Monthly Archives: April 2019

Easter Blessings

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Easter weekend arrived on the heels of a hard week, proving to be anything but “typical” when a series of unexpected trauma triggers rewrote the script we planned for Easter Sunday.

It was with heavy hearts and weary spirits that we moved into the Easter weekend.

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It began with a not-so-Good Friday when we found ourselves at the emergency room with Ozzie in crisis.

An evaluation brought awareness that hospitalization was necessary. We arrived midafternoon and I spent the night sitting up in a chair while an open bed at a pediatric mental health hospital was sought out for Oz. Seven hours later a bed was secured and at 8:30am the ambulance arrived to transport him. The sun was already up when I dragged myself back to the parking lot for the heavy-hearted and painful drive home. I was physically exhausted from sitting up all night with Ozzie and emotionally weary from this long, lonely, rollercoaster ride we can’t seem to stop. After a few hours of sleep I rolled out of bed. Toby and I were both tapped dry but we had to rally. We couldn’t let the choices of one child steal the joy of the Easter holiday from the other children. Too many sacrifices have already made for the sake of the higher-needs children in the home and we weren’t going to allow the discouragement that weighed down our hearts, darken the joy of the day. So, Toby and I, exhausted and empty, headed out shopping for Easter baskets and egg coloring supplies. I found myself moving in a fog as I tried to figure out what to put into Easter baskets. I don’t know if it was bone-deep fatigue or the heaviness of grief over another unplanned detour in our family’s journey, but I felt like I couldn’t put together a complete thought, much less a creative plan.

It took us twice as long as it should have but Toby and I finally came up with a plan for Easter baskets and purchased the remaining ingredients needed for egg decorating and for the side dishes we were assigned to bring to Easter dinner.

We battled the crowds and the long lines associated with putting off holiday shopping until the day before, and eventually made it home.

In the hours that followed the eggs were hard boiled and colored, baskets were secretly assembled, Molly’s talk for Easter Sunday was printed out, Sunday clothes were washed and ironed, and soon it was time for bed. With everyone home and tucked into bed, and Ozzie safely cared for at Western Psych, I could finally sleep.

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We awoke at 4:00 am to the harsh ring of the alarm clock.

We crawled from bed to do our Easter duty, going through the motions of childhood traditions, allowing the kids to be kids for another year.

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While we don’t have any “bunny believers” left in our home, the “Easter Bunny” returned for another year. His arrival was especially critical this year, as we shared the joy of our Easter traditions with Braden who missed out on many of these special traditions as a child. He didn’t have a childhood filled with memories of colored eggs and Easter baskets, so we knew that it was important that his first Easter with us contain those beloved traditions. He needed an Easter basket. It was essential. He needed to be given a piece of our shared Easter memories, and needed the opportunity to be experience the joyful anticipation of being that 5-year-old little boy who exits his room in anticipation of baskets and brightly colored eggs hidden around the house. I know it sounds silly and indulgent given the crisis situation we were in. An Easter basket for a 17-year-old boy may not seem as urgent as other needs playing out in our home, but it was incredibly important, and I would even argue that it was essential.

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And the effects of our efforts…our display of tender love and parental care… were priceless.

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The joy of Easter morning moved into the joy of Easter worship as we celebrated the reason for the day, giving thanks for the atoning sacrifice that is the source of our hope and our strength.

After church we headed to Aunt Beth’s house for Easter dinner with Toby’s side of the family.

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We were joined by Zach, Gracie’s boyfriend, who had Easter lunch with our family at 2:00 before Grace joined Zach at his family’s Easter dinner at 5:00.

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We enjoyed good food and fun times with family, celebrating all of our blessings, but especially the blessing a God’s love, Christ’s atonement, forgiveness, do-overs, love-driven endurance, unconditional love, and forever families.

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Sweet Cousins 

We are blessed.

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The darkest days and the most heartbreaking, hopeless Fridays are always followed by the renewing promise and hopeful gift of Easter morning.

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God is good…

Always good.

 

Scrapbooking: Cheaper than a Therapist!

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Easter week was one of those muddied, happy/sad weeks where joyful, celebratory moments roll in on the heels of heartbreak and vice versa, leaving us all with emotional whiplash. These are the very hardest weeks for me to navigate as my desire for a life of black and white living meld into a perpetually grey existence. Gone are the days that can clearly be labeled a success or a failure. Instead we find ourselves riding the rollercoaster of trauma-affected parenting that take us on a ride filled with breathtaking views at the top followed by stomach-flipping drops to the bottom. This up and down thrill ride doesn’t occur over the course of a month, or even a week, but often in the space of mere minutes.

And to say that sort of frequent change in altitude (and attitude) is draining, would be the understatement of the year!

As I type this I can clearly picture the faces of family and friends who are nodding their assent to my depiction, as they, too, are on a similar roller coaster that never slows down and never allows riders to disembark. What got you on the ride might be circumstances far different than mine, but if you are “crisis living” and navigating life currently in survival mode, I know you get what I’m saying.

This week was one of those happy/sad weeks filled with many happy/sad hours of emotional whiplash as I celebrated joyful highs and heartbreaking lows,

And it all started with a girls’ week away.

This past week I joined four of my nearest and dearest friends at JB’s Retreat for a few days of cropping.

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

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

My conviction about the importance of having a recording of our stories and capturing the moments of our lives through photographs has only increased since we entered the world of adoption. I see how the lack of personal history in the form of scrapbooks or pictures hurt my boys, making me all the more determined that their current story be recorded and recorded well.

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This annual scrapbook weekend also serves the added purpose of being a time of rest and renewal. I am able to step away from the busyness of life that consumes my days and focus on self-care, stillness, laughter, and creativity…all balms to my soul. And I can do it without feeling that nagging momma guilt, because my time away is gifting my family with something special and important.

Over time that weekend retreat evolved as some friends moved on and new friends were gained. It went from being Becky’s planned excursion at a bible college to something a group of us co-op moms picked up when that era ended.

For the last few years we have gone away scrapbooking for 3-4 days. The first few years were spent at Scraphappy, a charming little house rented out to scrapbooking groups like ours, but a few years ago when we went to book it, we discovered it had closed without notice. There was a moment of panic, as all of us really live for this creative retreat, but then we rallied and began searching for an alternative location.

That is when we stumbled across Red Door Retreat.  This getaway was located near Sandusky, Ohio. It was a beautiful place, and it worked for that year, but the drive and the set-up of the house wasn’t ideal so we kept searching.

Two years ago, we tried a new place, one that Lana and Tauni discovered. It is called JB’s Retreat and its affordable price, beautiful views, and close proximity to home made it practically perfect!

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I left Tuesday morning with a van full of papers, photos, gifts, stickers, and enough food to feed a small nation. Typically, I ride with Lana and Tauni, but this year I drove separately. This was because we had some extra guests this year, and in the end, it was a blessing I had driven separately because in my absence things imploded at home, requiring me to take my leave a day early.

Our extra guests were three teenage girls.

Three of us scrapbooking veterans have daughters graduating this year.

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And these three graduates also happen to be best friends, just like their mommas, so we decided to open our getaway to our graduating girls when they volunteered to be our kitchen staff for the week.

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It sounded like a great deal to us, as we wouldn’t have to break from our creative pursuits to cook meals,

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And the girls were excited to get a mini vacation with much free time to play, interrupted only by their responsibilities at meal times.

Their presence was a blessing. It was fun to have that special bonding time with the girls and they truly did bless us by taking on the responsibility of cooking and clean-up.

When they weren’t in the kitchen cooking the girls spent their time doing school work, watching movies, enjoying the farm animals that call J.B’s Retreat home,

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Participating in a fun sewing project with Miss Wendy,

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And pampering themselves with the thank you gifts they received from the moms.

They soon discovered why our annual scrapbooking retreat is the highlight of my year…

Between the gifts of love exchanged between friends,

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The late-night hours filled with belly-aching laughter,

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The opportunity to emotionally recharge through good conversation, yummy food, and restful sleep,

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All while getting to indulge in creative pursuits…

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Who could ask for anything more?!

This year my creative project was to scrapbook our February vacation to Disney World and Universal Studios, and I did pretty well, getting 124 scrapbook pages finished before a late-night call on Wednesday evening that resulted in an abrupt end to my vacation.

This trip really clarified the emotional state of my hurting children. It soon became clear how dependent they are (in their current state) on my help to co-regulate them when they are struggling.

I ended up leaving Molly at the retreat, in the loving arms of my friends that are like “Aunties” to my kids, and they wrapped Molly up in their loving care while I went home to deal with the crisis at home. It was a good call. Molly was able to enjoy some extra, much-needed respite, and I was able to help Toby diffuse things at home. The next 24 hours were filled with huge safety issues that resulted in a trip to the emergency room and hospitalization for Ozzie after a series of dangerous behaviors that climaxed with a failed suicide attempt.

It wasn’t the week-long retreat I had hoped for, but I’m grateful for the hours of respite I was able to grab hold of while I could. It was a gift to step out of the storm for a few days, rest, be encouraged by dear friends, focus on some long-overdue self-care, all while enjoying some bonding time with Molly.

It wasn’t a perfect week. I probably wouldn’t even call it a “good” week (there was too much heartache mixed in),  but there were blessings to be found, and those blessings were a gift!

Here’s to recording the moments of our lives…

The good, the bad, and the ugly!

Rusty’s NHS Induction Ceremony

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We couldn’t be prouder of child #3.

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Rusty has joined Molly and Grace as the third child to be inducted into National Honor Society.

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The induction ceremony took place on Wednesday evening, following our sweet day of fun. We arrived back at our hotel with an hour to spare before we needed to leave for the ceremony. We got all gussied up and left for the banquet which was being held at St. Anthony’s Lodge, a local restaurant/banquet hall.

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When we arrived, we quickly found our assigned table and discovered we had lucked out with seats up front, which pleased this picture-taking Momma! We were seated with Mr. Winterode, Molly’s learning coach, as well as a few other favorite teachers.

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The evening began with a buffet dinner. As we ate we had fun socializing with teachers that we don’t typically get to see face to face.

Then it was time for the induction ceremony to begin.

Rusty and the other nominees were called out of the room to get lined up and receive last minute instructions before they filed into the banquet hall.

We watched with pride as Rusty took part in the inductee procession, taking his seat in the front of the room.

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Then it was Molly’s turn to take the stage. Molly is 21st Century Cyber School’s National Honor Society president this year, so she was asked to speak at the induction ceremony. She chose to speak on one of the four pillars of NHS…the pillar of character.

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Here is what she shared with the new inductees:

“Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Think for a second about what you do when no one is watching. What type of character do you have? What experiences have molded you into the person you are today? Which people around you have influenced you to have the character you have?

Character is defined as “The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual,” which basically means that character makes us individuals. Our character helps us to be distinctive compared to the person sitting beside us, and the world needs that. Communities need individuals who have strong character to be an improving generation. Colleges look for individuals who show strongmcharacter traits and who have been shaped into outstanding students like you! It is your good character that is going to make the biggest impact in the world, both in the big moments but also the simplest times.

We all have opportunities and experiences to better learn our potential every day. My biggest experience of learning and gaining a stronger character came through a personal experience last summer.

I was accepted into The Global Leadership Adventure program. I spent 10 days in Costa Rica working with sea turtle conservation. It was a powerful experience for me because it was at that time that I learned I loved animal conservation, I love helping people and the environment, I enjoy travel, I can do hard things and I want to make a positive change in the world. Those ten days were powerful then, but every day since then I count my blessings of personal character growth that I gained from that trip.

Gaining character doesn’t have to involve traveling to a different country. It could be in the people we meet, the trials we go through, a school year, or even the everyday moments. It is all about finding our potential, worth, and individuality in the world, and then using that knowledge to bless the lives of others.

“Watch your thoughts; they lead to attitudes. Watch your attitudes; they lead to words. Watch your words; they lead to actions. Watch your actions; they lead to habits. Watch your habits; they form your character. Watch your character; it determines your destiny.”

I love the comment of how character determines your destiny. Tody I reflect on how NHS has shaped me to become the person I am today through the service opportunities I have had, leadership I’ve experienced, how much I’ve learned from other NHS members, and the opportunity I have had to be part of something bigger then myself.

What a privilege and blessing it is to be part of NHS and I proudly and gladly welcome you, new NHS members, with open arms. You, too, get the amazing opportunity to have your character shaped and molded through the experiences and service opportunities that come from NHS.

Cherish this time in NHS, because the world needs you. The world needs your strong character and outstanding personalities…

For your character defines you.

Your character can change the world.

Your character determines your destiny.

So, what will your legacy be?

The power lies in your hands.”

She did a wonderful job and it was so special that she, as NHS president, got to welcome her little brother into the NHS family in the same way Gracie, as NHS president 2 years ago, welcomed Molly into NHS as a new inductee.

Then it was time for the enlightenment ceremony; the ceremonial lighting of the inductee’s lantern of knowledge.

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This was followed by the induction pledge and the pin ceremony.

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It was such a special day and my heart was filled with gratitude that Molly and I were able to have that special time with Rusty and celebrate his hard work and his great effort in joining the ranks of students who qualified for the privledge of being a member of National Honor Society.

It was nice getting that special time with my third child, and it was good for Rusty to be able to shine and receive recognition for the exceptional young man he is. Rusty is my quiet gentleman, content to step back and let others shine, but I often worry that, in a home filled with big personalities and extreme needs, he feels unseen. This trip gave us the opportunity to allow him the chance to shine, as we celebrated him for the incredible young man he has become.

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We are so proud of you, Rusty, and love you so much!

A Sweet Day!

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Some weeks I feel as though life is slipping away at a pace so frantic and unyielding that I can’t seem to breathe. My lack of presence on the blog serves as a sure indication of the chaos reigning at home. The last two weeks have been filled with crisis after crisis and we have found ourselves emotionally overwhelmed with the tasks of putting out fires. Daily routines have been lost to the task of keeping everyone well, stable and safe. I find myself moving through the day in a fog of exhaustion as one all-nighter at the emergency room with a suicidal child is followed by a 3 hour search for a runaway sibling the following day. In the midst of this surreal reality we find ourselves navigating, we strive to carve out the time for engaged interaction with our children who aren’t in crisis, trying valiantly to not let the milestones of their young adulthood years get lost to the squeaky wheels in the family. I find myself racked with guilt as I watch the trauma of the boys’ past dictate the way the minutes of our life play out. I battle anger towards the birth parents that destroyed my boys’ lives. I battle resentment that my days are having to be filled with cleaning up their mess. But mostly I battle guilt…guilt when my response is unconnected and not as compassionate as it ought to be, guilt that my other kids are getting lost in the wake of crisis living, and guilt that I can’t be enough of a friend, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, wife and mother to all those who need me, because there simply aren’t enough minutes in my day. I find myself running on empty and fantasizing about changing my name and taking off for Vegas to become a blackjack dealer named Sally…

But this too shall pass.

In the meantime I will share some happy moments from the weeks leading up to “hell week,” beginning with our trip to Downingtown for Rusty’s National Honor Society induction ceremony.

  I think it would be fair to say that Wednesday, April 10th was a very sweet day…

Like, cavity-inducing sweet!

On Tuesday, Rusty, Molly and I left on a road trip across the state to the Downingtown office of 21st Century Cyber Charter School.

Rusty had been accepted into National Honor Society and asked that he be able to attend the Downingtown office induction ceremony, instead of the Murrysville ceremony, so that he could have the same special excursion his sisters enjoyed as part of joining NHS. Since Rusty rarely asks for anything, and is my kiddo often lost in the shadows of our higher-needs children, we decided to take the opportunity to celebrate Rusty in a special way.

Molly also had a role in the ceremony. As president of the school’s National Honor Society, she was one of the speakers, so she joined Rusty on our little road trip.

It was such a gift to enjoy a few days of one-on-one time with Molly and Rusty, and fun for them to enjoy that time together. Molly and Rusty are not two of my kids that naturally pair off together so this event gave them an excuse for some special brother/sister bonding.

The NHS induction ceremony was scheduled for Wednesday night at 7:00 pm, so when we woke up in our hotel room on Wednesday morning, we had the whole day ahead of us for playing and enjoying the sites of the area. Since it was Rusty’s special day we let him choose how we would spend the day.

Being a teenage boy, he chose two sweet experiences that involved food.

Our first activity was the Turkey Hill Experience. Located in Lancaster County, the Turkey Hill Experience is a hands-on museum that walks visitors through the production process of Turkey Hill ice cream.

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

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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“Watch out, Molly! Rusty is behind the wheel!”

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: Filming a commercial for our newly developed flavors.

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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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We ended our tour of the ice cream making process by opting to upcharge our experience with some hands-on application in the taste lab.

For a slightly higher entrance fee visitors can try their hand at creating their own unique ice cream flavor in the lab.

We were excited to get our hands sticky and dig into this sweet experience.

With the help of a lab technician who led us through the steps of creating a new ice cream flavor, we began the creative process.

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First, we chose our base. We had the option on picking a vanilla or chocolate base.

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Then we created our flavor using flavor extracts.

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Next, we added our inclusions…those delicious chunks found in the very best ice creams!

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We had our choice of dozens of different types of inclusions.

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Once our inclusions were mixed in, we added our swirl of flavor.

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The results were AMAZING!

And the process was so much fun!

When we were done at Turkey Hill, we drove 45 minutes north, to Hershey, Pennsylvania…

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To visit Chocolate World!

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We began our visit at the “Create your own Candy Bar” experience, where we put on hair nets and aprons.

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The experience took us through the steps of creating our own chocolate bars from start to finish.

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We began the development process by picking the type of chocolate we wanted and the “inclusions” we wanted to add to the bar.

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From there we moved to the factory line where we watched the creation of our candy bars.

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After the candy bars were assembled, we moved into the design studio to create our packaging while the chocolate bars cooled.

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It was fun to watch our chocolate bars come to fruition and then get packed in our creative, personalized labels.

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Finally, we picked up our completed candy bars.

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By the time we were done creating our candy bars it was time to head back to the hotel to get gussied up for Rusty’s NHS induction ceremony.

We couldn’t have asked for a“Sweeter” Day!

Miss Molly is 19!!

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How is it that little miss sunshine is in the final stretch of her teenage years?!

It doesn’t seem possible.

On Sunday, April 7th, Molly turned 19, and we celebrated her at home with fun plans for the day.

In our home Sundays are spent worshipping at church and bonding as a family at home. We believe the Sabbath is best spent with family and desire to extend that same courtesy to others, so for that reason we choose to not shop or participate in activities that require other people to have to work and be away from their family on Sundays.

This is a principle we hold sacred as we choose to honor the Sabbath Day as a day set apart from the rest of the week.

When a family member’s birthday falls on a Sunday, it means we create fun at home rather than eating out or choosing a fun family activity that costs money. This always makes me feel like I need to up my birthday game to make sure the child feels loved despite a quiet birthday celebration at home.

This year Molly’s birthday not only fell on a Sunday, but on General Conference Sunday. General Conference occurs twice a year in our church. It is when members worldwide tune in via TV or computer to hear from our church leaders who share guidance, direction and revelation to the members that are relevant to today. General Conference weekends are my favorite Sabbaths of the year and this year it fell on Molly’s birthday. This meant we had a full day at home as a family…what a gift!

Our day began with the rarest of gifts: sleeping past 6:00am. Oh, it was delightful to sleep until my eyes opened on their own, rather than forcing them open under protest. We warned Molly ahead of time to expect her birthday morning wake-up later than usual, and as a 19-year-old girl she offered up no complaints to that plan!

It was closer to 9:00am when our family poured into her room singing her birthday song. First she made a secret wish, and then she blew out her cupcake candle, and her birthday had officially begun.

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We began the day with the big reveal of the decorated dining room. This momma LOVES a good theme (to which Toby always sarcastically inquires, “And “Happy Birthday” isn’t a good enough theme?”) Nope! This is my favorite part of my kids’ birthdays and they have learned that the theme of the decorations in the dining room quite often provide a hint to their gift from mom and dad.

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Molly entered the dining room to discover a Newsies theme playing out on the table. Newsies is Molly’s favorite musical so with that in mind, I ran with that theme and had a blast!

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Then it was present time. No one wanted to wait any longer for Molly to open their gifts, and Molly didn’t really want to wait either, so the first task on the birthday agenda was gift opening.

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We started with the youngest and ended with mom and dad.

Everyone had Molly’s impending adventure on their minds and purchased gifts for “College-bound Molly.”

Tyler bought her a giant coloring poster that he thought she could hang on the wall of the home she will be sharing with 8 other girls. His thought was that they could color together.

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Ozzie purchased a light-up marque for her dorm room desk.

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Rusty bought her a blow-up ottoman for her room with a cute cloth cover.

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Braden decided he wanted to buy her a crock pot after hearing her talk about how helpful one would be as a college student.

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Grace, following the example of the gift she received from Aunt Krista on her 19th birthday, made Molloy a college survival kit that was filled with all the products she has found most essential as a college student. It was very cute and clever!

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And then came her gift from Mom and Dad…

Tickets to watch the musical Newsies in Pittsburgh.

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With the tickets came a Newsies t-shirt to wear to the show.

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Gift opening was followed by a breakfast of crepes, and then we prepared for the first session of General Conference.

Everyone claimed their spot in the living room, got comfy, and I handed out the goodies I prepared for General Conference.

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To make Conference more engaging and to help everyone pay attention I prepared a few games to play as we watched, including General Conference Bingo with a basket of prizes from Dollar Tree.

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In between the morning and afternoon session of General Conference, we had Molly’s birthday dinner. She picked the menu, requesting spaghetti pizza, salad, garlic bread and cheesecake in lieu of traditional birthday cake.

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The day was spent enjoying family, soaking up the spirit of General Conference and celebrating Miss Molly.

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She truly is the sunshine in our lives!!

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Braden’s Baptism

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On the tail of Braden’s adoption day came another life changing event.

The first life changing event changed his life…

The second one changed his eternity.

On March 31st Braden was baptized.

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It was a decision he made after much prayer and personal contemplation.

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When Braden moved into our home he came with no knowledge of God, or Jesus Christ, or scriptural teachings. During the first week he was in our home, he posed a question following dinner prayer, asking, “So, who are we talking to?”

He came to us an infant in his spiritual journey and we found him hungry for the truths being taught and hungry for the spiritual nourishment the gospel offers.

He was eager to know more, and as he was introduced to his Heavenly Father, we watched him find peace and joy in the way that can only be found through Jesus Christ.

We watched as he discovered the power of prayer, and rejoiced with him when he experienced feelings of great love as his prayers were answered.

We celebrated his joy as he delved into the scriptures and began finding the answers he has been seeking his entire life.

We wept with him when he cried, overwhelmed by the Spirit, upon receiving a father’s blessing for the first time.

We rejoiced with him as he began to understand the great love God has for him and that there has been a divine purpose behind all that he has had to endure in his short life.

We were humbled as we watched him become aware of Heavenly Father’s presence and recognize that he was never alone, even when he had felt alone.

We watched as he began to make different choices when the Spirit convicted him of choices that weren’t aligned to God’s will for his life.

We wrapped him in our arms when he finally began to believe that he can return home to his Father in Heaven and be reunited with those whom he has lost to death.

And we found ourselves overwhelmed with gratitude when he came to us asking to be baptized.

On the day he was adopted he took on our name; forever declaring him a McCleery.

On his baptism day he took on the name of Jesus Christ, forever making him a follower of Jesus,

Promising to always remember Him and follow His example.

It was a big day for Braden and our hearts were filled to overflowing as we watched him enter the waters of baptism, knowing that his life would never be the same again.

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In one week, he not only became my son,

But also, my brother in Christ.

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We are so excited to see what God has in store for this special boy!

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Some other Stuff…

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Before I blog about the next few big events in our life, I thought I’d blog about some of the little things that have filled our days  in blessed ways. This also gives me an excuse to do a photo dump and clear some pictures off my phone!

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Here is the latest and greatest at Patchwork Farm…

Last week Molly received some unexpected, exciting news from her soon-to-be school, BYU-Idaho. As part of a photo challenge on Instagram, Molly submitted photos of her college decision announcement. Her photo was one of three chosen in the creative college announcement category. Her photo was featured on their Instagram page and Molly was the recipient of an prize package full of BYU-I gear. She was so excited!

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The boys continue to be blessed by the effects of equine therapy. They all love it and the progress they have made therapeutically at Glade Run Adventures is astounding. Tyler, Ozzie and Braden now ride together in a group session once a week. It has been fun to watch their growth, both in the area of equine skills and coping skills.

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Grace continues to glow, due in large part to the happiness she has found with Zach. We continue to see more and more of Zach, which is just fine with us. We love Zach and we love seeing Gracie so happy. 🙂

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He continues to seek out opportunities to support Grace, including joining our family for Sunday dinner.

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He was joined by the two missionaries who have been teaching Braden as he prepared for his baptism.

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On the night Zach joined us, dinner was followed by a spiritual lesson and fun game of Pictionary that was used to teach Braden the 10 commandments.

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It was a fun evening!

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Grace isn’t the only McCleery girl with her mind on a sweet fellow. This past week Molly asked her best guy friend, Irvin, out to prom. This “promposal” has been months in the making. Her original plan was to get a photo with Rapunzel, while we were in Magic Kingdom, holding a sign that posed her big question. On our final day at Magic Kingdom she was prepared to ask him to be her prom date in a creative way. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that posters were prohibited in the park. Here beautiful sign was confiscated and thrown in the trash by security so she came up with a plan B. She had her picture taken with Rapunzel, using my old polaroid camera, and then made it into a card once she got home. Last week she mailed her “promposal”…

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He received it…

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And he said “Yes!”

She wasn’t the only one with a surprise up her sleeve, however. While her secret was playing out on this end, Irvin and her best friend, Tatum, had their own surprise in the works for Molly’s 19th birthday. Irvin decided he wanted to surprise Molly by driving the four hours from Gettysburg to take her out the day after her birthday. He and Tatum collaborated and planned a magical day for their best friend. I was pulled into the plan so that I could secretly get Molly where she needed to be for the big surprise.

I kept her schedule wide open (which is no easy task!) by telling her I made plans for us to have a mother/daughter date. We left Monday morning with a plan in place. Tatum met up with Irvin after he drove 4 hours to get to our town. They headed to Walmart to get into position to surprise Molly. With the excuse of needing to grab a few things before our date, I stopped at Walmart and led her to the aisle where her friends were hiding.

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Needless to say, she was surprised and touched by their show of love.

Once I had done my duty and delivered Molly, they headed off in Irvin’s truck for a day of adventures.

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They took Molly ice skating,

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Went hiking at North Park,

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Enjoyed a special picnic lunch,

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And explored Oakland, before ending their day at the Cheesecake Factory for dessert.

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Molly returned home beaming and feeling incredibly loved by the love shown by two of her besties. ❤

I am forever grateful for my children’s friends and the friendship they share.

Sometimes life is so full of big events, that it is easy to lose sight of all the small but precious moments  that bless our life and make it special. We are blessed.

 

Fun with Family at the Farm

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Last Saturday we ventured west for fun with family at the Homestead. Since my sister and her family were in town for Braden’s adoption, and since my parents (and grandma) had to miss Braden’s adoption, we thought we’d have a adoption celebration/family reunion at the farm.

The day didn’t play out exactly as planned.

The heightened emotions of a busy and eventful week led to two of the boys questioning their ability to navigate another emotional/connecting day with family, so despite it being a celebration for Braden, we headed west without him.

 He expressed the need for a quiet day at home, so Toby remained home with Braden and Ozzie, while I took the rest of the kids to my parents’ house for some fun with cousins.

It was a good call. Everyone who remained home were able to recharge their batteries, allowing Braden to go into Sunday in a more peaceful state, prepared to make his baptismal covenants.

Yes, you read that right. Five days after his adoption, Braden was baptized.

He had been preparing for that moment for 6 weeks and when given the opportunity to pick the date for his baptism, he chose to enter the waters of baptism the same week as his adoption.

We questioned whether it was too much for him to emotionally navigate in one week but he insisted he didn’t want to wait any longer, so on Sunday he was baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. It was a beautiful day, but more on that in a later post…

Staying home on Saturday allowed him the quiet time he needed to reflect and prepare for the next day when he would take on the name of Jesus Christ and commit his life to Him.

Our smaller numbers made for a relaxed and emotionally restful day, especially in contrast to the days leading up to Saturday.

We arrived and headed to the barn where we enjoyed a wonderful day with family.

We ate lunch together, enjoying a meal of pizza, wings, jojo potatoes, and cake.

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The girls opened their birthday gifts from family:

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The boys played and played and played some more:

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While the rest of us enjoyed some catch-up time.

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We introduced Kelly and Lydia to our new business adventure and let them try some Colorstreet samples:

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After a day of visiting, playing games, and catching up on each other’s lives, we ended our get-together with an Easter egg hunt in the barn.

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It was a wonderfully relaxed day with family!

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I am so grateful to have parents who go out of their way to create magical moments that bring our family together and keep us connected amidst the busyness of the harder seasons of life, as well as grateful for cousins who can pick right up as though they see each other twice a week rather than twice a year.

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We are blessed!

Running the Race

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It is funny how we tend to hyper-focus on the finish lines of life.

Every met goal is perceived as an ending, when in reality each ending is merely a check-point on the marathon we call life.

This is especially true when we are running a particularly hard leg of the race, like the one we have been running these last few months.

The road leading up to adoption day was full of potholes, pitfalls and roadblocks…far more than we shared with anyone who was cheering us on from the sidelines. It was a wearisome run and by the last mile we were crawling toward the finish line.

You see, in my hopelessly naïve head I thought we just had to make it to adoption day. (You’d think we’d know better!)  Knowing most of the struggles with my three youngest were rooted in fears and anxiety about the adoption failing before it was finalized, I (coming from an untraumatized mindset) thought that the finalization of the adoption would bring feelings of security and felt safety. Exhausted and digging deep for that final push of energy needed to make it to (and through) adoption day, I thought that once we made it to Tuesday I could rest my weary self and enjoy the reward of a race well run.

What I discovered, however, was that as we finalized the adoption, and we prepared to break through the finish line ribbon to the cheers of celebration, the finish line wasn’t where I expected it to be. And I could have cried. Much like a runner who had paced themselves so as to ration out their energy down to the last mile, only to discover they had miscalculated and the finish line was actually five miles further down the road, we arrived home on Tuesday night to find that someone had up and moved the finish line ribbon and we had to keep running.

And we were all tapped dry.

There was nothing left in Toby and I.

I was weary to the point of tears when everything and everyone combusted in an explosion of hard emotions.

It was at that moment that I realized that despite the raw sores on my feet, the lack of tread left on my shoes, and the bone-deep weariness that consumed me, my race was not done. In fact, despite thinking I had reached the finish line, I had actually just begun the real race.

It is those moments in life that test our mettle.

Are we going to quit or will we choose to tap deep and keep running?

The days following our adoption hearing brought emotional “fall-out” as everyone dealt with the crash that follows highly emotional experiences. Tears came more quickly, anger was harder to manage, anxiety left family members doing whatever it took to survive the week, while others who couldn’t manage the heightened anxiety simply ran away.

They ran to prevent others from running first.

They packed their bags and walked out the door before they could be hurt by the actions of others…after all, that is what happened in the past.

I thought adoption day would bring feelings of security, but for a child whose joy following  his first adoption was stolen from him shortly thereafter by the destructive nature of cancer, nothing in this world feels safe or secure.

And if the threat of losing what you want most weighs heavy enough on your soul, you run. And that is what Braden did, and Tyler did, and Ozzie did…multiple times that week.

So, I did the only thing I could do…I followed.

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It took nine miles and 2 1/2 hours of walking before he believed I wasn’t going to leave him or give up on him.

 I followed to show that we NEVER give up on family,

And to show them that if they chose to run, I would follow them…Always.

Much of my week was spent following runaways in my car as I drove at a snail’s pace behind them, with my hazard lights blinking to warn other drivers of their presence.

I followed for hours and hours and hours…

Testifying to them through my actions that we will never give up on them.

And by following them, I proved my love through my unwillingness to let them flee when family love gets uncomfortable or scary,

Because it will.

Being part of a family is the most blessed gift Heavenly Father has given us on earth, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy, or fun, or comfortable.

Being part of a family means that you choose to keep showing up, keep supporting, keep communicating, keep loving, and keep running the hard race…even when ever fiber of your being wants to quit.

Love is a choice. If it were a feeling it would be as intangible as a giggle or as untouchable as a rainbow, but true love…love built through dirty hands and broken nails and sheer grit…

Well, that is the type of love you can trust.

That is the type of love you build a life on.

That is the type of love our Father in Heaven shows us.

Life is not a sprint, and adoption is REALLY not a sprint. It is a long race, made up of lots of short stretches. Some are scenic, some are hard, and some will do everything short of breaking you,

But the choice to keep running is one we will all have to make time and time again in our lives.

When I find myself getting weary or wanting to quit, or discouraged by the finish line that never seems to manifest over the next horizon, I think of this story and draw strength from its message:

“During the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, John Stephen Akhwari placed last in the marathon, yet major sports magazines named him as one of two “top international Olympians” that year. While losing the race, Mr. Akhwari won the admiration of untold thousands because he embodied the spirit of a true Olympian as he finished despite setbacks.

Track and field athletes that year faced a common challenge when they arrived in Mexico City: its altitude. At 7,350 feet, it was the highest elevation at which any Summer Olympics had been held. From Mbulu, Tanzania, where the altitude is -3.85 feet, Mr. Akhwari suffered leg cramps early in the race. Yet he continued to run.

He collided with another runner and fell, dislocating and badly cutting a knee and injuring a shoulder. He got up and he continued to run.

By sunset, most of his 56 fellow competitors had finished the race. Wounded and in pain, he continued to run. Most spectators had left the arena where the marathon’s finish line was located.

Those who remained noticed lights flashing on a vehicle escorting a lone runner and cheered as the Tanzanian hobbled along the track in his own victory lap to cross the finish line more than an hour after the winner.

It’s doubted that anyone present realized they were witnessing a great moment in the history of the Olympics. Many journalists and people posting on various media have told the story of Mr. Akhwari’s personal victory. In a New York Times article upon the death of Bud Greenspan in 2010 is this account:

“Mr. Greenspan, an eight-time Emmy Award winner, often distilled his view of the Olympics into an incident from the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. He was shooting the marathon, which was won by an Ethiopian, Mamo Wolde.

“But what mesmerized him was John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania. … When Mr. Greenspan asked him why he continued to the end, Mr. Akhwari was incredulous at such a question. ‘My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race,’ Mr. Greenspan often recalled him saying. ‘My country sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race’”

Robert D. Hales spoke of John Akhwari’s determination to finish his race: “He knew who he was—an athlete representing the country of Tanzania. He knew his purpose—to finish the race. He knew that he had to endure to the finish, so that he could honorably return home to Tanzania. Our mission in life is much the same. We were not sent by Father in Heaven just to be born. We were sent to endure and return to Him with honor.

I will choose to continue running the race God has put before me. Not because it is easy, and certainly not because it is always fun,

But because I was not sent here to start the race. My Father sent me here to finish the race.

I will run and run and run this race for love…

Love of my child, love for my family, and because of the infinite love shown to me by my Father in Heaven, who has promised that while this journey may not be easy, it is eternally worth ever step.

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PS- This week’s stretch of road has proven to be smoother.

God is good…Always good!

 

 

Pancakes and Painting Party

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As part of our co-op’s bi-weekly gatherings, Miss Corrina planned a second, amazing activity for our group.

Our co-op has evolved so much over the last decade as the needs in our group changed with the passing of time. As our children grew out of the early elementary years and into middle school, and then high school, our vision for the co-op evolved as well. We no longer needed the holiday parties and structured classes that were so important when they were little. Last year it was decided we had outgrown the co-op’s original function and now our needs were more social. Last May we retired a part of our life that was such a keystone of our week for so long. Unwilling to walk away from the co-op family that had become such an integral part of our life, we opted to adjust our vision for the group.   Rather than meeting every Wednesday for lessons, we decided to meet every other Friday for a learning/social activity. Each mom signed up for a month. This gave everyone a break for the other 7 months of the school year, while also allowing each mom to get creative and plan two activities built around her family’s interests/and or desires.

It has been a lot of fun seeing the wide variety of activities and field trips planned throughout the year, each one so different than the one before, and each fun and engaging in their own unique way.

Miss Corrina was our March mom. Her first planned outing was a historical tour of Darlington. For her second planned activity she went in a completely different direction with a hands-on art activity.

It was held at our old co-op building and the activity was a painting class taught by Corrina’s sister-in-law who teaches these “ladies’ night out” painting classes professionally.

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When we arrived, the lunchroom was set up with easels, canvases, paint and paint brushes allowing us all to participate as we were guided through the step by step process of painting this sample painting:

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Our group was comprised of elementary students up to grandmothers and everyone had a blast putting on their artist hat and getting creative.

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We were led through the steps in a way that lifted the intimidation of trying to create such a complicated piece of art,

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And everyone had a blast painting while visiting with friends.

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The process took 90 minutes and the end results were as varied as the artists themselves.

It was so much fun seeing everyone’s finished products.

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Our activity concluded with a pancake lunch and play time with friends in the gym before it was time to head back home to get the last of our school assignments done for the week.

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