Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Small Town Livin' (Part 1)

Okay, we all know how it is when you get a bad case of blog-block. That's when you can't think of anything to blog about that day, and rather than bore the cyber-world to pieces with a tale about what you found in your 2 year-old's diaper that day, instead, you just don't blog at all and hope something "bloggable" happens soon. Or, happily, someone actually REQUESTS you to blog about something. So, Ohighway, this is for you.

I live in a town called LaVale. It's a mountain town, nestled between the city of Cumberland (population 22,000), and down the hill from Frostburg (population 8,000). LaVale isn't actually a town - with a population of only about 4,500, it's called a "census-designated place" or CDP. Hmmmm, that doesn't sound so appealing. I think I'll continue to refer to it as a town, even though apparently it falls into the Cumberland-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area. Yuck - that's even worse.

Okay - so let's talk reality. LaVale is a suburb of Cumberland, plain and simple. The National Road (Rt. 40), or National Highway as it is referred to around here winds it's way out of Cumberland through a beautiful, scenic pass called "The Narrows", where sheer, towering rocky cliffs appear on one side of the road, shooting up from the river bed of Evitts Creek, and densely wooded steep hills are on the other side of the road. Hey, they don't call it The Narrows for nothing! Anyway, if you can manage to get through The Narrows, heading west along National Highway, which, incidentally isn't a highway at all, you will drive right through LaVale. Supposedly at one time in history, General Braddock marched troops right down this road, but that's history, and I'm no good at history, so we'll leave that to Wikipedia if you're so inclined.

Travel along this National Highway for a few miles, and drive right through this small census-designated place town, and you'll start to notice a few things. First of all, there's really no "main street." When I think of small towns, I picture in my mind a tight little knot sort of near the center of it where several roads come together and close by are the post office, the fire station, a few local businesses, and a cafe or two - always a cafe. LaVale doesn't have this. The first thing you'll notice are the houses. Built in the early 1900's, these stately homes that line Rt. 40 are for the most part, meticulously cared-for, well-landscaped and impeccably decorated during the holidays. I suppose if I owned a home on the National Road, I'd be sure to take some pride in it's appearance as well. Notice, though, that I said "for the most part". There are some holdouts, but ain't that America?

Scattered amidst these homes, you'll start to see some signs of life: there is a post office, a library, not one, but two fire stations, and some of the homes are actually businesses if you look closely enough. An art gallery here, a travel agency there, even a dentist or two. Keep traveling, and all the sudden the road opens up into a large, busy, business district. And here it is, folks, the highway stop. Here's where you find all the conveniences: fast food, hotels, grocery stores, Super WalMart, the mall, Lowe's. It's not long - a few blocks east-west, and a few blocks north-south and it's over. But it bustles. It draws business from both Cumberland and Frostburg, sustains the citizens of LaVale, and pulls many a weary traveler from 68 - the major highway that slices right through the mountains and exits right there in the heart of things.

So in a nutshell, that's our geography. We have the only movie theater for miles around, the only Walmart for many miles around, and as the population increases and the demographic continues to change, we're starting to see more and more franchised businesses appear, to the delight of some folks, and to the chagrin of others. Hey, this area's been long overdue for a Target, a Best Buy, an Outback Steakhouse. Apparently, they're still in negotiation, and they may wind up within the Cumberland boundaries. But for now, LaVale will have to be happy with the Kohl's that's opening this Fall. At least one step in the right direction!

I'm not entirely sure why this "Cumberland-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area" has dragged it's feet for so long in getting large retail businesses in here. Everyone from this area makes regular trips to places such as Johnstown and Uniontown, Pa, Morgantown, WV, Altoona, PA, Winchester, VA and Hagerstown, MD to do major shopping. Those towns, some of which aren't much larger than Cumberland have everything - all the modern "conveniences". And they're all about an hour to an hour and a half away. I'm sure the combined populations of the big three (Cumberland, LaVale and Frostburg) plus the surrounding/outlying areas could easily support many more businesses and retail franchises, but for many years, the city council had blocked development for whatever reason. Finally, though, I believe they're starting to see the light and are opening some doors for the hungry, corporate traders who would like nothing better than to dot our landscape with Olive Garden and Sam's Club and Barnes and Noble. I say bring it on! My wallet is waiting.....

Stay tuned for Part 2, and if I'm feeling particularly literate, part 3.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Daddies Rock!

Well, as it turned out, Father's Day was a gorgeous day - nice enough for some swimming, and more than nice enough to throw some steaks on the grill and eat outside. The boys just loved the pool and swimming with Daddy - and I think Mark even enjoyed it, even when Jonathan leaped onto his back and said Okay, Daddy! GIDDY-UP!
I have to give Mark some credit here - mostly because I trashed him a few entries ago and figured I need to make it up somehow. Mark's a great Daddy. I know this because I look forward to the minute he walks in the door from work every night - because I know that my 8 hours alone with the boys is over. I know I can rely on him to walk through the door, put down his briefcase, and become a Daddy in an instant. He doesn't have much choice. A pair of children and a wild dog are all flinging themselves at him at once, leaving hardly any room for a very grateful wife - grateful that he not only is home safe for another night, but home to complete our family.
The free time that I do have, the little there is, I owe to Mark. Being able to even write this blog and keep up with it as much as I can is in part because of the time he allows me to myself - right now he's downstairs rough-housing with the little guys and I get my moment of sanity.
So Happy Father's Day, Mark. Thanks for being such a super Daddy to our little boys!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Grass is Always Greener....

Okay, at risk of losing half the people that read my blog, I'm going to talk a little more about the farmer's market. But with a new twist this time, and really, you'll see it's actually NOT about the market as much as it is about grass. Okay, grass-fed beef.

Today, we went again to the farmer's market. See, in this neck of the woods, the farmer's market runs 4 days a week. Slightly different locations, but basically the same folks. Nice, nice people. If, say, on Tuesday, I ask a vendor when they're going to have lima beans, she'll say "maybe by Thursday - you going to be here on Thursday?" It's so neat when they recognize you.

Today I ran into someone new. This gal Amanda was selling grass-fed beef from her organic farm. Since 1942, her family has been raising first dairy, and now beef cattle. I was intrigued. See, a package of ground beef has not entered my household in, oh, I don't know, about 8 years. We just don't eat all that much beef at all, and ground beef is definitely on the no-no list. Very occasionally, at a restaurant, I will order a big, juicy burger. Sometimes, you just need it! But I haven't even done that in almost a year. Ground beef just has had too many knocks lately. It's scary. Now steaks - not so bad. A couple times a year, I pick out some thick juicy NY strips and grill them up for special occasions - someone's birthday, Father's Day, etc...but I digress.

So Amanda and I chatted, and I learned a lot. First of all, these black angus guys they raise never eat a thing but grass their whole life. Never grain. They never see an antibiotic, never see a hormone. They are allowed to roam in the pasture. And to what does this translate? To me, it says safety. To everyone else out there, it means flavor and nutrition. Add it all up, and you've got a yummy burger, with minimal chance of e.coli, lower fat, lower cholesterol, no hormones or antibiotics in what you're eating, and increased nutrition in the form of Omega 3's and vitamins and nutrients. I'm sold. I came home with two one-pound packages of ground beef. For $3 a pound. And for dinner, we had burgers. Burgers on the grill. With cheddar cheese.

If you can eat something and hear angels singing, this is it, people. The last time I tasted anything like it was in Cortez, Colorado in September of 2005. We had stopped in this town near Mesa Verde National Park during our Road Trip 2005 and ate at a local restaurant that specialized in home brewed beer and grass-fed beef. Divine. Trust me, a burger from McDonalds' doesn't taste anything like this, and that's just scary.

So I'm letting my guard down a little. I'm letting a little beef back into our lives. Happily, the people that raise these happy little steers live right up the road in Mt. Savage, Maryland - and if some day, I'm REALLY feeling bold, I can buy a whole beef if I want it. But that's a lot, and I'm starting small, and going to see what happens. Might try a few steaks next time.

If anyone is really interested in some of this, and interested in more than just flavor and safety, check out

And by the way, next time you make burgers on the grill, try this recipe:
1 lb. ground beef or turkey (if turkey, use 93 or 85% lean, not that gross 99% lean stuff)
2 tsp. worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. liquid smoke
1 egg, beaten
handful of seasoned bread crumbs if mixture's a little wet

Shape into 4 patties (1/4 pounders). Just before grilling, brush with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a little kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Now we all know about grilling burgers on the grill, right? Don't flip until you're sure they're done on the one side, otherwise they'll fall apart. Have fun! And find some grass-fed beef where you live - trust me, you won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Farmer's Market is BACK!

Seems like I always return to some of the same old topics, but I just can't help myself. I love the farmer's market, and in early Spring, I start counting down the days until it starts up again for the season. This year's getting off to a bit of a slow start because of all the rain and cool weather we had from March to May. But the bounty is starting to trickle in, and in addition to the rhubarb, spring onions, broccoli and strawberries that have been available for a week now, yesterday I managed to get some peas! I'm going to say it, you haven't truly tasted peas until you shell them out on the same day they were picked, cooked them up and put them in your mouth. A veritable pea-flavor explosion. So green. So good for you!

And of course, I had my little helper to help me shell them. Recently, I was on a chat group I've been part of for about 6 years now (another blog post for another day!) and I had mentioned that it's so hard to carve out quality time with the kids during the day. Jonathan wants to read and I tell him "I'm busy" or he wants to play outside and I say "not now" and he wants to build a Lincoln Log house and I say "later". One of the "seasoned" moms told me that quality time doesn't have to be only when you're engaged in a child-related activity. You can take advantage of all kinds of moments in your day to talk, to teach, to enjoy the time together, to introduce a new skill. This was such a revelation to me because it's so simple and so true - why didn't I think of that?

So when Jonathan pulled over a chair to find out what I was doing and asked if he could help, I said "of course you can!" I opened the pods and laid them out flat for him, and he picked out the peas and dropped them in the pot. And in that simple task, that quiet time together, I just had to smile. Jonathan would throw a pea in the pot, and said to me "Listen to that funny sound they make when they hit the bottom of the pot!" A cute little plopping sound. And then some thunder came and we talked about the difference between tiny sounds and big ones. Quality time, courtesy of the farmer's market.

And then Matthew got up from his pile of cars on the floor, climbed up on the chair behind Jonathan and reached in and almost grabbed the pot and the bowl of empty shells and Jonathan started hollering in one fell swoop. End of tranquility.

But this morning, Jonathan came to me and asked if we could get more peas so he could help me "get them out" again. Sure buddy. And we'll do lima beans, string beans and bird's egg beans, too. And then maybe I'll teach you to husk corn!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Pool is OPEN!

No, not THAT pool! THIS pool: the one behind Mark.

And not a moment too soon, with three straight days of 95+ degrees, it was high time we got that thing opened up. The temperature Saturday morning after we took off the cover was 60 (EEK!). By yesterday evening, it was 72. I haven't ventured out there today to see what it is - but at least now it's swimmable. And thank goodness - with no a/c in the house, it gets mighty hot, but for the most part, we keep our swimsuits handy and go jump in if we need to cool off.

And while I'm on the topic of no a/c - yes, you heard me correctly. Our house was custom-built in the 50's and it's got these great, custom made Andersen windows. Casement windows. A thing of beauty. Until you try to put a window a/c unit in. Can't be done. Even the casement style a/c units won't work because our windows are actually too big. And we have hot water/oil heat so there's no ductwork in the house. And on top of that, we have solid plaster walls. So right now, we're not looking to install any kind of a/c. We do, however, have a lot of ceiling fans, and an attic fan which works rather nicely to blow out the house at night. But oh boy - yesterday, I think it was about 110 degrees in my kitchen while I was trying to make dinner.

Oh, wait! You wanted to know what Mark was doing in the above photo? Rolling up the pillows - the things you fill with water to keep the edges of the pool cover down over the winter. Why is he rolling them? Gee, I don't know, because we were getting ready to THROW THEM AWAY! I gave him all kinds of grief about this half the day on Saturday, because for heaven's sake, what a waste of time and energy. But with my newfound idea of "don't sweat it, blog about it", I decided to leave him alone and make him look silly for the whole world-wide-web to see. But that's Mark. Even trash has to be logical and orderly......

In other news, did you hear Brad and Angelina outfitted their soon-to-be-born twins' nursery with $140,000 worth of stuff? Ummm, do we need to know this? Sure, it's entertaining, but if someone can tell me the difference between a $2400 crib and a $300 crib, and what difference it's going to make to an infant, please do so. I wish they would start disseminating some useable information -- like, when a sippy cup is missing, WHERE is it? And when I find it, what's the best way to get that yucky, moldy, congealed crap out of it, and then make it drinkable again? I wonder what Brangelina would do.....

Sunday, June 8, 2008

"Move That Dammit Car!"

Okay. Clean-up time. Mommy's mouth, that is. Tonight, after dinner, we took the boys to the Dairy Queen drive-thru. Why? Well, Mark took Jonathan to Lowe's in the mid-afternoon (while Matthew slept and I had a great swim - thanks, Mark!). Somewhere in that trip to Lowe's, ice cream got promised, but by the time they were out and on their way home, I was putting the hot dogs on the grill, and Mark thought that stopping for ice cream would spoil someone's dinner. Finally, the man has some foresight....but that's another blog entry! Anyway, how to tell a kid he's not getting DQ after he'd been promised? Promise to take him AFTER dinner. Which is exactly what we did. But by this time, the fire was really stoked. Kid wanted his "kiddie size vanilla in a cup w/ rainbow sprinkles" like yesterday, man.

Have you ever seen the line at the DQ drive-thru? And no, we weren't going IN the DQ - actually, Mark and I had just put on a cool CD (The Church) and were digging the music, tuning out the chatter in the backseat and really, for once, not in a rush. But Jonathan's having a hissy in the backseat, saying "Why won't they move that car?" (talking about the one in front of us, I suppose...) When that didn't get an intelligent response from us, he pulled out the big guns: "Move that Dammit Car!" Oops. Hmmmm, where'd you learn that one, buddy? Mark looks at me with some raised eyebrows. Okay, so Mommy gets a little impatient on the road at times. Eek. All that stuff about "little pitchers" was true, wasn't it? Lesson learned.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Snips, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails....

Oh BOY. Where to begin. A little history? I'm a girl. I grew up with one sister. Our mom, and at various times through childhood, between 1 and 3 FEMALE dogs (until my 20's when we got our first male dog). Plus my grandma lived next door. My poor father!
So now we're raising these two little boys, and I'm being slowly but surely introduced to the world of boy. Okay, back up. Some of it, I'm sure, isn't "boy", it's more like "toddler" and "pre-schooler." You know, the finger up the nose, the stomping and screaming when you don't get what you want, the pee-pee dance. Certainly not restricted simply to little males of the species.
But how about this one? "Mommy! Catch!" And whatever I'm supposed to catch comes flying through the air. Sometimes it's an empty sippy cup, sometimes a toy, sometimes a ball (hey, go figure), and sometimes, it's a little boy. Yup - happens quite often - I'll be standing close to something elevated - couch, bed, toy box...and my little climber will be up there in an instant, and all the sudden a child comes hurtling through the air sort of in the vicinity of my arms.
And peeing outside. When Jonathan was first potty-trained, we were delighted about how easy it was, how completely trained he was within just days. And then we went outside for yardwork. And it was a long way from where we were in the yard outside, back to the potty. So just for consistency, I took him behind a tree and let him pee. So easy for boys. Not fair. But now? There's not even any attempt at making it back inside. We'll be outside for whatever, and I'll look behind me to see what Jonathan's doing, and there he is, pants around his ankles, going to town. Actually having FUN with it. And last night, out on the rail trail where we were walking after dinner, he announces that he has to pee, drops trou and starts to go all within 5 seconds, before Mark or I could even get to him and direct him to AT LEAST get off the path! Luckily no one came flying by on their bike.
Then there's the changing table. I just can't believe all kids are like this, but neither of my sons has ever had any patience at all for the changing table. Jonathan despised it from birth all the way up to potty-training. And Matthew's not much better. It's like, he's got something better to do and doesn't want to tolerate one more second. He's trying to sit up, he's turning around, he's squirming, he's kicking his feet, he's trying to see what's above and around his head....I'm telling you by the time I get done changing this kid's diaper, I'm sweating. Often, it takes two of us to keep him still long enough to get him dressed, and even then, it's not easy. Mark's favorite saying to me during these times is "Statutes...", meaning, the statutes of limitations have been reached, and for me to stop messing around - forget about clipping fingernails and toenails and cleaning out ears this time around. Just get done the basics and let him run.
And then, there's the "hand down the pants" phenomenon. Is it really necessary to do all that "adjusting?" I've never been a dude - so this is a mystery to me. "Take your hand out of your pants, please" elicits immediate obedience, but then 10 seconds later, the hand is back. I will say though, that persistence has paid off and maybe it was just a "stage" and the little talks about separating "private" and "public" behavior did some good.
But not until the inevitable had to happen. We went out to dinner - it was still cool, so we had jackets and hats, etc... Dinner's done, bill's paid, we're wiping down Matthew and liberating him from his high chair. Jonathan being strangely cooperative is standing, waiting for us, jacket on, hat on, watching the numbers display on the Keno screen near the bar part of this "bar and grill" where we ate. We struggle Matthew into his jacket, I grab diaper bag, purse, turn to Jonathan, and then I notice the stance. One hand to his face with a finger up his nose just about as far as it would go. Other hand, solidly down the front of his pants. Dazed expression on his face as he was watching all those fascinating numbers bounce around. I stood balanced on this miniscule line between complete embarrasment and complete hysterics, all I could do was grab him, yank him toward the door and away from the snickers from the nearby tables, and not dare look at Mark, lest I completely lose it.
Oh well, someone in all this, they'll figure it out, with a little help from us. Right now, as long as we can get hats off/shirts on enforced at the dinner table, it'll be a good start in making these boys into men!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I (HEART) My New Cast-Iron Griddle!

Remember a few weeks (months?) ago I was talking about replacing some of my Teflon cookware with cast iron? Well, I'm three brand-new pieces into it, and loving every minute. So far all the pieces I've purchased have been pre-seasoned, so I didn't have to worry about doing it myself. They are all non-stick 'cause of the seasoning, and they all cook wonderfully. Particularly this griddle. This griddle is the 12 inch Pro-Logic by Lodge. A little nicer than the old Lodge Logic line, a little bigger, and with sweeter lines. A little more...stylish? Anyway, wouldn't want to drop this thing on my foot, that's for sure. and I'm pretty careful to make sure that if it's on the stove, I'm in front of it with my little guys running around. To have it hit one of them in the head if they pulled it down on top of themselves would be devastating...but back to the matter at hand.

I heard a lot of people say they disliked the griddles because they heated unevenly. Well, they're right. They do heat very unevenly. So what do I do? Pre-heat it on low, for at least 5-8 minutes before pancake batter ever touches it. And the really nice thing about cast iron, once you have it heated, you can leave your stove on low. I cook on this griddle and never ever turn the heat up past 3 or 3 1/2 (electric range) the whole time. It distributes heat perfectly, holds heat better than any cookware I've ever cooked with and delivers a great, steady heat.

I've also used this for grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas, all of which come out perfectly. So I'm a fan. My house sees a LOT of pancakes (and grilled cheese and quesadillas!). So thank you Lodge for making some awesome cookware!

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Little Fast-Food Etiquette Lesson

So last week, we ate lunch at McDonald's. The horror! No seriously - just because we try to eat healthy most of the time doesn't preclude fast-food every once in awhile. It's cheap, it's fast, the kids eat it without being know, a quality family meal.

So we're downtown in Cumberland, at lunch hour on a Friday, and the place was mobbed. Everything from businessmen to elderly couples, to moms with kids...and a few of Cumberland's finest - use your imagination, this McDonald's is in the low-rent district.

ANYWAY. Two hungry kids, a husband who had to get back to work shortly, a crowded restaurant....we were lucky to even get a table. Then I grabbed the cups they gave us for our drinks and headed to the drink bar/condiment area. And there is where this lesson begins.

1. If you're getting a drink, know what you're getting before approaching the drink bar. C'mon, we're all creatures of habit here, you've got a favorite, go for it.

2. Once your cup is full of ice and the beverage of your choice, now this is important...STEP ASIDE. When there are 5 people lined up behind you to get the drinks that they have already decided on, you do not block the entire drink bar while you

- find a lid the right size

- place said lid on cup

- find a straw

- unwrap straw and put it into your lid

- get some napkins

- hitch up your pants

- answer your cell phone

- and then decide you want some ketchup.

Do you not hear the screaming children from 15 feet away saying "Where'd Mommy go? What's taking so long? Can I go help Mommy?"

3. If you are getting unsweetened iced tea, and you wish to put some sort of sweetener in it, please take the sweetener and the stir, and go back to your table to stir it in. Please? Don't stand there dumping, stirring and tasting until it's a picture of iced-tea perfection. We don't need to see that!

Okay, there's more, but I think I'll leave it at that for now. If everyone just did these three little things, life in the fast-food lane would be oh so much easier! After all, people aren't eating there for the culinary experience, they're there because unless they've got youngsters, they're probably in a hurry. So help them out, huh? Don't be so dorky.