Tag Archives: gratitude

So Many Reasons to be Thankful!

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This time of year I find myself reflecting on all that I have to be grateful for. With the Thanksgiving holiday comes acknowledgement of all those blessings that we perhaps overlook or take for granted when our focus is not on thanksgiving and counting our blessings. It is perhaps a sad reality that it takes a nudge from Hallmark to get us thinking about all we take for granted. But I am grateful for a reminder to ponder on all the blessings God has bestowed upon our family.

One of those blessings is the opportunity we have had to teach our children at home for the last 14 years.

Homeschooling wasn’t a lifestyle choice we sought out. Rather, it was one that landed in our lap unexpectedly. Gracie attended a traditional “brick and mortar” public school for Kindergarten. It was a wonderful experience and we had no reason to seek out a different educational path for her (or the children that followed) and yet during the summer between her kindergarten and first grade year we began feeling prompted to look into homeschooling. This heavenly nudge scared me to death. I didn’t know the first thing about homeschooling, I had no idea where to start, and I knew everyone we love would think we were crazy, but the more I pushed off the notion of moving our child back home for school, the more God pushed back…

So, I began to research our options.

I soon discovered that the resources and support for this educational path were abundant. There were so many options and so many paths within the path of educating children at home. We finally decided to take the leap of faith. The thought that calmed my nerves was that it was only 1st grade. Surely I couldn’t mess Grace up too badly over the course of one year…It was only 1st grade.

The journey that began with such anxiety and uncertainty soon became the source of much joy and endless blessings for our children and our family as a whole. We decided to take the path of cyber schooling, choosing a cyber school that first year that would allow me to do most of the hands-on teaching but allowed for the teacher-support and accountability that made me feel more secure in this new role.

As our first year came to a close I knew that this was the right model of education for our family. We fell in love with the school-at-home lifestyle and all that it offered us as a family. A year that began with feelings of insecurity and uncertainty ended with feelings of gratitude and a sense of accomplishment. We had done it and done it well.

When we felt the nudge to begin walking this unfamiliar path we had no idea the “why” behind the prompting. We didn’t have any idea of the challenges the next few years would hold, or how this educational path would benefit our family as we navigated those challenges, until we found ourselves in the midst of them…

Challenges like Grace and Molly’s reading struggles due to Dyslexia, Rusty’s challenges with Selective Mutism, and our adoptive sons’ needs for therapeutic support and opportunity for family attachment made the home school environment ideal for meeting their unique, individual needs.

There is no way we could have anticipated those challenges when our children were small but Heavenly Father could and He set us up for success as a family by placing us on the exact path we needed to be on to support our children in their own individual journeys.

Over the last 14 years we have spent countless hours reading novels while snuggling on the couch, performing countless science experiments at the kitchen counter, working our way through endless math worksheets that got progressively harder with each passing year, traveling around the state to learn first hand about the world around us through countless field trips, and making lifelong friends through our co-op and cyber schools. We have been blessed with thousands of extra hours to parent, teach, and train our children at home while most of their peers were spending their days with teachers and school staff, a blessing that has allowed us to facilitate growth that would have been especially challenging had we traveled a more traditional path.

This pattern of education is not the right fit for every child or every family, but I am so grateful we were nudged (or shoved) onto this less traveled path, because it has made all the difference.

This year Braden was our 6th child to venture down this road. Last year he opted to attend our local public school but during the summer he came to us asking if he could be cyber schooled for his senior year. It has been a great fit for him and he is thriving. So much of that success is due to the phenomenal cyber school that has been an incredible blessing to our family for the last six years. Braden has joined Rusty at 21st Century Cyber Charter School for 12th grade. This is the same cyber school that did such a phenomenal job of preparing Grace and Molly for success in college. As I consider the blessings that have accompanied this educational journey, 21st Century is at the top of that list…

So, it was fitting that during this month of gratitude, we were able to join staff and other 21CCCS families at the Murrysville location for a Thanksgiving dinner.

The outing was split into two parts. First came the preparation. Then came the feast. The students arrived at the school building two hours prior to the scheduled feast to cook the Thanksgiving meal for their families.

We dropped off Braden and Rusty and they, along with other students, began preparing our meal.

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When we arrived two hours later the yummy smells permeated the halls.

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When Tyler, Toby and I walked in we found the students and staff enjoying a Thanksgiving trivia game.

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We joined in using our phones to compete against other players in the room.

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Then it was time to eat!

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The students had all done a great job of preparing a mouth-watering feast,

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Complete with pies for dessert. Rusty and Braden made the Oreo crème pies for the meal.

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It was a wonderful celebration of all that we have to be thankful for.

And for this momma, our school-at-home journey and 21st Century Cyber Charter School are found at the top of that list!

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We are blessed!

 

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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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. ❤

The Day of the Dread

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Dread is an emotion I battle. It is a sin of mine. It is a sin that stems from living outside today, focusing on tomorrow, and not trusting God.

I am a planner. I am an organizer. And like so many of us, my greatest gift has the tendency to turn into my greatest weakness when my focus falls from Heaven and settles upon worldly cares. You see, as a planner, I am always focusing on the next step. My mind is never at rest. I am always planning three moves ahead in fear of dropping the plates I have so carefully balanced and spinning above my head.

My ability to plan and organize is a gift that God is able to use and bless others with, but only when I am focused on Him. It becomes my greatest weakness when my focus falls away from Him. That shift in focus turns an asset into sinful control when used to do all that I deem necessary in the course of a day rather than surrendering my time to the giver of all time and rest in the gift of the present moment.

That sinful need to control leads to the paralyzing emotion of dread. I hate feeling dread. I hate being so worried about what is coming tomorrow that today is stolen from me. I hate that rock in the gut feeling that comes from worrying about the uncontrollable and the unpromised time of tomorrow.

When I find myself consumed with dread I know it is time for reassessment and redirection. Not necessarily in how I am using my time but in who is directing my time. You see DREAD is much more a symptom of a spiritual deficit rather than the time deficit that it presents itself as.

The month of May brings many additional time pressures as we wrap up the school year. There is the pressure to finish our lessons for the year as well as the new addition of outdoor responsibilities of yardwork and putting in the garden. September and May are hard months for me as a homeschooler because they are the months when school year responsibilities and farm responsibilities overlap. With the coming of June the burdens ease as my time and energy can be focused on summer chores, but for this short season it feels like the weight of responsibility is doubled. Add to that the fact that we are ALL ready to begin summer break, but must push through these last few weeks of school work, and the result is a Momma that is dreads the alarm going off in the morning.

Tuesday was a DREAD day. Monday night I climbed in bed already carrying the weight of responsibility for a day that hadn’t even arrived yet. I felt that weight of worry in my gut as I surveyed the 24 hours that lay before me and wished I could just fast forward to Friday. I hate feeling that way. I hate wishing away the days of my life in hopes for easier days tomorrow.

I stopped myself. I knew what the answer was. I just needed to apply the solution that has proven itself time and time again as the best antidote for dread…

GRATITUDE.

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When I find myself counting the worries I must hit the breaks and start counting the blessings.

In therapy with Tyler this week Tina introduced us to a book called, Baditude.

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It is the story of a little  boy who goes through his day consumed with the thought that his life “Stinks!” It was a charming read that made Tyler laugh out loud at the little boy’s view of the world. Every situation he encountered was viewed with distaste. The book concludes with a lesson by the boy’s mother who tells him that he has a “baditude,” and that the only way to get rid of a baditude is with gratitude.

It was a reminder of how powerful a point of view is. And while I consider myself and optimistic, glass half full, sort of person, I was dealing with some internal “baditude” that was morphing itself into “dread.”

Rather than lay awake, overwhelmed with the crazy day that lay before me, I decided to use that time before sleep overtook me to count my blessings.

In my favorite movie of ALL TIME, White Christmas, Bing Crosby sings a little number that goes:

“When you’re worried and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep, and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”

Well that is just what I did, and when  alarm woke me the next morning I found myself facing a very different day. The tasks and errands hadn’t changed, but how I saw them had. And what had been a dreaded day became a day of many blessings. Here are some of the blessings I can count from Tuesday.

My day began with a trip into Pittsburgh.

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After a two month wait my neurology appointment had arrived. As we drove into the city I gave thanks for the great blessings of:

1. Having a Myasthenia Gravis clinic with specialists that treat my rare disorder, right here in the Pittsburgh area.

2. Having a husband who is able and willing to go into work late so as to drive me into Pittsburgh so that I don’t have to do it alone.

We were the first patients of the day and the appointment went 100% better than I could have hoped. The doctor did a full assessment of my muscle strength including a breathing test and bloodwork to get an antibody count, but was amazed at the improvement that we were able to achieve over the last two months through diet and supplements. He gave me a script for Mestinon to use as needed for my muscle weakness but felt that immunosuppressant drugs and steroids weren’t needed at this time.

Which is such a blessing from God!

3. I am grateful that He led me to the other Tina in our life: who has helped me find healing through more natural means.

4. While all this was going on in Pittsburgh I was also counting the great blessing of dear friends, in particular my friend Lana, who graciously offered to take Molly to Keystone testing.

Molly has had state standardized testing yesterday and today. I was a bit panicked when I realized that Molly needed to be two hours north of Pittsburgh for a full day of testing at the same time I needed to be in Pittsburgh for my appointment.

How grateful  am for the friends in my life who help catch my balanced plates when they fall! 🙂

From my neurology appointment I said goodbye to Toby, who headed into work, while I drove Tyler to therapy with Tina.

5. When I count my blessings I count Tina twice…or 100 times! Talk about one of the greatest blessings in our life. I feel like in her I have found a guardian angel, a mentor, a friend and a long lost sister. She has had a bigger impact on our family than just about anyone. She has helped bring healing to our boys, and peace to our home. She gives me the tools to be a better mother as well as the confidence to believe I am a good mother. She brings objectivity and hope to what seems like hopeless situations and helps me find laughter when all I want to do is cry.

This week I needed her. In therapy we have been doing REALLY hard work. The wall behind which Tyler had buried memories of his birth mother has begun to fall and with the surge of trauma memories comes traumatic behaviors. I know no other way to describe the behaviors than to say we have entered the world of the “terrible twos.” I told Tina this. I explained that Tyler’s behaviors have not been aggressive or violent, but rather destructive and nonsensical. I feel like I have a two year old in the house again with cabinets being emptied, nonstop busyness, coloring on walls and furniture, temper tantrums, bed wetting, and this…

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On Monday night Tyler got up in the night, found a pair of scissors and gave himself a haircut.

I told Tina that I didn’t know what Tyler was thinking or what was going on other than to describe it as Tyler has been acting like a “terrible two” year old.

Then with her amazing wisdom and insight she said, “That is to be expected.”

I waited for her to elaborate.

“In therapy we have gone back to when he was separated from his mother. Memories are flooding back and he has regressed emotionally to the age he was when he was taken from her…2 1/2. he is responding to the overwhelming emotions connected to those memories as he would have at that age…at the age he is emotionally stalled at. The coloring on walls, dumping toys in the toilet, and cutting his own hair, while nonsensical for a nine-year-old, is perfectly age appropriate for a 2 1/2 year old.

She then gave me tools to parent some of these hard, exhausting behaviors, all while explaining the importance of making sure the consequences are age appropriate (for a 2-3 year old, not a 9 year old.)

I left feeling more hopeful and more patient and more capable as a mom.

After a couple hours at home we were back on the road to pick up Molly from Miss Lana’s house. At the same time I picked up Molly, I dropped off Grace. She was invited by her best friend, Olivia, on an impromptu road trip to Cleveland to a book signing of Olivia’s favorite author (who has also become one of Gracie’s favorite authors.) Woody, Olivia’s dad, kindly agreed to drive the girls to Cleveland to meet Maggie Stiefvater. The book signing was held at a Barnes and Noble where Maggie told stories and had a Q and A session with her fans before signing their books.

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Both girls made Maggie a friendship bracelet. Maggie wears the bracelets that her fans make for her (“until they get stinky or fall off”…her words!) Gracie then spent the night with Olivia since they didn’t get back home until almost midnight.

This got me thinking about how grateful I am for:

6. The sweet, deep, enriching friendships my kids are blessed with.

7. A dedicated Dad that would spend his evening driving two teenage girls to a book signing after a full day of work.

8. A daughter that “fan girls” over authors rather than pop stars or Hollywood icons.

After dropping off Grace and picking up Molly (who reported a good day of testing) we were back on the road towards Pittsburgh to take Ozzie to Tween Group.

Tween Group is a support group that is offered through our adoption agency for adopted children 10-12. (There is also a teen group.) In this group of kids Ozzie has found friendship and support from other kids who “get it.” These kids come from many different backgrounds (infant adoption, international adoption, foster care) and their stories differ, but they share the common thread of adoption. The ladies who run this support group are amazing! Tween Group begins with a dinner, followed by social skills activities, games,  and discussion that addresses situations specific to a child who has been adopted. Ozzie looks forward to his Tween Group that meets once a month. This was their last meeting before summer break.

This night the kids tie dyed shirts, made friendship trees with each other’s fingerprints as the leaves of the trees, made a movie trailer, and then invited the parents back at the end to view their movie trailer and see some of the adoption work they did this year.

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One of the activities they do each month is to highlight a famous adoptee and then post a question connected to that adoptee that the kids all get to answer.

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Watching Ozzie blossom under the support of this group is another blessing to thank God for.

9. I am grateful for our amazing adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services, that support their families on so many fronts.

10. For adoption: a unique and beautiful way to bring families together.

We arrived home to find Toby doing some repair work on Tyler’s creative cutting job. The only way to salvage the situation was to take it all off….

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Even in this I find reasons to be grateful…

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11. I am grateful there is not a family photo session scheduled for next week.

12. I am grateful we are going into summer and not winter, because that would be a cold style for January!

13. And I am grateful it was just hair…

because hair grows back.

🙂

In all that I was dreading, I found joy.

Not because my day miraculously emptied and cleared,

but because I emptied and cleared…

I emptied my mind of worries.

I cleared my thoughts of tomorrow’s tasks.

and I found gratitude in today.

And that made all the difference.

God is good.

Baking for Make-A-Wish

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I believe, as parents, we all desire certain things for our children. We desire happiness for them and good health. We pray that they will have discernment and that they will be wise, and then we pray for their safety for those times when they aren’t so wise.

We hope they will feel loved by us, and others, and most importantly by their Father in Heaven.

We want them to find friends, good friends, that will strengthen them and make them better.

We raise them to have roots, deep roots that will ground them and secure them when the winds of adversity blow, but also raise them to have wings that will allow them to take flight and soar high above the pull of the world.

We work diligently to teach them, and guide them, and help them grow in stature and spirit. We work hard, hoping we aren’t messing them up too badly, as we work to grow good kids, happy kids, healthy kids, strong kids, righteous kids, respectful kids, kind kids.

We struggle to find the balance as we affirm them in hopes of growing secure, confident children without indulging them to the point of handicapping them with the chains of entitlement.

We want our children to be bold in their faith, beliefs, and convictions, but kind and loving to all.

We pray that our sons and daughters know their value as a child of God, but humbly recognize all that they are and all that they have comes from God…not from them.

We want to raise children who are aware of all that exists outside themselves and whose hearts burn with a desire to touch the world… and change the world… and make it a better place.

We hope our sons will develop into gentlemen and our daughter into ladies, with all the lovely attributes those titles inspire.

We want our children to think of others, not because they have to, or because their parents said to, but because they have discovered for themselves the joy that comes from being a blessing to others, from living outside one’s own self focus, and from the practice of observing the needs that exist around them and working to meet those needs.

We want our children to understand that so many of the attributes the world holds up as a measure of worth and a standard of a well lived life (wealth, power, appearance, wit, status, etc.) are fleeting, but doing good, and being kind, and loving others…well, those attributes never lose their shine. Those attributes are the real deal. They are the real measure of a well lived life…of a happy life.

We are blessed to be part of a co-op that shares a similar philosophy.

In addition to the many other benefits we gain from being part of this cooperative learning group (friends, support, traditional school experiences, holiday celebrations and enriching field trips) the kids also have the opportunity to serve.

Each month our co-op takes on a service project, giving the students the opportunity to discover the joy of serving others. One of the favorite service projects for the year is our annual bake sale in which the money raised is donated to the Make-A-Wish foundation. This is a charity close to our co-op’s heart due to two of our co-op families having received a wish granted by this amazing charity.

The co-op kids take ownership of this service project by making treats to sale, as well as by breaking into their own piggy banks to have the funds needed to support this charity by buying treats…and eating them, of course! The kids love this annual event!

Each of my kids knew they wanted to make something to donate to the bake sale, but I knew that Tuesday was going to be busy with five different appointments that day, so we decided that for Monday’s family night we would have a family bake-off in the kitchen so that everyone could get all their treats ready for Wednesday.

The kids all knew what they wanted to make:

Grace- Nutella cupcakes

Molly- Oreo balls

Rusty- No bake bars

Ozzie- Chocolate chip cookies

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Tyler- Baymax cupcakes

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Everyone got to work, claiming a portion of the counter space as their own. Toby helped coordinate the oven usage by running the timers and adjusting the temperatures when the next baked good went it.

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We turned on Disney music and the kids had fun baking, visiting, and singing along as they worked. I answered baking questions and acted as site supervisor for the project. 🙂  It was a really fun way to spend the evening as a family, while also accomplishing a big task on the to-do list.

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Co-op was a blast on Wednesday. They kids loved showing off their cooking creations, as well as checking out (and taste testing) their friends’ baked goods. The little boys loved “shopping” for treats with their own money, and everyone was excited to raise money for the Make-A- Wish foundation!

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Good job Kids!!

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Scatter Kindness…week #1

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Saturday marked the end of week one in our Random Act of Kindness challenge for the month of November. What a wonderful week it was! We all loved consciously reaching out and scattering seeds of kindness to those we love, as well as total strangers. With each RAOK we found ourselves eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to spread joy, and in the process we found ourselves forgetting ourselves and focusing on the love we have for others.

I am so grateful for Molly’s inspired idea that led to this Random Act of Kindness challenge.

I am grateful for God’s provisions and the inspiration He laid on our hearts to use our monthly grocery budget to fund our month of giving. I am grateful for a full freezer and stocked pantry that allows us to redirect the funds we would spend on our own groceries and use it instead to be a blessing to others.

I encourage you to not give up on the challenge to spread love this month through Random Acts of Kindness if financially your situation differs. It need not cost anything. Your RAOKs may be different. We just chose this route so that our children could experience the link between sacrifice of self and the great blessing of placing other’s needs ahead of our own wants….

and how good that feels!

Consider what works for you and your family, and then do it! 🙂

Scatter Kindness and watch those seeds take root.

Here is a peek into some of the fun we had this week showing love and appreciation to others.

Monday:

Monday we kicked off our RAOK challenge with a fun game of “Ding Dong Ditch” for family night. We thought this would be a fun and exciting way for engage the little boys and set the tone for the month ahead. We purchased 7 boxes of Ding Dongs, wrapped them with a tag, and picked 7 families we wanted to “Ding Dong Ditch.”

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The whole idea behind a Ding Dong Ditch is to drop the treat, ring the doorbell and run back to the waiting van, before getting caught. Tyler struggled with the rules of the game.

“When they open the door I’m going to yell, ‘Happy Halloween!” he declared.

“But Halloween is over,” Rusty corrected.

“Then I will yell, ‘Good Night!’ and then do the worm on their porch,” he decided.

“No,” we explained, “You don’t say anything.  You don’t do any dance moves. You run so they don’t see you.”

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After watching the big kids Ding Dong Ditch the first house he finally understood Everyone had fun running through the night, ringing door bells and trying to make to back to the car before the front door was opened.

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Cost: $21.00

Tuesday:

On Tuesday we decided to show appreciation to the staff at two of our regular offices: Dr. G, our orthodontist, and Miss Tina’s office (Ozzie and Tyler’s therapist) at Glade Run.

Ozzie had an appointment with Miss Tina in the morning. We left early enough to stop at Oram’s Donuts to buy 3 dozen donuts…

one dozen for the staff at Miss Tina’s office and 2 dozen for all the girls and Dr.G at the orthodontist’s office. The staff at both offices are phenomenal and we wanted to express our appreciation.

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The staff at both offices we touched. It was so nice to give back to two offices that have been such a blessing to our family.

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Dr. G enjoying his glazed donuts. 🙂

Cost: $ 31.00

Wednesday:

Wednesday is our co-op day and as part of our home school co-op group we take on  a service project each month. For the month of November we are collecting money to donate to our local city rescue mission to help pay for Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless. It cost the mission $2.05 to feed a thanksgiving meal to a homeless man.

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The kids decided to empty some of the loose change from their piggy banks and donate it to feed the homeless. They combined their change and had enough money to donate the funds necessary to feed a Thanksgiving dinner to 12 men.

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Cost: $ 24.60

The girls also planned an appreciation treat for the moms at co-op who work so hard to teach all the co-op classes and plan the fun activities and field trips. They decided to set up a “Teachers’ Lounge” in the lunchroom. They brought in an electric tea kettle from home, herbal teas and sweeteners, and four types of home cooked muffins for the moms to enjoy during their break periods.

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Cost: $4.00

On Wednesday evening the cub scouts did their own service project. They wrote letters of appreciation to soldiers serving in the military. Here is a snapshot Toby took of the letter Tyler wrote before it was turned in to be sent to a soldier.

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Cost: $0

Thursday:

The kids decided to show their appreciation to their two taekwondo instructors by wrapping up a sweet treat for each of them.

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Cost: $5.00

Ozzie and Tyler also had a doctor’s appointment that day so we had another secret RAOK up our sleeves. We made a stop at the craft store to pick up some individual velvet coloring kits. We brought them home, wrapped them up with a RAOK tag, and took them  to our appointment. The boys had fun placing them around the waiting room to be discovered by an unsuspecting child who isn’t feeling well, with hopes that it might brighten their day.

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Cost: $ 6.00

Friday:

On Friday we went shopping for Operation Christmas Child. This is a favorite charity of ours and packing these shoeboxes has become a holiday tradition in our home. For this service project we went on-line to purchase  tracking labels for five boxes. The $7.00 per box tracking label helps off-set some of the cost to send these Christmas gifts to all corners of the globe, to the neediest children around the globe.

You then chose whether you are buying for a male or female child. You can pick a 2-4 year old child, a 5-9 year old child, or a 10-14 year old child.

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The kids all picked who they were buying for, were given a $10.00 budget to fill their shoebox, and we headed out shopping. They LOVED this RAOK project and put a lot of thought into the gifts they were buying. When we were done shopping the boxes were packed and the kids wrote personal letters to include in their box.

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 They are now ready to be dropped off at a pick up location and we will be able to track (via the tags we purchased online) what country our boxes will be delivered to for Christmas.

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Here is a video of what that looks like on the other end:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oel_Gt4Ync

This was one of our big cost projects for the month. (We have three of these planed)

Total cost for 5- $7.00 tags and $ 10.00 for each child to fill a box for a child: $85.00

Saturday:

On Saturday everyone was scattered in different directions. I spent the day at a scrapbooking workshop with friends. The workshop was being held to raise money to send a mission team into Jamaica to take clothes and supplies to the needy in that country. The little boys and I went through their clothes, picking items we could donate to the mission trip.

Cost: $0

 Anyone care to join us for week 2?

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“Because I Have Been Given Much”

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“Because I have been given much
I too must give
Because of thy great bounty Lord
Each day I live
I shall divide gifts from thee
With every brother that see
Who has the need of help from me

Because I have been sheltered, fed
By thy good care
I cannot see another’s lack and I not share
My glowing fire, my loaf of bread,
my roof saved shelter overhead
That he to me be comforted

Because I have been blessed by
thy great love dear Lord
I’ll share thy love again
According to thy word
I shall give love to those in need
I’ll show that love by word and deed
Thus shall my thanks be thanks in deed”

 The words of one of my favorite hymns have been playing in my head lately. I find myself humming the familiar tune as I go about my day. The words have especially been on my mind as we enter the month of November…the time of thanksgiving.

Gratitude is a virtue dear to my heart. It is the virtue I value above all others. It is a virtue that was at the center of my life growing up, as my parents made it a focus and priority in our lives, and I have tried to make it a focus in our children’s lives.

From the time our children were small we made every effort to center our lives around gratitude, the father of all virtues. Counting our blessings became a part of our nighttime ritual as we implemented the tradition (borrowed from friends) of going around the room and having everyone share something they were grateful for that day.

We have also encouraged our children to express feeling of gratitude to those who bless their lives…thanking the person holding the door, thanking the waitress who brings the meal, thanking the teacher who prepared the lesson, writing thank you notes, etc.

I have always felt that gratitude precedes joy. So often we are focused on finding joy, when the secret to finding joy is to first find gratitude. Gratitude brings joy, as well as peace, contentment and fulfillment. That is why counting your blessings is such an effective tool for overcoming despair, jealousy, discouragement, and dread.

I believe there is a reason that the month of Thanksgiving comes before the Christmas season of joy and wonder. It prepares our hearts. It aligns our souls and helps us remember what is really important. It eradicates those human sins of self focus, greed, jealousy and entitlement. It reminds us of our place in the universe and turns our eyes back to the Father of the universe.

This November we decided to take our yearly gratitude challenge to another level. We usually hang a gratitude tree in our home and every night when we count our blessings as a family we take the time to write them out and hang them on the tree, as a visual reminder of all we have to be grateful for. Seeing our gratitude tree fill up with blessings is a humbling reminder of how blessed we are.

This year we decided that rather than simply count our blessings we would spread those blessings and share them with others…

Thus begins our month of giving.

(Let me first say I am sharing this journey with you not with the desire to say, ‘Look at us,’ but rather to share ideas with you that have been shared with us. This journey was laid on our hearts by God- to Him all the glory!)

The idea began with Miss Molly when she approached us a month ago saying that she would like to make cookies for everyone in her life that she is grateful for. She said that she wanted to share her appreciation for the many people in her life that are a blessing to her. As she began making a list of everyone she wanted to thank we began talking as a family and from this simple idea a bigger plan arose.

“Why don’t we spend the entire month of November spreading joy and gratitude through Random Acts of Kindness?!”  the kids suggested.

So the planning began. We spent the month of October making lists of people we wanted to express love and gratitude to, as well as making lists of fun, random acts of kindness we could perform.

November 1st we sat down as a family and began our month of kindness by filling the calendar with all of our ideas. We looked at each day, the commitments and appointments of each day and picked Random Acts of Kindness (or RAOK) that would fit in that day. It was fun to see the kids so excited and so full of ideas!

The next step in the plan was the funding. Many of the RAOKs planned for the month were free but others were not. To fund our month of kindness we came up with the idea of not purchasing any groceries for ourselves (other than milk and bread) for the month of November and eat only from the pantry and freezer for the month. We then could use our monthly grocery budget to purchase supplies for our RAOKs.

I loved this idea!

First: it helped us clean out the freezer and rotate the food in the pantry by eating up some of the canned goods that are dusty and haven’t been used.

Second: it teachers our kids the wonderful skill of “making do” and creative cooking.

Third: it allows them to recognize the great blessing of a full freezer and pantry.

Fourth and most importantly it teaches sacrifice. Their acts of kindness and gratitude have a lot more meaning when it comes from a sacrifice they are willing to make.

Everyone is excited about the month ahead. I will be posting weekly about our RAOK adventures.

Does anyone want to join us in our Random Acts of Kindness challenge?

It promises to be a grand adventure!

“Stay-cation”

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We have emerged.

We all survived…not only survived, but thrived. Even the child, who upon hearing our idea of a weekend “lock down” responded with, “You can’t keep me a prisoner here!” 🙂

It was a wonderful, unhurried, restful time away from the world and a much-needed time of healing and renewal for our family. Here is a little glimpse into our Stay-cation.

The lock down began on Wednesday night but the preparation began a few days earlier. This year we let the kids have a greater say in our holiday meal. Our thought was, “No one is coming over and we aren’t going away so we will let the kids design the Thanksgiving meal.”

We told the kids that we would cook a turkey but for the side dishes each of them could pick their favorite food and we would serve that with the turkey. On Tuesday I asked what their choices were so that we could make our shopping list. Surprisingly, they all picked pretty traditional side dishes like green bean casserole and mashed potatoes. Tyler was the only one who ventured outside the norm and picked corn dogs. 🙂

Wednesday was a half day for Ozzie. In the morning I dropped him off at school, met a dear friend for a “catch up” brunch, and stopped by the store for one or two items we forgot the night before when we all went grocery shopping. At 1:30 I picked up Ozzie. We had a little school work to do and Rusty and I worked on a talk he had to give at church on Sunday, but soon it was time to put away the computers and begin our stay-cation.

The plan was to assemble as many of the dishes as we could the day before so that we could just put everything in the oven on Thanksgiving day and just play. I gathered the kids, everyone picked an apron to wear, and I handed out recipes. Each child was given a recipe that they were in charge of making. Their first assignment was to gather all the ingredients from the recipe they were making and bring it back to their station.

Silly girls :)

Silly girls 🙂

Once I had checked the supplies they were free to begin. I floated from station to station helping where I was needed and supervising the little boys who were pealing the potatoes for mashed potatoes.

Tyler and Ozzie- the mashed potato team.

Tyler and Ozzie- the mashed potato team.

Rusty made our sweet potato casserole.

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Rusty

Grace made our green bean casserole as well as our pies.

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Molly took charge of the marshmallow salad and the homemade rolls.

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The boys and Russ made our mashed potato casserole.

And I assembled the broccoli casserole. The remaining dishes were finished the next day. I was amazed at how well everyone did. We had 90% of our Thanksgiving feast assembled and in the fridge in about 2 hours. What a team!

On Thanksgiving morning we got the turkey in the oven, the rolls rolled out and rising, and the turned on the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade. It was a fun, stay in your PJs, sort of morning. Gracie set up a table with a puzzle to work on and the kids enjoyed doing that while we watched the parade and then movies later in the day.

Watching the parade...

Watching the parade…

Puzzle buddies

Puzzle buddies

By 2:00 the turkey was ready, the rolls were baking  and the last-minute dishes were finished. It was time to eat. Everything was carried to the table. Before we blessed the food we had a time of gratitude as we reflected on the past year and everyone named their blessings.

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My greatest blessings!

My greatest blessings!

After dinner was done and clean-up was finished it was time for the restful part of our weekend to begin. Our stay-cation was filled with board games. (Including one 5 hour Monopoly marathon which Toby won.)

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We also napped, crafted, watched movies, decorated for Christmas and enjoyed our time as a family.

Toby also did some gold panning. This fall when we stopped at the gold/gem mining site Toby bought an extra bag of dirt to bring home and pan when he had the time. Our quiet weekend at home gave him lots of time to sit and look for gold. Here is one of the nuggets he found…

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On Saturday we finally emerged from the house to have some family chore time. We had a huge stack of wood that had been chopped in the last month that needed split. We spent a couple of hours splitting and stacking logs so that we could fire up our outdoor wood burning furnace. Along the way we had a bit of a misstep when Tyler got a piece of wood dust in his eye. A few hours later he was still crying about it hurting even though we couldn’t see anything there so at 8:00 pm on Saturday night Toby took him in. Our stay-cation ended with a trip to the ER. Sure enough he had scratched his cornea and came home with and eye patch and drops.

Our pile we split and stacked.

Our pile we split and stacked.

Our pirate :)

Our pirate 🙂

Sunday morning we emerged for church…rested, renewed and closer as a family. It is hard to believe only a week earlier we were sitting before a judge adopting Ozzie. What a week it has been.

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It was a wonderful Stay-cation.

We found our missing piece

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Now that we are through the craziness of this past weekend here is a look at what else was packed into an already fun-filled few days.

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A few weeks ago I was asked to come and speak to Ozzie’s class. This speaking opportunity came as a result of the baby bulletin board in Ozzie’s classroom. Because he didn’t have a baby picture to take in he made the decision to take a picture of himself on the day he moved in…the day he was “born” into our family. Around the same time this was all happening I called the teacher and offered to speak with the class about adoption. She decided to take me up on my offer and it was planned for last Friday, the day before his adoption.

Ozzie helped me plan our presentation and we decided on the theme, “We found our missing piece.” In the days leading up to our lesson he helped me spray paint puzzle pieces for our object lesson and make puzzle piece chocolates to top the cupcakes with. He was so excited!

On Friday I arrived at his school and signed into the office. Ozzie was sent to the office to escort me back to his class. Along the way he eagerly pointed out his artwork on the wall, the cafeteria, the boys’ bathroom, etc. When we arrive we set up in the corner with Ozzie and I seated in chairs and the other children seated in a circle, on the floor. We began by playing a game that pointed out our differences. (All those who play sports please stand up) After discovering all that was unique about every member of the class I then asked what was the same. They pondered for a minute and came up with, “We are all fourth graders!”

We then talked about families and how no two families are exactly the same. I gave two kids the task of putting together a 12 piece puzzle as we spoke. I told them that there are many ways to put together a puzzle- some like to start with the corners, some find all the straight pieces first and build the edge, and some start with the middle picture. We talked about how no way is better than another and like building a puzzle there are many different ways to build a family. We talked about how families can be built: through birth, through blended families, through adoption…but the thing that is the same about all of them is LOVE!

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As the two puzzle builders completed their task they discovered there was a missing piece. I told the kids that as we were building our family, we too discovered there was a missing piece. From behind my back I pulled out the missing piece, flipped it over, and there was a picture of Ozzie. 🙂

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Ozzie was our missing piece.

I then turned the time over to Ozzie to share a bit of his story and his journey of how he came to us. The kids had lots of great questions and their curiosity led to a 15 minute discussion with many of them declaring, “I’m going to go home and ask my mom if we can adopt a kid.” 🙂

The day ended with cupcakes as we celebrated Ozzie’s adoption.

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On the Sunday after his adoption we carried over this theme for the celebration we had following church. Due to the time of year we knew we wouldn’t be able to have a big outdoor celebration at our home, but we wanted to do something to celebrate with our church family, so we had a little party to celebrate “finding our missing piece.” We had cake and chocolate milk as we celebrated the blessing of Ozzie.

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Now that we are through adoption day everyone is eager for some down time. Adoption day and the days following have been filled with a mix of emotions, especially for little Oz. There has been such excitement and joy but he has also been hit with the reality that this is forever. He has expressed sadness about never being Ozzie Price again and worry about whether he has made his birth parents sad by being adopted. With this joyful life/family change comes emotional fallout, and we knew that would be the case, so we have decided to go into self-preservation mode this Thanksgiving. As much as we will miss family time with Toby’s extended family we know what is needed. We are having a family lock-in. As of 5:00pm this evening we are locking the doors, turning on the answering machine, logging off the internet, shutting out the distractions of the world, and we are selfishly focusing on family bonding. We have a full fridge and everything needed for a 3 day “staycation.” We are going to have movie marathons as we snuggle on the couch, board game marathons and concentrated family bonding time. I know it is just what our family needs.

So,  if we don’t answer the door, don’t worry, and if we don’t answer the phone, please don’t take it personally…

We will emerge on Sunday Morning. 🙂

So until then…we wish you and your family a blessed Thanksgiving day!

To everything there is a season.

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 Recently I had an interesting discussion with my mom. We were talking about the seasons of life. She was talking about the sweetness she and my father have found in the retirement season of their life. She compared it to the month of October. Life is a bit calmer. The craziness of September has past. That season of transition when you are juggling the busyness of two seasons is over and they can enjoy the beauty of “fall.” The work of relocating, resituating and adjusting are over and now they can sit back and enjoy the harvest of their life’s work. October is a beautiful season to be in.

I, on the other hand, am in the summer of my life. My mother described my life season as the middle of summer. I am in July. With the summer season comes the busyness of sowing and tending and weeding and watering my children’s futures. It is an active time of life. There are always chores to be done and things to be cared for. It is the season of long days and short nights but July is also a season of fun. It is a season of noise, and chaos, and trips and adventures. Life is never slow, never dull, and never ever boring. Sometimes in the midst of summer adventures we crave the calm emergence of spring or the rest that comes with winter. It in those moments we need to stop and take notice of the blessings that come with our current season of life. Seasons come and seasons go and with that cycle comes beautiful moments. We must embrace the season we are currently experiencing, recognizing that all too soon this season will pass and be just a memory. So as we enter this actual Summer season I vow to better embrace and enjoy this season of my life. I will embrace the noise, the mess, the corrections and the hugs, the teaching and training and playing and growing that happens under the summer sun because this is the season of my life and life is simply too short to waste the magical moments of today longing for the days of yesteryear or wishing for the seasons of tomorrow.

Yesterday I received a card in the mail from my mother. It was a Mother’s Day card from her to me expressing her love and wishing me a special day. In it she shared this sage advice:

“Enjoy these frantic years. They are crazy but you will look back on them with great fondness…and smile.”

My mother is a very wise woman so I think I’ll take her advice.

Here is some of our seasonal craziness…

Ozzie enjoying a warm summer shower in May.

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 We are in the midst of spring soccer and Tyler is loving it. Today was an especially exciting game for his team as they won 19-0. Go Tyler!

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 His favorite position to play is goalie.

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 This is how Rusty and Ozzie spend their time at Tyler’s game…reading side by side and occasionally looking up when the crowds cheer.

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 At our homeschool co-op we have monthly service projects for the kids to participate in. The final service project of the year was a bake sale to raise money for the Make a Wish foundation. The kids all made baked goods to sell and then shopped for each other’s goodies to raise money for this wonderful organization.

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 Ozzie had a big assignment due for school last week. He had to make a 3D map of the United States. We decided to have everyone participate and make their own maps and label them. The kids loved working with the salt dough.

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 The kids are thrilled to now have a piano to practice on instead of the organ, which they have been learning on up until this point. A few years ago we received a free hand me down organ which has served us wonderfully as the kids have begun piano lessons. They have now reached a point, however, that the pieces they are learning require an actual piano so we were thrilled when a customer of Toby’s approached us about bartering a piano she had for labor on some projects she wanted to hire Toby for. The kids have loved trying out their piano pieces on the new (old) piano.

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 This week was teacher appreciation week and although we school most of our children at home through cyber charter schools they still have teachers that oversee their work. The kids decided they wanted to surprise their teachers (who work out of offices across the state) with a special “thank you” so we filled empty 2L bottles with 100 grand bars and mailed them as is with a note expressing our gratitude and our feelings that they were valued far above 100 grand.

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 We are so grateful to have such wonderful teachers partnering with us as we educate our kiddos!

The finished product!

The finished product!

The last big event this week was the advancement of Rusty in Taekwondo. He has advanced from yellow stripe to orange belt. Yea Rusty!!  At the belt presentation ceremony Ozzie couldn’t contain himself and in the midst of a very quiet/serious moment Ozzie jumped to his feet, clapping for all his worth and shouting, “I am so proud of you Rusty!!” It made the celebration even sweeter. 🙂

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 “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” – Ecclesiastes 3:1