Christmas at the Barn

Well, friends, Christmas has officially arrived at our barn!  Last week, Mardi and I were busy laying peel and stick vinyl flooring in our barn’s “hangout” room.  Probably not the best time of year to begin a DIY project, but we really wanted to put a tree up at the barn this year, so it was good motivation to get the job done.  And the flooring goes in so quick and easy…even Mardi and I can do it on our own.  It made such a difference in the room, too.  Now it is so much more warm and cozy feeling, which is awesome when you are doing chores in the winter!

Once we got the flooring done, we headed out to pick out a tree…at Wal-Mart.  Ugh, I know, I know.  A real one would have been so much more appropriate for a barn, but then it wouldn’t have had the beautiful fake snow on it!  We also grabbed a couple of super cheap ornaments that fit the barn theme perfectly.  Now we just needed to decorate!

Mardi made those yummy sugar cookie bars that we all love, and I brought some other (store-bought) goodies over, and we had ourselves a little tree-trimming cocoa party!  We even let the kids help decorate the tree!  Wasn’t that nice?  I thought so.  Okay, so I did move a few ornaments when they weren’t looking, but shh…don’t tell.

Christmas at the Barn

hot cocoa bar in the barn

We had a great time decorating and eating and sipping our cocoa.  And it was fun watching the horses and barn cats watching us through the window.  I said I kind of felt like we were the animals behind glass at the zoo and the animals were looking in at us humans.  All that was missing was a sleigh ride…but we are working on that, so maybe next year!

Christmas at the Barn

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of our barn decked out for Christmas.   And if you have your own little cocoa party, don’t forget to make these sugar cookie bars!  They are the perfect way to send your kids into a sugar induced frenzy! Trust me, I know from experience. That room got a little small with six of our seven kids plus our parents inside.  I’m thinking of one kid in particular that almost made this mama lose her cool.  Hey, who am I fooling?  I did lose my cool…but only once or twice!

Anybody else’s kid get super hyper (with or without sugar cookie bars) from about Thanksgiving til Christmas?  Let me know so I know I’m not alone…please…anyone…??

Honoring Veterans Every Day

Veteran’s Day is truly a day to be celebrated.  Megan and I are patriots, hence our name Two Liberty Belles.  We are so thankful to veterans for the freedoms that we’ve been given.  It is because of those brave men and women, because of their sacrifice, that we enjoy those freedoms today.  Veterans have been around since the birth of our country.  In 1776, it was Captain Nathan Hale, a 21 year old soldier who was captured and hanged by the British, that said, ” I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  That is a common attitude among veterans, and we are all the more blessed by it.

Megan and I have some veterans really close to our hearts.  Our Dad was in the Navy, my father-in-law Dave was in the Army, and Megan’s husband’s dad John (he died when Chris was young) was in the Army.  This was during the Vietnam War.  Chris’s dad John was Seventh-Day Adventist, so he was exempted from the draft.  However, he served our country as a medic, which his religion allowed.  My father-in-law and John Hanks both suffered terribly from the horrors that they witnessed.  Their lives were forever changed by the war. Back then, not much was known about PTSD, so they suffered in silence.  Sadly, Vietnam veterans did not experience the hero’s welcome that World War II veterans did, either.  We owe them all a deep debt of gratitude.

Dave Brott
John Hanks

Our paternal Great Grandpa Fazakerley (also named Frank, like our grandpa) was a career Army man. He served in both World War I and World War II.  His son Art was in the Navy (which is I think why our Dad chose the Navy).  Our maternal Grandpa, Newt Cunningham, was in the Navy too.  We have the coolest pictures of him on leave in Honolulu.  Unfortunately, we don’t have pictures of our Dad in his uniform.  Since Megan and I both wore his Navy uniform for Halloween when we were 13, that tells you how small he was.

Newt Cunningham

Nowadays, it is so hard to imagine 18 year old boys (some younger lied about their age) signing up to fight as they did during World War II.  I think we owe it to current and future generations to teach them about the sacrifices that have been made by brave men and women.  There are so many excellent books and movies that portray what veterans experienced.  The DVD series “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” are great.  I know I’ve mentioned these books before, but Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton are riveting.  I just finished reading Lucky 666 by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin and I just can’t believe what soldiers went through!  The brotherhood of soldiers reminds me of the verse, “Greater love hath no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” -John 15:13

We must not forget the members of today’s military.  Let us not let them suffer in silence as the veterans of yesteryear.  I am a proud donor of The Wounded Warrior Project and I encourage everyone to think about donating.  The Wounded Warrior Project stands behind veterans and gives them support on the long road of recovery.  For just $19 a month, you can make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families.  If interested, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org.  By the way, I’m not being paid to advertise for them!

Though Veteran’s Day has come and gone, let’s remember why we have veterans in the first place, and celebrate them everyday.

“We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in.”

-Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, No. 4, September 12, 1777

God bless our beloved veterans and God Bless America!

Mardi

 

 

 

Fall Fun at Crystal Mountain

fall foliage

This past weekend, we had the opportunity to go up north to our parents’ vacation home at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, MI.  You might have read about the resort in another post here.  We used to go up at least once every Fall, but since the kids are older and so busy with sports now, it doesn’t always happen.  Those were the days…getting to take off on the weekend with nary a thought to a child’s schedule.  Well, you’ve heard this sob story from me before, so I’ll stop now.  Anyway, four out of five of us headed up with my parents and sisters.  Chris had to work, plus he was painting our bedroom and I would never dream of slowing down progress!

Crystal Mountain Resort

Hayrides at Crystal Mountain

It really was a beautiful fall weekend.  The colors were unbelievably gorgeous and it was mostly cloudy and wet, which is perfect for lazing around in front of a toasty fire.  If it were nice and sunny, I would have felt compelled to go outside maybe and do something productive…or maybe not.  I don’t know what it is about going up north, but I turn into a slug the minute I get there.  So the rain was not a problem.  Well, not a problem until I took the girls trick-or-treating.  Crystal Mountain had all kinds of special activities planned for the weekend.  There was pumpkin carving, hayrides, a petting zoo, trick-or-treating, a spooky trail, a pumpkin seed spitting contest, and more.  The girls had a great time trick-or-treating in their costumes (Fynn just loves any excuse to wear a costume) at the lodge, the adventure center, and other stopping points.  I had to follow a map, which I confess was a little tricky, but we managed to find all the candy and didn’t get too wet.

fall fun at Crystal Mountain Resort

fall fun at Crystal Mountain Resort

fall fun at Crystal Mountain Resort

But best of all, the wifi wasn’t working, which was great because my girls played games, did puzzles, colored, and even got a little bored.  And I felt like Super Mom because I not only brought them trick-or-treating, but I also did puzzles and brought them to the pool.  Now notice I said “brought” them to the pool.  I sat and watched since my children are fully capable of swimming alone now, praise Jesus.  So maybe I’m not exactly super mom after all, but hey, they were happy and I was happy.  Win-win situation.  Mardi wasn’t quite so lucky…she got to hang out in the exercise room with the boys who wanted to work out.  They needed parental supervision, so she walked on the treadmill while they lifted weights.  Maybe she should get the super mom/aunt award.  As you can see, our standards are pretty low either way.

I have to apologize for this boring post that pretty much offers you, dear reader, nothing.  So please accept my apologies for rambling, but do consider a trip to Crystal Mountain one of these days.  And if Crystal Mountain isn’t in your plans, just spend a day depriving your kids of wifi and enjoy some time together.  Novel idea, I know.

Megan

How do you love to spend a free Saturday afternoon?

Halloween Movies to Get You into the Spirit

I’m in my room, burning a spiced pumpkin candle, and watching Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”  Life just doesn’t get much better.  Megan and I absolutely love fall, and with Halloween fast approaching, there are certain rituals that must be adhered to.   My favorite fall ritual, besides baking apple crisp, pumpkin pie, etc., is watching Halloween movies.  Maybe it goes back to my childhood and watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin” when it aired on TV.  It was a special night I looked forward to every year.  I’ve always loved The Peanuts, and still do.  It brings back the warm fuzzies I felt when watching those CBS specials as a child.  So now I own “It’s the Great Pumpkin” on DVD and watch it every year.  I watch it by myself (does that sound pathetic?) but I like to have my nieces over to watch it too.  They are good about humoring me!

It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

I remember watching “The Birds” as a kid at our old house.  It was a Saturday afternoon in the fall and I just came across it on TV.  I was in our “hobby room,” which was like a little family room.  It had dark paneling and orange plaid carpet, and it was my favorite room in the house.  Hey, it was built in the 70’s!  Anyway, I watched “The Birds” and got really creeped out.  I didn’t see it again until I bought the DVD a few years ago to show my kids.  I told them how scary it was, how I remembered it.  We brought the movie to my friend Jennifer’s house and our families watched it together (after we dressed up like zombies and played zombie tag).  My kids teased me about how NOT scary it was and Sander said “well, that’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back,” after watching it.  Sander at 12…..now that’s scary.  I just noticed this year that “The Birds” is based on a book written by Daphne Du Maurier.   She also wrote My Cousin Rachel, which I just read this summer.

Alfred Hitchock's The Birds

Another must-see Halloween movie is Disney’s “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.”  I remember watching it as a kid, but Kendal for years has put the movie on for the kids after trick-or-treating.  “Hocus Pocus” is a favorite too….it will get you into the Halloween spirit.  My girls grew up watching the “Halloweentown” movies on Disney channel and Manon says it’s not Halloween until she’s watched it.  Movies like these are a fun part of childhood, or in my case, adulthood!

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

My daughter Marek loves Tyler Perry’s Madea movies, so last year we saw “Boo!  A Madea Halloween” at the theater.  It was hysterically funny.  The sequel comes out in a few days and we can’t wait to see it.  So whatever your fall and Halloween traditions, make sure you include a few movie nights.  Pop popcorn, make treats, light a candle, invite friends over, and watch a Halloween movie.  Or if you’re like me and your kids won’t watch them with you, watch them alone or invite your nieces over.  Enjoy the season because Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner!

Mardi

What’s your favorite Halloween movie?

Fall Barn Party

Fall barn party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Barn Party

Last week, we had a barn party.  We had been talking about having one for three years now and decided that this was the year.  A picture in a Country Living magazine of a table set up with hay bales for chairs in the main aisle of a barn was the inspiration for our party.  We started working on it a week before so we didn’t have to do everything the last minute.  B-u-t, we still had a ton to do and were busy running around getting everything done right up until guests arrived.  Of course.  That just seems to be how we roll.  And we couldn’t ask the horses to quit pooping for a week, so what’s a girl (or two) to do!

hydrangeas
Beautiful hydrangeas from mom’s yard made the perfect decorations
The barn all decked out and spider web, manure, and almost dust free!

Also, since it was set for September 23rd, we thought it would be perfect fall weather, and a perfect way to celebrate the beginning of the season.  So we envisioned cool, crisp air and thought a soup bar would be an easy way to feed a lot of people.  Wrong.  Mother Nature did not cooperate at all!  It was 90 degrees and hotter than heck.  Who would have thought?!  We sure didn’t, since that kind of weather is extremely rare in the summer here in Michigan, let alone late September.

The chalkboard wasn’t big enough to list everything on the menu!

Well, all week we swept, vacuumed, dusted, knocked down cobwebs, strung lights (zillions!), hauled tables and chairs, decorated, and followed behind the horses with a manure rake to pick up every little poop (okay, not quite, but almost).  All while we sweated our bras off and wondered if it would all be worth it.  And despite the heat, it surely was.  For one, the barn was cleaner than our houses last weekend.

wheelbarrow with mums and pumpkins
An old wheelbarrow is the perfect container for mums and pumpkins

 

Fynn and one of the barn cats

Fall Barn Party

We also had a great turnout!  It was so fun hosting the party at the barn with the horses being nosy and hanging out by the fence checking everything out.  Adults and kids alike enjoyed each other’s company visiting with one another and eating lots of good food.  We made six different soups that were all delicious…chili, taco soup, stuffed green pepper soup, cheesy potato, chicken noodle, and white chicken chili.  We had bread, cornbread, cheese, and crackers.  And between us, Kendal, and our mom, we had a huge dessert table!  Mom made peanut butter fudge and Kendal made apple crisp.  Mardi made sweet and salty Chex mix, almond bars, scotcheroos, sugar cookie bars, and pecan pie bars.  Megan made monster cookie bars, smore’s brownies, and southern pecan praline cake.  We also had some friends bring dessert, too!  It was like dessert heaven!

Fall Barn Party
The bales were a little low…but it just made us all feel like kids!
Manon and Jenna enjoying the hay ride!
More Hay Ride Fun!

We set up a craft table outside for kids, which stayed busy pretty much the whole night.  The older boys played football and the older girls helped out with the little kids.  Chris drove the tractor and gave hayrides through the woods and down the road.  And once the sun went down, we were all much more comfortable.  The trees down the drive were lit up, as well as the inside of the barn, and it just looked so pretty.  We clipped hydrangeas from our mom’s yard and they made the prettiest centerpieces, especially since they were free!  A clipped branch from the woods strung with fairy lights provided decoration for the food tables, along with little baskets of apples and cattails.  Cornstalks adorned the barn inside and out.  And the string lights hanging from the ceiling provided just enough light to keep it festive.  I wish we had beautiful pictures to show you all, but we were so busy visiting that we failed to get great shots.  You’ll just have to use your imagination, as these pictures just don’t do it justice.

Colin wants to make a craft, too! He stayed by the fence all night, trying to join the festivities.
Bryce giving Baby Rye some love.
Milla having fun helping out with our little guests
Can’t beat a good old-fashioned hay ride!

Whew!  You probably weren’t interested in all of the little details, so forgive us.  We are just having fun reliving it, especially since it might never happen again!  Okay, we’re joking…we loved it.  We just haven’t quite forgotten how much work it was yet!  Give us a year!

Fall Barn Party
After the party

Fall Barn Party

Fall Barn Party

In case you are interested in any of the recipes we used, see below for links to any we used online.

No-flour Monster Cookie Bars by Together as Family make a whole jelly roll pan, so they are great for a crowd!

Fudgy S’mores Brownies by Mandy’s Recipe Box…I cheated and used a brownie mix, but they were still delish!


Southern Pecan Praline Cake by The Country Cook uses a cake mix, so easy peasy!

The Best Pecan Pie Bars

The Best Pecan Pie Bars by Rockrecipes.com

 

Almond Bars by Sometimeshomemade.com

The Best Sweet Cornbread from thegirlwhoateeverything.com

And stay tuned for a post on the soup recipes we used, since soup season is finally here…even if it wasn’t the day of the party!

Thanks for reading to the end, friends!  Happy Fall to you all!

Megan and Mardi

Labor Day Shrimp Boil

How was your Labor Day weekend?  Ours was nice and pretty low-key.  We don’t usually make big plans for Labor Day since this mom needs to get mentally prepared for the start of school.  And not just mentally.  Oh, the organizing of backpacks and school supplies and paperwork.  And grocery shopping for all of those cold lunches (can you hear the whining?  I hate making cold lunches…well, actually I kind of hate making any meal, but I guess I just don’t like doing them even more the same time as breakfast!) .  And don’t forget about picking out the First Day outfit and actually getting it ironed the night before!  Picking out clothes and ironing them the night before usually lasts about two or three days, and then we are winging it again.  Or we just don’t iron at all…  But hey, they always have clothes on.  So you can see why this procrastinator needs the weekend to prepare.  No camping for me!

My mom and dad usually have a little picnic on Labor Day, but this year they had the nerve to go on vacation without all of their children and grandchildren.  I still can’t believe it.  So Mardi, Kendal, and I had to take matters into our own hands and plan a little get together with just us and Mardi’s in-laws.  We’ve been wanting to do a shrimp boil all summer and just haven’t made it happen, so we decided Labor Day was a good excuse to try it out.  I have to say it turned out pretty well.  We used this recipe from Hearth and Vine, but doubled it.  Chris boiled it in his deep fryer, and Rob made homemade hushpuppies in another one.  Kendal also made coleslaw and grape salad.  And we rolled brown paper on the tables so we didn’t need to use plates, but I still had to anyway.  Just habit, I guess.  It made for easy clean-up, though!  It was nothing fancy, but it was different and fun, and I’m glad we tried it.  I think it might be a fun new tradition.  And maybe I’ll eat it right off the table next time!

Please excuse the horrible picture-taking and lack of pictures.  I guess I was in such a hurry to eat that I neglected to take decent pictures!!  Oh, and I’m sure you are super impressed with the high quality paper plate, too!

I made a peach dump cake for dessert with canned peaches and a cake mix.  I added about 1/2 cup of oatmeal on top, and it was really good for being not-quite homemade,  Best of all, it was super easy!    Which was good, because I had to do all of the school prep stuff that I had waited until the last day to do.  Maybe now that summer vacation is over, I will be a little more organized and disciplined…well, one can only hope!

If you’ve never done a shrimp boil, give it a try.  It’s a great way to feed a crowd, and also a nice alternative to the “if-I-eat-one-more-hot dog/hamburg-this-summer” feeling you get by the end of August.  Here’s wishing you all had a great end to the summer and a successful jump into a new school year!

Megan