Monthly Archives: May 2018

A Visit with Brandon

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Some of you may remember Brandon.

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Brandon is one of Tyler’s 4 biological siblings.

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We met Brandon for the first time 4 years ago when we gathered all of Tyler’s biological siblings together for a reunion at Patchwork Farm. After many years of being separated and losing contact with each other, they were finally reunited.

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At that time, Brandon was the last sibling remaining in foster care and the hurt he carried was evident in his countenance. At the time we inquired about Brandon and whether we could be considered a possible placement, only to discover that his foster parents were in the process of adopting Brandon. We were thrilled with this wonderful news. Brandon was finally getting the forever home he deserved to have.

At our next reunion the affect of being chosen and finally having his forever home was evident on his face. He was a different child and the joy radiated from him.

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Fast forward 6 months and after months of not hearing from Brandon or his adoptive parents I received the heartbreaking news that Brandon’s adoptive mother (of 9 months) had been taken from him by cancer. My heart broke for Brandon as I mourned the loss of Tina and wept at the cruelty of this earthly life for a child that waited so long for a mother only to have her snatched away.

Over the next few years we struggled to remain in contact with Brandon. His adoptive father became sick and was in and out of the hospital which led to Brandon being moved frequently through foster homes and residential facilities. We would call and send letters and not get any response. We weren’t sure where Brandon was but Tyler continued to petition us to seek Brandon out.

(Of all Tyler’s siblings Brandon is the one Tyler feels most connected to. I think this is a natural consequence of the two of them being the last of his siblings to be adopted. Years after the other children were settled into their forever homes Tyler and Brandon continued their court-ordered monthly visits as wards of the state.)

Finally, out of the blue, we received a call from a woman who  had been assigned Brandon’s case. Once again Brandon finds himself in limbo as his adoptive father is dying and has only been given months to live. This social worker is working to create a network of support for Brandon. She is seeking out family (both biological and adoptive) that can be a network of support for Brandon, and Brandon gave her our names. She reached out and asked if we would like to have contact with Brandon, would like to be a source of support, and what we would like that relationship to look like.

I explained our situation to her and shared with her the transition we are currently navigating as Ozzie returns home from residential care and we work to find stability with this transition. I expressed our desire to have contact with Brandon and work on reconnecting him with Tyler but couldn’t commit to anything more (ie: weekend visits, etc.) until we evaluated where Ozzie and the other children were emotionally following Ozzie’s return home.

It is with baby steps we are moving forward as we try and assess what our role in Brandon’s life is supposed to be and try to hear God amidst the noise in my head.

Last Friday Tyler and Brandon had their first visit after almost 3 years apart. I wish I could adequately convey the emotions felt when Tyler saw Brandon pull up with his social worker and climb out of the car. Tyler raced across the playground, enveloping Brandon in rib-crushing bear hug.

I was concerned that Tyler would struggle with the difference in Brandon’s looks from the brother he remembers. At age 16 Brandon looks very different from the 13-year-old Tyler had in his head, but that didn’t deter him at all. They picked up right where they left off and it was as though no time had passed at all.

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Brandon fell into the role of big brother seamlessly and it was sweet to watch their interactions.

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They spent an hour and a half playing baseball and loved every minute of it.

When it was time for Brandon to leave both boys struggled to say good-bye. I am sure both were wondering if and when they would see each other again. With a history like the one they’ve endured as children of the system, good-byes can feel final, because their history shows them that good-byes often are, but we reassured them that another visit was planned in a week which made leaving the park easier on both of them.

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I am not sure what the future holds for Brandon but we petition you for prayers. It seems so unjust that one child should have to endure all the heartbreak Brandon has had to endure in his short 16 years on earth.

Please pray for him.

 

An End of the Year Picnic

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Yesterday was our co-op’s end of the year picnic.

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With the finish line so close it was nice to step away from the frantic pace at home, as everyone pushes hard to finish strong, and enjoy a picnic with friends.

Tyler is 2 days away from being a 6th grader, while the three oldest have one more week to turn in all their assignments before officially being done with school. Come next Friday I will be a momma to a 12th, 11th, 8th, and 6th grader, as well as a college Sophomore…

Can someone please hit the brakes and slow down this spinning ball that keeps speeding around the sun?!

I always enjoy our co-op end of the year picnic. It celebrates the conclusion of a year’s worth of effort and hints of the lazy days of summer that will soon be arriving.

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Wednesday was a crazy day for us as I put hundreds of miles on Big Bessie driving down to Wexford for an AWESOME TBRI training session with Ryan and Kayla North, back to home to pick up kids for the picnic, north to New Castle to meet up with our co-op friends, back down to Wexford for Tyler’s dyslexia tutoring,  north again to Zelienople for horse therapy, and then Bessie headed south once again for Scouts and youth activities.

It was a FULL day so I was grateful we managed to carve in time to meet our friends at the park for a picnic.

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It was a breath of fresh air…literally!

The kids had a wonderful time picnicking and playing with friends while the mommas enjoyed some uninterrupted visiting.

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It was a perfect way to end co-op. Now we just have to keep pushing hard to end the school year equally strong.

The finish line is in sight!

One week to go!!

YSA Campout

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In my last post I shared the end of one era of life…

Today I share the beginning of another.

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Grace has just completed her first year of college and as part of that transition she now attends church down in Pittsburgh with other 18-30 year old young adults. She has loved it and has found a great group of friends in the process.

Last weekend we were able to finally meet some of these friends in the flesh… friends that Grace has spoken of with fondness…when the YSA ward had an activity at our home.

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A few months ago Gracie shared that her and two friends were throwing around the idea of a group campout. After getting the ok from their bishop they began planning. The first order of business was finding a location for their campout. Grace asked if we could host the event and planning began.

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In the week leading up to the activity the family pitched in to prepare Patchwork Farm for the onslaught of visitors…

Mulching was completed…(Happy Mother’s Day to me!)

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The bus was cleaned out in preparation for overnight visitors and moved to a more accessible location in the yard.

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In the process of charging the battery Toby discovered this nursery under the hood:

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The grass was mowed and the volleyball net was erected,

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And before we knew it Friday had arrived!

Gracie’s friends began showing up around 6:00, with Olivia arriving early to set up her family’s two tents that she graciously shared with the group.

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Food for the event arrived soon after that and cutting and dicing for dinner began while Rusty and Tyler got the fire going in preparation for foil dinners.

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By 6:30 the driveway was filling up with vehicles.

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Friends continued to file in as dinner was served and games commenced.

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Following dinner there was a spiritual devotional offered fireside…

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And then the remainder of the night was spent singing around the fire (accompanied by guitar) and playing night games.

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The next morning a “create your own” oatmeal bar was laid out on the picnic table and everyone got a warm and filling breakfast in their bellies before they headed out for their hike.

Per Gracie’s suggestion, they headed to Buttermilk Falls for their hike.

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This little gem is only minutes from our house but is awesome to experience. Everyone had a good time exploring the waterfall and the climbing rocks that makes this park one of our favorite places to visit.

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When I start to feel sad about a chapter of life coming to a close it is nice to be reminded that new chapters await and they can be equally blessed.

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So grateful Gracie has found this group of friends!

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The End of an Era

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It began 13 years ago. We were attending a start of the school year picnic. It was our second year 0f cyber schooling and I finally felt I had enough of a handle on the ins and outs of schooling at home that we were beginning to search out additional enrichment opportunities.

It was that need for socialization and adult company that pushed me to leave my home on a Friday afternoon and drive to a picnic an hour away with a 3, 5, and 7 year old in tow.

Tarina was the first to approach me. She introduced herself and told me that her and another mom were starting a learning cooperative group in New Castle and if I thought I might be interested she could take my name and number. Who knew that the decision to show up at that first co-op meeting would change our lives forever and bring an abundance of blessings to our home-schooling experience.

Tarina has since passed away. I often think of her, reflecting on the great blessing she was in my life, not only in the friendship I enjoyed with her and her family, but in the way she has blessed our life (and so many others) because of her decision to start our little co-op.

This past week marked the end of an era.

Our co-op has gone through its share of transitions. It has called two different churches, “home.” It has evolved from being a group heavy with preschoolers and elementary aged kids to being mostly high school students. It began with all the families being PA Virtual families and using the k12 curriculum to now being a hodgepodge of cyber schools and curriculums.

As the years have passed our numbers have ebbed and flowed as new families joined and founding families moved on, with so many dear friends made along the way.

We watched as students graduated and others moved away, all while trying to hold what was left of our little co-op together. This year, however, the decision was made to disband what has been an integral part of our week for 13 years and a huge part of our schooling experience.

We have simply “out-grown” its original vision and original purpose.

In those early years it was an enormous blessing, as it allowed our kids to be taught by someone other than mom, socialize with friends, participate in traditional school experiences like holiday parties and talent shows, all while accomplishing a HUGE amount of work in those four hours every week.

By teaching science, history, art and music together we were able to leave co-op with 12 lessons done for the week (per child) and an emotionally-filled bucket after getting in some much needed friend and mommy time.

Now our co-op looks much different.

We now only have one grade level that functions in the traditional way developed by our co-op, with all other students working independently in a study hall setting. We no longer come to co-op to get lessons done, but rather to feed our souls as we connect with our “tribe.” Because of this evident shift in our co-op, a decision was made to retire the New Castle Star Co-op and instead meet our families’ evolving needs (which are primarily social rather than academic) in a different way. We will still be getting together with this group we love but it will be less frequent, less structured, and more of an enrichment group rather than an academic co-op.

Wednesday, May 9th was our last co-op ever. I spent the day trying to keep things light and not drown under the emotions of loss and finality I was feeling. The kids handled it better than I. They understood that we weren’t saying good-bye to this group of special people. They know we will still see each other, but for me the knowledge that we won’t be returning to this building that created so many memories for my family left me feeling sad.

We were the last to leave the building after taking some final photos for this year’s yearbook.

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I walked from room to room, checking to make sure nothing had been left behind and making sure all the lights had been turned off, and I allowed myself a moment to reminisce and reflect on the memories created in each room…

Memories of Miss Tauni sparking Ozzie’s love of history.

Memories of Tyler and Simon’s first class where more time was spent trying to lure those wild 6-year-olds out from under the table than actually teaching. 🙂

Memories of Rusty working with Miss Julie to learn sign language as a little boy so he could communicate with others during his struggle with Selective Mutism.

I remembered with fondness the class of students I worked with year after year, teaching Rusty, James, and Katie science through hands on experiments.

Then there we memories of Miss Molly’s class as they connected in a special way over Miss Kathy’s science experiments, Miss Corrina’s history lessons, and art with Miss Lana.

As I stood in the doorway of Gracie’s classroom (which has since evolved into the study hall room) I couldn’t help but think of the special people that had taught my oldest daughter and what special friends they became to me. Love you Ginger and Wendy!

I walked into the gym and visions of so many wonderful memories flashed before my eyes…

Memories of trick-or-treating, Christmas parties, Minute-to-Win-It games, our Valentine’s day glow stick party, our walk to raise money for Miss Tarina’s battle with cancer and years of bake sales held to raise money for The Make-A-Wish foundation.

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Rusty walked in, smirking at my sentimentality.

I know it is just a place but it is the place where my children grew up and discovered who they are, and for that reason a piece of my heart will always belong to the New Castle Star Co-op.

Thank You for the memories, dear friends…

Its been a beautiful season of life!

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Visiting Seminary Ridge

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“Located 50 miles northwest of Baltimore, the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was the site of the largest battle ever waged during the American Civil War. Fought in the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in a hallmark victory for the Union “Army of the Potomac” and successfully ended the second invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee’s “Army of Northern Virginia.”
Historians have referred to the battle as a major turning point in the war, the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It was also the bloodiest single battle of the war, resulting in over 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured or missing. To properly bury the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg, a “Soldiers Cemetery” was established on the battleground near the center of the Union line.
It was here during the dedication ceremony on November 19, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln spoke of “these honored dead…” and renewed the Union cause to reunite the war-torn nation with his most famous speech, the “Gettysburg Address.”

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And it was here we joined 21st Century Cyber Charter School students from across the state for our school-wide end of the year field trip.

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Throughout the school year our cyber school offers outings across the state. These outings allow students to connect face to face with other students and their teachers. Since the student body is spread across the entire state of Pennsylvania these outings occur regionally, allowing every student access to at least some of the school’s outings. The exception to that rule occurs every May when all the students, teachers, and 21st Century families come together for one big field trip. It is always very well orchestrated and is the highlight of our school year. In the past our school has taken us to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mount Vernon, and Annapolis, Maryland.

This year the school took us to Gettysburg.

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As a way to encourage attendance and lessen the financial strains on their families, 21st Century charters buses to pick up families from various corners of the state and bus them to the field trip. This means an early morning for those students on the western side of the state but there are rarely complaints from my crew as they find it to be a grand adventure waking up at 4:00 am, boarding a bus with all their friends, and taking a road trip across Pennsylvania.

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By 9:30 am buses from each corner of the state rolled into the parking lot at Seminary Ridge and unloaded.

 

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The 21st Century Students from our local co-op.

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Tyler and Ozzie sporting the t-shirts from this year’s field trip and Ozzie’s teacher popping in to say “hello!” We LOVE Mrs. Scarpignato!

 

Students, families and teachers were split into four different groups and were given colored wristbands to guide them through the schedule of the day ahead. Each group was 25+ people strong and the amount of preparation and planning that went into this event was evident in how smoothly our large group moved through the activities of the day…much like a well-oiled machine.

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Our day was broken up into 45 minute chunks with 15 minutes set aside for moving from one activity to another. It was a perfect set-up as it allowed the kids to really delve into the history of Seminary Ridge in a meaningful way without losing their attention.

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Our day began with the kids in the blue group stepping into the shoes of a Civil War soldier, quite literally, with field training.

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Each student was given a harversack bearing the name of an actual Civil War soldier. On the outside of their harversack was their name, age, occupation, and their status as a confederate or union soldier.

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Using the information on their harversack they went around and introduced themselves allowing the gentleman who was leading the exercise to illustrate the wide variety of men who came together to fight side by side during the Civil War.

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Once introductions were sufficiently made, training began. The students began by learning the basics of standing at attention and marching.

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Once they could march seamlessly as a group then they were issued their riffles for war and guided through the motions and movements of various commands.

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The kids really enjoyed this hands-on activity and the soldier leading the exercise did a wonderful job of bringing a sense of reality and connection to something that had previously been only words in a history book.

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When our time at that station was done the students were allowed to open their harversack and pull a paper from within that revealed what happened to the soldier they were representing for that exercise. It made it all the more personal to discover their fate as they read what happened to the soldier whose name they bore.

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The next station we visited was the medical tent where students learned about the important role of field doctors during the Civil War.

Once again they were each given a biography of a soldier who was injured on the battlefield and were able to learn about how that particular injury would have been addressed and treated at that time.

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They quickly realized that the risk of death by infection was higher than deaths actually caused by the injuries themselves.

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They also gained a lot of respect for the tenacity and strength of those Civil War soldiers as they read the accounts of bullets to the brain and amputated limbs, only to read that soon after being patched up from injuries that would land you in an ICU ward today, these men would be back on the battle field again as soon as they could walk and carry a gun.

The shock over conditions at Civil War field hospitals only escalated when they were introduced to the surgical tools and procedures of surgery during that time in history.

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During lunch break we enjoyed a stroll around the grounds of Seminary Ridge before joining our group for the next activity of the day.

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Following lunch it was our group’s turn to tour the Seminary Ridge Museum. To make the experience more interactive and engaging we were each given a scavenger hunt to complete. The answers to the questions on the sheet were found throughout the four floors of the museum.

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As we searched for answers, we became acquainted with the history of Seminary Ridge and its significance to the Battle of Gettysburg.

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“The museum touched on three main topics: the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, care given to wounded soldiers at Schmucker Hall, and moral questions from the Civil War era.”

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Our last activity of the day was an interactive tour of the grounds. The historian that led our walking tour guided us through the events that occurred on the grounds around the seminary building on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg.

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Role in the Battle of Gettysburg

The Seminary building served as a lookout on 1 July 1863, the first day of battle. From the cupola, Brig. Gen. John Buford both observed the opening of the battle to the west of Seminary Ridge and witnessed the arrival of the I Corps under Maj. Gen. John Reynolds marching to his relief from the south. By the late afternoon, the Union lines on McPherson’s Ridge, west of the seminary, were forced back to Seminary Ridge by Confederate troops. Before the troops could dig in on Seminary Ridge, a further attack by Pender’s Division broke the line. The I Corps streamed across Seminary Hill and through the town of Gettysburg, covered by a delaying action on the grounds by the famed Iron Brigade. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia occupied the seminary grounds and held them until the Army’s retreat on 4 July 1863.

There was no further infantry combat on the seminary grounds, but it continued to play a prominent role in the battle. The seminary building had begun to be used as a field hospital for soldiers of both armies during the first day, and this continued throughout the engagement and after the battle was over. Artillery was posted on the hill and participated in action against Union artillery on Culp’s and Cemetery Hills on July 2nd and 3rd.

Confederate troops also used the seminary building cupola as a lookout.

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The day came to a close all too soon as students said good-bye to their friends and teachers and boarded the busses for the long haul home.

It was another amazing field trip with 21st Century Cyber Charter School!

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A New Sandwich Artist

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24 years ago I donned the green and yellow uniform of a Subway sandwich artist and loved it. We now have another sandwich artist in the family. The family legacy marches on with Grace now wearing green and yellow with pride and Molly soon to join her.

A few weeks ago Grace and Molly’s boss at the Pretzel Factory called a meeting, something that occurs quarterly. The girls showed up expecting the usual news and reminders but were blindsided with the unexpected announcement that the Chippewa Philly Pretzel Factory would be closing in seven days. Everyone was shocked. With only a week’s notice the girls began considering other employment options right away. Grace, who depends on her bi-monthly paycheck to cover her tuition costs was especially shook up by the lack of notice.

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Gracie’s pretzel creation on her last day of work.

The following day we visited our local Subway for a fun lunch treat. We were greeted by our favorite ladies, two gals from whom we have been buying subs from for the last decade. They have watched my kids grow up. As we moved through the line I spontaneously asked if they were hiring. I knew the close proximity and the employees who worked there would make for an awesome work environment. I explained that 24 hours prior Molly and Grace received news that their place of business was going out of business and they were looking for work. We were handed applications with our wrapped subs and headed out to the van. As we pulled from the parking lot we saw a flash of green running towards us as Teresa, one of our favorite Subway employees, came running across the parking lot with paper and pencil in hand. I rolled down the window and she explained that she had just talked to the manager on the phone and Laurie wanted to hire “both those sweet girls” and told Teresa to get their contact information. Evidently the years of conversations held over the glass display case with Molly and Grace left an impression.

A few hours later Grace received a call from the manager informing her that she was hired and could start training next week. She also let Grace know that Molly also had the job but would have to wait 6 weeks to begin working (after another employee left for school.)

It was a powerful lesson in trusting God’s plan for our lives. 24 hours earlier things were looking bleak and both girls were struggling with disappointment and anxiety over lost income, and then a simple stop at our local Subway turned bad news to great news.

It just goes to show that God always has a plan, even when we can’t make sense of it, and His plan is always far better than anything we could orchestrate ourselves.

When one door closes another one will open,

and sometimes that door opens to the smell of fresh baked bread…

“Welcome to Subway!”

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Turkey Hill Experience

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On Tuesday, following Molly’s recognition banquet at the Downingtown office of her cyber school, we began our trek home. The initial plan was to stop in Hershey, home of Hershey’s Chocolate World. Ozzie decided he wanted to treat Molly to a special shared experience with his own money. He had decided on the “Create Your Own Candy Bar” experience at Chocolate World but when I called to reserve tickets we found out that it was currently closed for renovations. Quickly we scrambled to come up with a Plan B.

As I searched for things to do along our route back home I stumbled across a fun little gem near Lancaster, Pa. Created by Turkey Hill ice cream, the Turkey Hill Experience is a fun, interactive museum all about the creation of Turkey Hill ice cream (and their tea and lemonade drink line.) As I read about the experience online both Ozzie and Molly thought it sounded fun. When we read that there were unlimited ice cream samples offered at the end of the tour, they were sold…

So, off we drove toward ice cream heaven.

The Turkey Hill Experience is housed in a beautiful, old brick warehouse.

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As we walked in we were greeted by a giant cow…a whimsical clue to what the experience would hold.

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We were the youngest visitors there by many decades, with the only other visitors consisting of a senior tour bus.

The experience is set up to take visitors through each step of the ice cream creation process.

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The tour began with a short video about the history of Turkey Hill Ice Cream and an introduction to the ice cream making process.

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Then we stepped into the world of ice cream creation…

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Step 1: It all begins with the cow!

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Step 2: Making sure the milk meets the standards of Turkey Hill.

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Step 3: Getting creative…the “Create Your own Ice Cream Flavor” station.

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Step 4: Measuring and Mixing.

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Step 5: Designing the packaging for our new ice cream flavors.

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Step 6: Into the freezer…BRRRRR!

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Step 7: Filming a commercial for our newly developed flavors.

As Molly and Ozzie moved through the experience they scanned their entrance ticket at each station so the continuity of their work continued through the experience, building on itself until the commercial at the end.

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It was a really fun place that was created to be engaging for every age, from toddlers to retirees.

The climax of the experience came at the end with the tasting café where we were invited to taste different Turkey Hill ice cream flavors. There was no limit to the samples we could enjoy and there was no additional fee.

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This was definitely the highlight of the day for our crew.

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It was a great way to conclude our special sibling bonding trip…

Sweet memories made by all!

A Mother’s Day Gift

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Mother’s Day is a hard day in our home with this year being particularly challenging. Circumstances have made this year’s celebration of mothers a tough one as we have navigated the muddy mix of hard emotions tied to this holiday.

As a mother of two adopted kiddos, Mother’s Day represents a day of celebration clothed in loss, anger, and great sadness. I watch as my boys navigate those hard emotions so closely tied to this Hallmark holiday and the day inevitably becomes a day to endure rather than a day to revel in.

It was with a sense of stoic determination to navigate this hard holiday that I arrived at church with my family in tow. In the midst of smiles, hugs, and wishes of “Happy Mother’s Day” I had one dear friend approach and ask how I was doing. She told me that she had been looking through her files of Mother’s Day inspiration and found an article written by a mother that knew all about the many tears shed on this special day. The article was written by a woman who had adopted and understood the minefield we call Mother’s Day. As this dear friend walked away and I was moved by her sensitivity and thoughtfulness. I picked up the printed papers and began reading and I knew God had heard the quiet tears  I had shed in the streams of the shower as I was bathed in words of hope and healing…

Words written by myself years ago.

This friend had no idea she had given me a copy of a blog entry I myself had written three years ago. She had no ideas she was gifting me with council far more impactful than words written by another because these words were personal. It was like stumbling across an old journal entry and remembering…

Remembering Mother’s Days we had survived before, remembering where we had come from and where we were going, and most importantly why we were walking this path and why that path was particularly hard on this particular day.

It was exactly what I needed to hear on this hard, hard day. Perhaps someone else needs to hear it too…

A child born to another woman calls me mom. The depth of that tragedy and the magnitude of that priviledge are not lost on me.” -Jody Landers

I know Mother’s Day is a hard holiday for a lot of women. Some struggle because of a loss…loss of a mother, loss of a child. Some struggle because of an absence felt in their lives…the absence of the love they should have been given as a child, or perhaps the absence of a child of their own to receive the abundance of love that they so long to give. Like so many holidays it can bring a heartache of loss and disappointment, or simply a mourning for times gone past.  There are expectations and intense emotions connected with the day regardless of what your life story is.

Our life story makes Mother’s day a mixed bag of emotions as well. As we celebrate our family and the blessing of gaining two sons through adoption I can’t help but mourn for the women who lost so much. I wonder if they have come to realize the full consequence of their choices. I wonder if they lie awake at night, regretting the path they took that led them to have their children taken away. I wonder if they are dealing with heartbreak this Mother’s Day as they wonder where their child is this night and what woman is receiving the sticky kisses that should have been theirs.

My heart breaks for the women that bore my sons. I know that the choices they made led them to this point, but I also know that so much of their story is hidden from my eyes. There is so much that I don’t know about the women who have blessed me so abundantly. I don’t know what hurts they lived through to pass those hurts onto their child. I don’t know what emptiness they must have felt to be driven into the arms of such a hurtful man. I don’t know anything about fear so paralyzing that it keeps you from stepping in between the abuser and your innocent child. I don’t know what it must feel like to feel so trapped, so alone, so helpless…

I can not judge the women who bore my sons because,

although I hate what they allowed,

I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around what they must have suffered to allow their child to suffer so.

Who might I have become had I not been blessed by this life I’ve lived? What type of mother would I have become if I had not had such a glorious example in my own mother? At her hands I learned the lessons of self-care, unconditional love, sacrifice for the ones you care about, faith in someone bigger than myself. She showed me what a mother looks like. She showed me how to love.

I have lived a life of privilege..

I have had the privilege of being raised by loving and encouraging parents.

I have had the privilege of never going to bed hungry.

I have had the privilege of being a citizen of a free country.

I have had the privilege of knowing Christ from an early age, learning to pray to Him, and hope in Him.

I have never faced the moral dilemma of having to choose whether to sell my soul, body, and dignity or watch my children go hungry.

I have always had the privilege of clean water and a roof over my head.

I have never known paralyzing fear,

or demoralizing abuse at the hands of an abusive man.

Who is to say what I might have become had I not lived a life of such abundant blessings…

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Like so many other women who face Mother’s Day with sadness, or dread, or fear, or regret…

I wonder today about the mothers who bore my sons.

And I pray for them.

And I give thanks for their sacrifice.

It may not have been a deliberate act of love or sacrifice,

but it is a sacrifice none the less.

I am forever connected to these faceless women whom I have never met.

 I hold the babies that have their eyes and their lips and mannerisms. I dry the tears made by the life lived before I arrived. I tend to the wounds that happened under their care, wounds that perhaps they were unable to prevent or care for themselves.

We share a child, these women and I.

She gave my child life…

and now he is my life.

Today I pray for her,

and all the other women whose tears fall freely on this holiest of days.

Flight 93 National Memorial

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I remember the day as though it were yesterday.

I was heavy with child…very heavy… only three weeks from delivering Rusty.

That day I was enjoying a rare gift of a morning alone as Grace and Molly spent the day with my mother so I could attend my OBGYN appointment without toddlers in tow. Taking advantage of being without children I carved in time for an oil change and a final shopping trip to get the last few items needed before Rusty made his entrance into the world.

I knew something was wrong as soon as I stepped into Walmart that morning. The place was unusually empty and the few souls near the front of the store gathered in small groups speaking in concerned whispers.

I grabbed a cart and began to work my way to the back of the store where diapers were sold. As I approached the electronics department I found out why the store was unusually empty for a Tuesday morning. Standing before the wall of large screen TVs for sale were a hundred or so customers and employees, watching an unprecedented act of terrorism playing out on the TVs. I joined the crowd asking an older man near the back what was going on.

He replied, “The second tower has been hit. They say it is terrorists. We are under attack.”

That Tuesday morning (September 11, 2001) the U.S. came under attack when four commercial airliners were hijacked and used to strike targets on the ground. Nearly 3,000 people tragically lost their lives.

There are moments in our nation’s history that are so tragic, so impactful, so unifying in the grief caused, that it lives in infamy, touching our lives and changing us forever. For my parents generation that was the death of JFK. For my generation it was watching the Challenger explosion.

As I watched the devastation play out on the TV screen I thought to myself, “This is the tragedy that will mark this new generation.”

As I raced to my car, eager to get to my children and husband who were an hour away on the other side of a major U.S city, the news played in my car revealing another attack on the Pentagon and then the crash of Flight 93, just outside of Pittsburgh. I don’t remember how soon after the crash the great act of heroism that took place on that plane was discovered and revealed to the public. I only remember being humbled by the story of 40 passengers that became heroes on that fateful day.

Because of the actions of those 40 passengers and the crew aboard Flight 93 the attack on the U.S. Capitol was thwarted.

The story of their heroism has been memorialized in a beautiful way with the Flight 93 National Memorial.

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What was a common field one day has become a field of honor forever…

And on Monday we had the opportunity to visit, learn more about the events of that day and pay tribute to the heroes that sacrificed all for the sake of many.

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“September 11, 2001 was one of the darkest days in our nation’s recent history, and Flight 93 National Memorial honors some of our strongest heroes.

This was a day our country was shaken to its very foundation. The United States experienced the worst incident of terrorism in its history: the coordinated hijacking of four commercial airliners. Despite the destruction and devastation, stories of courage and heroism emerged.

Shortly after terrorists flew airplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon, the forty passengers and crew members on United Airlines Flight 93 fought a battle in the sky over Pennsylvania. These forty heroes won their battle against terrorists and thwarted a planned attack on our nation’s capital, saving countless numbers of lives, but sacrificing their own in a field just east of Pittsburgh, in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

The story of Flight 93 is a national treasure, a story of hope in human courage and cooperation. When confronted with the gravity of their situation, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 chose to act heroically and sacrifice their lives for their country. These 40 heroes made a democratic decision to fight back against terrorism and thereby thwarted a planned attack on our nation’s capital, saving countless numbers of lives.”

As we entered the National Park we were impressed with the spirit found there. Molly commented on it right away, saying, “You can feel that we have stepped upon sacred ground,” and she was right. There was something powerful, humbling, and even spiritual about this plot of land.

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We parked and walked toward the visitors center which was an architecturally beautiful creation of concrete and glass.

Within its walls the story of that day unfolded.

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The exhibit began with a timeline of events leading up to passengers boarding the plane.

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From there we stepped aboard Flight 93 and suddenly the events of that day became even more compelling and affecting as we walked through the timeline of events leading up to the crash, looked into the eyes of the photos of the heroes that were on the plane, and listened to actual recordings of phone calls made from the plane to loved ones on the ground in the minutes before they charged the cockpit to take back the plane.

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I couldn’t hold back my tears as I listened to actual messages left on the answering machines of loved ones by passengers who were calling to say their final good-byes. The emotions conveyed through those messages were so real and so raw that they turned that historic event into something personal and affecting.

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The exhibit then turned the corner, revealing the power in that crash landing as we looked at the fragments of Flight 93 and saw photos of the crash site. The first-hand accounts of locals who were there at ground zero that morning covered the walls of the exhibit. It was devastating to see.

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But the story didn’t end there. The final wall of the exhibit was dedicated to remembrance, with photos of the heroes, mementoes left at the crash site memorial before a national memorial was established on display, and the Congressional Gold Metals dedicated to the passengers and crew for the heroism they showed that day in saving the multitude of nameless victims that would have perished that day at the Capitol had they not taken down the plane.

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After touring the visitor center we stepped outside to the glass balcony that overlooked the crash site, hallowed ground that is the resting place for the passengers and crew of Flight 93.

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It was a powerful experience that I was glad to share with Ozzie and Molly. It took what was a recording in their history books and made it personal. They gained an understanding of how our country changed that day and learned the meaning of true heroism. We left empowered and inspired to do better and be better, to live worthy of the sacrifice made by countless American heroes over the years who gave all so that we could enjoy the blessings of the life we often take for granted.

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It you have the opportunity to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial I highly recommend it. The cost of admission is free but the affect the experience will have on you…

Is priceless.

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A Time to Heal

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A few weeks ago we received an invitation in the mail to attend a recognition banquet at the Downingtown office of our cyber school. The invitation was for Molly and her family. She was one of the students be honored. We made plans to attend and initially we planned on making it a special mother/daughter trip for just Molly and I.

As Ozzie’s return home neared I watched the kids came to terms with this transition as they individually sorted through the mix of emotions tied to Ozzie’s return home. Molly in particular struggled to reconcile her past hurts and the need to forgive with anxiety that Ozzie would return home unchanged. She had such a desire to forgive and move forward but struggled to let go of the past hurts Ozzie had inflicted and trust that it was safe to emotionally open up to him. I saw the conflict playing out as she worked to forgive and move forward. My heart broke for her and Ozzie and all the other kids because I knew the hard emotional journey before her…before us all.

I also saw the spiritual maturity she showed as she approached those struggles humbly and prayerfully. As her recognition banquet approached she came to me to ask my thoughts on inviting Ozzie to come along on her special mother/daughter weekend. It was with great love she decided to set aside her own selfish desires and invite Ozzie along, hoping that some one-on-one time and special shared experiences might serve as a healing balm to past hurts.

When she extended the invitation to Ozzie he too was touched and motivated by her desire to heal their relationship and move forward, so he reciprocated her efforts with his own and decided to treat Molly to a fun, shared experience.

While he was at Harborcreek RTF Ozzie had the opportunity to earn “allowance” for daily chores and community work. After returning home he received a check in the mail closing his account. He decided to use a portion of that check to do something special for Molly on the trip and make a memory that was just theirs to share.

As a Mom I was touched and moved by both of their desires to forgive, heal and mend their relationship as siblings and the maturity and selflessness they each showed in sacrificing their own selfish desires for something bigger than themselves…

So, on Monday morning we left on a road trip of hope and healing as we headed east to Downingtown.

After a few stops along the way we made it to our hotel. Molly and Ozzie reveled in the fun of staying at a hotel,

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Swimming in the hotel pool,

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And enjoying the most delicious complementary breakfast I have ever seen at a hotel!

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After breakfast we got dolled up and ready to head over to the school for Molly’s recognition banquet and lunch with her teachers.

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The celebration began with a catered lunch of salmon, zucchini patties, chicken and macaroni and cheese. We enjoyed picnicking outside with the Hudak’s who were also there for Tatum’s recognition.

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After lunch we moved inside where a board meeting was taking place.

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There, in front of the board and their families, two dozen students were recognized and honored for achievements apart from their academics.

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It was a delight to see Tatum and Molly celebrated for their charitable endeavors.

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After they received their awards we stuck around long enough to visit with some of their learning coaches and teachers, both past and present.

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Ozzie was over the moon to get to see his learning coach, Halley Scarpignato, who surprised Ozzie with a new 21CCCS t-shirt.

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After saying our good-byes we were on the road, headed back home with a fun stop along the way.

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(In the next blog I will share some of the fun Molly and Ozzie shared these last two days.)

It was two days of healing and connecting for two of my kiddos.

Forgiveness isn’t easy.

Letting go of past hurts is hard.

Trusting those who have disappointed you requires faith,

And moving forward requires a certain level of selfless surrender…

But I know healing can be found in the most torn relationships if you can surrender the pain to the Heavenly Healer…

The same healer who turned water to wine, brought sight to the blind, calmed storms, and raised men from death…

I testify that God can take relationships left in ashes and breathe life into what was destroyed, making it better than before.

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I know this to be true…

I’m watching it happen.