Monthly Archives: January 2020

Cycle Party Insta Tour

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Miami Seaquarium: A “Flippin” Good Time!

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As we considered what activities to enjoy on our 2nd day in Miami, as part of our Miami Go Pass, we read the following description online, highlighting the Miami Seaquarium. We knew at once that it was just the sort of fun, family adventure our crew would enjoy:

Both entertaining and educational, this underwater wonderland has it all, so dive in and explore the oceans most amazing creatures at Miami Seaquarium. You’ll watch live dolphin shows, watch shark and crocodile feedings, and get up-close and personal with the best of Florida’s marine life.

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Jet Boat Miami

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I have a need, a need for speed…

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(Cue: Top Gun soundtrack.)

If we thought the airboat ride through the Everglades was thrilling,  it had nothing on Jet Boat Miami.

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This attraction was included in our Go Miami: 2 Day Pass. It was one of those activities that we would have never paid out-of-pocket for, but couldn’t resist trying out since it was included in the list of unlimited attractions that we could to enjoy with our 2 day pass.

The website advertised it as a thrilling 30 minute speedboat ride in Miami Bay. It promised 45mph spins and hairpin turns that would get anybody’s heart racing.  For the adrenaline junkies in the family it was a no-brainer. Zach, Toby, Braden, and Tyler were all pumped about this activity.

For those of us who are less driven by the “need for speed,” our feelings were mixed. We were hopeful it would be just thrilling enough, while loving the idea of being out on the water with the warm Miami wind blowing in our hair. The experience did not disappoint. It was awesome!

We arrived at the dock, signed our safety waivers, and waited to board our speedboat.

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We had an awesome cruise director who had everyone pumped up before the boat even left the dock.

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Valuables were stored away in locked boxes at the marina and everyone who wanted to take their phone on the boat for pictures was given a Ziploc bag to keep it dry.

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When we were told we would get wet on this adventure they were not kidding. By the time we make it back to the dock you could have rung us out!

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The 30 minute boat ride was a mix of thrilling speeds and hairpin turns that caused waves of water to pour over our heads mixed with slower moments when our tour guide would point out sites on the shore. While on cruising Miami Bay we got to see the previously owned Miami homes of Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, and Ricky Martin.

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It was a party boat. We were squished in like sardines. The purpose of which was to keep guests from flying out of the boat as we did donuts across the bay.

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As we flew across the water our screams of excited delight were mixed with the Latin club music pouring from the speakers.

 

It was such a thrilling experience that we ended up returning the following day to enjoy a second time with our Miami Go Pass.

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Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Miami adventures. For now we are hitting the showers to wash the salt from our hair. What an adventure!!

Robert’s Fruit Stand

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As we were leaving the alligator farm we passed a fruit stand that looked interesting. The 1st thing that caught our eye was the size of it. The 2nd thing that caught our eye were the throngs of people waiting in line to check out.  It was a Monday morning and certainly not prime tourist season in Miami, so we figured there must be something special about Robert’s fruit stand.

Boy were we right!

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This novelty fruit stand boasts a wide selection of exotic fruits from around the world. We stopped to get some Florida oranges and ended up leaving with a buffet of sweet fruits from around the world. Most of the fruits for sell were not ones we had ever heard of before. In noting our confusion, an employee kindly handed us a fruit guide to help educate us as we considered which fruits to try.

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We wandered through the outdoor isles, reading the descriptions of different fruits.  In addition to each crate of fruit listing its name and price, it also listed where the fruit was from and an informative description of its flavor, texture, and appearance.

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We decided that we would get a variety of different exotic fruits to bring back to our rental to try as part of our Florida experience. Rusty was especially thrilled. Just last week he was requesting (for his time treat) some sort of unusual fruit that we could snack on during his one-on-one time. After perusing the aisles of Walmart’s fruit and vegetable section, I came up with the nothing more exotic than an apple, orange, or grapes. The pickings were slim, so this was especially exciting for Rusty who had just been talking about wanting to try some new fruits. He ended up not only trying a new fruit but trying 7 new fruits from around the world that we had never heard of before, much less tasted.

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Here were our choices for our taste testing smorgasbord:

Apple Bananas: “They usually look like an over-ripe banana. These bananas are great for pies and fruit salads, as the fruit does not discolor.

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(This was the favorite fruit of Zach, Toby, Tyler and Molly)

Canestel (Egg Fruit): “This fruit is yellow and shaped like a Hershey Kiss. Wait until the fruit is extremely soft (like room temperature butter), then cut it open and enjoy the sweet egg custard flavor inside.”

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(This fruit had the texture of cooked pumpkin and tasted like egg custard. We all agreed it would be a better savory side dish to a meal, than a fruit eaten independently.)

Carambola (Star Fruit): “It is a five-sided yellow fruit. Slice this fruit crosswise into little stars and eat all but the stem and seeds. It tastes like a cross between and apple and an orange.”

(This crisp, refreshing fruit was Rusty’s favorite.)

Guanabana (Sour Sop): “This fruit is in the same family as a sugar apple but tastes different. Known as Sour Sop, it is anything but sour. Wait until the fruit is extremely soft, break it open with your hands, and then eat the pockets from around the seeds inside. Tastes like cotton candy.

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Kent Mangos: “Wait until the fruit is moderately soft. To cut the mango, hold it so that your hand is holding the widest part of the mango. Slice the right side of the fruit from top to bottom then flip it over and slice on the left side. The beautifully rich yellow fruit inside has a peachy-pineapple taste.”

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(Best Mangos we have ever eaten!)

Passion fruit: “This is a round, dark red or deep yellow fruit about the size of a plum. Wait until the skin is wrinkled, then slice and eat the pulp and seeds inside. It tastes like fruit punch.”

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(Gracie couldn’t get over the appearance of this fruit when sliced open. She said it was too reminiscent of toddler snot, but the flavor was delicious and tasted like a very strong fruit punch.)

Sapodilla: “It looks like a large kiwi without the fuzz. Wait until the fruit is very soft, then slice and enjoy. It tastes like a pear with brown sugar.”

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(Mmmm…delicious! It truly did taste like a brown sugar pear with a hint of cinnamon. This fruit was a favorite of myself, Grace and Braden.)

Well there we opted to cut in to the Guanabana (Sour Sop) fruit, which was advertised as “the world’s most delicious fruit.” The sign said that it tasted like cotton candy. We gave it a try. It did indeed have the flavor of cotton candy, but we found our group had very mixed reactions to this unusual fruit.

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Most agreed that while it tasted good, the texture was a bit hard to embrace. We decided that in the end we would have been better off buying one of the smoothies made out of this fruit rather than the fruit itself so that we could enjoy the flavor without the stringy, slimy texture of the Guanabana.

After eating that fruit we decided to use the Apple Bananas we purchased as a chaser. They were delicious. We all enjoyed them immensely!

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Before leaving we took a stroll out back to love on the farm animals that call Robert’s Fruit Stand, home.

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It was the most bizarre menagerie of animals I’ve ever seen.

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There in the pen there were zebu,  geese, emu, tortoises, iguanas, and goats all frolicking together like some sort of  Floridian Noah’s Ark.

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We could have stayed all day. Robert’s was a delightful roadside find in Southern Florida.

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Next stop was Jet Boat Miami…

Hold on to your hats!

Everglades Animal Farm and Airboat Ride

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We arrived in Miami, Florida with 2 days to explore the area before was time to board our cruise ship. The reason for early arrival was because of the large price difference between flying out of Pittsburgh on Sunday versus flying out on Tuesday. We decided to make the most of the situation and use those 2 days to create an extended vacation. As we were looking for things to do in the Miami area we discovered the Miami Go two day pass, a discount attractions pass that allows visitors to see and experience an unlimited amount of attractions in Southern Florida for a set price. As we looked over the list of 20+ attractions offered, and compared the admission cost of those attractions to the cost of the two day pass, it was a no-brainer.

As we looked over the list of attractions we knew that one of our stops had to be an airboat ride through the Everglades. The Miami Go pass offered 3 different airboat ride companies to pick from. We chose to check out Everglades Alligator Farm and airboat ride. We liked that it combined both an airboat ride with a reptile farm that offered shows and hands on interaction with alligators and other reptiles. We knew that if we were going to be in Southern Florida for 2 days we had to take part in this iconic Floridian experience.

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It did not disappoint. This is what they advertised on the Go Miami site:

You’ll see over 2,000 alligators at the Everglades Alligator Farm before hopping on an airboat and cruising across the waters in search for more unique species.

I’m Leaving on an Airplane

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(Well, we are back home from an amazing vacation. Here is the first of a series of blogs recording our Norwegian Cruise adventure. Thanks for traveling along with us!)

After weeks of anticipation the big day had arrived!! The kids were finally allowed to enjoy their much anticipated Christmas gift that was revealed to them on December 23rd. This year instead of by them a bunch of small things that could be wrapped and put under the tree, we chose to invest that money into a once in a lifetime experience. This was due in part to the fact that we are on the cusp of more life changes as a family. We have 2 sons graduating from high school this year who are on the brink of launching into adulthood. Unsure of what they will be doing with their life next year, coupled with the fact that Molly will be leaving in a few months to serve an 18 month mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, led us to planning a family vacation prior to everyone heading in separate directions.

On January 12th the day had finally arrived for us to take flight… quite literally. We were flying down to Miami where we would be boarding a cruise ship for a 5 day cruise to the Bahamas.

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For some of the kids, particularly those who hadn’t been on an airplane in 9 years or had never been on an airplane at all, the thrill of flying was as great as the thrill of a cruise to the Bahamas.  Braden and Tyler had never flown in an airplane before and they were both filled with eager/anxious anticipation as we walked into the airport.

We worked our way through  security and  through the Pittsburgh airport to our gate. Once there we had 2 hours of time to kill before boarding the plane. Some settled in with books to read or games to play on their phones, while others took advantage of the waiting time to explore the airport and check out all the neat stores that were in the concourse.

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Before we knew it, we were being called to board. We were flying Spirit Airlines because our large family of 8 couldn’t beat the deal we found through this discount airline company.

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Everyone enjoyed an easy and uneventful flight.

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Braden and Tyler each got to sit by a window since it was their 1st time flying. It was a thrilling for them to get to see the county from high in the air.

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We arrived in Miami and were greeted by sunshine, heat, and humidity…

And as awful as that sounds,

We had just come from the grey, muddy, cold weather of Pennsylvania, and it felt amazing!!

Bring on that humid heat!!

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We picked up our rental car and made our way to our Airbnb rental where we would be staying for the next 2 nights. Our cruise ship was not scheduled to leave port until Wednesday, but we opted to fly down a few days early because of the huge difference in airline prices between flying out on a Sunday versus a Tuesday. We planned to make the most of those extra 2 days of vacation and see the sights of Miami, Florida.

After getting settled in at our rental, which was a 2 story, 3 bedroom house 20 minutes from the beach, we made plans for dinner. Because Grace and Zach just recently stayed in this area a few months prior for their honeymoon, they had some suggestions about things to see and do and places to eat. Their number one recommendation was a outdoor taco bar right on the beach. They talked up the food and ambience with such a gusto that we found ourselves craving Mexican food and decided that would be our dinner spot for our first night of vacation.

The name of the place was the Taco Beach Shack in Hollywood, Florida.

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We arrived and were greeted by the fun sight of Palm trees wrapped in neon lights and the sound of music coming from a DJ set up in the center of the plaza.

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This restaurant offered only outdoor seating.

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The canopies that hung overhead were illuminated with the strings of brightly colored lights.

We were seated at one of thier untradional tables, which was composed of couches surrounding a wooden table.

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Our waiter came to get our drink order, hand out menus, and fill us in on the specials of the night. Grace and Zach recommended the steak nachos and the street corn, so that is what we ordered. With 2 people sharing a plate of nachos and each ordering an ear of Mexican street corn, we were able to feed the whole group for a very reasonable price.

As we waited for our food to arrive we enjoyed playing with the giant Jenga game, while soaking up the ambiance of the restaurant.

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It had a distinctly Miami feel  With its live music common neon lights, the warm air blowing off the ocean, and the sound of waves crashing in the distance.

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Our food arrived and it was everything Grace and Zach talked it up to be.

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The food was amazing and the portions were generous. Hands down, the best Mexican food I’ve ever had!!

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After our meal we took us short stroll over to the beach to see the ocean.  Then we headed back to our rental to get a good night’s sleep. It had been a long day of travel and everyone was tired. The next day we had plans to head out exploring and check out the sites of Miami!

 

 

 

 

Temple Blessings for Molly

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2020 kicked off in a big way with Molly going through the temple to receive her own endowments on January 4th.

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She made the temple her desired destination, the blessings found within, her wish. With her eyes set on this personal goal in her own spiritual journey, she prepared day by day, her entire life, for this special moment.

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This was a special milestone in Molly’s spiritual walk as she entered to make covenants with Heavenly Father in His house that would serve as a strengthening force and great personal blessing to her throughout her life.

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What a joy and delight it was to walk our daughter into the temple to make her own covenants with the Lord.

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She was joined by myself, her Daddy and her big sister who came to support her as she went through the Palmyra, New York temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Much as Philadelphia temple stole Gracie’s heart from her first visit, and the Washington DC temple is my temple, the Palmyra LDS temple has called to Molly since her first visit. Molly knew that is where she wanted to make those sacred covenants with the Lord.

There, on a blustery, winter day, she experienced the blessings of the temple and soaked in the sweet spirit found within those sacred walls.

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We are so happy for our sweet girl and the path she has chosen to walk, knowing the great joy and profound purpose this path brings.

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We love you, Miss Molly! You make our hearts glad. May the sweet spirit you experienced on that special day remain with you as a unending source of peace, guidance and purpose as you pursue God’s plan for your life.

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Proud Mom of an Eagle Scout

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I remember the first time he donned the blue uniform of a cub scout.

He was eight years old and strutted into the church building proudly wearing the uniform of the Boy Scouts of America. The next ten years were filled with campouts, high adventure, summer scout camp and weekly gatherings, as Rusty worked to fill his sash with merit badges.

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Scouting became a source of growth and place of friendships as hours were poured into this “extracurricular activity” that was so much more than an extracurricular activity. Unlike the many good activities there are for our children to be a part of, this activity was more than a babysitting service or a social outlet. Under the leadership of great men, Rusty grew into a great man. He learned skills far more valuable than fire building or rafting. It was while he was fire building and rafting he learned how to lift others, problem solve, be a team player, lead, stand for what is right, honor his country, and be a man of character.

Scouting grew my boy into a man that any mother would be proud of. He has learned valuable life skills and developed the character strengths spoken of in the Boy Scout law as he lives the Boy Scout oath:

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It was his goal to earn his Eagle. This is an achievement only earned by 4% of Boy Scouts worldwide. It is an honor that requires a high level of commitment, dedication, time, effort and drive.

“Periodically, we read about a young man becoming an Eagle Scout and we know we should be impressed – but why?

If you have never journeyed through the life of a BSA Boy Scout you most likely only have a general idea of what is required to earn the coveted Eagle Scout Award. Furthermore, you are not versed in the detailed intricacies, and at times, the all-consuming day-to-day Boy Scout experience. A young man does not become an Eagle Scout within a few months; it takes years.

Advancement through the seven required ranks of Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle is not something one can teach in a short amount of time.

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Each rank is broken down into increments requiring the scout to master the skills of personal care and safety for one’s self, indoor sustainability, outdoor survival, and the ability to work with others; whether as a team or as their leader. Until the scout displays proficiency for what is required within each rank he is not able to advance.

The 21 required merit badges – 13 Eagle specific – are also challenging. Have you ever hiked 20 miles, listed the six functions of government as noted in the Preamble to the Constitution, or made a timeline of the history of environmental science in America? The Eagle Scout has. He had to accomplish tasks and learn large amounts of information to complete his Eagle required merit badges. These badges cover the spectrum of physical fitness – within the individual’s capabilities – to knowledge necessary for any college bound student.

Extensive service hours and service projects, along with living by the Scout Law: Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent….

And hungry!

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This is the life of a Boy Scout.

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So, the next time you read of a boy who has just received their Eagle Scout Award – be impressed. This award was not handed to him, he earned it. It will not be one of those items packed away with the other trophies of his youth, but instead will be displayed in his daily actions and its quintessence will forever live in his heart.”

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While it is an elusive honor overall, Rusty has been blessed to have the example of many Eagle Scouts in his life, including his father, which only increased his drive to work to earn this rank himself.

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That desire, coupled with fantastic Scout leaders who have been a driving force in helping many young men earn this honor, led to the big day when Rusty and two of his fellow troop members received their Eagles.

This occurred the Saturday before Christmas. Despite being fully immersed in Christmas mode, the mothers of the other two Eagle Scouts (Bobby and Nate) and I met at the church to decorate for the ceremony.

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We collaborated our efforts, gathered our scouting decor, and transformed the gym into a venue reflective of the Scouting program,

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And one that honored these three boys and all their hard work!

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That evening we returned to the church to watch as the boys in the troop received dozens and dozens of merit badges earned over the course of the previous six months. It was hugely impressive and a testament to some amazing scout leaders and some hard working young men!

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When all the merit badges had been handed out it was time for the three boys receiving their Eagle to step forward and take center stage.

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Each boy shared with the room the details of their personal Eagle Scout project.

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One of the final steps in earning the rank of Eagle comes when the scout develops and executes a plan to lead a service project that will benefit  the community. This large project is the culmination of a lot of behind-the-scenes planning, prepping and presenting the planned project to gain approval for their proposed Eagle Scout project.

Rusty’s Eagle Scout project was to build an outdoor riding area for Ready Yourself Youth Ranch, a non profit organization that pairs recued horses with special needs children through a therapeutic riding program. His project took the troop two long days of back breaking work but was a great blessing to that non-profit organization that could now increase the amount of sessions that could be offered each week.

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This project was completed a year ago but Rusty still had two Eagle-required merit badges that had to be earned for him to meet all his requirements. Rusty earned those with his troop this fall and was able to stand before family and friends on December 22nd to receive his award.

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Among those there to celebrate his achievement were his fellow Eagle Scouts, leaders, troop members and their families, Grace and Molly and Mimi Joy.

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The parents of the Eagle Scouts were then called to the front.

As part of the ceremony each Eagle Scout is given three pins, in addition to the medallion that is placed on their breast pocket and handkerchief that is tied around their shoulders.

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These three pins are pinned by the Eagle Scout on the lapel of the mother, the father and a person they consider a mentor,

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As a way of acknowledging the loving support that assisted them as they worked toward the goal of Eagle.

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Rusty chose to gift his mentor pin to Pete Grundberg, a man who has had an incredible influence on Rusty, both as a scout and as a young man. Pete’s dedication to troop 558, and his never ceasing effort to mold these young men, has led to many scouts earning the rank of Eagle. His influence has been great and it was a joy watching Rusty honor Pete as his mentor.

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He definitely deserves the recognition!

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Pete is one of many men who have been influential in Rusty’s scouting journey. It takes a tribe to raise a scout and how grateful I am for this amazing tribe of leaders and young men that are troop 558.

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It has been an amazing ride with an epic conclusion!

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Congratulations to our newest Eagle Scouts! We are so proud of your achievement!

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Welcome 2020!

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Boy, 2019 was a doosy!

It is hard to believe how many changes occurred in our life over the course of a single year. It was a year of high highs and trying lows as we navigated a multitude of huge life events. As I scroll through the last 12 months of blog posts I can’t believe it has only been 365 days since the first blog of 2019. In so many ways I feel as though I have lived a dozen years in that dozen months.

I love New Year’s Day. There is something cathartic about flipping through an empty calendar, each square pristine in its lack of markings, filled only with the promise of possibility.

I love the opportunity for reflection tied to this holiday…the intentional break after a frantic month of celebration and frivolity, to simply pause and ponder on the past and dream about the possibilities of the future.

I love the chance to hit the re-start button on our lives as we make plans to let go of those things that weighed us down last year and move forward with a hope and optimism about the year ahead.

I love the goal setting, the list making, and the future planning.

And as much as I love the transformation that occurs every December as the house gets caught up in the spell of Christmas magic with its trinkets and tinsel, there is a peaceful exhale that comes as the house sheds those layers of decorations and reverts back to a simpler and starker state.

After a month of excess, the promise of restraint pulls at me. It had been a month of much…much celebration, much lost sleep, much frivolity, much junk food, much, much, much…

And nothing sounds sweeter than the routine, restraint, and rest associated with the sleepy, snowy stillness of January,

But before we could settle into 2020 we had to ring out the old year with style, with one more celebration in 2019. It was New Year’s Eve and we had a party to get to!!

Every New Year’s Eve for the last decade we have rung in the new year with out best buddies- The Hudak’s!

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This year was no exception.

Even Grace and Zach opted to join us in lieu of other plans.

This New Year’s celebration was a big one, as it was the year we would  be opening the time capsule we packed as part of our New Year’s Eve celebration five years ago.

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But before we broke into that vault of memories and took a walk down memory lane, we needed to fill our plates and our bellies with sustenance!

Lana and I split the responsibility of our New Year’s Eve feast, with each of us making five or six appetizers for the party.

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Once we had everything laid out, the kids were set loose on that buffet of deliciousness.

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Once everyone was satiated we gathered to open our time capsule.

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Olivia did the honors…

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And everyone pulled from the container the papers that were filled out five years prior and began reading the responses to the questions on the forms. It was delightful to read the answers of the people we were five years ago and compare them to who we are and what we believe today.

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Some of the papers were downright hilarious.

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It was such a delight to see the transformations in ourselves that the kids decided they wanted to do it again, writing letters to themselves to be read in five years. This time Braden and Zach were able to add their notes to the time capsule.

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It was soon time to gather around the tv to watch the ball drop.

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Sparkling cider was poured,

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And everyone began the countdown…

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….Happy New Year!!

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Welcome 2020…I’m so happy to see you!

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We are all Mad Here

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On the Saturday following Christmas I had the fun opportunity to join forces with friends as we pulled off a really delightful bridal shower for a daughter of one of those friends. The theme was a Mad Hatter tea party…

Built around Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

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Boy, did we have fun embracing and running with the theme!

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It was a whimsical wonder for the bride-to-be and her handsome groom.

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Here is a look at the transformation as we fell down the rabbit hole into a world of nonsense:

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