Monthly Archives: January 2018

Smoke, Fire, and Wax….on Snow


For Family Night this past week we combined two activities that really had nothing to do with each other. It was logistics and necessity that brought them together.

The first was a fire drill. Although we try to have a fire safety lesson and drill every six months it had been over a year since we had focused our family night lesson on fire safety (This last year was consumed with putting out  different types of fires,) so when Rusty came home with the assignment to plan a lesson and execute a family fire drill as party of the requirements for his Boy Scout safety merit badge it offered us the needed prodding to move this task to the top of the priority list.

During Rusty’s one-on-one time we worked to find resources online for him to utilize during his lesson, as well as some kid focused videos on fire safety that would be good for Tyler.

When we finally had an evening in which everyone was home and free of other commitments we sat down after dinner and Rusty taught his fire safety lesson. It was more needed than I expected, as Tyler peppered Rusty with fire safety questions that I assumed he already knew the answer to. It was also good for the rest of us to be reminded of those things we know but might forget in the “heat” of the moment.

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Rusty’s lesson also prompted us to consider the age of our smoke detectors and the probability that it was time to replace them all. His lesson also prompted us to move forward with purchasing escape ladders for the second floor, something we have talked about in the past but never followed through with.

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After the “learning” part of the lesson came the “action” segment of Rusty’s lesson. The kids were each sent to their room and with the house darkened we set off the smoke alarm. The kids had the opportunity to apply the safety steps we just talked about, escaping their rooms through one of their two entrances and meeting up outside at our designated location.

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A week later the impact of that lesson was realized when we experienced a chimney fire in the middle of the day. The pipe leading from the woodstove to the wall suddenly turned bright red and began crackling, making us aware that a build-up of creosote within the chimney had caught fire. While the risk was minimal (thanks to an observant and fast acting Rusty who quickly closed all the vents, suffocating the fire before it spread) it was a powerful reminder of how differently things could have played out had it happened in the middle of the night when we were all sleeping. It was good to see how easily the kids tapped into what they learned and how coolly they responded under pressure.

The second half of our Family Night really had no tie-in at all to our Fire Safety theme.

This was an activity of opportunity.

It was our “Wax on Snow” night!

Wax on Snow is a winter tradition I brought into the marriage. It is a treat that brings back sweet memories of my childhood and an activity I love sharing with my own children. As a child we always seemed to have a half-used bottle of REAL maple syrup tucked in the back of the fridge. While Aunt Jemima sufficed for Saturday morning pancakes, the real stuff, usually gifted to us by our New York grandparents, was reserved for Wax on Snow…yum!

Wax on Snow was a treat that typically ended a snow day from school. It is a treat that requires a deep coating of snow which is why I think it is so closely tied to childhood snow days in my memory.

Following dinner, us kids were sent outside to fill a pan with packed snow. This snow would then sit outside the door in the cold until the “wax” was ready.

Dad would pour some of our carefully hoarded maple syrup into a sauce pan and begin heating it up. Using a cup of cold water, he would drip the hot syrup into the cup until he achieved the perfect soft ball stage. When the syrup could be rolled in a soft flexible ball between his fingers he would send us outside to retrieve the pan of snow.

Using a worn wooden spoon, he would drizzle the “wax” across the snow where the cold temperatures would make the syrup harden into a sticky taffy.

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Gathered around the pan of snow we would watch eagerly, waiting for my Dad to say we could dig in.

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Using forks, we would scoop the wax and the maple flavored snow into our mouths, savoring this rare winter treat.

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As each layer of wax was eaten another drizzle of wax would be added until there was a small amount of syrup left in the bottom of the pan that he would stir air bubbles into until it became maple candy…a treat he made just for Mom.

When the last drops of wax were gone we would dig into the flavored snow until what was left in the pan was melted slush.

For Family Night we partook in this beloved tradition thanks to a few consecutive snow falls that coated our world in white, as well as the rare treat of having everyone home at the same time.

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The stars aligned, and we enjoyed a “sweet” night at home.

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It was a mishmash of activities but overall a smashing success!




Embracing the Unexpected



I find that a good percentage of our life is spent living our “Plan B.” Life rarely plays out as expected, and we are asked to accept and even embrace a path different than the one we envisioned. This is true for the big things in our life: careers, school, marriage, children, health…so often we are dealt a hand we didn’t ask for and didn’t expect. We are asked to embrace this change in direction and find the purpose and joy in this unexpected detour away from our own plans. But even more often we see this in the little things. Daily we are faced with missteps, frustrations, disappointments, traffic jams, lost keys, spilled milk, and unplanned results.

These are the moments that test our mettle,

And reveal what we are truly made of.

It is in the little disappointments and frustrations that we build character and strengthen those muscles that allow us to endure, embrace, and even find joy in the big trials we face in life.

As each year passes I am learning to lessen my grip of control on my vision for my days and embrace the lessons found in the unexpected twists and turns that make up life.

Grace recently was faced with one of these pivotal moments.

Last week Grace and Molly went to get their hair cut. Molly just needed a trim but Gracie was wanting a new look and went searching online for a fun, new style to brighten these dreary January days. She finally found what she was looking for. The style was something between her current cut and Molly’s pixie style. With the picture in hand they headed to the salon.


An hour later they returned. Molly walked in first. Her hair was trimmed up and looking sweet. Next Grace walked in. My mouth dropped, not in horror but in shock. Her new do looked nothing like the picture she showed me. I quickly scanned her face, searching for clues as to how she felt about the new style before I opened my mouth and commented.

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With a smirk and a shrug of the shoulders she made it clear that while not what she asked for or expected, she was accepting and even embracing this “Plan B.”

Grace explained what led to this unexpected change in plans. She recounted the moments of the last hour that led to this unexpected change in her hair. After sitting down in the chair she showed the photo to the hairdresser, who replied with confidence, “No problem!”

The first clue that there was perhaps something had been lost in translation was when the gal pulled out her clippers and buzzed a line of hair away, down to the scalp, on one side of Gracie’s head.

I asked Grace how she responded. Did she say anything? Did she start crying?

“No,” she replied. “There didn’t seem any point. It was already done. It isn’t like she could glue the hair back on.”

The hairdresser continued to buzz cut the right side of Gracie’s head leaving the left side the original length.

By the time she arrived home Grace was past the shock of this unexpected turn of events and was embracing “Plan B” with a grace fitting of her name.

Her take on the whole experience was a reflection of her maturity, adaptability and good nature. “I wouldn’t have necessarily picked this but its done now so I’m going to embrace it and enjoy it until it grows back out.”

The addition of some red lipstick and funky earrings sealed the deal and brought this new daring look together.

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I am so proud of Miss Grace. He response to this little, unexpected  “Plan B” in her life is telling of how she will manage the BIG “Plan B’s” that will inevitably hit in the future. As a mom I couldn’t be prouder of this stylish little gal of mine.



The Meeting with the Insurance Company- EEK!


Last Tuesday, right on the heels of our weekend away at the Homestead, I was back in the car for a 2-hour trek north to visit Ozzie. I was traveling alone so I has 4 hours of silence to think, reflect, dream, and pray. It was a rare and lovely gift.

I arrived at the facility at 10:oo am for Ozzie’s family therapy session. This weekly session typically occurs over the phone unless we can coordinate it to align with one of our visits or our monthly meeting. The long drive and this season of winter weather make weekly in-person therapy sessions difficult, so it is a treat when we can actually do our family therapy face to face rather than over the phone.

The reason for this trip was our monthly treatment meeting where doctors, teachers, staff, therapists, myself and Ozzie meet to review his progress and make treatment decisions. This was a particularly important meeting as the insurance company was present to decide whether Ozzie would be granted an extension on his stay, something we were all advocating for, not because of Ozzie’s current behaviors but because of the incredible success we were seeing, and because of the therapy work that his is currently in the heart of right now. Discharging him too early would really sabotage all the incredible gains that have been made and all the healing that is occurring.

While this seemed like common sense to those of us directly involved in Ozzie’s care, trying to explain this to the bean counters from the insurance company was more challenging. As a profit driven business, they see a child who has exceeded all expectations. Behaviorally he has earned various awards and recognitions at the facility and is now having nearly a perfect behavior rating each day. He is engaged in all his therapy sessions, is respectful of staff, is eager to help peers, is engaged in his school work and is one of the rising stars on the school basketball team. The insurance company representative struggled to see why Ozzie needed to remain.

My argument was that if we were discussing a patient with a physical ailment, perhaps a brain tumor that was causing symptoms that put the patient’s life in danger, they (the insurance company) would never interrupt that surgery while the patient lay on the table with his brain exposed to question whether the surgery was still needed. They would never look at that patient’s vital signs (all stable thanks to the iv, respirator, anesthesiologist and nurses by his side) and say, “well his symptoms seem minimal now. He is not complaining of blurry vision or headaches now. Go ahead and close him up.”

What a crazy thought, right?!

And yet that is exactly what we see time and time again in the mental health field. Before the “trauma tumor” has even been removed they are talking about closing him up and sending him home.

Luckily…or shall I say, blessedly…he was granted an extension. His therapist made an impassioned plea on his behalf explaining that we are just now getting to the trauma work of EMDR and that it is a slow and methodical process that can’t be rushed due to the extreme nature of Ozzie’s traumatic history. He was approved for 90 more days. This doesn’t mean he will be there for the full 90 days, but it gives his treatment team 90 days to work with, which is a huge blessing for Oz.

Following our family therapy session and our monthly treatment meeting I arranged to take Ozzie out of school for a lunch date. I figured if I had made the trek up there we should at least get some special one-on-one time in. Ozzie was thrilled with the prospect of an afternoon out.

The plan was to go to lunch and then spend some time at Toys R Us so he could create a wish list for his upcoming birthday. He will be turning 14 in a month (How is that possible?!) and he is very excited.

He chose to celebrate his Pittsburgh roots with lunch at Primanti Bros. restaurant; famous for its enormous sandwiches topped with coleslaw and fries.

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Ozzie ordered the Pitts-burger, I had a Reuben, and we enjoyed a fun lunch date.


After lunch we spent an hour at Toys R Us exploring, playing, creating Ozzie’s birthday wish list, and making plans for his birthday weekend visit home.


It was a special day with Ozzie.

We are so proud of the journey he is taking toward healing and so happy he can continue in his quest.

It’s Time to Buckle Down and Blog


I don’t know if it is the after Christmas crash, the flu bug that swept through our house knocking us all flat on our backs, or simply the fact that we find ourselves in hibernation season, but I have struggled to find the creativity or motivation to do anything beyond the bare minimum.

Instead I find myself resting, and dreaming, and gazing out at the winter wonderland that decorates the world outside my window.

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With each passing year I find myself more enamored with the month of January. As a child I found it to be a horribly long and dull month, especially coming on the heels of the sparkle and shine of December, but as I grow older (and perhaps a bit wiser) I see January for the gift that it is. It is the resting month. Without the crazy schedule and social obligations of December, and yet too early for the labor of spring, January asks very little of us.

The weather outside encourages us to hunker down.

The early nights drive us to our beds at a decent hour.

And the calendar remains blissfully free of obligations.

It is the resting month…a season that encourages us to find the same stillness in our souls that we find in the hush of the softly falling snow.

I am grateful for this season of rest. I feel its healing powers and recognize its purpose. I have come to embrace it with an open heart and eager anticipation. It is a season of hibernation and healing and I have embraced this season fully…perhaps too fully, as I have struggled to tap into any creative thinking or desire to do much more than watch snowflakes drift down to the earth.

This lack of creativity and motivation has resulted in a pronounced silence on the blog. Life continues to happen and yet my diligence in recording the moments that make up our life is seriously faltering, and it seems the more behind I get in my writing the more I avoid beginning, so forgive this disjointed, seemingly unconnected recording of recent life events. I am forcing myself to step away from the view at the window and write.

So here it goes…a much overdue “catch up” post:

#1. Last Wednesday marked the final day of the Semester for Molly and Rusty. They worked hard and both earned the A’s they were hoping for. The following day they were off school so that the teachers could have a grading day. Knowing there was no school on Thursday the girls decided to get together with Olivia and Tatum for an impromptu sleepover. In addition to Molly and Tatum celebrating the end of the quarter this sleepover also gave Grace and Olivia a chance to get together before their college courses start up again and life gets busy.


The girls had a wonderful time. It was a relaxed, laid back  evening of talking, laughing, movie watching and cupcake decorating. Olivia, the resident baker, had cupcakes and icing leftover from an order she filled earlier that day so the girls got creative and had a fun time in the kitchen creating beautiful AND delicious masterpieces.


 #2. Since Christmas break Tyler and I have adjusted his school schedule slightly. Rather than jumping straight into his first subject of the day at 9:00 am, I decided to try something new. With just a little shuffling and rearranging I was able to move Reading to 9:30, freeing up a half hour for some transition time.

Transitions are hard for Tyler. I think they are hard for a lot of kids, but they tend to be extremely challenging for kids from hard places. For a kid whose early years were unstable and uncertain, change is something scary. And despite the fact that he logically knows that transitions from one task to another in his life now won’t bring danger or loss, the primitive part of his brain screams with fear when he is asked to leave one situation and step into another. There is a primitive drive to be in control and alert. As a result we have found it hugely beneficial to invest  time and energy into prepping Tyler for transitions…both big life transitions but also small daily transitions with prompts like, “10 more minutes of play and then we will be going inside to eat.” Explaining exactly what will happen next or what to expect when stepping into an unfamiliar situation helps to lessen that “fight, flight, or freeze” response and makes transitions significantly easier for all involved.

One transition that has made a world of difference in our school day is the addition of a game time at the start of our day. Rather than jumping straight from free time to reading time we have added a half hour of  game time to start our day. This easing into the day has made a world of difference. It allows Tyler to be excited about the transition from free time to school time, as well as giving us a consistent time block to focus on the TBRI principle of attachment through a fun, child-led activity.

The game of choice lately has been chess.

For Christmas Tyler received his own chess set…

And not just any chess set,

A Mario Brothers chess set!

Tyler was introduced to the game of chess by Rusty a few years ago. Rusty loves the game of chess and has multiple chess boards that he treasures but also cautiously guards. Tyler can only play with them if he and Russ are playing a game together, so Tyler asked Santa for his own chess set for Christmas.

Not knowing how to play myself, this chess set has given Tyler the chance to be the teacher as he schools me on the rules of chess. Chess is also a tool Miss Tina uses with him in therapy. Playing a game of chess while talking through harder stuff allows Tyler to focus on a task so as to not drown under the hard thoughts and emotions they are discussing.

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#3. Following Christmas we were hit with the dreaded stomach flu that is sweeping across the nation. While typically a healthy crew, our family (or at least the Momma of this family) has an unchosen annual tradition of falling ill the first week of January. It never fails. Year after year we are hit with the latest strain of flu and it moves quickly through our house taking out each of us one by one and sometimes circling back around for round two.

I credit this annual occurrence to the after Christmas crash. Worn down by the busyness of the Christmas season and suffering from lack of nutrients after feasting on cookies and milk for weeks on end, our bodies succumb to germs. It is as though we are finally still enough for the germs to catch us and wiped out enough for them to take hold.

This year was no exception. The stomach flu made it rounds at Patchwork Farm bringing with it fever, chills, aches, stomach cramps, and debilitating fatigue. The blessing was that although it hit hard it moved on quickly, lasting only a day or two.

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#4. Miss Grace had a lovely break from school. While all her younger siblings were back to the grind the first week of January, Grace was off until the third week of January. That’s the benefit of a college schedule! She used this month of freedom to catch up on projects that she hadn’t had time for when school was in session. She organized her room, caught up on sleep, planned some outings with friends, spent time on Pinterest seeking out projects and recipes and then jumped into said creative projects and baking.

We were the beneficiaries of her Pinterest driven baking spree. One of our favorite treats from this past month was her peach fry pies. They tasted just like the ones we buy in Amish country.

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Using refrigerated pie crust she cut small circles using a biscuit cutter, filled the circle with peach pie filling, sealed it with another circle, and then baked them. When they came out of the oven she dipped them in an icing glaze and let them set up.

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They were amazing!

#5. Over the last few weeks we have been hit with a lot of snow, leaving the yard looking like a winter wonderland. As someone who loves winter and loves the snow, I have no complaints. I find it far better than the muddy winter we endured last year, but that is not to say that this season of beauty is without challenges. The frigid temperatures have made caring for the farm animals harder, and the ice on the driveway means having to park at the bottom and hike in and out…

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A task that is lovely if you are traveling empty handed, but far more frustrating for Toby who has had to hike materials and tools down to his truck each morning. At least our Fit Bit’s are pleased. We have had no trouble hitting our 10,000 steps!

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Well, there you go…

My attempt to break the silence and get back on track.

I’ll try to do better! 😉

A Birthday Celebration at the Homestead


This last weekend was spent at the Homestead.

 Grace, Molly and I  were invited to my parent’s house for a “Girls’ Only” weekend of shopping, lunching, and crafting at the Homestead as part of our Christmas gifts (along with gift certificates to spend at our very favorite Wooster businesses) from my parents. My dad was a good sport and didn’t even flinch when he saw us, in all our girly glory approaching, and endured the estrogen spike in the house with good natured patience.

The original plan was for us to drive out Friday night, following Gracie’s work shift at The Philly Pretzel Factory, which ended at 4:00. But as we planned for our weekend away we found ourselves closely monitoring an incoming winter storm. By Friday morning a winter storm warning had been declared. The threat of ice followed by 6-8 inches of snow led us to postpone our departure until the following day with the hopes that by morning the plows and salt trucks would have cleared the roads, making travel a bit safer.

We woke Saturday morning to a winter wonderland.

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As we prepared to leave Toby, Rusty and Tyler kindly shoveled our van out and made it possible for us to leave.


It took them about an hour to shovel a path through the deep snow down our long driveway, a task made even more challenging by the four legged “helpers” that were outside running between their legs.

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By 10:30 we had made our way down the driveway and were on our way to Ohio.

We arrived at my parents house by 1:00 in the afternoon and after carrying in our weekend bags and everything we brought to celebrate Mimi’s birthday while we were in town we headed to downtown Wooster. For Christmas my parents gave each of the girls a gift certificate to Friendtique, our favorite thrift store of all time. As soon as we turned onto main street we knew we had picked a bad day for shopping. The ice storm that had hit the night before had shut down the town, closing the library, restaurants, and stores…including Friendtique.

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But we didn’t let the changes of plans damper our day, instead we adjusted accordingly and planned to return to Friendtique on Monday. We headed to lunch instead. For lunch we ate at our favorite place to lunch in Wooster: Broken Rocks.

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We had the place to ourselves and enjoyed a delicious lunch and homemade lemonades.

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After lunch we headed away from downtown to the other side of Wooster to do a little shopping at Pat Catans and TJ Maxx. It was like old times, strolling through TJ’s, sniffing soaps and searching out deals. TJ Maxx was our favorite place to meet up with my mom when the girls were little and we needed to get out of the house for a Friday afternoon date.

Saturday night we enjoyed a fun evening at home. We dined on appetizers and snack food while playing board games, following a birthday celebration for my Mom. Thursday was her birthday so we were only two days late in our singing and candle blowing. We presented her with her gifts and we all enjoyed a slice of cake before we called it a day.

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We were able to extend our stay through Monday, thanks to a day off school for Martin Luther King Day. During our remaining time at the Homestead our time was spent watching Paddington Bear 2 at the movie theatre,


Stopping at Just Enough Antiques in Smithville, Ohio so I could spend my Christmas gift certificate from my parents at my favorite store of all time!

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I love the primitive antiques and cleverly repurposed “junk” that fill this store. It is a feast for the eyes and I always leave inspired to go home and create.

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This time I left the store with some really fun finds: a pair of antique, yellowed, men’s long underwear which I can’t wait to display on the primitive hanger my Dad made me.

I also found a Carrom game. We were introduced to the game Carrom by the Hudaks and so when we saw the used Carrom board for sale at Just Enough Antiques I knew that it would be one of my Christmas purchases. It will serve the duel purpose of decorating my living room wall while also being a fun family game we could take down and enjoy.

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We tried it out for the first time while we were at the Homestead, teaching Mimi and Pop Pop how to play.

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After returning from Just Enough Antiques our creative juices were flowing so the girls all headed up to the craft room where we did a little creating of our own.


I wrapped up some Valentine’s Day gifts and my Mom came up with the idea of repurposing an old pair of children’s shoes into charming crayon holders.

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It was a wonderful weekend away. It was so much fun having that special time with my parents and girls at the Homestead.

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We ended our visit with a trip to Friendtique on Monday morning. We spent a couple hours letting the girls try on clothes and decide how they wanted to use their gift certificate from Mimi and Pop Pop. They had so much fun.

All too soon it was time to say good-bye and head back to reality. It was a wonderful weekend with some of my very favorite people.

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Welcome, 2018! We are so glad to see you!


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Some years are hard to say good-bye to. Some are not.

There are years of blessings and sweet reprieve and then there are years, much like a guest who has overstayed their welcome, that leave one ready to help them out the door with a boot to the butt.

2017 was one of THOSE years.

It was the hardest year we have lived as a family. There were challenges we never guessed would be part of our family’s story, and trials that exceeded anything I could have fathomed five years ago. This year was an out-of-control, white-knuckle ride that taught us much about surrender and left us looking to our only source of hope: the divine conductor.

It was an unpleasant year of stretching…a dichotomy of great discomfort but also great growth.

Its funny how those two things seem to be attached by an unbreakable string.

The lessons learned this year were essential, even blessed, and now that I have survived the storm I can look back and see that what seemed an out of control nightmare was a divinely orchestrated season of pruning, a needed season before we could bear fruit.

I can look back now and see things more clearly than I could when I was drowning in despair 6 months ago.

I see the purpose.

I see the growth.

I see the blessing and care.

And I see that single set of footprints in the sand left by a loving Lord who carried us through the last 12 months…

But I’d be lying if I said I was sad to see 2017 go.

There is a sense of relief that 2017 has come to a close, as well and profound feelings of hope that next year with hold more laughter than tears.

Welcome, 2018! We are so glad to see you!!

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It has become a annual tradition to join our friends, the Hudaks, in ringing in the New Year…and do so in spectacular fashion!

The evening revolves around food, as all good celebrations do. We make a variety of appetizers to add to the scrumptious feast laid out by our hosts, and together have one heck of a spread!

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We arrived to begin the countdown at 7:00 pm. The night began with eating and visiting. Everyone enjoyed the opportunity to catch up and hear about each other’s Christmases. At 9:00 pm the countdown to New Year’s began.


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For the last few years we have planned fun activities and games to countdown the minutes leading up to the ball dropping in Times Square. The kids never know what is planned so these activities are revealed by popping a balloon every 30 minutes that contain a paper declaring the next activity.

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The planned activities kicked off at 9:00 with some fun 2017 trivia and a “Year in Review” sheet for everyone to fill out. This has become a beloved tradition that I treasure. It is so much fun to see what each of my kids write in their reflections as they look back on the past year, as well as read their goals for the upcoming year. Scrapbooking these sheets allows me to look back on their evolution and growth as they grow from children to young adults.


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At 9:30 the next balloon was popped. This was a game that required some floor space so we moved down to the basement where the kids would have room to spread out in a large circle. For this fun, high adrenaline game the kids took turns rolling two sets of di with the goal of roling a double. When someone rolled a double they got to pick one of the movie theatre candies from the center of the circle OR steal from another player. This twist in the game made for a lot of squeals and groans as the kids acquired their favorite treat only to lose it with the roll of the dice. At the end of 10 minutes everyone got to keep whatever candy was in their possession.

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At 10:00 the kids broke into two teams: boys vs girls, for a “Selfie Scavenger Hunt.” The list they were given instructed them to take selfies with the 15 items on their list, most of which revolved around the Christmas season. It was a delight sitting back and watching the eight of them race and scramble to try and find all the items on their list.


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“A selfie with your first ornament”


“A selfie of you decorating the tree”


“A selfie with Rudolph”


“A snow angel”


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“A selfie with Rudolph”


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“Selfie with a snow angel”

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“Selfie with a gift”


At 10:30 we engaged in a little “Hanky Panky”…a game that is as much fun to photograph as it is to play. Everyone gathered in the living room with a fresh box of tissues on their laps. On the count of three everyone began pulling tissues from their box, one at a time, with the goal of being the first to empty their box. We thought the Hudak’s propensity towards allergies would put them at a distinct advantage over the  McCleerys, but Toby (our Dark Horse) pulled off a spectacular win.

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At 11:00 it was time to introduce the Hudak’s to “Speak Out,” a game we enjoyed immensely at our “Mock New Year’s Eve party” two days prior.

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Lucas was hilarious! We laughed until we cried.

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As midnight loomed we had time for one last activity. This one came from the Hudaks. It was time for our traditional launching of the sky lanterns. Decorated with our hopes and dream for the New Year, we stepped outside and launched  our dreams toward Heaven.

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There is something so beautiful about penning our hopes on paper and setting them a flight, both figuratively and in actuality.


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The night was cold and still as we watched our lanterns of light float away.

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By then it was almost midnight.

Bubbly was poured (Non-alcoholic, of course) 😉

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Pay no mind to the drunk behind the curtain

And hats were donned, as we counted down to a New Year.

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We ushered in 2018 with cheers, kisses, and the Hudak tradition of a barefoot run through the snow…BRRRRR!!



Lucas: Mr. “Too cool for School” was unfazed by the experience.


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Then enjoyed the warmth of the fire and good company until our carriage turned back to a pumpkin and it was time to return home.

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Happy New Year, from our family to yours!

Happy “mock” New Year!


The original plan was to return Ozzie back to Erie on Saturday.

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The tradition in our family is to eat our gingerbread houses on New Year’s day and then feed the leftovers to Harley D. Hog, our pot belly pig. Since Ozzie was leaving on Saturday, he dug into his sugar house a few days early.

The treatment team at the facility where he is staying to receive inpatient therapy approved him for an 8 day stay at home. This meant he would be returning on December 30th. Although thrilled at the prospect of 8 days at home, he was disappointed he would be missing our annual New Year’s Eve party at the Hudak’s house. We decided to address that disappointment with an awesome “Plan B” and decided to have a “mock” New Year’s Eve party on Friday night with just our little family. I’ll be honest, after a full day at the museum and 3 hours on the road, the last thing I really wanted to do when I got home on Friday evening was make a ton of food and stay up late, but I tapped deep knowing how important it was to Ozzie and knowing that once I got through the work of making all the hors d’oeuvres, we would have fun.

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Gracie’s fruit pizza was delicious!


So, with the help of the girls, we began baking, and mixing, and broiling until we had an impressive feast laid out on the table.

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The boys were given the task of pulling board games from the game closet that would be fun to play at our “mock” New Year’s Eve party. The kids had received a few new games for Christmas that they wanted to play so we started with those.


One of the items on Ozzie’s Christmas wish list was the game “Chutes and Ladders.” It is Ozzie’s favorite game, due in large part (I think) to memories attached to the game, so it was one of the gifts Ozzie received Christmas morning. He asked if it could be the first game we played as a family.

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Next, we played “Speak Out,” a game Tyler received from the Kirks for Christmas. I don’t know when I have ever laughed so hard. The premise of the game is that players have to read tongue twisters off a card while wearing plastic mouth pieces.  It is supposed to be played parents vs kids, but minutes into the game Toby left us. He had been hit with a stomach flu and was not feeling well. Soon after that  Ozzie wandered off and fell asleep on the couch, leaving the rest of us to  “Speak Out” in the dining room.

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Tyler was particularly hilarious. The combination of talking through the mouth piece and being dyslexic just added to the absurdity of the words he was reading off the cards and the challenge of trying to figure out what he was saying. His solution to our incompetence was to simply speak more quickly and more loudly making it pretty much impossible to understand a word of what he was saying.

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Rusty was by far the best at enunciating around the mouth piece. Grace credits it to the fact that Rusty had braces most recently and is used to talking around a mouth full of gear,

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Matching smiles…Thanks, Dr. G!

while I believe it has more to do with the mouth size to plastic ratio…the bigger the mouth the easier it is to be understood.

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By the time we were done playing my cheeks ached and my stomach hurt from laughing so hard.

Ozzie didn’t even make it to 10:00. It turns out his new 8:00 bedtime at the facility has adjusted his internal clock and by 9:30 he was fast asleep on the couch, but it turns out our mock New Year’s Eve celebration was not even necessary…

Beginning Christmas day and continuing through the remainder of the week it snowed in Erie…

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The snow we received was nothing compared to Erie’s snow!

And I mean SNOWED!


Over the course of a few days Erie had almost five feet of snow dumped on their doorstep thanks to lake effect weather. What this meant for us was a call on Saturday morning from the facility informing us that Ozzie’s stay had been extended until it was safe to travel on the roads up north. They suggested a new return date of January 1st, which meant our “mock” New Year’s Eve turned out to simply be a dress rehearsal for the real deal. It turned out that Ozzie would be home for New Year’s after all. When I stepped out of my room, following this unexpected call, and shared the news, Ozzie reacted with shouts of joy. He was over the moon excited, both by the news he wasn’t leaving that afternoon, but also by the news that he wouldn’t miss out on our traditional New Year’s Eve bash at the Hudak’s house.

(More on that in the next post!)

I’ll leave you with these photos taken during our trip north on January 1st, after dropping off Ozzie:

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Our drive up was sketchy, even two days later.

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It was beautiful.

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Look at those icicles!!

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We drove out on Presque Isle to check out the ice dunes. It was bitter cold!

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How deep will she sink?

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Yes, it was as cold as it looks! Brr…

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That’s a lot of snow!!!

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The snow in Erie was quite impressive!

Building Memories- Brick by Brick



I love the week that is nestled between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. It is a time of sweet respite after the frantic pace of December, still magical in its embrace of the Christmas season, but without any of the work or stress that comes with the first three weeks of December.

This year was especially cherished as Ozzie was home for a week, giving us five days at home to simply be a family without any of the typical time suckers like appointments, school, therapy or tutoring. All of our usual scheduled activities had been canceled for the week and the break from all the running was probably the best gift I received this Christmas season. We had two “PJ Days,” where no one even bothered getting dressed for the day. Clothed in warm PJs we snuggled on the couch in front of the fireplace watching the movies we received for Christmas, reading our new books, playing with our newest toys, and munching on snacks from our Christmas stockings.

Our living room became Lego Central as the boys spent the week putting together the multiple Lego sets they received for Christmas. Ozzie was in heaven. There is nothing he enjoys more than building with Legos.

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Rusty, too, was thrilled with his new sets. His one big gift this year was a Disney Castle Lego set. This set has been on his wish list for years but is absurdly expensive, so he had long since made peace with the fact it would probably never be his. For years I have been searching for this set at a discounted price and 10 months ago found a seller online selling one for a fraction of the price of other sellers. I jumped on it and have had this gift tucked away ever since, so excited to surprise Rusty with it.

His reaction when he unwrapped it made all the effort worth it.

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My Disney loving boy was over the moon.

By far the largest set Rusty has ever constructed, this 4000+ piece Lego set took Rusty three days of continuous building to complete it.

The kit held 30 different bags of Lego’s with each bag representing a different section of the castle.

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The instruction book was an inch think and held the instructions for the 758 steps needed to complete this massive set.


It was fun to watch the birth of the 2 ½ foot magical creation from a pile of Lego bricks into Cinderella’s castle.

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The set came with different Disney Lego characters,

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And as cool as the completed castle was from the front,

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the real magic was found within the walls of the castle.

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The back of the set revealed a dozen or more different rooms within the castle, each representing different Disney movies like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog, Brave, and Cinderella.

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The finished completion is incredible and now sits in a place of honor on Rusty’s dresser.

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Isn’t it magical?!


A VERY belated birthday celebration


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Last summer Molly’s best friend turned 16. At the time Molly acknowledged Tatum’s birthday with a promise of a day out on the town to celebrate this milestone birthday.

Then life got in the way, pushing birthday plans to the back burner as we put out the more unmanageable fires that were closing in on us.

As Christmas break neared Molly came to me with the request that we set  one day of Christmas break aside to honor Tatum’s birthday rain check. Molly had an idea of what she wanted to do and asked if we could make it happen. Her plan was to take Tatum to Pittsburgh to the Carnegie Art Museum for the day, so they could leisurely explore the museum and let Tatum spend the day soaking up all the beauty the museum has to offer…something Molly knew Tatum would appreciate and enjoy.


In the middle of the day she planned to take Tatum out for a birthday lunch.


The timing was perfect. Ozzie was home for the week and without any other commitments fighting for our attention we decided to dedicate our Friday to Tatum’s gift from Molly but also take advantage of our Carnegie membership so the boys and I could enjoy a day at the Carnegie Natural History Museum that is conveniently housed in the same building as the art museum.

After getting our tickets we said good-bye to the girls and headed in opposite directions.

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The girls’ fun was recorded by Molly’s iPod, allowing me to steal some of the photos that recorded their fun day.


While the girls were soaking up the culture of the art museum (something we steered clear of with the little boys) we headed over to the Natural History museum.

This was more up the boys’ alley with its animal dioramas,

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Dinosaur Hall,

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The Exploration Station,

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And digging in the Boneyard.

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The highlight of the day, however, was the live animal show. Tyler was completely engaged and fascinated by this interactive and informative show where we learned all about…

 Corn Snakes:

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 And Skunks:

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By late afternoon Ozzie was worn out and at one point fell asleep in a chair as we waited for Tyler to come out of the bathroom.

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We had a little time before we needed to meet up with the girls, so we explored the hall of statues, 

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And then headed to the Christmas tree display to check out the themed trees and the beautiful nativity set.

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The boys and I had a fun day learning about animals, both modern and extinct, while soaking up the beauty of this historic building that houses all these neat artifacts…

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And I think the girls had a fun day too!

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 Happy VERY belated birthday, Miss Tatum! 

Lordy, Lordy…Now I’m 40


I find the week that nestles itself between the peaks of Christmas day and New Year’s Day to be healing. After the noise, chaos and merriment of Christmas and before the noisemakers and revelry of New Year’s Eve lies a week of rest. But it is no ordinary rest, it is a rest clothed in gratitude, contentment, and reflection.

After the climax of Christmas build-up there is the settling down period. The kids are still off school and normal routine is put on hold as everyone enjoys a few days of staying in their PJs and playing with their Christmas toys in front of the still decorated tree. It offers an opportunity to lean back into all the joy that comes with the season without the frantic pace that typically accompanies it. I find this week to be a special gift as it allows us all to regroup and reflect before life resumes on January 2nd.

With the closing of one year and the approaching of the new year comes quiet introspection as we acknowledge the passing of time and reflect on how we spent the last 12 months. I find these thoughts are all the more consuming when you have a birthday that falls the final week of the year…especially when that birthday is the big 4-0!

A few days ago I turned 40, so while my thoughts have been consumed with all the typical end of the year reflections and assessments I find myself all the more reflective as I consider this milestone birthday and look back on how I spent the first four decades of my life.

Lest you think I have been wallowing in self pity let me clarify. It hasn’t been a week of mourning, but rather a week of humble gratitude as I look at the many lives I have lived in four decades. In many ways I find it hard to believe I am only forty. I have always been an old soul and have lived the life of someone older than my chronological age, so while part of me struggles to reconcile the age on my driver’s license with the 20-year-old I am in my head, the other part of me is shocked that I am just now turning that corner from the 30’s to the 40’s.

As I look back on the life God has so graciously blessed me with I am humbled by the amazing journey He has taken me on. I feel as though I have lived 10 different lives within this one life, much like a compilation of short stories with one connecting character. Some of those stories have been joyful…Others have been sad… but all have been a beautiful adventure full of powerful lessons and great blessings.

This week I received a birthday card from my parents. Within the card my parents each penned words of love and advice for me on my 40th birthday. I was touched by their written expression of love. In the card my father shared this thoughtful and profound reflection that has consumed my thoughts during this week of transition. He said:

“People seem to measure their lives by the decades…the 20’s, the 30’s, the 40’s and so on. Each seems a milestone to a new stage of life. May your next decade be one of growth in joy and wisdom. Be satisfied with your many accomplishments and put any regrets behind you. This is the decade for putting old goals behind you and seeking new dreams.”

What a magnificent thought. I have found myself rolling his words around in my mind as I reflect on yesterday and consider tomorrow. Who I was at 30 and what I deemed important a decade ago now seems the ideals of a different person. As I get older and more comfortable in my own skin I am discovering that I can better hear the whisperings of my own heart over the noise of the world and better understand what my passion and purpose are here on earth. I suppose that is the real gift of age and I am excited to see what 2018 has in store for me.

On the day of my birthday my family spoiled me rotten, making sure I felt loved and cherished on my big day. Toby took the little boys to work with him so that I would have some time to relax and not have to parent. My morning was spent snuggled up in my bed with my girls as we binge watched Gilmore Girls…a show that I somehow missed out on when it was on TV but am now enjoying for the first time with my girls thanks to Netflix. We typically watch one episode a day during our lunch break, but since it was my birthday and I didn’t need to feel guilty, we snuggled on my bed and watched 4 episodes back to back. I couldn’t have planned a more wonderful way to start my birthday.

After lunch we began to get ready to leave. Rusty, Grace, Molly and I got dolled up and drove to Cranberry where we met up with Toby, Tyler and Ozzie for my first of three birthday surprises. Because of it being a milestone birthday, they felt compelled to celebrate in a special way and had an entire afternoon/evening all planned out, all of which was a surprise.

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I was just thrilled to have my entire family with me to celebrate. It would have been a really hard day if Ozzie had not been able to be there with us.

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Our celebration began at Saga restaurant. Saga Hibachi Steakhouse holds special memories for our family as it is the place we went with the entire family following both boys’ adoption ceremonies. The food is delicious but what really makes this restaurant fun is the “show” aspect of dinner and a show.

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We arrived at 2:00 pm and were seated around a hibachi grill where we watched our dinner be grilled with fire, flare, and a whole lot of fun.

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The menu is a set meal beginning with salad and soup, followed by grilled noodles, rice, vegetables and a protein of your choice. The kids all chose chicken while Toby and I went with scallops.

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It was a blast…both figuratively and literally…a perfect way to celebrate my 40th trip around the sun.

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Our dinner experience was capped off with a surprise birthday treat and a never ending singing birthday candle that serenaded us for days after the dinner.

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As we sat enjoying the last crumbs of the fried ice cream treat that was shared seven ways, I opened my gifts from my family.

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Toby and the boys surprised me with books and chocolate. They know the way to my heart!

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Grace and Molly did their shopping secretly while we were at Shaker Woods this past fall. I LOVED both their gifts!

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Rusty surprised me with one of his original works of art. This charming cow makes me smile every time I look at it!

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I was spoiled rotten and felt incredibly loved!

Following our amazing meal, we headed to our second secret stop of the day. When I woke that morning, I had no idea what the plans were for my 40th birthday. Everything was hush hush, with no hints given at all.

For our next stop we drove down to McKnight Rd and pulled into a non-descript brick building. As we approached the door I saw the word “Breakout” painted on the glass door and I knew we were in for a really fun time. Knowing how much I love escape rooms Toby and the kids reserved an escape room adventure at Breakout-North Hills for my birthday.


Toby reserved “Museum Heist” challenge for our family of seven. At 4:00pm we were taken into the escape room and watched the short introductory video that set up the scenario and laid out the challenge set before us. We were told that we had 60 minutes to solve the mystery of the museum heist. A priceless treasure had been stolen and replaced with a counterfeit. We had to find the original work of art and then figure out who the culprit was before the museum gala began 60 minutes later.

The next hour was spent working as a team as we uncovered clues, cracked codes, solved puzzles and searched out hidden secrets within the locked room.

It was so much fun. I love watching my kids work together, relying on each other’s strengths to solve the puzzles we stumbled across.

Despite the fact things looked a little harry those last 10 minutes we managed to pull out a last-minute victory, unlocking the door to escape with seconds to spare.


My special day of birthday fun ended with a trip to the movies to see, “The Greatest Showman.”


It was an incredible show…simply magical!!

A perfect conclusion to a MAGICAL 40th birthday.