Tag Archives: creativity

Scrapbooking: Cheaper than a Therapist!

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Easter week was one of those muddied, happy/sad weeks where joyful, celebratory moments roll in on the heels of heartbreak and vice versa, leaving us all with emotional whiplash. These are the very hardest weeks for me to navigate as my desire for a life of black and white living meld into a perpetually grey existence. Gone are the days that can clearly be labeled a success or a failure. Instead we find ourselves riding the rollercoaster of trauma-affected parenting that take us on a ride filled with breathtaking views at the top followed by stomach-flipping drops to the bottom. This up and down thrill ride doesn’t occur over the course of a month, or even a week, but often in the space of mere minutes.

And to say that sort of frequent change in altitude (and attitude) is draining, would be the understatement of the year!

As I type this I can clearly picture the faces of family and friends who are nodding their assent to my depiction, as they, too, are on a similar roller coaster that never slows down and never allows riders to disembark. What got you on the ride might be circumstances far different than mine, but if you are “crisis living” and navigating life currently in survival mode, I know you get what I’m saying.

This week was one of those happy/sad weeks filled with many happy/sad hours of emotional whiplash as I celebrated joyful highs and heartbreaking lows,

And it all started with a girls’ week away.

This past week I joined four of my nearest and dearest friends at JB’s Retreat for a few days of cropping.

Every year I run away from home for a few days. This annual escape began over a decade ago when my big kids were little tykes. This annual getaway began when a friend who sold Creative Memories started organizing a scrapbooking getaway for her customers at a local Bible college. For 2 1/2 days, and for minimal cost, we would be blessed with the opportunity to spread out our paper and pictures (with no fear of little fingers touching), work uninterrupted (without having to break for diaper changes or meal preparations), and just scrap without interruption. It was a lovely and always a very productive reprieve from responsibility. It became something I look forward to each year. I was able to enjoy a mini vacation for a few days, but could do so without feeling any guilt because while I was away, I was using my time to bless my family by recording our family’s history

I love to scrapbook. I find it to be a delightful melding of photography, storytelling, and creative expression…3 things that bring me great joy. Scrapbooking has been an important creative outlet for me over the years (although less so now that I have the blog that meets some of that need.) I also have an inner drive and passionate desire to record my family’s story. Since I was a young girl, I have been a journal writer. Through scrapbooking I have been able to combine the need to record our life’s journey with my love of photography. Unfortunately, being a wife and Momma doesn’t allow me as much time as I’d like or need to stay on top of keeping everyone’s scrapbooks current. This is another reason why these annual scrapbooking weekends have become such a blessing. Over the course of a few days I can scrap a year’s worth of memories.

My conviction about the importance of having a recording of our stories and capturing the moments of our lives through photographs has only increased since we entered the world of adoption. I see how the lack of personal history in the form of scrapbooks or pictures hurt my boys, making me all the more determined that their current story be recorded and recorded well.

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This annual scrapbook weekend also serves the added purpose of being a time of rest and renewal. I am able to step away from the busyness of life that consumes my days and focus on self-care, stillness, laughter, and creativity…all balms to my soul. And I can do it without feeling that nagging momma guilt, because my time away is gifting my family with something special and important.

Over time that weekend retreat evolved as some friends moved on and new friends were gained. It went from being Becky’s planned excursion at a bible college to something a group of us co-op moms picked up when that era ended.

For the last few years we have gone away scrapbooking for 3-4 days. The first few years were spent at Scraphappy, a charming little house rented out to scrapbooking groups like ours, but a few years ago when we went to book it, we discovered it had closed without notice. There was a moment of panic, as all of us really live for this creative retreat, but then we rallied and began searching for an alternative location.

That is when we stumbled across Red Door Retreat.  This getaway was located near Sandusky, Ohio. It was a beautiful place, and it worked for that year, but the drive and the set-up of the house wasn’t ideal so we kept searching.

Two years ago, we tried a new place, one that Lana and Tauni discovered. It is called JB’s Retreat and its affordable price, beautiful views, and close proximity to home made it practically perfect!

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I left Tuesday morning with a van full of papers, photos, gifts, stickers, and enough food to feed a small nation. Typically, I ride with Lana and Tauni, but this year I drove separately. This was because we had some extra guests this year, and in the end, it was a blessing I had driven separately because in my absence things imploded at home, requiring me to take my leave a day early.

Our extra guests were three teenage girls.

Three of us scrapbooking veterans have daughters graduating this year.

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And these three graduates also happen to be best friends, just like their mommas, so we decided to open our getaway to our graduating girls when they volunteered to be our kitchen staff for the week.

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It sounded like a great deal to us, as we wouldn’t have to break from our creative pursuits to cook meals,

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And the girls were excited to get a mini vacation with much free time to play, interrupted only by their responsibilities at meal times.

Their presence was a blessing. It was fun to have that special bonding time with the girls and they truly did bless us by taking on the responsibility of cooking and clean-up.

When they weren’t in the kitchen cooking the girls spent their time doing school work, watching movies, enjoying the farm animals that call J.B’s Retreat home,

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Participating in a fun sewing project with Miss Wendy,

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And pampering themselves with the thank you gifts they received from the moms.

They soon discovered why our annual scrapbooking retreat is the highlight of my year…

Between the gifts of love exchanged between friends,

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The late-night hours filled with belly-aching laughter,

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The opportunity to emotionally recharge through good conversation, yummy food, and restful sleep,

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All while getting to indulge in creative pursuits…

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Who could ask for anything more?!

This year my creative project was to scrapbook our February vacation to Disney World and Universal Studios, and I did pretty well, getting 124 scrapbook pages finished before a late-night call on Wednesday evening that resulted in an abrupt end to my vacation.

This trip really clarified the emotional state of my hurting children. It soon became clear how dependent they are (in their current state) on my help to co-regulate them when they are struggling.

I ended up leaving Molly at the retreat, in the loving arms of my friends that are like “Aunties” to my kids, and they wrapped Molly up in their loving care while I went home to deal with the crisis at home. It was a good call. Molly was able to enjoy some extra, much-needed respite, and I was able to help Toby diffuse things at home. The next 24 hours were filled with huge safety issues that resulted in a trip to the emergency room and hospitalization for Ozzie after a series of dangerous behaviors that climaxed with a failed suicide attempt.

It wasn’t the week-long retreat I had hoped for, but I’m grateful for the hours of respite I was able to grab hold of while I could. It was a gift to step out of the storm for a few days, rest, be encouraged by dear friends, focus on some long-overdue self-care, all while enjoying some bonding time with Molly.

It wasn’t a perfect week. I probably wouldn’t even call it a “good” week (there was too much heartache mixed in),  but there were blessings to be found, and those blessings were a gift!

Here’s to recording the moments of our lives…

The good, the bad, and the ugly!

Pancakes and Painting Party

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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.

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St. Louis City Museum- Round 2

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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

First Floor

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“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.”

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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.

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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

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From every direction, a different creature is staring back.

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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.”

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Shoelace Factory

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

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And outside you will find: MonstroCity!!!

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

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A castle turret,

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

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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.

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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

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The roof has a small old-fashioned Ferris Wheel.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

Grace and Olivia’s Senior Prom

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Friday morning Grace woke with excitement coursing through her veins. It was Prom day!

We have cyber schooled our children for 12 years and the most common question asked after, “What about socialization?” or “How can you stand having your children home all day?” is:

“Don’t you feel like your kids are missing out on the best parts of school not being in a traditional brick and mortar school?”

And I have always been able to answer, “No,” because I don’t. God called us to this model of schooling for our children, and it is the best parenting decision we ever made.

I have felt that through this model of schooling we have really gotten the best of both worlds…all the best parts of homeschooling and the better parts of public schooling.

Through our awesome co-op group, we have been able to compensate for those parts of the public-school experience that they might have missed in their early years like talent shows and holiday parties, Valentine exchanges and field trips.

Our transition to 21st Century Cyber Charter School four years ago was really the missing piece in rounding out our cyber schooling experience. At this school, my older kids found a college preparatory learning experience that mimics a post-secondary learning environment far more effectively then what we saw happening in our local public school.

“But what about prom?!” a young girl from church asked us a few years ago, “Your poor kids won’t get to experience prom!”

I tried to explain that I really didn’t place a lot of value in the prom experience, especially knowing how little of value is found at a high school prom, but I understood what she was saying. She felt it was a rite of passage my kids would be denied.

We didn’t know if prom was in the cards for my teenagers but weren’t concerned given the fact that through our church they have been able to participate in a Spring Formal each spring since they were 14, which offers all the fun of prom without the filth found in some of the local schools’ proms.

But as the end of the school year came closer Grace received information about 21st Century Cyber Charter School’s prom. They hold it the Friday afternoon before graduation so families already in town for graduation don’t have the added burden of two trips.

In the months leading up to prom the seniors began submitting ideas for the prom theme. It would be held at the local country club and the senior class eventually voted a masquerade theme for senior prom.

Grace decided that rather than spending money on a formal prom gown that she will never wear again, she would instead wear the same dress she wore to Spring Formal… her custom-made Downton Abby dress she received for her 18th birthday. (Beautifully made by my dear friend, Wendy.)

Since it was masquerade themed Grace and Olivia decided they would each make their own mask, rather than buy one.

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The mask reveal!

Both girls decided to coordinate their masks to their dresses. Using leftover fabric left from her dress Grace made this beautiful mask that matched perfectly! Olivia created a mermaid themed mask that matched her and her dress perfectly.

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The one thing that doesn’t work out quite so well with a cyber school prom, especially when your school is located 5 hours away, is asking a date to prom. You can’t exactly invite a boy to prom, ask him to travel across the state, and book a hotel for a night or two, just to escort you to prom. 😊

But it didn’t matter to Grace. The Hudaks were staying at the same hotel, and I don’t know that there is anyone else Grace would rather share this experience with than her best friend, anyway.

An hour before they had to leave, Grace and Olivia met in our hotel room to begin getting dressed and dolled up.

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The end results were beautiful!

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What lovely young women they both are.

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A friend shared this quote in the graduation letter she wrote Grace and I think it perfectly exemplifies both these young ladies:

“She was beautiful, but not like those girls in the magazines. She was beautiful, for the way she thought. She was beautiful, for that sparkle in her eyes when she talked about something she loved. She was beautiful, for her ability to make other people smile even if she was sad. No, she wasn’t beautiful for something as temporary as her looks. She was beautiful deep down to her soul.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

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After a few pictures, we dropped off these two prom princesses at their senior prom and headed over to the bowling party where the rest of the family was spending the day.

It looks like Grace and Olivia had a wonderful time at prom. Here are some of the pictures they took:

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The venue was beautiful!

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Grace and Olivia with Ms. Cloetingh, Olivia’s learning coach and the girls’ mural club teacher.

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Great food and lots of dancing= Awesome Prom!

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Both girls with their learning coaches. Love all four of these pretty ladies!

 

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The girls enjoyed the “Make your own mocktail” station.

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And then there were ice cream sundaes for dessert…Yum!

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Happy Prom!

 

Almost there, ladies!  Graduation is just 24 hours away!

Father and Son Campout is just the beginning!

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Whew, what a week!

I really didn’t think we would pull it together, but miraculously we did.

This was the final week of school and everyone was pushing to finish strong.

In the midst of final exams, appointments, work, and picnics, we had to prepare for the week ahead.

The result: piles and piles of packing.

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We are headed to the ocean for some much-needed beach therapy. When we scheduled this trip, we had no idea it would follow on the heels of such a traumatic week. But now it is all the more appreciated and eagerly anticipated. This Momma needs nothing more than the crash of waves on my feet and the sun on my face to do a little healing.

But as of Tuesday morning, I had no idea if this trip was going to happen. At that point Ozzie was still hospitalized and we weren’t sure when he’d be cleared as safe to come home by Saturday. By the end of the week we received news that he’d be released Friday afternoon, just in time for all the graduation festivities/vacation plans to begin.

In the meantime, I kept making piles, hoping it would all would work out.

The packing for this trip was especially laborious as it is multiple vacations crammed into one.

We had to pack for the beach with all the clothes, towels, sand toys, food for the week, board games, fishing supplies, balls, kites and day to day living gear that would be needed.

We are piggy backing this trip to the shore on top of our real reason for heading east: Gracie’s graduation ceremony…

Which meant another pile with church outfits, dress shoes, jewelry and Gracie’s speech for graduation.

Then we had our pile of school books and supplies for four kids to return to the school since it is the end of the year.

On the Friday prior to graduation Grace will be attending prom, which meant a prom pile of dress, shoes, make-up, hair supplies, and her masquerade mask.

The kids will also be spending a day at their school painting a wall mural with the other mural club students, which meant yet another pile filled with paintbrushes, painting clothes, paints and a gift for their mural club teacher.

Then we had lists and piles of animal supplies to leave for our house sitter, and Olive’s packed bag for her stay at the kennel.

I just kept creating piles as I thought of things, hoping and praying we didn’t forget anything important (i.e.: the boys’ pills!)

Once we were done packing for next week’s excursions then we began packing for Friday night’s adventures.

Friday night was the annual “Father and Sons” campout with the other men at church. This is an event that my boys eagerly anticipate each spring. The girls also look forward to it as it means a girls’ night out with no boys!

By Friday evening all our packing was done, the van was loaded for the next morning. Camping gear was loaded into Toby’s truck. Tyler’s soccer treat bags were packed (Yes, we also had treat duty for Tyler’s last soccer game on Saturday morning) and we were finally ready to relax and enjoy a fun boys’ night/ girls’ night out.

Toby and the little boys headed out around 5:30pm to drive to Camp Agawam, where the campout was being held. All three boys were excited. Toby was, well…a good sport. 😉

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Their evening was spent hanging out around the fire. Playing Navy and Pirates at the epic wooden pirate ship at the camp, and sleeping (or not sleeping) in a tent.

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In the morning, they woke early (Tyler was up at 5:30 am) and had a pancake breakfast with the other campers before heading home.

The girls and I had an extra special evening planned. For Mother’s Day the girls gifted me with a gift certificate to get a manicure with them. We decided to wait until the “Father and Son” campout to schedule our nail appointment so that we could make it an entire mother/daughter evening. I was so excited. It’s been probably a decade since I had my nails done professionally. I was looking forward to some pampering and spoiling, but most of all I was just excited to get an evening with my two girls.

What a blessing my daughters are to me. I don’t know how I would manage without them. Not only do the constantly and unselfishly try to lighten my burdens through selfless service, but they fill my parenting love tank when it is empty and dry. They see my weariness without me having to express a thing and work tirelessly to make sure I know I am loved and appreciated…particularly during those long stretches when little brother is solely focused on hurting and tearing down.

I desperately needed loving care and my girls provided it in a way only daughters can.

We left for our nail appointment as the boys were leaving for camping. Grace had arranged everything.

We arrived and had fun choosing from the hundreds of nail polish shades. I found myself drawn to the beautiful fall shades of orange and rust, but forced myself to pick something fun and summery. So, I went with a hot pink instead.

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We were called back one at a time. The experience was decadent. I would pay for the experience again just for the hand massage. It was lovely!

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Grace ended up with beautiful periwinkle blue nails, to coordinate with her prom gown and graduation dress. Molly picked her favorite color of salmon pink, and I did a funky, textured, hot pink polish that felt very fun and sassy…two traits that have been noticeably absent from my life these last few months. 😊

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Following our appointments, we went shopping for craft supplies. We were planning on crafting while watching shows in our PJs later, and needed some supplies for the projects we were working on.

Then it was time for a late dinner. As is our annual tradition when the boys go to Father/Son campout, we go out for a sit-down dinner. By the time we were done shopping it was 9:30 pm so we decided to keep it close and easy and go to Applebee’s. Little did we know it was graduation evening for a few local high schools and the place was packed with graduates and their celebrating families. Despite the crowds and slower than normal service, we had a blast. It was so much fun to sit and visit and enjoy a leisurely dinner with my girls.

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We were home at 11:00 pm, put on our PJs, got out our craft supplies and put on the new Netflix remake of Anne of Green Gables, “Anne with an ‘E’”.

We crafted, did face masks, talked, and walked with Anne through episode #1`, finally crashing at 1:30 am.

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It was a practically perfect evening.

The next morning the boys arrived home by 8:30 am. We ran Olive to the kennel, prepared things for the house sitter, packed last-minute items and filled the cooler, changed Tyler into his soccer uniform and headed to his game.

It was a good final game. Tyler played well and had fun, which is what really matters.

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By noon they had won the game, Tyler handed out his snacks, and we were on the road!

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Sand, Surf, and Sun…Here we come!

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Red Door Retreat

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Every year I run away for a few days to scrapbook.

This tradition began over a decade ago when my dear friend, Becky, began planning a weekend retreat every January for her Creative Memories customers. It was a chance for us to get away and devote days to scrapbooking our lives without the interruption of everyday living. I have always had a strong testimony of the importance of recording the story of our lives and recording the evidence of God’s goodness in our lives. For me this began in the form of journaling, evolved into scrapbooking, and now is done primarily through blogging, but my heart is still most devoted to the art of scrapbooking. There is something almost spiritual found in the art of taking photos of those you love most, and combining them with written word and scraps of paper and lace, that fill my soul with joy.

My conviction about the importance of having a recording of our stories and capturing the moments of our lives through  photographs has only increased since we entered the world of adoption. I see how the lack of personal history in the form of scrapbooks or pictures hurt my boys, making me all the more determined that their current story be recorded and recorded well.

This annual scrapbook weekend also served the added purpose of being a time of rest and renewal. I was able to step away from the busyness of life that consumed my days and focus on self care, stillness, laughter, and creativity…all balms to my soul. And I could do it without feeling that nagging momma guilt, because I was gifting my family with something special and important.

Over time that weekend retreat evolved as some friends were lost and new friends were gained. It went from being Becky’s planned excursion at a bible college to something a group of us co-op moms picked up when that era ended.

For the last few years we have gone away scrapbooking for 3 days at Scraphappy, a charming little house rented out to scrapbooking groups like ours, but this year when we went to book it we discovered it had closed without notice. There was a moment of panic, as all of us really live for this creative retreat, but then we rallied and began searching for an alternative location.

That is when we stumbled across Red Door Retreat. Located near Sandusky, Ohio, this would prove to be a great Plan B!

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We left Tuesday morning with a packed mini van full of papers, photos, gifts, fabric, computers, stickers, and enough food to feed a small nation…eager for our time away to begin.

I was especially looking forward to a few days of respite.

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We arrived and discovered a sanctuary for our souls.

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The house was charming, and bright, and clean. The first floor contained our living area, kitchen, and four bedrooms with two twin beds each. There was a total of four bathrooms.

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Down a set of stairs lay our gathering place. It was an ideal workspace, set up for any type of crafter, with extra outlets, lots of light, and large personal work spaces.

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It our group we had an eclectic array of crafting going on this year. Typically we are all scrapbooking but this year we had Wendy working on a quilt for her son’s graduation gift, Corrina making homemade cards, Lana and Tauni scrapbooking traditionally and I spent three days digitally scrapbooking.

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While not my first choice, a digital scrapbook was the only choice for scrapbooking our seven week trip around the country. If I had scrapbooked traditionally I would have probably filled 10 albums, so a digital book was the best plan.

Over those three days I managed to complete my 90 page bus trip album and a 50 page Disneyland album…a huge success for someone so tech challenged!

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It was a wonderful three days. Most of our day was spent crafting, but we also made plenty of time for late night chats, lingering meals, and a lot of laughter and fun,

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Which came in the form of:

Fun gifts like this creative, homemade zippered container from Wendy. We always look forward to her home-sewn gifts!

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 Of Pandora II,

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A “Headbands” game created by the Hudak kids for our weekend,

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and fun prizes.

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It was just the escape I needed to catch my breath, refocus on the big picture, and reflect on all the blessing waiting for me at home.

Sometimes a girl just needs to get away

To want to come back home.

Holy COW!

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The theme for the evening was COWS…

And, oh, what fun we had with our steers and heifers.

After our fieldtrip on Wednesday we had 24 hours to kill until Molly’s National Honor Society induction ceremony (the real reason we were in the Philadelphia area,) and we were looking for something fun to do that we wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do when we have the little boys with us.

So how did we spend our evening, you ask.

We donned painting aprons, sat before canvases, and created cows.

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It was Gracie’s idea, after having had such a fun experience at Painting with a Twist in Exton a few years ago with Miss Lana and Olivia. When we went onto the website to see what painting was being offered for that evenings class, we were sold!

So after dinner we drove over to “Painting with a Twist “where we joined 10 other aspiring artists for a night of creativity.

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Molly and Rusty were a bit nervous, feeling like their artistic skills wouldn’t be up to par with the other students in the class, but Grace and I kept reassuring them that the entire experience was a fun, no-pressure opportunity to be creative with no fear of “messing up.”

The painting classes at Painting With a Twist are run by an instructor who leads the class step by step through the creation of a predetermined painting. In our class we were all painting colorful cows, but had the choice whether to paint steers or heifers.

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Rusty was the only one who picked horns over a flower wreath for his cow’s head.

The class took two hours with the instructor leading us through the steps of creating the cow painting, beginning with the background and ending with the top of the cow’s head.

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It was so much fun.

I loved the creative process, but even more than that I loved watching my children create and gain confidence in their own abilities as their paintings came together.

The end results were charming.

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I loved how we all sat through the same class and yet everyone’s cows were so different and so reflective of the artist.

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We were better than we ever thought we’d be…

Sometimes we just need to be reminded of the artist that lives within:

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The BUS is done!

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One year ago we did it.

In July of 2015 we walked onto the 422 auction lot,

and we bought ourselves a school bus.

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The project began as a seed of an idea in my creative husband’s mind.

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For two years we had been planning a once in a lifetime road trip and were pricing out our different housing options. As we considered the varying costs of hotel rooms verses renting an RV Toby came up with the idea of creating our own RV.

When he brought up the idea of buying a used school bus and transforming it into an RV I was a bit hesitant, but when he pointed out all of the selling points, namely:

  1. The fact it was significantly cheaper than renting an RV.
  2. We could customize it to meet the exact needs for our family of seven.
  3. At the end of our big road trip we would have a family RV to enjoy for many years.
  4. We could work on it as a family and the kids could learn some valuable skills and take ownership in the project….

I was sold!

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The kids were SO EXCITED!

 

This past week was spent finishing the inside of the bus. Tomorrow Toby leaves for Michigan and will be gone until two days before we leave on our cross country road trip, so this week was the last opportunity we had  to complete the bus. Here are some of the projects we were working on:

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Rusty and I learned how to make screens for the windows.

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One of Toby’s big projects was to replace the gas tank on the bus. It was in good shape but the 38 gallon capacity made him uncomfortable with some of the longer stretches of road out west. So, being Toby, he headed to the local junk yard and found a 115 gallon tank off a junked vehicle and brought it home to replace the original tank.

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The girls sewed curtains for all the windows this week.

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Toby’s big “inside” project this week was building all the cabinet doors for the kitchen, master bedroom and front of the bus. When he was done I stained and polyurethaned them.

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And then he hung them.

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Didn’t he do a beautiful job?!

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The outside of the bus was also prepped for paint. The kids scrubbed the whole thing down, rough spots were sanded, all the stickers were removed, and exposed metal was primed before the first coat of paint went on.

 

It has been a labor of love. For 12 months we have worked to transform our home on wheels from a 72 passenger school bus into an RV.

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Toby led the family through the process and the end results are magical.

We are happy to say:

WE ARE DONE!

Here is a look at the inside of our school bus conversion.

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A look into the master bedroom that is located at the back of the bus.

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Isn’t it charming?!

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A view towards the front at our travel seats.

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Our bathroom consists of a toilet and small sink. On the wall is a framed map of our trip route.

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The view from the master bedroom looking forward. We decided to use a car play mat as our kitchen rug. We felt it tied into the license plates we hung on the cabinet fronts, but more importantly it was placed there as a therapy tool for the boys. They both use matchbox cars as a tool for cooling down when they get anxious.

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We look forward to collecting more magnets for the fridge as we travel the country.

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One of the decorative touches added with the completion of the bus…A good reminder for all of us! 😉

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We found these trays at IKEA. They made me smile. We super glued magnets to the back so that they can hang on the fridge and be pulled down to be used as serving trays when needed.

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We also labeled the birds that we felt matched each family member with their name.

 

This week was also spent purchasing paint for the outside of the bus.

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Oh, decisions…decisions…decisions!

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Because we needed special paint that would adhere to the metal of the bus we were more limited in our color choices. This is what we could pick from.

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Choices were made…

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The boys LOVED watching the process.

 

The outside of the bus is almost complete.

Stay tuned for pictures!

School Bus Conversion Update!

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Sunshine and warmer weather have finally made an appearance in Western PA,

the result of which is a sudden surge in bus conversion activity.

Last summer we purchased a used school bus at a school bus auction with the intention of converting it into a RV for our family of seven.

This family project came as a result of us trying to price out the most economic way for our family to do a once in a lifetime, one month trip around the United States to visit some of our nation’s National Parks. After pricing out the varying costs of renting an RV or renting two hotel rooms per night for 30 days we discovered that if we could find a used school bus cheap enough we could convert it into a family RV and use it to see the country for less than the other two options…

With the added perk of having a custom designed RV to show for it at the end for future family trips.

The renovation process began with Toby removing all the school bus seats and adding a hardwood floor.

I am blessed to be married to a man who is handy and renovates/builds homes for a living, so this project was right up his alley. In addition to being a capable handyman he also has been blessed with the talents of creativity and being able to think outside the box. He is a great problem solver and good at executing an abstract vision. He is also a master of taking other people’s “trash” and repurposing it into treasure, a skill which has served us well over the course of our marriage, not just with this school bus conversion!

When we began the renovation we spent hours online looking at other peoples blogs, websites, and YouTube videos for blueprint ideas. The problem we ran into, however, was that most school bus conversion blueprints we found were meant for an RV that slept 2 or 4 people, not 7. So ultimately we had to start from scratch and come up with our own design, custom to our family’s needs.

We knew there were some non-negotiables with the design that we simply had to have. First and foremost we needed it to sleep at least 7 with a little wiggle room in case our family grows in the future.

We wanted belted seats for traveling. Rather than reinstall school bus seats (which wouldn’t be the safest or most comfortable for long distance travel) Toby instead found mini van captain’s chairs from a local junk yard that will be installed at the front of the bus.

I knew I needed a full kitchen for feeding my family three meals a day. With that I knew we would need a larger fridge and ample food storage. Adding a full kitchen (with a fridge, cook top and sink) will cut down on our vacation food expenses dramatically.

This need for extra storage is also what led to our decision to not install a shower. When drawing up the blueprints for the bus we knew that we had the option of a pantry/closet or a shower in the same spot. I opted for more storage space since we will be staying at KOA campgrounds most nights with showers we can use there.

We did choose to add a bathroom with a flushing toilet and sink. With this addition Toby had to install a white, grey, and black water tank beneath the bus.

Once we decided on the bus design Toby went to work. Much of his work over the winter months was necessary, but not photo worthy, behind the walls work like plumbing and electric, jobs that were time consuming, and taxing, but necessary. Now that that work is all done the fun, more visible and creative part of the project begins. Toby has now built all the walls, built all our cabinets (he is still cutting out all the cabinet doors) and has added the generator, finished all the lighting, and added the roof top air conditioner.

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The electric panel that will sit below/behind the shelving in our closet.

 

On Monday night, for family night, we spent the evening cleaning the bus, removing all the old bus stickers, and preparing the wood for staining. Everyone worked hard and the cleaning was done in about two hours. Cleaning the bus together allowed for a lot of trip discussion and got everyone excited for the completion of the bus and our big, cross country trip.

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Step one: Empty the bus out so we can clean it.

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Let the scrubbing begin!

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Grace removing all the old seating stickers.

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Tyler and Ozzie cleaned all the lower panels.

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Rusty helping Grace out by lifting her from cabinet to cabinet to clean window rims.

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Molly cleaning the top bunk (Rusty’s bed.) The wire and clips will be used to hang the privacy curtains that the girls are sewing for the bus.

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Toby’s seat. We manages to clean 10 years of grime from his dashboard. He is installing a co-captain seat next to his for me to sit in. The children’s seats will be in two rows behind us.

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The wood: sanded, cleaned, and ready for staining. I love the barn door design Toby came up with to build the bathroom, bedroom and closet doors. I think they are charming. 

 

Toby spent the remainder of the week  staining all the wood in the bus,

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IMG_0577 (2)The view from the back of the bus where our master bedroom is located.

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All stained! Isn’t it pretty 🙂

 

Welding a platform on the back of the bus to hold the generator,

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Installing the last overhead light and the air conditioner that will keep us cool as we explore the hotter southern states,

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The air conditioner being installed…

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The air conditioner (which he installed in the old school bus emergency exit hatch) and our new overhead light.

 

 

Storage containers were added to the outside of the bus,

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And our kitchen countertop has been installed.

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The progress is exciting and our school bus is looking more and more like a home.

Stay tuned as the school bus conversion continues!

Artists at Work

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Last night we put on our Sunday best and enjoyed an evening of highfalutin fancy fun at the Hoyt Institute of Fine Arts. There they were having an art exhibition featuring some new, upcoming local talent. And our family, always eager for an evening of culture, made plans to attend.

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These new and upcoming talents were none other than our own co-op kids!

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Every year our co-op has an art show near the end of the co-op school year to display and appreciate the artwork that has been created in the various art classes over the course of the last year by our own talented students. Typically we put on the art show at the co-op. The kids bring in their favorite art pieces from the year and we put them on display so that everyone can view and appreciate the talent that is so abundant in our little group.

This year we stepped things up a notch as a result of one of our co-op mom’s connections. This mom works closely with the Hoyt Institute of Fine Arts as a regular volunteer. She decided to call in a favor, asking if our co-op group could display our artwork  at the Hoyt this year.

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The Hoyt Institute agreed. They gave us a room in the building and did a lovely job of matting and displaying the kids’ artwork in such a professional way.

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We held our art exhibit open house in the evening, thus allowing more friends and family to attend. We dressed in our Sunday best to enjoy a night of culture. 🙂

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Here is little bit about the Hoyt Institute where our art show was held:

“The name HOYT literally spells out History, Opportunities, Youth, and Tradition for adults, children and senior citizens in Lawrence County and surrounding areas, supporting the mission “to provide the best possible arts to the greatest number of people”.  Described as New Castle’s “cultural jewel”, the historic four building complex offers an environment of historical interest while housing art galleries, classrooms, studios, collection of fine arts library, and meeting facilities on five manicured acres of the residential North Hill.

Built by architect Frank Foulke between 1914-1917 for the prominent Hoyt siblings, May Emma and Alex Crawford, a tour of the Hoyt tells a rich history of a time, place and culture that once was.  You can see striking features such as crystal cut glass doors, carved staircases, and a German suit of armor in addition to family memorabilia and period furnishing.  Mrs. Alex Crawford Hoyt’s 1930’s bookbinding equipment may still be seen in her studio on the third floor, as well as lovely collections of vintage hats, purses, and our native Shenango China on levels one and two.

Since its simple beginnings in 1965, the Hoyt  has grown from a small group of artists wanting to develop and showcase local talent to the only non-profit community arts center and museum of its kind within a 40  mile radius of Pittsburgh.  Supported in part by public and membership contributions, the Hoyt provides continuous opportunities through arts courses and workshops, performances, concerts, lectures, free monthly exhibitions, and annual juried competitions.”

It was a wonderful evening. The kids loved having Toby there. They were able to show off some of the artwork they created over the last year, as well as view the talents of the other students.

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In addition to the artwork on display there was finger foods and drinks to enjoy while browsing the art work and visiting.

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When we were done viewing the co-op’s exhibit we enjoyed walking around the Hoyt Institute, viewing the other artwork that was on display. We were blown away by the level of talent.

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Just strolling around the historic home was a feast for the eyes, with the homes themselves being magnificent works of art in their own right.

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It was such a lovely night.

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