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Friends and Fun

KimThe last few weeks have been rather hectic which explains my lack of posting regularly. My kids now spend a good portion of the summer with their father as that was part of our divorce agreement. Preparing them for that many weeks away took some time. And packing for that kind of trip at the end of the school year made a chaotic time of year even crazier.

I could take an entire blog post to tell you how I feel about not seeing my kids for that long, but it would be depressing. Of course I miss them, but at the same time I’m happy for the time they have with their dad. They are going to have so much fun this summer and I made sure I was going to have some fun too!

We started off by having our dear friends Kim and Anthony down for a visit. I haven’t seen them in such a very long time, so I was beyond excited to spend some time with them.

Harris Crab HouseAfter sharing pictures on Facebook last month of our dinner at Harris Crab House, Kim requested we go there for an authentic Maryland crab dinner. You don’t have to ask me twice to eat crab. I’m always up for that.

Kim and MelanieThis isn’t the best picture of us, but you get the gist. We were very happy to see each other. Kim is like a sister to me. I couldn’t love her more even if we were blood related. I feel the same way for her husband. He’s been a very good friend to me. Anthony helped make my house handicap accessible after my accident four years ago. Can you believe it’s been that long? Four years ago as of yesterday.

Susan and MelanieAnd if all that wasn’t enough excitement, then I got to spend time with another dear friend the very next weekend. Like I said, its been a whirlwind of activity here.

The Colonel and I drove down to Virginia right before the 4th of July to visit yet another dear friend Susan and her very wonderful husband Jon. We spent two nights at their mountain cabin which was so completely relaxing.

Even though the rain poured down incessantly the first two days, it was warm and cozy in the cabin. We spent our time binge watching movies and catching up after months of not seeing each other. It was perfect.

lunch with susanSusan is also a food blogger which meant we did not go hungry while we visited. That’s one of the advantages of having food blogger friends. They’re rather good at entertaining!

Susan's HouseAfter a couple of days at Susan and Jon’s cabin, we transferred over to their house for the holiday. It was a beautiful sunny day which was a nice change after days of rain. We celebrated with Susan’s family and enjoyed a delicious meal which was made by her extended family. A gracious bunch who really know how to cook. Now I know where Susan gets her cooking skills from.

The Colonel and the DucksA very nice way to spend the holiday. It’s not often that we get the chance to hang out in the mountains, so the fresh air and beautiful scenery did us some good. We even had the chance to walk Susan’s ducks. That certainly isn’t something we do daily or ever now that I think about it.

So that was the last two weeks which brings us to this one. Currently Susan and I are on a girl’s trip to North Carolina. I have SO much more to share on that topic in the coming days.

I’ve never been to North Carolina if you don’t count the airport and I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this state is that they take food very seriously here. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve already seen evidence of this.

Much more to come in the days that follow, but for now this sort of gets you up to speed and explains a bit why I’ve been so quiet.

I hope you all had a fantastic holiday and that you spent it with people you cherish! Chat with you soon!

National Geographic the Home Version

Storm MessThe past few weeks we’ve had some wicked storms, but this past weekend was a doozy. Downed limbs all over the yard, potted plants flipped over and our birdhouses clean wiped off their perch. What a mess. And while it was just an inconvenience for us humans, I think it’s gotten the local wildlife a little off kilter.

The Colonel and the TurtleThe Colonel was clearing some downed limbs when I heard a booming “Melanie, come see this!”. And usually this should be interpreted as “Melanie, you’re going to totally regret seeing this.” I’ve learned this the hard way being a mom of two boys.

I’ll never forget the time Michael, who was three at the time, shouted for me to come into his room because “you’ve got to see this!”. In his hand he had a big fur ball. Definitely not surprising as we had two Persian cats at the time. Dear Lord was there fur.

“It hops!” he said. The kid was convinced it was a frog. I was convinced I needed to clean the house better. I told him he had a great imagination and went on my way back to my bedroom where I was folding laundry on the bed.

Not one to be dismissed or doubted, Michael followed me into my bedroom and placed the fur ball on my bed. And when I reached out to pick it up so I could throw it away, the ball hopped straight into the air. I nearly had a heart attack. A bullfrog was stuck in the fur ball and I had the joy of harvesting him from the center of his fiber prison.

Michael was gleeful.

Big SnakeSo last week when Michael asked me if I saw what was on the front lawn, I knew to stay in the house. While I adore living in our new home in the middle of the woods, I’ve learned that nature grows big here. Like really big. I saw a gopher on the driveway yesterday and I’m pretty sure he’s been munching on plants that have been treated with MiracleGro.

And the thing that Michael wanted me to see on the front yard? Yeah, well I didn’t want to see it but he took a picture anyway. A very large snake, like five feet long. Who needs the zoo when you live in Maryland? Mother Nature delivers here.

Lord Sith TurtleSo what did The Colonel want me to see? This Eastern Box Turtle which I named Lord Sith. The Dark Side in turtle form. Can you believe the colors? Often times creatures who are wildly colorful can be poisonous, but this guy is harmless and perhaps a bit thankful that The Colonel freed him from the downed limb.

I sort of envisioned my life here mirroring scenes from Bambi. What I ended up with is more like Jungle Book. Minus the bears. If I see one of those, I’m out of here.

Meet Marc Forgione at the Macy’s Montgomery Mall, Bethesda MD #MacysChef

Marc ForgioneToday I have exciting news for my D.C. area readers who love good food.  Next week, June 11th at 6pm, the Macy’s Culinary Council is hosting a private dinner party with Marc Forgione at the Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, MD.

Chef Marc Forgione is the chef/owner of Restaurant Marc Forgione in New York City, American Cut in New York City, and Revel in Atlantic City. He was recognized with a glowing two-star review in the New York Times and received a Michelin star consecutively three years in a row! As Marc Forgione puts it, “Classic American food never tasted so good.”

And you have the opportunity to have dinner with him! How cool is that?

Over the years I’ve met some superbly talented chefs. Having the chance to ask them questions about their experiences and techniques is such a kick! This is a wonderful opportunity for those armchair chefs who love to surf the cooking channels to see the action front and center!
Marc ForgioneAnd I don’t know about you, but all these end of school year activities has me feeling a little frazzled. A night out a dinner party sounds pretty darn good to me right about now.

So if you’re a D.C. local, here are the details. Be sure to get your tickets now as they’re limited. Hope to see you there!

When: 6/11 6pm

Where: Montgomery Mall, Bethesda MD

Tickets: Tickets are $45 and include a reserved seat to the dinner, a $20 Macy’s gift card and a copy of Chef Forgione’s cookbook, Recipes and Stories, which he’ll sign during the event. Space is limited so reserve your spot today by calling 1-877-556-2297 10AM – 6PM EST.

This post is sponsored by Macy’s Culinary Council; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

Staying in the Present and Worrying Less

Kids in the BayIf worrying was an Olympic sport, I’d be a gold medalist. Even during good times I have a tendency to worry about things which totally becomes a joy stealer. And now that I’m in a solid peaceful place, I’m determined to make some changes in my thought life.

While I will never be a complete carefree spirit, I’d at least like to fully enjoy the more beautiful moments in my life and not allow them to be clouded over in a fog of “what could happen next?” kind of thinking.

This past Friday was an excellent example. After school we took the kids to a pool where we have a new membership. It’s super nice with two water slides, beach access and picnic pavilion. I had grand thoughts of how much fun we’d have this summer splashing in the pool and building sandcastles on the beach.

But on our first visit we learned that the kids would have to take a swim test to use the slides. No problem for my oldest daughter as she has an athletic build and has been swimming all her life.

My youngest has also been swimming all her life, but she’s small and doesn’t have the same stamina her older sister possesses. I wasn’t sure she’d make it swimming two lengths of the pool and then immediately take the thirty second tread water test.

And she wasn’t so sure either based on the crying jag that followed when she learned what it was going to take to pass.

Immediately I envisioned a summer of her crying by the pool while big sis splashed and played. I had failed her in my mind before she even had a chance to put a toe in the pool.

It’s like my mind is always fast forwarding to the worst case scenario as some type of survival mechanism. And if something goes better than the worst case scenario, I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s a problem.

Oh, and guess what? When she finally got the gumption up to take the test? Yeah, she passed it. With the breast stroke even. Go figure.

The Colonel looked at me and said, you worried for nothing. It’s a habit, I said.

Happy HourAnd I do believe it’s a habit. So here I am publicly announcing that I’m going to take small steps towards changing that behavior. Melanie’s thought life wasn’t built in a day, so I can’t expect it will change in a day either. And making a declaration that I’m going to make changes in that area is definitely more for me than it is for you. There’s something about making a statement to other people that makes you feel more accountable, don’t you think?

Another part of my plan is to just stay still. We’ve packed so much exploring into our weekends in order to show the kids our new state that I think we’ve been missing out on just being still together.

So the other day we did that very thing. We all sat on the patio and just hung out. I made a pitcher of sangria for The Colonel and I and I also made a kid’s version which was vino free. Michael brought out his guitar and we all just enjoyed each other’s company. I need more of that in my life.

SangriaAnd I need this to be a regular thing too. Sangria is such a wonderful summertime beverage. How about you? Do you feel like you have a tendency to worry too much? Like, so much that it prohibits you from enjoying the good times in your life? Do you have strategies that help? I’d love to hear what works for you.

Together

Aidan FishingSo sorry for the radio silence this past week. Aidan came down to visit and we were all absorbed by that. Our time with him is so sparse these days with him living in Massachusetts and us down here. What time we have together is savored and way too darn short.

But boy did we cram a lot in while he was here. One of the first things he did was get his fishing license at the local bait and tackle shop. While there I bought a couple crab traps and crabbing supplies.

You can bet there will be future posts on crabbing trips. I’m so excited to do that with my kids as I have very fond memories of crabbing with my dad on the Jersey Shore. Some of my favorite childhood memories for certain.

Aidan dockHe had his license for all of an hour before he went on his first fishing excursion. Maryland is good for that, let me tell you. Fishing piers everywhere. And while he didn’t have much luck this trip, I can say without a doubt that there will be some good eating once the kid moves down here this fall.

As I edited these photos for this post, I noticed that the kid no longer looks like a kid. Someone swapped out a man where a child used to be. My first born has grown up on me.

Harris Crab HouseOne of the things I promised the kids we’d do when we moved here was to have a proper Maryland blue crab dinner. After doing a bit of research, we settled on Harris Crab House because they have solid reviews and an all you can eat option.

With two man sized offspring, I thought this was a good choice. Also, crabs are SO expensive. One tray of jumbos can run over $125! That’s enough to make anyone crabby. So when I read that they had a midweek special of all you can eat crabs plus sides for $50, I thought that was a rather decent deal.

Sure, it’s not cheap, but this is not something you do every day. Or every week for that matter. This is a special occasion kind of meal.

piles of crabsAnd special it was. We as a family are used to the high pay off of eating lobsters. One crack of a claw and you have a mouthful. Crabs are a ton more work but oh so delicious.

It took some instruction from The Colonel who’s skilled in this area, but with some tips and a little wooden mallet, we were picking like experts in no time. Ok, so maybe not like experts. It was ugly. Shell flying everywhere and we left with crab bits in our hair, but dang was it tasty.

Leela and the crab

A Malibu punch bucket. No one need me for the rest of the night.

A Malibu punch bucket. No one need me for the rest of the night.

If you ever get to these parts and find yourself at Harris Crab House, be sure to order the punch bucket. 32 ounces of rum happiness with a splash of some fruity thing mixed in. Boozy and perfect. Oh, and at $11.99 a total bargain. It’s like three cocktails rolled into one. You’ll be glad you did.

Oh Maryland,  you look lovely tonight.

Oh Maryland, you look lovely tonight.

Such a fun time with my kid. I would’ve cried when he left, but he’ll be back in early June. And we had so much fun while he was here, it would’ve spoiled it to get all down and mopey. So for now I will count the days until his return and start looking for places to drop those crab traps.

Because a free crab dinner sounds pretty darn good to me! Now I just need to figure out how to make that punch bucket at home!

The Colonel

The ColonelSo there’s a guy. I bet you knew that was coming, didn’t you? Yup, there’s a man in my life. He’s been here for awhile now, but I’ve been hemming and hawing over introducing you to him. It’s so very odd that I find it more difficult to share things with you than I do my own blood family. Seriously, I’ve been turning this over in my mind every which way trying to figure out how and when to share this with you.

So here we go. Meet The Colonel…

ColonelI think we’ll start with the most ironic part of the whole thing. The Colonel is a retired fighter pilot and former flight trainer. His whole career is centered around aviation and it still is today in his civilian position. The man is addicted to flight.

My long time readers are chuckling over this because they know I’m a complete flight phobic. The idea that a pilot would enter a relationship with a phobic is rather amusing. And indeed, he finds me amusing in this way.

Matter of fact, according to him, he finds me amusing in most ways. He says I bring color to his life. What I think he’s saying is that I’m the jumbo box of Crayola crayons with bonus sharpener. The man wanted color and by God he got it.

We have a tremendous amount of fun together despite the fact that we have few hobbies in common.

I’m a foodie and he’s an eatie. He might not be able to cook, but boy can he EAT! He’s a strapping guy who still gets up at the crack of dawn to do his Marine Corps workout. The man is nothing if not disciplined. And he eats the same way he works out, with gusto. It does my heart good to see him devour whatever I cook. There are very few leftovers after our meals together.

We may not have many hobbies in common, but we share the same beliefs. Politics, spiritual and life views are shared which is important in a relationship. He is the frick to my frack.

The Colonel on the SwingWhile he says I bring color to his life, he brings levity to mine. Playful in spirit, The Colonel is quick to break out in laughter and smiling comes easy to him. We recently went to a water park and he was the one egging the kids onto the slides. I’m convinced he’s part teenager.

And with me he’s equally playful. He’s been known to pick me up when I least expect it, like I’m light as a feather, hoisted right up on his shoulder. There’s something hot about a man who can pick up his woman. Especially when she’s not a petite little thing like me.

His strength is appealing. I never worry for my safety when he’s around because he’s trained to defend. His eyes are always scanning an area to make sure it’s secure. He’s the same way with my kids. Always watching and protecting. I breathe easy when he’s by my side.

What do the kids think of him? They like him very much. He treats them respectfully and they reciprocate. I can’t ask for much more than that at this point. But I will say this, it speaks to his character that he’s willing to take on a woman with four kids. Jumbo box of crayons with sharpener indeed.

The Colonel and MelanieThe Colonel is an all-around good guy and I’m lucky to have him in my life. And as you can see, this is a committed relationship. We aren’t just dating which is why it was high time you meet him. Much more in the months to come. But for today, here he is. You’ve been formally introduced.

First Day at the Stables

BlueYesterday Shannon started riding lessons. I’m not sure who was more excited, her or me. And not even the 90 degree weather could calm our excitement. It was a beautiful day to start something new.

My oldest girl at her first day of lessons. She has her heart set on jumping. Send valium.

My oldest girl at her first day of lessons. She has her heart set on jumping. Send valium.

It didn’t take long for Shannon to get comfortable in the saddle. Matter of fact, she seemed so completely at home perched up on that horse. Like she had been riding for years. Any fears that I had for her safety melted away when I saw how gentle her horse was. A good match, those two.

Shannon riding

Shannon riding blueAnd as you can see, she’s in an English saddle. Her desire is to be trained in show jumping. I’m sure I’ll need some tranquilizers to watch that, but that’s something I can worry about down the road.

Horse Stopping for SnackThis shot I took above was my favorite moment from the day. Shannon was leading her horse back to the barn when all of a sudden it veered off the path and went for a snack of tall grass.

Shannon’s instructor hollered over to her and said don’t let him do that! Lead him away. And at first Shannon looked nervous, like she couldn’t manage this great big animal. But then a determined look washed over her face and she gave him a firm tug. With that, he grabbed one more bite of grass and acquiesced.

Shannon Leading HorseBut you know he wanted more of that tall sweet grass.

Shannon with Saddle

Shannon at Stable

Girls grooming horseAfter her lesson she was instructed to take the saddle off, groom the horse and place him back in his stall. And as she did all of this, I marveled that this is the same child who won’t pick her socks up off her bedroom floor.

CatAnd no farm post would be complete without our new friend Mickey the barn cat. Wholly loved by both of my daughters, Mickey doesn’t have to work too hard for affection. A simple purr and bump against the leg and he’s scooped up lickety split and loved on for as long as he will allow it.

A very successful first lesson. First of many, I’m quite certain.

How about you? Do your kids ride? Is jumping as scary as it sounds?

Finding Joy

ShannonThe kids are now in their third week of school and things are getting easier. Friendships are forming and routines are being established. Peace is coming slowly.

And even though things are settling down, I do find myself reminding the kids to be positive on a daily basis. It’s so easy for them to dwell on what’s not right.

For example, every day my stomach starts to knot when it’s time for the bus to bring them home from school. And it’s not because I don’t want to see them. Of course I do. It’s just that the first thing they do when they get off the bus is tell me all the things that went wrong during their day.

And while I know adjusting to a new school and life is hard, I’d like some good news in the mix. So now when they come home I ask them to tell me two good things about their day before they launch into what went wrong.

I hope this exercise teaches them to look for the good amidst the negative. A good way of thinking that will pay off for the rest of their lives if they practice it. Look for the good. It’s there if you search it out.

This week is packed with good stuff too, I might add. Finding the good should come easy.

Shannon starts horseback riding lessons which has been on her wish list for I can’t even remember how long. Last week she met her teacher and today she takes her first lesson. Leela also starts riding lessons next week, so expect a post with about a million pictures in a jiffy.

Above is Mickey the barn cat who has to be the most chill animal I’ve ever met. He’s one of the many animals residing at the farm where the girls are taking lessons. The girls are smitten already.

Chesapeake BeachAnother place we’ve fallen in love with is Chesapeake Beach. It’s an easy ten minute drive from our home and we adore it. It’s a very nice place to take a walk and chat. A good place for the kids to tell me about those two good things that happened during their day.

Michael and the SamoyedsYet another good thing that’s on the horizon… a puppy. This fall we’ll be welcoming a Samoyed pup into our family. We spent a day with some sweet little Samoyed fur balls a couple of weeks ago and we are so excited that we’ll have one of our own. So much more on this down the road, but needless to say the kids are beyond excited about this prospect.

SangriaSo where am I finding joy? Right where I’m at. I’m feeling a peace I haven’t felt in a long time. My kids are adjusting which was my greatest worry. Now that I know they’ll be ok, I can breathe a little easier and enjoy my new surroundings.

It really is beautiful here. And now that the boxes are mostly unpacked, we can set out and explore the area. Virginia is a short drive away with so many wonderful opportunities for kids and families. I’m especially excited to visit the historic sites. And Pennsylvania is also an easy drive, so there are adventures awaiting there.

Lots to look forward to!

And can I tell you how much I appreciate that there’s a Mexican restaurant on just about every corner here? It’s not hard to look for the good when you’re drinking sangria in the sunshine.

Settling In

U-HaulSo here we are. At least I think so anyway. Are you still here? I know it’s been awhile. Actually, in my last post I guessed it would take me a couple of weeks before I’d be able to post again. And here I am, two weeks later. Finally feeling settled enough to resume blogging. It’s been quite an adventure.

When I say adventure, what I really mean is a three ring circus. I grossly underestimated how hard this would be. I mean, I knew there would be challenges, but I was a bit overly optimistic that things would be a bit smoother than they’ve been.

Starting new schools this late in the year is a lot to ask of my little people. Especially for Michael. The end of his junior year in high school was not an ideal time for a move. And to be honest, he was/is my greatest worry. The girls have time to bounce. Kids aren’t as bouncy when they’re teens.

That said, I’m happy to report that he’s doing better than I expected. Yes it’s been hard, but his attitude has been excellent. I am so proud of the way he’s been handling this. And even though this is a tough change for him, I see some fantastic opportunities on his horizon. For all the kids, really.

It’s just that change is so very hard for people who are resistant to change. We are that kind of family.

pantryYou will not be surprised that the first room I tackled was the kitchen. Oh how I needed that one place to be organized. The kitchen is our central command. Of course it’s where I cook, but it’s also where we congregate to do many other things like homework, projects and basically hang out. So the kitchen needed to be settled pronto.

new houseWhile I was getting things squared away in the kitchen, the girls were busy nesting in their rooms. Books were placed on shelves, stuffed animal friends were gleefully unpacked after months in storage and clothing was neatly hung in the closets. We’ll just see how long that order lasts.

Michael PatioMichael’s room is still full of boxes. I think he stopped unpacking when he found his guitar. If he’s not at school, he’s either practicing or doing homework. I’m giving him a pass on unpacking until he’s ready to tackle it. I’m just happy that he’s reaching out and making friends. Boxes can wait.

Aidan snakeAnd then there’s my eldest. Sigh. Did you know that he will be twenty-one this summer? Time can slow down a bit, thank you very much.

My Aidan. He came down the week after we moved to check out the new digs and the area, but he’s staying up north this summer and working until school starts in the fall. That’s just about four months of him being away from me. The longest we’ve gone being apart prior to this move was two weeks. I can’t even tell you how hard this separation is for me. Now if you ask him, he’s probably gleeful for it. It’s a chance for him to have some independence which I know is a good thing for him. I still miss him terribly.

But while he was down for the all too brief visit, he really enjoyed the area. He’s a big outdoors guy and he just loved the Chesapeake Bay and the natural beauty of the area. As you can see from the picture above, he’s nothing like his mom when it comes to bravery. I’d sooner have a tooth pulled than touch a snake. I like my wildlife via the National Geographic Channel. Except the birds. I make an exception for them. Crawling things, no. Winged things, yes.

A Lily Pulitzer moth. #lilypulitzer

A Lily Pulitzer moth. #lilypulitzer

And speaking of winged things, CHECK this out! How cool is this moth? I found him in the backyard yesterday. No I didn’t Photoshop this picture and yes it is real. How amazing is that? It’s like a fuzzy yellow bunny with wings. Lily Pulitzer for nature.

blossomsNow that things are finally settling down here, I’m enjoying the warmer temps and I’m forcing myself to slow down and take in the beauty of it all. The other day I got in the car and couldn’t see out the windshield because it had a layer of fallen blooms all over it from the trees that arch over the driveway. A pink floral snow all over my car. How lovely is that? That’s a kind of snow I can live with.

Even though there are still boxes to unpack, I feel like things are calming down a bit. I’m looking forward to sharing some of our experiences with you and finally resuming my food blog as well. Thank you for your patience during this transition. Your support has helped me in a way that I cannot even express. Thank you for that.

Drained

I wanted my last post from Massachusetts to be light and bouncy. Something positive and full of hope for a happier future. But the truth of the matter is that I’m desperately trying to keep everything together right now and I feel like I’m drowning.

I’m literally surrounded by boxes. Walls of boxes everywhere I look. And still, not everything is packed and the moving truck is coming this weekend. Packing up twenty plus years of my own accumulated possessions plus my children’s has drained every bit of optimism out of me.

I greatly underestimated how hard it would be to pack this house up on my own.

Also, some things can’t be packed into boxes…

On my mental “must do” list is to visit Nina’s tree and her grave one last time because I’m not certain I will ever get the opportunity to do so again.

I guess I should’ve started with that task because now I’m too drained to do it. Heck, I could hardly do those things on a good day. Now that I’m in a raw and frenzied state, I don’t think it’s in my best interest or my kids’ best interest to do one more heavy thing.

How do you say goodbye to a grave? Why do I feel guilty for not doing that? Humans are strange. Or maybe it’s just me. I mean, she’s not there, but yet I feel like I should say goodbye to that physical space she occupies.

Or maybe I’m just exhausted. Everything is a blur right now.

I know this post is disjointed. I know it’s not inspiring. But at least it’s honest.

This coming week is going to be a stressful one. I may not be able to post for a week or two. I just need to get to the new house, settle my children and find our new normal.

I’ll be back soon…