Tag Archives: birthday

Happy Birthday, Mr. Incredible!



Saturday was a celebration of Toby’s 43rd trip around the sun. Saturday was also our final morning at Girls Camp, so following a crazy morning of cleaning, packing, loading cars and transporting ourselves and other girls’ gear back to the church, it was time to switch hats from “level leader” to “wife” and create some birthday magic.

This was a tall order given our sleep-deprived state, but we tapped deep, took a long nap upon returning home, and by 4:00 were ready to celebrate Toby’s big day with some birthday fun.

We decided this year’s birthday celebration would take place at the drive-in movie theater.


So following dinner we drove to Moon Township’s Dependable Drive-in to enjoy a double feature.

Toby brought along two of his birthday gifts…

his new reclining camp chair and foldable side table,


two gifts that were purchased with next week’s Scout Camp in mind but were equally ideal for a night at the drive-in.


It was so much fun having the entire family together after a week apart, and wonderful to get to celebrate Toby and all that he does for our family.


After the national anthem played everyone settled into their seats for our double feature.


The first movie on the docket was “The Incredibles 2” which began playing when the sun went down at 9:00 pm. In addition to this being a much anticipated sequel for our family, the more fitting reason for picking this particular show revolved around the fact that we were celebrating the birthday of the real “Mr. Incredible”

Being married to Toby has taught me that not all superheroes wear capes.

PS- it really was INCREDIBLE!

Incredibles 2

Between the showing of the first film and the second  we had a 20 minute break and pulled out Toby’s “birthday cake,” a strawberry pie to enjoy before the second movie began.


The second movie shown was “Ocean’s 8.” Being  big fans of the previous Ocean movies, we were looking forward to this new addition to the Ocean family, and while not quite as good as the originals, we still really enjoyed it. It was fun having an all female cast string us through an exciting, well-developed plot.


At 1:00 am the second movie rolled its credits and we discovered half our crew had long since fallen asleep. After a long week of Toby playing Mr. Mom and the girls and I away at camp, we were all exhausted.

It was time for bed!


Happy Birthday, Mr. Incredible.

Thanks for being so SUPER!

Grace is no longer a Teenager!


“Now you can get married!”


This was the greeting Grace was awoken to on the morning of her 20th birthday by a loud and enthusiastic younger brother.

“You are not a teenager anymore!” he declared, “So now you can get married.”

I don’t know if it was Tyler’s words or the loud and bouncy delivery of his words, but Grace looked a bit shell shocked as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and tried to focus on her family that was gathered at the foot of her bed with cupcake in hand.

I am still wrapping my mind around the fact I have a 20 year old child. In my eyes she is still a five year old princess begging me to watch her pirouette, when in reality she is now the age I was when she was born…

It is all a bit surreal.

This year Gracie’s birthday fell on a Friday which meant she was blessed with a birthday at home with no school or work that day. Her big plans for the day included relaxing at home, watching a movie, and fitting in a nap. With her life as busy as it is right now her birthday wish was downtime…a birthday wish I can relate to.

Her birthday day became a day full of favorites with many of her activities reminiscent  previous year’s birthday themes.

During lunch break the girls all gathered to watch an episode of Downton Abby together just as we did on Gracie’s birthday two years earlier.

For many years this traditional Abby viewing was a weekly Monday activity for Grace, Molly and I during the current Downton Abby season. We would gather on my bed during lunch break and watch the newest episode of Downton Abby together. We did this up until the final episode which we saved and watched on Gracie’s 18th birthday, a fitting way to bring two eras to an end simultaneously. Then for her 18th birthday gift she received a handmade dress reflective of this favorite show and that time period which she then wore to her Downton Abby birthday tea party two months later.

IMG_2406 (2)IMG_2434 (2)

Her other birthday wish for this birthday was a hike to Buttermilk Falls, a throwback to her 17th birthday when she received a camera for her birthday and we took her on a photo scavenger hunt hike to the falls.


This year she asked if we could make the hike again, so after the other kids had finished school for the day, but before Toby returned home after picking up Ozzie for the weekend, we went hiking. It was cold but the sun was shining and the hike was beautiful, giving Grace and I many opportunities to capture the beauty of the day in photographs.

IMG_7484 (2)IMG_7514 (2)IMG_7494 (2)IMG_7500 (2)IMG_7517 (2)IMG_7512 (2)IMG_7479 (2)

After our hike we met up with Toby and Ozzie and drove out to Boardman, Ohio for Gracie’s birthday dinner. (Molly had to work that night but met up with us later for cake and gifts.)

We had dinner at Red Lobster (Gracie’s favorite restaurant) where she ordered her favorite meal of coconut shrimp and mashed potatoes with a virgin Pina Colada for a birthday treat.

IMG_7535 (2)

It was a fun dinner and so nice to have Ozzie there to help celebrate Gracie’s big day!

IMG_7537 (2)IMG_7538 (3)

When everyone arrived back home we headed into the dining room to celebrate Gracie’s 20th birthday with cake and gifts. Ozzie chose to go to bed early since he wasn’t feeling well, so we saved him a piece of cake and jumped into the celebration down one family member.

IMG_7464 (1)IMG_7466

Each of the kids took turns giving Grace her gifts.

The best part of Tyler gift to Grace (the card game, “Code Names”) was the wrapping that was tied with a “Its a Girl” balloon and an awesome homemade birthday card.

IMG_7540 (2)

Rusty gave Grace her first ever Lego set. Rusty was so excited to share with her a gift that he has was passionate about, and she was equally thrilled to build her first Lego set.

IMG_7544 (2)

Toby and I surprised Grace with a CD and concert tickets to one of her favorite groups, Home Free. We will be taking her to the concert for the second half of her birthday celebration.

IMG_7555 (2)

Molly, following our lead, made a homemade card for Grace that looked like a Home Free t-shirt and enclosed cash for Grace to purchase a souvenir t-shirt at the concert.

IMG_7551 (2)

The night ended with cake and song as we celebrated 20 years with this special young lady.

IMG_7559 (2)

The birthday frivolity continued for Grace the next day with a birthday sleepover with her best bud. Grace and Olivia have discovered that being grown-up doesn’t allow nearly as much time to socialize as either would like so Gracie’s birthday request was a night hanging out and catching up with her bestie. They camped out in the converted school bus, made homemade salsa, guacamole and other treats in the bus’ kitchen, and watched movies into the night. How grateful I am for this sweet friendship that has grown stronger and sweeter over the last decade.


Happy birthday, my sweet Gracie, we love you to the moon and back!


Lordy, Lordy…Now I’m 40


I find the week that nestles itself between the peaks of Christmas day and New Year’s Day to be healing. After the noise, chaos and merriment of Christmas and before the noisemakers and revelry of New Year’s Eve lies a week of rest. But it is no ordinary rest, it is a rest clothed in gratitude, contentment, and reflection.

After the climax of Christmas build-up there is the settling down period. The kids are still off school and normal routine is put on hold as everyone enjoys a few days of staying in their PJs and playing with their Christmas toys in front of the still decorated tree. It offers an opportunity to lean back into all the joy that comes with the season without the frantic pace that typically accompanies it. I find this week to be a special gift as it allows us all to regroup and reflect before life resumes on January 2nd.

With the closing of one year and the approaching of the new year comes quiet introspection as we acknowledge the passing of time and reflect on how we spent the last 12 months. I find these thoughts are all the more consuming when you have a birthday that falls the final week of the year…especially when that birthday is the big 4-0!

A few days ago I turned 40, so while my thoughts have been consumed with all the typical end of the year reflections and assessments I find myself all the more reflective as I consider this milestone birthday and look back on how I spent the first four decades of my life.

Lest you think I have been wallowing in self pity let me clarify. It hasn’t been a week of mourning, but rather a week of humble gratitude as I look at the many lives I have lived in four decades. In many ways I find it hard to believe I am only forty. I have always been an old soul and have lived the life of someone older than my chronological age, so while part of me struggles to reconcile the age on my driver’s license with the 20-year-old I am in my head, the other part of me is shocked that I am just now turning that corner from the 30’s to the 40’s.

As I look back on the life God has so graciously blessed me with I am humbled by the amazing journey He has taken me on. I feel as though I have lived 10 different lives within this one life, much like a compilation of short stories with one connecting character. Some of those stories have been joyful…Others have been sad… but all have been a beautiful adventure full of powerful lessons and great blessings.

This week I received a birthday card from my parents. Within the card my parents each penned words of love and advice for me on my 40th birthday. I was touched by their written expression of love. In the card my father shared this thoughtful and profound reflection that has consumed my thoughts during this week of transition. He said:

“People seem to measure their lives by the decades…the 20’s, the 30’s, the 40’s and so on. Each seems a milestone to a new stage of life. May your next decade be one of growth in joy and wisdom. Be satisfied with your many accomplishments and put any regrets behind you. This is the decade for putting old goals behind you and seeking new dreams.”

What a magnificent thought. I have found myself rolling his words around in my mind as I reflect on yesterday and consider tomorrow. Who I was at 30 and what I deemed important a decade ago now seems the ideals of a different person. As I get older and more comfortable in my own skin I am discovering that I can better hear the whisperings of my own heart over the noise of the world and better understand what my passion and purpose are here on earth. I suppose that is the real gift of age and I am excited to see what 2018 has in store for me.

On the day of my birthday my family spoiled me rotten, making sure I felt loved and cherished on my big day. Toby took the little boys to work with him so that I would have some time to relax and not have to parent. My morning was spent snuggled up in my bed with my girls as we binge watched Gilmore Girls…a show that I somehow missed out on when it was on TV but am now enjoying for the first time with my girls thanks to Netflix. We typically watch one episode a day during our lunch break, but since it was my birthday and I didn’t need to feel guilty, we snuggled on my bed and watched 4 episodes back to back. I couldn’t have planned a more wonderful way to start my birthday.

After lunch we began to get ready to leave. Rusty, Grace, Molly and I got dolled up and drove to Cranberry where we met up with Toby, Tyler and Ozzie for my first of three birthday surprises. Because of it being a milestone birthday, they felt compelled to celebrate in a special way and had an entire afternoon/evening all planned out, all of which was a surprise.

IMG_5930 (2)

I was just thrilled to have my entire family with me to celebrate. It would have been a really hard day if Ozzie had not been able to be there with us.

IMG_5964 (2)

Our celebration began at Saga restaurant. Saga Hibachi Steakhouse holds special memories for our family as it is the place we went with the entire family following both boys’ adoption ceremonies. The food is delicious but what really makes this restaurant fun is the “show” aspect of dinner and a show.

IMG_5945 (2)

We arrived at 2:00 pm and were seated around a hibachi grill where we watched our dinner be grilled with fire, flare, and a whole lot of fun.

IMG_5934 (2)

The menu is a set meal beginning with salad and soup, followed by grilled noodles, rice, vegetables and a protein of your choice. The kids all chose chicken while Toby and I went with scallops.

IMG_5970 (2)

It was a blast…both figuratively and literally…a perfect way to celebrate my 40th trip around the sun.

IMG_5956 (2)IMG_5946 (2)

Our dinner experience was capped off with a surprise birthday treat and a never ending singing birthday candle that serenaded us for days after the dinner.

IMG_5976 (2)

As we sat enjoying the last crumbs of the fried ice cream treat that was shared seven ways, I opened my gifts from my family.

IMG_5990 (2)

Toby and the boys surprised me with books and chocolate. They know the way to my heart!

IMG_5991 (2)

Grace and Molly did their shopping secretly while we were at Shaker Woods this past fall. I LOVED both their gifts!

IMG_5987 (2)IMG_5984 (2)

Rusty surprised me with one of his original works of art. This charming cow makes me smile every time I look at it!

IMG_5982 (2)

I was spoiled rotten and felt incredibly loved!

Following our amazing meal, we headed to our second secret stop of the day. When I woke that morning, I had no idea what the plans were for my 40th birthday. Everything was hush hush, with no hints given at all.

For our next stop we drove down to McKnight Rd and pulled into a non-descript brick building. As we approached the door I saw the word “Breakout” painted on the glass door and I knew we were in for a really fun time. Knowing how much I love escape rooms Toby and the kids reserved an escape room adventure at Breakout-North Hills for my birthday.


Toby reserved “Museum Heist” challenge for our family of seven. At 4:00pm we were taken into the escape room and watched the short introductory video that set up the scenario and laid out the challenge set before us. We were told that we had 60 minutes to solve the mystery of the museum heist. A priceless treasure had been stolen and replaced with a counterfeit. We had to find the original work of art and then figure out who the culprit was before the museum gala began 60 minutes later.

The next hour was spent working as a team as we uncovered clues, cracked codes, solved puzzles and searched out hidden secrets within the locked room.

It was so much fun. I love watching my kids work together, relying on each other’s strengths to solve the puzzles we stumbled across.

Despite the fact things looked a little harry those last 10 minutes we managed to pull out a last-minute victory, unlocking the door to escape with seconds to spare.


My special day of birthday fun ended with a trip to the movies to see, “The Greatest Showman.”


It was an incredible show…simply magical!!

A perfect conclusion to a MAGICAL 40th birthday.

Rusty is 16!!


My pregnancy with Rusty was wrought with hard emotions.

It was while I was pregnant with him that I began to experience symptoms that would later result in my diagnoses of Myasthenia Gravis. When I was two months pregnant with Rusty I began to have vision issues. By three months I was seeing double and experiencing weakness in my hands. By the time I began to show, I was having muscle weakness in all my large, voluntary muscles. What should have been a time of joy and excitement became a season of worry and fear as we searched for answers. It was a time that normally would have been filled with fun appointments to the hospital for ultrasounds of our baby, and instead was filled with appointments to the neurologist and MRIs to look for tumors or lesions on the brain. It was a season of worry for all of us as we searched for answers, and the excitement of baby #3 was pushed to the back burner.

The diagnoses of Myasthenia Gravis brought a measure of relief as we ruled out scarier and more terminal diagnoses, but also brought new feelings of grief and sadness as we processed this new, “game changing” reality. The biggest shift being the acceptance that this meant no more babies. It was not that we had actively discussed having more children, but I struggled with having that choice “stolen” from me, especially in light of the fact that the focus of that season of my life was now fully on my health and not on enjoying and relishing my last time experiencing pregnancy.

Halfway through my pregnancy we found out we were expecting a boy. This delighted Toby and terrified me. This news brought a new level of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. I didn’t consider myself a “boy mom” and didn’t know how I would manage the trucks, toads and busyness of a boy. I thought I was doomed to be a failure to this son God was blessing me with. But He knew what he was doing and the moment I held Rusty in my arms he stole my heart.

His pregnancy was wrought with stress and chaos and yet his personality was so different than his circumstances. He was quiet and gentle and dear…a blessing far beyond our expectations.

That sweet personality has remained through his growing up years. Now our gentle giant, he remains quiet, kind, and unassuming…content to serve others with no notice and no accolades. He has been such an incredible blessing in our lives and we are so grateful 16 years ago God blessed our family with this bundle of joy!

I can look back now, at that hard season of life, and see God’s hand in every closed door. I can now discern the path He was laying for something bigger and better. At that time I felt unheard and unseen by my Heavenly Father, when in reality it was the very opposite. He was never nearer than during that dark time of life. When I felt most alone in my grief, He was in fact carrying me. I now can see the truthfulness of the song lyrics:

answered prayers

How grateful I am that God didn’t give me the desires of my heart. How grateful I am He didn’t follow my plans. How grateful I am for unanswered prayers, for had He given me what I asked for we would have never been given the opportunity to love Rusty, Ozzie and Tyler.


answered prayers2

On Tuesday my bouncing baby boy turned 16!

I still can’t wrap my brain around it.

We began our birthday celebration as we always do, with a morning serenade and cupcake. The birthday boy also received the traditional “free pass” from school that the kids always get if their birthday falls on a school day.

This year it worked out perfect, as Rusty had big plans for his birthday…first and foremost was wanting to taking his driving permit test. He felt prepared and was eager to take the written test. This quarter in school he has been taking Driver’s Ed as one of his classes. He has also been studying the manual and taking practice tests online, all in preparation for this big day.

Before we could head to the DMV though, first we had to gather all the required documents. We gathered his birth certificate, social security card, a blank check for his fee, and then drove to MedExpress for the mandatory driver’s physical.

Then it was off to the DMV, where we joined 100,000 other people in the waiting room, waiting for our number to be called.

After 45 minutes of playing “I spy” with Tyler in the sterile, uninspiring surroundings of the DMV waiting room…(boy what a challenge!)…Rusty was called up to the front.

He presented his paperwork and was seated at one of the computers to take his written test.

He passed!

We now have another child on the road. Just as we finish up Molly’s driving training we get to begin again with Rusty. 🙂

IMG_2317 (2)

“A New Set of Wheels” was the prevailing theme of this birthday, beginning with his gift from Toby and I, extending to his birthday dinner decorations,

IMG_2337 (2)IMG_2343 (2)IMG_2364 (2)

and carrying over to his 16th birthday party this Saturday at the roller skating rink.

Rusty received his birthday present a few days early. (I don’t think Toby could wait any longer to surprise him!) Rusty has been asking for a dirt bike for a few years…something he can use on our 52 acres of land. Feeling he was too young to consider it before, Toby only started to get serious in the search for a used dirt bike in good condition in the last 6 months. He found a great deal on one being sold a few hours away and make a trip out there to check it out a few weeks ago, bringing it home and hiding it right under Rusty’s nose for the last two weeks.

On Saturday night we told Rusty he was getting his gift early. Setting him down in the living room Toby brought out a gift bag. Rusty unwrapped it, discovering a spare part that came with his new dirt bike. Toby told him it was the first piece of his gift and the rest of the parts…that he will need to assemble… were in the front yard. With a look of confusion on his face he stepped outside.

IMG_2260 (2)

Confusion turned to delight when he saw his gift and realized dad was just trying to throw him off the scent.

IMG_2266 (2)

The next hour was spent teaching Rusty all he needs to know to enjoy his new toy safely and letting him try it out. Toby won some major brownie points with this one!

IMG_2270 (2)IMG_2330 (2)

Tyler may have been a bit jealous…he donned his own helmet and pretended his bike had a motor too. 🙂

IMG_2324 (2)

Tuesday evening, after Molly returned home from work, we celebrated Rusty’s birthday as a family and the kids each gave Rusty the gifts they had bought him. Each put a lot of thought into their gifts for him and were very generous in their choices. Rusty was thrilled with them all!

IMG_2352 (2)IMG_2371IMG_2370 (2)IMG_2372 (2)IMG_2374 (2)

Happy 16th birthday, Rusty, how grateful we are to call you our son!

IMG_2377 (2)


Happy Birthday, Tyler!


Last Wednesday marked the first day of the 2017/2018 school year for my kiddos, but it also was significant in that it was a certain little boy’s birthday!

There are traditions in our family that come with it being your birthday. One of which is a day off of school if your birthday falls on a school day. This year the first day of school happened to also be Tyler’s birthday so he got to begin the new school year a day later. Instead of doing school he chose to go to work with Dad.

The day began with us waking Tyler up early with the traditional cupcake and birthday song.

IMG_1086 (2)

He then prepared to go to work with Daddy. He had a date that day that he was looking forward to. Mimi Joy invited him out for a birthday lunch and a shopping trip to pick out his birthday gift. Since Toby is currently working at Joy’s house it all worked out perfectly. Tyler got his day with Dad and also his birthday date with Mimi… and I got 8 hours with just the big kids.

It really was a gift for me as well.

For the first time in a long time I didn’t have to actively parent. I was able to get some tasks done and prepare for the upcoming school year with no interruptions. The house was so still and silent with Molly and Rusty anxiously engaged in their studies and everyone else out of the house.

It gave me the opportunity to just be.

To hear myself think.

To be creative.

To hear the whisperings of the Spirit…

all of which have been a struggle amid the escalation that has become the new “normal” in our home.

For the first time in months I felt myself exhale. Tyler was having a wonderful birthday with Mimi Joy and Daddy, Ozzie was in a safe place, and I could just focus on the big kids and my own needs. It was a God-orchestrated respite…one that would prove to be all the more essential when hit with new trials in the days that followed.

While Tyler was away I was able to prepared for his celebration that evening. We were blessed that both girls would be able to be home for Tyler’s birthday. No one had work…a rare occurrence nowadays…so we were able to plan for a family celebration.

IMG_1091 (2)

Having just seen “The Emoji Movie,” Tyler requested an Emoji themed birthday celebration.

IMG_1092 (2)

Being an 11 year old boy with a love for inappropriately funny bathroom humor, we indulged him with poop emoji cupcakes.

IMG_1095 (2)

He was thrilled, so the lowering of all my parenting standards was worth it.

Tyler’s request for his birthday was that we all go to an arcade and play games together. This activity combines all the things Tyler loves most: games, competition, and time with family. We decided that since Toby was already working in Cranberry, we would meet up at Fun Fore All. I went online and found coupons for $5.00 of free tokens with the purchase of $10.00 and printed them out.

We met up with Toby and Tyler in Cranberry and had a fun evening of playing arcade games.

IMG_1104 (2)IMG_1118 (2)IMG_1141 (2)IMG_1135 (2)IMG_1145 (2)IMG_1148 (2)

Then we returned home for the birthday celebration.

The kids all had gifts they had purchased/recycled for Tyler. Each were excited with the gift they found and were eager to give their gift to Tyler.

Rusty gave Tyler some Minecraft figurines and a yoga ball:


Molly gave Tyler a “Just Dance” Wii game:


And Grace bought Tyler a game that she played at a recent Young Men/ Young Women activity called, “Lightning Reaction Reloaded.”

IMG_1190 (2)

In this game each player is racing other players to have the fastest reflexes. Four players each take hold of game handle and watch as the light in the middle of the game board blinks red, all while playing spooky music. When the light turns green you must press the button on your handle as fast as you can, trying not to be the last one to click your button. If you are the last player to click in then an electric current passes through your handle giving you a shock.

IMG_1218 (2)

It is one of those games that cause my blood pressure to rise as I am overcome with anxious anticipation while playing, but for Tyler it is everything he thrives with: competition, high stakes, elevated adrenaline, and quick reflexes.

The game was a hit!

IMG_1210 (2)IMG_1213 (2)

Tyler’s gift from Mom and Dad was the one item on his birthday wish list: light up shoes.

IMG_1200 (2)

He has been asking for light up shoes for a year and was thrilled when he received them for his birthday.


We ended our celebration with poop emoji cupcakes.

IMG_1201 (2)IMG_1204 (2)

Happy birthday, Tyler! We love you bunches!!

love emoji

Birthday Blessings



Another year has passed and as I woke on the morning of birthday #39 I found myself reflecting on the past year and all that transpired. It was a year of learning, a year of growth and a year of experiences.

I am finding that with each passing year I become more comfortable with myself and am slowing evolving into who God created me to me. There is a steadiness and ease that comes with each passing year and I find myself more comfortable in my own skin and in my own circumstances than I ever was when I was younger.

With each passing year I find the nonsense and noise is filtered out and the things of most importance have come into focus.

This past year has been a year of learning. I exit year #38 with a better understanding of what I need as a person and what my family needs. This past year began with a lot of stress and worry as we navigated the sticky road of helping 3 little ones who had lost their mother and grandmother over the course of 6 months. Their wellbeing consumed my thoughts and my free time as we tried to get them the help they needed, and in the process I learned the lesson of surrender.

From that added stress erupted a myriad of heath struggles as I began having symptoms of the Myasthenia Gravis that had laid dormant in my body for the last decade. The months that followed taught me the lesson of prioritizing as I had to say “NO” to the “less important” for the sake of being able to manage the “most important”…a hard and humbling lesson for someone that feeds off the joy of service and doing.

Those health struggles led to a delay in our long-planned cross country bus trip. A decision that turned out to be the greatest of blessings. And I was reminded of the perfection of God’s timing.

During the 38th year of my life I was able to go on the adventure of a lifetime as we packed up our converted school bus and traveled to the most beautiful vistas of the United States of America with the people I love most. As we traveled 10,000 miles over 7 weeks I learned more about my family, the goodness of humanity, my country, and myself then I ever imagined. I discovered that there is a gypsy within me that finds joy and life in adventure and travel, something I didn’t realize about myself. On that road trip I felt more alive and at home than I have in years. I discovered that there is a rest found in tiny home living, in minimal possessions, and in simplicity of life, and it wasn’t until I lived that simple life on the road that I recognized the voice within crying out for that need to be met.

Then Toby left for 2 months and life as we knew it fell apart as Reactive Attachment Disorder demons reared their head in ugly ways and I parented and loved my boys through behaviors and situations that I never in my life imagined would be part of my story. I lived though tragic, scary experiences and lived to tell the tale and discovered that I am stronger, braver, and more resilient that I thought I was. I am a survivor and I don’t know that I would have ever discovered that about myself had Toby not gone away and forced me to tap deep and find strength from within and from above. I discovered that I CAN do hard things and find joy in the journey, even through the darkest patches of life.

Through the ups and downs of this past year I have become better acquainted with myself. I am stronger and braver and more comfortable considering what I want or need. I have a clearer vision of my calling and purpose and feel better equipped to step out in faith and not worry so about what other may think. I feel an excitement and eagerness when I think about the upcoming year and all that could be.

I am 39 years old and it is time to be bold.

I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday celebration. Toby treated me to an easy day of parenting when he invited the two little boys to go to work with him for the day. This meant 12 hours of “one on one” time with my three teenagers. I was able to enjoy my three “originals” and was able to relish a day full of the joys and delights of motherhood without any of the work of motherhood. It was a very special gift from Toby. One I am so grateful for.

The day began with slowly waking up. This, in itself, was a gift. I wake daily to Tyler hollering, “Good Morning, Momma!” through the crack of the door.It seems that regardless of what time I set my alarm for I can never beat him awake to enjoy five minutes of silence before the circus begins. He always wakes up happy and pleasant, but he wakes up FULL of energy, enthusiasm, and noise. Being woken up by Tyler is like waking to a smoke alarm going off every morning. Daily I am jolted awake from a dead sleep with adrenaline coursing through my veins, as I try to catch my bearings.

So, to be able to wake to sunlight shining on my face and slowly stretch myself to wakefulness…

To lay in a quiet bed, taking five minutes to gather my thoughts and say a prayer before my feet hit the floor…



Then the big kids treated me to a crepe breakfast. We had a lazy morning as we watched one of my holiday favorites that I didn’t get a chance to see before Christmas, while the girls gave me a foot massage and pedicure. Then we were out the door.


For lunch we went to Moe’s for Mexican food and then enjoyed an afternoon of shopping. (Everyone had gift cards burning holes in their pockets) It was so lovely to slowly walk through a store, and browse, without having to mindlessly rush through the experience so as to make it back to the car before a meltdown.


We spent an hour at Barnes and Nobel flipping through books, relaxing in the easy chairs, and looking at magazines. Molly even bought me a cookie from the café to enjoy while I looked at books.

Then we headed to the movies where we spilt up and Molly and Rusty went to see the new Star Wars movie while Grace and I went to see Passengers. What a delight it was to sit and get lost in a storyline that didn’t revolve around talking animals.

When we got home Toby was there with the boys and they all had flowers for Momma. *heart melt*


The big kids also had gift they wanted me to open.

From Molly I received a calendar filled with photos of my favorite people and Grace surprised me and painted me a picture on canvas of baby Dumbo. This has special significance because this scene from the movie is the background to our song. Each of my kids has a song, a special lullaby that I sang to them every night before bed. Gracie’s song is “Baby Mine” from the movie Dumbo, which makes this picture she painted a special gift of love.


The next day the celebration continued with a birthday get-together with my best friends. Since I was unable to host our annual gift wrapping party at my house this year because of Toby being out of town it was suggested we have a post-Christmas get-together to celebrate the December birthdays in our group. I had the most wonderful time. Nicole offered to host and we enjoyed a night of appetizers, cake, and lots of laughter. It was so much fun being together as friends rather than fellow moms, as is the case when we are at co-op.


I truly could not have asked for a more perfect birthday.

What a way to begin the new year. 2016 was a crazy ride. I can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring. I have a feeling it won’t be boring!

Let the Wild Rumpus Start!


Walt Disney’s Hometown


“A Dream is a Wish you Heart Makes”


Rusty had dreamed of visiting the hometown of his hero, Walt Disney. This trip afforded us the opportunity to take him to Marceline, Missouri on his 15th birthday…

A  magical way to spend his special day!

The United States has three permanent museums devoted to Walt Disney. Each is terrific in a different way. In San Francisco, the Walt Disney Family Museum is the most spectacular—a real “E” ticket. In Central Florida, Walt Disney, One Man’s Dream, a “must see” attraction for Disney fans at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is the most convenient to visit—at least if you’re a Walt Disney World guest. And somewhere near the center of the continental United States, the Walt Disney Hometown Museum is the most personal.


We drove into Marceline, Missouri (pop. 2230) on Monday morning and discovered a small Midwestern town that seemed trapped in time, looking much as it might have when Walt was a young boy walking down Main Street with his mother.

We arrived at the museum to find a lovely, older woman watering the flowers in the beautiful garden that sits beside the old train depot where the museum resides.

She sadly informed us that the museum was closed on Mondays. What a disappointment! We were so looking forward to this special birthday experience for Rusty.

She encouraged us to return later in the week when we were passing back through, but told us that there were other Disney sites that we could see around town, despite the museum being closed.

We decided to do just that and then return on Thursday (as we headed to Nauvoo, Il.) and visit the museum.

This woman is one of many volunteers that run the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. She also happened to be one of the volunteers that personally knew Walt Disney and his family when they lived in Marceline.

It was thrilling to hear her share stories of Walt and his life when he called Marceline home. She graciously stood outside the museum and spoke with us for 30 minutes before she went inside to get a map of Marceline, marked with the various Disney sites, to guide us around the town.

Our first stop was the Zurcher building on Main Street. Behind this building was a huge Coca-Cola sign that was there when Walt was a child. This sign became the inspiration for Coke Corner in Disneyland. A few years ago this mural was uncovered when the building that was built around it was torn down. The paint was so worn and faded that the original Coca-Cola sign was barely visible.


When Coca-Cola heard about this old sign painted on the brick wall of Walt’s hometown, and heard about its connection to Disney, they sent painters to Marceline to refurbish this historical sign for the city.


The CEO of Coca-Cola then had it photographed and turned into a Christmas card which he sent to the Disney Company for Christmas that year.

As we walked along  the Main Street of Marceline we caught glimpses of what became the inspiration for Main Street USA in the Disney Parks.


Main Street USA

Walt made the decision that every visitor to Disneyland would walk down Main Street USA, inspired by his hometown of Marceline, Missouri.

Today, you can shop at Murray’s Department store, at the same location for over 100 years (and also the store where Walt purchased his first pair of engineer overalls), and visit other quaint shops on the “original” Main Street USA.

Have lunch in the same building Elias Disney served an oyster dinner to local farmers in hopes of organizing them inot a union.

Stroll past the Zurcher building and see the original Coke mural that inspired Coke Corner at Disneyland.

See specially designed street signs that were personally dedicated by Mickey Mouse


On Main Street we also discovered the Uptown Theatre. A very special place in the Disney Story:


From there we drove over to Walt Disney’s childhood home.


Walt’s family came to Marceline when Walt was only 5 years old. They moved from Chicago in an attempt to keep Walt’s older teenage brothers out of trouble and live a simpler life on the family farm.

Walt’s father purchased a plot of land from his brother who owned land in Marceline and they proceeded to build a home and establish themselves in this small, Missouri town.


Walt lived here from age 5 to age 9. While not a long period of time, it was a time that greatly affected his life. In fact he has often said this about the town of Marceline:


Walt Disney’s childhood home is now a private residence, closed to the public. And while visitors can’t go inside there is a sign marking the home from the outside.


Behind this home sits another important part of Walt’s time in Marceline. This area is opened to the public. Just past Walt’s childhood home sits a small parking area with this sign:


It was down a grassy path that we found Walt’s Dreaming Tree.

. Daydreaming under this tree, a young Walt would observe the nature surrounding him. He later called these adventures “belly botany” and drew from these moments in his early works. He apparently never outgrew his need for inspiration from his favorite spot. On trips back to Marceline, Walt always put aside time for reflection beneath it, spending hours alone with his thoughts, back under his Dreaming Tree.

The Original Dreaming Tree, the place where Walt sat as a boy and let his imagination take him on incredible adventures, was hit by lightening a few years ago.


Instead we visited the Son of the Dreaming Tree, a sapling planted from a seedling of the original Dreaming Tree with soil brought from Disneyland and water from Disney World.

As we walked along the grassy path to Walt’s barn we passed signs that gave us even more insight into Walt’s childhood there and the significance it had in his later life.


In the barn, also known as Walt’s Happy Place, visitors are encouraged to sign the walls and leave messages of love and hope.


By his own account, Walt’s happiest childhood memories were of his time in Marceline and the family farm there. Walt and his sister Ruth spent many happy hours playing in the Barn. Visitors from all over the world have come to Marceline to spend time at “Walt’s Happy Place”, located in its original place on the Disney family’s old farm in Marceline.
Visit this very special Barn, which was rebuilt by volunteers in 2001, and leave your mark among the thousands of signatures, messages and memories already there to share with the rest of the world. There’s no doubt about it, when you come to this Barn, you’ll feel a special heart connection to Walt.


It was incredibly moving to read the words of previous visitors and witness the profound effect this humble, inspiring man has had on so many lives.

On Thursday we returned. We arrived as the doors opened and told the volunteers about our attempt to visit on Monday for Rusty’s birthday. They kindly gave him this pin as a special memento.


The visit to the museum began with a guided tour of the first floor, where the volunteer walked us through the story of Walt’s life in Marceline, beginning with his childhood in Marceline and ending with his visits back when he was an adult.


The museum is housed in the town’s old train depot. A fitting location for Walt’s museum since he was an avid fan of trains his entire life. In fact one associate said, “Walt got more joy from hearing the sound of a train whistle than he did from an arm full of Oscars.”


Later in life Walt even built a miniature train track around his California home for his daughters.


In the museum there are 3,000 artifacts from Walt’s life,



His elementary school desk where he carved his initials WD:


A car from the Autopia ride he had built in Marceline for the children of the town:


The Mickey Mouse flag he donated to be flown on the flag pole of the local elementary school:


The recording he made from the interview he did with his parents at their 50th anniversary party:


The first Mickey Mouse dolls:


and the TV he bought for his sister.

When he invited Ruth to the opening of Disneyland she informed him that she didn’t like crowds, so he purchased a TV for her so that she could watch the opening ceremonies from the comfort of her own home:


The first floor is filled with Disney movie memorabilia, hand written letters by Walt, receipts, and other family heirlooms. It really is a treasure for Disney fans!


Upstairs contains a replica of Walt’s front porch and the story of him convincing his younger sister to paint the house with tar,


A replica of his childhood classroom,


a piece of the original Dreaming Tree,


and a miniature model of Disneyland.


We fell in love with Marceline, Missouri and made some magical memories in this place that was the root of  so much Disney Magic.

Whew…what a week!


Last week was a crazy week, jam-packed with work on the bus, packing up the trailer for Michigan, and working to prepare the house and yard for a picnic on Saturday. Sprinkled among our week of chores was a lot of fun. Here is a look at all that happened last week!


On Monday I took Grace on her very first college tour. I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that I am at the parenting stage of life that requires college visits. I still feel like a college student myself! But here we are. This year is Gracie’s senior year so this summer we have planned a few college campus tours.

Grace is planning on going to school to get a degree in Special Education with a possible secondary degree or minor in American Sign Language. One of the schools on her list of possible schools is Kent State, located 1 1/2  hours away in Ohio.

IMG_5810 (2)

We scheduled a college tour and took Olivia, Gracie’s best friend, along with us.

When we arrived we were taken by golf cart to the orientation building where we joined many other potential students and their parents for a 30 minute presentation. The orientation presentation gave us an overview of Kent State. They touched on everything from the history, the offered majors, the clubs and activities, the area, and the cost. The girls also each received a welcome pack and a Kent State backpack.

IMG_5813 (2)

Once the orientation was complete the crowd was broken into small tour groups and assigned a college student to walk them around campus on a 90 minute tour.


It was a very pretty campus and a great first tour as we enter this new world of college placements. On the tour we were able to see different classrooms, the student union building, the library and food services around campus. It was nice for the girls to have access to a current Kent State student that they could question about life on campus.

IMG_5825 (2)

They even had the opportunity to see sample dorm rooms and get a feel for how campus living would be.

IMG_5820 (2)

It was a great experience and it made me excited for the girls and the adventure that awaits them in another year as they leave high school and follow God’s leading for their lives.


Tuesday was spent doing this all day!

IMG_5861 (2)


Tyler headed off to cub scout camp for the first time. This was a day camp that ran from 8:30 am- 4:00 pm Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week. It was with a bit of anxiety I sent him off on his own for the day (without a parent or sibling) for the first time ever. I wasn’t sure how he would do and how the leaders would handle any struggles that might arise, so I did A LOT of praying in the days leading up to day camp…

And you know what?

He did great!

He did more than great. He had a FABULOUS time!

IMG_5932 (2)

He loved spending the days with his scout friends and had fun with the leaders. He came home each evening eager to tell me about everything he did and learned that day. It was wonderful!

The theme for cub scout camp was Safari Adventures. Each day the boys moved from station to station around camp where they did crafts, played games, learned skills, shot bow and arrows and had target practice with BB guns.

On Friday they even had a mobile zoo come and teach the kids about all sorts of cool animals that they brought with them. Tyler was able to meet and learn about everything from an armadillo to a baby monkey.

On Friday evening the families of the cub scouts were invited back to camp for an evening fireside program where the different troops performed for the families.

P1060197 (2)P1060173 (2)P1060177 (2)P1060182 (2)P1060183 (2)

A BIG thanks to all who made the week such a positive experience for the boys. This Momma’s heart is full of gratitude!


On Thursday evening the girls and I had the opportunity to join the women and teenage girls from church for a night of bowling.

IMG_5937 (2)

One of the families at church owns a bowling alley and graciously opened it up to all of us for a fun ladies night out. Everyone brought an appetizer or snack to share and we enjoyed a night of food, fun, and fellowship!


On Friday Gracie had big plans with Olivia. Friday was Olivia’s 18th birthday and Grace made plans to take her out for a spa day to celebrate. Olivia knew she was spending the day with Grace but didn’t know what the plans were until she arrived and  Grace gave her a pair of flip flops she had decorated with balloons and a note telling her to:

“Put on your birthday shoes. We are off to get pedicures!”

IMG_5957 (2)

Grace took Olivia to the spa and Molly and Rusty went home with Miss Lana to spend the day with Tatum and Lucas. They needed to get in a play date with their best buddies before they left for Michigan.

IMG_5959 (2)

The little boys stayed home and helped Toby and I get the house ready for a picnic the following day.

At the spa the girls enjoyed an hour long foot massage, pampering and pedicure.

P1060145 (2)P1060136 (2)P1060143 (2)P1060144 (2)

After their pampering time Grace took Olivia out for a fun lunch at Shogun Hibachi Grill. It was a dinner and a show as the food was prepared in front of them. They even sang to Olivia when they discovered it was her birthday.

P1060162 (2)P1060164 (2)

Happy 18th birthday, Olivia!


On Saturday we hosted a summer picnic for our Blessings Through Adoption support group. This local support group that meets once a month provides the opportunity to fellowship with other adoptive families as well as learn from a vast array of speakers that come to share their knowledge with the group at the monthly meetings.

P1060198 (2)

Some of the Blessings Through Adoption families


This past Saturday was the summer picnic where families could come together for some social fun. We spent the days leading up to the picnic getting ready for the picnic.


Filling water balloons.

IMG_6019 (2)

Gracie decorating the outdoor chalkboard with a welcome sign.


It was a VERY hot day so the kids kept cool with a sprinkler and water balloons.

IMG_6041IMG_6038 (2)

The adults made themselves comfortable in the shade where we enjoyed hot dogs, hamburgers and salads.

IMG_6034 (2)

For dessert the kids roasted marshmallows and feasted on s’mores.

IMG_6042 (2)

Saturday was also Tyler’s “Gotcha Day!”


It was 3 years ago that we sat before a judge and committed to be his forever family. It was fitting that out Blessings Through Adoption picnic fell on Tyler’s “Gotcha Day” because it is through the blessing of adoption that he joined our family.

For the boys’ “Gotcha days” we celebrate by letting them choose an activity for us to enjoy as a family.

Tyler couldn’t decide between going swimming and going to see a movie, so we did both. After a HOT picnic outside the thought of a cool swim appealed to all of us so after our last guest left we grabbed swim suits, towels and our swimming pass and headed to Ellwood City Pool.

IMG_6055 (2)

That evening we packed up blankets and lawn chairs and drove to Dependable Drive-In to see the most recent Ice Age movie and Secret Life of Pets. We had a Groupon for four free admissions, a large drink and a large popcorn, so the cost for our fun evening was minimal.

IMG_6063 (2)IMG_6066 (2)

It was a beautiful evening. As the sun set the temperatures lowered with it. It was wonderful to have that special time as a family before Toby, Molly and Rusty had to leave for Michigan. It was such a wonderful feeling of relief and satisfaction to look back on our crazy week, and see all that was accomplished, knowing the bus was complete and all the big commitments of summer were over. Now we can relax and enjoy some lazier summer days before we begin preparing for our big trip.

Life is good!

Toby’s Holiday Trifecta


Every June, in the course of a matter of days, we have three major celebrations.

I call it “Toby’s Trifecta.”

During one week a year we celebrate Toby’s birthday, his Father’s Day, and our anniversary…all big events.

This can prove to be challenging for the wife who must come up with a way to celebrate him in a special way 3 times in a matter of days. And as tempting as it is… I refuse to lump them together into one big celebration. I know this would be easiest solution,  but as a person whose birthday falls within days of a major holiday (Christmas) I know how depressing it is to receive “lumped gifts.”

And Toby has always done such a fantastic job of making my birthday special despite the after Christmas crash that all are feeling on December 27th that I feel the need to really amp up my game every June.

But I’d totally be lying if I said it was easy.

Buying for boys is hard. It is especially hard buying for Toby because he sets the bar so high. He is my “grand gesture man,” and everything he does is  creative, thoughtful and well… grand. It is hard enough to come up with something absolutely perfect for a man who insists that he doesn’t need anything, and then when I finally do come up with that perfect gift I can’t sit back and rest on my laurels and enjoy the glory…

I have to come up with something equally special two days later and then two days after that!

Aaah! The pressure!

But we were determined to make Toby feel as loved as he makes all of us feel, so we pressed on, determined to make the magic happen. I must say that the older my children get the easier it is becoming because I now have a few extra brains creatively trying to come up with a plan rather than relying on my own creativity…

And the invention of Pinterest has also taken the edge off. 🙂

This year we celebrated:

41 years of Toby’s life.

19 years of marriage.

and 18 years of fatherhood.

Here is a look into our (read with a booming voice) :  Week… of…. Toby!

Father’s Day began with two extra kiddos as we had Q and Nevaeh for half the day. This is so reflective of Toby and how he lives his life. He opens his home and heart so willingly to children not his own and makes them feel welcomed and loved and cared for. I look at the father he has been to all our children, those sired by him and those born to other men, and I see a perfect example of selflessness and fatherly love.

The kids made his day special with Mickey waffles for breakfast before church, and homemade cards and gifts.

IMG_3988 (2)

IMG_3992 (2)IMG_3996 (2)

Tyler even made Toby a tie in his primary class at church, and not just any tie: A candy tie!

IMG_3989 (2)

It perfectly complimented the other tie he was wearing that was a Father’s Day gift from a few years ago.

In the afternoon Toby received his favorite gift… the best gift he could ask for:

A Sunday nap! 🙂

On Tuesday we celebrated our 19th anniversary. I woke to this beautiful gift.

IMG_4014 (2)

My parents surprised us by sending us an anniversary card with a gift card to Applebee’s, so after work Toby and I enjoyed a date night with no children! We had a wonderful dinner and enjoyed uninterrupted conversation as we reflected on the last 19 years and discussed our hopes and dreams for the next 19.

IMG_4015 (2)

Then we enjoyed a movie…at a theatre…that wasn’t a cartoon!

We went to see, “Now You See Me 2.” We loved the first movie and were eager to see if the sequel would measure up. It was as good as the first! So exciting! Now that I understand all the plot twists and turns I’d love to see it again and watch for all the hidden clues.

It was a perfect night!

Then round three of Toby’s Trifecta continued on Thursday when we celebrated Toby’s 41st birthday.

In the morning we went shopping so the kids to buy the parts to the gift they had planned. They wanted to make Toby a basket that highlighted some of the big events from 1975: the year he was born. They did their research, made a list and then shopped for items that could represent those big events. They had a lot of fun working together on their 1975 basket for Daddy.

When they got home they added tags explaining each item and included a card that expressed the sentiment that of all the things that came out of 1975 he was the best!

In the evening we put off giving Daddy his gifts until bedtime since we had to drop Rusty off for a young men’s activity at church. While he was competing in the “Wacky Olympic Games” we took Toby to dinner. We ended up going to the Texas Roadhouse which was a fun choice. Toby and I hadn’t been there in 10 years and the kids had never eaten there.

IMG_4022 (2)IMG_4030 (2)

The boys loved the fact that they provided you with buckets of peanuts to munch on while you wait, especially since you are encouraged to throw your shells on the floor. I think they got a thrill out of doing something so naughty. 😉


When we were finally seated at the table the first thing Tyler did was pick up the rolled silverware and unrolled his fork and knife from the napkin. Confused, he held up his black linen napkin, and asked, “What is this?”

IMG_4040 (2)

Our usual eateries only offer paper napkins with their logo printed on them.  😉

These napkins left him flustered and confused, uncertain if they were there to wipe your face on or to curl up in if you got chilly. His confusion continued up until it was time to leave when he lifted his napkin and asked, “So do I get to take this home?”

This confirms the fact we need to expand our dining horizons beyond the golden arches!

Dinner itself was delicious. The atmosphere was fun and festive and everyone had a wonderful time. I only wish Rusty could have been there. He would have loved the ribs!

IMG_4035 (2)IMG_4037 (2)IMG_4044 (2)

After dinner and picking up Rusty we headed back home for gifts and cake. The kids gave him their 1975 gift basket and I surprised him with tickets to Cirque du Soleil. He has talked about wanting to see this show live for years so I decided to surprise him. He deserves it!

IMG_4047 (2)

This week was all about Toby.

We celebrated him as a father.

We celebrated him as a husband.

Today we celebrated his life and the extraordinary way his life has touched countless others. We are blessed to call him ours.

Happy birthday, dear Toby. Happy birthday to you!

IMG_4054 (2)

The Gift of Friendship



Of all the gifts the Lord bestows upon us…

the gift of good, dear, true friends,

Well, I think that is one of the greatest.

This week Molly turns 16 and her sweet friends had a special gift planned.

They decided to take her out for a 16th birthday lunch!

Tatum and Caleigh have been plotting for weeks to surprise Molly with a special gift for her birthday. They decided they wanted to treat Molly to lunch. They planned it all out and ran it by the moms. This Momma was very touched by their thoughtfulness and desire to make Molly feel loved on her birthday.

It was a surprise.

They were taking her to Applebee’s.

And it happened while we were at co-op on Wednesday.

Miss Lana was their ride and Olivia and Grace slipped over early to set up the table for the girls so that they could walk in with Molly. Tatum and Caleigh thought of everything. There were balloons, party hats, and even a birthday cake.


IMG_0341 (2)

When they left co-op Molly was blindfolded. They wanted it to be a true surprise and they didn’t remove the blindfold until they were inside Applebee’s.

IMG_0347 (2)

“Surprise! Happy Birthday!”

IMG_0351 (2)

Then Lana and the big girls drove back to co-op so the birthday girl and her best buds could enjoy lunch by themselves.

IMG_0355 (2)

Eating out at a restaurant alone was a first for all three of them and they had a ball!

IMG_0362 (2)


The special lunch date ended with cake and a birthday wish.

IMG_0370 (2)

Although I can’t imagine what Molly has to wish for…

With those two, sweet friends her cup overfloweth!


great-friendship-quote_18134-3 (2)