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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Easy Pumpkin Cobbler

October is the month I pull out the pumpkin recipes, and this is one my children beg for.  It's really simple and easy to make, and it's delicious warm or cold.

Pumpkin Cobbler
Mix 28 oz. canned pumpkin, 1 large can evaporated milk, 1 cup sugar, 3 eggs, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. ginger, 1 tsp. ground cloves, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a mixing bowl.  Pour into a greased rectangular cake pan.  Spread 1 boxed yellow cake mix on on top of all the ingredients.  Dot some butter on top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes.  And that's it.

This is great the way it is, or you can put a dollop of whipped cream on top of each serving.

Wishing you Readers a Halloween weekend full of pumpkin treats and, hopefully, no tricks!

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Cold Day at the Corn Maze

Holy Cow!  Did we ever have a change in weather.  We went from 82 degrees last week to an extremely windy 48 degrees on Saturday.  Even so, our family met up with some friends at a nearby corn maze and pumpkin patch.  At least the rain stopped, and the sun peeked through once in awhile.  Otherwise, I think I would have sat it out in the small, heated building where children could come decorate cupcakes and drink hot cocoa.

This was the way to enter the maze, and we all went through.  It was much higher and longer than it looks in this photo.

Once you've made it through the tunnel slide, it's corn stalks for as far as the eye can see.

Every year, the owners have a different theme, and you must find your way through the maze to get to the clues.  Once you've found all the clues, you can answer the riddles or questions.  And then you can win a prize.

This year's theme was presidents, and there was a crossword puzzle full of silly (but true) questions about past presidents.

The clues do not, however, help you find your way out of the corn maze.

You're either on your own to do that, or you can follow others and hope they know their way.  

Or you can cheat a little bit by climbing up certain platforms and survey the entire maze from above.  The corn here was actually quite short and scrawny this year, so I could see my teenagers' heads from most everywhere.  I usually can't do that.

Not to mention that between our younger daughter's neon pink coat and our older daughter's bright pink stocking cap, they were fairly easy to spot.

Once we made it out, crossword puzzles were completed by the more studious members of the group.

While others had go-cart races (or hitched a ride.)

And certain teenage boys played King of the Haybales.

We finally got in a hayride, and I managed to get one good picture of my kiddos.

Good thing because the rest of the ride just got ridiculous...and cold.  Did I mention the cold already?

As usual, we had a great time, but when it was time to go, my kids came running up the hill.  They were either freezing, or they were coming for the hot apple cider and whoopie pies I had just purchased from an Amish woman who had braved the elements and set up a bake sale table (which was blowing away.)  For those of you from other parts of the world, if you haven't ever had a homemade whoopie pie, you are seriously missing out.

It's a tad bit warmer here today, but that wind has remained and broken off several trees up here.  In fact, as we were driving up our lane after the corn maze and a grocery run, we slammed on the brakes because a dead tree had just come down across the lane right in front of us.  We walked our groceries the rest of the way to our house and were fortunate enough to have an Amish neighbor with a chainsaw at home who walked down and cut it into movable pieces.  We're thankful that it missed any of us who were out that afternoon and that no trees fell on any of our goats or sheep who were yards away eating peacefully in the pasture.  

With the colorful leaves blown to the ground, dark skies by 6:00, and weather cool enough to pull out our winter coats, it definitely feels like fall here in the Alleghenies now.  But I'm not complaining.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why We Moved to the Country---in Pictures

It's been ten years since we've lived here, and we still occasionally get asked why we left our southeastern suburb to move to a rural area up north.  "You're so far away from everything," they say.  "But there's nothing there," I hear from others.  "You mean that even the nearest Walmart is twenty miles away?" they gasp.  As incredulous as it may seem, we chose to leave a beautiful, safe, preppy suburb in a warm climate to move 700 miles north to a quiet, sparsely populated, mountain farmhouse amidst the old-order Amish.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll let this week's photos describe our reasons for me.

Oh, and these were all snapped from my Samsung Tracphone.  No photography equipment or skills necessary out here in God's country.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Doing Small Things With Great Love

In commemoration of the canonization of Mother Teresa, our younger children's school chose her quote, "Do small things with great love" as their theme this year.  This simple sentence is hanging in every classroom, on students' lockers, and throughout the hallways.  What a beautiful reminder to each of us every day to go about our daily tasks, but to do them mindfully and with a heart of love.  It has caused me to pause and reflect on my own life as a mother and how acts of kindness and love change with the different seasons of our lives.

Our youngest five children were born in eight years, and most nights I collapsed into bed feeling like I was just barely keeping my head above water.  I yearned to volunteer in our church and the community, but I was lucky if I got time away from my children just to keep a doctor or dentist appointment a couple of times a year.  I remember telling a spiritual advisor that I felt guilty for not doing more charitable works, and he reminded me that in that particular season of life, my whole day was an act of charity.  Every diaper I changed, every hug I gave, every book I read and song I sang to my small children were acts of love.  I can assure you that during the many moments of exhaustion, exasperation, and sleep deprivation, I often didn't feel very loving.  I offered up prayers throughout the day just to get me through the next few hours with a patient, kind, and loving heart.  In that season, most of my acts of mercy and charity were directed toward my children, but we did occasionally find ways to reach out to others.

We homeschooled during those early years, and the children and I did participate in some group volunteering through Cub Scouts, our local homeschool group, and our church.  We visited nursing homes and brought homemade cards and cookies to the residents.  Some of my children sang and played the piano there.  Others helped the elderly open their song books to the pages we were on so they could sing along.  Our toddlers often just talked with them and gave them smiles.  Sometimes I felt that the innocence and exuberance that emanated from our youngest ones brightened the residents' days far more than any gifts we brought or any organized performance we had prepared.  We also participated in numerous food drives, toy collections at Christmas, cleaning trash from roadways, and ringing the Salvation Army bell at local retail stores.  But I think most of our memories of acts of kindness remain the ones of us in the nursing homes.

As the children have gotten older, and most of them have started school, many of their volunteer activities occur with classmates or fellow youth group members.  Sometimes I tag along, but much of the time they do it on their own.  In groups, they clean up the grounds around the church and school and put together boxes of donated items for hospitals, pregnancy centers, and our troops overseas.  Our more musical children still perform at nursing homes, but now they do that with fellow band or strings members or with their choir.  Our older children have baked hundreds of pies and cookies with other teenagers to raise money for good causes.  Our teen daughter and some friends took it upon themselves one year to bake their own cookies, cupcakes, and brownies to raise money for a little girl with cancer.  They have also gone with me to help prepare and serve monthly free meals for the less fortunate of our community through St. Vincent de Paul.  More recently, our middle-schooler took care of a neighbor's cat and got her mail while she was away on vacation.  I'd like to say that they did all these things out of the goodness of their hearts, but the truth is that some of them did so because they needed mandatory service hours for school or confirmation.

The other week the children's entire school spent the morning in various charitable deeds.  One class cleaned the church; another planted bulbs in all the flower beds around the school; yet another made items to send to those in less fortunate countries.  All through the school, you could find students, teachers, and parents participating in small things with great love.  Mother Teresa said, "We are all but His instruments who do our little bit and pass by.  I believe that the way in which an act of kindness is done is as important as the action itself."  I hope that these experiences foster hearts of service and attitudes of gratitude that will carry into my children's adult lives as well.

All of these service projects are beneficial, and I'm glad my children have these opportunities to serve.  But I am reminded daily that charity starts at home.  Why is it that doing these small things with great love is often the most challenging at home with our own family members?  The little annoyances that occur throughout the day under our own roof seem to make it so difficult sometimes to demonstrate mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.  Washing the dishes, cleaning up someone else's mess, helping a younger sibling with a homework assignment bring the biggest complaints from my children.  I, too, sometimes find it difficult to be cheerful while doing the small things in my own home.  Every time I fold another basket of laundry, prepare yet another meal, call out this week's spelling words, or act as mediator in sibling squabbles, I am given the opportunity to do so with love, even though I don't feel like it.

Saint Mother Teresa said, "It is easy to smile at people outside your own home.  It is so easy to take care of the people that you don't know well.  It is difficult to be thoughtful and kind and to smile and be loving to your own in the house day after day, especially when we are tired and in a bad temper or bad mood.  We all have these moments and that is the time that Christ comes to us in a distressing disguise." 

My goal this school year is to live and love in the example of Mother Teresa and to remember that "We are all but His instruments who do our little bit and pass by."

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Dress Up Day

Most of my Wednesday was spent doing something I rarely do: trying on dresses in store after store.  There's an upcoming event in our future, and it gave me, my grandson, and his mama an excuse to play dress-up for the day, and it was more fun than I had imagined it would be.  Typically, shopping is not really my thing---unless it's for books.  But this day was different.

We tried on gowns.  And I got tips on how to take selfies in front of 3-way mirrors, which was a new skill learned that I will likely never use again.

I was afraid this one made me look too grandmotherly.

I mean, I love being a long as I don't look like one.  This little guy was so patient as we tried on clothes.  In between trips to the dressing rooms, I stole smiles and coos as much as possible.

And his mama looked like this in one of the gowns.  Wow.  I know.  When we parted in the afternoon, she still hadn't made up her mind, but this red number was my personal favorite.

I also tried on some shorter dresses.  This one ended up coming home with me, but I decided it wasn't formal enough, so I'll save it for something else.


I think I decided that I like this one the best, but I'm still not positive.  The tags are still on it if I change my mind.

My children think the sleeves make me look like Batman, but they were one of the selling points for me because of their uniqueness.

After six stores and a surprise visit to see Hubby at work, we finally sat down for some lunch at a favorite Mexican restaurant so the baby could get changed and fed too.  Then we hit Macy's (where I found the above dress) before I had to pick up kiddos from school.  I'm eager to see which gown my shopping partner picked.  

And I'm really thinking of returning tomorrow and buying the long purple gown too---even if it does make me look like a grandmother.  The sales were great today, and I'd love to have options in my wardrobe as we head into the holidays.

I hope your Hump Day was an enjoyable one too!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Date Night at the Cabin (a.k.a. Uninterrupted Conversations About the Kids)

My husband and I had been having regular weekly dates for about a year.  That was mainly because we had to drive our teenage son to youth group over thirty miles away every Saturday night, so we used the wait time to date.  That has changed, however, and I don't think we've been anywhere alone together since our anniversary.  Life in a household of seven people just gets kind of crazy when school starts, and before we know it, adult time doesn't even exist.  So this weekend, I made a date with Hubby to simply go up to our cabin.  It's practically next door, it's free, and no one else is there.  And if the kiddos need us, we can be back in the farmhouse in a flash.

This rustic-cabin-that-needs-a-lot-of-work was fully furnished when we bought it.  In fact, it had so much furniture, kitchen stuff, old clothes and shoes, and hunting/fishing gear, that you could barely walk through it.  Our main major project the first year it was in our possession was to fill a large dumpster with stuff that we thought no one would want and fill our vehicles with other stuff to take to Goodwill.  The place is far less cluttered now, and once you get past the "eclectic decor" (yes, that's definitely meant as a euphemism) and the slight musty, mildewed smell, it's really not too bad.  There's certainly potential.

Anyway, since the cabin included quite a collection of movies that we'd never seen, I thought we could pop some popcorn on our stove, open the bottle of hard cider I picked up at the farmers' market, and watch a movie on VHS.  Does anyone else out there still have a bunch of videotapes you just can't get rid of?  And a working VCR?  It seemed like a relaxing date night to me.  We could sit up there in yoga pants or blue jeans with an old crocheted afghan over our laps (that came with the cabin too), watch a fun movie without children constantly talking or asking questions, and have the entire bowl of popcorn all to ourselves.  

It was fun at first.  But the movie stunk.  I won't even say what it was, but I felt guilty for absolutely wasting an hour and a half of our time alone sitting in front of it.  The popcorn and cider were good, but I kept wondering how many more calories I'd consumed and thinking if I were back at the house, I could at least lift my five pound dumbbells while watching this terrible video.  I was bored, so I started thinking about the research I'd done earlier in the day about an issue I'm having with one of our children.  And the longer I sat on that sofa, the more I noticed the mildew odor in the cabin, and I wondered how I will ever get rid of it.

By the time the movie had ended, the popcorn was down to the unpopped kernels, and the last drop of cider had been consumed, I was talking to my husband about my latest worries and concerns about our kids.  And this is what seems to happen at some point on every one of our dates.  It doesn't matter if we're dining in a new restaurant, sitting at Barnes and Noble with coffee and a stack of books, hiking up the mountain, or shopping (for the kids, of course), our dates always turn into uninterrupted discussions about the children.

OK, sure there are spatterings of other topics during the night, but the bulk of our evening definitely revolves around funny things one of them did, something about one of them that I'm obsessing about, or something one of them said that day that really annoyed me.  Seventeen years ago, we talked about our dreams, our ideologies, things we were passionate about, and what we thought we'd accomplish in life.  Now our conversations revolve around who's going to the cross country meet and who's driving a child to a birthday party.  Or how we're going to get one of them to care more about his education and not be satisfied with getting Cs.  Or which stores we need to get through in two hours to buy supplies for a social studies project, snacks for one of the classes for a week, and three different sizes of uniform pants because all the children seem to have outgrown their clothes in a month's time.  No matter how hard I try, I can't make it through a single date without bringing up the kids in our conversations.  I think my husband could probably do it, but I can't.

And what I'm wondering a decade or so, when the last one is heading off to college, will our conversations return to our hopes and dreams when we have time alone?  Since we'll have so much time alone, will we run out of things to talk about?  Or will we be discussing our grandchildren's performance at their last soccer game?  Will I be expressing concerns about a grown child's recent move or new job? Will we be shopping for the numerous birthdays of grandchildren I anticipate written on the calendar?

Or will we simply be discussing the weather, current events, or (God forbid) the upcoming presidential election?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Baby Snuggling and Binge Watching Fixer Upper

I have spent the past few days doing the things I love to do best.  I recently answered a questionnaire that asked what am I doing when I am immersed in something and lose all track of time.  At the top of that list are holding our grandson and blogging.  Today I did both.  This morning I sat in our grandson's house with his mama and watched episode after episode of Fixer Upper on Netflix while watching our grandbaby smile and coo at me.  It was a little piece of Heaven, I tell ya.

Yesterday afternoon, while waiting for our daughter to finish up cross-country practice, her younger siblings and I did a quick walk-through of a terrific farmers' market.  I could have spent at least an hour sampling, smelling, and taking in all the good things there.  We bought three pumpkins for carving and a bottle of locally made hard cider aged in bourbon barrels.  Can't wait to try that.

Much of my time lately has been spent driving all over the county visiting local businesses and procuring items for an upcoming gala and auction that I'm helping with.  It means my days are more busy than usual, but today I had to stop and snap some pictures.  This countryside is so beautiful in the fall, even on the cloudy days like we've had here lately.

Due to my busy schedule and the amount of rainy days we've been having, my exercise routine has been greatly interrupted.  When I do get to hike though, I love to go in the evening, just as the sun is beginning to set.  This time of the day always feels magical to me, especially now when the air is turning crisp and a bit cool as the sun goes down.

My third favorite thing in the whole world to do is read, and it has been that way for as long as I can remember.  Actually, before our grandson was born, reading a good book was number one on my list of all time favorites.  A luxurious day for me is to be able to spend an entire morning in my comfy chair with a cup of pumpkin spice coffee, a blanket over my lap, and a book in my hand.  I don't read much fiction anymore, but this memoir read much like a novel.  Not sure why I couldn't put it down except that I have a voracious appetite for ingesting anything related to social class in America.  This book caught my attention, and once I got past the rather shocking language used, I was enthralled and felt like I just had to finish it.  One of these days I'll get around to writing a post on growing up blue collar and rising to the middle/upper-middle class.

Finally, I have been getting little snippets of time up close with our farm animals.  The chickens have already stopped laying eggs now that the hours of sunlight have dropped.  Although some of our goat kids have been sold, we still have four adorable little guys and gals around.  Watching goat babies run and frolic is one of the best stress-relievers and mood-lifters I know.  If only I had them around to look at when I'm stuck in aggravating traffic each day.

I hope you're getting some time to engage in an activity where you lose all track of time, and life isn't just busy, busy, busy.  

Also, our thoughts are with all those in the path or aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.  We still have friends and family along the southeastern coast and pray for their safety.