cover pic

cover pic

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Blogging on the Run


It's already that time of the year again.  That super busy time near the end of the school year when the children have their performances, games, recitals, field trips, and shows.  Even though we're not involved in quite as many sports and extra-curricular activities as a lot of other families we know, with five school-aged children, it still means a lot of time away from home.  And lots of time driving.  These final six weeks or so before summer vacation begins are extremely full, and most days on the calendar have no space left to write anything.  

So far we've already had a strings recital:


Our daughter and a friend played and sang "How Far I'll Go" from Moana.  She is our little diva and dreams of being the next Taylor Swift.

And we watched our older daughter attend her first prom this past weekend:


That was bittersweet because I just can't believe she's this old already.  And my husband and I realized it's been three decades since we attended prom---actually, it's been 33 years since we both went to our first proms.  But we didn't go together.  How is it possible that so much time has elapsed already?  Like a blink of an eye.

And this is what we still have left to attend/celebrate over the next five weeks:
  1. Our final child's First Holy Communion
  2. Four birthdays
  3. A band concert
  4. Two showings of a musical
  5. Two art shows
  6. Two choral performances
  7. Four field trips that I know of now
  8. A class yoga party
  9. Two instrumental performances at nursing homes
  10.  EXAMS
 
These are just the final performances, mind you.  It doesn't include the practices and rehearsals leading up to the days.  Even though I wasn't thrilled with her decision at the time, I'm rather relieved our teen daughter dropped out of track for the season or we'd be having serious overlaps on the schedule.  And our middle school son isn't old enough to compete at the meets for his track team, so that simplifies that.
 
So why am I telling you all of this?  It's my excuse in advance for not blogging regularly.  I might get little snippets of time to post a bit over the next month or so, but it probably will be sporadic at best.
 

And if you're like me and most of my friends right now, you probably don't have a lot of free time to sit around on the Internet reading blogs anyway.  But I'll be thinking of you, and we'll meet up again when we can.

Until then, Happy Spring & God Bless.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Easter Holiday Highlights


Nearly a week after the fact, and I've finally uploaded the Easter photos, collected the Easter baskets, and finished off the last of the Easter dinner.  Except for the colored eggs; there are still lots of those.  And the decorations are still up.  And I still have half a bag of Easter candy stashed away to use as bribes or rewards as needed.  Anyway, this is what Easter looked like at our preppy mountain farmhouse this year.  We didn't invite the hen above into our family picture with us sitting in our clean Church clothes; she photobombed it, and our son caught her.


We took dinner to our grown son's house the afternoon before Easter.  Our boys actually got to hold their nephew for once; usually they can't get him out of their sister's arms.


And his uncles adore him.  It is so much easier to keep a baby entertained when he has so many aunties and uncles around to make a fuss over him.

 

Our youngest daughter and I made dozens of deviled eggs over the weekend.  Our hens are laying around twelve eggs every day, and we have eggs coming out the wazoo.  I've been scrambling them and making custard and boiling them and even freezing them.  But we still have six full cartons in the refrigerator with another dozen or so that were dyed last Saturday.


These were just a select few that the children and their dad colored last weekend.  All of our hens lay brown eggs of various shades, and everyone wanted to make metallic ones, so we weren't sure how they would turn out.  Some looked golden, and others not shown here were a rather putrid brownish-greenish color.


I actually bought myself a new Easter dress this year from TJ Maxx.  Two of my adolescent photographers were trying to get me to pose in more interesting ways, but this was the only one I'd feel comfortable sharing.  No Kardashian wannabes here.


But we did have some kind of Spiderman-Samurai character running around our property searching for eggs.  I'm not sure what look she was going for; she's her own unique blend of some kind of wonderful.


And her ten year-old brother is his own blend of awesomeness too.


This guy showed up for the egg hunt as well, but all he was really interested in was eating the fresh green buds on the bush above him.


All of my kiddos still participate in our annual egg hunt, and their dad doesn't make it easy for them.


Every year as they get older and older, at least one of them says that maybe next year they'll just help hide the eggs, and not be a part of the hunt anymore.  But the next year comes, and whether they like to admit it or not, they still get excited about finding their color-coded stuffed eggs.


And I'm holding on to that for as long as I can.

I hope your weekend is your own blend of wonderful awesomeness.

Monday, April 17, 2017

My Favorite Hair & Skin Care Products for Middle-Aged Moms

Big Sexy Hair Powder Play is the dream product of all of us who came of age in the eighties.  Some of us spent a lot of money on root perms to give us the volume we coveted.  While I'm not looking for that much pouf nowadays, I do avoid having flat hair.  This product is AMAZING.  You sprinkle a little bit at your roots and fluff your hair with your fingers, and you've got instant lift.  It's small enough to carry in your wristlet for touchups.  But I've found that one sprinkling of it lasts for two days, no exaggeration.  What I would have given for this thirty years ago.


Aussie Instant Freeze Gel is a favorite of the adolescent boys in my house, but I use it too right after I wash my hair.  I just dab a little next to my scalp along the front of my hair so it falls to the side of my face and not straight down over my nose.  This gel really does freeze your hair and lasts all day long; a little goes a long, long way.  A 7 oz. container lasts us for at least half the year.



LACURA Q10 Night Cream is full of all those great ingredients that are supposed to slow down the aging factors.  I tend to have very sensitive skin, but this is one product I've been using for years with positive results.  Better yet, it's quite inexpensive; I find it at our local Aldi.


Cover Girl BB Cream is my favorite facial product that I use daily.  Since it contains moisturizer, toner, and sunscreen, I feel like I've got all the bases covered.  It's lighter than foundation, and the sunscreen isn't tacky, so I don't even feel like I'm wearing it.  Many days, this cream and some mascara are all I need for being out and about.




When I was a child, I would get eczema on my elbows and knees in the winter time.  Then for decades, I had no skin problems at all.  However, for some reason, my eczema returned a year ago.  The dermatologist said I have "discoid eczema" that starts out looking like small round red dry patches that resemble ringworm.  I know; how nasty is that?  They itch like crazy, but the more I scratch, the larger those patches get.  The skin can get calloused and rough and even bleed.  So I now use this Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream on all of my skin twice a day all year long.  It has helped immensely, and I seriously see a huge difference if I run out and have to use something else for a couple of days.  For anyone with dry skin issues, I would highly recommend this product.


I'm going to come clean and admit to you that I have an addiction...to chapstick.  I am miserable without some kind of lip balm on at all times.  Burt's Bees Coconut & Pear Moisturizing Lip Balm is my current favorite.  It contains coconut butter, shea butter, and of course, beeswax, and it feels and smells awesome.  The Easter Bunny brought my girls several tubes of this in their Easter baskets.

So these are my top six name-brand products that I've been using since I've hit my mid-forties.  I've begun using some additional anti-aging creams the past few months, but I'm waiting to see if I notice any real changes before I feature them.  The jury's still out.

What about you?  Any recommendations you care to share?



Oh, and just a reminder that the products shown in this post are affiliate links to Amazon.com.  If you click, it will take you directly to the product page.  Any purchases you make (on most anything) means a small referrer fee to me, at no extra cost to you.  Thanks in advance if you do.



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On Break for Easter


We are officially on Easter break.  Over the next five days we'll be engaging in our Easter traditions and rituals.  We'll be watching the same Jesus of Nazareth TV series that I watched during Holy Week as a girl.  We'll be coloring and decorating our hens' brown eggs with Paas egg dye and vinegar, just as I did when I was young.  We'll be bringing in bouquets of daffodils from our yard, and we'll be ironing our semi-formal spring clothing for Church on Sunday.  We'll be whipping up deviled eggs and grating carrots for homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.  The empty Easter baskets will be brought down from the attic and placed on the kitchen table Saturday night.  And they'll be full of spring gifts and candy when the children awake on Easter morning.  We'll get together with extended family, and we'll eat ham, roasted carrots and green beans, and rice pilaf for an early Easter dinner.  Finally, there will be the annual egg hunt in our yard with stuffed plastic eggs color coded for each child so that everyone gets the same number and everything is fair.  We might even squeeze in a game of tennis and a hike up the mountain before our usual routines begin again next week.

Most of all, we'll be celebrating our faith during this most sacred holiday, and we'll be grateful for warm spring weather since there have been some Easters we've had to wear our snow boots and winter coats to Church.  I'll be back on Blogger next week, but until then, I'm wishing you all days filled with sunshine, blooming bulbs and dogwood trees, and spring celebrations with friends and family.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

BlookUp Will Publish Your Blog or Social Media Posts


Do any of you bloggers have concerns that your blog posts could disappear from the Internet and years of your heart and soul will be deleted along with them?  My blog has been like a new baby to me over the past two years, and I like to know that I have the contents of it in a hard copy sitting in my living room.  Also, in case I ever move on to other creative pursuits, it feels good to know that I still have the hundreds of pages of Preppy Mountain Farmhouse, and they won't be lost if I close my blog.


I went to BlookUp for publishing all of my blog posts, and they made it so easy to do this seemingly daunting task.  It didn't take me much more than an hour to choose the size, which posts I wanted to include (all of them, of course), where I wanted page breaks, and what to include as the cover photo and the bio on the back.  Their home page can be found by clicking here.


Before placing your order, you get the opportunity to preview the entire book online.  Then you can order a softcover printed book or pay only a few dollars for an e-book.  You can even choose to make your book available to the public and by choosing your price, you can sell it to others.  Each volume of my blog was nearly 500 pages (the maximum amount for one book), and it was a bit pricey, so I couldn't imagine anyone other than me purchasing it.  But if you have a smaller book or you choose to only publish certain posts by categories, you might want to place yours up for sale and see what happens.


You can choose any picture for your front and back covers; they don't have to be from within your blog.


At the back of the book they place a Table of Contents with each post title and its page number.  How handy is that?


I was thoroughly pleased with the layout and design and the quality of the printed pictures.


Since my blog is about my family, these two volumes will be the equivalent of two years of family scrapbooks that usually take me weeks to complete, and they end up more expensive than the BlookUp books, without all my commentary.

Shipping is free if your book totals around 100 euros, I think.  My books came by USPS within a week or so.  BlookUp will also print whatever posts you choose from your social media sites, if you're so inclined.  I haven't seen any of those in person, so I can't give my review on them.  But I do give a high recommendation for their blog publishing services.

Have a Wonderful Week of Spring, Everyone!
 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

To the Church, a Party, & the Hospital: A First Communion Story


As we are preparing for our youngest daughter's First Holy Communion later this month, my mind keeps returning to the night she was born, which also happened to be the same night we celebrated her older brother's First Communion.  As joyous of an occasion that the Sacrament is, this was one twenty-four hour period of time I would definitely not want to relive.

Let me preface this day with some facts:

Fact #1: Our daughter's due date was still a week away, but I typically delivered my babies about a week early.  All I could think about was my water breaking in church while we were standing in one of the front pews, leaving my family mortified.  Or I would go into labor earlier in the day, and my husband and I would miss the entire event.  I did some earnest praying all week that the birth of this baby would hold off until after our son took his First Communion, and preferably wait until the end of the party we were having at our house afterwards.

Fact #2: A stomach virus went through our house that week, and it was the worst one I'd ever seen in my family.  Every two days, a different family member was sick around the clock for about forty-eight hours.  Nothing stayed down, and with a house full of toddlers and young children, this meant a lot of disinfectant used throughout the house.  I was exhausted from being up all night with little ones and constantly washing sheets, mopping floors, wiping down walls, and comforting children and a husband who felt absolutely miserable.  But I hadn't gotten sick myself.

Fact #3: When I had the appointment with my midwife earlier that week, I mentioned this illness to her and said surely I wouldn't get sick while I was in labor.  That God would be merciful and spare me that at least.  The midwife looked dubious, and said she couldn't guarantee that, but she had seen women who had a similar virus, and the vomiting helped induce the labor.  So along with praying that labor would wait until after First Communion, I also began fervently praying that this stomach bug might somehow skip right over me.


Two nights before the big day, our eight year-old son came down with this virus.  I honestly thought we were going to have to back out of it.  But he rallied and was fine by the day of the Mass, and miraculously, we had not a single sick family member in our house by the time all of our company arrived.  Only our six year-old daughter and I had been spared.  I felt tired, heavy, achy, and as if I would pop at any moment, but I hadn't gotten sick, and I hadn't gone into labor.  We would all be at the Church, and no one would miss our son's First Holy Communion after all.



And everything did go according to plan.  Our sixteen year-old son was an altar server at this special Mass.  We were all there to witness it, and take pictures, and celebrate this Sacrament with our second-grader.  Then we came home and celebrated some more with lots of good food, toasts of champagne, cake, gifts, and family.  I was still nervous about going into labor and getting sick, so I ate very little.  Our guests began going home around eight, and we had cleaned up the kitchen and gone to bed by a reasonable hour.


That didn't last long, however, because I awoke around midnight with that dreadful feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when of of those viruses hits.  And it was horrible; like, in the top five worst nights of my life kind of horrible.  Then my water broke.  And then I started to cry.

Since this was my sixth baby, and we lived twenty-five minutes from the nearest hospital, my husband didn't want to wait around.  Fortunately, my parents-in-law were spending the weekend with us, so we left the children in their care while we headed to the emergency room with a large bucket carried beneath my chin the entire time.

We checked in at the hospital around two in the morning, and I learned that I had a long way to go.  Labor coupled with a stomach virus has got to be one of the lousiest combinations ever.  But one good thing came out of it: Zofran---which was in my IV drip continuously for many hours.  It didn't stop the nausea completely, but it was definitely an improvement.

I won't go into all the details of the labor and delivery, but I will say that the eleven hour labor won second place for my worst birthing experience.  It was only topped by her red-headed brother who took a full forty-eight hours of incredible pain before he finally made his appearance.  I went into this labor intending to tackle it naturally like I'd done with most of my children (even the red haired one.)  I had this noble notion of holding my Rosary beads and praying a Hail Mary through each contraction, but after a couple of hours when I could barely even breathe through the pains, I abandoned that idea.  And I asked for the pain meds, which I had never done before.  Then when I was finally far enough along, I asked for the epidural too.  And finally, around 11:30 AM, our youngest daughter (and last child) was born, fifteen hours after her brother's First Communion party ended.


So as luck would have it, it turns out that I didn't miss out on anything...not even the stomach bug.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

How to Get the Stink Out of a Cabin


After an eleven-day sabbatical from blogging when I was in a self-induced contemplative coma, you might expect me to return to Preppy Mountain Farmhouse with a profound, philosophical post.  I thought about that, but I decided instead to share the miracle solution to a very earthly problem we've been tackling around here: getting rid of the stench in our cabin.

If any of you have a cabin in the woods, an old house in the country, or some other structure that doesn't get used much, you're probably familiar with that closed-up, musty smell that you get a whiff of when you first walk in the door.  We were certainly acquainted with this when we first started cleaning out our newly-purchased cabin two years ago.  It had been an unused hunting cabin for decades, and it was full of clutter, layers of carpet that had gotten wet from broken water pipes, and some mummified mice caught in traps.  After filling a dumpster with all the stuff we didn't want or need, hiring Molly Maids to do a thorough cleaning, and ripping up some of the damaged carpet, I made my own carpet freshener that I sprinkled generously throughout the rooms and let sit for a few days before I vacuumed it all up.

That simple recipe can be found in my first month of blogging here.

And that did help somewhat...but not enough.

So my mother-in-law brought me some Resolve Fabric Refresher spray, which I have used on the carpets, furniture, curtains, and bedspreads.  She also bought me a bottle of wonderful smelling lavender linen spray for my birthday, which immediately got toted up to the cabin and gets used every time I go up there.  Both of these products mask the musky smell for a day or so.  However, they also make the inhabitants smell rather perfumey.  If I go up there and stay for a few hours, I come back to the house, and everyone says I smell like the cabin: a unique blend of mustiness and lavender and perfume.  It's really not the fragrance I'm going for.

Little did I know two years ago that the musty smell would later be considered a mild odor---almost pleasant even---in comparison to the horrible stench we smelled last spring when a groundhog dug a tunnel under the center of our cabin...and then died under there.  I thought it was coming from the chimney because the stench seemed strongest in the one bedroom where the flue connects to the furnace.  We searched everywhere and couldn't find a dead animal anywhere, so I eventually called a chimney sweep to investigate.  By the way, this all occurred right before my parents were to come for a visit, and they would be sleeping at the cabin, of course.

The chimney sweep came and took things apart and checked out every possible nook and cranny, but he found no dead animal.  He did discover, however, that our chimney needed repairs and a cap on the top of it so nothing could possibly fall down there in the future.  That wasn't the bad news though.  The bad news was that something had crawled under the cabin and died, and there was nothing to do but wait out the next four weeks or so until it had decomposed.  Thankfully, this was early May in the Alleghenies, and it would be another month until we experienced any summer heat, so the odor wasn't as bad as it could have been had the animal died in August.  Fortunately we had a month until any other visitors were expected, and my parents had to sleep on sofas in our farmhouse with the trough full of three-week old chicks, who really didn't smell too great themselves.

Since there wasn't really anything I could do to speed along the biological process of decomposition, I did the next best thing and buy some strong scented candles and went up there periodically and lit them.  The pine fragrance was my favorite.


As we began this year I was feeling much better about the smell of the cabin.  Between the bowl of cinnamon scented pinecones, the candles, and the linen spray, the place wasn't smelling too bad.  My coat and hair didn't reek of the cabin smell too much when I returned from an excursion up there.  After two years of being cabin owners, I felt rather proud that we had actually overcome the odor problem.

That is, until we had out-of-town guests coming to visit a couple of weekends ago.  A day before their arrival (which coincided with the two feet of snow Stella had just dumped on us), I trudged through the snow to do my ritual spraying of the fabrics, take up clean towels and stock the fridge with breakfast items, and clean up the sinks and shower.  I even brought a book because I thought I would finish my tasks and have about two hours of leisure to read and reflect.  But as soon as I opened the cabin door, a fresh wave of dead animal stench hit me, and I was then on a two-hour mission to find the offender and try to rid the place of yet another horrible smell.  

This was a mystery because I had just been up there finally taking down the Christmas decorations just a week earlier, and all was well.  The cabin had been closed up and locked up, and the chimney was supposed to be capped in a way that absolutely nothing could fall down inside of it.  I did see that a window was cracked slightly, and I vaguely recalled my husband going up there early one morning looking for a wrench.  Did something sneak in while he was rummaging around in the dark?  As I walked toward the back of the cabin, the smell got stronger.  Then I found a pile of feathers.  Why were there just feathers and no bird?  I used my nose to search everywhere, but I couldn't find a carcass---just those feathers.  I vacuumed them up, practically emptied the bottles of linen spray, lit the candle, but I could still smell it.  It was strongest back by the chimney again.  I located a flashlight and started shining it everywhere.  Still nothing.  It wasn't until I sat on the floor by the bedrooms in the back of the cabin that it occurred to me that the stench was strongest near the air hockey table.  So I managed to pull that away from the wall, move all the storage bins we had stashed under there, and then I saw the culprit: a dead sparrow.

I'm still not positive how it came in.  It was lying at the foot of the chimney where there was an opening cut out of the wall that I never noticed before because it had been hidden under the hockey table.  From the looks of every windowsill in the cabin, it had been flying around looking for a way out, and leaving bird droppings everywhere.  So I went on a cleaning spree scrubbing everything and using whatever disinfectant that was on hand to clean woodwork, fabric, windows, carpet, EVERYTHING.  I disposed of the bird and vacuumed up the feathers with an ancient vacuum cleaner that came free with the cabin.  But then I noticed that the entire place smelled like burnt roadkill.  Because the relic of a vacuum wasn't used to handling this much carpet cleaning, and the motor on it decided right then to burn up and die.  So I removed the full vacuum bag (which aren't even made anymore, by the way) and took all the trash outside and hoped that the cabin would air out in a day or two.

No such luck.  And it didn't smell any better a week after that.  So I took matters into my own hands again, and I finally found the miracle cures for this ongoing problem: Kids'n'Pets Stain & Odor Remover for cleaning that spot on the carpet where the bird actually died, and Airwick Scented Oil Warmer Plugins.


This odor-removing spray is simply sprayed, or dumped, directly onto the smelly area and left.  That is my kind of cleaning, and it worked great!


But these AirWick scented oil diffusers that you plug in are the miracle cure I've been searching for.  I bought four of them and plugged them in all over the cabin.  Within a couple of days the cabin smelled better than it ever has, and a week and a half later, they're still going strong with plenty of oil left in them, and I don't even need to light any candles or spray any more fabric freshener.


They come with quite a variety of different essential oils and fragrances, which are usually sold separately.  I got a deal and bought the combo packs with the diffuser and two bottles of oil in each.  I think I went with the above "fresh waters" scent because I just didn't think "cinnamon apple" or "sugar cookie" would mix well with "scorched dead bird."

I am so incredibly relieved to finally have this cabin odor dilemma resolved.  If I had only tried these AirWicks two years ago when we first got the cabin, I could have saved myself so much time and money on other methods.

And that, my friends, is what I want to share with you today.  After an eleven-day break from Blog Land when I was wrapped up in a contemplative cocoon, I come back to shout out the odor breakthrough I've recently had.  I'll keep my profound, soul-searching discoveries to myself for now.

Have a great week full of sweet spring scents!

P.S.  This post does contain affiliate links to Amazon.  If you click on one, it will take you directly to that product on Amazon.com.  Any purchases you make (whether they're the products pictured here or just about anything else) within a day or so of clicking through, provides me with a small commission at no extra cost to you.  

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.