Monthly Archives: March 2017

Girls’ Day at the Homestead!


After a late night of fun and dancing at Spring Formal, the girls woke up early to join me on the road again for road trip #3. This time we were headed out to Ohio to my parent’s house. My sister and her two oldest kids were coming down for the weekend so that all of us girls could go out for the day to celebrate Gracie’s 19th birthday.

We arrived just after Kelly and her crew pulled in after a seven-hour drive from northern Michigan. After a week of many long-distance road trips I was glad we only had 2 ½ hours to travel.

The day of fun began with Grace getting to open her gift from Mimi and Pop Pop. They gifted Grace with a perfect present for my artistic girl: a beautifully wrapped box filled with paints and canvases.


Grace and Molly also were given their matching birthday gifts from Kelly and their cousins. From Aunt Kelly they received adorable water bottles and adult coloring books.


The girls also had a gift to hand out. Last week when they had the opportunity to meet Kiera Cass they purchased the newest Siren book and had it signed for Lydia. Lydia was beyond thrilled!

We then headed out to spend the day in downtown Wooster. Mimi had a day of shopping and dining planned.


Our first stop was Friendtique, the world’s best consignment shop, and our favorite store in Wooster. The girls were thrilled to find out that it was dollar days at Friendtique which meant all clothes, shoes, and belts were $1.00.

Let the shopping spree begin!

The girls found some great $1.00 deals,

And Lydia found a jacket and shoes for her next Halloween costume. Can you guess which Harry Potter villain she will be dressing up as?


After a few hours of shopping we walked over to our favorite restaurant, Broken Rocks, for lunch. It was as delicious as always!


We had one more stop before we headed back to the Homestead. Mimi treated us all to a gourmet cupcake at The Faithful Little Cupcake shop.


The rest of our evening at the Homestead was spent playing board games, going through old photos (which was so much fun) and celebrating Gracie.


10:00 pm rolled around much too soon but alas, we had to head back home because the following morning was church and the girls’ New Beginnings program, where Grace would be recognized as one of the graduating seniors.

Oh, what a crazy full week it has been!

Let the fun continue. Next up: New Beginnings!

Spring Formal


After a few fun-filled days in Philadelphia it was time to return home, but the fun wasn’t over. Friday night was Spring Formal.

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Our church hosts a Spring Formal for the youth in our area every Spring. This formal event is a chance for the youth, ages 14-18, to dress up and enjoy a “prom” that offers appropriate song choices, modest dresses, and clean dancing… a formal dance more aligned with their standards then some of the school formals .

The kids have been going for a few years and it has become a tradition to take all the Hudaks who are 14 or older with us. This means the last two years all three Hudaks and the oldest three McCleerys have gone together.

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We arrived home, from traveling all day, and had an hour to get everyone dolled up and out the door.


Being all boy, it took Rusty only a fraction of the time it took the girls to get ready. Mimi Joy recently bought him a new suit for his belated Christmas gift. The timing was perfect for Spring Formal, given his old suit was now inches too short thanks to a recent growth spurt. He looked downright dapper!


The girls made it easy on me this year too when they went shopping in their closets, saving me from having to take them dress shopping. Gracie chose to wear her custom made Downtown Abby dress from her 18th birthday tea party.


 Molly dress was a hand-me-down. She decided to wear Gracie’s dress from her second Spring Formal. We originally found it at Salvation Army for $5.00 and boy, have we gotten our money’s worth out of that purchase. That floor length maroon gown has been worn to Spring Formal by Grace,  other young women at church, and now it was Molly’s turn.


It was made for Molly!

They all looked so smart and stylish.

This year Spring Formal was held at the beautiful 21st Century Club in downtown Pittsburgh. Over the last few years the venue for Spring Formal has changed a few times, but this was Gracie’s favorite previously used venue. It seemed fitting that for her final Spring Formal she return to the place where she attended her first Spring Formal.

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When everyone was ready to go Toby took the kids to meet up with the Hudaks at Lana’s parent’s home to pick up kids and get some photos of this good looking bunch.

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Toby graciously offered to play chaperone, for which I was grateful after a full week of driving down to Virginia, and then across the state to Philly, and then onto Ohio the next morning.

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I love this photo of Grace and Rusty because it highlights the size difference between Grace and her “little” brother so well!


The kids said it was a perfect night, filled with good fun, great music, special friends, lots of laughter, and dance after dance after dance…

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This year is Grace and Olivia’s last Spring Formal and it couldn’t have ended in a more perfect way.

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It was magical night.

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Holy COW!



The theme for the evening was COWS…

And, oh, what fun we had with our steers and heifers.

After our fieldtrip on Wednesday we had 24 hours to kill until Molly’s National Honor Society induction ceremony (the real reason we were in the Philadelphia area,) and we were looking for something fun to do that we wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do when we have the little boys with us.

So how did we spend our evening, you ask.

We donned painting aprons, sat before canvases, and created cows.

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It was Gracie’s idea, after having had such a fun experience at Painting with a Twist in Exton a few years ago with Miss Lana and Olivia. When we went onto the website to see what painting was being offered for that evenings class, we were sold!

So after dinner we drove over to “Painting with a Twist “where we joined 10 other aspiring artists for a night of creativity.

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Molly and Rusty were a bit nervous, feeling like their artistic skills wouldn’t be up to par with the other students in the class, but Grace and I kept reassuring them that the entire experience was a fun, no-pressure opportunity to be creative with no fear of “messing up.”

The painting classes at Painting With a Twist are run by an instructor who leads the class step by step through the creation of a predetermined painting. In our class we were all painting colorful cows, but had the choice whether to paint steers or heifers.

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Rusty was the only one who picked horns over a flower wreath for his cow’s head.

The class took two hours with the instructor leading us through the steps of creating the cow painting, beginning with the background and ending with the top of the cow’s head.

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It was so much fun.

I loved the creative process, but even more than that I loved watching my children create and gain confidence in their own abilities as their paintings came together.

The end results were charming.

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I loved how we all sat through the same class and yet everyone’s cows were so different and so reflective of the artist.

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We were better than we ever thought we’d be…

Sometimes we just need to be reminded of the artist that lives within:


“Have a SWEET Day!”


It seems we have established the following tradition:

That a trip out to the 21st Century Cyber Charter School building necessitates a stop in Hershey, PA.

And whether that tradition was ever our original intention or not, it now seems that with the first whiff of chocolate rolling off the Hershey exit of the turnpike, the van has a mind of its own, pulling us toward the milk chocolate heaven known as Hershey, PA.


 It seems we can’t travel east without a visit of some sort to the “sweetest place on earth.”

This time, however, we made the conscious decision to visit this charming town in a more deliberate way.

This time we had a day to spare and decided to visit The Hershey Story museum…


And we are so glad we did.

I have been an admirer of Milton Hershey ever since I learned that there was so much more to this man than the business he is known for. I found myself sucked into his story the more I read about him and felt a draw to his town and his story based largely on the great man of character and goodness he was.

His story is an example we can all learn from and someone I can hold up to my children as an example of a man who found success in more lasting and impactful ways than simply the millions he earned.


His is a story of diligence, hard work, perseverance, vision, service and giving back to his community. His is a story that I can be inspired by, so I was looking forward to vising The Hershey Story museum which delves more into the life of Milton Hershey and his achievements, aspects of the story that are often lost in the commercialism of Chocolate World.


The second story of the museum is dedicated to telling Milton Hershey’s story from the struggles of his childhood through the final years of his life.


Here is a taste of what we learned about Mr. Hershey:

(Taken from “The Man Behind the Chocolate Bar”)

Milton S. Hershey

The Man Behind the Chocolate Bar

I Was a Poor Boy Myself Once

The memories of what it was like to have been a poor boy stayed with Milton Hershey throughout his life. They influenced him strongly when he later founded a school for needy children.

Milton S. Hershey was born Sept. 13, 1857, shortly before the American Civil War on a farm in Central Pennsylvania. Like most of the people whom he knew, he was the descendant of people who had come to Pennsylvania from Switzerland and Germany in the 1700s. He grew up speaking the “Pennsylvania Dutch” dialect and inherited from these people characteristics such as a zest for hard work, diligence, and thriftiness.

The First Million Is the Hardest

At first it seemed that Milton Hershey had no talents for business. He failed at numerous ventures before he finally succeeded at making caramel candy. By then he was almost forty years old.

But Milton was ambitious, and in 1876, decided to move to Philadelphia where celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence were taking place. Hoping to cash in on the money that people would bring to the Centennial, he set himself up in the candy and confectioner’s business. Hershey borrowed considerable sums of money from his Uncle Abraham Snavely and printed elaborate business cards and stationery to advertise himself. He brought his mother and his Aunt Mattie to Philadelphia to help him. But though they all worked terribly hard, Milton was never able to make enough money to pay either his suppliers or his debts.

Hershey was persistent, however, and having failed in Philadelphia, went off to seek his fortune in Denver, New York, Chicago, and even New Orleans. He had no more success in any of these places but he did come back with one important thing: the knowledge, learned from a candymaker in Denver, that fresh milk makes good candy.

This was the secret that would make his fortune but for the moment, in 1886, he was penniless. He went back to Lancaster but did not even have the money to have his possessions shipped after him. When he walked out to his uncle’s farm, he found himself shunned as an irresponsible drifter by most of his relatives.

This time, though, fortune finally smiled on Mr. Hershey. William Henry Lebkicher, who had worked for Hershey in Philadelphia, stored his things and helped him pay the shipping charges. Aunt Mattie and his mother began once again to help him and Milton started experiments which led to the recipe for “Hershey’s Crystal A” a “melt in your mouth” caramel candy made with milk.

The Lancaster Caramel Company

A large order from an English candy importer led Hershey to ask the Lancaster National Bank for a loan. The bank’s cashier was so impressed by Hershey that he lent him the money, backing the loan with his own signature. When the Englishman actually paid for the goods with a check for 500 English pounds, Hershey was so excited that he ran down the street to the bank with his apron still on.

The success of his caramel business enabled Mr. Hershey, for the first time in his life, to spend money for his own pleasure. While he was never ostentatious, he clearly had a longing and a taste for beauty and elegance. He always enjoyed being able to spend money when and how he pleased. “It’s my money,” he would say in later years if anyone raised a question.

I’m Going to Make Chocolate

Caramels gave Mr. Hershey his first million, but chocolate gave him his real fortune. His first taste of it came on a visit to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where he became fascinated by a set of German chocolate-making machinery. Hershey bought the equipment and had it installed in Lancaster where he began producing his own chocolate, 114 varieties in all.

By the late 1800’s, Hershey, who was now aware of the growing market for chocolate, was convinced that his future lay in producing it rather than caramels. In 1900, he sold his Lancaster Caramel Company to competitors for $1 million (a sum which was then worth considerably more than now) and began to devote all his energies to making chocolate.

His search for the perfect site to build a complete chocolate factory led Hershey back to Derry Township. He had already repurchased the house where he had been born for his father. Now he was convinced that the Central Pennsylvania countryside would provide everything he needed for a factory: a plentiful water supply, fresh milk, and industrious workers. Ground was broken in 1903 and by 1905 the new factory was completed.

His Legacy Continues

Business is a Matter of Human Service

Hershey and a few chosen employees worked side by side and into the night, until just the right blend of ingredients was found for milk chocolate.

Milton Hershey’s great contribution to the American food industry was the organization of the mass production of milk chocolate. Much of the machinery necessary for mass production was either developed or adapted in Hershey’s factory. He did not begin with the clear intention of making chocolate bars and for several years produced many varieties of fancy candies. When he did make the brilliant business decision to concentrate on the Hershey bar, though, and on one or two other basic chocolate products such as cocoa and chocolate coatings, his name became the nationwide symbol for quality chocolate in a phenomenally short time.

Hershey had other qualities as well, which made him a good businessman. He was imaginative: the Hershey Kiss, for example, appears to have been his own idea. He had the skill of choosing able assistants and of keeping their devotion. He had a broad grasp of markets and of their possibilities and, furthermore, he was daring. Once he had made a decision, he put his entire force behind it, whether it was making chocolate or producing his own sugar in Cuba. On the whole, he was respected for honesty, for driving hard bargains, and for having a first-class product to sell.

Mr. Hershey was a doer, not a philosopher. He never wrote and seldom talked about his beliefs. Nevertheless, he obviously thought a lot about such matters as success and the value and purposes of money. He seems gradually to have developed, from his experience, a set of principles which he followed consistently.

Mr. Hershey used his chocolate fortune primarily for two projects: the town of Hershey and his Industrial School. Although the question was raised of whether he was well-advised to tie up his fortune in the manner he chose, no one ever questioned his sincerity.

His Deeds are His Monument

Plans for building the town went hand in hand with building the factory. Since Hershey started his company in the middle of farmland, not in a town, it was clear from the start that he would have to provide a place for at least some of his workers, as well as his managerial staff, to live.

Plans were drawn for a pleasant tree-lined community which provided for all the needs of its inhabitants. A bank, hotel, school, churches, parks, golf courses, and a zoo followed each other in rapid succession. With characteristic forethought, Mr. Hershey developed a trolley system so that people did not feel compelled to live in Hershey and had a way to get to work from nearby towns.

Although the town was well established by its 10th anniversary in 1913, Hershey had a second building boom in the 1930s. During the Depression, Mr. Hershey kept men at work building the Hotel, the community building with two elegant theatres, Senior Hall for the boys’ school, a windowless, air-conditioned office building for the factory, and the Arena. The last two were excellent examples of Mr. Hershey’s innovative approach. The controlled environment of the office building was way ahead of its time and the arena was, at that time, the largest such structure made of poured concrete and unsupported by columns. It was Mr. Hershey’s boast that no one was laid off in Hershey during the Depression years

A Man of Principle

Mr. Hershey’s belief that an individual is morally obligated to share the fruits of success with others resulted in significant contributions to society. Together with his wife Catherine, he established the most prominent of his philanthropic endeavors, the Hershey Industrial School. Saddened because they had no children of their own, and anxious to put their growing fortune to good use, Milton and Catherine Hershey founded this school for orphaned boys in 1909.

The School’s Deed of Trust stipulated that: “All orphans admitted to the School shall be fed with plain, wholesome food; plainly, neatly, and comfortably clothed, without distinctive dress; and fitly lodged. Due regard shall be paid to their health; their physical training shall be attended to, and they shall have suitable and proper exercise and recreation. They shall be instructed in the several branches of a sound education . . . . . The main object in view is to train young men to useful trades and occupations, so that they can earn their own livelihood.”

Here again, though some criticized, the school became the principal recipient of Hershey’s fortune and continues to be so today.

When Milton Hershey died in 1945 at the age of 88, a chocolate bar had carried his name around the world and made him a legend. Poor boy turned millionaire, he was loved and admired as well as envied and sometimes misunderstood.

Hershey had the genius to develop the chocolate industry in the right place at the right time. His personal convictions about the obligations of wealth and the quality of life in the town he founded have made the company, community, and school a living legacy.

It was a fascinating museum.


Some of our favorite exhibits included the Titanic ticket on display that was purchased by Milton Hershey but never used due to his wife getting ill and their plans having to be refigured.

We also enjoyed seeing the original Hershey Kiss machine on display.


There was also an area where the kids could design their own packaging for the Hershey Bar.


I most enjoyed reading about Milton Hershey’s philanthropic work, especially the school he opened for orphans that is still running and helping youth today. I think it touched me most because the children benefiting from Milton Hershey’s generosity are kids with stories much like my boys’ stories… kids that just need a chance.

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When we were done touring the second floor we headed downstairs to the first floor where there was a hand-on area. Here we were able to try our hand at working for Mr. Hershey in a variety of different capacities that would have been career opportunities during the early 20th century.


As “new hires,” guests will try different jobs throughout the factory. Be sure to not burn the cocoa beans in the roasting department! Push Hershey’s famed bathtub trucks in the refining area. In the “knock-out” area, you’ll remove bars from molds without damaging the chocolate. Weigh boxes of Kisses, pack bars into boxes and fill customer orders in the finishing department. Once training is complete, guests will receive their final job assignments.


Here the kids got to apprentice as a roaster:


A refiner:


A “knock out” employee:


Or a wrapper:


This was a fun area even for my overgrown kiddos.


Then came the grand finale of the visit!!

We ended with:

Sample Flights of Warm Drinking Chocolates From Around the World

From fruity African chocolate flavors to Indonesian chocolate with caramel overtones, come hone your skills as a cocoa connoisseur… or simply enjoy a taste of indulgence. Tastings at The Hershey Story is a treat for your taste buds and the perfect way to immerse yourself in the sweet world that inspired Milton Hershey.


This was so much fun. In the tasting center café they offer a tasting experience of six drinking chocolates from across the world.

After sitting down we were brought our six shot glasses of chocolate from six different regions of the world. We also received a reference sheet that gave information about each chocolate, explained how dark the chocolate was, and what notes of flavor could be found in each tasting sample.


We were instructed to begin with the most bitter chocolate and work our way towards the more milk chocolate samples, ending with the Hershey blend.


It was neat to taste the distinctly different flavors of cocoa beans from around the world and we found the printed description to be spot on with our tastings.


In the end everyone had a favorite.

Rusty favored Java, an Indonesian bean with a sweet rich flavor that hinted of caramel.

Gracie favored Venezuela, a more bitter chocolate with woody flavors and  notes of black olive.

Molly favored Ghana’s beans (which happens to be the #1 bean choice for chocolatiers.) This sweet, chestnut flavored bean had a fruity undertone.

My favorite drinking chocolate came from Mexico. This bitter and slightly acidic chocolate had notes of black licorice.

We ended our tasting with the smooth, buttery chocolate of Hershey, toasting the man who made this memorable experience possible.


Thank you, Milton Hershey!





Molly joins National Honor Society


After much fun and frivolity, the time arrived for the main event…the reason we traveled out east in the first place…

 It was time for Molly’s National Honor Society induction ceremony!

This special event was scheduled to begin Thursday evening at 5:30pm but Grace, as president of National Honor Society, was asked to arrive early with the other officers so they could practice their parts and do a walkthrough of the evening’s events.

This year it was being held at a different venue from the last few NHS ceremonies.

We walked in and knew at once we had found the right place.

The first clue was the school’s logo:


The second clue was Tatum, who ran out to greet us:


The presence of the Hudaks clued us in that we had arrived.


Speaking of “arriving,” we discovered we truly had “arrived” when we received our seating assignments and discovered we would be eating with the school’s BIG WIGS in addition to our friends, the Hudaks. It was a bit intimidating to discover we had been placed at a table with the new high school principal, Dr. Teresa McSweeney, and the head of education, Dr. Benjamin Ruby, but we soon discovered that we had won the table lottery with table 3. They were both a delight to dine with and there was much laughter and conversation.

Before dinner began we had the opportunity to mix and mingle, visiting with teachers and cyber friends. In the lobby they had a slide show playing that highlighted each inductee with that student’s photo and a message from their family.


Our New Castle Star Co-op was well represented with five of our co-op kids being inducted that night in NHS and NJHS,


 in addition to our two co-op kids that are officers in NHS.


It made me so proud of our kids and our little co-op!

We were eventually call to our seats and welcomed by Mr. Winterode.

The evening began with dinner. The food was yummy, especially the start: (a delicious mixed green salad with sugared walnuts, crumbled blue cheese, dried fruit and a sweet and sour dressing,)

And the end: (a scrumptious raspberry cheesecake)…YUM!


During dinner we enjoyed conversation with the two school administrators seated at our table. It was a delight to hear their stories of how they came to work at 21CCCS, as well as share our experiences and feedback as 21CCCS families.


As dessert arrived the program began with words from Dr. Teresa McSweeney who began with a little history lesson about the National Honor Society (Did you know it had its start in Pittsburgh?) and then congratulated and welcomed the new inductees.


We then heard from a faculty speaker (who also happened to be the first 21CCCS graduate to return as faculty,) followed by words from one of the NHS student officers.

Then the lighting ceremony began. Four of the current NHS members and officers, including Grace and Olivia, spoke about the four pillars of National Honor Society: Scholarship, Leadership, Character, and Service. They each lit a candle to represent that virtue that is shown by every NHS member and in each of our new inductees. After the center candle was lit the flame was passed to each inductee.


It was a joy to watch Grace, as NHS president, pass the flame to her little sister.


The new inductees were then called up to the front individually to receive their NHS pin and membership card, as well as to be welcomed into the National Honor Society organization by the NHS faculty leaders and the principals.


The ceremony ended with much applause as we celebrate an exceptional group of students whose lives truly exemplify the four NHS pillars of leadership, scholarship, character and service.


What a testament to the incredible teachers, staff, students, and families that ARE 21st Century Cyber Charter School.

We feel so blessed to be a 21st Century family.

The remainder of the evening was spent mingling with teachers and congratulating our new inductees. The country club eventually had to kick everyone out when it became apparent that everyone was enjoying themselves too much to leave without a little nudging.


It was a wonderful night and we were so proud of Miss Molly and all the effort and work she put towards her goal of being a member of National Honor Society!

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Congratulations, Molly, you make our hearts happy.

A Trip Back to Colonial Times


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Oh, what fun we have had these last two days exploring the eastern side of the state. We are proud to share that Molly is our newest inductee into 21st Century Cyber Charter School’s National Honor Society! Not only did we have a wonderful experience at her ceremony (more on that in the next blog) but we also packed in some extra fun while we were in the area!

When we realized that we would be headed east for Molly’s National Honor Society induction ceremony within a day of the school’s planned fieldtrip to the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation we decided to piggyback one experience on top of the other and turn our one day trip into two.

It is a rare treat to get one on one time with my three oldest, so when opportunities like this one present itself I jump at the chance to create some individual memories.

It just so happens this opportunity came on the cusp of last week’s trip to Roanoke, Virginia, making it seem that I am a lady of leisure, gadding about the country instead of being a responsible grown-up, but I promise this is a rare anomaly.

These last two weeks have been a special gift. It is a rare treat to have this fun time with just my three oldest.

Some of the fun we had happened at the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation where we were transported back in time two hundred years to the early days of our nation’s history.

We arrived just as the fieldtrip was starting, surprising some teachers that thought we had traveled 5 hours from Pittsburgh just to attend the fieldtrip. We eventually  fessed up that as much as we love them (and their great fieldtrips) the only reason we were only attending this particular outing (five hours from our house) was because we were already coming to town for the NHS ceremony. 🙂

At the end of the fieldtrip we were asked whether it was worth driving across the state for and I had to answer, “Yes!” It really was a neat place. We love living history sites and this working plantation was exceptional.

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Here is a little bit of information taken from the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation’s website:

“The Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation is an authentic living history site with the purpose of enhancing understanding of 1760-90 farm life in Southeastern Pennsylvania by providing high quality, research based experiences to the public.

Astride Ridley Creek in Edgemont, PA., the 112 acres of the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation provide the context of early American history, the setting where the impact of King George’s taxes was felt, the American melting pot began to simmer, and American ingenuity took root.

While the decisions of military and political leaders may set the course of history, it is left to the average people, the foot soldiers of history, to carry themselves and their nation to the future.

As much as the conflict and debate of the Revolution, it was the daily conquest of the land that shaped the character and growth of America. Using their resourcefulness to survive and prosper, the colonists helped establish the foundation of the American way. Much of the familiarity with colonial times is based on history’s memorialized few. Accounts of the clothing, homes and style of living of the likes of Washington, Franklin and Jefferson have implied an elite standard beyond the reality of the typical southeastern Pennsylvanian, a rural farmer. The Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation’s modest role – as a working farm operating with the methods and implements of colonial America – belies its significance as a living example of that period.

The people and activities of the Plantation represent more than the one 18th century family who owned the property. The way of life that exists at the Plantation is a tribute not simply to the Pratt family, who lived on this farm from 1720-1820, but to the efforts and achievements of the typical colonial resident of this area. Consistent with the findings of local research into religious and tax records, wills and letters of the 1760-90 period, the Plantation represents a broader view of early American life, an authentic demonstration of how most people in this area lived during colonial times.”

We began our tour outside with our incredibly knowledgeable tour guide leading us through the outside work that would have beeen an everyday part of life for a colonial family.


We were able to meet the animals that would have played a key role in a family’s ability to be self-sustaining during the 1700’s, because although commerce would have been abundant in the colonies at the time things would have been very expensive making it improbable that a farming family would purchase many goods. Most of what they needed for survival from food, to furniture, to cloth and candles would have been made at home with materials grown and raised on the plantation.

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We found the oxen especially endearing. There was a sweet, sad, basset-like personality that radiated from two-year-old Russ.

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It was neat to watch his handler put Russ through his paces, demonstrating the verbal commands used to get Russ to perform.

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He explained the essential role oxen would have served on a farm. He shared that while a farm might have both horses and oxen the jobs each would be used for differed based on the task. Horses were the better animal for plowing land quickly. For each horse you had harnessed to the plow you could plow an extra acre a day. A farmer with two horses would average two acres a day. A farmer with four horses would plow four acres a day. This was not the case for oxen who have three speeds: slow, slower, and slowest. He explained that a farmer plowing with one oxen would plow ½ acre a day…2 oxen: ½ acre a day…8 oxen: ½ acre a day, but oxen were the chosen farm animal for plowing rough and uneven land, a task a horse would have struggled with.

From there the students had the opportunity to participate in chores and tasks from that era. We began with candle making.

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The students were placed in two lines and each given a wick that had been folded in half. Two at a time the students stepped forward to the pot of melted wax, dipped their wicks, and then moved to the back of the line.

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This process was repeated 25 times with their candles growing with each dipping until everyone had a finger-sized set of candles.

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After a lunch break and a tour of the plantation home we began chore time on the plantation.


During the next few hours the students got to try their hand at drawing water from the well:

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As well as helping fill the wood shed by taking turns on the two-man saw. My kids, who are no strangers to farm labor or cutting, splitting, and stacking wood, found the use of a two man saw far slower and more challenging than the modern process we use at home.

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After all those chores our little 21cccs colonial children earned some free time to try their hand at some colonial era games.


A favorite game was the newly learned game of Graces, a tossing game involving the use of two wooden sticks used to “gracefully” toss a hoop to a playmate. The kids enjoyed this game so much they expressed a desire to try to recreate it at home.

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I enjoyed watching them play as much as they enjoyed playing it…especially when the wind began to blow!

Rusty tried “rolling the hoop” with a great deal of success…it was an amazing feat when one considers his height in comparison to the hoop.

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The outing ended with the distribution of our homemade candles.

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We all enjoyed this fieldtrip so much,


and are glad the stars aligned, allowing us to catch this fieldtrip while out east for the National Honor Society induction ceremony.

It was a perfect day to step back in time!


“Salvage Dawgs” Hometown


The day after our exciting meet-and-greet experience with Kiera Cass we found ourselves with an entire day free and open to explore western Virginia.


This was our first time visiting this part of Virginia and we fell in love with the area. Roanoke was the closest city to where we were staying so we decided to spend the day exploring Roanoke before heading home.

We began our day with a stop at the Roanoke Visitor Center, housed in the town’s old train depot. Here we met a delightful volunteer that quickly acquainted us with the city, shared with us her recommended stops, and even told us we could stay parked in the Visitor’s Center parking lot so we didn’t have to worry about parking downtown.

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From there we just had a short walk across the overhead walkway to get to downtown Roanoke.

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We began our day by strolling through the charming downtown shopping area that was filled with unique boutiques.

Some of our favorite stores included:

“La De Da,” an adorable women’s boutique that was so artsy and individual. We loved everything in there including the background décor and the unique ways they displayed their wares. It truly was a feast for the eyes and we all kept commenting how much it reminded us of Krista and her artsy style.

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“Chocolate Paper,” a paper store filled with handmade wrapping papers, journals, fun gifts, and cards. They also just happened to sell homemade chocolates which explains the store’s name. I personally can’t think of a better combination of inventory, being a great lover of paper wares and chocolate.

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“Gypsy Palooza” which was as representative of my girls’ styles as “La De Da” was Krista’s. They both fell in love with this fun, funky boutique filled with homemade upcycled clothes and vintage pieces.

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Molly even found a cute pair of pants with leather suspenders that she couldn’t resist.

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Shopping here was delightful, not only because of the fun pieces and charming décor, but also because of the fun girls that ran the store.

On the corner we discovered a fun candy store. Here we picked up a treat for Daddy and the boys at home. We also each got a bag of candy for the movies later.

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It was while we were in the candy store we discovered that we were inside “Center in the Square,” a building circled on our map by our helpful friend at the Visitor’s Center. She said we needed to stop in this building if for nothing else than the free aquarium, rooftop gardens, and butterfly house.

This building houses multiple museums including the Harrison Museum of African American Culture, the Science Museum of Western Virginia, and the Pinball Museum…none of which we visited this trip, but we did spent time in the lobby enjoying the free aquarium. Molly was especially thrilled to see they had jellyfish, one of her favorite animals.

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We then headed up to the seventh floor to check out the rooftop gardens. Being mid-March there wasn’t much growing, but the views of the city were incredible.

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Then at Gracie’s request we headed downstairs to check out the butterfly house.

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It was fun to search out the many variations of butterflies found in the garden.

It was so peaceful and relaxing to sit and be still among such beauty…

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At least until we started getting dive-bombed. 🙂

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As we spoke with one of the butterfly house employees he shared with us some of the current types of butterflies on display, explaining that the types change daily. He explained that new chrysalises are purchase weekly at a cost of $1000.00 a week with those butterflies living only days to up to two weeks at a time.

It made me appreciate the experience all the more to see the investment of time and money that goes into a place like that.

By the time we were done flitting around with butterflies we were all hungry so we took a lunch break to get off our feet and enjoy some delicious French Dip sandwiches.

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From there we walked back to the car because our next stop wasn’t within walking distance. It was however a must see stop, being one of the most famous establishments in Roanoke, Virginia. Yes, I am talking about Black Dog Salvage, best known for their DIY Network show, “Salvage Dawgs.”

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“Salvage Dawgs is a trip into a world of shrewd negotiations as Robert Kulp and Mike Whiteside co-owners of one of the premier architectural salvage operations in the United States, Black Dog Salvage bid on homes and buildings condemned to be demolished. Their goal is to secure the remarkable pieces of America’s past hidden inside these old structures before they are lost forever. These salvaged vintage pieces include everything from doors, windows, mantels and more. Once they are recovered, the guys sell these valuable pieces to a wide range of clients, from construction workers to high-end interior designers, who use them to restore other historical buildings and add character to newer structures.”

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What a place! This was way more up my alley than any of the boutiques we had visited that morning. The shop is split into two parts with the front being filled with house décor and one of a kind, upcycled pieces made from other people’s rubbish…MY FAVORITE sort of decorating! I was just sad Toby wasn’t with us because he would have loved it!

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The back half of the store was filled with the raw, unfinished products that could be used to create one’s own unique one-of-a-kind pieces. Here they had rooms filled with old doors, lighting fixtures, sinks and architectural pieces.


I found treasures among the “junk” when I stumbled across these red, plastic, sign letters. I had a decorating vision as soon as I saw them!

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In the store they even had a nook set up where you could put up your feet and enjoy an episode or two of their show.

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It was an incredible place. I hope to return someday with Toby. This is the sort of shopping we enjoy doing together!


Visitors come from all over the world.


We ended our tour of Roanoke with a drive up to the overlook. We were told throughout the day that we couldn’t return home to Pittsburgh without a trip up to see the Roanoke Star, the world’s largest lit-up star in the world. It sits on hillside above the city, shining down upon Roanoke.

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I have to say that over the course of the day we fell in love with Roanoke. Everyone was so friendly and the city was absolutely charming.

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We ended our special day with a visit to the movies to see the much-anticipated remake of “Beauty and the Beast.” I was a bit nervous that my favorite Disney movie of all time would be decimated. Gracie, who also considers “Beauty and the Beast” her favorite Disney movie, felt more confident and was eagerly looking forward to this live action version.

Well, I had nothing to worry about. It was incredible. I loved everything about it and would go as far as to say that I think it is even better than the original. I will not say anymore as I don’t want to risk giving anything away in my gushing, but…EEK! IT WAS SO GOOD!


What a magical way to end a special day with my girls.

Meeting Kiera Cass!



It was a magical evening…

A wish granted…

The fulfillment of a bucket list dream for my oldest child.

Grace turned 19 last week and Toby and I gifted her with something special for her 19th birthday,

an opportunity to meet her favorite author!

Kiera Cass, author of The Siren and The Selection series, has been Gracie’s favorite author since she was 14 years old.

My desire to gift Grace with an opportunity to meet this author for a birthday or Christmas gift has also been on my radar for the last five years, but I soon discovered that this author rarely did book signings or meet and greets, so I assumed it would remain a dream unrealized.

As Gracie’s 19th birthday rolled around I decided to check one last time to see if there were any  book tours or signings scheduled for the upcoming year when I discovered that Kiera Cass was scheduled to appear at a Barnes and Noble event just days after Gracie’s birthday near the author’s hometown of Christiansburg, Virginia.

The stars had aligned and we were thrilled to play “Fairy Godmother” and make Gracie’s longtime wish come true.

On her birthday, when she opened the gift box from us containing the newest Kiera Cass book and a t-shirt bearing a quote from the book, she was being given a clue to her surprise gift.

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And when she found out we would be traveling in a week to meet her favorite author face to face she was beside herself with excitement.

During that week of waiting Grace kept herself busy gathering all her books to be signed,

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dying and decorating a pair of shoes with images and quotes from The Siren book to be worn to the book signing,


and painting a picture of The Siren to give the author as a gift from her.


On Thursday morning we left for the 6 1/2 hour drive to Virginia. Grace invited Molly to come along so the three of us headed south to MEET KIERA CASS!!!

We arrived at the Barnes and Noble an hour before the book signing was scheduled to begin which allowed us time for Molly to buy her own copy of the book to be signed and for us to buy Lydia (my niece whom Gracie has introduced to her favorite series) a copy of the book so we could surprise her with a personalized signed copy.

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We then found seats and waited for the event to begin.

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The book signing was highlighting two authors: Danielle Paige, author of the Dorothy Must Die series and Keira Cass.



The event was split into two parts with an hour of Q and A with the authors, followed by the book signing.

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As the authors answered their fans’ questions we were able to get a feel for both of their fun personalities. Gracie was especially delighted to be the final hand chosen to ask Kiera Cass a question. Her question was in regard to The Siren book and the author’s decision to add the use of sign language to the book, asking if Kiera Cass knew ASL. She replied that she only knew the most basic signs but had always desired to learn, especially after researching it for her book.

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It was then time for the meet and greet.

Molly and Grace got in Kiera Cass’s line…

Molly with her two books for she and Lydia,

and Grace with her entire collection!

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Kiera Cass was as warm and charming in person as she was at a distance.

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When Grace approached the first thing she noticed was The Siren sitting at the top of her pile. She gasped and asked, “Where in the world did you find this?”

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You see, Kiera Cass self-published Gracie’s version of The Siren years before she became famous, selling very few copies. When Grace first fell in love with this author, during a time when Kiera Cass had only the first book of The Selection series out, we discovered this little known publication, and after much searching found a used copy on eBay. Since then Kiera Cass has re-released The Siren but the story told in the new version is very different then her first release, so as she signed copy after copy of the newly released Siren book she was shocked to see Grace walk up with this obscure copy.

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She signed all of Gracie’s books and then Gracie presented her with the painting she made her.

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Kiera was touched and Grace was thrilled.

It was a perfectly perfect evening…

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A dream fulfilled!

Soaring on the Wings of a Butterfly



Currently at Carnegie Natural History Museum there is a hands-on exhibit all about butterflies. When we first saw this advertised we through it would be a butterfly experience with live butterflies, but it turns out that it is something quite different.

It is a butterfly experience that allows kids to live the life of a butterfly and experience the different stages of its life through a series of fun, hands-on activities.

There were many exhibits we visited that day but a good bulk of our time there was spent here, because it was so much fun.


Before entering the maze and experiencing life as a butterfly the kids were encouraged to pick up a stamp card which they could use to collect stamps at the various stations of a butterfly’s life.

After collecting the stamp card the kids entered the maze.


As we moved through the maze the kids had to read signs and make decisions on whether to turn left or right based on what they felt a butterfly would choose. A wrong choice led to a dead end but a correct choice led to the next step in a butterfly’s life.


We went from hatching from an egg and becoming a caterpillar:


To eating and growing:


To avoiding predators:

To forming a chrysalis:


And breaking free as a butterfly:


From there we were drawn to nectar and helped pollinate flowers:


before laying eggs of our own and then soaring free.

It was a really fun exhibit and an great teaching tool for Tyler who always learns better through experiences rather than sitting and reading about something.

It was also a good reminder for me, as I moved through the maze pondering on the metaphor of a butterfly’s life, that the most painful times of our life result in the most magnificent metamorphosis.


We have to  struggle before we can soar!

Soldiers and Sailors Museum

Our tour of the Cathedral of Learning was followed by a quick lunch, made all the quicker by the fact that it was spring break so the school cafeteria that many were counting on to be their lunch spot was closed for the week. Luckily we had stopped at Subway to buy lunch since we had 90 minutes to spare between picking up Ozzie and the start of the field trip. It was a good thing we had lunch because I don’t know that Tyler could have made it through round two of the outing without food in his belly.
As it was, this sort of outing is challenging for him. Tours where he has to be still and quiet and listen to a guide rather than move at his own pace test his resolve, luckily the use of a Rubix Cube as a fidget toy helped him manage his ADHD and he actually did amazingly well.
Our second tour of the day was just across the street at the Soldiers and Sailors Museum.
Here is information about this museum taken from their website:
“Welcome to one of Pittsburgh’s most well known landmarks and treasures. Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum is the nation’s only military memorial dedicated to honoring the men and women of all branches of service, from all generations and conflicts. The historic building has stood in honor of our veterans since 1910. 
  Through personally donated artifacts and mementos, the museum offers a unique look into American military history by telling the stories of the individuals who served our country since the Civil War through today.  
Guests also can experience performances in the stately 2300 seat concert auditorium and celebrate in classic style in our elegant ballroom. ”

“The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) conceived Soldiers & Sailors during the 1890s. It was originally built to recognize the sacrifice, valor and patriotism of the Civil War Veterans of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Today it honors the men and women of Pennsylvania who served the United States in its military endeavors during our country’s history.

Soldiers & Sailors is the nation’s only military memorial dedicated to honoring the men and women of all branches of service, and in all capacities (Active, Reserve, Guard).  Our mission is to preserve a lasting tribute to those men and women who unselfishly gave of themselves in serving their country during American wars.

The American wars and the efforts of the people who fought them profoundly affected the lives of countless individuals both military and civilian. It is our vision to promote the understanding and appreciation of the accomplishments and sacrifice of the service men and women and their community.”

This, too, was a fascinating tour and another one I had never been on before.


The architecture of the building was as much a delight as the artifacts within.


We had two tour guides, one who led us through the first half of American war history, ending with the Civil War,


and a second tour guide that took us from World War I through present conflicts.


There was a wide range of fascinating artifacts including uniforms, guns, gear, propaganda, medical supplies, and even a life mask of Abraham Lincoln, probably the most valuable artifact they are in possession of.


We walked away feeling like we had learned a lot of new facts about our nation’s military history, as well as gaining an even greater appreciation for our servicemen and women.


The tour ended with each student receiving a souvenir dog tag with their name inscribed on it. It was a very neat, unexpected token to remind us of this special day…


and Tyler hasn’t removed his since he received it.

We completed part two of our outing around 2:00pm and said goodbye to the teachers that had a five hour drive back to the school. We then decided to take advantage of our Carnegie Membership and head across the street to the Natural History Museum to check out their temporary butterfly exhibit that I thought the younger boys might like. It ended up being a hit with the big kids too.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our never ending day of outings. 🙂