Friday, May 30, 2008

Happy 75th Birthday, Poppy!

As promised, here's some pictures of Poppy's birthday on Wednesday. We got an early start, and hit the strawberry farm near Gettysburg, PA in the morning. We picked a LOT! Two boxes for me to take home, three boxes for Grandma and Poppy, and four more boxes for my mom's neighbor who lives across the street. It didn't take long - Mom grew up on a farm and I was astounded at how fast she filled her boxes - she really knew her way around a strawberry bush! Jonathan, for all his excitement about going, picked about 4 strawberries and decided that was enough. He spent the rest of the time playing with the little flags they use to mark where people have picked. By this time, Poppy and Matthew were done looking at the cattle in the nearby field and came to find us - luckily we'd just finished up because everyone was hungry for lunch!

Anyway, here's Grandma and Jonathan with the bounty:

And here's me and Poppy and the boys:

After all that picking, we went to Hillcrest Restaurant in Littlestown, PA, just down the road a bit. They have, hands down, the absolute best fried chicken you have ever tasted. I just don't know why it is so good! We ate until we were stuffed, and then headed back to Grandma's. She spent half the afternoon cooking up another feast for dinner for the birthday party - spaghetti with homemade meatballs and salad. And for dessert? What else? Strawberry pie, of course. You just don't get strawberries any fresher than that. So good. So fresh. Happy Birthday, Poppy - we were glad we were able to spend the day with you and celebrate! Here they are: Grandma and Poppy with Grandma's pie!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Now Where Did THAT Week Go?

Ya know, I hate it when an entire week goes by and I don't get a chance to blog. And I really mean, I didn't get a CHANCE! Let's see, last Friday, my parents came up for most of the weekend - they left Sunday afternoon. The rest of the weekend we spent planting things, mowing lots of things, grilling things. Then guess what? Tuesday morning I packed up the kids and we went down to THEIR house because Poppy's birthday was Wednesday. Came back home today. Lots of stories, lots of pictures. But no time right now.

Okay, time for just ONE story. Memorial Day. Mark outside planting flowers and stuff. I head out to Lowe's and to Martin's (our local grocery). At the last minute, I decide to take the 4 year old. After all, Matthew's asleep, if I take Jonathan, Mark can get LOTS done. So into the van he tumbles. We go to Lowe's first - he wants to know what we're getting. I tell him - stakes. You know, for the garden. But why? But why? What are they for? Why? WHY? I explain all about stakes. Mark needed more - our irises have been bending over from weight and rain, the tomato and pepper plants need some support, etc... Stakes. Very important in gardening. Finally done at Lowe's. (crowded!) Onto Martin's to buy stuff for dinner - the classic Memorial Day dinner. Hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill? No way, baby, we had that Sunday night. Memorial Day calls for the real McCoy. Jonathan: "What are we buying at Martin's, Mommy?" Me: Steaks.

I'll spare you the rest of THAT conversation. Note to self: Until 4 year old has firm grasp on reality homonyms, leave him at home with his father.

More later.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Let's talk Trader Joe's. This has got to be one of my most favorite places to shop for food. I was introduced to TJ's all the way back in like, 2001, when Mark and I visited his sis Donna in San Diego. She had one of these unique grocery stores a few blocks from her apartment, and we went there a few times looking for dinner items and to pick up some beer (gotta love California with alcohol at the grocery!). A year or two later, a TJ's showed up in Annapolis a few blocks from where WE lived! Bliss! They have the neatest stuff, and it's usually much cheaper than buying it anywhere else. And for someone who likes neat food items, well, I could hardly stay out of the place. Way back then, you could get pasta - all different shapes - for just 69 cents a pound. They had all the grain pastas, too, before the big chains started carrying them. They had produce, mostly organic, all kinds of unique cooking and baking items -- well, I could go on and on. Let's just say it reminds one a lot of Whole Foods, except it's tons better, tons more laid back, TONS cheaper, and well, fun.

I've missed Trader Joe's since moving to Cumberland. There is one sort of near where my mom and dad live. It's trafficky to get there - one of those places that's hard to get into and out of, especially certain times of day. I've been there a few times to pick up one or two items when I'd visit my parents - olive oil, biodegradable laundry detergent, soaps, the like. But I hadn't been there to shop in a good long while - no wonder - the closest one to where I live now is about 100 miles away.

You knew it was coming, didn't you? Yep. Can you say Road Trip!? Yesterday, my friend Judi and I packed up the car, hauled along 3 of our collective 7 children (hmmmm, you do the math, I have 2, that means that Judi has....yes, 5. All boys). Anyway, Jonathan and Matthew went, and so did her youngest: Nathan. Three little boys, 100 miles each way, long day of shopping. Yeah.

They actually did really well. But let's not get away from the topic at hand! Lattes in hand (well, okay, in cup holders) off we went. Hit TJ's in Gaithersburg, MD. Got some great deals! Got things like Flax Seed and Soy tortilla chips, and pure Tahitian vanilla extract. Organic lemons, and Organic Fuji apples for .69 cents! Fire-roasted red peppers and pesto imported from Italy. Flax seed pasta for .99 cents a pound! Okay, it's gone up a bit over the years, but still much better than the Barilla Plus at the local market for $2.04/lb. And the crowning glory - a gourmet Baklava assortment that leaves honey dripping from your fingers and you just can't help closing your eyes while a low "mmmmmmmm" comes out of your throat. Great stuff. Both me and Judi got a pack of that stuff. Plus lots of other goodies! Thanks Trader Joe's. I wish, wish, wish you had a store closer to me! And for all of you who have a TJ's near your home, treasure it! Go there if you haven't been. Spend some time there. These guys run a fantastic business - it's not franchised at all. Check out their website - they're all about local commerce and being a part of the community. They rock!

And back to the little boys - it was a good day. The only one remotely antsy was my Matthew, who after two hours in the carseat, then an hour in the grocery cart, another half hour in the carseat, then an hour in a high chair at Applebees, only to be put in the carseat again for the ride home....well, if I were him, I'd protest, too, I guess. All in all, a great day - and a huge sound out to Judi's mom and sister who kept her 2 year old most of the day, and picked up her older 3 from school and gave them dinner while we staggered back up the road! Oh, yeah, and a sound out to our awesome hubbies for working as they do everyday, so us SAHM's can put all their hard-earned money into a gas tank, gourmet groceries and just a fine day out of the house!

Gotta love a road trip! Even if it is just to go grocery shopping!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oh Spring, Where Are You?

I sit here blogging, it's 9:30, Tuesday night, just got home from choir practice. It's a gorgeous, clear night, and there was still a hint of twilight in the sky - amazing, since we still have a full month until the first day of summer. I was thinking what a great night it would be to sit out on our front porch - newly exposed since we had that giant tree taken down recently. I was thinking it would be so nice to sit out there, listening to the night sounds, maybe even take a magazine or book out, maybe take a cold beer. Just sit and enjoy nature, the weather, the stillness....and then I glanced at the thermometer. 46 DEGREES? Ummm....HELLO? Spring? The vernal equinox was like, 2 months ago. Where the heck are you?

To those of you who read this blog at all, you know I've been pining around for warmer weather since like, Christmas. And now that it's still NOT HERE, I'm ready to kick a wall or something. And in case you're bad at math today, 46 degrees is only 14 degrees away from freezing. C'MON!

The only thing, and I mean, the ONLY thing keeping me from bodily harm right now is the 10 day forecast. The 10 day forecast has been predicting really, really, really nice weather for this coming weekend, since, like, last weekend. It's not getting worse, and unless our meterologists are playing really cruel jokes on us trying to get us to keep all our Memorial Day plans, this will be the light at the end of this (very long, very dark, very, very wet) tunnel.

I've already planned menus for the weekend, and the majority of them involve the grill. So, altogether now, for the last time: C'MON SPRING!!!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Endless, Inane Conversations

You know, when I first had Jonathan, I was shell-shocked. I would guess that every new mom is. You have no idea what you're doing, you're stuck recovering from one of the most painful and demoralizing (oh, and yet wondrous) experiences you'll ever have, you don't know dilly about breast-feeding or changing diapers or why the heck your little one sleeps all day and is up all night. You find yourself loving this little creature and yet, already, looking forward to the day they'll walk and talk and dress themselves and use the potty and basically become a functioning member of society - at whatever age THAT happens! Well, okay, at least I did all this. Now fast forward 4 years.

Jonathan. Does all those things listed above, except maybe isn't quite a functioning member of society yet - I'm not really even sure I am. Jonathan even has a little brother that I was a LOT less uptight about! But here's something I never signed up for: the almost continuous chatter, consisting of the most inane conversations you've ever heard. Don't get me wrong, there are moments of greatness (Mommy, make a left turn here to get on the highway!), moments of sheer joy (Mommy, I love you sooooo much!), and moments of guilt (Mommy, did you know Daddy was a moron?). Yeah, that last one was because he heard me say "You moron!" to Mark one day in fun....oops. Wonder how long it takes to un-learn a word AND it's context? But anyway, back to the matter at hand.

Just this morning, we went to church. We ate breakfast out, then drove home in the pouring rain. Got home, still raining, let's see, how to unlock a door, transport two little guys, ourselves, my purse, the diaper bag and my music/flute bag into the know, the usual. We're situating ourselves - Mark ran to unlock the door, Jonathan undid his seatbelt and got out of his seat, I pressed the button to open the door to Matthew's side, then is started:

J: Mommy, why did you open Matthew's door?
Me: So Daddy can get Matthew out quickly.
J: But why?
Me: Because it's raining and we have to move fast.
J: But why did you close Daddy's door?
Me: Because it's raining and the seat's getting wet.
J: Why?
Me: Because rain is wet and it's raining, and if the door's open, the seat gets wet.
J: Where is Daddy?
Me: Opening the door, he's coming out for Matthew.
J: But why?
Me: Because I've got my hands full - can you get out and run inside?
J: But Daddy's door is closed.
Me: (near death) Well, go out Matthew's door.
J: I don't want to. I want to go out Daddy's door. Why did you close Daddy's door?

I'll spare you the rest. Yes, there was more. Once we got inside, it continued:

J: Can we stay down here (downstairs) and play?
Mark: Yes
J: Can Matthew go upstairs?
Mark: If he wants.
J: But I want Matthew to go upstairs. (So Mark takes Matthew upstairs)
J: DADDY! Don't go upstairs!
Mark: Well I brought Matthew upstairs...
J: I want Matthew to take a nap! (don't we all....)

By this time, I'm hiding, still recovering from the last round. And in case you were wondering, this goes on constantly in my house. Constantly. And if you don't answer the kid, he just keeps repeating himself. Yesterday, I cleaned out the inside of my mini-van - I'm talking vacuum, hot soapy water on all the seats, a brush on the stains in the carpet, Febreeze on the carseats and the upholstery - I even took the thing to the car wash! And in the process, I find tons of stuff, ticket stubs to things we went to a year ago, brochures, dirt, french fries, goldfish, crumbs, pennies, raisins, a million other goodies, and last but not least, 8 crayons. Somewhere in the process, Jonathan appears, and starts inventorying the stash. I don't think anything impressed him too much, except the crayons....
Mommy, I found crayons. Mommy, crayons! Mommy, look at the crayons! Mommy, I found crayons. Mommy, I have a crayon situation. Mommy, look, crayons. Mommy, CRAYONS! Mommy cray--"OKAY! Good, Jonathan, you found crayons, good." Mommy, where did these crayons come from? Mommy, are these crayons mine?

By this time, I'm rubbing my temples, wondering when the NEXT stage is going to start - you know, the one where your kid completely ignores you and you'll give anything to have a decent conversation with him. Why is it we always want what we don't have? My mom always tells me to enjoy it now - enjoy every minute because I can never have it back. Just wish I could remember that when it's actually happening. He's so cute, so innocent. God give me strength. At least Matthew doesn't talk much yet!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It's That Time of Year

For chive blossom vinegar! When we first moved into this house, we inherited a vegetable/herb garden. It was August when we moved in, and the garden was somewhat overgrown. But it had a huge, healthy patch of chives, which I love for cooking. Sort of like a green onion, but not nearly as harsh....just a nice, mild sweet onion flavor. A few years went by and my chives divided and spread, and last year, I had a huge clump that needed to be thinned out. Then I got to thinking about the chive vinegar my mom used to make from the chives in her garden. I called her up, asked her how to do it, and the almost empty bottle on the right is what is left from my efforts last year! Plus I made three or four other bottles of it and gave them away.
The bottle on the left? My first effort this year. I barely had enough blossoms to make it up - we've had a really wet spring and it's just maybe a week early - many of the blossoms are still closed up tight. But I managed to pick enough (with Jonathan's help!) to make up one jar - which will go to my mom as part of her Mother's Day gift assortment when we go to visit her for a few days tomorrow. Hopefully, next week I'll have about twice as many blossoms and can make up a huge batch of this stuff. It is so good - a vinegar with a nice onion flavor and beautiful color. I use it on salads, in my potato salad and cole slaw. You can also drizzle it on veggies for a little tang.
I love doing stuff like this. There's something about growing your own food. I love to harvest fresh vegetables and bring them in the house, wash them and cut them up while they're still warm from the sun. I love to pick herbs and crush them into my recipes, tasting the bursts of flavor they impart. I love chopping hot peppers up into my chili and my fajitas that just moments before were hanging off a pepper plant. I'm not sure why this gives me such a feeling of contentment. At the barest minimum, you know that the foods you grown yourself are the purest you can eat. Sure we fertilize a little, but we don't use pesticides and everything is fresh, picked at the peak of ripeness and organic. But it's more than that. Maybe it satisfies an ancestral need to provide for yourself, hearkening back to the day when humans relied on hunting and gathering to survive. To put a seed or a little plant into the ground, nourish it, care for it, protect it, watch it grow, harvest the fruits, cook them, put them on the table -- not a lot compares to that feeling of satisfaction.
So with that in mind, will someone please remind me of this post when July rolls around and I'm up to my neck in zucchini and complaining that we can't eat it fast enough?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken

Pretty, huh? Well, I did it myself! I just adore Greek salad. Love the feta cheese, the black olives, and just about everything else that goes into them. I don't make the dressing homemade - never tried. But the other day at the grocery store, I found a good one. It's called Farmer Boy Restaurant's House Recipe Greek Dressing. It rocks! So with the hard part squared away, I used a Lemon/Garlic rub to marinate some chicken breasts and threw them on the grill. Then I cut up lettuce, red peppers, green peppers and cucumbers. Had black olives on hand and a package of crumbled feta. And voila! Dinner was awesome that night! Couldn't resist taking a pic for the blog - you know how I love to blog about food!

In other news, Mother's Day. The weather was horrendous. We stayed in, watched movies, snacked. Matthew slept. At 8pm, Mark and I relished the quiet household as two little boys were already in bed. We cracked open a few cold beers, and I settled in for an evening of Survivor - the finale episodes. Mark refused to watch with me for too long - he has to keep his dignity! So when his beer was gone, he left - went downstairs to work on some paperwork, then found a quiet place to read. I watched it all - even the reunion show which is never really all that impressive. Not a bad day overall - Mark's mom is somewhere in Europe on vacation, and we'll be going to see my mom and dad later this week, so we just hung out and did our own thing. Which, sometimes, is just what this mamma needs!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Bi-Annual Update

I can't believe I've been doing this for a year. Blogging, that is. I can remember starting this blog last year around this time, blogging about Mother's Day, about all the flowers in the yard, planting our gardens, going to nurseries to buy plants. A whole year has gone by, and so now, the update. I did one of these last October, so if I can remember through the years, I'll do one every six months or so.

Mark is doing well. Still with the state, we don't expect that to change anytime soon, at least we hope it doesn't! Still loves all things nature and to go birding, as a matter of fact, as I write this, he is out doing what they call a May Count. He got up at 5:30 this morning and took off - I'll pick him up around lunchtime today several miles from where he parked his truck this morning. He loves birds and all things nature, and is looking forward to planting many, many plants and vegetables this weekend. If the rain stops! Mark's little boys adore their Daddy, and waste no time attacking him basically as soon as he walks through the door every evening. I even left all three of them home alone last Saturday for about 8 hours while I went to a cooking show with some friends - and they did FINE!

Jonathan is now 4 years, 2 months. He will be starting pre-k in the fall, and boy is he ever ready. He's so smart - he knows so much already. He counts into the hundreds, counts backwards from 50, and is reading some words. He is working on writing his numbers and letters and can type out his name on the computer. He just recently got his very own computer in his bedroom, but right now he doesn't have internet access, just one little software program we installed for him. He needs more - I think he has outgrown that one! He also likes to pull up Word and Paint and work on letters, numbers and colors, and draw pictures with the Paint tools. He is learning to dress himself (picking outfits is a different story!) and is getting to be very much a big boy! He really is starting to help me out with chores around the house; I can rely on him to help me do little things, like put things away, helping to unload the dishwasher, helping with laundry, and especially helping to cook. He is a great little helper in the kitchen! Jonathan loves to go places - almost every day he wants to know "where we're going today". Sometimes we go to the library, sometimes we go to lunch with Daddy, sometimes we go see friends for a play date. Sometimes we just stay home. But he loves to GO. He loves the road, the signs, the cars and trucks and especially construction sites. I find myself torn about pre-k - of course I don't want to let my baby go, but in another way, I think it will be really good for him, and he'll be getting the stimulation he needs....sometimes I feel like I don't give him enough of my day and that makes me feel bad when I have to tell him I can't read to him because I'm cooking dinner. So I find myself looking forward to Fall and him starting school - mostly because I think it will be something great for him, and we hope he loves it as much as we think he will!

Matthew is now 22, almost 23 months old. He is very much a 2 year old already - headstrong, independent, need I go on? He's a cutie-pie, though. He wakes up in the morning, goes hard all day, eats a ton, and goes down with a thud at night, only to sleep for about 12 hours, then gets up and does it all over again. He's a rough and tumble little boy, for sure. He's growing, oh my. Getting tall and slimming out - losing that baby fat! His hair is full of curls - when haircut time comes, we hate to cut it, but then he's so cute with short hair....dilemma, dilemma! Matthew eats great - it's such a relief to have a child that actually eats food - many of you know the issues we've had (and still have) with Jonathan. Matthew can get a bit picky at times, too, but if you bring him to the table hungry, he'll eat just about anything. Matthew loves cars - little Matchbox cars, Disney Pixar Cars - anything with wheels. He goes to sleep clutching a car every night - doesn't matter which one. He wakes with it in the morning, and when I lift him out of his crib, if he doesn't have it in his hand, he grabs it first. He loves to play cars on the kitchen table with Jonathan's stuff - and for the most part, Jonathan has a fit. But sometimes I can convince them to share. They're learning to play together fairly well - they like to play chase and peek-a-boo with each other - to hear the squealing giggles never fails to bring a smile to my face and a contentment in my heart. Brothers. For life.

Me? I'm still here. Once a Mommy.... I do have some prospects for some contract work - and right now I'm waiting for some paperwork to clear - once it does I will be gainfully employed again, but luckily working from my own home and setting my own hours. I believe they call it an "independent contractor". With the rising gas prices and everything else rising as a result, it'll be nice to have some extra income to cover the growing list of expenses. I spend my days cooking, cleaning, wiping sticky hands and toting my boys around town. Seeing the world through their eyes (and their comments) is always interesting, and mostly tolerable - sometimes it just downright gets on my nerves, but I'm learning that it's all part of being a parent - and the things that drive us crazy today we will miss like crazy next year.

Anyway, that's us - the bi-annual update. Enjoy the picture of Matthew - that was a few days ago, BEFORE the haircut! Those little curls are history - at least for the next month or so!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Visitor in the Night

This was our bird feeder, up until a few nights ago. Around here, you're only supposed to feed the birds in the winter months, you know, when large, furry mammals are in hibernation. If you persist in putting out seeds/suet or other goodies past late March or so, you run the risk of attracting said large furry mammals into your yard. And despite the allure, trust me, you don't want these guys anywhere near your home.

But we had a little bit of seed left, and we were getting indigo buntings every day! Oops. What you don't see in the photo is the fact that the pole is actually stainless steel. It is bent at the bottom, not broken. It was not rusted. This, folks, was the work of something with a lot more strength than even me or Mark. And we're not 90 pound weaklings. We're pretty tough - and neither of us could've budged that pole. As a matter of fact, we tried to UN-bend it, and still neither of us could budge it. Granted, whoever pulled it down had some leverage from that height, but a mere raccoon perched on top of the feeder itself wouldn't have pulled it down like that. No, I'd wager to say if we sat both Jonathan and Matthew on top that feeder it still wasn't going anywhere.

Needless to say, we have now removed the feeder for the rest of the summer. We're kind of bummed relieved that we didn't actually witness the destruction - it happened overnight - but next time we might not be so lucky. I keep telling Mark I need a rifle!

In the meantime, sorry, Smokey - no more free food for you!

Monday, May 5, 2008

The End of the (Sunday Drive) as We Know It

We went for a drive last night. A drive. We put the boys in the car, coasted down the driveway, and went for a DRIVE. How weird was that? True, we first had a few stops to make. We hit the bank machine. We filled the gas tank. Then we got some ice cream. Or was that AFTER the drive? Doesn't matter. We drove, just for the sake of driving. Didn't go far - just up Rt. 220 for a few miles, because the day before, I'd ridden up there with a friend and her mom and her mom's friend to go to a cooking show, and the red buds were out in full color and very pretty. I really wanted to show Mark, because I knew he would enjoy it, so we figured, what the heck?

I remembered back in my childhood days, my parents were always taking us on "rides". We'd go anywhere, or nowhere, but usually it was Sunday afternoon, maybe after dinner. It was family time. Most often it was summer, and we'd ride with the windows down, smelling the summery smells, feeling the warm breeze in our face. Sometimes we'd find a carnival or an ice cream stand. Sometimes we'd find a thunderstorm. Those were magical times. Spontaneous.

It occurred to me last night that you don't see a whole lot of this anymore. With gas at $3.50 a gallon, no wonder. But I think it's more than that. When people are driving 2 and 3 hours a day, stuck in their cars, stuck in rush hour, stuck in traffic, really, who wants to go get in their car on the weekends? No longer is mom stuck at home with the kids all week because Dad's got the only car - nope. Mom's pretty mobile - she's got to be with all the kids having their own schedules. And really, what's to even see anymore?

Is the Sunday drive a little bit of Americana that's fading away? Even Jonathan sensed it was something unusual. "Where are we going?" For a drive. "But Why?" To see some pretty things. "But Why?" Because it's nice to see pretty things. "But where are we going?" Ahem.

Maybe one day I'll explain it a little better. When gas is cheaper.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Calling in the Pros

Okay, I'll admit it. There are some things we just CAN'T do by ourselves! Much as I'd like to claim we are yardwork warriors, sometimes, you just have to draw the line and call in the professionals. Which is exactly what we did a few weeks ago when we needed some trees taken out. Now we are no strangers to the old chainsaw. Between Mark and myself, and my dad, we have probably taken out over two dozen trees on our property since we bought the place. But there were a few trees that were...well, over our heads in more ways than one!

So the tree people came - and decided to finish up the next day, and so left their equipment overnight in our driveway. Move over, Tonka! Nothing like the real thing parked in the driveway to give the little boys something to look at through the window.

But anyway - that little task is done, and now we're moving on to other projects....