Tag Archives: birthday

Miss Molly is 19!!


How is it that little miss sunshine is in the final stretch of her teenage years?!

It doesn’t seem possible.

On Sunday, April 7th, Molly turned 19, and we celebrated her at home with fun plans for the day.

In our home Sundays are spent worshipping at church and bonding as a family at home. We believe the Sabbath is best spent with family and desire to extend that same courtesy to others, so for that reason we choose to not shop or participate in activities that require other people to have to work and be away from their family on Sundays.

This is a principle we hold sacred as we choose to honor the Sabbath Day as a day set apart from the rest of the week.

When a family member’s birthday falls on a Sunday, it means we create fun at home rather than eating out or choosing a fun family activity that costs money. This always makes me feel like I need to up my birthday game to make sure the child feels loved despite a quiet birthday celebration at home.

This year Molly’s birthday not only fell on a Sunday, but on General Conference Sunday. General Conference occurs twice a year in our church. It is when members worldwide tune in via TV or computer to hear from our church leaders who share guidance, direction and revelation to the members that are relevant to today. General Conference weekends are my favorite Sabbaths of the year and this year it fell on Molly’s birthday. This meant we had a full day at home as a family…what a gift!

Our day began with the rarest of gifts: sleeping past 6:00am. Oh, it was delightful to sleep until my eyes opened on their own, rather than forcing them open under protest. We warned Molly ahead of time to expect her birthday morning wake-up later than usual, and as a 19-year-old girl she offered up no complaints to that plan!

It was closer to 9:00am when our family poured into her room singing her birthday song. First she made a secret wish, and then she blew out her cupcake candle, and her birthday had officially begun.

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We began the day with the big reveal of the decorated dining room. This momma LOVES a good theme (to which Toby always sarcastically inquires, “And “Happy Birthday” isn’t a good enough theme?”) Nope! This is my favorite part of my kids’ birthdays and they have learned that the theme of the decorations in the dining room quite often provide a hint to their gift from mom and dad.

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Molly entered the dining room to discover a Newsies theme playing out on the table. Newsies is Molly’s favorite musical so with that in mind, I ran with that theme and had a blast!

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Then it was present time. No one wanted to wait any longer for Molly to open their gifts, and Molly didn’t really want to wait either, so the first task on the birthday agenda was gift opening.

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We started with the youngest and ended with mom and dad.

Everyone had Molly’s impending adventure on their minds and purchased gifts for “College-bound Molly.”

Tyler bought her a giant coloring poster that he thought she could hang on the wall of the home she will be sharing with 8 other girls. His thought was that they could color together.

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Ozzie purchased a light-up marque for her dorm room desk.

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Rusty bought her a blow-up ottoman for her room with a cute cloth cover.

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Braden decided he wanted to buy her a crock pot after hearing her talk about how helpful one would be as a college student.

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Grace, following the example of the gift she received from Aunt Krista on her 19th birthday, made Molloy a college survival kit that was filled with all the products she has found most essential as a college student. It was very cute and clever!

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And then came her gift from Mom and Dad…

Tickets to watch the musical Newsies in Pittsburgh.

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With the tickets came a Newsies t-shirt to wear to the show.

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Gift opening was followed by a breakfast of crepes, and then we prepared for the first session of General Conference.

Everyone claimed their spot in the living room, got comfy, and I handed out the goodies I prepared for General Conference.

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To make Conference more engaging and to help everyone pay attention I prepared a few games to play as we watched, including General Conference Bingo with a basket of prizes from Dollar Tree.

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In between the morning and afternoon session of General Conference, we had Molly’s birthday dinner. She picked the menu, requesting spaghetti pizza, salad, garlic bread and cheesecake in lieu of traditional birthday cake.

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The day was spent enjoying family, soaking up the spirit of General Conference and celebrating Miss Molly.

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She truly is the sunshine in our lives!!

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Just for the RECORD…


Our Gracie girl is 21.

I can hardly believe it.

It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating my 21st birthday with baby Gracie by my side.

What a joy she has been and what joy she has brought into our family. She is the child that made us parents, and allowed us to learn to parent on her, graciously forgiving our missteps and ineptness.

We named her Grace Elizabeth in honor of two of her great grandmothers, giving her the initials G.E.M, and that is exactly what she is…a gem.

What a day we had celebrating our sweet gem turning 21. Here is a look at Miss Grace’s special day…

Grace lucked out this year with her birthday falling on a Saturday. Saturday birthdays always feel extra special, since the celebrating can begin from first wake-up and continue on throughout the day, without anyone having to break from the celebration for mundane tasks like school and work. Because Gracie’s birthday fell on a Saturday,  she was able to pack it full with celebrations on many fronts with all the people she loves most.

The celebration began hours before Gracie’s morning wake-up when we snuck into the dining room to decorate for her birthday. Months earlier she made her birthday wish known when she asked for a record player. This gift became the kick-off for a really fun 21st birthday theme…

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You all know how I love a good theme!


This catchphrase became the theme of the party as her siblings wrote the 21 reasons they love Gracie on paper records that we hung around the dining room.

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Each statement of loving affirmation was endearing and so reflective of the child who decorated the paper record. Among the reasons Grace is so loved were these statements written by her siblings…


I love your selflessness.

I love your creativity.

I love your huge heart.

I love your confidence and courage.


I love your willingness to listen to whatever I talk about.

I love that we share a love for Disney.

I love that you are always willing to serve and give a helping hand.

I love that you put 100% into your hobbies.


I love you because you are there to talk to me.

I love that you love me no matter what.

I love that you are always by my side.

I love that you make me laugh.


I love how you are always happy.

I love your laugh.

I love your smile.

I love how you are so forgiving.


I love when you laugh.

I love your personality.

I love that you always play with me.

I love that you are nice.

The rest of the room was decorated to match our theme and the result was a charming birthday surprise for Grace who, after being awoken to our off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday,” came downstairs to open her gifts in the dining room.

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She loved the theme and took the time to walk around the room, reading the messages of love penned by her younger siblings.


Then we sat down, per Gracie’s request, so that she could open her gifts before the next adventure planned for her birthday.

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Our gift to Grace was the record player that sat as the centerpiece in the middle of the table.

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The kids went along with the theme, and had purchased in Disney World, two vinyl records from the parks. Rusty and Molly bought her the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Ozzie and Tyler bought her the vinyl soundtrack to The Lion King.

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Braden was the only one who went in his own direction. He bought her an aloe drink, knowing how much Gracie likes them.

After a yummy breakfast of monkey bread, Grace and Molly began getting ready for the next adventure of the day. Grace invited Molly and Olivia to join her at the Sign-a-Thon held at The Mall at Robinson.


The Sign-a-Thon is a huge deaf event held every spring to increase awareness for and about the deaf community. As part of Gracie’s ASL class requirements she is asked to attend multiple deaf events each semester.


She was excited that this particular event landed on her birthday.


She decided to bring her celebration to the Sign-a-Thon  where she celebrated with Molly, Olivia, Zach, friends from church, and her closest friends from her signing classes.


They spent a few hours at the Sign-a-Thon, where Grace was able to share her love of American Sign Language interpreting with her favorite people, and then they enjoyed a birthday lunch at Plaza Azteca.


After a fun day celebrating her 21st birthday with her boyfriend and best friends, she and Molly returned home for our family celebration with Mimi Joy. For Gracie’s birthday celebration she asked if we could eat at Blaze pizza, our favorite new discovery.

We invited Mimi Joy to join us for dinner.

We arrived, each walked through the line,

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Creating our own amazing pizza,

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And feasted until we could feast no longer.

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We enjoyed an evening of good food, great company, and MUCH silliness, as we celebrated our first born baby’s 21st trip around the sun.

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Just for the record…

We think this girl is pretty grand!

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Happy birthday, Miss Grace!

Extra, Extra…Read all about it!


In the excitement of BIG, life changing events here at Patchwork Farm, I have been less diligent in recording the daily living moments that are the molecules that make up our life. In an attempt to remedy this I downloaded all the miscellaneous photos captured on my camera and phone.

Here is the latest and greatest news at Patchwork Farm:

Tyler continues to receive extra reading help as he works to address the struggles associated with his diagnoses of Dyslexia. Currently he is receiving extra reading tutoring two times a week at the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Western Pennsylvania in New Castle, and Barton tutoring every Monday in Wexford. I have been amazed at his progress now that we are using a program created to address the way a dyslexic brain learns. With the help of Miss Jan, his Barton tutor, he just passed level 4 in the Barton program. We are so proud of his efforts and are thrilled to be seeing the fruits of his efforts!


Ozzie is now 15. I’m not sure how that is possible, but he insists that it is true. Because his birthday occurred while we were on our trip, and because there wasn’t a spare inch of room in the car to pack the birthday gifts that arrived in the mail from extended family, he enjoyed birthday celebration #2 when we arrived home. He was spoiled rotten by family that love him and know him so well. He couldn’t have been more thrilled with his surprises!

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Rusty received the exciting news, upon returning home from vacation, that his application for National Honor Society had been received, considered and approved for membership. He is very excited and we are excited for him. We will be traveling out to Downingtown (on the eastern side of the state) in a few weeks for his induction ceremony. This news is made all the more special by the fact that 21st Century’s NHS president is his own sister. Just as Molly was able to be inducted into National Honor Society by Grace, who was serving as the president of NHS at that time, Rusty will be welcomed into this academic society by Molly who is serving as president this year.

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This has been an exciting year for Miss Molly who finds herself in the home stretch of her high school journey. This has been a great year for Molly, who has kept busy juggling the multitude of activities and responsibilities associated with senior year. She continues to work part time at Subway with Grace, co-runs the school’s American Sign Language club, participates in debate club and the school’s literary magazine, and is president of NHS. She does this while continuing with her commitment to Ready Yourself Youth Ranch where she volunteers two mornings a week with Grace and Rusty, as well as participating in church activities and early morning seminary.

This year has definitely given her a taste of adulthood and the juggling act that accompanies the privileges of all that freedom. We are happy to say she is balancing it all with great grace.

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This year has been one of great introspection and exploration as Molly has visited and applied to many colleges and prayed about where Heavenly Father would have her go upon the completion of high school. A decision has been made and we will devote our next blog post to that exciting news!

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Grace has served as a great example to Molly, as well as Brandon and Rusty (who will be entering their senior year) on how to navigate the transition into adulthood. She is very happy and we are happy for her, despite the fact we only see her in passing. Grace’s schedule is packed to the max with her American Sign Language classes, part time work, church activities and callings, as well as being a rock of stability for our family.

Currently in her ASL classes she is learning protactile interpreting. This form of sign language is used to interpret for individuals who are both deaf and blind. It utilizes a variety of methods to communicate a message and the surrounding atmosphere to a deaf client who is visually impaired.  The methods taught vary, based on the specific needs of the clients. To put this teaching into practice, Gracie’s professor had each of the students bring in an old pair of sunglasses that were altered to mimic different forms and degrees of blindness. The students donned those altered glasses to practice protactile interpreting. This is one of Gracie’s favorite forms of interpreting and she had really enjoyed strengthening this skill. It is neat to see her so engaged and loving this program.

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In addition to being so happy with her educational pursuits, much of the reason behind her beautiful smile has to do with this young man:


Grace and Zach have known each other for more than a decade, having grown up together at church and having spent much time with the Zach’s sisters who are besties with my girls. It wasn’t until recently that they saw each other through fresh eyes. It didn’t take more than a few dates before they knew they wanted to see more of each other and they have been wearing these sunshiny smiles ever since. We couldn’t be happier. It is always a blessing to see your children happy, and all the more blessed when they find happiness with someone so kind.


This Saturday we celebrate the happiness Grace so freely shares with the world as we reflect back on the last two decades and celebrate Gracie’s 21st birthday!

I have no idea where the time has gone but what a joyful journey it has been!

Last Saturday we got a jump on her birthday celebration when Zach joined our family (minus Molly who was working that night) for an escape room adventure. In December a deal popped up on Toby’s Groupon feed for an out-of-this-world deal on an escape room in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. He jumped on the deal while it was offered, knowing we would be able to use it for an upcoming birthday celebration. The plan was to make reservations for Grace’s actual birthday, which falls on a Saturday this year, but when we went to book it we discovered it expired the weekend before. Being experts at “Plan B” adventures, we quickly adjusted schedules and headed there last Friday with Zach, to celebrate part 1 of Gracie’s birthday…a week early.

The hours leading up to our escape room date were fraught with high emotions and angsts, and I wasn’t sure if our whole crew was going to make it to the adventure. The heightened anxiety associated with fears that Braden’s adoption day won’t come to fruition have left everyone on edge and extra sensitive. Blow-ups and melt-downs are a regular occurrence and an expected reaction to the anticipation associated with adoption day. Having done this twice before, we are well familiar with the heightened emotions and extreme challenges that accompany the news of an upcoming adoption, so we brace ourselves for the storm. We’ve learned the best strategy is to tighten our life vests, pull the sails taut, and ride the waves till we see land.

We managed to get everyone to the activity, and by the end of the escape room challenge everyone was in a better place emotionally.

It was fun having Zach join our crazy crew as we tried to unlock the mysteries of the space ship we were trapped in, and make our way back to Earth in the 60 minute time frame.

We escaped with time to spare and had a “blast!”  *hee hee*


So, there you go. Consider yourself up to date and “in the know” with all the news to be told at Patchwork Farm.

A “magical” 15th birthday for Ozzie


Our final day at Disney World was spent at Magic Kingdom, in honor of Ozzie’s 15th birthday. This trip fell at an interesting time with Groundhog’s Day, the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day,  and Ozzie’s birthday all hitting during the two weeks we were away.

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Our day began, as birthdays always do, with the birthday kid being awoken with a cupcake and the birthday song.  Since Saturday morning was our check out day, we had a speedy birthday celebration before packing up and prepping the house for our 10:00 am departure.

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Rather than pack gifts for Ozzie’s birthday, everyone chose to purchase Ozzie’s gifts in Orlando. As a result, he ended up with special souvenirs for his birthday gifts. His siblings were incredibly generous and made Ozzie’s birthday extra special.

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We planned to spend Ozzie’s birthday at Magic Kingdom. We anticipated it being busier than previous days, since it was a Saturday and President’s Day weekend, but we were not prepared for HOW busy it was. It was crazy!


We parked in Magic Kingdom’s parking lot and waited an hour to take the ferry across the lagoon to the front gates of the park. It was a bad day to have the monorail out of commission. The result was hoards of guests all waiting for the ferry boats to shuttle them over to the park.

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The blessing, however, was that we had been to Magic Kingdom twice already on this trip, and had already ridden every ride multiple times, enjoyed all the attractions, watched all the shows and sat through the parades, so this was a no-pressure day. We were just excited to be spending Ozzie’s birthday at Magic Kingdom and figured anything beyond that was icing on the cake.

We finally made it to the front gate at 11:30 am, and made plans to stay until closing at 11:00pm… as long as everyone held up. I’d like to say it was perfect day full of magical moments, but that is not entirely true. It was a mixed bag sort of day with many happy moments but also lots of hard emotions. The reality of the adoption journey is that birthdays, holidays and connected family experiences tend to be the hardest days of our life as my kiddos that fear connection and feel unworthy of happy moments work hard to sabotage the attachment they find themselves falling victim to when they let down their guard and open their hearts to the love we offer them.

It sucks.

I hate that saying, but there is no better way to describe the effects of trauma.

 This birthday was a particularly hard one for Ozzie. The overabundance of joy and fun that came with celebrating his birthday at the happiest place on earth led to him to self sabotage, begging for pain and punishment to counteract the discomfort of love and affection.

It wasn’t the happy ending I was hoping for on our last day at the parks. In hindsight, we probably would have been better off pretending it wasn’t Ozzie’s birthday and wait to celebrate his birthday at home in a more subdued way, but we made the best of it. We let go of any agenda, allowed the day to play out organically, and took a lot of breaks for implementing coping skills as needed.

It was an especially hard day for my oldest three who wanted to enjoy their last day in the park without Ozzie instigating fights in hopes his siblings would lash out and hurt him in the way he was craving.

I think it is often underacknowledged the great sacrifice that is made by the biological siblings in adoption stories, when they open their home to adopted children…especially children with a history of trauma of a diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder. Life as they knew it disappeared when their brothers moved in, with life becoming more challenging with each new adoption. This isn’t to say that this life isn’t without great blessings.  My older three would not be the astounding people they are, if not for the unique trials and challenges of opening the door to children others have walked away from. But it is not always easy. Ozzie’s birthday was no different. After pouring out their love on him is the morning they struggled when he responded with unkindness. Knowing that they needed a period of respite and knowing Ozzie needed a break from their acts of love that he was feeling unworthy of, Toby and I decided to split up for an hour.

Toby took the younger three to ride some rides, hoping this would help Ozzie expel some of his anxious energy through high-adrenaline rides,

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While I split off with the older three for some one-on-one time. It is needed sometimes, and they appreciated the period of respite.

The three of them each had a character they were hoping to get a photo with, something we could have never done that day with their younger brothers in tow. Brandon could have gone either way but opted for rides over characters, so we split ways and headed of to meet some Disney friends.

Rusty’s favorite Disney character is Winnie the Pooh and his request was to get a picture with Pooh.

He was even “Disney bounding” for the purpose of getting a twin photo with Pooh.

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We waited in line for 30 minutes and finally got our chance to get Winnie the Pooh and Tigger’s autographs,

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As well as pictures with our friends from the Hundred Acre Woods.

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Our next stop was to meet Molly’s favorite Disney princess, Rapunzel. Molly has loved Rapunzel since the movie Tangled came out when she was a small girl.

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On our first trip to Disney, when Molly was 11-years-old, she broke down in tears upon meeting Rapunzel.

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This time there were no tears but she beamed with joy through the entire encounter.

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They look like they could be sisters!

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Our third character meet-and-greet was for Grace to meet her favorite Disney character- Peter Pan!

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Grace, too, was dressed for the experience, wearing her Peter Pan hat that she bought when we went to Disneyland.

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She even brought her Peter Pan book to get autographed.

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Each of my big kids were over the moon excited over their special moments with magical friends and it was just the medicine needed to re-center us and put us in the right frame of mind for trauma-healthy interactions as we rejoined the family.

The rest of the day was spent re-riding our favorite rides, once their wait time dropped below 20 minutes.

For Grace and Molly that was Splash Mountain:

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For Rusty that was The Haunted Mansion:

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For Brandon that was the Jungle Cruise:

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For Ozzie that was Space Mountain:


And for Tyler that was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad:

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Ozzie got to pick our dinner location for his birthday dinner, and chose Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café for tacos (Ozzie’s favorite food).

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And then we found our spots to watch the spectacular nighttime show:

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Happily Ever After

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“Experience a grand finale to your day with the latest—and most spectacular—fireworks show in Magic Kingdom history. 

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Go on a dazzling journey of color, light and song that captures the heart, humor and heroism of many favorite Disney animated films. 

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Watch in awe as Cinderella Castle becomes part of the story by magically transforming through amazing state-of-the art projection technology that you have to see to believe.

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This astounding 18-minute fireworks extravaganza uses more lights, lasers and special effects than any other fireworks spectacular in the history of Magic Kingdom, plus a soaring score featuring contemporary versions of beloved Disney songs. 

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Discover the magic of movies—and be inspired to find your own happily ever after.”


It was a magical ending to a magical vacation.




Feeling Blessed!


“Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to meeeeeee. Happy birthday to me!”

My birthday morning began with a self-serenade.

The older kids were out of the house on the morning of my birthday and Ozzie was at work with Toby. My family kindly let me sleep in…a rare and cherished luxury…so the responsibility to wake me with traditional birthday cupcake a little later in the morning, fell on Brandon and Tyler.

When Tyler found out I was turning 41, he insisted on trying his hardest to fit 41 candles on my slice of birthday cake.

I awoke to this fire hazard coming at my face. Both had taken the responsibility to awaken mom with cake and birthday wishes quite seriously, that was until they realized that the task of singing the birthday song fell to them since everyone else was out of the house.


I lay there with the flaming ball of flames resting on my chest, while a lively debate took place at the foot of my bed as to whose responsibility the song part of the birthday tradition fell to. As the layer of melted wax grew thicker on the surface of my cake the boys finally got on the same page and unanimously agreed I should be the one to sing the birthday song…

And eager to blow out the candles before the flames reached the icing, I concurred.

Once the traditional birthday wake-up was done, the boys busied themselves playing with gifts they received for Christmas, while I enjoyed a lazy day at home. It was wonderful! It is a rare treat to have an entire day open and free, with nothing on the calendar and no place I had to be. When the older kids got home we all enjoyed a PJ and movie day in the living room. It was a wonderful way to spend my birthday.

When Toby and Ozzie arrived home we all got dressed for the birthday surprise Toby planned,

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But first I was asked to take a seat so I could open my gifts. I was spoiled rotten by my family and received gifts that were thoughtful and given with love.

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Then we headed out to celebrate my birthday as a family. Toby planned an evening filled with all of my favorite things. We began our night of birthday fun with dinner at Panda Express and then we introduced Brandon to the awesome world of escape rooms!

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Toby booked an escape room experience for the family at an escape room on McKnight Road that is advertised as “the most difficult escape room in Pittsburgh.” It gave us a run for the money and was the first escape room we weren’t able to solve in the 60 minute window. We came within one final puzzle of escaping the room before the timer rang. Despite not escaping in the allotted time, we had an awesome time! I LOVE the mind-bending challenge that an escape rooms experience offers, and they are always more fun when we can work together as a family, tapping into each person’s individual strengths to try to achieve success as a family.



It was a perfect birthday and a perfect way to celebrate the end of a wonderful 40th year. As I begin my 41st trip around the Sun I can’t help but feel immensely grateful for the beautiful life my Heavenly Father has blessed me with, and these special people I get to travel with.

Here’s to year 41!

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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:

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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.


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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. 🙂

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“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,

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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.

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

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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!

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

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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Happy birthday, Tyler! We love you bunches!!

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