Tag Archives: Grace

Happy Little Hosts

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After spending the weekend with the “Hostess with the Mostest”….

(AKA: my mommy,)

we concluded our Christmas season kick-off with dinner with my other favorite hosts…

The newly married Tames!

Every Sunday Grace and Zach alternate family dinners between our home and Zach’s family’s home. This week Grace and Zach invited us to their apartment for Sunday dinner. It was a treat getting a night off from cooking and a delight watching Grace in her element as lady of the house.

As a natural little hostess she went all out creating a homey and inviting environment that welcomed us at once.

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We were greeted by the smell of dinner cooking and the music of Burl Ives playing on Gracie’s record player.

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The apartment was all decorated for Christmas.

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Days earlier Grace had stopped by our house to collect her ornaments for her tree. In our family we have a Christmas tradition of gifting our children with a Christmas ornament every Christmas that represents their life that year. Sometimes the ornament is reflective of a favorite movie or book. Sometimes it is reflective of a big life event or a special vacation we enjoyed as a family. The result of this family tradition is that when our children leave to make a home of their own they have 20+ ornaments to fill the branches of their own tree and those ornaments tell the story of their childhood.

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It was fun to walk around the Tame’s tree and see Gracie’s childhood hanging on the branches. Grace and Zach have decided to carry on this family tradition in their own family and have begun recording their own life story through Christmas ornaments with the addition of a beautiful nativity ornament from their honeymoon to Mexico.

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Soon after arriving, dinner was ready. Grace and Zach prepared a yummy pasta dinner, complete with garlic bread and brownies for dessert.

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After dinner we enjoyed playing board games as a family. It was so much fun sitting around the Christmas tree, listening to the sounds of Christmas on the record player while laughing our way through round after round of Apples to Apples.

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Then Zach introduced us to The Oregon Trail card game. Like the computer game that was a staple of our middle school computer class, the goal was to make it to the end without dying of a snake bite or dysentery! It was a lot of fun and a total blast from the past for Toby and I.

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It was a fun evening with the new Mr. and Mrs. Tame in their charming little home.

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What joy it brought me to see my daughter happy and thriving in her new role as a happy little homemaker and “hostess with the mostest”…

It makes my heart glad!

Home Sweet Home

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On the Monday following Grace and Zach’s reception they arrived at our house at noon to catch a ride to the airport. They were headed off on their honeymoon and Molly and I were acting as their chauffeurs to the airport. They were on their way to Florida where they would board a cruise ship for a five day cruise to Mexico.

At the airport we bid the honeymooners goodbye. It was an emotional farewell for Molly who would be back in Idaho when they returned from their vacation. The week had spoiled us with an abundance of family time, and for these two sisters, who are also best friends, the time together was a gift.

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After tearing Molly off Gracie, we bid the happy couple farewell and happy travels before heading back home where we made the most out of our last 24 hours with Miss Molly.

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The following morning we returned to the airport at 4:00 am to send Molly on her way.

Once all my kids were safely launched, I indulged in some much needed rest and recovery from the month previous. Life had been a non-stop, emotionally draining, physically taxing whirlwind since mid August and all I wanted was to sit and do nothing for a day or two…

And so that’s what I did. Aside from the most pressing tasks, like schooling and meals, I took a break from all other responsibilities so that I could recover.

By the end of the week I had rallied enough to focus on a project I planned to take on while the honeymooners were away. Zach and Grace had both been so busy working full time, attending school, and preparing for the wedding that they hadn’t found a spare minute to do anything at their apartment. It was filled with boxes brought over from their rooms at home, and stacks of gifts generously given by friends and family, making it look more like a storage unit than a home. Knowing Grace was filling overwhelmed at the idea of returning home from her honeymoon and jumping straight back into school and work the following day, with no idea when they would find time to set up house, I decided to surprise them.

My love language tends to be acts of service and I couldn’t think of a better wedding gift for my daughter and new son in law then to transform their apartment into a home. I spent Saturday working at their apartment and had a wonderful time organizing and decorating. It was like playing with a full size doll house!

When I was done I surveyed the home that would be the birthplace of their future together as a married couple and couldn’t help but smile. As I locked up I whispered a prayer for their marriage and their future as a couple…

That this little apartment might be a place of much growth, much love, much prayer, and much happiness for my oldest daughter and the man she has chosen to spend eternity with.

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The City of Brotherly LOVE

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Following our trip to the Kalahari Resort in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, we decided to take a little detour before heading home. Our detour required a south-easterly jaunt to get to our desired destination…

Philadelphia: The City of Brotherly Love!

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We didn’t have a lot of time to spend in the city, as three kids had work at 6:00pm and we had a 5 hour drive to get home, but we wanted to make this stop a priority.

Gracie, our eldest daughter, will be marrying her true love on October 17th. They have decided to be married at the Philadelphia temple of our church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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It was important to Grace that her siblings visit her wedding location prior to the big day. Much of this was for the benefit of Tyler and Braden who struggle with the unexpected and unknown. She knew that visiting prior to her wedding day would alleviate some of the emotional angst connected to her getting married and leaving home.

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It was a blessing. Grace was able to share her excitement of her upcoming nuptials with her family while also walking the boys through what they can expect that day. She was so sweet, asking for their input on decisions like the best locations for photos and what flowers would be pretty in her bouquet.

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The visit was a blessing for the entire family as we all were strengthened by the spirit felt on those temple grounds.

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And Gracie just glowed with anticipation as she imagined what her wedding day would be like.

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By the time we left the Philadelphia temple we just had two hours left in the city before we needed to get on the road. Molly, Rusty and Braden were all scheduled to begin work at 6:00 pm, so we did a speed tour of Philadelphia sites that we didn’t visited on our last trip to the city.

Our first stop was the “Rocky steps,” located in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, made famous by the film scene from the movie, Rocky.

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Toby opted to do a drive-by and drop us off rather than try to find parking,

while the kids ran the 72 steps that made the site an iconic tourist spot in Philadelphia.

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I did not run the steps, but did walk then so as to take in the view of the city from the top,

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And capture this memento of their Rocky moment:

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A quick stop at the Rocky statue and then we caught our Uber (aka: Toby) on his fourth loop around.

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We decided with our remaining time in the city that we would head to Reading Terminal Market, per Gracie’s suggestion.

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Here is a little background information on this iconic Philadelphia site:

Reading Terminal Market is an enclosed public market located at 12th and Arch Streets in Center City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It opened originally in 1893 under the elevated train shed of the Reading Railroad Company after the city of Philadelphia advocated to move public markets from the streets into indoor facilities for both safety and sanitary reasons. The Reading Railroad Company owned and operated the market space until 1976 when the company liquidated, leaving the market without its parent company and foot traffic from the train. Presently, it still occupies the ground floor and basement levels of the Reading Terminal’s former train shed which is now part of the Philadelphia Convention Center. Vendor stalls occupy the ground floor with entrances on Filbert Street to the South, Twelfth Street to the West, and Arch Street to the North. The stalls are arranged in a grid pattern with an open area in the center with tables and seating. Over one hundred merchants offer fresh produce, meats, fish, artisan cheese, groceries, ice cream, flowers, grilled cheese, baked goods, crafts, books, clothing, and specialty and ethnic foods.

It was a very cool place with its bustling atmosphere, sights, and smells. Had I not been trying to keep six other people in my sightline, while making sure everyone stayed regulated in this highly chaotic and stimulating environment, I probably would have enjoyed it more,

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But if I am being transparent in my recollection of the experience, it was my idea of a living nightmare. (Just keeping it real)

I found everyone’s assessment of the experience fascinating as we took in the energy of the space. The introverts of the family began breathing quickly taking note of the closest emergency exit and desperately seeking out a corner to hole up in, away from the bustling crowds.

My extroverts, however, came alive, energized by the crowds and social atmosphere of the environment.

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I found all family members landed firmly in one of two camps. They either LOVED Reading Terminal Market or HATED it.

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The one thing we could all agree on was how delicious the food was that was sold there.

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We decided to make the experience authentic by eating lunch there. We found the prices to be reasonable and the choices were abundant. Toby split the group in pairs of two and sent them out with money in hand to each buy  what they wanted for lunch. The kids loved the freedom of picking their own meal and liked being able to be as daring (or not)  as they liked in their food choices. There was something for everyone!

I opted to sit and save a table, having discovered an elusive find in seven free chairs around a reasonably clean table.

From my spot, back against the wall, I was able to observe the “dance” of the market from a place that felt much less overwhelming, and actually enjoyed it. It was fun to “people watch” once I was out of the stream of moving people, and the activity was pleasant when observed from the outside looking in.

We enjoyed a delicious and unique dining experience before jumping back on the turnpike for home. It was the quickest Philadelphia tour ever, but we fit a lot of fun and special family moments in our three-hour morning there!

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Grace is no longer a Teenager!

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“Now you can get married!”

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This was the greeting Grace was awoken to on the morning of her 20th birthday by a loud and enthusiastic younger brother.

“You are not a teenager anymore!” he declared, “So now you can get married.”

I don’t know if it was Tyler’s words or the loud and bouncy delivery of his words, but Grace looked a bit shell shocked as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and tried to focus on her family that was gathered at the foot of her bed with cupcake in hand.

I am still wrapping my mind around the fact I have a 20 year old child. In my eyes she is still a five year old princess begging me to watch her pirouette, when in reality she is now the age I was when she was born…

It is all a bit surreal.

This year Gracie’s birthday fell on a Friday which meant she was blessed with a birthday at home with no school or work that day. Her big plans for the day included relaxing at home, watching a movie, and fitting in a nap. With her life as busy as it is right now her birthday wish was downtime…a birthday wish I can relate to.

Her birthday day became a day full of favorites with many of her activities reminiscent  previous year’s birthday themes.

During lunch break the girls all gathered to watch an episode of Downton Abby together just as we did on Gracie’s birthday two years earlier.

For many years this traditional Abby viewing was a weekly Monday activity for Grace, Molly and I during the current Downton Abby season. We would gather on my bed during lunch break and watch the newest episode of Downton Abby together. We did this up until the final episode which we saved and watched on Gracie’s 18th birthday, a fitting way to bring two eras to an end simultaneously. Then for her 18th birthday gift she received a handmade dress reflective of this favorite show and that time period which she then wore to her Downton Abby birthday tea party two months later.

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Her other birthday wish for this birthday was a hike to Buttermilk Falls, a throwback to her 17th birthday when she received a camera for her birthday and we took her on a photo scavenger hunt hike to the falls.

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This year she asked if we could make the hike again, so after the other kids had finished school for the day, but before Toby returned home after picking up Ozzie for the weekend, we went hiking. It was cold but the sun was shining and the hike was beautiful, giving Grace and I many opportunities to capture the beauty of the day in photographs.

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After our hike we met up with Toby and Ozzie and drove out to Boardman, Ohio for Gracie’s birthday dinner. (Molly had to work that night but met up with us later for cake and gifts.)

We had dinner at Red Lobster (Gracie’s favorite restaurant) where she ordered her favorite meal of coconut shrimp and mashed potatoes with a virgin Pina Colada for a birthday treat.

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It was a fun dinner and so nice to have Ozzie there to help celebrate Gracie’s big day!

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When everyone arrived back home we headed into the dining room to celebrate Gracie’s 20th birthday with cake and gifts. Ozzie chose to go to bed early since he wasn’t feeling well, so we saved him a piece of cake and jumped into the celebration down one family member.

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Each of the kids took turns giving Grace her gifts.

The best part of Tyler gift to Grace (the card game, “Code Names”) was the wrapping that was tied with a “Its a Girl” balloon and an awesome homemade birthday card.

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Rusty gave Grace her first ever Lego set. Rusty was so excited to share with her a gift that he has was passionate about, and she was equally thrilled to build her first Lego set.

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Toby and I surprised Grace with a CD and concert tickets to one of her favorite groups, Home Free. We will be taking her to the concert for the second half of her birthday celebration.

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Molly, following our lead, made a homemade card for Grace that looked like a Home Free t-shirt and enclosed cash for Grace to purchase a souvenir t-shirt at the concert.

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The night ended with cake and song as we celebrated 20 years with this special young lady.

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The birthday frivolity continued for Grace the next day with a birthday sleepover with her best bud. Grace and Olivia have discovered that being grown-up doesn’t allow nearly as much time to socialize as either would like so Gracie’s birthday request was a night hanging out and catching up with her bestie. They camped out in the converted school bus, made homemade salsa, guacamole and other treats in the bus’ kitchen, and watched movies into the night. How grateful I am for this sweet friendship that has grown stronger and sweeter over the last decade.

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Happy birthday, my sweet Gracie, we love you to the moon and back!

 

Grace and Olivia’s Senior Prom

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Friday morning Grace woke with excitement coursing through her veins. It was Prom day!

We have cyber schooled our children for 12 years and the most common question asked after, “What about socialization?” or “How can you stand having your children home all day?” is:

“Don’t you feel like your kids are missing out on the best parts of school not being in a traditional brick and mortar school?”

And I have always been able to answer, “No,” because I don’t. God called us to this model of schooling for our children, and it is the best parenting decision we ever made.

I have felt that through this model of schooling we have really gotten the best of both worlds…all the best parts of homeschooling and the better parts of public schooling.

Through our awesome co-op group, we have been able to compensate for those parts of the public-school experience that they might have missed in their early years like talent shows and holiday parties, Valentine exchanges and field trips.

Our transition to 21st Century Cyber Charter School four years ago was really the missing piece in rounding out our cyber schooling experience. At this school, my older kids found a college preparatory learning experience that mimics a post-secondary learning environment far more effectively then what we saw happening in our local public school.

“But what about prom?!” a young girl from church asked us a few years ago, “Your poor kids won’t get to experience prom!”

I tried to explain that I really didn’t place a lot of value in the prom experience, especially knowing how little of value is found at a high school prom, but I understood what she was saying. She felt it was a rite of passage my kids would be denied.

We didn’t know if prom was in the cards for my teenagers but weren’t concerned given the fact that through our church they have been able to participate in a Spring Formal each spring since they were 14, which offers all the fun of prom without the filth found in some of the local schools’ proms.

But as the end of the school year came closer Grace received information about 21st Century Cyber Charter School’s prom. They hold it the Friday afternoon before graduation so families already in town for graduation don’t have the added burden of two trips.

In the months leading up to prom the seniors began submitting ideas for the prom theme. It would be held at the local country club and the senior class eventually voted a masquerade theme for senior prom.

Grace decided that rather than spending money on a formal prom gown that she will never wear again, she would instead wear the same dress she wore to Spring Formal… her custom-made Downton Abby dress she received for her 18th birthday. (Beautifully made by my dear friend, Wendy.)

Since it was masquerade themed Grace and Olivia decided they would each make their own mask, rather than buy one.

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The mask reveal!

Both girls decided to coordinate their masks to their dresses. Using leftover fabric left from her dress Grace made this beautiful mask that matched perfectly! Olivia created a mermaid themed mask that matched her and her dress perfectly.

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The one thing that doesn’t work out quite so well with a cyber school prom, especially when your school is located 5 hours away, is asking a date to prom. You can’t exactly invite a boy to prom, ask him to travel across the state, and book a hotel for a night or two, just to escort you to prom. 😊

But it didn’t matter to Grace. The Hudaks were staying at the same hotel, and I don’t know that there is anyone else Grace would rather share this experience with than her best friend, anyway.

An hour before they had to leave, Grace and Olivia met in our hotel room to begin getting dressed and dolled up.

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The end results were beautiful!

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What lovely young women they both are.

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A friend shared this quote in the graduation letter she wrote Grace and I think it perfectly exemplifies both these young ladies:

“She was beautiful, but not like those girls in the magazines. She was beautiful, for the way she thought. She was beautiful, for that sparkle in her eyes when she talked about something she loved. She was beautiful, for her ability to make other people smile even if she was sad. No, she wasn’t beautiful for something as temporary as her looks. She was beautiful deep down to her soul.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

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After a few pictures, we dropped off these two prom princesses at their senior prom and headed over to the bowling party where the rest of the family was spending the day.

It looks like Grace and Olivia had a wonderful time at prom. Here are some of the pictures they took:

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The venue was beautiful!

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Grace and Olivia with Ms. Cloetingh, Olivia’s learning coach and the girls’ mural club teacher.

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Great food and lots of dancing= Awesome Prom!

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Both girls with their learning coaches. Love all four of these pretty ladies!

 

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The girls enjoyed the “Make your own mocktail” station.

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And then there were ice cream sundaes for dessert…Yum!

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Happy Prom!

 

Almost there, ladies!  Graduation is just 24 hours away!

Downton Abbey Chic

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This past Monday we celebrated Gracie’s 18th birthday in style…

Downton Abbey STYLE!

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A few months ago, as we neared Gracie’s March birthday, we began discussing what she wanted to do for this milestone birthday. After all 18 is a big deal! She informed us that what she wanted more than anything was to have a Downton Abbey tea party with Molly and I, my mother, my sister and my niece.

Needless to say I embraced her birthday vision with enthusiasm.

I couldn’t think of a better or more fitting way to celebrate Gracie’s special day. As lovers of the historical period drama, Downton Abbey, the females at Patchwork Farm began planning Gracie’s birthday tea with creative enthusiasm.

I love a good theme-party and knew at once what Gracie’s 18th birthday gift must be:

A Downton Abbey tea dress!

Having absolutely no skill to bring to the sewing table I knew I would need outside help to bring my birthday gift vision to life.

This is where my dear friend, Wendy, came into the picture. She is a seamstress and owns a sewing business where she does everything from custom dresses to alterations. She is incredibly talented and when I approached her about hiring her to create a custom tea dress for Gracie’s Downton Abbey tea party she happily agreed to take on the project.

We decided that instead of surprising Grace with a finished dress for her birthday we would surprise her with a birthday card informing her of what her gift would be, thus allowing her to help in the design and creative planning of it.

When Grace found out what she would be receiving for her 18th birthday she was thrilled!

Over the next month she exchanged many emails with Miss Wendy. She sent pictures of different Victorian styles she liked and Miss Wendy guided her through the process of picking fabrics and colors.

When decisions were made Miss Wendy went to work, meeting up with us a few times for fittings along the way.

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The end result was enchanting,

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 and so very “Gracie!”

I’ve always said Grace was born in the wrong era. With her classic features and period clothing she looked like she had stepped right out of Downton.

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This past Monday was her 18th birthday celebration.

My parents’ gift to Grace was to generously book her Downton Abbey tea party at a historic Victorian home in Ohio. I will post pictures of her special 18th birthday celebration soon,

but first here is a peek at the birthday girl:

Lady Grace

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Stay tuned for pictures of the special memories we made!

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National Honor Society- a special night!

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“No person was ever honored for what he (she) received. Honor has been the reward for what he (she) gave.” – Calvin Coolidge

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Last night was the big event that we drove to Philadelphia for. It was the National Honor Society induction ceremony for 21st Century Cyber Charter School. Last year at this time Toby, Gracie and I were driving out here for Gracie to be inducted into NHS. This year her best friend Olivia was being inducted and Grace was invited to be the NHS honorary speaker at the ceremony.

After our day at Hershey we arrived back at the hotel to dress up for this special evening that was being held at the Downingtown Country Club.

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(Toby stayed back with our four kids and Olivia’s two siblings, taking them to dinner and then to the hotel pool to swim for the evening.)

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A sister picture before we left 🙂

 The evening began with an opportunity to mingle and greet teachers (and the other students) before we had to sit down for dinner.

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The girls’ mural club teacher…one of their favorite teachers!

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Gracie’s new special ed teacher and Gracie’s best friend are…TWINS!!

 Dinner was delicious. Grace and I both had the pesto salmon dish with asparagus spears. YUM!

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After dinner the evening progressed through the program:

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The program began with the inductee procession. It was so much fun to see Olivia walk up to the stage.

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After the opening remarks it was Gracie’s turn to speak.

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This is the speech she prepared and delivered:

“As Mr. Dutcher said, I am Grace McCleery. I am in 11th grade and am 18 years old. I have been cyber-schooled ever since 1st grade but have been in 21st century for 3 years now. I am the oldest of five children. My family and I live north of Pittsburgh on a farm where we raise a great array of animals including tons of rabbits, an alpaca, a Guinea Hen, and even a potbelly pig named Harley Davidson. Some of my hobbies include painting, photography, and collecting quotes. One of my favorite quotes is, “She believed she could, so she did.” Since hearing this quote it has since stuck with me. It has become somewhat a life motto for me. I believe this quote applies to everyone.

NHS is a great honor. It is an honor in many ways, but to me it is an honor because it means that you have tried your very best and believed in yourself, which is not always the easiest thing to do.

            I would like to talk about how 21st Century Cyber Charter School helps students gain and develop the attributes of scholarship, character, leadership, and service, the four pillars of National Honors Society.

The first pillar of National Honors Society is scholarship. 21st Century Cyber Charter School encourages good scholarship in many ways. The teachers at this school are always asking if you need help, checking up on you, and encouraging you to do your best. They want you to succeed! They know that you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it. This further helps us as students believe in ourselves and do things we never believed we could before. I used to have a teacher in the school named Mr. Dolan. He has recently moved away. Mr. Dolan was the reason I joined NHS myself! School has never been easy for me. I have dyslexia so learning takes lots of time and effort. I never believed I could ever qualify for NHS because I always believed I wasn’t smart enough. Mr. Dolan told me that I could do anything I put my mind to. He encouraged me and because of him I gained  courage in my own abilities. It was because of this that I have done many things. The teachers in this school encourage us and help us believe in our own abilities.

The second pillar of National Honor Society is character. 21st Century Cyber Charter School helps students gain character. This school encourages students to be themselves. It does this by encouraging creative freedom and personality within students’ work. There is no judgment or criticism for being you. I love this quote by Dr. Seuss, which says, “Be who you are and say what you mean because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” This school encourages us to have great character but also to be our own character.

The third pillar of National Honors Society is leadership. There are many leadership opportunities within this school. Daily we have the chance to help lead within live classes, work sessions, and many other ways. There are many activities like student-led clubs in which students have the chance to be leaders and show leadership qualities. Recently my best friend and I actually started our own student-led club within the school. We started it because we wanted a challenge and we wanted to get to know our classmates better. It turned out to be a great opportunity for leadership. We have learned that being a leader isn’t always the easiest, but it is always rewarding. For NHS we have the opportunity to serve and lead as a result of our required service hours. For my service hours I have been doing a form of tutoring. I have been teaching my 9-year-old brother music at our co-op for 3rd grade music class. I have had to learn how to be a leader and how to teach him so that he understands what I am teaching. This is not always the easiest task. First of all he is a 9 year old and his priorities are not exactly what mine are. Secondly he is a little boy so he would rather be wrestling around or making a mess than learning what crescendo means. Lastly he is ADHD so he has a very short attention span and cannot sit still for more than 5 min. at a time… which is why he is not here this evening! But it is because of me learning how to teach him and lead him that I know I will be well prepared whenever I become a teacher in the future.

The fourth pillar of National Honor Society is service. Although this school has students all over PA they greatly try to incorporate service into the school atmosphere. For example they have had blood drives and other activities to encourage service. As an NHS member I was required to plan, create, organize, and execute a service activity. For each member this “big service project” is different. It is different because we each plan it ourselves. For mine I wanted to incorporate my goal of being a teacher, so I decided to have a storybook day for children in my community. I helped them learn why reading is so important. It was because the school and NHS challenging me that I was able to serve my community and help many children discover the joys of reading.

National Honor Society is an honor now but will continue to be a blessing in our lives past graduation as we move into our future. We will be able to take the four pillars of National Honor Society: Scholarship, Leadership, Character, and Service and apply them to our future lives. 

I would like to conclude with a quote by Roald Dahl. It says, “ Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world.” I believe that the National Honor Society is helping us find that power within ourselves and channel that power, because they know that

We can change the world!”

She did an amazing job, so poised and confident.  I couldn’t be prouder of the lady she had become!

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It was then time to watch Olivia be inducted into NHS and celebrate her accomplishments.

It was a very special evening for both girls!

Congratulations Grace and Olivia!!

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Grace is an A*D*U*L*T!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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:

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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!

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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.

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(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!”

a SWEET detour

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Well, there we were, just traveling east across Pennsylvania

when the smell of chocolate lured us off the turnpike.

To this place:

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Yesterday was Gracie’s induction ceremony for National Honor Society. Her cyber school is headquartered just outside of Philadelphia, so after a morning of dropping off siblings at the Hudak’s home, and dropping my car at the garage for work, we hopped in the truck for the 5 hour trip east.

As we drove Gracie did school. Toby was able to turn his cell phone into a mobile hotspot so Gracie didn’t have to miss school yesterday and today. Her teachers were quite impressed that she was willing to travel 5 hours to the ceremony AND also attend all her live classes as she rode.

We decided to plan a few extra stops into our travels to make the most of this special one on one time with have with our oldest daughter. She hasn’t had us all to herself since she was two and Miss Molly was born. 🙂

First stop: Hershey, PA!

The induction ceremony was to begin at 5:30 so between traveling time and the time we needed to allow for checking into a hotel and getting dolled up, we figured we had about 2 hours to make some sweet memories at Chocolate World.

This wasn’t our first visit. We had stopped for a quick visit once before, as we were passing by, when Grace was 6 or 7 years old. She doesn’t have too many memories of that visit. She said that her primary memory was how the town just smelled like chocolate. It was fun to be able to visit again and create some new memories.

We began with a free riding tour through “Hershey’s Chocolate Tour.” This fun tour allows you to ride through the factory process of chocolate making. You step onto a moving platform to get on the ride. Gracie said that it felt like we were back at Disney. 🙂

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At the end of the ride you are dumped out at a gift shop where they try to sell you a photo that was taken of you while on the tour.

(It is just like Disney World!)

As you exit you are given a free piece of chocolate. Yesterday they were handing out Kit Kats. YUM!

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Toby also surprised Grace and bought tickets to “Create you own candy bar.”  In this neat experience you get to go behind the scenes and create your own candy bar from the ground up, choosing the type of chocolate, the extra bits you want to add to your candy, as well as design the packaging. It was very cool!

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It began with hair nets. We were all given aprons and hair nets to wear. Toby had the extra privilege of getting to wear a beard net…which Grace found hilarious.

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We were taken back, asked to sanitize our hands, and watched a safety video. It was here we found out what inclusions were being offered for the day to add to our candy bar.

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We each had a ticket that we scanned at each station. This is what kept track of which candy bar was yours. The first kiosk was your ingredient station. This is where you pick your chocolate and inclusions and decide if you want it topped with sprinkles.

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After picking our ingredients we moved to the line where we watched our candy bar being made. First they added our extras.

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Then it got coated in chocolate.

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As we waited for it to move through the cooling rack we entered another room where we designed the wrapper for our candy bar. Grace had fun with this part. They had many design options to choose from.

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After finishing the design we moved back out to the assembly line where the sprinkles were added and the packaging was completed.

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Our finished creations:

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We had just a bit of time before we had to continue on in our travels

so we strolled around the gift shop where Toby found his favorite treat.

You know, just a little snack for the car ride. 😉

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It was such a FUN stop. Next stop: NHS.

But until then…

We send kisses from Hershey.

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Justice or Mercy?

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Happy Easter from some "bunny" special!!

Happy Easter from some “bunny” special!!

Those who have been walking this adoption journey with us know that part of Ozzie’s trauma therapy involves parenting classes for me in addition to therapy for him. Those who follow this blog know how incredibly beneficial those classes have been for me as a mother. *sigh*  At my last parenting class we addressed another parenting lesson: “The proper way to discipline.” I am not sure what Ozzie has been telling his therapist (I am not privy to that information) but it must have sparked some concern on his part because we had an impromptu lesson following Ozzie’s session.

We sat down in his office and he expressed his concern that perhaps I was being too hard on Ozzie or expecting too much and that he wanted me to try a new method of discipline. He explained to me that it is most effective in cases like Ozzie’s to just focus on one behavior at a time.  He told me that I was to pick the behavior that was most destructive or caused the most problems and only focus on that behavior for the time being. He told me that I was to close my eyes to all other behaviors and only discipline the behavior we are currently working on. “So,” he went on, “Let’s say you are having a problem with Ozzie stealing. You are going to come up with a plan of rewards and consequences to address that behavior. If other behaviors crop up during this time like talking back or lying I want you to just ignore them for the time being and once Ozzie has had success in this area we will then move onto the next behavior.”

My first thought after being given this instruction was the  cartoon image of Ozzie throwing food across the dinner table as Toby and I look on with a speech bubble above our head that reads, ” This month’s focus is ‘lying’ I guess we will address THIS in May.” I had never heard of anyone parenting like this before and couldn’t imagine how a parent is to cover all the basics in 18 short years if the basics can only be addressed one at a time. Ozzie is 10…there is NO way I can fit it all in with only 8 years to go if I’m only tackling one behavior every couple of months. I can only figure this brilliant plan was developed by someone who has never been around children, much less tried raising one. I smiled my sweet “therapy appointment smile”, nodding as the doctor told me to pick one behavior and give it a try. I thought about my assignment as I drove home, wondering what one behavior I would choose to address if I could only pick one. It was like a game of ” If you were trapped on a deserted island and could only bring 3 things with you, what would you pick?!” Perhaps I am just too stubborn or stuck in my ways to give this new-fangled parenting strategy a try but to my untrained eye it seems a bit questionable. 🙂

While I found very little merit in the doctor’s game plan it did get me thinking about his observation that perhaps I am too tough on Ozzie or that I expect too much. It made me reflect and got me thinking about the balance we seek as parents between Justice and Mercy. I am a “Justice” girl by nature. I like my world cut and dry, black and white. I like to be able to clearly label things in life and put them in the “good” box or the “bad” box. I like predictability and knowing that certain actions bring about certain consequences. I find security in Justice because it is sure. I am a first-born child, a rule minder, and for me the answer is easy… if you do _________ than ________ will happen. I have discovered, as a parent, that justice is important. Rules are needed, behaviors come as a result of expectations and  with rules and clear consequences come security and trust on the part of a child. Children need clear boundaries. Those boundaries make children feel safe, loved and secure. Justice is an important lesson for children to learn…but so is Mercy. Mercy is a harder virtue for me.

I read a quote that described Grace and Mercy like this:

“Grace is when you get the good things that you don’t deserve. Mercy is when you are spared from the bad things you do deserve. God is generous with both.”

Mercy is hard for me. It isn’t as black and white as Justice and the part of my personality that calls out for justice and fairness struggles with the freedom that Mercy offers. This Easter season I have been pondering my relationship with my Savior and the Mercy He offers me. I know what He has given, I know that He has removed the bonds of Justice in order to offer the freedom of Mercy and yet it seems so unfair and so unjust. I don’t deserve what He offers and yet He gives. He gives the gift of Mercy and now we are called to offer that same gift to others. Mercy when others offend. Mercy when others disappoint. Mercy when others hurt our hearts. Mercy when others fail us. Sometimes Justice is needed but so often Mercy is what is called for. Mercy for those we have yet to forgive. Mercy when our children make poor choices. Mercy when people fall short of our expectations. Mercy for ourselves when we fall short of our own expectations again and again. What a blessed gift Mercy is and yet it is often one of the hardest gifts to give.  This Easter season it has been my prayer that my heart might be more open to the gift that has been offered me that I might tip the scales of Justice and offer Mercy to those who don’t deserve it because really none of us deserve it…that is why it is called a gift.

This Easter was a blessed one filled with gifts of Grace and blessings of Mercy as we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ozzie, still half asleep, as he looked through his Easter basket.

Ozzie, still half asleep, as he looked through his Easter basket.

The Easter egg hunt!

The Easter egg hunt!

Rusty... still searching.

Rusty… still searching.

All dressed up for church.

All dressed up for church.

My boys...

My boys…

My girls...

My girls…

Fun with cousins at Aunt Beth's house Easter afternoon.

Fun with cousins at Aunt Beth’s house Easter afternoon.

Waiting for the egg hunt...

Waiting for the egg hunt…

Ready...set...hunt!

Ready…set…hunt!

Tyler sees something...

Tyler sees something…

After the egg hunt the kids made up some fun of their own!

After the egg hunt the kids made up some fun of their own!

As I consider the gift of Mercy this Easter season I reflect on an incident that happened one evening soon after Ozzie moved in. It was a rough night with Ozzie and I finally lost it and told him “enough is enough!” He looked at me and started to cry. My heart broke as he said, ” I’m sorry but I’ve only been here a few weeks and I’m still learning.” All the anger and frustration leaked from my tensed shoulders in the form of a heart-broken sigh. Once again I failed as I tried to find the balance between Justice and Mercy. As I tucked Ozzie into bed with an extra long embrace I felt the feelings of defeat and failure roll over me once again as I struggled with this thing they call mothering. Just when I was about to give in to defeat God whispered a reminder on His own, ” Remember, you have only been here a few weeks and you’re still learning.” 🙂 Perhaps that is what Mercy is all about, recognizing that we are all “still  learning” and cut each other and ourselves a little slack. 🙂

“Surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.” – Jeffrey R. Holland