Monthly Archives: January 2019

Disney World or Bust!

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And we are off…

And boy, was it a journey getting to this point!

Despite being well informed about trauma and its effects, it still is fascinating (and often FRUSTRATING) to watch the effect of trauma play out in our home. In so many ways it is illogical and nonsensical to untrained eyes. For this reason, behaviors triggered by past trauma can’t be addressed in traditional ways. Cause and effect logic is moot and rewards are as powerless to bring about change as punishments. This is because the root of the behaviors that might read as defiance are actuality fear, frustration, guilt and grief. Because the root emotion contradicts the perceived behavior, the behavior must be parented with heightened levels of compassion and connection. Much like a growling or snapping dog might get labeled as aggressive or ferocious by someone who isn’t looking beyond the behavior to the cause beneath the behavior (i.e.: the dog is cornered and feeling threatened because of a history of abuse and neglect), the same is true of my sons who come from hard places.

So often my adopted sons don’t respond with the same expected responses and behaviors as my biological children who have never know the darker side of life. I have to continually remind myself of what I have learned about trauma and its residual effects, so that I can react appropriately. It can be extremely challenging and hurtful when those behavior seem targeted and personal or when those challenging behaviors result in attempted sabotage of special family moments.

The reality is…

Birthdays, holidays and vacations are often a living hell in our home. The happier a moment is the more my traumatized treasures react out of fear, guilt or grief, in explosive and challenging ways.

And nothing invokes those feelings more than two weeks of family togetherness at the “happiest place on Earth.”

The anxiety in our home is palpable. Over the last two weeks we have had children run away from home, verbally attack family members, declare hatred of our family, insisting they are leaving us as soon as they turn 18, destroying other family members’ possessions, breaking a school computer with a punch of frustration to the screen of the laptop, and the addition of a few new holes in the drywall.  

The very human part of me struggles to continue planning this magical family trip in the midst of screams of hatred and efforts to destroy their chance of coming. (This is especially true for one boy in particular.)

 I’m sure there are some who in reading this account are thinking, “No way would that child be going if it was my kid. I don’t reward bad behaviors.”

 And I get it.

I was there 6 years ago.

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 Had it been Grace, Molly or Rusty acting out in these ways, we probably would have canceled the trip, but things are different now. The past 6 years have been a humbling journey of learning how to parent kids from hard places. I better understand the “why” behind the outbursts and as a result am able to come from a place of compassion rather than judgement. The Lord has taken me on a  journey of discovery as I recognize my complete dependence of Him.

The reality is we are headed to Disney World not because their behaviors make them worthy of reward, but because they are worthy of good things and happy moments and unconditional love simply because of their divine worth as children of God!~

 Much of the increase in negative behaviors are rooted in feelings of self-hatred and feelings of unworthiness. There are feelings of guilt about feeling happiness away from their birth family. There is fear that if they mess up, all of this will be stolen away, so rather than live in dread of that happening, they will simply hit us with the ugliest behaviors they have in their arsenal so we will send them away and they can get the disappointment over with. There is fear that we will fail them like everyone else in their life has. And the very root of the behaviors is the reality that those warm, fuzzy moments that bring feelings of joy for most, feel downright prickly and uncomfortable for a child whose “normal” in early childhood was fraught with screaming, hitting and hurting, rather than laughing, playing, and connecting in loving ways.

Some might ask why we even bother trying to do fun things. I certainly have had those moments this month when I looked at the chaos reigning supreme and I asked myself, “Why the heck do we even bother trying to have special moments?”

But then I remind myself:

1.       I won’t let the ugly choices made by selfish adults in the past steal the present joy of childhood from my children.

2.      It isn’t about “deserving.” That is the root of my Christian walk. I am infinitely unworthy of any of the good things my Heavenly Father has blessed me with. My life is fraught with mistakes and He is infinitely merciful…therefore, I will choose to show mercy.

3.      I look into the dilated pupils of my child in crisis and know that this behavior isn’t coming from a place of “I won’t” but rather a place of “I can’t.” This is survival.

4.      I won’t reinforce the lie “I am not worthy of happiness” by stealing happy moments from my child as a means of consequence.

5.      I will challenge the lie they believe to be infallible truth by pulling my child closer when they try to push me away with anger and hateful words, rather than push them away.

6.      And finally, I will come by my child and ask them to lean into the discomfort of connection, to whatever degree they are capable of, rather than giving them the “out” of leaving them home from vacation (as long as the behaviors are not unsafe) because the only way to help them be comfortable with family connection is to expose them in a loving way to the thing they fear most: attachment.

 None of this is easy in application, but it is so important.

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I have cried in the shower and punched many a pillow in the last few weeks as I drown under the frustration of not being able to “fix” the hurts my children carry so that we can just have a normal, happy vacation once and for all.

But the growth doesn’t come when the winds are still. Deep roots form under the strain of high winds and dry soil. And loving these three has created a family tree with strong, deep roots…

And from those deep roots will come a tree that will bear fruit. If not today, if not tomorrow, then someday down the road. I know this to be true.

So, the holes in the drywall will wait to be patched by our personal Mike Tyson after we return home from Disney, and the list of chores to be done to earn the money to replace the computer has been created, but it too can wait.

Today we leave for Disney World,

Because building a family is more important than fixing a house.

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Snow Much Fun!

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Saturday was “SNOW much fun!”

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Saturday morning, we had an outing scheduled with the Adventure Club at 21st Century Cyber Charter School. This outing was unique in that it wasn’t scheduled for normal school hours. Because it was scheduled for a Saturday Toby and Brandon were able to join us. This is a rare and treasured treat!

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In addition to Hhving Toby join us, we also were joined by other familiar faces, including one of Molly’s dearest friends, Irvin, who traveled all the way from Gettysburg with his two younger brothers to join Molly and Tatum on the slopes.

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This outing was a snow tubing activity at Boyce Park.

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This was a first for my kiddos who had never been to a facility like this one to “sled.” They are used to zooming down our driveway on sheets of plastic and digging their heels in for a quick stop before flying across the road at the bottom. The fact that this hill was free of obstacles AND had a conveyor belt to shuttle riders back to the top for the next trip down, made the experience downright indulgent!

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Upon arriving, the kids added layers of snow gear to combat the frigid temps of the day,

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And even received a surprise gift of winter hats and chap stick from the adventure club for attending!

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Everyone greeted friends in the warmth of the lodge before heading out into the snow for some snow tubing fun.

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Each rider grabbed a tube and stopped long enough to humor me as I took a few photos for posterity, before getting in line for their ride to the top of the hill.

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The Adventure Club members and teachers made trip after trip down the hill.

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It seemed as the morning wore on, and the snow became more compact, they flew at greater speeds down the hillside.

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After an hour of watching from the bottom, I headed inside to join friends for adult conversation, choosing to watch the excitement outside from the warmth of the lodge.

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The activity lasted for 2 hours. At 11:30 the kids all shuffled in with pink cheeks and icy lashes.

Irvin had suggested we all go out to lunch together before his 3-hour drive back home, with the hope of spending more time with Molly and Tatum.

So, we joined the Hudak family, Irvin, and his younger brothers for lunch at Blaze Pizza.

Having never eaten there before, we required a quick tutorial before beginning. Luckily Rusty had visited another Blaze Pizza with Grace and Zach earlier in the week, so he was able to guide us through the process a bit.

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It was a very neat place…sort of a pizza version of Subway. The premise of the restaurant allows customers to move along a serving line and “build” their pizza. The choices of toppings are abundant, with customers getting to choose their sauce, meats, and veggies all for a flat price regardless of how much you load it up.

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The kids all loved the idea of being able to build their own “dream pizza,” and the combinations of flavors were as unique as the creators.

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Blaze Pizza was a toasty way to round out a chilly morning!

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A Snowy Day for Snow White

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Between outings planned by our co-op group, 21st Century Cyber Charter School and PA Cyber, we have many opportunities to get out of the house and experience some hands-on learning through educational outings. These outings are always a highlight of our week and the “icing” to the cyber school experience.

On Thursday we put on our fancy pants and headed north for a more cultured outing. We were signed up to join 21st Century Cyber Charter School for a outing to the Erie Playhouse to watch
“Snow White and the Prince.”

Our sojourn north began with a quick stop in New Castle to pick up Tatum. From there we headed north to Erie where we were meeting up with teachers from our cyber school and other 21st Century families.

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It was a VERY snowy day to go and see “Snow White.” The flakes came down heavy around New Castle, but surprisingly lightened as we drove north.

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We met at the Avalon Hotel at 9:15.

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We were pleasantly surprised to see quite a few familiar faces. It was fun to connect with friends, new and old!

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At 9:30 we walked across the street to the Erie Playhouse to watch a youth theater production of “Snow White and the Prince.”

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We got settled in our seats and waited for the show to begin. We were the first group to arrive and be seated, but soon the quiet of the theater was interrupted by cacophonous chatter as hundreds of kindergarteners arrived and were directed to their seats.

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That troop of 5-year-olds proved to be one of the most entertaining aspects of the show.  Behind us sat a group of little girls. It was so much fun to listen to their chatter and enthusiastic responses to the story playing out on stage.

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There were “Oohs and Ahhs” every time anyone stepped on stage wearing a crown or gown.

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There were shouts of warning as Snow White debated whether to taste the apple.

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“No, don’t eat it! It’s poisonous!” they shouted behind us.

The play itself was cute, but the running commentary behind us made it a fantastic play!

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After the curtains closed for the final time we crossed the street, back to the Avalon Hotel, where the students split up into groups to work on a literary assignment for extra credit:

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While working and socializing with friends, everyone ate their packed lunches.

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The outing ended with the students making use of the open dance floor in the center of the ballroom we were using for our lunch room for an impromptu dance party.

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Playing music off a cell phone, Molly and Tatum taught the group the steps to Church Clap. There was much laughter and glee as the kids got their moves on and burned off excess energy before the two hour drive home.

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It was a fun way to spend a snowy day!

 

 

“We’re Just a Bunch of Sickos!”

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The dreaded post-Christmas plague has hit Patchwork Farm. It seems this time of year always comes with a bug of some sort. I am convinced that illness is the natural consequence of the exhaustion that accompanies Christmas, leaving us all susceptible to whatever sickness is making its rounds.

This year’s version is a nasty mix of high fevers, headaches, and cough, with some kids also being hit with vomiting. In our house the passing of the flu began with Tyler, who also won the prize for being hardest hit by the bug. The next to fall was Brandon, followed a day later by Ozzie. The other three escaped contamination by fleeing the farm and camping out at a family member’s house where they will be house sitting for the next week.

My days have been spent moving from boy to boy, trying to make them comfortable in the “sick room” that was previously the living room. With each boy claiming a couch, my days have been spent refilling water bottles, delivering popsicles, taking temperatures, adjusting the thermostat to complaints of being too cold or too hot, and dumping vomit buckets.

Not exactly my idea of a fun and fabulous way to spend the week, but it wasn’t without tender mercies…

The biggest of which was an opportunity to connect and build attachment.

All three of my boys have a history of childhood trauma. This history is accompanied by a wide variety of symptoms that stem from the most basic forms of neglect. An early childhood that was fraught with unmet needs and lack of care results in a child who is fearful of attachment, who believes they must rely on self to meet all their needs, and sabotages connection out of fear and basic survival instincts.

The work that must be done in the adoptive home to help that child break free from that survival mindset is arduous. In our family we work on this challenging task by using a wide variety of strategies and therapeutic parenting, but it is definitely a slow moving, hard climb to the summit of healthy attachment.

When an opportunity arises to magnify the results of those efforts, we take advantage of it, and count it a blessing. Most of those opportunities come disguised as burdens and bad days. For it is when our kids are hardest, and when they are feeling most vulnerable, that our connection work has the greatest impact.

For my boys those moments of vulnerability usually occur during times of emotional brokenness or physical  illness, when defenses are down and they are receptive to being taken care of.

It is amazing the amount of relationship growth and parental trust-building that can occur during these hard days of life, bringing profound blessings to times that read as trials.

I have found this to be true with all three of my sons who come from a traumatic past. I remember the astounding growth that occurred a month after Ozzie’s placement in our home when he had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. Here are some of the thoughts I penned at that time, in the midst of a challenging few days spent sitting up next to Ozzie’s hospital bed:

“Through the scare of surgery, IVs, and a hospital stay Ozzie learned that we are trustworthy, that we won’t leave, that we will take care of him. He experienced parental love as we held his hand through procedures, were sitting at his bedside as he woke from surgery, and met his needs on the most basic level as we carried him to the bathroom and spoon fed him Jello. God saw what we were in need of as a family and met our needs in a very creative way.”

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This winter flu was our first opportunity to see and meet some of those basic childhood needs when Brandon became the second kiddo to go down with the flu. As much as I didn’t look forward to the extra laundry and missed sleep that accompanies the flu, I knew that there would be wonderful connection opportunities we could take advantage of if we saw this week of sickness for what it could be:

A chance for us to bond in a deeper, more profound way, with our newest son.

And this proved to be the case.

Poor Brandon felt horrible, but in his misery he allowed me to care for him, instead of feeling compelled to care for his own needs. As I tucked him in, took his temperature, rubbed his back and fed him the liquids his stomach would allow, I had the opportunity to meet those very basic, primitive needs that were never met in infancy and early childhood. As a small child he had to care for his own basic needs in order to survive, and in doing so the lesson was soon cemented that, “you can only trust yourself to care for your needs.”

By seeing a need (an empty glass of ginger ale) and meeting that need (by filling it before he asks for a refill) I was able to send a powerful message. That message speaks to the most primitive parts of his brain and rewires that survival mindset that took hold in infancy when he cried and no one came to care for him. By consistently pulling closer when he pushes me away, and affirming connection when he expects me to walk, and by meeting his physical and emotional needs on the most basic, primitive levels, we give him the opportunity to heal the damage done to his brain and rewire his way of seeing the world.

By loving him and showing him care as I would a young child who has a need, and then meeting that need with loving looks, soft touch, and healing care,

I am able to connect, attach, and prove myself to my son.

And sometimes that work is best done amid vomiting and fevers.

The prayer is that this bug will pass quickly. We certainly don’t want this unexpected visitor tagging along on our trip to Disney World!

But until it does, I will thank God for the tender mercy of attachment opportunities with my son.

God is good, always good!

 

“Welcome, Winter!”

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Here at Patchwork Farm we find ourselves relishing the winter rest of January. As a child I despised this long, dreary month that followed the bright lights and heightened activity of December. Returning to school after the extended break of Christmas vacation was downright depressing. It left us with nothing to look forward to until the doilies and colored macaroni of Valentine’s Day. With its darkened days and long weeks, January seemed to last FOREVER.

It is funny how adulthood changes one’s perspective. I now find January to be among my favorite months of the year. Despite once viewing this month as a death of all things fun, I now view it as a birth of hopeful possibilities and a season of much deserved rest.

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I find I look forward to this underappreciated month with eager anticipation. The lack of activities and frivolity seem renewing after the frantic fun of December,

And the early sunsets and cold, quiet nights allow for healing hibernation.

As an introvert, I crave the hibernation of winter, and I find that those snow days that keep us trapped at home, renews not only my weary body but also my weary soul.

One of the most challenging aspects of the adoption process for me personally is not the paperwork, therapy sessions or challenging behaviors…

It is the rotating door of social workers and support staff constantly coming and going. We currently have assigned to our family:  a county CYS social worker, a placement social worker, a case manager, an adoption prep social worker, an independent living social worker, and a lawyer or two, all involved in Brandon’s case. This is a blessing as this multi-layer support is in place to prevent the tragedies that are reported on the evening news when case workers are shirking their duties,

But the constant flow of traffic in and out of the house is emotionally draining for this introvert Momma that recharges her batteries through time alone.

This is why I treasure the winter months.

An icy driveway, cold temperatures and early nights tend to condense these visits into those days of good weather and sunshine, allowing us to hunker down on those snowy evenings and enjoy some alone time as a family.

And this week we were allowed some of that winter hibernation that I personally live for, with the arrival of winter. After months of unseasonable warm temperatures, boatloads of rain, and mud out the wazoo, winter has finally arrived…

And to that end I say with cheers of delight,

“Welcome, Winter! I am so glad you finally stopped by!”

As the weekend neared, anticipation built, with news of an approaching winter storm. Here in Pittsburgh there was much confusion of what weather the weekend would actually bring. We found ourselves on the border of two fronts that made predicting the snow totals extra challenging. Depending on the path of the storm, we were told we could expect a variety of possible outcomes including heavy rains, mixed precipitation, ice, or heavy snow fall up to 12 inches. Nobody knew what to expect, but it seemed everyone was preparing for the worst as Pittsburgh grocery stores were picked clean of bread, milk and toilet paper.

We, too, prepared for a hibernation weekend.

Grace, Molly and Rusty were leaving Friday evening for a week of house sitting for a relative, so we got them dropped off and settled in and returned home, prepared for a stay-at-home weekend. The storm eventually arrived, bringing with it a mixed bag of rain, followed by ice, and finally a topping of 5-6 inches of snow. This combination of precipitation made the roads dangerous and led to church being canceled, so our weekend was spent at home.

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It was a dream come true!

With only Brandon, Ozzie and Tyler at home, we watched movies and snuggled in near the roaring fire in the living room.

We played board games, including a 4 hour game of RISK.

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We went out sledding and had fun playing in the snow with the little boys. Ellie May and Winnie joined us, while Brandon and Olive remained inside, keeping the couches warm in our absence.

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And for our family home evening treat we enjoyed “wax on snow.”

It was fun introducing Brandon to this favorite family treat that we only get to indulge in after a heavy snow fall. “Wax on snow” is a tradition I brought into our marriage. It was a favorite treat of my childhood that always followed a day of cancelled school, snowman building and sled riding. My dad would take on the task of boiling the maple syrup (you must use the real stuff) while us kids would fill a baking pan with packed, fresh snow from the yard.

My dad would boil the syrup until it reached the soft ball candy stage and we knew it was ready.

This tradition is now a beloved one with my own kiddos, and we couldn’t wait to introduce Brandon to this fun family tradition.

I boiled the syrup until it was ready. The boys gathered around the pan of snow, forks in hand.
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Toby then poured the hot syrup over the snow where the strands of liquid solidified into a taffy consistency so that it could be scooped from the snow in chewy strands of deliciousness.

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Every one dove in with enthusiasm,

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Enjoying this beloved tradition.

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When the “wax” was picked clean, everyone enjoyed scooping and eating the syrup flavored snow that was left behind…YUM!

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It was a wonderful weekend filled with morning sleep-ins, afternoon naps, evenings curled up next to a fire with a good book, and even some snow fun thrown in…

But mostly it was filled with the rest and renewal that sets January apart from the other 11 months of the year.

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Ice Skating at North Park

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For years my kids have agreed that one of the best reoccurring youth activities is the January ice skating activity at North Park skating rink. It seems that this event has been a favorite activity for almost a decade, as I have fond memories of Grace donning skates on a cold winter night at age 13 and now find myself helping Tyler tighten his laces at this same winter activity.

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While the activities of the night have remained constant, the faces in the crowd have changed. Many of the youth who were skating circles around the rink a few years ago are now college graduates, full time missionaries or newlyweds. For some reason the marching of time hit me extra hard on Saturday as I watched a new, rising group of young people take the place of familiar faces who have moved on.

Among the new faces were Brandon and Tyler…

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Brandon, because of this being his first opportunity to attend since joining our family.

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And Tyler, because he is now 12, which makes him a participant in the young men’s program which allows him and his buddies from church to take part in the fun activities planned for the youth.

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It was weird finding myself with only boys in tow, as this was a favorite activity of Grace and Molly for many, many years. Molly, unfortunately, found herself having to work Friday night and thus having to miss her last year ice skating with the youth.

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Instead it was an all-boy adventure and I got a taste of what life is evolving into with Grace and Molly growing up and gone more than they are home. I am preparing myself for life as the only girl in a testosterone saturated house. Lord, help me!

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Rusty, having been the only one to attend this activity previously, filled the other three in on what to expect.

The night was split into two parts. It began with 3 hours of ice skating (or board games for those who chose not to skate.)

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This was followed by socializing over a dinner of pizza, wings and desserts.

Since I had no responsibilities over this activity, I used my free time… you know, the down time between jumping up to capture moments on film…to get a little school work done now that school has resumed.

And a lot of jumping up I did!

This was Brandon, Tyler and Ozzie’s first time at this activity and Brandon’s first time ever ice skating, so I had to record the adventure in photographs.

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All did amazingly well. I expected Rusty to be a pro but I was amazed how much better the other three boys did than I anticipated.

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The snow began falling soon after we arrived, making the skaters look like they were caught inside a Christmas snow globe.

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The scene was magical, with fat snowflakes turning the world white.

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It was a great night with great youth!

 

Duck-pin Bowling

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The first of our two January Co-op get-togethers occurred near Butler when Miss Wendy booked bowling lanes for a fun, Friday afternoon activity.

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But these were not the “normal” bowling lanes.

 They were duck-pin bowling lanes…

 A completely different animal! 

For instance, the balls used to bowl are a far cry from the traditional bowling balls one is accustomed to. They are around 5” in diameter (which is slightly larger than a softball), weigh around 3.5 pounds and lack finger holes, making them significantly smaller than ten-pin bowling balls.

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The pins, while arranged in a triangular fashion identical to that used in ten-pin bowling, are shorter, smaller, and lighter than their ten-pin equivalents, which makes it more difficult to achieve a strike.

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For this reason, the bowler is allowed three rolls per frame…

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 Another shift from traditional bowling.

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But the untraditional nature of the game made it all the more fun.

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 There was definitely a learning curve, but the kids enjoyed exploring this new sport and developing some new skills.

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 And of course, it was all the more fun doing so with friends!

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Since it was the first gathering since the holidays, everyone enjoyed hearing what gifts friends received and what traditions were enjoyed with family.

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I loved just sitting and taking it all in.

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It was fun to watch the excitement from the sidelines and listen to the happy chatter around me while catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a while.

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Thanks, Miss Wendy, for a fun afternoon!

Welcome 2019!

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It was another year for the history books!

As I was looking back on past blogs written in reflection of the New Year, I was able to see the ebb and flow of trials and ease with each passing year. Some years were especially challenging (like 2017) and we were more than happy to bid them “adieu.”

Others came to a close with feelings of delight as we reflected on the unexpected blessings we never saw coming when the year began.

This was one of those years.

At the start of 2018 we were in such a different place. We were focused on helping Ozzie find healing, as we healing ourselves from a brutally hard 2017. Never in our wildest imaginations did we foresee another adoption on  the horizon, much less the adoption of Tyler’s 17-year-old biological brother.

As I sat in the living room on January 1, 2018, filling in the pages of my new planner, so pristinely empty of appointments, yet so full of hopeful possibilities, I couldn’t have even imagined that we would be closing out the year as a family of eight.

It never ceases to amaze me how life can change on a dime.

2017 was one of the hardest years of our life as a family…

2018 was one of the most blessed.

And once again, as I find myself with a blank planner in front of me, I can’t help but wonder what adventures God has in store for us this year. There is something so exciting and hopeful about the New Year. I love the process of filling in a new calendar and setting new resolutions and goals for the months ahead. Everything seems achievable and even hard things seem possible.

There is something so empowering about new beginnings and fresh starts that make New Year’s Eve one of my favorite holidays of the year. As we bid the previous year good-bye and welcome the new year with hopeful anticipation, it seems all the world is our oyster and the possibilities are endless.

This year will be another big one for our family. While much is unknown, we do know that the following 12 months will hold a few epic vacations, a high school graduation, an adoption, a couple driving tests, and two more kids gaining adult status with their 18th birthdays, leaving us with two minors left in the house. It promises to be a BIG year at Patchwork Farm!

This year we celebrated the passing of another year as we always do, with the Hudak family. We look forward to this annual tradition of food, friends, family and FUN with some of our very favorite people.

We arrived at the Hudak’s house at 7:00pm, ready for a night of feasting and frivolity. This was Brandon’s first time celebrating with the Hudak’s and he was blown away by the feast prepared for the evening. Dinner was a smorgasbord of appetizers and dips prepared by Lana and I. And for the next six hours everyone ate until they couldn’t eat anymore.

This year we switched things up a bit. With the kids all getting older and desiring more free time to just hang out and visit, we didn’t plan the usual hourly activities. Instead, the girls hung out upstairs, visiting and giggling until 11:00pm,

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While the boys took over the basement and played video games and pigged out of plates of food.

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This allowed the adults the rare treat of hours of uninterrupted conversation. That was a gift in and of itself and we had a wonderful time.

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At 11:00 we gathered everyone in the basement for game time.

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We began with the candy ball game that Lana had prepared. Using dice to try and roll a double, the ball of saran wrapped candy was passed around the circle with those who rolled a double unwrapping and collecting all the candy that fell onto the floor, until the next person rolled a double.

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After that, the kids enjoyed a few rounds of “What do you Meme?” before we gathered in front of the TV to watch the ball drop. This game brought gales of laughter as players tried to pick the perfect tag line for the photo on display.

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With minutes until the New Year arrived, we gathered in front of the TV to watch the ball drop and toast the arrival of 2019. With cheers, and hugs, and kisses we celebrated the passing of 2018 and the arrival of a new year full of infinite possibilities.

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Woody couldn’t help but welcome in the new year with a little pyrotechnic display.

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By 1:00am we were packing up and heading home. It was another awesome New Year’s Eve with the Hudak clan.

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2019, here we come!

 

 

Feeling Blessed!

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“Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to meeeeeee. Happy birthday to me!”

My birthday morning began with a self-serenade.

The older kids were out of the house on the morning of my birthday and Ozzie was at work with Toby. My family kindly let me sleep in…a rare and cherished luxury…so the responsibility to wake me with traditional birthday cupcake a little later in the morning, fell on Brandon and Tyler.

When Tyler found out I was turning 41, he insisted on trying his hardest to fit 41 candles on my slice of birthday cake.

I awoke to this fire hazard coming at my face. Both had taken the responsibility to awaken mom with cake and birthday wishes quite seriously, that was until they realized that the task of singing the birthday song fell to them since everyone else was out of the house.

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I lay there with the flaming ball of flames resting on my chest, while a lively debate took place at the foot of my bed as to whose responsibility the song part of the birthday tradition fell to. As the layer of melted wax grew thicker on the surface of my cake the boys finally got on the same page and unanimously agreed I should be the one to sing the birthday song…

And eager to blow out the candles before the flames reached the icing, I concurred.

Once the traditional birthday wake-up was done, the boys busied themselves playing with gifts they received for Christmas, while I enjoyed a lazy day at home. It was wonderful! It is a rare treat to have an entire day open and free, with nothing on the calendar and no place I had to be. When the older kids got home we all enjoyed a PJ and movie day in the living room. It was a wonderful way to spend my birthday.

When Toby and Ozzie arrived home we all got dressed for the birthday surprise Toby planned,

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But first I was asked to take a seat so I could open my gifts. I was spoiled rotten by my family and received gifts that were thoughtful and given with love.

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Then we headed out to celebrate my birthday as a family. Toby planned an evening filled with all of my favorite things. We began our night of birthday fun with dinner at Panda Express and then we introduced Brandon to the awesome world of escape rooms!

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Toby booked an escape room experience for the family at an escape room on McKnight Road that is advertised as “the most difficult escape room in Pittsburgh.” It gave us a run for the money and was the first escape room we weren’t able to solve in the 60 minute window. We came within one final puzzle of escaping the room before the timer rang. Despite not escaping in the allotted time, we had an awesome time! I LOVE the mind-bending challenge that an escape rooms experience offers, and they are always more fun when we can work together as a family, tapping into each person’s individual strengths to try to achieve success as a family.

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It was a perfect birthday and a perfect way to celebrate the end of a wonderful 40th year. As I begin my 41st trip around the Sun I can’t help but feel immensely grateful for the beautiful life my Heavenly Father has blessed me with, and these special people I get to travel with.

Here’s to year 41!

Christmas comes to a Close…

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Whew, we made it!

Navigating the holidays is tough on a “typical” year, but we anticipated this year to be more challenging than others, given the added dynamics of a third child with a trauma history joining the family and the triggers that always seem to occur this time of year.

But even with the heightened emotions we managed to find joy and peace despite some hard moments.

Often the “story behind the story” isn’t fully shared. Sometimes that is due to us protecting our boys’ stories. Sometimes it is because our most profound moments are simply to sacred to share. Sometimes the backstory is just too vast and complicated to explain, leaving me to simply omit rather than try to share. Sometimes the changing of tides is so abrupt that I find that before I can share the story of one moment the story has changed.

And if I am being honest…

Sometimes I am simply too emotionally drained to think deep, find the blessings in the darkness, or share the lesson that is hidden within the trial…

And on those days, I tend to remain quiet or keep my blog focused on the shallower moments of living.

But a comment made by a friend made me realize that that our silence has been perceived as ease or insincerity, and that perception isn’t fair to my boys who have been in survival mode this past month, to my older kids who sacrificed cherished traditions and the attention of their parents for the mental well-being of their brothers, or to other adoptive families who feel so alone in the darkness of trauma while everyone around them is enjoying the magic of the Christmas season.

The month of December was filled with many happy moments and special memory making experiences, but those moments are not the only experiences seared into our memory banks as we look back on the holidays of 2018.

Amid the cookie decorating and caroling there were fists being punched through the drywall of bedroom walls, and sleepless nights with children too fearful to close their eyes and face the demons that appear in their nightmares. There were shouts of anger and declarations of, “You are not my real mom! You stole me from my real family!” There were tears of anguish over lost loved ones and expressions of fear that this will all be taken away. There were many unkind words shouted in the heat of anger. We dealt with suicidal ideation, attempts to physically injure family members, and more than one trip to Western Psych for a child to be evaluated.

Those moments aren’t the ones I focused on this past month as I blogged about our Christmas season. I chose to focus on the lighter moments of the journey. I realize now that in doing so perhaps I did a disservice to my children who had to journey the magical season of Christmas through the minefield of trauma. I never meant to imply it was smooth, easy, or without struggle…

I only meant to testify that joy can be found in the darkest of days,

 And despite the struggles that permeated our Christmas season (and will likely always permeate our Christmas season) …

We chose joy.

We chose laughter.

We chose forgiveness.

We chose family.

We chose hope.

We chose connection.

We chose LOVE…

Unconditional, no-strings-attached, LOVE.

And the rewards of that choice were precious and holy.

Now that we have left December behind and have stepped into the New Year, the heightened emotions of Christmas have deescalated and we are looking forward to the normalcy of life that returns in January. I am so proud of my children’s resiliency and selfless choice to stay, to love, to lean into the hard moments and trust God’s purpose in the struggle. I am proud to be raising kids that have the capacity to find joy in the imperfect moments and embrace change with an open heart. I love that they love so unselfishly and keep choosing to do so even when love isn’t easy.

This Christmas was filled with many fun experiences but those were merely the tchotchkes that dotted the bigger picture.

Our Christmas season had less to do with what we did, and more to do with what we chose to be, through the grace and mercy of a great God.

This Christmas we embraced the true reason for the season and in doing so felt the love of Christ more profoundly than ever.

Now that December has passed, we say:

“Welcome 2019,

We are so glad to see you!”