Monthly Archives: October 2017

Spiritual Crocodiles


This past week for family night we focused on a spiritual lesson…

One that is pertinent to all of us despite the different stages of life we find ourselves in.

The lesson was on spiritual crocodiles.

spiritual crocodiles

We began our evening with one of the kids’ favorite childhood books, “The Big Wide- Mouthed Frog.” In this cute children’s book a sassy frog approaches different animals asking them what they eat. By the end of the story the frog meets his match when he approaches a crocodile and asks, “Big bumpy brown log, what do you eat?” Only to hear the response, “I am a crocodile and I eat big, wide-mouthed frogs!”

IMG_2867 (2)

This cute story led into our lesson for the evening on the danger of spiritual crocodiles in our lives.

We began our lesson with this video:

After watching the video we discussed the analogy of how certain choices and sins could be likened to the danger of crocodiles, and what can be learned from the story of the Englishman who chose to challenge the limitations he felt the fence placed on his life, only to put himself in greater danger.

We talked about the slippery slope of sin and how playing with boundaries can place us in a position to be snapped up by the jaws of certain spiritual crocodiles, thus finding ourselves struggling to escape their grasp.

Then the kids went on a crocodile hunt. Earlier in the evening Toby hid pictures of crocodiles around the room.

IMG_2865 (2)

The kids raced to find them all. Once all the crocodiles had been found, they took turns reading the different scenarios written on the crocodile cards and discussing the dangers of getting too close to that particular crocodile.

IMG_2880 (2)IMG_2875 (2)IMG_2884 (2)IMG_2883

It led to some great discussion and allowed all of us to reflect on our own tendency to tempt danger and dip our toes in the muddy waters of sin.


We ended our lesson with big, wide mouth frogs…YUM!

IMG_2890 (2)


Johnstown Incline


Our final stop of the day was the Johnstown Incline.

IMG_2838 (3)

The 21st Century staff decided to take the school van up the incline for a fun photo op and invited anyone who wanted to join them (for this optional add-on to the planned field trip) to meet them at the incline.

IMG_2802 (2)

It sounded like fun to my crew, who although had previously ridden an incline up the steep hillsides of Pittsburgh, had never experienced the unique thrill of riding up an incline that could carry vehicles in addition to people.

IMG_2817 (2)

Here is a little background information about the Johnstown Incline that we learned while visiting:

In the 1830s, the first inclined planes in the United States were completed in and around Cambria County, Pa, as part of the Allegheny Portage System. Over the coming decades, this technology was used to create no less than 17 inclined planes in Pittsburgh, which hauled people and freight up the city’s many hillsides.

In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the narrow valley in which the city was located created problems for expansion. As a growing industrial city, Johnstown needed to find room to grow, and the hilltops near the city were the perfect choice.

The Johnstown Flood of 1889, which devastated the city and killed over 2,000 people, increased the desire for hilltop living. The top of Yoder Hill to the west of the city was home to only a few farms, and the roads to the top were very difficult to navigate. The Cambria Iron Works decided to turn this land into a livable space for its workers

In 1890, just a year after the devastating flood, work began on the Johnstown Inclined Plane, which was opened on June 1, 1891.

IMG_2799 (2)

Originally known as the Cambria Inclined Plane, it rose 502 feet from downtown Johnstown to the top of Yoder Hill. Covering the vertical increase in only 896 feet, the incline has a grade of 70.9%, making it the steepest vehicular inclined plane in the world 125 years after it was completed.

IMG_2813 (3)

Over the first 80 years of operation, 40 million trips were taken on the Johnstown Inclined Plane, include roughly 4,000 people who escaped from the 1936 flood in Johnstown. Today, the inclined plane is primarily used by tourists visiting the area to enjoy the beauty and nostalgia of the ride.

IMG_2812 (3)

Our large crew had to be split into two groups with the 21CCCS van and teachers riding up in the first car and the rest of the students and their families taking the second car.

IMG_2856 (3)

The ride up was thrilling. The car was more open than the enclosed cars we have experienced on Pittsburgh’s inclines. There was just a wooden gate to prevent visitors from tumbling to their deaths down the steep hillside.

IMG_2822 (2)

OK, I’m sure there was no actual risk…

 but it felt daring, nonetheless.

IMG_2827 (3)

On our climb up the hill we passed a family of white tail deer…aka “Pennsylvania mountain goats”…munching on grass alongside the incline rails.

IMG_2853 (3)

At the top of the incline, there was a large observation deck which offered the opportunity to take in the amazing views. From here, we could see all of Johnstown and the valley created by the Little Conemaugh River and Stonycreek River. On the outskirts of the city, the remains of industrial sites could be seen, including an old steel mill. In many respects, this view reminded me of what Pittsburgh might have looked like from the top of Mount Washington 100 years ago.

IMG_2809 (2)IMG_2832 (3)

Without a doubt, a ride on the Johnstown Inclined Plane should be on the bucket list for every visitor to Johnstown. The combination of a fun ride, a history lesson, and the amazing view from the top made it one of the highlights of the day.

IMG_2840 (2)

It was a perfect way to round out our day in Johnstown, Pennsylvania with our 21st Century family!

Looking at Life through Immigrants’ Eyes



After lunch at the Johnstown Flood Museum we headed a mile away to the Discovery Heritage Center. When the cyber school purchased tickets for us all to tour the Johnstown Flood Museum, they discovered that during the month of October the Heritage Society were offering free admittance into the Discovery Heritage Center, a sister museum in Johnstown. So, at 1:00pm we hopped in our cars and drove a mile down the street to the Discovery Heritage Center.

This museum, housed in an old brewery building, has been cleverly repurposed into a fun, fascinating museum that highlights the unique history of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

We began our tour by watching a film about the history of the steel industry in Johnstown.

“The Mystery of Steel” was shown in a theater at the bottom of the 3-story gallery. This was a film that documented Johnstown’s role in the early steel industry. The film focused on the period of 1854-1880, and told the story of some of the key technological innovations developed in Johnstown.


 David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of The Johnstown Flood wrote, “There is no question about the importance of the old Cambria Iron Works. The age of steel in America can fairly be said to have begun there.”

From there we moved to the first-floor exhibit. This area of the museum titled, “America: Through Immigrant Eyes,” told a national story in a local context. It captured our attention and our imaginations through its innovative use of interactive media. Rather than simply looking at artifacts, we actually experienced the sights and sounds of immigrants’ daily lives, and came away with a more complete understanding of the sacrifices and achievements of these Americans in the making.


As we entered, we chose a card with a photo of one of eight immigrant characters, who are fictional composites based on historical facts. We then got to experience the daily life of that character as we toured the museum.

IMG_2735 (2)

When we “plugged” our card into an exhibit, the exhibit responded as though we were the immigrant character featured on the card,

as seen in this interaction between Molly and a local landlady who made it clear Molly’s type weren’t welcome in her neighborhood.

IMG_2753 (2)

America: Through Immigrant Eyes focused on the immigrants who arrived between 1880 through 1914, and the ethnic neighborhoods in which they settled. During this period, immigrants to Johnstown were almost exclusively from Eastern and Southern Europe.

Polish immigrants speak through Josef, age 12, a peasant boy, and a 21-year-old Stefan, a migrant farmhand. The Slovaks tell their story through the peasant girl Anna, age 9, and Prokop, a butcher who is 29. You can tour with Andrej, a 24-year-old Bohemian farmhand or Katerina, age 30, a goose farmer from Hungary. Then again, you may choose to experience the life of 19-year-old Maria, an Italian peasant, or Mosha, a 36-year-old shopkeeper from Russia.

Regardless of which immigrant was chosen the experience begins in the Old Country, where we learned about the countries and conditions the immigrants were leaving. The exhibit then moved to an interactive video display where we could experience what it was like to be questioned at Ellis Island.

IMG_2745 (2)

Nearby, an exhibit room created the sights and sounds of a busy railroad station where a panoramic video depicted the newcomers disembarking from trains in Johnstown and being reunited with friends and family.

IMG_2749 (2)

In addition, interactive exhibits gave us a taste of life and work in the steel mills and coal mines. One coal-mining exhibit gave us the chance to try working at the picking tables, separating rock from coal.


In the next area of the exhibit, recent immigrants living in tenements discuss pressing topics of their daily lives – if a family’s 12-year-old son should go to work in the mines, how to divide a steelworker’s meager pay, an accident in the steel mill, or joyful plans for a daughter’s wedding. Other audio-visual exhibits depict a bar mitzvah, a Ukrainian wedding, and an Italian funeral.


At the conclusion of the exhibit we were able to pick up a biography of the immigrant we were representing and find out how our lives played out in America.

IMG_2762 (2)

This immersive experience took up most of our time at the Discovery Heritage Center. With limited time left we headed up to the third floor to the Children’s Museum for some fun, hands-on activities and playtime for our overgrown preschoolers.

The Johnstown Children’s Museum featured a variety of hands-on, interactive exhibits that allowed our overgrown kids to learn through play about Johnstown’s geography, history, culture, ecology, industry and more.

First stop: the water room.

The water room’s exhibits allowed us to play in water for hands-on learning about concepts like dam-building, municipal plumbing, rain in mountains and valleys, acid rain, and native fish.

IMG_2769 (2)

Next stop: the coal mines under Yoder Hill.

The climber is a huge reproduction of Yoder Hill, including mine tunnels to climb high toward the ceiling.

 Inside the “mine,” the kids had the opportunity to dress up like coal miners, in hard hats and orange vests.

IMG_2787 (2)

Inside the mines an experienced coal miner talked about safety. There were exhibits about the kinds of rocks found in a mine, and “talking artifacts” — including a miner’s lunch pail. When the kids reached the top of the mine shaft they got to take a “coal chute” slide down, where they landed in a padded coal car that was filled with “coal.”

IMG_2791 (2)

This fun, interactive area was Molly and Rusty’s (and I suspect the Hudaks’) favorite stop of the day. I think they enjoyed stepping back in time and just playing pretend.

IMG_2783 (2)

Through a door on the third floor we discovered the rooftop terraces of the Heritage Discovery Center. On this rooftop garden there were displays of native Pennsylvania plants. Since the garden was going dormant and the plants were preparing for winter the garden was not in its pretty stage, but the views from the garden made up for it. There on the rooftop terrace we were able to enjoy spectacular views of Cambria City and the Conemaugh Gap.

IMG_2773 (2)IMG_2776IMG_2778 (2)

All to soon it was time to meet up with our 21CCCS teachers in the gift shop to head to our final Johnstown location…

 IMG_2680 (2)

Final stop of the day: The Johnstown Inclined Plane.

Johnstown Flood Museum


I have been fascinated by the events of the Johnstown flood since I was a teenager. The more I learned about this historic tragedy, the more compelling I found it.


People stand atop houses among ruins after flooding in Johnstown, Pa., May 30, 1889. (AP Photo)

The loss of life was tragic but the human stories of  survival and everyday heroes are timeless and compelling. The real story of that tragic day can be found in the stories of the people of Johnstown…inspiring stories of everyday people rallying together and rebuilding after devastating loss.


It is a story that has been repeated thousands of times throughout history and it never ceases to inspire. I am moved by the resilience and strength of human spirit that seems to only really be revealed in the face of tragedy. This is as true in 2017 as it was in 1889, and I find it inspiring to see how the best of human spirit seems to surface from the darkest moments in our history, much like a phoenix rising from the ashes of heartache.

On Friday we had the opportunity to visit the Johnstown Flood Museum in Johnstown, PA. I hadn’t visited Johnstown for over a decade but was eager to return to a museum I was so affected by the first time I visited.

IMG_2682 (2)

The two-hour ride to Johnstown took us through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, beautifully adorned in the colors of fire, a stunning contradiction to the water that washed the beauty of this valley away in a wave of browns and blacks 100 years earlier.

We arrived at the museum and joined up with the history teachers from the kids’ cyber school (21st Century Cyber Charter School) who were heading up the field trip. From co-op we were joined by the Hudak family. It was odd to be a family of only three, but with Toby and Grace working, Ozzie away, and Tyler hit with a stomach flu, it was just Rusty, Molly and I for the day. I was secretly excited at the prospect of being able to walk through a museum at a slow enough clip to actually be able to read all the plaques and look at all the displays…something I haven’t been able to do since we adopted “fast feet” Tyler.

IMG_2684 (2)

At 10:00am we began leg one of a three-leg field trip of Johnstown, PA. We began our tour with a docent who kicked off our visit to the museum with an explanation of the events of that fateful day using an interactive diorama that illustrated the timeline of all that happened on May, 31 1889.


IMG_2690IMG_2693 (2)

On May 31, 1889, a devastating flood struck Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and the surrounding countryside. Caused by the bursting of the South Fork Dam 14 miles above the city, a wall of water and debris struck the city. When the waters receded, more than 2,200 people were dead and more than $450 million dollars (in inflation adjusted dollars) of damage had been done to the area.

IMG_2714 (2)

The docent then took us upstairs to watch a 30-minute movie of the 1889 Johnstown flood. At the conclusion of the movie we were allowed to freely roam the museum, exploring the three floors of the museum. Exploring with the Hudaks, we visited the third floor first. It was here we learned more about the historic Carnegie Library that now houses the Johnstown Flood Museum.

With only a few buildings still standing in downtown Johnstown, the city began to rebuild shortly after the flood. Pittsburgh tycoon, Andrew Carnegie wanted to help the community, and donated money to build a Carnegie Library in the town, one of the many he financed in western Pennsylvania.

The Carnegie Library opened in February 1892. The building consisted of three floors. The first floor was meeting rooms for local organizations. The second floor housed a library which offered free English lessons to the many immigrants that were flocking to Johnstown’s steel mills. The museum’s third floor was home to a state-of-the-art gymnasium, complete with a basketball court and a running track.

IMG_2695 (2)

The third floor remains much as it was 100 years ago. Visitors can still see the old basketball court and look up at both the running track and the incredible craftsmanship on display. There is also a large organ that isn’t original to the building, but is still historical.

IMG_2698 (2)

From there we moved down to the first floor.

The museum’s first floor features a variety of displays that tell about the flood. The centerpiece of the room is a large, relief map diorama that utilizes a variety of colored lights, narration, and sound effects to demonstrate how the flood moved down the Little Conemaugh River and into downtown Johnstown.

IMG_2717 (2)

Surrounding the map is a variety of displays related to the flood. These displays include photos of the area after the flood, items that were found in town after the flood, and even medical records of flood victims. On the wall is a list of known victims of the flood. While it is likely not a complete record of those killed, it’s still very sobering to see such a long list.

IMG_2701 (2)

The displays of the Johnstown Flood Museum continue outside to the only original Oklahoma House in Johnstown. Called such because they were destined for those heading west and settling in Oklahoma, these pre-fabricated homes were made in Chicago and sent to Johnstown as temporary housing for victims.


This particular house was discovered on a back road in Johnstown and was moved to the museum. Today, it has been restored to its original condition and showcases what life was like for the flood’s survivors.

IMG_2703 (2)

After touring the museum, we took a break for lunch before we moved to our next location for our three-part tour of Johnstown, PA…

Next stop: Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center.


“Remember the Sabbath Day”



Our Sundays are no longer the restful Sabbath Sundays they once were.

Like the rest of our week, it seems that day, too, is filled to the brim.

 This is due in part to the reality of our life right now. The hospital that Ozzie is at right now only has family visiting hours on Sundays from 1-4. When we found this out we weren’t sure how this would work. Grace is now driving down to Pittsburgh on Sundays for church and Sunday services for us are three hours long, ending at 1:00pm. We figured out that if we could leave a few minutes early we could make the two-hour drive to see Ozzie, arrive by 3:00, and have a full hour to visit before family visiting time is over.

It has been a blessing to watch the Lord maneuver the many moving puzzle pieces of our life and make it all fit in a beautiful, wonderful way. This is exactly what has happened with our Sundays. The Lord brought all those moving pieces (that had me so anxious and stressed) together and matched them seamlessly into what is now our Sabbath Day.

We head in different directions in the morning with Grace driving down to Pittsburgh and the other kids joining Toby and I for church closer to home. Slipping out a bit early from the 14/15-year-old young women’s class that I teach, Toby and I begin the two-hour drive to see Ozzie while the kids go home with friends for lunch while waiting for Grace to get out of church and pick them up to take them home.

On our 4-hour “Sunday drive,” Toby and I enjoy a “date” and get to talk uninterrupted while enjoying the beautiful fall scenery and eating a picnic lunch in the car that I pack for us the night before.

We arrive by 3:00 and get an hour with Ozzie before they shoo all the families out. Usually I pack fun snacks and treats for Ozzie, and board games for us to play, while we visit and catch-up. It has become such a blessed time and one of the highlights of my week. Ozzie is doing awesome and I continue to be amazed at how he is healing and thriving under this higher level of therapeutic care.

This week he was thrilled to share the news that following church services that morning he had his final dirt bike lesson and certification test. At this residential facility they offer dirt bike certification for the boys who would like to be able to use the facility’s bike trails and take a dirt bike out on the weekend under the supervision of staff. To qualify for the program the boys have to be receiving high marks in school and in their behavior reports, and then they can take a course where they learn the mechanics of the bike, how to safely ride. If they pass they then get to take the bikes out on the trails. Well now Ozzie is certified to ride and was THRILLED to report the good news to us.

We also had some exciting news for him. The results of his and Tyler’s genealogy DNA test had arrived. We purchased these tests when they went on sale online. Before Ozzie left we had a family night activity where we swabbed the boys’ cheeks and sent their DNA to Texas where it was analyzed. Six weeks later the results ended up in our mailbox.

Because Tyler and Ozzie were adopted we have found many holes in the story of their past. I can fill in some of those holes for them based on the information in their child profile but there are many holes that I can’t fill in, and that is hard for them. Their sense of identity…who they are based on where they came from…leave them feeling a bit like orphans. There are so many questions I wish I could answer for them that I simply don’t know, but this was something I could give them. The results of these tests don’t give them the details of their family history but I hoped the results would give them a sense of identity and maybe answer some of the questions they have had.

Here is what we learned…

Ozzie’s results didn’t surprise me too much:

IMG_2672 (2).JPG

He was thrilled to find out his heritage!


Tyler’s background was a bit muddier and a whole lot more surprising:

IMG_2671 (2).JPG

We were especially surprised by that 1% of Kenyan.

He too was thrilled to have his questions answered.

IMG_2870 (2)

After our visit with Ozzie we say good-bye for another week and get back on the road for our ride home.

Sundays have now become our Family Home Evening night. With Monday nights (and all other evenings) being booked with Gracie’s college classes and the girls’ work schedules, Sunday night is now the night we have set aside for family time. It is the only night we have guaranteed to have everyone home.  It is during this time that we sit down and have our weekly planning meeting, going over schedules, goal, concerns, and plans for the week. This is also when everyone sits down to write their weekly letter to Ozzie. Following those tasks, we have a lesson and activity of some sort for Family Night. This week we were focusing on service. The plan was to make cookies as a family that everyone could bag to give someone as a token of gratitude.

As I was searching for a yummy new cookie recipe I came across this recipe for scripture cookies on Pinterest.


“Perfect!” I thought. We would be able to work on navigating our scriptures while also blessing others with an act of service.

We began by giving everyone a recipe page with key ingredient information missing. Using their Bibles, they looked up the scripture passages to find the missing words.


It became a race as we tried to be the first to find the correct page, passage, and word missing from the recipe.


Once our recipes were complete we began cooking.


It was a very fun family night activity and everyone enjoyed getting to sample the fruits of our labors…

20171015_194035 (1)20171015_194103

Scripture cookies (aka: peanut butter blossoms.)



So, there you go. The new “normal” we have embraced in this season of our life.

It isn’t the Sabbath Day of our past, but it is good. In a lot of ways, it holds a depth and a spirituality and meaningfulness that Sundays in the past were lacking.

I do sometimes wish there was a bit more rest in my “Day of Rest.”

Yeah, I really miss Sunday naps… 😉

But I have discovered a holiness in the what our Sabbath Days have become. At the heart of our Sabbath Day of worship is love of God, love of family, and love of others,

And really, isn’t that what the 4th commandment is all about?

A Monthly Update


ordinary life

Often in my focus to report on the “big” events of life I procure a pile of photographs documenting the smaller moments that add up to life here on Patchwork Farm. This blog is dedicated to that collection of captured moments. Here’s to the moments that make up our ordinary, extraordinary life!

Searching for Buried Treasure

Toby is a member of a local metal detecting club. The Beaver County Metal Detecting Club is comprised of 20+ men and women who gather monthly to compare notes and swap stories of their best treasure finds over the last month, as well as organize formal hunts a few times a year.


A few Saturdays ago was the annual fall hunt with the club…something Toby always looks forward to. The hunt keeps him out of the house all day as club members participate in a series of hunts, searching out buried treasure hidden by members of the club earlier in the day. Toby always returns home a bit sore from all the up and down movement that comes with an all day hunt, but with a smile on his face, eager to show off his haul.

Tyler is always first in line to help Daddy sort and count his loot.


Great Blessings

We would just like to thank you all for the outpouring of love and support you have shown our family and Ozzie during this hard season of life. We have felt the sustaining and strengthening power of many prayers and are happy to report Ozzie is doing better than we ever imagined. He is thriving. The results of the therapeutic support he is receiving is nothing short of miraculous and we are so proud of him and the hard work he is doing to heal. He will be starting EMDR therapy this week with a licensed EMDR therapist and I firmly believe this therapy, used with patients suffering from PTSD, will be the answer we have been seeking to unlock the memories of abuse at the hands of Ozzie’s birth mother and birth father, and open the door to begin healing from that trauma.

Family-Based Rocks!

Because Ozzie will be away for a few months, our Family-Based services are coming to a close. Family-Based is another layer of therapeutic support we implemented in hopes of helping Ozzie stabilize and heal at home. That was not God’s plan for Ozzie and our time working with Family-Based was short lived, but it served a purpose. I can now look back and see why God opened a door that closed so quickly after entering it. Our time with Lisa and Valerie was short but they provided support and resources that were key in helping our family heal…particularly in meeting the needs of the older kids who were dealing with their own trauma…trauma that comes as a result of adopting a child who had been abused and suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder. It was Valerie that introduced my older kids to the Ready Yourself Youth Ranch that they now volunteer at two mornings a week, helping with horses and learning the skills they need to become mentors at the ranch.


Last week was our last home visit from our Family-Based team. They brought cupcakes to celebrate and a craft project for the kids to do while they talked and helped the kids process the muddy mix of emotions everyone is struggling with since Ozzie left.

They painted river rocks together. In our area there is a fun movement taking place that involves painting rocks, tagging them with #beavercountyrocks, sealing them and then hiding them around the county. Once found you can follow the travels of your rocks on Facebook as seekers take photos of your rock, post it, and then hide it in a new location.

The kids had fun painting their river rocks to get into the #beavercountyrocks game.

The results were fun and creative!



Now, where to hide our rocks?!

Ukulele Adventures

For Molly’s birthday she received a ukulele from my parents. She has been toting it back and forth to co-op each week where her friend, Caleigh, has been giving her lessons. With all the toting back and forth Molly decided a case was in order. She found one online and used some of her hard earned money to purchase this charming panda themed case. Molly is thrilled!



Last Wednesday Molly and Rusty had their PSAT test. This test…preparation for next year’s SAT test, is just a sad testament to how old my babies are getting. I look at Rusty and Molly and can’t wrap my brain around the fact that we are creeping closer to college searches. Neither were particularly thrilled with taking the PSAT but were excited that they were able to test at our school’s new Pittsburgh location and see their Pittsburgh based teachers.

Tatum and Annaliese, two of Molly co-op friends, were also signed up for testing, so we volunteered to load up Big Bessie and take everyone down on Wednesday morning. Rather than have everyone drop off kids off at 6:30 in the morning, we just had the girls spend the night. It worked out well. They managed to take something they were all dreading and make it fun.

Earlier in the day Molly prepped the bus for their sleepover. She thought it would be fun to camp out in the bus, and I was thrilled to see the bus getting used after a summer of sitting dormant. Molly made the beds, carried out movies they could watch on the TV, and filled the fridge with snacks and drinks.

IMG_2633 (2)IMG_2631 (2)

I think the girls had fun,

IMG_2638 (2)IMG_2637 (2)

And everyone survived testing, although I think they would all say they are glad it is done and over with!

Rusty on the Road

Rusty is slowly and hesitantly embracing his role as a new driver. Being the third child I have taught to drive, I find it interesting how personalities shine forth in each child’s driving style. Rusty, who has always been extremely careful and conscientious, is a slow and steady driver. There is no speeding, law bending, or bone breaking moves with him behind the wheel.

Tyler must disagree, as he has taken to wearing safety gear when Rusty is behind the wheel. 🙂


I fear the day it is Tyler’s turn to get behind the wheel. I think I may have to borrow that helmet!!

My Mini-Me

Grace is now a red head and I think she plans to stay that way. After years of bemoaning the fact that I ended up with three blondies, I finally have a redhead… thanks to L’Oreal!

I don’t know if it is the red hair or if the genetic connection has become more pronounced but I feel as though I now have a younger (and much cuter)  mini-me!


My Buddy

Tyler is now my buddy. With Ozzie away and the older kids engaged in school, social activities, and work, it feels as though it is often just Tyler and I hanging out. Between therapy and tutoring appointments 5 days a week, we spend a lot of time on the road together or at the table together doing school. After a decade of juggling the teaching of 3-5 children their lessons every day, it is bizarre to have hours to spend working with just one. The older kids are so independent now that they only come to me when they need clarification or help with a question, which frees me up to work with Tyler all day…

and I must admit I’ve loved.

We have had a lot of fun delving deeper into subjects that interest him, seeking out fun science experiments and art projects to enhance his online school lessons, and having the time for weekly trips to the library. Here are some of his recent projects:


The Monster Under the Bed

All of the one-on-one attention has been a blessing in other ways too. Tyler is struggling with monster sized fears, fears we are working to address in therapy. These fears are driven by the abuse he suffered as a small child and while he struggles to express the thoughts consuming him in his head I have been able to piece together the fact that they are trauma driven simply by where and when they are most prevalent. His PTSD seems to rear its ugly head after the sun goes down. Nighttime is scary time and his bedroom and the bathroom are the places he fears most. From his child profile I know that dark, closed places and the family bathroom are where most of the abuse took place, so it make sense that those are the places he fears most.

Miss Tina, our therapist, has been working with Tyler to help counteract the negative emotions connected to those locations with positive ones. We do this by making happy, light, funny memories in those locations. We play family board games on his bedroom floor, we have shaving cream battles in the bathroom….whatever we can think of to bring light and peace and laughter to a place that is dark and scary in Tyler’s mind.

One way we have done this is with the use of bathtub crayons in the shower. Bathtime is a nightmare with Tyler. He is terrified to shower or bathe. And knowing what was done to him in his birth family’s bathroom, I understand that. But we have to help him overcome that fear, so we bought some bath crayons, and enlisting the help of the other kids our shower wall has now become a message board for the kids. Tyler’s curiosity of what funny photos, messages and game boards have been drawn on the shower wall since his last bath has surpassed the fear of bathing (as long as we do daytime showers.) And I have LOVED reading the dialog back and forth. What an awesome way to battle a fear, encourage writing, and strengthen bonds between siblings, all in one swoop!


Healing bonds via Snail Mail

Strengthening bonds has been a focus in all our family’s relationships this past month. We have all felt the polarizing affects of RAD and trauma after the last 8 months of being in crisis mode. This ongoing, escalated state has a huge effect on relationships and the family dynamic. Now that everyone is stable we are trying to begin healing the damage. One way we are facilitating that healing is through weekly letters between Ozzie and the other kids. Every Sunday they write him a letter which are then mailed out through the week. Ozzie then can write back and the kids can begin reconnecting again.

This week we did something different. We each did a handprint on paper using paint. When our handprints had dried we flipped them over and everyone wrote something they love or admire about Ozzie, using the line, “A high five for…”


I then laminated our handprints and connected them with a metal ring as a special momento for Ozzie, allowing him to reach out and touch our hands whenever he feels lonely.



Well, there you go…

A small snapshot of our ordinary, extraordinary life.

God is good!


Christmas in the Woods



The first time we went we were pulling a wagon filled with toddlers.

Fast forward 15 years and Christmas in the Woods is a completely different experience!

Shakerwoods and Christmas in the Woods are two festivals that occur 40 minutes away from our home in August and October. They are, in essence, “craft fairs,” but labeling them as such is an unjust representation of all that they are.

Both these festivals take place in a patch of woods in eastern Ohio. The forest is filled with meandering paths and festive booths selling charming, unique, one-of-a-kind creations. There are hand carved ornaments, hand painted signs, homemade soaps and hand stitched pillows and towels. Each booth is run by a different artisan selling their own unique wares which makes Shakerwoods a thrilling treasure hunt, as you never know what special find you will stumble across next.

IMG_2650 (2)

Shakerwoods Festival tends to have a more distinctly autumn atmosphere, whereas Christmas in the Woods is themed for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Both are a lot of fun and in the past they have restricted vendors to one festival or the other, which allows visitors two completely different shopping experiences if they choose to attend both festivals.

I am not much of a shopper, although I do appreciate the unique, creative, artisan style crafts for sale there more than I would enjoy going to the mall, but the real reason I love Shakerwoods and Christmas in the Woods and the reason we keep returning is for the experience. It truly is a feast for the senses. Walking through the woods, soaking in the visual beauty of many creative hands, all while enjoying the folk music of local musicians, the smells of peach cobbler and roasted nuts is what brings us back year after year.

IMG_2652 (2)

It is now a long standing tradition…a tradition that hold many sweet memories as I look back on the years of Shakerwoods with babies in tow, shopping with my parents and sister, finding treasures with Toby, and enjoying the company of out of state relatives that have flown in over the years for the festival.

This year was different. Rather than attending with the whole family, I just had my three big kids with me. Toby offered to take Tyler to his riding lessons so we could attend.

IMG_2647 (2)

My girls LOVE Christmas in the Woods! Grace, my lover of all things Christmas, goes for the ambiance. Molly enjoys the shopping.

IMG_2654 (2)

Even Rusty enjoys it. He claims he goes for all the free samples!

He was a huge help this year as he took on the role of “pack mule” for us girls. I was able to get some Christmas shopping done and Rusty graciously carried our packages as we walked from booth to booth. He said he learned everything he knows from Pop Pop Real. 🙂

IMG_2664 (2)

And he works cheap!


I just had to buy him some roasted nuts and he was content. We stayed until our feet were screaming for relief. The crowds were crazy. In all our years off attending we had never seen it so busy…

Just look at the parking!!

IMG_2643 (2)

But despite the crowds we managed to do a little shopping, make some special memories, and have A LOT of fun…just my big kids and me.

IMG_2661 (2)

Rusty’s 16th Birthday Party


I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that Rusty is 16 years old. This is a big birthday in our house…the gateway to more freedom and more independence. 16 is the age when they get behind the wheel and are allowed to begin dating.

As we pondered possible ways to celebrate Rusty’s big day the answer quickly became clear. Rusty asked to celebrate his big 1-6 in the same way his older sister celebrated hers…

with a skating party at the local roller rink.

IMG_2541 (2)


This roller skating rink is charming. We visited it the first time for a co-op Halloween party and I fell in love with the vintage décor and ambiance. I felt as though I had been transported back to my childhood and the endless Fridays spent skating with my middle school friend.

Even the skates are authentically retro.

IMG_2579 (2)

It is a charming place and the family that owns in (it has been in their family for 66 years) is wonderful to work with. They made planning and preparing for the party effortless.

We had such a good experience there 3 years ago for Gracie’s 16th birthday party we were eager to return.

gracegrace 16

Once the rink was booked, Rusty began making his guest list. He decided to invite all the high school aged kids from co-op and church to his party. We ended up with a fun group!

IMG_2534 (2)

That night we arrived a half hour early to set up for the party. We brought food and drinks and decorations for the table.

IMG_2532 (2)IMG_2544 (2)

Then guests began to arrive. The first step was getting everyone fitted for skates.

IMG_2537 (2)

Our tall 16 year old son gained even more height with skates on his feet. We couldn’t help but laugh at the height difference between Rusty and Toby.

IMG_2546 (2)

The night was filled with free-skate time:

IMG_2543 (2)


IMG_2607 (2)IMG_2560 (2)

And Games:

IMG_2570 (2)IMG_2625 (2)

The rink owners led the kids through a series of fun games and line dances.

IMG_2602 (2)

Rusty won the game “Split your Pants” where the skaters had to straddle two red cups that became more and more spread apart with each round. Those long legs gave him a distinct advantage!

IMG_2595 (2)

Then Molly won the limbo game.

IMG_2616 (2)

It was a night full of food, friends, and fun!

A big thanks to all those who came out to celebrate Rusty’s big day with him!

IMG_2577 (2)

Drake’s Well


Pennsylvania might not be the first place one thinks of when considering oil, but it was the first place that oil was drilled in America. On August 27, 1859, in Titusville, Pennsylvania next to Oil Creek, Edwin Drake completed the first commercial oil well. The Drake Well Museum, where we spent the day on Friday, celebrates the oil and gas industry as a whole.RouseDrakeWell

It was a perfect day for a field trip. The drive to Drake’s Well museum took us 2 hours but it was a beautiful drive, as we were treated to a spectacular display of reds, oranges and yellows. Fall is the perfect time to visit this area!

We joined up with our co-op friends that invited us along to this field trip offered by another cyber school. We attended this same field trip 10 years ago when the kids were all in elementary school and loved it, so when the opportunity presented itself to visit again, this time with Tyler in tow, we said, “Yes, please!”

IMG_2431 (2)

We began our day with a short (very well done) film in the visitor’s center, giving us an overview of the historic significance of this area and a better understanding of the science behind the oil, prior to touring the grounds.

Then, led by an awesome tour guide, we walked the grounds of the park, visiting the various outbuildings and getting a history lesson about this region.

IMG_2478 (2)

The Region

Before this corner of north west Pennsylvania was overtaken in an oil boom, the main industry was lumber. Sawmills were plentiful, and wood could be floated down creeks and rivers to metropolitan destinations.

Oil creek, which snakes through the museum grounds, gained its name long before any oil wells were drilled. Oil seeps along the creek supplied native people and (later) small scale businesses in the area with limited supplies of oil for medicine, water proofing, other purposes. Even today, visitors continue to observe oil bubbling up to the surface of the creek.

The Well

IMG_2513 (2)

The Drake Well remains as the center piece of the Drake Well Museum. While the structure above ground is a recreation, the well itself is the same one that revolutionized the oil industry over a century ago.

IMG_2441 (2)

It was not until 1859 that Edwin Drake triggered a boom in commercial scale oil collection through his well. Samples of the oil from oil creek had been tested at Dartmouth and Yale for their potential quality in making kerosene. This lead George Bissell and Jonathan G. Eveleth to acquire a farm along oil creek and found the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company. Edwin Drake was a former railway conductor who invested all his savings in the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company and traveled to Titusville, Pennsylvania to take an active role in the company. The operation experienced limited success skimming oil off the creek, and a failed attempt to dig a hole–to collect oil– which collapsed and nearly killed workers.  Finally, Drake embraced the idea of drilling for the oil in the same way that was currently being used for salt wells. Oil had already been inadvertently pumped out of the ground by earlier salt wells but it had never been the explicit goal. The process of drilling took months and after others had lost hope by April 1859, Drake took out an additional $500 loan to continue drilling. On August 27, 1859, Drake discovered oil at the surface of the collection barrel. This is considered the birth of the oil industry as Drake had formalized and proven a method of commercial oil collection.

IMG_2451 (2)

The well itself is 69.5 feet deep and pumped between 12 and 20 barrels a day during its operation.

The Museum

The museum encompasses 22 acres around the original Drake well and includes an outdoor collection of drilling equipment and structures along with an indoor collection of artifacts from oil history.

IMG_2468 (2)

The indoor section of the museum spans the history of oil from whaling, to the production of petroleum to make kerosene, to the rise of Rockefeller and Standard Oil, to modern day oil drilling.

IMG_2483 (2)

The exhibits highlight regional oil collection, with artifacts from early regional wells and related period industries such as blacksmiths. With the rise of oil established, another room discusses the fine living that was afforded to residence of the region that had prospered from the new boom. Indeed, the first oil millionaire, Jonathan Watson, was a resident of Titusville. Another interactive exhibit explores the monopolistic practices of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company and his loud critic, Ida Tarbell.

IMG_2496 (2)

The Grounds

The Drake Well Museum is a particular standout for its functioning exhibits.

IMG_2463 (2)IMG_2456 (2)

Along with the recreated fully functional steam powered pump at the Drake Well itself, the entire grounds are constantly moving as the operating Central Power Lease demonstrates how a single natural gas powered Olin hit-and-miss engine turning an eccentric gear can be hooked up with rod lines to multiple wells scattered across the grounds.


After touring the grounds we took a break for lunch. It was a beautiful day for a picnic, and it turns out we weren’t the only ones feeling that way. As we took a load of trash over to the can at the corner of the picnic pavilion we discovered this little guy, hoping for handouts.IMG_2516 (2)

After lunch we returned to the indoor portion of the museum where we were able to explore on our own before joining up with the group in one of the classrooms reserved for school groups.


Here our tour guide led the kids through a few hands on activities, further exposing them to the history of the Drake’s Well Museum in a fun, engaging way.

One of the activities she planned for the students was a pipeline challenge. She split the group of students in to two groups and gave them each a bag of PVC pipes and connectors to create a pipe line, as well as a coffee can to serve as the collection tank at the end of their pipeline. They were each given a set of challenges to overcome like physical obstacles or having to negotiate an affordable rental rate for crossing a farmer’s property. When their pipe line was built our tour guide would release the “oil” (a golf ball) down the pipe and see if it would flow into the collection tank. This hands-on activity was a hit with all the kids.

IMG_2524 (2)IMG_2527 (2)

We had to slip out a little early, missing the last few activities, because Molly need to get home in time for work. Regardless, it was an awesome day. Everyone enjoyed delving into history and I left with a better understanding and greater appreciation of how different our world would be without petroleum and Mr. Drake.

IMG_2500 (2)

Life’s a Circus


circus 2

Sometimes I fantasize about running away and joining the circus. This is one of those fantasies I closely guard, hesitant to openly admit that this responsible, straight-laced, mother of five secretly dreams of dropping all responsibilities for a sequined tutu and a life on the road.

I’m not sure what the appeal is…

I mean I love the idea of being so unencumbered by stuff that all my earthly possessions could fit in a small camper.

I love the idea of picking up and moving every few days, seeing the country one small town at a time.

I love the thought of being a “magic-maker” and taking families away from the worries of everyday life for a few hours into a world of mermaids, and clowns, and flying fairies.

I love the idea of being able to transform into a different persona every evening and play pretend in glitter and toile…

I am destroying all your preconceived notions of me, aren’t I? 🙂

But since I haven’t a sliver of talent to support this secret fantasy, I must settle for soaking up the magic of the circus from the spectator seats and watch others soar in center ring.

Two weeks ago, while at work, Grace was approached by a person asking if they could hang up a flyer at her place of business. Grace apologized and explained that she wasn’t allowed to approve postings. The passerby graciously accepted “no” and then kindly offered Grace 4 free tickets to the circus he was advertising.

The circus had come to town!

But this was no ordinary circus. This was Cirque Italia: The Water Circus, and the tickets were for Thursday night. Grace came home, eager to share the good news. Unfortunately Grace has a Thursday evening class so she wasn’t able to take advantage of the free tickets but she graciously handed them over to the rest of us and told us to have a fun night out.

water circus 5

On Thursday evening we had dinner and then left the house by 6:30 pm so as to arrive in plenty of time for the 7:30 show. The circus had pitched their tent at our local mall and I wasn’t sure what to expect. My thought was regardless of the level of talent and showmanship it was a free, fun, family night and I knew Tyler would enjoy it.

We pulled into the mall entrance to discover the parking lot transformed with trailers and tents. The big top rose high above the parked cars and the marquee was lit up, beckoning visitors to come on in. What was a crowded, ugly parking lot days earlier had been transformed into a magical world of clowns, strong men, and sky dancers.

water circus 4

We walked up to the ticket booth to purchase a child’s ticket for Tyler and became aware of what a gift these free admission tickets were, normally costing $40.00/adult.

It was here we also noticed the signage restricting photography and videography within the tent. Bummer! So, after a quick photo outside and the camera stowed away in the car, we went in and found our seats.

IMG_2423 (2)

This circus didn’t have the traditional animal acts one might associate with the circus, and the smaller tent made acts like the high wire and traditional trapeze acts logistically impossible, but what they lacked in traditional acts they more than made up for with amazing acts of skill and daring, all within the unique setting of a cascading waterfall surrounding the stage. This cascading water was then illuminated with lights and lasers, creating pictures and patters in the air as the light bounced off the water droplets.

Everyone had different favorite acts from the show. Below are some images taken from Google images, showing some of the awesome acts we enjoyed during our evening at the Water Circus:

water circus3water circus2water circus 7water circuswater circus 8

But Tyler and I shared a favorite. It wasn’t a single act that enamored us, but rather two particular characters. We LOVED the two clowns that emceed the evening. They would come out between acts to keep the show going and distract from the stage while the stage was being set up for the next act. All I can say is their comedic timing was spot on and I could have watched them all evening. I don’t know when I have laughed so hard…partly because of the antics on stage and partly because of the infectious giggles of Tyler rolling with laughter at the 3 Stooges-esque silliness occurring in front of us.

water circus 9water circus 6

It was such a fun evening, made all the more magical by the unexpected, impromptu nature of it falling into our laps.

It was an awesome night at the circus!