Monthly Archives: December 2016

Birthday Blessings

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Another year has passed and as I woke on the morning of birthday #39 I found myself reflecting on the past year and all that transpired. It was a year of learning, a year of growth and a year of experiences.

I am finding that with each passing year I become more comfortable with myself and am slowing evolving into who God created me to me. There is a steadiness and ease that comes with each passing year and I find myself more comfortable in my own skin and in my own circumstances than I ever was when I was younger.

With each passing year I find the nonsense and noise is filtered out and the things of most importance have come into focus.

This past year has been a year of learning. I exit year #38 with a better understanding of what I need as a person and what my family needs. This past year began with a lot of stress and worry as we navigated the sticky road of helping 3 little ones who had lost their mother and grandmother over the course of 6 months. Their wellbeing consumed my thoughts and my free time as we tried to get them the help they needed, and in the process I learned the lesson of surrender.

From that added stress erupted a myriad of heath struggles as I began having symptoms of the Myasthenia Gravis that had laid dormant in my body for the last decade. The months that followed taught me the lesson of prioritizing as I had to say “NO” to the “less important” for the sake of being able to manage the “most important”…a hard and humbling lesson for someone that feeds off the joy of service and doing.

Those health struggles led to a delay in our long-planned cross country bus trip. A decision that turned out to be the greatest of blessings. And I was reminded of the perfection of God’s timing.

During the 38th year of my life I was able to go on the adventure of a lifetime as we packed up our converted school bus and traveled to the most beautiful vistas of the United States of America with the people I love most. As we traveled 10,000 miles over 7 weeks I learned more about my family, the goodness of humanity, my country, and myself then I ever imagined. I discovered that there is a gypsy within me that finds joy and life in adventure and travel, something I didn’t realize about myself. On that road trip I felt more alive and at home than I have in years. I discovered that there is a rest found in tiny home living, in minimal possessions, and in simplicity of life, and it wasn’t until I lived that simple life on the road that I recognized the voice within crying out for that need to be met.

Then Toby left for 2 months and life as we knew it fell apart as Reactive Attachment Disorder demons reared their head in ugly ways and I parented and loved my boys through behaviors and situations that I never in my life imagined would be part of my story. I lived though tragic, scary experiences and lived to tell the tale and discovered that I am stronger, braver, and more resilient that I thought I was. I am a survivor and I don’t know that I would have ever discovered that about myself had Toby not gone away and forced me to tap deep and find strength from within and from above. I discovered that I CAN do hard things and find joy in the journey, even through the darkest patches of life.

Through the ups and downs of this past year I have become better acquainted with myself. I am stronger and braver and more comfortable considering what I want or need. I have a clearer vision of my calling and purpose and feel better equipped to step out in faith and not worry so about what other may think. I feel an excitement and eagerness when I think about the upcoming year and all that could be.

I am 39 years old and it is time to be bold.

I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday celebration. Toby treated me to an easy day of parenting when he invited the two little boys to go to work with him for the day. This meant 12 hours of “one on one” time with my three teenagers. I was able to enjoy my three “originals” and was able to relish a day full of the joys and delights of motherhood without any of the work of motherhood. It was a very special gift from Toby. One I am so grateful for.

The day began with slowly waking up. This, in itself, was a gift. I wake daily to Tyler hollering, “Good Morning, Momma!” through the crack of the door.It seems that regardless of what time I set my alarm for I can never beat him awake to enjoy five minutes of silence before the circus begins. He always wakes up happy and pleasant, but he wakes up FULL of energy, enthusiasm, and noise. Being woken up by Tyler is like waking to a smoke alarm going off every morning. Daily I am jolted awake from a dead sleep with adrenaline coursing through my veins, as I try to catch my bearings.

So, to be able to wake to sunlight shining on my face and slowly stretch myself to wakefulness…

To lay in a quiet bed, taking five minutes to gather my thoughts and say a prayer before my feet hit the floor…

Was the BEST GIFT EVER!

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Then the big kids treated me to a crepe breakfast. We had a lazy morning as we watched one of my holiday favorites that I didn’t get a chance to see before Christmas, while the girls gave me a foot massage and pedicure. Then we were out the door.

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For lunch we went to Moe’s for Mexican food and then enjoyed an afternoon of shopping. (Everyone had gift cards burning holes in their pockets) It was so lovely to slowly walk through a store, and browse, without having to mindlessly rush through the experience so as to make it back to the car before a meltdown.

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We spent an hour at Barnes and Nobel flipping through books, relaxing in the easy chairs, and looking at magazines. Molly even bought me a cookie from the café to enjoy while I looked at books.

Then we headed to the movies where we spilt up and Molly and Rusty went to see the new Star Wars movie while Grace and I went to see Passengers. What a delight it was to sit and get lost in a storyline that didn’t revolve around talking animals.

When we got home Toby was there with the boys and they all had flowers for Momma. *heart melt*

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The big kids also had gift they wanted me to open.

From Molly I received a calendar filled with photos of my favorite people and Grace surprised me and painted me a picture on canvas of baby Dumbo. This has special significance because this scene from the movie is the background to our song. Each of my kids has a song, a special lullaby that I sang to them every night before bed. Gracie’s song is “Baby Mine” from the movie Dumbo, which makes this picture she painted a special gift of love.

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The next day the celebration continued with a birthday get-together with my best friends. Since I was unable to host our annual gift wrapping party at my house this year because of Toby being out of town it was suggested we have a post-Christmas get-together to celebrate the December birthdays in our group. I had the most wonderful time. Nicole offered to host and we enjoyed a night of appetizers, cake, and lots of laughter. It was so much fun being together as friends rather than fellow moms, as is the case when we are at co-op.

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I truly could not have asked for a more perfect birthday.

What a way to begin the new year. 2016 was a crazy ride. I can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring. I have a feeling it won’t be boring!

Let the Wild Rumpus Start!

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A Picture Perfect Christmas

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“Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts. No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given–when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes.”  – Joan Winmill Brown

Christmas at the Homestead begins in the wee hours of the morning with little boys waking before dawn, eager to know if Santa visited. Then begins the challenge of keeping them quiet until the rest of the house wakes.

Then Toby and I head downstairs to peek in the living room and check to see  if the rest of the house is awake and ready for the wild rumpus to begin.

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With camera in hand the kids are called down the stairs.

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It’s with shouts of joy and perhaps a little relief, at least on the part of the boys, they see that Santa did indeed stop at the Homestead. The plate of cookies is examined and the kids take note of which cookies are missing.

Stockings are passed out next. This seems to be everyone’s favorite part of Christmas morning. It is fun to watch everyone empty their stocking item by item. Stockings are filled with a mixture of practical and fun gifts. The Lifesaver Candy Storybooks are among the favorites.

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Then it was time to start opening gifts. Tyler played Santa this year, handing out gifts to be opened one at a time. The kids were all thrilled with the surprises waiting for them under the tree.

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I LOVED my gift of primitive decorations wrapped in an antique oil can from my parents. They know me so well!

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Ozzie loved his books and George, the donkey stuffed animal, from Mimi and Pop Pop.

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The Titanic Legos were secretly purchased at the Titanic Museum for Rusty while traveling cross country.

 

After the beautiful mess of Christmas morning was cleaned up, the kids sprawled around the house enjoying their new gifts…

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For dinner we feasted on  a delicious ham and side dishes.

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At our places around the table sat Christmas crackers. At the end of the meal everyone picked up their cracker and with the help of the person sitting next to them pulled either end until it cracked open revealing the paper crown and prize inside.

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Then all too soon it was time for us to pack up the van and head back to Patchwork Farm.

 Christmas–that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance–a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.”
~ Augusta E. Rundell

 

 

 

 

Christmas Eve

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From the time I was a young girl my favorite day of the Christmas season was always Christmas Eve. I don’t know if it was the joy of anticipation, or the magic evening my parents and grandparents created so selflessly. It could have been Christmas Eve mass, or the activities that followed: the appetizers and Christmas play that were performed by a group of untalented, yet eager children, whose talents were applauded as though they were Broadway stars. It could have been the feel of soft, new, unworn Christmas pajamas or the silence that settled in the room as my siblings and I listened for the sound of sleigh bells, willing our eyes to get heavy before Santa passed us by.

I have always preferred Christmas Eve to Christmas day.

Even as a little girl I found that I got more joy out of the anticipation of an event (any event, not just Christmas) than the actual event. This was by no means a negative reflection of the reality of the experience because usually the actual experience lived up to or surpassed my childhood expectations. No, I think it was more the delicious feelings of excitement that would bubble up from within that made the anticipation of the event so delightful. In the weeks leading up to the big event my mind would flirt with the possibilities and milk every bit of enjoyment out of the day long before it ever happened.

I find that to still be the case today. My favorite part of any experience is the planning, preparing and anticipating of the event.

That is the case with Christmas as well.

I love the build-up. I love the trimming of the tree, the decking of halls, the secret shopping and ribbons and trim that come before Santa’s arrival. That anticipation builds and builds all month, climaxing with Christmas Eve.

I love Christmas Eve.

I love the way my family celebrates Christmas Eve.

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Through the years the location of our Christmas Eve has changed. As a child my first memories of Christmas Eve are of  celebrating at my Grandmother’s house. After marriage the festivities moved to my parents’ McKeesport home where we celebrated year after year when my teenagers were little. Then my parents moved to the Homestead , the place where we have gathered every Christmas Eve for the past five years.

Regardless of the location, every Christmas Eve plays out with many of the same traditions…traditions that have continued on from my childhood.

To this day Christmas Eve is still my favorite day of the Christmas season. I am now one of the “Christmas makers” rather than a receiver of the gift, but there is still something magical in the air as we await the blessings of Christmas day.

And there is no place I would rather await the magic of Christmas than with my family, at the Homestead.

The preparation that goes into having Christmas away from home is extensive. We get the animals set up, pack bedding, gifts, stockings, stocking stuffers, props for the Christmas Eve play, cookies and treats, outfits for Christmas Day and our Christmas PJs.

Then when the car is loaded we are ready for the adventure to begin. Our 2 1/2 hour trip to the Homestead is filled with eager anticipation over the fact that Santa is already circling the globe in the eastern hemisphere, and the boys regularly ask for an update on his exact location via my phone and the Santa Tracker website.

When we arrive there are hugs and hellos as we greet Uncle Travis, whom we haven’t seen since out visit at Carlsbad Caverns in September, and G.G. (my paternal grandma) whom we haven’t seen in close to a year.

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The evening of fun begins with dinner, which for our family is hour devours  on Christmas Eve. It is fun and festive and the spread is always unbelievable!

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Next comes the annual talent show. This is a tradition that began when my siblings and I were little. It became expected that we would have some sort of talent or play that would be performed for the grown-ups following dinner. The tradition has continued with my kids. This year they did a variety show with Rusty telling jokes, the girls performing two songs they learned the ASL signs to, and a funny play they wrote about the application process reindeer go through to be chosen to be on Santa’s team.

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Following the talent show we usually head to the barn for the most special part of Christmas Eve…the reading of the Story of Christ’s birth as we sit on bales of hay, in a barn lit by luminaries and a small tree,  surrounded by the farm animals.

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This year my parents planned something special to go along with this activity. Before we walked out to the barn my Dad spoke with us about the gifts of Christmas and asked us to consider what gift we could personally offer the Savior this year. He gave us suggestions to ponder, suggestions like the gift of time, of forgiveness, of patience, or of being kinder with our words.

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He gave us a few minutes to ponder what personal gift of sacrifice and service we wanted to gift Jesus with in the upcoming year. We then wrote our gifts for Christ on the back of paper slips that looked like gifts so that when we were out at the barn we could place our gifts in the manger of my childhood nativity that now sits in the barn.

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In the barn we sat in a hush of reverence as we listened to my Dad read the story of Christ’s birth from Luke. The only sound was the deep timbre of my father’s voice, with the occasional sound of the goats snorting or the donkey braying.

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After our special time in the barn we returned inside to send our Christmas gifts to Jesus  by burning our slips of paper in the fireplace and allowing our prayers to be carried heavenward by way of the smoke from the fire.

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Then it was time for the kids to get in their PJs, put out milk and cookies for Santa, and head to bed, where visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.

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Kids were tucked in. Then the real magic of Christmas began!

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‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas

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‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas

And all through the house

EVERY creature was stirring,

Probably even a mouse.

It was December 23rd, the night we celebrate our little family’s Christmas at home before joining our extended family in Ohio for Christmas.

Our “night before the night before Christmas” traditions have evolved over the years. It started out as the night we exchanged our yearly Christmas ornaments, but in the past few years it has evolved into something more.

It is now the night we exchange family gifts, with the exception of the gifts the kids receive from Toby and I on Christmas morning.

This new tradition came about as a result of the kids getting older and us wanting to highlight the thought and effort they put into the gifts they give each other.

When the kids were little I would set aside a day to take them Christmas shopping at Dollar Tree where they were each given $10.00 to shop for family members. This was something they looked forward to. I remember the excitement they felt as they pushed a cart independently through the store, secretly stashing gifts under their coat that acted as a cover to prying eyes. They felt so grown up as they checked out by themselves, handing over their ten-dollar bill to the cashier.

This is a tradition I have continued with Tyler and Ozzie but the older kids now execute their Christmas magic on their own, planning and preparing for weeks to come up with the perfect gift for each family member. Most of their gifts are handmade with a lot of thought and love going into each gift.

A few years ago they asked if we could exchange these family gifts on the 23rd when it was just our little family. The tradition started then and has continued ever since and has become one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

Exchanging gifts apart from the large pile of gifts from family and Santa under the tree allows us to really enjoy and appreciate the gifts that the kids all put such love into, without having to rush through the experience or having their gifts lost in the chaos of Christmas morning. It also allows siblings to really appreciate and express appreciation for each other’s smaller gifts without those gifts losing their value to the larger, more commercial,  Santa gifts.

The kids couldn’t wait for Toby to get home on Friday night. Their gifts were all wrapped and in the living room, ready to be handed out.

Toby arrived home at 7:00pm. We had a homemade soup and bread dinner and then it was time for our family Christmas celebration. We began by handing out an unexpected gift to each of the kids. Normally the only gift the kids receive from the parents on December 23rd is their ornament so when we handed out large clothing boxes they were confused.

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Most years the kids receive new PJs on Christmas Eve to wear to bed. This year I decided to give them their PJs a day early so they could wear them for our family Christmas and enjoy them a day early.

 I couldn’t remember when I had been so excited by my PJ purchase. This year I found onesie character PJs for all the kids, each matching their personality perfectly. I couldn’t wait for them to open their boxes and I wasn’t disappointed by their response.

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Don’t they all look adorable?!

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After everyone had changed into their Christmas PJs and were snuggly warm we began exchanging gifts. We went from youngest to oldest, allowing Tyler to hand out his presents first. The gifts were handed out one at a time so that everyone could see what was given to each family member.

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The little boys were thrilled with the gifts they found at Dollar Tree and couldn’t wait to hand out their presents.

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The older kids all spent the month of December shopping for each other and working on their homemade gifts. I was blown away by the time, talents, and thought they invested in their gifts.

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The little boys received a sled and mittens from Grace and Molly:

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Grace received the Kim Possible movie, one of her favorite shows as a little girl, from Molly :

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Grace made Molly a fandom bag containing a lot of small gifts that were nods to some of their favorite movies and books (all homemade):

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Molly bought Rusty a Pokémon hat and Grace painted him a Disney Magic Kingdom corkboard for displaying his Disney pin collection:

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I received crocheted washcloths from Molly, hand decorated Christmas plates from the girls and Tyler, handmade drink coasters from Rusty, and an angel figurine from Ozzie.

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This year Toby and I also exchanged gifts with each other early. We kept things small and simple this year with the big bus trip we took in the fall being the real gift we all enjoyed early, but I did find this “Lego”treasure for Toby:

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After everyone finished handing out their gifts we exchanged ornaments. I took care of everyone’s ornaments this year. Toby was out of town so our usual date to shop for the yearly ornaments was skipped this year, allowing me to come up with a secret plan that could include Toby’s ornament.

This year I had ornaments made through Shutterfly. Each person received a cube ornament that contained six photos on the six sides of the cube. The biggest event in all our lives in 2016 was our cross-country bus trip so I knew that had to be the theme of this year’s ornaments. I picked six photos from each person’s favorite National Park to create their memory ornament.

They turned out even better than I expected and I know they will be a treasure for years to come as the kids reflect back on that special experience..

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We ended our evening with family devotionals, Christmas carols, and the reading of a Christmas story.

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It was a perfect way to slow down, reflect on the reason for the season, and appreciate the greatest of gift of Christmas… Family.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

 

 

 

 

RAD empathy

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Yes! This. Powerful and True. Most honest, well written article I have read on this topic. Here is someone who gets it, who lives it, who understands. Wow.

I just had to share this article by John M Simmons on RAD Empathy found at:

http://johnmsimmons.com/rad-empathy-reactive-attachment-disorder/

I Need You Now More Than Ever… I Need RAD Empathy

“I may not appear to deserve it. In fact, it may be true that I don’t deserve your empathy. You see, I’m not the same person I was. I know that; I hate that. I am more cynical than I used to be. I am less patient and less forgiving. And during this season of holidays, I feel like the offspring of an illicit romance between Scrooge and the Grinch. (I know, I know… That’s messed up.) I wish I could tell you that I would be empathetic toward you, if our roles were reversed. But in honesty, I don’t know if I would. I don’t know if I could have given you RAD empathy. The disorder that plagues my children (Reactive Attachment Disorder, or, RAD) is so bizarre that I don’t know if I would believe you. I wouldn’t think you were lying, per se. But I might think you were paranoid and crazy. So… I can relate to how you must feel about me. But I need you now more than ever. I need a strange type of empathy from you. I need RAD Empathy.

This is so hard on my children. And it’s hard on me. Please try to understand. Please show me RAD empathy; even if it doesn’t make sense.

The best professionals that work with children who have the same challenges as mine, teach me that I need to be brutally consistent with my children, but that I should never be brutal. It is such a fine line that sometimes I only notice it long after I am on the other side. But they teach me that due to the inconsistency of care for my children when they were infants, their brains learned that such terrible treatment was normal and even if it went away for a while, the horror would return. In fact, my children cannot even fathom the concept of consistency. No matter how much love I show them, they think I will eventually go away or send them away. Sometimes they are so afraid of the separation hanging in front of them that they try to sabotage our relationship to just get it over with. This is so hard on my children and it’s hard on me. Please try to understand. Please show me RAD empathy; even if it doesn’t make sense.

A little bit of RAD empathy from you would make a place of safety for me and my feelings; and I need to tell you, I don’t have many of those places anymore.

Of course you see my children as charming and I always come off looking like a demon. OK, maybe that’s exaggerating. I tend to do that now; over-playing my hand, trying to get people to accept the fact that Reactive Attachment Disorder is a real thing; that it is a real, real hard thing. But I usually do come off looking badly and unworthy of RAD empathy. My children see it as a matter of survival… they need to prepare you to take them when (they believe) I will abandon them. This is why they come off as so charming. And truthfully, with no exaggeration, when you take their side in their presence, (Disagree with me all you want when they aren’t present!) they believe that you are sympathetic enough to take them when I fail them. At that point my life becomes a living hell even more difficult. (Sorry. I really am trying to stop exaggerating.) You see, once they believe they have you lined up as a safety net, they try even harder to end their relationship with me. Can you imagine something so twisted? I couldn’t believe it myself until I lived it. A little bit of RAD empathy from you would make a place of safety for me and my feelings; and I need to tell you, I don’t have many of those places anymore.

You can’t fix it. I can’t fix it and the professionals can’t fix it, except at a glacial pace. If you can accept that, and love me in spite of how my parenting “comes off,” I know you can give me the RAD empathy I need.

I know you have opinions. I know you think that if I modified how I relate and interact with my children that my life and their lives could be so much easier; so much better. I know you want to help. Please trust me. I have tried the conventional, tried and true methods for working with children. No one believes in methods like that more than I do, when children have come from loving places. But often, when children have experienced horrible trauma it causes their brains to process things abnormally. These abnormalities change the way I need to parent them. I don’t want you to try to fix it. You can’t fix it. I can’t fix it and the professionals can’t fix it, except at a glacial pace. If you can accept that, and love me in spite of how my parenting “comes off,” I know you can give me the RAD empathy I need.

As I load them into the car and leave the family party early, to save the party for my family, to save my children from their own unrealistic fears, and to save the vestiges of my sanity, please remember that I need RAD empathy.

Please understand that the holidays are tough for my kids for a myriad of reasons. And that makes it hard for me. This time of year, that used to bring me only happiness and goodwill now brings hostility, stress and discord to my home. That is so hard! I want to go back in time, to when I could feel the way I used to feel during this season. But such feelings of family bliss feel like danger to my children. Their unusually-developed brains warn them that if they attach too firmly to people, that their pain will be unbearable when the relationship fails. This season of happiness, goodwill and family togetherness gets my children defensive while they try to drive away those feelings, they think, for their own good. So I sometimes know that they won’t stop until they win because they believe their mental, emotional and psychological safety depends on eradicating feelings of love and bliss. At that point, as I load them into the car and leave the family party early, to save the party for my family, to save my children from their own unrealistic fears, and to save the vestiges of my sanity, please remember that I need RAD empathy.

Though my frustration probably manifests itself as hate and anger, deep inside I am trying to show my children RAD empathy when I remove them from an environment that terrifies them, even when it shouldn’t.

Know that I would love to stay. Know that I want to feel the holiday spirit more than ever. But I have learned by heartbreaking experience; feelings of extreme family togetherness terrify my children. That leaves me with only two alternatives. I can take them away and alleviate those fears before others think their behaviors merit such a reaction. Or, I can wait until my children’s behavior escalates, to destroy the feelings of everyone there, while they ironically try to protect themselves from something as positive and needed as family attachment and togetherness. Though my frustration probably manifests itself as hate and anger, deep inside I am trying to show my children RAD empathy when I remove them from an environment that terrifies them, even when it shouldn’t.

Know that I understand if you can’t relate. Know that I love you even if you feel like I don’t deserve your love anymore. And since having Reactive Attachment Disorder in my home has taught me to speak out whether it offends or not, I will apply that principle to the season. Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah. Happy Kwanzaa. Happy New Year. Happy Holidays. Peace on Earth. Goodwill toward men.”

 

Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland

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Our Monday evening was spent here:

“Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland returns to the Big Butler Fairgrounds for its second season of festive lights set to jolly tunes and new comical displays.  From November 18th through January 8th, the three-mile maze of lights will glow into the night sky from 6 to 10 PM.  Guests simply tune in their radio, and watch the magic unfold as they drive through hundreds of thousands of brilliant LED lights dancing in perfect synchronization with the music filling their vehicle.  This unique spectacle takes light shows to a whole new level as it effortlessly captivates its audience with a perfect unity of sight and sound.

While quickly becoming a family tradition for many, this show continues to “wow” guests year after year with cutting-edge technology and new additions.  Debuting this season are huge comical displays of Santa and his friends vacationing in the Allegheny Mountains.  From hang gliding to rock climbing, ice fishing to lounging around the campfire, this crew got into some interesting situations and we have the snapshots to prove it.

Just when it seems the fun is coming to an end, guests arrive at the magical Santa’s Village. Kids of all ages look forward to meeting and having a photo made with Santa Claus while enjoying tasty seasonal refreshments like hot cocoa and much more.  There are also other fun activities for kids to enjoy.

The cost to experience Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland is $25 per family car or van.” 

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The van was finally free from the ice rink we call our driveway, allowing us to go do something fun as family to get us all in the Christmas Spirit.

Last year we discovered Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland and were so impressed with it and enjoyed it so much that we made sure it was put on the calendar for a return visit this Christmas.

We went on Monday evening, knowing the lines would be significantly shorter on a weekday night rather than on the weekend.

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The crowds were low and we got in with no wait.

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When you pull in there are signs informing drivers of what channel to tune into to provide the accompanying music to the light show.

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The experience is split into three parts. The first half of the drive thru experience is our favorite part. The lights dance to the synchronized music coming through the car stereo. The effect is magical.

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The second half of the drive thru experience is comprised of huge animated lighted characters acting out funny scenes. We saw Frosty sledding, Santa hang-gliding and reindeer having a snowball fight.

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It was all fun and games until Tyler pointed out an animated Santa on our left engaged in some scandalous behavior (for a Santa)…

“He is tinkling!” Tyler shouted in shock. “Why is Santa tinkling?!”

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We looked over to see Santa golfing, but Tyler was right. When Santa’s club was straight down it did appear Santa was taking a tinkle break.

Yellow was an unfortunate color choice for Santa’s golf club.

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The final part of the Shadrack experience was Santa’s workshop where children could get out of their cars and meet Santa. We have never stopped here so I’m not sure what is offered inside. We chose to just keep driving and head back home, basking in the glow of holiday magic.

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It was such a fun night. Just what we needed to get in the Christmas Spirit.

A “Snow Day” Sabbath

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This past Sunday was declared a “Snow Day” at Patchwork Farm.

Our driveway situation left us stranded with no way to get to church, so we had to declare it a Sabbath Day at home.

We made the best of the situation, enjoying spirit-strengthening activities and a family devotional/scripture study time together, since we couldn’t get any of our vehicles out of the driveway to get to church.

It ended up being a restful day at home. After months apart it was kind of nice to have forced stay-at-home time as a family, despite the driveway frustrations.

Our day was spent listening to Christmas hymns, participating in #Light the World service activities, and reconnecting as a family.

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Molly wallpapered my door with Post-it notes of encouragement for the #Light the World challenge. Love that girl!

 

The kids spent the afternoon finishing their homemade Christmas gifts. I love seeing the thought and love they put into their gift giving.

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In the evening we sat down as a family and decorated Christmas cookies. Earlier in the week I had baked sugar cut-out cookies for the cub scouts to decorate. I baked extra and put them in the freezer, waiting for Toby to arrive home so we could decorate them as a family.

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It was wonderful.

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With the sound of the Tabernacle Choir singing Christmas carols in the background, we talked, laughed and decorated cookies.

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It is always fun seeing the creativity of each family member come out during activities like this one.

In the end we ended up with MANY trays of decorated cookies…enough for our family plus plenty more to share with neighbors and those who could use a Christmas pick-me-up.

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It wasn’t a “typical” Sabbath Day, and we missed being able to worship with our church family, but it ended up being a blessed, holy day, and just the thing our family needed.

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Our Charlie Brown Tree is a Goliath!

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Once we found our “Perfect” tree it was then time to decorate our “Perfect” tree.

We got it up the driveway and to the front door only to discover another four feet needed be trimmed off.

Finally it was ready to be wrestled into place.

In through the front door it was carried.

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We quickly discovered how far reaching those willowy branches were as the tree “undecorated” the living room as it was dragged into place.

We also found the weight of those far reaching branches pulled the tree forward, so once it was secured in the tree stand Toby had to tie off the top of the tree to the wall so it wouldn’t fall over as puppies ran by.

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Then it was time for lights. Toby and Rusty took on the task of covering the tree with white lights. The flimsiness of the branches on our Goliath Charlie Brown tree only allowed for a minimal amount of draping. The finished product made me smile.

Then it was time to decorate!

Fueled by eggnog and Christmas cookies we were ready to begin.

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The kids  dove into the boxes of decorations, eager to find their personal ornaments.

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We have a tradition in our family of exchanging ornaments every year on December 23rd, on the day before we go out to Ohio to spend Christmas with my parents. We started this tradition on Gracie’s first Christmas with the thought that it would be a fun way to document the years, as well as an opportunity to gift her with 18-20 ornaments that she will be able to take with her when she leaves home and has her own Christmas tree.

The ornaments are chosen with thought, each reflecting an attribute, interest, or event that was important to that child in the past year.

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The kids love pulling out their past ornaments each December and reflecting back on who they were and what was important to them when they were younger.

Rusty’s  collection of ornaments:

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Toby’s theme for my ornament each year is one that started with the first one he bought me in 1998. Every year he buys me an angel ornament.

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The willow tree angel ornament is my favorite. It is the one he bought me the year we adopted Tyler.

 

This year’s tree decorating remained consistent with this season’s overall theme of simplifying and focusing on those things of most importance, with quality reigning over quantity.

Our “airy” tree simply couldn’t hold the usual load of ornaments so the kids had to pick and choose what would go up on the tree this year.

Each of them laid out their years’ worth of ornaments, with Grace having the most at 18 and Ozzie having the fewest at 2. Then they all chose their very favorites from the pile to hang on the tree.

Here is everyone’s #1 favorite ornament:

The finished result was comical but charming. It certainly isn’t our traditional tree. It is as wide as it is tall, making walking to the bedrooms feel like stepping through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia, as we climb through the low, sweeping branches.

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But I love it.

I love story behind the tree.

I love the experience we shared in getting the tree.

I love the humble nature and imperfectness of our tree, so reflective of this Christmas season and the journey God has taken us on.

I love that it is our tree, grown on our land…a living piece of Patchwork Farm.

I love the laughter this comical tree and experience has brought us as we live out a “I LOVE LUCY” episode.

I love that it didn’t go smoothly and perfectly, for I have found it is rarely the perfect moments in life that stick with you and leave an impression. Nobody remembers the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect birthday, or any life moment that goes off without a hitch. No, it is the messy, plan B, imperfect moments that glue families together and are reminisced on and laughed about  years down the road.

No, it isn’t the “Perfect” tree,

but it is perfect for us.

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A “Perfect” Tree

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I think one of the greatest battles for a mother during the Christmas season is the  battle that rages within against unrealistic expectations.

As mothers we feel a pressure to bring the magic of Christmas to our homes. Somehow the responsibility of living up to the “Hallmark Holiday Television Special” standard of Christmas is placed squarely on the mother’s shoulders.

Very rarely do I see a husband stressing about Christmas cards, matching PJs,  or finding the perfect gift for his mother. No, it is the woman that carries that burden, knowing that if she doesn’t execute all parts of the holiday production with Martha Stewart grace, there will be a price to pay… with guilt being the universal currency.

And what is even more ironic in this tale is that the expectations and the guilt is rarely laid on us by someone else. Instead it is placed squarely on our shoulders by self. I have spent this month pondering what deficiency in myself or what human frailty drives this need for Christmas perfection.

Perhaps I was spoiled in childhood by parents who made Christmas so magical and made the magic look so effortless. That is a hard act to follow when you become a mother yourself.

Maybe it is the saturation of possibilities that bombard us on social media (aka: Pinterest,) making everything we do seem “not enough” when compared to all we could do at Christmastime.

Perhaps it is simply the plague of “oldest child syndrome” that comes with a certain drive for pleasing others and performing perfectly that I never can quite shake.

I try to kill the beast within but it is an ongoing battle that leaves me swinging from unrealistic expectations, to fatigue, to guilt and back again.

The Lord knows this sin I struggle with. He knows how the holidays feed this beast within and only make it grow. He knows my fear of losing control and disappointing others only serves as a chasm in our relationship that drives me away from Him rather than draws me closer, so often He will step in to protect me from myself, and allow situations that are bigger than me and my power of control, to realign my focus.

And when that happens, as much as I might fight it, I find that I gain my footing and am able to exhale.

This December was one of those seasons of surrender.

This month we were faced with challenges and obstacles bigger than us. And during most of those challenges Toby was out of town and I was struggling to manage them on my own. Add to the challenges we were facing as a family, the pressures and unrealistic expectations that come with the Christmas season, and I found myself at a crossroads. I had to willingly make a choice to LET GO of my vision for the holidays and LET GOD lead.

This meant my itinerary, my plans, my traditional parties, activities, and ways of bringing Christmas magic that I was holding onto so tightly had to be let go so as to open my hands and heart for the type of Christmas that God had planned for us.

I shared some of that transformation in a previous post, but God continues to work on me. He is helping me to refocus, slow down and see the Christmas season in a different way. And in the process He is bringing a depth and closeness to our family and a greater appreciation for the true gifts of Christmas in the process.

Lately it seems the theme for this Christmas is: I plan and God laughs… and then He provides something better.

That theme continued with Toby’s homecoming and our plan to get the perfect Christmas tree.

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We have been eagerly counting down the days for Toby to come home so that we could go get our tree and start enjoying those traditions that we didn’t want to do without Toby. . Going to get our Christmas tree was at the top of the list. We usually drive to a “you pick” Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree. I love everything about the experience from the tromping through the woods, to the debate over the best tree, to the towing the tree home on the trailer.

 It is my favorite part of Christmas.

So when Toby arrived home and we made plans to go out Saturday afternoon to cut down our tree, we were all very excited. It felt like Christmas had finally arrived. Daddy was home, the tree was going up, and now, 7 days before Christmas, the holidays could begin. All was right with the world.

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Daddy’s home!

 

It was right about then God started laughing.

You see, the night before had brought an ice storm that left our steep driveway encrusted in a beautiful, but treacherous, layer of ice.

My van was parked at the bottom with no hope of climbing the slick drive, but we were surprised to find out that Toby’s truck, that ALWAYS makes it up the driveway, even in the worst driving conditions, couldn’t make it up.

In fact not only could he not make it up, he actually ended up being pulled backwards down the driveway,  losing his trailer that was attached to his truck, over the edge of the hill.

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Our plans to take his truck and trailer to the tree farm were stalled as we called for a tow. Assuming we would just have to postpone our plans for a  couple of hours we started working the phones, only to find out that NO tow company wanted to have anything to do with our driveway and our predicament.

So we moved onto plan B. We would take the van and deal with the truck and trailer later. The van was already at the bottom so we would take it and simply strap the Christmas tree to the top. Nothing was going to stand in the way of going Christmas tree hunting.

And then God laughed.

We climbed in the van all bundled up in gear and proceeded to spin in place. For an hour we dug, we laid gravel and salt, we pushed and we pulled, but that van wouldn’t budge.

So now it was Saturday afternoon and we were stuck.

It was the last Saturday before Christmas to get our tree and we had one truck with no brakes (remember Gracie’s crash,) one truck perched precariously on the edge of an icy driveway, and a van parked on an ice skating rink. We weren’t going anywhere until the spring thaw.

I was frustrated and discouraged. Once again my plans were not God’s plans.

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Then He planted a seed of an idea. The day need not be discarded as failure. After all we lived on 53 acres of land. “Why not,” the thought came to us, “go Christmas tree hunting on our own property.” If we can’t drive to the trees why not shop at home, so that is what we did. And it was the most special Christmas tree hunting experience we have ever enjoyed as a family. It was an experience we would have never enjoyed had everything “gone right” and played out as I wanted it to.

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The kids were sold on the idea immediately. With hand saw in hand (the chain saw was trapped in the back of the jack-knifed trailer) we headed out. The three dogs joined us as we tromped through the snowy woods.

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Our Christmas tree options were limited.

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While much of our land is forest, it is filled primarily with deciduous trees and not evergreens. This added to the challenge of the hunt and a whole lot of laughter as we pondered the possibilities which seemed to come down to  30 foot or 3 foot pines, with not too many options in between.

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The dogs loved this unique adventure and raced around our legs, chomping on the snow, as we worked our way from one corner of the property to the other.

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We finally stumbled across a possibility.

It was definitely “airier” (that is the kind way to say it was sparse) than a commercial tree, but it had a pretty shape and a country charm about it.

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Tyler had his heart set on another tree that we had to veto for the simple fact it was too small and delicate to hold any ornaments. I could tell Tyler was frustrated that we couldn’t see the possibilities in his tree, that he viewed as perfect, so he did what anyone else might do in the same situation:

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He ripped it out by its roots and carried it home to put in the corner of his bedroom, root ball and all. 🙂

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Toby then pulled out his hand saw and dropped our mighty tree….TIMBER!

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It looked even bigger when it was laying across the road.

We ended up having to “trim” half of it off to make it fit in the 14 foot tall corner of our living room.

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The hilarity of the situation continued as we tried to drag this enormous tree up our icy driveway and get it into position in the living room.

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Stay tuned for part two of our tree adventure…decorating Goliath.

A Cub Scout Christmas

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A few months ago I was called to be one of the leaders over Tyler’s cub scout troop. Since there are four of us this means that our turn to run the cub scout meetings and be in charge of planning the activity only rolls around once a month. On our “off weeks” we assist the leader in charge with crowd control.

Because of the small number of boys in the bear, wolf and webelos troop we combine them into one group, adjusting the planned activities and lessons to meet the requirements found in each of the different cub scout books.

This past week was my turn to be in charge and I lucked out with the easy assignment of planning a Christmas activity for the cubs.

Being Tyler’s mom has made me quite familiar with the interests of 8-10 year old boys and  I’ve learned the key to any successful Cub Scout activity is FOOD and RUNNING.

The first requirement was met through our first planned activity. I had baked Christmas cookies for the scouts to decorate. Each boy had four cookies to decorate, two to eat there and two to take home.

This activity was built around a lesson on the “ingredients” that go into making a happy family. Using The Family: A Proclamation to the World as our “recipe” we talked about why a recipe is needed in cooking and what happens when we leave out certain ingredients. Then we likened it to leaving out key “ingredients” when trying to create a successful and happy family…ingredients like respect, work, compassion, prayer, and family fun.

Then it was time to decorate cookies.

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It was funny watching their individual personalities shine forth with some being very thoughtful and precise in their decorating, while others hurried through the task, eager to eat and play. The one trait seen in all the cub scouts was a “if a little is good, a lot is better” approach to icing and sprinkles.

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I felt a tad guilty sending them home to the poor mothers that would have to tuck their sugar strung boys into bed.

The second part of our evening was “Minute to Win It” games. Knowing Tyler, I knew fast paced, competitive, silly games would be a hit with the scouts and I was right.

It was as much fun for the leaders to watch as it was for the scouts to compete.

Some of the games included:

Christmas Cookie Face: in which the boys, using only the muscles of their face had to move the cookie from their forehead down to and into their mouth.

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Candy Cane Pick-up: in which the boys had to hook and move candy canes from one plate to another using only a candy cane held between their two front teeth.

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Rudolph Nose: in which the boys split into two teams and raced, relay style, to a plate of pom poms where they had to pick up a pom pom using only their noses coated in Vaseline, and return back to their team without it falling off.

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Peppermint Tower: in which the boys had to build a tower of peppermints on a lollipop  being held between their two front teeth.

Christmas Wreath: in which the boys took turns tossing marshmallows through a Christmas wreath. The team with the most goals won that round.

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It was a fun evening with some special scouts.

Merry Christmas!