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“I’m fine,” she told herself…



I feel as though I’m suffering from an emotional hangover…

Too many feelings squeezed into too short a period of time,

With all of the residual manifestations connected to an excess of living.

I literally feel as though I am emotionally hungover, with many of the symptoms seen in alcohol induced hangovers.

I find myself weary, heavy, numb, foggy and teary as I try to continue navigating the responsibilities of day to day life while accepting that life as I have known it for 20 years, is changing…

And changing very soon!

The crazy thing about it all is that everything I am navigating through is exactly the things I have prayed so hard for. There is a part of me that wants to smack the tears off my own face and remind myself that this is all good stuff!

Feelings of gratitude and joy are the prevailing emotions, but closely tied to feelings of gratitude and joy, are feelings of uncertainty and loss…

And guilt.

Guilt that I am feeling anything but gratitude and joy in the midst of such blessings. Unlike the seasons we have had to endure that are filled with such darkness and danger, despair and loss, this season is blessedly positive, but I still find myself struggling.

Perhaps I am unaccustomed to things going so smoothly.

Perhaps I have forgotten how to navigate life outside the emotional bondage of crisis management.

Perhaps I feel as though I am losing some of my purpose or value.

Maybe it is simply the emotional push-back that is rooted in the fear of change.

Or maybe, just maybe, this weight of emotions is simply bone-deep fatigue, born from trying to fit in so many “lasts” before life changes for good.

I am not certain.

I only know that time seems to be racing past and I am desperately grasping for its tail, hoping to slow it down.

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I know that I am not alone in this place. Many other friends have expressed similar emotions, born from similar situations. I take strength from knowing that this muddy mix of emotions is normal, that I am not the only one trying to gracefully navigate them, and that millions of mothers before me have made it through this season to find joy and purpose in the next season of parenting.

So many changes are coming down the pike, not the least of which are:

  1. Gracie getting married! Only two months until her big day! The last few weeks have been spent entrenched in bridal shower planning, bachelorette party planning and wedding planning. Grace and Zach have also been on the hunt for an apartment. They will be staying in the area, as Grace still has a few semesters of school to finish before earning her degree in American Sign Language interpreting.


 Well, they found one that they love and fits their budget. And we have the benefit of having them nearby for at least the next year…which is a HUGE blessing for our adopted sons who have been struggling with triggered feelings of losing another person they love.

Last Sunday we drove over to Ellwood City to check out Gracie and Zach’s soon-to-be newlywed digs.

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It is an upstairs, one bedroom apartment with a big kitchen and lots of light. It is perfect for them and so exciting. Grace can’t wait to start decorating!

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2. Molly is about ready to take flight! In less than three weeks she will be heading out to school. Rusty and Braden will be joining us as we take a weeklong road trip to Idaho to drop her off. Along the way we are going to revisit some of our favorite national parks from our bus trip three years ago, so Braden can experience some of these national treasures.


Over the last month Molly has been making piles in preparation for college, getting together with friends, and finishing out her employment at Eat n’ Park. In fact, a few weeks ago she was asked by her employers to reconsider heading west for school. They wanted to offer her a management position. Her boss told her how impressed they have been with her since she began working for them in the spring and could see a great future for her with the company. She sweetly declined, knowing that BYU-Idaho is where she is being called to, but was honored and touched by the job offer.

3. Molly will not be the only college student this year. Grace and I will also be working towards our degrees, and Rusty is now unexpectedly joining the college ranks as a duel enrolled high school senior.

A few weeks ago we toured our local community college’s aviation program to find out more about their drone piloting program. This is a field that interests Rusty and so we added CCBC to our college tour list.

As we sat and spoke with the Dean of the program, he encouraged Rusty to not wait until graduation, but rather enroll for the fall semester as part of the duel-enrollment program. After speaking with his cyber school, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, we learned that Rusty had the option of replacing his high school electives with college courses and receive both high school and college credit, thus getting a jump start on his college degree.

He is very excited and will be taking most of his classes at the local airfield where he will learn the skills to graduate with a drone piloting license. Toby and I were pleased to learn that the high demand for drone pilots, coupled with the minimal number of colleges offering this newly emerging degree, meant that 100% of their past students have graduated with job placement.

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4. Braden is also venturing into new territory. In June he expressed a desire to cyber school like the other kids for his senior year. He struggled with our local brick and mortar school and some of the negative influences that proved too much for him to manage. Since being home this summer he has felt the difference that separation has made on his emotions and his ability to make good choices. He is happier and more at peace. I’m hoping it is as good a fit for him as it has been my other kids.

In addition to cyber schooling, he and Rusty will be getting together with other teens from church each weekday morning at 6:00am for early morning seminary (a religion class that allows for studying the scriptures and discussing gospel topics with the other youth from church under the guidance of a teacher.) I think this will be beneficial to both boys and will meet some of Braden’s social needs as one of my extroverted children.

5. Tyler also continues cyber schooling, but through PA Cyber. And although I feel that PA Cyber falls short when compared to the education offered through 21st Century Cyber School, it has proven to be a great fit for Tyler. Last year was his best year ever and he took off under this model of cyber schooling. He is eager to get back in touch with teachers and peers whom he hasn’t talked to all summer. Tyler will be in 7th grade this year. How is that possible?!


6. Ozzie continues to thrive in the residential treatment facility that he has been residing at for more intense therapeutic work. His success there is not surprising but rather an expected result of a structured, unattached environment. The goal we are working toward is for him to successfully transfer the skills he uses at the RTF to the home environment, thus making his presence in the home safe and stable. This isn’t an easy transition, as his diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder makes the thing he most stands in need of (connection and attachment to family) the very thing he fears and fights against. It is heartbreaking in its presentation and heartbreaking to know that as devastating as this diagnoses is, it could have been easily avoided through loving maternal care as a young child. The transfer of skills we are working toward is accomplished by slowly introducing interactions with family members (and eventually visits home) to his treatment plan and then addressing the negative reactions to triggers  with his therapeutic team in the RTF upon returning back at the end of a visit.

This week he and I had our first off-grounds visit. I was allowed to take him to lunch for two hours. This initial off-grounds trip consisted of just the two of us spending time together. We will slowly be adding additional family members to upcoming visits as deemed safe by staff.

I let Ozzie pick the restaurant and he chose Quaker Steak and Lube, a well known wing place in this area.


He chose it partly for the food but mainly for the décor. He loves walking around the restaurant and snapping pictures of all the cars and memorabilia with my phone.


He did well and we had a good time.


He got all dressed up for our date 🙂 

This week we will be taking Ozzie out again following his family therapy session. This time Molly will be joining me so she and Ozzie can have a visit before she leaves for Idaho. We are praying it is healing and positive.

And then there is this guy… working hard and making sure everyone stays in line. 🙂


This is  BIG week for our family with many monumental events. We have an off-grounds visit with Ozzie on Wednesday, Tyler’s 13th birthday party on Thursday evening, Gracie’s bachelorette party Friday night, Gracie’s bridal shower on Saturday, all among everyday living. It promises to be a full and likely emotional week…

Wish this momma luck as I try to keep it together!



Our Visit to the Newport Aquarium




Our travel to and from Tennessee for our houseboat vacation resulted in a few nights at hotels along the way. Tyler was thrilled that this trip aligned with Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, as we don’t have cable at home. Our nights in the hotel were spent watching stories of shark attacks around the world, so it just made sense to make one of our stops, on our trip home, the Newport Aquarium so we could see some sharks in person!

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Our path home from the houseboat led us by or through the cities of Louisville, Cincinnati, and Columbus. We decided to stay one night in Louisville and the second night in Cincinnati. In Louisville we visited the Kentucky Derby Museum and in Cincinnati we decided to visited the aquarium, located just over the river in Kentucky.

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The Newport Aquarium is located at Newport on the Levee. This is an attraction in itself. The Riverwalk has lovely views, restaurants, shopping, and a theater.



I wouldn’t have minded spending more time on the Riverwalk. It had a fun summer vibe with live music playing and the smells of street fair BBQ.

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Newport Aquarium isn’t a big aquarium but it was well laid out and we appreciated how “hands on” it was.

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They have several touch stations throughout the aquarium, including a tank where guests can pet a shark.

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Here were some of our favorite exhibits:

Octopus Den: Here guests can get up-close to fascinating animals like Moon Jellyfish and Japanese Spider Crabs.

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They all make their home in a constantly changing ecosystem along the Ring of Fire where towering volcanoes and deep ocean trenches line the Pacific Ocean.  With unique light and sound effects, we were able to experience the churning seismic activity that created the rippling sea floor, caves and other rock formations where amazing creatures like the Giant Pacific Octopus live.

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Stingray Hideaway: So many stingrays!

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The natural light that fills this exhibit made it a wonderful place to pause for a moment.

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Guests are able to view the sting rays from below through the underwater tunnels that snake through the area under the pool,


Or simply hang out next to the water and wait for a ray to pass close enough to pet.

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In this area they also have a cool exhibit where guests can place their hands in a shallow pool filled with shrimp. The shrimp climb onto your hand and will clean your hands and nails. It reminded us of Jacques, from Finding Nemo!

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Shark Ray Bay: Shark Ray Bay is the highlight of the Newport Aquarium. There are multiple spots to view the sharks and other species. This huge tank really is the centerpiece for the aquarium and is so cool to view from the many angles available to guests. We especially enjoyed this area after our tv marathon viewing of Shark Week shows.

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Tide Pool Touch: Tide Pool Touch allows visitors to touch various sea creatures and someone is there answering questions and educating you on the species you see.

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Shark Bridge: The one activity stood out to all of us – adults AND kids alike was the shark bridge. The Newport Aquarium is home to the world’s first Shark Bridge. This V-shaped bridge is made from rope and hangs over the aquarium’s shark tank. The bridge is 75 feet, and we could see the sharks swimming in the tank below as we walked across.

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This was the final exhibit before exiting into the gift shop and a perfect conclusion to our time at Newport Aquarium!

And on to the Derby!



On Friday morning we disembarked from the houseboat, but our vacation wasn’t over quite yet. We decided that rather than drive the nine hours straight home, we would slowly meander our way back, over the next three days, stopping to see some sites along the way.

Our first stop was Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby.

After reading amazing reviews online we decided to check out the Kentucky Derby Museum.

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Located at Churchill Downs, the museum showcases all aspects of the race, has multiple tours of the grounds, and a great short documentary on the race.

We aren’t horse racing fans…in fact I knew nothing about the Kentucky Derby prior to our visit other than the fashionable traditions of the fancy hats worn on race day, but we left with a great appreciation for this long standing tradition.

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The museum and accompanying tours can be a full-day event for those that have the time. Basic admission allows you to explore the museum, participate in a 30 minute history walk (these happen every half hour past the hour), and view their 18 minute video “The Greatest Race.”

The museum experience starts at the gates. There are two floors of interactive exhibits, videos, photos, race artifacts and information. It is tailored for all ages and degrees of derby fans.

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We loved how interactive and engaging the exhibits were.


It was an amazing museum!


We learned about the life and training of a racehorse from birth until it is races in the Derby at age 3. This was one of my favorite exhibits in the museum.


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We were able to learn the art of horse betting with a pretend ticket window where we could place bets on the race,

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And then sit and watch a recording of a previous race.

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At the end of the video we could scan our ticket and see what our $2.00 bet would have paid out. Through this experience we learned we should never gamble on horse races!

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The kids’ competitive natures came out when they had their go at being a jockey.

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They were able to mount up and race against other riders on the video screen before them.

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They got to dress up like jockeys and learn more about the colors certain jockeys wear,

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As well as see how they measure up to one of the most winning jockeys of all time.

Grace was thrilled to finally be taller than someone other than the toddlers she watches at the daycare.

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We learned a lot about the requirements that the jockeys have to follow on race day. The big one is their weight. The Kentucky Derby requires an exact weight of 126 lbs, including gear and saddle. Jockeys who fall short of the weight requirement must add weight to their saddle, no exceptions.

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There was an incredible amount of information about horses whom have raced. We were able to watch videos of past Kentucky Derby races and learn more about some of the greatest horses that ever raced,

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Including Balboa whose final resting place sits in front of the museum.

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After walking through the exhibits of hats and all the memorabilia it was time to watch “The Greatest Race.”

This video is displayed on a 360° screen in a theater big enough for 50+ people.


As you watch, it will have you twirling in your seat to keep up and your heart pounding. The video covers race day preparations, interviews with jockeys, trainers, and owners, along with highlights from races dating back to the 1800’s.  The result is an appreciation for what goes into this huge event, an event that has more live spectators than the Superbowl!

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After the video we exited the museum for the included 30 minute history walk.

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Posted on the buildings around us was a chronological list of prior Derby winners, starting with Aristides in 1875.

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As we walked along, we saw every horse that has won the Kentucky Derby, the first triple crown winner, and the first father/son triple crown winners. Our tour guide was helpful in answering questions, and dishing out information about specific winners and races. Some people asked about famous horses like Secretariat and Barbaro.

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One of my favorite parts about the tour was the Paddock. The paddock holds the up to 18 contestants on race day, and is a popular viewing place for spectators. When the horses walk in, their lip tattoos are checked and then they are taken to the individual stalls. . The Paddock is the last place the horses will be before taking the walk to the track.

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Then to the track!

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The distance between the Paddock and the race track is connected by a small tunnel underneath the stands. The horses are escorted through the tunnel, and upon entering the track, the tradition of everyone singing My Old Kentucky Home begins.

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The horses are then led to the starting gate.

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It was amazing to stand at the edge of the track and soak up the history of the location. It made me want to add a trip to the Kentucky Derby to my bucket list. I can only imagine how charged the energy must be on race day.


We were at the Kentucky Derby Museum on Friday for 2 1/2 hours and never made it to the second floor. The museum closed at 5:00 pm and everyone was so disappointed that we weren’t able to see it all that we decided to spend the night in Louisville and return back in the morning (our tickets allowed free access for 48 hours) to see the rest of the exhibits before continuing our trek north.

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We were blown away by the place and we aren’t even racing fans.

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Our discussion of the experience continued for days and we left the museum wanting to learn more.

Here are some of the fun facts we learned about the Kentucky Derby:

1. Nineteen past winners have had names beginning with the letter “S,” including Secretariat, the fastest horse in Kentucky Derby history, who completed the 1973 race in just under two minutes.

2. The amount of food consumed at the Derby is pretty astounding. On average, spectators will eat 142,000 hot dogs, 18,000 barbecue sandwiches, 13,800 pounds of beef, 32,400 jumbo shrimp, 9,000 scallops, 8,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 cookies and 300,000 strawberries.

3. Only three horses raced in the 1892 Kentucky Derby.

4. The traditional drink of the Derby is the mint julep, and over 120,000 are said to be consumed at the race each year.

5. Diane Crump was the first woman jockey to ever ride in the Derby; there has yet to be a female winner, but Shelley Riley came the closest in 1992 when she came in second. We were told that the reason so few women race in the derby is due to the massive size of thoroughbred horses and the arm strength needed to control them.

6. The Kentucky Derby trophy only weighs 3½ lbs.

7. The youngest jockey to win the esteemed race, Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton, was just 15 come derby day in 1892. Bill Shoemaker continues to hold the title as the oldest winner; he was 54 when he took home the 1986 title.

8. Bill Shoemaker has also ridden the most Kentucky Derby horses (26) in history.

9. The record low temperature at the race (held on the first week of May every year) was 47 degrees in 1935 and 1957. The record high was 94 degrees in 1959.

10. Churchill Downs founder and president Col. M. Lewis Clark might have made the rose the official flower of the race after attending an 1883 post-derby party where socialite E. Berry Wall was handing the flower out to the ladies in attendance.

11. The Derby is also referred to as ‘The Run for the Roses’ because the winner is awarded a blanket sewn with over 400 roses post-race. This blanket weighs about 40 lbs.

12. Owner Calumet Farm  holds the record for most Kentucky Derby wins, with 8. “Plain Ben” Jones holds the record for trainer with the most wins (6).

13. Post No. 1 has become known as “the dreaded rail.”

14. 1919 champion Sir Barton was the first Triple Crown winner, however he hadn’t won a race before arriving at the Derby.

15. Over $150 million in wagers have been placed over the last several Kentucky Derby races.

16. Horses must be three years in order to compete.

17. The Derby has never been cancelled or postponed due to inclement weather.

18. The historic 1¼-mile race was originally 1½ miles before the current distance was established in 1896.

19. The Kentucky Derby was started by Lewis Clark Jr.—grandson of William Clark, half of the famous explorer duo Lewis and Clark—after he saw England’s Epsom Derby.

20. Only three fillies (female horses) have won the Derby: Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988.

21. The 2018 event set the record for the wettest Kentucky Derby in history, with over 2.31 inches of rainfall.

22. The race was first televised in 1952.

23. The purse for the 2019 Derby will be $3 million, with the winner taking home $1.86 million, $600,000 for second place, $300,000 for third place, $150,000 for fourth place, and $90,000 for fifth. This marks a significant increase in the prize money: from 2005 to 2018, the purse was only $2 million.

This stop moves to the top of our list of must-see places for travelers…

Right up there with the City Museum of St. Louis and Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

We are so glad we stopped in Louisville!


Saying good-bye to an AMAZING week!


good friends

It has been a wonderful week.

This was a vacation built around rest and relationships…

Exactly what we stood most in need of during this season of life.

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With our shared path forking into multiple directions in the coming month, this week of connection with friends and family was a wonderful gift before everyone embarks on their individual adventures.

The houseboat provided us the forced rest and stillness that is so hard to find in most other vacations we take. Rather than soaking up local sites and experiences, we soaked up sun. We moved through our days at a languid pace with no agenda or responsibilities driving us.

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It was a week built on simply being present,


And was such a blessed gift.

Much of our week was spent floating in the water with the sun warming our faces,


But we also spent time pampering ourselves,

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Playing games,

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Feasting on good food,

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Making friends with the local wildlife,


Toby came very close to accidently stepping on this copperhead hiding in the brush.


Soaking up the beauty of God’s creation,


Capturing it through our lenses,

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And enjoying the blessed gift of laughter with friends.


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It was sad to see our time on Norris Lake come to a close, but all good things must come to an end.

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On Friday morning we prepared to disembark at the marina. The boat had to be returned at 10:00 am. Knowing this, the kids woke early for a final swim and kayaking through the morning fog that had settled on the lake.

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Bags were packed and piles we gathered as we headed back to the marina.

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We enjoyed a final ride on the top deck, soaking in the scenery and reflecting on the beauty and blessings of the week.

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Then it was all ashore as we unloaded the boat and repacked our cars for the trek home.

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It was an amazing week…

Simply magical.


How grateful I am for this time of rest and renewal and the people I got to share it with!


Don’t let anyone dull your GLOW!


“The darkest nights produce the brightest stars”

This is true whether you are talking about heavenly orbs or “stars” of a different kind!

Last night was our last night on the houseboat and the night for our planned glow stick dance party!

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The darkness found in the middle of Norris Lake made the perfect backdrop for our stick-man dance party on the top deck.

After dinner we pulled out the glow sticks that we brought with us and began cracking them into life. As they began to glow pink, yellow, purple, and green we separated them by color.

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The kids picked their stick-man color and began taping their “body parts” on with clear packing tape.

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Then up to the top deck we went.

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The music began to play,

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And the party began!!

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It was visually so cool to watch and made for awesome photos.

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When the kids had their fill of dancing their glow stick dance party” turned into a “glow stick swim party,” as our stick-kids moved the fun into the lake for a nighttime swim.

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It was neat to see the glowing stick figures floating in the water below.

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After everyone had their fill of swimming

they all moved to the hot tub to warm up before everyone moved back indoors.

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It is crazy to think this was the final night of our epic houseboat adventure.

What a grand finale!

These kids really know how to SHINE!

“You have to find what sparks a light in you so that you can, in your own way, illuminate the world.” – Oprah Winfrey

Ready for an Adventure!


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Part of the fun of vacationing on a houseboat is the fact that you aren’t tied down to one area and one view for the week. Each day we are able to untie from the previous day’s location and go exploring for a new “home.”

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Riding on the top deck while we are moving from one location to another is my favorite part of houseboat vacationing. It is so thrilling to head out on the water with the wind blowing your hair, uncertain of what you will find around the next bend.

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On Wednesday, we found our best cove yet!

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It was tucked away off the main channel, and was stunning!

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The rock formations erupting from the water made the cove appear magical, as if at any minute we would spot a mermaid sunning herself on one of the rocks or Peter Pan and the lost boys peeking out from the surrounding trees.

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It was our favorite stop so far!

We spent the afternoon enjoying our private cove.

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Some of the kids headed out on the paddle boards to explore.

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And Gracie took Tyler and Olivia out for a ride in the boat.

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When everyone returned home from their adventures, we reconvened in the water and watched as the kids jumped from the upper deck.

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Eventually, our numbers started to thin as some took a break from swimming and others left in the fishing boat to try their hand at fishing.

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Those left behind decided to undertake an adventure of their own and swim a ½ mile to check out the cluster of massive rock formations at the mouth of our cove. It was an impromptu decision, made with enthusiasm.

With everyone grabbing a board or floatation device we began the swim, eager to check out the garden of boulders rising from the water.

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We arrived and the kids climbed atop the rocks for some cool photos and the opportuning to jump from the boulders to the water below.

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It was amazing!!

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Well worth the laborious swim to get there!

Just as we were preparing to swim back to the houseboat, angels of mercy arrived in the form of Woody and Tyler in the fishing boat. Back from their excursion, they volunteered to tow us back to the boat a few swimmers at a time.

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It was a lovely turn of events as everyone was a bit weary from the against-the-current swim it took to get there.

Toby and I were the last group to be towed back to shore. I climbed aboard his paddle board and enjoyed the ride back to the boat.

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This wasn’t an adventure planned ahead of time,

It was one of those spontaneous, magical adventures that we find ourselves stumbling into when we are cruising along with the Hudak family.

Oh, how I love moments like these!



Pretty as a Picture!


The area we have been sailing this past week is as pretty as a picture.

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The views are stunning…

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Well-deserving of a portrait.

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So, on Wednesday afternoon we pulled out the brushes, paints and easels we packed, in preparation for our planned painting party.

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We usually plan a craft or two when we vacation together and as we were planning this houseboat vacation Lana suggested we bring supplies for everyone to paint a memory of this houseboat experience. So, we each gathered the plethora of supplies we have acquired as a result of our kids’ membership in mural club, and planned an afternoon painting party on Norris Lake.

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Tyler, still chasing down fish, opted not to participate,

But everyone else gathered on the top deck to paint.

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The scenery inspired creativity.

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Some opted to paint the views from the upper deck of the houseboat,

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While others chose to paint a particular favorite memory from this vacation.

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It was fun to watch everyone work and see their personal artistic styles unfold on the canvas before them.

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Here are some of the finished works of art:

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What a perfect way to memorialize a wonderful week with friends!

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Adventure on the High Seas


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Day 5 of our houseboat vacation brought to fruition another recreation of a previous houseboat memory.

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On our first houseboat vacation with the Hudak family the kids were in 8th, 7th, 6th, and 5th grades. At the time one of the assigned reading novels was Treasure Island. We decided to bring the book on vacation and read it aloud to all the kids as we boated along. It was a perfect fit and made the reading of this classic novel more enjoyable. At the end of the week we decided to surprise the kids with a pirate treasure hunt to wrap up our week of reading Treasure Island.

While the kids were swimming, we slipped a bottle into the water containing a map that led to a buried treasure on shore.

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The kids LOVED it and talked about it being one of their favorite memories of that vacation,


So, on houseboat vacation #2 we knew we wanted to plan something like that again.

On that particular trip we realized that our vacation just happened to fall on

“International Talk like a Pirate Day”


It was perfect!


We had all sorts of fun things up our sleeves for this band of scallywags, including pirate pancakes, pirate crafts and of course a treasure hunt for buried treasure.


This trip we had no real reason for a treasure hunt. We weren’t reading Treasure Island. It wasn’t International Talk like a Pirate day. But we had to recreate this treasure memory at least one more time! Braden needed his turn participating in this beloved McCleery/Hudak tradition.


So, on Tuesday we picked a docking location for the night that gave us perfect access to land. It was a beautiful cove and a perfect place to climb ashore in search of treasure.

Lana and I secretly scouted out the location while the kids were swimming and created a treasure map that would lead them to the buried treasure.


While we were out scouting possible treasure locations, we stumbled across a small box turtle whose had been unkindly wrapped up in string and electrical tape. We carried him back to the boat to help him out.

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All the kids were excited to meet the box turtle we named Jack, in honor of Captain Jack Sparrow.

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Especially Molly, our resident turtle lover.

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Once freed from his bonds, we set him lose back on land to live out his life unencumbered by the cruelty of ignorant human beings.

That evening we packaged the booty in a water-proof container in preparation for our pirate adventure the next morning.

On Wednesday morning the girls woke early and took on the task of preparing pirate pancakes for breakfast.

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The results were charming!

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Then the kids donned the pirate gear that was packed for the occasion, in preparation for the big hunt.

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Gracie helped turn everyone into a more authentic looking pirate with the help of some make-up.

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Then it was all pirates ashore with map in hand, driven by a desire for hidden chocolate.

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(Except Tyler who was too invested in trying to nab an elusive fish hiding beneath the boat to join in the treasure hunt.)

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The kids headed out and began the search…

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They found the hidden booty,

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Returning as victors of the high sea!

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ARRRGGG and Happy Sailing,

From our scurvy crew to yers!


Sending Hopes to Heaven


Hope Floats is one of my all-time favorite movies.

I have always loved the concluding line of the movie:

“Beginnings are scary.

Endings are usually sad,

But it’s what’s in the middle that counts.

So, when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up,

And it will.” –Hope Floats

I find myself teetering on the edge of one ending and the start of another beginning, and in the midst of that transition I find myself awash with these very emotions. Life is transitioning from one season to the next, and as wonderful as that transition is, and as happy as it makes me to see my children growing into amazing adults, with any change comes feelings of grief. Endings are sad, even when an ending is necessary for the next beginning. And the unknown of a new beginning is scary, despite the eager anticipation of the changes it will bring.

This trip has been an amazing blessing and a special gift of family time in the midst of riding this wave of change that is playing out in front of us. My goal this trip has been to do as the quote above councils and recognize the gift of the middle…that time that exists before the end of one season and the beginning of another. I have tried to allow myself to simply be, to rest in the present moment, and appreciate the gift of today and the magical experiences this vacation offers.

Yesterday marked the halfway point of our houseboat vacation and last night we had one of those magical experiences planned.

We brought with us 10 sky lanterns, knowing that we wanted to recreate some of the special moments from our past houseboat vacations.

The dark night, lit only with stars, made the perfect backdrop for this magical experience.

We told the kids we were sending hopes and prayers to heaven.

With a black Sharpie each person wrote upon their paper lantern the hopes and prayers of their hearts. Many in the group were feeling that same sense of nostalgia, as we all recognize the change of seasons that is bearing down on us. With kids leaving for school, working, getting married and nearing graduation, etc. everyone was more thoughtful about their prayers and wishes they wrote down.

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Toby and I shared a lantern and here were the hopes and prayers we penned:

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When everyone was done writing down the wishes of their hearts, we headed upstairs with our sky lanterns and a lighter.

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Woody and Toby helped everyone light their lanterns and one by one the kids sent their prayers to heaven on the back of a lantern.

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We stood on the deck watching our prayers float upward until they were specks of light, eventually lost in the shadows of the stars.

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And it was beautiful.

“So, when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up, and it will!”

Here’s to hopes, dreams, and prayers for beautiful bright beginnings.

Lake Livin’


Yesterday marked our third day houseboating across Norris Lake.

Our days have found a comfortable rhythm and are filled with the easy-breezy, laid back activities that make houseboating an ideal vacation for our crew.

So, how does one spent their time on a houseboat, you might ask…

How do you fill a week-long vacation while trapped on the open water?

It’s easy!
Here is a peek into some of our daily activities.


The view from our bed. What a way to wake up!

Everyone wakes at different times with Woody, Olivia and Tyler usually up first. Woody usually heads out fishing while Tyler gets his meds and some cereal. We will usually put on a movie in an attempt to keep him quiet so everyone else can sleep in.

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Then the boat slowly comes to life.

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Our day seems to revolve around meal times, much like being at home, with meal prep, meal eating and meal clean-up anchoring the hours of our day.

Before we left on our trip, Lana and I sat down and made a menu for the week and split the grocery list. This is a chore that requires extra diligence as stopping at Walmart halfway through the week isn’t and option when you are cruising through the week in a boat.

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For meal prep and clean-up, we either take turns or cook together.
The kids have also paired off and each have a few nights when they are responsible for making dinner.


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Molly and Tatum also made a fruit pizza for dessert one day. Look at the artistry of their creation!

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Our daily schedule looks something like this…

After waking and eating breakfast, the morning is spent swimming and fishing.

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Around 1:00 we have lunch and clean up.

After lunch we untie the houseboat from the spot we “parked” for the night and we head out to explore more of the lake and find a new spot to tie off for the night.

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We all love riding on the top deck while the boat’s moving.


The stunning vistas paired with the warmth of the sun on our shoulders and the cool breeze against our faces, makes it a wonderful way to travel.

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The remainder of the day is spent exploring our new location,

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Enjoying the water,

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Riding the water slide,

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Playing games,

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And maybe even doing a little self-pampering…

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This is especially true for the girls who have loved this concentrated, uninterrupted time with their best friends. The added responsibilities of growing up and having to “adult” leave them with little time for each other in comparison to the time they were able to invest in their friendship at age 12.

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It has been a great blessing for all four girls to have had this week together before Molly and Tatum head off to college and the responsibilities of adulthood crash down on Olivia and Grace.

Yesterday we carved out some girl time with all four friends and the mommas too. I ordered some fun Color Street nails for this houseboat vacation so that we could have a manicure day.

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I ordered a wide variety of colors/designs to choose from and let everyone pick the set they liked best.

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It was fun pampering ourselves and prettying our nails as part of the summer vacation experience,

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And the finished results were adorable!

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Our nail party took place as we were traveling from one stop to another and it was during that jaunt that our move was rudely interrupted by a summer storm that came upon us with little to no warning. We were outside enjoying the trip to our next docking location, and choosing our nail sets, when we noticed a wall of rain moving towards us from the opposite side of the lake.

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Not even a minute passed before we found ourselves in the thick of it!

The manicures were paused as we scurried to gather towels and floats that were at risk of blowing away and carried everything inside.

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While we were buttoning down the hatches Woody was trying to keep the boat from capsizing, while Toby made sure we didn’t lose the fishing boat out back.

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It was short-lived but incredibly intense. To say it made for an exciting adventure is an understatement!

The following day our “typical” scheduled switched up by the need to stop at the marina for a gas tank and water tank fill-up.

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Part of the rental agreement states that we can’t drive the boat into the marina. Instead houseboat renters must call the marina and request docking. An employee will then drive out in a little boat, tie off to the houseboat and drive the big boat into dock. I’m sure this is for liability reasons, as they don’t want inexperienced boaters driving an eighty-foot houseboat through narrow passages lined with expensive yachts.

Once docked the kids were set free to walk around on solid ground and explore the gift shop.

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They were each allowed to get a treat at the café while dock employees unloaded our garbage, filled the gas tank, and refilled our water tank.

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This process took about an hour then we were driven out of the marina and set free to explore on our own, finding our next cove to call home for an afternoon of fun in the water.

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Evenings on the houseboat are laid back and relaxed, with the hot tub being a favorite place to congregate after dark.

The stars are gorgeous here. There are so bright, with the only ambient light being the beautiful blue lights that color the water around the boat.

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Then it is time for bed, with the adults usually turning in before the teenagers, who giggle, talk, and watch movies late into the night.

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Everyone sleeps hard after a full day of swimming and sunning.

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What a glorious way to spend a week!