Tag Archives: adoption

Packed with Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We enjoyed a yummy dinner,

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

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and a fun game I downloaded off the internet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of changes for Tyler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What joy fills my heart to see my youngest thriving.

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We are so proud of you, Tyler!

The Blessing of Blogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

How grateful I am for this journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Meeting with the Insurance Company- EEK!

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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.

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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.

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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.

It’s Time to Buckle Down and Blog

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I don’t know if it is the after Christmas crash, the flu bug that swept through our house knocking us all flat on our backs, or simply the fact that we find ourselves in hibernation season, but I have struggled to find the creativity or motivation to do anything beyond the bare minimum.

Instead I find myself resting, and dreaming, and gazing out at the winter wonderland that decorates the world outside my window.

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With each passing year I find myself more enamored with the month of January. As a child I found it to be a horribly long and dull month, especially coming on the heels of the sparkle and shine of December, but as I grow older (and perhaps a bit wiser) I see January for the gift that it is. It is the resting month. Without the crazy schedule and social obligations of December, and yet too early for the labor of spring, January asks very little of us.

The weather outside encourages us to hunker down.

The early nights drive us to our beds at a decent hour.

And the calendar remains blissfully free of obligations.

It is the resting month…a season that encourages us to find the same stillness in our souls that we find in the hush of the softly falling snow.

I am grateful for this season of rest. I feel its healing powers and recognize its purpose. I have come to embrace it with an open heart and eager anticipation. It is a season of hibernation and healing and I have embraced this season fully…perhaps too fully, as I have struggled to tap into any creative thinking or desire to do much more than watch snowflakes drift down to the earth.

This lack of creativity and motivation has resulted in a pronounced silence on the blog. Life continues to happen and yet my diligence in recording the moments that make up our life is seriously faltering, and it seems the more behind I get in my writing the more I avoid beginning, so forgive this disjointed, seemingly unconnected recording of recent life events. I am forcing myself to step away from the view at the window and write.

So here it goes…a much overdue “catch up” post:

#1. Last Wednesday marked the final day of the Semester for Molly and Rusty. They worked hard and both earned the A’s they were hoping for. The following day they were off school so that the teachers could have a grading day. Knowing there was no school on Thursday the girls decided to get together with Olivia and Tatum for an impromptu sleepover. In addition to Molly and Tatum celebrating the end of the quarter this sleepover also gave Grace and Olivia a chance to get together before their college courses start up again and life gets busy.

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The girls had a wonderful time. It was a relaxed, laid back  evening of talking, laughing, movie watching and cupcake decorating. Olivia, the resident baker, had cupcakes and icing leftover from an order she filled earlier that day so the girls got creative and had a fun time in the kitchen creating beautiful AND delicious masterpieces.

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 #2. Since Christmas break Tyler and I have adjusted his school schedule slightly. Rather than jumping straight into his first subject of the day at 9:00 am, I decided to try something new. With just a little shuffling and rearranging I was able to move Reading to 9:30, freeing up a half hour for some transition time.

Transitions are hard for Tyler. I think they are hard for a lot of kids, but they tend to be extremely challenging for kids from hard places. For a kid whose early years were unstable and uncertain, change is something scary. And despite the fact that he logically knows that transitions from one task to another in his life now won’t bring danger or loss, the primitive part of his brain screams with fear when he is asked to leave one situation and step into another. There is a primitive drive to be in control and alert. As a result we have found it hugely beneficial to invest  time and energy into prepping Tyler for transitions…both big life transitions but also small daily transitions with prompts like, “10 more minutes of play and then we will be going inside to eat.” Explaining exactly what will happen next or what to expect when stepping into an unfamiliar situation helps to lessen that “fight, flight, or freeze” response and makes transitions significantly easier for all involved.

One transition that has made a world of difference in our school day is the addition of a game time at the start of our day. Rather than jumping straight from free time to reading time we have added a half hour of  game time to start our day. This easing into the day has made a world of difference. It allows Tyler to be excited about the transition from free time to school time, as well as giving us a consistent time block to focus on the TBRI principle of attachment through a fun, child-led activity.

The game of choice lately has been chess.

For Christmas Tyler received his own chess set…

And not just any chess set,

A Mario Brothers chess set!

Tyler was introduced to the game of chess by Rusty a few years ago. Rusty loves the game of chess and has multiple chess boards that he treasures but also cautiously guards. Tyler can only play with them if he and Russ are playing a game together, so Tyler asked Santa for his own chess set for Christmas.

Not knowing how to play myself, this chess set has given Tyler the chance to be the teacher as he schools me on the rules of chess. Chess is also a tool Miss Tina uses with him in therapy. Playing a game of chess while talking through harder stuff allows Tyler to focus on a task so as to not drown under the hard thoughts and emotions they are discussing.

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#3. Following Christmas we were hit with the dreaded stomach flu that is sweeping across the nation. While typically a healthy crew, our family (or at least the Momma of this family) has an unchosen annual tradition of falling ill the first week of January. It never fails. Year after year we are hit with the latest strain of flu and it moves quickly through our house taking out each of us one by one and sometimes circling back around for round two.

I credit this annual occurrence to the after Christmas crash. Worn down by the busyness of the Christmas season and suffering from lack of nutrients after feasting on cookies and milk for weeks on end, our bodies succumb to germs. It is as though we are finally still enough for the germs to catch us and wiped out enough for them to take hold.

This year was no exception. The stomach flu made it rounds at Patchwork Farm bringing with it fever, chills, aches, stomach cramps, and debilitating fatigue. The blessing was that although it hit hard it moved on quickly, lasting only a day or two.

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#4. Miss Grace had a lovely break from school. While all her younger siblings were back to the grind the first week of January, Grace was off until the third week of January. That’s the benefit of a college schedule! She used this month of freedom to catch up on projects that she hadn’t had time for when school was in session. She organized her room, caught up on sleep, planned some outings with friends, spent time on Pinterest seeking out projects and recipes and then jumped into said creative projects and baking.

We were the beneficiaries of her Pinterest driven baking spree. One of our favorite treats from this past month was her peach fry pies. They tasted just like the ones we buy in Amish country.

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Using refrigerated pie crust she cut small circles using a biscuit cutter, filled the circle with peach pie filling, sealed it with another circle, and then baked them. When they came out of the oven she dipped them in an icing glaze and let them set up.

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They were amazing!

#5. Over the last few weeks we have been hit with a lot of snow, leaving the yard looking like a winter wonderland. As someone who loves winter and loves the snow, I have no complaints. I find it far better than the muddy winter we endured last year, but that is not to say that this season of beauty is without challenges. The frigid temperatures have made caring for the farm animals harder, and the ice on the driveway means having to park at the bottom and hike in and out…

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A task that is lovely if you are traveling empty handed, but far more frustrating for Toby who has had to hike materials and tools down to his truck each morning. At least our Fit Bit’s are pleased. We have had no trouble hitting our 10,000 steps!

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Well, there you go…

My attempt to break the silence and get back on track.

I’ll try to do better! 😉

Welcome, 2018! We are so glad to see you!

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Some years are hard to say good-bye to. Some are not.

There are years of blessings and sweet reprieve and then there are years, much like a guest who has overstayed their welcome, that leave one ready to help them out the door with a boot to the butt.

2017 was one of THOSE years.

It was the hardest year we have lived as a family. There were challenges we never guessed would be part of our family’s story, and trials that exceeded anything I could have fathomed five years ago. This year was an out-of-control, white-knuckle ride that taught us much about surrender and left us looking to our only source of hope: the divine conductor.

It was an unpleasant year of stretching…a dichotomy of great discomfort but also great growth.

Its funny how those two things seem to be attached by an unbreakable string.

The lessons learned this year were essential, even blessed, and now that I have survived the storm I can look back and see that what seemed an out of control nightmare was a divinely orchestrated season of pruning, a needed season before we could bear fruit.

I can look back now and see things more clearly than I could when I was drowning in despair 6 months ago.

I see the purpose.

I see the growth.

I see the blessing and care.

And I see that single set of footprints in the sand left by a loving Lord who carried us through the last 12 months…

But I’d be lying if I said I was sad to see 2017 go.

There is a sense of relief that 2017 has come to a close, as well and profound feelings of hope that next year with hold more laughter than tears.

Welcome, 2018! We are so glad to see you!!

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It has become a annual tradition to join our friends, the Hudaks, in ringing in the New Year…and do so in spectacular fashion!

The evening revolves around food, as all good celebrations do. We make a variety of appetizers to add to the scrumptious feast laid out by our hosts, and together have one heck of a spread!

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We arrived to begin the countdown at 7:00 pm. The night began with eating and visiting. Everyone enjoyed the opportunity to catch up and hear about each other’s Christmases. At 9:00 pm the countdown to New Year’s began.

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For the last few years we have planned fun activities and games to countdown the minutes leading up to the ball dropping in Times Square. The kids never know what is planned so these activities are revealed by popping a balloon every 30 minutes that contain a paper declaring the next activity.

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The planned activities kicked off at 9:00 with some fun 2017 trivia and a “Year in Review” sheet for everyone to fill out. This has become a beloved tradition that I treasure. It is so much fun to see what each of my kids write in their reflections as they look back on the past year, as well as read their goals for the upcoming year. Scrapbooking these sheets allows me to look back on their evolution and growth as they grow from children to young adults.

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At 9:30 the next balloon was popped. This was a game that required some floor space so we moved down to the basement where the kids would have room to spread out in a large circle. For this fun, high adrenaline game the kids took turns rolling two sets of di with the goal of roling a double. When someone rolled a double they got to pick one of the movie theatre candies from the center of the circle OR steal from another player. This twist in the game made for a lot of squeals and groans as the kids acquired their favorite treat only to lose it with the roll of the dice. At the end of 10 minutes everyone got to keep whatever candy was in their possession.

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At 10:00 the kids broke into two teams: boys vs girls, for a “Selfie Scavenger Hunt.” The list they were given instructed them to take selfies with the 15 items on their list, most of which revolved around the Christmas season. It was a delight sitting back and watching the eight of them race and scramble to try and find all the items on their list.

 

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“A selfie with your first ornament”

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“A selfie of you decorating the tree”

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“A selfie with Rudolph”

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“A snow angel”

 

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“A selfie with Rudolph”

 

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“Selfie with a snow angel”

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“Selfie with a gift”

 

At 10:30 we engaged in a little “Hanky Panky”…a game that is as much fun to photograph as it is to play. Everyone gathered in the living room with a fresh box of tissues on their laps. On the count of three everyone began pulling tissues from their box, one at a time, with the goal of being the first to empty their box. We thought the Hudak’s propensity towards allergies would put them at a distinct advantage over the  McCleerys, but Toby (our Dark Horse) pulled off a spectacular win.

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At 11:00 it was time to introduce the Hudak’s to “Speak Out,” a game we enjoyed immensely at our “Mock New Year’s Eve party” two days prior.

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Lucas was hilarious! We laughed until we cried.

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As midnight loomed we had time for one last activity. This one came from the Hudaks. It was time for our traditional launching of the sky lanterns. Decorated with our hopes and dream for the New Year, we stepped outside and launched  our dreams toward Heaven.

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There is something so beautiful about penning our hopes on paper and setting them a flight, both figuratively and in actuality.

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The night was cold and still as we watched our lanterns of light float away.

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By then it was almost midnight.

Bubbly was poured (Non-alcoholic, of course) 😉

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Pay no mind to the drunk behind the curtain

And hats were donned, as we counted down to a New Year.

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We ushered in 2018 with cheers, kisses, and the Hudak tradition of a barefoot run through the snow…BRRRRR!!

 

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Lucas: Mr. “Too cool for School” was unfazed by the experience.

 

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Then enjoyed the warmth of the fire and good company until our carriage turned back to a pumpkin and it was time to return home.

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Happy New Year, from our family to yours!

Happy “mock” New Year!

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The original plan was to return Ozzie back to Erie on Saturday.

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The tradition in our family is to eat our gingerbread houses on New Year’s day and then feed the leftovers to Harley D. Hog, our pot belly pig. Since Ozzie was leaving on Saturday, he dug into his sugar house a few days early.

The treatment team at the facility where he is staying to receive inpatient therapy approved him for an 8 day stay at home. This meant he would be returning on December 30th. Although thrilled at the prospect of 8 days at home, he was disappointed he would be missing our annual New Year’s Eve party at the Hudak’s house. We decided to address that disappointment with an awesome “Plan B” and decided to have a “mock” New Year’s Eve party on Friday night with just our little family. I’ll be honest, after a full day at the museum and 3 hours on the road, the last thing I really wanted to do when I got home on Friday evening was make a ton of food and stay up late, but I tapped deep knowing how important it was to Ozzie and knowing that once I got through the work of making all the hors d’oeuvres, we would have fun.

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Gracie’s fruit pizza was delicious!

 

So, with the help of the girls, we began baking, and mixing, and broiling until we had an impressive feast laid out on the table.

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The boys were given the task of pulling board games from the game closet that would be fun to play at our “mock” New Year’s Eve party. The kids had received a few new games for Christmas that they wanted to play so we started with those.

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One of the items on Ozzie’s Christmas wish list was the game “Chutes and Ladders.” It is Ozzie’s favorite game, due in large part (I think) to memories attached to the game, so it was one of the gifts Ozzie received Christmas morning. He asked if it could be the first game we played as a family.

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Next, we played “Speak Out,” a game Tyler received from the Kirks for Christmas. I don’t know when I have ever laughed so hard. The premise of the game is that players have to read tongue twisters off a card while wearing plastic mouth pieces.  It is supposed to be played parents vs kids, but minutes into the game Toby left us. He had been hit with a stomach flu and was not feeling well. Soon after that  Ozzie wandered off and fell asleep on the couch, leaving the rest of us to  “Speak Out” in the dining room.

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Tyler was particularly hilarious. The combination of talking through the mouth piece and being dyslexic just added to the absurdity of the words he was reading off the cards and the challenge of trying to figure out what he was saying. His solution to our incompetence was to simply speak more quickly and more loudly making it pretty much impossible to understand a word of what he was saying.

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Rusty was by far the best at enunciating around the mouth piece. Grace credits it to the fact that Rusty had braces most recently and is used to talking around a mouth full of gear,

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Matching smiles…Thanks, Dr. G!

while I believe it has more to do with the mouth size to plastic ratio…the bigger the mouth the easier it is to be understood.

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By the time we were done playing my cheeks ached and my stomach hurt from laughing so hard.

Ozzie didn’t even make it to 10:00. It turns out his new 8:00 bedtime at the facility has adjusted his internal clock and by 9:30 he was fast asleep on the couch, but it turns out our mock New Year’s Eve celebration was not even necessary…

Beginning Christmas day and continuing through the remainder of the week it snowed in Erie…

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The snow we received was nothing compared to Erie’s snow!

And I mean SNOWED!

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Over the course of a few days Erie had almost five feet of snow dumped on their doorstep thanks to lake effect weather. What this meant for us was a call on Saturday morning from the facility informing us that Ozzie’s stay had been extended until it was safe to travel on the roads up north. They suggested a new return date of January 1st, which meant our “mock” New Year’s Eve turned out to simply be a dress rehearsal for the real deal. It turned out that Ozzie would be home for New Year’s after all. When I stepped out of my room, following this unexpected call, and shared the news, Ozzie reacted with shouts of joy. He was over the moon excited, both by the news he wasn’t leaving that afternoon, but also by the news that he wouldn’t miss out on our traditional New Year’s Eve bash at the Hudak’s house.

(More on that in the next post!)

I’ll leave you with these photos taken during our trip north on January 1st, after dropping off Ozzie:

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Our drive up was sketchy, even two days later.

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It was beautiful.

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Look at those icicles!!

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We drove out on Presque Isle to check out the ice dunes. It was bitter cold!

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How deep will she sink?

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Yes, it was as cold as it looks! Brr…

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That’s a lot of snow!!!

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The snow in Erie was quite impressive!

Reindeer, and Rabbits, and Robin…Oh My!

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We all have our own favorite holiday traditions.

In fact, it sometimes feels as though the Christmas season doesn’t last nearly long enough to fit in everyone’s favorite holiday activities amid the busyness of everyday life that continues to march on through the month of December…

despite everyone’s wish that we could just “play” all month long.

We have learned that we must prioritize.

We begin the Christmas season with a family meeting where we discuss the family’s vision for the upcoming month and each family member gets to weigh in on what family traditions are most important to them. Using this “Top 7” list we begin to pencil in some of the activities on the December page of the calendar. Many of these traditions take place at our weekly Family Night when everyone is home together. Because of Ozzie’s absence this holiday season we have worked hard to reformulate the way we do some of these beloved traditions so that he wouldn’t have to miss out. It isn’t the same as him being home, but it is the next best thing.

Christmas time is about unconditional love, service, sacrifice, giving of oneself, and family, and we have tried to bring those key values into our visits with Ozzie.

Sunday was our cookie decorating day. Having baked 4 dozen sugar cookies on Saturday, Sunday was freed up to enjoy the fun part of the project which was the decorating. Knowing how much Ozzie loves this particular Christmas tradition we brought to our weekly visit a container of homemade sugar cookies, icing, and lots of sprinkles and glitter so he could decorate, share, and of course eat his fill of cut-out cookies.

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When we returned home (after a great visit with Ozzie) we proceeded to do it all over again with the other four kids. Supplies were gathered and spread across the plastic tablecloth as everyone took their seats around the dining room table.

But someone was missing.

Tyler was hiding once again.

These last two weeks have been fraught with high anxiety and hard emotions. I think the combination of the holiday season, and all the hard emotions that come with the holidays when you have had the past that Tyler has, as well as the realization that Ozzie is coming home in a few days (which brings with it feelings of excitement and joy but also feelings of anxiety and fear) has led to an increase in his already noticeable facial tics ,as well as an increase in his tendency to hide in closets or small spaces…a regression that occurs when he is afraid.

I knew he was struggling and knew it was better to not push, so we began decorating cookies with Tyler hiding behind the Christmas boxes in the corner. My hope was that as he listened to the lightness and laughter of our activity his anxiety would decrease and he would emerge when he was ready…

And he did.

Eventually everyone was seated at the table enjoying this favorite Christmas tradition.

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I loved the creativity shown as family members took traditionally shaped cut-out cookies and found within the familiar lines less familiar objects…

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Gingerbread men were turned into reindeer:

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Stockings transformed into bunnies:

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Trees became clocks:

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Presents were turned into snow globes:

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Tyler turned his gingerbread boy into Batman’s sidekick, Robin:

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And Toby took a deformed stocking and found within its distorted lines the Statue of Liberty:

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The end result was 3 platters of the most creative Christmas cookies EVER,

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And a night filled with special family memories.

Oh, Crap!!

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The first clue that perhaps all was not right with the world was the smell.

Rusty and Grace were at home, alone, when they caught the first whiff. A quick glance around the room for 4-legged suspects revealed that the most likely instigators of the smell were curled up on couches elsewhere. They decided they better investigate.

Their keen sense of smell led them to the basement door. As they opened the door to investigate they were hit with a putrid wave of foreboding. Hesitantly and with great apprehension they began descending down the stairs only to step into a nightmare-inducing horror film. A pipe above their head was showering down feces in a most spectacular fashion, while the contents of our septic tank bubbled up from the drains on the floor.

Being McCleery’s, these kids have been better trained for the worst sorts of disaster scenarios than most government FEMA workers. Rather than running from the horror that lay before them they jumped into this crappy scenario with both feet (after donning rubber boots) and set to work trying to save what they could.

Racing through the sewage bubbling up beneath their feet and raining down on them from above, they hurried to move boxes out of the path of destruction.

When they finally felt that things were safe enough to run upstairs for the phone they called Toby and asked what they should do. After confirming that there was nothing else that could be done until he made it home from work, they called me at tutoring to give me a heads up of what I would be coming home to.

In typical Gracie  efficiency, she ended the conversation with a breezy, “Don’t feel like you have to hurry home. We’ve got things under control here.”

When Tyler was done with tutoring we drove home. As we stepped into the front door we were hit with the unique smell combination of sewage layered with ocean breeze air freshener, AXE cologne, and a variety of Bath and Body Works body sprays. I’m not sure if the AXE cologne helped or hurt the situation but the kids insisted that things smelled significantly better with the added scents.

Toby arrived home and headed downstairs only to emerge a little while later with the unfortunate news that there was nothing to be done until septic companies opened the following morning. In the meantime we just had to endure the smell and not use any water. That meant no showers, no dishes, no laundry, and especially NO FLUSHING until we figured out why our basement was filling with sewage.

The next day angels in rubber gloves pulled into our driveway.

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For three hours they worked to remedy our situation. Thankfully they discovered the blockage and was able to fix it, and while they were here we also had them pump our septic tank. One septic emergency was enough for this lifetime so we chose to be proactive while we had the truck here.

Once the problem was solved and the shower of crap had ceased, it was time to brave the horror downstairs and clean up the mess. All I can say is, “Kuddos to these kiddos who without comment or complaint, pulled on their rubber boots and rubber gloves, grabbed a shovel and began scooping.”

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What troopers they were. No strangers to crappy situations, they just dove into this unpleasant task with steely resolve and a good sense of humor and within a few hours had turned our septic swamp back into a basement.

While most teenagers would have been bemoaning this unforeseen change in our Family Night plans, Molly, with typical optimism, cheerful commented as she shoveled poop into trash bags, ” Well, this is one Family Night we will NEVER forget!”

Once everything had been scooped and scrubbed, we doused the basement in bleach to kill any residual germs. As we stumbled upstairs, weary and ready for showers, Tyler took a huge sniff. “Our house doesn’t smell like poop anymore,” he observed, “Now it smells like Kalahari!” The smell of bleach did give the impression we had just walked into an indoor water park. 🙂

All was well that ended well…or so we thought.

The real damage done by this unexpected circumstance had nothing to do with the pile of ruined storage that got carried outside. No, the real damage was far more devastating…

Beginning on Monday night, the night the septic tank back up into our basement, we noticed a concerning change in Tyler. Out of nowhere he developed a pronounced facial tic. It was bizarre. It came on quickly and increased in severity within the first 24 hours. My first thought was that he was having a seizure, as it was disconcerting to see his facial muscles rapidly clench and release as his eyes rapidly blinked. What was even more disconcerting was the fact that he was unaware he was even doing it.

As the week progressed I spent countless hours researching possible causes and set up appointments with his doctor, therapist, and psychiatrist, uncertain if the cause was neurological, medication driven, or rooted in trauma. I had a theory but it wasn’t until we met with his therapist and his psychiatrist that my theory was confirmed. They agreed that what we were seeing was a regression that came as a result of the smell of feces in the house. The sense of smell is the strongest memory trigger we have and they both suspect that when Tyler was exposed to a smell that was so pronounced in the deplorable conditions of his birth home where atrocious abuse took place, he was hit with terrifying flashbacks. Unable to express or vent the horrors playing out in his head, his body responded to that fear and stress physiologically in the form of these new facial tics.

We are still ruling out other possible medical causes but his doctors are fairly certain that this regression is trauma driven, and although the smell is long gone, the flashbacks remain and the feelings of not being safe at home are driving these new symptoms. My heart breaks for him. Not only because of the looks he is now getting from others, but because of the horrors that he must have endured to cause his little body to have such a visceral reaction to a smell.

This entire week has been a profound reminder of the difference between the frustrations and the bothersome inconveniences of life that we perhaps view as trials, and the real trials of life that so many are burdened with this Christmas season. Yes, a basement full of sewage was not fun, but really, was it anything more that a frustration or irritation. How blessed we are to have only endured that situation for 24 hours when there are children around the globe living in such squalor every day. It was a wake-up call for me…a powerful reminder this Christmas season of how blessed we are, but also wake up call of how little we are doing to help those whose trials are so much greater than ours.

Lord, help me to not lose sight of that admonition…

Not only this Christmas season, but all year long.

 

So Much to Be Thankful For!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ozzie was buzzing with excitement and anxious anticipation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, the difference a couple months can make.

God is good, indeed. ❤