Tag Archives: winter

Skating under the Stars


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

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

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

And I was right!

It was simply magical,

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Like a scene from a Hallmark movie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can hardly believe Christmas is days away!



Snow Much Fun!


Saturday was “SNOW much fun!”

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Saturday morning, we had an outing scheduled with the Adventure Club at 21st Century Cyber Charter School. This outing was unique in that it wasn’t scheduled for normal school hours. Because it was scheduled for a Saturday Toby and Brandon were able to join us. This is a rare and treasured treat!

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In addition to Hhving Toby join us, we also were joined by other familiar faces, including one of Molly’s dearest friends, Irvin, who traveled all the way from Gettysburg with his two younger brothers to join Molly and Tatum on the slopes.

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This outing was a snow tubing activity at Boyce Park.

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This was a first for my kiddos who had never been to a facility like this one to “sled.” They are used to zooming down our driveway on sheets of plastic and digging their heels in for a quick stop before flying across the road at the bottom. The fact that this hill was free of obstacles AND had a conveyor belt to shuttle riders back to the top for the next trip down, made the experience downright indulgent!

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Upon arriving, the kids added layers of snow gear to combat the frigid temps of the day,

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And even received a surprise gift of winter hats and chap stick from the adventure club for attending!

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Everyone greeted friends in the warmth of the lodge before heading out into the snow for some snow tubing fun.


Each rider grabbed a tube and stopped long enough to humor me as I took a few photos for posterity, before getting in line for their ride to the top of the hill.

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The Adventure Club members and teachers made trip after trip down the hill.

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It seemed as the morning wore on, and the snow became more compact, they flew at greater speeds down the hillside.

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After an hour of watching from the bottom, I headed inside to join friends for adult conversation, choosing to watch the excitement outside from the warmth of the lodge.

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The activity lasted for 2 hours. At 11:30 the kids all shuffled in with pink cheeks and icy lashes.

Irvin had suggested we all go out to lunch together before his 3-hour drive back home, with the hope of spending more time with Molly and Tatum.

So, we joined the Hudak family, Irvin, and his younger brothers for lunch at Blaze Pizza.

Having never eaten there before, we required a quick tutorial before beginning. Luckily Rusty had visited another Blaze Pizza with Grace and Zach earlier in the week, so he was able to guide us through the process a bit.

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It was a very neat place…sort of a pizza version of Subway. The premise of the restaurant allows customers to move along a serving line and “build” their pizza. The choices of toppings are abundant, with customers getting to choose their sauce, meats, and veggies all for a flat price regardless of how much you load it up.

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The kids all loved the idea of being able to build their own “dream pizza,” and the combinations of flavors were as unique as the creators.

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Blaze Pizza was a toasty way to round out a chilly morning!

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Ice Skating at North Park




For years my kids have agreed that one of the best reoccurring youth activities is the January ice skating activity at North Park skating rink. It seems that this event has been a favorite activity for almost a decade, as I have fond memories of Grace donning skates on a cold winter night at age 13 and now find myself helping Tyler tighten his laces at this same winter activity.

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While the activities of the night have remained constant, the faces in the crowd have changed. Many of the youth who were skating circles around the rink a few years ago are now college graduates, full time missionaries or newlyweds. For some reason the marching of time hit me extra hard on Saturday as I watched a new, rising group of young people take the place of familiar faces who have moved on.

Among the new faces were Brandon and Tyler…

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Brandon, because of this being his first opportunity to attend since joining our family.


And Tyler, because he is now 12, which makes him a participant in the young men’s program which allows him and his buddies from church to take part in the fun activities planned for the youth.

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It was weird finding myself with only boys in tow, as this was a favorite activity of Grace and Molly for many, many years. Molly, unfortunately, found herself having to work Friday night and thus having to miss her last year ice skating with the youth.

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Instead it was an all-boy adventure and I got a taste of what life is evolving into with Grace and Molly growing up and gone more than they are home. I am preparing myself for life as the only girl in a testosterone saturated house. Lord, help me!

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Rusty, having been the only one to attend this activity previously, filled the other three in on what to expect.

The night was split into two parts. It began with 3 hours of ice skating (or board games for those who chose not to skate.)

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This was followed by socializing over a dinner of pizza, wings and desserts.

Since I had no responsibilities over this activity, I used my free time… you know, the down time between jumping up to capture moments on film…to get a little school work done now that school has resumed.

And a lot of jumping up I did!

This was Brandon, Tyler and Ozzie’s first time at this activity and Brandon’s first time ever ice skating, so I had to record the adventure in photographs.

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All did amazingly well. I expected Rusty to be a pro but I was amazed how much better the other three boys did than I anticipated.

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The snow began falling soon after we arrived, making the skaters look like they were caught inside a Christmas snow globe.

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The scene was magical, with fat snowflakes turning the world white.

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It was a great night with great youth!


It’s Time to Buckle Down and Blog


I don’t know if it is the after Christmas crash, the flu bug that swept through our house knocking us all flat on our backs, or simply the fact that we find ourselves in hibernation season, but I have struggled to find the creativity or motivation to do anything beyond the bare minimum.

Instead I find myself resting, and dreaming, and gazing out at the winter wonderland that decorates the world outside my window.

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With each passing year I find myself more enamored with the month of January. As a child I found it to be a horribly long and dull month, especially coming on the heels of the sparkle and shine of December, but as I grow older (and perhaps a bit wiser) I see January for the gift that it is. It is the resting month. Without the crazy schedule and social obligations of December, and yet too early for the labor of spring, January asks very little of us.

The weather outside encourages us to hunker down.

The early nights drive us to our beds at a decent hour.

And the calendar remains blissfully free of obligations.

It is the resting month…a season that encourages us to find the same stillness in our souls that we find in the hush of the softly falling snow.

I am grateful for this season of rest. I feel its healing powers and recognize its purpose. I have come to embrace it with an open heart and eager anticipation. It is a season of hibernation and healing and I have embraced this season fully…perhaps too fully, as I have struggled to tap into any creative thinking or desire to do much more than watch snowflakes drift down to the earth.

This lack of creativity and motivation has resulted in a pronounced silence on the blog. Life continues to happen and yet my diligence in recording the moments that make up our life is seriously faltering, and it seems the more behind I get in my writing the more I avoid beginning, so forgive this disjointed, seemingly unconnected recording of recent life events. I am forcing myself to step away from the view at the window and write.

So here it goes…a much overdue “catch up” post:

#1. Last Wednesday marked the final day of the Semester for Molly and Rusty. They worked hard and both earned the A’s they were hoping for. The following day they were off school so that the teachers could have a grading day. Knowing there was no school on Thursday the girls decided to get together with Olivia and Tatum for an impromptu sleepover. In addition to Molly and Tatum celebrating the end of the quarter this sleepover also gave Grace and Olivia a chance to get together before their college courses start up again and life gets busy.


The girls had a wonderful time. It was a relaxed, laid back  evening of talking, laughing, movie watching and cupcake decorating. Olivia, the resident baker, had cupcakes and icing leftover from an order she filled earlier that day so the girls got creative and had a fun time in the kitchen creating beautiful AND delicious masterpieces.


 #2. Since Christmas break Tyler and I have adjusted his school schedule slightly. Rather than jumping straight into his first subject of the day at 9:00 am, I decided to try something new. With just a little shuffling and rearranging I was able to move Reading to 9:30, freeing up a half hour for some transition time.

Transitions are hard for Tyler. I think they are hard for a lot of kids, but they tend to be extremely challenging for kids from hard places. For a kid whose early years were unstable and uncertain, change is something scary. And despite the fact that he logically knows that transitions from one task to another in his life now won’t bring danger or loss, the primitive part of his brain screams with fear when he is asked to leave one situation and step into another. There is a primitive drive to be in control and alert. As a result we have found it hugely beneficial to invest  time and energy into prepping Tyler for transitions…both big life transitions but also small daily transitions with prompts like, “10 more minutes of play and then we will be going inside to eat.” Explaining exactly what will happen next or what to expect when stepping into an unfamiliar situation helps to lessen that “fight, flight, or freeze” response and makes transitions significantly easier for all involved.

One transition that has made a world of difference in our school day is the addition of a game time at the start of our day. Rather than jumping straight from free time to reading time we have added a half hour of  game time to start our day. This easing into the day has made a world of difference. It allows Tyler to be excited about the transition from free time to school time, as well as giving us a consistent time block to focus on the TBRI principle of attachment through a fun, child-led activity.

The game of choice lately has been chess.

For Christmas Tyler received his own chess set…

And not just any chess set,

A Mario Brothers chess set!

Tyler was introduced to the game of chess by Rusty a few years ago. Rusty loves the game of chess and has multiple chess boards that he treasures but also cautiously guards. Tyler can only play with them if he and Russ are playing a game together, so Tyler asked Santa for his own chess set for Christmas.

Not knowing how to play myself, this chess set has given Tyler the chance to be the teacher as he schools me on the rules of chess. Chess is also a tool Miss Tina uses with him in therapy. Playing a game of chess while talking through harder stuff allows Tyler to focus on a task so as to not drown under the hard thoughts and emotions they are discussing.

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#3. Following Christmas we were hit with the dreaded stomach flu that is sweeping across the nation. While typically a healthy crew, our family (or at least the Momma of this family) has an unchosen annual tradition of falling ill the first week of January. It never fails. Year after year we are hit with the latest strain of flu and it moves quickly through our house taking out each of us one by one and sometimes circling back around for round two.

I credit this annual occurrence to the after Christmas crash. Worn down by the busyness of the Christmas season and suffering from lack of nutrients after feasting on cookies and milk for weeks on end, our bodies succumb to germs. It is as though we are finally still enough for the germs to catch us and wiped out enough for them to take hold.

This year was no exception. The stomach flu made it rounds at Patchwork Farm bringing with it fever, chills, aches, stomach cramps, and debilitating fatigue. The blessing was that although it hit hard it moved on quickly, lasting only a day or two.

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#4. Miss Grace had a lovely break from school. While all her younger siblings were back to the grind the first week of January, Grace was off until the third week of January. That’s the benefit of a college schedule! She used this month of freedom to catch up on projects that she hadn’t had time for when school was in session. She organized her room, caught up on sleep, planned some outings with friends, spent time on Pinterest seeking out projects and recipes and then jumped into said creative projects and baking.

We were the beneficiaries of her Pinterest driven baking spree. One of our favorite treats from this past month was her peach fry pies. They tasted just like the ones we buy in Amish country.

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Using refrigerated pie crust she cut small circles using a biscuit cutter, filled the circle with peach pie filling, sealed it with another circle, and then baked them. When they came out of the oven she dipped them in an icing glaze and let them set up.

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They were amazing!

#5. Over the last few weeks we have been hit with a lot of snow, leaving the yard looking like a winter wonderland. As someone who loves winter and loves the snow, I have no complaints. I find it far better than the muddy winter we endured last year, but that is not to say that this season of beauty is without challenges. The frigid temperatures have made caring for the farm animals harder, and the ice on the driveway means having to park at the bottom and hike in and out…

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A task that is lovely if you are traveling empty handed, but far more frustrating for Toby who has had to hike materials and tools down to his truck each morning. At least our Fit Bit’s are pleased. We have had no trouble hitting our 10,000 steps!

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Well, there you go…

My attempt to break the silence and get back on track.

I’ll try to do better! 😉

A Birthday Surprise for Ozzie


Winter has finally arrived in Western PA. After an unseasonably warm and mild winter, snow has arrived, and it is fitting that it made its debut on Ozzie’s birthday.

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We woke Ozzie early with a song and a cupcake, but the real surprise was waiting outside his window. At our prompting he open his curtains and discovered 8 inches of snow on the ground.

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“I love the gift God gave me for my birthday!” Ozzie exclaimed with enthusiasm. “Snow!”

Heavenly Father couldn’t have picked out a better birthday gift for Ozzie, our weather enthusiast,

Unless of course He sent a tornado, unfortunately I think Ozzie is out of luck with that wish, given he has a February birthday. 🙂

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With the arrival of snow on Ozzie’s birthday came other blessings, like having Toby home for the day. The roads around us were still unplowed and slick when it was time to leave for work so Toby declared the day a snow day from work. (You can do that when you own your own construction company!)

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He spent the morning digging out our vehicles. I was so grateful he was there. Because of his hard work Ozzie and I were able to make Ozzie’s therapy session which was critical given the fact it was his birthday and the overwhelming emotions connected to that day as an adopted child. It was essential we  work through and process some of those big emotions with Tina and thanks to Toby we didn’t have to cancel our appointment.

She even surprised Ozzie, knowing it was his birthday, with cupcakes at the appointment.

Upon arriving home we discovered there was no getting back up our driveway. The heavy, wet snow that fell compacted into ice under Toby’s truck tires, turning our driveway into a skating rink. Currently all three vehicles are parked at the end of our steep driveway and we are hiking in and out.

The greatest blessing that came from the snow storm was a forced stillness and solitude from the world…a break from busyness…a chance to be together, alone as a family. It was lovely and reminded me why winter is such a healing season for me.

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I crave the peace that blankets my world when everything is covered in white. There is a magic…a peace…that only winter can bring.

It was wonderful.

At 2:00 we declared it the end of the school day and put away books and pulled out the sleds. It was time to go out and play as a family. Toby went to the garage to cut sheets of plastic for sleds and the next few hours were spent building snowmen,

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having snowball fights,

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making snow angels,

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and sledding.

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When everyone was sufficiently chilled and worn out we headed inside to put on PJs early and snuggle in for movie time while enjoying mugs of hot cocoa.

After dinner it was time for Wax on Snow. This is a beloved tradition from my childhood. It is a treat that instantly transports me back to age 6. Wax on Snow is a special and rare treat because of two key reasons:

#1: It requires REAL maple syrup which (due to cost) we only have in the fridge when we receive a jug as a gift.

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#2: it requires a pan of freshly fallen snow, so it is a treat that only comes in the winter months.

To make Wax on Snow you fill a pan with pressed fresh snow. You keep the pan outside in the cold until the syrup is ready.

Next you boil REAL maple syrup on the stove top until it reaches the soft ball stage. (In other words: when you drop it in a glass of cold water and it forms a soft taffy like ball).

Then it is ready. The kids gather around the pan of snow and the syrup is poured in strips on the snow where it gums up into a taffy like treat and is eaten with forks. In addition to it being a delicious treat if you love maple flavored candy, it is also a fun family experience. After the candy is all gone then the kids enjoy eating the maple flavored snow.

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The remainder of the evening was spent relaxing in our warm house and spending time as a family. It was a much needed reprieve from a crazy week and a perfect way to celebrate the birth of Master Oswald William McCleery!

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“Go out there and earn your hot cocoa”


“I’ll never outgrow the excitement of looking out my window and seeing falling snow.”

Wednesday morning we woke to snow. As we prepared to leave for co-op the world outside transformed…

Into a winter wonderland.

Gracie drove us to co-op, giving her a chance to work on her winter driving skills.

While at co-op the snow continued to fall until the ground was covered with many inches of heavy, sticky snow…

perfect snow for snowmen, and sledding and snowball fights!

As the kids exited the church to put their school bags in the car, an impromptu snowball fight began. The kids had fun playing in the untouched snow of the church yard and parking lot with their friends.

While we were at OT with Ozzie, following co-op, we received a call from our piano teacher letting us know that she needed to cancel. We decided that when we arrived home we would put off school assessments until later in the day, take advantage of the canceled piano lessons, and enjoy the snow a bit more.

For the first time this winter we went sledding!


We only have one sled so the kids followed Daddy’s example and cut up sheets of plastic to use as sleds.

Ozzie, so excited to go sledding!

Ozzie, so excited to go sledding!

Tyler begging for a ride from his sister...

Tyler begging for a ride from his sister…

The kids decided to go sledding down the driveway. That is the great blessing of living on a country road…no oncoming traffic to worry about!

Rusty and Tyler racing.

Rusty and Tyler racing.



While headed downhill, Molly lost hold of her sled. As she walked over the edge of the hill to retrieve it she discovered an old, empty suitcase someone had dumped on our property. She was carrying it up the hill so we could dispose of it when Rusty had an inventive idea…

Gracie being chased by Winnie, our bulldog, as she sled downhill while Molly totes up our "new sled."

Gracie being chased by Winnie, our bulldog, as she sled downhill while Molly totes up our “new sled.”

“Let’s use it for another sled!”

Rusty's redneck sled!

Rusty’s redneck sled!

The kids stayed out for a couple of hours, enjoying the snow, before they were ready to head in and warm up with hot cocoa…They earned it! 🙂

Miss Molly

Miss Molly

My "snow angels"

My “snow angels”

"How about a push?"

“How about a push?”

"Snowflakes are one of nature's most fragile things, but look at what they can do when they stick together."  -Vista M. Kelly

“Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but look at what they can do when they stick together.” -Vista M. Kelly