Category Archives: Uncategorized

Spring Formal: The Greatest Show on Earth!

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With the arrival of Spring comes the arrival of another Spring Formal. This in an annual event that my older kids look forward to. It is a semi-formal dance put on by our church for the youth, ages 14-18, in the Pittsburgh area.

The girls always look forward to this event with enthusiasm; loving the opportunity to go dress shopping, get dolled up, and dance the night away with friends. Rusty also looks forward to this event, but for him the pull has more to do with the delicious dishes served rather than the dancing that is done…typical guy!

The theme of the evening and the venue change year to year but the experience is always a hit:

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This year was a bit different from past Spring Formals. For one thing Olivia and Grace weren’t attending. As college students they have graduated from the Spring Formal world and now are busy with new adventures. This year Molly also extended the invitation to Spring Formal to some friends from co-op and Annaliese joined her and Tatum this year.

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The theme for this year’s event was “The Greatest Showman,” and when the kids heard that they were over the moon. “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack has been playing on a loop in our home for the last four months and the girls and I are IN LOVE with this movie, so to find out that it was the theme for this year’s Spring Formal made Molly very excited.

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She fully embraced the theme of the night and decided to use some of her hard earned money to purchase a vintage dress at the Vintage Pittsburgh event that we attended. She choose a dress that she thought was reflective of the style of that time period.

She also made the bold decision to dye her hair pink in a nod to the trapeze artist from the movie.

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Using a temporary (4-8 wash) dye, she transformed her blond locks to pink.

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She paired her ensemble with a pink purse and vintage hair clip from our dress-up box in the playroom. The finished effect was adorable!

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On Saturday night we met up with Tatum, Lucas, and Annaliese to get some photos.

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Then Toby drove down south to pick up some more kiddos from church before heading to Greentree where the event was held.

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The theme of the evening was carried into the decorations,

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And in the snacks in the snacks that were served.

Everyone loved the circus food that included popcorn, hot dogs, and cotton candy.

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I think everyone had a good time.

Another year, another Spring Formal, another memory for the books!

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The End of Winter

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This winter had been a weird one in Western Pennsylvania…

A bit bipolar in its behaviors with a sporadic mix of unseasonably warm days followed by an unexpected 10 inches of snow.

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There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the recent weather patterns and all creatures, great and small, seem anxious and uncertain as to what the day might bring.

Daffodils reach for the sky, teased out by the warmth of the sun, only to be covered in layer of snow hours later.

Birds are waffling in their duties, uncertain as to whether they should begin laying eggs or hunkering down in their nests for a long winter’s nap.

The furnace has had a workout, shifting from air conditioning to heat in a 12 hour span.

And  my 11 year old has given up trying to make any effort in dressing weather-appropriate and has compensated by simply pairing his flip flops with sweaters.

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The uncertainty has left everyone feeling a bit unsettled and I find myself taking note of how reflective our outside environment has been of our internal state.

Ozzie has spent the last 7 months in a residential treatment facility about 2 hours away. It was with tremendous heartache and no shortage of prayer that he was admitted. The year leading up to that decision was unimaginably traumatic for Ozzie and the rest of the family as the demons from his past history of abuse reared their ugly heads in heartbreaking, tragic, and dangerous ways. After exhausting all therapeutic support for Ozzie that could be found in an outpatient setting it became clear that for real healing to take place he would need to be immersed in an environment of intensive therapeutic support. For these last 7 months Ozzie has thrived under this higher level of care. With the sheer volume of therapeutic supports like daily therapies (individual and group,) music therapy, EMDR therapy for his PTSD, and trauma release exercises, he has found hope.

We all have.

I recently had a friend comment that they sometimes found my recordings on this blog to be disingenuous to our reality. Although not intended to be critical, merely taking note of the fact that most recent blogs have been lighter and fluffier than the heavier stuff that was more common a year ago, I have since thought much about that comment. As a mom I walk a shaky line in recording the story of my family. I share not for accolades or attention but for a mix of other reasons. I blog to record our story as a gift for my children in the decades to come. I blog as a therapeutic tool for myself. (The act of telling our story helps me process and make sense of this often hard journey.) But mostly I blog because I feel called to allow others to walk with us in the hopes that our trials and our joys might help you in your journey and that I might testify of God’s goodness in ALL seasons of life. Every blog is penned with prayer…A prayer that God might use this walk to support another in their walk. I don’t share all. Some would argue I share too much, others would say not enough, but every blog entry is prayerfully approached.

Often the struggle of what to write is not a debate of how much to share but rather HOW to share.

That is where I find myself today.

As the snow swirls outside on April 17th, I struggle to put words to the uniquely emotional journey we have been on these last 7 months. I don’t know that I have the words to fully convey the muddy mix of emotions that are connected to this unique journey. Much like the winter we have experienced these last 5 months, our experience with having a child in a residential treatment facility is a constant mix of sunshine and snow, with so many heartbreaks connected to the decision, but also immeasurable blessings. Each day I find myself uncertain of what the emotional forecast of the day will be and whether the hope or the heartache of the situation with reign supreme.

Saying good-bye to Ozzie on day one… leaving him in the care of a stranger… while I drove home… was the hardest day of my life. It was an adjustment for the entire family as we tried to find our new “normal” with Ozzie gone. As time passed the sharp ache dulled a bit, and while each home visit and the returning drive back brought tears, the situation didn’t seem so hopeless. We were seeing the fruits of God’s hand in leading us to this particular facility at this particular time.

We have watched Ozzie blossom under the intensive therapy offered him in an inpatient setting. He has worked so hard in his healing journey, has learned new ways to cope with the demons of his past that will inevitably raise their ugly head again in the future, but once again it is with a muddy mix of emotions that we transition into another new “normal.”

How do I fully articulate the emotions that fill our home this week when we ourselves struggle to name them all?

Ozzie will be discharged this Saturday. He has worked through the program and has experienced a level of success that many boys there never find. He has fought hard in his healing journey. He has faced down fears, memories of abuse, and his own destructive behaviors with the courage of a knight battling a dragon. None of this came easily and each step toward healing was paid for with blood, sweat and tears…on all of our parts.

I fully believe he is ready to return home.

Knowing his discharge date was approaching, my focus has been on preparing for that transition. Outpatient therapies have been put in place. With his return home he will continue EMDR therapy with Miss Tina, Family Based Therapy services have been put in place, and Ozzie will begin equine therapy (horse therapy) next week. Contact has been made with the school, his room has been prepared, and our schedule has been altered to account for Ozzie’s weekly appointments.

Once the logistics of this transition had been figured out it was time to address the emotional impact this transition was going to have on all members of the family.

When Ozzie left in September he was in a heightened state of crisis and his behaviors were threatening and unsafe. These last 7 months brought feelings of felt safety to the other children, feelings of safety they had not experienced in the year prior. With Ozzie’s return home pending, the anxiety in the home has increased significantly as the kids brace for the unexpected…

And while I know Ozzie is returning to us stable and safe, it will take time for the other kids to see that themselves and begin the process of trusting him, forgiving him, and reconnecting with him.

To help them express , process, and work through some of those emotions and concerns, I set up a family therapy session with Miss Tina. Knowing that Rusty and Tyler would be less comfortable/capable of using traditional talk therapy to express the emotions churning within, I suggested we do an art project.

At home we have had a great deal of success with Tyler using markers to express his emotions. When he can’t say what he is feeling he will color an abstract work of art, assigning an emotion to each marker color. The result is incredible. He is able to purge the feelings locked within and I am able to get a powerful visual of what he is feeling, and thus know how to best help him.

I suggested we use this same technique with the other kids at our family therapy session. The day before our appointment we sat down and made a list of emotions that we might all be feeling about Ozzie’s return home and then we made an emotion “key” with Tyler selecting which paint colors would be assigned to each emotion.

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On Thursday we drove to Miss Tina’s office with our paints, brushes and canvases. While the kids painted their emotions we talked through our crisis/ safety plan. When everyone’s paintings were complete we went around and talked about the emotions (and the corresponding thoughts) that went with each brush stroke of color, allowing the kids to comfortably share the muddy mix of emotions they have been feeling. I think it brought a sense of comfort to look around and see that the rest of the family had the same mix of colors/emotions that we had each been feeling individually.

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It is with great joy, gratitude, and relief that we welcome Ozzie back home, but the reality is that there are other emotions that color this transition as well.

Anxiety seems to be the prevailing constant in everyone’s work of art, so as we take this next step in our adoption journey we petition you, our fellow sojourners, to lift our family up in prayer.

We are ready to leave winter behind. We are ready for the new life and hope that comes with spring.

May the storms be over.

May the sun come out.

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Please pray for us.

The Art of Hearing

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What does sound look like?

If you were to turn the sound of dogs barking

Or raindrops falling

Into a visual work of art, what form would it take on the canvas?

It is an interesting question…

One I had never given thought to until last Friday,

But these ponderings have consumed my thoughts ever since, sparking within me a desire to put color to canvas and create.

Friday night, following an enjoyable day at the Erie Art Museum, Grace and I kept the prevailing theme of the day going with an evening at a local art show. Gracie heard about this particular artist from her ASL teacher. She came home eager to share news of this show with Molly and I, along with an invitation to join her.

The story behind this artist was as compelling as the artwork itself. Here is her story as told through an article published by The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

“The darkness in these paintings represents the quiet.

Bright colors portray loud sounds.

The dots show sound being transferred … sometimes broken up … between the inconsistent noises.

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Artist Andrea Echavarria, who is deaf, has a cochlear implant, an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the inner ear and provides sound signals to the brain. It’s allowed her to explore another world when it comes to her paintings.

Recurring shapes in her art signify the cochlear implant, which allows her to hear things after spending most of her life in silence.

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She’s now hearing loud sirens, dogs barking and the calm of her mother’s voice, which has inspired her ideas for artwork to help her express what she hears.

She’s created a collection of these expressions ­— “The Art of Hearing: Works by Andrea Echavarria” — for a show from 6 to 9 p.m. April 13 at 448 Studios, in Etna. The 30 pieces will be for sale.

“I want to let people know that deaf people can do many things,” Echavarria says via Eileen Noble, a certified American Sign Language interpreter from Harmarville. “I can express myself through my art. It really feels awesome inside. It’s my passion.”

Echavarria says she couldn’t do it without the assistance of artist Tom Mosser, whose work has been featured at sports venues across the U.S. He was her first art teacher. Mosser describes himself as part mentor, eccentric uncle figure, goofy friend, buddy, part life coach, speech coach, big brother and fellow artist. He often writes inspiring messages to her on the studio walls and works daily on learning sign language.

“Any time I’m bumming out over a sore knee, or a sore elbow or something, I only have to look across the studio floor and I see what hurdles she overcomes daily,” Mosser says. “I’ve had a giant metal ruler for years. Every so often it will fall on the floor with a huge crash. Before the implant, Andrea would never move. Now, when it happens, she kind of jumps. And that makes me smile. I’m a much better artist and person for having been around her and her family.”

“Tom has been a blessing to her,” says Andrea Echavarria’s mother, Laurel. “She would never have expanded who she is as an artist without him. He pushes her in a kind and loving way. He tells her not to be afraid to make a mistake.”

Echavarria, 29, who works in oils, watercolors and acrylics, attended the Western PA School for the Deaf in Edgewood and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and says she always knew she wanted to be an artist.

“I like being really creative and I have been using sounds I hear in my paintings,” she says. “I am a deaf person and I am proud of that. Hearing sounds is also an awesome thing.”

The transition to the implant in 2009 at age 21 wasn’t easy. It was overwhelming at times and she needed to turn the volume down on the implant.

“When I got the implant, I was wondering what I would be able to hear,” she says. “I was hoping to hear something. I didn’t know what to expect, after not hearing for so long. I began to hear sounds. I didn’t know what they were yet, but they were my dog barking, cars swooshing by on the street, my family’s voices, people talking, the telephone ringing.

“It’s hard to explain. It’s different than what you hear. Sometimes I get a headache if there’s a lot of noise. I wasn’t used to all the loud noises. I was used to a very quiet life before. I’m more confident around people now because I can speak a little now. And I just feel more connected to the world around me through sound. Technology has been a great thing for me to communicate and for my art. ”      -JoAnne Klimovich Harrop of the Tribune-Review

After driving home from Erie, Molly prepared for work, disappointed that she would be unable to join us. It was unfortunate that Molly couldn’t tag along, as I know she would have enjoyed the event, but these unfortunate circumstances allowed Grace and I to get in some fun one-on-one time.

The studio was located in Etna. Tucked behind a large warehouse, we found 448 Studios.

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Within its walls we found inspiration in the form of paintings by Andrea Echavarria.

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We wandered wall to wall soaking up the sight of sound as interpreted by this talented artist. The artwork was moving…affecting…powerful.

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And we found ourselves drawn into the artwork.

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While enjoying the art, Gracie ran into fellow classmates and teachers from her American Sign Language classes, and it was fun to step into Gracie’s world and watch her communicate so naturally and joyfully with others in ASL.

Our conversation on the drive home revolved around the things we had seen at the show. Inspired by the art of another, we both left feeling the desire to create.

I suppose that is one of the hallmarks of a true artist…

They make you look at the world in a new way,

They affect you on a personal level,

They pull from within a raw, emotional reaction,

and they touch the artist that exists within each of us, leaving us with a need to go out into the world and create our own art.

 

 

Erie Art Museum

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Last Friday we had our second field trip of the year to Erie with 21st Century Cyber Charter School. Like the field trip to the Erie Zoo in February, we planned to pick up Ozzie and take him with us. We also had Tatum joining us for the day.

Our day began bright and early with everyone rolling out of bed at 5:30 am. The field trip was scheduled to begin at 9:30 am but we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us and a family therapy session scheduled with Ozzie for 8:00 am, which meant an early morning! I figured if we were already making the trek up north we ought to fit in a family session at his RTF while we were in the area. He is scheduled to be discharged this weekend (more on that in an upcoming post) so we wanted to fit in one more family session with the other kids before he came home.

We arrived at the Erie Art museum right on time, following a successful family therapy session with Ozzie and the rest of the kiddos.  In addition to our group of 7, there were two other students, two other parents, and two teachers signed up for the tour.

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I wasn’t sure how the day was going to play out. I knew the three girls would enjoy the art museum but wasn’t sure how much this particular field trip would appeal to the three boys. I assumed we would simply be walking through the museum and looking at art, but soon discovered there was much more to this outing than meets the eye, and it ended up being one of the coolest outings we have attended in a long time.

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We were blessed with an exceptional tour guide, a sweet girl who was both knowledgeable and engaging, drawing everyone into the experience, even the younger boys.

We began our day on the first floor, in a room showcasing large canvases with the shared theme of “art that tricks your eye.” As we walked around the room we discussed the techniques each artists used to create the optical illusions that played out on the wall before us.

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Then we all had the opportunity to create our own eye-tricking work of art.

Using two circles of paper, we drew two different parts of the same picture on the two circles. For example: a fish bowl on one paper and the fish on the other.

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By gluing the two circles to either side of a wooden dowel we created a spinning toy that became a moving work of art. Like a child’s flip-book, the motion of spinning the dowel merged the two drawings and the eye would then register the two images as one.

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It was very neat and all the kids had fun with this art project.

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From there we moved upstairs to an exhibit of prints made with engravings.

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Once again after learning about this art medium, we had the opportunity to create our own work of art. We were each given a piece of Styrofoam and were encouraged to walk around the room, be inspired, and create our own engraving on the Styrofoam that we would use to create a print.

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After everyone had finished their engraving we moved to a workroom where we learned how to use our engraved “plates” to make prints.

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Gracie’s print.

The finished results were delightful!

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After a 30 minute lunch break we reconvened for the second half of the outing which was a scavenger hunt through the museum. We were split into two teams and were each given a scavenger hunt list of exhibits to visit and tasks to perform at each stop.

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It was an awesome way to help the kids really engage with the exhibits, making learning about the art fun and impactful.

I was on a team with Rusty, Grace and Ozzie, while Tyler, Molly, and Tatum joined the other team.

Some of our scavenger hunt tasks included:

1.Choose one piece of art in the Sharon Kerry-Harlan exhibit and write a haiku poem about the piece.

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2. In the Frenzel Gallery take a look at Schabacker’s animal fabric collages and choose one of the animals from the gallery to sculpt out of clay.

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3. In the Bacon Gallery find the self portrait wall in James McMarray’s exhibit. Spend a few minutes looking at the collection of self portraits.

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Go to the end of the gallery and find the self portrait station and create a self portrait.

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4. Step inside the Gary Spinosa exhibit and spend a few minutes viewing the sculptures . What adjectives would you use to describe this exhibit?

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At the end of our scavenger hunt we joined the other team back at the starting point to compare notes. What a fun way to engage visitors in the art!

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It was an awesome field trip and I can’t say enough positive things about the Erie Art Museum and its staff.

This outing earned two thumbs up!

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Olive Brings Home a Horse

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Yep, it is that time again…time for a photo dump…

a random collection of unconnected events that have occurred in the last few months…

Gracie’s birthday fell on a Friday and despite the fact she is in college and 20 years old, she decided that if she wasn’t working on the Wednesday following her birthday she would go to co-op and bring a birthday treat. It was March 14th…Pi Day.

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Get it?

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So she decided to celebrate her birthday in conjunction with Pi Day and bring in mini pies for her birthday treat.

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St. Patrick’s Day-is a favorite holiday in our home. We embrace any reason we can to celebrate our Irish roots. This year we paired our Irish dinner with our Family Night lesson and had a St. Patrick’s Day lesson entitled “Lucky or Blessed?” which explains our unique table centerpiece. 🙂

Olive continues to bring a heightened level of excitement to our home with her unbridled energy and enthusiasm and pony-like size. In fact we often refer to her as our family’s “dark horse,” which is why I didn’t even glance up when Tyler look out the window and declared, “Look, there’s a horse in the yard.”

I assumed he was talking about Olive until he clarified, “I wonder where Olive got that horse.”

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Hearing that and knowing Olive’s propensity for trouble I shot to the window fully expecting a real horse in the yard, herded there by my enthusiastic and spastic sheep dog, but what I found instead was Olive’s big lips wrapped firmly around a plastic playground riding toy.

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It was bizarre. We have no idea where she got it or what poor unsuspecting child is missing the riding horse from their swing set, but Olive had firmly claimed it as her “baby” and won’t let anyone else touch it. This unusually large and awkward  plastic horse has become her new favorite toy.

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I have the weirdest dogs.

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This past week the World Cultures Club at Gracie’s school was hosting an event that turned a typical Tuesday into an international journey. After her morning class Gracie stumbled upon a feast of international dishes. There were booths lining the walls of the lobby with food from many nations. For a small donation students received a take out container that they could take booth to booth and fill with tasty dishes from all nations. It was like the “poor girl” version of a trip to  Epcot’s World Showcase. As the students feasted on food from around the world they could sit and enjoy performers from different countries sharing traditional dances and song.

As part of their fundraising efforts the World Culture Club had gift baskets for raffle from different countries. Grace decided to purchase a $1.00 raffle ticket and placed it in the Ireland basket. You can imagine her delight when she received a call the following day informing her she had won.

“I’ve never won anything!” she shared, delighted at this rare turn of Irish luck.

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Grace brought home the basket and had fun pulling out all the treasures and tasting some of the treats within.

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We may not always be lucky, but we are always blessed!

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Sign-a-Thon

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As part of Gracie’s grade in her ASL classes, she needs to attend 3 deaf events each semester. This is a part of her schooling that she loves. It gives her an opportunity to put into practice the language skills she is learning in the classroom and immerse herself into the culture of the deaf community.

This past Saturday she made plans to attend one of these events and it worked out perfectly that it was being held at The Mall at Robinson, a two minute drive from where we spent the night for Molly’s 18th birthday celebration. I’d like to say I was on the ball and planned this purposely but I wasn’t even considering this event when I chose the hotel for Molly’s 18th birthday. It truly was sweet serendipity.

We arrived at the mall and asked for directions to the Sign-a-Thon, having never been in that mall before. I was amazed at how large and thriving it was. I find most malls nowadays to be on their death bed with the influx of online shopping, so stepping into a mall that was bustling with shoppers caught me by surprise and took me back to my high school years when malls were the heart of most teen’s social scenes.

The deaf event was held in the center of the mall. The sound of music drew us to the heart of the event but aside from the music playing over the speakers the noise in the lobby was unusually quiet given the huge crowd that was gathered. We stepped to the railing and were greeted with this sight:

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What an awesome view it was to look over the railing and see hundreds of people signing all at once.

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While I watched the action from above (so I could capture some photos), the girls headed down below.

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This was Gracie’s assignment for school but knowing Molly’s interest in/love for American Sign Language, she invited her little sister along. It was Molly’s birthday and she was wearing the crown to prove it, which gave her ample opportunities to sign, “Thank you,” and “I am 18 years old,” to the many people who wished her happy birthday (in ASL) and inquired how old she was turning.

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With attendance to the Sign-a-Thon came the opportunity to make some new friends, gather information relevant to the deaf, do a little networking, and leave with a really cool t-shirt!

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Grace was able to introduce Molly to fellow classmates and her favorite teacher at CCAC, a woman who has fueled Gracie’s love of the language even more.

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While the girls walked from booth to booth I enjoyed watching performers on the main stage sign to the music that filled the lobby. One interpreter in particular was a joy to watch as his signed words became a sort of dance.

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The girls had a wonderful time and returned to me beaming with enthusiasm at what was a very cool experience. Grace was powerfully affected by the sight of so many signing at once, and Molly was pleased to find that she was more competent in ASL than she thought she was.

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She was pleased to report she understood 75% of what was signed to her while she walked around.

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It was a special way to kick off Molly’s special day…

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I can’t believe my baby is officially 18!!

Where you Lead, I will Follow

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Like so many entertainment trends I tend to be a decade late to the party. Gilmore Girls is a perfect example of this. Only in the last 6 months have I stumbled into this magical world thanks to Netflix. I don’t know how I missed it the first time around. My only thought is that perhaps it was because during the early years of this millennium I was drowning in bottles, diapers, and Veggie Tales videos and had socially checked out during those prime Gilmore Girl years.

But not to worry. I may be a decade late but I have finally stumbled upon and jumped aboard the fan train and am loving the journey!

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The girls and I were introduced to the Gilmore Girls last fall by the Hudaks, not long after Ozzie had been placed in a residential facility. It was a season when we were all reeling and raw and this imaginary town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut and the characters within proved to be a place of healing for Molly and I. Each day during lunch break we would snuggle on my bed and watch one episode, with Grace joining us as her schedule allowed. Much like Downton Abbey became a special shared connection between Grace and I, Gilmore Girls became Molly and my shared connection.

This daily escape to another place became the source of much laughter, a few tears, and a lot of discussion as the relationship between the two main characters (who happen to be mother and daughter) played out on the screen. I don’t know when I have loved a show more and it was such a joy tumbling into that world with my girls.

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As Molly’s 18th birthday neared, I knew what I wanted to do to celebrate her special day. Just as I had taken Grace on a journey to Downton Abbey for her 18th birthday (See link below)

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I wanted to whisk Molly away to Stars Hollow for her 18th birthday, so with Gracie helping me plan, and the Hudaks in on the surprise, we set to work. The plan was to take Molly away for the night to a hotel where we would surprise her with a Gilmore Girls birthday party. I don’t know when I have had more fun planning an event, due in large part to the fact that in the midst of months of planning my creative juices were continually sparked  with our daily Gilmore Girls lunch date.

Here are some clues to the inspirations that prompted our themed decorations:

(In fact we are still not done with the show, despite the party being over. We are only on season 6 so don’t give anything away!)

In the weeks leading up to Molly’s birthday our craft room became party headquarters with a “Molly, Do NOT Enter” sign posted outside. My printer got a workout as I printed, cut, laminated, and wrapped until my fingers bled, determined to bring Stars Hollow to life in our hotel room.

Finally the day arrived. I had booked the hotel for Friday night (the day before Molly’s birthday.) Grace and I drove down to the hotel at lunchtime to check in early and decorate the suite on the sly so that when we arrived later with the Hudak girls and Molly in tow they would walk into the finished room.

While Grace made newspaper hats for me I began decorating, hiding nods to favorite episodes through the rooms of our suite.

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When the room was sufficiently decked out and we were packing up to leave we received a knock at the door. The housekeeping staff had seen the Dragonfly Inn sign on the outside of the hotel room door and wanted to know if we were filming a movie. When we explained that it was a Gilmore Girl surprise party they asked if they could take a tour. Turns out we weren’t the only Gilmore Girl fans in the building and our efforts were greatly appreciated by the housekeeping staff who clapped with glee at our efforts. 🙂

Later that afternoon it was time to head out. Molly didn’t know what to expect, as Grace had secretly packed her overnight bag. We drove north to pick up the Hudaks  (Lana, Olivia, and Tatum.) I had to laugh when I saw the girls. It turns out all three had embraced their inner Luke and Molly was riding along with a noticeable clue to the evening ahead and didn’t even realize it.

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We arrived, cluing Molly into the fact that we were spending the night at a hotel, but still unaware of the surprise that lay ahead. We took the elevator to the 4th floor and gave Molly the key.

Her first clue as to what the evening entailed:

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We stepped inside and Molly and the Hudaks caught their first glimpse of our Gilmore Girl Gala:

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They embarked on an impromptu “I Spy” hunt as they discovered all the nods to Rory and Lorelai hidden about the room. Here are some of the surprises we tucked around the suite:

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Once the tour was complete the fun began.

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We started with picking our “teams” for the night:

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Who is your favorite Gilmore guy?

Then it was time to prepare for dinner. In true Lorelai style we opted to order in rather than go out. Earlier in the day I collected take out menus from local restaurants that would deliver to the hotel and scattered them in front of the TV, creating “functional décor.”

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The girls perused the menus and chose dishes that sounded good from a few different restaurant, and then we ordered.

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As we waited for our food to arrive party favors were handed out.

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Tucked into Chinese take-out containers that I labeled with Al’s Pancake World, the girls found “jam hands” chapstick, “I will follow” bracelets, and Gilmore Girls socks.

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Once properly attired for the evening ahead we sat down and began our Gilmore Girl marathon. Picking some of our favorite episodes of all time we settled in for a night of laughter and Gilmore Girl bingo.

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Some of our choices for the night included:

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It wasn’t too long before we had our first winner. Our bingo prizes were wrapped gift bags whose outside tags bore a clue to the prize within. Inside each bag was a nail polish that matched the clue on the outside:

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After an episode and a half the first wave of food arrived.

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In a spread that would make Lorelai proud, we feasted on everything from pizza to fried rice to deviled eggs, eating until our stomachs hurt.

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At 10:00 pm the girls decided to take a break from our Gilmore Girl marathon and head down to the pool before it closed for the night, only to discover that it was shut down do to “unforeseen circumstances.” So they came up with a plan B:

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Then it was time for gifts and cake. Sticking with the theme of the night Molly received a Luke’s Diner t-shirt from Miss Lana:

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A beautifully framed, hand-painted picture of the show’s theme song from Olivia:

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And a touching digital scrapbook of their decade long friendship from Tatum:

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Molly’s birthday cake was a collection of cupcakes baked by Olivia. They were topped with a broken piece of pop-tart and filled with the matching flavor. They were so perfect and so delicious!

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By 2:00 am the moms were spent and headed to bed while the girls began a game of Gilmore Girls Guess Who and Gilmore Girls Monopoly.

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Eventually they too stumbled into bed.

In the morning we woke Molly in the traditional way with a cupcake and a song.

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My baby is officially an adult!

Happy birthday, Miss Molly, I hope we made some memories you will treasure forever.

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“Buc Night” at PNC Park

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Last Wednesday we had the fun opportunity to join the youth group, activity day girls, and cub scouts (and their families) for a night at the ballpark. The Pittsburgh Pirates were offering “Buc Night” to the fans which allowed us to take a large group from church to see a ballgame at only $1.00 a head. It was an incredible deal!

The youth were also allowed to each invite a friend so Rusty and Molly invited Lucas and Tatum to join them and because families were invited Grace and I were allowed to tag along as well.

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It was a blustery day for a baseball game but the cool temperatures and biting wind didn’t dampen our enthusiasm.

 

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Yes, that is snow blowing about!!

 

I drove my crew straight down to Pittsburgh after picking up the Hudaks, leaving extra early to allow for what I expected would be a “needle in a haystack” hunt for a parking spot. It turned out that my worries were unfounded as crowds were low despite the incredible deal. It seems that even $1.00 tickets weren’t enticing enough to lure some fans out into the freezing temperatures.

We arrived at the ball field and worked our way up to the fourth level.

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The higher we climbed the colder the wind blew, so we were pleased to find that by stepping from the outside concourse into the stadium itself the wind speed dropped and the temperature was more bearable.

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We stopped for photos before finding our seats, taking advantage of the beautiful backdrop that is PNC Park. It has to be one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country with its views of the river and bridges of Pittsburgh.

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We beat the rest of our group to the park by 45 minutes. (I told you I was a little paranoid of not finding parking in Pittsburgh!) But we enjoyed sitting and visiting while watching the preparations for the game play out on the field below us.

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You know what they say about the early bird…he is the one who catches frostbite.

Soon the seats began to fill around us and the game began. The Pittsburgh Pirates were playing the Minnesota Twins and although our team ended up losing 7-3, it was still a fun night at the ballpark…

Tyler loved hanging with some of his buddies from church:

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The youth had fun soaking up the atmosphere of the ballgame:

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We all enthusiastically cheered through the traditional Pittsburgh Perogie Race:

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Our group ate its fill of $1.00 hot dogs and popcorn (as part of Buc Night):

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And we all tried to stay warm as the snow swirled around us, making it feel more like football season than baseball season.

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But despite the frozen noses and toes our large group had an awesome time cheering on the Bucs.

Gotta love Buc Night!

Easter Love from Texas

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A few days prior to Easter we received a package in the mail from my brother and sister-in-love from Texas. A peek inside the package clued me into the fact that it was a box of Easter surprises for the family and I tucked it away until Easter morning. After our morning activities we pulled it out and within the box was a bounty of love from down south including Molly’s birthday gift from Uncle Travis and Aunt Krista:

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Plastic eggs decorated with our names, bearing treats of chocolates and fluffy peep versions of each of us:

And a dozen cascarónes:

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Cascarónes are a Texas tradition we were introduced to with the addition of a Texan to our family. For those that are unfamiliar here is a little background on this tradition, compliments of Wikipedia:

“A cascarón is a hollowed-out chicken egg filled with confetti or small toys. Cascarónes are common throughout Mexico and are similar to the Easter eggs popular in many other countries. They are mostly used in Mexico during Carnival, but in US and Mexico border towns the cultures combined to make them a popular Easter tradition.

Decorated, confetti-filled cascarónes may be thrown or crushed over the recipient’s head to shower them with confetti. Like many popular traditions in Mexico, cascarónes are increasingly popular in the southwestern United States For example, they are especially prominent during the two-week, citywide festival of Fiesta in San Antonio, Texas. Cascarónes are usually made during Easter time.

Having a cascarón broken over one’s head is said to bring good luck.”

And who couldn’t use a little luck?!

So before heading to Aunt Beth’s house for Easter dinner we headed outside to partake in this Texas tradition, compliments of Aunt Krista and Uncle Travis:

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Feliz Pascua de nosotros a usted!

Easter with the McCleerys

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After a fun Easter celebration at the Homestead with my side of the family, our Easter celebrations continued the following day with Toby’s side of the family.

The kids awoke early thanks to Tyler and Ozzie’s eagerness to see what their baskets held.

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The Easter Bunny didn’t disappoint and all were pleased with their Easter goodies. Everyone received a new DVD and surprises that matched their movie’s theme.

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After digging through their baskets the hunt for 50, brightly colored, hard-boiled eggs began.

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We always color real eggs for the Easter Bunny to hide but every year I question the wisdom in that when inevitably there are unaccounted eggs that can’t be found. A panic of what those eggs will smell like in a few days if left unfound drives us to scour the living room with an attention to detail that rivals an Amber Alert. After 30 minutes of panic we found the last rouge egg and were finally able to settle back and relax, and enjoy our Easter morning.

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This year was a trifecta of events with Easter, April Fools Day, and General Conference (a bi-annual event in our church where members get to watch and receive council from the leaders of our church.) This meant a morning at home as General Conference is a broadcast event that can be viewed from the comfort of one’s own living room.

We enjoyed a yummy Easter brunch and enjoyed sitting as a family in the living room, watching General Conference, being spiritually fed while being physically fed.

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After two hours everyone got dressed to go to Aunt Beth’s house for Easter dinner with the McCleery side of the family.

We were blessed with beautiful spring weather for the day.

Once everyone arrived Grace, Molly and Rusty headed outside to hide the Easter eggs for the younger kids, making sure there was a wide range of difficulty to match the wide range of capability between the youngest and oldest cousins.

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Once the eggs were hidden the kids were called outside to begin the hunt…

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After all the eggs had been found we headed inside to enjoy the Easter feast that had been prepared by many helping hands.

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The food was a yummy as it looked.

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As we ate we enjoyed a time of visiting and reconnection, having not seen much of the family since Thanksgiving. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the months between gatherings fly by, but also how effortlessly the kiddos pick up again after seeing each other so sporadically.

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Rusty and Gunner made a special connection and it was fun to see how two cousins, whose ages span a decade, can connect in such fun way.

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The girls loved getting in some baby snuggles with their youngest cousin,

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and even Rusty took a turn holding the baby.

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It was a practically perfect Easter.

How grateful I am for the reason for this special season.

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