Monthly Archives: November 2017

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

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This past weekend we zoomed straight from Thanksgiving into the Christmas season. Not wanting to miss any of the pre-Christmas festivities, Ozzie requested that we decorate for Christmas while he was home. Friday was wide open. The girls were both working on Black Friday but the rest of us had the day free. We opted to wait to get our tree, or enjoy any other family tradition that the girls would hate to miss until they were home, and decided to stay home and decorate for Christmas.

The girls woke up early and decided to bake cookies for all the Pretzel Factory employees that were stuck working on Black Friday.

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Dolled up in Christmas gear, they headed off to work.

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Meanwhile, the boys helped carry up all our boxes of Christmas decorations and we set to work “Decking the Halls.”

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Toby took the boys outside to help him decorate the outside of the house, while I reveled in the rare gift of silence and an hour of uninterrupted Christmas decorating.

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Typically, our Christmas decorating takes a full day. Certain decorations have traditional spots they land every year, while others move around the house depending on how I am feeling creatively. When the boys returned in they helped set up our various nativity sets and helped hang the stockings. 

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Once I had pulled out all the decorations I wanted for the main living areas of the house it was time to let the kids dig through the Christmas boxes for decorations to go in their rooms. They all enjoy decorating their rooms for Christmas and have fun digging through the familiar decorations for those items that are their favorites.

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Speaking of favorite decorations, I have a few new favorites myself! I have inherited a few relics from Toby’s childhood. These charming pieces used to be part of an outdoor Christmas scene that was displayed in front of his house as a child. I was thrilled when he brought these treasures home and now Santa, Mrs. Clause, and the elves reside in our living room.

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By dinner time we were all whooped and ready to put our feet up. Ozzie was thrilled by the Christmas décor and kept walking around the house checking out our handy work.

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All the puppies are pooped!

His favorite part, however, was the outside. When the sun had set we all walked outside to admire the boys’ handiwork.

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It was simply magical.

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We were all decked out. The only thing missing was the Christmas tree and that was on Saturday’s agenda.

 

Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland

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We entered this holiday weekend knowing that it would be action packed. Since Ozzie will not to be able to return home for another home visit until days before Christmas, we planned to fit in as many holiday traditions as we could this weekend between Thanksgiving with Toby’s side of the family on Thursday and Thanksgiving with my family on Saturday. Traditions are important to Ozzie, especially holiday traditions, so we planned to squeeze the Christmas traditions that were most important to Ozzie into the four days he was home. We knew it would make for a crazy, exhausting few days but felt it was too important to not try. We made a list of those traditions he was most saddened at the thought of missing, looked at our schedule for the next few days, and plugged in those holiday traditions into every free slot we had between Thursday night and Sunday morning.

The first item on his wish list was to go and see the light show at Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland in Butler, PA:

“Welcome to Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland! You may wonder, why go to such great lengths to create an attraction of this magnitude? It’s simple; we uncovered a passion and followed our dreams. After physically crafting each element, placing and bracing them, tediously programming hundreds of thousands of lights to perform with music, we managed to light up the nights!

There are thousands channels simultaneously directing this orchestra of lights. Using the most technologically advanced equipment in the industry, Christmas Wonderland magically expresses what Christmas means to us. Our hope is for this show to spark a smile on your face like it does ours.

Spreading Christmas cheer is our prime motivation and in doing so, we find great importance in giving back to our local community. This year our show is in six different locations. Within those cities, Christmas Wonderland supports numerous charitable non-profit organizations. Please visit the “locations” tab to see our current partners at each location.

Now sit back… relax… and let the Christmas spirit take you away!”

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be on his shoulders; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

— Isaiah 9:6

We headed there after Thanksgiving dinner.

This was our third year visiting this magical land of music and lights, but the tradition of an annual visit to a drive thru light display has been a holiday tradition since the kids were small and we visited Hartwood Acres yearly until they closed.

Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland is situated on the Butler Fair grounds. The cost is $25.00/vehicle and is worth every penny. The experience begins with a choreographed light display where lights are synchronized to the music playing through the assigned radio station you tune into as you pull in. It is awesome to see the magnificent display of lights blinking and dancing to the Christmas music.

We anticipated large crowds but found few cars wending their way through the light displays. I think everyone was home sleeping off their turkey coma or out battling the Black Friday Christmas crowds.

We made our way through the lights, enjoying the Christmas music that put us at once in the Christmas Spirit.

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 One of our favorite sections of the park was the drive-thru tunnel.

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Tyler didn’t make it even a ¼ mile into the experience before he was fast asleep…a rare occurrence for Tyler. We will blame it on the turkey dinner.

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The rest of us enjoyed the show.

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The second half of the park consisted of large, moving, character scenes. This year’s theme was “Once Upon a Time.”

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This section of Shadrack’s was comprised of scenes from well know Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes, constructed from Christmas lights.

It was a charming display and we had fun calling out the names of favorite Fairy Tale scenes as we passed:

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We were glad we were able to experience this beloved family tradition with the entire family.

Our drive through the land of Fairy Tales ended as all good tales do…

 And they all lived happily ever after…

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Happy Thanksgiving

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We had so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. I found my heart spilling over with feelings of humble gratitude for all the blessings God has granted me and those I love. It had been a hard year…by far the most challenging of our lives, and yet here we were, one year after things began to spiral downward, and the sun was finally beginning to peek from behind the clouds. We were feeling hope and peace and joy once again. We had so much to be thankful for!

We spent Thanksgiving Day with Toby’s family.

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 It was a beautiful day.

Although originally to be hosted by Mimi Joy for her sisters and their families, life circumstances (aka: Toby’s mom having recent surgery on her arm) made it impossible for her to host family for Thanksgiving, so we joined the McCleery side of the family for Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt Beth’s house.

Although different from our original plans I think the day worked out just as it was supposed to. Ozzie was really struggling with the hard mix of emotions that seem to be intrinsically intertwined with each and every holiday. It breaks my heart that the joy we find in the holidays are so unbearable for Ozzie, so a low-key holiday celebration with family that Ozzie already has a connection with was a blessing. We would have loved to have seen family from Joy’s side of the family tree, but this set up was much better for Ozzie and where he was emotionally that day. God knew what He was doing, and the day couldn’t have been more perfect.

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We arrived at Aunt Beth’s home earlier than the 1:00 dinner time so we could help Joy with some tasks around the house. The surgery she had on her arm limited her ability to lift anything heavier than a couple pounds for the duration of her recovery, so she had the boys move some wood from her garage and we carried her Christmas decorations up to her apartment, so she could decorate for Christmas.

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Then we joined her at Aunt Beth’s house, along with Aunt Cindy, Uncle Kevin, Toby’s cousins and their kids, and Beth’s friend, Teresa. It was a fun group and we enjoyed an afternoon filled with delicious food and enjoyable conversation.

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Dinner was a joint effort with everyone contributing various, yummy dishes and Beth cooking up TWO turkeys. No one went home hungry!

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We were asked to bring drinks and pumpkin pies. I was feeling creative and had some fun with the pumpkin pies.

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It was a perfect Thanksgiving. We loved catching up with all the McCleery clan and the kids enjoyed getting reacquainted with their second cousins.

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It couldn’t have been any more blessed!

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We have so much to be thankful for!

So Much to Be Thankful For!

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Last Wednesday was a big day at Patchwork Farm. It marked the 3-year anniversary of Ozzie’s adoption and was also the day of Ozzie’s anticipated arrival home after almost two months away. It was sweet serendipity that these two events coincided in such a blessed way.

Typically, we celebrate Tyler and Ozzie’s “Gotcha Days” with an activity of their choosing but since we had celebrated Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” before he left for his inpatient stay we decided to stay home and let him pick the dinner of his choice for his special day.

At noon I began the two-hour trek to the facility where Ozzie is receiving inpatient trauma therapy. We had a family therapy session scheduled for 2:00pm. These sessions which occur weekly have be held in person or by telephone depending on scheduling. My trek to pick up Ozzie provided a perfect opportunity to have an in-person session.

I walked in and Ozzie was on his feet immediately, propelling himself through the air, into my arms. To say he was excited to come home for Thanksgiving weekend would be the understatement of the year! Our therapy session was focused on establishing a contract for expectations during Ozzie’s time at home and coming up with a crisis plan. Our goal was, first and foremost, safety for each member of the family. Much of this groundwork had already been laid at home prior to picking up Ozzie. Earlier in the week I had scheduled a family session with Tina (Tyler and Ozzie’s outpatient therapist) so the other kids could voice their concerns and process the muddy mix of emotions they were all feeling with Ozzie’s visit drawing nearer.

All the prep work being done on our end and on Ozzie’s end was to help facilitate a happy, healthy, safe reunion at home.

Our therapy session was speedy. Ozzie was eager to get on the road and once his therapist was made aware of all the precautions that had been put in place at home and all the prep work we had been doing in anticipation for Ozzie’s visit, she felt confident sending us on our way.

Ozzie was buzzing with excitement and anxious anticipation.

As we neared home and he began seeing the familiar landmarks of home he could hardly sit still. We pulled into the driveway and he was out of the van before I had it in park, with his weekend bag in hand, eager to see the kids, greet the dogs, and see his bedroom.

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For dinner Ozzie had requested pumpkin chili. This is his favorite dish I make, and it was a perfect meal for a cold, November evening. It was so nice to sit around the dining room table and have all my chicks present.

After dinner we had Family Night. Since we weren’t going anywhere for Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” I thought it would be fun to postpone our Sunday Family Night activities for Wednesday night so Ozzie could join us.

The focus of the lesson and activities I planned were “gratitude.” In honor of Thanksgiving, Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day,” and having the family reunited, I couldn’t think of a better theme for our night.

We began our evening with an object lesson that I had used recently for a class I taught at church. Each person was given a pebble to place in their shoe and a piece of chocolate to place in their mouth and then were instructed to walk around the house. When they had returned I asked how their stroll was. It was interesting to see how different family members responded. Some were quick to complain of the pain they endured while walking around with a sharp pebble in their shoe, while others praised the sweetness of the chocolate in their mouth. I likened the experience to life and pointed out the fact that our lives are filled with both pebbles and chocolates, but it is easy to become so focused on the pebbles in our shoes that we forget all the sweet blessings we enjoy.

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This object lesson led into our discussion of the Bible story of the ten lepers. We read the story and then discussed what lessons we could take away from the story and apply to our lives.

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With a stronger conviction of the importance of expressing gratitude to our Heavenly Father impressed on us all, I gave each person an A B C gratitude sheet and challenged them to come up with blessings they were grateful for that start with each letter of the alphabet.

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We then went around the room and read our answers. I was impressed with the creativity and specific blessings everyone came up with. I then posed the question, “If you woke up tomorrow with only those items on your list that you have thanked Heavenly Father for in the past what blessings would remain?”

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It gave us all pause to consider the many blessings we have never expressed gratitude for…blessings that we perhaps take for granted.

We ended our evening of gratitude with some Minute-to-Win-It games that were Thanksgiving themed.

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We split into two teams and competed in a series of fun, 60-second challenges that revolved around the theme of gratitude.

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It was a fun way to conclude Family Night and a perfect lead in to a weekend of THANKS.

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I don’t know when my heart has been more filled with gratitude and love and awe at God’s loving mercy than it was that evening with all my children gathered around me, my husband smiling from across the room, and laughter filling the house.

Oh, the difference a couple months can make.

God is good, indeed. ❤

A Super Saturday

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We woke up on Saturday to a grey, rainy, miserable day…

It was a PERFECT day for crafting!

Saturday was the annual Christmas Craft Workshop at church. This yearly event is a favorite of the girls and I. Each year, fun Christmas crafts are put on display in the lobby of the church and we eagerly gather around to see the samples, trying to decide which classes we will sign up for. This year the ladies in charge did an awesome job and the crafts available were the best yet! The toughest task we had was trying to pick between so many good choices. In the end the girls and I all picked all the same crafts so we could sit and craft together.

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It was a perfect day.

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The sound of Christmas music playing,

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The festive décor,

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The good company,

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And the delicious soups and breads put us all in the Christmas spirit.

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It was a perfect way to spend a rainy Saturday!

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And then there was the added benefit of knocking some Christmas gifts off my list (which is why there aren’t too many photos of the completed crafts. We don’t want to ruin the surprises!)

I will be honest, there have been years in the past that this day has been one to dread. Being the coordinator or part of the committee called to pull this massive activity together is a HUGE undertaking and a labor of love. It was fun to show up this year as just a participant.

I am so grateful for the ladies that put together this awesome activity.

You gals are incredible!

It was the best year yet!

Thank you!

(Photo Credit for many of these photos goes to the talented event photographer, Holly Schaeffer <3)

Watch out World!

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Well, she did it and we all survived the process!

Molly is the second child I have taught to drive. I am now onto #3 with Rusty recently acquiring his driver’s permit. I am finding each subsequent child gets easier to teach. I was a bundle of nerves with #1 but am fearless with #3.  🙂

Having three kids so close in age results in a certain amount of overlap in driving education. With both the first set of two and the second set of two, we had a few months where the first driver was at the tail end of their driving education while the next driver in line was just beginning. That was the case this last month.

Rusty is at the very beginning of his driving education which means a lot of hesitation, jerky stops, crawling along at 20 miles per hour in a 35 zone, and a lot of country road driving.

Molly has reached the end of her driving education. She was incredibly nervous to drive and required extra time with her permit…not to gain additional skills, but to gain confidence. She finally felt she had learned all she could possibly learn with me by her side and was ready to tackle the ominous task of taking her driving test. The only skill left to learn was parallel parking…

(A skill that proved to be Gracie’s kryptonite two years ago.)

We delayed working on this skill until we had a vehicle smaller than a semi for her to test in. It seems our family has thing for huge vehicles as we discovered when we considered which vehicle she would be most successful parallel parking during her practical exam. Her choices were a 12 passenger van, a F350 truck, or a refurbished school bus. It seemed her odds of passing were poor with all 3 choices. So we delayed working on this needed skill until we had a smaller car.

The acquisition of a smaller car was its own special sort of adventure…as is the case with anything our family does.  🙂 This summer Toby and Grace attended an impound auction and purchase two cheap cars that would become Grace and Molly’s vehicles for scooting about town, but because they were scrapped vehicles from a state that doesn’t require inspections we had a long series of hoops to jump through to get them retitled, registered, inspected and on the road. Molly’s car was the first to arrive home and was the missing piece we were waiting for to complete her driving education.

For two weeks we practiced parallel parking during the evening hours at the DMV, when the testing area was open for practice. We discovered Molly has inherited Toby’s sense of spatial understanding (unlike poor Grace who inherited mine) which made Molly a pro at parallel parking. She was awesome, nailing it every time!

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She was finally ready for her test. We scheduled an appointment and Molly was a bundle of nerves, but she need not have worried. She nailed it on the first try!

Nice job, Miss Molly!!

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Following her test, we headed over to Philly Pretzel Factory, where Grace was working, so Molly could share her good news then headed over to the Dollar Tree so she could purchase some supplies for her car. She had fun buying decorations, snacks, emergency supplies, and cute accessories to doll up her car. When we arrived home she spent the afternoon cleaning her car and making it her own.

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She is now a woman about town. You would think I’d be terrified to have another child unsupervised on the road, but that isn’t the case at all. I am actually delighted that Molly finally feels as confident in her driving ability as I have been for months….

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I am also loving having a new driver in the house! They are the best! They are so eager to get in the car and stretch their muscles of independence that I get a few months of willing errand running and don’t have to leave the house for milk or packages from the post office. It is wonderful and I plan to enjoy every minute of it until the novelty of driving wears off!

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Congratulations, Miss Molly! We are so proud of you!

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Finding Solace at the Homestead

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This week I have been thinking a lot about the many blessings God has granted me. With Thanksgiving just days away I have much to be thankful for and I find my heart filled to the brim with humble gratitude for God’s loving providence in my life. I have been blessed beyond measure, certainly much more than I deserve.

As I count my many blessings, the blessing of family can be found at the top of the list. I grew up not fully recognizing the treasure I had in my family. With no other frame of reference to compare my life to, I assumed everyone enjoyed the same love, support, care and companionship within their families that I did. I had no idea that the special bond I enjoyed with my parents, my siblings, my grandparents, aunts and uncles, was a unique gift that many others have not been blessed with. This revelation became all the more pronounced as we stepped into the world of foster care and became aware of the horrors found within so many families. The gift of a loving family gave me a life advantage far beyond any other blessing in my life, and my heart is full of gratitude for that.

Sometimes in the midst of the busyness and craziness of life we forget to be grateful. We lose sight of our blessings and all that we have to be grateful for. We become focused on the minutiae and forget to step back and focus on the big picture…on the things that are really important.

A few weeks ago I received an unexpected phone call from my parents. They were calling with the news that Dad’s cancer is back. For those who have followed our blog for years, you might remember his initial diagnoses. He had an aggressive form of prostrate cancer that resulted in the need for surgery. At that time we asked for prayers from our friends both near and far and those prayers were answered. The surgeon found the tumor to be encapsulated and contained, and no further treatment was needed. He was cancer free, but now we have discovered that cancer cells have returned. Radiation is required. And we are asking for prayers again…prayers for healing, for wisdom, for minimal side effects to the treatments, but mostly for peace for my parents.

We ask for your prayers…

Prayers for the peace that only God can bring during those unexpected bends in the road of life.

My Dad starts treatment this week, so last weekend they took advantage of the time they had before he begins treatment and invited Rusty out to the Homestead to enjoy his belated birthday celebration. For each of the kids’ birthdays my parents invite them out to the Homestead for a special one-on-one weekend where they enjoy lunch out, movies, board games in the evening, and all the fun that the Homestead has to offer. It is a special tradition that all the kids look forward to.

On Sunday, the rest of us drove out to Ohio to celebrate Rusty and Tyler’s birthdays with my parents and then bring Rusty home.

We arrived to find my parents wearing the shirts we bought them for their anniversary last month. This year marked the 41st year of marriage and their 42nd year together. What an example they are to me!

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When we walked in Rusty was eager to show us the birthday gift he received from Mimi and Pop Pop. They had taken him to the toy store and let him pick out a Lego set. He was allowed to enjoy it early and by the time we arrived he had it completed.

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Tyler was allowed to open his birthday gift as soon as we arrived. Mimi and Pop Pop know Tyler so well and always hit it out of the ball park with their gifts to Tyler. This time was no exception. They bought him a laser tag set that he and Rusty enjoyed playing with the rest of the day!

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My Mom had an unexpected gift for me as well. She had come across a picture I had drawn for my Dad when I was in early elementary school. It was a picture welcoming him home after his time training in the field and she had it framed as a surprise. What a treasure! I was thrilled!

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We enjoyed our time at the Homestead.

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There is something about the Homestead that brings feelings of peace and contentment. It isn’t the home of my childhood, but it is filled with the objects and people of my childhood, thus feels like home.

Our day was spent enjoying a meal as a family:

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Playing card games:

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Enjoying the critters:

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And counting our blessings…

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As we pray for my Mom and Dad during this unexpected season of life, we also count our blessings, for we have so much to be thankful for. God will take this struggle and from it create something beautiful and blessed, as He always does.

God is good!

Always good!

Our first Day Pass with Oz!

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Last Saturday was a monumental milestone in Ozzie’s progress at the inpatient hospital that is serving as his home away from home for a few months. He earned his first Day Pass. This is a huge deal, as it is reflective of the hard work and effort he is putting into his treatment and healing. Normally patients don’t receive a Day Pass or Home Pass this early on in their treatment, which is a real testament to the miracles we are seeing happen with Ozzie. This place has been incredible, and Ozzie is doing awesome! Under this higher level of care Ozzie is finally receiving the concentrated quantity of therapeutic care he has needed. Under the professional hands of some awesome doctors, nurses and therapists, Ozzie is addressing and healing from the trauma of his past and finally finding the peace that has escaped him for years. He is doing hard, intensive work as he looks at the abuse and trauma that defined his early years in his birth home and is processing that trauma with EMDR therapy, trauma therapy, music therapy and multiple group therapies every week. The sheer volume of therapeutic work that is happening on a daily basis is a huge factor in his success. Our outpatient therapist here at home was awesome but couldn’t delve deep enough, quickly enough, into Ozzie past trauma (without creating unsafe emotional instability) with only 2 one-hour sessions a week. This center is Christian based, and the presence of the Holy Spirit is evident as soon as you walk on campus. There is a special spirit blanketing the hurt boys who have found a haven there and I know that it is because of the Spirit-guided treatment that Ozzie is experiencing miraculous results. 

Ozzie transformation has been amazing and although Toby and I see Ozzie weekly and have witnessed the miraculous changes occurring in his life, the other kids have not experienced it firsthand. Their residual memories of Ozzie are very different from the Ozzie we have seen at our visits which is why the kids were all struggling a bit with mixed emotions about this family day pass. They were nervous to see Ozzie. When he was last home he was engaging in hurtful, destructive behaviors which left the other children feeling frightened, unsettled, and resentful. We have been working on healing those emotional chasms that came as a result of Ozzie’s choices through written correspondence between the kids. It has been a positive thing and healing has been taking place, but anxieties were still high when we left to pick up Ozzie on Saturday morning. It was with much prayer that we approached the details of the day. We wanted the day to be successful for all involved, so much prep work was done prior to the visit to establish boundaries and prepare everyone emotionally for this reunion.

We arrived to pick up Ozzie and take him out for the day. We had the whole family with us, apart from Rusty who was spending the weekend at the Homestead with my parents as a belated birthday weekend with Mimi and Pop Pop. 

This was the kids’ first visit to the place Ozzie has called home for the last 6 weeks. They were as impressed as we were the first time we visited. As everyone sat in the car, I ran inside to pick up Ozzie. He was beside himself with excitement. He was thrilled to get a day off campus and couldn’t wait to see the other kids. After everyone greeted each other we drove to get lunch. Toby had discovered a unique dining spot when researching possible restaurants and knew Ozzie would get a kick out of it. 

We ate at the historic Lawrence Park Dinor.

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Boy, was it charming!

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It was a total blast from the past.

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Not much bigger than our kitchen at home, the diner was comprised of booths on one side of the narrow restaurant and an open grill and counter with bar stools on the opposite side of the diner, with an aisle running down the middle of the restaurant.

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Toby looking very gangsta 😉

We all loved the atmosphere immediately, but we had no idea how good the food would be.

The food was incredible and very affordable. I had the best Reuben sandwich of my life and Ozzie loved his mushroom, Swiss burger.

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It was so nice to enjoy a meal with Ozzie and catch up on each other’s lives. 

Following lunch, we drove over to the Erie Zoo. The downside of visiting the Erie Zoo in November was the fact many of the animals were put away for the winter. The upside was that admission was only $3.00 for children and $4.00 for adults.

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It was perfect for what we were looking for. We wanted a fun, family activity that wouldn’t be too overwhelming and distracting from our primary purpose, which was letting the kids get reacquainted and do a little healing.

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The zoo provided a place for that to happen.

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The lack of visitors and the slower pace of the zoo in winter allowed us to focus on each other. There was enough to see and do to keep everyone engaged but not so much going on that it became over stimulating or chaotic.

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The kids loved checking out the animals that call the Erie Zoo home, and I loved watching my kids enjoy each other.

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Our favorite animal of the day was a curious and social little otter that was as fascinated with us as we were with him.

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We ended our time at the zoo with a visit to the zoo’s play area, which provided the boys with a chance to burn off some energy and play a bit.

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When we left the zoo we had just enough time for a run to Walmart to get Ozzie some new winter gear. He has grown a size in the last month and with Erie winter storms on the horizon he needed some new boots.

Then it was time to drop Ozzie back off in time for his dinner hour. Much like Cinderella facing the end of a magical evening when the clock struck midnight, Ozzie too struggled with our time together coming to an end. It was hard and heartbreaking to hug him good-bye as he fought back tears. For Ozzie the best balm to his hurting heart was the knowledge that he would be coming home for a weekend visit over the Thanksgiving holiday. For Toby and me the most effective balm to our hurting hearts was seeing the growth and healing Ozzie has found under this higher level of care. It hurt to say good-bye, but the reward of this short-term heartache is hopefully an amazing future full of joy for Ozzie…

 And we love him too much to put what we want right now in front what we want most of all!

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Walk to End Alzheimer’s

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While we were trapped in Canada, Molly had an event to attend in Pittsburgh. The Hudaks kindly offered to pick up Molly and take her with them. The event was the annual “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” event held in downtown Pittsburgh. The kids’ school, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, had put together a team to walk for this great cause. It was a National Honor Society service project.

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In the weeks leading up to the event Molly worked on raising funds for this important cause. Not wanting to simply ask friends and family to donate, she came up with a plan to offer service hours in exchange for donations to the Alzheimer’s Foundation. She cleaned houses, washed windows, and weeded gardens for this good cause. She was pleased to meet her donation goal of $100.00.

On the morning of the walk she was awoken by a knock at the door and the barking of dogs. Her alarm never went off! So, when the Hudaks arrived bright and early Saturday morning, she was still asleep. It was a jolting way to start the day, but she quickly recovered and hustled to get dressed and out the door in record time.

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In downtown Pittsburgh crowds of supporters had gathered for the walk.

Molly and Tatum each received a t-shirt for pledging $100.

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While registering, Molly ran into sweet Anna, a dear friend from Girls Camp and church activities. It was an unexpected treat!

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Molly and Tatum ended up being the only two 21CCCS National Honor Society members to show up. It wasn’t all bad news, however, as they got some special one-on-one time with their learning coach, Mr. Winterode.

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That day the walk raised $519,837.09 for Alzheimer’s research, support and care thanks to the 3,746 participants who showed up to walk for this great cause.

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Following the charity walk, Tatum’s dad took Molly, Tatum and Olivia into Pittsburgh’s Strip District for shopping and lunch.

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Molly said it was a blast.

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The Hudaks returned her home in time for her evening shift at the Philly Pretzel Factory. I was sorry to miss the event but am grateful for good friends who could step in as surrogate parents while we were out of the country!

Thanks, Hudaks!

The Niagara Falls Aero Car

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The hotel that became our headquarters during our international border crisis was located along the Niagara River, less than a mile from the Niagara River whirlpool and the Aero Car that transports tourists back and forth above the whirlpool. On Monday, as we sat waiting for our completed application to be approved by the U.S. government, we desperately needed to get out of our hotel room and get some fresh air. We decided to go down the street and check out the whirlpool while we waited for the call to come in on Toby’s cell phone from our customs broker, letting us know if we were going to be allowed to enter the U.S.A that day or not.

It was not our intention to purchase tickets to ride the Aero Car over the river, just to check things out from the overlook, but when we arrived and saw how neat it was we decided to go for a ride.

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As terrified as I was of the Ferris Wheel, this ride across the river didn’t faze me at all, despite the fact it was even higher. I know it is totally illogical, but I am not afraid of suspended heights (like flying or floating above ground,) only being high up in a structure or building.

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Bizarre, right?

So, I found the experience to be delightful.

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Here is a little background information about this neat experience at Niagara Falls:

Designed by renowned Spanish engineer, Leonardo Torres Quevedo, the Whirlpool Aero Car has been soaring the Niagara Gorge since 1916. The antique cable car is suspended from six sturdy cables and offers spectacular views of the swirling Niagara Whirlpool and the Class 6 whitewater rapids of the Niagara River.

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Although the Whirlpool Aero Car travels between two points on the Canadian shore, riders of this historic cable car actually cross the international border line between Canada and the United States a total of four times each trip due to the way the river elbows.

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Niagara Whirlpool

The huge volume of water rushing over Niagara Falls is crushed into the narrow Gorge, creating the Whirlpool Rapids. The Niagara Whirlpool is formed at the end of the rapids where the gorge turns abruptly counterclockwise. The river’s abrupt change of direction creates one of the world’s most mesmerizing natural phenomenon’s.

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 The trip across the water was beautiful!

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It was such a fun escape from the worries that had consumed us all morning, and for 15 minutes we forgot about our U.S. Customs issues and were simply present in the moment, enjoying a thrilling experience, stunning views, and an unforgettable moment with the man of my dreams.

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We soon returned to land and to reality.

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It was back to the hotel and back to the task of battling bureaucracy, but for that moment in time we enjoyed a beautiful gift.

It really is an amazing experience if you ever find yourself trapped in Canada, unable to return to your homeland…

We highly recommend it!