Author Archives: ktmccleery

Visiting Seminary Ridge

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“Located 50 miles northwest of Baltimore, the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was the site of the largest battle ever waged during the American Civil War. Fought in the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in a hallmark victory for the Union “Army of the Potomac” and successfully ended the second invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee’s “Army of Northern Virginia.”
Historians have referred to the battle as a major turning point in the war, the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It was also the bloodiest single battle of the war, resulting in over 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured or missing. To properly bury the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg, a “Soldiers Cemetery” was established on the battleground near the center of the Union line.
It was here during the dedication ceremony on November 19, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln spoke of “these honored dead…” and renewed the Union cause to reunite the war-torn nation with his most famous speech, the “Gettysburg Address.”

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And it was here we joined 21st Century Cyber Charter School students from across the state for our school-wide end of the year field trip.

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Throughout the school year our cyber school offers outings across the state. These outings allow students to connect face to face with other students and their teachers. Since the student body is spread across the entire state of Pennsylvania these outings occur regionally, allowing every student access to at least some of the school’s outings. The exception to that rule occurs every May when all the students, teachers, and 21st Century families come together for one big field trip. It is always very well orchestrated and is the highlight of our school year. In the past our school has taken us to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mount Vernon, and Annapolis, Maryland.

This year the school took us to Gettysburg.

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As a way to encourage attendance and lessen the financial strains on their families, 21st Century charters buses to pick up families from various corners of the state and bus them to the field trip. This means an early morning for those students on the western side of the state but there are rarely complaints from my crew as they find it to be a grand adventure waking up at 4:00 am, boarding a bus with all their friends, and taking a road trip across Pennsylvania.

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By 9:30 am buses from each corner of the state rolled into the parking lot at Seminary Ridge and unloaded.

 

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The 21st Century Students from our local co-op.

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Tyler and Ozzie sporting the t-shirts from this year’s field trip and Ozzie’s teacher popping in to say “hello!” We LOVE Mrs. Scarpignato!

 

Students, families and teachers were split into four different groups and were given colored wristbands to guide them through the schedule of the day ahead. Each group was 25+ people strong and the amount of preparation and planning that went into this event was evident in how smoothly our large group moved through the activities of the day…much like a well-oiled machine.

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Our day was broken up into 45 minute chunks with 15 minutes set aside for moving from one activity to another. It was a perfect set-up as it allowed the kids to really delve into the history of Seminary Ridge in a meaningful way without losing their attention.

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Our day began with the kids in the blue group stepping into the shoes of a Civil War soldier, quite literally, with field training.

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Each student was given a harversack bearing the name of an actual Civil War soldier. On the outside of their harversack was their name, age, occupation, and their status as a confederate or union soldier.

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Using the information on their harversack they went around and introduced themselves allowing the gentleman who was leading the exercise to illustrate the wide variety of men who came together to fight side by side during the Civil War.

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Once introductions were sufficiently made, training began. The students began by learning the basics of standing at attention and marching.

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Once they could march seamlessly as a group then they were issued their riffles for war and guided through the motions and movements of various commands.

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The kids really enjoyed this hands-on activity and the soldier leading the exercise did a wonderful job of bringing a sense of reality and connection to something that had previously been only words in a history book.

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When our time at that station was done the students were allowed to open their harversack and pull a paper from within that revealed what happened to the soldier they were representing for that exercise. It made it all the more personal to discover their fate as they read what happened to the soldier whose name they bore.

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The next station we visited was the medical tent where students learned about the important role of field doctors during the Civil War.

Once again they were each given a biography of a soldier who was injured on the battlefield and were able to learn about how that particular injury would have been addressed and treated at that time.

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They quickly realized that the risk of death by infection was higher than deaths actually caused by the injuries themselves.

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They also gained a lot of respect for the tenacity and strength of those Civil War soldiers as they read the accounts of bullets to the brain and amputated limbs, only to read that soon after being patched up from injuries that would land you in an ICU ward today, these men would be back on the battle field again as soon as they could walk and carry a gun.

The shock over conditions at Civil War field hospitals only escalated when they were introduced to the surgical tools and procedures of surgery during that time in history.

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During lunch break we enjoyed a stroll around the grounds of Seminary Ridge before joining our group for the next activity of the day.

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Following lunch it was our group’s turn to tour the Seminary Ridge Museum. To make the experience more interactive and engaging we were each given a scavenger hunt to complete. The answers to the questions on the sheet were found throughout the four floors of the museum.

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As we searched for answers, we became acquainted with the history of Seminary Ridge and its significance to the Battle of Gettysburg.

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“The museum touched on three main topics: the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, care given to wounded soldiers at Schmucker Hall, and moral questions from the Civil War era.”

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Our last activity of the day was an interactive tour of the grounds. The historian that led our walking tour guided us through the events that occurred on the grounds around the seminary building on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg.

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Role in the Battle of Gettysburg

The Seminary building served as a lookout on 1 July 1863, the first day of battle. From the cupola, Brig. Gen. John Buford both observed the opening of the battle to the west of Seminary Ridge and witnessed the arrival of the I Corps under Maj. Gen. John Reynolds marching to his relief from the south. By the late afternoon, the Union lines on McPherson’s Ridge, west of the seminary, were forced back to Seminary Ridge by Confederate troops. Before the troops could dig in on Seminary Ridge, a further attack by Pender’s Division broke the line. The I Corps streamed across Seminary Hill and through the town of Gettysburg, covered by a delaying action on the grounds by the famed Iron Brigade. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia occupied the seminary grounds and held them until the Army’s retreat on 4 July 1863.

There was no further infantry combat on the seminary grounds, but it continued to play a prominent role in the battle. The seminary building had begun to be used as a field hospital for soldiers of both armies during the first day, and this continued throughout the engagement and after the battle was over. Artillery was posted on the hill and participated in action against Union artillery on Culp’s and Cemetery Hills on July 2nd and 3rd.

Confederate troops also used the seminary building cupola as a lookout.

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The day came to a close all too soon as students said good-bye to their friends and teachers and boarded the busses for the long haul home.

It was another amazing field trip with 21st Century Cyber Charter School!

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A New Sandwich Artist

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24 years ago I donned the green and yellow uniform of a Subway sandwich artist and loved it. We now have another sandwich artist in the family. The family legacy marches on with Grace now wearing green and yellow with pride and Molly soon to join her.

A few weeks ago Grace and Molly’s boss at the Pretzel Factory called a meeting, something that occurs quarterly. The girls showed up expecting the usual news and reminders but were blindsided with the unexpected announcement that the Chippewa Philly Pretzel Factory would be closing in seven days. Everyone was shocked. With only a week’s notice the girls began considering other employment options right away. Grace, who depends on her bi-monthly paycheck to cover her tuition costs was especially shook up by the lack of notice.

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Gracie’s pretzel creation on her last day of work.

The following day we visited our local Subway for a fun lunch treat. We were greeted by our favorite ladies, two gals from whom we have been buying subs from for the last decade. They have watched my kids grow up. As we moved through the line I spontaneously asked if they were hiring. I knew the close proximity and the employees who worked there would make for an awesome work environment. I explained that 24 hours prior Molly and Grace received news that their place of business was going out of business and they were looking for work. We were handed applications with our wrapped subs and headed out to the van. As we pulled from the parking lot we saw a flash of green running towards us as Teresa, one of our favorite Subway employees, came running across the parking lot with paper and pencil in hand. I rolled down the window and she explained that she had just talked to the manager on the phone and Laurie wanted to hire “both those sweet girls” and told Teresa to get their contact information. Evidently the years of conversations held over the glass display case with Molly and Grace left an impression.

A few hours later Grace received a call from the manager informing her that she was hired and could start training next week. She also let Grace know that Molly also had the job but would have to wait 6 weeks to begin working (after another employee left for school.)

It was a powerful lesson in trusting God’s plan for our lives. 24 hours earlier things were looking bleak and both girls were struggling with disappointment and anxiety over lost income, and then a simple stop at our local Subway turned bad news to great news.

It just goes to show that God always has a plan, even when we can’t make sense of it, and His plan is always far better than anything we could orchestrate ourselves.

When one door closes another one will open,

and sometimes that door opens to the smell of fresh baked bread…

“Welcome to Subway!”

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Turkey Hill Experience

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On Tuesday, following Molly’s recognition banquet at the Downingtown office of her cyber school, we began our trek home. The initial plan was to stop in Hershey, home of Hershey’s Chocolate World. Ozzie decided he wanted to treat Molly to a special shared experience with his own money. He had decided on the “Create Your Own Candy Bar” experience at Chocolate World but when I called to reserve tickets we found out that it was currently closed for renovations. Quickly we scrambled to come up with a Plan B.

As I searched for things to do along our route back home I stumbled across a fun little gem near Lancaster, Pa. Created by Turkey Hill ice cream, the Turkey Hill Experience is a fun, interactive museum all about the creation of Turkey Hill ice cream (and their tea and lemonade drink line.) As I read about the experience online both Ozzie and Molly thought it sounded fun. When we read that there were unlimited ice cream samples offered at the end of the tour, they were sold…

So, off we drove toward ice cream heaven.

The Turkey Hill Experience is housed in a beautiful, old brick warehouse.

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As we walked in we were greeted by a giant cow…a whimsical clue to what the experience would hold.

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We were the youngest visitors there by many decades, with the only other visitors consisting of a senior tour bus.

The experience is set up to take visitors through each step of the ice cream creation process.

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The tour began with a short video about the history of Turkey Hill Ice Cream and an introduction to the ice cream making process.

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Then we stepped into the world of ice cream creation…

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Step 1: It all begins with the cow!

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Step 2: Making sure the milk meets the standards of Turkey Hill.

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Step 3: Getting creative…the “Create Your own Ice Cream Flavor” station.

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Step 4: Measuring and Mixing.

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Step 5: Designing the packaging for our new ice cream flavors.

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Step 6: Into the freezer…BRRRRR!

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Step 7: Filming a commercial for our newly developed flavors.

As Molly and Ozzie moved through the experience they scanned their entrance ticket at each station so the continuity of their work continued through the experience, building on itself until the commercial at the end.

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It was a really fun place that was created to be engaging for every age, from toddlers to retirees.

The climax of the experience came at the end with the tasting café where we were invited to taste different Turkey Hill ice cream flavors. There was no limit to the samples we could enjoy and there was no additional fee.

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This was definitely the highlight of the day for our crew.

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It was a great way to conclude our special sibling bonding trip…

Sweet memories made by all!

A Mother’s Day Gift

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Mother’s Day is a hard day in our home with this year being particularly challenging. Circumstances have made this year’s celebration of mothers a tough one as we have navigated the muddy mix of hard emotions tied to this holiday.

As a mother of two adopted kiddos, Mother’s Day represents a day of celebration clothed in loss, anger, and great sadness. I watch as my boys navigate those hard emotions so closely tied to this Hallmark holiday and the day inevitably becomes a day to endure rather than a day to revel in.

It was with a sense of stoic determination to navigate this hard holiday that I arrived at church with my family in tow. In the midst of smiles, hugs, and wishes of “Happy Mother’s Day” I had one dear friend approach and ask how I was doing. She told me that she had been looking through her files of Mother’s Day inspiration and found an article written by a mother that knew all about the many tears shed on this special day. The article was written by a woman who had adopted and understood the minefield we call Mother’s Day. As this dear friend walked away and I was moved by her sensitivity and thoughtfulness. I picked up the printed papers and began reading and I knew God had heard the quiet tears  I had shed in the streams of the shower as I was bathed in words of hope and healing…

Words written by myself years ago.

This friend had no idea she had given me a copy of a blog entry I myself had written three years ago. She had no ideas she was gifting me with council far more impactful than words written by another because these words were personal. It was like stumbling across an old journal entry and remembering…

Remembering Mother’s Days we had survived before, remembering where we had come from and where we were going, and most importantly why we were walking this path and why that path was particularly hard on this particular day.

It was exactly what I needed to hear on this hard, hard day. Perhaps someone else needs to hear it too…

A child born to another woman calls me mom. The depth of that tragedy and the magnitude of that priviledge are not lost on me.” -Jody Landers

I know Mother’s Day is a hard holiday for a lot of women. Some struggle because of a loss…loss of a mother, loss of a child. Some struggle because of an absence felt in their lives…the absence of the love they should have been given as a child, or perhaps the absence of a child of their own to receive the abundance of love that they so long to give. Like so many holidays it can bring a heartache of loss and disappointment, or simply a mourning for times gone past.  There are expectations and intense emotions connected with the day regardless of what your life story is.

Our life story makes Mother’s day a mixed bag of emotions as well. As we celebrate our family and the blessing of gaining two sons through adoption I can’t help but mourn for the women who lost so much. I wonder if they have come to realize the full consequence of their choices. I wonder if they lie awake at night, regretting the path they took that led them to have their children taken away. I wonder if they are dealing with heartbreak this Mother’s Day as they wonder where their child is this night and what woman is receiving the sticky kisses that should have been theirs.

My heart breaks for the women that bore my sons. I know that the choices they made led them to this point, but I also know that so much of their story is hidden from my eyes. There is so much that I don’t know about the women who have blessed me so abundantly. I don’t know what hurts they lived through to pass those hurts onto their child. I don’t know what emptiness they must have felt to be driven into the arms of such a hurtful man. I don’t know anything about fear so paralyzing that it keeps you from stepping in between the abuser and your innocent child. I don’t know what it must feel like to feel so trapped, so alone, so helpless…

I can not judge the women who bore my sons because,

although I hate what they allowed,

I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around what they must have suffered to allow their child to suffer so.

Who might I have become had I not been blessed by this life I’ve lived? What type of mother would I have become if I had not had such a glorious example in my own mother? At her hands I learned the lessons of self-care, unconditional love, sacrifice for the ones you care about, faith in someone bigger than myself. She showed me what a mother looks like. She showed me how to love.

I have lived a life of privilege..

I have had the privilege of being raised by loving and encouraging parents.

I have had the privilege of never going to bed hungry.

I have had the privilege of being a citizen of a free country.

I have had the privilege of knowing Christ from an early age, learning to pray to Him, and hope in Him.

I have never faced the moral dilemma of having to choose whether to sell my soul, body, and dignity or watch my children go hungry.

I have always had the privilege of clean water and a roof over my head.

I have never known paralyzing fear,

or demoralizing abuse at the hands of an abusive man.

Who is to say what I might have become had I not lived a life of such abundant blessings…

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Like so many other women who face Mother’s Day with sadness, or dread, or fear, or regret…

I wonder today about the mothers who bore my sons.

And I pray for them.

And I give thanks for their sacrifice.

It may not have been a deliberate act of love or sacrifice,

but it is a sacrifice none the less.

I am forever connected to these faceless women whom I have never met.

 I hold the babies that have their eyes and their lips and mannerisms. I dry the tears made by the life lived before I arrived. I tend to the wounds that happened under their care, wounds that perhaps they were unable to prevent or care for themselves.

We share a child, these women and I.

She gave my child life…

and now he is my life.

Today I pray for her,

and all the other women whose tears fall freely on this holiest of days.

Flight 93 National Memorial

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I remember the day as though it were yesterday.

I was heavy with child…very heavy… only three weeks from delivering Rusty.

That day I was enjoying a rare gift of a morning alone as Grace and Molly spent the day with my mother so I could attend my OBGYN appointment without toddlers in tow. Taking advantage of being without children I carved in time for an oil change and a final shopping trip to get the last few items needed before Rusty made his entrance into the world.

I knew something was wrong as soon as I stepped into Walmart that morning. The place was unusually empty and the few souls near the front of the store gathered in small groups speaking in concerned whispers.

I grabbed a cart and began to work my way to the back of the store where diapers were sold. As I approached the electronics department I found out why the store was unusually empty for a Tuesday morning. Standing before the wall of large screen TVs for sale were a hundred or so customers and employees, watching an unprecedented act of terrorism playing out on the TVs. I joined the crowd asking an older man near the back what was going on.

He replied, “The second tower has been hit. They say it is terrorists. We are under attack.”

That Tuesday morning (September 11, 2001) the U.S. came under attack when four commercial airliners were hijacked and used to strike targets on the ground. Nearly 3,000 people tragically lost their lives.

There are moments in our nation’s history that are so tragic, so impactful, so unifying in the grief caused, that it lives in infamy, touching our lives and changing us forever. For my parents generation that was the death of JFK. For my generation it was watching the Challenger explosion.

As I watched the devastation play out on the TV screen I thought to myself, “This is the tragedy that will mark this new generation.”

As I raced to my car, eager to get to my children and husband who were an hour away on the other side of a major U.S city, the news played in my car revealing another attack on the Pentagon and then the crash of Flight 93, just outside of Pittsburgh. I don’t remember how soon after the crash the great act of heroism that took place on that plane was discovered and revealed to the public. I only remember being humbled by the story of 40 passengers that became heroes on that fateful day.

Because of the actions of those 40 passengers and the crew aboard Flight 93 the attack on the U.S. Capitol was thwarted.

The story of their heroism has been memorialized in a beautiful way with the Flight 93 National Memorial.

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What was a common field one day has become a field of honor forever…

And on Monday we had the opportunity to visit, learn more about the events of that day and pay tribute to the heroes that sacrificed all for the sake of many.

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“September 11, 2001 was one of the darkest days in our nation’s recent history, and Flight 93 National Memorial honors some of our strongest heroes.

This was a day our country was shaken to its very foundation. The United States experienced the worst incident of terrorism in its history: the coordinated hijacking of four commercial airliners. Despite the destruction and devastation, stories of courage and heroism emerged.

Shortly after terrorists flew airplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon, the forty passengers and crew members on United Airlines Flight 93 fought a battle in the sky over Pennsylvania. These forty heroes won their battle against terrorists and thwarted a planned attack on our nation’s capital, saving countless numbers of lives, but sacrificing their own in a field just east of Pittsburgh, in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

The story of Flight 93 is a national treasure, a story of hope in human courage and cooperation. When confronted with the gravity of their situation, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 chose to act heroically and sacrifice their lives for their country. These 40 heroes made a democratic decision to fight back against terrorism and thereby thwarted a planned attack on our nation’s capital, saving countless numbers of lives.”

As we entered the National Park we were impressed with the spirit found there. Molly commented on it right away, saying, “You can feel that we have stepped upon sacred ground,” and she was right. There was something powerful, humbling, and even spiritual about this plot of land.

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We parked and walked toward the visitors center which was an architecturally beautiful creation of concrete and glass.

Within its walls the story of that day unfolded.

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The exhibit began with a timeline of events leading up to passengers boarding the plane.

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From there we stepped aboard Flight 93 and suddenly the events of that day became even more compelling and affecting as we walked through the timeline of events leading up to the crash, looked into the eyes of the photos of the heroes that were on the plane, and listened to actual recordings of phone calls made from the plane to loved ones on the ground in the minutes before they charged the cockpit to take back the plane.

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I couldn’t hold back my tears as I listened to actual messages left on the answering machines of loved ones by passengers who were calling to say their final good-byes. The emotions conveyed through those messages were so real and so raw that they turned that historic event into something personal and affecting.

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The exhibit then turned the corner, revealing the power in that crash landing as we looked at the fragments of Flight 93 and saw photos of the crash site. The first-hand accounts of locals who were there at ground zero that morning covered the walls of the exhibit. It was devastating to see.

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But the story didn’t end there. The final wall of the exhibit was dedicated to remembrance, with photos of the heroes, mementoes left at the crash site memorial before a national memorial was established on display, and the Congressional Gold Metals dedicated to the passengers and crew for the heroism they showed that day in saving the multitude of nameless victims that would have perished that day at the Capitol had they not taken down the plane.

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After touring the visitor center we stepped outside to the glass balcony that overlooked the crash site, hallowed ground that is the resting place for the passengers and crew of Flight 93.

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It was a powerful experience that I was glad to share with Ozzie and Molly. It took what was a recording in their history books and made it personal. They gained an understanding of how our country changed that day and learned the meaning of true heroism. We left empowered and inspired to do better and be better, to live worthy of the sacrifice made by countless American heroes over the years who gave all so that we could enjoy the blessings of the life we often take for granted.

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It you have the opportunity to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial I highly recommend it. The cost of admission is free but the affect the experience will have on you…

Is priceless.

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A Time to Heal

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A few weeks ago we received an invitation in the mail to attend a recognition banquet at the Downingtown office of our cyber school. The invitation was for Molly and her family. She was one of the students be honored. We made plans to attend and initially we planned on making it a special mother/daughter trip for just Molly and I.

As Ozzie’s return home neared I watched the kids came to terms with this transition as they individually sorted through the mix of emotions tied to Ozzie’s return home. Molly in particular struggled to reconcile her past hurts and the need to forgive with anxiety that Ozzie would return home unchanged. She had such a desire to forgive and move forward but struggled to let go of the past hurts Ozzie had inflicted and trust that it was safe to emotionally open up to him. I saw the conflict playing out as she worked to forgive and move forward. My heart broke for her and Ozzie and all the other kids because I knew the hard emotional journey before her…before us all.

I also saw the spiritual maturity she showed as she approached those struggles humbly and prayerfully. As her recognition banquet approached she came to me to ask my thoughts on inviting Ozzie to come along on her special mother/daughter weekend. It was with great love she decided to set aside her own selfish desires and invite Ozzie along, hoping that some one-on-one time and special shared experiences might serve as a healing balm to past hurts.

When she extended the invitation to Ozzie he too was touched and motivated by her desire to heal their relationship and move forward, so he reciprocated her efforts with his own and decided to treat Molly to a fun, shared experience.

While he was at Harborcreek RTF Ozzie had the opportunity to earn “allowance” for daily chores and community work. After returning home he received a check in the mail closing his account. He decided to use a portion of that check to do something special for Molly on the trip and make a memory that was just theirs to share.

As a Mom I was touched and moved by both of their desires to forgive, heal and mend their relationship as siblings and the maturity and selflessness they each showed in sacrificing their own selfish desires for something bigger than themselves…

So, on Monday morning we left on a road trip of hope and healing as we headed east to Downingtown.

After a few stops along the way we made it to our hotel. Molly and Ozzie reveled in the fun of staying at a hotel,

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Swimming in the hotel pool,

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And enjoying the most delicious complementary breakfast I have ever seen at a hotel!

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After breakfast we got dolled up and ready to head over to the school for Molly’s recognition banquet and lunch with her teachers.

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The celebration began with a catered lunch of salmon, zucchini patties, chicken and macaroni and cheese. We enjoyed picnicking outside with the Hudak’s who were also there for Tatum’s recognition.

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After lunch we moved inside where a board meeting was taking place.

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There, in front of the board and their families, two dozen students were recognized and honored for achievements apart from their academics.

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It was a delight to see Tatum and Molly celebrated for their charitable endeavors.

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After they received their awards we stuck around long enough to visit with some of their learning coaches and teachers, both past and present.

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Ozzie was over the moon to get to see his learning coach, Halley Scarpignato, who surprised Ozzie with a new 21CCCS t-shirt.

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After saying our good-byes we were on the road, headed back home with a fun stop along the way.

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(In the next blog I will share some of the fun Molly and Ozzie shared these last two days.)

It was two days of healing and connecting for two of my kiddos.

Forgiveness isn’t easy.

Letting go of past hurts is hard.

Trusting those who have disappointed you requires faith,

And moving forward requires a certain level of selfless surrender…

But I know healing can be found in the most torn relationships if you can surrender the pain to the Heavenly Healer…

The same healer who turned water to wine, brought sight to the blind, calmed storms, and raised men from death…

I testify that God can take relationships left in ashes and breathe life into what was destroyed, making it better than before.

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I know this to be true…

I’m watching it happen.

I like Dirt on my Diamonds

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I’ll say this for baseball…

It is much easier on the old ticker!

When compared to soccer or football, in which I find myself with tensed muscles and elevated blood pressure for 1-2 hours, baseball is like a walk in the park or a yoga session.

 I am loving it.

The fact that Tyler is playing baseball this year is a real testament to his growth and is reflective of how far he has come. Two or three years ago he would have been incapable of participating in such a slow moving sport. The down time on the bench, as he waited for his turn at bat, would have been impossible for him to manage. Our journey into the world of organized sports began on the soccer field where Tyler would spend 2 hours each week running back and forth up a field and then go home and sleep hard. The next step was football. There was more down time in this sport as he waited on the sidelines to be sent in by the coach, but when he was on the field he played hard and came home sweaty and exhausted.

This year he asked if he could try baseball.

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Once again I had to step outside my comfort zone as I’ve learned the intricacies of a new sport. There was definitely a learning curve as I navigated the task of picking a bat (who knew any old bat wouldn’t do?) and shopping for a glove. Rather than afternoons spent kicking a soccer ball back and forth with Tyler I am now dodging flying balls as I work to reach up for the hard, white ball flying at my face rather than closing my eyes and ducking.

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But despite the growing pains of stepping into a new and unfamiliar world, I am finding I really enjoy baseball. There is something so laid back about this sport compared to the aggression  of football and the fast pace of soccer. It feels like the lazy days of summer, despite the fact it is only May, as we spend our evenings stretched out on picnic blankets cheering on Tyler and his teammates from the hillside overlooking the ball field as the sun falls toward the horizon.

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It is so relaxed and fun.

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Tyler too has undergone his own growing pains as he navigates this new world. He is definitely late to the party, joining boys who have been playing baseball for years, but that hasn’t deterred him in the least. He has enjoyed learning a new sport and has enjoyed his coaches and teammates, many of which were already friends thanks to past football seasons.

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We are looking forward to a great season cheering on #5…

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As we step into the world of dirt and diamonds.

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Brace Face #3

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Well it is official, we are on to our third child in braces.

This time it was Tyler’s turn.

When we adopted Tyler I was tempted to check out his bite, much like an old time horse trader. Having just stepped into the world of orthodontics with Grace I knew how expensive a cute but crooked smile at age 6 could end up costing at age 12, but despite the potential orthodontics seen in the tarot cards we took the plunge, fully and completely smitten with that little man and his crooked smile.  😉

Tyler, now down to two baby teeth left in his mouth, was ready for an evaluation at the orthodontist office, and while Dr. Gulland has been our go-to orthodontist in the past we found ourselves in a different situation with Ozzie and Tyler because their health insurance (the health insurance they brought with them as previous foster children) does cover the cost of braces, but only through certain orthodontist offices. This gave us the financial incentive to consider someone other than Dr. Gulland for the boys’ orthodontic needs. I hated to say good-bye to the incredible staff at Dr. G’s office but couldn’t justify staying, simply out of loyalty, at a cost of $6000 per kid.

Luckily one of the approved providers on the list was Dr. Spokane, an orthodontist just minutes from our house. Two months ago we made our first visit to his office and found the 8 minute drive far more convenient than the 45 minutes we drove to our Dr. G appointments in Hermitage.

That appointment confirmed all that our dentist had been saying. Tyler, indeed, was a candidate for braces. In fact they deemed it medically necessary due to two impacted adult upper canine teeth that are turned sideways and unable to come down on their own.

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Once the treatment plan was sent to the insurance company and approved we scheduled Tyler’s appointment to become Brace Face #3 at Patchwork Farm.

 

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The “Before” picture

Yesterday we arrived at his appointment at 11:15 am. He was excited and a bit nervous as we waited for him to be called back. The days leading up to the appointment were filled with inquiries as he peppered Grace and Rusty (the braces experts at our house) with questions about what life would be like as a “brace face.”

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He was then called back and while I waited a staff member went over all the information I needed to know as a Spokane family. She walked me through the appointment reminder system, showed me how to navigate the website, and explained the reward system they use with patients that allows the kids to earn gift cards by making good decisions during their orthodontic journey. Much like Dr. G’s office, they are rewarded for things like good oral hygiene, arriving on time for appointments, and wearing their Spokane t-shirt. They also are offered other fun incentives to earn points that collect and can be cashed in for gift cards to places like Amazon.

I was soon called back to check out Tyler’s new smile and boy was he cute!

The staff member then went over the guidelines and directions for braces care with Tyler and I and gave him his kit of supplies that held things like braces floss and wax to place on the metal where it rubs in his mouth.

We left with our next appointment scheduled for 6 weeks out, when Tyler will return for his second appointment, and Ozzie will be seen for the first time for his initial evaluation.

When we left Tyler was feeling great. The doctor encouraged us to grab some lunch right away before Tyler’s mouth started hurting and to get some pain medication in him at the same time.

As we drove home Tyler kept admiring himself in the mirror, loving his new colorful smile. (He chose red and white bands.) He informed me that he now matched his buddy Carter and that his other buddy, Jonathan, would be getting braces soon as well.

“And then we will all be Braces Bros,” he declared with a grin.

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The “After” picture

By nighttime he was feeling the effect of having a mouth full of metal pulling on his teeth. Dinner consisted of a milkshake, as chewing was too painful. Grace and Rusty were helpful and encouraging as they explained that the pain and drooling would be short lived and in a few days his mouth would get used to the braces. After a second dose of pain meds he was able to finally fall asleep.

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Another monumental day at Patchwork Farm packaged in pain and drool!

 

A Small Spark…

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We saw the smoke before we saw the flames.

Driving down our road we were taken by surprise to see smoke rising from the hillside across the street from our home.

As we neared the field we discovered the entire hillside in flames.

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My heart raced as I fumbled to unlock the screen of my cell phone, find the button that allows me to dial (buried within the apps that litter my phone), and dial 911.

It was just Tyler in the car with me. Being my child who is actually extremely competent and calm in emergency situations, he pointed out that the flames were slowly climbing the hillside toward the natural gas well at the top of the hillside. He calmly suggested we finish our phone call from down the street, “You know, just in case everything blows up.”

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The dispatcher informed  us that police and fire fighters would arrive shortly and that they would want to speak with me, so Tyler and I hung out at the end of the driveway, a safe distance away from the flames rolling across the hillside.

A member from the fire department was the first to arrive and the first to question whether we had seen any other vehicles on the road before he took off in his truck to search for the potential arsonist before returning to us to have a longer conversation.

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After being assured that our home wasn’t at risk and there was no risk of explosion we settled in across the street from the fire, well out of the way of the police and firemen who spilled onto the scene, and watched as the fire was brought under control.

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This is the second fire on our road in the last two weeks, but one of many that evidently have been taking place in our township. We told the fireman who was first of the scene that a week prior two mattresses had been dumped on the edge of the road, near the bottom of our driveway, and a few days later were set on fire.

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We were blessed that it had been a wet week because the damage was contained to a small area near the road. Had it been drier or windier we could have lost everything…and everyone…

The thought of all that could have been lost, as a result of someone else’s criminal mischief, is sobering.

This particular fire was also set by someone who had disposed of an old couch on the side of the road a few days prior and then returned Wednesday afternoon to light it on fire. I suspect we missed crossing paths with this individual by only minutes. The couch was still smoldering when we came upon the fire. On that day, however, the elements didn’t work to our advantage. The drier grass and higher winds made the flames spread quickly.

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We were so grateful for the quick response by so many emergency personnel who arrived on the scene and made quick work of subduing a dangerous situation.

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An hour later the ground was no longer burning…no longer smoldering, but the effects of one small spark was evident in the charred ground that had replaced the tall, blowing grasses .

I have been thinking a lot about the power found within a small spark…

Power for destruction or power for good.

A few years ago we had the opportunity to visit Sequoia National Park as part of our cross-country road trip. There are no words that can adequately describe the awe- inducing wonder of standing beside one of these mammoth trees.

Giant sequoias are the world’s largest single tree and largest living thing by volume. Giant sequoias grow to an average height of 164–279 feet and 20–26 feet in diameter. Record trees have been measured to be 311 feet in height.

The oldest known giant sequoia based on ring count is 3,500 years old. Giant sequoias are among the oldest living things  on Earth.

While visiting Sequoia National Park we learned more about these trees and one thing that stood out to me and left an impression was the important role fire plays in the life of a Sequoia tree. While many forests would find destruction at the hands of a forest fire, the Sequoia tree finds life….

“The Giant Sequoia  is truly the most awesome species in the Sierra Nevada ecosystem. As in other living communities, sequoia groves – and the mixed conifer forests that contain them – have evolved with and adapted to natural processes that must continue if the community is to remain healthy. Fire is one of the major processes essential to the health of giant sequoia groves.
In the early 1960s, Dr. Richard Hartesveldt explored the connection between fire and sequoia regeneration. His small-scale prescribed fires followed nearly a century of fire suppression, and resulted in the germination of sequoia seeds and the recruitment of sequoia seedlings – something that had not occurred in the absence of fire.
Since those first experiments, researchers have further shown the benefits to sequoias from fire. Dendrochronology has determined that low intensity surface fires swept through the big trees approximately every 5 to 15 years. Sequoias rely on fire to release most seeds from their cones, to expose bare mineral soil in which seedlings can take root, to recycle nutrients into the soil, and to open holes in the forest canopy through which sunlight can reach young seedlings.” -National Park Service

Not only is the Sequoia tree designed to withstand the destructive power of fire. The tree actually finds life within those very same flames.

It takes the heat of fire to cause the cones of the tree to open and drop its seeds, leading to new life in the Sequoia forests.

What a beautiful analogy for life.

We are all hit with unexpected sparks in life…

Sparks that can turn into raging infernos of destruction.

Quite often these sparks are set by those intending to harm, while other times they are simply a side effect of life here on earth, like the strike of lightning during a summer storm.

Sometimes we are the “fire starters,” making choices that lead to destructive consequences.

Sometimes these sparks can be contained and managed, but often we find ourselves being hit with the hot wind of an out-of-control inferno that is beyond our ability to battle…we simply must ride out the tragedy and wait for the fire to burn out, hoping that the destruction isn’t too great.

 

In the wild fire seasons of life it is easy to become so consumed with survival in the midst of destruction that we don’t even notice the  hardened scales of our conifer cones opening under the heat of adversity, allowing seeds of new life to fall to the blackened ground.

Often it isn’t until the fire storm has passed that we see the bright shoots of green pressing up from the soil around us bringing with it hope, promises of healing, and the gift of new life.

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The same field (10 days later) as life burst forth from the charred soil…

Much like the Giant Sequoias, we have been through the fire and now find ourselves at the other end of this particular inferno. We are seeing the work of God sprouting up from destruction.

We have witnessed God’s promise:

That in life the greatest trials often give birth to the greatest blessings.

I testify this to be true.

 

Finding Healing through Horses

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Both Tyler and Ozzie have been on a journey to find healing through horses. For Ozzie, that therapeutic journey is just beginning, but for Tyler we are now eight months into his equine experience.

Both boys receive equine therapy through Glade Run Adventures, and although both boys work with the same therapist their sessions look very different. This is because each program is built around each client’s particular needs.

At the start of each boy’s therapeutic journey with Glad Run Adventures we sat down and discussed our goals for the program and the unique strengths and struggles of each child. The program was then tailored to meet that child’s needs.

For Tyler our goal for equine therapy was increased mindfulness, decreased anxiety, increased confidence, and trauma healing. We know that one of the most successful therapeutic tools for Tyler is animals. He connects with animals easily and is able to open up and express emotions with animals in a way that traditional talk therapy doesn’t  always work.

Tyler has found a level of comfort and confidence on the back of his horse that isn’t always seen in other areas of his life. He LOVES equine therapy and has blossomed under this form of therapeutic care.

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After eight months of lessons he is now capable and comfortable grooming his own horse, mounting and dismounting independently, walking and trotting. This last week he was thrilled to discover he had graduated from lessons in the arena to his first trail ride. This was a big deal because he is “drove” his horse without the leading of his therapist. She followed as he took the lead.

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Ozzie’s first lesson was this past Wednesday. He also has an overall goal of trauma healing but has other objectives that differ from Tyler. For Ozzie our therapeutic goals include connecting and empathizing with his horse, mindfulness, body awareness, and sensory imput. Both my boys have sensory seeking behaviors- something that is commonly seen in children from hard places- but Ozzie’s added diagnoses of autism increases the need for sensory input even more. Our hope is that we will be able to really feed that need through horse therapy. Because Ozzie’s goals are a bit different than Tyler’s goals, more of Ozzie’s lesson time will be spent off the horse and focused on grooming. By grooming an animal Ozzie will be able to learn how to connect through showing care to another.

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He will strengthen his ability to read social cues by watching the horse’s reactions. He will get bathed in a sensory rich environment as he pets, brushes and squeezes the animal. He favorite think to do is rub his face in his horse’s mane.

Equine therapy is just one more tool we are applying to help our boys find help and healing.

Here is a little more information on this therapeutic tool as taken from equestriantherapy.com:

“Equestrian therapy (also known as equine therapy or equine-assisted therapy) is a form of therapy that makes use of horses to help promote emotional growth. Equestrian therapy is particularly applied to patients with ADD, anxiety, autism, dementia, delay in mental development, down syndrome and other genetic syndromes, depression, trauma and brain injuries, behavior and abuse issues and other mental health issues.

In many instances, riders with disabilities have proven their remarkable equestrian skills in various national and international competitions. This is the reason why equestrian therapy has been recognized as an important area in the medical field in many countries.

Equestrian or equine therapy is also an effective technique for many therapists to teach troubled youth on how they learn, react and follow instructions. For example in a  beginners’ horse therapy, a student may be asked to get the horse move outside of a circle without even touching it. Students may try to clap, yell and whistle but the horse won’t heed the signal. In the same manner, parents, friends and others who are part of a troubled youth’s therapy would learn that yelling, clapping and forcing would not be the best way to make the person do something.

Why horses for therapy

Horses are the most popularly used animal for therapy although elephants, dolphins, cats and dogs may also be used. This is because horses have the ability to respond immediately and give feedback to the rider’s action or behavior. Horses are also able to mirror the rider’s emotion.

The basis of the therapy is that because horses behave similarly like human beings do in their social and responsive behavior; it is always easy for patients to establish connection with the horse.

Therapeutic benefits of equestrian training

People with cognitive, psycho-motor and behavioral disabilities have shown positive results when equestrian or equine therapy is taught correctly by certified equine therapists. Just like other therapies such as physical, occupational and speech-language therapy, people with disabilities are being helped or assisted by certified therapists to cope with their disability like regular or normal people can. However, equine therapy combines all three in such a way that the patients or students do not feel that they are actually under therapy.

In the process, equestrian or equine therapy aims for its patients or students to:

  • Build sense of self-worth, self-concept
  • Improve communication
  • Build trust and self-efficiency
  • Develop socialization skills and decrease isolation
  • Learn impulse control and emotional management
  • Set perspective

Equine therapeutic activities

What are the equine-related activities for therapeutic purposes? The activities are not limited to horseback riding. Many students may feel intimidated by the horse’s size and features and may take some time to develop trust when around the horse. So included in the therapy program are lessons on horse care, horse grooming, saddling and basic equestrian.

How does equine therapist suit the activity to the patient’s needs? The process or technique to be applied during the session depends on the type of disorder and its severity. But the primary techniques are:

  • Cognitive therapy
  • Practicing activities
  • Activity scheduling
  • Play therapy
  • Storytelling and talk therapy

Watch this video from Oprah Show on how equine therapy helps an army veteran cope with post traumatic stress.