…

GRATITUDE.

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When I find myself counting the worries I must hit the breaks and start counting the blessings.

In therapy with Tyler this week Tina introduced us to a book called, Baditude.

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It is the story of a little  boy who goes through his day consumed with the thought that his life “Stinks!” It was a charming read that made Tyler laugh out loud at the little boy’s view of the world. Every situation he encountered was viewed with distaste. The book concludes with a lesson by the boy’s mother who tells him that he has a “baditude,” and that the only way to get rid of a baditude is with gratitude.

It was a reminder of how powerful a point of view is. And while I consider myself and optimistic, glass half full, sort of person, I was dealing with some internal “baditude” that was morphing itself into “dread.”

Rather than lay awake, overwhelmed with the crazy day that lay before me, I decided to use that time before sleep overtook me to count my blessings.

In my favorite movie of ALL TIME, White Christmas, Bing Crosby sings a little number that goes:

“When you’re worried and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep, and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”

Well that is just what I did, and when  alarm woke me the next morning I found myself facing a very different day. The tasks and errands hadn’t changed, but how I saw them had. And what had been a dreaded day became a day of many blessings. Here are some of the blessings I can count from Tuesday.

My day began with a trip into Pittsburgh.

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After a two month wait my neurology appointment had arrived. As we drove into the city I gave thanks for the great blessings of:

1. Having a Myasthenia Gravis clinic with specialists that treat my rare disorder, right here in the Pittsburgh area.

2. Having a husband who is able and willing to go into work late so as to drive me into Pittsburgh so that I don’t have to do it alone.

We were the first patients of the day and the appointment went 100% better than I could have hoped. The doctor did a full assessment of my muscle strength including a breathing test and bloodwork to get an antibody count, but was amazed at the improvement that we were able to achieve over the last two months through diet and supplements. He gave me a script for Mestinon to use as needed for my muscle weakness but felt that immunosuppressant drugs and steroids weren’t needed at this time.

Which is such a blessing from God!

3. I am grateful that He led me to the other Tina in our life: who has helped me find healing through more natural means.

4. While all this was going on in Pittsburgh I was also counting the great blessing of dear friends, in particular my friend Lana, who graciously offered to take Molly to Keystone testing.

Molly has had state standardized testing yesterday and today. I was a bit panicked when I realized that Molly needed to be two hours north of Pittsburgh for a full day of testing at the same time I needed to be in Pittsburgh for my appointment.

How grateful  am for the friends in my life who help catch my balanced plates when they fall!:)

From my neurology appointment I said goodbye to Toby, who headed into work, while I drove Tyler to therapy with Tina.

5. When I count my blessings I count Tina twice…or 100 times! Talk about one of the greatest blessings in our life. I feel like in her I have found a guardian angel, a mentor, a friend and a long lost sister. She has had a bigger impact on our family than just about anyone. She has helped bring healing to our boys, and peace to our home. She gives me the tools to be a better mother as well as the confidence to believe I am a good mother. She brings objectivity and hope to what seems like hopeless situations and helps me find laughter when all I want to do is cry.

This week I needed her. In therapy we have been doing REALLY hard work. The wall behind which Tyler had buried memories of his birth mother has begun to fall and with the surge of trauma memories comes traumatic behaviors. I know no other way to describe the behaviors than to say we have entered the world of the “terrible twos.” I told Tina this. I explained that Tyler’s behaviors have not been aggressive or violent, but rather destructive and nonsensical. I feel like I have a two year old in the house again with cabinets being emptied, nonstop busyness, coloring on walls and furniture, temper tantrums, bed wetting, and this…

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On Monday night Tyler got up in the night, found a pair of scissors and gave himself a haircut.

I told Tina that I didn’t know what Tyler was thinking or what was going on other than to describe it as Tyler has been acting like a “terrible two” year old.

Then with her amazing wisdom and insight she said, “That is to be expected.”

I waited for her to elaborate.

“In therapy we have gone back to when he was separated from his mother. Memories are flooding back and he has regressed emotionally to the age he was when he was taken from her…2 1/2. he is responding to the overwhelming emotions connected to those memories as he would have at that age…at the age he is emotionally stalled at. The coloring on walls, dumping toys in the toilet, and cutting his own hair, while nonsensical for a nine-year-old, is perfectly age appropriate for a 2 1/2 year old.

She then gave me tools to parent some of these hard, exhausting behaviors, all while explaining the importance of making sure the consequences are age appropriate (for a 2-3 year old, not a 9 year old.)

I left feeling more hopeful and more patient and more capable as a mom.

After a couple hours at home we were back on the road to pick up Molly from Miss Lana’s house. At the same time I picked up Molly, I dropped off Grace. She was invited by her best friend, Olivia, on an impromptu road trip to Cleveland to a book signing of Olivia’s favorite author (who has also become one of Gracie’s favorite authors.) Woody, Olivia’s dad, kindly agreed to drive the girls to Cleveland to meet Maggie Stiefvater. The book signing was held at a Barnes and Noble where Maggie told stories and had a Q and A session with her fans before signing their books.

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Both girls made Maggie a friendship bracelet. Maggie wears the bracelets that her fans make for her (“until they get stinky or fall off”…her words!) Gracie then spent the night with Olivia since they didn’t get back home until almost midnight.

This got me thinking about how grateful I am for:

6. The sweet, deep, enriching friendships my kids are blessed with.

7. A dedicated Dad that would spend his evening driving two teenage girls to a book signing after a full day of work.

8. A daughter that “fan girls” over authors rather than pop stars or Hollywood icons.

After dropping off Grace and picking up Molly (who reported a good day of testing) we were back on the road towards Pittsburgh to take Ozzie to Tween Group.

Tween Group is a support group that is offered through our adoption agency for adopted children 10-12. (There is also a teen group.) In this group of kids Ozzie has found friendship and support from other kids who “get it.” These kids come from many different backgrounds (infant adoption, international adoption, foster care) and their stories differ, but they share the common thread of adoption. The ladies who run this support group are amazing! Tween Group begins with a dinner, followed by social skills activities, games,  and discussion that addresses situations specific to a child who has been adopted. Ozzie looks forward to his Tween Group that meets once a month. This was their last meeting before summer break.

This night the kids tie dyed shirts, made friendship trees with each other’s fingerprints as the leaves of the trees, made a movie trailer, and then invited the parents back at the end to view their movie trailer and see some of the adoption work they did this year.

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One of the activities they do each month is to highlight a famous adoptee and then post a question connected to that adoptee that the kids all get to answer.

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Watching Ozzie blossom under the support of this group is another blessing to thank God for.

9. I am grateful for our amazing adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services, that support their families on so many fronts.

10. For adoption: a unique and beautiful way to bring families together.

We arrived home to find Toby doing some repair work on Tyler’s creative cutting job. The only way to salvage the situation was to take it all off….

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Even in this I find reasons to be grateful…

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11. I am grateful there is not a family photo session scheduled for next week.

12. I am grateful we are going into summer and not winter, because that would be a cold style for January!

13. And I am grateful it was just hair…

because hair grows back.

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In all that I was dreading, I found joy.

Not because my day miraculously emptied and cleared,

but because I emptied and cleared…

I emptied my mind of worries.

I cleared my thoughts of tomorrow’s tasks.

and I found gratitude in today.

And that made all the difference.

God is good.

A Crazy, Quick Catch-up

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The last few weeks have been a blur of end of the year busyness. In between the big events have been a gaggle of everyday moments…none of which warrant a post in and of themselves, but are a reflection of our life…thus worth recording. This blog is first and foremost a recording of our life. It is my journal, one of my forms of scrapbooking, and a legacy of love I leave for my family, that they might read my words and remember the crazy days of our life decades from now.

Last Saturday Toby had his spring metal detecting hunt with his Beaver County Metal Detecting Club. His club meets on the first Thursday of each month at Kings restaurant in Monaca where they eat dinner together and talk metal detecting. There are awards for best treasures found the previous month and they share tips and good hunt sites. Toby is one of the youngest members of the club with most of the members being retired men. He enjoys the company of this group of men that remind him a lot of his dad, and enjoys the big hunts they hold twice a year.

At the big hunts coins are buried in the ground ahead of time. Boundaries are laid out, a timer is set, and the race begins as 30+ members, with a metal detector in one hand and a hand shovels in the other, hunt for the coins that have been buried. In addition to coins, metal tokens are also hidden that correspond to prizes that are laid out on the table.

The hunt lasted most of the day by the time coins were hunted, prizes were distributed, and everyone showed off their loot.

Toby came home with a belt pouch full of coins, some specialty coins won by tokens, as well as a metal detector canvas storage bag.

The kids had fun helping Toby sort and count his loot.

Good job, Toby!

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For one on one time this week the boys had some special requests. One on one time happens each day from 5:00- 6:00. The kids are each assigned a day and during that one hour slot they get to pick an activity to do with Mom. Sometimes that time is used for a project, sometimes the kids just want uninterrupted time to have a heart to heart talk, sometimes we work on a school or church or scout project, and sometimes we just play. It all depends on the child and what they need that week.

This week and last week Rusty was in the mood to be creative so we worked on some crafts. He wanted to make magnets to hang in his bed area of the bus. We had fun decorating rocks to turn into magnets.

During the previous week’s one on one time we had fun with an old tin of buttons. We worked on some button art to frame and hang in his room.

For Ozzie and Tyler’s one on one time we combined their time with Mom to do some therapy work. We are working with Tina on helping the boys see each other as companions rather than competitors, so I have been trying to create opportunities for them to play together without the influence of other playmates or older siblings. For their time we drove down to the park. We stopped at the little grocery store so they could each get a treat and then headed to the park for an hour of play. It was a beautiful day and the boys had fun playing as brothers and friends.

This week Gracie has been creative as well. The three older kids have a dance coming up later this week. The theme is Alice in Wonderland. Although they aren’t planning on going in costume, they do want their outfits to reflect the theme in subtle and whimsical ways. Grace created this necklace to wear as a nod to the Queen of Hearts.

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Beginning this week we have made some adjustments to our daily schedule. These changes are a result of  a family council we held last week. There have been some struggles and heightened emotions running rampant in our home the last few weeks. We felt the need to sit down as a family and reassess where we stood as a family, and refocus our time and energy based on current needs. The kids were given an open forum to air their grievances, share their struggles, and offer their suggestions as to what adjustments needed to be made as a family.

This time of year is when we start laying out our daily schedule for the summer months and look at how we would be best served to use our time. Talking with Toby and the kids is a great tool to measure what tasks need to be priorities as we budget our time.

One of the concerns that were a red flag as we talked as a family was a need expressed by the three older kids. All three expressed a desire for some time to be set aside for them to have time with Toby and I apart from their little brothers.

We came up with the solution of setting aside the hour after the little boys are tucked into bed as big kid time with the parents. The older three direct this time. Sometimes it is used to just visit, sometimes we will watch a show that might be too mature for the younger two, or just play a game together.

One night we had a “Just Dance” dance off. It was as fun to watch and photograph as it was to participate!

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 This week Grace, Rusty and Ozzie received their new belts in taekwondo. All three advanced to the next belt after testing. Rusty is now a brown belt, Ozzie is an orange belt, and Gracie is a yellow stripe.

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Friday night (after our big vertical adventure field trip) was the annual Father/Son campout for all the men and boys at church. The boys had a blast at camp Agawam. They eagerly shared that it was the best Father/Son campout in years. The boys loved the new campsite with its numerous structures to play on including a castle, a wooden fort, an underground bunker, and a wooden pirate ship. Add to that the campfires, sleeping outside, and s’mores and you have a little boy’s idea of heaven!

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The girls and I enjoyed a relaxing girls’ night at home. We watched Call the Midwives on Netflix and the girls made ice cream sundaes. Then they did my hair.

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There was a reason for the style choice.

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No, not that…:)

The following evening Toby and I were invited to an 80’s birthday party and I needed an “80’s perm,” so the girls covered my head in dozens of tiny braids that we rolled into buns for maximum curl, as we watched our show.

On Saturday we worked on the school bus conversion (Stay tuned for updates) and then got dressed in 1980’s garb for our friend’s 30th birthday party. My girls had a blast helping me get ready. As they helped me do my make-up and hair I introduced them to the musical stylings of Tiffany and New Kids on the Block. We had fun looking up pictures of 1980’s outfits, hair and make-up for inspiration. The girls declared us 80’s girls to be “fearless” in our fashion choices. I thought “fearless” was a very generous word choice.:)

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We had a lot of fun at the party. There was much laughter, much 1980’s reminiscing, a round of M.A.S.H….I will be living in a shack with John Stamos….and a 1980’s music showdown between the girls and guys.

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It was a fun way to end a busy week!

Reaching New Heights

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Every spring our cyber school, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, plans a huge, school-wide field trip. Throughout the school year there are various outings planned around the state as they attempt to reach out to students in Philadelphia, near Pittsburgh, and everywhere in between, but in the spring they plan their mega fieldtrip for the year which brings students and families from all corners of Pennsylvania together.

As you can imagine, this requires a lot of work on the school’s part. Buses are provided in locations throughout the state to collect families and ferry them to the field trip location. T-shirts are purchased for all the participating families. This helps the school track the participants, creates unity, provides a little walking signage for the school, but also lets everyone walk away from the experience with a cool, wearable souvenir.

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In the past we have attended the big spring field trip that took us to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as the trip that took us to the Washington DC area to tour Mount Vernon.

This year’s field trip was a whole new experience. Rather than another historic site, they switched things up. This time we traveled to the center of Pennsylvania for a Vertical Adventure!

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Our adventure began at 4:30 am yesterday, when I woke the big kids to get ready for our hour drive to the charter bus location for the Pittsburgh area families. This year there were age restrictions for the participants due the nature of the outing and liability issues, which meant the little boys had to stay home with Daddy.

As disappointed as they were to miss this outing, it actually was a blessing in disguise. It afforded me the opportunity to have some great, concentrated time with my older three children who have been a little lost in the shuffle of life lately. Inevitably the little boys, with their hurts, have been consuming much of my time and energy lately. It is a classic case of the squeaky wheels getting the grease. It was nice to be able to step out of the role of therapeutic mom to traumatized littles for a day, and enjoy the ease of parenting my oldest three. In fact we were all quite giddy at the prospect of our day of freedom and spent the day talking and laughing a lot.

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We arrived at the pick-up location at 6:15 am, where we joined six other Pittsburgh families and three teachers for our ride to Stone Valley Vertical Adventures. The bus they rented was quite the sight, with couches, large screen TVs, curtains and a bathroom.

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The Pittsburgh bus was the first to arrive at Stone Valley, followed soon by the three other buses. The bus groups were given colored wristbands to direct the activities of the day. Because of rain one of the courses had to be closed which threw a wrench into the system for the teachers who had so carefully laid out the day.  While it wasn’t ideal, in the end it worked out, and everyone had a lot of fun.

Our group (and one other) began the day with ground activities, while two other groups headed to the adventure courses.

The school offered a few possible ground activities. Outside there were volleyball and kickball games going on. This is where Molly and Rusty headed. They had a blast playing with their teachers and fellow students.

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Molly and “Coach”

 

Grace joined her mural club teacher inside the lodge where they were offering a group painting class for those that didn’t want to play games.

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Gracie’s completed painting:

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Then it was time for lunch. The sun was finally making an appearance so we were able to enjoy a picnic outside and soak up some of the beautiful scenery.

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After lunch it was our group’s turn on the vertical adventure course. We were sent to the vertical obstacle course: The Odyssey III. Rusty and I, who are both afraid of heights, kept our feet firmly planted of the ground while the girls geared up with harnesses and helmets.

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The Odyssey III

The Odyssey Course offers linear team events, designed for 4 to 8 participants to complete together at a time. The central idea of this course is that teams will share a more productive, fun and educational experience than would individuals in a traditional challenge course design. Most traditional linear courses have individual or two-person events. The Odyssey Course instead allows small teams to have a more engaging challenge course experience together.

Molly was excited to be joined by Mr. Winterode (her learning coach) for this daring adventure. Ms. Gowton, one of the science teachers, also joined their group.

Task #1: Climb up the ropes to the landing.

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Task #2: While harnessed to an upper wire, walk across a wire, while avoiding obstacles…aka: tightrope walking!

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Task #3: As a group, while holding a shared central hand hold, move to tree house #2.

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Task #4: Get your entire group seated on a small wooden platform and pull your team to the next tower.

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Task #5: Individually get each member of your team to tree house #3 by jumping from floating platform to floating platform.

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Task #6: Ride the zipline back down to the ground and celebrate your accomplishment!

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By the time our group had finished the course it was time to say our goodbyes and load back into the busses. What a fun day! Molly declared it her favorite of all the big field trips we have attended.

We made it through the day unscathed, but we knew that couldn’t be then end to the story. After all it was Friday the 13th! Our adventure continued during our 2 1/2 hour drive home…which turned into a 4 hour drive home. We were about 30 minutes out when the bus engine suddenly turned off and we coasted to the side of the road. Eventually the driver got the engine started again only to have it shut off again a little while later. We sat and waited as the bus company sent a replacement bus. In the end it all worked out, no one was hurt and the delay was nothing more than a small inconvenience.

We finally arrived in Monroeville at 7:15 pm. We hopped back in the van for the 1 1/2 hour drive to Camp Agawam. Yes, the day was not over yet. Friday night was the annual Father/Son campout so we needed to deliver Rusty to Butler to join Toby, Tyler and Ozzie at their outing before us girls could return home to begin our girls’ night festivities. The day began at 4:30 am and ended at 2:00 am…24 hours of adventure and fun.

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End of the year picnic

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Two weeks ago we had our last Wednesday co-op for the school year. Our cooperative learning group breaks for the summer and resumes in the fall with the start of the school year. Today was our end of the year picnic. We gathered at Pearson Park to eat and play and celebrate another successful co-op year.

While the grey skies threatened rain, the drops never did fall, and it ended up being a nice day despite the overcast skies.

The end of year picnic always brings feelings of excitement as the reality of an approaching summer break comes into view. I think we are all ready for summer!

The carefree month of June will soon be upon us, but today we celebrated May with good food, good friends, and a sense of accomplishment over a job well done.

How grateful I am for this amazing group of women and kiddos in my life and in the lives of my children. I count this group among my greatest blessings!

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Happy Mother’s Day

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Mother’s Day has been a favorite holiday since 1998 when I celebrated my first Mother’s Day with a two-month-old perfectly precious baby girl. I had every reason to delight in this spring holiday. I have been blessed abundantly with wonderful, righteous, giving and loving women in my life and I had all the reason in the world to celebrate…

celebrate not only my new role as a mother, but more importantly, celebrate all the women who walked before me who taught me how to be a mother.

Since adopting our two sons from foster care I find that my outlook on Mother’s Day has changed a bit. For the first time in my life I am exposed to the heartache and heartbreak often connected to this holiday. It isn’t a day of joy for everyone. It can be a day of great sadness and grieving.

Mother’s Day has become a hard holiday in our home as we acknowledge the great loss associated with this holiday for our sons who, while celebrating me, are grieving the absence of the woman they loved first…the woman who gave them birth.

With this grieving inevitably comes a mound of messy baggage and tough behaviors on this day that Hallmark totes as a day of ease and spoiling for Momma…haha!

With these tough emotions and behaviors come feelings of frustration and resentment for the older kids as they deal with younger brothers hijacking their efforts to make the day special for Mom.

I also find myself struggling under a mound of mixed emotions as I contemplate the great loss and sadness two particular women are feeling as their sons hand me flowers and homemade cards instead of them.

Mother’s Day has become a glad/sad holiday for me.

While I relish and cherish this role of mother,

Mother’s Day is a tough day.

My children (especially my big kids and Toby) went all out to salvage the day and make me feel loved, despite the struggles of the day.

Here is a look into their acts of love:

The day began with breakfast in bed. Grace and Rusty woke early to make breakfast and then woke the other kids when they were ready to wake me up and surprise me.

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Since we had to get ready for church, and because the kids wanted me to be able to take my time as I opened gifts, they decided to wait until after church to give me my gifts.

At church Molly was one of five youth speaking on the topic of mothers. She did a wonderful job and I was touched by her words and her tribute.

After church Tyler came to find me so that her could give me the Mother’s Day gift he made with his teacher in class. It is always a treat to see what charming homemade gift comes home from primary on Mother’s Day. It is usually the best gift of the day!

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When we arrived home the kids worked together to make lunch. Grace had taken everyone shopping earlier in the week to buy supplies for Mother’s Day gifts and to buy the makings for shish kabobs. Yum!

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While the kabobs cooked on the grill the kids sat me down to present their gifts:

From Tyler I received roses. Grace later informed me that great love and thought went into the gift as Tyler sniffed every bouquet at the store in search of the best bouquet. While Tyler’s flowers were a special gift, Gracie’s angelic patience in taking her little brothers gift shopping was the REAL gift!

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Ozzie bought me a new cup for cold drinks,

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and Rusty bought be a new “Mom” mug for hot drinks. (The boys must think I have a “drinking” problem!)😉

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Molly made me a picture for my wall.

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and Grace made me homemade soaps.

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Together the girls, knowing how much Momma loves her bubble baths, researched how to make homemade bath bombs, and gifted me with a box of beautiful lavender bath bombs for the ultimate soaking experience.

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The remainder of the day spent managing the hard emotions and behaviors connected to Mother’s Day.

When the little boys were put to bed at the end of the day I finally was able to rest…emotionally rest. I sat with Toby and older three children and we watched National Park videos of the places we are going to visit later this summer. It was a joy to sit and look forward to our fun, family trip and let go of some of the weight of worry I had been shouldering all day.

It was a beautiful day made all the more special by my husband and children…

but I must admit I felt a sense of relief as the day drew to a close. As nice as holidays are, sometimes plain old boring Mondays are easier.

Does that make me a bad mom?

Happy Mother’s Day to all my favorite Moms.