Tag Archives: service

So, What’s New with You?

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It is a question asked often enough, especially with the status of our life currently. Our family is more scattered than it used to be, with everyone moving in separate directions. Often activities posted on the blog only highlight the one or two children that were able to attend that event, so this posting is meant to catch everyone up on the comings and goings of everyone at Patchwork Farm.

Fall has arrived in Pennsylvania and for the last few weeks the leaves have been at the height of color. I feel so blessed to live in an area that experiences seasons and does so in such a showy way. Here are some photos Grace took one day on her drive down our road. It has been a beautiful fall!

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It seems Grace has been in the car more than in the house lately. She has taken the plunge face-first into adulthood and has discovered that it consists of a whole lot of running and very little sleep. Although it has been an adjustment, she has risen to the challenge beautifully and is loving life as a college student. Her days are filled with school, work, and fun activities through her church group. At school she had joined a few clubs including the World Cultures club and the ASL club and is secretary of the library club. As part of that office she was busy this week helping to lead a series of fun Halloween activities offered around campus, including trick or treating and pumpkin painting.

As a member of the Young Adult ward (the congregation of 18-30 year olds) in Pittsburgh she has had fun making new friends, participating in a religion class on Wednesday nights, church on Sunday, and social activities on the weekend.

Two weekends ago they had a temple trip to Washington D.C.,

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And last Friday, in honor of Halloween, the¬† young ladies had a Harry Potter party. Grace invited Olivia to come and said that the gal who was in charge of the event went all out in her attention to details. Everyone got to make their own wand, using objects like “dragon heartstring” and “unicorn hair.” There were cheat sheets describing the properties of the different choices you had in creating your wand so that each person could make a wand that was reflective of their personality.

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There were also Harry Potter decorations,

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And Harry Potter treats to snack on.

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The girls had a lot of fun!

Molly and Rusty have grown closer as a result of Gracie’s absence. Still in the youth program at church and in the same cyber school for high school, Rusty and Molly are involved in all the same activities and have grown closer as a result. It was hard for Molly to be “left behind” by Grace, who is her best friend, but has found a renewed camaraderie with Rusty who was her best friend when they were little.

Here they are all decked out for a glow in the dark party:

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They also have enjoyed their time volunteering at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch a few mornings a week. It has worked out nicely. Due to the early hour that they volunteer, Grace is free to join them and drive them back and forth before she has to leave for school. They spend their mornings there mucking stalls, moving the horses in and out, feeding everyone and sometimes grooming. This week they learned to drive the tractor used for moving big bales of hay into the different paddocks.

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Molly also has been active in a variety of school activities and clubs, including a new school club that she and Tatum have started this year. In an effort to stretch herself without Grace around, Molly decided to head up a school club with her friend Tatum. They are leading an American Sign Language club that will meet every other week. In this club they will be preparing bi-monthly lessons and activities to teach the club members the basics of ASL. Many don’t realize that although Grace is going to school to become an ASL interpreter, sign language is also a passion of Molly’s as well. I know she was a bit intimidated to put herself in a leadership position without Grace by her side but she pushed through her anxiety and has risen to the challenge beautifully. Tatum and Molly had their first club meeting on Monday and it was a smashing success!

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My kids all enjoy getting mail and when their birthdays near they are all the more diligent about checking the mailbox. This week they were all thrilled to receive Halloween cards from Mimi and Pop Pop in the mailbox, and Rusty received a birthday gift from Aunt Krista and Uncle Travis. He was thrilled with his new graphic novel, funny stress-ball cat with bulging eyes, and DOG PILE puzzle game!

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With seven people in our family the kids have learned the importance of marking things that you don’t want taken. This is particularly true for leftovers in the fridge or the last few cookies in a package. It is not unusual to open our fridge and see Tupperware containers labeled with names and threats of “Do not eat, or else!” much like a dorm fridge. Tyler however took this paranoia to a whole new level recently when I found this piece of leftover 2×4 on the porch. He clearly thought it was a prime piece of wood and feared someone else snatching it, so he did what we do in situations like that:

He labeled it, clearly marking it as his. ūüôā

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We have had many inquiring about Ozzie. My heart is full of joy to report he is doing awesome. Under this higher level of therapeutic care he is delving into the trauma and abuse of his past and working through the hard emotions he finds himself drowning under thanks to EMDR therapy. While there we have seen a huge shift in his behaviors. He won star student of the month for October, has joined the choir, and has passed the certification program that allows him to ride the school’s dirt bikes.

For Halloween the facility holds a huge fall festival for the boys. Because it isn’t possible to allow them to go trick or treating, they plan a fall party for the kids instead. On Halloween they were dismissed from school early and enjoyed an afternoon of games, activities, treats, and fun food to celebrate the holiday. Knowing Ozzie was going to miss getting to trick or treat with the family I sent him a glow in the dark skeleton t-shirt to wear to his Halloween party and make Halloween hands stuffed with candy for him to hand out to all the boys in his unit.

We found out this week that Ozzie¬† has earned a pass home for the Thanksgiving holiday, something that isn’t normally allowed this early in treatment, because of his exceptional effort and good behaviors. This has truly been God-driven placement with miraculous results. Thank you for all the prayers!

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So there you go…a short recap of “What’s New?” with us.

What is new with you?

 

Finding Healing through Horses

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Two months ago we began additional therapeutic services in the form of Family Based Therapy in hopes of adding another layer of therapy, and hopefully healing, to our journey towards helping Ozzie. These two family based therapists come into our home a few times a week and work with both Ozzie and the rest of the family. One of the goals we are working on with them is setting up regular respite opportunities for Toby and I, and for the older kids, to step away from the crushing chaos that comes with having a RAD child in the home and breathe for a moment. I understand the importance and necessity of regular respite when raising a child with special needs, particularly when raising a child with reactive attachment disorder, but I haven’t made respite (particularly for myself) a priority. There is a part of me that feels guilty for “indulging” in self-care, despite all the evidence of its necessity. I am not the best mom I can be when I am weary. And parenting a child in crisis 24/7 with no break is a recipe for burnout.¬†So regular respite¬†has been one of the three goals we have been working toward with our Family Based team.

Last week they made a suggestion for a respite opportunity for the three older kids. The neat thing about this suggested respite was that it was a volunteer opportunity. It is an opportunity that not only provides regularly occurring periods of time away from the house and the struggles within its walls, but also gives them the opportunity to focus on serving others: a winning recipe for true joy and respite from the weariness of our own trials.

The respite opportunity suggested comes from Ready Yourselves Youth Ranch (RYYR), a horse ranch that Valerie, one of our Family Based therapists, volunteers at. She thought it would be a good fit for Grace, Molly and Rusty…

providing them with a sanctuary for their weary souls, but also an opportunity to be a blessing to others.

Last Friday we met our Family Based team at RYYR to tour the facility and indulge in a little animal therapy. Here is a little information about the ranch:

Our Mission:

Ready Yourselves Youth Ranch exists to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ by bringing  together rescue horses, children in need, and volunteer mentors ready to shine the light of Jesus in the darkest night, creating a safe and loving environment ready for God to heal.

Our Goals:

SERVE the Lord by being ready to show his love and grace through action and prayer.

LOVE the child. Every mentor’s priority will be to make sure that the child feels loved, unconditionally. This will come as the mentor gives support and encouragement during the child’s difficult times as well as celebrating his/her accomplishments and victories.

SAVE the horse. We will provide all necessary care for rescued horses, bringing them back to health so they can become nurturing members of the ranch.

ENABLE the children and their families to realize the strength and hope found in God. Once we establish a relationship with the child, we can then provide a support network for his/her family which provides them with hope, encouragement, and prayer through their difficult times.

When we arrived, Valerie (one of our two Family Based therapists) gave us a tour of the barn and introduced us to some of the horses that call RYYR home. As a volunteer there she is very familiar with the place.

The kids loved getting to “love” on the horses.

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Tyler was equally enamored with a five month old puppy who has free reign of the barn.

IMG_1712Valerie explained to the older kids the ins and outs of what is involved in being a volunteer there and walked them through some of the chores they would be doing as volunteers.

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First up:  grooming the horses.

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Two horses were pulled out of their stalls and tied up to be groomed.

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Molly and Ozzie were assigned “Athena”…

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and Tyler and Rusty were aptly assigned “Tyler.”

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Valerie helped them gather the brushes and supplies they would need to groom their horse and walked them through the steps of grooming a horse.

I think everyone was surprised by how many steps and how many different tools are used in the process.

Then Valerie taught them how to clean their hooves.

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When they were done grooming the horses they were assigned the task of cleaning out the water troughs in the pen…a task my kiddos are quite familiar with.

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This gave them the chance to also become acquainted with some of the horse that were outside.

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Ozzie fell in love with a 9-month-old miniature donkey named Reuben. (Ozzie LOVES donkeys.)

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The weather was beautiful and the view was spectacular. I could see why Valerie said she found volunteering there so therapeutic. You step on the property and can instantly feel the stress and anxiety leaving your body.

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What an amazing place it was. And what an amazing service they are providing. The big kids hope to begin volunteering as soon as their clearances come through. As volunteers they will receive free horseback riding lessons themselves and then Grace and Molly will have the opportunity to be a mentor next spring to a child in need and teach that child all that they learned.

What an awesome opportunity God has provided for my kiddos through our connection with Family Based. It is always thrilling to watch God work, answer our prayers, meet our needs, and open doors….

and Friday was no exception.

 

Recipients of #Light the World

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My favorite part of the Christmas season is the spirit of goodwill that seems to permeate the soul and bring about a transformation in people.

Yes, we all have stories to share about those short tempered shoppers or angry drivers that have fallen victim of the stress and fast pace of the season, but I have found that those few negative encounters are a small minority. I have found, particularly this Christmas season, that feelings of goodwill and expressions of kindness are in abundance.

It seems that the Christmas season¬†brings forth a goodness¬†and gentleness in people that aren’t always ¬†as prolific the rest of the year. I see it in the openness of strangers¬†striking up conversations¬†in the checkout line, the quiet, helpful ways strangers are helping strangers, and the random acts of kindness that continue to be paid forward.

This December I have noticed people leaving their quarters in Aldi’s shopping carts so as to benefit the next patron to walk through the door. I have watched, on multiple occasions, shoppers paying for the groceries of another shopper. I have watched countless¬†souls quietly serve through small, Christ-like acts, bringing about personal, testimony-building miracles¬†to the lives of others.

I don’t know if it is that people are kinder this year. Perhaps,¬†in feeling beat down and sickened by the ugliness of the political race, we are all feeling the need to bring a little light to the world. Or maybe nothing has changed and I’m just seeing things I didn’t notice before because my focus has changed this year.

I think perhaps it is a little bit of all these things.

Recently we have personally been recipients of the kindness of others. Just this week a dear friend blessed us with dinner. This friend reached out and asked if their family could bring us dinner this week. This friend, with her own plate filled with commitments and busyness as a mom of four and wife of the bishop, saw my weariness, reached out, and lifted my load. With Christ-like love she not only fed us physically but also fed my soul. She made me feel loved and cared for after a hard stretch of feeling very alone.

Another friend invited our motley crew over to make gingerbread houses with their family. In inviting us over she probably had no idea what a gift that evening was,¬†or how much I needed to get out of the house and do something fun with the kids. She had no idea the blessing it was to partake in her hospitality, her family’s open acceptance and complete lack of judgement, and be able to simply sit without having to worry about the boys and how they would behave. It was, in essence, the “night off” I had been needing. Even though we all sat there together, kids and adults, it felt like a break. It was a gift far greater than she probably even realizes.

Then there was the unexpected $20.00 bill in the Christmas card from my mom and dad  for a pizza night on them, giving me a night off from cooking.

And the heartfelt affirmation so unselfishly given in a phone conversation last week  with my grandma when she told me I was a good mom and that she was proud of me; words I so needed to hear that day.

I could go on and on…

The point is… the ability to affect someone and help them feel the love of Christ need not be a huge production.¬†Most often it is the small, Spirit-led acts of kindness that touch the soul and change a person’s day.

This is what the Christmas Spirit is.

Rusty had a unique assignment in his photography class this week. His assignment was to learn a new photography technique, experiment with this new technique until he fully understood it, and then teach this photography technique to the other students in his live class.

After much debate he decided to play around with light trails. This is a really cool effect that takes place when moving light is captured with a camera set at a very slow shutter speed.

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This magical look is created by taking a light source (sparkler, glow stick, or in Rusty’s case a small, blue LED light) and “drawing” a picture in the air while the camera catches the image of the moving light.

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The results are magical.

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As I looked over these photographs I was impressed by the affect one little lightbulb could have in a large dark room. Who would have thought such a little light could create something so beautiful.

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But the theory is proven.

All that is needed to bring light and beauty to a darkened world is a spark of kindness, a desire to act on that kindness and create something beautiful, and a willingness to slow down and look, choosing to focus on the light instead of the darkness.

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Let us all take our humble offerings and #Light the World!

Share you stories of kindness. How have you been blessed as others #Light the World?

#Light the World

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This Christmas season has been different from past Christmas seasons. Our usual traditions, timing, and routine have been adjusted to compensate for Toby’s absence and the struggles that have resulted from his absence. We have put off some of the Christmas activities that we usually participate in at the beginning of the month until the last moments so as to allow us to do them as a family.

Some activities we have scrapped all together simply because doing them without Daddy is too hard for the boys and results in heightened anxiety and hard behaviors.

The result of these adjustments, all put into place to help us all survive this challenging stretch, have resulted in a very different December. There has been less festivities and running about, and a lot more quiet, at-home moments as a family.

Initially I struggled with a Christmas season that didn’t align with my vision of what a happy Christmas build-up should look and feel like. I resented the fact that this last Christmas season with Grace home to participate in the four weeks of festivities were stolen from me because of the pressing need to address much harder and darker issues with my boys.

As we enter Gracie’s senior year I find myself looking at every holiday, activity and tradition with feelings of finality and thoughts of “the last one.” I know it is silly. It is not as though Grace is leaving forever but I recognize the shuttle shift that is occurring as the kids get older and closer to leaving the nest. ¬†Things are changing and although Grace will be home for Christmas next year, whether she chooses to live at home or venture far away for college, it will not be the same. As she steps into adulthood there will be additional responsibilities and pulls on her time that will keep her from participating in all¬†the December festivities leading up to Christmas. Things will be different. And that is hard.

So I really wanted this Christmas season to be perfect.

I wanted to do it all…participating in and recreating the Christmas magic from the last 18 years of her life, one last time.

But that is not how this December has played out.

One could look at the past 2 months and declare them an utter catastrophe with challenges and heartbreak being the theme of the season, but God has taken our less than ideal holiday season and turned it into something deeper and more meaningful.

It is December 14th and not a gift has been purchased. There is no tree cut down and decorated. Christmas cookies have not been decorated and not a light hangs outside my home. In fact the only “to do” item on my Christmas list that has been marked off is the mailing of Christmas cards, a task that was expedited by the need to finish them by midnight one night to take advantage of a Shutterfly 50% off coupon.

One would think this season has been a failure of epic proportion, after all Christmas is only 10 days away, but the panic that would normally be consuming me is absent.

I feel completely at peace.

And it has nothing to do with what has been done or not done. In fact it has nothing to do with me at all. This peace comes from a presence more powerful than any Christmas magic I can create for my family. It is the presence of God. The need to surrender my grand plans because of unforeseen circumstances has resulted in a surrendering to God and His vision for our Christmas season.

It has been a holy Christmas season and quite reminiscent of Christmas three years ago when we opened our home to two young children who had no place to spend Christmas that year. Opening up our home to strangers that Christmas resulted in a Christmas that was imperfect, messy, noisy, and a bit uncomfortable. We had to give up  our own vision for the holiday in order to make Christmas happen for those two children. We had to decide, much like that inn keeper in Bethlehem, if there was room in the inn and if we would find room for two strangers in our home.

But more than that…could we find room for them in our hearts?

Those two strangers were Ozzie and Zoey, and the result of saying “yes” and taking that leap of faith was the adoption of Ozzie. When we invited him into our home for Christmas we had no idea the work¬†God was doing and the mountains He was moving to bring our lost son home.

This Christmas season has had a similar feel. Except when asked if we can find room in our hearts it¬†wasn’t for a child, but for the Lord.

This December we have, as a family, been participating in the Light the World challenge and it has transformed our Christmas season and transformed our family.

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It is a daily challenge found at:

https://www.mormon.org/?cid=HP_FR_25-11-2016_dMIS_fmorg_xLIDyL1-A_

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This daily devotional offers a scripture and video reflecting on a trait of the Savior and then challenges us to¬†follow the Savior’s example and serve in a similar way.

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Some of the daily themes include:

“Jesus honored his parents and so can you.”

“Jesus prayed for others and so can you.”

“Jesus helped people to walk and so can you.”

It has been moving to see how this simple challenge of focusing daily on a trait of Jesus Christ, and following his example through acts of service, has changed our family and brought a sweetness and depth to our Christmas season.

Some of these acts of service have been small and individual with us coming together every evening to share with each other, and with Toby via the phone, what ways we honored Christ that day. While other acts of service were larger and organized by someone else.

These service activities have been extra fun for our family as we have been able to participate all together and experience the joy of service as a family. I am so grateful for the organizers that put together these larger service opportunities. I know the work that goes into these sort of events and it was such a joy to be able to simply show up and join in the effort.

Here are some opportunities the Lord has provided our family  to #Light the World:

“Jesus helped others to see and so can you”

On this day one of the services suggested was to donate old eyeglasses that are no longer in use to those in need. Ozzie was so excited to be able to offer up two pairs of his old glasses that he brought with him when he moved in that are no longer the correct prescription for him.

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“Jesus fed the hungry and so can you”

At co-op the kids have the opportunity once a month to help the church we meet at for co-op help set up food for the backpack program. This program sends two days worth of food home for children in need over the weekend when school breakfasts and lunches aren’t available. The backpacks are assembled on another day but the kids at co-op are able to sort and organize the food items for easy packing. On the first Wednesday of the month the kids were able to participate in this wonderful program that helps feed¬† hungry children.

“Jesus ministered to children and so can you”

The opportunity to minister to children came through an event planned by the youth leaders at church for the young men and women to offer free babysitting for young families one evening in December. Parents were able to drop off their children for two hours and Christmas shop or enjoy a date night, while the youth volunteered their time to entertain the kids with activities, games and crafts.

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Jesus taught us to clothe the naked”

Molly has been working on a personal project for the last few months that fell perfectly under this category of service. She has been making winter hats to donate to our local hospital for newborn babies. She has quite the pile ready to be dropped off at the hospital.

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Jesus showed humility and so can you”

One suggestion under “Jesus showed humility and so can you” was to brag a little…about someone else! So as part of our evening devotional we played a fun game using a ball of yarn. For this game we stood in a circle.¬†I started the game by tossing the ball of yarn to someone else while holding onto the end of the yarn.¬†¬†I then shared¬†something¬†I appreciated about that person. Then that person wrapped the yarn around a finger and tossed the ball of yarn to someone else in the circle until the finished result was a web of appreciation and gratitude for the other members of the family.

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“Jesus lifted others burdens and so can you”

We had an awesome opportunity to participate in a special service activity last Friday that lifted the burdens of struggling moms and dads in the area when we attended a field trip in New Castle with our co-op at a Toys for Tots location. Here donations of toys and clothes are collected to fulfill wish cards for local children in need.

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The activity was sponsored by Pa Cyber and was so much fun. For 3 hours we helped fill Christmas gift bags. The kids would get a wish card containing the age, sex, favorite color and needs/wishes of a child and then “shop” for them off the shelves of donations.

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What a joyful challenge it was scouring the shelves to find the perfect toys for each child based on the wishes that their parents wrote down.

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Tyler expressed¬†the joy felt that day¬†perfectly when he said, “It was like getting to be Santa’s elves.”

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It was a gift to see my kids delight in bringing Christmas joy to unknown boys and girls. And getting to participate with friends made it even more fun.

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It was a service project we hope to be involved in again next year!

The Light the World challenge has blessed our family.

I share these experiences not to glorify self but to glorify God and testify the transforming affect this inspired program has had on our family. I am grateful for the focused direction and creative suggestions of service ideas. I am grateful for the healing power that has come from looking outside ourselves and our individual trials and challenges to take notice of the greater needs that exist in the world around us. It has humbled me. It has made me more grateful. It has redirected my focus from self to others and given greater meaning to this Christmas season as our family focuses on the attributes of our Savior and the life he led.

I encourage all to give it a try.

Go out there and

Light the World!

Baking for Make-A-Wish

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I believe, as parents, we all desire certain things for our children. We desire happiness for them¬†and good health. We pray that they will have discernment and that they will be wise, and then we pray for their safety for those times¬†when they aren’t so wise.

We hope they will feel loved by us, and others, and most importantly by their Father in Heaven.

We want them to find friends, good friends, that will strengthen them and make them better.

We raise them to have roots, deep roots that will ground them and secure them when the winds of adversity blow, but also raise them to have wings that will allow them to take flight and soar high above the pull of the world.

We work diligently to teach them, and guide them, and help them grow in stature and spirit. We work hard, hoping we aren’t messing them up too badly, as we¬†work to grow good kids, happy kids, healthy kids, strong kids, righteous kids, respectful kids, kind kids.

We struggle to find the balance as we affirm them in hopes of growing secure, confident children without indulging them to the point of handicapping them with the chains of entitlement.

We want our children to be bold in their faith, beliefs, and convictions, but kind and loving to all.

We pray that our¬†sons¬†and daughters know their value as a child of God, but humbly recognize all that they are and all that they have comes from God…not from them.

We want to raise children who are aware of all that exists outside themselves and whose hearts burn with a desire to touch the world… and change the world… and make it a better place.

We hope our sons will develop into gentlemen and our daughter into ladies, with all the lovely attributes those titles inspire.

We want¬†our children to think of others, not because they have to, or because their parents said to, but because they have discovered for themselves the joy that comes from being a blessing to others, from living outside one’s own self focus, and from the practice of observing the needs that exist around¬†them and¬†working to meet those needs.

We want¬†our children to understand that so many of the attributes the world holds up as a measure of worth and a standard of a well lived life (wealth, power, appearance, wit,¬†status, etc.)¬†are fleeting, but doing good, and being kind, and loving others…well, those attributes never lose their shine. Those attributes are the real deal. They are the real measure of a well lived life…of a happy life.

We are blessed to be part of a co-op that shares a similar philosophy.

In addition to the many other benefits we gain from being part of this cooperative learning group (friends, support, traditional school experiences, holiday celebrations and enriching field trips) the kids also have the opportunity to serve.

Each month our co-op takes on a service project, giving the students the opportunity to discover the joy of serving others. One of the favorite service projects for the year is our annual bake sale in which the money raised is donated to the Make-A-Wish foundation. This is a charity close to our co-op’s heart due to two of our co-op families having received a wish granted by this amazing charity.

The co-op kids take ownership of this service project by making treats to sale, as well as by breaking into their own piggy banks to have the funds needed to support this charity by buying treats…and eating them, of course!¬†The kids love this annual event!

Each of my kids knew they wanted to make something to donate to the bake sale, but I knew that Tuesday was going to be busy with five different appointments that day, so we decided that for Monday’s family night we would have a family bake-off in the kitchen so that everyone could get all their treats ready for Wednesday.

The kids all knew what they wanted to make:

Grace- Nutella cupcakes

Molly- Oreo balls

Rusty- No bake bars

Ozzie- Chocolate chip cookies

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Tyler- Baymax cupcakes

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Everyone got to work, claiming a portion of the counter space as their own. Toby helped coordinate the oven usage by running the timers and adjusting the temperatures when the next baked good went it.

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We turned on Disney music and the kids had fun baking, visiting, and singing along¬†as they worked. I answered baking questions and acted as site supervisor for the project. ūüôā ¬†It was a really fun way to spend the evening as a family, while also accomplishing a big task on the to-do list.

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Co-op was a blast on Wednesday. They kids loved showing off their cooking creations, as well as checking out (and taste testing) their friends’ baked goods. The little boys loved “shopping” for treats with their own money, and everyone was excited to raise money for the Make-A- Wish foundation!

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Good job Kids!!

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Caring for Critters

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On Friday we were invited to join some of our friends from co-op on a really neat outing that was especially close to our hearts. The field trip was a service project. We were joining our friends at the local humane society to spend the day offering whatever help we could to this great organization.

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The outing lasted most of the day. We arrived at the Humane Society around 11 o’clock. Our day began with an orientation that all volunteers need to go through before they can work with the animals. After signing the volunteer paperwork we were taken into the back of the Humane Society where we were able to meet and greet all the fur babies that are up for adoption.

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There are three separate back rooms in the Lawrence County Humane Society. There is a cat room, a small dog and puppy room,¬†and a large dog room. I was surprised at how few animals were there.¬† They only had a handful of dogs up for adoption and about a dozen cats. Many of the dogs were “on hold”¬†while the Humane Society reviewed applications of potential families. While we were there we witnessed two of the¬†large dogs find their “furever homes,” as well as one of the cats. It was such a heartwarming thing to see.

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After the tour we headed to the outside building where the bedding supplies and food is stored. There we enjoyed a pizza party with friends before our work begin.

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After lunch our large group was split into two smaller groups, with the young children and moms staying outside in the garage to work, and the teenagers moving inside to do needed chores inside.

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Outside the younger kids and the moms took on the task of sorting through bags of donated towels and blankets, separating out the ones that had zippers and buttons and anything else that could be a danger to the animals. These donations were put in separate bags that will be donated to another charity for the local rescue mission.

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The other big task that was worked on outside was sorting and organizing the many bags and cans of dog and cat food. Tyler, Grace, and Rusty helped with this task. They helped other volunteers sort through the many containers of food, checking the expiration dates and reshelving all the food and treats according to whether it was cat food or dog food,  adult food or puppy/kitten food, or if it was for large breed or small breed animals.

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It was a big job but many hands¬†made for light work…(or as light as possible with 50 pound bags of dog food.) ūüėČ

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Inside the Humane Society other kids were helping out with cleaning chores and laundry. The Humane Society, with its many animals and many pounds of bedding, requires many loads of laundry to be washed and dried daily. The staff was thrilled to have eager helpers to lift some of that burden.

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 One of the favorite chores of the day however was the opportunity to care for the animals themselves. We were able to take one of the dogs that is up for adoption out for a walk.

The boys went with me but I was the one who did the actual walking due to volunteer policy and their age.

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We walked Brady. Brady was a Pitbull/Boxer mix. He was a 1 year old and basically a¬†black and white furry¬†Tyler. He bounced his way through our 20 minute walk, full of enthusiasm and energy. By the end of the walk we were convinced that Brady has ADHD. Both little boys tried to talk me into adopting Brady but I think we have enough bouncy energy in our home. I think a 14 year old Bassett Hound might be more our speed. ūüôā

But he was a charming, goofy, and sweet puppy that is wonderful with kids and other dogs (for anyone that might be looking to adopt!)

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Overall it was a very enjoyable day and we left feeling quite satisfied by the opportunity to spend the day volunteering at our local shelter. The experience left my teens eager to go back and volunteer on a regular basis. We are looking at our schedule and¬†to see¬†if that is a commitment we can take on right now. I’d love it if we could make that happen for them.

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When Toby arrived home the kids eagerly greeted him with a play by play of our day at the shelter. I could see Toby discretely scanning the room for an extra four furry feet and seemed relieved to discover¬†that we had resisted temptation and returned home empty handed. ūüėČ

…at least for the time being,

because everyone knows:

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Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland

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For many years we enjoyed a special family tradition that centered around Christmas lights. Each year, from the time the kids were toddlers, we would visit Hartwood Acre’s Celebration of Lights¬†for a family night activity in December.¬†It was a drive thru Christmas light display. We would pack the car with cocoa and Christmas cookies, put the kids in their PJs, and drive to Hartwood¬† Acres Park to drive thru the impressive¬†light display. It became the activity that really made it feel like Christmas had arrived.

A few years ago I went online to look up the dates and times for Hartwood Acre’s Christmas display and was crushed to find out that they weren’t reopening due to limited funding. The money paid for the entrance fee went towards a local Pittsburgh charity and the organization depended on donors to help offset the cost of¬† Christmas lights and electricity. The funds didn’t come in so we were out of luck. That was¬†the first year we had missed since the kids were babies.

The following year we crossed our fingers that the funding would be there and that the Christmas display would reopen, but alas, year two passed with no light display.

By the following year we were looking for alternatives to this beloved tradition. Last year we went to Overly’s Country Christmas, which was fun in its own right, but their light display didn’t hold a candle to Hartwood Acres.

This year we heard about a traveling light show that was coming to our area:

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“Shadrack‚Äôs Christmas Wonderland is making its Pennsylvania debut at the Big Butler Fairgrounds in Prospect this Christmas season. ¬†This award winning Christmas light and music extravaganza is unlike any show you‚Äôve seen. Guests simply tune in their radio, and watch the magic unfold as they drive through hundreds of thousands of brilliant LED lights dancing in perfect synchronization with the music filling their vehicle. ¬†The lights will glow every night from November 20th through January 3rd. ¬†It‚Äôs like a front row seat at the most dynamic Christmas concert ever!

Plus, you can catch a glimpse of how the crew from the North Pole spent their summer vacation. It’s Santa’s Beach Party! Come see huge, custom displays featuring comical snapshots of Santa, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, and the elves playing in the sand, rather than the snow.  Santa can ride a wave, but surprisingly, he can ride a friendly whale too.

Shadrack hosted its first light show in 2007, and because of the tremendous response, has expanded to new locations each year and has continually added new elements to keep the show exciting. This spectacle takes light shows to a whole new level, integrating cutting-edge technology, lights, music, and movement with all custom-built, animated elements featuring 100% environmentally friendly LED lights. Some of the music is even arranged and performed by the talented Shadrack crew.”¬†¬†¬† – Butler County Tourism

We decided to check it out.

On Monday we loaded up the van and stopped to pick up some friends who we thought would enjoy it too.

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It was a rainy night but that didn’t deter us. The result of the yucky weather was low crowds… which was wonderful!

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The cost for the experience¬†was $25.00 a car, which for our crew worked out to about $2.75 a person for an hour of amazing Christmas fun…

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It was well worth the price!

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We were blown away. We didn’t think we’d ever find a drive thru light display that could compare to Hartwood Acres, but this easily matched it and perhaps exceeded it.

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When we arrived we tuned our radio to the assigned station and watched as the magic took over. The choreographed Christmas music playing along to the dancing, flashing lights was awesome.

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The kids all LOVED it!

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The pictures really don’t do justice to the experience. Everything is bigger, brighter, a more awe inspiring than could be captured through a lens, but here is a peek to give you a small idea of what the experience was like.

On the way home the happy chatter about the lights went on and on until some started nodding off.

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For those that live locally the McCleery’s¬†give Shadrack’s¬†9 thumbs up!

Check it out!

Trick or Treat for Seniors

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Last Wednesday was our annual Halloween service project with our church family…

and one of our favorite nights of the year!

Every year around Halloween¬†our church participates in a special service project‚Ķ‚ÄĚtrick or treat for seniors.‚ÄĚ In essence we create a trick or treating experience for the patients at a local nursing home.¬† We do this by ‚Äúbuilding‚ÄĚ a Halloween¬†village in the recreation hall of the nursing home. Preparation¬†for this evening begins weeks before the actual event as organizations and families from church begin brainstorming to come up with ideas for their ‚Äúhouse.‚ÄĚ We then drive to a local furniture store where we pick up a pile of large cardboard boxes which are left in the gym closet for people to come and collect for their Halloween¬†creations. It is then a few days or a few weeks (depending on the box) of cutting, taping, and painting to create¬†the Halloween¬†boxes. As you will see in the pictures, some people go all out with their creations! On the evening of the activity families arrive early to begin setting up their boxes. At 7:00 the actual trick or treating begins as volunteers wheel the patients around our village and we hand out treats like candy, crackers, cookies and applesauce. The senior citizens enjoy seeing the boxes and the children handing out treats. At the end of the evening the nursing home thanks us with¬† treats of cookies and juice. It is a really neat event and a lot of fun for everyone involved.

Mr. Potato Head...a wanted man!

Mr. Potato Head…a wanted man!

This year we had fun embracing our Toy Story theme and recreating the bank robbery scene from the Toy Story movie. I LOVED the simplicity of the box and the minimal artistic talent needed,

since we were turning our background into Andy’s artistic creation. This is my sort of artwork!

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We then added some toy touches to finish off the look.

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. It was fun seeing everyone’s creations as people arrived to set up their boxes. Here are some of the creative boxes people came up with…

Another Toy Story box with a really cute Buzz Lightyear!

Another Toy Story box with a really cute Buzz Lightyear!

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The Schmuck family always goes above and beyond with stunningly creative boxes!

The Activity Day girls made a Ghoul Bus.

The Activity Day girls made a Ghoul Bus.

The scouts made a toll booth...

The scouts made a toll booth…

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The young women made a Monster's University box...here are a couple monsters.

The young women made a Monster’s University box…here are a couple of monsters.

...and a two headed one!

…and a two headed one!

Andy's Toys handing out treats.

Andy’s Toys handing out treats.

Gracie pushing one of the residents around to trick or treat.

Gracie pushing one of the residents around to trick or treat.

It was a wonderfully perfect evening!

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WITCH way to spend Family Night?

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Every Monday evening is Family Night at our home. If you stopped by any Monday night you would find us together as a family. While activities and commitments pull us in many directions on other weekday nights, Monday night is the night reserved for family.

Which is not to say every Monday looks the same.

Family Night activities vary greatly depending on the season, the emotional needs observed in the past week, practical skills we have noticed need reinforced, how tired Mom and Dad are, etc. ūüôā Sometimes family night consist of a spiritual lesson or scripture story with a corresponding game or activity. Sometimes we go do something as¬†a family like see a movie or go miniature golfing. Some Monday nights we teach practical skills like having a family¬†fire drill or teaching first aid skills.Some family nights are spent playing a board game¬†inside or playing a¬†sport outside. Sometimes we just hold a family council and discuss pressing concerns. Often family night is when we take part in holiday traditions like decorating Easter eggs, carving jack-o-lanterns, or going to the Christmas tree farm to cut down our tree.

Every Monday night is a bit different but what remains consistent is our commitment to reserve that evening for family, make a memory with our children,

and we usually end the night with a yummy treat. ūüôā

This past Monday night our focus was “service.”

And the lesson was, “WITCH activity will you choose.”

We spoke about the vast amount of choices we have in how we can use our time. Not only do we have to choose between good and bad activities, but as Christians we must also choose between good and better activities. It seemed like a pertinent topic as we begin the first full week of school for everyone, and the message was just as relevant for Toby and I as it was for the kids.

With the start of school the pace of life picks up,

and there are so many GOOD, really good, ways to spend the hours of our day,

but in the end we must choose those things that we value most and which bring the most value to our lives.

One of the best uses of our time, we discussed, was “service.”

And this week we had the perfect opportunity to act on that lesson.

In our church we don’t have a paid custodian. The responsibility of cleaning and caring for the building falls on the families who worship there. Families have the opportunity a few times a year to sign up to clean the church building. This involves cleaning bathrooms, wiping chalkboards, polishing furniture, emptying the trash cans in the classrooms, cleaning the glass doors,¬†and vacuuming the carpets.

Cleaning as a family has provided us a wonderful opportunity  to teach our children to appreciate the great blessing of a building to worship in, as well as encourage them to take ownership in the care and upkeep of the church building.

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This week was our family’s turn to serve our church family and clean the church building. It was a wonderful opportunity to put our lesson in action.

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The kids are old pros at this, having been involved in cleaning the church since they were young,

so everyone arrived with their chosen job in mind.

Everyone has a favorite task. They gathered their cleaning tools and set to work.

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Molly was a good sport and volunteered to clean toilets.

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The kids worked fast and efficiently and in 90 minutes we were done.

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Next it was time for the treat and we had a special treat in store for these hard workers.

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In a nearby town there is a charming little ice cream store called “Witch Flavor?”

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We have been wanting to go for a while after hearing many rave reviews about the Penn State Creamery ice cream they serve there. We arrived at 8:00 and everyone chose their flavors. Like the choices laid before them in how they spend their time, they now faced a similar decision in choosing the BEST flavor among all the GOOD choices.

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The ice cream lived up to the reviews and we sat outside on Main Street enjoying a taste of summer as we brought our lesson home with the “WITCH choice will you make?” theme.

As they licked the dripping ice cream they also learned another valuable life lesson:

“Sweet” rewards come to those who work.

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Sweet rewards, indeed!

Embark!

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It was that time of year once again… time for New Beginnings!¬†New Beginnings¬†is a yearly ceremony for¬†the young women at church. It is¬†a chance to focus on their theme for the year, welcome the new 12-year-old girls who are coming into young women’s, and a chance to bid farewell to our graduating seniors.

It was so odd, after 4 years of planning New Beginnings, to show up on Sunday evening as a mother without any of the stress or worries that are typically associated with that day. ūüôā

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In the past we have had fun with the theme for the evening. We have done a Dr. Seuss night, an Alice in Wonderland adventure, “You are a gem,” and last year’s theme¬†was “Frozen.”

This year there was the nautical them of “Embark!” and the focus was on service.

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The girls were all asked to bring in objects that represent what they have been working on this year in their goal setting program, Personal Progress.

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Grace brought in her scriptures, that she has been working on reading daily, and a painting to represent a talent she has been working on developing.

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Molly brought in a loaf of bread to represent the bread she made and delivered to neighbors for a service project, as well as baby hats she crocheted to donate to our local hospital.

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The night was filled with a spiritual devotional, a musical number by the young women, a welcome to the 12-year-old girls and a farewell to our seniors.

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The night ended with snacks and treats.

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There was even a photo booth for the girls to play around with…

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As a gift for each girl there were charms with nautical themes for them to each take home. Grace chose an anchor and Molly chose a lighthouse. They were excited. They both collect charms for their charm bracelet so it was an extra special gift!

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It was a special night for the young women!

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