Monthly Archives: June 2018

Happy Birthday, Mr. Incredible!

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Saturday was a celebration of Toby’s 43rd trip around the sun. Saturday was also our final morning at Girls Camp, so following a crazy morning of cleaning, packing, loading cars and transporting ourselves and other girls’ gear back to the church, it was time to switch hats from “level leader” to “wife” and create some birthday magic.

This was a tall order given our sleep-deprived state, but we tapped deep, took a long nap upon returning home, and by 4:00 were ready to celebrate Toby’s big day with some birthday fun.

We decided this year’s birthday celebration would take place at the drive-in movie theater.

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So following dinner we drove to Moon Township’s Dependable Drive-in to enjoy a double feature.

Toby brought along two of his birthday gifts…

his new reclining camp chair and foldable side table,

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two gifts that were purchased with next week’s Scout Camp in mind but were equally ideal for a night at the drive-in.

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It was so much fun having the entire family together after a week apart, and wonderful to get to celebrate Toby and all that he does for our family.

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After the national anthem played everyone settled into their seats for our double feature.

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The first movie on the docket was “The Incredibles 2” which began playing when the sun went down at 9:00 pm. In addition to this being a much anticipated sequel for our family, the more fitting reason for picking this particular show revolved around the fact that we were celebrating the birthday of the real “Mr. Incredible”

Being married to Toby has taught me that not all superheroes wear capes.

PS- it really was INCREDIBLE!

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Between the showing of the first film and the second  we had a 20 minute break and pulled out Toby’s “birthday cake,” a strawberry pie to enjoy before the second movie began.

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The second movie shown was “Ocean’s 8.” Being  big fans of the previous Ocean movies, we were looking forward to this new addition to the Ocean family, and while not quite as good as the originals, we still really enjoyed it. It was fun having an all female cast string us through an exciting, well-developed plot.

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At 1:00 am the second movie rolled its credits and we discovered half our crew had long since fallen asleep. After a long week of Toby playing Mr. Mom and the girls and I away at camp, we were all exhausted.

It was time for bed!

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Happy Birthday, Mr. Incredible.

Thanks for being so SUPER!

A Timely Reminder

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Every now and then God speaks to my heart using words penned years previous. Often those words come from old letters, journal entries and long forgotten blogs…

Blogs written at a different time of life when the challenges were different, but which contain counsel applicable to my life this day.

Today I stumbled across these words written in my blog years ago following the news of the passing of a friend. As I sat and read these words this morning they served as poignant reminders of what is really important.

I needed to be reminded.

Perhaps you need to hear these words too…

What would I say if tomorrow were my last day on earth?

What would I want my children to know?

If I die young:

1. I love you. Oh, how I love you. I never understood the power of love until I held you in my arms. In loving you I better understand how my Father in Heaven feels about me, and I am humbled. I worried, with each addition, that I wouldn’t have enough love in me to go around, but I discovered love is sort of magical. It grows and multiplies until it is spilling out of your very soul. There is no limit to it.

I can’t wait until you each hold your first baby and feel the love I’m talking about. Then you will understand the love I have for you.

2. Being kind is the most important thing. More than being pretty or smart or talented. It is important to remember that everyone you will meet in your life is fighting a hard battle. It could be sickness, infertility, the loss of a loved one, financial struggles, a loss of faith, addiction. Everyone has a burden they carry. Most of these burdens are hidden and you will probably not even know they are there, so it is imperative that you be kind to everyone. Be kind to those who deserve it, but more importantly be kind to those who don’t. They are the ones who need it most.

Nothing has greater value in this world than kindness and if you can be nothing else, be kind.

3. The answer to life is found in JOY. The acronym is simple. Jesus first, Others second, then Yourself. By following this blueprint you will always have joy, because contrary to what the world is shouting at you, real joy comes from forgetting yourself and serving others.

4. Build a relationship with your Father…earthy and heavenly. They both love you dearly and want the best for you. These relationships are built from TIME. Your relationship will grow and sweeten as you spend time together, communicate, listen, and follow their guidance.

5. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, only how you are doing it. I don’t care what vocation you choose. I see no more value in being a doctor than a handyman. I only hope you will let God lead your steps as you seek out your life’s path…

and whatever you find yourself doing, do it well. Work hard, give it 100%, do your best. If you can learn early the enjoyment that comes from a job well done you will always find life enjoyable…for there will always be work to do.

6. How you treat someone who can do nothing for you says more about your character than anything else. Remember this when choosing friends or considering a future spouse.

How do they treat animals, children, the janitor, the homeless man on the corner, or the man behind the counter waiting on them? That is the real test of character.

7. Embrace plan B. Your life will be full of plan Bs. Those unexpected roads and course changes that go against your plans. They are often disappointing and it can be hard to embrace plan B when you are struggling to let go of the dream you had. Just remember that your plan B is often God’s plan A…

and His plan is always better!

8. Be grateful. Gratitude is the  father of all other virtues and the key to growth and happiness. Count your blessings and change your life. Something as simple as listing your blessings can change everything…

it may not change the circumstances, but it will change you.

Say thank you. Express gratitude to your Heavenly Father and to others. Take the time to write a thank you note when someone does something kind.

Please be grateful.

9. When it comes to relationships you get what you think you deserve in life. This is a hard one and its root is found in the way you see yourself. You have divine worth and you must believe that. For when you truly understand your great value in the eyes of your Heavenly Father you will attract a spouse who also sees that value in you. Unfortunately, I have also seen the opposite be true.

Believe you are a royal daughter or son of a Heavenly King and you will attract royalty.

10. Live today…really live! So often we postpone the important for the urgent, spending our days racing around “putting out fires,” and never really living. Each day is a gift from God and how you use that day is your gift to Him. So for today be present. Stop and see. Experience the world around you. Listen to the words of those you love, really listen. Work, and pray, and laugh, and love a little more. Practice patience.  Say your sorry and forgive…

Forgive others. Forgive yourself.

Give that compliment, and hug those you love a little tighter for a little longer. Share your testimony. Dream big dreams…

and enjoy the journey,

every twist and turn,

because it is an amazing ride!

“If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is be present in the present…Gratefully.”

– Maya Angelou

Girls Camp- Year #9!

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This past week was spent in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania as the girls and I attended Girls Camp with our church. This year marked my 9th year attending  camp and as illogical as it may sound, spending this past week with 100 teenage girls was just what I needed. Getting away and heading into the woods was just the boost I needed to recharge my “batteries,” refocus on the bigger picture, and spiritually refill my bucket so that I could return home and be a better momma and wife. It was wonderful laughing with the girls and other leaders and stepping away from the distractions of the world for a short time.

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Camp week was just as Kimberly Rinehart describes:

“Camping is more than just getting away.

It is the clear blue sky, the song of a bird, the beckoning woods, the wide open spaces.

Camping is greeting the breath of dawn unhindered by the walls of city life and watching the sun set in ribbons of color as it says, “goodnight” to a perfect day.

Camping makes hearts grow lighter and food taste better.

It’s sharing songs around a campfire and gazing up in silence at a star-filled sky.

Camping is more than just getting away. It is the thing we need to rekindle the spirit of a simpler time, refresh our hearts with nature’s beauty, and remind us that life doesn’t have to be so complicated after all.”

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Girls Camp is a program in our church that takes girls (12- 18 years old) away from the noise and busyness of everyday life, into the beauty of nature for a week to learn, build friendships, commune with nature, and connect with God.

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The theme this year was “Peace in Christ,” with our daily devotionals and activities revolving around how we acquire that PEACE through learning of Christ, listening to Christ’s words, and walking in the meekness of His spirit.

The theme led to a fun 1960’s vibe with our focus on the word “Peace,” including cabin decorations and tie-dyed t-shirts for each level. They were by far the cutest and most creative camp t-shirts yet with each level leader picking their own colors and tie-dye patterns for their girls.

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These were the 7th year’s shirts…

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Aren’t the JCDs adorable?!

As 7th year leader I am in charge of our Junior Camp Directors (JCDs). These young ladies are our oldest group of campers, most having just graduated from high school. Their final year at camp is unique in that it is not a church designated level but rather something that was prayerfully developed on a local level as a means of providing our graduating young women an opportunity to return for a final time and serve as leaders rather than attending as campers.

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Each year our JCDs serve as quiet, behind the scenes, goodwill ambassadors around camp, silently serving and blessing others at camp and bringing a sense of unity and connection to camp through daily activities, acts of gratitude, and service projects they plan.

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They also run the camp store. At our camp we have instituted a token system used to encourage kindness, selflessness, and goodwill. When girls are caught doing good works they are rewarded with camp tokens that they can spend at the camp store. The JCDs head up this program, making purchase decisions for the store, pricing items, and managing the “economy” and flow of “money” around camp.

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I adore this assignment and really feel blessed to get to work with this special group of girls.

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This year both my girls (Grace and Molly) returned to camp as well. It was a special year as I had Molly as one of my JCDs and Grace served as my 7th year assistant.

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This meant I got an entire week with my two girls, sharing activities, devotionals, and cabin space.

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In addition to Miss Molly, Grace and I had 6 other JCDs under our stewardship, making this the largest of all our past 7th year groups. It was an awesome group of young ladies who each exemplified the very best of what the JCD level promotes. They were delightful, hard working, diligent, thoughtful, creative, and encouraging to the younger campers. It was an absolute joy working with them!

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I began working with the JCDs when Grace was 13 years old. It has been almost a decade of returning year after years to work with our 18 year old campers. My intention all along has been to continue putting in my time until Grace and then Molly were JCDs…

(Now that both have made it to their final year of Girls Camp we will see if God calls me back for another year…)

Being part of camp leadership is a huge amount of work but the blessings that are reaped far outweigh the months of planning, preparing and packing that go into creating the camp experience for these young women.

 

Girls’ Camp is a place of refuge and rest for this weary traveler.

For those who have never served as a Girls Camp leader, that statement may sound contradictory…especially if you had walked into my dining room three days ago and saw the piles and piles of packing, shopping, wrapping, writing, creating and organizing that go into being a level leader at camp.

It is a lot of work that is months in the making,

And the process of bringing the vision of camp to life is laborious,

(Especially for our incredible camp directors!)

So, what do I mean?

 I mean camp is my port in the storm.

It is a place where I can be still.

Not physically, mind you…but emotionally.

Away from the frantic pace of everyday life. Away from the feelings of worry, hopelessness and the weariness of everyday trials, I find rest.

There is something special about the camp atmosphere.

Something special about the people who return year after year.

Something special about these sweet 12-18 year old young ladies who, too, discover a special spirit found intermingled within the lessons on fire starting and first aid.

Something special about the contagious displays of good works and kind words that makes one feel as though they have stepped away from the world for the week and have elevated to a higher plane.

It is a place that has become my annual sanctuary and retreat from the hustle/bustle of life and the place where I can drink deep from the well of renewal. It is my place to reorient my compass and take note if I’ve gone off track. It is my place to talk to my Heavenly Father, pour out the burdens of my heart at His feet, and hear His answers to my struggles.

Every year I leave physically exhausted but spiritually strengthened by the Spirit that permeates camp.

It was a wonderful week.

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It was just where I needed to be this last week,

And I am so glad I got to be with my girls.

Girls Camp is my happy place,

My quiet place,

My searching place,

My renewing place.

It was a good week.

The Best of the Best

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As I consider Father’s Day I can’t help but focus on the blessing of good men in my life, men that have offered glimpses of the divine character of my Father in Heaven by the way they have lived their lives.

As I consider the blessings of a loving father, two incredible grandfathers, and a father-in-law who treated me like a cherished daughter, I recognize I have been blessed more than most.

Despite being imperfect beings, they were able to show me perfect love.

Through their noble callings as fathers and grandfathers I was able to gain a better understanding of my Heavenly Father’s unconditional love. From these men I learned lessons of sacrifice, diligence, forgiveness, gentleness, meekness, strength of character, and kindness.

I also recognize that  many aren’t blessed in the same way and the absence of a loving father can affect one’s acceptance of a Heavenly Father that loves and cherishes them unconditionally. I have seen it in my own adopted sons, both of whom were born of men who were anything but loving fathers to them. Men that put their own selfish desires and dysfunctional needs ahead of their children, leaving them with scars that may never completely heal.

Then I look at my husband and how his relationships with Grace, Molly and Rusty have allowed them a glimpse into the divine nature of Heavenly Father. His example exemplifies all that is good and loving about God, and by watching their earthly father love so selflessly, my children have come to know and trust in a loving Heavenly Father.

How blessed I am to have married a man so selfless, so kind, so humble and giving. He gives all, asking nothing in return, putting the needs of others ahead of himself and does so with a smile and generosity of spirit that I find humbling. When I look at Toby I see the character of his own earthly father shining forth. Like his father, Toby is gracious and selfless, opening his heart and home to all, never thinking of himself, and leaving all those he speaks with feeling loved and valued.

There is no better example of this than his choice to open his heart and home to two boys who were in need of a father. Choosing to step away from the comfort and ease of the life he was living, he chose to travel the harder path in his desire to follow Christ’s example and obey the divine calling God laid on his heart. It has not been an easy road, but not once did Toby pull back or walk away from this hard road. Rather, the tougher the behaviors, the closer in he moved, driven by a conviction that every child deserves a safe and loving family…every child deserves to be loved.  Through his Christ-like love our two youngest have been given a second chance to experiencing a father’s love. What was stolen from them in childhood is being redeemed with each word of acceptance, each affirmation, each act of forgiveness, and each loving embrace. Through Toby’s example my boys are learning how a real man loves and are slowly discovering their divine worth as a child of loving Heavenly Father.

Last Sunday we celebrated Toby.

The kids had big plans for Father’s Day, plans that began with breakfast in bed…

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And concluded with a special dinner after church.

In between, we enjoyed naps, gifts, and a fun Father’s Day activity.

The kids each made or purchased a special Father’s Day gift for Toby, but my gift was more of an experience than a tangible offering.

A few weeks ago, while shopping for Girl’s Camp supplies at Pat Catans Craft store, I discovered Goblies, throwable paint balls. I knew at once that they had to be this year’s Father’s Day gift.

I knew Toby would love it but also that it would be an awesome, laughter-inducing, memory-making, stress-relieving activity for the younger boys who sometimes struggle with hard emotions on these memory-connected holidays.

I purchased a bag of Goblies in seven different colors, so we could each have our own color to mark one another, leaving undeniable evidence of our success on each other’s shirts.  I also bought inexpensive white t-shirts for each member of the family and wrapped them all up in a box for Toby’s Father’s Day gift.

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On Sunday afternoon, following a Father’s Day feast and a long Sunday nap, we headed outside to make some special Father’s Day memories in the form of some messy fun.

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Pick your ammunition!

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It was a blast!

 

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Let the battle begin!

 

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Oops!

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The paint began flying! Each paint ball was filled with liquid paint that splattered when it hit a surface or was squeezed in the direction of a family member.

 

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Tyler loved it.

 

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In fact we all did!

 

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The carnage was colorful…

 

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…and slimy!

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Yes, it was as fun as it looks! A perfect family fun night for the perfect Dad.

 

How grateful I am to be married to a man who loves me and my children so fully. How grateful we all are for his unconditional love, his huge heart, his wicked sense of humor, his adventurous spirit and his enduring commitment to his family.

 

Happy Father’s Day, Toby! We love you bunches!

 

 

Hold on Tight!

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(Beware: Photo Dump!)

Life has been crazier than normal this last week as preparations for camp come to a head, while corresponding with basketball camp for Tyler and house preparations for a visit from CYS on Friday to clear us for overnight visits with Tyler’s biological brother, Brandon. I feel as though I have been moving at a clip comparable to a bullet train, holding onto my seat for dear life.

Next week the girls and I are off to camp for the week and I am looking forward to the slower pace, the quiet and the peace I always find at Girl’s Camp. But until Tuesday arrives we will keep on keeping on. Here is a look at some of the moments that have filled our days this week…

1.We always know when summer has arrived because the dining room begins filling up with camp supplies. In the weeks leading up to Girls Camp, stacks begin appearing on the table as I think of things to pack or finish projects that will be part of my 7th year girls’ experience at camp. There are camp store piles, craft supply piles, post office supply piles, pillow treats and free time activity supplies and we haven’t even begun packing our own personal gear for this week away.

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2. In the midst of preparations for our CYS home inspection and girls camp preparations, I found myself on the run every afternoon this week, taking Tyler down to Monaca for a summer basketball camp at Central Valley High School. One of Tyler’s buddies from church is a CV student and extended an invitation to join him at camp for the week. I was surprised and delighted when Tyler showed interest because it is really a testament to how far we have come in the last year with his anxiety struggles. The fact he agreed and even looked forward to joining a large group of boys he didn’t know, to learn a sport he isn’t familiar with, made me sing songs of praise for the healing Tyler has found this past year.

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The week was a success. Tyler learned that he really enjoys basketball and more importantly, he learned that he can stretch himself and do things that are scary and hard.

3. Grace has now been enjoying life as a Subway sandwich artist for almost two months. When she was hired the manager made it clear she wanted to hire Molly as well but had to wait until a few of their current employees left for school, freeing up spots for new hires. Well, last week Molly got the call she was hoping for and was told they were ready to begin training. This past week she began her new job with three evenings of training at our local Subway. Molly was thrilled to discover that for her first day of work at this new job she would get to train with Grace. We now how two sandwich artists in the house.

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4. Speaking of Miss Molly…I don’t know if you have heard, but our sweet Molly is headed abroad in a couple weeks. She is preparing for an adventure to Costa Rica.

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About 6 months ago Molly approached me. In some research she was doing about colleges and the Peace Corps, she stumbled across and opportunity offered  to teens. The program is Global Leadership Adventures and offers teens opportunities to travel to locations around the world and serve in remarkable ways. Molly felt called to look into the GLA further and began prayerfully exploring their different programs. She has often expressed a desire to serve in the Peace Corps when she is older and thought this would be an awesome way to try the experience on a smaller scale.

For months she researched the various service programs and the various countries available, knowing that she wanted to serve in an area with a focus on environmental protection and animal conservation. She finally decided on Costa Rica where she will spend 10 days working with the Sea Turtle conservation program. Once she received personal confirmation that this is where God was calling her to serve she began saving all her paychecks to pay for this GLA experience.

She is now just two weeks away from stepping onto a plane by herself and leaving the country for the first time…EEK!

She is over-the-moon excited and we are all thrilled to see her chasing her dreams in such a bold and brave way. She is one who is destined to change the world.

5. Tuesday night was Tyler’s last baseball game of the regular season. Tyler was very excited for this particular game because rather than taking place at the normal time slot of 6:00-8:00 pm, he was playing a late game from 8:00-10:00 pm. This meant he got to play ball under the lights. He was very excited, expressing that playing under the lights makes him feel like a professional baseball player.

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Mimi Joy was able to meet us at the ball field and we enjoyed watching Tyler team take the win. What started as a dark sky in the distance, eventually became a rain shower over our heads, but we didn’t let that dampen our fun.

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After the game we took Mimi Joy out for ice cream at Berry’s, ending a fun night in a sweet way!

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6. This week we also managed to fit in an afternoon of bowling with friends. A few months ago we has a school-planned field trip to Sim’s Bowling Lanes. It was a fun day with two other families from co-op, but because of miscommunication between the school and the bowling alley we were overcharged for the event. The result was a certificate for us to return another day for two hours of free bowling.

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Last Wednesday we met up with the McCready family and the Caylor family to use our bowling certificate. The girls were both working at Subway that day but the boys and I enjoyed meeting up with friends, visiting, and engaging in a little friendly competition at the bowling alley.

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7.  This week also entailed a trip to the orthodontist. Tyler has had his braces on for 6 weeks now and was due to go in to have his wire changed and things checked and tightened. I scheduled Ozzie for the same time to be evaluated for braces. While in Harborcreek he was seen by an orthodontist in Erie who recommended braces. We opted to put that recommendation on the back burner until he returned home so that he could be seen by someone closer. So, while Tyler was having his gear tightened and checked, Ozzie was seen by Dr. Spokane who agreed that Ozzie does in fact need braces as well…

So now we wait and see if his insurance agrees. We could have two “brace faces” in a few weeks.

8.  This past Friday we continued with our plan to meet our Family Based therapy team away from the home to see if that lessens the anxiety Ozzie is feeling about family based therapy. This week we met at Brady’s Run park for some fishing fun. All the kids were able to attend, although only four of them fished. Molly chose to watch. Her tender heart struggles with the idea of a hook piercing the fish’s mouth and it suffering at her hands.

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The other kids, however, had no such qualms and jumped right into the task of prepping their lines, choosing their bait, and casting out with hopes of catching a big one.

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Tyler ended up being the only one who had any success, catching a couple blue gill, but everyone had fun soaking up the sun, connecting as a family, and enjoying the beautiful views on a perfect summer morning.

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From our Family Based therapy appointment we headed home to meet with Washington County’s CYS to have our home checked and get approval to be able to pick up Brandon without a social worker supervising our visits and have him be able to stay for overnight visits.

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After a crazy week of prepping for this inspection in the midst of A LOT of running it was good to close out this crazy week by passing our inspection and receiving approval to visit with Tyler’s biological brother without supervision.

Whew…

What a week!

 

 

 

 

 

Axes and Arrows and Knives…Oh My!

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This year has been a year of growth for my youngest son. I have watched him blossom in magnificent ways as he has slowly grown toward the man he will one day be. This year has provided Tyler with opportunities to gain a level of security, confidence and connection with others that has come as a result of extra learning support, Ozzie’s increased healing, a lot of one on one time as the two of us spend hours in the car driving to various daily appointments, and an awesome group of friends at church. He really is in his renaissance and my heart overflows with gratitude for the many ways God is working in his life.

Last Saturday was the 11 year old scout activity put on by members of the stake primary. As soon as Tyler received the invitation and found out his group of friends from church would all be attending he began counting the days until its arrival. This is an activity offered each June for the boys who will be turning 12 in the upcoming year. It is a special event put on by the stake to celebrate the boys’ time in primary coming to an end as they move into the young men program.

The agenda for this event varies year to year depending on the group of adults who are planning it, so Tyler lucked out because this year’s 11-year-old scout activity was AWESOME!

Tyler rode up to the activity with his friend, Carter. Carter’s mom was one of the chaperones for the day and she graciously offered to save me a trip to Butler since she was going anyway. She also kindly captured the fun of the day through photos so all of us moms who weren’t able to attend could enjoy a peek into the boys’ fun.

Their day consisted of a lesson in first aid, shooting with bows and arrows, a lesson on knife and ax safety, knot tying, and foil dinners for lunch. Tyler had a blast and hated that he had to leave 30 minutes early so we could get him to his equine therapy session. When he left he was given a gift to take home…

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His own personal pocket knife!

Which he put to good use immediately, whittling the hour away as Ozzie had his horse lesson and Tyler waited for his turn in the arena.

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My baby boy is growing into a pretty awesome young man!

 

First Mural Club then Prom!

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Wednesday was a big day for my big kids.

It was a day that began with a Mural Club outing with their Mural Club advisor at the Murrysville office of their cyber school and concluded with Prom.

All three of my older kids have enjoyed being part of the Mural Club at school. This club, like most of the clubs that are offered through their cyber school, meet virtually for the majority of their meetings. For Mural Club the kids log on to a virtual classroom weekly and are led by their teaching in creating a painting. My kids have all really enjoyed the skills they have learned from Mrs. Gibson, and have enjoyed the friendships formed through this club.

Once a year the students gather in person to create a piece of artwork at one of the two school buildings and is the highlight of the year for the Mural Club members. Here are two previous murals done by the Mural Club.

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Grace was the designer of both previous murals and was actively involved in Mural Club before graduating last year. When it was decided that Mrs. Gibson would be traveling out our direction for this year’s Mural Club outing she invited Grace and Olivia, two Mural Clun alumni, to join in on the fun.

We arrived at the Murrysville office at 11:00 am and discovered that it was just the McCleerys and Hudaks attending. With 6 students painting it was decided that rather than a wall mural they would each paint individual canvases that would hang together creating the school’s initials…21CCCS. (For 21st Century Cyber Charter School.)

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While the Mural Club got creative I took the boys next door for a Momma/sons date where we enjoyed a milkshake.

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When we returned great progress had been made and the Mural Club was finishing up their works of art.

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It was neat to see the different directions everyone took with their paintings.

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It was also fun to see that despite the differences in their creations, how well they coordinated.

Side by side they looked great!

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Nice job, Mural Club!

From there the big kids joined the Hudak family at their hotel room to get ready for Prom.

Prom at 21st Century Cyber Charter School is open to juniors and seniors and their dates, but the high school students at co-op thought it would be fun to all go as a group, so the juniors in the group each invited  a younger classmate (Rusty) or older graduates (Grace and Olivia) as dates to the prom so they could all go together.

Even though it was just a group of friends attending together they had fun with the idea of “prom-posals” and made it official at the co-op picnic a few weeks ago.

Wednesday night was one of the many times I wished I could clone myself, as I had to leave to take Tyler up north for his baseball game and couldn’t hang around to watch them get ready for prom and drop them off at the dance. Luckily I am blessed with dear friends who graciously stepped into the role of surrogate mom to my three oldest and helped them get ready for prom, took photos for me, and made sure they arrived at the dance.

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They had a blast dancing the night away with their best buddies and all said that it was a fun night with friends!

Idlewild Fun

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We have an ongoing summer tradition at Patchwork Farm that involves an annual trip to Idlewild amusement park. This began when the kids were still in strollers. We were drawn to this park, as opposed to other amusement parks in our area, because of its appeal to younger kids, fewer crowds, its old fashioned charm, and the affordability of its annual carload day deal.

Now our kids are older, and have outgrown many of the attractions, but nostalgia and a decade of sweet memories keep us coming back year after year. This year was no exception.

A month ago I went online to check this year’s dates for Idlewild’s Carload Days and everyone made plans to clear their schedule and get that day off work.

We love taking advantage of this exceptional deal because it allows big families an affordable way to visit the park. For $115.00 we could bring  8 people into the park, which for our crew is a savings of $225.00. You just can’t beat it!

Because we are only a family of 7 and the deal allows for 8 visitors we decided to invite Tyler’s biological brother, Brandon to join us for the day. Tyler was very excited to share this family tradition with Brandon and Brandon was excited to be included.

Brandon’s social worker dropped him off at our home at 8:30am and we began the 1 1/2 hour trek to Idlewild. We ended up having to take two cars since Grace had class that evening. We left her car parked at the local Giant Eagle parking lot and all went into the park in one vehicle so as to avoid paying double, and then when Grace had to leave to get to school Toby just drove her to her car and then met back up with us in the park.

It was a practically perfect day. The kids had a blast running from ride to ride, switching riding partners based on who wanted to ride each particular ride.

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Some rides were a hit with everyone, like the park’s roller coasters…

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While other ride appealed only to certain kiddos…

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Tyler was enamored with the bumper cars and while the other kids rode all the rides in Olde Idlewild he got in line a dozen times for another round on bumper cars.

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After our picnic lunch we split ways for a little while. My three oldest wanted to walk through Storybook Forest, while Tyler, Ozzie and Brandon wanted to ride rides so Toby took them riding,

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While I walked with my oldest three through Storybook Forest and relived so many sweet memories of their early years.

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It was special having that time with just them and we had fun recreating photos from their childhood at various spots in Storybook Forest.

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It was a wonderful day to play at Idlewild Amusement Park!

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Fun at the Creek

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School is officially out, and we have transitioned from one season of craziness to another with our days filled with summer projects, camps, summer tutoring and various weekly therapy sessions.

With Ozzie’s arrival home we have reinstated family based therapy. As the date for his release from the residential treatment facility where he resided for eight months while he was receiving more intensive therapy to address the affects of early childhood trauma neared, we started lining up therapeutic support for his return home. His RTF expressed concern for the drastic step-down of care that comes with transitioning from 24/7 therapeutic care to 1-2 outpatient therapy sessions a week and suggested we set up a Family Based team to be assigned to our home to help Ozzie (and the other kids) with his transition home.

We were assigned our Family Based team a month before Ozzie’s release and were thrilled to find out we would be working with the same two ladies that were our Family Based team prior to Ozzie’s placement.

For the last two months they have been in our home multiple times a week helping the entire family adjust to being reunited. Our primary goals revolve around reconnection, improved communication, and healing between Ozzie and the other kids, while Ozzie’s trauma work is addressed in EMDR outpatient therapy with Miss Tina.

Because the goals of Family Based revolve around communication and connection with siblings, most family based sessions involve a whole-family activity that allows the kids to work on those skills. For the most part it has been a positive addition to our network of therapeutic support. Ozzie is doing awesome. Due in large part to his residential stay, Ozzie has found a level of healing and stability that is nothing short of miraculous.

God is so good!

The only struggle I have noted with Oz is a heightened level of anxiety. This is especially true in the days leading up to a Family Based therapy appointment. After taking note of this trend and talking to Oz about my observations he was finally able to identify that the history of Family Based in our home (ie: family based being the final therapeutic tool we tried before we realized that he needed more therapeutic support, a decision that led to him being admitted to Harborcreek Youth Services) was causing his anxiety. In his mind he equated the Family Based team with being judge and jury in deciding whether he goes back to residential care or remains at home. That ANT (automatic-negative-thought) was the cause of the heightened anxiety we were seeing. Once I realized this I was able to speak with his trauma therapist and his Family Based team to come up with a plan to change his perception of Family Based therapy.

The first step I thought might be helpful was to take therapy away from the home and let Ozzie interact with his therapists in an environment that wasn’t connected to memories from nine months ago.

So, on Monday we meet at Brush Creek Park for Family Based therapy. One of his therapists came up with the fun idea of catching crayfish with the kids as a shared, connection-building experience.

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This was our first time visiting this park but we fell in love with it.

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It was absolutely stunning.

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After trying out a few spots along the creek,

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We settled in near the covered bridge.

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The boys were in the water immediately,

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in their excitement to find some crayfish,

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While the girls explored the bridge and took advantage of photographic opportunities.

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It was the most successful Family Based session yet.

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I think the combination of being away from home and out in nature, while participating in an active, hands-on activity was a win-win combo.

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Is there anything better than a summer afternoon splashing in the creek?!

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A Greatest Showman Sing-Along

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Friday was the evening of the much anticipated Father/Son campout with our church. I say “much anticipated” with a tongue-in-cheek twist as it is much anticipated by some in our family while stoically endured by others (ie: Toby.)

This year was particularly rough, as it rained buckets for most of the night and the boys were forced to camp out in the van rather than a tent. They also had an extra early morning with Rusty (and Molly) signed up for SAT testing that required a 7:45 am arrival. The result of all those factors was minimal sleep for the boys and Toby returning home wondering yet again why he makes the effort to attend each year and pledging once again that this year is the last year….

But I know Toby, and next year’s father and son campout will roll around and he will once again selflessly submit to another sleepless night, as is tradition, for the sake of making his 3 boys feel loved and valued…

Which is one of the million reasons I adore this man!

Typically, while the boys are enduring a sleepless night of rain and mosquitos, the girls and I enjoy our own traditions while taking advantage of an entire night with no boys in the house. Our traditions tend to revolve around at home spa treatments, chocolate, and chick-flics. This year, however, adult responsibilities meant I was down a daughter since Grace was scheduled to work, but rather than let it put a damper on our evening I made special plans for just Molly and I knowing that in a few weeks Grace and I will have an entire week alone at home alone while everyone else is engaged in summer plans.

I began searching for a fun activity that Molly and I could enjoy together when I stumbled across a fun event occurring at the historic Strand Theater in Zelienople. Here is a little background information on this neat place where Molly and I enjoyed our girls’ night out:

HISTORY OF THE STRAND THEATER

The Strand Theater was constructed and managed by Gioachino and Rosalia Sapienza in 1914.  Gioachino and Rosalia were Italian immigrants seeking a new life and new opportunity in America and Zelienople.  In order to blend in with their adopted community, they became known to friends and neighbors as Joseph and Rosalie.  Joseph originally wanted to build a fruit market, but the local banker convinced him that the town really needed a theater.  So two-thirds of the structure was dedicated to The Strand, and the remaining third was Sapienza’s Fruit Market.  The Strand featured silent films with live piano accompaniment as well as Vaudeville-style shows on its small stage.

In 1939, The Strand underwent its first major renovation and the structure was dedicated entirely to the theater, albeit with a nearly exclusive focus on the motion picture medium.  Joseph moved his fruit market across the street into what is now ‘The Silversmith Shoppe’ and a tax preparation office.  But the ‘Sapienza’ name is still emblazoned across the top of the building’s facade. 

The Strand thrived as a social center for Zelienople and Harmony for decades, providing a destination for families to escape the drudgery and routine of rural life and to meet and enjoy a night’s entertainment. But The Strand began to struggle when multiplex cinemas began dotting the suburban landscape.  The theater became more of a drop-off point for parents to leave their kids for an afternoon matinee.

But with increased pressure from the onset of the Multi-Plex and VCR era, The Strand could no longer compete. One night In the early 1980’s, The Strand closed its doors and they have not been open to the public since…………………………….until now.

There have been a variety of suitors for The Strand over the years. Developers and private investors considered making use of the building for everything from a mini-mall to a dance school to a dinner theater. As recently as Fall, 2000, the FBI considered The Strand for use as a field office. However, the extensive cost of buying and renovating the building has kept potential developers away.

The Strand Theater Initiative was created in 2001 as a non-profit corporation to save the venerable old theater from the wrecking ball, with the goal of reviving The Strand as a cultural, education and community outreach center.  Through private and public financial support, The Initiative purchased The Strand in 2002 and completed an exterior renovation in January, 2005. 

The event we attended there was for the showing of The Greatest Showman on the big screen, but this was no ordinary night at the movies. The Strand Theater was offering a sing-along version of one of our favorite movies, complete with the words to each song highlighted at the bottom of the screen. I knew that it was going to be a night to remember and I was right!

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Molly and I left for Zelienople soon after the boys headed out for their camp out. After a stop for Chinese take-out we drove to the Strand Theater, making sure we arrived in  time to collect out $5.00 tickets from “will call,” and with enough time to soak in the atmosphere of the historic theatre before the house lights dimmed.

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We found the interior of the theatre as charming as the exterior and were delighted at the opportunity to sit in the balcony.

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The movie was as wonderful as the first five times we had seen it but was even more magical thanks to the addition of 100 voices joining the characters on screen in song as we belted along to our favorite tunes.

Molly was all smiles and I couldn’t help but marvel at the magic found in that moment as we sat in the dark and I listened to her sing along with the voices around me.

We loved The Greatest Showman the first time we saw it in the theater for my 40th birthday, but that was nothing compared to this experience. It was awesome…a special memory I will forever cherish with Miss Molly.

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