Tag Archives: teens

Time to Trim the Tree


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

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

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

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

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

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

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It was magical!

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

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

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

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


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

Tyler is a Teenager!


I have no idea how it happened and where the years have gone, but my baby is now 13!!

I think I am more shocked by that realization then I am about Molly heading to college and Grace getting married. I suppose Tyler is forever frozen in my mind as an impish, dirty, forever moving, six-year-old boy. I look at him now and catch glimpses of the man he will one day be and it causes me to pause and question where the years have gone.

I am now exclusively a mother of teens and young adults…wow!

Thirteen is a big birthday so we wanted to do something special for our boy’s big day. We already had plans to buy him a bike for his birthday gift, having outgrown his last one and knowing that a means of burning off energy is a wonderful self-regulation tool for Tyler, but we wanted to plan an experience as well…

This required some creative planning as his birthday week was packed to the brim with activities. His actual birthday was already designated as set-up day for Gracie’s bridal shower and his birthday evening was her bachelorette party,

So we moved everything back a day and celebrated his birthday on the 22nd.

His request was to go to an indoor trampoline park…a perfect activity for my bouncy Tigger,


We allowed him to pick a couple friends to accompany him.

On Thursday we headed to Cranberry to Urban Air, the coolest trampoline park we have ever seen!

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In addition to the expected trampoline areas for bouncing,

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This trampoline park included…

Climbing Walls:

Dreaming of free climbing? Maybe start in the harnessed safety of our climbing walls. Build muscles and hone your skills as you defy gravity and master your ascent while enjoying some cliff side fun.”

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A Ropes Course:

“Get some extra hang time with our gravity-defying obstacles on the Urban Air ropes course. Learning the ropes has never been more exciting; with another up-n-the-air adventure that tests your balance and agility. The stakes are high as you and your friends learn confidence, however safety is assured since you are securely harnessed as you make your way through the course.”

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A Ninja Warrior Course:

“You’ve watched those warrior ninjas from your living room, now try it for yourself. Perhaps one of the most exhilarating team building events, Warrior Obstacle Course lets you face off against your friends while you test your balance and strength. Give it your best as you battle to be the last Warrior standing. Maybe we’ll see you on Mt. Midoriyama.”

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A Battle Beam:

“Think balance beam plus sword fighting. Only the swords are foamy. And the pit below is lined with cushy blocks. Sort of a foamy battle to the death. But instead of perishing, you’ll probably just giggle. Is it all in good fun? Or is there really no better feeling than defeating your friends on the Battle Beam. Decide for yourself.”

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The Drop Zone:

“Drop on in for a little fun, while practicing your flips, spins or other amazing acrobatics, all with the confidence that you’ll land safely on a giant, inflatable airbag. The perfect testing grounds to perfect that new trick. This attraction is safe, fun and available to all ages.”

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An Indoor Zipcoaster:

“Time isn’t the only thing that flies when you’re having fun. You can too with our Sky Rider indoor coaster. Strap in and zigzag overhead while you scout out all the other attractions. It’s literally a way to take your fun to new heights.” 

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A Dodgeball Court:

“The funnest sport in PE plus trampolines? Yes, please. All ages are welcome and everyone loves the experience. Only downside is that once you’ve experienced Ultimate Dodgeball, you’ll never want to play normal dodgeball again. Bring a birthday party or friends from work. Or jump in on pickup games that are held daily. So hop on in and let ‘em fly.”

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The Slam Dunk Zone:

“Get your inner Jordan on and show off your favorite dunk moves. Even if you’re not a seven footer, you can still sail above the rim while testing out your famous back flip, behind the head, windmill, double clutch slamma jamma.”

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It was an awesome place and perfect birthday location for our overgrown Tigger and his teenage friends.


Happy 13th birthday, Tyler!


Spread your Wings and Fly!


And she is off!


Last Thursday Molly embarked on a trip of a lifetime.

Her 3:00am arrival at Pittsburgh International Airport was a culmination of 6 months of prepping, planning and praying her way to this adventure. For the next two weeks she will be joining teens from all over the globe on a Global Leadership Adventure in Costa Rica where she will be working with Peace Corps volunteers as part of the Sea Turtle Initiative. This is an experience she sought out in hopes of “trying on” this field of work as a possible future calling. Driven by desire to serve she looked into opportunities offered to teens that mimic the Peace Corps experience in hopes that her experience will guide her future schooling and career decisions. She prayerfully approached this experience, petitioning the Lord to lead her to the program she was meant to pursue, and diligently setting aside funds to pay for this experience out of her Philly Pretzel Factory paychecks. After 6 months of eager anticipation she was off on the adventure of a lifetime. Below is an overview of the Sea Turtle Initiative program and all it entails as well as the first blog posting of her adventure with GLA. It is our prayer that Miss Molly might be a blessing to the people of Costa Rica and that this experience might be a blessing to her…


Highlights of Costa Rica’s Sea Turtle Initiative

  • Protect endangered nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings
  • Assist with night patrols and visit an animal rescue center
  • Spot sloths, monkeys and exotic birds as you cruise through the mangroves
  • Soar through the rainforest canopy on a zipline adventure
  • Learn to surf the warm, mild waves of Costa Rica
  • Explore a small beach town and the local market

The population of Costa Rican sea turtles has declined by 90% since 1980. Sea turtles face a myriad of threats, including boat traffic, climate change, accidental catch by industrial fisheries and pollution in their ocean and beach habitats. As a volunteer, you’ll live and work on the coast of Costa Rica, assisting a turtle conservation organization with critical efforts to preserve the natural areas where this endangered species lives. Ensuring that the turtle population will thrive for generations depends largely on our ability to educate the local community and protect the places where turtles nest. With the right timing and luck, you might be rewarded with the sight of turtles hatching.

Community Service

Each year, leatherback and green turtles come to Costa Rica’s beaches to lay their eggs. Poachers steal the turtles and their eggs to sell on the black market for profit. Although this practice is illegal in Costa Rica—as it contributes to the depletion of the endangered sea turtle populations—it is hard to enforce without the help of the local community’s participation. You’ll be assisting on night patrols with a local nonprofit and anti-poaching organization started by a Peace Corps volunteer, to protect nesting animals and safeguard their eggs. During the day, you’ll participate in beach cleanups, survey nesting sites and raise community awareness of environmental challenges. Your projects will improve living conditions for turtle species hovering on the brink of extinction.


Hands-On Learning

You’ll be fully immersed in topics centered around the animal world. Learn how critical each species is to the health of all life in the ecosystem, including human. Hear local speakers’ and community members’ perspectives on sustainable conservation efforts, and begin to understand how competing interests of the civilized and natural worlds can intersect. Visit an organic farm and learn about growing and maintaining local fruit trees such as the cacao, vanilla, and banana.



In Costa Rica you’ll be constantly surrounded by incredible natural wonders. Fly through the treetops of the nation’s lush inland as you go on a thrilling zipline adventure. On the coast, ride a boat through a local mangrove, where you can spot sloths, monkeys and exotic birds. You’ll also connect with the strong cultural roots of Costa Rica’s coast by visiting the local market and taking workshops on traditional dance and cooking. Finally, learn Costa Rica’s soul sport—surfing—with a lesson on a calm beach.


COSTA RICA – The Sea Turtle Initiative – June 28 – July 7, 2018

Thursday June 28, 2018

¡Bienvenidos a Costa Rica!

It’s a lovely day in San Jose! Our local and international staff have excitedly been preparing for our newest GLA arrivals! FINALLY the big day is HERE!!!

Here is our staff from left to right: Local Director Jason, Mentor Brittany, International Director Adriana, Mentors Emily and Erin at the Green Gold Lodge in Parismina, Limon, Costa Rica.

Each student began their adventure by securely exchanging their dollars into colones with the help of a mentor, and arrived safely at Hotel Pacande to freshen up and settle into their next 10 days of Pura Vida!

After enjoying lunch at the hotel, students had the option to rest, or participate in activities to break the ice and get to know their new GLA family.

Tomorrow, we will depart for our beachside rainforest home base, but not before stopping in the cloud forest for a zipline excursion! We are so excited to share updates and photos of our trek to the Caribbean coast where students will call home.

We are so excited for Miss Molly and will continue to keep you updated as more GLA blogs and photos are posted.

A Great First Date


This past week was a monumental one as my three oldest kids stepped into the dicey world of dating…a world I am so glad to have exited 20 years ago when I found my soulmate and no longer had to maneuver that stressful and uncertain world.

I’m happy to report they found the experience delightful despite the nerves they all endured in the days leading up to the night of their dates. Rusty’s nerves were most evident by the significant decrease in the portion sizes of his meals in the days leading up to his date. The butterflies that invaded his stomach left little room for food.

This was Rusty’s and Gracie’s first dates and Molly’s second, so they were all stepping into this new phase of life within a week of each other.

Grace had a group date planned with Olivia and two of her girlfriends from church (Amelia and Hannah) and their dates, making it a group of eight. The original plan was to go bowling but after discovering the bowling alley was packed they moved onto Plan B and enjoyed a fun night walking around Oakland, window shopping, and eating ice cream. Grace said it was a really fun group and a really fun night…a perfect first date.

Molly and Rusty decided to combine their efforts and plan a group date together with friends from church. They came up with the idea of a “selfie scavenger hunt” at the mall, creating a list of fun and challenging shots they would have to capture with their dates.

 Once they had the activity planned then they each invited a friend from church to be their date, along with another couple, making it a group of six.

They met at the mall on Saturday night and began the selfie scavenger hunt…

Here are some of the items they had to find…

A picture while wearing a tiara:


A picture while wearing an orange necktie:


A picture while riding an escalator:


A picture while surrounded by stuffed animals:


A picture with a funny shirt:


A picture of your date riding a kiddie ride:


A picture of your date playing a video game:


A picture of you and your date hiding behind a tree in the mall:


A picture posing as a mannequin:


A picture with the mall information map:


Group photo modeling glasses:


A picture while holding a 100th birthday card:


They said it was a blast.

The night ended with dinner in the mall’s food court. Rusty reported that this was the only hiccup of the night as the young men struggled to figure out how to maneuver the challenging  process of purchasing their date’s meal in the crowded chaos of ordering at Chick-fil-A’s counter.

Despite the struggle and uncertainty, the date ended with a fun meal with friends. I told Rusty it gets easier and the complicated dance of “paying for your date’s dinner” gets smoother the more you do it. 🙂

Oh how glad I am to be out of that phase of life!!


Molly and Rusty both came home feeling that the activity, in combination with the dates they chose, made for a perfect date!


Two Pretzel Princesses


Who can forget their first job and all those delicious feelings of independence that come from donning your first uniform, receiving your first paycheck, and getting your first taste of adulthood.

My first taste of adulthood came in the form of a Subway sandwich. I loved that job and that experience.

My girls are now getting their first taste adulthood and for them it tastes more like a soft, salted pretzel…


Philly Pretzel Factory pretzels!


A few weeks ago the girls saw a sign posted outside our local Philly Pretzel Factory for open interviews the following Monday night from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. The girls had both been casually looking for gainful employment and when the prospect of making pretzels for money presented itself they decided they would give it a shot.

This was Grace and Molly’s first time interviewing for a job, but despite nerves and their worries about being first time interviewees, they were hired! Their new boss was impressed by both girls and offered them both a job.

They were each thrilled to get the job, and doubly thrilled to find out they would be working together at Philly Pretzel Factory.

This week is their first week on the job. They are training and learning the ins and outs of pretzel artistry before they are put on the schedule to work independently.

Monday was Gracie’s first day of work. When she returned home with a bag of leftover pretzels she was greeted by cheers of welcome, much like a returning warrior, by her little brothers who are all thrilled to have older working sisters who bring home soft pretzels after their shift.


Tuesday was Molly’s first day on the job. She had an equally successful first shift an had the added unexpected pleasure of having one of her first customers be Miss Corrina, a friend and fellow co-op mom.

We are so proud of both our pretzel princesses!

And Then There Were TWO…


It feels as though I have stepped back in time.

This week I find myself without the three big kids at home.

It has just been Ozzie, Tyler and I at home.

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Toby and I will sometimes talk about what life will be like in a few years when the older kids will have flown the coop and it will just be us and the boys at home…with perhaps the addition of another adoption treasure or two. 😉  It is hard to wrap our brain around such a reality. I find myself facing the thought with a mix of feelings…

Feelings of sadness but also  peace.

Sadness at the thought of a day when the house is more empty than full, but also anticipation for the next great chapter. The closing of one door means the opening of another. It means watching the work we have done as parents pay forth the dividends of the investments made in those early years as we watch our children take flight, marry, have babies, make choices, and pursue passions. It is exciting to imagine the great plans God has in store for each of them. It is exciting to imagine a season when it is just our adoption treasures at home. When we can devote even more time and attention to building that sure foundation that will be a grounding force in their adulthood. They have stepped into an already half written story. They are walking into the childhood and family dynamic that was built around Grace, Molly and Rusty. I am excited for the day when the story is all theirs. Which is not to say I don’t get a little weepy at the thought of each big kid leaving the nest, but I can look forward in eager anticipation to the special memories that will be made when it is just “the littles” (when they are not so little) at home.

I have felt God repositioning my heart and focus lately. I can feel Him preparing me for the next season. I don’t know if have the words to adequately explain the shift I have felt other than to say, I feel him calling me back to the beginning…back to the basics…back to the “littles.”

I look at my big kids and I find myself whispering a prayer of gratitude for the place they are at. They are a delight. I feel as though Toby and I have “done the time” and are now reaping the reward. We are enjoying the fruits of our labor. The days of corrective parenting are coming to a close and we are able to just enjoy our big kids.

We are also moving into a new season with our adopted boys. The hard season of adjustment, testing and hard bonding are coming to a close and now we can begin parenting the “normal stuff.” So much teaching and training had to be put on the back burner as we dealt with the big, nasty, hard…really hard…stuff that comes with adopting a child who has experienced what my boys have experienced.  For a long time we were in the trenches just trying to stay alive, well, and intact as a family. I couldn’t even think about working on basic life skills because I was trying to learn adoption survival skills. 🙂

When both boys moved in the goal was to get them to assimilate into the current family dynamics…to make them a part of our current world and include them in our already existing activities. I was a Momma of teens/preteens and was trying to make a spot for the boys in that reality, all while keeping life as “normal” as possible for my bio kids.

Life is now evolving and I can feel God calling us back to the beginning. I feel convicted that my extra time and energy needs to be devoted to that same “active parenting” with the boys that we put in with the big kids when they were young. It is time for us to start building that same sure foundation in the boys’ lives that is now serving the older kids so well. Sometimes this requires tapping deep into the pool of enthusiasm and energy that sometimes runs dry by the time child #5 comes along. It mean praying for presence. It means giving Tyler the same focus and enthusiasm when playing Candyland that I gave Grace when I was 10 years younger and a more energetic, enthusiastic Momma.

It is harder this time around. There are some days I’d love to sit back and simply enjoy the fruit of “round one” of our parenting journey, but that wouldn’t be fair to our two new additions. They deserve and need that commitment I made to the big kids to give the best of myself as a mom…perhaps they deserve it even more so after their early childhood experiences.

And it wouldn’t be fair to Toby and I either.

The joy, the rewards, the relationship, and the blessings of the parenting journey only come when you give it your heart.

Your whole heart.

Your “everything in” commitment.

Your promise to endure to the end.

When I feel weary of the road that lays before me I often think of the story of John Stephen Akhwari and how his inspirational run can be liken to our journey as parents:

“In 1968 a marathon runner by the name of John Stephen Akhwari represented Tanzania in an international competition. “A little over an hour after [the winner] had crossed the finish line, John Stephen Akhwari … approached the stadium, the last man to complete the journey. [Though suffering from fatigue, leg cramps, dehydration, and disorientation,] a voice called from within to go on, and so he went on. Afterwards, it was written, ‘Today we have seen a young African runner who symbolizes the finest in human spirit, a performance that gives meaning to the word courage.’ For some, the only reward is a personal one. [There are no medals, only] the knowledge that they finished what they set out to do” (The Last African Runner, Olympiad Series, written, directed, and produced by Bud Greenspan, Cappy Productions, 1976, videocassette). When asked why he would complete a race he could never win, Akhwari replied, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; my country sent me to finish the race.”

He knew who he was—an athlete representing the country of Tanzania. He knew his purpose—to finish the race. He knew that he had to endure to the finish, so that he could honorably return home to Tanzania. Our mission in life is much the same.”

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This week we got a taste of our future and a better understanding of what God is calling us to when Grace, Molly and Rusty packed their bags to be gone for the week. They are house sitting for Toby’s Aunt Beth for the week. When she asked them months ago if they would consider staying at her house while she was on vacation I found that the anxiety I thought I’d feel at such a request never manifested. Instead Toby and I felt great peace about the arrangement. In fact I was really excited for them. I would have loved an opportunity like this when I was a teen.

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Last Friday they packed their bags with clothes, computers and all the school supplies they would need for their week of puppy sitting and headed out. I followed them over to help them get settled. Along the way we stopped at the store so they could buy groceries for the week. Beth had given them $100.00 to buy groceries for the week. I was tickled to see how they planned and thought out how they would use the money. They planned out their menu for the week and then went shopping. I was impressed with their choices when I looked in their cart and saw fruits, vegetables and protein. At that age I think my grocery cart would have looked a bit different. 😉

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As they walked around Rusty kept track of their balance on a calculator. They knew they wanted to set $15.00 aside to get a pizza one night. When they neared that number they then had to make decisions about what to keep and what could be put back so that they could afford the pizza night.

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It was a great life lesson and they passed it with amazing success.  I was really proud of them.

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Meanwhile at home it has just been the boys and I. It has been insightful to see how the dynamic in the home is affected by the absence of the three oldest. The little boys have had to step up and take on responsibilities that usually fall on the teens’ shoulders. They have had to reach out to each other without other playmates to pick from. Having only two children has also allowed me to focus time and attention on them that normally must be divided five ways. It has allowed me to be an elementary school age Momma for the week rather than the mom of teens, and our activities have been reflective of that.

It has been good…really good.

Heavenly Father has used this week to show me how capable my big kids are,

and also show me where he is calling our focus to be now…for this season.

The marathon is not coming to a close. There are many miles still ahead. So we will run with heart…with all we have to give, because we weren’t called to simply begin the race, we were called to finish it,

and for the sake of these boys we will finish it with honor…

Because we are running for our sons.