Category Archives: Uncategorized

Klondike Derby


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


The challenges included the Klondike sled race,


Fire building competitions,


And two-man saw races.


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

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

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

Packed with Fun


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We enjoyed a yummy dinner,

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

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and a fun game I downloaded off the internet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escaping for the Night with Friends


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

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

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


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

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Lots of changes for Tyler


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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



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

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

What joy fills my heart to see my youngest thriving.


We are so proud of you, Tyler!

Simply Wicked



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

Pretty or Ugly

Smart or Dumb

Rich or Poor

Good or Bad

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

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

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

For no one is all hero.

And no one is all villain.


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

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

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

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


Here is a synopsis of that incredible show:

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


It was an incredible night.


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

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


The venue was as magical as the show itself.


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

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


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

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


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


The Blessing of Blogging


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

How grateful I am for this journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minute-to-Win-it date with Gracie


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

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

Tyler quickly said, “YES!”

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

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Luckily Grace documented their evening for me.

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

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

The night was comprised of all his favorite things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


We will see if Tyler gets invited back anytime soon!

Smoke, Fire, and Wax….on Snow


For Family Night this past week we combined two activities that really had nothing to do with each other. It was logistics and necessity that brought them together.

The first was a fire drill. Although we try to have a fire safety lesson and drill every six months it had been over a year since we had focused our family night lesson on fire safety (This last year was consumed with putting out  different types of fires,) so when Rusty came home with the assignment to plan a lesson and execute a family fire drill as party of the requirements for his Boy Scout safety merit badge it offered us the needed prodding to move this task to the top of the priority list.

During Rusty’s one-on-one time we worked to find resources online for him to utilize during his lesson, as well as some kid focused videos on fire safety that would be good for Tyler.

When we finally had an evening in which everyone was home and free of other commitments we sat down after dinner and Rusty taught his fire safety lesson. It was more needed than I expected, as Tyler peppered Rusty with fire safety questions that I assumed he already knew the answer to. It was also good for the rest of us to be reminded of those things we know but might forget in the “heat” of the moment.

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Rusty’s lesson also prompted us to consider the age of our smoke detectors and the probability that it was time to replace them all. His lesson also prompted us to move forward with purchasing escape ladders for the second floor, something we have talked about in the past but never followed through with.

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After the “learning” part of the lesson came the “action” segment of Rusty’s lesson. The kids were each sent to their room and with the house darkened we set off the smoke alarm. The kids had the opportunity to apply the safety steps we just talked about, escaping their rooms through one of their two entrances and meeting up outside at our designated location.

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A week later the impact of that lesson was realized when we experienced a chimney fire in the middle of the day. The pipe leading from the woodstove to the wall suddenly turned bright red and began crackling, making us aware that a build-up of creosote within the chimney had caught fire. While the risk was minimal (thanks to an observant and fast acting Rusty who quickly closed all the vents, suffocating the fire before it spread) it was a powerful reminder of how differently things could have played out had it happened in the middle of the night when we were all sleeping. It was good to see how easily the kids tapped into what they learned and how coolly they responded under pressure.

The second half of our Family Night really had no tie-in at all to our Fire Safety theme.

This was an activity of opportunity.

It was our “Wax on Snow” night!

Wax on Snow is a winter tradition I brought into the marriage. It is a treat that brings back sweet memories of my childhood and an activity I love sharing with my own children. As a child we always seemed to have a half-used bottle of REAL maple syrup tucked in the back of the fridge. While Aunt Jemima sufficed for Saturday morning pancakes, the real stuff, usually gifted to us by our New York grandparents, was reserved for Wax on Snow…yum!

Wax on Snow was a treat that typically ended a snow day from school. It is a treat that requires a deep coating of snow which is why I think it is so closely tied to childhood snow days in my memory.

Following dinner, us kids were sent outside to fill a pan with packed snow. This snow would then sit outside the door in the cold until the “wax” was ready.

Dad would pour some of our carefully hoarded maple syrup into a sauce pan and begin heating it up. Using a cup of cold water, he would drip the hot syrup into the cup until he achieved the perfect soft ball stage. When the syrup could be rolled in a soft flexible ball between his fingers he would send us outside to retrieve the pan of snow.

Using a worn wooden spoon, he would drizzle the “wax” across the snow where the cold temperatures would make the syrup harden into a sticky taffy.

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Gathered around the pan of snow we would watch eagerly, waiting for my Dad to say we could dig in.

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Using forks, we would scoop the wax and the maple flavored snow into our mouths, savoring this rare winter treat.

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As each layer of wax was eaten another drizzle of wax would be added until there was a small amount of syrup left in the bottom of the pan that he would stir air bubbles into until it became maple candy…a treat he made just for Mom.

When the last drops of wax were gone we would dig into the flavored snow until what was left in the pan was melted slush.

For Family Night we partook in this beloved tradition thanks to a few consecutive snow falls that coated our world in white, as well as the rare treat of having everyone home at the same time.

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The stars aligned, and we enjoyed a “sweet” night at home.

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It was a mishmash of activities but overall a smashing success!




Embracing the Unexpected



I find that a good percentage of our life is spent living our “Plan B.” Life rarely plays out as expected, and we are asked to accept and even embrace a path different than the one we envisioned. This is true for the big things in our life: careers, school, marriage, children, health…so often we are dealt a hand we didn’t ask for and didn’t expect. We are asked to embrace this change in direction and find the purpose and joy in this unexpected detour away from our own plans. But even more often we see this in the little things. Daily we are faced with missteps, frustrations, disappointments, traffic jams, lost keys, spilled milk, and unplanned results.

These are the moments that test our mettle,

And reveal what we are truly made of.

It is in the little disappointments and frustrations that we build character and strengthen those muscles that allow us to endure, embrace, and even find joy in the big trials we face in life.

As each year passes I am learning to lessen my grip of control on my vision for my days and embrace the lessons found in the unexpected twists and turns that make up life.

Grace recently was faced with one of these pivotal moments.

Last week Grace and Molly went to get their hair cut. Molly just needed a trim but Gracie was wanting a new look and went searching online for a fun, new style to brighten these dreary January days. She finally found what she was looking for. The style was something between her current cut and Molly’s pixie style. With the picture in hand they headed to the salon.


An hour later they returned. Molly walked in first. Her hair was trimmed up and looking sweet. Next Grace walked in. My mouth dropped, not in horror but in shock. Her new do looked nothing like the picture she showed me. I quickly scanned her face, searching for clues as to how she felt about the new style before I opened my mouth and commented.

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With a smirk and a shrug of the shoulders she made it clear that while not what she asked for or expected, she was accepting and even embracing this “Plan B.”

Grace explained what led to this unexpected change in plans. She recounted the moments of the last hour that led to this unexpected change in her hair. After sitting down in the chair she showed the photo to the hairdresser, who replied with confidence, “No problem!”

The first clue that there was perhaps something had been lost in translation was when the gal pulled out her clippers and buzzed a line of hair away, down to the scalp, on one side of Gracie’s head.

I asked Grace how she responded. Did she say anything? Did she start crying?

“No,” she replied. “There didn’t seem any point. It was already done. It isn’t like she could glue the hair back on.”

The hairdresser continued to buzz cut the right side of Gracie’s head leaving the left side the original length.

By the time she arrived home Grace was past the shock of this unexpected turn of events and was embracing “Plan B” with a grace fitting of her name.

Her take on the whole experience was a reflection of her maturity, adaptability and good nature. “I wouldn’t have necessarily picked this but its done now so I’m going to embrace it and enjoy it until it grows back out.”

The addition of some red lipstick and funky earrings sealed the deal and brought this new daring look together.

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I am so proud of Miss Grace. He response to this little, unexpected  “Plan B” in her life is telling of how she will manage the BIG “Plan B’s” that will inevitably hit in the future. As a mom I couldn’t be prouder of this stylish little gal of mine.



The Meeting with the Insurance Company- EEK!


Last Tuesday, right on the heels of our weekend away at the Homestead, I was back in the car for a 2-hour trek north to visit Ozzie. I was traveling alone so I has 4 hours of silence to think, reflect, dream, and pray. It was a rare and lovely gift.

I arrived at the facility at 10:oo am for Ozzie’s family therapy session. This weekly session typically occurs over the phone unless we can coordinate it to align with one of our visits or our monthly meeting. The long drive and this season of winter weather make weekly in-person therapy sessions difficult, so it is a treat when we can actually do our family therapy face to face rather than over the phone.

The reason for this trip was our monthly treatment meeting where doctors, teachers, staff, therapists, myself and Ozzie meet to review his progress and make treatment decisions. This was a particularly important meeting as the insurance company was present to decide whether Ozzie would be granted an extension on his stay, something we were all advocating for, not because of Ozzie’s current behaviors but because of the incredible success we were seeing, and because of the therapy work that his is currently in the heart of right now. Discharging him too early would really sabotage all the incredible gains that have been made and all the healing that is occurring.

While this seemed like common sense to those of us directly involved in Ozzie’s care, trying to explain this to the bean counters from the insurance company was more challenging. As a profit driven business, they see a child who has exceeded all expectations. Behaviorally he has earned various awards and recognitions at the facility and is now having nearly a perfect behavior rating each day. He is engaged in all his therapy sessions, is respectful of staff, is eager to help peers, is engaged in his school work and is one of the rising stars on the school basketball team. The insurance company representative struggled to see why Ozzie needed to remain.

My argument was that if we were discussing a patient with a physical ailment, perhaps a brain tumor that was causing symptoms that put the patient’s life in danger, they (the insurance company) would never interrupt that surgery while the patient lay on the table with his brain exposed to question whether the surgery was still needed. They would never look at that patient’s vital signs (all stable thanks to the iv, respirator, anesthesiologist and nurses by his side) and say, “well his symptoms seem minimal now. He is not complaining of blurry vision or headaches now. Go ahead and close him up.”

What a crazy thought, right?!

And yet that is exactly what we see time and time again in the mental health field. Before the “trauma tumor” has even been removed they are talking about closing him up and sending him home.

Luckily…or shall I say, blessedly…he was granted an extension. His therapist made an impassioned plea on his behalf explaining that we are just now getting to the trauma work of EMDR and that it is a slow and methodical process that can’t be rushed due to the extreme nature of Ozzie’s traumatic history. He was approved for 90 more days. This doesn’t mean he will be there for the full 90 days, but it gives his treatment team 90 days to work with, which is a huge blessing for Oz.

Following our family therapy session and our monthly treatment meeting I arranged to take Ozzie out of school for a lunch date. I figured if I had made the trek up there we should at least get some special one-on-one time in. Ozzie was thrilled with the prospect of an afternoon out.

The plan was to go to lunch and then spend some time at Toys R Us so he could create a wish list for his upcoming birthday. He will be turning 14 in a month (How is that possible?!) and he is very excited.

He chose to celebrate his Pittsburgh roots with lunch at Primanti Bros. restaurant; famous for its enormous sandwiches topped with coleslaw and fries.

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Ozzie ordered the Pitts-burger, I had a Reuben, and we enjoyed a fun lunch date.


After lunch we spent an hour at Toys R Us exploring, playing, creating Ozzie’s birthday wish list, and making plans for his birthday weekend visit home.


It was a special day with Ozzie.

We are so proud of the journey he is taking toward healing and so happy he can continue in his quest.