Thursday, March 14, 2013

Making a Difference...Military Missions

Alright, I know it has been FOREVER since I posted. That's just how life is.  It happens.  And we don't always have time to write about it.  But after last night, I felt it was most important to write about this.  

So, since you last heard from us we have gone through many changes.  I suffered a serious illness that didn't allow me to homeschool my children anymore.  The kids are back in public school.  :(  No, we aren't thrilled about it, but it was a "must do" at the time and as I heal, I am slowly considering the transition back to homeschooling.  It's a tough choice though, because I don't like the yo-yo approach to schooling and don't think it is good to pull them back and forth.  Since they have adjusted (fairly well) to the public school system, I question if it's a good idea to pull them, only to put them back in at High School (it was always the goal for them to transition back at High School).  As I have watched their struggles to adjust, it concerns me to have them go through that once again a few years down the road.  But with the speed bumps we have hit this past year in public school, I'm beginning to think it's still really for the best.  This will take many prayers on my behalf to find the answer for the Clifford kids, but until then...let's get to the point of this post.  Cayleigh.  

Cayleigh has always suffered from anxiety (mostly social anxiety) so public schools have NEVER been her thing.  One day after surfing through the channels on our television, we bumped into a pageant show called "Toddlers and Tiaras"...I'm sure you are familiar.  Well, Cayleigh mentions to me, " I would like to do that."  You can image my surprise when this is the child that I had to literally drag into her classroom everyday as she clawed at the door frame with a death grip every day for months of both Kindergarten and first grade.  I asked why and she said, "to feel like a princess".  I could understand this line of thinking coming from her now as she has ALWAYS enjoyed dressing up and "modeling" in front of the family.  But this (a pageant) would be much more than family and I wasn't sure she could really get up there, but did see some good things coming from it in regards to facing her fears for something she really wants so I kept my mind open.  

One day, a paper came home from her school advertising a local pageant.  It said "Everyone wins a princess tiara".  I thought this sounded like the perfect pageant for her to try since no one really loses and she can test her foot in the waters of the pageant world.  Needless to say, she did it!  She was a nervous wreck the first time on stage and told me after that she was shaking the whole time, but she enjoyed it and wanted to do it again.  Many pageants later, she has fully blossomed on the stage and it has been a real confidence booster for her.  We have been very careful on what pageants we select and I as her mother have been extremely careful to send positive messages that just going on stage makes her a winner, it's about inner beauty as much as outer and showing that on stage shows through, smile and be confident, etc.  The first time she had to do a "Personal Introduction" she was scared, but now she does it with ease, therefore adding to her public speaking skills.  And last, we are enlisting only in "natural" pageants as they promote her natural beauty and don't encourage her to be more grown than she is or fake in any way.  What was an added surprise to us about the pageant world was the community involvement some of them have as well as charity work.  Many of you know I have always taught my kids to "Pay it Forward" as Cayleigh did in 2011 with her YMCA Spirit Campaiging where she raised over $900 herself through lemon-aid stands and a Comedy show!  

So, it only felt appropriate to get involved with pageants that "give back".  Last year, we chose the "Queen of the Commonwealth" pageant that benefits the Humane Society and Anti-Bullying.  It's a great system and we learned much through that system.  The girls and families were all very kind (not competitive or mean spirited in any way) and we have made MANY wonderful friends through QOC.  We also have learned that the director really makes the pageant what it is and Kelly Durham lets you know from the beginning what she expects from her girls...good sportsmanship, being a friend and example to others and community outreach are highly encouraged.  

This year, her older brother, Allan Thomas, was deployed to Afghanistan in January.  When we were looking for another great pageant system to get involved with for 2013, we ran into the Kentucky Beauties Pageant system.  We were thrilled when we found out their chairity involvement was with Military Missions, a non-profit that sends out care packages to deployed soldiers.  We knew that is was the one for us!  Cayleigh participated in the January preliminary in LaGrange.  She collected 1008 items to be packaged up in those very care packages.  She was tickled pink with herself to have won the "Kentucky Beauties Civic Queen" title, which means she brought in the most items from that pageant.  After the pageant, she told me that this crown was her favorite crown.  Not only because it "jingles" (dangling stones, lol), but really because in her own words, "she really worked for this one".  She knew the sense of pride difference from really earning that crown than the others she had won from her appearance on the stage.  That girl (yes, the shy girl with social anxiety) got out and pounded the pavement, knocked on doors and collected items and money all on her own.  With no fear.  I watched her knock and talk to people with such joy.  Something comes alive in Cayleigh when she knows she is helping others in need...she feels the joy of service.  And everything else (nerves) just goes away.  It reminds me of watching the stuttering Cuban boy on American Idol that can sing as smooth as Frank Sinatra when he is in his element, singing.  This is Cayleigh's element (although she does love singing, too!).  This is a safe place to her.  She knows she is doing good in the world and it fills her heart with a safe, protected joy.  It's a beautiful thing.

Cayleigh started asking questions about who actually shipped the items, how they got there, etc.  So I did some more research on the organization and found they had several events where people could come help pack up the boxes to be sent off.  The next one was the Easter care package drive and of course, she was ALL IN.  

We went there last night and she was so thrilled to be a part of such a wonderful organization.  The people were wonderful and the project was amazing. We asked one of the staff how many packages we were actually assembling that night and she told us, roughly 1800 packages!  That is a WHOLE LOT OF GOOD!  

Deployed soldiers have a very soft spot in our hearts.  Not only is her older brother currently serving, but we also had an amazing Brother-in-Law and Uncle that served and came back with PTSD.  We, and all those who loved him, lost him to suicide.  It's a great loss that our entire family, his extended military family and friends all suffer.  

Ben's Tribute Slideshow

We PERSONALLY KNOW the importance of simple thoughts, cards, packages and anything that may uplift a deployed soldier.  

So, in honor of Uncle Ben, Allan Thomas, and her father who served in the Army, Cayleigh CANNOT WAIT to hit the pavement again for this mission and plans to attend every package drive they hold.  When we drove home from Lexington last night, that child was so fueled up on "good" that she melted my heart.  Her heart is golden. I only hope that it is contagious to everyone touched by her.  

Pay it Forward.  Get involved. Make a difference.  


To help support Cayleigh in her efforts, please click on the GoFundMe Link below and show her that you care!  In return, she will make one card for every dollar that you donate.  So if you donate $25, she will make 25 handdrawn cards in your honor with your name on addition to the shopping for items with the $25.  She can generally buy 2-4 of the requested items on the list for every dollar that you spend!  Please give as generously as you can as she wants to ensure EVERY deployed soldier gets a care package.  At our last care package drive, she was so sad when we ran out of wipes and couldn't make any more packages.  Please help her to see that doesn't happen again!! Let's make her make 5000 cards and spend $5000 towards LOTS of items!!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Best Day of 2011~our 10 Year Vow Renewal! And the Bride wore...Black?!

So after much pondering over all the ups and downs that came with 2011 for our family, it was pretty easy for me to choose the BEST DAY EVER (as my yellow spongy friend would say!) for 2011.  :)

It was the day my husband and I renewed our vows.  Our 10th Anniversary celebration to each other.  We decided to do this for several reasons.  One, because we knew it would be a beautiful thing to re-certify our love for each other, to take time for the busy day grinder to tell each other just how much we mean to each other, Second, because we knew how amazing it would be to allow the kids to be a part of that, to teach them TRUE LOVE and ensure they have great examples of that so that they may find their soul mate one day and never settle, and last...because our first wedding we set up in Hawaii on Waikiki beach and it RAINED.  Yes, it rained.  So our wedding planner had a back up plan.  It was a beautiful little chapel not far from the beach.  We were a bit disappointed, because we really wanted it to be on the beach...but later realized the symbolism of being in any house of the lord and how important that really was to set the tone of our marriage. This was a SECOND CHANCE to a BEACH WEDDING...:)  The idea of that was so beautiful.  A Re-Do.  We loved the idea of planning all the things that meant something to us now and doing it all over again.  So, we went for it!  We had already been planning a trip to see my sister and her family in California, so why not do it there?  The kids and I arrived  a week early and as I learned rather quickly, there are no shortage of beaches.  So we scouted several recommended beaches and fell in love with none.  Then, my sister recommended La Jolla Beach.  This was the place.  It was gorgeous.  It had cliffs, rocks, beautiful beaches and truly took my breath away.  " La Jolla beach" is not enough as I soon learned.  It is very big with many different sub-beaches, if you will.  We thought we had settled on Shell Beach, but the day of the wedding, Allan and I took the Harley Davidson (our getaway vehicle) for a beach side ride.  We found an even prettier and romantic section of beach we had not seen before.  We took note of the crossroads, made everyone aware and as we are known to do, made a spontaneous change of location about an hour before the ceremony.  We later found out the name of this gorgeous spot...windandsea beach in La Jolla.  No doubt about it, this was the PERFECT beach for us.  

The day couldn't have been any more PERFECT.  The weather all week the week prior was in the low 60's and I knew on the beach that meant COLD!  But I swore we would be there no matter what this time...RAIN OR SHINE.  I was prepared to buy the umbrellas if that was what the forecast predicted.   Thankfully, it did actually predicted the warmest weather ALL MONTH....78 degrees!  We were thrilled.  All the stars aligned perfectly.  Even the photographer told me it was such a perfect day for a sunset and that most days out there it is so smoggy that the skies cast a gray wash across all images that are not pretty.  But not this day, it was CRYSTAL CLEAR and GORGEOUS.    It really set the tone for the most ROMANTIC DAY EVER for me.  So, for me, the best day of the year was this.  It will likely be the BEST DAY EVER for me.  Unless we can somehow top it in another 10 years for another re-Do.  But I'm not sure how.  Only time will tell.

I love you Allan.  I love my beautiful children.  I am so blessed to have met and married my SOUL-MATE.  

Here are some of my favorite images of that beautiful day.  Oh...yes, I wore black.  I know, I'm unconventional.  Conventially so, I'm told ;).  


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Kids Halloween Party {Frankenbash 2011}

Every year we have a Halloween party (well for at least the past 5 years)...when we were actually official Haunted House owners (previously), we didn't have the time to do much around our house or for our kids at all (one of the many reasons for our Hiatus in the haunted industry biz)...but we are definitely enjoying that time of year with our kids and family friends now.  The only thing we are having a difficult time doing is housing everybody!  It's also very hard to narrow it down like we have to.  I think we need to figure out how we can make this thing global next year, LOL.  Until then, here are some pics of our fun night.  Allan and the missionaries in our area scared the kiddies with the backyard haunt....

They also worked the touch and feel table, LOL.  When looking at the pictures of kids screaming by a table, it was when they touched the "witches hand" and were greeted by a moving, grabbing hand...very funny stuff!  Some other things they got to feel:  "Cat's Eyes", "Dried Maggots", "Cockroaches", "Bat Bones", "Monster Flesh", "Ghostly Gas", "Ghoul Guts", "Werewolf fur" and more!  If you think you know what they were ACTUALLY feeling, comment below and I'll tell ya if you are right!  :)

We played lots of games like the "Hand Toss" where they actually threw fake hands of all types in a witches cauldron, 

Pin the eye on the Monster, Count the candy, sort the candy, musical gift exchange and Halloween Pictionary!  I set up a spot in my in-home Photography Studio to take spooky Halloween Portraits of everyone in their costumes for the year.   Much cooler than school photos each year, LOL....Below are the ones of my family.  


I think my favorite portrait of the night was Justin's (a family friend).  Not sure if it is because I have always been a "Freddy" fan, or if it is the way the light spills just so across his face and glove.  Either way,  I think about this one first when I think of all the portraits I took that night. :)

For those of you wanting to know how I got the spooky, dramatic lighting for these, I just used 2 studio lights in my in-home studio, a black backdrop and an diffusion umbrella.  The umbrella was placed to the subject left side to allow the light to "spill" across one side of the subject.  The other light was placed just behind give them the rim light they needed as to not blend in with the background (especially the all black costumes such as Logan..the Grim Reaper).  Just let me know if you need more details or maybe a pull back shot for these :).

The Grab bags were loads of fun as witches broomsticks that I made from sticks around the yard and brown paper lunch bags (I love me some Martha {Stewart} and thanks so much for the idea...but this one can be handmade {DIY} and the kits just are not a necessity).  

Comment below if you have any questions on how to make them or anything else regarding the party...(Touch and Feel table, spooky portraits, recipes and how we manage the games with 28 kids in our house ;)...we are getting close to mastering the flow ;).  Hope everyone had a GREAT Halloween and THANK YOU to those who came and enjoyed the festivities with us.  We Heart U!  To view the complete gallery of images taken that day, go here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

New FREE Fall Homeschool Unit Study with Lapbook!

Leaves are Falling Everywhere...…
Alright, so I knew I LOVED Pintrest when I stumbled across it, but now that I have found this easy way to organize my unit studies with them, I am THRILLED!  Not a member of Pintrest yet?  Join it NOW.  It’s amazing.  It is a GREAT way to ‘pin’ all the great ideas you find on the net all on one large virtual wall.  You can organize them by ‘boards’ and you can easily ‘re-pin’ others pins that you love.  You will be addicted, I promise…but your life will be for the better.  Wanna check out my boards? I  have many great finds!  Go ahead and check them out! 

Anyhow, here is my FALL UNIT STUDY that I put together for my little Homeschoolers (Elementary ages).  You can’t access this until you become a member…it’s FREE…No worries.   If you don't know how it works, just click on the image you are interested in to see it larger.  To view the source page with all the details, simply click again! 

Not only does it have GREAT Fall crafts and printables, but it has a complete FREE Fall Lapbook.  If you have never completed a lapbook with your kids, you should really start now.  It is such a great way to document their learning and hard work.  It beautiful tangible proof of what they are learning.  And they LOVE to create them!

If you haven't read my previous posts last year around this time, you really should...the Skeleton/Human Bones lapbook and Egypt/Mummy lapbook and Unit Study were our favorites to date!

One more thing---my FAVORITE easiest Pumpkin Cookie recipe is listed in here so that makes it worth the trouble alone, LOL

Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Gardening Homeschool Style...Peace. Love. Organic Baby!

Gardening With the Kids 
Okay, so time to play catch up.  Just so you know now, no matter how hard I try, I will never be that awesome blogger that has something new to post every day.  Quite frankly, I probably really do have something interesting to cover each day, but because of so much that goes on in our home each day, I struggle to find the time to actually sit down and write about it.  I am trying to look at this as a way to journal, a way to document our lives, who we are, what we learn out there in this gigantic world that we are such a small piece I promise to keep trying to get better.  Especially for those of you that take the time to read all this jargon, LOL.  I hope that something good will come from you wasting those precious moments of your life reading about mine.  I promise to always try to give something in that hopes that someone else can learn something as we learn.  Or maybe just get a good laugh at how crazy things can be around the Clifford home (I recently overheard a few families talking at my child's birthday party about how they should make a reality show for my family, stating that they would watch it.  I'm not sure if that is good or bad, but at the very least, it must mean we are interesting! LOL)  Since at this time there are no networks knocking down my door to hear about all the weird little things that seem to encircle us and the hectic craziness that is filled with pure love, this is the closest thing you can get to my reality show.  For now, I will leave you with images of the summer unit we covered.  Gardening.  Yes, it was our first time...yes, I think we were wildly successful considering we didn't plant until late June and we had a few tornado winds that taught us a thing or two about corn crops (I truly feel for those farmers).  All in all, we learned so, so much and felt no more fulfilling joy than eating something we grew with our own hands, in our own yard and picked fresh before a meal to truly experience all the benefits of eating a living thing.  :)  Did I connect with my inner hippie on this one?  Definitely.  Will we be doing it again?  You betcha!  Growing and eating your own food tastes so much better than anything you can buy at a store, restaurant or even a farmers market.  It is like another baby of yours.  You nurture it and love it for the purpose of providing nutrition for you and your family.  That's love, baby...organically.   
 Enjoy some of the images I took over the summer of our gardening experiences.  Feel free to ask any a beginner, I did have my "experts" to consult with.  Never would a sprout have blossomed without their words and help.  :)

This is the ANYONE can grow a vegetable and fruit garden...even Kids!

The Space :)

The Experts...

Thank Goodness for Awesome Friends!

They were so kind as to help me prepare the soil by tilling, mixing in things to help aerate and enrich my clay like soil (like sand, peat and manure)

Then we made rows of soil and in between we layered pea gravel and black sand 4 times to give me something nice to walk on besides mud when the garden was watered or rained on.  :)

Yes, there is a reason you cannot see my is HOT.  Mid-June, Kentucky...SWAMP THING...need I say more?!

With my youngest boy, Gabe here installing the tomato plant cages.  For those of you who don't know.  Tomatoes are climbers and they need support.

These are just basic tomato plant cages from Wal-Mart ($3).  After I saw how much my tomato plants grew this year, I could see that they really needed taller, better supports.  I snubbed the $10 trellis type stands for them thinking they were too expensive, but knowing how much I love tomatoes and realizing how much they could have grown with better support...let's just say I won't cheap out on them next year.  :)

Once we planted our starter plants, we staked out soaker hose through each row for easy watering.  The kids and I lined the garden with the lovely creek rock we have all around our house.   I also decided to put some chicken wire all around since my neighbor told me all about the bunnies that ate up her garden last year.  My expert friends also told me that we could line the bed with marigolds and that would keep them away, but I didn't have much luck with the Marigold seeds I planted so this would have to do :)

 I got a bunch of paint stirring sticks and labeled each sproutling and starter plant.  i didn't trust myself to remember what everything was.  But really, as everything grew, it was pretty obvious what everything  Maybe I just like order.  :)  Well, the kids liked sticking the sticks in the rows anyway ;)

after watching my "expert" friend walk the rows barefoot, I was inspired to snap an image.  How connected he felt to mother earth while he gardened was such a blessing to watch.  :)

So yes, we bought a few starter plants for tomatoes,  peppers and a few other things that we found.  But we really wanted to plant from seed so we bought every variety we could find that we knew we would eat.  We bought a TON of these little seed starting pellets...Below is pretty much a "how-to" grow a garden from seed for beginners.  Easy peasy!
These things are GREAT.  Let your kids add water and watch their eyes POP as they Grow...
And grow...
We dug little holes in them and placed 3 seeds in each pellet.
We labeled each row so we knew how and when to transplant them.
Then we placed each tray on a shelf in our mega -score-yard-sale-find, the greenhouse :) 

Water every day and WAIT.  :)

What is this?  New growth!  We were thrilled!

 A few days later....yippee!  What fun!  The kids measured them and recorded them in their science journal each day.

Aren't they purdy?  These are the corn sproutlets.  Logan grew all of these and he was so proud!

Once they are tall enough and have established a good root system, it is time to transplant.  You plop the whole pellet into the ground just enough to cover.  The roots break through the soft mesh-like fabric and it becomes one with your garden from there.  Remember to water them well each day and help them establish their roots in your soil.  

Then we add our sproutlets to our garden in the spaces we reserved for them :)

I learned a lot about weeds.  I also learned this little guy is called "Wood Sorrell" and it is a tasty edible weed.  It has a bit of a citrusy flavor and it a perfect little flavor enhancer on fresh salads.  Thanks again, expert friends ;-)

*NOTE* A little something I learned about weeds.  They don't bother me as much as grass.  Most of the weeds were small and controllable.  I cannot say the same about grass.  It grew crazy fast and continued to try to take on my garden everyday.  The kids and I grew rather tired of pulling grass.  My friend suggested we smother it with newspapers.  And while that wasn't as aesthetically pleasing as I would have liked, it did the job very well and I didn't have to use a single chemical.  Yipee!

We really just had to go all around the border of the garden as that was where the problem started.  We shoveled heavy dirt over the top of it to keep it from blowing away in the wind.

Our little garden was thriving!  We were thrilled!  Our corn grew taller than our privacy fence :)

Corn silk!  Where there is silk, there will be CORN!  :)

Tomato Plant...did you know that where there is a blossom, there will be a fruit or vegetable?  Each of these blooms will soon be yummy delicious flavorful tomatoes!

So just when we were getting confident, the really interesting stuff happened.  Networks, are you listening?  Mega tornado winds hit.  My family was hiding in the basement while our sweet garden was taking the brunt of it.  We came out after to discover this...:(

Sadness.  Yes, there were tears.  All the kids were so discouraged.  But we had to dust ourselves off and do what any good fighters would do.  We tried to salvage.  We called in the experts.  They told us to tie up anything laying down with a strong string and anchor it to fence.  And pray.  lots.  So that is what we did.  
So much for aesthetics.  :(  But you do what you gotta do.   It looks like a giant spider spun a huge web in my garden.  Not to mention how much fun this is trying to get to everything when harvesting.  LOL  I feel a bit like a spy ducking and weaving through the laser traps.  As a matter of fact, that is exactly what my kids and I pretend we are doing while we navigate the garden now.  :)

So did all of our efforts pay off?  We did salvage much...but the corn took the hardest hit.  It never did come back like everything else did and eventually died off. We were lucky enough to get a few cobbs off before they actually gave up and Logan was very happy about that since he grew all the corn from seed.  

Boo-hoo...I feel like crying when I look at it.  Well, the good news is that we can use the dried corn stalks for fall decor around our home :)

So...enough about growing, maintaining, and salvaging.  Let's move on to the most colorful, rewarding part--The HARVEST.

Our first Cantaloupes. 

So I am not going to show you every bounty we collected, but they each were fruitful varieties like this, Usually every few days or so.  :)  We froze the peppers and used mostly everything else the day we harvested for salads and dinners.  We shared with the neighbors as well.  It was pure love baby!

As always, I like to show a bit of what the kids did when they grew tired of the work and needed a bit of play.  It's summer, right?!

The favorite of all...the tire swing.

Tori playing in her pink sand.  Yes, I did say it..PINK sand.  Thank you Crayola.

Logan climbing his favorite tree in the back overseeing the garden.  :)

Sprinkler under the trampoline+ neighborhood friends=forever memories!

And what does little Tori do when she gets tuckered out from all the madness?

Yes, she is still a diva!  We might as well be fanning her. ;)

And one final image to leave you with....

Silly, crazy rascals. :)



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