cover pic

cover pic

Thursday, January 19, 2017

My January Reading List

Reading is my first love, and books have always held a sort of magic for me.  From as early as I can remember, libraries and book stores were my favorite places to be.  When those Scholastic book order forms came home, I circled and starred books that I wanted like someone filling their Amazon wishlist.  In elementary school, I devoted some of my recess time to helping in the school library.  And it was a special day indeed when the teachers issued shiny new books whose spines had never been cracked.  To this day, the faint sound of a brand new hardback book being opened excites me.  I still volunteer regularly in a library.  I still go on dates with my husband to the local bookstores.  I still feel like a child on Christmas morning when I get a new book I've been dying to read.  And curling up on my favorite rocking chair with a soft throw blanket, a cup of steaming flavored coffee, a new book, and precious hours of uninterrupted quiet is my idea of a perfect morning.  These are the books I am currently reading or re-reading:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne & John Tiffany is based on J.K. Rowling's story.  A number of my children are big Harry Potter fans, so they bought this book the day it hit the shelves and read it in a day.  Since it's a play, it's a quicker read than most of the Harry Potter books.  I usually don't read the books, but I have watched all the movies with my kids, but my ten year-old keeps insisting that I read this.  They found it a bit confusing for some reason, so I am committing to finishing this before the month is over.

Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste by Pierre Bourdieu is a book referenced by so many of the sociology books I love to devour.  I couldn't find it in any of our book stores or in the local library, so I had to order it from Amazon.  It arrived with one of my husband's graduate school textbooks, and I'm not lying when I say this is three times as thick and far more scholarly than his book.  Written in the seventies by a French sociology professor and writer who loved to write in paragraph-length sentences, I've got my work cut out for me with this book.  This one might take me more than a week or two to finish.

Republic of Outsiders: The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers, and Rebels by Alissa Quart is my current library book.  While the writer is far more politically and socially liberal than I am, this was an interesting book about modern day renegades who are making grass-roots changes in a variety of areas.  I especially enjoyed the chapter on autistic people redefining "neurotypical" people and joining together on the Internet, as well as the final chapter on crafters and urban farmers who are rejecting mass production and industrial agriculture.  The Internet has made so much possible for pioneers and renegades who think outside the box, allowing them to spread the word and find other like-minded people.  I find that so encouraging.

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines is one of the books I received for Christmas, and I read it in two days...on my favorite chair, with cups of cappuccinos, under my favorite plaid blanket.  It was so interesting, so uplifting, so inspiring that I'm going to read it again before the month is over.  This couple just oozes joy and life, and it's contagious.  I'll close today with the final lines of their book:

"...the key to everything Chip and I have learned in our life together so far seems to be pretty simple: Go and find what it is that inspires you, go and find what it is that you love, and go do that until it hurts.  Don't quit, and don't give up.  The reward is just around the corner.  and in times of doubt or times of joy, listen for that still, small voice.  Know that God has been there from the beginning---and he will be there until...The End."  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

10 Dinners at Home With No Kitchen: What We've Really Been Eating

It is Day 10 here of having no kitchen while the renovations continue.  Two weeks ago I had noble plans of coming up with creative dinners for the family using only the crockpot, microwave, and indoor grill.  I thought I'd compose a fantastic, helpful blog post full of simple recipes that others could use if their families were also without a kitchen for some period of time.  Our family brainstormed ideas, and I created a memo in my phone of dinner ideas, along with a list of ingredients I would need.  The reality is that I've only made two of those meals.

In all fairness to me, I couldn't have known that over these ten days I would have sick children home from school and Church a total of four days.  Nor that my husband would be home from work with an injured foot for two days.  Or that in this period of time the children would have one early dismissal, one snow day, and one 2-hour delay due to ice. Plus there was the holiday yesterday when everyone was home that I did know would occur.  Oh, and I couldn't have predicted that I would end up with a killer sinus headache that no OTC meds could touch that lasted for two whole days.  Tending to everyone's needs while squeezing through the mounds of stuff stashed in the dining room trying to find where I put the cough drops, pain relievers, herbal teas, cold medicines, ice packs, etc. proved to be a part-time job.  I soon realized that the hearty beef stews, burgers and veggies done on the George Foreman grill, and pulled pork sandwiches with freshly chopped tossed salads were not going to happen.  Sigh...

Instead, this is what we've actually been eating for dinner for the past ten days.  This includes what we're having tonight.  Other than a scheduled dinner out this Thursday due to a track meet we have to attend, I have no clue what we'll be eating during the remainder of the renovation.  I will say that my crockpot has gotten a lot of use due to the discovery of these Reynolds Slow Cooker liners that a friend told me about.  If it weren't for these, the crockpot would be packed away in the basement somewhere until I have my kitchen back.

Day 1: Frozen burritos and pizza bites heated in microwave (the only frozen dinners eaten so far)
Day 2: Takeout from Pizza Hut only because the pizzas were 50% off that day, and our daughter had a coupon for a free personal pan pizza
Day 3: 3 large cans of beef barley soup warmed in the crockpot and cold cut sandwiches
Day 4: Tacos with grass-fed ground beef browned in microwave with chips and salsa and queso
Day 5: My homemade crab dip, artisan cheese with crackers, baked potatoes (microwaved) with leftover taco meat, & canned baked beans heated in microwave
Day 6: Deli roast beef & cheese sandwiches on kaiser buns, potato chips, & pickle spears for the kiddos.  Hubby & I attended a cocktail party and ate there.
Day 7: 3 large cans of chicken noodle soup in crockpot & crackers.  This was a lean night and my refrigerator was getting bare, but I was 2 pounds lighter the next morning!
Day 8: Grilled bacon wrapped pork loin that Hubby froze weeks ago, potatoes done on the grill out back, green beans steamed in microwave
Day 9: Meatball subs from frozen mini meatballs cooked with jarred spaghetti sauce heated in crockpot, raw veggie platter
Day 10: Deli creamy potato/bacon soup in crockpot, bakery croissants

This was Day 8: Barbecued bacon wrapped pork tenderloin and potatoes that Hubby created himself and put on the patio grill surrounded by snow.  It was, by far, the best dinner we'd eaten in a week even if it was a coronary event just waiting to happen.

What I have realized over the past ten days is just how much of my kitchen I take for granted.  With absolutely no counter space for preparing food right now, it is very difficult to make anything from scratch.  With no cupboard space, all my food ingredients are packed up in boxes and bags or crammed on shelves in the basement.  With no sink in which to wash dishes and cutting boards and knives, it's nearly impossible to rinse, peel, pare, and slice fruits and vegetables.  And of course, with no stove or oven, I am relegated to using only the microwave, crockpot, or grill.  Or we eat things raw.  I have to totally rethink what I should buy at the grocery store, and I'm finding that to be way more challenging than I'd originally thought.

So, instead of publishing a post full of recipes for wonderful "kitchenless" dinners for your families, I humbly post what we're really eating for dinner during this temporary sabbatical from cooking.  I am still welcoming any simple meal ideas from you Dear Readers.  I think we've probably got another ten days or so before we are back in our farmhouse kitchen.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Ice Storm

When I posted on Tuesday, schools were dismissing early due to inclement weather.  While the forecast said a coating to an inch of snow, this is what it looked like here by the time my husband and children arrived home in the early afternoon.  I just happened to create a new chalkboard design that day, and once everyone was home safely, I felt I could display this and mean it.

When the children went to bed that night, they were hopeful they'd be on a 2 hour delay the next morning.  I told them not to hold their breaths because it was supposed to warm up and start raining by midnight.  Instead, we got the call at 5:30 AM Wednesday that schools were, indeed, on a two-hour delay.

Shortly after that, schools were canceled for the day due to the 1/4 inch of ice that coated everything overnight when the temperatures didn't rise as predicted.

I put my Yak Trax over my hiking boots, picked up my new camera, and headed to the woods.

If I stayed off our lane---which was a thick sheet of solid ice that my spikes couldn't penetrate---I could safely hike and photograph this winter wonderland.

Things were just starting to melt as the clouds began clearing, but I managed to get some photos of ice stubbornly clinging to everything around me.

A strange fog sort of hovered near the tree tops, and the sun never shone fully that day.

However, it did warm up A LOT as temperatures reached the low sixties yesterday, and everything completely melted.

But I am so glad that I braved the ice and took some time out of our busy, noisy, bustling house on that snow day to slow down and be in the moment and notice the small, simple, beautiful gifts that surround us here on the mountain.  Above all else that I hope to accomplish this year, choosing to be still and aware and present tops my list.  

And now, to finish this week on a totally different note, here is a peek at our kitchen at the end of day three of the renovation.  We all wait until the evening when the carpenters leave for the day, and then we practically run to those doors and have a look inside as we watch it transpire.  I've been visiting a local antique mall looking for farm treasures, and my Pinterest boards are expanding as I peruse the farm kitchen pins.  I think it's safe to say a trip to Home Goods and Pier 1 is in the plans for this weekend.

May all of you have both moments of excitement and stillness this weekend. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Creating a New Normal During Our Reno

While there is a snow/ice storm occurring outside that seems significantly worse than what was forecasted, I'm waiting inside for Hubby to safely bring home the children from their early dismissal from school.  I've got nervous energy from the stress of roads being closed, worry for all the families and buses out there driving their kiddos home, and too much coffee this morning, so I decided to blog to get my mind off my concerns for awhile.  

We finally managed to get absolutely everything except the wood/coal stove out of our kitchen on Sunday.  It looks like an empty house that's on the real estate market.  Well, it did before the contractor's crew began working on it yesterday morning.  Now I keep the doors to the kitchen closed and try to stay out of their way all day.  We do take a peek at night though to see the magic they have worked.  The day we cleared the last of everything out and wiped down the last of the cobwebs and dust (and there was an awful lot of both), our 7 year-old daughter put on her most beautiful princess dress, broke out the classical music, and danced her little heart out in the middle of that big, empty kitchen floor.  It was her own personal ballroom until her brothers came running in, loving the way their voices echoed in there.  Once the work began, however, all children have been banned from the kitchen, as well as all animals.

We have decided to look at this temporary change in our lives as an adventure as our big family lives without a kitchen, which happens to be the largest room in this house.  Everything that we would absolutely need, and everything that I was afraid might break, got placed in our dining room/multi-purpose room.  That room already had much going on in it: instrumental practice, homework, Internet browsing, game playing, video watching, and roughhousing.  Now the kitchen table and refrigerator are in there, along with much, much more.  

We look like we are hoarders now.  Every inch of space in that room is filled with boxes and bags of stuff that had been located in the drawers, cupboards, and counter tops of our kitchen.  We're having to come up with creative dinners that only require a microwave, toaster, or crockpot.  I'm still working on that.  Any dishwashing that needs to be done has to happen in one of the bathroom sinks, so there's a lot of paper plate use, I'm afraid.  Yesterday morning was the first school and work morning that the kitchen was off limits, and it was rather chaotic.  My husband couldn't find what he needed for work; our middle school son forgot his PE uniform; people were tripping over each other in that very cluttered space; and our youngest dropped and spilled half a quart of juice.  It was a mess.  But we are adjusting, and I'm happy to report that this morning went much smoother.

But I do tend to forget that we have the stove and dry sink stashed in the hallway, and I run into it nearly every time I round the corner with a full basket of laundry on my way down to the basement, which is where the washing machine is located in this old house (another thing I'd like to change.)  The past few days have really reinforced how much I never want to move again. If simply packing up the contents of one room to temporarily move into the next was a lot of work, I can't imagine having to pack up and move everything we've accumulated over the past ten years and moving it hundreds of miles away.  Been there and done that and hope to never have to do it again.  I'm grateful that this temporary situation is minor and of our choosing, and is leading to something we're all excited about (well, mostly I'm the excited one.)

I have every confidence that in a couple more days, we will have all adjusted to our new surroundings and be as relaxed and well-adapted as this guy---whose only issue seems to be that he has to eat in the hallway now instead of the kitchen.

And what do you know?  I see that the snow has stopped just as I come to the end of this post.  Have a great week, All.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Lights Out: Surviving With No Power

With much of the eastern United States covered in snow and sleet this weekend, I thought I'd reference a post I wrote a year ago on preparing for power outages.  The storm missed us this time, but our electricity has been out twice in the past two months, both times for three-five hours.  When it happened the week before Thanksgiving, we were babysitting our grandson, but all was well as we snuggled under a fleece blanket together on my rocking chair as he took a nap.  Our daughter played music from her charged cellphone as we played card games by the oil lamps and candles, and the house quickly warmed up after starting a fire in the wood/coal stove in our kitchen.  We lose power so frequently up here on the mountain, that it has become second nature for us to go around the house lighting candles and lamps, starting a fire, and pulling out the propane burner for making coffee in our camping coffee pot or boiling stored water.  

Here  is the link to my previous post on learning from our Amish neighbors how to live without electricity.  My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Winter Storm Helena.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Here We Go: Starting Our Kitchen Renovation

Did you know that there is a difference between a remodel and a renovation?  I wasn't sure which one we are having done, so I started doing some research.  To me, renovation sounds a lot more extensive.  I picture tearing down walls and adding on and completely changing the layout of a room or house.  Apparently, I was wrong.  That's what it means to remodel.  To renovate means to update or restore.  It covers things like staining floors, making repairs, changing light fixtures, painting or refacing cabinets---that kind of stuff.  Redecorating is to put up some new window treatments, hang some new pictures, and toss some new throw pillows on the couch.  We are definitely having a renovation here.

These wide pine plank floors that cover the entire main floor of our house were laid in the mid-eighties when this century-old farmhouse went under a major restoration project.  They were in fairly good condition when we moved in ten years ago, but our large family really lives in a house.  I mean we really, really live in a house, and we wear it out.  In the eighties, the owners changed the main entrance to the very front of the kitchen when they put in a new pebbled driveway and walkway that led to a big covered front porch that leads into the kitchen.  The back door of the kitchen leads out to the patio, pool, and down to the greenhouse and barn.  That means that nearly all of our foot traffic comes and goes through the kitchen.  That side entrance that opens into the foyer between the living room and dining room hardly ever gets used.  This has meant a lot of wear and tear on our kitchen floor.  The pine is beautiful, but it has splintered and split and lost its finish, so that was our main priority this year.

However, once we decided to not tackle the floors ourselves, but instead hire out, I figured we might as well get some other things taken care of as well.  The colors in this house were early American when we moved in.  I love colonial style houses, but the mustard-colored walls, forest green cabinets, and dark burgundy doors and trim make this large kitchen so dark.  I used to spend my whole day in this room preparing all of our food from scratch, plus canning, freezing, and dehydrating the foods we grew ourselves.  This is still the room we spend a good portion of our days in.  When friends and family come to visit, the kitchen is where we tend to congregate.  Homework is often done here.  Card games are played at this table.  This room is where everyone finds their birthday presents when they wake up in the morning.  It's in front of this black stove that the children warm themselves and drink cocoa after sledding.  And of course, this is where all the food is prepared and consumed daily.  To sum up, this room is where most of our living is being done, and it needs to be brighter.  So we're having every inch of it repainted a much lighter color.

Additionally, there are some repairs that need to be made to the floor, the ceiling, and the backsplash.  We're also having a white cast iron sink put in and the wood countertops refinished.  I was hoping for some new cabinet doors so that visitors can't see everything on my shelves, but that will have to wait.  I think it will motivate me to throw out some old stuff and organize what we have.  And there's a new piece of furniture I've been waiting for to place in the one corner of this room that I can't wait to own.

This renovation project starts next Monday, and I snapped all of these photos yesterday morning.  Everything in that room has to be taken out and put in our dining room, the hallway, our bedroom, the basement, and probably every other nook and cranny where I can find a space.  It feels like a monumental task, but at least that room is going to get a thorough cleaning that it hasn't had in ten years.  And I know that a month from now, that room is going to look like a brand new kitchen.

Now I should get to work.  I've taken down all the Christmas decorations that I usually leave up until after the Epiphany, and I'm going to start boxing up the things we really don't use very often.  I am definitely not looking forward to pulling the stove and refrigerator out of there and seeing what all lies behind.  Not to mention what a household of seven is going to do without a kitchen for several weeks, but I'll save that for another post.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Winter Walk on a Sunny Day

Our New Year's Day was relatively warm and sunny here in the Alleghenies.  After Mass and lunch, I decided to go for a little walk through the woods and experiment with my new camera.  Thanks goes to our teenage daughter for the above shot; I made her come with me.

The pond was still partially frozen and looked mesmerizing with a layer of ice floating on top.

I took so many pictures that it was hard to decide which ones to include and which ones to delete.


We are so fortunate to have both a creek and a pond just below our property.

I don't know why, but I loved the way the leaves looked as if they were fossilizing in the melting ice on the creek.

On the way back up to our farmhouse, we stopped to see our goats, but they ignored me to eat the grass that had been covered in snow and ice for a week or so.

As I walked, and sat, and peered through my camera lens at this microcosm of my world, I knew what my New Year's Resolution would be.

And it's not to write more lengthy to-do lists.  It's not to stuff my mind with more news updates and images from social media.  It's not to have a greater number of projects to fill my days.  And it's not to come up with more events to fill our calendar.

It's to spend more time being still, reflective, and noticing the beauty in the simple things around me.  To be completely present in each moment.  To not be thinking of my checklist while I'm playing with my children or walking down to the mailbox or petting our goats.  To just be at peace where I am and still enough to feel the presence of God.

This will be a huge challenge for my busy mind and rather noisy house, but that is going to be my daily focus for 2017.