Monthly Archives: June 2016

Toby’s Holiday Trifecta

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Every June, in the course of a matter of days, we have three major celebrations.

I call it “Toby’s Trifecta.”

During one week a year we celebrate Toby’s birthday, his Father’s Day, and our anniversary…all big events.

This can prove to be challenging for the wife who must come up with a way to celebrate him in a special way 3 times in a matter of days. And as tempting as it is… I refuse to lump them together into one big celebration. I know this would be easiest solution,  but as a person whose birthday falls within days of a major holiday (Christmas) I know how depressing it is to receive “lumped gifts.”

And Toby has always done such a fantastic job of making my birthday special despite the after Christmas crash that all are feeling on December 27th that I feel the need to really amp up my game every June.

But I’d totally be lying if I said it was easy.

Buying for boys is hard. It is especially hard buying for Toby because he sets the bar so high. He is my “grand gesture man,” and everything he does is  creative, thoughtful and well… grand. It is hard enough to come up with something absolutely perfect for a man who insists that he doesn’t need anything, and then when I finally do come up with that perfect gift I can’t sit back and rest on my laurels and enjoy the glory…

I have to come up with something equally special two days later and then two days after that!

Aaah! The pressure!

But we were determined to make Toby feel as loved as he makes all of us feel, so we pressed on, determined to make the magic happen. I must say that the older my children get the easier it is becoming because I now have a few extra brains creatively trying to come up with a plan rather than relying on my own creativity…

And the invention of Pinterest has also taken the edge off. 🙂

This year we celebrated:

41 years of Toby’s life.

19 years of marriage.

and 18 years of fatherhood.

Here is a look into our (read with a booming voice) :  Week… of…. Toby!

Father’s Day began with two extra kiddos as we had Q and Nevaeh for half the day. This is so reflective of Toby and how he lives his life. He opens his home and heart so willingly to children not his own and makes them feel welcomed and loved and cared for. I look at the father he has been to all our children, those sired by him and those born to other men, and I see a perfect example of selflessness and fatherly love.

The kids made his day special with Mickey waffles for breakfast before church, and homemade cards and gifts.

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Tyler even made Toby a tie in his primary class at church, and not just any tie: A candy tie!

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It perfectly complimented the other tie he was wearing that was a Father’s Day gift from a few years ago.

In the afternoon Toby received his favorite gift… the best gift he could ask for:

A Sunday nap! 🙂

On Tuesday we celebrated our 19th anniversary. I woke to this beautiful gift.

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My parents surprised us by sending us an anniversary card with a gift card to Applebee’s, so after work Toby and I enjoyed a date night with no children! We had a wonderful dinner and enjoyed uninterrupted conversation as we reflected on the last 19 years and discussed our hopes and dreams for the next 19.

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Then we enjoyed a movie…at a theatre…that wasn’t a cartoon!

We went to see, “Now You See Me 2.” We loved the first movie and were eager to see if the sequel would measure up. It was as good as the first! So exciting! Now that I understand all the plot twists and turns I’d love to see it again and watch for all the hidden clues.

It was a perfect night!

Then round three of Toby’s Trifecta continued on Thursday when we celebrated Toby’s 41st birthday.

In the morning we went shopping so the kids to buy the parts to the gift they had planned. They wanted to make Toby a basket that highlighted some of the big events from 1975: the year he was born. They did their research, made a list and then shopped for items that could represent those big events. They had a lot of fun working together on their 1975 basket for Daddy.

When they got home they added tags explaining each item and included a card that expressed the sentiment that of all the things that came out of 1975 he was the best!

In the evening we put off giving Daddy his gifts until bedtime since we had to drop Rusty off for a young men’s activity at church. While he was competing in the “Wacky Olympic Games” we took Toby to dinner. We ended up going to the Texas Roadhouse which was a fun choice. Toby and I hadn’t been there in 10 years and the kids had never eaten there.

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The boys loved the fact that they provided you with buckets of peanuts to munch on while you wait, especially since you are encouraged to throw your shells on the floor. I think they got a thrill out of doing something so naughty. 😉

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When we were finally seated at the table the first thing Tyler did was pick up the rolled silverware and unrolled his fork and knife from the napkin. Confused, he held up his black linen napkin, and asked, “What is this?”

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Our usual eateries only offer paper napkins with their logo printed on them.  😉

These napkins left him flustered and confused, uncertain if they were there to wipe your face on or to curl up in if you got chilly. His confusion continued up until it was time to leave when he lifted his napkin and asked, “So do I get to take this home?”

This confirms the fact we need to expand our dining horizons beyond the golden arches!

Dinner itself was delicious. The atmosphere was fun and festive and everyone had a wonderful time. I only wish Rusty could have been there. He would have loved the ribs!

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After dinner and picking up Rusty we headed back home for gifts and cake. The kids gave him their 1975 gift basket and I surprised him with tickets to Cirque du Soleil. He has talked about wanting to see this show live for years so I decided to surprise him. He deserves it!

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This week was all about Toby.

We celebrated him as a father.

We celebrated him as a husband.

Today we celebrated his life and the extraordinary way his life has touched countless others. We are blessed to call him ours.

Happy birthday, dear Toby. Happy birthday to you!

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Some final touches…

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We are just about to head out on our first overnighter in our converted school bus. The morning was spent packing the bus, removing all Toby’s tools, and decorating it. This is the task I have been waiting 12 months for. I’ve been itching to get my hands on this blank slate and add my creative vision to our home on wheels.

Here’s a peek of what we have been up to this morning:

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We found many organizing treasures at Ikea including these adorable dog tail hooks for everyone’s towels.

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The master bedroom

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The kids covered the fridge in magnets from previous trips and adventures.

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Our HAPPY place!

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Our kitchen/living/dining room.

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Boys bunks are completed and ready for bedtime.

IMG_4081 (2)On the wall of our bathroom hangs a framed map of the USA with our bus trip route highlighted.

 

We are so excited for our first weekend in our tiny home!

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The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round all through the Town

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That’s right our bus wheels are now going “all through the town”

Yes, We passed our inspection!

Yipee!!

Toby and I were both holding our breath as we waited for news from the mechanic. It seems that the only news we ever get from our mechanic is bad news…very expensive bad news. So you can imagine our shock and delight when he called and told us we had passed and the bus was now street legal. The grand total to make it legal: $39.00. We couldn’t believe it. We have NEVER had a car pass an inspection without something needing fixed or replaced.

It was an unexpected blessing!

The bus conversion work continues to move forward. The inside is nearing completion. We still have cabinet doors to install in the kitchen and bathroom but the doors for all the upper cabinets have been built, stained and installed. We added a touch of whimsy by attaching old license plates (leftover from Tyler’s bedroom border)  to the cabinet faces. I love the punch of color they provide.

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Grace and Molly have finished sewing the curtains for the  boys’ bunks and now they just need to sew the curtains for the bus windows.

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Toby finished building our living room bench. This bench, which sits across from the futon that will serve as the girls’ bed at night, has a seat that lifts to hold the girls bedding during the day when the futon is used as the living room couch.

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We took apart some of the old school bus seats and used the padding inside to pad the bench and then covered it in a durable, dark blue upholstery fabric.

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Near the stairs of the bus Toby covered the wood with cork so we have a place to pin post cards and souvenirs of our travels.

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Next comes the fun part of decorating and adding homey touches.

On Friday, in the midst of strawberry picking, drive-in movies, and visitors, we drove over to pick up our bus. Tyler and I had to leave straight from there to pick up his brother, Sean, but the rest of the crew got to ride the bus back home with Toby.

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Everyone was so excited!

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Toby and I were most excited by the little sticker in the window!

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The remainder of the summer will be spent addressing the final bus projects before we take our school bus turned RV on the road for our 40 day adventure around the United States of America.

Our “to do” list is getting smaller and the anticipation is growing as we make decisions on how we want to paint the exterior of the bus.

This weekend we are taking the bus out on our first trial run camping trip. We are spending the weekend camping with friends and I think this short trip will give us a better idea of what is working and what needs tweaked before we take her on the road for longer stretches.

“The wheels on the bus go round and round all through the town.”

Finding Dory!

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After a  L-O-N-G  13 year wait

the day had finally arrived.

Nemo, Dory, and all our fishy friends were back on the big screen!

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Finding Nemo was THE most watched movie of my children’s childhood. Rusty in particular was enthralled with this Disney gem. When it first arrived in theatres my babies were 2, 3, and 5 years old.

Crazy, right?!

We saw it on the big screen and then when it came out on DVD we watched it about 100,000 more times

And with that sort of fan following devotion you can just imagine the glee and anticipation in our home in the months leading up to its sequel. We heard about the coming of Finding Dory a year ago and have been counting down the days until it hit the big screen ever since.

We knew we couldn’t wait a day longer than opening day and planned to see it on its release date. It was funning seeing my 18, 16, and 14 year old as excited about seeing Finding Dory as their 5, 3, and 2 year old selves were about seeing Finding Nemo 13 years ago.

We decided to make it extra special and go see it at the drive in movie theatre. So after a day of strawberry picking, graduation parties and picking up a few extra little people we drove over to Dependable Drive-in.

We arrived two hours before the movie began, anticipating big crowds with it being opening night for a much anticipated Disney sequel. We were right and our decision to arrive extra early was a good call. We were able to get a spot near the front with a clear view of the screen.

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With us we had Tyler’s biological brother, Sean,  as well as two little friends we were watching for the weekend….

The result was loud, noisy, chaos. 🙂

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The blessing was that we were at a drive in movie theatre where running and yelling and playing is not only expected but encouraged. Around us we were surrounded by other families with children who were running and playing while waiting for the sun to sink low enough in the sky for the movie to begin.

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We packed frisbees and footballs to play with in the grass and cards and board games to keep everyone entertained from 7:00 pm until 9:05 pm.

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Tyler and Sean loved their time together. They played football for two hours and were sadly disappointed when the movie began and they had to quit. Tyler’s siblings are very much like him. They all are very physical and athletic and are happiest when they can be running and rough housing. I was grateful Tyler was able to get that time with Sean. They don’t get together with their siblings as often as we’d like, so when we can get them together we work hard to make it happen.

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But, that is not to say it is easy. It is actually extremely challenging. Both boys have a shared history of trauma and abuse and when they get together there is a regression into those old roles and behaviors. Thier play gets extremely physical and needs to be guided and directed because it is almost as though they don’t know how to play in a learned, healthy way.

The result: a very tired Momma and Daddy by the end of the weekend.

We also had two of the three little ones we have been helping with for the past 6 months. These are the kids who lost their Mom and Grandma in the last 6 months. They have become like unofficial foster children to us as we have stepped in and helped care for them in the midst of a lot of turmoil in their lives. They are leaving next week to move to Kentucky with their father. It is with heavy, hurting, worried hearts that we say good-bye to these sweets souls. This was their last weekend with us and with that knowledge came some hard emotions.

As positive as this weekend was for the children, it left Toby and I feeling drained by the end of it. It is hard seeing the hurt and brokenness that comes from trauma and knowing you can’t “fix” it no matter how much you would give to heal their hearts and their hurts… *sigh*

So we did what we could…all that we could…and that was to give of our time and hearts and home and try to make this weekend a gift and a respite from the hard stuff in their lives.

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As the sun began to fall below the tree line everyone began to get settled, choosing their movie viewing spot for the night. Some sat in the van, others laid down on blankets, while the rest moved their camping chairs to the front of the van.

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Snacks were handed out. Special “Finding Dory” gummy candies were the treat of the evening.  🙂

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Then the national anthem began to play and the movie began.

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It was delightful! I was so afraid that after 13 years of loving Finding Nemo that Finding Dory would be a letdown, but it wasn’t at all. With the same charming main characters and the addition of some new favorites this movie did not disappoint. I found myself grinning ear to ear as I listened to my big 14 year old boy laugh his man’s laugh with the same delight that he did when he was a toddler.

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The big kids “Disney Bounding” with their outfits. Can you guess who they represent? Rusty is Marlin, Gracie is Nemo, and Molly is Dory.

 

The movie ended at 11:00 and then the second feature began: “The Jungle Book.”

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This movie did not hold the interest of the youngest five kids as well as the first movie did and I found myself chasing preschoolers, soothing hurts, and breaking up pick-up football games rather than watching the movie so at 12:20 am we finally threw in the towel, loaded up kiddos, and left to tuck everyone in bed.

Goodnight Dory.

Goodnight Nemo.

Goodnight Fishies, everywhere!

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A Berry Busy Day

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On Friday we left the house at 10:00am and didn’t return until 2:00am. It was a very full day filled with an abundance of blessings.

Our day consisted of strawberry picking, a graduation party, a school bus inspection, a two hour drive to pick up Tyler’s biological brother for a weekend visit, an unexpected request to babysit two of our little friends for the weekend, and an evening at the drive-in movie theatre to see “Finding Dory!”

That is a lot of crazy crammed in one day, but we pulled it off!

Due in large part to Toby!

 Not every man would so willingly take on as much as my man does. He is a living example of being “all in.” He doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t waver. He doesn’t run. When asked to take on three extra kids over Father’s Day weekend he just smiles and says, “What’s one more? …or three more?”  🙂

I think I won the husband lottery and have no idea how I got so lucky. Our life is often crazy and messy and loud and chaotic but there is no one I’d rather be navigating it with than this man. Today, as I write this blog and try to catch up on recording all that happened this weekend, I reflect on the blessing of my husband. Today is our 19th anniversary and I can’t help but think how boring my life would be without him.

It was Toby that called Friday morning from work and told me to have the kids dressed and ready to go. He was done at work and suggested we go strawberry picking as a family. It was a beautiful day, sunny and not too warm, a perfect day to be in the fields.

We drove out to Catalpa Grove Farm. Friends introduced us to Catalpa’s six years ago and it has been our go-to “you pick” farm ever since.

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This was Ozzie’s first time picking strawberries with us since we didn’t make it out to Catalpa’s last summer. He was very excited and the kids were eager to share the experience with him.

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When we arrived we stopped at the front booth to pick up the wire baskets that hold our quart containers. Then we drove out to the fields where we were assigned the rows that we were to pick from.

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We were told to pick as much as we liked (The cost was $3.00/qt) and to enjoy sampling the strawberries while we worked. 🙂

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It took us about an hour to pick 24 quarts. Each person was given three quart containers to fill when we arrived, and then those who finished first helped fill the last few.

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As I knelt in the wet hay that lined the aisles,

with the sun warming my shoulders and the scent of strawberries in the air,

I counted my blessings…

All 6 of them

with strawberry stained lips.

Everyone had a good time picking, visiting, and sampling.

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When we were done we headed back to the front gate to pay for our haul

then we parked and headed inside for another Catalpa tradition:

strawberry slushies!

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Catalpa’s yummy strawberry slushies have become our annual reward for everyone’s hard work in the field. They are made from the strawberries grown there and are a delicious, cold treat.

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After enjoying our slushies we drove back home to put the berries in the fridge to keep until we could process them on Saturday morning,

before we headed back on the road for the remainder of the day.

The next morning, with the “help” of 8 children we cleaned, cut and prepared 24 quarts of strawberries for jam and freezing.

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Half the strawberries were turned into jam (30 jars of jam) and the other half were bagged for future recipes and to be used to make smoothies.

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Even Harley got to enjoy the fruits of our labor when we gave him the bowl of strawberry foam that was skimmed from the top of the jam.

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All in all it was a “Berry” good day!

Work and Play at the Homestead

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We spent this past weekend in Ohio at my parents’ house as we cared for their critters. They drove up to Michigan to visit my sister’s family and we offered to care for their farm while the were gone. The kids were looking forward to a mini vacation at the Homestead. The plan was to fit in a little sightseeing and local fun in the midst of our responsibilities. The weekend didn’t go exactly as planned when the flu hit and left some feeling yucky, but even with that setback we managed to make the best of our weekend away.

The days began and ended with work as we cared for the animals and gardens. Everyone took on different responsibilities from feeding and watering animals, to gathering eggs, to mucking out the barn. The work was not too different than their chore list at home, but somehow doing the work at someone else’s home made it more fun. 🙂

We also had the responsibility of keeping Mimi’s beautiful gardens alive in the midst of 90+ degree days.

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Feeding the trout in the spring room.

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Grace watering the flower gardens.

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Rusty gathering eggs.

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Ozzie giving George his nightly brush down.

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Tyler playing chase with the goats.

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 After our chores were done each day then it was time to play. On the days when we had sick kids we stayed home and the healthy kids enjoyed swimming in Mimi and Pop pop’s pool, soaking in the hot tub, and enjoyed the treat of cable TV. There was a lot of Disney Channel viewing done by all the kids, and a lot of Weather Channel viewing done by Ozzie. 🙂

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Enjoying our nightly dip in the hot tub.

 During times when everyone was feeling well we ventured out for a little local fun. The number one requested stop by all the kids was Hershberger Farm. This farm/bakery is a must see stop in Amish country. This farm hold a special place in our hearts as it was the place where we adopted both our puppies: Winnie, our English Bulldog and Ellie May, our Bashar (Bassett Hound/Shar pei mix) from.

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They no longer sell puppies but they do have a fun free petting zoo where you can hold and feed all sorts of farm animals that they have for sell. This time of year is especially fun at Hershberger Farm with all the baby animals.

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It is funny how much my kids love this place. It is not as though the animals here are a novelty for my farm kids. Between our home and the Homestead we have most of these critters, but for my animal lovers the joy found in a petting zoo never lessens or grows old.

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There is no cost to pet or hold the animals. The only expense comes from the additional activities like the carriage rides or pony rides…

as well as the cost of food if you choose to feed the animals.

We decided to splurge on the $5.00 cost of buying 6 ice cream cones of animal feed. It is such a clever way to package the animal feed because there is no waste. You feed the animals the pellets and then feed them the cone they came in when your cone is empty…It is brilliant!

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The cone also makes a great transport vehicle for feeding the goats on the barn roof.

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At Hershberger Farm they have built stairs up to the roof for the goats to climb. If you want to feed the goats lounging on the roof you place your cone on the conveyor belt and turn the wheel that moves your cone up to the goats who eagerly wait until the cone is within reach.

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It is a lot of fun to do. Some of the kids chose to feed the goats on the roof while others opted to save their feed for the mommas and babies inside the barn.

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Inside the barn there was a regular menagerie of critters including, but not limited to: cows, horses, goats, bunnies, chickens, sheep, ducks, and even a Zebu.

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The Zebu ended up being Rusty and my favorite critter there. With his sweet temperament, excess skin and long, droopy ears we decided it was the Bassett Hound of the cattle world and we want one!

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We spent hours feeding and loving on all the babies. I am amazed we made it out without someone smuggling out a baby of some sort  under their shirt.

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Hershberger Farm also had a new addition to the petting area. Their massive, famous horse, Big Ben, has retired to the fields to enjoy a quieter life in his old age and the new horse on display is Big King. He is a three year old offspring of Big Ben and equally impressive in his size and stature.

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When everyone had their fill of animal loving we walked over to the bakery so that they could each pick out a fry pie to have for dessert after dinner that night. Fry pies are a Amish treat that one must buy when in Amish country. Fry pies are a fried, glazed pastries that are filled with a variety of pie fillings. Each kid picked out a different flavor to try.

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On another afternoon we ventured out of the house to go to Lehman’s… another must see spot to visit in Holmes county.

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 Lehman’s is a really cool store in the heart of Ohio Amish Country that has a lot to offer for both tourists and locals alike. We were introduced to Lehman’s years ago by Toby’s parents when it was just a small hardware store specializing in non-electronic housewares and hardware. Since then they have expanded and what they have to offer is so much more. They have a lot of neat things there. They have unusual sodas and even have a large section of toys. There are charming decorations  on display to add to the experience, including an old fashioned English telephone booth and an Amish buggy.  The place has become somewhat of a tourist attraction and is definitely a good roadside stop to go in and walk around for awhile even of you don’t plan on buying anything.

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We were there at lunchtime and bought a hot dog for everyone. The kids loved eating in the jail cell that sits in the corner of the café.

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We walked around for a while and then the kids were each allowed to pick out a fun soda to drink outside as we lounged in the sun.

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The selection of sodas for sale is crazy! They have just about any flavor you could want including many you probably wouldn’t want. 🙂

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Each kid picked out a yummy flavor and then we purchased one crazy flavor to try. The kids picked out peanut butter and jelly flavor soda to share…and surprisingly declared it “pretty tasty!”

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We left on Sunday to return home after getting the animals and home ready for my parents’ arrival. The timing was good. In the following 48 hours more of us got hit with the same stomach bug that left Molly feeling lousy over the weekend. It was good to be home in our own beds.

It was a lot fun to get away for the weekend but it was nice to return home.

With a name like Smucker’s…

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“With a name like Smucker’s it has to be good.”

We are spending the weekend in Ohio. This time we are not visiting family, but rather making it so our family can visit family. We are animal sitting at the Homestead so that my parents can head up to Michigan to see my sister and her family.

Those who live the farm life know how hard it can be to get away, even for something as important as seeing family. The demands that come with owning farm animals make leaving for a weekend a challenge. It is not like you can simply board your donkey at the local kennel, so my parents asked it we could come and animal sit so that they could visit my sister, Kelly, and see their granddaughter perform in her big dance recital.

My kids were thrilled at the prospect of taking care of the animals at the Homestead. They love it there and were looking forward to their weekend in Ohio.

On Thursday we drove out and since we were leaving from a location an hour north of our home (following an orthodontist appointment) the GPS took us a new way to the Homestead. It was fun seeing some new sights. The route happened to take us through Orrville, Ohio…Home of Smucker’s.

The factory is closed to the public but they do have a large home store that features all of the Smucker’s products as well as the other brands they own. Since we were passing right by it I decided to pull in so the kids could check it out.

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The store is charming.

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The kids were shocked by the vast amount of products they had for sale, not realizing all the familiar brands that the Smucker company owns.

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At the back of the store there is a neat history center that walks you through the timeline of the Smucker’s brand and features their packaging over the years. It is well worth walking through and the kids all enjoyed it.

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Before we left everyone picked out a single-serve container of their favorite jam to enjoy on their breakfast biscuits the next morning. For .25  a jar it was a fun souvenir of our Smucker’s stop and will be a sweet treat in the morning.

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Next stop: The Homestead.

“Bloody Mary” comes back to haunt me

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This week I was at the receiving end of some parental karma payback.

You know what I’m talking about…

That moment when you see the stars aligning and the universe begins laughing because you, as a mom, are at the receiving end of some overdue karma from childhood choices…

Like when your toddler throws herself on the floor in a fit of rage over the injustice of your decision and you suddenly see yourself at age 13…

and you faintly hear the curse that left your mother’s lips,

“I just can’t wait until you have a daughter who is just like you.”

And now, 20 years later, you realize the prophecy has been fulfilled.

Well this week I had one of those moments. Only it wasn’t involving a daughter or a tantrum or even a curse spoken by my mother…

but it was karma…long overdue parental karma that somehow escaped me until child # 5.

I’m talking about the curse of “Bloody Mary.”

I learned the childhood ghost story of “Bloody Mary” at a girls’ sleepover when I was 9 or 10 years old. As a child that was fairly sheltered from scarier things I found the midnight telling of “Bloody Mary” deliciously frightening. It made my heart race and hairs on the back of my neck raise, and I couldn’t wait to share the feeling.

I chose to share with my little sister. I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided that I must share this horror story with my six year old sister…I obviously wasn’t thinking.

I told her and was thrilled to find that she too was significantly frightened by the story of the woman in the mirror, but I didn’t realize how scared until night fell and my mother couldn’t get her to sleep in her room.

I’m sure my mother wanted to kill me as she dealt with the aftermath of my poor choice.

I remember the mirrors on the walls of the house being taken down and turned around, all for the sake of getting Kelly to sleep. They stayed off the walls for months.  I really didn’t understand why my mother was upset. I couldn’t empathize. I didn’t “get it” until I too became a mother and now I look back and I understand.

She was tired.

She just wanted to go to bed.

The guilty party who so delighted in spreading the fear was fast asleep in bed and she was the one awake with a crying daughter.

The poor woman just wanted to go to sleep and instead found herself the victim of the “Bloody Mary” curse.

I get it…

No, I mean I REALLY get it.

This week while talking on the phone with his older biological brother Tyler too was introduced to the ghost story of “Bloody Mary,” and the result was the same.

30 years later and parental karma has come back to kick me in the tail.

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As I sit up in a dark living room for half the night with a child who refuses to close his eyes I can’t help but laugh at  justice so eloquently delivered.

With a frightened child glued to my lap, I raise my glass of lukewarm chamomile tea to you, Mom. (I’m so sorry!)

And to all the other moms who might find themselves awake in the middle of the night paying for the karma of their past

Here’s to us,

and to the “Bloody Mary” sleepless nights of parenting.

My take on “Summer Scheduling”

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Summer has arrived and with the end of school comes our annual family meeting about summer goals and schedules.

Yes, I know what you are thinking.

And, yes, I can see the eye rolls through the computer screen.

But give me a moment to make an argument for summer schedules.

While our days are more regimented than most people are comfortable with…especially in the summer months…I find my family thrives and gets the most out of our summer months because of a summer schedule. For our two children that have come into our lives after a life of trauma and chaos, I find the practice of scheduling and predictability essential. Even for kids that haven’t experienced childhood trauma a schedule can be a stabilizing force. The wonderful feeling of freedom that comes from a summer free of routine and responsibility can leave some children spinning out of control.

The use of a schedule also benefits the Momma. There are less behaviors to correct and less bickering when children aren’t free falling through their day. Which is not to say we don’t enjoy the lazy, unplanned moments of summer. Part of the fun of summer comes from the opportunity to be able to be impulsive and unrestrained by the extra commitments and demands of the school year, so we work to find a balance.

Let me explain.

Many years ago we discovered the benefits of summer scheduling. While we still enjoy the fun of lazy summer days, I have discovered that summer time is a perfect time to focus on growth areas with our children that the busy school year doesn’t allow us time for. The lifting of external demands allows us to redirect our time and energy on those areas of our home that could use extra attention. This could be in the physical upkeep of our home, the spiritual upkeep of our testimonies, the emotional care of our children and our spouses, or even self care that has been pushed to the very bottom of the priority list in the midst of more pressing demands.

As we pray about how to best be a faithful steward of the extra time we are blessed with during those days of summer break, we look at a few main areas…the educational needs of the children, the care of our home,  growing and developing as individuals, and the strengthening of our family.

In the summer months we continue to do school, just on a smaller scale. Typically we do 2 hours of learning a day. We use that time to keep the basics of math and reading fresh in their minds as well as work on areas that need extra remediation. With multiple kids having an IEP because of learning disabilities or Dyslexia I have learned that taking 3 months off school  stalls their progress too much and we pay for it come September, so we just modify our learning for the summer months.

One of the things we discuss at our annual summer planning meeting is what educational goals or what struggles each child  would like to work on over the summer months and then I come up with worksheets, games, and books for them to use as “school” during the summer to meet those needs. For some kids we will work on cursive writing, others will be strengthening their math facts practice, and spelling and reading is a priority for others. This is also the time I will introduce some fun learning games or unit studies that I have been wanting to do with the kids that I just don’t have the time for during the school year.

After the kids all made their lists of summer learning goals we moved onto summer chores.

The kids all have daily and weekly chores they are responsible for. Some are indoor chores, some are outdoor/farm animal chores, and some are seasonal chores that only come during the summer months. My kids keep the same chores for a year and then we switch them every summer. I do this, rather than rotate them daily or weekly, for the sake of my own sanity. It is easier to know who didn’t complete their chore when it is only one person responsible rather than try to remember whose day it was to unload dishes. I also do it this way because they really learn the skills of each job if they do I for a longer period of time. Their chores are assigned based on age, skill level, and ability. The kids rotate through the chores year by year with our hope being that by the time they leave home they have learned all the home/life skills needed to live independently.

Summer is the time we switch kids from one chore to another because that is the season that I have the time to train them at their new task , as well as the time to follow-up on each task daily to make sure they are capable and responsible and accountable for the work they did.

Summertime also allows us extra time to work on life skills that perhaps need to be taught but there is just never time to address them. From the time my kids were little I would schedule 15-30 minutes a day in their summer schedule to work on a life skill. My kids looked forward to this time because we made it fun. We were able to address issues that maybe drove me crazy (like messy clothes drawers) and turn it into a fun learning activity (like a clothes folding relay race.) During this time we taught things like:

How to properly wash our hands, telephone manners, how to address an envelope, how to call 911 in an emergency, how to clean up after yourself when you take a shower, how to cut your own nails, how to answer adults with “yes sir, yes ma’am,” how to braid hair, etc.

Many of these skills are now being retaught to our younger two who have come to us with gaps in their early years of learning these basics. I plan this time of our day by keeping a list for myself during the year of areas that I see a need more training, or skills I see my children lacking, and then use that list for “life skill time” during the summer months.

During this summer planning meeting we also ask the kids to set a few goals for themselves. We ask them to consider a physical, mental, spiritual and educational goal to work on improving over the summer months. They might pick things like “exercise for 30 minutes a day,” or “practice piano twice a day,” or “read scriptures for 20 minutes a day,”

and then we try to plan the time into their daily schedules to allow them to work on those personal goals.

And, of course, what is summer without lazy/ do nothing moments?

A portion of our day is left open for creative, independent play. Tyler calls this time “playing imagination.” During the summer months the electronics are limited and the kids are encouraged to get outside, go explore, be creative. This is their time to be kids and independently lead their own activities. They go on bike rides, pack a picnic and walk down to the pond to catch frogs, take books out to the hammocks and read, play capture the flag or run through the sprinkler. This is my time, while they are out playing,  to tackle my own summer “to do” list of items  that I never seem to have enough time for during the school year when I am busy homeschooling 5 kids and am busy with after school activities. Summer is my time to catch up on those chores I can’t seem to find time for during the school year…

cleaning out drawers and closets, catching up on scrapbooking, filing paperwork, redecorating, refinishing furniture, etc.

Summer is the perfect time to play “catch up.”

So last night was the night we went over all our plans for summer and now I will take all my notes from our family meeting, as well as Toby’s input on things he would like to see done, and issues he would like to see addressed over the summer months, and I will make our summer schedule which we will implement beginning next Monday.

For many this may seem rigid or too structured for the freedom that comes from summer time, but for us this works well. This is our 10th year using a summer schedule and the benefits are huge. I have seen how those 12 weeks of summer can fly by in a blink of an eye. The grand plans you have in May can quickly get lost or tossed aside when August arrives and you realize that summer is almost over. By entering summer break with a plan we find that we get more from our summer months and can begin school again in September in a  much better place if we follow a summer schedule.

It is not for everyone but it works for us.

Last night was also Family Night so in addition to our annual summer scheduling meeting we had some fun. While surfing SugarDoodle I found a link for “human piñata.” After reading the description I knew it was a perfect kick-off for a summer of fun. I made a run to the Dollar Tree to get the supplies needed. I spent $6.00 and bought a t-shirt I could ruin and $5.00 worth of candy.

When I got home I hot glued all the treats to the shirt and hid it away until it was time to play.

The game was simple. It’s basically tag with extra motivation. 😉

 You have a runner and chasers. The runner’s goal is to keep possession of the loot that is glued to their shirt and the chasers goal is to pull off candy when they get within reach of the runner, thus adding to their personal candy stash. The great thing about this family night activity is that the treat is included 🙂

It was a hit!

And a perfect kick-off for the summer ahead.

(The kids took turns being the runner. Tyler was first.)

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Welcome Summer!

A pit stop in Dundee

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The drive home from Gaylord, Michigan takes us 7 1/2 hours. The halfway point and a good pit stop along the way is Dundee, Michigan…

which just happens to be home to the second largest Cabela’s store worldwide…

A fitting reason to stop to stretch our legs according to Toby.

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The stop worked out well. We didn’t need to be home at any certain time on Tuesday, so we had the unusual luxury of being able to waste a few hours wandering and window shopping through this impressive sporting goods store.

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Cabela’s is better labeled an “experience” than a shopping trip. The huge, ornate taxidermy displays make you feel like you are in a Natural History Museum rather than  shopping for waders or bait.

And the best part of the experience is: IT IS FREE!

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Assuming you can resist the urge to impulse buy…

which is not an issue for me, but is perhaps a bit more challenging for Toby 😉

The kids loved walking around and viewing all the wildlife displays.

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And since it was noon on a Tuesday we had the store to ourselves.

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The kids’ other favorite part of Cabela’s is the freshwater aquarium.

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Toby enjoyed pointing out the different types of fish to which Tyler would reply, “So, have you caught that fish before?”

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The most  outgoing resident of the freshwater aquarium was this little turtle that followed the kids up and down the glass.

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When we left Cabela’s we made a quick stop at the gas station next door which also happened to house a Beef Jerky outlet store.

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When we stepped inside to get drinks we had no idea the adventure that awaited us. On display they had dozens of flavors of jerky for sale.

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The best part was they had free samples of all their jerky.

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We had a blast trying all the fun flavors of beef jerky as well as other animal jerky. Here is a picture of the kids giving alligator jerky a try.

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The consensus: the taste was great, the texture…not so great 🙂

Our two hour pit stop in Dundee, Michigan ended up being a perfect conclusion to our Memorial weekend getaway.