Monday, August 24, 2015

puppy update...

Our little puppies

are now big puppies...

Can you believe how much they've grown?  I used to be able to carry both of them at the same time. They are now 6 months old and we have had them for four months.


They wrestle and play for hours at a time.  It is so funny to watch them interact.  Each one has his / her own personality and they are funny.  One thing we love is having a fenced in back yard.  The puppies spend hours a day out there playing, wrestling, digging and defending our yard by barking at everything.  Seriously, they bark at everyone and everything.

I spend my morning coffee time out on our back deck under my pergola, watching them play.  It is so peaceful and I love our backyard.  However, the puppies are still a lot of work.  Way more work than we realized before we impulsively got two.

The puppies chew on everything.  They really do.  I have always heard that from puppy / dog owners but until you live with it, it's just a concept.  We are getting very good at putting everything up high.  Just like when we baby-proofed our house.  They are also not house broken or potty trained.  For the first few months it was ridiculous, now it's down to just annoying.  Truth be told, we are going to have to replace our carpets.  Which was something we have always wanted to do, but we were thinking it would be a few more years before we took that step.

We hired a local trainer to help us, well, train them.  Just like raising children, training the puppies is all about consistency.  And, we've learned that we're just not that consistent.  Plus, I think, having two makes it more difficult.  But that can just be me making an excuse for why they aren't better trained.

Kenzie (our all black girl) is so ornery and instigates many of their wrestling matches.  She is also the most affectionate puppy.  She loves cuddles and will sit on or next to us all day long.  Every night when Mark comes home from work, she meets him at the door and her whole body wags.  She acts like it's been eight days since she last saw him, not eight hours. 

Parker (our white and black boy) is just plain funny.  He acts like an old dog until he gets the sillies and then he is all puppy.  If I am showing any attention to Kenzie, he will walk up and body block her out of the way.  He was the runt of his litter and that is why we picked him.  Mark felt bad for him getting stepped on by all his siblings.  He is now close to 25 pounds and bigger than Kenzie.  I have to be careful getting him out of his pen because of the height of the gate and his weight put be off balance and I'm afraid I'm going to pull a muscle in my back.

He will also come up to a chair or couch (yes, we let them up on our furniture) and put just his front paws and top half of his body on the chair.  He waits like that until I notice him and lift his back end and hind legs up onto the chair for him.  I'm serious, this dog is so crazy.  That's what he is doing in the picture below.
Grace is warming up to the puppies, since they have settled down a little bit and no longer puppy pile her when she's on the floor.  She likes to pet Parker the most and when he sits next to her she will pet his back.  Which I just love to see since one of the reasons we got the puppies was because of Grace's love of dogs.  They also love to sit at her feet when she is eating.  Seriously, as soon as I take the tray out of her high chair they run over and sit next to it.  We are trying to train them to stay out of the kitchen when we are eating, but Grace is not making it easy for us.  If she is having a snack and the puppies are next to her, she will feed them.  It is so cute to see.  And since it's a typical child behavior, I love it.
We also went out and bought them a baby pool so they could enjoy the water.  I know, I know, we are spoiling them.  But baby pools are on sale now since it's August and they had to make room for the Halloween stuff.  We all thought that Kenzie would be the one to love the water.  But as it turns out, Parker is our water loving dog.  The boys want us to put an in-ground pool in, so they can teach Parker to swim.  It's a great idea and I would love it, but that is totally not in our budget right now.

I totally love these two mutts!  It's true what they say about pets giving you more than you give them.  Our family has been enriched by having them.  I just hope I feel the same way in the winter and I have to walk them in freezing weather by myself...


Sunday, August 16, 2015

eight years ago...

Eight years ago this weekend, Mark and I were in Guatemala finalizing Grace's adoption.  This precious little girl rocked our world and enriches our lives every day.  It's hard to imagine our family without her.

Grace has recently started to come up to Mark and I and give us hugs.  This might seem like a minor thing for most children, but when she comes over to give me a hug with a big squeeze, I have to hold back the tears.  My heart couldn't hold any more love for Grace than it does.

But that doesn't mean there aren't still days that I wonder what it would be like to have a typical 8 year old girl.  That I don't long to have conversations with my daughter.  That I don't want to hear her voice.  That I don't start crying when she does because I just don't know why she's crying.  I feel so helpless that I can't help her because she doesn't have the ability to let us know what has upset her. 

Sometimes, I long for my boys to have a typical relationship with their sister.  I wish my parents had a typical granddaughter, Grace is the only girl on my side of the family.  Sometimes, selfishly, I wish it wasn't so much work to have a daughter like Grace.  That it didn't stress me out and stretch me beyond my patience.  That I was able to spontaneously go places and do things with all three of my children.  But as I told my friend recently, I can be spontaneous with enough notice.

My wishing and longing are hard feelings to have.  I have done a lot of reading on grief and I know that I will likely grieve in small (and big) ways for the rest of my life with Grace.  Some days I am more okay with that than others.  But through all these feelings, I'm so thankful that God placed Grace in our lives and allows me to be her mom.  I get to glimpse a little bit of heaven every time Grace looks me in the eye and smiles.

Happy Family Day Grace!  We love you more than you will ever know...


Thursday, August 13, 2015

level up...

A few months ago, Luke started taking Karate at a local studio.  Mark and I both feel strongly that our kids should participate in sports.  Mainly for the things that you learn from being a part of a team  And even though everyone now gets a trophy for just participating, there is something to be said from learning to win and loose as a child.  So we have let them try different team sports out to see what they liked.  John is the more athletic of our two sons and has taken to almost all of the sports he has tried.  Luke, not so much.  He really doesn't like team sports, so we let him take a few years off.  

After talking to a few friends and our friend who runs a karate studio, we felt that Karate might be a good fit for Luke.  Our goals are for him to gain confidence, discipline and to learn the achievement of personal success.  It's also a good sport for him, because John has never done karate so there can't be any comparison to his brother's accomplishments. 

Luke recently had his first belt test.  He was super nervous because he wasn't sure what to expect but was excited to pass and move to the next belt level.  The whole family went to see Luke test.  Which didn't really work out, since Grace decided she was unhappy.  So, Mark had to take her out of the studio.  Fortunately, he was able to see the test but not hear what was being said.

As the final part of his test, Luke broke a board with his fist.  It was so great to see all the kids accomplish this.  They all got to take the boards home with them.  John took a video of Luke breaking the board and put it on slo-mo for the actual break.  It looks so cool!


Luke was so happy to have passed and move up to an orange belt.  After the test, we all celebrated with a trip to Rita's for some water ice.  Congratulations Luke, we're so proud of you!


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

joni and friends family retreat 2015...



Every year I try and come up with the words to describe just how amazing JAF Family Retreat is, and every year I fail.  It is just too difficult to describe the many ways our family has come to love this camp and to long for it during the year. 

The best thing about camp is the total acceptance that our family gets.  No one stares at us.  No one has "helpful" comments or tips about Grace's behavior, and my failings as a mom.  No one laughs at Grace or at us.  No one finds anything different or special about our family at all. 

I also love the fact that for 5 days, I don't have to shop, plan, cook, serve, or clean up any meals.  There is no housework to be done.  No emails or phone calls to make or return.  We have five days of being taken care of by the volunteers who come to serve our family.  There is programming to allow Mark and I to worship together and then in our mens and womens groups.  Mark and I got time to hang out and talk without distraction and it was good.  We laughed a lot and I needed that. 

Every year we are assigned the most perfect Short Term Missionaries (STMs) for our family.  This year was no exception.  Grace was assigned an amazing mom named Vivian, who was at camp with her husband, and two sons.  It was fun to see them bond during the week.  As the days went on, Grace got more comfortable with Vivian and allowed her personality to shine through.  Luke was matched with a high school student named Liam, who was with his HS youth group.  This was a perfect match, and gave Luke a number of STMs to hang out with.  Liam's best friend Nate was at camp and Luke decided he looked like Peter Parker, so Luke followed him everywhere.  It always makes me happy when my boys can see older boys serving, loving others and modeling Jesus to the world. 

Ever since we have been home, Luke has told me that he misses Liam about 12 times a day.  I always reply, me too, me too.  Hopefully, we will be able to see Liam again as he goes to school about 40 minutes from our house.

Grace got her annual hair cut at camp.  I love all the little extras that you get at camp and all the ways that people find to serve our families.  Grace can't go to a salon because of the noise and the lights and all the people and the noise.  So it is great that she's a girl and can go a whole year without a haircut and still look cute.  This is the third year that Denise has cut Grace's hair.  She always tells Grace how great she did, even though she cries and screams during the whole thing.  And then she allows me to ugly cry on her shoulder as I try to express my thanks for her donating her time and her gift of cutting hair.  I don't think I am able to express adequately how much this means to me.  But I do know that she probably needs to change her shirt after I've cried on her shoulder.  

John has been a part of the middle school program for two years now.  This means that he doesn't have an STM assigned to him.  Unfortunately, he wasn't able to bond with any of the kids in his programming so he was at loose ends a few times.  But this allowed Mark and John to spend two afternoons together playing mini golf and pool.  It was a great time for them to hang out and bond over learning to play new games.  I think it was the highlight of John's week.

The camp had a new zip line this year, that was open a few times during the week.  I was able to sign up with my adventure loving son, Luke.  He was so pumped about going on the zip line.  He has always been to young or too little to go on other courses.  The camp required you to be 10 years old but they let Luke go since he is about 5 months away from turning 10.  We had originally planned on going down side by side, but one of the lines got tangled and so we had to go separately.  Luke wanted to go first and he wasn't scared at all.  In fact, when he was part way down the line he turned around, waved to me and said 'Hi Mom'.  It was classic Luke.  I wished I had had a camera to snap his picture, because his face was lit up with the biggest smile ever.  Once he was unhooked, it was my turn.  I kept both hands on the tether and didn't wave to anyone.  It was SO fun.  We both wanted to go again.

I was able to reconnect with moms that I had met in previous years and meet some new ones.  It is always so encouraging to talk to other moms of special needs kids.  All the typical barriers are gone at camp and it is so easy to be honest, open and transparent.  Many tears were shed in my womens groups and I loved it.  I told Mark it is the one week a year that I give myself permission to feel everything and therefore, I cry a lot.  Every morning worship had me crying.  But they are good tears.  Tears of mourning and acceptance and grief and healing and pain and joy and longing.  Some of the women were calling them camp allergies, but not me.  I'm happy to call them what they are because it is the one place I can be totally truthful about my journey and totally loved for my journey.  It's a little slice of heaven here on earth and I can't wait to go back next year...


Thursday, July 30, 2015

beach trip...

“I walked far down the beach, soothed by the rhythm of the waves, 
the sun on my bare back and legs, the wind and mist from the spray on my hair.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea 

The beach is my happy place.  I can always feel myself relax and my body sigh when I get to the beach.  Mark and I dream of living at the beach and every time I visit the beach I never want to leave.  Last week we went to the beach with Mark's family and this annual trip was one of the best so far! 

Thanks to my amazing mother in law, we stayed in a house that was right on the beach.  Literally, right on the beach.  Her wish for her 80th birthday was to go to the beach with all her kids, their spouses and children.  So, she rented the house and invited us all to join her for the week.  It was so fun to all be together and celebrate her birthday together.


This last picture of Grace is one of my favorite ever. Grace does not love the beach.  Every time we go, she has to get used to it all over again.  I never realized just how overwhelming the beach could be until I took a child with sensory issues.  The ocean is loud, the is sand hot and hard on your feet, the sun bright, the sea gulls noisy and they swoop down overhead, and then there are the voices and radios of the other beach goers.  While I always feel soothed by it, I have found it can all be a bit much for someone who gets overwhelmed easily.

This year Grace warmed up pretty quickly and spent a lot of time on the beach.  We took daily walks with her and every time she avoided getting her feet wet.  One day, we took a walk with Grace and then stopped to talk to Mark's sister Melanie and her husband Mike.  We were all talking at the waters edge and watching the boys jump waves and catch fish in a net. 

After a little while, Grace started walking into the water all by herself.  She would walk in as the waves went out and then walk back out when she heard the waves coming towards her.  It was so amazing to watch, we were all kept saying 'did you see that?'.  Mark's mom, sister Melissa and our nephew Mitchell were on the balcony of the house and saw her walking into the water.  They kept saying to each other, they are not close enough to her, she's going to get taken out by a wave.  We were closer than it looked to them and could easily have gotten to her before she got taken out by a wave. But we wanted to see her explore and see how far out she would go.  She was smiling and happy the whole time.

I love watching Grace experience new things and grow and stretch outside of her comfort zone.  It is always such a great teaching moment for me to remember that personal growth and change happens when we take risks and challenge ourselves to try / do new things.

We had such a great week, we are already talking about going next year!  I shared many of these pictures on my instagram account.  Check it out here if you're not following me already.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

so long june...

June may be one of my favorite months.  I love the fact that school lets out.  I love the warmer weather and the longer days.  I love the promise of so many things to do without a strict schedule.

In past years, the kids and I have created a summer fun list (you can see last year's list here).  This year, for some reason, we didn't create out list.  We talked about it for months but never sat down and compiled a list.  We have a mental list of things that we do each year as a family and enjoy.  So, we've been doing some of those but I find that I'm missing the list and the outline for our summer.  I'm thinking that we will sit down this weekend and write one...

So far, we've done a good job of mixing active days with days at home and lazy days at the pool.  We've had fun busy days when we were all exhausted and days when the kids stayed up past the sun and fell into bed with smiles on their faces from the day.

June allowed us to ease our way into summer and gave us days with no schedule.  However, July is packed out.  The boys each have a camp, Grace has her summer school program and we are going to the beach (yay!).  So we will be on a stricter schedule for some of the month.  But that's okay.  It's all a balance and it's what works for our family.  I'm loving summer and so happy that I'm more focused and intentional with the kids.  Summer vacation truly is a magical time for all of us.  I hope you're enjoying your summer!