Sunday, September 1, 2013

Horse Riding Lessons

Something we have wanted to do with the girls for a long time was to help them engage more with their natural love for animals.  Today we were able to do that in a new way for Ohana. 

This morning, Jenetta took Ohana over the hill for her first riding lesson.  It is a lot to learn, but she did well, and she really enjoyed it!  Her next lesson is in two weeks, and we are trying to work into the budget where we can do this consistently for her.

Here is a little bit of the morning that Ohana spent with Jacey.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I've been thinking a lot about blessings lately.  The past three weeks have been very busy at work, and I have had a lot on my mind.  Often when I am overwhelmed by things I need to get done, I have a hard time sleeping (I doubt I am alone in this).  But a song has been on my mind through this period.  If you've seen White Christmas, maybe you remember the scene when Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney are sitting up late one night near the fireplace in the lodge and they sing "Count your blessings instead of sheep."

In those times that I had a hard time sleeping, I have been mentally going over the list of things I have been asking God for over the past few years.

Many of you know how difficult this past year was for us.  We were just not prepared for how difficult parenting traumatized children can be.  We had no idea the depths of pain that our girls were dealing with, and we were shocked at how they seemed to take that pain out on us over and over and over again.  I don't think I can ever express in words how miserable we all were during that span from about Oct 2011 to July 2012.  Those of you who were near to us during that time know.  The rest of you will just have to imagine.  The closest thing I can compare it to is torture.  Slowly, daily, we were both worn down.  We were both physically and mentally attacked so many times it became hard to believe that any other life would ever be possible or that we deserved the happy lives our friends seemed to be experiencing.

So our biggest answer to prayer has been a return to normalcy in our home.  Yes, we still have challenges almost daily.  We have two children that are emotionally much closer to 3 than to 8 and 7.  We have to constantly be vigilant to protect our girls from getting too charged up, but we know the triggers now.  We know what to do to avoid going to that terrible place where our daughters need to be restrained for everyone's safety.  The girls are aware of it as well and have talked at length about not throwing fits anymore.  We can do some "normal" things and enjoy them together in moderation.  They are both doing much better in school.  We have teachers and adult friends around them who are aware of how things can be for them and can help. I am more grateful for this change than probably any other answered prayer than I have ever had in my life.

But there are many other blessings I have been counting during these sleepless nights.  I remember a time when I felt I had a lot to offer an employer, and no one would give me a chance.  I remember the decision we made together for me to go into the corporate world once the photography gig ran its course.  We both felt that this would be a difficult transition for me, but a necessary one.  What we didn't know at the time was that it would take nearly three years before I could get on that track that I had envisioned back in late 2007.   I have a great job in a rapidly growing company.  I have been given a position of responsibility and leadership at TrellisWare.  I have been honored with raises and recognition at work.  None of this seemed possible a few years ago.  This blog contains many posts where I complain about fruitless interviews and short-lived opportunities, financial stress and fear.  God has taken us through that time.  We never missed a house payment, we never had to sell all our possessions, and through it all, we have learned the necessary lessons of financial responsibility.  I'm thrilled to be able to report that our mountain of debt will be paid in full sometime around June 2013 (six months earlier than our projections).

I remember a time when we wondered if we would ever be parents.  Last night, we watched The Sound of Music together. I have a mental snapshot of my girls snuggling up on the couch that I will cherish forever.  It is a joy to watch them develop and learn.  The other day, Lynn was reading every sign we drove past. I was remembering how at one time I thought that was a really annoying habit - I think there is a Seinfeld episode about that!  When she did it, I was so proud of her.  I've had bedtime talks with Ohana and enjoyed her heart for others and can see what a loving and caring young lady she is growing into.  In so many ways, the experiences we were hoping for are playing out before our eyes and they are even better than we imagined.

Through it all, Jenetta has been faithful and supportive.  Next week, we will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary.  Time has flown by, and I can't think of anyone I'd rather have spent it with.  I admire her independence, her tireless research, her consistency with the girls, and so much more.  She is loyal and loving, and exactly what I need.

We are surrounded by friends and family that are doing well and enjoying life.  We have friends that are getting to travel to Hawaii twice this year.  We have friends that are finding love.  We have friends that are enjoying special times with their children, and we have friends that are enjoying challenging and meaningful work.

So during those times when I have a lot on my mind or am stressed out by something I am facing, I have been counting my blessings.  There are so many!

My prayer for you this Christmas is that you can reflect on the joy and answered prayer in your life and that we can all be truly grateful for it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Two good weeks

I know it has been a long time since we posted - several months now. I just got tired of posting how hard it is and complaining about behaviors we are seeing at home.

I even considered just not ever going back to the blog since I can do a 2 second FB status update that reaches most of the same people, and I don't have to bother with writing a long drawn-out essay about how crappy we feel. But there is something good about taking the time to process feelings by writing them out, and it is often helpful for me to review things I've written in the past and re-read comments left by people who love us and support us in so many ways.

The past 6 months have been probably the hardest we have experienced since we've been parents (Almost three years has gone by now!). We are just beginning to understand how much trauma Ohana has been through and how that rejection has damaged her emotionally. She is old enough now to begin processing some of those feelings and to expressed how pissed off she is about it all. We have seen levels of violence and anger from her that is truly frightening. We have had to change work and home schedules to minimize problems or to have me be a physical presence when meltdowns happen. I won't go into the details, but at times it has been very scary for all of us.

Probably the hardest part of this all is the feeling of Lynn, Jenetta, and I all walking on eggshells being extremely careful not to do anything that sets Ohana off. So even when things are quiet for a few days, we live in fear and an exhausting state of hyper-awareness.

With all that being said, the past two weeks have been really good. We have seen several times where Ohana was on the edge and she could easily have chosen to explode and react with violence and anger, but she has been able to calm herself down eventually. That is a really good sign. In the past, it didn't seem as though she was capable of that and sometimes it even seemed like she wanted to go over the edge and erupt in screaming and kicking and destruction. As if somehow that choice was better for her...

We even did something fun as a family this weekend. We haven't been able to do things that are exciting because we would pay for it for days and days afterwards. Jenetta got a free pass for a petting zoo up in Orange County, so we drove up there for the morning and had a fun time together. It started to get really crowded after a while as several birthday party groups assembled, and we could see that it was getting to be overwhelming for Ohana. So we were grateful that we got there early enough to see and do everything they had to offer.

Then we drove to Oceanside and walked out along the pier to enjoy lunch together at Ruby's. The day made Ohana very tired, and she was a little challenging to deal with, but once we got home for a nap, she was fine.

A few weeks ago, we would not have been able to do an activity like this, and if we had forced it, we would have seen meltdowns and aftershocks for many days following.

So it was good to feel like a normal family if even for a few hours.

If you are praying for us, please continue to pray for Ohana that she feels safe and secure. That is her biggest need right now and something that we work toward in nearly every way we interact with her.

Here are some videos of our outing:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Update on our daughter

I wanted to thank everyone for the prayers! The support and encouragement from our friends and especially our extended family has been deeply appreciated.

We hold our breath and cross our fingers and hope that things have returned to normal with Ohana. This weekend was surprisingly good. With a birthday party and relatives at our home, we were prepared for the worst. Even with a severe allergic reaction at 4:00 in the morning and not nearly enough sleep, we didn't see the meltdowns we were expecting. It is amazing how a few good days changes your perspective on everything.

We enacted some new procedures to increase structure around the home, and that has helped. We have also developed an effective sleeping strategy. Jenetta and I take turns each night sleeping next to Ohana on the guest room bed. She still has some anxiety at night, but it has lessened, and it is easy to get her calmed back down when we are next to her. Sometimes a gentle touch on her arm is all that is needed to get her relaxed and back to sleep. So it has been better from that perspective (although we look forward to the time we can return to normal sleeping patterns!)

Ohana seems to have a real disconnect between the choices she makes and the results from those choices. She has worked through a lot of her delays, but this is a lingering one for her. In many ways, she reacts more like a 3 or 4 year old and just doesn't understand the consequences of her behaviors. We are starting a new therapy session soon, and this will be a large focus of that time.

As Ohana has matured, it has been interesting for us to hear her talk more about what she is feeling and what she has gone through. Several times over the past few days she has told people her "life story." It goes something like this...

I used to live with (bio parent's names) but they couldn't take care of me. I then went to live with Grandpa and Grandma but they couldn't take care of me either. Then I lived in five other houses. They didn't want me, but they wanted to adopt my sister because she was still a baby. Then I came to live here with my mom and dad. They can take care of me so they adopted both of us.

The details and the placement order changes somewhat each time she tells it, but it always ends the same way.

That's what we are trying our best to do... take care of them. Thank you to everyone who has been taking care of us during these difficult weeks.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Long silence

I haven't posted here in a month because I haven't had much that I felt like sharing. To be honest, things are not going well at all. They haven't been for 4 weeks, and it started getting rocky a few weeks even before then. This is not to say that we haven't experienced some good things lately: a weekend visit from Grandpa Pat and Grandma Shelley, a brief afternoon with Judy and Kyle, and even a really fun 3 hours at Sea World this past Saturday, but for the most part, things at home have been very, very difficult.

Our oldest daughter is really struggling right now. She has not handled the transition to first grade very well and is an almost constant distraction in her class. We have already had meetings with her teacher, and although we are saddened by her behavior, we are so grateful that she is in an awesome school where the class size is still only 22 students, so at least we can try new things with the teacher to help Ohana think through her choices. This all starts at home where she is not sleeping well at night. Every night she wakes up 4-6 times in various states of consciousness. Sometimes she wakes up in a panic. Sometimes she wanders the house crying and upset but completely asleep. I have looked in on her and while asleep, she is waving her arms and legs wildly in bed. It is clear that she is experiencing a great deal of anxiety at night. Unfortunately, this carries over to the day and basically, if anything does not go her way (which unfortunately happens in life all the time), we are seeing the kind of temper tantrums we saw when she was four - throwing herself on the ground, screaming and banging walls, etc. Something as routine as "put away your shoes and your backpack" can turn into a huge meltdown.

This anxiety is causing her to be out of control at school and a distraction to other kids. It has brought up a lot of strange and sad behaviors both at school and at home. She is chewing her hair and pulling out clumps of it. We have had to take away the pink comforter on her bed because she tore it open and pulled out wads of stuffing. The only thing that seems to calm her down is lots of physical activity, so I've been taking her running again (sometimes in the middle of the night if necessary). Yesterday afternoon she wanted to run to grandma's house, so we ran almost two miles to her home (and got a car ride back). We are trying to take things one day at a time, but it is difficult not to envision her as a teenager out of control and making choices that have lifelong consequences or even to hurt herself.

We are both exhausted because we haven't slept well in weeks, and we are both feeling the effects of the constant stress of this. It is affecting Lynn as well. She has talked about how Ohana is making her sad, or how her crying hurts her ears, and Lynn has reverted back to having multiple accidents. We have had to move Lynn to the guest room at night so she can get enough rest at night. So we are all affected by this.

We've looked at medical reasons, dietary reasons and psychological reasons for this in our search to find help wherever we can. One of the things that is so heartbreaking is that in Ohana's more focused moments, she describes what is going on with her as "something wrong inside her brain." And she prays a lot that God would take away whatever is in her brain that makes her afraid or worried.

Things are hard for me at work. I find myself greatly saddened by all this and have been brought to tears by the pain and exhaustion of it all. Fortunately, I can close my office door and have privacy when moments like this come.

So we would appreciate your prayers in this as we take it one day at a time. We know that we do not have to worry about problems that may come up in the future - we only have to deal with what we are facing today.
Things are very hard for us right now.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Building community due to power outage

Yesterday we had an interesting experience. I was looking forward to an evening on the couch first to hear what the president had to say about jobs and then watching a good football game. But at 3:40, our entire county lost power. It had been in the upper 90s, so the house quickly got too hot.

So we headed outside to beat the heat, and interestingly enough, all of our neighbors did as well. The kids played outside until it got too dark to see, we enjoyed a picnic dinner on our lawn, and we chatted with neighbors and shared melting popsicles as we watched the kids on their bikes.

We've lived on this street for 9 years now, and I think I spoke more last night with some of my neighbors than I ever had before.

After we put the kids to bed, we noticed the moon was pretty bright, so Jenetta and I sat on the back deck and just talked for two hours. It was great!

Without TV or the internet to distract us or feed that sense of "connection," we got it for real - the way people have for hundreds and thousands of years, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Maybe the power should go out more often!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Golf Camp

A number of foster and adopted kids from San Diego County got to participate in a golf camp at Calloway this morning. The company was so nice - the kids got golf clubs, hats, balls, and a lot of personal instruction. I think the older kids benefited from the lessons a lot more, but our girls sure had a fun time.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Farewell to Summer

The girls start school tomorrow, so we celebrated their last weekend of freedom by attending a beach party hosted by some of our friends. We've had a very mild summer, and it was actually chilly at the beach yesterday. But just hanging out and playing with the kids at the beach sure is a lot of fun.

Moonlight Beach in Encinitas is just about the perfect family beach. It has a large playground and grassy area just east of the sandy beach. But as always, just sharing time with our friends and their kids is the best part!

This picture is in here not really to illustrate anything about the party. It was more to have a picture that Ohana is embarrassed by as a teenager :) Her two front teeth are really loose and need to come out. They are are starting to push forward and she is getting that snagglepuss look.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mt. Whitney

This week, I left Jenetta and the kids at home and adventured to the top of Mt. Whitney in the Eastern Sierra Nevada range in central California. Mt. Whitey is the tallest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,497 feet.

I made the trip with my friend Craig Rodriguez and some of his co-workers in Phoenix. Other than Craig, I was a stranger to them at first, but a trip like that builds bonds quickly, and I look forward to seeing them all again soon. (In fact, the couple in our group, Jeff and Grace Yates, will be in San Diego in two weeks for a half marathon that I am also running, so we plan to get together again for that.)

The trail is surprisingly easy to hike and it is very well maintained. We saw evidence of that where a flash flood a few days before our trip washed out some water crossings, so on the way up, we had to remove our socks and shoes and roll up our pants and just cross the streams, but on the way down, these crossings had been repaired.

The big challenge is altitude. I live at about 620 feet above sea level and very rarely am above 1,000 feet. I had an altitude headache in the parking lot! The first day was strenuous, but do-able. We hiked 6 miles and gained almost 4,000 feet. We camped that night at 12,000 feet, and we all had a miserable experience. I was exhausted - I wanted to sleep so badly, but I just couldn't. Finally, at about 4 am, I drifted to sleep for about an hour. When the sun came up, we ate some breakfast and drank as much as we could. Even though I was tired and still had the headache, I felt OK enough to continue. By the time I had reached 13,700 feet, I was having trouble breathing, and I started to feel slightly nauseous. I was not able to eat much of my snack at that point. But we were less than 3 miles from the summit and only had another 700 feet to gain, so I felt OK to continue.

When we made it to the summit, I was starting to feel that I had made the wrong decision. I was tired and having trouble breathing, but the big worry was the nausea and light-headedness. I can honestly say that I enjoyed this peak less than any other peak I have been on. We did a few photos, I tried to eat a bit but couldn't, and I called home to talk to Jenetta and the girls. Then I got out of there.

By the time I made it down to 13,000 feet again, I knew I was in trouble. I had some digestive symptoms that I won't get too detailed about, I had a fever coming on, and I was getting dizzy. I knew that I needed to get down, so my new friends were very helpful and encouraging to me, and I slowly made my way back to our campsite at around 4:30. It was a 2 hour hike downhill to the next camping location, and even though both Craig and I were not feeling well at that point, the decision was made to pick up camp and head down to 10,000 feet so we could stand a better chance at recovery.

Although those 2+ hours were about the most miserable hours I've ever experienced, it was definitely the right choice. Craig and I hobbled down hill and made sure that each other was OK. I actually fell at one point and cut up my arm a bit. I started to think about those stories of survival and how thoughts of family kept people going, so although my body did not want to continue, I thought of my girls and Jenetta and continued to put one foot in front of the other. Eventually, we made it. We set up camp and tried to eat and forced ourselves to drink electrolytes and water. Then we went to bed at around 8:00. I got a good 8 hours of sleep that night and felt much, much better the next morning.

We got up on Friday and ate and drank a bit and then made our way back to the Portal store and parking lot where showers and huge breakfasts awaited us. We talked about our shared experiences and laughed together. As we drove home, we joked and talked about the next hike we might take as a group.

So there a few things I've taken away from this experience. First, I don't think I will venture much above 12,000 feet without serious elevation training. Secondly, I don't want to say never (because we met people on the trail from all over the world, and many of them were much, much older than I...), but I think I am done with Mt. Whitney. Craig and I both had a been there, done that attitude. But lastly, I experienced a bond with kind strangers that I really enjoy. I guess many of my family members have experienced this kind of thing on group trips to Israel and other places, but I really have not as an adult, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Here are a few photos from the trip:

If you are interested in seeing videos of the trip and hearing how wimpy my voice sounds at elevation, you can watch them here:

Wednesday August 3 - Portal to Trail Camp.

Thursday August 4 - Trail Camp to Summit and then back down to Outpost Camp.

Friday August 5 - Outpost camp back to Portal.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Adventures in Ramona

This morning, we had a delightful adventure with Alana and Cris, our cousins-in-law, and their daughter Avery. We met up early at what we thought was going to be a berry picking farm outside of Ramona. Unfortunately, the farm burned in the 2007 fires and has not re-opened. So we moved on to a plan "B": we played at a park with the kids.

Cris took out the croquet set, and we enjoyed a fun (and warm) morning at the park. It is always fun to catch up with our only relatives in So Cal.

After saying our goodbyes, we drove in different directions back home. On the way out of town, we found a sign for an organic farm that had a stand open, so we decided to drive by. Just our luck, they had a u-pick strawberry patch for $1 a quart! So we called Cris and Alana and they came back to pick with us.

Then the four of us enjoyed a lunch together at Rubios before heading down the hill and going home.

We topped it off tonight with strawberry smoothies for dessert!

Not very thrilling videos, but we enjoyed picking together:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Iowa trip

We concluded our too-fast trip to Canada with a drive south and a few days spent with Joel and Emily and their kids in Orange City, Iowa. None of us had ever been there before, so it was great to see the sights and spend time with family.

Some highlights include enjoying my birthday and Joel and Emily's 9th anniversary together, eating sunflower seeds while canoeing with the kids down a river, playing PS3 with the girls, watching Emily hop around on one foot, and just enjoying watching the kids play together with their cousins.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, Ohana ran full speed into a rope fence at at the NW College football stadium and closelined her face. She is just now recovering from that burn - it was quite an injury!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Canada trip updates

It's been hard getting back to the blog. Work has been busy, there are lots of summertime chores to be done around the house, etc, etc. So when I have a few minutes, I often want to stay as far away from the computer as possible.

But I've resolved to do a few posts each day until we get caught up.

I still think back very fondly to a few weeks ago and how much we enjoyed seeing everyone on our trip. The girls talk about their cousins all the time and ask when they can play with Carson and Caleb and Megan and Dylan again. So here is an open invitation to any of our MB family - when winter time gets to be too much, just head on down here - our guest room is always available! :)

Here are a few photos from the family get-together at Oma's place, from our flight with Adam, and our time playing around with Megan and Dylan.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Family trip!

We are in the middle of an awesome trip to see family in Steinbach, MB and in Orange City, IA. It's been a lot of fun, a lot of visiting (and a lot of driving!)

The kids have had a great time, and they have enjoyed playing with cousins so much!

I'll post more later because I'm busy enjoying myself, but here is a little taste:

Thanks so much to everyone who made us feel so special! It meant a lot to me to be able to create such great memories with my children. It brought me a lot of joy to watch them enjoying some of the same activities I was doing 30 years ago!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ohana's last day of kindergarten

We enjoyed a fun little ceremony at Ohana's school yesterday morning.

Here is a taste of it:

I missed them announcing her name - lots of parents with cameras in my way! :)

They did a few songs together as a class, but this one was the one Ohana was most proud of.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Church family camping trip

This weekend, the girls and I enjoyed our annual church camping trip held at Hurkey Creek. I could write many paragraphs about the things we did together, but I'll save it to a few highlights:

- We were able to invite our neighbor and his two kids to join us.
- Having "church" outside is always a special experience for me, and sharing it with the girls is even better.
- Playing in the creek is so much fun.
- Even though I thought I was prepared for the chilly evenings, I was definitely not prepared for 30 degrees!
- I love our church family (and our kids love our friends' kids!)
- I'm glad Jenetta got a little bit of a break and a quiet house for a while.

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