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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Learning Bunco!

In my quest to bring people together to enjoy one another's company face-to-face, some friends and I decided to start up a Bunco group.  When our family lived in a charming Southern suburb decades ago, Bunco was the big thing with the SAHM crowd.  I was never a part of one, but I did create Bunco-themed soaps to sell as prizes at these Bunco parties.  They sounded like a lot of fun, so when a friend approached me with an interest a few months ago, I jumped on board.


There is a plethora of information on the Web regarding this game.  We thought that would make it simple to learn the rules, but what we discovered is that nearly every website has variations of the rules, which made things rather confusing for all of us newbies.  However, the themes and food and decorating ideas I found on blogs and Pinterest were fantastic.  There are so many fun things I'd like to try the next time I host one of these gatherings, and maybe I'll actually have the time when I'm not overseeing so many outdoor projects that are happening simultaneously. 

I didn't actually have a Bunco game myself, so I was fortunate enough to find free downloadable printables of score sheets, table markers, and extra lists of rules.  These can be found at http://www.ishouldbemoppingthefloor.com/search?q=bunco.

Although I found adorable homemade cupcakes with sugar cubes made to look like dice, I took a shortcut and bought miniature cupcakes from Weis and placed real dice on them that we can use to play with later.  The awesome edible ones found on Pinterest can be made by following the instructions at http://everydaydonna.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2011-09-01T18:59:00-07:00&max-results=7.

All kinds of prizes can be used to award the various winners (and losers, and random participants).  Some groups simply pitch in $5 each month and the prizes are monetary.  Since this was our first time to gather and play, and it was at our farmhouse with our bottom refrigerator shelf full of farm fresh eggs, every prize was a carton of brown eggs.  I look forward to playing this again next month, especially now that we all have a better idea of how to play and keep score, and I especially look forward to hosting again and trying out some Pinterest Bunco inspiration.

For those of you interested in hosting your own group or who just need some fresh ideas, these are  some of the pins I collected:


And just to show you what was going on in my backyard in the hours leading up to our first Bunco Night (along with another wicked thunderstorm and broken water pipes on the other side of our property): 


This is where our pool had been, now covered in grass seed and straw with last year's garden down below covered in plastic to kill weeds until we can get some raised beds built for a flower garden.  This job was literally finished just a few hours before my game-playing friends arrived, and although it's an eyesore, it's still a vast improvement from what it looked like last week.  Five days ago you'd have thought we had a mini-landfill in our back yard.

I'm now in the fun dreaming and planning stages of a backyard oasis.  Back to Pinterest I go.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

About Those Low-Carb Diets...

Atkins, Paleo, Mediterranean, Keto diets.  I'd heard about them for years.  We had friends who would come for dinner and eat very little of what I cooked.  They ordered hamburgers without buns, had salads instead of potatoes, and ate eggs and bacon for breakfast instead of bagels or waffles.  I thought to myself, "Good for them, but there is no way I could ever do that."  

But this year, I went and did do just that.

I have been blessed with fairly good genetics, at least where weight is concerned.  Throughout my twenties, as long as I taught aerobics classes and did some strength training weekly, I could eat whatever I wanted and remain a size 2-4.  In my thirties while carrying, birthing, and nursing five babies, I still ate whatever I wanted and stayed under a size  6-8.  But around the time I reached my mid-forties and was no longer breastfeeding or chasing toddlers around, I noticed the weight creeping up little by little.  I had to go up another size, and then another.  Everything seemed to be settling around my middle, and I felt bloated and uncomfortable all the time.  Additionally, I craved sugar and simple carbohydrates more and more.  The more I craved them, the more I ate them.  I felt my self-discipline waning, and I felt more sluggish and less motivated to go for a hike or do some yoga or hit some tennis balls with my children.  When my father was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I knew that I needed to get my sugar addiction under control.  I tried to use will-power.  I told myself I would only have dessert on the weekends and I'd cut out breads from my lunch.  I did this intermittently, but those pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks in the fall, Christmas cookies and hot chocolate in the winter, Easter candy in the spring, and ice cream in the summer got the better of me.  I might lose five pounds or so after the winter holidays before summer came, but in the fall I'd gain it back again.  I would begin each year a few pounds heavier and an inch wider around my middle than the previous year.

However, that changed in late-February when I decided I had nothing to lose but pounds and inches by trying to majorly reduce carbohydrates from my daily food intake.  What once comprised a good 70% or more of my diet got reduced to less than 25%.  I went from eating probably several hundreds of grams of carbs some days to eating under fifty a day.  I didn't follow any one specific program; I just did a lot of research and daily chose foods that were low in carbohydrates and high in healthy fats and proteins.  That has meant whole, unprocessed foods for the most part.  Meat, eggs (which we have no shortage of here), nuts and seeds, greens, most vegetables that grow above ground, heavy cream, full-fat hard cheese and cottage cheese, and a bit of yogurt.   This has been a huge change for me, and it's one I never thought I would want to make or that I would be successful at keeping.

In all honesty, I do cheat a little.  I sometimes have a dessert.  I eat some berries with my eggs some mornings at breakfast.  I have discovered that if I don't eat many carbs the rest of the day, I can have a 1/2 cup of full-fat ice cream and only consume 16 grams of carbohydrates.  I know that has sugar in it, and it's not ideal, but it's still far less sugar than I used to consume.  And once in awhile I break down and get that 500 calorie frappuccino at Starbucks and go over my entire day's allotment of carbohydrates with that one stinking drink.  But instead of giving into the temptation several days a week, it happens about once every few months.  My point is, I don't follow this plan as strictly as many others would advocate that you should, but I am looking at this as a lifetime change, not a quick fix.  And there are a lot of celebrations and holidays in a lifetime that I'm not willing to completely forego indulging in a slice of homemade pie or cake once in awhile.

Even with those occasional indulgences, I have seen success in a way that I wasn't sure was possible for me at this age.  I did lose 4-5 pounds in the very first week of cutting my carbs to 20-50 grams/day.  This was primarily water weight, but my stomach was flatter, my pants felt looser, and it gave me the motivation to stick with it.  Over the past 4 1/2 months, I've lost around 14 pounds, over 2 inches from my waist, and I've dropped 1-2 sizes in pants and shorts.  I haven't been able to successfully get down to this weight in over 4 years trying anything else.  Not by cutting fat, exercising more, occasional fasting, or simply reducing calories.  I'm not saying that eating a low-carb diet is right for everyone, but it has been a positive experience for me.

Now, I'm not going to kid you...it certainly comes with its sacrifices.  I haven't consumed a single craft beer (or any beer) since mid-February.  I haven't eaten pasta, rice, or bread of any kind.  Instead of snacking on crackers, pretzels, popcorn, or cookies, I have 1/4 cup of nuts or sunflower seeds instead.  I do sometimes eat dark chocolate-covered almonds or honey-roasted peanuts, which have some carbohydrates, but far fewer than the other processed snack foods.  I rarely do any baking anymore because I cannot resist licking the beaters or the wooden spoon.  And to pull some steaming homemade chocolate chip cookies out of my oven and not eat a single one is just torture.  So I don't do it.  Initially, I really missed drinking juice with a bagel or a muffin for breakfast, but now it's not such a big deal.  I think that eating out in restaurants is the hardest because it often means that I'm limited to a salad of one type or another.  If I can order meat free of sauces or breading, I have that with  one or two low-carb veggies.  Mostly, I try to focus on the things that I love that I can still have: dry wine, a bit of dark chocolate, and heavy cream in my coffee.  I know that I never would have made it this far if I'd have given up those.

So I am going forth with the resolve to continue this way of eating and living.  My husband has gotten on board as well, which does make it easier.  Learning that I am not powerless to defeat the middle-aged spread is empowering, and fitting into clothes that have hung unworn in my wardrobe for years is a great motivator to stick with it---even with a daughter in the house who creates the best cupcakes in the world.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Summer of '17 Photo Gallery #2

More summer photos as we enter the middle of summer already.  There's been a lot of baking going on in our farmhouse kitchen---this summer by our 15 year-old daughter.  It's all so good, but I'm trying very hard to limit myself to very small portions or just a taste.  Surely there are no carbs or calories in just a taste, right?

Our grandson tags along with us to all our usual summer spots once a week.  His aunties and uncles absolutely adore him.


This past week he began walking while he was with us at the house of some friends.  It was just as exciting to see him take his first steps as it was with all of my own children.


We've been trying out some new restaurants the past couple of weeks.

We're venturing out and sampling places we wouldn't normally try.  And we've been pleasantly surprised every time.  This summer for me is about taking some chances, stepping out of my comfort zone, and being open to adventure.

Don't get me wrong; I love our country life.

Our little farm on the mountain brings its unique beauty and peace...

...and its own type of quirky excitement. 


But as we celebrated my grandmother's 99th birthday with her this weekend, I knew that I want to live the rest of my life to the fullest.  That means taking some chances, doing something different, and seizing opportunities as they come. 

And loving and enjoying everything in my life that I already have.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Summer of '17 Photo Gallery #1

No words, just early summer pics of our not-so-preppy mountain farm life.



 It's hard to believe we're already in the last week in June.  I need summer to slow down.  Have a great week, everyone!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Strawberry Jam Making Party!

I browse through the home and decorating magazines at Barnes and Noble and admire the elegant dinner parties featured.  I save boards full of lovely entertaining pins on Pinterest.  I love looking at the elegant table settings on Instagram and various blogs.  I sigh and think about how much fun it would be to host some of those parties for a dozen friends or more.  But then I look around at our lived-in farmhouse and know that at least for now, that just isn't going to happen.  So I have decided to start gathering people together here in a way that does match this century-old farmhouse and our little hobby farm and do some of the things most of our ancestors did here in the Appalachian Mountains 100 or more years ago...with a twist.

I decided to invite some school mom friends over for a dessert wine/liqueur-tasting and freezer jam making party.  While wild thunder storms raged outside our walls, we ladies were safe and dry inside sipping Moscato, mashing strawberries, and swapping school stories.

Freezer jam is super easy to make, and you can use any berries in season---or peaches if you add some lemon juice.

For a double batch, you just need to remove the stems of one and a half  pint-sized containers of  berries.  Then mash them with a potato masher.  They should be chunky.  This equals approximately 3 1/3 cups of mashed berries.

After that, all you need is 1 1/4 cups of sugar and 4 Tablespoons of instant pectin added in.  Stir for three minutes, and pour into your freezer containers.  Within thirty minutes, the jam is set. 

A double batch fills five half-pint containers.  You can store it in your refrigerator for three weeks or in your freezer for a year.  This just doesn't get any easier, and the jam is full of color and flavor and nothing like what you get in the grocery store.

Bringing friends together over some snacks, desserts, and wine or Stoli vanilla vodka makes this homemaking task fun, and before you know it, hours have passed by.  You get to share this amazing jam with your family, and they'll never know that it was so effortless and so much fun to make.

I do believe this will be an annual event at the Preppy Mountain Farmhouse.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Comfortable Summer Dresses for the Middle-Aged Mom


There's something about summer that makes me want to wear more dresses.  This year I'm all about comfort and ease, yet I still want fashionable and feminine, and I love fabrics that flow.  If you're a busy mom looking for a summer wardrobe that requires little fuss, but still provides style that flatters, take a look at what I found for very affordable prices.


Starting off with this long pullover dress that Hubby got me for my birthday this year, this dress is made by Chaps and was purchased at the Bonton, but I've seen it at Kohl's as well.  This is easy to wash, pulls over my head, and is incredibly comfortable. 


I wore it on my birthday to pick up children from school and run errands, and I wore it on a shopping excursion with our teen daughter to celebrate her 15th birthday a week later.  I love her t-shirt dress too, found at Target.


This bright pink Rose & Olive dress just made me think of spring/summer when I saw it at TJ Maxx.  It also just pulls over my head and drapes my body without clinging.  And no dry cleaning or ironing necessary.  That's a must in my house.

It's the dress I wore to church on Easter Sunday, but I'm sure I'll pull it out often.  Can you tell this was the first time we used the self-timer on my new camera? 


A friend of mine introduced me to an Internet boutique called Ali & Edi which is where I got this paisley tunic dress.  Their dresses are American made, of high quality, and are stylish yet easy to maintain.  Right now they're having a clearance sale with amazing prices, so go check them out.


I loved this dress so much that I wore it for our daughter's First Holy Communion, and two weeks later I wore it again for Mother's Day.  The carnation I'm holding was a gift our sweet ten year-old son bought for me on the way out of Mass from the local Boy Scout troop.   


I was looking for a casual sundress, and I found this navy blue Croft & Barrow knee-length dress at Kohl's.  It's light-weight, machine washable, and loose without looking frumpy.


I wore it to my younger sons' end-of-the-year pool party on a 93 degree afternoon this week.  I won't say it kept me cool, but aside from being in a swimsuit myself, it was probably the coolest thing I had to wear in public.  And hey, how farmy of a pic is this with our greenhouse and wheelbarrow in the background?  Keeping it real here at the Preppy Mountain Farmhouse.



I tried on eight dresses at Macy's this week, and I loved this one best of all.  This is so different from anything I have hanging in my pine wardrobe, but it just screamed "Summer" at me.  The colors remind me of popsicles, jello, and Skittles.  It's by Calvin Klein and was greatly reduced the day I bought it.  Gosh, I look annoyed with the child taking my picture.  I was really just squinting, but this confirms that I could have never hacked it as a model.


This dress is loose, airy, and light.  I haven't had a chance to wear it yet, but I think it could work for a number of outings depending on how it was accessorized.  The light lining underneath keeps it from being see-through and from clinging. 


This final dress is one I'll wear on the cooler summer days we sometimes get here in the northeastern U.S. and probably into the fall.  It's Dana Buchanan, and it's similar to another light pull-over dress I wear frequently.  Comfy, easy to wash, and no ironing necessary.  My kind of dress.


I found this at Kohl's on sale, and it was super cheap.  It's been too hot here this week to wear it yet, but I'm sure it will get plenty of use.  It's the only item in my wardrobe with cutout sleeves like this.  I'm venturing out of my comfort zone a little in my middle age. 

Each of these dresses was purchased for less than $100.  Most were under $50.  Style, comfort, and easy care for a middle-aged figure at affordable prices.  

And that concludes my annual summer fashion show from the boondocks in the Alleghenies.  I hope you all are enjoying your early summer as much as I am.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Our Farmhouse Porch in the Summer

 During the seventies, the weekly TV show "The Waltons" was a hit at our house.  I loved their big family, their white farmhouse in the mountains, and especially their huge front porch.  I remember Grandma shelling peas while sitting on the porch rocker, Mary Ellen complaining about her life while lounging on the porch swing, and Mama greeting everyone with a smile on her front porch as she welcomed them in.  I dreamed of having their life...but maybe with a bit more money and some nicer clothes.  



I had a vision for our own front porch many years ago when I got our large porch swing as a Mother's Day gift, which was much more enjoyable than the clothesline I received for that same holiday a couple of years earlier.

The vision continued as I received my first porch rocker for another Mother's Day gift and had the porch floor replaced in 2014.  Then in 2015 we finally repainted it, and this year I woke up on Mother's Day to a second porch rocker so that I now have the symmetry my OCD self yearned for.

After acquiring the porch rockers from Cracker Barrel, the final part of my dream involved sheer white curtains.  This proved to be a more challenging task than I ever imagined because there are iron poles connected to either ends of our porch.  Those poles can't be removed, and their height and width aren't your typical window size.


I figured I could either buy shower curtains or long drapes with grommets.  That way I could attach them with shower hooks.  It turned out that none of the shower curtains were long enough, and I would have to purchase at least three window panels for each side.  I didn't want to spend a lot of money since these would be outside in the elements all summer.  I thought it would be easy to find what I was looking for.  I was wrong.  I went to TJ Maxx, Home Goods, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, but I couldn't find what I wanted.  Everything was either too thick or too expensive or not the right size or there weren't enough in stock or not grommet style.  So I finally patronized the one story that everyone else I know frequents but that I avoid at all costs: Walmart.  And it was there that I found the exact sheer panels I was looking for with the grommet openings for only $7/panel.  And as luck would have it, they had exactly six of them.  Then my daughter and I found these cute shower hooks that we thought would look perfect to hang them, so we bought three packages of them too for $8/package.


I was so excited to get home and hang these curtains on these shower hooks that were rust-proof and guaranteed to not slip out of the shower curtains.  What was I thinking?!  These work perfectly with shower curtains that have slits for openings, but they are obviously not made to hold grommet-style curtains.  This was definitely one of my most daft moments.  I ran upstairs to our bathroom and tore down our shower curtain so I could use the cheap, round, clear plastic hooks.  Then I searched the bathroom closet because I knew I had extra hooks in there.  Unfortunately, they were the same style as the ones I just bought, only very corroded.  So I hurried up to the cabin and took down that shower curtain as well.  I still needed another twelve round curtain hooks.  I turned around and there on the shelf was another package of mismatched shower curtain hooks...but only nine of them.  I brought them all down to the house and hung the curtains with what I had, dreading to go back to Walmart to buy yet another package of these stupid hooks.  You can't just get them individually; it's a package of twelve or none at all.

So with the aid of my youngest daughter (who had Cowboy Day at school that morning), we hung the curtains and did a quick photo shoot with three grommets not attached to the iron pole.  And the hooks were of all different styles and colors.

That evening I had to take our son and his friend to a middle school dance, so after dropping them off, I headed back to Walmart.  I had a great time because I had my best friend along, and we chatted and chatted, not really paying attention to anything around us.  We just enjoyed some girl time out away from most of our children (my teen daughter tagged along in hopes of a trip to the mall.)  I went through the self-checkout line and bought the $1.26 package of clear, round, plastic curtain hooks, and shoved the receipt in my purse as I eyed the tiki torches near the exit and continued talking with my friend.  It was a fun night for all of us, but when I got home and looked for the shower hooks to finish hanging my curtains, I couldn't find them anywhere.  And I realized that I left them at the checkout in Walmart while I was busy conversing with my friend.

So the next day I went to Ollie's and bought the same hooks for 
$.95 and kicked myself for not shopping there for them to begin with.

The curtains were hung, and my vision was complete.  However, I hadn't given much thought to how I would keep them in place.  The winds just whip them around everywhere.  My friend told me her aunt sewed rocks into the bottoms of her porch curtains.  I placed some of our larger river stones in the bottom pockets of these sheer drapes, but all that did was create noise as they scraped and rolled across the porch floor.  Then when it got super windy, they flew up and around, and those river stones went flying.  My white sheer curtains became weapons directed at anyone out there on the porch.  So I've given up and just allow them to float and wave and fly wherever the wind takes them.  Porch sitters just have to get used to the curtains brushing over their shoulders or their heads as they sit and read and drink their coffee or G & T's.

A few finishing touches were added.  Two hanging baskets arrived from my children as additional Mother's Day gifts this year.

And when I couldn't decide what to place in the empty space next to the front door, I decided to use the picnic basket we got as a wedding gift and my husband's work boots that are a bit scruffy but not currently coated in manure.  The food was just for the photo shoot, of course; most of the time it's filled with one of our annoying cats who end up using my porch displays every season for their beds.

Now my vision is complete for the summer where our front porch is concerned.  This is where I chose to celebrate my 48th birthday this past week as I relaxed in a sundress with a glass of Chardonnay in the early evening.  I suppose this is my version of being on the Waltons' porch in the Appalachians, only with wine instead of the Baldwin sisters' "recipe."