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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bucket Lists

Bucket lists are things I've heard others refer to from time to time, but I never gave them much thought.  I've been too busy keeping up with my to-do lists, wish lists, seasonal project lists,  grocery lists, Christmas and birthday lists, carb counter lists, blog stat lists, and lists of short and long-term goals.  Bucket lists were for middle-aged people who were considering their mortality and making a plan to complete in the last half of their lives all the things they had never done but still wanted to do---before their time ran out.

However, last week I came across a newspaper article about creating bucket lists, and it has been occurring to me lately that unless I live well past the century mark, like it or not, I am middle-aged.  So I read the article, jotted down the questions in my phone, and have been giving this a lot of thought.  These are the modified questions I've been pondering so I can create my own Bucket List:

  • If time and money were unlimited, this is what I would do:
  • What have I been putting off that I have always wanted to do?
  • What are the countries I want to visit?
  • The things I want to see or experience in person are:
  • What skills do I still want to learn?
  • The most important things I can do are:
  • What do I need to do to lead a life of the greatest meaning?
There was also a question about what I would like to achieve, but I chose to replace it with these two:
  • If I knew this would be the last year of my life, how would I spend it?
  • If this was the last hour of my life, what would I wish I had spent more time doing? 
I was rather surprised to discover that there wasn't as much on my bucket list as I expected there to be.  Much of the traveling I've always wanted to do hasn't happened yet.  I haven't written a best seller.  I don't yet have an addition on our old farmhouse.  I didn't go to graduate school and get my PhD.  I haven't thrown a grand farm-to-table party in our back yard.  But that dream I had as a girl to live in a white farmhouse with covered porches on a mountain with an adoring husband and lots of beautiful children did come true.  I did get my BA; I did teach; I did work and volunteer in libraries.  I have the goats and chickens and gardens, the porch rockers and swings, and the piano and white wicker furniture I used to envision.  Our house is the one where extended family congregates for holidays and other special occasions.  Our first grandchild lives nearby.  Life is good.

I realized that the things that nag at me---that I think I must have or do or be in order to feel that I have lived a successful life---fall off my bucket list when I get to the last few questions.  And then it really all comes down to one very important thing: how well I have loved.

"At the end of life, we are going to be judged on the basis of our love for one another."---Saint Mother Teresa
 What's on your bucket list?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

So Many Cooks in the Kitchen

 Last evening my white farmhouse kitchen looked like we were preparing a stone soup for dinner.  Four generations of family members wandered in and out of the room, most staying to contribute something to a hearty chicken stew I was attempting to make for the first time.

Some were stirring the pot at the stove while others were retrieving ingredients (and wine) from the refrigerator and basement.

 Others were using their culinary skills to chop numerous vegetables and herbs while a few smaller family members stood by inspecting the progress.

Many of us took turns with the challenging task of keeping a certain eight month old happy and out of mischief.

Those with less experience in the kitchen were in charge of being the sommelier and making lively conversation. 

There were a couple of us in charge of adding diced ingredients to the pot when it was time.

While others just hung around looking handsome and waiting to be sent outside to gather eggs and feed the livestock.

As for me, I was the photographer, of course.  I was all prepared to make the entire dinner myself, as I do most of the time.  It was a pleasant reprieve to simply be the one overseeing it all and delegating various tasks to everyone else.  In the midst of the organized chaos, though, I forgot to take any pictures of the finished product, which got an excellent rating from almost every family member.  All I've got is the image in the cookbook above.  There weren't even any leftovers to heat up and photograph today.  I'll conclude by saying that the phrase "There are too many cooks in the kitchen" just didn't apply.  Each of the eleven family members who were present contributed something and turned out to be the perfect number for making this stew.

Adapted from the Cooking Light: Top-Rated Recipes special edition:
Chicken, Apple, & Butternut Stew (p. 56)

Peel & cube a butternut squash, and peel and dice a bunch of parsnips, and set aside.

Cut up 2 pounds of boneless chicken thighs into bite-size pieces and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt & 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Put 1 Tbsp. olive oil into a large pot and heat over medium heat.  Add half the chicken and saute until browned.  Repeat with remaining chicken, then remove to a plate or bowl.
Chop 2 onions & 3 Tbsp. fresh sage.  Add another Tbsp. olive oil to pot and add the onion, sage, and 2 tsp. dried ginger.  Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the cubed squash and the diced parsnips.  Cook another 2 minutes.  Sprinkle the vegetables with 5 Tbsp. of flour.  Cook 1 minute, stirring to prevent sticking.

Stir in 3 cups apple cider and 3 cups of unsalted chicken stock.  Stir in the cooked chicken, 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper.  Bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer for 25 minutes.

Peel and chop 3-4 cups of Granny Smith apples.  After the stew has simmered for 25 minutes, add the apples and cook for another 10 minutes.

* I probably added a bit more salt and pepper to this.  I didn't actually measure it.  We also wanted to make the stew thicker, so after adding the cider and stock, I dissolved 1 Tbsp. of corn starch in 1/4 cup of water and stirred that in.  There was so much talk and activity going on that it's a really good thing that I wasn't making this myself because it would have taken me hours to concentrate and get all the prep work done.  It was definitely more fun to read the recipe aloud, sip some wine, take some pictures, and hold our grandson.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Buried: Snow Covered Dreams

Snowstorm Stella came, and she didn't disappoint.  The children are having their second snow day this week, and we are in the midst of digging ourselves out from under the biggest snowfall we've seen since we moved back up North eleven years ago.

The snow was past the knees of our little ones yesterday morning.

It was up past my knees yesterday afternoon.

We had to shovel out doors and vehicles and animals.

It continued to snow a bit through the night, and the children can now crouch in the shoveled paths and let the wind blow the snow right over the tops of them.  They say they're crawling in the trenches.

This snow has covered outdoor benches, picnic tables, patio chairs, and most of our chicken tractor.  You can barely see where the front porch begins because the snow is higher than the steps and nearly level with the porch floor.

Other than driving our daughter to the orthodontist later today, I'm staying inside, content to watch the blowing, drifting snow through our farmhouse windows.  I'm feeling rather contemplative and am re-reading some books on discovering and living your dreams.  Like the daffodils that had sprouted a few inches but are now covered with two feet of snow, I think the dreams of my younger self have been buried for years under decades of birthing, nursing, and mothering young children.  I can feel the seasons of my life changing though, transitioning and morphing into something new that I want to more clearly see and define.

Just as clearing paths in this snow helps us find what was buried underneath, I find myself needing to uncover dreams from long ago that got put on the back burner because my family needed so much of me for so many years.  Even though life is still full of activities and responsibilities and obligations, and our farmhouse is full of children and life and growth, there are now some nooks and crannies of my day that are free for me to dream again.  I can take out those buried dreams and brush them off and pursue them again, or I can dream up something new.  I'm more aware than I've ever been that I've still probably got half of my life to live, and I don't want to waste it all on mindless tasks, errands and shopping, and social media consumption.  I want to make sure I am living purposefully, and that is what I'm pondering these days.  

Nelson Mandela said it better than I:
"What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived.  It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead." 

I'm praying that all of you hit by Stella are finding your way out of the mounds of snow today, and I'm hoping that all of you readers everywhere are living your dreams to the fullest.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Beautiful Mess: My Life

Last week while in Michael's, I came across a bin of brightly colored journals with various words embossed on the covers.  As soon as my eyes landed on this one, I knew it was the right journal for me.  A beautiful mess perfectly describes the season of life I am living right now.  It's a different kind of mess from five years ago when we were finishing up our last round of breastfeeding, potty training, and getting children to sleep in their own beds throughout the night.  Back when we were establishing our little farm and helping goats birth babies, butcher our own chickens, and start seedlings for the gardens all throughout the house.  Those were the days when we had five children under the age of eleven, and I was homeschooling all of them.  Life was most definitely messy, but it was a different kind of mess.  I never thought I'd say this, but I actually kind of miss some of those days.

Now the house is void of diapers, potty chairs, and toddler beds.  I typically let the goats and sheep do their own birthing and only intervene when they're in serious distress and no one else is available.  We no longer butcher any animals (hated that part of farming), nor is my husband allowed to fill every sunny windowsill or table with trays of dirt.  My eleven years of being a homeschooling mom have come to an end, and our farmhouse is now full of preteens and teenagers, except when our baby grandson comes for a visit.  I suppose our youngest---who is about to turn eight---isn't officially a preteen yet, but in her mind, she's been an adolescent since she was about three.  Middle schoolers and high schoolers bring their own unique brands of mess to the house, as do the middle-aged parents who reside with those adolescents.  And that is the season we are currently in.

I'm a little more aware of (and annoyed by) the disarray today because we are just finishing up spring break when we are all home together much of the time.  The weather has not cooperated with the break, and even though the younger children did spend some time outdoors, most of the week has been rainy or cold, so we've been inside a lot.  The kitchen sink has filled up quickly with coffee mugs used to create individual "snickerdoodle" treats found on Pinterest by our ninth grade daughter.  The dining room/multi-purpose room table has been covered in papers, pencils, and tape used by our youngest as she makes more artistic creations.  Which, by the way, is most definitely an improvement over the entire walls she used to cover with her "artwork."  The coffee table in our living room held Nerf guns, tablets, headphones, and sketchbooks until I insisted that everyone pick up their stuff last evening before company came.  The boys' bedroom has always been a disaster zone, but this week all I can see are Legos everywhere.  This is because the ten and eleven year-olds are creating an entire Star Wars themed village with various shops such as Darth Vader's Bakery, Jabba's Fitness Center, and Jawas' Junk Shop.  It's quite clever, I think, but it creates a huge mess while they are in the midst of a creative brainstorm like this.  The girls' room is full of shoes, makeup, nail polish, and a homemade Shopkins house as our teen daughter is practicing new hair and cosmetic techniques for the prom, and our seven year-old has used some of her free time to build a structure for her 86 Shopkins.  Even our bedroom---which is supposed to be off-limits to everyone other than the parental unit---contains clean wet clothes hanging on Amish drying racks, clean folded piles of clothes waiting for the owners to put them in their dresser drawers, and a stack of items to be carried up to the attic, plus an additional large bag full of clothing to be taken to Goodwill.  Even the outdoor areas seem to have extra mess this week because it doesn't matter that I am ready to decorate the porches for spring; Mother Nature is making it clear that I am not in charge.  With a foot of snow forecasted here in about 24 hours, the snow shovels, skis, and rock salt are still sitting on or beside the porches for future use.  And our boys are in the process of building some kind of fort on the bank, so there are poles, arrows, rocks, and homemade flags adorning the side of our property making it clear to everyone driving up the lane that children most definitely still live here.

These are just some of the messes that make up my life and home right now.  It's by no means all of the messes.  I do get frustrated...and aggravated...and discouraged by it all far more than I care to admit.  But I also recognize that what all of these messes have in common is Life.  When I was a little girl, my favorite place to go on Sunday afternoons was my grandmother's house.  Her house was far from empty, quiet, and lonely.  Instead, my many aunts, uncles, and cousins congregated there every weekend, and the house was bustling with activity, good country food, noise, and life.  I had the best times of my childhood right there rolling down the grassy banks, playing games of wiffleball in the yard, hiking up through the cow pastures, and hunting for Easter eggs with my numerous rowdy cousins at my side.  My favorite TV show in the seventies was The Waltons, and I imagined myself growing up and living in a big white farmhouse in the mountains full of energetic, beautiful children, swinging or rocking on the expansive covered front porch.  There would always be people around, and there would always be something going on.  And that's pretty much what I finally got.  I just never thought much about the messiness that comes with that big family country life.

I sometimes feel fed up and disgusted with the messes, especially after looking at Pinterest or home magazines on the store shelves.  I want to post my own beautiful house pictures on Instagram, Facebook, and here on my blog.  I suppose I could make everyone pitch in and do some serious cleaning up, then stage the house just right, and then kick everyone out of the house for awhile so I could get some great shots to load to Google photos and use on here.  But that wouldn't be our real life.  It's not what's really going on here.  When I am feeling rather discouraged, I remember something my mother-in-law said to me four or five years ago when I was feeling especially low.  It was this time of year, and everything outside was a brown muddy mess.  My husband decided to try a new feed project for the livestock by sprouting buckwheat in trays in our kitchen.  We had an actual week old goat kid in a trough by the coal stove whose mother had rejected her and my husband insisted on saving.  And he had bricks from the barn heating on top of the coal stove to take out to the kidding stall at night to keep other new goat babies warm under the heat lamp.  I sat there on a kitchen chair in front of the stove, taking a turn holding this tiny goat kid wrapped up in a blanket, looking around me at this mess of a house that was now my life.  And I started crying.  I sobbed to my mother-in-law that I'm really not this messy, sloppy, terrible housekeeper.  That I used to live in a beautiful, neat, organized, immaculate home before I got with this son of hers and had all of these kids.  That all of this mess around me was not who I really am.  And she said the kindest, most beautiful thing that anyone could have said to me at that time.  She leaned closer and looked into my eyes and said, "Don't you know that when we come here, we don't see a horrible mess?  We see a family full of love for each other and this wonderful Life."

So in my low moments, when I start to feel angry or bitter at the clutter, the projects, the messes around me, those words of hers reverberate in my mind.  And I choose to see instead a Beautiful Mess that is this Life.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Spring Break: More Driving Without Actually Going Anywhere

Spring Break has such a nice ring to it.  After all, it's meant to be a break from school, work, and our busy lives.  And it's supposed to happen in the spring, when it's warm and sunny and green.  This week is spring break for our region, but I can assure you there is no real break for Mom, and it is definitely not looking or feeling like spring here either.

Part of the problem for our family is that there is no school for most of our children, but not all of them.  And while there are no classes in session at the local university, that doesn't mean there is no work for my husband.  And on the farm, there is truly no vacation, especially now as sheep and goats are having babies.  That means leaving the area to travel to a warmer climate is a challenge, to say the least.

Additionally, as all you mothers know, this week might mean a vacation from school for the kiddos, but it's certainly no vacation from the regular household chores for Mom.  And when it comes to chauffeuring children to and from their activities and interests, spring break simply means that job goes from being part-time to a full-time position.

While it's nice to not have to get up at 5:30 or 6 each morning to help them get ready for school and see them out the door, the rest of the day I feel like I am at their disposal.  Their excitement and hopes are high for what fun things this spring break week will bring them.  Many of their friends' families have taken this opportunity to go to Disney World, or the Caribbean, or Europe.  The ones that remain at home are making plans to get together with friends for sleepovers, playdates, or trips to the movies.  My teens are hoping for shopping excursions and jaunts to the DMV to take their driver's test.  My younger ones want to stop at the ice cream parlors or the park and spend time with their little nephew.  I'm trying to use this week to squeeze in sports physicals, dentist appointments, and vet appointments so they're not missing any school or extracurricular activities to get these things accomplished.  Plus, unbeknownst to me,  even though some of the schools are on break, that doesn't mean there is a break from sports practices.  So every day I am still driving thirty-five miles one way to take my two track participants to their two different schools at two different times for training. 

Since Sunday we've driven to Church, a sporting goods store to buy new running shoes, a birthday party, a Mexican restaurant and a bookstore so a child could buy some art books, grocery stores three times, the doctor's office, the schools numerous times, the carwash, a craft store, a creamery, the dentist's office, the gas station, the dry cleaners to pick up a prom gown, and TJ Maxx so we could look for shoes to match the prom gown.  So far the rest of the week involves trips to our son's house to pick up and return our grandson, more trips to the schools, dropping off a child at a sleepover 45 minutes away, picking up the same child at a sleepover 45 minutes away, a trip to the DMV, dropping off and picking up a goat at the veterinarian's, a possible playdate with friends who are also stuck at home on spring break, and possibly driving to the church again to help sell pierogies on Friday and then back to the church again for a rehearsal for Stations of the Cross on Saturday.  That's just what I know of now.  It's subject to change.

I should have set my odometer on our SUV to track just how many miles we're putting on it this week.  It's probably more than most of the domestic vacations we would have considered.

Does anyone else out there feel that spring break is not all that it's cracked up to be?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Babies, Babies Everywhere!

I've been rather "blah" lately.  Maybe it's the spring teaser we got in February when it was over seventy degrees for a week, and this morning it was nine!  Maybe it's this long stretch between holidays with nothing very exciting to celebrate.  Maybe it's Lent.  Maybe it's middle age.  Or maybe it's just my funky mood.  Regardless, I don't have many creative juices flowing through my veins right now, and I don't feel especially witty or interesting or profound.  So instead of talking about nothing, I thought I'd show you what life is like around the barnyard these days.  We just had another set of twin goat kids born on Friday, and there are babies all over the place.

We have baby goats.

Black goats and brown goats.

Tan and creme colored goats.

And we have baby sheep.

White sheep and gray/tan sheep.


And we have goats who ride on sheep.

I would certainly be remiss if I didn't include my favorite baby around here who doesn't live in the barn.

From the dining room/multipurpose room of the Preppy Mountain Farmhouse, I'm wishing you all a week that's not "blah."

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Taste of Summer

For the past month or so, I've continued trying out several new recipes weekly for our family dinners.  The above dish went over especially well with all family members, and it reminded us of summer.  Coincidentally, we had this during a particularly warm February day when the temperatures soared into the upper seventies, and we were able to pretend that we had fast forwarded to early June.  I modified this recipe because there were no fresh peaches in the grocery store, and I didn't have sherry vinegar on my kitchen shelves.  This is from the Cooking Light: Top Rated Recipes book that I've been using this year.

BBQ Chicken with Peach (or Mango) Feta Slaw, p. 16
Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 Tbsp. white wine, 1 Tbsp. vinegar, 1/4 tsp. pepper, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk (I used a fork.)  Add 2 sliced mangoes and a pkg. broccoli slaw.  Toss gently to coat. 
Sprinkle 3 boneless chicken breast strips with 1/4 tsp. pepper and 1/8 tsp. salt.  Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high.  Add chicken to pan and cook 6 minutes or until done.  Place chicken in a large bowl and add 1/4 cup barbecue sauce; toss to coat.
Divide slaw mixture among 4 plates.  Top evenly with the chicken strips.  Sprinkle with crumbled bacon, crumbled feta cheese, and chopped fresh chives. 

Over the past few weeks, we have also tried:
Chicken Yakitori with my lo-mein
Mini Bbq meatloaves and Roasted Broccoli
Dilly Salmon Packets with Asparagus
Pork Chops with Apples and Brussels Sprouts
Hamburger Steaks with Sweet Onion Mushrooms
Wild Mushroom Farfalle with Braised Balsamic Endive & Radicchio

The children liked all of those recipes except for the salmon and the endive/radicchio side dish.  I have no clue how anyone eats radicchio.  I put a heaping serving of it on my plate and was excited to try something new, but that was so incredibly bitter.  None of us ate it, so it went to the goats and sheep.  This evening we're having Hungarian Beef Stew.

This can be found at Amazon.

For these recipes and more, check out the above Special Edition of Cooking Light.