Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Top Ten

2016 was one of the most turbulent years of my life. On New Year's Eve last year, Matt and I made the announcement to our closest friends that we were moving from Florida to the Pacific Northwest. Our friends understood our decision, but that didn't make the reality of it any easier.

There was much pain involved for our whole family as our poor little Sunny experienced the fallout of her birthmom's prenatal substance abuse, and spent nearly a month in the hospital trying to get stable and healthy. The degree of issues that require hospitalization for a young child have a ripple effect throughout the rest of the family. I won't elaborate, but you can imagine.

We had physical pain as well. Two kids with broken wrists. One kid with a dozen stitches. Hubby with a broken rib and a broken toe. Me with a foot injury, torn rotator cuff, chronic fungal ear infections, and having knee surgery next week. None of these were big things, and we're thankful for that.

Of course, there's the pain of big transitions, too. New state, new climate, new culture, new friends, new church, new doctors, new schools, new name it, we experienced it. As great as these things are, asking six kiddos to go through all these transitions at once does produce pain.

A very turbulent year.


2016 was also a year of amazing healing, a year that leaves us full of hope going into 2017. There are so many amazing things that happened this year! I'll give you my Top 10, and some favorite photos of the year.

10. Our new home. A large ranch style home on five acres in the country. This home gives our special needs kids all the space they need to feel safe and secure. This home is SUCH a blessing!

9. Farm living. We bought dairy goats and chickens very quickly after our move. We also planted a garden. We arrived at our new home just as our cherry tree was coming ripe, and enjoyed the fun of harvesting the cherries. The kids are thriving on the farm lifestyle, and so are Matt and I!

8. Visits with special people. My sis and her family visited in July. My two BFFs, Karon and Noel, visited in September (not together, though). My birthmom came from Arizona to spend Christmas with us. My friend Johanna came in September, too. We're looking forward to visits from our Florida adopted grandparents, my dad and step-mom, dear friends from Florida, and the kids' gymnastics coach from Florida this year.

7. Schools. Sunny's school has been amazing. They wrote us a loaded IEP and have been wonderful about communicating with me and working with Sunny. Snapper's high school is also amazing. She's the happiest she has ever been, and is excelling at school. Bubbles and Piper are going to a school that has wonderful teachers and staff. I'm not a fan of the other students, but the girls' academic special needs are being met. I'm homeschooling Pepper, due to the anxiety associated with his autism. It is going GREAT, and I have the wonderful support of an alternative school in town. 

6. Medical professionals. One of the reasons we moved up here was because Florida's mental health care is HORRIBLE. The mental health care here is superb. Since we moved here, Sunny has gotten established with an outstanding child psychiatrist, a therapist who specializes in trauma and adoption needs, a pediatrician who specializes in neurology and behavioral health, and occupational therapy. She has also had the privilege of participating in a very intensive partial inpatient program for kids with her kind of needs. Now we're working with an amazing wraparound team who comes in an offers us a huge amount of support. Having all these people has made ALL the difference for our family! Correct diagnoses have made a huge difference, too. 

5. Church. We have placed membership at a local church where God's Word is taught in depth and without apology, where our kids are learning and growing, and where the amazing people have reached out and surrounded our family with love and support.

4. Opportunities. There are so many opportunities available to our family here! Snapper is on student council at school. She ran for (and almost won...the principal said it was a very close election) class president. Snapper played on the frosh volleyball team. She's a soloist in the women's chorus. She has been asked to TA for the special needs P.E. class next semester, and has been invited to be on the varsity debate team next year. She's representing the freshman class in the school poetry recitation contest in January. And she's taking piano lessons!  Bubbles took tumbling and trampoline classes for a few months, but decided she didn't want to continue. In January, she's joining my other kids who are doing equestrian vaulting. She also had the opportunity this year to try clarinet. She hates it and won't be continuing, but at least she got to try! Piper, Pepper, and Sunny are all doing equestrian vaulting. That's gymnastics on horseback if you didn't already know that. They practice five hours per week, and can't get enough of it! Piper also got to try clarinet, and like Bubbles, she hated it. But at least she got to try!

Sunny does full splits at vaulting practice

 Arabesque for Piper

Pepper has mastered the reverse shoulder stand into rollout

First piano lesson for Snapper

3. Friends. When we decided to move, I started praying for the friends God would bring my way. Well, He definitely took care of that request and has met that need abundantly! Each of my kiddos--except for Sunny--has developed a special friend here. My hubby has a couple of wonderful friends. And I have two AMAZING besties. Gosh, I love these ladies!

2. Family. We moved away from family when I was pregnant with Pepper. Since 2006, we've been on our own. We have wonderful friends who are close like family. But in times of great need, being close to family is the best thing in the world. It has been pure joy to be back with Matt's family. Cousin birthday parties, playdates, and sleepovers are the best! My MIL regularly takes a kid or two for a sleepover. And she's almost always available to take Sunny when things get intense and we all need a break. I am so thankful to be back!

Snapper (firstborn grandkid) holding Ryder (21st grandkid) on Christmas Eve

Sweet Pea (#19 grandkid) with four cousins (l-r #11, #4, #8, and #17)

1. Healing. Last year at this time, our family was a wreck. 
Matt was miserable in his job, disconnected at home, and exhausted all the time from trying to help parent some extremely challenging kids. Now he's peaceful, content at work, and actively engaging with the kids and with me.

Snapper was a mess last year. Her grades were below As, for the first time in her life. She had no friends, was the target of bullying, and her OCD was raging out of control. This year she's a happy, healthy high schooler, thriving in all areas of her life.

Bubbles was very volatile last year, constantly on edge from having the room right next to Sunny's room. She wasn't sleeping well, was lacking in confidence, and was constantly stressed. Piper was the same, and was having regular seizures triggered by the stress. This year both girls have good friends, are sleeping great, and are much less stressed. I still don't want to post direct photos of their faces. Sigh.

Pepper's anxiety was through the roof last year. Getting a proper diagnosis for him this year, plus homeschooling him, having him in the right therapies, and getting him in a safer environment has transformed his life. He's happy, relaxed, and excelling in schoolwork and vaulting.

Sunny was the biggest mess of all. I've already written about most of her stuff. But I haven't written about her healing! Last week, Sunny decided she was tired of fighting God and tired of trying to destroy out family. Yes, those were her exact words, without me ever having said anything like that. She gave her heart to Jesus and decided she's ready to be a member of our family. Her issues are all still there, but for the last 10 days, Sunny has made massive effort to change the way she treats us. She's a different kid, and now I feel like the healing can really begin! Praise God!

 Little Sweet Pea was too young to be majorly stressed by the events in our home last year. But she was having nightmares, and often woke in the night. Not anymore! She's the sweetest, happiest, most bubbly little love bug imaginable! We all just adore her.

And then you have me. Last year I was beyond a wreck. I was in therapy for my PTSD because I was having regular panic attacks and unable to function much of the time. All I could think about was seeking help. It took every ounce of my energy to get just the basics of life done. No time for other things. This year I'm healthy. My anxiety is managed. I have good friends. I sleep well. I'm coaching vaulting and it is the best therapy ever.

Y'all, I am so thankful. Thankful for the move. Thankful for the ways God has provided. Thankful for the healing that is taking place. Here's a toast to all God has done, and to what He'll do in 2017.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve in the Pacific Northwest

Sunny's treatment plan is working. Proper meds, excellent therapy, a unified team of professionals working toward the same goal. We might have our first peaceful Christmas in six years!

I woke up this morning--early--to six inches of fresh snow. So much for the forecast of 1-2 inches! Since then, four more inches have fallen. It is spectacular! Here's a photo taken from my front door.

Today I'm baking with the kids. Snapper is making sugar free cookies for Sunny. I'm making Peppermint Snowballs, Cutout Sugar Cookies, Gingerbread Men, and Salted Caramels. 

Tonight we'll be with my hubby's family. It is the first time in 11 years we've been with family on Christmas, and the first time ever (for me) with my hubby's family. 

It is good. God is good! Merry Christmas, friends.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

This Thanksgiving

Last Thanksgiving I was sitting around the Thanksgiving table at my friend Tracie's house in the Deep South. It was raining and 85 degrees. In between bursts of thunderstorm, my kids went swimming with Tracie's kids. We ate southern favorites along with Thanksgiving traditionals. We called out extended family to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving. We did not know that we were heading into a month filled to the brim with difficulty.

In early December, Sunny began to spiral into the depths of her mental illness. We quickly realized that in order for us to continue parenting her, we needed to take some drastic measures to protect our family and get more help. The day after Christmas, we made the hard, hard decision to move back to the Pacific Northwest in order to be close to the love and support of family.

Y'all, it has been a HARD year.

  • Psych hospital stay for Sunny in April
  • CPS investigation of our family in May due to false allegations made by Sunny
  • Our house on the market for 2 1/2 months
  • Purging/packing for a cross country move
  • Changing churches
  • Saying goodbye to many dear friends
  • Moving nearly 3000 miles with 6 kids, 3 dogs, and 2 cats
  • Adjusting our family to new home, state, climate, culture
  • New schools
  • Career change for Matt
  • Pepper diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder
  • Snapper, Pepper, and Piper diagnosed with PTSD
  • Psych hospital stay for Sunny in October
  • Car accident for me (I hit a deer) in November, resulting in a torn rotator cuff and soft tissue damage to my neck and upper back
  • My brother incarcerated
  • Impending surgery to remove and biopsy a large cyst in my knee
  • A crapper of an election
In the midst of the difficulties, God showed Himself--as always--to be faithful. This Thanksgiving Day I have SO MUCH for which to be thankful!

  • Friends who remain dear and true across the miles
  • An outstanding team of professionals who are devoted to my special needs children and who are fighting to make sure their needs are met
  • The joy of living within 10 miles of almost all of my hubby's family
  • Unfailing love and support from my mother-in-law
  • A beautiful home, almost too good to be true
  • My kids getting to grow up on a farm
  • WONDERFUL new friends
  • A new church home that is probably the best church we've ever been in
  • My hubby's new job that he loves and is excelling in
  • Great medical and car insurance
  • Homeschooling Pepper and loving it
  • Amazing teachers and schools for the other kids
  • Sweet Pea growing and developing so beautifully! (Can you believe she's 2 1/2?)
And so much more.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Thoughts on Mothering

Yesterday I posted about my littlest child, Sweet Pea. Today I need to post about my firstborn, Snapper. When I started this blog nine years ago, she was 5 years old, in between kindergarten and 1st grade. Now she has grown into a lovely young lady, 14 years old, and taking high school by storm. Last night was her first high school choir concert, and as I watched her completely slay her solo, I was flooded with so much emotion. The years slip by so quickly, and each stage is special and challenging. I thought it would be fun to look back at Snapper's growing up and to document my favorite thing about each stage of her life.

I love babyhood. I love baby noises, the smell of a freshly washed baby head, how a baby snuggles in perfectly under my chin. I love the first milestones. The smiles. A baby's laugh. Middle-of-the-night nursing. Tiny fingers and toes. Adorable baby clothes. I LOVE babyhood.

Toddler (ages walking-3)
My Sweet Pea is in the midst of this stage now. I love the emergence of language, the cute word pronunciations, and how they want me to be involved in every detail. They are constantly learning and discovering. I love seeing a little personality starting to emerge. I love leaving behind the diaper bag, a front-facing car seat, and the comfortable routine we fall into.

Preschool (ages 3-4)
This has been my least favorite stage, mainly because it can be frustrating to deal with their desire for independence and really strong wills. I love the FUNNY stuff they say at this age. I love the growing awareness of other people, the early emergence of school readiness, and the jokes they make up.

Early Primary (Kindergarten-1st grade)
This age is fun! I love watching the waking up of little brains as they learn to read, figure out numbers, and start writing. I love watching friendships develop. I love the introduction to sports that often comes at this age. And I love the further emergence of personality, and the imagination that bubbles up.

Middle Primary (2nd & 3rd grade)
For my kids, this has been the best stage for imagination and pretending. I love how they get completely immersed in their make-believe games. I love the creativity in their artwork. I love the emerging sense of humor. I love the closeness of friendships. I love the development of physical coordination.

Upper Primary (4th & 5th grade)
I have really loved this stage for all my kids. I love the fullness of their sense of humor. I love that they are really growing in independence, especially when it comes to chores and schoolwork. I love seeing them starting to really excel at certain, sports, art. I love that they can engage in good conversations, and can be really fun to spend time with.

Middle School (6th-8th grade)
So many people dread this stage. I have found it to be mostly wonderful. Of course there are the surges in hormones, the mood swings, and the struggles with friends. But there's so much wonderful that outweighs those things! I LOVE getting to talk about deeper issues. I love the developing logic. I love later bedtimes. I love them being tall enough for roller coasters, and old enough for some good movies. I love watching them trying new things and developing the skills they already love. I love watching the massive physical changes that come with this stage. They grow and change SO MUCH. These two photos mark the changes in Snapper from the first day of 6th grade to the last day of 8th grade.

High School
And now we come to the stage where we are with Snapper. Apart from babyhood, this has to be my favorite stage yet. I LOVE late night heart-to-heart conversations with my girl, talking about school, friends, boys, spiritual things, politics, and other deep stuff. I love how hard she works in school. I love watching her determination that high school will be the best part of her life yet. I love the refining of passions, which for Snapper are volleyball, singing, and inspiring her peers to look for the best in others. Snapper is such a delight, and it is such a pleasure to be her mom.

This has been a big week for my girl. So many firsts!
She has a boy who is head-over-heels crazy about her, for the first time in her life. He follows her everywhere, carries her books, compliments her, and looks for every possible way to help and serve her. Matt and I are trying to process this and figure out what to do with it. After all, she's still just 14. 
She had her first high school choir concert last night, and she was a soloist. She nailed it, fully confident, no nerves.
Today is the election for Freshman Class President, and she's running. I think she has a shot at winning, and if she does, she'll do a great job.

But's going so fast! You blink and it's gone.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Little Kids Are FUNNY!

There is nothing better than the wonder and the joy of watching a baby grow into a child, learning and discovering the world around them. It's especially fun when they start talking. It's SO FUNNY!

My little Sweet Pea is 2 1/2 now, and talking a blue streak. She still talks gibberish sometimes, but more often she uses complete sentences.

Last night I was snuggling with her. She rolled over, kissed me cheek and said, clear as a bell, "Mommy, I am so sleepy. want to get in my bed now."

Yesterday at Bubbles' 12-year-old well visit, Sweet Pea kept demanding to be examined, too. "Doctor! Yook at me, too! Check my tummy! See my ears! Yook at me too, Doctor."

Every morning she wants to go to church. She always asks, without fail, "Turch today, Mommy? 'Nack-friends-toys-Jesus Loves Me?"

The other days she was sitting in a chair and I pretended I was going to sit in her lap. "Oh no, Mommy! You can no sit on Sweet Pea! Your bottom is TOO BIG!"

Explosive laughter from Mommy!!!!!

I love the way she says some of her words.

Pillow: Pee-yoe
Yellow: Yay-yoe
Jammies: Majjies
Blueberries (and grapes, strawberries, or raspberries): Goo-bays
Chickens: Tick-nens
Snack: Naaack
Snuggle: Nuggle me
Toot: Boof
Boots: Boops
Potty: Paw-yee

She is the sweetest, easiest, sunniest little person ever, and I'm so lucky to have her!

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Dregs Soup

This has been a challenging month. A very challenging month. I had one child in the hospital for two weeks, began homeschooling another child, had to do some traveling, had yet another child break her arm, as well as all the regular stuff of being mom to a large family. Our wonderful church family provided dinners for 10 days. Now everyone is home, regaining health, and settling back into routine. Today I took a couple of kids to therapy and doctor's appointments. I got Pepper's weekly lesson plan done. I ran a few loads of laundry. I made a meal plan and shopping list. I helped kids with homework. And I realized that the fridge is almost empty and the pantry is full of random stuff from meals I never made and lost the meal plan for. What to make for dinner? I went scrounging around, threw some stuff together, and came up with a fabulous soup that my entire family--including my picky eaters--loved and devoured. I'm still so surprised!

Here's the recipe...partly for you, but mostly for me because I don't want to forget how I made it.

The Dregs Soup

In a large saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Saute one diced onion, three cloves minced garlic, and two stalks of chopped celery until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add: 1 large can crushed tomatoes, four cans chicken broth, and 1 Tbsp. each dried basil, oregano, and marjoram, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. white pepper. Bring to a boil.

Add: 1/2 cup each dried lentils and 1/2 cup dried split peas.

Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add: 2 cups chopped cabbage and 2 sliced carrots.

Simmer for 15 minutes more.

Add: 1/2 package cheese tortellini (from the deli case at the store) and simmer 10 minutes.

Garnish with grated parmesan cheese and French bread.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Celebrating Fall

A few weeks ago, I walked outside in the morning to turn on the sprinkler in my garden, and to my surprise, the air smelled different. I can't put my finger on it, exactly. Maybe it was a hint of crispness in the air. Maybe it was that the recently mowed wheat fields were giving off a slightly grassy, dusty scent. Whatever the case, it was faint, but I could just barely smell it: Fall! Once I realized what I was smelling, I stood there in the damp grass, breathing in as deeply as I could while everything inside me wanted to jump up and down and yell for joy!

Fall has always been my favorite season. My mom loved fall and made no secret of it. My childhood memories of fall are filled with apple picking, beef stew, a Saturday morning spent hauling and stacking a winter's worth of firewood, watching football on TV, baking apple pie for my dad's October birthday, and the spicy scent of wet fallen leaves after the rain. Those memories make me feel all cozy and comfortable inside, so I have always welcomed fall with wide open arms.

Then came 2010-2015. Six falls spent feeling miserable in flip flops, air conditioner running, and kids swimming after school. Six falls of humidity, love bugs (if you don't know what they are, look them up), and watching for hurricanes. Six falls of leaving most of my decorations in boxes because it feels ridiculous to hang orange leaf garlands everywhere when the only color on the trees outside is green. Because Florida. Six Florida falls, which are the ultimate insult to an autumn lover like me.

So naturally, that hint of crisp air at the end of August set the joy bells pealing madly in my heart! That was three weeks ago. Today, fall is in full swing here in the Pacific Northwest. My Red Delicious apple tree is loaded to the point of breaking. The north facing sides of trees are turning yellow. At night I'm opening my bedroom window and throwing an extra quilt on my bed, because there's nothing better for sleep than a warm bed with delicious, cold air to breathe! Most evenings, we enjoy a fire in the fireplace...not because we need the warmth, but because it just feels right. I'm experimenting with all different kinds of soups in my Instant Pot. I wear jeans and hoodies morning and evening, but am comfortable in jeans and t-shirt during the day. I LOVE IT!

So what do we do to celebrate my most favorite season? That's easy! There's so much to do!

  • Go for a hike in a state or county park. The weather is perfect and the scenery is breathtaking!
  • Visit one of the fall festivals at the little farm town to our north, where they have hayrides, a corn maze, and homemade pumpkin donuts.
  • Go apple picking (yummy snacking apples, not like our Red Delicious apples at home)
  • Make applesauce out of our Red Delicious apples from home
  • Burn cinnamon candles
  • Put up some favorite fall decor and buy a few new pieces
  • Plant a few pots of mums in pots on the front porch
  • Gather pinecones to put in glass bowls around the house
  • Cook soup and homemade bread!
  • Take photos of the kids in all of nature's glory
  • Buy a new fuzzy hoodie
  • Collect colorful leaves
  • Go to a pumpkin patch and get pumpkins
  • Go to a local farm that lets you press your own apple cider
  • Read by the fire at night
  • Make an apple pie and eat it to celebrate my dad's October birthday
  • Throw the football around with the kids
  • Go to a high school football game
  • Start planning Halloween costumes
  • Start thinking about this year's Christmas crafts
  • Be thankful that I no longer live in the land of 90 degrees in October.
Happy Fall!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Unexpected in September

Last week I went into a meeting with Pepper's school counselor. We were going to discuss his 504 plan, which provides accommodations for his ADHD and for his giftedness. My little guy has been struggling with some pretty intense anxiety the last few months, too, we were going to add some other accommodations as well.

And then came the words I never expected to hear: Pepper has a really unique combinations of quirks and struggles. Have you talked to his doctor about a, b, and c?

A: Pepper is unable to engage in meaningful conversation with his peers unless it is about a topic he is well-versed in. In other words, Pepper lacks some very fundamental social skills, the main being the ability to understand the give and take of normal conversation. This means he has incredible difficulty making friends.

B: Pepper seems unable to integrate the sensory information from his environment. He has to wear noise-canceling headphones in order to work in class. He has to chew on a sensory necklace in order to keep from eating his school supplies. He has to sit on a yoga ball in class to keep from falling out of his chair repeatedly during the day. He has very strong food aversions...all texture related. He also has an extremely low pain threshold. He is easily overwhelmed by all of this and melts down frequently.

C: Pepper has a brilliant mind. He has a photographic memory, a vocabulary that surpasses mine (not exaggerating), and incredible mathematical skills. He is also a speed reader.

As the counselor pointed our A, B, and C, everything just kind of came into focus. All of a sudden, I looked at Pepper and was able to see what the counselor couldn't say.


After a phone call to Pepper's old pediatrician (who was his doctor from when Pepper was 3 until our move in June), I scheduled an appointment with Pepper's new pediatrician. I filled out some paperwork. The doctor talked extensively with Pepper and with me. And we concurred. Pepper is on the autism spectrum.

As I look back at his life, I'm able to see it, and I can't believe I missed it. The signs have been there since he was a toddler. But somehow I missed it.

Pepper has been a hot mess at school. He's anxious all the time. He's frustrated all the time. He's in the clinic and the counselor's office every day. He's performing poorly on schoolwork, which is NOT normal for him. He has had physical anxiety symptoms like crazy, too. Matt and I talked briefly and prayed briefly. The answer was very obvious: time to homeschool Pepper.

Today I withdrew him from school and ordered a bunch of curriculum. I assured the school it has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with the needs of my son. He's going to be getting occupational therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to help him with the symptoms of his autism and anxiety. Not having to pull him out of the classroom for therapy will be greatly to his advantage. And because Pepper is so brilliant, I'm going to be able to provide him with learning opportunities that will match his love of learning and his high intelligence.

On one hand, I'm sad because autism is kind of a big deal, and not what I was expecting. On one hand I'm glad, because now I understand him better and can meet his needs better. And if I had three hands, I'd also add that I'm excited because he's going to thrive as a homeschooler.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Kid Updates: Snapper and Bubbles

I haven't done any updates on the kids in a while. I'm snuggled up on the couch awaiting the next wave of misery from the stomach bug that is making its way through out home. Now is as good a time as any.

Snapper will be turning 14 next month and is just a few weeks away from starting high school. High school, y'all! When I started this blog, she was in kindergarten. Kids grow up so stinking fast. On one hand, I'm sad because the years are ticking by way too fast. On the other hand, I'm delighted because Snapper is a really remarkable young lady, and I am thoroughly enjoying this stage of her life.

Snapper is in the middle of her big growth spurt right now. She was a tiny kid for so many years, but has made up for lost time. She's 5'5" and gaining on me every day. I'm hoping she continues to grow for a while yet, because she needs some height to balance out her size 12 feet. Not joking...she has HUGE feet! Snapper is my very capable right hand around the house. My goal for all of my kids is that by the time they start high school, they will be capable of running the house by themselves. Snapper is fully capable of that. She can do every cleaning task thoroughly and with excellence, including the laundry. She can cook pretty much anything you give her a recipe for. She manages the milking and care of our three goats, and takes care of cleaning the milk for our family. She can make goat cheese, any kind of jam, and this summer I taught her how to can fruit. She maintains our acre of lawn and contributes significantly in the care of our garden. She also babysits with excellence. She is capable and strong.

Snapper will be carrying a full course load in school this fall, taking every honors class that is available to freshmen. She's also auditioning for Jazz Ensemble (vocal) and will be playing volleyball. In her spare time, Snapper loves singing, reading, reading, and reading. She loves to draw anime and is working on her own graphic novel. She loves hanging out with her best friend, whom I'll call Davey. Davey is like Snapper in so many ways, and the two girls have a blast together. Snapper loves spending time with our chickens and goats. She lives and breathes volleyball, and has been running a couple of miles per day to build up her endurance for the volleyball season. She's also chomping at the bit to get involved with the youth group at our new church.

Snapper's personality remains pretty much the same. She is SUPER outgoing and friendly, and doesn't generally care what other people think of her. She stands out in a crowd of kids as the one who is going the opposite direction as everyone else. While her peers don't often know what to make of her, the adults in her life adore her because she is bright, engaging, unique, and is one of the deepest thinkers I've ever met. Snapper is cheerful, selfless, and compassionate. She is the one who will notice the person that no one else sees. She's a champion for the underdog, the awkward, the disabled, and the other marginalized people around her. She still struggles with anxiety, OCD and ADHD, which manifest themselves in scatterbrained-ness, forgetfulness, and quirkiness. But she is doing really well with developing coping skills, and I am confident she will come out on top.

Snapper had long wanted to be a chiropractor, but recently she shifted gears and is leaning toward pursuing a degree in special education. She has an amazing gift for connecting with kids who have special needs. Maybe this comes from having sisters with special needs. I think it is a gift from God. She will be a great advocate for kiddos who need extra support and understanding.

I adore my oldest girl, and and loving watching her blossom into such an amazing person.

Bubbles is quickly closing in on 12 years old, and she is about to start 6th grade. I am so glad that our new school district has 6th grade as part of elementary school! Bubbles missed out on so much time getting to be a kid, that this extra year will be a great benefit for her. Like Snapper, Bubbles is growing like a weed. She is 5'1" and wears a size 9 shoe. The school clothes I just bought for her were the last time I will shop in the children's department for her. Next time we buy clothes, she'll graduate to juniors. 

Bubbles was 7 years old when I became her mommy, and other than the year of training she received from her wonderful foster family, she had no clue about how to live a healthy lifestyle. Hygiene, housework, nutrition, and the most basic of relational skills were totally foreign to her. Because being in foster care--regardless of how wonderful the foster family--puts any child in a state of high alert, they often have difficulty learning. It took a good year after we finalized our adoption for Bubbles to be able to relax and feel safe and secure. It was another year before Bubbles really began to blossom. Now she's making up for lost time. She's nowhere near being able to manage the tasks of a home. She has mastered loading the dishwasher, caring for the cats, and cleaning a bathroom. She can cook macaroni & cheese and brownies without assistance. She takes excellent care of Sweet Pea, and at this time next year, I think she'll be ready to do babysitter certification.

Bubbles really struggles in school. Prenatal substance exposure caused brain damage that profoundly affects her learning. However, Bubbles is the hardest worker I've ever met, and her hard work pays off. She has a strong IEP that gives her the accommodations she needs to succeed. When Bubbles receives a passing report card, we celebrate. Her best subject is writing...but only if she is able to dictate into her iPad, because the physical process of writing is so hard for her. But when she can speak her thoughts, she is incredible. Bubbles excels at athletics. In 15 months of taking gymnastics, she progressed to a Level 4. She has decided not to pursue traditional gymnastics anymore, though, because she hates bars and beam. Instead, she is interested in trampoline & tumbling. She also just finished with a horse vaulting camp, and is trying to decide if she wants to do vaulting (gymnastics on horseback) or tramp & tumble. We'd also love for her to try volleyball and softball at school this year. She has a very stocky, muscular build and Daddy and I think she'd be great at softball. In her spare time, Bubbles loves tumbling, doing arts & crafts, and playing with Snapper, Pepper, and Sweet Pea. She also likes to bake (and eat) dessert and to help me when I cook. 

Bubbles' blog name perfectly describes her personality. She is spunky, bubbly, energetic, and outgoing. She is full of fun and is the life of any party (this can also be read as, "she's really loud!"). Bubbles has experienced tremendous adversity in her life--adversity that would destroy most people. She has consciously chosen, over and over again, to work hard to overcome her past. She is the most courageous person I have ever met. She has an incredibly strong sense of justice, and is quick to stand up for what is right. She is wise beyond her years, and is very humble. If Bubbles struggles anywhere, it is with her tendency to be overbearing. Her persistence serves her very well...she just has to learn how to temper it, because misdirected persistence can come across as bullying and harassing. But those moments are so few...we can almost overlook them. She also tends to be lazy (at everything other than school). But we're working on that! You can't survive on a farm for very long if you're lazy!

Bubbles is not even close to deciding what she wants to be when she grows up. Some days she wants to be a social worker. Other days she wants to be a realtor, a chef, or a athletic coach. I think she'd be great working with kids in some capacity. She connects really well with younger kids and does a great job caring for them.

Because of security concerns, I will not post any photos of Bubbles' face. Here's a photo of her at vaulting camp this week, though! I sure do love this sweet girl.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Famous Last Words

Last night at bedtime, Piper came upstairs crying that she didn't feel good. She didn't look good, either. I put some essential oils on her tummy and sent her to bed with a towel and a bowl. An hour later, her dinner made a violent reappearance.

Piper had a sandwich for dinner last night because her morning chores took all she still wasn't done with her basic morning chores at dinnertime, so once chores were finally done, dinner was over. So she got a sandwich. A ham sandwich. She made it herself.

After the violent reappearance of the ham sandwich, Matt checked the ham. It smelled like death and was a funny color. He went and asked Piper about it.

"But Dad, I ripped all the gray parts off the ham before I ate the sandwich!"


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Laundry: What Works for Me

Managing the many needs of a large family is a very challenging task. I know, I know, I signed up for this. I knew what I was getting into. I am up for the challenge. One of the biggest challenges of having a large family. is the laundry. Since I'm sure I'm not alone here, and since I've found a system that works really well for us, I'll share it. By the way...I've been using this system successfully for three years, so it is proven.

The first step in streamlining the laundry was to buy a high capacity washer and dryer. It wasn't cheap...I think we paid $1500 for the washer/dryer set. But it has been worth every penny. I can do 10 towels in one load. Excellent!

Each child has his/her own laundry basket. I do all my laundry in one day in order to simplify life. I currently have Friday as my laundry day, and I don't schedule any appointments on Fridays. On Friday morning, every child brings his/her laundry baasket to the laundry room. I run loads like this: Bubbles' & Piper's clothes, Sunny's and Pepper's clothes, Sweet Pea's and my clothes, Daddy's clothes, towels. I do sheets every other week, and always on a Saturday so the kids can make their own beds.

When I buy clothes, I don't buy things that require any special kind of care. If I can't wash it in a mixed load, I don't buy it. It saves me the hassle of having to sort by whites/colors etc. Pretty much this means I don't buy anything white for the kids, which is common sense anyway! Ha! Every August right before school starts, I throw away all the kids' socks and underwear and start fresh. I buy enough socks and undies that there is a pair of socks and undies for each outfit the kids own. I keep any leftovers in a bag in my closet so I can replace them as needed throughout the year. I buy different patterns of undies for each girl. I buy all white socks to simplify the matching process. When I buy the new socks, I write each child's initials on the heel of the socks so I know whose is whose. This is especially helpful because when I find dirty socks spread around the house, I know who the culprit it. If the kids get part way through the year and are coming up short on socks and/or underwear, it is their own fault and they have to buy more with their own money. I have 14 complete outfits for each child--two weeks' worth.

When the load comes out of the dryer, I sort it straight out of the dryer into the appropriate baskets. I change over the load, and carry the fresh dry load to the couch. I fold each child's clothes separately. I fold and put pants/skirts in one pile, and tops in another pile. I also make piles of socks and underwear. Sweaters and hang-ups go in the bottom of the basket, unfolded, to be hung or put away. Pajamas get folded and put into the basket. Next, I match outfits and put them into gallon-size ziploc bags. Each bag gets a shirt, pants, socks, and underwear. I zip the bag and put it in the laundry basket. When that child's laundry is complete, they come get their basket and put away their clothes. Each has a dresser with a drawer for sweaters, a drawer for pajamas, two drawers for bagged outfits, and a drawer for bathing suits/leotards/bras/etc.

During the week, when the kids get dressed, they put the empty bags in their dresser. On laundry day, I have a tote by the couch, and they put their empty bags into the tote for me when they bring up their dirty laundry.

I fold all my hubby's clothes and he puts them away. I fold the towels and the kids put them away. Snapper is almost 14, so she handles all her own laundry, from start to finish.

It may seem like my system requres extra work, but believe's worth it. Here are the benefits.
1. My kids go to school wearing appropriate clothing that is clean, looks nice, and fits the weather.
2. My kids remember to change their underwear every day. Bubbles, Piper, and Sunny all still struggle with proper hygiene because they learned nothing about self care when they lived with their birth parents. If I don't insist on undies being changed every day, they will never change their undies. This system takes care of that issue.
3. All the clothes get worn.
4. Dressers don't become a disaster.
5. I never hear "I don't have anything to wear!"
6. I am able to keep track of what fits, what needs spot-treated, what needs to be replaced.
7. I can always tell when they've been leaving laundry in the bathroom or stuffing it under their beds. When I am folding and find myself missing a shirt or two, or a couple of pairs of underwear, I send them to find it.
8. It helps greatly with overall cleanliness and order in the bedrooms.
9. It curbs my urge to buy excess clothing. I always know what we have and what we need.
10. It allows me to get all my laundry done in one day. If I want to go two weeks without doing laundry, I can, but it makes for a longer laundry day.

My MIL sometimes gets on my case about it. Bubbles is almost 12 and Piper and Pepper are 10. They are old enough to do their own laundry. That may be the case, and they do know how to fold laundry. But in our home, I've chosen to do laundry this way for this season because it works for me. I like being in control of the laundry. There is so much in my life that I can't control, that having a properly working system makes me feel really good. And I like clean kids in clean clothes in clean underwear. This is the only way I can guarantee that. LOL!!!

Here's a photo of last week's clean laundry. Isn't it pretty?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Catching Up

Since my last post...on May 30...much to report!

  • Successful move from on coast to the other
  • Buying a 5-acre farm!
  • Settling in
  • Building a goat barn and chicken coop
  • Buying 2 dairy goats, one of which has since had babies!
  • Teaching the kiddos how to milk and care for goats
  • Buying a small flock of chickens
  • Teaching the kiddos how to care for chickens
  • Planting a garden, which is thriving!
  • Getting started with an amazing pediatrician who is trauma-informed and specializes in behavioral health and neurology
  • Easy access to mental health care for our Sunny
  • Getting established with a great new therapist!
  • Getting five kids registered at three different schools
  • Hubby starting his new job
  • Canning gallons of cherries from our tree
  • Canning gallons of apricot jam and syrup 
  • A mini vacation to Portland 
  • Visits from friends and my sister and her family
  • Celebrating birthdays and holidays with family
  • Attempted suicide by a child and an ensuing call to the crisis hotline
  • Two children making new BFFs
  • First bee stings for three kids
  • Starting to compost
  • Kiddo sleepovers at Grandma's house
  • Our 15th anniversary!
  • And perhaps the most significant of all...a ruptured posterior tibial tendon for Mommy, which means major reconstructive surgery next week. 
And summer is only halfway over!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Closing a Novel

Someone said to me yesterday that we're "closing a chapter" in our lives. Nope...this is more like completing a novel in a series. We've spent six years in Central Florida. We've made close friends, put down deep roots, adopted three kids, given birth to another kid, moved three times, bought a house, had kids at four different schools, and made a gazillion memories. No, this isn't a chapter...this is a novel.

The house is all packed up. The truck is loaded. Matt is finishing loading the U-Haul trailer that he'll tow with our mattresses, bedding, towels, and other last-minute things. I'm cleaning the house today. Even though we'll still sleep here for two more nights, we won't be home except to sleep.

On Wednesday morning we'll blow kisses and breathe prayers of thanks over our years here and move westward for a fresh start.

Goodbyes are hard and moving sucks, but it's time and I'm ready.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Budding Artist

I had a conference with Sunny's teacher this morning. We went over Sunny's portfolio of work from the year. At this time last year, I was agonizing over the decision I had to make to retain her in 1st grade. The school wasn't in support of my decision, and I had to fight for it. But I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was NOT emotionally or cognitively ready for 2nd grade. This morning's conference couldn't have been more different! This time I can celebrate the end of 1st grade, knowing that my girl has a solid enough foundation to move forward with confidence. Goodness knows she struggles enough just with the basics of life! The last thing she needs is constant frustration at school. During the conference, her teacher showed me some of the beautiful art piece Sunny created this school year. I got to bring home the portfolio. Three of the piece take my breath away. They were done on her tracing, no instruction. Just her creativity. I love the use of color. I love the representation of her ideas. I think once we get moved and settled, I'm going to invest in some formal art classes for her. I think it will be therapeutic as well as fun. So without further ado, check out these 8-year-old masterpieces!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Jar of Love

I love Mother's Day. It's the day my kids give my homemade gifts. Homemade gifts are the very best kind. I'd rather get a book of lovingly created child's artwork than jewelry. Not joking! My favorite gift from this year (not counting the gift from my husband) came from Sunny. She finger painted adorable flowers on a mason jar, and then filled the jar with hand written sentiments. Sunny has learning disabilities. She has dreadful almost illegible. Spelling and reading come extremely hard for her. Her sentiments are a perfect example of this. But gosh...are they CUTE!

i LoVe winyuo hug me.
I love when you hug me.

I LovE eore smooLe
I love your smile.

I LoVe yuo Becos pive me SrocsP
I love you because you give me snacks.

i Love you Becace You aer nICe to me.
I love you because you are nice to me.

I Love you Becoucs yuo cientoLE
I love you because you are gentle.

i LoVE yuo bcose you nivr hotre me
I love you because you never hurt me.

I LovE you bekas you awees takArE uf me
I love you because you always take care of me.

This child struggles so greatly in her life. She fights Matt and me almost every waking moment. She may or may not ever recover from her early life experiences. But these sentiments--written entirely on her own--are proof to me that she is starting to love. And that gives me hope. I couldn't ask for anything better.

My hubby nailed it this year, too. He hand crafted this beautiful shelf for my essential oils. The shelf is made of oak. The middle and bottom shelves pull out. It can hang on the wall or sit on the counter. I absolutely love it! Best gift I've received in a long time. Way to go, Matt!

And I have to include my favorite photo from today. My sister bought a beautiful dress for Sweet Pea for her birthday. I love these two pictures of my Sweet Pea and me. My precious little miniature!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Feeling Violated

Selling a house is really not fun. First, there's the process of getting it ready to sell. For a family the size of ours, it's no easy task. First, there was the initial purge. Get rid of clutter. Clean up the house. Next came doing some repairs and fixing up some things. Painting a few rooms. Cleaning the carpets. Scrubbing the pool area. Patching the holes Sunny has kicked in the walls in her fits of rage. We listed the house and had a flood of showings the first two weeks. Feedback came in.

Violation #1: "Your house doesn't show well." "Nice house, but priced too high for the condition of the yard." "You need new furniture." "Too much clutter to really see the house." People coming in and criticizing your home is not fun, people.

Second purge. Get rid of more stuff. Pack up everything out of the closets and store it in the garage. Paint a couple more rooms. Lay sod in the side yard. Plant some fresh plants in the lanai. Take out the older furniture and donate it to Goodwill. Show the house some more.

Violation #2: Come home from a showing and discover the people used your bathroom...which is fine...but left pee on the seat and bathroom floor, and a pube on the seat...which is not okay in any way, shape, or form. Not okay at all.

Work your behind off every single day to keep the house in apple pie order, a monumental task with six kids around making messes behind you.

Violation #3: Strangers and strangers and strangers coming through your house at all hours of the day. And getting no offers on your beautiful home. Great feedback, but no offers.

Have a stager come in to look at the house so you can maybe figure out why you're getting no offers.

Thus, Violation #4: "Oh this color is so outdated. I know you like it, but it makes people want to leave your house. You need to paint. Your table decor is too small. It looks dwarfed. You need more sophisticated art. You want a family to buy your home, but a house this big needs to attract a family with money, and your house looks too lived-in."

Paint over your beloved red dining room. Hang sophisticated art and put fake orchids in the bathrooms. Put a slipcover on the comfy couch. Put giant glass bowls on the tables.

Violation #5: Figuring out the stager was right...your beautiful red dining room was a problem. You know this to be true because the next person to see your home makes an offer.

Violation #6: Knowing what your put into your house in the last 18 months...not just money, but time, energy, love, blood, sweat, tears, heart, and soul...and then getting an offer that doesn't reflect the value of your home.

Countering the offer. Countering again. Finally standing up and saying, "Don't try to get a bargain on this home. Offer us what it's worth or walk away. We're not paying your $14,000 of closing costs, and we're not taking another $13,000 off our list price.

Violation #7: The Inspection. Some dude going through every corner of your house with a fine tooth comb, looking for what's wrong with it. Your beloved home that you worked so hard to maintain and care for properly.

Violation #8: The buyers hanging out at the house for 2 hours after the inspection is done. Y'all, it isn't your house yet! Go away already so we can come home.

I know I'm probably being overdramatic here. But y'all, it's how I feel. This isn't the first home I've sold, so this isn't new to me. But I have hated it both times. I'll tell you what, though...I do have some tips for potential home buyers.

1. Don't ask to see a house if you are a casual shopper. When you ask to view a house, the homeowner spends hours cleaning and preparing, and then has to leave when you come. It's highly inconvenient to the seller.

2. Predetermine what size range you want, and then only look at houses within your range. If you don't want a home larger than 2800 sq ft, then you have no business looking at homes that are 3600 sq ft. I kid you not...24 of the 35 showings of our house said it as way too big for them.

3. If the cost of the home plus the closing costs are outside of your price range, don't look at the home! Definitely don't make an offer on it and expect the seller to pay all your closing costs. Chances are, if they are selling one home, they are also buying another home, and paying your closing costs takes their money away from them.

4. If you use someone's bathroom, clean up any mess you make.

5. Turn off the lights before you leave. You don't know when the seller is coming back, and there's no reason your carelessness should cause an increase in their power bill.

6. Don't let your kids go into the fenced pool area. Definitely don't let them get into the pool, even if it is just on the steps. And absolutely don't let them walk back into the house with wet/dirty feet.

7. When you leave feedback, don't insult a person's furniture. It's not part of the house and has nothing to do with you.

8. Remember that you are looking at someone else's home. Treat the home with the same respect you would wish to have your home treated with.

There. Rant over.

Oh...also...paint is paint. It cost us $42 to put a cream paint over the red dining room walls. Don't tell a seller they have bad paint colors. If you don't like their choice of colors, you can easily have the walls painted when you move in. If there are bold colors in several rooms, ask for a paint allowance when you make an offer. Chances are, the sellers are too worn out from the stress of selling a home to want to paint, and they won't mind giving you $500-$1000 to offset the cost of painting when you move in.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Little Things

Sometimes it's easy to get overwhelmed with and dragged down by the difficult things that happen in daily life.

Today hasn't been easy. A handyman came out to repair our pool solar panels. In the process, he discovered that the power box that powers our septic pump had burned out. He fixed the power box, plugged the pump back in and BZZZZZZZZZZ! The alarm went off. We called the septic company, and $689 (unbudgeted) later, we have a new septic pump.

This morning I learned that a child had been lying all week about turning in her homework. Not only had she not even been doing her homework, but she had shown me old, completed homework as "proof" that she had done her homework. Sadly, this means that her weekend is going to look a lot different than she is expecting it will look.

Hubby and I discovered that the file where I keep our most important documents--marriage certificate, social security cards, etc.--is not where I always keep it. One of us must have taken it out and put it somewhere. But I don't know where, and Hubby needs his SS card by Monday in order to start on payroll at his new job. This isn't a crisis by any means, but a trip to the SS office is a pain, and takes up valuable time in our already hectic schedule.

Our internet is spotty. Keeps cutting in and out. A minor, inconsequential problem, but it is one more thing.

I'm having a sad day, too. We're moving across the country in 33 days. Saying goodbye to everything we've known and loved for the last six years. I'm excited most of the time, but today I'm feeling sad.

Lots of stuff, all at once.

How thankful I am that in the midst of everything, I know that God still loves me, and that none of this is a surprise to Him. He has always met our needs before and I know He'll do it again. I'm also thankful for my precious 2-year-old who dances through my days like a sweetly-scented breeze. She fills my days with snuggles and laughter, and I marvel at the blessing she is to me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


In a few minutes we're signing paperwork on our house. We got a solid offer, and after countering three times, we reached a sale price that we're very happy with. Pray the inspection and appraisal go smoothly.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

I Can't Believe It!

When I started this blog, little Snapper was 5 years old. It was the summer between kindergarten and 1st grade.

In the blink of an eye, it seems, we have fast-forwarded right on through her childhood. My sweet Snapper stands on the threshold of womanhood. She is 13 1/2 and about to graduate from middle school. With honors. A precious young lady who loves God, loves her family, and selflessly gives and serves.

This morning we had a showing of our house, plus an open house in the afternoon. We have two more showings tomorrow morning. We also had a professional stager come in and evaluate our house. She came today to check the work we had done, and to bring in a few things that she very generously gave to help us out with getting the house just right. All those things meant a TON of work for Matt and me this week. Sweet, selfless Snapper worked tirelessly with me. Yesterday she folded six loads of laundry. She put away all the towels, changed sheets on four bed, and put away a sister's laundry. She made dinner and babysat her younger siblings for an hour until Daddy was available so I could go out to dinner with a friend. Today she vacuumed the whole house (that's 3600 square feet of vacuuming). She mopped all the tile (easily 1500 square feet). She cleaned the sliding glass doors. She unloaded and loaded the dishwasher. She vacuumed the area rugs in the patio. She cleaned two bathrooms. She swept the front porch. She emptied all the trash cans in the house. She helped Matt and me paint the playroom. She cleaned her own room thoroughly. She is AMAZING!

We went up to the mall while the open house was going on. I was so delighted to be able to get some special things to "beautify" her for her 8th grade dance tonight. Special makeup. A fancy headband. Nail polish to match her dress. She bubbled over with gratitude for these small things. She's just priceless.

Tonight Matt got showered, shaved, and fancied up to take her to her dance. She is such a beautiful takes my breath away. Even more importantly, though, Snapper is even more beautiful on the inside than she is on the outside. Here are a few pics of my grown-up girl. Oh, how I love her!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sweet Pea is 2!

This sweet girl turned 2 recently. I can't wrap my mind around it. Time flies. Period.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Update: The Move

It is April 1. March 27th has come and gone. Thanks, Jules, for your kind comment. No, we're not under contract. We've still had no offers on our house. We're getting amazing feedback, though. Everyone who comes to see it loves it. It's beautiful. It shows well. Just no one has bit yet. The reasons we've been given are things we can't help. The floor plan isn't what they're looking for (though I happen to think it is a marvelously practical floor plan). It's too much house (3600 sq ft is big). It's too close to the house behind it. It's too far from work. All stuff I can't change.

All we can think is that God is crafting the timing of our move. So we're waiting. Cleaning and cleaning and cleaning. And waiting. I'm growing weary of waiting, and I'm definitely growing weary of cleaning. Despite the cleaning and the tiredness that comes from waiting, Matt and I are trusting God. I could write a book about how waiting on God's timing has been a theme of our 15 years of marriage. This waiting thing is nothing new, and it always turns out better than we could have planned.

I'll change gears entirely and post a few photos of the kids whose photos I can safely post. Back before we moved to Florida, I was a children's and family portrait photographer. I still love capturing photos of my kids. Every Spring Break I do their hair and makeup and take glam shots. I also look for pretty settings in which to take other photos. This year we visited friends in Arkansas for the break and I did some wonderful photos there. Plus, Easter just passed. I have a whole file of fun new pics. I'll share a few with you.

Snapper (13 1/2)

Sweet Pea (almost 2)

I took photos of Snapper in the daffodils when she was 7. Look how much she has changed!

My handsome hubby with our littlest girl

Sweet Pea was born very close to Easter, so I took a photo of her wearing bunny ears in a basket of eggs when she was teeny tiny. I duplicate the photo each year. 

Pepper (9 1/2) is a walking thesaurus. He loves words, reads the dictionary for entertainment, and enjoys using a large vocabulary. On Easter afternoon, he insisted on wearing his tie-dyed shirt because "it would be a travesty to not color coordinate with my eggs."

Florida doesn't understand the seasons. At this time of year, it can never decide whether to be Spring or Winter. This year, Florida decided Easter would be Summer, so we went swimming after dinner. Here's gymnast Bubbles doing a back layout into the pool.

Sunny's attempt at a swan dive gone horribly wrong. It was gorgeous in the air and made an epic belly flop!

And Snapper's jump for the win in the "Ugly Jump or Dive" round of the jumping contest.