Tag Archives: celebration

9 Decades of Life!



In my life I have been incredibly blessed to be surrounded by women of character and of influence. These women are responsible for a wonderful and magical childhood, but are also largely responsible for the woman I am today.

At their knees I learned the most important of life lessons.

I learned how to love, how to serve, and how to care for my family.

I learned the importance of creating memories and carving out time for fun.

I learned that laughter is one of the greatest antidotes to hard days and that hard work pays dividends.

I learned that life is a grand adventure, and when it comes to the twists and turns on the road of life, we can either fruitlessly resist or lean into the bends and enjoy the ride.

I learned that there is something to be learned from every experience and every person we encounter in our travels.

I learned that family is everything, and as long as you have that you will always feel wealthy.

One of the greatest influences in my life has been my father’s mother, whom I refer to often in the blog as G.G.

G.G. just recently moved closer when in October she sold her home in Florida to move closer to my parents in Wooster, Ohio. Although the craziness of life has kept us from visiting as often as we’d like, we are so grateful to have her close by and a regular fixture at all our family gatherings at the Homestead.

This month was a big one for G.G. as she celebrated her 90th trip around the sun. As vibrant and fun as ever, I can only hope to live my life as well as she has.

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In honor of her big day, plans were in the works months prior to plan a celebration worthy of the birthday girl. My parents, along with my Dad’s three siblings and their spouses, made plans to celebrate this milestone birthday in style.

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The plan was for everyone (Andy/Jane, Denise/Jack, Jill/Paul, Marty/Fran, and my sister Kelly) to come into town for a week of reunion fun with the planned activities coming to a peak on Thursday night with a celebratory birthday dinner at the Olde Jaol Restaurant.

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Prior to the birthday party I was recruited to take on the task of creating a scrapbook for the birthday girl. Months prior to the event I began the project by sending out letters to friends and family requesting birthday letters for grandma. The letters came rolling in and I had a blast reading the memories recorded by all those who love her and whose lives have been touched by hers.

My own sweet memories of her loving traditions that helped mold for me a magical childhood were echoed in the letters from others. I found as I compiled the scrapbook, my love, admiration, and appreciation for my grandmother grew even more, and it was a joyful project to undertake.

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Last Thursday was the big day.

Following a shortened day at work, Toby arrived home with enough time to change before we made the 2.5 hour drive to Wooster, Ohio. There we joined family for G.G.’s 90th birthday dinner at Olde Jaol Resturant.

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This historic gem, located in downtown Wooster, was a perfect place to have such a special birthday celebration. The restaurant, converted from the old city jail, offered a charming atmosphere to compliment a delicious meal…probably the best food I have ever eaten!

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There we were joined by my parents, out-of-town family,

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And of course the birthday girl, who thanks to gifts from Jane and Andy’s puppies, was decked out for the occasion in “90th birthday” bling.

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That evening we enjoyed an amazing meal and even more amazing company as we gathered together to celebrate the life of a woman whose life has touched so many for the better.

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Gifts were given with loving consideration and each gift was an expression of love.

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Then we presented G.G. with the gift from the entire family…the compilation of love letters from friends and family near and far. As she read through the memories that had been penned, it was a confirmation of the impact one soul can have on the world.

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So often we move through this life doing the best we can, wondering if our feeble attempts are making any difference at all. It is easy to become focused on our failures or the struggles that dot our existance, and we lose sight of the big picture and the trail of blessings we leave in our wake…

Blessings that make this world a brighter and better place because we are in it.

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The scrapbook of letters served as a testament to the impact one person can have.

What a life G.G. has led these last 90 years!

How blessed we all are to be a part of that life!


Molly’s Graduation Day!!


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

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

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

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

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

Well, sort-of …

And Saturday was the big send-off.

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

What a blessed day it was!

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

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

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

We woke early Saturday morning and went down to the lobby of the hotel to meet friends for breakfast.

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

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

We were greeted and welcomed at the door by teachers and directed where to go. Molly was sent to get in line to receive her senior gift bag which contained a complimentary yearbook and a 21CCCS alumni t-shirt.

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

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


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First, they got fitted for their caps and gowns.

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After hugs and a few tears,

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

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


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

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

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

The students walked in and the tears began.

Our girls looked so grown up and pretty.

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

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

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Next it was time for the presentation of scholarships.

At 21st Century Cyber Charter School the teachers have a long-standing tradition of presenting five students from the graduating class with scholarships from the school. These scholarships are not funded with school budget money, but rather are funded solely by teacher donations. Throughout the year they will have events at the school for staff, like special breakfasts during in-service days, which they will use to raise money to help fund these scholarships. This year they raised $5,000, enough for 5 students to each be awarded a thousand-dollar scholarship.

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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We had no idea that she would be a recipient of one of these scholarships, and for me that was the acknowledgement that we, as her parents, have done something right these last 19 years. I remember being a young mom and praying over that little bundle in my arms and saying to God, “It matters little to me that this child grows up to be exceptionally pretty, or smart, talented, or gifted in the areas of music, art, or athletics…as nice as those traits might be. What matters most to me is that I raise a child who is known for her kindness, her selflessness, and her goodness. Help me to raise a woman of character.”

God has been merciful.

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

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

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

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

It was time to celebrate!

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

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Sweet friendships created at 21st Century Cyber Charter School.


Molly did it!

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Tatum did it.

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Annaliese did it.

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Caleigh did it.

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We did it!

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Congratulations, ladies. We are so proud of you!

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What a beautiful journey it has been!


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

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



Adoption Day…the after-party


The joy of the adoption hearing spilled into the hallway as everyone left the courtroom and congregated outside for some final pictures and hugs good-bye. Because the hearing had been schedule at the most inopratune time (9:00am on a Tuesday) most of our guests had places to be. After everyone left to return to school or work we were left with just extended family.


We had made plans for a celebratory lunch, following the adoption hearing. It has become a tradition that adoption day is followed by a hibachi lunch. Following Tyler and Ozzie’s adoption we took the family to Saga restaurant to celebrate in style. This time we had lunch at Ichiban Steakhouse in Cannonsburg, because of its proximety to the courthouse.

We were joined for lunch by my sister and her family, Mimi Joy, and Gracie’s boyfriend, Zach.

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Like Saga, we chose Ichiban for its uniquely engaging dining experience that combines yummy food with fire, flames and food tricks on the hibachi grill. It is a special treat reserved for adoption days, which makes the experience feel all the more special.

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For Kelly’s boys, who were quite young at our last adoption celebration, it felt like a grand adventure, as dinner preparation played out in front of them in the most dramatic way.

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There were fiery explosions,

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Flying food,

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and all sorts of clever knife tricks.

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And in the midst of all this  entertainment we enjoyed a delicious meal.

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It was a perfect way to celebrate a perfect day with family!





Celebrating Birthdays at the Homestead




Saturday wasn’t the first time my parents met our newest addition. It was actually Brandon’s second time visiting their home. The first visit occurred a month and a half ago, following our visit to the University of Akron. At the time I just had Rusty, Molly and Brandon with me and thought that the dynamics of only three (calm) kids would help lessen the anxiety and awkwardness of the initial meeting.

That meeting went beautifully and by the time we left it felt as though Brandon had always been a member of the family.

This time we had the entire family with us when we drove out for Brandon’s second visit to my parent’s home, affectionately referred to as “The Homestead.”

This visit was in conjunction with Rusty’s birthday weekend with my folks.

For each of the kids’ birthdays my parents invite them out for a weekend of fun and frivolity. The weekend is spent doing all their favorite things with their grandparents and my kids love getting the opportunity to be an only child for a few days.

Last Friday I drove out to Ohio to drop off Rusty for his birthday weekend, and on Sunday we all returned to pick him up and celebrate our family’s fall birthdays with Mimi and Pop Pop. Our drive coincided with General Conference, so thanks to the benefits of modern technology we were able to listen to the leaders of our church speak and council us (via Toby’s phone) while we made the 2 hour scenic drive to Wooster, Ohio and back home again.

Because we aren’t able to see my parents as often as we were able to when life was less crazy and when they lived closer, we tend to clump our birthday celebrations by season, celebrating all of our winter, spring, summer and fall birthday together in one shared party at my parent’s farm.

This gathering was a chance to celebrate Tyler, Rusty, and Brandon’s birthdays.

When we arrived we found the Homestead decorated for autumn.


We headed for the barn where we took advantage of a beautiful day to eat and celebrate in the barn, before cold temperatures and snow drive us into the house for the winter months.


Our celebration began with a picnic lunch,


And after lunch the boys were allowed to open their gifts from Mimi and Pop Pop.

You could see that Brandon was touched to be included and remembered with Rusty and Tyler.

My parents did and amazing job at picking gifts perfect for each boy. Rusty received a Lego set, Tyler received an inflatable football practice dummy and new football, and Brandon received a Spikeball set…


Which we had fun trying out.


It was a wonderful, relaxing afternoon. We played board games, tossed the ball, visited with the farm animals and became better aquatinted as a family.


It was a practically perfect day on the farm!



Where you Lead, I will Follow


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Her first clue as to what the evening entailed:

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

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


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Once the tour was complete the fun began.


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

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Who is your favorite Gilmore guy?

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

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

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

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

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

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Some of our choices for the night included:



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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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Eventually they too stumbled into bed.

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

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My baby is officially an adult!

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

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Grace is an A*D*U*L*T!


My Dearest Grace,

The hour is early…4:00 am to be exact, but I am wide awake on this special day. Today you are legally an adult. (Where have the years gone?!)  Today you turn 18 years old, and as I sit in the darkness of my room, lit only by the screen of my computer, I can’t help but reflect back on the past 18 years.

Because you have been a part of Daddy’s and my life together from almost the beginning  I have a hard time recalling a time in my adult life when you weren’t there. I wasn’t too much older than you when I married Daddy at age 19 and you eagerly arrived fresh from heaven 9 months later.

I grew into the person I am today as you grew in my arms. I learned how to be a mother as I cared for you (making many mistakes along the way, I’m sure!)

I remember vividly that day you made your appearance after 13 hours of labor. Mimi and Daddy were by my side as I struggled through the effort of helping you enter the world. I was so tired and felt I couldn’t give anymore and then there you were…so precious with your full head of dark hair.

I remember holding you in the dimly lit room of the hospital, after everyone had gone home for the night, marveling at your perfection, and marveling at this new overwhelming feeling of love that left me breathless. In that darkened room, as I  lay there overcome with love for you, I finally really began to understand the love my Heavenly Father has for me and it left me feeling incredibly humbled.

You were a typical first born child…with all the blessings and burdens that role carries. Beginning from the time you were a wee little thing you were obedient, social, responsible, dependable, and a caretaker to those smaller than you…in particular your siblings.

You have managed the responsibility of eldest child with remarkable grace, truly living up to your name. I have watched you work your way through challenges and struggles, disabilities and heartbreaks, and do so with a sweetness, humility, and strength that far exceeds your age.

I know that it was with great purpose that God sent you to earth first, knowing what a strengthening force your example would be to your younger siblings.

You have truly been a joy to parent!

Today you turn 18. And although you still have another year at home (which I am so grateful for!!)   know that Daddy and I have no doubt that you will do amazing things in your adult life. Heavenly Father has a great plan for you and I am just thrilled to get to watch that plan come to fruition as you continue to blossom.

I love you Miss Grace!

Love, Your Momma

It is a BIG day at Patchwork Farm as we witness our first child becoming an adult…EEK! The day began, as all our birthdays do, with the birthday girl being awakened by a birthday serenade and cake.


The process began early due to it being a co-op day. Grace asked if she could open her birthday gifts before co-op and we agreed. All of her sibling put great thought into their gifts for their big sister.


Toby and I gave Grace a token gift, reflective of the real gift she will be receiving for her 18th birthday. Grace is a HUGE fan of Downton Abbey, and her birthday request for celebrating her 18th birthday is a Downton Abbey tea party with Molly and I, my mom, my sister and Lydia, her younger cousin. The planning is in the works but it won’t happen for a few months. Our gift to her is a handmade Downton Abbey tea gown for the occasion. A friend of ours who is a talented seamstress is making Gracie’s birthday gift from us. The gift she opened today is a token of the real gift that is on the way.


Downton Abbey rose tea and fan magazine.


Because of the timing of Gracie’s birthday this year (with it being on a Wednesday) it played out differently than a “typical” birthday day in our house. Today we went to co-op where Gracie’s ongoing birthday surprise from Olivia continued. (That grand gift is deserving of its own blog post….which I will post soon.)


Then Grace shared a birthday treat with her co-op friends. Typically the kids bring cookies or cupcakes to share, but Grace wanted to do something different this year. After all 18 is a BIG deal! Check it out:


A bowl of 6575 jelly beans for each day of her life. We brought a ladle and cups so everyone could scoop some out for a treat.


When we returned home from co-op and Ozzie’s OT we had about two hours before we had to leave for church activities in the evening. Gracie decided last week what she wanted to do on her birthday…and it was SO fitting!


Every Monday (for the past few Downton Abbey seasons) the girls and I go into my room during lunch break and watch Sunday’s Downton Abbey episode together. This Monday we decided to postpone watching THE FINAL EPISODE *sob* until Gracie’s birthday. With the theme of her 18th birthday party and gift being Downton Abbey themed it was sweet serendipity that the final episode was released on her birthday week. We brewed some of her Downton Abbey rose tea and watch the lives of the characters we have come to love play out for the final time.


(PS- It was amazing!! Everything we had hoped for tied up with a nice little bow.)

Then it was off to our final stop for the night: swimming at the YMCA for my boy scouts who are working on their swimming merit badges, and church activities for the other three.

It was a special day, for a special girl, on this very special birthday!

“Happy Birthday, dear Gracie. Happy Birthday to you!”