Author Archives: ktmccleery

The Gift of Friends

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It is not easy being the new kid.

I know this from personal experience.

As the child of an Army officer, my first 18 years of life were spend relocating to a new school, new town, new state, (and even occasionally a new country) every few years. I know the feeling of anxiety that accompanies walking into a new school, uncertain of what this new chapter will hold, just praying for one kind face that will invite you to sit at their lunch table.

Being the “new kid” is never easy, but despite the initial anxiety that accompanied every move, I loved the Army lifestyle. It wasn’t until I had to move between 10th and 11th grade that I really struggled, for as hard as it is to be the “new kid” at work, at church, or in the neighborhood, nothing is quite so scary as walking into a new high school and trying to find your place in the teenage hierarchy.

As I have watched Brandon adjust to life with us, he astounds me with his cheerful acceptance of a very hard life transition.

For as challenging as every move was when I was a child, his is far more challenging. When I moved to a new state I at least had the security of family and the familiar possessions that created a consistent feeling of HOME, wherever we were transplanted.

He, on the other hand, moved in with little to nothing of his own, leaving behind the familiar and stepping into the role of “new kid,” at home, at church and in a new high school.

And he did so with no complaint, with abundant gratitude, and astounding grace.

He made the transition with no complaint about the challenges of starting over once again, but simply gratitude for the opportunity to start again…

In a new home with his brother.

He is no stranger to new beginnings or heartbreaking endings. After he was removed from his biological home at age 7 he was shuffled through 15-20 foster placements. Adoption at the age of 12 was followed by the death of his new adoptive mom and then the declining heath of his adoptive Dad that then led to multiple group home placements.

He is no stranger to the feelings of being the “new kid,” and yet he never complains about the challenges that have come with it,

But I know it isn’t easy.

I’ve been there.

Which makes me all the more grateful for the families and youth at church who have opened their hearts to our newest addition and made him feel as though he belongs and is wanted. Their kindness to my son touches my heart in a way they will never truly understand.

Last Saturday we had a birthday party for Brandon. He had expressed that he had never had a birthday party with friends before, so we made plans to invite all the youth from church over for a bonfire.

Brandon was so excited!

The day was spent preparing for the party as we cleaned up the yard, cut wood for the bonfire, and bought and prepared food.

Brandon’s plans for the evening included eating, hanging out around the fire, and playing night games for hours with his new friends.

At 7:00 the first car pulled in and many more followed. I was touched by the showing of youth who came out on a very cold night to play in the dark and make Brandon feel welcome and loved. I know it was a sacrifice for many who had other things they could have been doing in the warmth of their homes,

but their sacrifice makes it all the more meaningful.

They wrapped Brandon in the warmth of their friendship, making him feel special rather than like another “new kid” who will eventually leave again.

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They demonstrated Christ-like love and it touched my heart.

After everyone left, and we were carrying in the food and trash, Brandon stopped us in the kitchen to give Toby and I a hug.

“Thank you for my party,” he said.

“I love you.”

There in the kitchen of our home our newest addition spoke those precious words for the first time, not by automatic response, nor out of obligation, but from his heart with sincerity and conviction.

And that ended up being the greatest gift of the night.

Continue in Patience

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 Last week our family home evening lesson was carried over from the Sunday lesson I taught the 14/15 year old young women at church. Recently I have been using my Sunday lesson as the foundation for my  family night lesson on Sunday evenings (unless prompted to go in a different direction.) That Sunday I taught a lesson on patience, and knowing it was a lesson our family could benefit from, I retaught it on Sunday night to my own family.

We began the lesson with a game that served as an object lesson for patience. The game came in the mail as a gift for Rusty’s birthday from my sister. Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It was an awesome lead -in to my lesson.

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The game is  called “Don’t Lose your Cool.”

In this game one person dons a head piece with a lighted gauge on top, and a heart rate monitor that rests against the forehead.  This player then tries to “keep his cool” for a set amount of time while the other players try to get his heart rate to rise, thus causing the gauge to light up and an alarm to sound. If the player can keep calm enough that his heartrate doesn’t fluctuate in that set amount of time, he wins the game.

The other players then each roll a dice with suggestions printed on the side of the dice that name actions that might cause the primary player to “lose his cool.” Suggestions like close talking, animal noises and incessant chatter are some of the actions that payers might roll and have to perform. If they can get the primary player’s alarm to sound, they win the round.

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It was a fun game that led to much silliness and laughter, but we soon discovered that there was a lesson to be found within the game. 

The reality is …

We all have things or people in our lives that push our buttons and cause us to “lose our cool!” 

Sometimes it is life circumstances that test our patience.

But we know that patience is a fruit of the Spirit and a divine quality we should all be striving for, so how do we follow the counsel of the Lord and continue in patience? 

That was the topic of discussion on Sunday night at Patchwork Farm.

This was our lesson:

Let us begin by exploring what patience is. Patience is defined as,

“The capacity to endure delay, trouble, opposition or suffering without being angry, frustrated, or anxious.”

How interesting. Patience isn’t just about waiting, but waiting well.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said this about the divine quality of patience:

“Patience—the ability to put our desires on hold for a time—is a precious and rare virtue. We want what we want, and we want it now. Therefore, the very idea of patience may seem unpleasant and, at times, bitter.

Nevertheless, without patience, we cannot please God. Indeed, patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace.

There is an important concept here: patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!

Patience is a godly attribute that can heal souls, unlock treasures of knowledge and understanding, and transform ordinary men and women into saints and angels. Patience is truly a fruit of the Spirit.

Patience means staying with something until the end. It means delaying immediate gratification for future blessings. It means reining in anger and holding back the unkind word. It means resisting evil, even when it appears to be making others rich.

Patience means accepting that which cannot be changed and facing it with courage, grace, and faith. It means being “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father.”

Ultimately, patience means being “firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord” every hour of every day, even when it is hard to do so.”

This is not to say that the purifying process of patience is easy, and certainly we were not all created equal in this virtue. Some may seem to have been blessed with a gift for patience while others struggle, but we are all capable of growing in this area and becoming more Christ-like in our ability to be patient with others, with our circumstances, and even with ourselves.

In his talk, “The Power of Patience” by Robert C Oaks, he gives the following suggestions of things we can do to grow in patience. He counseled that we try applying the following four strategies:

 “1. Read each of the scriptures in the Topical Guide listed under the topic “patience” and then ponder Christ’s patient examples.

2. Evaluate ourselves to determine where we stand on the patience continuum. How much more patience do we need to become more Christlike? This self-assessment is difficult. We might ask our spouse or another family member to help us.

3. Become sensitive to the examples of patience and of impatience that occur around us every day. We should strive to emulate those individuals we consider to be patient.

4. Recommit each day to become more patient, and be certain to keep our selected family member involved in our patience project.”

Patience may seem like an unobtainable gift.

As Robert D. Hales said, “Too often we pray to have patience, but we want it right now!”

Growing in patience is a journey.

It isn’t always easy and at times this purification process may seem daunting.

But Joseph B. Wirthlin has promised, “We will have genuine joy and happiness only as we learn patience.”

Let us all strive to continue in patience and discover the joy that accompanies that divine trait.

Time to Catch-up!

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Finally, after two months, I feel like I have found my footing. Autumn came in like a tornado with our scheduled stretched thinner than it ever has been before. The addition of another family member and all the appointments and obligations that come with that, in addition to deciding to go back to school to start working towards my degree, coupled with two boys in football,

Well, I never thought we’d be able to manage the chaos…

But life is balancing and we have found our new “normal.” Routines are established and I no longer feel as though I am sinking beneath the waves, which is why there has been a renewed influx of action on the blog. Football season has come to a close and I finally have found the missing moments needed to write and it is so good to be back.

Blogging is my lifeline. It is my therapy. It is the selfish indulgence that grounds me and gives me clarity, and I have missed it.

Here are some of the moments lived this last month.

“Exercising our Right to Vote!”

November 6th was Brandon’s 17th birthday as well as being election day! Miss Molly, having turned 18 this year, was able to exercise her right to have a voice and vote in her first election.

I was so proud of her. She took this responsibility seriously and spent hours researching the different candidates running for various offices, taking notes, making pro/con lists about their platforms, and then choosing the candidates that best reflected her beliefs. For her one-on-one time last week, I was able to join her as she researched candidates and we were able to have a meaningful discussion about how to choose a candidate. As a result of her example and effort I found myself walking into the voting booth better informed that I probably ever have been in past elections.

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Grace, Molly and I went to vote together. What a special experience it was for me to exercise the blessed right to have a voice, with my two daughters.

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“Big Bessie Bit the Dust”

Our big, beautiful 12 passenger van began to show distinct signs of a slipping transmission. Rather than wait for the inevitable, we decided to bite the bullet and begin vehicle shopping, something that is considered a dream evening for Ozzie and a living nightmare for me.

The death of Bessie required us to reevaluate our needs and priorities in a vehicle. As much as I love the space Bessie afforded us, She was killing us in gas consumption. It was finally decided that with the amount of driving I do weekly and the impending winter, that we would sacrifice room to stretch out for all wheel drive and improved gas mileage.

I let Toby take on the car search, with Brandon’s help, happy to remain at home and avoid the wheeling and dealing that comes with car shopping. I assured him that all I needed was a car with an engine, a radio, and a cup holder, and the gift of NOT having to pick out the car would ensure I was grateful for WHATEVER vehicle he brought home.

On a Friday evening after school, Toby and Brandon headed to Ohio to chase down a deal Toby found online. The vehicle was 3 years old, had only 9,000 miles, all wheel drive, got 20 miles to the gallon (compared to Big Bessie’s 10 miles/gallon), and it was an 8 seater. It sounded perfect and it was…

Meet our newest addition…name still to be decided! 🙂

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 “A Spooky Date with Tyler”

A few weeks before Halloween I received an invitation to join some of Tyler’s buddies from church and their mothers for a mother/son date to Freddy’s Haunts.

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“Freddy’s haunts is a family owned and operated haunted trail that was originally opened in 1993 under the name skull mountain haunted trail. 

We are an immersive, all enclosed haunted trail that is filled with the monsters from your worst nightmares. Our old-school haunted trail operates rain or moonshine with an enclosed waiting area so that you don’t have to endure the elements along with your worst fears.”

 

I had my reservations, given Tyler’s history of heightened fearfulness and my history of being a weenie, but Tyler begged to go and I thought it sounded like it could be an awesome bonding opportunity for Tyler and I, as well as a fun memory made with friends. I was glad our friends suggested it because I would have never considered it on my own, but it ended up being a blast!

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I think next year we will try to talk the entire family into braving Freddy’s!

“Flying High…Drone Style!”

Rusty has been having a blast with his 17th birthday gift…

A high-flyin’ drone!

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Our acreage makes for a perfect flying zone. With each flight Rusty gets stronger and stronger in his skills as a drone pilot and it is fun watching the footage of what he catches on film as the drone flies high above our heads.

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“Hocus Pocus”

As a family we dressed at the gang from Peter Pan for Halloween, but Grace also had a Halloween party to attend, independently, with her YSA group. Feeling that her Halloween costume wasn’t strong enough to stand alone, apart from the rest of Peter Pan’s crew, she began exploring options for a second Halloween costume.

She and two girlfriends ended up creating their own group costume and going as the three witches from the classic Halloween flick, ” Hocus Pocus.”

Grace dove into the family dress-up box of past Halloween costumes and emerged as Winifred Sanders:

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“Photo Fun!”

This past month we had the opportunity to capture the beautiful faces of some of our favorite seniors on film. Following Molly’s senior photo shoot we were asked by a few of Molly’s friends if we could take their senior photos as well. October provided the perfect backdrop and Grace, Molly and I have had fun playing “photographers” to these beautiful girls. At one photo shoot Molly couldn’t help but jump in front of the camera for some pictures with one of her best buddies!

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“Saying Farewell to Family Based Therapy”

Well, after nine months of weekly visits, our family based team is saying “good-bye.” Family Based therapy was put in place when Ozzie exited residential care, as an extra layer of support for his transition home. We were blessed with two awesome ladies as our “team.” They quickly became part of our life as they spent hours in our home and many hours sitting beside me in the ER when Ozzie was in crisis.

For nine months their primary objective was to work with our family on goals of increased safety and sibling connection, while our trauma therapist focused on EMDR therapy with Ozzie. This double layer of therapeutic care proved to be just the ticket and we have seen great growth in Ozzie these last 9 months.

Yesterday was our final session. It was with mixed feelings we closed out our file and said good-bye to these gals with a pizza party and celebratory gifts. They have been so good to us and this final session was no different. They brought the family pizza and gifted the kids with their own game of, “Whoonu,”

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A game that became a favorite in our therapy sessions!

They also generously gifted me with a gift certificate for a massage at a local spa with a reminder to continue making self care a priority.

What a blessing Lisa and Val have been to our family. I have come to realize, through this challenging walk of adopting kids from hard places, that angels do walk the earth today, and many are simply known as “therapists.”

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Here We Go Steelers…

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On the day following his actual birthday, Brandon received an unexpected birthday surprise. His placement social worker from “Second Chance” stopped by to wish him a Happy Birthday and gave him a card to open. Inside the birthday card were two tickets to Thursday night’s game.

His social worker is a huge sports fan and is a Steelers season ticket holder. She never misses a home game. Wanting to do something extra special for Brandon she handed over Thursday night’s tickets. Toby was Brandon’s “plus one.”

Thursday night arrived and Molly graciously offered to play “parent” while Grace and I were at our Thursday night classes and Toby and Brandon were at the game. Like a pro she transported Tyler to his dyslexia tutoring and Ozzie to his autism social skills class, allowing Toby the night off to go and make some special memories with his new addition.

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Toby and Brandon had a wonderful time. The weather was bitterly cold but that didn’t damper their enthusiasm.

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A COLD night in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers played a great game and came out the victors over the Panthers in a 52-21 win.

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There were some familiar faces in the crowd 🙂

The guys wandered in after midnight, raving about the game and the experience.

What a special shared memory they made that night,

All thanks to a social worker who goes above and beyond the call of duty to bless the lives of the kids in her care.

Our Birthday Boy

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A few months ago I would have never imagined we’d be celebrating our SECOND 17th birthday in a 30 day period.

Six months ago we were praising God for the stability we had finally found as a family. The previous year had been especially challenging as demons from Ozzie’s past trauma reared their ugly head and threw our family into crisis mode. Our primary concern was the safety of Ozzie and the other children, as we navigated behaviors that were frightening and challenging. Flashbacks of horrific abuse that occurred at the hands of his biological parents consumed him, and we sought additional resources to help him safely navigate the highly emotional affects of the trauma work he was doing. After exhausting all possible outpatient supports we realized that Ozzie needed more therapeutic support than was possible with outpatient therapies. This led to his placement in a inpatient facility. It was a hard 9 months as we grieved the absence of Ozzie, as he bravely faced the hurts of his past and learned to navigate the emotions associated with those memories in a safe and healthy way. For nine months we traveled four hours back and forth on a weekly basis for family therapy and visits. It was exactly where he needed to be. The other children were rediscovering the feeling of peace and safety through this respite opportunity, while Ozzie was actively engaged in multiple therapy sessions daily. This saturation of therapy work allowed him to find healing that wasn’t possible in the home environment. He worked so hard and we were so proud of the healing journey he took during those nine months, but with the arrival of the spring thaw we were counting down the days until he returned home and life could return to normal.

As I was eagerly anticipating getting back into a routine and enjoying a quiet season of normalcy and maybe even rest, a phone call came unexpectedly.

When I answered the phone I had no idea our life was about to change once again.

The call came from a social worker who, that very day, had met with Tyler’s biological brother, Brandon, for the first time. She had just been assigned his case through her agency, “Second Chance,” in a referral from Washington County CYF. He was currently in a group home. He was there because his adoptive father was dying and couldn’t care for him. This was on the cusp of his adoptive mother dying on cancer less than a year after his adoption day. There was no family willing to take him in and they couldn’t find a foster family willing to open their home to a 16-year-old boy, so the courts placed him in a home for trouble boys as a holding place since they didn’t have any other place for him to go. There he resided for two years, ignored by the very system that was suppose to be advocating and caring for him. Second Chance received his file from CYF and Brandon finally had an advocate that was driven to move mountains to find him a home. Her first task, after talking to Brandon, was to track down his biological siblings in their adoptive homes and see if they were a placement possibility for Brandon.

The call came on a Thursday evening.

Ozzie was a month out from returning home. We were undergoing family therapy to prepare the kids for Ozzie’s return home. Life was already uncertain, and then the phone rang.

The social worker explained the situation.

Finally, we had some answers to our questions about Brandon.

You see, we had established contact with Brandon and Tyler’s other biological siblings following Tyler’s adoption. We were able to orchestrate a reunion for these siblings that had been torn apart and then maintain contact with Tyler’s siblings through visits, phone calls, letters, birthday packages, etc.

From the moment I first met Brandon he stole my heart. My heart ached for this boy who was the last one to find a family. Then we rejoiced when, at age 12, he finally received his forever family.

His adoptive mother was wonderful and made contact between Brandon and Tyler a priority. Then she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. On Mother’s Day weekend, eleven months after his adoption day, she passed away. Things began to unravel for Brandon and within a year we lost contact. He had been moved multiple times as a result of his adoptive father being in and out of the hospital fighting his own battle with cancer. We called and sent letters with no response.

We didn’t know where Brandon was or how to get in contact with him…

So, you can imagine our delight when we received a call from a worker who had seen Brandon that day, spoke with him, and was looking to reconnect him with his biological siblings.

What I didn’t expect was the question that followed,

“So, would you consider taking Brandon in as a foster son?”

Pure panic coursed through my veins at the question so casually inquired of me.

I explained the situation. Ozzie wasn’t even home yet. We had no idea how stable or unstable he would be upon returning home. The other kids were already anxious about the upcoming transition and adding a 16, soon to be 17-year-old, to an already dicey situation seemed ludicrous. I told her we would talk as a family and pray about it but at that point I felt all we could really offer was external support for Brandon in the form of visits.

That night I didn’t sleep a wink as possible scenarios played through my mind. There was so much that could go wrong, so many reasons why this would be a bad idea and wouldn’t work, that I had mentally talked myself out of it before I even prayed about it.

As a family we talked and prayed extensively. The concerns I was having were mirrored by the other members of the family. On paper it didn’t add up. We couldn’t see how it would work. As much as we wanted Brandon to have a home and family, it seemed like an awful idea, especially on the cusp of Ozzie’s return home.

But our God is bigger than any pro/con list and I’m sure he chuckled at our reasoning for saying, “No.” He had big plans for our family. This wasn’t just about finding Brandon a foster home, this was about God delivering our missing son into our arms 16 years after his arrival on earth.

But I didn’t see that until I saw Brandon in person.

It had been a few years since our last visit. He was now 6 foot tall with facial hair. In our absence he had grown from boy into a man.

Our first family outing was to Idlewild Amusement Park. Toby and I sat on a bench as we watched Brandon join the other kids on one of the rides and in that moment I knew. I turned to look at Toby, “He is ours. I don’t know how this is going to work and I know we are crazy to consider it, but I know he is our son.”

Toby looked at me, ” I know,” he answered,

“I know.”

August 22nd Brandon moved in.

November 6th we celebrated his 17th birthday.

In a few more months we will be able to adopt him, making him a McCleery and giving him the forever family that has escaped him for 17 years.

It looked crazy on paper, as though there was no way it would work,

But our God is bigger than the mountains that stand in our way,

Bigger than the fears that paralyze us,

Bigger than the doubts that consume us,

He is the God of miracles,

And this week we celebrated our 6th miracle as he turned 17 years old.

I can’t help but marvel at the transformation occurring under our roof, both with Brandon and with our family as a whole.

November is National Adoption Month and we are a family that has been touched by adoption. Never in my life did I think our family would adopt a 17-year-old boy. Never did I think I would adopt it all. But now I look at our family and half our children came into our arms through the womb of another woman.

Adoption can be scary.

Adoption can be hard…very hard, but it is also one of the most inspiring, beautiful, miraculous journeys the Lord can take you on.

It has the power to heal hurts, expand hearts, and transform lives…

Not just the life of the adoptee, but the lives of each member of the adopting family.

If you have ever felt God whispering the adoption call to you and your family, I urge you to answer.

It is scary.

It is hard.

But it is worth it… So worth it!

This is what a mighty God can do with a hurt child and a flawed family who is willing to say, “yes.”

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Happy 17th Birthday, Brandon!

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How blessed we are to call you our son ❤️

 

Brace Face #5

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This week Brandon joined the ranks of brace-faced kiddos at Patchwork Farm. For the next two years he will wear his orthodontic grill with pride as it moves and molds his smile into the grin of his dreams.

When Brandon moved in two months ago one of our first appointments was to the orthodontist to have him evaluated for braces. The orthodontist confirmed what we already suspected, that Brandon’s bite needed some major adjustment, so plans were made to add him to the ranks of past and present McCleery “Brace Faces.”

Grace and Rusty both needed braces and received orthodontic care through Gulland Orthodontics.

In the last 6 months, Tyler and Ozzie both began their orthodontic care at Spokane Orthodontics, an orthodontist 40 minutes closer to home who also accepts their insurance.

It was at Spokane Orthodontics that Brandon was evaluated for orthodontic care and found to be in need of braces.

Last Wednesday was the big day and he was very excited!

 

Brandon is self conscious about his smile and was thrilled to find out he was approved for braces. His appointment was scheduled for Halloween. We arrived at the office at 8:00am for his appointment and for the next two hours his teeth were cleaned, dried, glued, and wired until I was called back to see the finished product and we received instructions about the care and cleaning of braces.

Luckily, I am an old hat at the braces thing, having parented 4 other children through the unique dietary restrictions and hygienic care of brushing, flossing and caring for teeth shrouded in metal…

Despite having never worn braces myself.

Brandon was eager to show off his new smile.

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After his appointment, but before returning him back to school, we made a quick stop at the grocery store for soft foods and pain killers. I’ve learned that the days following the application of braces are painful ones and chewing is near impossible, so we loaded up on soups, mashed potatoes, smoothie ingredients and ice cream, and then made sure he had Advil in his system before I took him back to school.

By the time he arrived back home he was hurting but managed to rally enough to enjoy our Halloween festivities,

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And he even faced the candy restrictions (that come with braces) with happy acceptance. As the kids dumped their candy and began the beloved tradition of sorting and divvying up the Halloween treats collected during trick-or-treating, Brandon, Tyler and Ozzie laid claimed on the chocolate treats that were braces-friendly.

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It was a monumental day for our newest addition…

His first Halloween at Patchwork Farm AND braces.

It was an October 31st for the memory books!

Cool Spring Corn Maze

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The second outing I planned for our co-op’s monthly get-togethers was a trip to Coolspring Corn Maze. This is an annual tradition for our group that we have enjoyed every October for years.

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This corn maze, located north of us in Mercer, embraced its inner superhero with its “Heroes of the Corn” theme this year.

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The theme was seen in the décor around the farm and in the actual maze design, as seen from this areal shot of the maze:

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The theme was also carried through to the checkpoints hidden within the maze. These checkpoints each spoke of different superheroes and within the description were highlighted words that answered the questions on the crossword puzzles that each of us received before entering the maze. By finding all the checkpoints and all clues hidden within the maze, we were able to solve the puzzle at the bottom of the sheet.

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It was a fun way to get the kids exploring (and learning!) as they navigated the twists and turns of the maze.

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Our co-op group broke into mini groups, as everyone headed in different directions upon entering the corn.

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I found myself walking with Grace and Ozzie, with Rusty as our fearless navigator.

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But we kept crossing paths with other groups.

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It took us a little over an hour to locate all the check points, fill in our crossword puzzle, solve the riddle, and find our way back out of the maze.

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After making our way out of the maze we spent time enjoying the other activities Coolspring Corn Maze offers:

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By the time lunch time arrived we found ourselves inundated with a couple school buses of little people who claimed all the prime picnic tables, leaving us to picnic on the grass.

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The bitterly cold wind eventually drove us back to our cars as we called it a day and said our good-byes to our co-op friends…

See you in November!

 

Laurel Caverns

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This past month we had the opportunity to take advantage of another PA Cyber sponsored field trip through Tyler’s cyber school. This time our travels took us 90 minutes east, to the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, where we journeyed deep into the ground for an hour-long cave tour.

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With us we had Micah, a co-op friend and fellow PA Cyber student.

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Our family really enjoys cave tours and as a result we have seen many caves across the United States. Laurel Caverns is one we had visited before but it had been 15 years since our last visit, so the girls’ memories of this cave were foggy. Rusty had visited Laurel Caverns more recently with his scout troop when they did the lower cave spelunking adventure.

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This day’s tour, however, was a bit tamer than Rusty’s experience with the caverns. We enjoyed a one-hour walking tour through the lighted pathways of the upper cavern.

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Laurel Caverns, is the deepest cave in the northeastern United States and the largest in volume.

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Located in Farmington, Pennsylvania, it sits on Chestnut Ridge near Uniontown, about 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

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It is within a calcareous sandstone made up of 70% silica grains cemented together with 30% calcium carbonate and a small amount of iron oxide. The cave formed when the calcium carbonate was dissolved by groundwater allowing the silica to be washed away.

 This gives the cave rough walls, a sandy floor, and very few formations normally seen in the more common high calcium limestone caves.

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Laurel Caverns was also formed in an area of folded and fractured rock.

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 Because of this, the entire cave is tilted thirteen degrees, resulting in many steep passageways.

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 They tend to follow the fractures in the rock, resulting in a grid of long passageways.

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 The cave has been known since the 18th century, and probably used by the Native Americans long before that.

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It stays at a temperature of 52°F year-round.

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The steep slope of some passageways causes an optical illusion known as gravity hill. The illusion of a ball rolling uphill is an illustration of this effect.

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At the conclusion of the tour we headed back to the surface where we took a break for lunch and a bat craft, that Tyler and Ozzie really enjoyed making.

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Then it was our turn in the gem mining room.

 This was an unexpected surprise!

 When we signed up and paid for this outing we were under the impression that our $6.00/person cost paid for a cavern tour. What a treat it was when the kids found out that included in the outing was a bag of gem filled dirt that they could mine for in the mining room upstairs.

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All the kids got a kick out of sifting through the dirt to discover the gems hidden within,

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 And then identify the type of gems they uncovered.

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What a fun day with PA Cyber!

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Drumroll, please….

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For the last few years we have had fun coming up with a themed family costume for Halloween.

In the past we have dressed as the crew from Toy Story:

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The emotions from Inside Out:

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and the characters from Wizard of Oz:

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This year we knew we wanted to continue this tradition, especially given the addition of Brandon to the family, and the realization that next year may take the girls away from home, making this possibly our last chance for a full family Halloween costume.

Much debate was put into possible themes as we considered books or movies that had at least 8 primary characters, the right ratio of boys and girls, and contained characters that were “cool” enough to convince the boys to join in.

After much debate the decision was made…

PETER PAN!

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 Bandon played the role of Peter Pan…

With Rusty as his shadow:

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Toby was Captain Hook:

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Tyler was a Lost Boy:

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I played the role of Wendy Darling:

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Ozzie was John Darling:

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Grace was Michael Darling (with Ellie May as Nana):

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And Molly played the role of Tinker Bell:

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And it was so much fun!!

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I love Halloween!

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And I adore this family of mine!

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A Treasured Time at Living Treasures

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Last May our co-op of 10+ years disbarred. It was a sad day when we said good-bye to the church that had become a home away from home for over a decade as we met together with fellow “home” schoolers and dear friends every Wednesday to teach our children and allow them opportunities that are hard to facilitate in a home environment.

When our co-op began, our babies were all in preschool-3rd grade. At the end of the school year last year those same “babies” were entering their senior year with most of our kiddos working independently and no longer needing the co-op classroom environment for academics. It was an end to a beautiful era of life, one that we hated to say good-bye to, but knew we had outgrown the co-op’s original purpose.

Although we no longer needed the academic support that co-op was originally created for, we were still feeling the need for regular social get-togethers with our co-op friends who have become a second family over the years.

Our solution was to move our get-togethers out into the community and to meet twice a month rather than weekly. We decided that to facilitate these social events, and to make sure we made time for them to happen regularly, we (the moms) would each take a month of the school year and plan two field trips, outings, or holiday parties for the kids to meet up and connect with friends.

I signed up for October and the first outing I planned for the month was to Living Treasures Animal Park.

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 This park has a special place in my heart, as it is home to so many sweet memories. Our first visit here was with Gracie as a baby. We have visited it with my sister and her kids, my parents, my brother, my grandfather and many friends. Over the years we have created many sweet memories at this special place, and two Fridays ago we created a few more.

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We arrived as the doors opened and met up with the other co-op families in the parking lot. Because we had a group that exceeded the 20-person minimum for a group rate we were able to get in for $6.99/person, half the normal rate. We also purchased animal feed for the animals…

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Because that is the best part of Living Treasures!

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 This particular animal park is set up to allow visitors opportunities to interact with the animals more intimately than is possible at a zoo.

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The proximity and amount of interaction depends on the type of animal.

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The animals that you can pet and feed by hand include deer, cattle, alpaca, goats, and the wallabies.

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Bigger animals are fed through feeding tubes that drop their treats into a food dish.  These critters eagerly wait beside their bowls hoping for a handout. This system allows kids to interact with the animals up close without the risk of losing fingers.

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The monkeys at Living Treasures are fed with a bucket system. Visitors can place carrots or special monkey pellets in a bucket attached to a chain, and the monkeys can pull the bucket to the cage and fish out their treats.

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The animals all understand this system well and know what it means when little people with buckets come walking their way. The critters tend to swarm you when you approach, especially if you are among the first visitors of the day and everyone is still hungry.

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It was a beautiful day to be outside and it was wonderful seeing friends we hadn’t seen in a while…

And to enjoy it while loving on fur-babies made it all the better!

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