Infertility Takes So Much, Don’t Let It Take Your Marriage Too

I was 22 when I got married.  I stood before family and friends and made this outrageous promise to love a man through thick and thin, sickness and health, good times and bad, for richer or poorer.  I didn’t realize then, the gravity of what I was saying. I couldn’t have.  Now, almost a decade in, I sometimes wish I could redo that day.  Partially because, Pinterest, hello! But more so because I’ve begun to understand the significance of what I was promising.

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You can read the details of our story here.  But we’ve walked along the mountaintops and also spent a chunk of time in the deepest of valleys.   Infertility rocks you to your core.  It reaches places that you just can’t understand until you’ve walked it.  I know that not every marriage experiences infertility but I have yet to find a marriage that hasn’t been affected by hardship or tragedy.

The divorce rate in the US hovers around 50% – that means you have a 50/50 shot at making it.  One study showed that couples who experience a season of infertility are 3x more likely to call it quits.  Yikes, those odds aren’t in your favor.

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Before we go any further.  I have to give credit where credit is due.  That decade of marriage, It’s not because Jimmy and I did it all right.  Because if we’re being honest we were probably more wrong than we were right.  But’s God’s grace has flowed freely and I’m ever so thankful.

We meet more and more couples opening up about the toll infertility has taken on their marriage.  We’ve been able to spend some time reflecting back on some of our challenging seasons and have come up with some tips we hope can be helpful to others who are still in the trenches.

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Talk About It & Don’t Talk About It

No that isn’t a typo.  You’ve all heard communication is key.  You won’t hear me argue with that.  You need to talk about everything, your dreams, your hopes, your fears, and yes even those deep dark ugly feelings.  You can’t assume that the other person knows those feelings because they don’t.

But then make time to not talk about it, whatever that “it” may be.  Go to dinner, take a walk, but talk about everything else.  For us, that “it” was infertility and it became all-consuming.  Take time to breathe and remember who you two are as a couple.

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Resist The Urge

I’m not going to lie, this one is hard.  Crisis brings out the ugliest in us.  Resist it.  Resist the urge to blame, to shout, to wound. Resist the urge to stay angry or have the last word. Instead, dare to be different. Choose to build up instead of breakdown.  Choose to walk as partners instead of adversaries.

Overuse I Love You

Seriously.  Say it all the time.  Say it when you don’t want to.  Say it morning, noon, and night.  Nobody gets sick of hearing those three words.

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Search For Joy

There’s a theory that you can only feel one emotion at a time.  Replace feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, despair with joy.  Joy is a decision, a brave decision about how you are going to respond to life.  Live beyond the “what if’s,” find joy in what is.  Choosing joy is being able to see God’s goodness even when life is hard and messy.

Be Spontaneous,

Take the trip.  Eat cake for breakfast. Take off work and catch a matinee.  Surprise each other. Book a local hotel.  Try a new food.  Break up the ordinary. “Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow.” – Vincent Van Gogh

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Don’t Lose Hope

There’s not much left after hope.  I know because I’ve spent some time here.  It’s a dark place you don’t want to go.  I’m not talking about the kind of hope you see in the movies. But real hope is forged.  It’s fought for.  It’s believing that He can and that He will.   It’s risky and radical.  It defies logic. To hope beyond what you can see.

“Too often we try to avoid that scary place where we love so deep, so much our hearts could break.  But without the bitterness, we could never appreciate the sweetness.  Real hope opens us to see Jesus as He really is.  Wild. Uncomely. And radiant.” – Sara Hagerty

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Pray

This one is listed last, but it’s really the most important.  Remember those promises I made at 22?  What I didn’t know then, is that I actually can’t love someone in the way I promised, not alone anyway.  So I pray.  I pray for my marriage, I pray for my husband, and I pray for myself.  I wasn’t always this way, and so I’m hoping you can learn from my mistakes.  Pray when it’s good, when it’s bad, and when it’s really ugly.   “Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath.” – Psalm 116:2

“Your marriage vows are the most important when they are the hardest to keep.” (Dave Willis).  Stay the course friends.

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I couldn’t end this post without saying: Jimmy you had my heart a long long time ago, it was yours then, you still have it, and you’ll always have it.  I’m forever yours.

XOXO,Holly

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Gina Felice Photography

Tips to Protect your marriage during infertility

Day Adventure Guide: Museum Scavenger Hunt (Free PDF Download)

If you have learned anything about me by now, it’s probably that (1) I don’t like to sit at home and (2) I’m obsessed with showing my kids this beautiful planet.  And since I haven’t convinced Jimmy to sell our house and all our possessions in order travel the world for a year (I’m working on it!), I still want to be intentional about exposing my children to different parts of this big world, both past, and present.

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So when we aren’t off traveling and exploring a new place, we are still trying to be intentional about constantly teaching our kids about…well….everything! Some days it’s studying trees during a hike in the woods; other days we head to a museum for more formal information.  Museums are a great way to learn about people and places without traveling far.  Their galleries become classrooms to educate and inspire.  

There are art museums, science museums, children’s museums, all kinds of history museums, including one of our favorites the Museum of Natural History.

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The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is an AWESOME museum.  It’s very hands-on.  It has rotating exhibits so there is always something new to investigate and explore.  There is also an entire outdoor section complete with a canopy walk and several animals to study up close. It’s great for kids of all ages, my 16-month-old (at the time) twins had plenty to see and do, and my 7-year-old was completely engaged the entire visit.  There is also a kid’s discovery center in the basement that is one of our favorite parts of our visit each time.

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If it’s your first time heading to a museum here are a few things to consider:

  • Visit the museum’s website ahead of time: see what is allowed and not allowed.  I’d hate for you to get there and find out you can’t bring in bags (lots of art museums have this rule), or food, or sometimes even a stroller.  Better to be prepared ahead of time.
  • Go cheap the first time:  Lots of museums have specials or “free-days” or discounts days.  Pick a day where your costs will be low, so if for some reason it is a disaster, you don’t lose much when you decide to leave.  National Museums and several art museums are always free of cost for entry.
  • Expand your idea of a museum.  Think outdoor sculpture garden, old ship tours, or farm tours.
  • Know your limits.  Your child might only last an hour or two before they have had enough.  Don’t push them to spend the whole day if they’ve reached their capacity.  You don’t want their first museum experience to have a negative connotation because you’ve pushed too far past naps and snack time.

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People seem to have this notion that museums are a don’t touch-be-quiet kind of place. I think you will find that most museums are going to great lengths to encourage curiosity and engagement from young children.

If you think museums are boring, I’m telling you: you are doing it wrong. You are in charge at a museum. You can spend as much or as little time at each exhibit. Follow what your kids are drawn to.  “The best museums and exhibits give you the feeling that, hey, this is interesting but maybe I could do something here, too” (Paul Allen).  Engage in your child’s curiosity.  Bring up the tough questions. Challenge them to think outside of the box.  Inspire them to learn, create, and explore.

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All of my kids really enjoy museums, but since we had been to this particular museum before I was a little worried that my oldest wouldn’t find anything new to spark his interest. Silly me.  But nonetheless,  I had this idea to make a game out of it. Anything is better in game form, am I right?  So I created a scavenger hunt to keep him engaged on our trip.   I had hand made the hunt that morning, but I took some extra time and saved you a step.  You can find the free download for the PDF here: Museum of Natural History Scavenger Hunt.

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The morning of our adventure to the museum I gave Cam the scavenger hunt, a blank notebook, and this message:

WISHING YOU A HAPPY

 

You don’t have to make extraordinary outings for your kids.  My goal is to take common occasions and make them great.

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I love how each time we go to a museum, even if we have been there before, it is a new experience.  The exhibits and our interactions shape our conversations for the day and can challenge our thought process.  It encourages my children to ponder and ask questions.  And I’ll be honest, sometimes I don’t know the answers – but it opens up the door for a genuine deep conversation about a number of topics that wouldn’t be brought up without the time spent at the museum.

“It is so important to introduce children to museums because museums open up a world of imagination and exploration.  It is even more important to introduce children to museums at a young age because our youth is our future and museums broaden our knowledge of the world.”  –Jennifer Peters, Director of Exhibits and Education, Muncie Children’s Museum.

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What are some of your favorite museums to visit?  I always have a running list of places we need to visit, and I’m always looking for places to add to it.

XOXO,Holly

Why I Make My Kids Ride Roller Coasters

One of the biggest things I want to teach my kids is to live courageously.  Courage doesn’t mean that you become fearless, it means you don’t let your fears stop you from living.

Life is full of scary things; following a dream is scary, moving to a new place is scary, making friends is scary, taking a new job is scary, getting married is scary, getting a diagnosis is scary, losing a loved one is scary, raising kids is scary, the list goes on and on. And while I can’t teach my kids to live without fear, I can teach them to live in spite of fear.  

Here are 3 things we do in our home to encourage fearless living:

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We let them fail.

When it was time for Cam to learn to ride his bike, he was eager to to get going; until it came time for me to let go.  He begged me not to let go.  But in the end, it was probably harder for me than for him.  You see, I wanted to hold on a little longer. I wanted to make sure that he was completely ready, I wanted to ensure he wouldn’t fall. But life doesn’t work like that, does it?  In order for him to really soar, he had to overcome his fear of falling.

Fear stops us from dreaming big.  The fear of failing starts as a child and I’m not sure it ever really ends.  What I’ve found is that my house is the best and safest place for my kids to fail.  It’s a place where their acceptance and love is not earned by their success and performance.  I want them to fail under my roof so I can help them learn to get back up again.  When I let go of Cam’s bike, I knew he would most likely fall a time or two.  So I waited, band-aids and ice pack in tow.  And he fell.  So I patched up those knees and wiped the tears, and then I made him get back on that bike. Over and over again, until he got it.  And oh man, you guys should have seen his face when he was finally pedaling down the street on his own.  Pure Joy.  That is one of my favorite moments.  Once you know you can fall and get back up again, your fear becomes smaller and your dreams can become bigger.

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We always tell the truth.  No matter what. 

I tell my kids the truth. Always. No exceptions.  When Cam was 3, he was terrified of getting shots at the doctor.  The nurse suggested I distract him and she would quick poke him and it would be over.  I declined.  I looked Cam right in the face and told him it was time to get a shot. He asked me if it would hurt, and I said yes. He screamed of course and I ended up having to hold him down in the end. The nurse was seriously annoyed.

But the trust between Cam and I stayed intact, and that was the most important thing.  I tell them when the shots are coming or when the medicine will sting or when something will be uncomfortable.  This way when I look them in the eyes and tell them something is completely safe, or that I’ll catch them, or that they are brave and strong they will believe me; because they know that no matter what – mom always tells the truth.

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We make them ride rollercoasters 

Yep, it is exactly what it sounds like.  You can’t rationalize yourself out of fear. Sometimes the fear won’t go away -and so sometimes you have to do things even though you are still afraid.  So I make them do everything once – ride the coaster, parasail, snorkel (after watching shark week, yep major mom fail), zip line, whatever it is that has them stuck in fear.  We acknowledge the fear and then we overcome it.

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Our fears might change from monsters under the bed to the uncertainty of life as we get older but some things don’t change.  Fear tells lies.  Fear tells you that you are too small, too weak, and that you are not enough.  Fear tells you that you are all alone and that you can’t.

The last thing I want is for my kids to believe those whispers.  My hope is that when my kids find themselves in a situation crippled by fear that they will remember standing on the roller coaster platform with me, telling them “You CAN do this.  You are braver than you think.”

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But more importantly, I want them to remember the words of the ONE who holds all things in His hands.  The author and giver of bravery and courage.

“For I am the LORD, your God

who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,

Do not fear

For I will help you.”

(Isaiah 43:13)

Afterall, what is there really to fear when the giant in front of you could never be bigger than the God beside you?

XOXO,Holly

7 Must Haves For Traveling with Babies & Toddlers

I did the math the other day, the twins, at almost 18 months, have been on 28 flights.  I’d like to say I’ve become this traveling expert and that I could guarantee you a smooth and peaceful flight but then I’d be lying.  I’ve had flights where everything went perfect, and yet the 28th flight was probably the worst one of them all.  That being said, I have compiled a list of 7 things that will give you your best odds at a successful trip.

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A few thoughts before you book.  Typically when I book I’m looking at price. But If I have some flexibility I would consider two things.

First would be getting your toddler their own seat, even if they qualify as a lap baby (under 2).  Having the extra space for your little one to sit, stretch, and stand makes a world of a difference.  Lots of people recommend bringing your car seat, and I might be inclined if that didn’t mean carrying two giant car seats with me through security and the airport along with everything else I already have.  That is just not possible for me.  If you are flying an airline with assigned seating you can request to be moved next to an empty seat, if there is one. Most airlines are accommodating and this gives you extra room at no cost.  However, if it’s a full flight, you are out of luck.

Second would be the time of your flight.  If you pick a flight over nap time or bed time, the chances of your little one sleeping through the flight increase.  In this case, don’t forget their favorite blanket or comfort item!

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Ok, on to the must haves.  I would like to specify that my diaper bag is a backpack and I would highly recommend this to anyone.   This is the one I use, and I love it.

1. Snacks.

Seems easy enough. But think it through. Take a variety, and take something special; a treat of some sort.  Here’s my new favorite: smarties.  They are cheap and easy to pack. And I dish them out one at a time, so now that roll of smarties took 10 minutes to eat. Listen, folks, every minute counts when you are at 30,000 feet.  I’m not sure you could ever have too many snacks. But be careful with a cracker-like snack, bags tend to get crushed and then all you are left with are crumbs.  I put our crushable snacks in a portable spill-proof container like this one.

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2. Electronics.  

Whatever your screen-time rules are, throw them out the window. You can pick them back up when you reach your destination.  If you are a Netflix user, you can now download movies on your device and play them without a wifi connection. The twins are currently in a Moana phase, so you better believe I have that on digital download as well.  Amazon has a bunch of toddler headphones that have limited volume for ear protection.  But I’ll warn you, the volume is so limited, it’s a little difficult to hear at times on a noisy plane.

Apart from movies, we like the Fisherprice Apps.  They are free learning games for toddlers with bright colors and music.  Both of my toddlers will sit and play them for a pretty lengthy amount of time.

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3. Extra Essentials.

However many diapers and wipes you think you need in your carry on, bring more.  The last thing you want to deal with is a delayed flight and a shortage of diapers, wipes, or bottles.  Plus I use wipes for everything, dirty bums, sticky fingers, runny noses, and even cleaning tray tables.  Throw some plastic bags in the bottom of your diaper bag in case someone has a blowout.  I find if you plan for the blowout, nothing happens, but that one time you forget extra clothes and supplies… well you know how that story ends.  When the twins were little babies, I’d bring extra white onesies and just throw them away if they were soiled.

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4. Travel Toys.

One thing I always do is to pick up a couple of surprise items for my kids.  These are things that they have never seen before.  Think lightweight and interactive.  Resist the urge to show them everything in your bag.  Give them one item at a time, when they start to fuss, then and only then do you bring out the next one.  If you have to read the same book 100 times, so be it.  Here are some of my favorites for the twins:

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5. Something to Suck.

This is one you will probably hear over and over again: make sure they are sucking when you take off.  And I’ll admit, the first time I flew with the twins they were only 8 weeks old and I was very concerned that their ears would hurt them on take off and landing.  I followed all the advice and gave them a bottle during ascending and descending, even though they had been sleeping.  Now I want to scream at my inexperienced self.  No. No. No.  Never wake a sleeping baby!  Just be prepared if they seem to be in distress.  Nurse them, offer a bottle, or a sucker if they are older.  I’ve only noticed a few times some discomfort and it usually coincided with a head cold or a teething baby.

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6. A layover.

I’m probably the only person who is going to tell you this.  So take your finger off that scroll button and just hear me out! If your flight is longer than 3 hours I would suggest a layover.  I know it makes your travel day longer, and I know you just want to get to where you are going.  BUT you will be surprised what a break will do for your kids and your patience.  I find that letting my kids walk around, stretch their legs, and take in a change of scenery almost completely resets them for the second leg of the journey.

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7. A Tough Skin

This one’s important, because like I mentioned at the beginning: sometimes you can do it all exactly right and they still cry.  My most recent flight was a disaster of epic proportion for my Chase.  He had an allergic reaction to something during our time in Texas that caused him to break out in hives, which in turn meant he hadn’t slept well the night before.  My little guy was over-tired and not feeling well when we boarded our flight out of San Antonio.  There was no combination of snacks and toys that could counter-act how miserable he was,  He pretty much screamed the entire two hours and 18-minute flight  (but who was counting?).  You are going to get the looks, the whispers, the stares and you need to let them roll right past you.  You are doing your best mama, a crying baby isn’t a sign of failure.

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The more you do it, the easier it gets.  For you and for them.  My 7-year-old is completely self-sufficient on an airplane and has been for years.

Don’t miss out on an opportunity to go somewhere new or to visit family because you are worried about flying with your little ones.  What’s the worst that can happen?  The baby cries the whole time? Been there, done that.  When it’s over, it’s over. You still get to where you are going in the end, and you will never see those people on your flight again.  Well, hopefully not!

Adventure on, friends.

XOXO,Holly

Don’t Skip The History: Mount Vernon Travel Guide

I did something crazy (I know, I know it is becoming a reoccurring theme).  I wanted to visit a high school friend of mine that lives in North Carolina.  Jimmy wasn’t able to take the time off work; so I decided to make the 8-hour drive by myself with the kids. Like I said, crazy, but I’m so glad I went!  I’ll admit, I was a little nervous so I decided to break up the trip rather than make the drive straight.  On our way home, we made a pit stop in Alexandria, Virginia and visited Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate.

Originally I wasn’t sure if this would be a good place to take my young kids to.  I knew I wanted to take Cam but wasn’t sure if the two tots would get in the way of him learning the history and being able to enjoy the estate.  But I was very pleasantly surprised at not only how kid-friendly it was, but how much there was for kids to do there.

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Here are some things to note before you plan your trip:

  • Consider the weather.  We went in the end of July and it was HOT.  Like hot hot. Think melting popsicle hot, only you are the popsicle.  I spent a fortune on cold water bottles and was constantly on the look out for shade. It’s a lot of walking, which coupled with the intense heat had me constantly worried about the littles getting overheated.  I definitely want to go back and think fall or spring would be amazing.  There are several gardens on the property that would be just stunning in full bloom.  Rumor on the travel guide scene is that spring is the most popular and most crowded time to go.

 

  • Dress accordingly.  Most of your day will be spent outdoors.  Also, don’t forget to wear comfortable walking shoes.  You’ll be on your feet for several hours.

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  • Plan for a whole day.  It’s a BIG property.  Beyond the mansion, itself are the gardens, slave quarters, working blacksmith, ice house, trails along the Potomac river, the Washingtons’ tombs, a slave museum, an old-fashion working farm, the George Washington education center, and you can also take a shuttle over to his distillery for additional tours.

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  • Download the Agent 711 App.  It’s an interactive Spy-based scavenger hunt through out the grounds.  You are an undercover spy for General Washington and must complete activities, solve puzzles, and search for clues to decode secret messages.  You can also rent a smartphone there to play too.

 

  • There is also a paper adventure map that has some puzzles and scavenger hunt on it as well.  We opted for the electronic version since my Cam is very into all things spy related.  Both are really well done and keep the kids engaged through out your day.

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  • Think through your stroller options.  You can take your stroller but most of the grounds are not paved so it was a workout, especially with my double stroller. The tombs are quite a bit a way from the rest of the property and I definitely regretted the extra donut I snagged at the continental breakfast as I huffed and puffed all around; specifically on the uphill trek back.  Did I mention it was hot?! That being said, I couldn’t imagine not having my stroller either.  The property is BIG and it’s a TON of walking.  Just be prepared for rugged terrain.

You actually can’t take your stroller into his house for the mansion tour.  I didn’t know that and wasn’t prepared to take 1-year old twins, unconfined, through the historic mansion.  Let’s just say I’m not sure we will be invited back anytime soon.

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  • You can’t take outside food or drink in.  They do have a little food court, but you may want to including buying lunch in your budget.

 

  • Plan your visit.  Check the calendar before you go so that you don’t miss anything. There are kid friendly activities, crafts, a peddler band, farming demonstrations, forensic lab workshops, and a 4-D movie that are all time specific

 

  • Don’t skip the education center.  It is interactive, interesting, and definitely worth walking through. Apart from the spy app game, this was Cam’s favorite part of the day.

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  • Purchase your tickets online.  You can save a couple of dollars on each ticket by purchasing in advance.  You will save money and skip the lines.

 

  • Bring extra money for the gift-shop.  It’s one of the best I’ve ever been to, and believe me, I’ve done my fair share of gift shops.

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There is an intentionality behind our travel (you can read the specifics here) but I think stops like these are so important.

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything.  You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” – Michael Crichton

I know some of you might be saying, “but history is so boring!”  Well, I’m certain you must be looking in the wrong places.  A day at Mount Vernon was rich in history in so many ways – American, culture, civil rights, heritage, and it was anything but boring.

Adventure on friends.

XOXO,Holly

Easiest Slime Recipe. Ever.

I feel like every post I write is a result of me testing my own sanity.  And it’s becoming a habit.  Cam and I have been wanting to try a new slime recipe we saw online.  He assumed we would do it one afternoon during nap time.  That’s a safe assumption, seeing as the main ingredient is glue.  Only today it was raining and everyone was getting a little stir crazy so I thought, what the heck, let’s all do it.  What could go wrong by letting my twin 1-year olds play with glue?  See, what I mean about questioning my sanity?

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Well we,  and by “we” I mean me, the kids, and my house; we all survived.  And it was pretty much disaster free.  Here’s a the recipe (from Elmer’s glue):

6oz bottle of glitter glue.  (Or any glue – glitter adds some more fun)

1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

1 1/2 tablespoon of contact solution

 

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  1. Empty the glue into a bowl
  2. Add baking soda, mix well
  3. Add contact solution, mix well
  4. Knead it.  Play with it.

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Make sure you have everything ready to go.  Leaving the babies with a bowl full of glue while I helped Cam measure out the rest of the ingredients was the closest we came to absolute disaster.  But once the slime is complete it’s pretty much mess free.

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Like I said easy, peasy.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  You can make any day an adventure-filled one.

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If you try the slime, leave a comment below and let me know how your slime-venture went!

XOXO,Holly

To The Mom With A Messy House

 

There is currently yogurt dried on my wood floors that I’ve been meaning to clean up for three days now.  My kitchen table is the picture perfect definition of sticky.  There are little fingerprints on each and every window. And don’t even get me started on the laundry situation. Yikes.  Up until recently, I used to think I was really missing the mark.  After all, I’m a “homemaker” by trade; I think it’s safe to say that includes keeping the house clean. But instead, everything is a mess – my hair, the bed, my kids: one big wild mess.

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A couple of months ago, my dad sent me an email with a FaceBook post that went viral.  It was written by a woman who went to visit her aunt and was envious of her perfect vacuum lines.    Here’s an excerpt:

 

“As we strolled into the dining room, I remember thinking to myself, “oh my gosh! Her vacuum lines are still in her carpet probably a week or more after she vacuumed!! What I wouldn’t give to clean my house and have it stay magazine perfect for more than 5 minutes!!” I couldn’t wait for the day that I would be able to do that and not have it messed up by sticky little finger prints on the perfectly waxed dining table, or Legos hiding under the table, or walking in to discover Ryan’s latest art creation had so carefully been designed on the wall with crayons.

 

Here’s what I didn’t know at that time: that to have all of this picture perfect cleanliness, the kids would have to be gone. You see, I wanted those things because the everyday struggles of 5 loads of laundry, toys everywhere, mouths to feed, meals to prepare, beds to make were overwhelming to me, and the beauty of a pristine home was something only dreams were made of. Hell it took me 20 minutes in each room just to find the floor before I could vacuum it.

Then one day I woke up, went to clean my house, carefully placed vacuum lines in my carpet, looked at my beautiful dinning table with a perfect wax coating and zero finger prints and realized it would stay that way for days…..and that’s when I realized that vacuum lines are lonely.”

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My first reaction to the email was “Oh.my.gosh. My house is SO MESSY, that my father is sending me articles about messy houses.  Mental note: do a deep clean before my parent’s next visit.”

But then it hit me.  The point wasn’t that I needed to clean my messy house, it was that their house was clean. My youngest brother left for college last fall and they officially became empty nesters.  They have vacuum lines.  My dad wasn’t telling me to be a better housekeeper, he was giving me the grace to cherish this season.  Because that’s what it is, a season; and seasons come and go.

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It dawned on me, maybe I had it backwards .  Maybe I wasn’t failing at all.  My days spent playing, exploring, and creating with my kids aren’t wasted days, even if the day ends with a sink full of dishes.  After all, the shaping of little hearts is really the most important thing.

That being said, I can only run to Target so many times to buy more underwear before I actually have to do some laundry.  And the dishes can’t wait forever because then you will get ants and nobody wants ants.  So today I opted for a stay-home day so that we could have some clean clothes to take on vacation and so we didn’t have to spend extra money on an exterminator.

 

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But just because we stay home doesn’t mean it has to be a boring day.  You can make adventures right where you are at with the time you have.  Today we had the simplest of adventures.  It was the kids and I and a bucket of sidewalk chalk.  Creative imaginative play at its best.  It was unscripted and unplanned and full of giggles and sunshine. There are some really fun and easy things to do with chalk.   We drew an obstacle course and a city road for my transportation loving baby.  My oldest and I got creative with some our story telling.

 

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Before I had kids I would go over to people’s houses that had kids and each time after I left I would say “When I have kids, I’m going to keep my house in a way where you won’t know I have kids until you see our family pictures.”  Yeah, no.  As soon as you walk into my house you will see toys exploding from every corner, two high chairs around my kitchen table, and you are bound to touch something sticky as you venture in.  I’ve discovered this thing called balance.  Well, let me rephrase, I’m discovering this thing called balance.  It’s a work in progress.  Some days we get lost in the woods all day and the dishes don’t get done.  Some days we stay home and the dishes get done. BOTH kinds of days are time well spent.

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In this season of life, the housekeeping has taken a back seat to living life with littles and I think that is ok.  As the littles grow to bigs I anticipate that struggle between the two will ease.

I love these words by Jen Hatmaker, “You will never have this day again with your children.  Tomorrow they will be a little bit older than today.  This day is a gift. Breathe and notice.  Study their little feet and faces.  Relish the charms of the present.  Enjoy today mama, it will be over before you know it.”

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So to the mom with the messy house, you are right where you need to be.  Vacuum lines are overrated.

XOXO,Holly

Cheap Weekend Getaway: Camping (and YES you can bring the babies).

Getting away as a family doesn’t have to be expensive.  Our last campsite cost $14.00 a night.  If you can meal plan and pick a spot close to home to save on gas, a camping weekend for a family of 5 could cost you less than $75.00, food included (see below).  If you don’t have your own equipment, think about borrowing from a friend.

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I should, however, start out with a bit of honesty.  I don’t love camping.  Well, let me rephrase, I don’t love sleeping on the ground and going on a hike every time I need to use the bathroom. I don’t do bugs and my hair just isn’t made for outdoor living.  BUT I do love sleeping under the stars, late nights around the fire, and sticky little marshmallow crusted faces.

We recently went camping with some friends.  Yes we took the babies, and yes we slept in a tent.  We prepared for the worst and were pleasantly surprised. I mean, I’m not going to lie, I yelled “Don’t put that in your mouth” more times than I can count and it took several scrub downs to finally rid my children of all the dirt that was caked into all of their little crevices.  But man is time spent with family and friends good for your soul.  Because the best things in life aren’t measured by their price.  They are people and memories and pictures.  They are moments and smiles and laughter.

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There’s something about being out in creation that connects you to the Creator.  When I stare up at star-filled sky, or at sunsets over a lake, when I feel the warmth of a fire, or hear the laughter of my kids mixed in with a symphony of the crickets; I can’t help but stop and stand in awe of the hands that made it all.

When I told people we were going camping as a family, everyone treated me like I was a complete loon.  “You are taking babies camping? Why?!”   Well we survived and I’m here to say, it was actually fun.  And, no, I am not being sarcastic! It was worth the extra planning it involved to take the littles.  We were out in nature together on a unique family adventure.  That’s the thing with camping, each time brings something new.

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Here are some tips to help prepare you for taking a baby (or 2) camping:

  • Packing:  I’m never going to win an award for the lightest packer.  But I might for the most prepared!
    • Bring everything you would normally need for time away with your people; and a little more of some things.  Pack extra diapers, wipes (perfect for sticky hands and messy faces), and clothes.  People are bound to get messy and wet.
    • Bring clothes for layering.  What starts out as a hot day, may turn into a cool evening.
    • Bring toys or things to entertain the kids while you are setting up camp and cooking dinner.
    • Bring ways to get around the campsite (to bathrooms, playground, trails, lake, pool, etc.)  My older son typically brings his scooter or bike. We love our wagon for the littles.  It can even double as a portable bed, if you find yourself away from the tent at nap time.   If you plan to hike, don’t forget your baby carriers.  thumb_DSC_1861_1024
    • Don’t forget the bug spray, sunscreen, anti-itch cream, Neosporin, band-aids, and Tylenol.
    • Refillable water bottles or sippy cups for little hands.  Camping isn’t the time to have your children learn how to master the cup.
    • I typically bring my air mattress.  I know, I know all of you avid campers are rolling your eyes.  But a well rested mama is a happy mama!  My car has an outlet which allows the compressor to be plugged so I can inflate my mattress. Some of our friends prefer inflatable pads for under sleeping bags or camping cots.  But I told you from the beginning, I’m not a roughin’ it type of girl.

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  • Sleeping: I take sleeping very seriously! My kids are so much nicer little people when they have slept.  And to be honest, so am I!
    • We recently upgraded our 4-person tent.   We’ve added three more people to our tribe since we purchased it; and so we went big.  We bought a 10-person tent.  There was plenty of room for our bags and our babies.  This allowed us to bring our pack-n-play for sleeping.  Which can double as a play yard  with toys at your campsite.  One family with us brought their rock-n-play for their little one to sleep in.
    • Bring extra blankets.  Temperatures are hard.  What one likes is too cold for one and too hot for another.  You can always use them as extra padding under sleeping bags.  I like to be prepared, so I dress them in pajamas with layers and bring extra blankets.  thumb_DSC_1784_1024
    •  Keep your night-time routine if possible.  This really only applies to toddlers and babies not children who can understand the change in routine.  My babies get a bottle then go into their cribs awake with their blankets and sound machine.  So that’s what we did at camp.
    • Be easy-going.  The above suggestion only worked for 1 baby! Chase struggled with the extra noise and the strange environment.  I ended up putting him in the stroller with his favorite blanket and did a couple of laps around the campsite until he fell asleep and I could transfer him to his bed.  Our friends put their baby in the car, and drove around the campsite until he fell asleep.  There’s always baby Benadryl — Joking! (kinda!).

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  • Eating: Think easy
    • I found a blog that plans out a weekend of food for a family of 5 for $50.00.  And the best part is they don’t use fancy camping gear to cook it, so anyone can do it.  Here’s the link.
    • Tacos are a go to for us (in life and at the campsite).  You can make the beef ahead of time, store in the cooler and then just heat it up when you are ready.  Switch out the meat with eggs in the morning and you can re-use your leftovers for breakfast tacos.
    • Because we went with three other families, one of our veteran campers made a menu and then sent out a sign up sheet so that everyone could split the grocery list and we ate potluck style. We didn’t spend a lot and ended up having a TON of food to split between everyone.
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    • Don’t forget, you have to bring all of your paper products, and cooking utensils.  Also, how cool are these portable high chairs?  We don’t own these, but they are on the wish list.
    • If you have a portable canopy, bring it.  Having an area out of the sun to prepare food and sit under to eat was really nice.
    • Make sure all of your food gets locked in a vehicle at night. Raccoons are sneaky little bandits.

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One reason camping has a special place in my heart is because of who we camp with.  I’m so thankful for the friends God has given me to do life with.  They are the type of friends that know everything that’s wrong with me and love me the same.  These people saw my hair first thing in the morning and didn’t flinch.  They are the type of friends who text me to tell me which radio station is playing 90’s music all weekend and love your kids with their whole hearts. They are my no matter what people.  Oh and they have a boat too, so that doesn’t hurt.    There are friends and there is family and then there are friends that become family.  I hope all of you can experience the latter.

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Life was meant for good friends and great adventures.  So here’s to the nights that turn into mornings with the friends that turned into family.XOXO,Holly

Making Family Travel Affordable

We spent last night as a family out on our trampoline dreaming about a big trip we are taking in the fall.  Clearly I have a passion for travel and adventure, but I also have a passion for helping families get out there and make their own adventures.

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I recently told y’all why we choose to travel so much, (if you missed that blog post, you can find it here). Well, here is the how.  I know there are a lot of families who are saying “well, sure we would love to travel more, but it’s just so expensive.”  I hear ya. So I’m sharing my top 10 money-saving hacks to make traveling more affordable for families.

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Get A Southwest Credit Card

First thing, you need a credit card that rewards your everyday spending with airfare.  I have zero other cards. Not even the Target RedCard – and for those of you who know how much time and money I spend at Target, this is b.i.g.  We buy everything with our Southwest card. And I do mean everything.  We even paid for a down payment on a vehicle purchase with our card; and then went home that day and immediately paid off the card with the money we had actually saved for the down payment.  It was one extra step, cost me nothing extra, but hey, I got the points.

We use our credit card like a debit card and don’t carry a balance.  Our budget matches our card spending.  You need to be careful: I don’t want to get into money management here, but if you spend more than you have and need to make monthly payments with interest you aren’t getting the full benefits of the card.

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I know there are several different cards out there that allow you to redeem your points for airline miles, but I’m convinced this is the best one. Look this isn’t a sponsored post.  I’m just a BIG Southwest fan and here’s why:

  • First off, you get 40,000 points after you sign up and begin using the card.  That is about enough for two round trip tickets somewhere.
  • There are no black out dates, no change fees, or cancellation fees.  In fact if you book a ticket, and that ticket goes on sale – Southwest will refund you the difference of what you originally paid (If you catch the sale).
  • You get TWO free checked bags per person.  That’s 10 free suitcases for a family of 5.   Most airlines charge you 25$ per bag.  If you can’t fit everything you need in 10 suitcases, you may be over-packing.
  • You can earn points by purchasing hotel stays, and rental cars through Southwest.  I just recently did this for the first time and their pricing is pretty competitive.  You also get a point for each mile you fly with them.  Yep, book with your southwest card and that’s double the points for one trip.
  • If you earn enough points from spending, flying, and booking you can earn what they call a Companion Pass.  This is gold.  It allows you to buy one, get one free on your airline ticket for an entire year.  Like I said, pure gold.
  • Oh and did I mention Southwest has some international routes now?  Yep, it’s true.  Bring on the tropics.

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Go Off Season

Both airfare and lodging prices dramatically decrease during the off-season.  Going to Disney or the beach in the fall or winter costs a heck of a lot less than going over spring break or in the prime time summer months.  Plus you will appreciate the warmer temperatures if you are leaving freezing ones behind.  Different places have different off seasons, so do your research.

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Have Flexible Dates

Typically the cheapest days to travel are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Most people have a week for a vacation.  There’s no rule that your vacation week needs to run Sunday to Sunday.  Afternoon flights tend to be the busiest, they refer to it as the “rush hour” of travel so those flights tend to be pricier.

When we’ve been interested in taking a cruise, I’ll call each cruise line and ask them for their cheapest cruise dates, and then schedule our vacation around the best deal.  You would be surprise how much dates factor into their price.

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If you can be flexible enough to wait till the last-minute, you can save a bunch.  Both hotels and cruise ships want to be fully booked and will typically drop their prices last minute to fill up.  I’ll admit, my A-type personality struggles with this one, and so I can rarely bring myself to roll the dice; but I’ve seen my dad take full advantage of it.  My dad will see the cruise he wants to take, schedule his vacation dates, but wait until the week before to book, but he’s gotten some killer deals! Now, this is dangerous because the ship may book up, or the price may not drop.  It’s a gamble, sometimes you hit, sometimes you lose.

The exception to this rule is airline travel.  Typically, if you book a flight late notice you will pay more.

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Buy One-Way Tickets Instead of Round-Trip

Ok this one requires some research.  Sometimes its cheaper to buy two one way tickets (even on different airlines) instead of the round-trip.  Sometimes it is cheaper to bundle them together.  Check it out both ways and compare prices to get the best deals.  You have to be patient and put the time in to find the best deals.  Also, watch for airline sales.  Southwest will randomly have a 48 hour sale, where they will drop all their prices for a short window.  Skyscanner.com is the place to start for the lowest airfare.

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Check Nearby Airports

Sounds simple enough, but I think this is often over-looked.  There are a lot of cities that have multiple airports or cities with close proximity to each other.  Let me give you an example – you want to go to Orlando but plane tickets there are running high.  Check the Tampa Airport.  It’s about 1.5 hrs away and typically cost less than Orlando.  If you already plan to rent a car and can save $30.00 a person on airfare; for a family of 5 that saves you $150.00 dollars.  That’s two dinners out for my family.

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Hotel Rewards

Enroll in a hotel rewards program.  It’s free and just like the credit card, you earn points for hotel stays you are already taking.  We choose the Hilton Honors Program..  There are a bunch of Hilton properties: Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, DoubleTree, Homewood Suites, Embassy suites, (and many more), so we have a lot of options where we stay.  Their rewards system is also in points, that you turn in for free stays.  This summer, they have a double points promotion, so you can earn twice as many points per stay.

If you wanted to be really greedy with your points, you can book your Hilton hotel through Southwest and get points for hotels and flights in one booking.  #doneit

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Check Your Lodging Options

You don’t have to stay in a hotel when you travel, especially if you are going somewhere for more than a couple of days.  It’s worth checking Airbnb and HomeAway They are easy to use sites, where people rent out their own properties for select dates.  This gives you a full kitchen options which will help in the food department, not too mention a lot more space!

Travel with family or friends and split the lodging.  Instead of booking somewhere for $150 a night, choose a bigger place for $250.  Split the bill between two families – that’s $125.00 a night.  For a week-long vacation, you saved $175.00 that might pay for your rental car.  Just be sure to pick people you like.

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Think Twice Before You Eat Out

Seriously though, this is where most people blow the budget.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  This is a huge opportunity area to save money when traveling.

Theoretically if you have accommodations with a kitchen, your food budget should stay the same as if you were at home.  Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean that you have to eat out for every meal!   If we have a place with a kitchen, we are only eating out once or twice during the whole vacation.  So I’m buying the same groceries that I would if we were home.

 

Obviously if you are staying in a hotel without a kitchen space you are more limited, but it’s not the end of the road.  First off, always pick hotels with included breakfast.  There are several chains that offer a continental breakfast, and several that even offer a hot breakfast, included in the price of the room.  And almost all hotel rooms these days have at least a mini fridge.  Utilize it and buy things for lunches and snacking on when in the room.

Pack your own snacks and waters when you are off on excursions so you don’t have to buy them.  You will typically pay more for food and drinks at a tourist attraction than the grocery store around the corner.

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Buy tickets online and always check Groupon first. 

Always check Groupon before buying tickets or booking an excursion.  Often times Groupon will have an offer that will save you money on your trip.  You can even save on local restaurants by searching Groupon first.

I’ve found that buying my tickets online is almost always cheaper.  The kids and I recently visited Mt. Vernon (George Washington’s estate) on our road trip and I saved $2.00 a ticket by purchasing online and skipped the entry line by having an electronic ticket for them to scan instead of paper.

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Be Creative

You don’t have to take a big international trip to have a good time.  Renting a condo at the beach, especially off-season, is usually very affordable.  A week at a lake house might be even cheaper.  Almost everything to see and do in Washington D.C. is free.  If you can drive there, and rent an apartment for the week, your extra costs will be only your transportation and lodging.  National Parks are the way to go for cheap sightseeing.  Admission is usually less than $30 for the week and camping can be as little as 6$ a night. With lakes, waterfalls, mountains, and beaches to explore, there is something for everyone.

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There are so many places to go and see, so get out there!

If I missed any money-saving tricks, leave a comment below.  Hope this helps turn some of your dream adventures into realities.

XOXO,Holly

Day Adventure Guide: The Farm at Walnut Creek (Sugarcreek, Ohio)

We’re a sucker for all things local.  And that rings true whether we are at home, or visiting a new place.  We love exploring and supporting local, one-of-a-kind places.  Located in the heart of Amish country in central Ohio, The Farm at Walnut Creek will not disappoint.  It’s a working Amish farm, with animals to pet and feed, farm houses to explore, a play ground, and several exotic animals on display.  But the best part is the horse-drawn wagon ride out to feed the animals.
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The animals come right up to the wagon to eat out of your bucket and even your hand.  And I’m not just talking about your typical petting zoo animals like goats and deer – think exotic: Water buffalo, zebra, giraffe, ostrich, elk, and so many more.  They have animals from all over the globe. Have you ever seen a Japanese Sika deer? Or an East African Crown crane?  Well, you will.  Depending on your guide, you will learn fun facts about the animals and their unique personalities.  We once had a guide that let Cam help steer the horses.

The animals seem to be more interactive the earlier in the day you go when they are still hungry and ready to get some food; and also in cooler temperatures when they aren’t desperate to sit in the shade.

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Included in your wagon ride is a bucket of feed.  Make sure everyone in your party has one.   I’ll admit, it can be a little intimidating at first.  The animals are bold and come right up to the wagon and all up into your personal space.  Watch out for the horns!  They swing those things around like you flip your hair.  They will poke your eye right out.  If you have really little kids, I’d suggest putting some of your party on the interior bench at least until they warm up to the process.  The wagon ride is about 1 hour and there isn’t any shade, so load up on the sunscreen ahead of time.

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Towards the end of the wagon ride you will get a turn to feed a giraffe.  If you have a choice, sit on the left side of the wagon, that’s where the giraffes are, although the guides are usually pretty good about making sure everyone has a turn.  The giraffes stay behind a fence but will reach down into the wagon to get the food.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to feed a giraffe, wait till you check out their long black tongues!

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After the wagon ride, make sure to take your bucket of feed with you.  You are allowed to feed the goats, camels, cows, and other farm animals.  There are also several exotic birds and animals on display, including a walk through aviary and lemur island for your viewing pleasure.  Last time we were there, we were able to see some baby lemurs making their entrance into the public eye for the first time.  Cute doesn’t even begin to describe them.  There is also a large play ground and picnic tables if you want to pack a lunch.

It’s seriously a blast, everyone will love it.  Some more than others….

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There is also a full working farm.  We’ve had the opportunity to feed baby cows, see a cow being milked, and watch a quilting demonstration.  There is a blacksmith shop you can stop by and learn about the trade, and a fresh produce stand where you can take home the produce grown right there on the farm.  It doesn’t get much fresher than that.

This is a non-electric farm, it is very interesting and educational to tour the houses and barns and see the alternatives to electric living.  There are also always some freshly baked cookies for your enjoyment in the main farm-house.  Yum.

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FullSizeRender-2All is included for one price Adults: $16.95, Children (3-12) $11.75  PLEASE NOTE: The Farm at Walnut Creek is a CASH ONLY establishment.  No credit cards or debit cards accepted.  They are open every day but Sundays.

We always finish the day with some fresh Amish cooking at Der Dutchman.  You guys, I love me some custard pie and this is the best I’ve ever had.  And don’t leave without trying the peanut butter spread.  My boys go nutso over the stuff.

If you get a chance to visit, comment below and let me know what you thought of the The Farm.

XOXO,Holly