Tag Archives: family

A Valentine’s Day at Animal Kingdom

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On Thursday we returned to Animal Kingdom for our second (and last) day in the park. In honor of Valentine’s Day, Toby and the kids woke to some gifts of love waiting for them in the dining room.

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I was thrilled to be spending Valentine’s Day with the love of my life at my favorite Disney park!

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The combination of shady pathways, smaller crowds, and animals everywhere you look, makes this park feel more like a haven than a theme park.

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The theming in this park also adds to the feeling of being transported to another continent as visitors move from Pandora to Africa and then on to Asia. Each area offers rides, shows and experiences that tie into that environment, and while we revisited the Pandora-The World of Avatar to re-ride our new, favorite Disney World ride: Avatar Flight of passage (It is AMAZING!!), and to visit Windtraders so that Rusty could use the remainder of his Christmas money to adopt a banshee,

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Most of our day was spent enjoying the rest of Animal Kingdom.

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After riding Avatar Flight of Passage, our second ride of the day was Expedition Everest. This roller coaster is a family favorite!

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Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

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“Wander into a Tibetan village at the base of Mount Everest and board a train to the “top of the world.” Beware: Some say a legendary snow monster—the Yeti—lives deep in the mountain.

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After a steep ascent, hold on tight as your train picks up speed and races into the darkness. Without warning, a broken and twisted track appears in front of you.

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 Brace yourself as you plummet backward into total darkness. Inside the cavern, the mythical tale comes true as you see the shadow of a massive, growling beast!

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Race to escape the cursed mountain—before the Yeti claims another expedition!”

From there we headed over to Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

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“Set off in an open-air vehicle for a guided tour of an African savanna—and spot live animals roaming free.

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Explore the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, home to 34 species living in 110 acres of picturesque open plains, shady forest landscapes and rocky wetlands. Your rugged safari vehicle is driven by an expert guide, who helps point out animals and shares fascinating wildlife facts during this extraordinary 18-minute expedition.

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Spot a shy hippopotamus nestled in a still pond.

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Behold a regal lion sunbathing on a rocky perch.

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Drive past a gentle giraffe grazing on the tall trees.

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Other amazing animals you may encounter include rhinos, cheetahs, crocodiles, elephants, hyenas and zebras—and so many more!

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Since animals have minds of their own, every expedition is a unique and unforgettable experience. Be sure to keep your eyes open and have a camera ready—you never know what you’ll see on a Kilimanjaro Safaris outing.”

This experience was a hit with all my animal lovers. Brandon requested we do it again after dark, wanting to experience the ride at night and see the animals in a “whole new light.”

Previously off limits to visitors after sundown, this unforgettable journey through the reserve allowed us to witness rarely seen nocturnal animal behaviors. Many of the animals were settled in for the night, and there wasn’t a whole lot of action until we drove up to the lion pride where we got to experience the lions roaring and calling out to each other. It was an astounding experience that made the night time trek well worth the otherwise anticlimactic ride!

In addition to riding and re-riding our favorite rides, we also made time to enjoy some of the shows. We began the day by watching:

UP! A Great Bird Adventure

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“Join Russell and his furry friend Dug on a flap-happy adventure sure to send spirits soaring.

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Led by a senior Wilderness Explorer, this unique birding experience features a close-up look at various bird species from around the globe—including the marabou stork, which boasts a magnificent 10-foot wingspan.

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Prepare for breathtaking fun with these free-flying fowl… along with a few other surprises!”

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Tyler is our resident bird lover, having once lived in a foster home with a parrot named, Mango. He loved this Animal Kingdom show that was created completely around nature’s feathered friends.

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My personal favorite show at Animal Kingdom, and perhaps all the Disney parks, is Finding Nemo- The Musical. We made sure to fit in a viewing of this incredible production.

Finding Nemo- The Musical

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“Extraordinary live musical performances, delightful puppets, vibrant sets and wondrous underwater special effects immerse you in Nemo’s fin-tastic world. Join the overprotective clownfish Marlin and his forgetful friend Dory as they search for his son, Nemo.

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The multiple Academy Award-winning songwriting team behind Frozen and Coco, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, created 14 original songs just for this show—the first time a non-musical Disney animated feature has been transformed into an original musical production.

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Take your fins and family and dive right into this “big blue world”!”

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Halfway through the day we took a break to enjoy some lunch at our favorite counter service restaurant at Disney World: Flame Tree BBQ. This place is nothing short of amazing! Here we feasted on delicious, fall-off-the-bone ribs, baked beans, BBQ pork sandwiches, and turkey legs.

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It was a perfect mid-day break. Everyone filled their bellies and enjoyed sitting for a half an hour under the shade of the trees while watching the antics of the water fowl that run amok, stealing food from unexpecting visitors.

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After lunch, we made our way over to Dinoland U.S.A. to ride some of the rides in that area of the park.

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Along the way we stumbled across some fine feathered friends of a different variety. In this area of the park we found Donald Duck and his friends.

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The older kids requested photos and autographs from some of the characters we were passing, so we stopped to say hello.

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When we went up to say hello to Donald, he noticed our celebration pin.

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With great excitement he clapped and hugged us and insisted we take a family photo with the whole crew.

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For the last two weeks we have walked around the park wearing our celebration pins announcing our upcoming adoption. It has been neat to see how many people have been touched by adoption, as fellow visitors and cast members stop us to congratulate us and share their adoption stories. One woman stopped us while we waited behind her in line for a ride to ask about our pin and then insisted on giving Brandon a hug when she found out he was being adopted, having been a teenager adoptee. Other cast members, from custodial staff to cast member trainers, stopped to share their stories of being an adoptive parent or an adopted child.

For our snack we decided to go classic with a Mickey ice cream bar.

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We ate our treats while enjoying a performance in the streets of Harambe, Africa.

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That night we enjoyed two special night time shows at Animal Kingdom:

Tree of Life Awakenings- A Mesmerizing Nighttime Experience

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“Flickering fireflies magically appear and stir to life the animal spirits in the tree’s towering trunk—bringing to light a dazzling visual display swarming with color and animated imagery.

Gaze upon a young doe embarking upon a thrilling journey. Behold love blossoming between a pair of hummingbirds. Spy a sly fox spreading gifts of love among the denizens of a wintry forest.

A feast for the eyes, each revelation celebrates the eternal balance and harmony that exists in all living things, big or small, and is sure to inspire and delight your whole family tree.”

And:

Rivers of Light

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“Get swept away in a timeless show that celebrates the beauty of all living things. With a brilliant fusion of water, sound and light, it’s quite unlike anything you’ve experienced before!

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As sunlight fades and the stars begin their twinkle, remember that we are all bound together by earth and spirit—past, present and future.

Listen as the Discovery River responds to the whispers of the world, cradling creatures with a symphony that swells with wild murmurs and shimmering secrets of the universe.

So begins a new light—a vibrant awakening of flitting fireflies leading to a ceremonious procession across the water.

Before your eyes, clusters of lantern light shift and shape into stunning animal spirit forms—the Tiger, Turtle, Elephant and Owl. Spellbound, you’re transported across Asian jungles and tropical oceans to African savannahs and North American mountains.

This magnetic display culminates in a triumphant blend of song, light, color and earthly elements—a grand finale so divine that you can’t help but feel a sense of peace and oneness with nature.”

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Our amazing Valentine’s Day came to a close with a trip to the top of Everest with my true love (and a few spares.)

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We loved our time in Animal Kingdom, and were sad to go, but we weren’t done with our Disney adventure quite yet.

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Next stop: Epcot!

Hanging Out in Andy’s Backyard

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Day 2 of our Disney adventure was spent at Hollywood Studios. The excitement was palpable, as we prepared for the day, because we were off to play in Andy’s backyard!!

 Toy Story Land is the latest addition to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and is stirring up quite the buzz, (Pun intended) and we couldn’t wait to check it out!

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We were not disappointed.

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From the moment we walked in, we realized this land is like no other! It felt a little like the immersion we experienced when we entered Cars Land on our visit to Disneyland. You literally feel as though you have entered the Toy Story movie!

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It’s a bright, cheery, fun and a fantastic representation of what it would be like to be one of Andy’s Toys.

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The goal in the design of Toy Story Land is to make those who visit feel as if they are a size of a toy, in Andy’s back yard. As we took a look around, we loved all the special touches and attention to detail.

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 It was fun just walking around this land to see all the extras.

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Disney didn’t leave anything out!

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In addition to simply strolling around Andy’s backyard and taking in all the magical touches, we also enjoyed riding the three rides found in Toy Story Land:

Alien Swirling Saucers

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“The cutest extraterrestrials in the galaxy have landed, and they’re taking you for a ride. Power up the saucers for an interstellar romp through space, while futuristic tunes set the mood.”

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This ride was a fun ride, that was less nausea inducing than say the tea cups in the Magic Kingdom. It reminded me of the classic ride that you see at pop up carnivals called the scrambler. The path that the cars make is a large looping one rather than a tight spinning motion.

Toy Story Mania

This fan favorite ride has gotten a face lift in the form of a new entrance to the ride within Toy Story Land and a 3rd track has been added to challenge veteran riders and…to make the line move more quickly. Zip through a virtual gallery of exciting carnival games based on the hit animated film series.

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Step inside Andy’s room and wind your way through a toy treasure chest of classic playthings. Pass a Candyland game box, Viewmaster discs, crayon drawings and a Scrabble board before picking up a pair of special 3D glasses for the fun to come.

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Climb aboard an early 20th-century-inspired Carnival Ride Tram and grab your spring-action shooter. With 3D glasses on, glide into the Toy Story Midway Games Play Set and take aim at stationary and moving 3D objects in a variety of fast-paced games.

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Slinky Dog Dash

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Andy’s assembled his Mega Coaster Play Kit—and Slinky Dog is gonna take you on a wild, toy-filled adventure.

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“Get a glimpse of everything Toy Story Land has to offer as you stretch Slinky Dog’s coils to the limit across Andy’s backyard! Come along for a roller-coaster-style ride as he bends and twists and stretches his way all throughout this new land.”

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This new roller coaster has made it firmly to the top of my favorite Disney ride list. Slinky Dog Dash is the perfect combo of tameness that you would expect for kids and thrills for the coaster lovers.

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For lunch we ate at Woody’s Lunch Box!

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The charming, nostalgic details we loved through this land continue in this quick service eatery.

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Disney couldn’t have come up with a better idea for a restaurant located in Andy’s backyard. It’s as if Andy just dropped his lunchbox on his way home from school to play.

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The details don’t stop at the restaurant, of course.

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The best part about Toy Story Land is that everywhere you look, every glance you take, you will notice some nod to the Toy Story movies, your childhood memories, or both.

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Take this area (above) within Woody’s Lunch Box seating area. You spy the Green Army Men looking out over the area keeping watch.

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For lunch some enjoyed the BBQ Brisket Melt – Sliced Smoked Brisket, Pickles and tangy BBQ Sauce between melted Cheddar and Monterey Jack Cheeses on Grilled Sourdough, while others chose the “Totchos” – Potato Barrels coated with Beef and Bean Chili, Shredded Cheese and signature Queso with Tomatoes and Corn Chips finished with Sour Cream and a sprinkle of Green Onions.

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The food was amazing! The only challenge at this eatery was the limited amount of tables. We lucked out! Be sure to take a close look at the some of the chairs in this area. They are made to look like a babybel cheese cut in half.

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We eventually pulled ourselves away from Andy’s backyard to enjoy the rest of the fun at Hollywood Studios (more on that in a future post) but then returned in the evening to experience Andy’s backyard at night.

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All of the hanging strings of Christmas bulbs turn on at night, illuminating Andy’s backyard.

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Having visiting Toy Story Land in both the day and the night time, there is something truly magical about seeing it in the evening.

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Whether visited in the day or enjoyed at night, Toy Story Land is AMAZING!

Feeling Blessed!

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

My birthday morning began with a self-serenade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to year 41!

Christmas comes to a Close…

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Whew, we made it!

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

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

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

And if I am being honest…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We chose joy.

We chose laughter.

We chose forgiveness.

We chose family.

We chose hope.

We chose connection.

We chose LOVE…

Unconditional, no-strings-attached, LOVE.

And the rewards of that choice were precious and holy.

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

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

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

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

Now that December has passed, we say:

“Welcome 2019,

We are so glad to see you!”

Day 5 of Christmas: The magic of Christmas morning!

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On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Christmas morning ‘round the Christmas tree.

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Our Christmas morning began as Christmas mornings have begun for centuries,

With the early morning calls of, “Is it time to get up?”

This year, however, those calls came closer to 8:00 am as opposed to years’ past when the question would first be uttered closer to 3:00am.

Toby had set his alarm for 7:15 so that he could drive over and pick up G.G., while Mimi and Pop Pop took care of the farm chores. Brandon asked to accompany Toby, and I stayed behind to hold down the fort and keep kids contained until everyone was back home and had settled into their seats in the living room.

While the adults got situated and claimed their spots for the festivities, I gathered the kids on the stairs for a Christmas morning photo of the kids in their new pajamas.

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Love this crazy crew of Christmas critters!

Then I joined the other adults in the living room, took my spot, and prepared to catch the kids’ expressions on film, as they entered the room and took in the bounty around the tree.

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Christmas morning began, as it always does, with stockings.

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It is by far my favorite part of Christmas morning and always has been. There is something so iconic and magical about unloading a stocking filled with treats, that makes a person feel 8-years-old again.

With squeals of delight, piles of candy, toiletries, match box cars, pens and notebooks, Christmas socks and toys grew around the feet of each child as they unloaded their stockings.

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The adult stockings were generously filled as well, to the point of us needing to use the Christmas bags Gracie sewed last year to catch the overflow of goodies that didn’t fit in the stocking.

Once we were done with stockings, we began unwrapping gifts.

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Brandon asked if he could play Santa this year with Molly’s help, so a round at a time, Brandon and Molly handed out a gift to each family member which we took turns opening.

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After a break for Christmas brunch we continued working our way through the pile, opening gifts wrapped with love from family near and far away.

Some of the treasures unwrapped on Christmas morning included:

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“Let the wild rumpus start!”

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My Christmas gift from my parents. They know me so well!! Love!!

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Gracie’s new ASL t-shirt from Santa. 🙂 

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With a whole lot of ribbing from family about my mid-life crisis crush, I found Aquaman under the tree!

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Rusty loved his new bowtie!

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Their gifts from Uncle Travis and Aunt Krista made the girls look like they stepped out of the “Anne of Green Gables” novel.

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The girls received a jewelry box full of vintage jewelry from Aunt Krista and Uncle Travis as well.

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We finished around noon and spent the afternoon enjoying the company of family, playing games and enjoying our new treasures.

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Pop Pop reading us Mom’s new Christmas book, “The Wonky Donkey.” So funny!!

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Two of my priceless jewels.

Christmas dinner was a feast of ham, cheesy potatoes, green bean casserole, beets, rolls and sunny corn pudding. It was all delicious and I was so busy pigging out that I never thought to stop and take a picture of Christmas dinner.

It was a wonderful Christmas day spent with people I love dearly.

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G.G. with 6 of her great-grandkids.

Merry Christmas 2018!

Day 2 of Christmas: Christmas with Mimi!

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On the second day of Christmas my true love game to me,

Christmas with Mimi!

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The second day of our weeklong Christmas celebration, brought Christmas with Mimi Joy.

On Saturday Toby’s mom drove over for our Christmas celebration. We had a fun evening planned and we looked forward to celebrating with Mimi.

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When she arrived, we were at the tale-end of getting dinner on the table, so while I finished up the meal that everyone had pitch-in and graciously helped with, Toby and the kids played Christmas trivia in the living room with Joy.

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Soon the food was done and the table set for a festive Christmas dinner.

We feasted on ham, green beans, pasta salad, cheesy potatoes and rolls and enjoyed catching up on each other’s lives after a crazy month.

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After dinner we gathered in the living room for some party games before exchanging gifts.

We started with a high adrenaline game to help Tyler burn off some anxious energy before settling into some calmer, quieter games.

Our first game was “Trim the Tree.” The 6 kids were split into two teams of 3. Rusty and Brandon served as their team’s “Christmas tree” and the other two team mates had to turn each of them in a Christmas tree, using all the supplies I gave them. It was a race to see who could “trim their tree” first.

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It was a race to the finish, and so much fun to watch!

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Brandon, Grace and Tyler emerged as the winners of this first game of the evening,

But the true “winners” of the evening, were those of us who got to sit back and watch the silliness unfold.

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The next game of the evening was “Christmas Plates.” For this game each family member was given a paper plate and a marker. Placing the paper plate upside down on their heads they were challenged to draw out a Christmas scene without the advantage of sight.

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Drawing blindly, they had to follow my directions as I asked them to draw a Christmas scene, piece by piece.

At the end of my instuctions they pulled down their plates and were able to see how they did. Some were better than others!

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We then scored their efforts with a point value placed on things like:

“If your star is touching the top of your tree- 2 points”

Or

“Give yourself 1 point for each Christmas ball you drew on your tree.”

The winner of this game was Toby.

The next game on our party agenda was Christmas Scattergories. Using the alphabet dice and timer from our Scattergories game, we used Christmas themed templates I found online.

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This was a hit with everyone as we stretched our brains to come up with Christmas treats or Christmas characters that began with “J.”

After a few rounds of Scattergories it was time for presents. The kids had all purchased or made a gift for Mimi Joy, and we had surprises for her under the tree to unwrap, but before she unwrapped her pile of surprises, Mimi handed out her gifts to our family.

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Digging into Mimi’s Santa sack, Rusty helped hand out gifts. Once everyone had their present we were given permission to unwrap our gifts all at the same time. She had given us matching gifts that could be used individually or all together. We each received a movie theater gift card for a family movie night. She couldn’t have picked a more perfect gift! We will definitely enjoy our Christmas surprise.

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After everyone had given Mimi their gifts we ended the night with Christmas cookies and the girls performing “Mary Did You Know?” in ASL.

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It was a perfect celebration with family!

Counting our Blessings!

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Four pieces of my heart!

We entered the Thanksgiving holiday with hearts filled with gratitude. We had so much to be thankful for and I was excited at the prospect of laying aside the busyness of everyday life and enjoying a long weekend with the people I love most.

We kicked off the holiday weekend with everyone at home. It was our family’s week to clean the church so we headed there first and following the old adage of “many hand make light work,” we were done in record time.

The kids were motivated to be diligent in the cleaning chores assigned to them. They were told if everyone could stay on task, work hard, and finish in a timely manner, we would go see a movie as a family. They upheld their side of the bargain so from church we drove to the movie theater where we saw “Instant Family.”

Since first seeing the previews for this warm-hearted comedy, I knew we needed to go and see it as a family. It was everything I hoped for and more! It ended up being a poignant and timely reminder of the loss, hurt and heartbreak that accompanies the joy of the adoption journey, as we headed into the emotional minefield of Thanksgiving.

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Instant Family: When Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) decide to start a family, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child but when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15 year old girl (Isabela Moner), they find themselves speeding from zero to three kids overnight. Now, Pete and Ellie must hilariously try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hopes of becoming a family. INSTANT FAMILY is inspired by the real events from the life of writer/director Sean Anders.

“Instant Family” exceeded all expectations. It was as though we were watching our life play out on the big screen as we watched the real life challenges that accompany foster care adoption play out before us. It was soon apparent that the writer/ director had walked this unique road of loving a child that joins a family out of heartbreak and heartache, because it was all very true to life.

We laughed and cried along with this family whose life was so relatable. I will warn that the PG-13 rating was fitting due to language and some sexuality, but we all left feeling these elements were justified and served a purpose. To not include the harsher, uglier aspects of adopting hurt children would do a great disservice to those who are fighting on the front line for those children who others have walked away from. To turn this story into a Hallmark movie would have been a dishonest portrayal of the foster care adoption journey. This movie did a beautiful job of taking viewers on the rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, losses and victories, laughter and tears that accompany families on the road  to adoption day.

We left the theater with all the kids talking a mile a minute about how perfectly wonderful the movie was. I heard comments like,

“It was so funny,”

“It was our life!”

and

“I think we need to adopt another kid…maybe a little girl this time.”

That last comment was spoken by Brandon. We told him we needed to get through his adoption before we talked about adding #7 to the family. He paused, considered this, and then asked, “Could we at least start praying about it?”

I love my kids.

I love how big hearted and selfless they are.

They have all adopted (pun intended) a “give until it pinches” mentality about giving to the less fortunate and those in need.

Despite the hard journey we have all traveled to give a family to three boys who were without the unconditional love of a forever family, and despite the fighting, hurts, tears, losses, ugliness and destruction that comes with helping a hurt child feel safe attaching to a new family, they continue to say “Yes, Lord. We will make room for another!”

Watching “Instant Family” with my own instant family, I was reminded of the emotions connected to the holidays. It was a timely reminder as we entered the Thanksgiving weekend and helped our three adoption blessings navigate the hard waves that crashed over them in the days that followed.

It was a highly emotional weekend as my babies struggled with feelings of sadness for loved ones gone and the loss of what could have been. Everyone navigated the weekend without any major blow-ups or outbursts, but the holiday weekend left us all feeling emotionally raw.

I was grateful for God’s hand in keeping us close to home.

Until a few weeks ago Thanksgiving was up in the air. We were uncertain where we would be celebrating Brandon’s first Thanksgiving with our family. The plan, prior to Brandon moving in, was to head east to spend Thanksgiving in Virginia with Toby’s mom and her sisters. Our plans had to change when legal restrictions and a scheduled court date kept us closer to home.

As much as we missed our time with Joy, being stuck at home ended up being a great blessing. 

The heightened emotions of Thanksgiving would have been much harder to handle if we were away from home.

Instead we joined Toby’s other side of the family, at his Aunt Beth’s house, for Thanksgiving dinner.

It was a good fit for our emotionally raw crew. The celebration was relaxed and low key. It was a day of celebrating the love of family, eating good food, connecting with family we don’t see often enough, and allowing Brandon to get to know more of his new family. It was just what we all needed!

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Almost time for dinner!

 

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The O3!

 

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Loving the looks of adoration. Tyler is a hit with his younger cousins.

 

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After the feast!

 

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Gunner reading the Thanksgiving story.

 

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Molly getting her baby fix!

 

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Then it was time to head outside for some Turkey Bowl fun!

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That evening we returned home to celebrate Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” (which fell on Thanksgiving this year) with peppermint ice cream and homemade hot fudge.

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It was a day of giving thanks for the many blessings in our life…

And at the very top of our list of things to be grateful for:

FAMILY…

Born out of love.

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A Family that Plays Together…

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Whew!

What…A…Week!

Some weeks are especially hard.

Some weeks are wrought with an extra steep climb and out-of-the-ordinary challenges.

Some weeks hold more tears than smiles,

And more weariness than joy.

Some weeks take you 20 steps backwards and produce a desire to simply crawl back into bed, pull the covers over one’s head, and try again in 24 hours.

Some weeks make you question everything you thought you knew, everything you do, and everything you are.

Some weeks drive you to drink…or at least make you wish you were a drinker.

Some weeks are full of moments so surreal and un-freaking-believable that you wonder if there was something special about the mushrooms in last night’s stir-fry.

Some weeks are so heartbreakingly hard that you can’t muster the drive to do much more that numbly move through the motions of living.

Some weeks are so absurd that you question whether you have somehow lost your mind and everyone forgot to tell you.

This week was one of THOSE WEEKS.

I am so empty I don’t even have it in me to tell the tales of the last 5 days…

You wouldn’t believe me if I did.

My little RAD kiddo dragged me through the wringer. I mean I love him, but some days…Grrr…

A good barometer of my mental health can be found in the ponderings of my blog. I write to process through the ups and downs, joys and heartaches of this journey we are on…

When the screen becomes blank and my voice falls silent it is because I can’t find an inkling of hope or a nugget of wisdom hidden within the current struggle we are navigating.

Silence is a sure sign of discouragement and hopelessness.

The clouds have now parted enough to allow a ray or two of sunshine through the low hanging clouds and I thought I’d share our survival strategy for the dark days that have plagued us…

When the urge is to run, hide, fight or isolate, reigns supreme, the cure is to play.

As an introvert by nature, when the weight of the world lays heavy on my shoulders my instinct is to isolate for self-preservation, but I recognize how essential it is for our family, as a whole, to pull together, draw closer, and focus on attachment and connection when feelings of resentment and frustration are pushing us apart.

So we play…

And it is a healing balm for hurt feelings and injured relationships.

One evening this past week, when everyone was home and the hours before bedtime were mercifully free, we chose to set aside tasks that needed done and hard feelings that had surfaced from the poor choice of one child who is struggling at the moment, and commit to “just be.”

We didn’t plan, we didn’t orchestrate, we left with no agenda for our local park to simply play.

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We needed it.

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We were all raw,

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and I was trying to remember why I had signed up for this mothering gig.

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An hour of just being a family helped me remember why I keep showing up and keep navigating this rocky road.

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This is why I do it.

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This is what it is all about.

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This is the reward for the hard days and ugly moments.

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Sometimes you just have to drop everything and go play,

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Because the family that plays together, stays together.

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Together Again!

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It has been one year since my brother wed his bride in a beautiful country chapel in Texas…

And one year since we were all together as a family.

I have been blessed with an awesome family. I recognize that the connection we feel and the enjoyment we get from spending time together isn’t always a given in familial relationships. I feel blessed to call these people not only my family but my closest and most cherished friends.

My only complaint is: We don’t see nearly enough of each other!

With my sister and her family tucked away in Northern Michigan, my parents planted in rural Ohio, and my brother and sister-in-love calling west Texas home, our paths don’t often cross…

but when  they do we enjoy a collision of fun!

Saturday was one of those rare occurrences. Kelly and her kids drove down from Michigan for the weekend. Travis and Krista flew in from Texas for a visit with Krista’s sister, Anna, and then the three of them drove out to the Homestead for a visit, and we managed to squeeze in time for a visit between the conclusion of youth conference and leaving for Virginia the following morning.

We didn’t have nearly as much time together as we would have liked but we were grateful for the short time we did have and made the most of our 1 day “Real Reunion” at the Homestead.

Kelly was already there with her 5 kids when we pulled in at 3:45. Oh, the delight among the kids when they caught sight of their cousins. I LOVE that Kelly’s and my kiddos are so connected and attached despite the infrequency of visits and the miles that separate our homes. When we finally do see each other, after months apart, the kids pick up again like it was just yesterday.

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Cousin Fun!

Travis, Krista and Anna pulled in 15 minutes after us.

Mom and Dad left to pick up KFC for our barn picnic while the kids played and the rest of us caught up on each other’s lives.

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Following lunch it was time for the birthday celebration!

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The following day was Dad’s birthday so our “Real Reunion” served the dual purpose of celebrating the head of this awesome tribe of people. What a delight it was to gather as siblings to celebrate our father’s birthday together. I can’t remember the last time we were all together for his special day.

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While together we also celebrated the other birthdays of summer. Because our get-togethers have become more infrequent (due to widening proximity and busier lives) we have taken to celebrating birthdays quarterly. On Saturday we celebrated all of our June, July and August birthdays…

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The remainder of the day was spent soaking up every last bit of love, laughter, and fun memories from our day together.

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We played games:

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Some enjoyed a dip in the pool:

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Everyone spent time socializing with the animals of the Homestead:

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And much fun was had with the bubble gloves we brought for each of the kids:

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At 9:00pm we headed home. We had a very busy week ahead of us. Toby held down the fort at home while the girls headed straight to Aunt Beth’s house for a week of house sitting, and the boys and I left for Virginia. Rusty was taking part in a week-long computer programing camp at George Mason University.

It wasn’t a long visit with our favorite people, but perhaps the rarity of treasured time only adds to its value. If nothing else, it certainly makes us appreciate the minutes we do have together all the more!

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Easter Love from Texas

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A few days prior to Easter we received a package in the mail from my brother and sister-in-love from Texas. A peek inside the package clued me into the fact that it was a box of Easter surprises for the family and I tucked it away until Easter morning. After our morning activities we pulled it out and within the box was a bounty of love from down south including Molly’s birthday gift from Uncle Travis and Aunt Krista:

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Plastic eggs decorated with our names, bearing treats of chocolates and fluffy peep versions of each of us:

And a dozen cascarónes:

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Cascarónes are a Texas tradition we were introduced to with the addition of a Texan to our family. For those that are unfamiliar here is a little background on this tradition, compliments of Wikipedia:

“A cascarón is a hollowed-out chicken egg filled with confetti or small toys. Cascarónes are common throughout Mexico and are similar to the Easter eggs popular in many other countries. They are mostly used in Mexico during Carnival, but in US and Mexico border towns the cultures combined to make them a popular Easter tradition.

Decorated, confetti-filled cascarónes may be thrown or crushed over the recipient’s head to shower them with confetti. Like many popular traditions in Mexico, cascarónes are increasingly popular in the southwestern United States For example, they are especially prominent during the two-week, citywide festival of Fiesta in San Antonio, Texas. Cascarónes are usually made during Easter time.

Having a cascarón broken over one’s head is said to bring good luck.”

And who couldn’t use a little luck?!

So before heading to Aunt Beth’s house for Easter dinner we headed outside to partake in this Texas tradition, compliments of Aunt Krista and Uncle Travis:

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Feliz Pascua de nosotros a usted!