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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Fall Decor for Under $100

I'm making this a shorter post since we are having tech issues at our house this week...during the first week of cyber schooling for our tenth grader.  So not fun.

Since school has started, and tomorrow is the first day of September, I am eager to start decorating for fall.  I know many of you can relate.  However, I'm making myself wait until after Labor Day to put anything out.  That hasn't stopped me from making purchases, however, and there are also plans to create a fall craft this weekend as well.

I found all of the items in the picture at Kohl's, Michael's, and Dollar General for under $100.  These will be supplemented with items from our farmhouse attic and all kinds of stuff found in nature (lots of pinecones, acorns, and apples here.)

So from the top left and moving clockwise, this is what I found: 
1. Plaid fabric tablerunner from Dollar General, $6.
2. Wooden wick candle (it's supposed to crackle when lit) from Kohl's, $23.
3. Metal basket (to be filled with nature's bounty) from Kohl's, $15.
4. Brown candlesticks from Michael's, $4.19 for 2.
5. Metal leaf design candle wrap (not sure what exactly these are called) from Kohl's, $6.
6. Kitchen towels (2) from Kohl's, $5.59.
7. Wooden Fall in Love sign from Michael's, $7.
8. Bathroom hand towel from Kohl's, $6.
9. Baking cups (for my traditional pumpkin choc chip muffins) from Michael's, $2.

And in the center are the materials for my craft project, totalling $13 from Michael's.  It's Pinterest-inspired, but I'm branching out on my own a bit with it, so we'll see how it turns out.  I'll share it with you either way.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

It Looks Like Our Summer Has Come to an End

All of our children will be returning to school this week, so our summer has officially come to an end.  Some of us are excited, some are nervous, some are dreading it.  I'm a bit of all three.  I pulled out the old chalkboard and drew a new picture to honor this return to formal education.

I decided to grill out for dinner and finish off the summer with traditional summer foods one more time.  My husband had the same idea, and we both returned from the store and a local Amish farm with tons of sweet corn.  I'm afraid we'll be having it nearly every day this week.

We grilled a variety of chicken sausages, had the corn-on-the-cob, fresh local cantaloupe, and my creamy potato salad made with both red and purple potatoes.  My potato salad recipe can be found in my blog archives  here.

My children picked a few black eyed susan, stems from the butterfly bush, and one small hydrangea bloom for inside the kitchen.

And they cut a few droopy sunflowers and jerusalem artichoke flowers for the picnic table out back.  It turned out to be too hot and buggy to sit outside anyway.

I let our 7 year-old take the pictures on the patio, and she's obviously been watching me this past year take pics for this blog because I'm pretty sure she was standing on the picnic table to get some of these.  And she took a lot.

For dessert I went retro and made these jello parfaits in my childhood parfait glasses.

I layered cool whip, peach jello, more cool whip, and blueberry pomegranate jello in these cups.  They never had flavors like that back in the seventies when I was a girl.

We shared dinner with the proud parents of our now 5 week-old grandson, and I couldn't resist giving his new mama this sign we found at Kohl's today.   I love it.

Wishing all my readers a fantastic new school year.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Take a Walk on the Sweet Side: My First Cakewalk

Until this week, my only knowledge of a cakewalk came from one of the Junie B. Jones books that I used to read over and over again to our youngest daughter.  In the story, Junie B. skipped around with other children until the music stopped and a number was called.  The numbered square she was standing on just happened to be the winner, and Junie B. proceeded to choose a cake from the table.  There was one rectangular cake wrapped in shiny aluminum foil, and that was the one she insisted on taking home.  It turned out to be a fruit cake.  A very dense, heavy fruit cake that her parents tried to dissuade her from picking, but she insisted.  It turns out that she didn't like fruit cake after all, but it was so sturdy that she used it as a booster seat at her kitchen table, so all ended well.  

Our children's elementary/middle school had a Back-to-School Picnic last evening and one of the activities was a cakewalk.  Another dynamic mom and I co-chaired it because it sounded like so much fun.  She had cakewalk experience, unlike me, so she knew what to expect.  She and I both did a little bit of baking (the cupcakes, mini-cherry cheesecakes, and brownies above were mine,) but she was bold enough to ask for donations from a couple of the local supermarkets.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures until we were almost finished, but I think we started out with 21 different containers of cakes/cupcakes/cookies/brownies and some boxes of Skittles for those with nut allergies.  There were no fruit cakes though.  I don't think most of the children there had ever done a cakewalk before, so we initially had to practically beg kids to start playing.

But once children saw that they could walk away from our table with free cakes, they started lining up to play.  We duck taped numbers on 12 circular stones, and placed a child on each one.  Once the music started, they hopped, skipped, ran, and jumped in a circle from one stone to the next.  One toddler marched to her own beat and repeatedly wandered off the path, but she always ended up on a number once the music stopped.

My friend's husband drafted children to help him call out the winning numbers, and each winner came to the table to eye up the loot.  The younger ones were reluctant to choose anything without a parent's input, but the pre-teens jumped right in there with no hesitation.  Interestingly enough, they chose all the store-baked products first...and the Skittles.  Go figure.  After about 70 minutes, we ran out of cakes, so we called it a night and finally got to go mingle with the other 350 school family members who were there.  I would call it a success, and it was definitely a lot of fun.

I have to admit though, that I had my eye on this cookie dough cheesecake that our grown son baked from scratch and donated.  It was very tempting to keep it at home in my refrigerator, but I didn't think that would be very charitable.  So instead, I persuaded my youngest two to play the cakewalk over and over again.  
 And I kept the cheesecake under the table in a cooler with ice. 
Because it was almost 90 degrees out, and I didn't want it to go bad, you know.
And my 10-year old son actually landed on the winning number during the first half hour of the cake walk.
So he really did win fair and square.  Honest.
...and he just so happened to choose that cookie dough cheesecake over the Skittles and the numerous store-bought cakes on the table.

So guess what I'm having after breakfast this morning?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Weekend of Firsts

We're wrapping up summer and getting ready to start new fall routines, but this weekend was full of many first-time events for us.  

A new Mexican restaurant opened up not too far from us, so my husband and I decided to give it a try Thursday evening.  I had a delicious chicken fajita salad, and my husband had an enormous burrito topped with a mango salsa.

But what we really enjoyed was the extensive margarita list they had.  We tried some varieties we've never had before; Pama Margarita for me, and Caliente Margarita for Hubby.  They were perfect for a late summer dinner, and we're looking forward to returning and trying some of the others.

The next day after cross-country practice, I took our new high school freshman to finally get her first professional manicure.  She chose her new school colors to show her school spirit.  

On Saturday, my son and I visited the grounds of the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, PA.  I have been here before...

...but it's been years...

...and I really went to walk these beautiful walking paths around the grounds for a change of scenery from our mountain trails.  I couldn't help myself and had to stop frequently to take pictures.  What a beautiful place.

Afterwards, my son ran in a race to benefit a local food pantry.  The first mile he ran in a little over six minutes and came in second place.  The second mile he ran while carrying a full gallon jug of water along with all the other participants.  The water jugs were then donated to the food pantry.  This was his first one-mile race and definitely the first time he's ever run while carrying an additional 8 pounds in his arms.  Since I've done my share of running while carrying extra pounds each time I was pregnant, I sat out this part of the race and talked to another mom.

Saturday night my husband and I tried a new distillery and tapas restaurant.  We had already eaten dinner earlier at home, so we decided to sample a dessert after drinks.

We had never seen or heard of semifreddo before.  I sat at the table and googled it to determine whether or not it was something I wanted to try.  This was a saffron semifreddo topped with cherry cardamom syrup, salted chocolate hazelnuts, and whipped cream.  It was delicious, and I scraped every last little bit out of that bowl.

Our weekend culminated with a visit from our new grandson who will be one month old tomorrow.  What was so great about this visit was that he actually had his eyes open for awhile, which is the first time that has happened when we've been together.

I find this time of year so exciting and full of hope and new beginnings.  I can't wait to see what life brings our way next.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Using Up Your Zucchini in a Chocolate Cake

We finally used up all but one of our zucchini squash today.  My mother-in-law sent me a recipe over a month ago for chocolate zucchini cake, and my daughter and I took some time this morning to try it out.

All you need are a boxed chocolate cake mix, an instant chocolate pudding mix, and 3 cups of shredded raw zucchini.

Once you get that mixed up, you just pour it in your floured/greased cake pans and bake for about 30 minutes.

Once the cake has cooled sufficiently, and you are ready to frost it, simply whisk together a can of chocolate frosting and a container of cool whip.

The end result is this slightly-flatter-than-normal moist chocolate cake with a chocolate whipped frosting.  I had to add a few green and pink confetti candies to mine since I'm feeling especially preppy these days.  Can't wait to taste it after dinner tonight.

For the full recipe and a prettier picture, go to:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Delicious Peach Custard Pie

We've been buying up peaches at the local farmers' markets, and last week I made one of my favorite peach desserts: Peach Custard Pie.

Pie Crust:

Stir together 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Cut in 1/3 cup softened butter until the dough is in little crumbly balls.  Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon cold water in at a time and toss with a fork (do 4 times for a total of 4 Tablespoons of water.)  Form the dough into a ball.

Generously coat your counter top and rolling pin with flour and drop your dough ball onto the counter.  Start rolling from the center of the dough out toward the edges.

Keep rolling until your dough is approximately 12 inches in diameter (or will cover the bottom and sides of your pie plate.)  I always have plenty of volunteers who want to help with this job.  Too bad they scatter when it's time to do the cleanup.

Carefully drape the crust over your rolling pin, and gently unroll it into the pie plate.  Then trim and "flute" the edges.  Any dough left makes a great "dough cake."  We didn't have enough for that, however, so some of us had a taste of raw dough.

Peach Custard Pie Filling

Peel and slice enough peaches to fill your pie shell.  I think I used 6-8 average sized peaches this time.  In a bowl, mix 1 Tablespoon flour with 1 cup sugar.  Add 3 beaten eggs and stir.  Pour this mixture over the peaches in the pie pan.

Sprinkle cinnamon over the top and dot with a little bit of butter.  Bake for 10 minutes in a 450 degree oven.  Then reduce the heat to 350, and bake for approximately 30 more minutes, or until it is no longer jiggly and a knife comes out clean.  (This might be closer to 40 minutes; I can't remember.)

Out of the oven comes this fabulous tasting pie, and your entire kitchen will smell of cinnamon and peaches.  Good enough for dessert, and I contend it's healthy enough for breakfast!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Loving These Preppy School Uniforms

Our teen daughter will start a new school in just a couple of weeks at a Catholic prep school, and she needed all new uniforms.  She and I had fun yesterday afternoon with a short impromptu photo shoot where she got to try on---and model for me---her new wardrobe from Land's End.  When I was a teenager in the eighties, these are the same types of clothes we wore every day, even in the public schools.  I love that preppy clothes just never go out of style. 

The navy blue blazer (from Land's End) is a must-have at her school this year, and it will get lots of use over the next few years.

With the exception of time spent at chapel and school assemblies, she can hang the blazer in her locker throughout the school day, which is good because many of the school buildings here in the Northeast still don't have air conditioning.  This white blouse and slate gray skirt with ballet flats are what she will wear most days of the week.  I can't remember where we bought the shoes, but the skirt is from Land's End.  And she's borrowing my blouse for this photo because we're still waiting for some of her Land's End oxfords to arrive in the mail.  Some serious ironing needs to be done, as you can see! 

The blazer can also be paired with a light blue oxford cloth shirt and khaki pants (all from Land's End) with a pair of Sperry Topsiders to mix things up a little throughout the week.

Here's the same outfit sans the blue blazer.  That apple came from the tree over her head, by the way, but they are far from ripe.  And no, she shouldn't be biting into it with her braces!

And for the days she feels like packing her lunch from home, she has this Vera Bradley blue plaid lunchbag we picked up in Bedford.  I hadn't really thought about it matching her school uniforms when I bought it; I just liked the plaid.

As a mother, it is a relief for me to have our school-aged children go to schools where uniforms are mandatory. It prevents many headaches and arguments about what is and isn't appropriate to wear each morning before school.  It also greatly reduces the comparing and "sizing each other up" that seems to inevitably occur in middle and high school.  The fact that the dress code just happens to appeal to my preppy tastes is an added bonus.

Even though I'd like another month or two of summer, I'm beginning to get back in the school spirit.  If only that didn't mean waking up at 5:30 each morning.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

August Snapshots

This post is a potpourri of totally unrelated images except that they all have to do with life at our farmhouse in August.  

Don't you love this time of year with all the fresh produce from your own gardens, neighbors' and coworkers' gardens, and the local farmers' markets?  The onions, tomatoes, purple tomatillos, and zucchini are ours.  The cucumbers were from elsewhere, and a bag of freshly shucked corn was mysteriously found on our front porch last night.  If it came from any of you local readers, thank you.  We're having it with barbecued ribs for dinner tonight.

Tomatillos weren't the only purple vegetable we grew this year.  My husband loves to grow out-of-the ordinary produce, so this was his new exotic experiment for the summer.  Our daughter turned them into mashed potatoes earlier this week for dinner.  The coloring hasn't been enhanced in this photo either; they really are this beautiful shade of violet.  Oh, in case you're wondering, they do taste like normal potatoes.

We've been going on evening hikes when the temperatures are a little cooler.  It doesn't matter what the month or season, I think it's beautiful up here in the Alleghenies.

While hiking up the mountain, we discovered the blackberries have ripened.  Time to don the insect repellant and start picking so we can make some blackberry cobbler.  First I need to pull my daughter away from the new Harry Potter book we picked up at Target this morning so I have some help.  

As we came down the mountain and got near our house the other evening, this is what we saw in the pasture.  Our little male goat kids love to hop on the back of our large ram and ride around on him like this. 

Asiago kept his balance on top of Snowflake as they ran up through the pasture to me.  There is always something ridiculous and crazy going on around here.

This really has nothing to do with life on our mountain farm except that it's now sitting in our farmhouse kitchen.  I've had my eye on these metal cork holders since I saw a jumbo sized one at Revival Kitchen.  Kohl's has had them on their shelves throughout the summer, but I held off because with five kids at home, there's always something more pressing to spend your money on than a cork holder.  But today they were 70% off.  From the picture I can see that we either don't drink as much wine and champagne as I thought, or we've thrown some corks away over the past year.

I'm going to end on a more serious note and a snapshot from July, not August.  But I haven't seen our newborn grandson in a week because he's been having digestive problems and has been hospitalized.  I usually keep these things to myself, but I do believe in the power of prayer.  So to all my praying readers, I ask that you keep him in your nightly petitions.

Thank you and God Bless!