Tag Archives: 21cccs

21st Century’s Covid-19 Graduation Celebration

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Well, it was…hands down…the weirdest graduation ceremony I have ever attended.

So unlike the graduation celebrations of years past. This one was one for the history books. It was unorthodox to be sure, but it accomplished its purpose in launching our two graduates out of high school into their futures.

Needless to say, this year’s celebration did NOT take place in an auditorium with hundreds of other graduating seniors and family members.

No, this year’s ceremony took place in the comfort of our own living room.

Molly wasn’t in attendance.

Ozzie wasn’t in attendance.

Even Braden, one of our graduates, was not in attendance.

Life has been a hard for Braden these last few months. He has struggled with the same feelings of loss and despair that so many around the world have been burdened by during this time of lock down. Hopes and plans have been dashed by powers outside his control and that, coupled with all the expected angst and uncertainty that comes with launching into adulthood, has made things challenging for him. Molly leaving on her mission was that proverbial final straw that made life at home unbearable for him. Unable to manage those overwhelming feelings of loss, he chose to take his leave at the start of the week and go stay with his pap for a while. It breaks my heart to see him flee, but I get it. Being at home is a painful reminder of the changes that have occurred in our family these last nine months. For Braden, I think it feels like the rug is being pulled out from under him once again. In his heart this feels like the loss of one more family after a lifetime of losses, and no matter how much proof we offer to the contrary, or how connected we work to remain, he feels the winds of change coming and he is determined to leave us before we can leave him like so many before us have.

Right now the loss of Molly is too new, and the feelings too raw, to process through, so we are giving him what he says he needs: space. How long that period of recovery will be has yet to be determined. He may be staying at his pap’s house for a week or for the entire summer. He is in a safe space, with an adult looking out for him, while he allows his hurting heart to heal a bit from this latest loss in his life. It will all work out. I know that. But it still is heartbreaking and so very hard to navigate the emotional pot holes of trauma and loss.

So, at our graduation celebration we had only one senior: Rusty.

We received news earlier in the month that 21st Century Cyber Charter School had decided on a virtual graduation ceremony. We were told it would be played on YouTube Live. At the end of May seniors were mailed their caps and gowns and were asked to submit a picture of themselves wearing them. Then days before graduation we were emailed the link for the ceremony.

Rusty invited Grace and Zach to come over and watch with us. We set it up so we could watch the ceremony on the living room TV.

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When our IT guy had things all set up, he headed upstairs to put on his cap and gown.

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To make the experience feel more celebratory, Toby picked up pizza on his way home from work and we had a pizza party while we watched Rusty graduate.

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Rusty declared it a perfect set-up for his high school graduation. Covid-19 really gave Rusty the graduation ceremony of his dreams. For our quiet introvert it was a win-win. He got to watch it unfold from “the audience.” He didn’t have to wear shoes or walk across a stage in front of hundreds of people. AND he got to eat pizza through the entire thing. I know many graduates are really mourning the loss of that pivotal life experience, but Rusty wasn’t one of them!

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Although Molly was thousands of miles away in Utah, she was able to call in right before graduation to wish her brothers love. She enjoyed being able to see Rusty in his cap and gown.

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21st Century Cyber Charter School began their graduation ceremony with speeches from alumni and three of the seniors. Then scholarships were handed out. Finally it was time for the presentation of the graduates.

As the names and photos of the graduating class flashed across the screen, I was able to catch a picture of my two favorites:

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The ceremony ended with words of care and advice from the principal before the seniors were invited to move their tassels from right to left.

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It is official…

Braden and Rusty are high school graduates!

A Covid-19 Graduation Celebration

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This has been the weirdest graduation year…EVER!

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And it is doubly disappointing, as we have 2 graduating seniors.

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Due to Covid-19, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, like so many high schools across the nation, have opted for an alternative graduation ceremony rather than risk the possible spread of sickness. I certainly agree with their call but it is disappointing for Rusty and Braden who imagined their graduation from high school would look very different from how it looks now.

As Rusty’s senior shirt expresses, “Worst. Ending. Ever!”

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Gracie and Molly’s graduation from 21st Century Cyber Charter School looked quite different. For their ceremonies we traveled out east to Downingtown with friends, so that the girls could enjoy the festivities in person. We stayed at a hotel, they attended prom, and we enjoyed watching them walk across the stage with their high school friends.

Gracie’s graduation day:  https://ktmccleery.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/graduation-day/

Molly’s graduation day:  https://ktmccleery.wordpress.com/2019/06/10/mollys-graduation-day/

For Rusty and Braden there will be no trip, no prom, no graduation celebration with friends from school. All of our traditional graduation experiences are on hold, so I have spent the last month trying to come up with an idea of how we can celebrate their achievements and make them feel loved in a world where graduation parties are unsafe, restaurants are closed, and vacations are on hold.

This is what we came up with…

Memorial Day was our graduation celebration day for the boys. Their actual graduation ceremony will take place on June 11th on YouTube…the world we are living in is SO BIZARRE…but we wanted to celebrate the boys’ graduation from high school before Molly left for her mission on June 2nd, so Monday offered the perfect opportunity!

Our day was split into two parts. First we planned an outing for the morning, and then ended our celebration with a fun dinner at home. There was so little open on Memorial Day that it took some searching to find something we could do for their special day. We finally landed on Wagon Trails drive-thru animal safari.

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This was our first time visiting this local attraction, located 45 minutes away near Youngstown, Ohio. Wagon Trails Safari has been able to keep its doors open by making some adjustments to the experience they offer. Rather than having visitors board an open wagon and feed the roaming animals, they now have visitors remain in their car and drive through the park on their own. Guests are not allowed to feed the animals or get out of the car to walk through the petting zoo area of the safari, but the experience was still a lot of fun. It was nice to get out of the house, do something novel and unusual to celebrate the boys’ graduation, all while supporting a local business.

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We arrived, pulled up to a booth, and paid the admission fee. Our crew of eight were split into two cars so that everyone could have a window seat.

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Rusty and Tyler rode in Gracie and Zach’s car,

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And Molly and Braden rode with us.

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The animal park was split into enclosures where the animals freely roamed.

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Many species mingled with each other.

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Feeding troughs were placed near the road as to entice animals to hover close enough for guests to enjoy.

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It was a delight!

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Some of our favorite critters included the momma and baby pot belly pig,

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The herd of zebras,

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Goats, and elk, and deer…oh my!

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And of course, the bison.

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But the star of the safari were the ostriches!

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They did not recieve the social distancing memo!

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Standing as sentries along the road, they greeted each guest who approached, hoping that someone had treats stashed in their car. They were sorely disappointed and only let us pass once they realized we were contraband-free.

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These log-necked pick pockets were a delight!!

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It wasn’t the traditional senior celebration, but Wagon Trails offered us a great way to “make lemonade from lemons.”

Next Stop: home…for the second half of our graduation celebration!

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Since a graduation celebration with guests was an impossibility, and since restaurants are still “take-out” only, a meal out or a party with friends was impossible. Instead we celebrated at home with family.

The boys requested wings for their graduation celebration so after our animal safari Toby and I headed to Cranberry to pick up wings from Big Shot Bobs. We ordered a variety of flavors and when we returned home we had a veritable feast of meat!

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My big boys were in heaven!

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We gathered in the dining room to eat. It was already decorated for our celebration. The girls had helped me transition our dining room from the Disney décor leftover from our themed dinner night, to a graduation decorations for our two seniors.

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Following dinner we presented the boys with their graduation gifts. Typically our gift to the graduate is a trip or a personalized experience. As a family we definitely enjoy “doing” more than “having.” Unfortunately,  we are living in an uncertain world where so much is closed and travel plans must be written in pencil, so I racked my brain to come up with an alternative gift for the graduates. We didn’t want to just give them something or throw money at them. We wanted them to have something to look forward to…an experience that could be enjoyed. We decided to gift them each with a subscription box, personalized to their particular interests.

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We thought it was the best plan. It was doable, even with all that is going on in the world, and it would give them something to look forward to each month. Who doesn’t like getting a package in the mail?!

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With so many subscription boxes to pick from it was tough to chose. For Rusty we decided on a Disney World themed box in which he will receive a variety of theme park gifts and goodies each month. For Braden we subscribed to Loot Crate. His monthly package will include a mix of gaming gear. It was one of those “different but equal” gifts we strive for as parents when our children reach milestones simultaneously. I wanted them to feel equally loved while feeling loved in a way unique to their personalities and interests.

They were both thrilled!

Next Thursday the boys will graduate from 21st Century Cyber Charter school.

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Their ceremony will be a YouTube Live event, and rather than walking across a stage, these photos of them wearing their cap and gowns will be flashed across the screen.

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It may not be the ending they envisioned but it will be a notable beginning to an exciting future. Congratulations, boys! You did it!

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So Many Reasons to be Thankful!

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This time of year I find myself reflecting on all that I have to be grateful for. With the Thanksgiving holiday comes acknowledgement of all those blessings that we perhaps overlook or take for granted when our focus is not on thanksgiving and counting our blessings. It is perhaps a sad reality that it takes a nudge from Hallmark to get us thinking about all we take for granted. But I am grateful for a reminder to ponder on all the blessings God has bestowed upon our family.

One of those blessings is the opportunity we have had to teach our children at home for the last 14 years.

Homeschooling wasn’t a lifestyle choice we sought out. Rather, it was one that landed in our lap unexpectedly. Gracie attended a traditional “brick and mortar” public school for Kindergarten. It was a wonderful experience and we had no reason to seek out a different educational path for her (or the children that followed) and yet during the summer between her kindergarten and first grade year we began feeling prompted to look into homeschooling. This heavenly nudge scared me to death. I didn’t know the first thing about homeschooling, I had no idea where to start, and I knew everyone we love would think we were crazy, but the more I pushed off the notion of moving our child back home for school, the more God pushed back…

So, I began to research our options.

I soon discovered that the resources and support for this educational path were abundant. There were so many options and so many paths within the path of educating children at home. We finally decided to take the leap of faith. The thought that calmed my nerves was that it was only 1st grade. Surely I couldn’t mess Grace up too badly over the course of one year…It was only 1st grade.

The journey that began with such anxiety and uncertainty soon became the source of much joy and endless blessings for our children and our family as a whole. We decided to take the path of cyber schooling, choosing a cyber school that first year that would allow me to do most of the hands-on teaching but allowed for the teacher-support and accountability that made me feel more secure in this new role.

As our first year came to a close I knew that this was the right model of education for our family. We fell in love with the school-at-home lifestyle and all that it offered us as a family. A year that began with feelings of insecurity and uncertainty ended with feelings of gratitude and a sense of accomplishment. We had done it and done it well.

When we felt the nudge to begin walking this unfamiliar path we had no idea the “why” behind the prompting. We didn’t have any idea of the challenges the next few years would hold, or how this educational path would benefit our family as we navigated those challenges, until we found ourselves in the midst of them…

Challenges like Grace and Molly’s reading struggles due to Dyslexia, Rusty’s challenges with Selective Mutism, and our adoptive sons’ needs for therapeutic support and opportunity for family attachment made the home school environment ideal for meeting their unique, individual needs.

There is no way we could have anticipated those challenges when our children were small but Heavenly Father could and He set us up for success as a family by placing us on the exact path we needed to be on to support our children in their own individual journeys.

Over the last 14 years we have spent countless hours reading novels while snuggling on the couch, performing countless science experiments at the kitchen counter, working our way through endless math worksheets that got progressively harder with each passing year, traveling around the state to learn first hand about the world around us through countless field trips, and making lifelong friends through our co-op and cyber schools. We have been blessed with thousands of extra hours to parent, teach, and train our children at home while most of their peers were spending their days with teachers and school staff, a blessing that has allowed us to facilitate growth that would have been especially challenging had we traveled a more traditional path.

This pattern of education is not the right fit for every child or every family, but I am so grateful we were nudged (or shoved) onto this less traveled path, because it has made all the difference.

This year Braden was our 6th child to venture down this road. Last year he opted to attend our local public school but during the summer he came to us asking if he could be cyber schooled for his senior year. It has been a great fit for him and he is thriving. So much of that success is due to the phenomenal cyber school that has been an incredible blessing to our family for the last six years. Braden has joined Rusty at 21st Century Cyber Charter School for 12th grade. This is the same cyber school that did such a phenomenal job of preparing Grace and Molly for success in college. As I consider the blessings that have accompanied this educational journey, 21st Century is at the top of that list…

So, it was fitting that during this month of gratitude, we were able to join staff and other 21CCCS families at the Murrysville location for a Thanksgiving dinner.

The outing was split into two parts. First came the preparation. Then came the feast. The students arrived at the school building two hours prior to the scheduled feast to cook the Thanksgiving meal for their families.

We dropped off Braden and Rusty and they, along with other students, began preparing our meal.

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When we arrived two hours later the yummy smells permeated the halls.

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When Tyler, Toby and I walked in we found the students and staff enjoying a Thanksgiving trivia game.

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We joined in using our phones to compete against other players in the room.

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Then it was time to eat!

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The students had all done a great job of preparing a mouth-watering feast,

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Complete with pies for dessert. Rusty and Braden made the Oreo crème pies for the meal.

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It was a wonderful celebration of all that we have to be thankful for.

And for this momma, our school-at-home journey and 21st Century Cyber Charter School are found at the top of that list!

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We are blessed!

 

Molly’s Graduation Day!!

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

It was the day Miss Molly walked on stage, dressed in a cap and gown, and graduated high school.

I’m not sure how it is that we arrived at this day so quickly. It is as if I closed my eyes for a moment and my wild child had grown from a “character,” who would smuggle dead chipmunks home in her Dora the Explorer backpack and climb onto the roof in the middle of the night, into a woman of great character. There were a few years there that I didn’t think I would survive Molly’s pre-school years; certain she would be behind bars by age seven. She was my feral child, content to live in the woods, build fairy houses, and fill her pockets with frogs. There was no rule she wouldn’t break and no boundary she wouldn’t test. Her passion for life and her impulsive nature kept life interesting. Our life revolved around coming up with a security system that would keep her safely contained in her room while we tried to sleep at night. She was the child who had to be walked on a leash in public and who charmed the socks off everyone she met by her ever-absent filter and unique perspective on life.

She was our quirky little bird, with a bigger than life personality and a heart that stretched to each corner of the globe.

Over the years the impulsivity waned and her willingness to obey improved, but her sunny disposition, fierce determination, love for nature and animals, and her heart for others and God only grew. She is now ready to leave the nest. She can finally be trusted to leave my sight without walking into traffic.

Well, sort-of …

And Saturday was the big send-off.

After years of parenting, redirecting, teaching, loving, redirecting, supporting, guiding, and redirecting. Our sweet Miss Molly did it…

What a blessed day it was!

It was an action-packed day that began at 10:30 am and stretched to 3:00 pm, packed full of graduation day activities.

Unlike a local high school that might spread graduation preparation over a week’s 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 friends for breakfast.

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

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. Molly was sent to get in line to receive her senior gift bag which contained a complimentary yearbook and a 21CCCS alumni t-shirt.

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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.

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While we were eating and visiting, Molly, Tatum, Caleigh, Annaliese, Irvin and the other graduating seniors were kept busy behind the scenes.

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First, they got fitted for their caps and gowns.

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After hugs and a few tears,

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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.

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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.

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While we waited in the cafeteria, the other kids kept busy enjoying the delicious spread of food that was provided and playing card games that I had packed in my purse.

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It was soon time to head to the auditorium for the commencement exercises. Rusty was asked (as a member of National Honor Society) to stand at the door and hand out programs.

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

The students walked in and the tears began.

Our girls looked so grown up and pretty.

The students were seated on stage and the school principal stood up to welcome the families and introduce the speakers. Molly was one of four students who were chosen to speak at graduation.

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

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Next it was time for the presentation of scholarships.

At 21st Century Cyber Charter School the teachers have a long-standing tradition of presenting five 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 in-service days, which they will use to raise money to help fund these scholarships. This year they raised $5,000, enough for 5 students to each be awarded a thousand-dollar scholarship.

The teachers of this school are incredible and are at the heart of why this school shines brighter than the rest. Each of my children have been blessed with incredible learning coaches who have been a perfect fit for that child to grow and find success through this cyber school model. I feel like over the last 6 years so many of the staff at 21CCCS have become more like family friends through their interactions with our family.

 

These relationships that develop over four years of working side by side as student, parent, and learning coach, are what make graduation days bittersweet. Molly was blessed with a very special learning coach in Mr. Winterode.

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His patient reassurance and constant encouragement was just what Molly needed to overcome her own insecurities about her learning disabilities and finally see how capable and able she is.

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She blossomed under his care and his homeroom soon became the envy of the school with its fun banter and great group of students that called themselves “Coach’s Doghouse.”

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I could share stories like this about all the teachers we have gotten to know through our time in the school. 21st Century Cyber Charter School is unique in the experience it offers and I have tried to put my finger on the exact formula that sets them apart from other cyber schools. I think it comes down to this: Their standards are high. They know and appreciate the worth of a good teacher, a good staff member, and a good cyber schooling family. They hire the best and then treat them like the best. The teachers love what they do. They feel appreciated. Because those at the top treat their most valuable asset with respect and appreciation, the entire vibe of the school is uplifting and supportive and positive. The joy and enthusiasm of those teachers then trickle down to the students and families under their care, making everyone excited to be part of something so uniquely special in the world of cyber schooling options.

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How blessed we feel to have been led to this educational gem six years ago.

Next, we watched as they handed out the scholarships for greatest academic excellence to the student with the highest GPA, 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 Molly’s name!

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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 something right these last 19 years. I remember being a young mom and praying over that little bundle 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.”

God has been merciful.

This is the same scholarship that Gracie was gifted with her senior year. Once again we were moved by the honor they bestowed on Molly when she was chosen by the teachers at 21st Century Cyber Charter School as the second McCleery to receive this special scholarship.

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

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.

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 a 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.

It was time to celebrate!

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It was a joy to see how happy Braden was for Molly on her special day. ❤

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Sweet friendships created at 21st Century Cyber Charter School.

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Molly did it!

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Tatum did it.

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Annaliese did it.

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Caleigh did it.

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We did it!

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Congratulations, ladies. We are so proud of you!

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What a beautiful journey it has been!

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A recreation photo of Grace and Olivia’s graduation day.

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

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Road Block Ahead

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This week was a big one at Patchwork Farm!!

It was graduation week for Miss Molly and her nearest and dearest friends, and we had a few action packed days planned for the graduate.

On Wednesday it was secretly decided that we would drive out in shifts; with most of us leaving to head east on Thursday, and Toby and Molly leaving bright and early Friday morning due to work conflicts that prevented them from leaving on Thursday. I knew this trip was going to be especially challenging for Braden. I anticipated the combination of heightened emotions, family togetherness, Ozzie’s absence, and Molly preparing to go away to college, would set off insecurities deep inside that might prompt him to flee rather than have to face Molly’s graduation ceremony… as this has been his pattern recently. My solution to scaling that possible roadblock: throw him off by eliminating the anxiety brought on by anticipation, and simply show up at school a day early with bags packed and jump right on the turnpike, travelling at a speed that would discourage passengers from jumping.

This plan was divinely prompted and it worked out perfectly. By not anticipating a Thursday departure, we were able to avoid the self-destructive behaviors that present during anticipation of upcoming family connection experiences,

And the unpredictability and adventure of an impromptu road trip fed his need for chaos and risk, in a way that was healthy and parent-led.

This plan worked perfectly.

At noon I stopped by the high school to sign Braden out. He joined Grace, Molly and Tyler in the car with all our luggage, we jumped right onto the turnpike. 3 1/2 hours later we found ourselves in Harrisburg for our first overnight stay. The juggling of multiple schedules required us to travel in shifts. My most pressing requirement was to arrive at a location that offered Pathway gathering classes so I wouldn’t miss out on Thursday night gathering points for my college courses. As I looked up Pathway gatherings on the Eastern side of the state, I decided Hershey/Harrisburg area was our best shot. It was timed out perfectly, allowing us to arrive, check-in, settle the kids into the hotel room with dinner and a movie, before I left for class.

My plans were thwarted, however, when we pulled into the Radisson that was to be our home-away-from home for the night and found it surrounded by armed guards, swat teams, local police and military.

My first thought was, “Oh, Crap…They must of heard we were coming.”

My second thought was, “Or maybe someone was murdered.”

It turns out that neither was true. The reason behind the walking/talking fire power was that the Vice President of the United States was spending the night at our hotel for a GOP convention.

Mr. Mike Pence almost lost me 60 points in class credit this week when the armed guards refused to let us through the barricade to check into our hotel. Lucky for my family, I have grown bolder and more fearless in recent years, thanks to MANY opportunities to grow those assertiveness muscles…

Needless to say, after all I have lived through in the last few years, armed soldiers with intense scowls didn’t scare me in the least.

They were simply just another roadblock that needed to be scaled as we moved toward a bigger goal.

I have come to appreciate the roadblocks of life.

They stretch us in ways that the easy seasons of life don’t.

They grow muscles that can only be built through adversity.

They give us a healthier perspective on life.

And they gives us the opportunity to fight for those things and those people who deserve to be fought for, despite the lies that have argued otherwise.

The road blocks of life allow us to prove our diligence, our courage, our tenacity, and the depth of our conviction for the cause we are fighting for.

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Road blocks allow our empty words to have a voice…

The powerful and resounding voice of ACTION.

After some sweet talk and then some straight talk, we were waved through and allowed to check in. I settled the kids in and left them with their faces pressed to the window in hopes of catching a glimpse of someone important, while I raced off to class. I arrived and was only 15 minutes late…a sure miracle given the obstacles we faced.

Everyone did exceptionally well in my absence despite disappointment that no one of note strolled by their hotel window.

On Friday we met up with Toby and Molly at the Home 2 Suites in Downingtown, PA, that would serve as home base for the weekend.

The first big event: Molly’s senior prom!

Stay tuned for pictures of all our gussied up girls!

Hanging on for Dear Life!

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And then in the midst of it all, life keeps rolling on…

A never-slowing train, speeding down the track.

As we hold on tightly, trying to enjoy the scenic vistas as they fly past.

Rusty now makes child #4 in the “gainfully employed club” at Patchwork Farm. He has joined Braden as an ice cream scooper at Handel’s and is loving the experience. The increased cash flow, coupled by the free sweet treats, has made this a dream job for our gentle giant.

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With 4 children employed, and Ozzie currently residing at a residential facility, we have found ourselves left with only Tyler home a lot of the time. It is so weird to look around and have only one child lounging in the living room, instead of six. The experience has given us an sneak peek into life in the future when Tyler will be the last child at home. I think he is feeling a bit lost in it all, but I keep telling him we just need to hang in there for a few more years and once we can kick everyone out we will be able to have some awesome adventures with the extra disposable income that will result from a decreased family food budget! 😉

Ozzie has been transferred from the acute facility where he was being stabilized to the long-term facility where he will be for the next 6-12 months for more intensive, in-patient trauma therapy. We feel incredibly blessed to be able to get him admitted to the same RTF where he was so successful prior. Located in Erie, Harborcreek Youth Services provided an amazing blend of physical, emotional and spiritual care that allowed Ozzie to safely face the traumas of his past that are so destructive to his current relationships and result in poor choices and dangerous behaviors.

The sheer quantity and variety of therapeutic work that can be offered in a week-long period (family therapy, trauma therapy, EMDR therapy, group sessions, anger management, art therapy, animal therapy, trauma releasing yoga and music therapy) gives Ozzie a highly submersible experience that yields amazing results for him.

We hate that he has to be sent away to get the help he needs, but we are so grateful for the loving care he receives from amazing staff who act as interim parents in our absence, supporting Ozzie as he focuses on his own healing journey.

Gracie just finished out another semester of school and one of the art electives she chose to take this past semester was a pottery class. Beginning with basic pinch pots and working up to creating pieces on the wheel, Grace had the opportunity to design, create, paint and fire a variety of pottery pieces. This week she brought home her finished creations. Some of her finished pieces include:

A large flower vase that she made as a gift for her Momma:

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A model of our school bus turned RV:

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A wall vase to hang on the wall of her room and fill with fresh flowers:

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And a set of mugs that she creatively designed with a pocket to hold the used tea bag when making a cup of tea:

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This is just a sampling of the completed projects she brought home. She loved the class and we loved being the benefactors of her talent and generosity!

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With the conclusion of May comes many end of the year/graduation celebrations for Miss Molly. The first acknowledgement that this was really happening and that our little girls were all grown up occurred at our end of the year co-op picnic. We joined with other co-op families to celebrate another successful year of teaching our children at home. As part of our picnic, Miss Lana brought a celebratory cake for our four graduating seniors.

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I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that four women stand before me where four little girls with mismatched socks once stood.

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Four sweet girls! Caleigh’s curlers are in preparation for that night’s performance of “Little Women” at Mohawk High School.

On the heels of one graduation celebration came another. On Sunday we celebrated Molly’s graduation from seminary, a scripture study course offered to the high school students of our church. For the last four years she has chosen to add an additional 60 minutes of work to her weekday schedule to study the teachings of Christ and apply those teachings to her life as a disciple of Christ. We are so glad she chose to participate, as we have seen first hand the great growth that happens when our children are actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ through daily prayer and scripture study.

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As part of the graduation ceremony, we heard from a few of the graduating seniors and then enjoyed a beautiful musical number as Hailey and Heather sang “Be Still my Soul” while Molly interpreted the song through American Sign Language.

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Following the ceremony there was a reception in the cultural hall where guests could enjoy desserts while strolling around, reading the graduation posters, and signing their well wishes to all the graduating seniors.

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So proud of you, Miss Molly!

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Another celebration of Molly’s upcoming graduation from high school came in the form of a senior trip. Molly and Tatum were invited by Irvin and his family to stay at their home in Gettysburg for two days.

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After years of friendship, Irvin wanted to have the girls come and visit his home town and meet his parents. The family set up their pottery studio/store as a B & B for the girls, spoiling them rotten with homemade meals, story telling, chocolates on their pillows, site seeing around Gettysburg and even gifted them with one of their handcrafted mugs as a parting gift of hospitality.

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On Friday, the girls joined Irvin for a trip to Knoebels, the amusement park that was chosen as the site for this year’s senior day. There they met up with other 21st Century seniors and teachers for a day of riding rides and having fun…

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Ending the day with ice cream.

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It was a fun adventure for Molly and Tatum to share before they get pulled into the vortex of college life…

And it was all made possible thanks to the kindness and hospitality of the Young family.

It is an exciting time for Miss Molly and we couldn’t be happier for our walking ray of sunshine!

A 21st Century Adventure!

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This post is weeks overdue, but the craziness of life has left me scrambling for an hour of solitude and silence to sit and blog. In the absence of either, I find myself stealing free moments, a bite at time, so as to try and catch up on recording the events of our life that occurred weeks ago.

In the week leading up to Mother’s day we had our annual all-school field trip with 21st Century Cyber Charter School. Despite the million reasons why we shouldn’t attend this year (ie: multiple kids in crisis) we decided to press forward , especially for Molly’s sake, given this is her senior year and final 21CCCS field trip.

Our cyber school offers multiple field trips and outings throughout the school year and across the state for their students that are spread all the way from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, but the event of the year rolls around every May when everyone comes together for one huge, school-wide adventure. Past trips have included the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Annapolis, Mt. Vernon, Gettysburg, etc. This year’s end of the year field trip was to Washington D.C. Buses were sent to the four corners of the state to pick up 21cccs families and shuttle them to D.C. for the day.

We had originally reserved eight spots on the Pittsburgh bus, but on Thursday morning we found our numbers down to four. Rather than miss out when some of the kids weren’t able to come, Toby decided to stay home with those who weren’t up for the trip and I enjoyed a rare, easy-breezy day with the O3- Grace, Molly and Rusty.

And it was a gift….

Such a gift!

We left the house at 3:30 am to drive to Monroeville and catch the chartered bus to Washington D.C. with the other 21cccs families.

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The size of our group warranted 2 buses and we found ourselves traveling with our good friends, the Hudaks.

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The day ended up being my Mother’s Day gift to me.

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We loved the t-shirts for this year’s field trip!

It was a treat having some special one-on-one time with my “non-squeaky wheels”…those kids who find themselves setting aside their wants for the more pressing needs of our hurting kids.

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For 18 hours they had me all to themselves and I reveled in the treat of being able to enjoy the joys of motherhood with none of the work. It truly was like a day off from real life as I enjoyed the company of my oldest kids and our dear friends, had hours of quiet reflection, looking out the window as someone else drove us the 5 hours there and back to Washington D.C., and a day of fun in one of my all-time favorite cities.

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Our large school group was split into two groups. We were visiting two Smithsonian museums with half the group beginning at the Air and Space Museum and half visiting the National Building Museum.

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We started our day at the Air and Space Museum:

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At noon all the 21st Century families and staff came together on the grass of the Mall and enjoyed a picnic lunch.

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Molly enjoyed catching up with friends from across the state,

As well as getting to spend some time with her learning coach, Mr. Winterode… an all-time favorite teacher of both my girls!

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After lunch on the Mall we walked over to our second location,

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The National Building Museum:

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It was a LONG day, but in a season of many LONG days, it was a gift to have an easy/fun/non-drama sort of long day!

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I love our cyber school!

Rusty’s NHS Induction Ceremony

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We couldn’t be prouder of child #3.

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Rusty has joined Molly and Grace as the third child to be inducted into National Honor Society.

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The induction ceremony took place on Wednesday evening, following our sweet day of fun. We arrived back at our hotel with an hour to spare before we needed to leave for the ceremony. We got all gussied up and left for the banquet which was being held at St. Anthony’s Lodge, a local restaurant/banquet hall.

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When we arrived, we quickly found our assigned table and discovered we had lucked out with seats up front, which pleased this picture-taking Momma! We were seated with Mr. Winterode, Molly’s learning coach, as well as a few other favorite teachers.

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The evening began with a buffet dinner. As we ate we had fun socializing with teachers that we don’t typically get to see face to face.

Then it was time for the induction ceremony to begin.

Rusty and the other nominees were called out of the room to get lined up and receive last minute instructions before they filed into the banquet hall.

We watched with pride as Rusty took part in the inductee procession, taking his seat in the front of the room.

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Then it was Molly’s turn to take the stage. Molly is 21st Century Cyber School’s National Honor Society president this year, so she was asked to speak at the induction ceremony. She chose to speak on one of the four pillars of NHS…the pillar of character.

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Here is what she shared with the new inductees:

“Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Think for a second about what you do when no one is watching. What type of character do you have? What experiences have molded you into the person you are today? Which people around you have influenced you to have the character you have?

Character is defined as “The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual,” which basically means that character makes us individuals. Our character helps us to be distinctive compared to the person sitting beside us, and the world needs that. Communities need individuals who have strong character to be an improving generation. Colleges look for individuals who show strongmcharacter traits and who have been shaped into outstanding students like you! It is your good character that is going to make the biggest impact in the world, both in the big moments but also the simplest times.

We all have opportunities and experiences to better learn our potential every day. My biggest experience of learning and gaining a stronger character came through a personal experience last summer.

I was accepted into The Global Leadership Adventure program. I spent 10 days in Costa Rica working with sea turtle conservation. It was a powerful experience for me because it was at that time that I learned I loved animal conservation, I love helping people and the environment, I enjoy travel, I can do hard things and I want to make a positive change in the world. Those ten days were powerful then, but every day since then I count my blessings of personal character growth that I gained from that trip.

Gaining character doesn’t have to involve traveling to a different country. It could be in the people we meet, the trials we go through, a school year, or even the everyday moments. It is all about finding our potential, worth, and individuality in the world, and then using that knowledge to bless the lives of others.

“Watch your thoughts; they lead to attitudes. Watch your attitudes; they lead to words. Watch your words; they lead to actions. Watch your actions; they lead to habits. Watch your habits; they form your character. Watch your character; it determines your destiny.”

I love the comment of how character determines your destiny. Tody I reflect on how NHS has shaped me to become the person I am today through the service opportunities I have had, leadership I’ve experienced, how much I’ve learned from other NHS members, and the opportunity I have had to be part of something bigger then myself.

What a privilege and blessing it is to be part of NHS and I proudly and gladly welcome you, new NHS members, with open arms. You, too, get the amazing opportunity to have your character shaped and molded through the experiences and service opportunities that come from NHS.

Cherish this time in NHS, because the world needs you. The world needs your strong character and outstanding personalities…

For your character defines you.

Your character can change the world.

Your character determines your destiny.

So, what will your legacy be?

The power lies in your hands.”

She did a wonderful job and it was so special that she, as NHS president, got to welcome her little brother into the NHS family in the same way Gracie, as NHS president 2 years ago, welcomed Molly into NHS as a new inductee.

Then it was time for the enlightenment ceremony; the ceremonial lighting of the inductee’s lantern of knowledge.

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This was followed by the induction pledge and the pin ceremony.

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It was such a special day and my heart was filled with gratitude that Molly and I were able to have that special time with Rusty and celebrate his hard work and his great effort in joining the ranks of students who qualified for the privledge of being a member of National Honor Society.

It was nice getting that special time with my third child, and it was good for Rusty to be able to shine and receive recognition for the exceptional young man he is. Rusty is my quiet gentleman, content to step back and let others shine, but I often worry that, in a home filled with big personalities and extreme needs, he feels unseen. This trip gave us the opportunity to allow him the chance to shine, as we celebrated him for the incredible young man he has become.

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We are so proud of you, Rusty, and love you so much!

Extra, Extra…Read all about it!

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In the excitement of BIG, life changing events here at Patchwork Farm, I have been less diligent in recording the daily living moments that are the molecules that make up our life. In an attempt to remedy this I downloaded all the miscellaneous photos captured on my camera and phone.

Here is the latest and greatest news at Patchwork Farm:

Tyler continues to receive extra reading help as he works to address the struggles associated with his diagnoses of Dyslexia. Currently he is receiving extra reading tutoring two times a week at the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Western Pennsylvania in New Castle, and Barton tutoring every Monday in Wexford. I have been amazed at his progress now that we are using a program created to address the way a dyslexic brain learns. With the help of Miss Jan, his Barton tutor, he just passed level 4 in the Barton program. We are so proud of his efforts and are thrilled to be seeing the fruits of his efforts!

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Ozzie is now 15. I’m not sure how that is possible, but he insists that it is true. Because his birthday occurred while we were on our trip, and because there wasn’t a spare inch of room in the car to pack the birthday gifts that arrived in the mail from extended family, he enjoyed birthday celebration #2 when we arrived home. He was spoiled rotten by family that love him and know him so well. He couldn’t have been more thrilled with his surprises!

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Rusty received the exciting news, upon returning home from vacation, that his application for National Honor Society had been received, considered and approved for membership. He is very excited and we are excited for him. We will be traveling out to Downingtown (on the eastern side of the state) in a few weeks for his induction ceremony. This news is made all the more special by the fact that 21st Century’s NHS president is his own sister. Just as Molly was able to be inducted into National Honor Society by Grace, who was serving as the president of NHS at that time, Rusty will be welcomed into this academic society by Molly who is serving as president this year.

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This has been an exciting year for Miss Molly who finds herself in the home stretch of her high school journey. This has been a great year for Molly, who has kept busy juggling the multitude of activities and responsibilities associated with senior year. She continues to work part time at Subway with Grace, co-runs the school’s American Sign Language club, participates in debate club and the school’s literary magazine, and is president of NHS. She does this while continuing with her commitment to Ready Yourself Youth Ranch where she volunteers two mornings a week with Grace and Rusty, as well as participating in church activities and early morning seminary.

This year has definitely given her a taste of adulthood and the juggling act that accompanies the privileges of all that freedom. We are happy to say she is balancing it all with great grace.

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This year has been one of great introspection and exploration as Molly has visited and applied to many colleges and prayed about where Heavenly Father would have her go upon the completion of high school. A decision has been made and we will devote our next blog post to that exciting news!

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Grace has served as a great example to Molly, as well as Brandon and Rusty (who will be entering their senior year) on how to navigate the transition into adulthood. She is very happy and we are happy for her, despite the fact we only see her in passing. Grace’s schedule is packed to the max with her American Sign Language classes, part time work, church activities and callings, as well as being a rock of stability for our family.

Currently in her ASL classes she is learning protactile interpreting. This form of sign language is used to interpret for individuals who are both deaf and blind. It utilizes a variety of methods to communicate a message and the surrounding atmosphere to a deaf client who is visually impaired.  The methods taught vary, based on the specific needs of the clients. To put this teaching into practice, Gracie’s professor had each of the students bring in an old pair of sunglasses that were altered to mimic different forms and degrees of blindness. The students donned those altered glasses to practice protactile interpreting. This is one of Gracie’s favorite forms of interpreting and she had really enjoyed strengthening this skill. It is neat to see her so engaged and loving this program.

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In addition to being so happy with her educational pursuits, much of the reason behind her beautiful smile has to do with this young man:

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Grace and Zach have known each other for more than a decade, having grown up together at church and having spent much time with the Zach’s sisters who are besties with my girls. It wasn’t until recently that they saw each other through fresh eyes. It didn’t take more than a few dates before they knew they wanted to see more of each other and they have been wearing these sunshiny smiles ever since. We couldn’t be happier. It is always a blessing to see your children happy, and all the more blessed when they find happiness with someone so kind.

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This Saturday we celebrate the happiness Grace so freely shares with the world as we reflect back on the last two decades and celebrate Gracie’s 21st birthday!

I have no idea where the time has gone but what a joyful journey it has been!

Last Saturday we got a jump on her birthday celebration when Zach joined our family (minus Molly who was working that night) for an escape room adventure. In December a deal popped up on Toby’s Groupon feed for an out-of-this-world deal on an escape room in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. He jumped on the deal while it was offered, knowing we would be able to use it for an upcoming birthday celebration. The plan was to make reservations for Grace’s actual birthday, which falls on a Saturday this year, but when we went to book it we discovered it expired the weekend before. Being experts at “Plan B” adventures, we quickly adjusted schedules and headed there last Friday with Zach, to celebrate part 1 of Gracie’s birthday…a week early.

The hours leading up to our escape room date were fraught with high emotions and angsts, and I wasn’t sure if our whole crew was going to make it to the adventure. The heightened anxiety associated with fears that Braden’s adoption day won’t come to fruition have left everyone on edge and extra sensitive. Blow-ups and melt-downs are a regular occurrence and an expected reaction to the anticipation associated with adoption day. Having done this twice before, we are well familiar with the heightened emotions and extreme challenges that accompany the news of an upcoming adoption, so we brace ourselves for the storm. We’ve learned the best strategy is to tighten our life vests, pull the sails taut, and ride the waves till we see land.

We managed to get everyone to the activity, and by the end of the escape room challenge everyone was in a better place emotionally.

It was fun having Zach join our crazy crew as we tried to unlock the mysteries of the space ship we were trapped in, and make our way back to Earth in the 60 minute time frame.

We escaped with time to spare and had a “blast!”  *hee hee*

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So, there you go. Consider yourself up to date and “in the know” with all the news to be told at Patchwork Farm.

Fun with Science!

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On Thursday we headed into Pittsburgh for our first school outing since returning from vacation. This trip was organized by 21st Century Cyber Charter School, which is Rusty, Molly and Ozzie’s cyber school.

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We were excited that a break in Gracie’s crazy schedule allowed her to come play with us for the day. After bidding Toby “goodbye” and dropping Brandon off at the bus stop, we ventured south to play for the day.

In addition to meeting up with some of the teachers from 21st Century Cyber Charter School, we were also joined by 75 other students & families. It was the biggest turnout we had ever seen for a local outing with 21cccs. Among the numbers were quite a few familiar faces, and it was fun to catch up with friends after being away for the last month.

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The first half of the outing was spent in the science center where the kids explored the various exhibits and enjoyed the hands-on learning available over the four floors of fun.

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Some of the favorite exhibits include H2O!:

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BodyWorks:

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“Our bodies are marvelous machines! BodyWorks uses brand-new interactive exhibits, live shows, and demonstrations to explore the blood, guts, bones, brains, senses, and mechanics that make us  us!

The exhibit explores our Muscles and Bones, Heart and Lungs, Digestive System, Brain and Nerves, and Body Basics.

Learn about the fluids that fill your body, the limits of the human form, and what parts of you can be replaced.

Come pump a heart, stretch your intestines, fool your senses, make your skeleton dance, see actual preserved human organs, and more!”

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Roboworld:

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Welcome to roboworld®, the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibition! Learn how ‘bots sense, think, and act and explore dozens of interactive exhibit stations in this one-of-a-kind robotics experience. It’s the ultimate robot gathering, right here in Pittsburgh! Are you ready to go robotic?

At roboworld®, explore hands-on robotics exhibits – and even challenge a robot to a game of air hockey! Roboworld highlights the amazing technology that enables robots to sense, think, and act.

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And the Miniature Railroad & Village exhibit which highlights landmarks around the Pittsburgh area:

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“Take a walking tour of western Pennsylvania at the world-renowned Miniature Railroad & Village®.

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This beloved exhibit’s story began in 1919 with a man named Charles Bowdish of Brookville, Pa. Originally a holiday display on the second floor of his house, it moved to the Buhl Planetarium in 1954, and ultimately found its final home at Carnegie Science Center in 1992.

The Miniature Railroad & Village® features hundreds of wonderfully realistic animated scenes that illustrate how people lived, worked, and played in our region during an era spanning the 1880s to the late 1930s.

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More favorites include the Primanti Bros. restaurant in the Strip District, Westinghouse Atom Smasher, Crawford Grill, Fallingwater, Forbes Field, Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler’s Knob, Luna Park, Sharon Steel Mill, Manchester Farms, and a historic Pittsburgh incline, to name a few.

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Mr. Roger’s house. The only building in the miniature village that isn’t a real place. Can you spot Mr. Rodgers and Mr. McFeely?

The Miniature Railroad & Village® features: 105 animations, 250,000+trees, 14 aircraft, 85 automobiles, 1 Incline (Monongahela Incline), 60 trucks, 22 horse-drawn vehicles, 23,000 fans in Forbes Field”

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At noon we all gathered in the lunchroom to eat our packed lunches before heading over to Sportsworks, the second building included with our cost of admission, where the kids enjoyed more hands-on fun.

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This building’s exhibits focus more on the human body, heath, and fitness, with various challenges that allow guests to put the marvels of the human body to the test.

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Among the challenges were a race track, climbing wall,

And the most recent addition: a ropes course that sits high above the other activities below.

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“Learn about the science behind the climb, such as center of mass and inertia, as well as the physiology of fear and thrills and perception.

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Located in the middle of SportsWorks, the Ropes Challenge consists of 11 elements, such as walking a rope bridge, balancing on rolling logs, and climbing across a horizontal net, before reaching the zipline.”

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This exhibit was added since our last visit, and as a result was the first thing the kids go in line to try.

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High above my head they climbed, balanced and zipped through the course, enjoying the novelty of perceived danger without actually being in danger of falling to their deaths.

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As I stood below, capturing their adventure on film, I wasn’t sure if the strangled screams were expressions of delight or terror.

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In the end the consensus was that the new ropes course was a fun addition to the science center.

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It was a fun day with a fun group of friends.