Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gripe of the Day

So you know a few weeks ago, I blogged about getting some stuff up for sale on ebay? Well, it took me awhile, but yesterday I finally scrounged up an hour, and got some stuff listed. Among the list, was a set of 3 Fuzzi Bunz cloth diapers. I originally bought these to try out on Matthew, and I loved them. Used them for a bit, but realized he needed the larger size, so I ordered the larges and set the mediums aside. Then I saw the market for used Fuzzi Bunz, and decided to list, like everyone else on the planet. Well, here we are, 24 hours later, I had bids up to $25.00 on the three diapers, and ebay yanked my listing because cloth diapers fall under the category of "used underwear". Give me a break! So I did what everyone else does - relisted and didn't say they were used. Didn't say they were new either - and I guess that's the unspoken language on ebay in the used cloth diaper department. I certainly understand ebay's concerns and why they have these policies. But for crying out loud - people, and I mean THOUSANDS of people buy, sell and trade used cloth diapers everyday. It's a huge business, and I'd be willing to use used diapers any day - just run them with a bleach cycle, then wash them in hot a few times and you're good to go. So here's what I say - if people are going to do it anyway, why doesn't ebay recognize this and provide a venue so that it can be done without being sneaky? Heaven only knows, they'd make a bundle of money - these things are a hot commodity.
In other news - we got a new love seat today for our living room! It just got delivered a few minutes ago - I'm going to have to go dig up a slip cover or throw to prevent the "usual" stains, crumbs, large sloppy wet areas.....sometimes I think I'm crazy getting new furniture with a 1 year old and a 3 year old, but you gotta have somewhere to sit! I'll post a picture later. Back to ebay - see if they caught up with me yet!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thomas Comes To Town

As I'm sure you can tell from the familiar little train in the photo, we had Thomas Tank come to Cumberland this weekend. Actually, he's here next weekend, too - two straight weekends of Thomas - how will I survive? Actually, things didn't go as planned. Long story - I'll try to make it short!
Mark works downtown, right across the street from the historical railroad where Thomas was going to be. So we planned on me meeting him down there with the kids on Friday afternoon - avoid the crowds. Guess what? Tickets sold out for the whole weekend before I even had a chance to buy them. However, encouraged by my friends who had gone to last year's Day Out With Thomas, even if you don't have a ticket to ride, you can still take pictures, do all the activities, see Thomas, etc..., you just can't actually ride the train. Which, hmmm, goes up the track for 10 minutes and then comes back down. And once you're actually ON the train, you don't even see Thomas at that point, I decided we were going anyway, no tickets and all.
So we get there, and first thing we do is go see Thomas. Jonathan is delighted, of course, there's Thomas, backed up to the Western Maryland Scenic Train (same one that takes fall leaf excursions) and then we notice the regular diesel engine on the OTHER end of the train, meaning that Thomas is indeed, not functioning as an engine at all here, which we pretty much knew, and that solved the problem of how they would turn the train around after only 10 minutes, well...if you're following me here, you realize that when Thomas initially leaves the station, he's actually going backwards. Then, when he returns to the station "pulling" the train, he's coming in looking like an engine, but of course, the train is actually being "pushed" by the diesel which is now in the caboose position.
All that to tell you this. We're standing there, taking pictures of Thomas. It's about to leave for the Friday, 4pm ride. Thomas goes Peep Peep! And train starts to move. At which my 3 year old becomes hysterical. Why? Because Thomas, heaven help him, is going BACKWARDS! Then, because Jonathan is hysterical, Matthew decides he's going to be hysterical too. So there we are, on the train platform, watching this cute little children's train leave the station, with both kids screaming like they've been seriously injured. People were actually looking at us.
So we went and did the other activities - the hay bale maze, the mini-golf, the moon-jump train, the gift shop. Oh, the gift shop. Enough said about that.
So the next day, I get a great idea. The cool, new Cumberland leg of the Allegany Highlands trail runs right along side the track that Thomas is using! So we take the kids for a walk on the trail, and the train will be right there beside us! More photo opportunity! More chance for Jonathan to see Thomas in true action! Plus, if we timed it right and did a walk downtown to the Farmer's Market, the Ford Model T/Model A show that happened to be downtown on the same weekend, AND a stop at the coffee shop for java and scones, we could be out for so long, we would probably see Thomas 2 or 3 times along the trail!
Saturday morning - off we go. Park the car and one of the access points to the trail, get out strollers, kids, diaper bag, snacks, drinks, "hurry, I hear T-H-O-M-A-S coming" (yes, we had to spell it, so it would be a surprise), up on the trail "LOOK, Jonathan, it's THOMAS!!" Jonathan turns around, smiles at Thomas coming (forward, this time, thank goodness), and watches entranced as the train approaches, and starts to pass us - engineer waving, little kids ON the train waving, train only about 10 feet away from us....a lovely, moment all parents treasure. Mark's taking pictures. And then the train makes some sort of noise, sort of like, oh, a grinding, squeaking, high-pitched air release thing - I have no idea what it was - it was actually a SERIES of noises, made ME jump. Guess what? Jonathan hysterical again. Grabs onto me, would've crawled under my clothes if he had the opportunity, screaming, crying, scared, blubbering "That SCARED ME!!!" As fate would have it, then Matthew starts.
To which my husband is now saying "Great idea, Bec"
Oh well - the REST of the day was good! And you know what? If the weather's nice NEXT weekend, we may just do it again! The walk. On the trail. Only this time, we'll know to get a little farther away!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why Bother Cleaning?

You know, I ask myself this question a lot. Like today, for instance. I mopped my kitchen floor, closed the baby gate, turned on the ceiling fan for a quicker dry-time and busied myself elsewhere in the house. Fifteen minutes later, I walked in, relishing the clean floor, the invigorating aroma of fresh, clean floor, and the idea, that, for just that instant, I could actually eat off my floor. Then the trouble begins. In toddles my 14 month old, with a thick line of drool from his chin down to his sneakers. Followed by the dog, who, after giving a disinterested sniff at the drool that has now reached the floor, strides right through it. Now drool, as a rule, is not THAT gross. Unless, of course, it's post-snack drool, but in this case, it wasn't, so I wasn't all that upset. Nothing a paper towel couldn't handle. But this happens all the time. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING stays clean in my house for any more than an instant - unless I put up enough baby gates so my house resembles the Panama Canal. And then you hear little voices screaming "Mommy, let me out!" But I have to clean, right? So I think I've reached a monumental observation: I don't clean to make things CLEAN. I clean so that they're not dirty. I mean filthy. I think I'm beginning to realize that if I don't relax my standards a LITTLE, I'm going to go nuts, so there it is. You come to my house, you might see some crumbs under the couch - which reminds me - last week, I actually pulled out the couch and vacuumed behind it - and I swear there was food under there from all 4 food groups. But I digress --- where was I? You come to my house, there will be crumbs, there will be dust, there will be smeared drool on the kitchen floor. There will be handprints on every window that extends down under 3 feet. That's my life right now - I'm through expecting perfection from myself. Maybe Mark will get me Merry Maids for Christmas? Yeah, right!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fall Desserts

Now doesn't that look pretty, and really, really tasty? They weren't. Poached pears - my first attempt. Got these really nice pears at the Farmer's Market and decided to try something new. Basically, you pare the pear (HA!), put them into a heavy saucepan and let a sugary-cinnamon syrup boil up around them for a few minutes. Then you let them cool as you baste with more syrup. I have to say, they make a really pretty presentation (and it would've been prettier if I hadn't accidentally knocked the one stem off), but they just weren't all that. Maybe it was the pears themselves - weren't that sweet. Oh well - I may try again if I find some better pears.
My apple dumplings on the other hand were YUM! (Sorry I don't have a picture, they were consumed before I could get the camera out!) Again, a produce purchasing error transforms itself into heavy calories - I had some apples that were just too mushy to eat normally. Was going to make some applesauce for the kids, but I've always wanted to try apple dumplings, so I gave it a go. Basically, pare and core the apple, plop it down on some pastry dough, fill the core hole with cinnamon and sugar, seal up the dough and bake. Oh, yes, there's a sugary/cinnamon syrup involved in this one too. Pour the syrup into the bottom of the baking pan, and it boils the whole baking time. Oh, my, these things were good. Better than pie - and I do love apple pie. And no wonder. I happened to be looking around for some nutritional information on apple dumplings - and the one from the Cheesecake Factory has over 1200 calories and something like 50 grams of fat. In one dumpling. Mine weren't quite that rich - but they still fall into the category of: seldom-made treat for special occasions only. On that happy note - off to the Farmer's Market! I only have a few weeks left - the last week is the week of October 9th. I am going to really miss getting all that fresh produce, grown in local soils!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Money Pit's Last Gasp (I hope)

So yesterday, after an overnight low temperature of 39 degrees, we finally gave in and decided to cover the pool for the season. Sigh. We had a lot of fun in it this year, despite our woes.
It's not hard to cover the pool - opening it is much harder, more time-consuming and very messy. By comparison, covering it is pretty simple. After lunch, I ran out and vacuumed it, started draining the water level down and swept off the deck. Started gathering up splash bombs, inner tubes and noodles to be put away until next year. Mark went to the shed to dig out the cover. And that's when the fun began. The culprit or should I say culprits? Carpenter ants. Carpenter ants had invaded our cover and chewed holes in it. Well, too late reverse the processes I already started, we opted to just throw the old cover on the pool to prevent further debris from falling in, and to go out and buy a new one today. Cost of a new cover? Who knows. At least $100. And then we'll have to re-cover tonight. Fun times. Happy Monday everybody - hope you have a great week!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Mountain Living

I don't know what's inspired me - maybe it's the crisp, Fall air that blew in last night. Maybe it was the crystal clear day we had today, or watching the sunset work it's way up the mountain this evening. Regardless - I figured I'd share my thoughts on mountain living - something that's rather new to me, since I've only been here 3 years. I was born and raised near Baltimore, which is on the Chesapeake Bay. Mark was raised in Bethesda, outside of DC. Later on, we lived in Annapolis, making that our first residence after we were married. So for the first 34 years of my life, I spent it less than 100 feet above sea level. We moved out here with little in the way of expectation, not sure how we would like it. But since then, we've figured out a few things!
-Did you know that a mountain view increases your home's value up to $25,000? Our real estate agent told us that when we were looking at homes. Almost as good as a kitchen renovation, huh? We have a gorgeous mountain view from our home - we just need to do some serious tree elimination to see the moutain in the summertime!
-Having a head cold can put a hold on leaving town - I'm serious! When we first moved here, we went up to the next town called Frostburg for dinner. Frostburg is only about 5 miles up the road, but it is about 1000 feet higher in altitude. I had a nice head cold at the time. Well, dinner was great, but on the way home, back down the "hill" my ears wouldn't pop because of the congestion and I wound up with a lovely double-ear infection. So now when I have a cold, I confine myself to the altitude at which I live. Unless I HAVE to travel, then I dose up on decongestants....
-Living in the mountains means you MUST have your brakes checked very, very regularly. And if you ever start to feel a shudder as you brake - get that car in the shop immediately! We learned this the hard way when we had to shell out over $700 for all new brakes in our old Ford Explorer. Just getting out of our driveway and down the neighborhood access road means you either ride the brake all the way down the hill, or go down in low gear. It takes a toll after awhile!
-While we're on the subject of cars - parallel parking on a slope is no fun. And in our town, everywhere you go you're on a slope! Remember in driver's ed where you learned to turn your wheels into the curb if you're facing downhill? Never thought I'd have to use that. Use it all the time now.
-Cutting grass is a challenge. Our yard has such a slope to it that we immediately ruled out a riding mower. We bought a self-propelled mower and have to walk behind it - and we need to wear hiking boots to do it! Needless to say, we've taken some of our yard out of grass production - it just got to be too much. Not sure what the homeowner's association thinks of us for that one - but you can BARELY see it from the road. ;-)
-Okay - this one isn't confined to mountainous areas, but we've got bears. And in Maryland, the only place the bears live is in the mountains, so for us, this one counts. Bears are a constant worry, and a very real one. Last summer, Mark found bear poop in our yard, so we know they're around. What does this mean? No putting out the garbage the night before trash day. No putting the garbage out at ALL unless you know the trash guys are on the way. No bird feeders before November or after March. No compost pile. Watch the woods line as you walk out the door. Keep the small children and little pets close to the house! We haven't yet SEEN a bear here since we've moved here - let's hope that holds up!
-Mountain weather is VERY different from flatlands weather! In so many ways. Driving around, you'll never know if you're going to hit a patch of fog that has settled into a valley - and I mean fog so thick you can't even see the sides of the road. Then, just like that, you're out of it...crazy. Or, if it's really foggy and misty in our town, if you go 15 miles west, it could be perfectly sunny and clear. Or vice versa. You can turn around as you drive away and look back to what looks like the town completely enveloped in a cloud. Thunderstorms are also fun - thunder that reverberates and echoes from one mountain to the next and it seems like it goes on for half a minute or more. Weather that changes with altitude -- take snow for instance. When a snowstorm blows in, we could get 5 inches, but Frostburg, which again, is only 5 miles away will get easily twice that. Or more. Or it will be raining here, but snowing up there and a whole myriad of mixtures in between. Winter is not fun around here if you have to be out on the road. But nothing beats snow in the mountains - the ski resorts love it!
-I guess the best thing, though? Just the views in general. Where else can you walk out of the grocery store, the mall, or Lowes and look up to see a mountain towering above you? And whether the air is shockingly clear, like it was today, or the leaves are changing, or there's a mist, or a gentle snow falling, the exhiliaration the view provokes makes even the most mundane of tasks - like loading groceries into the car - a treat. It makes you linger a moment longer as you take the cart back to the cart corral.
So we've learned a few things in the time we've been here. I'm sure we'll learn a few more in time. One thing we didn't have to learn though, was to just appreciate the beauty. Despite the challenges, it's all worth it in the end, and with all the Fall colors coming, it's the best season in the mountains. Stay tuned for some nice photos in the coming weeks!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

In Search Of: Perfect Pizza Crust

Oh, that elusive pizza crust. Why is it, that you go to Pizza Hut, Papa John's, even Domino's in their heyday, the crust has a totally different taste and texture than you get when you make it at home? I've been at it for 7 years now. I know how long, because I've been making pizza since we've been first married. So 7 long years of pizza dough. By hand. In the bread machine. Bought raw from Trader Joe's. Recipes from, literally, all over. Well, I'm happy to report, that I've finally found IT. Or, at least, a reasonable version of IT. That is, homemade crust that isn't too soggy, too crisp, too salty, too yeasty, not yeasty enough, too flat, too chewy, you name it. It authentic pizza crust. And those of you that attempt pizza crust at home, you know what I'm talking about. So here it is - I found the recipe online, and only altered it slightly:

In the bread machine, combine:
1 C. water
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3 C. all-purpose flour
Scant 1 Tbsp. yeast (I use bread machine yeast)
Set machine for dough cycle, 1.5 pound "loaf". After the cycle ends, I usually leave it in there for at least another 10 minutes because it rises more.
Roll to desired thickness (using flour on your hands and more to shape and roll), top and bake on the bottom rack of your oven at 385 for 18-20 minutes or until the cheese gets bubbly. Yum. This makes a lot of dough - if you roll it to the edges of a 15x11 jelly roll pan, you have a very large, rectangular pizza. And the crust is fairly thick. I usually split the dough into two portions, freeze one, and use the other to make a round, 12 inch pie on my pizza stone.
Tonight's pizza? Roasted red pepper seasoned with rosemary and oregano. The kids picked off the peppers - who am I kidding, trying to hide veggies in the pizza? And Ragu pizza sauce - in the jar with a green lid is WONDERFUL. Been using it for years. Good luck!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Random Thoughts

Whew - it's almost mid-September and I realize I have only made two blog entries for the month. I must be busy! Although I'm not sure with what - everyday life, I suppose. So, just some random thoughts running through my head the last week or so, along with some not-so-random "happenings".....
- We finally got around to contracting out our curbside garbage pickup. I can't believe we've been hauling our own trash to the landfill for three years. We thought maybe later on we'd pay someone to haul it for us, but then we decided, wait a minute. We're dealing with dirty diapers, NOW. If there's ever a time to pay for curbside service, it's now, baby! Our service starts on Thursday. So much for our Saturday dump runs - boy I'll miss that...NOT!
- I keep trying to clean my house, or at least get started. I'm not getting very far. By the time I do the laundry, cook three meals a day and clean up, pick up toys endlessly, and keep the kitchen and bath clean, I'm done. I think I need to be more efficient, but how...HOW?
- I have a ton of stuff to sell on eBay, but hmmm, here I go again. Where's the time? It takes more than a moment to list items, and I just can't get myself into the fast lane, here. If anyone's interested in a Medela breast pump, a full roll of Mannington laminate flooring underlayment, three used Fuzzi Bunz size medium in excellent condition or a space heater, give me a shout and make me an offer. Otherwise, they're going up for auction any day now.
- I'm starting to face the reality that my children are indeed, not going to be babies forever. I don't know if this makes me sad or not. In a way, it's a glorious thought - to have them a little more self-sufficient, to not have to worry that they're eating dead bugs or sucking the paint off some Fisher-Price toy. But oh my, the thought of not having a little guy to snuggle, to rock to sleep, to inhale the heady aroma of freshly-bathed baby....makes me want to cry. Am I done having children? Is this it?
- I love Fall. I love the weather, I love the colors. I love the Fall Festivals, the pumpkin farms, Halloween. I love the fact that Fall means Thanksgiving and Christmas - my favorite time of year. Tonight, a front came through and brought that clean, cool air we haven't felt since April. After 5 straight days of heat, humidity and off and on rain and mist, it is a welcome relief. Is Fall here to stay? I hope so. Although - more work - digging out coats, jackets, sweaters....
- Which brings me to my next point. I've lived in Maryland my whole life. And for my whole life, I've had to change around my clothes twice a year. Spring means washing and putting away fleece jackets, hats, gloves, scarfs, etc... Fall means dragging all the tank tops, swimsuits, beach towels, flip flops and all other summer clothes off the shelves and into bins to make room for the stuff we just put away for summer! Is this a regional phenomenon? Does everyone have to do this? Or do most people just have a lot more closet space than I do?
- I have the best ideas for my kids for Christmas presents - am I going to tell what they are in this blog? Heck no. Have I bought anything yet? HA! Funny. I'm lucky I can get out and buy groceries before someone drops dead from starvation in this house. But at least I know what I WANT to get. Now the task is finding it and either going to get it, or finding where I can get it with free or cheap shipping.
- Is anyone but me completely bummed by the rising cost of shipping in this country? I mean, I know gas prices are rising and will probably never go back down, and I know that's a big part of it, but c'mon. I find myself hesitating to buy anything online unless I can somehow get free shipping, just because I think it's ridiculous. Darn post office - they complain so mightily that email has hurt their business, but look what ebay and clicks-and-mortar companies and heck - all online purchasing has done for them. They're booming! And yet, they STILL raise prices, even for a little stamp. Heinous.
Well, it sounds as if Mark has finished giving Jonathan his bath, so it's almost time for teeth-brushing, potty and night-nights. Mommy MUST be available for kisses and "yullabies", so I better sign off for the night.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Matthew's Curls Go Bye-Bye!

Remember this hair? Long and curly?
Well, it's gone!

Yes, we finally broke down and took Matthew for his first haircut. We loved the curls, but it was getting to be too much - and the final straw was the syrup that (somehow) got into his hair on Friday (I have a feeling Jonathan knows EXACTLY how it got there). A sticky mess that perpetuated itself because it was everywhere, and I couldn't get it out short of giving him a bath. Well, I wasn't about to give him two baths in one day, so he had to wait for his usual evening bath. The next day found us at the hairdressers.
Was he good? No. He hated every second of it. Are we sad? Yes. The curls were just too cute! Do we regret it? Heck, no. He now looks a little older, definitely more like a little boy, and his new shorter hair is still very curly. The curls will be back in time - we just won't let them get as long this time. So, now, everyone, you can see for yourselves that we actually have two sons, not a son and a daughter!
In other news, it's hot again, making us extra-happy that we didn't cover our pool last weekend. Yesterday we spent over 2 hours out there and had a great time. Today is very humid but not sunny, so we'll have to see if it's a pool day or not. Right now we're looking to cover it up next weekend - there still may be some hot days this coming week. Going all the way to mid-September in Allegany County with an unheated pool is pretty good - ordinarily Labor Day is the defining end. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Trip to DelGrosso Park

Well, the holiday weekend started off with a "bang" - with a trip to Del Grosso Park - a local amusement park just over an hour away from us. Great fun, and cheap! And to make it extra-special - as soon as we got there, we had to take Matthew to the emergency services building, because apparently he had rubbed sunscreen into his eye....and it turned purple and puffy and looked awful! (The EMS guy bathed his eye and gave him cookies - he was all better about 45 minutes later). What a gorgeous day, though - perfect weather - mid 70's, sunny. Kids had a great time - and so did Mark and I! Oh, and by the way -- Jonathan would not leave the shooting gallery until he had tried it out. The gun was too heavy, the noises were loud, but at least he got to TRY.
The rest of the weekend was just as nice - Sunday we did chores - got some stuff done around the house - little things - like gluing a piece of wallpaper in the bathroom that's been bugging me for a month, and putting away "stuff" that's been lying around since July.
Then yesterday being the holiday, we started the day by taking a long walk on the Allegany Trail in the morning, then came home for lunch and spent the rest of the day cutting grass (Mark) and swimming (me and Jonathan) and napping (Matthew). Gotta love those 3 day weekends! Today we're headed out to Grandma and Poppy's house after lunch to stay for a few days....Mark's got a meeting in Annapolis tomorrow so we're going for a short visit. Hope to be home Thursday or Friday. We left the pool open so hopefully we can get one last weekend out of it next weekend - despite all our troubles with it earlier this summer, it turned out to be our best pool season yet! (Of course, it couldn't get much worse than previous summers!) Off to pack, and then off to the mall to get Jonathan's hair cut before we hit the road.