Tag Archives: outdoors

Happy “Gotcha Day” Tyler!


Yesterday marked the seven year anniversary since Tyler officially and legally became a McCleery! I remember with great fondness that special day when we went from being the parents of three to the parents of four.

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He was a wee little thing…only six-years-old at the time.

It was a joyous day, one that marked the conclusion of a year marked with great highs and lows, but also marked the start of our journey to being a family of eight. In the years following Tyler’s adoption day, God led us to adopt twice more. He brought Ozzie into our family in 2014 and Braden (Tyler’s biological brother) in 2019.

These are my remembrances of that special day, as personally penned seven years ago, on the evening of Tyler’s adoption day:

There are certain moments in my mothering journey that are ingrained in my memory forever. Moments when time stands still, when I am completely present and aware of the magnitude of the blessings, moments that will stay with me forever and will be replayed and enjoyed as I reflect on them years from now.. Yesterday was one of those days.

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As I sit here in the darkness of the night I have the joy of reflecting on the day. With the births of each of my children, my favorite part of the day was the night after giving birth. After the sun went down, and everyone went home, and I was left alone in the hospital room with my new child. My heart would overflow with gratitude and relief that it was done and all was well. All the worries about what could go wrong were set aside as the enormity of the miracle was laid before me. Tonight I find myself feeling those same emotions. Labor is over, the worries about everything that could have gone wrong were unfounded, and I am humbled by the miracle God has laid before me. Tyler is mine. It is done. I feel the weight of worry lifted from my shoulders and my heart overfloweth.

Today couldn’t have gone any better. I saw God’s hand in this beautiful day from beginning to end. Our scheduled court time was 1:30 but we were told to arrive at 1:00. Mimi Joy followed us down to Pittsburgh where we met my parents, my grandma, and my sister and her kids for the ceremony. It was so special to have the people most important to us join us on our special day and it was with great love that they traveled from New York, Michigan and Ohio to join us.

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When we arrived, we went through security and then took the elevator up to the 9th floor. Tyler was quieter than usual and I could tell he was nervous. As we walked into the auditorium where we would wait with all the other families adopting that day, we were greeted with a sign that read, “Happy Adoption Day!” ..my tears began. The reality that we made it, that we were in the home stretch, hit me.

When I walked into the waiting room I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer joy that filled the room. The room was full of families and children that were there to finalize their adoptions. The atmosphere was one of celebration.

It was soon time for us to head to the courtroom. The entire family came in. Toby and I sat in front of the judge with Tyler on Toby’s lap, while everyone else sat behind us. The judge introduced himself and welcomed us. He was wonderful. He joked with the kids and put us all at ease. He also told us that he personally knew the joy of adoption day because he had adopted his child. The hearing itself consisted of a series of questions that we had to answer and then a series of questions that the social worker had to answer. Within minutes we heard the judge declare, “From this day forth Tyler will now be known as Tyler Jacob McCleery.” Even now I find the tears falling as I think back on the emotions I felt at that moment. He was ours…finally ours.

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As I sit here and reflect on this adoption journey I am amazed at the difference a year makes. Last year at this time we didn’t even know Tyler existed and here we are today with a son. It feels like he has always been ours. We have witnessed first hand  God’s goodness as He laid the foundation for this day over the course of many years. He put upon our hearts the desire to adopt 10 years ago and from that moment on He provided opportunities to grow and prepare for this moment so that when the time was right, and we were ready, our son would be placed in our arms. It was a long “pregnancy” and a long “labor,” but the blessing of watching God’s miracles along the way made it a journey of joy. When I started this blog.. soon after Tyler was placed in our home.. it was so you could walk beside us as we navigated this unknown terrain called adoption. We are grateful for all the prayers you have prayed on our behalf, for the words of encouragement that always came when they were most needed, and the support we received from so many. It is with great joy that were share this day with you. God is Good!

In our family, we celebrate the anniversary of each adopted child’s “birth” into our family much as we would an actual birthday. We call it their “Gotcha Day,” and for the anniversary of their adoption they get to chose a fun, family activity for us to do to commemorate their special day. Tyler had a very specific idea in mind for his “Gotcha Day.” He wanted to go canoeing/kayaking. Since we don’t own canoes or kayaks, I needed to find a facility that rented them. Normally this would have been an easy task, as we are surrounded by rivers and lakes in Western Pennsylvania, but I soon discovered that many of the places that rents boats, were shut down due to Covid-19.

After a little research and a few calls and texts to friends, I discovered that Racoon Creek State Park had a rental facility that was still open and serving the public. On Friday we drove down to Racoon State Park for a day of boating. It was a smaller “Gotcha Day” gathering than usual due to so many family members being out of the house, but that didn’t damper the experience for Tyler. He was excited to get on the water and was thrilled to have Rusty join him!

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Happy “Gotcha Day,” Tyler! We are so glad you are our son!!


Enjoying the beauty of Ohiopyle


On day 2 of our two-day anniversary getaway we headed over to Ohiopyle State Park. Despite finding myself in this area of Pennsylvania every summer for girls camp, I never made it over to Ohiopyle.

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This weekend getaway gave Toby and I a perfect opportunity to visit this beautiful park and see what the hype was all about.

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It didn’t disappoint!

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This diverse park offered beautiful biking trails,

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Breathtaking waterfalls,

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Natural waterslides,

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Rocky crevices to explore,

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And stunning vistas.

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It was a beautiful park!

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It was a perfect day to soak up the beauty of the Laurel Highlands and enjoying some one-on-one time with my favorite person. Happy anniversary, my love. The last 23 years have been quite the adventure…

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Here’s to 23 more!


Week 1 of Summer Fun!


Here is a peek into some of our themed fun this last week…

Make it Monday:

On Make it Monday, we decided to do a little tie-dying. This is a craft that all my kids can get into, as it involves a sufficient amount of mess to make it fun and you have a cool shirt to show for your efforts at the end of it!

On Monday afternoon we pulled out the supplies.

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After choosing a design, Rusty and Tyler went to work securing their shirts with rubber bands and picking their colors.


The set we had on hand had a great mix of color choices!

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The boys picked their colors and began dying their shirts.

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We also picked up a pack of onesies so these two proud uncles could create a matching piece for their niece or nephew to be!

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While we worked we failed to take notice of the white bulldog under the table. Winnie happily sat in the shade, enjoying the cool drips from above. We had no idea she was down there until she emerged sporting some colorful new markings.

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She somehow gave herself two expressive, blue eyebrows and a generous sprinkle of freckles…

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None of which are coming off anytime soon!

Foodie Tuesday:

For our “Foodie Tuesday” fun, we decided to try out cake decorating. This is a hobby that both Grace and Molly have enjoyed playing around with, but one that the boys have yet to explore. I thought it would be a creative outlet that would appeal to my teenage boys since they get to eat their efforts in the end!

I baked 4 small cakes earlier in the day and let them cool in preparation of our cake decorating party.


Cake decorating supplies were pulled from the cabinet.

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When Toby got home from work we gathered in the dining room to decorate our cakes while dinner cooked.

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We chose which tips we wanted to use and began mixing our icing colors.

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It was fun to see everyone’s creativity emerge as they began putting icing to cake.

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The finished results were charming…and delicious!~

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Wet Wednesday:

Wet Wednesday was our slip-n-slide day!

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Tyler has been itching to slip and to slide since we played slip-n-slide kickball as a family a few weeks ago, so we pulled out the roll of plastic, the hose, and some dish soap and let him slip-and-slide to his heart’s delight!

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Take a Trip Thursday: 

For our first “Take a Trip Thursday” of the summer, we stayed close to home and headed over to Moraine lake for the day. Tyler’s friend, Jonathan, joined us. This was Tyler’s first time seeing anyone outside the immediate family since March. He has been itching to hang with friends, especially Jonathan, who he considers his best friend.


We stopped at GetGo for picnic supplies,

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And enjoyed a day of fishing and swimming lakeside.

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It was a beautiful day to be outdoors!

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On the way home we made a stop at The Snowman for some cold treats.

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Family Fun Friday:

On Friday the boys and I decided to do something wild and fun. Tyler has been begging to dye his hair for years. After a hard few w at Patchwork Farm, I felt the need for some silliness and novelty trumped all else, so we headed to Walmart to pick out hair dye. It seemed to me if the boys were ever to sport purple or blue hair, now was the time. Currently we have no upcoming family photos, no huge life events, or any outside activities. We headed into Walmart donning our face masks. This was Tyler’s first time venturing into a store, which was part of why I said yes to his hair dye request. We have been worried about his increasing anxiety since lockdown began. We noticed that despite things slowly opening up around us, he has no desire to leave the house. His fear of Covid-19 is slowly becoming a more concerning hyper-focused phobia. Feeling that getting Tyler into a public space would allow us to”rip off the bandaid” and face his fears head-on before they became debilitating, was extra incentive to let him dye his hair a crazy color.

It worked. His desire to color his hair trumped his fear of being in public. I explained that he would have to enter Walmart so that he could pick the color he wants. We talked through his fears, came up with safety protocols to address his concerns and then bravely ventured in. It worked like a charm and I saw a visible lightening as he moved past the fear and dread associated with that first step back into society.

We arrived home after Rusty and Tyler picked their shades. Rusty chose silver hair color, hoping for something fun without it being too crazy.

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Tyler went with Cherry Red. His color gave me pause when the box warned that it should not be rinsed out in the sink or tub due to staining…but we bravely pushed on.

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First we colored, then we rinsed…and rinsed, and rinsed, and rinsed!

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Rusty’s change was minimal. I think he wished he had picked a more daring color after seeing how little the silver tinted his hair.

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Tyler’s was a bit bolder. He loved his finished look and I love that he faced his fears!

Mason Neck Park




Our week in Virginia was spent camping near my old stomping grounds of Fort Belvoir, Virginia. This area of the country was the place we called home during my pre-middle school years. I have so many sweet memories of this area.

Living so close to Washington DC meant that when relatives and friends would visit from out of town we would take advantage of the many historic and cultural sites to be seen in DC. Because of the abundance of things to see and do in the heart of Washington DC many visitors don’t realize all there is to see and do outside of the city limits.

Fairfax County was where we spent most of our week exploring and playing. Within a few miles of our campground we had a dozen different state and county parks just waiting to be explored…parks that offered boat rentals, bird watching, biking and hiking trails.

One evening, following Rusty’s day at technology camp, we decided to explore Mason Neck Park. We picked one of the trails that offered a view of both the river and the marshland and headed off.


It was a gorgeous evening and this particular trail offered a spectacular variety of scenery to enjoy.


The boys enjoyed collecting shells along the beach,


And searching for local fauna among the abundance of lush flora.


Snakes, frogs, fish and birds were abundant.


It was fun seeing this experience through my boys’ eyes… So different from how my girls would have navigated this same landscape.


While I took photos, trying to capture even a smidgen of the beauty before me through the flattened lens of a camera, the boys immersed themselves fully in the sensory wash of sights, smells, sounds and textures.



It was such a fun shared experience with my guys and I was glad that we postponed our visit to Mason Neck Park until Rusty could join us in the evening. It made it more fun that he was there. The setting sun brought cooler temperatures and a golden glow to an already magical vista as we finished our hike and headed back to camp for the evening.





Panama Rocks


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.





Branson, Missouri


We have now been in Branson for four days. It has been wonderfully relaxing.


The first two days of our stay were spent in Silver Dollar City (more on that in our next blog) and the other two days were spent touring the town of Branson and all it has to offer.

Branson, Missouri is a fun tourist area. Known for its shows and musical entertainment, it reminds me a bit of a G-rated Las Vegas with its lights, unique architecture, and fun atmosphere. The difference, however, is that Branson is surrounded by the beautiful rolling hills of the Ozarks and is completely family friendly.


The ability to walk down the street without having to be on high alert of sights the kids needed to avert their eyes from made Branson a much more enjoyable entertainment center than Vegas…at least for me.

Our time in Branson has been spent catching up on grocery shopping, laundry and school…


As well as enjoying our beautiful campsite.


For the first time since the start of our trip we are allowed campfires. For much of our trip we were traveling through high drought areas that were under extreme risk of forest fire, so campfires were prohibited. The kids we very excited to find out we could have fires here.


We have enjoyed our evenings relaxing by the fire,


Roasting marshmallows.


and playing games as a family.


During the last few days we have been exploring Branson, having fun walking down the main drag and checking out the cool sites and unique buildings.


Yesterday we drove over to the Shepherd of the Hills fish hatchery. This free to the public site has a great display of local wildlife and a lot of conservation geared information about Missouri.


“Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery is the largest trout-rearing facility operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation. It is located six miles southwest of Branson on Highway 165 just below Table Rock Dam.

The hatchery includes a conservation center, where the public can learn more about trout culture, aquatic life, fishing and the Missouri Department of Conservation’s role in aquatic resource management. The center is open throughout the year and is free of charge.


Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery produces between 350,000 and 400,000 pounds of trout each year. Both rainbow and brown trout are raised at the hatchery with 80 percent of production going into Lake Taneycomo. The remainder of the fish are stocked into other Missouri trout management areas.


Construction of the hatchery began in 1957 and production of trout in 1958 with the completion of Table Rock Dam by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This dam created a large, deep lake that varies in water temperature from surface to bottom. The water near the bottom stays cool, averaging 48 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. During hydroelectric generation, this cold water is released into Lake Taneycomo. Although the cold water release caused the loss of the native warm-water fishery, it created the ideal environment for trout, a fish that thrives at lower water temperatures.”


It was fascinating looking in the various tanks that displayed turtles, frogs, spiders and snakes from this area, including the five venomous snakes that call Missouri home.


Tyler was especially enamored with the hatchery itself, where thousands of brown and rainbow trout are raised for release in the lake.


The kids were even able to feed the fish by inserting quarters into the fish food machines located around the hatchery pools.


Tyler was in heaven and could have spent all day watching the fish and exploring the different displays in the conservation center.


It took the doors closing at 5:00 pm to get him out the door.


Here are some of the cool facts we learned at the conservation center:

“Less that 1% of Black Widow bites result in death.”

“There are no known deaths attributed to the bite of a tarantula.”

“Geese and Bald Eagles mate for life and raise their young together. Only the death of a mate will cause the bird to search out another mate.”

The way to tell a cottonmouth from a non-venomous water snake is by observing how it swims through the water. Copperheads swim on the surface of the water while non-venomous snakes swim with their heads above water but the rest of their body below the water’s surface.”

“Armadillos can now be found wild in Missouri. This is not the result of humans introducing them to the area, but simply the northern migration of southern armadillos.”

“You can tell the air temperature from a cricket. This is one of the more amazing facts of nature. By counting the amount of trills a cricket emits in 15 seconds and then adding 37, this will give you a close estimate of the temperature in Fahrenheit.”


The following day we headed into Springfield, Missouri where we continued our fish-themed entertainment with a visit to Bass Pro Shop. I have fond memories of visiting here as a kid when relatives would visit us in Missouri. I knew Tyler would LOVE this stop, and since he has been such a good sport about touring places like the Titanic Museum, it seemed only fair that we do something Tyler loves…which is to look at fish!


Affectionately known as the “Granddaddy of all Outdoor Stores” this 500,000 square feet wonder is dedicated to the beauty of the outdoors. The Springfield, Mo Bass Pro Shop is the original and largest of all the Bass Pro Shops and we had a blast exploring it.


When we walked in we were greeted by this magnificent site:


The store was filled will beautiful taxidermy dioramas:


Aquariums filled with fish,


and alligators,


and even a turtle aquarium.


Everyone enjoyed exploring the store and all the unique, special details,


but none was more enamored than Tyler.


It was a fun, free way to spend the day!

Swimming with Sea Monkeys in the Great Salt Lake



Never did I think I would utter the words,

“I spent the afternoon swimming with sea monkeys.”

As a child I had sporadic success as a sea monkey owner. That didn’t discourage me from trying, though. The packaging of the smiling, waving sea monkeys on the store shelf were too much to resist, so even with the experience of previous failed attempts of raising sea monkeys on my bedroom dresser, I would try again, certain that this time would bring better results.


Sometimes they would hatch and it was always a thrill to sit and watch these alien looking creatures swim around in their plastic tank, but all to often the experience ended in weeks of longing looks into an empty tank before I would eventually give up hope and toss the kit in the garbage.

Even after 20 years of advancements in technology and quality control, things have not improved at all in the area of sea monkey husbandry. My own children have relived the same marketing pull and deep disappointment of unhatched sea monkey eggs and empty plastic tanks. After countless allowance dollars spent and multiple attempts at raising sea monkeys, my kids have never actually seen a hatched sea monkey.

Sea monkeys are actually brine shrimp. The marketing of brine shrimp as sea monkeys is a special kind of genius. Here is how they work:

“A colony is started by adding the contents of a packet labelled “Water Purifier” to a tank of water. This packet contains salt, water conditioner, and some brine shrimp eggs. After 24 hours, this is augmented with the contents of a packet labelled “Instant Life Eggs”, containing more eggs, yeast, borax, soda, salt, some food and sometimes a dye. The Sea-Monkeys that hatched from the original eggs seem to appear instantly. “Growth Food” containing yeast and spirulina is then added every few days.”

Sea monkeys, or brine shrimp, thrive in a highly hypersaline environment like that of the Great Salt Lake. Four times saltier than the ocean, the Great Salt Lake is considered an extreme environment that supports few forms of life. The exceptions to that rule include the ever abundant brine flies and brine shrimp:

b) Brine Flies

Due to our terrestrial nature we notice the huge, coal black clouds of flies on the lake shore. We are often annoyed by their presence and fail to realize just how important they are to the aquatic ecosystem of the Great Salt Lake. These flies and their larvae & pupae support an enormous number of shorebirds.

a) Brine Shrimp

In the late 19th century, various investigators identified the brine shrimp as Artemia salina or Artemia gracilis, however, more recently they have been named Artemia franciscana (the same as the one in San Francisco Bay). Brine shrimp (also called “Sea Monkeys” by aquarium enthusiasts and aquaculturists) are Crustaceans that have about 15 larval molting stages ( their larvae are called nauplii) before they become full adults of about 10 mm. .

Yesterday the kids were able to see what those sea monkey eggs should have hatched into that they spent their hard-earned allowance money on in childhood. Not only were they able to see sea monkeys, they were also able to swim with them!

They weren’t as thrilled with that, but they didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to swim (and float) in the Great Salt Lake, so they joined millions of sea monkeys and took to the water to swim in “shrimp soup.”


The Great Salt Lake is a natural wonder of the world. The high concentration of salt, due to water flowing into it but not out of it makes it one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world.


We pulled into the Great Salt Lake state park where we paid 3.00 for the bus to enter. This meant we only paid .50/ each to float in the Great Salt Lake. What deal!


After speaking with the rangers, and learning a little bit more about the lake, the kids and I headed back to the bus to put on swim suits.


The rangers warned us about the flies and the shrimp but told us that if we could brave those two elements we would be able to experience the unique sensation of extreme  buoyancy found only in hypersaline water due to the increased density.


The kids worked their way into the water and eventually took the plunge.


I waded out with them but Toby chose to stay on the shore. As a result he became the official towel/hat/shoe holder. 🙂


It was fun seeing the looks of astonishment and delight on the kids’faces as the water supported their body weight on the surface of the water.


Even my kids with minimal body fat, that usually are unable to float, stayed atop the water. Rusty exclaimed, “Boy, I wish I could take my Boy Scout swimming test here!”


They all had fun trying out different floating positions and yoga poses as they were supported by the water.


They were even able to sit cross-legged and remain upright as the waves bounced them along.



After an hour of floating we had everyone get out to dry off. The dry desert heat evaporated the water from our skin almost instantly, leaving behind a coating of salt that made our skin glisten. Rusty said we all looked like vampires with our glittering coating of salt.

Before we climbed back on the bus to change, we stopped at the outdoor hose to wash the salt from our swim suits and skin.


It was one of those unique, once in a lifetime experiences, that I never need to do again.

I can now say,

“I swam with Sea Monkeys in the Great Salt Lake!”

A Week at Home


There is nothing more wonderful than a day at home with no place to go!

I treasure these sort of “stay at home” days,

probably because they are such a rare occurrence. 🙂

Swimming lessons wrapped up last week, and we are done with summer camps. so after a busy two months of traveling and shuffling kids to and fro we finally had a week at home with minimal outside obligations.

It was just what I needed.

As I tackled the Mt. Everest sized mountain of laundry in my laundry room, and the 2 inch layer of protective dust on all my vertical surfaces, I felt the weight lifting. As my home became more organized  I felt the weight of anxiety lighten.

“Ok, I can do this,” I thought to myself as I began systematically crossing items off the “to do” list.

This was what I needed.

Just a few uninterrupted days ( uninterrupted except for football practices and therapy) to tackle those tasks that were weighing most heavily…

It was heavenly!

As I focused on addressing all those little worries and frustrations I found the big worries didn’t seem quite so daunting.

Here is a peek into our life this week…

granted most of our activities really didn’t justify pulling out the camera

 unless you wanted a shot of my Mt. Everest laundry pile. 😉

Monday was Gracie’s “one on one” time with me, that one hour of uninterrupted time with Mom to do whatever that child wishes. This week Grace told me that she wanted to use her time to work on her National Honor Society project.

For one of her requirements to maintain her membership in the National Honor Society she has to plan a 10 hour service project each year. This year she decided to do a literary day for the 4-10 year old children at church. She is working with some of the other teenage girls at church to plan a day of crafts, activities and lunch all based on their favorite children’s books. She has been preparing for weeks and is very excited.

For her time I helped her do advertising and sign-up sheets for the event.


Another requirement for her membership in the National Honor Society is a set number of tutoring hours each year. She has been fulfilling some of that requirement this summer by working with Tyler on his reading and spelling skills. On Monday she came up with the creative idea of taping the alphabet letters to the piano keys and letting him spell words. Tyler loved hearing the “songs” different words made.


I thought it was a clever way to engage her ADHD brother in a task he is not too fond of. She is going to make an awesome teacher one day!

On Monday night the big kids decided to try one of our bucket list items. They decided they wanted to spend the night sleeping on the trampoline. It was a perfect night for it with cool temperatures and a clear sky. Molly was a bit nervous that the coyote would come prowling around so they zipped up the trampoline safety net and kept Winnie, our bulldog, outside with them for the night. They came in the next morning at 7:30 am, declaring it a wonderful night’s sleep.



Tuesday was Molly’s “one on one” time and she chose to use her time to make a craft she had seen online. The craft was making stained glass light catchers to hang in a window. It was so simple but they turned out very pretty.

Step 1: Decorate clear plastic cups with sharpies.


Step 2: Place them rim side down on an ungreased cookie sheet.


Step 3: Bake them in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes.

Step 4:Pull them out and let them cool.


When they are cool punch a hole, string them, and enjoy.


They turned out so well Grace decided to use them as one of her crafts for her story book camp.

One of the items on my “to do” list this week was to make more allowance envelopes. Kids’ allowances have always been a struggle for me. They are supposed  to receive their allowances on Fridays each week but it  never fails that Friday would roll around and I wouldn’t have the cash on hand. Then I would have to try to remember who I owed what to

when we were at the store and they were wanting to purchase something with their allowance money.

A few years ago I got smart and realized that if I would just plan 6 months at a time the allowance headache that creeped up on me every Friday would be solved. Now twice a year I go to the bank and take out $300.00 in one dollar bills and $100.00 in dimes and make allowance envelopes for each child for 6 months. I use dimes for part of their money to make it easier to pull out their tithing and separate their saving money from spending money. It is a laborious process, taking a couple of hours to count out, package, and label 26 envelopes for each of the five kids BUT it saves me from having to deal with the allowance headache for 6 more months. It is well worth an afternoon of counting out dimes. 🙂



All done!


On Wednesday the girls had an activity with their youth group at church. The young women were going to the wave pool to enjoy an afternoon of playing in the waves. This was the first year I wasn’t needed as a driver so I stayed home with the boys while Grace drove Molly and herself to the church to carpool with the rest of the group.

They picked a perfect day for it…at least in terms of the temperature. It was one of the hottest days of the summer, making it perfect for playing the pool. Unfortunately all of Pittsburgh had the same thought, making for a very crowded day at the wave pool. Luckily the girls didn’t mind and had a blast despite the crowds.

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While the girls were off playing in the waves I took advantage of a day trapped at home. Toby had to take my car to work so there was no temptation to leave the house. I was able to tackle the monumental task of registering Molly for high school. This year she will be attending the same school as Grace and Rusty. I am excited for this change and know she will love 21st Century Cyber Charter School as much as her siblings do.

But it never ceases to amaze me the amount of paperwork required to register a child for school. Getting the paperwork completed was my goal for the day and felt another burden lift off my shoulders when all the papers were placed in the envelope and put by the front door to be mailed.

Today was spent on the phone dealing with a delicate situation involving one of Tyler’s biological siblings. Brandon, his older brother who recently lost his newly adoptive momma to cancer has found himself in limbo.

We have arranged to have Brandon spend the weekend with us. We are taking him camping. The whole situation is horrible and heartbreaking and we are hoping to give him a weekend of healing…

a vacation from a heartbreaking reality.

We approach this weekend with caution and hope…

Hope that we can be a blessing, but also that we can meet manage the behaviors and meet the emotional needs of a wounded little boy.

We ask for prayers,

continued prayers,

for Brandon and this weekend ahead of us.




Bird Banding and Stream Study- Part 2


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After a great morning at the bird banding center we couldn’t wait to see what was involved with the stream sampling part of the outing. After lunch we gathered again and hiked down to Powdermill Run creek. We were going to learn how to take a stream sample and look for macroinvertebrates that are pollution sensitive. By gathering samples and looking to see what was living in the water we could then determine the quality of the water.

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The group was split into “teams.”

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Each team was giver a “D net” and a bucket to hold their “creatures.”

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The man leading the class was very informative and fascinating to listen to. He explained to the kids how to gather a sample and then got down and dirty with them as they dug around in the creek. Tyler was particularly taken with him and wouldn’t leave his side.

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I was surprised to see that Tyler was so fascinated with the activity. I thought it would be Ozzie who would love it but Oz was content to just wander and observe. It was Tyler who was flipping rocks and digging in the dirt to find the samples.

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For a while Molly and Rusty worked as a team

with Grace helping the two little boys.

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Bu it wasn’t long before Ozzie began to wander away and Tyler ditched Grace for the teacher, so she joined up with Molly and Rusty.

All the kids had fun. They enjoyed splashing around in the creek in their rubber boots.

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It was fun to see the critters they pulled out of the water to add to their sample bucket.

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We were in the creek for an hour.

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Ozzie emptying the water out of his boots. 🙂

At the end of the hour everyone carried their sample buckets back to the shore where we then spent the next half hour identifying what we found.

Everyone was given a “cheat sheet” to help identify the microinvertebrate life in their buckets:

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Using the key the kids began the identification process:

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In their two buckets they found: Cranefly larva, Mayfly nymph, Caddisly larva, Dobsonfly larva, Stonefly nymph, Crayfish, and a little brown trout.

The teacher explained that the more invertebrate circled on the bottom line, the cleaner the water is. They are the ones that are most pollution sensitive.

After examining everyone’s samples we concluded that the water was very clean. The teacher confirmed our guess, telling us that this stream has received an “Exceptional Value” rating and is one of the top 9% cleanest streams in Pennsylvania.

The kids agreed that this was one of the best school outings we have attended. The classes were so well taught and the staff was amazing. We highly recommend a visit to Powdermill Nature Reserve!

A perfect way to end the school year!

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