cover pic

cover pic

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Much More Than a History Book

     While our family was in southern Virginia last week, a new book by Tamy Kay Thompson was released by The History Press/Arcadia Publishing titled Curiosities of Hampton Roads.  This is no ordinary history textbook or tour guide.  The paperback describes mysterious, eerie, and somewhat ghastly tales and occurrences from the coastal southern cities of Virginia.  I was able to acquire a pre-ordered copy at the beginning of our trip, which made our time in Williamsburg even more meaningful.  We viewed or toured most of the buildings Thompson describes in chapter four, including the Governor's Palace, the College of William and Mary, and the public hospital, just to name a few.  During the candlelit ghost tour, some of the same strange apparitions mentioned by the tour guide were also written about in this book.
     I had the pleasure of interviewing the author in her home, and I wanted to share with you what I learned.

Preppy Mountain Farmer: "What led you to write this book?"

Tamy Kay Thompson: "I was interested in the history of America's birthplace, but the research I did wasn't exactly matching the stuff my kids were learning in school.  I started digging deeper and uncovered some interesting historical facts that can't be found in mainstream history books, like the fate of the first German immigrants, the true story of John Smith and other early colonists, and the Native American Indians' side of the story.  At the same time, I learned that a lot of places in Hampton Roads are considered haunted.  Yet none of the books I read combined the historical aspect with the legends.  I decided to write a book that did just that, and write it like a tour guide of the area so it could be used by tourists, local residents, and historians alike.  Along the way, I discovered some unknown historical sites that deserved some recognition."

Preppy Mountain Farmer:  "What was the writing process like and how long did it take?"

Tamy Kay Thompson:  "The writing process was difficult at times.  I had to decide where to begin, what to include and omit, and how much detail to go into.  Plus, I had to visit almost every site to get a feel for it, see it, and photograph it.  And, of course, there were countless hours of research involved.  Every time I thought I'd read everything there was to read about a specific place, I found something else.  The historical section/genealogical room at the Main Street Library was useful, and the librarian stationed there was incredibly helpful.  I accessed old books, diaries, newspaper articles, and censuses.  I also delved into the deeds, property patents, and public records in downtown Hampton.  All-in-all, it took about a year to write, then another few months to edit.  But the writing process took much less time than getting it published; it was rejected by numerous publishers over a few years before The History Press/Arcadia Publishing accepted it.  On a brighter note, one of my favorite things about researching for the book was taking my kids to several of the sites, which helped them learn more about the area than they ever learned in school.

Preppy Mountain Farmer:  "Have you always been interested in these topics?"

Tamy Kay Thompson:  "Growing up, I wasn't interested in history and could never memorize specific dates and names of places.  As an adult, I began to enjoy learning about American and world history...if it was interesting.  I like the bizarre, obscure, and curious stuff.  I've always liked ghost stories, strange tales, and historical legends that leave you wondering if they're true or not.  I thought Historically Haunted Hampton Roads (which was renamed Curiosities of Hampton Roads by Arcadia Publishing) was an interesting combination of historically accurate facts and strange tales."

     I couldn't agree more.

     Did I mention that the author just happens to be my little sister?

     Copies of Curiosities of Hampton Roads: Ghostly Colonists, Hidden Crypts, The Black Swan of Westover and More can be found at: (Click on any of the links below, and they'll take you directly to her book.)
...and many independently owned, local book stores.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

More Family Friendly Destinations in Coastal Virginia

...While Still Avoiding Theme Parks and Crowded Boardwalks

After many hours of walking around Colonial Williamsburg and a morning spent at Buckroe Beach, we decided to drive over to Newport News.

Destination 3: Virginia Living Museum

We've been to a number of zoos and aquariums throughout the country, and this one is now at the top of our favorites list.  From the cafe to the indoor exhibits to the trails and the outdoor gardens, all of our children enjoyed this place.  An added perk to purchasing a membership is that it can be used to enter other selected museums throughout the country.  We found four of them within a two-hour radius of our house.

There is currently a special frog exhibit that made my younger boys very happy.  Our pool attracts a variety of frogs and toads every spring as they seem to find it a perfect place for laying strings and globs of jelly-like eggs.  Unfortunately, the tadpoles never make it to adulthood since we have to remove the pool cover in late May when we open our pool for the season.  All summer, though, we have frog visitors that we have to rescue from the pool with our net.

It was here, and not at the beach, that we got to touch starfish and crabs.  The only things we found at Buckroe Beach were seashells.

Out in the Children's Garden, the Hobbit House was popular with my little ones since we are big fans of J. R. Tolkien.

This museum had a lot of fun, hands-on areas for children that allowed them to actively learn, but it was also interesting for our teens and us adults as well.  Not all places we visited appealed to every age in our family, which leads me to our next stop.

Destination 4: College of William & Mary

With two teenagers in tow, I figured it's never too early to tour an institution of higher education.  Since this "Public Ivy" is just across the street from Merchant Square in Colonial Williamsburg, we couldn't possibly pass up the opportunity to walk around campus, and a beautiful campus it is.

Being the second oldest college in our nation, the architecture perfectly matches the rest of Colonial Williamsburg.  The first photo shows the Wren Building which was built in 1695 and is the oldest college building in the United States.

I think we're all hoping one of our children ends up here to give us an excuse to visit many times in the future.

Interspersed with visiting these sites, we also tried many different restaurants, visited my sister's family, attended Mass at the chapel at Langley Air Force Base, walked through the art museums in Colonial Williamsburg, played some miniature golf at Pirate's Cove, hit the Williamsburg Outlets,  and even acquiesced and took the children to the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.

I wish I could say our boys enjoyed learning about folk art and colonial furniture in the art museums more than seeing the shrunken heads and the tattooed, fork-tongued man at Ripley's, but I suppose that might be expecting too much.

Most of us left with good memories, smiles on our faces, and wishing we had just a few more days before we had to go home.  There was almost no arguing; we didn't have to fly; we steered clear of rides and thick crowds and long lines; and the cost was minimal.  That's my definition of a good vacation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Vacationing in Southern Virginia with Teens, Tweens, and a Pre-Teen Wannabe...

...While Avoiding Theme Parks and Boardwalks!

When we decided to take a late-summer family vacation, I wasn't quite sure what we would do, but I knew it would not involve amusement parks, water parks, or crowded boardwalks.  The challenge was finding places to go and things to do that would keep the interests of two teenagers, two tweens, and a precocious six-year old who thinks she should be twelve.  Additionally, it would be nice if these middle-aged parents could enjoy part of the trip as well.  So where did we go?

Destination 1: Colonial Williamsburg

We started with a candle-lit ghost tour where our 9 year old son had the privilege of holding the lantern and leading the way through the dark streets.  This was a mile-long walk and took about an hour to learn about some of the buildings that have reported strange apparitions throughout the years.  Other than being incredibly humid, it was a perfect night with a crescent moon and a sky full of stars.

Over the next few days, we spent hours meandering the streets and stopping in various buildings and shops.  Even though it is free and open to the public, many of the houses require a ticket to enter.  Since we stayed in one of the Colonial Williamsburg facilities, our passes allowed us free entry to everything in the park for the duration of our stay.

I expected the streets to be crowded, but they weren't at all even though there were carriages, joggers, and families throughout.

The exception to this were the taverns at lunch time.  No reservations are accepted for lunch, so it is a first-come, first-serve kind of deal.  Within five minutes of opening, tables were filling up and patrons were waiting on benches outside.

Our favorite restaurant of the entire trip was Chowning's Tavern where my husband and I had beef and potato pasties, our 13 year old daughter marveled over shepherd's pie, and we listened to a colonial minstrel sing "Yankee Doodle Dandee" throughout the tavern.

We were expecting all of Williamsburg to be stifling hot, but we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the insides of buildings are now air-conditioned.

However, there are still plenty of outdoor exhibits that involved fire, and I wondered how these reenactors make it through the ninety degree days next to earth ovens and open fireplaces in their layers of colonial garb.  God bless them!

The one thing we all felt at the end of the day was tired feet!  Colonial Williamsburg means lots and lots of walking---miles and miles of it daily.  The positive side to that is that we walked off many of the calories consumed while there.  Next time I will not be vain and wear cute little sandals that give my feet no support.  I'll be breaking out my walking sneakers.

We didn't restrict our vacation to Colonial Williamsburg though.  There are so many things to do and see in southern Virginia that it was difficult to narrow them down to just a few.

Destination 2: Buckroe Beach

Wanting to avoid Virginia Beach, I decided to give this public beach and park a try.  We arrived mid-morning and had a huge part of the beach to ourselves.  There were several piers, pavilions with picnic facilities, a huge playground, and public restrooms.  This is located in Hampton at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

Our children would have liked to spend the entire day here since it was the first beach experience for most of them.  I have a husband, however, who doesn't enjoy the Atlantic beaches at all since the water is not clear like it is in the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean.  He (and one of our sons) is a tad bit uncomfortable with what might be lurking unseen in those waters.

There was initially a concern about possible jellyfish, but once they experienced those rolling waves, my kiddos didn't want to come out of the water.  I'm happy to report that we didn't see or feel a single jellyfish or any other sea creature for that matter.  At least not here...

...To Be Continued Tomorrow...

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Preppy Touch to Farmhouse Gifts

This week my teen daughter and I put together some gifts from our farm and we dressed them up with just a wee bit of preppy style. 

  1. Peach Syrup: This is the peach chocolate mint jelly recipe we made last weekend that didn't gel.  It's delicious as a syrup however.  The recipe can be found here at one of my previous posts.  Although the peaches didn't come from our farm, the chocolate mint did, and the syrup was made with care by my husband.
  2. Dried Apples: These are from last year's harvest and were dehydrated in our Excalibur dehydrator.  We added some cinnamon to the jar and shook it up to add a delicious fragrance (and taste) when you open the lid.  Our apple trees are full of apples this year, and we're hopeful that we'll have a great crop for pies, apple crisp, and apple schnitz this fall.
  3. Dried Parsley Flakes: Dried in the dehydrator another year past from our herb garden.  This year's parsley got nibbled down to the ground---either by a rabbit or one of our goats when they found a way out of the pasture.  Believe it or not, we have a goat that can climb the fence stock panels like you climb a ladder!
  4. Peppermint Foot Powder: This is actually the same recipe as the carpet freshener I made back in April and can be found here.  Instead of using the lemongrass oil, we used 8 drops of pure peppermint essential oil.  This is excellent to use on your feet or to put in shoes, especially in the heat of summer.
We found the black and white paisley handkerchiefs for $1, so I didn't feel guilty for cutting circles into them to put on the top of the Mason jar lids.  I found the green ribbons in a drawer in my dry sink, and I really wish I'd had some preppy pink ones too.  Of course, our basement is always full of Mason jars, and gold mailing labels make the perfect labels for these farm gifts.  This was a fun hour for the two of us, especially when we were doing the photo shoot outside, and our Maine coon cat kept dashing around our display.  Now I'm on the lookout for preppy accessories to use as we head into fall and the holidays that are just around the corner.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sights on the Farm

Today I share pictures of life on and around our farm.

I hope your remaining days of summer are filled with beauty and peace.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

5 Ways to Preserve Peaches in a Weekend

Last week my husband came home with half a bushel of fresh organic peaches from a local Amish farm.  Since I am desperately trying to avoid getting fruit flies in my house this summer, and the peaches were good and ripe, we had this weekend to do something with them.

Before I get started, let me just say that the fruit flies were not my only competitors for these peaches!

#1 Steamed Peach Juice
I don't particularly like to can produce, but my husband loves doing it, so he brought up the enamel water bath canning pot and our steam juicer from the basement and decided to make some jelly and peach juice.  Be forewarned that canning makes for a messy kitchen, so my pictures will not be pretty or decorator-perfect.

After washing everything from our very rustic, spider-loving farmhouse cellar, he placed the canning jars in boiling water to sterilize.  All he had to do with the peaches was cut out the pits.  The rest of the peaches went into the top of the Mehu-Liisa stainless steel steam juicer.  There is water in the bottom section for the steaming, and the pure juice settles in the middle with a tube that hangs out of it and into your clean mason jars.  

Within about 30 minutes, there was enough steamed peach juice to start pouring it into the canning jars.  This is a little bit thicker than juice, so we actually use it as concentrate and mix it with water in a pitcher for drinking.  Once all the juice had been extracted from the peaches, my husband placed the lids and rings on the full canning jars and placed them in the boiling water in the enamel canner with the lid on for about 20 minutes.  He made 6 quarts of juice to put on the pantry shelves for the winter (actually 5 because we drank one already.)

#2 Peach Mint Jelly
In the meantime, my hubby had picked 2 cups of fresh chocolate mint leaves from the side of our house and had it steeping on the stove.  This made about 4 cups of a strong mint tea concentrate, but only 1/2 cup of it got used in the recipe.  The remainder was made into a pitcher of iced chocolate mint tea.  Once the peach juice was finished being steamed, he reserved 4 cups of it for the jelly.

Then the trusty old Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving was pulled off the bookshelf and opened to page 36.  We used the recipe for Mint Jelly, but altered it quite a bit.  My husband doesn't always measure ingredients, so to the best of my knowledge, the following recipe is what he made:

Peach Chocolate Mint Jelly
Make the mint tea extract with 1 cup of fresh chocolate mint and 1 cup of boiling water.  Let steep  for about an hour.  Measure out 1/2 cup of it and combine with 4 cups of peach juice and 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice in a large saucepot.  Add 3 cups of sugar and stir until dissolved.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.  *Cook until gelling point or until jelly sheets from a spoon.  Ladle hot jelly into hot jelly jars and put on caps.  Put into the hot water bath canner and boil for 10 minutes.

*This made 2 full pints and 6 half-pint jars of "jelly."  I must be honest here and admit that I was out of the house buying more sugar and freezer bags while Hubby was making this.  It did not set up like jelly, which has happened to him before.  I suspect he disregarded the part of the recipe that says to "cook till gelling point."  We are using the jars of "jelly" as syrup for pancakes and waffles and ice cream instead.  By the way, any kind of mint could be used.  It just so happens that the chocolate mint has been prolific here this summer.

#3  Peach Sauce
After the juice and jelly were made, there were still plenty of peach parts left.  All the pulp and skins were dumped out of the steam juicer and into our Roma Food Strainer shown above.  These strainers are so easy to find now.  I googled them and discovered they're even sold at Target and Kohl's.  We bought ours years ago from the Lehman's catalog, along with all kinds of other homesteading supplies and kitchen tools.

Once we ran the peach parts through the food mill, we were left with delicious peach sauce---just like apple sauce.  It was a little tart, so it was a good thing I went out and bought more sugar because we ended up adding 2 cups of it, along with 1 Tablespoon of nutmeg and 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon.

This made over 3 gallons of peach sauce, and Hubby scooped it into large ziplock freezer bags.  They went into our chest freezer to add to our winter collection.  The children got to eat a bit too after dinner that night.  Any pits, skins, or other bits of peaches were given to our goats, sheep, and any chickens smart enough to be nearby.

#4  Frozen Sliced Peaches
After the hard work of steam juicing, jelly making, saucing, and canning was done, I came along and sliced up another portion of the half bushel to freeze.  My husband actually hates to do this because it requires peeling and slicing the fruit, which drives him insane with boredom.  I went through 1/8 of a bushel and put about 1 1/2 gallons of sliced peaches in the freezer for making pies and cobbler in the winter.  Sometimes I add lemon juice or Fruit Fresh to prevent any discoloring.  Other times I add a little bit of sugar.  This weekend, however, I added nothing.  I figure we'll be stirring sugar into any dessert or pastry recipe anyway, and once they're baked, you won't be able to notice the discoloration.

#5  Dried Peaches
Our final method of preservation is probably our favorite: dehydration.  Our Excalibur Food Dehydrator is the best at drying fruits, vegetables, and herbs in our opinion.  It's now even sold in the coolest preppy colors!  Who would have thought?  I will write another post on all the things you can do with one of these, but for now, I'll stick to peaches.  We simply peeled and sliced the peaches, and then placed them on the dehydrator trays.

Once the trays were full, we put the lid back on the front, plugged it in, and set the temperature to 135 degrees.  It takes between 8-16 hours to dry, depending on how thick the peaches are sliced and how humid it is in the house.  We used to dehydrate in the kitchen, but the juice sometimes seeps out the bottom, and the fan on the dehydrator makes the kitchen more hot, so we now do it in our spooky (aka "rustic")  basement.

Out of the dehydrator came these delicious dried peaches that the children love.  If they're kept in longer, they are crisp like chips.  These were more chewy and are not good for teens with braces, by the way.  They can also be re-hydrated by putting them in a container of water in the refrigerator all day. We placed these in quart-sized ziplock bags which were stored inside large metal tins in our cellar to keep the dampness out.  They take up far less space than canning jars and don't require the electricity that a freezer uses.  A full dehydrator fills about 4 quart bags.

{She probably looks like she just swallowed a lemon, but she was actually savoring last year's dehydrated peaches and apples while her daddy made juice.}

All in all, a half bushel of peaches yielded 1 1/2 gallons of frozen peaches, over a gallon of dried peaches, 5 pints of "jelly," 6 quarts of juice concentrate, and 3 gallons of peach sauce,  not to mention what we ate and shared with neighbors.  This was done in a weekend, but we really could have finished it up in a day.  However, we have other projects and events going on, so we spread it out a bit.

**I would love to hear about any methods of peach preservation that you use!  Either make a comment below or go to my new "Contact Me" page and send me an e-mail.