Tag Archives: parenting

“I’m fine,” she told herself…

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

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

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

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

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

And changing very soon!

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

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

And guilt.

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

Perhaps I am unaccustomed to things going so smoothly.

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

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

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

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

I am not certain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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He did well and we had a good time.

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He got all dressed up for our date 🙂 

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

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

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

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

 

 

And on to the Derby!

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On Friday morning we disembarked from the houseboat, but our vacation wasn’t over quite yet. We decided that rather than drive the nine hours straight home, we would slowly meander our way back, over the next three days, stopping to see some sites along the way.

Our first stop was Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby.

After reading amazing reviews online we decided to check out the Kentucky Derby Museum.

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Located at Churchill Downs, the museum showcases all aspects of the race, has multiple tours of the grounds, and a great short documentary on the race.

We aren’t horse racing fans…in fact I knew nothing about the Kentucky Derby prior to our visit other than the fashionable traditions of the fancy hats worn on race day, but we left with a great appreciation for this long standing tradition.

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The museum and accompanying tours can be a full-day event for those that have the time. Basic admission allows you to explore the museum, participate in a 30 minute history walk (these happen every half hour past the hour), and view their 18 minute video “The Greatest Race.”

The museum experience starts at the gates. There are two floors of interactive exhibits, videos, photos, race artifacts and information. It is tailored for all ages and degrees of derby fans.

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We loved how interactive and engaging the exhibits were.

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It was an amazing museum!

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We learned about the life and training of a racehorse from birth until it is races in the Derby at age 3. This was one of my favorite exhibits in the museum.

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We were able to learn the art of horse betting with a pretend ticket window where we could place bets on the race,

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And then sit and watch a recording of a previous race.

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At the end of the video we could scan our ticket and see what our $2.00 bet would have paid out. Through this experience we learned we should never gamble on horse races!

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The kids’ competitive natures came out when they had their go at being a jockey.

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They were able to mount up and race against other riders on the video screen before them.

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They got to dress up like jockeys and learn more about the colors certain jockeys wear,

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As well as see how they measure up to one of the most winning jockeys of all time.

Grace was thrilled to finally be taller than someone other than the toddlers she watches at the daycare.

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We learned a lot about the requirements that the jockeys have to follow on race day. The big one is their weight. The Kentucky Derby requires an exact weight of 126 lbs, including gear and saddle. Jockeys who fall short of the weight requirement must add weight to their saddle, no exceptions.

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There was an incredible amount of information about horses whom have raced. We were able to watch videos of past Kentucky Derby races and learn more about some of the greatest horses that ever raced,

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Including Balboa whose final resting place sits in front of the museum.

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After walking through the exhibits of hats and all the memorabilia it was time to watch “The Greatest Race.”

This video is displayed on a 360° screen in a theater big enough for 50+ people.

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As you watch, it will have you twirling in your seat to keep up and your heart pounding. The video covers race day preparations, interviews with jockeys, trainers, and owners, along with highlights from races dating back to the 1800’s.  The result is an appreciation for what goes into this huge event, an event that has more live spectators than the Superbowl!

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After the video we exited the museum for the included 30 minute history walk.

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Posted on the buildings around us was a chronological list of prior Derby winners, starting with Aristides in 1875.

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As we walked along, we saw every horse that has won the Kentucky Derby, the first triple crown winner, and the first father/son triple crown winners. Our tour guide was helpful in answering questions, and dishing out information about specific winners and races. Some people asked about famous horses like Secretariat and Barbaro.

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One of my favorite parts about the tour was the Paddock. The paddock holds the up to 18 contestants on race day, and is a popular viewing place for spectators. When the horses walk in, their lip tattoos are checked and then they are taken to the individual stalls. . The Paddock is the last place the horses will be before taking the walk to the track.

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Then to the track!

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The distance between the Paddock and the race track is connected by a small tunnel underneath the stands. The horses are escorted through the tunnel, and upon entering the track, the tradition of everyone singing My Old Kentucky Home begins.

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The horses are then led to the starting gate.

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It was amazing to stand at the edge of the track and soak up the history of the location. It made me want to add a trip to the Kentucky Derby to my bucket list. I can only imagine how charged the energy must be on race day.

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We were at the Kentucky Derby Museum on Friday for 2 1/2 hours and never made it to the second floor. The museum closed at 5:00 pm and everyone was so disappointed that we weren’t able to see it all that we decided to spend the night in Louisville and return back in the morning (our tickets allowed free access for 48 hours) to see the rest of the exhibits before continuing our trek north.

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We were blown away by the place and we aren’t even racing fans.

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Our discussion of the experience continued for days and we left the museum wanting to learn more.

Here are some of the fun facts we learned about the Kentucky Derby:

1. Nineteen past winners have had names beginning with the letter “S,” including Secretariat, the fastest horse in Kentucky Derby history, who completed the 1973 race in just under two minutes.

2. The amount of food consumed at the Derby is pretty astounding. On average, spectators will eat 142,000 hot dogs, 18,000 barbecue sandwiches, 13,800 pounds of beef, 32,400 jumbo shrimp, 9,000 scallops, 8,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 cookies and 300,000 strawberries.

3. Only three horses raced in the 1892 Kentucky Derby.

4. The traditional drink of the Derby is the mint julep, and over 120,000 are said to be consumed at the race each year.

5. Diane Crump was the first woman jockey to ever ride in the Derby; there has yet to be a female winner, but Shelley Riley came the closest in 1992 when she came in second. We were told that the reason so few women race in the derby is due to the massive size of thoroughbred horses and the arm strength needed to control them.

6. The Kentucky Derby trophy only weighs 3½ lbs.

7. The youngest jockey to win the esteemed race, Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton, was just 15 come derby day in 1892. Bill Shoemaker continues to hold the title as the oldest winner; he was 54 when he took home the 1986 title.

8. Bill Shoemaker has also ridden the most Kentucky Derby horses (26) in history.

9. The record low temperature at the race (held on the first week of May every year) was 47 degrees in 1935 and 1957. The record high was 94 degrees in 1959.

10. Churchill Downs founder and president Col. M. Lewis Clark might have made the rose the official flower of the race after attending an 1883 post-derby party where socialite E. Berry Wall was handing the flower out to the ladies in attendance.

11. The Derby is also referred to as ‘The Run for the Roses’ because the winner is awarded a blanket sewn with over 400 roses post-race. This blanket weighs about 40 lbs.

12. Owner Calumet Farm  holds the record for most Kentucky Derby wins, with 8. “Plain Ben” Jones holds the record for trainer with the most wins (6).

13. Post No. 1 has become known as “the dreaded rail.”

14. 1919 champion Sir Barton was the first Triple Crown winner, however he hadn’t won a race before arriving at the Derby.

15. Over $150 million in wagers have been placed over the last several Kentucky Derby races.

16. Horses must be three years in order to compete.

17. The Derby has never been cancelled or postponed due to inclement weather.

18. The historic 1¼-mile race was originally 1½ miles before the current distance was established in 1896.

19. The Kentucky Derby was started by Lewis Clark Jr.—grandson of William Clark, half of the famous explorer duo Lewis and Clark—after he saw England’s Epsom Derby.

20. Only three fillies (female horses) have won the Derby: Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988.

21. The 2018 event set the record for the wettest Kentucky Derby in history, with over 2.31 inches of rainfall.

22. The race was first televised in 1952.

23. The purse for the 2019 Derby will be $3 million, with the winner taking home $1.86 million, $600,000 for second place, $300,000 for third place, $150,000 for fourth place, and $90,000 for fifth. This marks a significant increase in the prize money: from 2005 to 2018, the purse was only $2 million.

This stop moves to the top of our list of must-see places for travelers…

Right up there with the City Museum of St. Louis and Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

We are so glad we stopped in Louisville!

 

Ready for an Adventure!

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Part of the fun of vacationing on a houseboat is the fact that you aren’t tied down to one area and one view for the week. Each day we are able to untie from the previous day’s location and go exploring for a new “home.”

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Riding on the top deck while we are moving from one location to another is my favorite part of houseboat vacationing. It is so thrilling to head out on the water with the wind blowing your hair, uncertain of what you will find around the next bend.

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On Wednesday, we found our best cove yet!

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It was tucked away off the main channel, and was stunning!

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The rock formations erupting from the water made the cove appear magical, as if at any minute we would spot a mermaid sunning herself on one of the rocks or Peter Pan and the lost boys peeking out from the surrounding trees.

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It was our favorite stop so far!

We spent the afternoon enjoying our private cove.

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Some of the kids headed out on the paddle boards to explore.

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And Gracie took Tyler and Olivia out for a ride in the boat.

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When everyone returned home from their adventures, we reconvened in the water and watched as the kids jumped from the upper deck.

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Eventually, our numbers started to thin as some took a break from swimming and others left in the fishing boat to try their hand at fishing.

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Those left behind decided to undertake an adventure of their own and swim a ½ mile to check out the cluster of massive rock formations at the mouth of our cove. It was an impromptu decision, made with enthusiasm.

With everyone grabbing a board or floatation device we began the swim, eager to check out the garden of boulders rising from the water.

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We arrived and the kids climbed atop the rocks for some cool photos and the opportuning to jump from the boulders to the water below.

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It was amazing!!

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Well worth the laborious swim to get there!

Just as we were preparing to swim back to the houseboat, angels of mercy arrived in the form of Woody and Tyler in the fishing boat. Back from their excursion, they volunteered to tow us back to the boat a few swimmers at a time.

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It was a lovely turn of events as everyone was a bit weary from the against-the-current swim it took to get there.

Toby and I were the last group to be towed back to shore. I climbed aboard his paddle board and enjoyed the ride back to the boat.

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This wasn’t an adventure planned ahead of time,

It was one of those spontaneous, magical adventures that we find ourselves stumbling into when we are cruising along with the Hudak family.

Oh, how I love moments like these!

 

 

Land of the Free because of the Brave!

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Nothing brings the summer feels more than the 4th of July with its cookouts, swimming, and sparklers.

I love the 4th of July. It is one of my favorite holidays. My patriotic heart swells with delight at the sea of red, white and blue and the patriotic music that becomes the soundtrack to the day.

Typically our 4th of July involves a trip down to Pittsburgh to participate in the festivities leading up to an always amazing fireworks show. We love the celebratory air that accompanies the experience and there is no better fireworks show  in the area than the one put on by the city of Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, this year we had to switch up our traditional 4th of July plans. My busy kids, with their  very full schedules, made our traditional trip to Pittsburgh for fireworks an impossibility, so we needed to come up with a plan B.

Since everyone was free the first half of the day so we decided to enjoy our family time in the morning before everyone headed in separate directions for the afternoon. We decided to head to Moraine Lake for a picnic.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shinning. It was warm enough to make swimming a delight but not so hot as to make a picnic miserable.

Grace invited Zach to join us, bringing our numbers to seven, in the absence of Rusty, who was spending the week at Scout Camp.

We found that we were not the only ones who thought a day at the lake was a good idea. We found the lake hopping with visitors,

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And it was easy to see why…

It was a practically perfect day at the lake!

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We found a spot and settled in for a relaxing afternoon. Tyler and Braden headed straight for the water where they spent the next three hours tossing the football with other kids in the lake before breaking for lunch.

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Toby found a spot of shade where he enjoyed simply sitting and relaxing with a magazine…a rare and treasured treat for my love who works hard every day from dawn to dusk.

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Molly, who has also been working hard, juggling daily shifts as a waitress at Eat n Park, enjoyed the gift of rest as she lounged in the warmth of the sun, eventually succumbing to the sandman.

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In between the trips to the water, everyone enjoyed a picnic lunch and the company of family, while overlooking a stunning vista.

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By 4:00 pm the grey clouds began to roll in, warning of the impeding storm. We packed up our gear and headed home so everyone could get ready for their evening plans.

We did make a quick stop along the way, however, at The Snowman.

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Toby treated everyone to a snow cone, which was a perfect conclusion to an already perfect day.

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When we arrived home Molly prepared to join up with friends from church for an evening of board games and fireworks in their apartment parking lot.

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Grace and Zach headed downtown Pittsburgh to enjoy an epic fireworks show from the top of Mt. Washington,

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And Braden prepared for his work shift from 6:00-10:15. Because Braden would need picked up from work at the same time most firework shows were occurring, Toby, Tyler and I stayed home and enjoyed a movie night until it was time to get Braden.

It wasn’t our typical 4th of July celebration…

“Typical” is no longer our “normal” with kids growing up and making their own plans, but it was a wonderful day nonetheless.

How grateful I am for all this day offers us: a chance to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy, a chance to honor those who made those sacrifices possible, and the chance to do so with the people we love most.

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Summertime Livin’

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We find ourselves fully emerged in summertime livin’, complete with cook-outs, trips to the pool, travel and activities that only roll around this time of year. This week we find ourselves down one child as Rusty heads off for a week of fun at Scout camp. Scout camp is always the highlight of Rusty’s summer and this year will be his final year. Last weekend was spent preparing and packing for his 4:45am send-off on Monday morning.

In addition to packing and juggling multiple work schedules, we were able to carve out some summer fun in the midst of the craziness.

Our weekend began on Friday with Grace and Molly both taking the day off work so that we could travel two hours to the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania to join up with 100+ teenage girls and their leaders at Girls Camp.

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This year marked the first year in 10 consecutive years that we wouldn’t be at camp for the week. In the past I have served as the leader over the 17/18-year-old graduated senior girls. It has been an assignment that I have loved, but this year, given the precarious nature of things at home, I simply didn’t feel comfortable committing to a week away at camp when I was asked a few months ago. It was with such mixed emotions that the girls and I declined to return as camp leaders, so when we were asked to come to camp for a single day to teach one of the spiritual focus lessons, we were thrilled!

It was the best of all worlds. We got to get our taste of camp and the special spirit felt there, in a way that was manageable to the family as a whole. We spent the weeks prior to camp pondering possible directions we could go on the lesson topic we were given. We were asked to speak on the topic, ““If you don’t have the Spirit of the Lord, you can not stand.”

Inspired by handouts we found at Dollar Tree, we built our lesson around a flamingo theme and how we can be like the flamingo and stand tall. We each took a portion of the lesson to teach and Grace signed to the song, “I Will” by Hilary Weeks.

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It was such a joy stepping back into camp and seeing so many familiar and loved faces. After our lesson we stayed to watch the slideshow of all the week’s activities and joined the campers for dinner before trekking back home.

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Saturday was a busy one with everyone working except Grace, Tyler and I.

It was $1.00 ice cream day at Handel’s, the ice cream shop where Rusty and Braden work, so it was an “all hands on deck” day for the staff.

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Rusty and Braden worked back to back shifts mid-day, so while we were in the process of dropping off one and picking up the other we stopped to take advantage of that awesome deal!

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Is there anything better than ice cream on a hot summer day?!

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From there Molly headed to work at Eat n’ Park.

Molly has been working like crazy this summer, trying to earn all the money she needs for her upcoming year of college. Her hard work has paid off as she is almost to her goal. It hasn’t been easy, though. Molly works almost every day of the week, with the exception of Sunday, often being assigned shifts that have her on the floor from 6:00pm to 4:00am. Eat n’ Park has recently lost key staff members, leaving those who are still there hustling to cover all the shifts. The blessing is that Molly will have no trouble reaching her monetary goals, but the poor thing hasn’t had much of a summer break.

In the afternoon, Tyler and I headed to Zelienople for his weekly equine therapy session at Glade Run Adventures. Since Braden was working, Tyler got to enjoy an individual session without Braden. Because of this, Tyler was put on Leo (the tallest horse at the stable and typically Braden’s ride) to see how he would do with a more advanced horse.

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It was an exciting day as his equine therapist, Ashley, let him canter Leo for the first time, unassisted.

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Tyler did amazing!

It is so exciting to see his growth since beginning equine therapy…both emotionally and in the area of horsemanship.

On Saturday evening we decided to tackle one of the items on the family’s summer bucket list: A Drive-in Movie!!

We have discovered that the stage of life we find ourselves in makes it challenging to get everyone together for family activities. With 5 family members working, 2 going to school, and multiple commitments in the areas of family, friends, church callings, wedding planning, college preparations, etc. we tend to pick a date and time when the largest number of family members can attend, and schedule that way.

Sunday is our one day of the week where everyone is home in the evening, as all have committed to not work on the Sabbath, so that is the day for worshipping together at church and enjoying family time at home. It is also the day we sit and calendar out our week so that everyone knows what is on everyone else’s agenda. It is a necessity for our large, busy family. Last Sunday, as we planned out our week, we decided we would go to the drive-in on Saturday night. Molly, unfortunately, had to work, but everyone else was free.

Grace invited Zach to join us. We met up at Dependable Drive-in at 8:00pm to watch a back to back showing of Toy Story 4 and Aladdin.

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After finding spots side for our car and Zach’s, we set up our chairs.

The boys brought a football, in anticipation of the one hour wait until showtime.

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It felt like summer, surrounded by the smells of the concession stand,

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And the sounds of parents visiting and children playing, as we waited for the movie to start.

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As dusk rolled in the screen came alive with the sounds of the national anthem.

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Everyone got settled in their spots, prepared for 4 hours of movie-watching fun.

Both movies exceeded my expectations. They were both wonderful and we enjoyed them immensely…

Well, most of us did. Tyler was fast asleep by the time the second movie, Aladdin, began to play, but the rest of us made it through the double showing and had a wonderful time.

I love the not-so-lazy days of summer!

 

Hanging on for Dear Life!

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And then in the midst of it all, life keeps rolling on…

A never-slowing train, speeding down the track.

As we hold on tightly, trying to enjoy the scenic vistas as they fly past.

Rusty now makes child #4 in the “gainfully employed club” at Patchwork Farm. He has joined Braden as an ice cream scooper at Handel’s and is loving the experience. The increased cash flow, coupled by the free sweet treats, has made this a dream job for our gentle giant.

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With 4 children employed, and Ozzie currently residing at a residential facility, we have found ourselves left with only Tyler home a lot of the time. It is so weird to look around and have only one child lounging in the living room, instead of six. The experience has given us an sneak peek into life in the future when Tyler will be the last child at home. I think he is feeling a bit lost in it all, but I keep telling him we just need to hang in there for a few more years and once we can kick everyone out we will be able to have some awesome adventures with the extra disposable income that will result from a decreased family food budget! 😉

Ozzie has been transferred from the acute facility where he was being stabilized to the long-term facility where he will be for the next 6-12 months for more intensive, in-patient trauma therapy. We feel incredibly blessed to be able to get him admitted to the same RTF where he was so successful prior. Located in Erie, Harborcreek Youth Services provided an amazing blend of physical, emotional and spiritual care that allowed Ozzie to safely face the traumas of his past that are so destructive to his current relationships and result in poor choices and dangerous behaviors.

The sheer quantity and variety of therapeutic work that can be offered in a week-long period (family therapy, trauma therapy, EMDR therapy, group sessions, anger management, art therapy, animal therapy, trauma releasing yoga and music therapy) gives Ozzie a highly submersible experience that yields amazing results for him.

We hate that he has to be sent away to get the help he needs, but we are so grateful for the loving care he receives from amazing staff who act as interim parents in our absence, supporting Ozzie as he focuses on his own healing journey.

Gracie just finished out another semester of school and one of the art electives she chose to take this past semester was a pottery class. Beginning with basic pinch pots and working up to creating pieces on the wheel, Grace had the opportunity to design, create, paint and fire a variety of pottery pieces. This week she brought home her finished creations. Some of her finished pieces include:

A large flower vase that she made as a gift for her Momma:

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A model of our school bus turned RV:

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A wall vase to hang on the wall of her room and fill with fresh flowers:

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And a set of mugs that she creatively designed with a pocket to hold the used tea bag when making a cup of tea:

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This is just a sampling of the completed projects she brought home. She loved the class and we loved being the benefactors of her talent and generosity!

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With the conclusion of May comes many end of the year/graduation celebrations for Miss Molly. The first acknowledgement that this was really happening and that our little girls were all grown up occurred at our end of the year co-op picnic. We joined with other co-op families to celebrate another successful year of teaching our children at home. As part of our picnic, Miss Lana brought a celebratory cake for our four graduating seniors.

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I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that four women stand before me where four little girls with mismatched socks once stood.

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Four sweet girls! Caleigh’s curlers are in preparation for that night’s performance of “Little Women” at Mohawk High School.

On the heels of one graduation celebration came another. On Sunday we celebrated Molly’s graduation from seminary, a scripture study course offered to the high school students of our church. For the last four years she has chosen to add an additional 60 minutes of work to her weekday schedule to study the teachings of Christ and apply those teachings to her life as a disciple of Christ. We are so glad she chose to participate, as we have seen first hand the great growth that happens when our children are actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ through daily prayer and scripture study.

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As part of the graduation ceremony, we heard from a few of the graduating seniors and then enjoyed a beautiful musical number as Hailey and Heather sang “Be Still my Soul” while Molly interpreted the song through American Sign Language.

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Following the ceremony there was a reception in the cultural hall where guests could enjoy desserts while strolling around, reading the graduation posters, and signing their well wishes to all the graduating seniors.

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So proud of you, Miss Molly!

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Another celebration of Molly’s upcoming graduation from high school came in the form of a senior trip. Molly and Tatum were invited by Irvin and his family to stay at their home in Gettysburg for two days.

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After years of friendship, Irvin wanted to have the girls come and visit his home town and meet his parents. The family set up their pottery studio/store as a B & B for the girls, spoiling them rotten with homemade meals, story telling, chocolates on their pillows, site seeing around Gettysburg and even gifted them with one of their handcrafted mugs as a parting gift of hospitality.

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On Friday, the girls joined Irvin for a trip to Knoebels, the amusement park that was chosen as the site for this year’s senior day. There they met up with other 21st Century seniors and teachers for a day of riding rides and having fun…

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Ending the day with ice cream.

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It was a fun adventure for Molly and Tatum to share before they get pulled into the vortex of college life…

And it was all made possible thanks to the kindness and hospitality of the Young family.

It is an exciting time for Miss Molly and we couldn’t be happier for our walking ray of sunshine!

Rusty’s NHS Induction Ceremony

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We couldn’t be prouder of child #3.

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Rusty has joined Molly and Grace as the third child to be inducted into National Honor Society.

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The induction ceremony took place on Wednesday evening, following our sweet day of fun. We arrived back at our hotel with an hour to spare before we needed to leave for the ceremony. We got all gussied up and left for the banquet which was being held at St. Anthony’s Lodge, a local restaurant/banquet hall.

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When we arrived, we quickly found our assigned table and discovered we had lucked out with seats up front, which pleased this picture-taking Momma! We were seated with Mr. Winterode, Molly’s learning coach, as well as a few other favorite teachers.

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The evening began with a buffet dinner. As we ate we had fun socializing with teachers that we don’t typically get to see face to face.

Then it was time for the induction ceremony to begin.

Rusty and the other nominees were called out of the room to get lined up and receive last minute instructions before they filed into the banquet hall.

We watched with pride as Rusty took part in the inductee procession, taking his seat in the front of the room.

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Then it was Molly’s turn to take the stage. Molly is 21st Century Cyber School’s National Honor Society president this year, so she was asked to speak at the induction ceremony. She chose to speak on one of the four pillars of NHS…the pillar of character.

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Here is what she shared with the new inductees:

“Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Think for a second about what you do when no one is watching. What type of character do you have? What experiences have molded you into the person you are today? Which people around you have influenced you to have the character you have?

Character is defined as “The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual,” which basically means that character makes us individuals. Our character helps us to be distinctive compared to the person sitting beside us, and the world needs that. Communities need individuals who have strong character to be an improving generation. Colleges look for individuals who show strongmcharacter traits and who have been shaped into outstanding students like you! It is your good character that is going to make the biggest impact in the world, both in the big moments but also the simplest times.

We all have opportunities and experiences to better learn our potential every day. My biggest experience of learning and gaining a stronger character came through a personal experience last summer.

I was accepted into The Global Leadership Adventure program. I spent 10 days in Costa Rica working with sea turtle conservation. It was a powerful experience for me because it was at that time that I learned I loved animal conservation, I love helping people and the environment, I enjoy travel, I can do hard things and I want to make a positive change in the world. Those ten days were powerful then, but every day since then I count my blessings of personal character growth that I gained from that trip.

Gaining character doesn’t have to involve traveling to a different country. It could be in the people we meet, the trials we go through, a school year, or even the everyday moments. It is all about finding our potential, worth, and individuality in the world, and then using that knowledge to bless the lives of others.

“Watch your thoughts; they lead to attitudes. Watch your attitudes; they lead to words. Watch your words; they lead to actions. Watch your actions; they lead to habits. Watch your habits; they form your character. Watch your character; it determines your destiny.”

I love the comment of how character determines your destiny. Tody I reflect on how NHS has shaped me to become the person I am today through the service opportunities I have had, leadership I’ve experienced, how much I’ve learned from other NHS members, and the opportunity I have had to be part of something bigger then myself.

What a privilege and blessing it is to be part of NHS and I proudly and gladly welcome you, new NHS members, with open arms. You, too, get the amazing opportunity to have your character shaped and molded through the experiences and service opportunities that come from NHS.

Cherish this time in NHS, because the world needs you. The world needs your strong character and outstanding personalities…

For your character defines you.

Your character can change the world.

Your character determines your destiny.

So, what will your legacy be?

The power lies in your hands.”

She did a wonderful job and it was so special that she, as NHS president, got to welcome her little brother into the NHS family in the same way Gracie, as NHS president 2 years ago, welcomed Molly into NHS as a new inductee.

Then it was time for the enlightenment ceremony; the ceremonial lighting of the inductee’s lantern of knowledge.

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This was followed by the induction pledge and the pin ceremony.

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It was such a special day and my heart was filled with gratitude that Molly and I were able to have that special time with Rusty and celebrate his hard work and his great effort in joining the ranks of students who qualified for the privledge of being a member of National Honor Society.

It was nice getting that special time with my third child, and it was good for Rusty to be able to shine and receive recognition for the exceptional young man he is. Rusty is my quiet gentleman, content to step back and let others shine, but I often worry that, in a home filled with big personalities and extreme needs, he feels unseen. This trip gave us the opportunity to allow him the chance to shine, as we celebrated him for the incredible young man he has become.

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We are so proud of you, Rusty, and love you so much!

Molly is college bound!

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In June Molly will join Grace as our second high school graduate from 21st Century Cyber Charter School, and with that exciting conclusion comes an even more exciting beginning.

The last two years have been spent exploring different post-high school possibilities. Molly has toured colleges both near and far, submitted applications, received acceptance letters, and prayed over those different options,

But we all knew where her heart was from the start.

Two years ago, when we loaded up our family for a two month long road trip around the country, we scheduled in a few college visits. We stopped to tour both Brigham Young University in Provo and Brigham Young University in Idaho. She wasn’t a fan of the Provo campus, but fell in love with the Rexburg, Idaho campus.

Since that time we have toured many other colleges closer to home. Some she liked more than others, but I saw she was comparing them all to BYU-Idaho and the special spirit and feelings of familiarity she enjoyed on that college tour.

We watched as she sought to find a college closer to home that felt as right as that one did, and while some came close, all played second fiddle to her experience in Rexburg.

The last month has been spent in reflection and prayer, as Molly has sought confirmation as to where God is calling her to go and grow.

This past week she received the confirmation she was seeking and has made a decision.

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Miss Molly is BYU-Idaho bound and will start her next adventure on September 16th!

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In the meantime we are going to soak up all that Molly-radiated sunshine while we have her home, and enjoy her excitement as she begins planning for her future.

Congratulations, Molly! We are so proud of you!

 

 

Disney Springs

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The energy was palpable as we dressed and packed up our gear on Saturday morning.
We were headed to Disney Springs, and those who had been there before knew what was in store.

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It is a tradition that began on our first Disney Trip. We spend the first day in Orlando at Disney Springs, and begin to soak in the Disney Magic before stepping into the parks. This trip was no different and the kids were excited to introduce Brandon to all their favorite spots at Disney Springs.

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We couldn’t check into our rental home until 4:00, so our plan was to begin the day at Disney Springs (the shopping area previously known as Downtown Disney) and then take a monorail ride.

We arrived at Disney Springs and Rusty inhaled deeply and smiled. “Ah, it smells like Disney!”
Brandon breathed in and replied, “Hmmm, smells like Kennywood to me.”

I suppose the melded scents of chocolate, churros and cotton candy are universal. 😊

Everyone had a list of what shops we must visit with some of the top picks being:

The Lego Store:
The Lego store is the number one pick for Rusty and Ozzie, my two Lego lovers. They enjoy checking out all the new and specialty sets that aren’t on the shelves back home, but even my non-Lego kids love this store with its car building/racing center,
and all the amazing over-sized Lego creations that dot the landscape around this popular store.

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Ozzie’s dream set… It was love at first sight!

The World of Disney:
If stepping into this store doesn’t get you excited about your Disney vacation, I don’t know what will! Everyone loves checking out all the Disney merchandise, especially the plethora of Disney themed hats and Mickey ears.

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Our 2019 graduate!

The kids were especially excited to check out all the merchandise since they each had a $50.00 gift card that they received from their great-grandma for Christmas. We did make the rule that no actual shopping was taking place on the first day. We have learned from past experience how easy it is to burn up spending money at the first Disney Shop you enter and then you are stuck living with regret the remainder of the vacation as you come across souvenirs you wish you could have purchased instead. To avoid regrets we had the kids keep a mental list of possible souvenirs with the promise we would return at the end of the trip so they could use their gift cards if they still wanted those items.

Ghirardelli:
This shop lures you in with the enticing scent of chocolate that is pumped into the street. Stopping here for our free chocolate sample is a favorite Disney Springs tradition!

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Disney Pin Traders:
Here the kids introduced Brandon to the art of pin trading. This is a favorite Disney activity, but rather than shop at this store, (we buy our pins on eBay prior to the trip, for a fraction of the price,) the kids enter this store to look at all the pins and make a mental note of ones they love and want to be on the look-out for in their trading adventure. This is also a great stop to start the pin trading momentum as the workers all have pins to trade.

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It took Brandon a bit of time to get into it but he is now trading with matched enthusiasm.

Lefty’s- The Lefthand Store:
This store is nothing more than a kiosk, but it is one of Rusty’s favorite stops in Disney Springs. My left-handed kid loves checking out the cheeky t-shirt sayings like:
“Proud Lefty- Give Me Some Elbow Room.”

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 Goofy’s Candy Company:
This was the final stop of our Disney Springs adventure. As we walked in, Toby pulled everyone aside and surprised them with the news that everyone had $5.00 to spend on a Disney sweet.
After perusing the shop, everyone ended up at the cotton candy counter that offered different flavored cotton candies, made to order.

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Everyone decided to order a different flavor (there were a ton to choose from) so we could sample each other’s choices.

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Our top 3 favorites were toasted marshmallow, lemon drop, and cinnamon bun.

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At this point in the day it was 2:00pm.

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We still had two hours to kill before we could check in, so we decided to kick off Brandon’s Disney experience with a trip on the monorail.

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By riding both loops we were able to show Brandon the sights of Epcot, the Magic Kingdom resorts and Cinderella’s castle.

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It was so much fun, and so perfectly “Disney,”

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That it left us counting down the minutes until tomorrow…

First park: Magic Kingdom!!

Day 6 of Christmas: The Magical Surprise!

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On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

The big reveal:

A trip to Disney!!!

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Wait, what?!

Yep, we are Florida bound.

After a half a year in the making we surprised the kids on December 23rd with their combined Christmas gift:

A family vacation to Walt Disney World.

It has been a killer secret to keep, especially because of the added red tape of having to get permission at our most recent court hearing to take Brandon out of school and out of state (since he isn’t adopted yet.) We didn’t tell anyone beyond those who had to know… like the judge, lawyers and social workers, but I lived in fear that someone at court would spill the beans and ruin the surprise.

In the months leading up to Christmas we made plans for the big reveal.

This is the third Disney surprise reveal we have done for the kids. The first occurred when the oldest three kids were 13, 11, and 9. We waited until they were at the perfect ages, with the thought it would be a one-time vacation.

The next few years brought the adoption of Tyler and then Ozzie and we couldn’t let the magical experience of a trip to Disney World be an experience reserved for only half our children, so we planned a second trip to Disney World so that the two little boys would get their “once in a lifetime” trip.

Both trips were made known through surprise reveals. Toby loves surprising the people he loves with grand gestures, but because our older kids know how Toby operates, surprising them has become more and more difficult, especially with something as big and complex as a Disney World vacation.

So when we realized that the widow of opportunity to take our entire family to Disney, and allow Brandon to create shared memories with us at one of our very favorite places, we knew it need to happen this year,

And we knew pulling off the surprise would be a tall order! 

Grace is almost done with her ASL program and the next year could bring life changes that may take her away from home. Molly is graduating and will most likely be leaving home to go to school or serve a mission. Rusty and Brandon will both be seniors and within the next two years our family structure will most likely change, as kids spread their wings to soar, so this was the time to make it happen…

The question was, “How do we surprise them without them catching on?”

We finally decided that we would plan the big reveal for December 23rd. This decision was based on a few factors.

1.       We wanted to surprise the kids with just immediate family around, knowing that good news and special treats can be triggers for some of our kids that feel unworthy of good things, and those feelings sometimes lead to them sabotaging happy events to prevent good things happening to them.

2.      We wanted it to be a really special moment for the kids to share. We thought telling them on the 23rd rather than Christmas morning might help our kids that struggle on Christmas Day.

3.      We thought that if any of the older kids were suspicious, doing the surprise before Christmas, rather than on Christmas morning might throw them off the scent.

So on the 22nd we slipped away into our room to wrap the presents we had prepared. We had personalized t-shirts made for each of the kids. We ordered each one a draw string bag so they will be able to carry their own water bottles, snacks and personal belongings around the park. In each gift box we also included their magic band and a lanyard with trading pins ordered off Ebay.

We wrapped up their gifts and then in the middle of the night we snuck into the living room and hid the gifts, Disney balloons and the reveal sign inside the trunk in the middle of the living room.

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The following day the kids went about their business, using the trunk as a landing spot for gifts and wrapping paper, having no idea the HUGE surprise hiding within… right in front on their eyes!

When our family gift exchange was complete, and the last sibling gift was unwrapped, we told the kids there was one more gift left to unwrap. We explained that we had purchased a gift for the entire family to share but it was too big to transport to the Homestead so we would let them open it early.

They waited with baited breath, expecting us to carry something in from outside, but instead Toby told them that the gift was hidden in the trunk.

We had them gather around the trunk and open it together. This was so we could be in place on the other side of the couch to catch their reaction.

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And their reaction didn’t disappoint!

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Some squealed,

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Some fell to the ground, overwhelmed by emotion,

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While others stood in shock…their mouths hanging open.

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Their reactions brought feelings of love, joy and gratitude for this dear family of mine…

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Especially for our 17-year-old addition, who is finally receiving some magical moments after a lifetime of tragedy and loss.

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The countdown has begun and I have 6 very excited kids that can’t wait to strap in and head south…

Disney World here we come!

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