Tag Archives: farm life

“I’d Pick You”

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One of my favorite summer traditions is our annual excursion to Catalpa’s Farm for strawberry picking.

It is a tradition we have enjoyed for almost a decade!

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Soon after moving to the area, friends from church invited us to go strawberry picking with them at Catalpa’s. We had a blast filling our baskets with strawberries warmed by the sun, and reaping the rewards of our efforts for the remainder of the year, as we indulged in homemade strawberry jam and strawberry smoothies.

Since that first visit, we try to make this an annual event, loading up on strawberries for the year ahead.

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This annual excursion usually occurs the weekend of Father’s Day, which allows us to enjoy all sorts of strawberry treats for Toby’s trifecta of holidays that occur the third week of June. This year Father’s Day fell on our anniversary (June 21st), and Toby’s birthday is the 23rd. Thanks to our trip to the strawberry fields we were able to celebrate his special days with strawberry pie, strawberry shortcake and homemade strawberry ice cream…Yum!

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On Saturday morning we gathered our quart baskets for a morning of strawberry picking.

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Our large picking crew was reduced to just the four of us that were left at home…

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But Grace ended up joining us for the morning (since Zach had to work), increasing our numbers to 5 1/2!

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We arrived and were directed to our row of strawberry plants where we promptly got to work picking and eating…

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One for the basket…one for me…Yum!

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There is nothing better than eating ripe strawberries warmed by the sun…

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Tastes like summer!

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We worked for an hour, filling 29 quart baskets and eating another quart or two as we worked.

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While we were there, we ran into those very friends from church that first introduced us to Catalpa’s. Picking strawberries a few rows away were the Biernessers. After a quick “hello” we got back to work, filling our remaining baskets before the heat of the sun drove us out the fields.

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As is tradition, we ended our picking party with fresh strawberry slushies from the farmer’s market out front. They were delicious…a perfect reward for our efforts in the field.

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At home we turned our baskets of berries into pints of strawberry jam and strawberry syrup so that we will be able to enjoy the taste of summer all year long!

Learning a bit about “Making do”

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Life has thrust us into a simpler existence…

An existence that moves at a slower pace, promotes stillness and self-reflection. Life has transitioned away from the frantic pace of keeping up to a slow crawl that promotes mindfulness and presence. The tragedy that is unfolding around us has left mankind readjusting their pace and their trajectory, as we all get use to a new kind of “normal,” but crisis and chaos have the power to birth a better way of being.

One of the blessings I have seen born out of the challenges of today, is a new way of navigating life. No longer driven by speed and ease, we find ourselves navigating by new standards. Even in this short season of quarantine I see in myself a greater consciousness of how finite things are. It has changed the way I live, the choices we make, the care we give, and the things we value. Gone are the days when everything was expendable and replaceable. We are all now looking at our environment through eyes of cautious conservation, and old adages like this one, are becoming our guiding principle:

use it up

Haircuts at Home

After weeks of the boys getting shaggier and shaggier, and barber shops shut down around the state, we decided to take matters into our own hands. The impromptu front porch barber shop was born out of a request by Grace who asked if I could give her bangs. She was looking for a change and decided bangs were just the thing she needed to give her a lift.

When Braden heard that Grace was getting her hair cut, he quickly requested that he be added the list. Rusty also chimed in that he was in need of a haircut and Tyler, who had no interest in getting his hair cut, was added to the queue despite his protests.

We started with the boys. Toby ran the clippers and I worked with scissors.

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Rusty’s cut was nice and easy, as he just wanted his hair buzzed.

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Braden and Tyler chose to buzz the sides and keep the top long, with just some trimming to get those curls under control.

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This was my first attempt at recreating the cuts they usually get at Great Clips, but I was quite proud of the finished results. Not bad for a pandemic haircut!

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When the boys were all trimmed up and looking more like young men than cavemen, Grace took her place in the hot seat so I could give her the bangs she was requesting. She was tickled pink with the finished look:

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Making Masks

Our dining room has slowly transformed into a greenhouse for the garden seedlings and a sewing center for making masks.

Last Friday Grace, Molly and I sat down to make plans for sewing masks, following  Governor Wolf’s announcement that all Pennsylvanian’s should be wearing masks when out in public. We spent time online researching different patterns and then went searching through the house for needed supplies. Our plan was to set up an assembly line in the dinning room and use the down time between General Conference sessions over the weekend to sew masks for family and to donate to others.

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I was in charge of the scissors and took on the task of cutting out the pieces for the masks.

Molly took her place at the ironing board, ironing and pinning the pieces I gave her before they were handed over to Gracie to be sewn together.

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Working together we were able to sew mask after mask while visiting and enjoying each other’s company.

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The finished results were modeled by these two (not so) eager models:

Prepping the Garden

Never has the necessity for garden felt as pressing for our family as it does this year. With so much uncertainty in the world the push to prep our garden, with the goal of growing fresh vegetables at home, has driven us to reassess our gardens. The last few summers have been so busy that our gardens have been sorely neglected.  Busyness certainly isn’t an issue at the moment so we have been focusing on getting our gardens ready for planting,

Part of that process includes some new raised beds.

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This is a project Braden and Toby have been working on together.

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As a result, Braden has been learning some new skills while also being a big help for Toby.

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Making our own Fun

It has been a blessing to be forced to slow down and focus on the important rather than the urgent. Having the time to just be present with my family has been the greatest gift that has come out of this challenging time. Daily family walks, meals at the table with the entire family present, pockets of playfulness and unscheduled discovery have been great  gifts.

The other day, as we were working in the yard, the kids came across a pile of unopened geodes that we brought home from our Kentucky houseboat trip a few years ago. We lugged them home with plans to break them open at home but they ended up in a forgotten pile of rubble at the corner of the yard.

Once rediscovered, yardwork was put on hold, hammers were gathered and we enjoyed an impromptu science lesson on the front walk.

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The kids took turns breaking open the geodes to discover the beauty hidden within very ordinary looking stones…

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Enjoying the experience with childlike wonder.

Getting Ready for Bees

Toby has been kept busy with many a project around the house. Not only is he using this time at home to work his way down the list of repairs that have needed done, but he has also taken on some new projects as we focus on increased self-sustainability at Patchwork Farm.

One of those projects has been to build a second beehive.

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In May he will be picking up the bees he ordered from a local farmer, so for now he is getting their digs all set before they move in.

Cleaning out the Deep Freezer

We have also been accomplishing many cleaning and organization tasks around the house. We have dedicated a couple hours each day to work on cleaning out and organizing those areas of the house that tend to be overlooked. We have been working on cleaning out and organizing the basement. As part of that project we have been cleaning out the deep freezer and getting rid of the food that has expired.

Harley, our pot belly pig has been the greatest benefactor of our efforts…

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Although the dogs and cats have reaped the rewards as well!!

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The other day Molly took a tub of expired cool whip out to Harley, making him the happiest pig to ever walk the earth!

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You would have thought he had died and gone to heaven.

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His grunts of joy and enthusiastic consumption of that sweet treat made us all smile with delight.

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Oh, how we love our silly pig!

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A New Chicken Yard

The chickens have also benefited from Toby’s increased time at home during this season of quarantine. We moved the new chicks into the old chicken coop and needed to rehome the older hens to a different area of the farm. We decided to use the frame of the old, torn trampoline, along with materials found around the farm, to build a new chicken house and chicken yard outside.

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Once the area was set up and secure, Toby and Rusty moved the old chickens to their new digs, so as to make space for the 13 new chicks.

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It was an ingenious solution that made use of what we had on hand.

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It has been a great blessing to revert back to a place where ingenuity and creativity are needed. Out of daily needs (that can’t be met in traditional ways) come solutions that are even better than the “typical” and “easy” ways things were done before.

I appreciate the skills my kids are learning as a result of a situation beyond our control, and we all find ourselves exercising the muscles of thriftiness, problem solving, making do, gratitude, and contentment.

It is a step back towards a simpler way of living,

And that is the blessing that has been born of the tragedy that is unfolding around us.

God is good.

Always good.

 

 

 

 

 

Just by the Skin of our Teeth

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It is crazy how much life has changed in the last few weeks. So much is uncertain right now, including Molly’s mission plans. So much is up in the air. For this reason we are grateful we got so much visiting squeezed in over the last few weeks.

Originally, Molly was to be set apart as a full time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this coming Friday…as in 4 days from now. Tickets were purchased for us to fly her out to Utah this Saturday, with plans to spend a few days together in Utah before dropping her off at the Missionary Training Center on April 1st.

Currently the plan is for her to be set apart as a missionary on March 31st with her period of missionary training to begin April 1st in the comfort of her own bedroom. Her MTC experience will be virtual, with her training taking place for 6 hours a day through a virtual classroom. She is scheduled to head to Utah on April 28th to begin her mission, but with things changing worldwide by the hour, we will see where things stand a month from now.

Despite a worldwide pandemic delaying her departure, we are grateful we planned on her leaving at the end of March, because she was able to see many friends and say her good-byes to many loved ones before we went into self-isolated lockdown. Our last few visits were cancelled due to closures that came down the pike over the last week. Our scheduled trip to the temple with Mimi Joy was delayed due to temples being closed. A final visit with Ozzie and G.G. were also delayed due to their facilities locking their doors to visitors. We are hopeful Molly will be able to squeeze those visits in before she leaves…

Whenever that may be.

Here are some of the final visits she was able to enjoy before the world got sick:

On the Sunday before our church canceled meetings and Sunday services, Molly was able to visit the Single’s Ward in Pittsburgh for a final time to say goodbye to friends there:

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On the following Friday Grace hosted a farewell party for Molly with all of Molly’s best buddies from co-op… those childhood friends who are her nearest and dearest soul sisters. They enjoyed an evening of good food, crafts, and time spent reminiscing and loving on each other before a 18 month separation.

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The next day Molly headed to Zach’s family’s house to visit Heather. Zach’s younger sister, Heather, is one of Molly’s best friends and she wanted to make sure they fit in a visit before she left for Utah.

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On Monday we met up with Aunt Beth at Eat n’ Park for breakfast and a catch-up. We all adore Aunt Beth and don’t see nearly enough of her. Molly wanted to make sure we could get together with Beth so she could say good-bye.

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And of course we had our last trip to the Homestead before we went into lockdown. While we were out there we celebrated Gracie’s March birthday and Molly’s April birthday with Mimi and PopPop.  Here are some additional photos of our time in Ohio eight days ago:

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It is crazy how much things have changed in a week!

We are still not sure what will happen over the next month or two with Miss Molly. We will be sure to keep you in the loop. Her uncertainty about upcoming plans is certainly being mirrored by the uncertainty we are all feeling as we navigate unchartered waters,

But we are grateful for the visits she was able to squeeze in before we all hunkered down.

Stay safe, friends!

 

The Magic of Christmas Eve

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Christmas Eve…a night filled with the magic of possibilities!

Nowhere is the magic more pronounced than the Christmas magic found at the Homestead on Christmas Eve.

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Toby had the day off work so we packed up the car with sleeping bags and pillows, Christmas pajamas, bags of stocking stuffers, wrapped presents, and some very excited children, and headed out to Ohio.

We arrived and were greeted by the enthusiastic barking of Ranger and Rosie, the resident German Shepherds. After long-overdue hugs with Travis and Krista, our family from the Lone Star state, and Christmas greetings with Mimi and Pop Pop, we bid them good-bye as they left for early Christmas Eve mass.

While they were gone we began preparations for our Christmas Eve feast of appetizers and dips. The spread was as abundant as it was varied.

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Everyone pitched in to help,

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With breaks taken for sampling and checking out the action on Santa Tracker.

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Despite knowing the truth about Christmas, Ozzie, my map loving kiddo, still loves watching Santa’s progress across the world on Christmas Eve.

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When the rest of the family arrived home, the celebration began in full force.

We had Grace and Zach with us on Christmas Eve for a few hours, before they left for home to spend Christmas Day with Zach’s side of the family.

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It was a joy to have them with us for our Christmas Eve traditions!

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The newlywed’s first Christmas

Our evening of fun began with our evening feast.

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We enjoyed filling our bellies with delicious food while feeding our souls with family time as we chatted and laughed together.

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The O3- united again!

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Oh,  how I love this boy of mine!

 

After dinner it was time for games and our annual white elephant gift exchange. This is a tradition that began a decade ago and always leads to many laughs.

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This is a tradition I have responsibility over, which means each year I shop for inexpensive, but ridiculous gifts, that I wrap up to look far more appealing than the gift within actually is. Dollar Tree is my usual shopping spot as it offers the weird and the unusual for as cheap as can be. After 10 years of my annual shopping trips to Dollar Tree I found I had exhausted all the possibilities for our white elephant game.

It was time to up the stakes!

Five Below, here I come!

The result of a slightly increased game budget and a new shopping venue paid dividends.

Everyone battled for gifts they were certain held treasures.

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Once everyone had a gift in hand, we all took turns unwrapping and revealing our AWESOME wins!

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Braden’s face speaks volumes!

And boy were they belly-laugh inducing!!

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Tyler enjoying his remote control poop…

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Travis trying out Krista’s voice altering machine.

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I think Grace loves her new board game!

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Mimi creating beautiful music with her piano tie.

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It was like something from a SNL skit.

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Rusty made his own Forky!

After our game we bundled up and headed to the barn for another Christmas Eve tradition…

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Dad reading the Christmas story from Luke as we sat in the stillness of the barn.

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It is always the highlight of my Christmas. There is something holy about the experience as we sit in the darkness of the barn, listening to the slow cadence of my father’s voice as he tells the story of Christ’s humble birth so many years ago…

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Interrupted only by the occasional call from a goat.

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Our time in the barn ended with the singing of a Christmas hymn and some donkey lovin’ on Georgie before we made our way back to the house.

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Grace and Zack prepared to take their leave. They had a 2 1/2 hour drive ahead of them, made all the more arduous by the thick fog that had settled on the valley…

And the other kids unwrapped their gifts of new pajamas for Christmas Eve.

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“Yabba Dabba Doo!”

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The Flash, A ballerina pig, Genie, and Jack Skellington

Warm and snuggly, they headed off for bed while the rest of us brought Christmas to life by filling the empty spaces around the tree with beautifully wrapped packages,

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And filled the stockings with trinkets and treats.

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Christmas could now arrive!

And then it was off to bed for a few stolen winks of sleep for the adults before the festive fun resumed.

 

I’ve Never met a Pumpkin I didn’t like!

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I LOVE this time of year.

October has and always will have my heart.

I love the weather, the smells, the changing leaves, and the activities attached to this month…

And I tend to fill those 31 days to capacity as I try to fit in all the fall fun I can before the weather turns, the evenings darken, and the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season comes down upon us.

With the month of October comes my favorite holiday of the year…

HALLOWEEN!

It is with great enthusiasm we plan our costumes and decorate the house. One tradition that accompanies this holiday is the annual family pumpkin carving night.

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This year I lucked out when I stumbled across an exceptional deal on pumpkins when driving past a country farm. Sitting by the roadside were HUGE pumpkins that were being sold for $2.00/ each, regardless of size. Well, who could pass up a deal like that?! Rather than simply buy the kids each a pumpkin like I usually do, I decided to go ahead and buy 8 so Toby and I could each carve our own pumpkin.

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We decided Sunday night was the night.

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We have reach the point of life where we rarely have a night where everyone is home together. As much as I hate it, the reality of this season of life is that school schedules, work schedules, church commitments, and social obligations make catching everyone at home, all at one time, a near impossibility. Because of this we have set aside Sunday evening as our family night. After dinner on Sunday we gather in the living room to calendar out our week as a family, hold our weekly family council, and enjoy a lesson, activity or game, and fun treat as a family. Even this commitment has become more challenging with Gracie’s YSA congregation’s meetings now beginning at 3:00 pm each Sunday. This means that Grace isn’t getting home until almost 8:00 on Sundays… but we are making it work. We just save our Family Night activity for 8pm on Sunday nights.

This past Sunday was pumpkin night.

As we prepared for Gracie’s arrival home we cleared the dining room table, covered it in plastic, and carried all the pumpkins in from outside. With the addition of empty bowls carving knives, and metal spoons we had everything we needed to create jack-o’-lantern magic.

When Grace got home we jumped right into the festivities. Everyone chose their pumpkin and began sketching out their design on their pumpkin. I love seeing how creative everyone is with their ideas. And it is always neat to see how reflective the design is of the carver who is creating it.

It was especially neat to watch Brandon as he experienced this family tradition for the first time. He is 16 years old and this was his first time carving a pumpkin, and as his mom this “first” was as delightful as it was watching it with my older kids when they were toddlers experiencing this tradition for the first time…

The only difference: Brandon was a lot less messy and a lot more capable of safely holding a knife.

Everyone jumped in to the task at hand and soon completed pumpkins were scattered across the table.

Tyler created a happy jack-o-lantern.

 

Ozzie paid homage to Gracie’s automobile with a Kia logo.

 

Rusty, our Disney fan, carved a delightful Winnie the Pooh pumpkin.

Molly, our rain lover , carved her pumpkin to reflect a personal delight- autumn rain showers!

Gracie’s pumpkin reflected her educational pursuit of sign language with an artistic carving of the sign for “I love you.”

And finally Brandon decided to keep his first jack-o’-lantern traditional, with a carved  face, cutting the eyes into hearts and topping his pumpkin with a crown.

Toby decided to carve his pumpkin into a night scene, complete with a shooting star.

And I transformed my pumpkin into Jack, from the Disney classic, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

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The guts from eight pumpkins were sorted through, as we pulled and rinsed the seeds to prep them for roasting, and then we headed outside to light all the pumpkins from within and watch them glow on the front porch.

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Standing back  and looking upon our completed creations made my heart swell with love and gratitude for the simple things in life that brings such joy.

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They were simply magical!

For dinner we enjoyed Molly’s dinner creation of stuffed pumpkins. This is a recipe that was passed down from Toby’s mom after she made it for the kids one Halloween weekend when they were little.

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We felt it was time to resurrect this recipe and Molly took on the job of gutting eight pie pumpkins and helping me make the rice and ground beef filler that gets cooked inside. The finish result was delicious and festive…

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A perfect ending to our fun, fall, family night!

Frying Pan Farm Park

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In planning for our trip to Virginia for Rusty’s five day Envision camp, I began searching out things Tyler and Ozzie could do during the day while Rusty was at camp. Since I was flying solo for the week I was looking for things that would be engaging to the two boys, things that were free or cheap, and preferably that could be accessed without having to jump back on the DC beltway.

Staying just outside Washington D.C. led me to consider sites within the city. There is certainly much to see and do (for free) within the heart of D.C, but concern about travel time and making it back to Rusty by 4:00 each day led me to shy away from the Metro for this visit and instead we explored sites around Fairfax county.

Our first day of fun led us to Frying Pan Farm, a Fairfax County Park.  It was Tyler’s “Gotcha Day” and a day at the farm was a perfect way to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of his adoption. Tyler is my animal lover and Frying Pan Farm was just the sort of place that Tyler loves. Admission was free and it was only 20 minutes from George Mason University where Rusty was spending the day.

It was a win-win!

“Frying Pan Park preserves a reminder of Fairfax County’s rural heritage from 1920 to 1940 at Kidwell Farm. Visitors can see or pet draft horses, pigs, goats, cows, sheep, rabbits, chickens and peacocks.

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The four-room schoolhouse built in 1911 is a hub of arts and crafts, fitness, children’s classes and summer camp programs. The Moffett Blacksmith Shop contains the smithy’s original equipment. The Country Store housed a shop and classroom for vocational agriculture from 1919 to about 1930. The Frying Pan Spring Meeting House was built in 1791 and is designated a “Virginia Landmark.”

Pigs, cows, horses, turkeys, peacocks—these aren’t the usual beltway suspects when you think of visiting D.C. but if you’re looking  afternoon away from the hustle and bustle, pack up some sandwiches and hit the road for Frying Pan Park. My boys had a ball petting the sheep, checking out the pigs, and playing on the tractors. Since it’s a working farm, you’ll probably hear mooing, bleating, and baaing. We found it to be a nice respite from all the honking we heard on the beltway.

We began our visit at the visitor’s center where we grabbed some info on the farm before swinging by the barns. In the visitor’s center guests can get brochures, use the bathrooms, and grab a map that will guide you around the farm. 

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Within the Visitor’s Center is also a small museum that introduces guests to life on the farm with fun interactive exhibits and comparisons of farm life on a 1940’s dairy farm to a dairy farm today.

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From there we headed down a beautiful fence lined path to the 1940’s farm. This park reminded me a lot of Round Hill Park in Elizabeth, Pa where my kids spent a lot of time as littles when they visited my parents.

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The boys went udderly crazy for this part of Frying Pan Park.

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Cows, draft horses, sows, goats, lambs, and more were on display for the kids to gawk at and even pet.

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We had the place to ourselves with only a few other souls wandering among the stalls and pens.

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My mini farm hands fell in love with all the critters.

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A good scratch behind their ears, and these four legged babies were in hog heaven.

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We got to see the male peacock in all his splendor and the turkey that the president  pardoned at Thanksgiving that lives right next door to the peacocks.

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The ducks were found hanging out in the tub around the corner. 

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A stop to see the large work horses and flock of sheep grazing in the field made us feel as though we had stepped into a pastural painting.

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The barns,and pens at Frying Pan Farm not only house the animals, but they let kids see what life is like on a farm.

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From milking pens, to hay lofts, and equipment used to move things around, the barns are more than just home to the livestock –

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Enjoying a cold sarsparilla at the country store.

They’re a glimpse into a farmer’s life, and what it would have been like to work on a farm in Fairfax County in the early 20th century.

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It was a precious way to celebrate Tyler’s special day. When he officially became a McCleery 5 years ago we had no idea the ride he would take us on. That adoption journey changed us all and molded us into better people as we learned some of the greatest lessons life has to offer…

Adoption is not always the easiest path to walk, but is a holy walk full of unexpected joys and blessings.

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What a Weekend!!

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What a full weekend we had. It was packed to the gills with projects, places to go, and things to do. It was a crazy weekend, but a productive weekend…and boy did we all sleep well Sunday night!

Here is a peek into all the craziness we crammed into a 48-hour period…

Saturday began at 7:00 am. Rusty had a bike ride scheduled with the other young men from church. They planned to meet up at 7:45 and would be gone most of the morning. The plan was to conclude their excursion at the comic book store where an annual basement blowout was being held, offering thousands of comics for only $1.oo/each.

Rusty “rolled” back home around noon, tired and happy, eager to show off his comic book finds.

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The big task of the day was canning. A friend from church found a great deal on apples that we couldn’t pass up. We bought two bushels and the plan was to spend the day turning our bushels of apples into applesauce and apple pie filling. When these plans were made I thought I’d have a whole crew of helpers in the kitchen with me for the day, but soon other opportunities began to trump canning, leaving me in the kitchen with a revolving door of helpers coming and going through the day.

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My first helper of the day was Tyler. He had a few hours until he needed to leave the house and eagerly jumped on the task of coring and peeling apples for applesauce.

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At 10:00 am he had to leave with Toby and the girls jumped into his place as second and third in command.

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Tyler and Toby were off to Pittsburgh for some unexpected fun. The previous night, while out with friends, we were offered two free tickets to a Pitt football game at Heinz field. It was decided that Toby would take Tyler. Tyler is by far the biggest football fan in the family and we knew he could use some Daddy/son time after the unsettling week he had had seeing Ozzie leave.

It was just what they both needed. They were able to escape for a few hours and enjoy some mindless fun and male bonding over football and popcorn, and they had a perfect day for it. The weather was beautiful!

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At 11:00 am I lost Grace and Molly as canning helpers when they left for an event at Gracie’s school. As part of Gracie’s American Sign Language classes, she must attend a certain number of deaf events each semester. This is something Grace looks forward to and on this particular Saturday her ASL club was hosting a tie-dye activity at the school. Grace decided to invite Molly along. Molly has struggled a bit with the life changes that have occurred in our home lately. The absence of Ozzie and seeing less of Grace due to Gracie’s busy school and work schedule, has left her feeling a bit lost. Noticing this, Grace invited Molly out for a sister date. They made plans to attend the tie-dye activity and then go to Rita’s for an Italian ice after the event was over.

Both girls had a wonderful time. The ASL club had a good turn out and everyone enjoyed getting messy. The club supplied socks for everyone to tie-dye, but participants could bring other items to tie-dye as well. Grace and Molly each brought a pillowcase to color. It was a fun activity for them to share. Molly enjoyed getting to know some of Gracie’s college friends, and enjoyed getting to use some of her ASL skills.

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At noon Rusty returned home, thanks to a kind young men’s leader who dropped him off on our doorstop, and then Rusty jumped into the fray of apple canning. At this point I was onto apple pie filling and Rusty helped me peel, core, and slice apples for the pie filling. He was a great help and my efficiency increased significantly with another set of hands in the kitchen.

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We also made a large batch of oven dried cinnamon apple slices to enjoy as snacks. As the slices slowly dried in the warm ovens the entire house took on the delicious smell of autumn.

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Around this same time Toby was heading back out of Pittsburgh to pick up the girls (after they dropped off Mimi Joy’s car that she graciously lent them for the day) and head up north for Tyler’s equine therapy.

He had another wonderful session on his horse, Smokey, and he enjoyed sharing his experience with Toby and the girls. He is a natural on the horse and we are finding the lessons to be hugely therapeutic.

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After lessons Toby and the kids made a quick stop at Baldingers Candy Shop for some sweet treats.

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It was now 3:00 pm and things were winding down in the kitchen. The apple slices were dried and the canning was complete. My legs ached and I was covered in dried, sticky, apple juice…but what a satisfying feeling it was to gaze upon the fruits of our labors!

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It also happened to be General Conference weekend, a twice annual event in our church where we have the opportunity to hear from leadership in the form of a worldwide broadcast. It is a special weekend comprised of 4 two-hour sessions that we can watch from the comfort of our own home and receive counsel, guidance and uplifting messages from inspired speakers. We try to make it an extra special experience with a fun breakfast, activities, and booklets to help the kids take notes and stay engaged.

On Sunday morning, Rusty volunteered to be in charge of breakfast. He stumbled across a recipe online that he wanted to try. It was peanut butter and jelly French toast…and it was delicious!

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While Rusty cooked breakfast, everyone else sat down to write a letter to Ozzie. This will become a regular Sunday task. My plan is to help facilitate connection between the kids through pen pal letters. There is healing that needs to occur and written letters seem a good way to foster a renewed connection in a safe and non-threatening way. The stack of letters will then be mailed one at a time through the week, creating a steady influx of mail for Ozzie, hopefully making him feel of our love and letting him know he is not forgotten.

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For General Conference, I printed out our traditional bingo game and filled a bowl with our “prizes,” as well as created note taking doodle packets for the kids to use as they watched.

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It was wonderful to spend that time as a family and receive inspired guidance and direction.

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Sunday afternoon we also had a visit with Ozzie. It couldn’t have gone any better. He is doing beautifully and this Momma’s heart overflowed with gratitude to see him so at peace. It was a joy to get that time with him to catch up and reconnect.

Sunday night we enjoyed a game night for our Family Night activity. Friends from co-op, who also are avid board gamers, lent us an escape room game they purchased. We love these sorts of games and this one was no exception. We had a blast racing the clock and working as a team to solve the puzzles needed to win the game.

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We were successful!

It truly was a non-stop, crazy weekend…

Filled to the brim with busyness…

Filled to the brim with blessings!

The Cone is Back!

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Just when we thought we were free from the terror of a Great Dane encased in a hard plastic cone…

Just when the other dogs quit cowering in fear at Olive’s entrance into the room…

Just as the cuts on our arms and legs began to scab over…

Just when we finally threw that sad excuse of a cone into the trash,

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the adventure begins again.

For the THIRD time!

We arrived home on Wednesday evening, following two fun-filled days at Kalahari. We were greeted by enthusiastic, happy dogs who were glad to see us.

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All was good.

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All was well.

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Until…

*cue scary music*

We open the door to find this!

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Blood everywhere.

Olive was let outside for a few minutes and in that time, in the midst of her leaps of joy and pirouettes of happiness, she somehow injured herself. And I mean REALLY injured herself.

We opened the door to find our front porch looking like a scene from The Walking Dead.

Undeterred by the gushing wounds on two of her feet, she continued to bounce around with 100-pound-puppy energy, quickly coating the porch, us, and herself with blood.

It was at this point Molly pondered out loud, as she ran to the medicine cabinet for bandages, “I wonder what it would be like to just have a normal, boring day around here.”

But, alas, nothing is ever simple, uneventful, or boring at Patchwork Farm.

No, everyday is an adventure…whether we want it to be or not. 😉

Thus began adventure # 786,901 at Patchwork Farm: “The day the cone returned!”

It took all the older kids to hold Olive down so that Toby and I could inspect the damage. When the blood kept soaking through the pressure dressings we put on her ankles, we knew the situation exceeded our level of expertise and it was back to the vet for another overnighter for Olive.

She is earning her frequent flyer miles at Rainbow Vet, and we are personally funding our veterinarian’s next European vacation! Ugh.

We were able to pick up Olive the next day. After walking the entire yard we still have no idea what she ran through that tore her up so badly that she needed to get staples in her legs,

But the end result was minor surgery, boxing gloves for paws, and the return of “The Cone.”

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She is now on “bed rest” once again-

“And it is SO MUCH FUN!!” I scream with a manic grin.

She also can’t get her bandages wet for 10 days, a challenging feat living in Western Pennsylvania, so she was sent home from the vet with little plastic galoshes that must be tied onto her feet every time she goes outside.

Moving with the grace of a newborn giraffe, she struggles to move through the yard hampered by boxing glove feet, covered in stiff plastic bags.

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She has adapted by learning to walk on her tip toes, quite reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote sneaking up on the Road Runner.

It is quite comical to watch,

but the return of the “cone of shame” is not so comical.

We are all suffering from this latest Olive adventure…

Olive is feeling the pain of her most recent injury in her feet.

The kids are feeling the bruising pain of collisions with the “cone of shame” on their arms and legs.

And Toby is feeling the piercing financial pain of Great Dane ownership in his wallet.

Can someone pass me an aspirin?

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What’s Up, Buttercup?

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In addition to Olive, our new 10 week old Great Dane puppy, we have a few more new additions at Patchwork Farm.

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Buttercup, one of our farmyard chickens, is a broody little Momma. She loves babies and loves being a Mommy, so she has this habit of hiding her eggs from us. Instead of laying in the same area as the other chickens she finds hidden corners to build a nest, and lays a clutch of eggs, with the intention of hatching them.

So what do I mean by “broody?”

Broody Hens:

A broody hen of any breed can be used to hatch eggs and raise chicks from other hens of any breeds.

  • A broody will sit on any eggs, whether or not they are fertile and regardless of who laid them. To gather a suitable clutch of eggs, she will not only lay her own eggs but may roll other hens’ eggs into her nest.
  • While a hen is brooding, you can remove daily any extra eggs she gathers into her clutch. Drawing pencil “equator” lines around the eggs you want her to brood will help with identification.
  • A setting hen will usually leave the nest at least once a day to eat, drink, and defecate. The eggs are not in danger of cooling off too much during a normal foray into the coop or run.
  • Typically, chicken eggs hatch about 21 days from the beginning of incubation or nesting by a broody hen. A few days early or late is not unusual, and some breeds lean toward earlier or later hatches.
  • If a broody hen has pushed an egg out of the nest, she probably knows something is not right with that egg or embryo.

 

For those that are unfamiliar with the workings of chicken laying…I know I was before we got chickens 7 years ago…here is the scoop:

A young, healthy chicken lays an average of an egg per day. Which means you could in theory get a dozen eggs per day if you have 12 chickens. That is not always the case. Other factors like amount of daylight, weather, age of the chicken, and nutrition come into play but it is a good average.

A grown chicken lays an egg per day whether you own a rooster (a male chicken) or not.

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The ladies will lay regardless of whether the egg has been fertilized by a male or not. If you do have a rooster there is no obvious differences in a fertilized egg verses an unfertilized egg when they are collected daily and put in the fridge. There is no difference in the look, texture, or taste and it matters not whether your omelet contains a fertilized egg or an unfertilized one.

Here are some other fun egg facts:

Double eggs or “egg in an egg” are created when an egg with a shell is encased by the next egg in the oviduct and a shell is produced over the outer egg as well.

  • Double yolkers may have a normal amount of egg white with two or more yolks. The egg may be unusually large.

Contrary to what some believe the yolk is not an undeveloped baby chick. It is actually the nutrients that the chick would feed on as it developed in the shell, if the egg was fertilized.

The egg yolk or egg white may have red or brown specks in it. These “blood spots” and “meat spots” are harmless bits of tissue and are allowed in commercial Grade B eggs. If they look unappealing, the spots can be removed with a spoon or knife before cooking.

The shell color is a breed characteristic. Most chicken breeds lay light-to-medium brown eggs. A few breeds lay white, dark brown, green, blue, or cream colored eggs.

And no, brown eggs are not healthier than white eggs.

If you aren’t sure how old an egg is, you can submerge it in water. The freshest eggs will remain at the bottom of the container, while old eggs will float. Floaters should either be discarded or opened far from your nose

It is the addition of heat through incubation or a sitting hen that causes the embryo to begin developing into a baby chick if it is a fertilized egg. This incubation period takes a little over 3 weeks.

Often with free range chicken (like ours) a hen will “disappear” for a period of time and then return with a parade of baby chicks following her, as was the case with Buttercup.

We have had chickens for years but this is the first time we have had a broody hen. We typically add chicks to the farm through mail order. They are overnighted through the postal service and we get a phone call from the postman to come pick up our noisy chicks when our chirping box arrives.

Having a hen sit and hatch new additions has been a fun change for us. It is neat to watch Momma take on the role of teacher and protector of the chicks as opposed to the artificial environment of raising the chicks in the basement under a heat lamp.

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Buttercup is a good little Momma, herding her chicks around the farmyard with Gus, our Guinea fowl, who has taken on the role of protector and adoptive dad to the nine babies. It is so funny to see!

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It is moments like this that make me feel so blessed to raise my own “chicks” on a farm where they can experience the most thrilling of nature’s wonders.

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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!