Could Not Be Fuller

Holy crap, guys.

It’s been way longer than I thought since I last posted here.  I haven’t posted anything in nearly a year and a half.  Do y’all even remember me?  Do you know what’s happened in a year and a half?  Obviously not much, if I haven’t been around to tell you about it, right?  Except…

The last time I was here, I was the mother of one amazing, beautiful, perfect little boy.

Today?  Today, I’m the mother of three amazing, beautiful, perfect little boys.

Yep, you read that right.  Three.  For the next two weeks, three under the age of three.  Boys.  Three. Boys.

My heart could not be fuller.

I always said I wanted three kids.  I come from a large family (I’m the oldest of five), Ryan comes from a small family (he’s the oldest of two); three seemed like a good compromise.  You should’ve seen our faces when, at a six week ultrasound for my second pregnancy, the tech announced, “There’s one.  And there’s two.” (Actually, I would’ve liked to have seen our faces.) Obviously, she was telling us we were getting twins, but we were a bit slow on the uptake.  It took us both a moment to catch up.  Um, ok, it took us quite awhile to catch up.  In fact, we spent the next few hours in almost total, shocked silence.  Until one of us would say, “Holy crap, twins.”  Or, “Wow.  There are TWO of them,”  Then we got in the car and drove two hours to tell our families in person.  Some days I think we’re still a little shocked.

Granted, this was not a total surprise.  My dad is a fraternal twin.  My maternal grandfather had fraternal twin siblings.  But because I always joked about how cool it would be to have twins, I think I had talked myself out of the possibility.  Mentally.  I think I had a gut instinct though that they were twins.  Because this is what happens to someone who has the perfect singleton pregnancy first time around, breezes through the whole nine months and labor, then wonders why people get so stressed out about infants.  Life hands those people two more at the same time, in conjunction with the terrible twos/ threenage years.

We’re managing.  In fact, we’re more than managing; I think we’re doing really well.  Our days are not nearly as stressful or as chaotic as I had envisioned.  I can still get all three of them out the door before 10AM without help.  Everyone is fed, bathed (at least every other night), wearing clean clothes, and getting individual cuddle time.  I can still get a hot, cooked meal on the table at least three nights a week, and Friday is still always pizza- homemade, more often than not.  This week I baked two batches of cookies, homemade pretzels, and a batch of zucchini bread between naptimes and diaper changes.

Of course. it can get stressful.  One can be stressful, three (without ever experiencing two) has, admittedly, brought me to my knees a time or two.  But it’s the best kind of stressful, and there’s nearly always humor to be found in the midst of it all.  “Twin B” has a tendency to wait until his diaper off to show off his ability to impersonate a fire hose.  This has earned him the nickname “Squirt” (he was also a full pound smaller at birth; he was such a little squirt!)  “Twin A” is often on his third outfit of the day before 9AM.

I used to judge stay-at-home moms.  I never understood how a person could sacrifice a career that they’d worked their tail off for, to stay at home.  To trade analyzing data for analyzing the color of the substances within a diaper; to trade dressing up for yoga pants and a ponytail; to trade business lunches for being on the receiving end of launched pureed peas.  I didn’t get how giving up a paycheck made sense.  Now I get it.

This isn’t about me.  It’s not about my climb up a corporate ladder, or breaking any glass ceilings.  It’s not about whether my boys are wearing Burberry onesies and riding in a $4,000 stroller.

New classic check Check Cotton Twill Shirt - Image 1

(Image from Burberry.com)

It’s about them having me at home because we can have it this way, spending time and making memories and learning from one another as we navigate this road as a family.  I used to be embarrassed, when asked about my career, to admit that right now, I don’t have one.  I’m still working on my education- and I’m damn proud of it.

I’ll have lots of years to go back to work, to build my career as long as it works for our family.  For now, I’m trying to savor every second I can with these precious gifts, stockpiling the love and the snuggles they give so freely for a day when they’ll be “too big,” or “too old” to show Mom affection.  For now, my job- my career- is Mom.

And I couldn’t be prouder.  My heart could not be fuller.

xoxo,

~d

Danielle-1, Santa-0…for now

Remember how, a couple of weeks ago, I was super excited that I was mostly prepared for Christmas?  Remember how I was so excited that I planned to spend the remaining weeks leading up to the holiday parked on a chair with my glass of wine?

Yep, that’s exactly what I did.  My stash is quickly diminishing- though, I have had the privilege of drinking others’ alcohol a couple of times- and now, two days before Christmas, I’m finding myself scrambling to finish everything I had planned to accomplish.

Yet, here I am, sitting on the sofa in a living room lit only by our Christmas tree and the lighted Santa’s village while some small amount of snow falls outside the window.  Time’s wasting, I have at least 6 more to-do’s before my list is ta-done, and I’m exhausted, but as soon as I turn off the other lights in the house, that tree beckons to me to sit here and savor the season.  I’ve found, since the tree went up this year, that I’m more and more reluctant to go to bed each night- to turn the lights off and leave the house in darkness when the lit tree is cheerful and inviting and warm and cozy.

My love of Christmas comes from my mom, who inherited her love of Christmas from my Pappy.  The whole season has always felt like magic to me, and every year I imagine myself stopping in the midst of the rush to just stop and listen and see signs of the season.  Typically, that means watching the snow fall and seeing things dusted with a layer of sparkly white flakes that make everything look brand new.  Clean.  Simple.  And beautifully contrasted with the bright colors of ribbons and street lights and houses outlined in lights of their own.  This year the snow thing is just not happening around here.  In some ways, that’s not such a terrible thing; after all, I do tend to complain a bit when the white stuff piles up.  (Ideally, it would snow- LOTS- between November and January, then magically switch to May.  However, since I’m not the person in charge of deciding the weather, that probably won’t ever happen.)  On the other hand, I’m going to be realistic: we’re in Pennsylvania.  In December.  And temperatures today were still in the 40’s.  Last year, by the beginning of December we were already in the 20’s.  I’m torn between being sad that the weather isn’t exactly motivating my brain to believe it’s almost Christmas, and being happy that we’re into December already so when it does snow, it might not stick around long.

Regardless, the weather won’t change just because I’m whining about it, so the only thing left to do is to get myself motivated to finish that last bit of shopping, bake those last batches of cookies, and wrap up that list bit of, er, wrapping, and park myself with my wine while I wait for the big fat man with the long white beard to show me up.  I’ll let you know who wins.

In the meantime, may you have a very Merry Christmas, friends.  May your holiday be filled with cheer and joy and love.

Cheers!

xoxo,

~d

Pumpkin Farm- Part I

One of my favorite memories from childhood was our annual trips to the pumpkin farm.  There was a place about 40 minutes from where we lived that Mom would take us to pick our would-be jack-‘o’-lanterns.  Derek and I would ponder for what seemed like forever- usually making it a competition to see who got the bigger one.  There was also a little shop at the farm where Mom always shopped for crafts and gourds and Indian corn; it was her reward to herself after enduring any length of time with my brother and me and our constant bickering.  That’s all she wanted: some cute little craft, a couple of gourds, and a bunch or two of Indian corn.

“Punkin pickin'” is still part of our fall tradition here in the Merrow household.  Every year when the leaves start to change and the weather starts to cool, Ryan starts asking when I’ll be ready to go.  He likes to plan the outing.  And picking a pumpkin is, for both of us, very serious business.  In the six years since we’ve lived here, I think there have only been one or two that we haven’t had pumpkins.  Sometimes they come from WalMart.  Last year they came from the buffalo farm up the road.  I think once we even dragged a few from Punxsy- from my sister’s pumpkin patch that she plants and lovingly tends every single year.  We just haven’t found that special place yet to make our new tradition.

This past weekend was miserable: cold, windy, and rainy.  It was the perfect weekend to stay inside and eat chili and drink cider.  But by yesterday, I needed to get out and DO something.  Anything.  So when he asked the question, “when did you want to go get pumpkins?  I found this new place we should check out,” I had made the decision and jumped in the shower before he finished asking.  We were going, rain or not.

It was cold.  It was raining.  The wind was blowing and the place was deserted despite the rows of cars in the parking lot.  We approached the admission window for some information, while I said a little “thank you” to my aunties for the Uggs they bought me last Christmas; the rest of me may have been freezing, but my feet were toasty, and for that I was thankful.

When the one lonely lady manning the booth slid the window aside to let us in, she began to run down the list of attractions the farm offers: “Oh, we do hay rides and the haunted corn maze…but they don’t recommend that for kids under ten.  And there are slides over there…you know, for the kids…and there’s a petting zoo…for the kids…and… Oh!  The white barn over there has a cafe and craft shop.  There’s a corn box…for the kids… and over here, you can pick your pumpkins.  So…will you be trying any of the attractions today?”

This was sort of a strange question, and I, at least, was a bit thrown off.  After all, we were alone.  No kids in tow, no stroller, no car seat.  We were alone.  Just the two of us.  Finally, after exchanging a look with Ryan, I responded by saying, “It’s so miserable out today, I think we’ll just check out the craft store and buy some pumpkins.”  This statement saved us the admission fee that’s charged for the other attractions.  Armed with wrist bands, we entered the farm and headed for the barn.

The atmosphere there was a fun one; as we entered, Ryan said it reminded him of what he would expect to find at Roloff Farms of Little People, Big World fame.  There was a small cafe in one corner, with picnic tables lining the walls, and a game of corn hole set up in the center aisle.  In the back corner was nestled a small, cozy primitives shop.  We walked through, staying long enough to see everything, and headed back out to tackle the task of tracking down some pumpkins to take home with us.

There were so many pumpkins to choose from, I got confused.  I would point out one that had a good shape, vibrant color, substantial size, and was consistently round, and then promptly lose it.  Ryan would find one that looked perfect from the front, but was completely planar on the opposite side.  If we pondered and walked around for five minutes, we were there for forty-five.  Finally, we settled on two that were similar in size, shape, and color, and headed for the check-out booth.  Ryan carried them while my eyes wandered to the potted Mums and the boxes of gourds and cooking squashes.  We noticed some wagons, provided to help patrons “cart” their finds out of the patch, and I snagged one in order to continue shopping.  Once Ryan had dropped the two large pumpkins onto the wagon, he immediately suggested we pick out a pumpkin for Clohe.  He found her a smaller one that was perfectly round and perfectly orange, and urged me to pick some gourds to take home.  While I pondered over those, he checked out the pie pumpkins.  “Babe,” he called to me, “do you use these?”  I turned to look, and admitted that I never had, but I knew that they were used for all the wonderful recipes canned pumpkin is used for.  “I could bake a pumpkin pie from scratch,” I said, wheels turning.  He picked out three for me to bring home.

With a new project to focus my energies on, I couldn’t sit still when we got home.  I hauled my gourds and pie pumpkins into the kitchen to wash, while Ryan balanced our future jack-‘o’-lanterns to carry to the front porch.  And I set to work…

 

More to come!

xoxo,

~d

Desserts. Because who needs dinner?

My friend Tas frequently labels my cooking as “gourmet.”  While this may or may not be an accurate description (I’m leaning more toward NOT!), I think her encouragement has subliminally planted itself in the part of my brain that takes over in the kitchen, and has led me to be, if nothing else, a bit more daring.  And a lot more hungry for dessert.

Lately, Ryan and I have become semi-addicted to the Food Network show Chopped.  If you’re not familiar, four contestants are unleashed in a kitchen with a basket full of random mystery items that must be made into a gourmet meal.  There are three courses: appetizer, main course, and dessert.  After each course, the contestant with the least tasty or least cohesive dish gets “chopped” and goes home.  Basket items typically include one type of protein, one fruit or vegetable, and one pre-packaged item (think Ramen noodles in the appetizer round, or boxed mac and cheese in the dessert round).  This show has led me to be somewhat creative with the ingredients I have on hand; it’s good practice for cooking techniques, if nothing else.

Tonight, I focused on dessert.  In fact, dinner was sort of atrocious compared with the desserts I served.  Yes, you read that correctly: dessertS.  Plural.  I made soup and salad and sliced some French bread for dinner, and served multiple desserts.  So sue me.

Fall is really evident around here this week; the leaves are showing their full range of gorgeous color and floating gracefully to the ground, and the temperature- while still decent- is cooler than I’d prefer.  When the weather changes like this, I think soup.  Since we’ve already had a few batches of cheeseburger soup and chili, I changed it up tonight with a big pot of broccoli and cheese soup.  I had made broccoli cheese soup only once before, about six years ago when we first moved in here.  Since Ryan was still anti-vegetables at that time, I basically made it for myself.  And it was awful.  I had no desire to try to make it again; I have a mom and two aunts who make awesome broccoli soup.  (Kidding.  Sort of).  This week, I mentioned broccoli soup, and Ryan sort of latched onto the idea as something he might be interested in trying.  While we were in the grocery store on Monday, he picked up a head of broccoli and asked me if that’s what I needed to make the soup.  We were going to try it again.

This afternoon I dug out the recipe my mom had given me all those years ago and took my time assembling the ingredients.  The process was much easier than I had remembered, and now I’m not sure what I did the last time but my confidence is restored.  Here’s how I did it:

Broccoli and Cheese Soup
4 Tbsp butter
1 onion
2-3 garlic cloves
3 cups chicken broth
1 potato, peeled and cubed
3 cups broccoli florets
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup milk plus 1- 1/2 Tbsp flour, whisked together
 
Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic; saute until translucent and soft.  Add chicken broth and potato; cook till potato is tender.  Meanwhile, microwave broccoli for 3-4 minutes until tender; chop into very fine pieces and add to soup.  Add milk and cheese; stir to combine.  
 

Yes.  It really is THAT simple.  Please don’t ask how I messed it up before.

Apparently, that success fueled my ambition and the pears on the counter grabbed my attention.  Several years ago for Christmas, Ryan’s parents gave me a Tuscan cookbook.  In the cookbook was a recipe for pears with a Marsala wine sauce.  Peanut picked some pears from the orchard for me over the weekend, so I decided to try it.  First, I peeled two pears, but left the stems (as sort of decoration).  I sliced the bottoms off, and used a fillet knife to remove the cores.  Then I placed them in a saucepan with 1/8 cup sugar and two cinnamon sticks, and let them cook over low heat until the mixture boiled.  Once the water reached a low boil, I covered them and let them continue cooking (still over low heat) for about a half hour, until they were tender.  Finally, I removed the pears from the cinnamon-flavored sugar water and let it cook awhile longer, until the sauce was thickened.  Once it was the consistency of a syrup, I stirred in 1/4 cup of Marsala wine.  Y.U.M!

I was on a roll; while I’m not a “band-wagon” type of person, I’m in love with the fact that caramel seems to be THE flavor this fall.  (Truth be told, caramel is one of my all-time favorites.  Our wedding cake three years ago had a caramel filling, and my new favorite cheesecake recipe from last fall was swirled caramel and peanut butter.  NOT on the bandwagon, people.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)  A few weeks ago, Ryan and I tried a new restaurant in town for lunch, and we ordered dessert afterward: a warm fudge-y brownie with a salted  caramel sauce.  Let me just tell you: To.Die.For.  We left with me vowing to replicate the recipe, somehow, some way.  Tonight I just may have accomplished this goal.  With a pan of hot, homemade brownies on the counter, I followed this recipe to almost perfectly replicate the sauce we had at the restaurant.  Fortunately, it made a whole jarful which is now blissfully chilling in my fridge.

I may or may not have to invent a breakfast recipe to utilize it.

 

 

 

Happy Fall!

xoxo,

~d

Before it Was 9/11

Before this day in 2001, it was a happy day in my family.  On this day in 1982 (after my mother arrived late to her own wedding…nobody has ever accused my mom of being punctual!), my parents said “I Do,” and promised to love one another for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, through one child or five.  While the part about the kids may not have been in their vows (or their plans), regardless…it was on this day that they promised to spend the rest of their lives together.

On my parents’ thirteenth wedding anniversary, my youngest brother Cory entered the world shortly after 8AM.  I was in fifth grade that year, and I remember it as if it was yesterday.  I remember taking my Collie puppy Brandy outside to do her morning business and coming back inside to find my mom on the phone with my dad’s boss, trying to track Daddy down.  While trying not to alarm me, Mom was already showered and dressed, working on her hair and makeup.  She put off telling me what was going on for as long as she could, but I think the effort may have been a little much for her.  Derek and I left for school as per our normal schedule, and a family member came to stay with Brandon while Mom’s aunt drove her to the hospital.  We would later learn that Cory was nearly born in the car on the way to the hospital, but since my mother seems to possess superhuman self-control, she managed to make it all the way.  None too soon, mind you.  But then, nobody ever accused my mother of being punctual.

Anyway, during our morning recess at school, we received a message that Cory was here.  And that he was a boy.  My parents never told us kids the sex of the babies they were expecting, hoping to maintain peace in the family for as long as they could.  That family peace was out the window as soon as I got the message that I had yet another brother.  A girl just couldn’t catch a break!  I was angry.  I was disappointed.  I was resentful.  I was sad.  I was bitter.  And soon, I was..in love.

Before long, I had changed my attitude about the invasion of yet another brother.  It didn’t take too long for his big brown eyes to melt me.  It didn’t take too long before his little coo’s could catch my attention from just about anywhere else in our house, and make me come running, just to watch him be content and aware.  I didn’t even mind changing diapers or walking laps around the house to calm him when he was fussy.  I absorbed every second as I watched Cory grow.  Mom worked night shifts at a local bakery the summer before Cory turned a year old.  When she would leave for work at night, we would pull the cushion from our Papasan chair and lay it on the floor in the living room, because Daddy has always worked very long days, usually starting around the time Mom would get home.  I would fall asleep next to his warm little body, and when he would wake up crying in the night, I would get his bottle, change his diaper, and sing him back to sleep.  I helped with bath times and story times and dinner time…any time Mom needed a little extra help.  She would always tell me she would take my help while she could get it, because, “it won’t be long before you fight with him like you fight with the other two.”  To the best of my knowledge, that day has not yet arrived.  Perhaps it’s the ten-year age difference, or perhaps it’s because Cory and I are so much alike in spite of how different we are. Or maybe it’s just because Cory is so mellow and easygoing.  Either way, I can’t recall the two of us ever even disagreeing, let alone having an actual fight or argument.

Cory, me, and Peanut, circa 2004

Ten years ago, it was Cory’s sixth birthday, and Mom and Daddy’s nineteenth wedding anniversary.  I was at my Aunt Sharon and Uncle Don’s house, enjoying a late vacation since our school district was on strike that year…inconsequential as it may be, we all remember where we were that day.  But as I finished my week watching the footage from New York City; Washington, D.C.; and a little field in Shanksville, PA- less than two hours from my hometown- I remember thinking how Mom and Daddy’s anniversary and Cory’s birthday would never be the same celebration again.  It almost feels wrong to celebrate on a day that hold such pain for so many, and yet it’s the celebrations that keep life moving on.  Carrying the memories of what happened, remembering the humility and love and one-ness our country shared during that time, and passing it along.  Remembering the patriotism of that period of time, a decade ago; when we weren’t all so wrapped up in our own lives, and spared a moment to reach out and help our fellow man.  When our TV is flooded with memorials and images of destruction and helplessness,  it’s sobering to see how much has changed while so little has changed.  Yet, it’s still there.  And the reminder is good.  The reminder to just be thankful we’re here.  To celebrate anniversaries and birthdays and every day.  Because we’re here.  Because we are stronger for being here.

Happy 29 years, Momma and Daddy.  May you spend the next 80 years as happy as you are now.  And thank you for showing me how important true love is.  How strong, how enduring, and how necessary it is to find a love like yours…while also being so rare.  I have been blessed.

And Cory, Happy Sixteenth Birthday to you.  You make me proud to be your sister, and proud to have watched you grow.  Let’s Go Chucks!

xoxo,

~d

Happy Birthday! to…Everyone

Ah, September already?  (I say that every month, don’t I?  Seriously, this time I mean it.)  Give me a second while I try to figure out how it’s already Labor Day.  Summer got away from me again.  Where the hell did it get to?

September is a pretty busy month in these parts.  In fact, the first two weeks of September are kind of flat-out ridiculous for us.  And it sort of just keeps going through the end of the month.  My family has celebrated four birthdays in the last three days: my Momma’s was Saturday; Daddy’s was yesterday, and Ryan and my Aunt Sharon share a birthday today.  Wednesday (technically not an event, but I still kinda look at it as one) will be the eight-year mark for Ryan and me being together; Aunt Sharon and Uncle Don will celebrate their wedding anniversary on Friday, while my friend Sarah will tie the knot with her longtime love on the same day and our friends Dave and Andrea’s firstborn has a birthday party that day as well.  Sunday is Mom and Daddy’s anniversary as well as my brother Cory’s birthday, and Uncle Tom has a birthday on Tuesday.  That’s just the next eight days, friends.  I’m exhausted already, just thinking of it.

With all of these birthdays and anniversaries this month, I practically live in the card section at the store, first of all because there are so many to think of buying, and secondly because I can’t ever find one card that says what I really want to say.  This year, I think I’ve finally made a breakthrough.  A real genius move, on my part.  And, well, it’s not really an original idea, so I can’t take credit for it.  I’m just proud that I’ve finally caught on.

See, I think the greeting card industry has gotten sort of ridiculous.  First of all, a simple birthday card, wedding card, or thank you card is unbelievably expensive these days.  I mean, to find a decent one that doesn’t scream, “I CAME FROM THE DOLLAR STORE!” is borderline $4.  For something most people throw away the week after the event anyway!  (Not me; I have boxes of old greeting cards-birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, graduation, whatever.  I’m sentimental like that.)  Anyway, I love the idea of cards and as much as I love technology, nothing says “I care about you” like sending a real card in the real mail.  In fact, several years ago, my good friend Bekah sent me a letter.  On paper.  Sealed in an envelope and shipped via the good ol’ USPS.  We both have email, we communicate regularly via Facebook and text message.  But receiving that letter from her was such a cool event.  Of course we receive thank-you cards and birthday cards and whatnot in the mail, but this was just a letter.  Just because.  And it was awesome.

Um, ok, so back to my point: I am transitioning to buying only blank-inside cards.  Because as far as I’m concerned, the people who write the greetings inside greeting cards have gotten lazy.  I used to think being a greeting-card-phrase writer would be a fun job.  I thought I could be good at it.  Anymore, though, I don’t think I have enough cheese in me to keep up with it.  So there’s my plan, friends.  Buying blank-inside cards and creating my own greetings.  It’s sort of a step up from construction paper and crayons (which, I’ll admit, I’ve been tempted to do on more than one occasion) but still allows me to say what I want to say, not what some sap in a cubicle thinks I should say.  Heck, if I can blog (over 500 words at a time, typically), I should be able to come up with enough to fill the inside of a greeting card,  right?

What do you say, friends?  Do you panic over how eloquently the greeting cards you send are worded?  Or do you just pick one that addresses the proper person (Mom, Grandma, Husband, brother)?  You won’t hurt my feelings by telling me that I’m a total freak about this whole deal.

Cheers!

xoxo,

~d

Newlyweds: Week One

One week ago today, Ryan’s brother and his new bride pledged their lives and their love to one another in front of an intimate group of family and close friends on the beach.  Tears were shed, laughs ensued, and it was all followed by one heck of a party afterward at the beach house we rented:

While the ladies took the morning off to visit the spa, the men were left to enjoy a morning on the beach before the festivities of the evening began.  Peanut enjoyed her first ever manicure.  I think she’s hooked, and my mom might just never forgive me for that.  (Sorry, Mom.)

The porches were decorated with hundreds of clear lights and beautifully decorated tables, adorned with the bride and groom’s engagement photos and a scrumptious spread of tropical food and drink.  The catered dinner consisted of coconut shrimp, barbecued chicken kebabs, and crab cakes.  Ryan’s cousin Shanna provided pitchers of “TropiShannas,” a sangria recipe I hear she spent weeks perfecting.  Alas, I did not get to sample… but perhaps she’ll make them again!  In addition, the cookie table was extensive and varied, with zucchini chocolate chip cookies, ladyfingers, pecan tassies, truffles, and coconut macaroons.  There was also a chocolate fountain with fruit to dip, which was all but devoured (in fact, a story has been making rounds that my own sister was found with a chocolate beard.  Fortunately, “RyRy” found her first and got her cleaned up before I discovered the mess.  She enjoyed it, though, and I’m certain she wasn’t the only one- kid or grownup alike- who had chocolate all over her face.)

My contribution was a couple of appetizers: a watermelon salsa served with tortilla chips (which I think was a pretty big hit!) in a watermelon bowl; a spinach dip and a crab dip, both served in bread bowls; and a 3-in-1 cheese ball, the crab dip and cheese balls from a Country Cooking: Bridal Edition cookbook I received as a gift for our wedding a few years ago.  Everything but the watermelon salsa I was able to make ahead and freeze so that on the actual wedding day, the spinach dip and the crab dip just had to go into the oven for a short time before going to the table.  Here are the recipes I used for the crab dip and cheese balls:

Three-in-One Cheese Ball
1 package cream cheese, softened
4 cups (16 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
 
Coarsely cracked black pepper
     1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese (I substituted Feta)
Minced fresh parsley
     1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Finely chopped pecans
Assorted crackers
 
In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, cheddar cheese, onion, and Worcestershire sauce until fluffy.  If a smoother spread is desired, process in a food processor until creamy.  Divide into thirds (about one cup each).  Shape first portion into a ball; roll in cracked pepper.  Add the bleu cheese to the second portion; mix well.  Shape into a ball; roll in parsley.  Add garlic powder to the remaining portion; mix well.  Shape into a ball; roll in nuts.  Cover and refrigerate.  Remove from refrigerator and let stand 15 minutes before serving.  
 
Hot Crab Dip
2 cans (6 ounces each) crabmeat, drained and cartilage removed
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup slivered almonds
Assorted crackers
 
In a mixing bowl, combine the first seven ingredients.  Spread in a 1-quart baking dish.  Sprinkle with almonds.  Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes or until mixture bubbles.   
 
Lindsay and Kevin rounded out their wedding day by spending their wedding night in a quaint little B&B nearby, but like the rest of us cut their vacation short with the threat of Irene.  However, we were blessed that their day went off as perfectly as we could have hoped for.  
 
 
To my “big brother” and new sister-in-law, I send warm wishes for a long, loving, happy marriage.  One week in, ten million more to go (that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of like 192,307 years, if I did my math right)!  I am so proud to have been part of your day- to have been a witness to such a deeply touching and beautiful ceremony.  In his best man speech, Ryan offered the following advice: “Kevin, memorize the following two words- ‘yes, dear.’  And Lindsay, remember to let Kevin think he’s the boss.”  Have fun together.  If you can’t laugh with one another, what do you have?  And to that I would add, remember to always put one another first.  When it comes down to it, having each other is what really matters.  Make it count.  Each and every day. 

Much love-

xoxo,

~d

Perfecting My Skills as a Desperate Housewife

Summertime.  It’s no secret this is my absolute favorite time of the year.  And, maybe the temperature lately has been flirting with the triple-digits, but so what?

Those are signs from above to take a day off and enjoy the oh-so-rare occasion to kick back in the sand and listen to the waves, the seagulls, and the giggling children.  That, my friends, is how my Auntie and I have spent quality time for as long as I can remember.

Ah, life's a beach...

Of course, one can’t spend all one’s time basking in the heat and the sun.  For one thing, one must maintain the illusion of productivity.  For another, beach days are best enjoyed on rare occasions, so as not to destroy the magic.  But two weeks ago, that’s exactly what we did: said to hell with productivity, and to hell with destroying beach magic.  It had been years since we had a beach day.  Like, since the summer I graduated from high school.  So we spent the afternoon on the beach.  And it was pure heaven.

However, for the days I haven’t spent lounging on the beach, I’ve managed to perfect my housewife-ing skills with all the fresh produce we’ve accumulated lately.  Last time we were home, my Momma sent me home with one of her large, home-grown zucchinis, from which I created two loaves of zucchini bread and a zucchini quiche:

This past weekend, we received a phone call from our neighbors, who were desperate to find loving homes for their wealth of garden-fresh produce.  We came home with a yellow summer squash, two more zucchini, a couple of cucumbers, and some garden fresh lettuce.  On Monday, my Auntie presented me with more veggies from my Momma: another zucchini, a couple of peaches, and a bagful of fresh green beans.

Yesterday, I set to work again to get our stash under control.  First, to energize myself, I prepared a roast beef sandwich with Dijon mustard and Swiss cheese and topped it with some of that delicious home-grown lettuce.  While I was munching on that, I sliced up the peaches from Mom and made a pan of peach crisp, adapting from an apple crisp recipe I found (pretty simple: just some butter, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon, and a bit of oats, sprinkled over the fruit and baked.)

While that was in the oven, I sliced up some zucchini to make another quiche.  This time, rather than using pepperoni, I topped it with turkey bacon.  I’ve done this recipe numerous times, and while it doesn’t call for any kind of meat, I always add something: sausage or ground beef.  This will be the first test for the turkey bacon.  I have faith that it will be devoured.

When the crisp came out and the quiche went in, I figured I’d whip up some more zucchini bread.  I love zucchini bread, and when frozen, it will keep for awhile.  I got two loaves out of the ingredients I had.  But that took care of both my flour and brown sugar, so I called it quits on the recreational creations and moved on to dinner.  Boring.  We had Delmonico steaks and some hibachi-style mixed vegetables: mushrooms and onions, zucchini and broccoli, with some sesame seed oil and teriyaki sauce in the cast iron skillet on the grill, and some white rice.  Few dishes.  Score.

Today was an errand-running day, as well as a long-overdue lunch with my friend Kayla and her two little munchkins.  After indulging in some retail therapy and lunching with my former partner-in-crime, I headed home and back to the kitchen.  It was time to tackle those beans.

Since we received a whole shopping bag-full, there was no way we would ever eat them all.  One of my favorite family traditions that I’m happy to apply to my adult life is the process of bean-freezing.  There’s something about opening that bag of frozen beans in the dead of winter that pulls me out of the doldrums and reminds me that there’s hope.  Green beans will come again.  Since I was little, helping Mom with the beans has been an activity of comfort to me.  I can snap those suckers in nothin’ flat, with quick, sure movements I don’t think my hands are capable of for anything else.  It’s sort of therapeutic to let my hands do the work while my mind wanders.  And today, before I knew it, the kitchen sink was full of bean pieces that were ready to be blanched, bagged, and frozen.

Currently, my produce inventory is down to a manageable level.  We have enough veggies for dinner for the next couple of days, enough fruit for some smoothies, and maybe a little leftover for some experiments.  If I find anything good, I promise I’ll share.

What about you?  What are your favorite summer veggie recipes?  Do you store things for winter?  Do you grow your own?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Cheers!

xoxo,

~d

What She Wanted

The story I’ve heard since I was but a wee one is that all my mother ever wanted was to be a mom.

She wanted us.  All five of us.  All 45 months of pregnancy, all the hours of labor (totaling, oh, I dunno, maybe 8.  Tops.  She’s a beast a childbirth,  I tell you).  Despite all that, all she ever wanted was to have children.  Lots and lots of children.  So three months after her high school graduation, and a week after her eighteenth birthday, Mom married my daddy- the love of her life- and they started the family they so badly wanted only a few years after.

She’s a tough woman, my momma.  I don’t remember her ever taking a day for herself; I don’t remember her ever doing anything for her.  Illness and childbirth, sheer exhaustion or injury, or even the loss of her own parents, never stopped my mom from being our caretaker- our MOM- above all else.  There have been plenty of days I know she would so much rather stay in bed and catch up on her sleep and a good book.  Though, I know the book would win out in that contest.  Still, she’s always there, always on the go.  Always taking care of the rest of us first.

She works harder than most men I’ve ever known, and without a word of complaint.  She’s the cook and housekeeper, laundry-do’er and nurse.  She goes without sleep and many days she sacrifices a moment to herself in favor of chauffeuring kids to football or baseball practice.  She has a soft heart for the young and the elderly, and will go out of her way to give her time and love to anyone who needs it.  Her quiet strength and endless energy push her far past the point of exhaustion to take care of everyone but her.

She ‘s not only our mom; she’s everyone’s mom.  She’s the rare nurturer who takes care of not only her own children, but everyone else’s as well, not to mention almost everyone else around her.  Her selflessness and generosity  come from reserves I can only speculate at… and if only a portion of each have manifested themselves in me, I’ll consider myself successful.

All five of us have friends who know our mom as Mom.  The mom who makes them finish their vegetables and clean their plates.  Ryan and my friend Kayla credit my mom in part to their discovery of green food, but she has always gone out of her way to put something on the table she knows they like.

Her sense of humor has found its way into all five of us, in such different ways.  Her silliness, sarcasm, and ability to laugh at a folly have carried on to me.  Derek and Cory are quiet, but both will get you with a quick one-line zinger, if you don’t watch them.  Brandon inherited her sarcasm too, as well as her sense of adventure.  And my Peanut.  Oh, my Peanut.  She’s got mom’s and my love of words, and she uses them in ways that no eight-year-old should have a knowledge of.

My momma is an amazing woman.  One day to tell her that just doesn’t seem like enough.  Not for everything she does for us, and for everyone.  Not for someone as incredible as my mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy.  Even though we couldn’t be home with you to celebrate, you’re in our thoughts on this day when we are so thankful for being blessed enough to have you as our mother.  I love you.  The boys and Peanut love you.  We all love you.

Mom and me on my wedding day.  Photo courtesy Janelle DiFuccia PhotographyMom and me on my wedding day.

Photo courtesy Janelle DiFuccia photography.

Big Sister

“Danielle?” my sister said to me Sunday afternoon before we sat down to our Easter feast.

“Yes, Peanut?” I replied.

“Do you like being the oldest?”

“Most of the time,” I responded.  “I like being the oldest a lot more now than I used to.  Do you like being the youngest?”

“Not really,” she said.  “I wish I was the oldest.”

Mom, who had been bustling about the kitchen setting the table, mashing potatoes and buttering her signature hot, homemade dinner rolls, paused in her activity to glance over at us.   “Being the youngest has its advantages,” Mom said.  Being the youngest of five herself, Mom would know.  “If you weren’t the youngest,” she continued, “you wouldn’t be able to bat your eyelashes and use your big brown eyes to get everything you want, like you do now.”

To prove the point, my little sister marched into the living room to the chair where Ryan was sitting.  She pushed out her lower lip just a little, fluttered those gorgeous long, dark lashes, and said to my husband, “Ry Ry, can we go to Quaker Steak and Lube?”

Always eager to make Peanut’s wishes come true, Ryan said without pause, “Sure!  When do you want to go?”

“Today,” she replied.

“Today?”  He seemed a bit confused at this point.  “But Mom’s making Easter dinner.  How about when you come to stay with us over the summer?”

“Ok,” she said, placated.

I was being honest when I told her that I like being the oldest a lot more now than I used to.  One of the perks, obviously, is that siblings naturally get along better when they don’t live under the same roof.  Also, since we live out of town, our house serves as the “get-away place” in the summertime when they need a break from the full house they’re used to.

The best part, though, is that there are enough years between me and the youngest three that I have clear memories of all of them growing up.  Age and maturity are on my side, so I can look at where they are and how much they’ve all grown.

Brandon, for instance, is in his final few weeks of high school.  At 17, he’s become a young man right in front of me.  He’s all grown up.  I officially have to look up to all of my little brothers.  And my sister isn’t far behind; she’s going to be raiding my closet sooner than I’d like to believe.  I’ve never had to share my shoes before.

Brandon is number three in our line of five.  As the middle child, he’s extremely intelligent, headstrong and independent, and he’s developed quite a skill for making things work out in his favor.  I’m thinking he could consider a career as an entrepreneur.  My brother is not afraid to go after what he wants.

For instance, 16 is not a magical driving age in my parents’ household.  For various reasons, I did not get my permit until spring of my senior year in high school.  I was 18 when I finally passed my driver’s test.  Similarly, Derek was also nearly 18 when he got his.  Brandon, on the other hand, had saved his money for a very long time, and the summer he turned 16, he bought himself a pick-up truck.  Because in order to be a true, Punxsutawney country boy, you have to have a truck.

I never said it was a NEW truck*

With his hard-earned wages, my little brother went out and bought this 1993 Dodge pick-up truck.  1993.  Did I mention that’s the same year this little brother was born?   Moving on…

So Brandon bought this truck, and decided to restore it as the project that’s mandated for all graduating seniors to complete.  He and Derek and Cory and my daddy spend all summer working on this truck (oh!  and my “other brother” Craig helped too!).  They sanded and painted and wired and did all those manly things that apparently have to be done to make a vehicle road-worthy.  Finally, in February, Brandon passed his driver’s test and put the “Red Bomber” on the road.

Finished product*

Finally, this weekend Ryan and I had the pleasure of joining Brandon for a joyride in the truck.   His graduation project presentation is tomorrow.  He’ll discuss all the work that went into his venture, and earn his place in the graduation line, just a few short weeks from now.  As his Big Sister, I’m so proud of him.  I’m proud of what he’s overcome to get to this point, and I’m proud of the young man he’s become.  And I’m especially proud that he’s not overly confident in his mechanical abilities.  We found this in his glove box on Sunday:

"In case I break down," he explained. "I don't want to starve to death!"

Of course, in true country-boy fashion, the interior of the Red Bomber is decked out entirely in camo.

Of course, as just his sister, I maintain that we’re not really related.  I still wholeheartedly believe I was adopted.

Regardless, I’m still proud of all of my siblings, and that’s what matters, right?

Good luck tomorrow, Bubby.  We love you!

xoxo,

~d

*Some photos borrowed from little brother’s Facebook page.  Thanks B!