Monthly Archives: February 2018

Smooth Sailing- Part 1

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FB_IMG_1519869021196Last Saturday Toby and Rusty returned home from a week of sailing the open seas with their fellow sea dogs. It was an adventure of a lifetime and I was so glad Rusty got to experience it with his Dad.

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Their crew was comprised of three other young men from Rusty’s scout troop and three other leaders, making it a solid crew of eight.

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This adventure came about as a result of an awesome Scoutmaster who time after time pulls out all the stops and goes far beyond the call of duty to offer these boys incredible, skill building, character developing, life changing challenges. This was, however, an opportunity that went beyond their normal adventures. This was a once in a lifetime experience offered through The Boy Scout’s Sea Base in southern Florida.

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A year ago they secured a spot for the season and Toby and Rusty signed up to go with the troop, giving Rusty a year to work and earn the money needed to fund this fun. Those twelve months flew by and before we knew it the time had arrived for them to pack their bags and hit the road.

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The troop decided to drive down to Sea Base in our 12 passenger van, a spacious and dependable vessel that they soon discovered was built for high capacity not high comfort. They left on their road trip early Thursday morning and drove for 22 hours straight, allowing a few quick stops along the way, including an emergency 2:30 am stop at a Krispy Kreme Donuts.

One of the passengers in the van who was not sleeping at the time spotted the “Hot Donuts Now” sign lit up like a beacon of refuge to weary travelers. With a shout of “STOP!” those sleeping were jolted awake and this van full of scouts pulled in to claim their hot donuts from the drive-thru window…Donuts which ended up being merely warm, much to their disappointment.

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By the time they pulled into the Sea Base parking lot everyone was worn and weary and ready to catch some ZZZZZs… wherever they could find them.

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They were informed that they could check into the dorms at noon, so while they waited they headed over to Robbie’s, a local dumpy but delicious dive on the water. There they enjoyed a yummy breakfast on the docks. Toby said it wasn’t much to look at inside with the exception the notable décor that papered the walls. Evidently the inside of the diner was wallpapered in dollar bills that had been stapled up onto the walls over the years. Toby estimated their was a few thousand dollars worth of Mr. Washington’s papering the walls, money that he thought would have been better put to use fixing up the place.

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He did say that despite the wear and tear of the building, the view was incredible.

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At noon they were allowed to check into the Sea Base dorms where they, as the first crew out for the season, found they had the dormitory of 50 beds all to themselves for the night.

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They were not scheduled to set sail until the following day so Friday was spent napping a little, exploring the Sea Base compound, doing their snorkeling test in the pool, and prepping their sailboat with supplies.

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After a restful night sleep in the dorms they set sail on Saturday morning. Their vessel for the week was a 44 foot sailboat that would become their home away from home.

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Below deck was the Captain’s sleeping quarters (which were off limits to the crew)

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Capt. Hajo

The galley where the boys prepared meals three times a day:

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The dining room table (which converted and became Keith’s bed at night):

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The head (bathroom), and a storage area for the single bag of gear each crew member was allotted:

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As well as a few beds:

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Toby’s bed for the week.

Some slept below deck while others spent the week sleeping out under the stars:

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Others caught Zzzzs whenever and wherever they could:

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Once on the boat they set sail for an adventure on the high seas.

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Under the leadership and guidance of their faithful captain, Hajo, they began their training to become proficiant sailors. As they headed out of the marina they caught their first glimpse of the magical sights that awaited them. It came in the form of a sunrise that set the tone for the week and gave this crew a preview of the awesome experiences that awaited them.

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Stay tuned as we look back on their week of adventure and I attempt to do justice to the stories they have shared and the pictures they captured as they sailed around the Florida Keys.

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Ozzie turns 14!

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I can hardly believe it, but Ozzie is 14!

Last Friday we woke up and it felt weird not sneaking into his room with the traditional cupcake and birthday song. It is at times like this that I struggle most with him being away from home, despite the fact I know he is where he needs to be to have the life he deserves to have.

He didn’t have to wait to long for his birthday song and celebratory cupcake, however. By 8:00 am Grace. Molly, Tyler and I were on the road to pick Ozzie up for his birthday celebration. Because of President’s Day weekend he had Friday and Monday off school, allowing for an extra long weekend at home to celebrate his special day.

We arrived at his facility at 10:30, with cupcakes in hand. We were scheduled for a family session with his therapist that included all the kids. This was the first time they had participated in one of Ozzie’s weekly family sessions and is the next big step in his permanent transition home. Knowing that there was healing work to be done in Ozzie’s relationships with siblings, while also recognizing that we didn’t want to dig too deep or do anything too intense given the heightened emotions of the day, Halle planned a series of fun, team-building challenges using balloons. It was ideal. It resulted in a lot of positive connection, communication, and laughter. It was a great kick-off to future family sessions with the kids, and a nice way to start the weekend.

I entered this weekend with a bit of trepidation. It had a lot of factors working against it. Toby and Rusty were on their way to Florida, leaving Tyler feeling anxious and unsafe (and leaving me without four extra hands.) It was also Ozzie’s birthday… a day that stirs up a lot of hard emotions for Ozzie, emotions that have bubbled to the surface in the form of hurting behaviors in the past. Add to that the fact we were going to be spending the weekend at Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park, which meant sleeping in unfamiliar beds, being out of a routine, and a lot of extra stimuli, and you can see why I was a tad nervous.

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Splash Lagoon was Ozzie’s birthday request and after looking into deals online (and a lot of discussion with Toby, Tina (Tyler’s therapist) and Halle (Ozzie’s therapist) we felt that this was a doable request and a great litmus test to see where we are it in everyone’s therapeutic journey towards healing. It had the added benefit of being only 10 minutes away from Ozzie’s facility where we could find support if Ozzie was struggling too much. The fact that I was even entertaining the idea was a HUGE testament to how far we have come in the last year. 12 months ago I felt incapable of managing something as simple as taking Tyler and Ozzie to the store together without Toby to help, and now a year later we are spending the weekend at a waterpark without Toby or Rusty. God is so gracious!

This weekend has been a powerful reminder that the dark seasons of life don’t last forever. When we are struggling with the night we need to remember that the dawn always comes…

ALWAYS!

 And down the road we will look back on that darkness and see it for what it was: a short stretch of time on our eternal timeline.

After our family session we stopped for a quick lunch at Burger King (Ozzie’s request) and then headed to the Comfort Inn at Splash Lagoon to check in for the night. When looking for deals for Splash Lagoon we soon discovered the package deals, offered to lure in visitors, were far more economical (½ the price) than purchasing 5 2-day passes…

And a lot more fun!

I mean, what kid doesn’t love staying at a hotel overnight, especially a hotel with a pool and a free continental breakfast. In addition to our overnight stay, our package deal came with 2- day passes for everyone, a $30.00 arcade card, tickets for free ice cream cones for everyone, and a $25.00 gift card to Quaker Steak and Lube.

Once we checked into our room we put on our swim suits and headed to the water park. It was such a treat to be able to walk through indoor hallways to get to the water park, rather than braving the frigid temperatures outside. February is a great time to visit an indoor water park. I found the hot air and pools of water were all the more appreciated with the freezing temperatures outside!

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Once inside Splash Lagoon our first stop was the Aqua Tumbler. This new addition came with an additional cost, but because of the fact it was a special day I paid for Ozzie and Tyler to each take a ride. (The girls opted to pass on this one.)

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The Aqua Tumbler is a giant inflatable ball that the rider climbs inside. Once “zipped in” the ride begins. The ball spins while the rider tumbles around inside. The spinning and the addition of a small amount of water inside the ball makes getting a foothold or handhold impossible. That is what makes it so much fun to ride… And even more fun to watch!

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Both boys LOVED it!

The remainder of the day was spent enjoying all the fun Splash Lagoon had to offer:

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Both boys did awesome.

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They paired up with the girls and rode slides,

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played basketball,

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rode waves,

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floated down the lazy river,

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ALL WHILE

playing well with each other,

 transitioning from activity to activity easily and without argument,

and verbalizing their needs easily.

 It couldn’t have gone any better and I was so very proud of both of them.

I was also incredibly proud of my girls who were so good, and patient, and selfless with their younger brothers.

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At 7:00 pm we called it a day. We still had dinner and a birthday party on the agenda before we could call it a day, so we headed back to our room, changed into warm, dry clothes, and ordered Quaker Steak and Lube wings for dinner. It was such a treat to have dinner delivered to our room and to be able to offset the cost of dinner a bit with our complimentary gift card.

While we waited for dinner to arrive Ozzie took the seat of honor and opened the pile of gifts we had been accruing over the last few weeks as packages and cards arrived in the mail from family and friends.

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Much thought and a great deal of love was put into the gifts given. All were so reflective of Ozzie and his interests. From loved ones he received a tornado simulator, a few new Lego City sets, Harry Potter playing cards and favorite treats.

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His gift from the family was a telescope and a book of 50 things to find in the night sky with a beginner telescope.

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He was over the moon! (Pun intended) 🙂

We didn’t open it up that night but on Sunday night the clouds cleared and he was able to do a little star gazing with his new scope.

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Around the time he had finished opening his gifts our dinner arrived and we enjoyed a wonderfully relaxed evening eating wings in our hotel room while watching the new Disney movie, Zombies. While he watched, Ozzie had fun building his new Lego set from my parents.

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It was a joyful birthday!

By 10:30 eyelids were heavy and little boys were all worn out from their day of swimming, so it was lights out. Everyone needed to be rested for our 2nd day of play at Splash Lagoon.

Happy Birthday, dear Ozzie.

 How blessed we are to call you our son.

May your 14th year be one of growth, healing, hope, and happiness.

We love you to the moon and back.

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Who will marry Mr. Darcy?

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February 14th was our annual Valentine’s Day party at co-op.

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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, Escape Rooms, 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 resulted in two separate activities.

Because last year was such a hit we decided to recreate 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.

Tyler embraced the challenge once again and put much thought into what sort of car he wanted to make. He finally settled on a police car. He picked his box, painted his box and added the details needed to turn it into a police car.

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The end result was awesome!

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For the 4th and 5th graders (our younger crew of co-op kids) the day began with school lessons and then concluded with a drive in movie to see “A Cricket in Time Square” and “Rikki Tikki Tavi.”

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Between the two movies there was a break for lunch. This year we combined our Valentine’s Day party with our “Pancake and PJ day” and everyone feasted on pancakes for lunch.

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The younger kids concluded their party with their Valentine exchange.

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Meanwhile there was an entirely different Valentine’s Day celebration taking place in the high school room. Too old to participate in the drive in movie experience (we would need a refrigerator box to make a drive in movie car for Rusty!) and yet still wanting to do something fun for Valentine’s Day, we brought in heart cookies and frosting for the big kids to decorate and enjoy and the girls planned a Pride and Prejudice viewing party for their Valentine’s Day party.

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A few weeks ago Grace attended a “Galentine Day” party with some friends from church. These girls got together to celebrate their friendship with desserts and games, one of which was a card game entitled, “Who will marry Mr. Darcy?” Grace came home from that party raving about how much fun this game was so we found it online, ordered it, and printed it out for the co-op party.

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The high school girls started their day by watching Pride and Prejudice.

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Then at lunch they pulled out the game and played, “Who will marry Mr. Darcy?” Each girl picked a heroine card to find out which character they were and then drew trait cards like wit, friendliness, and beauty in an effort to earn points to marry their best match. The game led them through a bunch of fate changing experiences reflective of events from the book.

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It is a fun game anyway, but was made all the more fun having just watched the movie.

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Each year as part of our Valentine’s Day celebration we have a service project for the kids to participate in as a way to show selfless love to others. In the past the kids have made textured Valentine’s Day cards which they then delivered to the School for the Blind in Pittsburgh. This year Tauni suggested we show love to someone closer to home, namely Ozzie. Ozzie’s birthday falls a few days after Valentine’s Day so Tauni planned for the kids to make him birthday cards which could be delivered to him, letting him know he is loved and missed by his friends at co-op.

I was touched by her thoughtfulness and by the love these kids showed in their words to Ozzie.

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He was equally touched when he received them and read through the notes of love.

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It was a beautiful Valentine’s Day.

Klondike Derby

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While Ozzie was home this past weekend, and we were enjoying some fun by the warmth of the fireplace, the other boys and Toby were braving the cold at the Klondike Derby.

“A Klondike derby is an annual event held by some Boy Scouts of America and Scouts Canada districts during the winter months and is based on the heritage of the Klondike Gold Rush. BSA units have been running Klondike derbies since 1949.

The event varies by district, but the typical Klondike derby consists of several stations where patrols/units must test their Scoutcraft skills and their leadership abilities, earning points towards a total score. Often, one or more races are included while the Scouts navigate between stations.

The unit must transport their gear on a homemade sled pulled by the Scouts.”

This winter camporee rolls around every February, and while it is a huge hit with the 11 and 12 years old’s I have found enthusiasm for camping in freezing temperatures seems to decrease incrementally with an increase in the age of the scout. By the time the campers reach their 40’s and 50’s there is nothing but sheer determination and a heavy helping of fatherly guilt driving them to forgo their warm beds and sleep outside in freezing February weather.

Toby goes each year and while he loves camping, winter camping is not his favorite way to camp. I think he would enjoy the Winter Camporee a bit more if it was held in April or October, but he is a good sport (and a great Dad) so he continues to show up for this frigid tradition year after year.

This year was Tyler’s first year to attend officially as an 11-year-old scout. He was very excited. On Friday he helped Rusty cross off the items on their packing list while I whipped up three foil dinners for them to cook over the campfire later that night.

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I was headed down to Pittsburgh to pick up Ozzie when Toby got home, and they headed out, so I didn’t have a chance to wish them well. They arrived at camp by 5:30 pm, set up, and started their fire.

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Friday night was spent getting settled, starting a fire to cook on, cooking foil dinners, and playing in the snow. The boys had snowball fights and built a snowman, only to light its “hair” on fire in an attempt to melt it…such a Boy Scout thing to do. 😊

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When night came Rusty slept in one shelter with the other boys in his scout troop while Tyler camped with Toby in the leader’s tent.

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Toby said Tyler did well and aside from waking up around 3:00 am because of the cold, he survived his first Winter Camporee with flying colors.

The real action happened on Saturday when the scouts met up with other troops to compete in a series of skill building challenges. Our troop did really well, as they always seem to at these activities.

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The challenges included the Klondike sled race,

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Fire building competitions,

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And two-man saw races.

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For their next big scouting adventure Toby and Rusty will be heading south. This Boy Scout adventure promises to be much warmer and a tad more thrilling than the Winter Camporee. They will be headed to the Florida Keys for a 7-day sailing adventure.

It sounds incredible and is the payoff of all the hours Toby has invested in the less glamourous scouting adventures he has helped with over the years.

It will be an adventure of a lifetime and I am thrilled Toby and Rusty get to embark on it together!

Packed with Fun

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This past week was filled to the brim with fun. Here is a peek into the festivities:

This year Molly and Tatum started a club at 21st Century Cyber Charter School. They decided they wanted to start an American Sign Language Club. They submitted the proposal to the school, found a teacher to sponsor them, and were given permission to move forward. Their club meets every other Monday at 2:00. The girls have had a blast with it and the club’s popularity continues to grow as more students join. Each meeting is a result of hours worth of effort and planning on the girls’ part as they find videos to use, plan games and lessons to teach the week’s ASL concepts, and create power points for the lessons. It has been fun to watch Molly take on this new challenge and see her passion for American Sign Language shine apart from Gracie. Both my girls have a heart for the language and both are using that passion to do awesome things.

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On Sunday night we joined the Mackays for our annual Super Bowl get-together. Each year the Mackays graciously invite us over to join them to watch the Super Bowl. This is a tradition that goes back a decade or more and is one of the highlights of our year. The Mackays are special friends that came into our lives 16 years ago through MOPS and have been a blessing ever since. We don’t see nearly enough of them so this annual tradition is a special treat as we are able to catch up on each other’s lives while enjoying  yummy food and an exciting game.

(I was so busy having fun that I forgot to snap any photos this year, so I’ll have to use this photo from 3 years ago.)

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This winter has been especially snowy…and I have loved it! This is so much better than the rainy, gray, muddy winter we endured last year. This winter weather has forced us inside and much time has been spent in the living room, enjoying the warmth of the wood burning fireplace. Oh, how I love the hibernation season!

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Tyler’s new glasses came in on Saturday. We received the call that his glasses could be picked up and we stopped by to get them. They look adorable on him and I couldn’t resist nabbing a photo of all my darling “four-eyes.”

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I’m sure I’ll eventually join their ranks as time takes a toll on my eyes, but for now I am proudly holding on to the bragging rights of 20/20 vision and the only McCleery left without glasses.

Ozzie came home this weekend for a visit. We are beginning to prepare for his transition home and as a result the frequency of home passes will increase. This month he will be home three weekends in a row. This past weekend he came down on the bus that the facility offers twice a month to transport kids down to Pittsburgh for weekend home passes. This was our first time taking advantage of this service. What a blessing it was to not have to drive two hours north to pick him up. It saved hours on the road as we only had to drive to Pittsburgh to pick him up. On Sunday we met the bus in the same location to drop Ozzie off.

The weekend was spent at home. Rusty, Toby and Tyler had a winter campout with the Boy Scouts that kept them away from Friday at 5:00 pm until Saturday at 4:00pm. This meant that for 24 hours it was just Ozzie and the girls at home with me. It was good. We spent our time engaged in normal life activities: meals, chores, and quiet play. I think Ozzie relished the peace and quiet of simply reading on his bed and rebuilding his Lego sets.

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On Sunday we went to church and then had a family Valentine’s Day dinner before Ozzie had to leave. It was a fun way to close out this visit.

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We enjoyed a yummy dinner,

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Homemade heart shaped sugar cookies thanks to Mary King (YUM!!)

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and a fun game I downloaded off the internet.

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It was, in essence, a Valentine version of CLUE, that required us to solve the case of the missing Valentine by using process of elimination to discover the who, what and where of the mystery.

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Before we left to drive Ozzie back down to Pittsburgh we took advantage of his visit home to partake in our annual Valentine’s Day tradition of measuring everyone on the wall. Every Valentine’s Day the kids stand against the hallway wall to have their height recorded for the year. This is an anticipated tradition as everyone looks forward to seeing visual proof of their growth over the past 365 days.

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Grace continues to hold firm at 5′ 2 1/2″ having zero growth this past year.

Molly hit 5’5″ this year after an increase of 5/16th of an inch.

Rusty continues to tower over the rest at 6’1″ but his rate of growth dropped significantly this past year with an increase of only 1/2″.

Tyler now stands tall at 5′ even having grown 2″ this past year.

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Ozzie won this year’s bragging rights of most growth over this 12 month period, having grown 4 1/2″ this past year. He now is 5 foot 3 1/2 inches tall.

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My chicks continue to grow, both in stature and in other areas. This past year has been a year of extreme growth for all of the kids as they have experience the best and worst this life has to offer and have embraced both facets with grace and maturity. While the measurements on the wall don’t always reflect their growth over the course of a year, their lives do, and I am so proud of each and every one of them!

Escaping for the Night with Friends

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Last Saturday Toby and I had the opportunity to leave the kids at home and go on a fun group date with friends from church. A month ago friends from church stumbled across a Groupon (for 10 people) for an escape room experience in Butler. Toby and I, along with four other couples, met up on Saturday to test our ability to problem solve under pressure as we raced the clock to “escape” in under 60 minutes.

The premise of the room was that the Steelers had won the Super Bowl, but before the celebratory parade began we had to find the missing trophy. We had 60 minutes to solve the mystery and we finished with plenty of time to spare after discovering the trophy in a hidden compartment under a locker in the locker room.

It was a fun adventure with a really fun group of friends!

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Following our Escape Room adventure we headed down the street to the Chop Shop for dinner. The entire experience was a blast, from the cool décor, to the hilarious tongue in cheek menu, to the incredible food. The awesome company was the icing on the cake. It was a fun night with fun couples!

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Lots of changes for Tyler

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This past month has been a big one for Tyler. He has had some “big news” moments that should be recorded for posterity so we will dedicate this blog to all the latest Tyler news…

Tyler continues to be blessed by equine therapy. Animals are one of Tyler’s greatest therapeutic tools and the affect this horse based therapy has had on his emotionally well being is astounding. He looks forward to these Saturday lessons and his skills and emotional stability have increased by leaps and bounds.

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He is currently working with a horse named Pumpkin. He outgrew Smokey (his first horse) and so his therapist was debating what horse to pair with him next. It is fascinating to observe this process. The pairing of rider and horse isn’t simply a match of size and skill but also a match of personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. After graduating from Smokey his therapist paired him with Rosie. It was not a good match. His trainer felt the pairing would go one way or the other. Either it would be a match made in heaven (assuming Tyler was confident and dominant enough to lead Rosie) or it would go the other way and Rosie would walk all over Tyler (figuratively not literally 🙂 ) leaving him feeling insecure and frustrated. He wasn’t dominant enough to manage Rosie and she definitely set him back a few paces in his confidence. He is now paired with Pumpkin and the match is perfect. He is gaining confidence and connecting with her in a way he never did with Rosie.

The lesson begins with horse care as Tyler brushes down his horse, cleans her hooves, and saddles her.

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Then he climbs on and has an hour long lesson where he learns the skills of horsemanship while also doing therapeutic work with his equine therapist. He loves it and has made awesome gains.

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He now rides independently with confidence. He can stand in the stirrups, trot and canter.

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Glade Run Adventures has proven to be a great blessing in Tyler’s life!

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Tyler has also acquired a new smile in the last few weeks.

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Once again Tyler’s bottom front tooth broke. A few years ago he chipped that front tooth while on a bouncy pad at a corn maze outing. Since then he has had it repaired many times. Its location and Tyler’s natural bite has resulted in that cap breaking off time after time. The last time it happened his dentist felt it was beyond his scope of ability to fix, fearing the break was too close to the root, so I set up an appointment at Children’s Hospital’s dental department. We went in for a consultation and they had no concerns about their ability to patch it. They also took note of his two canine baby teeth that were holding firm despite the adult teeth pushing in from above and erupting through the gums just north of the firmly held baby teeth. They suggested that we pull those two baby teeth at the same time they were repairing the chipped tooth.

A few weeks ago was the follow-up appointment. Toby took Tyler. For the dental work they used laughing gas and put Tyler into a twilight sleep. Tyler left the appointment having no memory of the experience, the only evidence that anything had happened was his new and improved smile.

He came home eager to show it off and share the good news that the dentist gave him permission to have ice cream for dinner that night.

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Tyler’s look changed even more this week with the addition of glasses.

Yes, you read that right. Tyler is now in glasses, leaving this Momma as the last one standing without spectacles. Toby and all my kiddos now wear glasses in some fashion or another while I continue to hold on proudly to the bragging rights of 20/20 vision.

Last week at Tyler’s annual physical he failed his vision screening. He score 20/20 in one eye and 20/70 in the other so his pediatrician sent us for a more comprehensive eye exam. His appointment was Tuesday morning. We went in and sure enough glasses were in order.

His vision test confirmed a strong right eye, a weak left eye and a stigmatism that led to the recommendation of glasses for Tyler. These glasses won’t need to be worn 24/7 but rather for anything that requires seeing details both near and far (like  school work, computer work, movies, etc.)

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Once the need for glasses was confirmed we heading out to the display cases to pick a style.

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Tyler, who is typically pretty indecisive, knew very quickly the frames he wanted. Once he found the style he liked he didn’t want to try on any others.

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His glasses will be in on Friday and we will officially have another “four-eyes” in the family!

Tyler continue to makes strides in all areas of his life. This has  been a breakthrough year for Tyler, as he has really come into his own. His growth physically, emotionally, behaviorally, socially, and academically have been HUGE.

School has been a dream this year. The struggle is a thing of the past and we can now sit, do lessons, and really have fun with it without the usual battles, bribing, and tears (mine, not his!). It is no longer like pulling teeth. He is engaged, eager, and so much fun. Much of his success comes from the additional reading support he is getting thanks to the Children’s Dyslexia Center of New Castle and Jan Newman, his Barton Reading tutor. This week he passed his level 3 assessment and is now in Barton Reading level 4. This is a HUGE accomplishment and a reflection on how hard Tyler is working.

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Tyler has come so far. He is a delight. My days are so starkly different now than they were two or three years ago that I sometimes forget that things weren’t always this easy with Tyler.

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His is in his renaissance, fully thriving and finally “settled.”

This past Friday he was invited to a friend’s birthday party from church. Tyler and his best friends went for pizza and laser tag to celebrate Carter’s birthday. It was the first time I was able to simply drop him off with a “Have Fun!” farewell and have no worries. He had a wonderful time.

What joy fills my heart to see my youngest thriving.

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We are so proud of you, Tyler!

Simply Wicked

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I love the new trend in theatrical story telling. It speaks to a tendency that we as mere mortals fall prey to all too often, and that is the tendency to try to label or sort people into simplified categories. There is a laziness in moving through life this way. This isn’t a new concept. It has been a weakness of humanity since the beginning of time. Somehow it makes us feel safer, more in control, and perhaps a bit superior to lump our fellow sojourners in this walk through life into groups, much like we would sort a pile of papers…the ones worth keeping in this pile…the ones that can be discarded in that pile. We struggle with the greys of life, longing for the simplicity of a black and white world…

Pretty or Ugly

Smart or Dumb

Rich or Poor

Good or Bad

And then when reality hits and we are faced with a pile of greys that can’t be sorted clearly into one pile or another we will over look the tints and shades of that person and simply push them into one of our predetermined categories based on what is most visible on the surface.

This is a shallow, lazy, and completely inaccurate way of seeing others, and yet we are all guilty of it.

You see, no one fits in one single pile. We are all composed of swirls of lights and darks. We are all a mix of strengths and weaknesses. We are a composition of what we have learned, how we were raised, the things that have happened to us, and the truths that we believe, so when we naively try to sort others into categories of hero or villain we are doing a great disservice to them and to ourselves.

For no one is all hero.

And no one is all villain.

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There are weaknesses and sins to be found in every perceived “hero” and greatness buried within each “villain.”

We are the product of our experiences and to judge another by a walk you haven’t taken is a very dangerous thing.

This reality is finally being acknowledged by society in a recent trend we are seeing in books, movies, and theatre in which the long established heroes and villains of literature are being reexamined and the other side of the story is being told. It is fun to look at these well known classic stories from childhood through different glasses. It is entertaining, but also affecting. It is a powerful reminder of the truth that no one’s story is as simple as it seems on the cover and unless we are willing to invest the time, effort, and compassion into excavating a bit deeper we may never see the hero hidden beneath the façade of the “villains” in our life’s story.

Two weeks ago we were privileged to be able to see this new trend in art play out on the stage of the Benedum Theatre in Pittsburgh when Grace, Molly and I went to see the Broadway production of Wicked.

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Here is a synopsis of that incredible show:

“A vivid reimagining of the classic The Wizard of Oz, Wicked spotlights the untold stories of Oz’s most famous (or infamous) characters, namely the Wicked Witch of the West and her unlikely friend, Glinda the Good Witch. The show follows green-skinned star Elphaba from birth to college and through the life-changing events which eventually label her “wicked,” introducing spoiled rich girl Glinda, local prince and heartthrob Fiyero and even the Wizard of Oz himself, a troubled man very unlike the one you may remember. As Elphaba, a passionate political activist if there ever was one, fights injustice and seeks to undo the mistakes of the past, dark secrets and personal tragedies shape the history of Oz, paying homage to the classic Wizard of Oz story while simultaneously changing fans’ understanding of it forever. A cautionary tale about love, friendship, loss, hatred, envy and an unwillingness to accept anything that is different, Wicked effortlessly reveals that there are indeed two sides to every story.” -Broadway.com

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It was an incredible night.

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We were there with 50 friends from church after one of the ladies sent out a group invite last summer inquiring as to whether anyone would want to join her and her girls at the January showing in Pittsburgh and take advantage of the group rate. Toby and I decided to surprise the girls with Wicked tickets for their Christmas gift.

The night finally arrived and we were so excited. After a few hiccups (like leaving our tickets at home and having to back track) we finally made it.

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The venue was as magical as the show itself.

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It was so much fun to kept stumbling across friends that were scattered throughout the theatre as we found our way to our seats.

We sat with the Tame family and the girls each got to enjoy the experience with their besties from church!

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The show was simply magnificent. I had goosebumps on my goosebumps through the entire thing.

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The costumes, choreography, singing and dialog came together to take us on a magical journey as we saw Oz (and the characters within) through new eyes.

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It was a perfect night with two of my greatest blessings!

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The Blessing of Blogging

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Isn’t it a beautiful thing to watch God work…

Taking our vision and transforming it into something so much greater than anything we could have planned ourselves.

How grateful I am for the journey God has taken me on these last 5 years. When we opened the door to the world of adoption we had no idea the wild ride we were boarding. We didn’t anticipate the twists, turns, sharp drops, and stomach flips. We also didn’t anticipate the magnificent peaks, thrilling climbs and heavenly views.

Perhaps that is why God opens doors an inch at a time. Had he swung the door wide open revealing the entire ride I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to climb on. Rather He has revealed it a turn, a hill, a twist at a time, allowing us to grow in our ability to trust that as the ride conductor He won’t push us past our limit. Through the journey He taught us that if we simply lean into the wind and trust the creator of the ride we find ourselves buckled into then there is no need to fear the tracks ahead, regardless of what the next turn brings.

Often in the midst of a journey we struggle to see past the climb we find ourselves on. We can easily lose sight of where we began and how far we have come. I think this is revealing of the shortsightedness we as human beings struggle with.

In the scriptures the word “Remember” appears in various forms over 300 times. The significance of this word is revealed in the frequency God commands us to “remember.” Our Father in Heaven knows us. He created us. He is aware of our shortcomings and our shortsightedness. History has revealed men’s propensity for forgetfulness especially when it comes to remembering lessons revealed to us during the strain of an upward climb when we then find ourselves coasting on a straightaway.

One month after Tyler moved in with us I was prompted to embark on a different journey, one well outside my comfort zone. I felt called to record the journey we were just beginning by way of a blog. I knew nothing about blogging, was pretty much absent on social media, preferred my privacy, and was downright frightened of putting our journey out there for everyone to observe and perhaps judge, but for every reason I found to not move forward with this prompting three more reasons why I needed to take this leap were revealed.

This blog began as an act of obedience. I didn’t know what, if anything, would come of my efforts. When I began it was painfully laborious as each blog entry took hours to complete. As time passed I became more comfortable with the medium, more adept at typing, and more at peace with the transparency that comes with recording my life in this way. What was initiated by a prompting became a source of joy. This blog became my gift to my kids as I recorded the story of our journey for them to have when they are older. It became a way to connect with, offer support, and glean support from others who are walking their own hard road. It became my therapy, my safe place to work through my own emotions and find a resolution and peace that I could only seem to find through words. By sharing with others, I found a piece of myself that I didn’t know existed, a voice that up until then had been silent. As we rode this ride of adoption the purpose and blessings of this blog evolved as we evolved, and in this journey I found my own calling.

 

This week I typed my 1000th blog and I have reflected on all that we have experienced together. While the purpose that drives me to sit before the keyboard has evolved over the last five years, the joy I have found in sharing our story continues to be one of the greatest blessings in my life.

How grateful I am for this journey.

In trauma therapy with Tyler we continue to lay the groundwork for EMDR, a needed next step in healing from PTSD. Unfortunately, we can’t get anywhere near the past before Tyler shuts down. It is far too big and scary for Tyler to face. Knowing we need to get him comfortable with looking backwards in time we decided to start small and safe, moving from his early years with us, prior to his adoption, backwards through time.

The goal is to help him feel safe remembering good times so that he will eventually feel safe looking at the scary stuff, so he then can begin to heal from the scary stuff.

This is where the blog comes in. Originally intended to be a scrapbook of Tyler’s life, something for him to hold onto and treasure as an adult, it has now become a powerful therapy tool. I have had past years of blog entries printed up into “digital scrapbooks.” We have been using these blog books in therapy to look back and REMEMBER, so that Tyler might become less afraid of looking to the past.

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Every night Toby reads a few blog entries to Tyler as his bedtime story. Tyler now looks forward to this special time of getting to hear stories in which he is the lead character.

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We also bring these book to therapy with Miss Tina and read some entries with her, helping Tyler to become more comfortable with remembering, working on identifying emotions felt in those moments from his past, and utilizing those entries to start building a life book for Tyler, something he currently does not have.

When I began blogging 1000 entries ago I had no idea the magnificent journey we were embarking on. I had no idea what God’s purpose was behind the prompting. I had no idea what a lifeline this virtual conversation with all of you would be for me. I especially had no idea that these words, penned for another purpose…

To encourage others and be encouraged, to serve as a form of therapy for myself, to record our story of hope and healing for future reflection…

Would end up being the very tool needed to help Tyler heal.

It is beautiful how God is using Tyler’s own journey, his own story, his own reflections, to heal him from the trauma of his past. It is so divinely perfect and beyond anything I could have planned or orchestrated myself. This daily practice has also blessed us in another way. It has helped us to “Remember.” Remember the struggles, the climb, the self doubt, the worries, the fear…all so distant now. By rereading the stories from that first year of our adoption journey I remember how hard it was and am humbled by how far God have taken us, and the miraculous work He has performed in all of us, refining us and making us better than we were before. 

When God cracks open a door and asks us to step inside without seeing exactly what we are walking into we can trust that is we simply obey and take a step of faith He will take us on an incredible journey, a journey that’s purpose is often unseen until years down the road.

Thank you for walking with us through these last 1000 blogs. We couldn’t ask for better traveling companions as we reflect on and “Remember” God’s goodness in our life.

Minute-to-Win-it date with Gracie

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Last Saturday Grace came home from an activity at church with an invitation (and a request) to extend to Tyler. A friend of hers from her YSA ward is going to school to be a therapist and for one of her school assignments had to meet with a child between the ages of 8-12 and administer an evaluation. The assignment was not about the test but rather a self-assessment of her interaction with the child. Since Amelia is from out of state and doesn’t know a lot of 8 to 12-year-old kids in Pittsburgh, Grace suggested Tyler might be willing to help her out.

Grace approached him with the request, pairing it with an invitation. On Monday night her group of young singles were meeting at the church for a Minute to Win It night of games and challenges. She suggested that they could meet with Amelia beforehand and then Tyler could come with her to her game night.

Tyler quickly said, “YES!”

On Monday night, following Tyler’s tutoring in Wexford, the two of them hopped in the car for their date. Tyler was eager to get going and the only picture I was able to capture of them before they left was one with Tyler three quarters of the way out the door.

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Luckily Grace documented their evening for me.

Tyler’s meeting with Amelia was a smashing success. He really liked her and I think it pleased him to be asked to help out one of Gracie’s friends.

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And he LOVED the Minute To Win It games that followed.

The night was comprised of all his favorite things:

1.      Time with Gracie. (They have had a special bond from the moment he first moved in)

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2.     Minute To Win It games. (Tyler is a born competitor and loves challenges that test physical ability.)

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3.     Hanging with the big boys. (Tyler is drawn to the company of older boys/men. He craves their attention and their accolades and loves nothing more than to be able to show off his talents and receive their praise. So much of this need stems from his past and what was absent in his life prior to moving in with us.)

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4.    Treats…because isn’t that the best part of any FHE activity.

Tyler had a wonderful time. He loved meeting all Gracie’s friends and came home armed with information on which boys he liked best and who he thought Grace should marry.

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When she explained that she had no plans to marry anyone anytime soon he looked at her with concern and pity in his big brown eyes and bluntly responded, “But you are an adult. You need to get married soon, Grace. You are getting OLD.”

In that moment I had a vision of the father from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,”

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We will see if Tyler gets invited back anytime soon!