Tag Archives: adoption

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. ❤

Our first Day Pass with Oz!

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Last Saturday was a monumental milestone in Ozzie’s progress at the inpatient hospital that is serving as his home away from home for a few months. He earned his first Day Pass. This is a huge deal, as it is reflective of the hard work and effort he is putting into his treatment and healing. Normally patients don’t receive a Day Pass or Home Pass this early on in their treatment, which is a real testament to the miracles we are seeing happen with Ozzie. This place has been incredible, and Ozzie is doing awesome! Under this higher level of care Ozzie is finally receiving the concentrated quantity of therapeutic care he has needed. Under the professional hands of some awesome doctors, nurses and therapists, Ozzie is addressing and healing from the trauma of his past and finally finding the peace that has escaped him for years. He is doing hard, intensive work as he looks at the abuse and trauma that defined his early years in his birth home and is processing that trauma with EMDR therapy, trauma therapy, music therapy and multiple group therapies every week. The sheer volume of therapeutic work that is happening on a daily basis is a huge factor in his success. Our outpatient therapist here at home was awesome but couldn’t delve deep enough, quickly enough, into Ozzie past trauma (without creating unsafe emotional instability) with only 2 one-hour sessions a week. This center is Christian based, and the presence of the Holy Spirit is evident as soon as you walk on campus. There is a special spirit blanketing the hurt boys who have found a haven there and I know that it is because of the Spirit-guided treatment that Ozzie is experiencing miraculous results. 

Ozzie transformation has been amazing and although Toby and I see Ozzie weekly and have witnessed the miraculous changes occurring in his life, the other kids have not experienced it firsthand. Their residual memories of Ozzie are very different from the Ozzie we have seen at our visits which is why the kids were all struggling a bit with mixed emotions about this family day pass. They were nervous to see Ozzie. When he was last home he was engaging in hurtful, destructive behaviors which left the other children feeling frightened, unsettled, and resentful. We have been working on healing those emotional chasms that came as a result of Ozzie’s choices through written correspondence between the kids. It has been a positive thing and healing has been taking place, but anxieties were still high when we left to pick up Ozzie on Saturday morning. It was with much prayer that we approached the details of the day. We wanted the day to be successful for all involved, so much prep work was done prior to the visit to establish boundaries and prepare everyone emotionally for this reunion.

We arrived to pick up Ozzie and take him out for the day. We had the whole family with us, apart from Rusty who was spending the weekend at the Homestead with my parents as a belated birthday weekend with Mimi and Pop Pop. 

This was the kids’ first visit to the place Ozzie has called home for the last 6 weeks. They were as impressed as we were the first time we visited. As everyone sat in the car, I ran inside to pick up Ozzie. He was beside himself with excitement. He was thrilled to get a day off campus and couldn’t wait to see the other kids. After everyone greeted each other we drove to get lunch. Toby had discovered a unique dining spot when researching possible restaurants and knew Ozzie would get a kick out of it. 

We ate at the historic Lawrence Park Dinor.

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Boy, was it charming!

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It was a total blast from the past.

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Not much bigger than our kitchen at home, the diner was comprised of booths on one side of the narrow restaurant and an open grill and counter with bar stools on the opposite side of the diner, with an aisle running down the middle of the restaurant.

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Toby looking very gangsta 😉

We all loved the atmosphere immediately, but we had no idea how good the food would be.

The food was incredible and very affordable. I had the best Reuben sandwich of my life and Ozzie loved his mushroom, Swiss burger.

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It was so nice to enjoy a meal with Ozzie and catch up on each other’s lives. 

Following lunch, we drove over to the Erie Zoo. The downside of visiting the Erie Zoo in November was the fact many of the animals were put away for the winter. The upside was that admission was only $3.00 for children and $4.00 for adults.

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It was perfect for what we were looking for. We wanted a fun, family activity that wouldn’t be too overwhelming and distracting from our primary purpose, which was letting the kids get reacquainted and do a little healing.

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The zoo provided a place for that to happen.

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The lack of visitors and the slower pace of the zoo in winter allowed us to focus on each other. There was enough to see and do to keep everyone engaged but not so much going on that it became over stimulating or chaotic.

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The kids loved checking out the animals that call the Erie Zoo home, and I loved watching my kids enjoy each other.

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Our favorite animal of the day was a curious and social little otter that was as fascinated with us as we were with him.

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We ended our time at the zoo with a visit to the zoo’s play area, which provided the boys with a chance to burn off some energy and play a bit.

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When we left the zoo we had just enough time for a run to Walmart to get Ozzie some new winter gear. He has grown a size in the last month and with Erie winter storms on the horizon he needed some new boots.

Then it was time to drop Ozzie back off in time for his dinner hour. Much like Cinderella facing the end of a magical evening when the clock struck midnight, Ozzie too struggled with our time together coming to an end. It was hard and heartbreaking to hug him good-bye as he fought back tears. For Ozzie the best balm to his hurting heart was the knowledge that he would be coming home for a weekend visit over the Thanksgiving holiday. For Toby and me the most effective balm to our hurting hearts was seeing the growth and healing Ozzie has found under this higher level of care. It hurt to say good-bye, but the reward of this short-term heartache is hopefully an amazing future full of joy for Ozzie…

 And we love him too much to put what we want right now in front what we want most of all!

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So, What’s New with You?

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It is a question asked often enough, especially with the status of our life currently. Our family is more scattered than it used to be, with everyone moving in separate directions. Often activities posted on the blog only highlight the one or two children that were able to attend that event, so this posting is meant to catch everyone up on the comings and goings of everyone at Patchwork Farm.

Fall has arrived in Pennsylvania and for the last few weeks the leaves have been at the height of color. I feel so blessed to live in an area that experiences seasons and does so in such a showy way. Here are some photos Grace took one day on her drive down our road. It has been a beautiful fall!

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It seems Grace has been in the car more than in the house lately. She has taken the plunge face-first into adulthood and has discovered that it consists of a whole lot of running and very little sleep. Although it has been an adjustment, she has risen to the challenge beautifully and is loving life as a college student. Her days are filled with school, work, and fun activities through her church group. At school she had joined a few clubs including the World Cultures club and the ASL club and is secretary of the library club. As part of that office she was busy this week helping to lead a series of fun Halloween activities offered around campus, including trick or treating and pumpkin painting.

As a member of the Young Adult ward (the congregation of 18-30 year olds) in Pittsburgh she has had fun making new friends, participating in a religion class on Wednesday nights, church on Sunday, and social activities on the weekend.

Two weekends ago they had a temple trip to Washington D.C.,

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And last Friday, in honor of Halloween, the  young ladies had a Harry Potter party. Grace invited Olivia to come and said that the gal who was in charge of the event went all out in her attention to details. Everyone got to make their own wand, using objects like “dragon heartstring” and “unicorn hair.” There were cheat sheets describing the properties of the different choices you had in creating your wand so that each person could make a wand that was reflective of their personality.

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There were also Harry Potter decorations,

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And Harry Potter treats to snack on.

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The girls had a lot of fun!

Molly and Rusty have grown closer as a result of Gracie’s absence. Still in the youth program at church and in the same cyber school for high school, Rusty and Molly are involved in all the same activities and have grown closer as a result. It was hard for Molly to be “left behind” by Grace, who is her best friend, but has found a renewed camaraderie with Rusty who was her best friend when they were little.

Here they are all decked out for a glow in the dark party:

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They also have enjoyed their time volunteering at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch a few mornings a week. It has worked out nicely. Due to the early hour that they volunteer, Grace is free to join them and drive them back and forth before she has to leave for school. They spend their mornings there mucking stalls, moving the horses in and out, feeding everyone and sometimes grooming. This week they learned to drive the tractor used for moving big bales of hay into the different paddocks.

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Molly also has been active in a variety of school activities and clubs, including a new school club that she and Tatum have started this year. In an effort to stretch herself without Grace around, Molly decided to head up a school club with her friend Tatum. They are leading an American Sign Language club that will meet every other week. In this club they will be preparing bi-monthly lessons and activities to teach the club members the basics of ASL. Many don’t realize that although Grace is going to school to become an ASL interpreter, sign language is also a passion of Molly’s as well. I know she was a bit intimidated to put herself in a leadership position without Grace by her side but she pushed through her anxiety and has risen to the challenge beautifully. Tatum and Molly had their first club meeting on Monday and it was a smashing success!

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My kids all enjoy getting mail and when their birthdays near they are all the more diligent about checking the mailbox. This week they were all thrilled to receive Halloween cards from Mimi and Pop Pop in the mailbox, and Rusty received a birthday gift from Aunt Krista and Uncle Travis. He was thrilled with his new graphic novel, funny stress-ball cat with bulging eyes, and DOG PILE puzzle game!

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With seven people in our family the kids have learned the importance of marking things that you don’t want taken. This is particularly true for leftovers in the fridge or the last few cookies in a package. It is not unusual to open our fridge and see Tupperware containers labeled with names and threats of “Do not eat, or else!” much like a dorm fridge. Tyler however took this paranoia to a whole new level recently when I found this piece of leftover 2×4 on the porch. He clearly thought it was a prime piece of wood and feared someone else snatching it, so he did what we do in situations like that:

He labeled it, clearly marking it as his. 🙂

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We have had many inquiring about Ozzie. My heart is full of joy to report he is doing awesome. Under this higher level of therapeutic care he is delving into the trauma and abuse of his past and working through the hard emotions he finds himself drowning under thanks to EMDR therapy. While there we have seen a huge shift in his behaviors. He won star student of the month for October, has joined the choir, and has passed the certification program that allows him to ride the school’s dirt bikes.

For Halloween the facility holds a huge fall festival for the boys. Because it isn’t possible to allow them to go trick or treating, they plan a fall party for the kids instead. On Halloween they were dismissed from school early and enjoyed an afternoon of games, activities, treats, and fun food to celebrate the holiday. Knowing Ozzie was going to miss getting to trick or treat with the family I sent him a glow in the dark skeleton t-shirt to wear to his Halloween party and make Halloween hands stuffed with candy for him to hand out to all the boys in his unit.

We found out this week that Ozzie  has earned a pass home for the Thanksgiving holiday, something that isn’t normally allowed this early in treatment, because of his exceptional effort and good behaviors. This has truly been God-driven placement with miraculous results. Thank you for all the prayers!

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So there you go…a short recap of “What’s New?” with us.

What is new with you?

 

It’s NOT just about the KNOTS

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It is funny how certain conversations stick in your mind. Words of advice brushed off in the moment because of their lack of significance to your life at that time come rushing back as a wave of insight years later when suddenly those sage words are significant and affecting.

Now that we are parenting older children (teens and young adults) many of the words of advice I quickly disregarded from friends that were walking slightly ahead of me on the road of life, have come back to the forefront of my mind. One particular conversation has been playing in a loop for the last week as I have pondered on this friend’s wisdom and how applicable her insight is on this season of life I find myself in.

The conversation took place on the floor of her living room as Grace, Molly, and Rusty played  with her three youngest. I was at the beginning of my parenting journey, so young and so naïve. She was further along in her journey with the oldest of her  eight children in the bowels of teenage angst. I remember her expressing deep gratitude for the adult leaders in her teenagers’ lives…good men and women that they connected with. She shared her thoughts about the significance of strong, caring, invested youth leaders in the lives of teenagers; for when a child is beginning to seek out their identity, pull away from parents, and  flounder their way into adulthood and independence, the greatest peace of mind you can have as a parent is knowing that there is a safety net of adults in place who love your child, who your child respects and listens to, and who shares similar standards and expectations for your child.

As a young mom I really didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand why my children would ever need any more love or support or guidance than the attention I offered them. Now, 10 years later, I understand the profound effect a loving village can have on the raising of children…

And I am so grateful for our village.

Between extended family, our therapeutic team, our co-op group, and our church family, my children are surrounded by powerful examples of virtue, diligence, charity, leadership, and Christ-like love. How grateful we are as parents to see the love so freely given to our children by the village God placed us in.

This last year has been the hardest of our lives. The struggles and heartache that we were drowning under was far more devastating than anyone around us knew. But although the degree of suffering was unknown, those around us could see our struggle and rallied in a beautiful way, pouring out love, support and prayers on our behalf.  I was never more grateful for loving leaders that embraced my hurting children and gave them a safe place to just be kids, away from the struggles at home, then I was at that time. My kids found refuge and loving support from the parents of friends and the adult leaders at church. In that hard season of life, when Toby and I were focused solely on everyone’s safety and survival, I finally understood what my dear friend was saying all those years ago. I got it.

 I finally understood the purpose of a village.

One of the areas Rusty really found refuge this past year was with his Boy Scout troop. This incredible group of young men and awesome leaders has been a source of great growth for Rusty. These men, who invest so much of themselves to helping the boys learn skills and develop attributes that will mold them into men of value and men of virtue, deserve accolades beyond what they receive as Boy Scout leaders. They are touching lives and molding young men into future leaders and I, as a mom of one of those young men, am incredibly grateful for their effort.

This past Wednesday we celebrated the troop’s achievement with a Court of Honor. The families of the scouts gathered together to acknowledge all they had accomplished in the last few months and celebrate the boys.

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The work put in by the leaders and the young men were evident by the pile of merit badges to be handed out. There were almost 100 merit badges earned since the last Court of Honor, which has to be a record for our troop.

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 The evening began with the flag ceremony, led by the cub scouts. They were adorable!

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Then we enjoyed some comic relief in the form of funny stories from Scout Camp and a slide show of some of the summer fun the troop enjoyed.

 

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Then it was time to distribute the earned merit badges. The boys were called up one by one to receive the rewards of their efforts and have their rank advancements acknowledged.

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Rusty had earned 14 merit badges.

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I see a whole lot of sewing in my future. 🙂

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The night ended with refreshments and a chance to socialize.

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It was a great evening.

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How grateful I am for the scouting program, the men who lead my boys, the village that surrounds and supports us, and especially these two young men who are rising to the example of their father!

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We are blessed.

 

“Remember the Sabbath Day”

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Our Sundays are no longer the restful Sabbath Sundays they once were.

Like the rest of our week, it seems that day, too, is filled to the brim.

 This is due in part to the reality of our life right now. The hospital that Ozzie is at right now only has family visiting hours on Sundays from 1-4. When we found this out we weren’t sure how this would work. Grace is now driving down to Pittsburgh on Sundays for church and Sunday services for us are three hours long, ending at 1:00pm. We figured out that if we could leave a few minutes early we could make the two-hour drive to see Ozzie, arrive by 3:00, and have a full hour to visit before family visiting time is over.

It has been a blessing to watch the Lord maneuver the many moving puzzle pieces of our life and make it all fit in a beautiful, wonderful way. This is exactly what has happened with our Sundays. The Lord brought all those moving pieces (that had me so anxious and stressed) together and matched them seamlessly into what is now our Sabbath Day.

We head in different directions in the morning with Grace driving down to Pittsburgh and the other kids joining Toby and I for church closer to home. Slipping out a bit early from the 14/15-year-old young women’s class that I teach, Toby and I begin the two-hour drive to see Ozzie while the kids go home with friends for lunch while waiting for Grace to get out of church and pick them up to take them home.

On our 4-hour “Sunday drive,” Toby and I enjoy a “date” and get to talk uninterrupted while enjoying the beautiful fall scenery and eating a picnic lunch in the car that I pack for us the night before.

We arrive by 3:00 and get an hour with Ozzie before they shoo all the families out. Usually I pack fun snacks and treats for Ozzie, and board games for us to play, while we visit and catch-up. It has become such a blessed time and one of the highlights of my week. Ozzie is doing awesome and I continue to be amazed at how he is healing and thriving under this higher level of therapeutic care.

This week he was thrilled to share the news that following church services that morning he had his final dirt bike lesson and certification test. At this residential facility they offer dirt bike certification for the boys who would like to be able to use the facility’s bike trails and take a dirt bike out on the weekend under the supervision of staff. To qualify for the program the boys have to be receiving high marks in school and in their behavior reports, and then they can take a course where they learn the mechanics of the bike, how to safely ride. If they pass they then get to take the bikes out on the trails. Well now Ozzie is certified to ride and was THRILLED to report the good news to us.

We also had some exciting news for him. The results of his and Tyler’s genealogy DNA test had arrived. We purchased these tests when they went on sale online. Before Ozzie left we had a family night activity where we swabbed the boys’ cheeks and sent their DNA to Texas where it was analyzed. Six weeks later the results ended up in our mailbox.

Because Tyler and Ozzie were adopted we have found many holes in the story of their past. I can fill in some of those holes for them based on the information in their child profile but there are many holes that I can’t fill in, and that is hard for them. Their sense of identity…who they are based on where they came from…leave them feeling a bit like orphans. There are so many questions I wish I could answer for them that I simply don’t know, but this was something I could give them. The results of these tests don’t give them the details of their family history but I hoped the results would give them a sense of identity and maybe answer some of the questions they have had.

Here is what we learned…

Ozzie’s results didn’t surprise me too much:

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He was thrilled to find out his heritage!

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Tyler’s background was a bit muddier and a whole lot more surprising:

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We were especially surprised by that 1% of Kenyan.

He too was thrilled to have his questions answered.

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After our visit with Ozzie we say good-bye for another week and get back on the road for our ride home.

Sundays have now become our Family Home Evening night. With Monday nights (and all other evenings) being booked with Gracie’s college classes and the girls’ work schedules, Sunday night is now the night we have set aside for family time. It is the only night we have guaranteed to have everyone home.  It is during this time that we sit down and have our weekly planning meeting, going over schedules, goal, concerns, and plans for the week. This is also when everyone sits down to write their weekly letter to Ozzie. Following those tasks, we have a lesson and activity of some sort for Family Night. This week we were focusing on service. The plan was to make cookies as a family that everyone could bag to give someone as a token of gratitude.

As I was searching for a yummy new cookie recipe I came across this recipe for scripture cookies on Pinterest.

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“Perfect!” I thought. We would be able to work on navigating our scriptures while also blessing others with an act of service.

We began by giving everyone a recipe page with key ingredient information missing. Using their Bibles, they looked up the scripture passages to find the missing words.

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It became a race as we tried to be the first to find the correct page, passage, and word missing from the recipe.

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Once our recipes were complete we began cooking.

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It was a very fun family night activity and everyone enjoyed getting to sample the fruits of our labors…

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Scripture cookies (aka: peanut butter blossoms.)

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YUM!

So, there you go. The new “normal” we have embraced in this season of our life.

It isn’t the Sabbath Day of our past, but it is good. In a lot of ways, it holds a depth and a spirituality and meaningfulness that Sundays in the past were lacking.

I do sometimes wish there was a bit more rest in my “Day of Rest.”

Yeah, I really miss Sunday naps… 😉

But I have discovered a holiness in the what our Sabbath Days have become. At the heart of our Sabbath Day of worship is love of God, love of family, and love of others,

And really, isn’t that what the 4th commandment is all about?

What a Weekend!!

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What a full weekend we had. It was packed to the gills with projects, places to go, and things to do. It was a crazy weekend, but a productive weekend…and boy did we all sleep well Sunday night!

Here is a peek into all the craziness we crammed into a 48-hour period…

Saturday began at 7:00 am. Rusty had a bike ride scheduled with the other young men from church. They planned to meet up at 7:45 and would be gone most of the morning. The plan was to conclude their excursion at the comic book store where an annual basement blowout was being held, offering thousands of comics for only $1.oo/each.

Rusty “rolled” back home around noon, tired and happy, eager to show off his comic book finds.

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The big task of the day was canning. A friend from church found a great deal on apples that we couldn’t pass up. We bought two bushels and the plan was to spend the day turning our bushels of apples into applesauce and apple pie filling. When these plans were made I thought I’d have a whole crew of helpers in the kitchen with me for the day, but soon other opportunities began to trump canning, leaving me in the kitchen with a revolving door of helpers coming and going through the day.

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My first helper of the day was Tyler. He had a few hours until he needed to leave the house and eagerly jumped on the task of coring and peeling apples for applesauce.

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At 10:00 am he had to leave with Toby and the girls jumped into his place as second and third in command.

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Tyler and Toby were off to Pittsburgh for some unexpected fun. The previous night, while out with friends, we were offered two free tickets to a Pitt football game at Heinz field. It was decided that Toby would take Tyler. Tyler is by far the biggest football fan in the family and we knew he could use some Daddy/son time after the unsettling week he had had seeing Ozzie leave.

It was just what they both needed. They were able to escape for a few hours and enjoy some mindless fun and male bonding over football and popcorn, and they had a perfect day for it. The weather was beautiful!

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At 11:00 am I lost Grace and Molly as canning helpers when they left for an event at Gracie’s school. As part of Gracie’s American Sign Language classes, she must attend a certain number of deaf events each semester. This is something Grace looks forward to and on this particular Saturday her ASL club was hosting a tie-dye activity at the school. Grace decided to invite Molly along. Molly has struggled a bit with the life changes that have occurred in our home lately. The absence of Ozzie and seeing less of Grace due to Gracie’s busy school and work schedule, has left her feeling a bit lost. Noticing this, Grace invited Molly out for a sister date. They made plans to attend the tie-dye activity and then go to Rita’s for an Italian ice after the event was over.

Both girls had a wonderful time. The ASL club had a good turn out and everyone enjoyed getting messy. The club supplied socks for everyone to tie-dye, but participants could bring other items to tie-dye as well. Grace and Molly each brought a pillowcase to color. It was a fun activity for them to share. Molly enjoyed getting to know some of Gracie’s college friends, and enjoyed getting to use some of her ASL skills.

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At noon Rusty returned home, thanks to a kind young men’s leader who dropped him off on our doorstop, and then Rusty jumped into the fray of apple canning. At this point I was onto apple pie filling and Rusty helped me peel, core, and slice apples for the pie filling. He was a great help and my efficiency increased significantly with another set of hands in the kitchen.

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We also made a large batch of oven dried cinnamon apple slices to enjoy as snacks. As the slices slowly dried in the warm ovens the entire house took on the delicious smell of autumn.

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Around this same time Toby was heading back out of Pittsburgh to pick up the girls (after they dropped off Mimi Joy’s car that she graciously lent them for the day) and head up north for Tyler’s equine therapy.

He had another wonderful session on his horse, Smokey, and he enjoyed sharing his experience with Toby and the girls. He is a natural on the horse and we are finding the lessons to be hugely therapeutic.

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After lessons Toby and the kids made a quick stop at Baldingers Candy Shop for some sweet treats.

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It was now 3:00 pm and things were winding down in the kitchen. The apple slices were dried and the canning was complete. My legs ached and I was covered in dried, sticky, apple juice…but what a satisfying feeling it was to gaze upon the fruits of our labors!

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It also happened to be General Conference weekend, a twice annual event in our church where we have the opportunity to hear from leadership in the form of a worldwide broadcast. It is a special weekend comprised of 4 two-hour sessions that we can watch from the comfort of our own home and receive counsel, guidance and uplifting messages from inspired speakers. We try to make it an extra special experience with a fun breakfast, activities, and booklets to help the kids take notes and stay engaged.

On Sunday morning, Rusty volunteered to be in charge of breakfast. He stumbled across a recipe online that he wanted to try. It was peanut butter and jelly French toast…and it was delicious!

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While Rusty cooked breakfast, everyone else sat down to write a letter to Ozzie. This will become a regular Sunday task. My plan is to help facilitate connection between the kids through pen pal letters. There is healing that needs to occur and written letters seem a good way to foster a renewed connection in a safe and non-threatening way. The stack of letters will then be mailed one at a time through the week, creating a steady influx of mail for Ozzie, hopefully making him feel of our love and letting him know he is not forgotten.

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For General Conference, I printed out our traditional bingo game and filled a bowl with our “prizes,” as well as created note taking doodle packets for the kids to use as they watched.

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It was wonderful to spend that time as a family and receive inspired guidance and direction.

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Sunday afternoon we also had a visit with Ozzie. It couldn’t have gone any better. He is doing beautifully and this Momma’s heart overflowed with gratitude to see him so at peace. It was a joy to get that time with him to catch up and reconnect.

Sunday night we enjoyed a game night for our Family Night activity. Friends from co-op, who also are avid board gamers, lent us an escape room game they purchased. We love these sorts of games and this one was no exception. We had a blast racing the clock and working as a team to solve the puzzles needed to win the game.

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We were successful!

It truly was a non-stop, crazy weekend…

Filled to the brim with busyness…

Filled to the brim with blessings!

Halloween came early this year…

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Tyler…our resident goof ball!

 

(I’m still a week behind in my blogging. Here is my final blog about last weekend’s festivities…)

This past weekend was a tough one. The knowledge that Ozzie was leaving on Monday morning and would be gone for four months left everyone feeling unsettled and emotional. We tried to move through the days as normally as possible, but it was challenging with that big grey cloud hanging over our heads.

Everyone was dealing with a muddy mess of emotions. We were grateful that Ozzie was accepted to this awesome facility where he will finally get the intensive therapeutic help he needs to heal from past trauma, but were also mourning this upcoming shift in our life, upset and grieving that this step needs to happen.

My mother summed it up beautifully when I shared the news with her. She said, “It is like finding out someone you love has cancer, and the prognosis is not good. And then soon after, receiving the news that your loved one has secured the last bed at the Cancer Treatment Center of America and will be working with the best doctor in that field.”

You don’t know whether to be angry that treatment is needed or grateful that treatment is available for a once hopeless diagnoses.

It is hard to verbalize the hard mix of emotions that come with this journey. I know I struggle to filter through the jumble of thoughts and feelings that knot in my stomach, so I can appreciate the struggles Ozzie and the other children are suffering though during this hard season.

This weekend was particularly hard. We knew what was coming, and with that knowledge there were feelings of relief and great grief. It felt like the weekend was a series of good-byes to life as we knew it. It was painful on so many levels and I didn’t know whether to wish for time to stand still, so as to avoid the inevitable, or to pray for time to speed up so we could rip this band-aid off and begin facing our new normal. Mostly I just felt numb, like a shell of my real self, moving through the motions of living but weirdly detached.

We packed up Ozzie’s bag, filling it with clothes, winter gear, books, comfort items, therapy tools, and photos…everything he could possibly need for the next four months.

We cleaned his room. Preparing it for his absence so that when he returns home it would be ready for him.

Then we tried to fit in some fun and family bonding. Our weekend was filled with horseback riding lessons, “Gotcha Day” fun, and lots of low key, quiet moments as a family.

One of Ozzie’s primary disappointments about going away was his concern about missing out on holiday traditions. He will most likely be able to return home for holidays but is sad to miss out on our families traditions leading up to holidays…like pumpkin carving for Halloween. I couldn’t address all his worries, but that was a concern I could address, and did so gladly.

On Saturday we went pumpkin shopping, allowing each of the kids to pick out a pumpkin for carving and then came home and carved Jack-O-Lanterns a month early.

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Everyone got into the spirit of the evening, seeking out creative carving ideas and jumping into the task of gutting their pumpkins.

The result was an evening of fun for Ozzie and the rest of the family. We were all taking part in a cherished family tradition. Who cares if it was 90 degrees outside while we were doing it. Yes, the finished results will probably wither and mold by next Saturday, but this activity wasn’t about the finished results. Like so many aspects of our life it is not about the ending, it is about the journey.

The kids are now all old enough to be left to their own devices as they turn a pumpkin into something more magical, allowing Toby and I to just sit back and watch the fun.

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I did spend time digging through their pumpkin guts as the kids carved, picking out pumpkin seeds to roast. I found a recipe for dill pickle flavored roasted pumpkin seeds that I wanted to try. The results were delicious!

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The kids all came up with creative creations this year.

Rusty went with a tongue-in-cheek math joke:  Rusty’s pumpkin “Pi”

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Grace created the “Fly Away to Neverland “scene from Peter Pan:

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Ozzie went traditional with an awesome pumpkin face:

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Molly carved a Harry Potter pumpkin:

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And Tyler did a dollar sign face:

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Once everyone was done carving we took their pumpkins out to the porch.

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We lit them, turned off the lights, and watched them glow, enjoying the magic of the moment. It meant a lot to Ozzie that he was able to participate in this beloved family tradition and it meant the world to this Momma to have all my chicks with me on that beautiful September night, as we stood beneath the stars watching their pumpkins glow bright.

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We ended Family Night with the movie, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” while we munched on pumpkin seeds and enjoyed our last evening together for a while.

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This hard transition is a blessing,

but it still hurts like crazy…

Gotcha Day!

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I must say that on my short list of experiences I dread, right up near the top with root canals and cleaning the oven, is car shopping. I find it painful. I hate everything about it…the decision making, the financing, the pressure from the pushy salesman, the hours spent in the dingy back office signing paperwork, and the knot you get in your stomach  when you realize you are back to having a monthly car payment.

ICK, ICK, ICK…I hate it all.

I would rather dump good money after bad into a vehicle that is on death’s door, if it means avoiding a trip to the car lot, than have to go car shopping.

My son doesn’t agree.

Ozzie’s idea of heaven on earth is an afternoon spent at a car lot reading the information stickers posted on the side window of each car. Ozzie loves cars and has extensive knowledge of every vehicle that ever landed on the road. He can tell you how the design changed from year to year, what special features each one offers, and the year certain vehicles stopped being manufactured.

Before Ozzie left for his inpatient stay he asked if we could celebrate his “Gotcha Day” a few months early. In the world of adoption, a “Gotcha Day” is the anniversary of a child’s adoption into a family…the day we “gotcha.” As a family we celebrate Tyler and Ozzie’s gotcha days much like we celebrate a child’s birthday, as we consider that day the day they were “born” into our family.

It was important to Ozzie that he get to celebrate this special day with his family. His actual “Gotcha Day” is November 22, but since we were uncertain as to where he would be in his treatment journey, and since we didn’t know if we would be able to take him out that day, we opted to celebrate early.

His request for his “Gotcha Day” this year was a trip to local car lots. He explained that what he wanted to do more than anything was to visit all the car lots in our area, as a family, and look at the cars that were for sale, and then go out for dinner.

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It was an unusual request, but a feasible one, so we made plans to spend the afternoon “car shopping.” This was really a testament to how deeply I love Ozzie, as this is a request I would not answer yes to with just anyone.

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The pain of car shopping was magnified on Saturday as, in addition to all the normal car shopping pains, I now had to explain to the pushy salesman that we weren’t actually there to buy a car, we were just looking.

They would inevitably pushed back with, “Well, what sort of vehicle are you looking for. I’m sure we can find just the thing for you.”

“No, I mean we are really just looking,” I explained, “Like for fun…like we don’t need a car. We are just out for a family outing.”

At this point confusion would wash over the salesman’s face, uncertain if he was getting the brush off and should keep pushing, or if we are in fact a crazy family just out for a fun afternoon browsing car lots.

The fact that I had a camera around my neck and was taking pictures of Ozzie next to the various vehicles confirmed the latter.

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At one car lot, however, the salesman demanded a more thorough explanation, as he couldn’t wrap his brain around the idea that someone would visit a car lot for fun..so we explained it was Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day,” the anniversary of his adoption, and this is how he wanted to spend the day.

The man turned to Ozzie, offered his congratulations, and asked, “So, do you want to sell cars when you grow up?”

Ozzie nodded his head with an enthusiastic, “YES!”

To which the salesman deadpanned, “Don’t do it kid. Life’s too short.”

I died.

The man then invited Ozzie in to the office and let him pick out a stack of vehicle brochures. Ozzie was in heaven!

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When we were done visiting all our local car lots, we headed over to Ponderosa for Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” dinner, per his request.

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It was a crazy way to celebrate the anniversary of Ozzie’s adoption, but so perfectly Ozzie. He loved it, which is all that matters. That is what “Gotcha Days” are all about. It is our opportunity to celebrate that special child and the unique gifts, talents and spirit they bring to our family…

And that is just what we did.

Happy early “Gotcha Day,” Ozzie. We love you to the moon and back!

Living Treasures Animal Park

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While Molly and Rusty were hiking with the school’s Adventure Club, Tyler, Ozzie and I went on an adventure of our own.

Just down the road from McConnells Mill State Park is Living Treasures Animal Park. This park has a special place in my heart, as it is home to so many sweet memories. Our first visit here was with Gracie as a baby. We have visited it with my sister and her kids, my parents, my brother, my grandfather and many friends. Over the years we have created many sweet memories at this special place, and Thursday we created a few more.

It has been over a year since we visited Living Treasures. We were long overdue for a trip to our favorite animal park. Having just the little boys with me afforded me the opportunity to spend some special one on one time with the two youngest and give them the chance to create some special memories together as brothers.

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We arrived as the doors opened and I bought animal feed for both boys to feed the animals. The fun thing about this park is the many opportunities to interact with all the animals more intimately than you can at a zoo.

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The animals that you can pet and feed by hand include deer, cattle, alpaca, goats, and the giraffes.

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The giraffes are some of our favorite friends at Living Treasures.

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Currently there is a new addition in the giraffe house. Baby Calvin, a one month old calf, was recently born at Living Treasures weighing in at 145 pounds and standing 6’3″tall. He is now making daily appearances with mama a few times a day.

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What a doll he was!

Bigger animals are fed through feeding tubes that drop their treats into a food dish that they eagerly wait beside, hoping for a handout. This system allows kids to interact with the animals up close without the risk of losing fingers.

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The monkeys and apes at Living Treasures are fed with a bucket system. Visitors can place carrots or special monkey pellets in a bucket attached to a chain, and the monkeys can pull the bucket to the cage and fish out their treats.

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Other animals, like the alligators, can only been viewed from a safe distance away.

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 Two of our favorite exhibits in the park were the aviary, where guests are invited to feed the birds, and the petting zoo, where the goats and baby animals are housed.

At the aviary the boys had a wonderful time feeding their bright, feathered friends. Never have we experienced that level of interest from the birds. Being the first visitors of the day paid off, as the birds all had empty stomachs and were eager to eat. The result reminded me of a certain Alfred Hitchcock classic.

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It made for a lot of squeals and giggles, and some awesome photo opportunities.

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We experienced a different sort of swarm when we entered the petting zoo area to feed the goats. They too acted as though they hadn’t been fed in months and were all over the boys and their buckets.

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The best part of visiting this area of Living Treasures, however, is the baby animals. Here we were able to feed and pet two baby camels, and various baby cattle. Oh, how sweet they were. Oh, how tempted I was to smuggle one home!

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Especially this sweet thing, that looks like a hoofed version of a Basset Hound.

There were also a few baby pot belly pigs that reminded us of our own Pot Belly Pig, Harley D. Hog, when we first brought him home as a bottle fed baby.

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All too soon, it was time to leave and pick up the other kids from their Adventure Club outing. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to create some special memories with my two youngest.

It is a day I will treasure.