Tag Archives: PA

Johnstown Incline


Our final stop of the day was the Johnstown Incline.

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The 21st Century staff decided to take the school van up the incline for a fun photo op and invited anyone who wanted to join them (for this optional add-on to the planned field trip) to meet them at the incline.

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It sounded like fun to my crew, who although had previously ridden an incline up the steep hillsides of Pittsburgh, had never experienced the unique thrill of riding up an incline that could carry vehicles in addition to people.

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Here is a little background information about the Johnstown Incline that we learned while visiting:

In the 1830s, the first inclined planes in the United States were completed in and around Cambria County, Pa, as part of the Allegheny Portage System. Over the coming decades, this technology was used to create no less than 17 inclined planes in Pittsburgh, which hauled people and freight up the city’s many hillsides.

In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the narrow valley in which the city was located created problems for expansion. As a growing industrial city, Johnstown needed to find room to grow, and the hilltops near the city were the perfect choice.

The Johnstown Flood of 1889, which devastated the city and killed over 2,000 people, increased the desire for hilltop living. The top of Yoder Hill to the west of the city was home to only a few farms, and the roads to the top were very difficult to navigate. The Cambria Iron Works decided to turn this land into a livable space for its workers

In 1890, just a year after the devastating flood, work began on the Johnstown Inclined Plane, which was opened on June 1, 1891.

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Originally known as the Cambria Inclined Plane, it rose 502 feet from downtown Johnstown to the top of Yoder Hill. Covering the vertical increase in only 896 feet, the incline has a grade of 70.9%, making it the steepest vehicular inclined plane in the world 125 years after it was completed.

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Over the first 80 years of operation, 40 million trips were taken on the Johnstown Inclined Plane, include roughly 4,000 people who escaped from the 1936 flood in Johnstown. Today, the inclined plane is primarily used by tourists visiting the area to enjoy the beauty and nostalgia of the ride.

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Our large crew had to be split into two groups with the 21CCCS van and teachers riding up in the first car and the rest of the students and their families taking the second car.

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The ride up was thrilling. The car was more open than the enclosed cars we have experienced on Pittsburgh’s inclines. There was just a wooden gate to prevent visitors from tumbling to their deaths down the steep hillside.

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OK, I’m sure there was no actual risk…

 but it felt daring, nonetheless.

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On our climb up the hill we passed a family of white tail deer…aka “Pennsylvania mountain goats”…munching on grass alongside the incline rails.

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At the top of the incline, there was a large observation deck which offered the opportunity to take in the amazing views. From here, we could see all of Johnstown and the valley created by the Little Conemaugh River and Stonycreek River. On the outskirts of the city, the remains of industrial sites could be seen, including an old steel mill. In many respects, this view reminded me of what Pittsburgh might have looked like from the top of Mount Washington 100 years ago.

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Without a doubt, a ride on the Johnstown Inclined Plane should be on the bucket list for every visitor to Johnstown. The combination of a fun ride, a history lesson, and the amazing view from the top made it one of the highlights of the day.

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It was a perfect way to round out our day in Johnstown, Pennsylvania with our 21st Century family!

Fishing for some fun on Labor Day



As a child Labor Day always represented the last day of fun and freedom before school resumed again. It was the last day of summer and usually filled with outdoor play and food cooked on the grill. Sometime over the last few decades school has begun creeping its way over the calendar page from September to August, with most schools starting in August now. This is true for our cyber schools. We are now 1 1/2 weeks into the school year so Labor Day has lost its status as the final day of summer and has been demoted to “three day weekend” status…still appreciated and enjoyed, but not quite as magical as it was when I was a child.

This Labor Day was even less iconic since half our family spent it laboring and were not even home. Grace was working the day shift and Toby took Rusty to work with him at a friend’s house. The job happened to be at the home of Tyler’s best friend from church, so Tyler tagged along and had a splendid day swimming, exploring, and playing with his buddy while Toby and Rusty labored.

That left Molly, Ozzie and I home to work on some projects around the house and await the arrival of the rest of our clan so the Labor Day festivities could begin.

We knew we couldn’t do anything as a family until after 5:00 pm so some of our original ideas for fun family activities were out, but as I researched events happening in our area I stumbled across the information that for one day (Labor Day) the state of Pennsylvania was offering $1.00 fishing licenses. This is a big deal for our family, as half of us are now old enough to need a license to legally fish. We decided to take advantage of this awesome deal and celebrate Labor Day lakeside with a picnic and fishing at Moraine Lake.

Once everyone had arrived home we headed to Walmart to pick up picnic supplies and our fishing licenses.



Entertaining ourselves while waiting!


When we arrived we headed straight back to the sporting goods section. The employee, being unaware of the $1.oo Labor Day special, had to call the state’s help line to confirm we weren’t crazy and the deal was legit.

We soon were on our way with our $1.00 fishing licenses in hand.

We arrived at the lake and found we were not the only ones with fishing and picnicking on the brain. The place was busy with swimmers, hikers, bikers, and fisherman, all out enjoying a beautiful Labor Day evening.

We found an open picnic table and an open stretch of shoreline and got settled in for the evening.

Everyone but Tyler decided to eat first and then fish.



Tyler headed straight for the shoreline, eager to get started. Tyler loves fishing and could easily sit at the side of a lake for hours on end and not tire of fishing.


After everyone else’s bellies were full the race for who would land the first fish began.


Rusty was the winner with the world’s smallest bluegill.


Molly was a close second with a slightly bigger bluegill. In her attempt to take it from Toby, who got it off the hook, she accidently dropped it on the ground…oops!


Molly spent the rest of the evening fretting about potential brain damage in the fish she released, certain that the fish who  was once moderately intelligent was now transformed into a “Dory” with short term memory loss due to the concussion inflicted on it by Molly’s slip of the fingers.  🙂


It was a beautiful evening.


The weather was ideal.


The scenery was stunning.


And the company was delightful!


It was a perfect way to celebrate Labor Day and bring to close an awesome summer.

Finding hope at the Scottish Rite Cathedral


The Scottish Rite Cathedral was our home away from home for many years. It became the answer to our prayers when Grace and Molly were diagnosed as Dyslexic in early elementary school. Both were struggling academically and as we prayed for answers as to best help them we were led to the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Western Pennsylvania.

It was here the girls found the missing keys to understanding the mechanics of language.

It was here, using an Orton-Gillingham program, that my girls learned to read.

It was here, under the instruction of some awesome tutors, that my girls came to believe that they were not stupid, but that their brains worked differently than their peers. They learned they too could find academic success, it just required a different approach and a lot of perseverance.

The Children’s Dyslexia Center of Western Pennsylvania is outstanding and is completely free to families of students who have a diagnosis of Dyslexia or reading disability. Sponsored and funded by the Scottish Rite Freemasons, this center offers the best therapeutic reading approach for Dyslexic students that is available in our area. This is an incredibly charitable undertaking, as the tutoring cost per student/each year is $5000.00…all funded by this nonprofit organization.

This means we have been beneficiaries of over $25,000.00 of free Dyslexia tutoring over the past decade…

And now we find ourselves here again.

Once again we find the answer to our prayers at this lovely, old building in the heart of New Castle.


Last fall, after getting the results of Tyler’s most recent testing numbers for his IEP team, I felt prompted to send his file over to the director of the Children’s Dyslexia Center to see if he would qualify or benefit from their method of tutoring. I soon heard back that not only did he qualify but he was an ideal candidate.

We were put on a waiting list, hoping for an opening in the upcoming year.

Because this center is in such high demand,

AND because of the fact they have a limited number of specially trained instructors,

 AND because students remain in the program for two to three years,

there is a waiting list to get in.

This week we got the call we were praying for.

At 8:45 am on Tuesday morning the director called and said they had a spot open unexpectedly and if we could be there in 30 minutes Tyler could be tested and begin the summer session with the tutor that just became free.

Needless to say, we raced over. Un-showered and looking a little worse for wear, we went, grateful for the opportunity, desperate to not lose our spot.


When we walked through the doors it was like stepping back in time. Nothing had changed. It looked the same. It smelled the same. I think even the magazines were the same. 🙂 

Last time we were here my girls were Tyler’s age. I remember Rusty playing in front of the giant mirror, as I tried to keep him occupied while the girls met with their tutors.


It was like stepping back into a sweet memory.

This place was such a great blessing in Molly and Gracie’s lives.

I pray it was be an equally great blessing in Tyler’s life.

This now means our Tuesdays and Thursdays are crazy days…but full of activities that are blessing and benefitting Tyler, and giving him the extra help and support he desperately needs.

We leave the house at 8:30 am.

Tyler has tutoring at the Dyslexia Center from 9:00-10:00 am.

Then we drive 45 minutes to Beaver Falls were the boys have back to back therapy sessions from 11:00- 12:45 pm to work through their past trauma with their therapist, Miss Tina.

Then it is 45 more minutes of driving as we head to Wexford for another hour long tutoring session with a Barton trained reading specialist (Miss Jan) who Tyler meets with from 1:30-2:30pm.


After all that running the boys are rewarded for their hard work with a picnic and playtime at the park before we head back home at 3:30 or 4:00 pm.


It makes for a LONG day.

By 3:00 we are all spent, especially Tyler who says that his brain hurts by the end of it all,

But we are making huge strides and working toward good things,

Which makes the craziness worth it.

How grateful I am for answered prayers!

Graduation Day!


Saturday marked the end of one journey and the start of the next one.

It was the day my first born walked on stage, dressed in a cap and gown, and graduated high school.

It was an action-packed day that began at 10:15 am and stretched to 3:00 pm, packed full of graduation day activities.


Unlike a local high school that might spread graduation preparation over a weeks’ time, 21st Century has to make it all happen in one day. Many of their families have traveled far distances to be there and are only there for the day, so all the activities that lead up to graduation day for seniors must fit into one five-hour period.

But they orchestrated what could have been pure chaos, beautifully.

We woke early Saturday morning and went down to the lobby of the hotel to meet the Hudaks for breakfast. We knew better than to dress everyone before we ate, so it was breakfast first, followed by everyone getting dolled up in their Sunday best.

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Then it was off to the local high school where our charter school was holding the commencement ceremony.

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We arrived to find what can only be described as a “well-oiled machine.”

We were greeted and welcomed at the door by teachers and directed where to go. Toby had Gracie’s school laptop and was sent in one direction to get in line to return it. Grace and Olivia were sent to get in line to receive their senior gift bags which contained a complimentary yearbook and a 21CCCS alumni t-shirt.

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While the seniors were off preparing for graduation the families waited in the cafeteria where the school had catered a lunch for the families to enjoy while they waited for the graduation ceremony to begin.

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While we were eating and visiting, Olivia and Grace were kept busy behind the scenes.


First, they got fitted for their caps and gowns. Lana and I stepped in to watch the process and that is when the emotions fully hit. Watching our babies have their graduation caps pinned to their heads made it all real. Lana expressed my emotions best when she said, “How can this be? I just brought her home from the hospital yesterday.”

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Then Grace and Olivia donned their National Honor Society medallions for being members of the NHS presidency.

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After hugs and a few tears, we let them move on to their next station, “graduation photos,” where they had a professional photographer taking graduation portraits of each senior in their cap and gown.

Once each senior moved through the line it was time for the graduating class to do a few practice runs before the actual ceremony began.

While we waited in the cafeteria the other kids kept busy with the photo booth,

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Playing games on Toby’s phone,




Playing card games,


And visiting with their teachers.

Each of the kids wanted to get a photo with their learning coach.

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Ozzie and Mrs. Scarpignato

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Molly and Mr. Winterode (Coach)

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Rusty and Ms. Heleniak

We have been blessed with such awesome learning coaches over the years at this school, so perfectly fitted to each of my kids’ personalities and exactly what each has needed to find success.

In fact, Gracie really credits her first learning coach, Mr. Dolan, who has since moved away, as the catalyst for her success in high school and the reason she wants to be a special education teacher. She has personally experienced the impact an invested, caring teacher who believes in you, can have on the life of a student with a learning disability, and wants to pay it forward and have that same impact on another student like herself.

When Mr. Dolan moved away Grace was crushed. But God knew what he was doing and He sent what Grace needed next in the form of Mrs. McGuire, her learning coach for her remaining two years in the school. Mr. Dolan helped Grace see the ability within her disability and helped her believe in her capabilities…just what 9th grade Grace needed. Mrs. McGuire stepped in and was the catalyst for dreaming big dreams and showing Grace that she could do anything she wants with those abilities. Both were powerful influences in Gracie’s life when she most needed to learn those lessons.

Grace received the thrill of her life on Saturday when both of her learning coaches came to graduation. Mr. Dolan, who now lives out of state, surprised his graduating students by showing up for their special day.

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Grace was moved to tears to have both of these important people there to celebrate her achievement. She never thought she would see Mr. Dolan again and now Mrs. McGuire will be leaving the school to follow her husband across the country to California. What a gift Grace received in being able to share this moment with them before they all go their separate ways!

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It was soon time to head to the auditorium for the commencement exercises. Tatum, Lucas and Molly were asked (as members of National Honor Society) to stand at the doors and hand out programs.

We picked up our programs and waited for the ceremony to begin.

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The students walked in and the tears began.

The girls looked so grown up and pretty.

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They were seated on stage and the School principal stood up to welcome the families and introduce the speakers. Grace was the first of three students who were chosen to speak at graduation.

Here is what she had to say:

“In 1986 a man by the name of Robert Fulghum published a piece of prose titled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” This humorous, yet insightful, piece of literature revealed that the most important life lessons do not happen at graduate school but in the sandbox of our childhood. Following Mr. Fulghum’s example I would like to summarize the lessons I have learned these last four years in a piece I call, “All I really need to know I learned at 21st Century Cyber Charter School.”

Here are some of the life lessons I have learned:

·         I learned that the teachers want to be your friend. From your very first orientation day they wanted to get to know you. They wanted to know your likes and dislikes. They didn’t just want to be your teacher but also your ally. In life, we all need allies.

·         From Ms. Cloetingh I have learned that sometimes you just have to sit down and paint. Einstein said, “Creativity is contagious.” At 21st Century it is a downright epidemic! Between mural club, the art and literary magazine, and a variety of music and drawing classes, creativity flows through the veins of this school, teaching students how to share their soul with the world.

·         I learned that having one person believe in you and your ability can change you. Mr. Dolan was that one person for me. Mr. Dolan used to be a teacher in this school. He believed in me and my abilities, which helped me believe in myself.

·         I learned that there is a leader within all of us. As a student with a learning disability I never thought I would be accepted as a member of National Honor Society, much less serve as president of National Honor Society my senior year. It is through the support of great teachers and the belief I had in my own abilities that I discovered a leader within me that I didn’t realize existed. There is a leader within all of us.

·         I learned that raising your hand, multiple times in a row, while in the VO won’t help you get help any faster. I bet many teachers can attest that they can often hear the sweet music of the many hands of students being raised. As students, we had to learn how to be patient, but we also learned we would always get the help we needed. We must find the right balance of patience and self-advocacy as we seek out the right people to support us in our journey.

·         I learned that untraditional friendships can often be the best kinds of friendships. I find it funny when people have the misconception that cyber school students are backwards or unsocial just because they don’t interact with their peers face to face in a traditional classroom. The friendships I have made with fellow students and teachers are not only authentic but deep and meaningful. It may not be a traditional way of making friends, but the friendships I have made at 21st Century mean the world to me.

·         (Signed in American Sign Language) I learned that it takes courage to pursue your passion. Mrs. McGuire really helped me learn this. She helped me have the courage to pursue my own passion for American Sign Language. This fall I plan to begin school to become an American Sign Language interpreter.

I started attending 21st Century Cyber Charter School in 9th grade. I have been in this school for four years and have loved every moment of it. Some might look at this day as the end of a journey when in reality it is simply the start of the next great journey. By taking the lessons we’ve learned within the cyber walls of this school we are equipped with the life lessons needed to go forth and make an impact on the world. Today we celebrate where you have been and where you are going. Happy Graduation Day!”

And this Momma and Papa couldn’t have been prouder. Our baby may be all grown up, but what a beautiful young lady she has grown up to be.

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Next it was time for the presentation of scholarships.

At 21st Century Cyber Charter School the teachers have a long-standing tradition of presenting four students from the graduating class with scholarships from the school. These scholarships are not funded with school budget money, but rather are funded solely by teacher donations. Throughout the year they will have events at the school for staff, like special breakfasts during inservice/training days, which they will use to raise money to help fund these scholarships, in addition to cash donations by the teachers. They try to raise $500.00 for four chosen students but this year were even more generous and raised $750.00 for four students.

The teachers of this school are incredible and are at the heart of why this school shines brighter than the rest.



Mr. Winterode, a favorite teacher at the school!


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Ms. Cloetingh, Grace and Olivia’s mural club teacher.

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Mr. Dolan, Gracie’s 1st learning coach.

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Mrs. McGuire, Gracie’s 2nd learning coach.

There are four scholarships given to four students that best exemplify the four pillars of National Honor Society. One scholarship for academics, one for leadership, one for service, and one for character.

We watched as they handed out the three scholarships for greatest academic excellence, the Eagle service award for the student most service minded, and the leadership award. Then it was time for the scholarship awarded to the student that shows the most exemplary character, as voted on by the teachers of the school, and we heard them announce Gracie’s name!

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We had no idea that she would be a recipient of one of these scholarships, and for me that was the acknowledgement that we, as her parents, have done right these last 19 years. I remember holding her as a baby and speaking to God during one of our middle of the night gatherings between Grace, God and I. I remember praying over that  little bundle I held in my arms and saying to God, “It matters little to me that this child grows up to be exceptionally pretty, or smart, talented, or gifted in the areas of music, art, or athletics…as nice as those traits might be. What matters most to me is that I raise a child who is known for her kindness, her selflessness, and her goodness. Help me to raise a woman of character.” And God has been merciful. He has answered my prayers. How blessed we are by this sweet girl! God is good.

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Then it was time for the diplomas to be handed out. The students were called to the front of the stage one by one.

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Once everyone had received their diploma it was time for the traditional turning of the tassels, signifying the transition from high school to life beyond.

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And it was done.

13 years of hard work, sleepless nights, advocating for her needs, teaching and reteaching tough concepts again and again, endless fieldtrips, Dyslexia tutoring, IEP meetings, 3 schools, and the culmination of the decade of my life’s work came together in that moment as we watched our baby girl walk down the aisle with diploma in hand.

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A diploma hard earned by both student and teacher! 🙂

It was time to celebrate:

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She did it.

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Olivia did it.

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We did it!

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Congratulations, ladies. We are so proud of you.

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What a beautiful journey it has been!

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We can’t wait to see where God takes you next!

A Journey to Bethlehem


Last evening we bundled up for the long cold walk down the driveway to climb in the van for a short jaunt to Bethlehem.

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A couple months ago, as I was researching things to do around Pittsburgh at Christmastime for a class I was asked to teach, I heard about a local church who puts on an annual drive-thru living nativity.

I was looking for something special to do with the kids in the spirit of Christmas, that was close by, didn’t require getting out of the car, and free. This just happened to meet all those requirements so we decided to check it out.

The church hosting the event was about 30 minutes south of us.

It was a bitterly cold night with the wind chill hovering below zero.

We easily found the church.


When we pulled in we were directed to the end of a line of cars slowly moving in a loop around the parking lot, stopping at stations along the way.

We began the experience by being greeted by friendly members of the church handing out CDs that we were to play as we drove from station to station.

Before we began our trek, however, we were stopped by a Roman soldier, informing us of the census decree issued by Cesear Agustus requiring us to journey to our home town to be counted. He asked where we hailed from. When we told him the name of our town he told us to journey there by way of Bethlehem.


We then began our trip.

As we moved from station to station the CD narrated the story of Christ’s birth as it unfolded before us.


At each station we sat in the van and viewed the scene before us as that part of the Christmas story was told over the CD playing in the van.


It was magical.

Much of the “cast” was comprised of children, which made it even more charming and special.


The boys loved the assortment of animals seen as we worked our way through the story.


It was such a cold night. The actors were bundled up in extra layers but I know they must have been freezing, which only made the experience and the spirit felt there, as a result of their service and sacrifice, all the more profound.


It was charming and sweet, beautiful and holy. The experience proved to be a perfect way to really feel the spirit of Christ this Christmas season.

The story ended with Mary and Joseph in the stable, looking down on the manger. But as the CD said, “The story doesn’t end there.” This is just the first chapter of the greatest story ever told…

The greatest story ever lived.


At the end of the journey volunteers were accepting donations for charity (for those who choose to donate) and collecting the CDs. They also were there to invite families into the church for cookies and crafts for the kids. We chose not to go in. Things had gone so well with the boys and the spirit felt was so peaceful I didn’t want to chance “breaking the spell!”  😉

So we opted to head home.

It was a wonderful experience. It is being offered again tonight from 6-9pm, so for those locals looking for something special to do tonight we highly recommend a trip to Bethlehem (via Mt. Carmel Church.)

A Happy Camper


I’m back!

I have been off-grid for a week and a half and now find myself with the arduous task of trying to catch up with many long overdue blog posts.

The girls and I spent the last week in the woods with 120 other teenage girls and leaders from church, at our annual Girls’ Camp week. (More on that in a future post)

But prior to leaving last Monday for Girls’ Camp we went camping as a family for the weekend on our skoolie’s maiden voyage.

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The start date of our cross country adventure in our converted school bus is quickly approaching and the goal is to get a few practice trips under our belt before we leave. The weekend before we left for Girls’ Camp happened to be free so we joined up with the Holt family and the Hudak family for a weekend camping trip to Pymatuning State Park.

The kids eagerly pitched in to help pack and prepare the bus for take-off.

The bulk of the work inside the bus is completed (with the exception of a few more cabinet doors that need hung.) Painting the outside of the bus is the next big project on the to-do list, but everything that was needed to be completed prior to taking it out on the road was done so we were clear to roll!

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The littles were vibrating with excited energy as we headed down the driveway on our first skoolie adventure!

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The ride there was a lot of fun with this as my view:

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The girls even bravely took turns at the wheel:

When we arrived we quickly got set up. It is crazy how much easier it is to “set up camp” this way than our traditional means of tent camping. Camp chairs were set up while the bus was hooked up to electric, sewer and water.

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I was able to get dinner cooking in the crock pot while Toby got us set up for the weekend. I must admit that after a weekend of camping with air conditioning, a fridge, running water, and my own toilet I can see how easy it would be to get soft and lose our camping edge. I felt a bit guilty and spoiled by the ease of the weekend!

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We had a wonderful weekend getaway. It was fun camping with friends and the kids loved having buddies around to go off exploring with.

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Our days were spent swimming:

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The only catch of the day 🙂


Going on walks around the campground:

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Making memories around the fire:

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And relaxing with family and friends.

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It was a lovely break from a busy June and a perfect lead-in to a week of camping with all my favorite young women! We all went home feeling rested and renewed…

Thanks in part to luxurious sleeping conditions 😉

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As we were leaving camp we made a quick stop at the Spillway to feed the carp. The Spillway is one of those traditions that has gone hand in hand with Pymatuning camping from our very first camping trip there with friends years ago.

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The carp there are so abundant and condensed that the ducks literally walk across their backs.

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The kids all got a kick out of tossing our leftover bread into the water and watching the fish flop and wrestle over the falling pieces of stale bread.

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I can’t decided if I am more fascinated or grossed out by the experience…

but either way,

it is an experience!!

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It was a lovely weekend with the people I love most,

and a perfect kickoff for many future adventures in our home-grown,  skoolie bungalow!


A “Sweet” way to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick’s Day is a favorite holiday with the McCleery clan…I know, you can’t imagine why. 😉

In particular for Miss Grace who will tell you that St. Patrick’s day is her favorite holiday.

This year we celebrated in a different way. Instead of a corned beef and cabbage day we celebrated in a “sweeter” way!

We are still in Philadelphia. Thursday night was the National Honor Society induction ceremony for Gracie’s school that she was invited to speak at. This big event didn’t begin until 5:30 pm, which left the day open for fun and frolicking. The Hudaks had arrived in town (since Olivia was one of the students being inducted into NHS) so we made plans to spend the day with them.

Our day began in the hotel lobby where both families met to enjoy the complimentary breakfast offered by Comfort Suites.

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At breakfast we planned out our day and the surprise we had for the teachers.

The 6 oldest Hudak and McCleery kids attend 21st Century Cyber Charter School, located in Downingtown, PA. We decided to swing by the school office that the teachers all work out of and surprise them with donuts as a thank you for all their hard work. Wednesday marked the end of the quarter so the teachers were spending Thursday grading papers and assignments.

We drove over to Dunkin Donuts to purchase 4 dozen donuts and then wrapped them with a bow and a tag that read,

“We DO-NUT know what we would have done without all your help this quarter. Thanks for being such great teachers!”

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We arrived at the school building, which was only about a 10 minute drive from our hotel, and were buzzed into the front office.

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The secretary paged some of the teachers to come down so the kids could give them the donuts and say, “hello.” Molly had also made homemade lemon bars before we left on our trip for Mr. Winterode , her learning coach, whom she adores.

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It was fun seeing the teachers and letting Toby and Woody check out the school where their children attend.

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In the background is the mural that Gracie and Olivia  helped paint last year

After saying our goodbyes, so that the teachers could get back to grading, we climbed in our vehicles to drive to Hershey, PA where we spent the day.

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We spent the afternoon at Chocolate World until we had to return home for the NHS dinner and ceremony. The first hour was spent walking around the store and letting the kids shop, using the piggy bank funds they brought from home.

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Grace helping Tyler decided how to spend the cash that was burning a hole in his pocket.

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Rusty, ready to check out. I think he is in heaven! 🙂

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Tyler used a dollar of his allowance to surprise Olivia with a treat.

Then it was onto the:

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The tour ended with a complimentary Kit Kat bar.

Then we parted ways with the Hudaks for a while.

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They signed up for the “Create you own Candy bar” tour while we headed to the 4D movie.

 It began in a holding room where we received our 3D glasses and were greeted by staff. They asked the kids their names and a little bit about themselves. We didn’t realize this information was going to become part of the interactive show.

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Then the theatre doors were opened and we were seated. It was an adorable 3D cartoon starring Hershey, Reese and Kiss as they tried to solve the mystery in the candy factory. As the show went on the cartoon character, Reese, would make comments to the audience, personalizing it for the kids. For example he wished Grace a happy 18th birthday and yelled out for help from Tyler and Oswald (the name Ozzie gave the worker who introduced herself to him while we were waiting.)  🙂

The movie was a 4D production, which meant that we weren’t only watching a 3D movie, but that other interactive features occurred in the audience as the movie progressed. Smells would be pumped into the room as candy characters appeared, our chairs would vibrate when the characters ran, water was squirted into the audience, and streamers fell from the ceiling at the end of the movie, as the characters celebrated. It was a really cute show and all the kids LOVED it!

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It was a “SWEET” way to spend St. Patrick’s Day!

21st Century Adventure Club


“Adventure is out there!”

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This past Friday the big kids (who all are students at 21st Century Cyber Charter School) had the opportunity to join some of their PE and science teachers for an Adventure Club meeting in our neck of the woods.

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It looks like Ms. Gowton is telling fish tales. “I once caught a fish THIS big.”

The teachers sent out an email to their middle school and high school students in the western part of the state letting them know that they would be coming out that way for a special Adventure Club meeting. They would be meeting at McConnells Mill State Park for a hike and lunch.

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“McConnells Mill State Park, in Lawrence County, encompasses 2,546 acres of the spectacular Slippery Rock Creek Gorge. Created by the draining of glacial lakes thousands of years ago, the gorge has steeps sides and the valley floor is littered with huge boulders and is a national natural landmark.”

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The students were told that they would receive bonus points in their science classes for attending, as well as be able to count one fitness log for their PE class.

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The kids were already hoping to attend but the promise of school credit sealed the deal.

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 On Friday Gracie drove them out to the park to meet up with their teachers, friends from co-op, and other students from the school. They left on their two mile hike and as they hiked they learned all sorts of fun science and nature facts.


Co-op buddies.


It was a pretty day for hiking even with the brisk temperatures.

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At the end of their adventure they sat down and ate their packed lunches together as a group.

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Crossing the covered bridge.


They had a wonderful time at their Adventure Club Outing!

a SWEET detour


Well, there we were, just traveling east across Pennsylvania

when the smell of chocolate lured us off the turnpike.

To this place:


Yesterday was Gracie’s induction ceremony for National Honor Society. Her cyber school is headquartered just outside of Philadelphia, so after a morning of dropping off siblings at the Hudak’s home, and dropping my car at the garage for work, we hopped in the truck for the 5 hour trip east.

As we drove Gracie did school. Toby was able to turn his cell phone into a mobile hotspot so Gracie didn’t have to miss school yesterday and today. Her teachers were quite impressed that she was willing to travel 5 hours to the ceremony AND also attend all her live classes as she rode.

We decided to plan a few extra stops into our travels to make the most of this special one on one time with have with our oldest daughter. She hasn’t had us all to herself since she was two and Miss Molly was born. 🙂

First stop: Hershey, PA!

The induction ceremony was to begin at 5:30 so between traveling time and the time we needed to allow for checking into a hotel and getting dolled up, we figured we had about 2 hours to make some sweet memories at Chocolate World.

This wasn’t our first visit. We had stopped for a quick visit once before, as we were passing by, when Grace was 6 or 7 years old. She doesn’t have too many memories of that visit. She said that her primary memory was how the town just smelled like chocolate. It was fun to be able to visit again and create some new memories.

We began with a free riding tour through “Hershey’s Chocolate Tour.” This fun tour allows you to ride through the factory process of chocolate making. You step onto a moving platform to get on the ride. Gracie said that it felt like we were back at Disney. 🙂



At the end of the ride you are dumped out at a gift shop where they try to sell you a photo that was taken of you while on the tour.

(It is just like Disney World!)

As you exit you are given a free piece of chocolate. Yesterday they were handing out Kit Kats. YUM!


Toby also surprised Grace and bought tickets to “Create you own candy bar.”  In this neat experience you get to go behind the scenes and create your own candy bar from the ground up, choosing the type of chocolate, the extra bits you want to add to your candy, as well as design the packaging. It was very cool!


It began with hair nets. We were all given aprons and hair nets to wear. Toby had the extra privilege of getting to wear a beard net…which Grace found hilarious.


We were taken back, asked to sanitize our hands, and watched a safety video. It was here we found out what inclusions were being offered for the day to add to our candy bar.


We each had a ticket that we scanned at each station. This is what kept track of which candy bar was yours. The first kiosk was your ingredient station. This is where you pick your chocolate and inclusions and decide if you want it topped with sprinkles.


After picking our ingredients we moved to the line where we watched our candy bar being made. First they added our extras.


Then it got coated in chocolate.


As we waited for it to move through the cooling rack we entered another room where we designed the wrapper for our candy bar. Grace had fun with this part. They had many design options to choose from.


After finishing the design we moved back out to the assembly line where the sprinkles were added and the packaging was completed.


Our finished creations:

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We had just a bit of time before we had to continue on in our travels

so we strolled around the gift shop where Toby found his favorite treat.

You know, just a little snack for the car ride. 😉


It was such a FUN stop. Next stop: NHS.

But until then…

We send kisses from Hershey.


Happy Campers!


This past week was our final week of vacation before school resumes. We spent the week relaxing in a cabin on a lake in the company of dear friends. It was a wonderful way to usher out summer.

Inside our cabin at Pymatuning Lake.

Inside our cabin at Pymatuning Lake.

Check-in was last Friday. Our morning was spent packing a week’s worth of food, clothing, bedding, kitchen supplies, fishing gear, beach toys and all the other “necessities.” By afternoon we were ready to head out. The drive was an easy one. When we arrived the other family that we were camping with were already there and settled in. We were pleasantly surprised at how large the cabin was. With the help of many hands we quickly unloaded our trailer full of camping supplies.

The cabin had two bedrooms. One room had a queen sized bed and the other had two sets of bunk beds. We slept in the bunk bed room with our two youngest boys. Outside the cabin we set up two tents. There was a girl tent and a boy tent for the older kids.

Our bedroom.

Our bedroom.

Friday night was spent getting settled.

On Saturday we rented a pontoon boat for the day. The kids all enjoyed cruising the lake and some even did a little fishing from the boat.

The first group to go out "cruising."

The first group to go out “cruising.”

Capt. Ozzie

Capt. Ozzie

Tyler fishing

Tyler fishing

Sunday was Miss Tatum’s 13th birthday so the girls woke up early to decorate the cabin before Tatum woke up.


Molly and Tatum...best buddies!

Molly and Tatum…best buddies!

Other fun activities during our week-long vacation included a day at Conneaut Lake Park. We packed a picnic lunch and took the kids to this historic amusement park for the day. The park, which is in the process of being revitalized, had about eight rides up and going for the public to enjoy. One of their most famous attractions is Blue Streak, a wooden roller coaster. The kids all had their “favorites” but my personal favorite was the antique carousel. It was a work of art. The park’s vintage ambiance made for a lot of fun photo ops.


Gracie on the carousel.




Another family from our home school co-op came up with her family to camp for a few days. Another co-op mom  joined us one day for a day at the beach. It was fun to catch up with friends that we hadn’t seen for a while and the kids enjoyed some fun in the water.

Ozzie and Saga

Ozzie and Saga


Ozzie enjoying the water.

Ozzie enjoying the water.

Gracie's alter ego...Super Grace.

Gracie’s alter ego…Super Grace.


Grace and her best friend, Olivia.

Grace and her best friend, Olivia.

Photo bombed by Molly.

Photo bombed by Molly.

And of course a week at Pymatuning State Park wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the spillway to feed the carp. As gross as my older girls find this excursion I knew the little boys would love the experience of feeding bread to the carp…I was right. Both boys got a kick out of the wall to wall carp that gather at the mouth of the spillway. The carp population is so dense that the ducks simply walk across their backs to get to the falling pieces of bread. It is quite the sight to see!

The carp at the spillway.

The carp at the spillway.



My beautiful kiddos. 🙂

It was a wonderful week spent with wonderful friends. It was a perfect way to end summer. Next week school begins and summer comes to a close.

PS- Today we celebrate Tyler turning 8. Happy birthday little boy! You bring us so much joy!!

(More on his special day later…)IMG_8706