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…??

Fill Your Freezer Fast With Freezer Cooking

Last week Tuesday, Megan, our good friend Karla and I, spent the day freezer cooking.  If you’ve never done it before, trust me, freezer cooking rocks!  It’s an absolute life saver to have meals in the freezer, all ready to cook whenever needed….like, everyday.  As much as I love to bake, I don’t like cooking.  B-u-t, I like to eat, hence my love of freezer cooking.  It feels so satisfying to have a freezer stocked with delicious meals, especially with the holidays approaching.

freezer meals

First, we decided on the “assembly” date.  Karla suggested that we each make four meals:  one ground beef, one chicken, one pork, and one of our choice.  So between the three of us, we would each get 12 meals!  Then we searched Pinterest for freezer cooking recipes, as well as using a few that we already had.  After choosing recipes and making lists, it was time for grocery shopping.  Karla and I bought our groceries at Aldi’s and Meijer’s, while Megan only went to Meijer’s.  We kept track of our expenses so that we could square up with each other later.

The recipes that I chose to make were:  beef tips with gravy, smothered pork chops, chicken and rice with black beans, and black bean taco soup. I’ve served all of these meals to my family before, so I knew that they were “winners.”  Karla chose to make recipes in disposable tinfoil pans rather than Ziploc baggies, like Megan and I.  Her recipes were:  ravioli, enchiladas, chicken pot pie, and pork with sweet potatoes and apples. Megan decided on:  chili, one pot chicken dinner, kielbasa with peppers, and beef stew.  The beef stew is a sixsistersstuff recipe and a favorite of both of our families…..and did I mention that it is beyond easy to make?   The black bean taco soup is also a sixsistersstuff recipe.  What can I say, the six sisters really know their, ah, stuff.

freezer meal

Find the recipe for Kielbasa and Peppers here.

We met at my house for the assembly which worked out great for me, but not so much for Megan and Karla.  They had to tote all of their groceries and a cooler, but they were good sports.  My kitchen was a flurry of activity as we each made our own four recipes for each of us.  There was much slicing, dicing, browning hamburger, rinsing and draining beans, etc.  I cheated with the onions and bought frozen diced onions from Meijer’s….I loathe chopping onions!  We had a quick lunch break before finishing and going over our receipts.  The final cost for the 12 meals was…drumroll please…….$107 for each of us.  That’s right, $107 for 12 homemade meals!  I still can’t believe it.

Next time we make freezer meals, we said maybe we’ll prepare them at home, then meet to exchange them.  That way, we can visit more.  Then again, maybe we won’t.  We’re women, and it’s our prerogative to change our minds! Either way, it’s such an amazing feeling knowing that my freezer is stocked.  Tonight, we’re having Megan’s one pot chicken dinner.  Megan is preparing my smothered pork chops.  Megan made Karla’s enchiladas last week and said they were really tasty.  Whether you work from home or not, whether you run kids to sporting events constantly, or not, freezer meals are a lifesaver.  Instead of wondering frantically, “what am I making for dinner tonight?” ,  simply decide which freezer meal you want.  It’s generally suggested to defrost the frozen meals in the refrigerator overnight, but many times I put them in the crockpot frozen and adjust the time accordingly.  Now is the best time for freezer cooking, because everyone will only get busier with Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner.  Happy freezer cooking!

Mardi

What is your favorite freezer cooking recipe?

 

 

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

 

Hay Day

hay wagon, hay bales
Kimball and Sander resting up before the unloading begins!

We recently had our first hay day of the year.  It involves hitching up a trailer to the truck, going over to the next town and stacking the truck and trailer with hay.  Like, 130 bales or as much as we can fit.  It was almost like an emergency because we were down to 6 bales.  We were close to having the horses graze in our front yards.  Sander would have loved it, because he’s not fond of mowing.  Anyway, this was the first time we ever had use of 2 trucks and trailers.  It was awesome!  David, Sheldon, and I took one and Chris, Megan, and my Dad took the other.  David and Sheldon filled one truck and trailer up while I counted bales (well, I tried….I lost track a few times and had to start over).  Then the other truck came and we took off to unload into our barn.  Having two trucks and trailers meant we can make half the trips we normally do to get the 1,000 bales that we need.  We have a borrowed hay elevator we use to get the bales into the loft.  It was the perfect temperature, too.  Usually our timing is impeccable and it’s in the 80’s and muggy.

hay wagon
Megan stacked the trailer up to the rafters.
hay, stacked hay
Chris looks a long way down from Megan’s view at the top of the stacked trailer
Fynn running through a field of wheat
This is what Fynn does while the trailer is loaded.

We’ve learned a lot about stacking hay these past few years.  Like, what to wear and what not to wear.  Megan knows what to wear and I know what not to.  She always wears jeans and I usually wear yoga pants….no more, though.  Hay sticks to yoga pants like lint to a lint roller. Like flies to a flystrip.  Like white on rice….you get the picture.  I once went into a gas station to get a pop in between loads…..with so much hay stuck to my pants, I was embarrassed.  But my thirst won out over my pride.  As far as shirts go, that’s a tough one.  It’s such hot and sweaty work, it’s tempting to wear a tank.  But the hay is so scratchy, and it has uncanny ability to get into the craziest places.  As long as I live, I’ll never forget the discomfort of hay stuck in my bra.  It doesn’t matter what shirt you wear, hay will get underneath it.  Maybe a turtleneck would work if it wasn’t so hot!  Don’t even get me started on hay stuck in our boots….

unloading hay bales
Kimball and Sander unstacking for Grandpa to send it up the elevator
Milla and Papa enjoying a break at the end of Hay Day

Megan and I don’t mind hay days, probably because we didn’t grow up having to do it (like David did).  It’s a family affair….many hands make light (but scratchy!) work.  One year Megan made these amazing brownies, so now it’s a must..  On Pinterest, they’re called ‘Slutty’ brownies (gasp!), but we named them ‘What the Hay?’ brownies.  They’re super delicious but calorie-laden, but we figure, why not?  After all that work, we’ve earned them.  We’d be happy to share them with you if you help us on our next hay day.  We’ll probably have at least two more of them!

Milla and Fynn enjoying their What the Hay brownies

 

what the hay brownies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we will see you at the barn, right?

Mardi

 

An Old Fashioned Fourth of July…And a Few Recipes!

Hey guys!  Happy Monday!  I know, I know…that sounds entirely too peppy for a Monday following a holiday that pretty much spans a week.  Well, if you live in Michigan, it usually does because, well, the weather is nice and it’s America’s birthday, and lots of employers shut down for the week, and people go up north or camping, or to the beach.  It’s just what we do.  At least I hope all of you got to do at least some of those fun things.  Mardi and I and our families celebrated the Fourth of July as usual at my parents’ annual party, followed by a trip up north.

The party was huge this year!  My mom and aunt counted over 200 people!  We had some new faces this year, some I didn’t even know.  But I am so glad they felt comfortable enough to come, and I hope they all felt welcome.  The weather was absolutely perfect…80ish and sunny.  The kids were in and out of the water all day right until dark.  One of my favorite things about this day is seeing the kids, many who only meet up once a year at this party, instantly act like old friends from the minute they arrive.  And I didn’t see kids on electronics literally the whole entire day!  And they lived to tell about it!

We ate around 4, and let me tell you, I think it was better than Thanksgiving dinner.  Since it is a potluck, the choices are amazing!  I always love the deep-fried shrimp that the guys make, and my mom’s smoked sausage cooked in crushed pineapple, and Danya’s crab salad.  Then there are Mrs. Vogel’s homemade cinnamon rolls that are always a party staple.  Can you tell I’m really into health food?  One of my new favorites this year was a corn salad with chili cheese fritos.  I’m not even sure who brought it, but it was so yummy.  Luckily I found a recipe on Pinterest.  Here is one that looks similar.  You should check it out if you haven’t had it before!  I think I will definitely make this in the future.

I actually made the little fruit tarts with the star cut-outs that I mentioned I might make in the previous post.  I added blueberry pie filling as well, and then sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on the top.  They were super easy and tasty too.  I also made the Six Sisters’ Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Bars.  They are sooooo good, and the recipe yields a lot of servings.  Mardi made scotcheroos, sugar cookie bars, and a really good snack mix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We ended up dragging the kids out of the water for a sack race, a three-legged race, and tug of war.  They were having so much fun swimming that they didn’t seem to mind the simplified games this year, which was nice.  Most of the kids are getting older now, too, so we don’t have as many participants. Sniff, sniff.  Especially the boys…they have graduated to letting off their own fireworks.  Always a little scary, but there is no coming between boys and bottle rockets.  Sometimes you just gotta let boys be boys, I’m learning.  But sometimes I just can’t really watch too close, either.  Thankfully, they all have wonderful guardian angels (Thank you Jesus!), and no one was hurt.

Mardi and our friend Kathi decorated the pontoon boat this year to participate in the annual Wolf Lake boat parade.  They did a fantastic job getting it all decked out, but when it was time to leave the dock, the darn boat wouldn’t start.  The battery was dead.  Sigh.  Oh well…the parade went on without us, but it’s always fun to watch anyway!  Better luck next year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The evening ended with an awesome display of fireworks that my dad and a friend went in on together.  They even let some of them off from an old pontoon boat off shore!  It was just an amazing way to end a perfect day.  And I’m so thankful to my mom and dad for opening their home to everyone and getting to celebrate such a special holiday with so many wonderful people every year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did you spend your Fourth of July this year?

Megan