Tag Archives: Ohio

Christmas Cousins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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After lunch we enjoyed the first game of many…

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

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

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

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We used to handle the Christmas exchange with cousins differently…

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

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

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

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

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

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

How blessed we are!

Easter with the Reals

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Easter weekend was a blessed one at Patchwork Farm. We had Ozzie home for five days and our time was filled to overflowing with General Conference, egg decorating, Easter with my side of the family and Easter with Toby’s side of the family. We were on the run all weekend but it was a weekend filled with Easter fun.

On Saturday morning we loaded up the van and headed 2 1/2 hours west to the Homestead where my sister and her family were visiting my parents for the weekend. Easter weekend always brings the emergence of my sister’s family who, as residents of Northern Michigan, tend to be snowed in from Thanksgiving until Easter. It is always a treat to get in some cousin time after months of not seeing each other.

We lucked out with decent weather for our Real family Easter. The rain had finally lifted after settling over Ohio and Pennsylvania for the last five days, and the temperatures, while nippy, were warm enough to allow us an outdoor dinner in the barn.

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We arrived and were greeted by five excited little ones whose energy and enthusiasm were matched by my own five. They all jumped immediately into the task of catching up and making the most of our one day reunion.

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My mom handed out Easter surprises to everyone. Kelly and I each got a cute duck and a vintage children’s book for our Easter gifts.

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We all sat and visited while we waited for my Dad to return with dinner. My parents decided that our limited time together was better spent enjoying family than being shut up in the kitchen cooking and doing dishes so they order our Easter dinner from Der Dutchman, one of the tastiest restaurants in Amish country.

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When Dad arrived home with a hot feast in the back of the car everyone pitched in to carry all the dishes into the barn and set up our Easter buffet. We enjoyed a scrumptious feast of ham, fried chicken, noodles, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade rolls, and four different types of pie including a Key Lime Pie that Toby declared was the best pie he had ever tasted.

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As we ate, we enjoyed a time of reconnection and visiting, with the little boys at one table, the big kids at another table, and the adults at the third table that was set up in the barn.

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After everyone had eaten their fill the adults headed outside to hide 100 Easter eggs. At this point the sky was beginning to darken and we didn’t want to get hit with rain before the kids had a chance to enjoy a egg hunt so we shuffled the schedule a bit.

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Ozzie and my Dad

Once all the eggs had been hidden around my parents yard we called for the kids and these are the heads that popped out from the barn…

Wrong kids!

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Finally the two legged kids came running with bags in hand.

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The three youngest were given a head start,

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and then the rest were set free to search.

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The result of their efforts was a bounteous feast of sugar.

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After the egg hunt we returned to the barn for our quarterly birthday celebration. Because of the infrequency of our opportunities to gather with extended family we will celebrate 3 or 4 months worth of birthdays while we are all together. This day we celebrated our February- May kids.

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After our birthday celebration we headed outside where Toby and Tom got a game of touch football going with the kids.

I was the official team photographer!!

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All too soon it was time to leave. Our one day reunions never seem to stretch as far as we would like but boy did we fit A LOT of fun with family into our eight hours at the Homestead!

How blessed we are this Easter Season.

Finding Solace at the Homestead

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This week I have been thinking a lot about the many blessings God has granted me. With Thanksgiving just days away I have much to be thankful for and I find my heart filled to the brim with humble gratitude for God’s loving providence in my life. I have been blessed beyond measure, certainly much more than I deserve.

As I count my many blessings, the blessing of family can be found at the top of the list. I grew up not fully recognizing the treasure I had in my family. With no other frame of reference to compare my life to, I assumed everyone enjoyed the same love, support, care and companionship within their families that I did. I had no idea that the special bond I enjoyed with my parents, my siblings, my grandparents, aunts and uncles, was a unique gift that many others have not been blessed with. This revelation became all the more pronounced as we stepped into the world of foster care and became aware of the horrors found within so many families. The gift of a loving family gave me a life advantage far beyond any other blessing in my life, and my heart is full of gratitude for that.

Sometimes in the midst of the busyness and craziness of life we forget to be grateful. We lose sight of our blessings and all that we have to be grateful for. We become focused on the minutiae and forget to step back and focus on the big picture…on the things that are really important.

A few weeks ago I received an unexpected phone call from my parents. They were calling with the news that Dad’s cancer is back. For those who have followed our blog for years, you might remember his initial diagnoses. He had an aggressive form of prostrate cancer that resulted in the need for surgery. At that time we asked for prayers from our friends both near and far and those prayers were answered. The surgeon found the tumor to be encapsulated and contained, and no further treatment was needed. He was cancer free, but now we have discovered that cancer cells have returned. Radiation is required. And we are asking for prayers again…prayers for healing, for wisdom, for minimal side effects to the treatments, but mostly for peace for my parents.

We ask for your prayers…

Prayers for the peace that only God can bring during those unexpected bends in the road of life.

My Dad starts treatment this week, so last weekend they took advantage of the time they had before he begins treatment and invited Rusty out to the Homestead to enjoy his belated birthday celebration. For each of the kids’ birthdays my parents invite them out to the Homestead for a special one-on-one weekend where they enjoy lunch out, movies, board games in the evening, and all the fun that the Homestead has to offer. It is a special tradition that all the kids look forward to.

On Sunday, the rest of us drove out to Ohio to celebrate Rusty and Tyler’s birthdays with my parents and then bring Rusty home.

We arrived to find my parents wearing the shirts we bought them for their anniversary last month. This year marked the 41st year of marriage and their 42nd year together. What an example they are to me!

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When we walked in Rusty was eager to show us the birthday gift he received from Mimi and Pop Pop. They had taken him to the toy store and let him pick out a Lego set. He was allowed to enjoy it early and by the time we arrived he had it completed.

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Tyler was allowed to open his birthday gift as soon as we arrived. Mimi and Pop Pop know Tyler so well and always hit it out of the ball park with their gifts to Tyler. This time was no exception. They bought him a laser tag set that he and Rusty enjoyed playing with the rest of the day!

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My Mom had an unexpected gift for me as well. She had come across a picture I had drawn for my Dad when I was in early elementary school. It was a picture welcoming him home after his time training in the field and she had it framed as a surprise. What a treasure! I was thrilled!

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We enjoyed our time at the Homestead.

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There is something about the Homestead that brings feelings of peace and contentment. It isn’t the home of my childhood, but it is filled with the objects and people of my childhood, thus feels like home.

Our day was spent enjoying a meal as a family:

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Playing card games:

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Enjoying the critters:

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And counting our blessings…

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As we pray for my Mom and Dad during this unexpected season of life, we also count our blessings, for we have so much to be thankful for. God will take this struggle and from it create something beautiful and blessed, as He always does.

God is good!

Always good!

Christmas in the Woods

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The first time we went we were pulling a wagon filled with toddlers.

Fast forward 15 years and Christmas in the Woods is a completely different experience!

Shakerwoods and Christmas in the Woods are two festivals that occur 40 minutes away from our home in August and October. They are, in essence, “craft fairs,” but labeling them as such is an unjust representation of all that they are.

Both these festivals take place in a patch of woods in eastern Ohio. The forest is filled with meandering paths and festive booths selling charming, unique, one-of-a-kind creations. There are hand carved ornaments, hand painted signs, homemade soaps and hand stitched pillows and towels. Each booth is run by a different artisan selling their own unique wares which makes Shakerwoods a thrilling treasure hunt, as you never know what special find you will stumble across next.

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Shakerwoods Festival tends to have a more distinctly autumn atmosphere, whereas Christmas in the Woods is themed for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Both are a lot of fun and in the past they have restricted vendors to one festival or the other, which allows visitors two completely different shopping experiences if they choose to attend both festivals.

I am not much of a shopper, although I do appreciate the unique, creative, artisan style crafts for sale there more than I would enjoy going to the mall, but the real reason I love Shakerwoods and Christmas in the Woods and the reason we keep returning is for the experience. It truly is a feast for the senses. Walking through the woods, soaking in the visual beauty of many creative hands, all while enjoying the folk music of local musicians, the smells of peach cobbler and roasted nuts is what brings us back year after year.

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It is now a long standing tradition…a tradition that hold many sweet memories as I look back on the years of Shakerwoods with babies in tow, shopping with my parents and sister, finding treasures with Toby, and enjoying the company of out of state relatives that have flown in over the years for the festival.

This year was different. Rather than attending with the whole family, I just had my three big kids with me. Toby offered to take Tyler to his riding lessons so we could attend.

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My girls LOVE Christmas in the Woods! Grace, my lover of all things Christmas, goes for the ambiance. Molly enjoys the shopping.

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Even Rusty enjoys it. He claims he goes for all the free samples!

He was a huge help this year as he took on the role of “pack mule” for us girls. I was able to get some Christmas shopping done and Rusty graciously carried our packages as we walked from booth to booth. He said he learned everything he knows from Pop Pop Real. 🙂

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And he works cheap!

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I just had to buy him some roasted nuts and he was content. We stayed until our feet were screaming for relief. The crowds were crazy. In all our years off attending we had never seen it so busy…

Just look at the parking!!

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But despite the crowds we managed to do a little shopping, make some special memories, and have A LOT of fun…just my big kids and me.

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KALAHARI

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Last week I had an opportunity to teach a class for other adoptive families on the value of family vacations and how families in the midst of an adoption journey can find the time and money to invest in this worthwhile cause.

Toby and I both firmly believe that there is a special sort of connecting that happens among family members while on vacation that is hard to replicate in the home environment. When I look back on my happiest childhood memories, the ones that make me smiles and feel most connected with my family, they are primarily vacation or holiday memories. And I don’t believe it is a result of special activities. No, what we do on “vacation” matters very little…especially to children, who are as happy swimming in the hotel pool or playing at the park as they are seeing the Grand Canyon. Rather, I believe it is the quality of the attention we give one another that make family vacations uniquely effective for connecting families. There is something magical that happens when we step away from the stresses of day to day life, look up from our screens and our “to-do” lists, and are present, really present. When we practice mindfulness in our shared experiences we create memories and build lifelong connections that are far more effective than anything you could give to your child. This seems to happen best when we physically step away from the distractions that keep us from connecting.

In the article “Family Vacations Serve as ‘Happiness Anchors’ for Kids Until They Grow Up,”  the author supports this belief by saying:

“Family holidays are valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterward in their memory. So if you’re going to spend money on something, it’s pretty clear which option makes more sense.” 

Aside from making memories and being wise about where you spend, travel is better for family bonding. Where new toys, like screens and gadgets, put distance between family members, travel brings them closer together. It’s all about “talking nonsense with your parents, sharing an ice cream and moments of time in which your interests are genuinely taken into account.”

It goes on to explain:

Memories from family vacations can act as “happiness anchors”

The happiest memory of 49 percent of the British people surveyed was on vacation with family. A third said they can still vividly remember family vacations from their childhood. What’s more, a quarter brought up these memories to get them through tough times. “We consider these to be a ‘happiness anchor’ – reflecting on our happiest memories of joyful time spent together as a family can be extremely powerful in bringing relief and respite when faced with the darker times that life can bring.”

Although Toby and I both greatly value the bonding power of family vacations, we have found that as our family grows we need to evolve with our growing family, always seeking out creative, less expensive ways to vacation as a family.

One affordable, fun vacation that has become an annual tradition is our yearly trip to Kalahari Indoor Waterpark and Resort in Sandusky, Ohio every May. Talk about a lot of connecting value for a small price tag! This annual trip’s affordable price tag comes as a result of joining up with a former co-op family’s church, who books a group deal every spring. The deal includes one of the resort’s rooms and 2 day tickets for four guests to the water park for $129.00…what a deal! Additional kids are added for $25.00/ for 2 days…an incredible discount from their $49.00/day price.

(Just the waterpark tickets would cost our family $700.00 if we booked it on our own.)

This great deal has resulted in our entire co-op enjoying a two day mini vacation with friends every May. It is something my crew looks forward to every year.

This past week was our annual visit to Kalahari, but it was very different from past years. First of all Toby didn’t come. He is in the midst of a job he couldn’t pull off for two days, so I flew solo. Secondly, almost all of our friends who normally join us at Kalahari had other commitments that kept them from coming this year.

The result: The Hudaks and McCleerys flying solo. (Although we did meet up with Lily and Bryn, two little girls Lana babysits.)

It made for a different experience, but we still had a lot of fun.

Here is a peek at some of the wet and wild fun had by all at Kalahari Resort.

We began by arriving at Kalahari and stopping to watch the newly hatched baby ducks:

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After checking in it was time to put on suits and get down to the water park:

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While waiting for the Hudaks to arrive the kids rode some slides:

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When the Hudaks arrived the fun really began!

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After a full day of swimming and sliding everyone had worked up an appetite for Chet and Matt’s…YUM!

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After a good night’s sleep (everyone sleeps so well after a day of swimming) it was time for breakfast at Steak n Shake before we hit the waves again:

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The remainder of the day was spent slipping, sliding, twisting, and splashing, all while making memories that will last a lifetime!

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It was a good trip and a poignant reminder that…

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Girls’ Day at the Homestead!

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After a late night of fun and dancing at Spring Formal, the girls woke up early to join me on the road again for road trip #3. This time we were headed out to Ohio to my parent’s house. My sister and her two oldest kids were coming down for the weekend so that all of us girls could go out for the day to celebrate Gracie’s 19th birthday.

We arrived just after Kelly and her crew pulled in after a seven-hour drive from northern Michigan. After a week of many long-distance road trips I was glad we only had 2 ½ hours to travel.

The day of fun began with Grace getting to open her gift from Mimi and Pop Pop. They gifted Grace with a perfect present for my artistic girl: a beautifully wrapped box filled with paints and canvases.

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Grace and Molly also were given their matching birthday gifts from Kelly and their cousins. From Aunt Kelly they received adorable water bottles and adult coloring books.

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The girls also had a gift to hand out. Last week when they had the opportunity to meet Kiera Cass they purchased the newest Siren book and had it signed for Lydia. Lydia was beyond thrilled!

We then headed out to spend the day in downtown Wooster. Mimi had a day of shopping and dining planned.

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Our first stop was Friendtique, the world’s best consignment shop, and our favorite store in Wooster. The girls were thrilled to find out that it was dollar days at Friendtique which meant all clothes, shoes, and belts were $1.00.

Let the shopping spree begin!

The girls found some great $1.00 deals,

And Lydia found a jacket and shoes for her next Halloween costume. Can you guess which Harry Potter villain she will be dressing up as?

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After a few hours of shopping we walked over to our favorite restaurant, Broken Rocks, for lunch. It was as delicious as always!

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We had one more stop before we headed back to the Homestead. Mimi treated us all to a gourmet cupcake at The Faithful Little Cupcake shop.

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The rest of our evening at the Homestead was spent playing board games, going through old photos (which was so much fun) and celebrating Gracie.

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10:00 pm rolled around much too soon but alas, we had to head back home because the following morning was church and the girls’ New Beginnings program, where Grace would be recognized as one of the graduating seniors.

Oh, what a crazy full week it has been!

Let the fun continue. Next up: New Beginnings!

Whew…what a week!

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Last week was a crazy week, jam-packed with work on the bus, packing up the trailer for Michigan, and working to prepare the house and yard for a picnic on Saturday. Sprinkled among our week of chores was a lot of fun. Here is a look at all that happened last week!

Monday

On Monday I took Grace on her very first college tour. I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that I am at the parenting stage of life that requires college visits. I still feel like a college student myself! But here we are. This year is Gracie’s senior year so this summer we have planned a few college campus tours.

Grace is planning on going to school to get a degree in Special Education with a possible secondary degree or minor in American Sign Language. One of the schools on her list of possible schools is Kent State, located 1 1/2  hours away in Ohio.

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We scheduled a college tour and took Olivia, Gracie’s best friend, along with us.

When we arrived we were taken by golf cart to the orientation building where we joined many other potential students and their parents for a 30 minute presentation. The orientation presentation gave us an overview of Kent State. They touched on everything from the history, the offered majors, the clubs and activities, the area, and the cost. The girls also each received a welcome pack and a Kent State backpack.

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Once the orientation was complete the crowd was broken into small tour groups and assigned a college student to walk them around campus on a 90 minute tour.

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It was a very pretty campus and a great first tour as we enter this new world of college placements. On the tour we were able to see different classrooms, the student union building, the library and food services around campus. It was nice for the girls to have access to a current Kent State student that they could question about life on campus.

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They even had the opportunity to see sample dorm rooms and get a feel for how campus living would be.

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It was a great experience and it made me excited for the girls and the adventure that awaits them in another year as they leave high school and follow God’s leading for their lives.

Tuesday

Tuesday was spent doing this all day!

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Wednesday

Tyler headed off to cub scout camp for the first time. This was a day camp that ran from 8:30 am- 4:00 pm Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week. It was with a bit of anxiety I sent him off on his own for the day (without a parent or sibling) for the first time ever. I wasn’t sure how he would do and how the leaders would handle any struggles that might arise, so I did A LOT of praying in the days leading up to day camp…

And you know what?

He did great!

He did more than great. He had a FABULOUS time!

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He loved spending the days with his scout friends and had fun with the leaders. He came home each evening eager to tell me about everything he did and learned that day. It was wonderful!

The theme for cub scout camp was Safari Adventures. Each day the boys moved from station to station around camp where they did crafts, played games, learned skills, shot bow and arrows and had target practice with BB guns.

On Friday they even had a mobile zoo come and teach the kids about all sorts of cool animals that they brought with them. Tyler was able to meet and learn about everything from an armadillo to a baby monkey.

On Friday evening the families of the cub scouts were invited back to camp for an evening fireside program where the different troops performed for the families.

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A BIG thanks to all who made the week such a positive experience for the boys. This Momma’s heart is full of gratitude!

Thursday

On Thursday evening the girls and I had the opportunity to join the women and teenage girls from church for a night of bowling.

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One of the families at church owns a bowling alley and graciously opened it up to all of us for a fun ladies night out. Everyone brought an appetizer or snack to share and we enjoyed a night of food, fun, and fellowship!

Friday

On Friday Gracie had big plans with Olivia. Friday was Olivia’s 18th birthday and Grace made plans to take her out for a spa day to celebrate. Olivia knew she was spending the day with Grace but didn’t know what the plans were until she arrived and  Grace gave her a pair of flip flops she had decorated with balloons and a note telling her to:

“Put on your birthday shoes. We are off to get pedicures!”

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Grace took Olivia to the spa and Molly and Rusty went home with Miss Lana to spend the day with Tatum and Lucas. They needed to get in a play date with their best buddies before they left for Michigan.

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The little boys stayed home and helped Toby and I get the house ready for a picnic the following day.

At the spa the girls enjoyed an hour long foot massage, pampering and pedicure.

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After their pampering time Grace took Olivia out for a fun lunch at Shogun Hibachi Grill. It was a dinner and a show as the food was prepared in front of them. They even sang to Olivia when they discovered it was her birthday.

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Happy 18th birthday, Olivia!

Saturday

On Saturday we hosted a summer picnic for our Blessings Through Adoption support group. This local support group that meets once a month provides the opportunity to fellowship with other adoptive families as well as learn from a vast array of speakers that come to share their knowledge with the group at the monthly meetings.

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Some of the Blessings Through Adoption families

 

This past Saturday was the summer picnic where families could come together for some social fun. We spent the days leading up to the picnic getting ready for the picnic.

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Filling water balloons.

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Gracie decorating the outdoor chalkboard with a welcome sign.

 

It was a VERY hot day so the kids kept cool with a sprinkler and water balloons.

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The adults made themselves comfortable in the shade where we enjoyed hot dogs, hamburgers and salads.

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For dessert the kids roasted marshmallows and feasted on s’mores.

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Saturday was also Tyler’s “Gotcha Day!”

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It was 3 years ago that we sat before a judge and committed to be his forever family. It was fitting that out Blessings Through Adoption picnic fell on Tyler’s “Gotcha Day” because it is through the blessing of adoption that he joined our family.

For the boys’ “Gotcha days” we celebrate by letting them choose an activity for us to enjoy as a family.

Tyler couldn’t decide between going swimming and going to see a movie, so we did both. After a HOT picnic outside the thought of a cool swim appealed to all of us so after our last guest left we grabbed swim suits, towels and our swimming pass and headed to Ellwood City Pool.

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That evening we packed up blankets and lawn chairs and drove to Dependable Drive-In to see the most recent Ice Age movie and Secret Life of Pets. We had a Groupon for four free admissions, a large drink and a large popcorn, so the cost for our fun evening was minimal.

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It was a beautiful evening. As the sun set the temperatures lowered with it. It was wonderful to have that special time as a family before Toby, Molly and Rusty had to leave for Michigan. It was such a wonderful feeling of relief and satisfaction to look back on our crazy week, and see all that was accomplished, knowing the bus was complete and all the big commitments of summer were over. Now we can relax and enjoy some lazier summer days before we begin preparing for our big trip.

Life is good!

Work and Play at the Homestead

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

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

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

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Feeding the trout in the spring room.

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Grace watering the flower gardens.

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Rusty gathering eggs.

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Ozzie giving George his nightly brush down.

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Tyler playing chase with the goats.

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

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Enjoying our nightly dip in the hot tub.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With a name like Smucker’s…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The store is charming.

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

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

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

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Next stop: The Homestead.

Time for Tea

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The day had finally arrived for Gracie’s 18th birthday celebration:

A Downton Abbey Victorian tea party.

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My mom made reservations for us to hold Gracie’s tea party at The Zimmerman Bury Octagon House in Marshallville, Ohio. This Queen Ann style octagonal house was built in 1883 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It now serves as a museum of the middle class Victorian way of life.

Taken from their website:

“Victorian Holiday High Teas at the Historic  Zimmerman-Bury Octagon House:
Enjoy an authentic Victorian Holiday Pink High Tea at this unique National Historic Landmark, located 6 miles North of Orrville on state route 57.  Drink in the ambiance of the Victorian era while savoring a buffet of tea sandwiches, pastries, fruit salads & always English Trifle, plus more.  Your hostesses will greet you in 1880’s clothing, provide a history of the house, and serve the period foods created from original family recipes.”

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Our tea party was scheduled for 1:00 pm. After a relaxing morning we began dressing for this special occasion. We gathered in the guest room and had fun doing each other’s hair and make-up as we dolled up for this special event.

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When we were all done getting ready we went outside to get some pictures before we left for the Octagon house.

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When we arrived were greeted by the butler who was waiting outside to escort us in.

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The home was charming and reflective of the Victorian style common at the turn of the century.

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The lady of the house sat us in the parlor where she shared with us some of the history of the house and the Victorian customs of that time period.

As she spoke a little kitten wandered into the room to say “hello.” She told us that the kitten was a stray that had been found under the front porch of the home. When they took her in the decided that if the cat was a boy it would be named “Downton” and if it was a girl it would be named “Abbey.” It turns out they are also fans of the show. 🙂 The kitten ended up with the name “Abbey.”

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The head housekeeper then announced that tea was served.

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We were led into the dining room. The table was covered in delicious food including: three different types of tea sandwiches, scones, welsh rarebit, tomato aspic with dill sauce, fruit compote, trifle, and desserts. For our drink we were offered three different tea choices or strawberry lemonade.

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We were seated in the parlor to enjoy tea time. We had so much fun feasting on delicious food, admiring the décor, but most importantly visiting and making special memories that we will be able to look back and reflect on in the years to come.

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Having her birthday tea at the Octagon house was a special gift from my parents that I know Grace will all look back on with fondness in the years ahead. It was such a special way to celebrate a special birthday with a very special girl!

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Our tea party ended with birthday cake as we all sang to the birthday girl.

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“The most treasured heirlooms are the sweet memories of family.”

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