It’s that time of year! The time of year when, at least around here, everyone’s telling me all about how their grand Spring trips went or gushing about the glamorous places they’ll be heading off to in a couple of months.
I don’t begrudge them– I truly don’t. But, the fact of the matter is, with three children and a pretty strict budget, we can’t go jetting off on a lot of exotic trips. But that’s okay too!
Fortunately, there are lots of wonderful things to do, right in our backyards. Last summer, rather than drop a bundle heading off somewhere, my husband took a week off work and we resolved to have a fantastic staycation without ever leaving our homestate of Connecticut. And you know what? It was awesome!
Here are some great ways to spend your days if you find yourself in Connecticut:
The southeastern part of our state is shoreline and, since the state is the third smallest in the nation, it’s not hard to get there, no matter where you reside. But, even if you don’t feel like making that drive, the odds are very good that lovely, natural water is within reach. We live on the western edge of the state, but are blessed with abundant lakes (some with sandy shores), rivers, streams, and gorgeous waterfalls. Too often, during the grind of daily living, we don’t stop to explore and enjoy this beauty.
Where you live in the state might influence where you choose to go but, regardless, there will be an amusement park within reach. Quassy, Riverside, and Lake Compounce are all easy day trips. Keep your eyes open at local supermarkets and shops for specials and deals. Our children are young, making Quassy an excellent (and more affordable) choice, at this point. Any of these will offer plenty of entertainment to keep the whole family occupied!
Swim with the fishies.
Okay, maybe you won’t swim with them. But you can definitely learn a ton about them! We have two phenomenal aquariums here in Connecticut– one in Norwalk, and one at Mystic Seaport. There are shows to see, animals to investigate, and touch tanks to captivate little ones. Aquariums are such a lovely place to visit for all ages, thanks to the abundance of quiet, dim-lit space. Even babies seem content and calm in these peaceful rooms.
Go hiking or, even better, letterboxing.
Connecticut’s landscape is truly stunning and we have more than our fair share of gorgeous forests and hiking trails. Easily marked, these trails are wonderful to explore as a family. A decent pair of sneakers and a regular old backpack with some basics like water, snacks, and a first aid kit are really all you need to get out there!
Letterboxing takes it a step further by providing a tangible goal in the small box and stamp you seek through clues and hints– this is a wonderful way to involve all generations in the hike and exploration.
Get your urban on.
I’ve been known to point out that Connecticut is NOT “one big city” like some of my midwest and southern friends seem to think. On the contrary, much of the state is full of trees, grass, mountains, water, and wildflowers. Still, if you want to explore some culture in the city, we’ve got that practically at our fingertips, too. New York City is no more than an hour and a half from any point in Connecticut. Boston is scarcely more than three hours, even taking a little traffic into account.
We have our own legitimate cities– like Hartford and New Haven– but you can hit some of the largest metropolises in the entire nation as a day trip. There’s something fun about having breakfast by a babbling brook and lunch in Manhattan!
Connecticut is no newbie state. We have towns that were settled in the 1600s. History is rich around here. Will a museum reveal much of that? Sure! But don’t stop there. Explore small town hall records. Go antiquing. Wander through state forests and ponder all the crumbling stone walls and the property lines they once marked. Study the layout of the towns– we’re not based on grids, here in New England. Our villages were once built up around central greens and that format remains many places. Ever wonder why driving in Boston is such a nightmare? That’s why!
Connecticut is small, but it’s a powerhouse of a state. Opportunities abound and it’s no trouble at all filling many days with fun and exciting activities.
Have you ever been to Connecticut? What was your favorite thing to do here?
[Not from, or anywhere near, Connecticut? Not planning on heading out this way anytime soon? No worries! We have suggestions for ways to have a fabulous stay-cation no matter where you're at. C'mon back tomorrow for the full round-up!]
(I love telling stories. It might be my favorite “style” of writing. It is, without a doubt, the stuff that most of my readers best respond to. This year, I want to tell you some stories about my past– about people who’ve made me who I am today. Some will be happy, some will be sad. Some you will find encouraging, some you will find maddening. But they all have one thing in common. They are all: People Who’ve Made Me Who I Am Today.)
So, today, for my “People Who Made Me Who I Am” post, I’d really like to briefly highlight two friends of mine– one “virtual” (who I am determined to make “IRL” some day) and one already in real life. These two women are both lovely, faithful mothers who model strong values for their children. They both eat well and value good nutrition. And that’s great. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.
What both women REALLY have in common, in my eyes, is a natural ability to reach out and give and help.
M. is in my Moms’ Ministry group with me. She is, in fact, one of the two women who got that particular ministry rolling again within our parish. There are lots of great things about her, but you know what I noticed right away? She has a natural way of lending a hand. When a mom with twins was juggling them her first time there? M. offered to handle one of the bottles. When a mom of three had a crying preschooler and a needy toddler? M. was there with arms to lend. She does the things many of us might eventually think of– but she gets there so much faster. It’s amazing. I admire that so much.
My online friend who inspires the pants off me in this regard? Well, that would be Laura. Sweet Laura has reached out to me at difficult times in so many kind and thoughtful ways. When I mentioned not being able to find tights for G? A package arrived in the mail with not only several cute pairs of tights, but some adorable fleece jammies, too. When I lost our precious fourth child? Laura sent a variety of things to bring comfort. The list goes on and on.
But, perhaps most incredible to me, was this occasion. When A. was hospitalized last December, I called my husband on the day they planned to discharge him. “What’s the plan? What’s going on?” I asked.
“He should be released soon,” he said. “He’s just sitting here looking through the goody bag of stuff from your friend Laura.”
“What?” I questioned. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about!”
Turns out Laura, with her endless and on-top-of-things compassion, had called the hospital and had them put together some fun stuff for our little guy– perfect stuff. You would thought she’d known him personally for years and years. She has a gift for knowing just what to do and doing it right away.
So, other than proving that I have some great friends, what does this have to do with anything? What does this have to with “people making me who I am”?
Well, I’m trying to step out. I’m trying to respond just as quickly as I think of it. When I saw the man in Aldi who needed help? I just did it. I didn’t think about it, or worry that he’d think I was over-stepping, or question anything– I just did it.
When the young man at Dollar Tree mentioned how much liked 3 Muskateers? I just gave him one. I didn’t over-analyze any of it.
I’m trying to learn more and more from these ladies.
When plans with a friend fell through last week due to her being home with two sick children? I made a pizza and took it to her house. Was it natural for me? Yes and no. I thought of it right away. But I’m one who’s inclined to over-think it and worry that I’ll be intruding. I pushed that worry down this time and just went.
And you know what? It was totally the right choice. I think it almost always is. I just need to stop questioning my gut and roll with it.
I’m lucky to have two such fabulous mentors as I learn.
Other people who’ve made me who I am:
Mrs. Johnson, Mone, The Guy in Starbucks, Keith, Mr. Dorfman, Jay, Hannah, Reno, Dr. Y., Jessica G., The Reading Sub, Peach, Asif, Mr. McG., Kim, Herman, Danny
May I vent for just a moment?
So, as you all know, I love our public school. I’ve given you all innumerable reasons why that is so and, as I’ve said, our school rocks. It truly does. We have wonderful teachers and opportunities.
I was not exactly amused when my son brought home the letter from the “health teacher” who visits all the classrooms that detailed what all went in to a healthy breakfast and why it was important. Honestly, I was okay with that part. But I was not thrilled with the “pact” the children were asked to make to improve upon their breakfast choices for the next week.
When they reviewed what A. had had for breakfast that week? The only improvement they could come up with was, instead of the dozen white chocolate chips he’d had tossed in his vanilla coconut oatmeal, he should have chosen chopped apple.
Now. You’ll never hear me suggest that apples aren’t a healthier choice than chocolate chips. But… really??? My issue is that, even according to these guidelines (which are not gospel, for the record), the only improvement that could be found was so very minor. But now, guess what? My child is fretting about it. He’s questioning the dietary choices he’s making and worrying that he “ate something bad for breakfast.”
This isn’t the classroom teacher. I think she only stops in once a month. I don’t think I want to make a huge issue of it. But I can’t deny that I’m a touch annoyed. *grumble grumble vent vent*
That said, for the most part, the nutritional guidance seemed sound, in my opinion, and if it helps improve the quality and nutrient value of some children’s breakfasts, then I guess my annoyance is secondary.
Here’s the plan for this week:
Breakfast (for the littles before 7:30am Mass)–Cheerios, Applesauce
Brunch–Scrambled Eggs w/ Broccoli & Cheese (<– one of my faves!), Onion Bagels
D–Chicken Noodles, Jello, Fruit
B–Vanilla Coconut Oatmeal, Oranges, Milk (with apples? or choc chips? what do you think?)
D–Pasta Salad w/ Chicken & tons of veggies
B–PB Baked Oatmeal, Apples, Milk
D–Smothered Beef & Bean Burritos, Corn
B–PB Baked Oatmeal, Oranges, Milk
D–Tomato Soup, Italian Cheese Bread (date night!)
B–Cinnamon Almond Oatmeal, Juice
D–Turkey Burgers, Carrot Sticks
B–Strawberry Lime Smoothies, Toast
D–Chicken Parm Pizza
B–Pancakes, Bacon, Fruit
D–Hot & Sour Peanut Noodles w/ Broccoli & Chicken
And that’ll take care of it!
What do you think? Should my tall, slim, active eight-year-old be made to feel guilty for a dozen chocolate chips?
If you haven’t heard that bottled salad dressing has some junky stuff in it, you’ve probably been living under a rock. I kid. But, seriously, it seems everywhere I turn, someone is waxing eloquently about the ills and evils of buying a bottle of ranch.
They’re not wrong:
There are some sketchy ingredients in there. Of course, one must also note that, the reason I got that picture? Is because I bought that dressing. Ahem.
I like making my own salad dressings. They’re not hard. They taste great. You know what’s in them. All hunky dory. But… you know what? Sometimes I need a tablespoon or two of ranch dressing and I don’t have any made. So, yes, I reach for that bottle up there. It gets the job done.
Still, it’s not my first choice around here for dumping all over my salad.
Like I said, I make plenty of dressings. They’re really not a huge project. But, if time is really limited or I’ve just plain forgotten to get it done?
This is my new cheat:
Is the ingredient list perfect? Nah. There are plenty of articles out there to tell you why canola oil isn’t a good bet. And I’m not convinced dressings need sugar. But, here’s the simple truth– for a convenience food? This is a pretty decent ingredient list:
[cider vinegar, expeller pressed canola oil, evaporated cane sugar, water, garlic cloves, garlic, sea salt, romano cheese, parmesan cheese, asiago cheese, black pepper, oregano, basil, salt]
So… there you go. Judge away, if you must, but you will almost always find a bottle (or two) of pre-made salad dressing in my arsenal.
If you’re looking for one to keep in yours, with an ingredient list that’s not really cringe-worthy? This is one I’d recommend.
Disclosure: TOTALLY not sponsored or compensated in any way. I love Aldi’s dressings and this line is truly tasty and contains pretty good ingredients. I just wanted you all to know about it.
I remember when my maternity leave ran out. His paternity leave ran out at the same time. (Let’s just pause a moment and acknowledge how phenomenal it was, here in the States, for my husband to get eight weeks of paid leave after the birth of our child.) Okay, moving on…
We had both decided that we wanted me at home with our newborn son, so that wasn’t an issue. It’s always good to be on the same page and all. I kissed him goodbye that first morning back and set about my day with our little guy.
I had no idea how hard it would be.
It’s not even so much that I struggled with the whole “infant care” piece. Our baby was a good eater, a good sleeper, and a generally easy-going kiddo.
I struggled with my own role and purpose.
Days would go by and I’d try to recall what, exactly, I had done. My husband would arrive home from work, take off his tie, and tell me what had happened in the world of banking– my previous workplace, too– that day.
I’d listen to the disaster of loan rates as the feds changed prime. I’d troubleshoot what might have caused an out-of-balance ending in nine (– almost always a transposition.) I’d sympathize when social security day fell on a Friday.
And then I’d tell him about my day.
It got to the point where I felt like I needed to give a detailed account of, well, just what the heck I was doing with all these hours at home.
“Well, I did the baby laundry and changed the sheets. Oh! And I picked up dish soap!” I’d stammer. Even as I said the words, I’d feel almost frantic about how little I was accomplishing. When did this happen? How did I become this woman who got so very little done?
And then, one day, as I hurriedly threw some packaged “rice & sauce” stuff on the stove to concoct a make-shift dinner, I turned to my just-got-home husband with tears in my eyes.
I hadn’t even gotten dinner under-way until well after six that night.
And he took my hands.
“You don’t need to tell me what you do with your days. I know you’re working. You’re taking care of our son– you’re doing the very most important work there is. I might be the one bringing home a check but, I tell everyone… you ARE working.”
He’s never changed that tune.
It’s a wonderful thing to truly respect the work of one another.
We started planning early. And, by we, I really mean she. My sister, bless her heart, handled all kinds of tricky organizing and communications to make it happen.
My brother and his family would be in town over Christmas. It was the perfect time to get a picture of all fifteen of us. The last family photo we’d had done was in the summer of 2008, before G. had joined the group.
The scheduling of the photo session spiralled into a big ol’ challenge. Christmas week is a busy one, with Christmas, Christmas Eve, C’s birthday, my sister’s anniversary, and my sister-in-law’s birthday. This is also Connecticut, so the forecast can become an issue. On top of that, while many of us were off for the whole week, my husband’s and my father’s jobs did not have week-long breaks, so we had to schedule around that.
There were many, many phone calls. Between my sister and I. Between my sister and the photographer. We discussed wardrobe, setting, timing, and more. Finally– finally– things seemed pretty set.
And then we saw the forecast.
Snow was coming and we had to decide what to do. Should we try it? What else could we do? Would we even be able to find a different time everyone could be there? We decided to go for it. Worth a shot, right?
It snowed like mad. The parking lot was slick. If I’m honest with you all, there were some grumbles and complaints heard among the masses. But, at the end of it all, that’s not really what I remember…
I remember the laughter.
I remember cracking up as snow layered thick on our hair. I remember watching my husband and brother-in-law help haul a red couch right out into the forest in the middle of the blinding white. I remember my children laughing big belly laughs when the photographer teased them and encouraged them to goof off, play, and, yes, stand on the couch.
I remember collapsing damply in the car after, my cheeks aching from the smiles I couldn’t control.
I remember all fifteen of us pouring into a tiny pizza place and stuffing our bellies with pizza and, in a couple of our cases, beer.
The kids had their own table and they were an absolute joy to watch. The waitress brought them lollipops and was charmed when mine made sure they had eaten well before accepting one.
I remember singing loudly in the car on the way home while the kids sat in a bit of a food- and cousin-coma.
We could have had the picture done in a studio someplace. It would have no doubt been simpler.
But I’m so glad we didn’t.
Was it perfect? No. But neither are we.
Was it fun? Oh, yes. And we are that.
Family pictures should be about capturing memories. What a joy to make one in the process.
Mothers’ Day just passed. I didn’t say a whole lot about that.
For many, it was a day of joy and celebration. For some, it was a time of excitement and anticipation. There were those who faced bittersweet days of acknowledging blessings while coping with loss. And still others faced pure sadness and feelings of desparation. There’s simply too much there for me to adequately and appropriately address. Mama-hearts, whether there are babes-in-arm or not, can be tender and I want to respect that.
Still, I did enjoy my day. I guess, in the purest sense of the word, it was this one who made me “mama” for the first time:
And, oh, he’s been a wonder to have in my life.
But it’s the next one, his younger sister by less than a year, who really tested me. It is C. who revealed how strong this mama could (and would) be when faced with terror and impending doom. It is C. who forced my hand. It is C. who, in many ways, brought out the best in me. My labor with her is arguably what best displayed my calm in times of turmoil.
I brought her in to the world as Christmas Eve broke in ’05:
Today, I face her:
I am staggered. Humbled. Utterly amazed.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
13 For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
I’ve been foraging! This has been long-time, semi-secret dream of mine. For whatever reason, I’m positively fascinated by the idea of eating weeds and invasives.
This week will include just a couple recipes involving foraged food, but I really do hope to become more knowledgable in that arena. You can find the recipes I’m using and follow my foraging journey on Pinterest, if you’re so inclined.
Here’s the plan for this week:
Breakfast (for the littles before 7:30am Mass)–Frosted Mini-Wheats, Yogurt
Brunch–Migas, Sausages, Mixed Fruit, Corn Bread, Mini Croissants, and an amazing Lemon Cake (<– we went to my sister’s to celebrate Mothers’ Day.)
B–Vanilla Coconut Oatmeal, Milk
D–Shredded Pork, Wilted Garlic Mustard (foraged) w/ Hollandaise Sauce
B–Dandelion (foraged) Corn Bread, Apples, Milk
D–Grilled Turkey & Cheese, Chicken Tortellini Soup
B–Spiced Carrot Bread, Apples, Milk
D–Cheese Pizza, Broccoli (C’s dinner choice for the month.)
B–Cinnamon Almond Oatmeal, Juice
D–Tuna, Rice, Peas, & Cheese Casserole (date night!!!)
B–Blueberry Dandelion (foraged) Honey Smoothies, Toast
D–Taco Cheddar Pizza
B–Eggs, Chicken Apple Sausage, Moo Tubes (G’s breakfast choice for the month!)
So… there you go! We’ve also been enjoying hot dandelion syrup drizzled on ice cream… yum!
What are you most looking forward to eating this week?
There is little that sounds worse to me than spending a rainy Saturday at the mall. Because, seriously, people, everyone in the planet seems to come out, and I believe I may have mentioned how crowded parking lots give me heart palpitations.
Nonetheless, we headed out after our ball game to check out the Microsoft Store and, I have to admit, I was pretty excited to see it. I had had the privilege of chatting with Melinda George, a training and development specialist with Microsoft, about a week prior and I already knew what things I wanted to keep an eye out for.
Continue reading Rainy Day Fun with Microsoft
Hey there! So, I’ve got a bad case of Spring fever and I’m too entranced by sunshine and birdsong to think super clearly. I asked myself, “What on earth do I have to say that’s funny or profound today?” Answer? Nada.
So I decided that I’d just take you along with me as I make our pizza for the night. We’re having Spinach Alfredo (with tomatoes on half.) Sound good? Alrighty, then. Let’s get started.
We’ll start out by making a crust. I used this recipe, because it’s ridiculously easy and I know it by heart. I subbed in a cup of whole wheat flour, which makes it chewy and rustic and lovely.
Here it is:
Looks pretty good, right? And it’s all set for the toppings. No need to pre-bake.
So let’s get to work on those toppings, shall we? First, we’re going to make an alfredo sauce. It’s really easy but, for the love of all that’s good and holy, please promise me you won’t go sticking cream cheese in your alfredo sauce. Listen, I love cream cheese as much as the next gal, but it has NO place in alfredo. ‘k?
Beginning to end, that sauce will take you about twenty minutes, but there’s hardly any active time. You just have to be around to stir it here and there. I folded a load of laundry and supervised some pre-K work while it was going on. It will thicken up a bit as it cools.
As that’s cooling (and possibly separating– just stir it up, no worries,) let’s sautee some spinach. I used what was left in a 9 oz. bag… probably about 7 oz.? I never pull the stems off, because I’m lazy and they don’t bother us. But, if you’re so inclined, get to it. Olive oil, a few cloves of garlic, and medium heat– good to go.
Cook ’til it’s wilted down, but don’t kill it. It doesn’t need to shrink into oblivion.
Now let’s get assembling! On goes the sauce…
Tomatoes, on half…
And the mozz.
Into the fridge for now and I’ll bake that at 425 for 10-12 minutes tonight for our Pizza & a Movie Night. Can’t wait!
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup whole milk (or cream or half & half, if you have it on hand)
- 1 1/4 cups fresh parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 5-9 oz. fresh spinach, depending on preference
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced or smashed
- 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese**
1. Prepare dough for crust and pat on prepared pizza pan.
2. Heat milk (cream) and butter in sauce pan over medium heat until butter is fully melted. Simmer for six minutes. Remove from heat and stir in salt, pepper, and parmesan. Set aside to cool a bit.
3. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until just barely browning, about 3 minutes. Add spinach in batches and cook down until wilted. Remove from heat.
4. Spread a thin layer of sauce on crust. Scatter cooked spinach over the surface. Add any other desired toppings– I put chopped grape tomatoes on half. Top with mozzarella cheese.
5. Bake at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
*This recipe makes more sauce than you need. You can either quarter/halve the recipe or use it for something else; we’re having fettucine alfredo tomorrow night.
**As much as I love cheese, I also love to taste the sauce and toppings on pizza. I really only use 1 1/2 cups of mozz to cover my 16″ pizza.