Tag Archives: Ohio

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 œ 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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Kalahari- Year 5!

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This week we escaped the dreary rain of Western Pennsylvania and headed to the warmth of the Kalahari…

Not the African Kalahari, mind you, but the Ohio Kalahari,

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Kalahari Indoor Water Park, located in Sandusky, Ohio.

For the last five years we have been blessed to be invited to join a previous co-op family’s church that reserves a block of room at a great discount. By joining with this church group, families in our co-op are able to enjoy one night and two days at one of the coolest places around for a fraction of what it would normally cost.

This is our fifth year going with our co-op friends.

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We always go the first week of May, following the end of co-op. As a result it has the feel of an end of year celebration and always gets us excited about the quickly approaching summer break.

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We arrived at Kalahari on Tuesday around lunch time. Grace was not with us. She had to babysit for the last MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting for the year so she would be following us a few hours later with the Hudaks.

There is always great excitement when we pull in the parking lot and begin lugging our gear across the bridge that leads to the resort.

The resort is aptly themed after its name and the theme carries throughout the resort in a way that makes you feel as though you have entered another world. It truly feels like a resort vacation.

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We checked in and carried our luggage down to our hotel room. This year we decided to book a suite rather than two separate, smaller rooms. And I must say I don’t know that we will ever go back. It was so nice to stay as a family and I know Toby appreciated not having to be in charge of managing the two little boys as a single Dad. 🙂

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Our suite had two bathrooms, a master bedroom with a king size bed, a separate bedroom with two queen size beds, and a fold out couch- perfect for sleeping 5 kids.

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Our suite even boasted a fireplace and a patio.

After everyone changed we headed over to the water park. We settled in near the wave pool, our usual spot and excellent “home base.” The kids then began exploring and enjoying all that Kalahari Water Park has to offer.

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The water playground. A popular spot with my boys!

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The best part is when the bucket dumps.

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Toby and Rusty racing on Rusty’s favorite water slide: The Cheetah Racers.

 Here is the water slide from the point of view of the rider, compliments of Rusty’s GoPro video camera:

In the afternoon our co-op friends began to arrive and Grace arrived with the Hudaks.

 

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After hours of fun we all went back to the room to dry off, change, and meet for dinner.

In the evening we enjoyed hanging out in the beautiful lobby. The kids played card games while the parents visited.

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Triplets in their matching coral.

 

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A game of cards…

 

In the morning we met up with our friends at Steak and Shake for a belly-filling breakfast before a full day of swimming and slides.

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This has become an annual tradition that the kids all look forward to.

Then it was back to the waterpark for another full day of wet fun. We stayed until closing, getting our money’s worth from our tickets.

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Sweet Ozzie.

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Floating along in the Lazy River

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Tyler is the only one of my kids that enjoys this more daring body slide…

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He seems downright relaxed! 🙂

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Ozzie tried his hand at body surfing

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Sweet Grace!

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Tyler and Saga playing basketball in the pool.

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Swahili Swirl is the hands-down group favorite. The kids affectionately refer to it as “The Toilet Bowl.”

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The girls “getting flushed.”

 

Here is an insider’s view of this group favorite, compliments of Rusty’s GoPro camera:

It was a wonderful vacation and just what our family needed after a few challenging weeks. Sometimes in the midst of the storms of life you just need to stop and splash in the puddles!

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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 crĂšme 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 CafĂ© 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 crĂšme 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!

Christmas in the Woods

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All bundled up for a fun day outside.

All bundled up for a fun day outside.

I am late in posting these photos, but better late than never…right?

Christmas in the Woods is now over but we were happy to make it this year after a few years of missing it due to the life changes that come with adopting little boys. Christmas in the Woods, as much as we enjoy it, really isn’t their scene. Oh, how far we have come to be able to attend an event like this and have everything go smoothly,

without incident,

and have everyone leave smiling!

Christmas in the Woods is the ultimate “craft show.” It takes place in eastern Ohio in the woods (hence the name.) It features a village of cottages, each housing a different artisan selling their wares. Everything is handcrafted. There is everything from jewelry, up-cycled products, art work, hand sewn products, whimsical dĂ©cor,  yummy edibles, hand carved wooden spoons, etc.

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However, as fun as the shopping is, that is not what brings us back year after year. It is the atmosphere. The sounds, smells and tastes of autumn as it welcomes in Christmas. It is a charming place to spend the day and we were excited to be back.

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When we arrived Toby paid for us to get in while I handed out scavenger hunt sheets. I knew this really wasn’t the boys’ scene so I thought I’d make it more fun for them (thus making it more enjoyable for the rest of us) by creating a scavenger hunt list of items they needed to find as we walked around the woods.

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The boys embraced the challenge immediately, and even the girls had fun participating. I promised a treat at the end for those they found all the items on their list!

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When we entered the gates we heard a familiar sound. We followed the music to an outdoor stage where one of our favorite holiday performers was entertaining the crowd:

B.E. Taylor!

B.E. Taylor!

What a fun treat. We LOVE B.E. Taylor! We found a spot to stand and enjoy the free concert.

The kids loving the show.

The kids loving the show.

The chill in the air, the smell of cinnamon and pine, and the beautiful Christmas music left us feeling the Spirit of the season.

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Everyone had fun wandering from booth to booth, checking out the wares and tasting the samples. The food booths where they offered samples of the different dip mixes were definitely the favorite booths of my boys!

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While we ended up mainly window shopping (with the exception of a few small purchases by the girls) I found the atmosphere got my creative juices flowing and I was overcome with the desire to go home and decorate for fall.

(It’s about time…right?!)

Molly enjoying some hauntingly beautiful music...

Molly enjoying some hauntingly beautiful music…

By the end of the day everyone was chilled and ready for a warm treat. Our final stop was a hot cocoa booth where they were selling homemade hot cocoa mixes. I told the kids that their scavenger hunt prize was a package of hot cocoa mix that we would take home and enjoy while warming up. The kids loved trying all the samples they had for testing…

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We decided that white chocolate was our favorite.

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What a wonderful was to spend an autumn day as we look forward to the arrival of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas!

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