Tag Archives: co-op

Pancakes and Painting Party



As part of our co-op’s bi-weekly gatherings, Miss Corrina planned a second, amazing activity for our group.

Our co-op has evolved so much over the last decade as the needs in our group changed with the passing of time. As our children grew out of the early elementary years and into middle school, and then high school, our vision for the co-op evolved as well. We no longer needed the holiday parties and structured classes that were so important when they were little. Last year it was decided we had outgrown the co-op’s original function and now our needs were more social. Last May we retired a part of our life that was such a keystone of our week for so long. Unwilling to walk away from the co-op family that had become such an integral part of our life, we opted to adjust our vision for the group.   Rather than meeting every Wednesday for lessons, we decided to meet every other Friday for a learning/social activity. Each mom signed up for a month. This gave everyone a break for the other 7 months of the school year, while also allowing each mom to get creative and plan two activities built around her family’s interests/and or desires.

It has been a lot of fun seeing the wide variety of activities and field trips planned throughout the year, each one so different than the one before, and each fun and engaging in their own unique way.

Miss Corrina was our March mom. Her first planned outing was a historical tour of Darlington. For her second planned activity she went in a completely different direction with a hands-on art activity.

It was held at our old co-op building and the activity was a painting class taught by Corrina’s sister-in-law who teaches these “ladies’ night out” painting classes professionally.

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When we arrived, the lunchroom was set up with easels, canvases, paint and paint brushes allowing us all to participate as we were guided through the step by step process of painting this sample painting:

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Our group was comprised of elementary students up to grandmothers and everyone had a blast putting on their artist hat and getting creative.

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We were led through the steps in a way that lifted the intimidation of trying to create such a complicated piece of art,

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And everyone had a blast painting while visiting with friends.

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The process took 90 minutes and the end results were as varied as the artists themselves.

It was so much fun seeing everyone’s finished products.

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Our activity concluded with a pancake lunch and play time with friends in the gym before it was time to head back home to get the last of our school assignments done for the week.



Duck-pin Bowling


The first of our two January Co-op get-togethers occurred near Butler when Miss Wendy booked bowling lanes for a fun, Friday afternoon activity.

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But these were not the “normal” bowling lanes.

 They were duck-pin bowling lanes…

 A completely different animal! 

For instance, the balls used to bowl are a far cry from the traditional bowling balls one is accustomed to. They are around 5” in diameter (which is slightly larger than a softball), weigh around 3.5 pounds and lack finger holes, making them significantly smaller than ten-pin bowling balls.

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The pins, while arranged in a triangular fashion identical to that used in ten-pin bowling, are shorter, smaller, and lighter than their ten-pin equivalents, which makes it more difficult to achieve a strike.

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For this reason, the bowler is allowed three rolls per frame…

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 Another shift from traditional bowling.

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But the untraditional nature of the game made it all the more fun.

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 There was definitely a learning curve, but the kids enjoyed exploring this new sport and developing some new skills.

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 And of course, it was all the more fun doing so with friends!

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Since it was the first gathering since the holidays, everyone enjoyed hearing what gifts friends received and what traditions were enjoyed with family.

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I loved just sitting and taking it all in.

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It was fun to watch the excitement from the sidelines and listen to the happy chatter around me while catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a while.

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Thanks, Miss Wendy, for a fun afternoon!

Day 1 of Christmas: Co-op Christmas Party!


On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me

A day of fun with our co-op family…


Last Friday we ended a festive week of fun with some of our very favorite people at our annual co-op Christmas party. It was like old times as we reconvened at First Baptist Church in New Castle, our co-op home for the past decade. Although we no longer meet there on a weekly basis, they graciously agreed to let us use our old lunchroom for our Christmas party.

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It was decided that the party would consist of a taco bar lunch and games, ending with a secret Santa gift exchange among the kids.

It was fun to gather together once more!

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We even had some of our co-op graduates in attendance.

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The festivities began with the older kids leading a Christmas trivia game in the back room while the moms decorated the lunchroom and prepared the taco bar.


And then they joined Miss Kathy for some fast-paced, competitive fun:

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When everything was laid out and ready, the kids congregated in the lunchroom to be called one table at a time into the kitchen to make up their tacos, and then return to the lunchroom to feast.

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As kids finished lunch, they headed into the back room to enjoy the photo booth that Miss Rose set up, and then returned to the lunch room to sing a little Christmas Karaoke.

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After everyone had full bellies, we gathered for the White Elephant gift exchange.

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The kids gathered around the pile of white elephant gifts and then proceeded to battle over a few favorite packages.

The fun of White Elephant gift exchanges seem to be in the stealing. The competition is even more heightened when it is a room full of siblings fighting for the most enticing packages.

When the game seemed as though it would never end, we kindly reminded the kiddos they were battling for something that was purchased for a buck at Dollar Tree.

That was followed with a second friendly reminder that the real gift exchange would follow. That brought a quick conclusion to the game.

Holding their White Elephant gift in front of them, the kids un-wrapped their package one at a time, revealing stick-on mustaches, noise makers, dress-up wigs, and other goofy gifts that brought laughs.

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Then it was time for the REAL gift exchange…

Each co-op student had been given the name of another student to buy for in the Secret Santa exchange. Each child took turns handing out the gift they carefully purchased for their assigned friend, and unwrapping the gift that was purchased for them.

There were squeals of delight over the well-chosen gifts, given with love.

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The party ended with crafts and socializing as everyone got in a little more visiting and Christmas well wishes before we had to leave to meet Brandon at home. He had a half day of school and we had some action-packed days ahead of us, so with final hugs of good-bye we headed home.

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Although we left with our arms laden with gifts of love and Christmas treasures, the greatest gift of the day was the gift of time with dear friends!






Co-op Christmas fun at Kraynak’s


This school year has been one full of changes.

Most of those changes are a result of wonderful life changes that have occurred in the last four months, but some of those changes bring feelings of loss as we look back on past years and acknowledge the transition we have had to make into a new season of life.

The end of a chapter is hard no matter how amazing the next chapter promises to be, and no closing chapter has been more difficult than that of our co-op’s dissolution.

It has been an unusual school year in that after a decade of our Wednesdays being committed to our co-op, we now find that day free from commitments. For years our week revolved around the planning, preparing and packing that was involved in this weekly activity. It was a lot of work in the beginning, when the kids were small and each of us moms were preparing for and then teaching 3-4 classes every Wednesday, but we did it because we loved it…

We loved the friendships we saw developing between our children.

We loved the amount of learning that was accomplished in one day.

We loved the experiences we could offer our children that can be challenging in a home school environment (like Valentine’s Day parties, yearbooks, and talent shows.)

We loved the hands-on learning that happened under the guidance of a teacher that wasn’t “Mom,” with classmates that weren’t siblings.

We loved the support we found in each other as we navigated the challenges of life with friends who soon became so much more than friends.

Co-op was the greatest blessing of my “home schooling” journey,

And my heart shattered a bit when we all realized that this season of life was drawing to a close.

Our children who were kindergarteners when this adventure began, are now graduating high school and the purpose that the co-op was created for had been fulfilled. We no longer needed to gather weekly to get assignments done and the kids no longer craved the Valentine card exchanges and Halloween parties. We knew the end had come, but none were emotionally ready to give up the connection that was such an integral part of our lives for so long.

So, we came up with a plan…

The plan was to meet twice a month for a social get-together with each co-op mom taking on the task of planning for a month of the school year.

This past Friday was the first of two planned outings for December.

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We met at Kraynak’s, a toy store/candy shop/garden center/gift shop/Christmas wonderland… in Hermitage, PA.

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“From September 10th thru December 31st, Imagine a world of make-believe with twinkling lights, glittering trees, and a magical array of life-like characters. “Santa’s Christmas Land” is a 300-foot, indoor starlight avenue of uniquely designed artificial Christmas trees. Each tree has a specific theme that is enhanced and complimented by surrounding scenery and a cast of life-like animated characters.”

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Christmas Land is comprised of different vignettes of Christmas scenes.

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 Music is playing and the smells of Christmas fill the hallway that guides visitors through the different scenes.

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It is magical and we look forward to seeing how the displays change from year to year.

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Everyone has their favorites,

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And it is a fun Christmas activity that is free to enjoy…

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(If you can make it through the toy store and candy aisle’s that you must pass to get to the displays.)

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It is actually a pretty brilliant marketing strategy,

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And we buy into it every year.

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And LOVE it year after year.

It was so much fun enjoying this Christmas tradition with our co-op family, and catching up after a month apart.

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We love our co-op family and loved getting to spend some time with our dear friends.

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Next activity on the calendar: Our annual Co-op Christmas party!!

Cool Spring Corn Maze



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The second outing I planned for our co-op’s monthly get-togethers was a trip to Coolspring Corn Maze. This is an annual tradition for our group that we have enjoyed every October for years.

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This corn maze, located north of us in Mercer, embraced its inner superhero with its “Heroes of the Corn” theme this year.

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The theme was seen in the décor around the farm and in the actual maze design, as seen from this areal shot of the maze:

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The theme was also carried through to the checkpoints hidden within the maze. These checkpoints each spoke of different superheroes and within the description were highlighted words that answered the questions on the crossword puzzles that each of us received before entering the maze. By finding all the checkpoints and all clues hidden within the maze, we were able to solve the puzzle at the bottom of the sheet.

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It was a fun way to get the kids exploring (and learning!) as they navigated the twists and turns of the maze.

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Our co-op group broke into mini groups, as everyone headed in different directions upon entering the corn.

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I found myself walking with Grace and Ozzie, with Rusty as our fearless navigator.

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But we kept crossing paths with other groups.

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It took us a little over an hour to locate all the check points, fill in our crossword puzzle, solve the riddle, and find our way back out of the maze.

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After making our way out of the maze we spent time enjoying the other activities Coolspring Corn Maze offers:

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By the time lunch time arrived we found ourselves inundated with a couple school buses of little people who claimed all the prime picnic tables, leaving us to picnic on the grass.

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The bitterly cold wind eventually drove us back to our cars as we called it a day and said our good-byes to our co-op friends…

See you in November!


A Treasured Time at Living Treasures




Last May our co-op of 10+ years disbarred. It was a sad day when we said good-bye to the church that had become a home away from home for over a decade as we met together with fellow “home” schoolers and dear friends every Wednesday to teach our children and allow them opportunities that are hard to facilitate in a home environment.

When our co-op began, our babies were all in preschool-3rd grade. At the end of the school year last year those same “babies” were entering their senior year with most of our kiddos working independently and no longer needing the co-op classroom environment for academics. It was an end to a beautiful era of life, one that we hated to say good-bye to, but knew we had outgrown the co-op’s original purpose.

Although we no longer needed the academic support that co-op was originally created for, we were still feeling the need for regular social get-togethers with our co-op friends who have become a second family over the years.

Our solution was to move our get-togethers out into the community and to meet twice a month rather than weekly. We decided that to facilitate these social events, and to make sure we made time for them to happen regularly, we (the moms) would each take a month of the school year and plan two field trips, outings, or holiday parties for the kids to meet up and connect with friends.

I signed up for October and the first outing I planned for the month was to Living Treasures Animal Park.


 This park has a special place in my heart, as it is home to so many sweet memories. Our first visit here was with Gracie as a baby. We have visited it with my sister and her kids, my parents, my brother, my grandfather and many friends. Over the years we have created many sweet memories at this special place, and two Fridays ago we created a few more.


We arrived as the doors opened and met up with the other co-op families in the parking lot. Because we had a group that exceeded the 20-person minimum for a group rate we were able to get in for $6.99/person, half the normal rate. We also purchased animal feed for the animals…


Because that is the best part of Living Treasures!


 This particular animal park is set up to allow visitors opportunities to interact with the animals more intimately than is possible at a zoo.


The proximity and amount of interaction depends on the type of animal.


The animals that you can pet and feed by hand include deer, cattle, alpaca, goats, and the wallabies.


Bigger animals are fed through feeding tubes that drop their treats into a food dish.  These critters eagerly wait beside their bowls hoping for a handout. This system allows kids to interact with the animals up close without the risk of losing fingers.


The monkeys at Living Treasures are fed with a bucket system. Visitors can place carrots or special monkey pellets in a bucket attached to a chain, and the monkeys can pull the bucket to the cage and fish out their treats.


The animals all understand this system well and know what it means when little people with buckets come walking their way. The critters tend to swarm you when you approach, especially if you are among the first visitors of the day and everyone is still hungry.


It was a beautiful day to be outside and it was wonderful seeing friends we hadn’t seen in a while…

And to enjoy it while loving on fur-babies made it all the better!




First Mural Club then Prom!


Wednesday was a big day for my big kids.

It was a day that began with a Mural Club outing with their Mural Club advisor at the Murrysville office of their cyber school and concluded with Prom.

All three of my older kids have enjoyed being part of the Mural Club at school. This club, like most of the clubs that are offered through their cyber school, meet virtually for the majority of their meetings. For Mural Club the kids log on to a virtual classroom weekly and are led by their teaching in creating a painting. My kids have all really enjoyed the skills they have learned from Mrs. Gibson, and have enjoyed the friendships formed through this club.

Once a year the students gather in person to create a piece of artwork at one of the two school buildings and is the highlight of the year for the Mural Club members. Here are two previous murals done by the Mural Club.

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Grace was the designer of both previous murals and was actively involved in Mural Club before graduating last year. When it was decided that Mrs. Gibson would be traveling out our direction for this year’s Mural Club outing she invited Grace and Olivia, two Mural Clun alumni, to join in on the fun.

We arrived at the Murrysville office at 11:00 am and discovered that it was just the McCleerys and Hudaks attending. With 6 students painting it was decided that rather than a wall mural they would each paint individual canvases that would hang together creating the school’s initials…21CCCS. (For 21st Century Cyber Charter School.)


While the Mural Club got creative I took the boys next door for a Momma/sons date where we enjoyed a milkshake.


When we returned great progress had been made and the Mural Club was finishing up their works of art.


It was neat to see the different directions everyone took with their paintings.


It was also fun to see that despite the differences in their creations, how well they coordinated.

Side by side they looked great!


Nice job, Mural Club!

From there the big kids joined the Hudak family at their hotel room to get ready for Prom.

Prom at 21st Century Cyber Charter School is open to juniors and seniors and their dates, but the high school students at co-op thought it would be fun to all go as a group, so the juniors in the group each invited  a younger classmate (Rusty) or older graduates (Grace and Olivia) as dates to the prom so they could all go together.

Even though it was just a group of friends attending together they had fun with the idea of “prom-posals” and made it official at the co-op picnic a few weeks ago.

Wednesday night was one of the many times I wished I could clone myself, as I had to leave to take Tyler up north for his baseball game and couldn’t hang around to watch them get ready for prom and drop them off at the dance. Luckily I am blessed with dear friends who graciously stepped into the role of surrogate mom to my three oldest and helped them get ready for prom, took photos for me, and made sure they arrived at the dance.

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They had a blast dancing the night away with their best buddies and all said that it was a fun night with friends!

An End of the Year Picnic


Yesterday was our co-op’s end of the year picnic.

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With the finish line so close it was nice to step away from the frantic pace at home, as everyone pushes hard to finish strong, and enjoy a picnic with friends.

Tyler is 2 days away from being a 6th grader, while the three oldest have one more week to turn in all their assignments before officially being done with school. Come next Friday I will be a momma to a 12th, 11th, 8th, and 6th grader, as well as a college Sophomore…

Can someone please hit the brakes and slow down this spinning ball that keeps speeding around the sun?!

I always enjoy our co-op end of the year picnic. It celebrates the conclusion of a year’s worth of effort and hints of the lazy days of summer that will soon be arriving.

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Wednesday was a crazy day for us as I put hundreds of miles on Big Bessie driving down to Wexford for an AWESOME TBRI training session with Ryan and Kayla North, back to home to pick up kids for the picnic, north to New Castle to meet up with our co-op friends, back down to Wexford for Tyler’s dyslexia tutoring,  north again to Zelienople for horse therapy, and then Bessie headed south once again for Scouts and youth activities.

It was a FULL day so I was grateful we managed to carve in time to meet our friends at the park for a picnic.

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It was a breath of fresh air…literally!

The kids had a wonderful time picnicking and playing with friends while the mommas enjoyed some uninterrupted visiting.

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It was a perfect way to end co-op. Now we just have to keep pushing hard to end the school year equally strong.

The finish line is in sight!

One week to go!!

The End of an Era


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It began 13 years ago. We were attending a start of the school year picnic. It was our second year 0f cyber schooling and I finally felt I had enough of a handle on the ins and outs of schooling at home that we were beginning to search out additional enrichment opportunities.

It was that need for socialization and adult company that pushed me to leave my home on a Friday afternoon and drive to a picnic an hour away with a 3, 5, and 7 year old in tow.

Tarina was the first to approach me. She introduced herself and told me that her and another mom were starting a learning cooperative group in New Castle and if I thought I might be interested she could take my name and number. Who knew that the decision to show up at that first co-op meeting would change our lives forever and bring an abundance of blessings to our home-schooling experience.

Tarina has since passed away. I often think of her, reflecting on the great blessing she was in my life, not only in the friendship I enjoyed with her and her family, but in the way she has blessed our life (and so many others) because of her decision to start our little co-op.

This past week marked the end of an era.

Our co-op has gone through its share of transitions. It has called two different churches, “home.” It has evolved from being a group heavy with preschoolers and elementary aged kids to being mostly high school students. It began with all the families being PA Virtual families and using the k12 curriculum to now being a hodgepodge of cyber schools and curriculums.

As the years have passed our numbers have ebbed and flowed as new families joined and founding families moved on, with so many dear friends made along the way.

We watched as students graduated and others moved away, all while trying to hold what was left of our little co-op together. This year, however, the decision was made to disband what has been an integral part of our week for 13 years and a huge part of our schooling experience.

We have simply “out-grown” its original vision and original purpose.

In those early years it was an enormous blessing, as it allowed our kids to be taught by someone other than mom, socialize with friends, participate in traditional school experiences like holiday parties and talent shows, all while accomplishing a HUGE amount of work in those four hours every week.

By teaching science, history, art and music together we were able to leave co-op with 12 lessons done for the week (per child) and an emotionally-filled bucket after getting in some much needed friend and mommy time.

Now our co-op looks much different.

We now only have one grade level that functions in the traditional way developed by our co-op, with all other students working independently in a study hall setting. We no longer come to co-op to get lessons done, but rather to feed our souls as we connect with our “tribe.” Because of this evident shift in our co-op, a decision was made to retire the New Castle Star Co-op and instead meet our families’ evolving needs (which are primarily social rather than academic) in a different way. We will still be getting together with this group we love but it will be less frequent, less structured, and more of an enrichment group rather than an academic co-op.

Wednesday, May 9th was our last co-op ever. I spent the day trying to keep things light and not drown under the emotions of loss and finality I was feeling. The kids handled it better than I. They understood that we weren’t saying good-bye to this group of special people. They know we will still see each other, but for me the knowledge that we won’t be returning to this building that created so many memories for my family left me feeling sad.

We were the last to leave the building after taking some final photos for this year’s yearbook.

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I walked from room to room, checking to make sure nothing had been left behind and making sure all the lights had been turned off, and I allowed myself a moment to reminisce and reflect on the memories created in each room…

Memories of Miss Tauni sparking Ozzie’s love of history.

Memories of Tyler and Simon’s first class where more time was spent trying to lure those wild 6-year-olds out from under the table than actually teaching. 🙂

Memories of Rusty working with Miss Julie to learn sign language as a little boy so he could communicate with others during his struggle with Selective Mutism.

I remembered with fondness the class of students I worked with year after year, teaching Rusty, James, and Katie science through hands on experiments.

Then there we memories of Miss Molly’s class as they connected in a special way over Miss Kathy’s science experiments, Miss Corrina’s history lessons, and art with Miss Lana.

As I stood in the doorway of Gracie’s classroom (which has since evolved into the study hall room) I couldn’t help but think of the special people that had taught my oldest daughter and what special friends they became to me. Love you Ginger and Wendy!

I walked into the gym and visions of so many wonderful memories flashed before my eyes…

Memories of trick-or-treating, Christmas parties, Minute-to-Win-It games, our Valentine’s day glow stick party, our walk to raise money for Miss Tarina’s battle with cancer and years of bake sales held to raise money for The Make-A-Wish foundation.


Rusty walked in, smirking at my sentimentality.

I know it is just a place but it is the place where my children grew up and discovered who they are, and for that reason a piece of my heart will always belong to the New Castle Star Co-op.

Thank You for the memories, dear friends…

Its been a beautiful season of life!

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A Night off and a Dress




Amen, Sister…AMEN!

Sometimes all a girl wants is to lay down her dusting cloth, slip into something pretty, and have a night out on the town.

Thanks to an aptly timed play I was granted “the wish my heart makes” and like Cinderella had a magical night filled with song, dance and a pair of glass slippers…

Not mine, of course. I am too old to be hobbling around in glass slippers. I wore some kickin’ Keds for the evening. 🙂

We have entered high school musical season in Western Pennsylvania, a season marked by yard signs sprinkled across the countryside advertising all the local shows. It is  fun to drive around the area and take note of what beloved musicals each school has chosen to tackle this musical season. With limited time and a short high school musical season the great debate is always… which shows to go see?!

There seems to inevitably always be more shows than free weekends which sometimes results in a “divide and conquer” approach with different family members catching various shows (staring friends from church and co-op) as school and work schedules allow.

This year Molly was able to catch two productions staring friends from church that I couldn’t attend because of meetings.

A few weeks ago, she drove down to Center Township to see Hailey and Lauren Mitchell in “All Shook Up,” and Elvis inspired show that Molly raved about for days following the production.


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She also ventured out on her own, on a night Grace had school and I had a camp meeting, to watch one of her bestest friends as the lead in the musical, Cinderella.

received_2044220899193577Rochester’s high school musical is one we traditionally attend as our friends, the Tames, are key talents in the production year after year. It is always fun to watch their talent play out on stage.


Once again Molly came home with nothing but praise for Heather and her talents as well as her younger sister, Melanie, who stepped into the role of step sister with only 3 hours notice after the young lady who was to play the role got hurt. Molly was super impressed by how well Melanie learned the lines for this new part in the hours before opening night and stepped into this new role seamlessly.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella was also Mohawk High School’s musical this year.


Last Friday we attended their musical to watch Caleigh, one of Molly’s best buddies from co-op, who was playing the role of guard and singing girl.



Cute Caleigh is on the left.


We joined up with the Hudak gals to watch Caleigh’s performance. It was fun to attend this particular show with Lana as Mohawk School is her Alma Mater. She had lots of fun stories to tell as we waited for the show to begin.


The production was magnificent.


The show was presented storybook style, meaning the sets and props were minimal and the show was carried mainly by the talented cast…

And there was a lot of talent on that stage!

After the show we met up with Caleigh to express our accolades for a job well done. She looked adorable in her costume.


We also were able to say hello to two past co-op classmates that now attend Mohawk High School…

Sarah who was in the play as a townsperson and Jack who played in the orchestra.


This particular musical was the only one I caught this musical season, but it was a great one to catch. I left the evening whistling the familiar melodies of childhood… songs of hope, garden wishes, and Prince Charming’s love.


Then all to soon the clock was striking midnight and it was time to hurry home before we all turned into pumpkins.

Oh, how I love the magic of musicals.


Yes, Yes…100 times, Yes.