Tag Archives: field trip

“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!”



A Christmas Story:

“Set during a snowy Christmas season in 1940’s Indiana, nine-year-old Ralphie longs for the ideal Christmas gift, a 200-Shot, Range-Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” But when gruff dad and doting mom, and even a stressed-out Santa quote the usual BB gun warning, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Ralphie mounts a full-scale, hint dropping campaign that is a sly combination of innocence and calculation. The movie is not only about Christmas and BB guns, but also about childhood and a semi-dysfunctional family life.

Ralphie endures endless kid-sized trials and classic moments: A bully with “yellow eyes” and a rancid coonskin cap terrorizes him. There is a sequence where a kid is not merely dared but Triple-Dog-Dared to stick his tongue onto a frozen lamp post, and the fire department has to be called to remove him from the pole. Ralphie’s Old Man winning the “Major Award” of a garish lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg. Ralphie blurts out the Queen Mother of swear words and gets his mouth washed out with Lifebuoy soap. His long-awaited Little Orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder Pin translates a radio program’s top-secret message that turns out to be a crummy commercial. Even Santa is a scary fraud. But Ralphie hangs tough and ends up getting his BB gun.”

A few years ago I discovered that the house used to film this iconic movie was in our own backyard…

Well, pretty close to our backyard…

And I’ve been itching to pay this classic Christmas location a visit.

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Monday provided us the opportunity. After a hard weekend I decided that a play day was in order. I was looking for a shot of Christmas cheer and just wanted a day of fun with my boys, so after a trip to Erie to drop Ozzie off we headed west to Cleveland to visit A Christmas Story House.

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We arrived and found parking between A Christmas Story House and the Bumpus House. Our hopes were dashed when no bloodhounds ran out to greet us.

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This Cleveland Street of 1940’s style houses is now largely dedicated to honoring the movie that was filmed here. On the street four separate homes have been set aside for this Christmas experience, including the Bumpus House which is now a bed and breakfast and can be rented out for the night, A Christmas Story House which is an interactive recreation of the actual movie set, A Christmas Story museum containing memorabilia from the movie and interesting background information about the making of the movie. The final building is a huge gift shop containing all sorts of fun Christmas Story souvenirs, like character hats, leg lamps, pink bunny pajamas and cans of Ovaltine.

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It was in the gift shop that we started our tour. We purchased tickets for the 12:15 tour and then perused the gift shop, killing time and enjoying some belly laughs!

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At 12:15 we joined two dozen other visitors and walked across the street to A Christmas Story House, our first stop on the tour.

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We gathered on the front steps to hear more about the history of the house and how it came to be the home used in the movie.

When production was in the beginning stages the production team began scouting out locations for filming. They were in search of a department store for filming the Santa scene. They sent out letters to department stores across the country hoping to find a store that offered a tall interior space that was capable of holding the two story Santa display with the exit slide, as well as a department store that would agree to keep their store decorated for Christmas, months past the Christmas season, so filming could take place.

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The call went out to hundreds of stores but only one responded. It was a department store in downtown Cleveland. The scouting crew made the trip to Cleveland and decided it was a perfect location for shooting that scene of the movie.

Knowing that Cleveland was a steel mill town, the production crew decided they wanted to get some long shots of the mills along the river. Rather than asking for directions they decided to follow the smoke pouring forth from the mills and in their search for the steel mills ended up in the neighborhood that would become the home base for the bulk of the movie. When they saw Ralphie’s house in particular, they knew they wanted to rent it for filming. It was as though the house was trapped in the 1940’s and held many of the elements they were looking for, including a porch large enough for the leg lamp delivery, a large picture window for displaying the major award, and a fenced-in backyard with a view of the mills.

They approached the owner while lunching at a pub across the street and offered him $20,000 to rent the house for three months. The owner quickly rehomed himself at a local hotel for the duration of filming. That pub is still there today and offers a “Randy Special” of meatloaf and mashed potatoes on their menu as well as a challenge to customers. If you can eat the entire dinner without using your hands or utensils you will win a free t-shirt.

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If we had more time it was a challenge Rusty would have eagerly taken on!

Then we entered the house and were set free to explore this interactive experience. We were allowed to touch decorations, sit on the furniture, and pose for pictures throughout the home that had been renovated to look like the original house that this 1983 classic was filmed in.

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I LOVED exploring and being able to actually step into a scene from a favorite childhood movie. The little details added to the suspension of disbelief, making us feel as though the Bumpus dogs would come running through the kitchen door any minute.

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The second floor consisted of Ralphie and Randy’s bedroom,

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And the bathroom where Ralphie decoded his Little Orphan Annie message and got his mouth washed out with soap.

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In the upstairs hall guests can lift the telephone receiver and listen to a familiar tirade.

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On the first floor we found the kitchen.

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While in the kitchen, Rusty climbed under the sink to reenact Randy hiding in fright, fearful Ralphie would be killed,

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We also checked out the dining room where the major reward was delivered.

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Many might recall that the printing on the crate cuts off, leaving it to say “His End Up.” We found out the reason for this. It turns out that a neighborhood carpenter was hired to build the crate. He failed to measure the front door, an oversite that wasn’t discovered until they were filming the scene. The quick fix was to saw off the edge, making it narrow enough to fit through the door and taking the “T” with it,

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The living room was where much of the movie was filmed, including:

Christmas morning under the tree,

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Ralphie listening to the Little Orphan Annie radio program,

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The Red Rider BB gun tucked behind the desk,

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And the leg lamp that holds a place of honor in the center window.

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We exited through the back door into the back yard that served as the scene for Ralphie’s broken glasses,

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Before walking across the street to the museum.

In the museum we were able to learn more behind the scene facts including the fact that at the last minute the director decided he wanted to pull an Alfred Hitchcock move and make a cameo appearance in his film. He appeared as a walk on during the scene when the Old Man was across the street admiring his major award from outside. The funny thing we learned about his impromptu appearance was that he didn’t think about a costume change, so in a scene of characters dressed in 1940’s clothes he is wearing a distinctly 1980’s outfit, complete with a Miami Dolphins knit hat.

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In the museum we were able to see many original costume pieces from A Christmas Story that are on display,

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As well as one of six of the original Red Rider BB guns that were manufactured for the film. Of the original six, only three are accounted for.

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The tour guide told us that when searching garage sales for these three missing pieces of movie memorabilia you can know they are authentic by three key traits: a compass on the stock of the gun, a sun dial on the stock, and the tassel on the left side of the gun. Once Tyler heard that the last one sold at auction sold for $200,000 he has been itching to hit a flea market or two!

In touring the museum we also learned that weather worked against the production crew that winter. There was no snow, and snow was need for the scenes they were filming. The solution? Soap suds! They hired the local fire department to coat the street in soap suds with their big hoses, creating the illusion of snow during a dry, unseasonably warm winter in Cleveland, Ohio.

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The illusion of falling snow through the picture window was created using boxed mashed potato flakes…genius!

Our final stop was at the two car garage attached to the museum. Parked within its walls were two of the original vehicles used in the filming of the movie…

The Old Man’s car whose flat tire led to Ralphie’s infamous, “Oh, Fudge!” moment:

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And the fire truck that came to Flick’s rescue when he took the triple-dog-dare and stuck his tongue to the frozen flag pole:

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If we didn’t have to hurry home for Tyler’s dyslexia tutoring we probably would have lingered longer at this fun Christmas location,

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But our day of Christmas festivities wasn’t done yet. We had another Christmas activity planned for that evening…

Stay tuned!



A Boys’ day out with their Favorite “Mummy!”


Last Friday the boys and I had the opportunity to enjoy a shortened day of school and meet up with other cyber-schooled families at Carnegie Science Center for a day of fun. The outing, which was put together by Tyler’s school, offered us access to all the permanent exhibits the museum offers, in addition to the new, visiting exhibit: Mummies of the World!

Rusty and Tyler have both spent countless hours at this amazing, hands-on, Pittsburgh museum. Over the years our family has been gifted with annual memberships to the science center and we have gone on multiple homeschooling fieldtrips to visit this Pittsburgh gem, which is why I was so surprised when Braden said he had never been there before.

It was only by seeing his initial reaction to his first impression of the lobby as we walked in, that I realized he was a first time visitor. I knew he was in for a treat. It is an amazing place!

The field trip was self guided, so after checking in and getting our name tags, we were set free to explore the four levels of exhibits at our own pace.

We began on level one at the exhibit: H2O!

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After adequately exploring the mysteries of all things water related we headed to the second floor. This level is split into two areas. One section is devoted to the science and history of robotics and outer space, with a lot of fun, hands on activities.

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The second half of this floor is dedicated to a huge train table complete with dozens of running trains, towns, iconic Pittsburgh sites, moving characters and enchanting scenes. This is my favorite exhibit at the science center and I couldn’t wait to share it with Braden. He was as enchanted as we were the first time we explored this miniature world.

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Then we headed to the third floor where we learned more about the science of the human body. Here the boys were able to try different experiments that explored why the body and brain function the way they do.

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After a quick stop at the fourth floor so Braden could experience the earthquake simulator, and so we could check our the Lego building area, we headed to the traveling exhibit that was the big pull for this field trip…

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Mummies of the World!

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This exhibit was fascinating. Photography wasn’t allowed inside the exhibit but below is information and photographs from this amazing exhibit as taken from the Carnegie Science Center website.


“Explore 125 real mummies and related artifacts from across the globe in Mummies of the World: The Exhibition, on display at Carnegie Science Center’s PPG SCIENCE PAVILION™ now through April 19, 2020. Only in Pittsburgh for a limited time, this blockbuster exhibition provides a window into the lives of ancient people from every region of the world including Europe, South America, and Ancient Egypt, offering unprecedented insights into past cultures and civilizations.


See real mummies and discover their stories, including:

The Vac Mummies, a mummified family from Hungary believed to have died from tuberculosis, preserved in a small church until the remains of 265 mummies were discovered by a bricklayer during repair work in 1994.

Baron Von Holz, a German nobleman found tucked away in the family crypt of 14th century castle wearing his best boots after perishing in the castle while seeking refuge from the Thirty Years’ War.


Animal mummies including a cat, a falcon, snow rabbit, lizard, weasel, and fish, some of which were deliberately preserved to accompany royals for eternity.



MUMAB, the first authentic replication of the 2800-year-old Egyptian mummification process, took place in 1994 using the same tools and methods as described on ancient Egyptian papyrus.

Explore four galleries that delve into the many facets of mummification:

Natural Mummification Gallery – This gallery explores several environments in which bodies can preserve as a result of the natural environment. Human and animal mummies in this gallery include those from hot, dry environments in South America, a natural sand-salt environment in Egypt, an African desert, an alpine glacier, a German castle crypt with constant airflow and an acidic peat bog from the Netherlands.


Artificial Mummification Gallery – This gallery presents mummies that have been prepared by humans for cultural reasons. The human and animal mummies in this gallery include an elaborately bandaged cat, two adults from Ancient Egypt and several shrunken heads from South America. Various artifacts associated with the preparation of the dead in Ancient Egypt will also be included, such as beautifully painted wooden sarcophagus, ushabtis and mummy beads.


Experimental Mummification Gallery – This gallery centers around MUMAB, a body recently mummified following the techniques used by Ancient Egyptian embalmers, with detailed scientific documentation of the process. This gallery will include not only the mummy, but several of the tools used to prepare the body, all of which were replicated from original Egyptian embalming.

Science and Medicine Gallery – This gallery explores the links between mummies, science and medicine. Aside from showing mummies prepared for medical purposes, this gallery will also include examples of the application of scientific and medical techniques for the analysis of mummies, and the important shift from autopsy to modern medical science to study mummies. The exhibits will include several anatomical mummies from the Burns Collection and church crypt mummies from Hungary (with discussion of the past and present scientific studies of tuberculosis).

It was a enjoyably educational day with three of my kiddos!

So Many Reasons to be Thankful!



This time of year I find myself reflecting on all that I have to be grateful for. With the Thanksgiving holiday comes acknowledgement of all those blessings that we perhaps overlook or take for granted when our focus is not on thanksgiving and counting our blessings. It is perhaps a sad reality that it takes a nudge from Hallmark to get us thinking about all we take for granted. But I am grateful for a reminder to ponder on all the blessings God has bestowed upon our family.

One of those blessings is the opportunity we have had to teach our children at home for the last 14 years.

Homeschooling wasn’t a lifestyle choice we sought out. Rather, it was one that landed in our lap unexpectedly. Gracie attended a traditional “brick and mortar” public school for Kindergarten. It was a wonderful experience and we had no reason to seek out a different educational path for her (or the children that followed) and yet during the summer between her kindergarten and first grade year we began feeling prompted to look into homeschooling. This heavenly nudge scared me to death. I didn’t know the first thing about homeschooling, I had no idea where to start, and I knew everyone we love would think we were crazy, but the more I pushed off the notion of moving our child back home for school, the more God pushed back…

So, I began to research our options.

I soon discovered that the resources and support for this educational path were abundant. There were so many options and so many paths within the path of educating children at home. We finally decided to take the leap of faith. The thought that calmed my nerves was that it was only 1st grade. Surely I couldn’t mess Grace up too badly over the course of one year…It was only 1st grade.

The journey that began with such anxiety and uncertainty soon became the source of much joy and endless blessings for our children and our family as a whole. We decided to take the path of cyber schooling, choosing a cyber school that first year that would allow me to do most of the hands-on teaching but allowed for the teacher-support and accountability that made me feel more secure in this new role.

As our first year came to a close I knew that this was the right model of education for our family. We fell in love with the school-at-home lifestyle and all that it offered us as a family. A year that began with feelings of insecurity and uncertainty ended with feelings of gratitude and a sense of accomplishment. We had done it and done it well.

When we felt the nudge to begin walking this unfamiliar path we had no idea the “why” behind the prompting. We didn’t have any idea of the challenges the next few years would hold, or how this educational path would benefit our family as we navigated those challenges, until we found ourselves in the midst of them…

Challenges like Grace and Molly’s reading struggles due to Dyslexia, Rusty’s challenges with Selective Mutism, and our adoptive sons’ needs for therapeutic support and opportunity for family attachment made the home school environment ideal for meeting their unique, individual needs.

There is no way we could have anticipated those challenges when our children were small but Heavenly Father could and He set us up for success as a family by placing us on the exact path we needed to be on to support our children in their own individual journeys.

Over the last 14 years we have spent countless hours reading novels while snuggling on the couch, performing countless science experiments at the kitchen counter, working our way through endless math worksheets that got progressively harder with each passing year, traveling around the state to learn first hand about the world around us through countless field trips, and making lifelong friends through our co-op and cyber schools. We have been blessed with thousands of extra hours to parent, teach, and train our children at home while most of their peers were spending their days with teachers and school staff, a blessing that has allowed us to facilitate growth that would have been especially challenging had we traveled a more traditional path.

This pattern of education is not the right fit for every child or every family, but I am so grateful we were nudged (or shoved) onto this less traveled path, because it has made all the difference.

This year Braden was our 6th child to venture down this road. Last year he opted to attend our local public school but during the summer he came to us asking if he could be cyber schooled for his senior year. It has been a great fit for him and he is thriving. So much of that success is due to the phenomenal cyber school that has been an incredible blessing to our family for the last six years. Braden has joined Rusty at 21st Century Cyber Charter School for 12th grade. This is the same cyber school that did such a phenomenal job of preparing Grace and Molly for success in college. As I consider the blessings that have accompanied this educational journey, 21st Century is at the top of that list…

So, it was fitting that during this month of gratitude, we were able to join staff and other 21CCCS families at the Murrysville location for a Thanksgiving dinner.

The outing was split into two parts. First came the preparation. Then came the feast. The students arrived at the school building two hours prior to the scheduled feast to cook the Thanksgiving meal for their families.

We dropped off Braden and Rusty and they, along with other students, began preparing our meal.


When we arrived two hours later the yummy smells permeated the halls.


When Tyler, Toby and I walked in we found the students and staff enjoying a Thanksgiving trivia game.

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We joined in using our phones to compete against other players in the room.

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Then it was time to eat!

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The students had all done a great job of preparing a mouth-watering feast,

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Complete with pies for dessert. Rusty and Braden made the Oreo crème pies for the meal.

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It was a wonderful celebration of all that we have to be thankful for.

And for this momma, our school-at-home journey and 21st Century Cyber Charter School are found at the top of that list!


We are blessed!


Sword Fights and Syrup


In the last two weeks we have had the pleasure of enjoying two unique outing experiences through Tyler’s cyber school.

The first outing appealed to the theatre-loving kids in my crew. On a sunny, weekday morning we traveled to Lincoln Park School for the Arts where we watched some very talented high school students perform, “The Three Musketeers.” Tyler dragged his feet to this outing, fearful it was going to be a bunch of prancing, singing students on stage. I tried to alleviate his concerns by letting him know that it was a “boy-friendly” production filled with action and sword fights. I knew he wasn’t completely sold on my argument when he muttered under his breath, “Well, they better not sing while they are sword fighting!”

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I’m happy to report there was no singing during the fight scenes…in fact, with the exception of one pub tune, there was no singing at all. The play was wonderful and everyone enjoyed the matinee showing of “The Three Musketeers,” starring the talented youth of Lincoln Park. It was funny, exciting and left us wanting more at the end of the show. Even Tyler enjoyed it and spoke about the humor and fight scenes the entire ride home.

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The next unique outing we enjoyed with PA Cyber was to Lutherlyn, a summer camp in Butler County, where we enjoyed an awesome day of maple syrup education. We weren’t sure what to expect from this outing, but the promise of a complimentary pancake lunch with real maple syrup was enough for us!

It ended up being one of our favorite outings of all time, with any of our cyber schools, present and past.

Because of the size of our school group, the crowd was split into 3 groups that rotated their way through different hands-on experiences as we learned the process of making maple syrup.

It all began with a little education before we headed out into the woods. We had an excellent ranger that taught us what we needed to look for in identifying a maple tree and determining its capacity to be tapped.

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Once we understood the science behind the syrup process, we headed out for some hands-on learning.

The art of making maple syrup is generally attributed to the Native Americans. Early settlers arriving in America learned the skill from them. They then went on to improve on the Native American’s techniques by creating devices for tapping and collecting the maple tree’s sap. These same basic devices and techniques are still used in America today to produce the maple syrup that we enjoy on our pancakes and waffles.

Anyone with access to maple trees, a few tools and equipment, and some basic how-to can make this delicious syrup.

Our first task was identifying the maple trees. Our mini lesson taught us how to identify a maple by its branches, since this time of year the distinctive leaves of the maple tree are non-existent.

We also learned to use our hands to measure the diameter of the tree to determine whether mature enough to tap for its sap.

The tree we selected for tapping could not be less than 10-inches in diameter. Smaller trees will not yield well and they may be injured. The greater the diameter of the tree and the spread of limbs, the more sap the tree will produce. A large tree can support two taps.

We were split into teams of three and were asked to be botanical sleuths. Once we found a tree we thought was a maple and big enough to tap, we called over the ranger who held the tools needed to get the job done.

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These tools included a hand drill, hammer, buckets for collecting sap, and a spile.

We began by drilling a hole 1½- to 2-inches deep at a slightly upward angle.

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As soon as the hole was drilled, we hammered in the spout, attached our collection bucket, and watches as the sap began to flow.

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Sap, itself, is a clear liquid that looks and tastes like water (with maybe a hint of sweetness) but is a far cry from the syrup we pour over our pancakes. We were able to take a taste of the sap running from the tree before beginning our count to calculate the rate of flow.

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As part of our tree tapping experience we had a science lesson on how to estimate the speed of the sap flow by counting the number of drips per minute.

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Our tap ran 116 drops per minute, which means for that particular maple tree it would take around two hours to collect one gallon of sap.

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 It takes approximately 50-60 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

Which means if we only collected from that single tree it would take 120 hours of sap collecting to net one gallon on maple syrup. The experience left us more appreciative of the amount of work that goes into a jug of syrup and made me more understanding of why real maple syrup is so ghastly expensive.

From there we headed over to another section of woods where the trees were already tapped and collecting sap.

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Our next task was to collect the sap into buckets,

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and walk our filled buckets to the sugar shack,

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Where the collected sap was poured into storage tanks.

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Then we stepped inside the sugar shack and were treated to a tutorial on how the sap is turned into the sweet, sticky substance we know as syrup.

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Traditionally the boiling down of sap was done in a large kettle suspended from a tripod over a fire. Any source of heat will work, however, as long as it is capable of producing heat for a long time. The set-up at Lutherlyn was a bit more advanced and technical than a kettle over a fire.

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But regardless of how one chooses to heat their  sap, it takes about five hours to boil down five gallons of sap into syrup.

It was fascinating to watch the process and see the sap darken and thicken as it moved through the stages of boiling down into syrup.

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Once we had worked for our supper and earned our keep, we headed back to the main building where tables were set up for lunch. It was a generous spread with a wide variety of food to enjoy.

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There was fruit, yogurt, hash browns, sausage, but the star of the show were the pancakes, topped with homemade maple syrup from the very trees we helped with that morning.

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It was an awesome day and we left with a greater appreciation of all the work that goes into producing a gallon of our favorite pancake topping!

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Fun with Science!


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On Thursday we headed into Pittsburgh for our first school outing since returning from vacation. This trip was organized by 21st Century Cyber Charter School, which is Rusty, Molly and Ozzie’s cyber school.

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We were excited that a break in Gracie’s crazy schedule allowed her to come play with us for the day. After bidding Toby “goodbye” and dropping Brandon off at the bus stop, we ventured south to play for the day.

In addition to meeting up with some of the teachers from 21st Century Cyber Charter School, we were also joined by 75 other students & families. It was the biggest turnout we had ever seen for a local outing with 21cccs. Among the numbers were quite a few familiar faces, and it was fun to catch up with friends after being away for the last month.

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The first half of the outing was spent in the science center where the kids explored the various exhibits and enjoyed the hands-on learning available over the four floors of fun.

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Some of the favorite exhibits include H2O!:

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“Our bodies are marvelous machines! BodyWorks uses brand-new interactive exhibits, live shows, and demonstrations to explore the blood, guts, bones, brains, senses, and mechanics that make us  us!

The exhibit explores our Muscles and Bones, Heart and Lungs, Digestive System, Brain and Nerves, and Body Basics.

Learn about the fluids that fill your body, the limits of the human form, and what parts of you can be replaced.

Come pump a heart, stretch your intestines, fool your senses, make your skeleton dance, see actual preserved human organs, and more!”

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Welcome to roboworld®, the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibition! Learn how ‘bots sense, think, and act and explore dozens of interactive exhibit stations in this one-of-a-kind robotics experience. It’s the ultimate robot gathering, right here in Pittsburgh! Are you ready to go robotic?

At roboworld®, explore hands-on robotics exhibits – and even challenge a robot to a game of air hockey! Roboworld highlights the amazing technology that enables robots to sense, think, and act.

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And the Miniature Railroad & Village exhibit which highlights landmarks around the Pittsburgh area:

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“Take a walking tour of western Pennsylvania at the world-renowned Miniature Railroad & Village®.

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This beloved exhibit’s story began in 1919 with a man named Charles Bowdish of Brookville, Pa. Originally a holiday display on the second floor of his house, it moved to the Buhl Planetarium in 1954, and ultimately found its final home at Carnegie Science Center in 1992.

The Miniature Railroad & Village® features hundreds of wonderfully realistic animated scenes that illustrate how people lived, worked, and played in our region during an era spanning the 1880s to the late 1930s.

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More favorites include the Primanti Bros. restaurant in the Strip District, Westinghouse Atom Smasher, Crawford Grill, Fallingwater, Forbes Field, Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler’s Knob, Luna Park, Sharon Steel Mill, Manchester Farms, and a historic Pittsburgh incline, to name a few.

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Mr. Roger’s house. The only building in the miniature village that isn’t a real place. Can you spot Mr. Rodgers and Mr. McFeely?

The Miniature Railroad & Village® features: 105 animations, 250,000+trees, 14 aircraft, 85 automobiles, 1 Incline (Monongahela Incline), 60 trucks, 22 horse-drawn vehicles, 23,000 fans in Forbes Field”

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At noon we all gathered in the lunchroom to eat our packed lunches before heading over to Sportsworks, the second building included with our cost of admission, where the kids enjoyed more hands-on fun.

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This building’s exhibits focus more on the human body, heath, and fitness, with various challenges that allow guests to put the marvels of the human body to the test.

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Among the challenges were a race track, climbing wall,

And the most recent addition: a ropes course that sits high above the other activities below.

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“Learn about the science behind the climb, such as center of mass and inertia, as well as the physiology of fear and thrills and perception.

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Located in the middle of SportsWorks, the Ropes Challenge consists of 11 elements, such as walking a rope bridge, balancing on rolling logs, and climbing across a horizontal net, before reaching the zipline.”

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This exhibit was added since our last visit, and as a result was the first thing the kids go in line to try.

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High above my head they climbed, balanced and zipped through the course, enjoying the novelty of perceived danger without actually being in danger of falling to their deaths.

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As I stood below, capturing their adventure on film, I wasn’t sure if the strangled screams were expressions of delight or terror.

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In the end the consensus was that the new ropes course was a fun addition to the science center.

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It was a fun day with a fun group of friends.

A Snowy Day for Snow White


Between outings planned by our co-op group, 21st Century Cyber Charter School and PA Cyber, we have many opportunities to get out of the house and experience some hands-on learning through educational outings. These outings are always a highlight of our week and the “icing” to the cyber school experience.

On Thursday we put on our fancy pants and headed north for a more cultured outing. We were signed up to join 21st Century Cyber Charter School for a outing to the Erie Playhouse to watch
“Snow White and the Prince.”

Our sojourn north began with a quick stop in New Castle to pick up Tatum. From there we headed north to Erie where we were meeting up with teachers from our cyber school and other 21st Century families.

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It was a VERY snowy day to go and see “Snow White.” The flakes came down heavy around New Castle, but surprisingly lightened as we drove north.


We met at the Avalon Hotel at 9:15.

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We were pleasantly surprised to see quite a few familiar faces. It was fun to connect with friends, new and old!

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At 9:30 we walked across the street to the Erie Playhouse to watch a youth theater production of “Snow White and the Prince.”

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We got settled in our seats and waited for the show to begin. We were the first group to arrive and be seated, but soon the quiet of the theater was interrupted by cacophonous chatter as hundreds of kindergarteners arrived and were directed to their seats.

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That troop of 5-year-olds proved to be one of the most entertaining aspects of the show.  Behind us sat a group of little girls. It was so much fun to listen to their chatter and enthusiastic responses to the story playing out on stage.

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There were “Oohs and Ahhs” every time anyone stepped on stage wearing a crown or gown.

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There were shouts of warning as Snow White debated whether to taste the apple.

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“No, don’t eat it! It’s poisonous!” they shouted behind us.

The play itself was cute, but the running commentary behind us made it a fantastic play!

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After the curtains closed for the final time we crossed the street, back to the Avalon Hotel, where the students split up into groups to work on a literary assignment for extra credit:

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While working and socializing with friends, everyone ate their packed lunches.

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The outing ended with the students making use of the open dance floor in the center of the ballroom we were using for our lunch room for an impromptu dance party.

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Playing music off a cell phone, Molly and Tatum taught the group the steps to Church Clap. There was much laughter and glee as the kids got their moves on and burned off excess energy before the two hour drive home.

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It was a fun way to spend a snowy day!



Old Economy Village…a journey back in time!


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For two decades I have resided in the Pittsburgh area and for two decades I have heard tales of the wonders of Old Economy Village but had never managed a trip to visit it in person. That all changed last Friday when we were invited to join friends who are PA Virtual families for a field trip to Old Economy Village. A good portion of our co-op attended and it was fun to catch up with friends. Thanks to a state grant received by the cyber school admission was free (an unexpected blessing!) which just added to the enjoyment of the day.

Upon arriving we had the opportunity to stroll around the Visitor Center and become better acquainted with the history behind this Beaver County gem. Here is an brief overview of the Harmonites who settled and developed this historic community we know as Old Economy Village.

“In 1804, the followers of the Separatist George Rapp (1757-1847) emigrated to America from Iptingen (near Stuttgart) in southwest Germany seeking religious and economic freedom. Nearly 800 farmers and craftsmen followed their leader to Butler County, Pennsylvania where they built the town of Harmony. Ten years later they migrated westward to Posey County, Indiana founding a second town named Harmony, which today is known as New Harmony.
In 1824, the Harmony Society returned to Pennsylvania, this time settling in Beaver County along the Ohio River. There they founded “Oekonomie,” now better known as Old Economy Village. It was here that the Society gained worldwide recognition for its religious devotion and economic prosperity.
The Harmonists developed a simple, pietistic lifestyle based upon the early Christian Church. They turned over everything they owned to the Harmony Society when they became members. Everyone worked together for the good of the Society and received, in turn, what he or she needed to live simply and comfortably. Because they expected Christ’s Second Coming to Earth at any moment, they adopted celibacy in 1807 in order to purify themselves for the Millenium – Christ’s 1,000 year reign on Earth.

The Harmony Society successfully “placed the manufacturer beside the agriculturalist,” an accomplishment held in high regard in the early nineteenth century. National leaders like Thomas Jefferson viewed this as the ideal plan for America’s economic and political future. This ideal would be a national economy that would thrive in both agriculture and industry, independent of foreign influence.

The Harmonists created, adapted, and adopted the new technologies of their day giving them a competitive edge in the growing early American economy, particularly in textile manufacturing—wool, cotton, and silk—and agricultural production.
By 1825 they had constructed textile factories powered and heated by steam engines. They built shops for blacksmiths, tanners, hatters, wagon makers, cabinetmakers and turners, linen weavers, potters, and tin smiths, as well as developing a centralized steam laundry and a centralized dairy for the community. Later, they perfected the technology of silk manufacturing, from worm to fabric, for which they received gold medals during exhibition competitions in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Despite the Society’s economic success, time and events brought about its decline. In 1832, one third of the members left Economy under the leadership of Count de Leon, a self-proclaimed prophet. In 1847 Father Rapp died. Although the Harmonists leaders turned to new business ventures – railroads, oil production, and building Beaver Falls and its industrial complex – their economic vitality, like their membership, eventually waned.

By the end of the nineteenth century only a few Harmonists remained. In 1905 the Society was dissolved and its vast real estate holdings sold, much of it to the American Bridge Company who subsequently enlarged the town and renamed it Ambridge. Six acres of the Society’s original holdings, along with seventeen buildings, were acquired by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1916.

Today, these six-acres, surrounded by Ambridge’s National Register Historic District, are administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission as a National Historic Landmark site.
The historic site, which contains the seventeen restored historic structures and garden built between 1824 and 1830, originally was the religious and economic hub of the Harmony Society. The buildings, grounds, library, archives and 16,000 original artifacts are a memorial to the Society’s commitment to the religious discipline and economic industry that built their American Utopia.”

Once all families had arrived we were led from the Visitor Center to the village, where we stepped back in time 150 years, by walking through the doors of the Feast Hall into historic Old Economy. 

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Old Economy Village is comprised of 17 historic buildings and  various “stations” that function as a living history experience. We had the opportunity to split into self -guided groups and tour the village independently. Many of the buildings had volunteers in period dress demonstrating skills from that time period and sharing more about the history of the Harmonite people.

Other locations offered fun, interactive, hands-on activities common to that time period that the kids could participate in and experience first hand.

In my group I had my four kiddos (Grace was at work), as well as other friends from co-op. They enjoyed moving from station to station, learning about life in the early 19th century from the fascinating and engaging volunteers dressed for the part.

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Here are some of the places we visited during our tour of Old Economy Village: 

Feast Hall / Museum Building  Built in 1827, the first floor showcased a Natural History Museum (now recreated) open to the Society for free and to the public for a ten cent admission fee.  Harmonists gathered on special feast days for communal meals or for musical performances in the second floor Feast Hall.

Here the kids were able to experience school as a 19th century student, complete with a handwriting lesson using a quill and ink.

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George Rapp Garden
Visitors to Economy described George Rapp’s garden as “neatly laid out in lawns, arbors, and flower beds.” The 1831 Pavilion once featured a wooden statue carved by American sculptor, William Rush. The current figure was made in the 1950s.  Also built in 1831, the Grotto’s rough exterior belies its elegant neoclassical interior. Harmonists viewed this building as a metaphor for their Society – rough on the exterior but refined inside.

The gardens were our final stop for the day and everyone enjoyed strolling these beautiful grounds, inhaling the intoxicatingly sweet scents of the garden.

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Baker House, Garden and Family Shed
Storekeeper R. L. Baker, his mother, and sister lived here. Following George Rapp’s death, Baker, Jonathan Lenz, and Jacob Henrici led the Society and maintained their business ventures. The Baker House is a typical Harmonist dwelling. Every household had its own garden, even though food was provided by the Society. The shed was vital to the household as a food storage area, tool and wood shed, chicken coop, cow stall, root cellar, and outhouse.

In this part of the settlement the kids got to walk through the herb garden and learn about its preservation, as well as try their hands out at egg gathering and cow milking.

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Water Pump
Pumps were located on Economy’s streets in various locations. Water was distributed through wooden pipes from a spring on the hill east of town. This pump is a reproduction, plumbed to the city water supply. Visitors are invited to experience wash day at Old Economy.

The water pump was one of the biggest hits of the day. Everyone was impressed with the hand pump and had fun attempting water hauling and hand washing the laundry.

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The woodworking tools that helped build and furnish Economy are exhibited in this original wood frame building.


The volunteer who was demonstrating his craftsmanship in the cabinet shop was a delight. He was a retired school teacher who loved sharing his knowledge with the kids and engaging them in what life would have been like for the settlement’s cabinet makers in 1830, including letting them see how cabinets were constructed and allowing them to try out some of the hand tools.

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Blacksmith Shop
This structure was built in the early twentieth century as a garage for the site’s caretaker. It was later converted into a blacksmith and cooper shop for demonstrations. The original structures for those trades were located elsewhere in Economy, outside of the site’s present boundaries.

The two gentlemen who ran the blacksmith shop were equally engaging and we were all fascinated with their work as they created beautiful, decorative hooks as they spoke of their trade.

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Cobblestone Street
This is the original Harmonist Street, where visitors can roll hoops, walk on stilts, and play games of graces.

But the cobblestone street was the biggest hit of all. Home to the old fashioned games available for the kids to try out and play, this was the epicenter of activity for our group. I had a hard time pulling Tyler away once he discovered this stop on our tour of Old Economy.

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It was an absolutely delightful day at Old Economy Village. It took me two decades to make it there but hopefully we will be returning in a more timely manner, with Toby and Grace in tow…

What a lovely day to visit such a lovely place!


Annapolis, Maryland



Every year 21st Century Cyber Charter School plans a big, end of the year field trip for their students and families. These field trips are the highlight of the year and no effort or expense is spared by the school. In the past we have joined our teachers on field trips to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio; Mt. Vernon (home of George Washington) in Virginia; and a high in the sky climbing course in central Pennsylvania. This year’s field trip took us all the way to the coast as we visited Annapolis, Maryland.


Annapolis is a city no one in our family had ever visited before so we were excited when we heard this year’s field trip would take us on a tour of the Naval Academy and a water tour of the harbor.

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The event took place last Wednesday.

To help facilitate the logistics of moving 21st Century students from all corners of Pennsylvania to Maryland in an organized way, four “bus stops” were established throughout the state. The school rented charter buses to transport their families to the field trip. The closest “bus stop” to our home was located an hour away in Monroeville. We were asked to arrive at 5:10 am.

This meant alarms were set for:


And we were headed out the door just before 4:00 am. It was an early morning!

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We arrived, checked in with the teachers that were traveling on the Pittsburgh buses, and received our t-shirts to put on. Every year the school has t-shirts made for that year’s field trip. This helps in keeping track of the large crowds, but also serves as a fun souvenir of the experience.

This was the t-shirt design for our Annapolis trip:

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Once everyone arrived we loaded on the two buses and prepared for our five hour drive to Annapolis. I was a bit concerned that Tyler would struggle with 10 hours on the road so I packed accordingly, with a backpack full of drinks, snacks, fidget toys, card games, and toys. The bus also had TV screens which allowed the teachers to play Disney movies on the drive out and the drive back. This definitely helped pass the time.

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We traveled with our co-op friends. The Hudaks and the Stones were also attending this fieldtrip, so the kids were able to sit together on the bus and we were able to stay together as a group for the tours.

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When we arrive we gathered by the water’s edge for the arrival of our tour guide for the day. Annapolis was beautiful!

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Charming cobblestone streets, a prime location on the Chesapeake Bay, and centuries of history make Annapolis a great destination for a day trip.

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Squire Richard was assigned to our group to give us a tour of the Naval Academy and historic Annapolis. He was funny and informative, a perfect tour guide.

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We began our day by touring the Naval Academy:

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There’s no denying the U.S. Naval Academy is the anchor of downtown Annapolis. Training the leaders of the United States Navy since 1845, the Naval Academy currently offers 18 different majors and enrolls 4,400 midshipmen. Life for a midshipmen is strictly regimented and while there we spotted plebes, or freshmen midshipmen walking around in their crisply pressed uniforms.

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Some of the places we visited were:

The Main Chapel: Here they conduct both Catholic and Protestant services that are open to the public.

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The Crypt of John Paul Jones was found below the chapel: Jones was one of the greatest Revolutionary War naval heroes.

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From there we headed back to the water’s edge for our harbor tour:

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With over 533 miles of shoreline and the Chesapeake Bay as its backyard, there is no better way to experience Annapolis than out on the water. Known as the “Sailing Capital of the US”, a steady parade of sails can be seen throughout the bay while kayakers and paddle boarders prefer to explore the miles of streams and inlets around Annapolis.

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For our tour we hopped aboard the Harbor Queen, a 40-minute narrated cruise of the Annapolis Harbor and the banks of the U.S. Naval Academy. It was so nice to get out on the water.

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We had a great time on the cruise and were able to learn even more about Annapolis’ history.

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While on the water we enjoyed our picnic lunches. It was a bit chilly but one couldn’t deny the exceptional views and the fun novelty of eating on the water.

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After our lunch and relaxing sightseeing tour of the water, we met up with Squire Richard once more for our foot tour of historic Annapolis:

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With over four centuries of history and a rich mid-Atlantic heritage, Annapolis is known as a “Museum Without Walls”. While strolling through the charming brick paved streets of the historic center we stopped by historic St. Anne’s Church, strolled past the homes of the three signers of the Declaration of Independence that called Annapolis home, and visited the place were history was/is made in the Maryland State House.

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While you may know Annapolis as Maryland’s state capital did you know it also briefly the capital of the United States in 1783? That is just one of the secrets I found in this captivating town by the bay.


One of the biggest highlights of these big field trips for my kiddos is the chance to socialize with their teachers whom they love but interact with primarily through the computer. It is always fun to connect in person!

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Ms. Cloetingh- an English teacher in the school and head of Mural Club.

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Mrs. Zaayenga- The girls’ Chemistry teacher

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Mrs. Scarpignato- Ozzie’s learning coach and special education teacher.


By 2:15 pm it was time to meet back up with the buses for our uneventful, five hour ride back home.

By the time we had arrived back in Pittsburgh we had spent the day sitting in a moving vehicle for 11 hours and no one was eager to climb back into cars for the final one hour drive home. I think our family and the Hudak clan were the last to leave the parking lot.

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It was a L-O-N-G day, but a REALLY FUN day!

The Nutcracker Ballet


On Friday we kicked off the month of December and the start of the holiday season with a visit to the ballet.


21st Century Cyber Charter School planned a field trip on our side of the state to see a production of The Nutcracker Ballet. When we saw that it was in New Castle, at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, as opposed to downtown Pittsburgh and that the cost of tickets were only $3.00/person, we jumped at the chance to attend.

The girls were excitedly anticipating the show and the boys were excited to see their friends and teachers. Only Tyler was dead set against our trip to the ballet. He insisted he would not be attending and when I explained he had no choice and must go with the family he let me know he planned on keeping his eyes closed the whole time because, “ballet is gross!”

Even sharing the fact that some of the best football players take ballet lessons to improve their skills on the field only led to him deciding a football career in the NFL was no longer in his future and that instead he would be a professional soccer player when he grows up.

I told him that he would be going and that I wanted him to at least give the show a chance before making a judgement. The big kids and I coerced and teased a little with promises of sword fights, stunts and a big explosion.

Even with all the groundwork laid I knew how the whole thing would probably play out and made sure my cell phone was fully charged and open to the “Candy Crush” game before the show began…

You know, just in case!

On Friday morning we woke and got ready to leave by 9:00 am. Molly insisted that we dress appropriately for the ballet and ignore the casual business dress code on the invitation in favor of  nicer church dress.



We arrived at the beautiful venue with twenty minutes to spare and enjoyed seeing all of our co-op friends as well as the school teachers in attendance.


When the doors opened we filed inside to find the seats reserved for our school group. We joined hundreds of other school students from local schools for this performance of New Castle Regional Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker.


The show began and we were pleased by the impressive caliber of talent found in this regional ballet troupe. The majority of the dancers were children with the exception of some of the professional lead dancers. The littlest preschool aged dancers were particularly delightful dressed as mice, scampering around the stage.



Tyler made it about 30 minutes into the show before I had to pull out Candy Crush… which means he lasted about 28 minutes longer than I expected.


He did look up when a canon fired on stage and Ozzie asked it that was the “big explosion” we were joking about the day before.

After intermission Ian, the friend that Ozzie made while at the Sky Zone outing, found Ozzie in the crowd and asked if he could come sit with him and his mom for the second half of the show. Ozzie was thrilled!

The show was wonderful and the kids (with the exception of Tyler) were glad that we went. After the show we gathered our co-op group in the lobby for a group picture for the yearbook before we all headed home.


We had to be home by 2:00pm to meet a school phycologist that was coming to the house to reevaluate Grace for the last and final IEP update before college.

We are so glad we attended. It was a beautiful performance and a great way to kick off the Christmas season!


Reaching New Heights



Every spring our cyber school, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, plans a huge, school-wide field trip. Throughout the school year there are various outings planned around the state as they attempt to reach out to students in Philadelphia, near Pittsburgh, and everywhere in between, but in the spring they plan their mega fieldtrip for the year which brings students and families from all corners of Pennsylvania together.

As you can imagine, this requires a lot of work on the school’s part. Buses are provided in locations throughout the state to collect families and ferry them to the field trip location. T-shirts are purchased for all the participating families. This helps the school track the participants, creates unity, provides a little walking signage for the school, but also lets everyone walk away from the experience with a cool, wearable souvenir.

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In the past we have attended the big spring field trip that took us to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as the trip that took us to the Washington DC area to tour Mount Vernon.

This year’s field trip was a whole new experience. Rather than another historic site, they switched things up. This time we traveled to the center of Pennsylvania for a Vertical Adventure!


Our adventure began at 4:30 am yesterday, when I woke the big kids to get ready for our hour drive to the charter bus location for the Pittsburgh area families. This year there were age restrictions for the participants due the nature of the outing and liability issues, which meant the little boys had to stay home with Daddy.

As disappointed as they were to miss this outing, it actually was a blessing in disguise. It afforded me the opportunity to have some great, concentrated time with my older three children who have been a little lost in the shuffle of life lately. Inevitably the little boys, with their hurts, have been consuming much of my time and energy lately. It is a classic case of the squeaky wheels getting the grease. It was nice to be able to step out of the role of therapeutic mom to traumatized littles for a day, and enjoy the ease of parenting my oldest three. In fact we were all quite giddy at the prospect of our day of freedom and spent the day talking and laughing a lot.

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We arrived at the pick-up location at 6:15 am, where we joined six other Pittsburgh families and three teachers for our ride to Stone Valley Vertical Adventures. The bus they rented was quite the sight, with couches, large screen TVs, curtains and a bathroom.

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The Pittsburgh bus was the first to arrive at Stone Valley, followed soon by the three other buses. The bus groups were given colored wristbands to direct the activities of the day. Because of rain one of the courses had to be closed which threw a wrench into the system for the teachers who had so carefully laid out the day.  While it wasn’t ideal, in the end it worked out, and everyone had a lot of fun.

Our group (and one other) began the day with ground activities, while two other groups headed to the adventure courses.

The school offered a few possible ground activities. Outside there were volleyball and kickball games going on. This is where Molly and Rusty headed. They had a blast playing with their teachers and fellow students.

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Molly and “Coach”


Grace joined her mural club teacher inside the lodge where they were offering a group painting class for those that didn’t want to play games.

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Gracie’s completed painting:

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Then it was time for lunch. The sun was finally making an appearance so we were able to enjoy a picnic outside and soak up some of the beautiful scenery.


After lunch it was our group’s turn on the vertical adventure course. We were sent to the vertical obstacle course: The Odyssey III. Rusty and I, who are both afraid of heights, kept our feet firmly planted of the ground while the girls geared up with harnesses and helmets.


The Odyssey III

The Odyssey Course offers linear team events, designed for 4 to 8 participants to complete together at a time. The central idea of this course is that teams will share a more productive, fun and educational experience than would individuals in a traditional challenge course design. Most traditional linear courses have individual or two-person events. The Odyssey Course instead allows small teams to have a more engaging challenge course experience together.

Molly was excited to be joined by Mr. Winterode (her learning coach) for this daring adventure. Ms. Gowton, one of the science teachers, also joined their group.

Task #1: Climb up the ropes to the landing.

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Task #2: While harnessed to an upper wire, walk across a wire, while avoiding obstacles…aka: tightrope walking!

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Task #3: As a group, while holding a shared central hand hold, move to tree house #2.

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Task #4: Get your entire group seated on a small wooden platform and pull your team to the next tower.


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Task #5: Individually get each member of your team to tree house #3 by jumping from floating platform to floating platform.


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Task #6: Ride the zipline back down to the ground and celebrate your accomplishment!


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By the time our group had finished the course it was time to say our goodbyes and load back into the busses. What a fun day! Molly declared it her favorite of all the big field trips we have attended.

We made it through the day unscathed, but we knew that couldn’t be then end to the story. After all it was Friday the 13th! Our adventure continued during our 2 1/2 hour drive home…which turned into a 4 hour drive home. We were about 30 minutes out when the bus engine suddenly turned off and we coasted to the side of the road. Eventually the driver got the engine started again only to have it shut off again a little while later. We sat and waited as the bus company sent a replacement bus. In the end it all worked out, no one was hurt and the delay was nothing more than a small inconvenience.

We finally arrived in Monroeville at 7:15 pm. We hopped back in the van for the 1 1/2 hour drive to Camp Agawam. Yes, the day was not over yet. Friday night was the annual Father/Son campout so we needed to deliver Rusty to Butler to join Toby, Tyler and Ozzie at their outing before us girls could return home to begin our girls’ night festivities. The day began at 4:30 am and ended at 2:00 am…24 hours of adventure and fun.