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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."

Monday, June 5, 2017

Country Weekends in the Summer

 This is what our weekends have been looking like so far this summer.  

 Our twelve year old son dug us a much bigger fire pit, so we've been having campfires galore.

 With so many flowers and shrubs blooming, the bumblebees are swarming around our farmhouse.

 And with so many summer birthdays around here, our resident cupcake baker has been quite busy.

This weekend she made chocolate cupcakes stuffed with her special peanut butter frosting, topped with chocolate shavings.  They were to die for and worth every gram of carbohydrates.

 Our grandson has been cruising and crawling around, and fortunately, we have many energetic bodies to keep up with him because he is busy!

All kinds of things are hatching out and metamorphosing. 

There have been some tricky puzzles that only a few family members could solve.  She, by the way, figured out to open this almost immediately.  It was putting it back together that made everyone a bit crazy.

We've had some adorable baby interactions going on between the species.

 It wouldn't be a summer weekend without plenty of front porch sitting.  But I'll have more on that in my next post.

 How did you spend your weekend?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ugly: This is my Summer Book Recommendation

I don't read too many autobiographies/memoirs, and when you're trying to find a good one for your fifth grader to meet the requirements for his class's 30 Book Challenge before the last week of school, they are hard to come by.  Fortunately, our son's friend told him about this book, and it was in the school library.  Our ten year-old boy doesn't really like to read very much; he'd rather be running and climbing trees and building with Legos and playing Minecraft.  He was not at all thrilled that he was required to read 30 books this school year, and they had to be of different genres yet to boot.  We have shelves and shelves of books for all ages in our old farmhouse, but we really didn't have many memoirs that a preteen would be interested in reading.  I was relieved when he checked out Ugly by Robert Hoge.

This story caught his attention from the start.  We had watched some episodes of Call the Midwife, so he was familiar with babies born in the 1960s and 1970s being born with major malformations due to medicines pregnant mothers were often given before the medical experts knew there was a link.  We all cried together when we saw one particular scene where a baby girl was born with no arms, no legs, and only part of a trunk and head.  The attending doctor and nurse left her abandoned on a counter in front of an open window to speed up the process of a "natural death."  One of the sisters/midwives discovered her there and wrapped her up in a blanket and held her, soothed her, and baptized her until she took her last breath.  She was able to console her mother who hadn't even had a chance to see her baby by telling her that the baby felt loved in her dying moments.  I went through half a box of tissues that night.

Robert Hoge was one of those babies born in Australia in 1972 with only partially formed legs and a large tumor growing out of the center of his face which left him with no nose and eyes on the sides of his head.  He was the youngest of five children in a working class family, and his parents didn't take him home from the hospital immediately.  In fact, they weren't sure they were going to take him home ever, but they finally asked his siblings what they would like to do, and they unanimously voted to keep him.  Once they made the decision, his entire family was committed to giving him the most normal life they could.

His story is not one of sorrow, but instead, it's a very straightforward account of his childhood and the various incidents that made him who he is.  It's geared toward adolescents and juveniles, so it's an easy and quick read, but it holds your attention as you find yourself routing for him on field day, on a bicycle, in the swimming pool, and on the playground.  There are plenty of humorous tales interwoven through his examples of overcoming adversity.  I won't spoil the ending for you, but he ends his memoir at the age of 14 when he is given the choice of whether or not he will have one final surgery in an attempt to make him look more "normal."

Our son talked about this book in the car and at the dinner table, and he urged me to read it.  There are very few books that he recommends to anyone, so I was intrigued.  I put it off because I'm already in the middle of several other books, as I always am, and I wasn't looking forward to reading another children's book.  However, I promised that I would read it over this Memorial Day weekend, and I finished it in two days.  Afterwards, I did a Google search to see what this guy actually looks like and what his life is like now.  Again, no spoiler alert from me.  You've got to read his book first and resist the temptation to find him on the Internet before you do.

I promise that you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pool Tales: The Final Chapter

 When we bought this house nearly eleven years ago, this was the view from our patio off the back of our old farmhouse.  We never cared much about having our own swimming pool, but since it was already here, that was pretty awesome.  Except for the fact that I had two preschoolers, a toddler, and an infant, and as you can see, there was no fence around the pool.  But it was an incredible view, and at night, the moonlight reflected off the water, and the stars were so bright overhead, and I thought my husband and I would spend every summer night on rafts in this pool.  We'd float around in the quiet watching fireflies and sipping some wine or a Gin & Tonic after the little ones had gone to bed with the baby monitor plugged in next to us.  I'm not sure what I imagined our teenage son doing at the time...listening to music, watching a movie, reading a book?  It doesn't really matter because we only ever ventured into that pool by ourselves one time at night anyway.

 Because here's what no one ever told me about having a swimming pool in the country on the side of the mountain: all kinds of creatures come to the pool...especially at night.  We had already seen the multitudes of long, thick black snakes slither up from under the concrete each May when the weather got warm and we were just opening up the pool.  Sometimes early in the season, we'd be floating in the water on a sunny afternoon and two or three snakes would come slithering along the concrete and off into the grass.  We discovered early on that mice, birds, moles, and even an occasional rabbit came to the pool at night and then drowned in the water early in the morning.  We've had Amish neighbors' geese and ducks show up there, and one time, even a cow!  Of course, lots and lots of insects, centipedes, and spiders are also drawn to the water, and that means when it gets dark, the bats come too.

The first night that my husband and I actually got the kids to bed without us falling asleep in the process, we poured ourselves some vino and sneaked out to the pool.  Never mind that the boys' room looked out over the pool; we'd just quietly step in for a quick dip, and they'd never know we were out there.  We were in the water sipping wine looking at those magnificent stars and feeling like the luckiest couple on earth.  This was paradise; who needs a vacation?  That was until I felt something swoosh down and brush against my hair.  Then it happened again and again.  My husband felt it too.  We looked up and there were bats swooping down to catch the bugs flying around and landing on the water.  And they didn't stop.  And I was done.  No matter how quiet, peaceful, or romantic of a night this was, there was no room for bats in my vision.  And we never did that again.  I figured that one day in the future, when our kids would be older and in school or out of the house, we'd go out there alone again while it was still daylight when the bats were wherever they go at night around here.  I don't want to think too hard about that.

But alas, that is not meant to be because this past winter our pool liner ripped.  We noticed the water level going down after the pool was covered.  We knew that come spring, we would have to finally fork out the money to have it replaced.  We weren't thrilled about it, but we were prepared.  But things just got worse.  With each violent storm we got this winter and early spring, the situation got worse and worse.  Pieces of the liner tore and blew all over the yard and lane.  Where the pool cover had pulled away, it looked to me like concrete was starting to crumble, and was that actual dirt falling into the pool?  When I made the call to the swimming pool business and told them we might need a little bit more than just a new liner, he asked me to send him pictures.  I knew it must be bad.

 After receiving several quotes of upwards of $15,000, I told my husband we just weren't going to do it.  After the first month that we have it open, our kids lose interest in swimming in it.  Last year after lunch each day, I had to force them to spend an hour in the pool because their dad and I had just spent hundreds of dollars on more pool chemicals and hours of our time cleaning it.  I literally had to set a timer to ensure they'd be out there a full hour.  I realize how ridiculous this sounds now and I wonder why we went on as long as we did.  So this Memorial Day weekend, instead of pulling off the pool cover, vacuuming up hundreds of tadpoles, and pouring in pounds and pounds of chlorine and stabilizer to get our pool ready for the summer, we'll be waiting for equipment to show up to begin breaking up the concrete and filling in our pool.  It feels rather sad because it's yet another reminder that an era of our life here is coming to an end.  Our youngest five children have grown up here, and their memories of summer are spattered with learning to swim, diving for toys, swimming until their teeth chatter from the 66 degree water temperature in early June, and eating popsicles around the pool.  Our summers will be different.

But there is a silver lining to this final chapter of my tale: I have big plans for that nice flat area on this side of the mountain.  Once it's all filled in, and it's covered in thick, green grass, I have my eye on some canopies, outdoor tables and Adirondack chairs, some wonderful fire pits that can also be used for tables, a tiki bar, and fairy lights.  I can see some fantastic farm-to-table dinners out there with lots of friends and family gathered together.  The moonlight won't be reflecting off the pool anymore, but the stars will be just as bright, and it will be just as peaceful as it has always been.

And I'm trusting that the bats won't find our back yard as enticing as it was before.