A Photo Dump


It is time for another photo dump.

photo dump

Every few months I find a build-up of photos from the small, everyday happenings of  life, piled up on my camera. Then I know it is time for a catch-up post. This is one of those times…

Gracie is thriving. Having completed her first semester of college, and well into her second, she has comfortably and confidently embraced this new season of life with enthusiasm and grace. She is loving her program and continues to find the study of American Sign Language fascinating and engaging. The result of her efforts came in the mail a few weeks ago. We are so proud of our college freshman!

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Ozzie also continues to thrive in his program. He has settle into a comfortable routine of school, therapy, and visits home that have provided the support he has needed, and he has blossomed under that added support. Over the last few months he has traveled a hard but poignant journey through his past trauma with the support of EMDR therapy, art and music therapy, animal therapy, various group therapies and regularly occurring sessions of TRE (trauma release exercises), all offered at this facility. This quarter he made the honor roll, has earned a perfect score on his daily behavior chart for the last six weeks, joined the school’s basketball team, and learned to cross country ski at this awesome treatment facility where he is receiving more intensive inpatient therapy. He is now reaching the end of his time there, having worked so hard in his healing journey, and will be coming home for good in 4-6 weeks. This inpatient stay wasn’t the path we planned for him, but God led us to the very place he needed to be to find the help he was desperately crying out for. How grateful I am for God’s hand in this journey and for this child I call my son.

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A few weeks ago our youth group had a fun joint activity for the young men and the young women. Following in the path of our cub scout troop they decided to offer a pinewood derby race for the youth. Car kits were ordered and the young men and young women were given free reins to be as creative as they wanted to be since they weren’t limited by the same guidelines as the scouts. There was no height or weight limit so they could do whatever they wanted.

Having helped my kids create 30 + pinewood derby cars over the years, between AWANAS, cub scouts, and youth races, I was relived that Molly and Rusty were old enough and independent enough to cut, sand, and paint their own cars, and I was able to simply enjoy the surprise reveal the night of the race.

Molly created a watermelon car:

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And Rusty turned his car into a pink E-racer. (So punny!):

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The youth had a blast!

For Valentine’s Day Grace surprised Molly and I with a galintine party (a Valentine’s Day celebration of the special gals in your life.) This occurred while Toby and Rusty were in Florida. We waited until Tyler and Ozzie were tucked in bed on Saturday night and then Grace pulled out her prepared treats…

We had fizzy cotton candy drinks

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And fondue with chocolate dipped cookie dough,

Which we enjoyed while watching Age of Adeline, one of our very favorite chick flicks.


A few Sunday’s ago, while driving home from church, we stumbled on this fellow near our house. It is not too often you find a beaver waddling along by the side of the road so we stopped to watch him. He seemed completely unconcerned about his growing audience as more cars slowed down to watch him. He eventually waddled away into the high grass, sending his spectators back on the road. It was quite a thrill for my kiddos.


The dogs were saddened to have missed “saying hello” to this waffle-tailed groundhog…



Olive, our 125 pound “lap dog.”

The girls are now approaching their one year anniversary of working together at the Philly Pretzel Factory. Grace is also in the process of applying for a second job through the state to work as a driver for a  client who also happens to be a dear friend of hers. Rusty, who is getting ever closer to driving independently, is now also on the hunt for a job. This week for his weekly one-on-one time with me, we worked on his first job application and then I drove him over to Handel’s Ice Cream to drop it off….Fingers Crossed!


We find ourselves in a season of “firsts.”

It seems that all the kids have been stepping out of their comfort zones and stretching themselves in new and exciting ways. As a parent it is thrilling (and a bit scary) to see them stretching their wings and launching.

All the time and work that has been invested into the last  two decades was for this end…to see them step out into the world as young adults and do amazing things in God’s name.

All three of my big kids have exciting things coming up ( more on that in another post) but the child who had probably grown more than any other this year is Tyler. He is in his renaissance and is blossoming in ways I worried he never would. Academically this has been his best year yet. Therapeutically he is making incredible strides and is gaining confidence and feelings of felt safety, all while getting more comfortable with verbalizing emotions rather than acting out on them. And socially he has blossomed as well. Tyler has found a special connection with three boys at church that he considers his best friends. These boys have been such a blessing to Tyler and as a mom my heart overflows with gratitude for their example, influence, and for the hand of friendship they have extended to my son. I look at my older three and the special friendships they  found as little children, friendships that continue to be a great blessing in their lives today, and I am so grateful Tyler has now found his “tribe,” close friends that will grow up with him.

This past week was one for the record books as Tyler had his first ever sleepover with one of these friends. (He requested all three boys but given the uncertainty of how Tyler would manage the night we started with him picking one friend) A sleepover might not seem a big deal, but for Tyler this was HUGE! Tyler struggles with horrible anxiety at night. Nighttime is a frightening time of the day given his past trauma. His tendency toward night terrors and overwhelming feelings of fear have made sleepovers impossible in the past, so when Tyler came to us requesting a sleepover with a friend, something that really testifies to his increased feelings of safety, his desire to be brave so as to not miss out of the social fun of having a friend over, as well as a reflection on this young man and the calm assurance his demeanor has on Tyler, we were thrilled.

The days leading up to the sleepover were filled with planning. Tyler came to me with a menu in mind and a schedule of fun. He knew exactly what he wanted and I couldn’t suppress my smile when he gave me my shopping list of what he wanted for meals  and snacks for the sleepover.

They had a wonderful time. Their day was filled with playing football, jumping on the trampoline, and exploring the woods. (They proudly brought home an animal skull they found in the field.) And at night they fell asleep in the living room on bean bag chairs while watching A Dog’s Purpose.


I’d say Tyler’s first sleepover was a smashing success!

I’ll wrap up this Photo Dump with Molly’s latest project. This semester Molly is taking a class on fashion and textiles. Her assignment this week was to take an article of clothing that she doesn’t wear and refashion it into something new that she would wear.

She found two clothing items that were possibilities.


She chose the jean shirt with plaid lining. She decided to flip it inside out, and cut off the sleeves to sew the shirt into a vest.

All pinned and ready for sewing…


Then she cut the cuffs off the sleeves and used them to make pockets.


The finished product was nothing short of adorable! Nice job, Molly!


Well, there you go…

This post was a little long and a lot disjointed, much like our days here at Patchwork Farm. 🙂

May your week be blessed!



The final Chili Cook-off



The annual chili cook-off is a tradition our scouts have participated in for years. When we moved in 10 years ago it was already a long-standing tradition and something our congregation anticipated every March. This annual event served as the fundraiser for the year so that our scout troop could raise money for Boy Scout camp. After a long run this tradition has come to a close. Last Wednesday it was announced that this would be the final chili cook-off.

It was with a mix of emotions that we absorbed the news. While there was a part of me that felt relief at being freed from the huge task of helping multiple kids prepare dishes and baked goods for the auction, another part of me was saddened by the news as I reminisced on the many years we had been coming.

Despite the mix of emotions the night couldn’t have gone any better. Talk about going out with a bang!!

The turn out was incredible and as a result of many hands donating food items and many generous families supporting the troop, our scouts raised over $2000 that evening!

The night began with judging.

We arrived early, as Rusty had to help set up for the event. As crock pots of chili and pans of cornbread poured in, the missionaries were assigned the task of tasting and judging each dish, picking a first, second, and third place winner for chili and for cornbread.

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Once the judging was completed tabled were called to the front to help themselves to dinner.

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The hardest part of the night is always choosing which of the yummy looking chili’s to try. A few creative families came up with the awesome idea of bringing muffin pans to use for their dinner plate, allowing them to scoop a little of each flavor in each tin and try them all.

At the end of the meal the winners were announced. This year Rusty decided to enter the judging with his own pan of cornbread. The secret to his delicious bread was mixing yellow cake mix with corn bread mix to create a sweet fluffy corn bread that was amazing. His efforts earned him third place.

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Following dinner was the dessert auction. While the dinner part of the night is a free-for-all, if you want to end your meal with a sweet treat you have to battle for it.

The scouts and ward families all bake desserts to contribute to the auction.

This year Rusty made Mickey Mouse Rice Krispy treats dipped in chocolate:

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And Molly made cups of “Dirt”:

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The dessert table was filled to capacity…

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Families took their time perusing and whispering their top choices to each other, making a game plan of what desserts they wanted to battle for.

There were so many delicious looking treats it was hard to choose!

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The second half of the evening was the auction where friends went up against friends  for the sake of a sugar high and gloating rights.

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The auction was a smashing success with some cakes and desserts being sold for $50-75 dollars.

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Our scout troop was certainly blessed by the generosity of their ward family and the financial end of this event will allow a lot of young boys a week of learning, skill-building, and man-producing experiences that they will carry with them for life.

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It is the end of an era…

But what a way to go out!


Walking in Meekness


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With the new year comes New Beginnings, an annual program for the young women at church that rings in the new year with an introduction of the mutual theme, a welcome for the incoming 12-year-old girls and a chance to say farewell to our graduating seniors.

The theme for this year’s New Beginnings was built around this year’s mutual theme:

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The night focused on “Walking in the Meekness of Christ” with a fun shoe theme to drive the décor, activities, treats and message of the night.

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We arrived at 6:00, (30 minutes early) so that Molly could go over the program for the evening with her leaders. As Laurel Class President she conducted the meeting.

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It was odd not having Grace there with us, as every New Beginnings night for the last 7 years has been shared by my two girls, but we enjoyed our special time with just Molly.

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We arrived and the gym was all decked out and looking adorable.

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A few weeks ago, the girls tie-dyed tennis shoes to be used as the centerpieces for the evening…

Shoes which they then got to take home as a party favor at the end of the night.

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Molly made watermelon shoes that were charming!

The night began with a fun mixer activity entitled, “Guess Whose Shoes,” in which guests were asked to try to match the shoes that were brought in by the young women with their pictures on the wall.

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Later in the evening the answers were revealed when each young woman presented her shoe and explained why that shoe was reflective of her and her personality.

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The program began with Vicky, the current Young Women’s president, sharing a spiritual thought based on the comparison of our walk with Christ and the experience of running a marathon. She showed off her marathon medals and drew powerful analogies to our earthly journey.

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She was followed by a comical presentation by Lisa, the Young Women secretary and Linda, our Personal Progress leader, explaining the blessings of the Personal Progress Program.

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Then it was time for the introduction of the classes.

First were the Beehives, the 12/13-year-old girls, who were introduced by their teacher, Tori:

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Then came my Mia Maids, the 14/15-year-old girls:

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And then finally the Laurel Class (16-18-year-old girls) who were introduced by Mary, their class teacher.

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Next idem on the agenda was the introduction and welcome of our newest young woman. Ava will be turning 12 in two weeks and will be joining the young women then. She was welcomed into young women with a bouquet of rose buds, signifying the fact that she is at the beginning of her journey in young women…a closed bud just beginning to blossom in the gospel.

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Then we said farewell to Taylor, our only graduating senior. She, too, was given a bouquet of flowers but her yellow roses were fully opened, signifying that her time in Young Women’s is ending. She has blossomed over the last seven years and has grown into a beautiful young adult who is ready for the exciting next stage of her life.

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After a beautiful musical number by the young women we heard from our bishop and ended the evening with a dessert of high heel shoe cupcakes, baked and decorated by the talented Teresa Wright.

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It was a lovely night and a poignant reminder of the peace we can find in Christ when we walk in the meekness of His Spirit.

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Field Trip Fun


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Hands down, one of my favorite aspects of schooling at home is the opportunity to go out and enjoy exploring our community while others are trapped inside their classrooms.

I’ll admit that I’ve become accustomed to having museums and zoos to ourselves that I find myself resentful and a bit overwhelmed and over stimulated when I sightsee during the summer months or on weekends. I guess most home school families would admit to being spoiled in much the same way. Weekday field trips are one of the big perks of this lifestyle.

Being members of a cyber school means that we are beneficiaries of many field trip opportunities. Everything from science days, to art museums, to historic sites have been offered as hands-on learning opportunities for my kids.

We all love an excuse to get out of the house and learn in an interactive way, but for some of my kids this way of learning is especially effective. Stepping onto a working historic farm, participating in chores that a child may have done in 1860, and walking through a home decorated for the period has a much longer lasting impact on some of my kids than simply reading about it in a book.

In the past two weeks we have enjoyed three very different field trips sponsored by two different cyber schools.

The first occurred on February 23rd when we joined up with some of our co-op friends for a social outing at the bowling alley. This outing was being sponsored by another cyber school, one that we used to be part of that many co-op families still attend…

Thus, an extended invitation in our direction.

This outing had the added benefit of being just over the hill from where we live, a mere 5 minute drive from home. Such a rare occurrence couldn’t have been more ideal, as events of the day really prohibited attending an outing that required a longer drive given our tight schedule.

We arrived and joined the Caylors and the McCreadys. The kids laced up their bowling shoes, picked their balls, and began playing.

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While talent might have been minimal (with the exception of a few gifted bowlers)…

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the entertainment value was high!

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As moms, we enjoyed sitting back, watching, and cheering as we chatted with each other and caught up on each other’s lives.

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The kids had a blast and we ended the afternoon of fun with pizza and soda.

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The following Friday we were out of the house again for a field trip with 21st Century Cyber Charter School. This outing took place in Murrysville at the west coast office of my kids’ Pennsylvania cyber school.


This outing was a science day focused around robotics.


Because this activity was only being offered to 21CCCS students, Tyler and I found other ways to spend our day while Molly, Rusty and four of their friends from co-op spent the day with their teachers.


The day’s activities revolved around a series of fun science experiments and robotics projects.


They constructed a device to lift and move objects.


The built a moving, mechanical hand using cardboard, tape, and string.

They also built a brushbot out of a toothbrush head, small motor and battery that races around the countertop in a highly entertaining way.

In the afternoon they were able to join with students from the eastern office who were also participating in a robotics day and listen as robotics developers (who were there as guest speakers) talked about what they do for a living.


Both kids expressed that they had enjoyed themselves but Rusty really got a kick out of the day’s activities. This was an outing that was right up his alley!

The following Monday we attended our third school outing. This one was also hosted by 21st Century Cyber Charter School and just happened to be in Erie, Pennsylvania where I was scheduled to attend a monthly treatment meeting for Ozzie on Monday morning.

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I love when God works out the details in such an inspired and seamless way. I called and requested to take Ozzie out for the day, following his monthly treatment meeting, explaining that this outing was with his school and he would be able to visit with teachers he hadn’t seen since his admittance. The facility readily agreed. Ozzie is nearing the end of his stay and we are working toward transitioning him back home and back into his old school as smoothly as possible. Activities like this one just help with that transition.

This outing was to the Erie Zoo.

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We arrived at the zoo around 11:15 and spent the next two hours exploring the zoo with our friends, the Hudaks, who also made the trek north on Monday morning.

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The kids loved spending time with their best buddies…

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Aww, who am I kidding?! So, did I!

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 And Ozzie enjoyed getting some time in with family and friends.

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The zoo was quiet. After a recent snowfall we found the zoo to be a quiet and peaceful place.

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There were not a lot of critters out, but those that were could be found stretched out in the sun enjoying the rare March sunshine.

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Here were some of our favorites:

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The best part, however, was simply getting to stroll around with the sunlight on our faces, spending time with Ozzie, surrounded by family and friends.

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After a picnic lunch we left the zoo at 1:30 knowing we only had 2 1/2 hours to drop Ozzie back off, get Molly to work in Chippewa by 4:00, and Tyler to tutoring in Wexford by 4:30.

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It made for a crazy day…

 But the chance to fit in some special time with Oz in the midst of the craziness made the 6 hours on the road well worth it.

It has been a fun few weeks.

Smooth Sailing- Headed Home


It has been an interesting project recording the adventures of Rusty’s scout troop and their Sea Base adventure. This blog series has led to lively discussion as everyone’s perception of events varied just a bit, affected all the more by my attempt to share memories of experiences that I wasn’t actually privy to. While the trip was shared by 8 individuals each person’s experiences varied slightly based on where they were and what they were doing at any given moment. Some saw wildlife others didn’t and had experiences their sea mates missed because of where they were at and what they were doing moment to moment. The result is 8 slightly different recollections of the same stories. I would love to have each of them pen their own synopsis for the sake of comparison and to get each scout’s point of view but know the likelihood of getting these guys to sit and journal for me is a long shot. 😊 I did, however, have Keith reach out and share with me his personal journal entries of the week, something that was a real treat to read as it gave me a more comprehensive peek into the time Rusty and Toby enjoyed in Florida. With his permission I thought I’d wrap up this blog series with his first-person synopsis of their last two days in Florida rather than struggling to piece together the stories from what I heard secondhand.

Thanks, Keith, for sharing your memories of the last two days of this once in a lifetime adventure!


“On Thursday we got up early and were packed before breakfast.  We had an 11:30 airboat appointment and had plenty of time to get there.  After breakfast, we said goodbye to Sea Base and started our journey home.  While still on Islamorada, we stopped at a souvenir place because they had a huge lobster out front.


  After quick pictures, we continued on until we got to the Krispy Kreme shop – which had their hot donut sign on.  This time the donuts were hot and soft and sweet and good!  Two dozen donuts disappeared in 3 minutes.  Traffic on this morning was awful.  The GPS, when we started out, said we would arrive about a ½ hour before our appointment.  The traffic was bad because of construction.  We missed our appointment by 10 minutes.  Our spot was given to others.  However, the next time we could get a boat was at 1:00PM.


 Now we had over an hour to kill with the boys.  There was Miccosukee tourist village up the road about 10 miles and so we went there for a few minutes to hang out in air conditioning in their souvenir shop. 

The Miccosukee are a branch of the Seminole Indians. 


The airboat ride would take place on their reservation in the Everglades.  Our boat driver was named Fabian.  He was dressed in a bright yellow shirt and had a long braid down his back.  The ride was scheduled to take 45 minutes.


 We all put earplugs in to muffle the noise of the motor.


 We stopped at four spots where alligators were spotted, one of them being a small island where a few families used to live.  Dry land is hard to come by in the swamp.   


At one point in the tour, we saw a big male alligator, about 8 to 9 feet in length. 


Fabian stopped the boat and climbed to the front.  He started making noises that got the interest of the gator, which then came over to the boat.


 The gator kept rising up out of the water as if to jump in the boat, but Fabian kept pushing the gator back down into the water with his hands. 


All the time he was lecturing us on the habits of alligators in the Everglades.  It was fun to watch.

After the boat ride, we piled into the car.  Toby continued driving until we gassed up, when I took over.  We got off the interstate just after dark and stopped at the Metro Diner in St. Augustine for dinner.  They had some huge burgers and sandwiches.  The food was excellent and then we drove on to a Days Inn where we all crammed into one room to spend the night.  The trip down taught us it was almost impossible to get any rest while driving in the van. 

On Friday morning we ate breakfast at the Village Inn and then we went to the Visitor’s Center. 


From there we walked past some of the old buildings of St. Augustine and a cemetery, seeing the sites along the way.


 We spent most of our time at the Castillo de San Marcos.


 This is the old fort that protected the city through the ages.



They had cannons from the 1700s on display.


 The workers there had a re-enactment of firing a cannon.


   Rusty, Nate G. and Thomas all earned a certificate and patch associated with the Historical Site by filling out an educational workbook.


A little after noon, we returned to the van where Toby, Pete and finally Nate A. completed the drive home.  Again, Nate had to use the cruise control as we traveled through West Virginia, making it an exciting ride.  We arrived home at 1:45 AM Saturday morning to Pete’s house.  Toby was kind enough to drop everyone off.  I was happy to sleep in my bed again.”


Smooth Sailing- Back on Land


On Wednesday Rusty and his Boy Scout troop headed in from the open sea back to Sea Base, marking the end of their adventure on the water…

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 But not the end of their Florida fun.

They still had a few days left of their Scouting high adventure and there was much fun to still be had. It was just going to take place on solid ground for the next 3 days, instead of the high seas.


On Wednesday morning the scouts were up early and began cooking breakfast as the sailboat made its way toward land. They arrived at port and proceeded to get their assignments from the captain. Some headed onto shore to get the carts needed for transporting their personal belongings and other gear from the boat to the Sea Base dorm.


The tasks for unloading, cleaning and prepping the boat for the next week’s crew were split between the members of the troop, with some cleaning and returning the snorkel gear, while others began the task of washing down the boat.

Using special soap that was environmentally safe they scrubbed the outside of the boat washing away the signs that eight scouts/leaders had occupied it for a week.

While engaged in this chore some local wildlife stopped by to say hello. A large sea cow arrived boat side, lured in by the activity occurring around the boat. Evidently manatees are drawn to the splash of fresh water, a treat that must be limited because of the negative affect it has on their buoyancy if they consume too much of it.


The boys and leaders had a wonderful time meeting and greeting this large lady up close and snapping some awesome photos.


After they were done cleaning up and clearing out everyone had some free time to shower, rest, and do a little shopping at the Sea Base store.


After lunch there was paddle boarding and kayaking for the scouts and their leaders in the bay. After some instruction they headed out to a small mangrove island ¼ mile away from the beach.


The wind was blowing hard which made the trip out to the island easy but the trip back extra tough. Fighting the wind and waves led some to abandon their standing positions and lay down on their bellies to paddle back in.


At 5:00 pm they congregated at the flag pole with two other troops that had just arrived, where they went over announcements and recited the Sea Base Grace:


Bless the creatures of the sea.

Bless this person I call me.

Bless the Keys, you make so grand.

Bless the sun that warms the land.

Bless the Fellowship we feel,

As we gather for this meal.



The two other troops headed to dinner while our troop walked over to the volleyball court for some Sea Base planned activities.

They played volleyball,

Polynesian tug of war,

And Poison Barrel.


A limbo competition opened the door to the luau themed dinner that was their final meal at Sea Base.


This special luau dinner on the beach is the traditional conclusion to every Sea Base adventure and a perfect way to end a magical week.


The setting was spectacular, and the meal was too.


My boys raved about their feast of Mahi Mahi, rice, Hawaiian rolls, crab cakes, corn, chicken wings, and key lime pie.


With stomachs full and eyelids heavy the troops headed back to the dorms for a good night sleep before the following day’s adventure with alligators.

Stay tuned!

Smooth Sailing- Part 2



It has been a week now since the boys rolled back into town after their road trip/ sea trip adventure. As the days pass more and more stories of heroism, shenanigans, and the thrill of everyday chores when living on the high seas are shared. I continue to relish in the stories that are being revealed as time passes and have been jotting down notes so as to try and do a decent job retelling their story of adventure…a tough task when the writer wasn’t there to experience it herself.


Their time on the high seas quickly settled into a routine of sorts. Their days typically began around 6 or 7 am, when everyone rolled from their sleeping bags to begin their day.


Just like at home their day was filled with trivial tasks like teeth brushing:



And food preparation:123_1519962637018


Typical tasks that take on an atypical slant when done in the unusual confines of a sailboat.


Breakfast varied day to day but was typically a hot meal of some sort, prepared by the scouts with the assistance of Keith who graciously pitched in as sous chef.



Lunch occurred during the busier part of their day and as a result was usually a grab and go meal like sandwiches or snacks.

Dinner was another hot meal, prepared after the events of the day. As the sun set and the cabin darkened the addition of head lamps helped the scouts get dinner on the table.


Their meals were largely built around the pantry items they stocked at the start of the trip with the addition of seafood caught through the day.



Much fishing occurred each day and the troop was able to enjoy the fruits of their labor, feasting on meals of Jack Crevalle, Grunt, and lobster.




Yes, you read that right.

While we were home eating spaghetti and grilled cheese the scouts were feasting on fresh lobster.

Their captain explained that scattered through the waters of the Florida Keys are hundreds of lobster traps, many of which are ghost traps. Ghost traps are lobster traps that  have lost their distinctive buoy that brands that trap as belonging to a particular fisherman. After the most recent hurricane many lobster traps lost their markers and are now considered ghost traps; unclaimed by any fisherman, sitting on the ocean floor, catching and not releasing the lobsters within. The boys found a few of these ghost traps during their sailing adventure.


If ghost traps couldn’t be found in the waters nearby there was always the means of catching lobster with nets and a tickle stick. The boys would snorkel down to a hole in the rocks and prod the hole with a stick while positioning a net at the entrance of the hole. If it was the hiding place of a lobster they would come scuttling out, right into the net.


The caught lobster then had to be measured to ensure its maturity and if it was big enough it would end up in the supper pot.


Only on a Sea Base adventure do teenage boys add fresh lobster to their Kraft macaroni and cheese and call it dinner.


I was a tad jealous when I saw the pictures!


It seemed their days revolved around meals and sailing. The task of sailing their 44-foot sailboat fell mainly on the Boy Scout’s shoulders. They had an experienced captain to teach them the ropes and guide them along, but aside from the guidance they received from the captain 90% of the tasks were performed by the boys while the men sat back and enjoyed the ride.


As Crew Chief Rusty was given the responsibility of managing and assigning tasks, something far outside his comfort zone. He later confessed that he found himself often choosing to do the necessary tasks rather than assign jobs to others because it was more within his comfort zone. I see this is an area where we could use some work, but I can’t blame him. I am much the same way. I would rather be a hard-working Indian than a chief any day of the week.

Luckily, he was blessed with an awesome crew of guys who were more than willing to take on any task assigned to them. It was really a great group of boys and leaders.



Following a predetermined route, troop 558 made their way from Sea Base out into the ocean and onto Marathon Keys, their stop halfway through the trip. To leave the bay they had to pass under a drawbridge. With a mast reaching 40 feet in the air their boat didn’t fit under the bridge, so they had to wait for the scheduled hourly draw that lifted the bridge up into the sky and allowed the tall sailboats to pass underneath.

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As they sailed they had the opportunity to stop and snorkel at reefs along the way. The experience was neat and they saw some awesome sea life. Their only regret was that they sailed during a week of high winds which resulted in big waves and silty water. Which made swimming and snorkeling a bit of a challenge.


On Monday they arrived at Marathon Keys. They were scheduled to dock there for the night, fill the water tank, shower, restock supplies, and perform the service project that they were assigned by Sea Base, which was cleaning the restrooms and bath house.


Tuesday morning, they were back on the water and on the second leg of the trip taking them back toward Sea Base.


During the day, while they sailed from snorkel sight to snorkel sight,


most of the troop congregated in the cockpit around the scout who was at the wheel. This became the “living room” of their home away from home as they sat and chatted while sailing along.



Some would use the travel time to troll for fish.


While on the water they were privy to many wondrous sights including dolphin, barracuda, eel, puffer fish, sea turtles, and one shark sighting…



Not to mention the spectacular sunrises and sunsets that would bookend their days.



 Each night the sun would start sinking beneath the horizon around 6:00 pm and by 8:00 pm these weary scouts and their leaders were tucked in sleeping bags and falling asleep to the rocking of the waves.


Now that’s the life!


Smooth Sailing- Part 1



FB_IMG_1519869021196Last Saturday Toby and Rusty returned home from a week of sailing the open seas with their fellow sea dogs. It was an adventure of a lifetime and I was so glad Rusty got to experience it with his Dad.


Their crew was comprised of three other young men from Rusty’s scout troop and three other leaders, making it a solid crew of eight.


This adventure came about as a result of an awesome Scoutmaster who time after time pulls out all the stops and goes far beyond the call of duty to offer these boys incredible, skill building, character developing, life changing challenges. This was, however, an opportunity that went beyond their normal adventures. This was a once in a lifetime experience offered through The Boy Scout’s Sea Base in southern Florida.



A year ago they secured a spot for the season and Toby and Rusty signed up to go with the troop, giving Rusty a year to work and earn the money needed to fund this fun. Those twelve months flew by and before we knew it the time had arrived for them to pack their bags and hit the road.


The troop decided to drive down to Sea Base in our 12 passenger van, a spacious and dependable vessel that they soon discovered was built for high capacity not high comfort. They left on their road trip early Thursday morning and drove for 22 hours straight, allowing a few quick stops along the way, including an emergency 2:30 am stop at a Krispy Kreme Donuts.

One of the passengers in the van who was not sleeping at the time spotted the “Hot Donuts Now” sign lit up like a beacon of refuge to weary travelers. With a shout of “STOP!” those sleeping were jolted awake and this van full of scouts pulled in to claim their hot donuts from the drive-thru window…Donuts which ended up being merely warm, much to their disappointment.


By the time they pulled into the Sea Base parking lot everyone was worn and weary and ready to catch some ZZZZZs… wherever they could find them.


They were informed that they could check into the dorms at noon, so while they waited they headed over to Robbie’s, a local dumpy but delicious dive on the water. There they enjoyed a yummy breakfast on the docks. Toby said it wasn’t much to look at inside with the exception the notable décor that papered the walls. Evidently the inside of the diner was wallpapered in dollar bills that had been stapled up onto the walls over the years. Toby estimated their was a few thousand dollars worth of Mr. Washington’s papering the walls, money that he thought would have been better put to use fixing up the place.



He did say that despite the wear and tear of the building, the view was incredible.


At noon they were allowed to check into the Sea Base dorms where they, as the first crew out for the season, found they had the dormitory of 50 beds all to themselves for the night.


They were not scheduled to set sail until the following day so Friday was spent napping a little, exploring the Sea Base compound, doing their snorkeling test in the pool, and prepping their sailboat with supplies.


After a restful night sleep in the dorms they set sail on Saturday morning. Their vessel for the week was a 44 foot sailboat that would become their home away from home.



Below deck was the Captain’s sleeping quarters (which were off limits to the crew)


Capt. Hajo

The galley where the boys prepared meals three times a day:



The dining room table (which converted and became Keith’s bed at night):



The head (bathroom), and a storage area for the single bag of gear each crew member was allotted:


As well as a few beds:



Toby’s bed for the week.

Some slept below deck while others spent the week sleeping out under the stars:


Others caught Zzzzs whenever and wherever they could:



Once on the boat they set sail for an adventure on the high seas.


Under the leadership and guidance of their faithful captain, Hajo, they began their training to become proficiant sailors. As they headed out of the marina they caught their first glimpse of the magical sights that awaited them. It came in the form of a sunrise that set the tone for the week and gave this crew a preview of the awesome experiences that awaited them.




Stay tuned as we look back on their week of adventure and I attempt to do justice to the stories they have shared and the pictures they captured as they sailed around the Florida Keys.

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Ozzie turns 14!


I can hardly believe it, but Ozzie is 14!

Last Friday we woke up and it felt weird not sneaking into his room with the traditional cupcake and birthday song. It is at times like this that I struggle most with him being away from home, despite the fact I know he is where he needs to be to have the life he deserves to have.

He didn’t have to wait to long for his birthday song and celebratory cupcake, however. By 8:00 am Grace. Molly, Tyler and I were on the road to pick Ozzie up for his birthday celebration. Because of President’s Day weekend he had Friday and Monday off school, allowing for an extra long weekend at home to celebrate his special day.

We arrived at his facility at 10:30, with cupcakes in hand. We were scheduled for a family session with his therapist that included all the kids. This was the first time they had participated in one of Ozzie’s weekly family sessions and is the next big step in his permanent transition home. Knowing that there was healing work to be done in Ozzie’s relationships with siblings, while also recognizing that we didn’t want to dig too deep or do anything too intense given the heightened emotions of the day, Halle planned a series of fun, team-building challenges using balloons. It was ideal. It resulted in a lot of positive connection, communication, and laughter. It was a great kick-off to future family sessions with the kids, and a nice way to start the weekend.

I entered this weekend with a bit of trepidation. It had a lot of factors working against it. Toby and Rusty were on their way to Florida, leaving Tyler feeling anxious and unsafe (and leaving me without four extra hands.) It was also Ozzie’s birthday… a day that stirs up a lot of hard emotions for Ozzie, emotions that have bubbled to the surface in the form of hurting behaviors in the past. Add to that the fact we were going to be spending the weekend at Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park, which meant sleeping in unfamiliar beds, being out of a routine, and a lot of extra stimuli, and you can see why I was a tad nervous.

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Splash Lagoon was Ozzie’s birthday request and after looking into deals online (and a lot of discussion with Toby, Tina (Tyler’s therapist) and Halle (Ozzie’s therapist) we felt that this was a doable request and a great litmus test to see where we are it in everyone’s therapeutic journey towards healing. It had the added benefit of being only 10 minutes away from Ozzie’s facility where we could find support if Ozzie was struggling too much. The fact that I was even entertaining the idea was a HUGE testament to how far we have come in the last year. 12 months ago I felt incapable of managing something as simple as taking Tyler and Ozzie to the store together without Toby to help, and now a year later we are spending the weekend at a waterpark without Toby or Rusty. God is so gracious!

This weekend has been a powerful reminder that the dark seasons of life don’t last forever. When we are struggling with the night we need to remember that the dawn always comes…


 And down the road we will look back on that darkness and see it for what it was: a short stretch of time on our eternal timeline.

After our family session we stopped for a quick lunch at Burger King (Ozzie’s request) and then headed to the Comfort Inn at Splash Lagoon to check in for the night. When looking for deals for Splash Lagoon we soon discovered the package deals, offered to lure in visitors, were far more economical (½ the price) than purchasing 5 2-day passes…

And a lot more fun!

I mean, what kid doesn’t love staying at a hotel overnight, especially a hotel with a pool and a free continental breakfast. In addition to our overnight stay, our package deal came with 2- day passes for everyone, a $30.00 arcade card, tickets for free ice cream cones for everyone, and a $25.00 gift card to Quaker Steak and Lube.

Once we checked into our room we put on our swim suits and headed to the water park. It was such a treat to be able to walk through indoor hallways to get to the water park, rather than braving the frigid temperatures outside. February is a great time to visit an indoor water park. I found the hot air and pools of water were all the more appreciated with the freezing temperatures outside!

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Once inside Splash Lagoon our first stop was the Aqua Tumbler. This new addition came with an additional cost, but because of the fact it was a special day I paid for Ozzie and Tyler to each take a ride. (The girls opted to pass on this one.)

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The Aqua Tumbler is a giant inflatable ball that the rider climbs inside. Once “zipped in” the ride begins. The ball spins while the rider tumbles around inside. The spinning and the addition of a small amount of water inside the ball makes getting a foothold or handhold impossible. That is what makes it so much fun to ride… And even more fun to watch!

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Both boys LOVED it!

The remainder of the day was spent enjoying all the fun Splash Lagoon had to offer:

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Both boys did awesome.

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They paired up with the girls and rode slides,

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played basketball,

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rode waves,

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floated down the lazy river,

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playing well with each other,

 transitioning from activity to activity easily and without argument,

and verbalizing their needs easily.

 It couldn’t have gone any better and I was so very proud of both of them.

I was also incredibly proud of my girls who were so good, and patient, and selfless with their younger brothers.

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At 7:00 pm we called it a day. We still had dinner and a birthday party on the agenda before we could call it a day, so we headed back to our room, changed into warm, dry clothes, and ordered Quaker Steak and Lube wings for dinner. It was such a treat to have dinner delivered to our room and to be able to offset the cost of dinner a bit with our complimentary gift card.

While we waited for dinner to arrive Ozzie took the seat of honor and opened the pile of gifts we had been accruing over the last few weeks as packages and cards arrived in the mail from family and friends.

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Much thought and a great deal of love was put into the gifts given. All were so reflective of Ozzie and his interests. From loved ones he received a tornado simulator, a few new Lego City sets, Harry Potter playing cards and favorite treats.

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His gift from the family was a telescope and a book of 50 things to find in the night sky with a beginner telescope.

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He was over the moon! (Pun intended) 🙂

We didn’t open it up that night but on Sunday night the clouds cleared and he was able to do a little star gazing with his new scope.

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Around the time he had finished opening his gifts our dinner arrived and we enjoyed a wonderfully relaxed evening eating wings in our hotel room while watching the new Disney movie, Zombies. While he watched, Ozzie had fun building his new Lego set from my parents.

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It was a joyful birthday!

By 10:30 eyelids were heavy and little boys were all worn out from their day of swimming, so it was lights out. Everyone needed to be rested for our 2nd day of play at Splash Lagoon.

Happy Birthday, dear Ozzie.

 How blessed we are to call you our son.

May your 14th year be one of growth, healing, hope, and happiness.

We love you to the moon and back.


Who will marry Mr. Darcy?


February 14th was our annual Valentine’s Day party at co-op.


And while a Valentine’s Day party occurs every year, the parties differ greatly from year to year. When we started our co-op a decade ago and the kids were all elementary school age our parties were quite traditional with Valentine boxes, cookie decorating, and heart crafts. As the years have passed and the children have gotten older our parties have evolved. Valentine cards are still exchanged but the “theme” of the party varies greatly year to year. We find the switch-up makes for a fun variety of parties.

In the last few years we have had Valentine box competitions, Minute to Win It games, a “heart healthy” theme with P.E. type games, a life size Candyland game, Escape Rooms, and a glow in the dark dance party with the kids being transformed into stick men with glow sticks.

This year the large age divide between our youngest co-op students and our oldest co-op students resulted in two separate activities.

Because last year was such a hit we decided to recreate a drive-in movie experience for the younger set of kids. They were instructed to create a car to bring for the drive-in movie.

Tyler embraced the challenge once again and put much thought into what sort of car he wanted to make. He finally settled on a police car. He picked his box, painted his box and added the details needed to turn it into a police car.


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The end result was awesome!


For the 4th and 5th graders (our younger crew of co-op kids) the day began with school lessons and then concluded with a drive in movie to see “A Cricket in Time Square” and “Rikki Tikki Tavi.”


Between the two movies there was a break for lunch. This year we combined our Valentine’s Day party with our “Pancake and PJ day” and everyone feasted on pancakes for lunch.


The younger kids concluded their party with their Valentine exchange.


Meanwhile there was an entirely different Valentine’s Day celebration taking place in the high school room. Too old to participate in the drive in movie experience (we would need a refrigerator box to make a drive in movie car for Rusty!) and yet still wanting to do something fun for Valentine’s Day, we brought in heart cookies and frosting for the big kids to decorate and enjoy and the girls planned a Pride and Prejudice viewing party for their Valentine’s Day party.


A few weeks ago Grace attended a “Galentine Day” party with some friends from church. These girls got together to celebrate their friendship with desserts and games, one of which was a card game entitled, “Who will marry Mr. Darcy?” Grace came home from that party raving about how much fun this game was so we found it online, ordered it, and printed it out for the co-op party.


The high school girls started their day by watching Pride and Prejudice.


Then at lunch they pulled out the game and played, “Who will marry Mr. Darcy?” Each girl picked a heroine card to find out which character they were and then drew trait cards like wit, friendliness, and beauty in an effort to earn points to marry their best match. The game led them through a bunch of fate changing experiences reflective of events from the book.


It is a fun game anyway, but was made all the more fun having just watched the movie.


Each year as part of our Valentine’s Day celebration we have a service project for the kids to participate in as a way to show selfless love to others. In the past the kids have made textured Valentine’s Day cards which they then delivered to the School for the Blind in Pittsburgh. This year Tauni suggested we show love to someone closer to home, namely Ozzie. Ozzie’s birthday falls a few days after Valentine’s Day so Tauni planned for the kids to make him birthday cards which could be delivered to him, letting him know he is loved and missed by his friends at co-op.

I was touched by her thoughtfulness and by the love these kids showed in their words to Ozzie.


He was equally touched when he received them and read through the notes of love.

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It was a beautiful Valentine’s Day.