Author Archives: ktmccleery

Friday Night Lights

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It is fall in Western Pennsylvania and we find ourselves in the heart of football season. After years of avoiding organized sports with the older kids,  we dipped our big toe into the sports pond when Tyler joined our family at age 6. We tried to fight it but even at that age he had an affinity for sports of any kind, having been actively involved in soccer and football at his previous foster home, and we soon realized that for all of our survival that kid needed an energy outlet!

After a few months in our home we gave into the inevitable and signed him up for soccer, followed by football in the fall. It was a definite social shock stepping into the world of little league sports and all that comes with it.

The benefit of such an uncomfortable social shift, however, was a very tired little boy at the end of the day…a benefit that far outweighed the less appealing aspects of organized youth sports.

It was because of our naivety and lack of experience that we found ourselves at Blackhawk Lil’ Cougars football sign-ups that first year. We saw the signs around town advertising football sign-ups and so we arrived with required papers in hand (birth certificate, report card and proof of address) on the night advertised. He was registered and began playing, making quick friends with the other little brutes on his team. There was something endearing about watching 20 wild 6-year-old’s navigate the field as they learned the sport.

It wasn’t until we were fully entrenched in the world of the Cougars that we found out that we should have signed Tyler up under Beaver Fall’s league since we technically live in Beaver Falls school district. By the time we realized our mistake Tyler was firmly settled into this group of boys and we chose to request an exemption rather than move him. He has been playing with the Cougars ever since and loves his teammates and coaches.

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That was all well and good and then Tyler’s biological brother, Brandon, moved into our home. He, too, has both a love and affinity for sports and since he is currently required by the judge to attend our local public school it made it easy to simply sign him up for the high school football team.

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After a few years of not being able to live a “normal” teenager’s life, he is thrilled to be navigating halls between classes and donning football gear every day after school. Like Tyler, he has a natural gift for athletics and is loving being part of a team.

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So now we have two boys on the field each week, but they wear the colors of two different schools…

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Two rival schools.

Which had made life a bit crazier than usual.

Everyday Brandon has football practice immediately following school until 5:30 pm. We pick him up and then head to Tyler’s field for his daily practice from 6:00-8:00 pm.

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Friday nights are spent under the lights as we dress in our orange and black to watch Brandon play.

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Then on Saturdays we put on our green and gold to cheer on Tyler.

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Some of these games are pleasant but others are miserable…

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This one was particularly nasty as we battled high winds and heavy rains. We definitely earned some parenting points for our participation!

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For the most part we have been able to navigate this arrangement,  but Friday presented its own unique challenge when both boys were committed to be on two different fields for Friday night’s game.

Brandon’s game was a home game on Geneva College’s field but Tyler was also invited to be on the field Friday night as part of Blackhawk’s community days. The high school invited all the little players and cheerleaders to the game to support the high school team. The boys were invited to sit along the sidelines and then step onto the field as the big boys entered the stadium, cheering them on.

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Tyler didn’t want to miss this special event so we began our night with the Blackhawk Cougars and then at halftime drove across town to watch the second half of the game at Beaver Falls to cheer on the Tigers.

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It has been fun watching Tyler and Brandon bond over football. And we are all thrilled to have someone living in the house who readily volunteers to toss the ball with Tyler, giving the rest of our throwing arms a break!

Tonight we go and watch another brother in uniform.

Sean, Tyler and Brandon’s middle biological brother, is playing for his school and both my boys are excited to go and watch one of his games and reconnect with a brother they haven’t seen in a few years.

It is definitely football season in Western PA!

 

Molly’s Photo Session

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Well, here we are again.

First Grace and now Molly.

Molly is now a senior and with that exciting time of life comes additional items on the “to-do” list, as we help her prepare for the upcoming, next chapter of life. We find ourselves deeply entrenched in tasks like college visits, SAT testing, scholarship applications and SENIOR PHOTOS…

One of the more enjoyable tasks on our senior “to-do” list.

Like Grace, Molly asked that I take her senior photos rather than hire someone else to do it. She felt it would be more personal that way and that her personality would shine forth more clearly than if she was in front of a stranger’s camera.

I was thrilled she wanted her Momma to take her pictures. We began throwing around ideas for locations and props.

It was fun to see how differently the girls approached the task of senior photos, each choosing outfits, seasons and props so very different from each other, but so perfectly reflective of each of them.

When we did Gracie’s senior photos she choose the month of October, wanting the fall foliage to be her backdrop. Her outfit and props lent themselves to a classic, vintage, shabby-chic feel:

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Molly on the other hand is all about sunshine and wanted her photos to reflect her bright, fun, quirky personality. Her colors were bright primary colors and her outfit was casual. For her backdrop we decided to take a little road trip to Conneaut Lake Park, an old fashioned amusement park about 90 minutes away from home. We went in the morning when the park was deserted, prior to the rides being open, with a bag full of props on hand.

Grace joined us, adding her creative eye to the process. We had so much fun on our girls’ date and got a lot of fun photos for Molly to choose from…

A professional photographer may have produced more flawless photos, but we would have missed out on making some magical memories had we been sitting in a studio behind the lens of a stranger.

We had so much fun and laughed until our bellies hurt,

And even managed to get some usable shots along the way.

Here are some of Molly’s favorites that she is trying to choose between.

Like Gracie’s photo shoot, we’d love to hear your vote.

Which is your favorite?

Cast your vote for Molly’s senior photo!

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Adoption is…

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Adoption is caring.

Adoption is giving.

Adoption is hope.

Adoption is redemption.

Adoption is a blessing.

Adoption is LOVE.

But adoption is also heartache, heartbreak and loss.

It is all of those things, and if we don’t acknowledge that truth then we are doing a disservice to those who are embarking on (or are already traveling) the  adoption path.

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Adoption is emotionally messy. Choosing to open your heart and home to a child that has come into your life through loss and tragedy creates a muddy mix of emotions on all ends. With each placement I am better understanding this reality and have adjusted my expectations accordingly.

When Tyler came into our home as a hurting 6-year-old boy, I am ashamed to admit that I really didn’t get it. I viewed what we were offering him to be a loving gift that he should be grateful and excited about. I wanted his emotions to mirror mine. I was feeling excited, blessed, and full of love for my new son but didn’t recognize that his emotions were more complicated.

The reality is…

As much as media wraps the experience in the tagline of: “Adoption is LOVE,”

(Which it is!)

It should equally be acknowledged: “Adoption is Loss.”

If a child comes to you through adoption, whether due to being removed from an abusive home or placed as an infant by a loving birth mother who is sacrificing all for the sake of the child she loves, loss is involved. There needs to be an understanding that while adoption is a beautiful blessing, it is not all joy and gratitude and celebration. There is also a lot of sadness, confusion, fear, anger, and grief connected with this journey.

The past five years have taught me a lot and I feel better equipped to sensitively and kindly navigate this road with Brandon than I was able to with Tyler. God is working on all of us and opening our eyes to the bigger picture and the deeper reality.

Two weeks ago we made a trip down to Washington County so that Brandon could have a visit with his adoptive father (whom he calls “Pap.”) His adoptive Dad is under the care of hospice due to terminal cancer. It is because of a series of heartbreaking losses in Brandon’s life that we find him living in our home. The visit was a good one. It was good for Brandon to see that we would continue to facilitate visits with his Pap and make visits a priority while we still can, but also good for his pap to see Brandon thriving.. giving him a sense of peace about the situation.

When it was time to leave and we were walking out to the car Brandon asked if he could go say “hello” to his dog.

Tied up in the backyard was a beagle that was bouncing with excitement at the sight of his boy. Brandon asked if I would go back with him because he wanted me to meet his dog.

The next 30 minutes were spent sitting in the grass as the pup bounced between us. With that wiggling mass of pure love in his arms, Brandon’s soul opened and the words began to pour out. Sitting beneath the shade of the tree he  started talking; sharing memories of all that had happened in that place. Memories of his dog, of afternoons spent in the woods. He shared memories of learning to cook at his adoptive mom’s side and the struggle of watching her health diminish,

And the crushing loss he felt when she died.

It was as though his reinforced, emotional dam broke loose and the thoughts and feelings of the last few years poured out of him. There in the backyard of his home he purged a lifetime of tears and broken dreams and I sat and listened. It was cathartic and I could see the physical affect that emotional purging had on him.

I held him as he cried.

His overgrown, man-body shook with the tears of a toddler…those tears that wrack the body and wash the soul.

I held him tight until he released his grip, indicating he no longer needed hugged. As he stepped away he turned to say good-bye to a furry friend who has been a loving companion through some of the darkest life experiences a person can endure.

I suggested we take a picture of him with his dog so that we could print it and frame it for his room.

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He eagerly agreed and the pup thought it was a good idea too!

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We left the home of his Pap with the last of his meager worldly possessions packed in a black garbage bag. We will be returning for additional visits, making sure he has as many visits with his Pap as we can before Brandon experiences another horrible loss.

But despite the fact we will return for visits, there was a sad finality in the way he looked over his shoulder as we left, at the place he has called home for the last few years.

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Adoption is about hope, care, redemption and love…

but it is also about loss.

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We must never forget that.

 

 

Kennywood Days- Round 2!

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This summer my kids experienced Kennywood amusement park for the first time. This was thanks to friends we were able to acquire 1/2 price tickets which allowed us to affordably take our family of eight to this Pittsburgh icon.

It turns out that it was a deal that kept on giving because, following a fun, full day at Kennywood,the skies opened up, driving out visitors a few hours before the scheduled closing time…

Which resulted in eight raincheck tickets to return another day for FREE!

Woo hoo…what a deal!

The tickets were for the regular 2018 season so they had to be used before mid-September. The start of school and corresponding activities, along with two time-consuming football schedules, limited our possibilities of when we could use those raincheck tickets. We soon discovered that this past Saturday was really our only option.

We woke up to rain and were sure that our plans for the day would be canceled because of weather, but after monitoring the website all morning it seemed they were going to open the gates and we would be able to use our free tickets.

When we arrived we were informed that the park would be closing at 4:00 that day due to impending storms. The wash of disappointment that hit us was soon placated by the unexpected blessing of eight more raincheck tickets. These raincheck tickets are for the 2019 season, which will allow us to return a third time for FREE. What a blessing!

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So in we went with another set of admission tickets in hand and smiles on our faces, ready to enjoy the four hours we had ahead of us before closing.

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The very rain which was causing the early closure also drove away visitors, making it so we could walk onto every ride at the park. Despite the shorter amount of time we had to ride, we actually fit in a lot more rides that day thanks to the skeletal crowd.

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The rain broke midday, making the majority of our time at Kennywood dry.

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It wasn’t until the last 30 minutes that the sky actually opened up and we were driven indoors.

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The kids all enjoyed revisiting the rides and coasters they loved during our first visit,

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And while the other 5 kids were off enjoying coasters with Dad,

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I took Ozzie over to the newly opened Thomastown, where he was able to step inside his favorite childhood show.

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Ozzie is obsessed with Thomas the Train, and despite the fact he is now 14-years-old, his autism (and the boundless joy and enthusiasm that accompanies it) is evident when he is exposed to the things he is most enamored with. We stepped into Thomastown and he became a 6-year-old little boy again, meeting his favorite childhood friends in person.

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He was over-the-moon excited with the attention to detail found in this newest area of Kennywood Park.

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It was a delight spending that hour with just Ozzie as we experienced the world of Thomas the Train…

With themed rides, interactive characters, and talking trains…

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He was in heaven!

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After an hour in Thomastown, Ozzie and I met up with the rest of the family to re-ride our favorite rides before the park closed.

It was a fun day and we look forward to returning in 2019!

Happy First Day of School!

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With the start of a new school year comes our annual Back-to-School family night.

This is an eagerly anticipated event as it creates a buzz of excitement and positive anticipation for the start of school. The table is decorated, a fun, celebratory dinner is planned, and new school supplies are distributed.

Our back to school night began with a lesson.

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As an object lesson I paired physical school supplies needed for a successful school year with character traits we all need to “pack” in our “backpack” for a successful school year. One by one the physical items were pulled from the backpack and we read and discussed the pun that was taped to each item and talked about that character trait/choice and why it is needed for a successful school year.

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Then each of the kids were given a copy of our theme for the new school year. Each year we pick a scripture or quote to focus on in the upcoming year. The new quote is framed and put on display in each of the kids bedrooms so that they can refer to it throughout the school year. It is with much thoughtful consideration that we choose our yearly theme. This year I felt compelled to reinforce the truth that the deciding force that drives the direction of our lives is not the big decisions but rather the small choices we make each day to try a little harder and do a little better than the day before. I found this quote while searching for our school theme and knew it was exactly the message my family needed most:

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I love the artwork that accompanied this printout of the quote by David A. Bednar. The visual of the ladder spoke to the message of the quote. Rather than give each of the kids their quote already framed, I opted to frame them after they personalized their papers. Each of the kids considered what they wanted to work on doing a little better. Each came up with a handful of goals and wrote them in the white edging around the quote.

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Then everyone was given their new school supplies and we concluded our evening with back to school blessings and root beer floats.

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We are now ready for the school year to commence!

Grace began school 2 weeks ago, the day after returning home from Texas. She is now a sophomore (and a half) having completed 3 semesters of school so far. She is halfway through her sign language interpreting program.  At the completion of that program she plans to transfer to a 4 year college to get a bachelor’s degree in special education as an enhancement to her sign language interpreting certification.

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She is still loving school. She is a gal on the run, stopping at home to sleep and eat but gone a good portion of the day between school classes, clubs, church activities and two jobs.

The Monday following Gracie’s first week of the fall semester was the official start date for my kids that are 21st Century Cyber Charter School students. This includes:

Molly, who is a senior this year. EEK, how did that happen?!

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Rusty, who is a junior.

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Ozzie, who is an 8th grader this year.

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All three are excited to see what this year will hold and are glad to be entering another year of cyber education with 21st Century.

The Tuesday following Labor Day was our 3rd “first day of school” for the year for:

Tyler, who is entering his 6th grade year.

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Tyler is embarking on a new path this year. Like the older kids he will still be cyber schooled but the impending start of middle school pushed us to explore other cyber school options. What was a good fit for us a few years ago is no longer an ideal fit. Tyler is ready for a more challenging curriculum and more independence in his school work. After spending a good amount of the summer speaking to different cyber schools and praying for wisdom in choosing the right school, we have landed on PA Cyber.

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We feel this will be a good fit for Tyler for his 6th grade year. The long term goal is for him to end up at 21st Century Cyber Charter School with the other kids but this is the best fit for him this year as we focus on further closing the gap between the functioning school level and actual grade level.

Brandon rounds out our motley crew of 6, as junior #2!

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Like Rusty, he is entering his 11th year of school, but unlike Rusty, Brandon will be leaving the house each day for school. He will be attending our local high school (Beaver Falls) each day.

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Last week was spent touring his new school, getting acquainted with teachers and school policies, and getting him settled into football. He is so excited to have the opportunity to play sports again…something he’s greatly missed. Like Tyler, sports are in his blood. He has a natural gift for athletics and loves the thrill of competition.

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This past week was filled to the brim with appointments for Brandon as we attempted to get him settled before the start of school. He was in desperate need of clothes, having arrived at our home with just a few ripped outfits. Our week was spent school shopping, buying gear needed for football, setting up appointments, getting him a photo id and opening up a savings account for him, etc.

Sometimes feel as though I’m racing the clock with Brandon, trying to get all the support in place to give him a chance at a happy future. He was dealt a crappy set of cards in this game of life, and we are doing everything we can to turn his hand around and give him the best chance we can at a happy, healthy, successful future.

Our life is “fuller” than it has ever been, both with tasks and commitments but also with blessings…great, great blessings.

The sheer number of activities, weekly appointments, therapies, school lessons, and tutoring has led to the need for a color-coded master schedule to keep it all straight.

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Hopefully this larger than life visual aid hanging on the wall will assist us all in making sure none of our commitments fall through the cracks and no child accidently gets left at a ball field waiting for a ride home.

And in final news…

September 17th marks the fourth “First Day of School” for our family, as yours truly experiences her first “first day of school” (as student, not teacher) IN 20 YEARS!

This summer…prior to us having any idea we would be adding a 16-year-old boy to the family…I felt God’s nudge. Despite having a solid 6 more years of home schooling ahead of me, I have felt God starting the preparation process for the next chapter of the journey, and God’s plan for the next chapter of my life requires a degree.

Over the last few years God has slowly revealed the purpose behind the unique challenges we have navigated as parents of adopted children who have endured unspeakable trauma. The mission of advocating and helping hurt children heal has become the center of our life as a family and I now see that God has a plan to use those struggles to be a blessing to other children and other families on a professional level.

All of this leads to this momma of 6 going back to school. The goal is to take a couple classes each semester with the hopes that by the time Tyler graduates high school those years of schooling will add up to a degree that will open the door to the chapter that follows this one.

It was to this end that God led me to BYU Idaho’s Pathway program which will allow me to work toward that degree in a manageable and affordable way.

I am still not sure how I am going to fit college studies into an already packed schedule but, like the addition of Brandon to the family, I know this is the Lord’s plan for me so I’m trusting Him to bless and multiple the minutes of my day as He did in the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

This year promises to be the fullest of our lives.

Hang on…

It is sure to be an exciting ride!

God is good

 

Bethany Adoption Picnic

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Our two youngest boys were both paced with us and adopted by us through Bethany Christian Services. When we were researching different paths toward adoption, God led us to this agency and we are so glad He did. We had such an amazing experience with both our adoption journeys.

Each summer our adoption agency hosts a picnic for their families…

Bringing birth mothers, foster families, safe families and adoptive families together to celebrate the unique and shared connection of adoption.

This annual picnic, held at a local YMCA summer camp (Camp Kon-O-Kwee) is always a lot of fun. It is a delight reconnecting with the social workers that were such an integral part of our life for so long, as well as making new friends with other families that are walking a similar path. There is something so connecting about the call to adopt. Each family there, despite differences in the way they were called to adoption, as well as what each of their adoption journeys look like, find a strengthening connection in the struggles, unique challenges, and special blessings that come with this walk.

There is something moving about standing in a room full of other families who are as unique and mismatched in their composition as we are.

The Bethany summer picnic is always a highlight of the season.

Toby was working on Saturday, as was Grace (Molly was able to join us for 1 1/2 hours before leaving for work), so most of my day was spent with the 4 boys.

The picnic began with lunch.

Following a delicious potluck meal, families scattered to the four corners of the camp where a variety of free activities were being offered; including swimming at the pool, canoeing, games, a splash pad, face painting, crafts, and an obstacle course through the woods.

Our time was spent mainly at the river and in the woods.

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Our first stop after lunch was the river where the kids enjoyed canoeing on the river.

Molly paired up with Ozzie.

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And the other three boys shared a second canoe with Rusty taking the back seat since he has the most experience.

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They all enjoyed their time on the water.

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Then we headed over to the “Trail of Courage” where the boys all had a blast conquering the many challenges of the trail.

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The rope bridge and swing, as well as the zipline, were some of their favorite obstacles.

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By the time we had made it through the obstacle course everyone was hot and thirsty so back to the dining hall we trudged to get cold bottles of water. Before leaving for Tyler’s football game, the boys enjoyed some of the games outside, and the two older boys tapped into their inner superhero with some face painting…

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Leaving us to debate the remainder of the day, “Who is the mightier superhero…Batman or Spiderman?”

My vote: the countless parents we met that day who have given all for the love of a child.

A Visit to Malone University

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The college search continues, as we raced to fit in as many college visits as we could before school started.

Our next scheduled college visit was to Malone University, a private Christian college in Canton, Ohio that Molly had her eye on.

Malone University is one of the few colleges in the area that offers a zoology major, and that, in combination with its small class size and Christian environment, made it a contender in Molly’s eyes. We decided to schedule a tour and learn more.

On Friday, Molly, Rusty, Brandon and I left the house early so we could be waiting at the door of Beaver Falls High School when it opened to begin the enrollment process. Because Brandon is still a foster child, cyber schooling is not an option at this time, so we were stepping into a new and unfamiliar world when we walked into our local high school for the first time and began the enrollment process.

After touring the school, speaking to the guidance counselor and meeting the football coach, he was thrilled to be starting school and has high hopes that this will be his best school year yet!

The reason for the early start to the day was because we needed to be out the door of Beaver Falls High School and on the road toward Malone University by 8:30 am to make our 10:00 am appointment.

When we arrived we were greeted by a personalized parking space. The kids thought that was extra cool and set the tone for the day.

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When we walked inside the kids were welcomed by staff and each received a Malone backpack with all sorts of goodies, including a Malone t-shirt.

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Then a senior at the college took us for a tour of the campus, showing us the student center, cafeteria, classrooms and dorms.

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We ended the tour at the zoology department where we were handed off to one of the zoology professors. It was wonderful for Molly to have that one-on-one time with one of the professors to ask her questions and really get a feel for the program.

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Most of our time in the zoology department was spent in one of the “zoo” areas where we got to meet many of the animals that the students work with beginning their freshman year in the program.

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All three of my animal lovers loved this experience!

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From there we headed back to the admissions office where we met with an admissions officer. He spent about 30 minutes with our family asking the kids questions about themselves and answering any questions they had. We were then given complimentary meal tickets to use at the cafeteria. We enjoyed a nice (and free) lunch before heading back on the road for the 90 minute drive home.

We were all very impressed with Malone. It was one of the best college tours we have experienced!

Texas Travels

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My baby girl is back from her Texas adventures,

and she had a wonderful time in the Lonestar State.

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This past winter Grace and her best friend, Olivia, began making plans to take a trip together. Now that they are college students, and gainfully employed, they had the means to make such plans.

They decided to advantage of familial hospitality and crash at the home of Olivia’s Aunt Peggy and Uncle Steven, who graciously invited the girls for a visit.

Living just outside Fort Worth, Texas, made Aunt Peggy and Uncle Steven’s home a perfect home base for day trips around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Olivia’s aunt and uncle were generous and gracious hosts, spoiling the girls rotten and treating them like adopted daughters during their time in Texas.

Grace and Olivia returned home two weeks ago and we picked them up from the airport. The trip back home was filled with tales of Texas adventures and it was evident it had been a trip for the memory books!

Grace is currently working on one of her awesome travel videos of her Texas travels, but until it is complete and posted I will share some snap shots and snippets from her journal entries of her trip to Texas:

Day 1:

“Eight months of planning has led up to this week. Liv and I have been planning this trip for months and it begins today! We headed to the airport at noon to catch our 2:55 flight. I was a ball of both nerves and excitement; a perfect blend of emotions for travel! We got through security, found our gate, then got something to eat before our flight. Soon it was time to board and off we flew. We were in the air for 2.5 hours. When we arrived in Texas we disembarked and headed towards the luggage area. Suddenly, Liv and I each had an arm around us and Uncle Steve between us.

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We were staying with Liv’s Aunt Peggy and Uncle Steve for the week. We left the airport and headed to their home in Fort Worth where we were welcomed by Aunt Peggy and shown around the house. It was a beautiful house! Our fun day 1 ended with Sno Cones at Uncle Steve’s suggestion. I had Barbie flavored and it was delicious!!”

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Day 2:

“Today was a great day! We woke up, got ready, hopped into Uncle Steve’s truck and I started driving us to Dallas.

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The drive was surprisingly easy and within an hour we were in Dallas, pulling into the JFK 6th Floor museum parking lot. The 6th Floor Museum, housed in the warehouse where the gun was fired, memorializes the life of John F. Kennedy and walks visitors through that fateful day. It was a very interesting museum!

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After the museum we drove over to a cool park that had bronze cattle statues. I loved them! They had so much personality.

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We then decided to start driving to McKinney, Texas, where our friends, the LaFond’s, now live. We were so excited to see Eli after four years apart. At their home we were greeted by different but familiar faces. Eli had changed so much from the 13 year old guy that had been in co-op with us. While there we went window shopping downtown and then had a delicious dinner with the LaFond family. It was so much fun catching up. I am glad we were able to see them again!”

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Day 3:

“Our third day in Texas began with a scary experience on the road but we were soon calmed down and ready to salvage the day with some fun. We spent the day at the Fort Worth Stockyards where we wandered around the many shops until it was time for the cattle drive. It was neat seeing the longhorn steers up close. After the drive we enjoyed the stockyard maze; a cute little maze in the heart of town that was surprisingly tough!

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Dinner was at Joe T. Garcia’s and was incredible! Best Mexican food I have ever had!! The food was amazing but so was the atmosphere. Joe T. Garcia’s had beautiful gardens and fountains. Plus, they had a mariachi band that played for us.

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When we were finished eating  it was time to head to Billy Bob’s for some line dancing. We arrived just as they were starting a line-dancing lesson. We slid on our cowboy boots and headed to the dance floor. It was so much fun! We left feeling like the real deal!”

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Day 4: 

“Today we enjoyed a relaxing morning. Aunt Peggy was home for the day and we decided to go downtown Fort Worth to check out the sights. Aunt Peggy drove us in her convertible. It felt so summery with the top down and our sunglasses on!

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Our first stop was the water gardens. Here we had fun climbing the rocks and messing around within the amazing outdoor water sculptures.

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From there we went to see three art museums located in downtown Fort Worth. My favorite was the Museum of Modern Art. Outside the museum was a sculpture that echoed when you stood inside. We had fun messing around in there…singing, dancing, clapping, etc.

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Next we drove over to a cool shop that Liv discovered online. It was called Pop n’ Cream and it was AMAZING! They had candy, ice cream and popcorn…lots of popcorn! Over 80 flavors of popcorn and we sampled a huge share of them. We all ended up buying a few bags. I bought coconut popcorn for myself and cheesy caramel to take home for the family.

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That night we went out to dinner with Aunt Peggy and Uncle Steve to a restaurant called “Babe’s.” There I enjoyed an amazing meal in a charming environment with awesome people. I had the chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and it was delicious!”

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Day 5:

“On day 5 we had Aunt Peggy and Aubrey with us for the day and it was so much fun. We headed to the river to go paddle boarding. Liv and I had never paddle-boarded before so we were both super excited. We arrived, put on our life vests, got a short lesson and then headed out onto the river. Paddle boarding was far easier than I expected and while Liv and I paddle boarded, Aunt Peggy and Aubrey shared a kayak.

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The river ran in front of the city so we were able to enjoy a beautiful city scape in the background while we paddle boarded.

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The entire days was laid back an relaxed as we enjoyed local parks and scenery.

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That night we had a delicious steak dinner back at the house. The evening was spent hanging out at the house, enjoying the player piano and playing board games.”

Day 6:

“On Sunday Liv and I woke up a bit mopey, knowing it was the last day of vacation, but when Uncle Steven started acting goofy he drove our blues away. The morning began with church with Aunt Peggy and Uncle Steven. When we returned home we were just laying around and relaxing when we came up with the idea of having a girls’ afternoon and treating Peggy to a pedicure. The three of us enjoyed an afternoon of pampering as our feet were beautified.

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The evening (and our awesome vacation) concluded with a family dinner at Peggy and Steven’s daughters’ home, a gorgeous nighttime drive through Fort Worth in Aunt Peggy’s convertible, and an attempt at armadillo “hunting” with headlamps at midnight (none were found.)  🙂 “

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Gracie’s Texas trip was the last big event of a jam-packed summer. School began for Grace the following evening and the rest of the kids will start back to school in the next week. Summer is coming to a close but as I reflect on the last 12 weeks it feels more like 12 months have passed. We have done a lot of living this summer and it has been a season of learning, dreaming, planning, and growth, both individually for each of my kids, but also for the family as a whole.

It was a great summer…

Now bring on the blessings of fall!

Bringing Sunshine

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It’s been said:

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I have always found this to be the case.

The people I know who are happiest and radiate joy are those who are most earnestly engaged in the spreading of sunshine.

I have been blessed with many sunshine spreaders in my life…

I especially see this in Molly.

Molly is a sunshine spreader.

Nothing brings her more joy then to have an opportunity to deliver a little sunshine to those fighting the darkness that so often threatens to close in on us all.

She was born with a servant’s heart, and that, in combination with a naturally sunny disposition, makes her the most effective sunshine spreader I know.

This summer, as part of her National Honor Society membership, she had to come up with and lead a service project in the community. She decided to pair her project with the young women’s goal setting program at church and make it a NHS/ Personal Progress project that would involve the adult members and her fellow young women at church.

After much consideration, she decided to take on a project that was a bit more personal. Having watched a few close family members battle cancer in the last few years she thought collecting items for chemotherapy care kits would be a nice way to show love and support for patients who are fighting this hard fight.

She began by compiling a list of items she thought would be helpful for those who are undergoing chemotherapy treatments at our local cancer center, and then posted the list of those items around church and on social media.

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Her original goal was far surpassed as donations came flooding in from friends, family and church members around the area.

Molly was overwhelmed and touched by the show of generosity!

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At a young women sleepover the girls wrote letters of encouragement to be included in the care kits.

A gift card to Dollar General, given by a friend, allowed her to purchase fun, brightly colored bags to hold all the donated items.

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This week Molly gathered the donated items and the letters of encouragement and created the care kits.

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She was overwhelmed and touched by the generosity of so many and couldn’t believe how many items were donated. The generosity of so many allowed her to assemble twice as many chemotherapy care kits then she originally planned.

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Thank you, friends, for the sunshine you spread this month!

It was such a show of love towards Molly, and will be a beautiful show of love and support to those who receive the care kits!

A “Plan B” Birthday

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It seems, despite all our best intentions, rarely do “Plan A” days materialize.

I’ve come to realize (and am working on accepting) the fact that we are “Plan B” people.

This isn’t by choice but it does seem to be an ongoing trend, and as a result we have gotten pretty good at rolling with the unexpected and embracing “Plan B” with a smile and a sense of humor.

Tyler’s 12th birthday was a “Plan B” sort of day.

We had such grand plans. After being rained out of our last visit to Kennywood we made plans to take advantage of our raincheck tickets and return for Tyler’s birthday. It seemed a perfect plan. The day prior was Brandon’s placement hearing so we thought it could serve as a celebration of Tyler’s birthday but also of Brandon’s placement. We even made plans to meet up with Tyler and Brandon’s little sister at the park after her half day at school.

Well,  all those grand plans came to a crashing halt when we received the unexpected and disappointing news that Kennywood was closed for the day. The day prior was the last day they were open during the week and they had shifted to “weekend only” hours.

Disappointment spread through the house at this news, but in true McCleery fashion we began brainstorming a “Plan B.” We already had the schedule cleared for the day. Everyone was off school and work and practice. Tutoring and therapy had also been cleared for the day. It has been so long since we had a wide open day ahead of us, with all family members present, and zero commitments, that we decided to take advantage of it and take a little day trip for Tyler’s birthday.

The older kids were already committed to volunteer at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch so we knew we wouldn’t be able to leave the house until 9:30 am. They have been volunteering twice a week for a year, and really enjoy the time they spend at the ranch twice a week caring for the horses, that they aren’t even fazed by the 6:30 am start time. Brandon has begun joining them in this volunteering opportunity and loves it as well.

One of our family’s birthday traditions is to wake the birthday child with the birthday song and a cupcake. The entire family gathers, the candle is lit, and the family bursts into the birthday child’s room in loud and enthusiastic song…

Setting the celebratory tone for the day.

When we told Brandon about this tradition and began preparing the cupcake at 6:00 am (so the kids could participate before going to the horse farm) he looked incredulous.

“So, we are going to purposely wake up Tyler at 6:00 am, sing to him and give him a cupcake…How is this a good idea?!! Why would you choose to do that?”

His facial expression made me laugh, and Toby’s look of “Yep. I’ve been making that point for years,” killed me.

But the smile that comes with this special birthday tradition makes the hours of lost sleep worth it. (Not everyone in the family would agree!)

When the older four kids returned from the horse farm we decided to let Tyler check out his  birthday table:

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And open his gifts.

The theme was built around our gift to Tyler. We decided to get him a basketball hoop for the driveway. It was Tyler’s 12th birthday gift but is really a gift for the entire family. We thought it would be a nice bonding activity for the kids, particularly Tyler and Brandon, but also would be another energy-burning coping activity for hard emotions. Some of my kids respond better to increasing energy to burn-off anxious energy rather than calming/quiet activities. The trampoline is our #1 tool for those kids but the basketball hoop will be an awesome alternate coping skill.

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He was thrilled!

The kids then took turns giving Tyler their gifts. I always love watching the kids prepare for a sibling’s birthday. Whether it was watching them shop in their own toy boxes when they were little, making homemade gifts as they got older, or using their own hard-earned money now that they are gainfully employed, much love and thought is put into the gifts they give.

It was especially touching watching Brandon work for Toby this week, earning money for his efforts, so that he could buy Tyler an extra special birthday gift. After years of not getting to celebrate his siblings’ birthdays he wanted to get something extra special for Tyler’s birthday. Their shared love of football led him to buy Tyler a football jersey (with some help from me.) He knew exactly what he wanted and purchased the jersey of Tyler’s favorite player.

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The other kids did equally well in their gift giving and Tyler was spoiled rotten by his big brothers and sisters.

 

Perhaps his greatest gift of the day, however, was having Brandon there to share his birthday with him after years apart, and knowing that his biological brother will soon be part of his adoptive family… his forever family.

After gifts were opened we headed out, driving north. We weren’t sure what we were doing, we just decided to head up to Erie and see what adventures we could fine. There was something a bit thrilling about the lack of planning, knowing we had an entire day ahead of us to explore and make memories as a family.

It was a beautiful day…sunny but cooler…a perfect day for a road trip!

When we arrived in Erie our first stop was Sara’s for lunch.

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During past visits to Presque Isle we have passed Sara’s and admired this fun, kitchy diner from a distance but had never stopped in. We decided Sara’s was a perfect place to dine for Tyler’s birthday.

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We enjoyed the fun atmosphere and delicious food. We will definitely be returning!

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After lunch we headed into Presque Isle State Park to enjoy an afternoon of swimming in Lake Erie.

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For Brandon, who had never been swimming in waves, and had never visited the ocean, this experience was particularly thrilling.

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The waves were about three feet high that day, giving the lake a distinctly ocean-like feel and making us all feel as though we were swimming at an Atlantic beach rather than Lake Erie.

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It was a delightful afternoon. Toby and I enjoyed some uninterrupted adult conversation as we lounged on the beach watching the kinds splash in the waves.

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The kids enjoyed an afternoon of playing in the sand and body surfing the waves of Lake Erie.

Tyler’s birthday celebration concluded with a trip to Waldameer Park, located just outside Presque Isle on Lake Erie.

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This was our first visit to Waldameer Park, but had heard many good things about it from friends who have visited many times.

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The park had a charming, old-fashioned feel that reminded me of our family’s favorite amusement park, Idlewild.

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The winding paths, tree covered benches, and old-fashioned décor gave the park a fun, vintage feel while still offering modern, thrilling rides for older kids.

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The kids had a blast and it was a perfect way to end Tyler’s special day.

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The baby of the family is now 12!