Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

Lukas: "Mom, can we take showers tonight?"
Me (after a REALLY long day): "Eh, I don't know that I'm up for that tonight."
Lukas: "But we like being clean."
Me: "Cleanliness is really overrated."
Jacob: "But mom, our bodies are temples!"
Me: "Fine."

Lukas. . .who apparently "likes being clean"

Thank you

To the manager at Chick-fil-A who quietly slipped a $100 gift card onto the windshield of my van while my family was inside enjoying lunch. . . .thank you.

To the mechanics at a Sam's Club in New Jersey who repaired the flat tire on my van for free without even knowing that I was unexpectedly stuck in Philadelphia alone, with eight kids, for two weeks because of an amputation that resulted in a chronic wound. . . .thank you.

To the stranger at a rest stop along the Pennsylvania turnpike, who must've noticed my tired expression as I piled out of the family restroom with all eight of my kids, and followed us out to our van just to tell me what a great job I was doing. . . .thank you.

To my biological father who calls me every week (even though I am rarely able to answer the phone) just to tell me how proud he is and how much he loves me. . . . thank you.

To my husband who came straight home from work on Monday morning and sent me to bed because I was so sick I could hardly stand, much less meet the needs of my family. . . .thank you.

To my friend and visiting teacher, Laura, who loaded her kids into the car yesterday and showed up on my doorstep unannounced, just to bring me flowers. . .thank you.

To my friend, Andy, who took the time to remind me tonight that I have been blessed with the opportunity and ability to do amazing things. . . .thank you.

To my Heavenly Father, who loves me so much that He has placed all of these people along my path to help me through this difficult journey. . . thank you.

It has been a HARD day. Truth be told, I could say that about every day for the past year.




I don't share many of those struggles here. I should. The problem is, I am an eternal optimist. When life hands me proverbial lemons, I make lemonade. It can be my greatest strength. It can also be my greatest weakness. Most of the time it is simply a coping mechanism. I share the joys, triumphs and blessings in life, not to paint an unrealistic picture, but because focusing on those things carries me through the daily struggles, heartaches and trials.

The Lord has called me to do hard things. Each day I wake up with a new mountain to climb. The terrain is rough and, at the end of the day I am bloodied and bruised, but the view from the top is so worth the climb. The best part is, I have been given the tools to conquer the mountain. I know who I am, I know why I am here and I know what the Lord has called me to do. When I slip, when I fall, when I can't quite reach that next step, He is there to bear me up and it is usually through the encouraging words of a stranger, the unconditional love of a child, the prayers of a friend or the loving support of family.

So to each and every one of you who has made this journey just a little bit easier; to those of you who have been an instrument in the Lord's hands in bearing me up, I say, "Thank you!" The view from the top is even better when you are surrounded by those who helped you get there.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Memory Lane Monday- To Eternity and Beyond

On Saturday evening I had the privilege of attending the General Relief Society Broadcast. For those who are unfamiliar with "Relief Society," this is the organization within the LDS church for women 18+. The General Relief Society Broadcast occurs once every year and is comprised of inspirational messages from the churches leadership to women worldwide.

This broadcast always occurs the Saturday following our anniversary. A week after Richard and I were married, I attended the broadcast. I do not remember all of the words that were spoken, but I do vividly remember walking out to my car that evening to go home. In the driver's seat were seven, beautiful roses (one for each day we had been married) and a card that read, "Thanks for an amazing first week. Looking forward to the rest of eternity!"

Though I no longer receive roses on the seat of my car when I leave the broadcast each year, I know that I will find a loving, supportive husband at home who has fed, bathed and put the kids to bed, the dishes will be done, and the laundry cycling, because he understands the importance of the lessons I will learn and the spirit that I will bring home. With eight young children who still need a lot of encouragement and assistance, this is no small feat, but he does it willingly because he loves me, then, now and for eternity.

I am blessed to be married to a man who supports and encourages me in all of my endeavors. Richard spends most of his time "behind the scenes" (exactly where he likes to be. . .he holds his anonymity sacred) working hard to support this family that we have built. Very rarely does he receive the praises and accolades that he deserves (he is possibly the hardest working person I have ever met), but it should be noted that I could not do anything that I do without him standing beside me. So to my husband I say, "Thanks for nine amazing years! Looking forward to the rest of eternity!"

The General Relief Society Broadcast was once again, uplifting and inspiring, especially the address given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. While specifically addressing women of the LDS faith, I believe that his address will uplift and inspire ALL daughters of God, regardless of their faith, and I encourage you all to take the time to be inspired by his words.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Service Saturday: Miami Valley Buddy Walk

I love a good "Service Saturday!" This morning, Richard, the kids and I rose before the sun, donned our brightest apparel and ventured down to the Miami Valley Down Syndrome Association Buddy Walk to represent Reece's Rainbow.

Our family (as well as my parents and good friend, Stacey) had the privilege of sharing our passion for orphans with Down syndrome and other special needs with any and all who would hear our message. I was humbled as I watched my children eagerly walk through the crowds of people, passing out information and advocating for the children of Reece's Rainbow, whom they have come to love so dearly.

Of course, the greatest privilege was the opportunity we had to meet so many wonderful people with Down syndrome, young and old, and all of the people who love and support them. There were over 2500 people in attendance and it moved me to tears as I watched this mass of people, this FAMILY (a family that we will soon be a part of as we welcome Benjamin and Thomas into our family), walk in support of their loved ones.

As usual, WE were the ones that were blessed by this opportunity to serve others. We can't wait to participate in the Buddy Walk again next year. . . .this time with Benjamin and Thomas in tow!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

9th Annual Rieben Family Founders Day

Nine years ago today I knelt across an altar from my best friend and I promised him eternity. A new family was created and a new journey began.

We never could have imagined, as we walked out of the temple that day, where that journey would take us, but we knew the Lord had great things in store for us. We moved forward in faith and He has never disappointed!

Most people refer to this day as their anniversary and we did too, until we began welcoming children into our family. We now refer to it as "Family Founders Day"; the birth of our family. It is a celebration of where our journey began and where it has since taken us. It is a day that we celebrate the sacredness, joy and blessings of marriage. We also celebrate each member of our family.

Each Founder's Day we introduce our family theme and scripture for the year. This year our theme will be "Love one another" and the scripture, John 13:34-35:

"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."

We display the flags from each country that our family is comprised of and we create a family flag, displaying our theme for the year, celebrating our diversity and reminding us that, no matter where we came from or how we got here, we are united as a forever family in our love for each other and for the Lord.

We share stories and pictures with our children of how we met, our engagement and our wedding day. We also share the stories of how each of our children joined our family.

We enjoy a great "feast," complete with chocolate cake (and candles of course. . .it is our family's birthday after all) and afterwards we spotlight each family member and share with them all of the things we love about them and why we are blessed to have them in our family.

At the end of the day, we kneel (or sit. . .not all of us have knees, you know) together as a family and offer our thanks to our Heavenly Father for the incredible blessings that he has poured out upon our family, and promise that we will always strive to glorify Him in all that we do and say throughout the coming year.

(What you can do without knees)

Nine years ago today I knelt across an altar from by best friend and promised him eternity. Hand-in-hand we have walked the paths that the Lord has shown us. Through blessings and trials, joy and sorrow, happiness and tears, in partnership with our Father in Heaven, we have created something beautiful; a blessing that we celebrate each and every day!

Happy Founders Day!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Homeschool 101: Your questions answered

Over the course of the past year I have received many requests to share information about our decision to homeschool and how we manage to do so with eight children between the ages of 4-9 (with the added challenge of special needs and English language learning). Rather than cover all of the ins and outs in one post, I have decided to divide and conquer in order to cover each aspect in more depth.

Before I begin this series of posts, I would like to open the floor to my blog readers.

What would you like to know? Ask me your questions, I'll give you my answers. . . . .

Friday's Fabulous Five

1. Yesterday, for practice reading, each of the kids read the BOB book entitled, "OK, Kids." The book begins, "Mom and Dad had ten kids." I chuckled as each of my kids declared, upon reading this, "Wow! That's a lot of kids!" I mean, really, who in their right mind has 10 KIDS!?

2. Yesterday, and again this morning, Lily proactively selected a book and brought it to me to read to her. I do individual story time with my children each day. Most of them initiate this on their own. Lily never has. I have always chosen the book (though I try to encourage her to make the choice) and invited her to read with me. She always enjoys the quality, one-on-one time, but she never initiates it. In addition to initiating story time, she also held on to my finger and moved it along the words as I read while trying to repeat what I was saying. She is making the connection! Have I mentioned that, in the past month, she has also learned to recognize all of her letters and can say almost all of her letter sounds? HUGE! I have been delinquent in sharing information about Lily's struggles and her progress over the past year. I hope to remedy that soon, but please believe me when I say that each sweet, seemingly little, morsel such as this is equivalent to a decadent piece of chocolate cake (gluten-free, of course) where Lily is concerned.

3. Last Friday, Richard and I drove to Cincinnati to complete our USCIS fingerprints, necessary for the approval of our I800A. Personally, I always DREAD this part of the process. USCIS officer's (and most government employees for that matter) are generally not known for their exceptional customer service. It can make rolling out of bed at 5 am so that you can drive through rush hour traffic in order to be fingerprinted for the millionth time in the past 4 years, a really miserable experience. Imagine my delight and surprise when we walked into the office and were greeted with a smile and a very friendly and personable government employee! In addition to the positive experience with USCIS, I welcome any opportunity I am given to spend some quality time ALONE with my husband. . .even if it is sitting in morning rush hour traffic :-)

4. It is currently 65 degrees outside (and has been for most of the week)! FALL! My favorite time of year. Now if I could just channel my inner Mary Poppins, snap my fingers and have my children's summer and fall/winter wardrobes switch themselves, I'd be in heaven!

5. Last Saturday evening, Lukas lost his very first tooth. By Sunday night a second tooth was hanging by a thread. He was hesitant to pull it out, afraid that it would hurt. Despite our best efforts, we could not convince him to let us pull the tooth. Finally, Jacob piped up from the next room, "Think of the money Lukas! We'll be rich!" Richard and I are still laughing about it days later. Unfortunately, the promise of riches did not persuade Lukas to action. That tooth is still resting precariously in Lukas' mouth today :-)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday's Fabulous Five

What the title of this post should actually read is "Friday's Fabulous 40" because I am fairly certain that it has been THAT long since I have reported any happenings, fabulous or otherwise, from the Rieben roost. Let's face it, I am anything but a stellar blogger and the truth is, sometimes life just gets in the way.

It is easy to justify why I simply don't have the time to sit down and blog, but then, in the midst of all of my justifications, I remember why I created this blog in the first place and I am reminded. . . .it isn't about me. It never was. So, it's time to suck it up and make the time, because the fact of the matter is, I believe that it is important to share these experiences and this journey with you.

While it would be impossible to do justice to all of the "fabulous" moments that we have experienced over the past few months, I will once again attempt to redeem myself by sharing a small part of those things with you:

1. On July 8th, Evan celebrated his 7th birthday. Birthday's are always exciting, but this particular birthday marked a significant milestone. Evan has now been a part of our family longer than he was not. In the adoption world, this milestone is monumental.

2. On July 16th, Alayna was baptized. Obviously we are incredibly proud of her for making the decision to follow in the Savior's footsteps, but this day also served to remind us that, when we adopt a child, we are not just providing them with the love of a family, but with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and THAT is the greatest gift that we could ever help to facilitate!

Outside of the church on Alayna's baptism day

3. On July 21st-23rd we borrowed my parent's RV, loaded up the van and headed to Hueston Woods State park (with the heat index at 110) to attend the Bulgarian Adoptees Reunion. It was miserably hot, but we had a great time sweating it out together as a family and getting to know other Bulgarian Adoptive families and their children. That is, until Lily swiped a graham cracker during a group campfire and woke up at 3am covered from head to toe in diarrhea (did I mention that we were CAMPING and that it was 1000 degrees outside). . . .but I digress. This is a post about fabulous things and gluten-induced diarrhea during a camp out is anything but.

Lukas and Maren collecting fossils at Hueston Woods State Park

Forget fossils. Jacob found this snake skin infinitely cooler!

Despite the ridiculous heat, Joshua insisted on skateboarding wherever we went

Alayna showing off her fossil collection

Alayna designed this T-shirt on her own. Love it.

5. On July 29th, the tribe and I piled back into the van and headed for Philadelphia so that Alayna could FINALLY be fitted for her prosthetic. It was truly FABULOUS!

Bonding over mosaics in the clinic waiting room at Shriners

Exam room fun

Alayna's prosthetic fitting! YAY!

6. After our appointments at Shriner's, the kids and I drove to Buena Vista, Virginia where we had the privilege of spending a day with our "Uncle" Sean (who was interning at Southern Virginia University for the summer) and our good friends, Cameron and Heather. We enjoyed the Natural Bridge Safari Park (and spent the next 3 weeks vacuuming animal feed out of the van) and Heather's amazing, homemade chili before we hit the road again to head for Lexington, Kentucky to celebrate my grandma's birthday. Just in case you weren't keeping a tally, that's one mom, eight kids, four days, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Kentucky. We had a great time . . . . and spent the next week sleeping. . . .I wish :-)

Sean and Maren feeding a llama at the Natural Bridge Safari Park


7. On August 6th, Alayna, Lilyana and Alexis were sealed to our family for time and all eternity in the Columbus, Ohio Temple. When a judge declared them our daughters 8 and 14 months ago, they were legally our children. As Richard and I knelt at an alter with our girls, all dressed in white, surrounded by our family and friends, our girls became ours FOREVER.

8. On September 1st we headed back to Philadelphia so that Alayna could try out her test socket. She did an AWESOME job! Her prosthetist and physical therapist were blown away by how well she did and the smile on her face at finally having two feet on the ground was priceless. Of course, I forgot my camera!