For years my kids have agreed that one of the best reoccurring youth activities is the January ice skating activity at North Park skating rink. It seems that this event has been a favorite activity for almost a decade, as I have fond memories of Grace donning skates on a cold winter night at age 13 and now find myself helping Tyler tighten his laces at this same winter activity.
While the activities of the night have remained constant, the faces in the crowd have changed. Many of the youth who were skating circles around the rink a few years ago are now college graduates, full time missionaries or newlyweds. For some reason the marching of time hit me extra hard on Saturday as I watched a new, rising group of young people take the place of familiar faces who have moved on.
Among the new faces were Brandon and Tyler…
Brandon, because of this being his first opportunity to attend since joining our family.
And Tyler, because he is now 12, which makes him a participant in the young men’s program which allows him and his buddies from church to take part in the fun activities planned for the youth.
It was weird finding myself with only boys in tow, as this was a favorite activity of Grace and Molly for many, many years. Molly, unfortunately, found herself having to work Friday night and thus having to miss her last year ice skating with the youth.
Instead it was an all-boy adventure and I got a taste of what life is evolving into with Grace and Molly growing up and gone more than they are home. I am preparing myself for life as the only girl in a testosterone saturated house. Lord, help me!
Rusty, having been the only one to attend this activity previously, filled the other three in on what to expect.
The night was split into two parts. It began with 3 hours of ice skating (or board games for those who chose not to skate.)
This was followed by socializing over a dinner of pizza, wings and desserts.
Since I had no responsibilities over this activity, I used my free time… you know, the down time between jumping up to capture moments on film…to get a little school work done now that school has resumed.
And a lot of jumping up I did!
This was Brandon, Tyler and Ozzie’s first time at this activity and Brandon’s first time ever ice skating, so I had to record the adventure in photographs.
All did amazingly well. I expected Rusty to be a pro but I was amazed how much better the other three boys did than I anticipated.
The snow began falling soon after we arrived, making the skaters look like they were caught inside a Christmas snow globe.
The scene was magical, with fat snowflakes turning the world white.
It was a great night with great youth!
It was another year for the history books!
As I was looking back on past blogs written in reflection of the New Year, I was able to see the ebb and flow of trials and ease with each passing year. Some years were especially challenging (like 2017) and we were more than happy to bid them “adieu.”
Others came to a close with feelings of delight as we reflected on the unexpected blessings we never saw coming when the year began.
This was one of those years.
At the start of 2018 we were in such a different place. We were focused on helping Ozzie find healing, as we healing ourselves from a brutally hard 2017. Never in our wildest imaginations did we foresee another adoption on the horizon, much less the adoption of Tyler’s 17-year-old biological brother.
As I sat in the living room on January 1, 2018, filling in the pages of my new planner, so pristinely empty of appointments, yet so full of hopeful possibilities, I couldn’t have even imagined that we would be closing out the year as a family of eight.
It never ceases to amaze me how life can change on a dime.
2017 was one of the hardest years of our life as a family…
2018 was one of the most blessed.
And once again, as I find myself with a blank planner in front of me, I can’t help but wonder what adventures God has in store for us this year. There is something so exciting and hopeful about the New Year. I love the process of filling in a new calendar and setting new resolutions and goals for the months ahead. Everything seems achievable and even hard things seem possible.
There is something so empowering about new beginnings and fresh starts that make New Year’s Eve one of my favorite holidays of the year. As we bid the previous year good-bye and welcome the new year with hopeful anticipation, it seems all the world is our oyster and the possibilities are endless.
This year will be another big one for our family. While much is unknown, we do know that the following 12 months will hold a few epic vacations, a high school graduation, an adoption, a couple driving tests, and two more kids gaining adult status with their 18th birthdays, leaving us with two minors left in the house. It promises to be a BIG year at Patchwork Farm!
This year we celebrated the passing of another year as we always do, with the Hudak family. We look forward to this annual tradition of food, friends, family and FUN with some of our very favorite people.
We arrived at the Hudak’s house at 7:00pm, ready for a night of feasting and frivolity. This was Brandon’s first time celebrating with the Hudak’s and he was blown away by the feast prepared for the evening. Dinner was a smorgasbord of appetizers and dips prepared by Lana and I. And for the next six hours everyone ate until they couldn’t eat anymore.
This year we switched things up a bit. With the kids all getting older and desiring more free time to just hang out and visit, we didn’t plan the usual hourly activities. Instead, the girls hung out upstairs, visiting and giggling until 11:00pm,
While the boys took over the basement and played video games and pigged out of plates of food.
This allowed the adults the rare treat of hours of uninterrupted conversation. That was a gift in and of itself and we had a wonderful time.
At 11:00 we gathered everyone in the basement for game time.
We began with the candy ball game that Lana had prepared. Using dice to try and roll a double, the ball of saran wrapped candy was passed around the circle with those who rolled a double unwrapping and collecting all the candy that fell onto the floor, until the next person rolled a double.
After that, the kids enjoyed a few rounds of “What do you Meme?” before we gathered in front of the TV to watch the ball drop. This game brought gales of laughter as players tried to pick the perfect tag line for the photo on display.
With minutes until the New Year arrived, we gathered in front of the TV to watch the ball drop and toast the arrival of 2019. With cheers, and hugs, and kisses we celebrated the passing of 2018 and the arrival of a new year full of infinite possibilities.
Woody couldn’t help but welcome in the new year with a little pyrotechnic display.
By 1:00am we were packing up and heading home. It was another awesome New Year’s Eve with the Hudak clan.
2019, here we come!
24 years ago I donned the green and yellow uniform of a Subway sandwich artist and loved it. We now have another sandwich artist in the family. The family legacy marches on with Grace now wearing green and yellow with pride and Molly soon to join her.
A few weeks ago Grace and Molly’s boss at the Pretzel Factory called a meeting, something that occurs quarterly. The girls showed up expecting the usual news and reminders but were blindsided with the unexpected announcement that the Chippewa Philly Pretzel Factory would be closing in seven days. Everyone was shocked. With only a week’s notice the girls began considering other employment options right away. Grace, who depends on her bi-monthly paycheck to cover her tuition costs was especially shook up by the lack of notice.
The following day we visited our local Subway for a fun lunch treat. We were greeted by our favorite ladies, two gals from whom we have been buying subs from for the last decade. They have watched my kids grow up. As we moved through the line I spontaneously asked if they were hiring. I knew the close proximity and the employees who worked there would make for an awesome work environment. I explained that 24 hours prior Molly and Grace received news that their place of business was going out of business and they were looking for work. We were handed applications with our wrapped subs and headed out to the van. As we pulled from the parking lot we saw a flash of green running towards us as Teresa, one of our favorite Subway employees, came running across the parking lot with paper and pencil in hand. I rolled down the window and she explained that she had just talked to the manager on the phone and Laurie wanted to hire “both those sweet girls” and told Teresa to get their contact information. Evidently the years of conversations held over the glass display case with Molly and Grace left an impression.
A few hours later Grace received a call from the manager informing her that she was hired and could start training next week. She also let Grace know that Molly also had the job but would have to wait 6 weeks to begin working (after another employee left for school.)
It was a powerful lesson in trusting God’s plan for our lives. 24 hours earlier things were looking bleak and both girls were struggling with disappointment and anxiety over lost income, and then a simple stop at our local Subway turned bad news to great news.
It just goes to show that God always has a plan, even when we can’t make sense of it, and His plan is always far better than anything we could orchestrate ourselves.
When one door closes another one will open,
and sometimes that door opens to the smell of fresh baked bread…
“Welcome to Subway!”
A few days prior to Easter we received a package in the mail from my brother and sister-in-love from Texas. A peek inside the package clued me into the fact that it was a box of Easter surprises for the family and I tucked it away until Easter morning. After our morning activities we pulled it out and within the box was a bounty of love from down south including Molly’s birthday gift from Uncle Travis and Aunt Krista:
Plastic eggs decorated with our names, bearing treats of chocolates and fluffy peep versions of each of us:
And a dozen cascarónes:
Cascarónes are a Texas tradition we were introduced to with the addition of a Texan to our family. For those that are unfamiliar here is a little background on this tradition, compliments of Wikipedia:
“A cascarón is a hollowed-out chicken egg filled with confetti or small toys. Cascarónes are common throughout Mexico and are similar to the Easter eggs popular in many other countries. They are mostly used in Mexico during Carnival, but in US and Mexico border towns the cultures combined to make them a popular Easter tradition.
Decorated, confetti-filled cascarónes may be thrown or crushed over the recipient’s head to shower them with confetti. Like many popular traditions in Mexico, cascarónes are increasingly popular in the southwestern United States For example, they are especially prominent during the two-week, citywide festival of Fiesta in San Antonio, Texas. Cascarónes are usually made during Easter time.
Having a cascarón broken over one’s head is said to bring good luck.”
And who couldn’t use a little luck?!
So before heading to Aunt Beth’s house for Easter dinner we headed outside to partake in this Texas tradition, compliments of Aunt Krista and Uncle Travis:
Feliz Pascua de nosotros a usted!
Sometimes all a girl wants is to lay down her dusting cloth, slip into something pretty, and have a night out on the town.
Thanks to an aptly timed play I was granted “the wish my heart makes” and like Cinderella had a magical night filled with song, dance and a pair of glass slippers…
Not mine, of course. I am too old to be hobbling around in glass slippers. I wore some kickin’ Keds for the evening. 🙂
We have entered high school musical season in Western Pennsylvania, a season marked by yard signs sprinkled across the countryside advertising all the local shows. It is fun to drive around the area and take note of what beloved musicals each school has chosen to tackle this musical season. With limited time and a short high school musical season the great debate is always… which shows to go see?!
There seems to inevitably always be more shows than free weekends which sometimes results in a “divide and conquer” approach with different family members catching various shows (staring friends from church and co-op) as school and work schedules allow.
This year Molly was able to catch two productions staring friends from church that I couldn’t attend because of meetings.
A few weeks ago, she drove down to Center Township to see Hailey and Lauren Mitchell in “All Shook Up,” and Elvis inspired show that Molly raved about for days following the production.
She also ventured out on her own, on a night Grace had school and I had a camp meeting, to watch one of her bestest friends as the lead in the musical, Cinderella.
Rochester’s high school musical is one we traditionally attend as our friends, the Tames, are key talents in the production year after year. It is always fun to watch their talent play out on stage.
Once again Molly came home with nothing but praise for Heather and her talents as well as her younger sister, Melanie, who stepped into the role of step sister with only 3 hours notice after the young lady who was to play the role got hurt. Molly was super impressed by how well Melanie learned the lines for this new part in the hours before opening night and stepped into this new role seamlessly.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella was also Mohawk High School’s musical this year.
Last Friday we attended their musical to watch Caleigh, one of Molly’s best buddies from co-op, who was playing the role of guard and singing girl.
We joined up with the Hudak gals to watch Caleigh’s performance. It was fun to attend this particular show with Lana as Mohawk School is her Alma Mater. She had lots of fun stories to tell as we waited for the show to begin.
The production was magnificent.
The show was presented storybook style, meaning the sets and props were minimal and the show was carried mainly by the talented cast…
And there was a lot of talent on that stage!
After the show we met up with Caleigh to express our accolades for a job well done. She looked adorable in her costume.
We also were able to say hello to two past co-op classmates that now attend Mohawk High School…
Sarah who was in the play as a townsperson and Jack who played in the orchestra.
This particular musical was the only one I caught this musical season, but it was a great one to catch. I left the evening whistling the familiar melodies of childhood… songs of hope, garden wishes, and Prince Charming’s love.
Then all to soon the clock was striking midnight and it was time to hurry home before we all turned into pumpkins.
Oh, how I love the magic of musicals.
The annual chili cook-off is a tradition our scouts have participated in for years. When we moved in 10 years ago it was already a long-standing tradition and something our congregation anticipated every March. This annual event served as the fundraiser for the year so that our scout troop could raise money for Boy Scout camp. After a long run this tradition has come to a close. Last Wednesday it was announced that this would be the final chili cook-off.
It was with a mix of emotions that we absorbed the news. While there was a part of me that felt relief at being freed from the huge task of helping multiple kids prepare dishes and baked goods for the auction, another part of me was saddened by the news as I reminisced on the many years we had been coming.
Despite the mix of emotions the night couldn’t have gone any better. Talk about going out with a bang!!
The turn out was incredible and as a result of many hands donating food items and many generous families supporting the troop, our scouts raised over $2000 that evening!
The night began with judging.
We arrived early, as Rusty had to help set up for the event. As crock pots of chili and pans of cornbread poured in, the missionaries were assigned the task of tasting and judging each dish, picking a first, second, and third place winner for chili and for cornbread.
Once the judging was completed tabled were called to the front to help themselves to dinner.
The hardest part of the night is always choosing which of the yummy looking chili’s to try. A few creative families came up with the awesome idea of bringing muffin pans to use for their dinner plate, allowing them to scoop a little of each flavor in each tin and try them all.
At the end of the meal the winners were announced. This year Rusty decided to enter the judging with his own pan of cornbread. The secret to his delicious bread was mixing yellow cake mix with corn bread mix to create a sweet fluffy corn bread that was amazing. His efforts earned him third place.
Following dinner was the dessert auction. While the dinner part of the night is a free-for-all, if you want to end your meal with a sweet treat you have to battle for it.
The scouts and ward families all bake desserts to contribute to the auction.
This year Rusty made Mickey Mouse Rice Krispy treats dipped in chocolate:
And Molly made cups of “Dirt”:
The dessert table was filled to capacity…
Families took their time perusing and whispering their top choices to each other, making a game plan of what desserts they wanted to battle for.
There were so many delicious looking treats it was hard to choose!
The second half of the evening was the auction where friends went up against friends for the sake of a sugar high and gloating rights.
The auction was a smashing success with some cakes and desserts being sold for $50-75 dollars.
Our scout troop was certainly blessed by the generosity of their ward family and the financial end of this event will allow a lot of young boys a week of learning, skill-building, and man-producing experiences that they will carry with them for life.
It is the end of an era…
But what a way to go out!
This past week was filled to the brim with fun. Here is a peek into the festivities:
This year Molly and Tatum started a club at 21st Century Cyber Charter School. They decided they wanted to start an American Sign Language Club. They submitted the proposal to the school, found a teacher to sponsor them, and were given permission to move forward. Their club meets every other Monday at 2:00. The girls have had a blast with it and the club’s popularity continues to grow as more students join. Each meeting is a result of hours worth of effort and planning on the girls’ part as they find videos to use, plan games and lessons to teach the week’s ASL concepts, and create power points for the lessons. It has been fun to watch Molly take on this new challenge and see her passion for American Sign Language shine apart from Gracie. Both my girls have a heart for the language and both are using that passion to do awesome things.
On Sunday night we joined the Mackays for our annual Super Bowl get-together. Each year the Mackays graciously invite us over to join them to watch the Super Bowl. This is a tradition that goes back a decade or more and is one of the highlights of our year. The Mackays are special friends that came into our lives 16 years ago through MOPS and have been a blessing ever since. We don’t see nearly enough of them so this annual tradition is a special treat as we are able to catch up on each other’s lives while enjoying yummy food and an exciting game.
(I was so busy having fun that I forgot to snap any photos this year, so I’ll have to use this photo from 3 years ago.)
This winter has been especially snowy…and I have loved it! This is so much better than the rainy, gray, muddy winter we endured last year. This winter weather has forced us inside and much time has been spent in the living room, enjoying the warmth of the wood burning fireplace. Oh, how I love the hibernation season!
Tyler’s new glasses came in on Saturday. We received the call that his glasses could be picked up and we stopped by to get them. They look adorable on him and I couldn’t resist nabbing a photo of all my darling “four-eyes.”
I’m sure I’ll eventually join their ranks as time takes a toll on my eyes, but for now I am proudly holding on to the bragging rights of 20/20 vision and the only McCleery left without glasses.
Ozzie came home this weekend for a visit. We are beginning to prepare for his transition home and as a result the frequency of home passes will increase. This month he will be home three weekends in a row. This past weekend he came down on the bus that the facility offers twice a month to transport kids down to Pittsburgh for weekend home passes. This was our first time taking advantage of this service. What a blessing it was to not have to drive two hours north to pick him up. It saved hours on the road as we only had to drive to Pittsburgh to pick him up. On Sunday we met the bus in the same location to drop Ozzie off.
The weekend was spent at home. Rusty, Toby and Tyler had a winter campout with the Boy Scouts that kept them away from Friday at 5:00 pm until Saturday at 4:00pm. This meant that for 24 hours it was just Ozzie and the girls at home with me. It was good. We spent our time engaged in normal life activities: meals, chores, and quiet play. I think Ozzie relished the peace and quiet of simply reading on his bed and rebuilding his Lego sets.
On Sunday we went to church and then had a family Valentine’s Day dinner before Ozzie had to leave. It was a fun way to close out this visit.
We enjoyed a yummy dinner,
Homemade heart shaped sugar cookies thanks to Mary King (YUM!!)
and a fun game I downloaded off the internet.
It was, in essence, a Valentine version of CLUE, that required us to solve the case of the missing Valentine by using process of elimination to discover the who, what and where of the mystery.
Before we left to drive Ozzie back down to Pittsburgh we took advantage of his visit home to partake in our annual Valentine’s Day tradition of measuring everyone on the wall. Every Valentine’s Day the kids stand against the hallway wall to have their height recorded for the year. This is an anticipated tradition as everyone looks forward to seeing visual proof of their growth over the past 365 days.
Grace continues to hold firm at 5′ 2 1/2″ having zero growth this past year.
Molly hit 5’5″ this year after an increase of 5/16th of an inch.
Rusty continues to tower over the rest at 6’1″ but his rate of growth dropped significantly this past year with an increase of only 1/2″.
Tyler now stands tall at 5′ even having grown 2″ this past year.
Ozzie won this year’s bragging rights of most growth over this 12 month period, having grown 4 1/2″ this past year. He now is 5 foot 3 1/2 inches tall.
My chicks continue to grow, both in stature and in other areas. This past year has been a year of extreme growth for all of the kids as they have experience the best and worst this life has to offer and have embraced both facets with grace and maturity. While the measurements on the wall don’t always reflect their growth over the course of a year, their lives do, and I am so proud of each and every one of them!
The original plan was to return Ozzie back to Erie on Saturday.
The treatment team at the facility where he is staying to receive inpatient therapy approved him for an 8 day stay at home. This meant he would be returning on December 30th. Although thrilled at the prospect of 8 days at home, he was disappointed he would be missing our annual New Year’s Eve party at the Hudak’s house. We decided to address that disappointment with an awesome “Plan B” and decided to have a “mock” New Year’s Eve party on Friday night with just our little family. I’ll be honest, after a full day at the museum and 3 hours on the road, the last thing I really wanted to do when I got home on Friday evening was make a ton of food and stay up late, but I tapped deep knowing how important it was to Ozzie and knowing that once I got through the work of making all the hors d’oeuvres, we would have fun.
So, with the help of the girls, we began baking, and mixing, and broiling until we had an impressive feast laid out on the table.
The boys were given the task of pulling board games from the game closet that would be fun to play at our “mock” New Year’s Eve party. The kids had received a few new games for Christmas that they wanted to play so we started with those.
One of the items on Ozzie’s Christmas wish list was the game “Chutes and Ladders.” It is Ozzie’s favorite game, due in large part (I think) to memories attached to the game, so it was one of the gifts Ozzie received Christmas morning. He asked if it could be the first game we played as a family.
Next, we played “Speak Out,” a game Tyler received from the Kirks for Christmas. I don’t know when I have ever laughed so hard. The premise of the game is that players have to read tongue twisters off a card while wearing plastic mouth pieces. It is supposed to be played parents vs kids, but minutes into the game Toby left us. He had been hit with a stomach flu and was not feeling well. Soon after that Ozzie wandered off and fell asleep on the couch, leaving the rest of us to “Speak Out” in the dining room.
Tyler was particularly hilarious. The combination of talking through the mouth piece and being dyslexic just added to the absurdity of the words he was reading off the cards and the challenge of trying to figure out what he was saying. His solution to our incompetence was to simply speak more quickly and more loudly making it pretty much impossible to understand a word of what he was saying.
Rusty was by far the best at enunciating around the mouth piece. Grace credits it to the fact that Rusty had braces most recently and is used to talking around a mouth full of gear,
while I believe it has more to do with the mouth size to plastic ratio…the bigger the mouth the easier it is to be understood.
By the time we were done playing my cheeks ached and my stomach hurt from laughing so hard.
Ozzie didn’t even make it to 10:00. It turns out his new 8:00 bedtime at the facility has adjusted his internal clock and by 9:30 he was fast asleep on the couch, but it turns out our mock New Year’s Eve celebration was not even necessary…
Beginning Christmas day and continuing through the remainder of the week it snowed in Erie…
And I mean SNOWED!
Over the course of a few days Erie had almost five feet of snow dumped on their doorstep thanks to lake effect weather. What this meant for us was a call on Saturday morning from the facility informing us that Ozzie’s stay had been extended until it was safe to travel on the roads up north. They suggested a new return date of January 1st, which meant our “mock” New Year’s Eve turned out to simply be a dress rehearsal for the real deal. It turned out that Ozzie would be home for New Year’s after all. When I stepped out of my room, following this unexpected call, and shared the news, Ozzie reacted with shouts of joy. He was over the moon excited, both by the news he wasn’t leaving that afternoon, but also by the news that he wouldn’t miss out on our traditional New Year’s Eve bash at the Hudak’s house.
(More on that in the next post!)
I’ll leave you with these photos taken during our trip north on January 1st, after dropping off Ozzie:
The snow in Erie was quite impressive!
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.
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.
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.
My girls LOVE Christmas in the Woods! Grace, my lover of all things Christmas, goes for the ambiance. Molly enjoys the shopping.
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. 🙂
And he works cheap!
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!!
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.