Tag Archives: animals

Celebrating 23 Years!

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This year Toby and I are celebrating 23 years of marriage.

Our original anniversary plans were killed by Covid-19 when the Alaskan cruise we had been planning for years was canceled. It turns out this year isn’t the year for a big celebration, but we couldn’t let the weekend pass by without celebrating 23 years of marriage in some way. Never has the need to get away and just be us been greater than this year. We have dealt with un-precedented amount of struggle in 2020 and Toby and I were both wanting to run away for a bit. Last weekend we decided that we would keep our anniversary getaway short, local, and safe by heading 90 minutes away to the Laurel Highlands for a few days.

Many of the local sites and attractions were still shut down, but this area of Pennsylvania offers an abundance of beautiful state parks and outdoor fun, so it was the perfect place to get away.

We stayed at the Log Cabin Inn and Suites. This motel boasts log cabin themed rooms with rustic charm, which made us feel like we were vacationing in the mountains.

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It also offered the added perk of being connected to Living Treasures Animal Park (Donegal).

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We love Living Treasures Animal Park in New Castle, Pennsylvania, but had never visited this location…and it was one of the few attractions in the area that was open!

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All overnight guests receive 1/2 off the cost of admission so we headed over there on Saturday to explore and enjoy the animals.

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This Living Treasures location isn’t quite as big as the one near us but it offered a wide variety of animals to observe and/or feed.

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We had so much fun interacting with all the critters that clambered near the fence, eager to be fed.

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It was a photographic feast.

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We especially loved all the baby animals!

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Can you spot the baby turkeys hovering near mom?

It was a zoo filled with prolific breeders!

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Babies, babies…everywhere.

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Day 1: Living Treasures Animal Park…

Day 2: Ohiopyle State Park!

Learning a bit about “Making do”

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Life has thrust us into a simpler existence…

An existence that moves at a slower pace, promotes stillness and self-reflection. Life has transitioned away from the frantic pace of keeping up to a slow crawl that promotes mindfulness and presence. The tragedy that is unfolding around us has left mankind readjusting their pace and their trajectory, as we all get use to a new kind of “normal,” but crisis and chaos have the power to birth a better way of being.

One of the blessings I have seen born out of the challenges of today, is a new way of navigating life. No longer driven by speed and ease, we find ourselves navigating by new standards. Even in this short season of quarantine I see in myself a greater consciousness of how finite things are. It has changed the way I live, the choices we make, the care we give, and the things we value. Gone are the days when everything was expendable and replaceable. We are all now looking at our environment through eyes of cautious conservation, and old adages like this one, are becoming our guiding principle:

use it up

Haircuts at Home

After weeks of the boys getting shaggier and shaggier, and barber shops shut down around the state, we decided to take matters into our own hands. The impromptu front porch barber shop was born out of a request by Grace who asked if I could give her bangs. She was looking for a change and decided bangs were just the thing she needed to give her a lift.

When Braden heard that Grace was getting her hair cut, he quickly requested that he be added the list. Rusty also chimed in that he was in need of a haircut and Tyler, who had no interest in getting his hair cut, was added to the queue despite his protests.

We started with the boys. Toby ran the clippers and I worked with scissors.

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Rusty’s cut was nice and easy, as he just wanted his hair buzzed.

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Braden and Tyler chose to buzz the sides and keep the top long, with just some trimming to get those curls under control.

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This was my first attempt at recreating the cuts they usually get at Great Clips, but I was quite proud of the finished results. Not bad for a pandemic haircut!

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When the boys were all trimmed up and looking more like young men than cavemen, Grace took her place in the hot seat so I could give her the bangs she was requesting. She was tickled pink with the finished look:

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Making Masks

Our dining room has slowly transformed into a greenhouse for the garden seedlings and a sewing center for making masks.

Last Friday Grace, Molly and I sat down to make plans for sewing masks, following  Governor Wolf’s announcement that all Pennsylvanian’s should be wearing masks when out in public. We spent time online researching different patterns and then went searching through the house for needed supplies. Our plan was to set up an assembly line in the dinning room and use the down time between General Conference sessions over the weekend to sew masks for family and to donate to others.

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I was in charge of the scissors and took on the task of cutting out the pieces for the masks.

Molly took her place at the ironing board, ironing and pinning the pieces I gave her before they were handed over to Gracie to be sewn together.

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Working together we were able to sew mask after mask while visiting and enjoying each other’s company.

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The finished results were modeled by these two (not so) eager models:

Prepping the Garden

Never has the necessity for garden felt as pressing for our family as it does this year. With so much uncertainty in the world the push to prep our garden, with the goal of growing fresh vegetables at home, has driven us to reassess our gardens. The last few summers have been so busy that our gardens have been sorely neglected.  Busyness certainly isn’t an issue at the moment so we have been focusing on getting our gardens ready for planting,

Part of that process includes some new raised beds.

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This is a project Braden and Toby have been working on together.

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As a result, Braden has been learning some new skills while also being a big help for Toby.

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Making our own Fun

It has been a blessing to be forced to slow down and focus on the important rather than the urgent. Having the time to just be present with my family has been the greatest gift that has come out of this challenging time. Daily family walks, meals at the table with the entire family present, pockets of playfulness and unscheduled discovery have been great  gifts.

The other day, as we were working in the yard, the kids came across a pile of unopened geodes that we brought home from our Kentucky houseboat trip a few years ago. We lugged them home with plans to break them open at home but they ended up in a forgotten pile of rubble at the corner of the yard.

Once rediscovered, yardwork was put on hold, hammers were gathered and we enjoyed an impromptu science lesson on the front walk.

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The kids took turns breaking open the geodes to discover the beauty hidden within very ordinary looking stones…

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Enjoying the experience with childlike wonder.

Getting Ready for Bees

Toby has been kept busy with many a project around the house. Not only is he using this time at home to work his way down the list of repairs that have needed done, but he has also taken on some new projects as we focus on increased self-sustainability at Patchwork Farm.

One of those projects has been to build a second beehive.

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In May he will be picking up the bees he ordered from a local farmer, so for now he is getting their digs all set before they move in.

Cleaning out the Deep Freezer

We have also been accomplishing many cleaning and organization tasks around the house. We have dedicated a couple hours each day to work on cleaning out and organizing those areas of the house that tend to be overlooked. We have been working on cleaning out and organizing the basement. As part of that project we have been cleaning out the deep freezer and getting rid of the food that has expired.

Harley, our pot belly pig has been the greatest benefactor of our efforts…

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Although the dogs and cats have reaped the rewards as well!!

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The other day Molly took a tub of expired cool whip out to Harley, making him the happiest pig to ever walk the earth!

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You would have thought he had died and gone to heaven.

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His grunts of joy and enthusiastic consumption of that sweet treat made us all smile with delight.

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Oh, how we love our silly pig!

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A New Chicken Yard

The chickens have also benefited from Toby’s increased time at home during this season of quarantine. We moved the new chicks into the old chicken coop and needed to rehome the older hens to a different area of the farm. We decided to use the frame of the old, torn trampoline, along with materials found around the farm, to build a new chicken house and chicken yard outside.

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Once the area was set up and secure, Toby and Rusty moved the old chickens to their new digs, so as to make space for the 13 new chicks.

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It was an ingenious solution that made use of what we had on hand.

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It has been a great blessing to revert back to a place where ingenuity and creativity are needed. Out of daily needs (that can’t be met in traditional ways) come solutions that are even better than the “typical” and “easy” ways things were done before.

I appreciate the skills my kids are learning as a result of a situation beyond our control, and we all find ourselves exercising the muscles of thriftiness, problem solving, making do, gratitude, and contentment.

It is a step back towards a simpler way of living,

And that is the blessing that has been born of the tragedy that is unfolding around us.

God is good.

Always good.

 

 

 

 

 

Everglades Animal Farm and Airboat Ride

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

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

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

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

The Magic of Christmas Eve

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Christmas Eve…a night filled with the magic of possibilities!

Nowhere is the magic more pronounced than the Christmas magic found at the Homestead on Christmas Eve.

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Toby had the day off work so we packed up the car with sleeping bags and pillows, Christmas pajamas, bags of stocking stuffers, wrapped presents, and some very excited children, and headed out to Ohio.

We arrived and were greeted by the enthusiastic barking of Ranger and Rosie, the resident German Shepherds. After long-overdue hugs with Travis and Krista, our family from the Lone Star state, and Christmas greetings with Mimi and Pop Pop, we bid them good-bye as they left for early Christmas Eve mass.

While they were gone we began preparations for our Christmas Eve feast of appetizers and dips. The spread was as abundant as it was varied.

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Everyone pitched in to help,

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With breaks taken for sampling and checking out the action on Santa Tracker.

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Despite knowing the truth about Christmas, Ozzie, my map loving kiddo, still loves watching Santa’s progress across the world on Christmas Eve.

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When the rest of the family arrived home, the celebration began in full force.

We had Grace and Zach with us on Christmas Eve for a few hours, before they left for home to spend Christmas Day with Zach’s side of the family.

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It was a joy to have them with us for our Christmas Eve traditions!

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The newlywed’s first Christmas

Our evening of fun began with our evening feast.

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We enjoyed filling our bellies with delicious food while feeding our souls with family time as we chatted and laughed together.

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The O3- united again!

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Oh,  how I love this boy of mine!

 

After dinner it was time for games and our annual white elephant gift exchange. This is a tradition that began a decade ago and always leads to many laughs.

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This is a tradition I have responsibility over, which means each year I shop for inexpensive, but ridiculous gifts, that I wrap up to look far more appealing than the gift within actually is. Dollar Tree is my usual shopping spot as it offers the weird and the unusual for as cheap as can be. After 10 years of my annual shopping trips to Dollar Tree I found I had exhausted all the possibilities for our white elephant game.

It was time to up the stakes!

Five Below, here I come!

The result of a slightly increased game budget and a new shopping venue paid dividends.

Everyone battled for gifts they were certain held treasures.

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Once everyone had a gift in hand, we all took turns unwrapping and revealing our AWESOME wins!

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Braden’s face speaks volumes!

And boy were they belly-laugh inducing!!

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Tyler enjoying his remote control poop…

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Travis trying out Krista’s voice altering machine.

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I think Grace loves her new board game!

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Mimi creating beautiful music with her piano tie.

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It was like something from a SNL skit.

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Rusty made his own Forky!

After our game we bundled up and headed to the barn for another Christmas Eve tradition…

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Dad reading the Christmas story from Luke as we sat in the stillness of the barn.

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It is always the highlight of my Christmas. There is something holy about the experience as we sit in the darkness of the barn, listening to the slow cadence of my father’s voice as he tells the story of Christ’s humble birth so many years ago…

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Interrupted only by the occasional call from a goat.

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Our time in the barn ended with the singing of a Christmas hymn and some donkey lovin’ on Georgie before we made our way back to the house.

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Grace and Zack prepared to take their leave. They had a 2 1/2 hour drive ahead of them, made all the more arduous by the thick fog that had settled on the valley…

And the other kids unwrapped their gifts of new pajamas for Christmas Eve.

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“Yabba Dabba Doo!”

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The Flash, A ballerina pig, Genie, and Jack Skellington

Warm and snuggly, they headed off for bed while the rest of us brought Christmas to life by filling the empty spaces around the tree with beautifully wrapped packages,

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And filled the stockings with trinkets and treats.

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Christmas could now arrive!

And then it was off to bed for a few stolen winks of sleep for the adults before the festive fun resumed.

 

Zoo Adventures

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On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving the boys’ school break began at noon. While they spent the morning wrapping up school work for the week, I spent the morning baking and prepping for our Thanksgiving feast. At noon we all hit pause on the tasks at hand and packed lunches for our afternoon adventure.

Ozzie had be approved for a 24 hour home pass for Thanksgiving Day and the transport van was scheduled to drop him off in Pittsburgh at 5:00pm. Knowing we needed to trek down to Pittsburgh anyway, and since school wrapped up early, we decided to take advantage of free zoo days at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

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For one week a year (usually during Thanksgiving week) the Pittsburgh Zoo opens their gates to the public for free as an expression of gratitude to the people of Pittsburgh. With the cost of admission being $16.95 per adult, this is a great deal to take advantage of, especially for large families made up of primarily adults!

We arrived and found the zoo to be far less crowded than we expected. We could only assume that most people were at home preparing Thanksgiving dishes for the following day.

The weather was beautiful. It was classic November weather. The sun warmed our faces while the chill in the air nipped at our noses. The winds were just strong enough to make the fallen leaves dance at our feet.

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 We had three hours to wander the zoo before needing to pick up Ozzie so we headed out exploring the zoo and enjoying the animals.

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One of our favorite exhibits was the gorilla enclosure where a baby stole the show with her toddler-like antics.

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I could have sat and watched her play all day!

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We also really enjoyed the beaver den where a family of kits kept their parents busy with their non-stop movement. There is a reason we use the expression, “Busy as a beaver.” One of the kits went about diligently collecting leaves and piling them in the corner of the pond. Unfortunately the little beaver hadn’t figured out the importance of placing your leaf collection on land if you want them to remain where you placed them. He continued to re-chase the same leaves that kept floating away from his pile into the center of the pond.

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The otters (both sea and river varieties) are always a family favorite. They truly are the “puppies of the sea.” They were so social and animated as they interacted with the visitors watching them through the glass.

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When we meandered by the sea lions we discovered a training session in progress. We stopped to watch as three trainers worked with the three sea lions, putting them through their paces as they showed off their collection of tricks.

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The aquarium is always Tyler’s favorite stop at the zoo.

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Pittsburgh boasts an impressive aquarium for a landlocked location, and for Tyler, our resident fish lover, this always proves to be his favorite part of the zoo.

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Personally, I am a fan of the larger mammals. I love the elephants and big cats that call Pittsburgh Zoo, “home.”

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Located in the area of the zoo called Pier Town guests will find the seals, otters, and of course the polar bear!

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The polar bear is another one of our favorite animals to watch!

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At 4:30pm we began moseying our way back to the front gate so we wouldn’t be late picking up Ozzie. We had a full Thanksgiving weekend ahead of us with many fun, family adventures planned,

But I can’t think of a better way to kick off our Thanksgiving holiday than a beautiful day at the zoo with three of my favorite guys!!

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A Visit to Oz

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We were overly dressed for the zoo due to our plans to head to the Palmyra LDS temple following our visit. Ozzie just wanted to dress up for the occasion. The result: A sweet Amish family stopping us at the zoo to inquire if we were Mennonites. 🙂 

Last Wednesday was our first off-grounds visit with Ozzie since his placement at Harborcreek Residential Treatment Facility back in May. This is his second stay there and it has been an immense blessing. The facility is astounding and Ozzie thrives under the structure, care, and therapies offered there. In an ideal world we would be able to meet Ozzie’s extreme therapeutic needs at home through outpatient services, but his history of extreme abuse and neglect prior to adoption, coupled with his multiple diagnoses, make the level of therapeutic care needed for healing unrealistic in an outpatient form. Our hope is that an extended stay at this RTF, with its many forms of therapy and its superb staff, will facilitate a level of healing that his therapist at home can’t achieve in two hours a week.

At Harborcreek Ozzie is eagerly involved and engaged in multiple therapeutic groups daily in addition to art therapy, music therapy, trauma release yoga, EMDR therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma therapy and family therapy weekly. He also attends school on campus for a half day and participates in work release program at the carpentry workshop a few days a week where he has the opportunity to learn carpentry skills. With other boys that qualify for this privilege, he is learning to build picnic benches which are then sold to local businesses and organizations. He loves his time with the work release team.

Every Wednesday I drive 2 1/2 hours up to Erie to have a family session with Ozzie. This is not required. In fact most parents participate in these weekly therapy sessions over the phone, as families are scattered across the state of Pennsylvania,  but I have found Ozzie makes more progress in his healing with one-on-one, face-to-face support and accountability. We have turned these family therapy days into weekly social visits. Rather than taking advantage of open visiting hours for family every Sunday from 1-4 pm (which is what we did each week during his last stay there,) I piggyback a social visit following these weekly family therapy sessions. It has worked out well, as it was always a challenge to fit in church and get up to Erie before visiting hours were over. It made Sundays stressful and took us away from our other kids on the one day of the week we have everyone home together for family time. With this new routine I am able to focus on Ozzie that day and enjoy an extended visit with him following therapy where our time is spent playing the board games I bring with me.

Now that he has been at Harborcreek for three months, and is doing so well there, the next step is transitioning those skills to the home environment. This is especially important for Ozzie, as his ability to self manage is far more challenging when he is around family and is being shown love than it is for him in an institutionalized setting that is more structured, disconnected and impersonal. The first step in this transition process (which will probably occur over the course of six months) is to begin introducing short off campus visits with siblings. These short visits give everyone a chance at reconnection while also allowing us to increase Ozzie’s emotional discomfort and observe his reaction to emotional triggers so that when he returns back to Harborcreek at the conclusion of the off-grounds visit he can process through the experience (and the resulting behaviors) with his trauma therapist and come up with strategies to implement next visit.

It was decided that for his first off-grounds visit with siblings we would just bring Molly and Grace. Both girls are well versed in how to manage Ozzie in an emotionally healthy way without being triggered themselves, so we thought it best to set everyone up for success and just bring the girls. It was especially important for Molly to attend as she will be leaving for school in Idaho in two weeks and I felt it important that she and Ozzie have a visit before an extended separation. There were hurts that needed healing in their relationship with Molly being one of Ozzie’s primary targets before he was admitted to the RTF. We were granted a two-hour off-grounds visit and we chose to head to the Erie Zoo.

The zoo was the perfect choice for the girls’ first visit with Ozzie since seeing him in his dysregulated state last spring. I could tell both were apprehensive and a bit nervous, but hopeful that healing was possible. I felt a visit to the zoo would be a good environment for their first visit together. My thought was that at the zoo wee would have the benefit of being able to move around as we talked and have plenty of conversation starters as we experience the zoo. Also, I have found that animals have an emotionally calming/therapeutic effect on all my kids, so I figured it would increase the likelihood of everyone staying regulated, thus ensuring a positive visit among siblings.

We arrived at the zoo following a family therapy session that included all of us and Ozzie’s trauma therapist. We started our visit with a picnic lunch that we packed and brought along with us.

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Once everyone’s bellies were full we started our exploration of the zoo.

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The charm of the Erie zoo is found in its historic roots. Opened in 1929 it has a charm that isn’t seen in modern zoos. It is on the smaller size which made it perfect for the amount of time allotted for our visit with Ozzie, and there were just enough exhibits to entertain us during those two hours.

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We all enjoyed strolling through the zoo looking at the animals and watching them interact with each other.

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The Orangutans were especially charming as they had a little one in the group who was a delight to watch. I could have spent all day at that exhibit!

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Ozzie’s favorite animal was of course the donkey. He has a thing for donkeys!

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He also loved the train display set up in the center courtyard.

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As we walked around the zoo he was able to point out some of the picnic tables they make in the Harborcreek carpentry shop and sell to the Erie Zoo. He was quite proud to claim some ownership in finished project.

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It was a beautiful day and everyone had a good time. The interactions were positive and the kids enjoyed getting time together.

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We are one step further down the road to healing past hurts.

Philadelphia Zoo

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One of the three sites we chose to visit as part of our sightseeing pass was the Philadelphia Zoo.

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The Philadelphia Zoo is the oldest zoological park in America. The zoo was slated to open in 1859, but it was delayed for 15 years because of the Civil War. Finally, the zoo opened in 1874 with 1,000 animals, not too many fewer than they have today.

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Over 140 years later, the Philadelphia Zoo still welcomes millions of visitors a year, and this weekend Toby and I joined them for our first visit to Philly’s zoo.

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My first impression of the zoo was that it was nicely laid out, with reasonably sized enclosures for the animals.  It does have a bit of an urban feel to it, most likely because of the close proximity to roads and railroad tracks, but that doesn’t distract much from the overall experience. It actually reminded me a lot of the Erie Zoo, due in part to the age of the zoo.

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Aside from the surprising lack of elephants, the zoo featured most of the animals that you would expect to find at a large American zoo. Animals like giraffes, gorillas, and big cats, could be found roaming their enclosures or simply laying around enjoying the day.

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We did find that the Philadelphia Zoo offered one particularly unique feature that we had never before experienced in all of our zoo experiences: Zoo360.

Zoo360 is a campus-wide network of see-through mesh trails that afford the animals within the enclosures more opportunities to roam around and above Zoo grounds.  Zoo360 is the first of its kind at any zoo worldwide.

There are several components of this innovative experience: Treetop Trail, Great Ape Trail, Big Cat Crossing, and Gorilla Treeway, with more on the way. The trails link existing animal habitats with similar habitat requirements so animals can utilize each other’s spaces in a time-sharing system, and take advantage of having more room to roam. New destination exhibits will be created and designed to accommodate all of the species that would use each trail type.  We found that the Zoo360 experience enhanced our experience, creating a more dynamic engagement as animals moved around us, 360 degrees — along, above and across visitor pathways.

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It was pretty cool getting to watch the animals walk right above us as we strolled through the zoo.

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In addition to making the zoo experience more engaging to visitors, Zoo360 benefits the animals by offering more opportunities for long-distance travel, a greater variety in their environments and an increased ability to determine their own experiences.

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In addition to the thrill of seeing some big cats stroll above our heads, we also got to experience the delight of watching monkeys frolic above us along the Treetop Trail. The Treetop Trail is an elevated trail for small primates like the red-capped mangabey, black and white colobus monkeys, white-faced sakis, blue-eyed lemurs and mongoose lemurs, who love to travel and explore among the treetops.

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A momma with her baby.

My favorite stop was the PECO Primate Reserve, which featured two-and-a-half acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits.

We were drawn to this yard by the sight of the orangutans in the outdoor yard sporting pizza boxes and towels over their heads. Initially we thought that someone’s choice to litter resulted in some mischievous monkeys getting ahold of contraband, but soon discovered that their collection of “trash” was actually provided by the zoo staff as enrichment objects for the animals. This family of orangutans had ingeniously created sun blocks for themselves to battle the intense heat of the day. It was pretty cool to see how their minds work.

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The PECO Primate Reserve houses some of the world’s most endangered primates. We got to see gorillas, Sumatran orangutans, white-handed gibbons, black and white ruffed lemurs, golden lion tamarins and more. The best part was the sprinkling of babies through the exhibit that tickled us with their delightful antics. I could have spent all day in the ape house watching them play.

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Overall we found the Philadelphia Zoo to be a fun stop but not at the top of our list when it comes to the best zoos we’ve toured. In our opinion the Pittsburgh Zoo has it beat, but we had to admit that the Zoo360 experience was incredibly cool and worth the trip to check it out!

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Day 4 of Christmas: Christmas Eve!

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On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

A Christmas Eve with George, the donkey!

IMG_5036 (2)The next round of Christmas fun came the following day when we loaded up two cars with gifts, stocking stuffers, appetizers and children to drive out to my parents’ home.

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Christmas at the Homestead is nothing short of magical and all the kids were eager to share this special tradition with Brandon.

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The tradition of spending Christmas Eve with my parents, and waking up to Santa’s gifts at their home the next day, is an annual tradition. My Mom always makes the holiday so special.

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The kids love the predictability of the traditions that repeat themselves year after year and couldn’t wait to show Brandon why they love Christmas at the Homestead!

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This year was a little different than past years, however. This year my brother and his new bride were celebrating Christmas in Texas with Krista’s family.  My grandmother, now an Ohio resident, is living minutes from my parents’ home, so rather than staying at their home over Christmas, she traveled back and forth from her apartment to the Homestead to join in the activities that she felt up for participating in. This meant for a portion of the Christmas holiday it was just Toby, the kids and I at the Homestead with my parents.

Despite missing our loved ones who were far away this Christmas, we enjoyed another magical Christmas Eve at the Homestead, made all the more special by the addition of our newest son.

We arrived and Brandon got settled in, with the kids showing him where he would be sleeping and explaining what to expect.

The first event of the evening was dinner, with our usual meal of appetizers and hors d’ oeuvers.

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While Dad left with Ozzie to pick up G.G., the rest of the crew began laying out the feast!

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It was another AMAZING spread and when Dad, Ozzie and G.G. returned we ate until we couldn’t eat anymore!

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After a quick clean-up, it was time to convene in the living room, for the talent portion of the evening.

Tyler, Ozzie, and Brandon chose to be audience members, rather than perform, but the oldest three all came with prepared talents to share.

Rusty had prepared two musical pieces to play on the keyboard.

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Molly provided a repeat performance of the musical number she had performed at church on Sunday,

And then the girls both signed to a song they had been working on all month. The musical numbers all brought a sweet spirit to the Homestead, and we all found ourselves wiping away tears, moved by the beauty of the songs.

Tears were quickly followed by laughter as we followed the talent part of the night with the game portion of the evening.

Mom and Dad had purchased a new game for the holidays:

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The premise of this game, developed by Jeff Foxworthy, is to pick a punchline to the start of a joke. Played much like “Apples to Apples,” everyone has a pile of responses that they can pick from and the “comedian” reads them all out load and chooses their favorite.

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The game is rated for 14 and up and we soon discovered why. It was a bit saucy but downright hilarious. I don’t know when I have laughed so hard.

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After getting our ab workout from an hour of belly laughs, my Dad left with G.G., Brandon and Tyler to take Grandma back home for the night. She would return in the morning for all our Christmas fun but would enjoy the comfort of her own bed in her own home overnight.

When Dad and the boys returned, we headed out to the barn for my very favorite part of Christmas…

There in cold and quiet barn, lit only by the luminaries and lights of a small tree, we took our places on bales of hay and listened to the melodious voice of my father as he opened his Bible and read the story of Jesus’ birth.

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The only sound was the shuffling of animals in their stalls.

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There in the barn we reflected on the greatest miracle of humankind that occurred in a similar place 2000 years ago.

There in a dusty stable long ago, surrounded by animals much like these, Mary brought the Savior of the world into this world.

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What a powerful experience it was to reflect on that night, and all it entailed, as we sang the words of “Silent Night,” in the darkness of my parents’ barn.

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When we were done, the animals were all tucked into the stalls.

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We bid them good night.

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And headed for bed…

Eager to see if Santa would make a showing.

 

This Place is a ZOO!

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In honor of life at Patchwork Farm and the ZOO we lovingly call “everyday life” in the McCleery household, we decided to take a field trip over Thanksgiving break to the Pittsburgh Zoo.

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In the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving the Pittsburgh Zoo was offering free admission to all its visitors as a way of expressing gratitude to the people of Pittsburgh for their patronage.

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We decided to take advantage of this incredible deal and take the kids to the zoo for a day of free fun.

It was just what we all needed after a highly emotional holiday weekend.

The fact that all members of the family were able to visit made the day even more special.

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It was a cold and rainy day so we were one of only a few families visiting the zoo that day, despite the incredible deal of free admission. It was lovely to be able to meander along the paths without having to push through any crowds.

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Because of the chilly weather some of the animals were put away, but we enjoyed watching those whose thicker coats allowed them to stay outside and soak up the few rays of sun that were breaking through the clouds.

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Tyler, like the big cats, was unaffected by the cold as he enjoyed some time in the islands!

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We timed our visit just right and entered the elephant house just as bath time commenced. We took our place at the railing and watched with delight for a half an hour while this beautiful lady was scrubbed and shined.

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Many animals in the zoo were unaffected by the cold temperatures due to their inside habitats. We enjoyed visiting the monkey house because the hot humid interior temps allowed us to warm up a bit.

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As we moved from the monkeys to the aquarium Molly spotted a few exhibits that spoke to her tender heart. The first was a display of sculptures that an artist creates from snare traps, repurposing something destructive into something beautiful. The artist then donates the proceeds to help with the conservation effort.

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As we neared the aquarium Molly spotted another exhibit that spoke to her tender heart. This one was a sea turtle second chance facility where injured turtles are rehabilitated. After her summer trip to the Sea Turtle Initiative in Costa Rica she has a heart for these special animals.

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Then it was time for the PPG Aquarium. This was the busiest part of the Pittsburgh Zoo that day. It seemed everyone had the same plan for getting out of the cold rain and we found the crowds significantly denser within this building…

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But that didn’t affect our enjoyment of this beautiful aquarium in the least. The kids all enjoyed checking out the vast variety of fish, crustaceans, sea birds, and large marine predators that call Pittsburgh PPG Aquarium home.

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The sting ray tank was a family favorite as the kids jostled for a spot near the tank to pet these soaring skates as they flew by just below the surface of the water.

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From there we headed back into the cold to visit Brandon’s favorite zoo animal: the polar bear.

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Unfortunately he wasn’t out so we moved onto the sea otters who put on a delightful display of playful charm that kept us enthralled for 20 minutes. The kids laughed with delight at the silly antics of these personable critters.

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By the time we were done watching the sea otters it was time to start heading for the exit. Grace had work that afternoon and everyone was ready to warm up and dry off, so after a quick stop back at the tiger enclosure to get a photo of the tiger for Brandon (Go Beaver Falls Tigers!), we were gone.

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It was a wonderful day!

Thank you, Pittsburgh Zoo, for your generosity…

My “crazy zoo” had a delightful time visiting yours!

 

 

Treasured Memories at Living Treasures

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Ever since our visit to the subpar animal park we visited while in Virginia I had been itching for a visit to Living Treasures Animal Park. With Brandon visiting for a few days we thought it the perfect excuse to visit.

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It is a bit of a tradition in our family. It seems with pre-placement visits with both Tyler and Ozzie, Living Treasures was on the agenda and one of both of their first memories of time with our family. I treasure this because Living Treasures holds a special place in my heart and has since I first visited almost 2 decades ago. It was our go-to outing adventure with the older three when they were too little for the miles of hiking at the zoo, and as a result I feel a sense of nostalgia when I enter its gates.

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Having special “firsts” memories of Ozzie and Tyler there, when they first entered our lives as 6 and 10-year-olds, makes this place all the sweeter.

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Now I will have equally sweet “firsts” memories of Brandon strolling down the same gravels paths that have been the source of much joy as a momma.

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We arrived and purchased some feed buckets and carrots and headed to the deer yard:

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The wonderful thing about Living Treasures that sets it apart from larger zoos is the proximity to the animals and the opportunity to interact with the wildlife so closely.

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The chance to feed animals from the palm of our hand or through a gravity fed feeding tubes produced larger than life smiles and numerous giggles.

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Everyone has their favorites whom they have come to know and love over seasons of visits.

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The giraffes are always a hit!

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Another favorite area is the goat pen/ nursery area. This area has changed a lot in the past decade. It used to be on large pen with goats and baby animals running free. It was fun to navigate your way through the chaos of tongues and fur as critters fought for attention.

Unfortunately this area is now very tame (thanks to liability risks I’m sure) with only a small petting area for the goats…

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And a separate pen for the babies of the park.

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Despite not being able to climb in the pen with them and “shnuggle ’em” like I’d like, we still had a wonderful time getting kisses from these ADORABLE slime monsters.

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The kangaroo/wallabies yard is another favorite area of the park due to the incredible fertility of the mommas that call this area home.

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It seems each and every one of them have a leg or two sticking out from her pouch. If one lingers long enough a baby sometimes will pop its head out to say “hello.”

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Tyler’s favorite section of the park is, and always has been, the aviary. Here the kids purchased a small container of seed to split. That $1.00 purchase provided a good 45 minutes of entertainment as the kids lured in these flying beauties with a sprinkling of seed on their hands.

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Turns out the seed wasn’t needed…

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The colorful string bracelets that adorned their wrists were the real bait!

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It was such a delight watching the kids find such delight in the animals and in each other’s company. It was fun to hang back and observe as our kiddos shared a beloved family tradition with Brandon,

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And an even bigger joy watching him let down his guard and just be a kid…

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Something he hasn’t been able to do for a long time.

Another special day for this momma’s “Living Treasure memory book!”