Tag Archives: adoption

It takes a real man to be a Dad!

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Today is the day we celebrate fathers.

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It is the day we honor the men in our life who love unconditionally, who provide selflessly, and who step up and give all for the children they love.

I have been blessed with exceptional men in my life who have shown me what a real man is and how a real man acts. From my grandfathers, to my father-in-law, to the man who raised me, I have been blessed with the best.

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I have learned from their examples, been bolstered by their encouragement, and watched as their values were manifested in the way they lived their lives.

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Each of them showed what they value most by the daily choices they made, making clear that God and family come first.

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I was raised by a great man which is why I sought a great man to be my eternal companion and the father to my children. I was one of the lucky ones that didn’t carry the burden of breaking an unhealthy or dysfunctional relationship cycle. Because of how my father loved my mother, I knew what I was suppose to expect from a relationship. I don’t take this for granted. I know this was a great blessing that so many are denied.

But I have also witnessed in my life the great power of a good man to be a “cycle breaker.” I see it in my own home. I see the power for change that can come when a good man loves a child to the degree that a child begins seeing themselves as loveable.

When it comes to good men, I have been blessed with the best. Today we celebrate our 23rd anniversary and Father’s Day. On the day we married I thought I couldn’t love him more than I did in that moment, but that love was nothing compared to how I feel today.

That love was sweet but untested. It lacked the depth that comes when you move beyond a feeling to a choice. Love grows deeper with each trial and test. Conviction, connection, and commitment come from those hard seasons of life when you choose to stay rather than run. Deep abiding love comes when you see your spouse making the right choice, even when it is a hard choice. It grows as you watch him say “yes” when others would say “no.” Each selfless sacrifice for the good of another added another layer of depth to the love I already felt.

And then he became a father, and my love grew 100 fold as I watched him love, care and provide for our children. I watched as he set aside his own dreams for the sake of his little family.I watched him man-up, go against the agenda of the world, and choose to do right.

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I watched as he loved our children with all he had and watched as he gave them the world.

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And then he gave even more when he opened his heart and home to our sons whose own biological fathers failed them. He took on a responsibility that wasn’t his because of who he is…

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It isn’t easy being a “cycle breaker.” It requires a level of selfless love and unwavering commitment, but he not only took in children abandoned by the world, he made them his in every way. He provides, he forgives, he accepts, he gives, and gives some more so that his boys might know their worth. He loves them as they should have been loved since birth, even when the love, respect, and care he gives isn’t reciprocated. He knows that being a father isn’t about what you get back. Fatherly love isn’t a feeling…it is a choice, and he keeps showing up and loving his kids…

Which is one of the many reasons I love him!

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I am so grateful for the gift of good men in my life. Their walking, talking, daily examples of a father’s love has helped me better understand my Heavenly Father’s love, as illustrated in the poignant video below:

Happy Father’s day, to all the good men in the world.

May we raise them.

May we respect them…

That they may they know their worth.

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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Rusty and Braden’s Senior Photo Shoot

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Being the bizarre spring it has been, it isn’t surprising that tasks that I would normally be on top off have fallen to the wayside. One of those tasks being senior photos.

In past years, with my past seniors, we have coordinated our senior photos long before the final days of the senior school year, but in the midst of navigating a worldwide pandemic certain things have fallen to the wayside.

It wasn’t until I realized we needed to send out graduation announcements that I realized that we still needed to take some senior photos so that we could create the announcements.

This year we have two graduating seniors. Both Braden and Rusty will be graduating from 21st Century Cyber Charter School on June 11th. The school has opted for a virtual graduation. Rather than traveling to Downingtown, Pennsylvania, like we did for Grace and Molly’s graduation ceremonies, we will be watching Rusty and Braden graduate from high school in the comfort of our own living room. This brings mixed feelings as our excursion east to celebrate our kids’ academic achievements is always a highlight of the senior year, but the decision is a wise and prudent one.

The school, in an effort to celebrate their seniors from afar, sent yard signs to all the graduating seniors.

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For seniors across the world, the ending of their academic journey isn’t at all what they expected. We acknowledged this disappointment with some special gifts for our graduating seniors…

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Gifts they donned for their senior photo shoot.

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On two separate sunny spring days we took the boys out in the yard to capture some photos for their graduation announcements. Grace and Molly helped me out.

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I always find boy’s photo shoots to be more challenging than girls. They are less willing to get silly and it is more of a challenge catching their personalities on camera during a staged shoot. We found adding dogs to the mix helped capture their inner joy.

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It was a joy celebrating our two senior sons and we were able to get some great shots of our handsome sons, just in time to create their graduation announcements which will be sent out to all those family and friends that we won’t be able to celebrate with in person.

Rusty’s post-graduation plans include continuing at CCBC (where he was duel enrolled for his senior year) to pursue a degree in unmanned aerial vehicle piloting. He plans of becoming a drone pilot.

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Braden will be attending New Castle School of Trades in the fall as he pursues a degree in Automotive Technology.

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The future is bright for both our boys and we can’t wait to see what God has planned for them!

The first week of May…Thank God it is Over!

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There is no role I value more or invest so much of myself in then the role of mother. It is the title I hold in highest esteem and one I feel has been divinely assigned. Whether my child came to be through biological channels or delivered into my life through a series of “God-incidences,” I know that the children under my care were divinely delivered. Because I hold the role and responsibility of mother in such high esteem, Mother’s Day has always been a cherished holiday for me…

At least it was in the beginning.

In recent years Mother’s Day has become a day that we white-knuckle our way through. Mother’s Day week is our “Hell Week” at Patchwork Farm.

In the world of Navy Seal training, the fourth week of training is dubbed “Hell Week.” 

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This is when students train for five days and five nights solid with a maximum total of four hours of sleep. Hell Week begins at sundown on Sunday and ends at the end of Friday. During this time, trainees face continuous training evolutions. 

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Pretty much every evolution during Hell Week involves the team (or boat crew) carrying their boat — inflatable rubber Zodiacs– over their heads.

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Timed exercises, runs, and crawling through mud flats are interspersed throughout the five-and-a-half days. The largest number of trainees drops out during Hell Week.

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This extreme training is critical, though. SEALs on missions must be able to operate efficiently, oblivious to sub-zero temperatures and their own physical comfort. Their lives, as well as the lives of others, may depend on it.

This is what the first week of May has become at our house. Triggered by significant traumas, the anniversary of past losses, and the complicated and tangled emotions connected to the title of “mother,” Mother’s Day week is by far the most hurt-filled for my adopted sons and the most challenging week of the year for our family as a whole.

It is understandable.

For a child who has experienced neglect and/or abuse at the hand of the one person who should be their lifeline and source of greatest security, the perception of “motherhood” is skewed. This is a reality I have come to experience firsthand over the last seven years. When raising children with attachment disorders there is no greater threat and no larger villain in their eyes then the mother of the house.

It doesn’t matter how different I may look from the mother that failed them, or how different I act from the mother that hurt them…

Because I am “mother,” I am the enemy.

Gaining a greater understanding of attachment disorders and the effects of early childhood trauma has helped me gain an understanding of why I am public enemy #1. It has helped solidify the reality that, despite all I give and all I do, it will never erase the damage done in those early years. The more I study, the more I understand this on a cerebral level…and that helps…but it doesn’t take away the sting when the attacks that are intended for the woman who hurt my sons are targeted toward me simply because I bear the name of “mother.”

Over the last seven years Mother’s Day has gone from being my favorite holiday to being my most dreaded. Once filled with childhood drawings and burnt toast in bed, delivered by sticky fingers, it is now a day filled with misplaced rage, deep hurts, and destructive behaviors. It has become our “Hell Week.”

It is the most trying week of the year at Patchwork Farm. It is the week we all brace ourselves for, knowing it will not only fall short of the Hallmark image of Mother’s Day, but will more closely resemble a documentary on Navy Seal’s “Hell Week.” It is a week of “minimal sleep and continuous training exercises” in which our fortitude and inner strength are tested to the extreme. It is a week of slugging through emotional mudflats and fighting the emotional fatigue of hefting the heavy weight of trauma above our heads for days at a time. It is a battle of endurance and more that once I have considered just not showing up for “Hell Week.”

This year was one of those years.

This year I had a pass to skip out on “Hell Week.” A year ago Toby and I began plans to take a trip we have been dreaming about for two decades. We were taking our long-dreamed about cruise to Alaska and we were planning on leaving the Saturday before Mother’s Day. Needless to say, that trip was canceled as the cruise industry shut down in the wake of Covid-19. I was disappointed on many fronts. As we entered into Mother’s Day week I mourned the loss of our long-anticipated trip, but I also mourned the reprieve from the abuse so closely connected to Mother’s day week. It was the “Hell Week”  we have come to expect from our kids that have suffered so much hurt, heartache, and loss in their short lives, but the chaos playing out at the hands of the hurt were countered by the efforts of my children who haven’t experienced trauma at the hands of a mother.

We lost our opportunity to escape to Alaska, so they brought Alaska to us.

On Saturday, following a quick run to the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions, Toby and I returned home to this:

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We were sent to our room to dress for dinner, as the kids finished transforming the dinning room into an Alaskan escape,

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Complete with mountains and evergreen trees,

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And wild animals!

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By raiding the camping supplies in the basement, they created recreated the Alaskan wilderness in our own home.

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Their creativity and efforts made me feel incredibly loved and cherished.

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Grace cooked a delicious dinner of Alaskan salmon, lemon pepper green bean, and croissants, with mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert,

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While Molly served as our onboard waitress.

It was a perfect night and such a gift of selfless love after an especially hard week.

That is the wonderful thing about “Hell Week.” It doesn’t last forever.

It is a season of extreem challenges and intensive training. It builds muscles that are otherwise untouched and reveals to us inner abilities and our strengths. It is a time when our will is tested and we demonstrate, through our fortitude, that we will stand by our commitments and stay true to the cause.

It is choosing to fight when giving up would be easier.

It is giving our all when we feel completely spent.

It is choosing to endure rather than “ring out.”

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And it is holding on to the hope and the promise that this too shall pass.

 

 

 

 

 

Aloha!

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In an effort to add some levity and sunshine to our days, we have begun adding a themed dinner into our weekly menu. The idea sprouted with the girls and we decided to run with it. Trapped at home and living the same days over and over like the movie “Groundhog Day” we though a themed dinner once a week might be something fun to look forward to.

The girls led the charge with our first themed dinner. Building the night around supplies already on hand, they decided on a luau.

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Earlier that week we added two coconuts to our grocery pick-up order, thinking it might be fun for Tyler to experience breaking open a coconut. Pairing this activity with food on hand and a box of luau decorations in the basement led to a fun night at Patchwork Farm.

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They girls took responsibility for transforming the dinning room into a tropical paradise, complete with sand, shells, and Aquaman (of course!)

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The finished effect of their efforts were charming and cheery!

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Working with what we had on hand, I put together a dinner of rice, barbeque pork sandwiches and a pineapple melon salad with flower cut-out cookies for dessert.

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As dinner was cooking everyone was sent to their rooms to dress for our trip to paradise. Hawaiian shirts were donned and everyone received a lei, including all the dogs.

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We all came to dinner looking festive (at least those who opted to participate in the fun),

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And we enjoyed a delicious dinner while listening to the sounds of the tropics.

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After dinner we headed outside to open our coconuts.

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Toby drilled out the eyes so we could drink the coconut water within,

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And then cracked them open so we could enjoy the meat.

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We ended the night by watching the musical, “South Pacific.”

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We may be trapped at home, but thanks to the creativity and effort of Gracie and Molly we all got to escape to paradise for a few hours.

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Aloha!

 

 

A Dichotomy of Diversion

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It has been an interesting six weeks (to say the least)!

We have lived through an event that will be spoken of in the history books. Upon entering 2020 we had no idea that our world would be changed so drastically in such a short amount of time, as a pandemic swept across the landscape of the world. Like so many, I have found myself trying to wrap my mind around this sudden shift in reality, while trying to carve a new normal out of a situation that is anything but normal.

Through this shift in reality we, like so many others, have gone through a grieving process of sorts as we come to grips with life suddenly changing and so many aspects of what was once predictable, becoming uncertain. I have found myself glued to the news as numbers are updated and the newest closures and policy changes are announced. I find myself riding a wave of ever-changing emotions as I am carried high on the crest of gratitude and acceptance only to be dropped suddenly into a trough of fear and despair.

Our days are reflective of that dichotomy.

In the midst of our new normalcy (Toby home from work, school activities canceled, Grace and Zach living in the bus, Molly’s MTC experience moved to home, and a stay-at-home order issued for Pennsylvania) our days are a melded mix of light and dark.

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We’ve strived to establish routine and predictability in this new lifestyle, with periods of the day set aside for schoolwork, projects, chores, exercise and family fun.

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And from the quarantine that has been thrust upon us many great blessings have come.

It has been a joy getting more time with Toby, Grace, Zach and Molly who normally aren’t home this often.

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We have had the opportunity to work on projects that always seem to be put on the back burner in the midst of the more pressing, time-sensitive obligations.

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Family connections have deepened as more time has been set aside for working, praying and playing as a family.

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Life skills have been learned as the kids have worked side by side with Toby and I on family projects. Braden learned to change the car’s oil as he worked aside Toby. Planting a garden has become a family project and the kids are learning first hand the life lessons of sowing and reaping.

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We have found the extra time has allowed us to more easily prioritize the important over the urgent. This adjustment in our perspective and the blessings that have come from this forced stillness would not have happened had we not all been sent home to heal..

But there is a flip side to this story. In the midst of the light that has come forth during this trying time, there is still a darkness that hangs heavy in the air. With the increase in disruption to everyday life comes big emotions and big reactions to these new stressors. Many around the world find themselves grieving for the loss of a loved one to Covid-19.

Seniors are missing out on the milestones that commemorate their last 12 years of effort. (I have two seniors grieving.)  Many around the world  are counting the cans in the cabinet, wondering how much longer they will last. Others are carefully watching the dwindling dollars in their bank account, uncertain of how they will care for their families if they can’t get back to work. Feelings of loneliness plague those who are social-isolating at home, while those living in violent homes would give anything for the safety of being home alone rather than living in violence..

And in the midst of all this personal angst, there is an ongoing feud playing out online and in the news, as divisions between left and right grow wider and opinions grow stronger. Discord and judgement prevail and rather than humanity coming together in support of each other against a common enemy, we instead are seeing hatred, judgement and dismissiveness take precedent over compassion and connection.

Here is the reality, friends: We are all fighting hard to survive in this circumstance that has been thrust upon us. We are all grieving the loss of things we once enjoyed and mourning the life that once was, all while struggling to come to grips with the fact that life as it was has changed.

We all need to practice kindness with ourselves and each other. Everyone is struggling in their own way, as illustrated in the excerpt below:

WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT …

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“I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. Or vice versa.

For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flip flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial & family crisis.

For some that live alone they’re facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest & time with their mother, father, sons & daughters.

With the $600 weekly increase in unemployment some are bringing in more money to their households than they were working. Others are working more hours for less money due to pay cuts or loss in sales.

Some families of 4 just received $3400 from the stimulus while other families of 4 saw $0.

Some were concerned about getting a certain candy for Easter while others were concerned if there would be enough bread, milk and eggs for the weekend.

Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break the quarantine.

Some are home spending 2-3 hours/day helping their child with online schooling while others are spending 2-3 hours/day to educate their children on top of a 10-12 hour workday.

Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it. Others don’t believe this is a big deal.

Some have faith in God and expect miracles during this 2020. Others say the worst is yet to come.

So, friends, we are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.

Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm. It is very important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.

We are all on different ships during this storm experiencing a very different journey.” –Author unknown

I am watching this reality play out around me…

Even within my own home.

For some this forced stillness has been a great blessing, as family members have used this “time-out” to rest, renew, and refocus.

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For others it has been a living hell as the threat of loss triggers past trauma, and the absence of normal coping skills and therapeutic support brings increased anxiety and anger.

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For my children who have lived through the hell of being trapped at home in an abusive situation, the mandate forcing them to stay at home triggers insecurity. For my children who have known hunger, the dwindling amount of cans on the pantry shelf brings fears that hunger will come again. For my children who have known the loss of loved ones to death, the constant barage of daily death tolls brings great feelings of fear. For my children who find attachment and connection stifling, 24 hours a day of togetherness brings feelings of panic. Anger then boils over into destruction, and past hurts emerge as current hurting behaviors.

I have struggled to blog for the last two weeks as so many of these struggles have come to head. The dichotomy of quarantine life is hard for me to wrap my brain around so how do I speak my truth to others?

What has our time at home been like during this worldwide pandemic?

Well, to quote Charles Dickens:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Over the next few blogs I will be posting pictures of some of our more positive pandemic moments of life. To those looking in from the outside, know that it is but one side of our reality. Like all of you, our life is an unusual dichotomy of positive and negative, happy and sad, hopefulness and hopelessness.

Our life is a rollercoaster of high peaks and devastating drops, as the stress of uncertainty and the grieving of what has been lost, becomes too much to manage.

A family game night is followed by a fist through the television set.

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A luau themed dinner comes on the heals of a visit by the police to calm a child in crisis.

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A hike on a Sunday afternoon is paired with a trip to the ER.

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A family drive might be just that, or it could just as easily be another frantic search for a runaway teen.

This is my reality.

We are surviving, just as you are.

We will get through this, but in the meantime let us all show a little more kindness and a little less judgement, for we are navigating this storm in different boats.

 

 

Learning a bit about “Making do”

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Life has thrust us into a simpler existence…

An existence that moves at a slower pace, promotes stillness and self-reflection. Life has transitioned away from the frantic pace of keeping up to a slow crawl that promotes mindfulness and presence. The tragedy that is unfolding around us has left mankind readjusting their pace and their trajectory, as we all get use to a new kind of “normal,” but crisis and chaos have the power to birth a better way of being.

One of the blessings I have seen born out of the challenges of today, is a new way of navigating life. No longer driven by speed and ease, we find ourselves navigating by new standards. Even in this short season of quarantine I see in myself a greater consciousness of how finite things are. It has changed the way I live, the choices we make, the care we give, and the things we value. Gone are the days when everything was expendable and replaceable. We are all now looking at our environment through eyes of cautious conservation, and old adages like this one, are becoming our guiding principle:

use it up

Haircuts at Home

After weeks of the boys getting shaggier and shaggier, and barber shops shut down around the state, we decided to take matters into our own hands. The impromptu front porch barber shop was born out of a request by Grace who asked if I could give her bangs. She was looking for a change and decided bangs were just the thing she needed to give her a lift.

When Braden heard that Grace was getting her hair cut, he quickly requested that he be added the list. Rusty also chimed in that he was in need of a haircut and Tyler, who had no interest in getting his hair cut, was added to the queue despite his protests.

We started with the boys. Toby ran the clippers and I worked with scissors.

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Rusty’s cut was nice and easy, as he just wanted his hair buzzed.

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Braden and Tyler chose to buzz the sides and keep the top long, with just some trimming to get those curls under control.

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This was my first attempt at recreating the cuts they usually get at Great Clips, but I was quite proud of the finished results. Not bad for a pandemic haircut!

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When the boys were all trimmed up and looking more like young men than cavemen, Grace took her place in the hot seat so I could give her the bangs she was requesting. She was tickled pink with the finished look:

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Making Masks

Our dining room has slowly transformed into a greenhouse for the garden seedlings and a sewing center for making masks.

Last Friday Grace, Molly and I sat down to make plans for sewing masks, following  Governor Wolf’s announcement that all Pennsylvanian’s should be wearing masks when out in public. We spent time online researching different patterns and then went searching through the house for needed supplies. Our plan was to set up an assembly line in the dinning room and use the down time between General Conference sessions over the weekend to sew masks for family and to donate to others.

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I was in charge of the scissors and took on the task of cutting out the pieces for the masks.

Molly took her place at the ironing board, ironing and pinning the pieces I gave her before they were handed over to Gracie to be sewn together.

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Working together we were able to sew mask after mask while visiting and enjoying each other’s company.

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The finished results were modeled by these two (not so) eager models:

Prepping the Garden

Never has the necessity for garden felt as pressing for our family as it does this year. With so much uncertainty in the world the push to prep our garden, with the goal of growing fresh vegetables at home, has driven us to reassess our gardens. The last few summers have been so busy that our gardens have been sorely neglected.  Busyness certainly isn’t an issue at the moment so we have been focusing on getting our gardens ready for planting,

Part of that process includes some new raised beds.

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This is a project Braden and Toby have been working on together.

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As a result, Braden has been learning some new skills while also being a big help for Toby.

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Making our own Fun

It has been a blessing to be forced to slow down and focus on the important rather than the urgent. Having the time to just be present with my family has been the greatest gift that has come out of this challenging time. Daily family walks, meals at the table with the entire family present, pockets of playfulness and unscheduled discovery have been great  gifts.

The other day, as we were working in the yard, the kids came across a pile of unopened geodes that we brought home from our Kentucky houseboat trip a few years ago. We lugged them home with plans to break them open at home but they ended up in a forgotten pile of rubble at the corner of the yard.

Once rediscovered, yardwork was put on hold, hammers were gathered and we enjoyed an impromptu science lesson on the front walk.

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The kids took turns breaking open the geodes to discover the beauty hidden within very ordinary looking stones…

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Enjoying the experience with childlike wonder.

Getting Ready for Bees

Toby has been kept busy with many a project around the house. Not only is he using this time at home to work his way down the list of repairs that have needed done, but he has also taken on some new projects as we focus on increased self-sustainability at Patchwork Farm.

One of those projects has been to build a second beehive.

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In May he will be picking up the bees he ordered from a local farmer, so for now he is getting their digs all set before they move in.

Cleaning out the Deep Freezer

We have also been accomplishing many cleaning and organization tasks around the house. We have dedicated a couple hours each day to work on cleaning out and organizing those areas of the house that tend to be overlooked. We have been working on cleaning out and organizing the basement. As part of that project we have been cleaning out the deep freezer and getting rid of the food that has expired.

Harley, our pot belly pig has been the greatest benefactor of our efforts…

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Although the dogs and cats have reaped the rewards as well!!

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The other day Molly took a tub of expired cool whip out to Harley, making him the happiest pig to ever walk the earth!

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You would have thought he had died and gone to heaven.

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His grunts of joy and enthusiastic consumption of that sweet treat made us all smile with delight.

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Oh, how we love our silly pig!

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A New Chicken Yard

The chickens have also benefited from Toby’s increased time at home during this season of quarantine. We moved the new chicks into the old chicken coop and needed to rehome the older hens to a different area of the farm. We decided to use the frame of the old, torn trampoline, along with materials found around the farm, to build a new chicken house and chicken yard outside.

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Once the area was set up and secure, Toby and Rusty moved the old chickens to their new digs, so as to make space for the 13 new chicks.

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It was an ingenious solution that made use of what we had on hand.

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It has been a great blessing to revert back to a place where ingenuity and creativity are needed. Out of daily needs (that can’t be met in traditional ways) come solutions that are even better than the “typical” and “easy” ways things were done before.

I appreciate the skills my kids are learning as a result of a situation beyond our control, and we all find ourselves exercising the muscles of thriftiness, problem solving, making do, gratitude, and contentment.

It is a step back towards a simpler way of living,

And that is the blessing that has been born of the tragedy that is unfolding around us.

God is good.

Always good.

 

 

 

 

 

Date Night during a Pandemic

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On Tuesday night we received a lovely surprise. Our kids had made reservations for us at a swanky new restaurant in town. Given all the extra stress in our lives lately, they thought we deserved a date night.

Before anyone takes up arms against our night on the town, let me clarify. We did not leave Patchwork Farm for our fancy meal. Instead, the kids brought date night to us. Zach came up with the idea and pitched it to the others who embraced it wholeheartedly. It was such a loving gesture and we were touched by our children’s thoughtfulness.

Our first clue that anything was amuck came as we reentered the house from outside and were greeted by this sign:

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It was Braden’s handiwork. We were then set to our room to get ready for date night while the kids worked like little house elves in the kitchen. We were told to dress in our finest attire, as this was a five star establishment.

All the kids were involved in this loving surprise for Toby and I, and each had a responsibility for making the evening happen. Some cooked, some decorated, while others wrote out the menu.

When we were gussied up we headed to the dining room where we were greeted by one of our waitresses for the evening.

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She sat us at the best table in the house.

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The ambience was romantic.

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Braden had decorated the dining room with mood lighting and Zach had created a playlist of songs which served as the soundtrack to our evening. He made sure to include songs that were personal to us, including our wedding song.

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Once seated we were given our menus.

Tyler was assigned the task of creating the restaurant menus. He typed up the food and drink selections and then showed the others. When Molly suggested he make the menu “more festive,” he went back to the computer and added a google image of fireworks:

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Because nothing says “festive” like pyrotechnics!

We sat and enjoyed the complimentary garlic knots while visiting and counting our many blessings.

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Then dinner was served. Chef Grace headed up the kitchen staff and made us a delicious dinner of Cajun Chicken Pasta.

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The portions at this establishment were unusually generous for such a swanky place!

Dinner was followed by dessert. Molly and Rusty were in charge of the dessert portion of the meal and made homemade lemon bars. They were delicious!

Then the manager (Zach) came out to check on us and inquire of our satisfaction before leaving the bill:

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It was both hilarious and touching. In fact the entire evening left us feeling like millionaires. We are blessed beyond measure! The efforts put in by each of our children to create such a special evening for Toby and I made us feel incredibly loved!

Don’t worry, we tipped them very well!!

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Our cups overfloweth…

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(I mean that figuratively, not literally. Molly was a very good waitress. ) 🙂

 

 

Happy “Gotcha” Day!!

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It is hard to believe it has only been a year since Braden officially and legally became our son.

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On March 26th, 2019 we drove down to Washington County, where we were joined by many family and friends, to adopt our 17-year-old foster son, making him forever a part of our family.

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It was a day filled with blessings and great joy as Tyler got to make his biological brother an official member of our clan.

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Braden already had our hearts, and in every way was already our son, but this sealed the deal, granting Braden the security that we were sticking around forever.

It was one of the best days of our life.

Every year, as the anniversary of Tyler, Ozzie, and now Braden’s adoption day comes close, we make plans as to how we are going to celebrate that special day when they were “born” into our family. Much like each child’s birthday celebration, the celebrated child gets to pick a special meal and activity for us to do as a family. Past “gotcha day” celebrations have been as varied as our adopted children. One year Ozzie chose to visit car dealerships to “window shop” for cars for his “gotcha day.” Another year Tyler chose a family tennis tournament at our local park with ice cream to follow.

As we began discussions about how Braden wanted to celebrate his first “gotcha day,” he told us that he really wanted to go to a trampoline park, like the one we visited for Tyler’s 13th birthday. He loved the trampoline basketball court where he was able to get major air and slam dunk the ball repeatedly,  thanks to the high flying action offered by the trampoline.

He also requested sweet and sour chicken with rice and egg rolls for his “gotcha day” dinner.

A few weeks ago I was prompted to look ahead on our calendar to all the birthdays, holidays and celebrations that were up coming and shop for those meals and gifts ahead of time. A week later, as businesses began to shut down across the state and lock downs nationwide went into place, I was grateful I had followed that prompting to plan ahead, because we were able to have Braden’s “gotcha day” meal request without having to go to the store.

God is good!

Molly took on the task of creating a special dessert for Braden’s special day. She baked a cake and decorated it for the occasion.

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It turned out great and made the day feel even more celebratory!

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Braden’s hope of spending the evening of his “gotcha day” at Urban Air was smashed in light of the non-essential business shut down across the state of Pennsylvania. So, in typical McCleery fashion we came up with a Plan B!

Knowing that the main reason Braden wanted to go to Urban Air was for the trampoline basketball court, we recreated it to the best of our ability at home. Toby and Tyler dragged the basketball hoop over to the trampoline and we all headed outside for a showdown of skills.

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The kids played DUNK (similar to HORSE) and had to copy each other’s unique and BOUNCY shots in an effort to not be the first player to earn all four letters.

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It made for a fun and unforgettable evening.

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I think it is fair to say that Braden will never forget his first “gotcha day,”

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And as a result of plans being changed, everyone got to discover the joy that can be found in making do and embracing the Plan B’s that come with life!

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We ended the day with a hearty rendition of “Happy Gotcha Day to You!”

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We love you, Braden…

And are so glad you are forever ours!

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