cover pic

cover pic

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.

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! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My Guardian Angel Story

Photo by PawPaw

I recently read somewhere that sometimes we just have to be thankful for what didn't happen in our lives, and I began to remember the number of near tragedies and catastrophes that almost occurred in my life.  Even though I didn't grow up being told that I had a guardian angel, we had a popular print in our house of an angel watching over two small children as they cross a broken down bridge.  Our sons now have that same painting hanging in their bedroom, and our family prays the guardian angel prayer throughout the week.  There's one particular incident that stands out in my life that has been coming back to me lately for some reason, and it solidified my belief that there are celestial beings at work in our lives.  

Over a decade ago, when we lived in the southeastern U.S., I dropped off my husband and our four oldest children at a local bookstore while I went to a nearby shopping center with our third daughter who was a baby at the time.  I don't remember what I was buying or even the name of the store I was leaving, but my arms were full of shopping bags, my purse, a diaper bag, and our infant daughter as I walked through the parking lot toward our minivan.  Everything kind of happened all at once, but as I was opening the passenger door of the van and placing our daughter in her carseat, a young man suddenly appeared around the front of our vehicle.  He stood right next to me and nervously asked if I had the time.  He was shifting his weight back and forth, looking around, and also eyeing my belongings.  I don't remember what I said, or if I even had on a watch, but I remember the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach and the goosebumps that prickled on my skin.  With our baby in the van but not yet strapped in, and my arms still holding some of our stuff, I was vulnerable.  I couldn't leave and walk away, nor could I quickly get inside our van and lock the doors.  He was close enough to grab me or any of my things, but then out of nowhere, a large beat-up, rusty van pulled up into the parking space on the other side of us.  The stranger beside me paused and watched as one by one each member of the large family got out of that van and began walking behind us toward the store.  There were lots of them.  Children and parents and teenagers and grandparents and aunts and uncles.  They got out and took their time, talking to one another and very gradually making their way past the rear window of my van.  I don't know exactly what I was thinking or planning to do, but I was aware that this entourage was causing the stranger beside me to back up away from me a bit.  From my peripheral vision, I could see him looking more and more nervous as he looked from them to me.  Instinctively, I hurried up and strapped in our daughter and tossed our bags into the front seat while keeping my keys in my hand.  At all times I was aware of this man's presence, but mostly what I remember was how amazed I was that people just kept coming out of the van beside me and walking slowly past us to the store.  And somehow I knew that this extremely large family was giving me time.  I slid the door closed and walked around the front of my van to avoid walking past the stranger who was still hanging out right next to us.  I tried my best not to look nervous or afraid, but inside my coat I was sweating and shaking.  I got in my minivan and locked the doors.  At that moment, the last of those family members crossed the parking lot, and the strange man walked towards a red car parked in front of me.  He got in, and I noticed for the first time that there was a woman in the driver's side waiting for him.  She was sitting directly across from me, but she was hunched down, and she wouldn't lift her head to look up at me.  I never saw her face.  I put the keys in the ignition and got out of that parking lot as the whole event replayed in my head and I tried to make sense of it.  Mostly, I just remember whispering "Thank you, God.  Thank you, God."  When I got to the bookstore with our baby and found my husband, it was then that I allowed myself to feel all the emotions of fear and anxiety and near-panic that I kept at bay a few minutes earlier.

My husband and I had no doubts that the stranger in the parking lot had ill intentions where I was concerned.  I don't know why it never occurred to me to report the incident.  I think I was just so grateful to get out of there that I hadn't looked at their license plate or even studied the man well enough to describe his appearance very well.  What struck me the most as I reflected on it later was how peculiar that so many people could have gotten out of that van beside me.  They just kept coming and coming and coming, this seemingly never-ending entourage of passengers who loudly made their way past us, taking their time and not paying any attention to us whatsoever.  But I knew that they were placed there at exactly the right time that day by my guardian angel, and maybe my daughter's too. 

I wish there was a way to let those people know what their presence in a parking lot did for me that day.  Perhaps they saved a life.  Maybe they kept someone from committing a felony and destroying someone's future.  Who knows the ripple effect that family caused that day?  But I am grateful for them and for guardian angels who work behind the scenes of our lives.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Blog Post #200!

As my children are playing outside and preparing to go for a bike ride with their dad on this 70 degree afternoon in February, I just realized that I am about to post for the 200th time.  Coincidentally, post #100 was published last year on Feb. 21, and I commemorated it by sharing my top 5 viewed posts of that first year of blogging.  I thought I would do the same today, except I won't include the "Popular Posts" already featured on the sidebar.  So aside from those, below are the other top 5 posts of the past year, from blog posts 100-199.  If you missed reading them the first time, just click on the link and you can see them now.

I wrote this post last March when I was feeling rather discouraged about my perceived slow growth of this blog.  I had recently installed Google Analytics and was checking my stats and comparing myself to other way more experienced, way more popular bloggers.    I was actually seriously considering throwing in the towel, but I'm so glad I didn't.  I am grateful to all you readers and fellow bloggers who sent me words of encouragement and have continued to faithfully read my posts.  I feel a little embarrassed that I might have sounded rather whiny in that post, and I'm happy to report that I've cut back on comparisons as I go about just "running my race."

Creating delicious meals for my family and friends is one of my favorite things to do, especially if I'm not rushed.  Making fun, quirky snacks that the kids delight in is also a favorite past time of mine.  Some of these ideas came from Pinterest, some from cookbooks, and most were adapted by me based on what I had in the house.  I think the general consensus amongst the littles in our family was that  the yogurt pops were the best.

There are many stories I can tell about the adventures we've had while living in this farmhouse.  The story of the little goat that spent the night with some fraternity brothers is certainly one of the more memorable ones.  We learned a lesson that night about selling livestock, and fortunately, the goat wasn't hurt and the story has a happy ending.

Sometimes I'm really surprised by the views that certain posts get.  This one was my emotional ramblings of the pride I felt watching our daughter run a final cross-country meet of the season.  I witnessed her walking part of that 5K and almost giving up, but then I saw her reach down inside and pull out a surge of energy that propelled her across the finish line to beat her personal record.  And I was flooded with the love and emotions that a mother feels as she watches her child struggle and suffer and nearly quit, but then she overcomes and achieves her goal.  It's nerve-wracking.  It's gut-wrenching.  But it's one of the most satisfying parts of being a parent.

Interestingly enough, while I've been composing this current post, the one I just published last Wednesday jumped into this list.  It's full of items on Amazon that I would love to have in our farmhouse, and that I suspect many of you readers would love to have too.  If you click on the pictures or the blue Amazon links, they'll take you directly to the merchandise for sale.  I wasn't sure how I felt about finally running ads or promoting affiliate links.  Frankly, I was a bit afraid it would drive away some readers.  But here it is finishing out my list of the most popular posts of this past year.  To see the 8 posts that were at the very top of the list, just look on the sidebar of this blog.

In conclusion, thank you all for sticking with me through the past year of another 100 posts.  I truly enjoy blogging, more than I ever dreamed I would.  And I absolutely love seeing the numbers of you viewers from all over the world increasing monthly.  Thanks especially to those of you who take a few minutes to leave a comment here and on social media.  It is a pleasure to get to know each and every one of you.

After showing you the photo at the top of my kiddos outside in shorts this afternoon, I'll close with one I took just 10 days ago.  It's hard to believe these were both taken in the same month.