Tag Archives: cyber school

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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February Fun

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The shortest month of the year flew by at a record-breaking speed, despite that extra day tacked onto the end. Here is a look at the moments that filled the last 29 days…

Valentine’s Day was a low-key event at Patchwork Farm, but we did celebrate the love of family with a fun dinner at home. Two days before Valentine’s Day I made a stop at Dollar Tree to pick up white plates for each family member.

Using a black Sharpie I personalized each dinner plate with adjectives that best describe them and then baked the plates in the oven to set the ink permanently.

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It was a fun gift to prepare for my favorite Valentines.

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That night the table was set with everyone’s personalized plates and dolled up for the holiday with a bag of chocolates at each place.

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How grateful I am for these people I love!

Not long after that holiday… one filled with expressions of love and gifts of chocolate… I found myself with sweet treats on the brain once again…

It was Bake-off time! 

This past fall a family from church organized an ongoing social event that pitted bakers against each other. Those interested in competing were able to sign up and were given a date and time for their showdown against another family from church, but those who just wanted to enjoy an evening of taste-testing and talking could come out for the fun and help choose the victor. Winners from each round then would move on to the next round where they’d compete against other winners. 

Last week we found ourselves competing in the semi-finals with a peanut butter ice-cream cake paired with homemade hot fudge.

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It was a fun evening that catapulted us into round three of competition.

Molly now finds herself in the final countdown as she prepares to leave for 18 months to serve a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. These last 30 days are quickly filling up, as we work to accomplish all the tasks on her “to do” list while also trying to fit in visits with family and friends. 

A few weeks ago we traveled out to Ohio to visit my parents at the Homestead. While we were out there we also met up with my grandma for a visit. It has been such a treat having her so close. We are able to see her a lot more often than before and our visits are always a blast. How grateful I am for this special lady!

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We have also been able to fit in multiple temple trips. We set the goal of visiting the temple every other week. Often our temple trip is paired with a visit to Erie for Ozzie’s weekly family therapy session. From Erie we just keep heading north to Palmyra, NY temple for an evening session. 

On weeks that we can’t fit in 10 hours of driving, we will head to Columbus, Ohio.

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This past Saturday the youth had a temple trip scheduled. Molly and I joined Rusty for a day at the temple…and it was wonderful!

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Molly has also kept busy working and earning money for her mission. Rather than return to working as a waitress, as she did prior to college, she decided to work for Toby’s construction company as a laborer. It has been such a blessing for her. She loves the extra time she has had with her Daddy. They enjoy spending their days working side by side, and in the process she has learned some great skills, saved up the money she needs for her mission, while also freeing up her evenings for family time. In addition to Toby she also works with Zach, her brother-in-law, and two other great guys, Fernando and Hoggin. Here is Molly’s work family. She loves these guys:

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And every day she has a lunch date with this kid:

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While Molly was in Idaho Tyler struggled with her absence. His feelings of loss made talking to Molly on the phone too hard, and he chose to avoid all contact rather than feel the sadness that came with hearing her voice and missing her.

While Molly is on her mission we will have the opportunity to video chat with her every Monday (in addition to exchanging letters, packages, and emails.) This knowledge hasn’t helped Tyler accept her leaving for 18 months because he is certain he won’t be able to handle video chatting with her, even if she is allowed to call home every Monday.

So, to help him get more comfortable conversing with Molly in this way the two of them have started chatting every day during their lunch breaks via Facebook Messenger. The ability to use fun filters to talk face-to-face has lessened Tyler’s anxiety and helped increase his comfort level with video chatting. The hope is that by the time Molly leaves, this form of communication will feel comfortable and even natural, thanks to exposure therapy.

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Tyler is also keeping busy with some new gals in his life. These ones are of the four-hoofed variety. In addition to participating in equine therapy each week at Glade Run Adventures, he has begun working there as a volunteer. This is something he sought out independently. He wanted more time at the barn while helping out with the animals. Last month he completed his volunteer training and this month he began volunteering. He volunteers at the barn every Wednesday, prior to his therapy.

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He has been given a specific assignment at the barn. He is in charge of caring for the three little girls that call Glade Run Stables home. Every week he must walk the three mini residents in from the field and groom them. His three girls are Beauty (a mini horse), Bobbie Socks (a miniature cow), and Enchilada (the miniature donkey).

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He brings them in one at a time, grooms them and tucks them into their stalls for the night…

And he loves it! It has been a fun responsibility that is his alone and he does a great job.

 

So, there you go…just a small sampling of the comings and goings at Patchwork Farm this past February.

Now it is time to welcome in March!

 

 

 

 

A Co-op Christmas Party

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It had been two months since we had seen many of our friends from co-op. Months longer for some of our other friends. Friday was a blessed reunion when we were able to reunite with co-op friends, new and old, for a Christmas party.

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We met up at the church of one of the co-op families for a potluck lunch and playtime with friends. The kids enjoyed “friend time” with co-op buddies, and I loved catching up with all the mommas who are some of my nearest and dearest friends. I don’t get nearly enough time with these ladies who are soul-sisters that feed my spirit and buoy me up. They have been my tribe of people for the last decade, walking beside us and supporting us through our greatest challenges.

It was wonderful to sit, and share, and catch up with each other’s lives.

After lunch we gathered the kids for their white elephant gift exchange…

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Some walked away with junk and others lucked out, picking wisely, and left with treasures,

But regardless of what gifts were unwrapped, everyone was gifted with laughs and merry memories!

I love this gang of people!

Skating under the Stars

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On Monday, following our road trip to Cleveland, Ohio to visit The Christmas Story house, we headed back towards home for a very full remainder of the day. Tyler had his dyslexia tutoring in Wexford at 3:15, after which we were headed downtown Pittsburgh for an evening outing with PA Cyber.

This cyber school outing was scheduled for after dark, from 5:00-7:00 pm. It was an ice skating event at the MassMutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink at PPG Place.

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When I had signed us up two months prior, I thought it would be a fun Christmassy activity for us to enjoy the week before Christmas…

And I was right!

It was simply magical,

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Like a scene from a Hallmark movie.

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We checked in and Tyler, as a PA Cyber student, received a PA Cyber winter hat to keep him warm. It was so cute on him!

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The boys got their skates and prepared to get on the ice while I took my place outside the rink, happy to soak up the festive Christmas atmosphere and capture the magic with my camera.

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It was a perfect evening, chilly but not bitter. The city buildings surrounding the rink blocked what little wind their was, and reflected the twinkling lights of the large Christmas tree off their mirrored surface.

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The boys had a blast, skating along to the strains of the Christmas songs that filled the plaza.

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Halfway through the activity skaters were sent off the ice so that the Zamboni machine could clean things up. We used that time to enjoy the complimentary snacks and drinks that were laid out by PA Cyber staff for the families to enjoy.

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Another hour on the ice and it was time to head home. It was a fun-filled day, to say the least!

We arrived home physically worn out by the busyness of our day but hyped up on Christmas Spirit. It was just what I needed to jump start my Christmas enthusiasm for the tasks that awaited my attention in the upcoming days.

I can hardly believe Christmas is days away!

 

 

A Boys’ day out with their Favorite “Mummy!”

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Last Friday the boys and I had the opportunity to enjoy a shortened day of school and meet up with other cyber-schooled families at Carnegie Science Center for a day of fun. The outing, which was put together by Tyler’s school, offered us access to all the permanent exhibits the museum offers, in addition to the new, visiting exhibit: Mummies of the World!

Rusty and Tyler have both spent countless hours at this amazing, hands-on, Pittsburgh museum. Over the years our family has been gifted with annual memberships to the science center and we have gone on multiple homeschooling fieldtrips to visit this Pittsburgh gem, which is why I was so surprised when Braden said he had never been there before.

It was only by seeing his initial reaction to his first impression of the lobby as we walked in, that I realized he was a first time visitor. I knew he was in for a treat. It is an amazing place!

The field trip was self guided, so after checking in and getting our name tags, we were set free to explore the four levels of exhibits at our own pace.

We began on level one at the exhibit: H2O!

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After adequately exploring the mysteries of all things water related we headed to the second floor. This level is split into two areas. One section is devoted to the science and history of robotics and outer space, with a lot of fun, hands on activities.

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The second half of this floor is dedicated to a huge train table complete with dozens of running trains, towns, iconic Pittsburgh sites, moving characters and enchanting scenes. This is my favorite exhibit at the science center and I couldn’t wait to share it with Braden. He was as enchanted as we were the first time we explored this miniature world.

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Then we headed to the third floor where we learned more about the science of the human body. Here the boys were able to try different experiments that explored why the body and brain function the way they do.

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After a quick stop at the fourth floor so Braden could experience the earthquake simulator, and so we could check our the Lego building area, we headed to the traveling exhibit that was the big pull for this field trip…

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Mummies of the World!

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This exhibit was fascinating. Photography wasn’t allowed inside the exhibit but below is information and photographs from this amazing exhibit as taken from the Carnegie Science Center website.

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“Explore 125 real mummies and related artifacts from across the globe in Mummies of the World: The Exhibition, on display at Carnegie Science Center’s PPG SCIENCE PAVILION™ now through April 19, 2020. Only in Pittsburgh for a limited time, this blockbuster exhibition provides a window into the lives of ancient people from every region of the world including Europe, South America, and Ancient Egypt, offering unprecedented insights into past cultures and civilizations.

 

See real mummies and discover their stories, including:

The Vac Mummies, a mummified family from Hungary believed to have died from tuberculosis, preserved in a small church until the remains of 265 mummies were discovered by a bricklayer during repair work in 1994.

Baron Von Holz, a German nobleman found tucked away in the family crypt of 14th century castle wearing his best boots after perishing in the castle while seeking refuge from the Thirty Years’ War.

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Animal mummies including a cat, a falcon, snow rabbit, lizard, weasel, and fish, some of which were deliberately preserved to accompany royals for eternity.

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MUMAB, the first authentic replication of the 2800-year-old Egyptian mummification process, took place in 1994 using the same tools and methods as described on ancient Egyptian papyrus.


Explore four galleries that delve into the many facets of mummification:

Natural Mummification Gallery – This gallery explores several environments in which bodies can preserve as a result of the natural environment. Human and animal mummies in this gallery include those from hot, dry environments in South America, a natural sand-salt environment in Egypt, an African desert, an alpine glacier, a German castle crypt with constant airflow and an acidic peat bog from the Netherlands.

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Artificial Mummification Gallery – This gallery presents mummies that have been prepared by humans for cultural reasons. The human and animal mummies in this gallery include an elaborately bandaged cat, two adults from Ancient Egypt and several shrunken heads from South America. Various artifacts associated with the preparation of the dead in Ancient Egypt will also be included, such as beautifully painted wooden sarcophagus, ushabtis and mummy beads.

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Experimental Mummification Gallery – This gallery centers around MUMAB, a body recently mummified following the techniques used by Ancient Egyptian embalmers, with detailed scientific documentation of the process. This gallery will include not only the mummy, but several of the tools used to prepare the body, all of which were replicated from original Egyptian embalming.

Science and Medicine Gallery – This gallery explores the links between mummies, science and medicine. Aside from showing mummies prepared for medical purposes, this gallery will also include examples of the application of scientific and medical techniques for the analysis of mummies, and the important shift from autopsy to modern medical science to study mummies. The exhibits will include several anatomical mummies from the Burns Collection and church crypt mummies from Hungary (with discussion of the past and present scientific studies of tuberculosis).

It was a enjoyably educational day with three of my kiddos!

So Many Reasons to be Thankful!

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

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

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

So, I began to research our options.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Then it was time to eat!

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

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

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

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

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We are blessed!

 

“I’m fine,” she told herself…

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I feel as though I’m suffering from an emotional hangover…

Too many feelings squeezed into too short a period of time,

With all of the residual manifestations connected to an excess of living.

I literally feel as though I am emotionally hungover, with many of the symptoms seen in alcohol induced hangovers.

I find myself weary, heavy, numb, foggy and teary as I try to continue navigating the responsibilities of day to day life while accepting that life as I have known it for 20 years, is changing…

And changing very soon!

The crazy thing about it all is that everything I am navigating through is exactly the things I have prayed so hard for. There is a part of me that wants to smack the tears off my own face and remind myself that this is all good stuff!

Feelings of gratitude and joy are the prevailing emotions, but closely tied to feelings of gratitude and joy, are feelings of uncertainty and loss…

And guilt.

Guilt that I am feeling anything but gratitude and joy in the midst of such blessings. Unlike the seasons we have had to endure that are filled with such darkness and danger, despair and loss, this season is blessedly positive, but I still find myself struggling.

Perhaps I am unaccustomed to things going so smoothly.

Perhaps I have forgotten how to navigate life outside the emotional bondage of crisis management.

Perhaps I feel as though I am losing some of my purpose or value.

Maybe it is simply the emotional push-back that is rooted in the fear of change.

Or maybe, just maybe, this weight of emotions is simply bone-deep fatigue, born from trying to fit in so many “lasts” before life changes for good.

I am not certain.

I only know that time seems to be racing past and I am desperately grasping for its tail, hoping to slow it down.

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I know that I am not alone in this place. Many other friends have expressed similar emotions, born from similar situations. I take strength from knowing that this muddy mix of emotions is normal, that I am not the only one trying to gracefully navigate them, and that millions of mothers before me have made it through this season to find joy and purpose in the next season of parenting.

So many changes are coming down the pike, not the least of which are:

  1. Gracie getting married! Only two months until her big day! The last few weeks have been spent entrenched in bridal shower planning, bachelorette party planning and wedding planning. Grace and Zach have also been on the hunt for an apartment. They will be staying in the area, as Grace still has a few semesters of school to finish before earning her degree in American Sign Language interpreting.

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 Well, they found one that they love and fits their budget. And we have the benefit of having them nearby for at least the next year…which is a HUGE blessing for our adopted sons who have been struggling with triggered feelings of losing another person they love.

Last Sunday we drove over to Ellwood City to check out Gracie and Zach’s soon-to-be newlywed digs.

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It is an upstairs, one bedroom apartment with a big kitchen and lots of light. It is perfect for them and so exciting. Grace can’t wait to start decorating!

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2. Molly is about ready to take flight! In less than three weeks she will be heading out to school. Rusty and Braden will be joining us as we take a weeklong road trip to Idaho to drop her off. Along the way we are going to revisit some of our favorite national parks from our bus trip three years ago, so Braden can experience some of these national treasures.

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Over the last month Molly has been making piles in preparation for college, getting together with friends, and finishing out her employment at Eat n’ Park. In fact, a few weeks ago she was asked by her employers to reconsider heading west for school. They wanted to offer her a management position. Her boss told her how impressed they have been with her since she began working for them in the spring and could see a great future for her with the company. She sweetly declined, knowing that BYU-Idaho is where she is being called to, but was honored and touched by the job offer.

3. Molly will not be the only college student this year. Grace and I will also be working towards our degrees, and Rusty is now unexpectedly joining the college ranks as a duel enrolled high school senior.

A few weeks ago we toured our local community college’s aviation program to find out more about their drone piloting program. This is a field that interests Rusty and so we added CCBC to our college tour list.

As we sat and spoke with the Dean of the program, he encouraged Rusty to not wait until graduation, but rather enroll for the fall semester as part of the duel-enrollment program. After speaking with his cyber school, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, we learned that Rusty had the option of replacing his high school electives with college courses and receive both high school and college credit, thus getting a jump start on his college degree.

He is very excited and will be taking most of his classes at the local airfield where he will learn the skills to graduate with a drone piloting license. Toby and I were pleased to learn that the high demand for drone pilots, coupled with the minimal number of colleges offering this newly emerging degree, meant that 100% of their past students have graduated with job placement.

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4. Braden is also venturing into new territory. In June he expressed a desire to cyber school like the other kids for his senior year. He struggled with our local brick and mortar school and some of the negative influences that proved too much for him to manage. Since being home this summer he has felt the difference that separation has made on his emotions and his ability to make good choices. He is happier and more at peace. I’m hoping it is as good a fit for him as it has been my other kids.

In addition to cyber schooling, he and Rusty will be getting together with other teens from church each weekday morning at 6:00am for early morning seminary (a religion class that allows for studying the scriptures and discussing gospel topics with the other youth from church under the guidance of a teacher.) I think this will be beneficial to both boys and will meet some of Braden’s social needs as one of my extroverted children.

5. Tyler also continues cyber schooling, but through PA Cyber. And although I feel that PA Cyber falls short when compared to the education offered through 21st Century Cyber School, it has proven to be a great fit for Tyler. Last year was his best year ever and he took off under this model of cyber schooling. He is eager to get back in touch with teachers and peers whom he hasn’t talked to all summer. Tyler will be in 7th grade this year. How is that possible?!

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6. Ozzie continues to thrive in the residential treatment facility that he has been residing at for more intense therapeutic work. His success there is not surprising but rather an expected result of a structured, unattached environment. The goal we are working toward is for him to successfully transfer the skills he uses at the RTF to the home environment, thus making his presence in the home safe and stable. This isn’t an easy transition, as his diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder makes the thing he most stands in need of (connection and attachment to family) the very thing he fears and fights against. It is heartbreaking in its presentation and heartbreaking to know that as devastating as this diagnoses is, it could have been easily avoided through loving maternal care as a young child. The transfer of skills we are working toward is accomplished by slowly introducing interactions with family members (and eventually visits home) to his treatment plan and then addressing the negative reactions to triggers  with his therapeutic team in the RTF upon returning back at the end of a visit.

This week he and I had our first off-grounds visit. I was allowed to take him to lunch for two hours. This initial off-grounds trip consisted of just the two of us spending time together. We will slowly be adding additional family members to upcoming visits as deemed safe by staff.

I let Ozzie pick the restaurant and he chose Quaker Steak and Lube, a well known wing place in this area.

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He chose it partly for the food but mainly for the décor. He loves walking around the restaurant and snapping pictures of all the cars and memorabilia with my phone.

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He did well and we had a good time.

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He got all dressed up for our date 🙂 

This week we will be taking Ozzie out again following his family therapy session. This time Molly will be joining me so she and Ozzie can have a visit before she leaves for Idaho. We are praying it is healing and positive.

And then there is this guy… working hard and making sure everyone stays in line. 🙂

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This is  BIG week for our family with many monumental events. We have an off-grounds visit with Ozzie on Wednesday, Tyler’s 13th birthday party on Thursday evening, Gracie’s bachelorette party Friday night, Gracie’s bridal shower on Saturday, all among everyday living. It promises to be a full and likely emotional week…

Wish this momma luck as I try to keep it together!

 

 

Molly’s Graduation Day!!

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

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

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

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

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

Well, sort-of …

And Saturday was the big send-off.

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

What a blessed day it was!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First, they got fitted for their caps and gowns.

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After hugs and a few tears,

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

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

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

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

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

The students walked in and the tears began.

Our girls looked so grown up and pretty.

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

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

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Next it was time for the presentation of scholarships.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God has been merciful.

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

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

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

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

It was time to celebrate!

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

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Sweet friendships created at 21st Century Cyber Charter School.

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Molly did it!

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Tatum did it.

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Annaliese did it.

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Caleigh did it.

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We did it!

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Congratulations, ladies. We are so proud of you!

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What a beautiful journey it has been!

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

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

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Road Block Ahead

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This week was a big one at Patchwork Farm!!

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

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

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

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

This plan worked perfectly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have come to appreciate the roadblocks of life.

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

They grow muscles that can only be built through adversity.

They give us a healthier perspective on life.

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

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

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Road blocks allow our empty words to have a voice…

The powerful and resounding voice of ACTION.

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

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

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

The first big event: Molly’s senior prom!

Stay tuned for pictures of all our gussied up girls!