Monthly Archives: July 2019

Where’d that Quarter come from?

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Toby is a coin collector and has been since he was a child. It is a hobby he shared with his father and a hobby that has continued his entire life. It is a hobby that pairs well with another favorite hobby of his: metal detecting. I love that he is so passionate and knowledgeable about something that brings him such joy,

And despite my complete lack of knowledge about currency, I enjoy learning from him as he shares his knowledge with such enthusiasm.

While we were in Philadelphia for our two day anniversary trip we decided to make one of our stops the Philadelphia Mint. Located in the heart of Philadelphia, this mint is one of five money-making factories in the United States and the top producer of the coins that jingle in your pocket.

Just pull out a handful of change and every coin marked with a “P” or not marked with a letter at all (this tradition is a nod to when the Philadelphia Mint was the nation’s only mint) was produced at the Philadelphia Mint.

It’s estimated that about 50% of the coins in circulation today were made at the Philadelphia Mint. 

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The Philadelphia Mint is actually the nation’s first, started in 1792. The currency needs of the government continues to increase, and the mint has outgrown three buildings throughout its years. The current Philadelphia Mint building has been in use since 1969.

The Philadelphia Mint mints all coin denominations in use in America as well as many of the medals that the government hands out each year (think Congressional Medals of Honor, Presidential medals, etc.). The mint is capable of making upwards of 1 million coins every 30 minutes. By contrast, it would have taken the first Philadelphia Mint three years to create that many coins.

We arrived at the mint already knowledgeable to the rules and procedures of this government building having spent some time on their website. Due to the sensitive nature of the product produced inside, visitors are restricted from taking photographs.

We were able to nab a few photos outside the building before walking in.

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Guests are guided through security before being set up the escalator to the second floor where the FREE tour begins.

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We began our visit by learning the history of money making in America. Artifacts like the first coin press from 1792 were on display, along with a collection of old coins. There was also a short video that explained how the concept of a US mint came to be. By riding the escalator to the third floor we were guided to the next stop on the tour where guests are guided through the process of how coins are made.

The process of making a coin actually starts with Congress, who has to pass legislation for a new design or denomination. Once the bill has gone through Congress and the President has signed it, the process of making the coin really starts.

The Philadelphia Mint is home to the artists who actually figure out what the coins will look like. This can be quite a long process, with several variations made and many suggestions offered. Eventually though, a new design is settled upon and the process of making the coin can start.

This is also where the tour of the Philadelphia Mint gets really interesting because guests can actually look down on the factory floor below and watch the minting process.

On our self-guided walking tour we learned more about the five steps that are involved in the actual minting of the coins: die making, blanking, annealing and upsetting, striking, and inspecting/bagging. Each step was well explained with signage explaining the process, touch screens that showed us the of the highlights of the factory, and an audio explanation that played through speakers.

It was pretty amazing watching the coins being made below us. It was crazy to think that one of the coins we were watching be made may someday find its way into our pocket or change purse.

Both Toby and I found the Philadelphia Mint factory tour to be very interesting. It felt to me like we were walking through an episode of Discovery channel’s “How it’s Made.” Despite the tour being self-guided, we had no problem understanding each aspect of the process.  We both would highly recommend a visit to the Philadelphia Mint for anyone who collects coins or is simply interested in learning more about where their money comes from.

I love to see the Temple

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From the time she was a small girl wearing pastels and lace, racing around the nursery at church, she sang the words to this song:

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This weekend these words, so loving sung with off-key enthusiasm by three-year-old Gracie, became her truth as she went through the temple for the first time.

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She made the temple her desired destination, the blessings found within, her wish. With her eyes set on this personal goal in her own spiritual journey, she prepared day by day, her entire life, for this special moment.

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This was a special milestone in Gracie’s spiritual walk as she entered to make covenants with Heavenly Father in His house that would serve as a strengthening force and great personal blessing to her throughout her life.

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What a joy and delight it was to walk our daughter into the temple to make her own covenants with the Lord. She was joined by her fiancé, and Zach’s family, who drove the five hours to join her and support her as she went through the Philadelphia temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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There, on a beautiful summer day, she experienced the blessings of the temple and soaked in the sweet spirit found within those sacred walls.

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We are so happy for our sweet girl and the path she has chosen to walk, knowing the great joy and profound purpose this path brings.

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When we exited the temple we celebrated Gracie’s big day with lunch at Sabrina’s Cafe, a local culinary icon made famous by their stuffed French toast. This was Gracie’s second request for her special weekend, having dreamt and drooled over the memory of the French toast she ordered there during her December trip to Philly with Andrea.

A trip to Sabrina’s Cafe seemed the perfect ending to an amazing 24 hours with our eldest daughter. We enjoyed a late lunch with the Tame family,

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And Grace enjoyed her long-dreamt about stuffed French toast…YUM!!

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Grace rode home with Zach’s family, so as to help manage things at home while Toby and I took advantage of the rare opportunity to enjoy a mini anniversary trip. For the next 36 hours we fit a lot of fun into our time alone. It was wonderful. It was a perfect long-weekend from beginning to end.

More on the adventures Toby and I enjoyed in upcoming post. Until then..

We love you, Miss Grace! You make our hearts glad.

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If you’d like to learn more about the Temple Endowment Ceremony I’ve included a video link below:

Longwood Gardens

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Last Friday, following my graduation ceremony the previous night, we found ourselves headed east for another big event. In preparation for her upcoming wedding at the Philadelphia temple in October, Grace decided to receive her endowments at the same temple. This was a special milestone in Gracie’s spiritual journey as she prepared to make covenants with Heavenly Father in the House of the Lord that would serve as a strengthening force and great personal blessing to her throughout her life.

She invited me to escort her on her first time through the temple, and it was a joy to take that journey with my sweet girl on her special day.

When Gracie made reservations at the Philadelphia temple months before her July 27th appointment, it was our hope that Toby and I would both be able to accompany her. Our ability to slip away with Grace for the weekend hinged on making sure all the other kids were stable and ok to be left at home. It all worked out and God’s hand was in the details. Ozzie continues to be safely settled in at his trauma-care facility in Erie. Braden was invited by his Pap (His former adoptive father who is battling cancer) to spend a weekend with him this summer, so we made plans for that weekend to coincide with Gracie’s endowment ceremony. Molly and Rusty coordinated their work schedules so that Tyler would only have to be home alone for a minimal amount of time. And because everyone is in such a good place emotionally, we found that we were able to drive to Philly with no concerns.

Along with Toby and I, Grace was also joined by her fiancé, Zach’s parents, and sister, Andrea. Zach chose to drive out with us on Friday with his family meeting up with us at the temple on Saturday morning.

Knowing what a gift it was to have this alone time with Zach and Grace, we allowed Grace to pick a fun excursion for Friday afternoon, and Grace didn’t even hesitate. She knew exactly where she wanted to go.

Less than an hour outside of downtown Philadelphia, is one of America’s most impressive outdoor spaces: Longwood Gardens.

Last time Grace visited this historic Philadelphian landmark it was Christmas. Zach’s sister, Andrea, had taken her there and she was blown away by this place that was cloaked in Christmas magic. She loved it and took hundreds of pictures. She couldn’t wait to return and was eager to visit it during the summer months when the outdoor gardens were in bloom. She couldn’t wait to share this special place with the rest of us.

We arrived and stepped into a floral wonderland, laced with magnificent architecture, roving entertainment and timeless edifices of American History.

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The land that would one day become Longwood Gardens was purchased from William Penn in 1700 to be used as a farm. In 1798, twin brothers Joshua and Samuel Peirce began planting trees, and, by 1850, the land had become one of the best collections of trees in the country. Known as Peirce’s Park, the land was a popular destination for visitors. However, due to declining interest by the family, the trees came under threat of being cut down by a local lumber company. Pierre du Pont stepped in and bought the land to preserve it.

However, du Pont didn’t just preserve the land. In fact, he begun adding to it and created much of what can be seen today. When du Pont died in 1954, he left most of his fortune to the Longwood Foundation to maintain and improve the gardens. Today, more than 50 years after du Pont’s death, his gardens continue to delight visitors 365 days a year.

We arrived, purchased our tickets, and headed inside.

Once inside the gardens, we found there were several destinations worth checking out. The most impressive area, in my opinion, was the Conservatory, which features over four acres of indoor gardens.

Gracie was especially eager to show us the green hallway that leads to the bathrooms in the conservatory. This is one of Gracie’s favorite places at Longwood Gardens, as her favorite plants are ferns…the very flora that covers the walls of that hallway.

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While in the Conservatory, we stopped to check out the organ installed by du Pont. With over 10,000 pipes, this organ was one of the largest private pipe organs in the world when it was installed here in 1929. Visitors can walk around the organ to learn about its history and even get a glimpse into the inner workings through a window. We stayed her long enough to enjoy a few songs and soak up the beauty of the ballroom.

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We found the Conservatory composed of room after room of tropical plants from around the world.

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Outside was an amazing waterlily display with aquatic plants from across the globe. It was stunning, truly a photographer’s dream with its huge lily pads and colorful blooms.

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Other gardens on the 1,000-acre property range from roses and peonies to wisteria, conifers, and an allée of catalpa trees. There was a dahlia garden, an idea garden, an edibles section, and a long fence covered by clematis of many varieties.

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At the far side of Longwood Gardens, near the wooden treehouse, we found the Italian Water Garden, one of my favorite spots at Longwood.

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The water display in the sunken area was patterned after one at the Villa Gamberaia near Florence, Italy, with great care by Mr. du Pont to keep the perspective symmetrical – the water pool farthest away is 14 feet longer than the closest pool assuring that these would all look the same length.

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These fountains were not the only water display at the gardens. Located in front of the conservatory we discovered the main fountain garden.

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After a two-year, $90 million renovation, the Main Fountain Garden at Longwood Gardens has opened. The new fountain replaces the garden’s original fountain, and much of that original plumbing can be seen in a small museum next to the fountain.

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The new Main Fountain Garden features 1,719 jets that shoot water as high as 175 feet into the air. Standard fountain shows are performed 4-5 times each day and are 12 minutes in length. These shows are set to a variety of music from classical to modern pop.

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While we were visiting, the Festival of the Fountains was going on. The timing of our stroll around the gardens resulted in us missing out on the nighttime show, but we did catch some of the daytime musical production as we were walking by.

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We ended up spending 3 hours in the gardens but could have spent days. I was amazed at how extensive the gardens were. The entire experience was a feast for the senses. As it was, I left with my SD card filled with hundreds of photos. I simply couldn’t keep myself in check. Longwood Gardens truly is a small slice of heaven here on earth.

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Graduation Day!

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As I joined my classmates for our final Thursday night gathering I found it hard to believe that this stretch of road has come to a close. For the last year my Thursday nights have been spent with this group of people as we have navigated our way through three semesters of schooling. I joined Pathway for the purpose of beginning my journey toward earning my Bachelor’s degree. I knew it was a smart decision and that by choosing this path I would be able to earn a degree in an affordable way that works for my family. I had no idea that this journey would end up being so much more than that.

This past year has been life changing for me as I have experienced exponential growth in a myriad of areas. Much of that growth I attribute to my Pathway experience. It wasn’t an easy journey, especially in the midst of an especially challenging year. Trying to consistently carve out the hours necessary each week to complete the readings and assignments required for the classes I was taking could be challenging, but I was always able to get the work done and I know that it was thanks to Heavenly Father’s hand in this experience. He is the one that called me to it and He is the one who walked me through it.

The prompting to sign up with the Pathway program through Brigham Young University-Idaho began early last summer. At the time we were on a path that seemed to be leading us to add another child to our home…and a 17-year-old boy at that. Anticipating and bracing myself for the challenges that would come with that life change, I was surprised when God started whispering that after 21 years of being a full time wife and momma, it was time to go back to school and get my degree in preparation for the future plans He has for my life. On paper it made no sense to begin this now, when life was so complicated and so full, but the more I questioned the timing the more the Spirit testified of its accuracy. I took a leap of faith and signed up for my first semester of school in two decades. My hope was that my years of homeschooling helped prepare me for this next big challenge and that teaching my children helped keep those concepts fresh that I would need for my own academic success.

In September of last year I showed up at my first Pathway Connect gathering with 15 other students from the Pittsburgh area. At that first gathering we were told that while strangers now, by the end of the year we would be more like family. I had no idea how true that would be. We gathered every Thursday evening for a year, learning together, sharing our lives, teaching one another, learning from each other’s example, laughing and sometimes crying our way through the challenges of the Pathway experience. And as a result of those Thursday nights I gained a second family  whom I’ve came to love dearly.

For this reason I found myself struggling  with a wide mix of emotions on Thursday night. It was our final Pathway Gathering and graduation night, and as much as I’m looking forward to a break from daily schoolwork, studying and assignments, I will miss seeing my Pathway family every Thursday night and the special spirit that accompanied this experience.

This Thursday’s gathering deviated from “typical,” as it was our graduation night. Because of this, we were encouraged to invite our families to come out and celebrate as we crossed the finish line of Pathway. I was blessed to have Toby, Tyler, Molly, Grace, and my soon-to-be son in law, Zach join me. (Rusty and Braden had to work)

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The turn out by all those who came out to celebrate this special occasion was touching.

The agenda for the night began with a shortened version of our usual classes. I was the lead teacher this week for our religion class and kicked off the night with a discussion about our final project for class.

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Then we had a 15 minute discussion to fulfill our Pathway Gathering requirement for English class, before moving on to our graduation ceremony.

We were each presented with our Pathway Connect certificate,

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And had the opportunity at the end to share some thoughts about our experience with Pathway.

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It was with tears in our eyes and conviction in our words that my classmates and I shared our testimonies of the divinely inspired and divinely developed Pathway program through Brigham Young University-Idaho.

The night ended with treats and a celebratory party with our friends and family.

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It was an amazing ride with amazing people. I am forever grateful God called me to walk this road at this time. It was life-changing and testimony building. I said “yes” to this path expecting to grow, expecting to learn, expecting to work towards my degree…

But never expected that the greatest change in my life would be the conversion that would occur within.

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This fall my educational journey will continue as I begin taking degree-specific classes online through BYU-Idaho (the same school Molly will be attending in person this fall). Onto the next phase of this exciting adventure!

So Glad we “Gotcha!”

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In addition to celebrating the births of each of our children, we also celebrate the “birth” of our adopted children into our family. This annual celebration marks the anniversary of their day in court when they legally became a McCleery. This anniversary is known in the world of adoption as “Gotcha Day.” In our family we celebrate our boys’ “Gotcha Days” by allowing that child to pick a fun activity for us to enjoy as a family.

For our family, the “Gotcha Days” of our three adoptees fall on July 23rd, November 22nd, and March 26th…nicely spread out through the year for seasonal adoption celebrations.

Because the adoptee gets to choose the family activity, the way we celebrate “Gotcha Days” are as varied as the boys we have adopted. In the past we have gone for ice cream, visited car lots, gone to the courts to play tennis, etc. There is no rhyme or reason to these special days other than they are family-connected and driven by the wish of the adoptee we are celebrating.

This week we celebrated the “Gotcha Day” of our youngest child and our first adoption. This “Gotcha Day” holds a special place in my heart as his adoption opened the door to a world our family would have never known without him. Tyler came into our life as a newly turned 6-year-old and his entrance in our life was nothing short of divine intervention.

You see, when we were in the process of opening our adoption file, we were given the opportunity to select details about our potential child. The survey was specific with the adoptive parents given the opportunity to choose what behaviors, background and disabilities they felt capable of handling. Some questions were ridiculous like, “Will you accept a child who wears glasses?” Other questions were far more significant like, “Will you accept a child who has been sexually abused?” The questionnaire was hundreds of questions long and in the end, with much prayer and consideration, felt called to let God decided which child we were to adopt. With a desire to truly submit to His will and let Him pick our child, we answered yes to every race, sex, age, disability, trauma, and behavior with the exception of three hypotheticals that we felt were beyond our capacity as parents.

Because of the 3 non-negotiables we marked on our application Tyler never should have come into our life. Good thing our God is bigger than our insecurities because had He not circumvented our barriers, we would never have been blessed with Tyler.

How our file ended up on the desk of an Allegheny County social worker is still a mystery to us. Our agency claims it wasn’t sent by them, knowing that this child wasn’t a fit with our specifications. All we know is one day, in the middle of August 2011, we received a call informing us that we were one of two families being considered for a little boy named Tyler. It soon became clear to the social worker that I had no idea what he was talking about so he quickly emailed us Tyler’s child profile and made plans to visit our home the next afternoon to discuss the matter further.

That night, after the other children had been put to bed, Toby and I sat in bed and began reading through Tyler’s child profile. Before we finished reading the first page we were already certain that this child…his trauma, behaviors and needs were far beyond our scope of expertise as parents, and those three non-negotiables that terrified us were all present in this poor boy’s past. Our hearts broke for him but we felt certain that we were unequipped to be the parents for this hurting child.

With our decision firmly made we went to sleep brokenhearted but certain that we were making the right decision. The next day I called the social worker first thing in the morning to cancel our appointment scheduled for that evening. I spent the day attempting to make contact with no luck. No one could track him down and none of our messages made it through, so despite our attempts to cancel, that social worker arrived at our home that evening.

We sat down, ready to let him know that we didn’t feel like we were the right match, when he opened the file and a picture of Tyler fell out on the table. In that moment I knew I was looking at the face of my child, long before determined and destined to be part of our family. I knew he was mine and despite my fears and insecurities, I knew Heavenly Father was delivering Tyler into our arms for a great and important purpose…a purpose that has slowly been revealed through time as we have grown as a family in size, purpose, patience, compassion and eternal vision.

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Knowing he was destined to be our son didn’t erase the realities in his file that worried us and made us feel overwhelmingly inadequate, but knowing God was calling us to this journey lifted us above the “what ifs” onto the plane of submissive trust in God’s plan.

How grateful I am that God did not let us get in His way of His plan. I can look back now and see that His hand was in the creation of our family from the start. His hand was in  every “no” he whispered to us as we grieved the disappointment of our own plan falling through, and in every push He gave us toward a “yes” when we were too afraid to take the first faithful step. He knows what our final family unit will look like and He has been the architect of each phase as we grow into that family.

Who knew that is setting our family file mysteriously on the desk of an unsuspecting social worker He was opening the door to two children, pre-destined and divinely selected, to be a part of our forever family.

First came Tyler’s adoption in 2012:

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Then Tyler’s adoption brought Braden to our family seven years later when he became a McCleery on March 26th, 2019.

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I can’t imagine how much love, learning, personal growth and blessings we would have missed had we said no to that little six-year-old boy.

This week was our seventh year celebrating Tyler’s “Gotcha Day.” On Tuesday we found ourselves home with just Tyler and Braden. Everyone else had school or work. Tyler’s request for this year’s “Gotcha Day” was to go to the movies, so on Tuesday night Toby, Braden, Tyler and I went to see the new Spiderman movie. The movie was great, but the company was even better.

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How grateful I am for the blessing of adoption in our life.

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I can’t help but reflect on all the beautiful moments we might have missed out on if we had allowed ourselves to be guided by fear instead of faith.

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A Trip to Palmyra, NY

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Youth Conference had finally arrived for Rusty and Braden. This annual gathering of young men and women from the Northern Pittsburgh area is always a highlight of my kids’ summer. Each year the theme of the conference changes, with some years taking them to the rolling hills of Virginia for a pioneer handcart trek, while other years keep them local with a weekend of service activities in the Pittsburgh area. This year was Braden’s first youth conference and it was a great one for his first experience because this year’s youth conference was held in Palmyra, NY, home of many historically significant events our church.

The conference was scheduled around the Hill Cumorah Pageant,

America’s oldest and largest outdoor theatrical production presented on the beautiful Cumorah hillside next to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Visitors’ Center in Manchester, NY.  Witness stories from the Bible and Book of Mormon come alive on a seven-level stage. The show features  amazing special effects and an all-volunteer cast of over 770 people.

 Our church announced this production would be coming to an end in 2020, so the opportunity to take the youth to Palmyra to experience this incredible production was jumped on and we are so glad it was. The boys had an amazing time.

Knowing that this was Braden’s first youth conference, something foreign and unfamiliar to him, and not knowing how he would handle it all, we decided to head up to Palmyra ourselves and enjoy our last viewing of the pageant and visit the historical sites in the area. This served the dual purpose of a fun mini-vacation with Toby, Tyler and the girls, while also allowing Braden to know we were close by if he found himself struggling and needing support. He did awesome and we weren’t needed, but I think it gave him a sense of security knowing we were close by if needed.

Although we spent Friday visiting the same sites as the youth at youth conference, we never ended up crossing paths. Instead we rubbed elbows with the hundreds of other church members and visitors that were there to see the pageant before its closure in 2020.

The boys left for New York with the other youth on Thursday morning. They traveled in chartered buses. Toby followed Thursday afternoon with Grace and Tyler, getting to our hotel Thursday night. Molly and I were the last to arrive in Palmyra, having to drive separately due to Molly’s work shift that ended at 3:00 am and my Thursday night Pathway class. Molly and I took off at 5:00 am  Friday morning. We arrived at the hotel at 10:00 am and met up with Toby, Tyler and Grace who had just finished breakfast.

We were only in Palmyra for 24 hours, so we decided to fit in as many church sites as we could before sitting down to watch the Hill Cumorah Pageant that evening at 9:15 pm. It was a hot day, with Palmyra experiencing record high temperatures, like much of the rest of the country, but it didn’t deter us. It was a wonderful day enjoyed by all, and a fun one spent with just the girls and Tyler.

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We started our day at the Hill Cumorah visitors center, located next door to the pageant grounds.

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After walking through the visitors center we climbed to the top of Hill Cumorah, and “climb” isn’t an exaggeration. It is one steep hill! But the view from the top made the hike well worth the struggle.

The angel Moroni told Joseph Smith that an ancient record on golden plates- the Book of Mormon- was hidden in the hillside. Moroni instructed Joseph at this hill for four years before entrusting him with the record, which Joseph later translated by the gift and power of God.

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Looking down on the seating for the pageant.

Our next stop took us downtown Palmyra to the Grandin Building, the Book of Mormon publishing site.

In this place E.B. Grandin and his employees published the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon. This volume of holy scripture played an essential role in the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Here we enjoyed a tour that explained the historic printing process of books as well as told the story of how the Book of Mormon became a published book of scripture.

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Our next stop was the Palmyra Temple.

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It was so peaceful to walk the grounds of the holy place, soaking up the Spirit that resonates there.

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Across the street from the Palmyra temple is the historic Smith Farm where so many pivotal events of our church’s beginning occurred.

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It is a beautiful farm and we enjoyed walking through the buildings and listening to the sister missionaries tell the stories of life on that piece of land and what historic events took place on that hallowed ground.

Here at the Smith’s farm, you can reflect on the blessings of the Restoration as you experience the quiet serenity of the Sacred Grove, visit the reconstructed log home where Moroni first appeared to the boy Joseph, and enter the original home where Joseph was living when he received the golden plates.

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Our first stop was to walk through the reconstructed log home of Joseph’s early childhood.

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Then we walked over to the second building on the property, The original historic building where Joseph was living when he received the golden plates.

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From there we followed the trail into the woods behind the property to the Sacred Grove.

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What a beautiful and spirit-filled place it is. We found ourselves slowly strolling through that sacred place, soaking up the spirit found there.

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Upon leaving the Smith Farm we made the decision to head back to our hotel for a few hours before heading back to Hill Cumorah for the pageant. Everyone was feeling a bit wilted by the heat and the miles of walking we had done. Wanting the pageant to be a positive experience for all, we decided naps in an air conditioned hotel room might be just the ticket for an enjoyable evening at the show. We spent two hours at the hotel with some napping and others just resting while enjoying the rare treat of cable television, and by 8:00 we were ready for round two. Everyone was cooled down and rested, so off we went to enjoy the pageant.

Joined by thousands of other visitors streaming in,

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We enjoyed stopping and talking to the 700+ cast members that were walking around in costume, greeting visitors.

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We found our seats which we had reserved earlier in the day and prepared for the show.

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It was spectacular!

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We were so glad we made it a goal to attend this year, despite the craziness of our summer schedule. It was a 24 hour respite from everyday obligations and a wonderful chance to connect, make special memories and soak up the spirit of Palmyra and all that occurred there.

 

And Life marches on!

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The summer continues to race by at a breakneck speed. I can hardly believe it is mid-July. It has been an action-packed summer with one big event following the next. I’ve been so busy living life that I often forget to sit down and record the happenings of life,

So here it is…

A quick update on the latest and greatest at Patchwork Farm.

Rusty returned from Scout Camp, having had an awesome week despite record high temperatures and an aggressive swarm of mosquitoes. He returned home looking like a victim of a smallpox epidemic, but was smiling nonetheless.

July 9th was Chick-fil-A’s “Cow Appreciation Day.”

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This is a favorite tradition in the McCleery household, offering up all our favorite things:

A solid theme, group costumes, and free food!

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We have been enjoying this annual event for years…

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And this year was no exception.

But our numbers were down a bit due to kids’ work schedules and a resistant family member that looked at me, incredulous, and stubbornly insisted, “It would take more than a free chicken sandwich to convince me to dress up like a cow!”

Spoilsport!

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But those who did choose to participate joined hundreds of other “cows” at Cranberry’s Chick-fil-A for a fun, festive, and FREE chicken dinner.

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Thanks, Chick-fil-A!

And while he had no interest in transforming into a cow for a free chicken sandwich, Braden has been busy with other transformative projects, particularly the loft outside his bedroom.

Last Saturday he approached Toby with plans to transform the sitting area outside his bedroom into a teen “lounge” for hanging out and playing games. He had a vision already in mind and money set aside from his paychecks to bring his vision to life. His plan: tear up the carpeting, lay down a wood floor and paint the current yellow walls a smoky grey. Impressed by his initiative to take on a home DIY project independently, and his willingness to fund the project, we gave him the go ahead. After a quick trip to Home depot, he and Toby began laying the floor.

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Two days later paint went up on the walls.

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The space is quickly transforming into what will be a fun, teen, hang-out area. I’ll post pictures at the completion of the room make-over.

One of the biggest events from the last week was the wedding of Gracie’s best friend and future sister-in-law, Stephanie. Steph and Grace became friends when they found themselves sitting side by side in a Sunday school class at age 10. Who knew 11 years later they would both be “brides-to-be” and soon-to-be sisters.

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Stephanie and Gracie…4 years ago today! And look, Gracie’s future husband in the background!

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The Tame and McCleery girls.

A year ago, before Grace and Zach were even an item, Stephanie asked Grace to be her maid of honor. What a sweet turn of events it is that she finds herself now engaged to Steph’s big brother.

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The responsibilities of her role in Stephanie’s wedding has kept her schedule busy for the last few weeks, but Gracie has loved being an active participant in her friend’s big day and an extra set of helping hands to her soon-to-be second family.

The festivities began the week prior to the wedding with the bachelorette party. Molly and I were invited to join Grace, the Tame gals, and some of Stephanie’s friends for a night of creativity. It was a fun, festive celebration of the bride-to-be at a local craft studio called “Artsy Doodle.”

While there we each had the opportunity to make a burlap door hanging. There were so many cute choices but in the end the McCleery girls (and Melanie) each chose the pick-up truck door hanging.

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It was such a fun evening and the finished results of everyone’s efforts were nothing short of charming!

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One week later it was Stephanie’s big day!

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Grace giving her maid-of-honor speech.

I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautiful bride.

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Stephanie performing a song for her groom.

It was a beautiful day filled with love, laughter, friends and family.

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Next up: Gracie and Zach…Only 3 months until their big day!

 

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Escaping to the Homestead

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We find our summer flying by at a breakneck speed. It seems like just yesterday was Molly’s graduation, but the calendar says otherwise. Six weeks have passed since that monumental day and we are now halfway through summer and eight weeks away from Molly’s departure to Idaho for college. I find myself wanting to pump the breaks and slow down time. Since that is an impossibility, I find myself trying to steal moments of stillness whenever I can, soaking up the last of this season of “normalcy” before life changes once again and we find ourselves down two daughters: one to college and another to marriage.

This last week I was able to capture a day of memories to file away for future reflection when we escaped to the Homestead for a day of celebrations.

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My Aunt Denise was in town for the month, following my grandma’s 90th birthday celebration. Since Aunt Denise lives so far away, and getting to visit with her is a rare and treasured treat, we decided to squeeze in a visit before she had to head home. My parents invited us over for a Sunday dinner and a celebration of all the big events from the past two months.

Every few months we try to carve out an afternoon for Sunday dinner at the Homestead, and while there we celebrate all the big events of that quarter of the year. This visit we found ourselves celebrating Toby’s birthday, Father’s Day and Molly’s graduation, with Molly’s graduation being the focus of the day.

We arrived, after a 2 1/2 hour drive, to find the barn decorated and ready for the party.

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Zach joined us, as he will soon be an official member of the family…

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97 days till they say “I do!”

We enjoyed a yummy picnic lunch in the barn.

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It was warm, but the open doors provided a breeze, helped along by a couple box fans.

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When Lunch was over, Molly was presented with her graduation gift from Mimi and Pop pop. Following tradition, they presented Molly with a hope chest. It was a beautiful Lane chest from the 1940’s. It is to be used by Molly to start collecting goodies for her future home. It was a beautiful gift with a beautiful purpose.

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Inside the hope chest they included Molly’s bag of letters.

When my children were very small my mom came up with the idea of having a letter bag for each of her grandchildren. As the kids drew her pictures or sent her letters through the years, she would collect them in their letter bag. At graduation, they give the bag of letters back to that child to read through and enjoy.

Molly, being the resident letter writer in the family, had a full bag of sent mail to look through and enjoy.

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What a delightful trip down memory lane it was, as we enjoyed her earliest years of artwork and phonetic spelling.

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After we exchanged gifts for all the loved ones we were celebrating, the remainder of the day was spent enjoying the magic of the Homestead with it green vistas, grazing animals, and peace.

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The kids had fun driving around the golf cart that was recently purchased to help G.G. move around the farm,

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And we all enjoyed playing games as a family.

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Life doesn’t allow us the time we’d like to visit family. Often it is months or even years between our visits, but when we are granted the rare gift of an afternoon together, we fill it with a month’s worth of fun!

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Here’s to the stolen moments of life that make life worth living!

Land of the Free because of the Brave!

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Nothing brings the summer feels more than the 4th of July with its cookouts, swimming, and sparklers.

I love the 4th of July. It is one of my favorite holidays. My patriotic heart swells with delight at the sea of red, white and blue and the patriotic music that becomes the soundtrack to the day.

Typically our 4th of July involves a trip down to Pittsburgh to participate in the festivities leading up to an always amazing fireworks show. We love the celebratory air that accompanies the experience and there is no better fireworks show  in the area than the one put on by the city of Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, this year we had to switch up our traditional 4th of July plans. My busy kids, with their  very full schedules, made our traditional trip to Pittsburgh for fireworks an impossibility, so we needed to come up with a plan B.

Since everyone was free the first half of the day so we decided to enjoy our family time in the morning before everyone headed in separate directions for the afternoon. We decided to head to Moraine Lake for a picnic.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shinning. It was warm enough to make swimming a delight but not so hot as to make a picnic miserable.

Grace invited Zach to join us, bringing our numbers to seven, in the absence of Rusty, who was spending the week at Scout Camp.

We found that we were not the only ones who thought a day at the lake was a good idea. We found the lake hopping with visitors,

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And it was easy to see why…

It was a practically perfect day at the lake!

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We found a spot and settled in for a relaxing afternoon. Tyler and Braden headed straight for the water where they spent the next three hours tossing the football with other kids in the lake before breaking for lunch.

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Toby found a spot of shade where he enjoyed simply sitting and relaxing with a magazine…a rare and treasured treat for my love who works hard every day from dawn to dusk.

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Molly, who has also been working hard, juggling daily shifts as a waitress at Eat n Park, enjoyed the gift of rest as she lounged in the warmth of the sun, eventually succumbing to the sandman.

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In between the trips to the water, everyone enjoyed a picnic lunch and the company of family, while overlooking a stunning vista.

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By 4:00 pm the grey clouds began to roll in, warning of the impeding storm. We packed up our gear and headed home so everyone could get ready for their evening plans.

We did make a quick stop along the way, however, at The Snowman.

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Toby treated everyone to a snow cone, which was a perfect conclusion to an already perfect day.

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When we arrived home Molly prepared to join up with friends from church for an evening of board games and fireworks in their apartment parking lot.

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Grace and Zach headed downtown Pittsburgh to enjoy an epic fireworks show from the top of Mt. Washington,

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And Braden prepared for his work shift from 6:00-10:15. Because Braden would need picked up from work at the same time most firework shows were occurring, Toby, Tyler and I stayed home and enjoyed a movie night until it was time to get Braden.

It wasn’t our typical 4th of July celebration…

“Typical” is no longer our “normal” with kids growing up and making their own plans, but it was a wonderful day nonetheless.

How grateful I am for all this day offers us: a chance to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy, a chance to honor those who made those sacrifices possible, and the chance to do so with the people we love most.

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Summertime Livin’

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We find ourselves fully emerged in summertime livin’, complete with cook-outs, trips to the pool, travel and activities that only roll around this time of year. This week we find ourselves down one child as Rusty heads off for a week of fun at Scout camp. Scout camp is always the highlight of Rusty’s summer and this year will be his final year. Last weekend was spent preparing and packing for his 4:45am send-off on Monday morning.

In addition to packing and juggling multiple work schedules, we were able to carve out some summer fun in the midst of the craziness.

Our weekend began on Friday with Grace and Molly both taking the day off work so that we could travel two hours to the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania to join up with 100+ teenage girls and their leaders at Girls Camp.

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This year marked the first year in 10 consecutive years that we wouldn’t be at camp for the week. In the past I have served as the leader over the 17/18-year-old graduated senior girls. It has been an assignment that I have loved, but this year, given the precarious nature of things at home, I simply didn’t feel comfortable committing to a week away at camp when I was asked a few months ago. It was with such mixed emotions that the girls and I declined to return as camp leaders, so when we were asked to come to camp for a single day to teach one of the spiritual focus lessons, we were thrilled!

It was the best of all worlds. We got to get our taste of camp and the special spirit felt there, in a way that was manageable to the family as a whole. We spent the weeks prior to camp pondering possible directions we could go on the lesson topic we were given. We were asked to speak on the topic, ““If you don’t have the Spirit of the Lord, you can not stand.”

Inspired by handouts we found at Dollar Tree, we built our lesson around a flamingo theme and how we can be like the flamingo and stand tall. We each took a portion of the lesson to teach and Grace signed to the song, “I Will” by Hilary Weeks.

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It was such a joy stepping back into camp and seeing so many familiar and loved faces. After our lesson we stayed to watch the slideshow of all the week’s activities and joined the campers for dinner before trekking back home.

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Saturday was a busy one with everyone working except Grace, Tyler and I.

It was $1.00 ice cream day at Handel’s, the ice cream shop where Rusty and Braden work, so it was an “all hands on deck” day for the staff.

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Rusty and Braden worked back to back shifts mid-day, so while we were in the process of dropping off one and picking up the other we stopped to take advantage of that awesome deal!

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Is there anything better than ice cream on a hot summer day?!

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From there Molly headed to work at Eat n’ Park.

Molly has been working like crazy this summer, trying to earn all the money she needs for her upcoming year of college. Her hard work has paid off as she is almost to her goal. It hasn’t been easy, though. Molly works almost every day of the week, with the exception of Sunday, often being assigned shifts that have her on the floor from 6:00pm to 4:00am. Eat n’ Park has recently lost key staff members, leaving those who are still there hustling to cover all the shifts. The blessing is that Molly will have no trouble reaching her monetary goals, but the poor thing hasn’t had much of a summer break.

In the afternoon, Tyler and I headed to Zelienople for his weekly equine therapy session at Glade Run Adventures. Since Braden was working, Tyler got to enjoy an individual session without Braden. Because of this, Tyler was put on Leo (the tallest horse at the stable and typically Braden’s ride) to see how he would do with a more advanced horse.

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It was an exciting day as his equine therapist, Ashley, let him canter Leo for the first time, unassisted.

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Tyler did amazing!

It is so exciting to see his growth since beginning equine therapy…both emotionally and in the area of horsemanship.

On Saturday evening we decided to tackle one of the items on the family’s summer bucket list: A Drive-in Movie!!

We have discovered that the stage of life we find ourselves in makes it challenging to get everyone together for family activities. With 5 family members working, 2 going to school, and multiple commitments in the areas of family, friends, church callings, wedding planning, college preparations, etc. we tend to pick a date and time when the largest number of family members can attend, and schedule that way.

Sunday is our one day of the week where everyone is home in the evening, as all have committed to not work on the Sabbath, so that is the day for worshipping together at church and enjoying family time at home. It is also the day we sit and calendar out our week so that everyone knows what is on everyone else’s agenda. It is a necessity for our large, busy family. Last Sunday, as we planned out our week, we decided we would go to the drive-in on Saturday night. Molly, unfortunately, had to work, but everyone else was free.

Grace invited Zach to join us. We met up at Dependable Drive-in at 8:00pm to watch a back to back showing of Toy Story 4 and Aladdin.

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After finding spots side for our car and Zach’s, we set up our chairs.

The boys brought a football, in anticipation of the one hour wait until showtime.

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It felt like summer, surrounded by the smells of the concession stand,

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And the sounds of parents visiting and children playing, as we waited for the movie to start.

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As dusk rolled in the screen came alive with the sounds of the national anthem.

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Everyone got settled in their spots, prepared for 4 hours of movie-watching fun.

Both movies exceeded my expectations. They were both wonderful and we enjoyed them immensely…

Well, most of us did. Tyler was fast asleep by the time the second movie, Aladdin, began to play, but the rest of us made it through the double showing and had a wonderful time.

I love the not-so-lazy days of summer!