Tag Archives: thanksgiving

Counting Our Blessings

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This Thanksgiving was untraditional in a lot of ways. As a family we are navigating some uniquely stressful and triggering challenges that we are unable to share with others for the time being. This Thanksgiving was reflective of that. We were not in a position that traveling to visit family was an option. The fact that Molly was unable to come home for the holiday, Grace was now a married woman, and Ozzie was only being given a 24 hour home pass meant that Thanksgiving would be different this year.

Rather than mourn the loss of what couldn’t be, or focus on the struggles of this season, we chose to embrace the weekend in an untraditional way, with new traditions this year.

Our holiday weekend began when we picked up Ozzie on Wednesday night. Because he would only be home for one night, we decided to make the most of his time at home and fit in as much fun as possible. We began with a trip to the movies.

Ozzie’s “gotcha day” falls on November 22nd. This is the anniversary of his adoption day, and like the other two boys, we celebrate “gotcha days” by allowing the adoptee to pick an activity that allows us to celebrate this special day in our family’s story. Ozzie was not at home this year on his “gotcha day” so we delayed his celebration a week and celebrated Wednesday night with a trip to the movies.

We went to see Ford vs Ferrari. 

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This movie has been on Ozzie’s wish list ever since seeing the ads for it. Anyone who knows Oz knows that he is obsessed with all things car and NASCAR related, so this movie was right up his alley! Needless to say, he was thrilled when he found out the plans for the evening. I knew Ozzie would love the movie but was surprised how much the rest of us enjoyed it. It was an amazing movie!

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Ozzie declared it the best movie he had ever seen.

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The following morning we woke up and began Thanksgiving preparations. Zach picked up Braden and Tyler for some Turkey Bowl football fun with the guys from church. Toby headed out for a morning of metal detecting at our local park, and Ozzie and Rusty stayed behind with me to help bake while we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

This year we weren’t eating Thanksgiving dinner with family or at home. Instead we were joining forces with Gracie’s in-laws and others for a Thanksgiving celebration at church. This ended up being a great blessing. The complete diversion from our traditional celebration made the situation bearable and even blessed. The food was wonderful (There was so much of it!) and the company even better! We were so busy feasting, fellowshipping and playing board games that I never captured a photo of the festivities…

A sure sign everyone was enjoying themselves.

At the end of the meal Toby and I made the five-hour, round trip trek to return Ozzie to his RTF and ourselves back home to bed.

Molly was also experiencing a different sort of Thanksgiving. Since a plane trip home for a long weekend wasn’t realistic, she was invited to spend Thanksgiving with a roommate’s family. Katrina is one of Molly’s eight roommates and her “bestie” out in Idaho. She invited Molly to join her family in Utah for Thanksgiving and Molly gratefully accepted. We were glad that Molly had someplace to spend the holiday and we were so thankful to Katrina’s family for being Molly’s holiday parents in our absence.

Molly had a wonderful Thanksgiving and sent us photos of her adventures in Utah, including:

A Thanksgiving 5K run,

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Baking pies with Katrina,

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A snowy trip to the temple,

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A BYU basketball game,

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And lots of fun, family/friend time!

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It was tough having Molly away for Thanksgiving but good preparation for the next adventure that is in store for Miss Molly. She has prayerfully decided to take a sabbatical from school and serve a mission for the Lord that will take her far from home for 18 months. She sent us this screen shot of her completed application and now we wait and see where the Lord will send our sweet girl.

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Oh, there is so much happening in and to our family and I find myself reeling a bit from the whiplash of so many changes occurring at once. I have to remind myself to keep on breathing and trusting God’s hand and plan in our life story.

We may not know how this chapter will end but we know how our story will end…

He had already penned the final paragraph,

and with God as the divine author, it promises to be a perfect ending.

 

 

 

Zoo Adventures

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On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving the boys’ school break began at noon. While they spent the morning wrapping up school work for the week, I spent the morning baking and prepping for our Thanksgiving feast. At noon we all hit pause on the tasks at hand and packed lunches for our afternoon adventure.

Ozzie had be approved for a 24 hour home pass for Thanksgiving Day and the transport van was scheduled to drop him off in Pittsburgh at 5:00pm. Knowing we needed to trek down to Pittsburgh anyway, and since school wrapped up early, we decided to take advantage of free zoo days at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

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For one week a year (usually during Thanksgiving week) the Pittsburgh Zoo opens their gates to the public for free as an expression of gratitude to the people of Pittsburgh. With the cost of admission being $16.95 per adult, this is a great deal to take advantage of, especially for large families made up of primarily adults!

We arrived and found the zoo to be far less crowded than we expected. We could only assume that most people were at home preparing Thanksgiving dishes for the following day.

The weather was beautiful. It was classic November weather. The sun warmed our faces while the chill in the air nipped at our noses. The winds were just strong enough to make the fallen leaves dance at our feet.

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 We had three hours to wander the zoo before needing to pick up Ozzie so we headed out exploring the zoo and enjoying the animals.

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One of our favorite exhibits was the gorilla enclosure where a baby stole the show with her toddler-like antics.

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I could have sat and watched her play all day!

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We also really enjoyed the beaver den where a family of kits kept their parents busy with their non-stop movement. There is a reason we use the expression, “Busy as a beaver.” One of the kits went about diligently collecting leaves and piling them in the corner of the pond. Unfortunately the little beaver hadn’t figured out the importance of placing your leaf collection on land if you want them to remain where you placed them. He continued to re-chase the same leaves that kept floating away from his pile into the center of the pond.

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The otters (both sea and river varieties) are always a family favorite. They truly are the “puppies of the sea.” They were so social and animated as they interacted with the visitors watching them through the glass.

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When we meandered by the sea lions we discovered a training session in progress. We stopped to watch as three trainers worked with the three sea lions, putting them through their paces as they showed off their collection of tricks.

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The aquarium is always Tyler’s favorite stop at the zoo.

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Pittsburgh boasts an impressive aquarium for a landlocked location, and for Tyler, our resident fish lover, this always proves to be his favorite part of the zoo.

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Personally, I am a fan of the larger mammals. I love the elephants and big cats that call Pittsburgh Zoo, “home.”

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Located in the area of the zoo called Pier Town guests will find the seals, otters, and of course the polar bear!

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The polar bear is another one of our favorite animals to watch!

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At 4:30pm we began moseying our way back to the front gate so we wouldn’t be late picking up Ozzie. We had a full Thanksgiving weekend ahead of us with many fun, family adventures planned,

But I can’t think of a better way to kick off our Thanksgiving holiday than a beautiful day at the zoo with three of my favorite guys!!

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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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Fun on the Ice

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On the Friday following Thanksgiving we made plans to get out of the house and take the kids ice skating.

Gaylord, Michigan has a fun Sportsplex in town that offers indoor ice skating and an indoor swimming pool. We had never gone before, given the fact that we have always visited Kelly during the warmer months of the year and our time is usually spent enjoying all the lakes and outdoor activities in the area.

Visiting in the winter months makes our usual stomping grounds inaccessible so we were looking for an activity we could do that would get the kids out of the house and allow them to burn off a little energy.

Kelly suggested ice skating. That day the Sportsplex was offering “family skate” from 1:30-3:30 pm for a cost of $3.00/person.

We bundled the kids up and loaded into our van. Our 12 passenger van fit Kelly and I and our 10 children perfectly, allowing us to drive together rather than take two separate vehicles.

On our way to the Sportsplex we stopped at the Gaylord Elk Park to see the elk, a must see stop every time we visit the Kirks. We lucked out and found a couple of the big bucks right near the fence line. The kids fed them fallen leaves through the fence and were able to touch their antlers.

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There is something thrilling about seeing these creatures up close.

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From there we drove over to the skating rink.

After paying to get in we began the monumental task of getting everyone in the right sized skates and getting everyone laced up.

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Then it was time to head onto the ice. Kelly and I stayed on the sidelines with Noah and Charlie.

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This duo had fun climbing up in the stands, playing “Ring around the Rosie…BANG,” and making faces for the camera that they immediately wanted to view and view again.

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They are such funny boys!

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The oldest 8 kids took to the ice. Some had previous skating experience…

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While others were on the ice for the first time.

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The rink offered walkers for new or unexperienced skaters. These walkers allowed skaters to lean on something steady as they worked out the coordination of moving across ice.

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Grace paired up with Nate, helping him as he skated for the first time,

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And Molly paired up with Sammy.

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Rusty, Lydia and Tyler had fun zipping around the rink.

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Ozzie was the one who surprised me most. As a new skater he took to skating far more easily than I anticipated, choosing to forgo the walkers and just learn on his own. He did wonderfully!

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Everyone had blast and at the end of our two hour skating window

exited the ice with pink cheeks, sore ankles, and big smiles on their faces.

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Thanksgiving Blessings

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Toby is still working up in Michigan at my sister’s house. He knew he wouldn’t be done with their newly built garage and the addition to their home by Thanksgiving, so discussion soon turned to what the plan was for this upcoming holiday.

As we saw it we had three options: He could return home for a few days to celebrate Thanksgiving with us, we could celebrate the holiday apart so as to speed up his return home, or we could bravely venture north to spend Thanksgiving with him and my sister’s family in northern Michigan.

We always eagerly look forward to our visits to my sister’s home. Our families enjoy each other and meld beautifully, with cousins picking back up, after their time apart, as though no time has passed.

This was the first time, however, that we have visited during the snowy Michigan months. Most of our visits occur in late spring and summer time.

That made me a bit nervous.

Add to the winter travel challenge the fact the kids and I were doing it without Toby and with the three dogs…

Well,  I was feeling a little anxious when I pulled out of the driveway on Wednesday morning.

The GPS said the trip would take us 7 hours. It ended up being closer to 13 hours.

The first quarter of the trip was easy and uneventful as we moved through Ohio. During the second quarter of our trip we slowed down considerably as we hit Thanksgiving travel traffic around Toledo and Detroit. We crawled along for 3 hours. Once through holiday gridlock, our third quarter of the trip was filled with torrential downpours. As one who hates driving in the rain I thought things couldn’t get more nerve racking, but that is because I wasn’t far enough north yet…

The last quarter of our trip took hours. As we drove north the temperature dropped below freezing and all that rain soon turned to  ice and snow. That stretch of road from Saginaw, MI to Gaylord, MI was the most treacherous driving of my life. There was a group of around 50 cars moving together through the dark, creeping along the ice and snow covered highway at 20 miles per hour. SUVs and trucks far more capable and built for Michigan roads were spinning off the highway in front of us as I crawled along the snow-covered ice in my 12-passenger van that was not built for Michigan snows.

We made it and my heart was filled with Thanksgiving for safety and family.

I peeled by fingers from the steering wheel and we were greeted by barking dogs, excited niece and nephews, and the loving embrace of my husband. It was wonderful to see Kelly and Tom and their five kiddos, as well as see all the incredible work Toby has been doing on their home as he transforms their garage into a mudroom, bedroom and gorgeous family room.

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My sister also has a new addition…a silver lab puppy named Finn.

Finn and Olive were adopted into our families weeks apart. It was fun to compare Olive and Finn. Olive is a month older but significantly larger. She towered over him and he soon discovered that he could easily maneuver between her legs as they played.

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Later during our visit, while on a grocery run to Meijer’s, Kelly and I spotted dog outfits for sale. We couldn’t resist the urge to turn our puppies into winter stuffies, with Olive transforming into a penguin and Finn dressed as a polar bear, reminiscent of Kelly’s favorite childhood stuffed animal, Snow Bear.

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Thanksgiving Day was wonderfully relaxing. We spent the day catching up, eating delicious food, playing games, counting our blessings, and enjoying this incredible view:

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The snow appears a lot prettier when viewed from the living room window rather than through the van’s windshield!

The kids took advantage of the sticky snow and headed outside for some snow fun.

It was perfect snow for a snowball battle!

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It was a beautiful Thanksgiving Day and a perfect start to our Thanksgiving weekend in Michigan!

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(Stay turned for more Michigan fun)

It is not just about giving THANKS

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It is funny how life experiences change you…

Changes the way you look at things, changes the way you handle things, changes the very way you see things.

Adoption has changed me.

 

It has changed how I see the world.

It has changed my priorities.

It has changed the way I parent.

It has even altered the way I see holidays.

I have always loved holidays. I was raised in a family where holidays were magical. I had parents who invested time and creative energy into making memories. Holidays were something to look forward to. They were a break from normal life. They were a treat. They were a celebration.

Those feelings from childhood carried into adulthood when I left home, married and had children of my own. It was only then that I realized not everyone’s childhood holidays were the same magical experience mine were.

Then we adopted two little boys whose early years were filled with trauma, not magic, and I learned a profound lesson.

Holidays can hurt.

Holidays can represent loss.

Holidays can bring bad memories, sad memories, even scary memories.

The very thing I love most about holidays:

the chaos, the fun, the lights, and sounds, and the break from routine

are the very things that make holidays hard for a child who has been traumatized.

For my boys Thanksgiving, birthdays, Christmas, and any other celebration usually brings forth emotions and challenging behaviors that lay dormant during the rest of the year.

On these days they are faced with memories of people who are no longer in their lives, lost traditions from their childhood, and feelings of sadness over the life that was stolen from them. They struggle with feelings of resentment over the magic that wasn’t there when they were small, and anger about the unfairness of it all.

They also struggle with the magic I try to create for them today, now that they are part of our family. I see the guilt they feel about being happy now, as though today’s happiness is a betrayal to their birth parents. They struggle with feelings of unworthiness… feelings that they don’t deserve anything good. Then there is testing. They test whether this is their reality and whether it will remain their reality by doing those very things that are meant to push us away.

Then they struggle with the mix of emotions that simply come with the holidays, those same emotions we all deal with…

Excitement, joy, fatigue, anticipation, and disappointment.

It is time when all emotions are escalated.

But for a kid that has been traumatized those emotions can be paralyzing.

I can appreciate the struggle, now that I’ve lived with it for a few years. I recognize that our holidays will never be the same as they were before. The holidays are no longer the break from the tedious living of everyday life but rather a wild wave of emotions that must be ridden to get to the calm that can only be found on the other side of that holiday. Holidays are hard and tiring and emotional triggers for deep hurts.

I now know that this is my reality,

and I’m ok with that.

In fact I’m more than ok with that.

I am grateful for the chance to love these kiddos through the tough stuff because that is the love that has depth, the love that has staying power, and the love that will outlast all else.

I will hug them through the hard stuff until their broken pieces stick back together.

The last two weeks in therapy have been spent preparing the boys for the upcoming holiday. Knowing their minds were already playing the movies of past Thanksgivings, we opened that door and began a dialogue, allowing the boys to share their memories of past Thanksgivings. They shared the happy memories, the favorite traditions, the tastes and smells and sounds that remind them of their biological homes, stories of past foster homes as well as the stories abuse, neglect and dysfunction that permeates so many of their holiday memories.

It was during this therapy session that Ozzie opened up and shared memories of his biological grandmother and Thanksgiving at her home. He remembers the feel of her hugs and the way she would defend him from his father’s anger. He remembers the smells of her kitchen and the foods she would make. He remembers the day he was told she had died and the sadness of not being able to attend her funeral or say goodbye. He has happy memories of his grandma and spoke of the food she made for Thanksgiving. He shared how he loved that she served cake for dessert instead of pie.

It was that sharing that led to two desserts on our table this Thanksgiving…pumpkin pie and cake. 🙂

We have tried hard to incorporate the holiday traditions that are special to adopted boys into our already existing family traditions. On Tyler’s first Thanksgiving with us he expressed a desire to have fish sticks…a memory from childhood, so at our first Thanksgiving with Tyler we had a tray of fish sticks sitting side by side with the traditional turkey. We now have a new Thanksgiving tradition…cake!

Which is great for me. I hate pie. 😉

This Thanksgiving was a quiet holiday at home. It was just what we needed. Our weekend was spent at home cooking, eating, watching the parade, doing crafts, decorating for Christmas and resting. The flu hit our house Tuesday and worked its way through the family. Thanksgiving day everyone was well but every other day someone was down with fever and vomiting. I luckily have avoided it so far. Even with the plague taking down people left and right it was a blessed holiday spent with people I love.

You can’t ask for much more than that.

Here are some pictures from our holiday at home.

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Thanksgiving cake. 🙂

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Decorating for Christmas has begun…

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Tyler having fun with blocks

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One night for dinner Gracie made pancakes and had fun being creative with pancake art. Pretty and Yummy!

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Before the holiday break the girls had a mural club meeting. They met with the rest of their club-mates virtually while their mural club teacher led them through a painting project that everyone did in the comfort of their own homes.

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Molly’s finished painting.

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In December we wrap up all of our children’s Christmas books and each night the boys get to open one for their bedtime story. Wrapping 24 books is a bit of a hassle but they love it and it is a favorite tradition of theirs (and mine) 🙂

 Christmas decorating has begun and “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!”

We have so much to give thanks for!

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.