Category Archives: Uncategorized

A little less WISE


wisdom teeth2

Summer is the season we tend to tackle projects that are harder to addresses during the busier school year. In addition to making time for trips and playing, summer also is filled with house projects, kid training, and appointments…things that are harder to fit in when our schedule is packed with school work and activities.

This summer we seemed to have even more medical appointments, as I hustled to knock out as many yearly appointments as I could to lighten my load once school began.

One of the appointments that was on my “to do” list was a trip to the Oral Surgeon to have Grace and Rusty’s wisdom teeth checked. After the investment we put into their smiles we didn’t want them to lose their pretty, straight smiles because of some rogue wisdom teeth that arrive uninvited.

Last month I set up an appointment at Dr. Ban’s office to have them checked and sure enough their wisdom teeth were all lined up and on the brink of making an appearance so we set up the appointment to get them removed before school started. Grace had three teeth that needed pulled and Rusty had all four.

Our initial plan was to have them get them out the same day and recover together but that plan fell through when we realized that Rusty was going to be out of town on a white water rafting adventure with his Boy Scout troop on the day Grace was scheduled to have her wisdom teeth removed, so we scheduled his surgery for a few days later. It worked out well. Grace had reign of the couch and control of the remote for four days and then handed the torch over to Rusty on day five for his recovery.

Gracie’s appointment was scheduled for Thursday morning. We woke and followed all the surgical instructions (no make-up, no nail polish, no food, no flip flops, etc.) and prepared to leave. Before we took off I gave Grace her recovery basket. I made one up for her and Rusty. They were filled with soft food and silly games and activities to keep them occupied during their time on the couch.


The procedure was surprisingly quick and painless.


Dr. Ban put Grace into a twilight sleep state which meant she was awake for the procedure but groggy. After the surgery she had no memory of the procedure and was out of it the entire trip home. She was very funny to listen to as she proceeded to chat away through the layers of gauze that filled her mouth. I found it interesting that she quickly reverted to sign language when we couldn’t understand what she was saying. Unfortunately I can’t sign so it didn’t help with our communication much. 🙂


On the way home we passed a pet store which prompted her to make a convincing argument as to why we needed to stop and buy 4 dogs. Rusty and I enjoyed a good laugh at her expense. She was quite comical.

Grace ended up spending a few days on the couch.


She slept most of the first day, had the worst pain on day 2, and then swelled up like a little chipmunk on day 3. By the time Rusty returned home he had missed most of Gracie’s recovery, so he was a bit in the dark as to what to expect at his surgery the following Tuesday.


Rusty, too, had an early morning appointment. He woke feeling anxious so it was good we were getting it over with first thing rather than torturing him with anticipation all day long.


We arrived and they took him straight back.


30 minutes later they were loading him into the van for the drive home. It was funny to see how differently Rusty and Grace reacted to the anesthesia. As chatty as Grace was, Rusty was equally silent. Molly had tagged along to help transport Rusty and was secretly hoping for a show on the ride home but was sorely disappointed. The effect of laughing gas on Rusty was anticlimactic and he was silent as can be the entire trip home. Perhaps the medication affects patients by enhancing their natural tendencies…thus making Grace all the more chatty and Rusty all the more silent.


We arrived home and Rusty took his place on the couch that Gracie vacated the day before.


He too experienced the most pain on day 2 and the most swelling on day 3 but none of his symptoms seemed as extreme as Gracie’s. He bounced back easily and within a day seemed like his old self.


Between Grace and Rusty they are down 7 wisdom teeth.

Are they any less wise?

Only time will tell!

wisdom teeth



Catch a Falling Star


falling star

Every August we are treated to a spectacular light show here at Patchwork Farm with the annual occurrence of the Perseid meteor shower.

falling star 2

“The Perseid meteor shower, one of the brighter meteor showers of the year, occurs every year between July 17 and August 24. The shower tends to peak around August 9-13.

Made of tiny space debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids are named after the constellation Perseus. This is because the direction, or radiant, from which the shower seems to come in the sky lies in the same direction as the constellation Perseus, which can be found in the north-eastern part of the sky.

While the skies are lit up several times a year by other meteoroid showers, the Perseids are widely sought after by astronomers and stargazers. This is because, at its peak, one can see 60 to 100 meteors in an hour from a dark place.”

Saturday night was marked as the best night for viewing the meteor showers, with 80 meteors an hour expected that night, so we made plans to do a little star gazing.

We weren’t sure how clearly our view of the nighttime show would be given the fullness of the moon, but we went out before the moon made its appearance and were treated to a magical sight.

We headed out to the yard at 10:00 pm with air mattresses and blankets, ready to get comfortable as we waited for falling stars.


It was a perfect night for star gazing.


The sky was crystal clear without a cloud to be seen.


The evening temperature was just cool enough to make you want to snuggle under a blanket without being too cold to enjoy the experience.

There under the darkened sky we lay still and waited.

It was so pleasant to just be.

It was so nice to be still and enjoy the company of family and fireflies.

Oh, what a show it was.

Streaks of light shot across the sky one after the other.

It was simply magical.

What a perfect summer evening.

Travis and Krista are hitched!


(It has now been two weeks since our trip to Texas to witness the wedding of my brother to his beautiful bride, Krista. Here are photos of the special day.)

The wedding was magical.

IMG_9413 (2)

 There is no other word for it.

 It was so perfectly reflective of the bride, the groom, and the sweet love they share.


Tucked away in the rolling greenery of Texas hill country, a little white chapel became the place where two lives were joined together.

IMG_9404 (2)

Surrounded by family and dear friends, the couple committed their lives to each other before God.

IMG_9700 (2)

The bride was stunning.

IMG_9549 (2)

The groom, happy and handsome.


The family, ecstatically joyful for the new couple.


The words spoken by the bride’s father were touching,

IMG_9654 (2)

And the smiles exchanges over the rings, endearing.

IMG_9651 (2)

IMG_9644 (2)

Then there was the kiss…

IMG_9565 (2)

The first one as bride and groom.

My heart grew three sizes as I watched my brother walk hand and hand with his bride down the aisle.

IMG_9690 (2).JPG

My joy for them was overwhelming.

IMG_9695 (2)

I’ve loved Travis my whole life,

But now I find myself filled with an equal love for his bride.

IMG_9810 (2)

She brings out the very best in Travis,

As he does her.

IMG_9682 (2)

A love so perfectly matched that it can only have been orchestrated by a loving God.

IMG_9710 (2)

What joy we all felt for the happy couple!

IMG_9786 (3)

The reception was held in the reception hall behind the church,

IMG_9483 (2)IMG_9476 (2)

Decorated with mementos of the bride, the mismatched centerpieces were nothing short of charming.

IMG_9345 (2)

The most beautiful décor, however, were the friends and family filling the seats around the tables.

IMG_9830 (2)IMG_9761 (2)

It was an intimate and lovely celebration of the bride and groom’s matrimony.

IMG_9907 (2).JPG

There was accordion music,

IMG_9822 (2)

A beautiful musical number by the father of the bride,

IMG_9796 (4)

And dancing.

IMG_9785 (2)IMG_9839 (2)IMG_9841 (2)IMG_9849 (2)

The children enjoyed playing outside,

IMG_9338 (2)

While the adults mingled inside.

IMG_9917 (2).JPG

The joining of two families was beautifully seamless, as though we have all been connected forever.

IMG_9598 (2)

Family came from far and wide to celebrate Travis and Krista.


IMG_9624 (2)IMG_9450 (2)IMG_9445 (2)

From our side alone we have family from Pittsburgh, Ohio, Michigan, Oregon, Utah, Florida, Boston, and Alaska.

IMG_9939 (3)

Then there was the traditional cutting of the wedding cake…

IMG_9871 (2)IMG_9873 (2)

The most beautiful wedding cake I have ever seen!!

IMG_9309 (2)IMG_9311 (2)

The day was holy.

IMG_9552 (2)

We are over the moon happy for Travis and Krista.

IMG_9935 (2)

IMG_9938 (2).JPG

Our hearts are full.

How blessed we are!



Demolition Derby!



Adopting two boys with a history of early childhood abuse and trauma has had a profound effect on all aspects of our life. It has changed the way we see and navigate our world. It has made me question truths that were once embedded in me and flipped any parenting strategies that were tried and true with my older children, on their head. Parenting a child from trauma requires me to pause, consider how I instinctually would respond to the situation, and then do the complete opposite.

It is like living every day as “Backwards Day.” One area where this is particularly true is how I respond to emotional escalation. When my children were little and they would start to escalate or spin out of control, my instinctual response was to channel my internal “Mr. Rogers,” lower my voice, speak softly and calmly, and decrease the energy level of the situation.

When parenting a child that comes from trauma, this approach is not only ineffective but can have the opposite effect that you are seeking. For children who come from abusive homes calm, quiet, and soft voices are unfamiliar and scary. They are so foreign to these kids that were raised in an environment of chaos and heightened fear. I have discovered that when children from hard places are feeling emotionally out of control often what they are most in need of is external chaos. By increasing the energy level, by bringing an unexpected and crazy response to meet their chaos, their internal anxiety lowers.

I know it sounds so counterproductive to those of us who come from healthy homes, but for children who have lived their entire life in a state of heightened adrenaline, calm is unknown and uncomfortable.

It has taken me a long time to reprogram my approach. It takes presence of mind to walk into one of the boys’ meltdowns and rather than talking calmly and trying to diffuse the escalation, amp up the energy with a pillow fight, a Three Stooges comedy routine, or an impromptu Nerf battle.

I knew Friday was going to be rough. Ozzie was returning home and with his return came heightened emotions on everyone’s part. I knew the situation was a ticking time bomb.

Ozzie was angry and blaming me for his time at the hospital.

Tyler was fearful of Ozzie’s return home.

And everyone else was emotionally on edge.

I knew it was time to pull out the big guns and amp up the energy and chaos is a big way, so as to avoid a crisis. I had to choose a parent driven, fun, healthy form of chaos before the boys tried to meet their own need for chaos in an unhealthy and destructive way.

Friday evening Toby and I just had the two little boys with us. Molly was at work. Rusty was on a white-water rafting adventure with his Boy Scout troop, and Grace was recovering from wisdom teeth surgery (more on those adventures in a future blog) so we made plans to have some one on one time with Tyler and Ozzie. We knew it needed to be high energy and adrenaline filled, given the emotionally instability of everyone with Ozzie’s return home. We were also looking for an activity that would bond and connect Tyler and Ozzie in a healthy way, with the hope some shared fun would dispel the fears Tyler was having of Ozzie’s return home.

So, what did we do??

We headed to the Butler Farm Show for some messy, muddy, noisy fun at the Demolition Derby!

I knew it was the PERFECT activity for the boys.

We arrived at the Butler Farm Show just as the Demolition Derby was beginning. Despite the rain, the crowds were high.

We parked in an outer field and took the tractor-pulled wagon to the front gate.


At the front gate, we purchased tickets and headed in.


The sun was just starting to lower in the sky and the neon lights of the rides and booths lit up the fair grounds.

We walked past the buildings that held all the 4-H farm animals.


We stepped into the arena where the demolition derby was being held and the place was buzzing with excitement.


We missed the first heat but saw the after effects of the destruction which just fueled the boys’ excitement for what was coming.


As we sought out seats in the already packed stands we ran across friends and stopped for a quick chat.

We eventually settled ourselves near the top of the stands…seats that allowed us a sweeping view of all the action without any of the flying mud that accompanied the lower seats.


The next round of cars drove out and lined up for the next heat.


The competitors drove junk cars that had been dolled up and personalized with paint and props, which was as cosmetically effective as putting lipstick on a pig,

But the results were comical. There was much creativity put into the designs.


Then the countdown began…

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

And the destruction began.


Much like an adult version of bumper cars, the vehicles rammed, crashed, and collided into each other.


The thrill level increased as tires flew off, bumpers crumpled, and engines caught on fire.


It was everything a little boy loves: cars, mud, noise and destruction.


Not only did they love it, but they enjoyed it together. It was a shared thrill, a connecting experience, one step closer to bonding.

As chaos ensued below us I watched as the boys found peace with the thoughts in their head.


They were still. They were calm. They were happy.


By feeding their need for chaos with a fun, healthy, high adrenaline experience we found some peace.


Oh, the irony!

I have a feeling there will be more demolition derbies in our future.


A Safe Circle


On Thursday morning we received news of Ozzie’s discharge date. After three weeks in Mercy’s DAS program for acute stabilization they deemed him safe to return home.

This was good news as we have missed Ozzie being home with his family where he belongs, but I’d be lying if I said that the news didn’t stir up hard emotions in the other children. Ozzie’s absence has been a time of respite for us all. Prior to being admitted things had escalated to a level we had never experienced before, and the effect on everyone was heartbreaking. His heightened level on aggression and rage left the other children fearful of what might happen next.

This has been especially true for Tyler whose trauma background makes him especially susceptible to that fight, flight or freeze response when Ozzie starts escalating. It is a hard, heartbreaking situation to be in as a mom. By meeting the emotional needs of one child I am triggering the memories of trauma and destroying the feelings of safety in another. It is an impossible position to be in and requires a constant, concerted effort to meet everyone’s needs and keep everyone stable.

The news that Ozzie was returning home brought mixed feelings of happiness but also worry and concern and perhaps a bit of dread, knowing what home life was like last time he was home. The emotions of the older kids were evident only to this Momma’s well trained eyes as I saw an increase in sensitivity, irritability and tears over trivial things. I could see that they were struggling with worries about the storm that could be brewing on the horizon, but it was Tyler that most concerned me. The absence of violence and aggression these last few weeks transformed Tyler into a child whose was “lighter.” The absence of fear was apparent in the way he laughed more easily, interacted more joyfully, and engaged more readily. He was a different child.

The news of Ozzie’s discharge date brought back all those old fears of not feeling safe. Memories of the chaos and abuse in his unsafe birth home tend to bubble to the surface when there is emotional chaos and escalation at home.

I didn’t know how desperately he was seeking and begging for safety until the morning of Ozzie’s discharge when I found him outside. He was coloring with chalk on the sidewalk. I sat down beside him and asked him what he was drawing.

“A Safe Circle,” he replied.


I had never heard him use that term before so I asked him what a safe circle was.

He answered, “It is a place where no one can hurt me.

Now this is not a term or a strategy that has ever come up in therapy. It was a coping tool Tyler created on his own, which is a huge step forward from the emotional “freezes” he has been having lately. Here he felt unsafe and came up with a strategy to bring that feeling of felt safety he was in need of.

I asked him to tell me about his safe circle.

He explained that as long as he sat in his circle Ozzie couldn’t hurt him.

I asked who was allowed in his safe circle and he began to draw.

He drew Toby and I. He drew Grace, Molly and Rusty. He drew the dogs, and then he drew himself.


It is hard to describe the flood of mixed emotions that crashed over me as I sat on the sidewalk with that broken little boy.

I grieved for the pain he has felt in his short life that makes him so afraid.

I grieved for the pain Ozzie has felt at the hands of his biological parents that make him so angry.

I grieved for the profound loss of what our family once was, a loss that is deeply felt by my older children.

I grieved for all the children that are still living in their own personal hells that haven’t been rescued.

I grieved for those children who may never get a chance at love and a healthy family.

I grieved for the families that are also in the trenches fighting the hard fight to save their children from their past,

I grieved, but I also found myself buoyed up by gratitude…

Gratitude for a testimony of a God greater than earthly heartbreak,

Grateful for His hand in leading us to the people and services that support and help us in this journey,

Grateful for second chances, do-overs, and the unfailing hope that things will get better.

It broke my heart to see the artistic manifestation of Tyler’s deepest fears crudely drawn out at my feet, by it also brought forth a bubble of gratitude and hopefulness. He did it. He faced his dark demons and rather than cower under their power he used his voice to name the fear and then came up with a strategy to face that fear.

A Safe Circle may seem silly and ineffective in facing all that we face in our home but this was the emotional equivalent of Tyler donning his armor for self protection, which is a HUGE step forward in his therapeutic journey towards overcoming his past.

The next step is healing the brokenness of the relationships under our own roof and part of that is helping Ozzie and Tyler connect again with the absence of Fear and Anger getting in their way.

We began healing the past destruction by inviting a different form of chaos and destruction on Friday night with a visit to the demolition derby. Stay tuned for the recap of our muddy, messy, noisy adventure!


I Love my TRIBE



Many may be surprised to know this about me..

Those who know me well will not,

but at core of who I am

lies a tried and true introvert.

When I say this to people I often get the response, “No you’re not. You are so outgoing.”

I will correct them and answer, “I fake it. I was raised by a mom who is people lover and extrovert through and through so my survival technique in social settings is to channel the spirit of my mother, ask myself, ‘What would mom do?,’ and conform in the most socially appropriate way until I can escape to the sanctuary of my own company.

I think that is why I love to blog and write letters. Both are activities that allow me that rare duel opportunity of both socializing/conversing while also being alone with my own thoughts and company.

I know this might be completely altering your perception of me and maybe even lowering your opinion of me,  🙂

but I always strive to be honest, and the truth is:

“My name is Katie and I find small talk tedious, talking to strangers burdensome, and being social engaging overwhelming and exhausting.”

I wish I had a bit more of my mother in me. I wish I eagerly sought out new faces with the same driven desire to hear their life story. I wish I cared deeply enough and was emotionally invested enough to remember everyone’s children’s hobbies and interests and birthdays. I wish I could be that person that looks at a room of new strangers with a thrill of anticipation of the possibility of making 200 new friends. I wish my stomach didn’t drop when an invitation comes in the mail or when the phone rings. I wish a night out with a group of ladies held as much appeal as a night at home with a book and a cup of peppermint tea.

Ok…now I really sound bad.

Its not that I don’t love people. It is not that I am anti social. It is not that I am a friend snob. I am just an introvert at the center of my soul.

What does that mean?

This sums it up well:


And while the introverted side of me struggles with large groups, the strength of an introvert is their loyalty and complete devotion to their closest friends…that small group of safe friends that they deem their “tribe.”

People in general drain me. No, that is not quite right…

It is more like social expectations drain me.

And the more emotionally tapped out I am by stress at home (like the stress we have been consumed with the last 6 months) the more I find myself avoiding social situations that will drain me even more. Others may perceive it as me isolating or pulling away when in reality it is just self preservation. In the midst of the chaos happening at home I am desperately searching for quiet, peace, and alone time to recenter my thoughts and refill my bucket.

 My bucket fills with those closely guarded moments of solitude. The exception to that rule is my tribe.


My tribe consists of my family and closest friends. Those people I can share my heart with safely. Those are the people that fill my emotional bucket as opposed to draining it. I am not one to have many, many friends, but rather I tend to draw close to a handful of ladies that I shower all of my energy and effort into connecting with. My tribe is my safe place, my happy place, my stabilizing force, my council and my joy. I am grateful for my tribe. I don’t know how I would navigate this heartbreakingly hard season of life without them. I draw from their strength and their friendship.


This week I had two opportunities for “tribe time.” One came in the form of a Relief Society garden party and the other in the form of a co-op ladies night out. Both filled my bucket. It was so nice to connect with friends I haven’t seen all summer. The show of concern, the words of encouragement, and the opportunity to laugh and be light, free of responsibilities and worries for a few hours was a lovely gift.

I am grateful for my tribe.


That is one BIG houseboat!


IMG_0607 (2)We have now been home from our Texas trip for about a week. Upon arriving home I got hit with a killer flu and was down and out for five days. Now that I have emerged from the world of the living dead it is time to wrap up the recordings of our travels with a recap of our final day on the road.

On our way back to Pennsylvania we traveled northeast through Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, with the intended purpose of visiting the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky.

I had seen pictures and read the reviews of this amazing structure, but nothing could have prepared me for the visual impact of seeing this massive boat sitting in the middle of the Kentucky countryside.

The 511-foot-long gorgeous, timber structure was awe-inspiring from the moment we arrived.

Upon arriving we found ourselves in the middle of a massive parking lot with a shuttle station situated in the center. It is here we purchased our tickets for the Ark. From our car we could see the Ark in the distance but to get to the Ark visitors are loaded onto shuttle buses and driven a mile to get to the Ark.

IMG_0668 (2)

We arrived 20 minutes before opening and were among the first visitors taken into the park. Because we had to be back home by 4:00 for Gracie’s evening work shift, we only had 2 hours to explore the Ark. We made sure we arrived as early as possible to beat the crowds.

The bus dropped us off in front of the Ark, and there up close, we were able to really grasp the massive size of this ship.


The outside was beautifully landscaped and the Ark sat behind a reflective pond that created beautiful photo opportunities.

IMG_0606 (2)

As we neared the Ark it seemed to increase in size. Standing at the base and looking up was incredible. Pictures simply don’t do it justice!

IMG_0611 (2)

This life-size re-creation of Noah’s Ark, built to biblical specifications, is the largest timber framed structure in the world.  The craftsmanship is amazing and completely impressive.  It is hard to describe what you feel when you first see the Ark.  Even before stepping a foot inside I would say that this sight alone would have made the trip worthwhile:

IMG_0604 (2)


You just can’t fully grasp the enourmity of the task God that was placed before Noah until you are standing at the base of this structure.

IMG_0664 (2)

Using the dimensions given in the Bible (in Genesis), the ark is built to be a full size Noah’s ark replica.

God gave Noah the dimensions for the Ark in cubits. “And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it  thirty cubits.” (Genesis 6:15)

How long is a cubit?

About this long…

IMG_0662 (2)

The Ark was 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high!

The Ark had the same storage capacity as about 450 standard semi-trailers. A standard livestock trailer holds about 250 sheep, so the Ark had the capacity to hold at least 120,000 sheep.

The thing was HUGE!

So what is the Ark Encounter all about?

IMG_0612 (2)


It is the opportunity to  walk through the decks of this replicated Ark to experience how Noah, his family, and the animals might have lived during their time on the Ark.

IMG_0657 (2)

The Ark Encounter helps you answer questions you have about the Noah’s ark story. How did Noah build the ark? Did he fit all the animals in the ark? What methods were used for Noah and his family to take care of all the animals? What was life like on the ark? Using Bible scriptures from the Old Testament, we got an idea of what life may have been like on the ark.

IMG_0652 (2)

I will say that while much of the experience was biblically sound, there was some artistic license taken in their interpretation of what Noah’s sons and their wives were like and what life on the Ark would have been like. Signs throughout the Ark explain that because of limited information given in Genesis as to the details of everyday living, creative interpretation has been taken in the recreation of many scenes.


In addition, not all who visit will agree with the science behind some of the exhibits. While I found some of the renditions not fully in line with what I  believe to be true, it did not diminish the experience for us. Overall, I found it to be an amazing experience.

Tyler loved the animals on the ark. As we walked through we enjoyed peeking in the many cages, filled with two of each animal. I loved the added touch of sounds as you passed by some of the cages. You may hear hissing to represent snakes and bears roaring.

IMG_0617 (2)

The visual impact from the inside was as powerful as that from the outside. My carpenter husband appreciated the sheer artistry of the woodwork within the ark. It was all so beautifully done.

“Ark Encounter is the largest timber frame structure in the world, built from standing dead timber, in part by skilled Amish craftsmen.”

IMG_0661 (2)


We found going to the Ark Encounter made us want to learn more about Noah and his life.


When Tyler was younger I remember him trying to explain to us what Bible story he learned about in church as we drove home one Sunday. He couldn’t remember any names or details.  He finally summed up what he learned with:  “You know, the one about the old man, with all the pets, who lived on a houseboat!”

IMG_0630 (2)

Well touring Noah’s “houseboat” and seeing all his “pets” made me want to go back and study the story of Noah in more depth. 🙂

IMG_0628 (3)

Life on the Ark would have been challenging…

Remember, it was just Noah and his family that had to feed ALL those animals! Have you ever thought about how they could have done that? The Ark Encounter gives examples of ways that all the animals may have been fed.

IMG_0613 (2)

The visuals of food and water storage and the logistics of how that massive task might have been accomplished was fascinating to me. That was my favorite part of the experience.

IMG_0615 (2)

Have you ever wondered about how Noah made sure all the animals had water to drink and their living area cleaned?

Maybe not…but the Ark Encounter answers questions of how it might have taken place. And many other questions you have not even thought of. Find out for yourself things like a possible ventilation system, jobs that needed to be done on the ark, and a possible light source! Theories are based on what is known from the Bible.

IMG_0633 (2)

The family friendly Ark Encounter offered interactive displays, reading, and life-like visual exhibits. We found it to be very kid friendly and engaging.

IMG_0637 (2)IMG_0639 (2)

Ever wondered what life was like on the Ark? Noah was told to build the Ark and how to do it. But, he wasn’t told how long he was going to be on it. The Ark Encounter gives examples using very detailed, life-like props!

IMG_0654 (2)

It was fun to walk through the living quarters and imagine ourselves in the same scenario and what life would be like on a daily basis.

IMG_0650 (2)

There were three floors (or decks) of exhibits  available to explore! On the first floor we learned about why God caused the flood. The second floor explored how life may have been onboard the Ark. (This was my favorite part of the Ark experience.) The third floor answered questions about  what happened when the floods receded.

IMG_0627 (2)

We managed to see the entire Ark in the two hours we were there without feeling as though we were rushed through any part of it. If we had a full day to explore we would have stopped to watch some of the videos playing throughout the ark and explored the grounds outside where there is a petting zoo and other fun activities, but unfortunately we had to run.

IMG_0643 (2)

It was an awesome thing to see. I’m glad we stopped.


The Peabody Hotel


Later that day we made it to Memphis,

IMG_0534 (2)

Home of the King!

We stopped at the visitor’s center as we entered Memphis to collect a Tennessee map for Ozzie (his requested souvenir of our travels) and to stretch our legs. There we ran into the big man himself! Memphis is probably best know for Graceland, home of Elvis Presley.

IMG_0530 (2)

We didn’t have the time to tour Graceland (we were only driving through) but did swing by the front gates to catch a glimpse.

IMG_0585 (2)

The real reason we were in Memphis was to visit the other royalty that make Memphis home:

The ducks at the Peabody Hotel!


Haven’t heard of these famous feathered guests?

IMG_0580 (2)

Let me fill you in:

The Legend of the Ducks

How did the tradition of the ducks in The Peabody fountain begin? Back in the 1930s Frank Schutt, General Manager of The Peabody, and a friend, Chip Barwick, returned from a weekend hunting trip to Arkansas. The men had a little too much Tennessee sippin’ whiskey, and thought it would be funny to place some of their live duck decoys (it was legal then for hunters to use live decoys) in the beautiful Peabody fountain. Three small English call ducks were selected as “guinea pigs,” and the reaction was nothing short of enthusiastic. Thus began a Peabody tradition which was to become internationally famous.

In 1940, Bellman Edward Pembroke, a former circus animal trainer, offered to help with delivering the ducks to the fountain each day and taught them the now-famous Peabody Duck March. Mr. Pembroke became The Peabody Duckmaster, serving in that capacity for 50 years until his retirement in 1991.

Nearly 90 years after the inaugural march, ducks still visit the lobby fountain at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day.

Peabody Memphis Duck March

Living a life of red carpets, velvet ropes, rooftop pools and sweeping views of the Mississippi, these five North American mallards know how to work a room.
One of the top attractions in Memphis, Tennessee, every day at 11am these feathered celebrities leave their penthouse Duck Palace and prepare for the onslaught of tourist flashbulbs.


After descending to the ground floor in a glass elevator, they waddle the red carpet to take their place in the hotel lobby fountain.

IMG_0551 (2)

IMG_0541 (2)IMG_0544 (2)IMG_0554 (2)

The ducks spend the day greeting their fans,

IMG_0548 (2)IMG_0549 (2)IMG_0557 (2)

Then at 5pm they clock off, and as the Duck Master clears their path with velvet ropes they wipe their feet on the red carpet, head back to the elevator and retire to the rooftop.

IMG_0559 (2)

There they spend the night in the 288 square foot Duck Palace. Built in 2008 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Peabody Ducks, the Duck Palace features a 24 foot glass viewing panel, sun deck, ceiling fans, overhead lighting and a replica of the Peabody Hotel for the ducks to sleep in.

IMG_0569 (2)

The $200,000 Duck Palace is open to the public from 8am to 10pm daily and the roof top is a great place to get gorgeous views of Memphis while checking out the ducks’ luxurious digs.

IMG_0564 (2)IMG_0566 (2)IMG_0563 (2)IMG_0576 (2)IMG_0573 (2)


Here are some fun facts about the Peabody ducks:

The Peabody Ducks are five North American mallards – one drake (male) with a white collar and green head and four hens (females) with less colorful plumage.

Duck is not served anywhere at The Peabody and has not been seen on the hotel’s menus since its 1981 reopening, quite possibly making Chez Philippe the only French restaurant in the world that does not offer duck.

The Peabody Ducks do not have individual names. However, the very first team of ducks were Peabody, Gayoso and Chisca – named for the three hotels owned by the Memphis Hotel Company in 1933.

When off-duty, the ducks live in their Royal Duck Palace on the hotel’s rooftop. The $200,000 structure is made of marble and glass and features its very own fountain with a bronze duck spitting water. It also includes a small house – a replica of the hotel – where the ducks can nest with a soft, grassy “front yard.”

The Peabody Marching Ducks have appeared on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” “Sesame Street” when Bert and Ernie celebrated Rubber Ducky Day, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and in People magazine and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.

The Peabody Ducks have been both a question on the TV game show “Jeopardy” and in the board game Trivial Pursuit.

Original Duckmaster Edward Pembroke held the position for 50 years.

Raised by a local farmer and a friend of the hotel, each team of Peabody Ducks lives at the hotel for only three months before retiring from their duty and returning to the farm, where they are free to live as wild ducks. With a return to the great outdoors in mind, the hotel recognizes its resident waterfowl as wild animals and does not domesticate them or treat them like pets.

The kids got a kick out of this hotel’s unique guests. The Peabody Hotel is a must see stop if you’re ever driving through Memphis!


Little Rock Central High School


IMG_0524 (2)

On Tuesday morning we woke up in Little Rock, Arkansas with plans to drive past Little Rock Central High School, site of a major test in 1957 of the Civil Rights act where nine (the Little Rock Nine) African-American students integrated the all-white school.

We didn’t realize that our “drive by” would turn into a much more profound, educating and moving experience until we pulled up to the site and discovered that it was more than just a high school with a historical plaque. It was a National Parks historic site.

Little Rock Central High School is the only functioning high school to be located within the boundaries of a national historic site. Across the street sat a National Parks Visitor Center that depicted the struggle through exhibits and photos.

IMG_0505 (2)

We began at the Visitor Center. The story of the Little Rock Nine is one we have all read about in our high school history books, but the story of those nine brave high school students and the effect their stand had on the course of history really came to life as we walked around the Visitor Center.

IMG_0506 (2)

In a key event of the American Civil Rights Movement, nine black students enrolled at formerly all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September 1957, testing a landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The court had mandated that all public schools in the country be integrated “with all deliberate speed” in its decision related to the groundbreaking case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. On September 4, 1957, the first day of classes at Central High, Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas called in the state National Guard to bar the black students’ entry into the school. Later in the month, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in federal troops to escort the “Little Rock Nine” into the school, and they started their first full day of classes on September 25.

IMG_0510 (2)

We were moved by the photos of that day,

IMG_0522 (2)

As we read the words of those who were there,

IMG_0516 (2)

And as we listened to the actual first hand accounts of those involved.


As we walked through the Visitor Center the reality of a world that now seems so foreign to my generation and my children’s generation, became real.


We listened as a park ranger walked visitors through the events of those days. His deep, melodic voice painting a picture of what happened on this site, a picture far more impactful than the watered down version we read about in our history books.

The concept of segregation and such intense hate over the idea of integration is so foreign to me. It is so far removed from the reality of the world I was raised in decades later, and unrecognizable to the world my children live in today, that I find it surreal that this event was only 60 years ago.

IMG_0507 (2)

If your remembrance of that historic event was as cloudy as mine was prior to visiting this site here is some background on this historical encounter as taken from the History Channel’s website:

Despite the opposition, nine students registered to be the first African Americans to attend Central High School, which opened in 1927 and was originally called Little Rock Senior High School. Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls had been recruited by Daisy Gaston Bates, president of the Arkansas NAACP. Daisy Bates and others from the Arkansas NAACP carefully vetted the group of students and determined they all possessed the strength and determination to face the resistance they would encounter. In the weeks prior to the start of the new school year, the students participated in intensive counseling sessions guiding them on what to expect once classes began and how to respond to anticipated hostile situations. The group came to be known as the Little Rock Nine.

On September 2, 1957, Governor Orval Faubus announced that he would call in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the African-American students’ entry to Central High, claiming this action was for the students’ own protection. In a televised address, Faubus insisted that violence and bloodshed might break out if black students were allowed to enter the school. The following day, the Mother’s League held a sunrise service at the school as a protest against integration. That same day, federal judge Richard Davies issued a ruling that desegregation would continue as planned the next day.

The Little Rock Nine arrived for the first day of school at Central High on September 4, 1957. Eight arrived together, driven by Bates. Eckford’s family, however, did not have a telephone, and Bates could not reach her to let her know of the carpool plans. Therefore, Eckford arrived alone. The Arkansas National Guard ultimately prevented any of the Little Rock Nine from entering Central High. One of the most enduring images from this day is a photograph of Eckford, notebook in hand, stoically approaching the school as a crowd of hostile and screaming white students and adults surround her. Eckford later recalled that one of the women spat on her. The image was printed and broadcast widely, bringing the Little Rock controversy to national and international attention.

IMG_0519 (2)

In the following weeks, Judge Davies began legal proceedings against Governor Faubus, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower attempted to persuade Faubus toremove the National Guard and let the Little Rock Nine enter the school. Davies ordered the Guard removed on September 20, and the Little Rock Police Department took over to maintain order. The police escorted the nine African-American students into the school on September 23, through an angry mob of some 1,000 white protesters gathered outside. Amidst ensuing rioting, the police removed the nine students. On September 24, President Eisenhower sent in 1,200 members of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and placed them in charge of the 10,000 National Guardsmen on duty. Escorted by the troops, the Little Rock Nine attended their first full day of classes on September 25.

Legal challenges to integration continued throughout the year, and Faubus publicly expressed his wish on numerous occasions that the Little Rock Nine be removed from Central High. Although several of the black students had positive experiences on their first day of school, according to a September 25, 1957, report in The New York Times, they experienced routine harassment and even violence throughout the rest of the year. Patillo, for instance, was kicked, beaten and had acid thrown in her face, and at one point white students burned an African-American effigy in a vacant lot across from the school. Ray was pushed down a flight of stairs, and the Little Rock Nine were barred from participating in extracurricular activities. Brown was expelled from Central High in February 1958 for retaliating against the attacks. And it was not only the students who faced harassment: Ray’s mother was fired from her job with the State of Arkansas when she refused to remove her daughter from the school. The 101st Airborne and the National Guard remained at Central High for the duration of the year.

On May 25, 1958, Green, the only senior among the Little Rock Nine, became the first African-American graduate of Central High.

In September 1958, one year after Central High was integrated, Governor Faubus closed Little Rock’s high schools for the entire year, pending a public vote, to prevent African-American attendance. Little Rock citizens voted 19,470 to 7,561 against integration and the schools remained closed. Other than Green, the rest of the Little Rock Nine completed their high school careers via correspondence or at other high schools across the country. Eckford joined the Army and later earned her General Education Equivalency diploma. Little Rock’s high schools reopened in August 1959.

Several of the Little Rock Nine went on to distinguished careers. Green served as assistant secretary of the federal Department of Labor under President Jimmy Carter (1924-). Brown worked as deputy assistant secretary for work force diversity in the Department of the Interior under President Bill Clinton. Patillo worked as a reporter for NBC. The group has been widely recognized for their significant role in civil rights history. In 1999, President Clinton awarded each member of the group the Congressional Gold Medal. The nine also all received personal invitations to attend President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

Jefferson Thomas became the first of the Little Rock Nine to die when he succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 67 on September 5, 2010. After graduating from Central High, Thomas served in the Army in Vietnam, earned a business degree and worked as an accountant for private companies and the Department of Defense.

We then walked across the street to Little Rock Central High School, the scene for this historical event. It is still a functioning school so access is only allowed with a park ranger led tour.

IMG_0525 (2)

The school is stunningly beautiful. As we stood outside I thought of all the photos I saw at the Visitor Center and could imagine the chaos that reigned on these school grounds during that period of American History. It was sobering.

We ended our visit with a film at the Visitor Center. It was awesome and I highly recommend if you are able to visit this site that you make time to watch the 30 minute video presentation. In it the men and women who were the Little Rock Nine are interviewed and asked questions about their choice to volunteer. They speak of what life was like that year in high school, the choice they made to not retaliate, but rather be peaceful in their resistance. They spoke of how being one of the Little Rock Nine changed the course of their lives and the history of a nation. It was powerful to watch the interviews of these men and women who are now in their 70’s speak about the impact we can each have as human beings when we stand up for what we believe.

The video then transitioned to three stories of youth today who are making an impact on their communities. One story spoke of youth in Baltimore who are fighting legislation to allocate funds for a new juvenile prison in their community, funds that they are asking be put towards education and other preventive programs. Another story spoke of youth on a Native American Reservation who are using social media to change the world’s perception of life on reservations. And the third story was about youth in New Mexico who have engaged in a battle against a big coal corporation to pass emission laws to protect their air quality.

The thread that connected the stories of the youth today with the interviews with the Little Rock Nine was the powerful message that we have the power to better our communities. We can take a stand and say, “This is not acceptable.” We can demand better of our leaders and of our nation. It was a powerful message, especially for my teens, that we can ALL have an impact for good if we are courageous and persistent in our beliefs.

IMG_0512 (2)

It was an ideal message to end our experience with…

An experience none of us will soon forget.

Diamond Hunting!


IMG_0392 - Copy

It’s finder’s keepers at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. The only public diamond mine in the world, Crater of Diamonds offers you a one-of-a-kind adventure – the opportunity to hunt for real diamonds and to keep any mineral you find.

IMG_0390 - Copy

Monday we woke up early with plans to get on the road by 5:30 am. Our intention was to work our way towards Memphis, TN. We said our “goodbyes” the night before to all our family. The last of the wedding guests were heading out after a magical weekend, with Kelly’s family and our family the first to pull out since we each had a 11 hour drive ahead of us.

As we drove along I searched for sites along the way that we might want to see while we were in the area. We are firm believers that if you are in an area of the country you normally don’t frequent, you might as well stop and see the top sites, for who knows when we will be out that way again.

It was  that mindset that led us off the highway to Crater of Diamonds State Park. I remember hearing about this unique state park and when we discovered it was along our path of travel there was no way we could drive by and not stop.

When else in our lives will be have the opportunity to go mining for diamonds?!

IMG_0413 (2)

We arrived and headed first into the Visitors Center where we learned more about the geologic history that led to the formation of the diamonds in the park, as well as the history of discovery and mining on the land.



We also saw displays that showcased the diamonds that are found in the park and what they look like in their uncut state, giving us a better idea of what we needed to be on the lookout for.

IMG_0400 - Copy

Then we paid the mining admission price and headed out to the mining fields to begin searching,


after a quick stop at the pavilion to rent our mining equipment.

IMG_0422 (2)

What a thrill it was stepping out onto the field, with the prospect of finding a diamond a distant but exciting possibility.


The kids were convinced they were on the brink of discovering their life’s fortune.

We began searching the 37-acre plowed field – the eroded surface of an ancient, diamond-bearing volcanic pipe.


We had three options for diamond hunting and ended up exploring all three strategies.

The first was surface searching. With this strategy visitors search the surface of the field in search of crystals that have been exposed by rain or plowing. We began our search with surface searching.

IMG_0440 (2)


The second method is screening. With this strategy visitors shake soil through a screen to find minerals. This method is most effective when the soil is dry. This was the next method we tried.

IMG_0433 (2)


The third method, and the one we spent the most time using, is wet screening. With this method of diamond hunting visitors use the water available at the mine washing stations to rinse dirt through a screen and collect the minerals that are left behind.

IMG_0450 (2)IMG_0455 (2)

It was so much fun. The process was as satisfying as the hunt itself. We filled bucket after bucket from the field and sifted and rinsed, collecting the minerals that were left behind.

IMG_0475 (2)

In addition to the diamonds in the soil, other rocks and minerals were found hidden in the soil, including: Jasper, Agate, Quartz, Amethyst, Calcite, Barite, and Mica.

IMG_0466 (2)

But as cool as all those pretty minerals were, everyone was tunnel focused on finding the elusive diamond.

Since diamonds were first discovered on the site in 1906, over 75,000 diamonds have been unearthed.

When John Huddleston plucked two diamonds from the greenish-colored dirt of his farm, a hysteria known as “diamond fever” ensued. Although the excitement has since waned, interest in Arkansas’s diamond mine remains high. About 120,000 people come to Huddleston’s old farm site, now the Crater of Diamonds State Park, each year to search for these precious gems.

This Arkansas crater is the only diamond mine in the world where the public can pay a fee to dig and keep any gems they find.

Although thousands of people have dug and sifted through the volcanic “lamproite” soil, there are still plenty of diamonds waiting to be discovered. Since the park opened in 1972, more than 30,000 diamonds have been found. This is still a place where diamonds are found regularly — park officials say about two are found by park visitors each day.

Not all of the finds have been small. The largest documented diamond find is the 40.23-carat “Uncle Sam” diamond, which was discovered in 1924. The largest diamond retrieved since the Crater of Diamonds became a state park was the 16.37-carat “Amarillo Starlight,” discovered in 1975.

Other notable finds include the “Star of Arkansas,” which was 15.33 carats and the 8.82-carat “Star of Shreveport.” The 4.25-carat “Kahn Canary” diamond was found here in 1977 and was  mounted on a ring worn by Hillary Clinton during the presidential inaugural balls. The 3.03-carat “Strawn-Wagner Diamond,” found in 1990 was cut to a 1.09-carat gem graded D-flawless 0/0/0 (the highest grade a diamond can achieve) by the American Gem Society.


Geologists believe these diamonds were formed millions of years ago with tremendously high pressure and temperature and shot to the earth’s surface during a violent volcanic eruption. The portion of the crater that is known to be diamond bearing is about 37 acres and is the eroded surface of an ancient volcanic pipe.

Test drilling at the crater has shown that the reserve is shaped like a martini glass; it is believed to be the eighth largest diamond reserve in the world, in surface area.

We stayed for 4 hours digging in the dirt and playing in the water, in search of a diamond to call our own.

IMG_0447 (2)

When we were ready to leave and get back on the road in our journey towards Little Rock, we stopped at the Diamond Discovery Center to have our haul examined.


A kind and informative ranger looked over the kids’ pile of rocks as they held their breath. After careful examination, he broke the news that we didn’t find any diamonds but sifted through their pile explaining to them all that they did find out in the field. It was an awesome geology lesson, as he took 20 minutes to explain to the kids why diamonds exist in this particular area, and describe the unique characteristics of the rocks and minerals they did find.

IMG_0490 (2)IMG_0499 (2)IMG_0497 (2)

We didn’t find any diamonds during our visit to Crater of Diamonds State Park, but I left the proud owner of something of far greater worth:

A once in a lifetime experience with my greatest jewels!

What an awesome day!