Tag Archives: Erie

Molly’s Last Week at Home

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 (Please excuse this longer than normal post…It has been quite the week!)

This week marked Molly’s last week at home before we drive her out to her school in Idaho. It has been 12 weeks since Molly graduated from highschool and it feels as though we squeezed 3 years of life into those 3 months. This past week was no exception. Our “clown car week” was two dozen experiences squeezed into a mini cooper time frame! We all had our own agenda of “one last ___” that we wanted to fit into the week, along with all the normal life busyness. Molly had her own list of things she wanted to do before leaving, and visits she wanted to fit in with friends before venturing west. 

Somehow we managed to fit it all in. It was a crazy week filled with immeasurable blessings and special memories to tide us all over until Molly’s return home.

Some of the events from the last five days include:

1. A Visit to the Homestead!

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On Sunday we drove out to Ohio for a visit with my parents and grandmother so everyone could say good-bye to Molly. Zach joined us and while there my parents presented Grace and Zach with their wedding gift.

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They received a beautiful, antique desk. They were given it early so they could take it back to their apartment and set it up.

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They weren’t the only ones to be gifted with presents of love. My parents also put together a care package for our college-bound girl. Knowing her love for their homemade salsa, they put together a basket for a salsa night with her roommates.

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While we were there we also celebrated the birthdays that fell in the last two months: Tyler and Pop Pop.

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They opened their gifts and everyone had fun trying out Tyler’s new Connect Four game.

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We enjoyed lunch in the barn and the board games that followed. All too soon it was time to say good-bye. The sadness was eased by the knowledge that we would all be reunited in a month for Gracie and Zach’s reception.

2. Everyone headed back to school!

Tuesday marked the first day of school for Tyler as a 7th grader at PA Cyber. Although the older boys were in their second week of school at 21st Century Cyber School, and Grace had returned to CCAC two weeks prior, for the sake of traditional back to school fun, we marked Tuesday as the day for pictures and treats.

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In the morning, following daily devotionals, everyone received their back to school goody bags. They were filled with new school supplies and treats to enjoy during the first week of school.

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For breakfast everyone enjoyed cinnamon rolls…the treat I used to soften everyone up to be cheerfully compliant about first day of school pictures! 🙂

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It has been a great first week of school. Braden and Rusty are getting used to their daily 5:30 am wake-up for early morning seminary and are both becoming accustomed to their new schools. (This is Braden’s first year cyber schooling and Rusty’s first year of college classes at our local community college as part of a duel enrollment.)

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In two weeks Molly and I will begin our BYU-I classes. She will be a campus student and I will be online. Although I didn’t do a back to school photo, I did receive this letter of love in the mail from my parents after sharing that I received all A’s for my first year returning to college. As a child we would receive a dollar for every “A” we brought home on our report card. In keeping up this tradition, and as a way to celebrate my success, I received this sweet card and report card money in the mail. Oh, how I love my parents and appreciate their constant encouragement and sideline cheers as I navigate the game of life. I am blessed!

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3. Seeing how everyone measures up!

In the hallway of our home we have a cherished record of our children’s growth in the form of marked lines on the wall. It has been a tradition since moving into our home to mark our kids’ heights every Valentine’s Day. This year we were away for Valentine’s Day and missed following through with this tradition. Then life, with all its challenges began to unfold, leaving us focused on more important things and bigger issues. Six months past and we kept forgetting to make our annual marks on the growth wall.

On the first day of school we decided to “get-r-done!” After first day of school photos, everyone was measured against the wall. Grace’s line continues to remain static, as it has been for the last 3 years and Molly only grew a smidge. Rusty had an 1 1/2 inch jump this year which is impressive given he will be 18 next month, And Braden got his first mark on the family growth wall.

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This year Tyler won for the biggest growth spurt with a solid 6+ inch jump in his height!

4. Enjoying stolen moments with my silly partners in crime!

My most treasured moments of Molly’s last week at home were just the normal living moments..

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Those pockets of time filled with normalcy, visiting, time spent together, and laughter…lots and lots of laughter!

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5. Molly bidding her best friends good-bye.

For the last two weeks Molly had tried to make a point of fitting in a final visit with her nearest and dearest friends. Her final good-byes this week just happened to be with some of her dearest friends…Caleigh, Tatum and Irvin.

On Friday, an hour before we took to the road, she stopped by Geneva College where her friend Caleigh is attending school. They were able to have a good visit and Caleigh was able to show Molly around her new stomping grounds. It was a sweet opportunity for them to catch up and say good-bye before Molly is gone for the semester.

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For her visit with Tatum she drove down to Pittsburgh where Tatum is attending Carlow to get her degree in nursing. Molly was able to see Tatum’s dorm, stroll with her through campus and meet Tatum’s new friends. It was bittersweet as they said good-bye, but Molly came home with a heart full of happiness for the blessing of seeing her best friend happy and thriving in her new role.

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Her other best friend is Irvin. Irvin lives out near Gettysburg, a few hours from us. The two of them met through school and soon developed a deep and meaningful friendship through regular pen pal correspondence. It was Irvin who took her to prom and surprised her (with Tatum) with a birthday she’ll never forget. As the summer came to a close they made plans to get together before Molly headed out to Idaho for school and Irvin headed to Japan for 6 months abroad.

He called and asked permission to take Molly out on a date and then on Tuesday drove here from across the state with special plans for a special day.

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The date started with a thrift store challenge. They each picked out the tackiest combination of clothing articles they could find for the other to wear on the date.

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Then they headed to lunch where Irvin introduced Molly to sushi.

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Their afternoon was spent talking and laughing as they widow shopped at local stores before they sat down to reminisce on their friendship journey from acquaintances to soul-deep friends.

They each brought their stack of letters written over the course of their friendship, and beginning with their first words penned and ending with their most recent correspondence, they read their words aloud to each other.

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Irvin has been such a blessing in Molly’s life and I am so grateful for his example and the influence he has had on our daughter.

6. A Visit with Ozzie

On Wednesday we made our weekly trek up to Erie to visit Ozzie. Knowing this was Molly’s last week at home, I felt it important that they have one last visit before she heads off to school.

After our weekly family therapy session, we took Ozzie out for lunch. His choice was Five Guys, where we enjoyed a lunch of hamburgers and fries.

After lunch we headed over to a kitschy little attraction I read about online called Schaefer’s Auto Art.

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Here a local artist has put on display his personal works of art. These roadside sculptures are all created from old car parts, and I thought Ozzie, our resident car enthusiast, would eat this up!

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It was pretty cool and Molly’s artistic eye appreciated the photographic appeal, but Ozzie felt it was a shame that cars has to be destroyed for the sake of art. 🙂

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7. Temple trip to Palmyra

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Following our visit with Ozzie, we continued our travel north to Palmyra, New York. At the start of summer, when our weekly family therapy sessions with Ozzie began, I set the goal of pairing each visit with Ozzie with a trip to the temple, thus making that weekly experience a compounded blessing.

These weekly sessions can be emotionally trying and draining, as we dig into the ugliness of Ozzie’s past trauma. I found that finding refuge in the house of the Lord, following these weekly appointments, was a way to gain solace and take a hard, weekly commitment and make it an even bigger blessing.

It became my routine to drive 2 1/2 hours every Wednesday at 8:00 am for Ozzie’s 10:30 am family therapy session. This appointment was followed by a social visit with Ozzie where we would spend an hour or two playing board games and catching up, while Ozzie enjoyed the treats I packed. Now that he is approved for off-grounds passes, our time is spent enjoying each other’s company while experiencing Erie.

After dropping him back at the RTF at 1:00 pm, I then continue my trek north. It takes an additional 3 hours to reach the temple. I typically depart the temple by 8:00pm, making it home sometime between 1:00 am and 2:00 am Thursday morning.

It has become a weekly appointment that I look forward to and a commitment that has blessed my life immensely this summer. For the last month, my girls have been accompanying me (as their schedule allows), making it an even more precious experience. This week Molly joined me and we were blessed to enjoy an hour of stillness and contemplation in the Sacred Grove before making our 6:00 scheduled temple appointments.

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It was a beautiful evening with my beautiful daughter at a beautiful place!

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8. And a stop at Niagara Falls:

On our way home, we found ourselves more exhausted than usual. Not surprising, given the craziness of the previous two weeks. I questioned our ability to safely make it home and ended up booking a last-minute hotel for the night after 2 1/2 hours of driving. The promise of a soft bed for only $50.00 was too much to resist.

Our hotel was located just minutes from Niagara Falls, so before we checked into our hotel, we made a quick detour over to the falls that Molly hadn’t seen since her visit as a child.

It was as awe-inspiring and breathtaking as I remembered,

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And it was a treat getting to experience it again with Molly!

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9. Many Appointments!

A few final appointments filled the free moments of our week as we squeezed in trips to the eye doctor, dentist, therapist, etc. among other things. The biggest and most important errand of the week was completed by Grace and Zach. On Friday they headed to the courthouse to get their marriage license.  Now it is feeling real! We are six weeks away until the big day!!

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10. Packing the car…

Thursday was Molly’s final night at home. The sisters enjoyed a slumber party together and we went through Molly’s ever-growing pile of college supplies, loading everything in the car in anticipation for Friday’s departure. Amazingly it all fit and she even left room for the suitcases of the three of us who will be escorting her out to school.

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We plan on making a road trip out of the journey, revisiting some of our favorite northern stops from our bus trip three years ago, so Braden can experience a piece of what he missed out on, having not been a part of the family at the time.

Wish us luck!

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Westward Ho!

 

A “Plan B” Birthday

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It seems, despite all our best intentions, rarely do “Plan A” days materialize.

I’ve come to realize (and am working on accepting) the fact that we are “Plan B” people.

This isn’t by choice but it does seem to be an ongoing trend, and as a result we have gotten pretty good at rolling with the unexpected and embracing “Plan B” with a smile and a sense of humor.

Tyler’s 12th birthday was a “Plan B” sort of day.

We had such grand plans. After being rained out of our last visit to Kennywood we made plans to take advantage of our raincheck tickets and return for Tyler’s birthday. It seemed a perfect plan. The day prior was Brandon’s placement hearing so we thought it could serve as a celebration of Tyler’s birthday but also of Brandon’s placement. We even made plans to meet up with Tyler and Brandon’s little sister at the park after her half day at school.

Well,  all those grand plans came to a crashing halt when we received the unexpected and disappointing news that Kennywood was closed for the day. The day prior was the last day they were open during the week and they had shifted to “weekend only” hours.

Disappointment spread through the house at this news, but in true McCleery fashion we began brainstorming a “Plan B.” We already had the schedule cleared for the day. Everyone was off school and work and practice. Tutoring and therapy had also been cleared for the day. It has been so long since we had a wide open day ahead of us, with all family members present, and zero commitments, that we decided to take advantage of it and take a little day trip for Tyler’s birthday.

The older kids were already committed to volunteer at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch so we knew we wouldn’t be able to leave the house until 9:30 am. They have been volunteering twice a week for a year, and really enjoy the time they spend at the ranch twice a week caring for the horses, that they aren’t even fazed by the 6:30 am start time. Brandon has begun joining them in this volunteering opportunity and loves it as well.

One of our family’s birthday traditions is to wake the birthday child with the birthday song and a cupcake. The entire family gathers, the candle is lit, and the family bursts into the birthday child’s room in loud and enthusiastic song…

Setting the celebratory tone for the day.

When we told Brandon about this tradition and began preparing the cupcake at 6:00 am (so the kids could participate before going to the horse farm) he looked incredulous.

“So, we are going to purposely wake up Tyler at 6:00 am, sing to him and give him a cupcake…How is this a good idea?!! Why would you choose to do that?”

His facial expression made me laugh, and Toby’s look of “Yep. I’ve been making that point for years,” killed me.

But the smile that comes with this special birthday tradition makes the hours of lost sleep worth it. (Not everyone in the family would agree!)

When the older four kids returned from the horse farm we decided to let Tyler check out his  birthday table:

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And open his gifts.

The theme was built around our gift to Tyler. We decided to get him a basketball hoop for the driveway. It was Tyler’s 12th birthday gift but is really a gift for the entire family. We thought it would be a nice bonding activity for the kids, particularly Tyler and Brandon, but also would be another energy-burning coping activity for hard emotions. Some of my kids respond better to increasing energy to burn-off anxious energy rather than calming/quiet activities. The trampoline is our #1 tool for those kids but the basketball hoop will be an awesome alternate coping skill.

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He was thrilled!

The kids then took turns giving Tyler their gifts. I always love watching the kids prepare for a sibling’s birthday. Whether it was watching them shop in their own toy boxes when they were little, making homemade gifts as they got older, or using their own hard-earned money now that they are gainfully employed, much love and thought is put into the gifts they give.

It was especially touching watching Brandon work for Toby this week, earning money for his efforts, so that he could buy Tyler an extra special birthday gift. After years of not getting to celebrate his siblings’ birthdays he wanted to get something extra special for Tyler’s birthday. Their shared love of football led him to buy Tyler a football jersey (with some help from me.) He knew exactly what he wanted and purchased the jersey of Tyler’s favorite player.

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The other kids did equally well in their gift giving and Tyler was spoiled rotten by his big brothers and sisters.

 

Perhaps his greatest gift of the day, however, was having Brandon there to share his birthday with him after years apart, and knowing that his biological brother will soon be part of his adoptive family… his forever family.

After gifts were opened we headed out, driving north. We weren’t sure what we were doing, we just decided to head up to Erie and see what adventures we could fine. There was something a bit thrilling about the lack of planning, knowing we had an entire day ahead of us to explore and make memories as a family.

It was a beautiful day…sunny but cooler…a perfect day for a road trip!

When we arrived in Erie our first stop was Sara’s for lunch.

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During past visits to Presque Isle we have passed Sara’s and admired this fun, kitchy diner from a distance but had never stopped in. We decided Sara’s was a perfect place to dine for Tyler’s birthday.

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We enjoyed the fun atmosphere and delicious food. We will definitely be returning!

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After lunch we headed into Presque Isle State Park to enjoy an afternoon of swimming in Lake Erie.

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For Brandon, who had never been swimming in waves, and had never visited the ocean, this experience was particularly thrilling.

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The waves were about three feet high that day, giving the lake a distinctly ocean-like feel and making us all feel as though we were swimming at an Atlantic beach rather than Lake Erie.

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It was a delightful afternoon. Toby and I enjoyed some uninterrupted adult conversation as we lounged on the beach watching the kinds splash in the waves.

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The kids enjoyed an afternoon of playing in the sand and body surfing the waves of Lake Erie.

Tyler’s birthday celebration concluded with a trip to Waldameer Park, located just outside Presque Isle on Lake Erie.

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This was our first visit to Waldameer Park, but had heard many good things about it from friends who have visited many times.

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The park had a charming, old-fashioned feel that reminded me of our family’s favorite amusement park, Idlewild.

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The winding paths, tree covered benches, and old-fashioned décor gave the park a fun, vintage feel while still offering modern, thrilling rides for older kids.

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The kids had a blast and it was a perfect way to end Tyler’s special day.

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The baby of the family is now 12!

 

Panama Rocks

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Years ago Toby and I enjoyed a weekend away for our anniversary. He booked a hotel in western New York near Jamestown. While staying at the hotel a fellow visitor told us about a hidden gem, revered by locals but widely unknown by those outside the area, called Panama Rocks. It was recommended we check out this scenic park before leaving the area so we did and were so glad we did. It was one of the most magical places I had ever seen! 

When Grace and I made plans to visit Jamestown I knew a visit to Panama Rocks was a must, so following our morning at the I Love Lucy museum I told Grace we had one more place to visit while we were in the area, not giving her any clue of the magical world she was about to enter…

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Panama Rocks Scenic Park:  “an enchanting world of towering rocks, deep crevices and passageways, cool, cavernous dens, and small caves.”

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Formations are composed of conglomerate sedimentary rock, according to their website, and extend “about a half a mile and read upwards of 60 feet tall — one of the largest of its kind in the world.”

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There’s not many people in this day and age that aren’t familiar with the J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy, Lord of the Rings. Most of Tolkien’s well-known story line takes place in the magical setting of Middle Earth, a fictional fantasy world that’s covered in vibrant green landscapes and mythical wonders. If the idea of not being able to visit such whimsical place like this has always broken your heart, then no need to get upset…

We found Middle Earth!

And it is only a 40 minute drive from Erie!

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Operating since 1885, Panama Rocks Scenic Park is touted as one of the best outdoor attractions you’ll find in this area of New York.

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From deep crevices to cavernous dens, there was so much to see and explore in this extraordinary scenic park.

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Not only does the scenic park feature a one-mile long trail that leads visitors to fascinating places, off-trail exploring is also allowed here! Grace and I were able to make our way through passageways and explore crevices that looked like places from out of this world.

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The trail is great for visitors of all ages but does feature moderate inclines and pathways that will take you over the many roots you’ll find exposed throughout the park. (Which adds to the magic but requires watching your step.)

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One of the main reasons that this park is so eye-catching and unique is that the mosses and ferns create a lush scenery amongst such rough formations.

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It really was nothing short of magical and we found ourselves looking for the fairies and gnomes that we knew must call this fantasy land home.

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Pictures just don’t do justice to the awe-inspiring magnificence of this magical park. It really is another world and by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

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I was so grateful I was able to share the experience with Grace but we both agreed we must return soon with the entire family so that we can enjoy a day of exploring together in this fairy tale forest.

 

 

 

 

I Love Lucy!

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This week we are experiencing a rare phenomenon at Patchwork Farm. Grace and I find ourselves alone for a whole week, something that hasn’t happened for the last 18 years. This week Miss Molly is in Costa Rica working with the endangered sea turtle population and Toby, Rusty, Ozzie and Tyler are all at Boy Scout Camp for the week. Which means Grace and I have had 6 days at home together.

When we realized we would be home alone for the week we began making plans, determined to make the most of this rare gift, recognizing that it will probably never happen again. We decided to use this week to be tourists in our own town, visiting places we have always wanted to go, and participating in activities we normally can’t do when we are a family of 7.

This week has been all about connecting with my first born child and making memories that will be treasured years from now.

Our week of mother/daughter adventures began with a road trip on Monday.

We decided to make the 2 1/2 hour pilgrimage to Jamestown, New York to pay homage to the queen of comedy and one of our favorite leading ladies…

Lucy!

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There in the heart of Jamestown (the birthplace of Lucy) is the Lucy Desi Museum and Desilu Studios. We spent the morning learning more about this comedy icon and falling deeper in love with Lucy!

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Since 1996, Lucy’s hometown has welcomed visitors from all over the world to the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum. Inside its doors we found a warm salute to the First Couple of Comedy with priceless costumes, awards, photographs, and other vintage memorabilia on display from the estates of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

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With a push of a button we could hear audio clips from Desi’s autobiography as well as stories of their youthful antics told by Lucy’s childhood pals. A unique radio plays clips both from Lucy’s 1940’s radio series, My Favorite Husband, and some of Desi’s famous Latin songs.

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The panels on the left of the Museum (as you look toward the back) described Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s personal histories. As we proceeded down the panels, we learned about Lucy and Desi’s early careers, how they met, and their creation of the most famous comedy series of all time.

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After touring the museum we headed next door to Desilu Studios. Desilu Studios is devoted to the “I Love Lucy” TV series. It is home to original props, costumes, memorabilia and more. Inside we found complete re-creations of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s New York City apartment and the Hollywood hotel suite where Lucy pantomimed with Harpo Marx and set her nose on fire with William Holden.

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Desilu Studios is the permanent home of the “I Love Lucy” 50th Anniversary Tour Sets that traveled the country in 2001-2002 to celebrate the most popular show ever on television. Exhibited at convention centers, state fairs, music festivals, casinos, and more, it featured exact reproductions of the original sets.

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Here are some of our favorite Displays & Exhibits:

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My Favorite Husband Radio Studio Set: When CBS asked Lucille Ball to bring her wildly popular radio program, My Favorite Husband, to the new medium of television, she agreed–as long as her real life husband, Desi Arnaz, could play her television husband. Desi was traveling the country most of the year with his popular Latin band, making it difficult for the Arnazes to achieve their dream of starting a family. CBS declined, believing that the public would not accept this “mixed marriage” of an all-American woman to a Cuban with a heavy accent–despite the fact that the couple had in fact been married for several years. Here we were able to pick up the headsets and listen to excerpts from this radio show!

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“I Love Lucy” Episode #6–“The Audition”: To prove to CBS that the American public would accept them, Lucy and Desi created a vaudeville show that they took on the road in 1950. In one of their touring skits, Lucy plays “The Professor,” trying to break into Desi’s night club act with an audition on her special cello. After six months of tremendously positive live audience response, Lucy and Desi produced a pilot episode and CBS agreed to Desi’s playing Lucy’s husband. “The Professor” skit was part of the pilot as well as “I Love Lucy” episode #6, “The Audition.”

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623 East 68th Street, The New York Apartment: This was Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s apartment after the birth of Little Ricky. Their first apartment, which did not have a window over the piano in the living room, was too small for the three of them, so they moved upstairs to a larger apartment (episode #61, “Ricardos Change Apartments”).

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Artifacts: Among the costumes and props on display from “I Love Lucy” are the original cello and professor costume from the show’s pilot and episode 6, “The Audition,” as well as a 13-piece clown outfit and a lion tamer ensemble worn by Pepito, the Spanish Clown in episode 52, “Lucy’s Show Biz Swan Song.”

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Beverly Palms Hollywood Hotel: When Ricky was cast in the motion picture Don Juan, he took the whole gang (Lucy, Fred, Ethel, Little Ricky, and his mother-in-law) to Hollywood with him. During this period from 1955-56, the Ricardos lived in the Beverly Palms Hotel. It was on this set that Lucy burned her nose while meeting William Holden. Harpo Marx also re-enacted one of his most famous movie scenes here with Lucy, in what later became one of her favorite episodes, #124, “Harpo Marx.”

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Wall Mural: Enlarged from a 4×5” image, this wall shows the studio audience at a taping of “I Love Lucy.” Desi Arnaz can be seen (back to camera) “warming up” the audience, and both Lucy and Desi’s mothers are in the top row near the center.

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Episode #30, “Lucy Does a TV Commercial”: do you pop out at parties? Don’t be tired and listless or unpopular! This hands-on exhibit allows all “Vitameatavegamin” lovers to give it a try. The dialogue is in front of you. Here you can amuse your fellow visitors with your own version of “Vitameatavegamin.”

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After touring Desilu Studios and enjoying a morning of belly laughs with my oldest we drove past Lucy’s childhood home in Jamestown, NY before heading to our second adventure of the day. (Don’t you just love the paint job on the garage?!)

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When Grace and I finally made it home (after a day of galavanting around western New York) we put on our PJs, stretched out on the couch, and enjoyed an “I Love Lucy” marathon,

Watching all of our favorite episodes before heading to bed after a long, eventful, and fun day of adventures.

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Erie Art Museum

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Last Friday we had our second field trip of the year to Erie with 21st Century Cyber Charter School. Like the field trip to the Erie Zoo in February, we planned to pick up Ozzie and take him with us. We also had Tatum joining us for the day.

Our day began bright and early with everyone rolling out of bed at 5:30 am. The field trip was scheduled to begin at 9:30 am but we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us and a family therapy session scheduled with Ozzie for 8:00 am, which meant an early morning! I figured if we were already making the trek up north we ought to fit in a family session at his RTF while we were in the area. He is scheduled to be discharged this weekend (more on that in an upcoming post) so we wanted to fit in one more family session with the other kids before he came home.

We arrived at the Erie Art museum right on time, following a successful family therapy session with Ozzie and the rest of the kiddos.  In addition to our group of 7, there were two other students, two other parents, and two teachers signed up for the tour.

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I wasn’t sure how the day was going to play out. I knew the three girls would enjoy the art museum but wasn’t sure how much this particular field trip would appeal to the three boys. I assumed we would simply be walking through the museum and looking at art, but soon discovered there was much more to this outing than meets the eye, and it ended up being one of the coolest outings we have attended in a long time.

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We were blessed with an exceptional tour guide, a sweet girl who was both knowledgeable and engaging, drawing everyone into the experience, even the younger boys.

We began our day on the first floor, in a room showcasing large canvases with the shared theme of “art that tricks your eye.” As we walked around the room we discussed the techniques each artists used to create the optical illusions that played out on the wall before us.

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Then we all had the opportunity to create our own eye-tricking work of art.

Using two circles of paper, we drew two different parts of the same picture on the two circles. For example: a fish bowl on one paper and the fish on the other.

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By gluing the two circles to either side of a wooden dowel we created a spinning toy that became a moving work of art. Like a child’s flip-book, the motion of spinning the dowel merged the two drawings and the eye would then register the two images as one.

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It was very neat and all the kids had fun with this art project.

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From there we moved upstairs to an exhibit of prints made with engravings.

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Once again after learning about this art medium, we had the opportunity to create our own work of art. We were each given a piece of Styrofoam and were encouraged to walk around the room, be inspired, and create our own engraving on the Styrofoam that we would use to create a print.

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After everyone had finished their engraving we moved to a workroom where we learned how to use our engraved “plates” to make prints.

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Gracie’s print.

The finished results were delightful!

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After a 30 minute lunch break we reconvened for the second half of the outing which was a scavenger hunt through the museum. We were split into two teams and were each given a scavenger hunt list of exhibits to visit and tasks to perform at each stop.

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It was an awesome way to help the kids really engage with the exhibits, making learning about the art fun and impactful.

I was on a team with Rusty, Grace and Ozzie, while Tyler, Molly, and Tatum joined the other team.

Some of our scavenger hunt tasks included:

1.Choose one piece of art in the Sharon Kerry-Harlan exhibit and write a haiku poem about the piece.

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2. In the Frenzel Gallery take a look at Schabacker’s animal fabric collages and choose one of the animals from the gallery to sculpt out of clay.

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3. In the Bacon Gallery find the self portrait wall in James McMarray’s exhibit. Spend a few minutes looking at the collection of self portraits.

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Go to the end of the gallery and find the self portrait station and create a self portrait.

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4. Step inside the Gary Spinosa exhibit and spend a few minutes viewing the sculptures . What adjectives would you use to describe this exhibit?

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At the end of our scavenger hunt we joined the other team back at the starting point to compare notes. What a fun way to engage visitors in the art!

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It was an awesome field trip and I can’t say enough positive things about the Erie Art Museum and its staff.

This outing earned two thumbs up!

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Ozzie turns 14!

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I can hardly believe it, but Ozzie is 14!

Last Friday we woke up and it felt weird not sneaking into his room with the traditional cupcake and birthday song. It is at times like this that I struggle most with him being away from home, despite the fact I know he is where he needs to be to have the life he deserves to have.

He didn’t have to wait to long for his birthday song and celebratory cupcake, however. By 8:00 am Grace. Molly, Tyler and I were on the road to pick Ozzie up for his birthday celebration. Because of President’s Day weekend he had Friday and Monday off school, allowing for an extra long weekend at home to celebrate his special day.

We arrived at his facility at 10:30, with cupcakes in hand. We were scheduled for a family session with his therapist that included all the kids. This was the first time they had participated in one of Ozzie’s weekly family sessions and is the next big step in his permanent transition home. Knowing that there was healing work to be done in Ozzie’s relationships with siblings, while also recognizing that we didn’t want to dig too deep or do anything too intense given the heightened emotions of the day, Halle planned a series of fun, team-building challenges using balloons. It was ideal. It resulted in a lot of positive connection, communication, and laughter. It was a great kick-off to future family sessions with the kids, and a nice way to start the weekend.

I entered this weekend with a bit of trepidation. It had a lot of factors working against it. Toby and Rusty were on their way to Florida, leaving Tyler feeling anxious and unsafe (and leaving me without four extra hands.) It was also Ozzie’s birthday… a day that stirs up a lot of hard emotions for Ozzie, emotions that have bubbled to the surface in the form of hurting behaviors in the past. Add to that the fact we were going to be spending the weekend at Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park, which meant sleeping in unfamiliar beds, being out of a routine, and a lot of extra stimuli, and you can see why I was a tad nervous.

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Splash Lagoon was Ozzie’s birthday request and after looking into deals online (and a lot of discussion with Toby, Tina (Tyler’s therapist) and Halle (Ozzie’s therapist) we felt that this was a doable request and a great litmus test to see where we are it in everyone’s therapeutic journey towards healing. It had the added benefit of being only 10 minutes away from Ozzie’s facility where we could find support if Ozzie was struggling too much. The fact that I was even entertaining the idea was a HUGE testament to how far we have come in the last year. 12 months ago I felt incapable of managing something as simple as taking Tyler and Ozzie to the store together without Toby to help, and now a year later we are spending the weekend at a waterpark without Toby or Rusty. God is so gracious!

This weekend has been a powerful reminder that the dark seasons of life don’t last forever. When we are struggling with the night we need to remember that the dawn always comes…

ALWAYS!

 And down the road we will look back on that darkness and see it for what it was: a short stretch of time on our eternal timeline.

After our family session we stopped for a quick lunch at Burger King (Ozzie’s request) and then headed to the Comfort Inn at Splash Lagoon to check in for the night. When looking for deals for Splash Lagoon we soon discovered the package deals, offered to lure in visitors, were far more economical (½ the price) than purchasing 5 2-day passes…

And a lot more fun!

I mean, what kid doesn’t love staying at a hotel overnight, especially a hotel with a pool and a free continental breakfast. In addition to our overnight stay, our package deal came with 2- day passes for everyone, a $30.00 arcade card, tickets for free ice cream cones for everyone, and a $25.00 gift card to Quaker Steak and Lube.

Once we checked into our room we put on our swim suits and headed to the water park. It was such a treat to be able to walk through indoor hallways to get to the water park, rather than braving the frigid temperatures outside. February is a great time to visit an indoor water park. I found the hot air and pools of water were all the more appreciated with the freezing temperatures outside!

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Once inside Splash Lagoon our first stop was the Aqua Tumbler. This new addition came with an additional cost, but because of the fact it was a special day I paid for Ozzie and Tyler to each take a ride. (The girls opted to pass on this one.)

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The Aqua Tumbler is a giant inflatable ball that the rider climbs inside. Once “zipped in” the ride begins. The ball spins while the rider tumbles around inside. The spinning and the addition of a small amount of water inside the ball makes getting a foothold or handhold impossible. That is what makes it so much fun to ride… And even more fun to watch!

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Both boys LOVED it!

The remainder of the day was spent enjoying all the fun Splash Lagoon had to offer:

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Both boys did awesome.

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They paired up with the girls and rode slides,

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played basketball,

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rode waves,

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floated down the lazy river,

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ALL WHILE

playing well with each other,

 transitioning from activity to activity easily and without argument,

and verbalizing their needs easily.

 It couldn’t have gone any better and I was so very proud of both of them.

I was also incredibly proud of my girls who were so good, and patient, and selfless with their younger brothers.

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At 7:00 pm we called it a day. We still had dinner and a birthday party on the agenda before we could call it a day, so we headed back to our room, changed into warm, dry clothes, and ordered Quaker Steak and Lube wings for dinner. It was such a treat to have dinner delivered to our room and to be able to offset the cost of dinner a bit with our complimentary gift card.

While we waited for dinner to arrive Ozzie took the seat of honor and opened the pile of gifts we had been accruing over the last few weeks as packages and cards arrived in the mail from family and friends.

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Much thought and a great deal of love was put into the gifts given. All were so reflective of Ozzie and his interests. From loved ones he received a tornado simulator, a few new Lego City sets, Harry Potter playing cards and favorite treats.

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His gift from the family was a telescope and a book of 50 things to find in the night sky with a beginner telescope.

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He was over the moon! (Pun intended) 🙂

We didn’t open it up that night but on Sunday night the clouds cleared and he was able to do a little star gazing with his new scope.

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Around the time he had finished opening his gifts our dinner arrived and we enjoyed a wonderfully relaxed evening eating wings in our hotel room while watching the new Disney movie, Zombies. While he watched, Ozzie had fun building his new Lego set from my parents.

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It was a joyful birthday!

By 10:30 eyelids were heavy and little boys were all worn out from their day of swimming, so it was lights out. Everyone needed to be rested for our 2nd day of play at Splash Lagoon.

Happy Birthday, dear Ozzie.

 How blessed we are to call you our son.

May your 14th year be one of growth, healing, hope, and happiness.

We love you to the moon and back.

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Happy “mock” New Year!

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The original plan was to return Ozzie back to Erie on Saturday.

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The tradition in our family is to eat our gingerbread houses on New Year’s day and then feed the leftovers to Harley D. Hog, our pot belly pig. Since Ozzie was leaving on Saturday, he dug into his sugar house a few days early.

The treatment team at the facility where he is staying to receive inpatient therapy approved him for an 8 day stay at home. This meant he would be returning on December 30th. Although thrilled at the prospect of 8 days at home, he was disappointed he would be missing our annual New Year’s Eve party at the Hudak’s house. We decided to address that disappointment with an awesome “Plan B” and decided to have a “mock” New Year’s Eve party on Friday night with just our little family. I’ll be honest, after a full day at the museum and 3 hours on the road, the last thing I really wanted to do when I got home on Friday evening was make a ton of food and stay up late, but I tapped deep knowing how important it was to Ozzie and knowing that once I got through the work of making all the hors d’oeuvres, we would have fun.

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Gracie’s fruit pizza was delicious!

 

So, with the help of the girls, we began baking, and mixing, and broiling until we had an impressive feast laid out on the table.

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The boys were given the task of pulling board games from the game closet that would be fun to play at our “mock” New Year’s Eve party. The kids had received a few new games for Christmas that they wanted to play so we started with those.

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One of the items on Ozzie’s Christmas wish list was the game “Chutes and Ladders.” It is Ozzie’s favorite game, due in large part (I think) to memories attached to the game, so it was one of the gifts Ozzie received Christmas morning. He asked if it could be the first game we played as a family.

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Next, we played “Speak Out,” a game Tyler received from the Kirks for Christmas. I don’t know when I have ever laughed so hard. The premise of the game is that players have to read tongue twisters off a card while wearing plastic mouth pieces.  It is supposed to be played parents vs kids, but minutes into the game Toby left us. He had been hit with a stomach flu and was not feeling well. Soon after that  Ozzie wandered off and fell asleep on the couch, leaving the rest of us to  “Speak Out” in the dining room.

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Tyler was particularly hilarious. The combination of talking through the mouth piece and being dyslexic just added to the absurdity of the words he was reading off the cards and the challenge of trying to figure out what he was saying. His solution to our incompetence was to simply speak more quickly and more loudly making it pretty much impossible to understand a word of what he was saying.

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Rusty was by far the best at enunciating around the mouth piece. Grace credits it to the fact that Rusty had braces most recently and is used to talking around a mouth full of gear,

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Matching smiles…Thanks, Dr. G!

while I believe it has more to do with the mouth size to plastic ratio…the bigger the mouth the easier it is to be understood.

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By the time we were done playing my cheeks ached and my stomach hurt from laughing so hard.

Ozzie didn’t even make it to 10:00. It turns out his new 8:00 bedtime at the facility has adjusted his internal clock and by 9:30 he was fast asleep on the couch, but it turns out our mock New Year’s Eve celebration was not even necessary…

Beginning Christmas day and continuing through the remainder of the week it snowed in Erie…

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The snow we received was nothing compared to Erie’s snow!

And I mean SNOWED!

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Over the course of a few days Erie had almost five feet of snow dumped on their doorstep thanks to lake effect weather. What this meant for us was a call on Saturday morning from the facility informing us that Ozzie’s stay had been extended until it was safe to travel on the roads up north. They suggested a new return date of January 1st, which meant our “mock” New Year’s Eve turned out to simply be a dress rehearsal for the real deal. It turned out that Ozzie would be home for New Year’s after all. When I stepped out of my room, following this unexpected call, and shared the news, Ozzie reacted with shouts of joy. He was over the moon excited, both by the news he wasn’t leaving that afternoon, but also by the news that he wouldn’t miss out on our traditional New Year’s Eve bash at the Hudak’s house.

(More on that in the next post!)

I’ll leave you with these photos taken during our trip north on January 1st, after dropping off Ozzie:

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Our drive up was sketchy, even two days later.

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It was beautiful.

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Look at those icicles!!

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We drove out on Presque Isle to check out the ice dunes. It was bitter cold!

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How deep will she sink?

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Yes, it was as cold as it looks! Brr…

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That’s a lot of snow!!!

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The snow in Erie was quite impressive!

Blitz on the Bay

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Tyler did not play football this year.

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We spent the bulk of little league football season traveling around the country. As a result Tyler was not a Blackhawk Cougar during the 2016 season. That was definitely a downside of the trip for Tyler who lives and breathes football.

So you can imagine his thrill when midway through our journey west the coach texted Toby to invite Tyler to play in a special one time game in Erie called, “Blitz on the Bay.” This special  game was scheduled for November and would be played against the McDowell Trojans. Playing in the “Blitz on the Bay” would allow Tyler to join up with his teammates for this one time game..

In preparation for the big game the boys had eight practices in the two weeks leading up to the game. Tyler loved these evening practices with his coaches and friends and they provided a great outlet for some of the anxious energy that came with Toby leaving.

Tyler is a different child during sports seasons when he can release his hard emotions through strenuous physical exercise.

This special game had added appeal when Tyler found out that following the game the team and their families would be going to Splash Lagoon Indoor Waterpark as a group.

Toby was able to come home for the game and Tyler could not be more thrilled!

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The day was a needed distraction at the end of a hard week.

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Jerseys were ordered for each of the boys on the team. Tyler’s team, made of boys from the Blackhawk and Chippewa leagues, had special jerseys with their combined team initials: BCCI (Blackhawk Cougars/Chippewa Indians)

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Tyler was also thrilled that this new jersey boasted his name on his back, unlike the typical game jerseys.

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It was a perfect day for football. And while the weather was a bit chilly for those sitting in the stands, it was perfect for the kids running up and down the field.

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It was fun to see Tyler play again.

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He is in his element when he is on the field, and we see a different side of our son when he is playing.

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Both teams were incredibly talented but in the end the Trojans were the stronger team, beating the BCCI team.

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After the game we headed with the team to Splash Lagoon Indoor Waterpark.

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We arrived at 4:00pm and the kids had 5 hours to play until closing. Tyler spent most of his time playing with his teammates in the ball pool. The ball pool is a large pool lined with basketball hoops and filled with small, floating basketballs.

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Tyler opted to ride most of the waterslides once and then spend the rest of the evening playing water basketball with his friends.

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The older kids went off on their own and rode all the water slides Splash Lagoon had to offer.

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In between riding the thrilling water slides they enjoyed soaking in the hot tub and floating in the lazy river.

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Toby and I decided to save the extra admission fees and not swim. Instead we found a table in the corner that was within view of Tyler and enjoyed a “date night” and a little adult conversation before Toby had to drive back to Michigan for work.

The kids had a good time. It was nice to escape for the day and by the time we got home from our 90 minute drive from Erie, Tyler was fast asleep.

It was a good day.