Tag Archives: valentine’s day

A Valentine’s Day at Animal Kingdom


On Thursday we returned to Animal Kingdom for our second (and last) day in the park. In honor of Valentine’s Day, Toby and the kids woke to some gifts of love waiting for them in the dining room.

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I was thrilled to be spending Valentine’s Day with the love of my life at my favorite Disney park!

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The combination of shady pathways, smaller crowds, and animals everywhere you look, makes this park feel more like a haven than a theme park.

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The theming in this park also adds to the feeling of being transported to another continent as visitors move from Pandora to Africa and then on to Asia. Each area offers rides, shows and experiences that tie into that environment, and while we revisited the Pandora-The World of Avatar to re-ride our new, favorite Disney World ride: Avatar Flight of passage (It is AMAZING!!), and to visit Windtraders so that Rusty could use the remainder of his Christmas money to adopt a banshee,

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Most of our day was spent enjoying the rest of Animal Kingdom.

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After riding Avatar Flight of Passage, our second ride of the day was Expedition Everest. This roller coaster is a family favorite!

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Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

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“Wander into a Tibetan village at the base of Mount Everest and board a train to the “top of the world.” Beware: Some say a legendary snow monster—the Yeti—lives deep in the mountain.

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After a steep ascent, hold on tight as your train picks up speed and races into the darkness. Without warning, a broken and twisted track appears in front of you.

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 Brace yourself as you plummet backward into total darkness. Inside the cavern, the mythical tale comes true as you see the shadow of a massive, growling beast!

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Race to escape the cursed mountain—before the Yeti claims another expedition!”

From there we headed over to Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

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“Set off in an open-air vehicle for a guided tour of an African savanna—and spot live animals roaming free.

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Explore the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, home to 34 species living in 110 acres of picturesque open plains, shady forest landscapes and rocky wetlands. Your rugged safari vehicle is driven by an expert guide, who helps point out animals and shares fascinating wildlife facts during this extraordinary 18-minute expedition.

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Spot a shy hippopotamus nestled in a still pond.

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Behold a regal lion sunbathing on a rocky perch.

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Drive past a gentle giraffe grazing on the tall trees.

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Other amazing animals you may encounter include rhinos, cheetahs, crocodiles, elephants, hyenas and zebras—and so many more!

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Since animals have minds of their own, every expedition is a unique and unforgettable experience. Be sure to keep your eyes open and have a camera ready—you never know what you’ll see on a Kilimanjaro Safaris outing.”

This experience was a hit with all my animal lovers. Brandon requested we do it again after dark, wanting to experience the ride at night and see the animals in a “whole new light.”

Previously off limits to visitors after sundown, this unforgettable journey through the reserve allowed us to witness rarely seen nocturnal animal behaviors. Many of the animals were settled in for the night, and there wasn’t a whole lot of action until we drove up to the lion pride where we got to experience the lions roaring and calling out to each other. It was an astounding experience that made the night time trek well worth the otherwise anticlimactic ride!

In addition to riding and re-riding our favorite rides, we also made time to enjoy some of the shows. We began the day by watching:

UP! A Great Bird Adventure

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“Join Russell and his furry friend Dug on a flap-happy adventure sure to send spirits soaring.

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Led by a senior Wilderness Explorer, this unique birding experience features a close-up look at various bird species from around the globe—including the marabou stork, which boasts a magnificent 10-foot wingspan.

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Prepare for breathtaking fun with these free-flying fowl… along with a few other surprises!”

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Tyler is our resident bird lover, having once lived in a foster home with a parrot named, Mango. He loved this Animal Kingdom show that was created completely around nature’s feathered friends.

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My personal favorite show at Animal Kingdom, and perhaps all the Disney parks, is Finding Nemo- The Musical. We made sure to fit in a viewing of this incredible production.

Finding Nemo- The Musical

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“Extraordinary live musical performances, delightful puppets, vibrant sets and wondrous underwater special effects immerse you in Nemo’s fin-tastic world. Join the overprotective clownfish Marlin and his forgetful friend Dory as they search for his son, Nemo.

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The multiple Academy Award-winning songwriting team behind Frozen and Coco, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, created 14 original songs just for this show—the first time a non-musical Disney animated feature has been transformed into an original musical production.

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Take your fins and family and dive right into this “big blue world”!”

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Halfway through the day we took a break to enjoy some lunch at our favorite counter service restaurant at Disney World: Flame Tree BBQ. This place is nothing short of amazing! Here we feasted on delicious, fall-off-the-bone ribs, baked beans, BBQ pork sandwiches, and turkey legs.

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It was a perfect mid-day break. Everyone filled their bellies and enjoyed sitting for a half an hour under the shade of the trees while watching the antics of the water fowl that run amok, stealing food from unexpecting visitors.

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After lunch, we made our way over to Dinoland U.S.A. to ride some of the rides in that area of the park.

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Along the way we stumbled across some fine feathered friends of a different variety. In this area of the park we found Donald Duck and his friends.

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The older kids requested photos and autographs from some of the characters we were passing, so we stopped to say hello.

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When we went up to say hello to Donald, he noticed our celebration pin.

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With great excitement he clapped and hugged us and insisted we take a family photo with the whole crew.

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For the last two weeks we have walked around the park wearing our celebration pins announcing our upcoming adoption. It has been neat to see how many people have been touched by adoption, as fellow visitors and cast members stop us to congratulate us and share their adoption stories. One woman stopped us while we waited behind her in line for a ride to ask about our pin and then insisted on giving Brandon a hug when she found out he was being adopted, having been a teenager adoptee. Other cast members, from custodial staff to cast member trainers, stopped to share their stories of being an adoptive parent or an adopted child.

For our snack we decided to go classic with a Mickey ice cream bar.

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We ate our treats while enjoying a performance in the streets of Harambe, Africa.

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That night we enjoyed two special night time shows at Animal Kingdom:

Tree of Life Awakenings- A Mesmerizing Nighttime Experience

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“Flickering fireflies magically appear and stir to life the animal spirits in the tree’s towering trunk—bringing to light a dazzling visual display swarming with color and animated imagery.

Gaze upon a young doe embarking upon a thrilling journey. Behold love blossoming between a pair of hummingbirds. Spy a sly fox spreading gifts of love among the denizens of a wintry forest.

A feast for the eyes, each revelation celebrates the eternal balance and harmony that exists in all living things, big or small, and is sure to inspire and delight your whole family tree.”


Rivers of Light

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“Get swept away in a timeless show that celebrates the beauty of all living things. With a brilliant fusion of water, sound and light, it’s quite unlike anything you’ve experienced before!

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As sunlight fades and the stars begin their twinkle, remember that we are all bound together by earth and spirit—past, present and future.

Listen as the Discovery River responds to the whispers of the world, cradling creatures with a symphony that swells with wild murmurs and shimmering secrets of the universe.

So begins a new light—a vibrant awakening of flitting fireflies leading to a ceremonious procession across the water.

Before your eyes, clusters of lantern light shift and shape into stunning animal spirit forms—the Tiger, Turtle, Elephant and Owl. Spellbound, you’re transported across Asian jungles and tropical oceans to African savannahs and North American mountains.

This magnetic display culminates in a triumphant blend of song, light, color and earthly elements—a grand finale so divine that you can’t help but feel a sense of peace and oneness with nature.”

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Our amazing Valentine’s Day came to a close with a trip to the top of Everest with my true love (and a few spares.)


We loved our time in Animal Kingdom, and were sad to go, but we weren’t done with our Disney adventure quite yet.

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Next stop: Epcot!

Packed with Fun


This past week was filled to the brim with fun. Here is a peek into the festivities:

This year Molly and Tatum started a club at 21st Century Cyber Charter School. They decided they wanted to start an American Sign Language Club. They submitted the proposal to the school, found a teacher to sponsor them, and were given permission to move forward. Their club meets every other Monday at 2:00. The girls have had a blast with it and the club’s popularity continues to grow as more students join. Each meeting is a result of hours worth of effort and planning on the girls’ part as they find videos to use, plan games and lessons to teach the week’s ASL concepts, and create power points for the lessons. It has been fun to watch Molly take on this new challenge and see her passion for American Sign Language shine apart from Gracie. Both my girls have a heart for the language and both are using that passion to do awesome things.

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On Sunday night we joined the Mackays for our annual Super Bowl get-together. Each year the Mackays graciously invite us over to join them to watch the Super Bowl. This is a tradition that goes back a decade or more and is one of the highlights of our year. The Mackays are special friends that came into our lives 16 years ago through MOPS and have been a blessing ever since. We don’t see nearly enough of them so this annual tradition is a special treat as we are able to catch up on each other’s lives while enjoying  yummy food and an exciting game.

(I was so busy having fun that I forgot to snap any photos this year, so I’ll have to use this photo from 3 years ago.)

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This winter has been especially snowy…and I have loved it! This is so much better than the rainy, gray, muddy winter we endured last year. This winter weather has forced us inside and much time has been spent in the living room, enjoying the warmth of the wood burning fireplace. Oh, how I love the hibernation season!

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Tyler’s new glasses came in on Saturday. We received the call that his glasses could be picked up and we stopped by to get them. They look adorable on him and I couldn’t resist nabbing a photo of all my darling “four-eyes.”

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I’m sure I’ll eventually join their ranks as time takes a toll on my eyes, but for now I am proudly holding on to the bragging rights of 20/20 vision and the only McCleery left without glasses.

Ozzie came home this weekend for a visit. We are beginning to prepare for his transition home and as a result the frequency of home passes will increase. This month he will be home three weekends in a row. This past weekend he came down on the bus that the facility offers twice a month to transport kids down to Pittsburgh for weekend home passes. This was our first time taking advantage of this service. What a blessing it was to not have to drive two hours north to pick him up. It saved hours on the road as we only had to drive to Pittsburgh to pick him up. On Sunday we met the bus in the same location to drop Ozzie off.

The weekend was spent at home. Rusty, Toby and Tyler had a winter campout with the Boy Scouts that kept them away from Friday at 5:00 pm until Saturday at 4:00pm. This meant that for 24 hours it was just Ozzie and the girls at home with me. It was good. We spent our time engaged in normal life activities: meals, chores, and quiet play. I think Ozzie relished the peace and quiet of simply reading on his bed and rebuilding his Lego sets.

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On Sunday we went to church and then had a family Valentine’s Day dinner before Ozzie had to leave. It was a fun way to close out this visit.

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We enjoyed a yummy dinner,

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Homemade heart shaped sugar cookies thanks to Mary King (YUM!!)

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and a fun game I downloaded off the internet.

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It was, in essence, a Valentine version of CLUE, that required us to solve the case of the missing Valentine by using process of elimination to discover the who, what and where of the mystery.

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Before we left to drive Ozzie back down to Pittsburgh we took advantage of his visit home to partake in our annual Valentine’s Day tradition of measuring everyone on the wall. Every Valentine’s Day the kids stand against the hallway wall to have their height recorded for the year. This is an anticipated tradition as everyone looks forward to seeing visual proof of their growth over the past 365 days.

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Grace continues to hold firm at 5′ 2 1/2″ having zero growth this past year.

Molly hit 5’5″ this year after an increase of 5/16th of an inch.

Rusty continues to tower over the rest at 6’1″ but his rate of growth dropped significantly this past year with an increase of only 1/2″.

Tyler now stands tall at 5′ even having grown 2″ this past year.

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Ozzie won this year’s bragging rights of most growth over this 12 month period, having grown 4 1/2″ this past year. He now is 5 foot 3 1/2 inches tall.

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My chicks continue to grow, both in stature and in other areas. This past year has been a year of extreme growth for all of the kids as they have experience the best and worst this life has to offer and have embraced both facets with grace and maturity. While the measurements on the wall don’t always reflect their growth over the course of a year, their lives do, and I am so proud of each and every one of them!

Born to Shine!



This past Wednesday was our Valentine party at co-op. This year our family decided to volunteer to plan it. The kids all had sections in their different goal programs through church that asked them to help plan an activity, so it seemed the best way to accomplish it was for us to plan an event as a family so we could work on marking those sections off.

One of the blessings that come from being part of a learning co-op is the opportunity to offer activities and experiences that are hard to facilitate in a home environment and can really only be experienced in a traditional classroom environment…

experiences like having someone other than your mother teach you, group projects, holiday parties, talent shows, yearbooks and Valentine exchanges.

The Valentine party is one of four holiday parties we have each year, with the moms taking turns heading up and planning the different parties.

For this year’s Valentine party the kids and I decided to do something different that the traditional Valentine’s Day festivities. We decided to still have the Valentine exchange and the Valentine box contest but do something TOTALLY different for the “games” portion of the party.

We chose the theme:

“Let Your Love Shine!”

Using the inspiration from a fun experience this past summer, we decided we would have a glow stick dance party in the gym. (It was perfect for a glow in the dark party since the gym is window free.)

We thought this would be something fun and different from the norm, and an activity that would be enjoyed by all ages, from our preschoolers to our highschoolers.

In the weeks leading up to the party we scavenged glow sticks leftover from summer from around the house so that we could calculate how many more we needed to purchase.

To turn each person into a glowing stick man we needed 10 glow sticks/person.

My big kids worked on a playlist for our dance party, making sure to include dance favorites like The Limbo, Cotton Eye Joe, Watch Me Whip, Happy, and the Cuban Shuffle. They also included some classic Disney songs.

On the Monday before the party the kids used Presidents Day (off from school) to make their Valentines and their Valentine boxes. It was fun to see what creative visions they all had for their boxes and how they executed their visions.

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On Wednesday we had the kids line up their Valentine boxes on either side of the gym. Preschool-3rd grade set up their boxes on one side, and 4th grade-highschool set up theirs on the other side. We numbered the boxes and then the kids had the opportunity to vote on their favorite box from each age group.

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The first 3 hours of co-op played out like a typical day. The kids had science, history and art and then broke for lunch. The party took place after lunch when we would normally have music.

At lunch Ozzie handed out cupcakes for his birthday celebration with his co-op friends.

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To prepare for the monumental task of outfitting 30 kids with glow sticks, we cracked all the glow sticks before hand, so that they were glowing, and then taped the stick figures to the walls so that everyone could simply pick a stick figure on the wall and transfer it to their own body. It was a quick and efficient way to get everyone outfitted for the glow in the dark dance party. We also had glow in the dark glasses and headbands for the kids to choose from.

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Once everyone was ready we gathered everyone in the center of the gym for a photo…

First on with the lights on:

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Then one with the lights off:

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Then it was time to dance!

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A peak of what the dance party looked like when I turned on my flash:

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The party ended with our Valentine exchange and prizes for the winning Valentine box designs.

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Oh, how I love this special group of friends…

And boy did our love SHINE this Valentine’s Day!!

Love is Patient. Love is Kind.


This Valentine’s Day wasn’t “typical.”

It wasn’t a romantic holiday for two with the love of my life, filled with candlelight, soft music, and whisperings of sweet nothings,

rather it was a candle-free holiday (yeah, we aren’t crazy!),

with a lot noise, and chaos, and eight extra people to share our Valentine’s Day with. 🙂

It was a hard holiday for the little people in our home. All were struggling with memories and feelings of loss that led to tears and acting out as they struggled to put words to the feelings that were enveloping them.

Tyler spent 2 of the 3 hours at church hiding under a church pew, refusing to come out.

Our three little visitors, that so recently lost their momma, had their share of tears throughout the day.

Ozzie kept escaping to his room to hide, overcome with memories and thoughts that were too big for him.

Not even my big kids were immune to the high emotions of the day.

It was a hard day, but I knew it would be. My goal was to get everyone through the holiday in one piece with as few “fatalities” as possible, all while trying to bring some joy and a lot of LOVE to the people under my roof.

As we worked our way through the day I was reminded time and time again of what true love is. It isn’t the makings of a Hallmark holiday special. It is something so much deeper…so much more significant.

As I watched MY Valentine wrestle with his sons on the floor, lovingly tease his daughters, unclog the toilet for the third time, wash Q’s hair in the tub while I cleaned up dinner, and then play another round of “Disney Scene It” with the kids (when he would have much rather been napping)… I fell more in love with my husband.

He is a living example to me of what LOVE really is…

That love described in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is Patient. Love is Kind.


How grateful I am to be blessed with such a man,

because that is the sort of love that sticks.

That is the sort of love that lasts through eternity.

Here is a look into our Valentine’s Day celebration:

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The day began in the early morning hours with a visit from the Tooth Fairy. Derek lost a tooth and so our family’s tooth fairy, Florence, paid a visit and left Derek a dollar coin.

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Then it was time to get everyone ready for church. I am proud to report it only took 1 1/2 hours to get the 10 of us ready to go. That has got to be some kind of record!


Our steep driveway is snow covered so we have to park at the bottom and hike in and out. Q asked Rusty to carry him, and Rusty (softy that he is) said “sure.”

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At church I received this adorable Valentine gift from my visiting teachers.

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For lunch we had spaghetti with heart noodles.

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The afternoon was spent trying to keep everyone occupied and happy with family game time. First we played Disney Scene It. Everyone was split into teams of two. Tyler and I were the winners. We know our Disney movies!

Then the kids played twister while I prepared our Valentine dinner and decorated the dining room.

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Roses from my Valentine ❤

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For our Valentine dinner we feasted on ham and cheese sliders, macaroni salad and mixed vegetables. Each diner received a box of Valentine chocolates that they enjoyed for dessert.

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We ended our night with devotional time before bed. After singing, scriptures, prayer and each sharing something we were grateful for that day we read our traditional Valentine’s Day story that we have been reading every Valentine’s Day since Gracie’s 1st grade teacher introduced it to us :

Porcupining:  A Prickly Love Story


Our Valentine’s Day might not have had the makings of  Hollywood romance movie but it was  day filled with much love.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Patchwork Farm!


Happy, Healthy Hearts


On Wednesday we celebrated Valentine’s Day with our home school co-op friends. I am so grateful that we joined this co-op 10 years ago. It has provided us with wonderful experiences, lasting friendships, and many holiday parties. When we found our co-op group, we found the missing piece to our home schooling puzzle. Through our co-op the kids have had the socializing opportunities that so many people ask about when they hear we home school. 😉 My kids have had the chance to make wonderful friends with like-minded families and I have had the chance to bond with an amazing group of women who walk the same road. They have become my confidants and safe ears to share with, laugh with, and cry with through all sorts of challenges.

Through our co-op the kids have had an opportunity to sit in a classroom of peers and experience the traditional school environment of note taking, hand raising, and having a teacher they don’t call “Mom.” As a group we have gone on a myriad of field trips, planned end of year picnics and have given the kids the missed holiday experiences that the public school children speak so highly of…particularly, the Valentine exchange. 🙂

This year the theme chosen by the moms in charge was a “Heart Healthy Valentine.”

The school day began with our usual schedule of science, history and art being taught for the first 3 hours. The party began after lunch.

The kids were broken into two groups…a younger group of students: 7th grade and down,

The little kids...

The little kids…

and the big kids: 8th grade and up.


The big kids had a separate party and a fun game to participate in. The women in charge of the big kids created a life-sized “Candy land” sort of game. The theme though was “heart healthy”, so as the teams’ game pieces (played by the kids) moved around the board they had to answer first aid questions or do different exercises.

The big kid party.

The big kid party.

Gracie as a game piece. She landed on "wiggle for 2 minutes."

Gracie as a game piece. She landed on “wiggle for 2 minutes.”

Molly (on the yellow team) waiting her turn.

Molly (on the yellow team) waiting her turn.

The kids had a lot of fun with it. Gracie’s team ended up winning.

The little kids had their party in the gym. They also had a game. Theirs was a “tic tac toe” game that involved taking turns tossing bean bag hearts onto “tic tac toe” squares. The opposite team had to perform whatever task the bean bag landed on.

Tossing bean bags.

Tossing bean bags.



There were a variety of exercises and health activities.

Sit-up time!

Sit-up time!

Drawing out a healthy meal on paper plates.

Drawing out a healthy meal on paper plates.

At the end of the game the kids gathered in a circle to hand out their Valentine’s Day cards.

The valentine exchange.

The valentine exchange.

Everyone was eager to show off their boxes.


After the cards were exchanged, the awards were handed out for the boxes. This year the Valentine boxes were judged by category. The four categories were: science, history, art and music, with two winners in each category.

Rusty's box

Rusty’s box

Rusty was one of the science winners. He did a box based on Benjamin Franklin and his kite experiment.

The two science winners.

The two science winners.

The party was a success.

The prize!

The prize!

Everyone left with happy hearts…

and healthy ones too! 🙂