Author Archives: Amanda Cottrell

Valle Country Fair


Our favorite fall activity in the High County is the Valle Country Fair, which takes place on October 19th this year.  The fair is a fundraiser for different High Country organizations that serve people in need and is sponsored by the Holy Cross Episcopal Church & the Valle Crucis Conference Center.  We started going four years ago, after my husband had been on a long trip for work, and I decided it would be fun to have a “stay-cation”.  We will miss him as he travels this year during the fair but I look forward to sharing our sweet girl’s first fair with her.

Some of our “fair favorites” include:

  • Kettle Corn – The line usually looks long at this booth but it’s worth the short wait for this yumminess.  I honestly cannot remember the exact price but I want to say it is $5-$8 for a rather large bag.


  • Homemade Apple Cider – If I remember correctly, it is $2 per cup of cider.  It’s warm and fresh as they make it on site – perfect for fall weather!









  • Homemade Apple Butter – This is just so much fun to watch (and purchase, if you like).  I make my own apple butter in the crock pot, with apples from Tevepaugh Orchards, which you can learn more about here.  And it smells great too!


  • Local Entertainment – There are usually a few of our friends featured in a couple bluegrass bands and clogging groups, which is a lot of fun to watch.
  • Roasted Corn – Our friends, Robert & Sam Townsend, roast the BEST corn, which sells for about $3 an ear.  This is a “must stop and taste.”IMG_0829
  • Crafts – There are so many craft booths to peruse – from pottery, handmade jewelry, artwork, and other fun gifts.  There is such a wide variety and something for everyone.


I have a few tips from past experience:

  • Arrive early.  The fair starts at 9am and it’s best to go early to avoid the worst of the traffic.  Don’t forget that the Woolly Worm Festival is going on the same day in Banner Elk (which will have to be another post for another year, because I’ve never been – shame, I know, but I choose my battles with traffic).  Since Valle Crucis is on the way to Banner Elk (one of the routes), bring your patience, especially if you’re going out later in the day.
  • Leave Fido at home.  No pets allowed.
  • There are toilets in the form of port-a-potties.
  • Bring cash
  • Parking is $5 but it’s a flat, easy walk to the fair from the adjacent parking area.
  • Keep a check on the weather.  It could be rainy and cool or warm and dry!  It’s always best to be prepared in the High Country!
  • Take your time and enjoy!



Apples & Pumpkins

Apples & Pumpkins


I finally decided, at the age of thirty-two, that fall is my favorite season.  I realized it when I got excited about the couple of “crispy air” days we had this past July.  Most people told me not to mention fall at that point, probably because our summer was short with all of the rain we had.  But when your hometown is Boone, as it is mine, you just get used to ALL types of weather and I just take it as it comes.

Now that fall is in full swing, it’s time to think about the best fall produce:  apples and pumpkins!   This year my parents’ pumpkins didn’t do so well with the wet summer so I bought my $6 pumpkin (it yielded about 15 cups of puree) from a vendor at the Watauga County Farmer’s Market.  I started getting my apples from Tevepaugh Orchards in Moravian Falls (near Wilkesboro), where they are only $18.00 a busheI, which I think is an affordable price for great apples. I have several friends that are major pumpkin fans so I always enjoy making treats for them, as well as homemade apple butter and applesauce.  I thought I would share a couple of those recipes with you today.

Pumpkin Cookies – recipe passed onto me from a great friend, April Butcher

2 c. all purpose flour

1 c. sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla

1 c. pumpkin

1 c. butter

1 egg

Mix together until “smooothish”.  Drop on cookie sheet and bake 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees.


Combine in a small saucepan:

3 Tbsp. butter

4 Tbsp. milk

½ c. brown sugar

Boil for 2 minutes and remove from heat.  Add 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 c. powdered sugar.  (If it’s kind of soupy, you can put it in the refrigerator for a little bit.)


Pumpkin Bread – by Kathy Chiulli from Sharing Our Best Cookbook (North Ridge Alliance Church, Raleigh, NC – (1994)

2 scant c. sugar

1 c. oil

2 c. pumpkin

1 c. water

4 eggs

1 tsp. soda

3 1/3 c. flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 ½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. ginger

½ tsp. allspice

½ tsp. cloves

½ tsp. nutmeg

¾ c. chopped nuts (optional)

Combine all except nuts.  (Fold in nuts.)  {Pour into THREE medium 8X4 loaf pans sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for ONE hour or until toothpick comes out clean.

Homemade Apple ButterThis is the easiest recipe for apple butter.  If you know me, I love all things crock pot.  My family loves this recipe and I like to share a few for gifts come Christmas time.






My Grandmother used to make THE BEST fried apple pies, too.  My mom and aunt do a wonderful job with these nowadays but I haven’t quite mustered up the courage to attempt them yet.  I’ll have to save this one for later.


Do you have any fall recipes that you have deemed “the best”?  I would love to hear from you!

Becoming Conference Highlights

I just returned from the Becoming Conference, where I learned so many tips about saving money, preparing food and party planning, not to mention hospitality and organization.  It was such a fun girls’ weekend with my mom and my sweet babe in tow.  The decorations were lovely (using the thrifty skills that we were taught), as well as the cake, cheesecake and cake.  Did I mention there was cake?

I thought I’d take a few minutes and share the highlights from the weekend, along with a few of my favorite tips that I learned.

  • I thought this year’s sponsors were particularly AWESOME!  Although I’m not a coffee drinker, International Delight provided gallons and gallons of free iced coffee, with plenty of their new creamers for tasting.  We received some awesome coupons and goodies from sponsors, as well as a handbag and set of greeting cards from DaySpringCents of Style provided a beautiful “Becoming” necklace and a ten percent off coupon.  This is a great company for purchasing inexpensive accessories and they host really great sales on Fridays.  De Wafelbakkers provided some fun water bottles and a coupon to try out their pancakes.
  • I decided to go to Jenny Martin’s (Southern Savers) session on cutting your grocery budget in half.  I have already been to her longer workshop but I thought I could use a refresher since I recently decided to get back into couponing since I had taken a break after giving birth.
  • Best tips:
    • It’s important to learn what a “good/rock bottom price” is for a product.
    • Grocery stores cycle most products on sale every six weeks.  Buy enough to last six weeks, until it is on sale again.
    • Wal-Mart will price match grocery store ads for stores within a fifty mile radius (you must take the ads with you to Wal-Mart).  This helps save on produce.
    • You’ll save more money by not having brand loyalties.
    • To save on meat, buy local and buy in bulk.
    • To save on produce, buy from the farmer’s market or local farms for the best price.  You can check out this website for some help with pricing questions.
  • Barbara Hemphill presented a very helpful session about organization and clutter.  One major statement that I took away was “You can keep everything you want if you’re willing to pay the price in time, energy, etc.”  That gave me a new way to think about the things I keep and the reasons why.  Perhaps another blog post for another day!
  • My favorite session was by Edie of Life in Grace and Ruth of Living Well Spending LessHospitality and Party Planning on a Budget.  These two gals were such a dynamic duo in a very subtle way.  It’s really hard to explain but they contributed equal amounts of “heart” and practical ideas.  I was reminded why it is important to make people feel welcome and to extend a heart of love toward others.  I learned some great tips about planning a lovely party on a small budget, such as using scrapbook paper for pennants and party hats (which can be reused).  I’m going to use all of this information to plan my little nugget’s first birthday party in a few months.

  • Miss Mustard Seed presented a session on DIY around the home, which is her specialty.  I admit I went to this session as a dreamer because I feel that I lack a lot of skills to “do it MYself”.  I was encouraged because she said it’s okay if you don’t take a fancy to every type of DIY.  I think I’m going to focus on crafts/decorations for parties and my sewing lessons; I’ll leave the upholstering to expert gals like Miss Mustard Seed!
  • Although I had attended Jen Schmidt’s (of Balancing Beauty and Bedlam) 80% Off Lifestyle and Loving It session the past two years, my mom wanted to attend so I tagged along with her.  I was reminded how much I have been wanting to learn to make my own cake stands and decorate with them for parties/events and I was reinspired to shop my favorite thrift stores for some fall clothing.
  • The last session included Jen’s Ten Minute Dinners and a special presentation by Jackie Brown of Mom on a Mission and the Freezer Fairy.  I loved this one because I am learning more and more about freezer cooking and she had so many great tips on how to freezer cook with more wholesome and less processed ingredients.  I have yet to really dig into her blogs but here are a few things I learned from her last weekend:
    • Fresh eggs can be frozen, without the shells.
    • Place a cooling rack (can be found in your local dollar store) in between freezer casseroles so that they don’t fold in on each other with the aluminum foil covers.  You can remove the cooling rack once the casserole is frozen.
    • I learned the proper way to freeze (cool food to room temperature, avoid air in the freezer baggies, use quality baggies, etc.)
    • She uses a plastic shoe box to freeze food in baggies, as well as another to defrost in the fridge (to avoid messes).
    • Keep a freezer inventory sheet.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference and I hope you’ll join me on August 8-9, 2014 at Ridgecrest so we can enjoy some girl time and learn lots of new things together!

DisclaimerThe above sponsors did not pay me to mention them in this post.  I have expressed solely my opinions regarding this conference and sponsors.

Summer Learning Series – Part 3 – Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco

Chicken Sunday is a meaningful, multicultural story that I used to read to my third grade students during the first part of the year.  The story involves forgiveness, love and honesty as three children find themselves in a bit of unmerited trouble while trying to purchase a gift for Gramma Eula.  On their way to purchase a hat from Mr. Kodinski, they are blamed for throwing eggs at his back door.  They cannot tell Eula why they were near his hat shop but she encourages them to find a way to earn his trust and show that they are not guilty of throwing the eggs.  Pick up the book at your local library to find out exactly what they did to earn Mr. Kodinski’s trust.

Ideas for sharing this story with your children:

  • Read the story together with your children.
  • Discuss the questions found here or add your own.
  • You can also take this opportunity to learn about other cultures.
  • Create Pysanky eggs with a tutorial like this one.
  • Take this opportunity to learn about or review measurements by creating your own “Honesty Soup”.  For example, one cup of truth, two tablespoons of integrity, etc.

No matter the day of the week, I hope you enjoy reading Chicken Sunday!

Adapted from the Heartwood Ethics Curriculum.

Summer Learning Series – Part 2 – Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco

Today we’re continuing our Summer Learning Series, lessons I previously taught, based on The Heartwood Ethics Curriculum.

One of our trademark Boone weather patterns is a good ole summer rain storm.  When these usually arrive after a “hot” day (hot being a relative term for our area), I am reminded of a book that I loved to read to my first grade students when I was teaching classroom guidance as a school counselor. I will never forget a particular first grade class where I brought the book, Thunder Cake.  In this story a little girl is afraid of the approaching storm and the accompanying thunder.  Her babushka (Russian for grandmother) helps her overcome her fear by taking a fun journey to collect ingredients for making “thunder cake.” 

Materials Needed:

Character Trait:  Courage


  • Read the story together and discuss the following questions (or any other questions you may think of):
  • What is the meaning of courage?
    • How did the little girl show courage in the story?
    • How did the girl’s babushka help her face her fear of storms?
    • What are some of your fears and how can we work together to help you work through those?
    • Have you or your child ever helped someone find courage in a fearful situation?
    • Share with your child how someone helped you overcome a fear.
    • Collect all ingredients for the thunder cake and make the cake together.  Enjoy!

I recall one particular class where a little girl asked for a copy of the recipe and went home and made the cake with her mother.  She brought a piece to me the next day!  I’ll never forget that sweet gift and how great it must have been for her to do something fun with her mom, based on a story from school.

My husband recently rode his bike in the Blood, Sweat and Gears event in Valle Crucis, NC and we hosted a “carb load” dinner at our home for some of his pals that were riding, as well.  I took the opportunity to make Thunder Cake and it was particularly a huge hit with my husband.  Who knows, maybe it was because of the special ingredient?  What’s that, you ask?  Well, you’ll just have to read the story to find out!


$5 Or Less Rainy Day Summer Fun with Kids

What is a mom to do about all those days that it rains (maybe everyday these days but I would rather deal with a little storm each afternoon than extreme heat)?  There are several things you CAN do when it’s raining so get your galoshes out and let’s get moving!

  • Watauga County Public Library – Always a local favorite for story time!  Story time each day at 11am and Baby Lap Time each Tuesday and Thursday at 10:30am.
  • Boone Bowling Center – Kids fifteen and under bowl free until August 7th!  Note:  does not include shoe rental.
  • Michaels Craft Store of Boone is participating the Passport to Imagination crafting program for kids.  It meets on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10am-12pm and $2 reserves a thirty minute time slot for your child.
  • Ashe County Cheese Factory – I thought this place was pretty fascinating as a kid.  Worth a little trip over to Jefferson to watch some cheese production and have a bite of the good ole squeaky cheese!
  • Children’s Playhouse of Boone offers a ton of children’s activities for $5 per person per visit.  If you have a membership, there is no additional charge.  Infants twelve months and younger are FREE.  The hours are Tuesday-Friday 10:00-5:00 pm Saturday 10-5:00 pm in June and July (10-3:00 pm August-May).

Have fun splashing to these fun activities!

Summer Learning Series – Part 1 – Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

As a former school counselor, one of my favorite things about my job was going into the classrooms and teaching a guidance curriculum.  This included character education and I would love to share some fun little lessons that I have adapted from The Heartwood Ethics Curriculum, which is what I used at my first school.  Today I would like to share the story of Ish and an easy lesson you can do at home.

Materials Needed:

  • Book – Ish by Peter H. Reynolds (available through Watauga County Library)
  • Paper
  • Crayons, paint, pens/pencils, colored pencils, or markers, etc.
  • Any art materials you may have in your home

The Story:  Ish is the story of Ramon and how he learns about having the courage to draw by being encouraged.  Ramon loves to draw and is proud of his drawings until his brother makes fun of them.  Ramon is discouraged until he learns how much his sister, Marisol, admires his artwork.  Marisol encourages Ramon to continue drawing “ish-ly”, instead of worrying about making his drawings “perfect.”  I won’t spoil the entire story for you.  I still enjoy reading it, myself!

Character Trait:  I used this book to teach COURAGE/ENCOURAGEMENT to my first grade classes.

Activity:  Using your art materials, work with your children to create “ish” drawings or write “ish” poems.  For example, in the story, Ramon draws a vase and when he says it’s not very good, Marisol tells him it’s “vase-ish”.  It doesn’t have to be perfect – it can be whatever you like!  Use this story to teach your children about doing their best with their work and play and having courage to express themselves with art.  You can admire each other’s drawings and poems and have fun doing it.  After you have collected a few “ish” drawings/poems, make a book for your family.  Have each person present their “ish” creations to the family and share encouraging words with what you like about their drawing/poem.  Have fun!

My Reflection:  I loved this story because it allowed for creative expression in the classroom and practice with how to say encouraging words to one another.  The story shows how a young child appreciates another child’s work and how each person can do their best with creative expression and it doesn’t have to be “just right”, according to someone else’s standards.  Reading this story recently brought back a lot of great memories in the classroom!  I hope you enjoy this little lesson, maybe on a rainy day or a sunny day in the backyard.


$5 or Less Sunny Summer Fun with Kids!

Sometimes the lack of school and routine can make for some rough days during the summer.  Also, if mom is used to some fun activities with other gals throughout the year, this can make summer extra difficult.  Here are some fun ideas to get out in the sun in our local community – $5 or less per kid, or even better – FREE!

  • Blowing Rock Pool – This is a fun one, especially if you’re looking to cool off.  The pool is actually heated so it feels like the perfect temperature for hot and cooler days.  I can’t stand stepping into a pool that is too cold on a hot day.  A word of caution:  it can become quite crowded in the afternoons and there are no chairs so you’ll need to bring your own.  I believe the charge is $5 or less per person but you might want to call to confirm this year’s rates.  Want to skip the crowds?  Head on over to the Mountain City pool or the indoor pool in Boone if you’re looking to escape the heat.  The Mountain City Pool  (206 College St, Mountain City, TN 37683) – (423) 727-9252 is open from 11am-5pm from Monday through Friday and open only for pool parties on Saturdays.  Keep in mind that they do shut down for lunch from 12:45-1:30 each weekday.  Costs are $4 for ages 13 and up, $2 for ages 5-12 and children under five are FREE.
  • Cascades Waterfall and Hike – Take a little northern jaunt on the Blue Ridge Parkway to this easy hike and you’ll see a fun, gushing waterfall (no playing in this one) on this thirty minute round trip walk.  A good friend of mine recommended it to me and she, her three kids (ages 2-6) and baby girl (riding in the Ergo, of course) and myself enjoyed a lovely walk and picnic.  And the best part besides the fun time we had with our friends?  It was FREE!

  • Wildcat Lake & Banner Elk Park – A fun place for swimming, canoeing and lots of fun!  Make a day of it and visit the park, as well!
  • Jones House Music – Free music on the lawn at 5pm each Friday during the summer – this is especially a fun one if you walk the streets for the First Friday Night Art Crawls.
  • Bass Lake – A FREE, lovely walk around Bass Lake and a little picnic at Moses Cone make for a wonderful summer day.
  • Valle Crucis Park – This is my favorite park in the area.  Who wouldn’t love a river to splash in, a smooth walking trail, fun playground equipment, picnic area and plenty of shade on a hot day?

  • Price Park & Lake – We love to walk around this lake, although we haven’t tried the canoe rentals yet.  Technically it’s $13 for a canoe, but if you divide that by two people, you’re at $5.50 a person.  J  The park is also fun for some FREE water fun in the river and some Frisbee after a yummy picnic or cook-out.
  • Hickory Ridge Homestead – Learn a bit about our county’s history by touring the homestead.  Located next to Horn in the West, the cost is a suggested donation of $3.

Have fun exploring the High Country this summer!  Let me know of some other great ideas from your family!

Are you a “Southern Saver”?

Southern Savers is hands down my favorite savings blog.  I had the opportunity to meet Jenny Martin, owner of the blog, a few years back when she came to the High Country to teach a couponing workshop.  Jenny is also a big supporter of Operation Christmas Child and co-creator of the Becoming Conference.  One of my favorite things about Jenny is her passion for savings AND caring for her family.  I would love to share a few of the ways I use Southern Savers to cut costs in our home.

Workshop in Blowing Rock, NC – 2011

  • Jenny shared a great post about how to save on diapers.  As a mother of a six month old that cloth diapers 75-80% of the time, I still rely heavily on this information to make the most of my disposable diaper purchases.
  • There are some great coupon tutorials on the blog.  Jenny helps you figure out how to start small, even if you’re unfamiliar with the whole couponing process.  I have tried a few couponing methods but definitely felt her method was the best way to save time and money so that you are able to still spend time with your family.
  • I probably use the weekly grocery store posts more than anything.  Jenny pairs the grocery store sales with coupons and you can even create a customizable list to take with you to the grocery store.  She also includes the sales lists with coupons for CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid.
  • Southern Savers also has daily posts about many different types of deals (new coupons, online and brick and mortar store deals, restaurant coupons, etc.).  I’ve scored some great restaurant and movie deals by keeping up with these posts.
  • If you’re looking for a certain coupon and wonder if it exists, you can check the coupon database for it.  This is a fantastic tool!
  • If you don’t have a subscription to the Sunday paper and you buy them each week from the paper stand (where many coupons are located), you can check Southern Savers to see whether or not there will be a paper on holiday weekends. You can also see the weekly coupon inserts for your local newspaper.
  • You can also search current sales and find the best deals of the week.  There is also a weekly post just for moms: Best Baby Deals.

I encourage you to take some time to explore Southern Savers.  You might be surprised at what you find to help you save more money and spend more time with your family.

Serving Others with Your Children – Part 2

Last week we took a look at a few places where you might be able to serve our community with your children.  Here’s a peek into a few more:

Green Street Catering – This catering ministry is housed at our church, Alliance Bible Fellowship.  I absolutely loved delivering meals to a specific neighborhood in our community on Thursday afternoons.  We really got to know the folks in the neighborhood by name and a little bit about them, as well.  Unfortunately, our life group was not able to continue due to changes in our own lives and schedules but this is a great way to connect with others in the community.  You can volunteer by either delivering meals or helping prepare meals in the kitchen to serve at the church or for those that deliver them.  It is always good to have two adults help deliver the meals, especially if you take children with you.  Of course, remember to always use good discernment and judgment when venturing into new neighborhoods with which you are unfamiliar, especially if children are involved.

Watauga County Library – When I was in middle school, I volunteered at the Western Branch of the Watauga County Library.  I have some great memories of working with books and my Great Aunt Madge as she was also a volunteer.  This might be something wonderful if you have an avid reader on your hands!

Watauga County Humane Society has several volunteer opportunities and clear policies about the ages of children that can volunteer.  If your child loves animals, this might be a great service project for him or her this summer.

Helping Hands – Know someone in your neighborhood who is sick or could use a helping hand around the house or outdoors?  Perhaps you and your children could prepare a meal, offer to clean or do yard work, or make a craft to cheer up your neighbor.

Hunger Coalition Fun Run – Join in fighting hunger in our community by participating in the Fun Run on September 21.

Do you and your family have a special way that you serve in the community?  I would love to hear from you!