Monthly Archives: November 2016

What is new with you?


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.



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.


It’s a win/win for all involved!


And the waffles were delicious.


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.)


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,


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.


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.




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!



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


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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


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.


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.



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


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.


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!”


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!


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.


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


Everyone left with tired muscles and sweaty faces.


Blitz on the Bay


Tyler did not play football this year.


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!


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


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)



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


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.


It was fun to see Tyler play again.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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


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



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.


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.


Christmastime in 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.

  2. Enjoy Free Horse Drawn Carriage Rides


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

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 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, 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



An Olive Update


Just a quick photographic update on Olive, our Great Dane. She is 3 1/2 months old and has been with us for 3 weeks. Since she has moved in with us she has gained 15 pounds and grown 3 inches taller. I’ll post more about Olive and the amazing therapy work that she has been helping Tyler with soon, but until then here are some photos to brighten your day!





It is easy to get caught in the parenting trap of only seeing the struggle that lies before you. It is hard to remember the days before the current trials that consume us, and hard to imagine a day when that particular challenge is resolved and but a faint distant memory.

While we are living in the middle of it, it seems so very big.

I remember it beginning from the moment I brought Grace home from the hospital…those long, sleepless nights and numb days where I moved like a zombie through the early months of parenting. I thought I’d never be rested again. I thought she would never sleep through the night, and the mission of getting her to sleep became the focus of all my time and energy as I talked to other moms, read parenting books and tried every “solution,” no matter how bizarre, in the hopes I could make her sleep.

In the middle of that season of parenting I couldn’t see past the sleeplessness and fatigue, and I thought the day she slept through the night would never come.

Then there was the potty-training season of life when all my minutes revolved around toilets. Once again I was well equipped to face this parenting challenge like a BOSS. I did my research, I read my books, I had picked the minds of my mommy friends and I was going to do this and do it well. I had the musical potty-chair that rewarded a deposit with a cheery little tune, a sticker chart hung on the wall, and a Rubbermaid filled with M&Ms was ready to be used as incentive.

I began when Grace was 18 months, convinced that being the little over-achiever she was she would get this whole potty thing in no time. It didn’t go as smoothly as planned. The singing toilet freaked her out and she had more fun covering her belly with stickers than placing them on the chart. My plan to have her potty-trained before Molly’s birth was quickly “flushed” and I ended up eating the whole tub of reward M&Ms in discouragement.

For the next year and a half I kept trying and she continued to resist, until one day she initiated the effort and in a matter of days was fully potty trained.

Once again I was lost in that season’s struggle, unable to see past the frustration of unsuccessful attempts at potty-training, certain she would be wearing a diaper as we packed her up for college.

I’m happy to report that she is a diaper-free high school senior.

Those fears were unfounded.

Over the years this pattern has continued to repeat itself in my life. It seems that regardless of the many struggles and challenging seasons I overcome in our parenting journey, when I step into the arena to battle the next “Goliath” my faith waivers, my fears grow, and uncertainty threatens to drown me. I get lost in the current struggle and can’t see past the worries surrounding me. I can’t seem to remember the successes of yesterday or find the hope in tomorrow. I am trapped in the struggles of today.


Do You Know:

The word “Remember” appears 148 times in the Bible.

It is a word I always take note of when I stumble across it in my reading, because I know it is followed by words of importance. The Lord knows how, in our human frailty, we have a tendency to forget the lessons of yesterday.  

We forget the answered prayers, the life wins, the blessings.

These memories of answered prayers are lost all the more easily when life is hard.

The struggles of the moment can become blinders on our souls, keeping us focused on the trials, unable to see past the challenge of today.

So, how do we pull those blinders off…


How do we free ourselves from the hopelessness and fears that consume us today?

We remember.

We count our blessings,

We reflect on the answered prayers and miracles we have experienced in the past,

And we record our journey.

We write it down…the good, the bad and the ugly, so that when we can’t see past the struggles of today we can go back and read the stories of God’s goodness…our personal stories of God’s goodness. We can remember the hopelessness and fears we felt during previously hard seasons of our life and realize that we did survive! We can read the writings of our younger selves who will testify to us that, “this too shall pass.”

And when we struggle to remember, God will graciously remind us.

I had two of these timely reminders just this week as I’ve found myself struggling with the need to see the forest from the trees.

I am drowning in the parenting struggles of raising a son with attachment issues and all that that entails. I found myself lost in fear and discouragement and couldn’t find the hope, and then God answered. He didn’t lift the burdens of today, but he did remind me how He had lifted the burdens of yesterday, which was just what I needed to continue on.

One reminder came in the form of a phone call from a family friend that I haven’t been in contact with in 10 years. She called looking for resources for her son who she suspects has Selective Mutism. He is 3 years old and in the process of being evaluated. As she shared his story I was transported back to Rusty at age 3 and the hopelessness and fear I felt in that season of parenting as we struggled to get Rusty the help he needed to live a normal life. The struggle lasted years and the road to recovery was a long one as we attended conferences, utilized specialists, and sought out the strategies needed to help Rusty overcome the immense anxiety that made him unable to communicate with anyone outside his immediate family.

The journey toward spoken word took Rusty 5 years, and when we were living it, it consumed my thoughts, prayers, time and energy. I worried that he would never be verbal.

Now I look at him and all he has accomplished, and all that he does, and I stand in awe of the miracle that has transpired with this young man. I watch him talk to strangers and laugh with friends and don’t give it a second thought. I guess I have come to take Rusty’s voice for granted. I had forgotten how overwhelming and scary the “what ifs” of that season were until I was sharing our story with that friend.


I also had the unique experience of back to back IEP meetings for two of my children this past week. My first meeting was for Tyler. We met over the phone (teachers, principal, and myself) to address Tyler’s learning disabilities and the struggles he faces due to early childhood neglect. Like many of these hard parenting seasons of life I find myself, especially amid weariness, struggling to find the hope. His obstacles are SO BIG and his progress, SO SLOW, that I wonder if he will ever be able to be an independent learner.

The following day I participated in Gracie’s final IEP meeting. This is her senior year and so her annual IEP meetings are coming to a close. In her meeting Grace sat in with her special education teacher, principal, guidance counselor, and myself.

It was in that meeting I was given the gift of remembrance.

We went over her progress, noting the scores in her initial evaluation at age 10. She has grown so much, from reading at a 1st grade level at that first evaluation where she was diagnosed with Dyslexia, to where she is now as a president of National Honor Society with a 4.0 GPA.  In the midst of the struggles to teach her to read I worried she would never be able to succeed in school, much less go on to higher education. I couldn’t see past the daily struggle of working on that same set of sight words day after day. It all seemed so hopeless.

I had forgotten how hard those early elementary years of teaching were as I worked with two daughters with Dyslexia. I was convinced they would never be strong, independent readers. Now both are successful scholars and voracious readers despite the struggles they still battle daily living with Dyslexia. They have learned to take that disability and make it work for them as a unique ability, and Grace intends to go to school to become a special education teacher so that she can help other children find the hidden abilities so often masked as disabilities.


As I sat in that final IEP meeting I remembered.

I remembered those same feelings of fear, worry and discouragement that I felt 8 years ago with Grace, that I feel as I struggle daily to find that magic key that will unlock a love of learning in Tyler. I had an epiphany as I realized that when Grace was Tyler’s age she was struggling with the same reading challenges and reading at the same level as he currently is. I had forgotten. That remembrance was a gift. I was able to see God’s hand in her journey and it strengthened my faith in God’s plan and hand in Tyler’s journey. He will be fine. I just needed to step back from the problem to see the hope that is most easily found when we look at the big picture.

We all find ourselves in seasons of hopelessness, worry and fear. Sometimes these struggles are the BIG things… like a life-threatening illness, loss of a job, or the death of a loved one.

Sometimes it is the smaller challenges, that can be so life consuming, that seem ENORMOUS!

 Either way it is important to take a step back, gain perspective, reflect on past struggles or the hard seasons we have navigated that are but a faint memory now, and realize that this too shall pass.

 It is but a season.

Eventually that child will sleep through the night, stop biting the other kids in nursery, will use the potty, learn to read, or navigate the roads around town safely and independently. I promise that day will come…

They ALWAYS come,

But if by chance I am wrong, I’m happy to report there is the option of adult diapers for your graduating senior.

It will all be just fine.

God’s got this!


In an Instant..


It happened in a second, and the realization that everything could have changed, hit me like a punch to the gut.

Gracie was behind me with Tyler by her side, and I was leading the caravan as we drove down the road to the far corner of the property. I was in the family van and she was following in her little truck.

I was startled to attention by the blast of her horn, held down in panic. I looked in my rear view mirror in time to see her barreling down the dirt road toward me.

With a turn of her wrist she became airborne as her little truck flew off the road and up the hillside.

I slammed on my brakes, jumped from the van, and ran to the truck that was perched precariously at a sharp degree angle, with the driver’s side door jammed shut by a small tree.


I had heard the crunch on impact and knew she hit the embankment at a dangerous speed.

As I ran to the truck I felt the Earth tip and my stomach lurch, uncertain of what I would see when I looked in the window.

I felt myself exhale when I saw the movement of blond hair and brown hair over the edge of the seats.

Shook up, but ok, Grace and Tyler climbed up out of the passenger side door; a laborious task given the angle of the truck and the shock they were feeling.

They stepped out.

Grace was in tears.

“I tried to stop,” she sobbed. “I had no brakes.”

I pulled her to me and hugged her hard as she continued…

“I kept stomping on them and nothing happened. The truck kept gaining speed. I pulled on the emergency break and that didn’t slow me down either. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to find the safest place to crash.”

Her body shook with sobs as the adrenaline from the close call rushed through her veins.

All I could think, as I hugged first Grace and then Tyler, was how different this could have played out. In that moment life as I knew it could have changed forever. I wanted to throw up as the fragility of life hit me like it never had before.


Oh, what could have been.

Thank God for seatbelts.

Thank God for guardian angels.

Thank God for His hand in the time, place, and details of that crash.

All I could think as I drove the kids back up to the house was:

What if she had lost her brakes on the highway as she was traveling 65 miles an hour.

What if she had hit another driver…with children in the back seat…rather than a tree.

What if it had been a less knowledgeable, less secure driver behind the wheel, like our permit driver, Miss Molly.

What if a life was lost.

What if…

What if…

What if…

Even now the “what ifs” take my breath away and make my heart race.

But God is gracious and His plans are divine.

Both kids are ok…shook up, but ok.

Experiences like this one are powerful reminders of the fragility of mortal life and of what is truly important. How differently this story could have ended. So many people I know have experienced that unexpected, life-changing moment when an illness or accident changes the course of life as they know it. It can happen in a moment.

That unexpected lab result,

The life changing phone call from a family member,

 Or the midnight knock on the door by the police…

 Future days are not promised to us.

In a moment our world can be rocked forever.

I left the scene of the accident with immense gratitude and a powerful new perspective. The stresses, worries, and irritations of earlier that day seemed shallow and insignificant in the face of such potential loss.

How blessed I am.

 Forgive me Lord, for needing a heart-stopping moment like this to see it.

Halloween Fun



This Halloween played out a bit differently that Halloweens of the past. In fact there was little that was the same. Traditions that we have enjoyed for years were set on the back burner as we enjoyed some new holiday fun. I’m still on the fence as to how I feel about the changes, but whether I would choose to keep with the new ways of celebrating this favorite holiday, or whether I would go back to our old traditions if given the choice, it was still  a fun Halloween weekend.

The holiday festivities began on the Saturday before Halloween with our church’s fall party. This was our first time of the season donning our costumes since our church didn’t participate in the  “trunk or treat for seniors” activity that we have traditionally done in the past. Since we were gone for the month of September and the first part of October we were out of the loop as to why it didn’t happen this year. I do hope it is a tradition that will return in the future as it is a favorite service activity of our family.

We also didn’t host the church’s  “Trunk or Treat” and Halloween party this year. We have played host to this event for quite a few years but were uncertain as to how it would play out with our family returning from vacation in mid-October. No one had contacted us about hosting it so I thought perhaps they had changed things up this year. They had. And it was good that it worked out that way since Toby had to leave for Michigan and it would have been a tall order to try to pull off such a large scale activity without his help.

This year the party was held at church. It was a chili/soup dinner with some fall activities for the kids. It was nice to be able to show up without any responsibility, but the night ended up being bittersweet as we were missing Toby.

Everyone dressed in their Halloween costumes as the characters from the Disney movie, “Inside Out.”


Dinner was yummy.


They girls helped out by working the face painting table.


Our next opportunity to wear our costumes came on Monday evening. After Gracie’s senior portrait photo session we raced home to transform from this:


to this:


We decided to forgo our usual trick or treating route in Koppel, and trick or treat with the Hudak family instead. We were missing Toby and not having him with us for what is most likely Gracie’s last time trick or treating with the family was hard, so rather than feel Toby’s absence by walking the same streets we have as a family for 8 years, we decided to spend the evening enjoying the company of friends.


We met at Lana’s parents’ house to trick or treat in their neighborhood.

The Hudak kids were also dressed as characters from a Disney movie. They went as the crew from  “The Emperor’s New Groove.”


But the character that received the most attention was Woody. who dressed as Donald Trump. Playing up the character well, he drew a lot of attention as people stopped him in the streets to take selfies with him. 🙂


After a fun night of trick or treating we returned to Lana’s parents’ home for dinner and so the kids could enjoy the best part of trick or treating… the sorting and trading of candy!


Round 3 of Halloween took place on Wednesday. Once again, this Halloween celebration was different than years past. We opted to forgo the traditional Halloween party. As the average age of the co-op kids gets older the way we celebrate the holidays seems to be changing as well. It is a bittersweet transition.

The kids did want to wear costumes though. So despite the fact it was now November many of the kids showed up to co-op on Wednesday wearing costumes.

At our house things switched up a bit when Ozzie opted to not wear a costume and Tyler and Rusty wore something different than their “Inside Out” costumes. It worked out better that way since we found it took us around 90 minutes to get everyone’s hair and make-up done in their “Inside Out” looks. Since we leave early on Wednesday mornings it was probably a good thing we only had half of us to “make-up.”


Rusty wore his Disney gear and went as Mickey Mouse.


Tyler wore his football uniform and went as a football player.


The kids at co-op had fun showing off their costumes and exchanging candy.


The 3rd and 4th graders had a movie day and watch “The Thief Lord.”


It was a very different Halloween for us

but in the end, although not traditional, it was nice.


Gorgeous Grace


Gracie is a senior this year…


I am not sure how that happened.

It seems it was but a moment ago she was in the toddling phase, just leaning how to navigate, and now she is perched at the edge of the nest ready to take flight.

This is such an exciting time of life for her as she looks out on her future, full of such possibilities. She is loving her senior year and we are enjoying all the senior year milestones that come with this stage of life.

Yesterday we enjoyed another senior year bonding moment as mother and daughter when Grace and I had a photography date at the park.

Rather than hire someone else to photograph her for senior pictures we decided it would be more fun to do it ourselves. Grace and I both have a love of photography and felt we were adept enough behind the camera to pull off at least a couple successful shots for her official senior photos.

I always feel the best shots are the ones taken when the person behind the lens and in front of the lens are connected. There is a sincerity in the smile and a love reflective in the eyes of the model that doesn’t come across as well when there isn’t a relationship between the photographer and the person in front of the camera.

We made a mini date out of it.

It was a needed break for both of us as we stepped outside in the gorgeous fall weather, away from the struggles inside the house, to simply play in the leaves. We had fun choosing props reflective of Grace, her personality, and her story and scoping out the perfect natural backdrops.

In the end the results are exactly what Grace was hoping for.

Sure, the quality of my work may not compare to the gentleman who has a professional photography business set up on Main Street, but there is a sparkle in Grace’s eyes that would have never been found if a stranger had been on the other side of the camera.

We played.

We laughed.

And we made some incredible mother/daughter memories that are priceless.

Oh, how I love my sweet Grace!

Here are some of her favorite shots:

(PS- She’s love some feedback on which ones you think she should choose.)