Tag Archives: food

Turkey Hill Experience

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On Tuesday, following Molly’s recognition banquet at the Downingtown office of her cyber school, we began our trek home. The initial plan was to stop in Hershey, home of Hershey’s Chocolate World. Ozzie decided he wanted to treat Molly to a special shared experience with his own money. He had decided on the “Create Your Own Candy Bar” experience at Chocolate World but when I called to reserve tickets we found out that it was currently closed for renovations. Quickly we scrambled to come up with a Plan B.

As I searched for things to do along our route back home I stumbled across a fun little gem near Lancaster, Pa. Created by Turkey Hill ice cream, the Turkey Hill Experience is a fun, interactive museum all about the creation of Turkey Hill ice cream (and their tea and lemonade drink line.) As I read about the experience online both Ozzie and Molly thought it sounded fun. When we read that there were unlimited ice cream samples offered at the end of the tour, they were sold…

So, off we drove toward ice cream heaven.

The Turkey Hill Experience is housed in a beautiful, old brick warehouse.

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As we walked in we were greeted by a giant cow…a whimsical clue to what the experience would hold.

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We were the youngest visitors there by many decades, with the only other visitors consisting of a senior tour bus.

The experience is set up to take visitors through each step of the ice cream creation process.

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The tour began with a short video about the history of Turkey Hill Ice Cream and an introduction to the ice cream making process.

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Then we stepped into the world of ice cream creation…

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Step 1: It all begins with the cow!

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Step 2: Making sure the milk meets the standards of Turkey Hill.

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Step 3: Getting creative…the “Create Your own Ice Cream Flavor” station.

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Step 4: Measuring and Mixing.

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Step 5: Designing the packaging for our new ice cream flavors.

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Step 6: Into the freezer…BRRRRR!

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Step 7: Filming a commercial for our newly developed flavors.

As Molly and Ozzie moved through the experience they scanned their entrance ticket at each station so the continuity of their work continued through the experience, building on itself until the commercial at the end.

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It was a really fun place that was created to be engaging for every age, from toddlers to retirees.

The climax of the experience came at the end with the tasting café where we were invited to taste different Turkey Hill ice cream flavors. There was no limit to the samples we could enjoy and there was no additional fee.

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This was definitely the highlight of the day for our crew.

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It was a great way to conclude our special sibling bonding trip…

Sweet memories made by all!

Lambert’s Café: Home of Throwed Rolls

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I first heard of Lambert’s Café in a children’s book I was reading aloud to the kids a few years ago. In the book the children in the story went to Lambert’s with their grandparents and there experienced the unique dining experience that is iconically Lambert’s.

I didn’t realize that Lambert’s Café was a real restaurant until we were driving through Missouri on our bus trip last year and I saw the billboards for Lambert’s Café. The tagline: “Home of Throwed Rolls”  was the giveaway that it was the same place that was highlighted in the book.

We didn’t stop there last year, but when we decided that Springfield, Missouri would be our stop for the second night of our trip I told Toby I knew just the place for dinner!

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I didn’t give much away. I just told my family that they were in for a treat. I knew the experience would be as enjoyed as the homemade southern cooking.

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We arrived just in time, walking through the doors at 8:50 pm. The restaurant closed at 9:00, but they welcomed us in with a smile and seated us at a table.

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The first clue that this dining experience would be different than other places was the table settings, which consisted of a roll of paper towels and a cup of silverware.

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Our waitress came over and took our drink orders. When she returned the kids received their second clue that this was going to be a unique dinner. The cups were huge. Rusty was thrilled. When we go out to eat my water lover always seems to be waiting on refills. There was no running out of water at this place!

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Then we ordered. The food here is homestyle, with southern classics like chicken fried steak and fried chicken being some of their top sellers.

After ordering, the fun began with a waiter yelling, “Fresh rolls!”

The kids soon picked up on how things worked at Lambert’s when they saw hands being raised around the room and rolls started flying.

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At Lambert’s Café if you want one of their delicious, homemade rolls you have to catch one.

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Don’t worry if you miss on the first try… many people do. The floor is littered with fallen fare.

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They will just send another one your way.

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Luckily we were eating dinner with Tyler, who eagerly offered to get us rolls anytime someone wanted one. He loved the “sporty” aspect to the dinning experience and caught many rolls for our table.

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In addition to the flying rolls there were also “Pass Arounds.” These were side dishes that come free with your meal. Waiters walked around with bowls of macaroni and tomatoes, black eyed peas, fried potatoes and onions, and fried okra that you could try while waiting for your meal.

We all tried fried okra for the first time and found it better than expected. Tyler was the only wouldn’t give it a try, despite the persistence of our cute waitress.

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Our stomachs were already filling up thanks to the “Pass Arounds” and the delicious rolls, when our dinners arrived.

Talk about generous servings!!

Toby and Rusty’s chicken fried steak meals came out in frying pans.

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I ordered the fried chicken and it was the BEST fried chicken I have ever had. The food was incredible. It was one of the tastiest meals we have ever had and easily measured up to our gold star standard of a Disney World Resort restaurant in both quality of food and level of interactive entertainment.

We are so glad we gave Lambert’s Café a try!

When we left we stopped at the visitor’s map to mark our hometown and record that the McCleerys were here.

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It was an awesome evening!

This and That

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Sometimes I find that the focus of my blog tends to revolve around the big news and events sprinkled throughout our weeks, but every now and then I feel compelled to pen a “catch up” sort of blog that shares more of the day to day happenings in our life. Since none of these small happenings justify an entire blog entry I tend to  lump them together in a “this and that” blog.  The big breakthrough sort of moments of life may determine the course of our journey but it is the small day to day happenings that are the building blocks of our life.

Here is a look into the day to day moments that make up our life:

We have taken this time of respite, while Ozzie is getting some much needed and effective therapy to address his history of trauma, to really focus on the needs of the other children. Part of our plan to reconnect and assess everyone’s wellbeing has been for Toby and I to schedule a one-on-one date with each of the kids so that they can share their hearts with us in an uninterrupted setting. It has been a blessing and good for everyone. We schedule our dates following a visit to see Ozzie. We have taken the kids to visit him one at a time so that they can have one on one time with Ozzie. This has been good for Ozzie as it encourages deeper attachment with each sibling individually, but also good for the kids to see where Ozzie is at and see the work he is doing. The experience has made them more understanding and empathetic of Ozzie’s struggles as they gain insight into the hurt and trauma behind the behaviors.

Following our visit with Ozzie, Toby and I take that child out on a special date to the restaurant of their choosing (something more financially feasible when you are paying for 3 meals as opposed to 7.) It has been fun to see what everyone’s picks have been. Molly chose Five Guys, Grace chose Chipotle, and Rusty chose Dynasty Chinese buffet. Tyler has his date night coming up and I suspect McDonalds is in our future.

As part of Gracie’s date we stopped so she could get her haircut. This task is significantly easier and more enjoyable without little brothers tagging along.

Here is her before and after:

The kids have been busy with school as their 3rd quarter comes to a close. Rusty has been studying DNA which means he had a fun assignment in science. His teacher sent all the students the candy and supplies for an online class to make DNA chains using sweet treats. I must say Rusty was even more engaged in the lesson than usual, knowing that at the completion of the lesson he would get to eat the “fruits of his labors.”

Grace is still involved in mural club, with Molly and Rusty joining her occasionally for a mural they are interested in learning to paint. Two weeks ago they were learning to paint roses. Grace decided to veer off from the teacher’s sample and create a stain glass version of a rose. (Can you see how excited she is for the new Beauty and the Beast movie that is going to be released soon?!) She was on a role and followed that art project with a craft project of her own by making the enchanted rose from the West Wing. Here are her finished projects:

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This summer my three oldest kids will be going on Trek. Those that have been following our blog for a while will remember when Grace participated in a pioneer trek four years ago with other youth in our church. They spent 3 days trekking through the rolling hills of Virginia, pulling handcarts and cooking over a fire so as to gain an appreciation for the sacrifices made by the pioneers who trekked westward. This year Grace, Molly and Rusty will be able to experience this together and I am so thrilled for them!

A few Sundays ago we attended the kick-off fireside that inspired, instructed, and got the excitement going for this upcoming July event. Grace is on the youth committee that is helping adult leadership with the planning of the event and was given the responsibility of creating a short, fun video to help the youth get ideas of how to easily and inexpensively put together the outfits they will wear on trek.

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She did a great job!

This Wednesday was a theme day at co-op. In honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday we had Wacky Wednesday…and this is what the kids came up with. I think Rusty wins!

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In preparation for Family Night Grace donned her apron to create a Disney World copycat recipe of raspberry macaroons. Yes, they were as delicious as they look!

For our family night message we had a lesson on the life of Job. As we read about Job’s trials and likened them to our own we were humbled by all he had to endure and how faithfully and graciously he endured them. It gave me cause for reflection as I considered my own earthly journey and the challenges in my life, which seem so shallow in comparison, but more striking was the comparison between how Job endured compared to the way I have endured certain seasons of life. It made me desire a deeper and more faithful relationship with my Heavenly Father so that I might handle the trials that come my way more humbly, graciously and faithfully.

This lesson was followed by a Pixar short entitled, “Paperman,” that led us into the hands-on portion of my lesson.

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I began by giving everyone a sheet of paper and asked them to see who could make that flat piece of paper soar across the room. With much laughter and taunting we found none were able to get their flat piece of paper to travel more than a foot or two.

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I asked what we could do to make our paper fly better, to which the kids suggested we fold them into paper airplanes.

Using some YouTube tutorials we created all sorts of magnificent paper airplanes.

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We then lined up and tried again. This time those pieces of papers soared gracefully across the room.

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I asked the kids what had changed.

They replied, “We had to fold it into the right shape so that it could fly.”

I then brought home the point of the lesson,

In order to fly, that untouched, pristine, piece of paper had to be bent, folded, and torn to be molded into an object that could soar above the pull of the world.

And so it is with us.

It is the trials and challenges that we live through that we learn the most from. An untouched piece of paper doesn’t fly, and life of ease doesn’t help us soar. We need the creases and the folds to fly, and we need to allow God to use the lessons we learn during those hard times to mold us into someone that soars beyond the pull of this world.

I prepared the lesson for my children, but it was I that really needed to be reminded of the truth. God is using this season of life to work mighty changes in me so that I might fly higher and closer to Him.

 

A SUPER week ends with a Super Bowl party

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This post is a “catch up” post. We had a full week with lots of things going on, but none big enough to devote an entire post to. The result: a smorgasbord of life events from the past week.

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  1. In the Cyber School my three oldest children attend there is an opportunity to be part of school clubs. This is a fun reward that can be enjoyed when school work is completed. There are a variety of clubs available, for every interest you could imagine. Rusty is a member of the Lego Club and Chess Club. My girls have taken part in the Photography Club and Mural Club. These are fun activities that they look forward to. It is a chance to participate in fun activities and socialize with other cyber students. This week was Mural Club. Molly was in a class and couldn’t attend so Grace invited Rusty and I to participate with her.  In Mural Club the teacher chooses a project and informs the students what supplies they will need for that painting and then everyone logs into a virtual classroom where the Mural Club teacher walks them through the process of creating that work of art, allowing for as much creative license as the students would like to take. She is there simply to guide. This week the project was a painting of a night time sky. Rusty and I joined Grace up in our playroom to paint. It was a lot of fun and we were quite proud of our finished projects.
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My painting is on the far left, Rusty’s is in the middle, and Gracie’s is on the right.

 

2. Another club Grace is involved in is Fandom Club. This is a club that Grace and her friend, Olivia, came up with and received approval by the school to lead. They are in charge of coming up with the activities and discussion for the bi-monthly Fandom meeting. Each meeting is devoted to a different popular teen fandom. They develop power point slides that guide the meeting as they discuss the fandom of the week. In the past they have had meetings on the Harry Potter series, Marvel Super Heroes, Hunger Games, Star Wars, etc. This week was all about Nintendo, and Rusty helped Grace prepare the Fandom Club meeting since this is more in his area of interest/expertise than Gracie’s.

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Gracie leading the meeting from her bedroom.

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Rusty attending the meeting from his room 🙂

3. For everyone’s “one on one time” this week we worked on projects that were personal to them and their needs for the week. For Tyler’s time we made Valentines for his biological siblings. He has been missing them desperately this week and needing to reach out and connect, so we pulled out our container of art supplies and let him go to town. This week we also made stress balls together. My boys each have a stress ball they use for anxiety in therapy. It is a stretchy, squishy ball that they can pull, squeeze and pinch while they are working through tough stuff with Miss Tina. We also use it at home when emotions are hard. I have found that their stress balls aren’t always accessible when we need them so I decided to make a bunch of them to put around the house, in the car, and in my purse so I have one whenever I need one. The process was simple and the boys LOVED helping me make them. We bought a pack of balloons. We blew them up to stretch out the rubber, and then using a funnel we filled them with flour before tying them closed. They work wonderfully, cost us almost nothing, and will hopefully guarantee we will have a stress ball accessible whenever we need one. 🙂

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As for the other kids’ one on one time…Rusty worked on Duty to God (The goal setting program at church) with me and Ozzie and I worked on completing the last few projects in his Faith in God program before his 12th birthday in two weeks. Grace was asked to teach her Sunday School class this Sunday so I helped her plan her lesson and Molly has spent the last two weeks working on a Personal Progress project that requires her to make dinner for two weeks. She has done a great job and I have LOVED being off dinner duty. Molly has treated us to tortellini soup, lasagna, potato soup, corned beef and couscous, pierogis, spaghetti, etc. YUM!

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4. One evening this week we lost power for three hours. The kids loved the novelty of lighting candles and playing games in the dark. For the big kids that had fully charged laptop computers school continued in the dark until lessons were done, and then all the kids enjoyed hide and seek in the dark with glow sticks. Ozzie was a bit nervous and stuck pretty close to me through the power outage. I know he was immensely relieved when the lights came on before it was time for bed.

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5. I found time to work on a little decorating project. A year ago Tyler broke my big yellow mirror in the living room by “fishing” in the living room and casting a rod that had a weight tied to the end. (“It flew further that way,” he explained.) I finally had Toby take out the broken mirror from where we stored it away in the basement and decided that rather than replace the mirror I would use it as a frame for a photo collage above the piano. I love how it turned out!

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6. This weekend we had three little visitors. They came Friday and stayed through Sunday. Toby spent Saturday working on the bus. With Molly’s help he completed the wiring. When the kids weren’t playing they were on the bus “helping.”

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The three 9-11 year olds heading out to explore in the woods.

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Two of Toby’s “helpers.”

 

7. While Toby spent Saturday working on the bus, Rusty spent his Saturday at a Boy Scout Merit Badge Pow Wow with other scouts. It was an all day event. Rusty worked on three Merit Badges: chess, architecture, and first aid. He enjoyed all three classes but the Chess Merit Badge was his favorite. In addition to learning more about the game and different plays he was able to learn how a professional tournament is played and how to record the moves of a game.

8. Tyler had a birthday party on Saturday. He was invited to a friend’s birthday party and was SO EXCITED to be invited to a birthday party all by himself…with no siblings. It was a first for him and he put a lot of thought and love into buying the perfect gift and picking out the perfect card (a singing card of course!) The theme for the party was Legos and he came home with a cute Lego t-shirt he made at the party.

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9. The three big kids were excited to see the fruits of their labors with these certificates they received in the mail from their school. Rusty earned High Honors this past quarter with all A’s and Grace and Molly received Distinguished Honors with all high A’s. I’m so proud of them all. They worked hard for those accomplishments.

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10. Our weekend ended with a SUPER Super Bowl party with friends. We have been invited to the McKay’s Super bowl party since Rusty was a little baby and we look forward to the chance to reconnect and spend time with them every year. They are an amazing family and we always leave their home feeling inspired, blessed and loved by their gracious hospitality. We ate good food, laughed a lot, and enjoyed a great night of football… despite the Steelers not playing. 🙂

It was a busy week. It was a good week. We are incredibly blessed.

An Escape to Amish Country

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This past weekend we ran away to Amish country…aka Holmes County, Ohio. The children were shipped off to be cared for by loving (and Oh So generous!) friends and family so that Toby and I could get away.

Grace, Rusty and Tyler spent the weekend at the Hudak’s home and Molly and Ozzie spent the weekend with my parents at the Homestead. Both sets of kids were excited about their mini vacations but none were more excited than Toby and I!

After a high stress December Toby and I made the decision that rather than exchanging Christmas gifts, as we traditionally do, we would instead use the money we would have spent on each other to run away together. We decided to rent a Bed and Breakfast cottage in Amish country. We were looking for a quiet place… a place of rest and renewal… to reconnect as a couple and just be husband and wife (instead of mom and dad) once again.

I was eagerly anticipating this time away. I was looking forward to sleeping in and not cooking, cleaning, or caring for others. I was looking forward to the quiet and solitude found in the sleepy hills of Ohio.

I was looking forward to focusing on my husband…

On uninterrupted conversations and the chance to hold his hand rather than a child’s hand. I was looking forward to reconnecting and sharing our dreams for the upcoming year as well as our future beyond this year.

I had big dreams for our time away and our little escape didn’t disappoint. It was delightful!

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After dropping off all our kiddos we drove out to our “home away from home” for the weekend. Toby booked our trip and didn’t tell me where we were staying. He wanted to surprise me, and boy did he. It was a magical little cottage tucked between the snow covered hills of the Ohio country side.

Where we stayed:

“Premier Cottages welcomes you to the heart of beautiful Amish country, with seven individual cottages. Our cottages are located less than four miles from the center of Berlin, just far enough from town to enjoy a spectacular starlit sky and a quiet stroll in the country.

Our cottages are filled with delightful genuine cottage decor – featuring local, primitive, and country-style furnishings with luxurious bedding. Each cottage has a two person jacuzzi, over-stuffed chairs and at least one large stone fireplace to make your stay more romantic and comfortable. Rolling country scenery and farmlands surround the property, creating a haven of quiet seclusion that feels far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. So, whether you are looking for a romantic getaway or a retreat with family and friends…

Come and have your breath taken away at a slower pace!”

It did just that.

Our charming little cottage boasted complimentary treats and sparkling cider, a Jacuzzi tub for two, the most comfortable/ luxurious bed I’ve ever slept in, and breakfast dropped off on our front porch in the morning.

(It was hard to come home to reality!)  🙂

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The upstairs bedroom.

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The master bedroom with in-floor Jacuzzi.

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We spent a lot of time snuggling in front of the fireplace after returning home from sightseeing in the bitter cold.

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Toby loved having satellite TV and being able to actually watch a Steeler game on Sunday afternoon.

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Breakfast on Sunday morning.

As guests at Premier Lodging we received a coupon for a free Wendell August Forge Christmas ornament… a memento of our weekend in Holmes county. We drove over to the store in Berlin to window shop and pick up our souvenir.

 

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Wendell August Forge:

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“As you enjoy the breathtaking beauty and simplicity of Ohio’s Amish Country, a visit to our largest store on the outskirts of Berlin, OH is sure to be a trip highlight. Berlin is nestled in the rolling hills of Holmes County, home to the largest Amish and Mennonite community in the world. The Amish are quiet people who hold fast to their traditions and way of life. They are renowned for their crafts, and the quality of their work is exceptional.

This combination of tradition and quality craftsmanship unite at our store the minute you see the store driving down Route 62. The 13,000 square foot timber frame facility, located beneath the blue and yellow water tower is the largest of its kind in the State of Ohio. It houses many exciting attractions, including a 5,000 square foot showroom filled with our unique, one-of-a-kind handcrafted metal giftware that Wendell August is famous for. As you enter our front door, you are immediately captured by our beautiful product and the vastness of the space. The timber frame construction is awe inspiring in and of itself. You can’t help noticing the World’s Largest Amish Buggy, made especially for us by an Amish buggy maker just down the road from us. Gather your family and friends for a picture right in front of the massive buggy on a genuine buggy seat! Another guest favorite is the old time Nickelodeon, certain to entertain with its multiple instruments playing memorable songs.

For history buffs and those wanting to get a better feel for our story dating back to our company founding in 1923, be sure to stroll through our museum area and take in the short video in our guest theater. Here you’ll walk through and be inspired by the collectible Wendell August giftware from the 1920s – 1950s. The movie tells both the company history and teaches you more about how each one of our gift items is made one-at-a-time by hand in our American workshops.

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You will then enjoy the chance to walk through our workshop space where we have set up all of the tools of our trade from the die engraving through the creation of our product. You will get a great sense of how our craftsmen in Pennsylvania make our wonderful giftware.

Once you have experienced all of this, be sure to try your hand at being a craftsperson yourself in our interactive hand hammering room and take home a treasure made by you!”

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For $2.00 we were able to try pounding out our own aluminum scene on a patterned plate. We chose an Amish barn raising scene.

 

Heini’s Cheese Chalet:

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“Our Grandfather, John (Hans) Dauwalder, trained as a master cheesemaker in Switzerland, and came to the United States in the 1920’s to display his artisan talents in a growing cheese market. After several successful years at the Bunker Hill Cheese Co-op, John decided to return to his hometown in Switzerland to further his romance with Lili Mueller. The two fell in love and were married in 1933.

In 1948, John and Lili, together with their two children, Peter, our Father and Marguerite, our Aunt, sold the family farm in Switzerland to join John’s Brother Crist in the United States. Crist had purchased Bunker Hill Cheese in 1935 and asked John to join him in building the family cheese business.

In 1962, our parents Peter and Nancy, who were married in 1955, acquired Bunker Hill Cheese. Today it is one of the premier cheese retailers east of the Mississippi River, and one of the most successful wholesale manufacturers serving clients throughout North America.

Our family business continues to be the primary outlet for the Amish farms in the region. The Amish farmers still provide their milk to our factory in traditional milk cans, the same manner as their forefathers did. The relationship between the farmers and the Dauwalder family is personal, and together we are committed to continuing on into the 21st century.”

Our next stop was Heini’s Cheese Chalet where we had fun sampling many of their 50 different types of cheese. They were all delicious but my favorite was the smoked horseradish cheddar and the Vidalia onion crème cheese.

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Here we also purchased the kids’ souvenirs. We decided it would be fun to buy them each their own jams that they could use on toast. We decided to buy them untraditional flavors, thus adding to the novelty of the gifts.

Here are the flavors we purchased:

Tyler: Loganberry Jam

Rusty: Sassafras Jelly

Ozzie: Corn Cob Jelly

Molly: Kiwi Jam

Gracie: Dandelion Jelly

Speaking of jam…

Our next stop was:

Smucker’s Company Store:

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For more than 115 years, The J.M. Smucker Company, with its trusted brands and quality products, has helped to make family meals memorable. Today, The J.M. Smucker Company Store and Café continues this proud tradition by showcasing products and merchandise from the Company’s family of brands.

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I was blown away by all the products and name brands owned by Smuckers. I had no idea. It was fun to try samples and gather recipes that use many of these products.

 

In addition to the fruit spreads, coffee, peanut butter, ice cream toppings, pancake mix, syrup, and baking products you’d expect, you’ll also find our signature branded gifts and merchandise — from kitchen accessories to apparel and more

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It was very interesting reading about the history of this family brand.

 

Then it was on to…Lehman’s Hardware Store:

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“We’re a destination. What started as a small hardware store serving the local Amish in Kidron, Ohio, grew into something much bigger than founder Jay Lehman ever dreamed. Gathering four pre-Civil War era buildings under one soaring roof, today our store is a place to embrace the past: from old-fashioned treats and sodas to practical, non-electric goods that help you live a simpler life. Shop and reminisce your way through thousands of products while browsing Jay’s antique collection located throughout the store. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time—the full shopping experience is nearly a quarter mile long!

We LOVE Lehman’s. This is a favorite stop in Holmes county. We love checking out all the cool antiques and the unusual and practical products sold here that can’t be found anywhere else.

And while here we can’t leave without purchasing a bottle of soda. We played it safe this time and avoided the bacon soda and the peanut butter and jelly soda and instead bought a crème soda and a butter beer.

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Another stop on Toby’s wish list was:

Keim Lumber:

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“Our 4th generation family owned business began in 1911 as a rough lumber mill with just 4 employees.  Today, we’ve grown to a 50 acre complex with over 700,000 square feet of retail, office, warehouse, and millwork production space, with over 400 dedicated employees.  Our goal is to build relationships, provide outstanding products and services, and ensure our customers always have a great experience working with us, all the while retaining the qualities of hard work, dedication and honesty from the legacies left behind from our father Bill, grandfather Roman, and great-grandfather Mose. 

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With over 60 exotic & specialty wood species in stock coming from as far as the West Indies, Africa and the Pacific Rim, our “Wood Shed” is a must see for everyone. 

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It is a carpenter’s dream store! While here we bought some supplies for our bus renovations and explored different cabinet options for the bus’s kitchen.

Housing an exotic wood selection ranging from a 513 year old Bubinga slab to poison ivy, the display in our showroom is one of amazing variety. Be sure to stop by and choose a unique exotic lumber piece for your next project.”

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On my wish list was a stop at Just Enough Antiques:

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“If you love the patina of history, you’ll find it at Just Enough Antiques. Shopkeeper Daphne Ross features a cozy collection of primitive, farmhouse and vintage treasures along with American Arts from local artisans and craftsmen. Six rooms, two porches and outdoor spaces are filled with many one-of-a-kind pieces.  If you don’t know what you’re looking for until it speaks to you, get ready for a long chat at Just Enough Antiques. Visit out historical 1850 house just west of the village square in Smithville.”

For Christmas I received a gift certificate to Just Enough Antiques, my favorite store in Amish Country. I had so much fun shopping and picking out some new things for the house. Among my purchases were a old wagon side that will become my new key holder by the front door and an old red cooler that I am going to use to file paperwork. I love this place!

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My four purchases.

 

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We even ate lunch at a Amish restaurant that boasted an Amish buggy/table you could eat at. The Reuben sandwiches here were delicious!

 

It was a perfect weekend away. Thank you to everyone that helped make it a reality. I returned home feeling rested, refocused, and even more in love with my eternal companion.

I am incredibly blessed!

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

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Christmas-Eve

On Christmas Eve we left to spend the night at my parents’ house in Ohio. My father’s mother (G.G.) and my brother (Travis) were already there. Christmas Eve is so much fun and has been since childhood. We now celebrate Christmas Eve at my parents’ house, as opposed to G.G.’s house where we celebrated Christmas when I was a child. We now celebrate in Ohio as opposed to my parents’ house in McKeesport where we celebrated Christmas up until a few years ago when they retired to Ohio,

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but regardless of the change of venue and the passing of time, our Christmas traditions remain pretty much the same. For Christmas Eve dinner we always feast on appetizers as opposed to a traditional sit-down meal.

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During dinner Ozzie asked where Santa might be in his travels. We decided to look and see. We searched and discovered Santa Tracker through google maps that tells you where he is, how many presents he has already delivered, where he is heading next and when he will arrive at your home. Well, needless to say, Ozzie was enamored! It combined the magic of Christmas with his obsession for maps and he just couldn’t get enough! It was a really cool site!

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We always have a talent show of some sort. This tradition began when I was small. The kids were always expected to perform on Christmas Eve. Sometimes it was a funny parody of a classic Christmas story, sometimes a more thoughtful touching story or song. This tradition has continued on with my own children. This year instead doing a skit the girls decided to perform on behalf of the kids. They spent the last two months learning the American Sign Language interpretation of the song, “Mary, did you know?”

Their performance was beautiful and moving.

Then there is always the funny gift exchange. It is, in essence, a white elephant gift exchange that I am in charge of. It sole purpose is for laughs and we all have a fun time with this part of Christmas Eve. I purchase 12 funny/tacky gifts (mainly from the Dollar Store) and wrap them. We then take turns picking gifts and stealing from each other until everyone has a gift in their lap, and then we open them one by one. Here’s a peek into the source of much laughter…

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Then it is time to head outside. This part of our Christmas Eve is a new tradition that began when my parents moved to the Homestead. (And it is now my favorite part of Christmas Eve!) We walk out to the barn, decorated with lanterns and a small tree. In the darkness of the barn, surrounded by animals, we sit on bales of hay and listen as my Dad opens his Bible and reads to us the story of Christ’s birth.

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Even the animals gather around and listen.

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And the Spirit of Christmas is felt in the silence of the stable.

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Then it is time to get ready for bed. The kids all get to open their packages of new Christmas PJs. As a child this was such a treat. I loved the feeling of new, soft pajamas on my skin as I snuggled under the covers and tried to will myself to sleep before Santa passed over our house.

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Once the kids are all nestled snug in their beds the magic of Christmas begins. The adults enjoy sitting and visiting while waiting for little people to fall asleep so that Santa can sneak presents into the house. Once the children have fallen asleep the men carry in all the presents and place them under the tree while the “Mrs. Clauses” fill the stockings. It is a fun time with my mother and grandmother as we gather on my parents’ bed and talk while we fill stocking after stocking.

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Then the stockings are carried into the living room, ready for the magic of Christmas morning.

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It is then time to go to bed where we don’t sleep most of the night. We share a room with the three boys. Rusty sleeps on the couch in the guest room and Tyler and Ozzie each sleep on either side of our bed…and by sleep I mean wake up every 30 minutes through the night and ask if it is time to get up yet. 🙂

When we came up to bed this is where we found Tyler:

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We moved him off our bed and onto the floor. By morning he had moved again. In the middle of the night he climbed into my Mom’s decorative, antique cradle and fell asleep…so cute!

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As I lay in bed…not sleeping…I counted my many blessings. My heart was full as I lay in the dark listening for the pitter patter of tiny reindeer hooves.

“But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!”

Rusty’s day at the Carnegie Science Center

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For Rusty’s birthday celebration he requested we spend the day at the Carnegie Science Center. It is always a treat when a birthday falls on a Saturday and we have Toby home for the day. Since we have a membership to the science center (compliments of my parents in honor of Ozzie’s adoption day) it was a free birthday outing. 🙂

We arrived by mid-morning, soon after they opened. Upon arriving we discovered it to be more crowded than it usually is. At first I assumed it was due to the fact it was the weekend (we usually go when the crowds are in school) or the fact it was a rainy day, but we discovered there was more to the story. The crowds, we discovered, were due to an event taking place inside. The day was dedicated to encouraging girls to pursue careers in the science field, so the science center was filled with booths, sponsored by different science driven careers, that offered different fun activities and hand-outs.

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While working our way through the crowded lobby we heard a familiar voice…

“Ozzie!”

Zoey, Ozzie’s biological sister, came flying through the crowd toward us. She was there with her girl scout troop. They were earning a badge. Both kids were thrilled by this impromptu meeting but sad they couldn’t spend the day together. Even though we try to get them together monthly they still struggle with the fact they were adopted into different homes and can’t live together.

She asked if she could spend the day with us, but it wasn’t going to work out. She had to stay with her girl scout troop and work on her badge, and we had a birthday to celebrate.

We made plans to get together in the next week or two, said our good-byes, and headed into the crowds toward the first exhibit.

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On the first floor of the science center they recently opened a new exhibit: “H2OH!”

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The boys taking a break on the specialized seating in the water exhibit.

They have done a beautiful job on this new exhibit that highlights water and river life in the Pittsburgh area.

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On the second floor there is the ROBOT exhibit. It is a neat area devoted to the history and future of robotics. Tyler’s favorite part is the basketball game that allows you to compete shot for shot with a robot. The statistics don’t lie…the robot is much better than the human competitors. 🙂

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At one of the display booths the kids discovered these cool cubes called, “cubelets.” These cubes magnetically connect to each other making circuits. There are battery cubes, light cubes, inverters, motion sensors, etc. The kids spent 30 minutes playing with these.

Hmmm…Perhaps a possible future birthday gift? 🙂IMG_3384

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At another display booth the kids had the opportunity to make their own lip gloss. The boys passed this booth up but the girls stopped and each made one. They could choose their scent, color and whether they wanted sparkles or not.

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The finished lip glosses, set to harden.

Because it was Rusty’s birthday he got to choose the events of the day, deciding if we attended any of the free science classes offered throughout the science center. When we arrived he looked at the schedule of events and circled the classes he was most interested in: “Robots,” “Fruit Flambe'” and “High Voltage.”

In the “High Voltage” class we learned about electricity and saw multiple displays of static electric charges.

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Ozzie volunteered to be part of the show even though it meant getting shocked.

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The “Fruit Flambe'” class took place in the science kitchen. In this class the kids learned about the three elements needed to create fire, and did so through the fun task of making a fruit flambe’.

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The best part of the class was the taste testing at the end! 🙂

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After a fun day at the science center we ended Rusty’s birthday celebration with dinner at Ponderosa restaurant. A few months ago we puppy sat for a family at church. They generously thanked us with a gift card to Ponderosa that paid for our entire family to enjoy dinner out. We saved the gift card for a special occasion: Rusty’s birthday!

Teenage boys love all-you-can-eat buffets!!

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It was a wonderful family day.

Next weekend Rusty will celebrate his birthday with friends at his “Pixel” themed birthday party.

Once a Month Cooking…Let’s give it a try.

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When it comes to crossing things off my “to do” list I have found I am best at big event planning, you know

holidays, trips, parties and classes, traditions, special occasions and simple celebrations.

And while planning a holiday party or putting together a child’s birthday party is easy breezy for me, the every day tasks are not. Unfortunately it is those everyday tasks that make up the majority of our lives.I think this is why I depend on schedules and routines. Without a schedule to direct me through my day I find myself wandering, overwhelmed by the many tasks that lay before me, uncertain of where to begin.

I love “one time events” because they can be crossed off the “to do” list and then you don’t have to think about them anymore.

– host Christmas party….check! Done.

It is the never-ending, daily tasks, those things that can never truly be completed, and reappear daily on my “to do” list, that leave me weary and resentful.

Nothing makes me want to cry more than walking past the laundry basket, minutes after I’ve folded and put away the last load of dirty laundry, and seeing a newly deposited pair of dirty socks taunting me from the bottom of the basket.

Or shutting off the light in my clean kitchen after washing dishes, sweeping the floor, and shining the sink, only to have a teenager pass by me with a dirty ice cream bowl in hand. All I want is ONE morning where I wake to an empty sink…Ahhh!

And then there are meals…

I feel like the majority of my life is spent planning meals, shopping for food, putting away food, preparing meals, and then cleaning them up.

Just imagine the time I would have on my hands if nobody wanted fed,

and it doesn’t matter how much I feed the troops, they always want to eat again when the next mealtime rolls around. 😛

I try to remind myself daily of the great blessings associated with these daily chores:

How blessed we are to have the means to feed our children daily and tuck them into bed with full bellies.

How blessed I am to have a sink full of dirty dishes because it means everyone was fed.

How blessed I am to have a washer and drier in my home to wash those dirty clothes made by kids making childhood memories.

I know my ancestors would roll their eyes at my whining,

as they recall laundry taking all day to wash, done on the shores of a creek…

which is why I try to keep my grumbling to a minimum.

I know a day will come when I miss the fingerprints on the window and the mess of Legos on the living room floor.

As Thomas S. Monson said:

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But even with that realization I can’t help but always be seeking an easier, more efficient way to tackle those never ending, daily tasks, so I can move on to the tasks I can actually cross of the “to do” list. 🙂

neverending story

With the start of school and nightly football practices I have been searching out a better way to handle dinner preparations. Our evenings are full and I would love to spend more time sitting around the table eating with my family than fixing meals and eating it in a rush to get boys into bed on time.

As I was cleaning out my recipe book cabinet I came across a recipe book given to me years ago by a friend. She was in a season of life in which this book was a great blessing to her and she wanted to share this helpful tool. At the time I wasn’t in a season of life where I needed that time saving tool. I was home all day with little ones so I couldn’t relate to her time pressures,

but I took it gratefully

knowing someday it would be a blessing for me too.

That season has arrived and when I came across it in my cabinet I had a “Eureka” moment.

The book is:

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And the premise is simple…

Devote a day to planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning up dinner and have meals for a month.

Rather than going through those steps daily you make it a big one time event for the month.

This REALLY appealed to my love of big event planning

and the best part:

At the end of the day I could actually mark “Make Dinner” off my “to do” list for the month!

Having never tried this before I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but having done it once I am sold. Not that I won’t allow for the flexibility of an impromptu menu change if I suddenly have the urge to cook, but how nice that I don’t have the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” question hanging over my head all day.

Having done it once and seeing the fruits of that labor, I can see how it would be a great solution for busy moms, single moms or working moms.

The process for making two weeks worth of meals to put in the freezer took us 3 hours. (Next round I’m going to try a month’s worth.)

The cookbook is broken up into sections based on the protein used in those dishes. There are a few chicken sections, beef, ground beef, turkey, pork, salmon, tuna, and vegetarian dishes.

I picked a chicken section and a ground beef section of recipes for our first time attempting this.

We began with grocery shopping. The beginning of each chapter of recipes has a shopping list printed out, already organized by sections of the grocery store, to make for easier shopping.

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We came home, laid out all the groceries on the counter and turned to the next page in the book that listed all the advanced prep work needed. It is in this section you find out what meat needs precooked, which pasta needs preboiled, and what vegetables need to be chopped and sliced.

The kids were HUGE helps with this process and it became a fun family project as we worked together.

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After the prep work was done we began assembling individual dishes. It was so easy since all the prep work was done.

Then each kid picked a recipe from that section of the cookbook to be in charge of. That completed recipe then became their dinner night meal that they would have been responsible for on their individual nights. Now they only have to warm it up and choose their side dishes when their dinner night rolls around.

During the next few hours we assembled 12 dinners. Each dinner was placed in a freezer bag or casserole dish, labeled with the date and cooking instructions and placed in the freezer. If additional ingredients were needed, like shredded cheese, we placed it in a smaller freezer bag and stapled it to the dinner bag.

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It was a lovely thing watching the freezer fill with completed meals. 🙂

I also gave Molly the job of assembling salads for the week.

All over Pinterest you can find “salads in a jar.” It is the latest fad as you can see in this tongue-in-cheek definition of Pinterest:

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It is a clever idea. You layer the ingredients of a salad in a large mouth mason jar, beginning with the dressing, meats and cheese, vegetables and top the jar off with lettuce or spinach. The result is fresh salad all week with none of the hassle of daily chopping.

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Molly was in charge of making 10 salads in a jar.

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By the time our cooking session ended we had 10 jars of salad and the following dinners in the freezer:

Cheese and Chicken Shells

Artichoke Chicken Bake

Chicken Mushroom Rolls

Spiced Chicken Sandwiches

Chicken Enchiladas

Chicken Broccoli Noodles

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Meatballs and Sauce

Beef Loaf

Pizza Burgers

Macaroni and Beef

Tortilla Casserole

Not bad!

Next time I think I’m going to try out some crock pot freezer meals that can be dumped straight into your crock pot in the morning and cook all day.

Since I must accept the fact that my family will continue to expect meals on a regular basis, regardless of my reminders that they just ate at the last meal, this seems like this is a good solution.

It is either this or a family 30 day fast.

Hmmm, I wonder….

😉

Baked with Love!

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Saturday we had an unexpected surprise. We received a call from Sandy, Zoey’s mom, asking if she could steal Ozzie away for the day for some special brother/sister time together. I was thrilled…both for Ozzie, who is still missing his biological sister, but also for Toby and I who haven’t had a date in while. It was much-needed for all involved!

We met in Cranberry where we surprised Ozzie with sister time. Sandy loaded the kids up and they spent the day going to lunch, exchanging Christmas gifts and seeing the new Annie movie.

Ozzie and Zoey

Ozzie and Zoey

Toby and I stayed close by in case we needed to pick up Oz earlier than expected. We had the best day I’ve had in a long time! We spent the day doing last-minute Christmas shopping and grocery shopping. It was wonderful being able to visit without little ears listening and talk without little people interrupting. We are still not in a place with Ozzie where he can be left with siblings or inexperienced babysitters, so we haven’t gone out alone for a long time. We had a great time snacking at Costco, shopping for the kids and TALKING, really talking, to one another. Before we left to pick Ozzie up we had lunch out at Primanti Bros.. It was a perfect day and it left me feeling reconnected to my husband and recharged after a hard month.

Ozzie had a great time with his sister and as we were saying goodbye to Sandy I gave her a hug and told her that today was the best Christmas gift ever!

Adoption, like all challenging seasons of life, can take a toll on a couple’s relationship. The fatigue I feel daily is comparable to those early years of parenting when I had a sleepless newborn and busy toddlers. Parenting a newly adopted child with challenges requires the same active parenting and supervision that parenting a little one would, except with a lot bigger tantrums. The effect brings about a weariness and a numbness that is challenging to a marriage. I find myself, on the worst of days, laying in bed  before we turn off the light, thinking of the things I need to tell Toby  and realizing I simply don’t have the energy to converse.

“I’ll just tell him tomorrow,” I will think to myself.

This is why Saturday was such a gift. For six hours I didn’t have to referee, guide, direct or parent. I could simply be a woman and a wife.

It was a precious gift.

In the evening we had planned another favorite family tradition, Gracie’s pick for the season:

Christmas Cookie Decorating!

It was a fun, creative, yummy way to spend the evening. 🙂

All ready to decorate...

All ready to decorate…

Father and son...looking good in green!

Father and son…looking good in green!

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Rusty

Busy working

Busy working

It is so much fun to play with your food!

It is so much fun to play with your food!

Toby, Molly and Grace

Toby, Molly and Grace

The finished products...all ready to put out for Santa!

The finished products…all ready to put out for Santa!

“Stay-cation”

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We have emerged.

We all survived…not only survived, but thrived. Even the child, who upon hearing our idea of a weekend “lock down” responded with, “You can’t keep me a prisoner here!” 🙂

It was a wonderful, unhurried, restful time away from the world and a much-needed time of healing and renewal for our family. Here is a little glimpse into our Stay-cation.

The lock down began on Wednesday night but the preparation began a few days earlier. This year we let the kids have a greater say in our holiday meal. Our thought was, “No one is coming over and we aren’t going away so we will let the kids design the Thanksgiving meal.”

We told the kids that we would cook a turkey but for the side dishes each of them could pick their favorite food and we would serve that with the turkey. On Tuesday I asked what their choices were so that we could make our shopping list. Surprisingly, they all picked pretty traditional side dishes like green bean casserole and mashed potatoes. Tyler was the only one who ventured outside the norm and picked corn dogs. 🙂

Wednesday was a half day for Ozzie. In the morning I dropped him off at school, met a dear friend for a “catch up” brunch, and stopped by the store for one or two items we forgot the night before when we all went grocery shopping. At 1:30 I picked up Ozzie. We had a little school work to do and Rusty and I worked on a talk he had to give at church on Sunday, but soon it was time to put away the computers and begin our stay-cation.

The plan was to assemble as many of the dishes as we could the day before so that we could just put everything in the oven on Thanksgiving day and just play. I gathered the kids, everyone picked an apron to wear, and I handed out recipes. Each child was given a recipe that they were in charge of making. Their first assignment was to gather all the ingredients from the recipe they were making and bring it back to their station.

Silly girls :)

Silly girls 🙂

Once I had checked the supplies they were free to begin. I floated from station to station helping where I was needed and supervising the little boys who were pealing the potatoes for mashed potatoes.

Tyler and Ozzie- the mashed potato team.

Tyler and Ozzie- the mashed potato team.

Rusty made our sweet potato casserole.

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Rusty

Grace made our green bean casserole as well as our pies.

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Molly took charge of the marshmallow salad and the homemade rolls.

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The boys and Russ made our mashed potato casserole.

And I assembled the broccoli casserole. The remaining dishes were finished the next day. I was amazed at how well everyone did. We had 90% of our Thanksgiving feast assembled and in the fridge in about 2 hours. What a team!

On Thanksgiving morning we got the turkey in the oven, the rolls rolled out and rising, and the turned on the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade. It was a fun, stay in your PJs, sort of morning. Gracie set up a table with a puzzle to work on and the kids enjoyed doing that while we watched the parade and then movies later in the day.

Watching the parade...

Watching the parade…

Puzzle buddies

Puzzle buddies

By 2:00 the turkey was ready, the rolls were baking  and the last-minute dishes were finished. It was time to eat. Everything was carried to the table. Before we blessed the food we had a time of gratitude as we reflected on the past year and everyone named their blessings.

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My greatest blessings!

My greatest blessings!

After dinner was done and clean-up was finished it was time for the restful part of our weekend to begin. Our stay-cation was filled with board games. (Including one 5 hour Monopoly marathon which Toby won.)

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We also napped, crafted, watched movies, decorated for Christmas and enjoyed our time as a family.

Toby also did some gold panning. This fall when we stopped at the gold/gem mining site Toby bought an extra bag of dirt to bring home and pan when he had the time. Our quiet weekend at home gave him lots of time to sit and look for gold. Here is one of the nuggets he found…

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On Saturday we finally emerged from the house to have some family chore time. We had a huge stack of wood that had been chopped in the last month that needed split. We spent a couple of hours splitting and stacking logs so that we could fire up our outdoor wood burning furnace. Along the way we had a bit of a misstep when Tyler got a piece of wood dust in his eye. A few hours later he was still crying about it hurting even though we couldn’t see anything there so at 8:00 pm on Saturday night Toby took him in. Our stay-cation ended with a trip to the ER. Sure enough he had scratched his cornea and came home with and eye patch and drops.

Our pile we split and stacked.

Our pile we split and stacked.

Our pirate :)

Our pirate 🙂

Sunday morning we emerged for church…rested, renewed and closer as a family. It is hard to believe only a week earlier we were sitting before a judge adopting Ozzie. What a week it has been.

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It was a wonderful Stay-cation.