Tag Archives: birthday

Sister McCleery- Week 2 at the MTC

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Here are Molly’s thoughts from this week:

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Every day is a new adventure.

Hundreds of emotions are felt in a period of 24 hours.

My understanding of what I thought I understood as a kid, has grown deeper and stronger than ever before!

My love for my Savior has been edified in ways that are so special and sacred to me.

This week has been filled to the brim with a very busy schedule…two 3-hour classes daily, workshops with a hundred or more missionaries in my same position, and daily scripture study- both independent and with my companion.
I wake up at 6:30am and devote the next two hours to studying and growing in my relationship with Jesus Christ. I begin with a prayer which is key to a good study session. I have been amazed at what the Holy Ghost will guide me to read, learn, or the thoughts that pop into my head which make an impact on my heart and soul.
 I have been blessed with a great district too.
 I. Love. Them. 
They are the people that help me to not feel as alone on this uncertain journey. They are the people that make me laugh after staring at a screen for hours. They are the people that teach me so much through their bright testimonies. 
I also love my teachers! I am thankful for their willingness to serve and teach, and the hours of effort they put into what they do. 
This week was also my 20th birthday.
This was a different kind of birthday than any I have ever had before. In addition to being quarantined in my house, my day was packed with a busy MTC training schedule. I spent most of my birthday in my bedroom doing online learning, but had many wonderful experiences that made me feel so very loved on my birthday. The birthday wishes I received meant the world to me, my sister brought me lunch (which is so simple but made me swell with love that she checked up on me.) The birthday gifts were all so generous, I had my favorite foods and I got to spend time with my family in small snippets through the day which meant the world to me!! 
This week I have learned a lot about faith, humility and grace.
As some of you may or may not have heard, due to the worldwide pandemic, all missionaries training in the MTC will be released from their calling at the conclusion of their training and then will be given the choice of either waiting at home until their assigned location is ready and safe for more missionaries to arrive,  or they can choose to wait up to 12 to 18 months to start their mission.
When I received this news I felt nothing but anxiety and stress. Then came emotions of sadness over the change in what I expected. I struggled with doubts like,  “can I handle this?” and worries that I wouldn’t make the right decision. There were many evenings where I was just overwhelmed and frustrated with life itself. When I was going through all this I was very critical of myself for doubting at all. Shouldn’t a missionary’s faith be greater than her fear? Shouldn’t a missionary go forth in all things and never fear? 
At the beginning of this year I decided to work on the virtue of humility. I prayer for experiences that would build humility. God has answered that prayer through this unique missionary experience. 
Over the past few days I have done a LOT of praying, a lot of relying upon God, a lot of reading the scriptures and a lot of letting go.
Every moment is a gift: good or bad, easy or hard. I have come to know that God called me to His work for THIS TIME. He has given me personal revelation and personal answers that bring me strength and peace.
I know that God loves me and is walking with me EVERY step of the way.
I need not fear because God is not a God of fear.
Daily I give my day to Him and allow Him to guide me.
My mission isn’t about me at all.
 I will go forth with courage and in faith.
I will try to be humble and teachable.
 I will remember that it is okay to be human and to experience moments like I’ve had this week, but I also need to remember that at the end of the day, EVERY DAY, God lives!
He will give us grace to endure and do all that He asks of us.
I come before Him knowing that I am scared, broken, imperfect and uncertain of what the future may hold for my mission and my life,  but He will give me grace, and His grace is sufficient!
I testify of the reality of God because He testified that reality TO ME. I have walked a humbling journey this week. It has not been easy but it has blessed me in profound ways. Know you are not alone. God is and always will be there for you. I pray that my experience and testimony might be a source of peace and comfort to you no matter your circumstance, for God is walking your journey with you and at times may even be carrying you!
(As me and my roomate from BYUI would always say to each other) 
I love you and Jesus loves you, 
Much love!
Sister McCleery

Happy 20th Birthday, Molly!

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Well, it was a birthday that won’t soon be forgotten…

And certainly a birthday far different then the one we imagined for Molly’s 20th.

First of all, we never expected to have Molly home for her birthday celebration. If life had moved forward as planned, Molly would have been celebrating her 20th birthday in Provo, Utah with her missionary companion. Instead, Sister McCleery, was at home for her big day, as we find ourselves living through a worldwide pandemic, quarantined at home, with Molly attending the missionary training center online instead of in person.

The reality of the world as it stands now, on Molly’s 20th birthday, is best documented by the following excerpt shared by a friend:

“Just so I NEVER forget….. April 7, 2020

Gas price was $1.04/gallon
School cancelled – yes cancelled – since 3/12; teachers and students are now all doing online schooling.
Social distancing and self quarantining measures on the rise.
Tape on the floors at grocery stores and others to help distance shoppers (6ft) from each other.
Limited number of people inside stores, therefore, lineups outside the store doors.
Non-essential stores and businesses mandated closed.
Parks, trails, entire cities locked up.
Entire sports seasons cancelled.
Concerts, tours, festivals, entertainment events – cancelled.
Weddings, family celebrations, holiday gatherings – cancelled.
No masses or services, churches are closed.
No gatherings of 50 or more, then 10 or more, now none at all except the people you live with.
Scouts, clubs, and groups are hosting virtual Zoom meetings.
Children’s outdoor play parks are closed.
Shortage of masks, gowns, gloves for our front-line workers.
Shortage of ventilators for the critically ill.
Panic buying sets in and we have no toilet paper, no disinfecting supplies, no paper towels, no laundry soap, no hand sanitizer.
Shelves are bare.
Manufacturers, distilleries and other businesses switch their lines to help make visors, masks, hand sanitizer and PPE.
Government closes the border to all non-essential travel.
Fines are established for breaking the rules.
Stadiums and recreation facilities open up for the overflow of Covid-19 patients.
Daily updates on new cases, recoveries, and deaths.
Government incentives to stay home.
Barely anyone on the roads.
People wearing masks and gloves outside.
Essential service workers are terrified to go to work.
Medical field workers are afraid to go home to their families.

This is the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic, declared March 11th, 2020.

Molly’s day was filled with classes and MTC training. She had a limited amount of free time in the middle of the day, so we reserved our celebration for first thing in the morning and for the end of the day.

We arrived at her bedroom door at 7:30 am, ready to wake her with her traditional birthday cake slice and birthday song. She was already awake and doing her personal scripture study when we walked in. We greeted her with a birthday sign,

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And a birthday song.

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She made her wish and blew out her candle.

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The rest of her birthday cheesecake was reserved to enjoy later as a family.

Before the busyness of her day began, we gathered in the living room to give Molly her birthday gifts.

Luckily most of our birthday planning was proactive, as the original plan was to celebrate her birthday mid-March, before she left for the MTC. This means gifts were already purchased and wrapped, the makings for her birthday dinner were already in the pantry, and her cheesecake had been chilling in the freezer for weeks in preparation of her special day.

She received gifts fitting for our sweet sister missionary, including a new dress from Braden,

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A new necklace from Tyler,

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A quill pen and ink set from Rusty,

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Water color pens from Grace and Zach, and a messenger bag from Toby and I.

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During the day Molly received love sent from those afar, including a birthday card/gift from Mimi Joy and from Aunt Kelly’s crew, a surprise package from her best buddy (Tatum,) a phone call from Uncle Travis and Aunt Krista, and the traditional birthday serenade on the answering machine from Mimi and Pop Pop Real.

That evening we enjoyed a dinner of spaghetti pizza, garlic knots and Caesar salad, per Molly’s request, before ending the meal with cheesecake.

For Molly’s birthday activity she requested a bonfire outside…the first of the season!

It was a beautiful evening and the weather cooperated.

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We ate dinner around the fire,

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And then pulled out the marshmallows for an after dinner treat.

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Everyone filled up on toasted marshmallows while we did our family scripture study by firelight.

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We ended the evening, as we do every birthday, with each family member expressing the trait they love most about the birthday person. This was the high point of the day for Miss Molly, whose love language is words of affirmation.

Happy birthday, Miss Molly!

We love you to the moon and back!

Happy Birthday, Miss Gracie!

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Somehow, in the midst of everything else going on, I forgot to post pictures of Gracie’s 22nd birthday celebration two weeks ago.

As I reflect back on that celebratory day it is hard to believe it was just 15 days ago. It feels like a lifetime.

This birthday was an unusual one, as it was the first time I haven’t had a child home on their birthday. Our normal tradition of waking up with birthday kid with a song and a cupcake didn’t happen. I didn’t think Zach would appreciate us climbing up through their bedroom window in “I Love You Forever,” Robert Munsch style, with a cupcake in hand…

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So we left Gracie’s birthday morning wake-up to her husband, and instead delayed our well wishes for later in the day. I did, however, wake that morning with a feeling of panic over forgetting to wake up Grace with her birthday song, until the cobwebs cleared and I remembered Grace no longer lives at home.

Gracie’s birthday celebration took place that evening in Cranberry. When we asked Grace what she wanted to do for her birthday she requested a family dinner at Blaze Pizza. Blaze Pizza is a favorite eat-out spot for our crew. Everyone loves the novelty of building their own pizza, and we love the vast number of toppings to pick from. Rusty describes it as Subway for pizza.

We all arrived at Blaze Pizza at 5:00 with gifts in hand. Everyone was coming from different directions so our group of eight people took up 5 parking spots in the lot. Tyler and I came straight from his dyslexia tutoring in Wexford. Molly and the boys drove over after their dentist appointments in Monaca. Grace came from her home in Ellwood City, having taken the day off work for her birthday. Toby and Molly drove up from the construction site in Toby’s truck, and Zach came from the site in his car. It felt a bit obscene when we realized we had five cars for eight people.

When we got inside we decided to start with dinner and save gift opening for the end.

Everyone got in line to build their pizzas.

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The results of that effort was nothing short of delicious!! Yum!

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Then it was time for gifts. Grace requested camping gear for her birthday with hopes that she and Zach could enjoy some inexpensive vacations once they acquired the gear necessary to go camping. She had already received a hand-me-down tent from my parents who also gifted her with a Coleman lantern for her birthday gift. From Toby and I she received a two-man sleeping bag and camping cooking utensils.

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Molly and Rusty pooled their money and bought Grace a Dutch oven. They laminated a homemade  camping cookbook of Dutch oven recipes that they had printed offline and attached to the Dutch oven with a carabiner.

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Tyler and Braden went in a different direction with their birthday gifts to Grace. Braden bought Grace a beautiful book and Tyler bought Grace a t-shirt that read, “Kind People are my kind of People.” He thought Grace would like it because it reminded him of Mr. Rogers, who is a personal hero of Miss Gracie. When he found it at the store they only had it in a large. I was concerned that it would be too big on Gracie’s petite frame. Tyler tried to quell my concerns with the logic we use when clothes shopping for him. “It’s ok, she will grow into it.” I hated to burst his bubble but Gracie’s days of gaining inches with each passing year are long behind her!

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After we were done at Blaze Pizza we headed over to the Milkshake Factory for Gracie’s birthday dessert. In lieu of cake, Grace asked for milkshakes. She and Zach had discovered the Milkshake Factory and were eager to introduce the rest of us to this yummy place.

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We arrived and began perusing the menu, trying to decide which shake we each wanted to try.

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It was a tough choice, as they all sounded delicious, but everyone finally settled on their picks. Grace and Zach were right…Milkshake Factory shakes are amazing!!

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After enjoying Gracie’s birthday dessert, we said our goodbyes and headed back towards home. That night just happened to be the night of Braden’s end of the year basketball banquet.

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So, we kissed our 22-year-old daughter good-night and headed off to the next celebration.

How grateful we are to call this talented, kind, diligent, thoughtful, generous, wise, patient, faithful, forgiving, beautiful young lady our daughter.

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We love you, Miss Grace, and hope this year is the best one yet!!

(It is certainly starting out memorable!!)

 

 

Another child steps into adulthood

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This week my third-born child stepped into adulthood…

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With child #4 hot on his tail.

On Thursday we celebrated Rusty’s entrance into adulthood and in four weeks we will celebrate Braden’s big 1-8!

This means in a month’s time I will have 4 adult children, with one married and another successfully launched 2000 miles away. I am not quite sure how we arrived here from where we were a year ago, but somehow in the blink of an eye I have transitioned from being a mom to more adult children than underage kiddos.

Despite being up to our eyeballs in wedding preparations, I was determined to make sure that Rusty’s 18th birthday didn’t get lost in the craziness of life as we currently know it.

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With the living room floor tore up as Toby lays hardwood, and the dining room and kitchen filled with piles a wedding supplies, we had to be creative in finding an empty surface to decorate for Rusty’s party.

We pushed all our wedding piles to the outer edge of the dining room and set up the table with Rusty’s party decorations…

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Mickey Mouse themed, of course!

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And wrapped up the gifts for Rusty that were lovingly and thoughtfully purchased by his siblings.

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Rusty’s birthday morning began with early morning seminary…a high school religion class both boys attend every weekday from 6:00-7:00am. Because we have to leave the house by 5:30 to get them to class, and because waking Tyler up at 5:30 am is NEVER a good idea, we opted to wait for Rusty’s morning birthday cupcake and accompanying song until we returned home at 7:30.

Once home, Rusty was serenaded and blew out his birthday candle with Olive’s help.

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It is a tradition in our school-at-home family that on a child’s birthday they are exempt from chores and schoolwork and get to spend the day any way they wish. So while Rusty enjoyed his day off, the rest of the family spent the day at work or focused on school. Everyone arrived home by 6:30 pm, giving us plenty of time to open gifts before leaving for our 7:30 Escape Room appointment.

We began the gift giving, as is the tradition in our family, with the youngest child presenting their gift first, and concluding with the gift(s) from mom and dad.

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One of Rusty’s gifts from mom and dad was a beautiful CTR ring. It is tradition in our family that as a child moves into adulthood they receive one of these special rings to serve as a reminder of who they are, whose they are, and the importance of making the right choices now so that they can enjoy the future that they are striving for. CTR stands for “Choose the Right.”

Braden received his CTR ring a month early, as both rings arrived at the same time, so both boys were presented with their rings together. Each ring matches the man who wears it and will hopefully be a strengthening reminder of the effect today’s choices have on tomorrow’s happiness.

Once we were done unwrapping gifts we headed out for a night of fun.

Our entire family loves escape rooms, but none more than Rusty…our problem-solving, puzzle-loving kid. Gracie’s fiancé has class on Thursday evening so it was just the six of us trying to escape in under 60 minutes.

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We tried out Operation: Escape Room in Monaca, and the theme of the room we booked was:

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While exploring an abandoned hospital, you are accidently locked into a patient room. You have 60 minutes to escape before you lose your mind and become a permanent patient.

We really enjoyed it. It was a fun theme, well played out in a room that bordered on creepy with its abandoned hospital décor. It wasn’t as challenging as other rooms we have done in the past, but it was well planned out and themed. We really enjoyed it!

And we escaped with time to spare.

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We ended Rusty’s birthday evening with Chinese take-out in our pajamas while watching Wall-E.

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It was a perfect ending to a day spent celebrating Rusty and all the things he loves best.

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Happy birthday to the son who made me a boy-momma.

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You paved the way and showed me the great joy that comes from raising sons. How grateful we are for the quiet strength you show in your daily life and the gentle way you bless the lives of those around you. You have grown from a delightful boy into a gentleman, and we couldn’t be more proud to call you our son!

 

 

Tyler is a Teenager!

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I have no idea how it happened and where the years have gone, but my baby is now 13!!

I think I am more shocked by that realization then I am about Molly heading to college and Grace getting married. I suppose Tyler is forever frozen in my mind as an impish, dirty, forever moving, six-year-old boy. I look at him now and catch glimpses of the man he will one day be and it causes me to pause and question where the years have gone.

I am now exclusively a mother of teens and young adults…wow!

Thirteen is a big birthday so we wanted to do something special for our boy’s big day. We already had plans to buy him a bike for his birthday gift, having outgrown his last one and knowing that a means of burning off energy is a wonderful self-regulation tool for Tyler, but we wanted to plan an experience as well…

This required some creative planning as his birthday week was packed to the brim with activities. His actual birthday was already designated as set-up day for Gracie’s bridal shower and his birthday evening was her bachelorette party,

So we moved everything back a day and celebrated his birthday on the 22nd.

His request was to go to an indoor trampoline park…a perfect activity for my bouncy Tigger,

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We allowed him to pick a couple friends to accompany him.

On Thursday we headed to Cranberry to Urban Air, the coolest trampoline park we have ever seen!

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In addition to the expected trampoline areas for bouncing,

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This trampoline park included…

Climbing Walls:

Dreaming of free climbing? Maybe start in the harnessed safety of our climbing walls. Build muscles and hone your skills as you defy gravity and master your ascent while enjoying some cliff side fun.”

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A Ropes Course:

“Get some extra hang time with our gravity-defying obstacles on the Urban Air ropes course. Learning the ropes has never been more exciting; with another up-n-the-air adventure that tests your balance and agility. The stakes are high as you and your friends learn confidence, however safety is assured since you are securely harnessed as you make your way through the course.”

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A Ninja Warrior Course:

“You’ve watched those warrior ninjas from your living room, now try it for yourself. Perhaps one of the most exhilarating team building events, Warrior Obstacle Course lets you face off against your friends while you test your balance and strength. Give it your best as you battle to be the last Warrior standing. Maybe we’ll see you on Mt. Midoriyama.”

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A Battle Beam:

“Think balance beam plus sword fighting. Only the swords are foamy. And the pit below is lined with cushy blocks. Sort of a foamy battle to the death. But instead of perishing, you’ll probably just giggle. Is it all in good fun? Or is there really no better feeling than defeating your friends on the Battle Beam. Decide for yourself.”

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The Drop Zone:

“Drop on in for a little fun, while practicing your flips, spins or other amazing acrobatics, all with the confidence that you’ll land safely on a giant, inflatable airbag. The perfect testing grounds to perfect that new trick. This attraction is safe, fun and available to all ages.”

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An Indoor Zipcoaster:

“Time isn’t the only thing that flies when you’re having fun. You can too with our Sky Rider indoor coaster. Strap in and zigzag overhead while you scout out all the other attractions. It’s literally a way to take your fun to new heights.” 

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A Dodgeball Court:

“The funnest sport in PE plus trampolines? Yes, please. All ages are welcome and everyone loves the experience. Only downside is that once you’ve experienced Ultimate Dodgeball, you’ll never want to play normal dodgeball again. Bring a birthday party or friends from work. Or jump in on pickup games that are held daily. So hop on in and let ‘em fly.”

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The Slam Dunk Zone:

“Get your inner Jordan on and show off your favorite dunk moves. Even if you’re not a seven footer, you can still sail above the rim while testing out your famous back flip, behind the head, windmill, double clutch slamma jamma.”

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It was an awesome place and perfect birthday location for our overgrown Tigger and his teenage friends.

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Happy 13th birthday, Tyler!

 

Miss Molly is 19!!

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How is it that little miss sunshine is in the final stretch of her teenage years?!

It doesn’t seem possible.

On Sunday, April 7th, Molly turned 19, and we celebrated her at home with fun plans for the day.

In our home Sundays are spent worshipping at church and bonding as a family at home. We believe the Sabbath is best spent with family and desire to extend that same courtesy to others, so for that reason we choose to not shop or participate in activities that require other people to have to work and be away from their family on Sundays.

This is a principle we hold sacred as we choose to honor the Sabbath Day as a day set apart from the rest of the week.

When a family member’s birthday falls on a Sunday, it means we create fun at home rather than eating out or choosing a fun family activity that costs money. This always makes me feel like I need to up my birthday game to make sure the child feels loved despite a quiet birthday celebration at home.

This year Molly’s birthday not only fell on a Sunday, but on General Conference Sunday. General Conference occurs twice a year in our church. It is when members worldwide tune in via TV or computer to hear from our church leaders who share guidance, direction and revelation to the members that are relevant to today. General Conference weekends are my favorite Sabbaths of the year and this year it fell on Molly’s birthday. This meant we had a full day at home as a family…what a gift!

Our day began with the rarest of gifts: sleeping past 6:00am. Oh, it was delightful to sleep until my eyes opened on their own, rather than forcing them open under protest. We warned Molly ahead of time to expect her birthday morning wake-up later than usual, and as a 19-year-old girl she offered up no complaints to that plan!

It was closer to 9:00am when our family poured into her room singing her birthday song. First she made a secret wish, and then she blew out her cupcake candle, and her birthday had officially begun.

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We began the day with the big reveal of the decorated dining room. This momma LOVES a good theme (to which Toby always sarcastically inquires, “And “Happy Birthday” isn’t a good enough theme?”) Nope! This is my favorite part of my kids’ birthdays and they have learned that the theme of the decorations in the dining room quite often provide a hint to their gift from mom and dad.

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Molly entered the dining room to discover a Newsies theme playing out on the table. Newsies is Molly’s favorite musical so with that in mind, I ran with that theme and had a blast!

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Then it was present time. No one wanted to wait any longer for Molly to open their gifts, and Molly didn’t really want to wait either, so the first task on the birthday agenda was gift opening.

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We started with the youngest and ended with mom and dad.

Everyone had Molly’s impending adventure on their minds and purchased gifts for “College-bound Molly.”

Tyler bought her a giant coloring poster that he thought she could hang on the wall of the home she will be sharing with 8 other girls. His thought was that they could color together.

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Ozzie purchased a light-up marque for her dorm room desk.

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Rusty bought her a blow-up ottoman for her room with a cute cloth cover.

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Braden decided he wanted to buy her a crock pot after hearing her talk about how helpful one would be as a college student.

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Grace, following the example of the gift she received from Aunt Krista on her 19th birthday, made Molloy a college survival kit that was filled with all the products she has found most essential as a college student. It was very cute and clever!

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And then came her gift from Mom and Dad…

Tickets to watch the musical Newsies in Pittsburgh.

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With the tickets came a Newsies t-shirt to wear to the show.

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Gift opening was followed by a breakfast of crepes, and then we prepared for the first session of General Conference.

Everyone claimed their spot in the living room, got comfy, and I handed out the goodies I prepared for General Conference.

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To make Conference more engaging and to help everyone pay attention I prepared a few games to play as we watched, including General Conference Bingo with a basket of prizes from Dollar Tree.

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In between the morning and afternoon session of General Conference, we had Molly’s birthday dinner. She picked the menu, requesting spaghetti pizza, salad, garlic bread and cheesecake in lieu of traditional birthday cake.

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The day was spent enjoying family, soaking up the spirit of General Conference and celebrating Miss Molly.

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She truly is the sunshine in our lives!!

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Just for the RECORD…

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Our Gracie girl is 21.

I can hardly believe it.

It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating my 21st birthday with baby Gracie by my side.

What a joy she has been and what joy she has brought into our family. She is the child that made us parents, and allowed us to learn to parent on her, graciously forgiving our missteps and ineptness.

We named her Grace Elizabeth in honor of two of her great grandmothers, giving her the initials G.E.M, and that is exactly what she is…a gem.

What a day we had celebrating our sweet gem turning 21. Here is a look at Miss Grace’s special day…

Grace lucked out this year with her birthday falling on a Saturday. Saturday birthdays always feel extra special, since the celebrating can begin from first wake-up and continue on throughout the day, without anyone having to break from the celebration for mundane tasks like school and work. Because Gracie’s birthday fell on a Saturday,  she was able to pack it full with celebrations on many fronts with all the people she loves most.

The celebration began hours before Gracie’s morning wake-up when we snuck into the dining room to decorate for her birthday. Months earlier she made her birthday wish known when she asked for a record player. This gift became the kick-off for a really fun 21st birthday theme…

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You all know how I love a good theme!

 

This catchphrase became the theme of the party as her siblings wrote the 21 reasons they love Gracie on paper records that we hung around the dining room.

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Each statement of loving affirmation was endearing and so reflective of the child who decorated the paper record. Among the reasons Grace is so loved were these statements written by her siblings…

Molly:

I love your selflessness.

I love your creativity.

I love your huge heart.

I love your confidence and courage.

Rusty:

I love your willingness to listen to whatever I talk about.

I love that we share a love for Disney.

I love that you are always willing to serve and give a helping hand.

I love that you put 100% into your hobbies.

Braden:

I love you because you are there to talk to me.

I love that you love me no matter what.

I love that you are always by my side.

I love that you make me laugh.

Ozzie:

I love how you are always happy.

I love your laugh.

I love your smile.

I love how you are so forgiving.

Tyler:

I love when you laugh.

I love your personality.

I love that you always play with me.

I love that you are nice.

The rest of the room was decorated to match our theme and the result was a charming birthday surprise for Grace who, after being awoken to our off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday,” came downstairs to open her gifts in the dining room.

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She loved the theme and took the time to walk around the room, reading the messages of love penned by her younger siblings.

 

Then we sat down, per Gracie’s request, so that she could open her gifts before the next adventure planned for her birthday.

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Our gift to Grace was the record player that sat as the centerpiece in the middle of the table.

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The kids went along with the theme, and had purchased in Disney World, two vinyl records from the parks. Rusty and Molly bought her the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Ozzie and Tyler bought her the vinyl soundtrack to The Lion King.

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Braden was the only one who went in his own direction. He bought her an aloe drink, knowing how much Gracie likes them.

After a yummy breakfast of monkey bread, Grace and Molly began getting ready for the next adventure of the day. Grace invited Molly and Olivia to join her at the Sign-a-Thon held at The Mall at Robinson.

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The Sign-a-Thon is a huge deaf event held every spring to increase awareness for and about the deaf community. As part of Gracie’s ASL class requirements she is asked to attend multiple deaf events each semester.

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She was excited that this particular event landed on her birthday.

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She decided to bring her celebration to the Sign-a-Thon  where she celebrated with Molly, Olivia, Zach, friends from church, and her closest friends from her signing classes.

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They spent a few hours at the Sign-a-Thon, where Grace was able to share her love of American Sign Language interpreting with her favorite people, and then they enjoyed a birthday lunch at Plaza Azteca.

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After a fun day celebrating her 21st birthday with her boyfriend and best friends, she and Molly returned home for our family celebration with Mimi Joy. For Gracie’s birthday celebration she asked if we could eat at Blaze pizza, our favorite new discovery.

We invited Mimi Joy to join us for dinner.

We arrived, each walked through the line,

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Creating our own amazing pizza,

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And feasted until we could feast no longer.

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We enjoyed an evening of good food, great company, and MUCH silliness, as we celebrated our first born baby’s 21st trip around the sun.

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Just for the record…

We think this girl is pretty grand!

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Happy birthday, Miss Grace!

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.

A “magical” 15th birthday for Ozzie

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Our final day at Disney World was spent at Magic Kingdom, in honor of Ozzie’s 15th birthday. This trip fell at an interesting time with Groundhog’s Day, the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day,  and Ozzie’s birthday all hitting during the two weeks we were away.

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Our day began, as birthdays always do, with the birthday kid being awoken with a cupcake and the birthday song.  Since Saturday morning was our check out day, we had a speedy birthday celebration before packing up and prepping the house for our 10:00 am departure.

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Rather than pack gifts for Ozzie’s birthday, everyone chose to purchase Ozzie’s gifts in Orlando. As a result, he ended up with special souvenirs for his birthday gifts. His siblings were incredibly generous and made Ozzie’s birthday extra special.

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We planned to spend Ozzie’s birthday at Magic Kingdom. We anticipated it being busier than previous days, since it was a Saturday and President’s Day weekend, but we were not prepared for HOW busy it was. It was crazy!

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We parked in Magic Kingdom’s parking lot and waited an hour to take the ferry across the lagoon to the front gates of the park. It was a bad day to have the monorail out of commission. The result was hoards of guests all waiting for the ferry boats to shuttle them over to the park.

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The blessing, however, was that we had been to Magic Kingdom twice already on this trip, and had already ridden every ride multiple times, enjoyed all the attractions, watched all the shows and sat through the parades, so this was a no-pressure day. We were just excited to be spending Ozzie’s birthday at Magic Kingdom and figured anything beyond that was icing on the cake.

We finally made it to the front gate at 11:30 am, and made plans to stay until closing at 11:00pm… as long as everyone held up. I’d like to say it was perfect day full of magical moments, but that is not entirely true. It was a mixed bag sort of day with many happy moments but also lots of hard emotions. The reality of the adoption journey is that birthdays, holidays and connected family experiences tend to be the hardest days of our life as my kiddos that fear connection and feel unworthy of happy moments work hard to sabotage the attachment they find themselves falling victim to when they let down their guard and open their hearts to the love we offer them.

It sucks.

I hate that saying, but there is no better way to describe the effects of trauma.

 This birthday was a particularly hard one for Ozzie. The overabundance of joy and fun that came with celebrating his birthday at the happiest place on earth led to him to self sabotage, begging for pain and punishment to counteract the discomfort of love and affection.

It wasn’t the happy ending I was hoping for on our last day at the parks. In hindsight, we probably would have been better off pretending it wasn’t Ozzie’s birthday and wait to celebrate his birthday at home in a more subdued way, but we made the best of it. We let go of any agenda, allowed the day to play out organically, and took a lot of breaks for implementing coping skills as needed.

It was an especially hard day for my oldest three who wanted to enjoy their last day in the park without Ozzie instigating fights in hopes his siblings would lash out and hurt him in the way he was craving.

I think it is often underacknowledged the great sacrifice that is made by the biological siblings in adoption stories, when they open their home to adopted children…especially children with a history of trauma of a diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder. Life as they knew it disappeared when their brothers moved in, with life becoming more challenging with each new adoption. This isn’t to say that this life isn’t without great blessings.  My older three would not be the astounding people they are, if not for the unique trials and challenges of opening the door to children others have walked away from. But it is not always easy. Ozzie’s birthday was no different. After pouring out their love on him is the morning they struggled when he responded with unkindness. Knowing that they needed a period of respite and knowing Ozzie needed a break from their acts of love that he was feeling unworthy of, Toby and I decided to split up for an hour.

Toby took the younger three to ride some rides, hoping this would help Ozzie expel some of his anxious energy through high-adrenaline rides,

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While I split off with the older three for some one-on-one time. It is needed sometimes, and they appreciated the period of respite.

The three of them each had a character they were hoping to get a photo with, something we could have never done that day with their younger brothers in tow. Brandon could have gone either way but opted for rides over characters, so we split ways and headed of to meet some Disney friends.

Rusty’s favorite Disney character is Winnie the Pooh and his request was to get a picture with Pooh.

He was even “Disney bounding” for the purpose of getting a twin photo with Pooh.

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We waited in line for 30 minutes and finally got our chance to get Winnie the Pooh and Tigger’s autographs,

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As well as pictures with our friends from the Hundred Acre Woods.

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Our next stop was to meet Molly’s favorite Disney princess, Rapunzel. Molly has loved Rapunzel since the movie Tangled came out when she was a small girl.

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On our first trip to Disney, when Molly was 11-years-old, she broke down in tears upon meeting Rapunzel.

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This time there were no tears but she beamed with joy through the entire encounter.

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They look like they could be sisters!

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Our third character meet-and-greet was for Grace to meet her favorite Disney character- Peter Pan!

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Grace, too, was dressed for the experience, wearing her Peter Pan hat that she bought when we went to Disneyland.

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She even brought her Peter Pan book to get autographed.

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Each of my big kids were over the moon excited over their special moments with magical friends and it was just the medicine needed to re-center us and put us in the right frame of mind for trauma-healthy interactions as we rejoined the family.

The rest of the day was spent re-riding our favorite rides, once their wait time dropped below 20 minutes.

For Grace and Molly that was Splash Mountain:

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For Rusty that was The Haunted Mansion:

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For Brandon that was the Jungle Cruise:

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For Ozzie that was Space Mountain:

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And for Tyler that was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad:

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Ozzie got to pick our dinner location for his birthday dinner, and chose Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café for tacos (Ozzie’s favorite food).

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And then we found our spots to watch the spectacular nighttime show:

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Happily Ever After

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“Experience a grand finale to your day with the latest—and most spectacular—fireworks show in Magic Kingdom history. 

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Go on a dazzling journey of color, light and song that captures the heart, humor and heroism of many favorite Disney animated films. 

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Watch in awe as Cinderella Castle becomes part of the story by magically transforming through amazing state-of-the art projection technology that you have to see to believe.

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This astounding 18-minute fireworks extravaganza uses more lights, lasers and special effects than any other fireworks spectacular in the history of Magic Kingdom, plus a soaring score featuring contemporary versions of beloved Disney songs. 

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Discover the magic of movies—and be inspired to find your own happily ever after.”

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It was a magical ending to a magical vacation.

 

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Feeling Blessed!

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“Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to meeeeeee. Happy birthday to me!”

My birthday morning began with a self-serenade.

The older kids were out of the house on the morning of my birthday and Ozzie was at work with Toby. My family kindly let me sleep in…a rare and cherished luxury…so the responsibility to wake me with traditional birthday cupcake a little later in the morning, fell on Brandon and Tyler.

When Tyler found out I was turning 41, he insisted on trying his hardest to fit 41 candles on my slice of birthday cake.

I awoke to this fire hazard coming at my face. Both had taken the responsibility to awaken mom with cake and birthday wishes quite seriously, that was until they realized that the task of singing the birthday song fell to them since everyone else was out of the house.

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I lay there with the flaming ball of flames resting on my chest, while a lively debate took place at the foot of my bed as to whose responsibility the song part of the birthday tradition fell to. As the layer of melted wax grew thicker on the surface of my cake the boys finally got on the same page and unanimously agreed I should be the one to sing the birthday song…

And eager to blow out the candles before the flames reached the icing, I concurred.

Once the traditional birthday wake-up was done, the boys busied themselves playing with gifts they received for Christmas, while I enjoyed a lazy day at home. It was wonderful! It is a rare treat to have an entire day open and free, with nothing on the calendar and no place I had to be. When the older kids got home we all enjoyed a PJ and movie day in the living room. It was a wonderful way to spend my birthday.

When Toby and Ozzie arrived home we all got dressed for the birthday surprise Toby planned,

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But first I was asked to take a seat so I could open my gifts. I was spoiled rotten by my family and received gifts that were thoughtful and given with love.

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Then we headed out to celebrate my birthday as a family. Toby planned an evening filled with all of my favorite things. We began our night of birthday fun with dinner at Panda Express and then we introduced Brandon to the awesome world of escape rooms!

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Toby booked an escape room experience for the family at an escape room on McKnight Road that is advertised as “the most difficult escape room in Pittsburgh.” It gave us a run for the money and was the first escape room we weren’t able to solve in the 60 minute window. We came within one final puzzle of escaping the room before the timer rang. Despite not escaping in the allotted time, we had an awesome time! I LOVE the mind-bending challenge that an escape rooms experience offers, and they are always more fun when we can work together as a family, tapping into each person’s individual strengths to try to achieve success as a family.

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It was a perfect birthday and a perfect way to celebrate the end of a wonderful 40th year. As I begin my 41st trip around the Sun I can’t help but feel immensely grateful for the beautiful life my Heavenly Father has blessed me with, and these special people I get to travel with.

Here’s to year 41!