Bringing Back Sunday Dinner (and an easy dinner to prepare)

Norman Rockwell’s famous dinner party.

Sunday feels symbolic of family and spending time together. In old homesteading and farming memoirs I have read, the families go visitin’ after church, or family comes to see them every Sunday. A chicken or two inevitably gets plucked and the sound of children running around while the adults chat can be heard through pages of books and memories. I love the idea of bringing Sunday dinner back. (Dinner traditionally being lunch, whereas Supper is actually the later meal.)

My cousin had come from two hours north to visit me. She hadn’t seen our new farm yet and after much chattering and catching up, she spent night. As she sat on the couch sipping coffee, catching up on news, my husband drinking his and waiting for football to start, I texted my best friend, Tina, and invited her and her husband over. I had a chicken defrosted.

I had harvested some things before we moved out of our old house and into this one a few months ago, so the meat chickens were in the freezer, my homegrown potatoes and onions were in the pantry, and I had jars of green beans. A half stale loaf of homemade onion bread became stuffing and a bottle of local Pinot Noir was opened.

I drizzled olive oil in the bottom of a cast iron Dutch oven, and placed fingerling potatoes all over the bottom. They need a sprinkling of salt and pepper. I then used my fingers to rub the chicken with olive oil and gave it a good rub with New Mexican red chile and other spices. That went breast down into the pan on top of the potatoes. Cook the chicken with the lid off for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and replace lid. Total, the chicken will cook for 15 minutes per pound.

I let the chicken rest on a platter for 10 minutes, moved the potatoes to a bowl, heated up the green beans with butter, and made a quick gravy with cream and flour in the broth that was left at the bottom of the Dutch oven. The stuffing came out, the chicken was cut up, and everyone feasted. The chicken was tender and delicious, the stuffing crisp, the potatoes soft and the green beans reminiscent of summer.

Rusty, Tina, me, and Julie. Doug is taking the photo.

Nothing has to be difficult to prepare. The table settings simple. The conversation and connection is the important thing. Sunday dinner is a very nice tradition to bring back.

Moving Aunt Donna’s Garden (and how to create a cottage garden)

We climbed out of the truck at Aunt Donna’s house. My cousin and I fought back a few tears at the thought that she wasn’t here. Nor will she be again. Her gardens were so dry, but the snap dragons and the huge trees stayed true to Aunt Donna’s garden with color and life. We were there to pick up wood for my new wood stove.

My Great-Aunt Donna

Janet and I walked around the back yard reminiscing. The old swing that used to hold family laughing, rocking back and forth. The family gatherings on the porch.

My Andy and Emily on Aunt Donna’s swing at one of the many family get-togethers we had at her house.

The decades old rhubarb was gone. The apple tree looked the same but with no apples. A broken limb hung from its girth.

I went to the shed and found all of her tools still in place. I took a shovel and went to the Oregon Grape Root that I always gather this time of year from her house. The last time, most likely. The house will be sold soon after the estate sale.

I filled a small bucket of water. I pulled up some of the Echinacea and placed it in the water. I dug up a few Sumac tree starts that had scampered away from the large trees. “Come with me, kids,” I said to the silent plants, “we are moving to a new garden.”

My own land here isn’t ready to plant. There is no amended soil. Just limestone and clay as far as the eye can see. The previous owner put in a small strip of garden along the front of the house with a plant every few feet for curb appeal to help the house sell. You know me and inter-planting; no soil unused! I filled in some of the spaces.

It is very easy to transplant anywhere you live.

  1. Simply dig a hole.
  2. Water the hole.
  3. Let it drain.
  4. Sprinkle a little organic garden soil in the hole.
  5. Put plant in the hole.
  6. Cover with soil.
  7. Give a little more water.
  8. Talk to it and tell it how happy it will be here if it will grow!
Sumac and a stone from Aunt Donna’s garden.

I do this every time I plant a tree or transplant a plant or bush. To prevent weeds and to keep invasive plants in place, put cardboard around the plants and top it all off with wood chips or straw. Everything looks beautiful, there was no need to rototille everything, and one can fit a lot of plants in a seemingly small area. It is the secret to creating a sprawling, cottage garden.

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I will increase the size of the garden next year with the same technique and establish a walkway. A hundred medicinal herbs and more flowers and pleasing plants will join the garden. It won’t be Aunt Donna’s garden, but with any luck, her plants will thrive here and I will have a little piece of her spirit in my cottage garden.

Everything in its Season

I long to get this show on the road. To get this new farm set up! Get the rototiller! Get the goats! Get the fencing done! Let’s get planting!

But, alas, it is October 2nd. I can plant hopeful bulbs of dancing tulips and sunshine yellow daffodils that will surprise me with delight come spring. That is all.

The wood stove is coming next week and the goat shed is coming too and we are slowly getting fencing done. I can see it all! I can see the corn in rows interspersed with pumpkins zooming along the front yard on green tendrils and vines. I can see the vineyard I have always wanted stretching out to the western sky. I can see the bright red tomatoes, the crisp lettuces dancing in the cool breeze, the baby goats and sheep jumping around the pasture in the sunlight. My polar bear dog with a job, finally.

I can see myself moving the dutch oven to make room for the kettle for a cup of tea and checking the fire. I can hear the vibrant shaking of the pressure canners putting away summer’s gifts. Wiping my hands on my apron and taking my granddaughters outside to play. Watching the sun set behind the wild pasture with rabbits shooting to and fro and turkey vultures swaying gently on the breeze overhead.

This is our fourth farm. Our fourth homestead. The second home of our own since beginning homesteading. This one on land. In the country. Our own. My heart soars with gratitude and excitement to get this farm set up! But alas, it is October 2nd.

The dark smoke billowed densely and ferociously off the mountain sides. The smell of it all filled the air. The wildfire was scarcely contained and my heart broke for the animals and trees and the wildness being consumed. Death and ending before our eyes as we drove to our mini-vacation spot. Next spring, there on the mountain, life will unfold. Everything in its season.

The aspens and oaks danced in brilliant colors of gold and red, creating patchworks across the mountainsides. That specific shade of bold autumn blue sans clouds stretched above everything and the west was in its ultimate splendor.

Our youngest daughter, her husband, and their new baby joined us for a few days at a beautiful place. A private spot where one can hike to various hot spring pools nestled along the mountain. Walking along the path we stopped to eat hawthorn berries and wild plums. Deer wandered past the pools, a fawn catching up with her mother. Birds flitted from thick tree to tree and life buzzed all around. It is a clothing optional resort and the feeling of air on one’s skin while passing thickets of herbs and trees and the feeling of the water from warm waterfalls is grounding and restorative.

A crow cawed and flapped its wings loudly as it flew close by. The warmth of the water followed by the cool breeze was enlivening. Amongst plans of future and to-do’s and day-to-day life, it is good to rest and restore, to ground in a new place, to spend time with loved ones, and to look out over thickets of oaks and pines and into valleys. To pull a blanket closer around, sip coffee, and hear the earth speak, as breezes lightly blow fog up the road. Everything in its season.

Starting a Farm and Homestead (Pumpkin Hollow Farm adventures continue)

“And just like that, we are homesteading again!” Doug said as he walked into the house after work. Two pressure canners were sputtering on the stove, twelve quarts of homemade chicken broth within. The house smelled wonderful. I was in the process of making cheese. We ate tortellini en brodo alfresco while pointing out where we should put our Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign. Yes, just like that, we will be farming again too.

The first real homestead we had was gradual; first a garden, then chickens, then goats, we learned one thing at a time. The next thing we knew we were practically living off grid and cooking on a wood cook stove! We have learned a lot over the past decade. I waited to see if Doug wanted to homestead and farm. I didn’t want to just jump into it. After all, it is an expensive adventure to start and it is a lot of work. He keeps talking about breeds of goats, and wethered sheep, and plotting the grazing section and where to put our vineyard…we went and picked up fencing for goats and sheep. We’re in. Homesteading isn’t just a job or a lifestyle, it becomes a very part of you.

I couldn’t remember how much it cost to have farm animals (besides chickens), it has been four years since we have had goats and sheep (that is how long it has taken us to get back to the country). This blog holds, not only my memoir within it, but so much information that I constantly resort back to. I looked up “How Much Does it Cost to Have A Farm Animal” from the first year I started this blog. I was pleasantly surprised to see that prices have only increased about 20%. I did expect higher. We should still be well in our budget to feed some more furry kids that give milk and fiber.

I have been visiting local vineyards. Grapes grow very well here and I would love to start my own winery. Even if it is just for me and my friends to start. A lot of folks focus on one thing, maybe beef, or chickens, or vegetables. They aren’t all over the map like I am. I want to have a vineyard, use my own plants to dye my own fiber from my sheep, create beautiful crocheted and sewn pieces to sell, have a huge pumpkin patch, a large garden, have milking goats, and still leave land to be wild and a safe place for bunnies. (Gandalf loves bunnies. They are as delicious as the chickens, apparently.) I love to have variety. That way, I always have what we need and my creative expressions can change as well. I am not going to get burnt out having sheep if I only have two!

When plotting your homestead, first write out what you would like. Garden? Chickens? Ducks? Remember that poultry will consume everything in their path, so they have to be separate from the garden. Goats? They will eat trees down to nothing so the orchard (did you want an orchard?) has to be fenced away from the cute ruminants. Do you have a niche you want to focus on? Don’t think of money while you are writing down your list. What do you want to do? Then draw out your land (even if it is a quarter acre or in the city) and sketch in where you will put everything. Decide on priorities based on money and time to get things started.

Then note where you might make extra money from your homesteading adventures but always have a back up plan. That is the most valuable lesson we learned over the past ten years. Pumpkin Hollow Farm continues on! Our family is excited.

Where are you at in your homesteading adventures? My granddaughter, Maryjane, has loved our farms and has made so many memories. I want to have Grammie and Pa’s farm for her and her sister. So, it’s not all serious here. Homesteading and farming should be fun.

Célébration de L’Automne en Famille (celebration of fall with family)

Creating La Belle Vie

It is the beginning of autumn harvest season! This is our family’s favorite time of year. Our farm is aptly named Pumpkin Hollow Farm (we will have this new place looking like a farm in no time). So, when our children came for the weekend we wanted to do something really fun. We looked up local attractions but ended up at two nearby farms to pick apples, blackberries, and choose early pumpkins. Everyone had a wonderful time and it was the highlight of our weekend together.

Doug and I went around our village the night before the children arrived to scout out which farms we should go to. We ended up talking to one of the farmers for quite some time. The couple retired, they bought land here with apple trees on it, and a U-Pick farm was born.

The first farm we all ventured to looks to be a…

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Gone Fishing (Homesteading #20)

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I flew out to visit my grandparents by myself for three weeks during the summer that I was eight years old.  They took my cousin and I to the mountains for a leisure weekend.  Stars glittered through cracks of the log ceiling of the cabin.  Helen and I giggled and talked but fell asleep soon after a day of playing, swimming, and fishing.  We fished in a well stocked lake and deftly pulled one trout after another out of the blue.  That evening as we sat in the cabin’s kitchen cleaning the fish, I asked if I could take my fish home on the airplane.  My grandma laughed thinking of my mother’s expression after finding fish in my luggage but gently told me no.  We ate good that night.

The last time I went fishing was a at a city park near us when I was twelve.  They were hosting a fishing contest for kids.  They stocked that area with trout and I took home my small fish in a bag.  I named him George and when he died in my hands I swore I’d never fish again.  I have eaten plenty of trout since then though.  I have fond memories of my uncle’s freezer filled with it.  Eating it grilled or fried, its delicious, crisp skin and buttery flesh the very taste of summer and family.  Fond memories.

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I asked Bret (my granddaughter, Maryjane’s daddy and still one of my kids) to teach me to fish.  He drove three hours Saturday to come pick me up, a bubbly Maryjane in tow.  We went to the reservoir.  The parks in the city of Pueblo are all stocked with fish and one does not need a fishing license but we were at a state park so I doled out the $13 and change plus the $7 park pass for the day and we were off.  By the time we got to the park it was noon and sweltering hot with zero trees.  We parked and walked with all of our gear a half a mile or more just to find a place to settle by the water.  The reservoir was packed.  It was a hundred degrees out.  We nestled in near the rocks and set up.

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Maryjane was delighted playing in the water.  Bret strung the fishing line through the fishing pole loops.  It looked like a sewing machine, the way you have to wind it through holes just so, thread it through the eye just so.   He didn’t stop to teach me- I’m sure I looked confused enough.  Plus I was keeping an eye on the little one in water.

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We hiked across the boulders to a clear place and he showed me how you pull your finger against the line, click open the thing, and smoothly let go as the line goes flying into the water.  I set my stance, placed my finger, looked out across the pulsing waters and let go.  It plunked down two feet in front of me.

“Here, let me do it,” Bret said.  He sailed the line out far into the depths.  He handed it to me again and told me to reel in kind of fast, as we were mimicking a fish.  I caught a stick.

We repeated this process, I plunked it down two feet on the other side of me, he took it, sailed it out into the water, I reeled it in and caught something much bigger.  “I have a fish!” I exclaimed.  But it was more likely a log this time and he had to use his knife to cut the lure loose.  I felt bad.

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Then Maryjane and I got hungry and pranced back across the boulders again to eat the tuna fish sandwiches I packed.  We gulped down sweet tea and ate our homemade chocolate chip cookies while Maryjane splashed in the water and Bret and I talked.

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In the end, the day was far too hot.  The water way too crowded.  Usually fisherman go early in the morning or in the cooler evening.  The bugs are out and the fish are more active.  Next time we will go somewhere quieter and earlier, but I had such a lovely day with Bret and Maryjane.  Fisherman walked past us without any fish.  I asked Bret if he and his friend often catch fish.  “Once in awhile,” he shrugged, “it’s really just about the experience.”  I could get used to this too.

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Saving Money with Free Activities

Maybe you would like a cheese press, or a new hoe.  Maybe a few goats or maybe you realize that every hour of your life is valuable and perhaps you would like a few of them to not be working a job, but rather enjoying your homestead.  In everything, we save money so we can spend on something else, whether it be a new tree or time in a lawn chair with a good book.

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For us, our budget buster is entertaining ourselves.  In a weekend we can easily blow through a few hundred dollars just by visiting a fun strip of antique shops, a few restaurants- it goes fast!  So we try to entertain ourselves with as many free things to do as possible, so we can maybe save for a down payment on a farm in the country or pay the caterer for our child’s wedding!

We had a habit for a long time of meeting our growing family for a meal.  The kids live in all directions and it was just easier to find a central spot and enjoy dinner.  A few hundred dollars, a loud restaurant, and a bit of chaos later, we knew there had to be a better way.  Due to the screwy weather around here, we celebrated Father’s Day yesterday instead of last week.  We still donned winter hats and coats but the sky stayed clear and only a few rain drops threatened our merry band.

We all brought something to eat to share.  Andy and Bree brought chips and prickly pear soda.   Shyanne baked triple berry hand pies and poppy seed muffins.  Emily and Reed brought homemade mini quiches.  I made a mulberry coffee cake and brought along a few thermoses of coffee.  Andy also brought along his ukulele.  What a treat!

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We met at a glorious hidden park in the middle of Colorado Springs filled with hiking trails and trees, rock formations, and wildlife.  Acres and acres of breathtaking beauty, as only Colorado can dole out.

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Cost?  Free.  Priceless time together.

 

Some other ideas for free entertainment:

We have an antenna on our television set instead of cable.  We can see basic channels so we can watch The Voice and most Bronco games.  The rest of the time it stays unplugged behind a painting.

We get free movies from the library.  If it looks interesting, we grab it.  We have seen a lot of wonderful films this way.  We jot down movies from the previews of the films we like and the list goes on.  We particularly love clever British films, especially with Maggie Smith.  New movies are at the library as well.

We utilize the library for our reading.  Reading is free and perhaps the most wonderful entertainment of all, as you can travel the world, see sights, eat foods, meet characters, live different lives, laugh, cry, get inspired!  I do buy books that are not available at the library, but the vast majority of my reading is from the library shelves.  For free.

Museums and zoos all have free days.  Museums and zoos in small towns are a lot more affordable and often less crowded and more fun.

We take long, meandering walks.  It gives us time to talk without distractions and we get exercise.

Play an instrument.  Have fun with the piano, guitar, or ukulele!  The chickens love good music.

I wouldn’t venture to say hobbies are free but there are ways to make them affordable and are a wonderful use of time.  Crocheting, cooking, sewing, painting, wood working, and so many more activities are actually homesteading activities that sweeten life and lead to a simpler, more peaceful lifestyle,

Pull up a lawn chair and grab a drink and set up in the chicken yard.  There’s nothing better on cable television than that!

 

What activities do you do that are free to entertain yourselves?

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Where Did the Time Go?

That was probably the most common question asked in my grandparent’s home.  Where did the time go? They would be telling a story about a friend who used to live there, or the neighbor and her daughter, or look at how tall we had gotten and shake their heads and utter the question.  This continued on through my children growing up, and even still, with Grandma gone, Grandpa shakes his head and says it again.  Where did the time go?

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I found myself the other day, as my youngest daughter had her wedding dress tailored, muttering under my breath the same words.  It’s really all so beautiful, this life.

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I have an amazing relationship with my children that I do not take for granted.  Emily and I (and our men) have been talking about going in together on a family farm for some time now.  I have learned better than to force it or hurry it up before the doors naturally open, but we are actively planning what we need to do to achieve this goal.  All of my hair brained schemes (new businesses, new career ideas, etc.) are essentially routes to the farm.  In my heart all I really want to do is homestead.

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I cannot believe that my granddaughter, Maryjane, is six years old!

Emily and I talked yesterday on the phone about how much money we could save by staying home and working our family farm.  We would be growing our own food (right now I grow four months worth of our produce (hopefully eight months worth this year), we are talking about chickens, goats, and I want to learn to fish.  She went on to say how incredible it would be for her children to learn homesteading skills while being homeschooled and being so close to their grandparents.  Growing up on a farm.  This is what all of us have always wanted. For four years we lived that dream.  We are ready to get back to it.

 

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My granddaughter, Ayla Mae, is 6 months old and growing fast!

I love my little urban farm here.  Solar powered, chickens, huge gardens, a farm dog, it’s good livin’ here.  I am very grateful.  I love donning an apron in the mornings.  I love feeding the chickens, and gathering eggs, and watering the extensive beds, and harvesting weeds for salad.  I love seeing everything grow, and the stack of wood on the porch, and the fruit trees leaf out.  I love the look of colorful jars cooling after being processed in boiling water and listening to the pop-pop of the lids sealing the contents of summer within.  I love going down to the cellar to bring up corn or tomatoes or jam or dandelion wine.

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Gandalf is ready for a farm.

So, we plan to eat out less, put more money towards debt, start saving, keep an eye out for properties coming up, continue to dream.  Whether it is here in this beautiful house in the city on a third of an acre, or on a larger family farm, this is the only life for me.  And if I am going to shake my head and wonder where the time has gone, it may as well be in my rocking chair in front of a fire with a grandbaby on my lap on a family farm.

The Eco-friendly, Affordable, Beautiful Wedding (your ideas are welcome!)

Emily will not let her dad and the officiator (her dad’s friend) wear their kilts to the wedding.  The child is like 98% Celtic origin.  She wants what she wants.  She (like most of us) has been planning her wedding since childhood.  Pinterest is well used.  The wedding is going to be beautiful, all spring desert colors of blushes and mints.

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Weddings are costly numbers.  Venues are pricey, and photographers are even more than the venues!  There are ways that my family has kept costs down in the past.  My sister was married in a park at the base of the foothills with the fall colors blazing in the trees.  We then went to a rec center and had a potluck, our great-aunts busily working in the kitchen.  We love potlucks.  This wedding will feel like a destination wedding, however, because it is in the mountains west of Pueblo in a spectacular park in the woods, in the morning, so folks won’t be able to get up and cook and drive to the mountains.  There is no kitchen in the lodge where the reception will be.  So, we are looking at catering.  But…

What if we did huge batches of spaghetti and garlic bread and salad?  Could we get them up there and keep them hot?  How do you make enough to feed a hundred people?  Any ideas out there?  We are a creative lot in this blogging world, I am all ears!

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A bright, rust colored fox shot past us nearby as we got out of the car at the park.  Auspicious, I am sure.  The hawks and crows gather and the frogs sing from the river below.  There are deer tracks.  The lodge is made of stones that are a couple of feet thick, built a hundred years ago.  The wheels from the wagons that were used to transport granite from the quarry here to the state capitol have been turned into lantern chandeliers in the high vaulted wood ceiling.  A fireplace with its elaborate stone face stands prominently, taking up nearly an entire wall.  The heavy, wood doors open to the magical woods and picnic tables beckon.  There is an old bar and steps to a choir loft.  The worn wood floors are heavy and long to be danced upon.  Parks are an affordable option for any event.  They are scenic and lovely and support a good cause.

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I am realizing that weddings are quite easily not eco-friendly.  Emily wants succulents and roses.  They are fifty cents a piece, plastic and from overseas.  They are affordable.  The succulents are five dollars a piece at the store.  We have opted for real tablecloths and chair covers.  It is cheaper to buy them then to rent them.  I found that odd.  Emily says she can always resell them.  It is cheaper still to do plastic.  Then there are plates, silverware, glasses, containers for food…

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Succulents are on sale right now so I think I will purchase them and keep them alive until the wedding in July.  I just cannot bring myself to buy plastic plants!  Maybe we can get compostable dinnerware.  Ideas?  Thoughts?  How do you keep the cost of a wedding down while still making it an elegant and memorable affair without destroying the earth in the process?  We will be figuring out all this and more as we go.

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I would love to hear your ideas and I will report back through the planning process as we master the eco-friendly, affordable, beautiful wedding that I will certainly share with all of you readers out there.  Many of you have been with me since Emily was fifteen years old.  How wonderful to see her marry the love of her life!

 

Bocce! The Ultimate Family Game

According to my DNA test, I am not Italian. but one might think I was and I feel I should be!  What, with my Italian convertible Fiat (I mean, pumpkin shaped mini-farm vehicle), my great love of homemade Italian food, my extensive knowledge of Italian wines, my closest friend is even Italian!  Oh, and so is my favorite game.  Here I sat down to write to you about bocce and how to play it because it is portable, easy, and so much fun.  But, it turns out I already wrote about it, four years ago Easter.  So I will link that one so that you can see the details and photos of my little Maryjane as a two year old ball runner.

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This year for Easter the kids all came down to Pueblo.  We took the dusty bag of bocce balls from the shed and set them on the front porch.  For some reason, we haven’t taught Reed (who has been in the family three years and is Italian!) how to play yet.  Maryjane threw the small white ball (the jack) and then ran off to play.  Aunt Bree opted to hold Ayla so the teams would be even.  We played on the side of the house, a bit more demure than we usually are.  We tend to like to throw the thing into ravines and over small hills.  Andrew and Emily were deep in conversation the whole time, but still managed to win.

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Do pick up a set of Bocce if you see it at sporting good stores or garage sales.  The game is great for picnics, family get-togethers, or just with two people, a glass of limoncello, and a dusky summer night.

Here is the rest of the story..