Tag Archives: farm

A Sweet End to a Bitter Beginning

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Sometimes I feel as though my life has “Multiple Personality Disorder,” with multiple lifetimes occurring at the same time under the umbrella of one life.  

(Let me reiterate: My LIFE,  not my child)

Much like made for TV character that transforms from controlled to chaotic, kind to cruel, joyful to drowning in despair, our life has evolved into a hair raising, out of control ride…

Stable one minute,

 completely derailed the next.

We find ourselves living in a constant state of hyper alert watchfulness.

We spend the minutes of our day always assessing, monitoring, and anticipating what sight, smell, sound, thought or memories will transform our life from calm, controlled and happy, to raging, fearful and hopeless.

It is a hard way to live, and the effect of past traumas on my already struggling son, can result in a whole family in crisis.

The last 24 hours have been surreal, and as I sat down to record the reality of our life  I debated breaking the happenings of the last day between two blogs, one reporting the good and the other reporting the struggles, but I stopped myself. Our life can not and will not be compartmentalized. As much as I crave the order and control of defining my days in the black and white categories of “good days or bad days,”  the reality of our life is that most days are a messy mix of trauma driven struggles and merciful moments of goodness and joy.

This particular pocket of time began Friday night with heartache.

We are all living out the effects of the early childhood trauma that has reduced my once happy boy into a child filled with despair and hopelessness.

At the root of Ozzie’s hurt is a deep-seated belief, a belief that was planted in his tender soul by abusive parents from the time he was small, that he deserves the abuse he endured, that he is not worthy of anything better, and  as a result he has decided he will sentence himself to a life of hurt and abuse if no one else will meet that request.

“What won’t you just punch me?” he will yell in desperation,

“I just need someone to hurt me!”


When those desperate requests are answered with tokens of love, nurturing acts, and additional support, he lashes out in desperation, hurting the very people who are offering him a safe harbor from the pain.

His behaviors have escalated.  

His desperation has increased.

He is determined to hurt.

He is terrified of being loved and will do anything to keep the thing he fears most, attachment to his adoptive family, at bay.

He is drowning in new flashbacks of horrific acts of abuse and is desperate to quiet the voices in his head.

 All he wants is a way out.

All I want is to keep him safe.

So my life has become a 24/7 vigil, as I work to protect him from himself. Every possible threat has been locked up, and cameras have been installed around the home, allowing for extra eyes of protection on him at all times. I don’t walk away. I don’t take a break. I am on guard. Fighting for this child who can’t fight for himself.

Things escalated to a new level last Friday when he wrote out a plan of how he was going to take his life.

Back to the Emergency Room we went.

Back to be assessed and monitored.

Back to inpatient care for another stay and another shot at stabilization.

By the time the ambulance arrived to take him back to the juvenile mental hospital that he was discharged from just weeks ago, my heart was heavy… heavier than it has ever been. There I stood, staying goodbye to my child who looks and acts more like a ten-year-old than a 13-year-old, in the hallway of the ER at 4:30 in the morning, weary.

So weary of the fight.

So weary of the battles.

So weary of the constant vigilance.

So weary of trying to hold onto hope in the midst of hopelessness.

So weary of trying to keep my family intact in the midst of constant battles against the trauma of Ozzie’s past.

So weary of smiling through the tears and finding the good in an absurdly bad situation.

So weary of being the Mom…the one who must remain hopeful, positive, optimistic and strong. The one who must help everyone else ride the waves of RAD and help the other children process the secondary PTSD occurring in the home. Being the one who must help create normalcy for the rest of the family in a situation that is anything but normal.

But weary or not, we go on.

I climbed into the car, exhausted down to the tips of my toes, drove home and crawled into bed to get a few hours of sleep before a new day began. It was going to be a full day of packing for Girls’ Camp (where I will be serving as a level leader over the 7th year girls) and then our annual strawberry picking, because despite how crazy the night was the dawn will come and the show must go on. There are other people in my family who need me, so I wake up day after day, and keep on keeping on…

Praying for strength.

Praying for grace.

Praying for hope.

Praying for wisdom.

Praying for the capacity to forgive…

And praying that there was a caffeinated Diet Coke in the fridge to fuel my efforts. 😉

From suicide watch to strawberry picking in a 12 hour stretch…

because that’s how we roll.

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Did I mention my life has Multiple Personality Disorder?

Over the last 7 or 8 years we have enjoyed the annual tradition of going strawberry picking as a family. It always seems to fall on the Saturday before Father’s Day, resulting in many strawberry themed treats for the day.

When we moved into this house we were introduced to Catalpa Farms by friends, when they invited us to go pea picking with them one year.

Since then Catalpa’s has been our go-to “you pick” farm in the area.

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Saturday was chaos (understatement of the year!) and really not the ideal day to go berry picking, but knowing the unavailability of free Saturdays for the next two weeks, and knowing how short-lived strawberry season is, it was now or never.

So, after a hard, traumatic previous 12 hours, we rallied as only the McCleerys can, gathered our strawberry boxes, and headed to Ohio.

Grace had spent the day working, while Molly and I packed and prepped for Girls’ Camp. At the end of Gracie’s shift, we drove over, picked her up, and drove out to Catalpa’s for some strawberry picking.

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Since we arrived at 4:00 in the afternoon, there was no one left in the field (pickers or field bosses) so we had free reign to pick anywhere we wanted in rows 1 and 2.

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We are accustomed to arriving early in the morning with dozens of other families and being given a small stretch of field to strip clean. It was kind of fun to be able to roam freely and have the farm to ourselves.

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Since Ozzie was back at the hospital, it was just the six of us picking. We knew we only had an hour until closing so we made quick work of berry picking.

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The job moved at a much quicker clip than usual, with the freedom of being able to move around the field, searching for untouched patches thick with strawberries.

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What a beautiful crop they had this year. The strawberries were large and sweet…a rare combination.

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One of the many reasons we love this “you pick” farm is because of their encouragement to “eat as you pick.” The kids love biting into sun-warmed, just-off-the-vine berries. It becomes a “one for me, one for the basket” dance of indulgence as the strawberry cartons slowly fill.

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We did well. In our hour, we managed to fill 24 quarts to overflowing…

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And I felt my heart lightening and my soul healing a bit under the rays of the afternoon sun.

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We finished at 5:00pm and headed back to the front to pay and treat ourselves to our traditional berry picking reward for our hard work: homemade strawberry slushies.

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Made from crushed ice and their home-grown strawberries, this sweet nectar of the gods is incredible…a perfect way to end our strawberry picking fun at Catalpa Farms!

Then it was back home for hours and hours of cleaning, hulling, chopping and canning of strawberry treats for us to enjoy in the upcoming year.

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From heartbreak to happy moment,

The tides turn as quick as that…

All within 24 hours.

A sweet end to a bitter beginning.

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Easter at the Homestead

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Last weekend we headed to Ohio.
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Since we had spent Easter day with Toby’s family, this was our second Easter celebration…this time with my parents.
We could not have asked for more beautiful weather. It was a perfect spring day. Between the bright blue sky, kelly green grass, and purple violets, the Homestead was alive with color.
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Much of the day was spent outside enjoying this ideal spring day.
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For lunch we enjoyed a picnic lunch of subs, potato salad, deviled eggs, and pickled watermelon rinds.
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The animals gathered at the fence to watch us eat. Perhaps they were hoping someone might toss them a roll. 🙂
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It is funny to see how alive and engaged the critters become when they see the kids arrive.
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After lunch we participated in a new Easter tradition, something we had never heard of before. This Easter tradition was introduced to us by my soon-to-be sister from Texas. Upon hearing that my poor, Pennsylvania children had never experienced cascarones before (a Easter tradition in Texas) she sent a package as a gift. “What are cascarones,” you ask:
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“A cascarón is a hollowed-out chicken egg filled with confetti. Cascarones are common through Mexico and are similar to the Easter eggs popular in many other countries. They are mostly used in Mexico during Carnival, but in US and Mexico border towns the cultures combined making them a popular Easter tradition.

Popular for generations as an Easter tradition in the Southwest, they are now making a splash elsewhere in the United States.”

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She explained to my mom how they work and that getting hit with a cascarone is supposed to bring good luck.

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So we tapped into our very shallow, pretty much non-existent Latin roots and grabbed an egg.

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What fun they were!!

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I think we have established a new Easter tradition, although Tyler suggested that next year we just use regular eggs.

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It could be fun. Messy, but fun. 😉

After our cascarones battle it was time to switch gears from Easter to birthdays, as we planned to take advantage of having everyone gathered, so as to celebrate Ozzie’s and Molly’s birthdays.

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Life has gotten busier in recent years and the added distance between our homes (2 1/2 hours as opposed to 1) makes getting together a bit tougher, so we have begun clumping birthdays and celebrating 3 months of birthdays in one sitting.

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Both kids were tickled pink to receive such perfect, thoughtful, creative gifts from my parents.

Ozzie received two new puzzles and a deck of John Deere playing cards. They couldn’t have picked a better gift for my puzzle loving boy!

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Molly received a Ukulele…an adorable Ukulele! She has been talking about wanting to learn to play the Ukulele and Mimi and Pop Pop heard her wish and granted it.

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Mom even had special Easter treats for Toby and I.

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It was very thoughtful!

The remainder of the day was spent soaking up the sunshine, enjoying birthday root beer floats, and playing Frisbee as a family.

How blessed we are!

A SUPER Saturday

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Saturdays are always busy…especially in the fall!

It is the one day of the week we have Toby home to get things done around the house, run errands, accomplish farm chores or do something as a family.

Sundays are spent worshipping, resting and partaking in quiet activities at home.

Because Saturdays become the day to accomplish everything we need to do for the week, they fill up extra quickly…especially this time a year!

Saturdays are filled with football games, yard work (as we prepare for winter), putting up wood to burn through the winter months, and fun fall activities. October Saturdays are always busy, but some are EXTRA busy!

This past Saturday was one of those days.

It was a day so fully packed that I began the day by writing out a schedule of who needed to be where over the course of the day and posted it in the kitchen to guide the family through our crazier than normal day.

It was my hope we wouldn’t miss any important commitment or lose some child along the way. 🙂

Here are snap shots of our wonderfully busy, completely crazy, super fun, fall Saturday:

8:00- 9:00 am: Wake the troops. We had a busy day ahead of us so everyone was roused, fed, and sent to get their morning chores completed before the craziness began!

9:00- 11:00 am: Grace and Molly attended an art class being taught by a woman at church. In September she sent out an email advertising a free, four-week art class she was offering in the month of October. They were offered every Saturday morning through the month with each Saturday offering a different craft and corresponding art skill. Since my girls love art and because we live close enough to her home that it wouldn’t be a burden, they decided to sign up.

They have really enjoyed this weekly class. This week they were making sculptures with “found” items. They took corks and bobby pins for the materials they chose to build with.

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10:00-12:00: Ozzie and I drove to Cranberry to meet up with Ozzie’s biological sister, Zoey, so that they could have a much-needed date. They haven’t seen each other for a month and Ozzie was struggling with missing his sister, so we arranged to meet for breakfast.

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The kids had a great time enjoying the breakfast buffet at Eat n’ Park and catching up with each other. I am so grateful that Zoey was adopted by a woman who is so open to maintaining their relationship and who agrees with us on the importance of maintaining the biological relationship of these siblings. It is hard for them to live apart. I know that they were both placed where God would have them be, but being apart is hard for them, so we make every effort to keep their relationship a priority through regular visits.

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11:00- 5:00: The girls joined three of their friends (Olivia, Tatum, and Chessa) for a fun day in Pittsburgh. Olivia’s favorite author was in Pittsburgh for a book signing so Olivia’s father graciously volunteered to drive the girls into the city to meet Maggie Stiefvater at CMU.

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Their first stop was lunch:

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It was a fun treat eating lunch in downtown Pittsburgh.

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Then it was on to the author meet and greet.

It began with the “lecture” part of the meeting where the author spent an hour talking to and entertaining her fans, and then a 30 minute Q and A session. The girls all expressed their delight in how entertaining, engaging, and warm she was.

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Then they had the opportunity to have their books signed…

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How fun!

I love that they were so awestruck to meet a favorite author as opposed to being goo goo over a pop star. 🙂

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On the way home they stopped at Pittsburgh Popcorn where Olivia treated all the girls to a bag of flavored popcorn. Grace picked frankenberry flavor and Molly chose kettle corn. Both said it was the best popcorn they have ever had.

11:30- 12:30: Rusty had some time home alone between the time Toby had to take Tyler to his football game (he has to arrive 90 minutes before the start of the game) and the time Ozzie and I arrived home. He used that time to start playing with the stop-motion Minecraft kit that he received from the Caylors for his birthday. When I arrived home he was eager to show me the “movie” he created using stop-motion magic.

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12:00- 1:00 pm: Ozzie helped me do our weekly grocery shopping, followed by a quick stop at Goodwill and  Party City to get some missing pieces for everyone’s Halloween costumes.

1:30 – 4:00pm: Tyler’s team continued their winning streak. Tyler’s football team is now in the play-offs after an undefeated season. Tyler’s coach warned them that the team they were playing this weekend was very good. Tyler was excited to play.

The game began at 2:00 pm.

For the playoff games (in October) the boys are wearing  pink socks in honor of breast cancer awareness month.

Tyler is #20

Tyler is #20

The game began with Tyler’s kick off. Of all the positions Tyler plays on the team being the kicker is his favorite role. He loves it and is really good at it.

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It was a very cold game. Temperatures hovered in the low 40’s. I was glad we brought blankets to the field. Rusty also brought his birthday gift from the Kirks. Just prior to us leaving for the game he discovered a package in the mail from my sister. He opened it up and was excited to see that he received the newest Guinness World Record  book. He decided to take it to the game. He spent more time reading than watching his brother play. 😉

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It was a good game…a really exciting game. But even with this more equally matched play-off team (they played Hopewell) this was the final score:

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They won another game so Tyler’s team will be playing again next week.

( I don’t know whether to cheer or cry)  😉

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4:00- 6:00 pm: Finally we were home long enough to get some things scratched off the “to do” list. The early evening was spent getting some yard work done in preparation for the big fall party being held at our home next Saturday. While Toby and the boys worked outside, I worked inside to fill our freezer with some more freezer meals. For this round of “once a  month cooking” I browned 10 pounds of hamburger meat for 10 “freezer to crock-pot meals.” After browning the meat the rest was just assembly. All the meals were assembled in gallon freezer bags so that they would stack nicely in the freezer, taking up as little space as possible.

We made two batches of each of the following dishes:

Homemade spaghetti sauce,

Chili,

Taco soup,

Sloppy Joes,

and Beef Hash.

It is such a good feeling to tuck some more meals away to be pulled out on cold falls days and dumped into the crock-pot to simmer all day.

Fix it and Forget it!

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While the boys were busy weeding, mowing, and tidying up outside, they discovered that our second batch of baby chicks were hatching. They investigated after seeing a broken egg sitting outside the mommy chicken’s “nest.”

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When Toby lifted her we found out that, sure enough, 4 of her eggs had hatched and she was still working on hatching the last three.

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It is so fun having all these babies around. The moms are doing a beautiful job of keeping all their babies tucked away under the warmth of their feathers…

Which is a blessing because this weekend ended up being a chilly one!

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First snow of the season and it’s only October!

5:00-6:00 pm: The girls returned back and began preparing for a church dance. (Chessa went home with Woody since she had a commitment at home) The teens all got ready for the Halloween/ Black light dance. They decided not to wear costumes but rather embrace the fact there would be black lights and dressed accordingly.

This was Rusty’s first dance EVER. He dressed quickly in his neon colors, painting his face with glow in the dark paints and spraying his hair white so it would glow with the black lights.

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Then he waited for the girls. He struggled to understand why they took so much longer to get ready. 🙂

When everyone was dolled up we headed to Cranberry.

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7:00-10:00pm: While Toby stayed home with the “littles” and worked on projects around the house, I drove the big kids to the dance. The decorations were amazing. The gym was decorated in glow-in-the-dark décor, complete with a graffiti wall they kids could write on with highlighters,

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 a “make your own glowing eye glasses/ mustache station,”

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and yummy appetizers.

The leaders went above and beyond to make a really cool night for the youth.

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Rusty’s first slow dance was with Tatum:

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Awww…Love it!

Everyone had a great time.

10:00-11:30pm: I delivered everyone home.

12:00am: Bed, sweet, bed…Oh how I love you!

Which came first the chicken or the egg?

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We are proud to announce the addition of 8 new arrivals at Patchwork Farm…

we have babies!

And we didn’t even know we were expecting. 🙂

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On Thursday morning we were called out to the animal pen by Molly’s frantic cries that she needed help. She discovered Ellie, our Bashar pup, playing with a new “toy.” It was a baby chick and the baby chick really didn’t want to play with her. Molly came to the rescue, saving the chick from the Ellie’s slimy Bassett jowls and then the search for Momma began. Molly, forever our animal rescuer, began to search through the tall grass to find any other chicks. We soon figured out who Momma was by the way one chicken closely followed Molly (who was carrying the soggy chick in hand) around the field. Rusty joined in the search and with bucket in hand they began to collect peeps.

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We found 8 living peeps.

We didn’t even know there was a nest of eggs tucked away.

We have another Momma currently sitting on eggs but after checking out that nest and discovering those eggs still in tact and Momma still sitting, we knew this was a different nest.

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After 7 years of being chicken owners this is our first batch of babies. We have never had a broody Momma before the addition of a few new chickens and roosters this summer. Suddenly everyone has “baby fever.”

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We collected the babies and set up a nursery in a container that would hold the babies and keep them safe from wandering out the holes in the fencing where the dog eagerly waits for his “friends” to come play. Momma jumped into the nursery with them and had been caring for them ever since.  It is heartwarming to watch the interactions of Momma animals and their young. The Momma tucks all her babies under the warmth and safety of her wings and keeps watch.

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The babies are in the cute, fluffy stage,

and even the peep who was soaked with basset slime has dried out to fluffy cuteness.

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We are now waiting for the arrival of batch #2. That momma is sitting on 12 eggs and leaves the nest only for minutes a day to drink and eat. One egg shows the start of hatching with a pinhole crack beginning.

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What a delightful life we have been blessed with.

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There is no place I’d rather raise my brood than on Patchwork Farm.

New Galilee Potato Festival

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Potatoes!

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When we sat down at the beginning of the summer to compile our bucket list of summer activities

Ozzie had only one request,

“Please, oh please, can we go to the New Galilee Potato Festival?”

We knew nothing about it. We had never attended before. Ozzie’s only exposure to it was reading the signs advertising it

as we drove through town last August.

But he desperately wanted to go.

“I love potatoes!” he explained when I asked why he wanted to go.

I really had no desire to take the family to the New Galilee Potato Festival but since Ozzie rarely asks for anything with such heartfelt pleas I told him we would try.

This week was the festival.

As we looked at the calendar we realized that the only free evening we had was opening night. So on Tuesday night, following football practice, we all went down to the potato festival.

“Why a potato festival in New Galilee?” you ask…

Well I wondered the same thing until a friend shared this background information that was published in Ellwood City’s newspaper:

“New Galilee’s potato festival still has skin in the game.

This year, though, it will share billing with the much-welcomed return of the fireman’s fair.

Launched in 2012, the potato festival celebrates the region’s agrarian roots, especially its ties to the John Gilkey family. Gilkey, an Irish immigrant, came to the area in 1797.

He planted three varieties of potatoes — blue, red and white, according to explorepahistory.com — that within a few years cross-pollinated to form a new variety he named Neshannock, described as a “large and long potato, reddish purple in color, with streaks of the same color through the flesh that generally disappeared after the potato was cooked.”

By the 19th century, it became the standard commercial potato “prized for its size, wonderful flavor and ability to keep,” the website says. But it “gradually fell out of favor” after more productive varieties were introduced.

Locals, though, still think Gilkey’s potato is worth celebrating. And so they will by combining the fireman’s fair, a popular tradition of the past, with a new one — one that has “true meaning and to honor our roots,” said Mark Benes, festival planner, on the event’s website.”

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On our way to the fair Ozzie was shaking with anticipation. He had his allowance scrunched in his hands and he shared his plans for his allowance with us…

“I have been saving up my money for this,” he told us with enthusiasm, “all summer!”

“I am gonna buy me a five-pound sack of po-ta-toes!”

When we arrived we discovered the presence of this majestic root vegetable to be minimal…very minimal!

Ozzie was crushed to discover they weren’t selling bags of potatoes and Grace was saddened to find out the only potato dish being sold was carnival fries.

Despite the disappointment over the lack of potatoes the kids still had a fun time.

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It was late so all the carnival rides were lit up making the ambiance magical.

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Toby bought enough ride tickets to allow each child to ride three rides, but because we were one of a small number of families there the kids were told time and time again that they could stay on their rides and ride again for free.

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I think the carnival workers were bored and so they generously allowed the kids to ride a lot more rides than they actually had tickets for. It was a fun night and we ended up having the place to ourselves by the end of the night.

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The kids especially enjoyed the ferris wheel which allowed them to look down over the fair and the surrounding farms.

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We ended the evening with French fries, of course! Toby bought four orders of fresh-cut fries so we could commemorate the beloved potato…

( at least a little bit.)

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It was a crazy experience but Ozzie wasn’t disappointed in the least. As we walked back to the car he was bouncing with excitement. He grabbed me with a bear hug and said:

“Thank you! This was the best potato festival I have ever been to!”

Yep, best potato festival ever.

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Pictures of our weekend

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Our weekend was a full one as the girls spent theirs at youth conference with friends and leaders from church. The theme for the weekend: “Anchored in Christ.”

Here are some of Gracie’s snapshots from her travels with Molly:

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While the girls were gallivanting around western New York we were playing in Ohio.

On Friday we drove out to the Homestead to visit my parents for the day for some fun “grandsons only” time. It was a lazy, relaxed day as the boys played and went swimming, and I visited with my mom as we crafted and made cards. We were only able to stay a few hours before I had to make the 2 1/2 hour trek back home

but we fit a lot of fun into our short time together…

Arriving at the Homestead.

Arriving at the Homestead.

Mom and Dad's new covered porch.

Mom and Dad’s new covered porch.

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Enjoying rootbeer floats for dessert.

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On Saturday the boys were invited to a friend’s birthday party. Melanie, a little girl in Ozzie’s class at church, was having her 11th birthday party and she invited our boys to come. It was a mini golf party at Frontier Falls, a beautiful mini golf course near us. The boys had a blast! After a round of mini golf they served pizza and cake. It was a very fun party!

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Tyler was a little sweat head in the 90+ degree temperatures.

Tyler was a little sweat head in the 90+ degree temperatures.

The birthday girl

The birthday girl

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While we were at the birthday party Toby stayed home and got some more work done on our school bus renovation. The seats are now all pulled out leaving and empty shell and a blank canvas for the design to begin. We have finally decided on a layout for the bus. After much sketching and redesigning I think we have come up with the best use of space and the most efficient way to sleep 8 in our school bus turned RV.

Sketching blueprints..

Sketching blueprints..

After the seats were pulled up the first job was tarring the floor and covering the tar in new sheets of plywood to reinforce the floor and give Toby a base to connect everything to.

All tarred...

All tarred…

Next step is cutting all the boards for the hardwood floor.

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We are also in the process of planning our route for our trip out west next summer. We plan on hitting some of the big national parks and need to decide what sites to see so we can book our campsites for next summer. If you have any suggestions on “must see” stops feel free to make suggestions. We are looking for input! 🙂

After we returned home from the birthday party we got to work on yard work. After my week away at camp the yard was looking like a jungle and needed some serious attention. It is amazing how things fall apart when you are gone for a week.  It was so nice to be able to tackle the task of cleaning up the yard and porch!

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We were even able to harvest a huge basket of produce from the garden. Thanks to this rainy summer things are growing very well!

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As the day turned to evening the temperatures began to drop and all the critters became more social, coming out to greet us and say “hello.”

Lucy

Lucy

Ellie and Stripey...BFFs!

Ellie and Stripey…BFFs!

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At 6:00 Toby picked up the girls who had returned from youth conference. It was so nice having them home again and hearing all about their adventures.

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Ellie missed Molly while she was away.

Our house has felt a bit like Grand Central Station with everyone coming and going this summer.

We have everyone home for a few days and then Rusty will leave again with the boy scouts for his High Adventure trip. They will be leaving Thursday for a few days of cave exploring, rappelling and white water rafting.

It is sure to be an ADVENTURE!

Memorial Day Weekend

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We were blessed with a beautiful Memorial Day weekend.

As we reflected on our blessings…

the blessings of living in a free nation,

of the honorable and noble service given for that freedom,

of the lives that were lost for the sake of our freedom,

we were humbled.

It made me grateful.

It was good to stop and remember,

and count our blessings.

The weekend was spent as a family. It was wonderful having Toby home for a long weekend. The weekend was spend bonding as a family through hard work and fun activities. It was a weekend of “catching up.” We caught up on projects, on errands, on time together, and even on sleep. (Love the extra sleep!)

The weekend began on Saturday morning with an activity at our house for the men at church. They had planned a skeet shooting activity and asked if we would host it at our home. Toby was looking forward to pulling out his clay pigeon launcher and doing some target practice. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and my kids enjoyed being spectators to all the action.

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The weekend was also spent planting. On Saturday after everyone left we headed to Home Depot. We wanted to pick up some hostas for our front walk, and we needed a few more packs of seeds.

Every year we plant five garden beds using raised gardens and the “square foot gardening method.” We are sold on the ease of this form of gardening and this is our seventh year planting this way. We have five beds and since we now have five children it works out perfectly. Each child had a vegetable bed that is theirs. They pick the plants that go in it, and are responsible for the weeding, watering, and harvesting of the vegetables in their bed. I have found that this “ownership” goes a long way toward the kids being more diligent about their work. If it is “theirs” they tend to take more pride in it and are more willing to work…

and at the very least I can visually see who has been doing their weeding and who hasn’t

and they can’t blame it on a sibling. 😉

The girls planting Hostas

The girls planting Hostas

First we had to prep the beds. This requires pulling the last of the old growth and weeds out of the beds, adding manure to be mixed in, and partitioning the beds into 12″x12″ squares.

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Then it was time to divide up the seed packets.

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Some years we start our seeds indoors, but some years we just run out of time and end up putting the seeds straight into the ground. This was one of those busy spring seasons and it just means we will have to wait a bit longer to enjoy the fruits of our labors!

Here is what was planted in everyone’s gardens:

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I didn’t get a picture of Molly, but she planted sunflowers, corn, dill and spaghetti squash.

While we worked, the animals played…

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On Monday we had our annual Memorial Day picnic with our church family. We met at Two Mile Run Park. I wasn’t feeling great so I found a place in the shade to settle in for the afternoon and watch the fun.

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For this holiday party every family brings a side dish or dessert to share and their own meat to grill for their family. Everyone takes turns at the grill. We marinated chicken the night before and Toby grilled it.

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It was delicious!

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The kids spent the day playing on the playground and getting wet in the creek.

IMG_3141 (2)We left by mid afternoon and enjoyed  family night at home.(More on that later) It was a wonderful weekend and a great way to usher in Summer!

One week left of school…

We are almost there!!

 

A Homestead Egg-stravaganza with the Kirk cousins

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For Easter we had the treat of spending the holiday not only with my parents but with my sister’s family as well. Kelly and Tom drove down from Michigan to spend a few days with my parents in Ohio and we were able to join them. It was an unexpected treat that came as a result of our original plans falling through. Kelly and Tom drove down on Saturday with their five kiddos.

On Sunday morning we woke up to Tyler’s excited calls through our bedroom door…

“Is it time to get up? The Easter Bunny came!”

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The kids gathered in the living room to check out the goodies that they received in their Easter baskets and then hunt for the 42 hard boiled eggs that the big bunny hid around the house. We were eager to get on the road and begin the 2 1/2 hour trek to my parents’ house (we wanted to get as much time in with the cousins as we could) but we couldn’t leave until the kids found all the eggs.

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That is the down side of hiding real eggs. 😉

It is important that they all be found.

And they were.

We got the animals taken care of, everyone dressed, the car packed and we headed off. We arrived at noon, just as my parents were getting home from church. It was wonderful seeing everyone. My sister and I both commented on the growth we saw in each other’s children. We agreed that before we let the kids loose to play we should try to get a group picture of the cousins…you know, before everyone got muddy.

Rusty, Ozzie, and Tyler

Rusty, Ozzie, and Tyler

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Molly and Grace

The boys!

The boys!

The girls!

The girls!

Poor Charlie was ready for a nap and really wasn’t in the mood for a photo shoot, but we did our best.

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After we got enough pictures to satisfy us Mommas we let the kids go free. They ran off to enjoy some cousin time before lunch was ready.

Noah

Noah

Nate

Nate

Sammy

Sammy

Charlie

Charlie

Lydia

Lydia

For lunch my mom planned a delicious Easter picnic lunch. We had ham sandwiches and side dishes and ate outside in the sun. The weather was beautiful and we all ended up with mild sunburns. Our poor, pasty skin hasn’t seen that much sunlight in months!

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After lunch we went out to the barn so that the boys could see Bobby T, my parents new baby goat. The girls had already met Bobby but Rusty and Oz were eager to feed him a bottle.

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Then my Dad took the kids on a hayride while the other adults hid eggs for the Easter egg hunt. Kelly and I had both brought a large pile of plastic eggs not knowing that the other had it covered. The result:

135 eggs hidden in my parents’ large yard.

When the kids came back they were given a bag and instructions as to how many eggs to find and what the boundaries were. They were also told that the eggs laying out in the open, on the grass, were for the 4 and under crowd.

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The egg hunt was a hit!

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The rest of the day was spent playing and catching up. The kids picked up with their cousins immediately, and you wouldn’t have even known that they hadn’t seen each other in 6 months. Watching them together makes me miss Kelly and her family even more. I wish we lived closer and could see each other more often, but it does make me appreciate all the more those rare moments we do get together.

It was a wonderful day. We packed a lot of fun into those 7 hours and made many sweet memories to look back on and enjoy…

 until we meet again. 🙂

A birthday weekend at the Homestead

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This past weekend I ran away.

That’s right…packed my bags, grabbed my girls, and ran home to my Mommy…

for a girls’ weekend.

Monday was Gracie’s birthday. In a few weeks it will be Molly’s birthday,

so my parents invited them to come, without brothers, for a GIRLS’ WEEKEND! (And I tagged along.)

We left Friday afternoon as soon as Toby came home from work. He took off in one vehicle to drive Rusty to a Boy Scout maple sugar festival where he was going to spend the weekend, and the girls and I headed off toward Ohio. We were very excited at the prospect of a fun weekend without responsibility. It had been a tough couple days at Patchwork Farm and the thought of just being a daughter again sounded wonderful. My mom had all sorts of fun planned for our weekend.

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We arrived at dinner time. After carrying our bags to our bedrooms we joined Mimi and Pop pop in the barn to care for the animals and meet their newest addition, Bobby T. (Their new baby goat) Ever since Molly heard that they have a bottle baby goat she has been so excited. (Molly is my goat lover) He was adorable and the girls loved feeding him and playing with him all weekend.

The new addition!

The new addition!

Feeding the baby...

Feeding the baby…

Caring for the other goats

Caring for the other goats

Kisses for Pop pop.

Kisses for Pop pop.

and baby kisses for Grace

and baby kisses for Grace

George

George

Molly being eaten by an attack goat!

Molly being eaten by an attack goat!

When we returned back home from the barn my parents gave the girls their birthday gifts. Molly got to open her gift early. They both received cute coin purses with birthday spending money for them to use the next day.

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After dinner we celebrated with birthday cake and a movie.

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On Saturday, after a yummy farm breakfast, the girls headed out for a fun day of shopping while Pop pop stayed home to hold down the fort. We drove to downtown Wooster, a charming main street filled with local stores and restaurants. The girls were in heaven…spending money in their pocket and a whole day of shopping ahead of them with no little brothers rushing the process.

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Our first stop was a local artisan shop that sells locally made products. The girls found a hand-crafted leather headband that they both liked. They decided to split the cost and share the headband.

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Other stops included a charming thrift store where Gracie purchased a pair of red heels and a belt and I found some old game boards to use as decoration in my home. They were a steal for $1.00 each. We also visited a clothing store, an art store, the big Rubbermaid store and a bookstore, where Molly spent the bulk of her birthday money.

My favorite store of the day!

My favorite store of the day!

Some of Gracie's purchases...

Some of Gracie’s purchases…

After a morning of shopping my mom took us to lunch at Broken Rocks.

Lunch was delicious!

Lunch was delicious!

After lunch we walked to a cupcake store where we each picked a cupcake for dessert.

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In addition to our shopping fun we also spent the weekend doing crafts with my Mom and going to see the new Cinderella movie all together.

Miss Molly

Miss Molly

It was such a wonderful weekend…so relaxing. Everyone caught up on their sleep and on Sunday we left feeling renewed and strengthen by our retreat at the Homestead. It was so nice having that special time with my girls and I am so grateful to be married to a man who is willing to hold down the fort at home so that we could get away. We came home to find everyone alive and well and happy…

Thank you Mom and Dad, for a wonderful memory making weekend!

There’s No Place like home for the Holidays…Part 1

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From the time I was a young girl, my favorite day of the Christmas season was always Christmas Eve. I don’t know if it was the joy of anticipation, or the magic evening my parents and grandparents created so selflessly. It could have been Christmas Eve mass, or the activities that followed: the appetizers and Christmas play that were performed by a group of untalented, yet eager children, whose talents were applauded as though they were Broadway stars. It could have been the feel of soft, new, unworn Christmas pajamas or the silence that settled in the room as my siblings and I listened for the sound of sleigh bells, willing our eyes to get heavy before Santa passed us by.

Perhaps it was a combination of all of these things.

To this day Christmas Eve is still my favorite day of the Christmas season. I am now one of the “Christmas makers” rather than a receiver of the gift, but there is still something magical in the air as we await the blessings of Christmas day.

And there is no place I would rather await the magic of Christmas than with my family, at the Homestead.

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 December 24th everyone woke and got right to work. There is a lot of work that goes into preparing the farm animals for our absence and moving all the Christmas supplies to Ohio for two days. There are stockings to pack, animals to feed, appetizers to pack in the cooler, and gifts to load in the trailer. There were too many people and too many bags to drive one vehicle so Toby drove his truck, pulling his trailer, while Grace drove my car. It was her longest driving stint since she passed her permit test and although she had to drive unfamiliar roads in Christmas traffic she did a beautiful job getting us safely to the Homestead in just under 3 hours.

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 When we arrived we greeted Uncle Travis, who was visiting from Texas, and G.G. (my grandma) who was visiting from Florida. The only thing that would have made the holidays even better is if my sister and her family could have joined us from Michigan.

When we arrived, G.G. had a surprise for Ozzie. She had finished knitting his stocking. He now has a personalized stocking to match the rest of the family’s stockings. It is a special gift that my grandmother has blessed all the family members with. She has knit dozens and dozens of Christmas stockings over the years as new spouses have married into the family, new babies have been born and little boys have been adopted.

It made the adoption feel all the more official as Ozzie held his new stocking.

As I took the photo I reflected on God’s hand in our lives. Last year God brought Ozzie into our lives when we volunteered to take Ozzie and his sister in for Christmas. They had no place to go. It was a special Christmas as we were able to be part of something blessed and holy. Who would have thought, 12 months later, that little boy would be our son and our family would be +1. It is humbling to see how much life can change over the course of a year.

Ozzie was also reflecting on the previous year when he said, “This year I have my own family.”

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Ozzie and G.G.

For dinner on Christmas Eve it is our tradition is to have appetizers. It adds to the festive, fun atmosphere to eat on our laps and enjoy dips and treats instead of a sit down meal.

The Christmas eve spread...YUM!

The Christmas eve spread…YUM!

Like the Christmas eves of my childhood, the kids all received new Christmas PJs.

Posing for G.G.

Posing for G.G.

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On Christmas eve the kids have also continued the tradition of putting on a play or a variety show for the adults’ entertainment. This year the big kids did a selection of songs from the movie “Frozen” hoping the good vibes would bring snow. (No such luck. It was in the 50’s and muddy.)

"Love is an open door."

“Love is an open door.”

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There was also our traditional “white elephant” gag gift exchange and family games. This year we had fun playing “Heads up.”

Playing "Heads Up!"

Playing “Heads Up!”

Brothers :)

Brothers 🙂

The real magic of the evening, however, happened in the humble surroundings of hay and animals. There in the darkness of the night, we gathered in the barn, that was lit only with luminaries, lanterns and the glow of the tree, and my father read to us the story of Christ’s birth.

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It was dusty, and damp, and…Holy.

For a moment we stepped away from the pile of presents and the shine of tinsel and we returned to where the story all began…

In a simple stable,

with family gathered,

and animals around.

After reading the Christmas story my parents shared with the kids the legend of the animals and the magic that happens each Christmas Eve at midnight….

The Night The Animals Talked

“In the frosty mountains and on the snowy fields of Norway, there is a legend that draws children to all kinds to stables and stalls throughout the country on each Christmas Eve night. They are hoping to hear a miracle. They are waiting to hear the animals talk.

Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. This was no abandoned place, but was a working stable, filled with animals of all kinds. Into these humble surroundings, encircled by the innocent creatures of God, the Savior of man came into the world.

Now according to legend, at least, Christ’s birth occurred at exactly midnight. Inside the stable, the animals watched in wonder as the new-born babe was lovingly wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. Suddenly, God gave voice to the animals and immediately they began to praise God for the miracle they had just seen. This went on for several minutes and, just before the entrance of the shepherds — who had hurried to the stable because angels had told them the Christ had been born there — the animals again fell silent. The only humans who had heard them were Mary, Joseph and, of course, the Christ child.

The legend of the talking animals persists to this day in Scandinavia. And every Christmas Eve, wide-eyed children creep into stables just before midnight to hear the animals praise God for the wondrous birth of His Son. Of course, adults scoff at this. “Old wives tales,” they grump. “Those children should be home in bed, not out in the cold waiting for the family cow to preach a sermon.”

But the children know — or at least believe — that animals really do praise God at midnight every Christmas Eve. And who of us — those who believe in an all-powerful God — can say that it really doesn’t happen.”

 (by: Ed Price)

We then read from the book, Manger, which is a compiled series of poems written in the voices of the animals that were there for Christ’s birth, on that holy night. We passed the book around, as we sat on the hay, each taking a turn to read an animal’s poem.

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Rusty had somebody reading over his shoulder 🙂

Then we tucked in the animals and said good night. The kids talked of sneaking back out at midnight to listen at the barn door. 🙂

 

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 It was then time for bed. Santa’s cookies we placed on a plate, a cup of eggnog at its side, and reindeer food was tossed in the air in anticipation of Rudolph’s arrival.

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Magic reindeer food!

The little ones were then tucked into bed so that the real magic could begin.