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Showing posts with label middle aged ramblings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label middle aged ramblings. Show all posts

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?

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.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

20 Things I Love

Last month I read a blog post by Ashley at The Big White Farmhouse blog where she made a list of 20 simple things she loves about her life.  I thought that was a wonderful way to start the new year, and it inspired me to do the same.  I decided to wait to post mine near Valentine's Day since that seemed fitting, so here is the list I came up with:

1. That first cup of steaming flavored coffee in my favorite mug when I come downstairs at 6 AM.
2. Holding and petting our 2 Maine cooncats.

3. Spending hours browsing in a library or bookstore.
4. Attending concerts and shows with my husband.


5. Sitting in my new kitchen as the sun streams through the windows.
6. The smell of homemade bread baking in the oven.


7. Seeing several "Comments Awaiting Moderation" in my blog inbox after publishing a post.
8. Sitting down to blog when the house is quiet and I have no interruptions.

9. Playing board games as a family on long winter nights.
10. The feel of a baby in my arms.


11. The smell of crisp sheets after they've hung on the clothesline on a sunny day.
12. Walking through the woods with my camera.


13. Filling a pew at church when grandparents and adult children come to visit.
14. Trying out a new dinner recipe while sipping a glass of wine.

15. Feeling the breeze off the mountain blow through our kitchen screen doors on a summer evening.
16. The sound of water flowing in the brook beside our house.


17. My afternoon cup of homemade mocha with nutmeg and cinnamon on my way to the school.
18. Watching goat kids and lambs frolic in the pastures.


19. Licking raw cookie dough off the beaters.
20. One big snowfall each winter with all of us at home for a snow day.

This list just scratches the surface.  Those of you who read this blog know that each season and holiday brings another unique collection of photographs of the things I love most about life.  Focusing on those things and the positive in every person and situation I encounter is one of my goals for this year.  

So what about you?  What would be on your list of 20 things you love?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Every Girl Needs a Gala Now and Then


Do you know how long it's been since I've donned a long dress?  It was the last time I saw my husband in black tie attire.  And the last time I've actually danced with my husband.  That was at our wedding over sixteen years ago.  

But this past weekend, along with some of our other adult family members, we attended a charity gala that was a black tie affair.  I won't bore you with pictures or embarrass the men who very reluctantly wore their tuxedos and black bow ties, but I just have to say, that every girl needs one of these events periodically in life.  I forgot how much fun it is to dress up.  Not just casual khakis and sweaters for errands and volunteering at the school.  Not just "nice" skirts or dresses for meetings, kids' performances, or church attendance.  Not even the long flowing sundresses I love to wear on summer date nights with my husband.  But dressing up in formal wear, with the sparkles, and the high heels, and the eye shadow, and actual lipstick.  Spending a couple of hours getting ready instead of a few rushed minutes felt luxurious.  It was fantastic to be going somewhere with my husband and not feeling as if I'd been thrown together amidst finding some boy's shoes or ironing someone's wrinkled pants or braiding someone's hair or tying someone's tie.  It was just us, dressed in our finest, and spending the evening with other smartly dressed grownups who were together to raise money for a good cause.  Even though we helped with this event, it wasn't me responsible for the dinner, or the cleanup, or the entertainment.  I got to enjoy the evening with some of my favorite people; there was not a single ball cap or hoodie to be seen; and I actually got in a dance with my hubby.  For one night, I didn't have to listen to children's complaints about dinner or remind everyone to brush their teeth and clean up their toothpaste spit or pick up wet towels off the bathroom floor.  I got to feel like Cinderella at the ball with her prince, and when we got home before midnight, I was exhilarated and energized and ready to tackle another week.  

So I have decided that every girl needs a formal night out...and more frequently than every sixteen years.


OK, at the risk of getting complaints from male family members later, I will bore you with one photo.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Dress Up Day


Most of my Wednesday was spent doing something I rarely do: trying on dresses in store after store.  There's an upcoming event in our future, and it gave me, my grandson, and his mama an excuse to play dress-up for the day, and it was more fun than I had imagined it would be.  Typically, shopping is not really my thing---unless it's for books.  But this day was different.


We tried on gowns.  And I got tips on how to take selfies in front of 3-way mirrors, which was a new skill learned that I will likely never use again.


I was afraid this one made me look too grandmotherly.


I mean, I love being a grandma...as long as I don't look like one.  This little guy was so patient as we tried on clothes.  In between trips to the dressing rooms, I stole smiles and coos as much as possible.


And his mama looked like this in one of the gowns.  Wow.  I know.  When we parted in the afternoon, she still hadn't made up her mind, but this red number was my personal favorite.


I also tried on some shorter dresses.  This one ended up coming home with me, but I decided it wasn't formal enough, so I'll save it for something else.


  

I think I decided that I like this one the best, but I'm still not positive.  The tags are still on it if I change my mind.


My children think the sleeves make me look like Batman, but they were one of the selling points for me because of their uniqueness.

After six stores and a surprise visit to see Hubby at work, we finally sat down for some lunch at a favorite Mexican restaurant so the baby could get changed and fed too.  Then we hit Macy's (where I found the above dress) before I had to pick up kiddos from school.  I'm eager to see which gown my shopping partner picked.  

And I'm really thinking of returning tomorrow and buying the long purple gown too---even if it does make me look like a grandmother.  The sales were great today, and I'd love to have options in my wardrobe as we head into the holidays.

I hope your Hump Day was an enjoyable one too!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Date Night at the Cabin (a.k.a. Uninterrupted Conversations About the Kids)


My husband and I had been having regular weekly dates for about a year.  That was mainly because we had to drive our teenage son to youth group over thirty miles away every Saturday night, so we used the wait time to date.  That has changed, however, and I don't think we've been anywhere alone together since our anniversary.  Life in a household of seven people just gets kind of crazy when school starts, and before we know it, adult time doesn't even exist.  So this weekend, I made a date with Hubby to simply go up to our cabin.  It's practically next door, it's free, and no one else is there.  And if the kiddos need us, we can be back in the farmhouse in a flash.

This rustic-cabin-that-needs-a-lot-of-work was fully furnished when we bought it.  In fact, it had so much furniture, kitchen stuff, old clothes and shoes, and hunting/fishing gear, that you could barely walk through it.  Our main major project the first year it was in our possession was to fill a large dumpster with stuff that we thought no one would want and fill our vehicles with other stuff to take to Goodwill.  The place is far less cluttered now, and once you get past the "eclectic decor" (yes, that's definitely meant as a euphemism) and the slight musty, mildewed smell, it's really not too bad.  There's certainly potential.

Anyway, since the cabin included quite a collection of movies that we'd never seen, I thought we could pop some popcorn on our stove, open the bottle of hard cider I picked up at the farmers' market, and watch a movie on VHS.  Does anyone else out there still have a bunch of videotapes you just can't get rid of?  And a working VCR?  It seemed like a relaxing date night to me.  We could sit up there in yoga pants or blue jeans with an old crocheted afghan over our laps (that came with the cabin too), watch a fun movie without children constantly talking or asking questions, and have the entire bowl of popcorn all to ourselves.  

It was fun at first.  But the movie stunk.  I won't even say what it was, but I felt guilty for absolutely wasting an hour and a half of our time alone sitting in front of it.  The popcorn and cider were good, but I kept wondering how many more calories I'd consumed and thinking if I were back at the house, I could at least lift my five pound dumbbells while watching this terrible video.  I was bored, so I started thinking about the research I'd done earlier in the day about an issue I'm having with one of our children.  And the longer I sat on that sofa, the more I noticed the mildew odor in the cabin, and I wondered how I will ever get rid of it.

By the time the movie had ended, the popcorn was down to the unpopped kernels, and the last drop of cider had been consumed, I was talking to my husband about my latest worries and concerns about our kids.  And this is what seems to happen at some point on every one of our dates.  It doesn't matter if we're dining in a new restaurant, sitting at Barnes and Noble with coffee and a stack of books, hiking up the mountain, or shopping (for the kids, of course), our dates always turn into uninterrupted discussions about the children.

OK, sure there are spatterings of other topics during the night, but the bulk of our evening definitely revolves around funny things one of them did, something about one of them that I'm obsessing about, or something one of them said that day that really annoyed me.  Seventeen years ago, we talked about our dreams, our ideologies, things we were passionate about, and what we thought we'd accomplish in life.  Now our conversations revolve around who's going to the cross country meet and who's driving a child to a birthday party.  Or how we're going to get one of them to care more about his education and not be satisfied with getting Cs.  Or which stores we need to get through in two hours to buy supplies for a social studies project, snacks for one of the classes for a week, and three different sizes of uniform pants because all the children seem to have outgrown their clothes in a month's time.  No matter how hard I try, I can't make it through a single date without bringing up the kids in our conversations.  I think my husband could probably do it, but I can't.

And what I'm wondering is...in a decade or so, when the last one is heading off to college, will our conversations return to our hopes and dreams when we have time alone?  Since we'll have so much time alone, will we run out of things to talk about?  Or will we be discussing our grandchildren's performance at their last soccer game?  Will I be expressing concerns about a grown child's recent move or new job? Will we be shopping for the numerous birthdays of grandchildren I anticipate written on the calendar?

Or will we simply be discussing the weather, current events, or (God forbid) the upcoming presidential election?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Baby Snuggling and Binge Watching Fixer Upper


I have spent the past few days doing the things I love to do best.  I recently answered a questionnaire that asked what am I doing when I am immersed in something and lose all track of time.  At the top of that list are holding our grandson and blogging.  Today I did both.  This morning I sat in our grandson's house with his mama and watched episode after episode of Fixer Upper on Netflix while watching our grandbaby smile and coo at me.  It was a little piece of Heaven, I tell ya.


Yesterday afternoon, while waiting for our daughter to finish up cross-country practice, her younger siblings and I did a quick walk-through of a terrific farmers' market.  I could have spent at least an hour sampling, smelling, and taking in all the good things there.  We bought three pumpkins for carving and a bottle of locally made hard cider aged in bourbon barrels.  Can't wait to try that.


Much of my time lately has been spent driving all over the county visiting local businesses and procuring items for an upcoming gala and auction that I'm helping with.  It means my days are more busy than usual, but today I had to stop and snap some pictures.  This countryside is so beautiful in the fall, even on the cloudy days like we've had here lately.


Due to my busy schedule and the amount of rainy days we've been having, my exercise routine has been greatly interrupted.  When I do get to hike though, I love to go in the evening, just as the sun is beginning to set.  This time of the day always feels magical to me, especially now when the air is turning crisp and a bit cool as the sun goes down.


My third favorite thing in the whole world to do is read, and it has been that way for as long as I can remember.  Actually, before our grandson was born, reading a good book was number one on my list of all time favorites.  A luxurious day for me is to be able to spend an entire morning in my comfy chair with a cup of pumpkin spice coffee, a blanket over my lap, and a book in my hand.  I don't read much fiction anymore, but this memoir read much like a novel.  Not sure why I couldn't put it down except that I have a voracious appetite for ingesting anything related to social class in America.  This book caught my attention, and once I got past the rather shocking language used, I was enthralled and felt like I just had to finish it.  One of these days I'll get around to writing a post on growing up blue collar and rising to the middle/upper-middle class.


Finally, I have been getting little snippets of time up close with our farm animals.  The chickens have already stopped laying eggs now that the hours of sunlight have dropped.  Although some of our goat kids have been sold, we still have four adorable little guys and gals around.  Watching goat babies run and frolic is one of the best stress-relievers and mood-lifters I know.  If only I had them around to look at when I'm stuck in aggravating traffic each day.

I hope you're getting some time to engage in an activity where you lose all track of time, and life isn't just busy, busy, busy.  

Also, our thoughts are with all those in the path or aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.  We still have friends and family along the southeastern coast and pray for their safety.
 

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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Baked Cavatelli, Botox Conversations, and Cookie Bars


In keeping with my earlier attempts to beat the January doldrums, we had some friends over for dinner last weekend.  While the boys took turns riding a dirt bike, the girls chatted and listened to music, and the adults discussed all kinds of unrelated things over some pumpkin beer and white wine.  This family is of Italian descent, but that slipped my mind when I prepared a menu of two full baking dishes of cavatelli, garlic bread, and salad.  Once they arrived, it occurred to me that none of my Italian dishes could possibly compete with what their grandmothers prepared.  But it was too late to change my mind.  I apologize for the somewhat blurry pictures today.  I took these shots hurriedly with my tablet after a few glasses of wine as everyone watched and waited for me to be finished so we could finally eat.  I'm not sure how other bloggers discreetly photograph their subjects for upcoming blog posts.  I always feel rather embarrassed photographing in front of my guests.


Baked Cavatelli

Prepare 1 pound of wagon wheel pasta al dente.  Drain and set aside.  Bake 1 pound of Italian link sausage for 45-60 minutes until cooked through.  Slice approximately 1/2 inch thick and set that aside.  In a small skillet, cook 3 small diced onions and 2 minced garlic cloves in some olive oil until tender.  In a baking dish, combine the cooked pasta and sausage, the onion mixture, 1 jar of spaghetti sauce, 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese, some oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.  Toss gently to combine.  Bake, covered, in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until center is hot.  Uncover and sprinkle another 1/2 cup of shredded mozarella on top.  Bake uncovered for another 5-10 minutes.  This serves 6-8.  I doubled the recipe to fill 2 baking dishes.

We picked up a couple of frozen loaves of garlic bread from the supermarket and put them in the oven right before it was time to eat.  Along with a tossed salad with a simple oil/vinegar salad dressing recipe I use all the time, dinner was made for 11 people, and there was some cavatelli left over.


There are friends you're just so comfortable around that you can talk about anything easily.  Somehow the topic of Botox came up.  And Botox parties.  And mobile Botox party trucks.  And injections of Juvederm and a host of other mid-life topics.  I don't even know how this all originated except I have only recently become aware of the existence of such things and have been rather curious about their effects.  When I was in my twenties, I thought that when I reached my forties and fifties, I would finally be able to relax about my appearance.  I mistakenly assumed that there would no longer be this pressure to look young, svelte, and...perfect.  But somewhere in the past 20-30 years, it seems that the standards have definitely changed.  I remember when a woman of 50, who could be a grandmother, would still look attractive, but she looked like an attractive middle-aged woman.  She didn't continue to look 30.  Now the checkout aisles are full of magazine covers of celebrities my age and much older who still look the way they did two or three decades ago.  It doesn't seem fair that we women never get to relax.  Not only are these women careful about their diets and exercise regimes, but I discovered a thick magazine in Barnes & Noble that is all about the latest products and procedures and surgeries that even non-celebrities go through in order to still look youthful and flawless.  At what age does this immense pressure to look like the cast of Friends end?  I hate that this exists, that I even think about it, and that my daughters will face this their entire lives.  Anyway, that is sort of what the Botox dinner conversations were about.  Only with good friends can these things be discussed at the dinner table along with politics, religion, and all those other impolite topics.


To finish off dinner, I made these sinful Dark Chocolate/Peanut Butter Chip Cookie Bars.  Fortunately, they were gone by the end of the evening so there were no temptations for me the rest of the week.  

Dark Chocolate/Peanut Butter Chip Cookie Bars

Stir together 2 1/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  In another bowl, beat (with mixer) 2 sticks of softened butter, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until creamy.  Add 2 eggs and beat well.  Gradually add flour mixture, beating well.  Stir in 1/2 bag of Hershey's Special Dark mildly sweet chocolate chips and 1/2 bag of Reese's peanut butter chips.  Spread in a greased baking dish and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.


As I end this blog post and continue to strive to age gracefully, I share the following quotes that keep me focused on what really matters:

"At the end of the day, you will not remember the person with the most beautiful face, but you will remember the person with the most beautiful heart and soul." (unknown)

"A pretty face gets old, a nice body will change.  But a good woman will always be a good woman."  (unknown)

"Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised."  (Proverbs 31:30)

"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.  Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile."  (Mother Teresa)



And a heartfelt thankyou goes out to all my friends and family who have blessed me with their companionship over the past few weeks.  You are making winter fly by!