(Mom’s notes in red)
(Mom’s notes in red)
On Friday we shuffled off to Mexico for our third international dinner of the summer. This week we decided on a Mexican theme for our family dinner night. This one was a fun one to pull off, as I had plenty of décor on hand to make the transformation fun.
We did indulge in a few purchases to make the evening more authentic, including a taco piñata,
And Mexican candies (purchased from Amazon) to fill it with.
On Friday, Grace helped me decorate the dinning room and stuff the piñata in preparation for our dinner on Saturday.
Grace also made a stop at a local gas station that sells Mexican Coke, where she purchased a bottle for each of us.
On Saturday evening the preparations for dinner were in full swing. Our menu was simple but delicious!
We has sheet pan nachos and fresh fruit sprinkled with tajin.
It was so yummy!
Even the dogs got into the action, sporting their own sombreros…
After dinner we moved to the living room where Toby had set up the piñata. The kids took turns taking swings at it. They were each blindfolded and spun until sufficiently dizzy,
While Toby worked to keep the piñata just out of reach.
A couple good hits by the boys, and a final punch by Tyler, led to a shower of Mexican treats.
The treats were divvied up and we all enjoyed taste testing these unique candies that all seemed to be accompanied by a bit of a kick!
Our final treat of the evening was mock- fried ice cream. This tasty dessert was made by rolling scoops of vanilla ice cream in crushed Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal, frozen, and then topped with caramel and chocolate syrup.
We enjoyed our mock-Mexican desserts while watching Nacho Libre!
It was a fun night of “international travel,” south of the border.
Yesterday marked the seven year anniversary since Tyler officially and legally became a McCleery! I remember with great fondness that special day when we went from being the parents of three to the parents of four.
He was a wee little thing…only six-years-old at the time.
It was a joyous day, one that marked the conclusion of a year marked with great highs and lows, but also marked the start of our journey to being a family of eight. In the years following Tyler’s adoption day, God led us to adopt twice more. He brought Ozzie into our family in 2014 and Braden (Tyler’s biological brother) in 2019.
These are my remembrances of that special day, as personally penned seven years ago, on the evening of Tyler’s adoption day:
There are certain moments in my mothering journey that are ingrained in my memory forever. Moments when time stands still, when I am completely present and aware of the magnitude of the blessings, moments that will stay with me forever and will be replayed and enjoyed as I reflect on them years from now.. Yesterday was one of those days.
As I sit here in the darkness of the night I have the joy of reflecting on the day. With the births of each of my children, my favorite part of the day was the night after giving birth. After the sun went down, and everyone went home, and I was left alone in the hospital room with my new child. My heart would overflow with gratitude and relief that it was done and all was well. All the worries about what could go wrong were set aside as the enormity of the miracle was laid before me. Tonight I find myself feeling those same emotions. Labor is over, the worries about everything that could have gone wrong were unfounded, and I am humbled by the miracle God has laid before me. Tyler is mine. It is done. I feel the weight of worry lifted from my shoulders and my heart overfloweth.
Today couldn’t have gone any better. I saw God’s hand in this beautiful day from beginning to end. Our scheduled court time was 1:30 but we were told to arrive at 1:00. Mimi Joy followed us down to Pittsburgh where we met my parents, my grandma, and my sister and her kids for the ceremony. It was so special to have the people most important to us join us on our special day and it was with great love that they traveled from New York, Michigan and Ohio to join us.
When we arrived, we went through security and then took the elevator up to the 9th floor. Tyler was quieter than usual and I could tell he was nervous. As we walked into the auditorium where we would wait with all the other families adopting that day, we were greeted with a sign that read, “Happy Adoption Day!” ..my tears began. The reality that we made it, that we were in the home stretch, hit me.
When I walked into the waiting room I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer joy that filled the room. The room was full of families and children that were there to finalize their adoptions. The atmosphere was one of celebration.
It was soon time for us to head to the courtroom. The entire family came in. Toby and I sat in front of the judge with Tyler on Toby’s lap, while everyone else sat behind us. The judge introduced himself and welcomed us. He was wonderful. He joked with the kids and put us all at ease. He also told us that he personally knew the joy of adoption day because he had adopted his child. The hearing itself consisted of a series of questions that we had to answer and then a series of questions that the social worker had to answer. Within minutes we heard the judge declare, “From this day forth Tyler will now be known as Tyler Jacob McCleery.” Even now I find the tears falling as I think back on the emotions I felt at that moment. He was ours…finally ours.
As I sit here and reflect on this adoption journey I am amazed at the difference a year makes. Last year at this time we didn’t even know Tyler existed and here we are today with a son. It feels like he has always been ours. We have witnessed first hand God’s goodness as He laid the foundation for this day over the course of many years. He put upon our hearts the desire to adopt 10 years ago and from that moment on He provided opportunities to grow and prepare for this moment so that when the time was right, and we were ready, our son would be placed in our arms. It was a long “pregnancy” and a long “labor,” but the blessing of watching God’s miracles along the way made it a journey of joy. When I started this blog.. soon after Tyler was placed in our home.. it was so you could walk beside us as we navigated this unknown terrain called adoption. We are grateful for all the prayers you have prayed on our behalf, for the words of encouragement that always came when they were most needed, and the support we received from so many. It is with great joy that were share this day with you. God is Good!
In our family, we celebrate the anniversary of each adopted child’s “birth” into our family much as we would an actual birthday. We call it their “Gotcha Day,” and for the anniversary of their adoption they get to chose a fun, family activity for us to do to commemorate their special day. Tyler had a very specific idea in mind for his “Gotcha Day.” He wanted to go canoeing/kayaking. Since we don’t own canoes or kayaks, I needed to find a facility that rented them. Normally this would have been an easy task, as we are surrounded by rivers and lakes in Western Pennsylvania, but I soon discovered that many of the places that rents boats, were shut down due to Covid-19.
After a little research and a few calls and texts to friends, I discovered that Racoon Creek State Park had a rental facility that was still open and serving the public. On Friday we drove down to Racoon State Park for a day of boating. It was a smaller “Gotcha Day” gathering than usual due to so many family members being out of the house, but that didn’t damper the experience for Tyler. He was excited to get on the water and was thrilled to have Rusty join him!
Happy “Gotcha Day,” Tyler! We are so glad you are our son!!
This week has been FULL of new changes and adventures!
Last Tuesday was transfer day. It is crazy that I am going into my second transfer already! This transfer was full of changes. One of the biggest changes was that I got a new, reassigned companion who served in Chile for 9 months! Sister Tolley is the sweetest thing and has been a huge blessing to me! (I will be helping her adjust to this area and she will continue training me, because I have still so much to learn!) In the end we are learning together and I feel that, because of it, we are all the more unified as companions and friends. We also moved into a new apartment and have a new p-day, which has switched from Monday to Wednesday. Although all of these changes have taken a day or two to get used to, they have also brought new experiences and opportunities!
Sister Tolley and I spend a decent amount of time in quarantine because of Covid-19, but we are trying to find the blessings and God’s hand in each day. Our day to day events consist of:
Trying to get into the habit of running in the morning,
Buying ice cream and eating it from the container,
Going on hikes,
Studying, seeking, praying, teaching,
And all in all, just trying to keep ourselves busy!
We are seeking to work very hard everyday to be a blessing to others and use our time in a way that is pleasing in the sight of God.
I love the quote by President Russell M. Nelson (our prophet) “The Lord loves effort!” This quote has been a good reminder because being a missionary during this crazy time has resulted in moments of feeling drained and discouraged, but as I weigh these moments against all of the blessings we have received in return, it is well worth it!
I am so thankful for the challenges and trials that we experience daily because it brings into contrast the light and love of God, making it shine all the brighter! God never gives us more than we can handle.
God is good- Always good!
Sending hugs and much love,
A Poem written by Sister Molly McCleery:
“The trials I’m given, are they meant to crush me?
My perspective is so very limited to what I understand and see.
But yet I stand firm to the truth that God is my loving Father.
Why do I let fear and doubts seep in to add to personal bother?
Trials may seem heavy to bear, yet they’ll never be more than you can handle,
They are opportunities to grow your faith, adding like the guidance of a candle.
At times our burdens are just heavy enough to get us to our knees,
For this will open doors, because you now have the keys.
God anxiously waits for our acceptance to His hand that reaches out,
Once we do, then everything seems a bit better, resulting in a joyful shout!
If God wants us to have joy, why are there trials in the first place?
Now this can be addressed by breaking it down to the foundation base.
I believe this time on earth is an opportunity for growth and learning,
Where we experience opposition and practice the art of discerning.
I have turned more towards Christ in dark times, for I desire a source of light.
In Him I find comfort and strength, for He is my eyes of sight.
I’m grateful that through Him I don’t need to feel alone, even for a day.
Because I know Jesus Christ can help us feel more than perhaps just “okay.”
Every time we fall down and feel that we are done,
Remember the love that is testified through God’s only begotten son!
He can and will lift you and clean you up,
Christ’s love and healing is like an overflowing cup.
This is one of the most amazing and humbling experiences to endeavor,
For that is He loves you, today, tomorrow and always, even to forever!”
This summer marks Rusty’s third semester of college, as he pursues a degree in UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) piloting. His dream is to become a drone pilot, and it is a dream he has been working hard on achieving for the last 14 months.
He began his pursuit of this goal at the start of his senior year when he decided to duel enroll in our local community college while finishing up his senior year at 21st Century Cyber Charter School. He loves the program, his instructors, and fellow UAV students.
Currently, due to Covid-19, all his courses are online. This has been an effortless transition for Rusty, whose entire 12 years of schooling was accomplished through a cyber venue.
This summer Rusty is taking a photography/videography class as part of his degree requirements. He has really enjoyed it. In addition to learning the art of cinematography, he is also learning the business side of drone piloting…
Including creating a logo for his business and a choosing a name. Here is his design:
Rusty has three large projects due this summer where he’s be asked to capture drone footage that could be used by a business for advertising purposes. Rusty took advantage of our weeklong camping trip to capture footage of Fox Den Acres Campground. Using that footage, he created a video highlighting the amenities of the campground.
I was so impressed with his finished project, I couldn’t resist sharing!
Rusty still has another year of schooling, and hasn’t yet decided on what career path he wants to pursue in the field of drone piloting. Just from Rusty’s particular program graduates have gone on to pursue careers with the forestry department where drones are used to monitor forest fires, the department of transportation where drones are used to do bridge inspections, and Hollywood where drones are used to capture aerial footage for major motion pictures. The possibilities are endless! It is exciting to consider where this degree might take Rusty.
In the meantime, Rusty is excited to once again be gainfully employed! In March, the ice cream shop where both Rusty and Braden worked shut down due to Covid-19. Last month they received news that it was closed for good and would not be reopening. That led to a search for employment. Last week Rusty began his new job with FedEx, as a package handler.
His job is to pull packages off a continuously moving conveyor belt and fill FedEx trucks with those boxes. It is hard work (he moves 600-800 boxes a shift.) It is hot work (the temperatures in the warehouse match the temperatures outside.) It is non-stop work (with barely a moment to catch your breath between streams of packages coming down the line.) but according to Rusty, it is fun work. It is a job that plays to his strengths. It is a real life game of Tetris. All those years of Lego building, puzzle solving, and video gaming has paid off. On day one he was already receiving praise from the manager for his packing skills. He also loves the fact that this job pays $6.00/ MORE an hour than he made scooping ice cream. It is a win win!
So, there you go…
The latest news on our gentle giant.
The third week of June always presents a unique challenge as we strive to celebrate Toby’s trifecta of holidays in the grand way he deserves. During that week he is celebrated for being a father, a husband, and a son, with Father’s Day, our anniversary and his birthday landing within days of each other on the calendar. We work hard to celebrate each of those special days fully and individually. This year I was looking for something extra special for his Father’s Day gift. It has been a bummer of a year, with a lot of unforeseen changes and a lot of challenging detours. Trips have been canceled, kids have launched, and some of those that are still at home have put us through the ringer. I knew this Father’s Day was going to be extra challenging for Toby without Molly and Grace at home to temper the tone in our home with their sunshine. It has been a hard, hard few months at home. I knew that Toby was not going to receive the show of love, gratitude and appreciation he deserves as a father, so I felt compelled to come up with something extra special. With Rusty’s help we pulled off an amazing Father’s Day surprise for a man that deserves the world!
One of Toby’s favorite hobbies is metal detecting. It is a hobby he took up as a kid with his father. Eight years ago he joined the Beaver County Metal Detecting Club and since then has enjoyed his monthly meetings and frequent hunts with friends that share a common passion. For Toby, this hobby combines his love for treasure hunting with coin collecting.
As I was searching for local hunts that could serve as his Father’s Day gift from the kids and I, I stumbled across Treasure Week. This week-long hunt was being held an hour away at Fox Den Campground in New Stanton. As soon as I stumbled across the registration form online, I knew it would be a perfect gift for Toby. Each day offered 3- 4 seeded hunts with a different theme each day. In between hunts there were opportunities to socialize, activities for the kids, and family fun each evening.
We decided to secretly register Toby and then turn that week of camping into our summer vacation. I booked a campsite at the campground where the hunt was being held and on Father’s Day we surprised him with his gift.
Last Friday we packed up the car and headed to the hunt. Braden declined to join the family on our camping trip and left to spend another week at his Pap’s house, so it was just Tyler and Rusty with us for the week.
We arrived and began setting up camp. We finished getting the tent set up and the car unloaded, just before the first thunderstorm of the weekend hit.
The downpour outside altered our dinner plans. Our foil packet dinners were postponed for the following night as we enjoyed a meal of Sheetz-to-Go while playing board games in the relative comfort of the tent.
The following day was the start of Treasure Week. Toby received a schedule for the week, with the themes of each day’s hunts laid out. The only day that had to be switched up was “Canada Day” on day one, as our coin hunters from the north continue to remain trapped behind a border that is closed.
The hunts were offered each day at 11:00, 1:00 and 3:00, with some specialty hunts thrown in between.
There were about 50 participants at Treasure Week, with ages ranging from teens to 80+. Most, however were retirees. Toby was a youngin’ in this crowd. Because of the median age of participants, most remained diligent in the use of masks and social distancing, making this a fun (and safe) week of vacationing.
Luckily, metal detecting is a pastime that lends itself well to social distancing…
As perfectly expressed by this t-shirt we bought Toby:
After each hunt Toby would lay out his treasure finds and count up his “booty.” Silver dimes are one of the most common finds in seeded hunts, and one of the coins Toby enjoys collecting most, as each pre-1965 dime has a current worth of $1.50.
Tuesday’s theme was the Civil War. These hunts were run by the relic hunters from Virginia and Texas who focus their efforts on historic relics rather than coins. For the Civil War relic hunt, the ground was seeded with historic relics instead of silver. This resulted in an especially cool hunting experience for those like Toby who typically hunt coins. Toby walked away from that hunt with 19 Civil War bullets, one uniform button and a J hook.
Treasure week also offered free hunts for amateurs, kids and teens. These hunts were geared toward beginners. Tyler didn’t want to participate, but Rusty chose to sign up for the amateur hunt.
Each amateur hunter was allowed a “coach” on the field to help them. Toby was Rusty’s treasure hunting coach.
He had great success. He found a handful of coins and some tokens, which won him a collection bag, a shovel, and a coin pricing book.
In between hunts we kept busy with the fun the campground offered.
Tyler spent most of his time at the lake that sat across the road from our tent. He spent hours and hours fishing for bluegills and bass.
In the hot afternoons we would head over to the pool to cool off. The week offered high temperatures in the 90’s, making the campground pool a lifesaver!
And, as is always the case when camping, a large portion of my day was spent preparing, serving and cleaning up meals cooked outside.
In the evenings after dinner we would head over to the large pavilion that served as home base for Treasure Week. There we would enjoy the family activities scheduled for each evening. Some of the activities offered included bingo, a Civil War relic presentation, a Chinese auction and A Night at the Races, with the proceeds of these events going to fund future hunts.
Our nights would end with time spent around the fire as everyone enjoyed one last s’more or hobo pie before heading to bed.
It was a good week away. It was healing to get away from the house and challenges of everyday life, and just escaping into nature for a bit. Toby had a wonderful week doing what he loves: digging in the dirt for dimes, and we enjoyed watching him have fun.
After a week of hunts Toby had quite the impressive haul of coins and prizes:
This week away was a small token of the love and appreciation I feel for this giant among men. His countenance is humble and he asks for so little, but he is one who gives and gives some more. On a daily basis he sacrifices his own wants and own dreams to make life better for everyone he loves. He has taken on challenges others shy away from, for the sake of bettering the lives of those hurt by the cruelty and lack of care by men who don’t deserve the title of “father.” He forgives and forgives again the hurtful choices made by the hurt people in his life, knowing that the only way to break the cycle of abuse is to offer an example of unconditional love in the face of behaviors intended to test the love that is offered.
If anyone deserves to be celebrated as a father, it is Toby. In his quiet, unassuming, selfless way he is showing our sons what a real man looks like, and how a real father behaves.
It isn’t a lesson fully appreciated by all his kiddos at this point in their lives, but he continues to plug away, doing right, even when his efforts seem to be in vain.
As I watch Toby hunt a field for treasure, his method is strikingly similar to how he parents. It is calm, thoughtful, thorough, and patient.
While others hurry across the field, he calmly remains steady in his pace.
While others hunt those easily accessible coins just below the surface, he willingly invests time and effort seeking the treasure hidden deeper in the ground.
When the crowds start exiting the field, believing there is nothing left to find, Toby circle around once more looking for treasures missed by others.
He seeks to find the worth in what the world dismisses as trash, and patiently digs for the good stuff…the stuff that is buried deep.
He is a treasure finder, both in hobby and in life.
He has been blessed with the ability to find the intrinsic worth of a soul, even when it is buried deep beneath hurt, anger, trauma, and testing.
He doesn’t walk off the field when the hunt seems fruitless.
Never, ever giving up.
This week was a bit of a rougher week.
I found myself dealing with a lot of internal worries, but even with those struggles I saw good things come from the hard moments.
On the Friday following our culinary trip to Germany, we found ourselves planning our second “international” dinner. The date (July 3rd) lent itself to an American themed meal. We celebrated the anniversary of our nation’s independence with a bonfire and BBQ.
To get into the spirit of the dinner, I spent the morning watching my all time favorite musical, 1776.
This was followed by a viewing of Hamilton on Disney+ with Gracie as we prepared dinner.
Zach was working late that night, so we just had Grace over for our 4th of July celebration.
It was an easy themed dinner, as I just had to cook those well-loved and familiar foods from an all-American cook-out. Dinner consisted of hamburgers on the grill, potato chips and dip, macaroni salad, ambrosia salad, fruit pizza and cold soda. After last week’s menu, Tyler was in heaven with this more familiar fare.
It was a beautiful evening to gather outside!
Earlier in the week Toby made a fireworks run to load us up for our own personal firework show at Patchwork Farm. Like any man shopping for explosives, he went a little crazy, coming home with two boxes full of dangerous fun.
The kids were thrilled!
They couldn’t wait for the sun to go down so the real fun could begin!
Our own, home-grown, fireworks show did not disappoint. Toby had purchased a wide variety of fountains, roman candles, high-in-the-sky boomers, and bottle rockets to keep our show going for hours.
Rusty was our primary pyrotechnic guy, as he had the highest OSHA rating and was the most likely of the boys to run away from the burning fuse after lighting it.
Gracie served as the DJ for our fireworks show, making sure we had a steady playlist of Lee Greenwood, Toby Keith, and Home Free, serving as the soundtrack of our evening.
It was a wonderful night celebrating the land that I love with the people I love even more!