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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Pertinent Read

It is rare for me to sit down and read a new novel.  Don't get me wrong; I love to read, but it's usually non-fiction or classic literature that fills my bookshelves and nightstand.  Every now and then, however, I discover something that catches my attention and draws me in, and I devour it within hours.  The Admissions was one of those books.

I found myself immediately connecting with the mother in this story.  She's a bit more type-A than I am, but I could definitely relate to her trying desperately to make everything in her life work successfully and ensure that all family members are happy and well-adjusted.  Like many modern mothers, she struggles with finding and maintaining a balance of ambition and relaxation.  She also sees the enormous pressures placed on adolescents competing for the top spots in academics, sports, and extra-curricular activities in order to get accepted at the "best" colleges in the nation.  She contrasts this with her own childhood that allowed for plenty of free time to explore, play, and create just for pleasure.  She hates to see her children stressed out, but she can't envision a way out of the typical upper-middle class suburban lifestyle of both parents working long hours away from the house while the children attend the best local public schools and many lessons, practices, and activities that occur all week long.  

Without giving away too much of the plot, I will say that there was something that I found reassuring near the end of this book.  A Harvard admissions officer states that it's not the 4.0 GPAs nor the near perfect SAT scores nor the gazillion activities on applicants' resumes that get them into the Ivy Leagues.  They want to see depth and passion for one or two areas of concentration instead.  That is what makes young people stand out. 

This is actually consistent with a lot of advice from admissions officers today; although, that's still no guarantee of acceptance of course.  When most of the Ivies have only a 6% acceptance rate, even a ton of passion and depth may not cut it.  Even so, this advice should bring some relief to parents and teens alike.  This novel quite accurately displays the utter exhaustion that so many families feel while attempting to keep up with the numerous sports and activities young people believe they must participate in for college admission.  To simply focus on just a couple interests sounds heavenly.  I think the difficult part for many is narrowing it down to just two, and which two might be the most impressive to an admissions board?  I have a son who would probably say gaming is what he's passionate about, but then again, he has no interest in higher education at all, so he probably won't be trying to impress any college officials any time soon.  I think this is another positive of homeschooling since the child can devote lots of time to a given talent or interest.

Reading The Admissions from cover to cover in half a day helped me redirect my focus on what I really want for my family.  Even though our competetive society pushes us to be busy and the best at everything, that's not ultimately what brings us peace or happiness.  While I don't want my children to waste their God-given talents and abilities, I also don't want them spending their childhoods feeling anxious, pressured, and incredibly stressed out all the time.  The world won't end if they don't graduate at the top of their class, if they don't get into a top college or even go to college at all (that one's a little harder to swallow,) or if they never play a varsity sport.  I am reminded that what I truly hope for my children is that they grow up feeling loved, accepted, nurtured, and guided enough that they exhibit those same traits themselves as adults.  I feel this novel emphasizes this as well.  If you're looking for a novel that's pertinent to modern day middle-class families that you won't want to stop reading at the end of the day, this is a must-read.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Make Your Own Sauerkraut Without a Crock

New Year's Day is less than a week away, and that means pork and sauerkraut at our house for dinner on January 1st.  Despite some protests from me, my husband began making our own sauerkraut back in October, assuring me there would be no odor as it fermented in our rustic basement.  He finally pulled it out for extended family to taste yesterday, and I must admit that it was a hit.  It certainly smells strong when he first opens the bags, but the rest of the time, it went unnoticed as it went from raw cabbage to this excellent, live, lacto-bacillus, probiotic food.  It's one of the best treats you can give your digestive tract.

My husband used this Wild Fermentation book by Sandor Ellix Katz for inspiration, but he modified the recipes based on our likes and what we had growing in our gardens.  This is a terrific source of information on the health benefits of live-culture foods and gives detailed explanations of the fermenting process.  It's full of recipes as well.

First, he began with two heads of green cabbage grown by a local Amish family.  After peeling off the outer layers, he removed the hearts (cores.)

He then sliced the cabbage into thin strips, but a large metal shredder would have worked just as well.  Next, he placed one of the shredded cabbages into a bowl and added 1 organic clove of fresh minced garlic, 6 finely sliced homegrown fatali peppers, and 2 Tablespoons of salt. He thoroughly mixed it all together in the bowl until some liquid formed.  Then he transferred the mixture to a clean gallon jar and packed it down with a long wooden spoon until no air bubbles appeared.  He then placed 1 Tablespoon of pickling salt and water in a gallon size ziplock bag.  This was then placed on top of the cabbage mixture in the jar.  There should be no air within the ziplock bag, and the bag of water must be heavy enough to force the liquid in the cabbage mixture to rise about an inch above the cabbage.  This ensures that anaerobic fermentation will occur. 


For the magenta colored sauerkraut, he added to the shredded cabbage 2 small organic diced onions, 4 large diced Japanese diakon radishes, 2 chopped cylindra red beets, and 2 Tablespoons of salt.  The rest of the process was the same; it was just done in another jar.

Both jars were placed in our dark, cool basement, but they can be stored anywhere out of the way.  My husband checked them every now and then to make sure there was no air trapped underneath the bags.  Our sauerkraut was left alone in the basement for approximately two months, but for a good, tangy flavor, it needs at least four weeks.  When it was ready, we just took out the bag and removed the amount of sauerkraut we wanted to eat.  Then we placed the bags back on top and returned the jars to the basement until we wanted more.  As long as water remains on top of the sauerkraut, it can be stored for many months without going bad.  Once it has been removed from the jar, it should be eaten within 24 hours or refrigerated.  

This was surprisingly rather simple and inexpensive to do, and it is so incredibly good for you.  A warning though: once you remove that ziplock bag from the top of the jar, that sauerkraut will emit a pungent odor throughout your kitchen.  There's just no way around that, I'm afraid.  The flavor and freshness will make the odor worth it because homemade sauerkraut just doesn't compare to the canned or refrigerated versions you find in your grocery store.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sweets for Santa

We've been making all kinds of sweet treats this week to share with friends and family, to consume by us, and of course, to leave near the tree for Santa tomorrow night.  Our youngest also came home from school with a bag of reindeer food that she'll sprinkle on the ground in front of our house for Rudolph.  Below are the recipes for some of our favorite Christmas cookies and candies our family makes each year.  Some of these only take about 15 minutes to prepare.

Peanut Butter Bark

Pour 1 bag of white chocolate chips, 1 bag of peanut butter chips, and 1 Tablespoon of peanut butter in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat.  Stir often to prevent sticking and scorching.  Once melted, add 1 cup broken pretzel pieces and 1 cup of peanuts.  Stir well and pour on a foiled cookie sheet.  Chill in refrigerator.  Once hardened, break into pieces.  I keep it stored in the fridge.

The most time-consuming treat we made were gingerbread men and women.  There was also a gingerbread reindeer and a few candy canes thrown in there too.  I usually just make sugar cookies, but our daughter begged me to make these this year.  It turns out that we like them even better than sugar cutouts, so this will become our new tradition.

Once one child began decorating, they all wanted to get in on the fun.  Even my husband participated.  By the time I was finished getting the last cookies out of the oven, there was no more gel icing left and most of the sprinkles were gone too, so my cookies were rather plain.

I was really surprised that my children loved the taste of these.  They're not nearly as sweet as some of the other Christmas treats we make.  I think we made 34 gingerbread cookies, and most of them were gone in two days.

Gingerbread Cookies

Stir together 5 cups of flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 2 teaspoons of ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Put aside.  Beat 1 heaping cup of shortening for 30 seconds.  Add 1 cup sugar, beat till fluffy.  Add 2 eggs, 1 cup + 1 Tablespoon of molasses, and 2 Tablespoons of vinegar.  Beat well.  Add the dry ingredients to beaten mixture, beating well.  Cover and chill overnight (or at least 3 hours.)  
Divide dough into thirds.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each 1/3 lump of dough to about 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut into desired shapes.  Place about 1 inch apart on greased cookie sheets.  Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes.  Cool before decorating.  
*You can make these thinner and only bake for 5 minutes.  We like thick, soft, chewy cookies, so we made ours thicker.  Plus, I'm impatient and don't want to stand around rolling out twice as many.

This is the one Christmas cookie that I do bake at other times of the year as well.  These are our absolute favorites for some reason.  They're fairly quick to make too.

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

Cream 1/2 cup shortening and 3/4 cup peanut butter; add 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup packed brown sugar.  Add 1 egg, 2 Tablespoons milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla; beat well.  Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and blend thoroughly.
Shape dough into bouncy ball sized balls; roll in some granulated sugar.  Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 375 for 12 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately place unwrapped Hershey's Kisses on top of each cookie, pressing down slightly so they crack just a little.  Cool.

Peppermint Cookie Bars

Combine 1 roll of sugar cookie dough with 3 Tablespoons flour, and 1 Tablespoon mint extract.  Press out onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
Immediately sprinkle a bag of white chocolate chips over the top.  Once melted, spread to cover the bars.  Sprinkle crushed peppermint candies on top.  Cool.

These are a lighter, cool minty cookie but are also quite filling.  A little goes a long way, and they look so festive.  Great with a hot cup of cocoa!

Other than a pumpkin cake roll that I still need to make for our Christmas dessert, I am finished with all baking for the week.  Time to relax a little before company arrives and the big meal preparations get under way.

May You All Have a Very Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why I Look Forward to Wrapping Christmas Gifts

I have always enjoyed sitting down a week or two before Christmas and wrapping the gifts.  Years ago, a family member used to pay me to wrap all of his gifts along with mine.  Throughout the years, I have added a few special treats to make the event so enjoyable, that I look forward to this day all year.  Today was my day to have the house all to myself so that I could wrap all of the remaining Christmas presents for the thirteen people who will be celebrating Christmas here in 2015.  Fortunately for the rest of my family, this weekend also happened to be the opening of the new Star Wars movie, so they had plenty to look forward to as well.

As the rest of my family sat in a theater watching Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, I watched my favorite holiday movie, It's a Wonderful Life and sipped a glass or two of Pinot Grigio.  I may have also sampled a couple of freshly baked gingerbread men throughout the afternoon.  By the time the above classic was over, I was only about halfway through wrapping, so I also viewed Christmas with the Kranks, a relatively new favorite of our family.  Jamie Lee Curtis and Tim Allen are a hoot in this movie, especially the scenes where they're tanning in a mall, and when Allen's character decides to get Botox just before a lunch out with his wife.  We laugh so hard while watching this movie.

Aside from the fact that I can't have children around watching me play Santa, I also need all the space I can get because I definitely sprawl when I am gift wrapping.  I must concentrate so I don't forget where I have hidden items or forget whose gift I'm wrapping.  This year I started filling out the gift tags one at a time before wrapping each gift.  After a glass or two of wine last year, I would forget what I just wrapped and then would have to loosen the tape and peek inside before I could put the gift tag on it.  
I don't know how other parents of large families keep track of their purchases, but I keep a chart with everyone's names, gifts, and stocking stuffers so I can be sure all gifts are equal in number and price range.  I also check off each gift on the chart as I wrap it so I can be sure I don't forget any.  If I do, then I have to do a thorough search of my house, vehicles, and outbuildings because we have hidden presents everywhere to prohibit nosy children from finding them.  I now have a pillow to sit on too because the wooden floors do not feel good under my body after sitting on them for hours on end.

I always wrap all the childrens' gifts first and hide them away in case my husband brings them home from the movies early.  Then I move on to gifts for adults and extended family.  You'll notice that I couldn't pass up an opportunity to purchase some plaid wrapping paper this year.  I actually bought the last roll in our local Target store.  I do have plaid ribbon, but I just don't bother with ribbons and bows on the kids' gifts anymore.  I don't think they even notice them. 
Some friends of ours introduced us to this little rhyme a number of years ago and we have tried to stick to this to keep from becoming too materialistic at Christmas: 
"Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read."  
We have also added to that a game or movie, and also an ornament that I purchase for each child annually.  Once they grow up and have their own residence, I then give them all the ornaments they've accumulated through the years for their first Christmas tree.  We have found that as time goes on, our children are often hard-pressed to even come up with five items to place on their wish list.  What a difference from the days when they would peruse the toy aisles and point to every other item on the shelf and say, "I want this, and I want this, and I want this..."  Instead they really spend quite a bit of time giving thought to one main item that they would truly enjoy.

So what about you Readers?  I would love to hear what gift wrapping traditions you might have to make the task more enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Focusing on the Spirit of Christmas with Children

As we count down through the final days until Christmas, the children get increasingly excited.  I'm so glad they still have that enthusiasm and joyful anticipation for such a special day.  But while most of the media focuses on the sparkle, the presents, and a wish list for Santa Claus, we try here to keep our family focused on the true spirit of Christmas.  We begin the season by lighting the candles on our Advent wreath.  On the first Sunday evening of Advent, we say the following prayer right before we light the first purple candle:
"Lord God, let your blessing come upon us as we light the candles of this wreath.  May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ's promise to bring us salvation.  May He come quickly and not delay.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen."

Along with the Advent wreath, we also purchase a new Advent calendar each year that hangs in our kitchen where even our youngest can reach it.  The children take turns opening a square each night and reading the corresponding verse of Scripture.  After showing each other what Christmas shape the chocolate is in, he/she gets to eat it.  Everyone knows they'll eventually get a turn, so there is no fighting over it.  

Our nativity set is still a plastic one purchased years ago when my house was full of toddlers and preschoolers.  Since our youngest is six, she still doesn't want me to replace it with something a little more elegant, but breakable.  For years, we positioned the shepherds, Mary and Joseph around the empty manger because the baby Jesus couldn't show up until Christmas morning when I would sneak him in before they awoke.  The Wise Men were placed farther away since they wouldn't make their appearance until later.  Each day, the children moved everyone a little closer to the stable as we all awaited the birth of Christ.

I know everyone is looking for ways to share good tidings with others this month.  Some of the things our family has done are caroling at nursing homes, helping to serve meals to the poor, wrapping up baskets of Christmas food for poor families, donating toys to needy children, ringing the Salvation Army bell outside stores, plus donating to charities.  This year our childrens' school is purchasing farm animals and other agricultural necessities for impoverished people in third world countries.  We, as a family, will find other ways to spread good cheer to others less fortunate as well.  With social media so prevalent today, it is easier than ever to find worthy causes that rely on our help.

Many years when the children were quite small and it was harder to donate my time out of the house, we simply baked big batches of cookies to share with our neighbors.  We still have a wonderful neighbor who brings us a beautifully decorated homemade treat every Christmas.  This year she delivered a cookie mix in a big Mason jar.  We can't wait to try those out.

Each year we attend at least one Christmas play or concert.  Now that four of our children are in school, they are often the ones performing.  Sometimes, however, we fit in another performance somewhere so they get to be in the audience.  Nothing puts us in the spirit of Christmas more than some great Christmas music or a theatrical production.

Last December my husband and I treated ourselves to a Trans Siberian Orchestra Christmas concert.  We left the kiddos home for that one; although, I think they would all really enjoy it.

I have to admit that for a few very busy years, I stopped sending Christmas cards.  But I took up the task again this year and I'm so glad I did.  This reminds us of our connection to others and encourages us to spread good wishes of hope and joy and love.  As the Christmas cards come into our house, we hang them around the door between our kitchen and dining room where everyone can see.  By the time Christmas arrives, our door frame will be filled.  This year we are also sending a card and handmade drawings from my little ones to a little girl who lost her family in a fire.  She, too, is badly burned and has asked only for Christmas cards this year to fill her tree.  Her story and address can be found here:

Christmas is also a time for creating family memories.  My parents-in-law gave me the Christmas Memories book for our first Christmas together, and it makes its way to the coffee table in our living room every Advent.  It has space to place photographs, your Christmas card, recipes, and all kinds of traditions and rituals you'd like to remember.  It only covers five years though, so ours was filled quite a while ago.  My mother gave me the smaller Christmas photo album so I could fill it with photos of our children with Santa every year as we would attend an extended family Christmas dinner.  That tradition was started by my grandmother who hosted it every year until the family got so large that we had to rent out a building and have the meal catered.  For years and years I had the opportunity of seeing my many aunts and uncles and multitudes of cousins and their children at this function.  This year, sadly, it has been dropped as families are getting older and too busy to come together anymore.  I hope to keep the tradition alive in our own nuclear family as our children grow up, marry, and have children of their own.

I also enjoy finding books that convey the true spirit of Christmas.  This year I'll be reading these two stories aloud to my younger children as we snuggle under a plaid flannel throw.

While we have many classic Christmas movies that we enjoy watching during the weeks leading up to Christmas, I save The Nativity Story for Christmas Eve before we attend the evening Mass.  We used to watch it first at the beginning of Advent, but then I think it's too easy to forget about why we are really celebrating Christmas by the time December 25 gets here.

When Christmas morning finally arrives, after the baby Jesus has been placed in the manger, and I have poured myself a cup of much-needed coffee, we pray the following "Blessing of Christmas Gifts" before the unwrapping begins:
"Every generous act of giving and every perfect gift are from above.  They come down from you, dear Father of Light.  You give birth to us by your Word, so that we might be born of a new creation.  Bless now these presents that we give and receive in joy at the birth of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Bless us and bless the whole world with thankfulness and peace, for you are the giver of all good gifts.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.   Amen."

That is my final attempt at keeping us focused on the true spirit of Christmas and not on getting new stuff.  My mother-in-law baked a birthday cake for Jesus for many years as well to keep little ones focused on the real reason we're celebrating on Christmas day.  I think maybe I'll try that this year after the dinner feast and place a birthday candle in my pumpkin cake roll as we all sing "Happy Birthday" to the One who brings us hope, joy, and peace with His birth. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christmas Favorites in the Fog

We have been literally living in a fog for a week now in the Allegheny mountains and valleys.  Last weekend we awoke to hoar frost that was so thick it looked like we had an ice storm.  The fog sat like this at our farm all day long and continued with a heavy frost each morning until mid-week when the night-time temperatures remained above freezing.  Now a week later, I am looking out my window into a thick fog but with record high temps that are to reach near 70 degrees this afternoon.  It's crazy weather and doesn't feel like Christmas.  However, I am doing my best to keep up with our Christmas traditions and spread Christmas cheer.

This weekend we made some glycerin Christmas soaps in some of my favorite fragrances.  The Christmas trees are peppermint, the snowmen are vanilla, and the Santas are cinnamon.  These will go into gift bags with candles and a few other small items for music teachers at the school.

I snuggled up on my big green chair with our six-year old and read one of my favorite Christmas stories by Frank McCourt.  This is a beautiful, touching, yet humorous story of a little girl who "steals" the baby Jesus from the parish nativity because she thinks he looks cold.  If you don't have this book around to read to young children, I highly recommend it.  I think I'll take it with me when I substitute in the elementary grades over the next two weeks.

I started our holiday baking yesterday by making our favorite Christmas cookie: peanut butter kiss cookies (aka. peanut blossoms).  The children contribute by unwrapping the Hershey's kisses for me while the cookies are baking.  The red plaid charger plates were a surprise for me from Hubby that he purchased at Michael's.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve we watch the Christmas classics.  This weekend we settled in to watch The Santa Clause and A Charlie Brown Christmas.  I never grow tired of these.

While watching those Christmas movies, I spent some time in one of my favorite hobbies and finished cross-stitching this ornament that has now found a place on our Christmas tree.

In the mornings, I've been enjoying blueberry muffin flavored coffee by Dunkin' Donuts in my favorite Christmas mugs which belonged to my husband's grandparents.  Our weekdays start at 5:30 in the morning with most of us rushing to eat breakfast and get ready for school or work.  As I've been spending more time in the schools volunteering and substitute teaching, I'm not only helping get children ready this early, but myself as well.  Weekends have become luxurious respites as we relax and have leisurely time on Saturday and Sunday mornings until it's time to go to Mass.

After discovering Pentatonix sing "Mary, Did You Know?" last winter, that has become my absolute favorite Christmas song of all time.  I would play it on YouTube over and over again until I purchased the CD last evening as a Christmas gift to myself.  If you haven't yet heard/watched them perform this song, you must go to YouTube and type this in.  You won't be disappointed.

This weekend will wrap up with us lighting the third (pink) candle on our Advent wreath as we eat dinner together and enter the third week of this joyful season.  With decorating and shopping done, I hope to get Christmas cards sent out over the next few days.  I hesitate to do much more baking until the week of Christmas because I won't be able to resist sampling everything over and over again.  

We're all hoping that the fog finally lifts this week or Santa will surely need Rudolph to pull his sleigh again this Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Meet Jarlsburg: Our New Big Man on Campus

I mentioned back in late September that we were contemplating purchasing a new buck for our small goat herd.  It has proven to be more challenging than I would have thought for there seems to be a shortage of registered, pedigreed, Nigerian Dwarf bucks that are reasonably priced right now.  After months of searching online and through word of mouth, my husband found this guy several states away.  His registered name is really El Diablo, but as a tradition, we name our goats after cheeses, so we have renamed him Jarlsburg.

Jarlsburg will be quite popular with our girls since we haven't had a buck here in over a year.  Right now, however, he is having to prove himself worthy of their attention, and he goes to great lengths to do so.  The more silly and foolish he appears to us humans, the more attractive and appealing he seems to be to the other goats.  He is disliked immensely, however, by our one ram who has enjoyed being the only male amongst our goats and sheep during that same time period.  We've had to separate the species so the two boys don't hurt each other in attempts to win over all the does and ewes here.  Anyone who thinks that all sheep are docile have not observed a ram who is unwilling to give up his position as the alpha male in a flock/herd.

Sometimes I question if it is really worth the hassle to bring in a male goat because there are definitely trials that come with doing so.  Billy goats can be very strong smelling, and if he so much as rubs against your clothing, you will smell like him all day.  They also seem to be masters at overcoming boundaries and find the most ingenious ways to leave their stalls and pastures.  They can be obnoxious and relentless in their pursuit of does during breeding season.  Finally, they can be quite aggressive toward other males (including humans at times) in order to establish and maintain their position as "top dog."  So why would we drive hours just to bring one of these guys home to our farm?

This is the main reason we bought goats five years ago.  Goat's milk is so creamy, rich, and nutritious, and if chilled immediately after milking, it has no goaty taste.  We have also successfully made yogurt, ice cream, whipped butter, and dabbled in farmer's cheese with our goats' milk.  There is satisfaction in being able to provide your own food for your family.  Knowing that these animals are raised out in the fields with fresh air, grass and hay not sprayed with any chemicals, and no antibiotics injected into them means that their milk is safe and healthy for our children.

We also cannot resist these adorable babies when they're born in the spring.  Our does give birth to one to four kids per year.  Twins seem to be the norm and are only two to four pounds at birth.  They are just so incredibly cute, frisky, and fun to watch and to hold.  This is definitely a high point at the end of winter here on our farm.  We have certainly missed having goat kids this year, and the sale of some of them once they're weaned is also an added perk.

Sometimes an especially small kid ends up in the house with us temporarily.  It is so hard to see a weak and tiny baby be left in the cold barn away from its mother, but it happens at times, usually if it is part of a large litter.  My husband and children take pity on it and bring it into the farmhouse.  We set it up in a bin next to the coalstove to keep warm and feed it milk with a bulb syringe.  I try not to do this because once a kid is inside, the rest of the herd tends to reject it, including the mother.  Then we're stuck with "bottle" feeding it until it's two or three months old.  Even then, when it is re-introduced to the other goats, it tends to be pushed around and not accepted its entire life.  Taking care of one around the clock is a learning experience for the children, however, and it can be fun to see it interact with other household pets.  Our cat Ollie actually used to sleep with this baby and kept it warm.

With any luck, we'll have new goat kids and fresh milk on our farm in May or June.  But first, Jarlsburg must establish his presence and impress the five does who reside here and convince them that he is worthy of their time.  I am fairly certain he'll win them over by Christmas.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Primitive Preppy Christmas Farmhouse Tour

I still get excited during this time of year.  There is a feeling of anticipation and magic and joy from the beginning of Advent all the way through Christmas day.  I love every part of this season: the Christmas music, the decorations, the Advent wreath and calendar, the movies and stories, the food and the shopping, the wrapping of gifts and the giving of gifts.  I wear my Christmas tree earrings and Santa sweater during the day, and I slip into my flannel Christmas pajamas and snowflake slipper socks at night.  This year, inspired by Pinterest, I decided to add a touch of both preppy plaid and primitive burlap throughout the house.  We still put out our traditional ornaments and decorations, but there is also a bit of this new primitive preppy found in many parts of this old farmhouse.  And it's all still very kid-friendly.  Let's take a tour...

I would love to decorate with lights on the front porch, but alas, there is not a single electrical outlet on the outside of this old farmhouse.  We would have to run an extension cord through the house, which would mean we couldn't close the door all the way.  Not a good idea in December.  So I have to settle for decorating without the lights.  The little red chair in the top picture is part of a set with a children's table that my father built for our kiddos when they were all still small.  The boys have taken over the table with their Legos, but I confiscated one of the chairs.  Lo and behold, I found my husband's old ice skates in the attic (told you it's like a rummage sale up there,) and I added a plaid bow and old Santa hat.

This chalkboard has found its way into other blog posts, and I'll probably continue to use it through the different seasons.  I re-used a red bow from an old wreath and took the remainder of the cinnamon pinecones and attached them with a plaid flannel ribbon.  Some blue chalk was all I needed to create some snowflakes and a Christmas ball ornament down the center.

While shopping in my attic, I came across an old wreath and stripped it down to just its greenery, then attached a new plaid and gold bow from Target.  I wanted to keep it simple.

Kohl's had a bunch of Welcome mats on sale, including many that could sit out all winter.  It was hard to choose.

This is as lit up as my front porch gets, unfortunately.  I used extra pine boughs from our Christmas tree and attached them to the tops of our outdoor lantern lights with plaid flannel ribbon.

Moving into our kitchen, there is this slice of our tree trunk that I shared with you in the last post.  Painted with chalkboard paint and some pine and ribbon hot glued to the top, this is one of our countdowns to Christmas.

Although not plaid or burlap, I bought this painting last year at a small, local gift shop because it reminds me of our house.  The lamp post actually does light up and flicker, and my children love it.  It hangs in our kitchen all winter.

I finally took that ugly computer desk and all of our office supplies out of the corner of our kitchen.  I am still undecided about what will fill that space, but for now, we put up the children's Christmas tree.  When I was a girl, I thought it would be amazing to have two Christmas trees, so when our teenage son was little, we purchased a four foot artificial tree that used to sit in the middle of an electric train set.  We put up the traditional ornaments of the past, but I also added plaid flannel ribbon and some of those plaid/burlap balls and pinecones I described in my last blog post.  When my husband saw the plaid Santa hat at Joann Fabrics, he insisted we buy it since I'm on this plaid kick this year.  I don't look good in any kind of hat though, so it went to the top of the tree.  Around the bottom is an old plaid tablecloth that no longer fits any of the tables we have.  I found the burlap/plaid deer pillow at Joann Fabrics as well, and it gets moved all over the house.

The inside door of our foyer holds this straw wreath with plaid ribbons and a wooden bear, also found in my attic.  This is across from our staircase...

It's the same artificial evergreen garland I use every year with some new lights attached, but now plaid bows connect it to the stair railing.  Bows were handmade (not by me) and purchased at Michael's.

Believe it or not, this old farmhouse has a chimney, but no fireplace.  Therefore, the stockings get hung on the railing.  Come to think of it, we have so many people in our family that we'd be hard-pressed to fit everyone's stockings on a fireplace mantel, so it's just as well.  The wood/coal stove in the kitchen is what's actually attached to the chimney.  No stockings can be hung from that.

Along with older decorations and another soft plaid fleece throw on the leather sofa, this seven foot long plaid blanket and woody wagon pillow get thrown on my enormous rocker/recliner where I sit to read, grade papers, blog, and cross-stitch.  Every one of my children can fit on that chair with me---one at a time, that is.  Its size is probably out of proportion with everything else in that living room, but it is so comfy and it's positioned between two windows, so it gets the best light.

Each window downstairs has one of these cinnamon pinecones with plaid flannel bows at the top hanging from them.  Unfortunately, I ran out of pretty ribbon and jute twine, so I ended up using red twine that was used to wrap around one of our old Christmas trees years ago.  I found it stashed in the back of a bookshelf, just waiting for a moment like now, I suppose.  In a house like ours, one must be willing to improvise at all times.

Our live Christmas tree is across the foyer in the dining room, and you've seen many photos of that in another post.  Does anyone else notice it significantly leaning?

In the center of the dining room table is our Jesse tree.  I never saw one of these when I was growing up and wasn't quite sure what to do with it when we first got it years ago.  I have to admit that I've never placed items from the Old Testament on it like I think you're supposed to during Advent.  It usually sits bare in its burlap bag, but since it already had burlap on it, I decided to add a few more burlap bows and tie a plaid ribbon around the bottom.  I hope that's not sacrilegious.

My husband and I decided to do something a little different this Christmas and instead of buying each other gifts that we don't really need, we splurged and purchased a king-sized down comforter and a plaid flannel cover.  We saw these at Macy's weeks ago and fell in love with them, and so have our children.  I can't keep them off my bed now.  The comforter is Charter Club Home brand, and we got the Level 3 Vail Collection in medium warmth.  This thing is so incredibly soft and warm and luxurious.  The flannel comforter cover is Martha Stewart brand and is 100% cotton.  We love the idea of being able to take the covers off and wash them and change them throughout the year to match the seasons.  The only problem is that I didn't purchase pillow shams, and I have nothing that matches.  So the plaid deer pillow is thrown on them for now.  By the way, these comforters and covers were marked down dramatically at Macy's this weekend.

The last stop of this tour is in the bathroom...the ONE main bathroom that seven of us have to share.  I'm afraid this shower curtain isn't plaid or very rustic, but Kohl's has the cutest shower curtains, and I wanted something I could keep out for months and not just for Christmas.  Since we are outnumbered here by our children (greater than 2:1 ratio) I feel like the bathroom should have a fun, playful touch to it from time to time, so the snowmen were it.  I really liked the more woodsy curtains with bears, pinecones, and moose decorating them, but they probably fit our cabin better than our farmhouse, so I'll wait for those.

I do believe that at this point, my Christmas decorating is done.  Now it's time to tackle the Christmas shopping, card sending, and cookie baking as we begin the second week of Advent.  I hope you are enjoying every aspect of this holiday season as much as I am.