Tag Archives: Christmas traditions

Life is Short…Eat Christmas Cookies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We are one step closer to being Christmas-ready!

 

It’s Tree Hunting Time!!

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Thanksgiving was over, which means we had the go-ahead to dive straight into the Christmas season with gusto!

Boxes of decorations were carried up from the basement and Patchwork Farm was transformed. The halls were beautifully “decked” by the close of the day on Friday. There was only one decoration missing…

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It was tree-hunting time!

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Our annual trip to the tree farm to search out the perfect tree, cut it down, and haul it home, is one of my favorite Christmas traditions. I love bundling up in warm clothes, pulling on our muck boots and hiking through the rows of evergreens in search of the perfect tree.

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For the last few years our annual hunt has occurred at Pioneer Trails Tree Farm, a tree farm 35 minutes away in Poland, Ohio.

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We decided to go and get our Christmas tree on Saturday morning.

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Our plan was to decorate it as our Family Night activity on Sunday evening, so Saturday’s only task was to pick the tree and get it home.

Pioneer Trails has a seamless system established that makes the process easy and fun for families.

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Step 1: Pick the TYPE of evergreen that best fits your family’s needs. They had 7 different types of trees on display with signs describing the traits of each type of tree. We were able to see and touch the branches of each type of evergreen, determining the pros and cons of each type. It was helpful to see them standing side by side, allowing for the best comparison.

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Once we had decided on what type of tree we wanted it was time for the next decision…

Step 2: Pick the SIZE of the tree you want. On a large sign posted near the tree display there was a map that indicated where on the farm to find the different types of evergreens. The map was color coded to show where to find the right sized tree for your home. We were looking for a tree that fell into the 10+ feet category so we knew we wanted to head to the orange areas of the map.

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Step 3: It was time to grab a tree wagon and a saw and head out into the field.

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There are different options available for families to get to the four corners of the farm where their dream trees are located. There are tractor driven wagons, horse driven carriages, or you can simply hike to the patch of trees where your tree is planted. This year we opted to catch a ride in one of the tractor driven wagons…

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But we did stop at the horse-drawn carriage long enough to say “hello” to the beautiful horses that carry visitors around the tree farm.

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Step 4: Find the PERFECT tree. This is where all the diplomacy of a United Nations General Assembly comes into play as my 3 boys, with their three distinct opinions, headed out in search of the perfect tree.

After 30 minutes of walking, looking, hemming and hawing, we had narrowed a dozen choices down to one. After a family vote we decided on this beauty:

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Step 5: It was time to cut it down! Tyler asked if he could take on this important job.  He got down on the ground and began to saw.

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After a few minutes of sweat and labor, down it came…

Timber!!

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Step 6: The next step was to load it up. Using our tree sled we worked together to move our tree to the pick-up spot where the wagons would carry us and our tree back to the barn.

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Step 7: Once we reached the barn, the staff took over. They shook the loose needles from the tree and fed it through the binding machine to wrap it up for an easier transport home.

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Step 8: The final step was to pay for our beautiful Christmas tree and get it home where it would be decked out in Christmas splendor on Sunday night.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

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On the Friday morning following our Thanksgiving feast we met up with Grace, Zach and the Tame clan at the movies for an early showing of Frozen 2…

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Which was amazing!

There is always concern that the sequel will fall short of the original, but Disney didn’t let us down. With a stellar soundtrack, a poignant story line and lots of great one-liners from Olaf, we found it charming!

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Typically our Black Friday is spent taking care of a huge bulk of our Christmas shopping, but this year my shopping responsibilities were minimal due to the kids receiving an experience gift as their main Christmas surprise. (Stay tuned for that reveal in a few weeks,) so our day was wide open for Christmas decorating!

The transformation from Thanksgiving to Christmas typically occurs on the weekend following Thanksgiving as pumpkins get carried out for Harley, our pig, to enjoy and garlands of greens are carried up from the basement. That Friday the transformation from fall to winter took us six hours. I focused on the interior while the boys eagerly volunteered to climb on the roof and hang the outdoor lights.

Once I was done culling the chosen decorations from the extras, the boys were set free to dig through the boxes of leftover decorations to transform their bedrooms into Christmas wonderlands.

We enjoyed a lovely day at home as we listened to the sounds of carols and worked to make Christmas come alive at Patchwork Farm.

At the end of the day we sat back, soaking up the Christmas magic that surrounded us, as Braden read our first Christmas story of the season before bed.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

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Christmas Cousins

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After a wonderful Thanksgiving with Toby’s side of the family, we headed to my parent’s house on Saturday. My sister and her kiddos had come into town to celebrate the holiday weekend with my parents, so we traveled west to join the cousins at the Homestead for an early Christmas celebration.

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Because my sister and her family call Northern Michigan home, they rarely travel after Thanksgiving, given the unpredictable weather of winter, so their annual trip south on Thanksgiving weekend is our last time to see the cousins until the Easter thaw.

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Unfortunately Tom, my brother-in-law, had to work, but we did get to spend the day with the rest of the Kirk clan, my parents, and G.G. (my grandma.)

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We arrived around lunch time. We headed for the big red barn where we were spending the day, and while my parents left to pick up lunch at a local pizza joint, we had the chance to catch-up with my Grandma while the cousins played.

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It was Brandon’s first time meeting some of these family members. He was a bit reserved in the beginning but soon warmed up to our crazy crew.

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When Mimi and Pop Pop got back with lunch, the food was spread out on the table and everyone dished up. We enjoyed a feast of pizza, wings, coleslaw and jojo potatoes. It was delicious and everyone ate until their stomach’s ached.

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After lunch we enjoyed the first game of many…

Everyone sat down in anticipation of our traditional White Elephant gift exchange. This silly game, put together with a $20.00 visit to Dollar Tree, always proves to be one of the highlights of the day. There is always much laughter as everyone battles for unknown tacky gifts wrapped in deceptively decorative packaging.

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After the drama of stealing and re-stealing the packages it is time for the big reveal when everyone finally  gets to see what it was that they were fighting so hard for. With the reveal came many more laughs, and that $20.00 investment proved to be the best money we spent. We laughed until our bellies hurt.

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The White Elephant gift exchange was followed by the real gift exchange between cousins.

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We used to handle the Christmas exchange with cousins differently…

Kelly would buy for and send gifts to all my kids each Christmas, and I would do the same for hers, but a few years ago we came up with the idea of letting the cousins draw names and buy for each other. They love it and it allows each of them to thoughtfully consider the personality, likes/dislikes, and preferences of one of their cousins, and then buy a gift that reflects that thoughtfulness.

We messed up the system a bit this year by adding  child #6 to the McCleery crew, making our numbers uneven to the “Kirk five.” Our solution was to have our four boys and Kelly’s four boys exchange names and then have my two girls work together to buy for Lydia and have Lydia shop for both my girls.

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The kids took turns exchanging gifts one at a time, then watching their cousins open the gifts given. The thought that was put into each gift was touching, with each gift perfect for the receiver.

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After the kids had opened their gifts, but before they all scattered, we gathered everyone for some group photos while all the cousins were together.

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The remainder of our day at the Homestead was spent visiting and playing games while the kids climbed hay bales, played touch football, had sword fights, played with the farm animals and enjoyed the blessing of family.

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On November 24th Christmas came a little early to Wooster, Ohio…

How blessed we are!

The Hunt for the PERFECT Tree!

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Thanksgiving was over, which means we had the go-ahead to dive straight into the Christmas season with gusto.

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Boxes of decorations were carried up from the basement, Christmas carols filled the house, and the first Christmas activity of the season was planned…

It was tree-hunting time!

Our annual trip to the tree farm to search out the perfect tree, cut it down, and haul it home, is one of my favorite Christmas traditions. I love bundling up in warm clothes, pulling on our muck boots and hiking through the rows of evergreens in search of the perfect tree.

For the last few years our annual hunt has occurred at Pioneer Trails Tree Farm, a tree farm 35 minutes away in Poland, Ohio.

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I was especially excited about this year’s hunt, because it was Brandon’s first time joining us in this beloved tradition. In fact, it was his first time cutting down a Christmas tree or having a live tree at all.

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We decided to go and get our Christmas tree on Friday morning. It was one of the few windows of time in the upcoming weeks that all eight members of the family would be home during Pioneer Trails’ open hours.

We drove over a bit early so we could be in the parking lot when the gates opened. Grace had work at noon so we wanted to make sure we had at least 45 minutes to find our tree before she had to leave for work in her car that she drove separately, leaving us to finish cutting down, binding, and paying for the chosen tree.

Our plan was to decorate it as our Family Night activity on Sunday evening, so Friday’s only task was to pick the tree and get it home.

Pioneer Trails has a seamless system established that makes the process easy and fun for families.

Step 1: Pick the TYPE of evergreen that best fits your family’s needs. They had 7 different types of trees on display with signs describing the traits of each type of tree. We were able to see and touch the branches of each type of evergreen, determining the pros and cons of each type. It was helpful to see them standing side by side, allowing for the best comparison.

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Once we had decided on what type of tree we wanted it was time for the next decision…

Step 2: Pick the SIZE of the tree you want. On a large sign posted near the tree display there was a map that indicated where on the farm to find the different types of evergreens. The map was color coded to show where to find the right sized tree for your home. We were looking for a tree that fell into the 10+ feet category so we knew we wanted to head to the orange areas of the map.

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Step 3: It was time to grab a tree wagon and a saw and head out into the field.

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There are different options available for families to get to the four corners of the farm where their dream trees are located. There are tractor driven wagons, horse driven carriages, or you can simply hike to the patch of trees where your tree is planted. This year we opted to walk since the section we were “hunting” in was near the front of the tree farm,

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But we did stop at the horse-drawn carriage long enough to say “hello” to the beautiful horses that carry visitors around the tree farm.

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Step 4: Find the PERFECT tree. This is where all the diplomacy of a United Nations General Assembly comes into play as 6 children, with 6 distinct opinions, head out in search of the perfect tree. Once they find the tree of their dreams they then must sell  their siblings on their find.

After 30 minutes of walking, looking, hemming and hawing, we had narrowed a dozen choices down to 3. After a family vote we decided on this beauty:

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Step 5: It was time to cut it down! Brandon asked if he could take on this important job. Having never been involved in the process before, he was eager to be inducted into this beloved tradition. He shed his coat, got down on the ground, and began to saw. After a few minutes of sweat and labor, down it came…

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Timber!!

Step 6: The next step was to load it up. Using our tree wagon we worked together to load our monster tree onto the wagon.

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The kids took turns pushing and pulling it back to the barn.

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Step 7: Once we reached the barn, the staff took over. They shook the loose needles from the tree and fed it through the binding machine to wrap it up for an easier transport home.

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Step 8: The final step was to pay for our beautiful Christmas tree and stop for our traditional tree farm photo, capturing a special memory on film as we celebrated Brandon’s first tree-hunting adventure…

The first of MANY to come!

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Celebrating the Season with Good Friends

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Friday marked the 7th anniversary of the annual co-op girls’ Christmas sleepover. This yearly tradition has been a highlight of Grace and Molly’s Christmas traditions since they were preteens.

Every year the Hudak family opens their home to eight giggly teenage girls who spend the evening doing everything but slumbering. They spend the night eating junk food, playing games, talking, and exchanging gifts.

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I love hearing about all the fun the next day when the girls return home bleary-eyed but happy.

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In the weeks leading up to the party the girls began working on their gifts. Each year the girls all exchange Christmas gifts. The method changes year to year, with some years being a white elephant exchange and some years being a themed gift exchange, while other years the girls have free creative license to make or purchase whatever they choose. This year was one of those years, so weeks before the party the girls began working on their gifts. Molly found adorable Christmas socks at Target and paired them with bottles of matching nail polish for each girl. Grace decided to make the girls an ornament for their Christmas gifts. Using vintage ornaments that she purchased online she created hot air balloon ornaments using wire, cork, vintage buttons and sea glass.

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When the girls returned home the next day they showed off the gifts they received from the other girls. Some of the most unique gifts came from Chessa who had just returned from a semester of college abroad. While studying in London she had the opportunity to travel around the British Isles and brought back a souvenir for each of the girls from her travels. Molly received a charming silver pin in the shape of Scottish Highland Cattle from Scotland and Grace received a beautiful charm for her charm bracelet from Ireland.

Chessa also surprised the girls with traditional English Christmas crackers filled with trinkets and paper crowns.

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It was another fabulous year. As I looked at the photos taken during their fun night I felt so grateful for those sweet girls and the hand of friendship they have extended to my girls. Grace and Molly have been blessed by their friendship with these special young ladies and I am so grateful for each and everyone of them.

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As I look back on photos (taken by other moms) of my children at their various activities this past month I can’t help but be thankful for all the amazing friends my children are blessed by. The teenage years can be hard, and I recognize what a rare blessing it is to have my children surrounded, supported, and encouraged by such amazing peers. I have no doubt that a loving Heavenly Father handpicked these friends for each of them knowing how much they would need them during this season of their life.

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A few weeks ago, while caroling at a nursing home with their youth group, this crazy crew got stuck in an elevator.

 Packed in like sardines, there were 18 youth and leaders trapped in very tight quarters for 20 minutes while waiting for maintenance to free them. As I looked at the photos from the event I couldn’t help but smile but also reflect on how our journey through mortal life can be likened to this unexpected situation. Here we are, placed in a specific corner of the world, at a specific time in history, surrounded by a specific group of fellow sojourners, all hand selected by a loving God who knows just who we each need to support us and encourage us in our journey through mortality. Who we are “stuck in an elevator” with is isn’t by chance.

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I truly believe it to be divine serendipity.

And how blessed I feel to have my family walking with these fellow travelers through life.

There is much to be grateful for this Christmas season,

But good friends are at the top of the list!

Reindeer, and Rabbits, and Robin…Oh My!

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We all have our own favorite holiday traditions.

In fact, it sometimes feels as though the Christmas season doesn’t last nearly long enough to fit in everyone’s favorite holiday activities amid the busyness of everyday life that continues to march on through the month of December…

despite everyone’s wish that we could just “play” all month long.

We have learned that we must prioritize.

We begin the Christmas season with a family meeting where we discuss the family’s vision for the upcoming month and each family member gets to weigh in on what family traditions are most important to them. Using this “Top 7” list we begin to pencil in some of the activities on the December page of the calendar. Many of these traditions take place at our weekly Family Night when everyone is home together. Because of Ozzie’s absence this holiday season we have worked hard to reformulate the way we do some of these beloved traditions so that he wouldn’t have to miss out. It isn’t the same as him being home, but it is the next best thing.

Christmas time is about unconditional love, service, sacrifice, giving of oneself, and family, and we have tried to bring those key values into our visits with Ozzie.

Sunday was our cookie decorating day. Having baked 4 dozen sugar cookies on Saturday, Sunday was freed up to enjoy the fun part of the project which was the decorating. Knowing how much Ozzie loves this particular Christmas tradition we brought to our weekly visit a container of homemade sugar cookies, icing, and lots of sprinkles and glitter so he could decorate, share, and of course eat his fill of cut-out cookies.

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When we returned home (after a great visit with Ozzie) we proceeded to do it all over again with the other four kids. Supplies were gathered and spread across the plastic tablecloth as everyone took their seats around the dining room table.

But someone was missing.

Tyler was hiding once again.

These last two weeks have been fraught with high anxiety and hard emotions. I think the combination of the holiday season, and all the hard emotions that come with the holidays when you have had the past that Tyler has, as well as the realization that Ozzie is coming home in a few days (which brings with it feelings of excitement and joy but also feelings of anxiety and fear) has led to an increase in his already noticeable facial tics ,as well as an increase in his tendency to hide in closets or small spaces…a regression that occurs when he is afraid.

I knew he was struggling and knew it was better to not push, so we began decorating cookies with Tyler hiding behind the Christmas boxes in the corner. My hope was that as he listened to the lightness and laughter of our activity his anxiety would decrease and he would emerge when he was ready…

And he did.

Eventually everyone was seated at the table enjoying this favorite Christmas tradition.

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I loved the creativity shown as family members took traditionally shaped cut-out cookies and found within the familiar lines less familiar objects…

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Gingerbread men were turned into reindeer:

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Stockings transformed into bunnies:

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Trees became clocks:

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Presents were turned into snow globes:

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Tyler turned his gingerbread boy into Batman’s sidekick, Robin:

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And Toby took a deformed stocking and found within its distorted lines the Statue of Liberty:

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The end result was 3 platters of the most creative Christmas cookies EVER,

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And a night filled with special family memories.

Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland

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For many years we enjoyed a special family tradition that centered around Christmas lights. Each year, from the time the kids were toddlers, we would visit Hartwood Acre’s Celebration of Lights for a family night activity in December. It was a drive thru Christmas light display. We would pack the car with cocoa and Christmas cookies, put the kids in their PJs, and drive to Hartwood  Acres Park to drive thru the impressive light display. It became the activity that really made it feel like Christmas had arrived.

A few years ago I went online to look up the dates and times for Hartwood Acre’s Christmas display and was crushed to find out that they weren’t reopening due to limited funding. The money paid for the entrance fee went towards a local Pittsburgh charity and the organization depended on donors to help offset the cost of  Christmas lights and electricity. The funds didn’t come in so we were out of luck. That was the first year we had missed since the kids were babies.

The following year we crossed our fingers that the funding would be there and that the Christmas display would reopen, but alas, year two passed with no light display.

By the following year we were looking for alternatives to this beloved tradition. Last year we went to Overly’s Country Christmas, which was fun in its own right, but their light display didn’t hold a candle to Hartwood Acres.

This year we heard about a traveling light show that was coming to our area:

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“Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland is making its Pennsylvania debut at the Big Butler Fairgrounds in Prospect this Christmas season.  This award winning Christmas light and music extravaganza is unlike any show you’ve seen. Guests simply tune in their radio, and watch the magic unfold as they drive through hundreds of thousands of brilliant LED lights dancing in perfect synchronization with the music filling their vehicle.  The lights will glow every night from November 20th through January 3rd.  It’s like a front row seat at the most dynamic Christmas concert ever!

Plus, you can catch a glimpse of how the crew from the North Pole spent their summer vacation. It’s Santa’s Beach Party! Come see huge, custom displays featuring comical snapshots of Santa, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, and the elves playing in the sand, rather than the snow.  Santa can ride a wave, but surprisingly, he can ride a friendly whale too.

Shadrack hosted its first light show in 2007, and because of the tremendous response, has expanded to new locations each year and has continually added new elements to keep the show exciting. This spectacle takes light shows to a whole new level, integrating cutting-edge technology, lights, music, and movement with all custom-built, animated elements featuring 100% environmentally friendly LED lights. Some of the music is even arranged and performed by the talented Shadrack crew.”    – Butler County Tourism

We decided to check it out.

On Monday we loaded up the van and stopped to pick up some friends who we thought would enjoy it too.

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It was a rainy night but that didn’t deter us. The result of the yucky weather was low crowds… which was wonderful!

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The cost for the experience was $25.00 a car, which for our crew worked out to about $2.75 a person for an hour of amazing Christmas fun…

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It was well worth the price!

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We were blown away. We didn’t think we’d ever find a drive thru light display that could compare to Hartwood Acres, but this easily matched it and perhaps exceeded it.

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When we arrived we tuned our radio to the assigned station and watched as the magic took over. The choreographed Christmas music playing along to the dancing, flashing lights was awesome.

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The kids all LOVED it!

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The pictures really don’t do justice to the experience. Everything is bigger, brighter, a more awe inspiring than could be captured through a lens, but here is a peek to give you a small idea of what the experience was like.

On the way home the happy chatter about the lights went on and on until some started nodding off.

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For those that live locally the McCleery’s give Shadrack’s 9 thumbs up!

Check it out!

O Christmas tree

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Larry Wilde has been credited with saying, “Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.”

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That may be true but I have also noticed that as my children have grown taller their perspective has changed. The 6 foot tall tree that once appeared to be 30 feet tall no longer cuts it. They want that 30 foot tree!

Saturday we decided (after looking at our December calendar and noticing how quickly it was filling up) to go tree hunting. Normally this is a family activity that takes place later in the month but one we often struggle to fit in since it has to be done on a Saturday due to the shorter days and the danger of wielding a chain saw in the dark.  So after a morning of cleaning and decorating the house we decided to head out and find the “perfect tree!”

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We drove to McIntyre tree farm, where we have done our tree hunting for the last 6 years. Armed only with enthusiasm and a chainsaw we headed into the fields. The first field we visited had a beautiful selection of well manicured trees, which the kids all immediately dismissed due to size. They wanted a TALL tree even if it meant we gave up the beautiful shape of the six footers. As Toby and I walked around examining the trees from all angles the kids had a harder time focusing. The ground was still snow-covered from the big snowfall the previous week so they took advantage of the snow and all the trees to use as hiding places and had a snowball fight.

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Snowball fight!

Snowball fight!

We finally interrupted their game long enough to ask them to go stand by the tree they thought was “the one.” Molly, being a smart aleck, ran to this one.

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The kids stopped their snowball fight long enough to inform us that none of these trees would do. We needed to go BIGGER so we headed to the other field where the trees are older, not quite so pretty and manicured, but much larger. The first tree the kids ran to was a 25 foot tree that resembled a mushroom. Toby said, “Uh…No.” Once again the kids lost sight of the task at hand as they discovered the magical hidden spots found between the large trees that had grown together. I was soon following them rather than tree hunting when Gracie yelled there was something I needed to see. I followed Rusty under branches and around trees. As my hair was snagged by the pine branches I debated whether the trek was worth it. Then I broke free into a clearing.

We had found Narnia!

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In that little clearing hidden by 3 tall pines we found a magical world. All it needed was a lamp post.

Toby finally convinced us to leave Narnia by warning us that the sun was quickly setting and we still didn’t have a Christmas tree. It was time to focus on the task at hand and find our perfect tree. We finally stumbled on a compromise in the form of 12 foot tree. It wasn’t quite as tall as the kids had hoped but it resembled a Christmas tree not a mushroom. It was a winner! Let’s cut this baby down!

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Our Christmas tree hunt is always one of the highlights of the Christmas season for me. There is something special that occurs as you traipse through the woods together on that special mission of finding the perfect tree. I don’t know if it’s the crunch of the snow under your boots, the smell of pine in the air, or perhaps it is just the work that it takes to hunt down and cut down the perfect tree that makes the experience so sweet. Maybe it has nothing to do with the “hunting” at all. Maybe it has everything to do with who you are hunting with..

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I’m not sure… All I know is that something special, something memorable, something magical happens every year in the fields of McIntyre farm as we search for the perfect tree.

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