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Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Grand Finale: May Recitals

We spent the last day of May at our final recital of the school year.  Life with five children still at home means a myriad of activities and sports throughout the year, culminating with recitals and parties before summer break.  This month our family attended a choir performance, an art show, an instrumental recital, and finally, two dance recitals.  These were in addition to track, choir, and judo parties plus class field trips and field days. We now look forward to a relaxing summer where we spend our days barefoot in the dewy grass, wading in the creek, floating on a raft in the pool, making smores over a campfire, and just daydreaming under a summer sky.  For now, I won't think about the weeding, harvesting, canning, dehydrating, and mowing that will also occur in the next three months. Instead, I will focus on the slower pace of summer that refreshes me for another busy school year in the fall.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Summer Traditions #2: Mountain Picnics

As a child, one of my favorite summer activities was getting together with my cousins on Sunday afternoons for picnics in the Allegheny mountains and at various state parks.  The men grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, and the women brought everything else.  Our family typically brought Pringles potato chips, Jello, and a version of Cherries Jubilee that consisted of graham cracker crumbs, a cream cheese filling, and cherry pie filling spread over the top.  We ate until we were overly stuffed, and then we ran around playing wiffleball or hide-and-seek.  Eventually a bunch of us would go for a hike, and if it was the right time of summer, we could pick huckleberries.  Later in the day, we would uncover the leftovers and eat some more.  No one was concerned about botulism then, even though the picnic tables were full of meat, deviled eggs, potato salad, and sliced watermelon.  If we stayed late enough into the evening, there might be a campfire and  the younger children would catch fireflies.

Our family continues this tradition on a smaller scale at our farmhouse with friends and extended family throughout the summer.  We heralded in the beginning of my favorite season with a picnic/cookout on Memorial Day.  I tried to stick with the traditional foods of deviled eggs, cut veggies and watermelon in Tupperware containers, barbecue potato chips (not Pringles though,) hot dogs and hamburgers with all the usual condiments, brownies sprinkled with red, white, and blue M-n-Ms, and Arnold Palmers, Samuel Adams beer, and Vodka Tonics.  We also had some pita crackers and red roasted pepper hummus, which my family would have never even heard of back in the seventies.

We shared our picnic area with various mountain farm animals, including a couple of hens and cats who kept waiting for food to drop.

This interesting moth also shared our space after emerging from its cocoon earlier in the day.  I believe this is a polyphemus moth, but please correct me if I am wrong.

Our children and friends were able to swim before and after eating dinner this past weekend.  When I was growing up, we were thrilled to wade or swim in a local creek.  One park in particular had a zipline that ran from one side of the creek bank to the other, allowing you to drop off in the middle of a deep wading hole.  There was also a thick rope hung from a tree that you could swing and jump from if you were brave enough.  Since our pool water is still not quite 70 degrees, we adults just watched our children have fun in the pool.

Here's hoping that this summer allows us many more opportunities to keep this tradition of mountain picnics alive.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Summer Essentials for Preppy Mountain Living

Summer in the Allegheny Mountains is my favorite time of the year, but there are some aspects of it that are less than enjoyable (ie. ticks, mosquitoes, deer flies, sunburn, etc.)  These are the products that our family has found to be the most beneficial on a mountain farm.  Beginning with the aloe vera plant at the top and moving clockwise:

  1. 10 Year old son's Aloe Vera Plant and Aloe Vera Gel.  Breaking off a tip of the plant and squeezing the juice onto a burn works wonders.  We use Fruit of the Earth brand pure aloe vera gel for sunburns.  Even though we use sunblock, the redheads in our family do occasionally get a sunburn in early summer.
  2. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen with helioplex (SPF 70).  The adults in our family use this on our faces since it is a little more pricey.  It is dermatologist recommended for those who have had skin cancer and for those of us who are hoping to avoid it.  We have additional children's sunscreen in SPF 50 for the children.
  3.  Calaclear Lotion for poison oak, ivy, and sumac, and sometimes for bug bites as well is a must-have in the mountains.
  4.   Mechanixwear  padded palm bamboo Gardening Gloves for protecting my hands when pulling up thistles, brambles, and stray raspberry shoots from gardens and flower/herb beds.  These are also a must for avoiding getting mud caked under my fingernails.
  5.       Citronella Candles and Now brand 100% pure Citronella Essential Oil for combating gnats, flies, and mosquitoes.  The essential oil is used in various oil burners or greatly diluted with almond or grapeseed oil to be dabbed onto the skin.
  6.    Trader Joe's Coconut Body Butter feels incredibly luxurious on your skin.  We used it in the winter when our skin was dry and cracking, and we use it now since the chlorine from the pool is so drying.  It is made with coconut oil, shea butter, and vitamin E, and is the best body moisturizer I have ever used.
  7.    (In the center) "No-Bite-Me" All-in-one Preventive and After-bite Creme.  This is Deet free, paraben free, and alcohol free and is safe for children.  It is made from a blend of essential oils and a moisturizing base, and it can be used as bug repellent before going outside or used on bug bites afterwards.  It is not pretty, and it does have a rather pungent fragrance, but we have found it works better than the leading brands of family-safe bug sprays.  It is supposed to be effective against black flies, mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks.
  8. Burt's Bees Honey Lip Balm with Vitamin E is terrific for people like me with chapstick addictions.  It truly moisturizes and heals dry lips and smells delicious.  Fortunately,  I have not noticed that it attracts bees or other insects.
  9.      O.P.I. Nail Lacquer in Lucky Lucky Lavender and Nicole by O.P.I. High Shine Top Coat are not exactly essential to mountain farm life, but they are to preppy mountain living.  Since I like to wear sandals or go barefoot on our farm in the summer, the nail polish hides any grass stains or dirt that might be on my toenails.  It is easier than scrubbing my toenails with a brush every evening, and it is a beautiful color of summer.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Summer Traditions: Making Ice Cream

One of my fondest memories growing up is attending ice cream socials where every family would bring a different flavor of homemade ice cream.  We also attended annual barn dances where everyone would do the same and sample the flavors after square dancing.  My family had both an electric mixer and a manual churn, and we always felt the hand-churned ice cream was the best.  I have tried to revive this tradition in my own family by making a variety of flavors throughout the summer, especially when we have cookouts with friends and family so everyone gets a turn to churn.  We sit on one of our porches, the patio, or even poolside with our feet in the water during the really hot days of July.  Sometimes the adults even multi-task by imbibing in a Gin & Tonic while churning.

It all starts with our nanny goats and their babies.  We milk the mothers first thing in the morning, and then their babies get to be with them the rest of the day.  That gives us plenty of milk, and no one has to bottle feed the kids.  Of course, cow's milk works too; we just have goats, so that is what we use.  We find that the Nigerian Dwarf goat's milk is so rich that we do not need to use whipping cream; we simply make our ice cream with their milk, leaving the cream in it.  Our churn is a White Mountain ice cream churn, which we are very happy with.  We were able to purchase ours from a local store that carries many Amish goods, but other brands can also be found in the Lehman's catalog.  So far we have made the standard flavors of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, but we have also made peach, cherry, black raspberry, blueberry, Heathbar Crunch, Oreo cookie, and coffee, just to name a few.  Everyone takes a turn churning, even the youngest.  It only takes about 45 minutes, and then we place the churn in the shade with a blanket around it for insulation until we are ready to eat.

Below is the recipe we use.  No cooking and no eggs required.
Basic Vanilla Ice Cream
8 cups of goat's milk with cream intact; 2 cups sugar; 1/4 tsp. salt; 3 tsps. vanilla
Warm (but do not boil) 2 cups of the cream over low heat.  Keep a watch at all times so it does not scorch.  Stir in all of the sugar and salt until dissolved.  Chill in refrigerator overnight.  Add the remaining milk and vanilla with it into the canister of the ice cream freezer the next day.  If you want other flavors, add these at this time too.  Alternate layers of ice and rock salt around the canister and churn.  We check it after about 30 minutes or so to see if it is the desired thickness.  You can usually tell when it is done because it gets much harder to churn.  Ours is typically the consistency of soft-serve ice cream after 45 minutes.  If there are any leftovers, they go into a container in the freezer.  The ice cream is much more solid by the next day.

From toddlers to grandparents, everyone gets a chance to churn!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ready for Summer---From the Perspective of a Middle-Aged Preppy Farmer

     This past weekend we pulled my well-worn lounge chair out of storage and opened our pool, which means it is officially the start of summer for our family.  Unfortunately, local schools are still in session for a few more weeks, thanks to the numerous snow days we accumulated this winter. However, with temperatures in the eighties daily, the children usually swim after school and on the weekends.
     Although I am not much of a swimmer myself, I have always loved sitting by the pool, reading a good book or some magazines.  For many years, I could not do much of this because I always had babies and toddlers who were only happy if I pushed them around the pool in some flotation device while I sang to them.  Now that the youngest is six, I can actually relax on my chair while the children swim, splash, dive, and do cannonballs into the water.
     As I gathered my pool gear together yesterday, it occurred to me how much of it is meant to cover up or protect.  Gone are the days when I threw on a swimsuit and spent hours lying next to a pool with a book or music.  Now being in the sun involves putting on a myriad of things in an attempt to avoid more wrinkles, further macular degeneration, and skin cancer.
  • First, there is the thickest beach towel I can find in the closet to cover up the fraying lawn chair. 
  • Second, there is the Land's End swimsuit and paisley swim skirt to cover my middle-aged middle. 
  • Third, I use the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen in SPF 70 (I shudder to think that I used baby oil back in my teen years.)
  • Fourth, I buy the cheapest sunglasses because I lose or break these annually.  If I am going to read anything, I actually have to wear my tinted prescription glasses since my arms are just not long enough anymore to hold the small print far enough away from my eyes.
  • Fifth, in addition to the sunscreen and sunglasses, I often wear my big straw hat from our honeymoon in the Virgin Islands for even more sun protection.
  • Sixth, I must have a plastic cup filled with our mountain spring water with a slice of lime to stay hydrated.
  • Finally, there is the canvas tote (also from our honeymoon) filled with reading/browsing material since it is too bright to read any of my downloaded e-books on my tablet.  Yesterday's collection consisted of the latest L.L. Bean catalog, the Lehman's catalog, and an old issue of Country Living.

     Now I just need to find an hour before 10 AM or after 4 PM to avoid the sun's peak rays, and dodging those pesky evening thunderstorms we tend to have would be a good idea too.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Blame it on Charlotte's Web: How a Preppy Girl Ended Up with a Farm

What a wonderful world I discovered when I read E. B. White's Charlotte's Web for the first time.  I checked it out of my tiny school library in the first grade.  The librarian did not think it was appropriate reading material for my age, so she made me read the first page aloud to her.  After that, I could check it out as often as I liked, and I did so frequently.  It was also one of the first books I purchased when I became a mother, and I eagerly anticipated the day when I could read it to each of my children.  It awoke within me a yearning for a simpler, natural, pastoral life.
I spent many adult years living in suburbia, far removed from the idyllic farm life that Fern, Wilbur, Charlotte, and Templeton lived.  Mine was a life filled with shopping, numerous activities and social gatherings, entertaining, and spending a lot of money on goods and services.  It had its good parts and was fun at times too, but every time we traveled through  Appalachia and viewed the valleys filled with picturesque farms, that same yearning would stir within me again.
When we finally moved back to the Allegheny Mountains, the opportunity arose to buy this century-old farmhouse on the side of a mountain with a few acres.  As soon as I stepped foot on the property, I knew it was home.  After having our eighth child and living here for several years, I agreed to my husband's desire to start a small farm.  We started with chicks.  A few months later, we had a pair of rabbits.  Then I felt we needed some dairy goats because a farm just did not feel complete without milk producers.  Shortly after came the sheep, which my husband wanted for the wool.  However, I think they were really meant to keep a couple of acres of grass "mowed."  Finally, there was a wary approval of the addition of two piglets that would be a 4-H project for our teenage son.  There were also some stray cats who had kittens, hundreds of fish for the aquaponics project, and a beagle puppy that reminded me of the one I used to push around in a carriage when I was a toddler.
Before I knew it, we were overwhelmed with farm animals.  All our resources were being poured into the farm, and there was little of the preppy left at all.  I needed balance, so we gradually reduced the number of species living on our farm, and we limited the total number within each species as well.  It is still a farm, but one that is a bit more manageable, I think.  There are times when I consider doing away with it all so we can travel again, spend more time on decorating or remodeling projects, or host some elegant dinner parties.  However, I know if we did that, it would simply take reading one chapter of Charlotte's Web to our six year old daughter, and I would be yearning to have a Wilbur in our barnyard once more.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Preppy Summer Drinks at Our Mountain Farmhouse

For the Children: Strawberry/Kiwi fruit Smoothies
We use any fruit, especially if it is locally in season or growing on our farm.  However, the pink and green from the strawberries and kiwi seem especially fun and preppy.
2 cups organic yogurt (we use our goat's milk instead, when we have it), 1 cup orange juice, 8 sliced strawberries, 3 peeled & sliced kiwi fruit, a dash of vanilla, honey (use as much or as little as you feel you need for sweetener), 12 ice cubes.  Blend and serve immediately.

For the Adults: Vodka Tonics
We still love our G & Ts, but we have found that we like these just as much.
1 shot Vodka, 3-5 ice cubes, 1/8 of a lime, and fill the rest of a tumbler with tonic water.  Stir, and enjoy outdoors!

For Everyone: Arnold Palmers
Named after the great golfer, of course, these can now be purchased ready-made in the grocery store, but we like to make our own.  These are wonderful to sip by the side of the pool or to take on picnics.
1 part lemonade, 1 part iced tea (we like ours sweetened), a slice of lemon.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

What to Do With All Those Eggs: From the Recipe Box of a Preppy Mountain Farmhouse

This is the time of year we tend to have many eggs.  Even with a small flock, we have more than we know what to do with.  When you are not selling them or giving them away, what do you do with the dozens of eggs your wonderful hens are laying each week?  Here are a few of our family's favorite dishes found in my wooden recipe box and much used cookbooks.

Huevos Rancheros
1 can diced tomatoes & chili peppers (or fresh from the garden); 1/2 chopped onion; 2 cloves minced garlic; 3 T. oil; 1 cup tomato sauce; 1 cup chopped tomatoes; dash chili powder; 1/2 tsp. oregano (more if fresh is used); 1/2 tsp. salt; 6 free-range eggs; shredded cheddar cheese; 4 cups cooked brown or basmati rice
Saute chili peppers, onion, and garlic in oil in skillet.  Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili powder, oregano, and salt; mix well.  Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.  Break eggs gently into sauce; top each egg with cheese.  Cook, covered, for about 10 minutes or until eggs are done to taste.  Serve on rice.  Typically a breakfast meal, but I am not a morning person, and my children wake up starving, so I serve it for dinner.

Crustless Quiche
Crumbled bacon, diced ham, or shredded crab meat; 1 1/2 cups organic milk (we use farm-fresh goat's milk); 1/2 cup baking mix (I make my own, but you can use Bisquick); 1/4 cup melted butter; 1 cup shredded cheese
If using bacon or ham, cook ahead of time and set aside.  In blender, combine milk, baking mix, eggs, butter and pepper; blend for 15 seconds.  Pour into greased round casserole dish or Pyrex dish.  Sprinkle meat and cheese on top of egg mixture; gently press below surface with fork.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  I also add vegetables---usually organic mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, or spinach.  Great for brunch or lunch.

Deviled Eggs
6 hard-boiled farm fresh eggs (if the eggs are over a week old, they will peel easier); 1/4 cup Miracle Whip; 1 tsp. vinegar; 1 tsp. prepared mustard; 1/8 tsp. salt; 1 tsp. sweet pickle relish
Halve hard-boiled eggs lengthwise; remove yolks and mash with a fork.  Stir in mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, and salt.  Stuff egg whites with yolk mixture.  Garnish with paprika, fresh parsley, or fresh dill.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Mountains Beckon Us

This time of year is busy for us all, but it is especially so for those of us with farms.  We need to till and plant the gardens, mulch and trim the flower beds, shear sheep and muck barns,  and that is just the beginning of it all.  Add to that the many repairs and updates needed to maintain old farmhouses, outbuildings, and fences, and the list of chores seems unending.  Yet, here I am spending my days out in the woods, next to the creek, visiting the pond, and hiking up the mountain.  It is as if the mountain is calling me to wander the trails, listen to the flowing creek, smell the blossoming fruit trees and just be still.  I admit that I cannot resist.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Mountain Paths to Tranquility

Our mountain is finally beginning to turn green, and as I walk up the lane to our farmhouse, I am reminded of the feeling of serenity I experienced the first spring we were here.  After spending many years living in the suburbs on half acre lots with neighbors and traffic all around, I was astounded by the quiet, wide open spaces to which this country lane brought me.  I felt as if I could actually breathe more deeply and relax as a peace settled over me.  During the day, the only sounds were those made by nature, and they were sounds left unnoticed in the busy subdivisions we previously inhabited.  At night, my husband and I stood on the porch and looked up at the stars, which were brighter and more numerous than I had ever remembered.  We felt as if we were the only people for miles around.  I told my husband that it was impossible not to feel God's presence in a place such as this.  I now often get too busy with the many responsibilities of having a large family and a small farm, but as spring brings me out on our mountain paths again, I stop and take a deep breath and am filled with a sense of tranquility once more.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Loving Spring with Mountain Farm Animals

Here in the Allegheny Mountains, we have waited a long time for spring to arrive this year. 

 Our animals and I spent most of the day yesterday under the sun basking in the seventy degree temperatures. 

Our Queen of the Herd insists on being a part of every photograph.

The chickens have only emerged from the barn in the last month or so and are now scratching in every flower bed.  I'm not thrilled with the messes they create, but they are blessing us with free-range eggs.

 I did wear my Muck boots out in the pasture, but I left my pearls in the jewelry box since some of our goats are tempted to take a bite of them.  Here on the mountain farm, we are hoping for many more days like this one in the upcoming weeks.  How are you spending your spring days?