The Nutcracker Ballet

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On Friday we kicked off the month of December and the start of the holiday season with a visit to the ballet.

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21st Century Cyber Charter School planned a field trip on our side of the state to see a production of The Nutcracker Ballet. When we saw that it was in New Castle, at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, as opposed to downtown Pittsburgh and that the cost of tickets were only $3.00/person, we jumped at the chance to attend.

The girls were excitedly anticipating the show and the boys were excited to see their friends and teachers. Only Tyler was dead set against our trip to the ballet. He insisted he would not be attending and when I explained he had no choice and must go with the family he let me know he planned on keeping his eyes closed the whole time because, “ballet is gross!”

Even sharing the fact that some of the best football players take ballet lessons to improve their skills on the field only led to him deciding a football career in the NFL was no longer in his future and that instead he would be a professional soccer player when he grows up.

I told him that he would be going and that I wanted him to at least give the show a chance before making a judgement. The big kids and I coerced and teased a little with promises of sword fights, stunts and a big explosion.

Even with all the groundwork laid I knew how the whole thing would probably play out and made sure my cell phone was fully charged and open to the “Candy Crush” game before the show began…

You know, just in case!

On Friday morning we woke and got ready to leave by 9:00 am. Molly insisted that we dress appropriately for the ballet and ignore the casual business dress code on the invitation in favor of  nicer church dress.

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We arrived at the beautiful venue with twenty minutes to spare and enjoyed seeing all of our co-op friends as well as the school teachers in attendance.

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When the doors opened we filed inside to find the seats reserved for our school group. We joined hundreds of other school students from local schools for this performance of New Castle Regional Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker.

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The show began and we were pleased by the impressive caliber of talent found in this regional ballet troupe. The majority of the dancers were children with the exception of some of the professional lead dancers. The littlest preschool aged dancers were particularly delightful dressed as mice, scampering around the stage.

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Tyler made it about 30 minutes into the show before I had to pull out Candy Crush… which means he lasted about 28 minutes longer than I expected.

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He did look up when a canon fired on stage and Ozzie asked it that was the “big explosion” we were joking about the day before.

After intermission Ian, the friend that Ozzie made while at the Sky Zone outing, found Ozzie in the crowd and asked if he could come sit with him and his mom for the second half of the show. Ozzie was thrilled!

The show was wonderful and the kids (with the exception of Tyler) were glad that we went. After the show we gathered our co-op group in the lobby for a group picture for the yearbook before we all headed home.

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We had to be home by 2:00pm to meet a school phycologist that was coming to the house to reevaluate Grace for the last and final IEP update before college.

We are so glad we attended. It was a beautiful performance and a great way to kick off the Christmas season!

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Meeting Santa and Merry Fun

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Our time in Michigan was magical. It was so much fun catching up with my sister and making memories with her darling family. We fit in a lot of fun during our short time there, including a trip to the movies where half our large group went to see the new Disney movie, Moana, and half went to see the Harry Potter spin-off, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Another morning Kelly and I snuck away for a few hours to go grocery shopping and out to breakfast without children. Toby and Tom graciously offered to take care of the kids on Saturday morning so Kelly and I could enjoy some uninterrupted sister time. It was wonderful. We went to a cute little café in downtown Gaylord for breakfast and enjoyed our first uninterrupted conversation in what feels like years. We talk regularly on the phone but our conversation is always sprinkled with interruptions by crying kids, having to break up fights between boys, stopping to clean up dog vomit, or yelling over a smoke alarm going off. Somehow we manage to stay connected and plugged into each other’s lives despite the lack of deep, meaningful, extended conversations. We take whatever minutes we can to connect before we are pulled away to parent, recognizing this is simply the season of life we are in.

So to get to sit and visit uninterrupted for an hour, while enjoying a meal that we didn’t prepare, was a blessed gift! And we loved every minute of it!

The following morning Kelly was able to enjoy another morning out, this time with her husband.

Kelly and Tom went out for a breakfast date on Sunday morning after we insisted they take advantage of babysitters being in the house. As you might imagine, being parents to 5 little ones doesn’t allow for a lot of date nights. We are blessed to have babysitter-aged children now, but Kelly isn’t quite to that stage yet, so we shooed them out the door to enjoy some time alone before we left to go home.

On Saturday night we all went out together. Treetops Resort, a golf/ski resort in the area, was having a light-up night. They were offering all sorts of fun holiday activities free to the public so we decided to head on over to check it out. It ended up being a really, really fun evening.

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When we arrived we discovered different stations set up for the kids. The resort had gone all out to make the evening magical for its guests and the generosity they showed the community with this free event was impressive.

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Santa was there and Lydia, Ozzie, Nate, Sammy, Noah and Charlie all took a turn talking to the jolly fellow and letting him know what was on their wish list. Ozzie, in his Ozzie-like style, was very specific as he told Santa his top 3 gift wishes, including make, model, and where they could be purchased, sounding much like the little boy in The Christmas Story expressing his desire for a Red Ryder BB Gun.

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After everyone had a turn with Santa we began working our way around the lobby making Christmas crafts:

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Assembling marshmallow snowmen:

And waiting in line to get a custom balloon from the 12 foot tall elf.

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The balloon man could create 500 different possibilities and the kids all picked unique creations. The little boys all chose various weapons including swords, bow and arrows, and bazookas, so the could battle when they got home.

Rusty chose a Christmas wreath, Molly a rose, and Grace a hippo, in honor of the classic Christmas song, “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”

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After everyone had completed the activities inside we headed outside for free donuts and hot cocoa/cider by the bonfire.

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It was magical and put everyone in the Christmas spirit.

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We ended our magical evening with a horse drawn carriage ride around the resort. Everyone was bundled under blankets as Christmas music played softly in the front of the carriage and we talked and laughed under the cold, starry night.

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It was my favorite moment of our Michigan visit.

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It was a great trip. We loved spending the holiday with my sister’s family and loved getting time with Toby. His absence has been hard on everyone so to get a stolen weekend with him after weeks a part was a treasured blessing.

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, let the Christmas season begin!

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Fun on the Ice

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On the Friday following Thanksgiving we made plans to get out of the house and take the kids ice skating.

Gaylord, Michigan has a fun Sportsplex in town that offers indoor ice skating and an indoor swimming pool. We had never gone before, given the fact that we have always visited Kelly during the warmer months of the year and our time is usually spent enjoying all the lakes and outdoor activities in the area.

Visiting in the winter months makes our usual stomping grounds inaccessible so we were looking for an activity we could do that would get the kids out of the house and allow them to burn off a little energy.

Kelly suggested ice skating. That day the Sportsplex was offering “family skate” from 1:30-3:30 pm for a cost of $3.00/person.

We bundled the kids up and loaded into our van. Our 12 passenger van fit Kelly and I and our 10 children perfectly, allowing us to drive together rather than take two separate vehicles.

On our way to the Sportsplex we stopped at the Gaylord Elk Park to see the elk, a must see stop every time we visit the Kirks. We lucked out and found a couple of the big bucks right near the fence line. The kids fed them fallen leaves through the fence and were able to touch their antlers.

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There is something thrilling about seeing these creatures up close.

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From there we drove over to the skating rink.

After paying to get in we began the monumental task of getting everyone in the right sized skates and getting everyone laced up.

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Then it was time to head onto the ice. Kelly and I stayed on the sidelines with Noah and Charlie.

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This duo had fun climbing up in the stands, playing “Ring around the Rosie…BANG,” and making faces for the camera that they immediately wanted to view and view again.

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They are such funny boys!

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The oldest 8 kids took to the ice. Some had previous skating experience…

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While others were on the ice for the first time.

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The rink offered walkers for new or unexperienced skaters. These walkers allowed skaters to lean on something steady as they worked out the coordination of moving across ice.

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Grace paired up with Nate, helping him as he skated for the first time,

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And Molly paired up with Sammy.

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Rusty, Lydia and Tyler had fun zipping around the rink.

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Ozzie was the one who surprised me most. As a new skater he took to skating far more easily than I anticipated, choosing to forgo the walkers and just learn on his own. He did wonderfully!

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Everyone had blast and at the end of our two hour skating window

exited the ice with pink cheeks, sore ankles, and big smiles on their faces.

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Pie Face

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Our time up in Michigan was filled with family fun and laughs. Some of our time was spent exploring the area and participating in fun, inexpensive activities near Kelly’s home, while the rest of our time was spent just hanging out at Kelly’s house and letting the kids play.

The cousins all get along so well. The boys (There are 6 little boys between Kelly and I)spent countless hours in the playroom having swordfights, playing spies, Star Wars, or preparing for the nightly plays they would perform for the adults.

The 3 big kids had fun staying up late, after the 5 youngest lay down for bed, for movie and fun snacks with Lydia, Kelly’s oldest daughter.

The adults also eagerly looked forward to 8:30 when the younger kids were in bed and we could enjoy uninterrupted adult conversation while playing cards or watching movies.

While in Michigan we took advantage of our time together to celebrate the birthdays that had passed since we last saw each other. Our infrequency of visits often results in the “lumping” of birthday celebrations. This visit we celebrated everyone who had turned a year older between the months of August and November… which was Tyler, Lydia, Noah, Rusty and Sammy.

Tyler received a basketball hoop from the Kirks that hangs over a door. He was thrilled and it provided constant entertainment while at the Kirk’s.

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Rusty also received a PERFECT gift: the book, “One Little Spark” all about becoming  a Disney Imagineer…

Rusty’s dream job!

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We bought Kelly’s kids board games. Lydia received Pie Face from our family and she was thrilled. She had played it at a friend’s birthday party and it was on her Christmas wish list. I was so glad to hear we made a good choice!

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After Thanksgiving dinner the kids begged to play.

It was a perfect game to pair with our dessert of Thanksgiving pies.

And because of Thanksgiving pies we had plenty of whipped cream on hand.

This game is a game of chance. There is no skill involved. It is all about luck. Participants place their face in the head cutout, in front of a plastic hand piled high with whipped cream, and take turns spinning a number that indicates how many times they have to turn the knob that controls the hand. The game is passed from player to player, with one never knowing if they will be the one to get pie in the face.

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Most the kids were eager to try.

Some where a bit hesitant until they saw the perk of participating…

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While the glory of winning is sweet. The taste of defeat is even sweeter…

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at least to these kids!

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Only Noah disagreed.

He wanted in on the fun…

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Until he got pie in the face…

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Then he decided he wasn’t a fan of this funny game.

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As for the rest,

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everyone had a lot of fun and we all enjoyed a lot of laughs!

Thanksgiving Blessings

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Toby is still working up in Michigan at my sister’s house. He knew he wouldn’t be done with their newly built garage and the addition to their home by Thanksgiving, so discussion soon turned to what the plan was for this upcoming holiday.

As we saw it we had three options: He could return home for a few days to celebrate Thanksgiving with us, we could celebrate the holiday apart so as to speed up his return home, or we could bravely venture north to spend Thanksgiving with him and my sister’s family in northern Michigan.

We always eagerly look forward to our visits to my sister’s home. Our families enjoy each other and meld beautifully, with cousins picking back up, after their time apart, as though no time has passed.

This was the first time, however, that we have visited during the snowy Michigan months. Most of our visits occur in late spring and summer time.

That made me a bit nervous.

Add to the winter travel challenge the fact the kids and I were doing it without Toby and with the three dogs…

Well,  I was feeling a little anxious when I pulled out of the driveway on Wednesday morning.

The GPS said the trip would take us 7 hours. It ended up being closer to 13 hours.

The first quarter of the trip was easy and uneventful as we moved through Ohio. During the second quarter of our trip we slowed down considerably as we hit Thanksgiving travel traffic around Toledo and Detroit. We crawled along for 3 hours. Once through holiday gridlock, our third quarter of the trip was filled with torrential downpours. As one who hates driving in the rain I thought things couldn’t get more nerve racking, but that is because I wasn’t far enough north yet…

The last quarter of our trip took hours. As we drove north the temperature dropped below freezing and all that rain soon turned to  ice and snow. That stretch of road from Saginaw, MI to Gaylord, MI was the most treacherous driving of my life. There was a group of around 50 cars moving together through the dark, creeping along the ice and snow covered highway at 20 miles per hour. SUVs and trucks far more capable and built for Michigan roads were spinning off the highway in front of us as I crawled along the snow-covered ice in my 12-passenger van that was not built for Michigan snows.

We made it and my heart was filled with Thanksgiving for safety and family.

I peeled by fingers from the steering wheel and we were greeted by barking dogs, excited niece and nephews, and the loving embrace of my husband. It was wonderful to see Kelly and Tom and their five kiddos, as well as see all the incredible work Toby has been doing on their home as he transforms their garage into a mudroom, bedroom and gorgeous family room.

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My sister also has a new addition…a silver lab puppy named Finn.

Finn and Olive were adopted into our families weeks apart. It was fun to compare Olive and Finn. Olive is a month older but significantly larger. She towered over him and he soon discovered that he could easily maneuver between her legs as they played.

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Later during our visit, while on a grocery run to Meijer’s, Kelly and I spotted dog outfits for sale. We couldn’t resist the urge to turn our puppies into winter stuffies, with Olive transforming into a penguin and Finn dressed as a polar bear, reminiscent of Kelly’s favorite childhood stuffed animal, Snow Bear.

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Thanksgiving Day was wonderfully relaxing. We spent the day catching up, eating delicious food, playing games, counting our blessings, and enjoying this incredible view:

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The snow appears a lot prettier when viewed from the living room window rather than through the van’s windshield!

The kids took advantage of the sticky snow and headed outside for some snow fun.

It was perfect snow for a snowball battle!

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It was a beautiful Thanksgiving Day and a perfect start to our Thanksgiving weekend in Michigan!

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(Stay turned for more Michigan fun)

What is new with you?

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The last week has been crazy but good. Here is a quick peek into all that has been happening in our neck of the woods!

  1. Last Wednesday was Waffle and PJ day at co-op.

 

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Here are some of our PJ crew.

 

We have themed days scattered throughout the year at co-op to liven things up and give the kids something fun to look forward to. PJ day is always a favorite…with Moms and kids, alike. The kids love an excuse to come in comfy pajamas and the fact that not having to get dressed means getting to sleep in a bit later. The moms love the fact that waffle or pancake days mean not having to pack lunches. Instead everyone brings an ingredient needed for the waffles, sides or drinks and during the third hour the moms start making waffles for the lunch hour.

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It’s a win/win for all involved!

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And the waffles were delicious.

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2.       This past Sunday Molloy received her second Personal Progress medallion. Personal Progress is a goal program for the young women of our church. This incredible program leads the girls through a series of activities and projects that help the girls develop and enhance certain values in their lives including: Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity, and Virtue.

The Young Women can begin working on the Personal Progress program when they are 12 years old.

Molly completed her Personal Progress booklet when she was 14, earning her medallion. (She choose the silver medallion.)

Following the completion of the booklet they can then earn an Honor Bee (a metal bumblebee charm to add to their medallion necklace,) that requires scripture reading and an additional 40 hours of community service.

After earning her Honor Bee Molly decided she wanted to complete the Personal Progress Program a second time. She has a great love for Personal Progress and it has proven to be a strengthening influence in her life, so for the last two years she has worked hard to earn a second medallion. (This time she choose gold.)

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Molly has put hundreds of hours of work into the program and we were so proud to see her be acknowledged this past Sunday for her efforts.

We are so proud of you Miss Molly, and the young lady you have become!

3.    This weekend Rusty spent time with my parents at the Homestead. When it is one of the kids’ birthdays my parents invite them to their farm to spend the weekend. My kids love this special one on one time with their grandparents. My folks make it special for the birthday kid by filling the weekend with activities tailored to that child.

With Rusty they went to see Dr. Strange, enjoyed Wooster’s “light up night,” and ate at his favorite restaurant.

Because we were traveling the country during the time of his actual birthday in October, this was a belated birthday weekend celebration. Rusty had a blast. I think he could get used to this whole “only child” way of life!🙂

On Sunday afternoon we all drove out to the Homestead to collect Rusty and celebrate his and Tyler’s birthdays with Mimi and Pop Pop. It was wonderful seeing them! We hadn’t seen them since before our trip in August, so it was wonderful catching up!

We had a delicious dinner,

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The boys opened their gifts from my parents (Who could not have picked more perfect gifts for both boys!)

And then played games and laughed…laughed…and laughed some more.

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It was a perfect evening!

4.  Tuesday, November 22nd was Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day.”

Two years ago, yesterday, we stood before a judge and legally adopted Ozzie into his forever family. It was a special day, indeed. Every year we celebrate both little boys’ adoption days, better known as their “Gotcha Days,” by allowing them to pick a fun family activity.

This isn’t something expensive or elaborate but rather an activity that they enjoy doing that they would like the family to do together. The personalities and interests of each boy drive the decision of how to spend this special day.

Ozzie has been looking forward to his “Gotcha Day” for months and has been changing his mind daily as to how he wanted to celebrate. For a while he talked of wanting to attend a construction machinery auction that was scheduled in Pittsburgh on the 22nd, then he was talking about the family spending the afternoon at the local junkyard checking out the abandoned cars, so I must say I really feel like I dodged a bullet when he finally settled on his chosen activity. He decided he wanted the family to have a Thomas the Train Netflix marathon while enjoying Munchies.

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Perfect!

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I was so glad he made the choice he did, especially given how crazy our day was yesterday with school, a doctor’s appointment, two therapy appointments, a Boy Scout advancement interview for Rusty, Olive’s 8:00 pm puppy training class, and packing to leave for Michigan the following day.

It he had wanted to go explore the junkyard for his “Gotcha Day” we would have made it happen, but I was so relieved I didn’t need to make it happen. A Thomas Train marathon with Munchies, while snuggled on the couch after a long day, was the perfect way to celebrate Ozzie and his joining our family.

Today we leave for Michigan where we will get to spend Thanksgiving with Toby and my sister’s family. We are all excited to see Daddy and to get away for a few days as we celebrate all there is to be grateful for,

because there is SO MUCH to be grateful for!

Fly High!

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Friday morning was spent “Flying High” at Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park.

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21st Century Cyber Charter School, the school that my oldest four children belong to, sponsored an Adventure Club activity in our area of the state.

The Adventure Club is one of 20+ clubs offered in the school. The school clubs can be teacher or student led and provide fun/social/learning opportunities for students in a variety of areas and covering a variety of interests.

Some clubs my kids have joined in the past include: Mural Club, Fandom Club, Photography Club, Lego Club, Epic Gaming Club, and Adventure Club.

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Adventure Club is run by the P.E. and health teachers at 21cccs. This club offers monthly activities around the state reflective of their club name. Outings include things like hikes, snow tubing, and white water rating. Because the teachers try to provide opportunities for students all across the state of Pennsylvania to attend there is usually one or two outings offered in the Pittsburgh area throughout the school year.

This past Friday they offered a Adventure Club activity at Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park an hour away from us.

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We have been to this Sky Zone before on two previous field trips with other cyber schools in past years. Everyone enjoyed themselves and were eager to return!

The outing was scheduled to last for three hours: 30 minutes for lunch, two hours for jumping, and 30 minutes for extra credit work.

When we arrived the kids all signed in and put on their special gripping socks for jumping.

(Look at Rusty’s feet size in comparison to Molly’s on the left and Grace’s on the right.)

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As we waited for our two hour jump time to begin the kids were given worksheets containing word problems relating to the math and physics of the Sky Zone activity that they could work on and fill out for 25 bonus points to be applied to their math grade.

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All the kids who are taking a PE or Heath class could also get credit for one of their lessons in exchange for participating.

It was a win/win…a fun activity PLUS class credit!

At Sky Zone there are four different areas for guests to enjoy. There is an open jump area that contains many connected small trampolines that join together to make a huge, open jumping area.

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The sides of this room are lined with tilted trampolines that the kids can bounce and flip from.

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There is a basketball area. This is a fun area for the kids, regardless of whether they are sporty or not. The trampoline base to the “court” allows for major NBA air and killer slam dunks.

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The foam pit is where the big kids spent the majority of their time. This area allows guests to bounce off trampolines into a big pit filled with foam cubes. The kids had fun flipping, spinning and flying into the foam.

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The final play area, and the place where Tyler spent almost his entire time, was the dodgeball court.

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This area is set up much like the large, open bounce room but is strictly for playing dodgeball. An employee of Sky Zone acts as referee as kids choose sides, grab the dodge balls scattered across the trampoline surface, and wait for the whistle to blow.

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Tyler made a best buddy in the dodge ball arena. Mr. Galette, a PE teacher at the kids’ school, became the object of Tyler’s attention and admiration when he discovered the dodge ball skills Mr. Galette possessed. Tyler followed him around, wanting to be on the same team as “Hey, Teacher!”

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Ozzie also made a friend. While bouncing in the large room Ozzie befriended Ian, another 6th grader who reminded me so much of Ozzie. Together the two of them bounced for two hours while quizzing each other on weather facts and geography trivia. It was a buddy match made in heaven!

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When Ozzie spotted me on the sidelines he pulled Ian over to introduce me to his, “Best friend, Ian.” Needless to say, Ian’s mom and I exchanged contact information, both thrilled with the connection the boys made.

The activity ended with a mannequin challenge, a  popular challenge that is making the rounds on social media. The kids and teachers posed in frozen positions to look as though they were mid-game when time stood still,

while someone with a video camera moved through the sea of frozen bodies capturing a moment frozen in time.

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It was neat to watch as students chose creative, still poses to represent a day full of motion.

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Everyone left with tired muscles and sweaty faces.

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Blitz on the Bay

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Tyler did not play football this year.

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We spent the bulk of little league football season traveling around the country. As a result Tyler was not a Blackhawk Cougar during the 2016 season. That was definitely a downside of the trip for Tyler who lives and breathes football.

So you can imagine his thrill when midway through our journey west the coach texted Toby to invite Tyler to play in a special one time game in Erie called, “Blitz on the Bay.” This special  game was scheduled for November and would be played against the McDowell Trojans. Playing in the “Blitz on the Bay” would allow Tyler to join up with his teammates for this one time game..

In preparation for the big game the boys had eight practices in the two weeks leading up to the game. Tyler loved these evening practices with his coaches and friends and they provided a great outlet for some of the anxious energy that came with Toby leaving.

Tyler is a different child during sports seasons when he can release his hard emotions through strenuous physical exercise.

This special game had added appeal when Tyler found out that following the game the team and their families would be going to Splash Lagoon Indoor Waterpark as a group.

Toby was able to come home for the game and Tyler could not be more thrilled!

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The day was a needed distraction at the end of a hard week.

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Jerseys were ordered for each of the boys on the team. Tyler’s team, made of boys from the Blackhawk and Chippewa leagues, had special jerseys with their combined team initials: BCCI (Blackhawk Cougars/Chippewa Indians)

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Tyler was also thrilled that this new jersey boasted his name on his back, unlike the typical game jerseys.

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It was a perfect day for football. And while the weather was a bit chilly for those sitting in the stands, it was perfect for the kids running up and down the field.

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It was fun to see Tyler play again.

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He is in his element when he is on the field, and we see a different side of our son when he is playing.

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Both teams were incredibly talented but in the end the Trojans were the stronger team, beating the BCCI team.

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After the game we headed with the team to Splash Lagoon Indoor Waterpark.

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We arrived at 4:00pm and the kids had 5 hours to play until closing. Tyler spent most of his time playing with his teammates in the ball pool. The ball pool is a large pool lined with basketball hoops and filled with small, floating basketballs.

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Tyler opted to ride most of the waterslides once and then spend the rest of the evening playing water basketball with his friends.

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The older kids went off on their own and rode all the water slides Splash Lagoon had to offer.

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In between riding the thrilling water slides they enjoyed soaking in the hot tub and floating in the lazy river.

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Toby and I decided to save the extra admission fees and not swim. Instead we found a table in the corner that was within view of Tyler and enjoyed a “date night” and a little adult conversation before Toby had to drive back to Michigan for work.

The kids had a good time. It was nice to escape for the day and by the time we got home from our 90 minute drive from Erie, Tyler was fast asleep.

It was a good day.

Be Kind

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What burdens are you carrying this day?

 

There are moments in life that shake you to the very core.

We call these:

“close call” moments,

“narrowly avoiding tragedy” moments,

“what could have been” moments,

“perspective changing” moments,

“come to Jesus” moments.

These seconds of life jar us from our complacency

and often change the very course of our journey.

We had a “kick you in the gut” sort of week.

I am not going to share what transpired this week. For the safety and protection and privacy of one of my children, I cannot share.

But I also can’t post light hearted photos and not acknowledge the fact that this was a week that changed our family. I blog to record our family’s story. The good moments, the hard moments, but mainly the victorious moments when God reveals himself in the midst of circumstances. I share our “Come to Jesus,” “We are not alone” moments to encourage and strengthen you in your own walk with the Lord and to help me remember to look for Him in my own walk.

The details of the experience are not important, but the lesson we walked away with, is.

You never know when life as you know it will change forever.

Tomorrows are not promised.

In a moment life as you know it can be flipped upside down or taken away.

Heavenly Father has been driving this message home through multiple events these last few weeks but powerfully brought this message to the forefront this last week.

The other message that has echoed powerfully in the midst of all that we went through this past week was the importance of kindness in our walk.

This message struck me time and time again as I carried a silent, unknown, heavy burden through daily living this week. As I moved through routine activities, as though all was well, I found myself looking at others, thinking to myself, “You have no idea the weight I am shouldering,”

While at the same time being struck with the realization that so many people that I was mindlessly interacting with were probably carrying an equally heavy, silent burden.

As friends, we often are very open and free with our words when discussing the minor irritations and frustrations in our lives. No place is this more evident than in the world of social media where the things we post highlights these irritations and give us a forum to commiserate. But when it comes to the hard stuff, the deep stuff, the life changing tragedies that are too personal and too raw to share, we are silent…

Understandably so.

Some things are just too vulnerable to share,

But it is important to remember that although we may not be “sharing” our heavy heartbreaks with each other, they are still there. Every person you meet is battling something hard in their life.

All of us move through life with some unseen load resting heavy on our weary shoulders.

carrying-a-heavy-load

Some will choose to talk about the weight they carry, while many will trudge ahead, silent in their struggle,

But ALL carry a load.

During certain seasons of our life the weight of those struggles find us bent over, unable to straighten up under the burden, while other times we walk with a lighter step. The weight of the load we carry ebbs and flows with time, and we can never be certain how heavy the load is on the shoulders of those who walk near us.

Knowing this…

Let us be more careful to not judge the walk of another. (For who knows, we may one day find ourselves shouldering a similar load.)

Let us be more patient with those we meet who seem to be standing still and not moving forward. (We never know how exhausting the burdens are that they carry.)

And let us be kind…

Oh, my friends, please let us be kind!

Let us encourage.

Let us cheer each other on.

Let us walk side by side.

Let us spent less time judging and more time loving.

When possible, let us lift some weight from another’s shoulders and lighten their load,

And if we can’t do that then let us at least take their hand, walk beside them, and let them know they are not alone.

Let us all be more kind.

brian

Christmastime in Pittsburgh

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pittsburgh

Two months ago I was asked to teach a class at our church’s Christmas workshop in November on things to see and do in the Pittsburgh area during the holidays. I was unable to teach so instead I handed over my notes of preparation to another lady who graciously stepped in to help. Although I wasn’t able to teach, I promised some friends that I would share the information I gathered so that they could take advantage of all the wonders Pittsburgh has to offer this time of year. And while this is just a sampling of what this area has to offer, I hope you find a new adventure to explore with your family this Christmas season!

(PS- Forgive the weird format. Something crazy happened when I transferred it from my word document)

Things to do in Pittsburgh at Christmastime:

 

  1. Light Up Night Pittsburgh– The unveiling of the city’s holiday decorations. This free event features music by national and local artists across several stages and genres, as well as the start of Pittsburgh’s favorite holiday attractions, an unveiling of the city’s holiday decorations, family-friendly activities and a special bridge lighting ceremony, all capped off by an awesome fireworks display.
  2. Date: November 18th.
  3. Location: Downtown Pittsburgh
  4. Cost: free
  1. People’s Gas Holiday Market– Inspired by the original German Christkindlemarket, this holiday market creates a picturesque shopping village in Market Square. Market Square will be transformed into a winter wonderland featuring vendors housed in Alpine-style wooden chalets, musical performances and a house for Santa Claus with a bay window, an ice-capped chimney and a candy cane entryway.
  2. Dates: November 18- December 23rd
  3. Location: Market Square…
  4. Cost: Free with the exception of purchases made.
  5. Extra Info: Receive a complimentary photo with Santa if you make a donation to the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.
  1. Carnegie Museum of Natural History/Art Museum- Tree Display!
  2. Dates: Dec. 5-Jan. 12
  3. Hours: 10:00- 5:00
  4. Location: 4400 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
  5. Cost: For admission to the natural history and art museum: $19.95/adults, $11.95/children
  1. Nationality Rooms- The Nationality Rooms are a collection of 30 classrooms in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning depicting and donated by the national and ethnic groups that helped build the city of Pittsburgh. The rooms are designated as a Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation historical landmark and are located on the 1st and 3rd floors of the Cathedral of Learning, itself a national historic landmark, on the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The various national, traditional, and religious holidays of the nations represented are celebrated on campus and the rooms are appropriately decorated to reflect these occasions.
  2. Date: Self-guided holiday tours beginning November 12th.
  3. Hours: Saturdays 9:00-2:30. Sundays 11-2:30.
  4. Location: 4200 Fifth Ave. Pittsburgh, PA inside the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning.
  5. Cost: Adults- $4.00/Children $2.00
  6. Extra info: a great stop within walking distance of Carnegie Museums and Phipps Conservatory.
  1. Phipps Conservatory- Winter Flower Show and Light Garden

The most magical time of the year arrives with the opening of Winter Flower Show and Light Garden on Fri., Nov. 25. Built around a whimsical “Snow Day at Phipps” theme, the changing exhibit rooms will feature topiary penguins, bears and reindeer frolicking in showcases of artful LED lights, decorated fir trees, whimsical props, colorful poinsettias, aromatic paperwhites, showy amaryllis and more. From snowball fights and ice skating to cuddly blanket forts, the displays will revive the wonder of a winter’s day of childhood play in guests of every age.

Adding to the festive atmosphere, in our Outdoor and Discovery Gardens, our biggest, best Winter Light Garden yet will sparkle with luminous orbs, trees and fountains, as well as a brand new tunnel of lights designed to imitate a twinkling winter sky. Garden Railroad will be on view too, taking you on a trip through 200 marvelous years of Pittsburgh history, brought to life with interactive buttons for children to push, and miniature living plants, shrubs and trees.

  1. Dates: Winter show begins November 25th
  2. Hours: Daily hours for Winter Flower Show are 9:30 a.m. – 11 p.m. and 5 – 11 p.m. for Winter Light Garden
  3. Location: One Schenley Park Pittsburgh, PA
  4. Cost: $17.95 for adults/ $11.95 for children
  1. PPG Wintergarden- (A free event in Pittsburgh) Here you will find:
  2. Spirits of Giving: See the splendor of the holidays come alive during PPG Place’s breathtaking “Spirits of Giving From Around the World” exhibit. This enchanting display of life-size Santas and original paintings captures a whole world of Christmas folklore and fantasy. The exhibit comes alive with a collection of original paintings, each depicting holiday celebrations around the world.

Capture memories of Christmases past in the Wintergarden where a tree larger than any from your childhood awaits you. Our spectacular 32-foot tree is surrounded by a showcase of gingerbread houses and Santas from around the world.

Hear a variety of seasonal music performed by area musicians daily throughout the month of December.

  1. ANNUAL GINGERBREAD DISPLAY/COMPETITION AND TRAIN DISPLAY-
  2. Enjoy Free Horse Drawn Carriage Rides

November-December

Highwoods proudly supports the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Get into the holiday spirit and experience downtown in a whole new way during a complimentary horse drawn carriage ride through Market Square.

Free Carriage Rides depart the Fourth Avenue side of the PPG Place Plaza Arrive early as rides fill up quickly.  No reservations needed.

  1. Pittsburgh Creche– Pittsburgh’s Crèche is the world’s only authorized replica of the Vatican’s Nativity Scene as erected in St. Peter’s Square. It opens on Pittsburgh’s annual Light Up Night in November and remains open through Epiphany in early January.

Each year an estimated two hundred and fifty thousand people stop to gaze at the life-like replicas and the manger scene that is the reason for the holiday celebration. The Crèche has become an attraction to downtown Pittsburgh allowing residents and out-of-towners to connect their beliefs with the joy of the season.

  1. Dates: November 18- January 7th
  2. Hours: Wintergarden Hours: Monday-Thursday: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  3. Location: 1 Ppg Pl, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
  4. Cost: Free. Donations to Children’s Hospital are accepted.
  1. Skate at the MassMutual Rink at PPG Place– From late-November through February 26, the Plaza between Third Avenue and Fourth Avenue transforms into the MassMutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink at PPG Place, a spectacular one-of-a-kind outdoor ice skating rink.
    1. Dates: Opens November 18th and will remain open through February
    2. Hours: 11:00am- 10:00pm
    3. Location: Between 3rd and 4th Ave, Pittsburgh
    4. Cost: Adults/ $8.00, Children/ $7.00
  1. Macy’s Christmas Windows– Stop by and take a peek at Macy’s beautiful Christmas window displays at 400 5th Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

A few facts about the windows:

■ The display is a tradition that dates back more than 100 years.

■ Past themes include: “The Nutcracker,” “Journey of a Letter to Santa,” “The Magic of Making Iconic Christmas Elements” and “Cinderella.”

■ The team of carpenters, machinists, artisans and animators spend 35 weeks working on the scenes.

■ In the early days, the animated holiday scenes were powered by employees taking turns walking on a treadmill below the windows to keep them in motion.

■ Downtown visitors can view this year’s holiday display through Jan. 7.

  1. Carnegie Science Center Miniature Railroad Village– Take a walking tour of western Pennsylvania at the world-renowned Miniature Railroad & Village®.

This beloved exhibit’s story began in 1919 with a man named Charles Bowdish of Brookville, Pa. Originally a holiday display on the second floor of his house, it moved to the Buhl Planetarium in 1954, and ultimately found its final home at Carnegie Science Center in 1992.

The Miniature Railroad & Village® features hundreds of wonderfully realistic animated scenes that illustrate how people lived, worked, and played in our region during an era spanning the 1880s to the late 1930s. A replica of Crawford Grill, the renowned Hill District jazz club from 1937 to 1951 is the latest gem added to this extraordinary display.

More favorites include Fallingwater, Forbes Field, Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler’s Knob, Luna Park, Sharon Steel Mill, Manchester Farms, and a historic Pittsburgh incline, to name a few.

  1. Dates: The miniature railroad will re-open on November 17th.
  2. Hours: Sunday – Friday 10 am – 5 pm Saturday – 10 am – 7 pm
  3. Cost: $19.95/adults and $11.95/children

 

Things to do Beaver County during Christmastime:

 

  1. Old Economy Village- Christmas at the Village: Step back in time and visit a 19th century Christmas village.

Walk along a candlelit cobblestone street and window shop in the various stores that contain interpreters eager to show off wares from this time. People looking for last minute gift ideas will find unique handmade items for sale by vendors. Local choirs will be performing . Children’s crafts and activities along with Belsnickel (Pennsylvania Dutch Santa Claus) will be found in the Granary.

 

  1. Dates: December 3rd and 4th
  2. Hours: 2:00pm- 9:00pm
  3. Location: 270 16th St. Ambridge PA
  4. Cost: $10.00/adults, $6.00/children

 

  1. The Harmony Museum– The Harmony Museum’s annual WeihnachtsMarkt, a Christmas market in the German tradition that has become a major regional attraction, will be held on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 12 – 13th in the heart of Harmony’s National Historic landmark District.The festival has also become the museum’s prime annual fundraiser while presenting seasonal gift-shopping in a family-fun atmosphere. The thousands of visitors who attend each year find handcrafted and German imports. Artisans and vendors are chosen to participate based on the quality of their offerings; no stereotypical “shopping mall festival”stuff here. Entertainment, food and refreshments also reflect Harmony’s German heritage.
    1. Dates: November 12th (11:00-6:00) and 13th (12:00- 4:00)

Location: 218 Mercer St. P.O. Box 524 Harmony, Pa 16037

Cost: Adults/ $7.00 and $3.00/children

  1. Christmas on Main Street – Volant Village  Saturday, Nov. 12th  10am-6pm                  Sunday, Nov. 13th  12pm-5pm

Saint Nick arrives in a horse drawn carriage to open the Christmas season in an Old Fashioned way. Great Holiday shopping, breakfast & pictures with Santa, strolling carolers, musicians, carriage rides on Main St and much more!  Fun for the whole family.           Saturday   10am-5pm

9am          Breakfast with Santa– Neshannock Creek Inn.  Reservations 724-533-2233 $5/child & $7/adult 10-5pm     Farmer’s Market – Warm Amish donuts, baked goods, canned goods & quilts – Volant Mills                         Kettle Corn, Hot homemade Apple Dumplings & ice cream – Volant Mills’ courtyard                         Grannies Kitchen food truck – Volant Mills’ parking lot 12pm        Santa arrives by carriage with local carolers, candy & elves- front of Mill 1-5pm      Carriage Rides – next to Kitchen Shoppe $5/person 12:30-5     Meet & Greet Santa at his workshop in Candy Cane Forest- behind Knockin Noggin Cidery  1-3pm      Lawrence County Brass Band – throughout the Village 3-5pm      Butler Notables Barbershop Quartet – throughout the Village Dusk        Outdoor movie “Elf at Santa’s Workshop”(dress warm & bring chairs) Knockin Noggin Cidery 7-9pm      Live indoor music– Knockin Noggin Cidery

Sunday    12pm-5pm

12-1pm    Christmas stories with characters – Knockin Noggin fire pit 12-5pm    Cookie walk– throughout the village.  Call 724-533-2983 for reservations. 12-5pm     Hot Apple Dumplings and ice cream – Volant Mills’ curtyard 12-5pm     Grannies Kitchen food truck – Volant Mills’ parking lot 2-4pm      Live harp music – Knockin Noggin Cidery

  1. Festival of Trees– Brady’s Run Lodge-
    1. Dates: November 24-December 4th
    2. Hours: Noon- 9:00pm
    3. Location: The lodge at Brady’s Run Park
    4. Cost: Adults- $6.00. Children- $3.00

Music and Shows in Pittsburgh at Christmastime:

 

  1. PNC Broadway:A Christmas Story: The Musical”
    1. Dates: November 22-November 27
    2. Location: Benedum Center (7th St. and Penn Ave. Pittsburgh, PA)
    3. Cost: Tickets starting at $26.00
  1. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre: “The Nutcracker”
    1. Dates: Playing through the month of December
    2. Location: Benedum Center (7th St and Penn Ave. Pittsburgh, PA)
    3. Cost: Tickets starting at $28.00
  1. Pittsburgh CLO: “A Musical Christmas Carol.”
    1. Dates: December 9- 23rd
    2. Location: Byham Theatre (101 6th St. Pittsburgh, PA)
    3. Cost: Tickets starting at $16.75
  2. Pittsburgh Symphony: “Holiday Pops”
    1. Dates: December 9th-18th
    2. Location: Heinz Hall (600 Penn Ave. Pittsburgh, PA)
    3. Cost: Tickets starting at $22.00
  3. An alternate location to hear “Holiday Pops”:
    1. Date: December 15th (8:00pm)
    2. Location: Scottish Rite Cathedral, New Castle PA
    3. Cost: tickets can be reserved at http://pittsburghsymphony.org/src

Other things to see or do around the Pittsburgh Area:

 

 

  1. Santa Train at the Oil Creek Railroad: It’s over the river and through the woods for an enjoyable afternoon with Santa and friends, Christmas caroling and an opportunity to take photos with Santa. Children receive a special gift. Check out the special Train Shop where you can start your Christmas shopping for the trainenthusiast on your list.  Free hot chocolate and cookies upon your return to the Perry Street Station
  2. Dates: November 26th and December 3rd
  3. Hours: Train leaves at 1:00pm
  4. Location: Perry Street Station (409 S. Perry St. Titusville, PA)
  5. Cost: For the three hour trip: Adults/ $22.00 and Children/ $15.00
  6. Other things to know: Dress warmly. Reservations are recommended.

 

  1. Overly’s Country Christmas: Celebrate the season at Overly’s Country Christmas®, a nonprofit organization operated mainly by volunteers who are committed to creating holiday memories with a walk-around Christmas Village that’s filled with an array of old-fashioned traditions and treats.  Sing carols ’round the bonfire, revel in the model train display, have your picture taken with Santa (in the days before Christmas), take a horse drawn wagon/sleigh ride or shop for gifts in the C. Edgar & Sons General Store plus much, much more as you experience the warmth of this traditional Christmas Village!
  2. Dates: November 18 -January 1st
  3. Hours: 5:30 pm- 9:00 pm
  4. Location: 116 Blue Ribbon Ln, Greensburg, PA 15601
  5. Cost: $15.00/ car (Mon-Thurs) $18.00/car (Weekend)
  1. Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland- AMAZING drive thru musical Christmas light display.
  2. Dates: November 18th– January 8th.
  3. Hours: Dusk- 10:00pm every evening
  4. Location: 1127 New Castle Rd,  Prospect PA 16052
  5. Cost: $25.00/car

  1. Kraynak’s Christmasland– An amazing toy store with a Christmas walk thru display- From September 10th thru December 31st, Imagine a world of make-believe with twinkling lights, glittering trees, and a magical array of life-like characters. “Santa’s Christmas Land” is a 300-foot, indoor starlight avenue of uniquely designed artificial Christmas trees. Each tree has a specific theme that is enhanced and complimented by surrounding scenery and a cast of life-like animated characters.
  2. Dates: Now- December 31st
  3. Hours: 9:00 am- 9:00 pm
  4. Location: 2525 E State St, Hermitage, PA 16148
  5. Cost: FREE

Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights –  Since 1985 the Winter Festival of Lights has been delighting visitors of all ages! This annual holiday light show is one of the nation’s largest, covering more than 300 acres over a six-mile drive throughout the resort.

The Winter Festival of Lights was listed as one of the 10 Best Christmas Light Displays in the US according to AOL Travel. The show is also listed on the American Bus Association’s Top International Events, was named as a top 100 event by Eventcrazy.com and was recently listed as one of the top 200 events in the country by Discover America. The Festival of Lights was also featured on the Travel Channel’s Extreme Christmas Celebrations and was named one of the top 10 best holiday light and tree shows by HotelsCombined.com, a leading hotel search engine.

  1. Dates: November 11th– January 1st
  2. Hours: Dusk-10:00 pm
  3. Location: 465 Lodge Dr, Wheeling, WV 26003
  1. Visit the “A Christmas Story” house (Cleveland, Ohio)– A Christmas Story House, now restored to its movie splendor, is open year round to the public for tours. Directly across the street from the house is the official A Christmas Story House Museum, which features original props, costumes and memorabilia from the film, as well as hundreds of rare behind-the-scenes photos. Among the props and costumes are the toys from the Higbee’s window, Randy’s snowsuit, the chalkboard from Miss Shields’ classroom and the family car. After reliving A Christmas Story at Ralphie’s house don’t forget to visit the museum gift shop for your own Major Award Leg Lamp and other great movie memorabilia.
  2. Hours- Open year round 10:00am- 5:00 pm. Tours run every 30 minutes beginning at 10:15.
  3. Location: 3159 W. 11th St., Cleveland, OH 44109
  4. Cost: $11.00/ adults and $7.00/ children