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Sunday, November 29, 2015

In Search of the Perfect Christmas Tree

Every year some time after Thanksgiving, our family drives over a mountain along winding roads to get to one particular Christmas tree farm.  In wind, snow, sleet, or rain we still make the trek in the search for the one perfect tree.

This year we went on Black Friday shortly after they opened and enjoyed this view on a rare warm late November day.

My husband is never content to settle for the trees near the parking lot, nor can we ever purchase a pre-cut tree.  We must walk all over the property because the perfect tree just might be over the next hill.  At least it was a beautiful day for a hike this year.  There have been times that our lips were blue and our teeth were chattering as we followed Hubby over hill and dale.

The younger ones always choose the perfect Charlie Brown Christmas tree first because those are what are closest to the parking lot.  Not sure what they would charge us for one of those.

When we think we've finally found just the one, we test the size by having my nearly six-foot tall husband reach toward the top.  I can't tell you how many years we have gotten a tree home only to find it necessary to trim off another foot or two if we want to display it indoors.

Then it must pass my inspection.  I admit there have been bitterly cold years when I agreed to the first one our family found just to get back in the warm SUV.  I tree shop the way I shop for everything else: when I see something I like, I buy it.  No need to worry about what I'm missing around the next corner because I've already found what I want.

The ceremonial cutting-of-the-tree comes next, usually delegated to the oldest or most able-bodied male in the household.  Even though PawPaw was along this year and is quite able-bodied, this task was still accomplished by Hubby.  He would rather kneel/lie in the cold, wet grass than pay someone else to do it for us.

This year I added the extra step of slicing off a bit of the trunk because I saw something cute on Pinterest that I wanted to try.  You'll see more about that later this week, but I'll let you know now that this (surprisingly) became one of my Pinterest success stories.  

After rolling off the cart several times, the men finally drug it to the building where the owners put it in some kind of machine that shakes off all the loose pine needles and wraps it with twine.  That is also where there is free hot cocoa waiting for the kiddos and all kinds of homemade Christmas decorations and sweets to purchase.  Since I've been making some of my own ornaments this year, and we still had another pumpkin pie waiting for us at home, I limited my spending to the tree.

Bound tightly to the top of the family vehicle, we were ready to head back over the mountain toward home.  No problems this year.  There have been years we've had to stop several times to secure the tree on top again.  One year it rolled off our minivan when a deer ran right in front of us.  This is usually a bad omen because I believe it was that same tree that was so heavy, it fell over and crashed in our living room in the middle of the night, just missing our sleeping beagle.  This happened not once, but twice, and the crashes decimated a number of our ornaments.

Once home and upright in the tree stand, it was greeted by our youngest daughter and her MeeMaw, who couldn't come with us due to a mysterious viral rash that our little one had.

Unbound and ready to decorate, I had new plans for the tree this year, thanks to a burst of creative energy and inspirations from Pinterest, of course.

After stringing the lights, the men were banned from the room as we women tried to figure out the best way to wrap plaid burlap ribbon around this tree.  As you will see, they were peeking around the corner to snap a gazillion photos of us, many of which were far too unflattering to share with you dear readers.  You'll thank me later.

After much deliberation, re-draping, cutting and piecing together because two spools of burlap ribbon were not enough, paper clipping the ends to branches, and a glass or two of white wine, we were finally satisfied.  Every burlap/plaid ball and handmade plaid ribboned pinecone were placed strategically on the tree over the course of about an hour.

That part was finally done, and we broke for a lunch of what else, but leftover Thanksgiving dinner.

Then I opened the huge box of the hodge podge of Christmas ornaments accumulated over several decades, and told the kiddos they could have at it.  Sadly, the only one who was enthusiastic about hanging ornaments was our six-year old who even brought out all our Christmas music CDs to listen to while she trimmed the tree.  Her older siblings had to be nudged and prodded to put even a few on the branches.  Are they already losing their Christmas spirit?  It makes me want to cry.

Much later in the day when the huge empty box was put back in the attic, Hubby completed his final task by placing the grapevine star on the top of the tree.  This, of course, required a little bit of advice from his wife and mother so that it was situated properly.

I'm so glad I still have one child who marvels over a freshly cut, trimmed, newly-lit Christmas tree.

I was finally able to relax with another glass of wine and just enjoy the beginning of this joyful season.  Lest you think I make a habit of cropping out my children in photos, I was forced to do so by a certain 13 year old girl.

After gazing at the finished tree for awhile though, it seemed like the tree leaned to the left noticeably.  This bothered my perfectionist nature since I was sure that this year we had the perfect tree.  I was able to straighten it in this photo with editing software, but the real thing is definitely slanted, probably because it grew on a hill.  I should have thought of that when we were out there on that tree farm.

As ridiculous as it sounds, this slanting bothered me quite a bit...until I saw our little girl under the tree yesterday.  In her Santa hat with Christmas music in the background, she was playing with the plastic nativity set that she insisted on putting out under the tree again this year.  She had arranged it herself, and the angels were flying and singing, the shepherds and wisemen were adoring the baby Jesus, and she glowed with the spirit of Christmas...even with her viral rash.  And I sighed as I realized just how perfect this family Christmas tree really is.

May your hearts and homes be filled with hope, joy, and peace this Advent season.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pre-dinner champagne and appetizers which gave me an excuse to try out some things I saw on Pinterest.  

The hollowed-out mini pumpkins are moving out to the goats and sheep after dinner because they are majorly attracting fruit flies.

The children got a kick out of this Pinterest-inspired cheese/meat tray, but it didn't last long.  Now I am off to cook, give thanks, eat, and clean up.

 I hope you all have a Thanksgiving full of blessings!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lifestyle Blogging Against a Backdrop of World Terror

     I confess that I have struggled to write a post over the past two weeks.  With the ongoing slaughter in Syria and the Middle East, the recent attacks in Paris and Mali, and the serious threats of violence against our nation and others in the western world, I question whether or not I should write about something as trivial as my life.  Is it shallow to devote a few hours a week to describing my family's recent excursions, or the latest event on our farm, or decorating projects for Christmas, or a favorite recipe to share?  Should I take up space on the Internet with my seemingly small blessings and warm thoughts when there are so many atrocities occurring outside our door?  Is it right to display pictures of my family living in happiness and security and comfort when there are other families being ripped apart and running for their lives?  How do I reconcile these two opposite realities?

     What I've come to realize is that blogging has a way of motivating me to turn ideas and dreams into realities.  I believe those realities make our farmhouse a better place for my children and all those we share our lives with.  We are creating memories for the next generation, and I want those memories to be beautiful and full of love, joy, and peace---not war, terror, hatred, and fear.  My blogging actually helps me focus on those things I value most and that I want to fill our lives and our home with.  We are creating an oasis here, and I then chronicle that and share it with all of you through this blog.  I am not shutting my eyes to the horrors going on around us, but I am choosing to not fill our home, our lives, and our minds with it.

     So for now, I continue to blog about our family celebrating life, cooking for friends, enjoying nature, decorating our farmhouse in every season, and being grateful for what blessings God has given us.  But I also pray, fervently, every day for the protection of the innocent, comfort for the suffering, peace to a world filled with turmoil, and wisdom for our world leaders.  And if my blog is meant to be about something greater and more important than our family life in a preppy mountain farmhouse, then I trust my heart will know.

     God bless. and may you all have a safe and special Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Creamy Potato Soup & Pumpkin Spice Smoothies

Thick and creamy homemade potato soup is another family favorite at our house in the fall and winter.  If I have leftover ham and bean soup in the freezer, I just use that as the base.  Last week, I had to start from scratch.  Even so, this doesn't take much preparation as long as the bacon is cooked ahead of time.  This recipe calls for the soup to simmer for about 45 minutes, but I have cooked it on medium-high for about 20 minutes and then transferred it to the crockpot on low heat for the rest of the afternoon if we will be out until dinner time.  You can easily exchange other vegetables you have on hand to replace what's in the recipe below.

Potato Soup
Microwave or fry 8 strips of bacon (or use 1 cup of cooked ham.)  Crumble and put aside.  In a large pot with the lid on, cook 8 medium diced potatoes, 1 medium chopped onion, 1-3 chopped carrots, 1 chopped stalk of celery, 1 Tablespoon dried parsley flakes, 2 bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste in 8 cups of chicken broth for 45 minutes.  Retrieve approximately 1 cup of the cooked potatoes and mash with a fork.  Return to the soup.  Stir in 1 cup milk, 2 Tablespoons of butter, all of the bacon or ham, and 2 Tablespoons of corn starch dissolved in 1/4 cup of water.  Stir and simmer gently for 15 minutes.  Add 1/2-1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese and heat on low until cheese melts.  
This is delicious with warm homemade bread just out of the oven.

We also tried these Pumpkin Spice Smoothies that I saw on Pinterest and all over Facebook.  I think we were expecting something like the pumpkin spice frappuccinos from Starbucks, so our taste buds were surprised by the lack of sweetness in these homemade smoothies.  It makes me wonder how much sugar or syrup is in the pumpkin drinks found at various commercial establishments.  Below is my modified recipe to make these more palatable.  Even with the added sugar, they were still nowhere near as sweet as what we've found in the coffee shops or smoothie stands.

Pumpkin Spice Smoothies
In a blender, mix 1 (16 oz.) can of pumpkin puree, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 3 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 2 cups milk, 12 ice cubes.
This is a fun fall afternoon treat for everyone.

To see the original recipe I found on Pinterest, go to: 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fun Preppy Finds for the Winter

There seem to be so many preppy and plaid winter items in the stores right now.  For some unexplainable reason, I am absolutely crazy for plaid this year, especially tartan plaid.  The pillow above can be found at Target, but our local store has nearly sold out.

This is the back side of the woody wagon pillow.  It's not plaid, but it's close enough.  Thanks to Between Naps on the Porch blog for spreading the word about this, plus plaid bedding and boxwood wreaths found at Target right now.

I fell in love with this GAL blue and black plaid purse that I found at the BonTon.  There was a variety of red plaid bags in different sizes as well, but I was drawn to the blue.  

 I am loving plaid so much that I decided to decorate our house for Christmas in a burlap and plaid style this year.  I'm calling it a primitive preppy look.  This is just a sample of what I picked up at Michael's and Target the other day.  I've already started working on making new ornaments so when we get our tree the day after Thanksgiving, I will be ready.  The wide spool of ribbon is actually tartan plaid printed on burlap, and the smaller ribbon is a soft plaid flannel.  I lucked out and found the plaid balls with burlap ribbon fastened around them already, so I don't have to attempt to make my own.

I've got my eye on a few more plaid items.  I love the plaid canvas totes that Land's End is carrying.  I think I would actually carry one of those year-round.

Land's End is also carrying these down plaid vests, which I would wear all winter.  I'm fairly certain I also saw some at Macy's and BonTon.  I'll be looking for those when I'm out this evening with my hubby.

I'd also love to get one of these plaid throws to toss over the rocker that holds the deer/woody wagon pillow.  I've seen similar blankets at Macy's, but Land's End is having a terrific sale until the end of the day.

If anyone comes across a coffee mug with plaid monogrammed letters, please let me know.  Target has plaid mugs, and they have monogrammed mugs, but I haven't seen the two combined in one cup.

I'm off to try making some pumpkin spice smoothies that I found on Pinterest.  I've got to finish experimenting with all these fall and Thanksgiving creations before I think any more about Christmas.  Hope you all have a wonderful November weekend.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Quick Tomato Rice Soup

Now that everyone has recovered from whatever upper respiratory bug we had around here, life is back to its normal routine: busy.  Chaperoning field trips, orthodontist visits, after school activities, and evening performances leaves little time in the evening for me to prepare dinner.  Since I'm unwilling to eat out more than about once a week, I have to find recipes that are quick to make or start something in the crockpot earlier in the day.  This week the weather has turned cooler, so it feels like the perfect time for soups.  Monday evening I whipped up this tomato rice soup in about 15 minutes and served it with grilled cheese sandwiches.  This could be made earlier in the day and simply kept on the warming element on the stove for ladling into bowls at dinner time.

Tomato Rice Soup

Prepare 1/4 cup uncooked rice first (I usually just use leftover rice from a previous dinner.)  Bring 1 large can (29 ounces) of crushed tomatoes or tomato puree, 2 cups of water or chicken broth, 1/4 cup chopped celery with leaves (optional), some chopped fresh parsley (dried will work too), 1 bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper to a boil in a large saucepan.  Add the cooked rice and more salt and pepper if necessary.  Serves about 6.

That's it!  How simple is that?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

My Pinterest-Inspired Successes and Flops

I admit that I am a latecomer to Pinterest.  I heard people talking about it for years before I decided to check it out for myself, but once I did, I fell in love.  Suddenly I was able to glance at hundreds of images of food, decorations, furniture, clothes, hairstyles, and so much more without picking up a magazine at the store.  Ideas and inspirations were at my fingertips to look at any time of the day, and I could gather them in my own personal collection to go back to over and over again.  It was amazing!

It took me about a year before I started to look for fellow pinners and friends on Pinterest.  It took me even longer than that to actually try to recreate these inspirations at my own house.  Once I did, I discovered that some things are much harder to make than they look, even with the detailed instructions that some of the linked sites give.  Looking at Pinterest left me excited and inspired.  Actually doing some of the things on Pinterest often leaves me feeling frustrated and discouraged.

I ventured into even newer territory after I began blogging and pinning my own photos on Pinterest several months ago.  I am still learning the nuances of the many facets of this form of social media; it is both fun and challenging.  I thought I'd put myself out there and share with you some of my Pinterest-inspired activities, some of which worked great and others that kind of flopped.  You'll recognize some of the successes because I often blogged about them.  Others I didn't discuss until now.  Finally, some are just in that gray area of not turning out as nice as the pins but they weren't total disasters either.

Relative Successes:

Nutella Crunch Ice Cream Cake made for my daughter's pink zebra birthday party---not as pretty as the pin, but still delicious!  Pinterest recipe can be found at

Lego Slime made at our son's Lego birthday party---a blast to make and fun to play with.  I will say this stuff is very difficult to get out of clothes or rugs even though vinegar is supposed to remove it.  Recipe and tips at

Lego napkin and plasticware holders that our sons made for a birthday party.  This and other Lego party ideas can be found at

Porches decorated for autumn.  There were many pictures I pinned, but one of my favorites is at

Using a chalkboard for seasonal porch displays.  I've had this old blackboard lying around the house from our days of homeschooling preschoolers.  This inspiration came from

These Owl Healthy Snacks were actually made for an owl-themed party.  I used pumpkin spice cookie butter instead of peanut butter on the mini bagels, so they're not as healthy as they could be.  I pinned this idea from

There is one more success item I want to mention, but I didn't get a photograph of it.  It is a Melted Olaf treat (Greek yogurt) for a Frozen themed birthday.  I made about 20 of these for my six year-old daughter's class at school last May.  Some of the boys were disappointed that I didn't bring in cupcakes, but most of the children loved them.  The picture and recipe can be found here:

Not Exactly Successes, But Not Total Disasters Either

Cute baby goat/farm pictures.  We do have a lot of cute farm pictures, especially of goat kids with my kiddos.  However, I saw this nice preppy picture on Pinterest of Sarah Vickers and Kiel James Patrick holding goat kids (,) and I thought how wonderful it would be to get some shots like that on our farm.  That never happens!  Our goats nibble your hair, get cud on your jackets, and leave hoof prints all over your clothes.  You can forget about a beautiful, preppy picture.

Lego Fruit Tray that started out looking pretty good.  I still couldn't stack these fruits the way they were in the Pinterest photo.  Everything wanted to fall off and roll around.  Plus, the maraschino cherries started "bleeding" all over the tray, as did the strawberries.  We ate it quickly before it made more of a mess.  The display found at looks much better.  Now that I see it again, I notice that they didn't use strawberries or cherries, so that's my mistake.  I tried to use up what we had in our refrigerator.

Hairstyles for Over 40.  Every time I get my hair cut now I take along my tablet with Pinterest pins to show the hairdresser.  This last time I was going for a Diane Keaton look, whom I love.  I actually kind of like how my hair turned out, but it definitely doesn't look like this photo of the actress:

Complete Disasters

Fall Leaf Candle Holders.  You may recall my attempt at creating these with dried leaves, ModPodge, and Mason jars.  I still don't know what I did wrong, but this did not turn out at all.  After spending half an hour or longer trying to get these leaves to stick to the jars, we just had a big sticky mess all over the picnic table.  They were supposed to look like this:

One Room Interval Training.  Jumping into high-intensity exercise at the age of 40-something with an umbilical hernia was not a good idea.  The above photo was taken for a blogpost back in June when I was actually recovering from surgery.  Last spring I got the bright idea to follow this schedule that I found on Pinterest.  It involved jumping jacks, high knees, butt kickers, and squat jumps.  It also included some things I had never heard of during the ten years I taught aerobics a couple of decades ago.  Things like burpees, inchworms, star jumps, and mountain climbers.  I looked them up on Youtube to see how to do them, and then I got the bright idea to try them all out myself---with no warm-up.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, I already had a hernia.  The next morning my insides did not feel like they had before.  Things did not feel...quite right.  A few weeks later when I saw a surgeon about my gallstones, I discovered that I also had an umbilical hernia.  I am certain that my evening of trying this intense workout found on Pinterest did not help.  Definitely not anyone's fault but my own.  It was me still thinking I could act like a 25 year-old who hadn't given birth to six children and was still in fantastic shape.  If you are in good condition and want to give it a try, the workout can be found at

I have no doubt there will be more Pinterest attempts of mine that will fall under this failed category.

Over the next two months, I have a few pins I would like to create.  
1. There are these cute Gourd Candles I want to put on our Thanksgiving table:  (You have to scroll down through the food pictures to get to the candles.)   
2. This Cheese/Salami/Cracker Tray in the shape of a turkey looks too fun to resist trying:
3. And I'm fairly certain these Pumpkin Spice Smoothies are in our future too:

To any of you readers whose link might have found its way here, Thank You for the inspiration---even if my result didn't turn out nearly as well as yours.
To all you fellow Pinterest lovers, may you have a week of Happy Pinning!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Blessings in Disguise

     Over the past two weeks, almost everyone in our seven person household has been sick with fevers, sore throats, headaches, and horrible sounding coughs.  Children have missed school, fall parties and birthday parties, trick-or-treating, various lessons, and a field trip.  I have had to bow out of volunteering responsibilities at the school and Mass attendance to stay home with little ones and to nurse my own annoying symptoms.  One of our sons is being treated for pneumonia, and one of our daughters is waiting for an upcoming doctor's appointment to rule out possible bronchitis.  We have come home from the pharmacy numerous times with bags full of cold and flu medicines, pain relievers and fever reducers, cough syrups, and every brand and flavor of throat lozenges.  We've also gone through our fair share of herbal teas, vitamin C-rich fruits and juices, and herbal immune-boosting supplements for myself.  For some, we've had to resort to antibiotics to fight this thing. Needless to say, I'm not getting much accomplished other than tending to the needs of my children.

     At this time of year, we all get busy as we gear up for the holidays with decorating, entertaining, shopping, and cooking/baking.  It can be very frustrating to have to put those things on hold due to illness that hits one family member after another.  But this is also the time of year to give thanks and to count our blessings.  The past few weeks have brought nights of interrupted sleep for us all with children coughing and running fevers and needing medicine around the clock.  Schedules are constantly being rearranged to accommodate trips to the doctor and to ensure that an adult is always at home with those who need care.  I am "on-call" at all times as I check temperatures, administer medicine, bring juice and tea, and read lots of stories.  These weeks have reminded me of the many years I had a house full of babies and toddlers who woke up throughout the night and relied on me to fulfill all their needs because they were too young to do so.  I spent so many hours with little ones in my lap as I cuddled, comforted, and read to them.  It was an exhausting time, but it was also a special time that we will never have again.

     So even though I am sorry that my children are not feeling well and have missed out on some fun activities the past couple of weeks, I am finding the blessings.  At a time of year that is usually busy, busy, busy we have been forced to adopt a much slower and simpler pace.  Instead of doing and going, we are at home just being.  I am once again cuddling, comforting, and reading to children.  I am taking care of others and myself.  We are resting and simply focusing on getting strong and well. For the most part, we are inside together as a family instead of going in many different directions throughout the day.   For these reasons, even if they're not the circumstances I would have chosen, I am thankful.