Author Archives: ktmccleery

Another child steps into adulthood

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This week my third-born child stepped into adulthood…

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With child #4 hot on his tail.

On Thursday we celebrated Rusty’s entrance into adulthood and in four weeks we will celebrate Braden’s big 1-8!

This means in a month’s time I will have 4 adult children, with one married and another successfully launched 2000 miles away. I am not quite sure how we arrived here from where we were a year ago, but somehow in the blink of an eye I have transitioned from being a mom to more adult children than underage kiddos.

Despite being up to our eyeballs in wedding preparations, I was determined to make sure that Rusty’s 18th birthday didn’t get lost in the craziness of life as we currently know it.

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With the living room floor tore up as Toby lays hardwood, and the dining room and kitchen filled with piles a wedding supplies, we had to be creative in finding an empty surface to decorate for Rusty’s party.

We pushed all our wedding piles to the outer edge of the dining room and set up the table with Rusty’s party decorations…

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Mickey Mouse themed, of course!

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And wrapped up the gifts for Rusty that were lovingly and thoughtfully purchased by his siblings.

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Rusty’s birthday morning began with early morning seminary…a high school religion class both boys attend every weekday from 6:00-7:00am. Because we have to leave the house by 5:30 to get them to class, and because waking Tyler up at 5:30 am is NEVER a good idea, we opted to wait for Rusty’s morning birthday cupcake and accompanying song until we returned home at 7:30.

Once home, Rusty was serenaded and blew out his birthday candle with Olive’s help.

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It is a tradition in our school-at-home family that on a child’s birthday they are exempt from chores and schoolwork and get to spend the day any way they wish. So while Rusty enjoyed his day off, the rest of the family spent the day at work or focused on school. Everyone arrived home by 6:30 pm, giving us plenty of time to open gifts before leaving for our 7:30 Escape Room appointment.

We began the gift giving, as is the tradition in our family, with the youngest child presenting their gift first, and concluding with the gift(s) from mom and dad.

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One of Rusty’s gifts from mom and dad was a beautiful CTR ring. It is tradition in our family that as a child moves into adulthood they receive one of these special rings to serve as a reminder of who they are, whose they are, and the importance of making the right choices now so that they can enjoy the future that they are striving for. CTR stands for “Choose the Right.”

Braden received his CTR ring a month early, as both rings arrived at the same time, so both boys were presented with their rings together. Each ring matches the man who wears it and will hopefully be a strengthening reminder of the effect today’s choices have on tomorrow’s happiness.

Once we were done unwrapping gifts we headed out for a night of fun.

Our entire family loves escape rooms, but none more than Rusty…our problem-solving, puzzle-loving kid. Gracie’s fiancé has class on Thursday evening so it was just the six of us trying to escape in under 60 minutes.

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We tried out Operation: Escape Room in Monaca, and the theme of the room we booked was:

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While exploring an abandoned hospital, you are accidently locked into a patient room. You have 60 minutes to escape before you lose your mind and become a permanent patient.

We really enjoyed it. It was a fun theme, well played out in a room that bordered on creepy with its abandoned hospital décor. It wasn’t as challenging as other rooms we have done in the past, but it was well planned out and themed. We really enjoyed it!

And we escaped with time to spare.

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We ended Rusty’s birthday evening with Chinese take-out in our pajamas while watching Wall-E.

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It was a perfect ending to a day spent celebrating Rusty and all the things he loves best.

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Happy birthday to the son who made me a boy-momma.

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You paved the way and showed me the great joy that comes from raising sons. How grateful we are for the quiet strength you show in your daily life and the gentle way you bless the lives of those around you. You have grown from a delightful boy into a gentleman, and we couldn’t be more proud to call you our son!

 

 

Miss Molly

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Well, it has been 3 weeks since we bid Miss Molly good-bye and left her 2000 miles away to launch into adulthood…

And she has taken flight beautifully.

She is loving college life, loving Idaho, loving her roommates, classes, and the multitude of college activities offered at BYU-I. As parents we couldn’t be happier to see her so happy. She is thriving in every sense of the word. Here are some photos of our sweet girl and her Idaho adventures:

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The first Sunday in Idaho as Molly and her roommates head off to church.

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While Molly was working at the tutoring center a kind lady was handing out cookies. It made her day!

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Molly has been blessed with eight awesome roommates. Katrina, a fellow freshman at the house, is Molly’s closest friend.

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Molly has enjoyed documenting her Idaho adventures with beautiful photos and thoughtful reflection on her Instagram account:  tripping_over_gods_blessings. 

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While grocery shopping, the girls decided the house needed a house “pet.” They brought home this flora mascot instead.

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Molly has loved living so close to a temple…something that is a rare treat when you were raised on the east coast. Determined to soak up the sweet spirit so readily accessible, she has set a goal of visiting the temple three times a week.

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Enjoying a fun night out at a local soda shop.

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The beauty found in the ordinary…as seen through Molly’s lens.

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Molly at I-night…the weekend of social and service activities for the new freshman.

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Enjoying the social side of college life.

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Molly making friends at weekly devotional 😉 

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Dinner time!

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Molly and her roommates making Sunday dinner together.

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Molly and her roommates making homemade bread to deliver to their landlord and other friends.

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One night Molly and her roommates bonded over hair dye as they all colored each others hair. Here is Molly’s new look.

One week until we get Molly home for the wedding festivities. It is wonderful to see her doing so well in Idaho, but I’m looking forward to loving on her in person!

Young Love

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Well, we are officially two weeks out from the big day!

14 days until Zach and Gracie are married and we legally gain another son into the family.

It is all very exciting and the young couple is brimming with happiness.

A few weeks ago they had the opportunity to have this exciting season of their lives captured on film by an amazingly talented photographer…

Who just happens to also be a dear friend.

Holly needed an couple to do a engagement photo shoot with for her business and asked if Grace and Zach would be interested. They jumped at the chance to work with Holly and the results were nothing short of stunning.

She brilliantly captured their personalities and the sweet devotion of their love.

The result was magical:

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Only 14 more days until “I do!”

Walt Disney’s Hometown

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After two weeks of slowing drawing out the recounting of our trip across the country to drop Miss Molly off at school, I write the final installment. It has been crazy busy at Patchwork Farm…as you can well imagine…and the task of finding stolen moments to blog has been especially challenging. We find ourselves neck-deep in wedding preparations, back to school busyness, and the craziness of large-family living, but I wanted to share our last road trip adventure before flakes of snow begin to fall and another month or two escapes me…

Back in 2016, as part of our epic six week bus trip around the country we made a special stop for Rusty’s 15th birthday. Per his request, we stopped in Marceline, Missouri to pay homage to Rusty’s personal hero, Walt Disney, and it was the highlight of the trip for Rusty!

 

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Three years later, as we worked our way back across the country, passing through Missouri on our way home, Rusty asked if we could visit Walt Disney’s hometown once again. So we did…

This time with Braden!

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The United States has three permanent museums devoted to Walt Disney. Each is terrific in a different way. In San Francisco, the Walt Disney Family Museum is the most spectacular—a real “E” ticket. In Central Florida, Walt Disney, One Man’s Dream, a “must see” attraction for Disney fans at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is the most convenient to visit—at least if you’re a Walt Disney World guest. And somewhere near the center of the continental United States, the Walt Disney Hometown Museum is the most personal.

We drove into Marceline, Missouri (pop. 2230) on Tuesday morning, reacquainting ourselves with this small Midwestern town that seems trapped in time, looking much as it might have when Walt was a young boy walking down Main Street with his mother.

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While there we drove over to Walt Disney’s childhood home.

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Walt’s family came to Marceline when Walt was only 4 years old. They moved from Chicago in an attempt to keep Walt’s older teenage brothers out of trouble and live a simpler life on the family farm.

Walt’s father purchased a plot of land from his brother who owned land in Marceline and they proceeded to build a home and establish themselves in this small, Missouri town.

Walt lived here from age 5 to age 9. While not a long period of time, it was a time that greatly affected his life.

Behind this home sits another important part of Walt’s time in Marceline. This area is opened to the public. Just past Walt’s childhood home sits a small parking area with this sign:

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It was down a grassy path that we found Walt’s Dreaming Tree.

. Daydreaming under this tree, a young Walt would observe the nature surrounding him. He later called these adventures “belly botany” and drew from these moments in his early works. He apparently never outgrew his need for inspiration from his favorite spot. On trips back to Marceline, Walt always put aside time for reflection beneath it, spending hours alone with his thoughts, back under his Dreaming Tree.

The Original Dreaming Tree, the place where Walt sat as a boy and let his imagination take him on incredible adventures, was hit by lightning a few years ago.

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Instead we visited the Son of the Dreaming Tree, a sapling planted from a seedling of the original Dreaming Tree with soil brought from Disneyland and water from Disney World.

As we walked along the grassy path to Walt’s barn, we passed signs that gave us even more insight into Walt’s childhood there and the significance it had in his later life.

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In the barn, also known as Walt’s Happy Place, visitors are encouraged to sign the walls and leave messages of love and hope.

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By his own account, Walt’s happiest childhood memories were of his time in Marceline and the family farm there. Walt and his sister Ruth spent many happy hours playing in the Barn. Visitors from all over the world have come to Marceline to spend time at “Walt’s Happy Place”, located in its original place on the Disney family’s old farm in Marceline.
Visit this very special Barn, which was rebuilt by volunteers in 2001, and leave your mark among the thousands of signatures, messages and memories already there to share with the rest of the world. There’s no doubt about it, when you come to this Barn, you’ll feel a special heart connection to Walt.

When we visited the barn during our first trip, we found it incredibly moving to read the words of previous visitors, and witness the profound effect this humble, inspiring man has had on so many lives.

What a joy it was to add our own names to the thousands of admirers that had been there before us…

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Rusty adding a new signature to the mark he left in 2016.

And what a joy it was to reflect on that experience as we sought out our previous signatures from three years prior.

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And then Braden added his name to the barn beams.

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From there we headed to the Walt Disney Hometown Museum.

The visit to the museum began with a guided tour of the first floor, where the volunteer (who was a personal friend of Walt Disney) walked us through the story of Walt’s life in Marceline, beginning with his childhood in Marceline and ending with his visits back when he was an adult.

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The museum is housed in the town’s old train depot…

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A fitting location for Walt’s museum since he was an avid fan of trains his entire life. In fact one associate said, “Walt got more joy from hearing the sound of a train whistle than he did from an arm full of Oscars.”

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In the museum there are 3,000 artifacts from Walt’s life,

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Including…

The elementary school desk where he carved his initials “WD”:

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A car from the Autopia ride he had built in Marceline for the children of the town:

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The audio recording he made from the interview he did with his parents at their 50th anniversary party:

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The Mickey Mouse dolls that were a gift to his parents on that anniversary:

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And the TV he bought for his sister, Ruth.

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When he invited Ruth to the opening of Disneyland she informed him that she didn’t like crowds, so he purchased a TV for her so that she could watch the opening ceremonies from the comfort of her own home:

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The first floor of the museum is filled with Disney movie memorabilia, hand written letters by Walt, receipts, and other family heirlooms. It really is a treasure for Disney fans!

The second floor of the museum contains:

A replica of Walt’s front porch and the story of him convincing his younger sister to paint the house with tar,

 

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A piece of the original Dreaming Tree,

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And a miniature model of Disneyland.

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Marceline, Missouri…the birthplace of Disney Magic.

I’m so glad we could visit again!

 

Fun in Cheyenne, Wyoming

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Our first overnight stop on our journey back home after dropping off Miss Molly (who is doing fabulous, by the way! More on that in a future post) was Cheyenne, Wyoming. This was a perfect place to hang our hats for the night…

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Our cowboy hats!

 We were in the heart of cowboy country and everything around us reflected that. Including the hotel we called home for the night.

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When booking our hotel I simply went online looking for the best deal available in the area. This tactic sometimes fails me, but more often than not we are pleasantly surprised at how great the hotel is given the inexpensive pricetag.

This hotel was one of those experiences.

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We stayed the night at The Historic Plains Hotel in the heart of downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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“Few hotels capture the history, heritage and traditions of the American West like The Historic Plains Hotel. Steeped in the frontier legends and charm of turn-of-the-century Cheyenne, WY, our beautifully restored hotel offers every travel comfort while preserving every detail of our original grandeur.

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Since 1911, we’ve been a vital part of Cheyenne’s culture and character like no other hotel. Today, we exude an authentic, local style worlds apart from the cookie-cutter branded hotels all too common these days. To stay here is to rediscover an era when travel meant something special and unexpected. Stepping into our opulent Grand Lobby, with its beautiful bisque tiling, stained glass skylight and impressive pillars, is only the beginning of a stay that will provide interest, intrigue and uniquely personal experiences at every moment.”

It was a stunning hotel…

A true feast for the eyes,

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With beautiful and historic gems hidden around every corner.

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The age of the building was especially evident in its original elevators. The woodwork and brass fixtures were stunning but the elevator itself was tiny, requiring the boys and I to take two separate trips up to our room.

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As we stood waiting for the elevator to return we saw this sign and found out the reason for the tiny elevator…

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What a hoot!

After dropping off our luggage at our home for the night, we headed over to Terry Bison Ranch…an unknown excursion I planned for the boys to be enjoyed on our trip home.

After a week of seeing thousands of Bison from the safely recommended distance posted around the national parks we visited, I thought it would be fun to get a little closer. When I read the reviews of this ranch online I knew it had to be one of our final stops on our road trip.

There were many activities offered at the ranch but I chose to sign us up for the Bison Train Tour.

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This experience takes guests on a narrated tour through the ranch, and in among the herd, on a custom built train car.

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We boarded the train and were off, learning much about Bison as we chugged along toward where the herd of Bison were grazing.

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Along the way we crossed over into Colorado, a fact that delighted Braden who was on a mission to “collect” as many visited states as he could on this trip.

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As we got closer to the herd we received the unexpected and exciting news that a baby had just been born 30 minutes earlier and we would get to see the brand new baby Bison in among the herd.

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This cinnamon colored beauty was the first thing I spotted as we drove into the heart of the Bison herd. I couldn’t take my eyes off momma and baby.

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It was a beautiful sight to behold!

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The train came to a stop in the middle of hundreds of Bison. It was a bit disarming to see them come ambling over to the train with such eager enthusiasm.

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It was clear they knew exactly what a stopped train meant…

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It was snack time!

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In the aisles of the train were five gallon buckets filled with Bison pellets and we were allowed to hang out the windows of the train car and feed these magnificent beasts.

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After two weeks of enjoying these incredible animals from a distance, we were now able to interact with them face to face, feeding them from our hands and petting their furry faces.

It was pretty incredible.

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Especially when the larger bulls came right up to our window in search of hand-outs.

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The train remained stationary for 30 minutes, giving us plenty of time to get our fill of Bison love and plenty of time for the beasts to fill their bellies…

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Then we were off. The herd hated to see us go and followed alongside the train until we exited the paddock.

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When the train returned to the station we exited and were able to walk around the ranch and enjoy some of the other animals that call Terry Bison Ranch, home.

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There was an elevated observation platform that extended above the various animal enclosures allowing us to check out the farm animals from a birds eye view.

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Then we went down to love on them face to face before heading out.

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It was such a fun experience to share with my oldest sons on our journey back home.

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Thanks. Cheyenne!

It’s been an adventure!

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Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from home!

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After leaving Jackson Hole, Wyoming, we began our long trek back to Pennsylvania. The trip home was accelerated due to Rusty needing to be back on Wednesday afternoon for his college classes. So, while we took six days to make the 2000 mile trip west, we were making that same journey home in three days. This meant most of our time was spent driving, and since I lost my one licensed driver when we dropped Molly off at school (the boys permits don’t allow driving outside the state,) I was the one putting in 12 hours of driving each day.

Book tapes and impromptu stops to see local treasures along the way made the drive manageable.

On Monday we worked our way across Wyoming, with plans to spend the night in Cheyanne. Along the way we saw signs posted about wild horses that call that area of Wyoming home. Our curiosity was peeked, so when we saw the turn off for the wild horse coral overlook, we pulled in to check it out and stretch our legs.

It was an unassuming pavilion sitting atop a hill,

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Overlooking corrals of horses in the valley below. Inside the corrals were horses of every color, young and grown, frolicking under the summer sun.

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Situated around the pavilion were information boards about the wild horses and the work that is done to manage the population, thus ensuring a healthy, thriving herd.

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Because the horses have no natural predators the herd can easily grow bigger than the environment can naturally support. So, to keep the wild horse herd at a size sustainable to the resources available to them in the area, there are yearly round-ups.

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Some of the wild horses are collected and held at the corrals as they wait to be rehomed.

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They are put up for adoption, and for a small fee, anyone who passes the vetting process can adopt one of these Wyoming wild horses.

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It is a neat conservation program and I found it fascinating to learn about as we sat and watched the horses in the valley below us.

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This was one of those unexpected, impromptu stops that make road trips such a fun adventure…

You never know what unexpected site is around the next bend!

 

Grand Tetons

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Our Saturday at Yellowstone was cut short as we hurried south in hopes of fitting in a visit to Grand Teton National Park before the sun set.

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Grand Teton sits just south of Yellowstone National Park by only a few miles. I have always found it astounding  how different the terrain is between these two National Parks that in are such close proximity.

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“The areas around the Grand Teton mountain range and its lakes were established as a national park in 1929 in order to protect the land from commercial exploitation. The protected area was extended into the surrounding valley in 1950. Grand Teton National Park currently covers more than 310,000 acres and is located only 10 miles from Yellowstone National Park.

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Located high above sea level at elevations from elevations from 6,320 to 13,770 feet, Grand Teton National Park is a diverse ecosystem with terrain ranging from summertime wildflower meadows to rushing whitewater streams. There are also numerous serene lakes with deep blue pools, echoing the stillness and color of the glaciers that shaped them. The wild and winding Snake River descends through the park in a rush of water and the dense forests blanketing the mountainsides provide habitat for a vast array of fauna and flora, with some species dating back to the prehistoric era.

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Opportunities for viewing wildlife abound inside the park. It is often possible to see both grizzly and black bears, gray wolves, coyotes, bison and bald eagles. Other common sightings include pronghorns, elk and a variety of smaller mammals such as the Uinta ground squirrel.”

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We arrived in the park just as the sun was sinking behind the mountains.

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It left us with little time to enjoy the park, but we did fit in a quick hike to String Lake and captured some photos of this stunning National Park before the sky grew dark…

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Yellowstone Beauty

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Well, we are back home from taking Molly out to school.

It has been an eventful 10 days, beginning with Braden’s temple sealing two Saturdays ago and ending with three weary travelers stumbling through the door yesterday afternoon. Our cross country trip took us on a journey of 4000 miles, through 10 states, with stops at  historical sites, national parks, and roadside treasures across America…

Allowing Braden to capture some of the wonder experienced three years ago on our cross country bus trip.

After dropping off Miss Molly at BYU-Idaho, and bidding her farewell on Friday night, we began our long sojourn home. It lacked some of the spark we enjoyed on the trip westward, without Molly’s light and cheerful spirit with us. Determined to shake off the feelings of loss and gloom that had settled upon my boys, I planned some special stops on the way home for my two big boys to enjoy together.

I thought this was an opportunity for some special connection between Rusty and Braden, without Molly nearby. Both boys are especially close to Molly and tend to draw close to both their sisters, rather than each other. I think much of this is a natural effect of male interactions, but some of it stems from laziness. In their interactions with their sisters, no work or effort is required on their part. The girls naturally carry the burden of connection and conversation, allowing the boys in the family to be passive partakers of the enjoyed connection. My hope on this trip was that without Molly there to act as a facilitator of connection, the boys might find their own friendship aside from the ones they share together with the girls, so we made plans to make some memories on our way back home to the rest of the family. Our first stop was Yellowstone.

We arrived at the Western entrance of Yellowstone on Saturday morning. Down one explorer, it was just Braden, Rusty and I exploring this national park.

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Both boys were excited about this stop. Being one of the more well-known national parks, Braden had a bit of an idea of what to expect here. He knew he would be seeing geysers and watching Old Faithful erupt, but had no idea all the other unique sites we would be seeing at Yellowstone.

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We began our tour of Yellowstone at the Lower Geyser Basin, working our way around the park. The two things that struck me as we worked our way around the park was the sheer vastness of Yellowstone and the great diversity of the land and animals in the different areas of the park.

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“Yellowstone National Park is America’s first and foremost National Park, drawing over three million visitors yearly. Established in 1872 by the United States Congress “for the preservation of” its many wonders and “for the enjoyment of the people,” and now encompassing 2.2 million acres.

The Park has five entrances and some 370 miles of paved roadway. Situated in the northwest corner of the Wyoming frontier, Yellowstone is a treasure that inspires awe in travelers from around the world, boasting more geysers (about 250 active geysers from amidst 10,000 total thermal features) than anywhere else on the globe.

Yellowstone is home to thousands of active thermal features, including the world renowned Old Faithful Geyser.”

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One of our first adventures was to enjoy Artists’ Paintpots hike:

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 “Along this short walk you will see very good examples of most types of thermal features found in Yellowstone. These features include some very pretty hot pools, steaming fumaroles, erupting geysers and probably the best easily accessed mudpots in the park. The area is highly active and at least one geyser is usually erupting here at all times.”

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We also made stops at…

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Grand Prismatic Springs:

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“Temperature 147-188°F Dimensions 250×380 feet. Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, and is considered to be the third largest in the world-New Zealand has the two largest springs. Grand Prismatic sits upon a wide, spreading mound where water flows evenly on all sides forming a series of small, stair-step terraces. The Hayden Expedition in 1871 named this spring because of its beautiful coloration, and artist Thomas Moran made water-color sketches depicting its rainbow-like colors. The sketches seemed exaggerations and geologist A.C. Peale returned in 1878 to verify the colors. The colors begin with a deep blue center followed by pale blue. Green algae forms beyond the shallow edge. Outside the scalloped rim a band of yellow fades into orange. Red then marks the outer border. Steam often shrouds the spring which reflects the brilliant colors. Grand Prismatic discharges an estimated 560 gallons per minute.”

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Old Faithful to watch its ever famous eruption:

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“No visit to Yellowstone is complete without experiencing at least one eruption of Old Faithful. Old Faithful erupts more frequently than any of the other big geysers, although it is not the largest or most regular geyser in the park. Its average interval between eruptions is about 91 minutes, varying from 65 – 92 minutes. An eruption lasts 1 1/2 to 5 minutes, expels 3,700 – 8,400 gallons (14,000 – 32,000 liters) of boiling water, and reaches heights of 106 – 184 feet (30 – 55m). It was named for its consistent performance by members of the Washburn Expedition in 1870. Although its average interval has lengthened through the years (due to earthquakes and vandalism), Old Faithful is still as spectacular and predictable as it was a century ago.”

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While at Old Faithful we strolled over to Old Faithful Inn:

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Old Faithful Inn is the most popular hotel in the park.  Built during the winter of 1903-04, the Old Faithful Inn was designed by Robert C. Reamer, who wanted the asymmetry of the building to reflect the chaos of nature. The lobby of the hotel features a 65-foot ceiling, a massive rhyolite fireplace, and railings made of contorted lodgepole pine. Wings were added to the hotel in 1915 and 1927, and today there are 327 rooms available to guests in this National Historic Landmark.

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It was stunning. We had fun walking around the lobby and introducing Braden to the inn’s famous huckleberry ice cream…Rusty’s favorite!

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As we explored Yellowstone we were in awe and understood why, upon seeing this magnificent place, Theodore Roosevelt designated it the first National Monument in the United States. 

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And it remains one of the most diversely stunning places in America today. We are so glad we got to share this magnificent place with Braden!

 

 

BYU-I Good-byes

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After a week-long trek across the United States, the day had finally arrived. It was time to get Molly settled into her new home and take our leave. We couldn’t delay the inevitable any longer!

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We woke on Friday morning with the mix of emotions evident on each and every face. As we prepared for the day ahead of us I tried to keep things light and focus on the fun and adventure of this new experience, but my efforts were overshadowed by palpable anxiety and the weight of grief. As hard as this day would be for Rusty, Molly and I, it was nothing to the overwhelming feelings of loss Braden was battling.

Despite reassurances that Molly would only be gone until Christmas and then we would get her home for four months until she returned for her spring semester, he still struggled. For him, as illogical as it may seem, this was just another loss in a long line of losing people he loves. It has been his experience that once you open your heart to someone, they will leave you… either to drugs, death, prison, or by simply being pulled from your life by the very system that is there to protect and preserve. Even though this experience was nothing like the losses of his past, the emotions felt all too similar, thus triggering thoughts of previous losses that were all too final.

It was with much prayer, compassion, and tenderness that we moved into the day.

Our first stop of the day was Molly’s new home. Rather than stay in a more traditional apartment style dorm, she opted to rent a room in a cute bungalow just six minutes from campus center.

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She would be sharing this charming home with eight roommates, many of whom we met as we unloaded her gear from the car.

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The boys were a big help as we toted in all Molly’s clothes, books and decorations.

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Molly’s room is a single. For a slightly higher monthly payment Molly opted to pay to have the room to herself. She felt this would be the best for her first semester. This way she can enjoy the comradery of shared living spaces with her eight roommates, but also would have a private space to escape to when she needs to be alone.

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Her room was generously large…far bigger than it seemed in the photos…

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And we soon set to work unpacking her boxes and turning her room into a home, with pictures and personal touches.

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The end result was nothing short of charming!!

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She has a large closet, a dresser, an elevated bed with storage below, a bookcase, and a desk area for studying.

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It is so cute and homey.

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Our next stop was Walmart to stock her kitchen cabinets until she gets into a routine of weekly grocery shopping. We arrived at Walmart to find every parking spot filled with new students and their families. I am not exaggerating when I say it was like Black Friday inside, with aisles filled to capacity and every register manned by a frazzled looking clerk.

We loaded up her cart with student-friendly food and made our way to the other side of the store to pick up a plastic storage tote and a footstool for climbing into bed.

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Then we navigated our way to the front where an employee was guiding customers through a maze of caution tape to the next open line. I am not kidding when I say it was like Black Friday shopping!

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We made it out alive and headed back to her apartment where we unloaded her groceries into her assigned kitchen cabinets…

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Then we headed over to campus to take care of some student tasks.

Our first stop was to check her in at the “Get Connected” tent where she was assigned her student mentors that would guide her through the next two days of activities. Here she also received her welcome booklet that spelled out all the fun being offered over the weekend.

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Then we began working our way through the “to-do” list for new freshman, including getting her student ID and picking up her preordered books from the bookstore.

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Then we split ways for a few hours as she joined up with her mentoring team for some new student activities like a welcome from the university president, a campus tour, meeting with the heads of each department, etc.

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While Molly was busy with the other freshman, Braden, Rusty and I grabbed lunch, perused the University Bookstore, and took advantage of a college tour. One of the primary reasons the boys accompanied Molly and I on this road trip was so they could tour the school and see if they might be interested in attending BYU-I themselves.

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By the time we were done with our campus tour, Molly was done with her scheduled activities. We met up in the Student Commons to get in line for the parent/student luau.

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The plan was to take our leave after a fun luau dinner with Miss Molly. It was a popular event, with the line to get in wrapping all around the commons.

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When it was our turn to go through the buffet line we were blown away by the spread of delicious Hawaiian fare.

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We were then seated in the ballroom to enjoy our meal,

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While being entertained by Polynesian dancers who were AMAZING!!

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At the end of the luau Molly walked with us back to the car to say her good-byes. I thought I was doing a superb job of holding it together until Braden started to cry, a lifetime of past losses written on his face as he had to say good-bye to another person he loves…

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Not quite believing she will return home again.

Oh, how my heart ached as my kids’ faces were dampened with tears. As hard as it was to say good-bye, I couldn’t help but marvel at the great blessing evident in those tears. Those tears are evidence of loving attachment and connection between family members that were strangers just a year ago.

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This is what every adoptive parent prays for, especially when adopting a child with a history of trauma and previous displacements. You open your heart and home hoping one day they will feel safe enough to open their heart to the love you offer. It is a day by day journey toward connection and attachment, and moments like this (as heartbreaking as they are) tell me we are finding some measure of success.

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We took our leave, reminding ourselves that we will see Molly in a month for Gracie’s wedding, and headed back to our hotel room.

After a week’s worth of travel we were out of clean clothes, so I left the boys at the hotel to numb themselves in front of the TV, while I headed to the laundromat down the street.

I didn’t indulge in the luxury of being present in my own grief until that moment. I was far too invested in the well-being of my kids, making sure everyone was successfully navigating their own hard emotions. It wasn’t until I found myself alone that the reality of it all hit and the tears bubbled up.

For two hours I sat alone in a coin operated laundromat, finding solace in the isolation…

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Finally able to reflect on the last week…

And the last 19 years that led up to this day.

This is what we raise them for.

As parents we strive to first give them roots…deep, deep roots that will hold them upright through the most turbulent and trying seasons of life.

And then we strive to give them wings…wings strong, and nimble, and capable of flight, so that when they finally take that leap, out of the protective nest we built for them, we can enjoy the breath-stealing sight of watching them soar.

Soar, Miss Molly!

Your are a magnificent sight to behold!

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Devil’s Tower

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On Thursday, after leaving the Black Hills of South Dakota, we traveled two hours west, crossing into Wyoming, for our visit to Devils Tower National Monument.

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This was another stop I was looking forward to with eager anticipation, as it is a place that holds so many fond childhood memories for me.

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I remember camping at the Devils Tower KOA and sleeping under the silhouette of that mighty monument, both in childhood and then with my family three years ago.

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I couldn’t wait to return and share the experience with Braden as well.

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As we approached,  we could see Devils Tower looming in the distance, growing larger with every mile as we approached.

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As we drove into the park we passed a prairie dog town on our way up the winding road.

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At the top of the road sat a small visitor’s center at the base of Devil’s Tower. This was our first stop.

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Stamping Ozzie’s postcard. He requested postcards from each of our stops as we traveled west to take Molly to school.

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Devils Tower:

“Devils Tower National Monument, a unique and striking geologic wonder steeped in Indian legend, is a modern day national park and climbers’ challenge. Devils Tower sits across the state line in northeast Wyoming. The Tower is a solitary, stump-shaped granite formation that looms 1,267 feet above the tree-lined Belle Fourche River Valley, like a skyscraper in the country. Once hidden below the earth’s surface, erosion has stripped away the softer rock layers revealing the Tower.

The two-square-mile park surrounding the tower was proclaimed the nation’s first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The park is covered with pine forests, woodlands and grasslands. While visiting the park you are bound to see deer, prairie dogs and other wildlife. The mountain’s markings are the basis for Native American legend. One legend has it that a giant bear clawed the grooves into the mountainside while chasing several young Indian maidens. Known by several northern plains tribes as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred site of worship for many American Indians. Devils Tower is also remembered as the movie location for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

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The stone pillar is about 1,000 feet in diameter at the bottom and 275 feet at the top and that makes it the premier rock climbing challenge in the Black Hills.”

Then we headed out on the Tower Trail, a 1.25-mile trail that winds its way around the base of this mammoth rock.

The trail was beautiful…

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And the views were breathtaking,

Despite the cold rain that fell down upon us as we walked the trail. 

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It was a short visit of 1 1/2 hours, because of the drive that lay before us.

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10 more hours of driving until we arrive in Molly’s new college town, but I’m glad we stopped.

It is an awe-inspiring site that should be enjoyed by every traveler passing through Wyoming.

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We are getting close!

Wish this momma luck…

Friday is the big day!