Monthly Archives: November 2018

The Hunt for the PERFECT Tree!

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Thanksgiving was over, which means we had the go-ahead to dive straight into the Christmas season with gusto.

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Boxes of decorations were carried up from the basement, Christmas carols filled the house, and the first Christmas activity of the season was planned…

It was tree-hunting time!

Our annual trip to the tree farm to search out the perfect tree, cut it down, and haul it home, is one of my favorite Christmas traditions. I love bundling up in warm clothes, pulling on our muck boots and hiking through the rows of evergreens in search of the perfect tree.

For the last few years our annual hunt has occurred at Pioneer Trails Tree Farm, a tree farm 35 minutes away in Poland, Ohio.

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I was especially excited about this year’s hunt, because it was Brandon’s first time joining us in this beloved tradition. In fact, it was his first time cutting down a Christmas tree or having a live tree at all.

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We decided to go and get our Christmas tree on Friday morning. It was one of the few windows of time in the upcoming weeks that all eight members of the family would be home during Pioneer Trails’ open hours.

We drove over a bit early so we could be in the parking lot when the gates opened. Grace had work at noon so we wanted to make sure we had at least 45 minutes to find our tree before she had to leave for work in her car that she drove separately, leaving us to finish cutting down, binding, and paying for the chosen tree.

Our plan was to decorate it as our Family Night activity on Sunday evening, so Friday’s only task was to pick the tree and get it home.

Pioneer Trails has a seamless system established that makes the process easy and fun for families.

Step 1: Pick the TYPE of evergreen that best fits your family’s needs. They had 7 different types of trees on display with signs describing the traits of each type of tree. We were able to see and touch the branches of each type of evergreen, determining the pros and cons of each type. It was helpful to see them standing side by side, allowing for the best comparison.

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Once we had decided on what type of tree we wanted it was time for the next decision…

Step 2: Pick the SIZE of the tree you want. On a large sign posted near the tree display there was a map that indicated where on the farm to find the different types of evergreens. The map was color coded to show where to find the right sized tree for your home. We were looking for a tree that fell into the 10+ feet category so we knew we wanted to head to the orange areas of the map.

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Step 3: It was time to grab a tree wagon and a saw and head out into the field.

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There are different options available for families to get to the four corners of the farm where their dream trees are located. There are tractor driven wagons, horse driven carriages, or you can simply hike to the patch of trees where your tree is planted. This year we opted to walk since the section we were “hunting” in was near the front of the tree farm,

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But we did stop at the horse-drawn carriage long enough to say “hello” to the beautiful horses that carry visitors around the tree farm.

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Step 4: Find the PERFECT tree. This is where all the diplomacy of a United Nations General Assembly comes into play as 6 children, with 6 distinct opinions, head out in search of the perfect tree. Once they find the tree of their dreams they then must sell  their siblings on their find.

After 30 minutes of walking, looking, hemming and hawing, we had narrowed a dozen choices down to 3. After a family vote we decided on this beauty:

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Step 5: It was time to cut it down! Brandon asked if he could take on this important job. Having never been involved in the process before, he was eager to be inducted into this beloved tradition. He shed his coat, got down on the ground, and began to saw. After a few minutes of sweat and labor, down it came…

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Timber!!

Step 6: The next step was to load it up. Using our tree wagon we worked together to load our monster tree onto the wagon.

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The kids took turns pushing and pulling it back to the barn.

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Step 7: Once we reached the barn, the staff took over. They shook the loose needles from the tree and fed it through the binding machine to wrap it up for an easier transport home.

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Step 8: The final step was to pay for our beautiful Christmas tree and stop for our traditional tree farm photo, capturing a special memory on film as we celebrated Brandon’s first tree-hunting adventure…

The first of MANY to come!

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Counting our Blessings!

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Four pieces of my heart!

We entered the Thanksgiving holiday with hearts filled with gratitude. We had so much to be thankful for and I was excited at the prospect of laying aside the busyness of everyday life and enjoying a long weekend with the people I love most.

We kicked off the holiday weekend with everyone at home. It was our family’s week to clean the church so we headed there first and following the old adage of “many hand make light work,” we were done in record time.

The kids were motivated to be diligent in the cleaning chores assigned to them. They were told if everyone could stay on task, work hard, and finish in a timely manner, we would go see a movie as a family. They upheld their side of the bargain so from church we drove to the movie theater where we saw “Instant Family.”

Since first seeing the previews for this warm-hearted comedy, I knew we needed to go and see it as a family. It was everything I hoped for and more! It ended up being a poignant and timely reminder of the loss, hurt and heartbreak that accompanies the joy of the adoption journey, as we headed into the emotional minefield of Thanksgiving.

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Instant Family: When Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) decide to start a family, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child but when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15 year old girl (Isabela Moner), they find themselves speeding from zero to three kids overnight. Now, Pete and Ellie must hilariously try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hopes of becoming a family. INSTANT FAMILY is inspired by the real events from the life of writer/director Sean Anders.

“Instant Family” exceeded all expectations. It was as though we were watching our life play out on the big screen as we watched the real life challenges that accompany foster care adoption play out before us. It was soon apparent that the writer/ director had walked this unique road of loving a child that joins a family out of heartbreak and heartache, because it was all very true to life.

We laughed and cried along with this family whose life was so relatable. I will warn that the PG-13 rating was fitting due to language and some sexuality, but we all left feeling these elements were justified and served a purpose. To not include the harsher, uglier aspects of adopting hurt children would do a great disservice to those who are fighting on the front line for those children who others have walked away from. To turn this story into a Hallmark movie would have been a dishonest portrayal of the foster care adoption journey. This movie did a beautiful job of taking viewers on the rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, losses and victories, laughter and tears that accompany families on the road  to adoption day.

We left the theater with all the kids talking a mile a minute about how perfectly wonderful the movie was. I heard comments like,

“It was so funny,”

“It was our life!”

and

“I think we need to adopt another kid…maybe a little girl this time.”

That last comment was spoken by Brandon. We told him we needed to get through his adoption before we talked about adding #7 to the family. He paused, considered this, and then asked, “Could we at least start praying about it?”

I love my kids.

I love how big hearted and selfless they are.

They have all adopted (pun intended) a “give until it pinches” mentality about giving to the less fortunate and those in need.

Despite the hard journey we have all traveled to give a family to three boys who were without the unconditional love of a forever family, and despite the fighting, hurts, tears, losses, ugliness and destruction that comes with helping a hurt child feel safe attaching to a new family, they continue to say “Yes, Lord. We will make room for another!”

Watching “Instant Family” with my own instant family, I was reminded of the emotions connected to the holidays. It was a timely reminder as we entered the Thanksgiving weekend and helped our three adoption blessings navigate the hard waves that crashed over them in the days that followed.

It was a highly emotional weekend as my babies struggled with feelings of sadness for loved ones gone and the loss of what could have been. Everyone navigated the weekend without any major blow-ups or outbursts, but the holiday weekend left us all feeling emotionally raw.

I was grateful for God’s hand in keeping us close to home.

Until a few weeks ago Thanksgiving was up in the air. We were uncertain where we would be celebrating Brandon’s first Thanksgiving with our family. The plan, prior to Brandon moving in, was to head east to spend Thanksgiving in Virginia with Toby’s mom and her sisters. Our plans had to change when legal restrictions and a scheduled court date kept us closer to home.

As much as we missed our time with Joy, being stuck at home ended up being a great blessing. 

The heightened emotions of Thanksgiving would have been much harder to handle if we were away from home.

Instead we joined Toby’s other side of the family, at his Aunt Beth’s house, for Thanksgiving dinner.

It was a good fit for our emotionally raw crew. The celebration was relaxed and low key. It was a day of celebrating the love of family, eating good food, connecting with family we don’t see often enough, and allowing Brandon to get to know more of his new family. It was just what we all needed!

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Almost time for dinner!

 

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The O3!

 

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Loving the looks of adoration. Tyler is a hit with his younger cousins.

 

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After the feast!

 

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Gunner reading the Thanksgiving story.

 

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Molly getting her baby fix!

 

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Then it was time to head outside for some Turkey Bowl fun!

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That evening we returned home to celebrate Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” (which fell on Thanksgiving this year) with peppermint ice cream and homemade hot fudge.

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It was a day of giving thanks for the many blessings in our life…

And at the very top of our list of things to be grateful for:

FAMILY…

Born out of love.

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Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night

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“Even though we haven’t carved into the Thanksgiving turkey yet, Pittsburgh kicks off the two month-long holiday season with Light-Up Night. Several trees scattered around the city illuminate at different times throughout the night, each giving way to a series of holiday-themed shenanigans. You’ll enjoy multi-genre music entertainment, explosive fireworks and creative ice sculptures that most certainly foreshadow your impending doom as an icicle deep into the city’s winter.”

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It has been over a decade since we braved the crowds to head downtown Pittsburgh for Light-Up Night, but we were craving an adventure, while simultaneously celebrating the fact that our Friday evenings are now free, so into Pittsburgh we went.

The crowds were as crazy as expected but resulted in a fun energy as we navigated the hordes of people downtown.

Light- Up night consisted of various activities occurring around the downtown area of Pittsburgh all at the same time. There was ice skating at the outdoor rink for $1.00 donation, a display of lifesized Santa figurines from around the world, a gingerbread house village, ice sculpting, various musical groups and entertainment, food vendors, a laser show and fireworks.

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It was a lot of fun and definitely got us excited for the Christmas season.

I only wish the girls could have joined us. They would have loved the Christmas magic that was in the air! Maybe next year!

How are you Spending your Time?

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One of the classes I am taking as part of the Pathway program through BYU-Idaho, as I work toward my goal of obtaining my college degree, is a General Studies class. I have really enjoyed this class that focuses on strengthening study skills but also life skills. Some of the topics we have covered weekly have included goal setting, money management and time management. As part of our commitment to attend a weekly gathering with students participating in the same program, we are required to sign up to teach a class during the semester as the lead student. A few weeks ago it was my week to teach and my topic was “time management,” something I am personally passionate about.

After teaching the lesson I prepared to my Pathway peers, I decided I might as well take advantage of the time I had invested in preparing the lesson and get a “round 2” out of the lesson. On Sunday night we had  our weekly family home evening lesson on the topic of being good stewards of our time.

I began my lesson with an object lesson.

I had a large bowl of jelly beans.

I passed around the bowl of jelly beans with a stack of cups and asked each person to fill their cup with as many jelly beans as they wanted. There were only two rules…

  1. They had to take at least 1 jelly bean.
  2.  They couldn’t eat any of their jelly beans until the end of the lesson.

And then I showed this video:

As everyone shared their feeling about the video, I used a “How many days have I been alive?” calculator online to let everyone know how many of their jelly beans they have used so far.

I then asked everyone to count the jelly beans in the cup and consider what they would do if the number of jelly beans in their cups actually represented the number of days they had left on the earth…

Would that have an effect on how they spent their time?

As they pondered that question, I shared the following quote by Neal A. Maxwell:

“The time we have been given here on earth is only a very small part of our existence. We must understand our time here in the eternal context of the Plan of Salvation. The way we use our time will only change when the way we feel about our time changes. As children of God we are stewards of time and we will be held accountable for how we use it. The way we use our time will determine what we become in this life and in eternity. We can choose to spend our time or invest our time. By keeping the commandments and our covenants we invest our time in the promises God has given us. This investment will bring eternal rewards.

“Time is, for all of us, a gift from God. It is given to us as a part of our mortal stewardship”

With this quote serving as the foundation for the next part of the lesson, we had a mini financial lesson of the effects of spending vs investing. The kids reached the conclusion that money spent was money lost. It couldn’t be retrieved again. While money invested was money that kept paying dividends well into the future.

I then gave each family member an index card and asked them to count the jelly beans in their cup and write that number at the top of their index card, representing the number of days they have left here in earth. I then asked them, if that were true, how would they use the days they have left? Each family member was asked to thoughtfully create a list of how they would use their remaining days on earth.

The room fell silent as everyone began writing their thoughts on paper. It was a thought-provoking and powerful activity.

When everyone was done writing we went around the room and shared our thoughts.

Some of the items included on various lists were:

Spend time with family, travel, be easier on myself, serve others, face my fears, help people, apologize, give away my things to the needy, leave letters for loved ones, and pray.

We then analyzed our lists and weighed their value, pondering whether each item on our list was a way to “spend time” or an “investment” of our time. As we looked at the things we each wrote down, all were investments of time…activities that produced long term/ eternal dividends.

We ended our family night lesson with a game. Each player used the jellybeans in their cup, along with a stack of toothpicks, to build a tower. The rule was they had a set amount of time to build their tower, but didn’t know when their time would end. The goal was to build the tallest tower that could stand up independently…

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Then the race began.

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It was interesting to see each kid’s strategies, with some focused of making sure they had a firm foundation before trying to move upward, while others, in a panic of not knowing when the timer might “bing,” began building upward without having established a secure base…

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A decision they soon regretted.

As they built their jelly bean towers we discussed the spiritual lessons to be found within the object lesson.

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Rusty ended up the winner of the jelly bean race, but all  enjoyed the fruits of their labors. (There was a chocolate treat for those who weren’t allowed jelly beans due to braces.)

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The lesson was a powerful reminder that our time on earth is finite.

We have no idea when we will reach the last jelly bean in our cup, so it is important that we invest the gift of time that the Lord has given us into those activities that have eternal value, rather than simply spending the minutes of our day on things that have no value…

For one day we will all stand before our Maker, and we will account for the way we used the time He blessed us with. Let us all take inventory of the way we are spending our time, and as we enter this holiday season may we prioritize the “important” over what some may consider “the urgent” tasks of the holiday season,

And invest in the things that matter most.

 

The Gift of Friends

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It is not easy being the new kid.

I know this from personal experience.

As the child of an Army officer, my first 18 years of life were spend relocating to a new school, new town, new state, (and even occasionally a new country) every few years. I know the feeling of anxiety that accompanies walking into a new school, uncertain of what this new chapter will hold, just praying for one kind face that will invite you to sit at their lunch table.

Being the “new kid” is never easy, but despite the initial anxiety that accompanied every move, I loved the Army lifestyle. It wasn’t until I had to move between 10th and 11th grade that I really struggled, for as hard as it is to be the “new kid” at work, at church, or in the neighborhood, nothing is quite so scary as walking into a new high school and trying to find your place in the teenage hierarchy.

As I have watched Brandon adjust to life with us, he astounds me with his cheerful acceptance of a very hard life transition.

For as challenging as every move was when I was a child, his is far more challenging. When I moved to a new state I at least had the security of family and the familiar possessions that created a consistent feeling of HOME, wherever we were transplanted.

He, on the other hand, moved in with little to nothing of his own, leaving behind the familiar and stepping into the role of “new kid,” at home, at church and in a new high school.

And he did so with no complaint, with abundant gratitude, and astounding grace.

He made the transition with no complaint about the challenges of starting over once again, but simply gratitude for the opportunity to start again…

In a new home with his brother.

He is no stranger to new beginnings or heartbreaking endings. After he was removed from his biological home at age 7 he was shuffled through 15-20 foster placements. Adoption at the age of 12 was followed by the death of his new adoptive mom and then the declining heath of his adoptive Dad that then led to multiple group home placements.

He is no stranger to the feelings of being the “new kid,” and yet he never complains about the challenges that have come with it,

But I know it isn’t easy.

I’ve been there.

Which makes me all the more grateful for the families and youth at church who have opened their hearts to our newest addition and made him feel as though he belongs and is wanted. Their kindness to my son touches my heart in a way they will never truly understand.

Last Saturday we had a birthday party for Brandon. He had expressed that he had never had a birthday party with friends before, so we made plans to invite all the youth from church over for a bonfire.

Brandon was so excited!

The day was spent preparing for the party as we cleaned up the yard, cut wood for the bonfire, and bought and prepared food.

Brandon’s plans for the evening included eating, hanging out around the fire, and playing night games for hours with his new friends.

At 7:00 the first car pulled in and many more followed. I was touched by the showing of youth who came out on a very cold night to play in the dark and make Brandon feel welcome and loved. I know it was a sacrifice for many who had other things they could have been doing in the warmth of their homes,

but their sacrifice makes it all the more meaningful.

They wrapped Brandon in the warmth of their friendship, making him feel special rather than like another “new kid” who will eventually leave again.

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They demonstrated Christ-like love and it touched my heart.

After everyone left, and we were carrying in the food and trash, Brandon stopped us in the kitchen to give Toby and I a hug.

“Thank you for my party,” he said.

“I love you.”

There in the kitchen of our home our newest addition spoke those precious words for the first time, not by automatic response, nor out of obligation, but from his heart with sincerity and conviction.

And that ended up being the greatest gift of the night.

Continue in Patience

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 Last week our family home evening lesson was carried over from the Sunday lesson I taught the 14/15 year old young women at church. Recently I have been using my Sunday lesson as the foundation for my  family night lesson on Sunday evenings (unless prompted to go in a different direction.) That Sunday I taught a lesson on patience, and knowing it was a lesson our family could benefit from, I retaught it on Sunday night to my own family.

We began the lesson with a game that served as an object lesson for patience. The game came in the mail as a gift for Rusty’s birthday from my sister. Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It was an awesome lead -in to my lesson.

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The game is  called “Don’t Lose your Cool.”

In this game one person dons a head piece with a lighted gauge on top, and a heart rate monitor that rests against the forehead.  This player then tries to “keep his cool” for a set amount of time while the other players try to get his heart rate to rise, thus causing the gauge to light up and an alarm to sound. If the player can keep calm enough that his heartrate doesn’t fluctuate in that set amount of time, he wins the game.

The other players then each roll a dice with suggestions printed on the side of the dice that name actions that might cause the primary player to “lose his cool.” Suggestions like close talking, animal noises and incessant chatter are some of the actions that payers might roll and have to perform. If they can get the primary player’s alarm to sound, they win the round.

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It was a fun game that led to much silliness and laughter, but we soon discovered that there was a lesson to be found within the game. 

The reality is …

We all have things or people in our lives that push our buttons and cause us to “lose our cool!” 

Sometimes it is life circumstances that test our patience.

But we know that patience is a fruit of the Spirit and a divine quality we should all be striving for, so how do we follow the counsel of the Lord and continue in patience? 

That was the topic of discussion on Sunday night at Patchwork Farm.

This was our lesson:

Let us begin by exploring what patience is. Patience is defined as,

“The capacity to endure delay, trouble, opposition or suffering without being angry, frustrated, or anxious.”

How interesting. Patience isn’t just about waiting, but waiting well.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said this about the divine quality of patience:

“Patience—the ability to put our desires on hold for a time—is a precious and rare virtue. We want what we want, and we want it now. Therefore, the very idea of patience may seem unpleasant and, at times, bitter.

Nevertheless, without patience, we cannot please God. Indeed, patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace.

There is an important concept here: patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!

Patience is a godly attribute that can heal souls, unlock treasures of knowledge and understanding, and transform ordinary men and women into saints and angels. Patience is truly a fruit of the Spirit.

Patience means staying with something until the end. It means delaying immediate gratification for future blessings. It means reining in anger and holding back the unkind word. It means resisting evil, even when it appears to be making others rich.

Patience means accepting that which cannot be changed and facing it with courage, grace, and faith. It means being “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father.”

Ultimately, patience means being “firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord” every hour of every day, even when it is hard to do so.”

This is not to say that the purifying process of patience is easy, and certainly we were not all created equal in this virtue. Some may seem to have been blessed with a gift for patience while others struggle, but we are all capable of growing in this area and becoming more Christ-like in our ability to be patient with others, with our circumstances, and even with ourselves.

In his talk, “The Power of Patience” by Robert C Oaks, he gives the following suggestions of things we can do to grow in patience. He counseled that we try applying the following four strategies:

 “1. Read each of the scriptures in the Topical Guide listed under the topic “patience” and then ponder Christ’s patient examples.

2. Evaluate ourselves to determine where we stand on the patience continuum. How much more patience do we need to become more Christlike? This self-assessment is difficult. We might ask our spouse or another family member to help us.

3. Become sensitive to the examples of patience and of impatience that occur around us every day. We should strive to emulate those individuals we consider to be patient.

4. Recommit each day to become more patient, and be certain to keep our selected family member involved in our patience project.”

Patience may seem like an unobtainable gift.

As Robert D. Hales said, “Too often we pray to have patience, but we want it right now!”

Growing in patience is a journey.

It isn’t always easy and at times this purification process may seem daunting.

But Joseph B. Wirthlin has promised, “We will have genuine joy and happiness only as we learn patience.”

Let us all strive to continue in patience and discover the joy that accompanies that divine trait.

Time to Catch-up!

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Finally, after two months, I feel like I have found my footing. Autumn came in like a tornado with our scheduled stretched thinner than it ever has been before. The addition of another family member and all the appointments and obligations that come with that, in addition to deciding to go back to school to start working towards my degree, coupled with two boys in football,

Well, I never thought we’d be able to manage the chaos…

But life is balancing and we have found our new “normal.” Routines are established and I no longer feel as though I am sinking beneath the waves, which is why there has been a renewed influx of action on the blog. Football season has come to a close and I finally have found the missing moments needed to write and it is so good to be back.

Blogging is my lifeline. It is my therapy. It is the selfish indulgence that grounds me and gives me clarity, and I have missed it.

Here are some of the moments lived this last month.

“Exercising our Right to Vote!”

November 6th was Brandon’s 17th birthday as well as being election day! Miss Molly, having turned 18 this year, was able to exercise her right to have a voice and vote in her first election.

I was so proud of her. She took this responsibility seriously and spent hours researching the different candidates running for various offices, taking notes, making pro/con lists about their platforms, and then choosing the candidates that best reflected her beliefs. For her one-on-one time last week, I was able to join her as she researched candidates and we were able to have a meaningful discussion about how to choose a candidate. As a result of her example and effort I found myself walking into the voting booth better informed that I probably ever have been in past elections.

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Grace, Molly and I went to vote together. What a special experience it was for me to exercise the blessed right to have a voice, with my two daughters.

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“Big Bessie Bit the Dust”

Our big, beautiful 12 passenger van began to show distinct signs of a slipping transmission. Rather than wait for the inevitable, we decided to bite the bullet and begin vehicle shopping, something that is considered a dream evening for Ozzie and a living nightmare for me.

The death of Bessie required us to reevaluate our needs and priorities in a vehicle. As much as I love the space Bessie afforded us, She was killing us in gas consumption. It was finally decided that with the amount of driving I do weekly and the impending winter, that we would sacrifice room to stretch out for all wheel drive and improved gas mileage.

I let Toby take on the car search, with Brandon’s help, happy to remain at home and avoid the wheeling and dealing that comes with car shopping. I assured him that all I needed was a car with an engine, a radio, and a cup holder, and the gift of NOT having to pick out the car would ensure I was grateful for WHATEVER vehicle he brought home.

On a Friday evening after school, Toby and Brandon headed to Ohio to chase down a deal Toby found online. The vehicle was 3 years old, had only 9,000 miles, all wheel drive, got 20 miles to the gallon (compared to Big Bessie’s 10 miles/gallon), and it was an 8 seater. It sounded perfect and it was…

Meet our newest addition…name still to be decided! 🙂

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 “A Spooky Date with Tyler”

A few weeks before Halloween I received an invitation to join some of Tyler’s buddies from church and their mothers for a mother/son date to Freddy’s Haunts.

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“Freddy’s haunts is a family owned and operated haunted trail that was originally opened in 1993 under the name skull mountain haunted trail. 

We are an immersive, all enclosed haunted trail that is filled with the monsters from your worst nightmares. Our old-school haunted trail operates rain or moonshine with an enclosed waiting area so that you don’t have to endure the elements along with your worst fears.”

 

I had my reservations, given Tyler’s history of heightened fearfulness and my history of being a weenie, but Tyler begged to go and I thought it sounded like it could be an awesome bonding opportunity for Tyler and I, as well as a fun memory made with friends. I was glad our friends suggested it because I would have never considered it on my own, but it ended up being a blast!

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I think next year we will try to talk the entire family into braving Freddy’s!

“Flying High…Drone Style!”

Rusty has been having a blast with his 17th birthday gift…

A high-flyin’ drone!

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Our acreage makes for a perfect flying zone. With each flight Rusty gets stronger and stronger in his skills as a drone pilot and it is fun watching the footage of what he catches on film as the drone flies high above our heads.

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“Hocus Pocus”

As a family we dressed at the gang from Peter Pan for Halloween, but Grace also had a Halloween party to attend, independently, with her YSA group. Feeling that her Halloween costume wasn’t strong enough to stand alone, apart from the rest of Peter Pan’s crew, she began exploring options for a second Halloween costume.

She and two girlfriends ended up creating their own group costume and going as the three witches from the classic Halloween flick, ” Hocus Pocus.”

Grace dove into the family dress-up box of past Halloween costumes and emerged as Winifred Sanders:

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“Photo Fun!”

This past month we had the opportunity to capture the beautiful faces of some of our favorite seniors on film. Following Molly’s senior photo shoot we were asked by a few of Molly’s friends if we could take their senior photos as well. October provided the perfect backdrop and Grace, Molly and I have had fun playing “photographers” to these beautiful girls. At one photo shoot Molly couldn’t help but jump in front of the camera for some pictures with one of her best buddies!

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“Saying Farewell to Family Based Therapy”

Well, after nine months of weekly visits, our family based team is saying “good-bye.” Family Based therapy was put in place when Ozzie exited residential care, as an extra layer of support for his transition home. We were blessed with two awesome ladies as our “team.” They quickly became part of our life as they spent hours in our home and many hours sitting beside me in the ER when Ozzie was in crisis.

For nine months their primary objective was to work with our family on goals of increased safety and sibling connection, while our trauma therapist focused on EMDR therapy with Ozzie. This double layer of therapeutic care proved to be just the ticket and we have seen great growth in Ozzie these last 9 months.

Yesterday was our final session. It was with mixed feelings we closed out our file and said good-bye to these gals with a pizza party and celebratory gifts. They have been so good to us and this final session was no different. They brought the family pizza and gifted the kids with their own game of, “Whoonu,”

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A game that became a favorite in our therapy sessions!

They also generously gifted me with a gift certificate for a massage at a local spa with a reminder to continue making self care a priority.

What a blessing Lisa and Val have been to our family. I have come to realize, through this challenging walk of adopting kids from hard places, that angels do walk the earth today, and many are simply known as “therapists.”

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Here We Go Steelers…

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On the day following his actual birthday, Brandon received an unexpected birthday surprise. His placement social worker from “Second Chance” stopped by to wish him a Happy Birthday and gave him a card to open. Inside the birthday card were two tickets to Thursday night’s game.

His social worker is a huge sports fan and is a Steelers season ticket holder. She never misses a home game. Wanting to do something extra special for Brandon she handed over Thursday night’s tickets. Toby was Brandon’s “plus one.”

Thursday night arrived and Molly graciously offered to play “parent” while Grace and I were at our Thursday night classes and Toby and Brandon were at the game. Like a pro she transported Tyler to his dyslexia tutoring and Ozzie to his autism social skills class, allowing Toby the night off to go and make some special memories with his new addition.

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Toby and Brandon had a wonderful time. The weather was bitterly cold but that didn’t damper their enthusiasm.

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A COLD night in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers played a great game and came out the victors over the Panthers in a 52-21 win.

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There were some familiar faces in the crowd 🙂

The guys wandered in after midnight, raving about the game and the experience.

What a special shared memory they made that night,

All thanks to a social worker who goes above and beyond the call of duty to bless the lives of the kids in her care.

Our Birthday Boy

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A few months ago I would have never imagined we’d be celebrating our SECOND 17th birthday in a 30 day period.

Six months ago we were praising God for the stability we had finally found as a family. The previous year had been especially challenging as demons from Ozzie’s past trauma reared their ugly head and threw our family into crisis mode. Our primary concern was the safety of Ozzie and the other children, as we navigated behaviors that were frightening and challenging. Flashbacks of horrific abuse that occurred at the hands of his biological parents consumed him, and we sought additional resources to help him safely navigate the highly emotional affects of the trauma work he was doing. After exhausting all possible outpatient supports we realized that Ozzie needed more therapeutic support than was possible with outpatient therapies. This led to his placement in a inpatient facility. It was a hard 9 months as we grieved the absence of Ozzie, as he bravely faced the hurts of his past and learned to navigate the emotions associated with those memories in a safe and healthy way. For nine months we traveled four hours back and forth on a weekly basis for family therapy and visits. It was exactly where he needed to be. The other children were rediscovering the feeling of peace and safety through this respite opportunity, while Ozzie was actively engaged in multiple therapy sessions daily. This saturation of therapy work allowed him to find healing that wasn’t possible in the home environment. He worked so hard and we were so proud of the healing journey he took during those nine months, but with the arrival of the spring thaw we were counting down the days until he returned home and life could return to normal.

As I was eagerly anticipating getting back into a routine and enjoying a quiet season of normalcy and maybe even rest, a phone call came unexpectedly.

When I answered the phone I had no idea our life was about to change once again.

The call came from a social worker who, that very day, had met with Tyler’s biological brother, Brandon, for the first time. She had just been assigned his case through her agency, “Second Chance,” in a referral from Washington County CYF. He was currently in a group home. He was there because his adoptive father was dying and couldn’t care for him. This was on the cusp of his adoptive mother dying on cancer less than a year after his adoption day. There was no family willing to take him in and they couldn’t find a foster family willing to open their home to a 16-year-old boy, so the courts placed him in a home for trouble boys as a holding place since they didn’t have any other place for him to go. There he resided for two years, ignored by the very system that was suppose to be advocating and caring for him. Second Chance received his file from CYF and Brandon finally had an advocate that was driven to move mountains to find him a home. Her first task, after talking to Brandon, was to track down his biological siblings in their adoptive homes and see if they were a placement possibility for Brandon.

The call came on a Thursday evening.

Ozzie was a month out from returning home. We were undergoing family therapy to prepare the kids for Ozzie’s return home. Life was already uncertain, and then the phone rang.

The social worker explained the situation.

Finally, we had some answers to our questions about Brandon.

You see, we had established contact with Brandon and Tyler’s other biological siblings following Tyler’s adoption. We were able to orchestrate a reunion for these siblings that had been torn apart and then maintain contact with Tyler’s siblings through visits, phone calls, letters, birthday packages, etc.

From the moment I first met Brandon he stole my heart. My heart ached for this boy who was the last one to find a family. Then we rejoiced when, at age 12, he finally received his forever family.

His adoptive mother was wonderful and made contact between Brandon and Tyler a priority. Then she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. On Mother’s Day weekend, eleven months after his adoption day, she passed away. Things began to unravel for Brandon and within a year we lost contact. He had been moved multiple times as a result of his adoptive father being in and out of the hospital fighting his own battle with cancer. We called and sent letters with no response.

We didn’t know where Brandon was or how to get in contact with him…

So, you can imagine our delight when we received a call from a worker who had seen Brandon that day, spoke with him, and was looking to reconnect him with his biological siblings.

What I didn’t expect was the question that followed,

“So, would you consider taking Brandon in as a foster son?”

Pure panic coursed through my veins at the question so casually inquired of me.

I explained the situation. Ozzie wasn’t even home yet. We had no idea how stable or unstable he would be upon returning home. The other kids were already anxious about the upcoming transition and adding a 16, soon to be 17-year-old, to an already dicey situation seemed ludicrous. I told her we would talk as a family and pray about it but at that point I felt all we could really offer was external support for Brandon in the form of visits.

That night I didn’t sleep a wink as possible scenarios played through my mind. There was so much that could go wrong, so many reasons why this would be a bad idea and wouldn’t work, that I had mentally talked myself out of it before I even prayed about it.

As a family we talked and prayed extensively. The concerns I was having were mirrored by the other members of the family. On paper it didn’t add up. We couldn’t see how it would work. As much as we wanted Brandon to have a home and family, it seemed like an awful idea, especially on the cusp of Ozzie’s return home.

But our God is bigger than any pro/con list and I’m sure he chuckled at our reasoning for saying, “No.” He had big plans for our family. This wasn’t just about finding Brandon a foster home, this was about God delivering our missing son into our arms 16 years after his arrival on earth.

But I didn’t see that until I saw Brandon in person.

It had been a few years since our last visit. He was now 6 foot tall with facial hair. In our absence he had grown from boy into a man.

Our first family outing was to Idlewild Amusement Park. Toby and I sat on a bench as we watched Brandon join the other kids on one of the rides and in that moment I knew. I turned to look at Toby, “He is ours. I don’t know how this is going to work and I know we are crazy to consider it, but I know he is our son.”

Toby looked at me, ” I know,” he answered,

“I know.”

August 22nd Brandon moved in.

November 6th we celebrated his 17th birthday.

In a few more months we will be able to adopt him, making him a McCleery and giving him the forever family that has escaped him for 17 years.

It looked crazy on paper, as though there was no way it would work,

But our God is bigger than the mountains that stand in our way,

Bigger than the fears that paralyze us,

Bigger than the doubts that consume us,

He is the God of miracles,

And this week we celebrated our 6th miracle as he turned 17 years old.

I can’t help but marvel at the transformation occurring under our roof, both with Brandon and with our family as a whole.

November is National Adoption Month and we are a family that has been touched by adoption. Never in my life did I think our family would adopt a 17-year-old boy. Never did I think I would adopt it all. But now I look at our family and half our children came into our arms through the womb of another woman.

Adoption can be scary.

Adoption can be hard…very hard, but it is also one of the most inspiring, beautiful, miraculous journeys the Lord can take you on.

It has the power to heal hurts, expand hearts, and transform lives…

Not just the life of the adoptee, but the lives of each member of the adopting family.

If you have ever felt God whispering the adoption call to you and your family, I urge you to answer.

It is scary.

It is hard.

But it is worth it… So worth it!

This is what a mighty God can do with a hurt child and a flawed family who is willing to say, “yes.”

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Happy 17th Birthday, Brandon!

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How blessed we are to call you our son ❤️

 

Brace Face #5

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This week Brandon joined the ranks of brace-faced kiddos at Patchwork Farm. For the next two years he will wear his orthodontic grill with pride as it moves and molds his smile into the grin of his dreams.

When Brandon moved in two months ago one of our first appointments was to the orthodontist to have him evaluated for braces. The orthodontist confirmed what we already suspected, that Brandon’s bite needed some major adjustment, so plans were made to add him to the ranks of past and present McCleery “Brace Faces.”

Grace and Rusty both needed braces and received orthodontic care through Gulland Orthodontics.

In the last 6 months, Tyler and Ozzie both began their orthodontic care at Spokane Orthodontics, an orthodontist 40 minutes closer to home who also accepts their insurance.

It was at Spokane Orthodontics that Brandon was evaluated for orthodontic care and found to be in need of braces.

Last Wednesday was the big day and he was very excited!

 

Brandon is self conscious about his smile and was thrilled to find out he was approved for braces. His appointment was scheduled for Halloween. We arrived at the office at 8:00am for his appointment and for the next two hours his teeth were cleaned, dried, glued, and wired until I was called back to see the finished product and we received instructions about the care and cleaning of braces.

Luckily, I am an old hat at the braces thing, having parented 4 other children through the unique dietary restrictions and hygienic care of brushing, flossing and caring for teeth shrouded in metal…

Despite having never worn braces myself.

Brandon was eager to show off his new smile.

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After his appointment, but before returning him back to school, we made a quick stop at the grocery store for soft foods and pain killers. I’ve learned that the days following the application of braces are painful ones and chewing is near impossible, so we loaded up on soups, mashed potatoes, smoothie ingredients and ice cream, and then made sure he had Advil in his system before I took him back to school.

By the time he arrived back home he was hurting but managed to rally enough to enjoy our Halloween festivities,

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And he even faced the candy restrictions (that come with braces) with happy acceptance. As the kids dumped their candy and began the beloved tradition of sorting and divvying up the Halloween treats collected during trick-or-treating, Brandon, Tyler and Ozzie laid claimed on the chocolate treats that were braces-friendly.

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It was a monumental day for our newest addition…

His first Halloween at Patchwork Farm AND braces.

It was an October 31st for the memory books!