Oh, Crap!!


oh crap

The first clue that perhaps all was not right with the world was the smell.

Rusty and Grace were at home, alone, when they caught the first whiff. A quick glance around the room for 4-legged suspects revealed that the most likely instigators of the smell were curled up on couches elsewhere. They decided they better investigate.

Their keen sense of smell led them to the basement door. As they opened the door to investigate they were hit with a putrid wave of foreboding. Hesitantly and with great apprehension they began descending down the stairs only to step into a nightmare-inducing horror film. A pipe above their head was showering down feces in a most spectacular fashion, while the contents of our septic tank bubbled up from the drains on the floor.

Being McCleery’s, these kids have been better trained for the worst sorts of disaster scenarios than most government FEMA workers. Rather than running from the horror that lay before them they jumped into this crappy scenario with both feet (after donning rubber boots) and set to work trying to save what they could.

Racing through the sewage bubbling up beneath their feet and raining down on them from above, they hurried to move boxes out of the path of destruction.

When they finally felt that things were safe enough to run upstairs for the phone they called Toby and asked what they should do. After confirming that there was nothing else that could be done until he made it home from work, they called me at tutoring to give me a heads up of what I would be coming home to.

In typical Gracie  efficiency, she ended the conversation with a breezy, “Don’t feel like you have to hurry home. We’ve got things under control here.”

When Tyler was done with tutoring we drove home. As we stepped into the front door we were hit with the unique smell combination of sewage layered with ocean breeze air freshener, AXE cologne, and a variety of Bath and Body Works body sprays. I’m not sure if the AXE cologne helped or hurt the situation but the kids insisted that things smelled significantly better with the added scents.

Toby arrived home and headed downstairs only to emerge a little while later with the unfortunate news that there was nothing to be done until septic companies opened the following morning. In the meantime we just had to endure the smell and not use any water. That meant no showers, no dishes, no laundry, and especially NO FLUSHING until we figured out why our basement was filling with sewage.

The next day angels in rubber gloves pulled into our driveway.


For three hours they worked to remedy our situation. Thankfully they discovered the blockage and was able to fix it, and while they were here we also had them pump our septic tank. One septic emergency was enough for this lifetime so we chose to be proactive while we had the truck here.

Once the problem was solved and the shower of crap had ceased, it was time to brave the horror downstairs and clean up the mess. All I can say is, “Kuddos to these kiddos who without comment or complaint, pulled on their rubber boots and rubber gloves, grabbed a shovel and began scooping.”


What troopers they were. No strangers to crappy situations, they just dove into this unpleasant task with steely resolve and a good sense of humor and within a few hours had turned our septic swamp back into a basement.

While most teenagers would have been bemoaning this unforeseen change in our Family Night plans, Molly, with typical optimism, cheerful commented as she shoveled poop into trash bags, ” Well, this is one Family Night we will NEVER forget!”

Once everything had been scooped and scrubbed, we doused the basement in bleach to kill any residual germs. As we stumbled upstairs, weary and ready for showers, Tyler took a huge sniff. “Our house doesn’t smell like poop anymore,” he observed, “Now it smells like Kalahari!” The smell of bleach did give the impression we had just walked into an indoor water park. 🙂

All was well that ended well…or so we thought.

The real damage done by this unexpected circumstance had nothing to do with the pile of ruined storage that got carried outside. No, the real damage was far more devastating…

Beginning on Monday night, the night the septic tank back up into our basement, we noticed a concerning change in Tyler. Out of nowhere he developed a pronounced facial tic. It was bizarre. It came on quickly and increased in severity within the first 24 hours. My first thought was that he was having a seizure, as it was disconcerting to see his facial muscles rapidly clench and release as his eyes rapidly blinked. What was even more disconcerting was the fact that he was unaware he was even doing it.

As the week progressed I spent countless hours researching possible causes and set up appointments with his doctor, therapist, and psychiatrist, uncertain if the cause was neurological, medication driven, or rooted in trauma. I had a theory but it wasn’t until we met with his therapist and his psychiatrist that my theory was confirmed. They agreed that what we were seeing was a regression that came as a result of the smell of feces in the house. The sense of smell is the strongest memory trigger we have and they both suspect that when Tyler was exposed to a smell that was so pronounced in the deplorable conditions of his birth home where atrocious abuse took place, he was hit with terrifying flashbacks. Unable to express or vent the horrors playing out in his head, his body responded to that fear and stress physiologically in the form of these new facial tics.

We are still ruling out other possible medical causes but his doctors are fairly certain that this regression is trauma driven, and although the smell is long gone, the flashbacks remain and the feelings of not being safe at home are driving these new symptoms. My heart breaks for him. Not only because of the looks he is now getting from others, but because of the horrors that he must have endured to cause his little body to have such a visceral reaction to a smell.

This entire week has been a profound reminder of the difference between the frustrations and the bothersome inconveniences of life that we perhaps view as trials, and the real trials of life that so many are burdened with this Christmas season. Yes, a basement full of sewage was not fun, but really, was it anything more that a frustration or irritation. How blessed we are to have only endured that situation for 24 hours when there are children around the globe living in such squalor every day. It was a wake-up call for me…a powerful reminder this Christmas season of how blessed we are, but also wake up call of how little we are doing to help those whose trials are so much greater than ours.

Lord, help me to not lose sight of that admonition…

Not only this Christmas season, but all year long.


Gingerbread Houses



During the month of December everyone has favorite family traditions that revolve around the Christmas holiday. With seven people in the family  we sometimes need to make a conscious effort to fit in everyone’s favorite holiday activities. We begin the month by inquiring of the kids what activity or tradition is most precious and important to them and then try to plug it into the calendar. As the kids get older and their schedules get busier it can be challenging to fit all the fun of Christmas into four short weeks but we strive to fit in as many traditions as we can.


Often these traditions become our Family Night activity of the week. This week we decided to decorate gingerbread houses with our children. The activity began on Sunday when we decorated a gingerbread house with Ozzie during our Sunday visit, and then carried into Tuesday when we decorated gingerbread houses with the rest of the kids.


In an effort to make things as seamless and easy as possible I purchase a pre-constructed gingerbread house to decorate with Ozzie at our visit. Normally I wouldn’t spend the money on a large, pre-constructed kit, especially when buying for seven people, but given the fact we would have limited time to decorate the house with Ozzie it seemed prudent to bring it already constructed and stable so that we could focus our energy on the fun part of creating our gingerbread house rather than battling falling walls or trying to transport an unstable structure back home when we were done.

It worked out perfectly and the additional cost was well worth the convenience.

Each week when we go to visit Ozzie I pack a bag full of treats and games or activities for us to do together during our visit. He looks forward to this special time of the week and so do we. This week when I pulled out the gingerbread house kit from my bag he was over the moon with excitement. Being away during the Christmas season is so hard for Ozzie, so being able to bring some of our more beloved family traditions to him, and allow him to participate and not miss out, means the world to him.

We had a wonderful visit with Ozzie. As we decorated his house with frosting and candies Toby read questions aloud from the Christmas trivia game we brought and we all took turns guessing the answers to various Christmas questions.


I am not sure which part of the experience Ozzie enjoyed most…

the decorating or the sampling of the candies. 🙂


At the end of the visit we took his completed gingerbread house home with us to display with the others. When he returns home for Christmas break he will be able to eat his creation.


On Tuesday we had everyone home. A combination of good luck in the scheduling department and a not so good unexpected “adventure” (more on that in the next blog) led to everyone being home on Tuesday night, so we decided to decorated gingerbread houses with the rest of the kids.


After dinner (and other messes) were cleaned up, the kids worked together to get the table set up with everything needed for gingerbread house decorating. For this crew we purchased the “Tiny Christmas Village” kit that came with 5 mini gingerbread houses. We have used this kit in the past and have found it works perfectly for our family. Cost wise it is far more economical, but in addition to that, the smaller houses are also easier to display. It can be challenging to find a free surface in our home large enough to display 7 full sized gingerbread houses that are out of reach of our Great Dane! Mini house prove to be slightly less challenging.


We supplemented the meager supply of candies that came in the kit with our leftover Halloween candy, in addition to other creative food sources the kids scavenged from the pantry.

With Christmas carols playing we set to work.


My favorite aspect of activities like this is seeing the unique creativity each child displays in their creations.


Even Tyler was anxiously engaged in creating his dream gingerbread house and remained seated and fully engaged the entire time. I think this was his best house to date!


Grace lived out her dream of building her own tiny house through her gingerbread creation, complete with a tiny gingerbread house on wheels and self-sustaining garden beside it.


Molly added many creative details to her home including mistletoe above her door and a coating of snow in her yard.


Rusty really thought outside the box this year when he decided to leave off his roof and focus his creative energies on the inside of the house. He divided his little home into rooms and then used candies to create the furniture within, like a bed, lamp, toilet and even a mini TV playing a ninja movie. It was so creative!



The final gingerbread house in the kit was intended for Toby and I to share, but he handed it over to me…


and then proceeded to create the most creative creation of the night….


A chocolate cabin situated on a tree farm…


Complete with a bonfire, road, and truck hauling wood…all made from candy.


Ok, he wins!



A Day at the Zoo



Last Monday, following Thanksgiving weekend, we headed to the Pittsburgh Zoo. School resumed on Tuesday, allowing us one more day of play before we got back into our routine. Pittsburgh Zoo was offering free admission in the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving as a way to say thanks to the people of Pittsburgh for their support. What a lovely, unexpected blessing! This gave us an awesome excuse to visit the zoo again.

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It had been a few years since we had visited the zoo and we were amazed at all the renovations and new displays that had sprung up in our absence.

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We were joined at the zoo by some of our friends from co-op. The Caylors joined us with a few Hudaks in tow and we had a spare McCready in our van. 🙂 It made for a fun group with which to explore the zoo.

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I was anticipating large crowds given the free admission and the fact that so many schools had Monday off for the first day of deer hunting season, but we found the crowds to be minimal and navigating the zoo to be manageable.

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We had a fun time exploring the zoo at a leisurely pace, pausing when we spotted an animal that we found particularly engaging.

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One of the biggest hits of the day was the elephant house.

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We timed our visit just right and found ourselves in the elephant house during feeding and bath time. We stayed and watched for quite a while.

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There were also two dogs in the elephant house that must have been pets of the trainer. They were just as popular, if not more popular, than the elephants…especially with Rusty.

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Which led Rusty to question why no one had ever come up with the business idea of opening an all dog petting zoo. What a brilliant idea! I know our family would be regulars.

It is funny how often we come to the zoo to experience the unusual and exotic and find the kids more enamored with the ordinary and familiar. Molly, for instance, was far more thrilled by the goats in the petting zoo than any of the more exotic animals despite us having two goats at home.

And Tyler could have spent all day watching the fish in the ponds and yet raced past the sea lions and the polar bear.


The polar bear was another favorite animal of the day.

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As part of the  enrichment program at the zoo, the trainer will encourage interaction with the public by displaying one of the bear’s favorite toys on our side of the glass before giving it to the bear. This helps engage the bear and is also a neat experience for the public. Once again, we were passing by at just the right time and got to enjoy interacting with this handsome fellow up close!

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It was also fun exploring the new section of the zoo, the Islands area.

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This area had a “beach” for the kids to play in and an education center filled with fun, hands-on learning activities. The fact it was indoor made it a popular place to warm up.

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We had a wonderful time getting reacquainted with this Pittsburgh treasure and were so glad we were able to do so with some of our favorite friends!

Christmas with the Kirk Kids




Rusty’s special Thanksgiving gift for Mimi and Pop Pop.


On Saturday, following our morning at the tree farm, we drove out to the Homestead. My parents had invited us for a Thanksgiving meal and an early Christmas celebration with my sister and her kids who were visiting from Michigan. We just had a day together but that didn’t deter us from fitting two holiday celebrations, a birthday party, a delicious meal, games, a talent show, and a whole lot of fun into our day at the Homestead.

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My sister lives 8 hours away in Northern Michigan, which means we don’t get to see her and her family as often as we would like…especially between the snowy months of October to April. As a result, it always surprises and delights me how easily the cousins fall back into play mode, as though they saw each other last week.

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As we waited on lunch to be served the kids began getting reacquainted with their cousins. The girls bonded over books, lip gloss, and the Newsies…

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While the boys bonded over balls, guns and swords.

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They also had a blast climbing the mountains of hay in Mimi and Pop Pop’s barn,

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And playing with the farm set.

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Our day was spent in the barn. It was a beautiful day and a perfect temperature for an outdoor party. The barn was an ideal place to entertain all those wild little boys. They could run, scream, climb and chase without worry of something spilling or breaking, which meant the grown-ups could sit and visit without having to parent.

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It was so nice sitting in the barn, watching the kids play, while catching up with family. The only thing that would have made it better is if my brother and his wife could have joined us.


Lunch was a traditional Thanksgiving feast served picnic style. Everything was delicious and for that short period of time the barn was quiet, the only sound coming from all those little mouths was chewing.

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After lunch my Dad slipped away for a few minutes to prepare for the next part of the day. We transitioned from Thanksgiving to Christmas in 2.3 seconds flat as Dad lit luminaries and prepared the barn for our traditional Christmas story in the stable.


Kelly’s kids had never experienced what has become our most treasured part of Christmas Eve, so Mimi and Pop Pop decided to bring the magic a month early so Kelly’s kids could experience this special tradition.

We walked into the barn, lit only by the glow of the Christmas tree and the luminaries that lined the walkway, and I heard the kids catch their breath in awe.

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Everyone sat down on the bales of hay and we all listened to the melodic voice of my father as he ready the story of Jesus’ birth.

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All was still and quiet and holy in that darkened barn, with only the occasional animal noise breaking the silence.

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Kelly’s kids were as mesmerized as mine always are with this special experience.

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We ended our time in the stable with Christmas carols and animal kisses.

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Then we headed back to the upper level of the barn for some silly games and gifts.

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We began with a birthday celebration for Sammy whose birthday was a few days prior. We sang our birthday greetings and he opened his birthday gifts from my parents and our family.


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I think Charlie was even more excited by Sammy’s gift then Sammy was!


Following Sammy’s celebration we enjoyed another Christmas Eve tradition that the Kirk’s never get to enjoy…our silly gift exchange. It is, in essence, a white elephant gift exchange with Toby and I collecting crazy, tacky gifts through the year for this game that takes place each Christmas Eve. I was a bit nervous that Kelly’s littlest ones wouldn’t understand the premise of the game and that there would be tears when they opened a gift that was nothing short of disappointing  (like the year 3-year-old Gracie open a urinal and broke down in tears!) 🙂 But they handled it like champs.


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I loved watching the kids get into the game and steal from each other and their grandparents with good natured teasing. Then everyone opened their final gifts and revealed their “treasures!”


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To ease the pinch of receiving toilet plungers and medical masks, we followed the silly gift exchange with the real gift exchange. For the last two years we have switched up how Kelly and I give gifts to our nieces and nephews. Rather than the moms picking out all the gifts, we have started letting cousins draw names and exchange gifts more personally. Since Kelly and I both have 5 kids this system works perfectly and my kids LOVE getting assigned one cousin to focus on. I am touched by the amount of thought and personalization they put into their gift giving and the same is true for Kelly’s kids. I have found the result is an even closer, sweeter relationship between cousins…a closeness that only comes when you are engaged in the act of serving another.

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We ended our special day with another Christmas Eve tradition…the annual Real Family talent show. The boys were too busy sword fighting to come up with an act but the girls more than made up for it with their hilarious parody of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” rewritten as “The Twelve Days of Christmas at the Homestead.”

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I don’t know when I have laughed so hard!

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It was a day full of blessings…

Little moments so perfectly ordinary and yet so magical because they were so filled with love.

I found myself filing each moment away in that mental vault that holds all my dearest memories so that I can look back on this day 20 years from now and count my blessings all over again.


Hunting for the Perfect Tree!


christmas tree

The number one item on Ozzie’s weekend wish list was, “Cut down and decorate our Christmas tree.”  Near the top of my wish list was, “Take family photos for our Christmas cards.” We knew our time was limited but God moved mountains on our behalf and we were able to fit all three of these activities into our weekend…and it was wonderful.

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We began working our way through our “wish list” with an early morning visit to the tree farm. Saturday we had plans to drive out to Ohio to celebrate Thanksgiving/Early Christmas with my parents, my sister, and her kiddos. Thanksgiving dinner was scheduled for 1:00 pm and it was a two hour drive to get out to the Homestead, which meant all the cogs in this time machine needed to line up perfectly if we were going to pull off the impossible.

Everyone was up early…


…getting dressed and dolled up for Christmas photos.

IMG_4435 (2)We were on the road by 8:00am and were standing at the gate of the tree farm when they opened.

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This year we returned to Pioneer Trails Tree Farm.


We had such an awesome experience there two years ago that we decided to return there for our tree again this year.


The next hour was spent searching for and cutting down our Christmas Tree.

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My family kindly humored me with “Say Cheese!” moments as we weaved between the pines.

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We eventually found the beauty we were searching for…a 10-foot tall, beautiful Blue Spruce.

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The experience itself was even more lovely than the tree we cut down.

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I felt like the richest woman in the world that morning as I enjoyed one of our family’s favorite Christmas traditions…all together.

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The experience was PICTURE PERFECT!

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Later that same weekend we were able to get the tree up and decorated before Ozzie had to leave us again. Toby handled the lights, while the rest of us sorted through the boxes of ornaments in search of everyone’s favorites.

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Every year the kids each receive a new ornament for the tree. This is a tradition that began on Gracie’s first Christmas. Each year Toby and I search for an ornament for each of the kids (and for each other) that are reflective of each person’s life the past year. It might highlight a family vacation we took, celebrate a monumental event in that person’s life, or simply be reflective of that person’s current passions or interest.

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It is fun to look at each child’s pile of ornaments and see the stages and events of their lives documented through trinkets on the tree.

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When the kids each leave home, and have a tree of their own, they will take their collection of ornaments with them and have a nice start on their Christmas decorating.

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As we decorated the tree, we listened to Christmas music and sipped egg nog.

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As we scurried around the tree, looking for bare spots to hang our favorite ornaments, I reflected on the truth found within this well known quote:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…



This past weekend we zoomed straight from Thanksgiving into the Christmas season. Not wanting to miss any of the pre-Christmas festivities, Ozzie requested that we decorate for Christmas while he was home. Friday was wide open. The girls were both working on Black Friday but the rest of us had the day free. We opted to wait to get our tree, or enjoy any other family tradition that the girls would hate to miss until they were home, and decided to stay home and decorate for Christmas.

The girls woke up early and decided to bake cookies for all the Pretzel Factory employees that were stuck working on Black Friday.


Dolled up in Christmas gear, they headed off to work.


Meanwhile, the boys helped carry up all our boxes of Christmas decorations and we set to work “Decking the Halls.”


Toby took the boys outside to help him decorate the outside of the house, while I reveled in the rare gift of silence and an hour of uninterrupted Christmas decorating.


Typically, our Christmas decorating takes a full day. Certain decorations have traditional spots they land every year, while others move around the house depending on how I am feeling creatively. When the boys returned in they helped set up our various nativity sets and helped hang the stockings. 



Once I had pulled out all the decorations I wanted for the main living areas of the house it was time to let the kids dig through the Christmas boxes for decorations to go in their rooms. They all enjoy decorating their rooms for Christmas and have fun digging through the familiar decorations for those items that are their favorites.


Speaking of favorite decorations, I have a few new favorites myself! I have inherited a few relics from Toby’s childhood. These charming pieces used to be part of an outdoor Christmas scene that was displayed in front of his house as a child. I was thrilled when he brought these treasures home and now Santa, Mrs. Clause, and the elves reside in our living room.


By dinner time we were all whooped and ready to put our feet up. Ozzie was thrilled by the Christmas décor and kept walking around the house checking out our handy work.



All the puppies are pooped!

His favorite part, however, was the outside. When the sun had set we all walked outside to admire the boys’ handiwork.

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It was simply magical.


We were all decked out. The only thing missing was the Christmas tree and that was on Saturday’s agenda.


Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland


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We entered this holiday weekend knowing that it would be action packed. Since Ozzie will not to be able to return home for another home visit until days before Christmas, we planned to fit in as many holiday traditions as we could this weekend between Thanksgiving with Toby’s side of the family on Thursday and Thanksgiving with my family on Saturday. Traditions are important to Ozzie, especially holiday traditions, so we planned to squeeze the Christmas traditions that were most important to Ozzie into the four days he was home. We knew it would make for a crazy, exhausting few days but felt it was too important to not try. We made a list of those traditions he was most saddened at the thought of missing, looked at our schedule for the next few days, and plugged in those holiday traditions into every free slot we had between Thursday night and Sunday morning.

The first item on his wish list was to go and see the light show at Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland in Butler, PA:

“Welcome to Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland! You may wonder, why go to such great lengths to create an attraction of this magnitude? It’s simple; we uncovered a passion and followed our dreams. After physically crafting each element, placing and bracing them, tediously programming hundreds of thousands of lights to perform with music, we managed to light up the nights!

There are thousands channels simultaneously directing this orchestra of lights. Using the most technologically advanced equipment in the industry, Christmas Wonderland magically expresses what Christmas means to us. Our hope is for this show to spark a smile on your face like it does ours.

Spreading Christmas cheer is our prime motivation and in doing so, we find great importance in giving back to our local community. This year our show is in six different locations. Within those cities, Christmas Wonderland supports numerous charitable non-profit organizations. Please visit the “locations” tab to see our current partners at each location.

Now sit back… relax… and let the Christmas spirit take you away!”

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be on his shoulders; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

— Isaiah 9:6

We headed there after Thanksgiving dinner.

This was our third year visiting this magical land of music and lights, but the tradition of an annual visit to a drive thru light display has been a holiday tradition since the kids were small and we visited Hartwood Acres yearly until they closed.

Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland is situated on the Butler Fair grounds. The cost is $25.00/vehicle and is worth every penny. The experience begins with a choreographed light display where lights are synchronized to the music playing through the assigned radio station you tune into as you pull in. It is awesome to see the magnificent display of lights blinking and dancing to the Christmas music.

We anticipated large crowds but found few cars wending their way through the light displays. I think everyone was home sleeping off their turkey coma or out battling the Black Friday Christmas crowds.

We made our way through the lights, enjoying the Christmas music that put us at once in the Christmas Spirit.

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 One of our favorite sections of the park was the drive-thru tunnel.

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Tyler didn’t make it even a ¼ mile into the experience before he was fast asleep…a rare occurrence for Tyler. We will blame it on the turkey dinner.

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The rest of us enjoyed the show.

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The second half of the park consisted of large, moving, character scenes. This year’s theme was “Once Upon a Time.”

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This section of Shadrack’s was comprised of scenes from well know Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes, constructed from Christmas lights.

It was a charming display and we had fun calling out the names of favorite Fairy Tale scenes as we passed:

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We were glad we were able to experience this beloved family tradition with the entire family.

Our drive through the land of Fairy Tales ended as all good tales do…

 And they all lived happily ever after…

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Happy Thanksgiving



We had so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. I found my heart spilling over with feelings of humble gratitude for all the blessings God has granted me and those I love. It had been a hard year…by far the most challenging of our lives, and yet here we were, one year after things began to spiral downward, and the sun was finally beginning to peek from behind the clouds. We were feeling hope and peace and joy once again. We had so much to be thankful for!

We spent Thanksgiving Day with Toby’s family.

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 It was a beautiful day.

Although originally to be hosted by Mimi Joy for her sisters and their families, life circumstances (aka: Toby’s mom having recent surgery on her arm) made it impossible for her to host family for Thanksgiving, so we joined the McCleery side of the family for Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt Beth’s house.

Although different from our original plans I think the day worked out just as it was supposed to. Ozzie was really struggling with the hard mix of emotions that seem to be intrinsically intertwined with each and every holiday. It breaks my heart that the joy we find in the holidays are so unbearable for Ozzie, so a low-key holiday celebration with family that Ozzie already has a connection with was a blessing. We would have loved to have seen family from Joy’s side of the family tree, but this set up was much better for Ozzie and where he was emotionally that day. God knew what He was doing, and the day couldn’t have been more perfect.

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We arrived at Aunt Beth’s home earlier than the 1:00 dinner time so we could help Joy with some tasks around the house. The surgery she had on her arm limited her ability to lift anything heavier than a couple pounds for the duration of her recovery, so she had the boys move some wood from her garage and we carried her Christmas decorations up to her apartment, so she could decorate for Christmas.


Then we joined her at Aunt Beth’s house, along with Aunt Cindy, Uncle Kevin, Toby’s cousins and their kids, and Beth’s friend, Teresa. It was a fun group and we enjoyed an afternoon filled with delicious food and enjoyable conversation.

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Dinner was a joint effort with everyone contributing various, yummy dishes and Beth cooking up TWO turkeys. No one went home hungry!

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We were asked to bring drinks and pumpkin pies. I was feeling creative and had some fun with the pumpkin pies.

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It was a perfect Thanksgiving. We loved catching up with all the McCleery clan and the kids enjoyed getting reacquainted with their second cousins.

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It couldn’t have been any more blessed!

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We have so much to be thankful for!

So Much to Be Thankful For!


Last Wednesday was a big day at Patchwork Farm. It marked the 3-year anniversary of Ozzie’s adoption and was also the day of Ozzie’s anticipated arrival home after almost two months away. It was sweet serendipity that these two events coincided in such a blessed way.

Typically, we celebrate Tyler and Ozzie’s “Gotcha Days” with an activity of their choosing but since we had celebrated Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” before he left for his inpatient stay we decided to stay home and let him pick the dinner of his choice for his special day.

At noon I began the two-hour trek to the facility where Ozzie is receiving inpatient trauma therapy. We had a family therapy session scheduled for 2:00pm. These sessions which occur weekly have be held in person or by telephone depending on scheduling. My trek to pick up Ozzie provided a perfect opportunity to have an in-person session.

I walked in and Ozzie was on his feet immediately, propelling himself through the air, into my arms. To say he was excited to come home for Thanksgiving weekend would be the understatement of the year! Our therapy session was focused on establishing a contract for expectations during Ozzie’s time at home and coming up with a crisis plan. Our goal was, first and foremost, safety for each member of the family. Much of this groundwork had already been laid at home prior to picking up Ozzie. Earlier in the week I had scheduled a family session with Tina (Tyler and Ozzie’s outpatient therapist) so the other kids could voice their concerns and process the muddy mix of emotions they were all feeling with Ozzie’s visit drawing nearer.

All the prep work being done on our end and on Ozzie’s end was to help facilitate a happy, healthy, safe reunion at home.

Our therapy session was speedy. Ozzie was eager to get on the road and once his therapist was made aware of all the precautions that had been put in place at home and all the prep work we had been doing in anticipation for Ozzie’s visit, she felt confident sending us on our way.

Ozzie was buzzing with excitement and anxious anticipation.

As we neared home and he began seeing the familiar landmarks of home he could hardly sit still. We pulled into the driveway and he was out of the van before I had it in park, with his weekend bag in hand, eager to see the kids, greet the dogs, and see his bedroom.

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For dinner Ozzie had requested pumpkin chili. This is his favorite dish I make, and it was a perfect meal for a cold, November evening. It was so nice to sit around the dining room table and have all my chicks present.

After dinner we had Family Night. Since we weren’t going anywhere for Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” I thought it would be fun to postpone our Sunday Family Night activities for Wednesday night so Ozzie could join us.

The focus of the lesson and activities I planned were “gratitude.” In honor of Thanksgiving, Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day,” and having the family reunited, I couldn’t think of a better theme for our night.

We began our evening with an object lesson that I had used recently for a class I taught at church. Each person was given a pebble to place in their shoe and a piece of chocolate to place in their mouth and then were instructed to walk around the house. When they had returned I asked how their stroll was. It was interesting to see how different family members responded. Some were quick to complain of the pain they endured while walking around with a sharp pebble in their shoe, while others praised the sweetness of the chocolate in their mouth. I likened the experience to life and pointed out the fact that our lives are filled with both pebbles and chocolates, but it is easy to become so focused on the pebbles in our shoes that we forget all the sweet blessings we enjoy.

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This object lesson led into our discussion of the Bible story of the ten lepers. We read the story and then discussed what lessons we could take away from the story and apply to our lives.

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With a stronger conviction of the importance of expressing gratitude to our Heavenly Father impressed on us all, I gave each person an A B C gratitude sheet and challenged them to come up with blessings they were grateful for that start with each letter of the alphabet.

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We then went around the room and read our answers. I was impressed with the creativity and specific blessings everyone came up with. I then posed the question, “If you woke up tomorrow with only those items on your list that you have thanked Heavenly Father for in the past what blessings would remain?”

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It gave us all pause to consider the many blessings we have never expressed gratitude for…blessings that we perhaps take for granted.

We ended our evening of gratitude with some Minute-to-Win-It games that were Thanksgiving themed.

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We split into two teams and competed in a series of fun, 60-second challenges that revolved around the theme of gratitude.

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It was a fun way to conclude Family Night and a perfect lead in to a weekend of THANKS.

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I don’t know when my heart has been more filled with gratitude and love and awe at God’s loving mercy than it was that evening with all my children gathered around me, my husband smiling from across the room, and laughter filling the house.

Oh, the difference a couple months can make.

God is good, indeed. ❤

A Super Saturday



We woke up on Saturday to a grey, rainy, miserable day…

It was a PERFECT day for crafting!

Saturday was the annual Christmas Craft Workshop at church. This yearly event is a favorite of the girls and I. Each year, fun Christmas crafts are put on display in the lobby of the church and we eagerly gather around to see the samples, trying to decide which classes we will sign up for. This year the ladies in charge did an awesome job and the crafts available were the best yet! The toughest task we had was trying to pick between so many good choices. In the end the girls and I all picked all the same crafts so we could sit and craft together.

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It was a perfect day.


The sound of Christmas music playing,

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The festive décor,


The good company,


And the delicious soups and breads put us all in the Christmas spirit.

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It was a perfect way to spend a rainy Saturday!


And then there was the added benefit of knocking some Christmas gifts off my list (which is why there aren’t too many photos of the completed crafts. We don’t want to ruin the surprises!)

I will be honest, there have been years in the past that this day has been one to dread. Being the coordinator or part of the committee called to pull this massive activity together is a HUGE undertaking and a labor of love. It was fun to show up this year as just a participant.

I am so grateful for the ladies that put together this awesome activity.

You gals are incredible!

It was the best year yet!

Thank you!

(Photo Credit for many of these photos goes to the talented event photographer, Holly Schaeffer <3)