Tag Archives: adoption

The Magic of Christmas Eve

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Christmas Eve…a night filled with the magic of possibilities!

Nowhere is the magic more pronounced than the Christmas magic found at the Homestead on Christmas Eve.

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Toby had the day off work so we packed up the car with sleeping bags and pillows, Christmas pajamas, bags of stocking stuffers, wrapped presents, and some very excited children, and headed out to Ohio.

We arrived and were greeted by the enthusiastic barking of Ranger and Rosie, the resident German Shepherds. After long-overdue hugs with Travis and Krista, our family from the Lone Star state, and Christmas greetings with Mimi and Pop Pop, we bid them good-bye as they left for early Christmas Eve mass.

While they were gone we began preparations for our Christmas Eve feast of appetizers and dips. The spread was as abundant as it was varied.

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Everyone pitched in to help,

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With breaks taken for sampling and checking out the action on Santa Tracker.

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Despite knowing the truth about Christmas, Ozzie, my map loving kiddo, still loves watching Santa’s progress across the world on Christmas Eve.

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When the rest of the family arrived home, the celebration began in full force.

We had Grace and Zach with us on Christmas Eve for a few hours, before they left for home to spend Christmas Day with Zach’s side of the family.

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It was a joy to have them with us for our Christmas Eve traditions!

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The newlywed’s first Christmas

Our evening of fun began with our evening feast.

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We enjoyed filling our bellies with delicious food while feeding our souls with family time as we chatted and laughed together.

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The O3- united again!

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Oh,  how I love this boy of mine!

 

After dinner it was time for games and our annual white elephant gift exchange. This is a tradition that began a decade ago and always leads to many laughs.

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This is a tradition I have responsibility over, which means each year I shop for inexpensive, but ridiculous gifts, that I wrap up to look far more appealing than the gift within actually is. Dollar Tree is my usual shopping spot as it offers the weird and the unusual for as cheap as can be. After 10 years of my annual shopping trips to Dollar Tree I found I had exhausted all the possibilities for our white elephant game.

It was time to up the stakes!

Five Below, here I come!

The result of a slightly increased game budget and a new shopping venue paid dividends.

Everyone battled for gifts they were certain held treasures.

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Once everyone had a gift in hand, we all took turns unwrapping and revealing our AWESOME wins!

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Braden’s face speaks volumes!

And boy were they belly-laugh inducing!!

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Tyler enjoying his remote control poop…

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Travis trying out Krista’s voice altering machine.

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I think Grace loves her new board game!

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Mimi creating beautiful music with her piano tie.

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It was like something from a SNL skit.

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Rusty made his own Forky!

After our game we bundled up and headed to the barn for another Christmas Eve tradition…

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Dad reading the Christmas story from Luke as we sat in the stillness of the barn.

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It is always the highlight of my Christmas. There is something holy about the experience as we sit in the darkness of the barn, listening to the slow cadence of my father’s voice as he tells the story of Christ’s humble birth so many years ago…

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Interrupted only by the occasional call from a goat.

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Our time in the barn ended with the singing of a Christmas hymn and some donkey lovin’ on Georgie before we made our way back to the house.

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Grace and Zack prepared to take their leave. They had a 2 1/2 hour drive ahead of them, made all the more arduous by the thick fog that had settled on the valley…

And the other kids unwrapped their gifts of new pajamas for Christmas Eve.

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“Yabba Dabba Doo!”

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The Flash, A ballerina pig, Genie, and Jack Skellington

Warm and snuggly, they headed off for bed while the rest of us brought Christmas to life by filling the empty spaces around the tree with beautifully wrapped packages,

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And filled the stockings with trinkets and treats.

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Christmas could now arrive!

And then it was off to bed for a few stolen winks of sleep for the adults before the festive fun resumed.

 

‘Twas the Night Before, the Night Before, Christmas

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On December 23rd I received the best Christmas gift of all…

Having all my kiddos home together!

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On Monday night we picked up Ozzie in Pittsburgh, where the transport van from his residential facility dropped him off. He was as excited at the prospect of Christmas as the rest of my crew.

We arrived home and there we were joined by Grace and Zach, as well as Toby who arrived home with pizza in hand. It was our annual “The night before, the night before Christmas” party…One of my favorite nights of the Christmas season.

A few years ago we began the tradition of setting aside December 23rd for the kids to exchange gifts with one another. This tradition began when we saw that the gifts, so lovingly made or purchased by brothers and sisters, often got lost in the larger gifts from Santa and other relatives on Christmas morning. In an effort to forge connection, encourage thoughtful giving, and increase gratitude among siblings we decided to set aside a night specific to gift giving in our immediate family.

Since December 23rd was already the night we traditionally gifted the kids with their yearly Christmas ornament, we decided to make it a celebration of our immediate family before joining our extended family members on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the days that followed.

This was one of the best ideas we had as a family and this tradition has become the highlight of my Christmas season. As a mom it brings me such joy to see the love shown among siblings as they thoughtfully bring the magic of Christmas to their siblings.

This year we switched things up a bit and rather than everyone making or buying gifts for everyone else, the siblings instead drew names and shopped for just one person, allowing everyone to really personalize their efforts and focus on showing love to one certain sibling. With Zach in the mix we now had seven kids each picking a name and shopping for one another.

The night began with the traditional reading of my favorite Christmas book of all time, one that delights me in its relatability!

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After a yummy pizza dinner it was time to begin the gift giving. We began with our ornament exchange. Every year Toby and I purchase for each child (and each other) an ornament that is reflective of interests, hobbies, or events from the past year. This was a tradition we began on Gracie’s first birthday and it is always a delight to unpack years’ worth of memories when we decorate the tree.

This year Gracie married Zach and took her 21 years worth of Christmas ornaments to her new home to decorate their first tree as a newlywed couple. This is a gift of love each child will be able to look forward to as they launch and have homes and Christmas trees of their own.

This year we focused our ornament choices on major life events for those kids who have experienced a life transition, and ornaments reflective of interests/hobbies for those who haven’t. We began handing out ornaments oldest to youngest.

Toby received a family ornament that highlights his new brood of kiddos…a brood that has grown by 2 this year through adi

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Toby continues with a two decade tradition of buying me another angel ornament for the tree. This year’s ornament he secretly purchased while we were at Disney World. (And I, of course, forgot to capture a photo of it. You’ll have to trust me when I say it is beautiful!)

This year we transitioned to a couple ornament for Grace and Zach. It had to reflect their new and exciting journey as husband and wife. This is what we chose:

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Molly’s ornament celebrated her graduation from 21st Century Cyber Charter School and her exciting launch into adulthood.

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Rusty’s ornament celebrated his beginning college classes through CCBC’s duel enrollment program. He is going to school to be a drone pilot.

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Braden experienced one of the family’s biggest life changes this year when he was adopted into our forever family. His ornament couldn’t be anything but a celebration of that wonderful day!

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Ozzie’s ornament was so perfectly Ozzie, that I had to buy it when I found it online. What ornament could be more perfect for my weather loving 15-year-old than a Galileo thermometer ornament for the tree!

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And Tyler’s “to-cool-for-school,” low-riding Santa, with accompanying soundtrack, fit our youngest perfectly!!

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Then it was time for the sibling gift exchange!!

Braden’s gift to Grace was a new lunch bag and thermos for her to take to work.

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Tyler bought Zach a few new board games.

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Rusty found a perfect gift for Ozzie. Ozzie loves puzzles and Rusty found a set of six mini puzzles online that are packages to look like mini boxes of cereal. He paired the puzzles with an actual variety pack of sample cereals.

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Gracie’s gift to Molly was equally personal and extra special. In honor of Molly’s upcoming temple experience Grace bought Molly a necklace bearing a stone setting made from the same marble as the Palmyra, NY Temple, where Molly will soon be making covenants with the Lord.

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Molly’s gift for Braden was two parts. The first was a new Sunday tie she purchased for him from Etsy that bears the symbol of his favorite superhero- The Flash. She also made him an affirmation jar filled with 100 strips of paper listing the things she loves and admires about him.

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Zach had Rusty’s name and bought him a Wall-E Disney-bounding outfit.

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Rusty also received a bonus gift from Toby…The world’s largest water bottle!! Rusty is our water drinker and is never without a water bottle in hand. We tease him about his excessive water consumption, so when Toby stumbled across this gigantic water bottle he couldn’t help but pick it up for Rusty.

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After the siblings had all exchanged gifts it was time for Toby and I to open our gifts from the kids. This was another tradition added to December 23rd for the same reason as the sibling gift exchange. We wanted to be able to really appreciate and focus on the gifts of love from our children without them getting lost in the chaos of Christmas morning. It is always a joy and a delight to see the amount of time, thought, creativity and effort our children put into showing us their love through their Christmas gifts.

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This note from Tyler is a keeper!!!

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Rusty knows what brings his dad joy.

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Ozzie carved and painted this Christmas plaque for me in workshop. Another treasure!

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Toby also received a jar of 100 affirmations from Miss Molly. A gift that will be treasured even more in her absence!

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And Rusty painted me a charming picture. I love Rusty originals!!

It was at the end of opening our gifts from the kids that Ozzie received his big surprise that we revealed in the last blog.

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It was a blessed night of loving and giving.

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My cup overfloweth!

 

Christmas Surprises!

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It was a week-long Christmas celebration at Patchwork Farm as we spread the magic of the day over five days, beginning with our big Christmas surprise reveal on the 22nd, and concluding our week of celebration five days later when we enjoyed a Christmas dinner and gift exchange with Mimi Joy.

Over the next few blogs we will share our family’s celebration of Christ’s birth and the family traditions that accompany this special season,

Beginning with a not-so-traditional surprise on December 22nd.

This year was our first year without believers in the home, and as sad as it is to transition to this next phase of parenting, it does offer certain advantages. One of those advantages is that we could be more untraditional in our gift giving. Last year we surprised the kids with a family vacation as their gift from Mom and Dad and then had small gifts under the tree on Christmas morning from the “big man.”

I loved it. As someone who puts far more value on family time and shared experiences than gifts that can be wrapped in paper, I thought it was our best Christmas ever. This year we talked about doing something similar, and rather than dumping a whole lot of money into stuff that will eventually break or wear out, why not put that money into creating memories that will last forever?!

Once that was our train of though the next step was choosing what that experience or trip would be. We weighed the possibilities of having each child receive a personal experience as their Christmas gift or planning a trip for the entire family. We ended up doing a little of both. We decided that a family trip would be the primary gift for most of the family, with Ozzie being the exception to the rule. Unfortunately, he is not cleared yet for extended home visits or family trips, so we planned a Christmas gift experience for Ozzie that was his alone to look forward to, and in the end was a far better surprise for Ozzie than any family trip we could gift him with.

The decision to gift the kids with a family vacation was spurred on in large part by Molly’s decision to take an 18 month leave from her schooling and serve a mission for our church. In the next few weeks we will find out where she will be serving and when she will be leaving. On her application she listed her first availability date as March 15th, so we decided we wanted to squeeze in a family vacation at the start of the year, before Molly left for 18 months.

Toby worked his magic and found an amazing deal that allowed for this awesome Christmas surprise.

On December 22nd, when Grace and Zach came over for Sunday dinner, the kids all received their Christmas gift. (Ozzie received his big surprise the following day when we returned home for Christmas.) We had the kids gather in the living room with their eyes shut and their hands out…

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They each received a bag filled with themed goodies…

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1, 2, 3…OPEN!

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We are taking the family on a 5-day cruise to the Bahamas!

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Merry Christmas!

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The following evening Ozzie received his Christmas gift.

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He received tickets to a NASCAR race…a gift he will enjoy far more than a family vacation.

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Here is his reaction to his Christmas surprise…

Needless to say, he was thrilled to the point of tears!

2020 promises to be a memory-making year!

 

 

 

“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!”

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A Christmas Story:

“Set during a snowy Christmas season in 1940’s Indiana, nine-year-old Ralphie longs for the ideal Christmas gift, a 200-Shot, Range-Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” But when gruff dad and doting mom, and even a stressed-out Santa quote the usual BB gun warning, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Ralphie mounts a full-scale, hint dropping campaign that is a sly combination of innocence and calculation. The movie is not only about Christmas and BB guns, but also about childhood and a semi-dysfunctional family life.

Ralphie endures endless kid-sized trials and classic moments: A bully with “yellow eyes” and a rancid coonskin cap terrorizes him. There is a sequence where a kid is not merely dared but Triple-Dog-Dared to stick his tongue onto a frozen lamp post, and the fire department has to be called to remove him from the pole. Ralphie’s Old Man winning the “Major Award” of a garish lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg. Ralphie blurts out the Queen Mother of swear words and gets his mouth washed out with Lifebuoy soap. His long-awaited Little Orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder Pin translates a radio program’s top-secret message that turns out to be a crummy commercial. Even Santa is a scary fraud. But Ralphie hangs tough and ends up getting his BB gun.”

A few years ago I discovered that the house used to film this iconic movie was in our own backyard…

Well, pretty close to our backyard…

And I’ve been itching to pay this classic Christmas location a visit.

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Monday provided us the opportunity. After a hard weekend I decided that a play day was in order. I was looking for a shot of Christmas cheer and just wanted a day of fun with my boys, so after a trip to Erie to drop Ozzie off we headed west to Cleveland to visit A Christmas Story House.

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We arrived and found parking between A Christmas Story House and the Bumpus House. Our hopes were dashed when no bloodhounds ran out to greet us.

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This Cleveland Street of 1940’s style houses is now largely dedicated to honoring the movie that was filmed here. On the street four separate homes have been set aside for this Christmas experience, including the Bumpus House which is now a bed and breakfast and can be rented out for the night, A Christmas Story House which is an interactive recreation of the actual movie set, A Christmas Story museum containing memorabilia from the movie and interesting background information about the making of the movie. The final building is a huge gift shop containing all sorts of fun Christmas Story souvenirs, like character hats, leg lamps, pink bunny pajamas and cans of Ovaltine.

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It was in the gift shop that we started our tour. We purchased tickets for the 12:15 tour and then perused the gift shop, killing time and enjoying some belly laughs!

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At 12:15 we joined two dozen other visitors and walked across the street to A Christmas Story House, our first stop on the tour.

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We gathered on the front steps to hear more about the history of the house and how it came to be the home used in the movie.

When production was in the beginning stages the production team began scouting out locations for filming. They were in search of a department store for filming the Santa scene. They sent out letters to department stores across the country hoping to find a store that offered a tall interior space that was capable of holding the two story Santa display with the exit slide, as well as a department store that would agree to keep their store decorated for Christmas, months past the Christmas season, so filming could take place.

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The call went out to hundreds of stores but only one responded. It was a department store in downtown Cleveland. The scouting crew made the trip to Cleveland and decided it was a perfect location for shooting that scene of the movie.

Knowing that Cleveland was a steel mill town, the production crew decided they wanted to get some long shots of the mills along the river. Rather than asking for directions they decided to follow the smoke pouring forth from the mills and in their search for the steel mills ended up in the neighborhood that would become the home base for the bulk of the movie. When they saw Ralphie’s house in particular, they knew they wanted to rent it for filming. It was as though the house was trapped in the 1940’s and held many of the elements they were looking for, including a porch large enough for the leg lamp delivery, a large picture window for displaying the major award, and a fenced-in backyard with a view of the mills.

They approached the owner while lunching at a pub across the street and offered him $20,000 to rent the house for three months. The owner quickly rehomed himself at a local hotel for the duration of filming. That pub is still there today and offers a “Randy Special” of meatloaf and mashed potatoes on their menu as well as a challenge to customers. If you can eat the entire dinner without using your hands or utensils you will win a free t-shirt.

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If we had more time it was a challenge Rusty would have eagerly taken on!

Then we entered the house and were set free to explore this interactive experience. We were allowed to touch decorations, sit on the furniture, and pose for pictures throughout the home that had been renovated to look like the original house that this 1983 classic was filmed in.

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I LOVED exploring and being able to actually step into a scene from a favorite childhood movie. The little details added to the suspension of disbelief, making us feel as though the Bumpus dogs would come running through the kitchen door any minute.

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The second floor consisted of Ralphie and Randy’s bedroom,

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And the bathroom where Ralphie decoded his Little Orphan Annie message and got his mouth washed out with soap.

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In the upstairs hall guests can lift the telephone receiver and listen to a familiar tirade.

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On the first floor we found the kitchen.

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While in the kitchen, Rusty climbed under the sink to reenact Randy hiding in fright, fearful Ralphie would be killed,

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We also checked out the dining room where the major reward was delivered.

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Many might recall that the printing on the crate cuts off, leaving it to say “His End Up.” We found out the reason for this. It turns out that a neighborhood carpenter was hired to build the crate. He failed to measure the front door, an oversite that wasn’t discovered until they were filming the scene. The quick fix was to saw off the edge, making it narrow enough to fit through the door and taking the “T” with it,

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The living room was where much of the movie was filmed, including:

Christmas morning under the tree,

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Ralphie listening to the Little Orphan Annie radio program,

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The Red Rider BB gun tucked behind the desk,

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And the leg lamp that holds a place of honor in the center window.

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We exited through the back door into the back yard that served as the scene for Ralphie’s broken glasses,

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Before walking across the street to the museum.

In the museum we were able to learn more behind the scene facts including the fact that at the last minute the director decided he wanted to pull an Alfred Hitchcock move and make a cameo appearance in his film. He appeared as a walk on during the scene when the Old Man was across the street admiring his major award from outside. The funny thing we learned about his impromptu appearance was that he didn’t think about a costume change, so in a scene of characters dressed in 1940’s clothes he is wearing a distinctly 1980’s outfit, complete with a Miami Dolphins knit hat.

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In the museum we were able to see many original costume pieces from A Christmas Story that are on display,

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As well as one of six of the original Red Rider BB guns that were manufactured for the film. Of the original six, only three are accounted for.

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The tour guide told us that when searching garage sales for these three missing pieces of movie memorabilia you can know they are authentic by three key traits: a compass on the stock of the gun, a sun dial on the stock, and the tassel on the left side of the gun. Once Tyler heard that the last one sold at auction sold for $200,000 he has been itching to hit a flea market or two!

In touring the museum we also learned that weather worked against the production crew that winter. There was no snow, and snow was need for the scenes they were filming. The solution? Soap suds! They hired the local fire department to coat the street in soap suds with their big hoses, creating the illusion of snow during a dry, unseasonably warm winter in Cleveland, Ohio.

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The illusion of falling snow through the picture window was created using boxed mashed potato flakes…genius!

Our final stop was at the two car garage attached to the museum. Parked within its walls were two of the original vehicles used in the filming of the movie…

The Old Man’s car whose flat tire led to Ralphie’s infamous, “Oh, Fudge!” moment:

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And the fire truck that came to Flick’s rescue when he took the triple-dog-dare and stuck his tongue to the frozen flag pole:

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If we didn’t have to hurry home for Tyler’s dyslexia tutoring we probably would have lingered longer at this fun Christmas location,

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But our day of Christmas festivities wasn’t done yet. We had another Christmas activity planned for that evening…

Stay tuned!

 

 

Time to Trim the Tree

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I am only just blogging about the second part to our tree hunt, but I promise we didn’t put off this beloved tradition until December 20th. We have been busily living life and my absence on this site is a reflection of that. This month of the year tends to hold the most memory making, blog-worthy moments of living and yet the fewest free minutes in which to record them. After a busy, busy day I find myself hunkered down at Wendy’s, nursing a Diet Coke and taking advantage of free WiFi (and an hour of time to kill between picking up kids from work and parties) and am making myself face the ever growing list of blogs that refuse to write themselves.

Although it may appear we took a two week break between cutting down our tree and putting up our tree, the lag was a mere 24 hours. On the Sunday following Thanksgiving our beautiful tree was carried into the house, and wrapped in lights, all in preparation for our Family Night lesson and activity. Grace and Zach joined us for dinner and then hung around for the Christmas lesson Rusty had planned on the #lighttheworld initiative.

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Then it was time to decorate the tree. Eggnog was poured, carols began to play, and the boxes of ornaments were opened. 22 years of memories were relived and reflected on as we pulled out each child’s ornaments to hang on the tree. Grace and Zach hung around to watch the fun, but opted not to join in on the actual decorating, having just decked out their own tree earlier that week.

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The boys loved digging through the tissue paper and ornament boxes in search of their favorites.

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Braden was excited to have an ornament of his own to hang on the tree this year, having received his traditional December 23rd ornament gift from Mom and Dad for the first time in 2018.

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When the branches of the evergreen were laden down with baubles and bulbs, we stepped back to take in the finished effect…

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It was magical!

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Not wanting Molly and Ozzie to miss out on this Christmas tradition, we made plans to include them in the fun. For Ozzie that meant putting aside all his ornaments for him to unwrap and hang on the tree during a weekend pass home.

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On the following weekend he loved pulling out his ornaments from the last six years, each personal and reflective of that year’s big events, and hanging them with flourish on the tree.

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For Molly we took a slightly different route. The toughest part of BYU-I’s finals week falling the week before Christmas was that Molly was going to miss out on so many beloved traditions that unfold in the weeks prior to Christmas. Molly wasn’t due to fly home until the 18th so we were determined to send some Christmas magic her way. I purchased a felt tree online, complete with Velcro Christmas ornaments, that could be hung on her door and decorated. We tossed in some fuzzy socks, hot cocoa, and Christmas cookies and mailed Christmas to her in a box!

The finished result of Molly and Katrina’s “tree decorating”:

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!!

Counting Our Blessings

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This Thanksgiving was untraditional in a lot of ways. As a family we are navigating some uniquely stressful and triggering challenges that we are unable to share with others for the time being. This Thanksgiving was reflective of that. We were not in a position that traveling to visit family was an option. The fact that Molly was unable to come home for the holiday, Grace was now a married woman, and Ozzie was only being given a 24 hour home pass meant that Thanksgiving would be different this year.

Rather than mourn the loss of what couldn’t be, or focus on the struggles of this season, we chose to embrace the weekend in an untraditional way, with new traditions this year.

Our holiday weekend began when we picked up Ozzie on Wednesday night. Because he would only be home for one night, we decided to make the most of his time at home and fit in as much fun as possible. We began with a trip to the movies.

Ozzie’s “gotcha day” falls on November 22nd. This is the anniversary of his adoption day, and like the other two boys, we celebrate “gotcha days” by allowing the adoptee to pick an activity that allows us to celebrate this special day in our family’s story. Ozzie was not at home this year on his “gotcha day” so we delayed his celebration a week and celebrated Wednesday night with a trip to the movies.

We went to see Ford vs Ferrari. 

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This movie has been on Ozzie’s wish list ever since seeing the ads for it. Anyone who knows Oz knows that he is obsessed with all things car and NASCAR related, so this movie was right up his alley! Needless to say, he was thrilled when he found out the plans for the evening. I knew Ozzie would love the movie but was surprised how much the rest of us enjoyed it. It was an amazing movie!

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Ozzie declared it the best movie he had ever seen.

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The following morning we woke up and began Thanksgiving preparations. Zach picked up Braden and Tyler for some Turkey Bowl football fun with the guys from church. Toby headed out for a morning of metal detecting at our local park, and Ozzie and Rusty stayed behind with me to help bake while we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

This year we weren’t eating Thanksgiving dinner with family or at home. Instead we were joining forces with Gracie’s in-laws and others for a Thanksgiving celebration at church. This ended up being a great blessing. The complete diversion from our traditional celebration made the situation bearable and even blessed. The food was wonderful (There was so much of it!) and the company even better! We were so busy feasting, fellowshipping and playing board games that I never captured a photo of the festivities…

A sure sign everyone was enjoying themselves.

At the end of the meal Toby and I made the five-hour, round trip trek to return Ozzie to his RTF and ourselves back home to bed.

Molly was also experiencing a different sort of Thanksgiving. Since a plane trip home for a long weekend wasn’t realistic, she was invited to spend Thanksgiving with a roommate’s family. Katrina is one of Molly’s eight roommates and her “bestie” out in Idaho. She invited Molly to join her family in Utah for Thanksgiving and Molly gratefully accepted. We were glad that Molly had someplace to spend the holiday and we were so thankful to Katrina’s family for being Molly’s holiday parents in our absence.

Molly had a wonderful Thanksgiving and sent us photos of her adventures in Utah, including:

A Thanksgiving 5K run,

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Baking pies with Katrina,

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A snowy trip to the temple,

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A BYU basketball game,

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And lots of fun, family/friend time!

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It was tough having Molly away for Thanksgiving but good preparation for the next adventure that is in store for Miss Molly. She has prayerfully decided to take a sabbatical from school and serve a mission for the Lord that will take her far from home for 18 months. She sent us this screen shot of her completed application and now we wait and see where the Lord will send our sweet girl.

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Oh, there is so much happening in and to our family and I find myself reeling a bit from the whiplash of so many changes occurring at once. I have to remind myself to keep on breathing and trusting God’s hand and plan in our life story.

We may not know how this chapter will end but we know how our story will end…

He had already penned the final paragraph,

and with God as the divine author, it promises to be a perfect ending.

 

 

 

Zoo Adventures

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On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving the boys’ school break began at noon. While they spent the morning wrapping up school work for the week, I spent the morning baking and prepping for our Thanksgiving feast. At noon we all hit pause on the tasks at hand and packed lunches for our afternoon adventure.

Ozzie had be approved for a 24 hour home pass for Thanksgiving Day and the transport van was scheduled to drop him off in Pittsburgh at 5:00pm. Knowing we needed to trek down to Pittsburgh anyway, and since school wrapped up early, we decided to take advantage of free zoo days at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

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For one week a year (usually during Thanksgiving week) the Pittsburgh Zoo opens their gates to the public for free as an expression of gratitude to the people of Pittsburgh. With the cost of admission being $16.95 per adult, this is a great deal to take advantage of, especially for large families made up of primarily adults!

We arrived and found the zoo to be far less crowded than we expected. We could only assume that most people were at home preparing Thanksgiving dishes for the following day.

The weather was beautiful. It was classic November weather. The sun warmed our faces while the chill in the air nipped at our noses. The winds were just strong enough to make the fallen leaves dance at our feet.

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 We had three hours to wander the zoo before needing to pick up Ozzie so we headed out exploring the zoo and enjoying the animals.

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One of our favorite exhibits was the gorilla enclosure where a baby stole the show with her toddler-like antics.

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I could have sat and watched her play all day!

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We also really enjoyed the beaver den where a family of kits kept their parents busy with their non-stop movement. There is a reason we use the expression, “Busy as a beaver.” One of the kits went about diligently collecting leaves and piling them in the corner of the pond. Unfortunately the little beaver hadn’t figured out the importance of placing your leaf collection on land if you want them to remain where you placed them. He continued to re-chase the same leaves that kept floating away from his pile into the center of the pond.

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The otters (both sea and river varieties) are always a family favorite. They truly are the “puppies of the sea.” They were so social and animated as they interacted with the visitors watching them through the glass.

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When we meandered by the sea lions we discovered a training session in progress. We stopped to watch as three trainers worked with the three sea lions, putting them through their paces as they showed off their collection of tricks.

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The aquarium is always Tyler’s favorite stop at the zoo.

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Pittsburgh boasts an impressive aquarium for a landlocked location, and for Tyler, our resident fish lover, this always proves to be his favorite part of the zoo.

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Personally, I am a fan of the larger mammals. I love the elephants and big cats that call Pittsburgh Zoo, “home.”

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Located in the area of the zoo called Pier Town guests will find the seals, otters, and of course the polar bear!

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The polar bear is another one of our favorite animals to watch!

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At 4:30pm we began moseying our way back to the front gate so we wouldn’t be late picking up Ozzie. We had a full Thanksgiving weekend ahead of us with many fun, family adventures planned,

But I can’t think of a better way to kick off our Thanksgiving holiday than a beautiful day at the zoo with three of my favorite guys!!

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Another McCleery on the Road!

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 This week I have begun working on our Christmas cards, and as I have been looking back on 2019 photos to use in our family Christmas card I am astounded at the amount of change our family has experienced over the course of 12 months. It kind of takes my breath away. It also validates the emotional exhaustion I find myself recovering from.

This year has been a big one for our family, both as an entire unit but also for individual members.

One of my kiddos who has experienced big life changes from this time last year is Braden. Over the course of 12 months he has experienced reunification with siblings, a new home/family, an adoption, his baptism, a name change, getting his first job, turning 18 years old, cyber schooling, and most recently joining a local basketball team and getting his driver’s license…

Yes, you read that right.

Braden is now navigating the roads independently at 70 mph.

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Watch out world!!

But in all seriousness we are excited for our son who really is a natural behind the wheel. (I only wish he didn’t realize how much of a natural he was!)

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He is excited by this new found freedom, and Toby and I are thrilled to have a second driver back in the home. He and Rusty are both in that sweet season of eagerness that’s seen in new drivers when the thrill of being on the road independently means that we always have someone who is eager to run to the store for milk or the post office for stamps.

I know this season doesn’t last forever so we will take full advantage of the novelty of new licenses while we can!

Braden was scheduled to take his road test on Wednesday at 9:00am. We arrived early so as to allow him 30 minutes of last minute practice at parallel parking before his test. Parallel parking has proven to be the Achilles heel for many of our family’s new drivers so the extra practice, right before testing, gave Braden the boost of confidence needed to pass with flying colors.

I watched from a window as he headed out with the testing instructor, first to the back lot for parallel parking, then onto the road for his road test. The minutes dragged by, which is always a good sign. (A quick return usually means a failure.)

When he did make it back he approached the building with a wide smile and a skip in his step. A thumbs up answered the question in my eye…He had passed!!

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Needless to say, he was excited to the point of giddiness. He now was the proud recipient of a driver’s license…

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Every young man’s ticket to freedom.

Well done, Braden!

We can’t wait to see where the road ahead takes you!

 

It went by in a FLASH!

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It is hard to believe it has been a little over a year since Braden moved in, and a mere seven months since he became our son. In so many ways it feels like he has been a part of our family forever and I can’t imagine life without him. It makes me sick to think of what could have been had we let fear, rather than faith, guide us in the decision to say “yes.”

Fear of what could go wrong hijacked our thoughts when we first received the call asking us if we would consider opening our home and hearts to a 17-year-old boy…Tyler’s biological brother. There were so many reasons to be nervous, so many unknowns, so many shared horror stories that we found ourselves paralyzed by the anxiety of the unknown. We didn’t realize it at the time but what should have scared us was the consideration of all that we would miss by saying “no.”

Luckily we were blessed with a social worker that didn’t accept our knee jerk reaction, driven by ignorance and fear, and instead supported us as we navigated our way through our questions and concerns.

She didn’t give up on us and neither did God, who had plans that were bigger than our own agenda and blueprint for our life. He heard our concerns and answered them with His truth, spoken with compassion and love…

Giving us the opportunity to be part of something so much bigger and better than ourselves.

That isn’t to say that the journey from a year ago to today was easy, smooth or without trials and triggers. It isn’t easy growing a family, and with the addition of another child comes growing pains. Adoption is hard but there is something humbling and divine  about getting to participate in something so heavenly orchestrated.

Our adoption journey with Braden has taught me to trust God’s plan and timing, even when it runs counter to our own plans for life.

When we said yes to adopting a 17-year-old boy I was overwhelmed by the task ahead of me and felt the pressure of time against me, wondering what difference we could make in Braden’s life with only a year of childhood left before he was legally an adult. I had experienced the long, arduous journey of attachment with both Tyler and Ozzie and knew how long and hard the road to attachment was. Could we make a difference in a year?  Would we even be able to scratch the surface of attachment after all the loss he has lived through and all the walls of protection he has had to build for self preservation?

Luckily, my Lord is bigger than my logic and He has proved time and time again that He is a God of miracles. He can move mountains, He can heal hearts. And he can grow families, regardless of the worldly obstacles that seem unmovable in reaching that goal.

It has only been a year but this sweet boy has my heart. How grateful I am that God didn’t let fear drive our decision. I can’t imagine our life or our family without him…

This week we celebrated his 18th birthday!

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Braden’s birthday celebration was split between two days. This was due to a special request he had for his birthday. He wanted to visit a haunted house!

Knowing that most haunted houses would be shut down by the first weekend in November, we made plans to celebrate his birthday a week early so as to grant his birthday request. On the Saturday before his birthday we made plans to visit a haunted house as a family, but first we met up with Grace and Zach for dinner!

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Braden wanted wings for his birthday dinner so we met at a local wing joint that boasts 100 different wing flavors.

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Everyone ordered a dozen wings of their chosen flavor and then we enjoyed a buffet of tastes as we passed the different wing flavors around the table so everyone could try one of each flavor.

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It was a delicious pre-birthday dinner!

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When dinner was complete Grace and Zach opted to bow out rather than join us at Freddy’s Haunts.

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Braden was very excited to visit this haunted house.

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He had never been to a haunted house before and was excited to experience the thrill of fright as we navigated our way through the haunted halls of this local fear factory. We also happened to be visiting on their “black-out weekend” when an already spooky experience gets amped up by the absence of lights.

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Each group is given a single glow stick to guide them through the darkness.

Forming a human chain and holding tightly to the family member ahead of us, Braden led us through a maze of dark hallways as spooks jumped out and stalked us for the hour and a half it took us to find our way out.

It was a creepy as you might imagine…

And Braden loved it!

The following Wednesday…on Braden’s actual birthday…we celebrated his 18th birthday.

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His birthday theme was built around his favorite superhero: The Flash!

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Many of his gifts reflected this theme, including gifts from Mimi Joy,

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And his gift from Rusty:

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He loved the love put into his special day and the gifts that were so thoughtfully chosen by friends and family.

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His gift from Mom and Dad was the BMX bike he’s been wishing for.

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Happy birthday, son. We can hardly believe you are 18…

This year has gone by in a FLASH!

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How blessed we feel to call you our son!

 

BYU-I Good-byes

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After a week-long trek across the United States, the day had finally arrived. It was time to get Molly settled into her new home and take our leave. We couldn’t delay the inevitable any longer!

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We woke on Friday morning with the mix of emotions evident on each and every face. As we prepared for the day ahead of us I tried to keep things light and focus on the fun and adventure of this new experience, but my efforts were overshadowed by palpable anxiety and the weight of grief. As hard as this day would be for Rusty, Molly and I, it was nothing to the overwhelming feelings of loss Braden was battling.

Despite reassurances that Molly would only be gone until Christmas and then we would get her home for four months until she returned for her spring semester, he still struggled. For him, as illogical as it may seem, this was just another loss in a long line of losing people he loves. It has been his experience that once you open your heart to someone, they will leave you… either to drugs, death, prison, or by simply being pulled from your life by the very system that is there to protect and preserve. Even though this experience was nothing like the losses of his past, the emotions felt all too similar, thus triggering thoughts of previous losses that were all too final.

It was with much prayer, compassion, and tenderness that we moved into the day.

Our first stop of the day was Molly’s new home. Rather than stay in a more traditional apartment style dorm, she opted to rent a room in a cute bungalow just six minutes from campus center.

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She would be sharing this charming home with eight roommates, many of whom we met as we unloaded her gear from the car.

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The boys were a big help as we toted in all Molly’s clothes, books and decorations.

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Molly’s room is a single. For a slightly higher monthly payment Molly opted to pay to have the room to herself. She felt this would be the best for her first semester. This way she can enjoy the comradery of shared living spaces with her eight roommates, but also would have a private space to escape to when she needs to be alone.

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Her room was generously large…far bigger than it seemed in the photos…

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And we soon set to work unpacking her boxes and turning her room into a home, with pictures and personal touches.

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The end result was nothing short of charming!!

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She has a large closet, a dresser, an elevated bed with storage below, a bookcase, and a desk area for studying.

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It is so cute and homey.

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Our next stop was Walmart to stock her kitchen cabinets until she gets into a routine of weekly grocery shopping. We arrived at Walmart to find every parking spot filled with new students and their families. I am not exaggerating when I say it was like Black Friday inside, with aisles filled to capacity and every register manned by a frazzled looking clerk.

We loaded up her cart with student-friendly food and made our way to the other side of the store to pick up a plastic storage tote and a footstool for climbing into bed.

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Then we navigated our way to the front where an employee was guiding customers through a maze of caution tape to the next open line. I am not kidding when I say it was like Black Friday shopping!

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We made it out alive and headed back to her apartment where we unloaded her groceries into her assigned kitchen cabinets…

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Then we headed over to campus to take care of some student tasks.

Our first stop was to check her in at the “Get Connected” tent where she was assigned her student mentors that would guide her through the next two days of activities. Here she also received her welcome booklet that spelled out all the fun being offered over the weekend.

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Then we began working our way through the “to-do” list for new freshman, including getting her student ID and picking up her preordered books from the bookstore.

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Then we split ways for a few hours as she joined up with her mentoring team for some new student activities like a welcome from the university president, a campus tour, meeting with the heads of each department, etc.

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While Molly was busy with the other freshman, Braden, Rusty and I grabbed lunch, perused the University Bookstore, and took advantage of a college tour. One of the primary reasons the boys accompanied Molly and I on this road trip was so they could tour the school and see if they might be interested in attending BYU-I themselves.

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By the time we were done with our campus tour, Molly was done with her scheduled activities. We met up in the Student Commons to get in line for the parent/student luau.

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The plan was to take our leave after a fun luau dinner with Miss Molly. It was a popular event, with the line to get in wrapping all around the commons.

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When it was our turn to go through the buffet line we were blown away by the spread of delicious Hawaiian fare.

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We were then seated in the ballroom to enjoy our meal,

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While being entertained by Polynesian dancers who were AMAZING!!

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At the end of the luau Molly walked with us back to the car to say her good-byes. I thought I was doing a superb job of holding it together until Braden started to cry, a lifetime of past losses written on his face as he had to say good-bye to another person he loves…

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Not quite believing she will return home again.

Oh, how my heart ached as my kids’ faces were dampened with tears. As hard as it was to say good-bye, I couldn’t help but marvel at the great blessing evident in those tears. Those tears are evidence of loving attachment and connection between family members that were strangers just a year ago.

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This is what every adoptive parent prays for, especially when adopting a child with a history of trauma and previous displacements. You open your heart and home hoping one day they will feel safe enough to open their heart to the love you offer. It is a day by day journey toward connection and attachment, and moments like this (as heartbreaking as they are) tell me we are finding some measure of success.

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We took our leave, reminding ourselves that we will see Molly in a month for Gracie’s wedding, and headed back to our hotel room.

After a week’s worth of travel we were out of clean clothes, so I left the boys at the hotel to numb themselves in front of the TV, while I headed to the laundromat down the street.

I didn’t indulge in the luxury of being present in my own grief until that moment. I was far too invested in the well-being of my kids, making sure everyone was successfully navigating their own hard emotions. It wasn’t until I found myself alone that the reality of it all hit and the tears bubbled up.

For two hours I sat alone in a coin operated laundromat, finding solace in the isolation…

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Finally able to reflect on the last week…

And the last 19 years that led up to this day.

This is what we raise them for.

As parents we strive to first give them roots…deep, deep roots that will hold them upright through the most turbulent and trying seasons of life.

And then we strive to give them wings…wings strong, and nimble, and capable of flight, so that when they finally take that leap, out of the protective nest we built for them, we can enjoy the breath-stealing sight of watching them soar.

Soar, Miss Molly!

Your are a magnificent sight to behold!

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