Monthly Archives: March 2016

Rusty is a Star!



Wednesday Night was Court of Honor for our boys. I was feeling tapped dry by our Wednesday activities. (Wednesday is a long day for us with co-op and occupational therapy and church activities in the evenings.) But I was determined to rally so that I could go with the rest of the family to church that evening to see Rusty advance in rank and be presented with two new Boy Scout merit badges.

All three boys were able to participate in the flag ceremony: Tyler as a Bear, and Ozzie as a Tenderfoot.

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It was exciting to see the hard work of the troop pay off with many of the boys advancing in rank and earning additional merit badges.

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Rusty earned two new merit badges: The family life and cooking merit badges.

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Then they invited the assistant scoutmasters to the front to recognize the boys who were advancing in rank. Rusty advanced to the rank of Star. I loved watching Toby shake Rusty’s hand, with fatherly pride, in congratulations.

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Rusty then bestowed upon me the mother’s pin, an honor given to each mother when her son advances in rank.

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I’m so proud of my young man. I call him my gentle giant. At age 14 he now towers above his father and I and  I can honestly say…literally and figuratively…that I look up to him. He makes this Momma’s heart glad.

Soon we will be celebrating Ozzie’s achievements as he too grows and advances with the Boy Scouts of America

I’m proud to be the wife of an Eagle Scout and Momma to 3 future Eagle Scouts.



Baking for Make-A-Wish



I believe, as parents, we all desire certain things for our children. We desire happiness for them and good health. We pray that they will have discernment and that they will be wise, and then we pray for their safety for those times when they aren’t so wise.

We hope they will feel loved by us, and others, and most importantly by their Father in Heaven.

We want them to find friends, good friends, that will strengthen them and make them better.

We raise them to have roots, deep roots that will ground them and secure them when the winds of adversity blow, but also raise them to have wings that will allow them to take flight and soar high above the pull of the world.

We work diligently to teach them, and guide them, and help them grow in stature and spirit. We work hard, hoping we aren’t messing them up too badly, as we work to grow good kids, happy kids, healthy kids, strong kids, righteous kids, respectful kids, kind kids.

We struggle to find the balance as we affirm them in hopes of growing secure, confident children without indulging them to the point of handicapping them with the chains of entitlement.

We want our children to be bold in their faith, beliefs, and convictions, but kind and loving to all.

We pray that our sons and daughters know their value as a child of God, but humbly recognize all that they are and all that they have comes from God…not from them.

We want to raise children who are aware of all that exists outside themselves and whose hearts burn with a desire to touch the world… and change the world… and make it a better place.

We hope our sons will develop into gentlemen and our daughter into ladies, with all the lovely attributes those titles inspire.

We want our children to think of others, not because they have to, or because their parents said to, but because they have discovered for themselves the joy that comes from being a blessing to others, from living outside one’s own self focus, and from the practice of observing the needs that exist around them and working to meet those needs.

We want our children to understand that so many of the attributes the world holds up as a measure of worth and a standard of a well lived life (wealth, power, appearance, wit, status, etc.) are fleeting, but doing good, and being kind, and loving others…well, those attributes never lose their shine. Those attributes are the real deal. They are the real measure of a well lived life…of a happy life.

We are blessed to be part of a co-op that shares a similar philosophy.

In addition to the many other benefits we gain from being part of this cooperative learning group (friends, support, traditional school experiences, holiday celebrations and enriching field trips) the kids also have the opportunity to serve.

Each month our co-op takes on a service project, giving the students the opportunity to discover the joy of serving others. One of the favorite service projects for the year is our annual bake sale in which the money raised is donated to the Make-A-Wish foundation. This is a charity close to our co-op’s heart due to two of our co-op families having received a wish granted by this amazing charity.

The co-op kids take ownership of this service project by making treats to sale, as well as by breaking into their own piggy banks to have the funds needed to support this charity by buying treats…and eating them, of course! The kids love this annual event!

Each of my kids knew they wanted to make something to donate to the bake sale, but I knew that Tuesday was going to be busy with five different appointments that day, so we decided that for Monday’s family night we would have a family bake-off in the kitchen so that everyone could get all their treats ready for Wednesday.

The kids all knew what they wanted to make:

Grace- Nutella cupcakes

Molly- Oreo balls

Rusty- No bake bars

Ozzie- Chocolate chip cookies

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Tyler- Baymax cupcakes

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Everyone got to work, claiming a portion of the counter space as their own. Toby helped coordinate the oven usage by running the timers and adjusting the temperatures when the next baked good went it.

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We turned on Disney music and the kids had fun baking, visiting, and singing along as they worked. I answered baking questions and acted as site supervisor for the project. 🙂  It was a really fun way to spend the evening as a family, while also accomplishing a big task on the to-do list.

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Co-op was a blast on Wednesday. They kids loved showing off their cooking creations, as well as checking out (and taste testing) their friends’ baked goods. The little boys loved “shopping” for treats with their own money, and everyone was excited to raise money for the Make-A- Wish foundation!

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Good job Kids!!


Easter at the Homestead


On Saturday we traveled West to my parents’ home in Ohio. We were invited to the Homestead to celebrate Easter. It was a beautiful day for a party.

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When we arrived at the Homestead we spent some time catching up while the kids went outside to play in.

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Tyler setting up a grass buffet for the goats in the fence 🙂


For lunch we enjoyed breaking tradition with yummy take-out from an Italian restaurant in town instead of the usual fare .

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My parents surprised us all with Easter gifts.

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I think it was made quite clear who the favorite child/grandchild is…


Look at MY Easter basket! I love it! Thanks, Mom!

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We also brought plastic eggs so that we could have an egg hunt at the Homestead. Toby and Pop Pop did a great job of hiding all the eggs. Perhaps too good! The hunt got challenging by the time the kids were searching for the last few!

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Then we loaded into Big Bessie for a trip to Hershberger Farm to see the spring babies.

Hershbergers  is an Amish store/ free petting zoo near my parents’ home. It is a favorite stop when we visit my parents, especially in the spring when there are baby critters. This visit was a bit premature, however. There weren’t as many animals as there are later in the season, but we did get to feed some animals, pet the baby goats, and see Big Ben…the biggest horse I have ever seen!

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Next animal on the kids’ Patchwork Farm wish list…a Zebu!

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Tyler loved when the baby goats would suck on his fingers.

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“Hello Big Ben!”


The kids loved petting all the animals. You would think, with us living on a farm, that the appeal of farm animals would diminish with time, but it doesn’t. I am raising five true blue animal lovers.

After spending time with the animals and doing a little window shopping at the adjoining antique store we headed back to the Homestead for root beer floats and yard games. I sat and took pictures as the kids introduced my parents to the game of Ultimate Frisbee.

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Before the sun set on our perfect day we said our good-byes and drove home to prepare for church and Easter the following day.

It was a lovely day!

Next week the girls and I will return to the Homestead for the girls’ birthday weekend with Mimi and Pop Pop. They are looking forward to celebrating their two milestone birthdays with their grandparents and I’m excited to tag along. I am looking forward to making some special memories with my girls and my parents.

Coloring Eggs



On Friday I returned home from my scrapbooking getaway and jumped right into Momma mode with our Easter tradition of egg decorating. The eggs were already hard boiled and the kits were purchased, so all that was left was the fun part…the decorating!

Egg decorating is one of those favorite family traditions that I look forward to as a Momma. I have such sweet memories of my own childhood holiday traditions… that messy togetherness that is found in the acts of carving jack o’ lanterns, decorating Christmas cookies, or coloring Easter eggs…that it is a joy to carry on these sweet traditions with my own children.

We covered the table with plastic as the familiar, memory-evoking smell of vinegar permeated the room. The kids gathered round as we dropped the colored tablets in the cups and watched the color bubble to life.

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Then it was time to begin decorating. It is always fun to watch the creativity that is displayed with these sort of projects. Everyone had ideas of what they wanted to do with their eggs and the results were beautiful.

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As we colored eggs we watched some church Easter videos online and discussed the heart of Easter, touching on the sacrifice, great love, and miracle of the Easter season.

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It was a wonderful way to come together after a few days apart, and a perfect way to begin a fun filled Easter weekend.

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Before we sent the kids to bed that night we let them open a package that had arrived in the mail a few days earlier. Mimi Joy, who is serving a mission in Missouri, sent an Easter package to the kids. They had fun opening up the surprise gift and divvying up the goodies inside.

Then it was off to bed for a good night’s sleep before our Easter celebration with my parents the following day at the Homestead!

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Scrapbooking is a “Work of Heart!”


“Preserve your memories. Keep them well. What you forget, you can never retell.”                    -Louisa May Alcott

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The Scraphappy House


Every year I run away from home for a few days. This annual escape began over a decade ago when my big kids were little tykes. This annual getaway began when a friend who sold Creative Memories started organizing a scrapbooking getaway for her customers at a local Bible college. For 2 1/2 days, and for minimal cost, we would be blessed with the opportunity to spread out our paper and pictures (with no fear of little fingers touching), work uninterrupted (without having to break for diaper changes or meal preparations), and just scrap without interruption. It was a lovely and always a very productive reprieve from responsibility. It became something I look forward to each year. I was able to enjoy a mini vacation for a few days, but could do so without feeling any guilt because while I was away I was using my time to bless my family by recording our family’s history.


I love to scrapbook. I find it to be a delightful melding of photography, story telling, and creative expression…3 things that bring me great joy. Scrapbooking has been an important creative outlet for me over the years (although less so now that I have the blog that meets some of that need.) I also have an inner drive and passionate desire to record my family’s story. Since I was a young girl I have been a journal writer. Through scrapbooking I have been able to combine the need to record our life’s journey with my love of photography. Unfortunately, being a wife and Momma doesn’t allow me as much time as I’d like or need to stay on top of keeping everyone’s scrapbooks current. This is another reason these annual scrapbooking weekends became such a blessing. Over the course of a few days I can scrap a year’s worth of memories.


A few years ago my friend who planned our annual scrapbooking weekend was in a position that she couldn’t continue with her annual scrapping weekend. Unwilling to give up this annual retreat some of my scrapbooking friends started looking for an alternative location and in their search discovered The Scraphappy House, a house set-up and rented out for groups just like ours.

There are four bedrooms that can sleep up to 10 guests.

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The garden room

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The Posh Room

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The memory wall, where the owner posts previous guest book entries and pictures.


There is a fully functional kitchen and dining area for the abundance of yummy food that is prepared over our three day visit!

There is a large and sunny living room that is supplied with a long table for each guest, rolling chairs, lamps for extra lighting,  a TV and supply of movies to watch while working, and scrapbooking supplies available for purchase.

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We left on Tuesday and when we arrived at our “Happy Place” where we were greeted with homemade scones awaiting us on the stovetop and welcome gifts of scrapbooking supplies and a pair of fun socks for each of us girls.

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A FUN gift!

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How it looks after we have made ourselves at home.

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My station…unpacked and ready to scrapbook!


The next three days were spent working, talking, laughing and resting. It was just what my body and soul were crying for…a chance to rest and create. I was determined to use this time away to give my struggling muscles the chance to rest and strengthen while away from my typical daily responsibilities.

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I had three projects I brought to work on, and worked on one each day: Our houseboat vacation scrapbook (I was thrilled to complete this scrapbook of our special vacation), updating Ozzie’s scrapbook, and updating Tyler’s scrapbook. I was pleased with as much as I was able to get done, knowing the struggle it would be on my eyes with the double vision I have been dealing with lately.

Our Scraphappy experience was wonderful…once again. We laughed a lot, worked a lot and even watched a few seasons of “Call the Midwives” on Netflix while scrapbooking. (PS- I’m hooked on this new found TV treasure!)

It was another wonderful scrapbooking getaway. Thank you Scraphappy House! We will see you next year!

IMG_9663 (2)Signing the guestbook before we lock up and leave…

IKEA adventures


This past week was a blessed one with much rest, renewal, family time, holiday traditions, and grateful hearts as we celebrated the gift of our Savior during the week leading up to Easter.

Our full week began on Monday with a trip to IKEA for family night.

For those who are not familiar with IKEA stores, here is a brief overview:

“Ikea is a Swedish company known for its affordable, modern furniture. The company specializes in compact styles, usually assembled by the purchaser at home. With nearly 300 stores worldwide, the store has gained a faithful following of budget-hunting customers, and even entered pop culture.

In the 1940s, the company sold small home accessories and trinkets throughout Sweden. Eventually, the business expanded to furniture making, originally sold by mail order. In 1963, the first store opened outside of Sweden. The brand quickly spread throughout Scandinavia, with stores in Denmark and Norway. Over the next few decades, the store became popular throughout Europe, and opened locations in America in 1985.

As of 2008, the company had stores in 36 countries. Germany has the most locations, with 43 stores throughout the country, while the United States is close behind with 34. With its bold, blue and yellow mega-stores, Ikea has flourished for a variety of reasons, including price, style, and sheer volume of products.

The typical layout of an Ikea store includes one or more showroom floors for large pieces of furniture and various room sets. Small departments, such as lighting and textiles, are scattered throughout the departments. The bottom floor of most stores includes a large warehouse section where boxes of the displayed furniture are available for customer selection. The lower floor also features check-out lines and a section of Swedish imported food available for purchase.”

We are lucky enough to have an IKEA in Pittsburgh and as a newly married couple it was our go-to place for inexpensive, creative solutions for furnishing our home. What I like about IKEA’s products, in addition to exceptional prices, is the creative design elements. Much of their inventory is multifunctional and is designed for smaller spaces,offering creative solutions for organization…

Thus making it a perfect place for our school bus conversion project!

(As well as a perfect place for the little boys to release some pent up energy!)


Toby has now finished many of the cabinets in the bus, including the kitchen (he just needs to add doors) so now is the time to start shopping for organizational tools for small space living.


The kitchen is going in.


The kitchen sits across from the boys’ bunk bed.

 The space available in a converted school bus for 7 people to live comfortably for a month is limited. We need to be creative as we figure out where we will store clothes for 7 people, food, school supplies and books (since we will be homeschooling on the road.)

Even problems like:

“Where will toothbrushes go?”

“Where will shoes be stored when taken off?”

“Where do we hang 7 wet towels?”

“Where do we store the girls’ futon bedding during the day?”

and “Where do we fit a dirty laundry basket or a trash can?”

are some of the problems we are seeking solutions for,

so it was a perfect time to spend the evening at IKEA to get some ideas.

The big kids hadn’t been to IKEA in years and the little boys had never been. It was a grand adventure for all involved. Toby pushed me in the wheelchair, while the big kids took turns pulling our rolling shopping bag,


The little boys ran from showroom to showroom, pretending it was their “home.”



Trying out chairs!


“Daddy, come find me!”


Tyler found his favorite chair!


Everyone picked out their future dream rooms as we walked around looking for items for the bus.


Gracie’s dream bedroom.


Rusty’s dream bedroom.


We had great success. We found some great organizational items, hardware for hanging the bus curtains and the curtains that will hang across each of the bunk beds, a TINY sink for the bus bathroom, among other things. It was a successful visit!

And a perfect adventure for family night!


It was a Gatsby sort of night



Last evening was the annual Spring Formal for the youth. My kids invited Oliva, Tatum and Lucas to join them, so after driving five hours home from our Philadelphia getaway, the kids began getting ready for the dance.

The theme of this year’s Spring Formal was 1920’s Red Carpet. It was such a fun theme to dress up for and one all the kids embraced with enthusiasm, especially my flapper girls!


All the kids looked great!

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The dance was a hit. Gracie declared it the “best Spring Formal ever!” There were waiters carrying around food on trays, a popcorn bar, and an Italian flavored soda bar for the kids to enjoy.

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The church gym was transformed into a 1920’s dance hall with twinkling lights, stars, a photo booth and a movie screen that alternated shots of the kids dancing on the dance floor with old 1920’s dance clips.

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Gracie said even the music that was played was a nice mix of contemporary songs, 1920’s songs, and slow dance songs.


It was a magical, Gatsby sort of night.

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National Honor Society- a special night!


“No person was ever honored for what he (she) received. Honor has been the reward for what he (she) gave.” – Calvin Coolidge

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Last night was the big event that we drove to Philadelphia for. It was the National Honor Society induction ceremony for 21st Century Cyber Charter School. Last year at this time Toby, Gracie and I were driving out here for Gracie to be inducted into NHS. This year her best friend Olivia was being inducted and Grace was invited to be the NHS honorary speaker at the ceremony.

After our day at Hershey we arrived back at the hotel to dress up for this special evening that was being held at the Downingtown Country Club.

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(Toby stayed back with our four kids and Olivia’s two siblings, taking them to dinner and then to the hotel pool to swim for the evening.)

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A sister picture before we left 🙂

 The evening began with an opportunity to mingle and greet teachers (and the other students) before we had to sit down for dinner.

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The girls’ mural club teacher…one of their favorite teachers!

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Gracie’s new special ed teacher and Gracie’s best friend are…TWINS!!

 Dinner was delicious. Grace and I both had the pesto salmon dish with asparagus spears. YUM!

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After dinner the evening progressed through the program:

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The program began with the inductee procession. It was so much fun to see Olivia walk up to the stage.

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After the opening remarks it was Gracie’s turn to speak.

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This is the speech she prepared and delivered:

“As Mr. Dutcher said, I am Grace McCleery. I am in 11th grade and am 18 years old. I have been cyber-schooled ever since 1st grade but have been in 21st century for 3 years now. I am the oldest of five children. My family and I live north of Pittsburgh on a farm where we raise a great array of animals including tons of rabbits, an alpaca, a Guinea Hen, and even a potbelly pig named Harley Davidson. Some of my hobbies include painting, photography, and collecting quotes. One of my favorite quotes is, “She believed she could, so she did.” Since hearing this quote it has since stuck with me. It has become somewhat a life motto for me. I believe this quote applies to everyone.

NHS is a great honor. It is an honor in many ways, but to me it is an honor because it means that you have tried your very best and believed in yourself, which is not always the easiest thing to do.

            I would like to talk about how 21st Century Cyber Charter School helps students gain and develop the attributes of scholarship, character, leadership, and service, the four pillars of National Honors Society.

The first pillar of National Honors Society is scholarship. 21st Century Cyber Charter School encourages good scholarship in many ways. The teachers at this school are always asking if you need help, checking up on you, and encouraging you to do your best. They want you to succeed! They know that you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it. This further helps us as students believe in ourselves and do things we never believed we could before. I used to have a teacher in the school named Mr. Dolan. He has recently moved away. Mr. Dolan was the reason I joined NHS myself! School has never been easy for me. I have dyslexia so learning takes lots of time and effort. I never believed I could ever qualify for NHS because I always believed I wasn’t smart enough. Mr. Dolan told me that I could do anything I put my mind to. He encouraged me and because of him I gained  courage in my own abilities. It was because of this that I have done many things. The teachers in this school encourage us and help us believe in our own abilities.

The second pillar of National Honor Society is character. 21st Century Cyber Charter School helps students gain character. This school encourages students to be themselves. It does this by encouraging creative freedom and personality within students’ work. There is no judgment or criticism for being you. I love this quote by Dr. Seuss, which says, “Be who you are and say what you mean because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” This school encourages us to have great character but also to be our own character.

The third pillar of National Honors Society is leadership. There are many leadership opportunities within this school. Daily we have the chance to help lead within live classes, work sessions, and many other ways. There are many activities like student-led clubs in which students have the chance to be leaders and show leadership qualities. Recently my best friend and I actually started our own student-led club within the school. We started it because we wanted a challenge and we wanted to get to know our classmates better. It turned out to be a great opportunity for leadership. We have learned that being a leader isn’t always the easiest, but it is always rewarding. For NHS we have the opportunity to serve and lead as a result of our required service hours. For my service hours I have been doing a form of tutoring. I have been teaching my 9-year-old brother music at our co-op for 3rd grade music class. I have had to learn how to be a leader and how to teach him so that he understands what I am teaching. This is not always the easiest task. First of all he is a 9 year old and his priorities are not exactly what mine are. Secondly he is a little boy so he would rather be wrestling around or making a mess than learning what crescendo means. Lastly he is ADHD so he has a very short attention span and cannot sit still for more than 5 min. at a time… which is why he is not here this evening! But it is because of me learning how to teach him and lead him that I know I will be well prepared whenever I become a teacher in the future.

The fourth pillar of National Honor Society is service. Although this school has students all over PA they greatly try to incorporate service into the school atmosphere. For example they have had blood drives and other activities to encourage service. As an NHS member I was required to plan, create, organize, and execute a service activity. For each member this “big service project” is different. It is different because we each plan it ourselves. For mine I wanted to incorporate my goal of being a teacher, so I decided to have a storybook day for children in my community. I helped them learn why reading is so important. It was because the school and NHS challenging me that I was able to serve my community and help many children discover the joys of reading.

National Honor Society is an honor now but will continue to be a blessing in our lives past graduation as we move into our future. We will be able to take the four pillars of National Honor Society: Scholarship, Leadership, Character, and Service and apply them to our future lives. 

I would like to conclude with a quote by Roald Dahl. It says, “ Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world.” I believe that the National Honor Society is helping us find that power within ourselves and channel that power, because they know that

We can change the world!”

She did an amazing job, so poised and confident.  I couldn’t be prouder of the lady she had become!

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It was then time to watch Olivia be inducted into NHS and celebrate her accomplishments.

It was a very special evening for both girls!

Congratulations Grace and Olivia!!



A “Sweet” way to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick’s Day is a favorite holiday with the McCleery clan…I know, you can’t imagine why. 😉

In particular for Miss Grace who will tell you that St. Patrick’s day is her favorite holiday.

This year we celebrated in a different way. Instead of a corned beef and cabbage day we celebrated in a “sweeter” way!

We are still in Philadelphia. Thursday night was the National Honor Society induction ceremony for Gracie’s school that she was invited to speak at. This big event didn’t begin until 5:30 pm, which left the day open for fun and frolicking. The Hudaks had arrived in town (since Olivia was one of the students being inducted into NHS) so we made plans to spend the day with them.

Our day began in the hotel lobby where both families met to enjoy the complimentary breakfast offered by Comfort Suites.

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At breakfast we planned out our day and the surprise we had for the teachers.

The 6 oldest Hudak and McCleery kids attend 21st Century Cyber Charter School, located in Downingtown, PA. We decided to swing by the school office that the teachers all work out of and surprise them with donuts as a thank you for all their hard work. Wednesday marked the end of the quarter so the teachers were spending Thursday grading papers and assignments.

We drove over to Dunkin Donuts to purchase 4 dozen donuts and then wrapped them with a bow and a tag that read,

“We DO-NUT know what we would have done without all your help this quarter. Thanks for being such great teachers!”

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We arrived at the school building, which was only about a 10 minute drive from our hotel, and were buzzed into the front office.

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The secretary paged some of the teachers to come down so the kids could give them the donuts and say, “hello.” Molly had also made homemade lemon bars before we left on our trip for Mr. Winterode , her learning coach, whom she adores.

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It was fun seeing the teachers and letting Toby and Woody check out the school where their children attend.

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In the background is the mural that Gracie and Olivia  helped paint last year

After saying our goodbyes, so that the teachers could get back to grading, we climbed in our vehicles to drive to Hershey, PA where we spent the day.

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We spent the afternoon at Chocolate World until we had to return home for the NHS dinner and ceremony. The first hour was spent walking around the store and letting the kids shop, using the piggy bank funds they brought from home.

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Grace helping Tyler decided how to spend the cash that was burning a hole in his pocket.

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Rusty, ready to check out. I think he is in heaven! 🙂

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Tyler used a dollar of his allowance to surprise Olivia with a treat.

Then it was onto the:

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The tour ended with a complimentary Kit Kat bar.

Then we parted ways with the Hudaks for a while.

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They signed up for the “Create you own Candy bar” tour while we headed to the 4D movie.

 It began in a holding room where we received our 3D glasses and were greeted by staff. They asked the kids their names and a little bit about themselves. We didn’t realize this information was going to become part of the interactive show.

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Then the theatre doors were opened and we were seated. It was an adorable 3D cartoon starring Hershey, Reese and Kiss as they tried to solve the mystery in the candy factory. As the show went on the cartoon character, Reese, would make comments to the audience, personalizing it for the kids. For example he wished Grace a happy 18th birthday and yelled out for help from Tyler and Oswald (the name Ozzie gave the worker who introduced herself to him while we were waiting.)  🙂

The movie was a 4D production, which meant that we weren’t only watching a 3D movie, but that other interactive features occurred in the audience as the movie progressed. Smells would be pumped into the room as candy characters appeared, our chairs would vibrate when the characters ran, water was squirted into the audience, and streamers fell from the ceiling at the end of the movie, as the characters celebrated. It was a really cute show and all the kids LOVED it!

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It was a “SWEET” way to spend St. Patrick’s Day!