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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Why You Never Sell a Goat to a Frat Boy

Two of our little bucklings left our farm this morning to move to another home.  That always makes us feel a bit sad, but we just can't keep them all.  My hope is that they go to good homes where they have lots of room outdoors to run, roam, and graze...and that there will be lots of female goats to keep them company.  Most of the time, we have been very pleased with the new owners of our livestock, but there was a time a few years ago when we sold a little buckling to a college boy, and that is the story I'm telling today.

In the spring a few years past, we had a surplus of goat kids, so I posted an ad on Craigslist.  Our Nigerian Dwarf goats are small and so cute, especially when they're little.  Sometimes people buy them for pets.  A few days after I posted Romano (all our goat kids are named after cheeses) on the web, I got a call from a nearby college student who wanted to stop by that evening to buy him.  I asked if he'd like some more information or would like to take a look at him and then think about it first.  He said he was sure he wanted to make the purchase and would pick him up before dinner.  By the way, this was a Friday.  Because we are fairly secluded out here, and I had a house full of little ones, I made sure I set the pickup time for after my husband returned from work.  No sooner did my husband come home when a car pulled up, and three college students hopped out.  The one who had made the call was very friendly and eager to put Romano in the back seat of his car and head out.  We tried explaining to him how this buckling should be cared for.  We asked him where he would be staying.  He said he'd be at the "house" for the night, and then he'd go home to a farm the next morning with one of the "little sisters."  We asked him if he had food for him, and he said no.  So we stocked him with some hay and goat feed for the night.  The other two young people seemed bored and disinterested, and said nothing, and made no eye contact with us.  We had serious misgivings about this sale, but we did eventually take the money and say goodbye to Romano and pray for the best.

My husband was very concerned about this little goat, and I felt rather sick about the transaction myself.  We had only been selling goats for a couple of years, and this was the first time red flags went off when we met with prospective buyers.  I told myself that we can't control what happens to our livestock after we sell them, and this was still probably preferable to taking them to an auction.  We went about our evening routine and said a bedtime prayer with our children for the goat that night.  And we went to bed.

Around 2 AM, someone was ringing our doorbell and pounding on our door.  My husband threw on some clothes, found a hunting rifle, and flew down the stairs to the front door.  I hid out on the stairs in my nightgown to listen.  At the door stood the frightened and nervous college fraternity brother who had come to our house earlier.  In his arms was Romano.  The young man apologized profusely, and asked if we would take our goat back; we could even keep the money.  It turned out that Romano was purchased to be the entertainment at a frat party that Friday night.  Someone reported the college students to campus police because farm animals are not allowed in the borough.  When the police showed up at the Greek house, they were told to return the goat to his rightful home immediately.  And that is why they were on our front porch at 2 in the morning.  We kept Romano in our house for awhile to make sure no harm had come to him.  He seemed perfectly fine as he trotted around the living areas and then tried to come hopping up the stairs.  We finally took him back out to the barn to join the rest of his goat family.

Romano continued to live with us for another month or two until a lovely family with a small farm bought him to breed with their Nigerian Dwarf does that would be shown in 4H in the future.  This woman was sympathetic and said she had been in a sorority in college and knew what some of the Greek parties had been like that she attended.  We were all grateful that our goat was OK and appeared to have had nothing more than a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that night.  My husband and I vowed to never again go against our gut instincts when selling our animals and to be very wary of high interest from college-aged buyers.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Potluck Weekend

We attended two fantastic fall potluck dinner parties this weekend: a Bilbo Baggins Birthday Party & a Stone Soup Supper.  The weather could not have been better, the food was fabulous, and it was so good to catch up with old friends again, as well as make new acquaintances.  Both parties were in wooded settings with lots of room for all the children to run and play and make noise, and each one was so unique.  I'm including the recipes of the foods we prepared and took along, but what I really wish I had was a cookbook filled with the numerous recipes used and shared this weekend.  Despite what many people believe, potluck dinners are still alive and thriving here in rural America.

 Vegetable Bars
Cover a cookie sheet with 2 packages Pillsbury crescent rolls.  (Press seams together to form one large crust.)  Bake 7-8 minutes @ 350.
Mix 3/4 cup Miracle Whip with 2 (8oz.) packages cream cheese and 1 envelope Hidden Valley Ranch Dry dressing mix.  Spread the mixture on cooled crust.
Top with finely chopped veggies and shredded cheese.  I used broccoli, cherry tomatoes from our garden, black olives, mushrooms, and cheddar cheese. 

Pumpkin Dip
Beat 2 cups powdered sugar with 1 (8oz.) package softened cream cheese with mixer till blended.  Add 1 can pumpkin (15 oz.), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ginger.  Blend well.  Serve with ginger snaps, graham crackers, or sliced apples.

Peanut Butter Pie
Prepare 1 box vanilla pudding (cook kind) according to directions.  Add 1 cup peanut butter to it while it's hot.  Pour into prepared chocolate graham cracker pie crust.  Cool.  You can top with whipped cream or cool whip.  I just added 2 crushed Halloween Oreo cookies to the top without the whipped cream.

Shells & Vegetables Italiano
Prepare 1 box Velveeta shells and cheese as directedToss shells and cheese with 3 cups of blanched broccoli florets, 1 pint halved cherry tomatoes, 1 (3 oz.) can halved, pitted ripe black olives, 1/2 cup Italian salad dressing, and 1/2 cup sour cream.  I chill it, but it can be served warm immediately after making.

Honey Balls
Visit my post from June 9, 2015 for the recipe found here.

***All of these dishes were simple enough to put together in one morning.  It only took me about three hours to prepare everything, wash the dishes, and do a quick photo shoot.

Scenes from the Bilbo Baggins Birthday Party:

The children had to treck through the massive spider webs to kill all the enormous "spiders" popping up all over the place (made from black water balloons.)

Our 11 year old looked like Bilbo after the spiders were finished with him; although, to hear him tell  it, HE finished off the spiders.

Entertainment at the Stone Soup Supper:

The hosts' alpacas finally had babies this year (crias).  And there were also goats, chickens, rabbits, ducks, an enormous wrestling mat that the younger children covered, buzzing beehives, a guesthouse/treehouse, and more to see. 

What a terrific way to spend an autumn weekend.  What fun things did you do?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Finding Preppy Fall Fashion in Rural America

  This post is for those of you who don't live near any major metropolitan areas, and your shopping choices are severely limited, especially if you love classic preppy clothes.  This means no Vineyard Vines, Lilly Pulitzer, Kate Spade, or Tory Burch unless you shop on the Internet.  I don't know about you, but sometimes I need to browse the stores, try on a stack of clothes, and walk out with something today---not wait for UPS to deliver it next week.  So here are a few of the outfits I've been able to find recently.  Most of them were purchased locally, but there are a few items I did rely on the catalog/Internet to purchase.  These are all from major retailers that are located all over the country.  I figure if I could create a preppy wardrobe out here in the very rural Allegheny Mountains, you can do it anywhere.

In the photo above: Black & white paisley dress and shrug (Perceptions), black leather flats (Liz Claiborne) both from JC Penney.  The purse was made by an artisan in Aiken, SC many years ago, so that was not purchased locally.  I actually bought this dress and shoes 3 years ago, and it is the oldest outfit I'm wearing in this post, but I included it because it's one of the most comfortable dresses I own, and I love paisley.  I often wear it in the summer without the shrug since it's sleeveless and light weight, but it continues to work for early fall as well.  And it never needs ironed, which is a definite plus.  

I just found this shirt and skirt last week, and the entire outfit was on sale and only totaled $30!   Striped boatneck shirt (Tommy Hilfiger) & blue skirt (Lauren/Ralph Lauren) from Macy's.  The leather basketweave loafers (West 31st) are from the Bonton and are nearly a decade old.  I'm always looking for shirts this time of year that aren't too heavy, but that aren't summery either.  This one is perfect with 3/4 length sleeves, and it's not too thick or thin.  I think I'll also pair it with jeans or chinos.

I found this Argyle sweater (Croft & Barrow) on clearance this past spring at Kohl's.  It buttons up the front so I can wear it as a cardigan over a t-shirt, turtleneck, or collared blouse too.  The tan skirt (Merona) is from Target, but I purchased that about 11 years ago after our sixth child was born when I couldn't fit back into any of my old clothes.  And I never ever returned to a size 4 again.  The black & white striped ballet flats (Mossimo) were bought at Target over a year ago.

By the way, most of my children were enlisted to be my photographers yesterday whether they wanted to or not.  The only one who was excited about doing so was our seven year-old daughter who happily snapped away while I tried to give her instructions.  She must have taken 15 shots of me in this outfit. 

You can't really see the stripes in this blouse, but it's a beautiful pink & white cotton pinstriped shirt (Lauren/Ralph Lauren) found at Macy's last week.  There were many colors to choose from, but this was my favorite.  The navy blue chinos (L.L. Bean) are one of those items I had to mail-order, but I bought the white reversible leather belt from Kohl's, and the paisley canvas sneakers (Mossimo) were purchased at Target in the spring.  I know they're not really fall-like, but I like them so much that I'll probably continue wearing them throughout this month.  Oh, and that's me trying to keep the gnats out of my eyes and mouth.  Yesterday had to be the buggiest day all summer---which didn't make it any easier to persuade my boys to come outside and take pictures.

Aside from swatting bugs, we also had goat kids escaping their pasture and coming up to our photo shoot.

This is what they were doing under the clothesline while we were taking pictures of preppy clothes.

This is the last of my outfits today because it was the last of the photographing.  My ten year old son took two pictures while the gnats swirled around his head, and he said he was done.  I was tired of dealing with them too, and it was incredibly warm and muggy, and I was perspiring in my fall clothes.  This was the best shot of the two, and not very flattering of me, but it shows the outfit: White t-shirt (Land's End), oatmeal cardigan I purchased in early summer (Gap), blue jeans (St. John's Bay) bought at JC Penney a year ago, same leather reversible belt (Kohl's), dark brown leather heeled loafers from Bon Ton a year or so ago, and a gold cross necklace that belonged to my grandmother (all my pearls need restrung.)  I have discovered that cardigans are the best wardrobe item for those of us with an expanding midriff.  They camouflage that middle-aged spread quite nicely.

These clothes work for most of my days: volunteering, substitute teaching, chauffeuring children, shopping and running errands, attending meetings, and doing things around the house.  Macy's, BonTon, Kohl's, Target, and the Gap supplied most of the items, and I supplemented with L.L. Bean and Land's End.  It takes some real looking through the stores to find classic American clothing that looks good on a middle-aged mom who tries to be frugal, but it can be done...even in the middle of nowhere.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

This is the Crazy, Divine Story of How We Got This House


Scattered throughout years of ordinary life are these handfuls of supernatural events that remind me something much greater than myself is in charge.  Ten years ago today our family purchased, and moved into, this mountain farmhouse.  The complicated story of how this took place is one of those rare, miraculous events that only those closest to us know about.  Today I share it with you.

When we first began looking at houses in May of 2006, we had just listed our suburban South Carolina house with a realtor.  I was nearly seven months pregnant with our seventh child, and I hoped to be settled in a new house before his birth.  In the meantime, we were renting a beautiful, century-old Victorian house on the corner of a small town with two main roads up against the property.  It was a quaint town and a lovely house, but the roads and the pond were less than ideal for us since we had three toddlers and preschoolers at the time.  We called an old friend of the family (who happened to be a realtor) and set up a date to tour some houses.  My husband also searched the Internet and discovered this farmhouse had just been listed.  It looked perfect, except for the fact that it only had three bedrooms and one main bathroom.  We decided to put it on our list of possibilities.

That day in early May, we looked at numerous new houses in subdivisions, an interesting large house with several acres near a river (but no basement, attic, or any storage space whatsoever), and this mountain farmhouse.  We drove farther and farther out into the country, turned onto a gravel lane that wound through the woods, over a small bridge, and up the mountain.  And we arrived at this house on a sunny spring day.  The lilacs were in full bloom, and there were so many of them.  The pool was clear and shimmering.  The grass was a lush green, and the yard and property seemed to go on forever and disappear into the woods somewhere.  I was instantly in love, and I hadn't even walked into the house yet.

It just got better and better because there were covered porches, a split staircase, colonial colors and light fixtures, original doors and oak floors upstairs, and wide pine plank floors down.  Additionally, there was a full sized basement and attic to store all of our stuff and a large shed divided into a garage and another nearly-finished room with a loft above for storage and a lean-to for who knows what.  I thought it was perfect, and I never needed to look at another house again.  It didn't matter that it was over 120 years old.  Or that the basement sometimes flooded.  Or that the entire house had only one closet.  Or that a family of 7 was going to share one main bathroom on the top floor or have to venture down into the rustic basement to use the half-bath.  Or that it would take over six hours to mow all that grass if you had a riding lawn mower, which we didn't.

I was ready to make an offer right then and there.  But there was a glitch.  Our house in South Carolina hadn't sold yet.  We had a mortgage, installment loans on a minivan and remodeling of a bathroom in that SC house, and we were paying off the remainder of some student loans.  As depressing as it was, our lender informed us that we could only afford a house in a lower price range.  That was a very disappointing day, to say the least.

So we spent the next two-three months with the realtor all over the county looking at cheaper houses.  We didn't like any of them.  As my due date neared, however, I felt like we needed to settle on something.  Our lease was running out on the Victorian rental house.  We even considered purchasing it and finishing the spacious attic, but the small yard and noisy roads were not right for our family.  We started making offers on some of the smaller houses, but rather peculiar things happened when we did.  On the one house, someone counter-offered more money within hours of our offer---even though the house had been on the market for months.  Another house was under contract, but the realtor believed it was going to fall through.  After our offer, the contract was accepted and those buyers closed on the house.  On yet another house, after we made our offer, the sellers changed their minds and decided not to sell.  This went on and on throughout the summer.  In the meantime, I got more and more pregnant, our current lease was due to expire, and I continued to dream of this mountain farmhouse.

On July 14, 2006, I went into labor with our youngest son.  It was the hottest day of the summer, and we were scheduled to look at six houses with our one, four, and five year olds in tow.  I felt as if we HAD to decide on a house that day before I had this baby.  The very last house we looked at was a duplex in the middle of town.  It was a nice neighborhood, but we hadn't been interested in a duplex.  Our realtor assured us we would like it though, so we looked.  By the end of the day, we were hot, sweaty, hungry, and tired.  I held off going to the hospital until after dinner because I wasn't in that much pain.  When we finally arrived and I was admitted, I told my husband to call the realtor and make an offer on the duplex because I wanted to know we had a house under contract, at least.  He acquiesced because it's never smart to argue with a woman in labor.

Within hours, our son was born, and it was by far the shortest and mildest active labor I've ever had. The next day, we received a call from our realtor stating that the owner of the duplex (who happened to live in the other half) rejected our offer even though it was very close to the listed price.  So we offered the full amount.  He again rejected it.  Our realtor was perplexed.  She had never seen anything like this in her decades of real estate sales.  Her partner met with the owner in person, and he came right out and said he would not sell that house to people of color nor to ethnic minorities...nor to people with children.  He had apparently been watching us as we toured the other half of the duplex.  Our children were well-mannered and well-behaved even though they had spent all day looking at houses in the heat.  But seeing my husband and me with three small children and me being extremely pregnant turned him off, I suppose.  Unfortunately for him, there are laws against discrimination, and the realtor promptly removed the For Sale sign from his lawn, and all the local real estate agents refused to represent him.

Our realtor met with us and urged us to file a legal complaint with the US Housing and Urban Development so this person couldn't continue to discriminate.  She was appalled and embarrassed by the entire situation, especially since she was the one who urged us to look at that duplex when we really hadn't been interested at first.  I was initially hurt, flabbergasted, and offended at what had just happened.  In my postpartum, hormonal state I felt shocked and speechless.  Once our baby and I returned "home" from the hospital, however, I realized that aside from filing the lawsuit, we also still needed to find a house because time was rapidly running out on our rental agreement.  Fortunately, our house in South Carolina had sold a month earlier, and in a totally unexpected way.  Within a week of being listed, another realtor decided to purchase it at the full asking price because of its location adjacent to the horse fields where the annual Steeplechase occurred.  She planned to update the fifty year-old house and then flip it as soon as possible.  We had only owned the house for five years, so we didn't have a lot of equity in it, but it sold at such a good price that we made a nice profit.  We never dreamed that would happen, but it enabled us to pay off most of our loans which changed our buying power considerably.

At the same time all this was going on, my husband picked up some extra hours in the ER of a local hospital.  One night as he was talking about our adventures in house hunting, his boss mentioned that her house was for sale, and maybe we should check it out.  It had been on the market for nearly three months, and although offers had been made, none of them were close to the asking price.  What do you know?  Her house was the same farmhouse we had looked at in May---THE house I wanted in the worst way but had given up on.  I called our lender again and asked what we could afford now that our SC house had sold.  She asked if there was a house we had in mind, and she didn't have to ask twice.  We talked to our realtor immediately and made a good offer, and six weeks later the seven of us moved into that house.  THIS house.  And that is our happy ending.

Several years later, we were granted a significant amount of money from the HUD settlement.  It enabled us to build a greenhouse and install an aquaponics system without incurring debt.  And that is really how our farmhouse turned into a small farm since the herbs and greens grown in the aquaponics system were the first items we sold to the public at a local farmers' market.  How amazing is that?

My wish for all of you readers is that your lives be sprinkled with such miraculous moments to ponder and share.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Why I Fall in Love With Fall

These are the things I love most about autumn. 

Making & eating chunky chili, soups, and stews

 Picking apples...

...and making apple crisp

Fall flavored coffees and fall scented candles

Decorating the front porch with pumpkins and mums

 Chilly hay rides 

Making numerous batches of pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

Wearing loose sweaters and warm boots

Using pumpkin body products...

...and trying tasty pumpkin treats 

Cool walks through the woods...

...and trips to the corn maze

Collecting pumpkins

But mostly, I love taking in the awesome beauty of it all.

What do you love most about fall?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Fall Has Come to Our Farmhouse Kitchen

While the children were at school yesterday, I dug out the fall decorations---new and old---and began embracing the upcoming season.  The near 90 degrees outside reminded me that it is still officially summer, but in my kitchen, it looks and smells like autumn.

Keep in mind that this 130 year-old farmhouse is a work in progress.

Our free time is limited, but I do what I can to spiffy things up here.  These wooden-wick candles really do crackle when they burn, making the kitchen smell like fall spices and sound like you've got a campfire going. 

With a household of seven and only one closet in the house, much of our stuff is on display.

Like this little stand that holds our phone books, schedules, and numerous papers that come home daily that I have to sort through.  For lack of a better place, all of the lunch bags tend to get stashed here too.

My dinner menu chalkboard hangs here, but it's also holding fall leaves for the time being.

I'm not sure how many days we'll get through before someone spills chocolate goat's milk all over the new table runner.  There's a good reason why my decorations come from Kohl's, Michael's, and even Dollar General.  My sanity remains somewhat intact if a $6 item gets ruined, as opposed to something much nicer that requires dry cleaning.

I still haven't done anything with this kitchen corner.  Instead of a secretary's desk, I think I need a corner hutch more, but I feel like we really must refinish the floor in here first.

My kiddos tend to eat more fruit when they're out on display like this.

A few years ago, I was ready to get rid of our electric stove/oven and replace it with a wood-fired one like the Amish have.

What was I thinking?

We do have this wood/coal burning stove that not only keeps the house warm in the winter, but it also serves as a backup for cooking if we lose power---which happens quite a bit.  It gets hot enough to simmer soup, boil water, and fry some eggs.

But it seriously needs cleaned and polished several times a year.

I don't know about you, but this is making me feel like warming up some spiced apple cider and baking some apple crisp or pumpkin cobbler.  

Thanks for meeting me today in our not-so-preppy farmhouse kitchen.