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Molly in Costa Rica #3

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The next installment of the blog written by the GLA students attending the Sea Turtle initiative with Molly:

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“This morning we were all blessed to wake up to more mosquito bites and howler monkeys near our lodge. We enjoyed eggs, toast, and fresh fruit for breakfast. Our plan for the day consisted of a boat trip around Parismina, leadership activities, and reforestation, but because of the nonstop rain, we had to cancel our boat trip.

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Instead, we had a lot of spare time to bond and share stories and snacks. We also played activities such as human knot, shoe tower, and “walk a mile in my shoes”. For lunch we ate rice, beans, caramelized plantains, and vegetables. We didn’t let the rain stop our next adventure.

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As a group we walked on the rainforest trail and collected fallen coconuts that were sprouting small trees. With those, we walked the beach to bury the coconuts into the sand with our shovels. After about two hours, we counted a total of 109 planted coconut trees. We were all very proud of our hard work and team effort to make a positive impact on our environment.

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There was an opportunity after the reforestation to take a dip in the ocean for a while.

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After showers and rinsing off, we had some free time to relax. For dinner, we enjoyed rice, mac and cheese, salad, and weenies. Since there was no night patrol tonight, we were able to have early bedtime. This will contribute to tomorrow’s next adventure.

Reforestation project–109 trees!
The winning Shoe Tower!
Planting a sprouted coconut
Human Knot

Molly in Costa Rica #2

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The next installment of the blog written by the GLA students attending the Sea Turtle initiative with Molly:


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“Today was day 2 in our expedition at Parismina lodge. After we woke up we were BLESSED with an amazing breakfast, especially fried dough that was the definition of comfort food (shoutout Julianna).

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Next we took a 45 minute walk through the rainforest and across an airplane runway into town.

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During the walk we had the opportunity to see multiple monkeys and a sloth.

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In the village we all got to eat ice cream and snow cones.

Then ASTOP gave a second presentation which went more into depth about the turtles.

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It was pouring rain by the end of the presentation, so we caught a ride on the back of a truck to home base. It felt like Indiana Jones!

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At home base we took a 2 hour siesta in our hammocks,

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Which was followed by a leadership activity on the beach.

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After a quick dip in the water, we ate dinner. We were rudely interrupted by an 8-legged friend in our room 🙁 but Jason saved the day and got rid of the traveler spider. Last night we didn’t see any turtles, only their tracks, but hopefully tonight luck will be on our side and we’ll get to see some tonight.”

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Molly in Costa Rica #1

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At the airport at 4:30 am.

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After braving the adventure of international travel, Molly arrived in Costa Rica.

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While transferring planes in Houston, Texas she was thrilled to see another young lady wearing the identifying t-shirt of the GLA and got to become acquainted with a fellow Sea Turtle Initiative participant before arriving in Costa Rica. Both girls were glad to see each other. Their seats weren’t together but upon departing they were able to navigate customs together, making the process a little less intimidating.

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Students trickled into the airport through the afternoon from all corners of the globe. Once everyone had arrived GLA staff helped everyone securely exchange their dollars into colones,

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And then they headed to Hotel Pacande to freshen up and settle into their next 10 days of Pura Vida!

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After enjoying lunch at the hotel, students had the option to rest, or participate in activities to break the ice and get to know their new GLA family.

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Because the trip to home base involved a 6 hour trip via car then boat, the group spent the night at this local hotel and left for the remote village of Parismina the following morning.

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Day 2 involved a long drive, followed by a boat ride to arrive at the organic fruit farm where they would live and work for the next 10 days.

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Along the way there was a planned stop at the first adventure of the trip: Ziplining through the jungle of Costa Rica.

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They also stopped at a village store to purchase munchies before heading into the wilds of Costa Rica.

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Located on the Caribbean coast the farm they were staying at was quite remote. Travel to the closest town involved a 45 minute walk through the jungle, but was only about 10 minutes from the beach.

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This beach is known for being the prime location for four species of sea turtles to nest.

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While in Costa Rica, as part of the Sea Turtle Initiative, Molly and the other participants spent their days helping protect and improve conditions for the sea turtles through night patrols with ASTOP (an anti-poaching organization,) beach clean-ups, surveying nesting sites, and raising community awareness.

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After a long day of travel, the students and staff arrived at the eco-lodge Friday night and settled in for a week’s worth of adventures. As parents we were privy to some of their adventures through blogs written by the students and posted every few days on the GLA website. Since they can better express the experiences they enjoyed than I can retell, I will be posting their recaps of their days in Costa Rica. (Because internet access is spotty in the jungle there were not blogs posted every single day, but I will share what they shared.)

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Here is their first blog entry:

This morning we all woke up in our new rooms in our lodge here on Parismina. A lot of us learned an important lesson about tucking our mosquito nets into our beds, because we woke up with upward of ten bites.

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We then had some morning free time and many of us headed downstairs to rest in the hammocks.

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The “living room.” This open area, filled with hanging hammocks, was the gathering area of the home.

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After our breakfast we got ready for our first walk of our organic farm tour led by our house leader Jason.

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The “dining room.” Molly said she loved the sand floor.

Here we saw various plants, fruits (some of which we got to taste!) and insects.

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The tour of the organic fruit farm.

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The students got to taste many of the fruits grown on the farm.

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Molly sampling the fruits…

During our nature walk we got to see a sloth, some iguanas, grasshoppers, a ribbon snake, and a nest of biting fire ants.

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A Sloth!

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Molly said this plant felt and smelled like soap.

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After some free time we got to see a presentation from ASTOP, an organization for the preservation of sea turtles. This group taught us the reasons poaching of sea turtles occurs here in Costa Rica and what they have been doing to stop poaching.

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This information got us very excited for our first night patrol. The very nice man left and then we were given time to go swim in the ocean.

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The ocean was gorgeous, and had black sand which many of us had not seen before.

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After we passed a swim test (which we all did AWESOME at) we got to swim.

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About half-way through swimming, more and more people went off to go play in the sand. Some people were buried while others of us just relaxed on their towels. The heat of the day was wiped off of us while swimming.

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After that, we came back where we all rinsed off and then had some downtime to relax and talk with everybody. All in all we had a great day and are looking forward to hopefully seeing a turtle on our night patrol.

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If not, at least it will be an awesome week!

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Meanwhile, at Scout Camp…

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While Grace and I were playing “tourists” at home, the boys were off at Boy Scout Camp for the week. This week was a big one. Unlike big brother, Rusty, this was Ozzie and Tyler’s first time attending Scout Camp and were both over-the-moon excited to live the adventures that are legend at our house. After years of hearing tales of lake games, “pig out,” and camp antics, the boys were thrilled to be experiencing it firsthand.

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Meal time!

Toby had graciously volunteered to serve as one of the leaders at camp.

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The troop’s home away from home.

This was a huge sacrifice on his part.

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Summer is a bad time to be taking off work when you are in the construction business, and being self-employed means a week at Scout camp is a week of no income, but being the awesome dad he is, and knowing Ozzie and Tyler’s ability to attend camp depended on his attendance, he signed up to attend.

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It was a HOT week at camp with daytime temperatures remaining fixed in the high 90’s and nighttime temps lowering only to a balmy 75 degrees…way too hot to sleep comfortably!

Forestry Merit Badge:

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But despite the heat, the mosquitos, and a run to the ER for Tyler to get stitches,

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It was a good week.

My boys’ first experience of Scout Camp was positive and they returned home with tales of earned merit badges, gaga ball tournaments, skit night, pool time, all while singing endless rounds of “Chicken Fat.”

Tyler and Ozzie both LOVED Scout Camp!

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Toby returned home looking wiped out. Being the dad of two first year campers meant his week was filled with merit badge classes and scout supervision and as a result he didn’t enjoy the downtime that other adults enjoy while the boys are off at classes.

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It was a tiring week for him but it was a week of connecting and bonding because of that abundant amount of “together time.”

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Toby, Ozzie and Tyler’s daily class schedule.

The boys walked through the door at 2:00 on Saturday. Toby headed for a cool shower and then to bed for a much needed and MUCH DESERVED nap while Rusty showed off some of his completed projects from his robotics, leather work, and carpentry merit badge classes.

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A working robot Rusty built in his robotics merit badge class.

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Projects created in leather work and carpentry class.

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The camp chair Rusty build in carpentry merit badge class. Ellie May was very impressed with his handy work.

How grateful I am to be married to a man who lives a life of loving sacrifice. What an example he is to my boys!

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Next up: Miss Molly’s BIG adventure!

The Jimmy Stewart Museum

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Grace and I concluded our week with a road trip to Indiana, Pa.

Located 1 1/2 hours northeast of Patchwork Farm, Indiana is the birthplace of another one of our Hollywood favorites, and happens to be home to a museum dedicated to his life:

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Yes, I am talking about Jimmy Stewart, star of classics like:

“It’s a Wonderful Life”

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“Mr. Smith goes to Washington”

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“Vertigo”

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“Rear Window”

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and “Harvey” (one of our personal favorites!)

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Located on the 3rd floor of the local library, this humble but endearing museum was so appropriate for the man it payed tribute to. It highlighted his Hollywood career but was anything but “Hollywood,” focusing more on the man himself than the roles he played…A true tribute to a man of character.

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In my research to learn more about this special man I came across a wonderful blog entitled “Lessons in Manliness: Jimmy Stewart” that I found beautifully expressed my thoughts and feelings about the traits that sets Jimmy Stewart apart from other Hollywood royalty and makes him one of my favorite actors of all time. For me his appeal is not only his on-screen talent, but the way he chose to live his life.

Here is the article:

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“His type is as normally average as the hot dog and pop at Coney Island. He is good looking without being handsome, quiet without being a bore, ambitious without taking either himself or his job too seriously and unassuming without being dull. Stewart’s growing appeal has sometimes been difficult to peg. He’s no Gable and certainly has none of the qualities of a Valentino. A sixteen-year-old fan seems to have hit it when she wrote to him, ‘I like you because you’re like the boy next door.’” -1938 MGM biography of James Stewart

James “Jimmy” Stewart was an unlikely candidate for silver screen fame. Lacking the suave handsomeness and virility of a Cary Grant, the tough masculinity of a John Wayne, and the dark grit of a Humphrey Bogart, he was unlike anything else to come out of Hollywood at the time. Beanpole thin, with a famously slow drawl and awkward mannerisms, studios initially couldn’t imagine him as a leading man. Everyone could sense that Stewart was enormously talented, but few had a clue on how to use him. It would take directors like Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock to recognize his strengths — openness, emotional complexity, intelligence, and authenticity — and coax out some of cinema’s most unforgettable performances.

If Stewart broke the mold of the typical leading man, his behavior off the set was equally antithetical to the rest of Hollywood. Never one to be flashy, married only once, courteous to everyone he met, disciplined and professional, his life provided little grist for the town’s gossip columns. There were no shortage of people who agreed with President Truman when he said, “If Bess and I had a son, we’d want him to be just like Jimmy Stewart.”

While often remembered for his wholesome turns in movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stewart was an actor of tremendous emotional range, equally adept at delving into the dark corners of the human condition. Over the course of his brilliant and wide-ranging 55-year career, Stewart appeared in 80 films, several of which have become true American classics.

In following his own course on screen and in life, Stewart left behind many lessons in manliness. Here are just a few.

1. Forge Your Own Path and Follow Your Passion

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“My earliest memories are of hardware smells. The dry aroma of coiled rope. The sweet smell of linseed oil and baseball gloves. The acid tang of open nail kegs. When I open my nose, they all come back to me.” -Jimmy Stewart

James Stewart did not come from a family with connections to Hollywood. Raised in Indiana, Pennsylvania, his father was the proud owner of the town’s hardware store. His father worked tirelessly to make the store a success, and believed that one day his son Jimmy would take over the business that had been in the family for three generations. Starting at age 10, he expected young Jimmy to come to the store after school to help out and learn the ropes.

Alexander Stewart was an Ivy League educated man who had served in both the Spanish-American War and World War I and presided over his family with manly bearing. Stewart idolized his father and wanted to fulfill his expectations and make him proud. Thus, though Jimmy wished to be a pilot and attend the Naval Academy, he acquiesced to his father’s desire that he follow in his footsteps and attend Princeton.

Upon graduation, Stewart planned to continue his education by getting a masters degree in architecture. He would then be expected to come home to Indiana, take over the hardware store, and perhaps expand into the home building business.

But after matriculating from Princeton, Stewart joined an acting company for what started as a summer stint. When Stewart made the decision to keep on acting instead of returning to school in the fall, his father was not at all pleased with the change in plans. Remembered Stewart:

“Dad was upset. My father didn’t like it at all-till the day he died he didn’t like it…he kept shaking his head, saying, ‘No Stewart has ever gone into show business!’”

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Indeed, the elder Stewart never completely warmed up to the idea of his son being an actor. Even after the huge success of Jimmy’s first breakout film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Alexander called him and told him to quit the movie nonsense and come back home to get married, start a family, and help run the store. It was a plea Jimmy would hear for pretty much the rest of his life.

2. Be Dignified with the Ladies

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While we often think of the stars of yesteryear as more upright than the current crop of tabloid fodder, the Hollywood of the past was much like it is today; studios just worked harder to cover up their actors’ misbehavior and the media kept a respectful distance. While Jimmy Stewart was assuredly no saint, next to fellow actors who juggled multiple women at a time, had affairs with married women while they were single, and liaisons with single women when they were married, Stewart was considered downright prudish.

Stewart had relationships with some of the most beautiful and alluring women of the time — Ginger Rogers, Olivia de Havilland, Dinah Shore, and Marlene Dietrich to name a few. But he preferred to keep his relationships out of the public eye and was notoriously circumspect about the women in his life when probed by reporters.

While other stars burned through multiple marriages (Clark Gable and Cary Grant both married 5 times), Stewart held out to find the right woman to settle down with. She was hard to find in Hollywood; women threw themselves at Stewart in hopes of hitching their star to his, but he found these brash, sexually aggressive women off-putting and quickly tired of the vapid ladies he met in Tinseltown. Seeing many of the women he knew cheat on their husbands, he became extremely cautious about tying the knot. As his fortieth birthday approached, he began to despair of being a bachelor forever.

But then he met Gloria Hatrick. Athletic, smart, and funny, she was an elegant and beautiful woman who shared his love of fishing, golfing, and sailing. Stewart said:

“I could tell right off that she was a thoroughbred. For me it had been love at first sight. She was the kind of a girl I had always dreamed of. The kind you associate with open country, cooking stew and not fainting because it was made of cut-up squirrels. She’d look at home on a sailboat or a raft; in a graceful swing from a tree branch into the swimming pool.”

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Stewart and Hatrick were married in 1949 and stayed married for 45 happy years. If Stewart had been something of a playboy in his single years, after his trip down the altar he became a devoted husband. Gloria remembered:

“Jimmy was working with some of the most glamorous women in the world. My constant fear I suppose was that he would find them more attractive than me and have an affair with one of them. A lot of men in Hollywood became involved with their leading ladies. Jimmy was a red-blooded American male so naturally I thought it could happen to him, too. I was convinced it was only a matter of time before the telephone would ring and it would be James telling me that he had to work late at the studio or that he would be out playing poker with the boys. Well, no such call ever came. And I can honestly say that in all the years of our marriage Jimmy never once gave me cause for anxiety or jealously. The more glamorous the leading lady he was starring opposite, the more attentive he’d be to me.”

3. Do Your Duty

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All the generations of Jacksons on Stewart’s mother’s side of the family had served honorably in the military, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War. So when it was Jimmy’s turn to serve, he was ready to fulfill his duty. Although he had numerous opportunities to get out of service, Stewart did everything he could to serve.

In 1940 Stewart was drafted into the military. But when he took his physical, the army rejected him; at 6’3″ and 130 pounds, he was deemed too skinny for service. He could have bowed out honorably but instead he appealed the rejection and set up a second physical. He spent the next 3 months constantly gobbling up milkshakes and fried chicken wings in attempt to put on 10 pounds. When the second physical came around, he was still underweight, but he convinced the doctor to look the other way and approve him.

And so a week after winning an Oscar for The Philadelphia Story, Stewart became the first major American actor to don a uniform. He humbly transitioned from acting to peeling potatoes and gracefully accepted the drastic change in his pay — from $3,000 to $21 a week.

Stewart had a lifelong fascination with flying that started with building model airplanes as a child and progressed into getting his private and commercial pilot licenses as an adult. As an avid flyer, he decided to transfer to the Air Corps. While eager to just be one of the boys and start flying missions, Stewart grew increasingly exasperated as the other men were shipped overseas while he was left to train other pilots, make recruitment films, and be trotted out in uniform for various publicity events.

The Army, afraid that losing Stewart in combat would be a heavy blow to American morale, was intent on keeping Stewart from shipping out. But Stewart continually and persistently implored his commanding officers to put him on active duty.

Thus when Colonel Robert Terrill, Commanding Officer of the 445th Bombardment Group needed a man who would be able to lead his men into combat and get them home safely, the Army, knowing there was no more capable or qualified man for the job, finally relented.

When Stewart joined the 445th in Sioux City, he so impressed Terrill that in a matter of weeks the Colonel put him in command of the 703rd Bomb Squadron division, consisting of a dozen B-24 bombers and 350 soldiers and flyers. Once in Britain, Stewart flew missions as dangerous and harrowing as any other Airman, leading squadrons on bombing runs into Germany and occupied France. Besieged on each mission from the Luftwaffe, Stewart escaped many narrow misses. Many of his fellow men were not so lucky, and Stewart watched with sickness as they fell from the sky.

For his service, Stewart received the Air Medal for flying 10 successful missions over Germany, the Distinguished Flying Cross for leading an air raid on Brunswick, and the prestigious Croix de Guerre from the French Air Force.

Stewart remained in the Air Force Reserves until forced into retirement and left the Force with the rank of Brigadier General.

4. Be Humble

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Stewart’s dignified manner with women extended to his treatment of everyone he met and worked with. He refused to let fame give him an inflated sense of self-worth nor deter him from his values. Although his money would have allowed him to, he never lived in an ostentatious way. While the car of choice in Hollywood was a Mercedes, when he finally hit it big he went out and bought a Volvo. He drove it for many years, and then replaced it…with another Volvo. During the energy crisis of the 1970s, when he was in his 70s, he refused to heat his pool for his daily dips, seeing it as an extravagance.

Stewart always sought to make his co-stars shine and respected his fellow actors immensely. Known as a consummate professional, he never had an ill word to say about a co-star, even when their antics on set had been anything but respectable. And he was always rooting for the success of others. When Stewart was up for the Best Actor Oscar in 1960 for Anatomy of a Murder, he wanted very much to win as his star had dimmed a bit after the poor reviews and box office performance of 1958’s Vertigo. Walking into the Academy Awards ceremony, he bumped into another nominee in the Best Actor category, Charlton Heston, and the two posed for pictures together. Heston recalled, ”As the flashbulbs finally petered out and we turned to go to our seats. Jimmy took my arm and said, ‘I hope you win, Chuck, I really mean that.’ I don’t know another actor alive who would’ve said such a thing. He’s an extraordinary man.”

Stewart’s humility extended to his military record as well. The public was enamored with the idea of this movie star turned Airman, and when he returned home, he could have easily used his service record as a way to garner attention for himself and promote his films. It would have certainly been tempting, as his postwar transition back into movies did not go smoothly, and industry insiders were beginning to doubt his ability to make a comeback.

But Stewart had long insisted that he was just one of the boys, no more important than any other serviceman. To this end he refused to talk to reporters about his war experiences or appear in any kind of publicity event that capitalized on his service. He also refused to act in movies that depicted combat, leading him to turn down lucrative roles in big movies like Midway and The Longest Day. As Stewart explained, “They’re just hardly ever the way it really is.”

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The museum was reflective of the man himself…hometown, personal, and humble. We loved it and left Indiana, PA even more enamored with its Hometown Hero.

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As we walked the halls of the Jimmy Stewart museum I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather who visited this same museum a decade ago with my parents. Much like Jimmy Stewart he lived a life reflective of the same values that set Jimmy Stewart apart…

He too was hard working, honorable, duty-driven, kind,  gentlemanly, funny and humble. Both tall and lanky with a quiet steadiness and quick smile they are men worth emulating and a rare treasure in this world that sings the praises of the slick, the shiny, and the shallow.

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As we were exiting Grace said to me, “You know who Jimmy Stewart reminds me of?” I smiled knowingly, caught in my own reflection of the similarity between Jimmy and my grandfather. I assumed she was having the same thoughts but surprised me with her answer…

“He reminds me of Rusty.”

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It seemed fitting that while I was remembering my Grandfather Russell, Grace would be taking note of similar traits in his namesake, Rusty. Both tall, lean, humble, kind, funny, steady, and “GENTLE- men” to the very core…so very like the man we were paying tribute to in Indiana, PA.

In a world filled with “James Dean’s”

I am grateful for these “James Stewart’s.”

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The Transforming Power of Heat

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 It has been a rare treat to have an entire week to connect and make memories with just one of my five children. The last time Grace and I had this much uninterrupted bonding was 18 years ago in the days leading up to Molly’s birth. It has been a rare gift, one that I will probably never have again, so we are making the most of it and are filling our memory banks with a bundle of special experiences.

Our next adventure was to Kolor-N-Kiln, a paint your own pottery studio at Robinson Mall, that I discovered when we were there for the Sign-A-Thon in May. I was thrilled to stumble across this creative gem after losing our favorite “paint your own pottery” shop in Cranberry. When the older kids were young we frequented that studio often, enjoying the experience of creating permanent and treasured works of art with Grace, Molly and Rusty. We were all disappointed when it went out of business, so when I discovered Kolor-N-Kiln I knew it must be one of our girls’ week activities.

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Grace and I arrived at the mall early.

We were greeted by a sweet gal who walked us through the creative process…

Step 1: Choose your pottery piece. There were dozens of options including mugs, plates, piggy banks, cookie jars, etc.

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Grace decided on a vase with the thought being that it could be used and enjoyed in her room now but then also be used for decades to come in her future homes.

I decided on a butter dish, having recently lost mine to an enthusiastic and energetic “dish washer.”

Once we had picked our pieces and paid for them it was time for the next step.

Step 2: Wipe down the pottery with wet sponges, removing all dust.

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Step 3: Pick out you paint colors. This was by far the most challenging step as the choices were abundant and the colors were all beautiful. Grace and I both finally settled on  Jungle Gems; paints that contained metallic flecks that burst into spots of color in the heat of the kiln, creating a mosaic look.

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Step 4: Begin painting.

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The interesting thing about the paint Grace and  I both chose is that what you paint on your piece looks nothing like what the finished product will be. Gracie’s chalky and grainy green paint will transform into a marbled jade in the heat of the kiln. My dark grey paint will become a mosaic masterpiece of creams, browns and robin egg blue when exposed to the intense temperatures of the kiln. As a result there is a certain level of faith needed as you continue painting what seems a mess, trusting that the mess before you will transform into something beautiful when exposed to heat.

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I couldn’t help but take note of how much the process resembles our own mortal journey. Here we stand, unfinished and raw works of art. Messy and grainy, certainly not “mantle worthy.” But if we trust the potter and submit to His vision, despite the fact that the process seems messy and grainy, His process will transform us. He will take that mess and create a masterpiece.

But to do so heat is always needed.

It is within the intense fire of the kiln that we, the clay, are strengthened.

It is within the intensity of the kiln that the mess transforms into something beautiful.

That sort of transformation never takes place in the cool, comfortable seasons of our life…

Only in the seasons of fiery testing.

As Grace and I finished our projects and stepped away from the finished mess,

Surrendering our finished works to the master of the kiln,

Trusting that the added heat might turn our mess beautiful,

It was a powerful and poignant reminder of the greater purpose of each of our “kiln seasons” of life. They are hard seasons to live through, and we are grateful when the furnace cools, but no season of life is:

More transforming,

More affecting,

More essential,

Than the “kiln seasons” of mortality…

When we humbly submit and surrender our mess to Him and let Him transform the broken into the beautiful.

The finished projects:

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Happy 4th of July!

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On the 4th of July Grace and I found ourselves home alone for the third day while the boys were away at Boy Scout Camp and Molly was serving the people of Costa Rica. We considered different possible plans for the day but in the end decided that a day in Pittsburgh was the best plan, since we would end up in the city that evening for fireworks anyway.

Grace had a paper to write for one of her summer college classes so we got a later start which allowed me to get some chores done… chores that had been ignored the last two days while we were playing tourists around town.

At 10:00am we were on the road and headed down to the Strip District of Pittsburgh to do a little shopping. Grace had never visited the Strip District (home of ethnic food stores and international restaurants) before, so we thought it would be a fun way to start the day. It turns out most places were closed because of the holiday. That didn’t deter us from enjoying those stores that were open. It just meant we were in and out of the strip far quicker than we had planned.

Our final stop before leaving the strip was Pittsburgh Popcorn where we each purchased a treat to enjoy later during the evening fireworks show.

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From there we headed down to Point State Park where the fireworks would be taking place that evening. We thought we would find our parking spot before the crowds converged on the city and enjoy a day down at the Point.

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It was a HOT day to spend outside so we countered the 8 hours outside with some indoor sightseeing at the Fort Pitt Museum:

Fort Pitt Museum is an indoor/outdoor museum that’s in downtown Pittsburgh. It is at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, where the Ohio River is formed. Fort Pitt Museum is surrounded by Point State Park named for the geographically and historically significant point that is between the rivers. This piece of land was key to controlling the upper reaches of the Ohio River Valley and western Pennsylvania, before, during, and after the French and Indian War, as well as the American Revolution.

The museum is in a recreated bastion of Fort Pitt, which was originally built in 1758 by the British. The historical focus of the museum is the role that Fort Pitt played during the French and Indian War. The museum also features detailed information on Fort Pitt’s role during the American Revolution, the Whiskey Rebellion and the founding of Pittsburgh.

This was a Pittsburgh historical site that neither Grace nor I had ever visited before. It was a perfect day for a first time visit, not only because the air conditioning felt so good after our 100 degree walk in the heat, but also because of all the added activities being offered at the fort in honor of the 4th of July holiday.

We stepped inside and stepped back in time to the 18th century frontier to discover what life was like for the earliest residents of the region.

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Grace learning some period games with one of the volunteers.

Grace learning more about the fort at the meticulous diorama that gave a glimpse of 18th century Pittsburgh in miniature.

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Like a trader of old we were able to bring furs to market at the Trader’s Cabin and peer inside a replica Casemate to see munitions being made deep within the walls of Fort Pitt.

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Grace and I learned about the artillery that kept watch over the fort during the French & Indian War and were able to see if we had  what it took to be part of the crew on the replica cannon.

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Then we headed to the Soldiers’ Barracks to discover what life was like for the troops that garrisoned and protected Pittsburgh.

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With a wide range of interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages, the first floor gallery was the place to learn about daily life in 18th century Pittsburgh. We were so impressed with all the stations offered that allowed us to really step back in time and experience life at Fort Pitt.

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From there we moved upstairs to the second floor where we learned more about this area and Fort Pitt’s role in our country’s history.

In the mid-18th century, the contest for control of the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains was far from decided. Among the relative newcomers to the region were Shawnee, Delaware, and Seneca Indians in search of autonomy in the Ohio Country, as well as military representatives from the two most powerful nations in the world: England and France.

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The clash of these two great empires, which began in the backwoods of present day Western Pennsylvania, forever changed the course of world events, had powerful repercussions for Native America, and ultimately inspired thirteen rebellious colonies to declare their independence from Great Britain.

Explore these momentous events and their impact on our region in the permanent second floor exhibit, Fort Pitt: Keystone of the Frontier. The exhibit features two audio-visual presentations covering both the French & Indian War and the American Revolution, intricate dioramas of the earliest forts at the Point, and numerous artifacts, all of which paint a vivid picture of war, trade, adventure, and diplomacy on the 18th century frontier.

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After a few hours touring the Fort Pitt Museum we headed back out into the heat and sunshine. First stop: The Blockhouse. Located just outside the museum is the Blockhouse, the only original structure left standing from historic Fort Pitt.

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Grace and I enjoyed an afternoon of strolling, sightseeing, and people watching at the point.

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The heat eventually led us the water stairs (across the river on the north side) where we enjoyed some Rita’s Italian Ice while we sat with our feet in the water, trying to cool off.

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As the sun lowered in the sky the air cooled, due in part to a front moving through the area. The front brought with it its own impressive light show…

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A prequel to the fireworks that followed.

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I’d be hard pressed to decided which show was more stunning!

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It was a delightful day with my first born daughter.

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Happy birthday, USA!!

 

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

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On Tuesday Grace and I headed over to the movie theater to enjoy a noon showing of a film we have both been eagerly anticipating for months:

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Knowing the boys probably wouldn’t enjoy this documentary on Mr. Rogers, we decided to make it on of our girls’ week activities. We were doubly excited for this particular viewing because we were watching it from the comfort of Robinson Cinemark’s luxury loungers. I had never experienced anything like it before. Leather recliners had replaced the traditional upright movie seats and each chair came with a tray for those who opted to order dinner from the concession stand. Talk about fancy shmancy! And all for the discounted Tuesday price of $5.25 per ticket!

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Grace and I found our seats and settled in for the show.

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Fred Rogers is one of my personal heroes. I loved him as a child but as an adult, especially as the mother of hurt children, I look to his example as the epitome of powerful parenting, loving acceptance, and Christ-like living.

The older I get the more I desire to be a “Mr. Rogers” in a world of chaos, unkindness, judgement, and cynicism.

It has been said that Mr. Rogers often carried around a note in his pocket that was given to him by a friend of his who was a social worker. The note read, ” Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” He carried these words with him as a reminder of that truth and his life was a reflection of that philosophy.

Mr. Rogers was my childhood friend. Every day during “arsenic hour,” as my mother called it…that fragile hour before dinner when everyone was hungry and tired and emotional..my mom would place us in the care of Mr. Rogers while she went to get dinner on the table. She walked away knowing that we were in good hands and for a half an hour we learned the most important of life lessons.

From our television neighbor I learned some of the most powerful and poignant of life’s lessons…

1. I learned the key to success:
“There are 3 ways to ultimate success. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

2. I learned what it meant to be a hero:
“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”

3. I learned the value of play:
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves we are helping them to feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit.”

4. I learned the power of words:
“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person…One kind word has a wonderful way of turning into many.”

5. I learned that it takes a neighborhood:
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It is easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

6. I learned that we are important:
“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

7. I learned that love is a choice:
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

8. But the main lessons I learned as I sat and watched him change his shoes were…   I had value, I was loved, and I was okay just the way I was:
“I am just so proud of all of you who have grown up with us, and I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead. But I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger…I like you just the way you are.”

What a profound lesson. I think the greatest lesson I have learned during this adoption journey is the importance of loving people (particularly children) as they are, rather than trying to make them into more “loveable” children.

It is a lesson that so many need to hear. Your value has nothing to do with what you have, how you look, the choices you’ve made, the life you’ve lived, or the talents you possess. Like Mr. Rogers would say, “You have value because of who you are.”

“It’s you I like.

It’s not the things you wear,

it’s not the way you do your hair.

It’s you I like…”

Soon the lights dimmed and everyone’s favorite Pittsburgh neighbor appeared on the screen.

“From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes an intimate look at America’s favorite neighbor: Mister Fred Rogers. A portrait of a man whom we all think we know, this emotional and moving film takes us beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe, and into the heart of a creative genius who inspired generations of children with compassion and limitless imagination.”

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It was amazing and moving and Grace and I both left the theater inspired to be more, to do more, and to love more..

In a world filled with judgement and hate let us be a loving light of acceptance.

Perhaps we all need to ponder on the wisdom of Mr. Rogers more often. The world would probably be a much nicer place..

“Let’s make the most of this beautiful day.

Since we’re together we might as well say:

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Won’t you be my neighbor..”

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Grace posing with the Mr. Rogers memorial statue in Pittsburgh on the 4th of July.

Panama Rocks

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Years ago Toby and I enjoyed a weekend away for our anniversary. He booked a hotel in western New York near Jamestown. While staying at the hotel a fellow visitor told us about a hidden gem, revered by locals but widely unknown by those outside the area, called Panama Rocks. It was recommended we check out this scenic park before leaving the area so we did and were so glad we did. It was one of the most magical places I had ever seen! 

When Grace and I made plans to visit Jamestown I knew a visit to Panama Rocks was a must, so following our morning at the I Love Lucy museum I told Grace we had one more place to visit while we were in the area, not giving her any clue of the magical world she was about to enter…

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Panama Rocks Scenic Park:  “an enchanting world of towering rocks, deep crevices and passageways, cool, cavernous dens, and small caves.”

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Formations are composed of conglomerate sedimentary rock, according to their website, and extend “about a half a mile and read upwards of 60 feet tall — one of the largest of its kind in the world.”

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There’s not many people in this day and age that aren’t familiar with the J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy, Lord of the Rings. Most of Tolkien’s well-known story line takes place in the magical setting of Middle Earth, a fictional fantasy world that’s covered in vibrant green landscapes and mythical wonders. If the idea of not being able to visit such whimsical place like this has always broken your heart, then no need to get upset…

We found Middle Earth!

And it is only a 40 minute drive from Erie!

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Operating since 1885, Panama Rocks Scenic Park is touted as one of the best outdoor attractions you’ll find in this area of New York.

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From deep crevices to cavernous dens, there was so much to see and explore in this extraordinary scenic park.

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Not only does the scenic park feature a one-mile long trail that leads visitors to fascinating places, off-trail exploring is also allowed here! Grace and I were able to make our way through passageways and explore crevices that looked like places from out of this world.

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The trail is great for visitors of all ages but does feature moderate inclines and pathways that will take you over the many roots you’ll find exposed throughout the park. (Which adds to the magic but requires watching your step.)

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One of the main reasons that this park is so eye-catching and unique is that the mosses and ferns create a lush scenery amongst such rough formations.

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It really was nothing short of magical and we found ourselves looking for the fairies and gnomes that we knew must call this fantasy land home.

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Pictures just don’t do justice to the awe-inspiring magnificence of this magical park. It really is another world and by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

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I was so grateful I was able to share the experience with Grace but we both agreed we must return soon with the entire family so that we can enjoy a day of exploring together in this fairy tale forest.

 

 

 

 

I Love Lucy!

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This week we are experiencing a rare phenomenon at Patchwork Farm. Grace and I find ourselves alone for a whole week, something that hasn’t happened for the last 18 years. This week Miss Molly is in Costa Rica working with the endangered sea turtle population and Toby, Rusty, Ozzie and Tyler are all at Boy Scout Camp for the week. Which means Grace and I have had 6 days at home together.

When we realized we would be home alone for the week we began making plans, determined to make the most of this rare gift, recognizing that it will probably never happen again. We decided to use this week to be tourists in our own town, visiting places we have always wanted to go, and participating in activities we normally can’t do when we are a family of 7.

This week has been all about connecting with my first born child and making memories that will be treasured years from now.

Our week of mother/daughter adventures began with a road trip on Monday.

We decided to make the 2 1/2 hour pilgrimage to Jamestown, New York to pay homage to the queen of comedy and one of our favorite leading ladies…

Lucy!

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There in the heart of Jamestown (the birthplace of Lucy) is the Lucy Desi Museum and Desilu Studios. We spent the morning learning more about this comedy icon and falling deeper in love with Lucy!

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Since 1996, Lucy’s hometown has welcomed visitors from all over the world to the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum. Inside its doors we found a warm salute to the First Couple of Comedy with priceless costumes, awards, photographs, and other vintage memorabilia on display from the estates of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

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With a push of a button we could hear audio clips from Desi’s autobiography as well as stories of their youthful antics told by Lucy’s childhood pals. A unique radio plays clips both from Lucy’s 1940’s radio series, My Favorite Husband, and some of Desi’s famous Latin songs.

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The panels on the left of the Museum (as you look toward the back) described Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s personal histories. As we proceeded down the panels, we learned about Lucy and Desi’s early careers, how they met, and their creation of the most famous comedy series of all time.

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After touring the museum we headed next door to Desilu Studios. Desilu Studios is devoted to the “I Love Lucy” TV series. It is home to original props, costumes, memorabilia and more. Inside we found complete re-creations of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s New York City apartment and the Hollywood hotel suite where Lucy pantomimed with Harpo Marx and set her nose on fire with William Holden.

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Desilu Studios is the permanent home of the “I Love Lucy” 50th Anniversary Tour Sets that traveled the country in 2001-2002 to celebrate the most popular show ever on television. Exhibited at convention centers, state fairs, music festivals, casinos, and more, it featured exact reproductions of the original sets.

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Here are some of our favorite Displays & Exhibits:

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My Favorite Husband Radio Studio Set: When CBS asked Lucille Ball to bring her wildly popular radio program, My Favorite Husband, to the new medium of television, she agreed–as long as her real life husband, Desi Arnaz, could play her television husband. Desi was traveling the country most of the year with his popular Latin band, making it difficult for the Arnazes to achieve their dream of starting a family. CBS declined, believing that the public would not accept this “mixed marriage” of an all-American woman to a Cuban with a heavy accent–despite the fact that the couple had in fact been married for several years. Here we were able to pick up the headsets and listen to excerpts from this radio show!

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“I Love Lucy” Episode #6–“The Audition”: To prove to CBS that the American public would accept them, Lucy and Desi created a vaudeville show that they took on the road in 1950. In one of their touring skits, Lucy plays “The Professor,” trying to break into Desi’s night club act with an audition on her special cello. After six months of tremendously positive live audience response, Lucy and Desi produced a pilot episode and CBS agreed to Desi’s playing Lucy’s husband. “The Professor” skit was part of the pilot as well as “I Love Lucy” episode #6, “The Audition.”

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623 East 68th Street, The New York Apartment: This was Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s apartment after the birth of Little Ricky. Their first apartment, which did not have a window over the piano in the living room, was too small for the three of them, so they moved upstairs to a larger apartment (episode #61, “Ricardos Change Apartments”).

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Artifacts: Among the costumes and props on display from “I Love Lucy” are the original cello and professor costume from the show’s pilot and episode 6, “The Audition,” as well as a 13-piece clown outfit and a lion tamer ensemble worn by Pepito, the Spanish Clown in episode 52, “Lucy’s Show Biz Swan Song.”

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Beverly Palms Hollywood Hotel: When Ricky was cast in the motion picture Don Juan, he took the whole gang (Lucy, Fred, Ethel, Little Ricky, and his mother-in-law) to Hollywood with him. During this period from 1955-56, the Ricardos lived in the Beverly Palms Hotel. It was on this set that Lucy burned her nose while meeting William Holden. Harpo Marx also re-enacted one of his most famous movie scenes here with Lucy, in what later became one of her favorite episodes, #124, “Harpo Marx.”

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Wall Mural: Enlarged from a 4×5” image, this wall shows the studio audience at a taping of “I Love Lucy.” Desi Arnaz can be seen (back to camera) “warming up” the audience, and both Lucy and Desi’s mothers are in the top row near the center.

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Episode #30, “Lucy Does a TV Commercial”: do you pop out at parties? Don’t be tired and listless or unpopular! This hands-on exhibit allows all “Vitameatavegamin” lovers to give it a try. The dialogue is in front of you. Here you can amuse your fellow visitors with your own version of “Vitameatavegamin.”

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After touring Desilu Studios and enjoying a morning of belly laughs with my oldest we drove past Lucy’s childhood home in Jamestown, NY before heading to our second adventure of the day. (Don’t you just love the paint job on the garage?!)

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When Grace and I finally made it home (after a day of galavanting around western New York) we put on our PJs, stretched out on the couch, and enjoyed an “I Love Lucy” marathon,

Watching all of our favorite episodes before heading to bed after a long, eventful, and fun day of adventures.

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