08 September 2019

Meet Morty

When one of our beloved farm cats, Hercules, inexplicably went blind and was unexpectedly retired, Jack casually mentioned that it was probably about time to get another kitten. Hercules' sister, Snickers, is also showing her age, and Nova is already four. I never take his suggestion to get another cat lightly. He finds them incredibly presumptuous and annoying (I admit I think the same thing when they sneak inside and lick food off my plate or choose my pillow to sleep on) but they are extremely helpful in keeping the rodent population in check around the house, barn, and garden. In a word, they're essential for our farm.
Our resident cat whisperer.
That being said, I am not a fan of scary, mangy, one-eyed, unneutered tom cats who slink around in the dark corners of the barn and would just as soon bite a person as they would a rat. All our animals on the farm play a dual role of beloved pet and working animal. They're regularly taken to the vet, treated when they're sick, neutered/spayed (unless we want more of them...looking at you, Dolly and Daisy the cows), and they're socialized so they're pleasant when they're picked up and pampered by the kids or visiting friends and relatives.
During our most recent trip to Nebraska, we checked out a few kittens in the area and ended up picking a gorgeous white and gray tabby, who was a few months old. He'd passed the awkward, helpless tiny baby stage and was already showing he was an adventurous, healthy, and adept farm cat...he evaded a whole herd of little kids trying to catch him for about half an hour before he was finally caught.
Life inside is so dull...
I have the hardest time naming animals. I'm not generally a fan of descriptive names like Fluffy or Tiger because I want it to really capture the personality of the animal and bring back some antiquated names that don't quite fit the trend of children's names. 😉 We've had a Magnus, Henrietta, Millicent, Aloysius, and Murphy. The new kitten? Mortimer. Apparently, we have a thing for 'M' names.
It's always fun to have a new kitten around. They're so playful and mischevious and c-u-t-e. There was more than one argument every day that had to do with whose turn it was to hold the kitten. Or feed the kitten. Or dangle the yarn for the kitten to play with.

Maybe we should have gotten everyone their own kitten...🤔
But, as it always does, it came time for Morty to go outside. He was starting to be a little too bold (seriously, at least try and sneak food, not jump on the table in the middle of a meal!), and was remembering how fun it was outside, and would constantly be slipping out the door. He took a trip to the vet for his first round of shots and deworming, and will go under the knife when he returns. Trust me, buddy. You'll thank me. Eventually. Maybe. But I'm not having a tom around here.
Claire comforted him when she got home and eventually, he forgave us for the torment of the vet's office.
Then, it was the great outdoors for him. We started him in the garage, where we have food and water for Snickers and Nova and a cat door for them to come and go. He met the older girls, neither of who were thoroughly disgusted by the kitten and hissed their disapproval but true to the nature of being a cat, he didn't give one lick what anyone thought of him.
He has been exploring everything in his new paradise, swatting at flies, proving he's an adept climber, running after the kids when they go outside, and patroling the place like he owns it.
Zoey's being stalked by a tiger cub.
Of course, he hasn't fully escaped all the love and attention the kids like to lavish upon their pets but hey, if they really hated it, they'd be able to outrun a toddler. Deep down, I think they like the occasional snuggle.
Claire's main chore on the farm is taking care of the cats, which is something she takes seriously. Before and after school and all weekend long, she's probably got a cat on her lap or in the crook of her arms, or rubbing up against her ankles.
Since he's still basically a teenager, Mortimer still comes in at night to eat and drink and get practice using the litterbox (which he sometimes fails miserably...he apparently thought it was funny to go on top of the litterbox cover for the mere fact that he's a cat and can do whatever he wants). But, when he's neutered and full-grown, he'll be a full-time outdoor cat, with a rather cozy setup in the heated garage. He really will have the best of both worlds.
He prefers a big dog bowl of water to a dainty cat bowl.
Welcome to the farm, Mortimer! We're excited to have you!

01 September 2019

Wish Him a Happy Birthday

Our handsome guy is four!
It seems like only yesterday that I rolled out of bed and my water broke, three days earlier than my due date. Imagine my surprise, when every other baby I'd had was two weeks late. So, we went to the hospital, had a nice long labor (I guess at least that was as usual 😂), and out came our first boy. He was a big kid--all 23 inches of him--his sisters were in love with their baby brother, we deliberated for days over what to call him, eventually settling on Henry. Ever since then, we've been enamored with Henry, his sweet 'n' sour personality, his infectious smile, and easygoing nature.
Henry is one of those darling boys that people can't help but love. He is smart as a whip, loves to help others, and is quick to make people laugh.
Though we love all our children, they're each unique, and Henry is definitely all boy. I've been horrified at some of the things he's done--more than once, I've had to tell him not to spit on, stab, bite, or headlock someone but when he turns around and apologizes, it's so heartwarmingly sweet that people can't help but forgive him, especially since he always includes a hug, a hand-drawn picture, and if he's extra penitent, he goes outside and picks a wildflower bouquet.
He's perpetually dirty and always silly.
When it comes to food, Henry always gives it an honest effort. Judging by the amount he eats already, he really is going to eat me out of house and home by the time he's a teenager.
Chopsticks: nailed it.
Doubly true if it's something sweet.
Henry is already following in his daddy's footsteps. He loves the hardware store, getting dirty while fixing stuff, anything that makes a lot of noise (think chainsaws, fireworks, and tractors), and he's had more bloody noses, cuts, stitches, scars (especially on his face! 🤦🏻‍♀️), smashed nails, prematurely wiggly teeth, and bruises than the rest of us combined. Kind of like Jack. 😜
If there's one thing Henry loves, it's his siblings. For a long time, he was given pitying looks and comments, seeing as all he knew were sisters but when we found out we were expecting again, you know what he asked for? Another sister. However, he is thrilled to have a brother that he can (eventually) wrestle and roughhouse with since his sisters don't necessarily appreciate being tackled by Henry when they're not expecting it. Whatever the case, he loves his family without question.
Henry is happiest when he's outside. He still loves to swing in the hammock, I always know where he is because he's screaming at the top of his lungs (sometimes I have to send him outside just so he can get it out), and he loves to jump, swim, run, and climb.
Henry has one of the world's greatest smiles. Not much keeps him down, and his natural state is happy.
What a fun trip to Kings Island!
 If Henry knows you, you've got a friend in him. He'll talk your ear off with a story and he loves to share treats out of his sweaty little palm with whoever is daring to open their mouth so he can pop it in for them.
Twin cousins!
Henry loves Halloween as much as I do. 
There isn't a store we don't go to that he doesn't ask if we can peruse the Halloween section (even if it's in the middle of summer) and he asks to listen to Halloween music whenever we're in the car. He has the hardest time deciding what he'll dress up as for Trick or Treating because he wants to be it all.
Henry's birthday was an eventful one. We woke up to a thunderstorm and our power flickering on and off, eventually losing it altogether. He got to eat breakfast by flashlight and that right there made his day. Periodically, he'd also remind everyone that it was his birthday, and required us to wish him a happy birthday on command. Whatever he wanted, we did since he was the birthday boy. So when Henry said to wish him a happy birthday, we did.
After we dropped off his sisters, we had to run to the store to get him the last few items for his birthday dinner of mac 'n' cheese, a rainbow fruit tray, and ice cream to go with his cake. Since we couldn't ride the horses outside, he settled on going on the penny pony.
Between lunch and picking up his sisters, we made his cake. His requirements were that it be Spiderman, chocolate, rainbow inside, and with monsters. Phew! We managed to pull off one incredibly rich and sweet cake that made him squeal with delight when it was done.
Same with his cake, his present requests were all for superheroes and firetrucks, so that's what he got.
We are incredibly blessed to have this heroic, lively, handsome, charming, witty, and beautiful boy as part of our family. Time is flying by so quickly with him, and we can't wait to see where life takes him as he continues to grow (which may include being a farmer, astronaut, dancer, firefighter, husband and father, and engineer, since he wants to do it all).
Happy birthday to our handsome, happy Henry!

27 August 2019

Copycat Blue Bell Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Ice Cream

I'm a firm believer that if you're going to enjoy a treat, you might as well go all out. That is definitely no exception when it comes to ice cream. With the cows being bred for calving next year, we're getting ready for an abundance of milk and cream, so I've been practicing and perfecting how to make ice cream (or more accurately, frozen custard). Naturally. With my base recipe perfected, I've started branching out to flavors other than vanilla. Here's the first one we tried and in our opinion, is delicious.

For Frozen Custard
8 egg yolks (we save the whites for scrambled eggs, quiche, and other egg-based recipes)
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/4 to 1/2 cup chocolate syrup, to taste (here's a homemade recipe if you're out)
For Add-Ins--Edible Peanut Butter Cookie Dough and Chocolate
2 Tablespoons softened butter
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons peanut butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chunks

For the frozen custard, add the egg yolks, sugar, and salt and beat until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Meanwhile, heat the cream and milk in a large saucepan over low heat, until 160F. Be careful not to scald or burn, as it will affect the flavor. When heated, very slowly add the hot cream to the whipped egg mixture, stirring until incorporated. Return to the stove and reheat to 160F. Pour the custard base into a container with a lid, and chill in the fridge about eight hours, or overnight (or until chilled thoroughly). Stir in the chocolate syrup and pour the custard base into your ice cream maker. Process until thickened. Meanwhile, beat the add-ins, minus the chocolate, until the consistency of cookie dough. When the ice cream is ready to be transferred to the freezer, stir in add-ins (we dropped the edible peanut butter cookie dough in by chunks and sprinkled in the chocolate. Pour into a freezer-safe container and freeze until ripened.
Thanks to The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie and Carrie This Home for the recipe inspiration!

25 August 2019

Kings Island

While driving around one day, I heard on a local radio station that they were running a contest for amusement park tickets to Kings Island. All participants had to do was submit a prom photo (to be crowned King or Queen winners...get it? Heehee...) and write a short blurb about why they should be considered. Since I have an old prom photo of Jack and me that I absolutely love, and I enjoy a writing exercise as much as the next author, I decided to go ahead and submit. I did, then promptly forgot about it. Imagine our surprise when we won!
One of our very favorite things to do together is to go to amusement parks, especially now that the kids are getting older. We managed to squeeze in a trip before school started and Jack left on a work trip. It was a scorching hot Monday but that meant the park wasn't overly packed. Since we didn't have the expense of tickets, we splurged on a few other items that we wouldn't normally have bought, like meal and drink tickets--every hour and a half, we rotated through eating everything from hamburgers to BBQ, grilled cheese, chicken fingers, and burritos.
I LOVE their faces!
Between all that eating, we rode as many rides as we could manage. The one downside of Kings Island is that there weren't any overlapping rides we could go on--Jack took the three older girls and they spent an hour riding rollercoasters while Zoey, Peter, Henry and me kept to the little kid rides.
He spent a good majority of the day napping.
A definite challenge to the day was toting Peter along. Not that he wasn't agreeable, but I spent a lot of time fussing that he wasn't overheating, sitting wherever I could find a spot in the shade to feed him, and carrying him when he was done laying down. It'll be a lot more fun to go with everyone when everyone can at least walk.
Between stints on the rollercoasters, we met up and tried to find a few rides that we could all do together. Mostly, Zoey was too small for everything but she's happy for now being an observer. Henry bravely took on a few of the adult rides he was tall enough for, and I can confidently say he's a thrill-seeker.
By mid-afternoon, we could all feel ourselves dragging. It was a combination of being hot, eating until we couldn't take another bite, and that we'd gotten up early in order to make it to the park right as it opened. We'd find the occasional reprieve on a shady bench but we weren't there to nap! To wake everyone up and refresh ourselves from the summer sun, we headed over to the waterpark side.
Everyone squeezed into their swimsuits but no matter how much I jostled Zoey, who'd crashed in the stroller, she wasn't going to wake up. So, Peter, Zoey, and I hung out and watched the rest of the family zip down waterslides. Second only to being on a ride is getting a clear view of the kids coming down, their faces a mixture of terror and excitment all in one.
She didn't get the memo that it wasn't time to sleep.
One of the lovely side effects of doing something out-of-the-ordinary with the family is that for the day, everyone is best friends without exception. They're riding the high of being excited and having the shared experience of facing their fears while going on rides. They gripped each other's hands while looping and twisting and bolting on a ride and checked with one another afterward to see if everyone survived.
Eventually, Zoey woke up to the sound of splashing and it took her all of thirty seconds to shed her clothes and pull on her swimming suit (ah, to be an uninhibited toddler again...). Again, we divided and conquered. The older kids went with Jack while Zoey and Henry had a blast doing what they wanted to do on their very own kid-sized pirate ship.
For about an hour, they stayed put...then they discovered there was a back door to the pirate ship (when will amusement parks ever learn there should only be ONE entrance and exit to kids' rides?!?) and decided they'd rather be going down some other rides. At least they stuck together and were going down the slides with the same amount of gusto as they had on the pirate ship.
And Peter? He'd had it with his sweaty onesie, so I pulled it off and let him dip his little toes in the water. If there's one thing about babies, it's that they're not that complicated. He was fed, dry, not-too-hot, and sitting up so he could watch everyone. In short, he was happy.
Determined he's going to join them someday.
As the waterpark side closed, we had everyone put their clothes over the top of their swimsuits so we could maximize the rest of our time at the main park. The weather had cooled off and the sun was setting...and then it started raining. We took shelter under an evergreen tree and were disappointed at our luck, worried that our day would be cut short by the weather. But, it rained for all of thirty seconds and scared off a majority of the people still hanging around the park. That meant the rides were all ours!
Rain, rain, go a-w-a-y.
The same rides that we'd previously had to stand in line for were practically vacant, so we picked which ones we wanted to go on in our final few hours. By far, one of my favorite rollercoasters was The Beast, an enormously long, fun-but-not-whiplash-or-puke-inducing wooden rollercoaster that lived up to its name. I'd go while Jack would watch the three youngest, then we'd swap. In about ten minutes, everyone would get to ride their choice of ride.
With the park practically at our disposal, we literally ran from ride to ride. Peter and Zoey sat in the stroller, Henry was on my back, and we bolted. No time to waste during the best time of the day to ride!
Hang on, Henry!
With no lines, I got to teach my kids the art of running to the rollercoaster. Running up the ramp, hopping on the ride, screaming through the entire trip, getting off, running down, only to run back up is one of the most satisfying experiences in life. I'm glad I got to share it with them.
At the very end of the evening, the park put on a fireworks display while running the last of the patrons on the rides. While the kids and Jack were spinning around some octopus-like ride, they were also treated to some booming artillery shells in the distance.
And just like that, our day was over with. We filed out of the park, got in our jammies, read scriptures and said family prayer, and the kids were out before we'd even left the parking lot.
The trip to Kings Island was the cherry on top of our fantastic, fast-paced summer. We hadn't planned on going to a theme park because of all the other things we had going on but we're so happy we were given the opportunity and made the time to go.
The closest we've gotten to the real Eiffel Tower.
I love their smiles!


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