Tag Archives: parenting

Welcome 2020!

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Boy, 2019 was a doosy!

It is hard to believe how many changes occurred in our life over the course of a single year. It was a year of high highs and trying lows as we navigated a multitude of huge life events. As I scroll through the last 12 months of blog posts I can’t believe it has only been 365 days since the first blog of 2019. In so many ways I feel as though I have lived a dozen years in that dozen months.

I love New Year’s Day. There is something cathartic about flipping through an empty calendar, each square pristine in its lack of markings, filled only with the promise of possibility.

I love the opportunity for reflection tied to this holiday…the intentional break after a frantic month of celebration and frivolity, to simply pause and ponder on the past and dream about the possibilities of the future.

I love the chance to hit the re-start button on our lives as we make plans to let go of those things that weighed us down last year and move forward with a hope and optimism about the year ahead.

I love the goal setting, the list making, and the future planning.

And as much as I love the transformation that occurs every December as the house gets caught up in the spell of Christmas magic with its trinkets and tinsel, there is a peaceful exhale that comes as the house sheds those layers of decorations and reverts back to a simpler and starker state.

After a month of excess, the promise of restraint pulls at me. It had been a month of much…much celebration, much lost sleep, much frivolity, much junk food, much, much, much…

And nothing sounds sweeter than the routine, restraint, and rest associated with the sleepy, snowy stillness of January,

But before we could settle into 2020 we had to ring out the old year with style, with one more celebration in 2019. It was New Year’s Eve and we had a party to get to!!

Every New Year’s Eve for the last decade we have rung in the new year with out best buddies- The Hudak’s!

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This year was no exception.

Even Grace and Zach opted to join us in lieu of other plans.

This New Year’s celebration was a big one, as it was the year we would  be opening the time capsule we packed as part of our New Year’s Eve celebration five years ago.

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But before we broke into that vault of memories and took a walk down memory lane, we needed to fill our plates and our bellies with sustenance!

Lana and I split the responsibility of our New Year’s Eve feast, with each of us making five or six appetizers for the party.

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Once we had everything laid out, the kids were set loose on that buffet of deliciousness.

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Once everyone was satiated we gathered to open our time capsule.

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Olivia did the honors…

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And everyone pulled from the container the papers that were filled out five years prior and began reading the responses to the questions on the forms. It was delightful to read the answers of the people we were five years ago and compare them to who we are and what we believe today.

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Some of the papers were downright hilarious.

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It was such a delight to see the transformations in ourselves that the kids decided they wanted to do it again, writing letters to themselves to be read in five years. This time Braden and Zach were able to add their notes to the time capsule.

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It was soon time to gather around the tv to watch the ball drop.

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Sparkling cider was poured,

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And everyone began the countdown…

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….Happy New Year!!

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Welcome 2020…I’m so happy to see you!

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Life is Short…Eat Christmas Cookies!

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Oh, how December has flown by, and I know that I’m not the only one reeling from the rapid pace of this festive month. The lateness of Thanksgiving left everyone a week short of the typical four weeks we usually have to make Christmas happen, and we all seem to be scrambling this year to fit it all in.

By the time December 19th rolled around I realized not a cookie had been baked and we were less than a week from Christmas. Typically we bring a large cookie platter to my mom’s house on Christmas Eve. In the past this responsibility was easy to follow through with thanks to our annual co-op cookie exchange. Our co-op no longer meets regularly so this tradition didn’t happen. I knew that we needed to have something sweet to plate for Santa, so we decided to just focus on Christmas cut-out cookies.

On Thursday, following Molly’s exciting journey home, I began baking dozens of Christmas cut-out cookies for us to decorate on Thursday night. My delinquency worked to the family’s advantage, as Molly was home and able to take part in this family tradition.

Thursday afternoon I received a call from Grace asking if we had any plans. Zach had school on Thursday night and she was eager to see Molly! We invited her to join us for dinner and an evening of cookie decorating.

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After dinner was all cleaned up we gathered in the dining room. Frostings, sprinkles and trays of sugar cookies were carried in and we got to work.

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Like pumpkin carving and Easter egg dying, cookie decorating is a favorite activity as it pairs family time with individual creative expression.

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It is always fun to see what designs everyone comes up with…

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And the fact that the artwork is deliciously edible is a huge perk to this fun, family tradition!

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By the end of the evening Grace, Rusty and I were the only ones left at the table as we pushed through the last few dozen cookies on the tray.

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Braden and Tyler lost steam after frosting a dozen cookies, and Molly and Toby were feeling icky and left to go lay down, so my two standing soldiers helped me knock out the last of the Christmas cookies, allowing us to assemble two beautiful trays for our upcoming Christmas celebrations.

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We are one step closer to being Christmas-ready!

 

Time to Trim the Tree

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I am only just blogging about the second part to our tree hunt, but I promise we didn’t put off this beloved tradition until December 20th. We have been busily living life and my absence on this site is a reflection of that. This month of the year tends to hold the most memory making, blog-worthy moments of living and yet the fewest free minutes in which to record them. After a busy, busy day I find myself hunkered down at Wendy’s, nursing a Diet Coke and taking advantage of free WiFi (and an hour of time to kill between picking up kids from work and parties) and am making myself face the ever growing list of blogs that refuse to write themselves.

Although it may appear we took a two week break between cutting down our tree and putting up our tree, the lag was a mere 24 hours. On the Sunday following Thanksgiving our beautiful tree was carried into the house, and wrapped in lights, all in preparation for our Family Night lesson and activity. Grace and Zach joined us for dinner and then hung around for the Christmas lesson Rusty had planned on the #lighttheworld initiative.

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Then it was time to decorate the tree. Eggnog was poured, carols began to play, and the boxes of ornaments were opened. 22 years of memories were relived and reflected on as we pulled out each child’s ornaments to hang on the tree. Grace and Zach hung around to watch the fun, but opted not to join in on the actual decorating, having just decked out their own tree earlier that week.

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The boys loved digging through the tissue paper and ornament boxes in search of their favorites.

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Braden was excited to have an ornament of his own to hang on the tree this year, having received his traditional December 23rd ornament gift from Mom and Dad for the first time in 2018.

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When the branches of the evergreen were laden down with baubles and bulbs, we stepped back to take in the finished effect…

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It was magical!

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Not wanting Molly and Ozzie to miss out on this Christmas tradition, we made plans to include them in the fun. For Ozzie that meant putting aside all his ornaments for him to unwrap and hang on the tree during a weekend pass home.

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On the following weekend he loved pulling out his ornaments from the last six years, each personal and reflective of that year’s big events, and hanging them with flourish on the tree.

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For Molly we took a slightly different route. The toughest part of BYU-I’s finals week falling the week before Christmas was that Molly was going to miss out on so many beloved traditions that unfold in the weeks prior to Christmas. Molly wasn’t due to fly home until the 18th so we were determined to send some Christmas magic her way. I purchased a felt tree online, complete with Velcro Christmas ornaments, that could be hung on her door and decorated. We tossed in some fuzzy socks, hot cocoa, and Christmas cookies and mailed Christmas to her in a box!

The finished result of Molly and Katrina’s “tree decorating”:

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!!

Another McCleery on the Road!

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 This week I have begun working on our Christmas cards, and as I have been looking back on 2019 photos to use in our family Christmas card I am astounded at the amount of change our family has experienced over the course of 12 months. It kind of takes my breath away. It also validates the emotional exhaustion I find myself recovering from.

This year has been a big one for our family, both as an entire unit but also for individual members.

One of my kiddos who has experienced big life changes from this time last year is Braden. Over the course of 12 months he has experienced reunification with siblings, a new home/family, an adoption, his baptism, a name change, getting his first job, turning 18 years old, cyber schooling, and most recently joining a local basketball team and getting his driver’s license…

Yes, you read that right.

Braden is now navigating the roads independently at 70 mph.

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Watch out world!!

But in all seriousness we are excited for our son who really is a natural behind the wheel. (I only wish he didn’t realize how much of a natural he was!)

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He is excited by this new found freedom, and Toby and I are thrilled to have a second driver back in the home. He and Rusty are both in that sweet season of eagerness that’s seen in new drivers when the thrill of being on the road independently means that we always have someone who is eager to run to the store for milk or the post office for stamps.

I know this season doesn’t last forever so we will take full advantage of the novelty of new licenses while we can!

Braden was scheduled to take his road test on Wednesday at 9:00am. We arrived early so as to allow him 30 minutes of last minute practice at parallel parking before his test. Parallel parking has proven to be the Achilles heel for many of our family’s new drivers so the extra practice, right before testing, gave Braden the boost of confidence needed to pass with flying colors.

I watched from a window as he headed out with the testing instructor, first to the back lot for parallel parking, then onto the road for his road test. The minutes dragged by, which is always a good sign. (A quick return usually means a failure.)

When he did make it back he approached the building with a wide smile and a skip in his step. A thumbs up answered the question in my eye…He had passed!!

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Needless to say, he was excited to the point of giddiness. He now was the proud recipient of a driver’s license…

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Every young man’s ticket to freedom.

Well done, Braden!

We can’t wait to see where the road ahead takes you!

 

Another McCleery on the Road!

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In the midst of so many exciting, life-changing milestones for the people of Patchwork Farm, we are thrilled to share another…

Rusty is now…officially and legally…a licensed driver!!

Woo hoo!

For the last year Braden and Rusty have been splitting time behind the wheel as I have been teaching TWO teenage boys how to drive. The time of reckoning had arrived and we would see how effective I was as a driving instructor.

Last week Rusty had an early morning appointment at New Castle’s DMV, and putting together his year’s worth of driving practice and practical knowledge,

Coupled with hours spent practicing the lost art of parallel parking,

(A skill most of us rarely use again once passing our driver’s test)

He passed!

He has the card to prove it,

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And is now legally allowed to travel the roads unaccompanied by parental figures.

Just thought y’all  should be warned.

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There is another McCleery on the road!

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And this momma couldn’t be more proud and more pleased to have another driver in the house after losing my two chauffeurs.

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Congratulations, Rusty…

And Happy Travels!

(Next on the docket: Braden!)

Another child steps into adulthood

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This week my third-born child stepped into adulthood…

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With child #4 hot on his tail.

On Thursday we celebrated Rusty’s entrance into adulthood and in four weeks we will celebrate Braden’s big 1-8!

This means in a month’s time I will have 4 adult children, with one married and another successfully launched 2000 miles away. I am not quite sure how we arrived here from where we were a year ago, but somehow in the blink of an eye I have transitioned from being a mom to more adult children than underage kiddos.

Despite being up to our eyeballs in wedding preparations, I was determined to make sure that Rusty’s 18th birthday didn’t get lost in the craziness of life as we currently know it.

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With the living room floor tore up as Toby lays hardwood, and the dining room and kitchen filled with piles a wedding supplies, we had to be creative in finding an empty surface to decorate for Rusty’s party.

We pushed all our wedding piles to the outer edge of the dining room and set up the table with Rusty’s party decorations…

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Mickey Mouse themed, of course!

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And wrapped up the gifts for Rusty that were lovingly and thoughtfully purchased by his siblings.

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Rusty’s birthday morning began with early morning seminary…a high school religion class both boys attend every weekday from 6:00-7:00am. Because we have to leave the house by 5:30 to get them to class, and because waking Tyler up at 5:30 am is NEVER a good idea, we opted to wait for Rusty’s morning birthday cupcake and accompanying song until we returned home at 7:30.

Once home, Rusty was serenaded and blew out his birthday candle with Olive’s help.

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It is a tradition in our school-at-home family that on a child’s birthday they are exempt from chores and schoolwork and get to spend the day any way they wish. So while Rusty enjoyed his day off, the rest of the family spent the day at work or focused on school. Everyone arrived home by 6:30 pm, giving us plenty of time to open gifts before leaving for our 7:30 Escape Room appointment.

We began the gift giving, as is the tradition in our family, with the youngest child presenting their gift first, and concluding with the gift(s) from mom and dad.

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One of Rusty’s gifts from mom and dad was a beautiful CTR ring. It is tradition in our family that as a child moves into adulthood they receive one of these special rings to serve as a reminder of who they are, whose they are, and the importance of making the right choices now so that they can enjoy the future that they are striving for. CTR stands for “Choose the Right.”

Braden received his CTR ring a month early, as both rings arrived at the same time, so both boys were presented with their rings together. Each ring matches the man who wears it and will hopefully be a strengthening reminder of the effect today’s choices have on tomorrow’s happiness.

Once we were done unwrapping gifts we headed out for a night of fun.

Our entire family loves escape rooms, but none more than Rusty…our problem-solving, puzzle-loving kid. Gracie’s fiancé has class on Thursday evening so it was just the six of us trying to escape in under 60 minutes.

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We tried out Operation: Escape Room in Monaca, and the theme of the room we booked was:

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While exploring an abandoned hospital, you are accidently locked into a patient room. You have 60 minutes to escape before you lose your mind and become a permanent patient.

We really enjoyed it. It was a fun theme, well played out in a room that bordered on creepy with its abandoned hospital décor. It wasn’t as challenging as other rooms we have done in the past, but it was well planned out and themed. We really enjoyed it!

And we escaped with time to spare.

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We ended Rusty’s birthday evening with Chinese take-out in our pajamas while watching Wall-E.

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It was a perfect ending to a day spent celebrating Rusty and all the things he loves best.

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Happy birthday to the son who made me a boy-momma.

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You paved the way and showed me the great joy that comes from raising sons. How grateful we are for the quiet strength you show in your daily life and the gentle way you bless the lives of those around you. You have grown from a delightful boy into a gentleman, and we couldn’t be more proud to call you our son!

 

 

Molly’s Last Week at Home

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

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

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

Some of the events from the last five days include:

1. A Visit to the Homestead!

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Everyone headed back to school!

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

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

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

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

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

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3. Seeing how everyone measures up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5. Molly bidding her best friends good-bye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. A Visit with Ozzie

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

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

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

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

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

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7. Temple trip to Palmyra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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8. And a stop at Niagara Falls:

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

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

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

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

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9. Many Appointments!

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

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10. Packing the car…

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

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

Wish us luck!

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Westward Ho!

 

“I’m fine,” she told herself…

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I feel as though I’m suffering from an emotional hangover…

Too many feelings squeezed into too short a period of time,

With all of the residual manifestations connected to an excess of living.

I literally feel as though I am emotionally hungover, with many of the symptoms seen in alcohol induced hangovers.

I find myself weary, heavy, numb, foggy and teary as I try to continue navigating the responsibilities of day to day life while accepting that life as I have known it for 20 years, is changing…

And changing very soon!

The crazy thing about it all is that everything I am navigating through is exactly the things I have prayed so hard for. There is a part of me that wants to smack the tears off my own face and remind myself that this is all good stuff!

Feelings of gratitude and joy are the prevailing emotions, but closely tied to feelings of gratitude and joy, are feelings of uncertainty and loss…

And guilt.

Guilt that I am feeling anything but gratitude and joy in the midst of such blessings. Unlike the seasons we have had to endure that are filled with such darkness and danger, despair and loss, this season is blessedly positive, but I still find myself struggling.

Perhaps I am unaccustomed to things going so smoothly.

Perhaps I have forgotten how to navigate life outside the emotional bondage of crisis management.

Perhaps I feel as though I am losing some of my purpose or value.

Maybe it is simply the emotional push-back that is rooted in the fear of change.

Or maybe, just maybe, this weight of emotions is simply bone-deep fatigue, born from trying to fit in so many “lasts” before life changes for good.

I am not certain.

I only know that time seems to be racing past and I am desperately grasping for its tail, hoping to slow it down.

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I know that I am not alone in this place. Many other friends have expressed similar emotions, born from similar situations. I take strength from knowing that this muddy mix of emotions is normal, that I am not the only one trying to gracefully navigate them, and that millions of mothers before me have made it through this season to find joy and purpose in the next season of parenting.

So many changes are coming down the pike, not the least of which are:

  1. Gracie getting married! Only two months until her big day! The last few weeks have been spent entrenched in bridal shower planning, bachelorette party planning and wedding planning. Grace and Zach have also been on the hunt for an apartment. They will be staying in the area, as Grace still has a few semesters of school to finish before earning her degree in American Sign Language interpreting.

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 Well, they found one that they love and fits their budget. And we have the benefit of having them nearby for at least the next year…which is a HUGE blessing for our adopted sons who have been struggling with triggered feelings of losing another person they love.

Last Sunday we drove over to Ellwood City to check out Gracie and Zach’s soon-to-be newlywed digs.

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It is an upstairs, one bedroom apartment with a big kitchen and lots of light. It is perfect for them and so exciting. Grace can’t wait to start decorating!

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2. Molly is about ready to take flight! In less than three weeks she will be heading out to school. Rusty and Braden will be joining us as we take a weeklong road trip to Idaho to drop her off. Along the way we are going to revisit some of our favorite national parks from our bus trip three years ago, so Braden can experience some of these national treasures.

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Over the last month Molly has been making piles in preparation for college, getting together with friends, and finishing out her employment at Eat n’ Park. In fact, a few weeks ago she was asked by her employers to reconsider heading west for school. They wanted to offer her a management position. Her boss told her how impressed they have been with her since she began working for them in the spring and could see a great future for her with the company. She sweetly declined, knowing that BYU-Idaho is where she is being called to, but was honored and touched by the job offer.

3. Molly will not be the only college student this year. Grace and I will also be working towards our degrees, and Rusty is now unexpectedly joining the college ranks as a duel enrolled high school senior.

A few weeks ago we toured our local community college’s aviation program to find out more about their drone piloting program. This is a field that interests Rusty and so we added CCBC to our college tour list.

As we sat and spoke with the Dean of the program, he encouraged Rusty to not wait until graduation, but rather enroll for the fall semester as part of the duel-enrollment program. After speaking with his cyber school, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, we learned that Rusty had the option of replacing his high school electives with college courses and receive both high school and college credit, thus getting a jump start on his college degree.

He is very excited and will be taking most of his classes at the local airfield where he will learn the skills to graduate with a drone piloting license. Toby and I were pleased to learn that the high demand for drone pilots, coupled with the minimal number of colleges offering this newly emerging degree, meant that 100% of their past students have graduated with job placement.

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4. Braden is also venturing into new territory. In June he expressed a desire to cyber school like the other kids for his senior year. He struggled with our local brick and mortar school and some of the negative influences that proved too much for him to manage. Since being home this summer he has felt the difference that separation has made on his emotions and his ability to make good choices. He is happier and more at peace. I’m hoping it is as good a fit for him as it has been my other kids.

In addition to cyber schooling, he and Rusty will be getting together with other teens from church each weekday morning at 6:00am for early morning seminary (a religion class that allows for studying the scriptures and discussing gospel topics with the other youth from church under the guidance of a teacher.) I think this will be beneficial to both boys and will meet some of Braden’s social needs as one of my extroverted children.

5. Tyler also continues cyber schooling, but through PA Cyber. And although I feel that PA Cyber falls short when compared to the education offered through 21st Century Cyber School, it has proven to be a great fit for Tyler. Last year was his best year ever and he took off under this model of cyber schooling. He is eager to get back in touch with teachers and peers whom he hasn’t talked to all summer. Tyler will be in 7th grade this year. How is that possible?!

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6. Ozzie continues to thrive in the residential treatment facility that he has been residing at for more intense therapeutic work. His success there is not surprising but rather an expected result of a structured, unattached environment. The goal we are working toward is for him to successfully transfer the skills he uses at the RTF to the home environment, thus making his presence in the home safe and stable. This isn’t an easy transition, as his diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder makes the thing he most stands in need of (connection and attachment to family) the very thing he fears and fights against. It is heartbreaking in its presentation and heartbreaking to know that as devastating as this diagnoses is, it could have been easily avoided through loving maternal care as a young child. The transfer of skills we are working toward is accomplished by slowly introducing interactions with family members (and eventually visits home) to his treatment plan and then addressing the negative reactions to triggers  with his therapeutic team in the RTF upon returning back at the end of a visit.

This week he and I had our first off-grounds visit. I was allowed to take him to lunch for two hours. This initial off-grounds trip consisted of just the two of us spending time together. We will slowly be adding additional family members to upcoming visits as deemed safe by staff.

I let Ozzie pick the restaurant and he chose Quaker Steak and Lube, a well known wing place in this area.

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He chose it partly for the food but mainly for the décor. He loves walking around the restaurant and snapping pictures of all the cars and memorabilia with my phone.

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He did well and we had a good time.

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He got all dressed up for our date 🙂 

This week we will be taking Ozzie out again following his family therapy session. This time Molly will be joining me so she and Ozzie can have a visit before she leaves for Idaho. We are praying it is healing and positive.

And then there is this guy… working hard and making sure everyone stays in line. 🙂

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This is  BIG week for our family with many monumental events. We have an off-grounds visit with Ozzie on Wednesday, Tyler’s 13th birthday party on Thursday evening, Gracie’s bachelorette party Friday night, Gracie’s bridal shower on Saturday, all among everyday living. It promises to be a full and likely emotional week…

Wish this momma luck as I try to keep it together!

 

 

And on to the Derby!

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On Friday morning we disembarked from the houseboat, but our vacation wasn’t over quite yet. We decided that rather than drive the nine hours straight home, we would slowly meander our way back, over the next three days, stopping to see some sites along the way.

Our first stop was Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby.

After reading amazing reviews online we decided to check out the Kentucky Derby Museum.

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Located at Churchill Downs, the museum showcases all aspects of the race, has multiple tours of the grounds, and a great short documentary on the race.

We aren’t horse racing fans…in fact I knew nothing about the Kentucky Derby prior to our visit other than the fashionable traditions of the fancy hats worn on race day, but we left with a great appreciation for this long standing tradition.

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The museum and accompanying tours can be a full-day event for those that have the time. Basic admission allows you to explore the museum, participate in a 30 minute history walk (these happen every half hour past the hour), and view their 18 minute video “The Greatest Race.”

The museum experience starts at the gates. There are two floors of interactive exhibits, videos, photos, race artifacts and information. It is tailored for all ages and degrees of derby fans.

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We loved how interactive and engaging the exhibits were.

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It was an amazing museum!

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We learned about the life and training of a racehorse from birth until it is races in the Derby at age 3. This was one of my favorite exhibits in the museum.

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We were able to learn the art of horse betting with a pretend ticket window where we could place bets on the race,

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And then sit and watch a recording of a previous race.

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At the end of the video we could scan our ticket and see what our $2.00 bet would have paid out. Through this experience we learned we should never gamble on horse races!

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The kids’ competitive natures came out when they had their go at being a jockey.

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They were able to mount up and race against other riders on the video screen before them.

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They got to dress up like jockeys and learn more about the colors certain jockeys wear,

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As well as see how they measure up to one of the most winning jockeys of all time.

Grace was thrilled to finally be taller than someone other than the toddlers she watches at the daycare.

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We learned a lot about the requirements that the jockeys have to follow on race day. The big one is their weight. The Kentucky Derby requires an exact weight of 126 lbs, including gear and saddle. Jockeys who fall short of the weight requirement must add weight to their saddle, no exceptions.

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There was an incredible amount of information about horses whom have raced. We were able to watch videos of past Kentucky Derby races and learn more about some of the greatest horses that ever raced,

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Including Balboa whose final resting place sits in front of the museum.

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After walking through the exhibits of hats and all the memorabilia it was time to watch “The Greatest Race.”

This video is displayed on a 360° screen in a theater big enough for 50+ people.

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As you watch, it will have you twirling in your seat to keep up and your heart pounding. The video covers race day preparations, interviews with jockeys, trainers, and owners, along with highlights from races dating back to the 1800’s.  The result is an appreciation for what goes into this huge event, an event that has more live spectators than the Superbowl!

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After the video we exited the museum for the included 30 minute history walk.

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Posted on the buildings around us was a chronological list of prior Derby winners, starting with Aristides in 1875.

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As we walked along, we saw every horse that has won the Kentucky Derby, the first triple crown winner, and the first father/son triple crown winners. Our tour guide was helpful in answering questions, and dishing out information about specific winners and races. Some people asked about famous horses like Secretariat and Barbaro.

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One of my favorite parts about the tour was the Paddock. The paddock holds the up to 18 contestants on race day, and is a popular viewing place for spectators. When the horses walk in, their lip tattoos are checked and then they are taken to the individual stalls. . The Paddock is the last place the horses will be before taking the walk to the track.

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Then to the track!

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The distance between the Paddock and the race track is connected by a small tunnel underneath the stands. The horses are escorted through the tunnel, and upon entering the track, the tradition of everyone singing My Old Kentucky Home begins.

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The horses are then led to the starting gate.

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It was amazing to stand at the edge of the track and soak up the history of the location. It made me want to add a trip to the Kentucky Derby to my bucket list. I can only imagine how charged the energy must be on race day.

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We were at the Kentucky Derby Museum on Friday for 2 1/2 hours and never made it to the second floor. The museum closed at 5:00 pm and everyone was so disappointed that we weren’t able to see it all that we decided to spend the night in Louisville and return back in the morning (our tickets allowed free access for 48 hours) to see the rest of the exhibits before continuing our trek north.

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We were blown away by the place and we aren’t even racing fans.

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Our discussion of the experience continued for days and we left the museum wanting to learn more.

Here are some of the fun facts we learned about the Kentucky Derby:

1. Nineteen past winners have had names beginning with the letter “S,” including Secretariat, the fastest horse in Kentucky Derby history, who completed the 1973 race in just under two minutes.

2. The amount of food consumed at the Derby is pretty astounding. On average, spectators will eat 142,000 hot dogs, 18,000 barbecue sandwiches, 13,800 pounds of beef, 32,400 jumbo shrimp, 9,000 scallops, 8,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 cookies and 300,000 strawberries.

3. Only three horses raced in the 1892 Kentucky Derby.

4. The traditional drink of the Derby is the mint julep, and over 120,000 are said to be consumed at the race each year.

5. Diane Crump was the first woman jockey to ever ride in the Derby; there has yet to be a female winner, but Shelley Riley came the closest in 1992 when she came in second. We were told that the reason so few women race in the derby is due to the massive size of thoroughbred horses and the arm strength needed to control them.

6. The Kentucky Derby trophy only weighs 3½ lbs.

7. The youngest jockey to win the esteemed race, Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton, was just 15 come derby day in 1892. Bill Shoemaker continues to hold the title as the oldest winner; he was 54 when he took home the 1986 title.

8. Bill Shoemaker has also ridden the most Kentucky Derby horses (26) in history.

9. The record low temperature at the race (held on the first week of May every year) was 47 degrees in 1935 and 1957. The record high was 94 degrees in 1959.

10. Churchill Downs founder and president Col. M. Lewis Clark might have made the rose the official flower of the race after attending an 1883 post-derby party where socialite E. Berry Wall was handing the flower out to the ladies in attendance.

11. The Derby is also referred to as ‘The Run for the Roses’ because the winner is awarded a blanket sewn with over 400 roses post-race. This blanket weighs about 40 lbs.

12. Owner Calumet Farm  holds the record for most Kentucky Derby wins, with 8. “Plain Ben” Jones holds the record for trainer with the most wins (6).

13. Post No. 1 has become known as “the dreaded rail.”

14. 1919 champion Sir Barton was the first Triple Crown winner, however he hadn’t won a race before arriving at the Derby.

15. Over $150 million in wagers have been placed over the last several Kentucky Derby races.

16. Horses must be three years in order to compete.

17. The Derby has never been cancelled or postponed due to inclement weather.

18. The historic 1¼-mile race was originally 1½ miles before the current distance was established in 1896.

19. The Kentucky Derby was started by Lewis Clark Jr.—grandson of William Clark, half of the famous explorer duo Lewis and Clark—after he saw England’s Epsom Derby.

20. Only three fillies (female horses) have won the Derby: Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988.

21. The 2018 event set the record for the wettest Kentucky Derby in history, with over 2.31 inches of rainfall.

22. The race was first televised in 1952.

23. The purse for the 2019 Derby will be $3 million, with the winner taking home $1.86 million, $600,000 for second place, $300,000 for third place, $150,000 for fourth place, and $90,000 for fifth. This marks a significant increase in the prize money: from 2005 to 2018, the purse was only $2 million.

This stop moves to the top of our list of must-see places for travelers…

Right up there with the City Museum of St. Louis and Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

We are so glad we stopped in Louisville!

 

Ready for an Adventure!

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Part of the fun of vacationing on a houseboat is the fact that you aren’t tied down to one area and one view for the week. Each day we are able to untie from the previous day’s location and go exploring for a new “home.”

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Riding on the top deck while we are moving from one location to another is my favorite part of houseboat vacationing. It is so thrilling to head out on the water with the wind blowing your hair, uncertain of what you will find around the next bend.

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On Wednesday, we found our best cove yet!

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It was tucked away off the main channel, and was stunning!

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The rock formations erupting from the water made the cove appear magical, as if at any minute we would spot a mermaid sunning herself on one of the rocks or Peter Pan and the lost boys peeking out from the surrounding trees.

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It was our favorite stop so far!

We spent the afternoon enjoying our private cove.

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Some of the kids headed out on the paddle boards to explore.

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And Gracie took Tyler and Olivia out for a ride in the boat.

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When everyone returned home from their adventures, we reconvened in the water and watched as the kids jumped from the upper deck.

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Eventually, our numbers started to thin as some took a break from swimming and others left in the fishing boat to try their hand at fishing.

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Those left behind decided to undertake an adventure of their own and swim a ½ mile to check out the cluster of massive rock formations at the mouth of our cove. It was an impromptu decision, made with enthusiasm.

With everyone grabbing a board or floatation device we began the swim, eager to check out the garden of boulders rising from the water.

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We arrived and the kids climbed atop the rocks for some cool photos and the opportuning to jump from the boulders to the water below.

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It was amazing!!

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Well worth the laborious swim to get there!

Just as we were preparing to swim back to the houseboat, angels of mercy arrived in the form of Woody and Tyler in the fishing boat. Back from their excursion, they volunteered to tow us back to the boat a few swimmers at a time.

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It was a lovely turn of events as everyone was a bit weary from the against-the-current swim it took to get there.

Toby and I were the last group to be towed back to shore. I climbed aboard his paddle board and enjoyed the ride back to the boat.

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This wasn’t an adventure planned ahead of time,

It was one of those spontaneous, magical adventures that we find ourselves stumbling into when we are cruising along with the Hudak family.

Oh, how I love moments like these!