Tag Archives: memories

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!

Riding the Waves

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Wednesday was the last day of our “beach vacation” before heading back toward Philadelphia for end of the school year fun and graduation activities.

Everyone was thrilled that the sun returned for our last day at the beach. After two cool, grey days, the sun, blue skies, and slightly warmer temperatures had returned.

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*Photo credit: Grace McCleery*

Our crew was split into two crews: Toby and Tyler were on a charter fishing adventure while Grace, Molly, Rusty and Ozzie were home with me. After a morning filled with necessary last day of vacation chores like laundry and packing, we packed our beach bag and sand toys for an afternoon at the beach.

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We arrived to discover we had the beach to ourselves. The sun may have returned but I guess other vacationers felt that a high temperature of 62 degrees was still too cool for a day at the beach. The only other people we saw all day were a few older women walking the shoreline looking for sea glass.

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It was by far the most relaxing day of the trip. I was able to lay with my face angled up toward the sun, and soak in some much-needed vitamin D.

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*Photo credit: Grace McCleery*

The kids also enjoyed a day with nothing to do and spent their time looking for shells and sea glass, flying kites, sunbathing, reading books, and making sand castles.

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*Photo credit: Grace McCleery*

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They even braved the cold North Atlantic water, made all the cooler by two days of storms and rain, and played in the ocean.

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The waves were unbelievable and created hours of fun as the kids dove, splashed and jumped through the crashing waves.

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Those same waves that were bringing such joy to our group on the beach were making life miserable for our family members out on the ocean.

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Toby and Tyler’s charter fishing boat left the dock at midnight with Toby, Tyler, Mark (Toby’s cousin) and 20 other people aboard. Within minutes Toby and Mark knew they were in for the ride of their lives.

 

The first 6 hours on board were spent sleeping while the boat made its way 40 miles offshore. There was a bunkroom available so that everyone could get a few hours of sleep before the fishing began. Tyler fell asleep right away, making himself at home and comfortable…so comfortable that he ended up rolling from his bunk to the man’s bunk beside him and laying sideways across the stranger. The stranger quickly moved to a new bunk far away from our little “roller and flipper.”

Toby did not sleep so well. The waves that were so much fun for us at the beach were making life rough for those on board. Those 10-15 foot waves were tossing their boat like a cork, causing those trying to sleep on the bunks to become airborne, lifting off their beds with the sudden drops between waves.

The result was two very seasick family members…and neither one of them was Tyler. He was immune to the tossing and turning. Probably because the way he moves through his day is so reminiscent of a storm at sea. His little body is accustomed to sharp turns, sudden drops and unending movement.

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While Toby and Mark were losing their last meal, Tyler was stuffing his face with snacks and treats.

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At 5:30 am the boat dropped anchor at the first of 4 fishing spots. Having not slept at all, Mark and Toby began fishing. Tyler slept in until 8:30 am.

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It was a rough trip for Toby. The fishing wasn’t great for him and he felt horrible the whole time, but Tyler LOVED it. Tyler loves fishing anyway but the experience of being out on the ocean in a big boat, experiencing all that goes with a charter fishing experience, was heaven.

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He loved the fishing but also loved watching the other men reel in huge cod, ordering food from the boat’s café’, and walking around the upper deck. It made the entire experience an adventure for my young fisherman.

While at sea they also had the unique experiences of boating through a shoal of red squid in the middle of the daytime…an experience usually only reserved for nighttime.

They also passed by a pod of migrating humpback whales…What a thrill!!

Tyler was the only kid aboard and everyone was very kind to him. He loved visiting with the cook who made him a hamburger. Another woman gave him some candy, and a gentleman that had a nice bit of luck fishing invited Tyler to real in one of his big catches.

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In the end Toby had five catches and Tyler caught one eel.

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I am sad Toby and Mark’s experiences weren’t better, but am happy Tyler had such a positive experience and that he got to do it with his Daddy.

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That evening Mark came back to the rental house with Toby.

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Mark’s wife, Faith, and his two daughters also drove up and joined us for a pizza party. It was sweet of them to make the 1 ½ hour drive up to spend the evening with us. It was so much fun. The kids loved hanging out together and we had a great time visiting and catching up. Our families get along so well and always have a great time when we get together. It was a perfect way to end our time at the Jersey Shore.

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Tomorrow we head inland for 3 days of graduation fun in Downingtown, PA!

What a Trip it has Been!

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It was almost 10,000 miles.

We traveled through 22 states.

Over the period of 7 weeks.

We visited 13 National Parks,

and hiked miles and miles of this beautiful country.

Brand new shoes, purchased at the start of the trip,

were worn clean through by the end.

A walking testament to all that was seen and done.

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For those who have forgotten or our joining us more recently, here is a recap of where we have spent the last 50 days.

Day 1: Travel to St. Louis, Missouri with a stop at the Columbus Zoo.

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Day 2: Tyler’s 10th birthday! Explore the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri

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Day 3: St. Louis Arch

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Day 4: Tour Hannibal, Missouri. Home of Mark Twain.

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Day 5: Drive to De Smet, South Dakota

Day 6: Tour Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homestead and then on to Mitchell, South Dakota to see the Corn Palace.

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Day 7: Visit 1800’s town, South Dakota.

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Day 8: A stop at Wall Drug and a visit to Badlands National Park.

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Day 9: Day 1 in Rapid City, South Dakota: Bear Country USA, Storybook Island, the Dinosaur Park, and a chuck wagon dinner.

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Day 10: Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park to see the world’s largest free roaming buffalo herd in the morning and then a visit to a mammoth fossil dig site in the afternoon.

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Day 11: Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments.

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Day 12: Check out Devil’s Tower.

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Day 13: Day 1 in Yellowstone National Park

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Day 14: Day 2 in Yellowstone National Park.

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Day 15: Visit Grand Tetons and go swimming in hot springs.

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Day 16: College tour of BYU Idaho.

Day 17: Visit temple square in Salt Lake City, Utah and swim in the Great Salt Lake.

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Day 18: College tour of BYU in Provo, Utah.

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Day 19:  Travel to Yosemite National Park.

Day 20: Visit Yosemite National Park in California.

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Day 21: Visit Sequoia National Park, California.

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Day 22: A day swimming in the Pacific Ocean at Newport Beach, CA.

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Day 23-27: Disneyland, California. This was the big surprise of the trip. The kids just found out the day before we left.🙂

Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statue at Disneyland California. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.

Day 28: Las Vegas. Tour Hoover Dam.

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Day 29: See the sites of Las Vegas.

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Day 30: Another (unexpected day) in Las Vegas.

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Day 31: Visit the Grand Canyon.

Day 32: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

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Day 33: Arches National Park, Utah.

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Day 34: Visit Mesa Verde National Park to see the cliff dwellings and stop at Four Corners monument.

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Day 35: Visit Petroglyph National Monument.

Day 36: A stop in Roswell, NM while driving past on our way to Carlsbad Caverns.

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Day 37: A cave tour of Carlsbad Caverns with my brother, Travis.

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Day 38: Drive all day to Branson, Missouri. (See David and Jen along the way)

Day 39: Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.

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Day 40: Second day in Silver Dollar City.

Day 41: Explore Branson, Missouri and tour the Titanic Museum.

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Day 42: Branson, Missouri.

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Day 43: Rusty’s 15th birthday. Spend the day in Marceline, Missouri, home of Rusty’s hero: Walt Disney.

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Day 44and 45: Visit Mimi Joy who is serving a mission in the Independence Missouri mission.

Day 46: Visit Nauvoo, Illinois.

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Day 47: Drive toward home.

Day 48: Home Sweet Home!

For 7 weeks our family 0f seven lived in our converted school bus which was lovingly named, “The Rolling Gnomes.”

We slept, ate, did school, and traveled together in 280 square feet.

For 7 of those days our 280 square feet felt like 20 square feet as we lived without the boys’ ADHD medication thanks to restrictive state laws regarding controlled medications.

Our little bus climbed mountains almost 10,000 feet high feet and at Carlsbad Caverns we explored 750 feet below the earth.

We crossed wind swept prairies, majestic mountains, mighty rivers, and desolate deserts.

We made it to the Pacific Ocean and then turned around and drove back home.

Along the way we gained a greater appreciation for our country, and a greater connection as a family.

As a family we grew and learned lessons about ourselves, about our nation, and about each other.

We learned:

About the incredible natural beauty found in the United States of America and gained a greater appreciation for the conservation efforts that have preserved this country’s natural beauty.

On the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service we were able to explore some of the prettiest sites we have ever seen.

In the NPS’s “Find Your Park” campaign we each found “our park…

each of us falling in love with certain areas of the country and the beauty found there.find-your-park

Here are our “Find your Park” National Park choices:

Toby and Grace’s favorite national park was Grand Tetons National Park.

Rusty’s favorite was Arches National Park.

Molly’s favorite park was the Grand Canyon.

Ozzie loved Mt. Rushmore.

Tyler’s chosen park was Badlands National Park.

And my personal favorite was Devil’s Tower.

Some favorite stops included the City Museum of St. Louis, Silver Dollar City, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead, Titanic Museum , 1880’s town,

and of course, Disneyland!

We fell in love with the Black Hills of South Dakota,

and were little impressed with Nevada and California.

But the greatest revelation that came from our travels was how good the people of this country are.

We met some of the kindest people in our travels, and in all our interactions with thousands of strangers we had only one negative experience.

It was reassuring and empowering to see the goodness that shone forth across this great nation. In an era of sickening news reports and political filth, it is easy to assume that the loudest voices, the ones highlighted on our evening news, represent the majority of American opinion.

But I have found that to not be the case.

The people of this country are good…no, great.

They are moral, and kind. They are friendly and helpful.

They are proud people who love their country and long for its leaders to raise their standards and be better.

On this trip we made many new friends and the experience lit a flame of hope in me that despite the immoral, disgusting, self serving faces seen clamoring to be the representative and voice of the American people,

the people of America are so much better than the faces that represent them.

As we traveled I fell in love with my country and came home with a renewed spirit of pride in our history, our culture, and our citizens.

Through this experience I discovered a buried gypsy within my soul that fell in love with the simplicity of tiny house living and the life of a nomad.

It is good to be home…

To see the people we love.

To soak in a bathtub rather than shower in camp showers.

We loved being reunited with our animals,

But I’m already missing life on the road and look forward to seeing where the Rolling Gnome bus takes us in the future!

Thanks for traveling with us.

It has been a grand adventure!

Walt Disney’s Hometown

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“A Dream is a Wish you Heart Makes”

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Rusty had dreamed of visiting the hometown of his hero, Walt Disney. This trip afforded us the opportunity to take him to Marceline, Missouri on his 15th birthday…

A  magical way to spend his special day!

The United States has three permanent museums devoted to Walt Disney. Each is terrific in a different way. In San Francisco, the Walt Disney Family Museum is the most spectacular—a real “E” ticket. In Central Florida, Walt Disney, One Man’s Dream, a “must see” attraction for Disney fans at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is the most convenient to visit—at least if you’re a Walt Disney World guest. And somewhere near the center of the continental United States, the Walt Disney Hometown Museum is the most personal.

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We drove into Marceline, Missouri (pop. 2230) on Monday morning and discovered a small Midwestern town that seemed trapped in time, looking much as it might have when Walt was a young boy walking down Main Street with his mother.

We arrived at the museum to find a lovely, older woman watering the flowers in the beautiful garden that sits beside the old train depot where the museum resides.

She sadly informed us that the museum was closed on Mondays. What a disappointment! We were so looking forward to this special birthday experience for Rusty.

She encouraged us to return later in the week when we were passing back through, but told us that there were other Disney sites that we could see around town, despite the museum being closed.

We decided to do just that and then return on Thursday (as we headed to Nauvoo, Il.) and visit the museum.

This woman is one of many volunteers that run the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. She also happened to be one of the volunteers that personally knew Walt Disney and his family when they lived in Marceline.

It was thrilling to hear her share stories of Walt and his life when he called Marceline home. She graciously stood outside the museum and spoke with us for 30 minutes before she went inside to get a map of Marceline, marked with the various Disney sites, to guide us around the town.

Our first stop was the Zurcher building on Main Street. Behind this building was a huge Coca-Cola sign that was there when Walt was a child. This sign became the inspiration for Coke Corner in Disneyland. A few years ago this mural was uncovered when the building that was built around it was torn down. The paint was so worn and faded that the original Coca-Cola sign was barely visible.

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When Coca-Cola heard about this old sign painted on the brick wall of Walt’s hometown, and heard about its connection to Disney, they sent painters to Marceline to refurbish this historical sign for the city.

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The CEO of Coca-Cola then had it photographed and turned into a Christmas card which he sent to the Disney Company for Christmas that year.

As we walked along  the Main Street of Marceline we caught glimpses of what became the inspiration for Main Street USA in the Disney Parks.

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Main Street USA

Walt made the decision that every visitor to Disneyland would walk down Main Street USA, inspired by his hometown of Marceline, Missouri.

Today, you can shop at Murray’s Department store, at the same location for over 100 years (and also the store where Walt purchased his first pair of engineer overalls), and visit other quaint shops on the “original” Main Street USA.

Have lunch in the same building Elias Disney served an oyster dinner to local farmers in hopes of organizing them inot a union.

Stroll past the Zurcher building and see the original Coke mural that inspired Coke Corner at Disneyland.

See specially designed street signs that were personally dedicated by Mickey Mouse

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On Main Street we also discovered the Uptown Theatre. A very special place in the Disney Story:

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From there we drove over to Walt Disney’s childhood home.

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Walt’s family came to Marceline when Walt was only 5 years old. They moved from Chicago in an attempt to keep Walt’s older teenage brothers out of trouble and live a simpler life on the family farm.

Walt’s father purchased a plot of land from his brother who owned land in Marceline and they proceeded to build a home and establish themselves in this small, Missouri town.

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Walt lived here from age 5 to age 9. While not a long period of time, it was a time that greatly affected his life. In fact he has often said this about the town of Marceline:

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Walt Disney’s childhood home is now a private residence, closed to the public. And while visitors can’t go inside there is a sign marking the home from the outside.

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Behind this home sits another important part of Walt’s time in Marceline. This area is opened to the public. Just past Walt’s childhood home sits a small parking area with this sign:

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It was down a grassy path that we found Walt’s Dreaming Tree.

. Daydreaming under this tree, a young Walt would observe the nature surrounding him. He later called these adventures “belly botany” and drew from these moments in his early works. He apparently never outgrew his need for inspiration from his favorite spot. On trips back to Marceline, Walt always put aside time for reflection beneath it, spending hours alone with his thoughts, back under his Dreaming Tree.

The Original Dreaming Tree, the place where Walt sat as a boy and let his imagination take him on incredible adventures, was hit by lightening a few years ago.

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Instead we visited the Son of the Dreaming Tree, a sapling planted from a seedling of the original Dreaming Tree with soil brought from Disneyland and water from Disney World.

As we walked along the grassy path to Walt’s barn we passed signs that gave us even more insight into Walt’s childhood there and the significance it had in his later life.

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In the barn, also known as Walt’s Happy Place, visitors are encouraged to sign the walls and leave messages of love and hope.

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By his own account, Walt’s happiest childhood memories were of his time in Marceline and the family farm there. Walt and his sister Ruth spent many happy hours playing in the Barn. Visitors from all over the world have come to Marceline to spend time at “Walt’s Happy Place”, located in its original place on the Disney family’s old farm in Marceline.
Visit this very special Barn, which was rebuilt by volunteers in 2001, and leave your mark among the thousands of signatures, messages and memories already there to share with the rest of the world. There’s no doubt about it, when you come to this Barn, you’ll feel a special heart connection to Walt.

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It was incredibly moving to read the words of previous visitors and witness the profound effect this humble, inspiring man has had on so many lives.

On Thursday we returned. We arrived as the doors opened and told the volunteers about our attempt to visit on Monday for Rusty’s birthday. They kindly gave him this pin as a special memento.

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The visit to the museum began with a guided tour of the first floor, where the volunteer walked us through the story of Walt’s life in Marceline, beginning with his childhood in Marceline and ending with his visits back when he was an adult.

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The museum is housed in the town’s old train depot. A fitting location for Walt’s museum since he was an avid fan of trains his entire life. In fact one associate said, “Walt got more joy from hearing the sound of a train whistle than he did from an arm full of Oscars.”

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Later in life Walt even built a miniature train track around his California home for his daughters.

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In the museum there are 3,000 artifacts from Walt’s life,

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including…

His elementary school desk where he carved his initials WD:

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A car from the Autopia ride he had built in Marceline for the children of the town:

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The Mickey Mouse flag he donated to be flown on the flag pole of the local elementary school:

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The recording he made from the interview he did with his parents at their 50th anniversary party:

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The first Mickey Mouse dolls:

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and the TV he bought for his sister.

When he invited Ruth to the opening of Disneyland she informed him that she didn’t like crowds, so he purchased a TV for her so that she could watch the opening ceremonies from the comfort of her own home:

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The first floor is filled with Disney movie memorabilia, hand written letters by Walt, receipts, and other family heirlooms. It really is a treasure for Disney fans!

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Upstairs contains a replica of Walt’s front porch and the story of him convincing his younger sister to paint the house with tar,

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A replica of his childhood classroom,

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a piece of the original Dreaming Tree,

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and a miniature model of Disneyland.

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We fell in love with Marceline, Missouri and made some magical memories in this place that was the root of  so much Disney Magic.

Time for Tea

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The day had finally arrived for Gracie’s 18th birthday celebration:

A Downton Abbey Victorian tea party.

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My mom made reservations for us to hold Gracie’s tea party at The Zimmerman Bury Octagon House in Marshallville, Ohio. This Queen Ann style octagonal house was built in 1883 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It now serves as a museum of the middle class Victorian way of life.

Taken from their website:

“Victorian Holiday High Teas at the Historic  Zimmerman-Bury Octagon House:
Enjoy an authentic Victorian Holiday Pink High Tea at this unique National Historic Landmark, located 6 miles North of Orrville on state route 57.  Drink in the ambiance of the Victorian era while savoring a buffet of tea sandwiches, pastries, fruit salads & always English Trifle, plus more.  Your hostesses will greet you in 1880’s clothing, provide a history of the house, and serve the period foods created from original family recipes.”

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Our tea party was scheduled for 1:00 pm. After a relaxing morning we began dressing for this special occasion. We gathered in the guest room and had fun doing each other’s hair and make-up as we dolled up for this special event.

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When we were all done getting ready we went outside to get some pictures before we left for the Octagon house.

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When we arrived were greeted by the butler who was waiting outside to escort us in.

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The home was charming and reflective of the Victorian style common at the turn of the century.

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The lady of the house sat us in the parlor where she shared with us some of the history of the house and the Victorian customs of that time period.

As she spoke a little kitten wandered into the room to say “hello.” She told us that the kitten was a stray that had been found under the front porch of the home. When they took her in the decided that if the cat was a boy it would be named “Downton” and if it was a girl it would be named “Abbey.” It turns out they are also fans of the show. 🙂 The kitten ended up with the name “Abbey.”

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The head housekeeper then announced that tea was served.

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We were led into the dining room. The table was covered in delicious food including: three different types of tea sandwiches, scones, welsh rarebit, tomato aspic with dill sauce, fruit compote, trifle, and desserts. For our drink we were offered three different tea choices or strawberry lemonade.

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We were seated in the parlor to enjoy tea time. We had so much fun feasting on delicious food, admiring the décor, but most importantly visiting and making special memories that we will be able to look back and reflect on in the years to come.

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Having her birthday tea at the Octagon house was a special gift from my parents that I know Grace will all look back on with fondness in the years ahead. It was such a special way to celebrate a special birthday with a very special girl!

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Our tea party ended with birthday cake as we all sang to the birthday girl.

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“The most treasured heirlooms are the sweet memories of family.”

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Kalahari- Year 5!

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This week we escaped the dreary rain of Western Pennsylvania and headed to the warmth of the Kalahari…

Not the African Kalahari, mind you, but the Ohio Kalahari,

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Kalahari Indoor Water Park, located in Sandusky, Ohio.

For the last five years we have been blessed to be invited to join a previous co-op family’s church that reserves a block of room at a great discount. By joining with this church group, families in our co-op are able to enjoy one night and two days at one of the coolest places around for a fraction of what it would normally cost.

This is our fifth year going with our co-op friends.

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We always go the first week of May, following the end of co-op. As a result it has the feel of an end of year celebration and always gets us excited about the quickly approaching summer break.

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We arrived at Kalahari on Tuesday around lunch time. Grace was not with us. She had to babysit for the last MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting for the year so she would be following us a few hours later with the Hudaks.

There is always great excitement when we pull in the parking lot and begin lugging our gear across the bridge that leads to the resort.

The resort is aptly themed after its name and the theme carries throughout the resort in a way that makes you feel as though you have entered another world. It truly feels like a resort vacation.

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We checked in and carried our luggage down to our hotel room. This year we decided to book a suite rather than two separate, smaller rooms. And I must say I don’t know that we will ever go back. It was so nice to stay as a family and I know Toby appreciated not having to be in charge of managing the two little boys as a single Dad. 🙂

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Our suite had two bathrooms, a master bedroom with a king size bed, a separate bedroom with two queen size beds, and a fold out couch- perfect for sleeping 5 kids.

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Our suite even boasted a fireplace and a patio.

After everyone changed we headed over to the water park. We settled in near the wave pool, our usual spot and excellent “home base.” The kids then began exploring and enjoying all that Kalahari Water Park has to offer.

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The water playground. A popular spot with my boys!

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The best part is when the bucket dumps.

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Toby and Rusty racing on Rusty’s favorite water slide: The Cheetah Racers.

 Here is the water slide from the point of view of the rider, compliments of Rusty’s GoPro video camera:

In the afternoon our co-op friends began to arrive and Grace arrived with the Hudaks.

 

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After hours of fun we all went back to the room to dry off, change, and meet for dinner.

In the evening we enjoyed hanging out in the beautiful lobby. The kids played card games while the parents visited.

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Triplets in their matching coral.

 

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A game of cards…

 

In the morning we met up with our friends at Steak and Shake for a belly-filling breakfast before a full day of swimming and slides.

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This has become an annual tradition that the kids all look forward to.

Then it was back to the waterpark for another full day of wet fun. We stayed until closing, getting our money’s worth from our tickets.

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Sweet Ozzie.

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Floating along in the Lazy River

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Tyler is the only one of my kids that enjoys this more daring body slide…

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He seems downright relaxed! 🙂

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Ozzie tried his hand at body surfing

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Sweet Grace!

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Tyler and Saga playing basketball in the pool.

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Swahili Swirl is the hands-down group favorite. The kids affectionately refer to it as “The Toilet Bowl.”

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The girls “getting flushed.”

 

Here is an insider’s view of this group favorite, compliments of Rusty’s GoPro camera:

It was a wonderful vacation and just what our family needed after a few challenging weeks. Sometimes in the midst of the storms of life you just need to stop and splash in the puddles!

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The Best Gift ever!

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This week Grace turned 18 and Gracie’s best friend celebrated it in an epic way! Olivia planned 18 gifts in honor of Gracie’s 18th birthday and stretched out her birthday celebration over 9 days.

And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, she then planned 18 gifts that were representative of 18 memories she and Grace have shared over the years.

She then wrapped the gifts in chronological order beginning with their earliest shared memories, moving toward present day. With each gift she included a note explaining the gift and the memory it reflects.

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It was the most impressive gift EVER, with so much love and thought put into it. It was a delight to walk down memory lane vicariously, as Grace opened a gift a day. It was a joy to be able to remember all the sweet memories they have shared over the years. The Hudaks have been a part of our life for so long. I hadn’t realized how long ago they became such an intrinsic part of our life, and it wasn’t until I began looking at the pictures and reading Olivia’s words that I really recognized how center this relationship has been in our lives.

The weeklong birthday celebration for Grace began last week when Olivia gave Grace her first gift, a kitten notebook, with an explanation of her gift. Olivia also sent home a bag of gifts for Grace that I was to give her on days that Olivia wouldn’t see her. They were all labeled so tht I knew which gift to give her each day..

Wednesday – Tuesday marked phase one of the Best Gift Ever!!

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Here are the gifts and memory tags shared in phase 1:

1. Headband: “I’ll explain tomorrow!”

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2.The kitten notebook: “This gift represents when your family adopted Lizzy’s kittens in June of 2007. It also represents all the doodles of dresses we used to draw in our notebooks instead of writing down history notes.”

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3. Lemon squeezer: “This is for all of the “sour” times we’ve had together. There have been plenty, haven’t there? (Grace is ruining my love life!) hahaha but we forgot about them because mostly we have sweet times and memories together. Hope you enjoy it!”

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4. Hint of Lime tortilla chips: “This is in honor of your 10th birthday in 2008. You had a Mexican themed party! Eat up!”

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5. Heart shaped gum container: “2008 was the year I began to like boys. Thus, it was the year that you were dubbed the Love Doctor. Thank you for putting up with me and various Love Doctor things you had to put up with over the years. I’m sure most of us girls at co-op have a long and high-priced psychiatrist fee that we owe you!”

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6. High School Musical Barbie doll: “I was going through old yearbooks to figure out what to get you, and in 2009 (fourth grade) you said you wanted to meet Ashley Tisdale because she was your favorite singer. I got her for you!”

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7. Face mask and nail polish: “We had more spa days than I can count. Each sleepover back then was turned into a spa day! We painted nails, did facials, and tickled friends with back massagers while they were sleeping. (Remember that?) Good times, good times.”

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8. Chocolate Hazelnut tea: “We had a tea party or two when we were younger. This picture is from 2010! Look at how small we were!! Adorable!”

Phase two began Wednesday morning when we arrived at co-op. Wednesday was Gracie’s actual birthday and the remaining 9 gifts were given over the course of the day on Wednesday.

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Here are the gifts and memory tags that were given on Wednesday during Phase 2:

9. A song written by Olivia for Gracie in 2011: “Gracie’s 13th birthday song!”

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10. Mascara, eye shadow and face wash: “When you turned 14 in 2012 you could wear makeup! You also got a Facebook account, but I didn’t know what to give you to represent that, so instead there’s face…wash?”

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11. Butterflies: At our first Halloween dance at your church in October 2013 we dressed as butterflies. Look how pretty we looked! You did an awesome job on that makeup.”

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12. Gum: “On January 30, 2014 you got your braces off. Here’s a throwback celebrating that day.”

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13. Paint and paintbrushes: “This is for 2015- we painted a lot last year. Between the painting party we had in February to driving to Downingtown for mural club, we were always using paints and paintbrushes! Therefore, we  always need more of them. Happy Birthday!”

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14. Framed photo: “On March 19, 2015 you and I got together and created what is known to the world as PerfectlyImperfect3.14 (on YouTube.) It lasted approximately 7 months and 2 weeks. We posted nine videos. It wasn’t the greatest, but it was ours, and it was fun while it lasted!”

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15. Homemade potato soup: “Just Because! Like, it’s your favorite. I don’t think anything else needs to be said here.”  🙂

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16. Mini Candy Bouquet: “This is a reference to going to Downingtown for 3 days from June 2nd-June 4th. We had an awesome time!”

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17. Homemade chocolate drizzled caramel popcorn: “And here is some popcorn in memory of both the houseboat vacation, but also, mostly, meeting Maggie Stiefvater on October 17, 2015. I had the most wonderful time with you all- I mean really, it was my favorite people who went with me to go see one of my other favorite people! How much better can you get? Anyway, thank you for joining me on that fabulous day! I will treasure it forever (and I hope you guys will too.)

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The final gift (#18) was the best of all…

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Olivia made a power point slide show of the story of their friendship, put to the music of their childhood. It was very special and I had to fight back tears as I watched my baby and her best friend grow and evolve on the screen into the lovely women they are this day.

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(I wish I could post it to share but it is just too big of a file)

 

It was one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing, so reflective of the giver and of the sweet friendship they enjoy. Olivia, thank you for being such a dear friend to my Grace,

and for making her 18th birthday unforgettable!

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!”

Sending Love to Heaven

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This was a tough week for Oz as we delved into some deep hurts. In therapy and at home we have been doing “parts” work. Tina is working with Ozzie to help him understand that he isn’t defined by one part of himself. He isn’t defined by one event in his life, one role he has played, or one emotion he feels. All those parts come together and create who he is. We have been exploring each “part” of Ozzie by having him draw that piece of himself and what that emotion, role, or memory looks like. This week we explored his role as a grandson.

We began with his current relationships as a grandson of my parents and Toby’s mother. He drew what that part of him looked like. He drew himself with a smile, surrounded by hearts and a big sunshine in the sky. It is a part of himself that he likes…that he feels comfortable with.

Then I asked if we could draw the part of Ozzie that was a grandson to his biological (dad’s side) grandma. He shut down. He laid his head down on the table, pulled his hood over his head, and whispered, “I can’t. That is too uncomfortable for me.” I assured him that was fine, gave him a hug and sent him to play, making a mental note to talk to Tina about it at our next therapy session.

On Tuesday we showed Tina the parts work he had done. I mentioned his struggle with that one part. Tina lovingly prodded, looking for a crack in the wall that he had built around that memory.

“Can you tell me about your Grandma?” she asked.

With the right questions and some gentle probing Ozzie began to share.

He spoke with such love for the woman that seemed to be a source of patience, kindness and stability in his unstable world. He shared his sadness about her death and the hurt he felt when he wasn’t able to attend her funeral.

Tina asked if he had ever attended a funeral, or if he knew what happened at a funeral.

He shook his head, “No.”

We explained what happened at a funeral, what its purpose was: to bring closure, to grieve with others who cared about that person, and to share stories of remembrance.

Tina then asked if he would like to write an “obituary” for his Grandma Price and record his memories of her life and his feelings. He agreed. He began speaking and I began recording his words on paper:

My Grandma- by, Ozzie

She loved to bake.

I remember she always baked chocolate chip cookies, apple pie, and cinnamon covered cashews.

She took us fun places, like to McDonalds. She would let us order whatever we wanted and let us play on the playground.

I would visit my grandma at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and 4th of July and she would watch us when my parents went on vacation.

She always hugged me when I came into her house and when I had to leave.

She wasn’t selfish.

She was gentle.

If my grandma was sitting here I would say, “I love you.”

When he was done he took a deep breath and then turned to me and asked if we could send his memories to Heaven.

On the way home we stopped at the Dollar Store to pick up some red heart helium balloons to carry his words to Heaven.

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That evening we gathered in the yard to have a memorial service for Ozzie’s grandmother. He shared the memories he had recorded, as Grace, Molly, Rusty, and Tyler gathered around. He then added a note to the end of the obituary:

“Dear Heavenly Father,

Please make sure my Grandma Price gets my letter.

I miss her.

Love, Ozzie.”

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We tied the paper to the end of the string and let it fly.

As he let it go the strong winds caught hold of the balloons, blowing it into the trees where it tangled among the branches. Ozzie was heart-broken and fearful that his words would never reach Heaven.

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I was not going to let that happen.

The kids all headed inside, eager to warm up, and I began: “Mission Heavenly Words.”

(Cue Mission Impossible music.)

I climbed, wrestled, tugged, and shook the balloons lose. There were cheers from Ozzie and a sigh of relief from my own lips…

and then a groan.

The balloons and attached obituary flew twenty feet only to become entangled in another tree.

“My note will never make it to Heaven,” Ozzie said through tears.

This Momma was not going to let that happen.

Onto the next tree. More climbing, wrestling, tugging and shaking and it broke free again…

Only to blow into the next patch of trees.

*GRRR*

(Have I mentioned how WINDY it was?!)

Finally we untangled it for the last time and watched as it floated toward Heaven, carrying words of love from a hurting little boy to a special angel in his life.

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Llama Drama

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For English Composition Rusty has been working on a personal memoir assignment. He chose to share the story of the day we adopted Obama the Llama. We have had fun looking back on that funny adventure. Here is his memoir:

“Life on our farm is always an adventure. We have had our share of crazy experiences with the animals that call Patchwork Farm home, but the one that takes the cake is the day we brought home our llama.

Near our home there is a weekly auction that takes place every Friday night. At this auction you can bid on everything from 20 pounds of strawberries to a used air conditioner, and everything in between. The biggest reason we go to Rogers auction is the animal auction. At Rogers we have bought chickens, rabbits, even the occasional goat. Never did I think we would buy a llama. It all happened when we showed up at the auction and there was a llama in the pen with the goats. He was tall, with long, white fur and a sloping big nose. My dad was instantly in love with the idea of having a llama. The thought of having a llama in the field to protect our herd of goats appealed to him. As we sat in the audience Dad was hoping that the llama would be a good price. At this point in the night I think my dad, in all his excitement, forgot we didn’t have a trailer with us. He raised his hand to bid and the auctioneer pointed to him and yelled “Sold!” We were now the owners of a llama.

Dad went to the front desk to pay his bill and then went into the barn to get our new llama. With a harness and a leash Dad walked the llama to our car. It was at this moment that he remembered that he didn’t drive his truck and trailer to the auction. We had actually come in the family station wagon. Rather than panic dad just said, “We will figure this out.”

We walked to the the car dragging a 300-pound llama by the leash. Dad had Mom hold the leash while he folded down the seats that the kids weren’t using, to make space for a 7-foot llama. It was now time to convince the llama to climb into the back of the station wagon. He found out llamas don’t like station wagons. They also don’t fold easily, but dad was persistent and with a tuck here and a fold here he managed to squish Obama the llama into our car.

Once he was in he was fine. His fluffy white body filled the back of the car and he rested his head on the back of the driver’s headrest. As we drove home cars passed us, slowing down to look closer or take a picture with their cellphone cameras. On our way home Dad decided to make one more stop at our local ice cream store so that everyone (except the llama) could enjoy an ice cream cone on the ride home. Everyone got out of the car to order their ice cream from the front window. As we were walking back to the car carrying our ice cream cones we passed a young boy who had stopped to stare in the window of our car. He was shocked and  shouted for everyone to hear “ Mom, they have a polar bear in their car!”

Obama made it home in one piece and enjoyed a long life at Patchwork Farm. He never again rode in the station wagon. Instead of cruising around town, his days were spent grazing in the fields. In the end it all worked out. The moral of the story is think before you act, especially if you are buying a llama.”