Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Sweet End to a Bitter Beginning

Standard

multiple

Sometimes I feel as though my life has “Multiple Personality Disorder,” with multiple lifetimes occurring at the same time under the umbrella of one life.  

(Let me reiterate: My LIFE,  not my child)

Much like made for TV character that transforms from controlled to chaotic, kind to cruel, joyful to drowning in despair, our life has evolved into a hair raising, out of control ride…

Stable one minute,

 completely derailed the next.

We find ourselves living in a constant state of hyper alert watchfulness.

We spend the minutes of our day always assessing, monitoring, and anticipating what sight, smell, sound, thought or memories will transform our life from calm, controlled and happy, to raging, fearful and hopeless.

It is a hard way to live, and the effect of past traumas on my already struggling son, can result in a whole family in crisis.

The last 24 hours have been surreal, and as I sat down to record the reality of our life  I debated breaking the happenings of the last day between two blogs, one reporting the good and the other reporting the struggles, but I stopped myself. Our life can not and will not be compartmentalized. As much as I crave the order and control of defining my days in the black and white categories of “good days or bad days,”  the reality of our life is that most days are a messy mix of trauma driven struggles and merciful moments of goodness and joy.

This particular pocket of time began Friday night with heartache.

We are all living out the effects of the early childhood trauma that has reduced my once happy boy into a child filled with despair and hopelessness.

At the root of Ozzie’s hurt is a deep-seated belief, a belief that was planted in his tender soul by abusive parents from the time he was small, that he deserves the abuse he endured, that he is not worthy of anything better, and  as a result he has decided he will sentence himself to a life of hurt and abuse if no one else will meet that request.

“What won’t you just punch me?” he will yell in desperation,

“I just need someone to hurt me!”


When those desperate requests are answered with tokens of love, nurturing acts, and additional support, he lashes out in desperation, hurting the very people who are offering him a safe harbor from the pain.

His behaviors have escalated.  

His desperation has increased.

He is determined to hurt.

He is terrified of being loved and will do anything to keep the thing he fears most, attachment to his adoptive family, at bay.

He is drowning in new flashbacks of horrific acts of abuse and is desperate to quiet the voices in his head.

 All he wants is a way out.

All I want is to keep him safe.

So my life has become a 24/7 vigil, as I work to protect him from himself. Every possible threat has been locked up, and cameras have been installed around the home, allowing for extra eyes of protection on him at all times. I don’t walk away. I don’t take a break. I am on guard. Fighting for this child who can’t fight for himself.

Things escalated to a new level last Friday when he wrote out a plan of how he was going to take his life.

Back to the Emergency Room we went.

Back to be assessed and monitored.

Back to inpatient care for another stay and another shot at stabilization.

By the time the ambulance arrived to take him back to the juvenile mental hospital that he was discharged from just weeks ago, my heart was heavy… heavier than it has ever been. There I stood, staying goodbye to my child who looks and acts more like a ten-year-old than a 13-year-old, in the hallway of the ER at 4:30 in the morning, weary.

So weary of the fight.

So weary of the battles.

So weary of the constant vigilance.

So weary of trying to hold onto hope in the midst of hopelessness.

So weary of trying to keep my family intact in the midst of constant battles against the trauma of Ozzie’s past.

So weary of smiling through the tears and finding the good in an absurdly bad situation.

So weary of being the Mom…the one who must remain hopeful, positive, optimistic and strong. The one who must help everyone else ride the waves of RAD and help the other children process the secondary PTSD occurring in the home. Being the one who must help create normalcy for the rest of the family in a situation that is anything but normal.

But weary or not, we go on.

I climbed into the car, exhausted down to the tips of my toes, drove home and crawled into bed to get a few hours of sleep before a new day began. It was going to be a full day of packing for Girls’ Camp (where I will be serving as a level leader over the 7th year girls) and then our annual strawberry picking, because despite how crazy the night was the dawn will come and the show must go on. There are other people in my family who need me, so I wake up day after day, and keep on keeping on…

Praying for strength.

Praying for grace.

Praying for hope.

Praying for wisdom.

Praying for the capacity to forgive…

And praying that there was a caffeinated Diet Coke in the fridge to fuel my efforts. 😉

From suicide watch to strawberry picking in a 12 hour stretch…

because that’s how we roll.

IMG_5943

Did I mention my life has Multiple Personality Disorder?

Over the last 7 or 8 years we have enjoyed the annual tradition of going strawberry picking as a family. It always seems to fall on the Saturday before Father’s Day, resulting in many strawberry themed treats for the day.

When we moved into this house we were introduced to Catalpa Farms by friends, when they invited us to go pea picking with them one year.

Since then Catalpa’s has been our go-to “you pick” farm in the area.

IMG_5940

Saturday was chaos (understatement of the year!) and really not the ideal day to go berry picking, but knowing the unavailability of free Saturdays for the next two weeks, and knowing how short-lived strawberry season is, it was now or never.

So, after a hard, traumatic previous 12 hours, we rallied as only the McCleerys can, gathered our strawberry boxes, and headed to Ohio.

Grace had spent the day working, while Molly and I packed and prepped for Girls’ Camp. At the end of Gracie’s shift, we drove over, picked her up, and drove out to Catalpa’s for some strawberry picking.

IMG_5934

Since we arrived at 4:00 in the afternoon, there was no one left in the field (pickers or field bosses) so we had free reign to pick anywhere we wanted in rows 1 and 2.

IMG_5903

We are accustomed to arriving early in the morning with dozens of other families and being given a small stretch of field to strip clean. It was kind of fun to be able to roam freely and have the farm to ourselves.

IMG_5904

Since Ozzie was back at the hospital, it was just the six of us picking. We knew we only had an hour until closing so we made quick work of berry picking.

IMG_5915

The job moved at a much quicker clip than usual, with the freedom of being able to move around the field, searching for untouched patches thick with strawberries.

IMG_5923

What a beautiful crop they had this year. The strawberries were large and sweet…a rare combination.

IMG_5924

One of the many reasons we love this “you pick” farm is because of their encouragement to “eat as you pick.” The kids love biting into sun-warmed, just-off-the-vine berries. It becomes a “one for me, one for the basket” dance of indulgence as the strawberry cartons slowly fill.

IMG_5911

We did well. In our hour, we managed to fill 24 quarts to overflowing…

IMG_5936

And I felt my heart lightening and my soul healing a bit under the rays of the afternoon sun.

IMG_5920

We finished at 5:00pm and headed back to the front to pay and treat ourselves to our traditional berry picking reward for our hard work: homemade strawberry slushies.

IMG_5947

Made from crushed ice and their home-grown strawberries, this sweet nectar of the gods is incredible…a perfect way to end our strawberry picking fun at Catalpa Farms!

Then it was back home for hours and hours of cleaning, hulling, chopping and canning of strawberry treats for us to enjoy in the upcoming year.

IMG_5951

From heartbreak to happy moment,

The tides turn as quick as that…

All within 24 hours.

A sweet end to a bitter beginning.

bitter-sweet-life-quotes.htm

 

Olivia’s Graduation Gift

Standard

P1100248

Miss Lana hit it out of the ballpark and won major “mom points” when she gifted Oliva with a night away with her best friend as her graduation gift to Olivia…

And my girls were recipients of Olivia’s good fortune.

The talk began months ago when the girls began discussing  how much fun it would be to get a hotel room and have a spa/shopping night away after graduation.

Miss Lana decided to grant Olivia’s wish as her graduation gift. There was talk about whether this special night would be reserved just for the two graduates, Olivia and Grace, or whether they would invite their two little sisters to join them. In the end Olivia decided if a party of two was fun, then a party of four was even better!

The preparations that led up to this night away began weeks ago as the girls started making plans. They decided to have dinner at the hotel and bring all the makings to fix the food in the kitchenette that was in their room.

They knew they wanted a spa-like experience and planned accordingly, packing things like face masks, cucumber slices, sparkling flavored waters, and the ingredients to make bath bombs.

Following in the tradition of their mothers’ annual scrapbooking weekend, they decided they would all exchange goody bags and gifts with each other.

In the end Miss Lana’s packed van looked much like it does when we go away scrapbooking…filled with clothes, food, craft supplies, and gifts for each other. These girls have learned from the best! When we go away we do it right!

P1100246

The girls began their night away on Wednesday afternoon when Miss Lana dropped them off at their fancy hotel room for the night.

P1100247P1100257

The hotel was located next to Grove City Outlet Mall, allowing for some fun shopping and retail therapy, in addition to all the fun activities they had planned for in the room.

P1100447.JPG

They began their adventure by exchanging patches. Each girl was instructed to bring a denim shirt and 6-9 patches to exchange, that were reflective of each friend. It was fun to see what each girl picked for each other. The patches were exchanged and fastened on, creating fun “matching” tops for them to wear shopping the following day.

P1100250P1100292P1100451

Then they headed out to do a little exploring before dinner,

P1100325

With a swim in the pool,

P1100270

P1100271

Some fun at the gym,

P1100266

And a stroll over to the mall.

P1100306

Then it was time for dinner. Their hotel room had a fun kitchen and dining area in the room which allowed the girls to make a fancy dinner with the food they brought and sit down for a nice meal together.

P1100256

They made Chicken Caesar Salad, mashed potatoes, fiesta dip and cookie dough dip.

P1100277P1100327

After dinner they exchanged their gifts.

P1100332

Each of the girls was incredibly creative.

Grace made custom mugs using a technique she found on Pinterest with nail polish, and filled them with socks, and manicure supplies.

IMG_5887

Olivia made homemade pillows for each girl that were decorated with a quote they are known for saying.

P1100339P1100343

Tatum got each girl socks, a cute water bottle filled with candy, and hand sanitizers that attach to their bags.

P1100337

Molly also bought each girl a pair of socks, as well as lotion and these cute inflatable floating cup holders for the pool…which they tried out in the tub.

P1100377

Then it was time for spa night to begin.

P1100397

They began by making homemade bath bombs which were used in the tub to soak their feet.

P1100351P1100365

Then it was time for face masks. Tatum picked up funny emoji face masks for each girl to try.

P1100378P1100379P1100380P1100382

Then it was time for facials.

P1100399

P1100386P1100394P1100385

The next morning the girls were up and moving by 8:30 am, so as to enjoy the complimentary breakfast offered by the hotel,

P1100407

as well as get in a little swimming before it was time to check out of their room.

P1100413

The manager was kind enough to allow them to stow their gear in the office while they went shopping at the outlet mall for a few hours before Miss Lana was scheduled to pick them up.

At Grove City Outlets they found some incredible deals and had a blast shopping at stores like Rue 21, Claire’s, Bath and Body Works, Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory, and Peace Love and Little Donuts.

P1100446P1100432P1100322

P1100419P1100428P1100421P1100422

It was a epic ending to an amazing 24 hours.

P1100454

Happy graduation, Olivia!

Thanks for sharing your gift with my girls!

 

 

Gracie’s Graduation Gift

Standard

IMG_5861

Once Gracie had received her diploma it was time to present her with her graduation gift.

I knew I wanted to do something special and personal for Gracie’s graduation gift. She isn’t a girl who puts a lot of value in material possessions. Gifts are not her love language. The love languages that speak to her heart are quality time and words of affirmation. She is much more affected and moved by gifts that are homemade, personal, and sentimental. She would much rather receive a heartfelt letter or framed photo than a new outfit or gadget.

Knowing that her primary love language is quality time, and knowing that because many of the people who mean the most to her wouldn’t be able to actually be with her on her graduation day, I thought a scrapbook of letters would be the next best thing.

The words penned by loved ones would serve as a meaningful testament of their love for her.

The last time I created a gift like this was for my grandfather’s 90th birthday when we presented him with a collection of love letters from friends and family. In those letters we all shared with him the great impact he had on all of our lives, how he had touched us and molded us into who we are today, and shared stories of our favorite memories.

He was moved to tears.

When I became young women’s president at church I stepped into a long standing tradition of the presidency gathering letters written to our graduating seniors (by their friends, teachers and family) that were compiled into a book that they could take with them to college.

Since that time that tradition has died away, but I knew that I wanted Grace to receive her “senior book,” so I decided to resurrect the tradition personally for each of my kids when they graduate high school. Grace was my first recipient.

A few months ago I sent out form letters with self-addressed return envelopes to all our family, family friends, previous school/co-op/church teachers, tutors, coaches and church leaders, asking them to write Grace a letter sharing their memories of her and words of advice that she could take with her as she ventures into her future.

The response was amazing and full of love. Dozens of special people from her life took the time to sit and write Grace a personal letter.

As the envelopes began trickling into my mailbox I was able to sit and read your words of love. I secured each note into a scrapbook to preserve these special words for Grace to treasure into the future.

IMG_5866

Each letter was placed with love and adorned with papers, stickers and photos, reflective of the letter and the author of the letter.

IMG_5863

Each note was so different and so perfect.

IMG_5891

On Saturday night, following graduation, we took Grace out for dinner and presented her with her graduation gift from us…and from all of you.

IMG_5895

And she too was touched by the great outpouring of love and care.

img_5899.jpg

This humble book is worth more than the greatest of treasures, containing priceless words of advice, sweet memories to reflect back on, and words of love from the people who have helped mold her into the young lady she is today.

IMG_5901.JPG

Thank you for your gift to Grace…

Thank you for loving my baby girl.

Graduation Day!

Standard

Saturday marked the end of one journey and the start of the next one.

It was the day my first born walked on stage, dressed in a cap and gown, and graduated high school.

It was an action-packed day that began at 10:15 am and stretched to 3:00 pm, packed full of graduation day activities.

IMG_5699

Unlike a local high school that might spread graduation preparation over a weeks’ time, 21st Century has to make it all happen in one day. Many of their families have traveled far distances to be there and are only there for the day, so all the activities that lead up to graduation day for seniors must fit into one five-hour period.

But they orchestrated what could have been pure chaos, beautifully.

We woke early Saturday morning and went down to the lobby of the hotel to meet the Hudaks for breakfast. We knew better than to dress everyone before we ate, so it was breakfast first, followed by everyone getting dolled up in their Sunday best.

IMG_5495 (2)IMG_5496 (2)

Then it was off to the local high school where our charter school was holding the commencement ceremony.

IMG_5684 (2)IMG_5681IMG_5687 (2)IMG_5691 (2)

We arrived to find what can only be described as a “well-oiled machine.”

We were greeted and welcomed at the door by teachers and directed where to go. Toby had Gracie’s school laptop and was sent in one direction to get in line to return it. Grace and Olivia were sent to get in line to receive their senior gift bags which contained a complimentary yearbook and a 21CCCS alumni t-shirt.

IMG_5726 (2)

While the seniors were off preparing for graduation the families waited in the cafeteria where the school had catered a lunch for the families to enjoy while they waited for the graduation ceremony to begin.

IMG_5706 (2)

While we were eating and visiting, Olivia and Grace were kept busy behind the scenes.

IMG_5715

First, they got fitted for their caps and gowns. Lana and I stepped in to watch the process and that is when the emotions fully hit. Watching our babies have their graduation caps pinned to their heads made it all real. Lana expressed my emotions best when she said, “How can this be? I just brought her home from the hospital yesterday.”

IMG_5722 (2)IMG_5718 (2)

Then Grace and Olivia donned their National Honor Society medallions for being members of the NHS presidency.

IMG_5858 (2)

After hugs and a few tears, we let them move on to their next station, “graduation photos,” where they had a professional photographer taking graduation portraits of each senior in their cap and gown.

Once each senior moved through the line it was time for the graduating class to do a few practice runs before the actual ceremony began.

While we waited in the cafeteria the other kids kept busy with the photo booth,

IMG_5728 (2)

Playing games on Toby’s phone,

IMG_5732

Napping,

IMG_5730

Playing card games,

IMG_5737

And visiting with their teachers.

Each of the kids wanted to get a photo with their learning coach.

IMG_5711 (2)

Ozzie and Mrs. Scarpignato

IMG_5713 (2)

Molly and Mr. Winterode (Coach)

IMG_5712 (2)

Rusty and Ms. Heleniak

We have been blessed with such awesome learning coaches over the years at this school, so perfectly fitted to each of my kids’ personalities and exactly what each has needed to find success.

In fact, Gracie really credits her first learning coach, Mr. Dolan, who has since moved away, as the catalyst for her success in high school and the reason she wants to be a special education teacher. She has personally experienced the impact an invested, caring teacher who believes in you, can have on the life of a student with a learning disability, and wants to pay it forward and have that same impact on another student like herself.

When Mr. Dolan moved away Grace was crushed. But God knew what he was doing and He sent what Grace needed next in the form of Mrs. McGuire, her learning coach for her remaining two years in the school. Mr. Dolan helped Grace see the ability within her disability and helped her believe in her capabilities…just what 9th grade Grace needed. Mrs. McGuire stepped in and was the catalyst for dreaming big dreams and showing Grace that she could do anything she wants with those abilities. Both were powerful influences in Gracie’s life when she most needed to learn those lessons.

Grace received the thrill of her life on Saturday when both of her learning coaches came to graduation. Mr. Dolan, who now lives out of state, surprised his graduating students by showing up for their special day.

IMG_5819 (2)

Grace was moved to tears to have both of these important people there to celebrate her achievement. She never thought she would see Mr. Dolan again and now Mrs. McGuire will be leaving the school to follow her husband across the country to California. What a gift Grace received in being able to share this moment with them before they all go their separate ways!

IMG_5829 (2)

It was soon time to head to the auditorium for the commencement exercises. Tatum, Lucas and Molly were asked (as members of National Honor Society) to stand at the doors and hand out programs.

We picked up our programs and waited for the ceremony to begin.

IMG_5741 (2)

The students walked in and the tears began.

The girls looked so grown up and pretty.

P1100211 (2)

They were seated on stage and the School principal stood up to welcome the families and introduce the speakers. Grace was the first of three students who were chosen to speak at graduation.

Here is what she had to say:

“In 1986 a man by the name of Robert Fulghum published a piece of prose titled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” This humorous, yet insightful, piece of literature revealed that the most important life lessons do not happen at graduate school but in the sandbox of our childhood. Following Mr. Fulghum’s example I would like to summarize the lessons I have learned these last four years in a piece I call, “All I really need to know I learned at 21st Century Cyber Charter School.”

Here are some of the life lessons I have learned:

·         I learned that the teachers want to be your friend. From your very first orientation day they wanted to get to know you. They wanted to know your likes and dislikes. They didn’t just want to be your teacher but also your ally. In life, we all need allies.

·         From Ms. Cloetingh I have learned that sometimes you just have to sit down and paint. Einstein said, “Creativity is contagious.” At 21st Century it is a downright epidemic! Between mural club, the art and literary magazine, and a variety of music and drawing classes, creativity flows through the veins of this school, teaching students how to share their soul with the world.

·         I learned that having one person believe in you and your ability can change you. Mr. Dolan was that one person for me. Mr. Dolan used to be a teacher in this school. He believed in me and my abilities, which helped me believe in myself.

·         I learned that there is a leader within all of us. As a student with a learning disability I never thought I would be accepted as a member of National Honor Society, much less serve as president of National Honor Society my senior year. It is through the support of great teachers and the belief I had in my own abilities that I discovered a leader within me that I didn’t realize existed. There is a leader within all of us.

·         I learned that raising your hand, multiple times in a row, while in the VO won’t help you get help any faster. I bet many teachers can attest that they can often hear the sweet music of the many hands of students being raised. As students, we had to learn how to be patient, but we also learned we would always get the help we needed. We must find the right balance of patience and self-advocacy as we seek out the right people to support us in our journey.

·         I learned that untraditional friendships can often be the best kinds of friendships. I find it funny when people have the misconception that cyber school students are backwards or unsocial just because they don’t interact with their peers face to face in a traditional classroom. The friendships I have made with fellow students and teachers are not only authentic but deep and meaningful. It may not be a traditional way of making friends, but the friendships I have made at 21st Century mean the world to me.

·         (Signed in American Sign Language) I learned that it takes courage to pursue your passion. Mrs. McGuire really helped me learn this. She helped me have the courage to pursue my own passion for American Sign Language. This fall I plan to begin school to become an American Sign Language interpreter.

I started attending 21st Century Cyber Charter School in 9th grade. I have been in this school for four years and have loved every moment of it. Some might look at this day as the end of a journey when in reality it is simply the start of the next great journey. By taking the lessons we’ve learned within the cyber walls of this school we are equipped with the life lessons needed to go forth and make an impact on the world. Today we celebrate where you have been and where you are going. Happy Graduation Day!”

And this Momma and Papa couldn’t have been prouder. Our baby may be all grown up, but what a beautiful young lady she has grown up to be.

IMG_5761 (2)P1100221 (2)

Next it was time for the presentation of scholarships.

At 21st Century Cyber Charter School the teachers have a long-standing tradition of presenting four students from the graduating class with scholarships from the school. These scholarships are not funded with school budget money, but rather are funded solely by teacher donations. Throughout the year they will have events at the school for staff, like special breakfasts during inservice/training days, which they will use to raise money to help fund these scholarships, in addition to cash donations by the teachers. They try to raise $500.00 for four chosen students but this year were even more generous and raised $750.00 for four students.

The teachers of this school are incredible and are at the heart of why this school shines brighter than the rest.

 

IMG_5860

Mr. Winterode, a favorite teacher at the school!

 

IMG_5843 (2)

Ms. Cloetingh, Grace and Olivia’s mural club teacher.

IMG_5821 (2)

Mr. Dolan, Gracie’s 1st learning coach.

IMG_5827 (2)

Mrs. McGuire, Gracie’s 2nd learning coach.

There are four scholarships given to four students that best exemplify the four pillars of National Honor Society. One scholarship for academics, one for leadership, one for service, and one for character.

We watched as they handed out the three scholarships for greatest academic excellence, the Eagle service award for the student most service minded, and the leadership award. Then it was time for the scholarship awarded to the student that shows the most exemplary character, as voted on by the teachers of the school, and we heard them announce Gracie’s name!

IMG_5766 (2)

We had no idea that she would be a recipient of one of these scholarships, and for me that was the acknowledgement that we, as her parents, have done right these last 19 years. I remember holding her as a baby and speaking to God during one of our middle of the night gatherings between Grace, God and I. I remember praying over that  little bundle I held in my arms and saying to God, “It matters little to me that this child grows up to be exceptionally pretty, or smart, talented, or gifted in the areas of music, art, or athletics…as nice as those traits might be. What matters most to me is that I raise a child who is known for her kindness, her selflessness, and her goodness. Help me to raise a woman of character.” And God has been merciful. He has answered my prayers. How blessed we are by this sweet girl! God is good.

IMG_5835 (2)

Then it was time for the diplomas to be handed out. The students were called to the front of the stage one by one.

P1100235 (2)P1100232 (2)

Once everyone had received their diploma it was time for the traditional turning of the tassels, signifying the transition from high school to life beyond.

P1100236 (2)

And it was done.

13 years of hard work, sleepless nights, advocating for her needs, teaching and reteaching tough concepts again and again, endless fieldtrips, Dyslexia tutoring, IEP meetings, 3 schools, and the culmination of the decade of my life’s work came together in that moment as we watched our baby girl walk down the aisle with diploma in hand.

IMG_5841 (2)

A diploma hard earned by both student and teacher! 🙂

It was time to celebrate:

IMG_5786 (2)

IMG_5789 (2)

She did it.

IMG_5804 (2)

Olivia did it.

IMG_5779 (2)IMG_5814 (2)

We did it!

IMG_5816 (2)

Congratulations, ladies. We are so proud of you.

IMG_5812 (2)

What a beautiful journey it has been!

IMG_5850 (2)

We can’t wait to see where God takes you next!

Plaza Azteca

Standard

 

Following the end of the year bowling party and prom we decided to take Grace and Olivia out for their graduation celebratory dinner.

Graduation was the following day and all the festivities would stretch from 10:15 am to 3:00pm. Because Olivia’s dad had to leave for a work trip Sunday morning at 3:00am, we knew they would have to leave immediately after graduation to head home, so we decided to have our graduation dinner the night before graduation.

We left the bowling party, picked up the girls from Whitford Country Club,

And then headed over to Plaza Azteca, a Mexican restaurant many of the teachers recommended for an excellent Mexican dinner.

IMG_5661 (2)

One of the menu items they insisted that we try was the homemade guacamole that the staff make tableside.

IMG_5663

It was like dinner and a show…

IMG_5664 (2)

And the end results were delicious! Some of the best guacamole I have ever had.

IMG_5667 (2)

While waiting for our food to arrive the two seniors opened their graduation gifts. For Olivia, we created a “School is done, let vacation begin!” bag of beach treats in a beach bag.

IMG_5651 (2)

The Hudaks bought Grace a beautiful charm necklace that holds mementoes reflective the wearer.  Olivia has one too and Grace has always admired it. In the clear locket were charms representative of Grace like an ASL “love” charm, a cross, FAITH, and a graduation cap.

IMG_5655

IMG_5657 (2)IMG_5671IMG_5676 (2)

It was a delicious dinner. It was fun to visit, reflect on the fact that tomorrow is graduation, and hear all about prom.

It was a lovely way to celebrate an amazing journey…

IMG_5661IMG_5662

And to celebrate it with our best friends only made it all the more special!

IMG_5675 (2)

How blessed we are!

21st Century Bowling Party

Standard

bowl2

The fun on Friday didn’t end when the girls were dropped off at prom. No, then we headed over to the local bowling alley for 21st Century Cyber Charter School’s end of the school year celebration.

Since the two events were happening simultaneously, Toby and Woody had taken the rest of the kids over to the bowling party in our van while we dropped Olivia and Grace off at Prom in the Hudak’s van.

It was such smart planning on the school’s part to run these two big events at the same time. It gives younger siblings something to do while their older siblings were at prom, while saving families multiple trips across the state for multiple events.

We arrived 30 minutes after the rest of our crew and there was a celebratory feeling in the air as teachers and students welcomed the start of summer break.

IMG_5589 (2)

It was a huge bowling alley, big enough to allow for all the students and teachers in attendance to bowl together in the 20+ lanes.

IMG_5582 (2)

Our crew split our numbers between two connecting bowling lanes with Tatum and Molly getting to bowl with their shared learning coach, Mike Winterode, affectionately referred to as “Coach.”

IMG_5598 (2)

IMG_5593

The event lasted for 3 ½ hours, allowing enough time for multiple games and plenty of socialization. (*GASP*…socialization in a cyber school environment?! Yes, it does happen 😉)

IMG_5611 (2)

Pizza, chips, cookies and soda were served.

IMG_5616 (2)

The kids had a lot of fun despite our profound lack of bowling talent.

IMG_5595 (2)

As we bowled, the teachers moved through the crowd mingling and stopping to visit with their various students. It was fun to interact with the teachers in a more casual setting.

IMG_5594 (2)IMG_5578 (2)IMG_5576 (2)

By the end of the party a dance floor was cleared, music was blasting, and everyone was kicking up their heels…

Including Tyler who couldn’t keep off the dance floor.

IMG_5612 (2)

Oh, how far he has come.

IMG_5613

It was such a fun school outing. As it came to an end we said our good-byes to friends and teachers for the summer,

IMG_5618 (2)

And left to pick up the prom princesses.

IMG_5626IMG_5640 (2)IMG_5647 (2)IMG_5621

We were off to celebrate our graduates at Plaza Azteca!

Grace and Olivia’s Senior Prom

Standard

senior prom

Friday morning Grace woke with excitement coursing through her veins. It was Prom day!

We have cyber schooled our children for 12 years and the most common question asked after, “What about socialization?” or “How can you stand having your children home all day?” is:

“Don’t you feel like your kids are missing out on the best parts of school not being in a traditional brick and mortar school?”

And I have always been able to answer, “No,” because I don’t. God called us to this model of schooling for our children, and it is the best parenting decision we ever made.

I have felt that through this model of schooling we have really gotten the best of both worlds…all the best parts of homeschooling and the better parts of public schooling.

Through our awesome co-op group, we have been able to compensate for those parts of the public-school experience that they might have missed in their early years like talent shows and holiday parties, Valentine exchanges and field trips.

Our transition to 21st Century Cyber Charter School four years ago was really the missing piece in rounding out our cyber schooling experience. At this school, my older kids found a college preparatory learning experience that mimics a post-secondary learning environment far more effectively then what we saw happening in our local public school.

“But what about prom?!” a young girl from church asked us a few years ago, “Your poor kids won’t get to experience prom!”

I tried to explain that I really didn’t place a lot of value in the prom experience, especially knowing how little of value is found at a high school prom, but I understood what she was saying. She felt it was a rite of passage my kids would be denied.

We didn’t know if prom was in the cards for my teenagers but weren’t concerned given the fact that through our church they have been able to participate in a Spring Formal each spring since they were 14, which offers all the fun of prom without the filth found in some of the local schools’ proms.

But as the end of the school year came closer Grace received information about 21st Century Cyber Charter School’s prom. They hold it the Friday afternoon before graduation so families already in town for graduation don’t have the added burden of two trips.

In the months leading up to prom the seniors began submitting ideas for the prom theme. It would be held at the local country club and the senior class eventually voted a masquerade theme for senior prom.

Grace decided that rather than spending money on a formal prom gown that she will never wear again, she would instead wear the same dress she wore to Spring Formal… her custom-made Downton Abby dress she received for her 18th birthday. (Beautifully made by my dear friend, Wendy.)

Since it was masquerade themed Grace and Olivia decided they would each make their own mask, rather than buy one.

IMG_5547 (2)

The mask reveal!

Both girls decided to coordinate their masks to their dresses. Using leftover fabric left from her dress Grace made this beautiful mask that matched perfectly! Olivia created a mermaid themed mask that matched her and her dress perfectly.

IMG_5567 (2)

The one thing that doesn’t work out quite so well with a cyber school prom, especially when your school is located 5 hours away, is asking a date to prom. You can’t exactly invite a boy to prom, ask him to travel across the state, and book a hotel for a night or two, just to escort you to prom. 😊

But it didn’t matter to Grace. The Hudaks were staying at the same hotel, and I don’t know that there is anyone else Grace would rather share this experience with than her best friend, anyway.

An hour before they had to leave, Grace and Olivia met in our hotel room to begin getting dressed and dolled up.

IMG_5544 (2)

The end results were beautiful!

IMG_5548 (2)

What lovely young women they both are.

IMG_5563 (2)IMG_5555 (2)

A friend shared this quote in the graduation letter she wrote Grace and I think it perfectly exemplifies both these young ladies:

“She was beautiful, but not like those girls in the magazines. She was beautiful, for the way she thought. She was beautiful, for that sparkle in her eyes when she talked about something she loved. She was beautiful, for her ability to make other people smile even if she was sad. No, she wasn’t beautiful for something as temporary as her looks. She was beautiful deep down to her soul.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

IMG_5553 (2)IMG_5557 (2)IMG_5551 (2)

After a few pictures, we dropped off these two prom princesses at their senior prom and headed over to the bowling party where the rest of the family was spending the day.

It looks like Grace and Olivia had a wonderful time at prom. Here are some of the pictures they took:

P1100151 (2)

The venue was beautiful!

P1100168 (2)

Grace and Olivia with Ms. Cloetingh, Olivia’s learning coach and the girls’ mural club teacher.

P1100152 (2)

Great food and lots of dancing= Awesome Prom!

P1100169 (2)

Both girls with their learning coaches. Love all four of these pretty ladies!

 

P1100157 (2)

The girls enjoyed the “Make your own mocktail” station.

P1100163 (2)

And then there were ice cream sundaes for dessert…Yum!

P1100171 (2)

Happy Prom!

 

Almost there, ladies!  Graduation is just 24 hours away!

A Visit to Valley Forge

Standard

After dropping of Grace, Molly, and Rusty at their cyber school to paint with the mural club, we decided to head over to Valley Forge to kill a few hours with the remaining members of the Hudak clan.

Located only 14 miles away from the school building, and free to the public, we thought it would be a fun way to pass time while waiting for the big kids to finish their mural.

IMG_5458 (2)

Ozzie was excited to check out this historical site he had studied in his American History class. Tyler wasn’t as excited to go. He felt we should all find a stream and going fishing for trout while waiting on the mural club members to finish.

But once we arrived and he was able to explore the Visitor’s Center and see the exhibits he was as engaged and fascinated as Ozzie.

IMG_5464 (2)IMG_5461 (2)

IMG_5460 (1)

As we walked around and explored the visitor’s center we learned more about what happened on this plot of land and why the suffering and sacrifices made at this encampment were so significant to our nation’s history.

• The Story of Valley Forge •

As told by Ron Avery

“The images are heartrending, dramatic and so powerful that they are embedded in the nation’s historical consciousness:

Bloody footprints in the snow left by bootless men. Near naked soldiers wrapped in thin blankets huddled around a smoky fire of green wood. The plaintive chant from the starving: “We want meat! We want meat!”

These are the indelible images of suffering and endurance associated with Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78.

“An army of skeletons appeared before our eyes naked, starved, sick and discouraged,” wrote New York’s Gouverneur Morris of the Continental Congress.

The Marquis de Lafayette wrote: “The unfortunate soldiers were in want of everything; they had neither coats nor hats, nor shirts, nor shoes. Their feet and their legs froze until they were black, and it was often necessary to amputate them.”

A bitter George Washington — whose first concern was always his soldiers — would accuse the Congress of “little feeling for the naked and distressed soldiers. I feel superabundantly for them, and from my soul pity those miseries, which it is neither in my power to relieve or prevent.”

The suffering and sacrifices of the American soldiers at Valley Forge are familiar, iconic images, but there is another side of the picture. Valley Forge was where a new, confident, professional American army was born.

Three months of shortage and hardship were followed by three months of relative abundance that led to wonderful changes in the morale and fighting capabilities of the Continental Army.

France would enter the war on the side of the new nation. Valuable foreign volunteers and fresh replacements would trickle into camp.

Most important, it was at Valley Forge that a vigorous, systematic training regime transformed ragged amateur troops into a confident 18th century military organization capable of beating the Red Coats in the open field of battle.”

IMG_5465 (1)

After spending time in the Visitor’s Center we got back in our cars to drive around the park, stopping at significant historical spots along the way. At that point we only had an hour left before we had to leave and pick up the other kids but we were able to see some of this historical national site.

IMG_5481 (1)

Some of our stops included:

The Muhlenberg Brigade Log City where reconstructed Army huts provided a glimpse into the soldiers’ lives.

IMG_5469 (1)IMG_5468 (1)IMG_5470 (1)

And the National Memorial Arch:

“Dedicated in 1917, the National Memorial Arch honors the soldiers’ perseverance and expresses hope for future generations.”

IMG_5477IMG_5478 (1)

There was something so poignant about stepping onto the land where history was created and walking around that valley, where such sacrifices were made for the freedom we enjoy.

Oh, how far we have fallen as a nation.

Oh, how far we have moved away from our humble and honorable beginning.

 

george-washington-in-prayer-at-valley-forge1valley f

Mural Club Creativity

Standard

P1100115

Thursday morning we left our cottage by the sea by 8:30 am to make the 1 1/2 hour drive to Downingtown, PA, where my four oldest kids’ cyber charter school is located. The next three days will be filled with end of the school year activities, and this big art project by the mural club was the first event scheduled.

My three oldest kids are all members of the school’s mural club. Every other week they meet virtually over their computer’s web cams and create a painting on canvas that their mural club teacher leads them through.

Grace joined mural club three years ago and has loved it. Her first year Lana, Olivia, Grace and I traveled out to Downingtown so that they could participate in the mural club’s first wall mural. Grace submitted a design for that mural and her design was chosen. It was a painting of the state with the different subjects taught in the school represented within the borders of Pennsylvania.

IMG_5453

Last year the members of the mural club didn’t all come together to create a wall mural, but rather created the same painting of the school’s logo on individual canvases with their own creative, Andy Warhol-like spin. Those paintings now hang on the walls around the school.

This year the theme of mural club throughout the year has been food. Each mural club meeting they have been creating artwork of food on canvases in their own homes under the instruction of Ms. Cloetingh, in preparation for the big mural that was to be a food themed mural for the school’s lunchroom.

The students were invited to submit designs for the big wall mural and my three kids each submitted a design with Gracie’s “four seasons of food” design being chosen as the one that would be used.

Prior to going, the kids, with Olivia and Tatum, decided that they wanted to do something special for their mural club teacher and came up with this “art bouquet.” Using a can filled with florist foam, we created “flowers” using paintbrushes and tubes of acrylic paint taped to colored pencils. We were thrilled how it turned out!

IMG_5450

We dropped off the mural club members and Grace documented the creative process with her camera.

P1100141 (2)

They began with Gracie’s sketch being projected up onto the canvas, which they outlined with black markers, creating a giant coloring book on the wall.

P1100099 (2)

Then the mural club members began filling it in, using an ombre’ effect for the background of the four seasons of themed foods.

P1100137 (2)

There were a lot of mural club members there so they made quick work of this big task.

P1100127 (2)P1100116 (2)

P1100126 (2)

P1100109

At lunch time the mural club students were able to join all the school staff for their big end of the year BBQ in the back parking lot of the school. They had fun reveling in this celebratory atmosphere and had fun mingling with their teachers.

P1100118P1100119 (2)

After lunch they enjoyed the yummy homemade cupcakes Olivia brought for the mural club to enjoy. They were as “artistic” as they were yummy!

P1100122 (2)P1100133

At 3:00 we returned to pick up the kids and got to see the finished product…a work of art that will hang on the wall of the teachers’ lunchroom for years to come.

P1100149 (2)P1100148 (2)

Nice work, Mural Club!

P1100145 (2)

Our crew was the last to leave so we were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the upstairs where the teachers of the school congregate and spend their days on the other side of my kids’ computers.

IMG_5482 (1)

Most had left for the day, as it was the last day of school for staff, but the kids were able to leave notes for their favorite teachers taped to their desks.

IMG_5484 (1)

Boy do we love this school!

IMG_5492 (1)

Thanks for another great experience, 21st Century Cyber Charter School!

 

Watching the sun rise…attempt #1 and attempt #2

Standard

One of the kids’ request for this beach vacation was the opportunity to wake before the sun and watch a sunrise on the beach.

I was game and felt that the lost sleep was worth the emotional dividends gained by such a special experience with my oldest treasures.

Our first attempt at watching the sunrise was Tuesday morning. I woke just before 5:00 am, quietly crept down the stairs so as to not wake up the little boys sleeping in the room next to us, and shook the big kids into motion. It was chilly so everyone pulled on one of Toby’s sweatshirts (he was the only one of us smart enough to pack warm clothes) and grabbed throw blankets to wrap around our shoulders.

It was cold, misty, and very grey, but we were optimistically hopeful that the sun might make an appearance over the horizon, so we headed to the beach.

IMG_5063

 

Needless to say, no one else showed up for the sunrise show, including the “star” of the show.

IMG_5066

We sat on the beach waiting for a break in the clouds, which never came.

IMG_5070

But we still had fun collecting shells and watching the big waves roll in. By 6:30 am we finally gave up hope that Mr. Sun would ever appear and headed back home.

Attempt #2 came Thursday morning, hours before our departure.

In a last-ditch effort to cross “watch a sunrise at the beach” off our collective bucket lists we woke before 5:00 am once again and began our trek to the beach. We were hopeful this time would be more successful. The temperatures were warmer and the sky was lighter.

IMG_5411 (2)

We walked to the beach, turned the corner, and saw the first rays of orange and gold.

IMG_5413 (2)

What a sight!

IMG_5417 (2)

We arrived just as that beautiful ball of flames began to peek over the ocean.

IMG_5433 (2)

It was enough to take your breath away.

IMG_5427

It was balm for my soul.

IMG_5446 (2)

A perfect way to end a heart-healing, soul-soothing few days.

What a magnificent site,

P1100093 (2)

Created by a magnificent God.

And what lovely company to share it with.

IMG_5436 (2)

I am blessed!