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Monday, May 29, 2017

Ugly: This is my Summer Book Recommendation

I don't read too many autobiographies/memoirs, and when you're trying to find a good one for your fifth grader to meet the requirements for his class's 30 Book Challenge before the last week of school, they are hard to come by.  Fortunately, our son's friend told him about this book, and it was in the school library.  Our ten year-old boy doesn't really like to read very much; he'd rather be running and climbing trees and building with Legos and playing Minecraft.  He was not at all thrilled that he was required to read 30 books this school year, and they had to be of different genres yet to boot.  We have shelves and shelves of books for all ages in our old farmhouse, but we really didn't have many memoirs that a preteen would be interested in reading.  I was relieved when he checked out Ugly by Robert Hoge.

This story caught his attention from the start.  We had watched some episodes of Call the Midwife, so he was familiar with babies born in the 1960s and 1970s being born with major malformations due to medicines pregnant mothers were often given before the medical experts knew there was a link.  We all cried together when we saw one particular scene where a baby girl was born with no arms, no legs, and only part of a trunk and head.  The attending doctor and nurse left her abandoned on a counter in front of an open window to speed up the process of a "natural death."  One of the sisters/midwives discovered her there and wrapped her up in a blanket and held her, soothed her, and baptized her until she took her last breath.  She was able to console her mother who hadn't even had a chance to see her baby by telling her that the baby felt loved in her dying moments.  I went through half a box of tissues that night.

Robert Hoge was one of those babies born in Australia in 1972 with only partially formed legs and a large tumor growing out of the center of his face which left him with no nose and eyes on the sides of his head.  He was the youngest of five children in a working class family, and his parents didn't take him home from the hospital immediately.  In fact, they weren't sure they were going to take him home ever, but they finally asked his siblings what they would like to do, and they unanimously voted to keep him.  Once they made the decision, his entire family was committed to giving him the most normal life they could.

His story is not one of sorrow, but instead, it's a very straightforward account of his childhood and the various incidents that made him who he is.  It's geared toward adolescents and juveniles, so it's an easy and quick read, but it holds your attention as you find yourself routing for him on field day, on a bicycle, in the swimming pool, and on the playground.  There are plenty of humorous tales interwoven through his examples of overcoming adversity.  I won't spoil the ending for you, but he ends his memoir at the age of 14 when he is given the choice of whether or not he will have one final surgery in an attempt to make him look more "normal."

Our son talked about this book in the car and at the dinner table, and he urged me to read it.  There are very few books that he recommends to anyone, so I was intrigued.  I put it off because I'm already in the middle of several other books, as I always am, and I wasn't looking forward to reading another children's book.  However, I promised that I would read it over this Memorial Day weekend, and I finished it in two days.  Afterwards, I did a Google search to see what this guy actually looks like and what his life is like now.  Again, no spoiler alert from me.  You've got to read his book first and resist the temptation to find him on the Internet before you do.

I promise that you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pool Tales: The Final Chapter

 When we bought this house nearly eleven years ago, this was the view from our patio off the back of our old farmhouse.  We never cared much about having our own swimming pool, but since it was already here, that was pretty awesome.  Except for the fact that I had two preschoolers, a toddler, and an infant, and as you can see, there was no fence around the pool.  But it was an incredible view, and at night, the moonlight reflected off the water, and the stars were so bright overhead, and I thought my husband and I would spend every summer night on rafts in this pool.  We'd float around in the quiet watching fireflies and sipping some wine or a Gin & Tonic after the little ones had gone to bed with the baby monitor plugged in next to us.  I'm not sure what I imagined our teenage son doing at the time...listening to music, watching a movie, reading a book?  It doesn't really matter because we only ever ventured into that pool by ourselves one time at night anyway.

 Because here's what no one ever told me about having a swimming pool in the country on the side of the mountain: all kinds of creatures come to the pool...especially at night.  We had already seen the multitudes of long, thick black snakes slither up from under the concrete each May when the weather got warm and we were just opening up the pool.  Sometimes early in the season, we'd be floating in the water on a sunny afternoon and two or three snakes would come slithering along the concrete and off into the grass.  We discovered early on that mice, birds, moles, and even an occasional rabbit came to the pool at night and then drowned in the water early in the morning.  We've had Amish neighbors' geese and ducks show up there, and one time, even a cow!  Of course, lots and lots of insects, centipedes, and spiders are also drawn to the water, and that means when it gets dark, the bats come too.

The first night that my husband and I actually got the kids to bed without us falling asleep in the process, we poured ourselves some vino and sneaked out to the pool.  Never mind that the boys' room looked out over the pool; we'd just quietly step in for a quick dip, and they'd never know we were out there.  We were in the water sipping wine looking at those magnificent stars and feeling like the luckiest couple on earth.  This was paradise; who needs a vacation?  That was until I felt something swoosh down and brush against my hair.  Then it happened again and again.  My husband felt it too.  We looked up and there were bats swooping down to catch the bugs flying around and landing on the water.  And they didn't stop.  And I was done.  No matter how quiet, peaceful, or romantic of a night this was, there was no room for bats in my vision.  And we never did that again.  I figured that one day in the future, when our kids would be older and in school or out of the house, we'd go out there alone again while it was still daylight when the bats were wherever they go at night around here.  I don't want to think too hard about that.

But alas, that is not meant to be because this past winter our pool liner ripped.  We noticed the water level going down after the pool was covered.  We knew that come spring, we would have to finally fork out the money to have it replaced.  We weren't thrilled about it, but we were prepared.  But things just got worse.  With each violent storm we got this winter and early spring, the situation got worse and worse.  Pieces of the liner tore and blew all over the yard and lane.  Where the pool cover had pulled away, it looked to me like concrete was starting to crumble, and was that actual dirt falling into the pool?  When I made the call to the swimming pool business and told them we might need a little bit more than just a new liner, he asked me to send him pictures.  I knew it must be bad.

 After receiving several quotes of upwards of $15,000, I told my husband we just weren't going to do it.  After the first month that we have it open, our kids lose interest in swimming in it.  Last year after lunch each day, I had to force them to spend an hour in the pool because their dad and I had just spent hundreds of dollars on more pool chemicals and hours of our time cleaning it.  I literally had to set a timer to ensure they'd be out there a full hour.  I realize how ridiculous this sounds now and I wonder why we went on as long as we did.  So this Memorial Day weekend, instead of pulling off the pool cover, vacuuming up hundreds of tadpoles, and pouring in pounds and pounds of chlorine and stabilizer to get our pool ready for the summer, we'll be waiting for equipment to show up to begin breaking up the concrete and filling in our pool.  It feels rather sad because it's yet another reminder that an era of our life here is coming to an end.  Our youngest five children have grown up here, and their memories of summer are spattered with learning to swim, diving for toys, swimming until their teeth chatter from the 66 degree water temperature in early June, and eating popsicles around the pool.  Our summers will be different.

But there is a silver lining to this final chapter of my tale: I have big plans for that nice flat area on this side of the mountain.  Once it's all filled in, and it's covered in thick, green grass, I have my eye on some canopies, outdoor tables and Adirondack chairs, some wonderful fire pits that can also be used for tables, a tiki bar, and fairy lights.  I can see some fantastic farm-to-table dinners out there with lots of friends and family gathered together.  The moonlight won't be reflecting off the pool anymore, but the stars will be just as bright, and it will be just as peaceful as it has always been.

And I'm trusting that the bats won't find our back yard as enticing as it was before.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Mother's Day Poem

Our teen daughter presented to me this poem she composed as her Mother's Day gift this year.  I am sharing it with you as my gift to all of you mothers who make sacrifices every day for the little people in your life.  You mean the world to them.

When You Thought I Wasn't Looking

 When you thought I wasn't looking
I watched you wake in the morning
and I learned that it's OK to look "imperfect"

 When you thought I wasn't looking
I saw you get ready for the day and drink coffee
and I learned that perfection is easy for you
and coffee is essential

 When you thought I wasn't looking
I saw you go about your daily work
and I learned that you do everything with love

 When you thought I wasn't looking 
I watched you struggle with your mother
and I realized that you are the most loving person
that I have ever known

When you thought I wasn't looking
I watched you cry over things you couldn't control
and I learned that love takes time

 When you thought I wasn't looking
I looked
and I wanted to thank you for the things you do
when you thought I wasn't looking  

Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

My 5 Favorite Fabulous Cleaning Products

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I really hate to clean.  I'll cook all day, fill the clothesline with laundry, organize and decorate, and I'll even pick up after seven people and a menagerie of pets and livestock.  But I hate to clean.  So when I finally find those rare products that perform miracles with little effort from me, I've got to brag on them.  So here we go...the cleaning products hall of fame at the Preppy Mountain Farmhouse:

1. Bar Keepers Friend:
This powder has been the only thing to clean the gray marks and yellowing in our new cast iron sink.  A little goes a long way, and it doesn't smell strong like bleach does.  Bleach products actually didn't work at all, but Bar Keepers Friend does.  This stuff is awesome.

2. the Works: Although no one wants to talk about this subject, I have to sing the praises of this product for cleaning old toilets.  We have had plumbers here to unclog toilets more times than I would like to admit, and then my husband decided he would purchase the necessary tools to get the job done himself.  One time when there was a particularly persistent problem (due to a softball sized wad of toilet paper discovered later in a pipe) Hubby used every tool in the book, and in the process, scratched up the porcelain in the bottom of the bowl pretty bad.  Additionally, we have hard water with sulfur and limestone in it, and that repeatedly stained the toilet as well.  I tried all kinds of products, but nothing got it really clean.  That is, until I gave The Works a try.  Now, with the exception of the scratches in the porcelain, the toilet is sparkling white again.  This cleaner really does work, and I always have a bottle on hand in the bathroom.

3. Lime-A-Way: Along the same vein, tackling the gradual yellowing of our new bathtub was also a problem until we started using this cleaner.  I can spray Lime-A-Way on those yellowed areas from our well water, let it sit for a few minutes, and then return and wipe it away.  Before I discovered The Works, I used this in the toilet too.  It helped to a certain degree, but never to my satisfaction.  It's terrific in the bathtub, however.

4. Fels-Naptha: Back in the day when I made nearly everything from scratch, I mixed up large batches of homemade laundry detergent.  Fels-Naptha soap was a leading ingredient, and I still have extra bars sitting around the house.  I have found it to be the best pre-treatment for stains on clothing.  I simply wet the bar a bit, and rub it on the soiled spots before I throw the items in the washing machine.  It really works on most anything I've come across in the hamper as long as the stained article of clothing hasn't previously been washed and dried.  This is simple enough for the kiddos to pre-treat their own clothing when those white uniform shirts come home from school with splatters of ketchup or tomato sauce all over them.

5. Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar: Finally, my go-to product for any number of things is organic apple cider vinegar.  This serves all kinds of medicinal purposes, of course.  But I also use a 50-50 dilution of it with water in a spray bottle to clean windows and glass, disinfect and clean spots on our wooden kitchen counter tops and those newly finished pine kitchen floors.  I've even used it on the itchy spots on our beagle when she just won't stop licking and scratching.  Any time I need to clean, disinfect, or treat something, and I'm not sure a harsher cleaner would be safe to use, I turn to pure vinegar.

So there you have it: my favorite picks for doing my least favorite life tasks.  If anyone has a tool or product that is fantastic at cleaning up dust and dog fur, I am all ears.  That is one problem in this old farmhouse that I just cannot seem to overcome.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Girl's First Communion Party

Our youngest child had her First Holy Communion this past weekend, so we threw a small party with family and friends afterwards.  I let our daughter choose the decorations, and Party City was the place to shop.  They had all kinds of decorations in pinks, blues, and gender neutral colors.  We got a package of 3 of these Chinese lanterns which we hung from chandeliers in the rooms downstairs and the hallway.

They sold various sizes of these plates and napkins, plus paper cups for the children.

Our daughter was especially keen on the hanging cardboard Communion cutouts with shiny pink metallic string which we hung from windows and door frames. 

I saw some beautiful white cupcakes on Pinterest arranged in the shape of a cross.  Party City had silver cross cupcake liners and pink cross cupcake toppers, along with the silver tray, pink candy sprinkles, and silver shimmering food color spray for the top of the icing.  Ours weren't as pretty as the ones on Pinterest, but they did turn out better than they look in this picture, and they were all gone by the next morning.

My older daughter and I had saved a number of food pins to make for this party until I sat down and faced the reality that there was no way I was going to have time to make all that food.  I was barely home last week to get laundry done and the dog fur swept up.  So I resigned myself to the typical lunch time fare of deli meat/cheese sandwiches, fruit & veggie trays with dips, barbecue meatballs in the crockpot, chips and more dips, mixed nuts for those of us trying to stay away from carbs, and more deviled eggs (because our hens are still giving us a dozen eggs/day.)

But I did make this pink party punch that I saw on Pinterest that some cool mom made for her daughter's Shopkins party.  I forgot to take any photos before the party and then I had my husband go around photographing when the more popular foods and drinks were nearly devoured.  This is so simple.

Pink Party Punch
Mix 2 liters of Sprite, 2 quarts of pink raspberry lemonade, and 2 quarts of cactus twist sorbet.  That's it!

Eleven children were at our house celebrating that afternoon, and they all looked so awesome.

But that only lasted for about five minutes because everyone eagerly changed into play clothes for some light saber/Nerf gun wars in the yard and pastures.  You can't see him in this photo, but there was an escaped billy goat out there in the midst of these battles, just minding his own business and chowing down on dandelions.

We all had a great time, but the day was bittersweet for me as we watched our last child take her First Holy Communion with parents holding fidgety babies and toddlers all around us, and it hit me that this is the first time I was there with my arms empty.  And this would be the final time we would be experiencing this special day with one of our children.

God Bless!