Monthly Archives: February 2017

The LeMoyne House

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The day after our adventure into Pittsburgh to visit the Heinz History Center we had another field trip 1 1/2 hours south of us to visit the LeMoyne House. This field trip was with our old cyber school which we were invited to attend with our friends, the Caylors. It is a rare occurrence to have two fieldtrips in one week but the timing of this fieldtrip couldn’t have been better, given we had just learned all about the LeMoyne house the day before at the Heinz History Center in their Underground Railroad exhibit.

We were thrilled to stumble across this display at Heinz History Center that really set up the story of the next day’s fieldtrip. It was beneficial to all the kids but really important to Tyler who needed that point of reference to be engaged and get anything out of this upcoming historical home tour.

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There at the Heinz History Center they had a 3D computer replica of the LeMoyne house that you could “tour” and read some of the firsthand accounts of the stories of the underground railroad that occurred there.

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The kids were able to listen to the historical account of one of the LeMoyne sons being sent up to the second story balcony where he was instructed by his father to drop the beehives, that were kept there, on the heads of the slave catchers if they tried to force their way into the house.

We also read the account of Mrs. Lemoyne’s quick thinking when she faced slave catchers pushing their way into her home to search the house while her husband was out of town. She quickly ran upstairs, put on her nightgown, and climbed into bed, pretending she was sick. When the slave catcher came to her bedroom door she scolded him for trying to enter the bedchambers of a married woman. Shamed, the slave catcher left without ever discovering the seven slaves she had hidden beneath her bed.

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We were able to tour the bedroom and see the bed from the story while visiting the Lemoyne house.

 

Tyler’s response to the story: “That is one smart, tricky lady!”

The next day we drove to Washington county to tour this beautiful and historical home that is now part of the National Park Service.

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“The stately stone house, located at 49 East Maiden Street in downtown Washington, Pennsylvania, was built in 1812 by John Julius LeMoyne, the father of Francis Julius LeMoyne. Both father and son were practicing physicians, but it was the courageous Francis Julius LeMoyne who, despite the strict Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, risked his personal freedom and fortune to do what he knew was morally right — take a stand against the institution of slavery. This successful 19th Century doctor, reformer and builder of the first crematory in the western hemisphere, opened his home and properties as stops along the Underground Railroad, the series of safe hiding places for runaway slaves as they trudged north on their precarious journey to Canada and freedom.

The father of five daughters (and three sons), he also believed in and promoted education for women, specifically helping to found the Washington Female Seminary. Always a supporter of education, this successful physician funded several chairs at Washington College (now known as the prestigious Washington & Jefferson College), started Citizens Library, a free public library for the people of Washington and neighboring communities, and founded LeMoyne College (now known as LeMoyne-Owen College) in Memphis, Tennessee, predominantly for the education of the newly freed slaves. The LeMoyne House is now a museum filled with period artifacts and dedicated to Dr. LeMoyne’s memory.” – Washington Historical Society

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As the first confirmed underground railroad station in Pennsylvania, and now one of only six registered underground railroad homes in Pennsylvania, the Lemoyne home tour was a fascinating way to spend our day. It was amazing to step back in time and witness the affect one man’s life and the choices he made had on hundreds of others. It truly stands as a testament to the far reaching affect we can each have when we stand for what is right.

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Heinz History Center

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Growing up a military brat meant we were a transient family, moving every 2-3 years. When my Dad’s final assignment landed us in the Pittsburgh region I never expected it to marry a Pittsburgh boy and call Pittsburgh home for the next 24 years, but here we are. It is crazy to wrap my brain around the reality that I have lived in the Pittsburgh area for almost a quarter of a century…Crazy! Over the years I have come to fall in love with this area… its rivers, its bridges, its seasons, its people, and its history. We have explored Pittsburgh’s every corner, becoming well acquainted with all it has to offer culturally, but one museum we had never visited is the Heinz History Center, which is the very mecca of all things Pittsburgh!

So when a field trip to Heinz History Center was announced through 21st Century Cyber Charter School we jumped at the chance to see our teachers and visit this Pittsburgh treasure. The added incentive was the cost of the fieldtrip: FREE! The school was graciously picking up the tab for this outing which was a wonderful treat.

The Heinz History Center in located in the Strip District of Pittsburgh in the century-old Chautauqua Lake Ice Company building that was renovated and adapted for use as the museum.

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We arrived for the fieldtrip at 10:00 am and once we had received our instructions for the day were given the freedom to explore the museum at our own leisure. We spent the day exploring the history of Pittsburgh with the Stone family, another co-op family.

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An old Pittsburgh trolley. Watch out girls! Do you see who is behind the wheel?!

 

The museum consisted of six floors of exhibits. As incentive for fully exploring all six floors the museum has a challenge where the kids could stamp each floor of a bookmark with a symbol representing that floor’s exhibits to turn in at the end of the day for a prize. The prize they won: a Heinz Pickle Pin…perfect!

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The hands-on area outside the lunchroom where we stowed our lunches ended up being one of Tyler’s favorite areas of the museum. Here the kids got to explore science center-like exhibits:

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The boys enjoyed building with these giant foam tinker toys.

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Tyler and Mr. Cho exploring the world of sound.

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Tyler and Miss Miller playing the Inventors game.

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Here the kids could create parachutes using Dixie cups, pipe cleaners and coffee filters and then test them out against the upward blowing fan.

This station featured a cool app that allowed you to design a car on paper with crayons and then place it under the I-pad where the screen would read the image and allow you to race the car you designed:

 

From there we moved into the other areas of the History Center.

The many exhibits of the Heinz History Center are set up to share the history of the region ranging from the days of the first settlers all the way to the present. Starting from the beginning with the early fortifications, the revolutionary war, the slave trade and underground railroad, all the way to the industrial revolution and the present, the incredible history of the city is laid out in this museum.

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This approach works out well because the museum truly has something for everyone whether you are a history buff, interested in technology and the sciences, pop culture, or even sports.

If there is one section of the museum that I would call my favorite, it would be Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation.

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This section features all of the global contributions local Pittsburghers have made since the city’s founding and includes some of the more well-known (Carnegie steel) to the odd-ball creations that came out of the city (Mr. Yuk stickers, anyone?).

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I liked the way this exhibit was oriented chronologically from when the region was first inhabited all the way to present day. It did a great job highlighting the contributions locals have given to the world.

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For example:

Did you know that George Ferris, inventor of the Ferris Wheel, lived in the North Side? Or how about that the Polio Vaccine was discovered at Pitt? What about the fact that public TV broadcasting was revolutionized in the city thanks to Mr. Rogers and others?  (His full set is on display in a different section of the museum, too!)

 

We also learned:

 

    • The oil industry started here in Western Pa. in 1859 when Edwin Drake successfully drilled the first well north of Pittsburgh near Titusville, allowing black gold to flow to a ready market. By the end of the Civil War, the Pennsylvania petroleum industry produced four-and-a-half million barrels of oil a year.
    • Samuel Langley developed standardized time for the railroads while at the Allegheny Observatory.
    • Meriwether Lewis began his journey west from Fort Fayette in August 1803. The epic Lewis & Clark expedition to the Pacific began here in Pittsburgh.
    • On May 30, 1918, representatives of several Slovak and Czech organizations gathered in Pittsburgh to discuss, draft, and sign the Pittsburgh Agreement. Written by Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, it represented the first time Slovaks and Czechs issued a public, written document expressing the intention of forming a single common state, Czechoslovakia.
    • When Charles Martin Hall discovered an inexpensive means to produce aluminum, he came to the Mellon family in Pittsburgh for financing.
    • In 1967, Jim Delligatti created the Big Mac at his Uniontown, Pa. franchise, one of a dozen stores he operated at the time. Introduced nationwide the following year, the Big Mac remains a favorite.
      Several of the biggest features of the museum are dedicated to, not surprisingly, the businesses and sports teams of our city.

      The Heinz exhibit, as if we need to elaborate, covers the history of the H.J Heinz Company starting from its days as a horseradish manufacturer all the way to its growth in the early 1900s to one of the largest food and condiment companies in the world.

      What we learned:

      Although the Heinz Company is most associated with ketchup, their first product was actually horseradish.

    • H.J. Heinz’s parents were hard-working German immigrants who greatly influenced his drive and ethics, especially his mother. Henry once remarked that his mother could handle him because she “knew how to inspire me.”
    • Heinz’s first venture ended in bankruptcy in 1875, but he quickly rallied and started a new company the very next year.
    • The Heinz Company built the very first electric sign in New York City in 1901, but it was short lived as the Flatiron building construction began on the site a year later.
    • Heinz had a volatile relationship with his brother Peter and even had him followed by Pinkerton detectives. View the reports and other primary documents in our extensive Heinz archival holdings.
    • Deeply impacted by the Railroad Strike of 1877 and influenced by the paternalistic approach of the German factory system, Heinz set out to erect a model factory in Allegheny City (currently Pittsburgh’s North Side) in the 1890s.
    • The British eat the most beans per capita of anywhere in the world and it all started with Heinz Baked Beans in the early 1900s. The Heinz Company introduced baked beans to England and heavily advertised them, eventually making them a staple of the British diet.
    • The Heinz Company has always been committed to innovation and sustainability. In recent years they have partnered with the Ford Company to explore using tomato fibers for plant based plastics in vehicles.
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      On the sports side of the spectrum you can imagine that the City of Champions would be home to a large exhibit, and the two floor sports section of the museum covers the history and science of sports while featuring many unique exhibits from the city’s sports scene.  Whether you want to watch the Immaculate Reception from the early 70s, measure your vertical jump, or simply learn about the best sports players to ever play in the city, this exhibit delivers on it all.
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      The boys spent some time testing their throwing arms…

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      Nice shot, Tyler!! (It was hard to drag Tyler away from this exhibit)

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      Pittsburgh is known for its loyal sports fans and it was fun seeing some of the sports fan memorabilia on display.

      Here Rusty got to try filling the shoes of a famous football legend only to discover his shoe size exceeds the imprint. Rusty now wears a size 15 shoe. (He is only 15 years old!)

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      It was a wonderful day and we left this fun school outing with a greater appreciation for all things Pittsburgh!

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Fun with Science!

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On Saturday we drove down to Pittsburgh to spend the afternoon with Ozzie. He had earned a community pass to spend time with the family outside of the hospital.

We decided to use our community pass in combination with our Science Center membership and enjoy an afternoon at the Science Center…one of Ozzie’s favorite places in the whole world.

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We spent a few hours there and hit all our favorite exhibits,

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but were most enthralled with the new human body exhibit, Body Works.

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This fun, hands-on area gave the kids the chance to really explore the wonders of the human body. Some of our favorite activities in this new area include:

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The x-ray table where you can assemble a series of x-rays into a complete skeleton:

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The germ game:

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A replica of an ultrasound machine that shows actual ultrasound images of a single and twin pregnancy:

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“What?! Rusty’s expecting twins?!”

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There was a neat corner of activities that allowed us to explore our senses and how our mind perceives the world around us.

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Here we had fun trying to see if our noses could figure out a series of different smells:

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We got to see how well our brain sees things in reverse by trying to accomplish a specific task while looking at the mirror image:

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We saw how difficult it is for our tongue to figure out the flavor of food without the assistance of our noses and our sense of smell:

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The kids loved observing how their body moves through an image reader that turned us into skeletons and copied our every move.

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Dancing bones!

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I think our favorite activity, however, was the mindbender experience that took the facial images of two people sitting across from each other and melded their faces into one person.

There were many laughs over our new creations of:

Grolly (Grace + Molly)

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                                                   Tosty (Toby + Rusty)

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                                                 And Toler (Toby + Tyler)

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             What a fun day we had exploring the wonders of what makes us, US!

A Visit to CAL U

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Monday was President’s Day which meant the kids were off school. This day off proved to be a blessing because it also happened to be the day of California University of Pennsylvania’s spring open house.

California University of PA, better known as CAL U, happens to be on Gracie’s short list of potential colleges. She has been accepted and offered a scholarship there, but due to unforeseen obstacles in the fall, hadn’t actual visited the campus.

Now that we are in the final leg of decision making it has become necessary to visit CAL U to determine the pros and cons so that she can make her decision which school acceptance she will accept.

Tyler’s vote has been CAL U from the beginning when Grace first expressed an interest in going to CAL U.

To which Tyler responded: “Caillou?!  I LOVE Caillou!”

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CAL U is about 1 ½ hours south of us in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania.

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Some of the pros already established include cost and proximity to home, but we were eager to get a big picture glimpse into life on CAL U’s campus and the other pros and cons only revealed through a more in depth look.

Grace and I made a day of it and had a great time enjoying some one on one time. The weather was beautiful and the event was wonderful.

We arrived and were assigned a tour group based on prospective majors. Grace toured with the other education majors. When we reached the education building the students were broken down even more specifically when they were given the opportunity to sit down and talk to one of the professors in that major’s department.

Grace and one other girl were the only Special Education majors so they received some incredible one on one time with the head of the department where they were given a behind the scenes, all access tour of the latest and greatest technologies utilized by the Special Education majors. The girls had the opportunity to ask questions and really get a feel as to what they can expect as Special Education majors.

From there we joined up with other potential students for a tour of the campus. It was a beautiful campus and a beautiful day to tour it.

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Following the campus tour we returned back to the student union building where tables were set up with representatives from all facets of campus life, from security to study abroad to clubs and organizations.

Here we were able to meet with a representative from the students with disabilities office to discuss possible accommodations and assistance Grace can expect as a student with Dyslexia. I was SO impressed at the lengths they are willing to go to so that all students can find success in the college environment.

From there we headed over to the housing area to tour one of the dorm rooms. Grace liked the exceptionally large dorm rooms and the fact that each dorm room had its own private bathroom and shower. I liked the fact that it was a three-deep security system and that a security guard was stationed at the entrance 24/7.

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As we drove home we went over the list of notes we took while on tour and compiled a list of pros and cons… with the pro list far outweighing the cons.

Grace finds herself so conflicted, uncertain which school and which path to her future God is calling her to.

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Stay tuned.

I’m sure the reveal will be coming soon!

Happy Birthday, Ozzie!

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This past Thursday Ozzie turned 13.

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It was a day of hard, mixed emotions as we accepted that this birthday would be different than the birthday celebration he desired and what we wished it could be.

It was hard to lay aside our family tradition of waking the birthday child up to a cupcake and song.

It was hard not beginning the birthday boy’s day with a hug and a kiss.

It was hard to set aside my vision of what Ozzie’s 13th birthday would look like and accept what it was.

Ozzie is still at an in-treatment program to take part in more intensive therapy to address his early childhood trauma and abuse, as well as the behaviors that have resulted from that trauma. It is an exceptional program. It is where he needs to be. I know God led us there and I believe God is using this time to heal deeps hurts.

I have peace about him being there, but that didn’t soften the pinch I felt in my heart when I opened my eyes on his birthday morning. I knew it was going to be one of those sad/glad days.

As I moved through the morning battling the waves of mom guilt and sadness that kept crashing over me I had to remind myself that while this birthday did not have the makings of a Hallmark TV special, it was rooted in love…

Rooted in a love far deeper and meaningful than any Family Channel movie.

You see, this birthday we showed Ozzie love in a manner far more significant than any birthday party or gift that could be unwrapped. We showed him the type of love that has staying power. We showed him that we love him deep enough, pure enough, and powerful enough to get him the healing help he is crying out for, even though it may not be what he thinks he is asking for.

We love him enough to sacrifice the “picture perfect” birthday for something a bit harder and heartbreaking, because we love him that much.

Through our actions we are showing him that we are committed, we are sticking, we are willing to sacrifice our time, money, energy and our vision of what we thought our life would be, all for the sake of helping him believe he is worth loving.

Thursday couldn’t be the “ideal” birthday celebration that I might have planned for Ozzie’s 13th birthday, but God used the circumstances to create a birthday far more meaningful and personal…a birthday that had a much more loving impact on Ozzie than any traditional birthday party would have. It was quirky and weird, but so imperfectly perfect. It was a birthday for the history books…one that won’t soon be forgotten, because it was, at its root, all about love…

Love for Ozzie, acceptance of who he is, a declaration of our devotion, and a promise of forever.

It was our opportunity to stand up and say, “It has been one hell of a ride, Ozzie, but we aren’t going anywhere. We will ride it to the end of the line with you. You never need to ride alone again!”

If you haven’t guessed the theme of the day was transportation. 🙂

Since his check-in date we have been able to talk to Ozzie multiple times a day. We have also been able to visit him a few times a week. But on his birthday we were able to pick him up and take him out for the evening on a community pass. I was so glad we were able to get to spend a portion of the day with him. It would have been a much harder day had we not been able to.

Ozzie knew for a few days leading up to his birthday that we would be picking him up for a five hour evening pass. We told him that we could pick anything in the area to do for his birthday (going home wasn’t an option quite yet in his treatment plan.) We laid out some options including using our Carnegie membership for a trip to the Natural History Museum or the Science Center, or going to see the new Lego Batman movie, but Ozzie had something different in mind…something so perfectly Ozzie.

When we arrived to pick him up he was beside himself with excitement and joy. He quickly filled me in on his birthday activity wish list. And while a bit unorthodox it was perfectly Ozzie so we followed his lead and had the best time showing Ozzie love by doing the things that Ozzie loves.

Ozzie loves transportation vehicles. As a child on the autism spectrum he has highly focused and developed interests to a few specific genres. Some of his hyper-focused interests include weather, maps, and vehicles (cars, trains, construction vehicles, etc.) And for his birthday he pleaded and begged that we, as a family, ride some of the transportation in Pittsburgh. It seems a funny birthday request, but not if you know Ozzie, and granting this birthday wish, and doing so as a family and with enthusiasm was one more brick laid in the foundation of attachment and trust-building we are trying to help Ozzie with.

Our Pittsburgh adventure began with a ride up the incline.

Here in Pittsburgh we have two inclines that carry passengers up and down the steep hills. Originally built back in the 1800s to carry steel workers from the row homes on the hillside down to the city, they still are in use today by both tourist and commuters traveling into the city.

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Ozzie was beside himself with excitement.

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He quickly established that we needed to ride in the front, (he wanted an up close look at the mechanics of how the vertical train system worked,) but the added benefit of our seating choice was beautiful, unobstructed views of Pittsburgh as we climbed up the hill.

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We got to the top and walked outside to the overlook platform for magnificent views of the city.

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While there Ozzie caught sight of a construction machine being loaded onto a trailer for transport and begged that we stay long enough to watch. We willingly agreed and were rewarded with unbridled Ozzie enthusiasm as Ozzie shook with excitement and said, “This birthday couldn’t get any better!”

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After taking the incline back down we only had to walk a half a block to get to our next activity of the day. Ozzie’s second request was to ride the T in and out of Pittsburgh for a while.

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I can honestly say we have never had need to ride the T so this was a new experience for us.

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Once again Ozzie was beside himself with excitement. When we stepped on the T we had the train compartment to ourselves so Ozzie tried out various seats (as well as riding standing up) before he picked the spot he wanted to stay for the remainder of the ride. As the T stopped at various stations the train quickly filled up with commuters heading home. For some reason they didn’t have the same air of excitement as Ozzie did about the T-riding experience. There was more than one knowing smirk exchanged when Ozzie yelled to me over the din of the crowd, “Mom, this is SO COOL. I wish I could ride the T everyday!”

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While in the station Ozzie collected a pile of T schedules for some light bedtime reading.

 

We took the T into the center of Pittsburgh to grant Ozzie’s third request. For his birthday he “wanted to ride an elevator to the top of a Pittsburgh skyscraper.” This wish was harder to grant as we soon discovered all the elevators in the tall office buildings in Pittsburgh needed a security code to get them to move upward.

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So Ozzie came up with a plan B. “If I can’t ride a elevator up in a skyscraper,” he decided, “then I want to find a spinning door to walk through.”

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This was an easier request to fulfill. We quickly found a revolving door much to Ozzie and Tyler’s delight. Tyler, too, is a huge fan of spinning doors!

Much to Ozzie’s disappointment we had to end out Pittsburgh adventure there if we were going to have time for dinner and cake before he had to return back. (He was hoping to experience a few more public transportation options like the city bus, a taxi and maybe Uber.)  😉

For his dinner request he wanted to go to Golden Corral. He had high recommendations to share with those of us who had never been there before.

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We spent the final hour of his visit grazing on delicious food. (Ozzie was so excited to discover they had a chocolate fountain on the dessert table,)

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Opening gifts,

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and eating the birthday cake we brought with us.

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It was a birthday unlike any other, but ended up being one more special and appreciated than any other.

Happy Birthday, dear Ozzie. Happy Birthday to You!

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Escape Rooms and Drive-in Movies

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This past Wednesday was our annual Valentine’s Day party at co-op.

And while a Valentine’s Day party occurs every year the parties differ greatly from year to year. When we started our co-op a decade ago and the kids were all elementary school age our parties were quite traditional with Valentine boxes, cookie decorating, and heart crafts. As the years have passed and the children have gotten older our parties have evolved. Valentine cards are still exchanged but the “theme” of the party varies greatly year to year. We find the switch-up makes for a fun variety of parties.

In the last few years we have had Valentine box competitions, Minute to Win It games, a “heart healthy” theme with P.E. type games, a life size Candyland game, and a glow in the dark dance party with the kids being transformed into stick men with glow sticks.

This year the large age divide between our youngest co-op students and our oldest co-op students led us to the idea of two separate activities.

We decided to create a drive-in movie experience for the younger set of kids. They were instructed to create a car to bring for the drive-in movie in lieu of making a Valentine Box. This was much more up Tyler’s alley and he embraced the challenge with more excitement and enthusiasm than he has ever show for a craft project in his life.

We began by finding the biggest box we could in the basement. He wanted a REALLY BIG car to take to the drive-in.

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Next came the agonizing decision of what colors he wanted his car to be. He had a vision of creating a hummer type vehicle with our T-Rex cut-out. I think he was envisioning a Jurassic Park-like ride, so he decided to go with orange and black.

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During his one-on-one time on Monday we began working on it. He painted for hours that day and then continued to keep painting and adding pieces to his car up until the morning of the party. I must admit it delighted me to see him engaged in something creative and crafty, activities he usually shies away from.

He was quite proud of his finished product!

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On the day of the party the first few hours of co-op were spent doing school but as soon as lunchtime was over the littles headed into the gym for a drive-in movie and the teens headed to the back classrooms for their activity.

The drive-in movie was Aristocats.

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The kids got their tubs of popcorn and snacks from the snack bar and headed back to their cars to enjoy the movie.

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They were so blasted cute I could hardly stand it!

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The teens were split up into two teams: boys vs girls and were each given a Escape Room challenge. Our family has had so much fun with this game we purchased for Christmas that we thought it would be a fun Valentine’s party activity for the big kids.

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Two families at co-op had the game so the girls used one and the boys used one. They both worked on the same escape room: Prison Break.

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Starting the countdown clock at the same time the kids were racing to beat the clock but also trying to beat the other team.

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It was fun to see how each team worked together, strategized, and interpreted the clues that needed to be solved to break the code.

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Both teams escaped but the girls were the narrow winners with four minutes to spare.

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Following the activities the kids exchanged valentines,

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while Tyler and I drove over to his weekly occupational therapy appointment where he made this nifty hat!

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He was sad to have to miss the exchange but his mood improved dramatically when we returned to co-op and Grace had his Valentine Box filled with cards and treats from his friends.

Hooray for another great Valentine’s Day Party!

Happy Valentine’s Day

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This year is our 20th anniversary.

Our wedding date in is June but today, on Valentine’s Day, we celebrate 20 years since Toby proposed.

It is hard for me to wrap my brain around the passing of 20 years. We have certainly lived enough life for 50 years, but the passing of those 20 years seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. Just yesterday we were mere babies making plans for eternity. We were so sweet and wonderfully naive.

I was Gracie’s age.

The other day Rusty interviewed me for a school assignment. He had to interview someone about their experience living through a significant moment in history and he chose to interview me about where I was and what I remember about 9/11.

I shared with him my memories of that day. I explained the fear I felt when it all began, not knowing if Pittsburgh was the third target and being an hour away from my two girls who were being watched by my mom on the other side of Pittsburgh. I remember being very heavy with child as I waddled through Walmart to watch the scene unfold on the wall of TV monitors with hundreds of other shoppers. Rusty was only weeks away from his delivery.

Then Rusty asked me how old I was. I had to stop and calculate. “23,” I answered. It stopped me in my tracks. Could that be right. Was I only 23.

At 23 we had experienced far more than our peers. At 23 we were navigating the roles of provider and caretaker to 3 babies as well as trying to figure out how to function with a chronic, debilitating diagnoses. It was at age 23 that I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis and would be the beginning of some very hard years as the disease took away my ability to care for myself independently or care for my three babies.

The next few years were filled with doctor’s appointments,  weekly plasmapheresis treatments, and three major surgeries followed by months of recoveries.

It was a hard way to begin a marriage. By our 5 year anniversary we had faced more challenges and navigated more twists and turns than our newlywed selves could have ever  imagined.

But it was good preparation for the next 15 years. We learned very early on that commitment to our covenant and the ability to laugh at our reality would be the superglue that would keep us connected through the really tough stuff.

This weekend Toby and I went away. We rented a hotel room in Pittsburgh and spent the weekend reconnecting as a couple and recovering from a few really hard months. This month is about healing and the first step in healing our family and helping our children find healing is to heal the damage done to our marriage.

When we began this adoption journey we were required to take a series of training classes. One of those training classes was about RAD. At the time I didn’t pay too much attention, certain that would never be our reality. “I don’t need to know this,” I thought to myself, “because we will never accept a child with RAD into our family.”

Well, God had other plans. 😉

The one thing I do remember from that class was the shocking statistics of failed marriages that resulted from adopting a child with reactive attachment disorder. The point she was making was the importance and necessity of respite for a family with a RAD kid.

Living it I now get it. Even the strongest, most resilient marriages are in danger of being torn apart by the reality of everyday living when you are raising a child who is traumatized. Our marriage has depth and resiliency, due in large part to the earlier challenges in our marriage, but even with our commitment to seeing this through and our ability to laugh, we both were feeling the effects of 24/7 crisis management. We were both exhausted and running on empty and getting away was needed triage.

We stayed close by so we could get home quickly if the big kids needed any help with Tyler. They didn’t. They did great and had a fun, no-parents-allowed weekend, and Toby and I were able to have our first real conversation in months that revolved around something other than the current crisis.

We ate dinner at the restaurant where we had our first date. As we sat and reminisced about the last twenty years we were amazed at all the living that has occurred in those two decades. We talked about the early struggles…the pressure Toby felt at 25 to provide for his family of 5. We talked about those hard years when I couldn’t physically take care of simple tasks like washing my own hair or lifting Rusty to change his diaper and Toby had to fulfill the role of mom and dad. We talked about the leap of faith to chose the road less traveled and homeschool. What a scary decision that was. Then we remembered the season we motored through worries for our children as the girls were diagnosed with Dyslexia and Rusty was unable to talk to anyone outside of the family for four years of his life because of Selective Mutism.

Then we reminisced about the season when things got easier. We entered into the next big adventure of our life when we spent 13 months building our dream home ourselves on evenings and weekends. It was our season of baby farm animals, co-op adventures and ease. But we knew that was simply a season, for we felt God calling us to adopt.

First came Tyler and then Ozzie. For three years it has been our family of seven trying to manage the emotional rollercoaster of finding a new normal after two very big life changes. We have had some amazing adventures, like converting a school bus into an RV and traveling around the country for two months, entering the new world of having teenagers, and watching our family grow with some new fur babies.

There has been some hard times too, particularly in these last few years as we have learned the heartbreak and the delicate dance of earning the trust of children who struggle to attach. There have been magnificent victories and hard, dark days.

As we sat across the table from each other in the place where our story began we were both humbled by the life God had blessed us with together. Who knew when Toby proposed a month after our first date (Yes, 4 weeks after we met!) that this is where we would be twenty years later. It has been quite the ride and I can honestly say there is no one I’d rather be traveling with!

Here is a look at our fun Valentine’s Day weekend:

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Our beautiful “home” for the weekend. I love being a married to a man who can find crazy good deals so we can enjoy the life of a prince with the budget of a pauper. 🙂

 

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The hotel offered delicious continental breakfasts each morning.

On Friday night Toby took me to the Byham Theatre to see a dance/theatrical show called Shadowlands in which the dancers use their bodies behind a screen to create a magical story of shadows. It was amazing!

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Saturday we spent the day at the Carnegie Natural History Museum and Art Museum. It was so nice to just stroll. We weren’t chasing a child or having to rush to the next place. We were able to just stroll through the museum, holding hands, reading the displays and talking. It was wonderful.

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What a glorious journey it has been,

And to think it all began with a boy asking a girl for a dinner date…

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day

 

 

 

Healing Deep Hurts

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Adoption is supposed to be forever.

Dissolving or terminating an adoption is the biggest “no no” in the adoption handbook.

All the classes, training, and hoop-jumping that a family goes through in the year or years leading up to adoption day are obstacles designed to weed out those who don’t have staying power.

Terminating an adoption carries with it a stigma.

It is a sticky subject and one I feel uncomfortable with because of the strong feelings of judgement I find myself engulfed in when I think about it.

Like so many of the parenting judgements I had when we began the adoption journey I couldn’t believe that anyone would be so cruel, so week, so lacking as to give up on a child they adopted into their forever home, but over the last few years I have had my eyes opened to the heartbreaking reality of the darker side of adoption. Where there once was only judgement there is now added empathy.

Most cases of dissolved adoptions don’t happen because a family gets bored or lazy or decides they’ve changed their mind. No, to dissolve an adoption is far too heartbreaking to pursue over something so trivial. No, usually a family’s decision to dissolve an adoption comes as a result of a family being at the end of their rope, seeing no other solutions, being fearful for their lives or the lives of their other children, feeling as though they are ill equipped to parent trauma as significant and scary as their child’s.

Let me be quite clear, saying goodbye to an adopted child is as heartbreaking and devastating as the thought of having to terminate your relationship with your birth child.

This is why this adoption taboo is rarely talked about. It is the hush hush, dark closet shame thrust upon families in crisis. And most often this controversy revolves around a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. There is not a family on earth who can successfully parent a child with RAD and have everyone live to tell the tale without a powerful support system and a mighty God. For many families even that is not enough.

In my interactions with other RAD families I have heard the horror stories that would lead  most people to terminate an adoption. Stories like their RAD kid killing the family cat and leaving it by the front door for Mom to find…a family narrowly avoiding being poisoned by their RAD child after noticing dinner tasted a bit “off.”…fire starting, sexually deviant behavior, risk taking choices like climbing in a car with a stranger. These haven’t been our experiences with our two boys who have a diagnoses of RAD, but this is the reality of people in this community who have adopted children with severe early childhood trauma.

So while I don’t believe termination is ever the answer (there are other solutions to removing an unsafe child from a home and other solutions for stabilization) I do get it. I understand what it means to be a family in crisis. I understand having to parent hurts so deep and dark that no light can get in. I understand the walk of trying to love a child that is TERRIFIED of attachment and will do everything in his power to be unlovable so as to push you away. I understand the hurt, the fear, and the hopelessness of RAD, and I am less quick to judge those who feel they must give up.

We are being personally affected by another’s decision to terminate their adoption. The biological sibling of one of my boys now is back in foster care after that family has made the decision that they can’t parent that child anymore.

My heart has been aching for that child and also for that family.

The result of their decision has also profoundly affected our family. For the last month we have been a family in crisis. The news of a adoption termination with one of their bio siblings has destroyed any stability, trust and attachment that we have built. For the last few years we have, through word and action, worked to prove to our boys that families are forever, that adoption is forever, that we are going nowhere. My mantra repeated over and over again to the boys while they are raging is, ” I love you. There is nothing you can do that will make me stop loving you. You are not going anywhere.”

Because the root of RAD is fear.

These kids learned from an early age that adults can not be trusted. Adults hurt you. And connecting with and bonding with adults makes you vulnerable to more hurt. So they will do anything to keep you at arms length. It begins with subtle, passive aggressive behaviors and if that doesn’t scare you away they up the ante with harder and scarier behaviors until the moment of reckoning when that family gives up on them or they finally believe that there truly is nothing they can do that will make you leave. Every behavior is a test of your sticking power. So while they are raging and seem to be yelling, “I hate you! You’re not my mom! If you don’t let me go to a new home you’ll be sorry!” they are really crying out, “How about this? Will this scare you away? Will you love me still? Can I trust you?” And the trick is to look past the hate and see the fear that drives the behaviors.

This is what has been happening in our home this last month with Ozzie. Any security that has been built over the last few years has been shattered with that single bit of news. He now has it in his head that he is headed for foster care and is doing everything in his power to speed up his exit. It is heartbreaking to watch and has made for a month of violent, scary, and disruptive behaviors…behaviors that have resulted in Ozzie needing additional therapeutic help that exceeds what we are able to provide him with in outpatient treatment.

We share this mainly for the benefit of our other children who we would like to shield from the inquiries of where Ozzie is. They have suffered greatly this last month and we don’t want the added responsibility of having to explain Ozzie’s absence from church and other activities to rest on their shoulders.

Ozzie is in a special in treatment program for children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, getting 24/7 therapeutic care to stabilize him so that he can return home and continue forward with his outpatient therapy.

We have explained the necessity of inpatient therapy to Ozzie and the other kids by likening his emotional struggles to a person with a physical sickness. We discussed the treatment plan for a stomachache and compared it to someone’s emotional struggles. Initially a stomachache could be addressed at home with Mom. She might lay you on the couch, give you ginger ale and crackers and medication, and that might be enough to get better. If not the next stop would be a trip to MedExpress to see a doctor with more expertise who could dig a little deeper, trying to figure out the cause of the stomach ache, and give you new techniques or medication to try. This is comparable to outpatient therapy with Miss Tina. If you still were not feeling any better then the next step would be to go to the hospital where doctors with specialized diagnostic tools, and 24/7 care would be available, while they worked to figure out what was causing the stomachache and then stabilize you so that you can return home feeling better.

This is where Ozzie is at.

He is getting the help he needs to stabilize and the family is using this period of respite to regroup, to address the wounds inflicted on the other children, to reconnect as a family, and to rest and work on reconnecting as a couple. We will work on healing and stabilizing our home while Ozzie works on stabilizing himself.

He needed care beyond what could be offered at home or with Miss Tina. She made a case for why inpatient care was necessary and after prayer and many late night discussions we agreed, so Ozzie is working with the best to get the care he needs so he can return home,

and he can start believing we are in this for the long haul…

we are not going anywhere…

He is ours forever.

Ice Skating at North Park

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Last Saturday was the annual stake youth ice skating activity held at North Park. This is one of the favorite youth events offered every year and has become an activity eagerly anticipated by the kids and their friends. We have been attending this activity for the last seven Januaries and some of their friends from co-op, who they invite each year, have been attending almost as long.

The event ran from 4:00pm- 8:00pm, so we made plans to pick up their friends from up north at 3:00 for the hour drive south to North Park. (That sounded way more confusing than it actually was.) 🙂  When we arrived I found a corner to settle into with other adults who were also there as drivers or chaperones and enjoyed some conversation and catching up while the kids headed off to enjoy the activities offered.

Ice skating was available from 4:30-7:00 so the time leading up to the ice rink opening was spent playing board games that were set out for the youth to enjoy.

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Once the ice rink opened we saw very little of the youth as most of their time was spent on the ice or hanging out around the edges of the ice rink.

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I think everyone had a fabulous time:

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The evening concluded with a walking taco dinner provided by the stake leaders.

At 8:00 everyone shuffled to the car with sore ankles and big smiles…true signs of a great night!

*A big “Thank You” to the leaders who made it happen!*

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Flying back in Time

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Yesterday the three older kids and I took a quick flight back in time to explore aircraft from yesteryear, via the Air Heritage Museum.

When we caught wind of this upcoming fieldtrip (located so close to home) we quickly signed up, eager to check out this gem that we had no idea existed in our own backyard.

Then there was the added incentive that it was free admission…what a deal!

Toby was home from work so the two younger boys opted to stay home with Daddy, while the big kids and I headed over to the museum where we met up with the Caylor family.

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Upon arrival the first room we found ourselves in was the artifacts room. In here we were able to stroll through and read the different displays that highlighted the history of aviation. On display were a variety of artifacts like air force uniforms, airplane props, model planes, cameras that would have been strapped to the underside of planes, among other things.

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We were able to take our time exploring this room while we waited for the rest of the families who signed up for this outing to arrive.

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Once everyone had arrived we moved into the hanger where a very knowledgeable volunteer tour guide took us around the hanger, sharing with us the history behind the various planes that were in the process of being restored to their former glory. As we stood before each plane she gave us a history lesson on each plane’s story, as well as explained the workings, creation, and effort that goes into the restoration of these planes.

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As a former air force mechanic, she was able to impart the knowledge she gained over the course of many years of working on planes in such a way that the common man (or woman) could understand and appreciate the artistry and science that goes into making these tubes of aluminum soar through the sky.

I am not an airplane fanatic by any stretch of the imagination,  but I found our tour guide’s enthusiasm contagious and her knowledge engaging. She captured my interest and held it throughout our 1 1/2 hour tour.

It was fascinating to see the wide variety of planes on display from different historical eras and in various states of restoration, with some stripped to bare bones while others sat completed in the lot outside the hanger.

A few of the planes we learned about on our tour were:

The Fairfield 24 Forwarder

“The Fairchild Model 24, is a four-seat, single engine monoplane light transport aircraft that was used by the United States Army Air Corps as the UC-61, and by the Royal Air Force. Built by the Fairchild Aircraft Co., after having some success with the Model 22, this led directly to the Model 24 which gained rapid popularity in the early 1930’s. First flight of the Model 24 was in 1932, and was in continuous production from 1932 to 1948.”

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C-47B Skytrain “Luck of the Irish”

“Our plane was delivered to the 9th Air Force’s 75th Troop Carrier Squadron on September 30th, 1944. The 75th TCS itself was a part of the 435th Troop Carrier Group, which itself was a part 53rd Troop Carrier Wing.

Our plane flew two Resupply missions over the Battle of the Bulge on December 24th and December 26th, 1944 in which it dropped supplies from parapacks as well as from inside the fuselage to the surrounded troops below in the city of Bastogne. It also took part in Operation Varsity, the single largest air drop of troops and supplies during a single day, even to date. Over Varsity it towed two Waco CG-4A gliders full of troops.

Overall, it flew in 25 Fully Combat-Operational Resupply Missions in the European theatre from its base in Welford Park, England and Bretigny, France. It also flew 13 missions in which it evacuated American, British, French and even German POWs. We have records for at least 96 missions of various types, which it had taken part in during the war.”

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F-15A Eagle

This aircraft AF 76-012 was a member of the 36th Fighter Wing stationed at Bitburg, Germany in the late 70’s early 80’s and flew in Desert Storm.

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C-123K Provider

The increased involvement in Vietnam showed a need for a transport aircraft that could operate out of short unprepared fields. The military effort against the Viet Cong brought the C-123 into fields hacked out of the jungle or a smoothed out dirt strip on a hill. If that wasn’t available parachute airdrops were possible by rolling cargo out the open aft fuselage ramp. In “Operation Ranch Hand” eight Providers were modified to spray defoliant to destroy the heavy vegetation which was providing cover to the enemy troops.

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Named the “Thunderpig,” this was our favorite plane on display.

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She was currently on display inside the hanger as she was undergoing her annual inspection. We were able to climb inside and get a unique, up close look at this rare plane (She is the only one of her kind in operation in the lower 48 states.)

The kids were able to get a  look at the cockpit and try their hand at working the seat belts in the jump seats.

This particular plane is a movie star in her own right, having starred in movies like Air America, The General’s Daughter, Die Hard 2, Good Morning Vietnam, and Con Air.

The kids were also given the opportunity to climb in a restored war jeep,

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and a training plane.

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I was very impressed by how hands-on and interactive the tour was. The kids had the opportunity to touch, ask questions, and be inspired by the enthusiasm of our great tour guide.

It was a fascinating, high-flying field trip.

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We give the Beaver Falls Air Heritage Museum two thumbs up!