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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.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Adventure & Altruism: The Kindness Diaries

Friday evening I was looking through Netflix for something decent to watch with my children.  It's not often that I find anything new that I feel is worthwhile to sit through and is appropriate for all ages of family members...and isn't boring.  But just as I was about to give up, this Netflix series caught my eye: The Kindness Diaries.  Though it's not religious, this is a great show to watch as we go into Lent.

Leon Logothetis was apparently a stock broker before he decided to travel the world on a motorbike on a quest to see if human kindness and goodwill still exist.  Each day, no matter which part of the globe he finds himself in, he relies on the kindness of strangers to give him a place to sleep for the night and a meal.   He sometimes needs mechanical help with his bike that he cannot pay for, and he often needs directions.  He literally approaches strangers on the streets and asks them if they will put him up for the night, but he also talks and connects with people throughout the day.  Many times foreigners won't take him into their homes, but they will give him personal tours of the area, buy him something to eat and sit with him, and tell him their stories.  He does encounter genuine acts of kindness everywhere he goes, and each day is a new adventure.

After watching several episodes, my children and I definitely noticed a trend: the poorest people were most often the ones who agreed to put him up for the night.  The most remarkable example was of a homeless man in Pittsburgh who said that he couldn't invite him into his house because he was homeless, but Leon was welcome to rest at his little corner on the street with him and his friend.  This man had been homeless for a year, after he and his wife separated.  He gave Logothetis blankets to sleep on, what little food he had to eat, and even a spare set of clothes.  He literally gave him everything he had.  This touched the adventurer so much that he surprised the homeless man by buying him a house and enrolling him in an educational program that enabled him to become a chef.  He is now creating meals for the elderly.

And that is the interesting twist to this show.  Logothetis not only has these numerous adventures as he travels the globe and seeks kindness and hospitality from strangers, but he also gives back to those who are the most generous---and usually the most needy.  He experiences firsthand the most extreme poverty in India, and yet that is also where he repeatedly experiences extreme generosity.  People are willing to sleep on the floor and go without eating in order to provide him with a bed and food.  When he is allowed to spend the night in an orphanage, he is given precious bottled water to drink while the residents themselves drink unsafe tapped water that often makes them sick.  He is so touched by that, that he and his crew offer to purchase two water purifiers for the orphanage so that all the children have a right to clean water on a daily basis.  These unexpected acts of kindness on his part touches and greatly impacts the lives of those less fortunate people who were willing to treat him with kindness by providing him with food and shelter for one night.  And so the ripple effect occurs as kindness begets more kindness.

Just watching each twenty minute episode sparked heartfelt conversations in our family as we have been inspired to find our own ways to extend kindness to others throughout our days.  What a wonderful way to enter this Lenten season.  I know our family members often feel it's such a glum time of sacrificing something for forty days, but we can see in this series that sacrifice with love and kindness enriches our own lives more than we can anticipate.  That by giving of ourselves willingly and cheerfully, we receive so much more in return.

And that makes this show so worthwhile.

If you don't have access to Netflix, he also wrote a book by the same title that can be found on Amazon.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Is This Really February?

I know Punxsutawney Phil forecasted six more weeks of winter, but surely he was mistaken.  For most of this week, we've got temps near 70 degrees here in the Alleghenies.  One of our school groups planned an outing many weeks ago for families to go tubing at a nearby ski resort.  Our children had been looking forward to it for days, but when we arrived, it was a balmy 66 degrees on the slopes.  I didn't know whether to bring them t-shirts to change into or the traditional snowsuits and sledding gear.  We settled on something in between, but I did see a few teens skiing and snowboarding in shorts and tank tops.

I didn't participate in the tubing, but stood on the sidelines enjoying the unseasonable warmth and tried to get pictures with my phone because I forgot my new camera.

My youngest is afraid to go on water slides, so I wasn't sure she would participate, but she was the first member of our family to grab a tube and get in line.

And she loved it.  It was safer than sledding at our house since you didn't have to worry about hitting a fence, a tree, or going over a ravine at the bottom.

Initially they all went down one by one, but they soon learned it was more fun to link together and make a train.

The only problem was that our youngest son was usually at the front of their train, and when they came to a stop, he got flung out of the tube and rolled several times in the mud.

And that mud at the bottom just got worse as the evening wore on.  By the time we decided to call it a night and go into the lodge to eat dinner, everyone's backsides were covered in it.  Our smallest son was literally coated in mud from his neck to his toes.  I had them strip out of their outerwear in the parking lot and did my best to wrap up those clothes in a manner that wouldn't totally wreck the back of our SUV, but it was just one big mess.  I'm doing heavy duty laundry today and cleaning the inside of our vehicle, unfortunately.  We seriously looked like country bumpkin hillbillies at the resort next to the clean, mud-free skiers and snowboarders who enjoyed completely snow-covered slopes all the way to the bottom. But the kiddos had fun and would do it again in a heartbeat.

Meanwhile, back at the farmhouse, our pets and livestock have also been loving this spring-like weather.

Our lambs and goat kids are running and hopping all over the place.  Their favorite activity is to jump on the back of our large lone ram and ride him around the pasture.  They've even worn bare a patch of wool on his back where they like to sit.  He doesn't seem to mind as he goes about the business of eating any green grass he can find.  I have got to get out in the pasture with a chair and my camera when I have some free time to videotape it.

I hope all of you are getting some of this warm weather too.  Have a great weekend, Everyone!