Tag Archives: bucket list

Swimming With Pigs


IMG_7372 (2)

The final stop to our five days cruise was Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas. This was the excursion we were all most looking forward to!


We woke that morning to sunshine and blue skies, excited for the day ahead.


After breakfast we disembarked and walked a few blocks to Senor Frogs, where we would be meeting our tour guide to catch a 30 minute boat ride to the island where our excursion was taking place.


Our walk through Nassau was stimulating, with the sights and smells of the island filling our senses as locals called out to passing tourists, hoping to hock their wares and services.


We arrived at Senior Frogs and settled in for a long wait as we became intimately acquainted with the concept of “island time.” 45 minutes later our guide strolled in, unconcerned by her tardiness,  and we headed to the dock to load onto our transport boat.


It was filled to capacity and the rocking of the waves left us all wondering if this 3-hour-tour would turn into a life of coconut phones and Gilligan’s follies…


But we arrived at our destination no worse for wear, and with plenty of time to participate in our scheduled excursion.

DSCF3466 (2)

Our plans for the day: Swimming with pigs!

IMG_7369 (2)

Yes, you read that right. In the Bahamas you can swim with pigs, and that is just what we planned to do on our last day of vacation!

IMG_7372 (2)

After signing safety waivers and being briefed on the guidelines of our interactions with the pigs, we were set free to love on some swimming swine.

IMG_7240 (2)IMG_7244 (2)

We were given bags of apples to feed the pigs as we splashed in the water with them.

IMG_7246 (2)

It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences that I was thrilled to share with my family. I mean, how many people have the opportunity to swim in the turquoise blue of the Caribbean with pink pigs coated in sunscreen.

IMG_7359 (2)

It was just too cool!!

IMG_7367 (2)

After our time with the pigs, we headed to the boat that would take us back to Nassau. There we had two hours to stroll through the streets before having to re-board our cruise ship.


Everyone was eager to check out the Straw Market,


A collection of local vendors all situated in a warehouse, selling their trinkets and treasures to tourists.


The kids quickly learned the art of negotiation as they bargained for the best deals, finding joy in the game of haggling. They were all wanting to get the best bang for their buck with the last of their souvenir money, and everyone walked away from the Straw Market with Bahamian treasures to remember the trip by.


Tyler opted to spend the last of his dough on a conch shell that had been turned into a horn with the removal of its tip.

DSCF3463 (2)

It was just the sort of treasure that appeals to Tyler. Once Toby showed him how to make it “sing the song of the sea,” Tyler couldn’t be stopped.


He loved the noise he could create and we had to make a deal that he could play it until we boarded the ship but then it would be put away until we arrived home.


I was afraid that left unchecked, a fellow passenger might not be able to resist pushing Tyler and his shell overboard!

Nassau was a perfect ending to an amazing trip. It is hard to believe it was only a week-long vacation. It felt as though we had been gone from home for a month.

DSCF3459 (2)

(I’m sure this extended retelling of the trip is making you all feel that way as well!)

But it was just what we needed. We returned home to find life escalated as we stepped into the fire of some particularly trying challenges unfolding on the horizon. It was a gift to be able to pull together as a family and fortify our walls before stepping into the fire. God knew just what he was doing when He prompted the plan for this year’s Christmas gifts, and I am forever grateful for the healing, connection, and fortification that time away from home offered our troops.

Thank you for tuning into to the most drawn-out recounting of a vacation, EVER!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programing.




St. Louis City Museum- Round 2


If you are taking a trip to St. Louis you ABSOLUTELY MUST visit the City Museum. Kids or no kids – don’t even ask what it is – put it on your bucket list RIGHT NOW.

IMG_8510 (2)

We first discovered it a year ago while on our cross country bus trip. Our first stop was in St. Louis and we were looking for something fun to do since it was Tyler’s birthday. We went, not knowing what to expect, and found it to be absolutely mind blowing.

IMG_8502 (2)

The first thing I read about (when researching the City Museum) was the famous 10 story slide (YES I absolutely said TEN STORY SLIDE) but I was not prepared for the sheer excitement, incredulous wonder, and core exhaustion that would accompany us!

The City Museum is like a living breathing work of art. An old shoe factory originally- it is evolving constantly with new additions.

In fact they have said:

“Usually, the way something gets built is a board gets together and comes up with a mission statement, and they do a search for an architect, and they go through an approval process, and they start raising funds, and by the time something gets built, they forget what it was for in the first place. When we get an idea here, we start building it that afternoon.” -City Museum

We found that to be true. We were amazed by all the new additions to the museum since our visit 10 months ago.

This place is incredible. Just look at SOME of the playground outside!


It is no easy feat to walk through there if you’re terrified of heights like I am! It IS, however, the PERFECT place for my daredevil husband and kids…especially Tyler! Safety with the feeling of terror. There are (almost) no rules except for a few safety height requirements. The building is meant to be climbed on, in and through.

IMG_8498 (2)

My three boys heading in three different directions down three different tunnels!~

City Museum was collectively one of the top highlights from our trip around the country, so when we were mapping out our route to get to Texas for my brother’s wedding we deliberately routed ourselves through St. Louis so we could enjoy another day at one of the coolest places on earth!


Here is a little history of the City Museum found on WIki:

“City Museum is a play house museum, consisting largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, housed in the former International Shoe building.

Popular among residents and tourists, the museum bills itself as an “eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.” Visitors are encouraged to touch, climb on, and play in the various exhibits. “Don’t touch the art” is never commanded; although safety docents are present on each of 11 floors.

The City Museum has been named one of the “great public spaces” by the Project for Public Spaces and has won other local and international awards as a must-see destination.

City Museum was founded by artist Bob Cassilly and his then-wife Gail Cassilly. The museum’s building was once an International Shoe Company factory and warehouse but was mostly vacant when the Cassillys bought it in 1983. Construction began in January 1995.

The City Museum opened to the public on October 25, 1997. Within two years, it was drawing 300,000 visitors a year.

The museum has since expanded, adding new exhibits such as MonstroCity in 2002, Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shaft in 2003, and World Aquarium in 2004.

Cassily remained the museum’s artistic director until his death in 2011.

A circus ring on the third floor offers daily live acts. The City Museum also houses The Shoelace Factory, whose antique braiding machines makes colorful shoelaces for sale.”

The entire building is one magnificent piece of art, all intended to be touched, climbed on, explored and experienced. In a world of helicopter parenting and “Do not touch” signs this “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” encourages exploration and imagination.

They make a point of not giving out maps to the museum and instead encourage you to simply explore.

Behind every corner was a tunnel entrance or the start of another adventure. For Tyler it was heaven on earth, although  ALL enjoyed it!


The museum is comprised of multiple floors of adventures, each with its own theme:

First Floor

IMG_8426 (2)

“The original part of the museum, the first floor is home to a life-size Bowhead Whale that guests can walk through and view a large fish tank from the mezzanine or the always popular “Puking Pig.”

IMG_8422 (2)

Also on the first floor, are a number of tunnels that run across the ceiling, hiding above a sea of fiberglass insulation cut to give the impression of icicles.

IMG_8439 (2)

To get into these, one can climb up a Slinky, which is an old refrigerating coil (donated by Anheuser-Busch),


or through a tree house which leads into a giant hollowed out tree that leads to a cabin on the other side of the floor.

IMG_8420 (2)

The floor itself is covered with the largest continuous mosaic piece in the US, which then morph their way up columns, consuming every section of this floor. In one area is a tunnel known as the “Underground Whaleway” which runs beneath the floor and into the “Original Caves.”



Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shaft

One of the museum’s most popular attractions, the Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shafts run through the center of the Museum, and go all the way to the 10th floor.

IMG_8405 (2)

Opened in 2003, the Caves are an elaborate cave system hand-sculpted by Bob Cassilly and his crew.



From every direction, a different creature is staring back.

IMG_8402 (2)

Since 2007, the Caves have also held a 1924 Wurlitzer Pipe Organ from the Rivoli Theatre in New York City.

The Shoe Shafts were developed from structures built for the International Shoe distribution operation. To get the shoes from various floors to the loading dock, staff would place the shoes on spiral shafts. The Shafts opened in 2003 with one three-story spiral slide, and five years later added a ten-story slide that starts at the roof and goes down to the Caves’ entrance.”

IMG_8398 (2)

Shoelace Factory

The Shoelace Factory has shoelace machines from the 1890s. Visitors can order custom-made laces.

IMG_8444 (2)

IMG_8445 (2)

And outside you will find: MonstroCity!!!

IMG_8460 (2)

Located in front of the building, MonstroCity features two Sabreliner 40 aircraft fuselages suspended high in the air,

P1100789 (2)

A castle turret,

P1100786 (2)

Four-foot-wide slinkies that can be crawled through… one very high that leads to a slide,

IMG_8475 (2)

That is Molly WAY up there!

And two ball pits, one for young children and one for older ones, each pit being filled with large, rubber dodge balls.

IMG_8467 (2)

The Cabin Inn is an early-19th-century log cabin located beneath MonstroCity. Originally the home of the son of Daniel Boone, it was owned by the Hezel family for more than a century and is now a bar and entertainment venue.

The Roof

IMG_8358 (2)

The roof has a small old-fashioned Ferris Wheel.

IMG_8339 (2)

It also has a slide that goes under a small pond.

P1100713 (2)

The pond has stepping stones that go from one side to the other.

P1100738 (2)

The roof also has a school bus that had actually worked once, extending past the edge of the building.

IMG_8365IMG_8331 (2)

Visitors can walk in the school bus and open the door from the driver’s seat.

P1100711 (2)

Also found on the roof are a giant rope swing contained in a free-standing aluminum dome underneath the roof’s centerpiece; a giant metal praying mantis.

IMG_8336 (2)

It is possible to climb a series of enclosed metal ladders inside the dome (of an old planetarium) to an exit at the top.

IMG_8388 (2)

P1100747 (2)

The view from the top!

The entire experience was mind-blowing…a feast for the eyes and for all the senses. The attention to detail, the creativity and artistic detail made for incredible photo opportunities, although the grandeur simply can’t be captured by a lens.

IMG_8375 (2)

The little details made it an photographic treasure hunt as all of us stumbled across one cool shot after another.

IMG_8344 (2)

We were there 7 hours and could have stayed another 7. It was definitely one of the coolest places we have EVER been. For $12.00/ person we felt we got our money’s worth 100 times over! Honestly, I cannot even begin to tell you how A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. the City Museum is. These photos do it NO justice as most of the pictures I took just looked like abstract chaos of intertwining branches, rooms, rock, tile, coils, and everything else that the museum is created from. You absolutely have to experience it for yourself – it will blow you away.

IMG_8487 (2)

But be forewarned – at the end of the day you’ll be utterly exhausted but dreaming of your next visit to the City Museum!

New Galilee Potato Festival




When we sat down at the beginning of the summer to compile our bucket list of summer activities

Ozzie had only one request,

“Please, oh please, can we go to the New Galilee Potato Festival?”

We knew nothing about it. We had never attended before. Ozzie’s only exposure to it was reading the signs advertising it

as we drove through town last August.

But he desperately wanted to go.

“I love potatoes!” he explained when I asked why he wanted to go.

I really had no desire to take the family to the New Galilee Potato Festival but since Ozzie rarely asks for anything with such heartfelt pleas I told him we would try.

This week was the festival.

As we looked at the calendar we realized that the only free evening we had was opening night. So on Tuesday night, following football practice, we all went down to the potato festival.

“Why a potato festival in New Galilee?” you ask…

Well I wondered the same thing until a friend shared this background information that was published in Ellwood City’s newspaper:

“New Galilee’s potato festival still has skin in the game.

This year, though, it will share billing with the much-welcomed return of the fireman’s fair.

Launched in 2012, the potato festival celebrates the region’s agrarian roots, especially its ties to the John Gilkey family. Gilkey, an Irish immigrant, came to the area in 1797.

He planted three varieties of potatoes — blue, red and white, according to explorepahistory.com — that within a few years cross-pollinated to form a new variety he named Neshannock, described as a “large and long potato, reddish purple in color, with streaks of the same color through the flesh that generally disappeared after the potato was cooked.”

By the 19th century, it became the standard commercial potato “prized for its size, wonderful flavor and ability to keep,” the website says. But it “gradually fell out of favor” after more productive varieties were introduced.

Locals, though, still think Gilkey’s potato is worth celebrating. And so they will by combining the fireman’s fair, a popular tradition of the past, with a new one — one that has “true meaning and to honor our roots,” said Mark Benes, festival planner, on the event’s website.”

IMG_8591 (2)

On our way to the fair Ozzie was shaking with anticipation. He had his allowance scrunched in his hands and he shared his plans for his allowance with us…

“I have been saving up my money for this,” he told us with enthusiasm, “all summer!”

“I am gonna buy me a five-pound sack of po-ta-toes!”

When we arrived we discovered the presence of this majestic root vegetable to be minimal…very minimal!

Ozzie was crushed to discover they weren’t selling bags of potatoes and Grace was saddened to find out the only potato dish being sold was carnival fries.

Despite the disappointment over the lack of potatoes the kids still had a fun time.

IMG_8618 (2)

It was late so all the carnival rides were lit up making the ambiance magical.


Toby bought enough ride tickets to allow each child to ride three rides, but because we were one of a small number of families there the kids were told time and time again that they could stay on their rides and ride again for free.

IMG_8599 (2)

I think the carnival workers were bored and so they generously allowed the kids to ride a lot more rides than they actually had tickets for. It was a fun night and we ended up having the place to ourselves by the end of the night.

IMG_8634 (2)

IMG_8602 (2)



The kids especially enjoyed the ferris wheel which allowed them to look down over the fair and the surrounding farms.


IMG_8613 (2)



We ended the evening with French fries, of course! Toby bought four orders of fresh-cut fries so we could commemorate the beloved potato…

( at least a little bit.)


It was a crazy experience but Ozzie wasn’t disappointed in the least. As we walked back to the car he was bouncing with excitement. He grabbed me with a bear hug and said:

“Thank you! This was the best potato festival I have ever been to!”

Yep, best potato festival ever.


Let’s go to the Drive-in


It was a perfect summer night for sitting under the stars and watching a movie.

On Monday night, for family night, we decided to cross another activity off our summer bucket list and take the kids to the Drive-in movie theatre.

We have a few Drive-in movie theatres that are still in business within a one hour radius around where we live. We chose to drive 35 minutes south and go to Dependable Drive-in. It was charming in its vintage chic appeal. It felt as though we had gone back in time to the 1950s.

IMG_7153 (2)

The kids were VERY excited when they found out what our plans for Family Night were:

IMG_7140 (2)

IMG_7145 (2)

IMG_7147 (2)

As we drove to the theatre we had some concerns for how the night would play out when we passed through a massive rain storm, but upon arriving the sky cleared up and we were rewarded with a beautiful double rainbow for our optimism.

IMG_7172 (2)

Our family night consisted of two parts: a “lesson” and an “activity.”

We began with our lesson.

For our lesson we talked about the power of affirmations. So often we as family are quick to point out each others flaws or weaknesses. Even when done in a loving, helpful way these critical words can affect how we see ourselves. We seem to be less motivated to speak the positive thoughts and admiring thoughts we have about each other. After Ozzie’s last therapy session I felt the need to (as a family) better focus our efforts on affirming and building up  each other

so for our lesson I planned an activity…

On seven sheets of notebook paper I wrote the name of each family member at the top. We sat in a circle and passed our papers to the right where the next person wrote 3 things they loved or admired about us. The rule was that you couldn’t pick any quality that a previous family member had already written about that person. It took us about 30 minutes to pass all the papers around the circle but the end result was a touching, heartfelt memento that will be a treasure to each family member in the future. As they all  received their papers back and read the words written by their siblings and parents you could see them change:

IMG_7134 (2)

smiles grew bigger, everyone sat a bit taller…a bit prouder, and I could visually see how the words written affected how they saw themselves.

IMG_7174 (2)

It was a powerful lesson and a good reminder of the affect our words have on those around us.


After our lesson we had about 30 minutes before the start of the movie. The kids were excited. Some had never been to a drive-in movie before, others had faint memories of going when they were little, and some had gone more recently.

IMG_7192 (2)

We were there for a double feature. For $7.50/adult and $3.00/child we were able to see two movies that the kids were wanting to see. You can’t beat the cost. It is far cheaper than our local theatre AND you get the fun novelty of the drive-in movie experience.

While we waited for the first movie to begin Tyler and Ozzie played tag with the little boy in the car next to us. The big kids got situated, making their “nests” and getting comfy for the start of the movie.

IMG_7191 (2)

IMG_7186 (2)

We knew the movie time was drawing near as the sun sank below the tree line.

IMG_7220 (2)

When the movie was about to start we handed out the candy boxes we purchased earlier in the day at the Dollar Store.

IMG_7190 (2)

The movie began with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. It took me back to simpler, nicer times as I watched families with children rise from their blankets on the grass, place their hands over their hearts, and sing along to the words on the screen. It was a touching experience for me.

IMG_7233 (2)

Then the movie began at 9:15pm. The first movie was Minions. The kids were excited to see this one

being big fans of the Despicable Me movies.


Everyone settled into their spots with Tyler trying out a variety of different movie viewing positions before he found his spot for the night.

IMG_7237 (2)

The kids teased him earlier when he packed up all the bedding and pillows off his bed for the movie

but were soon envious when they saw how snuggly he looked. 🙂

IMG_7239 (2)

Tyler was not impressed with the Minion movie. The characters spoke in their classic “minion banter” through the movie making it necessary to watch their actions to understand the storyline. This frustrated Tyler who spoke with exasperation, “I wish this movie was in English!”

At 11:00pm there was a brief intermission before the second movie began.

IMG_7252 (2)

This was the movie we were really excited about:

Inside Out


This clever movie was about the emotions in our head that guide our decisions. This thought-provoking story line led us through the story of a young girl who was dealing with the struggle of moving to a new state. As she dealt with the mix of emotions that come with a challenging life change one of the emotion characters (JOY) tries to maintain control of the other emotions not wanting the little girl to feel anything but joy and happiness. In her effort to protect the little girl from her other emotions of fear, anger, or sadness, she learns an important lesson about the value of each of our emotions.

As I watched I just kept thinking how powerful this lesson was for all of us.

There is no such thing as positive emotions and negative emotions. Every emotion we feel is valid and deserves acknowledgement. Our emotions are the barometers of our life and I have learned through our work with Tina the importance of feeling every emotion we feel and naming every emotion for what it is.

Suppressing, ignoring, or pretending our emotions away only hurts us in the long run.

We must feel it to heal it.

It was a WONDERFUL movie…

funny, sweet, thought-provoking,

that I highly recommend.

By the end of the night Tyler had fallen asleep.

IMG_7256 (2)

At 1:00am we packed up our blankets and chairs and drove home.

“That was the coolest Family Night ever!” was the last thing I heard before everyone drifted into dreamland.