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California Central Coast Tour

Rte 1 CaliforniaLast week I trekked out to California for the annual BlogHer conference which was held in San Jose. I’ve never visited that part of California before, so I flew in a little early to get in some touring. Six and a half hours of flight time warrants staying a bit to see the sights.

Rte 1 CaliforniaI took the earliest flight out of Boston which got me into San Francisco early enough to have a full day of exploring that first day. Route 1 was the obvious road trip of choice because it’s so scenic. Something that I will certainly convince you of after you see the following pictures.

Route 1 winds all the way down the coast, straight through towns like Santa Cruz, Monterey and Carmel which are all bucket list towns to visit on my list. To see them all in one fell swoop was pretty awesome. Even if I did it at a breakneck pace.

Besides wonderful vistas of the ocean crashing on rocks beneath jagged cliffs, there were other special things to find on route 1. Let me show you…

Roadside Produce Stand Rte 1 CaliforniaI’ve always heard my California friends go on and on about their easy access to good produce. Once I started driving on route 1, I saw how lucky they are! Roadside stands of gorgeous produce were dotted up and down the coastal route. And in between the stands were miles of farmland.

Oh the meals I could make with the produce I saw. Just the peppers alone were enough to make me look at real estate while I was there. But when I saw how much real estate costs out there, I quickly realized I could buy the same size house out here and shop at Whole Foods for the rest of my life and still save money.

The real estate out there is rather spendy.

California Avocados Rte 1 Produce StandOne roadside produce sign had me begging my girlfriend to pull the car over. Seven avocados for a buck. That’s something to pull over for. Until I saw the size of the avocados. You’d have to buy at least four to equal one normal size avocado I buy here in Massachusetts. They were still adorable though!

California Artichokes Rte 1 Produce Stand CaliforniaBut the artichokes that were seven for a dollar? That is an incredible bargain. That was one thing that stuck out to me while we passed the farmland. The fields of artichokes were very interesting to see. You couldn’t help but recognize them because the artichokes stuck straight out into the sky like poles. Super fascinating to see!

Larvets SnackThe roadside stands had all kinds of fantastical offerings. Large bags of local almonds for only $5.99/lb. All kinds of dehydrated fruits and veggies. And snacks like larvets which I wasn’t brave enough to try. I am curious as to what they taste like but I’ll leave that to someone more adventurous to describe.

Boardwalk Santa Cruz CaliforniaThe first town on our agenda was Santa Cruz. And I have to tell you, I was rather smitten with it. The boardwalk is absolutely charming and full of rides I’d actually let my kids enjoy. I know that sounds odd, but I have to tell you that there are few boardwalks that I deem safe for my kids to ride the rides. I find most to be too carnival like. As in rickety.

That was not the case for the Santa Cruz boardwalk. All of the rides looked to be very well cared for and had a great mix of big kid and little kid rides. I could bring all of my kids here and there would be plenty for them to do. From the twenty year old (I can’t believe I just typed that) down to the ten year old, the Santa Cruz boardwalk would have captivated them all.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Boardwalk TreatsBesides an abundance of rides, the boardwalk offered up lots of delicious foods. All the fried things that you could possibly imagine and also an array of fresh fruits which was rather nice to see. And if carnival food isn’t your type of thing (what’s wrong with you?), there were tons of restaurants offering up local seafood that looked downright delectable. You won’t go hungry in Santa Cruz.

Another highlight of my stop in Santa Cruz was the sighting of a pod of Orcas. I have to tell you, my entire life I’ve waited to see this. And while they were off in the distance a bit, there was no mistaking the black whales with the white markings. To see them breaching and spouting water into the air is something I won’t soon forget.

And it’s also worth mentioning that the seals that hang out along all of the rocks that jut out along the California coast are quite the spectacle. I never realized how large or how loud they are. They are a mouthy bunch.

Monterey CaliforniaThe next stop on our coastal adventure was Monterey. Another charming coastal town with breathtaking views. Monterey is the kind of town that you need to dedicate a day towards visiting. There are so many specialty shops and restaurants to visit. I highly suggest having a glass of wine in one establishment, an appetizer at the next, some shopping in the middle and then rinse and repeat that schedule for your entire day. And bring a designated driver with you.

Besides eclectic shopping and indulgent eating, there are many activities for those who are interested in getting physical. Kayaks, bikes and paddle board rentals were available and there were also trails for walking. With the sunny skies and cool ocean breezes, this would be the perfect place to explore the natural wonders of California.

And if seeing whales and seals up close appeals to you, this is the place to rent a kayak. I saw so many people getting up close views of the whales and seals. I was kicking myself for not bringing along my bathing suit!

Candy Shop MontereyWhenever I travel, I buy a little something for my kids like most parents do. My girls especially loved the Taffy Town taffy I bought in Monterey. Salt water taffy is available just about everywhere you look up and down the coast, but Taffy Town is our favorite. Yummy.

The Sardine FactoryOne of my favorite meals while visiting Monterey was at the Sardine Factory. A not to be missed restaurant located in historic Cannery Row, the Sardine Factory is one of those restaurants that you visit for special occasions. While not the kind of place I’d bring all four of my kids because my bill would be equal to my car payment (entrees range in price from $26 to $58), it is well worth every penny for a special occasion like an anniversary or a birthday.

Calamari and The Sardine Factory

Calamari is one of my favorite appetizers and the Sardine Factory’s calamari did not disappoint. Local calamari fried up tender and crisp, it was arguably the best calamari I’ve ever had. And it was hard to settle on the calamari as my choice of appetizer because everything on the appetizer menu looked appealing. Local seafood is a highlight of this restaurant. Next time I go I will definitely try the crab filled oysters Rockefeller. I had a hard time deciding between those two!

The Sardine Factory MontereyFor my entree, I chose the salmon with lump meat crab and a beurre blanc sauce. A stellar choice that was. Once again, one of the best salmon dishes of my life. Well worth every calorie in the beurre blanc. I’m pretty sure the asparagus was just on the plate to make me feel a little better about the sauce and the calamari calorie carnage.

17 Mile DriveFrom Monterey my journey took me further south to Carmel By The Sea via 17 Mile Drive. Now, let me tell you something about 17 Mile Drive. You have to pay a $10 toll to explore it. If you happen to find yourself in the area, pay it. I know that a $10 toll sounds like a lot for 17 miles, but I promise you that you will NOT regret it.

I’ve taken some scenic drives in my lifetime, but really, this was like nothing I’ve seen before. A long and winding route, 17 Mile Drive has an unforgettable and unique view seemingly around every bend in the road. Dotted with mansions and to-die-for beaches, 17 Mile Drive is another experience that you could budget an entire day towards. Pack a picnic lunch, a beach blanket and your binoculars because there is just so much to see and experience during this drive.

Once again, the marine life is not to be missed. Seals, otters, birds and even whales can be seen from shore. Definitely budget some time here. And don’t forget the binoculars.

Check out the views…

17 Mile Drive Pebble Beach

17 mile drive pebble beach

Lone Cypress 17 Mile Drive

Alexander Smith VineyardMy last stop on my adventure was Carmel By The Sea. Certainly the most spendy town of the towns I toured, Carmel is full of enchanting high end shops that reminded me of what you’d find in Aspen or Vail. Art galleries, jewelers, handcraft merchants and countless fine restaurants lined the picturesque streets of Carmel.

Paraiso Winery Tasting Room Carmel

And while I didn’t do any shopping in this town, I did stop at the most precious wine tasting at the Paraiso Vineyards tasting room where I sampled and completely enjoyed a glass of Alexander-Smith Pinot Noir which was heavenly with notes of apple, black cherry and a hint of floral. I’m not sure if it was the Alice in Wonderlandesque setting or if it was purely the wine, regardless, it was unforgettable.

Dametra in Carmel CaliforniaWhile there are countless very pricey restaurants in Carmel, I did happen upon a relatively affordable gem. Dametra Cafe is a restaurant that I highly recommend. An exquisitely charming restaurant serving up Mediterranean cuisine, Dametra not only offers authentic Mediterranean dishes, it also delivers a complete experience with live music and dancing. While many places that offer this kind of combo come off as touristy tacky, Dametra’s spontaneous musical outbursts felt like a true celebration.

Dametra Carmel CaliforniaI was trying to keep it light when I placed my order of a roasted vegetable salad with grilled shrimp, but I never expected my salad to be so grand. A salad is usually sort of ho-hum, but not this time. If all salads looked like this, the world would be a better place.

Dametra has all kinds of enticing menu items. If I ever get back, I will not leave without trying the hummus or the lamb shank. I saw other patrons enjoying those dishes which made me want to skip the conference and come back the next day. Which I did not.

Sunset Monterey

And here is a view of the sun setting on the California coast. A natural way to end this post if there ever was one.

While this trip was incredible, it would’ve been so much better with my kids. Someday I plan to bring them to see the same sights. Certainly this kind of trip has all kinds of special experiences for adults, but at the same time there’s just so much that’s family friendly. From whale watching to kayaking and boardwalk rides to mountain hiking, with countless other activities in between, the California coast offers something for every member of the family!

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Traveling Smart with Bridgestone Tires

Melanie and Kids in CarYou know, as a mom of four, I have to come up with some pretty creative ways to keep the kids entertained over the summertime. During the early weeks of summer it was easy enough. All of the kids were thankful for those first days home from school once summer vacation started.But after the novelty wore off, the “I’m bored” complaints set in. That’s when I started to make plans that included day trips to area attractions that would captivate the kids’ minds and silence the “I’m bored” comments that were driving me mad.

Luckily for me, my family is rather portable. The kids love an adventure and I’m happy to give them one. But even though I was more than ready for a summer adventure, my car was not. I blush to admit it, but car care is not my strong suit. I know precious little about tire pressure or tire maintenance which is rather crucial for safe summer travel.

So when Bridgestone asked if I would be an ambassador at this year’s BlogHer conference, it was a no brainer. Of course I want to learn more about keeping my family safe while on the road. Isn’t that what I’m here for?

And when I heard that they wanted me to take part in their DriveGuard No Pressure Zone that they are hosting at BlogHer this year, I was excited to learn more about the fuss-free care tips from the team at Firestone Complete Auto Care.

Not to mention that they invited me to take part in a drive and learn opportunity that will have me driving around a cones course in a car with a flat tire to learn how the DriveGuard tire line from Bridgestone can protect my family. Did you know that DriveGuard tires allow you to travel up to 50 miles at up to 50 mph if a puncture or loss a pressure were to occur*? I didn’t either. I’m going to learn all about that at BlogHer this week!

Cape CodWith all of the travel that I write about here on this blog, it makes sense that I learn more about tire safety. So I’m pretty excited that I will have the opportunity next week to learn more about tire care and safety which of course I will share with all of you!

Shannon on BeachEven though I still have a lot to learn, I have learned a few things over the years. Here are some tips that have helped me make traveling with kids safe and less stressful:

  • Snacks! Be sure to pack foods and drinks that will not destroy the interior of your vehicle. Trail mix, real fruit leathers, granola and clear juices/water are a few examples of foods I pack for road trips that almost guarantee that I won’t spend too much of my time cleaning my car after the fact. Have you ever given your kids yogurt in the backseat? I wouldn’t advise it.
  • Pack a first aid kit. I can’t tell you how many times my kids have gotten blisters while traveling. A first aid kit goes a long way in making a day trip more enjoyable. A fresh stock of bandages and antiseptic sure beats stuffing tissues into your kid’s shoes. Been there. Done that. It doesn’t work.
  • Have baby wipes on hand. Even if your kids are teens or tweens, baby wipes in the back of your car can be a lifesaver. I always keep a tub handy because you never can tell when you might have a llama or goat licking kibble off of your kid’s hands. No joke. We’ve left a farm only to search for the nearest restroom to wash off llama spit. I wish I was kidding.
  • Keep a bag of change handy. I can’t tell you how many tickets I’ve gotten nailed for not paying parking meters when I should’ve. Now I always keep a baggie of change in my vehicle. Sure beats paying a $25 fine.
  • Toilet paper. Keep a roll in the trunk. I know this sounds crazy, but sometimes kids just have to go. And when kids have got to go, they mean they had to go ten minutes ago. Keeping a roll handy means that you are prepared no matter when nature calls. Just keep it legal.

Traveling with littles is never dull. The most important part is keeping it safe. I’ll be reporting more about my experiences at BlogHer with Bridgestone, but until then you can feel free to follow them on Twitter @BridgestoneTires and @FirestoneAuto. And you can visit them on their Facebook page for more info and tips!

* Repairability of DriveGuard tires depends on the tire damage, amount of pressure loss and vehicle operating conditions. Contact a Bridgestone retailer for details.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Bridgestone DriveGuard tires. All opinions are my own.

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A Pair of Jeans

Melanie JeansI have a pair of jeans. Actually, I’ve been in possession of  them for a decade. These jeans are tattered. Eased over hips that have born four children but the denim does not acknowledge that. It does what fabric is required to do. It covers. It conceals what I command it to hide. My imperfections. My fears. But at the same time it accentuates what I require it to.

The jagged edges of my hip bones. The bones that brought forth five children although only four survived. Those bones are solid . They speak of strength. Of fortitude. They jut out in defiance.  Challenging fate to bring what it will. But at the same time they swing softly to the music. Acknowledging that they too can be seduced in moments of weakness.

The denim also hides the scars of child abuse. The wounds etched deeply into the undercarriage of my youth. Scars that only the closest to me understand.

Fabric is forgiving that way, is it not? What is the purpose of fabric, exactly? Is it not to accentuate? To conceal our weaknesses?

And then there is strength. My legs. I recognize that my legs have been an asset. While some women have been gifted with long flowing locks, slim cinched waists and petite upper bodies, I have been given the power to stand tall. On slender but strong limbs that hold me steady. To weather whatever is laid before me. Maybe that is why I rarely cover them?

The strength to forge forward through hard times. A living testimony to others that they too can navigate through this perilous journey called life.

Melanie Jeans

Over the years these jeans have witnessed more than they should’ve. The death of a baby. The total annihilation of its owners bones. A broken heart. A shattered spirit.

But yet the the fabric still fits. Worn in places, but still whole. Soft to the touch but still strong enough to resist harm.

A garment that not only clothes, but protects. Fabric that not only conceals, but magnifies the strength of a woman. And even though there are holes, places where the fabric has worn perilously thin, the woman still prevails.

When this pair of jeans was purchased, they were stiff. Creased at the knees and dyed a deep indigo blue. Completely unaware of what was to come. But with time they were weathered. Softened by stress, heat and water. Washed away to a soft baby blue.

But today as I pack things away, as I contemplate what stays and what should go, I can’t help but hold onto these jeans. Even though they are threadbare. Even though the hems are frayed and unraveling…

These jeans are as much a part of me as my beating heart. A testimony to the journey I have traveled. A testament to the fact that even though life can be harsh, I am softened by the pounding waves that crash upon the rocks of my foundation.

So as I decide what to keep or what to giveaway of the garments of my life, these stay. If nothing more than as a reminder of how far I’ve come. And to remind me that I am no better than a piece of cotton. Woven the same as a garment of denim. And that I should be as lucky to be worn away to a soft baby blue while I protect and cover those I am here to serve for as long as they will have me.

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Sailfest New London, CT

New London CT SailfestThe past week has been a whirlwind of activity. I won’t even bore you with the details because I’m certain that it’s no different than your own life. Busy.

But amidst the chaos that is my life, I did have a bit of a respite this week. My dear friend Linda invited me to her home in Connecticut to attend Sailfest. Held in Southeastern Connecticut, Sailfest is a three day festival with all kinds of fun activities. My kids enjoyed seeing the Tall Ships, eating their weight in kettle corn and lobster rolls, watching spectacular fireworks and swimming until their fingers and toes pruned up.

Way too much fun in seventy-two hours. So much fun that I have precious little energy to do anything other than post pictures. Here’s my lazy girl recap of our time. I’ll write a meatier post when I recover…
Linda and Girls

Girls and Bulldog

Melanie's Wine Glass

Linda and Shannon

Skipper's Restaurant CT

Sailfest New London CT

Sailfest The Virginia

Sailfest CT

Moonlight New London

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Cherry Picking at Smolak Farms

Smolak FarmsJuly 4th was a total washout here. So much rain. We are talking epic rain that just wouldn’t stop. To say that the kids were disappointed would be a major understatement. Every year we go all out for the 4th. A big barbecue, the town parade and of course, the fireworks. None of that happened this year which made for a house full of glum faces.

But the next day a bird flew over our house and dropped off an olive branch, the sun came out and angels sang. Or it happened in my mind. Regardless, it was a gorgeous 5th of July and that was to be celebrated.

And what better way to celebrate than cherry picking? After our last field trip to pick strawberries, the kids were sold on this whole picking fruit and making jam thing. Or I should say that the kids are completely sold on mom making jam and then baking a fresh loaf of bread to go with said jam. Yes, that would be more accurate.

Smolak FarmsLuckily I have been bitten by the canning bug, so making jam is more of a joy than a chore. I actually find the whole thing rather zen-like. Cut, mash, cook, can. Cut, mash, cook, can. It’s a process that allows me to completely wipe my mind of everything other than the task at hand. It’s like fruit yoga.

When I heard that my favorite farm, Smolak Farms, had ripe cherries to pick, I knew that this would be the perfect outing. Fresh air, a walk in the country, some good old fashioned physical labor and then a stop for ice cream. There should always be a stop for ice cream.

Smolak FarmsJuly 5th was actually opening day for cherry picking. And I am SO glad that we went on the first day. It seemed to me that we had to search quite a bit to find trees that had good fruit. I’m not sure what happened this year, but the cherries were looking a little like they had been through some kind of trauma. I’m no farmer, but I’m taking a guess that this isn’t normal. I think if we had waited another day or two, we might not have enjoyed the success we had on opening day.

Smolak FarmsA lot of the choice fruit was way up high. This delighted my small folk as it necessitated that they climb ladders in order to be part of the picking. My mama heart was beating extra fast while they were calm as cucumbers. Kids are so fearless.

Smolak Farms

Smolak FarmsCan I tell you how much I love that Michael enjoys going on these produce picking expeditions? Now that he’s almost an adult, there are fewer times that we do things together. But this he loves to do and I appreciate his enthusiasm. Hopefully he’s as enthusiastic when we go blueberry picking. He doesn’t know yet that I want sixteen pounds of the fruit. That’s a lot of picking.

Smolak FarmsAfter we were finished cherry picking, we went over to the farm store to replenish my honey jar. I bought a five pound jug last fall and just recently ran out. I much prefer local honey over the grocery store stuff. I never fully appreciated the difference between store bought and local honey until I tried it. They are worlds apart. Local is better. So much flavor and I swear that if sunshine had a taste, this honey would be it.

Also, Smolak Farms offers cider donuts throughout the summer. So of course I needed to bring some home to go with my Sunday coffee. Sort of goes without saying.

English Muffin Bread and JamUpon arriving home, I did indeed process the cherries into jam. Once again, I used the freezer jam method. It’s just so darn easy. I also baked up a loaf of English muffin bread because if I already spent the time making jam, why not bake homemade bread too? I especially love that this recipe is so simple to make and reliably good.

English Muffin Bread and JamDoesn’t that look good? For those of you who aren’t canners or bakers, both of these recipes are ridiculously simple. Anyone can do it. And now that I have this down, I feel confident enough to start water bath canning. I’ll be making salsa in the coming weeks. Homemade salsa in the dead of winter might help this anti-winter girl survive. It’s worth a shot at least.

The next fruit picking expedition will be Maine blueberries. You know, the tiny sweet ones? We’ll be trekking it up north to pick them, but it will be totally worth it. I have visions of blueberry syrup dancing in my head.

How about you? Are you canning this week? Got any favorite recipes to share?

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Sharing the Journey

Cambridge Wall ArtOver the last four months my soul has been restless. In the beginning I attributed this to the new job. The trying to find my family’s new normal. After staying home with the kids for twenty years, that would go without saying. A new routine would plunge the entire family into a state of flux.

And it did for a time. It was hard. But I will hand it to my family, they supported me. Even though they went from weekday meals of slow cooked roasts and fresh baked breads, to chicken nuggets and store bought coleslaw, they accepted the new normal with very few complaints.

I have good kinfolk.

But then again, I raised those kinfolk. I poured myself and my vision into these people who I’ve nurtured since they were birthed into this world. So it would stand to reason that my children would trust my intuition. That they would understand that everything I did was for their best interest. Even if that wasn’t true. Children are forgiving that way because there is love. A love that I bathed them in for their entire lives.

But even love has its limits. Love can end if you don’t feed it. If you don’t tend to it. And it took losing my job as I knew it for me to recognize that. Not that I’m entirely accepting of that reality, mind you. But I do appreciate that there is a time and place for everything and that my energies right now need to be centered on the home.

My home is in transition and this is where I need to be. Accessible. Making those home cooked meals. Trying to make sense of the change that has swept over our household. Something that’s very hard to do when you are working two hours away from home.

And then there’s you. The collective you that have stuck by me through many a trial. When I took my new job, I didn’t realize all that I was sacrificing. Sure, I knew that the transition to a “real job” would be hard on the kids, but I didn’t factor in how much I would miss sharing my life with you. After doing that for six years, I sort of took it for granted.

You would still be here for me, right?

But no, that’s not what happened. My traffic started to slip. The comments on this site have dwindled. And after a time I realized how much I missed our interaction. You all gave me a reason to write. A reason to share my stories. Be it something trivial like what I was shopping for that day, to asking you for support when my daughter was mercilessly bullied.

You were there for me.

And I enjoyed sharing my life with you. A series of stories that made sense to some of you, and maybe pure entertainment for the rest, but that doesn’t really matter. You were part of the experience, even if just passively.

Manicured NailsBlogging is special that way. I can share my daughter’s latest manicure one day and the next I can share my anxiety over not knowing whether or not I have ovarian cancer. Where else can you do that? Sure, you can talk to your family about almost anything, but they aren’t going to call you out when you are acting crazy.

You? You’ll call me out when I’m acting nuts. Why? Because this in the internet. You hear my voice through the words that I share here, but you don’t know me in real life. And I’m sort of thankful for that because maybe you wouldn’t care for me as much if you knew the living breathing me? Or maybe you would love me more.

Man with SnakeBut that doesn’t really matter, because I am who I am and I most likely won’t ever change. I will always be a storyweaver. A person who shares whatever life has to offer. Luckily for me, I see strange and wondrous things every day of my life.

Leela MorningBeing a mother of four, I have ample chance to experience trials and tribulations that you are familiar with. And at the same time I am gifted with many joyous moments that come with the territory of motherhood.

And that, my sweet, is the blessing of the internet. To know that you aren’t alone in all of this. That we are in this together. Hopefully through my pictures and stories you will understand that while life can be vexing, it’s still worth living. And trust me, there have been many times in my life when I’ve questioned that.

Shannon HoopingBut my job as a blogger is to show you all sides. My fears. My dreams. The challenges, but also the vibrant parts too.

And my reality is that there’s a lot of good stuff in my life. And there will be much more to come. Sure, sometimes my dreams don’t come true. Sometimes the desires of my heart go unanswered, unfulfilled. But what I have to accept is that the desires of my heart might not actually be the best for my soul. And even though I think I know what’s best for me, I might be wrong.

Because believe it or not, sometimes I’m wrong. Shocking, even to myself.

Words of EncouragementI guess the point of this post is that there is no point. Just like you, I’m trying to figure out life. Sharing my journey with you is so much a part of my being that I feel like I lost a limb when I left you for the job.

But I’m back now. And I hope that you forgive me for losing my focus. I know that I have a bit of work to do to win back my spot in your daily blog reading, but I would be awfully thankful if you gave me the chance to share my life with you again.

Because life without you in it has been rather gray.

Awhile ago I saw the quote you see above. I originally saved it to remind myself how important it was for me to keep writing.

But when I uploaded that image this evening, the last quote caught my attention. Don’t let defeat discourage you. Maybe that’s what I was supposed to see to begin with?


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A Day at Quonset View Farm, Rhode Island

StrawberriesAs much as I love to cook, I’m not much into canning. There’s something about potentially poisoning my family by not doing the process correctly that sort of worries me. Call me overprotective. I don’t want to give my kids botulism.

So I’ve pretty much avoided canning over the years. And then recently I read about freezer jam. A much easier process that does not require that you boil your entire kitchen. You make the jam, place it into sterilized jars (ok, so there is some boiling) and toss it into the freezer where it will stay happy for up to a year. That seemed easy enough to me, so I found a somewhat local strawberry farm in Rhode Island and off we went!

Leela Picking StrawberriesQuonset View Farm is located super close to Newport, Rhode Island. I thought this would be the perfect activity that would allow us some fruit picking time and also time to check out quaint downtown Newport. You know it’s not often that we get to see boats, living on Plymouth Harbor and all, ahem.

Ok, so we have a crap ton of boats around here. However, they aren’t Newport boats and my kids are already crying summer boredom, which is really hard to hear if you crank the tunes up on the car radio for the hour long drive that it takes to get to Newport. And sometimes the kids actually fall asleep which stops that whole complaining thing.

While the kids weren’t enthused by the drive, they were pretty excited when they saw the farm upon exiting the vehicle. It’s a really beautiful farm perched on a hill and the views are rather lovely. We came on a day that was bright and sunny but not too hot. We practically had the place to ourselves which made it all the more enjoyable.

Shannon and Linda Picking StrawberriesIt was an extra special day because we got to pick strawberries with my girlfriend Linda who lives in Connecticut. This was the perfect opportunity for us to see each other as it takes each of us about an hour to get to Newport.

Michael Picking StrawberriesWe spent about an hour picking and with the help of the kids, we gathered two flats (I think that’s what they are called) of strawberries. If I knew then how long it was going to take to preserve that many berries, I might not have encouraged the kids to pick so many.

But they were having so much fun and Michael who is completely camera shy actually smiled for the camera. That alone was worth the eight hours of canning I did the next day. And the hours of scrubbing strawberry juice stains off of my entire kitchen. Not that I’m complaining. Much.

Chocolate Covered StrawberriesOf course we had some berry casualties before they even had the chance to become jam. We felt compelled to eat about two pounds of them dipped in chocolate.

Girls Dipping StrawberriesThere’s something very right about strawberries and chocolate. Don’t you think? Not to mention that it’s a real easy way to have kids help in the kitchen. Except I had to keep reminding the girls to not lick their fingers as they dipped. Not that they listened.

Chocolate Covered StrawberriesAnd then I started dipping strawberries too and got called out for licking my own fingers. Hot melty Ghiradelli chocolate is very hard to resist. Especially when the berries are ripe bright berries, not those anemic ones from the grocery store with no flavor.

Strawberry Freezer JamEven though we slammed back more chocolate covered strawberries than we should’ve, I still had a ridiculous amount of berries left for jam. Enough for nine batches. We will be eating strawberry jam straight through winter. It’s a really good thing that we like strawberry jam.

Now I have my sights set on Maine blueberries. Once those puppies are in season, Mama is going to be busy making blueberry syrup and jam. This time around however, I will buy four flats because I actually adore blueberries while I moderately like strawberries. Even though I know that it will take me two days to can it all.

How about you? Do you can? Does the process scare you at all? Have you tried freezer jam? Talk to me. I’m feeling chatty.

This is not a sponsored post. I spent $38 on berries in order to make jam that would’ve probably cost me about $10 if I had bought Smuckers on sale at the grocery store. That said, it was so much FUN and I’d totally do it again. But next time I will line my kitchen with newspaper first.

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Inspiration #P&Geveryday #Sponsored

Girls Making JamAs a highly wired, plugged in digital mom, I appreciate when brands have useful websites that actually teach me something. Plenty of companies have websites that showcase their products or services, but not all inspire me to try new things or get me to print out creative ideas to share with my kids. Printer ink is not cheap, ya know?

But recently I was introduced to P&Geveryday and after cruising around the site, I did find some very useful information. For example, this past week the kids and I went strawberry picking and I was looking for a jam recipe. Nothing complicated and nothing that required that I become a canning expert overnight.

Something simple that the kids and I could make together without too much stress or mess. Have you heard of freezer jam? It’s quite a bit simpler than the traditional canning method and P&Geveryday has a delicious recipe that we tested out. Easy and yummy. A great combo.

Michael Making GuacamoleWe also love avocados, so when I saw this recipe for Ben Ford’s Avocado Tartine, I knew we had to give it a whirl. It didn’t seem all that complicated and sounded very fresh. Perfect for a hot summer evening. Also something that my son could make while I sipped a glass of wine. No cook recipes keep me from hyperventilating when my kids help in the kitchen. I tend to stress when they turn the stove on.

Besides family friendly recipes, you can also learn about beauty tips, read product reviews, print coupons and get samples from a brand that you know and trust. P&Geveryday states that their goal is to help you make each day a little easier and to inspire you to try new things by empowering you to unlock the extraordinary potential in everyday life.

Like I said, it’s nice when a company has useful and interesting information to share on their website. It’s also helpful that the site is organized in a user friendly format which helps you find exactly what you are looking for.

I also appreciate the many tips I get from P&Geveryday which help me better use the P&G products I already purchase. Honestly, I so appreciated reading about properly using the CoverGirl products that line my bathroom countertop. The older I get, the more help I need in that area.

If you cruise around the P&Geveryday site and visit their Facebook page, you just might get a little help and inspiration too!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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Nothing Stays the Same

Downtown BostonI lost my job. Ok, I didn’t totally lose my job, it’s just changed. Have I ever told you that I don’t love change? I really don’t, but it’s been the theme of my life for as many years as I can remember as of late.

I’m no longer working in the city. Instead, I am working for my company from home as a contractor. When I first heard the news I was devastated. I can’t even describe to you how I felt when I went into work each morning.

Sure, the two hour commute each way sucked pretty hard and I’m fairly certain that I used far too many curse words with inconsiderate drivers and maybe my blood pressure was elevated four hours each day while commuting, but it was worth it.

Let’s talk about the superficial stuff first. God did I love swiping my company keycard on the turnstile that would let me into the elevators which took me up to a very Sex in the City style office. That silly card made me feel like I was part of a corporate culture. A culture that I craved so much after working from home for so many years. I daresay that it made me feel like a grownup. Silly, right? But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it.

And then there was the working with a team thing. The meetings, the conference calls, the rah rah let’s go team stuff. So what if the team was young enough to be my own children? Sure, I couldn’t be part of their after hour cocktail reindeer games, but it was fun to listen to them chat about it all.

Melanie Running

Nevermind that I tried to keep up with them in a 5K road race my last week of work and nearly lost my lungs and uterus in front of Fenway Park as we ran past it. Just doing something with the herd made me feel like part of the team. Even if I wasn’t, really.

And that isn’t even entirely true as I did make some friends in the office. Friends that made leaving the office so very hard to do. I suck at saying goodbye. Letting go is such a struggle.

Especially considering how much I actually enjoyed my work. What I do is very specialized. You can’t do what I do if you don’t understand digital content creation and the workings of social media. Honestly, to do what I do you need to be boobs deep in the blogging world, which as you know I am.

Working with bloggers and hooking them up with paid opportunities is something that I love to do. Something that I will continue doing because it’s what I know and love. I just sort of wanted to do that in an office. Not on my couch.

I know it doesn’t make an ounce of sense, but I feel less validated working from home. Like I’m not really working if I’m wearing my jammies while doing it. I of course know that this is crap.

The upside to all of this is that I can finally get back to blogging as I used to. A Beautiful Bite will no longer be neglected. But most importantly, I’ll be home for my kids as I won’t be looking for a city job again anytime soon.

Change is so hard, isn’t it? While I’m very sad about the recent turn of events, I know that everything happens for a reason. Even if I don’t know what that reason is today. I don’t need to. And maybe knowing the reason for the change would be a bad thing. Or maybe not. I don’t know what to think anymore, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a different thing.

I need to start letting go. That much is clear. It just scares the crap out of me to trust that it will all work out in the end. Because my nature is to control. And clearly life is showing me that sometimes things are out of my control and that I have to let it go.

So for the time being, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to let fate do what it will. I no longer want to fight it. I’m going to allow life’s waves to crash over me for awhile. And hopefully in the end it will wash away my tears and help me see clearly again.

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Ronald McDonald House Love #RMHC

Ronald McDonald House NYC Gustavinos 2014For the past two weeks I’ve been quite busy in my role as an ambassador for Ronald McDonald House Charities. Between activities in both NYC and Boston, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time working with a charity that has rooted deeply within my heart. So I thought today would be a good time to catch you up on what’s been going on in that area of my life.

As I mentioned in a recent post, Team Ronald Heroes hosted a fundraiser to support the NYC Ronald McDonald House which was held at Gustavino’s, a gorgeous venue built right into the Queensboro Bridge in Manhattan. NYC is only a four hour train ride from Boston, so I was more than happy to come down and support the charity.

Ronald McDonald House Fundraiser GustavinosHundreds of people came together to help fund the house and also to celebrate the volunteers who do so many great things for people in need on a daily basis. It was so inspiring to be surrounded by people who are passionate about RMHC.

And I have to tell you, as of late I’ve become very jaded with this world. Between school shootings, political strife and never ending horrific news stories, I’ve been feeling down lately about the state of our planet. But one evening with this bunch sure made me feel better about humanity.

RMHC NYC Gustavinos 2014Also, spending an evening dancing with happy people who are united in supporting a cause can only be an uplifting thing, dontcha think? I danced so much that I finally kicked off my heels. As did about one hundred other women judging by the pile of heels next to the dance floor.

Ronald McDonald House Fundraiser Wicked SingersBesides dancing, guests were treated to a fantastic show by two of the performers from the Broadway show, Wicked. And yes, they were wicked good. Truly goose bump inducing.

Melanie RMHCA fun-filled evening that raised a ton of money for the NYC Ronald McDonald House. Totally worth the trip down from Boston. And I got to wear a pretty dress. Bonus!

RMHC Boston Fundraiser 2014Back in Boston, my local Ronald McDonald House was preparing for a fundraiser of their own. A golf fundraiser which Aidan and I volunteered for. It was held on a gloriously sun-shiny day which is a darn good thing because I can’t imagine playing golf in the rain.

RMHC Boston Golf Fundraiser 2014And if I thought that the NYC folks were passionate, these golfers kicked it up a notch. SO many RMHC supporters, all decked out in RMHC clothing and sporting other paraphernalia like hamburger and fries club covers. At least I think they are called club covers. I know nothing about golf, so I’m completely guessing here.

RMHC Golf Fundraiser 2014My son knows nothing about golf either, but that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for helping. We actually ended up on the green helping out with the closest to the pin contest.

Ronald McDonald House Golf FundraiserBasically two people manned each hole with one person greeting the golfers on one side and the other measuring the distance of the ball from the hole. Jane, my counterpart, was in charge of measuring the distance. She has been doing this for many years, so I was happy to let her do that. Especially considering that she knows something about golf while I know nothing.

Ronald McDonald House Golf Fundraiser 2014My job was to greet the golfers at the hole which involves just saying hi. I’ve been talking for years. Some might even say that I’m a pro talker. It might’ve been the safest job to give me that day. And they gave me lemonade which made my job even sweeter.

Being an ambassador for RMHC has been such a joy. Honestly, when I applied for this gig I had no idea what the year would have in store for me. Would I be useful? Could I make any real contributions to the charity considering the four kids and job thing? In the beginning I was a little stressed about my role within this organization.

But the beautiful thing is that I grew into my role. A role that will last a long time after my official ambassadorship is over. I am already volunteering to help work with both houses in NYC and Boston for events happening next year. I’ll also be working with the houses on expanding their social media reach. Roles that I never considered when I signed on for this.

So I would call this ambassadorship a success story. I’m looking forward to continuing my work with this very worthy charity that brings so much joy to both children and families during a difficult time in their lives. And I’m so touched by the people who donate their time and money to support the good works that come from the houses. A big thank you to McDonald’s for this growth opportunity. It’s changed me.

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