Tag Archives: traditions

Happy 4th of July!

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On the Friday following our culinary trip to Germany, we found ourselves planning our second “international” dinner. The date (July 3rd) lent itself to an American themed meal. We celebrated the anniversary of our nation’s independence with a bonfire and BBQ.

To get into the spirit of the dinner, I spent the morning watching my all time favorite musical, 1776.

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This was followed by a viewing of Hamilton on Disney+ with Gracie as we prepared dinner.

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Zach was working late that night, so we just had Grace over for our 4th of July celebration.

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It was an easy themed dinner, as I just had to cook those well-loved and familiar foods from an all-American cook-out. Dinner consisted of hamburgers on the grill, potato chips and dip, macaroni salad, ambrosia salad, fruit pizza and cold soda. After last week’s menu, Tyler was in heaven with this more familiar fare.

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It was a beautiful evening to gather outside!

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Earlier in the week Toby made a fireworks run to load us up for our own personal firework show at Patchwork Farm. Like any man shopping for explosives, he went a little crazy, coming home with two boxes full of dangerous fun.

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The kids were thrilled!

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They couldn’t wait for the sun to go down so the real fun could begin!

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Our own, home-grown, fireworks show did not disappoint. Toby had purchased a wide variety of fountains, roman candles, high-in-the-sky boomers, and bottle rockets to keep our show going for hours.

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Rusty was our primary pyrotechnic guy, as he had the highest OSHA rating and was the most likely of the boys to run away from the burning fuse after lighting it.

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Gracie served as the DJ for our fireworks show, making sure we had a steady playlist of Lee Greenwood, Toby Keith, and Home Free, serving as the soundtrack of our evening.

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It was a wonderful night celebrating the land that I love with the people I love even more!

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Disney Magic!

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The winds of change are coming to Patchwork Farm. As our state slowly moves from red to yellow, normalcy (under strict mitigation) is returning. This week work at the daycare resumes for Grace. Graduation is a week away for Rusty and Braden. Molly will be leaving us in seven days to head to Salt Lake City to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the next 16 months. Grace and Zach spent the weekend moving back to their little apartment, after living at Patchwork Farm for the last 9 weeks during quarantine. With all these changes coming down the pike, we have been working hard to create pockets of fun and memory-making opportunities before everyone scatters.

One way we have done this is through themed dinner nights. Gracie had the idea of having a Disney dinner night, an idea that our Disney-loving family jumped at!

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This was probably our most extensive themed dinner yet. This Disney-loving family had lots of ideas, and our inability to edit ourselves meant we incorporated

EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM!

This themed dinner took a day’s worth of effort as we spent all of last Wednesday shopping for groceries, decorating, cooking, and creating.

Our efforts began in the dining room as we transformed the space into a tribute to all things Disney, incorporating many decorations from Rusty’s room!

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Then we started cooking. Our meal was a hodgepodge of Disney-themed dishes.

Grace took on the task of creating corresponding food tags for each of our side dishes. Using water colors, she captured the Disney film represented by each dish.

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While she painted, Rusty and Molly helped me cook.

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Some of our culinary nods to classic Disney films included:

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Our main dish was Toy Story’s Pizza Planet Pizza. We made the pizza dough ahead of time. When Toby and Zach arrived home from work everyone was sent to their rooms to dress for dinner. Everyone was instructed that they were to arrive at dinner Disney-bounding as a character from a Disney movie or ride.

Many of our outfits paid tribute to Toy Story…

With Molly representing Woody:

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Tyler dressed as a Pizza Planet delivery boy:

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And Toby and I as Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head:

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Rusty came to dinner Disney-bounding as Brer Fox from Splash Mountain:

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Others came to dinner dressed not as a particular character, but instead sporting Disney gear.

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Then it was time to make our personal pizzas. Everyone got a ball of homemade pizza dough that Grace had mixed ahead of time, and plenty of toppings to pick from. The kids enjoyed getting to create their own culinary masterpiece.

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As the pizzas baked everyone headed into the dining room to check out the other goodies,

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Including character cupcakes for each family member.

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When the pizzas were done baking everyone dished up and headed to the dining room where we enjoyed a delicious dinner paired with Disney music and Disney movie trivia.

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We REALLY loved “The Grey Stuff!” Here is the recipe we used if you’d like to try it yourself…YUM!

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of cold whole milk
  • 1 (3.4 ounce) package of instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 15 chocolate cookie sandwiches (Oreos)
  • Food processor
  • 1 (8 ounce) container whipped topping, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons instant chocolate pudding mix
  • Edible sugar pearls
  • Directions

    1. Pour milk into a large mixing bowl. Add instant vanilla pudding mix and whisk for 2 minutes until smooth and slightly thickened. Place in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours, until firm.

    2. Place chocolate sandwich cookies in food processor and pulse until pureed.

    3. Fold pureed cookies into pudding mix. Stir until fully mixed.

    4. Add whipped topping and instant chocolate pudding. Stir until fully mixed.

    5. Place in refrigerator and chill for one hour.

    6. Spoon grey stuff into piping bag fitted with desired tip. Pipe grey stuff into cups. Top with sugar pearls.

    7. Enjoy your very own grey stuff, because as Lumiere says, “It’s delicious!”

It was a “magical” night!

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Easter at Patchwork Farm- Part 2

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After a beautiful Sabbath service in the comfort of our own living room, the remainder of Easter Sunday was spent enjoying good food, good company, and good fun at Patchwork Farm.

This year for Easter I decided to go in a different direction with my basket stuffing efforts. This decision was luckily made before the stay-at-home order went into place, or I may have struggled to put together baskets this year. Luckily I had Easter candy on hand to put together treat baskets for each family member and had preordered their Easter gifts-  Lego sets!

We thought it would be fun to have a Lego building day as a family, so each of the kids received a set that we thought would appeal to them. When we came up with this plan we didn’t know Grace and Zach would be living with us, so I did have to do some emergency, last-minute shopping  online so they would have an Easter surprise as well.

The baskets were ready and waiting when everyone woke up.

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After our Sabbath service we headed outside for our Easter egg hunt.

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Toby had taken the hunt outside this year. The beautiful weather, coupled with older kids who need more of a challenge than the living room can offer, led to an outdoor hunt.

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Toby hid the 36 eggs we had dyed the day before.

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It was so much fun being outside.

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Of all our “egg hunters” Ellie May was the clear winner.

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Her hound nose led her to all the eggs hidden low to the ground. When Ellie would start digging beneath the edge of a tree stump, the kids would have to race to try to grab the hidden egg before she swallowed it up.

Despite their efforts we did lose three eggs to our hound dog and one egg to the chickens who discovered a turquoise blue egg hidden in their hen house and ate it up before the kids found it.

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It was a fun hunt, and other than the eggs that were lost to animals, all eggs were found.

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While dinner was cooking, the kids began working on their Lego sets.

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Molly and Rusty each received a Harry Potter themed set.

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Rusty spent the day putting together Hagrid’s hut,

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And Molly worked on constructing the Beauxbaton carriage.

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 Tyler worked on his haunted graveyard,

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And Braden constructed the prison tower from his Walking Dead set.

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He was quite proud of his finished product!

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Zach receivedEaster a Speed Champion race set and Grace received the “Friend’s” set.

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She spent the afternoon working on her set.

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The finished product was so cool!!

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I loved the attention to detail.

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By late afternoon dinner was ready. Dishes were pulled from the oven and fridge.

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We enjoyed a meal of good food and even better company on this holiest of days.

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We have so much to be grateful for.

Happy Easter, friends!

 

Happy 20th Birthday, Molly!

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Well, it was a birthday that won’t soon be forgotten…

And certainly a birthday far different then the one we imagined for Molly’s 20th.

First of all, we never expected to have Molly home for her birthday celebration. If life had moved forward as planned, Molly would have been celebrating her 20th birthday in Provo, Utah with her missionary companion. Instead, Sister McCleery, was at home for her big day, as we find ourselves living through a worldwide pandemic, quarantined at home, with Molly attending the missionary training center online instead of in person.

The reality of the world as it stands now, on Molly’s 20th birthday, is best documented by the following excerpt shared by a friend:

“Just so I NEVER forget….. April 7, 2020

Gas price was $1.04/gallon
School cancelled – yes cancelled – since 3/12; teachers and students are now all doing online schooling.
Social distancing and self quarantining measures on the rise.
Tape on the floors at grocery stores and others to help distance shoppers (6ft) from each other.
Limited number of people inside stores, therefore, lineups outside the store doors.
Non-essential stores and businesses mandated closed.
Parks, trails, entire cities locked up.
Entire sports seasons cancelled.
Concerts, tours, festivals, entertainment events – cancelled.
Weddings, family celebrations, holiday gatherings – cancelled.
No masses or services, churches are closed.
No gatherings of 50 or more, then 10 or more, now none at all except the people you live with.
Scouts, clubs, and groups are hosting virtual Zoom meetings.
Children’s outdoor play parks are closed.
Shortage of masks, gowns, gloves for our front-line workers.
Shortage of ventilators for the critically ill.
Panic buying sets in and we have no toilet paper, no disinfecting supplies, no paper towels, no laundry soap, no hand sanitizer.
Shelves are bare.
Manufacturers, distilleries and other businesses switch their lines to help make visors, masks, hand sanitizer and PPE.
Government closes the border to all non-essential travel.
Fines are established for breaking the rules.
Stadiums and recreation facilities open up for the overflow of Covid-19 patients.
Daily updates on new cases, recoveries, and deaths.
Government incentives to stay home.
Barely anyone on the roads.
People wearing masks and gloves outside.
Essential service workers are terrified to go to work.
Medical field workers are afraid to go home to their families.

This is the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic, declared March 11th, 2020.

Molly’s day was filled with classes and MTC training. She had a limited amount of free time in the middle of the day, so we reserved our celebration for first thing in the morning and for the end of the day.

We arrived at her bedroom door at 7:30 am, ready to wake her with her traditional birthday cake slice and birthday song. She was already awake and doing her personal scripture study when we walked in. We greeted her with a birthday sign,

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And a birthday song.

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She made her wish and blew out her candle.

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The rest of her birthday cheesecake was reserved to enjoy later as a family.

Before the busyness of her day began, we gathered in the living room to give Molly her birthday gifts.

Luckily most of our birthday planning was proactive, as the original plan was to celebrate her birthday mid-March, before she left for the MTC. This means gifts were already purchased and wrapped, the makings for her birthday dinner were already in the pantry, and her cheesecake had been chilling in the freezer for weeks in preparation of her special day.

She received gifts fitting for our sweet sister missionary, including a new dress from Braden,

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A new necklace from Tyler,

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A quill pen and ink set from Rusty,

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Water color pens from Grace and Zach, and a messenger bag from Toby and I.

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During the day Molly received love sent from those afar, including a birthday card/gift from Mimi Joy and from Aunt Kelly’s crew, a surprise package from her best buddy (Tatum,) a phone call from Uncle Travis and Aunt Krista, and the traditional birthday serenade on the answering machine from Mimi and Pop Pop Real.

That evening we enjoyed a dinner of spaghetti pizza, garlic knots and Caesar salad, per Molly’s request, before ending the meal with cheesecake.

For Molly’s birthday activity she requested a bonfire outside…the first of the season!

It was a beautiful evening and the weather cooperated.

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We ate dinner around the fire,

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And then pulled out the marshmallows for an after dinner treat.

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Everyone filled up on toasted marshmallows while we did our family scripture study by firelight.

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We ended the evening, as we do every birthday, with each family member expressing the trait they love most about the birthday person. This was the high point of the day for Miss Molly, whose love language is words of affirmation.

Happy birthday, Miss Molly!

We love you to the moon and back!

February Fun

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The shortest month of the year flew by at a record-breaking speed, despite that extra day tacked onto the end. Here is a look at the moments that filled the last 29 days…

Valentine’s Day was a low-key event at Patchwork Farm, but we did celebrate the love of family with a fun dinner at home. Two days before Valentine’s Day I made a stop at Dollar Tree to pick up white plates for each family member.

Using a black Sharpie I personalized each dinner plate with adjectives that best describe them and then baked the plates in the oven to set the ink permanently.

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It was a fun gift to prepare for my favorite Valentines.

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That night the table was set with everyone’s personalized plates and dolled up for the holiday with a bag of chocolates at each place.

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How grateful I am for these people I love!

Not long after that holiday… one filled with expressions of love and gifts of chocolate… I found myself with sweet treats on the brain once again…

It was Bake-off time! 

This past fall a family from church organized an ongoing social event that pitted bakers against each other. Those interested in competing were able to sign up and were given a date and time for their showdown against another family from church, but those who just wanted to enjoy an evening of taste-testing and talking could come out for the fun and help choose the victor. Winners from each round then would move on to the next round where they’d compete against other winners. 

Last week we found ourselves competing in the semi-finals with a peanut butter ice-cream cake paired with homemade hot fudge.

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It was a fun evening that catapulted us into round three of competition.

Molly now finds herself in the final countdown as she prepares to leave for 18 months to serve a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. These last 30 days are quickly filling up, as we work to accomplish all the tasks on her “to do” list while also trying to fit in visits with family and friends. 

A few weeks ago we traveled out to Ohio to visit my parents at the Homestead. While we were out there we also met up with my grandma for a visit. It has been such a treat having her so close. We are able to see her a lot more often than before and our visits are always a blast. How grateful I am for this special lady!

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We have also been able to fit in multiple temple trips. We set the goal of visiting the temple every other week. Often our temple trip is paired with a visit to Erie for Ozzie’s weekly family therapy session. From Erie we just keep heading north to Palmyra, NY temple for an evening session. 

On weeks that we can’t fit in 10 hours of driving, we will head to Columbus, Ohio.

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This past Saturday the youth had a temple trip scheduled. Molly and I joined Rusty for a day at the temple…and it was wonderful!

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Molly has also kept busy working and earning money for her mission. Rather than return to working as a waitress, as she did prior to college, she decided to work for Toby’s construction company as a laborer. It has been such a blessing for her. She loves the extra time she has had with her Daddy. They enjoy spending their days working side by side, and in the process she has learned some great skills, saved up the money she needs for her mission, while also freeing up her evenings for family time. In addition to Toby she also works with Zach, her brother-in-law, and two other great guys, Fernando and Hoggin. Here is Molly’s work family. She loves these guys:

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And every day she has a lunch date with this kid:

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While Molly was in Idaho Tyler struggled with her absence. His feelings of loss made talking to Molly on the phone too hard, and he chose to avoid all contact rather than feel the sadness that came with hearing her voice and missing her.

While Molly is on her mission we will have the opportunity to video chat with her every Monday (in addition to exchanging letters, packages, and emails.) This knowledge hasn’t helped Tyler accept her leaving for 18 months because he is certain he won’t be able to handle video chatting with her, even if she is allowed to call home every Monday.

So, to help him get more comfortable conversing with Molly in this way the two of them have started chatting every day during their lunch breaks via Facebook Messenger. The ability to use fun filters to talk face-to-face has lessened Tyler’s anxiety and helped increase his comfort level with video chatting. The hope is that by the time Molly leaves, this form of communication will feel comfortable and even natural, thanks to exposure therapy.

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Tyler is also keeping busy with some new gals in his life. These ones are of the four-hoofed variety. In addition to participating in equine therapy each week at Glade Run Adventures, he has begun working there as a volunteer. This is something he sought out independently. He wanted more time at the barn while helping out with the animals. Last month he completed his volunteer training and this month he began volunteering. He volunteers at the barn every Wednesday, prior to his therapy.

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He has been given a specific assignment at the barn. He is in charge of caring for the three little girls that call Glade Run Stables home. Every week he must walk the three mini residents in from the field and groom them. His three girls are Beauty (a mini horse), Bobbie Socks (a miniature cow), and Enchilada (the miniature donkey).

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He brings them in one at a time, grooms them and tucks them into their stalls for the night…

And he loves it! It has been a fun responsibility that is his alone and he does a great job.

 

So, there you go…just a small sampling of the comings and goings at Patchwork Farm this past February.

Now it is time to welcome in March!

 

 

 

 

Ozzie is 16…wait, what?!

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As hard as it is to believe, Ozzie is now 16 years old. It is hard to wrap my brain around that fact. In my mind he is forever that awkwardly skinny ten-year-old boy with the chipped front tooth and quick smile. It has been quite the journey for Ozzie to reach this milestone age…

A journey that has been anything but smooth or easy. He has fought hard to get to his today, overcoming a mountain of obstacles along the way…

And we have been part of that climb for the last six years.

I have always felt that one of the greatest gifts God gives us is the inability to see what is coming. He knows what is around the next corner and He graciously protects us from that knowledge until we are capable of facing it. It is a good thing He does. Just consider all of the amazing blessings we would willingly decline if presented with the journey we would have to take to earn those rewards. Instead, He shines the light just far enough ahead for us to feel comfortable taking the next step. Step by step He equips us for the next challenge by placing people in our life to teach us and strengthen us for the next challenge. He builds in us muscles of patience, strength, endurance, fortitude and faith as we tip-toe our way through life, walking just past the edge of where the light shines.

Step by step we move forward, uncertain of our progress until one day we look back and are blown away by how far we have traveled.

It is journey of faithful discipleship that often involves two steps back for every one step forward. It is a journey of faith that is accompanied by tears and tantrums, as we ask God, “Why?” There is a reason that discipleship is referred to as a “walk.” There is nothing passive about Christ’s invitation to “Come, Follow Me.”  It is an invitation to move intentionally. We must make a choice daily to put one foot in front of the other. To not plant ourselves in the middle of the Road to Damascus, but rather to continue shuffling forward even through the weariness of the walk.

This journey of opening our hearts to the hurting has been a deliberate choice and an intentional walk. This does not mean it has always been smooth. Most days are more hard than easy, but most days are also more joyful than jarring.

How grateful I am that when God placed me on this staircase He only showed me the first few steps. I am afraid that had He revealed the entire staircase looming ahead, I would have be paralyzed by the enormity of the climb. He knew that, so He lovingly revealed just enough for me to step forward in faith. He knew the view from the top was a view I wouldn’t want to miss. And he knew that the invitation to climb would be transformative in my own personal growth.

Here we are years later, still climbing, still wheezing from the effort, but enjoying a vista that only can be seen with the effort of a steep climb.

This weekend was one of those moments when I took a break from the climb to simply soak up the view and appreciate the gift that this journey gives. This weekend we celebrated our son. We gave thanks for this monumental birthday and God’s hand in getting him here. We celebrated the healing and the hope and the dreams we have for his tomorrows. Our son is 16-years-old and he got to celebrate the anniversary of his birth into the world surrounded by family that loves him.

Ozzie’s birthday plans had to be adjusted slightly from our original plans. Concerned for his ability to navigate the emotions of the weekend effectively, his therapist felt a day pass, rather than a weekend pass, was a better fit for his big day. Ozzie was disappointed  as he was hoping to attend the International Auto Show in Pittsburgh, but this momma had something even better in the works. I wasn’t going to allow that news to ruin my boy’s 16th birthday, so plans were made to make our Plan B better than his Plan A.

Ozzie’s newest obsession is model trains. I say “obsession” with great love, because Ozzie is a kid that doesn’t pursue any interest or hobby casually. He is an “all in” sort of kid, and his love of model railroads is no different. It is a newly developed hobby but he is already an “expert!” He has researched this hobby extensively, checked out library books, subscribed to model railroader magazine and spoke extensively with model railroad enthusiasts. After spending hours researching the different model options, and sketching out possible designs, he is ready to start building.

His vision is to fill our basement with raised tables and miles of track, a dream we explained we would approach slowly and deliberately after he asked Toby to pick up 30 sheets of plywood from Home Depot so that he can begin building.

Instead, the first purchase we decided on was some track and a few cars, and we decided that would be his birthday gift from us. Rather than shop for his birthday gift online, we decided to make part of his gift the experience of shopping for his gift, and he got to do that at a model train convention that was being held in New York.

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When looking for something fun to do in Erie last weekend, my research led me to information about a huge model railroad convention being held an hour away in western New York. We couldn’t wait to surprise Ozzie with the news of his birthday plans. I knew he was going to be over-the-moon excited…

And he didn’t disappoint!

Molly, Rusty, Tyler and I headed north on his big day to celebrate the big 1-6 with Oz. Braden wasn’t in a place emotionally that he could handle the visit so Toby stayed home with him while the rest of us ventured north. We picked up Ozzie, surprised him with his traditional birthday cupcake and birthday song in the parking lot and then started driving. When we arrived at our chosen destination Ozzie was still puzzled as to our plans.

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That is, until we walked in and he saw what was inside the convention center. Stretching before him were booth after booth of model railroad displays.

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Some were advertising local clubs, others were selling their wares, but all offered what Ozzie was looking for: information!

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He spent three hours canvasing the place, asking questions, and lovingly fondling the miniature trains…

Examining them with his eye for detail and carrying on a running narrative of each item’s history and details.

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When he found out he had the $50.00 we were going to spend on his birthday gift to spend on the starting pieces of his set, he was ecstatic.  We then re-circled the convention center for the fourth time, this time with Ozzie viewing each display through the lens of a shopper with money to burn.

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The other kids were grateful that the convention also offer antique toys for sale, as it offered a break from all the train displays that held zero appeal for the other kids.  It was fun looking at toys from the 1940’s-1980’s. Memories rushed forth as we stumbled across iconic toys from my own childhood.

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Eventually Ozzie made his choices. He used his money to buy three train cars and a bundle of track. If I was really a good momma I’d be able to tell you what train cars he bought and what scale he decided on. But alas, I am not that good. All I know is that two train cars were blue and one was yellow. Next time you see Ozzie, be sure to ask him about his model railroad purchases and he will give you all the details!

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It was an unconventional birthday celebration (as Ozzie’s usually are) but it was a perfect 16th birthday celebration for Ozzie who declared this birthday celebration the “Best One Yet!”

Happy Birthday, Ozzie. We love you!

 

Welcome 2020!

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Boy, 2019 was a doosy!

It is hard to believe how many changes occurred in our life over the course of a single year. It was a year of high highs and trying lows as we navigated a multitude of huge life events. As I scroll through the last 12 months of blog posts I can’t believe it has only been 365 days since the first blog of 2019. In so many ways I feel as though I have lived a dozen years in that dozen months.

I love New Year’s Day. There is something cathartic about flipping through an empty calendar, each square pristine in its lack of markings, filled only with the promise of possibility.

I love the opportunity for reflection tied to this holiday…the intentional break after a frantic month of celebration and frivolity, to simply pause and ponder on the past and dream about the possibilities of the future.

I love the chance to hit the re-start button on our lives as we make plans to let go of those things that weighed us down last year and move forward with a hope and optimism about the year ahead.

I love the goal setting, the list making, and the future planning.

And as much as I love the transformation that occurs every December as the house gets caught up in the spell of Christmas magic with its trinkets and tinsel, there is a peaceful exhale that comes as the house sheds those layers of decorations and reverts back to a simpler and starker state.

After a month of excess, the promise of restraint pulls at me. It had been a month of much…much celebration, much lost sleep, much frivolity, much junk food, much, much, much…

And nothing sounds sweeter than the routine, restraint, and rest associated with the sleepy, snowy stillness of January,

But before we could settle into 2020 we had to ring out the old year with style, with one more celebration in 2019. It was New Year’s Eve and we had a party to get to!!

Every New Year’s Eve for the last decade we have rung in the new year with out best buddies- The Hudak’s!

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This year was no exception.

Even Grace and Zach opted to join us in lieu of other plans.

This New Year’s celebration was a big one, as it was the year we would  be opening the time capsule we packed as part of our New Year’s Eve celebration five years ago.

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But before we broke into that vault of memories and took a walk down memory lane, we needed to fill our plates and our bellies with sustenance!

Lana and I split the responsibility of our New Year’s Eve feast, with each of us making five or six appetizers for the party.

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Once we had everything laid out, the kids were set loose on that buffet of deliciousness.

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Once everyone was satiated we gathered to open our time capsule.

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Olivia did the honors…

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And everyone pulled from the container the papers that were filled out five years prior and began reading the responses to the questions on the forms. It was delightful to read the answers of the people we were five years ago and compare them to who we are and what we believe today.

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Some of the papers were downright hilarious.

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It was such a delight to see the transformations in ourselves that the kids decided they wanted to do it again, writing letters to themselves to be read in five years. This time Braden and Zach were able to add their notes to the time capsule.

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It was soon time to gather around the tv to watch the ball drop.

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Sparkling cider was poured,

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And everyone began the countdown…

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….Happy New Year!!

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Welcome 2020…I’m so happy to see you!

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Merry Christmas!

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It was a blessed Christmas, with our day spent enjoying the gift of family.

Grace and Zach had left to go home the night before. They were spending Christmas day with Zach’s side of the family, so it was just the five kids who stumbled from their beds, rubbing the sleep from their eyes on Christmas morning.

The first errand of the day was to go and pick up my Grandmother from her place before setting the kids lose on the stockings. Braden asked if he could accompany Pop Pop to go and pick her up. I’m sure he made quite a splash at her retirement home when he arrived to pick her up, still dressed in his Flash onesie.

When they returned home the adults settled into their spots in the living room and then the kids were given the all-clear to enter and check out the loot. Everyone found an empty chair or a section of floor to claim for the morning festivities and stockings were handed out.

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Stockings are a big deal in our family and they have always been the highlight of Christmas morning for me, ever since I was a young girl. We all have matching knit stockings bearing our names, so lovingly made by G.G.

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Over the last six decades she has knit dozens of stockings for each new baby and each family member that has joined the family through marriage or adoption…

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A tradition that Aunt Jane has lovingly taken on this last year, thus making sure Braden has a stocking that matches the family.

Filling the stocking is a group effort as the women all seek out fun, unusual trinkets and treats to make the stockings a magical part of Christmas morning.

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It is always a delight to see what novelty items everyone pulls from their stocking and the matching bags Gracie sewed last year to hold the overflow of gifts that inevitably can’t fit in the stockings each Christmas.

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Once everyone has sifted through their loot it is time for gifts. With two children playing Santa each year, gifts are handed out one at a time to each family member. Once everyone has a gift in hand permission is given to tear into the paper and ribbons.

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Gifts are shown and shared, so everyone can see what others received, and so I can write down and keep a record of who received what from whom, for thank-you note writing later.

We continue working our way though the pile a gift at a time until the yummy smells wafting up from the kitchen let us know that the breakfast casserole and Danishes are ready.

A break for breakfast and then we are back in the living room opening more gifts until the room is filled with torn wrapping and shiny new toys.

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The afternoon is spent enjoying the gifts of the day. New board games are pulled out to be played as a family while Christmas dinner cooks in the kitchen. Footballs get carried outside for play and Lego sets get dumped out in the corner as the building begins.

Christmas Dinner at the Homestead is a traditional affair with ham, potatoes, and side dishes galore! Our meal always ends with the breaking of the Christmas crackers found at each place setting. The loud pop and tear of cardboard reveals a paper crown and some sort of toy. This year’s Christmas crackers contained whistles. Each one played a different note, and when played together, with the use of accompanying song sheets, could make beautiful music.

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“Could” is the operative word.

Despite our efforts the noises we made never resembled anything like the song we were trying to play. Instead we sounded like a bunch of dying cats. We definitely won’t be taking our show on the road anytime soon!

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We all soon regretted my parents’ Christmas cracker choice. There is nothing more grating on the nerves than high pitched whistles in the hands of boys with severe ADHD.

After a dessert of pecan pie it was time to load up the car and head back home. Half of our crew had work the following morning, so at 7:00 pm we bid the family fare-thee-well, and headed back home.

It was another blessed Christmas at the Homestead!

 

The Magic of Christmas Eve

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Christmas Eve…a night filled with the magic of possibilities!

Nowhere is the magic more pronounced than the Christmas magic found at the Homestead on Christmas Eve.

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Toby had the day off work so we packed up the car with sleeping bags and pillows, Christmas pajamas, bags of stocking stuffers, wrapped presents, and some very excited children, and headed out to Ohio.

We arrived and were greeted by the enthusiastic barking of Ranger and Rosie, the resident German Shepherds. After long-overdue hugs with Travis and Krista, our family from the Lone Star state, and Christmas greetings with Mimi and Pop Pop, we bid them good-bye as they left for early Christmas Eve mass.

While they were gone we began preparations for our Christmas Eve feast of appetizers and dips. The spread was as abundant as it was varied.

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Everyone pitched in to help,

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With breaks taken for sampling and checking out the action on Santa Tracker.

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Despite knowing the truth about Christmas, Ozzie, my map loving kiddo, still loves watching Santa’s progress across the world on Christmas Eve.

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When the rest of the family arrived home, the celebration began in full force.

We had Grace and Zach with us on Christmas Eve for a few hours, before they left for home to spend Christmas Day with Zach’s side of the family.

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It was a joy to have them with us for our Christmas Eve traditions!

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The newlywed’s first Christmas

Our evening of fun began with our evening feast.

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We enjoyed filling our bellies with delicious food while feeding our souls with family time as we chatted and laughed together.

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The O3- united again!

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Oh,  how I love this boy of mine!

 

After dinner it was time for games and our annual white elephant gift exchange. This is a tradition that began a decade ago and always leads to many laughs.

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This is a tradition I have responsibility over, which means each year I shop for inexpensive, but ridiculous gifts, that I wrap up to look far more appealing than the gift within actually is. Dollar Tree is my usual shopping spot as it offers the weird and the unusual for as cheap as can be. After 10 years of my annual shopping trips to Dollar Tree I found I had exhausted all the possibilities for our white elephant game.

It was time to up the stakes!

Five Below, here I come!

The result of a slightly increased game budget and a new shopping venue paid dividends.

Everyone battled for gifts they were certain held treasures.

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Once everyone had a gift in hand, we all took turns unwrapping and revealing our AWESOME wins!

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Braden’s face speaks volumes!

And boy were they belly-laugh inducing!!

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Tyler enjoying his remote control poop…

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Travis trying out Krista’s voice altering machine.

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I think Grace loves her new board game!

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Mimi creating beautiful music with her piano tie.

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It was like something from a SNL skit.

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Rusty made his own Forky!

After our game we bundled up and headed to the barn for another Christmas Eve tradition…

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Dad reading the Christmas story from Luke as we sat in the stillness of the barn.

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It is always the highlight of my Christmas. There is something holy about the experience as we sit in the darkness of the barn, listening to the slow cadence of my father’s voice as he tells the story of Christ’s humble birth so many years ago…

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Interrupted only by the occasional call from a goat.

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Our time in the barn ended with the singing of a Christmas hymn and some donkey lovin’ on Georgie before we made our way back to the house.

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Grace and Zack prepared to take their leave. They had a 2 1/2 hour drive ahead of them, made all the more arduous by the thick fog that had settled on the valley…

And the other kids unwrapped their gifts of new pajamas for Christmas Eve.

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“Yabba Dabba Doo!”

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The Flash, A ballerina pig, Genie, and Jack Skellington

Warm and snuggly, they headed off for bed while the rest of us brought Christmas to life by filling the empty spaces around the tree with beautifully wrapped packages,

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And filled the stockings with trinkets and treats.

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Christmas could now arrive!

And then it was off to bed for a few stolen winks of sleep for the adults before the festive fun resumed.

 

‘Twas the Night Before, the Night Before, Christmas

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On December 23rd I received the best Christmas gift of all…

Having all my kiddos home together!

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On Monday night we picked up Ozzie in Pittsburgh, where the transport van from his residential facility dropped him off. He was as excited at the prospect of Christmas as the rest of my crew.

We arrived home and there we were joined by Grace and Zach, as well as Toby who arrived home with pizza in hand. It was our annual “The night before, the night before Christmas” party…One of my favorite nights of the Christmas season.

A few years ago we began the tradition of setting aside December 23rd for the kids to exchange gifts with one another. This tradition began when we saw that the gifts, so lovingly made or purchased by brothers and sisters, often got lost in the larger gifts from Santa and other relatives on Christmas morning. In an effort to forge connection, encourage thoughtful giving, and increase gratitude among siblings we decided to set aside a night specific to gift giving in our immediate family.

Since December 23rd was already the night we traditionally gifted the kids with their yearly Christmas ornament, we decided to make it a celebration of our immediate family before joining our extended family members on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the days that followed.

This was one of the best ideas we had as a family and this tradition has become the highlight of my Christmas season. As a mom it brings me such joy to see the love shown among siblings as they thoughtfully bring the magic of Christmas to their siblings.

This year we switched things up a bit and rather than everyone making or buying gifts for everyone else, the siblings instead drew names and shopped for just one person, allowing everyone to really personalize their efforts and focus on showing love to one certain sibling. With Zach in the mix we now had seven kids each picking a name and shopping for one another.

The night began with the traditional reading of my favorite Christmas book of all time, one that delights me in its relatability!

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After a yummy pizza dinner it was time to begin the gift giving. We began with our ornament exchange. Every year Toby and I purchase for each child (and each other) an ornament that is reflective of interests, hobbies, or events from the past year. This was a tradition we began on Gracie’s first birthday and it is always a delight to unpack years’ worth of memories when we decorate the tree.

This year Gracie married Zach and took her 21 years worth of Christmas ornaments to her new home to decorate their first tree as a newlywed couple. This is a gift of love each child will be able to look forward to as they launch and have homes and Christmas trees of their own.

This year we focused our ornament choices on major life events for those kids who have experienced a life transition, and ornaments reflective of interests/hobbies for those who haven’t. We began handing out ornaments oldest to youngest.

Toby received a family ornament that highlights his new brood of kiddos…a brood that has grown by 2 this year through adi

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Toby continues with a two decade tradition of buying me another angel ornament for the tree. This year’s ornament he secretly purchased while we were at Disney World. (And I, of course, forgot to capture a photo of it. You’ll have to trust me when I say it is beautiful!)

This year we transitioned to a couple ornament for Grace and Zach. It had to reflect their new and exciting journey as husband and wife. This is what we chose:

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Molly’s ornament celebrated her graduation from 21st Century Cyber Charter School and her exciting launch into adulthood.

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Rusty’s ornament celebrated his beginning college classes through CCBC’s duel enrollment program. He is going to school to be a drone pilot.

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Braden experienced one of the family’s biggest life changes this year when he was adopted into our forever family. His ornament couldn’t be anything but a celebration of that wonderful day!

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Ozzie’s ornament was so perfectly Ozzie, that I had to buy it when I found it online. What ornament could be more perfect for my weather loving 15-year-old than a Galileo thermometer ornament for the tree!

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And Tyler’s “to-cool-for-school,” low-riding Santa, with accompanying soundtrack, fit our youngest perfectly!!

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Then it was time for the sibling gift exchange!!

Braden’s gift to Grace was a new lunch bag and thermos for her to take to work.

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Tyler bought Zach a few new board games.

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Rusty found a perfect gift for Ozzie. Ozzie loves puzzles and Rusty found a set of six mini puzzles online that are packages to look like mini boxes of cereal. He paired the puzzles with an actual variety pack of sample cereals.

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Gracie’s gift to Molly was equally personal and extra special. In honor of Molly’s upcoming temple experience Grace bought Molly a necklace bearing a stone setting made from the same marble as the Palmyra, NY Temple, where Molly will soon be making covenants with the Lord.

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Molly’s gift for Braden was two parts. The first was a new Sunday tie she purchased for him from Etsy that bears the symbol of his favorite superhero- The Flash. She also made him an affirmation jar filled with 100 strips of paper listing the things she loves and admires about him.

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Zach had Rusty’s name and bought him a Wall-E Disney-bounding outfit.

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Rusty also received a bonus gift from Toby…The world’s largest water bottle!! Rusty is our water drinker and is never without a water bottle in hand. We tease him about his excessive water consumption, so when Toby stumbled across this gigantic water bottle he couldn’t help but pick it up for Rusty.

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After the siblings had all exchanged gifts it was time for Toby and I to open our gifts from the kids. This was another tradition added to December 23rd for the same reason as the sibling gift exchange. We wanted to be able to really appreciate and focus on the gifts of love from our children without them getting lost in the chaos of Christmas morning. It is always a joy and a delight to see the amount of time, thought, creativity and effort our children put into showing us their love through their Christmas gifts.

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This note from Tyler is a keeper!!!

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Rusty knows what brings his dad joy.

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Ozzie carved and painted this Christmas plaque for me in workshop. Another treasure!

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Toby also received a jar of 100 affirmations from Miss Molly. A gift that will be treasured even more in her absence!

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And Rusty painted me a charming picture. I love Rusty originals!!

It was at the end of opening our gifts from the kids that Ozzie received his big surprise that we revealed in the last blog.

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It was a blessed night of loving and giving.

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My cup overfloweth!