Tag Archives: outings

Skating under the Stars


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On Monday, following our road trip to Cleveland, Ohio to visit The Christmas Story house, we headed back towards home for a very full remainder of the day. Tyler had his dyslexia tutoring in Wexford at 3:15, after which we were headed downtown Pittsburgh for an evening outing with PA Cyber.

This cyber school outing was scheduled for after dark, from 5:00-7:00 pm. It was an ice skating event at the MassMutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink at PPG Place.

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When I had signed us up two months prior, I thought it would be a fun Christmassy activity for us to enjoy the week before Christmas…

And I was right!

It was simply magical,

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Like a scene from a Hallmark movie.

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We checked in and Tyler, as a PA Cyber student, received a PA Cyber winter hat to keep him warm. It was so cute on him!

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The boys got their skates and prepared to get on the ice while I took my place outside the rink, happy to soak up the festive Christmas atmosphere and capture the magic with my camera.

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It was a perfect evening, chilly but not bitter. The city buildings surrounding the rink blocked what little wind their was, and reflected the twinkling lights of the large Christmas tree off their mirrored surface.

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The boys had a blast, skating along to the strains of the Christmas songs that filled the plaza.

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Halfway through the activity skaters were sent off the ice so that the Zamboni machine could clean things up. We used that time to enjoy the complimentary snacks and drinks that were laid out by PA Cyber staff for the families to enjoy.

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Another hour on the ice and it was time to head home. It was a fun-filled day, to say the least!

We arrived home physically worn out by the busyness of our day but hyped up on Christmas Spirit. It was just what I needed to jump start my Christmas enthusiasm for the tasks that awaited my attention in the upcoming days.

I can hardly believe Christmas is days away!



Cool Spring Corn Maze



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But we kept crossing paths with other groups.

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

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

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

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

See you in November!


A Treasured Time at Living Treasures




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

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

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

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

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


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


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


Because that is the best part of Living Treasures!


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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




Erie Art Museum



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gracie’s print.

The finished results were delightful!

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

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

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

Some of our scavenger hunt tasks included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This outing earned two thumbs up!

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A Trip Back to Colonial Times


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Oh, what fun we have had these last two days exploring the eastern side of the state. We are proud to share that Molly is our newest inductee into 21st Century Cyber Charter School’s National Honor Society! Not only did we have a wonderful experience at her ceremony (more on that in the next blog) but we also packed in some extra fun while we were in the area!

When we realized that we would be headed east for Molly’s National Honor Society induction ceremony within a day of the school’s planned fieldtrip to the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation we decided to piggyback one experience on top of the other and turn our one day trip into two.

It is a rare treat to get one on one time with my three oldest, so when opportunities like this one present itself I jump at the chance to create some individual memories.

It just so happens this opportunity came on the cusp of last week’s trip to Roanoke, Virginia, making it seem that I am a lady of leisure, gadding about the country instead of being a responsible grown-up, but I promise this is a rare anomaly.

These last two weeks have been a special gift. It is a rare treat to have this fun time with just my three oldest.

Some of the fun we had happened at the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation where we were transported back in time two hundred years to the early days of our nation’s history.

We arrived just as the fieldtrip was starting, surprising some teachers that thought we had traveled 5 hours from Pittsburgh just to attend the fieldtrip. We eventually  fessed up that as much as we love them (and their great fieldtrips) the only reason we were only attending this particular outing (five hours from our house) was because we were already coming to town for the NHS ceremony. 🙂

At the end of the fieldtrip we were asked whether it was worth driving across the state for and I had to answer, “Yes!” It really was a neat place. We love living history sites and this working plantation was exceptional.

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Here is a little bit of information taken from the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation’s website:

“The Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation is an authentic living history site with the purpose of enhancing understanding of 1760-90 farm life in Southeastern Pennsylvania by providing high quality, research based experiences to the public.

Astride Ridley Creek in Edgemont, PA., the 112 acres of the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation provide the context of early American history, the setting where the impact of King George’s taxes was felt, the American melting pot began to simmer, and American ingenuity took root.

While the decisions of military and political leaders may set the course of history, it is left to the average people, the foot soldiers of history, to carry themselves and their nation to the future.

As much as the conflict and debate of the Revolution, it was the daily conquest of the land that shaped the character and growth of America. Using their resourcefulness to survive and prosper, the colonists helped establish the foundation of the American way. Much of the familiarity with colonial times is based on history’s memorialized few. Accounts of the clothing, homes and style of living of the likes of Washington, Franklin and Jefferson have implied an elite standard beyond the reality of the typical southeastern Pennsylvanian, a rural farmer. The Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation’s modest role – as a working farm operating with the methods and implements of colonial America – belies its significance as a living example of that period.

The people and activities of the Plantation represent more than the one 18th century family who owned the property. The way of life that exists at the Plantation is a tribute not simply to the Pratt family, who lived on this farm from 1720-1820, but to the efforts and achievements of the typical colonial resident of this area. Consistent with the findings of local research into religious and tax records, wills and letters of the 1760-90 period, the Plantation represents a broader view of early American life, an authentic demonstration of how most people in this area lived during colonial times.”

We began our tour outside with our incredibly knowledgeable tour guide leading us through the outside work that would have beeen an everyday part of life for a colonial family.


We were able to meet the animals that would have played a key role in a family’s ability to be self-sustaining during the 1700’s, because although commerce would have been abundant in the colonies at the time things would have been very expensive making it improbable that a farming family would purchase many goods. Most of what they needed for survival from food, to furniture, to cloth and candles would have been made at home with materials grown and raised on the plantation.

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We found the oxen especially endearing. There was a sweet, sad, basset-like personality that radiated from two-year-old Russ.

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It was neat to watch his handler put Russ through his paces, demonstrating the verbal commands used to get Russ to perform.

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He explained the essential role oxen would have served on a farm. He shared that while a farm might have both horses and oxen the jobs each would be used for differed based on the task. Horses were the better animal for plowing land quickly. For each horse you had harnessed to the plow you could plow an extra acre a day. A farmer with two horses would average two acres a day. A farmer with four horses would plow four acres a day. This was not the case for oxen who have three speeds: slow, slower, and slowest. He explained that a farmer plowing with one oxen would plow ½ acre a day…2 oxen: ½ acre a day…8 oxen: ½ acre a day, but oxen were the chosen farm animal for plowing rough and uneven land, a task a horse would have struggled with.

From there the students had the opportunity to participate in chores and tasks from that era. We began with candle making.

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The students were placed in two lines and each given a wick that had been folded in half. Two at a time the students stepped forward to the pot of melted wax, dipped their wicks, and then moved to the back of the line.

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This process was repeated 25 times with their candles growing with each dipping until everyone had a finger-sized set of candles.

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After a lunch break and a tour of the plantation home we began chore time on the plantation.


During the next few hours the students got to try their hand at drawing water from the well:

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As well as helping fill the wood shed by taking turns on the two-man saw. My kids, who are no strangers to farm labor or cutting, splitting, and stacking wood, found the use of a two man saw far slower and more challenging than the modern process we use at home.

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After all those chores our little 21cccs colonial children earned some free time to try their hand at some colonial era games.


A favorite game was the newly learned game of Graces, a tossing game involving the use of two wooden sticks used to “gracefully” toss a hoop to a playmate. The kids enjoyed this game so much they expressed a desire to try to recreate it at home.

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I enjoyed watching them play as much as they enjoyed playing it…especially when the wind began to blow!

Rusty tried “rolling the hoop” with a great deal of success…it was an amazing feat when one considers his height in comparison to the hoop.

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The outing ended with the distribution of our homemade candles.

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We all enjoyed this fieldtrip so much,


and are glad the stars aligned, allowing us to catch this fieldtrip while out east for the National Honor Society induction ceremony.

It was a perfect day to step back in time!


“Frankly my dear…”


Yesterday we visited Tara.

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Not “The Tara” but a very good embodiment of the beloved home of Miss Scarlet.

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A tour of Tara was an outing being offered by Molly’s school. As a fan of Gone with the Wind, I was intrigued. Before committing to attending I first checked out the website to see what it was. This is what it said:

“Inspired by the greatest movie of our time, Gone With the Wind, Tara is in a real sense an embodiment of the Old South. Tara, although located in the “North,” offers you a lasting impression of Southern Hospitality and a chance to enjoy the luxuries of days gone by. Tara is a virtual museum of Civil War and Gone With the Wind memorabilia and antiques, including one of the largest Civil War weapons collections in the country, dozens of Frederick Remington bronzes, antique furniture including President Buchanan’s dining room table and many more elegant antiques and original works of art.”

The Northern "Tara" :)

The Northern “Tara” 🙂

It sounded like fun so we signed up. On Friday we met up with friends prior to the tour to have lunch together at Hotheads, a Mexican restaurant. The kids enjoyed the treat of lunch out, as well as the chance to get in extra time with friends.


After lunch we drove 10 minutes away, just outside of Hermitage, to Tara. To begin we gathered in the carriage house to watch a short video on the history of the home. We learned about its origins and how it came to be the restaurant/ bed and breakfast it is today.

Our tour group waiting to watch the history of Tara.

Our tour group waiting to watch the history of Tara.

Then the tour began. It lasted about an hour as the tour guide led us through the house, showing us the many bedrooms and dining rooms, as well as pointing out the treasures that could be found throughout the home.


The tour began in gun room which holds the second largest collection of Civil War weapons in the country. The boys were especially enthralled with this room.


The tour then moved upstairs, leading us past the many  themed bedrooms that you can spend the night in, each with a Gone with the Wind theme.


The home was a beautiful mix of Civil War artifacts,


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and beautifully furnished rooms.



Even the little boys held up well. They were asked to walk calmly around an old home, filled with antiques that they couldn’t touch, and there were no major disasters…


No broken vases, no wrestling matches on the steps, no whining about how boring it was.




By the time the tour was done the boys were ready to get outside and run. We took advantage of the beautiful (although snow-covered) grounds and let the boys run off some steam before we climbed back in the car for the hour drive home.



On the way home I was explaining the movie, Gone with the Wind, to the girls. They had never watched it, so when we arrived home we snuggled up on my bed and watched it. They loved it as much as I did when I saw it at their age.

Ahhh, memories. 🙂

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It was a fun day and a nice way to lead into what will be a very busy weekend.

Riding the waves



Friday was our annual trip to the wave pool. Every year those working with the young women at church try to plan a day at the wave pool. It is an outing that all the girls look forward to. We go to the one at Settler’s Cabin. It is a nice wave pool that is also quite affordable at  $3.00/4.00 per person. We had planned to meet at church and carpool our way to the pool but as the morning wore on and the sky grew darker I debated whether to reschedule. I looked online at the weather report and saw that we had a 40% chance of showers. 40% may seem like a high probability of rain but living in western PA has made 40% chance of rain and gray skies a way of life so we decided to go ahead and try the wave pool.

My young women..love these girls!

My young women..love these girls!

We met to pick up girls and then headed to the pool. When we arrived we sat in the parking lot so everyone would have a chance to eat their sack lunches before we went in. (No outside food is allowed to brought in) As we sat in the parking lot eating and visiting we heard the first ominous rumble of thunder followed by someone on the loud-speaker informing us that due to thunder they would delay opening the gates for another 30 minutes. We waited and watched the dark cloud roll by followed by a patch of beautiful blue skies. 30 minutes later we were allowed to enter. The girls changed into their suits while I took my boys and those who were already changed down to the water’s edge. Everyone had a chance to do one round of playing in the waves before we heard another rumble and whistles were blown. We were told that everyone needed to gather their items and go sit under the roof of the snack bar area until the storm passed.

The wave pool..

The wave pool..

Tyler loved it!

Tyler loved it!

Their policy with thunder is that for every rumble heard we must wait 30 minutes to be allowed into the pool. Each time thunder is heard the clock restarts. As we sat waiting on the concrete ground you would hear a chorus of groans after each rumble of thunder. Soon that rumbling turned into a down pour of rain.

and the rain came down..

and the rain came down..

The sky went black and then the hail began. It was an impressive display by Mother Nature and I was waiting for a cow to fly by next but the sky lightened and the sun came out. After 90 minutes of waiting we were finally allowed back into the pool.

While waiting for the whistle that allowed us back into the pool Tyler took advantage of the sun and the puddles!

While waiting for the whistle that allowed us back into the pool Tyler took advantage of the sun and the puddles!

The kids all had a good time. They played in the waves and spent time jumping off the edge of the pool into the waves, buying time until the diving pool opened at 3:00.

One, two, three..jump!

One, two, three..jump!

At the diving pool there is no swimming. It is a deep pool surrounded on three sides by diving boards: 2 low boards, 2- 3 meter boards, and a pillar of concrete at one end with a 5, 7 and 10 meter diving platform. My older kids all wanted to  jump off the diving boards but I told Tyler that he could only watch. He is not as strong a swimmer as he feels he is and I didn’t feel confident in his ability to make it back to the side of the pool after jumping in. We sat and watched the kids and he kept asking to try it too. I finally relented after some of the girls offered to wait at the water’s edge in case he needed help. He climbed up on low dive and jumped. He resurfaced and dog-paddled his way back to the side of the pool. He climbed out and asked to go again. The next time it was his turn he walked to the edge of the board and then proceeded to do a flip into the water.


I watched in horror and awe having had no inkling that he could or was planning to flip off the diving board. He climbed out of the pool to a chorus of cheers by the young women. He then asked to go off the high dive (3 meter) I said yes but then yelled to him, “No Flipping!”

You could tell he was nervous as he climbed up…



He walked to the edge…


And jumped!


Luckily he was content with the high dive and didn’t want to try the diving platforms because I don’t know that I could have handled that!

After diving we had a little more time to play in the wave pool before we needed to get everybody home. Luckily Mother Nature’s timing was perfect. As I was trying to convince the boys to get out of the pool the whistles were blown because of lightning so it made for a perfect exit. We ended up having a few hours of beautiful weather between storms..typical Pittsburgh weather. It was a fun day and my kids all came home tired from swimming and riding waves.


Rusty helping Tyler to the edge of the pool.

Rusty helping Tyler to the edge of the pool.


Today the boys were up early to be dropped of at daycare because the girls and I are leaving for camp! We will be gone Monday-Saturday. Both boys are excited about daycare, having never been there before. They are going to the same place where we took the animals a few months ago. Hopefully they will enjoy it as much as Buttercup did. 🙂

See you in a week!