Monthly Archives: June 2019

Celebrating at Pinball PA

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Last week marked our annual trifecta of celebrating Toby.

Each year, over the course of seven days, Toby is celebrated three times. First for being a father, second for being a husband, and third for escaping the womb (as cousin Mark would say!)

Father’s Day, our anniversary and his birthday all fall within days of each other and offer us the opportunity to have a week-long celebration of the man we love.

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We were able to escape for a few hours and enjoy a yummy anniversary dinner…22 years, baby!

On Saturday we made plans to do something fun to celebrate the man who sacrifices and does so much for our family. We were looking for a unique experience we could enjoy together that would be especially enjoyable for Toby. Grace suggested a visit to Pinball PA, having recently been introduced to this little known gem on a double date.

Pinball PA may not look like much from the outside, where it sits in a strip mall, nestled among other stores in Aliquippa, PA,

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But we soon discovered that looks can be deceiving.

We stepped inside, blown away by the pinball/arcade mecca that lay within.

It was like stepping back into our childhood as we viewed rows of vintage arcade games from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

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Rather than having to tote around a sock full of quarters like we did 30 years ago, Pinball PA has their machines set up for free play. Guests pay an entrance fee and then have full access to all the pinball machines and arcade games for two hours. We were able to take advantage of our numbers and pay for a group rate rather than paying as individuals. It worked out to be $10.00/person, which we found reasonable for the experience it offered.

When guests first walk in they are treated to a mini “museum” of arcade history,

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Complete with a running slideshow that was interesting to watch.

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As I stood and watched the slide show, everyone else scattered, eager to get their gaming on!

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Pinball PA boasts the largest collection of vintage arcade games and pinball machines in the world…and they were not kidding. It was like a warehouse of arcade history with aisle after aisle of machines set up side by side.

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The outside walls were lined by pinball machines which everyone enjoyed playing.

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I was especially smitten with their oldest pinball machines which were as charming to look at as they were fun to play. I would love this beauty in my living room!

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In the center of the arcade were hundreds and hundreds of vintage arcade games.

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Toby and I enjoyed stepping back in time, playing the games that were staples of our childhood,

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While the kids enjoyed becoming acquainted with the pixelated graphics and more challenging maneuvering of old school games.

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Thier only references to this style of gaming were thanks to the movies, “Pixels” and “Wreck it Ralph,”

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Which they continued to reference with delighted enthusiasm throughout our visit to Pinball PA.

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We all had A LOT of fun, but no one had more fun than the birthday boy himself, who for his 44th birthday got to reconnect with his 10-year-old self for some 1980’s fun!

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Happy birthday/ Father’s Day/ Anniversary, Toby! We love you!

9 Decades of Life!

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In my life I have been incredibly blessed to be surrounded by women of character and of influence. These women are responsible for a wonderful and magical childhood, but are also largely responsible for the woman I am today.

At their knees I learned the most important of life lessons.

I learned how to love, how to serve, and how to care for my family.

I learned the importance of creating memories and carving out time for fun.

I learned that laughter is one of the greatest antidotes to hard days and that hard work pays dividends.

I learned that life is a grand adventure, and when it comes to the twists and turns on the road of life, we can either fruitlessly resist or lean into the bends and enjoy the ride.

I learned that there is something to be learned from every experience and every person we encounter in our travels.

I learned that family is everything, and as long as you have that you will always feel wealthy.

One of the greatest influences in my life has been my father’s mother, whom I refer to often in the blog as G.G.

G.G. just recently moved closer when in October she sold her home in Florida to move closer to my parents in Wooster, Ohio. Although the craziness of life has kept us from visiting as often as we’d like, we are so grateful to have her close by and a regular fixture at all our family gatherings at the Homestead.

This month was a big one for G.G. as she celebrated her 90th trip around the sun. As vibrant and fun as ever, I can only hope to live my life as well as she has.

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In honor of her big day, plans were in the works months prior to plan a celebration worthy of the birthday girl. My parents, along with my Dad’s three siblings and their spouses, made plans to celebrate this milestone birthday in style.

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The plan was for everyone (Andy/Jane, Denise/Jack, Jill/Paul, Marty/Fran, and my sister Kelly) to come into town for a week of reunion fun with the planned activities coming to a peak on Thursday night with a celebratory birthday dinner at the Olde Jaol Restaurant.

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Prior to the birthday party I was recruited to take on the task of creating a scrapbook for the birthday girl. Months prior to the event I began the project by sending out letters to friends and family requesting birthday letters for grandma. The letters came rolling in and I had a blast reading the memories recorded by all those who love her and whose lives have been touched by hers.

My own sweet memories of her loving traditions that helped mold for me a magical childhood were echoed in the letters from others. I found as I compiled the scrapbook, my love, admiration, and appreciation for my grandmother grew even more, and it was a joyful project to undertake.

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Last Thursday was the big day.

Following a shortened day at work, Toby arrived home with enough time to change before we made the 2.5 hour drive to Wooster, Ohio. There we joined family for G.G.’s 90th birthday dinner at Olde Jaol Resturant.

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This historic gem, located in downtown Wooster, was a perfect place to have such a special birthday celebration. The restaurant, converted from the old city jail, offered a charming atmosphere to compliment a delicious meal…probably the best food I have ever eaten!

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There we were joined by my parents, out-of-town family,

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And of course the birthday girl, who thanks to gifts from Jane and Andy’s puppies, was decked out for the occasion in “90th birthday” bling.

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That evening we enjoyed an amazing meal and even more amazing company as we gathered together to celebrate the life of a woman whose life has touched so many for the better.

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Gifts were given with loving consideration and each gift was an expression of love.

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Then we presented G.G. with the gift from the entire family…the compilation of love letters from friends and family near and far. As she read through the memories that had been penned, it was a confirmation of the impact one soul can have on the world.

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So often we move through this life doing the best we can, wondering if our feeble attempts are making any difference at all. It is easy to become focused on our failures or the struggles that dot our existance, and we lose sight of the big picture and the trail of blessings we leave in our wake…

Blessings that make this world a brighter and better place because we are in it.

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The scrapbook of letters served as a testament to the impact one person can have.

What a life G.G. has led these last 90 years!

How blessed we all are to be a part of that life!

 

The City of Brotherly LOVE

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Following our trip to the Kalahari Resort in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, we decided to take a little detour before heading home. Our detour required a south-easterly jaunt to get to our desired destination…

Philadelphia: The City of Brotherly Love!

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We didn’t have a lot of time to spend in the city, as three kids had work at 6:00pm and we had a 5 hour drive to get home, but we wanted to make this stop a priority.

Gracie, our eldest daughter, will be marrying her true love on October 17th. They have decided to be married at the Philadelphia temple of our church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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It was important to Grace that her siblings visit her wedding location prior to the big day. Much of this was for the benefit of Tyler and Braden who struggle with the unexpected and unknown. She knew that visiting prior to her wedding day would alleviate some of the emotional angst connected to her getting married and leaving home.

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It was a blessing. Grace was able to share her excitement of her upcoming nuptials with her family while also walking the boys through what they can expect that day. She was so sweet, asking for their input on decisions like the best locations for photos and what flowers would be pretty in her bouquet.

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The visit was a blessing for the entire family as we all were strengthened by the spirit felt on those temple grounds.

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And Gracie just glowed with anticipation as she imagined what her wedding day would be like.

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By the time we left the Philadelphia temple we just had two hours left in the city before we needed to get on the road. Molly, Rusty and Braden were all scheduled to begin work at 6:00 pm, so we did a speed tour of Philadelphia sites that we didn’t visited on our last trip to the city.

Our first stop was the “Rocky steps,” located in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, made famous by the film scene from the movie, Rocky.

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Toby opted to do a drive-by and drop us off rather than try to find parking,

while the kids ran the 72 steps that made the site an iconic tourist spot in Philadelphia.

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I did not run the steps, but did walk then so as to take in the view of the city from the top,

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And capture this memento of their Rocky moment:

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A quick stop at the Rocky statue and then we caught our Uber (aka: Toby) on his fourth loop around.

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We decided with our remaining time in the city that we would head to Reading Terminal Market, per Gracie’s suggestion.

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Here is a little background information on this iconic Philadelphia site:

Reading Terminal Market is an enclosed public market located at 12th and Arch Streets in Center City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It opened originally in 1893 under the elevated train shed of the Reading Railroad Company after the city of Philadelphia advocated to move public markets from the streets into indoor facilities for both safety and sanitary reasons. The Reading Railroad Company owned and operated the market space until 1976 when the company liquidated, leaving the market without its parent company and foot traffic from the train. Presently, it still occupies the ground floor and basement levels of the Reading Terminal’s former train shed which is now part of the Philadelphia Convention Center. Vendor stalls occupy the ground floor with entrances on Filbert Street to the South, Twelfth Street to the West, and Arch Street to the North. The stalls are arranged in a grid pattern with an open area in the center with tables and seating. Over one hundred merchants offer fresh produce, meats, fish, artisan cheese, groceries, ice cream, flowers, grilled cheese, baked goods, crafts, books, clothing, and specialty and ethnic foods.

It was a very cool place with its bustling atmosphere, sights, and smells. Had I not been trying to keep six other people in my sightline, while making sure everyone stayed regulated in this highly chaotic and stimulating environment, I probably would have enjoyed it more,

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But if I am being transparent in my recollection of the experience, it was my idea of a living nightmare. (Just keeping it real)

I found everyone’s assessment of the experience fascinating as we took in the energy of the space. The introverts of the family began breathing quickly taking note of the closest emergency exit and desperately seeking out a corner to hole up in, away from the bustling crowds.

My extroverts, however, came alive, energized by the crowds and social atmosphere of the environment.

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I found all family members landed firmly in one of two camps. They either LOVED Reading Terminal Market or HATED it.

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The one thing we could all agree on was how delicious the food was that was sold there.

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We decided to make the experience authentic by eating lunch there. We found the prices to be reasonable and the choices were abundant. Toby split the group in pairs of two and sent them out with money in hand to each buy  what they wanted for lunch. The kids loved the freedom of picking their own meal and liked being able to be as daring (or not)  as they liked in their food choices. There was something for everyone!

I opted to sit and save a table, having discovered an elusive find in seven free chairs around a reasonably clean table.

From my spot, back against the wall, I was able to observe the “dance” of the market from a place that felt much less overwhelming, and actually enjoyed it. It was fun to “people watch” once I was out of the stream of moving people, and the activity was pleasant when observed from the outside looking in.

We enjoyed a delicious and unique dining experience before jumping back on the turnpike for home. It was the quickest Philadelphia tour ever, but we fit a lot of fun and special family moments in our three-hour morning there!

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Kalahari Adventures

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Following the Pennsylvania SWAN awards banquet on Wednesday night, we were invited to stay at Kalahari Resort for the next two days and make a family vacation out of the event.

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As if the award recognition wasn’t enough, we felt absolutely spoiled rotten by this special gift.

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Thursday and Friday were spent connecting as a family, playing as a family, laughing as a family, and enjoying a respite from life.

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The kids loved the abundance of water slides available at “America’s Largest Indoor Water Park.”

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Some of the slides were familiar, having ridden the sister slides at the Sandusky, Ohio Kalahari Resort,

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While other were unique to this particular park.

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When we weren’t off sliding, our family could be found enjoying the lazy river or the wave pool.

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Braden and Tyler were particularly fond of the basketball pool with its abundance of basketball hoops and balls.

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Many hours were spent in that pool bonding as biological brothers. The genetic connection is clearly evident in these two natural athletes who are more comfortable competing with a ball in hand than doing anything else.

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We also enjoyed the outdoor hot tub. The combination of warm water, cool breezes, summer sun, and gorgeous views brought home that vacation feel. It was lovely to sit and soak while visiting as a family, knowing I had nothing else to do for the next 12 hours.

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Our two lazy days also allowed for me to have time to sit and read a novel and allowed Toby a much deserved nap…two luxuries that have become a rare treat in our lives recently.

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It was a lovely luxury to let go of a month’s worth of worries and heartache and simply be present in the gift of today.

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It was a blessing to be still and simply breathe, soaking in the blessing of our mini vacation, and praising God for restarts and reconnection.

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That is what this time away was for our family. Tucked away in the gorgeous greenery of the Pocono mountains, we found the peace that had been so hard to grab hold of for the last two months. Somehow stepping away from outside influences we were able to remember what this journey was all about.

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It was a breakthrough experience for our child who had been pushing hard against the connection that he has fearfully been fleeing from since Mother’s Day. I’m not sure what clicked internally but amid the splashing and sunshine and celebration of adoption with hundreds of other families much like ours, he found some peace…

At least for the moment.

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And that was the greatest gift of all.

Celebrating Permanency with SWAN

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“It is with feelings of gratitude and humility that we stand up here tonight and accept this award. Many thanks to the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN). Permanency is a journey that requires the support of a village. We are so grateful for our village of support, particularly our caseworkers and dear friends, Lisa, Raquel, and our amazing Second-Chance family.

We are often asked by friends what skills or talents are needed to be a foster or adoptive family. That always makes us laugh, because nothing makes you more aware of your complete lack of skills and talents than foster care adoption. In reality it is a humbling journey of self-discovery as you realize how little you actually know. This walk is unique and as a result each approach must be unique. There is no tried and true method, no fail proof system. It is a lot of trial and error and trusting your gut.

But I think there are certain character traits that are seen consistently in families that have chosen to walk this road.

SWAN families tend to be “big picture” visionaries. They recognize that sometimes they must choose to close their eyes to the small irritations and unimportant annoyances for the sake of the more important stuff.

SWAN families are tenacious. Like a Pitbull on a bone, they will fight relentlessly for their kids, advocating at every turn to get them what they need and give them the life they deserve.

SWAN families are adaptable. While not always born with this trait, it is one quickly learned in the trenches. Raising children with individual trauma histories, personalized triggers, and unique needs, means being willing to make adaptations on the fly. They are pros at coming up with a solid “Plan B.”

 SWAN families laugh together. They soon discover that this road is not without struggle and many days will lead to a place where one must either cry or laugh. And while crying can be cathartic it does give one a terrible headache, so they laugh. They laugh at the absurdity found in the everyday wrestle of growing a family.

And finally, SWAN families love fearlessly. They choose to not guard their hearts or hold back when it comes to loving kids from hard places. They know that parental heartache is a risk of helping kids heal and learn to love again.

I would venture to guess that those same traits that are seen in the families who adopt foster children are the same traits seen in those workers who are fighting on behalf of those same children.

We are incredibly grateful for those of you who are on the front lines, listening to the hard stories, showing up day after day, climbing into the trenches to fight for every child’s right to go to sleep with a full belly, to be tucked into clean sheets and a warm blanket every night, to have a table to do homework at and parents who love them enough to nag them to do their homework.

We believe every child deserves to be safe… And every child deserves to feel safe.

We believe every child deserves to be loved… And every child deserves to feel worthy of love.

We believe every child deserves to know that they will wake up tomorrow…

And every child deserves to dream big dreams about their tomorrows.

These are basic human rights, but they are rights many children would not have if it weren’t for you child advocacy warriors who choose to keep showing up, day after day, fighting those hard fights and being a voice to those children who do not have a voice of their own.

So, whether you are here tonight because you are fighting the hard fight in Harrisburg, or here because you are fighting for the kids in your communities, or here tonight because you are a family fighting for the future of kids that live under your own roof…Thank you.

You are fighting for the greatest of all causes!

Like you, we believe every child deserves a family…

And every family deserves a child like the ones you have met tonight.”

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These were our words as stood in front of hundreds of other adoptive families, social workers, agencies and law makers at the 27th Annual Pennsylvania Permanency Conference this past Wednesday.

The entire experience was surreal and incredibly humbling, beginning with an unexpected call from Harrisburg, back in March, informing us that our family had been nominated and chosen as one of six families to be recognized as adoptive family of the year at SWAN’s annual conference. 

We later found out that it was Raquel, one of our AMAZING social workers that came into our life with the placement of Braden in our family, who wrote the state to nominate us.

We were beyond touched that she thought enough of our family to nominate us for such a special award. Later, when I had the opportunity to read the words she penned about our family on the application, I was moved to tears.

When the call came informing us of the award, we were invited to attend the permanency conference to receive it in person. They informed us that this year’s conference would be held in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania at the Kalahari Resort. They informed us that a suite would be paid for as part of the awards ceremony and our family was invited to stay and enjoy the indoor water park as part of the celebration.

Needless to say, everyone was very excited. The only damper on our anticipation of the day was the realization that Ozzie would not be allowed to join us for the ceremony. The facility he is currently receiving therapeutic care at didn’t feel he was ready for a trip off campus.

But Raquel video taped us receiving the award so that we could share the experience with him. This was, after all, an award for the whole family.

We arrived at Kalahari at 1:00. We had previously visited the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio, but this Kalahari was nearly double the size. The kids had a blast exploring the property and checking out the resort while we got checked in.

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Then we headed to the suite that was booked on our behalf. The Statewide Adoption Network covered the cost of our first night’s stay, and then our adoption agency, “Second Chance Inc.- Kinship Care,” graciously asked if they could gift us with a second night’s stay. It was just that…a gift. An incredible gift of love for our family.

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The African theme carried into our bathroom with our hand towel folded as an elephant…so cute!

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The view from our suite’s back patio. It is so pretty here.

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Wednesday night was the banquet. As award winners, we were invited to join the other five families at a pre-banquet reception to mingle and get our photos taken with state representatives.

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All dolled up for the occasion, we snapped a few photos of our own before going in.

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Once there we enjoyed hors d’ oeuvres while waiting for dinner.

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Then we were escorted into the banquet hall where we joined 500+ other guests for a delicious meal.

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At our table we were joined by Lisa, Braden’s social worker who fought so hard on his behalf and tracked down every lead in an effort to find his biological siblings. It was her relentless efforts that brought him to us and made him our son.

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We were also joined by Raquel, Braden’s pre-adoptive social worker, who has been nothing short of amazing in tracking down his past history and building for him a life book of his journey. As the one to nominate our family, she and her son joined us for this special honor.

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After dinner it was time for the award recipients to be recognized.

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How humbling it was to stand among such child advocacy warriors and have our meager efforts highlighted. One of the women who was also honored was a window who has been foster mom to over 250 children in her 30 years of fostering. At 76 she is in the process of adopting another teenage boy. It is astounding. I look at individuals like her and it lights a fire in me to do more. There are so many children who need a home and not nearly enough families willing to take a leap of faith. 

It was with great humility that we stood among those faith-filled giants who have made loving children their life’s work. 

So often this road of loving kids from hard places can tear you apart. It can be exhausting, devastating, and often thankless. You wonder if you small effort is making any difference at all, and it is not just the adoptive families that struggle under this weight of responsibility. It is everyone that is working for this cause. The agencies, the advocates, the CASA workers, the social workers…each and every one of them are choosing to climb into the trenches day after day, and fight the very hardest of fights, because no cause is more worthy of our time and effort than this one…

Giving every child who needs and wants a family, the chance to have a family.

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It was an amazing night for our family…

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Certainly one we will never forget!

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We were humbled to be recognized,

And honored to stand among so many with a similar heart for adoption. 

We feel incredibly blessed!

 

A Gift of Love

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Once Molly had received her diploma it was time to present her with her graduation gift.

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I knew I wanted to do something special and personal for Molly’s graduation gift. She isn’t a girl who puts a lot of value in material possessions. Gifts are not her love language. The love language that speaks to her heart is “words of affirmation.”

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She is much more affected and moved by gifts that are homemade, personal, and sentimental. She would much rather receive a heartfelt letter or a sincere compliment than a new outfit or gadget.

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Knowing that her primary love language is words of affirmation, and knowing that  many of the people who mean the most to her wouldn’t be able to actually be with her on her graduation day, I thought a scrapbook of letters would be the next best thing.

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The words penned by loved ones would serve as a meaningful testament of their love for her.

The last time I created a gift like this was for Gracie’s high school graduation when we gifted her with a collection of love letters from friends and family. In those letters we all shared with her the great impact she had on all of our lives and shared stories of our favorite memories.

She was moved to tears.

A few months ago I sent out form letters with self-addressed return envelopes to all our family, family friends, previous school/co-op/church teachers, tutors, coaches and church leaders, asking them to write Molly a letter sharing their memories of her and words of advice that she could take with her as she ventures into her future.

The response was amazing and full of love. Dozens of special people from her life took the time to sit and write Molly a personal letter.

As the envelopes began trickling into my mailbox I was able to sit and read your words of love. I secured each note into a scrapbook to preserve these special words for Molly to treasure into the future.

Each letter was placed with love and adorned with papers, stickers, and photos that were reflective of the letter and the author of the letter.

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Each note was so different and so perfect.

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On Saturday night, following graduation, we joined friends for dinner at Plaza Azteca.

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It was so much fun celebrating our graduating seniors with tableside guacamole and delicious Mexican fare.

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While there, the Hudaks presented Molly with a special, personalized necklace filled with charms reflective of Molly. This was the same gift Grace, Olivia, and Tatum received for each of their graduation gifts from Lana and Woody. Now these four best friends are sporting matching bling.

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Braden wanting to get in on the photo action. 🙂

Then we presented Molly with her graduation gift from us…and from all of you.

She was touched by the great outpouring of love and care.

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This humble book is worth more than the greatest of treasures, containing priceless words of advice, sweet memories to reflect back on, and words of love from the people who have helped mold her into the young lady she is today.

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Thank you for your gift to Molly…

Thank you for loving my baby girl!

The day ended with a recreation of a beloved photo from two years ago,

And some celebratory fun at the hotel:

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What a perfect conclusion to a very special day.

Molly’s Graduation Day!!

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Saturday marked the end of one journey and the start of the next one.

It was the day Miss Molly walked on stage, dressed in a cap and gown, and graduated high school.

I’m not sure how it is that we arrived at this day so quickly. It is as if I closed my eyes for a moment and my wild child had grown from a “character,” who would smuggle dead chipmunks home in her Dora the Explorer backpack and climb onto the roof in the middle of the night, into a woman of great character. There were a few years there that I didn’t think I would survive Molly’s pre-school years; certain she would be behind bars by age seven. She was my feral child, content to live in the woods, build fairy houses, and fill her pockets with frogs. There was no rule she wouldn’t break and no boundary she wouldn’t test. Her passion for life and her impulsive nature kept life interesting. Our life revolved around coming up with a security system that would keep her safely contained in her room while we tried to sleep at night. She was the child who had to be walked on a leash in public and who charmed the socks off everyone she met by her ever-absent filter and unique perspective on life.

She was our quirky little bird, with a bigger than life personality and a heart that stretched to each corner of the globe.

Over the years the impulsivity waned and her willingness to obey improved, but her sunny disposition, fierce determination, love for nature and animals, and her heart for others and God only grew. She is now ready to leave the nest. She can finally be trusted to leave my sight without walking into traffic.

Well, sort-of …

And Saturday was the big send-off.

After years of parenting, redirecting, teaching, loving, redirecting, supporting, guiding, and redirecting. Our sweet Miss Molly did it…

What a blessed day it was!

It was an action-packed day that began at 10:30 am and stretched to 3:00 pm, packed full of graduation day activities.

Unlike a local high school that might spread graduation preparation over a week’s time, 21st Century has to make it all happen in one day. Many of their families have traveled far distances to be there and are only there for the day, so all the activities that lead up to graduation day for seniors must fit into one five-hour period.

But they orchestrated what could have been pure chaos, beautifully.

We woke early Saturday morning and went down to the lobby of the hotel to meet friends for breakfast.

Then it was off to the local high school where our charter school was holding the commencement ceremony.

We arrived to find what can only be described as a “well-oiled machine.”

We were greeted and welcomed at the door by teachers and directed where to go. Molly was sent to get in line to receive her senior gift bag which contained a complimentary yearbook and a 21CCCS alumni t-shirt.

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While the seniors were off preparing for graduation, the families waited in the cafeteria where the school had catered a lunch for the families to enjoy while they waited for the graduation ceremony to begin.

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While we were eating and visiting, Molly, Tatum, Caleigh, Annaliese, Irvin and the other graduating seniors were kept busy behind the scenes.

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First, they got fitted for their caps and gowns.

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After hugs and a few tears,

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We let them move on to their next station, “graduation photos,” where they had a professional photographer taking graduation portraits of each senior in their cap and gown.

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Once each senior moved through the line, it was time for the graduating class to do a few practice runs before the actual ceremony began.

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While we waited in the cafeteria, the other kids kept busy enjoying the delicious spread of food that was provided and playing card games that I had packed in my purse.

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It was soon time to head to the auditorium for the commencement exercises. Rusty was asked (as a member of National Honor Society) to stand at the door and hand out programs.

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We picked up our programs and waited for the ceremony to begin.

The students walked in and the tears began.

Our girls looked so grown up and pretty.

The students were seated on stage and the school principal stood up to welcome the families and introduce the speakers. Molly was one of four students who were chosen to speak at graduation.

And this Momma and Papa could not have been prouder. Our baby may be all grown up, but what a beautiful young lady she has grown up to be.

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Next it was time for the presentation of scholarships.

At 21st Century Cyber Charter School the teachers have a long-standing tradition of presenting five students from the graduating class with scholarships from the school. These scholarships are not funded with school budget money, but rather are funded solely by teacher donations. Throughout the year they will have events at the school for staff, like special breakfasts during in-service days, which they will use to raise money to help fund these scholarships. This year they raised $5,000, enough for 5 students to each be awarded a thousand-dollar scholarship.

The teachers of this school are incredible and are at the heart of why this school shines brighter than the rest. Each of my children have been blessed with incredible learning coaches who have been a perfect fit for that child to grow and find success through this cyber school model. I feel like over the last 6 years so many of the staff at 21CCCS have become more like family friends through their interactions with our family.

 

These relationships that develop over four years of working side by side as student, parent, and learning coach, are what make graduation days bittersweet. Molly was blessed with a very special learning coach in Mr. Winterode.

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His patient reassurance and constant encouragement was just what Molly needed to overcome her own insecurities about her learning disabilities and finally see how capable and able she is.

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She blossomed under his care and his homeroom soon became the envy of the school with its fun banter and great group of students that called themselves “Coach’s Doghouse.”

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I could share stories like this about all the teachers we have gotten to know through our time in the school. 21st Century Cyber Charter School is unique in the experience it offers and I have tried to put my finger on the exact formula that sets them apart from other cyber schools. I think it comes down to this: Their standards are high. They know and appreciate the worth of a good teacher, a good staff member, and a good cyber schooling family. They hire the best and then treat them like the best. The teachers love what they do. They feel appreciated. Because those at the top treat their most valuable asset with respect and appreciation, the entire vibe of the school is uplifting and supportive and positive. The joy and enthusiasm of those teachers then trickle down to the students and families under their care, making everyone excited to be part of something so uniquely special in the world of cyber schooling options.

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How blessed we feel to have been led to this educational gem six years ago.

Next, we watched as they handed out the scholarships for greatest academic excellence to the student with the highest GPA, the Eagle service award for the student most service minded, and the leadership award. Then it was time for the scholarship awarded to the student that shows the most exemplary character, as voted on by the teachers of the school, and we heard them announce Molly’s name!

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We had no idea that she would be a recipient of one of these scholarships, and for me that was the acknowledgement that we, as her parents, have done something right these last 19 years. I remember being a young mom and praying over that little bundle in my arms and saying to God, “It matters little to me that this child grows up to be exceptionally pretty, or smart, talented, or gifted in the areas of music, art, or athletics…as nice as those traits might be. What matters most to me is that I raise a child who is known for her kindness, her selflessness, and her goodness. Help me to raise a woman of character.”

God has been merciful.

This is the same scholarship that Gracie was gifted with her senior year. Once again we were moved by the honor they bestowed on Molly when she was chosen by the teachers at 21st Century Cyber Charter School as the second McCleery to receive this special scholarship.

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Then it was time for the diplomas to be handed out. The students were called to the front of the stage one by one.

Once everyone had received their diploma it was time for the traditional turning of the tassels, signifying the transition from high school to life beyond.

13 years of hard work, sleepless nights, advocating for her needs, teaching and reteaching tough concepts again and again, endless fieldtrips, dyslexia tutoring, IEP meetings, 3 schools, and the culmination of a decade of my life’s work came together in that moment as we watched our baby girl walk down the aisle with diploma in hand.

It was time to celebrate!

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It was a joy to see how happy Braden was for Molly on her special day. ❤

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Sweet friendships created at 21st Century Cyber Charter School.

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Molly did it!

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Tatum did it.

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Annaliese did it.

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Caleigh did it.

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We did it!

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Congratulations, ladies. We are so proud of you!

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What a beautiful journey it has been!

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A recreation photo of Grace and Olivia’s graduation day.

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We can’t wait to see where God takes you next!

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“The One Where Molly goes to Prom”

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We have cyber schooled our children for 14 years and the most common question asked after, “What about socialization?” (That one always induces internal eye rolls!) is:

“Don’t you feel like your kids are missing out on the best parts of school not being in a traditional brick and mortar school?”

And I have always been able to answer, “No,” because I don’t. God called us to this model of schooling for our children, and it is the best parenting decision we have ever made.

I have felt that through this model of schooling we have really gotten the best of both worlds…all the best parts of homeschooling and the better parts of public schooling.

Through our awesome co-op group, we were able to compensate for those parts of the public-school experience that they might have missed in their early years, like talent shows and holiday parties, Valentine exchanges and field trips.

Our transition to 21st Century Cyber Charter School six years ago was really the missing piece in rounding out our cyber schooling experience. At this school, my older kids found a college preparatory learning experience that mimics a post-secondary learning environment far more effectively then what we saw happening in our local public school.

“But what about prom?!” a young girl from church asked us a few years ago, “Your poor kids won’t get to experience prom!”

But they will.

And they have…

One of the wonderful things about 21st Century Cyber School, is that they offer prom as part of the high school experience to their juniors and seniors. They hold it the Friday afternoon before graduation so families already in town for graduation don’t have the added burden of two trips. The learning coaches over the senior class are in charge of putting together a magical experience for their students at the Whitford Country Club.

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Preparation for prom began way back in February when Molly decided to take advantage of our trip to Disney World, to grab a photo with Rapunzel as part of her planned “prom-posal.” She was planning to ask Irvin, one of her very best friends, who also happens to be a fellow 21st Century Cyber Charter School student.

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After he said, “Yes!” plans began for the special event. The first task on the agenda was to find a dress. A month ago Molly, Tatum, Caleigh, and Annaliese went on a shopping excursion together to find prom dresses for their senior prom. They had a blast scouring local thrift shops and secondhand stores for inexpensive, yet stunning, gowns to wear for their special event.

Molly was thrilled to find a dress for only $10.00 that brought all her Cinderella dreams to life.

On Friday, the big event finally arrived.

Molly and Toby arrived at the hotel an hour before us. When we arrived, Grace and I joined the rest of the prom party in the Hudak’s hotel room. The space had been commandeered by the girls to be used as the beauty shop as they all got gussied up for prom.

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We walked in to find music playing and a line of young ladies seated and getting their hair and make-up done by the mothers and big sisters of the senior girls. The atmosphere was celebratory and nostalgic as we watched our little girls transform into lovely ladies.

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These four girls have been together as friends in our co-op since elementary school. They have grown up side by side and enjoyed a special friendship together. It was so neat that they could celebrate years of cyber schooling, co-op classes, and friendship with a shared prom night before graduating high school. As I watched their outward appearances transform with the addition of make-up, curls, high heels and jewelry, I couldn’t help but notice that the twinkle in their eyes and the smiles on their faces reflected the same sweet spirits that have shone from them since they were little girls eating lunch together every Wednesday.

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What a journey it has been!

And what a blessing these girls (and their mothers) have been in our life!

All done up and watching them as they stood together in front of the mirror, I couldn’t help but reflect on the following quote that so perfectly describes these special young ladies:

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“She was beautiful, but not like those girls in the magazines. She was beautiful, for the way she thought. She was beautiful, for that sparkle in her eyes when she talked about something she loved. She was beautiful, for her ability to make other people smile even if she was sad. No, she wasn’t beautiful for something as temporary as her looks. She was beautiful deep down to her soul.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

When everyone was done getting ready we headed down to the lobby so that Molly could be picked up by her prom date.

Irvin and his younger brother were driving in from Gettysburg.

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We made plans to meet in the lobby so that he could pick up Molly and take her to prom, while Elisha joined Rusty, Tatum, Annaliese, and Caleigh in another car.

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Irvin presented Molly with a beautiful corsage, and Molly gifted him with a boutonniere.

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How grateful I am for this special young man who has blessed Molly’s life in profound and meaningful ways.

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We followed the group over to the country club to steal a few more photos before they headed inside for “A Night of Hollywood Magic.”

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It was a magical evening for all!

 

Road Block Ahead

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This week was a big one at Patchwork Farm!!

It was graduation week for Miss Molly and her nearest and dearest friends, and we had a few action packed days planned for the graduate.

On Wednesday it was secretly decided that we would drive out in shifts; with most of us leaving to head east on Thursday, and Toby and Molly leaving bright and early Friday morning due to work conflicts that prevented them from leaving on Thursday. I knew this trip was going to be especially challenging for Braden. I anticipated the combination of heightened emotions, family togetherness, Ozzie’s absence, and Molly preparing to go away to college, would set off insecurities deep inside that might prompt him to flee rather than have to face Molly’s graduation ceremony… as this has been his pattern recently. My solution to scaling that possible roadblock: throw him off by eliminating the anxiety brought on by anticipation, and simply show up at school a day early with bags packed and jump right on the turnpike, travelling at a speed that would discourage passengers from jumping.

This plan was divinely prompted and it worked out perfectly. By not anticipating a Thursday departure, we were able to avoid the self-destructive behaviors that present during anticipation of upcoming family connection experiences,

And the unpredictability and adventure of an impromptu road trip fed his need for chaos and risk, in a way that was healthy and parent-led.

This plan worked perfectly.

At noon I stopped by the high school to sign Braden out. He joined Grace, Molly and Tyler in the car with all our luggage, we jumped right onto the turnpike. 3 1/2 hours later we found ourselves in Harrisburg for our first overnight stay. The juggling of multiple schedules required us to travel in shifts. My most pressing requirement was to arrive at a location that offered Pathway gathering classes so I wouldn’t miss out on Thursday night gathering points for my college courses. As I looked up Pathway gatherings on the Eastern side of the state, I decided Hershey/Harrisburg area was our best shot. It was timed out perfectly, allowing us to arrive, check-in, settle the kids into the hotel room with dinner and a movie, before I left for class.

My plans were thwarted, however, when we pulled into the Radisson that was to be our home-away-from home for the night and found it surrounded by armed guards, swat teams, local police and military.

My first thought was, “Oh, Crap…They must of heard we were coming.”

My second thought was, “Or maybe someone was murdered.”

It turns out that neither was true. The reason behind the walking/talking fire power was that the Vice President of the United States was spending the night at our hotel for a GOP convention.

Mr. Mike Pence almost lost me 60 points in class credit this week when the armed guards refused to let us through the barricade to check into our hotel. Lucky for my family, I have grown bolder and more fearless in recent years, thanks to MANY opportunities to grow those assertiveness muscles…

Needless to say, after all I have lived through in the last few years, armed soldiers with intense scowls didn’t scare me in the least.

They were simply just another roadblock that needed to be scaled as we moved toward a bigger goal.

I have come to appreciate the roadblocks of life.

They stretch us in ways that the easy seasons of life don’t.

They grow muscles that can only be built through adversity.

They give us a healthier perspective on life.

And they gives us the opportunity to fight for those things and those people who deserve to be fought for, despite the lies that have argued otherwise.

The road blocks of life allow us to prove our diligence, our courage, our tenacity, and the depth of our conviction for the cause we are fighting for.

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Road blocks allow our empty words to have a voice…

The powerful and resounding voice of ACTION.

After some sweet talk and then some straight talk, we were waved through and allowed to check in. I settled the kids in and left them with their faces pressed to the window in hopes of catching a glimpse of someone important, while I raced off to class. I arrived and was only 15 minutes late…a sure miracle given the obstacles we faced.

Everyone did exceptionally well in my absence despite disappointment that no one of note strolled by their hotel window.

On Friday we met up with Toby and Molly at the Home 2 Suites in Downingtown, PA, that would serve as home base for the weekend.

The first big event: Molly’s senior prom!

Stay tuned for pictures of all our gussied up girls!

Hanging on for Dear Life!

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And then in the midst of it all, life keeps rolling on…

A never-slowing train, speeding down the track.

As we hold on tightly, trying to enjoy the scenic vistas as they fly past.

Rusty now makes child #4 in the “gainfully employed club” at Patchwork Farm. He has joined Braden as an ice cream scooper at Handel’s and is loving the experience. The increased cash flow, coupled by the free sweet treats, has made this a dream job for our gentle giant.

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With 4 children employed, and Ozzie currently residing at a residential facility, we have found ourselves left with only Tyler home a lot of the time. It is so weird to look around and have only one child lounging in the living room, instead of six. The experience has given us an sneak peek into life in the future when Tyler will be the last child at home. I think he is feeling a bit lost in it all, but I keep telling him we just need to hang in there for a few more years and once we can kick everyone out we will be able to have some awesome adventures with the extra disposable income that will result from a decreased family food budget! 😉

Ozzie has been transferred from the acute facility where he was being stabilized to the long-term facility where he will be for the next 6-12 months for more intensive, in-patient trauma therapy. We feel incredibly blessed to be able to get him admitted to the same RTF where he was so successful prior. Located in Erie, Harborcreek Youth Services provided an amazing blend of physical, emotional and spiritual care that allowed Ozzie to safely face the traumas of his past that are so destructive to his current relationships and result in poor choices and dangerous behaviors.

The sheer quantity and variety of therapeutic work that can be offered in a week-long period (family therapy, trauma therapy, EMDR therapy, group sessions, anger management, art therapy, animal therapy, trauma releasing yoga and music therapy) gives Ozzie a highly submersible experience that yields amazing results for him.

We hate that he has to be sent away to get the help he needs, but we are so grateful for the loving care he receives from amazing staff who act as interim parents in our absence, supporting Ozzie as he focuses on his own healing journey.

Gracie just finished out another semester of school and one of the art electives she chose to take this past semester was a pottery class. Beginning with basic pinch pots and working up to creating pieces on the wheel, Grace had the opportunity to design, create, paint and fire a variety of pottery pieces. This week she brought home her finished creations. Some of her finished pieces include:

A large flower vase that she made as a gift for her Momma:

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A model of our school bus turned RV:

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A wall vase to hang on the wall of her room and fill with fresh flowers:

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And a set of mugs that she creatively designed with a pocket to hold the used tea bag when making a cup of tea:

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This is just a sampling of the completed projects she brought home. She loved the class and we loved being the benefactors of her talent and generosity!

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With the conclusion of May comes many end of the year/graduation celebrations for Miss Molly. The first acknowledgement that this was really happening and that our little girls were all grown up occurred at our end of the year co-op picnic. We joined with other co-op families to celebrate another successful year of teaching our children at home. As part of our picnic, Miss Lana brought a celebratory cake for our four graduating seniors.

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I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that four women stand before me where four little girls with mismatched socks once stood.

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Four sweet girls! Caleigh’s curlers are in preparation for that night’s performance of “Little Women” at Mohawk High School.

On the heels of one graduation celebration came another. On Sunday we celebrated Molly’s graduation from seminary, a scripture study course offered to the high school students of our church. For the last four years she has chosen to add an additional 60 minutes of work to her weekday schedule to study the teachings of Christ and apply those teachings to her life as a disciple of Christ. We are so glad she chose to participate, as we have seen first hand the great growth that happens when our children are actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ through daily prayer and scripture study.

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As part of the graduation ceremony, we heard from a few of the graduating seniors and then enjoyed a beautiful musical number as Hailey and Heather sang “Be Still my Soul” while Molly interpreted the song through American Sign Language.

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Following the ceremony there was a reception in the cultural hall where guests could enjoy desserts while strolling around, reading the graduation posters, and signing their well wishes to all the graduating seniors.

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So proud of you, Miss Molly!

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Another celebration of Molly’s upcoming graduation from high school came in the form of a senior trip. Molly and Tatum were invited by Irvin and his family to stay at their home in Gettysburg for two days.

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After years of friendship, Irvin wanted to have the girls come and visit his home town and meet his parents. The family set up their pottery studio/store as a B & B for the girls, spoiling them rotten with homemade meals, story telling, chocolates on their pillows, site seeing around Gettysburg and even gifted them with one of their handcrafted mugs as a parting gift of hospitality.

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On Friday, the girls joined Irvin for a trip to Knoebels, the amusement park that was chosen as the site for this year’s senior day. There they met up with other 21st Century seniors and teachers for a day of riding rides and having fun…

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Ending the day with ice cream.

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It was a fun adventure for Molly and Tatum to share before they get pulled into the vortex of college life…

And it was all made possible thanks to the kindness and hospitality of the Young family.

It is an exciting time for Miss Molly and we couldn’t be happier for our walking ray of sunshine!