Goodbye, Summer…until we meet again

It’s been a busy summer.  A trying summer, with two 3 year olds and a 5 year old at home all day every day.  My patience has been tested, and the guilt-meter has been off the charts, knowing every trying day is a day I’ll regret when they all go to school.

We’ve purchased three backpacks.  We’ve attended orientation for one, scheduled the other two, and fulfilled three school supply lists, gone school clothes shopping, and have filled the pantry with lunch and snack-packing supplies.

One week ago, my firstborn baby headed off to his first day of kindergarten.  Four days ago, he turned six.

He was calm, and he was ready for Kindergarten.  Way more ready than his mama.

He offered to get my camera ready for our traditional first-day-of-school shots.  He made his bed, made his own breakfast, brushed his teeth, dressed himself, and kissed us goodbye in the garage.  And then, when the bus came, he turned and gave me one last kiss and said, “I love you, mama,” and got on the bus without looking back.  That moment alone nearly killed me.  Each day since has gotten incrementally easier, but next week the twins are off to preschool and the cord-cutting process will begin all over again.

I’m sad to see summer end.  I’m sad to have to say goodbye to the warm days and sunshine and afternoons in the pool.  I’m sad to see the end of the last summer before all three boys are in school.

But I’m satisfied by what we accomplished this summer.  Our oldest boy is confident in his swimming abilities without his life vest.  The older twin is an independent swimmer with his life vest on.  And the littlest one isn’t far behind.  We played mini golf, spent a few days at the zoo, took a beach trip and visited a new aquarium and a battleship and a cave.  We squeezed in a few date nights, checked out a hot air balloon festival, spent several Sundays watching Ryan race his new go-kart.  We had play dates, took walks, hikes, and bike rides, and spent a lot of time in the pool.  Through all the tough and trying days of being at home with a five year old and two three year olds, we made a lot of memories this summer.

And now that they’re on their way back to school, I’m wrapping it up by fulfilling one last summer goal that had, until today, gone unmet: I’m sitting on the back deck, fresh out of the pool with a cold drink and my laptop.  I’m planning to focus more time on some exciting ideas: a new look for the blog is coming soon.  I have TWO secret projects under wraps, and I’m working on some new design projects that I hope to share on the blog in the coming months.  Stay tuned, friends.  Mama’s got free time on her hands, and it just might be fun…

 

xoxo,

~d

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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

Stretching My Imagination

I’m getting a bit adventurous in the kitchen these days.  This may or may not be such a good thing.

After the produce contributions we received a few weeks ago, and my subsequent attempt to cook everything before it spoiled, I’ve begun inventing recipes of my own.  Totally not my style, but I’m far more likely to experiment when Ryan’s not here.  That made last weekend a great opportunity to try something different while he was away for his brother’s bachelor party.  Friday night was Ladies’ Night.  A gastronome and fellow wine enthusiast friend of mine, Tas, joined me here at the house for some grilled salmon and asparagus, some decent Cabernet, and a chick flick.  The company was fantastic, the movie was good, and the food was ok too.

Saturday, following a bridal shower for my friend Sarah from college, I came home and decided to improvise some version of a pasta primavera.  I had no idea what it was supposed to taste like or what I needed to put in it to begin.  That was just a minor problem.  I’m learning this much, though: when in doubt, do it like they do on Food Network and put some extra virgin olive oil into a pan.  While that was heating, I sliced some zucchini and yellow summer squash.  Tossed it into the oil with some fresh minced garlic.  Snapped a piece of asparagus like Rachael and Giada, to use as a guide to slice off the tough part, then chopped that into bite-sized pieces.  After waiting until the squashes were tender, I added the asparagus and some green beans.  While that cooked, I sprinkled in some (dried) basil, oregano, and thyme.  The taste was still a bit bland, so I added the juice and zest from half a lemon, and stirred.  A bit of salt and it was at least edible.  I think it could use a bit more tweaking, but my compulsion to create a vegetable pasta dish passed quickly once my project was complete.  (True confessions: I crave foods.  Once I cook or bake whatever it is I’m hungry for, I have little interest in tasting.  Right now, there’s a coffee-ice cream pie in my freezer that I’m not really hungry for.)

My next culinary experiment happened this past weekend.  My friend Nicole and I held a joint jewelry party at my house on Saturday.  Since the party was in the middle of the afternoon, we didn’t want to go overboard on food, so we searched for ideas of light and fun appetizers.  The idea came, as usual, from my Taste of Home cookbooks: a Pizza Party!  The difference this time, though, was that I didn’t actually use any of the recipes from the cookbook.  The entire party was a culinary experiment.  And I had 12 female guinea pigs in my house.  Judging from the leftovers (or lack thereof), I’d say the experiment was a success.

I’d like to take full credit as a culinary genius, but alas, I cannot.  The basic idea for the pizza party actually came from my dear friend Tas, who invited me last fall to co-host her wine-tasting party with her.  She had used Indian Naan breads as the crust for the pizza appetizer she made, and topped them with bruschetta and mozzarella cheese and fresh basil to make the most adorable, elegant little pieces of pizza.  Using that as my inspiration, I decided we would make three different varieties of pizzas for the party: one traditional, using pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese; one with a homemade Alfredo sauce, fresh spinach and Portobello mushrooms (on one); and a buffalo chicken pizza.

I took care of the traditional pizza, and the white pizza, even improvising my Alfredo sauce (melted butter and heavy cream, some fresh grated Parmesan cheese, and a pinch of salt).  Then I sautéed some fresh spinach in some EVOO a’la Rachael Ray, spread it over the breads,and topped it with Italian blend cheese.  I also sliced and sautéed some fresh Portobello mushrooms for one pizza.  The traditional pizza was a no-brainer.  And I left Nicole with the Buffalo-wing pizza, since I’m not a fan of spicy.  She grilled some tender-style-cut chicken, basting with a BBQ-Buffalo wing sauce.  Then she spread some Ranch dressing on the breads, mixed with a bit more of the wing sauce, and shredded the chicken to spread on top.  Finally, she topped with some mozzarella and a few crumbles of Feta cheese.  We managed to get six Naan breads in the oven at the same time, baked at 350 for about a half hour before I swapped the pans and put the top-rack pan on the bottom, and vice-versa.  They baked for a bit longer, before we took them out and cut them into pieces, about 9-12 servings per “pizza”.  (*Ed. Note: we baked everything on my two baking stones, rather than regular baking sheets.  Not sure what difference it made, if any, but nobody complained!)

Nicole also made an amazing s’mores pizza for dessert, with melted chocolate, marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs, and topped with slivered almonds.

After consuming six Naan-bread pizzas and nearly two s’mores pizzas, the party wound down, and the fun of playing hostess (not being sarcastic here; my ultimate dream is to own a B&B when I retire from “real” work…when I find a job again!) continued while my brother Brandon and his girlfriend Emily stayed with us.  This was Brandon’s first time driving here on his own, and Emily’s first time to our house.  It was fun to have them, though the time went entirely too quickly as it tends to do when you’re having fun.

So today, it’s back to reality.  The library program is winding down, but we have one last vacation planned before the end of the summer so I have some details to nail down before it’s time to go.  Also, Kevin and Lindsay’s wedding is getting close!  And they trust me enough to have asked me to help with some appetizers, so you can count on hearing from me with more culinary experiments in the next couple of weeks!

Much love friends.

Cheers!

xoxo,

~d

The (Wet) Dog Days

I think summer has finally arrived here.  Finally.  And while some might complain about the unbearable heat and the humidity thick enough to drink, you won’t hear a word from me.  Because I, for one, love this weather.

My hair does not.  But that, my friends, is one concern I’ll overlook through these next couple of months.  Because I love the heat that much.

I love summer.  I love the heat.  I love ice cream stands and mini golf and motorcycle rides and days at the beach and driving with the sunroof open, windows down, and my favorite oldies blasting on the radio.  I love my summer wardrobe, which is far more extensive than my winter one even though winters here last nearly four times as long as summers.  I love my flip-flops and sunglasses and fresh produce and grilling.  I love campfires and cold sangria and margaritas and pina coladas and mojitos.  I. love. summer.

So does Clohe.  She loves the days when I put her outside first thing in the morning and let her flit about the backyard, chasing butterflies and bumblebees and basking in the sun.  She loves lying in the driveway and watching the cars go by and turning her face to absorb the sun’s brilliant rays.  She loves chasing her stick across the yard and teasing Ryan and me with it.  She loves walking at the lake and going swimming.

Unfortunately, this week it’s been much too hot to put her outside unless she needs to go.  She’ll follow me outside with my loads of laundry, watch me pin the clothing to the line from the shade of the trees in the back yard, and then follow me back in.  And when she needs to go outside alone, she goes about her business and comes back to the door, ready to retreat to air-conditioning and cold water and shade.

Tonight, guilt got  the better of me since she’d been stuck in the house all day long.  So I gathered up her leash and her collar and her water-toy my mom got her for Easter and we headed down to the lake.

The only thing not so cute about this photo? The smell. Be glad you're just reading about it, friends,

 

I didn’t have to do much coercing to get her to go into the water.  Throwing her pink toy and shouting, “Go get it!” seemed to suffice.  Of course, once she got in the water, her A.D.D. kicked in and she focused on the ducks swimming nearby and the little girl fishing about fifty yards away from us.  Still, she reluctantly retrieved the toy and brought it back to me.  The second time I attempted this tactic, though, she had no interest in obliging.  Instead, she swam to it, pushed it in my general vicinity with her neck, and continued to swim parallel to the rocks where I balanced precariously, digging my toenails into the moss-coated rocks, holding up my maxi-dress with one hand and reaching for her toy with the other.  I probably would have been farther ahead to forgo the hand holding my dress, since by the time I got my hand on the toy, I had waded in to my knees anyway.  On top of that, since it’s so warm out, the lake water was warm enough that it didn’t really feel all that refreshing to me…or to Clohe, who emerged right behind me, ready to continue our walk.

"Come on, Mom, let's go! There's so much more to see and do!"

Here’s the thing about my girl: she’s a very impatient fast powerful exuberant walker.  When we start off, she gets so excited by the prospect of the people (you know, ones who will pay attention to her, since she’s so obviously neglected at home) and wildlife (tonight: ducks, a chipmunk, a few bunnies and some birds, plus other assorted domesticated canines) that she can’t wait to get going.  When we start off, she seems to forget that she’s supposed to be a “special” dog and she’s supposed to be trained to be on her best behavior at all times.  She’ll strain against her leash to greet said people and wildlife, while I struggle to restrain her and try to hide my face from anyone who might turn me in to ASPCA for choking her in a vain effort to keep the beast under control.  Pet owners whose animals trot along calmly by their heels shoot me disgusted or sometimes pitying looks that my dog “just isn’t there yet,” and “maybe I’ll get her there someday.”  One of my favorites: “Who’s walking who, here?”  At those moments I clench my fingers tightly around the leash to keep all four fingers together and held by my thumb, lest one rebel and wave itself at these haughty show-offs.

The funny thing is, once we hit our halfway point, my little angel gets so pooped out that she becomes one of those pets who trots along calmly by my heels while I shoot disgusted or pitying looks at those whose dogs “just aren’t there yet.”

Maybe they’ll get there someday.

xoxo,

~d

Where to Begin?

I know, I know.

I made my way back here last week on my normal Monday and Wednesday schedule, but somehow Friday slipped away from me.

Perhaps I was realizing that my days with my little brother were quickly slipping away.  Coming home from volunteering today, it made me lonely to see what was missing from the pile in the garage:

Cory’s visit last week kept me busy- catching up on life on the farm, as well as keeping up with the kid’s appetite.  He’s a football player, and if by no other distinguishing factor than his appetite!  It’s so much fun to cook for Cory, since he so thoroughly enjoys almost any food imaginable.  Plus, he has an awesome sense of humor.

Anyway, we wrapped up his visit with a bang…

...or maybe just a flame...

making mountain pies (moon pies?  camper pies?  I’ve heard so many names for them!  Is there proper terminology?)  Regardless, Wednesday night was our first campfire of the year, and it was the perfect night for it.

Thursday was the first day of the local annual motorcycle rally.  Since Cory had never been before, we drove downtown to watch the motorcycle parade roll in.

Our town shuts down several blocks for the bikes to park.  This was a side street, not the street where most of the motorcycles were parked.

The main street that was blocked off was parked four bikes deep- one row per curb and two in the middle of the street

This guy attends every year.  And every year he leaves his “girlfriend” on the motorcycle while he parties.  She sits there patiently waiting for him.  Always in a different outfit.

He brings the same "date" every year, and she's always dressed differently

Meanwhile, I scoped out the best place to find a cold drink.  This looked like a good option.  Sort of like the Adult Ice Cream window, no?

Yes, beer window. What more could one ask for?

Friday we drove to a nearby steam engine show.  Cause you can take the boy out of the country butcha can’t take the country out of the boy.

I know nothing about this piece of machinery, except that it's old. And probably steam-powered.

And we learned how chain saws have evolved in their design over time.  I was genuinely surprised when nobody jumped out at me wearing a bloody hockey mask and carrying one of these things…

Chain saws. Creepy.

Finally, we had to leave to get Cory home.  Much as I loved having him here last week, he was very much missed at home and my parents are glad to have him home again.  The weekend was crazy and busy and fun- and I have enough stories from those two days for a whole other post, so I’ll leave it at this for now and promise you that if you tune in Wednesday, I’ll fill you in on the rest.  How about you?  What festivals and parties does your town celebrate?

Till then,

xoxo,

~d