Tag Archives: homeschooling

Erie Art Museum

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Last Friday we had our second field trip of the year to Erie with 21st Century Cyber Charter School. Like the field trip to the Erie Zoo in February, we planned to pick up Ozzie and take him with us. We also had Tatum joining us for the day.

Our day began bright and early with everyone rolling out of bed at 5:30 am. The field trip was scheduled to begin at 9:30 am but we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us and a family therapy session scheduled with Ozzie for 8:00 am, which meant an early morning! I figured if we were already making the trek up north we ought to fit in a family session at his RTF while we were in the area. He is scheduled to be discharged this weekend (more on that in an upcoming post) so we wanted to fit in one more family session with the other kids before he came home.

We arrived at the Erie Art museum right on time, following a successful family therapy session with Ozzie and the rest of the kiddos.  In addition to our group of 7, there were two other students, two other parents, and two teachers signed up for the tour.

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I wasn’t sure how the day was going to play out. I knew the three girls would enjoy the art museum but wasn’t sure how much this particular field trip would appeal to the three boys. I assumed we would simply be walking through the museum and looking at art, but soon discovered there was much more to this outing than meets the eye, and it ended up being one of the coolest outings we have attended in a long time.

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We were blessed with an exceptional tour guide, a sweet girl who was both knowledgeable and engaging, drawing everyone into the experience, even the younger boys.

We began our day on the first floor, in a room showcasing large canvases with the shared theme of “art that tricks your eye.” As we walked around the room we discussed the techniques each artists used to create the optical illusions that played out on the wall before us.

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Then we all had the opportunity to create our own eye-tricking work of art.

Using two circles of paper, we drew two different parts of the same picture on the two circles. For example: a fish bowl on one paper and the fish on the other.

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By gluing the two circles to either side of a wooden dowel we created a spinning toy that became a moving work of art. Like a child’s flip-book, the motion of spinning the dowel merged the two drawings and the eye would then register the two images as one.

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It was very neat and all the kids had fun with this art project.

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From there we moved upstairs to an exhibit of prints made with engravings.

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Once again after learning about this art medium, we had the opportunity to create our own work of art. We were each given a piece of Styrofoam and were encouraged to walk around the room, be inspired, and create our own engraving on the Styrofoam that we would use to create a print.

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After everyone had finished their engraving we moved to a workroom where we learned how to use our engraved “plates” to make prints.

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Gracie’s print.

The finished results were delightful!

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After a 30 minute lunch break we reconvened for the second half of the outing which was a scavenger hunt through the museum. We were split into two teams and were each given a scavenger hunt list of exhibits to visit and tasks to perform at each stop.

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It was an awesome way to help the kids really engage with the exhibits, making learning about the art fun and impactful.

I was on a team with Rusty, Grace and Ozzie, while Tyler, Molly, and Tatum joined the other team.

Some of our scavenger hunt tasks included:

1.Choose one piece of art in the Sharon Kerry-Harlan exhibit and write a haiku poem about the piece.

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2. In the Frenzel Gallery take a look at Schabacker’s animal fabric collages and choose one of the animals from the gallery to sculpt out of clay.

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3. In the Bacon Gallery find the self portrait wall in James McMarray’s exhibit. Spend a few minutes looking at the collection of self portraits.

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Go to the end of the gallery and find the self portrait station and create a self portrait.

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4. Step inside the Gary Spinosa exhibit and spend a few minutes viewing the sculptures . What adjectives would you use to describe this exhibit?

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At the end of our scavenger hunt we joined the other team back at the starting point to compare notes. What a fun way to engage visitors in the art!

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It was an awesome field trip and I can’t say enough positive things about the Erie Art Museum and its staff.

This outing earned two thumbs up!

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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

A grain of sand

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This last week has left me weary. I have found myself dreaming of running away or better yet everyone else in my family running away so that I could climb into bed, pull the covers over my head and sleep. It isn’t physical exhaustion that drives my sleep fantasies but mental and emotional exhaustion. I am weary with worry…worries about my Mom and Dad, worries about my children and the adjustments they are struggling with, worries about the young women I work with at church, worries about Ozzie and the struggles he faces as he confronts the demons of his past and works to open his heart and learn to trust us. I am tired but I didn’t realize how tired I was until a friend called the other day asking if I would make cookies and I broke down in tears. A very innocent request was the proverbial straw and I broke.  Robert Service had it right when he said:

“It isn’t the mountain that wears you out, it is the grain of sand in your shoe.”

It isn’t one big thing that is wearing me out, it is all the little things…the appointments, the social worker inspections, the reading lessons, the dog mess on the carpet, the homeschooling, the adoption paperwork,  the goats escaping, the trips into Pittsburgh for doctor’s appointments, the calls that need made, the worries about loved ones, the bickering and nagging and parenting that is continuous at this phase of adoption and adjustment.

My shoes are full of sand.

So, what do we do when we struggle to move forward, when the weight of the sand in our shoes exceeds our physical ability?

We do what God has called us to do. We hand each grain of sand to him…one at a time. Great blessings come from our hardest days, weeks and years. I have found that often it isn’t until I get to the end of myself…the end of my capacity…the end of my strength… that I fully surrender to Him. That is where I was  yesterday. I had no more to give…no more patience, no more affirming words, no more optimism or hope. I was tapped dry. I was an empty well. No more water…just sand…so I called out to the one who could quench my thirst, who could give me hope, who speaks affirming words and fill me with patience. I prayed. I prayed for the next minute, then the next ten minutes. I remembered…I remembered the blessing of dependence on Him. I remembered the days of my past…those hardest of hard days that were only survived through minute to minute prayer. I remembered the holiness of those days and  I prayed.

 And then God answered…

This adoption journey has been so different from our walk with Tyler. So different that I feel like most of what I learned with our first adoption process has to be thrown out and we are starting back at square one. The process of him joining our family has been very different than the first time around, his trauma and foster journey is very different that Tyler’s, and his demons are different. Although both have experienced abuse, multiple foster placements and the loss of siblings, Ozzie was older when he went through it all and his scars are closer to the surface. His scars also present themselves very differently than Tyler’s did. Ozzie also comes to us with a diagnosis of Asperger’s  Syndrome so I find myself sometimes struggling as I parent certain behaviors and have to figure out, “Is this defiance, the Asperger’s, or the abuse that I  am seeing?” It can be hard knowing when affirmation and understanding are needed and when correction is called for.  This is where that dependence of a loving Heavenly Father comes in. He loves Ozzie. He knows Ozzie. He knows what Ozzie needs and through prayer I can also know what Ozzie needs.

One of the biggest struggles we have faced with Ozzie is an obsessive protectiveness over his toys. He will flip out if any of the kids look at or touch his things. Knowing that some of that reaction comes from the fact that he is a child who has lost most of what he has had in his life…his home, his parents, he sister, his possessions…I have given him the space and “permission” to guard his items, hoping that as he learns to trust us some of that guard will fall. The problem I found, though, was that although Ozzie expected his toys to be off-limits he expected everyone else to share their toys willingly. After a few incidents of him taking things without asking we told him that if he was going to take the other kids’ things without permission that he would have to allow the kids to play with his toys. This declaration was tested the next day when he snuck into Gracie’s room and took a guitar part from her room to look at. When caught, Gracie told him that she would have let him see it if he had asked but that he can’t take things from her room without asking. His reply was, “But I wanted to see it!” We brought them both down to the living room  where I had them sit and I told Gracie that she could go pick something from Ozzie’s room that she wants to look at. Gracie went into his room and came back out with a matchbox car which she gamely observed and examined for the sake of making a point  while Ozzie flipped out and screamed his protests. After 2 or 3 minutes Gracie put it back but Ozzie’s tantrum went on for 30 more minutes. Later that evening Ozzie told me that he has never been good at sharing and that he couldn’t do it. I told him that we all have things that are hard for us to do. I told him that we would pray about it and work on it together. He didn’t think “practicing sharing” was a good plan. 🙂

The struggle of sharing...

The struggle of sharing…

The next day we had another opportunity to help Ozzie work on sharing when he needed a Lego out of Tyler’s toy box and went to get it without asking. When I told him he had to ask first his behavior began to escalate as he tensed and shouted, “But I need it!” I took him into his room and tried to calm him down with some of the relaxation techniques that his doctor had been working with him on. I told him that if he wanted to use Tyler’s Legos he would have to let Tyler borrow something of his. Ozzie began to tantrum. I told him that if he didn’t want to share that was fine but he couldn’t use Tyler’s Legos. He kept insisting that Tyler should have to share but that he can’t share because his toys are special. We sat and talked. I told him that I understood that sharing was hard for him. I understood that he was scared. I knew that this was an opportunity to build trust so I told him we were going to try sharing and I would help him. We began by saying a prayer together. We prayed that his toy would be safe in Tyler’s hands and that he wouldn’t feel anxious and that he would get the chance to see how good sharing can feel. We prayed that we would be able to follow Jesus’ example, the one who shared ALL, and be courageous. I then let him pick the toy he would share. I told him that we would set the timer for ten minutes and that I would stay by his toy the entire time and make sure it was safe. When Ozzie was calm I then went into the living room to prepare Tyler on how to receive Ozzie’s toy and how he was expected to behave with it. It was then time for the exchange. Ozzie came out of his room with trepidation. Ozzie’s little body was pulsating with anxiety as he handed over his car and headed into Tyler’s room to pick out the Legos. Tyler handled it with such kindness and when the time was over he took Ozzie his car and thanked him. As I was sitting on the floor talking to Ozzie about his success and how he was feeling Tyler returned with his favorite car that he brought with him from his old home and handed it to Ozzie and said that he wanted Ozzie to play with it.

“You are sharing your favorite car with me?” Ozzie asked in disbelief.

“Yep, you can play with it since you let me play with your car,” Tyler replied.

With excitement Ozzie jumped up. “Then I want you to play with one of my cars!” Ozzie shouted.

Ozzie grabbed a car off his shelf and handed it to Tyler.

“Look, Mom,” Ozzie shouted with pride, “We are sharing!”

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I know it seems like such a trivial thing.

So they shared a car…

But this was a victory,

A praiseworthy moment,

A grain of sand removed from my shoe,

An answered prayer from a God who cares.

Our greatest challenges are rarely mountains. The greatest challenges we face are the grains of sand in our shoes.

Likewise the victories are rarely “news worthy” or monumental instead they are the little miracles. They are the small steps forward. They are the “I did a little better today than I did yesterday” moments. They are the “I will choose to get out of bed today” choices.

They are the reminders that God hears, that He cares, and that we don’t have to do it alone…ever!

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“Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do but someone you raise” -Andy Stanley

“I’m so happy I could BOUNCE”

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“Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb but how well you bounce.” -Tigger

Friday we had an unusual field trip with our cyber school… one that turned out to be a favorite with all the kids. We went to Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park. When we arrived we had to sign waivers, the kids had to change into special shoes and then we sat through a short instructional session where the staff went over the rules.

The kids were then set loose to… BOUNCE!

Sky Zone has different bouncing areas to enjoy…

There was the basketball court where the kids could get some impressive air as they shot the balls in. My boys were never such good basketball players.

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The open bounce area was a room full of trampoline squares on the floors and walls where the kids could bounce, flip and do tricks.

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The dodge ball area was similar to the open bounce area but with balls for playing dodge ball. Tyler and Ozzie really enjoyed this room.

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The final area was the Foam Zone. In this area the kids were able to bounce off a trampoline into a pit filled with foam blocks.

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All the kids LOVED this school outing. The little boys hated to leave when it was over. The end result of an afternoon at Sky Zone…satisfied, sore, sleepy kids.

Thank you Sky Zone. 🙂

The prancing and pawing of eight tiny hoofs

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 Yesterday was a busy day. The morning began with the arrival of a psychologist at my door. He had been hired by the school to reevaluate Gracie for her IEP. We were told to expect the testing to take 2-3 hours.  While testing was taking place in the diningroom I made a valiant, yet failed effort, to do school with Tyler in the livingroom. With every “shhhh” and ” we need to be quiet” his volume seemed to rise. Taking advantage of the fact I couldn’t fully react since I had testing happening 10 feet away he quickly figured out the advantage he had and my day began to spin out of control. The testing ended up taking 4 hours rather than the expected 2-3 hours so in the midst of Gracie’s testing the piano teacher arrived for lessons. Molly began her lessons in the livingroom after I assured the piano teacher that the organ could in no way be louder or more distracting to Grace than her little brother had been all morning. My home quickly took on the sound and feel of Grand Central Station as Rusty tried to occupy Tyler in his room, Molly pounded out songs in the livingroom, Gracie had her IQ tested in the diningroom and Winnie raced from room to room slimming everyone as she desperately pleaded for attention. In the midst of the chaos I tried to get things ready for two visitors we have spending the weekend with us. Soon our piano lessons were done and Gracie’s evaluation was completed. We all collapsed in the livingroom to put our feet up for a minute before we began to prepare for our evening activities when…

“In a twinkling, I heard on the roof, the prancing and pawing of eight tiny hoofs.”

We looked at each other in puzzlement. Toby wasn’t home…Tyler was accounted for…

So, who was on the roof?!

Molly’s eyes opened wide with realization.  “Goats!” she shouted as she raced out the door with the rest of us on her heels.

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Sure enough we looked up on the roof and Gracie and Molly’s goats were jumping and kicking up their heels with sheer joy. Our goats, who are frequent escape artists, had discovered a new place to play. They discovered that if they jumped up on the air conditioner at the back of the house they could then jump onto the roof.

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Tyler and I watched as the older kids raced to the back of the house to climb up and retrieve them. We watched as they climbed higher and became even more daring.

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The girls were  nervous wrecks as they tried to coax them off the roof, certain at any moment the goats would jump off the edge and break their necks..

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Molly was finally able to coax them over the gable and down the back side of the roof…

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It was then that I decided my life was more “Ringling Brother’s Circus” than “Grand Central Station.”

Wecome to my personal three ring circus…The Greatest Show on Earth. 😉

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A modern day miracle!

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Tyler's welcome sign for his siblings.

Tyler’s welcome sign for his siblings.

Tyler has experienced more than his share of brokenness in his short life here on Earth, far more brokenness than any 7 year-old boy should have to experience..a broken home, broken trust, broken relationships, and broken heart…but I have witnessed today the miracle of healing and the truth behind the quote, “Broken things can become beautiful things when you let God do the mending.” I had the privilege of watching God reach down from Heaven and touch some of the brokenness in Tyler’s life and mend it. I witnessed a miracle today…

This miracle didn’t happen overnight. It happened over the course of years. It happened in God’s time. It happened at exactly the right time. Four years ago Tyler and his four siblings were removed from their home and placed in the system. Tyler is the second to youngest with three older brothers and a younger sister. They were put into separate foster homes and slowly they were adopted, one by one. As each child was adopted the court ordered visits would end and they ceased to have contact with each other. When Tyler moved in with us he and his brother Brandon were the only ones not adopted so the two of them were the only two that still had monthly visits with each other. As we neared Tyler’s adoption day Brandon expressed to our social worker fears that he would never see Tyler again..fears that, like the other siblings, Tyler would disappear from his life forever. It was our desire to remain in contact but the foster system makes this difficult with all of the privacy laws. After adopting Tyler we didn’t have any contact information for Brandon so we began to pray for him instead. Daily I prayed for this lost brother, this child that the system had left behind and labeled “unadoptable.” I prayed that God would bring about a miracle not only for Brandon but for all the siblings. I prayed that He would heal the broken hearts and broken relationships brought about by abuse and that one day these siblings would be reunited. Well, God did provide a miracle and I had a front row seat as I watched it unfold.

It all began two weeks ago when God used a compassionate therapist to get the ball rolling. At a therapy appointment Brandon told his therapist that all he wanted for his birthday was to see his brother, Tyler, again. That heartfelt desire led to her tracking down my email and making contact. She asked if we would be open to a visit and I replied with an enthusiastic “YES!” This was the answer to my prayers. After setting up a day and time to meet we were ready for Brandon to come and visit, but God had other plans. You see I had been praying for Brandon and Tyler to reconnect but God had bigger plans. God was planning on bringing ALL the siblings together for the reunion of a lifetime. I didn’t realize it at the time but He was already laying the groundwork for this miracle. When God put the idea on my heart to track down the families of all the kids and bring them together all at once I questioned the logistics of how we would pull it off. Once again I was reminded of the truth that when you are doing God’s will there is no mountain He can’t move, no miracle He can’t perform, so I began by calling the number I had for Tyler’s brother Sean. The response I received from Sean’s mom was unbelievable. She shared that she had been praying for this for years and to just name the date and place and they would be there. From her I received the contact information for another sibling and the result just snowballed. Everyone responded with the same eagerness and gratitude for this miracle. As we got closer to the actual day we watched as God cleared schedules, blessed us with perfect weather for our visit, and even help one lost family find our home two hours after the party began. Nothing was going to stand in the way of this special day..

As we prepared for the visit I was concerned that Tyler might struggle with mixed feeling about seeing the siblings that he hasn’t seen in 3-4 years but he responded with enthusiasm, eagerly joining in with the party planning and helping to decide what we should serve for lunch. (He wanted to roast hot dogs on the fire and drink root beer) The night before the visit we were talking about how special it was that he would have all 3 brothers and his sister here at once. He corrected me, “No, I will have 4 brothers and 3 sisters,” as he included Grace, Molly and Rusty in the count. Yes, Tyler…you are right. 🙂

At 1:00 on Saturday we gathered around the fire and said a prayer. We prayed that God’s hand might continue to be on the day, that He might be present at this special event, and that He would heal that which was broken. A few minutes later our first guests arrived. It was Brandon. His foster mom had driven him and his two foster brothers two and a half hours to get to our home. For the last 10 minutes of the trip Brandon’s eyes were covered. He didn’t know where he was going, he only knew it was a birthday surprise. You can imagine the emotion when he opened his eyes and saw Tyler. He was then told that all his sibling were going to be there, some of whom he hadn’t seen in 3 1/2 years.  He fought back tears trying not to cry.

Brandon about to see his birthday surprise..

Brandon about to see his birthday surprise..

Tyler and Brandon ran off to jump on the trampoline and about 15 minutes later Sean’s mom pulled in. The two boys ran to greet Sean. You could tell everyone was a little nervous as they greeted each other but within minutes they were playing like they had never been separated.

Brandon, SEan and Tyler

Brandon, Sean and Tyler

The next family to arrive was Michael’s family. Micheal is the oldest brother and was the first to be adopted. We didn’t think Michael was going to be able to make it. We had received a call the night before telling us that a friend of theirs had died and they wouldn’t be able to make it, but God provided a way and at noon we received a call saying that they would be coming after all. It was so neat watching Michael with his younger brothers as he took on the role of nurturer and protector when someone got hurt. When Michael arrived the boys began playing football together as the parents sat around the fire and visited. It was wonderful visiting with everyone and we gained a lot of insight as we discussed the kids and their struggles/behaviors/strengths. I feel like I gained a new perspective as well as a lot of pertinent information on Tyler’s history as a result of talking to the other parents. As I visited with each Mom I felt such assuredness that each of these kids are exactly where they are meant to be and it wasn’t by chance that we each were brought to the child that we adopted. Each of their stories were amazing and a testimony of God’s love for these children.

Michael

Michael

Brothers playing football.

Brothers playing football.

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Roasting hotdogs.

Cheyanne was the last to arrive. Her poor mom jumped on the turnpike going the wrong direction and drove for a while before discovering her mistake. Luckily she made it before anyone left.

The brothers running to greet Cheyanne.

The brothers running to greet Cheyanne.

One of my primary goals for this visit, in addition to having everyone exchange contact information was to get photos of the kids together. None of the kids have pictures of each other. Tyler’s only picture of his siblings is one that his social worker had taken from a visit at  her office years ago. It is black and white and printed on computer paper. It isn’t a good picture but since it is the only one Tyler has of his siblings it sits framed in our livingroom. My goal was to get a lot of pictures of the kids, print out copies, and put them in  photo books to send to each sibling so they all have pictures of each other.

Tyler's only picture of his siblings.

Tyler’s only picture of his siblings.

These are some of the pictures that were taken..

Michael and Cheyanne

Michael and Cheyanne

Tyler and Cheyanne

Tyler and Cheyanne

Sean watching Tyler and Cheyanne hug..

Sean watching Tyler and Cheyanne hug..

Brandon and Sean

Brandon and Sean

I wish I had the words to adequately describe the emotions, feelings and spirit of the day but words like “incredible” and “amazing” cease to do it justice. It was… holy. The emotions I felt were comparable to Tyler’s adoption day. I was humbled as I watched God work. I saw him take the broken hope, the broken hearts, and broken relationships of these children and mend them. You can’t tell me there is no such thing as miracles because I witnessed one, as real as the parting of the Red Sea, in my own yard today.

“Our God is still a God of Miracles! There is NOTHING that is impossible for Him. Whatever your need is, come lay it at His feet…reach out in faith and touch the hem of His garment.”

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Together again!

Happy Halloween!

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Molly and Gracie's booth

Molly and Gracie’s booth

This past week has been full of all sorts of fun Halloween activities..Here is a quick overview of what we have been up to…

Last Saturday the girls were hired to work a booth at a local township’s fall festival. They were asked to run the face painting booth. The girls were thrilled and then they found out that they were even going to be paid which was just icing on the cake. They began preparing a few days before the event by deciding what pictures they wanted to offer as options and then made a poster displaying the choices. The day of the fair was windy and very cold but even the blustery fall day didn’t keep people away and the girls were steadily busy for the entire two hours.

Gracie doing her thing!

Gracie doing her thing!

Monday night, for family night, we carved pumpkins. Toby brought home Little Caesar’s Pizza for dinner and we had a pizza party while we carved. It was funny to see how each of the kids approached the carving of their pumpkins. Tyler jumped in right away with no plan and just started carving, Grace and Rusty knew what they wanted to do and began by first sketching their design on the pumpkins, and Molly, who didn’t know what she wanted to do, went to the internet for ideas and inspiration.

Tyler scooping out pumpkin guts :)

Tyler scooping out pumpkin guts 🙂

Molly looking for ideas..

Molly looking for ideas..

These were their finished creations…

Tyler's jack o lantern

Tyler’s jack o lantern

Gracie's Cinderella carriage with the prince and Cinderella kissing

Gracie’s Cinderella carriage with the prince and Cinderella kissing

Molly carved a big pumpkin eating a small pumpkin.

Molly carved a big pumpkin eating a small pumpkin.

Rusty, dressed as Steve, with his creeper pumpkin.

Rusty, dressed as Steve, with his creeper pumpkin.

On Wednesday we had our co-op Halloween party. The first three hours of co-op were our typical classes but then at noon the real fun began. For lunch there were walking tacos and other treats. After lunch the kids were broken into groups and rotated through different activities that were being run by the moms. There was a Halloween craft, a photo booth, games and Halloween bingo. The kids had a lot of fun and the moms who planned the party did a great job! The party ended with the kids trick or treating to the moms and getting a sack of loot to take home.

Rusty the ninja.

Rusty the ninja.

Molly the safari guide.

Molly the safari guide.

Miss Molly

Miss Molly

Gracie went as a Pop Art.

Gracie went as a Pop Art.

Miss Gracie

Miss Gracie

Tyler the dragon.

Tyler the dragon.

Walking tacos!

Walking tacos!

Molly and two of her best buddies.

Molly and two of her best buddies.

Tyler playing the donut game :)

Tyler playing the donut game 🙂

On Thursday night we had an early dinner and then the kids got ready to go trick or treating. The kids wore the same costumes that they had worn for the co-op party except Tyler who decided to wear Rusty’s old Scooby Doo costume. It was a rainy night for trick or treating but at least it wasn’t too cold. We trick or treated for two hours and then ended the night by visiting the local gas station where they hand out goody bags to the kids and free hot cocoa. Stopping for hot cocoa is a family tradition and the kids’ favorite part of trick or treating!

Ready for trick or treating.

Ready for trick or treating.

We we got home the kids dumped out their candy on the floor where they began the fun part of splitting and bartering the goods. It was another wonderful Halloween season 🙂

Decisions..decisions...

Decisions..decisions…

Happy Halloween!

The loot!

The loot!

“Won’t you be my neighbor?”

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My Mr. Rogers :)

My Mr. Rogers 🙂

It has been said that Mr. Rogers often carried around a note in his pocket that was given to him by a friend of his who was a social worker. The note read, ” Frankly there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” He carried these words with him as a reminder of that truth and his life was a reflection of that philosophy.

Mr. Rogers was my childhood friend. Every day during “arsenic hour,” as my mother called it…that fragile hour before dinner when everyone was hungry and tired and emotional..my mom would place us in the care of Mr. Rogers while she went to get dinner on the table. She walked away knowing that we were in good hands and for a half an hour we learned the most important of life lessons..

1.We learned the key to success:

“There are 3 ways to ultimate success. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

2. We learned what it meant to be a hero:

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”

3. We learned the value of play:

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves we are helping them to feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit.”

4. We learned the power of words:

“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person…One kind word has a wonderful way of turning into many.”

5. We learned that it takes a neighborhood:

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It is easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

6. We learned that we are important:

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

7. We learned that love is a choice:

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

8. But the main lessons we learned as we sat and watched him change his shoes were…We had value, we were loved, and  we were okay just the way we were:

“I am just so proud of all of you who have grown up with us, and I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead. But I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger..I like you just the way you are.”

What a profound lesson. I think the greatest lesson I have learned during this adoption journey is the importance of loving people (particularly children) where they are rather than trying to make them into more “loveable” children.

A few days ago I had an unexpected email from the therapist of Tyler’s brother. Of the 5 biological siblings this brother is the only one that has not been adopted. He is the second oldest and the one that carries the most scars from the abuse. I received an email from his therapist because when asked what he wanted for his birthday next week he replied that all he wanted was to see his siblings again. This email put into motion the efforts to get these biological siblings together for a visit after many of them having no contact for years. We are hoping to get everyone together in a couple of weeks at our home. I know it is going to be a special day for everyone involved. As I have reached out to the other adoptive families, these past few days, the stories they have to share are similar. The behaviors we have all dealt with, the fears our kids have battled and the wounds that have slowly healed are all too similar. These kids survived horrible circumstances and have all struggled with trusting the love offered to them. They didn’t know the security of unconditional love as young children and have had to be taught those same lessons that we often take for granted..that we have value…we are loved…we are ok just the way we are.

It is a lesson that so many need to hear. Your value has nothing to do with what you have, how you look, the life you’ve lived or the talents you possess. Like Mr. Rogers would say, “You have value because of who you are.”

“It’s you I like.

It’s not the things you wear,

it’s not the way you do your hair.

It’s you I like…”

Mr. Rogers has been on my mind the past few days because of our Trunk or Treat activity this weekend at church. Trunk or Treat is a chance for the kids to trick or treat in a safe and fun environment. Families from church decorate the back of their vehicles in different themes and the kids trick or treat to the different cars. We decided to make our trunk into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Toby dressed as Mr. Rogers and the girls handed out treats with the puppets.  It was a cold, windy night but that didn’t deter many. The turn out was great and the kids all had fun.

Mr. Rogers and the Neighborhood of Make Believe.

Mr. Rogers and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Handing out treats..

Handing out treats..

My trunk or treaters!

My trunk or treaters!

The girls behind the curtain!

The girls behind the curtain!

Perhaps we all need to ponder on the wisdom of Mr. Rogers more often. The world would probably be a much nicer place..

“Let’s make the most of this beautiful day.

Since we’re together we might as well say:

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Won’t you be my neighbor..” 🙂

“Not all those who wander are lost”

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J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Not all those who wander are lost.” No place is this more true than in a corn maze.  Those who know me know that I have a special love for corn mazes.  I don’t know what it is but there is something magical about wandering through the high corn on uncharted paths that makes me feel like Alice on a Wonderland adventure.  It is like stumbling into a secret world and becoming 10 years old again…I get absolutely giddy.  This weekend Molly’s school sponsored an outing at a corn maze that I just couldn’t resist  taking the family to.  We had just finished a busy week as Gracie pushed to get all the work she needed for the first quarter done by 4:00pm Friday so an evening at a corn maze seemed like a fun way to celebrate  a great first quarter of school.

Coolspring Corn Maze

Coolspring Corn Maze

 The corn maze we went to was located in Mercer county and was about an hour drive for us. The kids and I had visited this corn maze last year but Toby had never been there before. The drive there took us through beautiful farmland colored with fall leaves. Along the way we passed many Amish families in buggies. We were all dressed extra warmly because the temperature had dropped and it was only getting colder as the evening went on. When we arrived and stepped out of the car it was a fall feast for the senses…there were beautiful fall decorations to look at, the sound of children laughing and calling to each other, and the air was filled with the smell of hot apple cider and pumpkin donuts.

Miss Molly

Miss Molly

The theme for this year’s corn maze was “The American Cowboy.”  The maze was cut out in the shape of a rodeo rider.

An aerial view of the cornmaze.

An aerial view of the corn maze.

The kids decided that they wanted to enjoy some of the extra activities that the farm offered while the sun was still shining and then do the maze after it got a bit darker. They had never done a nighttime maze before and were looking forward to navigating the paths using only the flashlights they brought. There were very few people there. I think the cold weather probably scared a lot of customers off, so we didn’t have to battle any crowds. The kids headed first to the hay barn to climb and play tag on the stacks of hay bales. Toby and I had fun watching them play and visiting uninterrupted. 🙂

Playing on the hay.

Playing on the hay.

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We then headed to the pedal tractors where the boys did a few laps around the track.

"Go Speed Racer!"

“Go Speed Racer!”

Toby then took them over to the pumpkin cannon where he let each of them try their hand at pumpkin blasting.  The field was set up with wooden zombies.  If you hit the wooden zombie in the bullseye with a pumpkin you won a T-shirt.  None of the kids hit the bullseye (Rusty was the closest) but they all had fun trying!

Tyl.er and Toby with the pumpkin cannon

Tyler and Toby with the pumpkin cannon

Molly shooting pumpkins.

Molly shooting pumpkins.

The next stop was the hayride which we decided to pass on.  We thought it was too cold to sit still for a half an hour on the back of a wagon, so after a quick visit to the bathrooms we headed into the corn maze.  Tyler wanted to lead the way and since we had no time limits or planned destination we let him.  We wandered for about 30 minutes, following his lead, as he consulted his map with the flashlight.  Finally, in exasperation, he threw up his hands and said, “I can’t read this thing!” Holding up his map we realized that he had been “following” the crossword puzzle on the back of the map rather than the map of the corn maze.  Rusty decided to take over as point man. 🙂

Tyler in the lead...

Tyler in the lead…

Those who wander..

Those who wander..

As part of the corn maze experience there were posts located around the corn maze with historical facts about cowboys and the Wild West.  The goal was to find all these posts using your map and fill in the answers to the crossword puzzle on the back.  The kids had a lot of fun with this and we got a little history time logged as well. 😉  After about an hour of wandering through the corn we came to the exit which dropped us off at a life-size board game. It was very cool. Using paving stones they had created a Chutes and Ladders sort of game.  Using a spinner the kids moved around the game as human game pieces. Molly won the game.

Finding clues...

Finding clues…

A life size game!

A life size game!

Sisters!

Sisters!

When we were all done playing we walked back up to the hay barn so that the kids could play for a bit longer before we left for home.  Toby stopped at the concession stand and bought everyone a homemade pumpkin donut to enjoy  before we left.  They were delicious!  A sweet ending to an “a-MAZE-ing” evening. 🙂

YUM!

YUM!

The Blessing of Friends

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This weekend was one of those weekends where everything hit at once. Somehow we managed to fit a mass of fun into a mere 48 hours and now that the weekend is done I feel like I need another weekend to recover from this past weekend! 🙂

Preparations for our fun-filled weekend began on Wednesday with date night. It was Tyler’s week to go grocery shopping and out to dinner with me while the other kids stayed home. I usually try to time date nights so that when we have a holiday or party coming up I take one of the girls grocery shopping. They can handle the longer shopping night better than the boys and are a better help when it comes to helping me party plan and shop. This time, however, it worked out that it was Tyler’s week. I was a bit nervous of how he was going to hold up since in addition to our weekly grocery shopping I had shopping to do for Rusty’s birthday party, Halloween shopping, shopping for Sunday dinner company and supplies  needed for a youth fireside at our house on Sunday night. I knew it was going to take twice as long as a “typical” date night and was worried Tyler would start to melt down before we hit the frozen food aisle, but to my surprise and pleasure he was a champ! Not only did he hold up but he was a huge help as we picked out treats for Rusty’s party. As we waited in line to check out he visited with me and helped me unload the cart. Once again I was amazed at how far he has come and how much he has matured in the last year.

After shopping we went to dinner. Tyler chose Wendy’s for his date night. It was an extra fun date night. They were giving out balloons to all the kids so Tyler picked a green one. He ordered a kid’s meal for dinner and was pleased to find out he got the toy he was hoping for…the Donkey drinking straw and ears. As we were leaving someone gave him a coupon for a free frosty. He couldn’t have been happier!

Tyler as Donkey.

Tyler as Donkey.

On Friday Rusty had his birthday sleepover. The theme for his party was Minecraft, a popular computer game with the boys. He was inviting friends over and they were all bringing their laptops so that they could spend the evening playing together in the virtual world.  When we allow the kids to have a birthday party with friends, which isn’t every year only milestone birthdays, we give them a budget for their party. They can use it however they wish. The girls typically will use their budgets for a craft, decorations or party favors. When I asked Rusty what he wanted to get for his party he chose to keep decorations to a minimum, the idea of a craft or games were vetoed, and instead all his budget went to food..typical boy. 🙂  He decided that he wanted a variety of snacks with a Minecraft theme. He went online and printed off pictures of items found in the game and then found snacks to match the tags. He had a lot of fun with it.

Minecraft snacks..

Minecraft snacks..

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Rusty asked Gracie to make the cake which she happily agreed to. She wanted it to look like a Minecraft world which is composed of squares and straight edges so she used Rice Krispy treats to make a hillside and then added some of Rusty’s snack items to the cake as well. The end result was perfect. Rusty was thrilled.

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At 6:00 the boys began to arrive and the girls were picked up for their night away at their best friends’ home. Toby brought home pizza for dinner and then Rusty opened his gifts. The gifts were all so thoughtful and perfect choices for Rusty. One of the gifts was a Minecraft theme. His friends bought him a Steve head and filled a box with drinks and snacks they had labeled with Minecraft terms like “potion of fire resistance” and “potion of instant health.” It was so creative!

Steve!

Steve!

The rest of the evening was spent playing Minecraft. Rusty let Tyler join the big boys. Toby and I went to our bedroom to watch a movie. It was so funny listening to them in the livingroom. You would have though a full contact football game was taking place outside our bedroom door by the way they were all hooting and hollering. I peeked out and all the boys were sprawled around the livingroom playing together in their virtual world. It was so different than a girls’ sleepover! 🙂 Eventually we had to be the bad guys and tell Tyler it was time for bed. The deal Rusty made with Tyler was that he could be part of his party for the game time but he couldn’t sleep with them, so when it was starting to get late Toby went out to tell Tyler it was time for bed. He thought there might be a fight but was pleasantly surprised when Tyler hopped up and called out goodnight to the boys. Once again I am amazed at how he has grown. He climbed into bed and was asleep in minutes. Meanwhile the big boys went upstairs to continue their party and got very little sleep. 🙂

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This is what a boys' party looks like :)

This is what a boys’ party looks like 🙂

In the morning we woke the boys early to get everyone fed before 9:00am pickup. It was an earlier pick-up than usual because I was going to a scrapbooking event with friends and was dropping off some of the boys on the way. My day was spent scrapbooking with friends. It was wonderful and log overdue. I hadn’t scrapbooked since January and was behind. My goal for the day was to get Tyler’s scrapbook current. All my kids have multiple scrapbooks from their first year on but Tyler doesn’t. He didn’t come to us with any pictures of his life before us and I can tell it bothers him when the kids pull out their scrapbooks to look at. I have tried to be diligent about recording his life in this blog so that down the road he will have a recording of his first year with us but that doesn’t help now. The words on the screen aren’t a tangible recording of his life that he can flip through and look at so it was my goal to get his book caught up. I want him to at least have one book (for now) that he can pull off the shelf and flip through with pictures of him in it. It was a productive day and I was able to finish 90% of his book as well as have some much-needed girl time with friends.

At 5:00pm I packed up my supplies and left to pick up Gracie and her friend Olivia to take them to a church Halloween dance down in Cranberry. They were all ready when I arrived. Grace and Olivia dressed as butterflies and Gracie did the face painting on the two of them. They both looked beautiful!

Two beautiful butterflies!

Two beautiful butterflies!

Grace and Olivia

Grace and Olivia

 

Molly and her best buddy, Tatum. :)

Molly and her best buddy, Tatum. 🙂

 

They had a wonderful time at the dance. They danced their little feet off and at 10:00 we headed back north to drop off Olivia and pick up Molly.  We arrived home and finally crawled into bed for a much-needed sleep around midnight. A few hours later Molly woke up in a panic because she was having trouble catching her breath. She was wheezing and you could hear that her breathing was labored. She said she felt like her throat was tight. We put a bag of cold peas on her neck and took her outside on the porch to see if breathing the cold air helped. After sitting out in the cold for a while and debating whether to head to the ER she started to improve. We put her in our room to sleep so we could listen for labored breathing.

Sick Molly :(

Sick Molly 😦

In the morning we woke up and got ready for church. This was a big day for Rusty. He was graduating from Primary (the children’s program) and moving into Young Men’s. He had completed the Faith in God program and was going to receive his certificate so even though Molly was still feeling lousy we prepared for church. Mimi Joy was meeting us there so we didn’t want to be late. Molly and I stayed long enough to see Rusty receive his certificate and then we left the rest of the family at church and headed over to MedExpress. We found out that the swollen throat was due to Strept so it was a good thing we went in. We got Molly’s antibiotics and headed back to church. Molly stayed in the car and watched a movie in the parking lot because I didn’t want her spreading her germs around church. When church was done we headed home and Mimi Joy joined us for lunch. Poor Molly went to bed.

Rusty and Mimi Joy

Rusty and Mimi Joy

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Sunday evening we prepared for the last of our weekend guests. We were having the young men and women from our church over for a fireside devotional and smores. It was a wonderful evening and the turn out was great. It was a perfect way to end the weekend!

Fireside devotional

Fireside devotional

This weekend made me realize how incredibly grateful I am for the friends in my children’s lives. They are blessed with good kids for friends. I am grateful for the parents that raised such good kids. I am grateful that my children have made wise choices in the friendships they have developed. I am grateful for the leaders that plan fun, wholesome activities for my kids to take part in. I am grateful that in this world with so many negative influences my children have found a safe place to grow into the adults they are going to become.

They say you become like the 5 people you spend the most time with…I am grateful my children have chosen wisely.