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Time for an Update–A LONG Update! :)

Well, it’s been several months since my last post, so we are long overdue for an update. I don’t have any *real* excuses for my lack of diligence in creating new blog posts except, well, maybe the fact that we have 13 children. Yeah, that might count as a good excuse.

We recently celebrated one year with our precious Eden and Daniel. We celebrated “Gotcha Day” on July 18th. It’s really hard to believe they have been in our family for a year now.

So, everyone is doing really well. The reality is, however, that adoption is really hard. It isn’t the fairy tale you might want to think it is. We love our adopted children, and we are so blessed to have them in our family. But ADOPTION IS HARD!

Eden is sweet and compliant. She has amazing resilience. This little girls has been through so much, and she is strong and brave. I have a lot to learn from her. One thing I believe I have written about in a past post about her is her ability to be genuinely happy for someone else. She is also very kind to everyone and so cheerful most of the time.
Sometimes particular children aren’t very nice to her, and she is always so kind back. I wish I were as quick to forgive and so eager to rejoice with others as is our Eden. Lessons Eden is teaching me. We discovered shortly before our sabbatical trip in May that Eden is deaf in her right ear and has moderate hearing loss in her left ear. Despite the limitations to her hearing, she has learned a TON of English. She chatters away all day long. Eden has shown that she is very eager to learn. We have covered basics to lay the foundations for reading and basic math, and while she has some challenges to learning, she is doing really well with both. I’m aiming to have her reading by the end of this school year. Eden had surgery recently to reshape her ears which were congenitally malformed, so that she can be fitted for her hearing aids. I can’t wait to see how her language improves even more once she can hear better! We are also watching Eden’s back growth for progression of scoliosis. She currently has a 25% curvature in the upper back, and the doctor said if it progresses, we will need to consider putting her in a full-time brace to prevent it from worsening. Eden has been brave through every medical procedure. There are challenges with Eden, as there are with the other children, and I have been humbled by my own lack of patience with her at times. She is constantly asking the same questions over and over and repeating the same things all day long. At times, I lose my patience with her in these things, and school with her can be frustrating at times. I pray daily that she would see the love of Jesus in me, despite all of my own shortcomings.

Daniel is still very cute and charming, and still extremely challenging. He has picked up a lot of vocabulary in the last year as well, in terms of understanding and trying to talk. Daniel’s speech continues to be very limited. His pronunciation is very poor, and he only says a word or two at a time. He has added some short phrases, and I can understand most of what he says. The speech therapist we have been working with for about a year now, doesn’t think he will ever speak fluently. This is not uncommon for children with Cornelia deLange Syndrome, and we are actually really happy that he can speak the way he does. However, we may be adding more sign language to help him be able to communicate more fully. We did finally get a confirmed diagnosis of a submucosal cleft palate that affects his speech, and we are working with a craniofacial specialist to determine if corrective surgery should be performed. Behaviorally, Daniel continues to be very, very challenging. He seems to want to bother everyone all day long. He can’t stop moving, has obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and is very sneaky all day long as well. It was extremely challenging for me to keep track of him while also trying to homeschool everyone last school year. He was very resistant to learning anything at all from me, and would tear up papers, workbooks, anything I was trying to work on with him. If I got busy helping another child with something, Daniel would sneak away to another part of the house and get into everything he could find. This includes, books, CDs, DVDs, papers (sometimes important papers). I am constantly finding a book or DVD Daniel has relocated from where it belongs to a random place like between couch cushions or under other books or in a cabinet where it doesn’t belong. However, Daniel has improved in so many ways behaviorally, including being able to play for a little while with the other children. We bought a large inflatable water slide at the beginning of the summer, and he can often be found playing there with Tovi, Eden, Haddie, and the other younger boys. It is amazing to see him doing this and playing in a positive way with the other children, sometimes for an hour or more. AND he will slide down the slide, which isn’t something he has been too happy to do in the past. Daniel learned to ride a bike this year, and he loves to ride along when we go on walks. He is improving in knowing what is expected of him behaviorally and trying to do it. I know he just can’t control himself a lot of the time. He just reaches out and touches things, or gets up and runs around or says little words over and over. The challenges of Cornelia deLange Syndrome along with the effects of the trauma he has been through are a whopper of a combination. I have seen my own sinfulness in my lack of patience with him over and over, and I daily pray for supernatural intervention to make it through the days with Daniel. All of the challenges have led us to prayerfully make the decision to put Daniel in public school this year. So far, it has been a Godsend! The school has so many resources and services for children with special needs. When I first took him to enroll him, they told me they were going to place him in a mainstream 5th grade class (because he is “10”) and then observe and evaluate him for 45 days. He could then receive special services through the school and an individualized plan would be created for him. I explained to them all of the challenges he has, and when they met him and saw how he behaves, they started working very quickly to fast track this process. They also took my advice to place him in a Kindergarten class instead of the 5th grade while they are evaluating him. He is very small, and fits right in with the Kindergarten class. I have been very impressed with everyone at the school and with everything they are doing to help Daniel and support us as well. They even got him approved to ride the special ed. bus, which wasn’t supposed to happen until we had the meeting to create his plan (which probably won’t happen for a while). He rode the bus for the first time yesterday, and he was so excited about it and not at all afraid! He had actually been pointing to the buses and then to himself and saying “Daniel” for over a week, so we knew he was very interested in riding the bus. They have an aide on the bus who helps the kids and he is met at the bus by a special ed. teacher to go to his class. He is picked up and dropped off right at the end of our driveway! What a blessing! So far, he has done pretty well there, with some of the expected challenges. He has a hard time in the afternoons. Right before school started, we finally got an appointment with the neurologist, who said he also believes Daniel is on the Autism spectrum. He prescribed a medication to help him with his ADHD, and we are working to figure out what dose will work. I am not a huge fan of medicating children, but if I have ever met a child who could benefit from it, it would be Daniel. I think it has been helping him to calm down and control himself a little bit, but I haven’t seen a dramatic change. Hopefully, moving forward we will find something that works really well, with the help of the neurologist.

One thing adopting the children has taught me is how frustrating it is to deal with many different doctors when trying to help your child who has special needs. This is for all three of the children.
I have never had to deal with these issues before, and now I see how maddening it can all be. It took us months to get in to see the Genetic Specialist, and we still don’t have conclusive answers on many things. The shunt that was placed in Daniel’s brain while he was in China is apparently useless and wasn’t ever necessary in the first place. His blood work came back negative for CDLS, but that can happen with this syndrome, and he definitely has it. The Genetic doctor told us that she believes Eden also has a genetic disorder, but so far the blood tests haven’t helped us to pinpoint what it is. The medical assistant from the office who called me with the results couldn’t answer any of my questions, and we now have to wait until November to see her again. Maybe it doesn’t really matter what the genetic conditions are in particular, but it would be nice to know and also to get an official diagnosis because insurance companies need them in order to pay for whatever treatments and services are needed. Daniel’s diagnosis is now more official, although we still need an actual written document from the geneticist to show other doctors and places from which we are receiving services for him. I have spent countless hours on the phone trying to get appointments, trying to find specialists, and often I end up no further towards getting the help we need. There are huge waiting lists for specialists (such as the developmental pediatrician for Daniel). It takes months to be seen and even then we often don’t get the answers or help for which we have been waiting. I spent several months last year trying to find a therapist certified in a certain type of therapy that we have been told will help Daniel with his behavioral and attachment issues. I kind of gave up after several therapists were either not taking new clients or talked to me and said they couldn’t help us for various reasons. I am renewing my search this fall, however, and hope to find someone based on new referrals from the neurologist.

Another frustration has been dealing with everything the doctors (and insurance) require for one reason or another. When we first came home with Daniel and Eden, they needed dental work, but they couldn’t tolerate all the x-rays, exams and procedures. The dentist said the only way they would be able to be treated was under full sedation. The anesthesiologist wouldn’t put them under before assuring that they didn’t have other issues that could be a problem for the anesthesia. Of course, we understood this. With Daniel’s CDLS, there can be heart issues among other problems, the shunt could be an issue, along with other things. In order to check all these things out, however, Daniel needed to be sedated as he was literally terrified of any procedure and we couldn’t get him to cooperate with even simple things like an abdominal sonogram. Poor child has been traumatized, so it wasn’t his fault at all, but it was reality. So in order to get all the clearances that the anesthesiologist required, he had to be put under several times! Isn’t that just MADNESS?? I could write a whole book about the frustrations related to medical care that I have experienced in the past year. This post is becoming a novel already, so I’ll spare you. We are now in a better place with regard to Daniel tolerating medical things. He isn’t terrified anymore for simple things, and he has had hearing tests, abdominal sonograms, and other minor things done without any sedation at all. He’s even very compliant with blood work now. So, he’s come a long way, and that has made things way easier. Daniel had one surgery for undescended testicles around Christmas and is scheduled for another in about a week. The medical things for him and Eden seem never-ending, but we are getting used to it.

Haddie is a sweet, happy girl. When she came to us in late December, right before New Year’s, we knew she was a bit slow mentally. She was about to turn 14 and is a young woman physically. She had already started menstruating, and her body is developing. However, cognitively, Haddie is severely delayed. When Todd and Nina first got her in China, it became quickly apparent that she had some issues with personal care related to feminine hygiene. She urinated in her pants several times while they were still in China. We attributed it to the fact that she was probably very overwhelmed with all the newness and excitement, but it was something we weren’t prepared for. Since she has been home, Haddie has urinated in her clothes at least a handful of times. I’m not sure what that is all about, but now I know to expect it sometimes. Once, she soiled herself in bed, and she got up and tried to clean up the mess herself, and it was quite a disaster, with a huge mess in the bathroom I won’t even begin to describe. Most of the time, this doesn’t happen. I haven’t figured out anything I can pinpoint as to why she might have accidents, but it just happens sometimes. Haddie has been extremely slow to pick up English, and she really seems to have a problem with retaining information of any kind. We are still working on her remembering some basic words. She seems to understand more than she can actually recall to speak herself. I can give her instructions, and she will follow them. But she has only recently begun to be able to ask for a few things (banana, cereal, more) without us prompting her the words. She is more inclined to point at what she wants and smile than to try and come up with words. We are patiently working to help her slowly be able to say things in English for herself. Counting, math, recalling the letters of the alphabet, which we have gone over countless times, are all very challenging for Haddie. Even in her native language, the abstract concept of associating a number with an object seems to be difficult for her. We are trying to get her the help she needs. We took her to the neurologist, and he believes there is a neurological issue, but he said we will probably never know what it is. He said we can take her to speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc. to try and draw her out and help her learn. I am looking into some options for her. Despite these issues, Haddie is the sweetest, happy girl, and very compliant (not quite as compliant as Eden). She loves to help wash dishes and clean around the house, and she is the resident expert sweeper extraordinaire! She adores all of her siblings, and loves playing with little Tovi. She is eager to learn, just very slow at it. I am again being stretched in patience as I try to lovingly repeat things I have taught her countless times. Haddie, of all three of our adopted children, can give real hugs. Daniel and Eden are still learning how to really hug and accept hugs and love. Haddie just basks in the love and affection of her family.

All the other children are doing well. Abby is in her senior year of college and will graduate in May as an RN! Datiya graduated in May, and is beginning a Vet Tech program. David is a senior is high school and is doing so well at everything. Nina wants to grow up way too fast. Enoch is starting 8th grade, and taking a few outside classes for the first time ever! The younger children are all growing and learning so much all the time. Tovi has stopped imitating Daniel’s negative behaviors, which is really quite a relief. We are blessed with our busy houseful.

I haven’t written about all of these things in complaint at all. This post is just a window into the world we have taken on as parents not only of many children, but also three adopted older children with special needs. I don’t regret our decision to follow the calling to which God called us in adopting these three precious ones, and I am not even seeking for anyone to write me back with advice of any kind. I have gotten plenty of that. I’m just sharing our life. Sometimes people will ask me if I had known the challenges would I have still chosen to adopt these children, or this one or that one, and I have to say, yes. This life isn’t easy, but I would choose it again. I feel that God is refining me every day. I am humbled every, single day. I see my shortcomings every, single day. I see my need for my Savior every day as well. That makes the journey worthwhile. I never forget my need for Him and my complete dependence on Him. To me, that is grace. I have learned so much from these three brave and beautiful children God has blessed us with through adoption. And that is something I wouldn’t trade for an easier life. I trust God with their futures, just as I do for all of my children, and I know the journey is going to be a long one. I am okay with that. I am running the marathon. I am leaning on the Lord to help me keep up with what He has for me. I am accepting that I can’t do it all and that it will absolutely not be perfect. I am okay with that, too. Life is messy, busy, full of craziness and ugliness, but God is my strength. Bring it on.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2a

Sometimes it’s the Little Things

 

I’m a debate mom.  During tournament season, our family spends at least one long weekend per month traveling around Texas or Oklahoma to participate speech and debate tournaments.  This activity is a centerpiece of the home education for our children.  I love and value this activity greatly. I’m always trying to recruit my friends to join us.  Granted, competitive speech and debate requires a lot of commitment to keep up with all that goes into participating.  One of the things with which we must keep up is all of the debate attire. Our home isn’t always the cleanest, most organized place, to put it lightly. (Why not?  I only have 13 children..haha) I have a few systems in place to help things run smoothly, but let’s just say I can’t sail that ship without the crew on board.  And my crew often isn’t on board with my neat and organized plans.  When it comes to debate attire, we have a hanging area by our washer and dryer where the kids used to keep their tournament clothes.  However, there was so much stuff hanging there, and not all of it fit someone at any given moment, so I told all the children of competition age to move their debate clothes to their own closet and keep track of it there.  A few days before each tournament, we gather all of the items that need to be dry cleaned.  Each student is responsible for his or her own debate clothing.  Should be easy enough, right? Continue reading Sometimes it’s the Little Things

Days 24, 25, and 26: Sweet Potato side dish, Western Breakfast Casserole, and Broccoli-Cheese side dish

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!  I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Christmas, as we did.  What a fun, busy time!  We begin celebrating on Christmas Eve, attending Christmas Eve service and having our nice dinner that evening.  We always open one gift on Christmas Eve as well.  Some of the older kids even go to Midnight Mass with some friends of our family.

This year, with my dad living in Austin in a Memory Care Community, we wanted him to be part of our celebration on Christmas Eve.  We left for Dallas Christmas Day, so we knew it wasn’t going to work for us to go get him that morning and bring him back.  With all of that in mind, we needed to have a really early dinner, so we could eat a relatively relaxing meal with my dad, then head to church, where a few of us would be performing a song.  I had planned for an easy dinner of ham, green bean casserole and a wonderful sweet potato and apple dish that is cooked in the crock pot.  It was an easy meal, but really delicious, too.  Christmas Eve service was beautiful, we survived performing our song, and we were also able to enjoy some time with friends after the service over sweet and salty treats.  I’m so glad we were able to include my dad in these festivities, and give him a Christmas with family.

Sweet Potatoes with Apples (Makes 8-10 servings)
Ingredients:
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 large tart and firm apples peeled, cored, and sliced
1/2-3/4 tsp. salt
1/8-1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup
Toasted sliced almonds or chopped pecans, optional

Instructions: 
1. Place half the sweet potatoes in slow cooker.  Layer in half the apple slices.
2. Mix together seasonings. Sprinkle half over apples.
3. Mix together butter and maple syrup.  Spoon half over seasonings.
4. Repeat layers.
5. Cover. Cook on low 6-8 hours or until potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally.
6. To add a bit of crunch, sprinkle with toasted almonds or pecans when serving.
7. Serve with pork or poultry.

Every other year, after reading the Christmas story, eating our traditional breakfast foods, and opening gifts at our house, we drive up to Dallas to spend a few days with Todd’s family.  The years in between, we stay at home, and my mom is usually visiting us.  This year is our year to be in Dallas.  So, I wanted to make something in the crock pot that we could eat for breakfast.  We usually have cinnamon rolls (I used to make them homemade, but I abandoned that practice once I had so many little children to manage that it was way to stressful) and crustless breakfast quiche.  These are the breakfast foods our kids want and expect every year.  I decided to add Western Omelet Casserole to the breakfast repertoire.  I thought it was really good, and most of it was eaten up quickly along with the cinnamon rolls.  I was up really late wrapping gifts, so I was able to start this late enough for it to be ready by 7:30.  On a normal night, I would prepare it and set an alarm to start it.

Western Omelet Casserole  (I doubled to feed my crew)
Ingredients: 
32-oz. bag frozen hash brown potatoes, divided
1 lb. cooked ham, cubed, divided
1 medium onion, diced, divided
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
18 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Instructions:
1. Layer one-third each of frozen potatoes, ham, onion, and cheese in bottom of slow cooker.  Repeat 2 times.
2. Beat together eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.  Pour over mixture in slow cooker.
3. Cover.  Cook on Low 4-6 hours.

Yesterday we were at my sister-in-law’s house for the day, so I decided to make a side dish to complement the baked potato bar she was making for dinner.  I made a broccoli casserole that was great as a side dish or served as a topping for the baked potatoes.

Crock Pot Broccoli and Cheese
Ingredients:
6 cups frozen chopped broccoli, partially thawed
1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of celery soup, undiluted
1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup crushed butter-flavored crackers (about 25)
2 tablespoons butter

Instructions:
1.  In a large bowl, combine the broccoli, soup, 1 cup cheese, onion, Worcestershire sauce and pepper. Pour into a greased 3-qt. slow cooker. Sprinkle crackers on top; dot with butter.
2.  Cover and cook on high for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cook 10 minutes longer or until the cheese is melted.

A Call to Do Something Crazy

As you can imagine, my husband and I are often told we are crazy for living the way we do.  We have “tons” of kids.  We live on a farm.  We live a little differently from most people we know because we are trying to stay debt-free.  The list goes on and on.  I often reflect on this idea that we are crazy.  Sometimes I wonder myself if we really are crazy.  The truth is, sometimes I think that as believers, we will be called to do things that the world around us—even fellow Christians—will think are crazy.  Todd and I are always learning to not care what others think and to do what we feel called to do, regardless if it makes sense to anyone else.

Lately, I have felt as though God will soon be calling us to do something crazy. We need to move out of our comfort zone and follow Him. Sometimes, we need to be like Abram, when God called him to leave his family and the only home he had ever known, and go to a land God would show him.  The blessings that followed Abram’s simple faith and obedience still continues to bless the world today. Think about the blessings we miss out on if we only stay within our comfort zones.

What if what God is calling you to do something that feels absolutely crazy?  The timing seems wrong.  The finances seem wrong.  You just can’t see how the logistics will work out.  Instead of just telling yourself that you can’t do it, I want to challenge you today to step out and do whatever you feel He is calling you to do.  Take the first steps.  They may be baby steps that become bigger steps.  God will show you the path.  He sees the future.  He will take care of all the details.  I urge you today to ignore the voices of the doubters in your life.  They aren’t the voice of God.  The doubters will want you to stay in the comfort zone with them, but God wants you to dive on in and watch Him do His thing.  Imagine if Moses had really just gone ahead and turned God down when He told him to go to Pharaoh.  This morning, my pastor taught out of the book of Judges about Gideon, the “valiant warrior” who really wasn’t so valiant in the beginning.  He made excuses, just like Moses.  Anything to not step out of that comfort zone.  But Gideon ended up trusting God and taking that leap of faith.  He became a hero and watched God win the battle for his people!

Today, think about the something crazy God may be asking you to do, but don’t think too long or hard about it.  Take the steps, dive into the deep waters of trusting God, and see how He will work and bless you in it!  I will do the same, and let’s compare notes later.  I for one don’t want to sit on the sidelines and miss out on the Great Adventure of following God’s will for my life, foolish or crazy as it may sound right now.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 1 Corinthians 2:14

Goodbye, Charlotte

I never really expected to write so much on here about spiders.  But, hey, I live on a farm in Texas.  There are spiders everywhere.  And since I introduced my little (make that, huge) morning friend in my last post, I am going to need to finish the story.  Before we left on a short vacation last week, I went out to milk the gals, and to my horror, this is what greeted me (please excuse the poor quality of the photo–I didn’t have my camera with me; just my phone):

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I have never seen anything quite like it.  I couldn’t figure out what had happened.  It looked like another gigantic spider had come and attacked Charlotte, and she was hanging there apparently dead. The other spider appeared to be dead as well.  It was blowing around in the wind, apparently very lightweight.  I stood there for a few minutes, trying to see if there was any life left in either spider, but they were just hanging there, Charlotte’s legs heavy and limp; the invader blowing around in the breeze.  I took a shovel, and tried to tap the spider’s web to see if there would be any movement. Nothing moved except the brown spider, as the breeze continued to push it this way and that. Finally, I used the shovel to take down the web, since it seemed that the spider was dead.  The lightweight brown spider kind of flew away in the wind, and Charlotte dropped to the ground, where her legs began to move a bit.  She was obviously not actually dead, but was on her way out for sure.  I tried to pick her up with the shovel (because I sure wasn’t going to touch her with my bare hands), when this little lady came over:

IMG_20150720_101734005

And just like that, Charlotte became part of Chicken Little’s breakfast!  Ah, the drama of farm life!

I later did a little research and discovered that my spider was an “argiope aurantia,” also known as the yellow (or black and yellow) garden spider, or a writing spider (so the name “Charlotte” was fitting for her).  I also discovered that she was indeed, female.  I read that the male argiope aurantia is smaller and brown.  I am guessing that the brown spider that was blowing in the wind was the male.  After mating, the male of this species dies within 15 minutes, and the female sometimes even eats the male.  I don’t know exactly what happened for sure, but I guess that maybe the male fought with Charlotte and she died in the process as well.  I wish I had a better picture to add to the internet collection I found, because I didn’t see anything at all like it in my searches.  I may still add the photo just because it’s so unique.

All that remains of the web that used to hang above me as I milked my goats are a few stray strands blowing gently in the wind.  I can’t say I really miss ducking under that web with it’s rather large occupant, and I certainly don’t miss wondering if she will descend upon my head at any moment while I am milking.  But when I see those remaining strands, I think of that monstrous spider every morning.  Kind of crazy, but it’s true.  Just like the rest of my life!

I’ll leave you with my favorite (and completely unrelated to this post) quote from last week by one of my younger boys.  My 8-year-old said to me one afternoon, “Hey, mom, we should go to a spa today! Because, sometimes I just want to relax!”  Yeah, me too, buddy.  Me, too.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8