Tag Archives: traditions

Sending Hopes to Heaven


Hope Floats is one of my all-time favorite movies.

I have always loved the concluding line of the movie:

“Beginnings are scary.

Endings are usually sad,

But it’s what’s in the middle that counts.

So, when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up,

And it will.” –Hope Floats

I find myself teetering on the edge of one ending and the start of another beginning, and in the midst of that transition I find myself awash with these very emotions. Life is transitioning from one season to the next, and as wonderful as that transition is, and as happy as it makes me to see my children growing into amazing adults, with any change comes feelings of grief. Endings are sad, even when an ending is necessary for the next beginning. And the unknown of a new beginning is scary, despite the eager anticipation of the changes it will bring.

This trip has been an amazing blessing and a special gift of family time in the midst of riding this wave of change that is playing out in front of us. My goal this trip has been to do as the quote above councils and recognize the gift of the middle…that time that exists before the end of one season and the beginning of another. I have tried to allow myself to simply be, to rest in the present moment, and appreciate the gift of today and the magical experiences this vacation offers.

Yesterday marked the halfway point of our houseboat vacation and last night we had one of those magical experiences planned.

We brought with us 10 sky lanterns, knowing that we wanted to recreate some of the special moments from our past houseboat vacations.

The dark night, lit only with stars, made the perfect backdrop for this magical experience.

We told the kids we were sending hopes and prayers to heaven.

With a black Sharpie each person wrote upon their paper lantern the hopes and prayers of their hearts. Many in the group were feeling that same sense of nostalgia, as we all recognize the change of seasons that is bearing down on us. With kids leaving for school, working, getting married and nearing graduation, etc. everyone was more thoughtful about their prayers and wishes they wrote down.

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Toby and I shared a lantern and here were the hopes and prayers we penned:

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When everyone was done writing down the wishes of their hearts, we headed upstairs with our sky lanterns and a lighter.

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Woody and Toby helped everyone light their lanterns and one by one the kids sent their prayers to heaven on the back of a lantern.

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We stood on the deck watching our prayers float upward until they were specks of light, eventually lost in the shadows of the stars.

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And it was beautiful.

“So, when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up, and it will!”

Here’s to hopes, dreams, and prayers for beautiful bright beginnings.

Land of the Free because of the Brave!



Nothing brings the summer feels more than the 4th of July with its cookouts, swimming, and sparklers.

I love the 4th of July. It is one of my favorite holidays. My patriotic heart swells with delight at the sea of red, white and blue and the patriotic music that becomes the soundtrack to the day.

Typically our 4th of July involves a trip down to Pittsburgh to participate in the festivities leading up to an always amazing fireworks show. We love the celebratory air that accompanies the experience and there is no better fireworks show  in the area than the one put on by the city of Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, this year we had to switch up our traditional 4th of July plans. My busy kids, with their  very full schedules, made our traditional trip to Pittsburgh for fireworks an impossibility, so we needed to come up with a plan B.

Since everyone was free the first half of the day so we decided to enjoy our family time in the morning before everyone headed in separate directions for the afternoon. We decided to head to Moraine Lake for a picnic.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shinning. It was warm enough to make swimming a delight but not so hot as to make a picnic miserable.

Grace invited Zach to join us, bringing our numbers to seven, in the absence of Rusty, who was spending the week at Scout Camp.

We found that we were not the only ones who thought a day at the lake was a good idea. We found the lake hopping with visitors,

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And it was easy to see why…

It was a practically perfect day at the lake!

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We found a spot and settled in for a relaxing afternoon. Tyler and Braden headed straight for the water where they spent the next three hours tossing the football with other kids in the lake before breaking for lunch.

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Toby found a spot of shade where he enjoyed simply sitting and relaxing with a magazine…a rare and treasured treat for my love who works hard every day from dawn to dusk.

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Molly, who has also been working hard, juggling daily shifts as a waitress at Eat n Park, enjoyed the gift of rest as she lounged in the warmth of the sun, eventually succumbing to the sandman.

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In between the trips to the water, everyone enjoyed a picnic lunch and the company of family, while overlooking a stunning vista.

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By 4:00 pm the grey clouds began to roll in, warning of the impeding storm. We packed up our gear and headed home so everyone could get ready for their evening plans.

We did make a quick stop along the way, however, at The Snowman.

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Toby treated everyone to a snow cone, which was a perfect conclusion to an already perfect day.

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When we arrived home Molly prepared to join up with friends from church for an evening of board games and fireworks in their apartment parking lot.


Grace and Zach headed downtown Pittsburgh to enjoy an epic fireworks show from the top of Mt. Washington,


And Braden prepared for his work shift from 6:00-10:15. Because Braden would need picked up from work at the same time most firework shows were occurring, Toby, Tyler and I stayed home and enjoyed a movie night until it was time to get Braden.

It wasn’t our typical 4th of July celebration…

“Typical” is no longer our “normal” with kids growing up and making their own plans, but it was a wonderful day nonetheless.

How grateful I am for all this day offers us: a chance to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy, a chance to honor those who made those sacrifices possible, and the chance to do so with the people we love most.



Miss Molly is 19!!


How is it that little miss sunshine is in the final stretch of her teenage years?!

It doesn’t seem possible.

On Sunday, April 7th, Molly turned 19, and we celebrated her at home with fun plans for the day.

In our home Sundays are spent worshipping at church and bonding as a family at home. We believe the Sabbath is best spent with family and desire to extend that same courtesy to others, so for that reason we choose to not shop or participate in activities that require other people to have to work and be away from their family on Sundays.

This is a principle we hold sacred as we choose to honor the Sabbath Day as a day set apart from the rest of the week.

When a family member’s birthday falls on a Sunday, it means we create fun at home rather than eating out or choosing a fun family activity that costs money. This always makes me feel like I need to up my birthday game to make sure the child feels loved despite a quiet birthday celebration at home.

This year Molly’s birthday not only fell on a Sunday, but on General Conference Sunday. General Conference occurs twice a year in our church. It is when members worldwide tune in via TV or computer to hear from our church leaders who share guidance, direction and revelation to the members that are relevant to today. General Conference weekends are my favorite Sabbaths of the year and this year it fell on Molly’s birthday. This meant we had a full day at home as a family…what a gift!

Our day began with the rarest of gifts: sleeping past 6:00am. Oh, it was delightful to sleep until my eyes opened on their own, rather than forcing them open under protest. We warned Molly ahead of time to expect her birthday morning wake-up later than usual, and as a 19-year-old girl she offered up no complaints to that plan!

It was closer to 9:00am when our family poured into her room singing her birthday song. First she made a secret wish, and then she blew out her cupcake candle, and her birthday had officially begun.

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We began the day with the big reveal of the decorated dining room. This momma LOVES a good theme (to which Toby always sarcastically inquires, “And “Happy Birthday” isn’t a good enough theme?”) Nope! This is my favorite part of my kids’ birthdays and they have learned that the theme of the decorations in the dining room quite often provide a hint to their gift from mom and dad.

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Molly entered the dining room to discover a Newsies theme playing out on the table. Newsies is Molly’s favorite musical so with that in mind, I ran with that theme and had a blast!

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Then it was present time. No one wanted to wait any longer for Molly to open their gifts, and Molly didn’t really want to wait either, so the first task on the birthday agenda was gift opening.

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We started with the youngest and ended with mom and dad.

Everyone had Molly’s impending adventure on their minds and purchased gifts for “College-bound Molly.”

Tyler bought her a giant coloring poster that he thought she could hang on the wall of the home she will be sharing with 8 other girls. His thought was that they could color together.

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Ozzie purchased a light-up marque for her dorm room desk.

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Rusty bought her a blow-up ottoman for her room with a cute cloth cover.

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Braden decided he wanted to buy her a crock pot after hearing her talk about how helpful one would be as a college student.

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Grace, following the example of the gift she received from Aunt Krista on her 19th birthday, made Molloy a college survival kit that was filled with all the products she has found most essential as a college student. It was very cute and clever!

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And then came her gift from Mom and Dad…

Tickets to watch the musical Newsies in Pittsburgh.

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With the tickets came a Newsies t-shirt to wear to the show.

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Gift opening was followed by a breakfast of crepes, and then we prepared for the first session of General Conference.

Everyone claimed their spot in the living room, got comfy, and I handed out the goodies I prepared for General Conference.

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To make Conference more engaging and to help everyone pay attention I prepared a few games to play as we watched, including General Conference Bingo with a basket of prizes from Dollar Tree.

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In between the morning and afternoon session of General Conference, we had Molly’s birthday dinner. She picked the menu, requesting spaghetti pizza, salad, garlic bread and cheesecake in lieu of traditional birthday cake.

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The day was spent enjoying family, soaking up the spirit of General Conference and celebrating Miss Molly.

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She truly is the sunshine in our lives!!

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Adoption Day…the after-party


The joy of the adoption hearing spilled into the hallway as everyone left the courtroom and congregated outside for some final pictures and hugs good-bye. Because the hearing had been schedule at the most inopratune time (9:00am on a Tuesday) most of our guests had places to be. After everyone left to return to school or work we were left with just extended family.


We had made plans for a celebratory lunch, following the adoption hearing. It has become a tradition that adoption day is followed by a hibachi lunch. Following Tyler and Ozzie’s adoption we took the family to Saga restaurant to celebrate in style. This time we had lunch at Ichiban Steakhouse in Cannonsburg, because of its proximety to the courthouse.

We were joined for lunch by my sister and her family, Mimi Joy, and Gracie’s boyfriend, Zach.

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Like Saga, we chose Ichiban for its uniquely engaging dining experience that combines yummy food with fire, flames and food tricks on the hibachi grill. It is a special treat reserved for adoption days, which makes the experience feel all the more special.

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For Kelly’s boys, who were quite young at our last adoption celebration, it felt like a grand adventure, as dinner preparation played out in front of them in the most dramatic way.

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There were fiery explosions,

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Flying food,

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and all sorts of clever knife tricks.

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And in the midst of all this  entertainment we enjoyed a delicious meal.

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It was a perfect way to celebrate a perfect day with family!





Just for the RECORD…


Our Gracie girl is 21.

I can hardly believe it.

It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating my 21st birthday with baby Gracie by my side.

What a joy she has been and what joy she has brought into our family. She is the child that made us parents, and allowed us to learn to parent on her, graciously forgiving our missteps and ineptness.

We named her Grace Elizabeth in honor of two of her great grandmothers, giving her the initials G.E.M, and that is exactly what she is…a gem.

What a day we had celebrating our sweet gem turning 21. Here is a look at Miss Grace’s special day…

Grace lucked out this year with her birthday falling on a Saturday. Saturday birthdays always feel extra special, since the celebrating can begin from first wake-up and continue on throughout the day, without anyone having to break from the celebration for mundane tasks like school and work. Because Gracie’s birthday fell on a Saturday,  she was able to pack it full with celebrations on many fronts with all the people she loves most.

The celebration began hours before Gracie’s morning wake-up when we snuck into the dining room to decorate for her birthday. Months earlier she made her birthday wish known when she asked for a record player. This gift became the kick-off for a really fun 21st birthday theme…

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You all know how I love a good theme!


This catchphrase became the theme of the party as her siblings wrote the 21 reasons they love Gracie on paper records that we hung around the dining room.

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Each statement of loving affirmation was endearing and so reflective of the child who decorated the paper record. Among the reasons Grace is so loved were these statements written by her siblings…


I love your selflessness.

I love your creativity.

I love your huge heart.

I love your confidence and courage.


I love your willingness to listen to whatever I talk about.

I love that we share a love for Disney.

I love that you are always willing to serve and give a helping hand.

I love that you put 100% into your hobbies.


I love you because you are there to talk to me.

I love that you love me no matter what.

I love that you are always by my side.

I love that you make me laugh.


I love how you are always happy.

I love your laugh.

I love your smile.

I love how you are so forgiving.


I love when you laugh.

I love your personality.

I love that you always play with me.

I love that you are nice.

The rest of the room was decorated to match our theme and the result was a charming birthday surprise for Grace who, after being awoken to our off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday,” came downstairs to open her gifts in the dining room.

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She loved the theme and took the time to walk around the room, reading the messages of love penned by her younger siblings.


Then we sat down, per Gracie’s request, so that she could open her gifts before the next adventure planned for her birthday.

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Our gift to Grace was the record player that sat as the centerpiece in the middle of the table.

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The kids went along with the theme, and had purchased in Disney World, two vinyl records from the parks. Rusty and Molly bought her the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Ozzie and Tyler bought her the vinyl soundtrack to The Lion King.

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Braden was the only one who went in his own direction. He bought her an aloe drink, knowing how much Gracie likes them.

After a yummy breakfast of monkey bread, Grace and Molly began getting ready for the next adventure of the day. Grace invited Molly and Olivia to join her at the Sign-a-Thon held at The Mall at Robinson.


The Sign-a-Thon is a huge deaf event held every spring to increase awareness for and about the deaf community. As part of Gracie’s ASL class requirements she is asked to attend multiple deaf events each semester.


She was excited that this particular event landed on her birthday.


She decided to bring her celebration to the Sign-a-Thon  where she celebrated with Molly, Olivia, Zach, friends from church, and her closest friends from her signing classes.


They spent a few hours at the Sign-a-Thon, where Grace was able to share her love of American Sign Language interpreting with her favorite people, and then they enjoyed a birthday lunch at Plaza Azteca.


After a fun day celebrating her 21st birthday with her boyfriend and best friends, she and Molly returned home for our family celebration with Mimi Joy. For Gracie’s birthday celebration she asked if we could eat at Blaze pizza, our favorite new discovery.

We invited Mimi Joy to join us for dinner.

We arrived, each walked through the line,

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Creating our own amazing pizza,

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And feasted until we could feast no longer.

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We enjoyed an evening of good food, great company, and MUCH silliness, as we celebrated our first born baby’s 21st trip around the sun.

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Just for the record…

We think this girl is pretty grand!

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Happy birthday, Miss Grace!

Disney Springs


The energy was palpable as we dressed and packed up our gear on Saturday morning.
We were headed to Disney Springs, and those who had been there before knew what was in store.

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It is a tradition that began on our first Disney Trip. We spend the first day in Orlando at Disney Springs, and begin to soak in the Disney Magic before stepping into the parks. This trip was no different and the kids were excited to introduce Brandon to all their favorite spots at Disney Springs.

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We couldn’t check into our rental home until 4:00, so our plan was to begin the day at Disney Springs (the shopping area previously known as Downtown Disney) and then take a monorail ride.

We arrived at Disney Springs and Rusty inhaled deeply and smiled. “Ah, it smells like Disney!”
Brandon breathed in and replied, “Hmmm, smells like Kennywood to me.”

I suppose the melded scents of chocolate, churros and cotton candy are universal. 😊

Everyone had a list of what shops we must visit with some of the top picks being:

The Lego Store:
The Lego store is the number one pick for Rusty and Ozzie, my two Lego lovers. They enjoy checking out all the new and specialty sets that aren’t on the shelves back home, but even my non-Lego kids love this store with its car building/racing center,
and all the amazing over-sized Lego creations that dot the landscape around this popular store.

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Ozzie’s dream set… It was love at first sight!

The World of Disney:
If stepping into this store doesn’t get you excited about your Disney vacation, I don’t know what will! Everyone loves checking out all the Disney merchandise, especially the plethora of Disney themed hats and Mickey ears.

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Our 2019 graduate!

The kids were especially excited to check out all the merchandise since they each had a $50.00 gift card that they received from their great-grandma for Christmas. We did make the rule that no actual shopping was taking place on the first day. We have learned from past experience how easy it is to burn up spending money at the first Disney Shop you enter and then you are stuck living with regret the remainder of the vacation as you come across souvenirs you wish you could have purchased instead. To avoid regrets we had the kids keep a mental list of possible souvenirs with the promise we would return at the end of the trip so they could use their gift cards if they still wanted those items.

This shop lures you in with the enticing scent of chocolate that is pumped into the street. Stopping here for our free chocolate sample is a favorite Disney Springs tradition!

Disney Pin Traders:
Here the kids introduced Brandon to the art of pin trading. This is a favorite Disney activity, but rather than shop at this store, (we buy our pins on eBay prior to the trip, for a fraction of the price,) the kids enter this store to look at all the pins and make a mental note of ones they love and want to be on the look-out for in their trading adventure. This is also a great stop to start the pin trading momentum as the workers all have pins to trade.

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It took Brandon a bit of time to get into it but he is now trading with matched enthusiasm.

Lefty’s- The Lefthand Store:
This store is nothing more than a kiosk, but it is one of Rusty’s favorite stops in Disney Springs. My left-handed kid loves checking out the cheeky t-shirt sayings like:
“Proud Lefty- Give Me Some Elbow Room.”

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 Goofy’s Candy Company:
This was the final stop of our Disney Springs adventure. As we walked in, Toby pulled everyone aside and surprised them with the news that everyone had $5.00 to spend on a Disney sweet.
After perusing the shop, everyone ended up at the cotton candy counter that offered different flavored cotton candies, made to order.

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Everyone decided to order a different flavor (there were a ton to choose from) so we could sample each other’s choices.

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Our top 3 favorites were toasted marshmallow, lemon drop, and cinnamon bun.

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At this point in the day it was 2:00pm.

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We still had two hours to kill before we could check in, so we decided to kick off Brandon’s Disney experience with a trip on the monorail.

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By riding both loops we were able to show Brandon the sights of Epcot, the Magic Kingdom resorts and Cinderella’s castle.

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It was so much fun, and so perfectly “Disney,”

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That it left us counting down the minutes until tomorrow…

First park: Magic Kingdom!!

Feeling Blessed!


“Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to meeeeeee. Happy birthday to me!”

My birthday morning began with a self-serenade.

The older kids were out of the house on the morning of my birthday and Ozzie was at work with Toby. My family kindly let me sleep in…a rare and cherished luxury…so the responsibility to wake me with traditional birthday cupcake a little later in the morning, fell on Brandon and Tyler.

When Tyler found out I was turning 41, he insisted on trying his hardest to fit 41 candles on my slice of birthday cake.

I awoke to this fire hazard coming at my face. Both had taken the responsibility to awaken mom with cake and birthday wishes quite seriously, that was until they realized that the task of singing the birthday song fell to them since everyone else was out of the house.


I lay there with the flaming ball of flames resting on my chest, while a lively debate took place at the foot of my bed as to whose responsibility the song part of the birthday tradition fell to. As the layer of melted wax grew thicker on the surface of my cake the boys finally got on the same page and unanimously agreed I should be the one to sing the birthday song…

And eager to blow out the candles before the flames reached the icing, I concurred.

Once the traditional birthday wake-up was done, the boys busied themselves playing with gifts they received for Christmas, while I enjoyed a lazy day at home. It was wonderful! It is a rare treat to have an entire day open and free, with nothing on the calendar and no place I had to be. When the older kids got home we all enjoyed a PJ and movie day in the living room. It was a wonderful way to spend my birthday.

When Toby and Ozzie arrived home we all got dressed for the birthday surprise Toby planned,

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But first I was asked to take a seat so I could open my gifts. I was spoiled rotten by my family and received gifts that were thoughtful and given with love.

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Then we headed out to celebrate my birthday as a family. Toby planned an evening filled with all of my favorite things. We began our night of birthday fun with dinner at Panda Express and then we introduced Brandon to the awesome world of escape rooms!

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Toby booked an escape room experience for the family at an escape room on McKnight Road that is advertised as “the most difficult escape room in Pittsburgh.” It gave us a run for the money and was the first escape room we weren’t able to solve in the 60 minute window. We came within one final puzzle of escaping the room before the timer rang. Despite not escaping in the allotted time, we had an awesome time! I LOVE the mind-bending challenge that an escape rooms experience offers, and they are always more fun when we can work together as a family, tapping into each person’s individual strengths to try to achieve success as a family.



It was a perfect birthday and a perfect way to celebrate the end of a wonderful 40th year. As I begin my 41st trip around the Sun I can’t help but feel immensely grateful for the beautiful life my Heavenly Father has blessed me with, and these special people I get to travel with.

Here’s to year 41!

Day 5 of Christmas: The magic of Christmas morning!


On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Christmas morning ‘round the Christmas tree.

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Our Christmas morning began as Christmas mornings have begun for centuries,

With the early morning calls of, “Is it time to get up?”

This year, however, those calls came closer to 8:00 am as opposed to years’ past when the question would first be uttered closer to 3:00am.

Toby had set his alarm for 7:15 so that he could drive over and pick up G.G., while Mimi and Pop Pop took care of the farm chores. Brandon asked to accompany Toby, and I stayed behind to hold down the fort and keep kids contained until everyone was back home and had settled into their seats in the living room.

While the adults got situated and claimed their spots for the festivities, I gathered the kids on the stairs for a Christmas morning photo of the kids in their new pajamas.

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Love this crazy crew of Christmas critters!

Then I joined the other adults in the living room, took my spot, and prepared to catch the kids’ expressions on film, as they entered the room and took in the bounty around the tree.

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Christmas morning began, as it always does, with stockings.

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It is by far my favorite part of Christmas morning and always has been. There is something so iconic and magical about unloading a stocking filled with treats, that makes a person feel 8-years-old again.

With squeals of delight, piles of candy, toiletries, match box cars, pens and notebooks, Christmas socks and toys grew around the feet of each child as they unloaded their stockings.

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The adult stockings were generously filled as well, to the point of us needing to use the Christmas bags Gracie sewed last year to catch the overflow of goodies that didn’t fit in the stocking.

Once we were done with stockings, we began unwrapping gifts.

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Brandon asked if he could play Santa this year with Molly’s help, so a round at a time, Brandon and Molly handed out a gift to each family member which we took turns opening.

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After a break for Christmas brunch we continued working our way through the pile, opening gifts wrapped with love from family near and far away.

Some of the treasures unwrapped on Christmas morning included:

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“Let the wild rumpus start!”

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My Christmas gift from my parents. They know me so well!! Love!!

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Gracie’s new ASL t-shirt from Santa. 🙂 

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With a whole lot of ribbing from family about my mid-life crisis crush, I found Aquaman under the tree!

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Rusty loved his new bowtie!

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Their gifts from Uncle Travis and Aunt Krista made the girls look like they stepped out of the “Anne of Green Gables” novel.

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The girls received a jewelry box full of vintage jewelry from Aunt Krista and Uncle Travis as well.

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We finished around noon and spent the afternoon enjoying the company of family, playing games and enjoying our new treasures.

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Pop Pop reading us Mom’s new Christmas book, “The Wonky Donkey.” So funny!!

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Two of my priceless jewels.

Christmas dinner was a feast of ham, cheesy potatoes, green bean casserole, beets, rolls and sunny corn pudding. It was all delicious and I was so busy pigging out that I never thought to stop and take a picture of Christmas dinner.

It was a wonderful Christmas day spent with people I love dearly.

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G.G. with 6 of her great-grandkids.

Merry Christmas 2018!

Day 3 of Christmas: Christmas at Home!


On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Our Christmas celebration as a family!

A few years ago we started the tradition of having a pre-Christmas, Christmas celebration with our little family.

This first began as our Christmas ornament exchange the night before we left for my parents’ home to celebrate Christmas with extended family. This is still the case but it has grown into something more…

On December 23rd we have our immediate family’s celebration. On this night we pull out Christmas cookies and eggnog, put on Christmas music, gather in the living room to open our last days on the advent calendar and then read our favorite Christmas book: “Twas the Night Before, the Night Before Christmas.”


We read it every December 23rd.

Then we exchange gifts as a family.

This particular tradition began in the last 5 years when we noticed that the efforts of siblings were not being fully acknowledged or appreciated on Christmas morning when presented side by side with larger gifts from Santa. For the sake of encouraging sibling connection and attachment we decided to start having the kids exchange gifts with each other and give their gifts to mom and dad on the 23rd instead of the 25th.

This also had the added bonus of cutting down on the amount of gifts that had to be loaded in the car to be toted to Ohio on Christmas Eve.

Typically the last gifts that are opened on December 23rd are the annual Christmas ornaments.

Every year we purchase an ornament for each of our children. Their ornament represents something personal about them. It is either reflective of their likes, activities from that year, or a special connection we have with that child.

The kids look forward to pulling out their ornaments every year to hang on the tree and love the idea that when they leave home they will have a box full of childhood Christmas memories to take with them.

This December 23rd was a bit different.

Because it fell on a Sunday, our special day began with church where we enjoyed an hour-long celebration of music and the spoken word as we celebrated the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The highlight of the day was getting to watch Molly sign to a song performed by the young women. I was moved to tears by the Spirit she brought to the room through her emotional ASL interpretation of the words to the song.

It was a beautiful service.

When we arrived home we enjoyed lunch and Sunday naps before we began our Christmas celebration as a family.

The kids were so eager to give the gifts they had purchased or created with such love, that we agreed to begin the celebration earlier than usual and at 3:30 the fun began.

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All the kids were beside themselves with excitement, eager to give the gifts they had so carefully chosen for each family member.

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It warms my heart to see the sweet relationships that have grown between all my kids, with no division between those who came to this family through birth and those who came through love.

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Once everyone was settled into their places we began the gift exchange with Tyler handing out his gifts first and ending with Grace handing out her gifts last.

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Brandon’s gift from Ozzie.

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Rusty made wooden rubber band guns for his younger brothers.

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Rusty loves comical dress socks to wear with his suit each Sunday. Molly hooked him up with two new pairs.

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Molly received a “Yes Theory” hat from Gracie.

I love that special time with my immediate family.

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Toby and I were spoiled by the kids and felt very loved by the thought that was put into our Christmas gifts.

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Brandon bought Toby a warm hat to wear when he is working outside on cold winter days.

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Rusty painted me a new picture for the living room.

Our awesome afternoon ended on a high note when the girls surprised Toby and I with tickets to go and see Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It was a gift months in the making. They combined their efforts and then really threw us off the scent by “pulling a Toby” and wrapping our tickets in layers of boxes and wrap.

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With the tickets came the offer to babysit so we could enjoy a date night without children, something we haven’t been able to do in a long time.

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What a gift!!

Our evening ended with our Christmas ornament exchange. Each child received an ornament that was personal and reflective of that child and a special connection we share with that child.

Gracie’s ornament:

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Molly’s ornament:

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Rusty’s ornament:

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Ozzie’s ornament:

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Tyler’s ornament:

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And Brandon’s first ornament:

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He was thrilled to start his Christmas ornament collection as a member of the family.

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It was an amazing day that ended with an awesome surprise…

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Stay tuned for that in a future post!


Christmas Cookie Decorating


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This past weekend was filled with opportunities to make some SWEET memories!

The fun revolved around Christmas Cookies,

And it began with 21st Century Cyber Charter School’s December activity… “Cookie-palooza!”

Last Friday we drove out to Murrysville where Molly, Rusty and Ozzie joined other 21st Century students and teachers for a day packed with fun.


Molly was touched by the unexpected surprise of one of her dearest school friends surprising her by driving 4 hours from his home in Gettysburg, PA to join her for a day of Christmas fun.

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At “Cookie-palooza” the students enjoyed all things sweet; with cookie dough making, cookie baking, and cookie decorating.


Along with all the cookie fun, the students also enjoyed playing Minute-to-Win-It games, making Christmas cards for elderly residents at a local nursing home, and feasting on pizza.


The best part, however, was connecting with friends and enjoying the company of teachers outside the virtual walls of the online classroom.


And Molly enjoyed experiencing it with Irvin.


After the activity Molly and Irvin took advantage of his trip to Pittsburgh by heading over to Barnes and Noble to hang out for a bit before his 4 hour drive back home.


The cookie fun continued over the weekend with Christmas baking. As we sat down as a family at the start of the holiday season, and everyone shared with the family which Christmas tradition was most important to them, Brandon shared that his favorite tradition revolved around Christmas cookies. He told us of the sweet memories he had of holiday baking with his adoptive mom and the joy of getting to eat Christmas cookies for breakfast on Christmas morning. He expressed that the tradition that he most hoped we would make time for this December was cookie baking and decorating. So his wish, along with the other kids’ Christmas wishes were made priorities on the calendar and this past weekend we got busy in the kitchen.

Saturday was spent baking and Sunday we gathered to decorate our pile of cut, cooked, and cooled sugar cookies.

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It was so much fun coming together as a family and enjoying time around the dining room table as we spread and sprinkled to our hearts’ content.

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It was a SWEET time with my very favorite elves.

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