Monthly Archives: February 2016

Give us this Day our daily Bread


One of the great blessings of home schooling is the time and flexibility it allows for nontraditional learning opportunities. My children have had opportunities to learn skills and experience things that would have never been possible if they spent their days  in a traditional classroom. With our schooling method the kids are able to work ahead in their school work, allowing days to open up for field trips or other learning opportunities.


This Friday was one of those times when I was especially grateful that we educate our children in the manner that we do, for because of that choice the girls had the opportunity to learn a lost art from a wise, older woman who attends our church.

This sweet lady is one of the best bread bakers I have ever met. When she heard that my girls had mentioned wanting to learn to bake bread she invited them to spend the day with her and learn the lost art of making bread.

My girls were thrilled with the invitation and looked forward to spending the day with Ruthe.

Molly decided to combine two tasks and use the lesson not only as a chance to learn to make really delicious homemade bread, but also a chance to complete a photography assignment for school.

Her next assignment was to take a series of photographs that show the steps in a task. It was a perfect assignment for her to work on while baking bread.

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The girls had a delightful time with Ruthe. They loved hearing the stories she had to tell and learning the skills she had to share. There is something so dear about the older generation teaching the younger, and I think she was tickled to have the girls want to learn from her.

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Because bread baking is a multi step process, that requires doing and then waiting, the girls took advantage of the period of time while they were waiting on the dough to rise to drive over to their piano teacher’s home for lessons…

who just happens to be the daughter-in-law to Ruthe.

Mother and daughter-in-law, both with such talents to share. I am grateful for the many women in my life that so freely share their talents, skills and knowledge with my children, thus making up for my short comings and weaknesses. This is the beautiful blessing of raising your children within a community of people who care about and are invested in  your children’s lives.

In turn, those who have knowledge to share have the opportunity to pass on their legacy of wisdom and talents to the next generation.

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Bread baking was a hit!

The girls came home with loaves ready to be baked (and homemade cinnamon rolls) and stories to share about their fun day with their new friend, Ruthe.

We enjoyed the fruits of their labor as a family at dinner time when we feasted on homemade bread and potato soup.

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Today my girls learned the skill of making homemade bread, but that is just one small part of a much greater lesson they learned this day.


“You’ve got a friend in me.”



I am grateful for the friends my children have. I am grateful for the love those friends show my children and the joy they bring into their lives. As a mom it is so much fun to watch them grow with the friends of their childhood and watch their friendship develop as they mature from the stage of barbies and play-doh into a more mature friendship. It is an evolution I think delights me so much because it is so foreign to me.

I grew up in a military family. This meant every couple years we would pack up all we have into a moving van and drive off into the sunset to the next place we were stationed. It was a wonderful life. I loved the military lifestyle. I was able to see more and experience more than most kids my age and I loved the adventure of starting new every few years. It really didn’t become a challenge until I reached my high school years and we moved to an area away from a military base that wasn’t so transient. The students had all lived there their entire lives. No one was used to being the new kid, which resulted in a lack of empathy for the new kid. They had their group of friends, friends that had been their friends since they were in diapers, and they really weren’t looking to make new friends. It was the first time, over a lifetime of moves, that I struggled to find my place in my new school. It was all so foreign to me.


Eventually I did find my spot in that school with a group of friends that embraced me, but I always was in awe of the friendships around me that had such history. As a military brat I couldn’t even imagine being friends with someone for 10 years. Most of my friendships had an expiration date of 3 years. I suppose I learned, for the sake of self preservation, to not become too attached because friendships do have a shelf life. Despite all our promises to “never forget each other” or “always stay in touch” after a move it was inevitably just a matter of time before phone calls ceased, letters stopped arriving in the mailbox, and the friendship died a quiet death.


That world was a different world. Perhaps if I had been raised in today’s world of Facebook and social media, it would have been different. It would have required less effort to stay connected.

When I married Toby and became a permanent resident in western PA I had to relearn how to be a friend. I wasn’t married to a military man so frequent moves were no longer part of the equation. I had to learn how to put down roots,and not flee a friendship when it got challenging or uncomfortable. (This is a skill I still struggle with.) I had to learn to navigate long-term commitments with friends. It sounds silly but it was a definite adjustment for me, but I’ve slowly learned…

And now I am enjoying the rewards of that commitment as I celebrate 10 year or 15 year anniversaries with friends.

It has also been a joy to watch my own children thrive in this area that was always such a struggle for me. It is a delight to watch their childhood friendships grow and evolve as they mature. Some friendships have weakened and some have strengthened as the Lord has used certain friends in certain seasons of their lives for certain purposes.

The most enduring friendships for both my children and myself have come from play-groups/co-op where we share a common connection of mothering/homeschooling ideology, or church where we share the common thread of faith. Both have resulted in deep, meaningful, substantial friendships…friendships that have lasting power. My teens are now coming up on the 10 year anniversary of many of their friendships and my little boys are just beginning to learn that relationships and friendships can last…they can have staying power…you can count on them. This is a tough lesson to learn when it hasn’t been your experience as a foster child.

Because of that I am all the more grateful when friendships are developed, when my boys are invited and included, and when others make an effort to show my boys that people can be trusted and counted on “to stick.”

This week was full of fun social events with friends. Here is a peek into some of their activities:

For Wednesday night activities at church we had kids headed in different directions. We had stayed home from co-op on Wednesday, due to a flu bug that hit me. Tyler also wasn’t feeling 100% so the two of us stayed home to rest while everyone else who had rallied and were feeling okay, headed out.

The Boy Scouts have begun working on their swimming merit badge so Toby, Rusty, and Ozzie headed over to the YMCA’s indoor swimming pool to meet their scout troop for swimming. They all had a good time but Ozzie informed me, when he got home, “I’m just not a very good floater. I sink like a stone!” We are still working on helping Ozzie become a stronger swimmer. 🙂



Rusty swimming laps.



Ozzie working on floating 🙂



Molly’s church class (the 14/15 year old young women) drove with their leader over to the mall to window shop for modest clothing. The girls had fun looking for and trying on different outfits to determine if they were a modest choice. Molly always had fun with her church group of buddies. They ended their night with treats at the food court.

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Gracie’s church class (the 16-18 year old young women) had a social night and joined their leader at Steak n Shake for burgers, milkshakes and visiting. I think it was fun for the girls to be able to all get together and catch up on each other’s lives. These girls have been together for many years and it is nice to see some of the sweet friendships that have developed.

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On Friday the girls joined their church friends again as they helped Taylor, a friend from church, celebrate her 16th birthday. Happy Birthday, Taylor!

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The girls bought Taylor a purse and stuffed it with “First Date Survival Kit” items for Taylor’s 16th birthday.


On Saturday Grace headed out again for a little more “friend time” because evidently this week wasn’t filled with enough friend time! 😉

Actually this get-together has been in the making for a few months. Grace wanted to take out her two best buddies for a day of shopping and lunch out. Olivia is her best friend from co-op and Stephanie is her best friend from church and both are such sweet girls! I am grateful for both of these young women’s influence in Gracie’s life. They had a delightful time shopping at the mall and eating lunch at a Hibachi grill.


Olivia attempting to catch flying chicken. 🙂



Gracie returned home to find 3 more friends visiting. Derek, Nevaeh, and Q came to spend the night. We introduced them to the game Headbands, a family favorite. It is played by placing a card with a Disney character on your headband. You don’t know who your character is and must figure it out by asking the other players questions about yourself. Nevaeh and Q struggled with the concept and in their excitement would tell us who we were. It made for a lot of laughs for those who didn’t take the game too seriously, but was very frustrating for the three 9-12 year olds who really wanted to win. 🙂



Tyler reading a bedtime book to Q. 🙂


It was a good week with good friends…

Now off to sleep for some good dreams!

What is good on your “Sundae?”



(A personal note before I begin… In discussing Sabbath day observance: This is what the we felt the Lord was prompting us to do. Sabbath day observance is a personal thing and something each individual needs to prayerfully decide how the Lord is calling their family to honor that day. My intention is not to make anyone feel judged or corrected, simply to share how we personally feel called to spend our Sabbath day and to testify that great blessings come from setting the Sabbath day apart from the rest of your week.)

If you asked each member of our family which day of the week stands out as a favorite you would get a variety of answers. Some would say Wednesday, for with it comes co-op and church activities, thus the chance to be with friends. Others might answer Friday, the day that marks the end of the school week and our field trip day. Others would probably say Saturday because Daddy is home.(Yea!) But as for me, Sunday is probably the day I look forward to the most. It is my day of rest, of renewal, of recommitment…

It is a day set apart from the rest of the week.

When Toby and I married we made a commitment to set Sunday apart from the rest of the week as a day of worship and a day of rest. We chose to make an active effort to dedicate that day to the Lord and follow His commandment to keep the Sabbath Day holy.

We made the decision that for our family that would mean attending church to learn about, and worship the Lord. That we would refrain from activities that would require someone else to have to work on the Sabbath and miss out on the opportunity to worship or spend time with their family; like shopping, going to the movies, or going out to eat. That we would, as much as possible, refrain from the work of the week. This meant that Toby would schedule his jobs (as much as possible) to the other six days of the week so that we as a family could be together on the Sabbath. This also meant my “work” would also be accomplished (as much as possible) in the other six days of the week so that it could be a day of rest for me as well. Other than the basic necessities like cooking and dishes, I refrain from housework, yard work, and chores on the Sabbath as well.

We also encourage our children to plan out their work week in a manner that allows them to set aside the Sabbath as a day different from their school days. This means finishing lessons for the week during the other six days so that they don’t have to do schoolwork on Sundays to stay on track.

So what do we do on Sundays? Well, first and foremost, we attend church as a family.

This Sunday was a big one for Ozzie who moved from Primary (for ages 3-11) into Young Men’s (ages 12-18.) He was presented with his Faith in God award was was able to help the other young men pass the Sacrament bread and water. I must admit I was holding back tears as my wee little man stood so tall and proud in his suit and tie.


Then we come home around 1:30 and have spaghetti for lunch. This has become a tradition that began 12 or 13 years ago. While everyone is changing out of their church clothes Toby starts the water boiling and makes lunch for the family, giving me the day off, so I can have some time to sit in the silence of my room and have some quiet time.

After lunch we take naps. When the kids were babies we would tuck them into their cribs to nap and then climb into our own bed for Sunday naps. This is a cherished and needed tradition. I find that Sunday afternoon naps help me catch up on the sleep I may have lost during a busy week and allows me (and I’m speaking for Toby too) to start the new week more refreshed.


Inevitably between the ages of 6 and 12 our children resist the idea of afternoon naps. The rule then became that they had to stay in their room for an hour and could read or play quietly in their beds. Sometimes they would stay awake but often we would find them asleep by the end of our naps.

My three big kids, who are now teenagers, live for Sunday naps. 🙂 Oh, how the tides have turned!

The rest of our Sabbath day varies from week to week. It is sometimes spent going on a walk as a family, writing letters, playing games as a family, etc. The goal is simply to pick activities that allow us to bond as a family, focus on the Lord, and serve others.

For example two Sundays ago, as one of our Sabbath activities, we took everyone’s yearly measurement on our growth wall. We do this every Valentine’s day at our home. It is always fun to see how much everyone has grown since last year.

Sometimes we do some therapy activities that encourage bonding or strengthening family connections. This past week Ozzie and I made a memory chain of his biological sister Zoey. It began as a memorial chain of his biological grandmother but the work was too overwhelming so we moved to less heartbreaking memories.

To make the memory chain I would say things like:

“Pick a bead that represents Zoey’s birth month.”

“Add a bead that reminds you of her favorite holiday.”

Find a bead that represents your saddest memory with Zoey.”

He would then dig through our bead container and would add the bead that matched that memory. We would talk through it, with me taking notes, so that we can work on it in therapy with Miss Tina. It was a great therapy tool!


Sometimes, however, I find we struggle with how to best use our Sundays. Our little ones sometimes become so focused on what we don’t do on the Sabbath,

(like not being able to play video games)

that they lose sight of the heart reasons behind the directive.

I felt that it was a good time to have a refresher on Sabbath Day observance, and now that the kids are older, allow them to help set up the plan for Sabbath Day observance and get their input. I decided to do this for Family Night on Monday.

I began with an object lesson I found online.

In the center of the dining room table I placed a variety of condiments that I know my children like on their food. I also placed a bowl of ice cream on the table with sundae toppings. Then I covered everything up with a dish towel.

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Toby and I called the children in. We began with a song and prayer and then with a raise of hands I asked who liked ketchup…mayo…butter…honey…bbq sauce…vinegar…etc. Once we had established that these were all delicious toppings I asked for a volunteer. Rusty raised his hand. I lifted the dish towel, revealing the bowl of ice cream and the toppings we had discussed and told him to put all the condiments he said he likes onto his ice cream.

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It looked disgusting by the time all the condiments were added. I asked if he wanted to eat his sundae. He shook his head, “no.” Grace spoke up and said that she would try it.

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When I asked Rusty why he wasn’t going to finish his sundae…

after all he likes every condiment he put on it,

he replied,

“I like those things, BUT they’re NOT good on SUNDAES!”

Ahhh, YES. Exactly.

I went on to explain our lesson. There are lots of great activities we enjoy, but just because they are good doesn’t mean they are “good on Sundays.”  🙂

We read some scriptures to see what the Lord has said about keeping the Sabbath Day holy, and then we began our activity. We made a “Sunday Cans.”

As a family we talked about things we could do on the Sabbath that would draw us closer together, help us grow, renew us and prepare us for the upcoming week, help us have a more eternal perspective, and draw us closer to Christ,

and we wrote them on slips of paper to put in our “Sunday Cans” can.

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The goal was to help them focus on what can be done with our Sabbath day observance rather than focus on what we can’t do on Sundays.

Now if any of my cherubs approach us on Sunday to inform us, ” I’m bored! There is nothing we are allowed to do!”

I can sweetly point out our “Sunday cans” can and say, “Pick something.” 😉

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Then we ended family night with sundaes… of course!

We put away the ketchup and vinegar and let them top their sundae with chocolate, caramel, and sprinkles instead.


Blue and Gold and GREEN



This past Friday was the Blue and Gold banquet for Tyler’s cub scout troop at church. Tyler is the last cub scout in our family. Rusty and Ozzie are both now in Boy Scouts, but Blue and Gold is a Cub Scout celebration for the entire family, not just the cubs, and my big boys were excited when they heard the theme.

I remember vividly our first Blue and Gold dinner when Rusty was just eight years old. It was a dinosaur theme and really set the bar high for our expectations of what a Blue and Gold banquets looks like. That was Rusty’s first and favorite Blue and Gold dinner.

 It  has been fun to see the different themes the boys have chosen over the years for their Blue and Gold dinner. We have had a camping theme, Legos, and Harry Potter……… (Hands down my favorite one of all! I mean, what is better than ‘Pin the nose on Voldemort’?!)

The theme changes year to year but the night plays out the same. The Blue and Gold banquet is a birthday celebration of the cub scouting program. Families are invited, a dinner is served, there are usually games and skits by the scouts, and awards are handed out.

This year the boys chose the theme of Minecraft, a very popular online game that is a HUGE hit with my three boys, so popular in fact, that it was the theme of Rusty’s  12th birthday party.

The link to Rusty’s 12th birthday post:

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Rusty brought his Minecraft gear to the Blue and Gold banquet.

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Q peeking in “Steve’s eye.” I see you in there, Rusty!


On Wednesday the cubs worked on decorations for Blue and Gold. They made centerpieces and placemats.

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On Thursday night Tyler and I went grocery shopping for Blue and Gold. Each family was asked to bring a side dish and dessert. Tyler decided that he wanted to just bring a bunch of Minecraft snacks instead.

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Friday night arrived and everyone had fun.

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The turnout was great! It is so nice to have so many cubs now, compared to when Rusty was a cub scout.

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The night began with Minecraft games and activities like “pin the tail on the pig” and “knock down the creepers.”

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Then it was time to eat. Fried chicken was served with a variety of side dishes. The cubs were allowed to fill their plates first so they could eat and get ready for their skits, which they performed while we ate.

They sang and performed some classic cub scout skits. Tyler opted to sit in the audience rather than be on stage. The boys did a GREAT job! It was VERY entertaining!


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Then it was time to hand out awards. Tyler and the other Bears were awarded three new belt loops that they have been working on as a pack.

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The night ended with yummy (and adorable) desserts.

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Another successful Blue and Gold banquet!

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Is it Tyler or is it Steve?!

Ozzie’s First Youth Temple Trip: A Pictorial.

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Big Bessie was packed the gills with 11 youth. It made for a fun and noisy six hours on the road. We dubbed it “The Party Bus!”

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I can’t believe my little man is now 12 and old enough for youth temple trips.

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What a fun group!

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What a joy it was to spend the day in such a special place with my four favorite youth!

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It was a gorgeous day for a temple trip to Columbus, Ohio. The sun was shining and it felt like spring.

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Beaver Valley youth.

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Then a stop for burgers and shakes before our 3 hour drive home. Yes, we are eating outside in February!

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It was a wonderful day!

Adoption: The Inside Scoop



It as always been my goal to be authentic with this blog. My goal has been to share the reality of our journey: both the blessings and the bumps. In sharing the blessings my hope is to point the focus on the Giver of our blessings, not to say, “Look at us.” To God all the glory!

And in sharing the bumps we encounter along the way my goal is not to invoke pity, or plant feelings of discouragement to those considering this path, but to offer hope and a feeling of camaraderie to those walking a similar path and to say, “Yes, it IS worth it.”

I don’t share to complain or demean, but rather share with hopes that some nugget of wisdom might touch the heart of a friend who needs it. Before I type a blog I always pray that my words might not be self-seeking, but rather God-seeking. I don’t share anything about my children without praying if and how I should share it first.

So often people have one of two very distorted views of what adoption looks like.

There is the Hallmark movie view of adoption that shows a family warmly open their home to an orphan. The family gathers with open arms and a orphan runs into their waiting arms, grateful for a loving home and they all live happily ever after. It is this view of adoption that leads people to falsely believe those that choose adoption are a family of saints.

Then there is the Inside Edition view of adoption that shows the worse case scenario of Reactive Attachment Disorder playing out in an unprepared adoptive home. This one plays out as a scary horror story involving fire starting, stealing,  and life threatening aggression. Most who buy into this view of adoption believe those who adopt are just crazy “kid collectors” and gluttons for punishment.

So, are we the saints or are we the crazies?!?

The reality can be found somewhere between these two distorted views of adoption. We are simply a family called to grow in an unorthodox way as we stumble along this journey toward the family God has planned for us.

There are Hallmark moments and Inside Edition days. There are breakthrough blessing moments and heartbreaking burdens. It is a two step forward, one step backward dance of endurance, as we commit day after day to never give up on our adoption treasures and to love them through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And there can be a lot of “ugly”…

Nasty scars and messy emotions tied to experiences they had no control over and no say in. It is an interesting journey of discovery as you learn to parent a child who has experienced more trauma in their first few years of life than you have in your entire life.

It is accepting that there is a part of their life that you will never be part of, even though in your heart they feel as though they have always been your child.

It is trying to navigate out-of-control emotions, behaviors, and trauma memories that you are not even privy to, and having to play detective as you try to read between the lines of your child’s behavior without the help of a translator.

It is accepting that your child experienced horrible things, and as a result changed from who they might have been, because of experiences you could not protect them from.

Is loving them though the hard stuff and being humbled as you realize you can’t fix it…sometimes all you can do is sit beside them as they remember it.

There is not a hurt in the world that compares to the hurt of a mom watching their child suffer. I don’t know when my heart has ached as deeply as it has this last week as I have watched Tyler suffer through the hurt of remembering.

The walls have fallen.

For the last three years Tyler has safely hidden away the memories from his past from us,  behind a wall of protection. It was a wall that he built for survival…for self-preservation, because the memories of his early years of abuse and neglect were simply too overwhelming for his little mind to handle. Now with the help of the right medications and a superb and patient therapist, the wall is crumbling…and the memories are pouring out…

and my pour little boy is trying to stay above the waves.

Memories from his early years are coming to the surface and with those memories he is transported back to the thoughts, feelings, fears, and survival behaviors he was dependent on at the time.

Among the behaviors we are seeing are:

1. Hiding: His early years were spent locked in a closet with his biological siblings. This has led to a fear of the dark and closed rooms. He no longer can sleep in his room alone at night because of the vivid nightmares he is now having as memories come forth, but during the day it is a different story. I keep finding him hiding in small spaces, crying. I will hear his muffled cries and find him in the backs of closets, in boxes, under a turned over laundry basket, with his hands pressed to his eyes. “I can’t make the pictures go away,” he cries.

Two weeks ago at co-op he hid under a classroom table when it was time to leave. He refused to come out. So I sat on the floor next to him as he raged. “You aren’t my real mom!” he cried. “I’m never going home with you again.” It took 2 1/2 hours before he would get into the van


2. He has begun hiding and hoarding food. Tina, our therapist, suspects this is due to memories of being hungry as a toddler that he had suppressed. In reading his file we knew that he and his siblings suffered great neglect as children. Food was scarce and often they would be locked in a closet with just a box of cereal to share. I have never shared this information with him but he has recently begun asking questions about it. We he found him multiple nights, hiding in the pantry, stuffing his face frantically. With the memories of early childhood comes a great fear that he will be hungry again, even though he has not done without for the three years he has lived with us.

Understanding the affect of trauma can be mind-blowing. Despite all signs pointing to the fact we will never let him be hungry again, there is an innate fear that he can never truly be sure another meal will come. So to help bring some security and ease a bit of that anxiety we created a food box during our daily therapy time. We marked it with his name and filled it with food that no one else can eat. It sits in the pantry with the promise that it will always have food in it. The rule is that he can eat anything from it, he just must ask permission first. He understands that no one else will eat that food.


It is amazing the affect this little exercise has had. We haven’t had anymore food hoarding or sneaking food. He doesn’t even really ask to eat the food in his box, he just checks on it every now and then to make sure it is still there and filled, and that is enough to bring some peace.

3. The big thing we are working on, however, is feeling and naming emotions. Memories and emotions are spewing forth at a rate that often leaves Tyler paralyzed. Rather that working on “managing” these emotions, like we have been doing with Ozzie in therapy, we are just helping Tyler “purge” his emotions. After year of them being trapped behind a wall Tina feels like Tyler just needs to release them. We have been doing this through coloring. It is amazing the relief he gets emotionally from coloring out his feelings. He has attached an emotion to each of his colored markers and colors the emotion he is feeling. He can work for hours on one memory he is processing.

He has moved from simply using colors to show emotions, to adding facial expressions and words. It seems to be the one thing that brings relief when he is drowning under the  memories.



4. He has also begun to ask about his biological mother. He suddenly is having pieces of memories of her come forth and is struggling with the weight of remembrance. He suddenly is longing for her love and attention and is feeling the heartbreak of her absence. This work has been hard for me. I know it is essential. I know it is an important part of his identity and key to his future security but it is hard, and I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that.


But the blessing that has come from his seeking out knowledge of his biological mother is a closer connection to me. He has chosen me to be his travel companion down this hard road. It is no longer Toby he asks for at bedtime but Momma who he whispers his heart secrets to.

Our middle of the night chats go something like this:

“Why did my real mom get rid of me?”

“Was is because I was such a bad baby?”

“I wonder if my real mom took videos of me.”

“I miss my real mom.”

“I wish I could call my real mom.”

“I had lots of moms and they always gave me away because I’m such a bad boy .”

“All I want is a picture of her.”

And then he cries, and I hold him until he falls asleep.

After much prayer and discussion with Tina we decided that the next step in Tyler’s healing journey was to let him see a picture of his birth mom. I searched and was led to a picture of her online and put it in a frame for him. I gave him what his was asking for…a picture of his biological mother. The result has been a mixed bag of emotions and behaviors. He carries it around like a treasure and I find him studying her face, searching for clues to who she is, for familiarity, and for glimpses of himself in her features. He sets her picture in front of him as he colors his emotions. And we have started making a list of questions he may one day want to ask her.

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It is hard stuff. I struggle with feelings of resentment and judgment toward the woman who hurt him so badly and yet who he loves with such devotion.(This is me sharing the real stuff.) I struggle with feelings that she doesn’t deserve his devotion or the title he has given her of his “real mom.”

But I know those are my issues to work through…my own insecurities, because the reality is:

She holds a place in his heart that will never be mine, just as I hold a place in his life that will never be hers.

more than one

He loved her first. Hers were the eyes he looked into first. Hers were the hands that held in his tiny hands. And if my heart is breaking, oh, how hers must break too as she lays awake at night thinking of the nameless, faceless, woman who is holding her son.

The reality is: Tyler isn’t hers, nor is he mine. He belongs to God. I just need to keep reminding myself of that truth as we work through the tough stuff.

Adoption is a beautiful thing.

It is a necessary thing.

It is a God ordained blessing…

But it is no Hallmark movie!

It is a messy, heartbreaking, beautiful, awe-inspiring, miraculous, faith driven, white-knuckle ride.

hold on

Born to Shine!



This past Wednesday was our Valentine party at co-op. This year our family decided to volunteer to plan it. The kids all had sections in their different goal programs through church that asked them to help plan an activity, so it seemed the best way to accomplish it was for us to plan an event as a family so we could work on marking those sections off.

One of the blessings that come from being part of a learning co-op is the opportunity to offer activities and experiences that are hard to facilitate in a home environment and can really only be experienced in a traditional classroom environment…

experiences like having someone other than your mother teach you, group projects, holiday parties, talent shows, yearbooks and Valentine exchanges.

The Valentine party is one of four holiday parties we have each year, with the moms taking turns heading up and planning the different parties.

For this year’s Valentine party the kids and I decided to do something different that the traditional Valentine’s Day festivities. We decided to still have the Valentine exchange and the Valentine box contest but do something TOTALLY different for the “games” portion of the party.

We chose the theme:

“Let Your Love Shine!”

Using the inspiration from a fun experience this past summer, we decided we would have a glow stick dance party in the gym. (It was perfect for a glow in the dark party since the gym is window free.)

We thought this would be something fun and different from the norm, and an activity that would be enjoyed by all ages, from our preschoolers to our highschoolers.

In the weeks leading up to the party we scavenged glow sticks leftover from summer from around the house so that we could calculate how many more we needed to purchase.

To turn each person into a glowing stick man we needed 10 glow sticks/person.

My big kids worked on a playlist for our dance party, making sure to include dance favorites like The Limbo, Cotton Eye Joe, Watch Me Whip, Happy, and the Cuban Shuffle. They also included some classic Disney songs.

On the Monday before the party the kids used Presidents Day (off from school) to make their Valentines and their Valentine boxes. It was fun to see what creative visions they all had for their boxes and how they executed their visions.

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On Wednesday we had the kids line up their Valentine boxes on either side of the gym. Preschool-3rd grade set up their boxes on one side, and 4th grade-highschool set up theirs on the other side. We numbered the boxes and then the kids had the opportunity to vote on their favorite box from each age group.

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The first 3 hours of co-op played out like a typical day. The kids had science, history and art and then broke for lunch. The party took place after lunch when we would normally have music.

At lunch Ozzie handed out cupcakes for his birthday celebration with his co-op friends.

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To prepare for the monumental task of outfitting 30 kids with glow sticks, we cracked all the glow sticks before hand, so that they were glowing, and then taped the stick figures to the walls so that everyone could simply pick a stick figure on the wall and transfer it to their own body. It was a quick and efficient way to get everyone outfitted for the glow in the dark dance party. We also had glow in the dark glasses and headbands for the kids to choose from.

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Once everyone was ready we gathered everyone in the center of the gym for a photo…

First on with the lights on:

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Then one with the lights off:

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Then it was time to dance!

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A peak of what the dance party looked like when I turned on my flash:

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The party ended with our Valentine exchange and prizes for the winning Valentine box designs.

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Oh, how I love this special group of friends…

And boy did our love SHINE this Valentine’s Day!!

A Birthday Surprise for Ozzie


Winter has finally arrived in Western PA. After an unseasonably warm and mild winter, snow has arrived, and it is fitting that it made its debut on Ozzie’s birthday.

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We woke Ozzie early with a song and a cupcake, but the real surprise was waiting outside his window. At our prompting he open his curtains and discovered 8 inches of snow on the ground.

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“I love the gift God gave me for my birthday!” Ozzie exclaimed with enthusiasm. “Snow!”

Heavenly Father couldn’t have picked out a better birthday gift for Ozzie, our weather enthusiast,

Unless of course He sent a tornado, unfortunately I think Ozzie is out of luck with that wish, given he has a February birthday. 🙂

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With the arrival of snow on Ozzie’s birthday came other blessings, like having Toby home for the day. The roads around us were still unplowed and slick when it was time to leave for work so Toby declared the day a snow day from work. (You can do that when you own your own construction company!)

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He spent the morning digging out our vehicles. I was so grateful he was there. Because of his hard work Ozzie and I were able to make Ozzie’s therapy session which was critical given the fact it was his birthday and the overwhelming emotions connected to that day as an adopted child. It was essential we  work through and process some of those big emotions with Tina and thanks to Toby we didn’t have to cancel our appointment.

She even surprised Ozzie, knowing it was his birthday, with cupcakes at the appointment.

Upon arriving home we discovered there was no getting back up our driveway. The heavy, wet snow that fell compacted into ice under Toby’s truck tires, turning our driveway into a skating rink. Currently all three vehicles are parked at the end of our steep driveway and we are hiking in and out.

The greatest blessing that came from the snow storm was a forced stillness and solitude from the world…a break from busyness…a chance to be together, alone as a family. It was lovely and reminded me why winter is such a healing season for me.

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I crave the peace that blankets my world when everything is covered in white. There is a magic…a peace…that only winter can bring.

It was wonderful.

At 2:00 we declared it the end of the school day and put away books and pulled out the sleds. It was time to go out and play as a family. Toby went to the garage to cut sheets of plastic for sleds and the next few hours were spent building snowmen,

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having snowball fights,

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making snow angels,

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and sledding.

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When everyone was sufficiently chilled and worn out we headed inside to put on PJs early and snuggle in for movie time while enjoying mugs of hot cocoa.

After dinner it was time for Wax on Snow. This is a beloved tradition from my childhood. It is a treat that instantly transports me back to age 6. Wax on Snow is a special and rare treat because of two key reasons:

#1: It requires REAL maple syrup which (due to cost) we only have in the fridge when we receive a jug as a gift.

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#2: it requires a pan of freshly fallen snow, so it is a treat that only comes in the winter months.

To make Wax on Snow you fill a pan with pressed fresh snow. You keep the pan outside in the cold until the syrup is ready.

Next you boil REAL maple syrup on the stove top until it reaches the soft ball stage. (In other words: when you drop it in a glass of cold water and it forms a soft taffy like ball).

Then it is ready. The kids gather around the pan of snow and the syrup is poured in strips on the snow where it gums up into a taffy like treat and is eaten with forks. In addition to it being a delicious treat if you love maple flavored candy, it is also a fun family experience. After the candy is all gone then the kids enjoy eating the maple flavored snow.

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The remainder of the evening was spent relaxing in our warm house and spending time as a family. It was a much needed reprieve from a crazy week and a perfect way to celebrate the birth of Master Oswald William McCleery!

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International Auto Show


Saturday we woke up to bitterly cold temperatures.

The wind chill was -10. It was a perfectly chilly day to spend indoors looking at “hot” cars.

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For Ozzie’s 12th birthday we decided to take him to the International Auto Show in downtown Pittsburgh. It was being held at the David L Lawrence Convention Center, the same place we were a few weeks ago for the RV show.

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We loaded everyone in the car and drop Zoey off at home before we headed downtown. It was very busy and parking was at a premium so Toby ended up dropping us off at the door and bravely facing the cold on his own as he parked at a lot half of mile away and hiked back to the convention center.

Ozzie was beside himself with excitement as we waited for Toby to arrive.

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The show was everything that is a 12 year old boy could dream of and my idea of a nightmare. 😉

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 For four hours we looked at car after car, each one looking pretty much the same to me. But Ozzie was in heaven as he went from car to car collecting brochures and booklets from each of the manufacturers and sitting in every open car.

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Overall it was a very fun experience not only for Ozzie but for the family as a whole.  It wasn’t how I would have chosen to spend my Saturday if I wasn’t trying to win “Good Momma Points,” but it was fun being together as a family.

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The three teenagers had fun dreaming of what their first car would look like if they had unlimited resources,

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and Ozzie pointed out car after car that he plans on owning when he is grown and a billionaire.

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As we walked around it was funny to see what each kid was looking for in a “dream car.” Molly, my outdoor chicky, was drawn to the classic Jeeps.

Gracie preferred the small European sporty sports cars.

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Rusty, my gentle giant, was impressed by some of the large vans that he could actually stand in. He loved the headroom.

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Ozzie was looking for special features and power under the hood.

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As for Tyler, well Tyler opened every trunk of every vehicle at the show to check out the trunk space, often exclaiming “I could actually sleep in here.” We have some concerns that his fascination for how many bodies could fit in the trunk may lead to a future in the mob. 😉

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Near the end of the car show Tyler was delighted to stumble across a booth where a retired Pittsburgh Steeler was signing autographs. The kids got in line to get an autograph before we headed out the door.

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Toby had one more surprise in store before we left Pittsburgh. He decided to make a stop at the Pittsburgh Popcorn Factory and let each of the kids pick out a small bag of popcorn… any flavor. It was our first time at The Pittsburgh Popcorn Factory. It was a delightful little place that boasted 10 different homemade flavors that day available for purchase. Some of the flavors that our family chose to try were brown butter caramel, peanutbutter cup popcorn, kettle corn, and chocolate caramel. We enjoyed our popcorn treat on the drive home.

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It ended up being a perfect 12th birthday for Ozzie. That night as we shared what we were grateful for that day Ozzie exclaimed that it was the best birthday he had ever had. I suppose that the 4  hours of my life that I lost forever  at the International Auto Show was well worth it, because we were able to make one little boy’s dream come true.

Ozzie is 12!


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2016 is a big birthday year for 4 of our 5 children. This year Tyler will be turning 10 in August and will be a double digit kid. In April Molly will turn 16 and will be allowed the privileges that come with that age, privileges like dating and driving. In March Grace will turn 18 and will officially be an ADULT…EEEK! And just yesterday Ozzie turned 12. This means he moves from primary and will be in Young Men’s at church. He will be able to pass the sacrament and will now be with Grace, Molly, and Rusty in the youth program.

Yesterday began with our traditional birthday wake-up as we woke Ozzie with a birthday song and a morning cupcake and candle to blow out, but it was a fairly low key day. His real celebration had occurred a few days earlier on Friday when he had his biological sister spend the night and we had his 12th birthday party.

He has been asking for a sleepover with Zoey for a long time but we had to get Ozzie and Zoey both to a good place emotionally to make sure they could handle it. Ozzie has made such strides in his therapy that we felt like he was ready for a sleepover. He was SO EXCITED!

He asked for a car themed party, so on Friday afternoon we sent him to his room to play and the other kids and I decorated the dining room for his party.

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It was such a fun theme to work with!

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When we were all done decorating, and it was almost time to leave to pick up Zoey, we called Ozzie down to check out our work.

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He was thrilled. Ozzie’s unbridled enthusiasm and gratitude are two of his most endearing traits. I love how thrilled he was.

He was especially excited about his cake and the Cars themed snacks:


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Then Ozzie and I left in the car to pick up Zoey while the other kids stayed home. He was excited to see his sister and have her over.

When we arrived back at the house I gave permission to Ozzie to open his gift from Zoey. It was such a perfect Ozzie gift: a science kit and weather station.



Then the kids watched Cars 2 while waiting for Toby to arrive home. This was Ozzie’s big request for the night…

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Well, watching Cars 2 and having a pinata.

When Toby arrived home we let the kids do the pinata before we had dinner. Ozzie was so excited. He kept saying that he had always wanted to have a birthday party with a pinata but never had. All the kids enjoyed the pinata. Toby worked the rope, making it just challenging enough to last a little while before it broke open, spilling candy over the living room floor.

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Then it was time for dinner. Ozzie’s favorite food is tacos and he requested walking tacos (taco makings in individual Doritos bags) for his dinner.


After dinner Ozzie opened his gifts from the rest of us and from Uncle Travis, whose gift arrived in the mail that day. The girls (together) gave Ozzie a Lego set. I helped Tyler get Ozzie a car kit.

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The biggest hit of the night, however, was from Rusty. Rusty had boxed up all his matchbox cars from when he was little and gave them to Ozzie. I was so proud of Rusty and his sweet and thoughtful gesture. Ozzie was over the moon!

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Then Toby and I gave Ozzie our gift: a year subscription to a car magazine. (Which was more challenging than I expected. I had to do major research and searching to find a car magazine appropriate for a 12 year old boy…one that highlighted cars and not half naked women. I finally found one that was ideal and Ozzie is so excited that he will be receiving a car magazine in the mail each month!)

The second part of our gift to Ozzie was happening the following day. We told Ozzie that on Saturday, after dropping off Zoey, we would be going as a family to the International Auto Show in Pittsburgh. Oh, you should have heard the shouts of joy and excitement from our little man.

We ended our celebration with cake.

Make a wish, Ozzie!

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Stay tuned for part 2: Our visit to the International Auto Show!