July Recap

It's been a super busy month around here.  I thought I'd share the good, the bad, and the beautiful.  My brother is currently deployed, so if some of this seems trivial information, keep in mind that peeks into our everyday life are like a little treasure for him.

1. A sly fox that has discovered our hens.  Last week, she waited until my husband pulled out of the driveway and attacked.  I just happened to be looking out the window and thought "Why is there a red cat chasing the chickens?" Then reality hit and I tore through the house yelling, "Get the gun! Call dad!"  Who am I?? Get the gun?  Our hens are secured at night, but they free range during the day.  So within 7 minutes of the hens being released, she helped herself.  She continues to outsmart us, but we've called in an expert.  Time to get serious because she's cutting in on our egg production.

2. I've had a few little "Me Dates" lately.  That's what I call an unexpected little date with myself while I wait on various kid activities.  It's been the busiest mom-taxi summer, so I finally got wise and started carrying a book with me.  A cup of coffee is much cheaper than shopping and tastes twice as yummy.
 On a side note, about the mom-taxi thing... I was having a lil attitude about all the driving and kid-shuffling.  Then I realized that my oldest will be driving next summer and I won't be needed.  Won't. Be. Needed.  That thought kinda stuck in my gut and my perspective immediately changed.  Now I savor these across-town car rides.  Well, most of the time.

3. We have been in our house less than two years.  Last March (17 months after installing brand new carpet) I started noticing the carpet in our bedroom.  Like noticing how unattractive it had become.  I contacted the place we purchased the carpet from and they then connected us with a service rep from Shaw Carpets.  I'm not a frequent flyer of the complaint department, so for me to work up the nerve to contact the company, you know it was bad.  The traffic pattern on our carpet looked worse than the carpet we left in our last house after 11 years.
Picture taken immediately after vacuuming.
The cutest little old man showed up to check out our carpet. Have I mentioned my affinity for old men?  He spent 35 minutes telling me his life story (in which I gathered he was 80+) and he fit the Jersey-boy-retires-to-Florida stereotype perfectly.  Concern floated through my head when I had to physically help him up off the floor after his inspection.  I was equally concerned when I had to walk behind him up the stairs, prepared to catch him.  He took evidence pictures with a 1999 digital camera and then left.  I was fully expecting the company to see the pictures and say, "We make better products than that!"  Instead I got a cold letter that stated there was "nothing visibly wrong with the product."  Um... see photo above.  So here's my thought: if you are thinking about installing carpet in your home, avoid Shaw Carpets.  Learn from my mistake.

4. I'm going to get bent out of shape if we talk about faulty carpet much longer, so instead, let me show you my favorite quiet spot.
 Our master bedroom is my true retreat.  It's not huge, but it is soft, clutter-free, and quiet.

5. A quick little trip to the beach with some friends was a real treat. The water was the most gorgeous I've ever seen it.  NC beach water can range from brown to green to dark blue.  That day we enjoyed Caribbean-like water.

6. The kitchen desk got a little makeover and decluttered.  Yes, this is noteworthy because this space used to be the hub of chaos.

7. We started a new school year, in a new space.  More on that soon...

8. I can't get enough of these:
Thank you, Harris Teeter, for putting them on sale so I stay out of the chocolate and into the fruit.

9. Our baby went to camp for the first time this summer and LOVED it. Volleyball season has begun for our middle child.  I love seeing those girls play together and hanging out with the other crazy vb moms.  We haven't seen much of our oldest child because she has been volunteering at a local camp all summer.  I miss her, but I am SO grateful for the life experience she is gaining.  Her growth in the Lord is totally worth missing a few family meals.

10. A couple of weeks ago the Farmer and I were walking the property discussing the needs of the farm.  Mulch and gravel were at the top of the list.  Two things that would cost a lot of money, but necessary.  The very next morning, three giant dump trucks arrived with mulch. Free mulch.
 God is so good.  
Then, last week, a guy called the Farmer out of the blue and said, "I'm tearing up a parking lot.  Could you use the gravel that is underneath?"  FIVE dump trucks of free gravel arrived.  Now our little lane won't wash away.
And we stand in awe.


S'mores Bars Recipe

 Don't have time to build a bonfire? No problem! Try these super easy bars... they're a crowd pleaser! Requires refrigeration, so plan ahead.

S'mores Bars
1 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup half-and-half
12 oz pkg semi sweet chocolate chips
1 bag regular sized marshmallows

Melt butter and stir in sugar.  Add graham cracker crumbs and press into a greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 for 5 minutes.

Bring half-and-half to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Stir in chocolate chips and melt completely.  Pour evenly over graham cracker crust.  Let set a couple of minutes.

Top with marshmallows.  Sit upright, making 5 rows of six.  There will be space between the marshmallows.  Place under broiler for a few seconds to brown the tops. Watch 'em so they don't burn!
Immediately use a greased spatula to press down browned marshmallows.  Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.  Cut into one marshmallow-sized squares.  Makes 30.

I'm linking up with Imparting Grace today!


Summer Keeping Room

 Welcome to our keeping room, ya'll!  Some would call it a den, or maybe even a sunroom.  It is the place we all curl up to watch a good movie, read a book, or sit by the fire.
 We planned this room to be open to our kitchen to help the flow of conversation and large crowds.
I recently lightened things up for the summer.  Natural fibers, light colors, and a bright rug bring in the sun.

This room is constantly changing.  I've wanted new furniture for... ever.  But since a room full of new furniture isn't in the budget for the next ten years, we just get creative and make it work.  The first big hurdle was finding a comfortable chair.  I looked high and low for two years but could not find a recliner (that doesn't look like Grandpa's recliner from the 70's) that would fit in our budget.
 On a recent trip to the mothership IKEA, I found this comfortable chair with an ottoman. I loved the fun lines, casual feel, and simple fabric.  The price was right, so we finally took the plunge and bought a new chair.

My mantle makeover was nearly free. The tobacco basket from my husband's grandfather's farm used to hang on our barn.  The direct sun and weather were aging it too fast, so I slapped on a coat of white-wash and brought it inside.  A dear friend was having a yard sale and gave me first dibs on her decor items.  The iron candelabra is over 2 feet tall.  I'm seriously in love.  White candles from the dollar store finished the project.  

This time of year I like to add in some nautical elements that whisper summer.  

 Have you ever been to a white elephant party?  A couple of years ago, someone brought this little weather vane as their "trash" gift.  I fought hard to be the one taking it home.  Sure, in December it seemed a little funky but I knew it would be perfect for my summer mantle.  Score!

 I love to sit on the couch and look out the windows toward our pond.  It's my favorite spot in the house.
Where is your favorite place to sit?


Hershey Bar Cake and Homemade Ice Cream Recipes

We celebrated my mom's birthday this weekend.  Chocolate cake and homemade ice cream are one of the best ways to speak love to her.  And so we sacrificed to make her feel loved.  I mean, we wouldn't want her to eat alone. 
I made her favorite cake and it turned out to be a crowd pleaser, so I'll share the love with you!

Hershey Bar Cake

1 Devil's Food cake mix
1 cup milk
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 small pkg instant vanilla pudding

Preheat oven to 350. Mix cake ingredients.  Pour into three greased and floured cake pans. Bake according to the box directions.  Cool completely.

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
16 oz Cool Whip
5 Hershey bars

In a mixer, combine the sugar and cream cheese until well mixed.  Gently mix in Cool Whip.  Chop 4 chocolate bars and add to frosting. Frost between layers, top and sides.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave the 5th chocolate bar to garnish the top.
Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

Homemade Ice Cream

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
whole milk

Mix the first four ingredients and pour in ice cream maker canister. Add your favorite ingredients, such as crushed cookies or fruit.  Add whole milk until it reaches the "fill line."  Stir gently.  Plug it in and listen to the sound of summer!

For vanilla, scrape the insides of two vanilla beans or add 2 Tbs of vanilla extract.

My momma is happiest when her pool is full of family and friends...

I'm joining the linky party at It's Overflowing today


10 Tips for Deep Cleaning the House with Older Kids

I don't know too many people who squeal with delight over the idea of deep cleaning the house; but the idea of having the whole house cleaned without having to fork over a pot of gold definitely makes me smile.
These suggestions are for families with older children, age 9 and up.  But if you have younger kids, I'd still try it. Who knows, you may have a cleaning prodigy on your hands!

1. Plan ahead.  The most important part of the plan is to tell them in advance.  My kids like fun surprises.  "Let's clean the house" is not a fun surprise on a sunny Monday morning.  I let my kids know in advance that we would be setting aside a whole day to clean.  I wasn't sure if it would take the whole day, but it was self-preservation just in case it took longer than expected.  Which it did
2. Explain the role of responsibility.  Part of living in this house is taking care of it.  Many modern day kids struggle with entitlement.  We want our kids to understand that living in a home requires responsibility. 
3. Require good attitudes.  While the day won't be fully free of bad attitudes, let the kids know that you expect them to have a positive approach to the day.  
Blast fun music. The bad attitude dude will run and hide.
4. Be the example.  I chose the three nastiest bathrooms.  My kids looked at me with reverence.  It was a holy moment.
5. Be specific. I gave each of my kids a little card with the expectations for each room, lest they forget...
6. Make it as fair as possible.  "Fair" is typically a dirty word in our family.  Fair is a place you buy cotton candy.  I printed out little slips of paper with each of the rooms and we rolled the dice.  The kid with the highest number got to choose one room first.  After everyone chose their first room, we rolled the dice again (hence keeping it as fair as possible.) Everyone chose their second room according to their order from the dice roll.  

7. Check it off.  To give the kids a sense of accomplishment, once a chore on the cleaning checklist was completed, they could check it off.  We used three different colors for each child.  For example, my son used yellow for the mudroom.  As he finished each chore in that room, a yellow check was added to his list.
8. Give some freedom of choice.  My kids each had two rooms plus their own bedrooms to clean.  I let them choose which room to tackle first.  They knew the rooms had to be done and approved by me before the day was over.
9. Follow through.  As the day wears on, they will get a little tired. Give them a fun snack while you go check on their progress.  This is an excellent lesson on meeting goals and finishing a task.  Hold them accountable.  If they overlooked a table that has an inch of dust, gently remind them.  Remember, this is just as much about teaching responsibility as it is about finishing with a clean house.
10. Celebrate! Let the kids savor the clean house for a moment.  Tell them to look around and smell the clean.  Let them feel the sense of accomplishment.  Celebrate with a reward for the whole family. Go get pizza or ice cream, or both.

Bonus Hint: We made it a screen free day.  (Music was allowed.)  No screens = no outside distractions.  It was magical.

I'm linking up with Imparting Grace.  Come join the party!